2017-03-03 - Charlotte's Web 2

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Title: Charlotte's Web 2

It's a race against time as Mami Tomoe scours the labyrinth for the missing Madoka Kaname, while the rest of the Puella Magi and their allies try to get ahead of them and capture the attention of the Witch before they lose something important...

A direct continuation of 2017-03-02 - Charlotte's Web 1.


Madoka Kaname, Mami Tomoe, Sayaka Miki, Eri Shimanouchi, Kyouko Sakura, Nori Ankou, Garnet, Endo Naoki, Setsuna Meioh, Mai Tokiha, Mikoto Minagi, Fuu Hououji


Charlotte's Labyrinth, Shinjuku

OOC - IC Date:

03-03-2017 - 01-01-2015

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Preview! Preview! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mm2UHRMKtic


A labyrinth is breaking the rules, rendering itself visible unto the outside worlds and disgorging an unprecedented number of familiars to occupy the surrounding blocks in a little fiefdom. It's Demon City Shinjuku.

Those who seek to solve this mystery and claim the treasures at its heart -- tangibles like a missing friend, a Grief Seed; intangibles like justice for the victims, safety for the streets -- have to /make it/ into the labyrinth first. It's a hellscape on the way, with tiny gumdrops-with-rat-tail Pyotrs rummaging through every brutally ordinary building (a place they shouldn't be, not in these numbers) in a manic search for something precious, and slender pink Polinas delivering injections to anyone they come across -- then a candy, after the shot.

It's a battle to make it to the center of the district. There:

Shinjuku General Hospital is only recognizable by those who have seen it before; with every window a different jarring shade of red, pink, or an ominous black well beyond mere lightlessness, and every angle warped and bulging, it is at best a hospital that has strained the seams of its own definition, exploding outwards and imploding inwards at the same time. All that's left is a tangle, a twisted idea that has nothing -- at all -- to do with caring for the injured and ill.

Indeed, for those who haven't ever happened by this block of Tokyo, if it looks strongly like anything, it looks like a cake. The roof of the building has some kind of oozing substance overflowing from it, slowly dripping down the walls, garish, prismatic and gut-twistingly everchanging, like the world's weirdest frosting.

It is in some ways kinder to see the cake than the hospital, to not recognize what once was in what is; those injured in ways that can only be fixed with extreme plastic surgery might agree.

And that's just the outside.

When the place that was once a hospital looms close, the double emergency room doors spring open helpfully, sliding out of the way, then abruptly gape inward like unhinged jaws. An inexorable force sucks everyone forwards, first through this strange portal, then through heavier wooden doors, a set of curtains, then metal blast doors, then beads that might have been strung M&Ms, doors with red, rune-written lights over them...

Door after door after door blur by in an instant, the eyeblink of hallway between each one either black or pink. The only door that does not make an appearance is one marked EXIT.

BGM Swap: PonPonPon https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzC4hFK5P3g

It is pitch black here -- and warm.

It smells sweet, not sweet like Madoka's cocoa is sweet, but sweet like shave ice scooped by a scary stranger, with too much syrup, too many chemicals. It stains. It causes stomachaches.

The lights come up slowly, from no single place in particular, revealing that the group has landed at a crossroads. There are a dozen spidery paths wending away in every conceivable directions, and a few inconceivable ones as well.

Everything seems to rise and fall irregularly. There is no single horizon, and no way to see anything at any distance, but despite that there is a very keen sense of /space/ that is also very atypical for these labyrinths. Their size is usually mostly thanks to density, so much maze packed into so little space that it overwhelms.

This is as dense as any prior labyrinth, but it's also huge. How did it get so big -- so powerful?

Well, how does anything get that way?





Men in jumpsuits as orange as their wares drop down from zip lines, offering breakfast drinks to salarymen, weary of their daily grind.




Although the Chevaliers and Shepherds were drawn into the hospital together, it has more than one entrance. Others penetrated the labyrinth at a coincidentally(?) similar moment, and find their own terrifying flight through door after door ending just a dozen yards away from the other groups, around one of the many twists and turns that emenates out of this major crossroads.

They can hear each other.

The path underfoot is dark, but strewn with surgical gauze and helpfully roped off by thread, held aloft by massive needles and occasionally demarkated with huge scissors that stab into the indifferent floor with immense but dull-looking blades. Childish tools.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Pluto's garnet blast of energy grants them an opening, and her feet pound the pavement as she dashes out the other end and loops around the block.

There's a nurse waiting for her, a clumsy swipe with a needle whose gauge only horror films would know. It's met with a duo of lashes which make it look like she was sliced apart by scissors, falling into pieces. It's only after they're further away from the killing field that she mutters to the other girl with, "Always did hate shots."

But they converge forward- the hospital looming larger as she leaps to avoid a clumsy flail, not even bothering with dispatching one of them as she continues huffing it forward- "Hate hospitals even-"

The bright glare of the windows shines and there they are. "-more." The word leaves her lips, and she stops for half a breath or two, staring at Sayaka Miki with an impassivity that might rankle her- her eyes only flickering to Mami as she watches her finish off the situation with the car. But before she can speak...

Doors slide open and then she's sucked within. Taking her through a myriad of portals, twisted by witch magic and yet familiar. But she wasn't the same girl anymore as she was in those memories, who paced through hallways like these, helplessly awaiting the inevitable.

They all touch down in the middle of one, lined by thread, her landing muffled by gauze. Instantly on edge by that fact. It takes her a few moments to get her bearing and recompose herself before she swivels on a foot to face the pair of Puella Magi again, "Idiots! Coming here so soon after the beating the two of you took."

The cloyingly sweet air of the labyrinth is pregnant with tension, like she's itching for a fight despite what Kyouko said about playing nice- but then she tears her eyes off the pair and stares forward down the path, "But I get it. Madoka could be in there, and I don't want to keep her waiting either. I'll agree to a truce until after this is dealt with but-"

Her gaze flicks to the periphery of her vision to the Chevaliers. Even outnumbered- there's something she needs to stress, "-if any of you break it we'll make sure it's the last thing you ever do. Take it from me, inside of a labyrinth is the worst kind of place to settle this, and while I don't want to have to see her sobbing over your corpses..."

A breath seethes out of her teeth, as if remembering- something, "...I can learn to live with it."

Despite the situation it wasn't the same powerlessness as before, even in this most unusual of labyrinths.

Maybe they couldn't save everyone here, indeed she wouldn't even want to try, but they could possibly save one- if they're quick. She follows along the threads with the cautious yet hurried pace of an attendant who's in the middle of an emergency situation, towards the converging voices.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It's not at all a surprise for Mami to see Eri here, or even to see her with help. Knowing that just made the surprise that /did/ come all the more jarring, as Mami along with all of the others was drawn into this bizarre place past doors and doors and crutains and beads and more and more until she closes her eyes despite herself.

She forces them open again and feels faintly nauseous, until there's the sweet darkness of a lack of light to make her vision easier. I's strange to be thankful for something in a Labyrinth, but the slow way the lights come back up is good for Mami.

She looks warily about the Labyrinth once she can, taking in the sight of its strangeness... and then taking in the sight of Eri who faces her and Sayaka. "...Yes, you get it. It doesn't matter whether it's a good idea, only that it's necessary." Mami pauses, and purses her lips, expression unreadable. "Fine, Shimanouchi-san. It won't be necessary, but I accept your terms for myself, if not for the others." There's something very distant in her tone. "A truce."

But shortly thereater she looks to Sayaka, turns to face the Chevaliers and then stand to face the group, though she does not address them. She addresses Sayaka, "I think I should split off. While you and the others draw the attention of the Witch and keep moving, I'll use stealth to find Madoka-chan. It's our best chance of rescuing her safely."

Her safety, of course.

"I can meet back up with all of you after. Maybe you'll find the Witch first."

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Her eyes are hidden as always, but Garnet's lips tug into a displeased grimace at Eri's words... Eri's THREATS! Even here...! Even NOW, she won't stop with the menace, with this war posturing, and just act like a normal person who wants to save her friend... and it just graaaates on Garnet's nerves at last.

The gem doesn't raise a word of protest, she's not here to fight Eri, she's here to save Madoka, that's what everyone is here for, and Garnet will also save anyone else that she can. EVERYONE else she can... She'll find a way even if they won't...

Eri's unrelenting hostility just... Garnet fights the rising anger, fights the brash and impulsive part of herself that wants to just SCREAM at Eri: "Is this how you tend your "garden"?! This is ALL YOUR FAULT!!!"

Fights it. Calm down. Calm... down.... We're here to save Madoka.... and the others.... Even verbally fighting with Eri will only make that harder... You have to be the bigger gem... (Always the bigger Gem... and this time..!) CALM.... The stress on her face loosens and returns to its normal stoicism.

She doesn't say a word, but she looks to Sayaka and Mami to take the lead, defering to their experience navigating labyrinths, particularly one as intimidating and oppressive as this one. The number of labyrinths she's entered can be counted on one hand, but even she can tell this is different. They have to be careful.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Pluto [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

The unnatural fury of Witch-warped kittens patchworks Sailor Pluto's long legs with angry red furrows; the proud shine of her boots is long gone, lost to the shredding furor of those needle-sharp claws and teeth. She chases right after Eri, finding some comfort in the other girl's breathless commentary about shots and hospitals -- it's such a /normal/ complaint, in the face of skin-crawling strangeness. Pluto, a relative newcomer to Tokyo, has never before seen Shinjuku General Hospital, but it doesn't take familiarity to recognize that things have gone well beyond "terribly amiss."

Her evergreen hair whips around, almost blinding her, as Pluto scans the lurching streets at a dead run. No Kyouko Sakura. Too late to rue splitting up, not enough time to look for her -- not with the Chevaliers skidding up in front of those forboding double doors right as Pluto and Eri are doing the same.

Then there's /really/ no time, as the whole bristling gaggle of magical girls gets unceremoniously hoovered into the rabbithole freakshow of portals.

Grimacing, the tall senshi picks herself up off the floor, brushing a particularly clingy piece of gauze from the dark pleats of her skirt. She takes up a supportive position behind and to the left side of Eri, confidently unperturbed at the uneven odds. And even with red streaks staining her legs and her fine boots in tatters, she somehow conveys the impression that the odds are not /that/ uneven after all.

"Truce, for the sake of all." She scans garnet eyes, gleaming like her Orb, across the Chevaliers one by one. They can meet her gaze or not, as they see fit. "Because the sake of all is what this is about."

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (9)] has posed.

The Magic Knight of Wind has a track record of not really caring about the subdivisions between magical girls; allying with the Chevaliers was one of the few times she's actually picked a side, and from all available evidence, she's come to regret it. Not that this stops her from being apologetic and even deferential towards Sayaka, Mami, and their allies who remain Chevaliers.

Yes, she is indebted to La Sirene du Nord, that's not a question. She may not kowtow or prostrate herself, but La Sirene's comment about how she 'bled for Cephiro' has not gone unnoticed, or unacknowledged.

But as of the moment that the whole combined group is hauled into the Labyrinth, divisions among themselves are a luxury which they don't really have time for. Other people - perhaps better-situated to say it - are already making that point, so the Wind Knight just stays quiet for now, trying not to let the trepidation show on her face ... the interior of a Witch's Labyrinth is generally unnerving at the best of times, and this is far from the 'best' she's ever seen.

