2018-03-31 - Shinjuku

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All wars end.


Homura Akemi, Mami Tomoe, Eri Shimanouchi, Kyouko Sakura, Sayaka Miki, Mikoto Minagi, Kasagami Araki, Nori Ankou, Tsubasa Kazanari, Endo Naoki, Madoka Kaname, Ren Aizawa


Shinjuku Capital Ward

OOC - IC Date:

03-31-2018 - 04-07-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Shinjuku Capital Ward +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
  The skyscrapers are tall, the streets crowded, the nights bright with neon
  signs. This is Shinjuku, a densely populated district of Tokyo nestled right
  in the middle of its 23 wards. It is central in other ways, as well, as it
  contains Japan Rail's Shinjuku Station, a transportation hub that has the
  noisy honor of being the busiest train station in the world. The Station is
  surrounded, as might be expected, by hotels, stores, and restaurants that
  feast on the three-million-plus passengers that pass through daily, and many
  major companies have their headquarters in the commercial district nearby.

  Finally, Shinjuku is an administrative center as well. The Tokyo
  Metropolitan Government Building, a massive, modern-styled 48-story building
  that wears two jutting towers like a crown atop its 32nd floor, hosts the
  central government of all of Tokyo, including its suburban areas and smaller
  settlements in the surrounding area. Three entire blocks are devoted to the
  building (also known as Tokyo City Hall) and the smaller structures that
  attend it. The Japanese Ministry of Defense is also headquartered in the

  There is much to do in Shinjuku for those unconcerned with government and
  business, all within walking distance of the station. There are several
  parks, the largest being the Shinjuku Gyoen (which crosses into Shibuya),
  with traditional Japanese gardens and plenty of cherry blossom trees for
  viewing around late March/early April. The Shinjuku-ni-chome area plays host
  to the highest concentration of gay bars in the world, along with other
  businesses devoted to the subculture. For the artistically inclined, the
  Golden Gai area offers a lively social scene of bars and clubs focused
  around musicians and artists of various stripes.
COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into Puella Magi Homura!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Hotel Ambush - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1rOSbYbfsw

Dead reflective darkness fills the windows of the Tokyo Metropolitan building, mirrors studding concrete up forty-eight floors of skyscraping imposition.

Homura Akemi lies in wait within, her mind reflecting the same darkness in violet irises. She crouches in a pool of shadow beyond a pair of centrally-located doors on twenty-fifth floor with one handful of pale fingertips splayed against the floor, every sense bared, each low sound and shifting shadow vibrating tripwire nerves.

They come. She knows they come. She is counting on it.

Her phone buzzes, and with her unoccupied hand Homura answers Eri's call: "Here," as evenly as if responding at class attendance.

'How's it looking on your end? Do we know yet for sure?'

"I'm ready. She's not with them. They're nearly here." The barest breeze of voice elevates her reply above a whisper. She sounds sure because she is sure: the wages of spying upon the coming Chevaliers from the safety of a frozen world. The willingness of Homura Akemi to blow up an invading army of magical girls ends where Madoka Kaname's inclusion begins.

'Do it then. I'll make sure everyone is good to go.' Homura ends the call, lets that be her confirmation.

Wrapped in the universal searing orange of danger with its blinking red eye, the block of C4 just inside the door the Chevaliers are about to breach is not so hard to spot. The cord that leads from it to the next explosive brick is less immediately evident. She trades her phone for an unassuming hard plastic box, small enough to palm. The detonator has a mere half second delay. Luxurious, more than enough for Homura's purposes.

The delicate-looking girl unfolds and paces in perfect silence to the center of the hall. She rotates in place to face the doors on legs lined with diamonds, her henshin whites of a tone with the colorless smooth parchment of her skin in the dark.

The last strands of sable hair are still settling into place behind the motion when the doors admit the Golden Queen, in all her courage and honeyed resplendence -- in all her deadliness, at the head of an invading force of Chevaliers. Homura Akemi stands her ground, because it is more dangerous to give it, here and now. Because any movement she makes in front of this foe, she commits to. There are no margins when facing Mami Tomoe.

That doesn't make what is necessary, easy. There are the ghosts of old reverence to deal with, and the more recent and vivid memories of just how honed a veteran this golden-haired girl has become. Her fingers shift and tighten on hard plastic, thumb testing the edge of a trigger. That it is necessary is enough for Homura. Has to be. Always has been.

Always will be.

That implacable commitment levels every line of Homura's expression, her face as opaque as the face of the Tokyo Metropolitan building. Violet eyes flick over the eternally frustrating Sayaka behind her, to Tsubasa and her sword, then back to Mami Tomoe.

When Homura says, "Goodbye," it does not sound like 'good riddance,' though it certainly could. Instead it rings solemn, funeral bells sounding in that hard, quiet voice.

Her thumb depresses the trigger, then her hand swings to her shield. Tsubasa's sword slams down between the Chevaliers and the visible brick of C4... the first of thirty-four. Even as electricity arcs down the line, Homura's world flicks from the leached grey of an unlit room to the static-strange monochrome of time arrested.

Explosives limn the entire floor, a daisy chain of death. Meticulous care went into their placement. Homura was absolutely thorough. Overkill is certainty, or at least is the closest she can get to it.

Dead reflective darkness disappears from that floor as black burns brilliant white, then yellow, then orange. The windows bloom into the night outside, a concussive bouquet of fire lilies sparkling in a glass-shard rain. Destruction roars, and it is all the signal anyone needs.


Fire and violence claim the entire floor, exactly as in Garnet's vision.

Walls obliterate.

Desks and chairs pulp to projectile detritus.

Concrete pulverizes, turning the air to gritty dust that tastes like burning.

The twenty-fifth floor no longer exists in any recognizable form save for the very edges and most reinforced internal columns: the irretrievably mangled and hollowed-out ribcage of a structure. A majority of the now unsupported twenty-sixth above collapses downward, and it takes what feels like a very long time for everything to stop moving.

The larger chunks eventually grind to rest and settle with grating grumbles like boulders arguing. All that suspended particulate takes longer to sift clear and give way to unchoked air.

After, it is dark again, and feels even more dead.

COMBAT: Mami Tomoe transforms into Puella Mami!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!
COMBAT: Sayaka Miki transforms into Puella Magi Sayaka!
<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

In here, in this building, the violence of Ueno echoes in Mami Tomoe's arms. But it's more than Ueno; the violence of a thousand Uenos resides in her now. Perhaps some of the Chevaliers have innocence left to lose, but that has not been true of Mami Tomoe for a long time. The Golden Queen did not assume her throne in times of ease. Her wonder for the world of magic has long held hands with the blood that ushered her into it.

Her own. Others'. But not since she was a young girl with ribbons failing to save children has she believed in anything like the ease of battle.

She is leading the others, when she spots the blinking red eye. No, it is not hard to spot. As Tsubasa has time to guard from that one, as her sword shields them from the first of the blasts going off, Mami's golden eyes dart farther. The wall of metal that is Tsubasa's great blade funnels the churning explosion around both of them, giving Mami the time she needs--even as the fire starts to billow around them, the side of Mami facing Tsubasa strangely cool by contrast thanks to the guardian there. But as it blows, there is the fuse already moving for the next--and there, she finds the next. Where there is smoke, there is fire. Where there are bombs--

By the third in the same second Mami is swinging a graceful arc with her arm, expression hardened. She says nothing. The world becomes light, and fire amidst her movements--

No. Before that, the bomb gives way to Homura Akemi's eyes, and Mami's own meet them. What is 'necessary'. Mami watches her, grim. There is no hate in her expression now--there is something deeper, colder, harder than that. Goodbye, Homura says.

The world becomes light and fire as Mami swings her arm, and she disappears into the light, but until she cannot be seen her eyes do not move from Homura Akemi's.

The sound is deafening. The clatter is awful; the black is burning, blooming, and the glass goes on, and on. The floor is claimed. It is all gone. It feels like so, so long before it clears. But when the smoke clears, when the unchoked air can be even glimpsed through to what was there... It was dark. It is dark.

But gold shines from beneath that darkness.

Beneath and within the rubble are the sweeping arcs of ribbon, lace, and bows that decorate the great egg shape large enough to hold every occupant of that floor, solid as anything, a shell of protection resting between floor and floor. The smoke is clearing and within it there is this space, a perfect encapsulation of what they are.


The Chevaliers--

Are nowhere to be seen.

Until the ribbons start to give way, start to peel off from within, opening up and unravelling, chunk after chunk, piece after baroque piece, to reveal the girls within, hatching in glory as Mami's hand remains outstretched.

SOUNDTRACK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uCkWTpjLvWU

Mami's golden eyes are still fixed on that spot where Homura Akemi was standing, and she is a statue in motion as she lowers those fingers. "...Move," Mami says to the others, finally turning her head--towards what remains of the central pillar, pulling a small, pointed globe from a pocket and clutching it close.

A chunk of twisted metal and stone crunches, groaning audibly, and lands beside her as she begins to move. The floor is still settling. The devastation is all around them. ...For now.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Extreme Ways - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nBB2bPwKWVg

I'm responsible for this.

She'd never liked Shinjuku. There were parts of it she liked, but far too little. The multi-cultural gardens of verdant Shinjuku Gyoen, some small stretches of park land. Everything else was a weed, feeding off the best aspects of humanity to strangle away what little beauty was left in this world.

The Corporate Towers where the avaricious found their opportunity to wring every last iota of wealth out of the consumers. The Red Light District where the basest aspects of human lust supped on ignorance and desperation. And yes this place too - in which the ambitious grew powerful from cultivating human apathy.

It was these places that she'd sown her seeds, in that kind of fertile soil. What bloomed from her efforts could not be said to be beautiful, but at least it appealed to the gardener in her that the weeding was done for her in time for harvest.

