As always, thank you to Doctorlit and Hieronymus Graubart for their beta services. Special thanks for this chapter go to Aelit, who helped me greatly by picking up again two characters of hers after years to cowrite a scene that simply wouldn’t have been the same otherwise.
Mission Record 13 – Not Alone Anymore
[This the south gate guard post, the enemy has breached! We need reinforcements!]
Josh brought a hand near his ear. “This is Griffon of Raptor Team, roger that. We’re on our way.”
He then turned towards Sergio. “Do you think…?”
“Vera? Yeah, I think she’s behind it.” Sergio brought a hand near his ear as well. “This is Lightning of Skystreaker team, we’re coming too.”
[Lightning? That Lightning? I… I’m glad to hear you’re back, sir!”
Sergio rolled his eyes. “This is not the time, soldier. Hold on, help is on the way!”
Sergio resisted the urge to facepalm. Evidently, some of the guys on guard duty hadn’t received the “we don’t enforce ranks so formally” memo.
Sergio’s group and Raptor Team took cover behind some concrete barriers. In front of them a fierce battle was taking place at the south gate: while Vera’s Defectives had managed to break through the gate with a couple of their usual Cayennes, the vehicles had taken too much damage and so they were now pinned just a few meters past the entrance, shooting at Strike Dove’s soldiers from behind their wrecked cars.
“Rocket, Phoenix, we’ll be providing suppressive fire to allow the guys at the guard post to retreat here. Blackmage, you’ll do your usual thing,” Josh ordered.
“Er…” Corolla said, “we were missing one of your—”
Despite not being with them at the mess hall, though, Marco walked next to the group. He gave a quick nod to Josh before vanishing again. Literally.
Corolla blinked. “What?”
Josh let out a short laugh before opening fire. “Told you he’s a ninja.”
Sergio poked Corolla’s shoulder before starting to shoot as well. “Can you put some shields here? Homura, we could use some more suppressive fire with your Minimi. Nikki, can you try taking out some of the Defectives with arcing shots?”
“Sure, I’ll try,” Nikki said while Homura opened fire.
Samantha ducked under cover to reload her P90, and raised an eyebrow at the two magical girls next to her. “A machine gun and energy blasts? I admit I’ve last seen Sailor Moon years ago, but you Magical Girls are a lot more… radical than I remembered.”
Nikki fired off a couple of Shoot Barret projectiles, taking down one of the Defectives. “Well… Homura is an exception to the rule.”
Nikki turned Vanguard around and put a plasma grenade near the pommel. “I hope there’s not going to be more of these Porsches, ‘cause this is my last one.”
She fired off the grenade right between the two SUVs, which ended up overturned by the light blue explosion. Some of the Defectives ended up killed as well, while the others were quickly gunned down.
Josh lowered his M4 carbine. “Okay, what was that and where can I get some?”
“Classified gear coming from my previous employer,” Sergio explained vaguely. I can’t really tell you they come from that Halo videogame, since I’d need to tell you we’re all fictional characters here. “This is Lightning, all hostiles neutralized.”
Sergio crouched near one of the dead Defectives. “What did she expect to achieve by sending just a few of her mooks here?”
“Maybe showing that she always knows where we are?” Nikki rubbed her chin. “We had already realized, though.”
Colt put a hand near his ear. “Wait. What is it, Blackmage?… Understood.” He pointed at a radio tower in the north corner of the base. “Marco saw some movement on the tower.”
“So the attack on the south gate was a diversion?” Rocket scratched his head. “But for what?”
Sergio started walking towards the tower. “There’s only one way to know.”
When the two groups reached the radio tower, Colonel Johnson and a small squad of Strike Dove soldiers were already under it. Two soldiers were inspecting a charred electrical cabinet.
“Good timing, Skystreaker and Raptor.” Johnson pointed at the cabinet. “Our comms tower has just been sabotaged, and I’m afraid I know who’s behind it.”
