2014-09-14 - Liches and Labyrinths

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Title: Liches and Labyrinths

A labyrinth -- or two? -- abruptly form directly on top of Madoka's D&D session, dragging her one direction and her little brother Tatsuya in the other. It's a race against time to save them both -- and in an effort to wish for victory, tragedy ensues. Part 2 in a series.


Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Kyouko Sakura, Mami Tomoe, Homura Akemi, Eri Shimanouchi


The Kaname Household, The White Road, The Black Road, Yomichi's Lair, The Crumbling Void, The End of the World and What Lies Below, The Crystal Masquerade, Chaos

OOC - IC Date:

09/14/14 - 03/13/14


<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Madoka gapes, openmouthed, as though Kyouko is playing some kind of Takarazuka star -- never mind that her character's totally a girl, it almost makes it better. She is, in fact, enough of a credulous sucker to be swooning a little right now.

Blushing faintly, she finds her voice in time to announce, "The barkeep, um, hastens! Yeah! Hastens to bring Porkin and Peachblossom wine and, um, dine. The top-TOP-secret, off-menu, million-fold-spice super-ramen is yours to enjoy--" Sayaka interrupts, and she hears her friend out, collapsing into giggles at the song. It takes her a long few seconds to get over having the heaves, and ultimately she vents her emotions by swinging Tatsuya off her shoulders, into her lap, and giving him a monumental raspberry.

Turning to Mami, she regards her friend's pronouncements with an attempt at gravity. "The blue-haired thief flips her cloak inside-out, revealing the inside, which is white!" Cheerfully she puts her own miniature, the one with a cloak and bat, onto the field. "She grabs a nearby glass and toasts your efforts, then sits back to watch you work your magic..."

There is definitely some squeeing at the revelation of Mami actually /using/ Diplomatic Baking. Madoka /knew/ it would turn out to be useful! She knew it! Her face falls down a cliff, bouncing off of every rock and thorny bush along the way, though, at the natural 1 that follows. Her voice drops to a low murmur, shadowed by tearful -- though not /truly/ tearful -- ominousness. "B-but, unfortunately... inside the kitchen, you mix up the ten-fold and the bazillion-fold spice, and... the ramen-bread that you ultimately deliver to the cousins is, um, on fire. And a little smelly. And the original necklaceholder does not accept your apology about her dented face." Her fingers tent in GMly apology for this dolorous outcome.

But, Peachblossom to the rescue! Madoka is intent as she watches Sayaka roll her die, her fingers now folded in prayer. "Yatta! Peachblossom-sama bravely eats the bread on behalf of the cousins, and they are so impressed by her fire-breathing afterwards, that they agree to make up after all. The actress-cousin goes back to the stage, and the players continue their play."

Homura speaks up, and Madoka glances between her and Mami, her and Sayaka, nervously. "U-um," she points out, ever the timid peacemaker, "Peachblossom-sama made peace between the sisters, so they're not fighting over the necklace anymore. It was risky, but also brave. Otherwise they might have fought forever... either way, I don't think Lancia's cooking would have /killed/ anyone..."

Clearly starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the tension at the table, she ducks her head down behind the GM screen, and changes the background music again, this time to a cheerful traveling tune. All ocarina and reed whistles, it evokes a simpler, happier time.

"So the thief, whose name turned out to be Lady Sandy, leads whoever wants to go out to the entrance to the dungeon. It's a big cave..."

It's as though her words are becoming reality. Everything seems darker, shadows lengthening to spaghetti-thinness. "...with a gate in front as hard and sharp as pointy fangs." The shadows themselves seem likely to possess teeth of their own, glinting red ones. "But there's an impression on the gate in the same pattern as the pendant on the necklace, and as Sandy puts the key into the lock, the dungeon..."

For the first time, Madoka herself seems to notice how scary the room is, and in the tiniest of voices, stammers, "...opens..."

There's a crash as stacks of dice and the miniature paper dolls go flying, loud and scary. Madoka leaps, but it's too late; Tatsuya has knocked the GM screen over and gone sprawling over the playspace like a gigantic babygodzilla. "Tatsuya!" Is she scolding? Is she worried?

No -- she's terrified. For in these intervening moments, space has already begun to warp, and even as she reaches out towards him, she feels herself being dragged further away, rapidly consumed by the shadows. Tiny fangs flicker in and out around her as she fades away. The little boy is going in the opposite direction. "TATSUYAAAAAA--!" "DOKA, DOKAAAAA!" His chubby fists grasp at the air, and then, in a flicker of strange markings that Sayaka, at least, might recognize as heraldric imagery, he, too, vanishes. Their cries for each other are the last heard from either of them.

Not one Witch, but two. The Puella Magi in the room, their rings abruptly burning with brilliant, colorful incandescence, can feel the two barriers conflicting, twisting space and each other as they fully manifest, and everyone can feel a popping in the ears, the sort of sudden vertigo that often induces a nosebleed.

The gathering of girls stands on a path. Beneath their feet, black and white cobblestones mingle, but fowards the former predominate until the road is an ebon river, and backwards a white tooth. The sun sets over both horizons at once, and yet, disorientingly, there is only one, shadows swapping direction depending on the route of one's gaze.

The faintest cry of a lost kitten moans over the air -- quickly subsumed by the sound of chittering vaguely male voices, spouting only gibberish. Neither can overcome the weight of the barren, desolate landscape, quickly squashed by overweening silence.

A breeze disturbs the dead air. It carries on it the faintest hint of a reed whistle... and crying.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

The fine hairs on Kyouko's arms and neck stand up tall, goosebumps forming with an algae bloom's speed. Her subconscious situational awareness is always sharp, and as the shadows start to loom, the dead red buzzsaw whirr of instinct starts to silently sound in her head. Madoka's voice drains away from her thoughts, but not completely..and there seems to be a peculiar correlation between her narration and whatever's happening.

"Madoka, stop-,"

The crash sounds. Kyouko rises instantly, transformed by the time that she's on her feet, spear in hand. Her head whips between Tatsuya and Madoka, and her eyes widen. One spontaneous labyrinth is strange enough..could there really be two? How could she have missed such a thing?

She does not move to save either one. She couldn't if she tried, as spacetime expands and contracts, currents and tides pulling the victims out to sea. They're all caught up in it now.

Black and white stones..Kyouko glances to Mami. They'd been in a labyrinth where such colors were similarly represented. It was unusual, and unsettling. The things that they'd seen in there..Kyouko hasn't talked about them, and she couldn't understand them..that strange and suicidal place had frightened her as few things do. But then, as now, she never doubted her safety.

She turns, and turns, and turns again. And again. The perspective is deceptive..like an illusion whose artifice can only be seen in the corners of her vision, darting away as soon as she brings her gaze to bear upon it. Could two labyrinths have combined into one? Would they collapse, too unstable to endure? What would happen to them if they did?

Even if Madoka and Tatsuya were not a factor, there would be an urgent need to dispose of this place quickly. The noises are everywhere, and thus nowhere, the creakings and groanings of the new old house that they found themselves in. Background noise.

Kyouko stabs at the cobblestones with a violent spearthrust, testing their solidity. Satisfied that she can't simply cut her way down through them, she breathes in heavily, and then out, and turns to the group.

"I'm guessing one of them is at the end of each path. We need to hurry. With three fighters, somebody's gonna have to go it alone. I don't care what we do but we need to do it fast."

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!

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

Seeing her die roll, Mami stares down at the sparkly pink '1' on the die's face. Not even Sayaka's song from a moment ago can change what it seems to have become. No, she was quite willing to stay out of that entire matter save to watch it, but now? This roll is bad. It is not a pro, graceful roll at all.

....But it becomes Sayaka's chance to be the hero, as she proclaims her character's plan. Mami lifts her head and staes Sayaka's way just a moment, a smile widening on her face.

Now her magic can be totally worked. ...And besides, as she watches Madoka's practically apologetic delivery of the description of her bread, she can't help but have all those feelings siphoned towards her GM-ing friend.

"...Lancia's cooking only harms the unjust," Mami offers to salve her pride the rest of the way.

She is truly impressed by Madoka's narration; she can picture this menacing locale een... as...


She does not ecognize the symbols by sight at all; she instead can only see her friend and her friend's little brother caught in this strangeness, a sense of foreboding telling her exactly whee she's seen such things before, though not quite in this way, before.

The golden light at her hand confirms that fear, and Mami closes her eyes against the nauseating feeling, attempting to gain her bearings in advance.

It's only then that she opens her eyes, looking down to the stones... and the two paths. Looking back and forth, she sees the strange sunset. Breathing in, her face is replaced by the calm mask of the girl who has fought these creatures for yeas, now. She is silent a few more moments before, feeling heavy, she speaks.

She doesn't look to Kyouko, but the shift of her shoulder in her direction suggests that Mami, too, remembers that Labyrinth.

"...Witches," she says for Sayaka's benefit. "Two. ...And it seems we were at the point of their Labyrinths' meeting. There's still time to save them--of that I'm certain." She lowers he eyes, and lifts her hand. Her soul gem appears, palm up.

It's not an easy thing, but they have to start somewhere. Maybe...

"I'll go this way. I think... it may be where he went. Madoka-chan wouldn't forgive herself if someone didn't go for him first." Mami couldn't, in her place. There are things worse...

Even through her mask of competence it's a difficult set of statements to make. "So I'll go." Here, she looks up to the red Puella Magi, and tosses her soul gem up, subdued even as she twirls into its magic and reveals her battle-ready stance. "Besides, I fight best alone. Sakura-san, please look after Miki-san for me."

Mami turns, and starts for the black path.

COMBAT: Mami Tomoe transforms into Puella Mami!

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

And the story reaches its second twist.

There are some things that not even Homura can see coming. She had already known that this time loop was unique, but she still would never had anticipated two witches appearing like this outside of Walpurgisnacht. Homura Akemi suddenly freezes in place. No! It can't be. This just has to be some odd anomaly, that night can't already be here. This just has to be some foul coincidence that is unique to this time loop. But in the end, it doesn't matter. Homura still had a job to do, Walpurgisnacht or not.

Gritting her teeth together, Homura rises to her feet. It only takes a single spin and a flash of purple light for a black and white glad Homura to appear with her shield like device materializing on her left arm. She looks around the room at those who remain. Even if this was the end, their odds were better than it has been in the past. Homura will gladly accept these odds.

Mami offers to go rescue Tatsuya alone and this information is met by a very netural looking Homura. "Then go. And I advise all of you to go with Tomoe-san. You may not like me, but you all know that there is one thing I will not fail at and that is saving Madoka Kaname." That is all Homura has to say before getting a running start and taking the first leap down the path to where Madoka disappeared to.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into Puella Magi Homura!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Sayaka leans forward in concern. "It's /literally/ on fire? Well, I'm still eating it..."

She collapses back in her seat in gleeful relief. "Hah! I survived! Of course, Maria Peachblossom isn't about to be brought down by a little bread!" She winks at Mami for some reason. "I, the Golden Wizard, am fully prepared to join this righteous cause!"

Sayaka is pretty surprised by the abrupt fast-forward to the dungeon entrance, but she follows along soon enough, rapt with Madoka's description. Like Mami, she spends some time feeling as though she's just really getting into what Madoka is saying, feeling a happy chill on her arms that she rubs away with her hands in a gleeful, girlish gesture.

But it doesn't take a killer instinct to realize something really is wrong as Tatsuya balloons, as the world buckles. She holds her hands out to her sides as she stands up rapidly, knocking her chair away as she tries to keep upright. "Madoka-chan!" she cries in panic, trying to get around the table. "Madoka!"

She's panting when things solidify again. "Are we in the game?" she wonders, because she's seen that movie more than once, under different titles. "Madoka-chan... Tatsuya-chan..." She inhales, pulling a droplet of blood back into her nose. That transition was painful. "Let's see... Magic Missile!" she states with absolute conviction, pointing her palm at Kyouko. "...guess not," she sighs, as nothing blasts out at the redhead.

Sayaka really wants to go with Mami, but... she does still have her bat, which had been leaning against her chair. "Okay," she says, nodding as if Mami were her sergeant. "I'll go with Anko." She casts a cold, appraising look at Homura, who immediately sets off to where they assume Madoka is. Blood flows over her upper lip from one nostril as she's left with Kyouko, unsure of where to go. She wipes the nosebleed distractedly, then startles for some reason.

"This isn't because of you, Porkin!" she tells Kyouko sharply.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Eri had been so excited to be invited to a session of D&D, a game she'd never played. That enthusiasm was enough that she'd spent time copying a .pdf of the player handbook off the internet and putting all the pages together in a binder of their own.

Unfortunately, staying ahead on the balance of grief seeds as a Puella Magi scavenger was a nigh-Sisyphean task, and a friend of hers getting possessed by a dark seal had caused the boulder to slip a trifle early. Between that and finals week, it was not meant to be that she'd recover in time. That's just how life was, she supposed, but she couldn't help but finger the spine of that binder remorsefully every now and then.