There is a deep and uneasy feeling in the green-clad Magic Knight's heart that she does not belong here - but she *is* here, and she'll do her best to assist her allies. *All* of her allies, short-term or long. But she can't tell which way the Witch might be - nor Madoka, for that matter. In fact, the mention of Madoka's name draws a double-take from the Wind Knight; no wonder this seems so directly personal to some of the magical girls here ....

For now, the Wind Knight just re-conjures her bow and quiver, preferring to be ready for combat to start at a distance. If she needs her sword, it'll be in her hand with little more than a thought.

But whichever way people are going? She's going to let other people take the lead, and follow behind as necessary.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

In they go, into the infirmary. (That is, to la Sirene, the true name of these places. And infirm it certainly appears to be.)

La Sirene du Nord's boots drip, vaguely. She does not want to think of what. The words from Eri Shimanouchi get a piercing look from her pale eyes, but she does not seem to dispute these words. Her eyes turn ahead then, and she opens her lantern's eye again.

At least it makes it easier for her to see. To Mami, she hisses in breath through her teeth - before saying, "You're right. But..."

She dips her hand into the light that is coming out of her lantern, gathering it up like she's dipping water from a stream. Some of it actually flows out, the oval disc that the lens produces on the horrid gauze-and-instruments space where they stand shimmering like a pond that just had a rock thrown into it.

La Sirene curls her fingers into it and half steps over, making a strange sort of sign of the cross over Mami - three lines, a half-circle, a single dot in the middle. The unlight flows out of her hand, feeling like nothing, but it clings: like a friendly blessing that makes it harder to look quite straight at Mami if you aren't focused.

"Good luck," she tells Mami. Then her attention goes back ahead, to the biohazardous path forwards.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo has never been a fan of hospitals. They're full of sick people, lifelessly sterile, and packed with sharp objects and unpleasant memories. He likes this one even less, with its syringes embedded in floors and it's twisty-turny angles.

Once he's flown through the mass of doors Endo's steps slow, his grip tightening on the device that he's dragging beside him. "Aaa, isn't this a little much?" It's far too excessive for him, after all. His eyes dart to the Chevaliers and assorted allies that he's arrived with, making sure they're still all in one piece after the ride.

And there are others too. Endo seems unsure of what to make of the tension between Eri and the group he's arrived with, scratching at his head and hazarding looks between Mami and Sayaka. "Hello. I'm just here. I don't really want to fight. So. That's good." They seem to agree, which sets his mind at ease.

"But--which way do we go?" His eyes scan the maze of paths again, frowning at Mami's suggestion. "Be careful." The purple stone at the pommel of his weapon pulses as Endo hefts it, adding helpfully: "I'll try to be a good distraction."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Brand New Sidewalk https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wZ4NRo6X9Q

Sayaka crosses her arms defensively as layer after layer of hospital doors bursts open before her, the abstract journey finally depositing her in a dark bandagescape of a hospital. Lifting her chin, she regards the vast space with a sense of foreboding. But even as she looks, something's bubbling in her throat.

"Madoka-cha," she tries first, but she has to swallow. The second attempt has no such problem. "MADOKA-CHAAAAN! MADOKA!" Her voice carries out into the darkness, through the eyes of needles and through the teeming shadows. This place is surely not empty, but the knightly Puella Magi could not bear to be silent.

As the sound of her voice dies down without answer, she looks down to Eri coldly. "As if we'd be the ones to stab /you/ in the back," she fumes. Mami's presence soothes her a bit though. She inhales to calm herself. "Fine. I think we're all in agreement tonight. We work together to find Madoka-chan. Anything else can wait." She looks to Garnet, Nori, Endo, and Fuu for any objections.

Startled, Sayaka turns to Mami, blue eyes wide in the dark. "Senpai," she worries. Endo and Nori both seem to take it in stride, offering their support in two very different ways. Chewing her lip, Sayaka glances ahead into the Labyrinth. "I guess nobody's been in more Labyrinths than you," she says. Reluctantly, she steps away.

"All right, Shimanouchi, Anko." Her eyes lift to the third member of the Shepherds present. "Sailor Pluto. Let's go in together. We shouldn't just start attacking either; I'm not sure we can make it to the middle of such a big Labryinth if we don't make some progress before the Witch wakes up. But let's keep it watching us, too. Once we get further, we'll start to cause some trouble."

As the groups start advancing, Sayaka walks with them, but her steps falter. Pausing, she makes up her mind. "Keep going," she tells Garnet, then turns, running back to catch up to the departing Mami.

Eh-heh," she grins self-consciously as she confronts her senior. "Hey. Just..." Sayaka's posture is open and restless; it's like she wants to hug Mami, or squeeze her hand. But Mami has a rifle and Sayaka has a sword, and the group is leaving and Madoka is somewhere alone. Clearing her throat, Sayaka just bows at her a little, her pale bangs bobbing with it.

"See you in a minute," Sayaka says, head tilted a little, smile tilted winsomely the other way. With a quick nod and a swirl of white cape, she departs again.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It started as such a nice day.

But then, when doesn't it? Mai has long wondered if she should just forbid herself from having anything nice, ever again - it seems like nearly any time she indulges herself, any time she sets aside time to just relax, disaster is swift to follow in its wake. Logically, she knows it's a stupid idea - that disaster shows up anyway, that there's no connection. And yet, and yet...

Any time she tries to have a nice time, and then find out about something like this scant hours later, it hurts.

The morning had started off nicely. Plenty of leftovers for New Year's, ensuring a relaxing start to the year. On a whim, she'd grabbed Mikoto and called up Natsuki to check out the lights at Tokyo Bay - hopefully unmolested by trolls and wolves and singing ogres this year - and enjoy a nice lunch together. They'd chatted, they'd laughed, there'd been a funny-in-hindsight mixup with exactly what kind of 'apple cider' had been brought, and Mai had relished the chance to force Natsuki Kuga to be the responsible one of the trio for a change. A good time, but eventually they'd parted ways. Ideally, that would have been the end of the day.

"Shinjuku?..." The text came to her phone, interrupting a train ride back toward Southern Cross Island, and giving her something to focus on other than the slightest of headaches. The day with Natsuki had been fun yet eventful, but as a whole she was still smiling on the way home. That lasted right until the sudden message from Eri, which instead evoked a thoughtful frown. Rather than dwell too long, she leaned over to show it to her companion. "I feel like I'm missing some details here, Mikoto, but Eri-chan might..."

The reaction Mai's companion had to the text was...surprising. Maybe not totally - there had been suspicions lurking at the back of Mai's mind ever since the third time she found the clothes washer left set to cold water - but she'd managed to ignore it. Or maybe she'd been actively trying to ignore it - but it was becoming increasingly clear that Mikoto and Eri were Up To Something. When Mikoto declared, in reply to the message, that she was going to Shinjuku that she'd 'take care of things'...

...Mai followed without hesitation. She'd had to pull the emergency stop to do so, but the second the doors were as open as the window, she was in hot pursuit.

So this was Shinjuku. Demon City Shinjuku, as it might be swiftly renamed. For a moment, standing at the periphery of the twisted violation of the natural world, Mai could only stare and wonder how these kinds of horrors never made the news. Or perhaps, if they did, what language might be used...

"...oh so help me, that's the hospital." Before she could even think to recall her brother's schedule - realize that he would have no reason to be anywhere near her - Mai's passions spoke vehemently. She can picture some wailing song in the distance, as fires dance to her command - as her Element becomes manifest, golden rings seeming almost tarnished in the atmosphere. Reason gives her a moment's hesitation; Mikoto's relentless advance into the hellscape spurs her forward. As obsidian flashes to carve a path, crimson flame washes out to her sides to help blaze the trail.

"Mikoto, this is a bit too much for you to just 'take care of'! You - go away!" Finally, finally able to get three words out to Mikoto, the edge of panic is just barely sheathed - only to be exposed as Mai nearly screeches at a swarm of little Pyotrs. Throwing up a wall of flame to repel or incinerate them - she frankly could care less which - Mai runs to catch up to Mikoto, heedless of the everpresent danger. "Eri-chan totally undersold how bad things are - I thought these things had to stay inside those weird places! What are they even-"

And then the hospital doors swing open, practically howling with hunger to draw the HiME - and everyone else - inside.

Doors open in rapid succession as a wild freefall forward takes place. Mere powers of flight are of no avail, the force hungrier than seemingly possible. And then, amid a landscape of childish surgical gear, Mai finally, finally, stops with a thud. She and Mikoto both, it seems - Miroku helpfully missed slicing them both, but the two girls have made their arrival onto the stage of Chevaliers and Shepherds in a tangled heap.

The fiery-haired girl groans, scarcely able to move at first - but close enough to hear the burgeoning argument/negotiations between Eri, Mami, and the rest. It's devoid of context for her, but has just enough clues to begin to paint an ugly-seeming picture. Mai closes her eyes, already wishing she could just pretend this place doesn't even exist...

But it does exist. There's a monster here that has to be stopped. And Madoka - a sweet girl, frankly - is in peril. And Eri-chan called for help, at all costs. And Mikoto, offering her a hand up once the two of them are straightened out, is far more involved in this than she should be. Mai looks up with nearly-wet eyes, sorrow as she looks up at the hardened warrior who loves her food...

...and accepts the hand. Quietly, she murmurs an oath, gaze not quite meeting the dark-haired girl's. "You too, Mikoto. I'll take care of myself if you stay safe."

And then, they make their entrance into the treaty meeting. Her rings faintly glimmering in whatever strange light pervades this place, Mai calls out. "So are we being upgraded to 'diversions', now? How flattering, Tomoe." There's challenge in her gaze, though without raising a hand - and that gaze swiftly locks on to Eri. "Frankly, under the circumstances, a truce makes a stupid amount of sense. Count...me in, there." The faintest glance to Mikoto - hesitant to speak for her - then back to Eri, almost to the exclusion of everyone else. "I shudder to think what you've got to settle that makes declaring that kind of truce even necessary -but I've got too much catching up to do to get into that kind of history now."

Her hands are by her sides, not raised to begin a fight. Her voice is shaky in light of this whole atmosphere, but laced with a sarcastic bite. But her eyes...Mai's eyes, looking at the situation, looking at her Puella Magi friend, are faint embers of fury.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It started as such a nice day.

Cider is warm, and makes your head fuzzy, and everything's just a little bit funnier. They even got to see a new side to Natsuki! She acted /just/ like Mai, which was good, because Mai wasn't acting like Mai for once.

... it was nice. Mikoto likes it when Mai laughs. Natsuki joining in is good, too. As much as Mikoto still thinks Natsuki is a much different beast to Mai, she's been friendly with her for long enough that she's long since put aside her initial evaluation of Natsuki as an enemy. It happened so gradually, she didn't even notice when it happened - but she trusts Natsuki, because Natsuki is a Good Person.

Good people take care of their friends when they're... what was the word Natsuki used... 'tipsy'?

Yup, Natsuki's her friend, all right. It's good to have friends!

Yeah, it's good to have friends.


Sometimes, friends need things, too. And it's wrong to leave them alone when they ask for help.

And sometimes it's hard to explain when two friends need different things.

Mai gets the text message, because Mikoto doesn't have a phone - she tried to keep one, once, and broke it within a few days. Mai leans over and tilts the screen towards Mikoto, and Mikoto's smile fades into a pensive frown.