“A retaliation for helping me,” Sergio said dryly before looking down. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
“Nonsense, Captain,” Johnson rebutted, “Vera’s our problem, not just yours. Especially now.” He glanced at the damaged cabinet. “She knew where to hit. Our CODEC network is out of commission, and it will take a while to bring it back online. If you don’t mind, I’ll take some extra measures regarding your assignment, Captain Turbo.”
“Of course, sir.”
“As a way to properly keep track of the people involved, we will consider your friends here as part of your team, which will be reclassified as Striker Team Skystreaker.” Johnson smiled at the girls. “Of course, that’s just to keep communications easy, especially now that we have to rely on our backup communication systems. None of you is being enlisted against her will, though it would help us if you chose a radio callsign.”
“Corolla, callsign Robogirl, reporting for duty sir!” Corolla saluted enthusiastically.
Sergio shook his head, and corrected her hand’s position.
“What should I choose…?” Nikki rubbed her chin. “Oh, right. Nikki Cherryflower, callsign Starlight.”
Sergio raised his eyebrow. That’s not what she had been given when she tried the flight simulators at DoSAT. I wonder why…? Well, Keycard was quite lame, so I can’t really blame her.
Johnson entered the information on a small PDA. “Alright, so we have Lightning, Robogirl and Starlight. And what about you, young miss?”
Homura, as usual, didn’t show any sign of emotion. “My name’s Akemi Homura, but I wish to not use a callsign.”
“Really? That’s not fun,” Corolla protested. “You need something about time or clocks, I guess? Chrono? Clockwork?”
“What about ‘time to die’?” someone shouted from the top of the tower.
Josh looked up. “Wait, that voice…”
Sergio’s eyes narrowed. “Vera.”
Indeed, when they looked up Vera was standing near the top of the tower, leaning over the railing.
“Major Heartbound, stop this madness and surrender immediately!” Johnson shouted at her.
“Let me think about it… No! My life… my story was perfect, but you didn’t understand that I am the best! Colonel, how could you try to hand over my squad’s leadership to him!” Vera pointed at Sergio.
“Contrary to you, he actually showed tactical knowledge and common sense. We fight to protect people, Major, not for the glory or for some other kind of self-fulfillment!”
“You’re all idiots! Everything was going so well until you arrived, Sergio! That’s why you all have to die now!”
“Sir?” One of the soldiers said to Johnson, his rifle already aimed at Vera.
Johnson took a deep breath. “Major Heartbound is refusing orders, and clearly out of control. Open fire.”
Vera retreated from the railing just in time to avoid being hit by Strike Dove’s soldiers, bullets bouncing on the tower’s metal structure. Sergio ran up the metal stairway leading to the top of the tower, but before anyone else could follow him an explosive charge detonated, collapsing the flight of stairs just behind him. At the same time, gunshots started echoing all over the base.
“We have more hostiles!” one of the soldiers shouted, opening fire against more of Vera’s Defectives.
Johnson fired off a few shots from his pistol. “Captain Turbo, go get her. Everyone else, we need to repeal the attack!”
Sergio gave a quick nod. “Yes, sir!”
Nikki turned towards him. “Please, be careful!”
Sergio noticed the worry in her eyes. “You too. I’ll be right back.” He resumed climbing the stairs, running at first but eventually slowing down in order to not make his footsteps heard.
He clutched his rifle tightly once near the top, listening to the popping sounds of gunshots from below. Vera’s controlling the Defectives, they’ll stop fighting as soon as she’s dead. I have to take her down quickly.
Sergio walked on the top platform of the radio tower, looking around the area. There were several electrical cabinets neatly arranged in rows, some open and emitting sparks from severed wires. Where is she hiding?
He started circling the cabinets carefully just as some music started playing out of seemingly nowhere. Figures… Dramatic to the end.
Sergio put a hand near the sheath of his combat knife. If she was playing hide and seek, it was time to lure her out. “Still listening only to Black Veil Brides, aren’t you? Nothing against them, but you should give other artists a chance too.”
Footsteps behind him. Sergio turned around just in time to parry a downward katana swing. Just as expected.
“They’re the best, and I only listen to the best!” Vera retorted. She took a step back and went for a decapitating swing, which Sergio dodged by rolling to the side.
