Jezebel - Just My Twilight Life: The Circus Is Missing!

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Description: Honoka Kawamoto has gone out into the wild west of the United States, in the prefecture of Texas with her circus. But when she has arrived, all her Twilight Star Circus friends disappeared in a sand storm! But before she has a chance to cry over them disappearing, Lightning Spangles and her Animal Friends have come in to find some cattle rustlers, and offer to help Honoka find her friends in this incredible crossover! (The cover shows a very calming and gentle Honoka Kawamoto riding a horse. Next to her is a clear trace job of Lightning Spangles, riding a horse as well. Next to -them- is the Hoedown Dillo and Fishy Friend NaeNae walking along. Both have photorealistic heads, contrasting heavily with their humanoid bodies. All are looking at Injun Joe, which would be best described as being borderline offensive by Japanese standards, who is crossing his hands and nodding in front of his teepee.) (50 yen)

Everything hurt.

It started as a dreamless sleep, an endless blackness and abyss all around. Everything hurt, even in the darkness. But slowly, as she woke up, the pain became more and more real. A purple light, a consuming presence. Everything was pain, everything hurt. And yet, and yet, she couldn't escape. Something inside her stopped her, a sharp spike driving in so deep in her heart. More pain, and yet, darkness. Endless, consuming darkness, like the darkest ocean. She wanted to wake up. She wanted anything more to wake up.

Wake up Lightning Spangles.

"Wake up, Pardner!" Cries out the Hoedown Dillo, as he pulls the blankets away. The blonde-haired Spangles was wearing her official old west Lightning Spangles Pajamas! The Hoedown Dillo was standing at the side of her bed, holding his fiddle, dressed in his neckerchief. Of course, he wasn't looking at her, he was protecting her Dillo modesty! "Wake up, Pardner! Rise and shine! Everyone's outside to meet you!" Lightning Spangles rolls out of bed, going right behind the dressing wall. There is a rustling sound, as she changes into her white vest, her spangled jacket, her blue american jeans. She dons her white hat, as she strides out. "Yes." She says, walking past the mirror, not even giving it a glance as she brushes her hair, going downstairs past the kitchen and the dining room to right out the door.

"I -am- Lightning Spangles!"

The sun feels warm out in the heart of Texas. Why, it was always hot in SpanglesTown, except in Christmas of course. And just like the Hoedown Dillo said, everyone was here, waiting for her! "All my friends are here, the Hoedown Dillo, Wendy the Wombat, Anthony Conda, Fishy Friend NaeNae, and even Detective Sourpuss!" The Hoedown Dillo, well he was a fiddlin'. And Wendy the Wombat, she was smiling so wide, in between stuffing her face with grease-dripping Baconators of course. And Anthony Conda was sleeping lazily under the water tower, while the Fishy Friend NaeNae was splashing up in it. Everyone had great big smiles on their faces, as they would in SpanglesTown. Except Detective Sourpuss, of course.

He was scowling in his bright orange zoot suit, adjusting his Trilby.

Everyone was here. Everyone, of course, just one person. How could she forget about her one person. Her newest friend. "Where is Ainu Spangles?" She asks, looking amongst her animals friends. Where was she? "Where is she?" Where was she? Detective Sourpuss scowls at Lightning Spangles, tugging his whiskers. "I know where she is." He meows, sardonically. "But I won't tell!" Lightning Spangle clucks her tongue, as she turns towards Anthony Conda. He was fast asleep, and of course, could not answer. Finally, she looked at the Hoedown Dillo. "Where is Ainu Spangles?" And the Hoedown Dillo tunes his fiddle, and begins to play. "I know how to find her!"

"With a song!"

And everyone begins to sing, pantomiming looking around.

"./` Where is Ainu, Where is Ainu
Where is she? Where is she?
I cannot go and find her, I don't know where's she missing
Where is she? Where is She?

./' There is Ainu, there is Ainu
I found her, I found her!
She is hiding there, hiding over there,
Come right here, Come right here!/'

And everyone claps and cheers, as Lightning Spangles looks right on over towards her missing friend.

Specifically, Lightning Spangles happens to look towards what seems to be a spruce tree.
Lightly dusted with snow.
In the middle of the Texas heat.

And stepping out from behind the Sakhalin spruce tree is the person everyone seemed to have been looking for -- Ainu Spangles, easily identifiable by the beaded hairband keeping long, raven-black tresses pulled to cascade down her shoulders. She's wearing a quilted overcoat, though... it seems that it's suddenly become a bit too much warmth all of a sudden.

"Oh, hey y'all," chirps Ainu Spangles with a grin, as she hangs up the overcoat on the spruce tree's branches, loosing some of the snow from the needles, and steps away. Hands resting on her hips, she flashes a smile bright enough to catch the Texas sunlight. Wendy Wombat gets a nod and a smile! Anthony Conda gets a raised eyebrow! Fishy Friend Nae Nae even evokes a giggle. Detective Sourpuss, though... just gets a pair of narrowed eyes.

But all is forgotten as Ainu Spangles locks eyes upon her dearest friend of all, Lightning Spangles. Clad in a tan-and-white 'attush' robe and soft leather moccasins, Ainu Spangles rushes forward, arms outstretched.

"It's my dearest friend of all, Lightning Spangles! How -are- you, my friend?"
It's the happiest of all reunions, without a doubt.

"Aw, shucks, you don't have to be so nice!"

Lightning Spangles was so pleased that they found Ainu Spangles; where was she hiding? It was awfully snowy, wasn't it. How did that happen? Why was there snow? It didn't matter though. That was just the magic of her friends, especially one as magical as Ainu Spangles. And all her animal friends accepted it... though the Hoedown Dillo looked a little concerned at the snow. Lightning Spangles puts a hand on her hip, and uses the other to give Ainu a come along. "But there is no time, pardner! We need your help to find out what happened to the...




