2013-10-09 - Into The Woods

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Into The Woods

Sayaka and Madoka stumble into a Witch's Labyrinth on their way home from school (which involves cutting through the on-campus forest with the mysterious rose gates). Fortunately, there are three fabulous Puella Magi there to rescue them! But it isn't all lovebeams and friendship...


Homura Akemi, Kyouko Sakura (as herself, and GM), Madoka Kaname, Mami Tomoe, Sayaka Miki


Ohtori Academy, Duel Arena (the forest outside)

OOC - IC Date:

10/9/2013 - 10/01/2013

Less and less daylight has greeted the students of Ohtori Academy each time they leave class, and more and more fallen leaves. Sun and leaf alike seem to grow drier each day, with the former dessicating from its summer lusciousness into a colder ball, and the latter checkerboarding the sidewalks with rain-pasted yellow and red. For those who take part in club activities, the sky is already dim by the time they depart for home, and on a drizzly day (like today) and under a roof of trees (like the one above) it is darker still. Ohtori's campus is large, so some students carry flashlights to guide their steps.

Others carry them for different reasons.

"Madoka-chaaan..." Sayaka moaned, in the ululating tone of the restless departed. Her flashlight lit the angles of her face from beneath, making her deadened (yet somehow twinkling) eyes ghoulish. Sayaka used her height advantage to loom over Madoka as they walked together through the woods in the rear of the campus complex. "Madoka-chaaan, help me find my waaAaaay..." She leaned over closer. "You see... I've lost..." she scrubbed her eyelids with her fists, the lightbeam wobbling off into the woods somewhere. She lifted her balled fists and showed them to Madoka.

"MY EYES!" She popped open both hands, which were of course empty.

"Eeeeeeeek!hahahahahaa," squeals Madoka, her initial fright jolting her right into the air. By the time she's come down, she's dissolved into giggles. "So scary, Sayaka-chan," she half-chides, half-admires, gently shifting her rose pink umbrella such that it covers both of them more thoroughly. Sayaka's act is hard to keep up with; it's a good thing the trees are pulling double duty to keep them both dry. "You should volunteer at the haunted house this year -- you're really spooOooooky!"

Each one of her footsteps playfully scuffs the forest floor a little bit, marking their path as clearly as dropped breadcrumbs or sprouting mushrooms; instead, their story is told by marred piles of dried maple leaves, and swirling, broken pine needles, each one as long and slender as a thorn. She dances a light, hop-skipping swirl around her friend, buoyed by her enthusiasm for the idea. "The Gardening Club's pumpkins are getting ripe! I think it's going to be a great Halloween..."

The forest has a certain degree of creepiness to it at the best of times, but as the season turns colder and traditional spooky seasons loom, it can take on a more spectral signifigance. Maybe it's just the light, or the light spattering of the rain, but the forest is getting mistier. And the leaves a bit greener. Creeper vines begin showing themselves around the bark of the aged trees, looking thorny and sharp, and it almost seems like the leaves turn to watch the two schoolgirls as they move.

At a certain point the light is unmistakably dimmer, but also not entirely natural--the sun is no longer visible and instead a directionless dim illumination seems to surround the area. The calls of animals become audible, but distorted as if through a cheap speaker system, and noises that one would never hear in the semi-tamed wilds of Ohtori. The creeper vines enlarge and then seem to visibly be growing as they are observed--and where their thorns bite into the bark of the trees, the trees bleed.

IT's at that point that shadowy flying forms start passing through the trees rapidly, buzzing like large dragonflies though their heads are large and squarish. The make noise as well, a burbling static that is almost a human voice, but failing to make any sense or words. One of them flies closer to, then squeals past Madoka and Sayaka; it is a dragonfly, but its head is a CRT monitor screen, showing a blare of nonsense characters. It is followed by another, and another. The rain has stopped. Something else has started.

Kyouko Sakura is running through the forest, panting hard, coming from a different direction. She ignores the growing strangeness around herself as something expected, and dodges past brief dangers almost idly. She looks dissheveled, even by her usual less than prim standards, but she's heading further into the deepening forest. She passes a couple of students engaged in regrettable canoodling, though their previous joy is being overcome with a strange despair in each other--they barely see her go by. She runs, and the forest continues to change.

The bleeding sap of the trees drips downwards further and further, the vines clinging tightly to their new places about the trees. The something else continues, the path, too, beginning to become harder to make out ahead of the group. Behind, well, it's as if there never was a way back in the first place; the trees have closed against them.

This doesn't stop the sound of gunfire ahead, which may barely be audible over the awful sounds and volume closer by, what with the dragonflies. The screens on some flicker, briefly; 'Nvd fadisking' which turns to 'NOW DEPARTING FOR' without actually giving a destination.

It's quite warm.

For the last few weeks there have been creatures following Madoka and, to an extent, her friend Sayaka. However these creatures are not zombies. Well ... at least one of them isn't, anyway. Homura Akemi, the mysterious transfer student, has probably been a common sight in their lives. She usually shows up when you least expect it. Her gaze might meet with Madoka's. There's a few moments of silence, and then Homura will move away. Normally this could be explained easily as being caused by the fact that they share the same class. Of course you'd run into each other often in that case!

The forest ... is a bit more difficult.

An ominous moans puncuated with a squeal of fright followed by giggling delight wafts through the the rain dampened forest. Some distance away this causes Homura the jerk her head slightly, her eyes narrowing at the horizon. There's more of a reason than usual for her anxiety this evening. Within her hand a small violet colored jewel shines softly in the fading afternoon light slanting through the trees. She gazes down upon the jewel for a few seconds more, and then without a gesture the jewel vanishes. In its place is a small metal ring upon Homura's left middle finger.

It's starting.

Homura is also now running through the forest. Her soft blue parasol closed and held at her side as she takes a shortcut through branch and briar! Water shakes free from the branches and splatters her uniform, but she doesn't stop. Strange dragonfly-like creatures with CRT monitors for heads buzz by. She refuses to stop still. The rain does stop however as the scenery begins to be consumed by the Witch's barrier.

She does stop when she sees Kyouko running by! Her feet slide through dampened leaves as she comes up, hard, against a nearby tree. Kyouko Sakura is here? Another irregularity? ... tsk. And is that gunfire in the distance?

For now, Homura bides her time.

Sayaka lets Madoka's giggle break the spell--she has a weird laugh, Sayaka always felt--and grins, returning the flashlight beam to the path before them, though she steers into Madoka on purpose to bump shoulders as a sign of appreciation for the praise. Her tone is all modesty, rendered insincere by a full grin. "Oh, I don't know, maybe I'm just okay at spooking and you're /really/ good at being spooked."

She laughs at Madoka's enthusiasm. "Let me guess, some of those pumpkins are going to the haunted house? I guess I won't be getting out of this one... I can tell you won't take no for an answer." She makes a little dramatic puff of a sigh, looking down, then floridly changes to a bold, chin-lifted pride. "All right, then! But I'll need more than pumpkins to scare the upperclassmen! We need to think of a way to spook even the Student Council."

