2017-03-04 - Charlotte's Web 3

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Title: Charlotte's Web, Part 3

The Puella Magi and their allies confront their own mortality. And Charlotte.

A direct continuation of 2017-03-03 - Charlotte's Web 2.


Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Mami Tomoe, Homura Akemi, Kyouko Sakura, Eri Shimanouchi, Kasagami Araki, Fuu Hououji, Hikaru Shidou, La Sirene du Nord, Endo Naoki, Garnet, Mai Tokiha, Mikoto Minagi, Sailor Pluto

GM: Hotaru Tomoe


Charlotte's Labyrinth, Shinjuku

OOC - IC Date:

03-04-2017 - 01-01-2015

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.


An unprecedentedly powerful labyrinth oozes its way into the real world, infecting a major hospital and disgorging an appalling quantity of familiars to occupy the surrounding blocks in a little fiefdom. It's Demon City Shinjuku.

Inside the actual labyrinth, Mami Tomoe split off from the rest of the group, instructing them to make as much noise as possible to cover her stealthy search for one lost Madoka Kaname. They eventually reunite, but the extremity of the situation forces long-hidden truths from their hearts, leading to choice, resolution, catharsis... all synonyms of distraction.

Meanwhile, the rest of the group found a chaotic nightmare of giant desserts and medical equipment; an apparently unlimited supply of familiars; and evidence that the Witch at the heart of this horror show has been consuming victims for weeks, unmolested, unnoticed.

Gunfire resounds from deeper in -- Mami has found trouble, or trouble has found her, prompting the group to fight all the more fiercely in order to reach her side.


<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.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Devotion https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmA4hR9x7JU

Sayaka's whole face is a smile, and there's gold in her eyes. She'll never get used to this.

Stepping into the great chamber of the Witch, Sayaka lets her chipped and battered sword drop from a sore hand. With her friends at her back, Sayaka wanders forward in a dream. The rifle-dance disassembles all opposition. Ever have abstractions like peace and freedom been given faces and bodies, raised as gods or carved from stone, so that humans can truly love them. Living in the golden cage of Ohtori, Sayaka had never been able to find anything to believe in until she met Mami Tomoe. Since then she has had her god, she has had her statue. She loves.

Credens justiatiam.

The only thing that could make Sayaka happier is right over there. "Madoka!" Sayaka cries gratefully. Instantly she's in motion, bounding from gumdrop to straw and skimming along the ground on fast legs. "Madoka-chan!"

The displaced breeze from Tiro Finale flutters through Sayaka's feathery blue hair, her clean upraised face bright with joy at the impending reunion. She dips her head and closes her eyes with a smile as Mami lifts her teacup. All this trouble, and Mami finished off the Witch herself. That's what it's like being Mami Tomoe's virtuous squire sometimes. Sinking deep into a squat, Sayaka launches into a superhuman vertical leap, white cape fluttering tight to her strong shoulders as she sails up to one of the lower platforms beneath Madoka and Mami's.

A burgeoning spotted mass of shapeless flesh and teeth distends. Its eyes are the colors of a madman's drool in a nightmare. Mami doesn't see.

Sayaka knows at once that she can't make it. She overshot the platform beneath her, and now she's floating at the apex of her jump. If her feet were already on the lower platform and she could jump immediately, she could reach Mami before the clown-faced serpent. But she's still falling back to the platform and she has no way to fall faster, nor does she have time to summon a musical platform; she normally summons those first, /then/ jumps off them. And just like that, Mami Tomoe is no longer a god or a statue. She's so soft and fragile. She's almost gone.

Moments like this can recolor a whole life. Sayaka could have spent so much more time with Mami. There's so much she doesn't know about Mami, that she put off asking over and over. Everything Sayaka's ever hidden from her idol so she wouldn't think Sayaka was weird or uncool is suddenly another cut inside her. Sayaka has already run out of time to spend with Mami Tomoe, and god does it hurt. If only the platform were closer.

Sayaka's lips form Mami's name, but she can't tell if she screamed or not. She's falling so slowly, growing further from Mami with every grain of sand. Mami is growing smaller in her vision even as the Witch's maw spreads larger. Even if she could get up there, what could Sayaka do? She can't even hurt something that big; it would be nothing but a suicide pact. Layers of despair crush down. If only the platform were closer.

In a narrowing box of futilities, love thrashes anew, bright and violent. Afraid in the dark with her softball bat Sayaka had fought for the power to stand by Mami's side. At the top of the world beneath an inverted castle she'd been beaten to the ground for the right. Together they dreamed a new future for magical girls, a future where none of them would have to be afraid again, and through punishing sheets of snow they fought to build that future together.

If only

Mami is the bravest, strongest, most beautiful girl in the world. Sayaka is nothing but the luckiest. She dangles on the instant dividing that bright golden past from a endless future of grief and she sees it, she finally sees it. Mami washing dishes in her empty apartment after everyone's gone, the back of Mami's blonde head as she walks home alone every day before clubs start. Mami was always so lonely.

the platform

And now she's going to die alone.

were closer!

Sayaka's arms snap down, two swords stapling into the platform in neat parallel. Over three feet higher than the platform, the balls of Sayaka's feet impact the twin pommels. She lances into the air again instantly, every atom of her leaning into the leap, pressing forward, fighting for the barest extra quantum of speed. With a pounding heart and a placid soul she dives through the teeth even as they close. Their triangular edges are about to clip right through Mami's neck when, for the first time, Sayaka gives Mami a hug.

Left arm wrapped around Mami's shoulder, Sayaka tackles her bodily. Mami's head snaps down from the impact, passing between the teeth without so much as a hair being sheared. Cheek to cheek, Sayaka is gifted a single instant of joy, no thicker than a razor.

A dark spray of blood slaps into Madoka's wide-eyed face. The crunch of flesh and bone rips through a breathless silence. Gleaming waist-high plates of tooth are closed tight against Sayaka Miki's shoulder, her entire right arm trapped within. The ripples of her long snowy cape reverse inwards as her momentum is halted, her face shielding itself in Mami's shoulder, her legs extended in the air as though she were floating in the ocean. Then, with a grinding snap, the teeth against her shoulder seal hermetically.

No longer held up, Sayaka's weight bears Mami down to the ground hard by their perpendicular midsections. Sayaka's knees and face strike the platform with a sickening splat, even her instinctive reflexes gone. For a moment, she does nothing but quiver at Madoka's feet, her boots pushing out tentatively as if seeking the ground. Then, her lone remaining arm curling in a paroxysm of pain, she begins to wail.

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


Madoka and Mami watch the sun rise from the steps of Hikawa Shrine, in their Hatsumode kimonos. The whole world feels fresh and new -- the reborn sun on the glittering ocean, the soft cool breeze sweeping up Sendai Hill. They're both tired, having been up past midnight rescuing the Jewel of Beginnings and the New Year itself. They both kept their date, anyway, and are just now leaving after making wishes at the shrine.

And there's another resolution Madoka's determined to keep, urged on by a gently curious Mami:

"We-ell," there's no easy way to say this without sounding like an idiot -- but then she remembers how strongly and firmly and freely she feels this way, and looks up again, looks straight at Mami, at this incredible person standing in front of her -- and squares her own shoulders, and speaks. "A long time ago, I realized that I don't really have a wish for myself. I'm truly one of the luckiest people in the world... I have beautiful friends, and a caring family, enough food to eat and a warm home to return to every night. The only thing I don't have is a dream..."

Her smile warms further, with a certain shyness, as she admits, "...until I met you. You're incredible, Mami... so many people focus on the fighting itself, or on the... the killing. But you fight to /save/ people, as many as you can, and you do it all the time... the number of lives you've touched, you've rescued... I want to be like you, a strong and kind Puella Magi. That's my dream."

She holds up a hand before Mami can interrupt, on a roll now and afraid that if she stops, she'll be too overwhelmed to continue. "Bu-ut, it's really important that I don't waste my wish. Kyouko-chan taught me that. I don't think Homura-chan will be happy no matter what wish I make, but it isn't really up to her... she's so willing to sacrifice other people and especially herself, it isn't right for her to decide what I can and can't do. Even if she is a little scary sometimes."

She looks down. "...I thought about bringing back your parents," she admits in a tiny voice. "But then I saw how dangerous it is... that it isn't all just... sparkles and rainbows and theme music. It's really, really scary. It makes what you do even more amazing, when I think about that... and it makes me think that maybe I'd just be a burden to you anyway..."

She huffs out a breath. "So then I imagined having to face your parents after you... you..." Shaking her head violently, twintails fall across her face, veiling it. "I don't think they'd want me to wish for them. I think they'd want me to wish for /you/. S-so, um, that's my plan... I'm going to wait until you really need another miracle, because something has gone really really really..."

She can't bring herself to finish; just the thought of something happening to Mami is incredibly upsetting to her. Instead she gestures, hands going out to her sides in a wide expanse of the possibilities. "...because I want to share New Year's with you again, too, and I think this might be our best chance."


Watching Mami's transformation of danger into a grande glorious waltz never fails to make Madoka breathless, but now she's burning behind her eyes, and deep in her gut, too, a miserable guilt. She can't stop thinking about the conversation they had just a few minutes ago, when Mami rescued her from this labyrinth, saved her life for the millionth time. It replays in her head, over and over, with every rifle's retort, every golden explosion.

"But Mami... I mean... if being a normal girl, if that's your wish... it could be my wish too."

Mami wants her freedom from this life so badly, but is too good to ask.

Too good to walk away when people need her.

Too good to abandon Sayaka on the front lines.

Too good to be happy.

"Tiro... FINALE!"

Too good to be true...

Madoka felt so safe -- after over a year spent enfolded in those gentle golden arms, how could she feel otherwise? Her long night of horror ended when her savior arrived. Everything else was just denouement. Sayaka bounding down the hill to join them, safe and sound, is the perfect coda, and she beams in response, lifting both arms over her head to wave.

Like Sayaka, she sees Mami's doom when their friend cannot.

Unlike Sayaka, she doesn't do anything about it. She hasn't blossomed from victim to victor, nor learned the harsh lessons of life-and-death choices on the battlefield.

She doesn't know how to save anyone.

She only knows how to need saving.

She can't think; she can't breathe. The guilt that had her flushed and pensive roars, shifting from flame to void, shame sucking everything out of her but a searing regret that sprouts like swords from behind her eyes, within her stomach, her lungs.

She doesn't even scream a warning -- her eyes just grow bigger and bigger, her lips rounder and rounder, her frieze trembling more and more intensely. She sees the moment before it happens, has relived it three times already by the time something else happens.

Sayaka's blood pours across her and she retches immediately in response, her eyes wincing closed, tears already mingling with snot shocked straight out of her. Frozen grief transforms in an instant to paroxysms of panic, instead. She stares downwards at the scene at her feet, already haven forgotten the danger still bare inches above.

She knows what she saw but can't comprehend it, can't square the circle of Sayaka's torn cape -- and arm -- with the shattering acceptance of a different imminent tragedy.

Her knees lock and her hands wring and she screams, her wail rising above her very best friend's in a terrible descant.

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


NOT LONG BEFORE, beside trees to the side of the shrine's entrance, after Mami and Madoka made their wishes:

Madoka obligingly trots after Mami towards the trees, still click-clacking along the stones with those impractical wooden shoes of hers. The question's in her eyes, too, but it's on her lips before one could say 'madoka make a contract with me', bubbling out of her enthusiastically, innocently but not in a cruel way -- since she knows, all too well, about Mami's first experience with wishes.

"What did you wish for?"

"Ah..." Her head tilts downward, almost as if she's actually shy about something--or hesitant, or... embarrassed?

"I wished that..." She shakes her head, and the confident Mami is back everywhere but in her eyes, which seek out Madoka's and have a softness she doesn't usually let show. "I wished that we could watch the sunrise together next year, too."


Too good to be true is just the way Mami wants to be. She may not always make it, but she only has to look at how inspired her friends can be to be happy anyway. Tonight, she's made it; the Puella Magi /knows/ she's made it, from her little fur-decorated hat down to her brown boots, and smiles at Madoka with her golden eyes as she sips her tea.

She does not see death gathering up behind her. No, she is sure she made it as Charlotte erupts from her smaller form. She is sure that she made it as horrible jagged rainbow eyes stare down at her, as a pointed nose points at her. She is sure until she spots motion from the corner of her eye, and turns around.

Turn around she does, seeing Charlotte start to crash towards her. Her eyes widen, her arms freezing in place. The tumble of her teacup makes a tink and a clatter against the saucer, tea spilling as both crash together with a noise that seems to her to be so loud. They fall to her feet. Mami can do nothing; she is caught in those eyes.

But anyone who looks closely enough can see her shake; it's harder to see the pure terror in her eyes as a whimper chokes her, stops her gathering up what has to be a last breath before Charlotte ends her. She can't even scream as she feels the cold void of a Witch's jaws around her, can't move, paralyzed. She can't even close her eyes against a giant tongue. It's her last new year after all.

Except that it may not be.

Arms wrap around Mami and it feels like a mercy not to be alone in this moment, but it turns out to be a tackle, and Mami crashes to the side, seeing in rapidfire again Charlotte's tongue and teeth and then only strange cake as her head snaps down from the impact. There is Sayaka's face, somehow, Sayaka's face beside hers so close, and Mami's fractured mind can't put together what's happening except to hang on, and wonder why they haven't moved down all the way. Her eyes snap shut in an instant of fear.

Then there is blood. Then there is a crunch. "W-what--" She's breathless too, still shaking as Sayka shields herself against her, and Mami collapses to the ground under Sayaka's weight. She feels warmth--no, she feels /heat/, and wet, and she opens her eyes to see Sayaka's one-armed form.

Blood flowed out onto her corset before, onto her white shirt, but now there is only /more/ of it, spreading while she's laying down until it feels like it's choking her. Covered in Sayaka's blood, still paralyzed with a terror that hasn't relaxed its grip, Mami still can't scream. Her fingerlessly-gloved hands cling to her partner in what must be a white-knuckled grip.

But Sayaka and Madoka both are sceaming, and Mami feels trapped beneath her partner. She hears them, hears it rattle in her mind, hears it resonate in her fearful heart.

Mami wails, lower than Sayaka or Madoka.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Wo Ist Die Käse? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8Smccnscys

Charlotte gobbles Sayaka's arm with wriggling, gleeful enthusiasm which sends kinks traveling down her polka-dot length, one after the next -- that first crunch was far from the last. Bones pop and muscle tears, and this symphony of carnage lasts for a million years and about three seconds flat. Both are true -- the ears of the heart are no less important than those of the head.

But in the space where molecules vibrate, where planets chase stars, it is indeed all over pretty quickly; this is not the savoring, worshipful consumption of a gourmand, but the raw and brutal attempt of the insatiable to find satiety. No sooner has the last of the snack been swallowed -- the GULP audible too, as awful as the guillotine that slammed into the block -- does the Witch's mouth gape open again.

A little bit of blue fabric is lodged between her teeth, and she worries at it with the tip of her huge pink tongue, without success.

No matter.

Although she's close enough to breathe on Mami, Sayaka and Madoka, slow and delicate nips are not in her nature -- instead she pulls back, rearing up high again, so that she has the space to gain speed, to plunge gaily downwards to the next course of her feast.

Her momentum builds and builds, her yellow cheeks flapping in her own breeze, the red and blue wings-cum-ears on either side of her head, dragged up and behind her, too.

She descends, crazy eyes growing larger and more eager for the same reason: proximity. She's twenty feet away --

-- ten --

-- two --

BGM Switch: MAGIA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8j4crcdNGQ

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe transforms into Charlotte!

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has fully healed herself. She is now ready to take on 15 opponents!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has fully healed herself.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki transforms into Crimson Rose Duelist!
COMBAT: Garnet transforms into Garnet's Got Gauntlets!

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Homura was running late. She went through the Demon City, same as everyone else. She went through the hospital, same as everyone else. Despite Homura Akemi's prodigious talents and her penchant for appearing exactly in the right place at the right time, she isn't able to avoid these horrors. She just suffers them alone, as she chose to do. She didn't work with the others when she moved through the terrifyingly powerful Labyrinth.

Being alone is its own form of catharsis. She may be an ally to the Shepherds... but she is ever a lone wolf, and this helped remind her of that.

She sprints down a hallway, hand not at her side despite the wound, and the bright red pitter-patter of blood in her wake is completely ignored. It hurts, but she knows by now that it won't kill her.

And once again, despite having mastery of time, Homura arrives entirely too late. She comes crashing down through the ceiling to see the blue fabric and splash of red] across Madoka. It takes her back -- standing on a slab of shattered concrete, rain soaked, and a school uniform splattered with red while Homura sobbed brokenly, behind equally broken glasses. This time, there aren't tears, just narrowed eyes and gritted teeth and black hair whipping backward. Her hand touches her shield, then clicks it into place and time stops.

And then her world goes grey and everything freezes. She lands next to Madoka, hand grabbing her -- and Madoka goes from terrible, inhuman greyscale to living color once more, red blood, pink hair, and all. "Whatever happens," she says shortly, "stay behind me. I can't keep them all safe."

Her other hand comes up and there is a gun in it. She lifts, pulls the trigger, and aims. As Charlotte descends, the gun emits a red light, which shines across the side of the thing. "Left!" she commands, and it comes out strained instead of crisp.

Then she shield clicks in place and time resumes. Homura suddenly yanks Madoka to the left -- and there is a great, tearing sound, right towards that tiny red laser dot on the side of it. Then, tearing through the Labyrinth in terrible fits and starts, it rushes by. It isn't as easy as a mountainside, an armored bunker, or a city block -- but it comes. A blur of olive drab, with white letters a shock across the side: USAF GBU-28

Then it explodes. The shockwave blows back Homura's hair and ribbons, throws a couple of stray Pyotrs back through a hole, and a column of fire screams up to the ceiling with black smoke. Homura's ears ring in the wake of the bunker buster's explosion.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into One Woman Army!

COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into One Woman Army!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Timed Explosives on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

No time for thought, no time for deliberation, strategy.

A boom from where a statue of a woman stood.

A blur trails towards the white fanged mouth.

The crack of impact as Garnet's armored fists smash against the face in a decisive blow.

COMBAT: Garnet has used Decisive Punch on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Garnet has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> A Day in the Life - The Beatles - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=usNsCeOV4GM

There are myths of the world told of great heroes, and heroines, and if one isn't careful; it's easy enough to forget and count Mami Tomoe as one of those larger than life creatures. She knows better, but it's easy to forget, in the distant roar of the fusillade that's unleashed even as she steps take her past narcotic hail and into the realm which proves 'short' cake is a myth.

Round and round they wind to the top, sweeping Pyotrs off like picky children thumbing off decoratives they don't want. Only to crest the hill just as a cannon's salute is given to the witch.

There's only the smallest clatter of china, and a patch of pink behind her. She's disarmed with elation, and relief, a word passing through her lips like a prayer. "Madoka..." With Mami summoning tea it's...

The ragdoll is so small she hadn't even noticed it. Ignored just like so many familiars throughout the weeks. Until it isn't, a smiling behemoth that eclipses her vision.

It would be easier, though, if we were machines, wouldn't it? Machines don't get tired. ...Machines don't make mistakes.

And makes Mami Tomoe seem so tiny.

Frozen by the cruelty of the moment of sixteen never to make seventeen. A wish to live going from myth to footnote, an obituary only if Mami is lucky...

But there's a flash of blue, fluttering on white wings, borne by steel swords.

And stained by red. She wasn't the one disarmed by this after all...

A discordant three part harmony of suffering replaces what one inevitability with another.

The cruelty in the room is like a miasma unto the world. Suffocating, smothering the clean breath of hope. It snatches air from her lungs, it dashes sight from her eyes, it replaces crunching maw of a grinning monster gulping down deliciousness.

People who are ill should check themselves in to a hospital- the vileness of the blood stench permeates her form, descends somewhere deep within her. A prognostic spiral of grim nihilism.

The world keeps revolving, and revolving and girls like her are coming apart at the seams making certain it continues to spin for those who won't even know their suffering.

The sepsis will be known soon enough. Right now the system shock is a vicious coup- contrecoup within her senses. The blow is felt, but it hasn't recoiled within her. She can't sort through blue or pink or yellow and whose is which and there's not enough cruelty within her to penetrate this haze and distill one out of the other and be glad for it.

BGM Change(Now listening to what everyone else is): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I8j4crcdNGQ

Her first few steps are as if she's a Polina, a parody of human movement, staggering. It'd be inaccurate to say her legs are numb. No even moving forward hurts so much right now. But she breaks into a run, floating- floating like a dandelion seed upon the wind as she dives down towards one of those two tall tea tables. Twin sparkles of green snap into her hands.

