I want to thank Doctorlit and Hieronymus Graubart for their beta services.
Mission Record 10 – Broken Mirrors
Nikki ducked under one of Carol’s hammer swings. She had no idea where she was, how she had gotten there, how Carol was alive, and especially why they were fighting each other.
Carol fired up what looked like a small rocket engine in the back of her sledgehammer’s head and hammered the ground, causing an explosion that lifted Nikki off her feet.
“What do you think about this, Sakutaro?”
Nikki got up, readying herself for another attack. “My name is Sakura!”
Wait, no, my name’s Nikki. Why… why did I say ‘Sakura’?
“Whatever that is.”
Carol shrugged before launching herself at Nikki, who instinctively brought up a Round Shield to parry the attack. Or, rather, that was her idea.
A giant, wing shaped object with a red gem in the center appeared in front of her instead, deflecting the blows with what appeared to be some kind of forcefield.
Is this one of the Clow Cards, The Shield? There was something wrong with the staff she was holding, as well. This isn’t Vanguard, it’s… Sakura’s Star Staff? What’s going on here?
Carol bounced back from her last attack, but regained her balance quickly and ran towards Nikki again, sparks trailing behind her as she dragged her sledgehammer’s head on the ground.
“Let’s see how long you can resist, Sakutaro!”
Carol raised her weapon and fired up the rocket motor.
“I said my name is—”
The Shield shattered, the backlash knocking Nikki on the ground for the second time. She drove the Star Staff’s tip into the ground, using it as a crutch to get on her knees, but it was too late. Carol was already over her, with her sledgehammer high ready for a finishing move, and a wide grin on her face.
Nikki bolted up in a sitting position, panting heavily. Was that just a dream?
Corolla raised her head and rubbed her eyes.
“What’s the matter, Nikki?”
Nikki shook her head and smiled to reassure her.
“It’s nothing. I just had a bad dream.”
Corolla sat up and looked around, and Nikki did the same. Both Sergio and Homura weren’t in the room, but their empty sleeping bags and Sergio’s backpack were still on the floor next to them. They must’ve decided to patrol this place. She looked at her wristwatch. It’s four in the morning. Sergio always sleeps so little… is it the same for Homura? The nightmares, everything?
Corolla leaned towards her. “Want to tell me about it?”
“It was a bit of a weird dream, though. There isn’t much about it.” She rubbed the back of her head. “I was fighting Carol — I know, that makes no sense. If she was still alive, we would be on the same side, right?”
Much to her surprise, a thoughtful look appeared on Corolla’s face.
“Let me guess, you were Sakura in that dream?”
“Eh? How do you know?”
“Simple, it’s because… Wait, I think I can show it.” Corolla got up and looked into Nikki’s messenger bag. She came back with Carol’s weapon in hand. “If this is anything like a Device, it should have a video recording feature somewhere. Let’s just hope Carol had left it on…”
The small hammer turned into its full size, its sudden weight increasing enough to knock Corolla on her butt.
“Whoops, wrong function.”
Nikki looked at the sledgehammer more closely. It had a long, chromed handle with a red grip, and a squared, gunmetal gray head. One of the two faces of the hammer, though, was replaced with what looked like a jet engine nozzle.
“Weird, it looks the same as it did in my dream! But I had only seen it in standby form until now. How—”
“Just a bit of patience, if I tell you all right away you’re just going to think I’m pulling a joke on you.”
Corolla opened a holographic window. It was different from her usual ones, lacking the light blue frame around it. Inside, a scene as seen by Carol’s eyes played, in which she was attacking a girl who appeared to be Sakura Kinomoto.
“That’s exactly how my dream went! How is it possible?”
“The dream you just had really happened. Look at the timestamp.”
“It’s sometime in July 2007,” Nikki read from the upper left corner.
“Keep that in mind.” Corolla opened another window, this time one of her own. “That is a scene from Chapter 157 of Sergio’s badfic. Like this one I recorded myself, this time from chapter 90.”
This time, the recorded video showed Sakura worried over a younger Sergio’s bandaged arm.
Nikki raised an eyebrow trying to ignore the déjà vu feeling the video was giving her.
