Jake and the Dynamo Chapter 10: The Magical Girl's Burden

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Jake and Pretty Dynamo hit the streets to fight the monsters, but things get complicated when Dynamo runs into an old rival.

Jake and the Dynamo

Chapter 10: The Magical Girl's Burden

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Grease Pencil Marionette knelt in the middle of the gym floor and laid out Card Collector Kasumi. She placed a hand on Kasumi’s face and drew her fingers down across her eyelids.

“I knew her,” she said. “I knew her name. I knew her family. Her parents have no idea she’s a magical girl, though her brother, I think, has figured it out.”

She wiped a sleeve across her eyes. “It’s always hard. Monsters attack, there’s chaos everywhere. When it’s over, you can’t find your child. You’re going mad from worry. Then Marionette shows up at your door to tell you your daughter was so brave—”

Her voice choked off. She lowered her head.

The room was quiet. Rifle Maiden took off her hat and put it over her heart. Jake interlaced his fingers and stared at his shoes, wondering for a moment if he should say something, maybe put a hand on Marionette’s shoulder—

No, things were awkward enough between them already. He kept still and kept his mouth shut.

“I’m just a robot,” Marionette murmured. “Could one of you—?”

By virtue of her powers, every magical girl was a priestess authorized to say the prayer for the departed. Pretty Dynamo stepped forward, knelt beside Marionette, and laid a hand on Kasumi’s forehead. “May the Moon Princess bless her and keep her,” she said. “May her wings enfold her, and may our fallen sister rise swiftly to the Sea of Serenity to take her rightful place at the Princess’s side, to live in glory and delight until the heat death of the universe.”

Dynamo made the sign of the Moon Princess. To Jake’s surprise, she added, “Eternal rest grant unto her, oh Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon her.” Then she crossed herself.

“Thank you,” whispered Marionette.

Natasha, in her sonorous voice, said, “To her whose name is remembered, Magical Girl Card Collector Kasumi; to all those whose names are forgotten, lost in the oceans of time; to all those whose bones are buried in and upon the earth; to all those whose ashes are scattered to the four winds; to you, from the living. May the Divine Assistance remain always with us, and may the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.”

For a moment, Jake shifted from one foot to another, but finally cleared his throat and recited, “Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei raba b’alma di-v’ra chirutei, v’yamlich malchutei b’chayeichon uvyomeichon uvchayei d’chol beit yisrael, ba’agala uvizman kariv, v’im’ru: amen.”

He cleared his throat again and said, “Sorry. That’s all I remember.”

“Sounded purty, though,” Rifle Maiden whispered.

Marionette sniffed and, with the back of her hand, wiped a tear from her cheek. “I never cried for almost two centuries, but now I’ve cried twice in one week. I might have a fault in my eye lubricators, or maybe I need to run a diagnostic on my emotion subroutines.”

“Perhaps you merely draw closer to your goal,” said Natasha as she placed a hand on her shoulder.

Marionette patted Natasha’s hand. “I hate to do this now, but it’s necessary. Kasumi’s powers are transferable.”

Rifle Maiden muttered, “That’s unusual.”

The atmosphere in the room grew more tense. Jake furrowed his brow, but decided, again, to stay silent.

Carefully, Marionette rolled up one of Kasumi’s sleeves, exposing a spring-loaded contraption that ended in a claw hand grasping a stack of cards. Marionette gingerly pulled the cards out. “The rest of you better not touch these. They shouldn’t affect me, but for anyone else, there’s probably a curse.”

“I will throw the bones and see,” said Natasha. She took several steps back, rummaged in her satchel, and pulled out a small bowl wrapped in a badger skin. Hunkering down, she laid the skin on the floor. After shaking the bowl, she tossed out a collection of rodent bones, which pattered on the skin.

Rifle Maiden leaned toward Jake and whispered in his ear, “Most magical girls’ powers can only be used by that girl. Like, no one ’cept me can use my guns. But Kasumi got her first cards when her archaeologist dad dug up the tomb o’ some ancient wizards’ society. Anybody can use ’em if’n he knows how.”

Natasha, bending over the bones, glanced up and added, “But a curse does indeed lie on the cards to prevent exactly that. A very powerful curse.”

“Could you remove it?” Marionette asked.

