Magical Girl Gunslingerby Mikasane



Magical Girl Gunslinger

by Mikasane

Chapter one : Arcadia

The bus ride through Arcadia’s magically sculpted streets was devoid of potholes, bumps, or any other protrusions. It made it easy to lay my head against the window as we rolled through the megacity, and the fact I had the seat to myself also helped considerably. The only real interruptions to my attempts at resting were the constant clamor of my classmates' talking and laughing, the slow, rolling stops and starts of the bus as we pushed through traffic, and the occasional tight turn.

Still, looking out the window, I was reminded of how beautiful the megacity was. The towering buildings were all sleek curves of a futuristic architecture that somehow captured grace and majesty while still being functional. Even the sunlight curved off the metal and glass buildings in gentle, shining waves instead of the harsh glare normal skyscrapers reflected. Outside of the city center, Arcadia’s districts had more natural buildings that conformed to the various cultures making up the city, but here, it was the future made reality.

I sighed to myself. Sometimes, it was easy to forget I was literally living in a city crafted with magitech, the fusion of magic and technology the alien Zenith had gifted to humanity’s chosen.

“Hey, shrimp,” a voice suddenly appeared next to me. “How come you get a seat all to yourself?”

My breath caught as my stomach tightened painfully. I opened my eyes and slowly turned to my left, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in my chest. The American girl next to me had perfectly curled blond hair flowing down to her shoulders. Her Japanese-style high school uniform was identical to mine, an onyx blazer with silver trim covering most of her white button-up blouse. The skirt matched the blazer, thin silvery lines forming a checkered pattern. Around her neck, a blue bow marked her as being a first year high school student like me.

As far as looks went, she was a natural beauty. Her generous curves combined with the perfect smoothness of her face, driving most of the guys in class crazy for her. Even her viridian eyes had a vibrant brightness to them. In all, Katie Bennet was the perfect American beauty.

If only she weren’t such a bitch.

An eyebrow raised after a moment, putting a dangerous edge to her otherwise soft and perfect face. “What, you just going to stare, cyclops?” she snickered. “Didn’t realize you were a mute now.”

My hand instinctively went up to the medical-styled eyepatch over my right eye, and although my mouth opened slightly, I couldn’t seem to find any words. A lopsided smile stretched across her face at the motion, and I hurriedly lowered my arm back to my side.
“Aw, don’t be embarrassed,” she laughed. “It looks better like that. Besides, cyclops is a much better name than crazy eyes.”

My cheeks burned faintly, but I ignored the sensation and looked down at my hands, forcing them flat against my lap. I could feel my heart beginning to beat faster, so I tried to focus on regulating my breathing. In, and out. Slow, and steady. No anxiety, just peace.

“Oi, Mai-chan, I asked you a question,” she poked my arm hard, the familiar honorific dripping with sarcasm. “Why is it you of all people get a seat alone?”

I shrugged, not entirely trusting my voice to work. If it weren’t for last week, I would have been at least able to say something neutral and hopefully get her to leave me alone. Now, though, I was reduced to meek passivity, trying my best not to set her off.


“Whatever,” Katie finally scoffed, eyes trailing over me. “So long as you don’t think avoiding me is going to get you out of our promise. We’re best friends now, aren’t we?”
The very thought of nodding made bile rise in my throat, so instead I just turned to look at her slightly, hoping that was enough of an acknowledgement. Her smirk returned, and her hand moved to brush back some of my unkempt black hair, fingers teasing one of the loops of my eyepatch resting behind my ear. I almost slapped her hand away at the invasive touch, but I forced myself to remain still, my teeth clenched together painfully.

She smirked with smug satisfaction, gave my ear a light flick, and then finally removed her hand.

“So long as you remember.”

She stood up and quickly scooted back to her own seat a few aisles ahead. Quickly, I readjusted the two loops behind my ears, making sure the patch was on firmly. Then I brushed my bangs back into place so my right eye was mostly hidden again. My nerves were screaming at me, and I couldn’t keep my hands from shaking slightly. I tried to return my thoughts to the city, but the moment was ruined.
Standing up to Katie’s constant bullying a few weeks ago had been a mistake. I should have realized she had too much pride to simply back off, especially when I had told her off in front of her cronies. Katie had only taken it as a direct challenge to her status, and she had been quick to retaliate. Now, she had all the leverage, leaving me desperately trying to figure out another plan. Until then, I would just keep pretending to be terrified into submissiveness.

Feeling my heart still racing, I closed my eye and forced myself to slow my breathing.

Pretending. I’m just pretending, I lied to myself.