She lands like she's presenting another meal to the creature. But there's a growl in her throat, as she spins, and lashes out with one scourge, a trio of tendrils attempting to wrap around part of the hulk. Turning one full revolution she loops that line to pull it taut. "Huu-" Then flicks out the other to fortify her hold with three more. It's strength will be as incredible as it's size, but there's two desires in her that might give her the fortitude yank it out of the sky and drive it into its own scenery with a guttural growl of effort. "-Ah!"

The desire to relieve that suffering is one. But the other more simple one...

...is the desire to wipe that smile off its face. It's smile is the uncaring smile of the world to her, lapping up their misery before it keeps moving. She wants it gone.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Moidon's Grasp on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5I0kn_SuaHI

Kyouko's eyes practically bulge out of their sockets as Mami takes her tea in hand and finds a smile in this hellish place. She feels confused by the sight. She hadn't seen the dark star of a grief seed falling with an oily gleam. She hadn't heard its crystalline chime clink to the ground. Had she missed it from this distance, missed it among the garish fog of this grotesque war? Maybe Mami isn't acting overconfident at all. Maybe we won.

But in her gut she feels only terror, and all around them, the labyrinth yet lives.

When she was younger, the preacher's daughter had seen the leering face of grinning evil many times. In paintings and sculptures and stories, depiction after depiction of the demons long in tooth and nail who invisibly rode around the backs of women and men, clawing deep furrows into their souls. She wonders if she has a jackal of her own, if all of them might. Maybe not every person..but surely every person like her, if anybody does in all the world.

Pink Moon Stick (talk) BGM CHANGE Pink Moon Stick (talk) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPA2UxiaMs8

When she sees one now, more vividly than she's ever seen one before, adrenaline floods into her like an artery had burst in her belly, a savage binary explosion of panic and terror and fear that beats inside her skull like a baker's dozen liliputian Athenas all burrowing their way to freedom through her flesh and bone. She explodes out as if to escape the doom bursting from her brain, and cries out like a baying wolf.


She's moving so fast, her boots pistoning up and down in a frantic blur that would seem almost cartoonish in other circumstances, the way that the road runner's legs are depicted as a swirl. In truth the rest of her can't keep up with her pace, and she stumbles into a spilled sprawl, her right legging caught and dragged down below a newly bloody-scraped knee.

Two spears blast from her ribs to right herself immediately, the bow falling from her hair and unleashing an untamed miasma of swirling scarlet strands like a cloud of dust in her wake. Memories of Mami plunge into her like arrowheads, and she psychically rips each out as they come. She cannot spare the moments to grieve just yet. She has to try, and to fail, first, because Kyouko is a person that does things, even when they're futile.

And she knows in her heart that this will come to nothing.

For all her frantic speed she isn't even close. Sick to her stomach, she flings her arms out, casting a long spear low, its tip blunted and angled to the side to form a crude hook. It will not reach Mami in time. But she has to try, and to fail, because Kyouko is a person that does things, even when they're futile.

And when a splash of blue dashes across the black maw that she's sure will taint her dreams until she loses them, Kyouko nearly faints. Her mind shuts down completely, in fact, but her legs keep running forward. In stunned, blurred disbelief, she blinks through the serrated tears flagellating the corners of her eyes and sees a pile of colors, hears a chorus of screams..and the looming tower growing above them.

She twists her worthless little hook to the side, angling for a lip instead of an ankle this time. She tosses her head back to her comrades just as she feels its metal fang sink into the side of one of the outer platforms, still some distance from Mami and Madoka and Sayaka, but perhaps close enough.


Yanking her arm a more sober-minded version of herself would've never risked the dislocation, Kyouko rockets forward. A grief seed appears between her fingers, and she clasps it against an increasingly brilliant ruby, as if the stone itself is whipped into bloodlust.

Reaching her platform, she kicks off of it like a springboard, and leaps towards the leviathan with a spear in her hand. It grows, and grows, and grows..and grows. The lance becomes almost comically oversized, an obscene amount of magic poured into it. She would have a better harpoon than Ahab did for Moby Dick, its red-lacquered steel shining like a comet with all a comet's celestial hate.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Everburning Kyouko!

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Masterstroke on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The seconds that last as Kasagami enters, just in time to see an enemy almost lose her head, and then another definitely lose her arm. Her body feels made of lead for that moment. But it's the wailing of three people, one of which she's came here for, that finally shakes the Student Council member out of it.

For once, there's no grand proclaimation, no furious speech, no sarcastic goading of an enemy. This thing wouldn't understand such words. And something about Sayaka's bravery, her sacrifice, rips straight into the hole in Kasagami Araki's heart. Something sharp flicks into her free hand, and from the darkness it flies straight towards the oncoming Charlotte's eye. Feet have her flying in a swift arc, and this time, it's pure steel that talks for the usually vocal Kasagami even as her ears ring from Homura's weapon. They bleed, and the chaos around her is given to a single thing: vengeance.

A King doesn't let a knight's sacrifice go unavenged. Kasagami throws herself towards Charlotte with slashing, stabbing cuts as she falls from the air, trying to either slash away that horrific face from existance, or turn her away from the wailing trio.

Her eye is a narrow slit of almost animalistic fury as all around her, roses and a single blade does everything in her power to push back this creature of nightmares.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Falling Petals Cut The Soul on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has finished attacking.

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

The initial force of Polinas trickle to nothing, and they're left in the dark room. Mikoto nods firmly to Endo, meeting his eyes for a moment; it's the respect of one swordarm to another, the sort of exchange you can only really get by fighting alongside someone. If he's her enemy, she won't hesitate, but he has her respect.

She looks back to Mai, then, to make sure she's okay. And then, through the crowd, to spy the other Shepherds, and most of all to locate Eri and make sure she, too, is still standing.


They press on, up - towards the sound of the gunshots, because Mami might be in trouble, and they've got a truce which must be respected. Miroku drags a shallow cut through the polka-dots, Mikoto's gaze flicking across the path and up to the edges of the cake glacier. There's enough room here, at least, for her claymore not to threaten her allies so readily. The Pyotrs come, and she kills them, and not once does she let her guard down, because this is a Witch's Labyrinth and they are not safe here.

Mikoto hears Mami declares her most final attack before she clambers up the last of the hill. (Good. She will have less energy to hound them, after this.) The other girl comes into view a moment later, as the rise levels off, becomes a sweet slope downwards instead. She follows Mami's gaze to the other girl, the pink-haired girl, the one they must surely call Madoka.

It only lasts for a moment before Mikoto's attention snaps back to Mami and the Witch-corpse.

It stinks. Charlotte bursts out of itself and the first thing that reaches Mikoto's mind is that it /stinks,/ like too much chocolate, what might have passed for confectionary if it were made by an alien who had never once tasted real sweetness. It cries Polina-syringe tears and ripples like a sea cucumber evicting its innards, pouring out and out and out of the doll which was only ever the tip of the iceburg which sunk some long-forgotten English ship.

There's the taste of copper at the back of her throat, a prickle of hairs at the nape of her neck.

Movement, from the side of her vision -

It stinks. Charlotte snaps. Blood meets candy-smell.

It would have been Mami's head, but there is a blue blur, tackling her, shoving her out of the way of those closing jaws. It is not Mami's head. It is Sayaka, her chest so close to the Witch, arm clenched between teeth not quite a metre long.

SNAP-crunch-crunch, goes Charlotte, as the two girls falls to the platform. Crunch-crunch-crunch, goes Charlotte, as Sayaka wails. Crunch-munch-munch, goes Charlotte, as the blood drips over Madoka and she screams. Munch-munch-munch, goes Charlotte, as Mami finally adds her cries to the din.

Mikoto watches, face blanch, unable to turn away.

This is a Witch's Labyrinth and they are not safe here.

Gobble... gobble... GULP.

And then Charlotte rears up, again, and it looks two stories high to Mikoto's tiny frame. The girls are forgotten, in her mind, as the enemy fills her consciousness - good, perhaps, that she doesn't see the new addition, suddenly in frame and dragging Madoka out of the way.

Charlotte dives down, gaining speed from the gravity. Kyouko calls the attack - Eri stumbles and leaps and strikes - it's now or never. Mikoto's legs start working again as she charges towards it; they know how to move, they know how to fight, even when her brain is lagging behind. She screams, wordless, all her fear and her anger and and her devotion boiling over in her throat. This is what she does. She is meant to cleave at the foot at a monster, with room to move, space to sweep her greatsword against its great girth with all the force of a freight train.

So she does.

If she does not kill this Witch, it will eat them all. It is ravenous, hungry like a feral cat with worms inside its belly which keep it from feeling full even when it's eaten. It will eat the people she loves, and it will not matter that her enemies are dead, because she will be dead, and gone, an utter failure. It will eat Mai. It will eat Mai!

It is that fear, clenching at her heart, which lends strength to her strike. The Witch cannot be allowed to start its feast. It cannot.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Destruction on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.

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

There was gunfire, punctuating the need for haste. In her heart, Mai couldn't help but feel that there were a few reasons to act quickly upon hearing Mami Tomoe's signature combat style in the distance. And if she was honest, more than a few of those were born of cynicism...

Amid blades, flanked by those she'd long trusted as friends, Mai pressed onward. Worry took backseat to a running undercurrent of anger as she joined in the general advance, the occasional murmur of 'does she thing she's doing' barely audible under her breath. As Pyotrs rush forward to bar everyone's way, those harrying Mai are met by snapping lashes of flame and burning-hot golden rings.

She's muttering under her breath a lot as they run.

Just as the group crests the hill, there is a triumphant cry - and though the giant berries would probably do little to stop that terrific force, instinct drives Mai to dive for cover behind one. There's a roar, a flare, and then silence. Peeking over the fruit, the HiME beholds the teacup and lets out a groan. "Of course she's doing that here. Because it's perfect Mami To-"

Mai's words freeze in her throat as thoroughly as the blood in her veins. She can do little but stare, stunned, as the rag doll splits asunder to reveal the true Charlotte at last. Mai isn't a Puella Magi, or a hunter, or anyone who has had any chance to get used to places like this - the sight is horrific, a monstrous maw lunging forward to hunt and tear and devour in an orgy of blood-

She's still as stone, beholding the scene. Unable to think to react in time.

Charlotte claims a meal, and Mai lurches to brace herself against the giant berry beside her. Red juice stains one hand as the other flies to her mouth - fifteen months of monsters and conspiracies and ancient evils were little preparation for a scene such as this - even the monstrous wolf a full year ago wasn't this vicious. And there is wailing, from the swordswoman without an arm, from the innocent drawn into horror, from the nemesis spared abrupt demise - it rings in Mai's ears, and part of her can't comprehend this.

(Part of her can, and wishes it didn't.)

And then - there's a gulp. Mai's head jerks up, like a rabbit hearing the snapping of a twig, to see Charlotte licking those massive, massive teeth with obvious relish. She breathes in a sharp gasp, then breath stills as the moment seems to freeze in time. She can just barely see Kyouko exploding forward, Mikoto screaming a challenge, Eri staggering ahead to unleash binding vines, and oh so much more-

If they don't all fight, they'll be eaten. If they don't act this instant, then that's as good as abandoning Mami and Madoka and Sayaka to die. Whatever Mai's personal issues with one or two of those people...even she wouldn't wish that fate.

It's a second later, but in Mikoto's wake there are blazing flames. Against the familiars, fire was flung wide or shaped into a shield. Here and now, the fire carries Mai herself forward, her contrail like a broad tree-trunk of flame. Or perhaps not a contrail at all - as her path verges on crossing Charlotte's, she stops on a time to swing ferocity and passion as a burning bludgeon into the hungry beast's face. It's over-extended, perhaps - she loses her grip on it moments later, continuing her turn to half-face the one whose face she didn't want to see. Blazing rings cast strange shadows over Mai as she shouts down "Get up, Tomoe! Weren't you going on about how dangerous these places are?!"

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has used Impassioned Ignition on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.

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

La Sirene du Nord comes out just in time to see a narrowly averted bite and a streak of red and a scrap of blue and to hear the tripartate wailing of people, all of whom she considers friends - dear to her heart, if in their unique ways. There is blood in the air.

La Sirene feels the world pivot a little bit askew as her breathing hastens. Is it that things are growing closer and that other things are drawing farther away? Which part is moving where? Is she running?

Why is she running?

Oh, right, la Sirene thinks as the wails echo in her ears, and then she stops thinking entirely. That feeling fills her heart, the luminous heatless light that feels as if it pervades that far-off sea surrounding her soul if not her body, not yet. A bomb goes off; spears are thrown. La Sirene moves with great long leaps, almost skipping as her Pharos sways.

Her left arm raises, index and pinky fingers rising upwards as she skips. One more leap. Another. Is she fast enough?

"Les Mysteres," la Sirene murmurs to herelf as she takes that final vault on an intercept course with that jolly-anxious monstrosity, as she approaches the hide of the leviathan: As, in fact, she makes to TOUCH it, however transiently on the side.

"come," she concludes, and she strikes downwards with savage force.

Normally la Sirene has to do this with reflexive haste or some caution which is not present here. Also she is usually standing on the ground. Silver light scribes vast occult shapes of intricate weaving behind her like the backblast of a launching rocket: the burst forwards -- well -- that remains to be seen.

Hopefully her feet will touch the ground shortly - hopefully twice over, with the rest of her still attached.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Les Mysteres on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.

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

Teeth larger than gravestones tear through bone, blood splatters, girls cry out in pain or terror or rage or any combination of the forementioned.

When Fuu Hououji looks back on this Labyrinth, if she can ever do so without a renewed shudder of terror, it will seem like the only way their journey through the hospital-derived, too-sugary passages *could* have ended, on a field of cake topped with bright red blood. But here and now, the Magic Knight of Wind can only think of one thing: if that giant monster is the Witch - and there seems little doubt on that front - then it can't be allowed to close its jaws upon anything, anyONE, else.

Arrows and swords won't be enough; the Witch's charge HAS to be not merely arrested but forcibly diverted. And while the Wind Knight has little she can lend in terms of exerting lateral force upon Charlotte's path ...


.... she *can* impose an arresting force of her own. The whirlwind which normally binds her foes is unleashed in a form closer to a powerful headwind, and if Charlotte depends upon breathing air, the giant, clown-faced, serpentine Witch may find it difficult to draw in a proper breath.

But trying to slow that deadly rush is the most that the Wind Knight can do on her own. Thank the countless gods of Earth, and perhaps of other worlds, that she's *not* on her own; she certainly will when she next visits a shrine. For now, the Wind Knight's full attention and effort are poured into her desperate attempt to halt, or even just to slow, Charlotte's charge, and desperation and horror wage understated war upon her own shock-paled face, green eyes wider than normal behind her glasses.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Admonishment on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

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

Uncertainty is a part of any battle, but is perhaps least welcome in one's allies, and seconds stretch as Sailor Pluto endures the claustrophobic crush of Polinas and their menacing, gleaming implements. She'd assumed la Sirene would play her part, perhaps foolishly relying on that precarious truce of theirs -- would this, then, be her costly lesson in misplaced trust? As the beset senshi begins racing through desperate mental calculations to determine how much space she might buy with a forceful blast of garnet, la Sirene makes her move.

Dots of sweat bubble up across Pluto's brow at the effort of holding still as possible while spinning the Rod; she strains to not jostle those arms as they lightly encircle her (close, so close!). Warped-and-warping elder energy, familiar in its antiquity yet also well beyond the bounds of the Time Guardian's considerable experience, blots out the Garnet Rod and its silvery spin, the unnatural lurching of oncoming not-nurses... all of it, suspending Pluto in this strange moment with la Sirene.

Cool as her breath is, it ought not freeze a person so.

A staccato of gunfire sounds again in the distance, punctuating Pluto's pause before she finds her reply. "Yes." The Polina onslaught abates and she lets the Garnet Rod rotate to a slow stop, the helicopter's blade finally spinning down to stillness. Sailor Pluto clears her throat. "Yes, let's go. And my thanks for your support." She slips out of the delicate clasp of arms, gently reasserting her space.

Then they're running, fighting, pushing their advance through the treacherous labyrinth (or maybe they're being channeled like cattle in a chute to its heart and just don't realize). They chase the echoing reports of Mami Tomoe's bullet arpeggio, and though Sailor Pluto keenly recalls what it feels like to be on the receiving end of those golden projectiles... she finds herself hoping the goldenrod Puella Magi prevails, even if that does mean facing off against her again.

The motley company of briefly-allied magical girls, with its blades and frills and bristling conversations, crests the hill. Golden triumph, glittering like pyrite, unfolds -- and monstrous gluttony thunders through it as the Labyrinth disgorges its mistress in full. Sailor Pluto has never seen anything like Charlotte; the Time Gate sees far, but it does not pierce the secret hearts of Labyrinths, and this is a particularly terrible way to make their acquaintance. Horror splatters, crimson and messy, and even the mentally nimble Time Guardian has trouble following the action until it is (momentarily) over.

Every hair on the back of Sailor Pluto's neck prickles to the wailing chorus of pain: all of the considerable howling misery of two Puella Magi and one very normal, very sweet girl, flooding the senshi's veins with ice. She masters the tremble in her limbs, swallows hard and shoves her horror and sorrow down deep, to be dealt with later.

Because Charlotte still hungers, and Charlotte won't wait on frail intangibles like feelings.

Sailor Pluto makes distant note of the time-torturing arrival and actions of Homura Akemi, but for once pays the Time Criminal no mind at all. All of her considerable focus is on the ancient Garnet Orb, and she calls crackling power forth from its glittering depths with a sweeping gesture of the Rod and a hollow cry: "Garnet Blast!" Like a shrieking eldritch firecracker, a ball of gravitic energy rockets toward that awfully-grinning clown face, adding to the combined heroic efforts of the assembled.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has used Garnet Blast on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

This whole thing has been a nightmare in itself, but when the darkness falls, the flames shall light the way. That's the view of Hikaru Shidou, or the Fire Knight as she's known as. She's not about to let any amount of darkness get her down, and no matter what monsters get in her way, she'll always try to take them down! With the help of her magic and her ally, the Fire Knight plans to put an end to this once and for all!

Unfortunately, the Fire Knight's sword may not be much use right now, so it's more about the usage of her fire magic primarily. She doesn't have the same ability that the Wind Knight does, what to impose an arresting force like that. What she can do is use some of her magic to assist as best as she can. It may not be much, but every little bit helps in the Fire Knight's opinion.

"Fire arrow!" The Fire Knight calls out, shooting forth an arrow shaped projectile at Charlotte. "You will burn like the fiend you are!" She adds as she casts forth her signature spell (in her opinion anyway.)

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Fire Arrow on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.

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

The fight through Pyotr and Polina is all a frenzied flash of movement, beams of light, hurled fists, flashes of swords. Endo is one of those swords, one of the big ones, blade clanging off oversized scalpels and sweeping away demonic nurses in large swatches. The fight is-no matter how long the instants might stretch-a short and brutal rush forward.

And then it stops.

Sayaka is reunited with her friends. Mami and Madoka are safe. Everything is alright.

There's no time to react while that delusion is so abruptly shattered.

Endo can only watch, wide-eyed, as the monstrous form of the witch erupts from its first body and balloons into a second. His whole body shakes when it's jaws descend, trembling in sympathy as red sprays from the point where Sayaka, Mami, and Charlotte meet.

He doesn't know them very well. They've worked together only recently, allies against a common foe, and then comrades again in the demon city. He doesn't know them, but he knows what they stand for. He knows they stood against the Wolkenritter because they believed in protecting people. He knows they came here to save their friend. He knows they're good people. He knows they don't deserve this.

And then the witch is coming again, tearing down with jaws opened wide to finish the job. Endo doesn't allow it. He can't.

<METEOR ABSTURZ.> Fallen Stern warbles.

The knight launches forward, triangular symbols forming at his feet before he goes rocketing toward the creature's massive head. Like Kasagami he goes into the into the deafening explosion of Homura's rocket, into the debris and chaos, sword in hand.

There are times when Endo Naoki and Fallen Stern are perfectly aligned in their desires. This blow comes from that purity of purpose, comes with all the force that can be mustered from their singular desire:


COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Meteor Absturz on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Homura Akemi's Timed Explosives, taking 60 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Eri Shimanouchi's Moidon's Grasp, taking 19 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Kyouko Sakura's Masterstroke, taking 29 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Kasagami Araki's Falling Petals Cut The Soul, taking 44 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Garnet's Decisive Punch, taking 30 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Destruction, taking 11 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Mai Tokiha's Impassioned Ignition, taking 29 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Mai Tokiha is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge La Sirene du Nord's Les Mysteres, taking 40 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Fuu Hououji's Winds of Admonishment, taking 24 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Fuu Hououji is Psyched! Cripple applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Sailor Pluto's Garnet Blast, taking 20 Fatigue damage! Sailor Pluto is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Hikaru Shidou's Fire Arrow, taking 35 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Endo Naoki's Meteor Absturz, taking 39 Fatigue damage!

