Jake half climbed and half slid down the ladder. Because of the hole the dinosaur had made, it was ten feet between the bottommost rung and the pavement. He carefully lowered himself from the lowest rung and dangled for a few seconds before he dropped. Such a fall would have stung if he had been in his Oxfords, but, fortunately, he was in basketball shoes. Once he was on the ground, he helped Miss Percy down by letting her lower herself onto his shoulders.

After he got her to the pavement, she gazed unhappily at her pumps. “What a day to be in heels.”

“I wonder,” Jake muttered, half to himself, “if we should try to find some kind of weapon—”

“What good would that do?”

“I don’t think these are magical monsters.” He shaded his eyes and peered again into the sky. “It looks like the tower guns are doing real damage. That means these are just ordinary, run-of-the-mill dinosaur robots from space.”

Miss Percy shook her head. “Why does everything in the universe want to kill us?”

“Who knows?”

“My purse is in the classroom. I have pepper spray.”

“We need something stronger.” He took her hand. “C’mon.”

A cyclone fence surrounded the school grounds. Built into its east end was a gate meant for trucks delivering goods to the cafeteria. That gate lay open. Jake and Miss Percy ran out, glancing as they did toward the front of the building where the metal Triceratops lay gasping.

“Maybe a gun,” he said.

“Don’t tell me you’re one of those people. You can’t kill a monster with a gun.”

“We could kill these things, maybe—”

“They’re big.”

“An elephant gun.”

“They’re armored.”

“An elephant gun with armor-piercing bullets?”

“They’re technologically advanced space aliens, Jake. You need magical weapons for things like this. That’s why it’s the magical girls’ job to fight. For the rest of us, it’s our job to stay alive. That’s the will of the Moon Princess!”

“Were you ever a magical girl, Miss Percy?”

She flushed. “Of course not!”

When they reached an intersection, a dark-haired young woman wearing a simple jacket and pencil skirt, and pushing a baby carriage, rounded a corner and jogged their way. She screamed when she saw them, “Is there a shelter in the school?”

Glittering like silver, a Tyrannosaurus rex stepped around the corner behind her, its body stooped and the fingers of its little arms groping and flexing. Its eyes were glowing red orbs set in deeply pitted sockets, and its enormous mouth opened to display long, serrated teeth that glistened in the ruddy evening light. The dinosaur roared with a sound like steel scraping across glass.

Jake whispered, “It’s like a dream come true … sort of.”

Miss Percy clutched his arm. “You have awful dreams.”

“As a kid, I always wanted to see a T. rex fight a Stegosaurus. It really ticked me off that they lived millions of years apart.”

A Stegosaurus armatus, thirty feet long and equipped with huge fins bristling along its back, lumbered out of an alley. It saw the Tyrannosaur and screamed with a sound like poorly oiled gears struggling to turn.

“Oh Princess,” Jake whispered, “this is gonna be awesome.”

The Tyrannosaur shook its huge head and opened its mouth again, but instead of a roar, a high-pitched but slightly stuffy voice came forth, like that of a British man speaking through a tube: “Greetings, Shivslobber. Having a good time producing mayhem amongst these primitive mammals?”

“I grow tired of the meatbags’ running and screaming, Fangnasty,” the Stegosaur replied. “Why have we invaded this backwater world? Most of its surface is already laid waste, so what good is it to us?”

“Who knows?” said Fangnasty. “What can we Robosaurs do except follow the will of our Lord Reptilon?”

“Darn it,” said Jake, “they’re friends. This sucks.” Seeing the dinosaurs distracted by their conversation, he ran toward the woman with the baby carriage.

“I admit,” said Fangnasty, “that though I enjoy butchering these hairless warmbloods, I find some of their females strangely attractive.”

“You’ve been cooped up too long in your service pod, Fangnasty!” Shivslobber uttered a laugh that sounded like the turning of a rusty hinge.