“How did you record it?”
“I was clever with the portals on our way here.” Corolla waved her hand dismissively. “Anyways, what’s Sakura doing here?”
Nikki let out a short laugh. The scene was quite familiar.
“She’s fussing over his lack of regard for his own wellbeing as much as I do.”
Corolla emitted what sounded like a TV quiz’s wrong answer buzzer sound.
“Not quite. She’s fussing over him exactly like you do.”
Nikki raised an eyebrow. Exactly like… What is she getting to?
“Now, how old does she look in these windows?”
Nikki rubbed her chin in thought.
“I don’t know. She’s already got the Star Wand, so… Twelve, maybe?”
“Yes.” Corolla nodded. “Well, that’s how old she is in this video. The one with Carol is set some months later, and she’s thirteen there if my calculations are correct. Anyways, one million Midchildan credits question: how old would she be now?”
“Well, she would be around my age? Wait, do you mean…” She widened her eyes as realization struck her and touched Sakura’s image. “This… is actually me?”
“Ding-ding-ding! You just won a million dollars!”
“Wait a minute here. This means…”
“That you’re technically already a couple, and I’ve missed your first kiss. I’m disappointed. Well, technically it was your second, if we consider that time you tripped, fell on Sergio, and your lips—”
Nikki felt her cheeks heat up. “That’s not the point now! What I wanted to say was, why was I fighting Carol? That is, assuming you’re right about this Sakura being me.”
“You still don’t remember? Well, it wasn’t a real fight. Your group had split in half, and one half pretended to defect to the Organization’s side. You were just pretending to fight each other. I’ll resume the recording, but beforehand, since you seem to still have doubts…” She opened yet another holographic window, this time a log of her CAD subprogram. “I took this on ‘Sakura’ after recording the scene with Sergio.”
“The character is currently under PPC employment as…” Nikki read, “Agent Nikki Cherryflower. Ok, I believe you now.”
“By the way, that also marks the first time you’ve berated him for his chronic lack of self-preservation. He’s still not getting it, is he?” Corolla said, resuming Carol’s recording.
Faith: That’s enough, Marcus is gone!
<Marcus, indeed, was gone and Aér was unconscious on the ground.>
“Wait,” Nikki scratched her head, “Didn’t you say that we were only pretending… no… Aér didn’t know, right? They had to knock her out to prevent her from knowing the ‘defection’ was all a ruse.”
Corolla smiled. “You’re starting to remember! Good!”
“It’s still all foggy, though.”
Carol: You’ve been lucky, if it hadn’t gone this way I would’ve had to kill you ❤
“She managed to pronounce the heart smiley. I’m impressed.”
Nikki sighed. “I’m really from this?”
Corolla patted her on the shoulder.
<in less than a split second Sergio already grabbed Carol by the collar of her dress.>
Sergio: Who were you supposed to kill?
“Touch Nikki and Sergio will go angry~~~” Corolla said in a sing-song voice, somehow managing to pronounce the tildes.
Nikki blushed. “Corolla!”
“Don’t worry, the best is yet to come.” she said with a very wide grin. A chill went down Nikki’s spine.
Kathleen: Put her down.
Faith and Kathleen: Or you’ll die ❤
“Nikki, please tell me you weren’t part of the Spoken Hearts Club.”
“I… don’t think I did?” Nikki said, doing her best to remember. “My memories are still quite fragmented, sorry. Also, you’re not one to speak, after all those tildes.”
Corolla pouted. “You’re not fun.”
Sergio (letting her go): Ok… Anyways, we know that they blew up the governments with bombs, but we don’t know from where the trigger signal was sent.
Faith: Lilith has some radio transmitters, but neither I nor my mother know where they are.
Nina: Then when those are discovered, we can go back?
Sergio: Uhm… not necessarily. We have to discover how many, and which ones they’ll use. We can’t destroy them all.
Kathleen: I can find it out, but it will take some time.
Sergio: It doesn’t matter how much time it will take, Kath. We’re already in the wrong future. What matters is to find the way to set things right when we get back to the past.