“Possibly, but it would take time, and it would make the cards most dangerous. I recommend destroying them—or returning them to the tomb. Either will quiet the spirits.”

Marionette rolled up Kasumi’s other sleeve, revealing yet more cards. Then she pulled up her skirt to expose a garter belt holding an entire deck.

“Those are her Tarot cards,” Natasha said as her eyes roved over the bones on the floor. “I can take them without harm. The rest you should burn. You, Marionette, and no one else. Anyone else would incur bad karma. Be particularly careful of the ones that look like ordinary playing cards: they contain her elemental powers, and their curse is strongest.”

“I don’t see them.”

Natasha peered at her bones again. After a moment, she said, “Check her corset.”

Marionette sighed and put a hand to her forehead. “All right, look, I’ll have to do a thorough search to make sure I’ve got them all. I’ll do it after the rest of you leave. Natasha, take the Tarot cards.”

Natasha snatched up the cards and put them in her satchel. She scooped up her bones and the badger skin, and then she laid a pinch of black tobacco, a habanero pepper, and a miniature bottle of liquor at Kasumi’s feet. “Since they fired the Weapon,” she said, “I must perform a spell. If I can placate the Guédé, I may be able to minimize the damage. I will need rum—and a black rooster.”

Marionette nodded. Dabbing her eyes with a sleeve, she rose to her feet. After taking a deep breath, she said, “We’ll find time to mourn later. At the end of the day, we’ll have a lot of dead to bury, but first we have a long hunt. The Robosaurs are desperate: they might run, they might hide out, or they might fight all the more fiercely. There’s no telling. Also, there’s the aftermath of the Weapon to think about. Normal humans, I want you to finally, actually get in the shelter. Keep the radio on. The Temple will sound the all clear when we get this mopped up. Magical girls, I think it best if you go in teams of two. I’ll be coordinating between girls around the city, so—”

Rifle Maiden grabbed Natasha around the waist and pulled her close. “I’m with this lady, like usual. She says she needs a rooster, an’ I’m the one to find chicken, believe you me.”

“Fine. Pretty Dynamo, you’ll have to find another—”

Dynamo snorted. “I work alone.”

“Not today, you don’t.”

“I’ve got my familiar.”

“Good, but familiars don’t fight. He can’t have your back.”

“You’re not the boss of me.”

Marionette’s eyes narrowed. She pulled her pencil, spun it once, and planted its butt on the floor with a loud crack. “I am most assuredly not in the mood right now, Pretty Dynamo. Perhaps you’d like to talk it over with the High Priestess? I think you’ll discover that I am indeed the boss of you.”

“Pretty Dynamo,” said Margherita with a stamp of her foot, “if you don’t behave yourself, you won’t get your juice box!”

Dynamo trembled, but set her mouth in a childish pout.

“You got juice boxes?” Rifle Maiden asked with a cocked eyebrow.

“Absolutely,” Margherita answered, beaming. “Jake saved them from the Robosaurs last night.”

“Welp, this won’t be too bad if’n we get juice boxes.”

Marionette pinched the bridge of her nose, squeezed her eyes shut, and said, “Let’s go ahead and have one now. It’ll keep us charged up for the day. Then, Margherita, keep them in the shelter. We’ll rendezvous here later. How many you got?”

“A few cases.”

“We’ll see about bringing some other girls when we come back, then.”

Margherita pranced into the kitchen, ducked behind the counter, and arose with a palette of juice boxes in her arms. She tore the shrink-wrap from them and began sorting.

“I don’t suppose you have a coffee one in there?” Marionette asked.

“Hm … doesn’t look like it. How about apple milk tea?”

“Sure, I’ll take that.”

“This one,” said Margherita as she held up a box, “says ‘electric blue razzleberry.’ That has Dynamo’s name all over it—but you can only have it if you’re good.”

Dynamo grumbled for a moment, but finally said, “I’ll be good. I’ll go with a partner.”

“Then come an’ get it.” Margherita slapped the juice box onto the counter.

Dynamo turned away from it, crossed her arms, and twisted one foot as she stared at the ceiling. Jake put a hand over his mouth and dipped his head to hide a smile.

Do magical girls really like juice boxes that much?