The woman shrieked and threw herself across her carriage as the Tyrannosaur tromped her way and, with machine oil dripping like saliva from his gaping jaw, leaned over her. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

She shivered. “Um … I’m Margherita Della Mozzarella—”

“Well, Margherita, what say you and me go for a ride on my flying saucer, and I’ll show you my gyros?”

“Sorry. I don’t like Greek food.”


“And I really don’t like men with tiny arms.”

Fangnasty’s grin disappeared. He reared his head back and released an earthshaking scream. “Come with me, wench, if you want me to spare your offspring!”

Jake skidded to a halt, ran sideways, and waved his arms. “Hey, over here, ugly!”

Fangnasty stepped toward him and tilted his head. “Ugly? Is that a taunt? Do you think I have any concern for the aesthetic preferences of a soft-fleshed, hairless ape?”

“And your arms are puny!” Jake shouted. “They look stupid on your fat torso! You don’t even have opposable thumbs!”

“That’s it!” snarled Fangnasty. “Now I’m going to crush you into jelly!”

“Ooh, will it be strawberry jelly?” asked Shivslobber. “That’s my favorite kind!”

Fangnasty snorted. “Idiot! Human jelly, of course—as you’d realize if your positronic brain weren’t the size of a walnut!”

Shivslobber took three steps forward and swung his tail back and forth. He struck a bungalow with his spikes and sent a shower of wooden splinters across the street. “What did you say, you overgrown Oviraptor?”

“Oviraptor?” Fangnasty’s heavy tread cracked the asphalt as he swung his bulk around to face the Stegosaur. “You would say that to me, you flat-footed cretin with useless fins?”

“Better than your useless arms!”

“Say that again! I dare you!”

Shivslobber gave a low, deep chuckle. “Fangnasty, I was just talking to the Siats meekerorum, and he says you’re a wuss!”

“Oh yeah? Well, I was just talking to your second brain, and he says you’re a moron!”

“I don’t really have a second brain, which shows how smart you are!”

“Too bad! You could use one!”

“Oh, and the Siats has three fingers on each hand. How many you got?”

“That’s it!” Ducking low, with his head almost at street level, Fangnasty rushed. Shivslobber, with surprising speed, spun around and swiped his tail across the Tyrannosaur’s face.

Fangnasty shrieked as he staggered sideways. Three of his serrated teeth flew from his mouth. “Augh! I’ll get you for that, you tree-hugging herbivore!”

“Meat is murder!” Shivslobber shouted as he charged. With a crunch like the sound of two freight trucks colliding, the dinosaurs tore into each other, fighting tooth, claw, and spike.

Jake pumped a fist in the air. “Life goal achieved!” He sprinted to Margherita and grabbed her baby carriage. “C’mon, we gotta get outta here! I’ll take your baby—wait, what?”

A glance into the open top of the carriage revealed, not an infant, but three large cases of juice boxes packed in shrink-wrap.

With a sheepish smile, Margherita shrugged. “I get thirsty.”

Jake’s plan had been to grab the carriage and high-tail it toward safety with Margherita in tow. With his heart pounding in his ears and adrenaline coursing through his veins, he didn’t think to alter that plan, so he grabbed the carriage full of juice boxes, turned it toward the school, and ran for all he was worth.

With his gigantic jaws, Fangnasty snapped several plates from Shivslobber’s back, and Shivslobber squealed.

“Ha! Just try attracting any mates with that setup, quadruped!”

“I’ll get more than you get with those puny arms, theropod!”


Miss Percy’s glasses slid down her nose. She clenched her fists in front of her throat, shook her head back and forth, and cried, “Those lizards are terrible!”

“C’mon!” Jake shouted as he neared her. “Let’s head for the—!”

Behind him, Margherita spun around and, with hair whipping in the wind, pointed her palms at the battling monsters. She cried, “Pizza Sauce of Power!”

Nothing happened. She hunched her shoulders and turned red in the face. “Sorry. Old habit.”

Near the school’s front entrance, the Triceratops finally rolled up onto its back, tucked in two legs, and threw itself over onto its stomach. Ponderously, with a groan of straining joints, it rose to its feet, shook its massive head, and called with a voice like a poorly tuned trombone, “Fangnasty! Shivslobber! Why do you fight each other when your prey cowers before you?”