"... not normal," she explains, clarity cutting through her expression, knife-sharp. "Witches are invisible. Can't be found, unless you know how to look. It's warning." And a request.

Eri needs help.

Eri is her friend.

Mai is her friend, too, and both Mikoto and Eri don't want to involve her in this sorry business, but...

This is the sort of social engineering which Mikoto barely understands. Kozue would know what to do, as easily as breathing. Natsuki would probably understand how to approach it, even if she'd just be frosty in practice. Even people she doesn't know as well would be able to do it - like that student council girl.

Here's the issue: Mai got that text message.

Mai shouldn't get involved.

Mikoto has to get involved.

Chie and Aoi once told Mikoto about a logic puzzle. The farmer has a wolf, a sheep, and a bale of hay. He can only cross the river with two things at once. The wolf will eat the sheep if it's left alone, and the sheep will eat the hay. It left Mikoto's brain hurting for hours afterwards as she struggled to solve it, and then she promptly forgot all about it when Mai saw her looking sad and decided to get them ice cream.

She remembers it, now, and wishes she'd figured out the answer.

Mai is the sheep, the Witch is the wolf, and the hay is the tempting text message Eri has left.

It still doesn't make any sense to her.

"I gotta go," Mikoto says, finally, after a too-long pause, not quite meeting Mai's eyes. "Mai..."

Mai, Labyrinths are too dangerous for you. Mai, you'll get dragged into our war. Mai, you wouldn't understand. Mai, I love you. Mai, please don't go.

"... I'll take care of it, 'kay?"

Mikoto disappears out the window before she can get a reply.

She feels weird, and bad, and like she did the wrong thing. One friend needs help, another friend needs different help. It's complicated and messy and Mikoto never wanted this. She just wanted all her friends to be happy, and smile, and laugh. Where are her laughing friends? Where have they gone? There is always something else, something new to go wrong.

The familiars are terrifying, and alien, shadows of the women who help Mai's little brother in the hospital. Mikoto carves a path, unrelenting and fierce, screaming challenges with wide arcs of her blade.

Fire catches, here, and there, and Mikoto knows that she has failed, but she can't afford to turn back.

Familiars might be less powerful than Witches, but they'll still kill her if she falters.

And then Mai catches up, calling out to her, and as Mikoto glances back her eyes warn her immediately to the threat. She pivots on a heel, Miroku flashing obsidian as she leaps back the way she came to cut through a Polina advancing on Mai's other side. It's too practiced a motion, too easy for her to commit to snap actions and respond to the wyrd actions of the familiars. She's done this before.

She's done this before, and she's still near her limit. Mai can surely tell.

But before she can say anything, her gut's sucked forward, her stomach hitting the wall of her belly as she's yoinked forward, so quickly that the edges blur. Door after door after door swing open, like the jaws of a beast sucking them inside.

She struggles to hold Miroku to the side, so it won't slice her into ribbons. It's what saves her - and Mai - from having an unfortunate accident as she finally come to a stop, crashing together in a pile. Mikoto groans, the wind knocked out of her, but she knows there's no time to lie there. So she struggles to distangle herself from the person she loves, the person she never wanted to involve in this, even though her limbs feel all heavy and tingly.

She pulls herself up to a sitting position, finally, and frowns at her friend. "Mai..."

Mai, you've put yourself in great danger. Mai, I don't know if I can protect you. Mai, you were never meant to see this. Mai, I don't know what to do. Mai, I'm sorry.

Mikoto shakes her head, and stands, and offers Mai a hand up instead. "... be careful."

She can hear Eri's voice, and the voices of her enemies, calling for truce. She squeezes Mai's hand, and starts walking towards them, eyes darting this way and that as she leads her to the other humans - and Puella Magi - like an oasis of normality in this desert of nonsensical hospital items. She's looking for trouble, because she's in a Labyrinth, and there will always be trouble.

A taste like copper in the back of her throat. The hairs on the back of her neck, raising like a cat's. The smell of ozone. These are the things which suggest a Witch's foul play. These are the things she has to listen to. Her senses will lie to her as they try to comprehend something eldritch, but she just has to focus. She can't afford to let Mai down. She's just a human, and she doesn't belong here, and she's prey. But she's hunted here before. She just has to win. She hopes Eri didn't feel this, bringing her out, teaching her these things. This feeling is hard, and bitter, and clenches Mikoto's heart in a vice-grip.

Her eyes fall on Fuu, Sayaka, Mami, and the others. Eri called for a truce. Eri is the one Mikoto follows, on the matters of Puella Magi business. "Truce," she concludes, after a moment, with a nod.

The fact that she knows what they're talking about so implicitly...

There are definitely things Mikoto has been doing without Mai's knowledge.

Mai knows that, now, and it hurts Mikoto to glance back and see the fire in her eyes.

But she can't focus on that now. They're in a Labyrinth. They have someone to rescue, something to hunt. Mikoto's hands tighten around Miroku's grip, and her nostrils flare as she sniffs, always glancing, always wary.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Umbra Nigra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDLUUZgy9Dk

This is a hungry place. Nothing satisfies it -- despite its very substance being a dreamland of goodies, it always wants more. It starts by eating noise. Screams disappear into the distance, unanswered. Nothing is audible until it's practically right on top already (as the HiME and Puella Magi were, to each other). There are a lot of sudden noises from other sources, too. Skittering. Scratching. The hollow drumming click-clack of low-heeled shoes.

It's hungry for attention, too. Everything is just a little bit, or a lot bit, too strong; the colors, the smells, the heat. It's not just too much of a good thing, it's the way that intensity can pervert expression, changing something from what it was even though it is, supposedly, only itself but moreso. Yet no matter how boldly the chocolate smells like chocolate, it makes itself even more inadequate. It's not /right/. It's more wrong by the second. Something else is required. Something more.

Perhaps in response to the activity at the crossroads, perhaps on its own unknowable, irreconcilable timer, there's a flare of light up ahead. It is breathtakingly lovely in the way that a single candle in the darkness can be, for that's exactly what it is. But transformed for this economy of scale -- the white twist through the red wax is utterly appropriate for a birthday decoration, but it's stuffed into a cupcake taller even than Sailor Pluto (who provides the high water mark for height in most any company).

There are huge desserts jumbled all over the place, scattered recklessly, dented or crumbling. It's like walking through the ill-used feast of a giant. Be it chocolate bar or cookie, oozing ice cream sandwich or pile of immense gumballs, the sweetness wasteland provides form to the labyrinth, walls and also, occasionally, doors. It is hard to know which is which, at times, but the doors are always subtly marked with a squeamishly weird imprint of some kind. Usually something with eyes.

One such portal awaits on the far side of the candle. When is a door not a door? When it's a cookie with a chocolate chip knob.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Wouldn't you?" Is Eri's response to Sayaka, perhaps playing coy with her question- but not. Suddenly she's very glad that Pluto was behind her. Acting like some anchor, some source of support in this chaotic sort of stormfront. "It won't be necessary..." Eri repeats as her eyes float over the other Chevaliers- passing over Nori's piercing pale eyes, landing on Garnet for a short while. It's not as if she senses her inner turmoil. She just remembers the battle from before. They return to Mami after- "I'll hold you to that."

She can't really argue with Mami's plan though. She had the most experience navigating corridors of places like this. And yet... she still feels reluctance to letting Mami go forward alone, "Bring her back safe, Tomoe."

Come back safe - is not something she can bring herself to say to Mami anymore, even if some distant part of her feels it.

There's a familiar voice though, and she spins around- "Mai-chan... look..." Her teeth work down on the bottom part of her lip before any explanation can come out. How long had she been there? But Mai answers that much right away- more with the faint embers in her eyes than any actual response. And Eri seems to wither under it for half a second- "Yeah." -before she meets them- with all the placidity she can manage before the inferno she knows is within Mai, "Yeah. We'll catch up later."

A hand touches down on Mikoto's shoulder briefly, as she ducks near her ear and whispers, "Thanks... and..." Her hand drifts off Mikoto's shoulder, her next comment as quiet as a whisper, "...I'm sorry." An apology for putting her in this position.

Sayaka starts offering directions, and while normally she'd prickle under her trying to give them- it's something she agrees with as she addresses the other Shepherds, "Miki-san's right. Let's stick together and make a little noise once we get further in, but save up your strength for the heart."

But she notices how Sayaka is falling back and for a moment she wonders if she's falling back to make plans to see her skewered from behind. Her gaze turns just enough- to see Sayaka's little bow in front of Mami before the two part ways with a swirl of a white cape. She tears her eyes away- that's not something she wanted to see.

It's not something she wanted to see at all.

A hand flexes over the coils of a lash as she paces herself into a light run through the labyrinth. It's a glutton's paradise- twisted into a circle of hell here where nothing is delicious nor satisfies. Her eyes drift over to her senpai despite herself, not that Kyouko would be taking any meals.

The flare of light as they get further causes her to shield her eyes as they come to a mountain range of confectioneries and the melting wax in the center. "Alright- start setting off it's alarm a little, but- let it keep mashing it's snooze button if it wants." For her part all she does to start things off is to flick out her lash with a whoosh-crack of sound as it strikes nothing but air, sending an echo thundering everywhere. Maybe a few Pyotrs will cast a glance, or what she imagines is a glance in the awareness of a familiar. If it draws a couple, and they have to take a swing, she won't complain.

She's not doing much more right now. She still remembers- that eye. If this was worse than that? What would they do? She glances up beside herself to the tip top of an oozing ice cream bar- as if wondering if something might swing down from the ceiling. But on the other side is a not chocolate chip cookie because it's a door, she comes to a stop on the edge of a puddle of melted dry wax to look at the others. "Anyone want to field that one?"

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Hold me to it as you need to," Mami answers Eri. But then the blonde brings up her plan, and has it heard. Mami nods to Endo seriously, as if she will be careful. "I'll do the best that I can." La Sirene gets a slight bow, a glance down at Mami's own arms. "I'm sure it will help. Thank you," she murmurs. Sayaka however gets something different; she gets a serious look that waits for an answer, rather than demanding it as senpai. Her amber eyes are large, soft. But Sayaka relents, and Mami inclines her head again. "Don't worry so much, Sayaka-chan." There's a faint smile. ...It's brief, but it's there.

Mami's eyes linger on Eri at what she says, and she dips her head more deeply than her other nods. "...That's why I'm here," Mami answers, and lets her gaze linger a couple of heartbeats longer, a second more.

Two others break her gaze. Anything like a smile fades at seeing Mikoto and Mai, and Mami holds her rifle carefully while keeping her eye on the girl with the big sword. They agree to the truce and Mami untenses slightly, but she still looks to Mai and shakes her head. "I don't have time for this." Mami looks at Mai a little longer, and starts to depart--in a different direction from the others.

But she doesn't take off so quickly at first that Sayaka can't catch up with her; he pauses, when she hears familiar footfalls behind her, turning around to face her junior. "Sayaka-chan...?" But there's a greeting there, and there's something in Sayaka's posture, in the way she stands and fidgets and looks at her. Mami keeps hold of her rifle, and watches Sayaka bow to her, tracing the lines of her hair and her face.

Mami starts to smile, and Sayaka turns away. "All right, Sayaka-chan!" She waves to her with one hand, and that same hand falls to rest over her heart, as if it's a little piece of that moment.