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

Mami's teacup rests on its side near Sayaka's head. It's tilted on its saucer, far enough to spill, and the tea pulses over its edge slowly. Sparkling, its flow throbs into the saucer.

Curling further against the ground, Sayaka drags her damp forehead along the platform, her hair bulldozed beneath it and then released to trail along with her. Her arm wraps along her side, but she can't bring herself to touch her amputated shoulder, and instead wraps it around her ribs by proxy. Her forehead finally drags up to press against Mami's side. In her present agony she doesn't even know what object that is; she just pushes her forehead at it in an effort to curl in further.

Sayaka's boots tentatively scrape at the floor. She's not trying to get up. Her whole body is restless with the wrongness of her injury. Shock has dulled the pain, but "dull" is small consolation when the quantity is so severe. Sayaka is whimpering, near-blind.

"Help..." Her voice is small and confused.

On Sayaka's navel there is a blue gem in the shape of a stylized crescent. Elongated, round-edged, organic, with a crystalline dot within. An inky swirl is poisoning it from within, darkening its once clear depths, flooding it progressively.

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Charlotte's right eye is distracted, when she's close enough again for Mami, Madoka and Sayaka to smell even more of the latter's blood than a moment before. It rolls lazily to the side, even as her left stays fixedly forward, hungrily glaring down those delicious yellow wedges.

So it is that everyone gets the discomfiting opportunity to see expression, to gaze into her and be gazed upon, whichever direction that they come from.

Homura is first to be too late -- the nature of her existence, encapsulated perfectly in the pooling blood on the ground. Her bomb detonates dangerously close to the would-be rescuees... except for the single one she chose to save from herself. It's like a gigantic uppercut under what passes for Charlotte's chin, lifting the beast up, up, and away from Mami and Sayaka, by at least twenty feet.

Fire reflects in those two eyes, which cross, the right one rolling back to look down at the magical girls assembling beneath her...

...while the left meets Kyouko's spear, the massive head jerking to the side at the last moment in order to avoid impalement. She can't get far, though, not with Eri's scourge wrapped around her, dragging her into the blade, which cuts deeply.

In the same moment, Kasagami and Endo burst through the smoke to deliver, respectively, a dozen painful slices and a single immense smash. The Duelist's sword draws blood that flows down her face in strange runes. Endo makes a pockmark into Charlotte's side that stays, as though she's made of plastic.

Garnet's fists slam into her face in a brutal followup, and Charlotte's mouth gapes wide with the shock of it. Into that orifice flows the Wind Knight's wind and the Fire Knight's fire, and she burps an explosion.

There are too many people to react to -- before she can mount a counterattack, Mikoto and Mai are there at her base, wielding flame and wielding sword, and like Endo they leave a strange closed gash. Unlike Endo's, it is on fire.

And it's then that a gravitic orb surfs down a tsunami of silver light, Sailor Pluto and La Sirene's assaults slamming together on the opposite side, the impact enough to send a wave rolling down Charlotte's bulk, towards the tail.

Enough is enough; both her eyes roll again with frustration, and she starts lashing out in all directions. There is a ton of her, several tons, and she moves with appalling speed for something of her mass. It is dangerously easy to get mashed into the shortcake, and for all that it's a soft surface, Charlotte herself is, paradoxically for her appearance, rock hard. The landing may be gentle but the initial home run, never.

There's a single exception, one person endangered differently than the rest; Kyouko, who called the attack, whose howl wafted through the air towards Charlotte on wings of pain and rage.

Kyouko, who last ate a huge ball of pilfered cheese.

As her thrashing tantrum comes to a middle, both eyes fix on /that/ girl, and Charlotte surges forward towards teeth-first.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Endo Naoki.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Sailor Pluto.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Garnet.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Thrashing Tantrum on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Tenacity on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe accepts Hotaru Tomoe's Tenacity, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Hotaru Tomoe is Reinforced by Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 12 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Eri Shimanouchi's Block ability activates! Eri Shimanouchi's Parry ability activates! Stun and Trap applied to Eri Shimanouchi!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 17 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Kasagami Araki's Fade ability activates! Kasagami Araki's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 9 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Fuu Hououji's Block ability activates! Fuu Hououji's Parry ability activates! Trap applied to Fuu Hououji!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 9 Fatigue damage! Hikaru Shidou's Block ability activates! Hikaru Shidou's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 20 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Stun applied to La Sirene du Nord!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 23 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 18 Fatigue damage! Stun and Trap applied to Endo Naoki!
COMBAT: Sailor Pluto narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 13 Fatigue damage! Stun applied to Sailor Pluto!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 12 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Mikoto Minagi's Fade ability activates! Mikoto Minagi's Flash ability activates! Stun and Trap applied to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Garnet narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 8 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Stun and Trap applied to Garnet!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi fails to dodge Hotaru Tomoe's Thrashing Tantrum, taking 29 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Stun and Trap applied to Homura Akemi!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 28 Fatigue damage! Kyouko Sakura's Block ability activates! Kyouko Sakura's Parry ability activates!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Words That We Didn't Say https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdHHIVMJ_VQ

Madoka is pliable in Homura's hands, easily dragged away from the blast zone. Her eyes are blank, her feet clumsy. Mami saw a Madoka like this earlier in the evening. Homura has seen Madokas like this countless times, but this particular one looks, for all the world, like Homura herself, ordinary plain Homura, standing in the very first black rain.


How many nights have Madoka and Sayaka spent on each others' floors? A hundred? A thousand?

How many bowls of popcorn? How many shared secret grins at school the next morning, jokes only they knew?

How many conversations, to and from school, about absolutely nothing?

Blood gushes out of Sayaka, her every heartbeat painfully measured, now, and with each renewed pulse it is Madoka's turn to wonder if all of their joyfully wasted time was a waste, after all.

Entering the magical world had made them both more serious. You cannot survive being saved together, or the one saving the other, without sometimes talking about life and death, after, about good and evil. About love.

Yet at the same time, Madoka finds herself searching for excuses for her empty-handedness, when she grasps at the comforting knowledge that they had no unfinished business between them. It isn't true. It wouldn't be true if they were both eighty-year-old grandmas, but that's not what she's thinking now--

--she's thinking about how she's been really worried about Sayaka's increasing zealotry, her recklessness. How she's been afraid that something terrible is going to happen because of it. And how, acutely aware of the way that her own normality is so important, so precious, to the others in her life, her last conversation with Sayaka was about Hokkaido, and the one before that about ballet.

To say that Madoka blames herself for this is to grossly oversimplify the tangle of her current heartscape, but there's a pulsing seed of that at the eye of the storm, certainly. It's always there, a universal constant of self-centeredness in times of crisis. Knowing that, and that it is wrong, and selfish, doesn't stop it from happening over and over again.

But there's more there than that, so much more. She finds herself regretting not getting to see Sayaka's next softball game, too. She finds herself wanting one more cup of tea at Mami's apartment -- one more midnight cocoa at her own place. Just one more. One and one and one and one.

She's insatiable for Sayaka. It will never be enough.


Grayscale roars back to red, Madoka stumbling, staggering at Homura's side. Then there comes a wrenching feeling from somewhere other than the heart. Homura loses some skin from her palm as Madoka jerks free, Sayaka's plea echoing in her ears and another plea echoing in her mind.

<< You can save her! You have to make a wish /right now/, Madoka Kaname! >>

The little pink and white creature is suddenly, conveniently at Madoka's feet. She almost trips over him, because she was already running to Sayaka and Mami's side before he even intervened.

She doesn't look back, as she slides over frosting to land, knees-first, next to her friends, her partners, the other two thirds of her trio. Whatever her strange place in its organization, she fulfills her older promise to Mami brilliantly.

"I'm here," she weeps, smoothing back those tattered blue bangs, her other hand on Mami's shoulder, squeezing fiercely as she feels. "I'm here!"

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


This time, Mami does pull back, to try to take Madoka's hands. The fact that she's been crying is more obvious, now, but her expression is hopeful. "I feel like I'm dreaming. I--Well, I don't know about the /wish/, but I--" She holds tight to Madoka's hands. "...Do... Do you really mean it? That you'll stay with me? That I won't be..."

"I can't promise I'll never be weak, or scared, or silly... because I am all those things, all the time, more and more with every passing day." Tears drip onto their hands, and she sniffs before liquid snot can join it, looking up wetly at Mami's face.

"But I can be /there/."

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

The sight of Charlotte devouring Sayaka's arm transfixes Mami, but it's the sound that works like nails driven into her heart, nauseating and horrifying and punctuated by each crunch and snap and gulp that she hears. But worst of all is that wide open mouth after, with that piece of blue. Blue, blue, blue just where it shouldn't be, and it wrenches at Mami's heart, twists up in her chest. Charlotte is so close, and then finally rears back, but only part of Mami finds it to be a relief.

It is not a relief when Charlotte rushes back, her strange eyes mismatched, hungry still. Mami tries to shrink back but can't go far into the surface of the platform. That's when the explosion comes, and the blonde Puella Magi flinches visibly against the bomb that's too close for her, except that she sees that creature flying away, and...

Voices. Kyouko's voice, first. Mami lets out a breath and watches Kyouko and Eri both attack. It's a real relief this time, though it doesn't stop her blood pouncing inhr ears, doesn't stop--

'Get up, Tomoe!'

Mami snaps back, shrill, "I can't!" The fear is there, in her voice. She lets out moments later a hissing breath, as she looks to Sayaka starting to shift. Mami isn't as easy to hold onto as Mami might be otherwise, bloodsoaked as she now is, but she is stable, she is stationary, and she is there for Sayaka. She doesn't let go of the younger girl.

'Help', Sayaka asks, and how can one word break Mami's heart? Thoughts disjointed, she thinks of seeing this, feels the blood soaked through her clothes sometimes down to her skin, but also feels the warmth of Sayaka's easy smile. Time with her, time with her and Madoka together. Not their war, not fighting, now, but lunches out in the city, meeting after school. So many other things that they do together.

"S-sayaka, please, I--" Her eyes fill up with ears such that she can't even see. "I don't know what to--" But there is Madoka, and she is /there/.

"Madoka! Madoka!" Mami still shakes under Madoka's hand. "I--I don't know what I can do, and--"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Homura catches Madoka's eyes for a moment. She isn't, despite the accusations, heartless. There is genuine, terrified worry in those eyes -- perhaps not for Sayaka, because she has seen this before -- but at least in how it would affect Madoka. It is, though, brief. And on the one hand, that's because Homura can't be that person right now. And, on the the other, Homura is slammed into by a ton plus of Witch and sent flying.

She rips out of Madoka's hand, hurtling off towards the wall of cake. She slams into it so hard that there is a crack, before she crumples down to her feet, and then she looks towards Madoka -- and Mami, and Sayaka, and that proof of godlessness that turned them all into this.

"Madoka!" she shouts. "Don't!"

She leaps, flying into the air. To their eyes, she vanishes -- and then she reappears, right in front of all three of them, as if she could stand between them and Charlotte and keep them safe. Homura's blood runs cold, but it never shows, as she lifts up paired sub-machineguns, and unleashes two rapid bursts of gunfire up at Charlotte.

"Bind the wound!" she snaps. "She can--" Can she heal that? Homura isn't sure if it is possible. She hesitates, then adds: "Give her a Grief Seed! The extra magic won't hurt."

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Guns Akimbo on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.

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

A corner of the Wind Knight's mind is reflecting, as she flies across the cake's surface, that this Witch is not nearly as ---


--- oh, that was a bad sound. At least it didn't sound like bone getting shattered by giant teeth, and the Wind Knight's previous reflection is lost in a haze of confusion and pain, both inflicted by the same impact. Getting swatted aside by Charlotte's bulk was definitely more painful, but it seemed like crashing through the legs of this table was more acute somehow. More direct. Almost, in a way, more personal.

And then the too-tall tea table collapses down around the Wind Knight, trapping her where she is as surely as if she'd been driven into the cake like a birthday candle's base ... or something. It's going to take a few moments to get herself loose.

They're moments which she already knows that none of them can spare. Every instant of this battle is a deadly hazard; every second that each girl continues to draw breath seems like a miracle. And while miracles are surely a magical girl's stock in trade, depending on them from moment to moment is too much of a risk. From the little that the Wind Knight saw, Sayaka is already likely to be at death's door, but healing her - if that's even possible - is going to take a LOT of time and effort ... time and effort which she won't have, as long as Charlotte continues assailing them.

The Winds of Admonishment did very little. The Magic Knight of Wind squirms around inside of her not-really-wooden cage of table legs. How can something the size of this Witch be this hard to lay eyes --

Oh, that black and red thing is definitely not cake. And it's moving. That's probably the Witch, then. She can't nock an arrow, can't throw her sword; it'll have to be another spell ...

"Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi!!"

Smaller but more violent than the Winds of Admonishment, another magical whirlwind is conjured, tearing across the cakescape's surface to, *hopefully*, tear into Charlotte's flank with even greater vigor.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

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

Endo doesn't have time to recover from his initial strike when the witch begins to thrash. He's getting his footing again when its mass slams down atop him, smashing him into the cake-like floor and rattling his bones with the force of such an impact.

He finds himself embedded in cake, armor cracked and cape tangled around his form. It takes a moment for him to right himself, and even then strands of cake and frosting keep him stuck and stumbling as he manages to right himself.

He can't free himself enough to make another leap at the huge face bearing down on the red Puella Magi, but he can at least try and strike the side of the monster. He grips his sword, hefting it, then plunging it into the witches body as it writhes.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Blauverschiebung on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The Fire Knight does the best as she can to protect herself, but it's not the best. She gets hit quite hard and goes down to the ground, but it's only for a moment, as she manages to push herself back onto her feet with the help of her sword. "Unngh... hurts..." She says, finally getting herself back up, and feeling a little sore, but still willing to keep this fight going. "No one's gonna beat me that easily!" She says as she grips her sword tightly and looks towards Charlotte with a scowl. "You've made a big mistake attacking me like that! I'm gonna make you regret it!"

Dodging around the 'cake' (since it's really not cake) and anything else in her way, the Fire Knight makes her way towards Charlotte. A battle cry launches from her mouth as she rushes in, intent on showing Charlotte what happens when you make the Fire Knight angry. And when the Fire Knight is knocked down like that, she really gets quite angry. Seems Charlotte's got a lesson to be taught to her right now.

"I'm gonna make you pay for that!" The Fire Knight yells as she swings her sword at Charlotte before attempting to pull back quickly, although she knows the distance means nothing to an enemy like this.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Sword Slash on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Homura Akemi's Guns Akimbo, taking 5 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Psyched! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Fuu Hououji's Storm-Dance of Kamaitachi, taking 13 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Endo Naoki's Blauverschiebung, taking 13 Fatigue damage! Endo Naoki is Psyched! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Hikaru Shidou's Sword Slash, taking 15 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Hikaru Shidou is Psyched! Stagger and Stun applied to Hotaru Tomoe!

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

The great mass of Charlotte slams into la Sirene and this, at least, is not something that has been effaced in the distortion of realities that is occuring in this time and place. She tumbles backwards.

In a way this is almost pleasant. She does not have time or energy to spare to worry about Sayaka, or Madoka, or Mami. She manages to skid to a halt on that too-high tea table, upending the kettle - or something, she doesn't look.

At this distance la Sirene does not have a ton of options. Fortunately she does still have a lantern, and while that light is rather strange in its behavior, it DOES shine forth pretty readily - a flickering beam of strange inverse light that aims to swipe across the monster's face.

La Sirene also tries to estimate how easily she can get down.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Pieces of the Perfect Black on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace La Sirene du Nord's Pieces of the Perfect Black, taking 30 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Blind applied to Hotaru Tomoe!

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

Like a devil the beast twists in her snare. And Eri let's out a howl of effort as she yanks back knowing she's weaker heels scattering twisted china. "Stop-" At last in a desperate effort to keep her hold, she raises one foot, and stamps down on the twisted tendril to pin it- thorns and all to the table. "-smiling!"

A witch is a mockery of life- but she can't help but hate that grin, as if it had all the malice of the world in it as it strove to devour one thing she cared about after the next. She leads it one way, then another, gritting her teeth to suppress a shriek- trying to lead it one way then another like a shark out of the movies on a line. Into the spears and blades of the girls with her.

But enough is enough- and leverage cannot match the strength of the massive witch. It thrashes, and she's yanked bodily off the table... fighting to keep her hold.

Azure suffering grows weaker and weaker behind her- more pathetic and confounded, and no matter how much she hates that girl on any other day she's not going to let it slide, not like this.

That suffering that paralyzes even yellow. It's not surprising- afraid all the time.

But it's not enough, the thrashing creature sends her flying to impact with table leg- a soundless yelp as she impacts it, and is sent sprawling into the cake behind her.

Caught in some wrong mixture somewhere between not quite fondant and not quite buttercream and all sickeningly disgusting, she coughs and suffers and wipes the cloying awfulness from her face.

Her eyes are a haze of red- red red and she's shocked back into definition once more. She's never seen her burn brighter than this, leading the charge like some frenzied, baying wolf. Angry teeth ready to match the giant witch's. "KYOUKO!" She screams, the thought of her imminent death consuming rank.

The witch speeds towards her, her soul screams at the thought of red joining that chorus. She'd known about her tale of suffering long ago. She'd been told it in a parked bench, draped by moonlight and the morning mist- her loyalty given to her so freely even if she hadn't known it yet.

She won't let her go through more.

Whipping her legs off, she tears herself out of it and shakes it off like a pup shaking off something foul they'd rolled themselves in. Her cry is advent to her magic- vines lined with darkened thorns coil up, shifting her shortened hair then exploding forth in four lashing tendrils. The tips are lined with impaling barbs out of deepest briars and blackened thorns.

They whistle back and forth across the gap with a telltale shriek as they batter- and pierce, and impale.

There's another, familiarity in the sound of submachine guns- purple she can't even decipher when she got here among the haze, but she starts to comprehend the chorus. 'Help-' 'I'm here' 'I don't know what I can do--' 'Give her a grief seed!'

To a Puella Magi grief seeds were like life- and she knows, she knows- she knows the battle they were just in- could they have possibly come here with nothing at all?

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Harionago's Barbs on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.

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

The awful neon bullseye of Charlotte's regard skewers Pluto, a churn of cheer and malevolence, and the eternal Guardian looks away first. She tastes bile, and it takes a conscious effort of will to unclench aching fingers from their deathgrip around the haft of the Rod. Artless, lurid blotches of red stain her vision, indelible afterimages of violence.

Calling on considerable will, Sailor Pluto turns back to face the rampaging, ravening menace, just in time to catch a brickbat of Witch-bakery to the head -- gritty and unyielding like a slice of cake forgotten on the counter for weeks. There is no anticipating Charlotte, not for Sailor Pluto, so new to the nightmare illogic of Witches and their playgrounds. She takes a painful lesson in their tactics and it slams her back and down, knocking her to the grossly spongey turf.

Sailor Pluto drags herself upward via the silvery leverage of her artifact, and considers the furor of battle for a long moment before bringing the ancient depths of the Orb up before her eyes.

Time to learn, if she can, how Witches work. She spares a worry: will there even be a past or future, here, for her to read? What will be revealed? But she must try, and so she peers through ages come and gone and yet to be for an answer, any answer, to this monstrosity threatening them all.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has used Golden Eternity Lens on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Eri Shimanouchi's Harionago's Barbs, taking 35 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

So many vie to help Sayaka. Enemies, Allies, all gathered under a fragile truce to destroy this thing that has already taken lives. That nearly took Mami's. That has cost Sayaka, has Madoka reaching out and Mami unable to come to the blue one's aide. Kasagami Araki feels her heart pang for the three girls, all thoughts of a petty war driven far from her mind.

The multicolored Charlotte is far closer to it, right now, as her actions are more instinct than thoughtful action. A single foot catches the top of that horrific sweet-loving creature's head, and she pushes off just in time to witness the blood on her sword swish away in odd runes. She hatefully flicks it, already pulling her long blade high above her head for what she prays will be a blow that strikes straight through the eyes she's come to hate so much in a very short span of time.

But then, the grand creature thrashes, and the mere shockwave combined with her own act of trying to get away has her tossed careening into what passes for a ground in this place, bouncing unceremoniously into and through the disturbingly jello-like sweets she's crashed into. And yet, it's a bit like hitting the water after an ill advised bellyflop. With a cough, sputter, and pained cry, she pulls herself up from the gunk with a look of naked fury on her face. Only her coat has escaped the destruction. She cuts off a sleeve, and it's tossed to the trio as Homura calls out.

"H...HEY! PINKY! One of you! Use that for her arm! Do what she said, at least stop the bleeding!"