"Circus people."

The Hoedown Dillo raises an eyebrow at Lightning Spangles. Lightning Spangles herself, grin plastered on her face, didn't understand why she said that. That wasn't what was wrong, right? The Hoedown Dillo gently nods his snout. "No, Lightning Spangles. We need to find out where Injun Joe lost his herd of buffalo down by Buffalo Pass!" The Hoedown Dillo explained, casting a skeptical eye towards Ainu Spangles. "There hasn't been a circus in SpanglesTown for a long time, that's for sure!"

But Detective Sourpuss puts a paw on Lightning Spangles shoulder.

"Meow, I was going to bring it up. They just came in town today, uh, pardner. They didn't have a chance to set up because they went missing. Those missing circus folks are a very serious matter, Lightning Spangles. If they were out at night, who knows what danger they could be in." Detective Sourpuss looks back across at Ainu Spangles, his yellow eye gleaming.

A grouchy scowl on his whiskered face.

Ainu Spangles smiles as she looks back down to the Hoedown Dillo, nodding in slow agreement. She opens her mouth, about to speak -- but then Detective Sourpuss hammers home the point about the missing circus performers.

Closing her mouth, Ainu Spangles brushes her fingers through her long hair, nodding along with Detective Sourpuss. For a moment, she smiles -- though it's dropped in the solemnitude of the statement she adds next. "Oh, yes, it's very important we find them soon. The buffalo will be just fine in the nighttime, they're big and strong. But the circus performers... they're so helpless without us. The children will be so sad if anything were to happen to them!"

Ainu Spangles walks forward to close the distance to Lightning Spangles. From her left sleeve, she withdraws a tattered paper map -- and as she unfolds it, it shows a recognizable landscape outlined with dark sepia tones. Does the map show Texas, though, or some other familiar place...?

Ainu Spangles stands nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with Lightning Spangles, poring over the map. She scribbles a star onto the map, with a circle around it to complete the look of a sheriff's badge, to indicate their current location. "So where d'ya think we should start lookin' for 'em, Lightning Spangles? We gotta find 'em soon!"

Lightning SPangles blinks her eyes, as the map is unfolded.

"Helpless... The children... yes! The children! We need to make the children happy! And the map..." She stares at the map, at the star, at the star where they were. "Where... where do we start looking for them." She rocks side to side, staring at the map. "I don't know... I wouldn't know. Maybe... maybe... I don't know... maybe..." She hems and haws, as she squints. Nothing... nothing made sense on the map. Nothing. And The Hoedown Dillo furrows his brow, worriedly.

And then, brightness comes back over his snout.

"Of course! The circus! With clowns, and acrobats, and cotton candy! You like that, right LIghtning Spangles!" Lightning Spangles nods, looking at the map. "I see it now, yeah! The circus is just outside town!" She points at it, in tandem with the Hoedown Dillo. The circus was right there on the map, right there outside town. "We can just go down main street, and walk right in! Oh, I hope there are some of them left, friends! I wouldn't mind saving them, and then being part of the show! We can have a real rodeo, that's the wild west version of a circus you know-"

"We shouldn't go down main street."

Detective Sourpuss scowls, as he places a clawed finger on the map. "We should go this way, Lightning Spangles. A shortcut, to the circus. That's where missing people always find there way, right. Missing, in alleyways." The Hoedown Dillo looms behind the detective, gripping his bow tersely. Wendy the Wombat pauses in mid chomp, the oil from the baconator dribbling down her front. Anthony Conda peers up from beneath his wide-brimmed sombero, peering at Lightning Spangles warily. The cat glares at Ainu Spangles. "Unless, of course, Ainu Spangles thinks the kami consider otherwise!"

Detective Sourpuss harumphs, bitterly.

Ainu Spangles just looks expectantly back at Lightning Spangles. After all, the leading lady with mousy brown hair is the star of the show, right? It's only fair for her -- and to a lesser extent, the Hoedown Dillo -- to have the most screen time.

That is, until Detective Sourpuss speaks -- at which point she gives him the lion's share of her attention. And when the Hoedown Dillo looms, appearing to threaten the zoot-suited kitty?

Ainu Spangles covers her mouth in a demure gasp. "Oh! My, my... no! That's a good idea, Detective Sourpuss! And so is walking down Main Street!"

Ainu Spangles beams, her gaze flicking between the Detective, the Dillo, and Lightning Spangles herself. She spreads her arms wide, billowy sleeves flapping out like wings. "I think we -should- take the back roads. But the most important part of all, whatever we decide..." She smiles cheerfully at the Hoedown Dillo, at Wendy the Wombat, and at Anthony Conda... "... is that we stick together and work as a team! Only then will the kamui grant us their blessings!"

And with a spring in her step, she practically launches herself in the direction of the aforementioned alleyways.

From behind Lightning Spangles, a small breeze picks up. Dust whisks in, blurring the air... erasing the distant mountains, and the snow-covered tree from view. After all -- they're not really part of the story any more, now... are they?

Ainu Spangles is starting to take the lead. But she looks back with an encouraging smile. "Let's hurry, before night falls! Maybe a traveling song can help us get us there faster!"

Lightning Spangles was the leading lady.

She tosses her blonde hair around, as Ainu Spangles gives them their blessing. It was important to get the kamui blessings! It was, because Ainu Spangles was a key and vital part of being Lightning Spangles! All her friends were! As Ainu Spangles launches forward, Lightning Spangles follows, follows close. A song, yes. The HOedown Dillo begins to fiddle, as Lightning Spangles opens her throat and begins to sing, sing like a real showup hoedown girl. They all sing, even Detective Sourpuss.

