The thing was made of muck and slime, seemingly held together by stray twigs and a bit of rusty pipe. It bubbled and then burst, scattering mud everywhere. The thing next to it screeched, matted fur standing on end where it could. It looked like it had been a squirrel before the Abyss got to it, although it was now bloated to almost half her height. Rose felt sorry for the thing. She wanted to help it, but it looked half-decayed... It was shambling roadkill, not a tainted animal. It sprung at her, leaping surprisingly high. Rose jerked her wand up and made herself fire it, and the thing vanished in a red flash. A couple rose petals drifted to the ground, and that was that.
That had been more power than strictly needed, but the poor thing deserved some dignity. Rose sighed. What a fucking bummer this was. What was stirring all this stuff up? Normally things of that caliber would hide and grow in secret before making themselves a problem. Not that she was complaining about nipping them in the bud, but did the buds have to be so pathetic? She looked down at her wand, looking for all the world a cliche stage magician's with trick rose sticking out. It didn't seem to have anything to say about what was going on, either.
Rose shut her eyes, and tried to focus extra hard on detecting if there was anything else skulking around. And then a massive aura hit her like a truck. She opened her eyes, touching her forehead and blinking the stars out of her sight. When she had her bearings again, she broke into a sprint towards the aura. This was bad, this was so incredibly bad. How had something like that just appeared out of nowhere? Had all the detritus crawling out been a distraction? The aura was so strong, it would be tough to handle alone. The last thing she needed was it to belong to something that could think.
At least it seemed to still be out of the way. If she could catch it before it got wherever it was going... Rose skitted to a stop when she got to the back alley where the thing was. Or... Where it had been. Standing there instead was another magical girl, in some ridiculous frilly, lacy pink dress. A familiar dress, and familiar hair, and... "Chrissy? Chrissy!"
Rose grinned when Chrissy turned around and beamed at her. She had to fight the urge to run up and pull her friend into a hug. "It's so good to see you! I was... Everyone was worried about you. Where did you go?" Rose didn't really give her any time to answer, because then she remembered what had brought her there to begin with. "Oh, shit, sorry, catch up later. What's the situation? Where is that thing?" She tried to pick up where the aura had gone, but it was right on top of them.
Chrissy laughed a little, of all things. "Hi Rose! It's so, so good to see you. And don't worry, the situation is fine. I just handled it." Chrissy laughed more, and her smile went a little smug.
"Oh." That was surprising. The aura was strong enough that... Well, she was sure she could handle it herself, somehow. Only fair Chrissy could too. "I guess I just missed the action. Uh, good job, this must have been a doozy. Here I was, basically just cleaning up trash. And, okay, going to ask again. Where have you been? You just disappeared."
"Sorry!" Chrissy certainly looked apologetic. "I needed to go off and do some, I guess it was soul-searching. Oh!" Her eyes widened. "Nothing bad happened while I was gone, did it?"
Rose shook her head. "Happy to say it's been pretty quiet. Still just been Susan and Pumpkin and me, but there hasn't been anything we couldn't handle. Having you back definitely helps, though. You are back, right?"
"Of course! I'm back and here to stay. Sorry, I really should have given more warning."
"Or any." Rose gave Chrissy a pointed look, but her tongue was in her cheek.
"Yeah... It wasn't supposed to be as long as it was. Well, anyways, how have you been? Y'know, not just in..." She waved her hand in what was almost a circle. "Business."
"Oh. I've been good!" Rose laughed a little, nervously. She wasn't lying, but... "I've been a bit focused on the magic stuff. Not all because you left, we just still aren't really coordinating too well. I guess that was a big plus of being a team team. That wasn't answering your question, was it."
"Not really!" Chrissy was smirking, in the most obnoxiously exaggerrated fashion. Her fault for showing a glimmer of weakness.