He took cover behind a cabinet just as bullets started bouncing all over it. By the rate of fire, she’s still going akimbo with those MAC-10s. As expected, she’s not changed at all.
Sergio waited until Vera had expended all ammo in the magazines to retaliate with his rifle, but didn’t manage to hit her before she took cover as well.
This platform is about fifteen or twenty meters per side. Sergio thought while changing cover, barely dodging another hail of bullets. Not enough range for my ARX-160’s better accuracy to actually matter, while she has an advantage on rate of fire.
Sergio fired off a few rounds, before taking cover again. And it goes without saying that her katana means close quarters isn’t going to work.
“Gotta give it to her, she planned something right for once,” Sergio remarked drily under his breath. This is exactly the kind of situation I should’ve learned to not get myself into at the PPC.
“What’s the matter, Sergio?” Vera shouted in a mocking tone. “For someone who claimed he’s going to kill me, you’re too much on the defensive.”
Sergio gritted his teeth. Vera knew she had the advantage — that’s why she had lured him there, and made sure he would get there alone.
“Could it be that you’ve realized you can’t match me? Only another Suvian can hope to draw blood from me.”
She’s getting closer, Sergio thought as he started considering what few options he had.
“What is it? You’ve also run out of snippy remarks?”
Sergio listened carefully. She was approaching from the right of the cabinet, likely at a dramatically slow walking pace. Keep talking; I need to know where you are.
“It isn’t even funny this way.”
Vera was now close enough that he could hear her footsteps. Sergio switched to his pistol and combat knife, waiting for her to be next to the cabinet. If it works, I’ll get the jump on her. If it doesn’t, I’m Swiss cheese slices. One, two, three!
Sergio circled the cabinet from the left, walking as quickly as he could without making noise.
“Hey, where did you—”
Sergio walked past the last corner of the cabinet. Vera was in front of him, aiming the wrong way. He managed to fire off a single round, missing her, before getting close enough to try to stab her.
Vera dodged just barely, the blade grazing her side. The momentum brought Sergio to hit the railing, dropping the knife. He turned around just to be kicked in the gut, and fell to the ground.
“Hmpf. You’ve become sloppier, but you’re still enough of a Gary Stu to be able to land a hit. It doesn’t matter, though. End of the line, Captain Turbo.” Vera aimed one of her machine pistols at him, only for it to be blasted out of her hands by a bullet coming from outside the tower.
Vera held her hand. “What the… “
Sergio took advantage of the distraction to fire some shots at her, but again none of the bullets hit as Vera took cover just in time. He gave a quick glance at the direction her gun was hit from, finding the empty roof of the main base building. Don’t tell me… Ami?
Sergio grabbed the railing, and pulled himself up, his chest aching and his breath cut short as he did so. Damn it, Nikki was right. That rib broke again.
He switched to his rifle again, trying to think despite the pain. A broken rib was going to impair his fighting ability greatly, while Vera had only sustained minor injuries so far. Things aren’t looking good.
He started walking between the cabinets carefully, turning around continuously to try to catch any attempt Vera could make to get him from behind.
“Too slow!” Vera shouted, catching him by surprise anyway, lunging at him with her katana. Sergio raised his rifle to shield himself, deflecting the blade but leaving his guard open enough for a second, stabbing blow to go through his right shoulder, forcing him to drop the rifle. Vera pulled the blade out and kicked him away.
Sergio did his best to get back up, managing just barely as his right arm was refusing to move. He stared at the blood dripping down the arm — too much, too fast. If I don’t end this quickly, I’m going to bleed out.
“How did you…. Why did you get up again?” Vera screamed at him. “You can’t beat me! I’m barely scratched, and you’re on the verge of death! It’s useless!”
Sergio leaned on the nearest cabinet. “They all say I’m stubborn.”
“But for what? You hate your life, your nature, even yourself. Why don’t you just give up and die already?”
“Because as long as there’s people like you causing harm, there’s need for those like me.” Sergio pulled out his pistol with his left hand. “Besides, I’ve made some promises I want to keep.”