The Triceratops blocked the front door, and there were no other entrances on this side of the building. Jake thought for a moment of throwing a crate of juice boxes through a window, but he doubted the three of them could climb inside before the dinosaurs reached them.

“The hole it made in the wall,” Jake said, taking Miss Percy by the arm. “We can get in—!”

“Human!” the Triceratops roared. “I’ll pay you back treble for what you did to me!”

It lowered its head and charged.

“Run!” Jake shouted. “Head for the playground!”

He made it no more than four steps before the Triceratops’s frill exploded in a red flash. The dinosaur first blinked in surprise, but then released a piercing screech.

“Yeah!” Jake shouted. “Take that, horn-face! I always believed you were nothing but a baby Torosaurus, and not a separate species!”

Miss Percy put a hand on his shoulder. “Jake, you really need to stop. The dinosaur geekery is getting out of hand.”

In another red burst, the rest of the Triceratops’s head disappeared, leaving behind a ragged neck full of sparking wires and tubes spurting hydraulic fluid. Gears, bolts, and twisted metal fragments plopped onto the grass or clanked onto the asphalt. The body swayed on its legs and then collapsed. It settled to the ground with a cacophony of clatters and crunches.

Fangnasty and Shivslobber, with much of their plating shredded into ragged strips of sheet metal, paused in their fight. Fangnasty screamed, “What is happening?”

“It must be one of the humans’ warrior vixens,” snarled Shivslobber as an antenna extended from the top of his head. “I will call for a unit of the clawfoots! They will—gaahhh!”

The antenna snapped, and then Shivslobber’s face disappeared in another red flash. Metal shards hissed and whined against the street or plunked into the houses. A window shattered with a crash.

Fangnasty lifted his body so high that his tail almost touched the ground. He raised a tiny arm, clenched its two tiny fingers, and shook his tiny fist. “Show yourself, human female! Face me, if you are not a coward!”

On the roof of a nearby house, a figure rose up from behind a dormer and stood tall. She looked to be about fifteen, with the slim, willowy build of a girl who’d recently finished her growth spurt. Long, blond hair waved in the evening breeze. A white stetson sat on her head, and she wore a tan canvas duster. Under that, she sported a leather waistcoat and a loose-fitting button-up shirt adorned with a bolo tie. Clipped to her coat was a star-shaped badge that caught the fading sunlight with a golden glow. Crossed gun belts filled with ivory-handled revolvers rode low on her hips. In her hands was what appeared to be a Winchester rifle. She had pulled her hat low to hide her face, but even so, Jake could see that she chewed on a stalk of wheat.

She wore cowboy boots and spurs, but above those, instead of the blue jeans he expected, she had on only a tiny pair of red bicycle shorts.

She tipped her hat back, grinned a toothy grin, and twirled her rifle around her trigger finger, a move that Jake thought looked unnecessarily dangerous. “Magical Girl Rifle Maiden atcher service,” she said with a twang.

Fangnasty roared, but the sound choked off and turned into a strangled gurgle. His head twisted sideways and then, with a horrific squeal of rending metal, snapped completely from his neck. It smashed into the ground, and his body soon tumbled after, landing with a crunch loud enough to rattle the nearby windows.

Rifle Maiden spun her rifle again and slid it into a sheath on her back.

“How’d she do that?” Margherita whispered. “She didn’t even call a spell!”

Rifle Maiden leapt, twisted in the air, and landed cat-like on the road. “Whoo-whee!” she shouted. “They don’t make robot dinosaurs from space like they used to!”

Swaggering and looking slightly bow-legged, she marched straight up to Jake and touched her hat in a nonchalant salute.

“Howdy, pardner.”

