“I’m… still not really sure about this,” Max admitted.
“Then do you want to go back?” Nicole asked.
Max tightened their jaw and looked at the mall with apprehension before steeling their resolve and shaking their head.
“No. I… I’m not backing off now.”
With a nod, the two entered the dangerous dungeon known as the mall. With their escort, the powerful magical girl Pretty Bloom in disguise, Max waded through the flood of bodies, keeping up their vigilance at all times.
It took several nerve wracking moments of sneaking about but they eventually managed to reach the treasure room, a clothing store.
Max instinctively reached out into their pocket dimension to pull out their minion mask and hide their face with it, but stopped themselves. Rather than hiding their identity, that would just cause panic.
The two entered the shop.
“So, do you have any ideas what you’re looking for?”
“I’m not really sure…” Max mumbled, still looking around, wary of the other people in the shop. “Something kind of neutral, maybe…?”
Seeing Max struggle, Nicole couldn’t help herself and picked out some of the more feminine-looking clothes before handing them to her companion.
“Uh… this is… a little…” They held the shorts and camisole in front of them, anxiety already creeping up.
“It’s okay, you can change inside the cabin. Nobody needs to see you,” she assured. “Or is it too much?”
A moment of a difficult internal debate later and Max shook their head again. “No, I’ll try it…”
It had been nothing but encouragement from the fellow magical girls as well as Jessica lately. Jessica had even said that Max looked cuter than her when transformed. None of them would really mind – heck, it would be more appropriate, since they were now a magical girl – and Max wanted it with all their might and soul.
But it was still difficult. The scars of the past couldn’t be erased that easily. Even with all the encouragement in the world, a part of them still yelled at them to stop and leave immediately. That this was crossing a line. That they didn’t deserve it.
Fighting against that inner voice was harder than fighting every demon and magical girl at the same time.
“How… do I look?” Max asked as they inched open the curtain of the changing room.
Nicole’s expression lit up. “Gorgeous! It fits you better than I thought it would!”
Max’s cheeks curled up into a smile against his will.
They had to detach themselves from the image when looking into a mirror. Seeing themselves in these clothes made them feel guilty, but seeing an unnamed, unknown girl made Max agree that the clothes fit.
They just had to reconcile the reality that Max was that girl.
“Here, try this.” Nicole handed them a light blue tee and a different pair of shorts. Also light blue.
Max quickly changed and upon looking into the mirror shortly realized what Nicole was going for.
“It’s my color scheme…”
It fit better than Max would have expected. For a moment, even that obstinate inner voice shut up and stared in wonder. Only for a moment though. Once the initial awe passed, the guilt came back twofold.
Thankfully, Max didn’t have to deal with those feelings for too long, because as the magical girl luck dictated, there was an explosion somewhere in the mall, followed by frantic screams.
Max immediately pulled open the curtain, apprehension forgotten.
Nicole’s eyes widened the moment she saw them, but being a professional, she pushed aside the feelings of admiration to give Max a serious nod, which they returned.
The two shuffled back into the changing cabin and pulled the curtain closed before transforming. Even now, the transformation felt amazing. Like being embraced by the world itself. It was comforting and, ironically, warm.
Once transformed, the two immediately flew outside of the cabin to deal with whatever was happening. They quickly found Hecate standing next to one of her giant monoliths perched up on the roof of a nearby building. The monolith crackled with purple sparks, making exaggerated charging sounds.
“Gwahaha! You are too late, magical girls! Only a few minutes and it will be fully charged!”
Both Frost and Bloom knew Hecate was similar to Jessica in a lot of ways. Especially when it came to acting like the villain. In fact, Frost could recall a couple of instances where Jessica had let it slip that she had been giving Hecate a crash course in acting.
“Then we’ll simply have to stop you in a few minutes!” Bloom bellowed with confidence.
Naturally, they had no idea what it was even canonically supposed to do when fully charged, but they knew that it was all for the sake of the spectacle and wouldn’t actually do anything even if left alone for hours.
“Winter’s crown!” Frost shouted while holding the Ice Aegis in front of her.
The shield glowed, before a surge of magic blasted out of it, creating a path of icicles in its wake. Hecate immediately dodged out of the way, but that had been exactly what Frost had planned. Her blast of magic hit the monolith's base and immediately encased it in an icy hedgehog with a bang.
“Kuh! Damn you! How dare you get in my way!” Hecate shouted whilst summoning her sword – it reminded Frost of her own demonic sword, now that she thought about it – before charging at the two.
“Reap what you sow!” “Iceberg shell!”
Hecate dodged the magical seeds and slashed at the vines assaulting her whilst shooting out a blast of dark magic at the two magical girls. Unfortunately for her, the semi-transparent barrier Frost had created turned out to be much sturdier than it looked.
She growled in response as she jumped back to avoid the rest of the vines.
“Hmph! It looks like Tepes was right! You’re not the same Pretty Frost, are you?!”
Frost was taken aback for a second, before realizing that it made sense Jessica would have told the other generals about it. She was the unofficial middlewoman between the two sides while pretending to be a secret traitor, after all.
“Focused sunburn!” “Thunderstorm!”
Hecate jumped out of the way of the countless yellow projectiles before immediately parrying the red hot blade swinging in her direction using her own magic-infused sword.
“Hah, so the whole party is here…” Hecate frowned as the four assembled next to each other. “That doesn’t matter! The monolith will be fully charged at any moment now! And then, it will be your end, magical girls!”
Hecate’s eyes widened and she immediately prepared to avoid the sealing magic… only to be surprised by Flame swinging her sword in her direction once again.
As for why it was safe for Flame to approach her despite Frost using the sealing magic… She actually used it on the monolith instead of the general. It took only a few seconds before the entire thing was covered in layers of ice and dormant.
“Wha– How dare you! I was so close!”
“Give it up, Hecate! It’s your loss!” Spark shouted as she let loose an arrow-shaped magical projectile in her direction.
Hecate bent out of the way with another frustrated growl. Straight into a fireball aimed at her sternum. The vines at her feet held her in place long enough for it to connect.
“Gah!” she screamed out as she stumbled back from the impact. “Damn you, magical girls!”
And that was the signal.
Hecate surrounded herself with a mist-like mass of dark magic before motioning with her hands and plunging it all in their direction.
Just like Jessica's, the smokescreen washed over their defensive magic and by the time they could see again, Hecate was gone.
The four breathed out a little sigh as tension left their bodies.
“Well, that's that,” Spark said before transforming back. The others soon followed. “By the way, what were you two doing together… ah, I see. Nice outfit, Max. It's cute," she finished with a grin.
Max belatedly realized that she… they were still wearing that feminine light blue outfit. The pure immediate compliment made it easier to squash the rising guilt.
“Oh… uh… t-thanks…” they mumbled while shifting their eyes away and scratching the back of their neck. The other two were also looking at them with a smile. It was embarrassing, but also felt really nice…
And then suddenly, horror dawned as they remembered something. “Oh, wait! I never actually paid for it! We just rushed here to fight her!"
With a frantic movement, Max made their way back to the store, the others following. Explaining to the store staff that they’d simply panicked and ran away because of the explosion took a while.
But even that didn't quite sour the happiness of what had happened today.