He fired off the rest of the magazine, but his shaky aim was nowhere near good enough to score any hit as she charged towards him guns blazing.
Sergio felt the pain of a bullet hitting his left leg, and fell to the ground. He tried to get up again, but his strength faded just as his vision started blurring. Damn it… the blood loss is already kicking in. He slowly rolled on his back, pulling the trigger again in a futile attempt to get his empty gun to fire.
Vera reloaded one of her MAC-10s. “Let me put you out of your misery.”
Sergio closed his eyes. That’s it.
He heard the gunshots, but also the sound of bullets ricocheting off a hard surface. He opened his eyes to find a white, round magical shield and a familiar brunette in front of him. “Nikki…?”
“If you want to kill him, Vera, you’ll have to do it over my dead body,” Nikki said in a very determined tone. “He made me a promise, and I’m not letting you get in the way of him keeping it.” She glanced back at him. “I have something very important to tell you, so don’t even think about dying here, OK?”
Sergio did his best to stay awake as the two girls started fighting, but he was already blacking out, the sounds of the battle coming off as muffled while, for some reason, the song currently playing in Vera’s “arena” was still clear.
[In the end, as you fade into the night/Who will tell the story of your life?]
Well, surely Corolla is going to make up stories about me being the greatest hero of the PPC or something, he mused to himself as he started losing consciousness.
[And who will remember your last goodbye?]
I didn’t even get to say goodbye to Nikki properly, did I?
[‘Cause it’s the end, and I’m not afraid/I’m not afraid to die]
Oh, no, I’m afraid to die. But I guess that’s too late. Forgive me, Nikki. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep that promise after all.
Sergio opened his eyes. He was standing in a bare hallway, a white fog blurring the edges. He felt a throbbing pain behind his eyes.
Where the hell am I? he thought. There was a room down the hallway, the door open. A yellow light seeped from it.
Sergio walked towards it. The room was almost as bare as the hallway, except for two expensive-looking leather armchairs and a thick mahogany table. A person — a girl, judging by the silhouette — leaned back on her elbows, the small of her back pressed against the edge of the table. The light cast by a lampshade behind her prevented Sergio from seeing her face.
He took a couple of steps forward, walking into the room, and was taken aback when he finally recognized the girl. She tilted her head, smirking. Her short dark brown hair caressed her neck as she did, the tips dyed bright pink. Her eyes had a spark of life in them, amusing considering that she was dead. There was no way that he could mistake her for someone else.
“Kath… is that you?”
The girl sat on the table with a leap. “Who else should I be? Do you see anyone else here?” She pointed at the room with a sweeping gesture of her hand.
Sergio took a deep breath. Yes, she was unmistakably his sister. “Nice to see you haven’t changed a bit in all these years but, where are we? Am I…” He gulped. “Am I dead?”
Kathleen sighed and crossed her limbs. “No, you aren’t. But if you keep going on like this then you would’ve been better off dead already.”
She still knows how to get on my nerves, Sergio thought before sighing himself. “Good to know, I don’t quite plan to die anytime soon. So, why am I here?” He paused. “I mean, aside from getting the chance to apologize to you.”
Kathleen sneered. “Apologizing, and for what? For allowing my girlfriend to die? For killing me?”
“Yes! I wasn’t able to protect you, or Faith, or anyone else. That’s why I’m here, isn’t it? To face my sins and failures instead of running away like I did for all this time.”
“You’re here ’cause you need to face yourself.”
“You’re not running away from your sins. You’re running away from your memories. Only you can run away from something that doesn’t even exist. You’re really an idiot.”
“From something that doesn’t even exist? But Faith died… I saw it happen but I couldn’t do anything to prevent it. And I couldn’t do anything for you, either!” Sergio shouted.
He took a step forward and pulled the string that he wore around his neck. There was a cartridge casing at the end, and he gripped it tightly. “I was only able to put an end to your suffering when it was too late for anything else.”
Much to his surprise, Kathleen burst into laughter. “Are you for real? I wouldn’t have had myself killed by an idiot like you.”