“Thanks,” said Jake, putting out a hand. “We really owe you—”

“Well now, ain’t you a tall drink o’ water?” Rifle Maiden pushed her hat back until a shock of yellow hair peeked out. She strolled around him and looked him up and down. At last, she leaned on his shoulder and gave him an easy grin. “After this here shindig’s over, what’s say you an’ me head on down to the saloon for a sarsaparilla?”

Jake swallowed. “I have a girlfriend.”

She leaned close, practically meeting his face with her own. The stalk of wheat in her mouth tickled his neck. Her wide, slightly bucktoothed grin grew wider, and the freckles stood out on her cheeks. “Hey, I know you! Barfin’ Boy, am I right? Didn’t recognize ya at first without stuff comin’ outta yer mouth.”

She clapped him on the back and made him wince. “Ever’body in town knows you’re sweet on ol’ Purty Dynamo. Welp, I wouldn’t wanna cross that little missy. She’s a scary one.”

Jake ground his teeth together, but decided not to argue.

“Wait,” said Margherita, slowly walking toward him with a hand extended, as if approaching some strange and possibly dangerous creature, “you’re Barfing Boy?”

“Sort of—”

She grasped his hand. “Oh Princess, wow. It’s not just anybody who can keep up with Pretty Dynamo, and you’re even a boy!”

“That big guy over yonder,” said Rifle Maiden as she leaned on him again, “the one with the three horns—from the crushed brick on the buildin’, it looks to me like he took a tumble. Y’all wouldn’t o’ had nothin’ to do with that, wouldja, Barfy?”

He glanced at Miss Percy. “Well, he attacked us, and then he followed us to the roof—”

“Hoo, doggies!” She slapped him again. He stumbled. “That’s some mighty fine monster-fightin’ fer a boy! No wonder ya caught ol’ Dynamo’s eye.”

Jake gingerly rotated his shoulders. “I didn’t. She just—”

A hollow clanking noise came from behind one of the houses. He tensed, expecting another robot. Miss Percy hunched behind him, put her hands on his shoulders, and whimpered.

Out from behind the house walked a Holstein cow, its white coat spotted with black and its heavy udders swinging. From its neck dangled a ringing cowbell.

“Bossy!” yelled Rifle Maiden. She ran to the cow and threw her arms around its neck. Looking at the others with a broad grin full of pearly white teeth, she said, “This here’s my familiar—”

“Your familiar is a cow?” said Jake.

“Sure as shootin’.”

“Not, I dunno, a horse?”

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m a cowgirl.”

“Well, yeah, but—”

“Oh, Rifle Maiden,” Bossy said in a singsong, “ya done another good deed, don’cha know?”

“Have I?” Rifle Maiden cried.

“Oh ja. When ya killed dem mean ol’ robots, don’cha know? An’ it’s set me cowbell a-ringin’, an’ whenever a cowbell rings—”

“A cowgirl gets her wings,” Rifle Maiden said with a nod. She released Bossy and danced a jig in the street. Pausing after a few steps, she called, “Hey, Barfin’ Boy, wanna join me fer dinner tonight? We’re havin’ Buffalo wings. Ya gotta keep ’em down, though.”

Jake rubbed his temples, feeling a headache coming on. “So you’re not fighting to save the city from destruction, but because you wanna eat wings?”

“You would too if’n y’all were me. Them’s some mighty fine wings!”

“Bossy,” he said to the cow, “you’re seriously using Buffalo wings to bribe a girl to fight monsters? How can you do that?”

“Eat more chicken,” Bossy replied.

Margherita cleared her throat. “What I want to know is how you took care of that big guy, the really ugly one with the tiny arms.”

“Oh, that,” said Rifle Maiden. “That weren’t me.” She put two fingers in her mouth and delivered a shrill whistle. “Oy! C’mon outta thar!”

Across the street, on top of another house, a girl rose up from behind a chimney. Easily the strangest magical girl Jake had ever seen, she had long, scraggly dreadlocks jutting from under a tall top hat. She wore little else aside from a grass skirt and a bra that appeared to be made from the front halves of two human skulls. A black cape, clasped at one shoulder with a gold medallion, draped over her back. She was barefoot, but had bangles on her wrists and ankles. White ash coated her dark skin. Her face was heavily made up, decorated like a fanciful skull from the Day of the Dead, with black coating her eye sockets, white teeth outlining her lips, and curlicues highlighting everything else. An ivory Ball Python was draped around her neck; it occasionally licked the air with its forked tongue.

