Rose packed up her violin and shut the case with a click. The bell rang, and it was time.
She gathered her things into her locker and pocketed her keys and train money—who even knew where they were going for the next few hours. “Hey, forgetting something?” Dave said as she spun the lock closed.
“Not at all,” she said without looking at him, “I am only leaving my things here for a time, if that is such a criminal offense.”
“Yeah, dude, that’s a straight up felony right there,” he deadpanned, “Out with Jade or something?”
“So nosy all of a sudden,” Rose said, walking past him and down the hallway to where Kanaya was waiting. This puella magi business was best kept a secret. She reached Kanaya and raised an eyebrow, propping a hand on her hip impatiently. “Well. Will it just be you and I today?”
“If only it could be,” Kanaya muttered under her breath, then shot a look back at Rose. “Having a smaller group for the navigation of witch mazes is much simpler than rounding up several puella magi to collaborate for the battle against a witch.”
Not necessarily lining up with her argument the previous afternoon but Rose would let it slide. Kanaya started towards the elevators and Rose followed suit.
Terezi and Nepeta were waiting for them at the main entrance when the elevator doors slid open. “Rose! Hi!” Nepeta ran towards them, waving and nearly tripping over the massive green coat thrown about her shoulders. Rose rushed to catch her as she stepped on the hem and came stumbling forward. Nepeta just looked up at her and giggled. “Sorry,” she said, “Just lost control of my feet!”
“That coat seems awfully big, doesn’t it?” Rose asked, helping her back up onto her feet.
Nepeta just laughed and spun around, and Rose flinched in reaction in case she had to catch her again. “Equius gave it to me yesterday! I always use it, so he finally let me keep it. It’s so comfurrtable.”
“It looks it,” Rose said with a small smile, “Equius?”
“My best furrend! He doesn’t go here, though. He didn’t go to high school, but he’s really good at fixing cars and has a shop!”
Terezi walked up, cane swinging back and forth with purpose. “Yes, yes, we’re all friends here now. We’ve gotta go find that witch before the trail fades.” Kanaya nodded silently and the group set out. Kanaya took out a tiny dark green gem and stared into it. Terezi looked over her shoulder. “Anything?”
Kanaya stayed silent, but continued walking. Suddenly she looked up and turned right down the street. “She is this way.”
Rose followed without a word. She watched as Terezi and then Nepeta took out their own gems, teal and olive green respectively. She narrowed her eyes as the three girls looked expectantly into them as if staring into a crystal ball. “Is there something of interest in those crystals?” she asked.
“These are our soul gems,” Kanaya said, “The crystallization of our powers as puella magi. These provide us with powers to defeat the witches and act as our guides to find them.”
“They’re like little homing de-mice-s!” Nepeta said, brandishing hers out at arms length.
Rose squinted at it. “Doesn’t seem like a very high quality gem to be so foggy.”
Nepeta glanced back at Rose and tucked her gem into her chest, suddenly self-conscious. “I…”
“More on that later,” Kanaya cut in quickly, “The clarity of a soul gem is not the business of anyone but the puella magi herself.”
The girls walked along the busy city street a while longer, following Terezi as she stared intently at her gem. She turned down a smaller street, twisting this way and that, glancing up to look around occasionally, getting them all so thoroughly mixed up in the urban jungle Rose did not know where she was. Finally, Terezi jumped up on an empty construction scaffolding and helped Nepeta up. “She’s here,” she said, “I’m sure of it.”
Kanaya nodded and gracefully swung herself up onto the ledge. She knelt down and offered a hand to Rose. Rose looked at it warily, and grabbed a hold of the scaffolding to climb up herself. Terezi, while a tiny bit off kilter the way she smelled everything—including Dave, much to Rose’s curiosity—seemed trustworthy enough, especially since she looked to be fairly close with Dave. Kanaya, on the other hand, remained a mystery Rose was not keen on solving anytime soon. Likewise, she would not allow herself to be solved by her.
The group climbed up the precarious scaffolding until they stepped out onto the roof of an apartment building. They had come a long way from the modern glass and steel buildings of the downtown, Rose noticed; the houses and larger buildings here were quaint and simple.
Terezi held her gem out in front of her, concentrating on something. She tossed it into the air, where it flashed a bright teal light. Terezi was enveloped in a bright light, rose into the air, spun around, and lightly stepped back to earth in a red-and-teal costume of a red vest, teal fitted shirt and leggings, and red slitted shorts. Her soul gem glinted from her chest. “We’re here.”
Kanaya followed her lead and transformed into her puella magi form. Nepeta tossed the huge coat off and transformed, throwing the coat back on over an extremely frilly, poofy dress adorned with bows and ruffles. Her gem was set into her blue cap perfectly over her forehead.