Nikki looked down. She knew already that that makeshift plan, as could be expected, didn’t work. And now they were all dead, except for her and Sergio.
Corolla put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m sorry.”
Kathleen: If I am not able to get the information in time, we’ll be stuck here with no way back.
Kathleen: There’s a time limit for time-space alterations, we have only a month, and we already wasted a week.
“No, wait, what?”
“That was one of the limitations of the spell Kath had used to transport us to the future, I think. But…”
“Yeah, don’t expect things to make sense in this fic. I read it all, I know.”
Nikki gave her a glance that clearly meant “then why did you ask?”
Sakura: What if I were to use the Time card?
Corolla clapped her hands. “Congratulations, Nikki! You had the only sane idea there!”
Alice: I doubt it will work, it’s a scientific mutation, not a magical one.
“Wait a minute here. Magic overrides science. Because it’s magic. I want a word with her.”
Nikki took a deep breath. “I don’t think she’ll be able to listen.”
<Sergio takes a deep breath, and with an excuse he walks away from the group together with Sakura>
“This is going to be interesting!”
Despite not remembering what happened afterwards, Nikki could feel her heart pound faster. Kathleen told someone to start recording what Sergio and “Sakura” were doing, and the video followed them.
Sakura: What did you want to tell me?…
Sergio: Sakura, I…
“Don’t tell me…” Nikki blushed. “This is when…”
Sergio (taking her hands): I… I love you, Sakura!
“Do we really have to—” Nikki said quickly.
“Yes! Also, I think I can fry an egg on your cheeks.”
Sakura: Sergio, I…
Sergio: I already know what you’re going to say… After what Kathleen told us about my past, you don’t trust me anymore, do you?
Corolla let out an exasperated howl. “He was already like that back then?”
Nikki could do nothing but keep staring at the video.
Sakura (visibly blushing): No!… What I wanted to say is… is… is that I love you, too!
Corolla clenched her fists, her nose just a few centimeters from the holographic window. “Kiss already!”
Nikki covered her face with her hands, unable to bear the embarrassment. And, even worse, her past was now being considered just like a movie by Corolla. She mustered up some courage and peeked through her fingers.
<Said that, Sakura hugs him and they share a tender kiss.>
Nikki felt her cheeks hot as if they were on fire. “So, we actually already…”
“Yes, the most important moment in your lives, and I wasn’t there for it!” Corolla cried, her eyes watery.
Kathleen: They did it, finally.
“Not quite, Kath. Not quite. But don’t worry.” She clenched up a fist. “I’ll continue this battle for you.”
Despite not being Sakura, and having long ceased to believe to be her, Nikki felt the urge to say a long, desperate “Hoeee!”
“Looks like the snowstorm has stopped.” Sergio said after looking out of the window, “I think we should start travelling back to the town.”
Nikki rubbed one eye while nibbling on an energy bar. After talking with Corolla, she hadn’t been able to get much sleep — memories from her life as “Sakura” in Mai Dire Fine kept resurfacing.
“Shouldn’t we wait for the sunrise, at least? I could’ve used a couple hours of sleep more.”
“It’s nine thirty in the morning, Nikki. Rise and shine.”
Nikki looked at her wristwatch. He was right. But then, why is it still dark outside?
“They don’t get much daytime here, do they?” Corolla rolled up her sleeping bag.
“We’re pretty close to the Arctic Circle here.” Sergio checked the magazine of his rifle. “Luckily not enough to not get any light at all, though.”
Nikki took a deep breath in resignation as she picked up her messenger bag. She glanced at Sergio while they were walking towards the exit. Now I understand why I fell in love with him right after we met at the PPC… I was already in love with him from much earlier.
She walked closer to him. All the troubles he had with accepting her feelings were because he believed that, as a Stu, he had forced Sakura to fall in love with him. But that wasn’t Sakura… that was me. He needs to know it. “Er, Sergio?”
“What is it?”
“I—” An explosion shook the building, drowning her words.
“We’ll talk about that later.” Sergio readied his rifle. “I think we have company.”
Nikki nodded, summoning her Device and Barrier Jacket. Next to her Corolla and Homura did their own transformations as well.