Hold that thought, though, as suddenly her soul gem started blinking like a garish Christmas light. As she moved through the suburbs of Yamanote, that flashing only increased in urgency until... she found herself staring at a very familiar house. After staring at the home for some time, awkward laughter bubbles from her lips before as she looked back at the offending green jewel in disbelief. "That can't be right. Mami-senpai, Kyouko-chan, and Akemi-san should be there tonight." A beat, "And Sayaka-chan has that bat of hers too."

She unconsciously winces at the memory of her braining an ally with a softball. She took another experimental step forward, the brilliance of the glow unmistakable. Skepticism became dread, as pitch as the night itself. The image of the cozy home in front of her was illusory, and the reality stood just beyond the veil. "If all of them are there then I really shouldn't..." Some part of her felt ridiculous to even doubt that the situation would soon be handled given all whom were present, and yet... she remembered her friend falling like a ragdoll to the ground, after striking a wall. That sort of guilt wasn't really something people got over easily. Her decision was never really in doubt.

Not long after, she stood upon the cobbled stones, relieved to see the others here, doing much to ease her dread when the macabre whistles and cries in the distance did not. She listened to the others deliberate, looking down each path herself. While she didn't know all of the details, she got enough of a sense of what was going on that there was no need to demand more of their time. She clears her throat in an exaggerated manner, though she didn't sound offended. They obviously just hadn't known she'd arrived. "Four actually, Kyouko-chan." Her gaze flickers over to Sayaka, "Uh, well maybe five."

She tosses her soul gem repeatedly up and down in an anxious manner, before it burst into a flare of luminous energy, girding her for battle in the blink of an eye. "Sorry I'm late. Better that than never I guess. Madoka-chan and Tatsuya-chan are in danger?" Her hand squeezed the handle of her scourge fretfully as she glanced down each path. "Right. I'm the least experienced here so..." She quiets as Homura takes off on her own, staring after her nervously, before looking at the others. The thought of being 'her' back up, especially when her help was unsolicited, terrified her, given their dealings as of late. With that in mind, and with Sayaka squarely in the Kyouko camp she gives Mami an apologetic look, "...I know you work best alone but, would you mind if I..." She stops mid-question, looking at Sayaka, before mouthing the word, 'Porkin?' at her inquisitively.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi transforms into Puella Magi Eri!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The White Road

Homura plunges down the path, which rapidly ceases to be a checkerboard, every cobblestone purely white. Every so often, one of the stones blinks, as though it is an eye -- or gnashes, as though it is a tooth.

Even for Sayaka and Kyouko, who are slightly behind, this transformation occurs rapidly, accompanied by the dreamlike feeling of being on a journey. The landscape may be bare, and the setting sun right in everyone's eyes, but at least it is still beautiful.

There is, however, the uneasy feeling of being watched. It's in no particular direction; gazes from everywhere and nowhere, which aggressively stare at ruffles and bows, hair ribbons and cute shoes. It is a dissecting stare, not at all detached and clinical -- hungry. Predatory. It wears away at the spirit as effectively as any barrier of blades.

It is a straight road, at least, penetrating onwards unto infinity without bend or twist.

Homura finds it first, but through the strange magic of this space, Sayaka and Kyouko can see it clearly even as they approach: in the middle of the road is the source of earlier mewing, a tiny, fluffy cat. It is gray, and curled up, asleep -- but at the approach of the girls, it flicks up an ear, and, wobbily, gets to its feet.

It sniffs delicately at the air, padding lightly towards the three of them, its closed mouth tiny in its face.

The Black Road

Mami (and Eri?) take the other road. It fast becomes slick, snake scales littering the earth in a river of shed skin, once thick, now dry and cracking. The breeze picks up, howling unearthly, dissonant melodies along their sharp edges. The chittering heard earlier rises and falls in harmonies of gibberish.

This path does bend, bend and twist and invert, with all the Escheresque quality of a moebius strip. Even with a few steps separation, it is easy for one Puella Magi to see the other one apparently upside-down, though gravity acts as normal. No matter what the direction, however, it always aims directly for that blood red sun, which casts long shadows behind each scale and the girls, beside.

It is from these shadows that they come. Ripping up individual scales, which abruptly glow with strange symbols -- the heraldry Sayaka glimpsed earlier, all crossbars and stylized lions and roses and other, stranger things, like twisting runes that make the head hurt to glare at too long, and nose-haired nostrils -- the penguins titter at themselves and each other, then attempt to use their shields to slam at the Puella Magi, trying to knock them off the path, and onto who knows what or where.

Back and forth they waddle, as graceless and adorable as they are horrible.

All of them have Tatsuya's face.

COMBAT: Madoka Kaname transforms into Fields of Familiars!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Rathaus on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Rathaus on Sayaka Miki.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Rathaus on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Ausfahrt Wirtshaus on Mami Tomoe.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Ausfahrt Wirtshaus on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura narrowly braces Madoka Kaname's Rathaus, taking 2 Fatigue damage!  Madoka Kaname is Psyched!  Kyouko Sakura's Block ability activates!  Kyouko Sakura's Parry ability activates!  Blind applied to Kyouko Sakura!
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe narrowly dodges Madoka Kaname's Ausfahrt Wirtshaus, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Mami Tomoe's Fade ability activates!  Mami Tomoe's Flash ability activates!  Diversion applied to Mami Tomoe!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi narrowly counters Madoka Kaname's Ausfahrt Wirtshaus, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi's Reverse ability activates!  Diversion and Exhausted applied to Eri Shimanouchi!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi's counterattack, Thunderous Crack, partially gets through, doing 8 Fatigue damage to Madoka Kaname!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly braces Madoka Kaname's Rathaus, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cripple applied to Homura Akemi!

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Kyouko blinks, surprised. "Four? Eri-chan?" She turns to the newcomer and grins. "Nah, right on time. Hey, here." Reaching into her pocket, she tosses Eri a grief seed. "This is a pretty weird situation, so let's not take any chances, yeah?"

Mami turns and goes. Kyouko is quite confident that she knows what she's doing..but how the hell did /she/ get stuck with babysitting duty? Whatever.

Homura runs. Also whatever. Kyouko knows very little of her, and has no idea why saving Maoka is somehow the one thing she'd be famous for, although she sounded pretty convincing just now. Kyouko doesn't dislike her either, but she's palpably dangerous. This could be a rare opportunity to observe her in action and better assess her capabilities.

Grinning impishly as Sayaka attempts to cast a spell at her, she primps her hair. "I dunno, feels all fuller and lusterous-er to me." It's a good thing that she's whipped enough not to argue with Mami..but then again, maybe if she was Kyouko wouldn't be fighting while having to stomp around with a blue-haired baby clutching to her ankles. Doesn't matter..

That Porkin line, though, that makes her head whip around in surprise and momentary confusion...but she gets it after a perplexed moment or two, and laughs, hale and hearty. "No problem Peachblossom, only a stone heart could resist my charms. I don't mind love poems, by the way, so no need to keep hoarding all the stuff you've been writing about me.

She jerks her head to the white path, and the dashing Homura. "Let's go. Stay close. Keep up."

Brandishing her spear, Kyouko starts running, working up to her clip rather than beginning with a dash. The ivory road stretches out before her in a single thrusting line. Straightforward. That suits her. As the stones seem to shimmer and murmur, Kyouko's lip curls into a snarling sneer. She stabs an eye with her spear, hocks up and spits a thick gob into a toothy maw. "Scum."

She can feel the labyrinth's gaze upon her. Not unusual, but its intensity is. Many witches seem mindless, automatons of hunger. This seems to be something more actively malevolent. A tiger's gaze from the high grass. Kyouko's jaw is clenched, but she doesn't realize it until a sharp pain shoots through it. Rubbing the bone, she can feel the joint pop as she shifts her teeth from side to side. Feeling a wetness at her ears, she reaches over, and finds blood on her fingertips.

She glances back to Sayaka. "Hey, Blueberry. If you want me to take you out to a movie, you can just say so! No need to put hexes on me. I'll even get m-..us some popcorn." She turns forward again. They haven't quite caught up to Homura yet, but they're closing the gap.

A cat lays before them. Kyouko's gaze hardens. She doesn't trust it one bit, but Homura's closer. Let her deal with the vermin.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura covers Sayaka Miki for Madoka Kaname's attack, Rathaus, taking it upon themselves instead!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura narrowly dodges Madoka Kaname's Rathaus, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Blind and Cripple applied to Kyouko Sakura!

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

For a moment, Mami wishes she had chosen otherwise. That moment is the one at which Homura speaks up, and takes off down her own path. ...It's not enough to make the blonde veteran change her resolve. Instead, she looks first to Sayaka, and then to Kyouko, and tuns to head off--

...Only to see someone she hadn't expected at all. Mami fowns lightly a moment, looking Eri over, but seems to find whatever she was looking for as she inclines her head once. "You're more experienced than you think. If you waste your energy doubting yourself, you'll only slow down." She tilts her head to the side, however, drill bouncing, as if to beckon Eri to come along.

Mami smiles, very slightly, as Kyouko shares with Eri. Without looking, she says over her shoulder, "...At least some things are familiar, hm?"

She slows just long enough for Eri to catch up if she takes the hint, and walks along, moving carefully as the road gets worse. The howling winds cause her to glance back and foth to keep her bearings, extra-vigilant in these poo shooting conditions... and amidst the strange sounds.

More than once Mami finds heself looking at Eri from the opposite pat of the path, or noting her own too-long shadow. She keeps walking.

There's a memory driving her stronger than her wariness of this strange place.

The heraldry Mami didn't recognize before she at least recalls seeing now, and narrows her eyes at the strange things approaching. THey come faster than they look, and Mami herself is knocked backwards due to the slippery ground despite evading the first strike--

But with a spark of magic, a ribbon about her waist grows, extending back to wrap about the walkway and righting her even as it whirls back to clear her a path.

"Forget their looks!" she shouts, as much to herself as to Eri. "Just push through! They're trying to mob us!" She takes her own advice, stretching out her arms as two rifles appear in her hands.

Mami starts moving forward.

COMBAT: Mami Tomoe has used Legare on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Homura Akemi does notice Eri's late arrival. More Puella meant their chances of survival increased exponentially. Good. But Homura is also not in the mood to socialize right now with Madoka in grave danger. Eri gets a simple, wordless glare before she heads off to where she supposes Madoka was. Whether Sayaka, Kyouko, and Eri follow her advice or not doesn't matter. They usually don't anyways and she was already losing precious time in chasing after Madoka.

Homura gracefully sails through the air and lands on the cobbletone path just as it starts to turn all white. Rising to her feet, she casts a surveying look down the 'blinking' path to see where it leads to. But before Homura can get a good luck, she suddenly feels as if hundreds of eyes are on her. It is an extremely unpleasant feeling that whispers for Homura to wilt under its gaze. But Homura is used to having the eyes of others on her, she'll just have to take things a little more cautiously from here. Danger may be closer than it first seems. While she's not too much more worse for wear, she does seem to be moving slightly more slower now.

Keeping a stiff upper lip, Homura resumes looking down the path in front of her. Because there were no obvious turns, the Puella Magi can actually pretty far down it. But there really is nothing to be seen except for a tiny, fluffy cat. Such an innocent and meek animal would normally be thought of as cute, but this was within a witch's barrier which meant that was probably not a normal cat. Certain precautions were to be taken, no matter cute a cat it was.

Eyes remaining on the cat, Homura places her shield in front of her and reaches behind it with her right hand. Her hand closes around something and she pulls out a sleek, gunmetal handgun. The weapon is rather large in the young teenager's hands, but Homura handles it in one hand with absolute ease and confidence. There is a name engraved on this weapon, and that name is 'Beretta'. Homura raises 'Beretta' towards the kittycat before beginning to walk forward. The closer she gets, the better of a shot she'll have. Homura uses the sights to zero in and then.....BLAM.

'Beretta' spits a round towards the cobblestone ground immediately before the kitty. "Scram," intones the Puella Magi. Either the cat will run for its life, or it will reveal itself to be dangerous and attack. Either or, Homura is about to find out exactly what they are dealing with.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

"Nothing changed! Your hair is always huge," Sayaka says irritably, wishing she could cast spells like Maria Peachblossom still.

Sayaka feels a mixture of guilt and relief when Kyouko chooses the white path, the one Madoka is down. If she were the only one here, she'd have to go after Tatsuya. He's a baby, and it would be wrong not to prioritize him, she feels. But in a deep place inside her, she'd much rather Tatsuya, the beloved little boy who is like a nephew to her, die instead of her best friend. Sayaka being Sayaka, this awareness wracks her with guilt.