This chatter keeps Sayaka from noticing the more subtle signs of change in the foilage. Even once she becomes aware of them incidentally, and perhaps with time to turn back, she simply doesn't feel worried enough to save herself; Ohtori is often a really creepy place, and nasty thorns are not that strange compared to a giant tree pagoda. Her banter becomes more subdued, unconsciously, and she quickens her pace, but she doesn't grow alert. The first clearly audible hoot, mammalian but unrecognizable, is what startles her into awareness. Flicking her wrist left, she sees nail-like thorns digging into a tree until blood trickles down in scarlet rivulets. Flicking it right, she casts the light onto a branch, which seems to shiver under it as though it had eyes. Sayaka grabs Madoka's forearm tightly, and she takes a moment to untangle her tongue.

"I think... we better turn around," she manages.

"H-hey!!" Madoka protests, putting on a full, trembling lower-lipped pout for good measure, as her propensity for getting frightened is brought into play. "Mouuuu -- this year I'm going to get /all the way through/ whatever horror movie Papa wants to watch -- so there!" (There is history here -- Tomohisa Kaname has a secret love of the spooooooky, and has tried, and failed, to induct his daughter into this interest of his once a year. Madoka's current record is 'the first third of The Ring,' which isn't actually all that bad...) She'd fold her arms, but they're full of umbrella, and besides, the time for playacting offense is quickly over as Sayaka gets into the swing of things. "Wow, the Student Council? I don't know if I want to scare /them/... they scare me enough as it is, sometimes." The social predators that they are; she's mostly oblivious to their machinations, but even she knows better than to seriously involve herself in the most dangerous pastime at Ohtori.

In the Game of Council Seats, you win or you die.

Predators aside, all manners of creatures tread in this forest, for certain. None of them, today, have pink and white fur, red eyes, and ears coming out of their ears.

But though that may be small comfort for some, and /cold/ comfort for others who actually enjoy his company, it is no comfort at all to Madoka, who has as little idea of what she's missing as, thus far, the inverse truth. In the cruel not-light, diffracted as though by a distant mist, she is as ghostly an apparition as Sayaka might have ever hoped to be -- with just a hint of a witch's green skin, as well. Teal sailor collar and skirt seem gray and indistinct, while her tie is as juicily, sparkling red as a slash of blood. Only her hair and eyes remain precisely the same color they ever were, the latter beacons of increasingly nervous light, shining as dramatically as a cat's, if only in contrast to her supernaturally dulled surroundings.

She blinks, rapidly, long innocent lashes brushing her cheekbones as she tries to clear her vision of things that are blatantly impossible. "I-I..." She and the umbrella only very narrowly dodge the first dive-bombing televisualist dragonfly, duck the second, probably knocking Sayaka gently on the head with the frail canopy spokes as she does so, and the third one that passes makes impact! The parasol is instantly torn from her hands, and it flips end over end, vanishing quickly into the great beyond. "Eeep!"

It's just as well, because now she has another free hand with which to counter-cling to Sayaka's arm, as more of the vines twist and twirl their way down, snakelike, sniffing them almost as actively as they exude a dank, rotting aroma. She glances frantically over her shoulder. "Turn around and go /where/?" Nothing is familiar anymore; it's a jungle out there, and yet less familiar and more forbidding than airdropping her into the heart of the Amazon would be.

The sound of running feet make her tense. The sound of distant /gunfire/ makes her spring. "Th-thunder?!" She shrinks closer to her friend, unsure whether to run towards that strange sound or away from it, while with every moment that passes, more television screens light up, staring with dozens of i's, down at the two of them, until it feels to Madoka as though there is nothing left in the world but dark wrongness and bright, crackling wings.

The trees continue to bleed, still further. The animal calls rise in volume, and now larger shadowy forms start to dance in the distance. They don't actually materialize for the most part, though a few start to come into view: a passel of fish with human arms and legs, wearing bowler hats and carrying suitcases. They all rush by the two schoolgirls in a great hurry, making vague grunting noises of impatience with their presence. They are very obviously going somewhere in a great hurry, though where amongst the bleeding trees is not clear; the dragonflies dart among them, a few pausing to hover now and again as if taking notice of Madoka and Sayaka for the first time.

Kyouko does not notice Homura in her mad dashing. She should have, but the other magi was concealed behind one of the trees, and Kyouko is focused on her goal, running, with spear in hand. A large carnivorous plant lashes out at her, teeth chomping on air as she dodges aside. Its skin is the texture of cheap suitcase leather, and a weird bluish grey. She isn't one to pause and admire the taxonomy of strangeness around her but she does pause when she hears gunfire in the distance.

She changes her orientation slightly and continues running. More of the angry suitcase-plants lunge at her, and she evades them, sometimes cleaving them with a quick swipe of her spear, sometimes not. Her goal is elusive, with all the shadows and mist in the trees and strange fauna beginning to flitter about. The strange distorted animal calls continue echoing through the forest which is looking steadily more and more jungle-ish, a deeply different biome from that of Ohtori's dignified temperate clime. The grass has grown thicker and...polyester? Its texture is definitely false. It doesn't swish but crunches beneath the feet.

One other thing pauses her headlong dash--two girls, in here? This makes her frown. One pink-haired, one blue, clearly out of place, but not wandering with the dazed drugged stagger of a witch's curse. She leaps, out of the darkness of the forest, a figure in red battle dress with a spear and just shouts at the two of them: "You have to get out of here you idiots!" And then she is gone again, leaping into the trees once more and following the shots. She's leaping from branch to branch now as the forest floor becomes more crowded, except for the path Sayaka and Madoka are on--the obvious route, as it were. She's moving in roughly that same direction, but trying to be less obvious to what might be at the end.

Also, it doesn't look like there's a way to turn around. The trees have grown thicker, and their fronds have descended with razoered teeth over the route behind. The predatory shadows lurk in the twilit dimness. More disordered dragonflies zip by, blaring incomprehensible instructions. More fish shuffle past. A fern hisses at Sayaka when she gets too near it, rattling itself like a snake.

The Council is far away from here.

The crunching of the grass seems to echo all the more as it's stepped upon, and the question of 'to where?' as to where they're going to go turns out to be a very good one, indeed. The parasol appears briefly once more, but only to float away, carried by something uneen in the grass.

Turning around is not such a great option; behind, those razored fronds are slowly moving forward... if it isn't just a trick of the light. But who wants to check?

The 'thunder' does not let up. There's another crack, and another, growing closer; the echoes make it hard to tell direction, but they may be coming from the west.

Unfortunately coming up against one of the trees was probably not the best decision Homura could have ever made. The creeper vines wrap around the trunks, piercing bark like skin and producing crimson 'sap'. A few drops splatter her uniform adding more splashes of crimson to the unfortunate teal and white. That's the least of her concerns though. While the creepers seek to pierce the tree, no doubt they wouldn't mind the same for Homura's arm.

Homura moves mere instants before one of the thorned creepers manages to pull her into its embrace and extract more crimson 'sap' from her veins.

Don't worry Madoka.