"./'The Dillo went over the Mountain,"
"THe Dillo went over the Mountain,"
"THe Dillo went over the Mountain,"
"To see what he could see./'"

"./'To see what he could see!"
"To see what he could see!./'"

"./'He saw the other side of the mountain,"
"The other side of the the mountain,"
"The other side of the mountain,"
"Was all that he could see./'"

"./' You darn fool, you darn fool, can't you plainly see?"
"It's nothing but a cabbage head, his grandma said to me."
"Many a-miles I've traveled, a thousand miles or so!"
"I never saw a head of cabbage with hair upon it before-./'"

And there is an alleyway.

The alleyway is dark, too dark, darker than Texas would be. But it would be dark, because it's night here. But it wasn't night, did night fall, were they not fast enough? It was night here. Garbage cans, cats, always cats, there was always cats here. There would always be cats here. She felt cold, and her friends felt so far away. Not Ainu Spangles. But she stares ahead.

And the smell of the sewer comes back.

Lightning Spangles felt sick, cold. Trembling, she had jitters, as she traces a hand on the inside of her elbow. "I- I've been here before. I remember this. This can't be where they are. 127. 24. The count of cats are where they can find you. 127. 25." There is the cry of cats all around, as Lightning Spangles leans against the graffiti'd wall. There was a street up ahead. She could feel someone calling for her. An invitation? Food, drink, dr-ru-ru-dru-

"That's not the right way, Lightning Spangles!"

Calls out the Hoedown Dillo, beside the Anthony Conda, besides Fishy Friend NaeNae, besides Wendy the Wombat. Weren't they supposed to stick together? "That's not where the circus is, pardner! Lets go to the circus! All your friends want you to go to the circus!" But not all of them. Detective Sourpuss was striding in the dark alley behind the dual Spangles. "They aren't at the circus. They are missing from the circus. But this, this looks like a clue. Nobody would come down this way." The cat scowls, narrowing his yellow eyes down the pathway.

"Isn't that right, Ainu Spangles?"

It's a good thing that Ainu Spangles is ahead of the group at the start of the song -- because she doesn't know the words to the first two lines. But as she picks up the rhythm, the words... come back to her.
"./' The Dillo went over the mountain,"
"./' To see what he could see..."

Giddy with enthusiasm, Ainu Spangles slows her pace, allowing her dear friends to catch up. She'd even walk shoulder to shoulder with Lightning Spangles -- close enough to suggest that the two could link hands, without actually intruding on the sheriff star's personal space.

"I never saw a head of cabbage with hair upon it before-./'"

Ainu Spangles' eyes glimmer in the darkness, two discs of brown flecked with moonlight. The stench of sewage is strong enough for her to sweep her sleeves side to side, wafting air past her as she eyeballs the signs of rot and decay. "Yeah, that's right, Detective Sourpuss. The kamui will help us!" she insists with a melancholy tone. "It's the -performers- and -crew- we want, not the circus itself..."

And then a discovery is made. Turning towards the wall, Ainu Spangles raises her hand to a poster which had started to curl, about to fall off the wall. Smoothing out the poster, she reveals a poster promoting a double feature -- the 'Ainu Spangles And The Perils of Biwatori Dam' special, along with a special performance from the Twilight Star Circus!

Only... Ainu Spangles and many of the circus performers have their faces blotted out with black paint.
And, no sooner does Ainu Spangles reveal the poster, than she suddenly reels backwards, screeching as her face is similarly coated in a splash of inky black paint. "AAAAAAAAH!!"

Reeling backwards, she scrapes at her face, trying desperately to remove the jet-black pigment from her face, to no avail. "Ah can't... ah can't see anything! What is-- gah! What -is- this!?" Whimpering, she steps backwards, a wet cough sending bubbles pulsing through the ichorous paint but ultimately failing to do anything productive beyond clearing an air passage.

"Lightning Spangles... it's... it's up to you to find out what's goin' on...!"

And not far away... it would seem that signs of a culprit can be found. Dense blotches of black paint pepper the sidewalk and street, leading off in a different direction.

Lightning Spangles felt sick.

She stared into the poster, as Ainu Spangles draws attention to it. It looked... she had seen that before. She knows this. She remembers this. This is where she met Lightning Spangles. No, not Lightning Spangles, why would she think that? She is Lightning Spangles. And yet, she screams in horror as Ainu Spangles collapses. It was real, too real. Somebody hurt her, something- who did this? Who could have done such a thing to a friend of hers? The alleyway was spinning, as she stares into the trail of the black ink. Slime, all slime. She hears the footsteps.

And the cats.

The cats were screaming, meows, shrieking. They were invisible, they were always invisible, that's why they were always hiding. The hissing and the yowling. Lightning Spangles shields her ears. She wanted to run away. ANd she felt them, the paws pulling her away. Her friends, trying to get her away? She looks so slowly, as Detective Sourpuss scowls, a paw forward, his mouth moving but no words coming out. Not even the sound of the cats from him. She wasn't going to stay here. She didn't stay here.

No, she was running now.

Chasing the culprit, out the alleyway, out the street. And they are going down the street. 215th and North. It wasn't SpanglesTown though, there was never a SPanglesTOwn with a 215th and North. But the sign said it, right there, everything coming so slowly as Lightning Spangles stares at the sign with which it was saying the interaction. There wasn't a 215th and North in SpanglesTOwn.

But there was one in Southtown.