Mami turns, and starts forward again into the Labyrinth, on her own.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Shaking her hand once above her head to return Mami's wave, Sayaka jogs up to rejoin the group of Chevaliers (and Fuu), falling into step with Garnet, then falling out of step with Garnet immediately due to the latter's vastly superior height. She power-walks a little to catch back up, head down, keeping her own counsel for once. She lets the scenery pass unremarked for a little while.

Catching a breath, she looks to Garnet, as if about to say something, but she closes her mouth again and lets her eyes wander. She watches Mai and Mikoto for a few seconds, then speaks in that direction instead.

"You don't know, huh?" she asks Mai. "Shimanouchi really didn't tell you anything." Shaking her head, she lets her sword arm out to the side, the tip catching and dragging on the floor. It severs the bandage-path as they walk over it, and slides sinuously through the surface of candy-floors when they pass those. "MADOKA!" she shouts again. "Madoka-chan!" From the corner of her mouth, she addresses Mai without looking, this time.

"Did she tell you what happened at the Metropolitan Building?"

The food in this place is revolting somehow in how delicious it looks. Sayaka watches a group of Pyotrs pushing an oversized maraschino cherry up a mound of frosting, and flings her sword sharply, skewering it and knocking it off into the darkness somewhere. The resemblance to a little cocktail sword makes Sayaka snort briefly, as the Pyotrs scurry off in a hurry to retrieve the cherry, and others start to gather at the edges of the light to watch. "Good," she says. "Watch us." She raises her voice. "Look at all of us intruders! We're gonna go kill your boss!" She feels her heart pound as she waits for a reaction, but none comes. "I don't think they get it," she tells Garnet.

As they arrive at last at the cookie-door, Sayaka taps the ground with her sword as she considers Eri's question. "Hey, Endo-kun," she says. "You told me your special power was your sword. Sterb, right? Can I see what Sterb can do?" She points to the cookie-door with her swordtip.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Pluto [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Sayaka's plan appeals to Sailor Pluto, especially since the senshi is still loathe to expend herself early when there's no telling how long they'll be in this... this place. She has never in her long long life had occasion to visit a hospital before, and now she hopes she never does again, eyeing one magical girl-sized hypodermic syringe as the group advances through the labyrinth. Eri's distaste makes perfect sense to Pluto, now.

The fervid sweetening of the terrain does nothing to ease her trepidation, though she allows none of her revulsion to show. The birthday cupcake's candle, in particular, offends the senshi, though she cannot quite say why.

She /can/ do something about it, and keep all those teeming eyes on them at the same time.

Tall as she already is, Sailor Pluto becomes a titanium lightning rod when she raises the Rod with its Orb up above the group. "Shall we have our own light in the darkness?" It's rhetorical, answered by a radiant twinkling of clean red beams as they fall across the traveling company and their sugar-infested surroundings alike. Pluto takes special care to make sure the brightest rays focus like lasers on the lurking familiars and all those creepy graven door-eyes.

She stays by Eri's side as possible, never letting her get too far -- all too cognizant of the overcurrent of tension and the potential for events and attitudes to turn.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

A place of grim reality, wrapped in gauche unreality... ganache unreality.

Garnet worries for Mami, but doesn't dare check the future. This sort of place, where monsters could coalesce out of seemingly nowhere, where thousands upon thousuands of deaths could visit each of them at any moment... She'll trust the Puella's experience, and hope for the best.

But she'll help how she can, and Garnet accentuates every movement she can with deliberate, almost obscene displays of disruptive force. push frosting out in small waves as she wades through it, stomping feet sending air bubbling up to escape from below.

A giant fist bonking down, that's how the cookie crumbles. She keeps moving forward as Sayaka directed en route to the door, but at every opportunity to grab a piece of sugary scenery, she obliges, seemingly eager to have something to constantly break in her hands.

Gumdrops? Squeezed into barbel shapes. Chocolate bars? Break em! Sprinkles? Snap them like bundles of twigs! Cookies, Crumble them, Ice cream sandwiches? Punch holes in the spongey cookie and let the ice cream bleed out. (So glad you aren't here to see this Steven, no cat shapes so far.) She leaves a trail of dessert waste in her wake, and her mind is on Mami. She didn't get to say goodbye with the others... She'll see her when she gets back with Madoka in tow. Mami is capable, she can do it. She'll come back...

Garnet's thoughts drift to Mai, she's glad to see her again, but if Mai is friends with Eri, right now Garnet has no words that would be of comfort to her. Sayaka alludes to some of it, Garnet stays silent.

To Madoka... hang in there Madoka... wherever you are, and flicks back to Eri, and that's when she breaks something and tries to think of someone else.

She'd heard Fuu and Sayaka talking, about Fuu and Hikaru having left the Chevaliers. Things had been so hectic, the battles so fierce and sudden, Garnet regrets that she hadn't noticed.

She can't blame the Magic Knights as harshly as some of the other girls who willingly fight for Eri. This is a horrible situation, she sometimes wishes she was the kind of being that could even entertain walking away from the conflict...

But she isn't... she can't. She won't. Garnet looks around in a moment of desperation and picks up a disc of cinnamon candy breaking it to dust in her hands with the last thought... Mikoto... that's too complicated... Endo... it's good to see him here, good to see those just fighting for what's right.

Sayaka speaks to her, about the monsters not getting it... and Garnet raises her arms in obligation, and fires two rocket gauntlets upwards, away from the group, and away from where she thinks Mami is.

Another, and Another, they explode away from them, though Garnet doesn't look where.

Maybe a lot of little distractions will catch the eyes, but not on the group, exactly....

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

All this sugary sweetness hangs in the air like a rendering plant. La Sirene would blanch but she's already rather pale, and her stomach cramps as she walks ahead. Is she hungry? No, that would be rather endearing in its way. She tastes a little alkaline bile in the back of her throat, even as Sayaka addresses Mai.

Sayaka's calling to Madoka - calling /out/ the Witch and its minions... does that really work? Here too she must defer to the experts.

La Sirene du Nord sucks in a deep breath as she steps forwards, even as Endo is called upon to address the door.

La Sirene has always been hesitant about her voice, and raising it. Right now she cares much less. Tilting her head back, she calls - shrieks - screams - bellows - it has qualities like the low ponderous echoes of foghorns too -




This may interrupt side conversations briefly, of course, but it doesn't blow out eardrums. Probably not. Maybe if you're RIGHT next to her.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Did she tell you what happened at the Metropolitan Building?

There's a spasm of anger and an almost guttural growl from her throat, as if Miki had just thrown fuel on the fire. Her eyes smolder with hatred, and she whirls on her like she's going to break the truce right there.

So you're right, I don't like it. And if you actually have a choice - a real choice, mind you - then please, take it.

She works that fury down, swallows that hatred- for just a moment.

"Don't. Just- don't Miki. I'll tell her after this. The truth. All of it."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mikoto glances to Eri as she flits over to her, a hand briefly on her shoulder. There are complicated emotions on her face - concern, and wariness, and even a little fear. Eri apologises, and Mikoto shakes her head. "Eri needed help," she whispers back, "and I love Eri."

As much as Eri's put her in a difficult position, that can't change.

Her own footsteps are quick, hurried to make up for her small size; Miroku drags on the ground beside her, cutting a light gash through the path. The wounds throw up the cloying stench of confectionary, especially as its obsidian edge catches on a length of taffy or a sour snake.

It's wrong. It stinks. It's not like the cafe Mai used to work at, where sweets and coffee-with-cream and fresh fruit garnish filled the air. The scent forces itself down her sniffing nose, catches in her throat, threatens to fill her lungs with off-brand icing.

Mikoto sticks to the outskirts of the group. Now and then, she plants her feet and swings her blade around, cutting through a slice of cake, a chocolate-coated nut.

She does not swing at Sayaka, even as the other girl tries to drag Mai further into their war. But she glares at her, expression dark and hateful for the few moments she's willing to focus on one thing. She soon breaks her gaze to keep watch on the dark corners. She can't afford to nurse a grudge so sharply, not here.

Eri tries to help, tries to reassure her. Mikoto says nothing. What could she say? How could she explain this? She can't. She's so bad at organising her thoughts into words, making those words convincing. She's not an orator, she's a warrior.

There's that thought again, that sick-acrid feeling that she's done something wrong, that she's been caught doing bad. Mikoto forces it down, swallowing thickly against the bitter taste of what might have been cream, in an adjacent universe.

She yells, wordless, as she cleaves through a jawbreaker, splitting it in two with a single obsidian slice. As the rainbow halves fall to the ground, she sees a Pyotr skittering away. She focuses on it, on the others in the shadows. Here is an enemy she can fight. Here is a conflict she can win. Everything else can wait.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo proceeds, down the hall and toward the mountains of sweets. He keeps close to the rest of the group, watching Mami vanish before falling in step with the group of magical girls that's formed here at the crossroads. There's a bit of awkwardness at the tension, but the only thing to do is to go forward. The light Sailor Pluto provides is helpful, especially for drawing more attention from the gathered familiars.

He doesn't notice the Pyotr that emerges from the frosting of the cupcake above and clambers delicately down the side. He does notice when it free-falls off the side to drop onto his shoulder. There's a second of panic when it sinks teeth into armor, and then Endo's hand wrests the creature free and tosses it to the ground. It meets his boot soon after.

"Yaa, these things are the worst." Endo complains. His attention returns to the task at hand when Sayaka addresses him, the boy bowing his head in affirmative. "Yeah, Sayaka-san. We can do that." He doesn't correct her pronunciation, it might not seem like the right place for it. If his weapon disapproves of its new name it doesn't say so.

"I think I've still got a bit of energy left after last time. Stern?"

I AM PREPARED FOR A DOOR. The device responds in its ugly, synthesized Germanic.

"Alright. I don't think we have to hold back...so--"

DESTROYING. ZERSTORUNG DRANG. Purple light floods across the surface of the blade, pouring from vents and tracing circuit-like patterns across the dark metal. Then Endo leaps. He arcs toward the cookie that stands in their way, falling like a comet and swinging the weapon in a huge overhand blow. The blade comes crashing down through the sickly sweet door not with just physical force, but with an explosion of violet energy. There's enough force behind it to sheer a normal cookie--no matter how giant--in half. And if he has his way, blow out the entire wall behind it for good measure.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Who's There? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pS5soRsrKQ

There is no response to La Sirene's scream -- none at all.

It's hard to know what feels more threatening, more dangerous; the oppressive silence answering a siren's call, or the way the whole realm seems to shake from the might of Endo's blow. There are trembling aftershocks. It is impossible that nothing took notice. But what would be indifferent to such agony, yet take such interest in an explosion?

The door -- no, the wall -- opens into a totally different space. Gone is the candy, replaced with high walls of syringes, all of them empty, all of them flushed. All are too big to hug all the way around -- not that they're very huggable to begin with.

Garnet light from an ancient, timeless artifact spills forward. Like the rest of this place, like everything here, it's consumed hungrily, not able to illuminate nearly as much as it ought. But it banishes the shadows an extra little bit, and allows some details to come to light that might have been missed, otherwise.

Like the cheerful yellow scrubs wadded in between two plunging needles. Only scraps remain, the hems jagged with stressed, violenced threads.