“Let’s see what else I got,” Margherita said as she rifled through the cases. “I just picked up a couple of variety packs … black currant, cucumber, mauby bark, onion, black garlic, white fungus, swiftlet bird’s nest—”

“Sounds like Marionette and Dynamo got the only good ones,” said Jake.

“I’ll take the garlic,” said Rifle Maiden.

“I’ll take the fungus,” said Natasha.

“Jake? Miss Percy?” asked Margherita. “Any for you?”

Jake said, “Maybe we should leave ’em for the girls—”

“If you want. I’m having this tomato juice myself.”

The girls eagerly grabbed their juice boxes, stabbed straws into them, and drank for a moment in silence. Both Marionette and Natasha poured some of theirs out near Kasumi.

Jake watched Marionette as she sucked her straw. She glanced sidelong at him and, with a small sigh, said, “Go ahead and ask, Jake.”

“Huh? Oh, sorry—”

“No, it’s okay. You wonder how I eat. Everybody does.”

“Well—”

“I could just live off water, but I’d rather not. I have a freeze-dryer in my stomach: I pull water out, separate the deuterium, and expel the rest. You could actually eat and drink my waste products if you wanted, but most people find the idea disgusting.”

“You run on water?”

“Heavy water.” She tapped her chest. “Fusion reactor. It uses a miniaturized plasma wakefield particle accelerator. Don’t ask me to explain it—my father made me to be a magical girl, not a nuclear physicist.”

“Sounds like he could have solved our energy problem.”

“Maybe. He was a brilliant man, even if he worked for—”

Dynamo made a loud slurping sound with her straw, and her juice box crinkled as it collapsed inward. The sound went on for several seconds before Jake snatched the box from her hands. “I think you finished it.”

She glared.

“Okay, girls,” said Marionette, tossing her own box into a rubbish bin by the kitchen, “we’ve wasted enough time. Let’s get a move on.”

“Breakfast and juice,” said Rifle Maiden, leaning on Natasha’s shoulder. “Now I’m ready for anything.”

Natasha pushed her off. “You smell of garlic.”

“Remember, Pretty Dynamo,” said Marionette, “you need to find a partner as soon as—”

Dynamo grabbed Jake by the elbow and yanked him to her side. “I’m with this jackass.”

Marionette put a hand to her forehead and closed her eyes. “Dynamo—”

“C’mon, loser.” Dynamo dragged Jake toward the hole in the wall.

“Dynamo!” Marionette shouted. “You can’t take a—darn it!”

Dynamo pulled him out into the sunlight. With a buzz, Tesla fluttered out after them and landed on Dynamo’s head.

“You know,” said Jake, “I think Marionette’s probably right. There’s not a lot I can do in a—”

“Shut up.” She picked up her pace and forced him to run alongside. “I don’t need anyone to help me. These robots aren’t protected like their ships were. One good shock will arc to their circuits, and then they’re fried. This is a cinch.”

“Although I do think you are capable of undertaking this mission solo,” said Tesla as he pushed his spectacles up his clypeus, “alienating the rest of the magical girl community may have unexpected consequences in the long term.”

“See?” said Jake. “Even your familiar—”

“I told you to shut up.” She let go of his elbow and took his hand instead. For a moment, he marveled at how tiny her fingers were, and how soft. Apparently, wielding the Lightning Rod didn’t give her calluses.

She jogged out of the playground and into the street. Even with her little legs, she was fast. Jake had to run hard to keep up.

Careful not to slip in the spilled hydraulic fluid, they picked their way around the shattered Velociraptors and reached the heaps of metal that had formerly been Fangnasty and Shivslobber. Turning suddenly, Dynamo yanked Jake down an unpaved alley where a cluster of garbage cans sat out beside white picket fences.

There, she stopped and cracked her knuckles. Thrusting a hand behind Jake’s neck and a boot in front of his feet, she knocked him to his knees.

“Dynamo!” shouted Tesla. “Stop it!”

Tesla brushed a foreleg against her face, but she threw him off. Grabbing Jake by the chin, she shook his head back and forth, making his jaw ache. “You,” she snarled. “You blew my cover!”

She threw him. His back smacked hard into a rubbish bin and knocked it over. He tumbled to the ground, and gravel bit into his shoulder blades as tin cans, glass bottles, and decomposed food sprayed across the alley.