The girl dropped to the house’s lawn and undulated toward Jake and the others. She moved like a dancer, or like a skilled fighter. As a rule, magical girls were petite, but this one was unusually tall and unusually full-figured.

Very, very full-figured.

Those can’t be real, Jake thought as he struggled to keep his eyes off her chest. I mean, they must be part of her costume, or—

“Magical Girl Voodoo Queen Natasha,” she said in a surprisingly deep voice. “I am sorry I could not help you sooner, but my juju takes time, yes?” She held up a wax figurine crudely shaped like the dead Tyrannosaur, minus its head. Then she held up the head as well and, with an air of contempt, dropped both to the street.

“How ya doin’, Queenie?” Rifle Maiden asked.

Natasha sighed. “As well as you might expect, my gun-slinging friend. My back is killing me.” She put her hands to her lower back, grimaced, and stretched. “Seven more months of this, and then I can finally retire—and finally get my breast reduction surgery.”

Whoa, they are real!

Natasha peered closely at Jake. “You there,” she said.


Putting a hand to his chin, she forced him to look into her heavily painted face. “My eyes are up here.”

He swallowed once and smiled nervously.

She cocked her head. “Hm. I sense much mojo. Are you not the Boy Who Barfs?”

“He is!” cried Rifle Maiden.

Natasha nodded. “Magical Girl Pretty Dynamo’s chosen consort. I see.”

She reached into a pouch at her waist, rummaged around, and pulled out a tiny bag of rough burlap attached to a long cord. She draped it around Jake’s neck.

“This gris-gris will protect you from impotence on your wedding night.”

“Um … thanks.”

A steady, rhythmic buzz sounded overhead. Rifle Maiden pulled her rifle from her back and cocked it one-handed: with three fingers in the loop lever, she let the gun tip forward, and then she snapped her wrist to bring it back up. She put it to her shoulder and slowly walked around the others, pointing the rifle toward the sky. The buzz grew steadily louder.

Jake pointed. “There!”

Rifle Maiden spun and, with feet spread and cheek resting on her buttstock, took aim. But she held her fire.

What appeared to be a brown, single-prop biplane dropped from the fiery battle. With a faint squeal of tires striking pavement, it landed in the road and taxied up to the bodies of the dead Robosaurs. As it drew close, it grew stranger in appearance: it seemed somehow flat, as if a drawing had sprung upright from a piece of paper. It was rough around the edges, and even had tiny holes through it, as if an artist had hastily sketched it on canvas with a thick pencil and little concern for details. Looking at it made Jake’s eyes throb.

The propeller slowed, and its loud buzz quieted. A figure rose out of the plane’s open cockpit. Silver-haired, boyish, and dressed in green, it was Magical Girl Grease Pencil Marionette. She had complemented her gown with a white scarf and an aviatrix’s cap and goggles.

“Hiya, Greasy!” Rifle Maiden called.

Marionette jumped from the plane and ran their way. “Rifle Maiden! Natasha! Margherita! Have you seen Card Collector Kasumi?”

Rifle Maiden and Natasha both shook their heads.

With a frustrated frown, Marionette snapped her fingers. “I thought she dropped somewhere around here—”

“We can help you look,” said Rifle Maiden.

Marionette sighed. “No, we need all hands on deck for the monsters. Those ships have been dropping dinosaurs like mad, and there’s no telling how many are in the city.”

One of Fangnasty’s broken arms lay at her feet. She kicked it. “Giving robots a bad name,” she muttered.

“How’s the fight?” Margherita asked.

Marionette drew closer. “Bad. Five girls died right in front of me. Two of them I knew, so I’ll contact their families. The other three had secret identities, so”—she drooped her head—“their magical forms will be reported killed in action, but their alter egos will simply be listed among the city’s missing. Their parents won’t know what happened.”