“Why the explosion?” Corolla set up some Round Shields around her allies. “If Vera’s Defectives are trying to get in, they could just enter through a window, or maybe that unlocked door we used.”
“Unless they’re trying to collapse the entire building on us.” Sergio gestured the girls to follow him. “Let’s get out of here.”
There was a second explosion, and the ceiling started cracking, some pieces of concrete falling down on them. Nikki dove out of the way just in time to avoid being buried by the rubble.
“You really had to say that, didn’t you?” she said between coughs. “Sergio…?”
Nikki looked around. The corridor was cut off by the rubble and there was only Corolla in sight, sitting on the ground slapping her own head lightly. “Uhm, gimme a minute, my HUD went all fuzzy.”
Vanguard’s gem lighted up and the words “Incoming call” appeared in it. Nikki accepted it right away.
“Nikki? Are you alright?” Sergio said.
“Yes, I’m fine. Where are you?”
“On the other side of this pile of rubble, I guess. I’m with Homura, we’re both OK. Corolla is with you?”
Nikki glanced at Corolla, who had just given herself a slap strong enough to knock herself sideways on the floor.
“Yes, she’s got some HUD problems but she seems fine… mostly. We’ll try to catch up.”
“Let’s not take any risk, get out of here through the first window big enough, and… Uh. Problem on my side. Stuff not staying dead.”
Nikki helped Corolla getting up.
“What do you mean by…?”
A girl appeared at the other end of the corridor, wearing a black sailor fuku school uniform with an unusually long skirt reaching her knees. She was holding a submachine gun in her right hand, and was playing with a yo-yo with the left.
What caught Nikki’s attention, though, was the other girl’s face. An exact copy of her own.
“Don’t tell me Vera played the “evil clones” card?” said Corolla, summoning a Round Shield between them.
“No… or rather, not her,” Nikki said.
Her mirror image had Sakura’s shorter haircut, but what gave Nikki no doubt about her identity was the small red yo-yo she was playing with.
“Sergio, I think I have your same problem here.”
She closed the call.
“… I think I get it,” Corolla said, “She’s…”
“Kurara Tsukimoto. One of the clones Marcus made to try to kill us.” Nikki aimed Vanguard forward, readying herself for combat. “I presume the one Sergio was talking about is Sergej?”
“You’re not as dimwitted as our original, are you? And it seems I was right. The Sakura I’ve fought against is you, not that kid Vera kidnapped.” Kurara licked her lips. “This will make killing you much sweeter, after what you did to me.”
Nikki dodged another throw of Kurara’s bladed yo-yo and pulled out one of her Sakura cards, The Shot. It materialized into a vaguely star-shaped body of magenta light and started shooting energy projectiles at Kurara relentlessly.
The clone did her best to avoid the attack, but to no avail. The Shot hit her with enough force to send her flying towards an electrical substation and into a transformer. There was an explosion and sparks started flying everywhere.
“Don’t… you dare… attack… my friend… ever again!” Nikki shouted after her, expecting her clone to get up. However, she was nowhere to be seen, and the electrical equipment started to fall like domino tiles, a fire quickly engulfing the entire substation.
Nikki fell on her knees, realizing what she had just caused.
“Sakura… are you alright???” Sergio called out to her.
“I… I… I’ve killed her?” Nikki kept looking into the inferno, “I’ve… I’ve killed… I’ve killed a person?”
Sergio grabbed her by the shoulders. “… if you hadn’t done that you would be the one in the middle of those flames now! She wouldn’t be having these afterthoughts!”
“Can’t we just talk it over?” Nikki said, despite preparing herself to cast Shoot Barret, “if you weren’t continuously trying to kill me or my friends, I would’ve never had anything against you.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m getting paid depending on how many of you I kill.” Kurara smirked. “And, besides, do you know how frustrating it is to be a clone? To know that your entire body is just a copy of someone else made in a test tube?”
Nikki raised an eyebrow. “As a matter of fact… I do? I wasn’t born in a test tube, but I was copied from the Sakura Vera has kidnapped. And I’m not being homicidal about it.”