With a wince and a faint grunt, he sat up. Laying his elbows on his knees, he took a moment to catch his breath and said, “You know what? I am getting seriously tired of you.”

She wiped her mouth with the back of a hand.

He found his feet, ran, and tackled her, aiming low so he landed his shoulder against her exposed midriff instead of her plate armor. In her magical form, she was considerably stronger than he was, but he was still heavier: she stuck a foot out behind and slid backwards for several feet, turning sideways as she did to redirect his force and keep herself upright. At the same time, she rained elbow jabs into his back. Once she stopped sliding, she kneed him in the gut.

Her blows were sharp, instantly taking the wind from his lungs. He grabbed her right leg, pulled hard to knock her off balance, and rolled his shoulder into her.

To his surprise, it worked. With an oof! she fell hard on her back. Then he was on top of her. He raised a fist—

And hesitated. He knew he couldn’t seriously hurt her. He had a better chance of breaking his knuckles against her nose than the other way around, but he still couldn’t slug a girl.

He ducked his head and carefully, gently, tapped his fist against her chin.

That lopsided grin appeared again on her mouth, the grin she wore when she pulled stunts on her Circuit Board.

She gave him a left hook to the jaw, ringing his bells. The world turned fuzzy. Then she was on her feet, landing fists and elbows on his torso. He couldn’t count the blows. For five seconds, he was a punching bag.

“Dyna!” Tesla shouted, buzzing in a circle overhead. “Dyna, stop it!”

With fingers extended, she brought a backhand strike, a killing blow, within an inch of Jake’s neck. There, she paused. Then she placed a finger to his forehead, pushed, and laid him out.

From the dust, he stared up at the blue sky. His breathing was ragged. His chest and stomach ached. He knew he’d have bruises, but nothing was broken. She hadn’t hit him hard enough.

She stood over him, pointed, and said, “I can kill you. Never forget that.”

“You know what, Dana? You are a serious jerk.”

She grabbed his collar, yanked him up, and brought her nose against his.“What is my name?”

“Get stuffed.”

She dropped him. His head cracked against the ground, and white specks swam in his eyes.

“Everybody knows who the zap I am because of you!”

“How is that my fault?” Wheezing, he staggered to his feet and stumbled into a fence as he found his balance. “I tried to protect your identity, and this is what I get?”

“You wrote that stupid note!”

“So what? If you hadn’t pushed me in the closet—”

“I only did that because of your note!”

“If you’d left me the heck alone, I wouldn’t know who you were in the first place!”

“If you weren’t in my zappin’ class, I would have left you alone!”

His back ached. Gingerly, he put a hand to it and rubbed. “Believe me, I would like to be anywhere, anywhere at all, other than at a desk next to a little twit like you.”

She clenched her fists, unclenched them, and finally turned her back on him.

“You brought it all on yourself, Dana.”

She spun around. “Dynamo! My name is Pretty Dynamo!” Clapping a hand to her forehead, she muttered, “Everyone in town is gonna know who I am, thanks to you—”

“Dynamo,” he said. “Fine. Dynamo. I’ll get it right. No hints, no jokes, no more notes. I won’t tell—”

“It’s too late!”

“Ah, relax. A couple of magical girls have a clue, and that pizza lady, but that’s it. Miss Percy doesn’t know; that woman can’t put two and two together outside of math class.”

Dynamo grumbled.

Tesla landed on her head and settled in her blue hair. His antennae twitched as he adjusted his cracked spectacles. “Pretty Dynamo, this is utterly unacceptable. I didn’t call on the gods of thunder to give you powers so you could—”

“Quiet, Tes.”

“No, I will not be quiet! I absolutely forbid you to strike humans!”

She grumbled again and crossed her arms.

Jake ran his fingers through his hair, which was now full of dirt from the alleyway. “Are we fighting dinosaurs, or what? Let’s get this over with.”

“You should get in the shelter,” Dynamo muttered.

“So you brought me out here just to beat me up? Nothin’ doin’. Now you’re stuck with me.”

She grunted and walked toward the alley’s far end. “You must like getting beat and blown up,” she said over her shoulder, “if you wanna hang out with me.”