Sucking in pained breath through what she's sure is at least two broken ribs from that impact, she rushes for that large creature in the air, letting out a war cry that couldn't possibly compare to the pain of those three girls below. But Kasagami can sure as heck try to get Charlotte's attention.

Her body shimmers, she takes a stance mid-charge, and then at impossible angles, blades strike. A series of thrusts that are at once above, below, and in front. Twirling, spinning walls of roses where petals cut on four sides, despite there only being two to slash. A narrowed eye is in three places at once, full of absolute hatred.

"Even if they're an enemy...leaving a girl there savagely hurt and making others cry that weren't even involved...!"

Her leap towards Charlotte stalls, she spins to the side, and then blade in one hand she puts every amount of anger she has at abominations like /THIS/ into an almost backhanded, lashing strike as she attempts to lash across both of those spinning, circular eyes that writhe so.

"I won't stand for it! See nothing but darkness!" Crimson, wrathful roses trail where she twirls and slashes, a graceful, violent whirlwind seeking nothing but misplaced vengeance for her enemies, projected hatreds from her own past.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Crimson Cage Lite on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly counters Sailor Pluto's Golden Eternity Lens, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Analysis performed by Sailor Pluto! Stun applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, Body Horror, partially gets through, doing 30 Fatigue damage to Sailor Pluto!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Kasagami Araki's Crimson Cage Lite, taking 30 Fatigue damage!

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

Obsidian and flame seem to make a destructive pair as they hammer the Witch's side in rapid succession - but Mai has little care for the mark left from her attack. Her attention is ensnared by that utterly alien eye, rolling in strange curves to meet her gaze directly. It's almost hypnotizing in how it rolls and bounces, and within that gaze is...

Nothing. Nothing human for the HIME to try to comprehend.

(Though she could hazard a guess at 'hunger'.)

Mami's outburst catches Mai's ear suddenly, and she whirls to stare in disbelief at the cry of fear. The shock on her face quickly gives way to something more sympathetic upon seeing what state she's in - not the self-righteous veteran, but a scared teenager cradling a mortally injured friend. These aren't nemeses, these are...normal people. If not for the rampaging Witch, she might do more, but...there aren't even words. Just a pained look on her face, sorrow in her gaze, and she turns back toward the hopefully-stunned Witch.

Charlotte isn't stunned. There's a freight train rushing towards Mai, and she's only halfway toward bringing up her rings to guard when that bulk slams into her - the one small mercy is that she isn't smashed down into the cake. The death of that mercy is that this is because she was flying, and 'home run' is an apt analogy.

A sudden screech of panic, as Mai is swatted into the sky; when she falls, it's as a flame-trailing ball of awkwardness to land on chocolate curls near Mikoto's emerging form. It's a moment before she sits up, and when she does it's with a groan. "...all right, don't take my eyes off the...whatever that is. Mikoto, are you...all right?"

The fiery HiME winces as she drops from the chocolatey ledge - its smell almost able to win out over that sickening blood - and raises her rings to try to conjure a barrier to guard Mikoto. Her companion has other ideas in mind, though, and upon hearing the suggestion...

Taking Mikoto in a careful embrace, Mai takes to the skies once more. Charlotte is a hard target to miss, but if Mikoto's target is up high...it's a careful advance. One approach, then another, but those alien eyes are ever watchful - and so Mai grits her teeth. "It's looking at us, Mikoto...so I'll give it something to look at, and you do what you have in mind!"

Charlotte might see a HiME descending from above - but she'll more likely have her gaze find Mai's brilliant barrier, white-hot in the instant before it becomes a shining, blinding beacon of heat and light.

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has started a combo targeting Hotaru Tomoe!
<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Garnet lands and turns to the witch again, and for the brief second she scans the battlefield is relieved that their combined assaults had diverted Charlotte from the huddled pink, yellow and blue...

Of all the gumdrops in this Labyrinth, these three by far the sweetest, the ones worth saving.

Soon Garnet doesn't see anything, as Charlotte's bulk bears down on everyone.

The gluttonous witch is much more solid than she looks, but Gems aren't known for their softness either, and Garnet is made from even harder stuff than her namesake. Maybe only diamonds are harder, and Charlotte is certainly not one. Garnet's brace against the sudden smothering does shield her from most of the pain of the impact, but that solidity has its own drawbacks. The hard impact of the two meeting erupts in a swell of force through the Gem, leaving her disoriented, and drives Garnet deep into the easily yielding frosting, which sludges up to her upper thighs.

Charlotte's wall recedes, and Garnet growls with frustration at her sticky, situation. No.

No! She has to be free to guard them, to help Sayaka get medical care soon! A part of her inside screams "AGH! There's no TIME for this!!

Garnet raises her fists in rage and slams them in front of her! The feedback propels her a little higher out, but not as far as she'd hoped. She cries out and strikes again, this one sending a wave of force through the frosting, along in a goopy wave headed from Charlotte's center of weight!

COMBAT: Garnet has used Strike The Earth! on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Garnet has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has joined the combo started by Mai Tokiha!

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

There is a bright, earth-shattering explosion above them. But it strikes the Witch, so it must be ally action, so Mikoto takes it and files it in her mind and doesn't flinch or think on it any further. There's no time to deliberate over what's going on. She only has to react. And right now, she doesn't have to react to an explosion. It didn't catch her.

Miroku bites through Charlotte's flesh, and there is no blood there, no guts, nothing which should be inside flesh. Mai's fire follows, floods the wound, sets it alight. It looks unreal. It stinks like blood. Copper-taste, iron-smell, and it doesn't quite hew to reality, and them it squirms.

Mikoto's mind goes, immediately, to the image of an earthworm she'd observed on the outside deck of the family home after a spring rain. She'd poked at it with a stick, fascinated in that six-year-old fashion, cruel as a child, making it dance and flail. She doesn't remember what happened after then, what led her back inside, but she knows the image of the cut up worm afterwards, dried out in the sun, still and swarmed by ants. And her Lord Brother, his image indistinct, pulling her away.

It's only a moment's memory, fed to her in parallel with the information of the battle, but it seems so fitting. Yes, it is as if the ants had surged forth before the worm was dead. The magical girls are tiny, Charlotte is huge. They will take it apart piece by piece, if they can withstand its sheer force. If -

Mikoto leaps away, springing back from the Witch's immense girth. It catches her just as she's almost away, and her trajectory is forced clumsily into a nearby shortcake. Mikoto stumbles, struggling in the frosting and the puffy pastry for a moment. She doesn't want to taste it. She doesn't want to acknowledge that it tastes like cake. But she does, and she does, because her mind catalogues the experiences and files them away automatically.

It is horrible because it is so close to reality. It is as if someone has magnified the experience several times over. It is too much. It's as if someone guessed what cake ought to be, and wanted something so badly, so earnestly...

She pulls herself from the shortcake, not bothering to shake it from her body as she grasps Miroku in both hands. She hears the Puella Magi, distantly, but her mind is flooded with the polka-dot spread of Charlotte. It is the enemy. It is hungry.

And Mai --

Mai is there, always, warm heat and love, pulling herself up after getting hit by that thing, and Mikoto feels her and hears her even as she doesn't take her eyes off the Witch. (It's sound advice.) Mai asks if she's all right, and Mikoto nods, with an affirmative grunt. She's all right. And Mai sounds all right, too. So it's fine. They're fine. They just need to keep attacking.

"It's too tall," she replies, after a moment's pause. "Need to get up there."

Mikoto is small, and yet still heavy enough in Mai's arms, owing to Miroku's sturdy weight. Mai's embrace is familiar, and trustworthy, and Mikoto nods against her as Mai suggests her plan. She's released, and she surges, downwards, gaining speed -

She lands sword-first, seeking to cleave through the nape of Charlotte's neck, just behind the wings it calls its ears.

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

Sayaka realizes at last that this awkward lump beneath her is Mami, and immediately tears start to flow in relief. "Senpai..." she whispers. Mami's arms are around her, and she can feel that as vividly as she would on any other day, but pain is more vivid yet, long deep spikes of it pulsating up and down in her shoulder. It's hard to think straight.

Trusting eyes blink up at Mami, waiting for her to make this all right. When it doesn't happen, Sayaka's feet push into the ground like a cat kneading, and in her anxious and constant shifting she rolls onto her back, onto Mami's lap. She's rocking up and down there a little, contaminated by Mami's fear.

Madoka's arrival throws water on that conflagration, her hand smoothing Sayaka's diaphoretic brow. Sayaka calms a great deal, but she's breathing rapidly and shallowly still, nostrils flaring with it. Where Madoka might have expected her skin to be feverishly hot, it's instead cool and damp.

"M-madoka," she says. Her teeth are chattering. "You're okay, you're really okay, I'm s-so... I wasn't sure I'd see you again." She winces, jerking, and her heel starts digging at the frosting. "It hurts," she bleats pleadingly. "Madoka, d-don't go. Don't go..."

She closes her eyes tightly. Her soul gem is filled with putrid, churning pollution, softly vibrating.

"I'm scared," she whispers.

COMBAT: Your combo will now display as 'Obsidian Blade: Deflagrate'.

COMBAT: Your combo will now display as 'Obsidian Blade: Deflagrate'.
COMBAT: COMBO! Mai Tokiha and Mikoto Minagi have used Combo: Obsidian Blade: Deflagrate, composed of Devoted Scintillation and Obsidian Blade: Devastation, on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Mai Tokiha and Mikoto Minagi's Combo: Obsidian Blade: Deflagrate, taking 30 Fatigue damage! Mai Tokiha and Mikoto Minagi are Psyched! Stagger applied to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Garnet's Strike The Earth!, taking 26 Fatigue damage!

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuAzPR0ACVw

Kyouko likes to think of herself as a a perceptive girl, one with a strong grasp of her periphery. Not one easily snuck up on..and to such a person the likes of Homura Akemi are endlessly maddening. In the latest of a long series of successes, the dark haired girl simply manifests herself, and less simply unleashes an arsenal the moment that she does. The only other person Kyouko has met, friend or foe, who has matched this art of the immaculate appearance is Sailor Pluto, but for the time being she hasn't consciously made the connection.

This time's a real doozy, and while it isn't quite accurate to say that dropping a bomb a few tiers down from a nuke is to blame for Kyouko's aim being off, it, ah...

..doesn't help.

And so instead of coming at the behemoth head on, Kyouko comes at its side, and the roving chameleon eye catches her in its long sweep. And so the gargantuan eel twists aside from her, reducing her strike from a crucial blow to merely a considerable one.

She lands lightly on her feet, and is back up in the air in mere moments. Just before she's reached the apex of its arc, she is face to face with the great beast, and uncomfortably alerted to the fact that she is, for now, the sole thing on its mind.

It was stupid to leap forward and help. She knew that when she did..which isn't to say that her choice was in any way considered or deliberated upon. She simply acted. Once, Kyouko had been wise. She'd found enlightnment under the murky humming glow of street lamps that stood in for bodhisatva leaves. She'd known that she could have friends, loved ones. Relationships. Or she could survive. She knew that there was no bridging those two paths. For to have any of the former would eventually put her in the path of the great maw of madness and oblivion, where she finds herself now. She's flashed red at a charging bull and now it's time to pay the matador's price.

Her options are limited. She can't exactly fall faster. That's not how it works. There's nothing to leap off of..and the nearest surface is too far for her to vault a pole from before destiny's date. She can do as the spearfighters do and use her enemy's charge against her..but few horses are a thousand times larger than the soldiers they rush, and while that strategy might work, it doesn't leave much of a chance for her. As Kyouko's mind feverishly ticks she can think of one thing, and it isn't great.

But it's what she's got.

She waits. Suppressing every primal instinct in her body, she waits. Like a pilot who's locked herself in the bridge away from the rest of the crew, her heart and her fear pounding at the sealed off door, begging to be let in. But she holds fast, and soon the monster's upon her. Like Fenris swallowing the sky, most of the light is taken from Kyouko before the rest is taken as well. Immersed in the growing shadows of Charlotte's mouth, she finally springs.

A bamboo forest of spears bloom in the fertile soil of the empty air around her, more than the usual dozen or so. A hundred at least..long little reeds with steel petals and merciless stamen sprout around her, consuming the space between the roof and floor of Charlotte's mouth. Kicking back against the nearest one, they stay the beast's great coiled beartrap for just a moment or two, and by the time they all snap beneath that terrible force, she is sailing out and down, away from the jaws of oblivion.

But her escape is a ragged effort, bereft of considered planning or preparation. Like a boiled shoe she only ate it for lack of anything else, coming only to it in desperation. And as she makes her escape the very tip of a fang grazes savagely against her inner arm, the closing motion of the jaws making the wound shallower near her shoulder, and savager near her palm.

Clutching it in no small pain, she looks to the platform with Homura, with Mami, with Madoka. And with Sayaka..she winces, and is thankful for the pain in her arm. The equivalent arm to the one that Sayaka lost..gritting her teeth, she leaps over to them, planting her feet on the edge and brandishing her spear, eyes tracking the darkstar's orbit.

If worse comes to worse, she can at least grab one of them. Maybe even two..

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Pincushion on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Kyouko Sakura's Pincushion, taking 10 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is Quipped! Cripple and Stagger applied to Hotaru Tomoe!

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Here Comes The Hotstepper https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r3X_i627ELQ

Kyouko makes Charlotte pay for her pound of flesh with a hundred internal pricks, but she can't stop Charlotte from /enjoying/ it. Her tongue chases the Puella Magi out of her mouth, in her haste to get a second taste and slurp happily about the first one. Alas, she is too slow. Kyouko gets away...

...for now.

Charlotte doesn't have lips in the strictest sense but her mouth purses anyway, purses with consternation, as her thrashing about has failed to clear the ground for easy feasting. And rather than try to escape her many hunters, she seems to take a different tack, coiling inward, a spiraled cobra in the middle of the cakey chamber.

Maybe she should have done this all along, because her Witch's flesh, it turns out, is /unreasonably/ tough when she puts her mind to it. Bullets bounce off of it in a spray of sparks. Wind flows down it for naught, swords bounce off, large and small.

It is only once La Sirene gets a slice of something ironically nonlethal across Charlotte's face -- that blackness, less substantial than the weakest of this labyrinth's horrors -- that things start to turn around. With the beast unable to see, it's quickly obvious to Nori that the fastest way to the ground, short of a direct drop, is to just run down that polka-dot brick road that's wiggling nearby.

Then Eri gets a great angle, ripping and tearing at Charlotte's face with those four thorned vines, even as Kasagami goes for the eyes like the world's most passionate sword-and-rose-wielding hamster. They turn to ichor with satisfying splurches, that rainbow syringe juice oozing out of them to sublime into flapping butterflies instead of rolling tears.

That's about the point that Sailor Pluto has been bought time -- so to speak -- to take a closer look at Charlotte, and she gets the dubious pleasure of watching the Witch eat several weeks worth of victims. Most, though not all, were from the hospital, completely unable to resist the force that compelled them to leave their beds and wander, even if that meant pulling themselves across the floor because they lacked the strength to stand...

...just about around the time that this rewind gets to three weeks ago, it cuts out, resetting at the unforgettable sight of Mami Tomoe's costume untransforming back to a regular old Ohtori uniform from the neck down, in a burst of golden light. Ribbons binding Homura, elsewhere in the labyrinth, turn to blood. There are other, older victims, after.

...next time, Charlotte gets Mami feet-first as she falls, and gobbles her in two bites. There are fewer prior victims; the Witch must have been found much sooner.

There are times and times and times before that. Each one is horrific. Each one begins the same way, with a non-beginning.

It seems Sailor Pluto's Orb cannot penetrate the time-tangle that shrouds Charlotte's beginnings.


She is the only one who might expect what happens next, though. Garnet's unseen waves of force startle Charlotte back into full flight, so she winds up meeting Mikoto in the middle of her descent. She's blind now, let's recall, doubly so due to Mai's incandescent, soulburning flashbang, and so she can't avoid Miroku with anything but literally blind instinct.

That, she has in spades, and it is why the blade lands not behind her neck but instead squarely across her forehead, slicing through brow and eyes and the nose is coming straight off--

--but what's behind it--

--is another, identical, unharmed face.

Charlotte EXPLODES out of her own mouth, nimbly dodging Kyouko's spears, and if she can't get cheese for dinner, cat will have to do. The rest of her body drops to the ground, creating a huge wave of cake and frosting. Unlike a real shed skin, though, it just kind of fades away after impact, melting into the strange shadows of this sweet hellscape.

Sensing a moment of distraction and surprise with which to strike, Pyotrs surge onto the field from all directions, in such density that it's quickly like a ball pit. A pit where the balls are each as high as a waist is tall, and covered with searingly painful rat tails which twist and tangle and whip.

High in the air, Charlotte, possibly bigger than her last incarnation, pursues Mikoto with single-minded intensity.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Kyouko Sakura.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Garnet.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Sailor Pluto.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Hikaru Shidou.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Pyotrpit on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used SURPRISE!! on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 35 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Eri Shimanouchi's Fade ability activates! Eri Shimanouchi's Flash ability activates! Tangle applied to Eri Shimanouchi!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha perfectly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Counter! Mai Tokiha's Reverse ability activates! Mai Tokiha's Tactician ability activates!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha's counterattack, Vehement Flare, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki narrowly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 19 Fatigue damage! Endo Naoki's Reverse ability activates! Cripple and Tangle applied to Endo Naoki!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki's counterattack, Asteroid Eilen, partially gets through, doing 25 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe! Critical Counterhit!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki fails to dodge Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 58 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Cripple and Tangle applied to Kasagami Araki!
COMBAT: Garnet narrowly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 24 Fatigue damage! Garnet's Tactician ability activates! Tangle applied to Garnet!
COMBAT: Garnet's counterattack, The Unstoppable, partially gets through, doing 10 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly counters Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 21 Fatigue damage! Cripple and Tangle applied to La Sirene du Nord!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord's counterattack, Les Mysteres, partially gets through, doing 17 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji fails to dodge Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 27 Fatigue damage! Cripple and Tangle applied to Fuu Hououji!
COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou perfectly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Brace! Hikaru Shidou's Block ability activates! Hikaru Shidou's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Sailor Pluto fails to brace Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 27 Fatigue damage! Cripple and Tangle applied to Sailor Pluto!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha tries to cover Mikoto Minagi for Hotaru Tomoe's attack, SURPRISE!!, but cannot get there in time!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 7 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Kyouko Sakura's Block ability activates! Kyouko Sakura's Parry ability activates! Cripple applied to Kyouko Sakura!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi perfectly counters Hotaru Tomoe's SURPRISE!!, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Critical Counter!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Obsidian Blade: Demolition, bursts all the way through, doing 43 Fatigue damage to Hotaru Tomoe! Cripple applied to Hotaru Tomoe!

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

Endo thought they were done with Pyotrs. He was wrong. While his attention is on the bulk of the Witch the little creatures make their entrance, swarming over him before he can do anything to prevent being stuck in the moshpit of familiars.

The rain of Pyotrs blots out the cake. But Endo will fight in the frosting. The arms that rip and tear at his cape and armor make him grit his teeth, grip his sword, and do something about it. Specifically, he spins. A sweeping rotation, blade whirling outward, sending gumdrops that aren't cleaved in half flying into the air and scattering around him.

The knight is breathing hard, wounded and tired, but he doesn't stop. His focus is on the hulking form of the Witch ahead of him, it's new head providing a new-and horrifying-target. "Stern! Shoot!"

<BARRAGE FORM.> The sword in his hands shifts, snapping and reconfiguring itself into a massive crossbow.

"Fire!" A blast of purple-black energy erupts from the head of the weapon. It's a streaking comet, one big blast aimed at the side of Charlotte's new face.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has used Barrage on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has finished attacking.

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

Madoka is surrounded by violence. Madoka is surrounded by wounded girls. Madoka is surrounded by pleas for help -- and helpful advice.

"I'm here!" she repeats, like a mantra, rocking back and forth. Mami asks her what to do, and she remains a broken record for several long and wasteful, wild-eyed seconds. "Okay. Okay. Okay..."

Slowly, the reality of the situation is beginning to work its way into her consciousness, kneading its way in like a cat on a pillow. Sayaka breathes faster and she breathes more slowly. She may not be able to react quickly, but she can -- react -- slowly, and the person she is at the darkest of times is not half as useless as she's constantly convinced that she is.

She exhales a final time.

"Mami, the, the Grief Seed... please..." Looking into her senpai's eyes, she's pleading but directing, at the same time, and gives her a final, reassurring squeeze.

Kasagami's sleeve flutters onto the back of her head, and she grabs at it like she's swatting a fly. It takes a few long awful seconds for her to realize what it is, for Homura's words to connect to it. In this chaos she doesn't even recognize who the fabric gift is from.