“If that’s a joke, it’s not funny,” Sergio said flatly.
“Really? I find it amusing. Anyway, when have you ever found fun in anything?”
“More often than you seem to think. Pardon me if I can’t find anything to laugh about in my sister’s death.”
“If the main character can, you can too.” Kathleen shrugged. “So, your memories?”
“My memories? Well, I had seen Faith’s death through your psychic outburst and a while later you died the same way, by the hand of the same killer, and—”
Sergio pinched the bridge of his nose. Something in the unfolding of his memories didn’t feel right. “I remember you were shot in the same room as Faith, but that can’t be right. That room no longer existed. What happened then?”
“C’mon, get it on your own!”
“Do you mean that all those deaths I saw — yours, Faith’s, everyone’s — didn’t really happen? My mind made it all up?”
Kathleen rubbed her temples. “For heaven’s sake, no! Weren’t you the one who said ‘no jokes’?”
“Bear with me here. I don’t know anymore what’s real and what’s not! Please, stop being cryptic and just tell me what the heck happened back then.”
Kathleen leaned back. “Pretty much what you already know. Faith died. I died. But not like you remember.”
Then how did it really go? Great help you are, Sergio thought, going through his memories from the beginning of that day.
Marcus said he had seen through Kathleen’s deception, then ordered Chianti — one of the Black Organization’s snipers — to kill her. Faith had put herself on the bullet’s trajectory before it could reach Kathleen and he had seen all through the latter’s eyes. Again and again, like a broken record.
And then, something he hadn’t remembered in quite a long time. Kathleen had a breakdown and discharged psychic waves one after the other, pushing herself to exhaustion. Sergio remembered seeing the room’s walls cracking, big chunks of concrete falling onto the ground. The skin of those unfortunate enough to be in her reach melted, baring the bone underneath. That was the full destructive potential of his sister.
“After Faith’s death, you lost control of your powers.”
“You didn’t kill me, yeah. Because I did.”
Sergio nodded; the last piece fell into place. “You pushed your powers to a point your body couldn’t handle it. Why have my memories changed?”
“Because you can’t bear the truth. You’ve always been good at running away after all.”
“So, let’s see if I got it right,” Sergio said, tapping his forehead. “I couldn’t bear the fact that I couldn’t prevent any of your deaths, so I blamed myself to the point I convinced myself that I had killed you with my own hands?”
“Ugh. Something like that. I can’t really understand you, even though I am a product of your subconscious.”
Sergio raised an eyebrow. “Then you’re basically my subconscious telling me to stop feeling sorry for myself and move forward? I’m impressed. You’re just as annoying as the real thing.”
Kathleen grinned. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“Anything else I should be made aware of?”
“Yes. Back then, there was a survivor.”
Sergio cleared the space between them with two long strides, then grabbed her shoulders, keeping her at arm’s length. “Someone else made it? Who? Where are they now? Please, tell me.”
“She’s next to you right now. And take your hands off me.” She shrugged off his hands with a snort.
“How can you— You’re the real Kathleen, aren’t you? Otherwise you can’t know things I don’t know about.”
Kathleen grinned, again. “Oh, so you’re not totally witless, are you? However, I can tell you something. If she doesn’t stop shaking you anytime soon, she’s going to break your arm.”
“Who are you meaning with ‘she’? I mean…”
He was quite sure that nobody nearby him could be one of his old friends — even if his memory wasn’t completely reliable about what had happened during the War, none of his old friends appeared to be working at Strike Dove.
There was one person who actually looked like someone he knew. One that had been at his side for over one year and a half.
“Nikki? The Sakura we met back then is actually Nikki?”
“You sure took your time to realize it. C’mon, they’re twins!” Kathleen sighed. “Well, that’s not quite right since they are the same person after all.”
“Many things make more sense now… like how she speaks Italian fluently.”
Sergio felt the urge to slap himself on the head for not noticing. Now that he thought about it, the similarities in behavior between the “Sakura” from his fanfiction and Nikki were very evident. And, of course, both had the voice of the Italian dub actress, although he had brushed that aside as a coincidence when he met her at the PPC.