It wasn’t much longer before the bus stopped inside a parking garage, and our teacher, Mr. Toujou, stood up. He was young, his dark hair pulled back into a ponytail that revealed his handsome features. His glasses and crisp, slightly messy suit gave him a scholarly look while still remaining casual. Combined with his youth and passionate rambles, I knew that at least half the girls in class had a crush on him to some degree.

I remained ambivalent. While I liked his teaching style and liked how he mostly left me alone… I also hated how he seemed oblivious to things. Things that might make him poke his nose in my business, but-

“Alright, everyone, listen up!” he shouted above the clamor. “Remember, you’re representing Sakura High during this field trip. I expect you all to be on your best behavior! Furthermore, do not forget to meet up with everyone at the end of each hour! We’ll be going through the mall floor by floor, working our way down. Do not go ahead under any circumstances, understood?”

A chorus of various forms of “yes” and at least one “no” echoed out. Mr. Toujou seemed mostly pleased and started the process of excusing people starting at the front of the bus. I stood up, grabbing my half filled backpack from under the seat and putting it on while I waited my turn in the seat furthest back. The bus cleared out fairly quickly, everyone excited to be able to go shopping at one of the biggest malls in the city as a field trip.
I probably would have been too if I had any money.

Mr. Toujou barely spared me a second glance as he gestured for me to get up, turning to leave himself. I followed behind him, pausing only to give a slight bow and murmured thanks to our bus driver, an older Korean man with a grandfatherly visage. He returned my thanks with a smile and nod, and I quickly hurried out into the dim light of the parking garage.

My classmates had already separated into their respective friend groups, chatting to each other excitedly as Mr. Toujou and the two parents who volunteered to chaperone our little excursion did a quick headcount. Considering how short I was, it was probably a good thing nobody was standing close by.

“Alright everyone,” Mr. Toujou said. “We’re on the third level right now. The other classes should be at the other parking garages working their way to the middle of the mall as well. Now go! Have fun, and be safe! Try to stick in groups of at least two if you can.”

Almost everyone was already on the move on the word “go,” and I was no exception. I followed the rest of the class to one of the sliding glass doors that opened for the mass of thirty-two students, leading into a long hallway and another set of doors. On the other side of those, the mall opened up. I walked in quickly, took a quick right followed by a left at the next intersection, and tried not to slow down my hurried walking pace even as my eyes bulged at the sights I was seeing.

The interior was a combination of white, gunmetal gray, and onyx black materials, all smooth and exceptionally shiny. What wasn’t made of solid color was created out of rippling glass that reminded me of water. It felt more like walking into a futuristic museum than a mall. Rows of storefronts spiraled out around me offering an amalgamation of things from clothes to electronics to books. Sculptures and carefully tended plants gave life to the area, and even though I was barely into the mall, there were already dozens of people moving about or lounging on benches near greenery.

And the water features. There were fountains, of course, but the biggest thing was the constantly flowing water. All along the floor there were thin rivulets of water running under portions of the ground, outlining the various pathways. On storefront walls, water trickled from the ceiling along glass tubes and joined the various floor rivers. In some areas, the various rills joined together and bubbled up into small ponds uncovered and open to the air.

centaur spider-mantis thing.”

“Um,” I started, eye shifting to the side. “Yeah… I’m on the fifth dungeon now.”

“How!?” she sputtered, almost spraying food over the table. “I only introduced you to the game, like, two weeks ago!”

“I don’t really have any electronics but my phone,” I shrugged, ignoring my growing embarrassment. “Combined with the city’s free wi-fi, it makes it easy to play whenever. Anyway, the Aracnomantis isn’t that hard. You just need to play a Magical Girl with high enough agility to dodge its attacks. It has too much strength and armor piercing to tank directly, but even a level twenty two-star with S-rank in agility growth can outspeed it.”

She finished her burger in record time, and I briefly wondered if she even took the time to chew.

“Man,” she groaned, stretching out. “I never should have introduced you to the world of games. I’ve turned my sweet, innocent little Mai into some kind of creepy, shut-in nerd!”

I fought a grin trying to stretch onto my face.

“Keep talking like that,” I turned my nose up at her haughtily, “and I won’t offer to use my five-star Blade Princess to carry you through the fight.”

Her eyes widened comically, and she clapped her hands together as if praying as she bowed her head down deeply.

“Mistress, please! Tell me what you desire! Do you need a moist towel for your noble hands? A foot rub perhaps? Seven gentle head pats?”