Rose fidgeted slightly. She knew it was stupid to be nervous about it, but she was still nervous about it. She didn't want to talk about it. And the back-of-her-mind sense of that awful aura wasn't helping. She groaned. "What was so nasty it's got this much aura just lingering? And you really handled it yourself? It's almost like the... witch." Rose felt a chill.
Chrissy laughed again and waved a hand dismissively. "Nothing that bad, come on. It... Aww, fiddlesticks. I was hoping I'd have a min—uh."
Rose had her wand pointed at Chrissy. Or the thing puppetting Chrissy. "I can try to purify you myself, but if you can fight it long enough to wait for the others—"
"There's nothing to fight!" Chrissy laughed, and then made a pained face. "Come on Rose, you know me."
"Of course I know you, Chrissy. We're friends! And I know you're not some Abyssal puppet. What happened? What did this to you?" Was there another witch? Rose hoped she didn't look as terrified as she felt. She didn't know how to get in touch with Susan or Pumpkin at a moment's notice, and she probably couldn't purify Chrissy all on her own. There had to be something. This was calling for decisive action, but... She didn't know what to do.
"I did this to myself, Rose." Chrissy's exasperated face almost sold the lie.
"You're going to need a better lie than that! I know you, remember? You wouldn't make yourself into a monster. Especially not after everything we've done." Rose took a step forward, reaching out her other hand. "I know you're in there."
Chrissy groaned. "Rose, oh my god. I am touched, but I'm telling you, you've got this all wrong! I chose this. It's the only real option. The only way to—"
"It's not the only way! There's always the chance do things right, to—"
"To protect people! To save everyone! To keep any more of us from dying awful, unnecessary deaths! I have a plan, Rose." Chrissy took a deep breath, and recomposed herself. "We were losing. The Abyss isn't ever going to just stop, or run out. It would just keep picking us off one by one, and all the others too, until it eventually overran the planet. But, like this, I'm not going to die. I can hold it back forever! It's the solution."
Rose winced. Chrissy almost had a point. As things were, losing to the Abyss did seem inevitable. But that didn't mean she was ready to buy delusional nonsense about joining it to stop it, as if it was something anyone could trust, or handle. But... She could almost see Chrissy buying that. Had she really done that to herself? But... "Chrissy, this isn't something you can play with! It's going to consume you, turn you into something awful. It doesn't matter if you could solve the problem if you're too far gone to do it!"
Chrissy groaned again. "You're right, you're right! But I won't be! I didn't hand the keys over to some monster. I'm still me, really me. I can prove it. Remember when you first joined?"
Rose scowled. "It doesn't matter, you could have all Chrissy's memories to rifle through! And, if you're going to dredge that up as some kind of trivia, it's not a big secret."
Chrissy gave her a look of confusion for several seconds, and then her eyes widened. "I— No, not that! Come on, I'm not a jerk, Rose. I didn't mean to make you—I meant something you said. You said you wanted to work together with us to protect everyone who couldn't protect themselves. I know you still feel that way, and I do too. I... I want to do this so nobody else has to. I'm not going to try and make you join me or my wand on this side. But I still want to work together. I thought you would understand, if anyone. Tell me I'm wrong."
Rose swallowed, and let out a long groan. This was Chrissy, now she was sure. But that was still bad. "Chrissy, I know how you feel. I can understand it. But, but this isn't the way to do that! It's not safe. You won't stay yourself for long, and then we'll lose you, and... and everyone you take with you. We can find a different way. A better way. We'll still save everyone, and you." She reached out her hand the rest of the way to take one of Chrissy's. It felt normal. "Let me help you. The others, too."
Chrissy squeezed her hand, and shook her head. "Guess we're stuck. I really want to work with you, Rose, but I can't force that. If you won't trust me... But you can't 'fix' me all on your own, either. Maybe not even with Susan and Pumpkin. It took six of us for her, and I don't think I'm only half as powerful as she was." She laughed, but she wasn't joking.