If you were run for office you would certainly win. Even if someone had to cheat vigorously on your behalf. All would know your suitably pink iron fist, and they would /tremble/ in adulation and despair!

... but that is for another timeline.

The barrier is becoming restless. It knows it has found prey and the forest is alive with Familiars seeking to provide for the one who rules them. Already the pair of divebombing CRT-fly Familiars are putting forth their best effort to batter them both. Kyouko is no help as it turns out. She yells at Madoka and Sayaka to get out. Homura feels her teeth clenching together. Get out?

How can a couple of Innocents hope to /get out/ of a Witch's barrier on their own?

Still it fits Kyouko's style. Perhaps she should be glad that the Puella Magi made any attempt at all to help the two. Though it is a bit odd that Kyouko does not seem like she has noticed her yet. Usually she is more aware of her surroundings than that.

It'd be hard for a Puella Magi of any experience to mistake the sudden flare of energy produced by a transformation however. A bright purple flame briefly flares to life, shining with intensity through the creeper vines and bleeding tree trunks. The Witch's barrier shudders in reaction. No doubt the Witch herself is aware that there are no less than three would-be hunters in her barrier. Numerous CRT monitors flicker to life around Homura, now dressed in the subdued neutrals of a strange new outfit. Hisses, mammalian growls, and insectoid buzzing vibrates the air around her.

And then she is gone.

In an instant there is a burst of light and sound. Dozens of televisions are smashed in an instant! Bits of glass rain from their broken faces as they 'die' ... if such creatures can actually truly die. The path is now a bit more clear. A brief reprieve it would seem. But how?

... no time to think about it really. The path won't remain this clear for long.

Her mouth moving soundlessly as she watches monitorflies buzz (doubly) by, Sayaka is too dizzied by disbelief to notice the umbrella is being dive-bombed. Her first warning is when it raps her on the head, jolted by an obvious impact, and she responds by covering her hair with one hand and squatting with a shriek, not of pain, but fear. When the umbrella rips away, she rises and grabs onto Madoka like she might a security blanket, hugging her much too hard, trembling. "Wh..." the syllable is barely there, but she gets her voice back as a thorn reaches down and pokes through her puffy shoulder, as if hoping to deflate it in an act of sartorial mercy.

"Hey!" She backs away until the thorn rips free, making some distance while still hugging Madoka. It's not really protective so much as it is frightened. Her eyes unfocus when Madoka mentions thunder, as she tries to make sense of the sound. "It's more like a cannon..."

They refocus on a strangely-dressed girl in skirts, with wild red hair like something from Romance of the Three Kingdoms, and a spear that recalled period dramas as well. For a moment, despite her mussed appearance and slight stature, Sayaka expects her to take them under her wing with Zhang Fei's heroism, but instead...

"W-who's an idot?!" Sayaka sputters. "Are you talking to u-"

Her query is cut short by a deafening chorus of simultaneous shattering sounds, and Sayaka shoves down on Madoka's shoulders like she were dunking her at the pool (it's happened) and shields her face in the crook of her own arm. But there's no attack, not even a sprinkle of glass on their heads. Sayaka looks up to see all the nearby monitorflies have apparently reached the end of their mayfly-like life cycle and exploded.

A stroke of luck like that can't come along often. "Come on," she says, grabbing Madoka's wrist and urging her to run back the way they came, Zhang Fei's scant advice her only guidance. "Anywhere's better than here."

Madoka is temporarily out of frightened shrieks, as she's nearly bowled over by bowler-clad fish. Or, perhaps, all the air is being squeezed out of her by Sayaka. Either way, she's growing paler and clammier by the moment. She trembles, heart pounding in time to each sound-off of the Overture of 2013; Kyouko barely even registers on a richter scale so full of strangeness. Her focus, instead, is drawn to and overwhelmed by small details, such as the way that her foot fails to properly pressure the polyester polyps that have painstakingly replaced the forest floor.

After staring for a long, dazed moment at the tips of her brown leather loafers, she's slapped out of her stupor by Sayaka's shout. "Sayaka-chan, d-don't--!"

Don't call attention to us? Don't provoke the lady with the spear? Don't be mad?

The world will never know, as the meek stutter of protest is drowned out by the shatterglass fall of instantaneously destroyed dragonvisions. She leans into Sayaka gratefully in that long moment of protection, now able to hear a heartbeat other than her own. The guilt will come later, but right now, there's only relief that she is still alive, even if she's still lost in a labyrinth of blood.

In the purple flashes that fade behind Madoka's eyelids, from that instant of perfect violence, she can almost see a strangely familiar sillhouette. But any chance of contemplation, much less recognition, is lost by Sayaka's wise cause to haste.

Her twintails still miraculously in place, fabulously cute red ribbons untouched by the labyrinth's horror, they bounce up and down almost as quickly as she pumps her legs. Twisting her wrist, Madoka grasps Sayaka's hand more firmly -- and jerks her at a hard angle when it becomes clear that they /cannot/ go back, that there is no path any longer, only gnashing, bloodied teeth.

The only way to go... is forward, on the road lined by shattered corpses, that already flicker into individual, dying flames, smokey trails the last hint of their incomprehensible screen lettering. And in this part of the adventure, at least, she doesn't slow or weigh her friend down. Fleet as a deer, the girl pounds down the path, guided equally by her own instincts and any of Sayaka's. "Hurry!"

This newborn jungle is herding its victims--would-be hunters and innocents both--it wants them to come closer, to visit, to find its deep and throbbing heart. Light and shadow play. Monkeylike creatures swing by overhead, their fur a psychadelic melange of colors, their hooting discordant and frightful. The dragonflies zip past, screens flaring into various patterns of sense and nonsense, sometimes offering lists of boarding destinations like 'Hell' or 'Acheron'. Usually just random characters. The wildlife calls intensify in volume as the jungle deepens, the trees ooze their sap more freely and seem to shudder faintly at the touch of the vines. As the two girls run, the path seems to widen, even brighten--it's almost welcoming. The howling in the background becomes almost jubilant.

Also, just to make sure they keep running, something starts cleaning up the path behind them: it's almost like a forklift that's gone feral, fur growing over its mechanical frame and its lifting tines shaped more like elephantine tusks as its ploughs through the foliage.

Kyouko might have missed Homura's initial presence, but she did not miss the sudden flurry of purple explosions. She frowns, now disturbed--that was something that shouldn't be here, but what? She doesn't have much time to find out, but she does leap downwards, spear enlarged, to skewer the forklift-chaser. "I said go, run--ah hell,"

The latter end to her sentence comes as the path finally opens into a clearing, one where trees and vines have formed a solid wall with but a single entryway, red droplets occasionally spattering from the branches above onto a waiting audience below. It's a concordance of small leaf people, holding small brochures and shuffling about in theater seats around a centrail dais upon which rests a coiled, serpentine form with four feathered wings. No head is visible; whatever it is, it is at rest.

Kyouko extracts her spear, watching warily for whatever caused the flies to die a moment ago, and begins leaps off into the trees again to reach the central chamber from an angle other than the main door.