“Hey, my ancestors were mostly Polish Jews. They were used to having everything in the universe trying to kill them.”

She stopped and turned. Her eyes narrowed. “You’re a Jew?”

“You got a problem with that, Catholic girl?”

She laughed. “But you’re black.”

“I’m not black. I’m mixed. So are a lot of people, especially in this part of town. You’re the freak, redhead, not me.”

Her smile immediately disappeared. “Right. I’m a freak.” Fists clenched, she spun on her heel and marched to the alley’s mouth. Jake had to jog to keep up.

“C’mon, that’s not what I meant—”

She turned onto the sidewalk. “Sure it wasn’t.”

“It wasn’t!”

When he rounded the corner, he ran straight into her back. She had her head down, and her thumbs ran back and forth over her knuckles, as if she was contemplating punching him again.

“Dana, I’m sorry—”

Heck, she was just slugging me, so why am I apologizing?

“—but I really didn’t mean anything by it. It’s okay to be different. I think it’s great that you’ve got red hair. There’s not a lot of that left, and—”

“I’m not really Catholic.”

“Huh?”

She was looking down at the pavement. He was looking at the back of her head and at Tesla’s big abdomen.

“I’m not really Catholic. I mean, I was baptized, but that’s about it. My dad was really into it, before—”

She cut herself off, but he could guess a likely end to her sentence.

“Dana, I’m sorry.”

Drat. I said it again.

He rubbed the back of his neck. “And I’m not much of a Jew, either. I learned some stuff from my dziadek—uh, that’s my grandfather—but my dad’s really devoted to the Moon Princess, and my mom pretty much stopped practicing, and I love bacon, so there you go. Aside from amezuzah on the front door, there’s not much Jewishness in our house.”

She laughed again, but it was quiet and slow, not her usual bright chuckle.

Cautiously, he put a hand on her shoulder. “So you’re a bad Catholic, and I’m a bad Jew, and we’re both misfits, right? I mean it when I say I don’t think you’re a freak. I think, um, I think your hair is really pretty.”

Heat crept into his face, and he muttered to himself in embarrassment.

A few seconds passed, and then she pulled his hand from her shoulder. “I didn’t say you could touch me.”

“Right.”

They made their way down another of Juban’s streets. The roads were deserted and quiet; most people were underground.

“I miss my Board,” she grumbled.

“Tesla said you can fix it, right?”

“It’s not that simple.”

Tesla cleared his throat. “The Circuit Board is one of Pretty Dynamo’s powers. It’s a part of her. She can’t ‘fix’ it any more than you can fix a broken bone. It has to heal.”

“But it’s a machine, right? Didn’t you say Dynamo is part machine?”

Dynamo pulled on the fringe of her tutu. “All this stuff, it sort of … I don’t know how to say it … it sort of grows out of me, I guess.”

“Those aren’t clothes she’s wearing,” said Tesla. “They’re extensions of her body. That’s why she transforms. If those were ordinary clothes, she could simply get dressed the same way you do.”

Jake nodded. “So … does that mean you’re actually naked right now?”

She glared at him. “You are such a creep.”

They were silent for a moment, but then she tugged on one of her vambraces and said, “It doesn’t come off, though. I guess that’s good, cuz when I’m fighting, nothing slips.”

“How do you go to the bathroom?”

She rolled her eyes. “I don’t.”

“You just hold it?”

“Rrr … I don’t have to. Not in this form.”

“That’s handy.”

She tapped her index fingers together and hunched her shoulders. “Sometimes, I gotta go real bad when I change back. And this one time, after I first started … no, never mind.”

“You wet your pants, didn’t you?”

“Shut up!”

“It’s all right,” Jake said, trying to stretch his back as he walked. “I wet my pants once at that age—”

“That’s because you’re a loser.”

“Then we’re both losers.”

She tugged on her pigtails. “It was different in my case! Ah, forget it. We need to get downtown. That’s where the serious fighting’ll be.”

She took off running, and Jake followed.

“I’m used to flying,” she said over her shoulder. “I’m not sure how—”

“Public transport’s down.”

“Yeah. Some o’ the ground-bounders are real quick, but I’ve never practiced parkour like they do.”

“Don’t expect me to keep up with you if you start doing that.”

After a pause, she said, “You did all right the other day.”