"Shh," she says, bending over Sayaka tenderly. She's glad Mami's lap is there as a pillow -- it lets her move around a little, her knees sliding on the slick tea table. Gingerly she starts to lift the cloak away, but then thinks better of it. "I'm here," she repeats. "I'm not going anywhere. Don't be scared, Sayaka-chan. It's okay -- it's okay."

She chants it as she wraps the red-soaked cloak over the wound with the sleeve. She chants it over whatever noises her patient makes as she tightens the knot, though all the chanting in the world won't stop the tears from spilling down her face and splattering onto Sayaka's.

"I got you. I-I got you..."

By the time she's done with her rough, sloppy, amateur work, her hands are as red as Kyouko's hair. As the tip of Charlotte's nose. As Kyuubey's eyes.

<< She needs more than that! It won't be enough! Madoka!! >>

He /definitely/ said that loudly enough for everyone to hear. Apparently his bedside manner sucks.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Endo Naoki's Barrage, taking 10 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Endo Naoki is Psyched!

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!

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

Faced with the back of a monster, la Sirene draws from the tradition that Mikoto represents and meownts Charlotte like a pro. No, like an amateur. She is an amateur here. But if you run fast enough, maybe you can get ahead of it all.

La Sirene keeps running even when Charlotte erupts out of herself in a cycle of rebirth and rejuvenation that she might admire if she was not surging with fear for her friends (and herself, not trivially), confusion and exhaustion at the realm around them, a thousand other more subtle things...

And the fact that while her Pharos has many strengths, she is a little light on the ability to skewer such a monster. Fortunately, Charlotte's undulations tumble her off the witch's back, and she falls. Her eyes turn over the space before her -

There, falling in the Pyotrs -

"Les Mysteres," la Sirene breathes, and there is another of those howling power-chords of throbbing bass guitar (at least, in some senses) as she falls, the target being a figure who may be familiar with this technique from a conflict upon a certain bridge. La Sirene lands in a handstand, though even as she looks at Kasagami from this inverted position, her hair and her garb do not seem to recognize the tug of gravity.

Her hands sink slightly into the frosting. She pivots around to avoid sinking into fondant and tells Kasagami as she does so, even as the Pharos opens and shines upon some of the Pyotrs seeking to fill the crater she had made with her charm of power: "Never hit me again."

In the distance the voice of Kyubey speaks and la Sirene looks towards that direction with confusion. "-- Sayaka," she says finally, gasps really.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has used Pieces of the Perfect Black on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.

La Sirene du Nord has disconnected.

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

Mami can't maintain looking at Mai, but she sees what turns out not to be a response after all, looks back at her for a brief moment before she closes her eyes and looks down at Sayaka again to open them. As she does however she finds something else in her frame of vision, Homura Akemi abrubtly there, and the blonde's head turns to look more fully at her. Her eyes though are uncomprehending, her gaze doesn't last long as she turns her head back to Sayaka again, breathes as she feels the air seem to shake with another impact against Charlotte, can't keep her hands still where she's holding Sayaka, as Kyouko touches down near them as well.

Mami dips her head, looking away from her former partner, but Sayaka has been moving and there's a scrap of fabric from Kasagami here now too. Mami shifts her arms to wettle on Sayaka's shoulders, imposing just enough normalcy by even letting herself touch /that/ shoulder as blood starts to dry on Mami, if not Sayaka. Madoka is here with them.

Madoka answers her, and Mami looks at the pink-haired girl, many steps beyond falling apart. She waits, pleading with her eyes for some suggestion, to do tis for her, and she gets it. "...The Grief Seed..." The squeeze at her shoulder tilts her head in relief to it, but after that she's quickly in motion. "Hang--Hang on," Mami breathes, and lifts her hand to reach to her waist, still wet with Sayaka's blood though not her own, and the way she fumbles means it takes a few moments to manage it, takes a few moments as Madoka handles the bandaging, bloodies her hands.

"Sayaka, please... Hang on," she says, and moves closer to her by moving farther first, sliding herself along the ground as best she an, though her hands shake and the blood-soaked frosting gets under her nails, gets around her hands. But she moves to hover over Sayaka, ignoring the way the Grief Seed pokes into her hands, gleams with red at the tip as she holds it too tightly. Mami lowers it to her fingers, pressing it over the Soul Gem at Sayaka's belly. Her own gleams with beautiful gold and swirling black at her hatpin, but her focus is only on Sayaka. Darkness streams from the Gem to the Seed, giving some relief to the sheer darkness there... but only some. Even that draws so hard that Mami has to rip the seed free and let it rest in her hand. "Aah--" She looks down once, to see a still-dirtied Soul Gem, but takes a breath anyway.

"Kyubey," Mami says, and tosses the Grief Seed to him otherwise wordlessly. At what he says she looks up to Madoka again, six shades beyond hesitant into nauseous, and stays over Sayaka. "That was our last Grief Seed. I'm sure... I'm sure it'll be enough."

COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Pyotrpit, taking 13 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi's Fade ability activates! Homura Akemi's Flash ability activates! Cripple and Tangle applied to Homura Akemi!
La Sirene du Nord has connected.

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

Mami can't maintain looking at Mai, but she sees what turns out not to be a response after all, looks back at her for a brief moment before she closes her eyes and looks down at Sayaka again to open them. As she does however she finds something else in her frame of vision, Homura Akemi abrubtly there, and the blonde's head turns to look more fully at her. Her eyes though are uncomprehending, her gaze doesn't last long as she turns her head back to Sayaka again, breathes as she feels the air seem to shake with another impact against Charlotte, can't keep her hands still where she's holding Sayaka, as Kyouko touches down near them as well.

Mami dips her head, looking away from her former partner, but Sayaka has been moving and there's a scrap of fabric from Kasagami here now too. Mami shifts her arms to wettle on Sayaka's shoulders, imposing just enough normalcy by even letting herself touch /that/ shoulder as blood starts to dry on Mami, if not Sayaka. Madoka is here with them.

Madoka answers her, and Mami looks at the pink-haired girl, many steps beyond falling apart. She waits, pleading with her eyes for some suggestion, to do tis for her, and she gets it. "...The Grief Seed..." The squeeze at her shoulder tilts her head in relief to it, but after that she's quickly in motion. "Hang--Hang on," Mami breathes, and lifts her hand to reach to her waist, still wet with Sayaka's blood though not her own, and the way she fumbles means it takes a few moments to manage it, takes a few moments as Madoka handles the bandaging, bloodies her hands.

"Sayaka, please... Hang on," she says, and moves closer to her by moving farther first, sliding herself along the ground as best she an, though her hands shake and the blood-soaked frosting gets under her nails, gets around her hands. But she moves to hover over Sayaka, ignoring the way the Grief Seed pokes into her hands, gleams with red at the tip as she holds it too tightly. Mami lowers it to her fingers, pressing it over the Soul Gem at Sayaka's belly. Her own gleams with beautiful gold and swirling black at her hatpin, but her focus is only on Sayaka. Darkness streams from the Gem to the Seed, giving some relief to the sheer darkness there... but only some. Even that draws so hard that Mami has to rip the seed free and let it rest in her hand. "Aah--" Mami watches her hand, watches a completely fresh Grief Seed filled in seconds. She looks down once, to see a still-dirtied Soul Gem, but takes a breath anyway.

"Kyubey," Mami says, and tosses the Grief Seed to him otherwise wordlessly. At what he says she looks up to Madoka again, six shades beyond hesitant into nauseous, and stays over Sayaka. "That was our last Grief Seed. I'm sure... I'm sure it'll be enough."

Mami says it even as her eyes flicker down to Sayaka's soul gem and see it darkening too quickly, far too quickly, already.

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

Between trying to get out of her table-legged confinement, trying to keep track of the Witch's movements, and fretting about her allies' continued well-being, the Wind Knight all but forgets one very important fact about Labyrinths - and considering all the trouble they had getting through this one, you'd think she would have remembered.

They're usually populated by Familiars as well ... and there's technically nothing to stop the Familiars from rallying to their Witch's aid. Or being deliberately summoned. This isn't a thing that happens terribly often, so maybe her overlooking the possibility is understandable - but either way, the Pyotrs show up en masse and the Wind Knight, already trapped as she is, is completely buried underneath the swarming and pummeling gumdrop-headed minions.


The invocation sounds atypically angry for the Wind Knight - or maybe it's more desperation than anger, given the sound of the latter by dint of the urgency. Whatever the Wind Knight's emotions are behind the shout, and behind the wall of weapons-grade turbulence which erupts around her from that spell, it's clear that she has no desire to waste any further time fighting her way out of her confinement.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

"It's too tough," Homura mutters under her breath, though others may hear those words. Her rounds fail to penetrate the skin of the Witch -- and then it continues to behave like a horror, as its head just bursts out. Her eyes widen and she shakes her head, sharply. She has to slow down; she can't just overpower this with overwhelming force. She takes a deep breath, dropping her guns--

--and one bounces off the head of a Pyotr, then flies back up in to the air. They come rushing at her and she leaps, bounding over the Familiars, before she seems to vanish. She lands on the ground again. She looks over her shoulder, as a voice reaches her ears, like a clarion call that cuts through everything then /twists/.

"Stay out of this and shut up, creature!" she spits venomously at Kyuubey. "The Grief Seed will be enough. It will!"

She shouts it like she can will it to be so, before she looks back at Charlotte, and then she reaches into her shield. She digs for something, before she starts running -- and then pulls out a block of brie, wax still on the end.

Don't ask.

Homura starts /running/ then and hopes, as much as wisdom will allow her, that Charlotte will follow.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into Puella Magi Homura!

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Timely Insight on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Finally, some sliver of revenge! Kasagami sparks a wolfish grin for...all of about a few seconds, as suddenly Charlotte erupts from /ITSELF/! This non-euclidian horror explodes, sending her straight to the ground in the middle of a vindictive-victory-turn. Her good eye is as wide as a saucer, and the impact back to the ground is met with a string of invectives best not fit for publication. And then that Charlotte-body becomes creatures that come for her. Those slicing tails ruin the rest of her coat not gifted to Madoka, even as the /rest/ of her uniform is ruined by cake. /CAKE/! Kasagami Araki is tired and angry and there's this creeping despair. Can this thing be beaten? That same impossibility, the one driven into herself as a child in the face of a monster, and it's only pure survival instinct that has her slashing as those things once more try to turn her to bloody shreds. Her blade slashes, swipes, parries and lashes endlessly. Yet, her skill isn't enough. All of her life, spent so hard training, isn't enough. She can feel the Revolution slipping.

And then, it's the drawing hand of the Sirene du Nord, and she grabs it like a lifeline. Kasagami, her uniform shredded and the woman gasping. Skin both burnt and well toned warring where gaps of cloth are rent, where crimson doesn't fall, finds an arm around the Sirene. Her charm has Kasagami's legs trembling. And worse still, both her face flustered, and yet, a determined set of her jaw. Kasagami Araki is one stubborn woman.

"Wouldn't need to...if you didn't get in my way! Let's just finish this abomination! Ugh. ....Thanks. I owe you." Ends her admission, a little weakly. She leans on the Sirene, letting the fashionable woman protect her for now. Her body quivering, she hears the wrods of Mami, Madoka, and even Kyubey.

Teeth grit. "HEY! BLUE-CHAN! Are you really going to die here!? Don't we...we have things to finish? Breaking your promise, you still owe me a sword in the gutt, Sayaka Miki! So just...just act like a REAL KNIGHT and live for the people around you, okay? If you die here, that pink haired girl is going to be in more pain that you are right now! Right? So just keep living! That's the kind of thing a knight would do!" Howls Kasagami encouragingly. That blue haired swords-puella's spirit, enemies or not, has fired up this weakened, nearly fainted Council Member.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Liberating Gale on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Crimson Ambition on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki accepts Kasagami Araki's Crimson Ambition, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Bind Break! All of Kasagami Araki's debuffs are cleared!

<Pose Tracker> Hikaru Shidou [Juuban Public School (9)] has posed.

The power of courage and determination can really do wonders for one when they're in time of need. Somehow, the Fire Knight manages to brace herself just right, and nothing happens to her. It's almost like she was never even attacked to begin with. Despite that, though, she is not content to rest on her laurels, as she knows the fight must go on. She doesn't say anything for the time being, instead preferring just to directly take action against her opponent. She begins moving towards Charlotte, albeit in a manner that looks choreographed, almost like she's dancing or something.

At the same time, her blade is tossed and twirled like she truly is dancing, but it's definitely a dangerous dance. Because as Charlotte becomes closer to the Fire Knight, the blade seems to shine a little bit. Then with a spinning strike, the Fire Knight attempts to hit and run!

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has used Dancing Blade on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Hikaru Shidou has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Sayaka... Mami... Madoka... Garnet sighs with relief that the three have been shielded from further attacks by the Witch.

Precious gumdrops...

she thinks one last time before the Pyotrs march onto the scene, perhaps in envy of Garnet's high regard for the Puella. They sweep her up in their tidal wave, pulling the Gem out of the quickfrosting, but not to freedom.

They have no mouths, so they cannot scream, but they don't bite either, and their little hands don't seem to be clawed... Garnet has a lot of time to study them in wonder as they're all around her now, on all sides, and all she see.

The Pyotrs seem to be able to do little more than grab and run, but en masse they are a force to be reckoned with, and grab and run they have, pulling, bumping and bouncing the Gem in every direction as they parade her off unwillingly along with them in a tangled trampling mess.

Garnet tries to focus her attention elsewhere to get her mind off of the pain, and get ready for the moment where she can try to free herself. She focuses on the future.

The future of the three Puella, the actions of the Witch, how her comrades might be faring... any she can grasp at to help her get the edge on a situation that despite her best efforts has dragged her behind, (now literally) and mired her in sticky, saccharine obstacles.

COMBAT: Garnet has used Future Vision on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Garnet has finished attacking.

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

For the first time in her considerable memory, Sailor Pluto finds her staff's veil of crimson a bit unnerving. She cannot quite suppress a shudder as she studies Charlotte's thrashing, watches it swirl and distort, lets the Garnet Orb's existential gravity draw her temporally-attuned vision back, back...

The stunning impact of that cake appendage on Pluto's face has nothing on the poleaxing her soul suffers, as the abyss she peers into cackles and stretches tendrils of horror out to drag her deeper.

She watches as this despair-infested place of healing consumes its wounded, ravenously gobbling them up ("Like an arm?" the thought skitters through, unwanted), watches as Puella Mami dies far too many shocking, gory deaths, watches ending upon ending with not a single beginning to pay the balance of horror. She has no choice, is incapable of looking away with those tentacles of psychic woe holding fast to her mind's eye.

Insensate all else, Sailor Pluto has no way to prepare for the boiling rush of Pyotrs. They teem, mass, and overwhelm her, and the tall senshi very nearly disappears beneath them. It is in the end the burn of their eager attacks that draws her out of it, screaming.

She has a voice that carries -- not quite like a siren's might, but she's still capable of reaching every corner of a battlefield if need be. Initially insensate to her own utterance, Sailor Pluto gives full throat to a howl of agony both mental and physical. She gathers herself and BURSTS upward, leading with the still-shining Garnet Rod, and the sheer force of her will sends scarlet rays across the sea of foes. Angry red welts score every piece of skin not still cloaked in once-glorious senshi suit rags, but she pays the pain no heed.

With the fury of her indomitable warrior's spirit on full display, Sailor Pluto lays into the surrounding Pyotrs with the unyielding strength of the Rod, doing her level best to send them flying.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has used Pendulum Blitz on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has finished attacking.

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

If she said she didn't take some pleasure out of gouging out Charlotte's face- she'd be lying. If one didn't learn to revel a little in battle as a Puella Magi they quickly would become overwhelmed. And then in a shimmer of green sparkles- and a whiff of a burning forest fire, they vanish, and she continues her sticky advance forward towards the behemoth and Kyouko's blooming punji pit of death.

It was bad for Sayaka- she can hear her teeth chattering- a whisper growing more and more faint.

Why should she care?

The girl would deny her life- make her survival go from an uphill climb into one where she's being rolling a boulder besides. A Sisyphean Task- and for what?

The honor of dying on cold foul-smelling concrete for people who didn't even know. So much of her is tempted to just let Madoka ease her suffering and cut her off.

Charlotte explodes out of the center like some flexible matryoshka doll- and while surprised she's less surprised than before when it came out of the tiny tea doll. A witch can sometimes have a trump card and once they reveal it- it becomes less capable of ambushing them- but no less deadly. Still, she wants that smile to be gone.

Pyotrs surge out mid-run, and caramel stickiness slows her down. They're up to her waist, clinging, ripping, tearing at her blouse and her skirts and- trying to drag her down.

Kneeing one of them in the eyeball, she summons a whip in their midst, snarling like a feral creature that belongs not in a hospital but in a dark briar patch in some witch haunted forest. Taking a step forward, she uses the single one downed- being trampled by it's fellows to step, and spin in a toepick assisted whirling jump, flinging off Pyotr after Pyotr that can no longer cling on to girl.

Mid-leap there's a blur of black and she notices it's serpentine shifting as it chases Mikoto. She's worried of course. Mikoto may rank up there for non-Puella Magi with the most experience fighting witches but she's sure never fought one like /this/! And yet, the girl had instincts she could only make up for by virtue of being a Puella Magi-

Mai may be there trying to cover for her, but Mai she remembers how Mai took to her first labyrinth. She remembers her falling... she remembers.

-She's landing on Pyotr heads now, running over the hoard's grasping hands as they claw at her ankles- and pressing down /hard/ on one's head, she whirls around, to send a stinging slap right at Charlotte's star nose like a teacher trying striking with a ruler for her eating in class. All she had to do was make it flinch, just- a- little.

'I got you. I-I got you.'

<<She needs more than that! It won't be enough! Madoka!!>>

Rings in her skull, and she flinches, like she wants to drown that voice out. But then the thought occurs to her. Madoka using her wish on that girl. She's stunned by the thought, her head whipping around to look at her as she nurses her.

Her gazes affixes with hatred as she thinks about Sayaka damning Madoka to this life. Daming her to life of dying on cold smelling concrete or in witch maws with incisors the size of cars.

She remembers, her life's blood pouring out, that vile stench- the pathetic pleading. That's no fate for Madoka.

'That was our last Grief Seed. I'm sure... it'll be enough.' People wouldn't believe her if she told them what she knew about Mami but she sounds sick, ill- she doesn't have enough confidence right now to even fake it, that hesitation-

She remembers a finger on her wrist, and golden warmth.

Her whole being retches against the memory- but she can't deny it. "Mami!" She shouts to turn her head. Her free hand fetches for her life's blood. In her hands it's like a spindle of fate's thread, black and laden with runes. She's not some star pitcher, but in this form she doesn't have to be. She sends it flying through the air- towards the other girl's hand, tries to lock eyes with her for just a moment, her eyes flickering to the girl who sacrificed an arm looking at her, really looking at her for once tonight- then admits grudgingly to the veteran- "Guess you made the right call after all."

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Natural Backlash on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.

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

The full weight of her terror hits Kyouko the moment she's escaped its circumstances, like a tax collector coming by for what's due. She shakes her hair out like a dog drying herself, and spares herself a long, deep breath. Her face hardens and grimaces at the same time as the serpent sheds its second skin, defying nature again to grow ever larger. But Kyouko refuses to believe that they aren't getting somewhere.

The anklebiters swarm again, and although a more temperate girl, a wiser girl might do well to find their surge more frightening than irritating, the tigress of Tokyo is in no such mood. They nip at her legs and her hips, swarm at her eyes with their stinging little tails, but she sprouts spikes all along the outer rim of the platform, grasping a spear in both hands and pushing the clods into the makeshift punji perimeter.

There isn't much of a lull, but she takes the one that she's got, and dashes over to the wounded girls' sides. Swallowing deeply, she stifles her own nervousness. Her hair flashes, and at once it's held up in its normal fashion, her black bow magically remanifested. She pulls it loose immediately and offers it to bloody-handed Madoka, already mostly done with her trauma nursery, mumbling quietly "If it'll help.."

A red apple rolls out of her sleeve and into her hand. Gingerly picking up Sayaka's own grip, she gives her the apple and closes a weakened suite of fingers around it.

"Grab tight to it if you need to..or put it in your mouth if you need to clench your teeth..it's gonna be OK. You're way too annoying to die."

And despite it all, there's an authenticity in Kyouko's voice, an honest note of conviction, though who could say where it came from. Punching a particularly pugnacious Pyotr in the pupil and back onto her spine-line, she easily overhears Mami and Kyuubey alike.

And her eyes narrow. The incubator's wheedling didn't seem like it was meant for her. And if she understood its meaning properly..that Mami's grief seed wouldn't be enough..it struck her as strange that it wouldn't ask her or Eri, or Homura, instead. In all it seems less ruffled by the danger they're all in than by how Madoka plans to respond to it.

It seems like it has more on its mind than the wellbeing of the girls it has empowered.