"It's pretty here," Sayaka says, as she gazes after the much faster Homura. She picks up her pace to chase Kyouko, keeping even with her at a considerably greater cost to her endurance than Kyouko pays. "As if... you can even... read poems!" she pants as she runs. She is pleased enough by Kyouko stabbing one of their watchers, which are growing more disturbing to her, but the wad of spit makes her gag a bit. "Anko! Gross!"

Her feelings about that seem trite soon enough, as a deeper emotion begins to clutch at her heart. Fear, alienation. This place is not right, beautiful as it is. She's starting to pull into herself, her eyes losing focus, when Kyouko interrupts, putting color back into her wan cheeks. "Can you take this seriously for even a second?" she shouts. "Why do you say such weird things? I really hate the way you..."

She pauses, noticing blood on Kyouko's fingers, the back of her jaw. "...c'mon," she says, more softly. "Let's get this over with."

They reach Homura as she's confronting the cat. "Oh no, it must have been outside," Sayaka breathes. She lopes along low, trying to appear unthreatening as she beckons with one hand. "Here, kitty, kitty. What are you doing h-"


Sayaka covers her ear on Homura's side with one hand as the shot rings out. "You! Why don't you fight the Witch and stop picking on kittens?"

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Mami's reproval causes her to wince notably, she replies almost as if she'd just been scolded by a school marm, mumbling, "Sorry, Mami-senpai. You're right." Due to that shame, it almost doesn't register when Kyouko tosses her a grief seed. After all, they were more valuable to Eri than all earthly jewels, literally her life's blood. That the Scarlet Puella Magi could be so rich in them to treat them so casually time and time again! She catches it at the last second, and stares at it as if dumbfounded. Shame melts away under warmer, albeit subdued cheer, as she flashes Kyouko a grin. Even if the situation was grim and dire with a friend and her little brother in danger, it certainly would make it easier helping to save them, "Hey thanks! That's another one I owe you, Kyouko-chan!" She calls out, before she takes off after Mami down the other path, pressing the grief seed against her affixed gem on the run.

Following around Mami Tomoe within a labyrinth isn't an experience Eri has ever had. She has no idea where she's even supposed to stand around the awe-inspiring Puella Magi senpai. Should she walk in front? No! That might imply she's leading! And that could never be the case there. And if she ever got in her line of sight of one of her shots then maybe she'd possibly suffer more Mami disapproval. What about behind her?! She eventually falls back a pace, but then realizes that places Mami potentially in front of own attacks. She'd feel awful if even one of her strikes went off target. What about beside her? Maybe that would work. "Mami-senpai, where should I..." She's interrupted when one of her heels nearly slips on one of the snake scales. The near fall causes her a momentary pang of embarassment, followed by guilt. What did the marching order even matter, with Madoka and Tasuya in such danger?!

That sudden near slip brings her out of her chaotic thoughts, as she notes the real reason why it doesn't matter, since Mami was inverted above her. Or was she above Mami? Also unimportant! She squints, looking forward into the hateful crimson glow ahead of her. It's then that they come. And she almost doesn't notice them, until they were so close. She reacts instinctively, to the phalanx of shields crashing on her position. Power thrums through her arm, and she flicks her scourge sidearm, each length cracking with a thunderous roar, striking with bone-shattering, concussive force just as the first shield connects at the apex of her swing. The echoing clamour as the shield is struck creates an even louder din.

It's only at that moment that she notices that the closest creature has Tatsuya's face. "Tatsuya-chan!" She nearly drops down to pick him up and hug him right there, until she realizes that the bottom half of his body looked like some distorted penguin, that he was wielding a shield. And he certainly wasn't the only one, the diversionary tactic completely effective. She's struck from behind first, causing her to nearly lose her footing again, before a glancing blow from her flank nearly sends her stumbling off the path. Leaping over the throng of familiars, she tries to continue down the path to find it blocked by more. Each vine-like coil retracts back to her hand. She doesn't strike, hesitant to harm even one of those cherubic faces again.

It was Mami's warning call that snaps her out of inaction, as she processes the deception. Anger floods through her, mingled with shame that she'd fallen for it. Still the implications of all of them having Tatsuya's face were not ones she liked, even if it were a mere distraction. "Just like a witch, to use innocence as your shield!" Squaring her stance, the scourge lashes out again, each length surging forward. They move past in a feint, before curving back around. Some try to wrap around familiars. Others lash, trying to clear her a path, as she tries to move forward and keep pace with Mami upon the shaded roads.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Flowing Scourge Feint on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly braces Mami Tomoe's Legare, taking 7 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Tangle and Trap applied to Madoka Kaname!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to dodge Eri Shimanouchi's Flowing Scourge Feint, taking 9 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Madoka Kaname is Quipped!  Diversion and Trap applied to Madoka Kaname!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The White Road

The cat's eyes open and close slightly at Kyouko's insult. They are briefly, luminously pink -- Madoka's eyes.



Fast as a speeding bullet, the cat smiles -- an awful grimace full of jagged teeth -- cranes its neck forward -- and swallows the bullet whole.

It spits it out in Homura's direction with equally lethal force, only now it is slimed with acidic kitty slobber, ozone ghosts wailing through the air as it passes.

From every possible direction the sound comes, nails-on-a-blackboard yowls. Thunder after the lightning YOOOOOOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWLS.

And then they come.

Hundreds of cats. Thousands of cats. Millions and billions and trillions of cats (or at least as many as there were cobblestones), all with ghastly fangs, all with Madoka's eyes, descending on the girls like a whirlwind with five out of six lethally pointy ends.

The Black Road

Some things are 'familiar' all right.

The Bouncing Benjis -- or Toddling Tatsuyas, as the case may be -- wobble straight into Mami's ribbon. They make gleeful little whoops as they're caught and flung aside in an artful tumble of the Puella Magi's design, and their voice is not the boy's at all. Their formless mumbling isn't quite Japanese, as though right on the edge of comprehension but unreachable, inexorably impossible to understand. No matter how they talk, no one will grasp their meaning.

Eri's thorned scourge renders a dozen of them asunder in a heartbeat, balls of plushy stuffing exploding everywhere. It flickers and buzzes, as though filled with angry bees, but they turn out to only be more runes, which quickly fade, drifting up the path.

The path itself seems to be somehow accelerating -- the current of the river of black scales, not all of which are shields, threatening to wash the unwary away. On the up side, it makes for a fast ticket forward, if one can surf the wave of Benjis, all of which scramble into odd pyramids of penguins in order to come crashing down, shield-beaks moving as one to harry at the girls' heels.


The sun is beginning to set in earnest. Only half of it remains over the horizon, the other half lost to shadow, the sands of time having washed it away.

COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Haarschmuckfachgeschäft on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Iffeldorf Fonhsee on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Iffeldorf Fonhsee on Sayaka Miki.
ALERT: You just attacked someone still in their Base Mode. If you didn't mean to, please use +cancel.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Ich Liebe Dich on Mami Tomoe.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Ich Liebe Dich on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi fails to dodge Madoka Kaname's Ich Liebe Dich, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi is Taunted!  Stagger and Stun applied to Eri Shimanouchi!
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe narrowly counters Madoka Kaname's Ich Liebe Dich, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Mami Tomoe is Taunted!  Stagger and Stun applied to Mami Tomoe!
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe's counterattack, Tiro Retort, partially gets through, doing 12 Fatigue damage to Madoka Kaname!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura narrowly braces Madoka Kaname's Iffeldorf Fonhsee, taking 1 Fatigue damage!  Kyouko Sakura's Block ability activates!  Kyouko Sakura's Parry ability activates!  Bind Break! All of Madoka Kaname's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly dodges Madoka Kaname's Haarschmuckfachgeschäft, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Homura Akemi's Fade ability activates!  Homura Akemi's Flash ability activates!  Tangle and Trap applied to Homura Akemi!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki narrowly braces Madoka Kaname's Iffeldorf Fonhsee, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Sayaka Miki's Block ability activates!  Sayaka Miki's Parry ability activates!  Bind Break! All of Madoka Kaname's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki transforms into Batyaka!

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

Mami leaves her warning to Eri at that; the object isn't to make the younger Puella Magi feel bad, but to help her stay alive. Maybe she can find something better to say in time. For the moment, she stays in silence, entirely unaware of the issue going through Eri's mind until the other girl speaks up and nearly falls.

"Are you all right?" Mami asks, looking back just a moment to see... well, she looks fine. And, indeed, Mami finds looking back is not the appropriate matter so much as looking up. But then there's more reason to wonder; her ribbons seem at least to be effective against the creatures, and their cheer at being struck would be bearable if not for the face they offer.

Mami never has understood Familiars, not really. They so often chatter, but never say anything she can understand. It unnerves her, and reminds her of the weight of those years, now. ...Just performing her moves isn't really enough to erase the chill gripping her heart in this case.

It could be today, couldn't it? With only one wrong move... Was that the real reason she volunteered to go on her own? Was--

Mami shakes her head, suddenly brought back to the situation at hand, off of autopilot and into The Battle. The penguin creatures crash towards her, slow her down, and there's no room to move; instead, she takes both guns and fires down, aiming for the Familiars but launching herself into the air. Sailing downward, she flips forward and lands, boots-first, on the wave of familiars, taking off running. "Shimanouchi-san!" she calls. "You can make it! Just keep your feet beneath you!"

They have to move faster. The sun is setting, and Mami can see it as she runs.

COMBAT: Mami Tomoe has used You Can Do It! on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi accepts Mami Tomoe's You Can Do It!, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi is Cheered!

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Kyouko's eyes close for a moment, her chest swelling up with a completely full breath, falling as it leaves her. That predator glint in the air slowed her stride..she's become more accustomed to being the tiger, and finding herself outside of the grass is making her cautious. Her head has begun to ache, the pain flaring up in time with her heartbeat, a blunt ache pulsing into her skull.

Allowing Sayaka to catch up, and catch her breath, Kyouko watches Homura and the cat intently, waiting to see what happens while she walks onward. Her eyes flicker to the side, leading her head to twist at her neck as Sayaka starts to coo at the thing. Eyebrows quirking up, she smirks a little, momentarily distracted from her headache.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you."

Kyouko returns her gaze forward, just in time for the cat to stare straight at her with Madoka's eyes..she's so distracted by that unnatural gaze that she flinches with the sudden blasting bang of a gunshot, always louder than she thinks it's gonna be. The black handgun gleams in the saccharine light of the labyrinth, and Kyouko's face is blank as she thinks.

A /gun?/ Not like Mami's, but..like a gun from a movie. Very strange, very unusual..and decidedly unmagical. Homura had attacked in plain sight, and Kyouko still doesn't know a /thing/ about her abilities. That in itself shifts Homura Akemi several clicks up in her mental list of considerations.

/Dangerous indeed../

The sight of the pirhana teeth in that mouth put a pin in the subject of the raven haired rogue. Kyouko looks mildly impressed when it spits the bullet back at Homura, lips slightly curled down, eyebrows lifted. Her face screws up with the interruption of that sound though. From all around, so many screeching wordless voices..If Kyouko closed her eyes, she wouldn't be able to tell what was up from down.

And then they come.

Kyouko's head snaps back as she barks at Sayaka. "Get ready!"

Holding her spear forward, she starts to spin it..and spin it and spin it..faster and faster it goes, whirling into a blur like the blades of a fan, the wind whistling with a deceptive gentleness as the razored edge of her spear slices with such fearsome speed.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Demon Kitty Chainsaw Massacre on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Homura Akemi glances back over her shoulder when Kyouko shows up first. Hrmph. Good. Kyouko won't slow her down at all and she will be able to hold her own in a fight. This meant that she could keep her quick pace and also have backup should things get troublesome up ahead. But then Sayaka comes into view and starts calling out to the kitty. Homura frowns. Now that was worrisome as they might have to slow down to accomodate the non-Puella's pace. Or atleast, Kyouko might do that. But Homura should never have taken her eyes of the seemingly innocent kitty. She turns back around just in time to see it -eat- the bullet and spit it back towards her. Homura falls backwards in an attempt to dodge and the bullet rips through the fabric on her right arm, grazing her as it passes through.

Despite falling backwards, Homura is not helpless. She reaches over towards her shield and activates it. She then points 'Beretta' at the demon cat and fires off a pair of rounds before doing the same at the approaching swarm. The shield is then reactivated and time lurches to right itself. In a blink of the eye, Homura rolls backwards just as her counterfire speeds towards their respective targets. Both Homura and her bullet casings hit the ground at just about the same time as purple eyes fiercely look out for the next incoming attack.

"Kyouko! Let's finish this quickly." Homura calls out as she keeps her firearm raised. This wasn't the witch that took Madoka, these were its familiars at best. They couldn't afford to waste any more time here. The demon kitty dodged the bullet the first time, but that's one life down and Homura has shot more than nine times with Beretta in that counterfire. And even if that fails, her firearm does hold 15 rounds.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Bullet Time on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The noxious air around her is thick with stuffing from her handwork. The path accelerates, and she finds herself leaping from one scale to the next, instead of simply going with the flow of the current, moving inexorably towards the crimson light in the distance.