The path is frightening, and without either umbrella, there is nothing to keep at bay the small, flying things or the splatter that result from something passing too close to one of the trees. The heat only worsens as the running begins, though the path itself is at least better.

'Better', in its way. The cannons, though, briefly stop, now that the purple flames have come to life and the running has started in earnest. They are silent, no longer punctuating the background tracks of horrible howls and chatters.

The 'forklift' continues rolling closer, uncaring that the girl in red is not in its way. No period dramas pop up, no great spears--just the certainty that to become caught between this hard place and the rock of the coming end would be very unpleasant, indeed.

There isn't much more space left when suddenly, the thunder returns; from the treetops, shot after shot aftr shot of gunfire slams down into the forklift, slamming into it, tearing off chunks, and blowing it over to land on its back, where it flails helplessly. Between it and the girls falls a girl in black and yellow, landing lightly, a flower abloom beneath her feet as she turns to the others, one large weapon in hand. "Ah, excuse me! I'm afraid I didn't see you at first. Please, settle back, would you? This won't be much longer."

They are on the move now.

While running blindly through a Witch's barrier is generally a bad idea, it's almost certainly worse to stand still and allow its Familiars to surround and then overwhelm you. It's a common mistake that those who blunder their way into a barrier instead of being 'kissed' make. Thankfully Sayaka proves herself ever the one to be willing to throw caution behind and run head long into the dark. A poor trait for a Puella Magi, perhaps, but one that may save a human life or two this night.

Unfortunately the direction she picked to run couldn't have been worse. Rather than taking her away from the center of the labyrinth, Sayaka and Madoka are doubtlessly heading deeper and toward the center. Any hope Homura had that the loud sound of 'thunder' would scare them away is dashed. Still it does not mean all hope is gone. There is still a chance that Mami and Kyouko will finish the Witch long before Madoka and Sayaka arrive.

One benefit of them heading this way however is that the Witch's Barrier seems to open itself for them. Indeed, this Witch seems eager to ensure that the two get to their Final Destination. Homura still has to remove the occasional overzealous Familiar from their path however. There are many more chances for Madoka to see the strangely familiar silhouette in the light of distant explosions.

Puella in somnio...

No doubt Sayaka would see the figure as well, though the strange girl's silhouette thrown in sudden harsh relief by explosions would doubtlessly only add to the horror of the surrounding 'jungle'. The world has gone mad and the silhouette is a part of its shadow play! Is it stalking them? Is it the creature who rules this forest? It leaps from one location to another in an instant. Always at a distance.

The cannons stop briefly. The explosions stop. For a moment the world is silent...

Credens justitiam?

Cannons pierce the darkness once more, this time shredding the bizarre 'forklift' and breaking it apart with volley after vicious volley. Homura watches as Mami takes the opportunity to present herself to the two normal humans lost in the labryinthine jungle maze. Somehow ... her entrances are always like this.

Homura, on the other hand, slips back into the shadows.

Sayaka whinnies her frustration as she and Madoka run into terrain more impassible than she would have thought possible. Amidst all the terror is a lingering, petulant feeling of deep unfairness. /Why/ should it be this way? What mistake did she make to end up in this place, facing these naked stained chomping yearning mouth-shards?

Taking Madoka's direction, Sayaka hurries to catch up lest her arm tug her over, glancing repeatedly back at the mouth. After some running, she ends up in the lead again, but she's more setting a pace than guiding; the path seems intent on guiding them itself, and Sayaka is all too ready to cede that confusing choice. She jerks a hand up as a monitor explodes in front of them. "What's wrong with them?" she pants, perplexed, as another, more directly in their path, ruptures and spills electronics on the path to be crunched under leather shoes. "Are we doing that?" she wonders, and glances behind her at some horrible tearing sound, only to find herself staring at the asymmetrical eyes of some horrible mechamammoth, as its bonymetal horns (painted with industrial yellow stripes sweep CRT heads, vines, and chunks of pleather off to either side to clear its charging passage.

"IYA!" she protests, both terrified and outraged by this latest offense against reason, and suddenly she's sprinting. "Madoka!" she yells, and nothing else; it's not communicating anything but mutual fear.

The shambling charge of the monster is a lot faster than it looks, and it's gaining ground until a red bolt slams into its back, throwing up tufts of engine grease-musky fur and causing it to plough two deep furrows in the path for several meters of ground-shaking skidding. Thrown off her balance by the ground rocking, Sayaka pauses to look back, eyes huge, at their savior. "We /are/ going," she protests, but weakly this time, anger left many meters back. But when Zhang Fei leaps off to attend to other monsters, the forklift pushes itself back up. "Hey! Wait, stab it again! Damn it!" Sayaka yanks Madoka's arm again as they plunge on. The environs are getting more welcoming, and Sayaka has a notion that they're on the right track, but her real motivation has two tusks, an indeterminate number of oddly-moving legs, and a bad attitude. Violet imprints of a female form have no real place in her thoughts between labored breaths, even as they seem to clear her path.

As they reach some kind of theater, the forkmmoth is stopped once more, this time by the fiery yellow eruptions of ballistic force normally associated with naval gunnery. Sayaka stops again, this time more firmly, as a second hero, this one from a period drama some centuries after the previous, sails in on a cloud of European elegance. "Hha?" is the only sound she can manage, and several seconds too late. The creature on the stage gets no notice yet.

"I-I don't know!! Idon'tknowidon'tknowidon't..."

Madoka finds herself having to blink more and more often -- tears of genuine panic have swum their way into her vision, distorting an already treacherous path to the point of impassability. They drip down her cheeks at the rate of her footfalls, which accelerate in proportion to the threat behind her, which she doesn't dare turn, much less stop, to see. Her breathing is coming in shorter, shallower gasps, her ability to respond with increasingly incoherent gibbering to Sayaka's question quickly cut short. Running sprints may be the only sport she even can pretend to enjoy, but there's nothing fun about fleeing for her life. Any sense of exhiliration has long since been consumed by primal terror, reinforced by the howls and screams of the monstrous denizens of the labyrinth.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given her current mental state, she fails to see the vine reach out and grasp her still-sore, if now-unbandaged, ankle. She goes sprawling in a trice, her own momentum tearing her out of Sayaka's grasp, to flip end over end, heels over ribbons. Fabric-cum-forest rips at her flesh, her demure thigh-high stockings the flimsiest of armor against The Rug Burn That Time Forgot.

In a heap of torn fabric, tousled hair and weary desperation, she looks up with those shocked, scared, and yet somehow still innocent eyes -- even this chaos has failed to destroy something deep with in her, that essential Madoka that seeks truth.

She has trouble focusing her gaze on the shimmering apparition of safety... especially since there's such a strange sight directly behind her. The theatre of leaves and wings mesmerizes her.

"--I don't," she gasps out, "--I don't understand..."

Having been instructed to 'settle back', she does not attempt to find her feet. In this moment, her legs probably couldn't support her anyway, and more subtly, her subconscious is drawn to join the audience that the labyrinth's centerpiece seems to demand... and so she becomes it, transfixed with equal parts horror and awe.