“But why didn’t she say anything—”
A pair of arms wrapped around Kathleen’s waist. The owner was a girl in her early twenties with wavy hazel hair reaching her lower back and gleaming green eyes. Federica ‘Faith’ Leone, Kathleen’s girlfriend.
“I’m sorry to intrude. C’mon, Caterina, our time is running up.”
Kathleen crossed her arms. “You’re such a killjoy, you know?”
Faith laughed, her voice like a hundred little bells. “Really?” she said, then she turned toward Sergio. “She was really worried about you, did you know? She could not stop talking about how you were acting like an idiot and such.”
Kathleen gasped. “You weren’t supposed to tell him that!”
Sergio smiled, shaking his head. “I know. If she hadn’t been worried you both wouldn’t be here. Thanks, Kath.”
Kathleen pouted. “To put it clearly, I haven’t done this for you. I was just ashamed of having such an idiotic brother.”
Sergio couldn’t stop himself from laughing. “It was nice to see you again, but I’m afraid that I must go as well. I’ve got a Mary Sue to kill, worlds to save, messes to fix… the usual routine.”
The two girls nodded. The throbbing pain behind his eyes came back, sending waves of nausea down his throat. The floor tilted beneath him and the room started to spin around. Then, as all became black, he thought he heard a voice in the distance.
“Good luck, oniichan.”
“How funny.” Vera snorted, casually tossing her empty gun away. “He’s trying to deny his nature as a Gary Stu, and yet he keeps a copy of Sakura Kinomoto as his pet.”
“I’m not his pet.” Nikki dispelled her shield and shifted Vanguard to Saber form. “I’m his partner.”
“Same thing. But if you wish so badly to die for him…” Vera unsheathed her katana and charged. “Consider your wish granted!”
Nikki steeled herself to parry the attack. Much to her surprise, though, the blow wasn’t as strong as she thought it would be. Blade against blade, Nikki pushed forward until Vera was forced to stagger back a few steps.
Vera, however, didn’t give up and broke blade lock before launching herself at Nikki relentlessly, jumping around the brunette as if dancing, black steel meeting white mana over and over again.
Thin as she is, she relies on agility more than brute strength. Nikki turned around to parry another slash. She’s trying to overpower me with attack speed, since she can’t win a blade lock.
Nikki ducked under a swing meant to decapitate her, but before she could land a hit of her own Vera had already twisted back into position to parry. Nikki pressed on, trying to force Vera to step back, but her Suvian opponent somehow angled the blade in a way that allowed her to slip away past her.
Nikki turned around just in time to parry another slash. She’s fast. If I can’t find a way to turn the fight in my favor quickly, she’ll eventually get past my guard. Maybe that spell Ari taught me…?
“Not bad. You’re strong,” Vera conceded between blows, “And I respect strong girls. It’s a shame you’ve sided with him, we could’ve been great friends.”
“I doubt it.”
“I guess I’ll have no regrets then!” Vera sidestepped Nikki’s attack and quickly retaliated. There was no time to swing back Vanguard to parry, and Nikki knew it. She raised her left arm, quickly casting Ari’s spell. It has to work!
“What the fu—” Vera shouted as her blade was caught by a translucent barrier wrapped around Nikki’s arm, but before she could end the sentence Nikki counterattacked. Vera jumped back to dodge her slash just barely, Vanguard’s blade grazing her cheek.
Vera touched where her skin had been cut. “Blood? But only another…” She looked at Nikki. “Don’t tell me, you’re…”
“A Replacement Sue? Yeah, I might’ve been one once,” Nikki said as she charged at Vera. “But not anymore.”
“Just great. You’re a traitor of our kind too, aren’t you?”
Nikki ignored her insult, focusing on matching every single one of Vera’s blows. Getting in the hit had destabilized her: Vera’s attacks were slower, as well as her movements. Nikki took advantage of that to keep pressing on, slowly pushing Vera towards an open electrical cabinet.