Terezi raised an eyebrow. “You sure you wanna wear that?” she asked, “You’ll trip.”
“Don’t be silly, I’ll be just fine,” Nepeta said, “Equius let me borrow it and I’ll use it, it’s very purrecious to me!”
Terezi sighed and flipped her cane—was it a cane anymore?—around. “Alright, fine. But if anything happens with it you’re not wearing it again, okay?”
“Let us be on our way,” Kanaya said, “Stay close to me, Rose, you will need protection when we enter the maze. This realm is not meant for nonmagical humans, you must remain on alert.”
Rose nodded and stepped forward. “Just show me where to go.”
Terezi held out her cane as it transformed into a huge bow, still with the dragon’s head at the top. She aimed and fired an arrow directly in front of her, but instead of continuing off the edge of the building it was absorbed into thin air. Rose blinked. This was impossible—rather, she wanted it to be impossible. With the things she had seen the past few days, anything could happen.
The air where the arrow had disappeared split. A gaping hole yawned before them, shimmering and warping in place. Terezi motioned for everyone to follow her and walked through, Nepeta bounding after her. Kanaya offered her hand again, her eyes hardened to match her serious tone as she said, “Take my hand. We cannot afford to have you lost in the first minutes of our search and battle.”
Rose looked at her hand, elegant and strong. She could not figure her out, but she would have to trust the little she did understand about Kanaya Maryam. She took her hand and Kanaya led them through the hole as it sealed up behind them.
It was dark. The first thing that reached Rose’s senses was the faint trickling sound of water dripping from a faucet. There were faucets everywhere, actually, now that her eyes adjusted and she looked around. Small rivulets of water were streaming along the ground, tiny shimmering veins that seemed to provide the only source of light in this dark… wherever they were.
“Is everyone here?” Terezi’s voice cut through the darkness.
“Yep, I am!” Nepeta replied.
“We are both accounted for,” Kanaya reported in, giving Rose’s hand a slight squeeze.
Terezi turned and led them forward. Rose looked around—they had mentioned this being called a “maze” as she recalled. And sure enough, they were in a long passageway, the floor damp and slippery with water from the faucets. Kanaya glanced around from time to time, as if something was about to leap out at them. “Afraid of the dark?” she teased.
“Appropriately so,” Kanaya said, “If you knew what we are about to face, Rose, you would be worried as well. Frightened, even. I am almost wishing I had not mentioned this to you, it is far too unsafe.”
“That will be for me to judge,” Rose said, though she allowed Kanaya to grip her hand more tightly as they ventured further into the maze.
The dripping water grew louder and louder as they went. “We’re getting close,” Terezi called back to the group, “Get ready!”
“Way ahead of you!” Nepeta chirped, waving around a pair of steel claws back and forth and dashing up behind Terezi.
Kanaya’s chainsaw materialized in her hand as she called out to Nepeta, “Be careful where you are waving your weapons, those claws are very sharp!”
“It’s fine, don’t worry!” Nepeta grinned over her shoulder at them.
Terezi gripped her bow more tightly and stopped suddenly in front of a wall. “This is it,” she said, “Everyone ready? Rose?”
“Show me this witch,” Rose said, “I’ve heard enough about it.”
Terezi cast a meaningful look at Kanaya, who braced herself in front of Rose, and placed an arrow in her bow. She aimed and shot it straight at the wall, but instead of the arrow splitting against the hard surface, it melted right into it as if there were nothing there. A gust of wind and flash of light, and a jagged hole gaped before them, leading into another dark cavern beyond. Terezi jumped through and disappeared into the dark, followed by Nepeta. Kanaya led Rose through. The sound of rushing water met their ears as the hole sealed up behind them.
Rose looked around again. It was still dark, still filled with water. But there was more water now, it sounded like an ocean in here. A dim spot of light shone at the far corner of the space, dimly illuminating the area. It looked like… well, an ocean. A maze of rickety docks crisscrossed over the water, the waves crashing up over them and occasionally washing planks away.
Then Rose saw it: a large, dark, grotesque figure looming out of the water ahead. Its scales were shiny and glazed with a layer of slime, and it seemed to ooze across the water and over the docks toward the group.
Terezi did not waste a second. She loaded an arrow into her bow and shot an expertly aimed shot at the witch’s head. It struck right in the center—was that the center? It was hard to tell—and the witch bucked back with a screech. She ran across the docks, taking aim again as Nepeta readied herself to pounce on it. Kanaya brandished her chainsaw in front of her and Rose, calling over her shoulder: “Are you alright, Rose?”
“I am fine,” Rose said evenly, trying her best to disguise her terror at the monster sweeping across the water towards the other girls. Nepeta was so small compared it that thing, and all she had was a pair of claws at her disposal! “Will they be alright?”