Or maybe not so much, given the pyramids of bouncing Benjis that move in formation to come crashing down at her heels. She notices their shadow, gasping and trying to leap out of the way, just before they crash down upon her heavily. The wind leaves her lungs so suddenly that she's gasping for blessed air, between muffled sobs of pain. Squeezing out from under the throng, she clambers upwards to her feet and onwards. Straight towards the sun, which was half set. That fast fading light seemed symbolic of how much time they had left, whether or not it was true. When she looked back over her shoulder at one of the waddling Tatsuya terrors, she felt terror grip her.

Mami had told her she was more experienced and better than she thought, but she didn't feel that way. She felt wholly inadequate when weighed against her more veteran peers here. She certainly didn't feel like she could save anyone. And yet she couldn't tell Mami that, couldn't bear to suffer more disapproval. With more penguins nipping at her heels, she finds it harder and harder to progress, to catch her breath. At this rate, she was only going to be a burden here, slowing down the far more graceful and captivating efforts of her temporary partner.

And yet, while Mami is not beside her, her words certainly feel close. Her encouragement, her faith in her, it felt wholly sincere, causing a sudden upswing of her mood. The least she could do is try her best not to let her down, much less Madoka and Tatsuya. "How shameful of me..." One step ahead of another, one leap over a toddler's head. The path no longer felt quite so slick. "...letting myself get bogged down by doubt when they're in trouble."

'Just keep your feet in beneath you.' That felt like so little. She could do that much, couldn't she? And with Mami here, fighting alongside her, she feels like she could manage so much more than that. It takes some lung power to call out over the chattering wave of Benjis, especially after taking such a hit, but as she recovers some of her wind she manages to call out, "You're right of course. With you at my side, I feel like I can accomplish anything!"

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used With you by my side... on Mami Tomoe.
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe accepts Eri Shimanouchi's With you by my side..., taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Mami Tomoe is Cheered!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Sayaka arrests her approach to the kitten so fast that she skids and falls over, then crabwalks back until she can scramble to her feet again. "That!" she sputters, "is really scary!" She brandishes her bat, and glances at Homura nervously. "Okay," she admits unhappily. "You were right."

She backs up closer to Kyouko, eyes wide as a tidal wave of cats pours from the road. Perhaps they WERE the road. Sayaka feels tiny teeth sink into her thigh, and kicks her leg automatically, launching a familiar off. "Ow! Bad kitty!"

Swinging her bat up high, she drives the familiar's away with a sudden riot of sparkles. The motes pour from her weapon as it is shrouded in the angelic white coating and metal lacing that heralds the coming of The Bat, and the great rectangular ruby clanks into place. Sadly, however, the deep concave dent dug by the hellball remains just as it was last time.* Sayaka has not the magic to repair it.

Sayaka doesn't put up a shield yet, instead lashing The Bat around back and forth to spray diffuse sparks of energy that would /make/ a shield if she concentrated. "Hey! I'm here too, transfer student!" she shouts, trying to make her way closer to Homura. "Ah, Anko? Where's the Witch?"

  • See Issue 19, The Batyaka Rises, to read all about Batyaka's battle against the rampaging Rhino!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki has used Henshin Sparkles on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly dodges Kyouko Sakura's Demon Kitty Chainsaw Massacre, taking 16 Fatigue damage!  Kyouko Sakura is Psyched!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly braces Homura Akemi's Bullet Time, taking 6 Fatigue damage!  Stun applied to Madoka Kaname!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly dodges Sayaka Miki's Henshin Sparkles, taking 2 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The White Road

What happens next is messy.

Fur flies, and unlike the Bouncing Benjis half a labyrinth over, these don't turn into fluffy sparkles and runes. They turn into blood, blood that spatters into dripping runes that drain into the ground like an unholy shower's tile floor.

Cats are nigh-vaporized by Kyouko's vicious spear, they are pulped by Homura's counterfire, and a few are singed badly by Sayaka's sparkles. They go from a cloud of gray to a cloud of red in a storm of matchless, transcendent violence delivered by two and one-tenth dealers of death. Where one cat falls, two more spring into its place, teeth bared, only to be put down fast and hard.

Amid the carnage, there is a flash of white, with just the tiniest glint of pink -- and two points of red. Only one fae being combines those colors in that particular swirl of whimsy and potential; and, indeed, Kyuubey vaults with surprising nimbleness through the storm, narrowly avoiding the Puella Magi, diving straight between Sayaka's legs, and continuing onward along the path of teeth and eyes, tiny legs pumping furiously beneath him as he dashes, one presumes, towards Madoka Kaname. The cats have been cleared out enough that he can make his way forward, and his telepathic creel is audible to everyone:

<< Madoka!! >>

There's a moment of silence; long, too long.

Then -- faintly, so faintly as to be a half-remembered echo, her voice comes. It sounds more dazed, befuddled even, than frightened, and Kyouko and Homura both know from experience that that is an extremely bad sign. The Witch must be drawing close.

<< Kyuubey... is that... you? >>

The setting sun is barely a sliver on the horizon, but the end of the world draws close. There is, the girls will quickly discover, a cliff. That chasm descends into darkness unknown.

The Black Road

Eri and Mami, through mutual encouragement, manage to keep their feet and heads alike as they navigate the sea of Benjis and scales. Eventually, as though the tide is receding, there are more of the former and fewer of the latter. The winds are intermittant, blowing hot and foul outward with one scalesong, then sucking inward cold and clear with the next.

As the scales widen from a path to a plain, the reason for this becomes clear like the sun piercing through gray clouds on a Sunday morning. In this case, however, the light is a burning, furious green, not the green of leaves or thorns but the green of cave-born slime that has festered for generations without ever seeing any radiance but its own.

First one point appears, slowly unveiled as the scales crackle around it -- then the other, on the opposite side.

All this time, the black path has been a back path -- up the back of a gigantic...

...the winds come again, a harsh inhalation...

--there's Tatsuya, so scared that he's beyond screaming, catatonically staring upwards towards the descending fangs, any one of them as large as a school bus--

...and exhalation, as not fire but smoke, noxious, toxic, horrible smoke gouts out of the maw that moments ago had been the floor, rising to encompass Puella Magi and child alike if it can.

It burns. All things considered, this is not so surprising. Dragonsbreath always does.

COMBAT: Madoka Kaname transforms into Yomichi, The Misunderstood!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Blaze Without Fire on Mami Tomoe.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Blaze Without Fire on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe perfectly dodges Madoka Kaname's Blaze Without Fire, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Dodge!  Mami Tomoe's Fade ability activates!  Mami Tomoe's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi narrowly dodges Madoka Kaname's Blaze Without Fire, taking 10 Fatigue damage!

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

Eri's response tells Mami where the other Puella Magi is, information that's frankly difficult to keep straight in the chaos. She turns her head to see, and there's the green amidst all the black that makes up her ally on this particular path. Her words worked; that's what matters on that front. But Mami's own thoughts...

Those are swept to the side for now, after that last exclamation. She has a mission for the moment, and her success in helping Eri keep her way--proven by Eri's new confidence--reminds her of what it is. Her worries, like always, can wait. There's something here in this Labyrinth that she needs to do.

And on her side, there's little to distract her from it.

The wind is unpleasant, and billows Mami's sleeves as she runs and leaps along the makeshift path. She hops from benji to benji, however, and doesn't really like that it seems easier all of a sudden. She looks up, seeing light of a rather different green entirely. The sheer scale of the thing on which they're standing makes an impression on her, though truthfully she couldn't easily visualize it in the moment. How large must it be?

Mami catches sight of Tatsuya, and her eyes lock onto him. The veteran Puella Magi concludes that the terrifying monster before her is large enough to be a fine target, and leaps.

The smoke crashes towards her, but she is already in motion; it's rising quickly, but in an instant she spins, covered in a coil of ribbons that whirl all around her as she dives straight through the smoke. The golden Mami-top passes into the cloud just as the ribbons burst off in all directions, taking dragonbreath with them and leaving Tatsuya clear and visible.

She stops only half a moment on the ground to gather him up before leaping away again, toddler in her arms, and sails into the air.

"Don't worry," she murmurs, barely audible in the rush of wind. "I've got you."

COMBAT: Mami Tomoe has used Evadere on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Talk about wetwork. It was almost astonishing how effectively the furry visigoths were stopped in their tracks. Kyouko came out with a few scratches and a lot of cat blood, but all in all, it was a fine enough experience.

She's impressed that Sayaka didn't just hide behind a shield, even if her contribution didn't ultimately add up to much. As for Homura Akemi..there was too much going on to see. Her abilities remain an enigma, for the time being.

Kyuubey's presence was eye-opening..she's never seen the runt run so quickly. Nor could she remember it 'speaking' with such urgency..Madoka's alive, but fading. Almost night now.

When the catscade ceases, Kyouko lets out a "whew!" as though she'd just unshouldered a heavy load, or eaten a filling meal. "You alright? What happened to your bat? Or I guess, what happened to the other guy?" She laughs. "Guess we should save that for later. I dunno where the witch is, but the path goes straight. We need to hurry now."

Darkness looms before them. Kyouko's lips draw tighter, displeased. She turns to Sayaka. "You should grab on to me when I jump, we don't how far of a fall it could be, and your legs may not like the landing."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Homura is going to need a bigger gun.

Even all fifteen rounds would not be enough to decimate this catastrophic amount of witch familiars. Perhaps a machine gun would be more appropiate to deal with these large numbers, but that might take too long. Homura quickly considers her other options and most of them are explosive in nature. But then a new factor arises that sends Homura's world spiraling. Kyuubey was here. Purple eyes follow that white furball as he dashes effortlessly through the carnage. "No!" She shouts aloud as a new wave of cats make their attack, pouncing at her all at once.

Everything comes to a sickening stop as Homura activates her 'shield' once more. She exchanges her 9MM pistol for a small metal object with a precarious amount of wires sticking out of it. This present is left at her feet before she dashes away. Things speed back up and Homura appears near Sayaka and Kyouko just as a small explosion rocks the area ahead of them where she once stood, bringing utter harm to any cat unable to get out of the blast radius. The force of the blast kicks up Homura's long hair as she turns back towards Sayaka and Kyouko. "Try not to get yourself killed. You cannot rely on making a contract because Kyuubey has already gone ahead." Homura says coldly to Sayaka. It looks like she did notice that the blue-haired girl was there. Homura now turns to Kyouko. "You are right, we do need to hurry. The path should be clear enough now to make a run for it." Between their previous efforts and Homura's explosive present, they stood a chance of catching up with Kyuubey before everything is lost and they all get cat-scratch fever.

Words spoken, Homura now takes off after Kyuubey. He's fast, but Homura has a few tricks up her sleeve to make her faster. Hopefully, she can reach Madoka around the same time if not ahead of him. "Hang in there, I'll be there soon," she says underneath her labored breaths as she continues to dash forward along the path.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Anarchist's Cookbook on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Leaping and dodging Benji after Benji, she finally makes it to the end of their journey. The realization of what she's been climbing all along hits her all too suddenly, just moments after she spots the imperiled toddler. Against something so large, what could she even do!? She doesn't hesitate though, sprinting forward with nary a plan other than preserving his life. The burning miasma roils forth and is almost on her before she can blink. She tries to move forward to catch Tatsuya in time, but the Veteran Puella Magi is quicker, and she is relieved that she didn't even have to test her speed against the cloud of killing smoke.

Stopping short, she makes a light spring instead, like a gymnast off a board. She lands a short distance ahead on the balls of her feet, which press down hard against the Dragon Witch's back, before she leaps as high and as far as she can. The smoke washes over her, and she reflexively places an arm against her eyes. She bursts out of the top of it just in time, her battle garb covered in soot and burned in several places, but being lightly singed was far better than being cooked to well done. The scales no longer felt slick, but hot and stifling to her. She takes a single glance behind herself at Mami and Tatsuya, shielded in ribbons, and looks relieved. She only hoped that the innocence of youth would cause him to eventually forget what he was seeing now, especially in dreams.

She grasps part of her scourge, holding it taut, looking up at the cavernous maw of the titanic dragon witch. While her efforts might not do much harm. With such a target before her, could she miss? She whirls around suddenly into a spinning flourish of her weapon, showering her immediate area in incandescent green sparkles. The thorns all along it's length growing suddenly, becoming long and slender javelins with deadly sharp tips, breaking off from each tendril as their weight becomes too much for it and planting themselves tip down in the scaly ground around her. Wrenching one free, she looks up at the witch straight in the mouth. "Did you really think we were going to let you devour Tatsuya-chan!? Maybe you should feast on these instead!"

