They’re deep in the throes of battle when Lily realizes that she has to do something drastic. The Big Six can wax poetic about combining their powers all they want, can think up creative combinations and daring feats of magic, but Lily knows where true magical synergy comes from, and they do not.
It’s actually odd that they don’t know, but Lily tries not to blame them for it. There have been so many battles that maybe they haven’t had time to sit down and think on it.
Lights flash around the field, and the metal-and-glass surface of the library lobby glows like someone is playing a laser show inside. Lily makes eye contact with Batty, and they nod in tandem, already in agreement that the team is slowing down, and that they need a bit of a boost.
The trouble is that the boost can take a little time to fire up. Batty’s red aura of magic pulses, and her floral, bloody smell explodes off her skin in a cloud. The great lance in her hands grows, and she races towards the center of the field, lance hefted over one shoulder like a pole vaulter. Her battle cry echoes through the sky.
Across the field, Flora and Fauna notice what’s happening and spring into action. Their magic curls up through the field in long vines of grass and whirls around the team’s feet, granting them grace and speed that they can’t reach with their powers alone.
Lily closes her eyes, stretches out her hands, and focuses.
She hears the cries of battle echo around her, feels the movement of air and magic. The ground rocks, and the wind blows. Heat and cold swirl around each other in monstrous tornadoes of magic. And above it all, sitting heavy and terrible in the sky, is the Summum Malum. The black cloud feels like the moment before a torrential downpour, all unbridled power and wrath. It stinks like a million bodies, dead and alive and sweating, and the stink of anger and hurt pours off it in waves.
Lily picks out Aero and Terra’s scents first. They’re so often the first to jump into battle, with Aero striking first and Terra hitting heavy behind her. Aero is clouds and sugar, with a hint of copper beneath it all, and Terra smells like the earth in the desert, dry, salty, and hot. Together, they are a beach of white sand and trees with coconuts, with dangerous creatures that swim beneath the ocean’s surface.
Lily plucks their fragrances out of the air, bottles them up, and mixes them. And then, with a quick pas de chat and pas de bourree that finishes with a strong, grounded plié, she shoves her arms forward. The magic surges back into them, mixed and blended, stronger together than they ever were apart.
When Lily opens her eyes, she sees Aero fire off a bright yellow blade of air. It is slower than her usual attacks, but when it slams into the black cloud above them, the cloud shudders under its power. Lily senses the shift in the cloud’s focus. It turns to her for a split second, bristling with the stench of burnt rage, and the field of magic that surrounds it polarizes, turning like Lily is the opposing end of a magnet.
Then Batty collides with the cloud, and the disruption throws it off balance, shifting its focus back to the real attackers. An arc of red light slices out from the center of the cloud, and for a split second, Lily sees her partner silhouetted inside the swirling dust, her lance spinning in preparation for another strike.
Ugh, Batty is so cool. Lily wishes sometimes that she had the words to say it to Batty’s face, or at least to the bits of it she can see under the domino mask. But now isn’t the time for that. Closing her eyes, Lily stretches her hands out again and searches for Feugo and Aqua’s magic scents.
Feugo and Aqua are, out of the Big Six, the best at combining their magic. Lily rarely detects the salt of the ocean without a slight twinge of dark caramel, or the sweet smell of s’mores and campfires without a tiny tang of saltwater taffy. But even they need a boost sometimes, because the way their magic mixes is often uneven, favoring one over the other.
Lily pulls their magic together with a step-turn and arabesque before sending it back to them, and their next attacks explode with steam. Taking a deep breath, she sets herself up to work on Yin and Yang next.
After that, she only pays enough attention to the battle to register when the Summum Malum focuses on her. Which it does, often. Every time Lily combines her teammates’ magic and throws it back into them, the cloud notices her.
Its attention feels odd. It is furious and fiery, but acidic with jealousy, all smells that Lily has come to expect. But underneath that, oddly enough, is the cloying and uncomfortable musk of desire.
The Summum Malum wants her. Lily doesn’t know why, and she can’t explain how she knows, but she feels it in the cavity behind her nose, and it lights up her olfactory nerve so much that she kind of wants to run away.
Ten minutes later, she’s performed her little magic combination trick enough times that her legs ache, and her brain starts fizzling out. She has to do something even more impressive now.
Lily imagines a meal. It is at least seven courses, made up of savory meats and spicy sides, and spreads across a dining table so long it could fit the magical girl team ten times over. She pulls her tired legs into the start of a long combination of jumps, throws her arms out, and yanks on every bit of magic she can think of pulling.
She doesn’t think, just does. It doesn’t occur to her that the battle has stopped temporarily, while she does this ridiculous stunt. Yin and Yang stand frozen, back-to-back under the cloud, while Aeros and Feugo try desperately to shoot blasts of air and fire. On the edges of the clearing, the other lower-tier teams blink in confusion, wondering why their buffs have stopped working. Batty keeps swinging, but her attacks do less damage without their magical backup.
Lily ignores the individual taste of each girl’s magic and throws them together. She smells something nasty in the mix, but it’s probably just someone’s fear, so she keeps going, turning pirouettes and leaping into chassés and jetés, pouring her own magic into the mix as well. When she ends, her hands extended in allongé, the mad, whirling mash of magic she created spills back into Yin and Yang.
Like they’ve been electrocuted, they stomp in tandem, and a beam of black light erupts from beneath their feet.
A thought crawls up Lily’s nostrils and wriggles into her brain. In the moment before the blast, the Summum Malum had already looked smaller than before, like its magic was depleted somehow.
And then the cloud dissipates, and Lily notices Batty running toward her to watch the end at her side. She banishes the thought. It’s time for the cheese-fest.