“It appears this witch is not too challenging,” Kanaya said, “But it will require some work to bring down.”
Rose watched in horror as Nepeta slashed and clawed away at the witch, dodging its swings and bites almost rhythmically. Terezi loaded her bow again, but this time a cloud of arrows formed behind her, all whizzing through the air toward the witch with the release of her bowstring. The witch cried out and lunged at Terezi, but she leaped out of the way just in time. “Kanaya, go for a bit, I’ll watch her!” she shouted.
Kanaya nodded and cast a look at Rose before readying her chainsaw and running at the witch. Rose’s breath caught in her throat as she watched her leap up and swing her saw down with such force she split the witch in two, slicing all the way down until she was crouching on the dock again.
The maze buckled. It was an odd sensation, one that made Rose’s head spin—it was like space itself was warping, the constant shapes she had always taken for granted suddenly morphing out of shape like an earthquake. She shut her eyes and covered her ears, hoping it would keep this strange feeling away, but just as soon as it had come, it disappeared.
Rose opened her eyes and looked around. They were on the rooftop again, standing in a circle as if nothing had happened. Nepeta grinned and pumped a fist in the air, squealing, “Yeah! We got it, another one!”
“Indeed we did,” Kanaya nodded in approval.
Terezi stepped forward. “Okay, great job everyone! But there’s still one thing we’ve gotta do.” She knelt down and plucked a dark spindle off the ground and held it at arm’s length. “Who needs it this time?” she said.
“I do,” Nepeta said, calming down and looking at the spindle, “My gem’s getting a little foggy.”
“Yeah, you’ll need to take care of that,” Terezi said, “And you, Kanaya?”
“If there is any left, I will be requiring it,” Kanaya replied.
“Pardon the ordinary human,” Rose said, “but please explain the little black needle.”
Terezi turned to Rose and held out the spindle to her. “Oh, right! This is a Grief Seed. It falls from defeated witches, I guess you could call them their remains? Anyway, they clear up your soul gem, since they tend to get foggier and darker the more magic you use. It takes away the bad stuff so you can get your magic back.”
“Purretty convenient!” Nepeta said, taking the Grief Seed and holding it up to her olive green gem in her hat. It cleared up almost instantly and glinted in the light from the buildings. “I think there’s still some left fur you, Kanaya!” she said, handing it over to Kanaya, who took it gratefully and cleared up her own dark green gem.
“Looks like we’re all out,” Terezi said, “Mine’s still pretty clear, anyway.”
“Geez, Terezi, you hardly ever have to do anything fur your gem, it just stays clear!”
“Nah, I guess Kyubey didn’t want me taking out too many witches at once,” Terezi joked with a toothy grin, “So much justice, so little time!”
Kanaya transformed back into her street clothes and said, “Well then, it is about time I be headed home.”
“Yeah, me too! Equius wanted me back as soon as we defeated the witch!” Nepeta said as she and Terezi transformed back from their puella magi forms.
“I’ll lead you guys back to the school,” Terezi said, swinging around onto the scaffolding and climbing down to the ground.
“Are you sure you do not need help climbing down?” Rose called after her.
Terezi looked up curiously. “Why would I need help?” she asked.
“Well… it is difficult to climb without knowing where you are going…”
Terezi laughed and said, “Don’t sweat it, Rose, I can smell my way down!” With that, she scaled the apparatus like a gymnast and dropped down to the ground without a single scratch. Rose decided not to pry further into her “seeing” methods.
They walked back to the school and said their goodbyes. Rose went back into the school to retrieve her things. The elevator reached her locker floor with a ding and the door slid open, revealing Jade Harley as she waited for an elevator. “Hi, Rose!” she greeted as Rose stepped out into the hallway.
“Hello, Jade,” she responded, “You’re here… late?”
Jade shrugged and said, “Just had a meeting with a teacher. Transferring grades from school to school is so annoying.”
“I know how that feels,” Rose said with a small smile.
Jade looked back at Rose and said, “You’re here later than usual, too! Try out for a sports team?”
Rose shook her head. “No, no, nothing quite so ambitious. I was at the… knitting club.”
“Oh? I didn’t even know we had a knitting club! That’s so cool!” Jade exclaimed, the girls walking down the rows of lockers until they reached Rose’s starkly undecorated one among rows of doors covered in colorful wrapping paper.
“Yes, it was my first meeting and it was quite interesting,” Rose said as she got her bag. She avoided Jade’s eyes; she could lie to peoples’ faces, but that didn’t mean she liked it.
Jade flashed a smile and waved goodbye to Rose. “Well, I’ll see you tomorrow!” she said, turning on her heel and rushing back to catch the elevator down to the street, all before Rose could react to the tiny light green gem now glinting from a ring on her finger.
She did her best not to scream. She did not succeed.