One is hurled, then another. Compared to it's gargantuan size, it looked like she was hurling a shower of splinters. And yet, with the deadly sharp, poisoned tips, who knew how much damage she could truly do, if she hit the right spot? The player's handbook had made reference to an archetypcal dragon that got brought down by a single arrow due to missing just a single scale on it's left breast after all!

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Nightshade Javelins on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to brace Homura Akemi's Anarchist's Cookbook, taking 25 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly braces Mami Tomoe's Evadere, taking 2 Fatigue damage!  Mami Tomoe is Psyched!  Bind Break! All of Mami Tomoe's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly braces Eri Shimanouchi's Nightshade Javelins, taking 5 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Sayaka starts to tremble as she watches this battle. This isn't how defenders of justice are supposed to fight, or /what/ defenders of justice are supposed to fight. She feels like a murderer whenever she swings down her great gilded club to crush a cat into a mound of flesh. This is brutal and horrible and, seemingly, interminable. "Mami-senpai?" she pleads quietly, as she watches Kyouko shred flesh like a blender, as Homura's gunshots make her feel she's in a war zone. The bomb Homura sets off will have her jumping at sudden bangs for a few weeks.

She stares dumbly at Homura when confronted. There's no sass, no rejoinder, just wide fearful eyes. "Okay..." she nods obediently, and hopes they can find Madoka soon.

As if in answer to her prayers, Kyuubey zips by, shooting between her legs. She'd recognize that little guy anywhere. "Kyuubey!" she shouts happily, and her lips part at what he communicates. "You know where she is! Madoka-chan!" She reminds herself how this works as she starts to make her way through the horrible cats, flinching when they skitter away from the sparks.

<< Madoka-chan, we're coming! >> Madoka's response to Kyuubey makes Sayaka's stomach turn. She doesn't sound very well. Sayaka plods to a stop as the catssault ceases, The Bat loose in her palm. Why does Madoka have to suffer so much? Why do all the bad things from all the worst places seek her out so devotedly? When Kyouko asks her about her bat, Sayaka takes a few seconds to notice, her face blank, lips pale, skin taut.

<< Be strong, okay? Be strong for your friend Sayaka-chan! >>

Kyuubey can surely sense that he might have a customer.

She blinks at Kyouko, who is leaning into her field of view. "To... my bat. Oh." She lifts it up. "I almost died, I guess." Her face cracks out of its frozen state suddenly, into a winning smile. "But only almost! I beaned a rhino with his own evil magic. Pretty sad to have a burn like that on such a pretty bat, right?"

When they reach the edge, Sayaka gazes down into the fathomless dark. "That's... where Madoka-chan is?" She looks first at Homura, who she has no intention of grabbing onto, and then at Kyouko, grimacing. "Guess I have no choice. Don't say anything gross, okay?"

Homura is already going ahead, so Sayaka has to hurry. It's hard, though. She tentatively puts her arms around Kyouko's neck from behind, then scoots them down so as not to choke her. Squeezing her eyes closed and thinking about softball, she hugs herself to Kyouko's back, then squeezes her tight so she can lift both legs off the ground. Lips peeling back in a miserable grimace, she grabs onto Kyouko's waist with her thighs, a blue-haired backpack for the Puella Magi.

"Okay," she squeaks out through teeth stressfully clutched. "Ready."

COMBAT: Sayaka Miki has used Slugger on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to brace Sayaka Miki's Slugger, taking 15 Fatigue damage!  Sayaka Miki is Psyched!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Yomichi's Lair

Tatsuya, prompted by the stimulus of Mami, a golden goddess in this terrible place, bursts into tears, his stoppered emotions let loose wetly onto her chest. Denied her prey, the Witch sends scales flying in all directions as she shakes her head and neck. It has too many joints, and they wiggle in opposite directions with each vertebrae, nauseatingly unphysical, and also quite a rockety ride for those standing upon it. She cranes around impossibly to gaze at the girl and her ward upside-down, jasper eyes gleaming balefully, another pair opening above them for good measure--

--when Eri jabs her as a forethought, uses her flesh as a storage receptacle for the ammunition to come. And it does come, straight and true, and while each javelin may not individually seem to do much harm, when all four of them wind up in the beast's /eyes/, it turns out that a little goes a long, long way.

Screaming and thrashing, in response the labyrinth abruptly bursts into light, where other than the 'path' there had been only shadow. As though in a courtyard atrium at the center of the Tower of Babel, or perhaps an infinitely tall Roman Colosseum, the three of them, two Puella Magi and one Witch, have an audience.

The Bouncing Benjis, however, make no move to help their mother. Instead they pound on their shields, at first in a scattershot of noise, and then as they gradually get their act together, an accelerating beat that demands blood on the sands.

The Witch's bloodlust was roused long before this, however, and she whirls and arcs in a maelstrom of diamond-sharp scales and blood-drenched claws. Heedless of her surroundings, huge chunks of the stadium are quickly rent asunder, to float weightlessly, buffeted by the wind beneath her wings.

Outside, there appears to be a true darkness, a void that seems eager to suck all light, and her deadly tantrum seems to be taking her ever closer to that rent precipice.

The End of the White Road, and What Lies Below

The Bat thuds painfully into the only cat to survive Homura's titanic explosion, and then there is a moment of silence -- before the fall.

<< Sayaka-chan... >> murmurs Madoka hazily, an impetus. << Don't... it's... please... >>

Velocity wind howls, whipping hair back with painful speed, icing ears over with the howl of what is to come. With the impossible clarity of the mind, however, the erstwhile GM's voice rings true.

<< ...save Tatsuya... >>

At some point it becomes apparent that they are not falling down but falling up. This shift is stomach-lurchingly unpleasant, despite its gradual nature. It is as though up and down, the correct order of things, are just out of reach, slipping aimlessly away. It is overwhelming, paralyzing. Only the speed remains.

Kyouko and Homura's legs feel it when they finally impact what might as well be the top of a finely wrought crystal glass. There is a soft ambient light that steals the breath with its impossible beauty, a different kind of danger, an allure. It dances across the dancers -- more of the cats, clad in impossibly lovely Victorian-era suits, hats, and gowns. They wear a variety of masks; one is covered in sports festival ribbons like a mummy, while another wears a boring gray square. A tree, a flower, a basketball. All of these waltz silently and terribly across the chaotic ballroom floor.

They ignore the Puella Magi entirely. Their eyes are only for each other.

She's difficult to see amid the swirling velvet skirts, clouds of diaphonous lace, and dapper top hats, but there's a glimpse of a ribbon, impossibly red in this place of pastels, attached to a rosey twintail. The magic of this place has garbed her in bridal white, otherwise, layered skirts worthy of any princess -- or damsel in distress, as the case may be. There's something very wrong about the dress; though lovely, the twinkling crystals within flash patterns of false promises, missed chances, and loneliness.

Madoka does, indeed, seem distressed. Desolately alone in the center of the dance floor, she is adrift within the crowd, and knocked into violently every few seconds by a spinning dancecat. She seems more taken aback by this than alarmed, however, and more than half-mesmerized by the complex patterns of the dance.

Two others are approaching her, however. Kyuubey is underfoot, avoiding the worst of the possible abuse with inhuman grace. And a tall, dark stranger, the only totally black suit on the floor, shadow-dark hair covering their face and spreading behind them like an animate cloak, steps deftly through the crowd, approaching her prey with patience, precision, and hunger.

This is the true source of the gaze from earlier. Intent as she is, the Witch's half-realized regard scarcely registers Homura's near-simultaneous arrival, and Kyouko and Sayaka moments after that, but even that slight glimpse across them carries with it a staggeringly painful weight of uncaring, ruthless scrutiny.

COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Draco Tantrumus on Mami Tomoe.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Draco Tantrumus on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used My Lover's Eyes on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used My Lover's Eyes on Sayaka Miki.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used My Lover's Eyes on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Mami Tomoe fails to dodge Madoka Kaname's Draco Tantrumus, taking 34 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi fails to brace Madoka Kaname's Draco Tantrumus, taking 28 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly counters Madoka Kaname's My Lover's Eyes, taking 2 Fatigue damage!  Homura Akemi's Reverse ability activates!  Homura Akemi's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi's counterattack, Flashstep, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Madoka Kaname!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki narrowly dodges Madoka Kaname's My Lover's Eyes, taking 5 Fatigue damage!  Sayaka Miki is Taunted!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura fails to dodge Madoka Kaname's My Lover's Eyes, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!

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

Content to trust offense to Eri while she goes for a better vantage point, Mami continues through the air, looking around her already for something she could use to anchor herself, some new perch aside from the Witch itself.

She gets it, but doesn't find it at first; the sudden brilliant light blinds her, leading her to hold Tatsuya more closely as he cries and try and listen where she cannot see. She hears the rush of wind in her ears and it is more instinct that saves her charge--a huge wrecked edifice of stone crashes towards her, ripped free by the Witch's rage and claws, and the Puella Magi turns around to take the blow upon herself and shield Madoka's younger brother.


She's slammed downward and to the side, hanging onto Tatsuya as if someone's life depended on it--and as far as she knows, his does. The air is neatly knocked out of her, and if not for her status as Puella Magi rather than human, she'd have been simply killed on impact. As it stands, she compresses further, trying to move to the side--

And when the stone crashes through into the darkness, Mami nearly goes with it.

It's only in the new light that the golden ribbon holding her is visible; attached to an archway, she keeps it in one arm, Tatsuya in the other. Her white shirt in back, about her shoulderblades, quickly stains red with blood, but the ribbon lengthens until she finds a place to stand.

Already, her magic is at work, mending necessary connections. The blonde herself looks up at the thrashing Witch. "...It's fine," she repeats in a soothing voice, as she stares upward. His tears aren't going to hurt her. But they need to finish this quickly.

"Don't worry," she murmurs again, and sets her free hand to his head, conjuring suddenly a small band to cover his ears against all the noise. Only then does she stretch out her hand again, as muskets burst into being around her.

She grabs the first out of the air and takes aim.

The roar of gunfire starts amid the clash of shields, and doesn't stop.

COMBAT: Mami Tomoe has used Tiro Flourish on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

That guilt comes back, sour in Sayaka's mouth. << Mami-senpai will save him, don't worry! Eri-chan is here too! >> She doesn't really expect an answer back, given how much it seemed to take for Madoka to communicate.

Sayaka keeps her eyes shut as they fall... or rise? It feels strange. The impact of landing knocks one of her knees loose of Kyouko's hip, and she uses that foot to explore the ground, opening one eye. Finding it safe, she gratefully releases her Puella piggyback.

"What is this?" she asks softly, looking around. "Cinderella?" It's a ball, and glass, though she's aware she's throwing elements of that story together at random. She almost greets Kyuubey, relieved to see him again. But the sight of Madoka strikes her silent. At first, she feels a mixture of sadness and admiration, as if at a portrait in some forgotten gallery. But anger follows it shortly, and she hefts up her damaged cudgel. "She's not your toy, you monsters! She's not a doll! Madoka! MADOKA!"

The sudden glance of the Witch--for who else might that be?--hits her like a dart in the forehead. Sayaka feels her guilt over being here instead of with Tatsuya, for having something to hide from Mami, come to a boil and then shut off entirely. She sways back and forth, and at first she thinks she is dizzy. Then she realizes it's the dance.

Looking down at herself, Sayaka sees a resplendent, sea-blue gown. Her shoulders are puffy fairytale clouds, far more elaborate than her school uniform, and a silver brocade sparkles its way down her chest and stomach. She touches her cheek, feeling something there but unsure what it is.

"Why am I dressed like this?" she murmurs dully. She lifts her hand ponderously, but instead of The Bat, she has a bouquet. Her eyes shift slowly to Madoka, pure and white and clean and lonely.

"Oh," she says. "I'm getting married." She takes two steps forward, hiking her long skirts, then pauses there. "...I thought that was a joke." She looks at Madoka's dress again. "Oh. I guess not." It makes sense. She and Madoka will never find anyone else anyway.

Spying Kyouko, Sayaka thinks a moment, and tosses her the bouquet. "There," she tells Kyouko. A tiny, arcane little tattoo is visible on her cheek. "You get married too." Stepping into the crowd expressionlessly, Sayaka is swept away in it. She's trying to walk to Madoka, but she keeps getting shoulders in her face, in her chest, or feet on her toes.

"Sorry," she tells them each time. "Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry."

COMBAT: Sayaka Miki has used Bridal Flowers on Kyouko Sakura.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

The look on Sayaka's face..Kyouko recoils, very subtly. She looks near a corpse. For once, Kyouko's flippancy puts a foul taste on her tongue. And then, in an instant, it was gone, her warmth banishing the shadows..Anko can only show relief. "Not sad. Tools should wear their use. That dent gives it a reason for being, yeah?"