Kurara seemed to be contemplating her answer for a few seconds. “Great… so I’m a clone of a clone?”
Corolla floated towards her a bit, but still behind the safety of her own Round Shield.
“It doesn’t mean anything, you know? You can still live your own life and make your own choices, like Nikki’s doing. It’s not too late.”
“Oh, yes, I’ve already made my own choice. And that’s killing my original here, and then I will kill her original once I get back to Venice. When there will be only me, then I’ll be free from their shadow!”
Kurara opened fire with her submachine gun, but Corolla brought up more shields to protect herself and Nikki, continuously replacing the ones shattered by the bullets. “It doesn’t work that way!”
Nikki returned fire with some Shoot Barrets. “It’s no use. She still understands nothing but violence.”
“We have no choice then. There’s little space in here, I think it’s better for us to Unison.”
Nikki grabbed her hands and Corolla disappeared in a flash of light. Nikki’s Barrier Jacket changed, becoming light blue with white trim and, even if she couldn’t see it, she knew that her eyes and hair had changed color as well.
“Unison successful, we have 81% synchronization and our mana reserves are in the green.” Corolla said, now in an incorporeal form inside Nikki.
“Keep talking, it will make things easier for me!” Kurara shouted. Only then Nikki noticed that her clone had taken advantage of the small delay of the Unison to close in. Kurara jumped over Corolla’s Round Shields and threw her yo-yo at Nikki, missing her by only a few centimeters.
Nikki tried to aim Vanguard at her, but could do only half of the movement before something started pulling it. The string of Kurara’s yo-yo was wound tightly around the handle, and Kurara yanked on it, pulling the Device out of Nikki’s grasp. “Your magic wand has changed, but you still fell for the same trick. You’re disappointing me… you’ll die before I even start having fun.”
Kurara tossed Vanguard behind herself and started attacking with her yo-yo again.
Nikki dodged sideways. “Corolla, any idea?”
“Hmm, I think I have one. But I need you to buy a bit of time.”
Nikki ducked under another throw, the yo-yo’s blades passing dangerously close to her head. “If you can help with that too it would be nice.”
A couple magic circles appeared vertically next to her, a dozen small energy darts emerging from each. They shot out towards Kurara all at once, some striking her, but she just shrugged them off. “Is this the best you’ve got? They barely tingle!”
Nikki kept doing her best to dodge Kurara’s onslaught. “Corolla, you really need to start working on Moonlight Dagger’s damage! You’ve just made her angry!”
Nikki felt a sharp pain to her side. A glancing hit, but enough to cut into her skin. She barely had the time to realize she was bleeding before having to duck under another throw. She cut through my Barrier Jacket like it was butter?
Kurara recovered her yo-yo, and opened up its blades before licking Nikki’s blood off one of them. “Weird. Tastes like mine.”
Nikki resisted the urge to facepalm. She opened her mouth for a retort, but a small ball of mana appeared next to her, quickly materializing as Carol’s sledgehammer.
“I’ve managed to give you full access to it!” Corolla said triumphantly, “I’ll deal with your wound, you deal with her!”
Nikki grabbed the weapon with both hands just as the pain started subsiding. AMS-02 Mjolnir system initialization appeared on her vision, quickly followed by Authorized user. Safety lock disengaged.
“Like you getting a new toy would change anything!” Kurara tried to shift into attack position, but she found two light blue energy rings blocking her ankles. “What the…”
“Also, thank you for standing still doing useless creepy stuff,” Corolla continued, “that was exactly what I needed to cast Ring Bind.”
Nikki ran towards Kurara, holding Mjolnir to the side. Once she was a couple steps away from her clone she swept the sledgehammer horizontally, igniting its engine as well.
The swing hit Kurara in the belly with enough strength to send her straight through a wall, and Nikki took advantage of that to pick Vanguard up. “Thank you for lending me your strength, Carol,” she whispered before changing Mjolnir back to its standby form.
Nikki gripped Vanguard’s handle firmly. “Vanguard, Saber Form.” The device started glowing, and its head disappeared while the handle shortened, becoming the hilt of an energy blade. She then walked carefully towards the hole in the wall.