She had her eyes forward again, so he couldn’t see her face, but there was something in her voice different from the growling annoyance he had heard a moment before.

“I like to think I’m fast,” he said, “but I’m no magical girl.”

“Heh.” Without breaking stride, she leapt high into the air, landed on the roof of a nearby bungalow and, with torso bent forward and arms spread out behind, sprinted across the shingles. She leapt again and, with a heavy clomp, landed on the road several paces in front of him.

“Exactly. I can’t do stuff like that.”

“Dyna,” said Tesla, still perched in her hair, “don’t go ruining people’s roofs for no reason.”

She stopped running, turned, and twisted her mouth. “Hm … I can hotwire a car—”

Grateful for the pause, Jake grabbed his knees and struggled to catch his breath. “Really?”

“Yeah, it’s easy.” She held up two fingers, and a hot, white snap of electricity arced between them.

“Isn’t that grand theft auto?”

“Not when I do it.”

Tesla sniffed again. “Technically, you two, it’s called joyriding when you take a vehicle but don’t intend to keep it. In this case, however, it would be commandeering, and it would be legal under Urbanopolis Statute 2731, which protects magical girls on active duty. A magical girl can be prosecuted only in extremely limited circumstances for looting, murder, or grievous bodily harm with intent.”

Dynamo pulled her pigtails again. “C’mon. I want a fast car.”

When she continued jogging, Jake called, “Does this law protect me?”

“Sidekick clause,” said Tesla from her hair. “You’re covered.”

“Hey,” said Dynamo, “he is not my sidekick.”

From up the street came a sound of clanking and crunching. Dynamo stopped and held up a hand. Jake crept up behind her and waited. Pulling her wand, she whispered, “Thunder Bolt.”

The wand shifted, making faint whirring and clicking noises as it transformed into a crossbow. She ducked low, sprinted across a yard, and pressed flat against the side of a house. Making considerably more noise, Jake followed.

She peeked around the corner. “Two of ’em. Big ones.”

He stepped up close behind her and looked over her head at the intersection of two broad streets, where a demolished corner market sat. Bricks, wooden beams, and dust littered the street, along with burst bags of potato chips and laundry detergent. Crouching over the rubble and pawing through it were two large robots, their feet equipped with three thick toes each. Their long forelimbs, half like arms and half like legs, hung from forward-hunched shoulders. Their jaws were shovel-shaped, and they had tiny crests on the tops of their heads.

“Some kind o’ hadrosaur,” he whispered. “Maybe an Edmontosaurus? Hmm …”

I don’t care,” she whispered back. “Check that out.”

She pointed. On the street near the market, untouched by the damage, sat a sleek, low-set, electric blue Pagani Wobbegong, one of the most powerful sports cars on the Urbanopolis streets. Its front bumper was little more than an inch off the pavement.

“Zero to sixty in two point eight seconds,” she whispered. “Carbon titanium frame. Six-liter V8 supercharged engine. Top speed of two hundred and—”

“How do you know all that?”

“I saw it on TV.”

“Ah, c’mon, that thing’s a gas-guzzler. Our oil field isn’t getting any bigger, you know.”

“Whatever.”

“How about an Ambassador? Fuel-efficient and almost never needs repairs. Best-selling car in town right now.”

“Bleh.” She stuck out her tongue.

“As a magical girl, you should set an example by being ecologically responsible.”

“No, as a magical girl, I should look cool.”

She pointed her crossbow, and a bolt rose out of its trapdoor. “I’ll shoot the dino on the left first, then the right—”

Jake started when a strange, high-pitched laughter reached his ears: “Oho ho ho ho!”

Dynamo lowered her head. “Oh no—”

The robotic dinosaurs looked up from their looting and snarled. One released a sonorous bellow.

“Though deceivers weave their tangled webs, my warp and weft are always true!” cried a girl’s voice. “A stitch in time stops crime—for I am Magical Girl Sword Seamstress! Oho ho ho ho!”

In a cloud of purple smoke, a slender girl appeared on what was left of the shattered store’s roof. She wore a black, long-sleeved minidress with poufy skirts. White lace accented her sleeves and collar. Marking her high stockings was a pattern of black and white diamonds. Folded silk roses adorned her miniature top hat. Her long, white hair hung in a braided ponytail intertwined with black lace. On her hands, she wore white gloves.