In a heartbeat, Homura is at their side. Kyouko sputters, her stride halting in mid-step. Catching herself, she is silent, and though stopped, reforms her composure. That speed was impossibe. It didn't even seem like Homura moved quickly...she was simply there, and then here a moment later, with nothing in between.

Her expression...hardens may be too strong a word..though it may not be, either. Her expression re-solidifies, and she nods a brief nod to the quick one.

It's time to go now. No more time to waste. She begins to run, making her approach. If Sayaka's smart then she'll catch up. If not..well, no cure for fools. She shows some sense and hops on. Raising her arms, she grips under Sayaka's thighs, right near her knees, carrying her as she runs, her gait becoming a bit lopsided. Her cheek brushes against Sayaka's..the idealistic girl's cheek is soft against her own, strands of hair intermingling for moments at a time.

She doesn't say anything gross. Just focuses, and grins tightly, the curve of her lips noticeable against her companion's visage. The precipice nears. "This is it! Hang on!" Kyouko charges ahead, burning up her reserves and building her momentum up to an apex. The soles of her feet press against the edge as she leaps, up and forward, sailing through an oblivion outstretched...

Everything shifts. Down becomes up. Sometimes reality reverses itself, or suspends its laws for a moment or two..the only thing to do is to roll with it, and that's just what she does.

Her knees buckle, but don't break, even as they ring out with numb anxiety against the impact. Bending down to practically rest on her knees, Kyouko lets Sayaka off. Standing, she looks to her, concerned for a moment. "OK?"

Scanning up and down quickly, giving her a chance to answer, she soon turns on her heel to see where they are. And what a sight she sees..Taking Sayaka's hand, she steps forward. "Careful..don't bother them, but be ready if they change." The dancers, she meant. Madoka is here..and so's her dance partner.

The black shape stands out quite vividly, like a red dress in a black and white film. Kyouko releases Sayaka's hand, murmuring without looking back.. "Be careful." Shouldering her way through the crowd with mounting assertiveness and urgency, Kyouko makes her way over to the inky black figure..she turns, her dead gaze catching Kyouko. The spearfighter shivers violently, a sharp pain sounding in her stomach, as though she'd been stabbed in the solar plexus. Wincing visibly, she shrugs off the pain, pushing it to the edge of her consciousness.

She comes up to the apparent witch in the crowd. Clapping her hand on her shoulder, Kyouko yanks back, spinning the witch around in a half circle to face her..her arm lashes forward, a short-hafted spear forming in her her grip, muscles rigidly tense as she stabs the monster where a person's throat would be.

And then, a bouquet of flowers bops into her head, interrupting her bloodlust mid-thrust. Kyouko's right leg slightly dips, her weight becoming precarious for a moment as the flowers fall to the floor. Her right hand is twitching as it clutches her weapon, her left hand still suspended in the air from the sharp shoving turn.

In slow motion, perceived time reduced to a sixtieth of its actual speed, Kyouko sees a blur of a stain on Sayaka's face. Well before her she comes to consciously understand what she sees, she releases the blade, and turns, and runs for her, barreling through the dancers and hurtling them aside when they come in her way. Leaping forward, she tackles Sayaka to the ground, doing her best to pin her in place.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura accepts Sayaka Miki's Bridal Flowers, taking 0 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Masterstroke on Madoka Kaname.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

That was more effective than Eri imagined, as she stands agape at the sight of a quartet of thorns in the witch's eyes. Unfortunately, such nigh-perfect execution has it's consequences. She dimly notices that they had an audience, of jeering Benjis. Fortunately they weren't converging on them. Unfortunately they didn't need to.

She tries to stand her ground, and is instead buffeted, and shredded like a leaf in the wind. Her body torn and wracked as it is thrown from sharp scale to scale. Her shrieks are drowned out, but soon become almost pathetic in quality. A claw bats her out of the air, and she lands heavily in the midst of the gargantuan tantrums.

Bounced further and further along, her pain feels like a distant thing. But that void, just off the precipice is looming ever closer. Grasping ahold of a scale, she gashes her palm, sacrificing a bit of flesh to prevent further uncontrolled flight, a vine grows into being, looping around her arm to further anchor her position.

Distantly, she heard Tatsuya's sobbing. Wrenching herself upright, she breathes heavily, her chest heaving in and out. She was out of position to do serious damage to the witch with her weapon, but perhaps there was another way. "I won't forgive you for what you've done to Tatsuya-chan." She bends over, pressing a hand to the ground. Magic ripples out in a verdure runic circle with sun motifs, leaving behind the smell of rain, the sound of wind rushing through leaves. "There's only one punishment I can think of for scarring his innocence."

Most people referred to old myths and tales when they tried to think of an example of nature as it's most beautiful. Many more biblical sorts referred to the legendary Garden of Eden. This Puella Magi didn't believe in anything like that, but she certainly had her own vision of Eden; as in her eyes, it was a place where nature was it's most primal and untamed. Something she tried to capture in sketch after sketch over and over, and finding her artistic talents inadequate. Here however, it might be different. The back bone of the witch becomes her canvas, as a ripple effect moves outward from her hand, rapid growth of deciduous and evergreen trees, sharpened stakes of bamboo, brambles, and briars erupt beneath scales, attempting to tear apart great portions of the witch and get literally 'under it's skin'.

Wildflowers of all sorts bloomed as well. For they too were part of her vision, even though it's unlikely they will do all that much damage. The maelstrom like pulse of chaotic growth continues some of the foliage twisting and wrapping around each other in the impromptu thick glade, following how she pictures in it her head, continuing towards the mass of Benjis and then further. And yet, she reaches her limit all too quickly. It was just a tiny sliver of what she considered sublime about nature. And she was using it to try to kill this wyrm before it could harm Tatsuya or Mami any further. And then all at once, the magic creating it, flickered and died, causing it all to vanish in a glitzing, glittering panoply of light.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Eri Shimanouchi has used Memories of Eden on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly dodges Mami Tomoe's Tiro Flourish, taking 38 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Stagger applied to Madoka Kaname!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to brace Eri Shimanouchi's Finisher, Memories of Eden, taking 59 Fatigue damage!  Madoka Kaname is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname transforms into Ikka Isma, The Hungry!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 4 opponents!
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname narrowly dodges Kyouko Sakura's Masterstroke, taking 16 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The unnatural winds pick up and jettison Homura Akemi through the air at a dangerous speed. Mid-flight with her hair whipping around in the wind, the young Puella Magi does her best to force herself to think what direction she really was being hurled. But the answer to this question is soon made evident as she eventually makes landfall on a glass like surface. The fall should shatter every bone and joint in her legs, but Puella Magi are made of sterner stuff. The impact merely results in a sickening crunch as Homura's body rapidly decelerates to a standstill. Now crouched from the force of the impact, she fiercely scans the area for her beloved friend and also her hated enemy.

This causes her to nearly lock eyes with the black-clad Witch who was advancing through the crowded dance floor of gentlecats. Almost immediately, the same nausea that hit her earlier begins to fill her. But with a target now in sight, Homura can actually do something about this. Pulling out an elongated metal tube from her shield, she tosses this mechanical device towards the Witch. The safety pin of the flashbang hits the ground before the actual munition does which promptly explodes in a bright flash of light, interrupting the Witch's line of sight with her.

This gives Homura the opportunity to start making her way towards Madoka, but many of these cats still block her path. "Madoka!" Homura screams as she begins her advance towards her. Her scream is a pitiful one that betrays the calm and collected demeanor that Homura normally display.This was no good, she had to clear a path if she wanted to get to Madoka first. But there were still obstacles in her way. Multple pairs of cat dancers blocked her way and there was also the Witch herself to deal with. Not to mention that Kyuubey still had to be dealt with one way or another as well. However, Homura knew what to do when obstacles blocked her path. She had to blow her way through them. Once more, the black-haired girl reaches for her shield. Another cylinder like object is pulled from it, but this one is much more elongated and has a strap, a sight, and a trigger on it. Hommando aims this weapon at the closest group of cats inbetween her and where Madoka is getting pushed to . "Get down!" She demands of the dance floor before pulling the trigger. SHOOOOF! A rocket spirals through the air in front of her, its smoke trail leaving a spiral behind it as a small blast of fire propels it out of the tube. Hit or miss, Homura discards the spent weapon and sprints forward towards the captive Madoka if she is able to. Kyouko and Sayaka should be arriving soon behind her, hopefully their delayed arrival will save them from both the flashbang and the aftermath of the rocket launch. But if not, well Homura was never much of a team player these days.

Homura does spy the sudden additions of blue and red into the dance floor as she attempts to navigate through the dancing cats. But there just isn't any time. She'll have to resort to other measure. << Kyouko! Get Sayaka to safety and then help me defeat the Witch. I'm going for Madoka! >> Homura can only hope that Kyouko is in a good mood and wants to play along with her. And also that Homura's tone of voice doesn't put Kyouko off from wanting to listen to her. She can do this herself if she has to do, but her assistance would be gladly welcomed as the journey here has forced Homura to use more of her magic than she would have liked.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Rockets' Red Glare on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to dodge Homura Akemi's Rockets' Red Glare, taking 10 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The Crumbling Void

Mami's ribbon strains, the knot in its bow around one of the golden archways beginning to fray. This is difficult to notice or prevent, however, when the world is full of delicately engraved golden bullets.

The Witch screams, a shrill noise much higher than a beast of that size ought to emit, one more inconsistency in the nightmarish zone of its being. The first blast rips through the rough leather of its wing, and light pours through this hole in the shadowy curtain. After that, it writhes like a mad thing, and the scenery explodes into clouds of debris, as chunks of amphitheater are thrust by trailer-tractor-talons as a shield of a larger and more useful kind.

Penguins fall everywhere like an upended bowl of lemmings.

Tatsuya is once again scared into silence. His cries probably couldn't be heard over the retort of Mami's rifles, anyway. Not to mention the rising, cleansing sound of the leaf-laden wind of Eri's magic, which pours over everything. It streams visibly around shards of crenellation, green and white lines tracing the air.

It reveals the strength of the vortex beyond the walls, dragged inexorably towards the void. Vines wrap the dragon, roots drink deeply of its life's blood, and light, light, furious light burns in every wound, mingling with the plants and the vision of beauty.

The final explosion sends the remnants of the Tower blasting through nothingness; Eri finds herself on a Benji's shield, spinning like a frisbee.

Mami's ribbon snaps, and she and Tatsuya go soaring into the darkness with only each other for support.

The Crystal Masquerade

The Witch holds Sayaka's gaze for a long and lovely moment, though her eyes are invisible. Only shadows dwell beneath that lovely hat, shadows and hair. The mystery is infinite, though, and the sense of feeling possessed is overpowering. Whether groom or officiant, the master of this domain is pleased to provide authority. Her presence is a comfort, a balm. No more fear; no more worry. She will take care of everything.

She will take care of you.

Until, silhouetted against Homura's flashbang, Kyouko goes for the throat. Perhaps death would have been instant, but the beautiful strike is arrested by distraction, and in that moment of delay, the Witch floats backwards. It is testimony of the crimson Puella Magi's sublime skill that the neck still leaks blood -- or, more accurately, more shadow, liquid darkness, which pours downwards, drenching the black suit.

It becomes obvious in this moment that the suit's dye is simply consecutive layers of this substance, regularly renewed. Another is added to it by Homura's rocket, which impacts her chest and slowly, like a spoon through jelly, punches through, dripping gelatinous ooze. Shadow explodes everywhere--

--and grows. Like incense expanding to fill a stuffy room, the Witch's presence spreads and shifts, malevolent mist, all pretence of humanity shed. Now and then she momentarily recorporates a part of herself, but these limbs bear no resemblance to a hand that might have waltzed with Madoka, or lips that might have brushed the back of Sayaka's hand. Instead they are momentary suffocating blocks of air -- snakelike tentacles of force that grip throats, crush hands, swat the unwary like flies.

Madoka -- and Sayaka, pressed down by Kyouko -- wait in the eye of this storm. Lacking a tackler, already Madoka's dainty glass slippers are threatening to leave the ground, sucked upwards into the mist. Her eyes showed a flash of life when Homura called her name, but now, as she breathes the Witch into herself with every shallow inhalation, it seems she can scarcely recognize anyone. She may not even know herself.


The force of Kyuubey's mental contact is like a splash of ice-cold water in this miasmic sea of emotion. Madoka blinks blearily, momentarily lucid.


The first enormous chunk of the crumbling, warping, fading Tower impacts with the glass dome. A spiderweb results, lines pouring across the crystal surface with ever-increasing speed.

A second slab hits from another angle.

The third, fourth and fifth objects on approach are Mami, Tatsuya and Eri.

COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Shadowgrasp on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has used Shadowgrasp on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura perfectly dodges Madoka Kaname's Shadowgrasp, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Critical Dodge!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly dodges Madoka Kaname's Shadowgrasp, taking 17 Fatigue damage!  Homura Akemi's Fade ability activates!  Homura Akemi's Flash ability activates!