Further along, there's half of a bright yellow plastic bulldozer, the sort of toy that might be given to a toddler in a waiting room. Half, because the other half is missing. Deep, irregular grooves suggest that it was attacked by something sharp.

A yellow fall risk alert bracelet. It looks... stained, with something darker, something now brown.

Through the hazy translucence of the empty syringes, it feels like there might be more objects strewn on the far side of the wall. But there's no time to investigate -- there's no time at all.

A wall of Pyotrs is advancing down the corridor at high speed -- their rat-tail limbs eager to catch, to twist, to tear. It is at least eight Pytors high... a tsunami of familiars.

There is another door on their far side, where the hallway terminates. Its surface looks like marshmallow.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

So here they are. The trappings of the hospital have given way to an ocean of sweets, candies and chocolate and a cupcake the size of a car. (A carcake? Thoughts for another day.) In the wake of rampant slaughter without, perhaps, the Familiars seem to be keeping their distance - but even to Mai's senses, honed largely by battles outside these labyrinthine realms, there's a sense of tension, the promise of ambush.

That tension has nothing on the ties between erstwhile allies and friends.

Confronted by guilt as deep as a forest, Mai nearly wavers. Her gaze holds firm, but her hands - aching to clench into fists - start to fall slack. But then, there's an answer - perhaps not as forthcoming as she might have liked, but an answer. The fury fades as Mai lids her gaze, nodding curtly. "Yeah, later. After all this. I'll get the coffee."

It's a serious talk that lies in the future, and Mai wonders how much laughter there can be, from here.

She can't quite hear what Eri says to Mikoto - whether apology or conspiracy, only her sense of faith can say. Right now...anger burns too hot for Mai to be fair, and she knows it. If only to quell that passion, she turns her attention to the rest of those gathered, beginning her own trek forward. Mami's departure does not get a direct answer - just a not-that-carefully-hidden scoff, and a grumbling under her breath. Although...

Mai Tokiha has had just enough earnest conversations with Mami Tomoe to draw a few uncomfortable parallels between the two of them, and seeing how close the gun-wielding girl is to the swordswoman Sayaka Miki is...strangely awkward. Mai averts her gaze quickly, focusing back on Mikoto for a moment.

But then Sayaka is addressing Mai directly, drawing the HiME's attention in a hurry. She eyes the dragging sword, thoughts churning in suspicion - and then there's a plainly put question. One that nearly shatters the truce then and there, and it's Mai's turn to stagger at Eri's fury. A quiet gasp, at the sheer hatred in that response, the HiME's eyes flashing between the two of them as tension clenches in her jaw.

"...there's a lot I haven't been told. But to be fair, there's a lot I wasn't asking about." She's calm. Mai Tokiha is calm. Never mind that the hard candies she steps on dribble away in her wake, ignore the flames wreathing her Element. She doesn't look at Eri, she doesn't look at Sayaka, she simply speaks to them as her steps leave them behind. "I was stupid enough to try to believe that things would just work themselves out peacefully, and now there's who knows how many deathmatches being put on hold only because the monster here is slightly more pressing."

Mikoto is...distant. Mai's furious walk forward slows, for a moment, as she watches the dark-haired girl fighting at the fringes - but Mikoto knows what she's doing here. Mikoto knows how to fight in these places all too well. Mikoto's been getting drawn into this dangerous life for who knows how long, and Mai just looked the other way.

Gauntlets detonate, providing terrific noise to cause a thousand diversions. Endo unleashes enough force to open a door and smash a skyscraper - enough to make Mai gasp in sheer stupefied shock. But then...that's the nature of labyrinths, isn't it? A space apart from the world, totally expendable. And so she's free to let some of her feelings about the situation show.

Sometimes, it's a shield. Sometimes, it's a lash. Sometimes, it's a snaring embrace - but always, always it is flames. Today, it is the inferno - as the way is opened, Mai swings out an arm in silent command - sending out a wave of flame to burn away wax, to melt sugar into caramel into glass, to blaze and burn and just devour what lies before her. Chocolate melts - not as sweetly as a few days ago - and icing runs and gummies shatter and little Pyotrs are consumed. It's not the dragon, but it's as close as the fiery 'princess' can claim on her own.

As burning sugar gives way to burning scrubs and melting plastic and whatever else lies in this place, Mai walks forward, and unleashes flames again, and again, and again. Standing in the inferno, she looks foward at what comes next.

This is fine.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mikoto is distant, fighting at the edges, keeping everyone safe because she can't use her words, can't make it okay. The Pyotrs do not bother to answer her challenges as she slices through cake and chocolate, hiding in the shadows and watching with unseen eyes.

She watches as Endo blasts through the door, a dark blade with purple energy. She glances down at Miroku, shifting her grip on the claymore as she reflects, briefly, on their similarities. She wonders if Endo has a blood-debt, too. She wonders if he must guard his Stern with his life. She wonders, but she doesn't ask, doesn't do anything more than study him for a moment.

(She doesn't know whether he's an enemy or not, after all. It seems likely that he might be, the way Sayaka spoke to him. It's too bad.)

The room opens out into a different vista, gigantic syringes looming over them like a forest, calling attention to the sheer lack of other decorations. Pluto's garnet light illuminates the yellow hints - a bracelet, cloth scraps, half a toy.

And enemies, pouring towards them like a wave.

Mikoto springs forward, not waiting for confirmation from the others, acting on her first instinct. She swings her blade in an arc, cutting through three flushed syringes arranged in a line, the angle curving downward with each slice as gravity takes hold. The angle at which she's cut them will send them crashing down - hopefully right on top of the wave, breaking their momentum and their ranks.

She thinks she smells even more of that cloying confection-smell, released by the trunks of those syringes, and Mikoto fights back a gag as she jumps back to the party, to defend the people she loves - especially the one who shouldn't be here.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Pluto [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

Pluto lets the barbed words of her companions pass around her, only paying attention insomuch as she monitors them for any signs of impending violence. Still, even the millennia-tempered composure of a Time Guardian doesn't protect against Siren-caliber shrieking. The howled syllables of Madoka's name buffet Pluto's eardrums and she winces visibly, swears she can see the Garnet Orb's illumination distort as soundwaves rip across the crimson beams. Or maybe that's just the suppressive aura of the Labyrinth.

Endo strikes, detonating door and wall alike to expose a harrowing array of bad medicine, and it's clear they've raised more than enough ruckus. Teeming Pyotrs like so much eyeball-shaped seafoam surge at them, and Pluto lets the garnet light wink out in favor of a new tack.

With the Rod still aloft, she begins to whirl it, an aftertrail of crimson streaking behind the Orb. Sailor Pluto traces an ever-tightening spiral in the air, until a spinning vortex of red twirls overhead.

"Garnet... Blast!"

Down the Rod snaps, directing tornadic energy at the oncoming wave of enemies, and Pluto tries not to think of kaleidoscope-eyed cats scattering before a similar blast. Not that watching those strange eye-creatures is much better...

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet follows Mikoto's lead to help the swordscat with her assault. The Cheveliers kept Garnet safe from a wave of these... things... on the way to the hospital, and she's going to help repay that here.

Her arms glow with transformative light and expand, and expand, and expand, becoming monstrously huge and black each one easily 15 feet wide! Once Mikoto crashes the syringes on top of them, and Puu follows up with a tornadic blast of gravity, both disrupting the wave's momentum, Garnet sees her chance to press them back, and she does, bulldozing her massive hands forward against as many as she can block!

She strains against their numbers, and tries to crush them how she can, then channels electricity into her arms, hoping to weaken and stun as many as they can.

Garnet struggles and holds, ready to release if given the word to run by someone opening the door, or to clear for someone preparing a grand attack for the pyotrs she's barely keeping at bay.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Endo is relieved when cleansing fire comes to plug the hole that he's made. Half-kneeling from the force of the blow he delivered, his eyes had just a moment to take in the walls of syringes before the tsunami of Pyotr began their advance. The sheets of flame Mai conjures forth are worrying in their intensity, but the result is positive: the knight isn't immediately flattened by the advancing mass.

The rain of syringe shards disloged by Mikoto's mighty blows and Garnet's effort to stem the tide help give him the time to get to his feet proper before the first few Pyotrs--some afire, other embedded with glass--make it to him. The sword he carries still burns with energy, a pillar of purple-black flame that sweeps out to meet the familiars leaping toward him. Contrails follow behind the blade, as do Pyotr-puffs as they're split in half.

His allies provide the cover for some small advance, picking off whatever makes it past the faithful, imposing wall that is Garnet. He does his best to keep anything from getting at her from behind, taking the chance to pay the crystal gem's leader back for the numerous times she's helped in fights against forces equally sinister.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

It's not as if Eri lied to Mai...

... but she did omit things Mai didn't ask about. That's just as bad though, when it's about that. She has no defense except...

She wanted to hold onto some things for as long as she could. And that's no good defense at all.

Mai acknowledges it, and Eri rakes quivering fingers up past her soul gem, through the bangs over her forehead, and back, even as a sirene like shriek takes her ears- and she shifts it for some coverage. She takes a breath, and paces herself down the way, through sights that she sincerely wished didn't resonate with her. She'd like to say that she doesn't want to fight these death matches. She'd like to. But does it matter when she's willing to?

Endo blasts through the door, and wall behind, and wrong feeling- smelling pieces of hardened dough and chocolate rain down on her. She swipes it away angrily.

And as they move on- "Please." She responds politely to the rhetorical- even as Sailor Pluto's light is consumed by this place and broken child's toys- as if it were destroyed by the maw of something large.

But there's no time. There's just lines and lines of Pyotrs. Eri crouches down low to smack a hand to the floor. There's a fan-like wave of emerald energy which spreads outwards, and a wave of sharpened sticks grow explosively out of the ground at the upcoming wall in odd angles. She times this half after Sailor Pluto's blast- as if to defend her against the rest that might still be coming.

The few that still come after the Senshi's blast towards the two of them- just skewer themselves on the impromptu pikes with a rip-shriek like high pitched shredding paper. Then she leaps up off one foot into a spinning axel, flicking her lash outward in a whirling lash that scours the upper ranks; striking at a few that were aiming at Mikoto's flanks and slapping them away. Mikoto fights with her own savagery, and Eri watches her back almost instinctively.

It's like the two of them have done something like this together a time- or three... or twenty. She doesn't need to offer instruction or advice to her- because the other girl knows what to do.

She knows what to do too well.

And she pretends not to notice them all like carmelized sugar and melted plastic under Mai's fury- flicking a glob of it off her boot as she lands.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka's eyes shift to the side as Eri speaks, her sword flicking up from the floor as her fingers reassert their grip on the hilt. It's the only sign of a physical response ash she regards her former friend coldly. After a moment she looks back to Mai, and keeps her eyes there as she responds to Eri.

"Mami-senpai is my hero. Think about that, when you hear what happened." Her face is sallow as she returns her gaze forward. "Maybe you don't know people like you think you do."

She gets her smile back a bit when Garnet's fists fly off and pound stuff. It's good for the soul, to feel understood.

And then Endo blows the door right through the wall, taking much of the wall with it and slamming it all into ANOTHER wall.

"Hyu-hyu~!" Sayaka chirps her admiration, twirling her sword like a cartoon cat would twirl its own tail.