I let out a barely restrained huff of laughter that only grew in intensity as Lily continued offering me gradually more and more outrageous things ranging from a lifetime supply of spam to a carriage pulled by armored kangaroos. It finally culminated with “the keys to a shiny new Australia and its throne.”

“Australia isn’t a monarchy anymore,” I pointed out between giggles.

“Ah, but that could change,” she smirked, eyebrows waggling with uninhibited intent. “My queen.”

That finally got me laughing all out, and Lily joined in. I could feel muscles I didn’t know I was holding tight relaxing, and I let myself fall into the growing warmth in my chest. It was a rare feeling, something more than just gentle happiness. I felt… content. Like everything was as it should be. Somehow, Lily always seemed to know how to coax that out in me.

When our laughter finally died down, Lily had a radiant smile on her face, tilting her head to stare at me. Self-conscious, I raised my hand to start curling the hair behind my right ear.

“What?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she shrugged lazily. “I was just thinking about how full I feel. That burger really did a number on me. I don’t think I can finish the other ones I got. How about you take them so they don’t go to waste?”

My stomach begged me to accept, but I forced myself to frown at Lily as conflicting emotions rolled through me. I’d seen how much she could eat before, and there was no way just one burger would be enough for her.

“Lily…” I began to protest.

“Ah, drinks!” she smacked her head lightly. “I forgot to get drinks. Hang on a second, I’ll be right back. I’ll get you something too, no worries.”

After only a few steps she stopped, turning back to me with a salacious smile.

“You know, if you were queen of Australia, I suppose you’d need a royal consort. Therefore, I offer this humble body of mine to you, my-”

“Go!” I shouted, cheeks burning. She let out a wicked laugh and skipped away.

I watched her leave, then let out a sigh as I looked back at the food she’d left me with. She was always trying to buy things for me, especially food, and it made me feel like a leech. I did not have the money to pay her back, and it wasn’t like there was anything else I could really do to make up for it. I really just wanted to be her friend, not some burden she had to always look out for…

Some friend I am…

Another gurgle from my stomach made me wince. Giving in, I reached for the bag and opened it up. I blinked at the sight of three different wrapped burgers of some sort, and my mouth began to water. I took the first one, unwrapped it, and bit into it without so much a second glance.

If you bought these for yourself, then why are there pickles and onions? You’d only eat vegetables if I physically shoved them down your throat.

I let out another sigh, deciding it was best to just abandon myself to my ravenous impulses. One double quarter pounder, a crispy chicken burger with spicy sauce, and some kind of fish sandwich later, I finally wiped my hands clean on the napkin with a content sigh. My stomach felt a little bloated, but there was no way I was going to pass on stocking up if given the chance. Regardless of my conflicting feelings on the matter, I wasn’t in much of a position to turn Lily down. Besides, she really would just throw the leftovers away. She’d done it before.

She’d also made it a habit to foist an exorbitant amount of food on me only to disappear for a few minutes afterwards, never sticking around while I ate. What was that all about?

Waiting for her to return, I pulled out my phone, checking the time. It had been almost twenty minutes since we arrived, meaning we had at least another thirty minutes before we had to leave and meet back with our respective classes. The rest of this floor was mostly shops that were out of my price range, meaning they had a price range, so I’d probably let Lily drag me around while she shopped. It was the next floor down that had a dollar store. Hopefully I could stop there and pick up some things before we met up again.

“No way!” Lily’s voice interrupted my thoughts, making me jump.

“All three of them?” she asked as she sat down. “Where do you even put it all? You’re tiny!”

“It’s a known law of reality,” I argued, pretending my face wasn’t cherry red, “that a girl’s stomach size is directly proportional to how cute they are.”

“True, but that doesn’t explain everything!” Lily whined, sliding over a can of off-brand soda to me. “The only reason I’m not fat is because of sports. What kind of secret are you hiding to stay so skinny?”

A tightness pulled at my guts as razor thoughts began to worm through my head. Shame flooded through me, mixing with the self-disgust at my weight. I pretended not to be bothered, but my smile still faltered for a moment. I tried to recover it quickly, swallowing down the sudden sour taste in my mouth. I must not have been quick enough, because Lily’s eyes widened slightly and her smile dropped off her face almost instantly.

Way to ruin the mood, Mai! Everything was just going so nicely, and we can’t have that, now can we?

“It must be that huge brain of yours” Lily tried to quickly recover, waving a hand absently. “All those calories go straight into your multidimensional strategies. Seriously, you take one look at a boss fight and somehow know exactly how to beat it. Must be sucking all your energy away.”