"I thought I told you to stay out of this!" Kyouko shouts at Mami as she leaps past, towards the Final Destination. "And what's all that purple stuff?" Is there another magi around or did the witch get weirder? Neither possibility pleases the red-clad Zhang Fei. "I'll get this witch! Stay out of the way! Keep them out of the way!" She's still talking to Mami, though looking away from her as she leaps forward into the room proper.

The little leaf assembly stirs into motion as Kyouko joins their audience. They rustle in their seats, clutching their programs, and then start jumping in turn, into the air, and folding themselves into little paper plane shapes--which then lance downwards at the spear-wielder, razored edges glinting in the light as they attack. Kyouko is no stranger to sharp things flying at her, and launches into a whirl of motion, slicing through sharpened airplanes in a flurry and leaving a fall of leafy matter in the air, cascading around herself almost like falling autumn, except that these are the destroyed remains of her enemies.

She circles around, racing through still more of the leaf-creatures before they can get off the ground, others burying their sharp noses in the dirt behind her heels as she runs.

It's only after she's cleared something of a path through the wake of the lesser enemies that she whirls, her spear extending itself into multiple extended, chained sections as she whirls it. The spearhead enlarges, becoming an enormous bladed wrecking ball as she brings it down upon the coiled-serpent form still supine on the central platform.

That certainly got its attention. The spear bites deep, and black gushing ooze squirts from the rupture in the brilliant emerald scales. The serpent uncoils, reveals its face--faces. Three of them. Bone-white skin, long pointed ears and longer pointed tongues, vampirous mouths. Its eyes are swirls of yellow and black that rotate hypnotically, though one is missing from one face, and the central face has a line of cracks along one side, leading to another gaping socket, like porcelain poorly repaired. It roars, howls, hisses all at once. The distorted-speaker quality of its voice is amplified in this space as its wings unfurl.

Kyouko pulls back her spear and dodges aside from the first tongue-lash that follows, preparing another attack to follow.

Mami Tomoe, the girl in yellow, gives a gentle smile, unperturbed by the strange environs or Sayaka's late reply. The same expression is turned on Madoka, as the Puella Magi offers to her, "It's all right. You're going to be all right. You'll have time to think later--" She is interrupted, at that point, by Kyouko's shouting, her eyes following the red Puella Magi as she leaps towards the audience and all that awaits her within it.

"I don't remember agreeing to take orders from you, Sakura-san!" is what Mami calls up at her, but at the moment she does not leap into the fray. Instead, she looks back towards Sayaka and Madoka, and at the trees around them. "We aren't the only ones here!" she answers at the matter of the purple stuff. Well, that's the first thing to consider, in any case. "Hang on for a moment--!"

Bringing into being more muskets and planting them at her feet, Mami scans the place from which Sayaka and Madoka came.

So it /wasn't/ Kyouko at all...

"There's no need for that."

A young woman's voice speaks softly as she steps from, it seems, Mami's back. She now stands between Mami and the strange three headed creature. Kyouko is already handling it nicely it seems. The crimson Puella Magi wielding her chain spear with speed and skill, focusing her magical power to make it change size and dimension as she demands. A necessary skill for one who hopes to fight a Witch.

As for the young woman herself? She stand still for a moment as she observes one small slice of the battle. Now that she is out in the open instead of swiftly jumping from place to place within the trees it is obvious that she is another magical girl. The outfit she wears looking nothing like the sorts of uniforms that most Ohtori students would wear: all in white, grey, and black instead of teals or mustards. Upon her left hand sits her soul gem: An ornate diamond shaped crystal of a violet hue and bordered in gold. Her 'weapon', if you could call it that, is a simple one. A buckler forged of an unknown fantastical material with three circles set upon its ornate surface: Two small, and one large in the center. Right now they sit in a vertical arrangement with one small sphere above the center, and another below.

"Your enemy is that way." Homura states calmly, before looking over her shoulder at Mami. "I will provide protection for these two."

With that the gem on the back of her hand glows, and the area surrounding Mami, Madoka, and Sayaka is suffused by a soft purple light. Several brighter cocentric rings form on the ground and in the air.

It is something that any Puella Magi would recgonize, and that many could replicate: a sort of light barrier that prevents most familiars from attacking those that remain inside. It's nothing you could use to hurt a human being...

... still, how easy would it be to trust an unidentified Puella Magi who, until recently, sought to conceal herself?

"Madoka-chan!" Sayaka had cried, when she was separated from her friend, but the rescue had them both frozen. The girl in yellow's grace and poise is exactly what Sayaka needed right now. Zhang Fei had the same confidence, but she was a herald of fear, crying fire and foe, fire and foe. This new girl, Athos perhaps to the period-drama fan, radiates placidity, and Sayaka feels her panic begin to subside in its face. When Athos turns to exchange words with Zhang Fei, Sayaka stays rooted for a while longer. "Cool..." she admires.

"Ah!" She realizes she's forgotten something, and jogs over to Madoka, offering her arm. "Are you hurt? Saved twice in a row," she sighs. If Madoka remains, so does Sayaka, grasping the other girl's forearms and looking back to the new combat. Even she can tell this has the feeling of a climactic battle; the theatre and the sheer size of the enemy are quite awe-inspiring, and the latter has her trembling again, Athos or no Athos. Zhang Fei deals it what Sayaka assumes is a death-blow right off the bat, and she almost cheers, but the sound dies in her throat as the three-faced (three-masked?) monster just beats its ethereal wings to right itself and continues the fight.

She almost falls into Madoka's lap when Homura appears. The Batman-like voice from behind is all the more startling when it's in front, as it is for Sayaka. "When did she--?" she hisses to Madoka, in the same tone she's used a hundred times to ask for help during lectures. Her confusion blinks slow until she's staring. "Wait, Madoka-chan, is that the new girl? /That/ new girl?" She doesn't intervene in the conversation with Mami, simply glancing between the four other girls each in turn, trying to make some vague sense of is going on here. She particularly concerns herself with Madoka, fully ready to do the best friend thing and feel exactly the same about weirdo Homura as Madoka does.

Madoka is arrested by the drama suddenly playing out before her, not the Witch itself but between its red and gold hunters. She stares between them, finding their interchange quite incomprehensible, but is quickly distracted by the dynamic battle of the spearmaiden and the serpent. "Sayaka-chan... I-I'm okay... are you...?"

It has wiped most of Mami's otherwise sublimely comforting words straight out of her mind. Absently, she shifts her arms up to clasp Sayaka's, in turn, hooking her best friend firmly in the crook of her elbow. But even this battle is nothing compared to the girl from her dreams suddenly walking out onto the stage.

Those fantastical muskets being pointed in Homura's direction, if without full understanding of the situation, makes Madoka's heart leap into her throat.