Kyouko grabs Mami's hand, assertively but not forcefully, and puts a Grief Seed into it, the same that she'd just drawn on. Other than that top-off, it hasn't been used at all. She looks straight into Mami's eyes. There's nothing unfriendly about her gaze, but it isn't a friendly look. It's a strong one, an unflappable one, because that's what her old friend needs right now.

"There'll be enough. Mind your own strength too."

Kyouko beats down a cluster of familiars with a stick and a technique honed by a mastery of Whackamole, and looks straight into Mami's eyes. There's nothing unfriendly about her gaze, but it isn't a friendly look. It's a strong one, an unflappable one, because that's what her old friend needs right now.

Kyouko Sakura says, "There'll be enough. Mind your own strength too. This one's on me." And then she smiles, and squeezes Mami's hand just once, in quick passing.

Kneeling again down by Sayaka, she pulls out a Grief Seed, the same that she'd just drawn on. Other than that top-off, it hasn't been used at all. Her gaze for Sayaka is flooded with kindness, and gentleness. With a light touch she places the Seed to Sayaka's navel, doing what she can to help stave off the black tides threatening to consume the aqua pool. Her voice is soft and cushioned in every contour.

"It's gonna be OK. I promise.."

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has used Breaking Bread on Sayaka Miki.
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges La Sirene du Nord's Pieces of the Perfect Black, taking 16 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Fuu Hououji's Liberating Gale, taking 16 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates! Bind Break! All of Fuu Hououji's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly counters Hikaru Shidou's Dancing Blade, taking 9 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Hikaru Shidou is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, Insatiable, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Hikaru Shidou!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly dodges Homura Akemi's Timely Insight, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is Quipped! Analysis performed by Homura Akemi!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Garnet's Future Vision, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates! Analysis performed by Garnet!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to dodge Sailor Pluto's Pendulum Blitz, taking 23 Fatigue damage! Sailor Pluto is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Eri Shimanouchi's Natural Backlash, taking 9 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Eri Shimanouchi is Psyched! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates! Cripple and Stun applied to Hotaru Tomoe!

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

Letting go is a hard thing to do. But - in spite of the secrets that were hidden, in spite of this whole late-night witch hunting Mikoto and Eri have been doing...Mai trusts Mikoto as she is. (A feral wild animal prone to skip society in favour of stray cats, but -her- wild animal.) Cautious of the monster's lashing body, brilliant flare fading to reveal the thousand injuries dealt to the Witch, Mai descends cautiously as Mikoto manages to slice off the monster's face.

Part of this is worrying - but on the balance, it's deeply satisfying, and Mai has a faint smile as she touches down on cake.

And then the smile dies as the monster's second face explodes from the first, injuries cast aside like a snake shedding its skin. To make matters worse, the little familiars are out in force, becoming an all-consuming mire of gumdrop jelly. Mai steels herself to fight, trying to muster the flames to divert the monster's attention -

- and then she notices just who Charlotte is trying to devour now, leaving rational response to die a miserable death. "Mikoto! Look out!" A desperate shout, as Mai's rings flare brightly to carry her toward her companion...

But there are a few Pyotrs in the way. There are a few thousand Pyotrs in the way. They surge like a tidal wave, all-encompassing, a hundret lashing tails seeking to bind and rip and tear - and a thousand times, they meet a barrier of crimson light, a sphere like burning diamond surrounding a desperately running Mai. She's not even trying to burn the little monsters, she's just desperately trying to get away from them to the one who matters-

She's too slow. She's not going to make it, as the teeth descend. Her legs aren't fast enough, even her voice isn't going to be fast enough. "MIKOTO!"

And then-

And then Mikoto does what Mikoto does. Ruthlessness, demolition, obsidian carving safety away from certain death. There's a warrior standing before her, as deadly as the day Mai first met her.

But Mai doesn't stop running. Not even thinking that that blade would be turned on her, Mai runs straight toward Mikoto, grabbing her in a tight embrace, just holding the smaller girl for a few precious moments amid all this horror. "You're okay, right? I couldn't...I was so worried...please be okay. I couldn't..."

Mai's arms, as firmly as they might be holding on, are shaking. ...but they're warm.

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has used Worried Embrace on Mikoto Minagi.

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.

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

It is not a perfect mark, but sword meets flesh, and Mikoto cleaves through Charlotte's forehead with Mai's heat at her back. Its face sloughs off, only to reveal another, behind it, like the shed skin of a spider revealing something larger and shinier and healthier.

They are fascinating, unsettling creatures. But they belong to the world. This Witch, this creature of eldritch fancy, does not. It happens in an instant, exploding out of itself, larger, healthier, but with the same cartoon consistancy of its old self. It sends Mikoto flying downwards, towards the ground, falling with its shed skin. The old, discarded Charlotte fades as it hits the ground, but Mikoto does not. She bounces, once, and lies still for a moment. Such a long way to fall.

But she groans, and pushes herself up, muscles shaking slightly from the effort. She cannot rest. She cannot stop. The Witch -

Mikoto looks up, sees Charlotte pouring down, liquid-fast and gaping.


It's the only sound which escapes from her throat, as Charlotte surges forward. For a moment, one glorious, shining moment, she is a girl. She is scared, and frozen, and small. She wants, desperately, for someone to save her, to help her, to expend Herculean effort and rescue her from her fate.

Someone is calling for her, calling her name. Mai's voice sounds so far away, so strained. It would be nice if Mai could rescue her. It would be nice if Mai could... if Mai could...

But she is Mikoto Minagi. She cannot die; she is already promised. She is a blade, and her body knows what to do.

Her body knows, even if her mind has forgotten.

How long does it take for a worm to desiccate, under the fickle Spring sun...?

Charlotte pours down, and Mikoto leaps up, and they meet somewhere in the middle again. She has already begun to swing her sword by the time she meets the Witch, above its gaping mouth; she slashes, horizontal, between its nose and its new clean teeth. She tears through it, past it, Miroku biting deep as it tears through what ought to have been nasal passages trailing down to meet its throat.

And then she falls down, down past the Witch, like a cat this time, lightly and on her feet. She's okay. It tried to eat her, but she's okay. She's upright, she can still fight. She faced fear, barreling towards her, and she acted.

It is a worthy question, to ask who can act in the face of such terror, to move where the extraordinary Mami Tomoe froze. It is a worthy question which Mikoto utterly fails to ask. The Witch has acted; she has reacted; it is done.

The only hint of her terror is the way she shakes, slightly, her muscles quivering as she shifts her grip on Miroku and turns to face Charlotte again.

She faces Mai, instead. Mikoto silently presses into Mai's hug with her entire body, burying her face against her chest. They both shake, together, the fear of the moment hanging in between them like something tangible.

Mai couldn't help her, but Mai wanted to help her.

Mikoto loves Mai so much.

"'m 'kay," Mikoto says, her mouth dry, fumbling over the vowels. She pulls away, after a moment, taking a deep breath. "I'm okay. Mai, we still have to fight."

It's heartbreaking, the matter-of-fact way she says it. Mikoto has always known what to do in a battle. And, catching the movement from the corner of her eye, she turns and brings Miroku to bear, slicing through a trio of Pyotrs who had hoped to prey on the vulnerable girls.

She'll mourn later.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi accepts Mai Tokiha's Worried Embrace, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Mikoto Minagi is Reinforced by Mai Tokiha!

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Dauntlessness on Hotaru Tomoe.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly counters Mikoto Minagi's Obsidian Blade: Dauntlessness, taking 32 Fatigue damage! Mikoto Minagi is Psyched!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe's counterattack, SURPRISE!!, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki accepts Kyouko Sakura's Breaking Bread, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Empower applied to Sayaka Miki! Cleanse! All of Sayaka Miki's debuffs are cleared!

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

The Pyotrs really don't stand a chance, not up against Devices and darkness, winds and Rods, whips and spears, Mirokus. Magical girls of every conceivable origin clear the field, united in purpose if not in creed. And, really, their creed is united enough right now, too.

Pyotrs just vanish upon death, but not so the cast-off Charlottes. The first one did, but as a second and third come to be, courtesy first of Mikoto's counterstrike, and second Endo's great coruscating blast, the skins sink into the frosting but leave a shadow behind, right at their edges, like afterimages. This place does not forget its mistress, even if she forgets herself. This place does not stop imagining her, as she imagines it, a neverending cycle of waking nightmare...

Speaking of which, Garnet treats herself to the same hell Sailor Pluto just had, only in reverse -- where Pluto pushed rewind and got caught in horrifying loops, Garnet hits the fast forward and discovers a wall just a few minutes later, in which time she witnesses the deaths of everyone around her in glorious variety, only for it to loop back to the present and start over again.

None of those loops had Homura holding a block of brie as she ran forward, though.

Charlotte is, indeed, distracted by it -- that's the good news. Not too distracted to make another chomp in Mikoto's direction as she passes, and another in Hikaru's, of course. She /always/ has time for a snack.

The bad news is that she's so big, now, that her charge across the room endangers everyone -- her whole body slithers back and forth in an endless snakey approach, filling up the space from one end to the other. And everywhere she goes, she goes mouth-first. Her jaw unhinges madly, acting as a hungry plow, white frosting sucked in down the center even as waves of it flow out to either side.

And then she's coming. No inch of ground goes unmarked. No gumdrop unturned.

She will get that cheese if she has to eat every single person in between.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Mikoto Minagi.

COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Kyouko Sakura.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Sailor Pluto.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Garnet.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on La Sirene du Nord.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has used Insatiable on Endo Naoki.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji perfectly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Critical Dodge! Fuu Hououji's Fade ability activates! Fuu Hououji's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 50 Fatigue damage! Eri Shimanouchi's Block ability activates! Eri Shimanouchi's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi perfectly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Dodge! Mikoto Minagi's Fade ability activates! Mikoto Minagi's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki perfectly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Dodge! Kasagami Araki's Fade ability activates! Kasagami Araki's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Endo Naoki narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 29 Fatigue damage! Endo Naoki's Block ability activates! Endo Naoki's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 44 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi's Fade ability activates! Homura Akemi's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 16 Fatigue damage! Mai Tokiha's Block ability activates! Mai Tokiha's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 58 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Garnet narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 15 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Garnet's Fade ability activates! Garnet's Flash ability activates!
COMBAT: Sailor Pluto narrowly braces Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 14 Fatigue damage! Sailor Pluto's Block ability activates! Sailor Pluto's Parry ability activates!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Decretum (Music Box) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e_AHMNme4lo

Weakly bending forward, Sayaka nestles her forehead against Madoka's. Her eyes search Madoka's wildly, but she swallows when Madoka shushes her, and obediently closes her eyes, breathing slowing a little. "M-madoka," she answers meekly.

She doesn't struggle when Kasagami's sleeve fastens down on the wound, but her ankles claw the ground.

Across Mami's lap, Sayaka's body is disturbingly asymmetrical, the weight of her whole arm gone on one side. The arm she had clutched around her ribs falls loose at her side, too weak even to embrace Madoka. Her face is ashen, bloodless. She's starting to whine steadily.

A red apple presses into her hand; the first Sayaka is aware of Kyouko's presence. She didn't notice Eri's at all. Her fingers close weakly on it, but she doesn't look at it. Her Soul Gem has refilled, darker still than before, clouds of churning toxicity within. Sayaka's panic is increasing as her strength drains, and just when those two lines seem about to cross, there's a soft, glassy clink at her navel. The second grief seed, this time held by Kyouko, kisses the tumultuous gem at Sayaka's navel, and the tortured dark within drains up through that contact.

Sayaka expels a thick breath, and gradually, her trembling slows. She's growing calm now, relaxing against Madoka. Soon her normally-azure gem is drained back to a dark, tainted blue with thick tendrils of grief within, constantly refilling and draining into Kyouko's grief seed. Blood still drips through Kasagami's bound sleeve. Sayaka looks down at the apple at last, then up at Kyouko's surprisingly gentle face. Sayaka's irises tremble, and she sniffs. Kyouko is so strong. It's like having a big tigress standing above her.

"If I drop this," she asks in a small, threaded voice, "are you going to kill me?"

Teasing Kyouko, at a time like this.

The grief seed is filling rapidly. Soon it will be full too. Sayaka is limp. Her mouth is dry and she has a terrifying intuition as to why. Her consciousness bobs barely above the waterline, and she knows that she could just dip under it at any time, and never wake up again. Mami's death had been so intolerable to her that she threw herself into Charlotte's mouth expecting to die right then. But hers was a hot courage that has now fled. She feels as though the very cowardice with which she faces her sacrifice dishonors it, dishonors her feelings for Mami. She squeezes the apple hard, or tries. Her fingers are not strong right now.

"Madoka-chan." Sayaka's hand lifts the apple as though it were a great weight, and lets it roll onto her lap. She tries to bring it up to Madoka's cheek, but she can't quite make it on her own. "You've always been my b-best friend, and... it... I'm sorry." She's more herself now, but she's breaking down all on her own. In Kyouko's hand, the grief seed is decorated with hideous multicolored winking lights. It needs to be disposed of. "I'm sorry," she weeps through a pinched off throat. She knows what it means to say this to Madoka.

"I don't want to die..."

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura narrowly dodges Hotaru Tomoe's Insatiable, taking 33 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Be Somebody https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGSvITdmrXM

Sayaka searches for answers in Madoka's eyes.

They're there in the way she looked at the second Grief Seed, as it fails to put an end to the agony, as it pulses with the dark promise of rebirth as even as it fails to give that same gift to Sayaka. Recognition is an answer.

They're there in the way that she looks at their hands, not intertwined but spooning. It's rare for her little hand to be on the outside of Sayaka's bigger one -- though both seem so tiny right now, so fragile, and neither is paler than the other because they're both painted the same horrible color. She helps Sayaka reach her cheek, though it's the cradling contact of her palm to Sayaka's knuckles that brings out a second wave of tears, well before the second contact is made. Tenderness is an answer.

They're there as she looks over her shoulder at Eri, then over at Kyouko, grateful but not surprised. She was never the one to doubt their humanity, even when -- especially when -- they were at their lowest. To see that faith realized, repaid, is not to take it for granted. Kyouko's ribbon is in her other hand, and she squeezes it. So many lectures, so many warnings not to do this lightly. But this isn't light -- it's the opposite. Resolve is an answer.

"I know," she answers, eyes bright, bright as a soul gem shines. "I'm here, Sayaka-chan. Everything is going to be okay."

Love is an answer.

She looks over at Kyuubey, who has just disposed of Kyouko's Soul Gem, the symbol on his back glowing briefly, and he looks back, his chin lifting eagerly. His ears perk. His tail lifts, a triumphant banner.

<< Hurry, Madoka! >>

She hurries -- not because of his instruction, but because of the way Sayaka's too dry to cry properly, the way she feels cold, she feels limp.

She'll never regret this.

The whole universe seems to hold its breath as her lips part:

"Please! Kyuubey, I wish--"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://vimeo.com/137067783

The Witch surges across the room, and Homura can't get away from her in time. Charlotte hurls her, so hard that she smashes into the cake again, leaving an imprint against it. Blood runs down her face, where she struck a piece of frosting, and she hits the ground hard. She starts to run forward. Her hand goes to her shield and it clicks into place.

Time stops and she doesn't care, in the moment, if Sailor Pluto can see her. She pulls out a pack of explosives, gripped hard in hand, and then she leaps up over Charlotte, bouncing from cake piece to cake piece. But she stops on a piece of frosting and looks down. The world is all washed in grey again, sucked away of all life, and she sees Madoka. She sees her holding Sayaka.

She sees that look in her eyes. She swallows and lowers her hand, bombs limp in them. They fall out of her hand, away from her fingers, and freeze before they touch the cake. Homura jumps down, then, landing a distance away. Maybe, she thinks, maybe she was wrong. The shield clicks back in place.

Time resumes and she hears the start of what she says. 'Please! Kyuubey, I--'

Homura almost freezes then. Those purple eyes of hers widen, a couple of tears just starting to form, and she can't even look properly angry. She just feels something twist and break inside of her, the way it has a hundred thousand times before. The way it /always/ does, when everything falls apart, and she has to start over again. She can't even tell herself that it doesn't hurt.

It hurts just as much, every single time. A few strands of inky black despair swim inside the purple gem on her hand. And then, time stops with the click of her shield.

"You can go back in time, right, Homura-chan...?"]

"Kaname-san... Y-Yeah..."

Homura doesn't mean to sob. She does. It comes out of her throat, wrenching and hard, and her shoulders shake. She lowers her head, black bangs covering her eyes. If Pluto is watching, she forgot completely.

"Then... then don't let that jerk Kyubey trick me again."

"I--I swear I'll save you! I'll do whatever it takes! I'll come back again and again and again! I swear!"

"...thanks. Can... can I ask one more thing?"

Homura looks up, then, tears still half-blinding her. She can see enough, though. She lifts her pistol, hands shaking the same way they did before, as she lines up the shot over the gun sight.

She lowers the gun down, aiming towards Madoka's leg, below the knee. Her fingers tense around it -- and Homura's teeth chatter. Then, she lowers her gun down, and her fingers shake when lets it fall by her side. Some things, she finds, she can't do a second time.

She walks over to Madoka, miserably, staring down at her. "I-I'm sorry," she says. "I don't know what else to do. I won't... I won't fail you again. Even if you hate me. It's what I deserve."

She swings her hand backward, and time resumes as she swings her pistol hard into the side of time resumes Madoka's head. The gun is dropped after that -- and Homura takes one panicked, running step before she vanishes.

"Don't let...me turn into a witch."

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.

COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has used Over and Over and on Homura Akemi.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi accepts Homura Akemi's Over and Over and, taking 0 Fatigue damage! Homura Akemi is unable to keep fighting! Homura Akemi is Quipped!
COMBAT: Homura Akemi is unable to keep fighting!

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

The Liberating Gale lives up to its name, blasting away chunks of table and bodies of Pyotrs alike, leaving the Magic Knight of Wind standing in a relatively clear space on the battlefield. Even the frosting has been blown away, at least immediately around her .... and her efforts are further rewarded by an utterly unimpeded view of the even-more-massive Charlotte, bearing down on her (among everybody) like the deadly, unspeakable horror that Witches most commonly tend to be.

The Wind Knight gathers all her strength into her legs, and leaps as hard and as high as she can. There may or may not be a gust of magical updraft pushing behind her, in addition to her leg muscles; either way, when she lands, she does so in what seems like the only truly *safe* place in the battlefield ... namely, atop Charlotte's back.

Not that it's going to stay 'safe' for long, of course. Even if the Witch *doesn't* consciously notice the Magic Knight's perch and try to shake her off, just turning - or lunging, for that matter - will dislodge her in a hurry. The Magic Knight of Wind takes a deep breath, lets it out, and gathers all of her willpower. A quick look around the confectionarily-themed war zone drives home how sharply the stakes are rising.

Sayaka, sprawled and helpless, still bleeding heavily.

Madoka, toppling over as if something big and heavy blindsided her.

Countless other magical girls, Puella Magi and otherwise, struggling desperately against the Witch and its minions..

"Emerald ... !!"

She draws her arms up, in, and back, and as she does so, she gathers the wind itself, infusing it with her magic. As unnatural and eldritch as the Labyrinth is, there is still air, and the air still moves; Charlotte's own mobile bulk ensures that, but even if the air were completely still, Fuu's magic would be able to reach out and make it move. She's pouring everything she has left into this spell; the situation will not allow her to do anything less, no matter the cost to herself.

"... CYCLONE!!!!"

And that's exactly what she does, her arms lashing forward and hurling the full power of the tempest against the Witch's seemingly impenetrable back. Flame and blade and bullet may pack their share of destructive force, but even the wind, seemingly insubstantial, can wear down mountains, uproot trees, reshape the land itself.

She can only hope that, even as resistant as the Witch's body has proven thus far, even the magic-infused storm can dig through Charlotte's carapace and lay waste to whatever lies within it. But she doesn't so much 'jump' from the Witch's back, in the wake of her spell, as topple over and fall clear of whatever her allies will be unleashing ...

COMBAT: FINISHER! Fuu Hououji has used Emerald Cyclone: Full on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.

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

Endo doesn't have time to keep track of everything happening. The mass and speed of the Witch are too great, and it all comes in flashes. Mikoto shearing through the head, wind buffeting the creature, blasts of energy crashing against it.

And it keeps going. As its gaping maw rushes toward him he turns to meet it, sword crashing against tooth. They meet, and Endo rebounds. He can probably be thankful he didn't end up in the Witch's mouth, but the force of the impact and the crushing smash of the rest of its body is enough to send him sprawling back into the cake.