And I can't even apologize to any of you for it.

It was never her ideal kind of territory, her desire to take it on had been motivated out of fulfilling her most basic of needs, survival. That it's been kept by her for so long, was a desire to give significance to the hollow act of violence that gave it to her.

Not to you senpai... nor to you Mikoto... Yumi... Setsuna... Homura... Haruka... Michiru... Kasagami...

And yet she was asking all of them to put their lives on the line for that. Staring at the place where it all began, the acceptance of that made her weary. Her selfishness. She didn't need Shinjuku to survive. Any other patch of dirt would do, would be more appealing to her even. She knew that. That's why she couldn't look at any of them right now, not a single one of the girls with her.

Every drop of blood you shed for this wretched weed garden of mine, I'm responsible for it.

Instead she concentrated on the sheer panelling of the glass, looking straight at the floor she knew they'd be on. She didn't need her phone any longer to predict what was going to happen. Right on schedule, crimson dots appear like eyes twinkling out of the void. The wind picked up in that moment, snapping her short hair sideways. She already had her hands pressed to her ears, but even from here she could feel the faint shockwave of the chain of explosions released. The immense heat radiating like a bonfire on a summer night. The whooping rhythm of the fire alarms piercing even the ringing left behind.

All because I challenged her to see what I saw that day from the shattered soul of a little girl.

Uncovering them, there was still a faint tinnitus of white noise. Placing a hand to the bridge of her glasses, she took them off her face, snapping each piece back, before hooking it on the edge of her blouse. Her expression one that could chill the temperature of a room, could steal the heat from this blast. The green light that manifested in her hands didn't feel warm in the least.

Just because her senpai would rather discard what's real to reach for empty hope.

All of a sudden she felt connected by an intricate webwork of vines in an elaborate overgrown garden, each tying around her fingers that held the soul gem like bits of string. Tokyo was an elaborate trellis. Vibrant flowers and plants cast off human shadows. Each vine that was summoned braided itself with others, weaving itself into the fibers of her gloves and boots.

It would be easy to call them both delusional, but that's not it is it? They both know what I know. They both see what I see.

A rush of wind brought petals that became lace, leaves that melded into a blouse and skirt. Branches wove into a circlet. No thorn was left unused merely for its sharpness, as they accentuated the sharpness - accessorizing it with a sense of severity. Different layers were formed from different parts, nothing was wasted.

They just reject it, to strive in vain to change this cruel world. And now they've backed me into this corner.

Placing a hand to her forehead, the circlet accepts the shining gem with a flash as it's only fanfare as it becomes conjoined, the girl become Puella Magi flicking her fingers to call forth a thorned scourge of three parts, which is snapped downwards with the flick of her wrist, before she coiled it back in her hand.

It's only then that she allowed herself to look Kyouko's way. At that blazing Goddess of War. Her eagerness to lead the battle below relieved some of the tension that had snapped her taut and left her frayed all this time. As she led the Shepherds down, her lips moved into three mute syllables. She didn't have the courage to consider that this might be the last time she saw her - to act accordingly.

I'm responsible for this... but I'm not the only one at fault.

Instead as battle was joined, as mages were struck out of the air and taken to ground - as the dust of devastation began to settle, she spoke to the others, "Let's go. Hit them while they're off-balance. Don't get overconfident and assume that did our work for us." Tapping her foot on the edge of the building, a sigil of her magic appeared, before vines appeared out of the side of the building, twisting itself into a tightrope that stretched just above the wide open chasm they'd left in the building. Running across it as she was now was as easy as sprinting down an empty sidewalk after class- but she was mindful of the thoughts of shots coming after her in the dark.

In this world, if you do the right thing you get punished, and if you do the wrong thing you also get punished. Only one kind of choice matters - and you've made yours.

Leaping into the annihilated office space, the haze made it difficult to see, as thick as gunsmoke, the groan of metal from compromised integrity flooding her ears. She took one wary step forward, then another. And then slicing her arm through the air, the sudden whip crack as her vine reached its destination ahead of her split the air into a squall as it was displaced, parting the dust cloud like the sea, scattering disintegrated office equipment.

In the end it won't matter if you reject that. You'll learn it the same way I did.

... And nothing else. Frowning, her eyes snapped across from one end of the other as if expecting a trap - until she spotted a ribbon dangling, shimmering in the dark as it's presence was betrayed by flickering emergency lights. Taking a step forward in reaction to that stimulus, a hand clapped down upon her shoulder, her neck snapping to witness the head shake. The wisdom in that was undeniable and she made a similar connection, "Up! They're headed up! Don't go near the elevator shaft. We'd be sitting ducks in there."

Twisting around, she started to run for one of the fire escapes, vaulting over a crumbling section of the floor. "Take the stairs! They'll corner themselves once they hit the roof!" Her whip led the way, flashing as it traced several lines upon the door, before it fell apart the moment she barreled through it and leapt to the railing, bounding up two flights at a time.

The only choice left to me - is to make certain you do.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi transforms into Puella Magi Eri!
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J8nHUqAnA1k&list=PL4974828533C1619B&index=112

Crimson light sizzles the air behind her. The percussions of battle still ring out behind her but the way is sealed by a latticed grid of her lethal temperament, but she does not rest in her fleeting moment of safety. Clutching a dark star to her chest, her crimson heart of stone and spirit expels its murk and grime, and shines bright with defiance and strength.

Kyouko will need both in abundance, now as much as they will ever be called upon.

There is dust even here on the ground from the terrible smiting exacted above, the disintegration of one floor and the collapse of another spewing particulates throughout the building's ventilation system like a vengeful spirit cursed into being by a dying nemesis. But that ghost is weak so far from its grave, and parts like mist around the valkyrie's charge.

They are here, she is certain. She must simply find where.

It's a tall building, and she cannot scale it from the outside without risking interference. There are stairs, cautious and slow..but even worse they are siloed off. They can merely take her somewhere, not tell her where to go. But there is an alternative..

Slamming the button with the heel of her fist, fortune smiles on her. The elevator is already there, upon the ground floor, and she will not need to wait. But she doesn't need that slow little box, she needs what lies beyond it. Sparks spray out like aerterial blood as she shreds the compartment's roof open in a flurry of razors. Leaping onto the top of its jagged carcass and into the elevator shaft, her momentum abruptly halts as she stands still, closing her eyes and recalibrating herself, quieting her beating heart so that she may listen.

The shaft runs from the stem to the stern, a mostly hollow tube providing passage..and sound.

She does not move, she hardly breathes. It is a bare whisper from the walls, but she hears them. Groups of people, one nearer and one further, high, high up above. Higher, it seems, than the trap and its remnants. And, most subtly..they seem to be moving higher still.

And so it is higher where she will search.

Dropping back into the box andplanting her feet, she raises her spear with its tips to the skies and plants its butt into the ground with a soldier's assurance, stabilizing her grip as her spear extends upward, launching into the sightless dark, a penny down a wishing well in reverse. In moments it thuds into solid berth, vibrations arcing down the spear's now tremendous span to shake at her arms. And then it starts to retract..carrying Kyouko up with it.

Faster, faster..her hair and her skirts so accustomed to billowing now cling to her form from her velocity, rising fiery and proud like the morning star climbing back up from the pits of exile and expulsion. She moves quickly, now, but not too quickly to think.

Eri stands above. Her kouhai and her friend..how beautifully she's blossomed, so far from the nervous and miserable and desperate girl she had been. There is cause for each in ample supply here, compounded by the stresses of leadership and the poison of civil war. But she stands to meet them, strong and tall.

What a miserable hell to force so much upon her shoulders.

Sayaka will be up there too, that infuriating mother to all of this ruin. In that way, this is all Kyouko's fault. Kyouko, who had taunted and teased that precocious blue haired girl, who had taken a liking and an interest in her. Who had had such a hand in first teaching her how to defend herself. At the time she hadn't thought she was encouraging her to damn herself with a contract, but she soon understood how profoundly she had erred. The days since have been a plummeting downturn of spurned friendship and affection, her every effort at peace or persuasion through any means necessary each declined without an inch concession. And look what a world she has made through her stubborn defiance..Kyouko has never before met somebody more willful than her..she cannot understand her, or perhaps more accurately she cannot understand her own feelings about that single mindedness.

What a miserable hell she has cleaved of this world.

And Mami..Mami who had taught her so much. Who had shared in so much pain and hardship with her. Who had shared in so much joy in those fleeting gaps where it can take root for such miserable creatures as the Puella Magi. Who had anchored her when she was adrift, who had given her a companion, a friend, a family of sorts after her own had died in anguish. Who looked sadly at her when their friendship first cooled, who had looked happily at her when that friendship had warmed, who had given her a proper bed and shelter up from the sewers..who had fed her with love. Who now only glares, and stares. Who that blue haired girl has poisoned with her persuasions, and who in turn gave the mad swordswoman the strength and the authority to start this war in the first place. With who even now Kyouko is desperate to make amends and to embrace once again. Who alone among the Puella Magi contracted for the right reason, and in a way is the only pure victim of their lot.

What a miserable hell to bend them to such enmity and suffering.

Kyouko is afraid for all three of them, sick with fear. She has tried, truly tried to walk this madness away from the cliff. Tonight there is no more room left to stall. They will turn back..or they will plunge. And then only the fall's judgement awaits. They will be halted by their hearts or they will be halted by the grand and unmovable expanse that awaits at the bottom.

And not just they. So many have joined their cause, so many the other. With nothing to gain in almost every case. They fight, and are at risk, from love and conviction. Again and again they have stood on the line, these Shepherds and Chevaliers, daring the devil to take them because they feel that they must, even though they have every means of retreating from the field. She will be devastated if anything falls on their heads from this great folly of squandered security and peace.