The legion of Pyotrs within is held back by great wave-like attacks from her allies, from the flame of Mai to the eerie magicks of Sailor Pluto. Sayaka lacks any such abilities, but she doesn't lack for daring, nor the taste for derring-do. "Going over!" she alerts Garnet, and a moment later her boot clomps down on Garnet's shoulder, then pushes off as she leaps into the trapped corral of familiars that Garnet has created. The moment after that, a clump of them is tossed in the air, and smaller sprays of them follow, visible to Endo behind the 'wall' as though Sayaka were splashing around in the 'water' over there.

"Go, go, go!" she urges, letting some of the Pyotr bite her as they may; they're not heavy enough to slow her without a real pig-pile, and her flashing sword keeps them from managing that as she advances. "We need to get to the Witch fast! Now that it's awake this will just get worse and worse!" Sayaka punts a Pyotr at the wall. "Somebody destroy that stupid marshmell--"

The Pyotr that Sayaka punted bounces off the wall and nearly hits Sayaka in the face, forcing her to jerk her head to the side. "What's with all the yellow stuff?" she grumbles sourly, hewing about her back and forth with deep swordstrokes.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

This is a terrible place, la Sirene thinks as she moves forwards, through the demolished door. Her mind is on the silence she received in reply after her call, and she does not, understandably, speak up more in the meantime.

The burst of flame from Mai makes her lift her head, though, in time to leave her own thoughts, which are tending towards the morbid and anxious. Instead she sees the Pyotrs, which at least give her feelings a /cause/.

As la Sirene raises her lantern once more, preparing that familiar charm, she gives Sayaka's remark about Eri a firm nod, before declaiming, "Les Mysteres..."



"COME" /fwommm/ and the bursting black and silver smashes ahead, perhaps just perfectly squared to break that incoming wave.

She doesn't have much she can do for the marshmallow, at least this moment.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Magia ver. MIDORI ORGEL https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO60_FL7wVw

You can't break your way through a labyrinth -- it has its own rules, and they do not yield easily to the mere application of brute force. So it is that Mikoto's widespread syringe-wall destruction does not open up a new path, so much as it shows the end of another one.

Well. Ones. Dead ends, plural. And not just for many Pyotr, who are crushed by the tumbling tubes, sheared by the shattering shards.

Because behind the 'wall', there are just more syringes, rows and rows of them, unevenly stabbed. Every needle ends at the floor, but only by impaling a hospital bed which is jarringly real in this unreal place. They smell like reality, which is to say, like antiseptic, and something else too, something underlying, that triggers gag reflexes easily.

Stuffing oozes from pillows, from mattresses.

The bed are all empty... but they used to be full. Absence is a powerful presence, here, especially with the little tokens left behind. Wilting flowers. A teddy bear. Scattered charts, some of them dated from as long as two weeks ago, though an easier way to get at that detail is from a meal tray, its contents scattered, the mold and rot telltale.

How does something grow extraordinarily big and strong?

Why are the most recent generations each taller than their parents?


Focus, focus on the battle. There are too many Pyotrs for even Mikoto to dispatch alone, but she's not alone, of course. There's fire and stranger, older energies; massive hands, massive swords -- smaller ones, too. Plasmic plant pikes -- rushing blasts of black and silver. In the end the line is held by Garnet and Endo, then broken in four distinct places, by Sayaka's charge and Eri's pike and Pluto and La Sirene's blasts.

Through these gaps, Mai's fire roars, consuming the small army from all quadrants at once, and the marshmallow, too.

The way is clear.

So, through the next door, at last! It is still relatively shadowy and dessert-free, but everything is relative. Because while there's no super-sized donuts, there are some normal-sized ones, hanging down overhead, suspended from strings on bloodied hooks, like bait. There are cookies, too, and an assortment of candies. Each is marked with an identifying word in ominous red.


This does generally seem to be a space for cataloguing; in lieu of walls, plastic and glass specimen jars hover in midair. Each one is marked with the face of the particular Pyotr who took the saple, signed with a series of runes, and inside waits a strawberry or a slice of cake, an impossibly frozen upside-down sorbet cone.

It isn't quiet for long. Heralding the next wave of opposition, a snow of bluewhite capsules sprinkles downwards from some unknown pharmecutical cloud, invisible in the darkness overhead.

A moment later, the space is filled with those too-tall, too-thin, too-pink Polinas, with their all-too-full syringes of liquidized, tormented rainbow, and their scapels, forceps, scissors, needles... they boil out of the darkness, jars tinkling as they part, out of the way of the nurses' passage.

Things are tight. The whole group is surrounded. They've got each others' backs, but that also means that certain kinds of offenses are as likely to harm friend as foe.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

2017-03-03 - Intermezzo Charlotte

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Credens Justitiam - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA1vhF87D7g

From further ahead comes a distant sound. Deeper within the Labyrinth is the echo of gunfire, one shot and then many shots at once, then more again. It doesn't stop... But it does go more rapid, more staccato.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai could lose herself here.

The wave of monsters - familiars, gumdrops with teeth and tails, Pyotrs - whatever they're called, they're clearly not even close human. Clearly enemies. Easy to put to the torch. She could just stand in the inferno, throw away thoughts of love or compassion, and be just fury and determination. The place they've all found themselves in, this Labyrinth...it's horrible, facade of cheer torn away with every sweet turned monstrosity. And yet...because of that horror, it's almost liberating. The part of her that wants to curl up into a fetal ball of quivering terror at every new horror is matched by the part of her that wants to burn the place to the ground.

To venture into these places, day after day...what would that do to someone?

As flames reach out to sear away the horde, safely hidden by the veil of fire she's conjured, Mai lets her shoulders slump. For a moment, she wants to confess her inner feelings - that part of her wants to condemn the path Eri's chosen, that part of her wants to forgive everything, that she's torn between sympathy and hatred for Mami Tomoe, that she's furious at the secrecy and overwhelmed with worry about all the things that could have happened to her precious people...

But that would be a tangled mess. Clearing the air with Takumi would almost be easier.

Mai's attempt to get some space with a pyroclastic inferno ends abruptly, the wall of flame sinking down moments after the marshmallow door melts away. She's breathing a little heavily, as if her body just collected the IOU on venting her fury like that - and frankly the gap beyond the passageway holds promise of medical horrors she doesn't want to contemplate this instant. A moment, to glance to Garnet and Endo; a bit longer, to make sure that Eri and Mikoto are still all right. If Eri catches her gaze this time, there's more worry than fury - but whether that's an improvement is subjective.

As Mai gathers her strength to approach that ominous passage, she stops near Sayaka to finally answer her. "Just so you know, I'm afraid I don't share your opinion of your hero. I used to, once - but then she threatened to take me down for protecting my loved ones, and frankly it's been downhill from there. So thanks for the advice, but I've dealt with disappointment before."

And with that, it's onward, away from endless desserts and toward the medical aspect of this twisted place once again.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

At Sayaka's urging and the toasting of the marshmallow that sits in the way, Endo proceeds onward. He keeps with the rest of the group, leaving the other sword wielders to carve a path as he follows up at the rear. Both Sayaka and Mikoto's proficiency at cutting through the hordes of Pyotr make for an impressive display, Endo taking just a second to admire the assorted swordsmanship on display before he returns to the task at hand.

Endo's style of fighting probably leans closer to Mikoto's than anyone else's. Which makes getting pressed tight together with his allies somewhat difficult, considering the wide and reckless sweeps typical of his blade. Thankfully-maybe-when the lines close he's standing closest to the other giant sword wielder.

"Hey!" He doesn't know Mikoto, he might have seen her once or twice, but this is their first conversation. It's short: "I'll hold up this side, if you get that one!" Sword is raised, set toward the advancing line of monstrous nurses. The first one crashes into his blade, pliers sparking off dark metal before the familiar is swept aside by an arcing swipe.

The next comes, and Endo's sword lashes out again. There's not a lot of room to work in, things are tight, and the blade might come a hair too close to anyone around him-if not for interference.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Spinning on her heel to lift her cape up and wrap herself in it, Sayaka shields herself from Mai Tokiha's passing flame as it melts down the marshmellow. She likes her eyebrows just fine the way they are, thanks.

The next room is a welcome refuge of quiet, but it makes up for it with sheer creeping horror. Sayaka brushes her arms off (they're bitten and dusted with sugar) as she walks, panting her breath back. Silently, she finds Eri's eyes from across the room. Then she drops her gaze, speaking in a dull neutral tone.

"It's been here for weeks."

Those involved in the war can assign blame for that where they may, if they may.

The report of Mami's rifles brings Sayaka's head up with a beaming smile that no number of syringes can dim. "Senpai! Everyone, listen!" She looks around brightly, apparently not dissuaded from sharing her excitement even with Mai and Eri, when she's in the midst of it. She's always been that way. "Mami-senpai's up ahead! All right, let's go find her!"

The nurses emerge, shambling and horrifically armed. As the magical girls engage and break off into smaller clusters in the tight space, Sayaka falls in next to Garnet, crouching into a fighting stance alongside her as the enemy approaches. "You want another sword? Two, maybe?"

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet looks to the blue Puella and replies: "Six."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"Six?" Sayaka raises an eyebrow.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet nods.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Sayaka looks up at Garnet for a moment.


Wrapping her arm in the edge of her cape, Sayaka swings it high above her head, the white cloth forming a rippling arc as six straight-edged silver blades erupt from it, hanging in the air for a moment in a neat semicircle, blades pointed at the ceiling.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Pluto [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

The Labyrinth accepts their advance, draws them into a fresh chamber full of dangling delicacies that do not tempt, and Pluto fights the urge to duck even though she's in no danger of headbutting them. She walks behind Eri, falling into step beside the girl with the potent vocal cords and shadowy elegance. She glances sidelong at la Sirene du Nord, gaze lingering a moment on the eldritch lamp as she recalls the darklight it sheds.

Pills fall in chemical flurries, swirling like the snowflakes they aren't around the rushing advance of Polinas and the menacing gleam of the medical implements they brandish. Defending against a charge -- Sailor Pluto, eternal and solitary guardian of the Time Gate, can find familiar ground here. A quick glance over her shoulder confirms that she stands between la Sirene and the Polinas.

"None will get past me -- make them pay for the attempt!"

Sailor Pluto stands at a slight angle, presenting her right shoulder and hip to the coming enemies, flexing her left leg behind her in a bracing posture. Those who have fought with her before -- with or against -- are familiar with the buzzing sound of the Garnet Rod displacing air in a circular blur. Sailor Pluto twists her arms with clockwork precision, funneling all the force she can, ready for--


--impacts. Pluto makes good on her promise to la Sirene, steadfast against the assault, and both ends of the Garnet Rod slam into Polina flesh and metallic instruments alike. She absorbs the shocks in arms and legs as best she can, but it's like wrestling a helicopter blade, teeth-rattling and violent, and she slides back half a step before arresting the skid. Fresh lines of red dribble past the dried brown streaks on her legs, freed by stray scalpels as they slip past the Rod.

They might strike Pluto, but she makes sure none reach the girl behind her.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The smell of antiseptic assaults Mikoto's senses, and she wrinkles her nose against the intrusion, frowning at the skewered beds and all that they imply. She slashes through a Pyotr before it can reach Mai, and Eri's lash snaps out to catch two more who try to go for her side. Mikoto digs in her heels, hefts her blade around, and carves through a couple trying to run past her to the green Puella Magi.