Dynamo drew back and pushed into Jake. “Zap.”

From her garter belts, Sword Seamstress drew what Jake at first thought were pistols with big, golden knuckle guards instead of ordinary trigger guards, but then the gadgets unfolded with a loud clatter. What appeared to be slender barrels extended until they were three feet long, and the knuckle guards expanded and twisted until they became the sweepings of rapiers. She snapped these swords upward from her hips, passing her right hand across her tasseled Swiss belt as she did so. From the belt leapt a small, red ball. Sword Seamestress caught it on the tips of her swords and, with several precise flicks too quick for Jake’s eye to follow, transformed it into a sweater.

Holding the sweater overhead on her blades, she cried, “I have come to mend the tears in the fabric of justice! Beware, evildoers, for I will bind you to your judgment!”

“Sword Seamstress,” Dynamo muttered. “I can’t stand her!”

“Unholy Christmas Sweater!” Sword Seamstress shouted. She flung her arms outward, hurling the sweater from her weapons. Instead of heading for the dinosaurs, it sailed across the street and struck Dynamo full in the chest. With a groan, she tumbled backwards into Jake as Tesla, with an angry buzz, jumped from her head.

“Oh no!” cried Jake as he fell to the ground and she landed on top of him. “You’re hit! How bad is it?”

He scrabbled at her, but met something soft and fibrous instead of her armor.

She slapped his hands away. “Hey! Hey! No touchies!”

When she jumped up, Jake gasped. “Holy Princess … that is ugly.”

Enwrapping Dynamo’s torso was a frumpy, lumpy sweater probably large enough to hang to her knees, though it bunched up above both her powder puff tutu and her vambraces. It featured a green, knitted image of a Christmas tree, complete with working, flashing string lights interlaced with the yarn. The words “Happy Xmas Cutie Pie” appeared beneath the tree in pink cursive.

With a growl in her throat, Dynamo grabbed the sweater and tugged. Then she tugged again. Then her eyes widened. “It won’t come off!”

“Oho ho ho!” cackled Sword Seamstress. “I have struck you with my Unholy Christmas Sweater Attack, Pretty Dynamo—a sweater so ugly, it will make you lose the will to fight, the will to live! Curl up and die, Dynamo! Curl up and die from embarrassment!”

A white Ragdoll cat stepped out from behind Sword Seamstress’s left foot, sat on the edge of the roof, and licked its paw.

Hovering in the air, Tesla sniffed. “Stitches. I see you’re here as well.”

“Ah, Tesla,” the cat purred. “Shall we finish what we started, you insignificant insect? I could squash you like a bug.” She extended her claws.

“I’ll defeat you easily,” Tesla replied. “You’re a pussy.”

Stitches arched her back and spat.

“It’s gonna take more than a bad sweater to stop me!” Dynamo shouted as she shook a fist. “Let me crank up the heat, Sword Seamstress, and you can fry in your own greasy personality!”

“Hey,” said Jake, “shouldn’t we think about the dinosaurs—?”

From the hip, Dynamo fired two bolts. They hissed through the air and smacked into the bricks on either side of Sword Seamstress’s feet. Sword Seamstress’s eyes widened, and she clenched her teeth as her wrists turned outward and her swords bowed, drawn by the bolts’ powerful electromagnetic fields.

Dynamo clicked the button on her crossbow. “Sew on this, wench!”

Sword Seamstress leapt from the roof as a blinding flash erupted between the bolts. The back wall of the shattered shop exploded, and fragments of brick pelted the two hadrosaurs, who snarled and roared. A stink of flint and ozone filled the air.

Surprisingly lithe in her stiletto heels, Sword Seamstress somersaulted in the air and landed only twenty feet from Dynamo. She brought one sword up to her face in an elegant salute. “Well, that was electrifying. Cat’s Cradle!”

Another ball of yarn leapt from her belt. With swift flicks, she transformed it into a net and sent it zooming through the air.

“Surge Protector!” With a whir and a clatter, a large, oval-shaped shield unfolded from Dynamo’s left vambrace. Gritting her teeth, she ducked into a defensive crouch.