Her thoughts are halted, her journey at its end. Her skirts and hair flare up around her in tiered coronas from the stopped momentum as her spear regains its normal length at the top of the elevator shaft. She dangles for a moment, her eyes closed, her lips moving. Her words are barely vocalized, known only to her and her audience.

She is praying.

And then she sways forward, her spear shaft sprouting chained joints, her feet planting on the closed doors of the rooftop access. Pushing off from them in a rappel, she swings back..and drives forward, detonating the heavy steel forward, as if flung forward by a bomb.

Her body flies past them, a horizontal blur. Bringing her upper body up, she lands on her feet, brandishing her spear in a circular pirouette, glaring with bared teeth at the rooftop of one of the two towers. Not far off stand the Shepherds, having climbed as high as there is. On the tower opposite are the Chevaliers. Battle has not yet been joined.

Her blood rises up as the wind picks up her hair. Now her world will restitch itself, or it will end. She shall fight as she would in any other Apocalypse.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nights in White Satin - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VN1xsrMUbuY

Flame-tossed shadows chase each Shepherd as they turn from the elevator and make for the staircase. The night air is a feast for the small, rubble-smothered fires left behind by the explosion. With a hiss, sprayed water begins to fall from the floor above, passing through the places where the ceiling above has collapsed. The pipes meant to supply the sprinklers on this floor are ruptured, and after a few seconds of gurgling, those wounded fountains loose gentle streams down the front of the building. Freefalling through the air, each droplet is a wobbly prism. Through each passes a flash of bright yellow light.

<Blitz Rush>

Up the side of the building streaks Fate Testarossa, her hair as yellow as the energy trailing from her blazing Device. Zig-zagging between ghostly ivy, she is reflected in window after window, until, at the thirty-sixth floor, an empty office pays witness as she halts, and a metal plate on Bardiche slides back to engage a cartridge.

As Fate blasts back downward towards her opponent, a shard of a meteor falls yet faster. With a feral howl, Mikoto Minagi swings her sword Miroku through the wind, and the Device Fallen Stern slams up into its plummeting path. The front doors of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building rattle in their hinges as sword smashes up through sword. Hurled back by the impact, Mikoto lands in a deep crouch, dragging a gouge in the concrete as she halts herself. Even as Miroku grinds off the ground to be dragged behind Mikoto's charge, a stray knife sinks into the trunk of a tree she passes. A single drop of blood sinks into the bark.

Far above, her thigh marked with a graze, Lera Camry has locked blades with a King. Red-orange flame blasts against the swirling, scorching sakura petals that Kasagami Araki musters to her terrified defense. Modern-day parapets crack and shatter around them as flame overcomes, as the King's sleeve is burnt away. But as Soaring Sky draws back to skewer the nightmare-bound Kasagami, a metallic whistle cuts the air from above, and a thin metal girder rips the Device right from Lera's hands.

First the girder punctures the concrete courtyard, then, tip-first, Soaring Sky. Third, blue boots clack down as a masked Sailor Uranus lands not far from the weapon she disarmed. Finally, the whole courtyard quivers with a distant, avian shriek of anguish.

In the elevator shaft, that sound is perceived first by its vibration, which twangs cables and clatters panels as the long hollow passage shivers. Only moments later does the sound in the air catch up to the vibration in the ground, and a muted sonority travel up the tall manmade cavern. It is like a whalesong is coming from the walls, and for a moment the Chevaliers pause in their ascent, suspended from yellow ribbon.

A metal bracing in front of Sayaka Miki is rattling. Eyes large, lips parted, Sayaka reaches a white glove to touch it, hanging onto her ribbon with the other. The rusted metal falls still just before her first two fingers alight, and Sayaka's hand pauses there a moment, befre her fingers wilt down.

"Kozue," she whispers.

"You're here," Anthy finishes, Utena Tenjou's strong arm at her back, Utena Tenjou's handsome lapels filling her grateful hands. It means 'You're alive.' It means 'You came for me.'

For a few seconds, there is silence in the courtyard. It is just long enough to catch a breath, to flex sore fingers on a sword-hilt. Just long enough to fondly tug a teal bow, or carve a green incantation into the air. And, just barely, long enough for Anthy to smile a smile that knows nothing of lies.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

And then dark metal meets with a metallic slam. Miroku rips through Endo's guard to tear through his shoulder, and, wounded, Endo sweeps Fallen Stern right back through into Mikoto leg.

Like a pin hammer on a piano sounds the driving rain of metal. Garnet's armored body is scored and feathered with spear-shards. Even as the torrent blasts her, Garnet draws back a heavy fist, surges through, and smashes a punch through Kyouko's jaw. Yumi's severed vines briefly sprinkle this combat with green motes of magic, but before they have even faded, Kyouko has erupted into the air with a fearsome spear in her hands, body twisted to deliver a strike.

Within the building, Eri Shimanouchi rushes with reckless haste to make use of the time her senpai is buying, taking stair after stair as the Shepherds chase after.

Elsewhere, underground, a delicate girl is tied to a sturdy chair, her blue bangs hanging over her blindfold. Limp, Kozue does not hear the music still leaking from her headphones.

And atop one of the two great towers atop the Metropolitan Building, there is an elevator door. Two heavy metal panels in industrial green seal the elevator shaft from the windswept roof. With no elevator car nearby, they lie sleeping, undisturbed by electricity since late afternoon.

The seam between doors puckers out like a kiss as a long silver blade punctures through, quickly followed by a second, separate length of steel. The two swordtips worm around in the air like moles' noses for a moment, then, decisively, cross one another and split apart like scissors. By repeated outward wedging, they crank the elevator doors apart, enough to force in a shoulder. Boots catching for purchase on the frame, Sayaka and Tsubasa each shove at one door, bullying them aside with their shoulders, until something gives and the doors slither back into their frames. As the two blue swordswomen stumble into the sudden lack of resistance, Mami Tomoe and Nori Ankou stride through, lovely and unlabored.

Beside the building, Fate reaps her way with superhuman speed through a forest of bristling spectral vines, fighting her way through wound and exhaustion to the witch within.

Lera reforms from two mirror images, above a crater driven by wind and flood, and the head of Soaring Sky splits, three spinning disks of Belkan runes churning up as a white-hot beam gathers, barely restrained.

And glowing slits along the length of the black blade Miroku split wide, to burn like demon eyes in the dark.

On the rooftop, Mami Tomoe approaches the edge, flashes of light playing across her golden eyes as she looks down. A few steps behind, Sayaka hesitates, watching her for a moment. Then, she steps beside her, and together they look down at the violence below. Sayaka's fingers pluck at Mami's, and thread between.

Tsubasa is staring straight across the towers. "They're almost here," she informs the Puella Magi.

Even as a shockwave fades above, Yumi lies on cracked concrete, her broom slowly falling towards her. A thin green line of nearly-torn magic runs down her body, marking where Bardiche slashed her.

The last two steps Uranus's legs can carry her pitch her forward, into the onrushing embrace of Sailor Neptune.

Through the foundation of the building there are zoetrope flashes of Mikoto's ragdoll body flung past pillar after pillar, then an impact. Nothing further is visible. For the first time, she does not spring back at Endo.

The scraps of her princely armor lying around her like autumn leaves, a demolished Utena sleeps once more on Shinjuku pavement, her long pink hair the only sign of her doomed valor.

Perhaps some animal part of Kyouko senses she has run out of time. Spear by spear she ascends the tower. Expressionless, Garnet follows behind.

Eri and her contingent of Shepherds burst out onto into the cool night air. The green Puella Magi strides out onto a vast helicopter pad, flat and near-featureless. Its only markings are the great encircled H symbol covering the whole pad, and the bristling red antennae to guide the metal birds down. Across a dizzying drop down to the main body of the building, a second, even more barren tower hosts the Chevaliers, with nothing at all marring the blank concrete tiles.

Sayaka hears the door burst open, even across the windy void. She does not look yet. She needs a few more seconds where it is not real yet. Closing her eyes, she lets everything fade, save the sense of endless urban sky around her, and the soft hand in her glove. Her inhalation starts slow, tremulous. But it builds and builds, and her lungs fill and fill. She draws in the night, the clouds, the stars. She empties Tokyo into her body, drains it all down. She takes everything outside and brings it in.

Only when everything outside is in can she squeeze her partner's hand, and let go.

Striding to the edge of the Chevaliers' chosen tower, Sayaka stares at Eri. At this distance they can only barely look eye-to-eye. Of course it is enough. Is there a whisper so quiet it cannot convey hate?

"Fate," Sayaka says aloud. "Did you find her?" Her eyes remain on Eri, the hunter of Shinjuku. The farmer of Shinjuku.

tThere is a long pause.

<Lera is retrieving Kozue now.>

It is as if a lock snaps off of a vault inside Sayaka. A sword drops heavily into her hand, and she grips its hilt like it was Eri's throat.

The velvety sky above shows only the brightest stars. Those who have survived the battle below and can still grip their weapons are arriving to bolster both sides, one by one. At last the Chevaliers stand together in the moonlight:

Mami, musket-armed mentor in elegant beret and corset.

Sayaka and Tsubasa, earnest knight errant and seasoned champion in turn, swordswomen both.

Nori, twin of nature and darkly fey, in mournful black.

Garnet, the Chevalier's living backbone.

Endo, a battle-fresh hero in valiant purple.

On the tower opposite, the Shepherds join together:

Eri, whip-armed and as determined as any weed crawling through sidewalk that she and her friends will live.

Kasagami, savagely regal for all her wounds.

Kyouko, bursting onto the scene with the hair and mien of a Warring Kingdoms general.