He has a second while he's lying half-dazed-just a quick moment-to turn his gaze to where Sayaka is being treated as best her gathered allies can manage. "Just hang on a little--" He speaks more to himself, the words likely not audible in the thrash and clash of battle. But maybe the thought counts enough. He doesn't understand the exchange between Homura and Madoka, doesn't have the time or knowledge to see or digest it fully. He just focuses on what's left that he can do.

Knees shake and hands quiver as the knight pulls himself up again. Maybe for the last time, after that last crushing blow. But he can keep going a little longer.

"Stern. I don't want to let them down." The Chevaliers had let him fight beside them. They were allies. They could be friends. People he should protect. He short protect everyone. He should abolish this thing.

Endo raises his sword.


A spear of purple-black light arcs into what passes as a sky in this place, the device becoming a massive pillar of ugly light suspended over Endo's head. It comes crashing down on the witch a moment later, swung with as much force as the boy has left to muster.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Endo Naoki has used Stern Brecher on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Endo Naoki has finished attacking.

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

She's okay. They're okay. For those precious few seconds, it's as if everything is going to be fine.

Mai feels the fear - fear for herself, to go with the fear for her loved ones - and her embrace is trembling. Everything is going to be fine - but then reality shows up for its appointment, and Mikoto pulls away to wield Miroku against the endless horde of enemies. Mai's heart skips a beat as Charlotte tries for another biteful of cat, and then another - but to Mai's eyes, Mikoto is as swift and vicious as she ever was.

Mai's heart is no longer in her throat, but it is sinking.

She's right, though. The battle isn't over - with every shed skin, the hungry Witch just grows bigger and bigger. It arches up, as Mai's rings begin to burn in anticipation, and then arcs back down to snake along the cake. There go the decorations, there goes the tea table, and here comes the hungry hungry plow.

All the 'annoyances' present are on the menu, but seemingly as appetizers rather than as must-have entrees. Mai takes two steps back as the Witch approaches - and catches wind, far off, of the ongoing attempt to save Sayaka. She can't hear exactly how it's going, can only make out the sense of desperation from afar.

She turns back to Charlotte. Fangs half her height are approaching rapidly, and she has just a second to decide which way to flee - but abruptly brings her rings together, starting a quiet invocation. There's crimson light, flaring out in a barrier that might be too hot to handle-

-and almost negligently, Charlotte's teeth punch into the barrier.

Into, but not shattering it. There's a tooth right in front of Mai, with crossed rings the only thing between her and it - but the Witch doesn't care too much for that taste, and after dragging the barrier-guarded HiME along for a few seconds of her trek, casts her aside to carry on.

A breath, maybe two as Charlotte carries on that trail of endless devouring, and then the rejected snack rises from the frosting. Mai is breathing heavily - greedily devouring oxygen to offset fear as much as any physical effort - her coat is stained with chocolate, and her gloves are mired somewhere in that mess. She's not a born warrior - but as Charlotte snakes around once more, she runs to put herself on the Witch's menu a second time.

"Oh, no you don't. You're so hungry for those people who can't fight back?" She glances to Mami, to one-armed Sayaka, to the little white fox-creature standing guard next to an unconscious Madoka - "Wait, what?! When did- never mind, there's no time!"

Mai whirls away from the tableau, knowing only that they're just a little less able to defend themselves than a minute ago, and faces the oncoming devourer. A deep breath, as that alien hunger grows closer and closer, as Mai holds her hands to her heart. "...I won't just let you chow down. There's too many things that haven't been said yet. So forget about that snack, and try chewing on this!"

Mai thrusts her rings before her, fire arcing between them to dance in coronas around her back. Garbed in flames, she invokes a trio of blazing magatama - the symbol of her element, the symbol of her child, a sigil of protection burnt into the air. Quickly, and then swifter yet, the teardrops circle each other, faster and faster until a roaring inferno bursts from them.

Mai wasn't next on the menu. In her place stands a wall of brilliant flame, solid as a rock and vicious as a storm. It blazes with ferocity, with passion, with love - and with any luck, it will be one of the last things Charlotte's fangs ever find.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Mai Tokiha has used Precious Pyre on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Mai Tokiha has finished attacking.

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

When Eri calls her name, Mami looks up immediately, without an instant's hesitation in a way she hasn't for other voices calling through this battlefield--wouldn't. She shifts to sit up further, still covered in blood, her hairdrills dusted with frosting. She doesn't really /look/ exactly her usual self, either. But what she does is look in that moment, and with instincts that come with being a Puella Magi, she lifts up her bleeding hand to catch the Grief Seed in stunned surprise. The sounds of the battle still make her shoulders shake, and she doesn't look up farther. Instead...

Instead she locks eyes with Eri. The fear in her voice is obvious in her eyes, the uncertainty that Eri knows better than many too. But cutting through all of that is a clear wound, emotional if not physical, at what Eri says.

The right call.

"I-I never meant..." But it's too soft to be heard. She tries to get across some feeling without words, but there's only a certain vulnerability... and a wish she doesn't speak. She's still hovering so close to Sayaka, and doesn't look up at first to Kyouko with the apple. She doesn't smile at Sayaka being too annoying to die, but she does nod despite herself at that conviction. She doesn't look at her all the way until Kyouko, fresh from beating down familiars, comes closer and looks straight into her eyes. Mami looks up to see that familiar gaze, and tere's strength in it that she can't find in herself now.

"Kyouko," she murmurs, and her eyes threaten to break into tears. Kyouko's hand on hers for just a moment is warm, and wonderful.

Mami's honey eyes follow her to the other side of Sayaka, and then Mami looks down at the Grief Seed. Eri's Grief Seed. She sees it as Kyouko keeps tending to Sayaka, and her attention flickers between Sayaka and Kyouko and the Grief Seed before she lowers it, ignoring the state of her own Soul Gem for now to look closely again at Sayaka, hearing her teasing Kyouko.

She can't think of 'kill' as anything resembling teasing right now, her heart in her throat.

Sayka talks as if she's dying, and Mami knows that she is, for all that she wishes it weren't the case. Mami's eyes wet with tears to watch Sayaka with her best friend, to watch...

'I don't want to die...'

"That's right, you said for an emergency," Mami breathes, and she /can/ breathe again. When Madoka says it, Mami believes everything will be okay, too. She waits, and her hand slips over her own heart, falling on blood, as she listens for Madoka's wish.

Instead, she sees Homura suddenly there, Homura swinging a pistol into Madoka's head. The smaller, pinker girl falls like a stone before her, and Mami's eyes open wide like they were /pulled/. "No--No--" Homura is /gone/, and Mami chokes again after all.

The flower on her hat blooms with new tendrils of darkness. Her hand grips the Grief Seed too tightly again as se looks to the empty air. "Why? WHy!?" Her voice is already hoarse.

She fumbles with the Grief Seed this time, not even looking at Kyouko as she leans over Sayaka, "Please--Please, don't die, Sayaka--You--You cn't leave me like this, I--" It practically falls onto Sayaka's Soul Gem, locked in her hand more by the way it snags her glove then by any ability for Mami to hold it as she does what she's done countless times already.

"I-I c-can't l-lose you!" Mami stammers, her eyes swimming with tears again such that she can't even see what she's doing, doesn't care if she can see.

She's not even looking at Charlotte anymore. Despair is already driving her harder.

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

Charlotte chomps at Mikoto, but Mikoto is too quick, springing back and away from the Witch's ever-hungry maw. Its teeth catch at the black-and-gold scarf tied around her neck, and it unravels as Mikoto leaps away, the sole prize the Witch retrieves as its head pulls back; only cloth, no flesh.

Mikoto knows that she must defeat her enemies and survive.

And Mai...

Mikoto will make sure she survives.

Homura runs forward with the cheese - though Mikoto can't see precisely what she's holding to make Charlotte so frenzied - and the Witch follows, excited like a puppy wriggling out of the grasp of its handlers. Her girth is so great, now, as to fill the entire room with her excited movements; Mikoto leaps upwards, again, to escape those punishing walls of flesh.

She lands on the one safe haven in the arena: Charlotte's back. It writhes and wriggles, but Mikoto is no stranger to unfaithful footing, and Charlotte is vast enough that she has more than enough room to keep a wide stance.

Ahead, at the maw, Mai is getting caught in its teeth - but her barrier is hot, and stern, and does not buckle under the steel-trap pressure of Charlotte's jaws. It reminds Mikoto that she does not have much time to solve this problem.

Every time they've sliced into this Witch, it has burst out, newer and larger. It seems, for a moment, like Mikoto will not be able to help defeat it at all.

But there's one distinctive thing which all of those strikes have had in common.

(Strangely, the next time Mikoto glances up to the Witch's head, Homura is gone.)

She shifts, bringing Miroku to bear. The claymore glints, sickly black, and Mikoto seeks to bury it partway down into Charlotte's flesh. It is sharp, too sharp, and the force with which she buries it seems impossible with the unsteady perch underfoot.

Should her blade land true, she begins to run - dragging her sword through its back, where its spine ought to be, as if to fillet it longways, like the reverse of what Mai does to the fish Mikoto catches and brings back to the dorm. Charlotte is like a long, polka-dotted road, and Miroku has dragged along it all this time; it's only fitting she should introduce them like this. Fuu's winds buffet around her, and she feels the force of Endo's blade, the light cast off by Mai's fire.

Let it be enough.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Mikoto Minagi has used Obsidian Blade: Death on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.

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

Sailor Pluto scythes down Pyotrs in a fury, the bluntness of her instrument mattering not at all. The eye-creatures splatter and scatter before her, then disappear, leaving her panting but standing. It is enough.

But it's not any kind of reprieve, as Charlotte thunders at her maw-first, making her the next in a long line of victims. Pluto doesn't trust her footing on the cake-like surface, doesn't trust /anything/ in this saccharine quagmire, and so she places her trust in herself instead. It's what has gotten her through those uncounted and uncountable years of solitary guardianship.

And it gets her through now, though not without cost. She doesn't dodge Charlotte's charge, but instead rolls with it, accepting some of the freight train force in exchange for not meeting the teeth of the blow, so to speak. It still spins her like a top, sending her bouncing off the suddenly unsoft ground. She's bloodied and burned and bruised, but whole, and finds her feet once more.

Time stops; but not for its Guardian, never for its Guardian.

She has borne a great many solemn duties, been witness to the falls of civilizations both dear and distant. It would be understandable for the emotional grind of centuries upon centuries of observed pain to wear away at the empathy of a person, to blunt the gentle edges of the sympathetic psyche. Inevitable, really.

But Queen Serenity chose wisely when she chose little Setsuna Meioh, the grave-eyed girl with the deep quiet well of a heart.

Homura Akemi acts, and Sailor Pluto watches. She takes in every harrowing moment, observes the choices of this dark-haired girl whose actions have so offended her own time-bound sensibilities, and although she does not understand entirely what drives the Puella Magi... the desperate heartbreak driving it all is unmistakeable, shocking even, against Homura's customary impassivity.

Time resumes for the final time, and Pluto's cheeks feel strangely cold. It's not until she scrubs at them with the exposed back of one hand -- glove long since ripped away by the Pyotrs -- that she realizes they're cooled by tears, freely flowing in reaction to Homura's misery. She finds her throat too tight with emotion to allow a normal whisper, much less a screamed one. Even if she could find voice enough to call to this place's dead, would she want them to answer?

Pluto closes her eyes and focuses, refusing to allow the cacophony of aches to mar her precision of motion as she begins a ballet-like pirouette. Coruscating comets trail behind the pulsing Orb as its mistress weaves esoteric lattices in the air. Violet-grey stormclouds, thick and eldritch, gather above and below and swirl to match Pluto. She spins faster. Scarlet streaks and weaves. Faster, still, and the tornadic movement takes on roaring life of its own, flaring with crackles of garnet lightning that forks impossibly backward in supplication to the temporal nature of the tempest.

Her low voice, normally smooth, croaks and creaks, but still carries in that eerie, echoing way: "Ch-Chronos Typhoon...!"

All the violence of a mesocyclone unleashes on Charlotte, shot through with howling Plutonic energy. She's too big to envelop, and so portions of her are spared the endless pummeling and the way time streeeeeetches to prolong that torment. It's hard for Pluto to predict whether that internal temporal dissonance will affect the Witch, but if it does, she hopes it gives her one hell of a headache.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Sailor Pluto has used Chronos Typhoon on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Sailor Pluto has finished attacking.

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

La Sirene gazes without moving her face on Kasagami until she relents. Then she nods, once. There is perhaps a note of warmth there. But just one. She is, perhaps, Not In The Mood -- not this moment.

The thing's only getting bigger, moving to devour them all. Frustration builds in her, formless and choked. They're surrounding Sayaka, guarding her perhaps, but the monster, this huge and falsely-cheerful thing, is growing all the huger. La Sirene raises her lantern. Behind her, a wish is formulated--

La Sirene has her back turned to her friends in this moment, so she does not see the perfidy of Homura.

In the face of something like this running feels almost academic. It would perhaps just mean she tastes of exhaustion when she is finally eaten. The thought crosses la Sirene's mind that it is good that Batiste did not accompany her: perhaps...

Oh, it's too close. La Sirene squeezes the handle of the Pharos and the light goes strange again in front of her. It pours out like a vast pillow, and perhaps it is enough; if nothing else, la Sirene feels a massive impact, finally getting to learn what it means to get hit by a freight train, and is sent sailing merrily ('merrily') into the air, if it is air in here at all: but she is neither chewed, nor swallowed, though perhaps that massive surge from that far-off Sea of Tears is.

But it is only light. It is unlikely to satisfy.

COMBAT: FINISHER! La Sirene du Nord has used Paint It Black and Take It Back on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: La Sirene du Nord has finished attacking.

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

That moment where they lock eyes. Mami's reply is too soft to be heard- she thinks that her silence is a simple acknowledgement of what she thinks they both know to be true, and then she can't justify looking any longer, because there's no time to think about what she just did. Like everything she'd done, she just had to live with it- and keep going.

And yet her eyes linger on the way- Kyouko makes her own offering to the suffering girl, before she has to move.

And Charlotte certainly does a good job of keeping her moving, shadows drenching confectioneries as she sheds her skins like some serpent yet doesn't seem to grow any longer. "Is there any end to you!?"

There's certainly no end to her hunger at least. It's swooping across the room like a giddy sticky fingered toddler in a candy store, one who hadn't even learned to chew- and all the Mahou Shoujo were it's favorite treat- and she's running. She'd seen the blood red void where Sayaka's arm once was. She's coming.

Her legs hurt, and Charlotte is coming- doggedly pursuing through the frosting. Her whole being trembles with fear. "Oh hell."

She's here.

Desperately the girl turns to face the creature, not for the life of another, but to fight for her own-

A lash whirls to strike one of Charlotte's sharp teeth- hoping to catch her flinching, only to see it severed. She skips backwards, not even half a step away from the relentlessly guillotine.

The gleaming white teeth are like a mirror of green now, a visage reflecting her own doom, so close that she could reach out and touch them. Her hand unclenches the severed lash in mid-air, and it goes drops into Charlotte's gullet without the slightest harm. Among the sickly sweet stench- she can smell the rain.

For what she thinks is the last time.

Her hand twitches and the lash is sent in a diagonal cross to strike the flat of one of those incisor mirrors. There's a whoosh-crack of force- but it does nothing to the witch other than tap a tooth like a dentist with an instrument. Instead it redirects her in mid-air, and instead of ending up in Charlotte's stomach she careens away into the wave of frosting that sends her tumbling like the churning dribble that she didn't deign to even chew

I don't want to die.

It's something she can't bring herself to say, but for one single moment- she feels the same sentiment down in her weary bones. There are different feelings behind it of course- but she wants to survive.

Quivering, she rises to a knee- spat out but not chewed up. Cold, through and through despite the warm stagnation of the creature's breath. Cold at the words 'Please! Kyubey I wish--' A wince throughout her, not just of pain- but a wish is silenced, and she thinks- Madoka just didn't have the courage- stopped.

Thank goodness.

But by Mami's desperate sobbing it sounds like Sayaka has taken a turn for the worse. Which meant there's only one way to finish this.

She doesn't have enough strength or sense of useless propriety to brush herself off in the wake of the creature's all consuming decimation.

"Heh- I really screwed up-"

A hospital was a witch's favorite buffet, and yet how many times had she made those midnight coffee runs just a few blocks away? Even in war time, bleary eyes from running four hours of sleep a night or less felt like a poor excuse. Her hypocrisy was enough that she could acknowledge her blame for a witch gobbling people for weeks while ignoring it for their offspring.

How many helpless girls who sat their for hours holding their father's hand lost them because of this? How many younger sisters lost their elder?

But she had to make choices- Mai made that clear. And she'd made hers to keep moving with the flow of inertia. And with that choice all those people just felt like so many trampled flowers in a field- or stumps in the husk of a once proud forest.

Strangely her mind moves to her English homework. The tired kind of four AM translation without effort that moves on just inertia too- but then upon comprehension, just sticks to a person- like Frost to a tree.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

A hand plunges it's way into unfertile but plowed frosting. Green pulses out like a wave, rain-drenched motes rising like fireflies into the air.

But I have promises to keep,

Sprouting from the Earth is a sea of tall black briars as if they were intended to smother- towards Charlotte.

And miles to go before I sleep,

Another time, elsewhere, a girl died. Limbs impaled by odd angles, whimpering as she felt something pressed against her soul gem.

And miles to go before I sleep.

Hand lifted, her eyes fixate upon the creature, and just like before she doesn't hesitate as she snaps her fingers. The whole world is red and the witch is a black stain upon it.

There's no longer a smile in her vision, no grinning jaws. There's just more blackness. A whole dark forest of sticks worth responds to the stimulus, as they shoot towards the underside of that stain, to try to impale it from odd angles too- before they vanish as if they'd never been.

She'd live with this one too... and keep moving forward.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Eri Shimanouchi has used Sea of Living Black on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kasagami is barely conscious, barely is alive, and has one hand on Nori and one hand on her sword. And in comes one Charlotte the Horrible Non-Euclidian Cheating Witch like some kind of demonic Hoover. A glance weakly back to the trio. In and out her consciousness fades, and she only comprehends three things: first, that Sayaka is alive by some sheer force of miracle. Second, that Mami is a quivering mess using words she can't quite make out. Third, that Madoka is out like a light. She didn't see Homura pistol whip the poor kid. There's memories of sobbing briefly rippling through her very vibrating brain right about now.

Warmth, however, fills her. She too, Isn't In The Mood (tm). No, but that simple vote of confidence is enough. As is, it seems, the woman's shadows. They quite literally save the weakened Kasagami's life, as that blackness of the Pharos includes one shadow distinct from the others. It's very Kassie shaped, as she's propelled above by it, shaking off Nori's magic, and yet hidden by it. Only through that act does the Sirene manage to once more offer the Rose Samurai reprieve from so much.

With more a gasp rather than a howl, Kasagami Araki throws herself at the creature that is Charlotte. She comes down upon the creature with a simple, single motion. A downwards strike, two handed, without her typical grace or confidence. No, this is simple /purpose/! This thing has to die, and she'll be cursed if she doesn't help destroy it. A single blade, aiming to help run straight through Charlotte at an angle that she prays takes her tumbling past. And that's the last amount of energy that she truly has, as her body goes limp in the aftermath.

Only a smirk is left, and as she falls to what was once mere evil cake, Kasagami falls still.

Two more blades formed of roses lash out, seeming to rip towards Charlotte the Witch vindictively, a single blade for herself, and another for her fallen hatted saviour Sirene. All is then blackness for Kasagami as she finally gives out.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Kasagami Araki has used Crimson Rose Cage on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Garnet [None] has posed.

Endless rivers of calamity stretch out before Garnet's desperate Future Vison and it's as horrible as she'd feared. All... all is pain... all is death... all is...

A ripple, a wave, for a moment the paths cross, intersect, diverge, rearrange, distort, shuffle... what is...

...All is Made of Love...

Garnet can't see it exactly... but she can feel it, like she feels the cosmos when she summons her weapons. She can feel the emotion welling up to be heard, and then it shouts its presence. It was like a single river of time swelled over with Love, and found resonance with so many others. Together they flooded over each and every other river, and all the rivers of time became as an ocean that ebbed and flowed with Love...

She's speechless, her Gems shine in tune with its Funky Flow, and tears run down her face... For a mystifying moment the only thing she can see is Homura's pistol connects with Madoka's head as it happens in the present, and then...

It's all gone,

The rivers return, but... different from the ones she'd been looking at before.

She doesn't feel like checking them further. The Crystal Gem doesn't fully understand the significance of that one moment, but she still can feel its emotional echoes in her gems, and Garnet brims and crackles with energy.

Troublesome Pyotrs that held her with their pure density begin to poof away, enough of them, that she tumbles through them onto the ground hard, to a squat, then a leap! The upward escape through the Pyotrs was no less painful than the fall, but better that than the jaws of Charlotte that close terribly where she had been only a half second before.