Lights are flashing now, as a van, it was a van, it had to be a van, a white van unmarked, it was pulling up. Lightning Spangles stops her chase. Where was the person she was chasing? The black was everywhere, the oozing blackness of the paint dribbling. Her friends, where were her animal friends? There was only the cats, the cats, as Detective Sourpuss rushes towards her. The van lights were bright now, as the hideous whirring sound? No, hissing sound, it was the sound of them, the cats. "HELP ME!" Lightning Spangles cries out. "THE CATS! THE CATS! 127. 26. THE CATS"!


The van's side door flies open. Out from it springs first a leather moccasin, attached to a very familiar person. "Here's the cavalry!" cries out Ainu Spangles in a thick Hokkaido drawl, leaping past Lightning Spangles in a flying kick!

The black paint -- formerly a viscous sludge -- has congealed, and been torn away. Now, the pigment clings only to her eyes, leaving her alabaster cheeks and nose bare. And as Ain Spangles strikes a dynamic, action-heroine pose on her landing, the black pigment begins to take on another shape entirely.

The shape of a domino mask.

But there's little time to dwell on that. The cats are closing in, aren't they? The hissing, the mechanical screeching... is getting louder.

Then, with the slamming of a van door, another set of mechanical sounds joins the cacophony. Gears spinning, metal slides grinding, servo motors groaning. The van itself appears to be folding in upon itself, doors hinging outward, the wheels twisting inward.

And then a digitally distorted roar -- "FRESH, NEVER FROZEN" -- as the front cab of the vehicle suddenly lifts upward.

For, as the cab rotates, the moonlight obscuring its contents slides away from the glass, revealing the fate of Lightning Spangles' companions.

At the driver's seat is Wendy the Wombat -- with a matching domino mask.
On either side, Anthony Conda and the Hoedown Dillo -- with matching domino masks.
On Anthony Conda's left, Fishy Friend Nae Nae -- with a matching domino mask.
On the Dillo's right is Detective Sourpuss -- wearing a plastic E-collar, so that he can't even think of harming Lightning Spangles. And also wearing an even more dour expression.

The Mega Baconator looms over the slime-coated street. Its cab lifts upward. Its front grille -- crossed with four strips of bacon. In its right arm is a rattlesnake flail. Its left arm is shielded from shoulder to elbow with overlapping armadillo armor. Its left leg is painted a vibrant orange. Its right foot is colored in vivid, iridescent, piscan tones. And its exhaust pipes stretch upward, belching flame to give weight to the threat of incineration.

But Ainu Spangles also came bearing gifts -- a pair of six-shooter cap guns, and a criss-cross bandolier. She closes the distance to Lightning Spangles, projecting nothing but sheer confidence as she presses the gifts into her hands, her eyes ablaze with enthusiasm.

"We'll be with you, always. We don't much care if there's a hundred twenty six or a -thousand- twenty six -- just lead the way, pardner!"

And Lightning Spangles is jolted in the back of the van.

For the briefest of moments, there are lights, and wires, and masked men and the nasty smell of cleaning fluids. Lightning Spangles was flailing, writhing. The cats, the hissing, the hissing was everywhere, for the briefest of moments. She kicks -hard- and the door swings open, she can see a cafe, what was the name? She could only see the smiling black cat as a sign, with a Cheshire grin. It slams suddenly, and an electric shock suddenly -JOLTS- her hard. She stops flailing. She looks around.

ANd all her friends are there.

The invasive thoughts fade away again. The transformation of the Mega Baconator was complete. There were no sounds of cats, no numbers, no specific, important number sequences that you had to keep track of to keep the cats in place. The Hoedown Dillo, The Anthony Conda, Fishy Friend NaeNae, and the WEndy The Wombat. They were just the ones wearing the masks! Lightning Spangles almost collapses from lung-devouring laughter, she felt so silly that she thought she was in danger. Even Detective Sourpuss, who was also a friend, was especially restrained in his grouchiness. "Meow." He grumbles. But there was someone missing. Where was Ainu Spangles?

"Ainu Spangles," She gasps aloud, as the figures move and shift, and she gets- guns! Her six-shooters, with which she shoots those bad guys like those wicked nasty Injuns and those banditos! She adjusts the bandolier on, as she embraces the gifts- And Ainu Spangles as well. IT was so clear now, and safe, and perfect, and friendly. But they weren't just here to be friends. They had a mission.

They had to save those poor people.

Lightning spangles brushes her fingers on Ainu Spangle's mouth, where there was once black slime. "Ainu Spangles, we need to drive the van forward. I- I think the circus people are ahead! We have to drive the van forward, until it stops. It stops at a place and the circus people are there. All kinds of people are there." But how does she know, how does she think. She looks at the Hoedown Dillo, but his warm face and kindness only encouraged her. She wasn't afraid, like she was before. This was happy. This was fine. "But while we wait till we get there?"

"Who wants to have some Baconators?"

The trees and shadows and shapes zoom by, coming up closer and closer to, what was it. Fences and shapes begin to articulate; it almost looks like one of those bunkers from the Gears Wars. The ones that -weren't- in the cordon around Southtown, but outside. Of course, there is no sense of that here; Lightning Spangles doesn't think she's ever seen one of those! But the van would be coming towards the end. And then, the pressure builds. The inevitable pressure. Fear. Pain. Violence. A repeat, a repeat. Lightning Spangles was trembling again, even as she savagely devours the Baconator like she hadn't eaten anything in almost a week. She didn't understand this feeling. There was only one thing staving it away.

ANd it was all her Showup Hoedown friends.