Mikoto, possessed now of savagery not all her own.

Homura, bombadier and enigma.

There are many other Chevaliers, and many other Shepherds. Above Ueno station and below this very tower, many of those have risked and lost much to bring their comrades here, to this place.

It's Time - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0I5xE0hhjA

Sayaka takes a step onto the edge of the building, her heels on concrete, her toes hanging over empty, dizzying air. Her white cape fills with fifty stories of wind. Her sword is a sliver of moonlight.

Lifting her weapon, Sayaka extends her arm out fully. To her the edge of her blade is a near vanishing line. To Eri, it is a single point. Above the silver, blue eyes challenge green.

And with a deep crouch, Sayaka springs out into empty air, trusting that when she comes down, there will be a ribbon waiting.

A war ends tonight.

OOC Summary:


  • The Chevaliers entered Shinjuku by train, expecting ambush. Mysteriously, no one was there.
  • The Chevaliers proceeded to the one place they knew the Shepherds would defend: the Tokyo Metropolitan Building. Fate, Endo, and Lera detected a magical signal in there, and Mami lead a group in to check it out.
  • The signal was a Shepherd trap. Homura set off C4 on that whole floor, leaving the fate of Mami and her group uncertain.
  • The Chevaliers lost Utena in combat. The Shepherds lost Yumi and Uranus.
  • Lera peeled off to liberate Kozue. Neptune carried Uranus off. Mikoto got scary.


  • Eri stormed into the building to finish off anyone who survived Homu's bomb.
  • It turns out Mami protected Tsubasa, Nori, and Sayaka in a ribbon egg, then evacuated them up the elevator shaft with ribbons. Frustrated, Eri and her Shep group went to climb the OTHER tower, lest they go up the elevator shaft and Mami turn it into a really long musket barrel for Tiro Finale.
  • Everyone is now atop Tokyo Metropolitan Building, which is the government HQ for Tokyo.



COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene de Diamant!
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nine Inch Nails - Discipline: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4R_I2G_mWsc

There is silence, from beyond the pillars. The sounds of battle are too loud to possibly hear a sniffling girl, where she has landed on the pavement, far away from the noise and light.

No one comes to help her, and no one will come, because everyone is occupied with their own battles. For Mikoto, who thirsts after contact and assurance, it is the worst kind of punishment for her failure. It means there's no one to distract her from her memories.

Eri's voice comes, first, the memory clearer and more defined in her mind. The way she guided her back to her bed, the way her breath hitched with some unknown pain.

'And they'll be coming for Shinjuku soon... so I'll need you. I'll need you and everyone else ready to fight. Or else I might lose those hunting grounds too. You understand? If we win it won't be hard getting Ueno back... but if we lose...'

- and Mikoto promised, promised she wouldn't let them, swore to destroy Eri's enemies as if they were her own. She'd told her she wouldn't fail her. And yet - and yet - memories come again, less defined, more difficult to focus on.

She is three again, dragging and scraping Miroku along the ground, unable to keep up. She is four again, scolded gently for flinching away. She is five again, and they have learned to form it into her defense, but still she struggles to move quickly enough. She is six again, clumsily hefting Miroku to guard against a very real katana. She is crying. She is crying, because she keeps falling down. She is crying because she can't do it. She is crying because her Lord Brother needs her, has always been kind and good to her, and she has - and she has failed him.

But her Lord Brother is there to pick her up, and hug her, and tell her that she's doing well, and she just needs to try a little harder. He's there to tell her he believes in her and he loves her.

'Everything's going to be okay now. You had a hard fight didn't you? But you did so well. You did so well. You must have been like a goddess of war, burning bright.'

They believed in her. They believed she could be better than she was.

She tries to push the memories away, but in her consummate defeat it is impossible. The feelings are too raw, too real, summoned from unfathomed years. Past overwhelms near-present, submerges her in the depths of poorly remembered history.

"No," Mikoto whispers, hands balled into fists. "No, no, no!"

Not again. No more. Please don't make her relive this! She has bled all that blood away, spilt into the altar of Minagi, feeding something dark and transcendent. Perhaps she was weak once, but now, she is strong. Isn't she? Isn't that what she's spent her whole life training for?

She is ten again, and she holds the blade aloft to match each strike. She is eleven again, and she blocks the katana and counterattacks without hesitation. She is twelve again, and her movements have become fluid, observed from the shrine's cats. She is thirteen again, and she moves with skill and purpose, leaping from tree-branch to tree-branch. She has become a little sister who could make her Lord Brother proud. She is crying. She is crying because she has - because she has - because - s h e h a s -

but she is alone in the shrine.

Her head hurts.

Miroku has landed point-down on the concrete, biting into the ground. There are red sigils active on its blade, malevolent diamond things like baleful eyes. They look down at Mikoto Minagi, who is broken, who has failed, in silent judgement. Mikoto lifts her head, with great and painful effort, and looks into her claymore through tears.

It is an old thing, Miroku, passed from mother to daughter for generations. Mikoto does not remember her mother. The Minagi family left, and left, and left, and left, until it was only her and her Lord Brother and her Grandfather. And then her Lord Brother left, and then her Grandfather... left. Always she is left alone.

... there's something strange about that thought, but Mikoto discards it out of hand, focusing on Miroku's sigils.

"No," she says, and it means, I am the weapon you have fashioned. "No," she says, and it means, I have sworn myself to your service. "No," she says, and it means, I will not fail our covenant.

That she does not say it out loud is without consequence. She and Miroku are bound together at the core, two halves of a terrible whole, and it hears her. It will help her speak.

"Help me," she says, her voice strained and hoarse, "Miroku."

They are tools for a shared purpose, Mikoto and her blade. Their hearts beat the same blood. They grew up together, spent every moment in each other's company. It is not just like family - it is more than that. There is no Mikoto without Miroku. (And yet, there was Miroku without Mikoto, and in this way it is greater than her. Certainly, her purpose is subservient to it. Until she finds her Lord Brother, she is to protect the blade. Thus is her family's decree. She would never question it.)

But there is more to this story: Mikoto is a HiME. And with HiME follows Child, one after the other, joined in monstrous kinship until the day they die. She has been trained never to call on Miroku unless it is necessary, because that is more true than anyone can possibly know.

Lying on the ground, battered and bleeding, Mikoto deems it necessary.

"Miroku," her voice grows fiercer, louder. The shrine maiden of Minagi screams, the word ripping through her maltreated vocal cords, a prayer and a promise. "MIROKU!!"


From beyond the pillars, there is a terrible rumbling sound, as if the earth itself were being torn asunder. There is a crash, as concrete falls to the ground.

The Child Miroku is unseen, seething underneath the earth, but its effects are manifest.

Black volcanic glass tears through the foundations of the courtyard, like a ritual knife through the skin of the earth. And there is Mikoto - physically held between several obsidian spines which pin her upright, like some lost museum display. Miroku is grasped in her hands, red sigils flaring. She is carried along, held aloft in a moving scaffold. Her leg and arm are bloody, her skirt torn.

Glowing eyes cast about the courtyard. She is searching for someone, and he is not here. So too does she leave, following the scent of him, the scent of their blood. Obsidian carves a pathway through to the street, and beyond. As she passes by, the stalagmites in her wake leave behind destroyed concrete and uneven ground; her trail, for anyone who cares to follow it, is painfully obvious. She isn't worried about anything like that, not when she has a purpose. But the trail grows cold.

Her loved ones move upwards. They will guide her to him. She follows.

The obsidian spires carve through the entrance of the building, blowing a hole clear in the side of the wall. Within, there is the terrible scream of steel and concrete warping, as something tears up through the middle of the tower. The tortured, flattened corpse of the twenty-fifth floor is only so much earth to tunnel through. Black glass lances through the rooftop like a surgeon's scalpel, in a shower of white dust, and Mikoto is thrust upwards into the battlefield.

If anyone looks through the windows at this moment, they will see something lurking, in the floors beneath the roof. It is massive and malevolent, so large it is impossible to get a clear picture of what lurks behind the office windows. Debris obscures it.

On the roof, there are only the black glass spikes. Some fade, after Mikoto's explosive entrance, which brings her in line with her fellow Shepherds. Others, like the ones which hold her stable, exist even after the dust settles. But even as the obsidian fades, the damage it left remains - upturned concrete here, an exposed and broken steel beam there.

Golden eyes shine with vengeance as she looks out upon the battlefield. She scans the horizon, and it all seems in sharp focus, even so far away.

He is here, but he is far.

All the expression on her face has emptied. Her friends have seen something like it before - but this is a deeper level of berserkergang trance than they has ever witnessed. She is limp, but for the iron grip on her blade, held up by the cruel and jagged obsidian like a puppet. Even her mouth hangs open, drawing in labored breath.

There is an ancient power within Mikoto, and it simply will not allow her to stop. She has been hollowed out, and what replaces her is horrible.

Surrounded by allies, she is alone. She is alone. She is alone!

And she alone will destroy this boy, this boy who brought her pain, this boy who made her cry.

She has to. She must. The people she cares about are depending on her.

Air rasps past bared teeth, and down into hungry lungs. The way she pants, the thin sheen of sweat on her skin, the stronger grip on one side than the other - all speak to her pain, her enervation. And yet, none of it is reflected on her face any more. None of it reaches her voice as she speaks - as she speaks!

"They are enemies," says Mikoto, flat and guileless in a way which almost seems to betray the way she used to scream. "Destroy them all." She doesn't even look at her allies as she's talking. "... it's kill or be killed. I won't let you die. I promise," she says, though it is not hers to promise.

There is a fierce certainty to her, as if there is no other option. They would always come here. This would always come to pass. It's not inconsistent with the way she's acted, over the course of this long civil war. And yet...