Sword Seamstress laughed. “That might protect you from a surge, Pretty Dynamo, but can it protect you from serge?”

The net struck the shield and wrapped around it. From the net, a single strand of yarn stretched to Sword Seamstress’s left hand. With a hard tug, she pulled Dynamo off balance and sent her face-first into the ground.

Dynamo kicked her legs back and then down to bring her body upright. Her shield collapsed into her arm, but instead of freeing herself, she entwined her hand in the tangled yarn and held tight. “Hey, Sword Seamstress, how many volts should I apply to make this conduct?”

There was a faint buzz, like a motor turning on. Sword Seamstress swiftly let go, slid backwards, and dropped to one knee. The yarn burst into orange flames.

“Lightning Rod!” As her crossbow transformed first into a wand and then expanded into a spear, Dynamo shook off the burning yarn and made a flying leap, aiming her bright weapon for Sword Seamstress’s face.

Sword Seamstress raised a sword and deflected. Then she somersaulted backwards and gained her feet. Dynamo came in swinging, but Sword Seamstress swept aside her whirlwind strikes and made bold lunges in reply. Apparently, though her swords were metal, her thick fencers’ gloves were enough to protect her from the Lightning Rod’s electrical charge.

Dynamo jumped back and slid several feet across the asphalt. She raised her spear overhead and, with a sound like oil sizzling in a skillet, broke it in half. Electricity arced between the two halves for a moment as she separated them. Spinning each in her hands, she hurled herself into the fray again, now countering Sword Seamstress’s two weapons with two of her own. After a rapid exchange of strikes, parries, and ripostes, the two were soon locked in a corps à corps, each with her twin weapons pressed against the other’s.

The hadrosaurs watched the battling magical girls for a minute. Then they looked at each other, shrugged, bellowed, and charged.

“Look out!” Jake shouted.

Sword Seamstress and Dynamo looked up. “What a nuisance!” cried Sword Seamstress.

“Yeah,” said Dynamo. “Can’t they see we’re busy?”

They disengaged and, as one, threw themselves at the dinosaurs. Dynamo jumped and brought both halves of her spear down into the eye sockets of one, instantly dropping it. Sword Seamstress gracefully flipped over the head of the other and swung her blades against its neck, easily severing it. With a heavy crunch and screech, its head smashed into the pavement.

Wow. Cheesed-off magical girls are really scary.

Once the dinosaurs were down, Sword Seamstress stood on the back of one, and Pretty Dynamo stood on the back of the other. The magical girls faced off, knees bent and weapons raised. The white cat appeared again and wove herself back and forth around Sword Seamstress’s feet. Tesla buzzed in the air above Dynamo.

“Why are you always on my back?” Dynamo shouted.

Sword Seamstress tossed her head and brushed a strand of white hair over one ear. “Answer me this question, Pretty Dynamo—what does that boyover there mean to you?”

“What? That’s none of your business!”

“Ha! Isn’t it? Well, this has been most entertaining, but now I must run—like cheap stockings. Au revoir, Pretty Dynamo! Oho ho ho ho!”

The cat jumped to her shoulder. She shot into the air and spun like a top, her swords glittering in the fading sunlight.

Dynamo dropped half her spear and raised a hand. “Ball Lightning!”

A white, crackling sphere blasted from her palm, but it sailed away over Sword Seamstress’s head.

“Darn you, Sword Seamstress!”

Sword Seamstress laughed again. “I am the Seamstress, my little Dynamo! I do the darning! Oho ho ho!”

With that, she disappeared over the rooftops.

Dynamo reconnected the two halves of her spear with a sizzle and a snap. Then she set about trying to cut through her sweater with the tip, but after a few minutes, gave up.

“So that was Sword Seamstress with her Knitting Rapiers,” said Jake. “I got a friend who used to be a big fan.”

“They’re actually closer to Tunisian crochet hooks,” said Tesla as he settled again on Dynamo’s head. “Note the unique pattern in Dyna’s new sweater.”

Dynamo grunted and jumped down from the ruined dinosaur. “That lousy Sword Seamstress. When I get my … eh, forget it. Let’s get out of here already.”

Clearly in a bad mood, with the lumpy sweater having now slid over her skirt so that it hung to her knees, she stomped toward the fancy sports car.

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