The following seem to happen in silence and slow motion. The air around the Gem ripples and warps with an influx of electricity seems to squash and stretch the space around her.

Her leap takes her upward, and she turns around to face Charlotte. she reaches the arc's peak and points her gauntlets at the ravenous white face, the hideous darkness it calls a body...

A stream of multicolored ball lightning, in neon pinks, blues, yellows, and now reds, greens and silvers each one as big as an SUV, torrent from her gauntlets into the Witch, and she lets all her feelings flow into the cool electro.

Garnet screams.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Garnet has used Cool Electro on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Garnet has finished attacking.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndt9Z_LfV6M

What a rag doll she is..Kyouko's seen dead girls. Some she can't unsee..it's so much worse in the in between, for her. A dead girl's just..gone. Nobody's home. It isn't easy, but it's..easier, then seeing things just bleed out. Dying girls are so much harder for her. And there is no mistake about it. Sayaka is dying, unless they can conquer Death.

The movies were wrong, the cartoons too. Death accepts challenges, it's true. A mortal can push contest for her life. But Death does not play chess. Death arm wrestles.

Death is indifferent to wits. Only force can prevail.

She shudders out a laugh with a low, gruff bark, like she hadn't intended to let one go in the first place. It's good to hear her joke. In this moment, all the animosity and enmity, perhaps even hate..none is to be found.

"Heroes get a freebie. It'd be a dumb thing to blow your freebie on though.."

Her seed is set to sprout, and she grows nervous. Sayaka's magic is considerable..but this...just closing off such a wound must take an enormous amount of magic. And what if she actually /could/ regenerate the limb? In this moment that feels like a nightmare..if her magic toils and toils almost endlessly, guzzling up every ounce of energy with an insatiable hunger to rival the freak that threatens them all. Kyouko has more Grief Seeds scattered throughout the city, but she doubts that she has enough for such a thing..she doubts that every Puella Magi in Tokyo combined could.

There is no certainty in Sayaka's prognosis. But then there never is, for anybody besides. She pitches her tumultuous artifact to the Incubator, telling it to catch with her mind. And then, much happens.

~~BGM Change~~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ZC16wTh3jM&list=PL661F534D5EB64093&index=10

Kyouko wants to tell Madoka to stop. That they can stave off the darkness..that this is what she and Eri had been fighting for this whole time, to have the nuts squirreled away for the hard winters..the reserve to prevail to spring..but her voice catches in her throat. She doesn't know it it will be enough. But she squeezes the words out all the same.


And then her little body crumples down, a blur of purple flashing off and vanishing, as Homura Akemi is gone. And Kyouko doesn't react with hatred or anger. She is shocked. But as she thinks of the strange girl who arrives and departs unannounced by sound or sight or scent, and the ambiguous alien who has ignored all the rest of them in pursuit of a persuasion now beyond its reach, she resolves to tug at this thread if she survives long enough to. She will pay this piper in full, and dedicate as much thought and questioning as it takes.

Kyouko Sakura does not abide question marks this close to home.

Mami's anguish pours out in savage droves, and Kyouko's eyes flash upon the dimming topaz glow of her hat with alarm. Bolting to her feet, a second grief seed appears between her fingers, and Kyouko claps it against Mami's soulstone in a manner that brooks no disagreement. If necessary, she will place her former mentor in a headlock to ensure that contact. After maintaining it for no fewer than five seconds, she drops the seed between the blue and gold. Spikes evaporate before her as she steps to the edge.

"Check my pockets when I fall. Hopefully there will be enough for all of us."

And then she jumps.

~~BGM Change~~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwkFixCq9t0&list=PLAi-vgZvH3CURei1bYx120zjUHiikN8yS&index=7

The horror sweeps amongst them all, careening throughout the space like a nascent chick too large for its shell. Every muscle in her leg explodes in a blooming symphony, each instrumentation called to act in concert with the rest. She leaps from platform to platform, attempting to outmaneuver the living embodiment of cardinally sinful gluttony. It's a narrow race, and every gain she makes is lost a moment later. Eventually it comes to the turn; the crux in which the game will be won or lost, a sudden shift in direction. Kyouko is narrowly successful, and her legs are split wide and bloody with the sake raked gouges that her arm has already sustained.

She does not land so much as fall to the next stepping stone, but she is far from defeated. Red limbs burst from her back like spider legs, pushing her upright. More and more explode out, red spearshafts broken up by gleaming silver chainlinks, more and more sprouting until she looks like the Bloody Angel herself, wingspan terrible and beautiful. Each outlier departing her body transforms into an acutely pointed guillotine, racing towards the outer reaches of the room to plunge into the walls of the labyrinth itself.

The chamber starts to choke with Kyouko's spears, her little girlish body twisting and tossing amongst it by virtue of a thousand cables, rocketing about in all three dimensions as her magic extends and contracts to her means. She is following Charlotte now in her black-bodied purpose, riding in the slipstream of the comet.

More spears sprout from Kyouko, no longer restricted to her back but emerging from every pore of her body. They twist all about, and unlike their predecessors they are not meant for anchoring or movement. These are killing blades, and they surge with the mindless blind hunger of carnivorous worms towards every manifestation of the Witch they can sightlessly scent. Whatever familiars are to be found are skewered on masse. Chunks of confection are ripped out in indiscriminate demolition.

Most, though, dive towards the dark star that seats the orbit of the rest. And if the thing can make a monster of a doll's mass, then Kyouko will do her best to leave even less of that left of her.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Kyouko Sakura has used Prominence on Hotaru Tomoe.

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Fuu Hououji's Finisher, Emerald Cyclone: Full, taking 65 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Endo Naoki's Finisher, Stern Brecher, taking 147 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Mai Tokiha's Finisher, Precious Pyre, taking 95 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Mikoto Minagi's Finisher, Obsidian Blade: Death, taking 138 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe narrowly braces Sailor Pluto's Finisher, Chronos Typhoon, taking 42 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting! Hotaru Tomoe's Block ability activates! Hotaru Tomoe's Parry ability activates!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace La Sirene du Nord's Finisher, Paint It Black and Take It Back, taking 139 Fatigue damage! Critical Hit! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Eri Shimanouchi's Finisher, Sea of Living Black, taking 62 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Kasagami Araki's Finisher, Crimson Rose Cage, taking 117 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Garnet's Finisher, Cool Electro, taking 69 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Hotaru Tomoe fails to brace Kyouko Sakura's Finisher, Prominence, taking 105 Fatigue damage! Hotaru Tomoe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura is unable to keep fighting!

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

The relief from pain that Kyouko's grief seed granted her is now mirrored in a relief from fear. Madoka's hope glows from her tiny frame, and Sayaka's own hope lifts its battered head once more. Her hand is too weak to grip but she can feel Madoka's cheek through her glove, and feel her smile. The absence of terror feels euphoric.

"Madoka," Sayaka whispers happily.

It isn't until Madoka stands that Sayaka feels the sting of her own cowardice. For so long she's hoped to protect Madoka from this life, which has only grown darker as the seasons pass. It's a final failing of her self-sacrifice for Mami's sake: it is about to become Madoka's sacrifice instead.

But if the moment is bittersweet, it is precious. Madoka looks so strong. Sayaka feels she knows Madoka better than anyone, and she's almost right. But even she doesn't think she's ever seen Madoka like this before. Pride and love thud softly in her slowing heart. With thin, dehydrated tears in her eyes, she waits to watch a miracle.

Instead, she watches a betrayal.

"You!" Sayaka shouts, rage invigorating her useless body. With her sole remaining arm she grasps her knee and tries to stand, but that grasping is nearly all the progress she makes towards it, her legs barely responding. Shaking her head bitterly as Homura disappears, Sayaka is forced to watch her best friend drop nervelessly to the ground. When Sayaka wore yellow shorts, a red backpack, and a bucket hat to school, she couldn't bear to see anyone hit Madoka, and she hasn't gotten an increased tolerance for it since.

It's only in the next few seconds that the dread hits her like a black sheet of icewater. Salvation isn't coming after all. Sayaka's breaths start to come faster. Her soul gem is still half-clean, but its efforts to repair her body continue to darken it. Half-lifting her hand, she reaches to Madoka's fallen body, then lets it drop.

A new tear drips onto Sayaka's cheek, just below the eyelash, and she blinks a few times, focusing her eyes on Mami. "Senpai," she echoes softly. For a girl like Mami to cry over her is almost unthinkable. Sayaka relaxes back onto Mami's lap, fully this time, sliding down a little so her head rests there. She winces and shifts painfully as Mami starts draining grief from her soul gem again. The wound on her arm is crinkling beneath the bindings. Why won't it just close? Isn't Sayaka supposed to /heal/?

She coughs a little laugh, and turns her eyes up to Mami's face slowly. "No matter how you look at it," she reassures herself, "...I saved you, right?" A warm little smile is on her face. "If I couldn't be happy with just that, I wouldn't be a very good member of Tokyo's... premiere..."

She closes her eyes against a new pain in her missing arm. It feels like it's there, still, like the whole missing arm is screaming.

"Puella Magi... konbi..." she manages. Her cool little hand wraps Mami's, the grief seed the innermost layer inside their palms. The blood dripping from Kasagami's scarf is slowing to a stop. A faint pink color rises on her cheeks. Her breaths are growing deeper.

Blinking, Sayaka looks about in confusion. She feels stronger with each passing moment, but she feels a profound sense of unease along with it. "Senpai," she murmurs. "Senpai, help me... help me sit up, I need to sit up..."

<Pose Tracker> Hotaru Tomoe [Infinity Institute (6)] has posed.

Charlotte emerges from Charlotte's stomach, over and over and over. Is that why she's never satisfied, no matter how much she consumes? Is she her own tapeworm? Is there no innermost Charlotte to satisfy, just an endless supply of insatiable external Charlottes? Is it Charlottes all the way down?

It's Charlotte who gets torn off of herself by Fuu's cyclone, Charlotte who runs headlong into Endo's massive pillar of light, face-first. Charlotte eats flame, and eats timestorm, and belches out another Charlotte, who is torn to pieces by a black forest of impaling plants adrift in a red snow of razored rose petals. It's okay, though, because another Charlotte sneaks out at the last second, to drown in this expression of the Sea of Tears, only to be opened like a fish by Miroku. And there's another Charlotte inside to get fried -- she's no electric eel. The Charlotte within is pierced by a dozen dozen dozen spears, only to emerge just in time to get blown away by the winds...

What's funny, and horrible, is that the order doesn't seem to matter. Which Charlotte was first, and which was last? It's all a matter of perspective. No two people witness Charlotte's destruction the same way, but everyone witnesses Charlotte's destruction /every/ way.

At first she seemed puzzled by the various acts of extreme violence, brows puckering, mouth a nervous wiggle. As they piled on faster and faster, she got angry.

And then, at last, with a final explosion, she is gone.

This is an extraordinary situation to the last. The Witch's death doesn't just cause the labyrinth to fade away like a bad dream -- it's much too real, too clear and present in Shinjuku, for things to be that simple. Instead, as she dies, the whole realm begins to convulse, to seize. It's like being in a submerged airlock... easy to drown while you wait. The waterline's lowering, but only a bare inch of prismatic, ever-changing ooze at a time.

There's the horrible gurgle of a drain.

Everything flows downwards -- the hospital's sterile reality allowed to reassert itself one floor at a time, starting with the roof. Ward after ward emerges, many of them full of empty beds. This won't fix that. Nothing will.

In the end, everyone winds up on the street, outside the main entrance. A single Grief Seed -- this one floats downward to sit, balanced on its point, on top of a roughly life-sized bronze statue of a famous doctor -- is usually the only indicator that a Witch ever existed, that this nightmare was real.

If only that were the case this time.

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

Mami doesn't even notice her own distress in any way that matters, as she sobs over Sayaka. Anguish is a good word, a horrible feeling that chokes out her lungs as she's there, until suddenly there is a pressure at her head.

Kyouko almost has to put her in a headlock, as focused as she is, but sh doesn't hve to. She goes, and Mami nods distantly and stays with Sayaka after a single glance and an extra sob for her.

Enough for everyone. Will that even be enough? After so many? Something is so dreadfully, terribly wrong and Mami knows what it is. She wants to imagine Sayaka safe.

When she looks down she is still crying, but Sayaka moves into her lap, and the blonde starts to stroke her hair with a now bloody hand. "I'm here, Sayaka," she says, and then Sayaka keeps going, reassuring.

She sniffs, and can't answer; Sayaka saved her, but she looks to be in such pain, and she doesn't want to interrupt her either. "Sayaka--"

Help her...

"Ah? O-Of course, I will," Mami says, ans shifts, using her hands and curling the one along the grief seed to puh Sayaka up, holding her a hand hooked beneath her remaining arm's armpit and pulling her up with the new strength of magic. "H-here, Sayaka, here," Mami says, more than worry in her face.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dj1-IxNGEjI

So many witnessed Charlotte's fall. So many rode out the wildling shakes of the labyrinth's death rattles. So many stood and blinked and shivered upon the Tokyo streets, looking at each other with varying streaks of haggardness newly added to their under-eyes.

Kyouko is not among them.

In the grand tradition of all supernovas and candlelights Kyouko's grand spectacle merely ushes in her utter stillness. She rose so high so that she could fall so low. And she doesn't know what's to happen next.

She finds herself in a position of faith, the very sort of stream she swore to avoid at all cost except in utter necessity. And that hadn't been the case. She could've held more back than she did. She could've stayed on her feet. Instead she opened her heart and gave her all. In hopes that the foe will fall. In hopes that they'll win. In hopes that she won't die in the ditch she'll find herself in in the best of cases. In hopes that Mami understood just who "everyone" meant.

If nothing else, if the Witch prevails, she will die in dreams. The true sleep of the utterly exhausted. Surely that must be better.

As the Bloody Angel rose, so too did she fall, ignorant of the world that would catch her when she lands.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Mercy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyMmU2wl0wk

Sayaka can spare no thoughts for the defeat of Charlotte. Her weakened heart feels strong again, but it's beating out of her chest. Adrenaline surges through her veins, a nameless panic coursing through her. An impending sense of doom, doctors call it; Sayaka can't remember what it's supposed to be a sign of. Sweaty and feverish-hot instead of cold, she struggles to her knees with Mami's aid, then buckles, her single hand spread on the ground, her eyes wide.

"What..." she pants. "What is this?"

Restlessly she's scratching beneath her lost arm, and soon the scratching becomes obsessive, then frantic. She rips at the bandage Madoka left, bloodied strips of it falling to the ground, and when Mami tries to interfere, she shoves her back, leaving a red handprint on her midsection.

Beneath the moonlight Miki awoke, the ghostly square of light from the hospital window lying across his arm.

Sayaka's wound splits at the shoulder, liquid flesh boiling down from it. Bent over the ground with her good hand supporting her, Sayaka screams out as this new flesh tightens, a hard structure crystalizing within, bracing against the floor. Four fingers and a thumb tighten into place, wristbones distending, forearm soothing out into its violin-neck grace, athletic bicep firming, the hollow of her shoulderbone indenting.

Utterly bare and clean, Sayaka's right hand now rests on the floor next to her left, as she stares at both, sweat dripping from her brow. Slowly, she lifts her restored hand to eye level, concealing that eye as the other trembles in dissociated horror.

It's not over, Miki-kun. And until it is, I'm not here. It's you.

The dry bandages fall away from the unbroken flesh of his wrist and palm, like birch-bark peeling.

Magic and miracles are both real!

"Hu. Huu. Uh hu." A strange noise comes from Sayaka's throat as the corners of her lips lift. Her arm was chewed up and swallowed, bones splintered, dropped into the guts of a monster. It's gone forever.

There are dark furrows under Sayaka's widely spread eyes as she turns her ashen face up to Mami, her palms up as if in supplication.

"Mam-senpai?" she asks. "Whose arm is this?"

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

She'd seen Kyouko like this once. An Erinyes on wings of razors, filling the world full of her vengeance. Last time she could only spare a glance, locked in the battle that she was- now she sees a world filled with her brilliance.

So many contribute and the witch finally dies, and she allows herself a relieved breath. And the world starts to drain away- the miasma that suffocated her still present, but less.

Sterile, empty reality emerges, draining into view.

A hospital is quiet at this hour, but it's not this quiet.

She still hadn't moved from the single knee she'd taken when Charlotte cast her aside, but in the wake of it vanishing, she sees Kyouko start ot fall.

And the space between them might as well be one between a tea doll and a head- or an arm. But without the savagery of gluttony.

At first she grabs her by the mid-riff, and turns her around to drape Kyouko's arm over her shoulders, crimson filaments brushing Eri's back in the motion as her arm turns to curve around the small of her back and waist- like she's merely a wounded soldier that she's walking home from war. But she sees, she knows not long after that she's out cold. Her other hand moves up as if to pat her cheek- then stops a mere centimeter away as she notes the subtle rise and fall of her chest.

There's this little sheepish look of fondness painted all over her lips. "Overdid it a little huh?"

But then she rethinks that- "That was stupid of me to say." If Kyouko was awake she'd probably tell her to cut all the self-depreciating bullshit, but right now she chides herself, "Nothing in there was overdoing it, except not coming back." Her eyes are a little moist as she whispers for noone else to know but the subconscious of the other girl and maybe not even that, "Thanks for coming back."

But there's a terrible scream, and the girl takes a step back so abruptly that she jostles the crimson Puella Magi- dragging her limp heels on the floor as she watches in horror-

Then understanding, or so she thinks.

Her lips are dry, her tongue is dry, she notices the seed by the statue- and she's already down several from this, will be down more but- Sayaka asks whose arm it is- and she just watches, a little stunned, "Yours." And then she rethinks that, "Right?"

And in the body horror of this moment in the silence of the hospital- the uncertainty of the answer lingers.

Her eyes upon Madoka's limp body as she says, "What about Madoka?" She sounds somewhat tremulous, "Just- just fainted?" She hopes.

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

Kyouko mumbles when she's caught, her legs stirring to some semblance of consciousness by sheer necessity and the rest of her caught up in their momentum. Eri's words sink into the basically unconscious girl to some degree, but the startled jostle kickstarts her engine.

First she smiles, barely cognizant, not much to distinguish her from a drunkard.

"Eri..knew..it'd be you.."

Her eyes close, their weight compelling, but her curiosity blinks over in Sayaka's direction. She stares as a four fifths asleep girl only could, in sporadic bursts lacking any sense of urgency.


At least she knows she's dreaming.

But still, she rouses herself, at least for a little while longer. Raising her arm in a surreal euphoria, she pumps her fist at Sayaka in a "hey, twinsies" sort of way, but then points at the fallen grief seed with an extended wrist she can barely sustain.

"Eri's turf..Eri's seed..I'll cover.. .. .. ..rest.."

She sways on her feet, sagging a bit, and opens her eyes to half lids to stare at Sayaka. She shakes her head a bit, and grins a little, and then a little more.

"Maybe she is..wow.."

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

Mami can spare painful, tired wishes that she will only lose one tonight, of words Kyouko spoke to her, and hate herself for that because it shows a part of her believes--knows--that Sayaka has been lost. Like many things she tells herself, she throws herself harder into trying to believe in something better. She tells herself Sayaka can be fine, that it was enough this time, that her cheeks seem brighter and she seems less cold.

Obviously, it can't be true. But Mami tries for it to be. Except...

"Sayaka!?" She calls out to her and moves forward. Sayaka's speaking up, but what she's doing makes no sense; Mami moves up closer and uses both hands to hold her, but there is enough strength in Sayaka's good arm to knock Mami back from her knees and onto her bottom. One of the few parts of her midsection that wasn't bloody--her corset's middle--now has a red handprint.

Sayaka is screaming, and Mami can only watch her, watch... it, and it's so strange that her eyes remain wide and unblinking the entire time.

Until Sayaka looks up at her, looks up at her that /way/, and they are in the street and it all coalesces for Mami as real. "Y-... T..."

Eri joins them and Mami stares up at her for an instant befor reaching out to take Sayaka's hands in both of hers. "You're okay," she answers instead, with heartbroken uncertainty. "It doesn't..." Eri sounds uncertain, but Eri's here, and Mami doubletakes to see the fallen Kyouko here long enough to see her alive, and her heart starts beating faster again from relief and strain and, "I-I don't care about the seed," she says to Kyouko's voice.

"D-doesn't matter. You're okay." She doesn't look up this time, pulling Sayaka closer. "Madoka didn't faint. She's only unconscious. T-tell you later, if we can... talk..."

There's a moment's pause that hangs on the air. Then, Mami sniffs and launches herself the rest of the way at Sayaka in an instant, wrapping her arms around the younger girl and holding her close, painfully close. "You're okay!" she sobs, and in short order is crying against Sayaka, her tears every bit as wet as the blood of the night and maybe as plentiful.

Mami won't let go. Mami can't let go.