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

She certainly hadn't expected that effect at all. Not against something so massive, puissant, and powerful. Reality crumbles around her, the final concussive explosion of force that sends the tower, and her hurtling downwards into the void. She finds herself grasping desperately onto a Benji's shield as she plummets ever onwards, and downwards. Like it was a liferaft in a sea of nothing. Her eyes scan the void, and beneath her, she sees Mami, and Tatsuya, clutching each other for support.

However, it turns out that it's not much of a void at all! As one fading barrier gives way to the reality of another, she watches in horror as pieces of the tower impact with the dome beneath them. There's not much time at all before Mami, Tatsuya and herself splatter. However, from her position, she spies the spiderwebbed cracks in the crystal from a distance. A plan occurs to her out of sheer desperation. "Mami!" She calls out as loud as she can, hoping her voice would carry. No time for honorifics when they're about to die. "I'm going to try to make us an entry! Get ready!"

Twisting herself around in mid-air, she spins like a high diver off a backboard, picking up her momentum, before throwing the Benji shield below her, at the circular cracks in the center with as much force as she can muster. Steeling herself, she extends both feet, trying to shatter Mami and Tatsuya a safe path inside. Worst case scenario, she'd splat against the glass like a fly on a windshield. Best case scenario? Their entrance would look pretty incredible, like they were some sort of Western action heroes.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Shatterpoint! on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to brace Eri Shimanouchi's Shatterpoint!, taking 9 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Homura's words ring loud and clear in her head. A fine plan. Kyouko hopes that they'll be able to play it off that way. But there aren't many options left at this point.

Finding herself on top of Sayaka, Kyouko grabs her chin between her forefinger and thumb, gently but firmly tilting her head to the side to expose her cheek, and the witch's kiss so prominent upon it. Red eyes gleaming, half-circle chainlengths sprout from the ground, binding Sayaka in place at her wrists and ankles.

Throwing herself up to her feet, things seem to be deteriorating very quickly. Madoka lifts, delirious as vileness flows in and out of her lungs..Kyouko's face contorts in an angry snarl as Kyuubey's voice intrudes on her mind. Her retort is colored with rage and the fog of war.

<< Do not speak for me! This will end, now! >>

Burning with bloodlust, her eyes glare around the room, darting from spot to spot as the witch blinks in and out of physical form. Her body grows tense, and starts to quiver lightly, small tremors seizing her body with a quiet intensity. Turning on her heel in a full circle, she looks all about, taking note of where everybody is..Mami and Eri and Tatsuya included, it seems. Already caught up in her motion, she can only take note of their presence.

As the circle is ended, Kyouko's limbs snap out all in a sudden, a howling banshee scream roaring from her bared fangs. Dozens of speartips explode out from all around her, each connected to a gleaming chain, an expanding radius of stabbing slicing triangular guillotines filling the room, thrusting everywhere but towards her allies.

Let's see it dodge this.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Kyouko Sakura has used Prominence on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to dodge Kyouko Sakura's Finisher, Prominence, taking 155 Fatigue damage!

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

While Mami tries to make sure Tatsuya can't see what's going on, she can't afford the same luxury for herself; as she hangs from the ribbon wrapped about her, she has to keep watching its unwatchable shapes that don't look like they belong, and her ears aren't blocking the too-high shriek. Golden eyes remain narrowed, but open.

And she keeps firing; she can watch nothing but her target and her weapons in those moments, though she sees Eri's magic moving over it. She's still firing as light burns outward--

"Aah--!" The surprise is too much even for her; Mami drops the weapon in her hand and throws her free arm around Tatsuya, too, hanging on as they fly somewhere she doesn't know. She steels herself against the void, but...

Can still breathe. Opening her eyes at Eri's call, the blonde Puella Magi looks around and sees--

"Ready!" she reports back in half a breath. For now, she keeps both arms around Tatsuya.

The crash of glass shattering marks the time for her to make her move. As the crystal shatters, the void begins to rush in--and Mami, too, falls with Tatsuya. She can see only some of what's below--Kyouko, in motion, the rapidly thinning-mist that is a Witch expanding outward, even as more and more debris and chunks from the colosseum rush into the vortex that is their battlefield.

But, she can see enough.

Taking a deep breath, she steels herself by calling out as loudly as she can, "TIRO...!"

Mami's right hand reaches up to her neck, pulling a yellow ribbon from her collar in a rapid motion. She snaps it outward, and it grows; first, it's a platform for her to stand. The next blink, it's a platform attached to some great, hollow steel rod. Then it's a gigantic pistol, gleaming in gold and silver, with pearl handle and wood stretching out on either side.

She has to hope that she's in time. A wish fills her heart as she tears back the cord on her gigantic weapon, and shouts, "FINALE!"

Light erupts from her cannon, brilliant and golden.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Mami Tomoe has used Tiro Finale on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to dodge Mami Tomoe's Finisher, Tiro Finale, taking 173 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Homura's explosive efforts allow her to get closer to Madoka, but she wasn't fast enough. Her heart skips a beat when she sees Madoka start to ascend upwards. For the first time this evening, noticeable emotion floods through Homura as a look of distress on her face is more than evident. She opens her mouth to say something, but the Witch takes advantage of this opening and attempts to use one its shadowy tendrils to choke the life out of Homura. Pale hands quickly go to her throat as the distracted Homura is unable to get out of the way in time. Careless. She was careless in the moment that Madoka needs her most.

But many things begin to happen at once. Eri cracks the shell of this world and allows her, Mami, and Tatsuya to jump in. This gives Mami the perfect opportunity to snipe at the Witch and Kyouko is also not idle and presses her advantage to try to turn the witch into a shish-ka-bob. They all were fighting to save Madoka, Sayaka, and Tatsuya and what was Homura doing? Hanging there uselessly. Thankfully the combined force of the other Puellas blows allows Homura to break free of the Witch's grasp. She falls to the ground hard and takes a deep labored breath as her mind races to what she can do in this moment.

Those purple eyes of hers quickly go to Madoka. She was the only thing she can think of right now. Homura can't let this go any longer if she can help it. Eri had the right idea, it was time to bring the whole house down.

Homura activates her shield and quickly gets to work. She had to be careful with the use of her magic, but she also wanted to do her best to end this right now if she can. There was no room for failure and no margin for error in her bomb placement. The outer walls were already weakened, now it was time to expedite what the others have started in shattering it.

C4 was a tricky thing to use. Thankfully Homura had more than enough time to practice with it. Trying to work as fast as possible, the raven haired Puella sets the first charge against the spiderwebbing outer wall before setting another couple of charges near the witch. If all goes to plan, Homura's explosive will blow the witch into a chain of explosives that were all set to slightly different timers to hopefully 'bounce' the witch from one explosion into another.

Sayaka had Kyouko covering her and Tatsuya had Mami. Eri would be tough enough to survive any shrapnel, but that leaves Madoka. Without any further option to take and time running out, Homura leaps through the air just as time resumes and into Madoka if she makes the jump. She will use her own body to shield Madoka from what whatever comes next be it the witch's next attack, falling shards of crystal, or shrapnel from her own explosives. No matter what it actually is, one thing is for certain. Homura will not let go of Madoka until this is all over.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Homura Akemi has used Time Bomb on Madoka Kaname.
COMBAT: Madoka Kaname fails to dodge Homura Akemi's Finisher, Time Bomb, taking 128 Fatigue damage!  Madoka Kaname is unable to keep fighting!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Sayaka feels a sensation in the back of her head, a noise like a fingernail over a microphone's mesh. She stares into the aggressive shadows of the Witches eyes, which seem to move of their own accord. It calms her even as it chills her. She doesn't feel happy to have this noise vibrating all reason from her mind, but she doesn't resent it either. She has no real opinion.

Madoka. She has to find Madoka. Little white bride Madoka. They can be lonely together. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry. Sorry.

Kyouko slams her into the ground, driving the sorries from her lungs. She chokes, confused, as Kyuubey's voice reaches her head. "Kyuubey?" she asks while looking at the girl atop her, as if she thinks he's Kyouko. She lets Kyouko move her head around to see the Witch's Kiss, burning black on her cheek. Her face looks so lost as Kyouko summons her strange little parallelogram chains to bind her down. She's supposed to get married. She's supposed to forget. She's supposed to remember. She's supposed to make a wish.

"Miki," she says, and she feels something cold in her hand. Oh, right. It's broken. Miki-san can't play the violin anymore, and she's Miki-san, right? She lets her head fall to that side, staring down her bound arm. No, that cold isn't something broken. It's The Bat.

How did it get here? She threw it. It was flowers. Madoka. Miki. Madoka. Miki.




"KYUUBEY!" she shouts, and her fist closes tight around The Bat. The shield extends powerfully, leaving her flesh untouched but shattering each link of the chain as it touches it, as if it were a string of children's firecrackers. With one arm free, she slashes the other arm free, standing up in her fine gown, not bothering to liberate her feet. Something explodes above her, a Finale, but she doesn't understand it, or what's going on. A cat bumps her, and she turns to glare at it.

A great yellow hemisphere radiates from Sayaka's location, shoving the crowd away. Inside, Sayaka is back in her street clothing, The Bat planted solidly head-down on the ground, her hair fluttering in the immediate aftermath of its power. She's cleared enough room that Kyuubey is inside the shield, too, on its periphery. "Kyuubey," she says, at a normal volume, as the shield is deadening the absolute cacophany around here. She meets his round red eyes with her own. Her cheek is bare, now; unbeknownst to her something unpleasant has happened to the Witch that created it. As Mami descends after her attack, she will see a Sayaka commanding her weapon's magic in ways Mami never taught her, inexplicably experienced hands gripping a bat scarred by a wound Mami's never seen... and was clearly not made tonight.

"I want to make my wish now," she tells Kyuubey.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=581yuUMGQPE


The sound of Eri cracking the world's shell is, of all things, beautiful. A crystal chime; a mirrorbell. The sound reflects and refracts, and as ballroom and void become one, pure sonic nirvana unleashes in a single moment of ecstatic bliss.

It fades as the rose does in autumn: frosted into death by the howling storm. Other sounds intrude, creating dissonance, the wine glass of this dimension humming just a bit higher, agonizingly off-key. It takes a few moments to realize that this is not the crystal, but the Witch itself, singing or screaming or both.

Certainly she has ample reason to scream, harmonizing instinctively and unknowingly with Kyouko Sakura, whose spears pierce her, barbed chains that catch at her rapidly expanding self, keeping the mist from diffusing into near-nothingness, impossible to fight or catch. They might have been trapped here forever, unable to find and striker her heart, if not for this foresight, or luck, or perhaps most accurately battle instinct: whatever the reason, though, the crimson Puella Magi has struck in the ideal way as to render the Witch present and vulnerable.

Weeping from a thousand catlike maws which open up, familiar jagged fangs gnashing mistily in and out, shadowblood and shadowtears fall like rain.

The hankerchief that comes to wipe it away is made of purest gold, the wish and will of Mami Tomoe vaporizing every crystal shard in the intervening space between herself and the pulsing heart of the witch. Every crashing boulder, every splintering shield, even a last couple unfortunate Bouncing Benjis that escaped into oblivion. They shriek as they vanish for good, never to become dragons themselves.

Now the Witch trembles. Does she feel rage? Does she feel fear? Either is interpretable by the way the darkness coagulates, becoming more intensely itself without drawing together physically. It is a heavy blanket, a suffocating pillow upon the hearts that dwell within its home. Mami was relieved to find air, but the Witch needs none, and it begins draining rapidly. The temperature drops ten degrees in ten seconds. It becomes impossible to see anyone, so total is the veil across the sky, the ground, indistinguishable from each other in this shattered space.

That is, until another wish is made:

Let there be heat. Let there be sound. Let there be light.

The drumbeats of victory resound, titanic timpanis that do not so much bounce the Witch around as masticate it to and fro inside the world's biggest meat grinder. The floor crumbles, exploding downwards into the void, the waltzing cats screaming away into nothingness, many of them pulped by the aftershock of shrapnel or the impact of Sayaka's expanding shield. Other parts of the scenery are dragged upwards into the storm, but the vortex is abating, the void beginning to fade.

If Homura had been one eyeblink slower, that shard of crystal would have taken Madoka in the back. Instead the Puella Magi slams them both out of the way, and can feel the heat of her friend pressing against her, heat that rises as the Witch's Kiss fades from the back of her neck and true warmth returns to her eyes, awareness to her breath. Her lovely fantasy dress is fading too, vanishing strip by strip into diamond runes that burst into butterflies and vanish entirely, but what lies beneath, those softly fuzzy fleece leggings and miniskirt and jacket, the T-shirt with a picture of a cute bear, is far more beautiful. All of it is eclipsed by her tearful smile, the happiness of rescue and cathartic release of the spell burning within her, then exploding out of her as she notices Tatsuya safe and sound nearby.