... there's something wrong with Mikoto.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi transforms into Mikoto and Miroku!
<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami's body aches. Fleeing from the site of her titantic clash with the pink-tressed Prince and Lera alike, she doesn't let go of the Sword in her hand. Her other hand has been hauling along the Rose Bride behind her at an absolutely break-neck clip. She's wounded to be sure, but the physical expression of her previous battle is nothing against what it's laid in her heart. The Sword of Dios pushes down any pain she might want to feel.

Except to remind her more keenly of the words that still haunt her ears. Kasagami reminds herself that she can't lose here. Everything ends if she can't help protect the Shepherds from these Chevaliers. She'd lose her Family, and the world would descend to even more chaos under their well-meaning touch.

Trying, and failing, to banish the sting of a promise offered on a battlefield, she finally lets go of Anthy's hand. Even the Rose Bride is simply too slow for the urgency she needs. A glance back, scornful of the Bride's weakness and power all the same.

"I need to finish this. Don't be a burden and catch up, Anthy! First..." Then, Kasagami lays a sword upon an altar, and reaches for the further flame that lay within the Rose Bride to continue her attack against their enemy. The sounds of acheing body turning backwards, and then the pure heat as the Sword of Dios is blessed a deep crimson.

Of course, all of this makes Kasagami fashionably late to the party as she leaves her Bride behind. Eri-chan has whipped her way up, but Kasagami is a bit direct. Flashing up the side of the building like a thousand different refracted flares across rainbow-cut stained glass, her image is a blurr that defies reality and pure sense. Such is the power of the Sword of Dios, ferrying Kasagami upwards across glass side without any care for the tug of gravity. And then she's a flipping shadow up into the air, landing with a flourish to her glowing Sword and a wave of multicolored light flicking off of her body. Wind tossles her freed, crimson-tipped hair. A flick of the blade as she peers out across the towers to their opponents. This is ground zero. The end of everything.

A small breath, and she grips her sword. Desperately pushing down her inner turmoil, she focuses on her friends. Her family. Eri, Kyouko, Mikoto, all here and ready to fight. The Outers, wounded but ready for their duty. Chitose, the enigmatic Mage that's supported them so often.

Mikoto's berserker fury sends a chill down her spine, and yet? Knowing that strength works with them helps soothe some of the immediate emotional aftermath. She has to win this. Sleeves ruined, uniform scraped and singed, a demon's grin comes to her face. Her eyes trace the other tower, one healed by holding the Sword. And falls upon the swordswoman Tsubasa.

"This is for the sake of our lives and our dreams! No holding back, Shepherds! I for one, am going to keep on moving forward for the sake of those I love!" She calls encouragingly to her friends.

And then a hand rises, and reality around her shimmers, flexing into panes of stained glass only to shatter. The holes created by pure Power fade away, but those crystalized shards fly into the air like heat seeking missiles. Kasagami takes one step forward, makes an imperious pose and challenging gaze to Tsubasa, and then these lancing points of glass and light crash down thunderously towards the young woman!

It seems Kasagami, too, is short on both patience and the ability to hold back right now.

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki transforms into The One Engaged!
<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The Siren of Diamonds steps in, at the side of the Golden Queen. She is like a fairy of the grave here, but perhaps that isn't inappropriate. She opens her mouth to say something.

It was a good decision on her part.

The world rips apart with the force of a meteor - a true one, slamming through the crust of the earth. They are surrounded by a gold experience and if la Sirene did more than flinch she keeps it from her face.

(Behind the gothic mask a young woman is shaking. This is terrifying. Sayaka could die. Mami could die. Any of them could die. She is less afraid of her own death - an end to pain, or an interval as a ghost, perhaps; failure, but in a glorious cause. But to see them gone... That young woman is not alone, wherever she is, but she does not quite realize this yet.)

They move, then, in their strange ways, up towards the roof. Thank you, la Sirene says (with heartfelt softness) to Sayaka and Tsubasa as she steps through the doorway, onto the roof. One gloved hand rests on her hip and in her heart she can feel the ghost of a red shawl on her shoulders. The wind plucks at her hair, promising a spring to come, or a spring ill-sponsored; the scent of cherry blossoms is on the wind.

The wind whips at her, rippling at something. That light that seems to limn her intensifies. The nuance is hard to define, the edges diaphanous, like a soap bubble that barely can be seen. But no bubble were ever so subtle or so strangely flecked.

La Sirene de Diamant has no weapons; even the diamonds on the soles of her shoes and the backs of her hands are more decoration, perhaps armor, than weapon. The beacon at her waist, the Brazen Pharos, shines.

She speaks. Her voice carries, clearly audible across the gap between the towers, projecting as if it could cross Tokyo Bay.

"Is there a limit," she calls, "to how far your bombs will take you? Do you see where our determination leads?" She can see the painful form of Kasagami moving ahead. La Sirene's head tilts back just a little, so that - despite the vast remove - she can, oh so slightly, seem to look down towards Homura Akemi.

"There is no 'Goodbye,' you know. Not yet!"

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Speed the Collapse - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jiQ1QpNSkA

A young Mami dips her shoulders shyly, looking around the table at the family all around--the Sakuras, taking her into their home. She smiles at another word--and basks in it before she speaks up, answering in return--


Bent to enmity and suffering, indeed. Oh, Mami is the same girl who chatted companionably with Kyouko once, who found in her the friend she had waited for for so long--who found in her family, when her own had been lost. She is the same girl who again took Kyouko in despite their disagreements, who despite the memory of their battle cooling friendship had been with her a time, again. ...And who in anger had turned her back on her once again, over the teaching of that same girl, that blue-haired knight who stands at her side today.

Their history is long. And tonight, Mami Tomoe has eyes for her once-partner, for her old student, for someone she's known so long. She knows she will join them here, on the roof, as surely as the moon rises above them and that, when all this is done, the sun will rise.

She cannot say what the sunrise will see, but she knows it will see them through.

But now it is the night, with fifty stories of wind, and Mami is standing where she is, her hand still warm where it was entwined with Sayaka's, reaching out. Under Sayaka's feet a billowing bridge of ribbon cascades from one side to the other, twining into braids, rushing across golden and beautiful. Mami's eyes slide over the assembled Shepherds before them...

And just for a moment--a brief moment--honeyed eyes lock with verdant, gold to green for just long enough. It is a warning--a memory--...not an apology, but a fleeting connection.

Mami's eyes slide past from there and she takes a step back, bending at the knee--and leaping upward into the night air. She twirls in place and lands on the balls of her feet, atop a small tower extending from the roof of this place, looking to the others, to the Shepherds--looking to Kyouko. Battle is to be joined now. Kyouko's world, ready to restitch itself... Or end. Mami stares out.

"Kyouko," Mami calls, dropping formality, dropping titles, her voice echoing in the wind. She has been here before. In her eyes may be the ghost of something familiar, if the red Puella Magi looks to her onetime mentor.

"You told me once... That this isn't fate. And I've come to believe that you're right." Mami let that hang on the air, before she throws her hand out and ribbon becomes a walkway before her, hanging in the air while she does a pirouette, muskets dropping about her solemnly with each degree of movement.

"It's a choice. A choice I'm making."


There's a giggle from the older blonde as she holds up her glass. "We're going to be late!" she says to the red-haired girl across from her, looking towards a clear sky beyond. "...Okay, okay, one more."


As she returns to facing forward, Mami holds out her fingerlessly-gloved hand as if to pause--and then closes her fingers into a fist. The muskets all lock on target at once, rotating mid-air to settle on Kyouko herself.

"...It's over."

Eight rifles fire on Kyouko at once, and Mami is already conjuring more as she leaps down to the roof proper, ribbon spinning into sparkles above her and turning into more and more of them, each arcing towards Mami hand as she whirls. "Tonight. ...I'll stake myself on this fate."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> We Must Be Killers - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-lshmwmeU7c

There's something dreamlike about the place she finds herself in atop one of the towers of the Metropolitian building. A lucid nightmare, which she felt she could interact with. That swatch of yellow that knows must be over there even when she cannot see it - that spot of blue. The colors of some urban garden where she's come to pull up the flowerbeds.

She wasn't alone, but the waiting game still started the moment they hit the end of the stairwell that stretched unto the sky. The ones arriving only made her more quiet from the state they arrived in, the ones not coming made her deathly so. There was always the possibility that they were still fighting, still giving their all.

It would be nice if she were still innocent enough to hold such hopes. Instead she found her mind ticking off casualties, a force stronger and more inevitable than gravity pressing in upon her. The weight of so many promises made, and the strain of keeping them growing.

The momentary elation she feels when Kyouko emerges is smothered by a message seared into her mind. A vow made by another party, one she wouldn't allow to be kept.

"It won't matter." She vows to herself mutely that her senpai's presence would not result in her end - despite all that rested on Eri's shoulders, she knew full well her capabilities. She'd taken more and more on herself, because she knew she could handle it. When others had told her she'd taken on too much, she deferred in person... but did not take it to heart.

She has taken on what she has to. Done what she must. She has become what she must be.

"It's only fitting isn't it? That she's all yours." She says after inhaling, then adds, "...I'll watch your back."

A screeh marks the eruption of obsidian, and Eri whirls around as if expecting a different sort of attack. Instead she sees Mikoto, goose prickles rising as she feels what she felt that day in the bedroom - mending her. She wants above all things to tell her she doesn't have to push herself this far. That she'd take care of it.

And yet, she can't bring herself to do it.

Not when she told her that all she was good for is fighting. Even if she disagrees... she knows what would happen if she told her not to do even that.

Even as everything tells her that something is wrong. "... That's right." She confirms the wrongness, validates it. Then adds... "I knew I could count on you."

