“It still feels a bit surreal… Are you sure it’s safe?” Nicole asked.
“It’s fine, the teleport location is far away from the castle and Cody promised to be on the lookout just in case,” Max assured her.
Nicole nodded but didn’t relax completely just yet.
The four squeezed through the hole in the fence and then approached the old abandoned factory. Max flicked their fingers while putting a bit of magic into it and tapped the old rusty door. The door creaked open, letting everyone inside.
“Wow, you can’t get anymore cliche with this, huh? Jessica really loves her secret villain lairs,” Sarah commented.
“Uh… I was the one who picked this place…” Max admitted.
“Oh… huh, sorry.”
“It’s fine…” Max proceeded to walk around the broken conveyor belts and entered a small windowless room. A snap of their fingers dispelled the concealment magic and revealed the portal platform near the wall.
“Ah shit, here we go again,” Sarah murmured. “Last time we went through a portal like this, we ended up meeting you three and confronting Jessica.”
“It sure feels like forever ago, doesn’t it?” Nicole said with a wry smile.
“Anyway… It doesn’t seem to be working…?” Erika asked.
“We need to turn it on first,” Max informed them. “I need one more person to help me with it.”
“I’ll help. What do I need to do?” Nicole volunteered.
“Just stand on the other side, place your hands on the activation panel, and when I give you the signal, pour in some magic and direct it into the frame counter-clockwise. I’ll take care of the rest.”
Nicole nodded and did as instructed. Both of them placed their hands on the marked activation panel and on Max’s signal, poured some of their magic inside. The mechanism activated with a hum and began spinning the provided magic in the middle, gradually creating an all too familiar ball of magic, reflecting its teleport destination inside of it.
Erika squinted at it. “It’s that cave again?”
“No, it’s a different one.” Max coughed. “Apparently, our portal is how the rogue demons got to Earth in the first place. Cody just left it there unsupervised without turning it off on occasion…”
Sarah couldn’t help but groan. “Are you serious? Does he also not lock the door to his house when going out?”
“Well, anyway, is it safe to go through yet?” Erika asked.
Max nodded and the four quickly filed through the portal, getting the familiar but still uncomfortable feeling of vertigo as their vision warped around them and soon enough, the empty factory room was replaced with a cavern.
A few gasps and groans later, the four got their bearings and were about to head outside, but were interrupted by a dark and malicious chuckle behind them.
They spun around to see Tepes, the enchantress sitting on a nearby rock with her legs crossed, stroking a stuffed cat plushie in her lap. The light from the portal illuminated only the bottom half of her face, leaving her narrowed eyes to gleam at them from the shadows. Cody in his minion costume stood behind her with his hands behind his back.
“Well, well, well… What do we have here? Looks like we meet again, magical girls. How brave of you to enter my evil lair like this…” she said with an evil grin. “Brave… or rather… foolish. Completely and utterly foolish!” she howled before letting out an evil laugh and standing up. “Are you ready for your end, you naive little girls?!” She held the plushie to her chest with one hand while putting the other on her hip.
The four were speechless for a second. Max also felt an odd indescribable feeling in their chest upon being called a little girl.
“... Did you buy a cat plushie just for this?” Sarah eventually asked.
Nicole and Max gave a little applause.
“Ahem…” Erika cleared her throat. “So anyway, how are we doing this exactly? Where are we even?”
“Right, right. Straight to business.” Jessica rolled her eyes before she stashed the plushie in her pocket dimension and turned around. “This way, follow me. We’re a good distance away from the castle, so there shouldn’t be any problems, but just in case, Cody’s gonna put up a concealment spell around us and keep a lookout.”
The five followed after her.
“Yes, yes. Always the errand boy,” Cody said, his voice dry.
“Hey, don’t complain!” Jessica stabbed a finger in his direction. “Now that our strongest minion switched to the side of light in a very dramatic fashion, leaving us high and dry, there’s nobody else who can use the concealment during attacks, so you gotta practice whenever you can!”
Sarah snorted. “Dramatic fashion?”
“Uh… Sorry…” Max said, feeling a bit guilty.
“Hey, no worries. She’s right, anyway.” Cody shrugged. “You can’t exactly join us in the attacks when you’re supposed to be fighting for the other side.”
“Still! This kinda brings me back. Back in the day, it would be me and Cody against Max and you would kick our asses every spar.”
“Heh? Seriously?” Sarah smirked before lifting a fist in Max’s direction. “Nice, Max.”
Max hesitantly bumped her fists with their own before speaking.
“That was before you were a general. Now I don’t stand a chance. Especially as a… a magical girl.” Calling themselves that still felt like a transgression, but they had somewhat started getting used to it.
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
“I can’t exactly use demonic magic as a magical girl…”
“Why not? Is it difficult?”
“Err… No… Well… I haven’t actually tried… but I mean… it doesn’t seem appropriate?”
Jessica snorted. “I don’t see what the big deal is. Combining both sounds like a cool power move, to be honest.”
“I’m curious what would happen,” Nicole added.
“Is it really safe to try, though…?” Erika asked, concerned.
“Well, when I combined Frost’s magic with my demonic magic, they worked perfectly in tandem. I don’t see why it wouldn’t work for you.”
Max mulled it over for a few moments as the others turned to them.
“I… I guess I can try it…?”
“Perfect! It’s gonna be your ace in the hole! Your final form! Demonic girl, Dark Frost!”
They made it to the cave’s opening as they talked. It was a place similar to their first portal spot, with relatively flat ashen plains surrounded by mountains. The only annoyance was the little lava lake in the middle.
“Well, this is it. Time for a spar.” The evil general turned to her minion. “You go and keep us hidden.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m on it.” The insolent minion rolled his eyes.
“Stop complaining! Consider this a punishment for letting demons through our first portal!”
The minion couldn’t help but wince and nod. As he left, Jessica spun around while calling forth her magic and brought out her spear before pointing it at the four girls while putting on an evil smirk.
“Well? How long are you going to stay like that?”
The four brought out their own weapons and transformed into their magical girl personas in response. Max was starting to get the hang of this, even though they still felt like they didn’t deserve it.
“Nice.” Tepes nodded to herself. “You know, it’s still kind of funny that other people can’t tell that there’s a new Pretty Frost. You look nothing like Iris when transformed.”
For some reason, that comment kind of… hurt.
“Jessica…” Bloom said with a light tinge of annoyance in her voice.
“Hmm?” Tepes blinked. “Uh, I didn’t mean it that you look bad or anything! You look great! I was actually surprised how well you pulled off looking like a magical girl, honestly. It’s kinda unfair that you’re cuter than me, hmmph.”
Frost quirked a small smile at her deflection.
“Anyway! Ultimate form, go! Demonic girl, Dark Frost!”
“Uh, right… Let’s try this then…”
Frost held her Ice Aegis in her left hand and reached out into the pocket dimension with her right hand to grab her demonic sword before mixing the two magics together.
To her surprise, the two combined seamlessly. It was almost as if they were meant to be combined, strangely enough.
Needless to say, Frost not only lasted the longest during their spar, but she nearly managed to fight Tepes solo with the combined magic.
As Jessica had said, this could easily be her ace in a hole.