She sobs, and cannot see past Homura's flowing hair or her own flowing tears, can't notice the two grief seeds mixed in with the dice on the undisturbed dinner table, cannot see that right there in her living room there is yet a golden globe, an orb of purest power that contains her oldest friend and her newest one.

Kyuubey stares at Sayaka, his face unreadable as ever but tail twitching back and forth, betraying his enthusiasm, his excitement. That's only fair, only right, isn't it? He's been recruiting her for so long to be his champion, his vanguard. In this strange space The Bat has created, he is golden and orange rather than white and pink, and how appropriate, the colors of flame for a phoenix rising at last to meet her destiny.

Only his red eyes remain exactly the same, as they fix upon her blue.

<< Speak, Sayaka Miki! Tell me, with what wish will your soul gem shine? >>

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

Descend Mami does; for all that her graceful leaps and acrobatic tosses of ribbon might keep her in the air for a while, she always retains that same invisible tie to the ground that will bring her down again. It is past the burst of Kyouko's weaponry, past the explosions from Homura's powers that Mami still hasn't yet come to understand. So much is simply /gone/ in the wake of all that power, but Mami can feel that it may finally be a chance to relax.

Her feet click onto the ground as it turns from what it was just moments ago, and this time, she has no teacup to casually sip at the conclusion of battle. She holds something altogether more delicate, in both arms now. But it is not even Tatsuya that holds her gaze now, or Homura who has covered Madoka, or her old friend Kyouko, or the new Eri who proved herself worthy of the assertions Mami made about her.

It is a strange yellow shield that Mami sees even as she lands, the weapon she gifted to Sayaka to protect her held too strangely, too comfortably. But that alone, she could justify.

The magic it uses is not the familiar shield she taught Sayaka. ...But that alone, she could justify.

There is a wound in the weapon that is completely new to her eyes... And that, too, she could find a way to justify, if they were all alone.

But they aren't, and there isn't a moment upon seeing the blue-haired girl now standing with Kyubey that Mami does not understand what this means. Her heart sinks, and she feels something inside her go rigid. It means that she can kneel down, look away long enough to gently set Tatsuya on the couch, where maybe he can rest. She can, feeling as if she's in a dream, look around the room and find those who couldn't catch her eye before.

The question from Kyubey echoes distantly in her mind, and ever-so-slowly, feeling as if pushing through water, Mami turns her head back to Sayaka. Kyubey may have another reason to feel excitement; Mami waves her hand, and she is in her ordinary clothes once again, her soul gem just a ring on her finger, covered by her palm as she holds her hands together.

It is dirty, and scuffed. There is little brilliance in it at the moment; it's barely shining in the electric lights.

Golden eyes are transfixed on that globe, her expression stricken. "Miki-san..."

"You lied to me." It comes out as only just above a whisper. It's inevitable, a voice inside her says. It will always be like this.

She winces, and steps forward, a hand lifting subconsciously against some pain in her heart. But she recognizes that she's doing it, and stands up straight again. Her expression is completely neutral, just for a moment.

Mami Tomoe steps to the side, and then to the door, a certain urgency to her steps that gives question to her usually-calm bearing. When she reaches the door, she stops herself with a hand, resting against it just long enough to open the exit and rush through to the outside.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.

Kyouko sways on her feet, tottering slightly from side to side, less from fatigue than from unspent adrenaline. As the crumbling chaos ebbs out existence and they find themselves again in Madoka Kaname's home, Kyouko takes a deep breath in, and then out..

And Sayaka makes her announcement. Her gaze hardens into granite, anger gleaming out of either eye. They'd spoken on this, and it would seem that her words meant nothing. There is no threat. There is no need to make contract.

And then Mami speaks..her soul gem far from pristine. And that she leaves upset..not a good pairing. Kyouko closes her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose and rubbing it gently. She's played a hand in things coming to this. She still believes that Sayaka should know how to defend herself..but rather than frighten her off, her brushes with darkness and doom seem to have made her more and more comfortable.

Her voice is quiet, and perhaps not meant to be heard..though hear it one may. "Don't."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

The crystal breaks, ringing a clarion chime, allowing the void to come in, and it is a hungry thing indeed. The swirling fragments add to the chaos, and it's only then that she realizes that the chime was in fact the scream of the witch. Reacting instinctively, she snaps out the shredded remnants of her scourge, which extend, finding purchase on the closest thing on hand. One of Kyouko's triangular pendulum chains, that had just shredded the masquerade. It's not exactly a perfect plan, as once the scourge tendril grows taut, the spiked chain rends the much more fragile vine in twain.

Still it was just enough for her to halt her all too terminal velocity. She lands upon the crystalline ballroom floor heavily with a yelp of pain, rolling and gasping. She catches just the last glimpse of the flare of Mami's Tiro Finale, in all of it's glory, just before she has to shield her eyes from Homura's blast array. But for all the brilliance of the other, more veteran Puella Magi, her breath is stolen away as Sayaka Miki's statement finally registers mentally.

Fortunately, she's far enough out of the way, that she is only grazed by a the tiniest fragments of crystal, and doesn't fall into the void as the floor gives way. Left in a heap in the living room, she finally pulls herself up by the edge of the living room table once the spots clear from her vision, rubbing her arm frantically at her face.

She doesn't hear Mami's whisper, but she can sense something is wrong, looking up in confusion at the exchange, before Mami walks out. Once she felt entirely composed, she releases her transformation, once she's in street clothes. She glances sidelong at Kyouko, then back at Sayaka. She doesn't know Sayaka enough to feel like she has a chance of actually influencing her, but she speaks with a sort of quiet gravity, "Are you sure? I mean, I thought I was too. It's difficult actually living with it. Not much seems worth what you have to give up."

It's at that moment, her eyes fix upon the two grief seeds upon the dining room table. She'd like to ignore them. Didn't her friendship with many others in this room mean much more to her. Didn't she once say that her life was meaningless, that she was willing to sacrifice herself like some kind of pitiful martyr when she lay in an alleyway dying? That's before she was rejected by the person that gave 'dying for a cause' meaning to her. Now... without territory to ensure a constant flow how much more did survival mean to her? She swallows, her mouth feeling all too dry, her body feeling far too fatigued and torn up from the prior battle. How used up will the grief seed Kyouko so generously offered be used up healing them? Quietly, pleadingly, she sets aside her pride, and asks in a tone that sounds almost pathetic in how it breaks up the solemnity, "M-May I... please have one of those?"

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Sayaka feels alone with Kyuubey for as long as they are still in the Labyrinth. She holds his gaze. She feels certain and strong. She is, actually, unaware that the danger is over, because a moment ago she was possessed and since then it's been nothing but explosions. Her intention is to join the battle immediately for Madoka's sake.

She smiles a bit, unwillingly, at Kyuubey's wording. It's strangely pretty, for him. "The thing that would make me happiest, is if..." The world changes again, back to normal, and Sayaka blinks. She feels the floor of Madoka's house under her feet again, and belatedly realizes that her socks have been ground away almost entirely on the bottom, her feet blistered. It only started hurting now.

Well, never mind. If they're here, Madoka's safe. But for how long? And how long until another hellball, or something worse? She has never had courage enough for this until now. Sayaka releases the shield. It's time. "Kyuubey, please..."


Without the shield, Sayaka is standing right across the room from the fleeing Mami. She doesn't notice Kyouko's anger, or Eri's humiliation, or Madoka's joy, and god knows she doesn't have a moment for Homura Akemi right now. She caught a glimpse of Mami's face before she turned.

"Senpai!" she cries in agony. If Mami turns around, she'll see a face in the throes of what looks like fear, but is in fact far more complex. Sayaka drops The Bat, which dissolves into its mundane form on the way down, a more subtle dent marking where the big crater used to be on its face. She gags on her words for a moment, shaking her head in denial. She'd kept the secret so long, she only needed a few more seconds. Why did this have to happen?

"Stay?" she whimpers, but she's not willing to take even one step forward.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Homura Akemi hugs Madoka tightly as they safely land together on solid ground just as the reality around them breaks apart and resets. The Witches were defeated and every person in the room was given for a brief moment of respite as the barrier fell and the room returned to its normal state. This is quite the bittersweet moment for Homura whom is hesitant to let go of Madoka despite the immediate danger having passed.

The very real peril that Madoka was just in combined with the intense emotional trauma of having her little brother dragged into everything must have been devastating to the pink haired girl in Homura’s arms. There was little Homura could do past being right there where she currently was. But this was a role that Homura was happy to play. However, she knows that this precious moment could not last forever and eventually moves past her own selfishness to release her grip on the other girl. Madoka may had been crying hard, but Homura’s own eyes are tear-stained as well.

There is no telling when the two of them would ever share a moment like they just had in this timeline. It may happen again soon or will never be repeated. This all was a huge uncertainty to Homura. The only thing that she can be sure of was that she will continue keep the promise she made with Madoka a long time ago. She will continue to protect her dear friend no matter what.

Now separated from Madoka, Homura begins to realize the presence of the Puella Magi and Sayaka in the same room. Mami finds out the truth of Sayaka’s bat use. Sayaka nearly forms a contract with Kyuubey. Eri goes for a needed grief seed. And Kyouko remains stuck in the middle of it all. Every one of them Homura will have to deal with sooner or later. She can only be thankful the combined might of the Puella Magi assembled here was enough to defeat the Witches before either Sayaka or Madoka’s hands were forced. Homura Akemi had cut everything far too close this time. She raises a sleeve and promptly wipes whatever wetness is left in her eyes. By the time she drops her arm again, Homura Akemi is as stone-faced as ever if not a little redder about her eyes. Her work was far from done as this night still almost ended in complete disaster. Homura will have to just try harder for there was little margin for error left from this point forward. Purples eyes flicker over the room at large. For everyone’s sake, she must succeed. She then looks over at Madoka. And for Madoka's sake most of all.

Saying nothing more, Homura Akemi raises the device on her left hand up, and promptly disappears from sight a mere moment later.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Madoka is drowning beneath a sea of tears; they burble in her throat, constricting her breathing to short, hysterical gasps; they clog her hearing, which resounds with the beating of Homura's heart, pressed as she is into her sensible gray-and-violet chest; they veil her sight, clouding her vision, making what little of the room she can see apart from Homura's silken hair indistinct and foggy.

In this long moment Homura is a shining pillar of strength, of safety, of peace. Her name chokes out of Madoka's mouth, once, twice, thrice, a paean, a prayer. It is likely that if she hadn't been firmly released, she might have stayed there, in the embrace of Homura, sheltered under her wings, for five minutes, five hours, or even five days.

But she is, and this is the catalyst that forces her back into the room. The next thing she sees is Tatsuya, and she is drawn to him like a moth to the flame, a lodestone to the center of the Earth. For another long moment they are one being, a mass of Kaname flesh taking refuge from the terrors of a world far more cruel and strange than either of them were equipped to handle tonight. They have each other now, and it is, momentarily, enough.

In the long night that follows, and the one after that, it will not be. The Kaname family will not know a night without screaming nightmares for a long, long time.

Most of them will be Madoka's, cast aside as she has been from the ranks of the Innocent. Tatsuya will remember all this as a recurring nightmare, and eventually, mercifully, that can be soothed away. By the time he's five, he'll merely be unable to watch movies with dragons in them. At fourteen, he'll discover a strange, dark fascination with serpents of all kinds. At twenty he might go into a creative industry to indulge his fits of fancy, or flee them entirely towards a career as a salaryman.

All of this has been made possible by the acts of Madoka's friends, and she will not forget.

But what she does not, cannot remember that none of this will ever be possible if Walpurgisnacht isn't prevented from wiping out Tokyo entirely.

Just now she remembers that other people are in the room, and, her heart frozen with the resurgence of a terrible fear that she's carried around since the first time she walked in on Eri's mutilated body in an alley, she performs a quick head count, her bloodshot eyes flicking around the room.

Kyuubey's long gone, having seen himself out quietly upon his analysis that Sayaka was just a hair too slow, and that no Contract will result at this time. Madoka barely knew he was there, however, so this is no great cause for alarm.

Eri is quiet, humble, and paying attention to the gaming table.

Kyouko looks frustrated, maybe tired, and is paying attention to Sayaka, as usual.

Sayaka is in one piece physically, but of all the people in the room Madoka is most experienced with the vast scope of her fierce feelings, and her expression is that crystal shard reborn, to pierce Madoka in a place that Homura can't protect. She's saying something, one single word, talking to...

Madoka's voice breaks into the stunned silence. Her throat is still thick and strangled. "M-mami," she wails, the dam inside her rumbling again, threatening to break as panic leaks back into her hysteria. "W-where... where's Mami?!"