They've done this before.

Garnet's gauntlets corral the Pyotrs, and the other magical girls make quick work of them, magic flashing in weapon and light and thorn. Mai's fire burns, toasting that marshmellow to a crisp and leading the way to the next area... but Mai, herself, is flagging. Mikoto can see it as she glances back to Mai - always, always glancing back to Mai, the concern obvious even as her expression is grim and difficult to read.

"Mai," she says as she draws close to her roommate, her voice quiet, worried, "just a little longer, Mai."

She needs Mai to hold on. She doesn't know what she'll do if Mai falters, if Mai gets hurt. She's able to hunt a Witch herself, but she's not used to the terror of knowing her loved ones are vulnerable inside a Labyrinth.

Mikoto jumps over one of the fallen syringes as they press forward, springing up like a cat to rest on the curved surface, and then springing back down. Through the toasted-marshmellow door, strings of sticky charred white dripping from the edges, and they're in a twisted science experiment. Pills fall from the sky like snowflakes, and the group hems in on itself by necessity.

It's a problem. Mikoto needs space. She works best, always, when she is alone at the foot of a monster, tearing into it with ranged support. She knows this, but there's nothing she can do about it as the Polinas advance. She makes sure she's in front of Mai. That's the most she can do, here.

That boy is by her flank, with his dark blade. He calls out to her, and she nods to him. In that moment, she can only think of one thing she needs to tell him, her eyes flicking down to Stern and back up again: "Mine is named 'Miroku.'"

He takes this side, and she takes that one, and she makes with with a glance that Mai is safely behind them. Without room to build up speed, to swing her obsidian blade in a wide arc, Mikoto is hampered, but these days she has the strength to manipulate her oversized claymore even in small spaces. For the first time tonight, she hefts it up in her hands, holding it in a two-handed stance as she swings down-and-up to gut a Polina even as it dives forward with its syringe in hand.

Another surges forward, scissors in hand, and Mikoto meets its improptu blade with her own, metal clashing against metal. But Mikoto has always been good at duels, at meeting force with force, and she tosses the snippy things aside after a show of snarling force. She sweeps her blade out, side-to-side, cleaves it in two -

- it's only a well-timed barrier which keeps Miroku from cutting too close to Stern's owner, and Mikoto is grateful for the heat.

The next Polina she meets with a downward swing, and a rolled-up bandage unravels as it leaves the familiar's grasp. Mikoto will keep fighting as long as they keep coming. She's not going to let any through. She can defend the people she loves - it is the only thing she can do.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mai had expected more scalpels, more bloody dressings, more wonderful reminders of endless trips to the hospital, time and time again. Less of the bloody, and more of the oppressive mundane. Instead, there's...this. Those painfully emptied beds, those dangling hooks, those specimen jars...Mai looks from one appalling detail to another, mouth working silently to find words to describe it.

But there's nothing. No clever quips. Just a barely audible 'what in the world' punctuated with a few silent curse words.

Eri and Mikoto are closer - this place sings of claustrophobia, forces the group to huddle to avoid those dangling hooks. Once-innocent eyes take in more and more of the Labyrinth - she'd seen one before, but endless roses and cars gave a different vibe altogether compared with this...thing. She murmurs, close to her friends, though for which of them it's not clear - "Sorry. Sorry I didn't know you were going through...all of this, all this time."

There's loathing in her tone, and perhaps not entirely for herself.

Further ruminations might have to wait - perhaps even for that promised talk after all this. The glittering rain of pills from above catches Mai's eye, and she starts to wonder aloud what it could mean - and then, swift as lightning in a rainstorm, the nurses are there. Syringes and the other thousand sharp implements needed by a hospital are on prominent display, and the high schooler lets out an audible gasp at the sight. She's caught off guard -

- but fortunately, Mikoto is less prone to freezing up in battle. Miroku's keen edge starts buying space while Stern takes out a lease, and Mai has the seconds she needed to remember what kind of place this is. "All right - I'll try to cover you two as best I can!"

Flame licks out, snaring to the sides of the swords' arcs. A guiding path of embers glows, before erupting into sheets of fire that wall off groups of the Polinas. Again, and again, that burning embrace tries to keep either Endo or Mikoto from being overwhelmed...

And abruptly, there's an audible pair of clangs - a crimson wall of light, hard as iron, catching Miroku and Stern short of striking at the other's wielder. Between them, in the sphere of her barrier, Mai gasps. "Careful, you two - we have to stick together!"

It's a peaceful moment, but it doesn't last. Even as the Polinas are cut down, even as stray rolls of bandages burn merrily to provide a little more light, there's a distant sound loud enough to carry over the battle. It takes some careful listening - punctuated by the need to raise her shield of flames against an incoming pair of scissors - before Mai can place it. Unlike Sayaka, she's far from elated. "Tomoe?...oh hell, what is she getting up to now?!" That defensive shield flares, and roars, and blasts away that monstrous figure. Given a scant bit of breathing room, she scowls at the increasing gunfire. "I can't even start to count how many ways that can't be good..."

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene du Nord [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Cookie, Ice, Fresh.

Nori Ankou may never want a cookie again.

As the pills fall, la Sirene looks to Sailor Pluto with surprise. The woman is not unfamiliar to her, but to be approached with such briskness... It's obscurely flattering, and that moment of flattery makes the despair of hearing the distant gunfire that must, no doubt, come from the musketeering of Mami Tomoe stay away.

"... I will," la Sirene tells Sailor Pluto, and then, from her perspective, seems perhaps to do absolutely nothing for long moments as she wards off the Polinas.

Is she even there? Perhaps there will be bleak thoughts in the head of the Guardian of Time that she has been abandoned by some feckless goth. It might not be the first time. Things change abruptly, no doubt, when coat-sleeved arms suddenly come up and wrap around Sailor Pluto's shoulders just as she sinks into a slight crouch during her defensive postures.

La Sirene's arms loop forwards, both of them grasping the handle of that strange lantern. Sailor Pluto has a moment in which to examine it, strange brass that has the slight tarnishing of age and the feeling of something profoundly old; helped by rainbow-shimmering ammolite chasings, the ancient pressure of fossilized shells a natural sign of memory and deep time.

There seems to be a framework inside of the Brazen Pharos as well but it's hard to make out because the front of it flips open - not flickers, but opens /all the way/. What pours out -- it is so dense that for a disorienting instant it is as if a huge swath of the space directly in front of Sailor Pluto had disappeared completely, with the images of everything else stretching and distorting so that her vision's space is fully encompassed, with no gaps.

Then again, maybe it won't stand out so much around here.

"We must make haste," la Sirene says, /right/ in Sailor Pluto's ear. Her breath is cooler than it ought to be. "Can you run?"

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Radar Love (Garnet/Sayaka Konbi) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwqMKf7r7Xg

Sword locks with bonesaw and Sayaka propels through, shoving the Polina against the glass body of a syringe with a crunch. She starts to roll off with a yelp as a syringe-armed foe lunges in from the side, but it never reaches her, and Sayaka looks back to Garnet, her momentary fear fading. Lower lip pushed up, eyes calmly approving she gives Garnet a silent two nods.

Disengaging with a flourish, Sayaka steps boldly into the range of the next three Polinas. Her sword lashes back and forth between them, parrying only rarely, relying on Garnet to cover her gaps and focusing entirely on offense. Alone, she'd have been killed quickly; this way, she soon starts slipping through the guard of the nurses, lancing them, wounding them, wearing them down until finally, with a dramatic step-through, she sweeps one of their heads clean off. The other two, wounded, are hacked down soon, and Sayaka advances deeper through the syringes. One Polina is going into battle with nothing more than a blood pressure cuff, but Sayaka doesn't take any chances on that one; she's pretty sure it knows something Sayaka doesn't. Focusing on it, she flourishes her cape to conceal her right arm, the deep lunge coming out of nowhere to skewer the Polina's stomach, then dance back and forth across its chest until it falls.

As Sayaka starts to become belaguered, her sword forced to dance too fast between foes, she calls back to Garnet. "I'm gonna duck on three! One... two...!" She kicks a nurse in the chest and parries another. "I mean ON three, you know? One... two--" A scalpel-wielding enemy comes in high and Sayaka squawks out the last number in a rush, "--THREE!"

Dropping to her hands and knees, Sayaka lets Garnet do what she does best, then rushes forward in the wake of the launched fist, skewering injured Polinas, leaving her swords in them and drawing new ones as she goes. The remainder of the fight gets increasingly wild and rollicking, Sayaka rapidly getting a sense for the rhythm; this isn't the first time she's fought alongside Garnet. Where once these creatures terrified her and posed a dire threat, it's starting to feel more like a brawl, and their forward progress is rapid.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

That antiseptic stench mixes with cloying sweetness to the point where she feels a little nauseous. And that has nothing to do with what Sayaka said, right? The fact that she wants to be angry and doesn't let herself, makes herself more so-

A toasted marshmallow smell almost brings it past its threshold, as a hand actually claps down over her mouth.

But she fights it back like she had before and barrels onward, letting the hand slip back to her side- as she rushes into a room of pills and capsules sprinkling downwards in a narcotic drizzle. Sayaka makes her accusation, her eyes finding the chart- the dates- there's a certain pang of guilt. She knew the familiars were coming from somewhere of course but-

She missed this.

Mai might be talking to her, might not be- about not knowing what she was going through.

And frustrating just simmers- "You think I'd be this careless normally?!" She all but growls, before it turns into a sibilant whisper, "Day in, day out- you've run me ragged even trying to make up for the rest of you playing at war. Making sure you aren't poking at my borders. But fine-" She raises a hand, pushes it palms out, the other raised near her head, "-you know what- fine. I'll give you that. My territory. My responsibility. I /really/ hope that's some comfort for you knowing I wasted so much time fighting /you/ rather than locating witches."

But like it's shift change at some ghoulish nurse's station, the whole floor is converging- a nightmarish report off of the deceased. A snap of a wrist, and another gives her lashes, but not much room to work with, as she takes a step back- gunshots in the distance bringing even more urgency.

She takes a step back, and almost runs into a crimson ponytail, her shoulder colliding lightly with her senpai's shoulder blade. Turning her head just slightly, she doesn't smile, it's not that kind of night, but she allows herself some of that gallows humor, "Guess we're the problem patients of the night." She dead pans with a term she once heard at the hospital, her head juts to the side, "Wanna go fishing for attention?"

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABbc-O_3_Ac

A flick of a wrist slides a whip to grab the wrist of a rusty stylet wielding Polina. She jerks her forward, then wrenches back, the back and forward motion causing her to jam it right into her pink uniform. She pulls it forward, leading the faux professional sideways like a fish on a reel- right towards the tip of Kyouko's spear.

Her other arm snaps to strike another at an ankle- giving it the sprain of its existence. It tries to hop on one foot in some horrible parody of human motion, an oversized ten blade in its hand. By now she's released the first catch of the night, and smacks it upside the head like a horse whip, sending it staggering the crimson girl's lance to join it's coworker in a skewer of pink.

A swipe of a jagged edged clipboard almost connects, but despite it swishing through her hair- she snaps upwards at it's chin, in an underhand flick from down to up.

It rocks it off its heels and sends it skyward. And what comes up, must come down, in a flailing of limbs- "Eyes up."

Others are coming, and she's just yanking them, one by one, one after another, backing her up- and hoping the gunshots means Mami has it handled.