Closing her eyes, she rubbed her forehead. “That’s why I ask you all to tell me your real names—”

“Is Kasumi dead?” asked Rifle Maiden.

“I don’t know. I saw her go down, but that’s all I saw.”

“Pretty Dynamo?” Jake asked.

Marionette fixed him with her gray eyes, and she again got that smile with the tight corners. “She tore an airlock off the mothership with her bare hands and climbed inside. That was the last I saw of her.”

Shading her eyes, she leaned back and looked up. “I won’t lie to you—Dynamo’s powerful, but her weapons are highly specialized. Ever seen lightning strike a modern airplane? That’s how effective Dynamo’s arsenal is against enemies like this. She can’t touch those spaceships from outside. I suppose that’s why she went in.”

Rifle Maiden shook her head. “She’s the bravest, that’s for sure.”

“Pretty Dynamo cares not if she lives or dies,” intoned Natasha. “That is her greatest strength—and also her greatest weakness. If she at last finds something to live for, will it make her stronger still … or will it destroy her?”

“Whoa,” said Jake. “That’s getting heavy and weird. The question is, what do we do right now? How do we beat back these robot dinosaurs?”

“Aerial magical girls need to focus on the mothership,” Marionette replied, “and ground-bounders need to hunt down the Robosaurs who’ve landed. Sorry, girls, but I’m afraid it’s going to be a long night.”

Natasha sighed. “I am running out of excuses to give my parents.”

“Just tell them you were in a different shelter,” Marionette said. “Or maybe you should tell the truth. That’s what I recommend.”

Rifle Maiden clicked her tongue. “Guess I gotta postpone them wings. Hey, Queenie, Greasy—wanna join me for chicken after we kick some robot butt?”

“I could delight in such a repast,” replied Natasha. “But if you want really good chicken, I know a Creole restaurant downtown.”

“Ooh, intriguin’.”

“Just remember,” said Margherita with a serene smile as she placed a hand on both Rifle Maiden and Natasha’s shoulders, “that no matter what weapons you have at your disposal and no matter how potent your magic, those powers pale beside the still-greater power of friendship. It is friendship that unites and drives all magical girls, and it is for friendship that you wage war against our enemies.”

“Amen,” said Marionette, and she made the sign of the Moon Princess.

“And,” Margherita added, “the best way to secure and cement your friendship is to share a pizza.”

Rifle Maiden leaned toward Natasha and whispered, “I still prefer chicken—”

“There’s chicken pizza, you know,” said Margherita with a stamp of her foot.

“Chicken jambalaya pizza,” whispered Natasha with a nod as she rubbed her chin. “It is so crazy, it just might work—”

Twisting his mouth, Jake stared at Margherita for half a minute before he said, “Are you a magical girl, too?”

She clapped her hands to her face, and pink appeared in her cheeks. “Oh, do I look that young?”

“No, it’s just that you’re really weird.”



In the center of Urbanopolis stood the Temple of the Moon Princess, erected over the exact spot on which the Princess stood to bless the first magical girls before she ascended into heaven to build her New Tokyo in the Sea of Serenity. It was not the most imposing structure in the city, but it was easily the most lavish. Bringing together the artistic traditions of the many peoples who had flowed into this final refuge to seek the Princess’s protection during the first and most devastating of the Earth’s many extraterrestrial invasions, the Temple was an eclectic, rococo mishmash that defeated the eye of anyone attempting to trace its lines or discern its themes. Its exterior was a veritable maze of archways, flying buttresses, porticos, and suspended balconies. Decorating its walls were high-relief sculptures of Junoesque girls in gaudily accessorized school uniforms—the typical costume of an earlier generation of the city’s protectresses.