As Kasagami shouts what this is for, she finds herself grateful that there's one true believer left among them. Someone who even short on patiencedoesn't realize that they're well past this being for the sake of anything other than violence.

She's facing down many - but the challenge comes from a levelled sword point. A glint that cannot fail to draw her attention, even split as it is. There's a difference between that sword and other Chevaliers though. While others raise their voices - the Puella Magi in blue only raises her sword.

Even over the whistling wind this high up, her voice carries like a breeze rustling through branches.

"No words? No speeches about right and wrong? That's good. We've gone too far to hide behind pretty things like that anymore. When what this is really about is your desire to slice me up into itty-bitty bits - isn't it, Sayaka-chan? So come on then - no holding back anything tonight."

If one looked on her face, they might expect a faint curve of a smile, but nothing. The edge of her lips is devoid of affection, her affect is lacking anything whatsoever resembling human feelings.

As the other girl alights on a ribbon, a cloud passes overhead at that moment veiling the light of the sphere in the sky like a funeral shroud, the rest of them in shadow, a flickering strobe of an aircraft warning light setting her in shadow and flickering silhouette. There's a sound like rustling leaves and snapping branches - the kind you might expect to hear from a midnight walk through Aokigahara rather than in some urban glade.

More shadows appear. Slender limbs, that are nevertheless thick. A pair at her shoulders, another at her lower back. Even her boots. Every thorn a wicked adornment. A hand moves up to her forehead, and the shadow of impurity vanishes from it, sending her gem flaring alight. The shadows flex and coil, as a scourge rests lax in her hand.

"Because I definitely won't. I wonder..."

One of the shadows lashes at the air experimentally, revealing the magical shimmer of the woven vines. Instantly it's back into place. Setting her back low as the other girl comes in her leaping charge, she waits to receive her with a hellish embrace that gives the impression of pikes ready for a cavalry.

In the past she'd kept her distance from that sword. She seems to have no intention of that, instead welcoming it. Not aiming to stop any advance. When Sayaka's just in range though - she acts, moving with a gymnastic twist as her feet slide out from beneath her and the palm of a single glove slaps down. Her legs are sent spinning overhead in the spinning handstand, the rest of her body following suit.

The vines attached to their mother like umbilical cords slashing through the air like helicopter rotors at the level of the girl in blue's neck, abdomen, and thighs, covering all possible approaches save perhaps overhead in a predictable but no less devastating spin.

But that's the feint. The real attack comes separate and from below, while one hand keeps her inverted balance on the roof, the other sends the blurring lash out in a snapping circle at the other girl's ankle and calf, wrapping it around in three places, the rotational force instantly driving it taut and ripping her off the ground.

The grip releases her just after she's pitched into the air right towards the edge of the roof, to make her crash heavily into the concrete boundary fencing them in just as Eri rights herself lightly, every limb becoming a coiled spring anew as she keeps every duel of this wanton brawl in her field of vision - but on two in particular. Mami has declared it's over. What she's staking with a thunderous chorus. Whatever thoughts she has on this she keeps to herself - her words are instead for Mami's kouhai.

"...will Madoka finally tell me she hates me after I feed what's left of you to the familiars?"

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi transforms into Eri Eri Quite Contrary!
<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

The blast of the explosion had been blocked by great blade, the Heaven's Wrath. The thick slab of metal guarded the Chevaliers from the full fury of the blast, but the floor itself could not be saved. But among the rubble, Tsubasa herself was unharmed -- if a bit dusty. Standing up, the large blade behind her remained in place, even as Tsubasa reaffirmed her grip on the blade Ame-no-Habakiri, preparing for what would come next.

Tsubasa could smell the smoke and fire in the air, she could feel the emotions running wild as everyone prepared for battle. This truly was war; Tsubasa could feel her blood running hot, her adrenaline in overdrive after the explosion. Despite that, her expression remained composed, and her grip on her blade strong.

At first, Tsubasa considers diving headlong into the whirlpool of fury she sensed, but as her eyes scan over the other tower, she notices that she has been spotted, and she realizes she will not have the privilege of picking a partner. Immediately, she has to raise her sword, knowing that if she didn't, Kasagami's attack would tear her to shreds. Ame-no-Habakiri moved swiftly, the sacred sword slicing the stained glass that flew towards her like missiles. With a cry of war, Tsubasa charges forward, her strengthened legs carrying her forward as she jumped with a sharp kick aimed towards Kasagami.

As the kick impacts, both women fly forward in a flash of blue and red, cutting through the clear night sky like the slash of blade.

Next, there's a crash. Glass shattering, walls breaking, as the two women leave the main building and crash into another. Landing on the floor, Tsubasa rolls forward, finding herself in an office in Building Number 2, in front of her enemy, the cool eyes of the blue-haired swordswoman staring right at her.

Here, Tsubasa knew, their fight would begin proper. And it would be a battle of life and death.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Teahouse - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UZdfApjpYoU

It is not quite the same physical sensation, but still... Homura Akemi feels a trapped tightness in her chest as Mami Tomoe seizes her gaze and does not let go -- like ribbons wrapping hold and lashing her in place, strangling the breath out of her. The violet magi does not so much meet that look as fail to escape it, in that final shared slice of a second.

Only the stoppage of time itself allows Homura to break away as Mami's eyes go from drops of honey to dull monochrome: the newsprint mugshot version of her once-senpai. She...

Unwitnessed within the arrested violence all around them, Homura allows a hitch in the thought. Her mouth twists as she turns to go. She forces it through. The trigger is already pressed.

She hopes the C4 is enough.

Homura steps around the frozen cotton-candy bloom of that first brick on her way down a hall whose lifespan was now measured by the magic she expended to keep time stopped. They knew it might only wound some Chevaliers and slow the others down. The Shepherds planned for it. But Homura accepts, as she leaves the scene of the crime, that she is hoping for the ends of all the lives behind her. She measures desperation on a heightened scale at this stage in her existence, and has all the justification she believes she needs.

Once she's in place, the world resumes.

An empty space shaped like a girl fills, in the moments after Homura Akemi vacates it, with swells of furious flame streaked soot-black.

The girl herself steps free from a diagonal slice of black shadow in grey night while the detonations still echo back to the Shepherds from neighboring buildings, joining these magical girls she has allied with. The breeze generated by her own explosion snaps long black hair out behind Homura in the night.

She traces those allies with her eyes, the only things that move behind that cold, impassive mask Homura calls a face. She traces the curve of green thorns on the weapon in Eri Shimanouchi's hand, and then looks to where the real danger lies: green eyes gone so very cold. She takes in the martial ferocity of their general in red, so violently competent, and wonders about the look Kyouko's eyes.

In searching the aftermath, Homura takes in the evidence of Chevalier survival with a well-hidden sort of awe. Is she imagining now, in retrospect, a flash of gold, between the furious mixing of red and black, in the final moments before all went grey and still...?

She has missed the sheer mastery of Mami Tomoe in this timeline, and immediately adjust her estimation of this already highly esteemed enemy ever upwards. Has the encroaching army all escaped more or less unscathed? And was it all the doing of the Golden Queen? The trailing flash of ribbon seems to say that yes, they did, and yes, it was.

Homura spots the lunge in Eri's step toward the elevator shaft and, taking the role of ally as seriously as she takes everything else, extends a wariness borne of too much experience at the receiving end of golden muskets to the other puella magi -- her hand drops onto the other girl's shoulder. She shakes her head in mute warning. They've spent enough time in discussion ahead of this war that Homura trusts Eri to understand, and she does.

Every line of Homura's expression is level and grim as she chases up the steps after the others. They take the top of their tower, these mahou allianced through shared necessity and the conjoinment of like-minded power, and Homura Akemi notes with detached satisfaction the might assembled on their side. It feels dangerous, to recognize just how successful this timeline has been compared to those past.

Like too much is riding on things, now.

Surveying the opponents arrayed along the opposite towertop helps bring a familiar grimness to Homura's assessment of the situation. There, better. An assortment of deadly-dangerous foes to make things feel properly high-stakes and difficult. It's almost comforting.

A glimpsed gleam amongst those across the empty space between towers draws Homura in, like the shifting of an underwater dream -- a current of magic wrapping around La Sirene de Diamant, a blurring of edges that blurs the reality around her too. It generates an ache behind Homura's eyes as she tries to gain clean focus on a mystery that defies such definition.

Well. That's going to be a pain to aim at and through.

"No limit," she calls back, "that is anyone's business but mine." Homura's eyes are closer to slits, now, as her heels catch the edge of the building. She's trying to determine the extent of this distortion, is remembering the feel of light bending from fights in her current past and a series of pasts unconnected by anything but herself to the current day.

Better safe than sorry. Homura is not sure where the opposing gothic threat is, only certain La Sirene is not exactly where the dark resplendence of her visuals place her. Accuracy is not what's called for here, clearly.

To her opponent's eye Homura Akemi is, very simply and very suddenly, not where she was. It's like the world blinked. A cluster of lobbed pipe bombs, each blinking red and moments away from detonation, flock like gulls around the place where Nori Ankou seemed to be -- hanging in the air in a frightful spread.

The destruction they promise to unleash overlaps thoroughly and is absolutely imminent. Homura lands in a dainty one-two touchdown of toes to concrete twenty feet to the left of where she disappeared, along the edge of the far rooftop, her hair floating down after.

"I prefer to take care of things ahead of time. It's all in the preparation." Meaning the goodbye. As if it's simple business, as if dispatching a bunch of magical girls with explosives is simple business. Maybe it is, to Homura Akemi.