"Akemi-san!" she bursts out, in full recognition, equal parts appalled and relieved to see a familiar face... especially one in identically those clothes that she only dimly remembers. Even as the violet barrier springs into existence to protect her, she looks frantically between its caster and the gunmaiden. "Th-thank you both for helping us," she wails with genuine relief -- if also an urgent need to diffuse the tension there, to inadvertantly help them find common ground. The labyrinth's dimension is already more than she can bear with any kind of composure; the thought of multiple saviors turning around and fighting each other is the single most awful idea to pass through her mind in the last five -- has it really only been five, time has no meaning here -- minutes.

She winces as the vampiric monster snaps out a tongue-lash. "Please be careful," she half entreats, half whispers, her voice somehow carrying through the barrier to all three Puella Magi who seek to fight within it.

Kyouko was prepared for the serpent--or more properly naga--to rise up and lash out. One blow would not be enough to kill it. More leaves fold in on themseles and make razor dives at her moving form; she unleavens her spear again and flails it around herself in a whirlwind as she races for position against the witch. She catches a glimpse, briefly, of a new figure settled among her civilians and rival, but she doesn't have a lot of time to stare. Instead she dodges a lashing tail this time with a sudden forward flip, fang showing as she sneers her fury at the witch's insolence. "I'll show you!" She yells, and leaps, stabbing upwards repeatedly, then slicing. One of the four feathered wings falls free, erupting in a geyser of black fluid that rains down in Kyouko's still-running wake. "Try to fly away again now! I'll kill you!" She yells. She seems to have forgotten Mami, or at least put her from her immediate mind as she fights.

The familiars and other monsters without have not been so forgetful, and indeed, the injury to their dark mother has lead some of the leaf-airplanes to direct themselves towards Homura's barrier and the two magi and two students within. The psychadelic monkeys reappear as well, their mouths opening wider and wider and wider to show more teeth than should be allowed in a hideous smile, and fling themselves towards the innocent victims and sources of suffering energy, anything to help their besieged center.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Mami Tomoe makes no response to being called 'cool'. As far as an observer can tell, she was far too busy with the serious matters of dangerous to even notice. ...And that's just how it's going to remain for the moment, as for a few moments Mami is still making her preparations for a theoretical battle. She pauses, once more, as she hears the voice from behind her, briefly stiff in her posture before she lets out the breath she'd suddenly started holding.

"...Is that so?" she asks, looking over the young woman and her 'weapon', listening to the offer that she's making as Sayaka speaks up like she recognizes her or something. Even as that barrier goes up, Mami does not yet move, glancing evenly towards Homura and off at Kyouko during her battle.

"..." Madoka, too, has spoken up, and, eyes still on Homura, the blonde young woman inclines her head. "If they're your classmates, then I understand. I'll make certain not to keep the three of you waiting for long, hm?" Her smile has returned, despite her remaining misgivings.

She goes the rest of the way to the edge, moving past the barrier as if it isn't even there--and the guns she'd been planting rise up to travel along with her, where she can get a better location for firing. She has not yet gone so far that she cannot return to the others... But that's almost certainly going to have to change.

This time, she doesn't go straight for the eye; this time, Mami slashes with a hand, and her muskets fire in a line across the wingjoint on the same side that Kyouko just sliced. "Let's finish this quickly!" she calls to Kyouko, "Then you can get back to where you'd rather be!"


If only Madoka could know how painful those words were ... she definitely would take them back. Homura can once again feel her jaw clenching, though she doesn't let Madoka see it. Instead the figure of the Puella Magi remains standing stoically facing the creature. The light barrier may be enough to prevent most Familiars from attacking ... but against this strange, three headed vampiric serpent it was as good as papier mâché. Instead the one lines of defense that Madoka and Sayaka having against such a powerful creature are the three magical girls who are between it and them. And Homura forms the last line of that defense.

Mami gazes at her suspiciously. That is no surprise. However when that suspicion gives way to a smile ... well that is a bit more of a surprise. No doubt matters were helped in the identification of Homura by Sayaka and Madoka as their classmate. Even if Sayaka seemed less than pleased with her presence. In response to Mami's statement about not keeping them long, Homura only gives a slight nod in affirmative.

The thunderous crashes of Kyouko's spear strikes a punctuated by the powerful explosions of force produced by Mami's muskets. Though while those two put forth incredible displays of power and prowess, Homura doesn't seem to display any. Only the barrier that repels the bizarre psychadelic monkeys, walking fish, CRT-flies, and more from getting in. And indeed it works as advertised ... though perhaps it's hard to feel comfortable being protected by no more than a violet glowing circle.

"Homura is fine." the Puella magi finally responds to Madoka's use of her last name earlier. Was that just for Madoka, or Sayaka too? "Please remain within the barrier. The battle will be over soon." She says so with pretty casual indifference. They are fighting for their lives, are they not? Madoka and Sayaka were certainly running for theirs earlier.

But not Homura.

Sayaka smiles, squeezing Madoka's forearms. "I'm okay, too." She doesn't assist Madoka in her weak attempts to make peace; for all she knows, these two might have a perfectly good reason to fight. Besides, if that's so, she doesn't know who should win the fight, either.

After having trouble keeping track of everything, Sayaka settles on following Zhang Fei's martial battle with her eyes, and Athos's verbal with her ears. She starts to lose track of the latter, however, and looks up sharply when Athos exits. "Whoa," she says. "A team-up." Her enthusiasm for this is tentative, but it's there. This isn't fun, but there may be a seed of fun in it buried beneath the shock that has her trembling still.

It's harder to see that seed as the shield is assailed by monitors and monkeys, the latter horrifying with their yammering mouths and boneless limbs. She moves her hands up to Madoka's biceps, grasping there. Homura's response might be for Madoka alone, but Sayaka answers sheepishly, "Ah, that's a little..." and trails off, a typically Japanese indirect refusal.

"Thank goodness," Madoka breathes when Sayaka confirms her own well-being, a happy sigh that speaks volumes about the level of total fear for her friend, far more than for herself, was occupying her mind at any given moment since this nightmare began.

To her, there is no conceivable reason for two magical girls -- magical girls, they're real, they're really real, magic and miracles really exist, and that moment of full realization makes her head spin far more than a bunch of psychadelic monkeys ever could.


There is no conceivable reason for magical girls to fight each other, /especially/ in such an environment. She can't even imagine why they would want to under any circumstances, but while people (including herself) are in immediate danger? Unthinkable.

So she is greatly relieved when they seem to start kicking butt side by side, except for the one who remains nearby, apparently to ensure their safety.

"Homura-chan," she repeats obediently, and with her usual direct tenderness, which not even the total bizarro situation can blot out entirely. "I, um, do you..." She considers suggesting that Homura maybe go help the other two, but shakes her head mid-syllable and subsides. Homura /is/ risking her life, simply standing by them; who is she to ask for more?

"...thank you," she finishes, genuinely but a little bit timidly -- an instinct heightened by witnessing creature after creature go for them within the barrier, only to be apparently easily destroyed. "We've never really been properly introduced." What a surreal moment; but then, there's no time but now for politeness, and it's an anchor that she grasps at frantically amid the maelstrom of weird. Polite conversation is safe. Polite conversation is known. Normal. And if she doesn't introduce some, she might just lose her mind more than she has already. "I'm Madoka Kaname, and this is Sayaka Miki!" Her eyes close in a full, cheerful smile, one that wouldn't be out of place in a classroom but is entirely strange here.