Above this hodgepodge of architectural and artistic experimentation rose a golden onion dome, beneath which stood the cavernous central sanctuary. The interior was as decadent as the exterior: gold and silver accented every curve and corner, and sculpted cupids climbed the walls and peeked from the cornices. Painted on the inside of the dome was a painstaking representation of the night sky, complete with a precisely detailed full moon. Embedded in the paint were tiny crystal beads, and an inconspicuous window opposite the moon made them glisten. Above the temple’s high altar stood a statue of the Moon Princess herself, carved from marble. Her face was as serene as a meditating Buddha’s, and her arms were outspread in love for the whole world. The altar itself, set in the exact center of the chamber, was a plain slab of granite, upon which lay the sole symbol of the High Priestess’s sacred office—a double-bitted ax.

Surrounding the altar, set into the floor, was a pentagram that shone a dull red, the color of blood. At each of its points, a shimmering jewel silently hovered. Behind each jewel, dressed in a red hakama and a white haori, stood an acolyte. In an age when mankind faced likely extinction, lifelong celibacy was frowned upon and in some circumstances punished at law, so these acolytes were adolescents in temporary service; most were from wealthy families, and most would enter arranged marriages as soon as their time in the Temple had ended.

Pacing the floor in front of the altar was the High Priestess herself, a dignified and statuesque woman. Wholly dedicated to the Princess, she was one of the few in Urbanopolis exempt from the so-called bachelor tax. Gray had tinged her golden hair, and worry lines had formed around her eyes. Aside from that, her visage was difficult to distinguish from that of the marble figure towering over her—except her mouth was sterner, and her eyes displayed greater displeasure.

A concussion rocked the city, so powerful that it rose up even through the temple’s formidable stone foundations. The crystals jumped and hummed. One of them, a green emerald on the pentagram’s western point, went dark.

The Priestess paused in her pacing, and the color drained from her cheeks.

“No,” she whispered.

On the chamber’s west end, a high arch, rimmed with stone carefully carved to resemble a clinging vine, opened onto a high balcony. The Priestess ran to the balustrade, and her eyes swept the city. In the distance, a tower of green fire stretched into the heavens and pierced the massive alien ship overhead. Around the glowing column, the ship raged with fire. The clouds flickered, reflecting the weird green and red light.

“They’ve destroyed the Museum of the Hesperides,” the Priestess gasped. She touched carefully manicured fingertips to her forehead and closed her eyes. “The last remnants of over a hundred cultures—all that remained of long-lost Egypt, the Philippines, the glories of Rome, the rare books we had not yet copied, the grandeur and austerities of Tibet—”

An acolyte, young Jasmine, quietly tiptoed up behind her. “And the Crystal,” Jasmine said.

“Yes. The Crystal.”

In the chamber, the glowing Pentagram on the floor rearranged itself, its lines shifting and curving until it became a four-pointed but lopsided witch-knot; the darkened gem was cast out, but the symbol remained unbroken.

The Priestess re-entered the chamber and stared at the new emblem on the floor. “Could they have known?” she asked.

“It is likely the Robosaurs struck the Crystal by chance, Your Excellency,” Jasmine whispered. “It is most unfortunate.”

“The gems here on this floor are mere shadows,” said the Priestess. “They can protect this sanctuary from attack, but nothing else. It is vital that the innumerable enemies of the Princess do not find their counterparts in the city, for if they learn where the true Crystals lie, they will destroy them all, and then everything will fall to ruin.”

“Yes, Your Excellency,” Jasmine replied.

The Priestess stepped to the altar and lifted the double-bitted ax. “These creatures, these so-called Robosaurs, are stronger than we had supposed. We must prepare the Weapon.”

The acolytes gasped. The Weapon had never fired in their lifetimes. They had heard the stories only from their grandparents, if at all.

“But, Your Excellency,” Jasmine said, now daring to raise her voice above a whisper, “there are so many magical girls still in the air—”

“Then sound the Warning Call,” the Priestess replied. “For the first time in the history of war-weary Urbanopolis, a Crystal is destroyed. It is now our duty to annihilate these Robosaurs until nothing remains of their civilization—the very thing they would do to us.”

With that, she brought the blade of her ax down against the stone altar with a ring of utter finality.