“I’m going to be surprised if she still has more intact bones than broken ones after that.” Corolla said.
“I threw her into a freaking high voltage transformer that other time, and it didn’t kill her. I’m not so sure.”
As it was, bullets started spraying out of the hole. Nikki summoned a Round Shield and entered the other room behind its cover. Indeed, Kurara was still standing, though she was covered in bruises and her clothes were torn and dirty. Nikki closed in, bullets bouncing against her shield, and slashed at her clone. Kurara managed to dodge just barely, but Nikki’s energy blade managed to cut her submachine gun in half.
“I might’ve underestimated you, but that doesn’t matter. You Sakuras are nice girls — you don’t have the guts to actually kill someone.”
Kurara tossed the remains of her guns away, then threw her yo-yo at Nikki, only for it to be deflected by her shield. Nikki retaliated with another slash, and Kurara took advantage of the opening to attack, managing to ensnare her weapon.
“You may be right.” Nikki said as both girls started to pull, locked in a deadly tug of war. “Sakura wouldn’t harm anyone.”
Vanguard’s energy blade burned through the string of Kurara’s yo-yo. Kurara stumbled back, trying to regain footing, but Nikki was quicker, charging her with a stab. The momentum was enough for both girls to end up in the wall.
“But my name’s Nikki.”
Kurara’s eyes were wide open and blood trickled from the side of her mouth as she tried to speak, but only choking sounds came out.
Nikki dispelled her blade and stepped back. Kurara’s body slid down the wall, completely limp.
Corolla de-Unisoned. “I think this time you’ve gotten her for real.”
Nikki breathed deeply, still looking at her clone. There was a hole in the upper part of Kurara’s chest; Vanguard’s blade had stabbed right through. Despite knowing well that she had had no choice, looking at her dead mirror image made Nikki start to feel sick to the stomach. “Is she dead? I don’t want to have to deal with her again.”
Corolla opened a holographic window. “Both heart and brain activity are flat, so I think she is.” She scrolled down her scan. “Oh, and she didn’t die a virgin, if that’s of any interest to you.”
Nikki opened her mouth for a retort, but her stomach decided it was the right time to turn on her. She stumbled to a nearby wall for support, reaching it just in time before throwing up.
Corolla floated next to her, offering a tissue. “Here.”
“Sorry,” Nikki said as soon as her stomach settled. She was glad to have eaten only an energy bar earlier. She wiped her mouth and took a deep breath. “It’s just… she looks exactly like me.”
Corolla grabbed her arm. “Hey, I understand. But she’s not you.”
Nikki gulped, her throat still burning. “Yes, but… In the end, we’re both copies, aren’t we?”
Corolla floated in front of her. “I know where this is going and it’s not like you. So stop doubting yourself like that.” She put a hand under Nikki’s chin, forcing her friend to look in her eyes. “What makes you a person? Your choices.” Corolla took Vanguard from her hand. “Why do you think your Device’s standby mode is shaped like a star?”
Nikki pondered the question for a few seconds. “I have no idea. Maybe Anne got inspired by the Star Wand?”
“Nope.” Corolla shook her head vigorously. “I chose it. And yes, there is a correlation to the Star Wand: the meaning of the star.” Corolla floated back a bit. “You remember it, right? Sakura’s magic ‘doesn’t come from the sun or the moon, but from her own star’. And yours too. You didn’t let your being a clone of Sakura weigh on you, you looked for your own path, and you started shining with your own light.” Corolla pointed at Kurara with her chin. “Her? Not so much, considering how obsessed she was with taking your place, and Sakura’s… just like the moon doesn’t have its own light, but needs the sun’s. She kept repeating that to herself, and was engulfed by the darkness.”
Nikki smiled. Corolla was right; between her and Kurara there was an abyss. “Thank you.”
Corolla shook her head. “It’s nothing. Now, let’s go see if Homura and your boyfriend need any help with his clone.”
Nikki felt her cheeks heat up. “Corolla!”
“Hey, that scene pretty much meant that you two were a couple, and I don’t recall you breaking up.”