"Determination is worse than worthless when it's so misguided. But I'm tired of trying to convince you people of that. You never learn." It's an old weariness that edges Homura's quiet retort with bitterness.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFd8NwUfDPg&index=2&list=PLr3ad8O9Qc1tHk-H02_EdeMxKby4pH9e9

Kyouko nods to Eri, a clipped gesture, not for unfriendliness but for a focus oriented in another direction. There has never been a prospector alive more transfixed by the sight of gold...

"Fitting. Yeah. It's all so damn fitting I could puke. I'll watch your back too. Don't die."

The gang's all here. Mikoto, in particular seems...there's no one word for how she seems, but she's glad she's on this tower and not the other. But If she somehow manages to defuse this, if the fight is called off, would this diminutive demon-child be capable of staying her rage? But it's well beyond her range of attention. That resource is already strained to its limit.

She feels colder than it is, her nervous system misinterpreting environmental stimulus or perhaps defying it altogether to sing its own song. And there her old friend goes, the only person in the world who knew Kyouko before it all came apart, up and back to claim the high ground. To man her sniper's tower.

It is a matter of course that Kyouko must be close, whereas Mami can be far. The bayonet and the rifle are not symmetrical foes. If her bullets catch her, they may kill her. But first they must catch her.

That voice..no titles here. No honorifics. That's good. Call it part of her anomalous upbringing but she's never had much use for them. Others felt little need to use them for her or her family when they were starving in the concrete forest. What she says next is harder to stomach.

Tears burst from her eyes like condiment sauce popped out of a packet by the force of a closed fist. Anxiety lifts up her chest as it tightens. She had just been about to tell her that it's still all a choice..but her old friend was faster. Her face hardens, curling into a wolf's growling snarl, flickering back between that rictus and a cracklingly mournful fragility.

"I haven't hurt the girl. You can ask her yourself. I didn't want to kill her and I couldn't risk her killing."

She sees the guns. Of course she sees the guns. Eight spears of her own form around her, each aligning to a metallic iris staring her down. As her friend begins her shelling those spears scream forward, aiming straight for the gun barrels, the path of the bullets themselves. Metal shrapnel bursts like fireworks, and rains down in shimmering trails of tears. She is running, now, hurtling her arm forward like a javelin thrower, a spear of her own stretching out, thickening, digging its fang into the same slight tower above and sprouting lengths perpendicular to the main shaft like branches from a trunk. The result is a sort of diagonal plank, with sub-planks leading off on each side. A little web for the spider to maneuver, all as sound and fury glows and shreds her vicinity.

"It's not over! Not even now! Nobody's died! Stop this! For the love of God, you can still stop!"

She leaps in the air for Mami, leaps up high, her legs curling back in the air. In each hand she produces a spear, each tip angled down with her fall, a criss crossing gridwork of energy forming in front of her midriff like a crude sheaf of magical chainmail.

"I prayed for us just now! You of all people should know how much that would take!"

Cakes and sleepovers and dinners and drinks and parties and amusement parks. Mami was so happy for a friend, back then. Kyouko's parents were too, that their moody daughter had found somebody. And Kyouko really thought she had found somebody. Even now she believes that. Even when she split off on her own, she never truly, deep in her heart, felt that that was that.

Was she wrong? What does it mean if she was? She just wants to see Mami smile and laugh again, and to know that she is the cause. It's okay if she has to wait for it, even for years. She just wants to live and for her friend to live with her. For that she has howled and strained. It doesn't seem like such an impossible dream.

And yet here they are. She falls, blades first, hoping her first friend doesn't murder her before she hits the ground..but that if she does that it happens very quickly.

She doesn't want to know that she's dead.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Beyond Raging Waves - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrZhdzGaPxo

Endo stands with the Chevaliers, like he always has. In moonlit parks against treacherous foes, on battlefields suspended across placid waters, in sprawling courtyards, by the sides of friends and allies in a dozen smaller conflicts, Endo stood and stands again. There's nothing to say now, merely a

glance to each of the figures around him, a chance to remind himself of the people he's here for and the dream they share. A reminder that he can't stop, no matter how hurt or tired he is from the battle below.

He tests his injured arm, flexes his fingers as he stares across the gap of the Metropolitan Building's towers. Tears in the dark metal and billowing cloth of his barrier jacket have healed, but pain still lances through the nerves of the skin underneath. His shoulder rocks back and forth, testing how far it can move, how much motion can be afforded before he's pushed to far.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Endo stands with the Chevaliers, like he always has. In moonlit parks against treacherous foes, on battlefields suspended across placid waters, in sprawling courtyards, by the sides of friends and allies in a dozen smaller conflicts, Endo stood and stands again. There's nothing to say now, merely a

glance to each of the figures around him, a chance to remind himself of the people he's here for and the dream they share. A reminder that he can't stop, no matter how hurt or tired he is from the battle below.

He tests his injured arm, flexes his fingers as he stares across the gap of the Metropolitan Building's towers. Tears in the dark metal and billowing cloth of his barrier jacket have healed, but pain still lances through the nerves of the skin underneath. His shoulder rocks back and forth, testing how far it can move, how much motion can be afforded before he's pushed to far.

He intends to push too far.

He needs to. He can see that somethings changed in Mikoto, the girl who's sword he can't seem to escape. The girl with tears in her eyes, whose body now rests upon a patchwork of obsidian spikes that dot the opposite roof. There are other shapes there, each more deadly than the last-but his eyes are for Mikoto, and he knows hers are for him.

"Stern. Let's give everything."

<PREPARING---> Fallen Stern warbles in its ugly, synthesized voice. <ZERSTORUNG DRANG.>

BGM CHANGE: Unholy Combat - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2qUQaJ012NY

Fallen Stern rumbles, stutters to life like a machine overloaded. Power courses through the metal, vents opening not to dispatch steam, but ugly light from the core of the of its destructive engine. Violet fire lights the blade, and when it's every edge is rimmed with destructive magic-Endo moves.

He doesn't fly, but he does leap. He leaves their Chevalier's tower in a burst of color, ascending skyward. Surprisingly, he's only halfway there when he launches his first attack. The only warning is a burst of light from along his blade, signaling the launch of a dozen streaking lights. They flicker through the sky like comets, bend and arc to come crashing down across the Shepard's tower in a dozen tiny bursts of energy.

They're meant to hurt--but just as much to clear a path, to cause distraction as he comes crashing down on the opposite tower's surface. And he does soon after, sword raised, prepared to meet his fated opposition.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami finds herself more and more drawn into the fight. The silent swordswoman leaps brilliantly, a cobalt streak into the air. As the woman comes for her, the One Engaged doesn't back down. She sets her legs, grips the Sword of Dios in both hands, and then that kick comes crashing down like some kind of meteor!

The flat of the Sword catches much of the kick, sending them both into a proper starfall of twin lights, red and blue circling until the thunderous smash of glass, wood, steel and drywall. Bootheels skid as she's sent back a room or two away, arresting herself with a firm slash of her weapon. Slice. That second office she'd been kicked into shudders as office furniture, diplomas, potted plants and that lovely computer slides off bisected. Kasagami's hair billows behind her, and she flicks her sword arm in the air. A grunt, and she takes two quick hops to test her body. Tsubasa crashing down on you HURTS! Glass falls from behind her, and she yanks out a sliver of it from her side. It's tossed aside as she brushes herself off.

Cough, hack, another wave to get drywall dust out of her system. And then she stares at Tsubasa. And laughs. There's something pure, if not innocent, in that belting and loud gesture of joy. Not amusement, not even condescention, but pure thoughtless joy at finding a truly strong opponent.

"I swear, you Chevaliers always know just how to find people that either dig under my skin, or make my heart sing with joy! I don't think we've been introduced yet, and I am not one to forget a very pretty face!" Wink! Then, she pauses, and offers Tsubasa a bow that's oddly formal. Her grin, and the spark in her eye of simply enjoying fighting, doesn't fade as she flourishes.

"Kasagami Araki. It's a pleasure! You're so very strong! Oh, I have so many questions I want to ask you! Unfortunately, I have to beat you now so I can go and help my Family. A shame you sided with those foolish faux-knights. Now show me...if you're worthy of consideration in the Court of a King!"

She shifts her weight to the front of her boots. Once again, the power of the Sword ferries her forward, her body only needing to give the lightest of pushes to exert terrifying power. And without the pain running through her arm and her other eye working, she can see and react so much faster!

All around the office room, Kasagami Araki is light projected onto itself in a rainbow blurr. She steps lightly as a ninja, yet as firmly as a warrior. Like a thousand different mirrors, she moves up, down, left, right, such that the entire office room seems to light up around Tsubasa. The only consistent shade is burning dark crimson, equally seeming to be everywhere all at once. Then, there's a single shuddering pause of those many, many after images.

They all clash to a single point. Many are wiped away as the illusions they are, of speed, of footwork and Dios-enhanced movements on top of an amazingly skilled swordswoman. Tsubasa might pick it up.

This girl has been training with a sword for most of her life. The Sword of Dios flashes in four different directions. A falling cut, a slice towards the abdomen, and two more aimed for legs. These are utterly real. Reality bends in the stained glass lightshow, the One Engaged offering disabling blow to her opponent. Better to take her out quickly, than linger.

Yet the power behind them is real. Tsubasa has already shown she's a powerful fighter, and Kasagami is ready to slash through concrete and steel in order to take her out. Eagerness is in her eyes. And right now, she doesn't have to think about long tresses, pink or dark green that so haunt her mind.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Archer - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sailp3-UJ9o

First, they must catch her. That always was part of the difficulty.

There are no tears in Mami's eyes, nothing clouding her vision now as she looks for Kyouko ahead. She is aware of the rest of the battlefield... but her trust is in the Chevaliers, in Sayaka now. Kyouko's hardened expression, fragile, flickering...

"I appreciate that," Mami answers simply about that girl. "It was far from a sure thing. ...But she isn't the only reason I'm here."