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

Kyouko has been quiet, coiled. In discussions and debates she has kept her quiet, enduring horror and strife and the decision of a friend from another life. Tense and stoic, her thoughts and attentions have remained with their surroundings, and the palable sense of danger radiating out of its garish halls.

There's a stomach churning sense to this place, and the scale of it is dizzying. Kyouko wants to cut down the awful fishing lines swaying listlessly around them, finding something innately offensive about the sweet innocence of their bait. +OOCHer sense of grim purpose is hardly blunted as the angular assassins swarm in like a cloud of wasps. In such a tight fist of people her available angles are narrow indeed, but it's always harder to fall with somebody pressing against your back.

Squaring her legs up like a sumo wrestler's squat, her spear grows to the size of a massive harpoon, a long and unwieldly razor ill-suited for precision or ostentatious performance. Although she grasps it by her right hand as per usual, her left palm cups and braces its blunted butt instead of joining in a more conventional grip.

Kyouko grins to Eri, who's unsurprisingly at her side. "Line 'em up and I'll punch their tickets. If we catch a big one then I'll fry it up myself." In the distance, a fierce report sounds down to their position, like a 21 gun salute for their stand. A small smile comes to Kyouko's face, though only those to her immediate sides would be able to notice. Mami lives yet.

As the first night terror whips towards her along a thorny conveyer, Kyouko re-adjusts the angle of her long lance like an artillery cannon, but the normally hyperkinetic fighter is content to remain still, and to brace herself for impact. The faux-nurse familiar's limbs flail loosely about, the immense force applied to its torso rippling out along its body's extremities. Her careful preparation and considerable strength each play their part, but the support of her comrades at her back, and Eri's coordinated force carry the strategy.

She's to be the toothy maw snapping down these morsels, the sharp toothed moray waiting in the reefs. There's a workmanly casualness to the way that Kyouko shifts the skewer like it's the rudder of a ship, the added weight of the poleaxed Polina's fleeting at best. They have only so long to twitch before evaporating mercifully into aggreived insubstantiality.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet reaches up and clasps the arranged swords between the fingers of her gauntlets, as a pair of claws, and she smiles to Sayaka, her shades gleam to a sparkle.

Garnet was much bigger than the other warriors here, and the swords increased her presence even further. So if they had less space, the had to find a way to use it much more effectively...

The gem closes her eyes behind her shades, and focuses her Future Vision completely on the next moments of melee, Sayaka's movements, the advance of the Polinas, all of it, and it coalesces into the present.

Sayaka strikes, Garnet covers her flank, arcing her triple bladed fist up through a space where the Puella was only a half second before, and an unfortunate Polina is now, before it is no more. Garnet slashes a Polina downward, Sayaka catches it on its side! The Polinas bring in their scissors, Garnet's broadsword claws parry their blades for Sayaka to slip past their guard! Sayaka hacks at a Polina's syringe holding arm, and Garnet moves in to tear across its chest! Garnet stomps the ground, knocking a Polina off balance and in comes Sayaka! Snicker snack goes her Vorpal Blade and she leaves it dead, head flying off!

When Sayaka gives her countdown and reaches "-THREE!" Garnet brings both fists together over the ducking Puella, slashing the scalpel-wielding Polinas in twain! For this melee, against these familiars and their warped implements the Gem and Puella are completely in tune: Garnet scanning the rivers of time to align their Funky Flow.

Together they fend and rend the twisted Nightengale Nurses that hope to do them harm!

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Credens Justitiam - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HA1vhF87D7g


It's a happy scene; many-colored gumdrops nestled beside golden-brown pastry rounds and blue-green gelatin blocks, little mounds of cake all along a frosting hill as wedges of rectangular wafer stick out at jaunty angles from the buttercream hill. The ground almost looks patterned, and there's the sensation of motion in front of some of those natural delicious cover. Little round creatures bounce along in front, Pyotrs on patrol.

Three bullets rip through each of the first three, sending it flailing down and bursting out of existence one at a time, as Mami Tomoe steps up from the bottom of the hill. She looks over her shoulder pink-haired Madoka Kaname, and smiles. "Let me take care of this."

She starts running, throwing out her arms and conjuring one rifle in each hand before she flips upward, on the axle of her weapons, and shoots down at another Pyotr and another with a twirling motion, elbows out, foot on her knee like she's dancing. She lands atop a tower of layered donuts, some plain and some sprinkled, and look down to the next place before her. Already an entire crowd is starting to stream down from white-frosting paths in the cavern walls, a Pyotr train here scrambling over a giant red strawberry on the way down.

But there are five around her, and Mami hops over the swing of one, whipping out her hand and making a spiral of ribbons to shove the Familiar right over the edge, letting it coil around it and /squeeze/ on the way down. She hops up and a rifle appears in her hands, held in both as she takes aim over the barrel and fires over the next. On the way down she pulls two more each from one sleeve and falls to her knees in the middle of a pair of Familiars, firing at point-blank range. The last moves to charge and is and gets a snub-nosed cannon for its trouble, a blast of golden light obliterating it in an instant.

Smirking, Mami rises to her feet, stands for a heartbeat, and then starts tilting backward, tilting her head back and canting out her arms to spin her wrists once and slam two rifles into the ground. While she's arched back, a brace of new rifles starts to extend out from her chest with magic, until she reaches out and pulls them the rest of the way. Down, down, down, they all go around her, as the Pyotrs from the walls advance across the open ground towards her platform. "Ha!" One comes up in her hand and blasts throuh the first, knocking it straight back into a second as she whirls to the side, pulling another and firing with a golden blast at that one too. Still spinning in place, she flicks her wrists and drops two more rifles before picking up a pair she'd already conjured, firing one then two into the crowd. It becomes a dance, the blonde firing long-armed, braced against herself, once behind her back. The Pyotrs keep coming, trying to rush her. She pulls new guns from her skirt, her sleeves, her collar, until finally she aims at one last Pytor before her and fires, letting it pop into the same smoke as all the others. Gunsmoke rises from her untouched platform.

But she puts out her hands and opens her fingers, and two small cannons--or two huge guns--burst into being on her arms, staring straight for the close wall. "You're right..." She fires, each a column of light the size of her head, obliterating the forward wall, "Here!"

Giant strawberries dot a simpler landscape, strange pale blue behind a set of impossibly tall tea tables, with chairs on stiltlike legs to match all surely ten feet tall. It's as if a tea party is set, but there are no guests. Each chair has a puffy yellow or blue or pink seat, and Pytors mill around at the bottom, eye-crossingly strange in how it all pops out so distinctively. Knives and forks jut out beside wafers and kiwis, all spread around the tables.

For her part, Mami rolls forward and off her tower, glaning back at Madoka with a wide smile before she jogs the distance to the bottom. She fires one-two-three at the Pytors here, and then there's a flash of light, like white frosting from above dripping down. There's an explosion and slowly, the form of a tiny doll lowers from above, slowly falling into one of the chairs and falling comfortably, unmoving more like some sort of plush doll than anything else. The Witch's--Charlotte's--face is white, with bright yellow cheeks; her attire is pale red wrapped all around as well as her worn clothes, totally covered and all buttoned up perfectly with loving care.

Mami finishes her approach, now that she's alone, and holds out her hand to conjure another rifle. She takes it in both hands... By the barrel. There's a beaming look at her friend before she rears back and /swings/ like she's playing golf, a loud crack shattering a leg of the chair. It starts to tip over.

She twirls through her motion and shifts her grip to a softball touch, winding up. The little doll falls into her orbit and Mami swings hard and up, slamming it back into the air where it sails past the table and up, up, up. Mami reaches with her rifle and fires straight up it at before she conjures a whole wave at once. Golden bullets rocket out, six at once forcing the little creature to bounce and dance through the hail of gunfire. Mami moves to her left hand with one more and fires, as Charlotte falls like a discarded toy. It falls with weight, not fluttering but sinking, until it's at Mami's feet.

Mami flicks her wrist to conjure anothr rifle and shoots the doll directly in the head. She steps back and lowers her hand, letting paper-thin lines of ribbon reach out from her wrist, lift the Witch upward, upward towards the chairs agin, until they thicken and pin it in place. The Puella Magi coils out a ribbon from her collar and whips it before her, until it becomes a larger gun than her rifles, which become a cannon which becomes a huge cannon, with gold filigree all up the sides and a gleaming silver barrel, along with two wooden supports on either side to help tilt it upwards.

"Tiro... FINALE!"

The cannon erupts into a column of golden light more than three times the size of the Witch. Mami looks up with satisfaction, and starts to lift a cup of tea to her lips that she didn't have before, a saucer in her other hand.

The blonde veteran is smiling, glancing around the Labyrinth and turning partway to look over at Madoka again. Avoiding clattering with the saucer, Mami lifts her right hand--her teacup hand--in a toast to Madoka, her honey eyes half-closing and her head tilting to the side happily, drills bouncing lightly.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Abrupt Silence

The dark hall of jars, once emptied of Polinas, opens up at the end into a broad, sunny realm of strawberry shortcake. There are many more candles here, lighting the black path, populated more densely now with polka dots, as it wends up the mountainous layers of puffy pastry and slick cream and bulging, man-sized berries. It's too big to eat and too big to destroy, a glacier of dessert -- forward is the only way the heart can go.

Onwards, upwards, there's another army of Pyotrs to clear from the mountain pass, but the Puella Magi and their allies are many times their strength though not their number. It is only a matter of time.

"Tiro... FINALE!"

The group crests the hill just as Mami's cannon is replaced by a teacup. Just as she turns back to greet Madoka, who is as intact as anyone could have hoped for, looking exhausted but not empty, certainly not absent in any of the ways that she could be right now.

Just as the light clears, the limp rag doll still intact as it flops backwards --

-- as its little mou of a mouth gapes open --

-- and the hunger of this place emerges, exploding out of that little helpless form to rise higher than the shortcake mountain itself for an instant, blotting out what passes for a sun in this realm with her engorged black bulk. Athena split her father's skull on her way into existence, but Charlotte is Charlotte all along. She just becomes... moreso. Intensified beyond recognition. Warped, like the smell of too much chocolate...

Her eyes swirl with mismatched rainbows, and there's a sudden acute, clenching awareness that the Polinas have been injecting people and places with her tears. Her body is long, so long, like a snake or a caterpillar. Like the path that took everyone here. Maybe they were walking up her all along, a black brick road.

Her teeth are about half as long as a Puella Magi is tall, and they're on full display as she charges down the gap between herself and Mami without ever seeming to stop gaining mass; the rag doll is far behind her now, just a shadow beneath her, a footnote of her existence, but she's still emerging, and widening.

She passes the tea tables. They're cheerful in their way, and their immense height finally makes sense, too. They were never sized for the little doll.

She passes the gumdrops, the strawberries, ignoring them in favor of rarer goods. Her excitement is electric. She's so palpably /happy/, like a starving mother in a patch of rapunzel -- a princess who's found her spindle -- or her apple.

And then, at last (to her), all in an instant (to everyone else), it happens.

No longer greedy with hunger, the air fills with the smell of blood, the same only instinctually recognizable odor that lingered at the emptied hospital beds. It soaks into Madoka's jacket, drops splattering across her face.

And, generously breaking the silence, the sound of the crunch is carried far and wide.