It's almost as if time stops, for the one moment in which Lightning Spangles' finger brushes against her shorter counterpart's thin lips. The Ainu woman looks down, demurely, breath catching in her throat as she begins to mouth the word 'I--'

But just then, Detective Sourpuss calls back, "Hey, scuzzy, we got a hot lead! Just check this out, dig?" A zoot-suited paw splays out across a full-color display screen. Currently, the image is shaking in sync with each of the Mega Baconator's gargantuan strides, but it is nonetheless clear to make out inky black voids amidst a green-tinted infrared background. Black cats scatter this way and that, not wanting to end up as cat pancakes under the van-turned-megazord's metal boots!

Wendy the Wombat is lucky enough to be the driver of the van -- and she's smug enough to handle the wheel with her left paw while sipping a Frostee from her right. But even she can be distracted as the Mega Baconator stomps its way down the streets. A striped sleeve points abruptly to the side -- "Hey, Anthony, knock out that dumpster over there, wouldja?"

Anthony the Conda squints off to the side, and shakes his serpentine head: "Iiiii'unno, Wendy, I don't see anything but this McDonald's--"

"That's what I said! Crush it for me! Nyahahahaha!"

As Anthony pulls a lever, the Mega Baconator lashes out the rattler on its right arm, whip-cracking out and knocking the Golden Arches right off the side of the storefront in a shower of sparks. His eyes light up with wonder...

While from his left, Fishy Friend Nae Nae's eyes begin to pool up with tears. "Aww... How come I don't get a cool weapon!?"

Nausea surges. The air reeks of urine and ozone. A mild electric shock begins to crackle throughout the Mega Baconator command center, yet again...

But then Lightning Spangles will feel a peculiar warmth upon her midriff. Five points of pressure, positioned in a way that seems foreign, and yet at the same time, not -wrong-. For Ainu Spangles is right there beside her, a beatific smile upon her face. It's as if Ainu Spangles' gentle pressure is enough to chase away even the strongest of pains. But the tusukur isn't looking back at the Western star; her gaze is on the front window of the Mega Baconator as it plods forward. "Looks like we're comin' up on something..."

The Hoedown Dillo leaps up onto the dashboard, unable to contain his enthusiasm. He stabs his forepaw at the spot on the ground before the hulking automaton. "Look, Lightning Spangles! Could that be where the circus people are stuck?"

Broken, dismantled Gear bodies lie here and there. A reinforced concrete bunker, with heavy metal doors. The inky black tar leads right up to the gate of the fortified stronghold -- and disappears into the depths of whatever lies within.

Wendy reaches into a greasy paper bag, tossing a small cheeseburger to Ainu Spangles, and an oily Baconator to Lightning Spangles. "It's dangerous to go alone, right? But we got your back!"

Without further warning, Fishy Friend Nae Nae jumps out of her seat, slamming both her hands... fins? Down onto a big red button. The gigantic robot lurches forward, and then ratchets backward -- and then a long gangplank unfurls, providing safe walkway down to the ground level. "Ta-daaa!"

Ainu Spangles grins, reaching up to tousle Lightning Spangles' dusty blonde hair. "Looks like we're here, wherever 'here' is. Let's find our circus friends!"

That wasn't a good thing to do.

LIghtning Spangles didn't understand why the thought was in her head. She just wanted to touch her friend. Friends touch each other. Especially nice, older daddy figures, who you are supposed to touch, and let them touch you. She was blushing now, as the cats are banished and away because the cats are bad. There were numbers, but her animal friends were here, they were her friends and they kept the cats away. When the pain comes... she -wanted- to be touched. She felt the warm go through her. She liked this. She wanted to be like this forever. She stuffs the Baconator in her mouth, as the gangplank reveals itself. She looks out, as the tar comes in.

And she steps out.

She blinks hard. She didn't want to move forward so fast. But she was moving forward- lying down, moving forward? She was moving forward hard, it was dark and dingy, dark and dark. She was being forced forward. Where was her guns. She tries to reach for them, but she couldn't -reach- them. They were just out of reach. The could reach for them, but everything kept moving, kept moving. But they were right behind her. "Ainu Spangles!" She cries out as the walls inside go faster and faster. "Slow down, we need to- slow down!" She cannot.

The pale light cascades over her.

Lightning Spangles blinks again, trying to adjust to the lights. She couldn't move. Her mouth... the black slime. It was there, sinking inside her. Where we her friends. They were just behind her, right? Where was Ainu Spangles? There was just a rush of green and white, like a hospital. But why a hospital. ANd the cats, she could hear the cats again. 127. 27. The smell of urine and vomit was getting stronger, the electric shocks were gone, she needed the warmth; she wanted Ainu Spangles warmth inside her now. THere was no warmth, as the lights and the green and the white walls blur past her. She stops, as the sounds are like underwater, everything felt underwater as she writhed; she felt wet and cold and wrong.

And his face jolts into hers.

Everything slows down, it was like Lightning Spangles was locked in here. She wanted to get away from this. But this very moment seized her harder than ever before, and she could not look away. Acne. Black coke-bottle glasses, and a buck-teethed sneer as the hot breath of fish and onion washes over Lightning Spangles. He was looking over her, looking over her... her body, her face. He grabs her hair, clucking his tongue in disgust. A latex gloved hand snatches her face, and feels her cheekbones.

"Where did you get this one?" He says, as the hands move down, and he grabs her body, grabs her there, there, grabs her there, and he sneers, as the cats hiss. "Really. That might work here! Jezebel was always a junkie, you know." He feels a hand on her elbow, on the inside of her elbow. "I bet you're a nasty little street slut too. Good. That what it takes to make a good Jezebel Spangles." The man pats her... down there.... down there... twice, before snapping his fingers.

"Hook her up, she'll work."