Rose swallowed. "Maybe not, but... We could make it work. And, I think we could get Rebecca and Jenny, just for this. And... we had only just befriended Pumpkin, but we've all known you how long, now? We're all friends. That means something." She stook one last step forward to come face-to-face, wand awkwardly held between them. "I know it's ridiculous, but you know it's true. I can help you because I love you, Chrissy. So please, just let me."
Chrissy nodded, slowly. Then she leaned even closer, lifting up on her toes to peck Rose on the lips. "I love you too, Rose. So can we just trust each other, and not do anything drastic?"
Rose didn't know what to say. Or do. Or think. She just went bright red.
Chrissy had the gall to be blushing hard too after pulling that. Then she pulled out her silver wand, which wasn't showing the Abyssal taint any more than she was, that same pink crystal heart framed in a larger heart of hyacinth flowers. It flashed pink, Rose flinched, but all that happened was Chrissy vanished. The hand she had been holding was replaced by a bunch of flowers.
Rose groaned that she had let her get away. But... How could she have been prepared for that? Was that just a distraction or did—did Chrissy actually—Rose flicked her wand and shifted back to her regular clothes with a red glow and a pop and then put her burning face in her hands. She didn't know what to do about this at all, but she wasn't going to figure it out in that alleyway.
She looked down at her wand, still in her right hand. "I don't suppose you have more of an idea, here?"
Her wand answered, a not-quite-voice playing in her head. 'This is a dangerous situation. It is most likely that the witch was evil on her own, but it is possible that was due to Abyssal corruption. We cannot be certain that Christine won't be twisted so, and so must purify her as soon as possible. Let us just hope that in the intervening time she will resemble Pumpkin more than her creator. Don't criticize yourself too harshly for her escape, Rose. We will save her, and everyone on this planet.'
Rose took a deep breath and let it out. "Yeah. You're right, we will do it. And I'll get her back on board with it." Rose clenched her fist, and her heart swelled with resolve.
'As for the meaning of that kiss... Well. I cannot help you there.'
That didn't go to plan.
'It's a pity Rose didn't see reason. I knew it was a slim chance we might sway her to joining us... But we had hoped to at least gain her understanding and approval. If we couldn't get that from her, the others will almost certainly refuse. The others, who she is doubtlessly running off to tell and gather to restore our supposed "purity". We need to prepare for this, Chrissy. Chrissy. I think that you are not taking this grave matter seriously.'
Chrissy was dancing, spinning on one heel like a ballerina. She couldn't believe it. Her heart was racing, and she was overjoyed. That had gone, well not better than she expected, but what a lovely twist! How could she worry about stuff like tactics or fixing her plan when she was still reeling from her crush saying she loved her! Loved! And, and, and then she kissed Rose, that actually happened, she couldn't believe she had actually done it. But she could believe even less that Rose reciprocated in the first place. She was giddy, gleeful, she couldn't spin enough to get all the joy out of her heart.
'Chrissy! You need to focus! Oh, you foolish girl, forgive me, but you jumped to conclusions! Rose may have merely meant friendly love.'
Chrissy suddenly stopped in place. "Oh." She gulped, as her stomach fell. "You're right, aren't you? Oh I am such an idiot! I just... She, she'll forgive me, right?" She glanced down at her hand, as if that would hold the answer.
'I'm sure she will. It was a fraught moment, and a simple enough misunderstanding, if it was a misunderstanding. But please focus. You cannot maintain your personal relationship with Rose if she is intent on opposing you. Turn your mind to solving that problem first, and then resolve your little mixup. We need an ally.'
"It's not exactly little to just kiss someone! But, uugh, okay. Okay. Hopefully Rose hasn't told Susan and Pumpkin yet. A good first impression is really my only chance with them, if I have one... So it has to be Rose."
'What about Jenny? She might better understand the need for—'
"Jenny's retired. We are not dragging her back into this. I know you just want to help her, but we can do that without putting all that burden on her. And we will. Yeah?"
'Forgive me. Of course we will. Together we will save this whole planet, after all.'