“Yeah,” I agreed weakly. “Well, when I have freeloaders like you on my team, it does take a considerable effort.”

“Hey that’s… well, mostly true, but-” her smile returned as she began to protest.

“Well, well, look who it is!” an icy voice said suddenly. “My two favorite classmates!”

I felt every inch of myself freeze. Slowly, I forced myself to turn around, dread already creeping up through my veins.

Katie stood there with an amused smile. Behind her, I saw Aiko, one of her many followers, texting on her phone. Our gazes met for a moment, but she hurriedly looked away. Aiko was one of my classmates who went along with whatever Katie did, but tried to mostly stay on the outskirts of it. It was a passive sort of involvement.

In my mind, she might as well have been as bad as Katie herself.

“Yo, Katie,” Lily drawled impatiently. “You need something?”

“What, can’t I just drop in to see some friends?” Katie laughed, moving to stand right beside me. Her presence made my skin crawl, but I forced myself not to react, looking down at my lap.

Every nerve in my body was screaming at me. Katie had never come near me when Lily was nearby, not after the first few attempts had garnered a frosty reception. Something had changed to give her the courage, and-

-and I know exactly what it is.

Fear suddenly paralyzed me, and I couldn’t seem to find my breath.

“Seeing some friends, huh?” Lily countered, looking around in an exaggerated motion. “Didn’t realize you had any of those around here.”

Katie laughed with an arrogance that made Lily scowl. Then, Katie slowly lowered her hand onto my shoulder, giving it a hard squeeze.

“Oh? Don’t you know Mai-chan and I are practically inseparable? Why, she’s one of my closest friends.”

The easy smile on Lily’s face disappeared, and I felt my heart drop as her eyes narrowed.

“Isn’t that right, Mai-chan?” Katie asked me quietly. “Go on, tell her. I wouldn’t want there to be any… misunderstandings.”

Fear slithered down into my belly as I looked up in alarm. Lily met my gaze with a cold look I’d never seen on her before. For a moment, there was nothing I could do as my heart pounded in my head. Slowly, I forced myself to clench my teeth together.

“Yeah,” I managed to choke out. “Katie’s… a good friend.”

Lily rocked back in shock, and I looked away. I didn’t want to see the hurt or betrayed look on her face. Meanwhile, Katie was practically glowing with smugness. I wanted to go find a hole to go crawl in as I could practically hear the death throes of my only friendship.

But what choice did I have? Maybe this way I at least had a chance of repairing it one day.

“Anyway,” Katie said, her silky smooth voice sounding like a serpent. “I just wanted to remind Mai that she promised to go shopping together with me on the next floor. That’s all.”

My heart sank further. I risked a glance up at Lily when I suddenly felt Katie’s hand reach up and begin twirling the end of my hair behind my right ear. The feeling was so invasive, so wrong, that I could feel the bile rise in my throat. I forced myself to bear the disgust, clawing my fingernails into my thighs beneath the table to stop myself from moving.

At the sight of Katie’s familiar touch, Lily’s eyes ignited with something in them. She didn’t move, but I could practically feel the heat washing over me. Katie let out a sigh after a moment and removed her hand. I tried not to let out a breath of relief even as impotent fury exploded inside me.

How dare she. What the hell was I doing? She couldn’t do this to me, treat me like some toy, ruin my friendships, play with my hair. What was the point of going along with her whims if this is what awaited my every moment?

I should get up and slap her, video be damn-

“I’ll see you in a bit Mai,” Katie sang out as she twirled around and left our table with an absent wave.

Aiko moved to follow, only stopping for a moment to give me a pitying look. I wanted to tell her where she could stick her self-serving pity, the coward, to slap her and tell her she was part of the problem. She turned away before I could do anything and hurried after her master, leaving Lily and me alone.

In the silence that followed, I could feel my head pounding with pressure promising a coming stress headache. I clenched my hands together tightly, and the anger slowly drained from me, leaving me feeling nothing but exhausted and utterly disappointed in myself. I chanced a glance up at Lily only to see her looking off to the side, her face a stony mask.

My heart fell and shattered on the ground.

I didn’t blame her. I’d seen that Lily and Katie hadn’t gotten along before. Now, Lily probably thought I had betrayed her. She’d never really seen how Katie really treated me. All of this was my fault, anyway. It had been selfish to try to keep close to Lily knowing it would paint a target on her back, that Katie would naturally go after her as well.

Maybe it was better if I just stayed away from her after all.

“Lily-” I began, my voice quiet.

“Mai-” Lily said at the same time, and both of us stopped. Then Lily took a breath and-

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