The face was gone, but the voice was there, everything was that sterile green and white, as the lights, the lights. The sounds were there, the cats hissing, she lost count, 127, 28. But the voice, the nasally voice just -lectures-, oozing that slime all over her. "I know, I know, but I'm the Lightning Spangles expert here. We don't need a host personality upload, we just need an expert to fill in the gaps. Like me." Lightning Spangles felt herself being sat up, as she is... hooked on something? Her eyes were adjusting now, as the interior of a big room with other people on slabs were all around her, with men like doctors and women like nurses all around, staring at her.

"We already got the stunt double."

Lightning Spangles feels herself jolted up, as she looks around. The girl looked- almost looked like, like, Like Ainu Spangles, right? The girl, the girl at the Twilight Circus with her, what was her name, what was her name. She was trapped, with the strange helmet off her head, as she looked so dazed and far away. She wanted her animal friends, she wanted her friends. But she remembered the name. "Ainu SPangles?!" She cries out. "What- what happened? WHat's happening?!" The leering man in the glasses was gone, just... just masks? The doctors and nurses were gone now.

It was her animal friends now.

The HOedown Dillo was stabbing her with IVs and Tubes and Hideous Wires. Fishy Friend NaeNae was standing by, staring at her with glassy eyes. Anthony Conda was at the console, at a console. All in smocks, all like doctors and nurses. But Detective Sourpuss was nowhere. ANd Ainu Spangles, why wasn't she talking yet. 'HELP ME!' She tries to scream.

But only a throatful moan escapes.

Comfort. Ainu Spangles has a deep connection with the spiritual world -- a much more passive counterpart to the ways Lightning Spangles tackles challenges on her many adventures. So it's only natural that when Lightning Spangles is struggling to cope with a world of madness, Ainu Spangles will be right there to help her through it.

It was a great idea. Until forces conspire to separate the two, and the blonde beauty is torn from the reach of her closest friends.

No one is there to help with the slime. No one can pull her free from the viscous, suffocating stenches. No one can give her the warmth to keep the pain at bay. And worst of all, no one can stop the mad scientist's feverish analyses.

Until it, finally, is over.

And the brunette doppleganger of Ainu Spangles is there, her eyes closed peacefully -- even as those other dear animal friends prod into Lightning Spangles' body with needles and medical apparati.

Ainu Spangles' head lolls to the side. Groggily, she begins to open her eyes. Chestnut brown eyes lock onto the blonde Lightning Spangles' feet... slowly crawling their way up.

And she shakes her head, in the negative. "I'm... not Ainu Spangles. And you're... you're not who you think you are. We've... been drugged. Implanted... or something."

Her gaze shifts over to the Dillo. To Fishy Friend Nae Nae. And then back to the blonde beauty.

"You've been here before, though... haven't you?" Her gaze drifts over to Anthony Conda at the console -- keeping her voice just low enough so as to be difficult for the "friends" to hear, but plenty clear for Lightning Spangles to recognize.

"This is just a -memory- they keep stabbing you with. A brand, a mark of -control-. But what they don't understand is..."

The stunt double flashes a wry grin. And clenches her fist.

"They want you to think you haven't soared beyond their grasp. They keep whispering their words, taunting you with shocks... But they can't ever reach -your- heights."

The slowly-draining IVs... begin to fill back up.
The gauges begin to register anomalous readings, beeping critical.
The electrodes begin to pop off of Lightning Spangles.
And as vitality courses through the blonde Lightning Spangles' veins, reinvigorating her with the power to break any bonds... The metal tips of the needles fall away from her flesh, melting into silvered puddles as soon as they tink-tink across the floor.

"... No one should fly, where eagles dare."

Those in the rest of the room are unaffected. Unconscious victims remain strapped to their tables. The stunt double's glassy eyes remain staring, in awe, at the newly-empowered Lightning Spangles.

She had been here before.

For a moment, as everything fills her, she feels herself fading fast. Everything was coming back to the beginning. Her animal friends, were enemies, would be friends again. Everything would be renewed. But Ainu Spangles... not the real one, but that one, she needed her. She could hear those whisper so clearly. She needed to save them. They were drugged, but she's been drugged too. She needed to save them

That's what Lightning Spangles would do.

The flow comes through her mind, as intuitively as a lifetime fighter of Tae Kwon Do. Her body fills with strength, the fading self renewed. Her mouth was cleared, she could breath fine. The animal friends, they were panicking, in pantomime. She pulls against the straps. She was strong. So strong. They couldn't stop her now.

Except she didn't feel like Lightning Spangles before.

Everything was surging back into her. Her, was surging back to her. Ripping from the strap, she tears into the Hoedown Dillo, gripping his face and snout, and -pulling- it off. Like ripping the face off a cat. Those hooded creatures with leering sneering faces in the dark hoods. 127. 28. She could feel the warm blood pouring out, as she kept tearing, the flesh away as she reaches the bone, the skull. Wrenching it out, she squeezes it, smashing it across at Fishy Friend NaeNae, her head split open like a cracked egg. She turns, looking at the terrified Anthony Conda. She pounces, leaping over the wide distance, grabbing him by the throat, to take him to the ground. She smashes his head, again and again and again, hitting him, beating him, Breaking him, sending the lizard-like snake man into a bloodied hamburger.Everyone was moving so stilted, so slow. Because she was moving so fast, right. She pulls out her six shooters.

And she finds the man in the coke-bottle glasses.

He was cowering, sniffling, curled up in a ball under the console. The man who treated her like a piece of meat. His mouth moves, but there are no words. Lightning Spangles brings the gun to his mouth, and she could feel the power. He cries, and he wets himself. And that's enough. She pulls the trigger. Gore splashes on the console, as his sick stupid brains spread out. She fires again, and again, and again. She turns back to the console, to the people trapped. She had to save her. She must save her. She hits the buttons that will release them, like in the movies.