As they ended up in blade lock again, Nikki noticed how Vera’s katana had started glowing red where its edge met Vanguard. Of course, a metal sword can’t stand contact with an energy blade. It would’ve already melted if it weren’t a Suvian weapon.
Nikki increased the power output of Vanguard’s blade to the maximum, its exhausts blowing off steam, while continuing to push at the same time.
“This… this isn’t possible!” Vera screamed as her katana started to melt. “How can you—”
“I can because I love him!” Nikki shouted as Vera’s katana broke in half. “And love is always stronger than hate!”
Nikki spun around, building up momentum for a slash strong enough to lift Vera off her feet and send her right into the cabinet. Sparks flew everywhere as Vera got shocked by the same wires she had cut while sabotaging the radio tower.
Nikki shifted Vanguard back into Lancer form as Vera struggled to free herself. Now that she’s tangled up, I should have enough time for my strongest spell. Also, in hindsight, what I just said was very, very corny.
A white magic circle formed under her. “It took me five years to find him again.”
In front of Vanguard’s tip a white ball of mana appeared, quickly followed by another one around it. Sweat started beading on Nikki’s forehead as she used the outer ball of mana to compress the inner one. “And now that I did, I’m not going to let you harm him any further! Raging…”
The outer ball of mana started to peel away, the pressure inside too high to be completely contained.
The outer ball peeled off completely, opening like a tulip bud and releasing a short but powerful beam. Vera got hit squarely in the chest, and ended up being pushed through the cabinet and off the platform.
Nikki sent a quick message to Corolla explaining what had happened before running desperately to where Sergio was lying on the ground. He wasn’t conscious, and Nikki’s breath was cut short when she realized how bad his wounds were — blood was already starting to pool under him.
Nikki dropped to her knees and set up the magic circle for Physical Heal under him as fast as she could, checking his vital parameters in the meanwhile. The diagnosis was depressing — he had already lost a lot of blood, and if the hemorrhage wasn’t stopped quickly he wasn’t going to make it. Nikki slammed Vanguard’s pommel in the ground and started pushing all the mana she could muster into her spell. Please, don’t die! I refuse to believe you’ll die like this!
Not even thirty seconds had passed when she fell on all fours exhausted, her Device clattering on the ground next to her just as her magic circle dissipated. I’m… out of mana? Did I… Did I waste too much on Raging Blossom earlier?
Nikki crawled next to Sergio, tears running down her cheeks. It looked like his bleeding had stopped, but was that enough?
“Don’t you dare die on me, not like this! Not now that I… That I…” she screamed, grabbing him by the shoulders and starting to shake him in a desperate attempt to get a reaction from him.
“Now that I finally found you…”
He wasn’t moving. Nikki closed her eyes, unable to stop herself from crying. She had looked for him for years, and now…
“Nikki, I’m not a milkshake.”
Nikki opened her eyes. “… Sergio?”
Sergio smiled weakly, with only one eye open. “Sorry. I got you worried again, didn’t I?”
Nikki wiped her tears. “It doesn’t matter. You…”
“It does matter,” Sergio said, caressing her cheek. “I’ve made the girl I’ve always loved cry. That’s unforgivable.”
Nikki looked at him eyes wide open, surprised by both his gesture and choice of words. “You… realized?”
“Well, not quite by myself. Kathleen had to give me a bop in the head from beyond the grave. Looks like I’ve been quite an idiot for not noticing.”
Nikki pulled him in a hug just as tears started running down again. This time, however, they were a different kind of tears.
“Ow! I’m still quite banged up, you know?” Sergio protested before reciprocating the hug. They stayed that way for a few seconds before Nikki pulled back. “So… about that weight of yours? I think I might’ve collected some charges along the way, too.”
Sergio let out a short laugh. “Don’t tell me you’re thinking…?”
“If you’re a Gary Stu, then I’m a Replacement Sue and your accomplice,” Nikki said with a smile, “So I’m taking half of it.”
She moved closer, their faces just a few centimeters apart. “And I’m having none of that ‘I don’t deserve you’ nonsense again.”
“I guess I have no reaso—mmh?”
Sergio’s eyes widened just as Nikki pulled him in a kiss.