Unless... she thinks she's safe. Could it be that she trusts in that purple barrier, and the will behind it, so easily, so completely?

"It's really nice to meet you properly!" she finishes, with that turn of Japanese phrasing that also means 'please take care of us!' And how, today.

Extending her hand to shake, she realizes that it cannot, and certainly should not, penetrate that ring of light. So instead she presses it flat up against it, spreading her fingers and shivering a little at the energetic buzz that runs through her. Sayaka can feel her shivering, because she's never let go of her, not for an instant, with her other arm.

Mami's shots strike true at the wing joint of the second wing on the right side. A second wing creaks loose, then falls away. It disintegrates as it hits the ground, dissolving into dust as the first one did. More black blood fountains over the battlefield, and the witch roars and shakes, thrashes wildly this time, slamming its body against the wooden barricade of its jungle home. Leaves fall from the great trees, but these are simply made of stone rather than the razor-edge leaf-citizens now scrambling about and screaming in a panic below.

Kyouko barely has time to register the wing falling, though her mouth might crack into something of a fangy grin as she leaps up then and makes three swift spear swipes, lengthening the weapon to cut deeply into the witch's emerald hide. More howls erupt as Kyouko strikes during its distraction, and more ichorous blood falls from its wounds. One of the falling stone leaves clips her during the downswing and she tumbles to the ground with a thud, but does not remain long on the ground--she rolls away rapidly, spear shrunk to a tiny size as she tumbles back upright, just past the crash of the three great heads lunging to try and bite her. The dull reminder of the sensation of pain throbs through her Soul Gem, but being meguca is suffering, and once this is done she can leaven it a little. Instead, she raises her spear for a counterstrike, as the heads are lowered.

The stone leaves fall upon Homura's barrier and shatter against it, a staccato drumbeat of supernatural aggression that cannot overcome courtesies exchanged within. The familiars without are becoming chaotic as well as the witch is weakened, guns and spears working in an abbreiated tercio to destroy the evil that has nested here, even as Kyouko yells at Mami again, "Get away! I'll take care of it!"

Mami does not know Homura, but she has no reason to believe that she would simply abandon her classmates after she went to the trouble of moving in to protect them, expending her magic and her time. There are underhanded tricks a Puella Magi could pull--but none of them make sense for here, and for now.

Homura's nod falls as Mami passes her by, and now the yellow Puella Magi is herself locked in combat. The introductions occur behind her, maybe a little more of them than she expected there to be, but that too is probably as it should be.

The really real magical girl instead of chatting further is going to deal with the threat at hand. ...And for that matter shout back, "I'm sure you would! But, we don't have time to sit back and watch!" The entire delivery is smooth, as Mami watches Kyouko continue crushing through the thing, and there, she sees her opening.

The Witch thunders in to try to chomp down on Kyouko, and this time, there is no hesitation. "Tiro...!" The words echo through as ribbons form before her, yellow-gold and bright, unveiling/becoming a gigantic two-barrelled pistol, seemingly controlled by nothing more than a hand.

Rent by the spear, the first head rears back after Kyouko's strike of opportunity, insensate for a moment--but the other two come with it, as it continues howling, its blood crashing. Here--

"Finale!" The immense pistol fires, and the Witch is suddenly trapped between Kyouko's fierce counterattack and a blast from above and behind. The howling stops in short order.

Yes that response was /only/ meant for Madoka. However her response to Sayaka's socially ingrained timidity when it comes to the use of one's given name is to not really respond at all. Instead the truly timid Madoka is the one who seems the more emboldened of the two. Not only does she move from Akemi-san to Homura-chan smoothly, but she also provides an introduction for herself and Sayaka.

'It's really nice to meet you properly.'

What gains the most response however is when Madoka's hand tries to touch the edge of the barrier. There is, in fact, nothing that will prevent Madoka from leaving the bounds of the barrier. Nothing more than that cold, narrow glare that she gets when she very nearly does. Hopefully that alone is enough to chastise the heedless Madoka.

"Do you value your current way of life?" She begins suddenly. "Your family..." Her eyes travel smoothly toward Sayak as she speaks, "... your friends. Do you think dearly of them?" Her words are punctuated by the battle coming to a conclusion in the background.

Well, Sayaka was ready to feel the same about Homura as Madoka, right? "Nice to meet you," she says, with great awkwardness when she realizes they've already met several times. "I guess this is your job?" she asks, in a much more strained conversational tone than Madoka's. She isn't as able to ignore what's going on, especially when a monkey slaps its face against the barrier, its mouth extending wide like a suction cup, and starts slurping on it distractingly. Sayaka continually glances back and forth with a nervous grimace between Madoka and the monkey as the former makes nice with Homura.

Even as a wing falls from Athos's musket, Zhang Fei's spear shaves into the naga's body, breaking scales like roof tiles, and this time, Sayaka does whoop. "Nice! Get him!" Default monster gender seems obvious to Sayaka. She doesn't whoop, though, when Tiro Finale summons a great flintlock dragon that seems too big to use on /buildings/. She just kind of squeaks.

Her dazed eyes travel back to Homura, and she goggles at where the conversation has gone. "Okay, you two need to snap out of it! Monster!" She points, and just to show how hard she's pointing, she kind of stretches her shoulder so her finger makes little poking motions. "Stop saying weird things and pay attention!"

Monster, indeed.

Madoka opens her mouth to immediately reassure Homura of her simple but strong feelings--


And is instead really thoroughly distracted by the light show, which explodes not only through the air but through her eyes, dazzling and dazing her. Not just the yellow magical girl's, either; she is neither blind, deaf nor stupid (if often silly), and the red magical girl's apparent courage and heroism cannot help but break through her determination to find some comfort in banal mundanity.

"Sayaka-chan," she half-hysterically giggles, half-woefully sighs, a little bit weakly, already giddy with anticipation of the triumphant conclusion of this battle, "I guess we were really lucky today, after all." Also, really /un/lucky, but imagine how much worse things would have been if these three spectacular superheroes hadn't saved the day; there's always a silver lining.

She herself tried to ignore the monster for a /reason/. Given a relative inability to fight, she'd rather focus on things she can change. But still, she can't deny her instincts to be an audience, even as any supernatural demand of such begins, perhaps, to release her from its hold. So, she goes along with her friend's demand, leaning into her shoulder a little bit.

Homura's question goes sadly forgotten.

Kyouko slashes and stabs with her spear, expertly, swiftly. She has slain many witches, and this is one among those many. Still, her blows are not enough to kill by themselves--just to cripple, to leave open--to let Mami's stupid giant gun obliterate the witch's center. She growls at this, frustrated at the assistance, at not having sole victory. At Mami's presence. Even as the spectral forest begins to fade in favor of the normal, regal, Ohtori grounds she looks pissed off.

"Still using those stupid attack names to announce yourself?" She calls up to Mami as she waits for the Grief Seed to become visible. "Some of these witches understand us you know. They'll know what you're doing."