And she releases them.

They were all free, and she was the hero. And they could all walk away. Walk away and leave the cats behind, those awful cats from the underground. 127. 29. She was the hero, she was the real hero, and they could all go back to SpanglesTown and celebrate and sing and have Baconators in the Mega Baconator and all that. Her friends, her real friends, would all be there. And they would love her, and sing for her, as Lightning Spangles, the real American hero.

So why was she sobbing.

Why was she crying at the console, as everyone is freed, with great, heaving sobs. Why did she feel... feel like everything was wrong. She was free. She escaped and she was free. And she got her revenge. She saved the circus people. She was finally a hero. And yet, why did nothing make sense. Why does everything not make sense. Why was everything wrong. Why was she not being a proper Lightning Spangles? A paw comes on her shoulder, as Detective Sourpuss stands over her. And what he says, makes the least sense of all. "We've found it. We have what we need now."

"15 minutes from Southtown Villages."

"Fortified Bunker Number 30."


Behind Detective Sourpuss stands a woman, five-foot-five in height, dressed in expertly tailored clothes, lightly colored, with an ash grey jacket and a red scarf. The bottom third of her face is covered in scar tissue, showing signs of a burn that never quite healed right. Her hair is cropped short, save for a long forelock of red hair swept over the right side of her face. Bright amber eyes shine in the relative darkness.

The woman pulls a pair of glasses out of the jacket pocket, resting them upon the bridge of her nose. Her intense, amber-flecked gaze never wavers from the heroine of the laboratory. "You're free now," she affirms, acknowledging the truth of what's happened in this liminal space. "Technology is a poor substitute for an entire lifetime of memories. Especially when wielded by a software engineer who thinks he's God."

The scarlet-coiffed one gestures with an open hand to the lab around the two. The lab is a disaster -- though the lights seem to be getting dimmer and dimmer with time, with shadows swallowing up the mutilated animal friends, threatening a similar fate for the broken scientist. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but you weren't really given the -option- to portray Lightning Spangles, were you...?"

The figure's eyes close partly, walking over to the broken scientist as she gives the blonde a chance to respond. She seems to relish the way his body buckles under a swift kick to the gut -- as if she can imagine him being alive to actually -feel- it.

"You've helped me, perhaps more than you can know. And because of that... I'm offering you a choice." From her sleeve, she pulls out a small pen -- and toggles it back and forth between her fingers as she scrutinizes the blonde woman's expressions.

"Forgive the cliche-ness... but I can do one of two things for you. One: You can continue to help me in defeating injustices. On this path, you will be compensated handsomely for your time. But it will be tough -- and you may need to adopt this... persona from time to time. But unlike with this boorish fool, -you- will be in control."

The figure tilts her head, giving the faintest impression of boredom. The pen stops -- and both palms face the floor, sweeping out to either side. Clearing an invisible table. "Or you can step through door number two: forget this madness wholesale, and go back to your life. As if nothing ever happened. I can make it all go away."

In the midst of the conversation, the shadows have finally consumed all. All that exists in the room are the two ladies, one bed, and a scientist -- and even his body is now beginning to crumble into ash.

She didn't understand what was happening.

She remembered now. Lucile Belle, that's what they picked her name to be, after she was fired. She had so much hope, so much opportunity, but- but then she messed up too many times. And she quit, she quit and left. And when she left, she knew too many things, and they had to... take it out of her. Pull it out of her. She remembers the faces, the animal friends, before even Lightning Spangles. The white mask, the smiling face, the doll, the machines. And then, she was no longer a soldier in a war against monsters. She was on the streets. But pieces, piece of it remains.

And now, even this was not real.

Nothing was real anymore, just broken shards of a broken world. She stared at the Illusion around her, before looking at Ainu Spangles. Was it? What was she? She... she never was given the option, It was forced into her, drowning in her. Drowning, in Lightning Spangles. She lost herself, to be a make believe girl for a hideous pervert. And now, she can have it all back. At least, the parts that were left. And when she gives Lucile the option, she doesn't hesitate.

"Don't... let me go back... to that."

The words were so raw, and real. She was trembling. "Under the ground, there are these cats. A clan of cats, 127, that live underground, in a village, and they have hoods, hiding their faces. They have red glowing eyes, though, you can always see their eyes. And their teeth, their awful teeth, and they eat and they eat everything. And ever since I saw it, I always see it, forever and ever, burned into my mind. I never stop hearing them, I never stop seeing them, except when..." She taps her elbow, with two fingers. "And it was working, less and less. The cats, the cats, 127. The man of the world, told me, the president of the world, told me. And I never- I nevered stopped."

"Until I was Lightning Spangles."

A dawning light comes over her, as she smiles again, pulling her blonde hair away from her face. "I... always want to be Lightning Spangles. I never before. I... I hate what he did to change me. I hate that feeling, that you are in a dream, and you about to wake up. But I never want to stop it. Because if I stop it, I have to go back into that horror. I stop hearing the cats, you know? I stop the invasive thoughts in my head. And people at the street, don't stare at me like I'm a monster. They look at me like I'm just like them, no, better than them. You don't understand. You don't understand how important it is to be Lightning Spangles, when the alternative is yourself. I- I don't want to be me, anymore. I never want to be that again." She was on her knees, looking up at the woman, begging her now. Pleading, as she pulls at her shirt. "Please, let me be Lightning Spangles."

"Please let me have this!"

They're ludicrous, the words coming out of the blonde Lightning Spangles' mouth. And yet, the woman who could pass for Ainu Spangles, if only -everything- about her features were changed, nods with full attention.

It was always an interrogation room. Distilled down to a sole column of light and only the two women present, it now looks the part as well. And yet, with madness having left the room, this seems no more out of place than a simple conversation between a victim and her newly found confidante.

The last person to trust her.
Or will she merely be the first person to trust the -new- her?

"One hundred twenty seven cats," she repeats. Hoods concealing their eyes. It -sounds- ludicrous, but a darkstalker with feline attributes competing the King of Fighters tournament matches the description. And the President of the World? The mysterious figure...

There's a connection there. But the lines don't need to be drawn now, only the recognition. A placid, nodding -acceptance- of the terrible traumas inflicted upon this woman, confidence granted to this sympathetic stranger with the captivating eyes.

This stranger, who smiles down at her, even as her blouse is tugged. Who runs her fingers soothingly through the distressed blonde locks of hair.

Golden radiance emanates from the amber-flecked eyes as she considers the young woman before her, thoughtfully. It seems an eternity -- and yet, it is only a moment.

"Very well."
She smiles.
And she reaches to the side...?
Perhaps there -are- others in this darkness after all...?
But did Lightning Spangles look away...?

For she no longer tugs on a random stranger's garments. She is gripping the elm bark attush of Ainu Spangles.

Ainu Spangles places a crisp new cowboy hat on top of her new partner's head.

"Ladies and gentlemen...?" she calls out, and a dull roar can be heard in the surrounding room. The blackness turns into sheer whiteness -- a blinding white light. The clack-clack-clack of photobulbs and burst mode camera shutters can be heard.

The moment lasts for a -second- eternity.
Interrupted only by the whisper from her partner. "(This's where you stand up, sugar.)"

- - -

"Please 'llow me to introduce to you... your new Lightning Spangles...!"

Very well.

Everything... everything was melting away. Was it the magic of the stranger? Or was it her own magic. Ainu Spangles was placing the cowboy hat on her head, as snug as a bug on a rug. And she could feel the invasive thoughts melting away. She stares around. The... the lab wasn't there, was it? The shapes, the colors. The evil, it was fading. Was it real? Did it even matter?

That was the true magic of Lightning Spangles.

It didn't matter who you were. Once you donned the rhinestone vest and the hat and the boots, who you were didn't matter. You were now Lightning Spangles. Every fantasy was a reality, in its own way. You only lived in the fantasy of Lightning Spangles. And that fantasy was the true reality for those cursed by the worst of reality. The flash of lights, the photobulbs. It was... what was it? In the world of Lightning Spangles, she knew. She puts on that plastic smile injected inside her, and calls out, standing up, and stepping into the light. "Howdy Y'all!" She calls out, in the flawless drawl installed in her. "I'm Lightning Spangles, the All American Hero!"

"Can I get a Yee-Haw?"


Fame. The biggest high, and the most elusive. The common person could never hope to ever catch the updraft of such a thing -- to be the sole person on a stage, adrift in a sea of adoring fans. Picking out a specific individual is impossible, for all are subsumed into one singular, overwhelming gestalt -- tens of thousands of voices crying out in unison.


Excitement. Cheering. To a lesser degree, laughter -- melding together into searing light and a roar of white noise.

- - -

Scarlet Dahlia's eyes snap open. Flecks of amber shimmer in the faint green light of LED monitors and bubbling tubes -- irises opening rapidly to allow the most light in. She reclines in a thick metal chair.

Opposite her is an identical chair, with a considerably less comfortable arrangement. The person seated there is an exact copy of Lightning Spangles -- differing only in the addition of an ornamental domino mask. She's wearing what seems to be a hospital gown, though from the proliferation of needles and electrodes that are visible, one can only guess at how many bodily intrusions are concealed beneath the gauzy cloth. Tresses of mousy brown hair tumble out from a hemispherical dome, padded heavily around the neck and crown to keep her head from moving even a slight amount. Her wrists and ankles are bound by thick metal manacles. Her waist, shoulders and legs are bound by heavy straps. She is not going anywhere, in other words.

A glassy-eyed assistant takes note of Dahlia's awakening, and immediately approaches with a glass of water. "We've found the location. 15 minutes from Southtown Village. Fortified Bunker number thirty."

Dahlia takes the water, swishing it about in her mouth. Clearing her throat afterwards, she clarifies: "I heard you the first time."

Technicians close in on the chair of the Lightning Spangles doppleganger. Carts laden to the brim with medical electronics are deployed, with an array of advanced technologies that may never see the light of a hospital. Shadaloo spares no expense on its medical labs, and it's never more evident than here in the heart of its R&D division.

"Understood. We're just about to begin termination of the subject, per prior--"

"-- Cancel that." Dahlia creases her forehead, rubbing groggily at her eyes. "The plan's changed."

The technicians suddenly pause in their work, turning back to address Dahlia. The assistant blinks. "... Ma'am?"

"You heard me. Question me again and I'll save Lord Vega the trouble of disciplining you." And with that, Scarlet Dahlia rises from her chair. "Waste not, want not... I have plans for her." She advances towards one of the technicians, gesturing to him with an open hand. "Remove the foreign tech she's got inside her. I don't want to get bitten by any surprises they might have waiting for us."

Dahlia casts a pale shadow over the figure who could so convincingly pass for Lightning Spangles. She rolls the name around in her mind -- Lucile Belle. Such a pretty name -- the tusukur wonders if she'll ever need to use it again. But for now... she merely strokes her finger thoughtfully across the doppleganger's chin. "And will someone please remind me... what are the potential drawbacks of the Psycho Trigger project...?"

Log created on 14:55:01 01/29/2020 by Jezebel, and last modified on 10:37:20 02/03/2020.