She spares a quick glance at the two innocents and the weird third magi--an element she didn't expect.

If there's anything Mami Tomoe enjoys, it's having an audience. That, she has at the moment, as she finishes off the monster thanks to Kyouko's opening. It's hardly the first time Mami has waited for the right moment to just take a shot. But now, as the forest is fading, Mami stands nearly where she was, though now of course it's just a regular walkway.

In her hands is a cup of tea, and who knows where it came from.

Sip. "There's not much point in doing anything without a little style, Sakura-san." That is her counter, the sniff at the response practically obvious. "Though I'm surprised that you're staying to talk this time. Didn't your reason for being here just disappear?" The last statement is subtly cold in tone, and Mami does not bother to look at Kyouko as she delivers it.

Turning to look over Madoka, Sayaka, and Homura, Mami smiles slightly. "I appreciate your help, and I'm glad the two of you look to be safe. Are you injured?"

Despite Sayaka's best effort to ruin the atmosphere, or at least the effect, of what Homura is saying the weird transfer student is steadfast. She doesn't even flinch when Sayaka directly calls her words 'weird'. Her expression remaining comfortable neutral even while she is staring directly at Sayaka.

Still it is a valid point. Just because there is a light barrier protecting both Sayaka and Madoka from harm doesn't mean that Homura herself is protected. One of the psychadelic teeth monkies does decide that Homura's leg would make a tasty snack but the Puella Magi doesn't even blink before stepping on it. While she doesn't seem to stomp on it in any exaggerated fashion, the downward force of her attack is enough to cause the creature to 'pop' in a surprisingly non-gory fashion.

Unfortunately, while Homura is able to ignore the battle raging around her and keep her attention honed like a razor on those within the barrier she had cast the same cannot be said for Madoka. She opens her mouth to respond, but stops, and leans against Sayaka as she watches the spectacle.

And indeed, Kyouko and Mami do not disappoint. Even if the two do turn to bicker at one another, which ruins the effect some what, Kyouko's fighting style is both fluid and brutal. Meanwhile Mami manages to finish with both flash and elegance thanks in part to that cup of tea from seemingly nowhere.

Mami and Kyouko then turn their attention to Homura and the two Innocents she is protecting. As the dying Witch's barrier melts and fades away from around them, returning them all to the real world, Homura allows her light barrier to fall as well. Soon the three of them are once again in Ohtori. Normal ... well... Quirky and safe Ohtori.

"It is an important question." Homura insists calmly once the battle concludes. "Though perhaps not one that needs to be answered out loud. Just understand: If you value these things, you should never think of trying to become someone you are not. If you do."

Her eyes turn away from Madoka and Sayaka to rest upon Kyouko and Mami. "You'll lose everything." With that she turns and begins to walk away. As she passes by Mami she says softly, "I'll leave them in your care for now, Mami Tomoe." She continues to walk by Kyouko as well. She makes no move towards the grief seed nor even acknowledges it. It seems she has no interest in fighting over such a prize today.

The world ripples, and it becomes obvious that another world had been overlaid atop it. It's not so simple, of course; this was no mere illusion, but rather a sort of interpretation of the location through a mind grown alien, and the deeper into the maze they went, the less it bore any connection to its physical location. But there are the leaves, the trees, even some thorns here and there. Sayaka willingly breaks contact with Madoka for the first time since it happened, first reducing it to a hand on the girl's shoulder while she heaves a deep, exaggerated sigh of relief, then dropping it to her side entirely.

But not everything disappears. The three magical girls were in their own way even stranger than the monsters--monsters are supposed to have powers, classmates aren't, no matter what the urban legends say--but they do not fade, or even change out of their cosplay outfits. Zhang Fei and Athos don't even stop their verbal circling.

/Sayaka/ thought the attack name thing was cool.

She shakes her head at Mami. "Somehow, we're fine. But... wow! You three are amazing. Are you some sort of vigilante team themed around weapons? Muskette, Shieldgirl, and..." Spearbitch.


Eesh, maybe she should stick to period dramas.

Madoka gives her friend a final, relieved victory hug around the shoulders, then detaches to look down at The Rug Burn That Time And Sayaka Forgot, but doesn't contradict her; her leg is smartingly red, but only the tiniest spots of blood were drawn, and she hates being taken care of by others. That's all the time she has for herself; instead she lifts and feasts her eyes on the three magical girls in front of her. "You're all so amazing!" Just because Sayaka beat her to that compliment doesn't make it less true. "Thank you so much for saving us!" she repeats, clearly sharing credit evenly between all three victors even as she bows furiously in physical expression of her gratitude in all directions at once. Her eyes shine with all the stars in the galaxy, infinite admiration cast in pink.

Distantly she spots the now muddied pink expanse of her umbrella, and her hands twitch to retrieve it, but she stays where she is for now. Instead it occurs to her to apologize to the Red One, who had seemed so upset in the first place to see them there. "We're sorry we got in the way... we were... it was... all around us before we understood what was happening," she murmurs. "If you hadn't come, we would have..."

Before her brain can fully process the implosion of mortal danger, she diverts it, hard left, onto a better subject: explanations. "...what on earth was that?" she finishes, her befuddlement plain as day. It grows moreso at Homura's lecture, but she offers the girl a moment of eye contact and a brief, equally confused nod.

The witch is dead, and the witch's domain is fading. Those wanderers in the woods fraught with its despair are freed, and likely will remember little. Kyouko just leaps forward to grab the Grief Seed as it appears. She doesn't hesitate, doesn't even look at Mami before she touches it to the gem at the base of her throat. The darkness there recedes, and some of her haggard look recedes as well--she had hunted this witch hard.

"Style won't save you in the end." She answers. The seed is not used up, and she clutches it in her hand as she leaps again, coming to rest among the students for a moment. "And I am Kyouko Sakura. To fight witches, you must be effective. You cannot be on the sidelines." The Seed is still in her hand. "But you have some stranger following you." She exhales. "And so when I hunt down a hard prey, everyone interferes. Tomoe, I'm leaving. I won't be back." She moves again then, to leap, to go.

Now sipping her tea and wtching Homura, Mami lends her ear to the matter of what the question is... and of the strange warning that Homura seems to impart. "...?" The question is etched on her face, but instead of asking something, she simply says "I'll do what I can."

Thus she is still holding her teacup when Sayaka pipes up in all her cheer, and she even smiles to hear that they're fine, and of course, the compliments.

The very perceptive may notice that the instant in which Sayaka asks if they're a team is an instant in which Mami's smile is awfully stiff. It passes quickly, given Madoka's enthusiasm too.

She has not made a motion towards the Seed, either. Instead, she watches Kyouko once again. "...You don't have to apologize. You didn't know any better than to go where you were going," Mami indicates, and then quiets once more, since she's been addressed.

She hesitates, but says, "Take care, Sakura-san."

"But explanations..." after a moment she continues, "Those I can give you, but why don't we get you somewhere out of the rain, hm? ...Here, I can help you with your knee..." And if allowed, magic healing will in fact happen.