Tears. They are a surprise, but they do not stay Mami's hands. Or her guns. The spears each align to the iris of each barrel, the weapons meeting mid-air in explosions of brilliant golden light, of riotous color as the fireworks continue. Still more and more guns rain down, bullets crashing into place, dogging Kyouko's every step as she stays steps ahead each time. That spear stretches out--a plank. A web.

"It is," Mami replies to whether it's over, and looks to Kyouko, leaping up, crashing towards her. The tips angled down, the gridwork of energy--none are as bright to Mami as those red eyes, talking of prayer. She knows. Oh, Mami knows how much that takes, how important is it, has strange it is, how it touches on deep, deep wounds.

Mami had been so happy, then. All her life, she'd been waiting, it felt like. And she'd found her. And yet...

Mami does not smile and laugh now. Mami whirls backward, a curtain of gold erupting in braids between them, the roof alight with ribbons sweeping up like a crashing wave while Mami herself handsprings backward, twirling mid-air and sweeping her arm such that the ribbons come to try to catch Kyouko from all sides, hard and bludgeoning and entangling, sprouting more flourish, more loveliness, more beauty in their terrible forms by the moment.

"I know," Mami calls, mid-air. "...But have you prayed for those who died so that you had the power for this battle, Kyouko? Have you prayed for the people dying to your Witches?"

"People have died. And I've stopped for too long. You didn't hurt her... this time."

In the midst of Mami's attacks, it would be easy to miss her hand so close to her stomach, suddenly holding a pistol--which she fires through the center of all of it.

"I prayed, too."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Fuuka Taisen - Black Mikoto: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoSpytj-1AY

Love drives Mikoto Minagi, even now. Eri validates her, praises her, and Mikoto looks to her and smiles. It is a distant, fragile thing, as if viewed through warped glass. "Eri doesn't have to worry no more. Miroku is here now."

It seems like such a strange statement, when her sword Miroku has never left her side. The sigils on its blade burn with a sick and terrible red glow. It is here, now. But what does that mean?

Endo crashes through, attacking her, and people who attack her are enemies. "I must... defeat the enemy," Mikoto says, to everyone and no one, as she watches him sail down. She is so unnervingly calm, even in the face of the lights which announce his presence. She looks up at him with empty eyes.

And then the comet-lights crash down. The black glass jerks, moving quickly - too quickly - to pull back, away from the storm. Mikoto is pulled with the spikes, borne safely away from the magic which impacts the upturned concrete where she used to be. She's so much faster, now, as if she is drawing on a far deeper power.

As Endo crashes down, Mikoto fixes her glare upon him. As obsidian spires bear her away from the crushing might of Fallen Stern, sword carving through trailing black glass instead of flesh, she speaks.

"Fallen Stern's wielder," she calls, the volume returning to her voice piece by piece, "I can't let you go on! I know what you'll do to my friends - what Fallen Stern's wielder did to me!" She thinks of Yumi, weak of body and strong of spirit. She thinks of Kasagami, who declared them as her family when her blood-bonds ran too thin. She thinks of Setsuna, absent now, tall and poised with an awful weight upon her soul. And she thinks of Eri... dear, precious Eri, who has always stood by her, even when they were too vicious for the world. She thinks of those Shepherds, and so many others besides, all struggling to defend each other. "I love them! I won't let you hurt them! I'll keep coming and coming UNTIL YOU FALL!"

It's a strange miracle, to hear words forcing themselves from her lungs unbidden. And yet there is a madness to her, as sure as her howling rage, which suggests she is no more reasonable for it. Perhaps she is even less. Her lips part, her grip tightens, and a command is torn from her throat:

"MIROKU!" Fearsome yellow eyes focus on Endo, and the stalagmites erupt towards him, around him, surrounding the both of them in a loose circle of towering spikes. She has created her own arena, trapped him inside with her, so that he can do no harm to anyone else. Perhaps it is the only way to avoid so much collateral damage.

... Endo may know it as the name of her blade, but it seems the name 'Miroku' can evoke much more than that.

Again, Mikoto barks, sword clutched tight. "Miroku!" And this time, the ground beneath Endo cracks and gives way to obsidian, long, thin needles which lance towards him with dreadful purpose. The spines are not immediately deadly - instead they seek to exhaust, to harass, to make counterattack difficult. They devastate any flat surfaces around them, concrete left in raised piles, difficult to traverse. Any one of them would only be a hindrance, to someone with Endo and Fallen Stern's grim purpose - but there are many, and they just keep coming.

Impossibly far away, Kyouko cries that it's not too late to stop.

She's wrong, of course. It's way too late to STOP!

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sayaka Miki* - Rasen - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZE6pGNjghJA

Sayaka and Mami have worked together so long now. Not only does Sayaka know a ribbon awaits her, she knows its texture, and about the width Mami will use. It is wise of Eri not to rush out onto the ribbon to meet her. She would be at a disadvantage, Sayaka knows. The unknown tension would betray her feet. For her it would be like fighting on a slackline. She has not worked with Mami so long as Sayaka.

Yes, she thinks. Eri was never half the kouhai to Mami as Sayaka is.

The shadow over the moon darkens Sayaka sword from silver to cold iron, but Mami's ribbon is never less than brilliantly yellow, self-lit by the faintest magic. Sayaka clears the last yards of it with a carefully technical long-jump. Even now, Sayaka comes off as more athlete than warrior most of the time, even as she pedals her legs a little as she rides out the end of a leap no normal human could match. Her eyes narrow as the full extent of Eri's strange new powers become evident close-up, but she does not, cannot halt her momentum. Cape a white streak behind, she rotates her wrist to flourish her sword as she comes down atop Eri--only for the floral acrobat to evade at the last moment

Eri's feint is nothing of the sort today, the deceit unnecessary. Almost every lash of vine strikes clean and true; even upside down and backwards Eri can feel how solidly they strike, can hear the meaty smacks. The helicopter motion of the attacks brings them all in in the same direction, which means that as they whip into Sayaka, across shoulder, stomach, leg, and even neck, the combined effect wrenches her, twisting her out of her intended direction. Even as Sayaka turns her head in midair to keep tracking Eri visually, she's lost any ability to control her motion. The vine-whip wraps her calf deeply, all three tongues biting in. Right when Sayaka hits the ground, she's ripped off it again and sent hurtling across the roof, to slam into solid concrete. She loses grip on her sword, which sails over the edge silently.

Has Eri surpassed Sayaka so thoroughly? This fight may not last long. But lying on the ground, Sayaka is grinning.

"I really am reacting slow now, huh?" she laughs. "Well, that was never what I was good at." She isn't just shrugging off the open red welts. She doesn't seem aware they are there. "Uph-hup!" Leaning back onto her shoulderblades, she kicks out onto her feet lightly, despite the fact that one of her boots looks like a giant venus fly trap chewed it. Spinning on her heel, she tosses a sword from her cape end-over-end and catches it like a juggler might, completing her rotation to point it at Eri again, just as she had from the other roof.

"Someone like you lost the right to say her name a long time ago," she growls herself directly out of a light smile, like a roll of thunder on a clear day.

Setting off at a sprint, Sayaka sinks sword after sword into the ground as she goes, like so many breadcrumbs. She litters the area with them as she takes an elliptical path towards Eri; her reflexes are slower but she's still a fearsomely quick runner. "You want a speech, Shimanouchi? Here's one: you're going to lose."

Unexpectedly, Sayaka slings the next sword she draws from her cape at Eri, forcing her to dodge even as Sayaka is getting closer, denying her the ability to prepare the way she did last time.

"We're going to save these people, and Hotaru, and everyone else you want to hurt."

Sayaka launches herself up in the air right before she reaches Eri, and chambers her sword at her shoulder, dropping down blade-first.

"And the only thing we'll do to hurt you, is make you live knowing that not one of the people you killed had to die."

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

La Sirene de Diamant's reply is, at first, "Hmf." Her lips purse and her eyes close for a moment, as if in acknowledgement.

A moment later she is interrupted again. When she looks up again, there is a sudden storm of complete consternation on her pale face, her almost-colorless eyes widened in astonishment as she sees the sparkling red lights of the pipe bombs. Her head turns to look towards the others -- perhaps to see a route to escape, to figure out an angle by which to repel these charges.

And she only sees more of them. "?!"

La Sirene de Diamant stares ahead as a feeling like water freezing runs up her spine. She can hear the words of Homura Akemi with painful clarity even at this remove. They are like an executioner's sentence being read out.

The rest of the cosmos seems to fall away. One gains a certain clarity of thought on the night before one's dawntide execution; this is a similar phenomenon, but there is no time for her to think.

Nori Ankou screams in panic internally. There's too many of these. This maniac woman's surrounded her with bombs! Desperate flailing despairing thoughts echo through her mind: maybe she's using them up on me - maybe i can stop some of them - save the building -i - i - i - i

The interior dialogue fades out: her eyes well up as Homura keeps speaking. The tears on her eyelashes sparkle with the ten thousand colors thrown in passion. It is not the only tear to be shed here, but there is a great surging swelling of some kind of impotent pressure inside of her. She's drowning.

Nori Ankou reaches out into the air imploringly with the hand of a Siren as Homura speaks of determination. I'm trapped, she thinks. Mami, Madoka, Tsuru, Batiste, Sayaka, Endo, Lera, Utena, Kozue, all of them flicker through her mind. She wants to apologize.

I can't survive this, thinks Nori Ankou. A moment later the bombs go off all around her in a world-rending chorus. The pressure surrounds her, like the priming charge of an atomic bomb, and when the hellish light and smoke begins to fade, there is no trace of her standing there.

From Homura's perspective - that of the Shepherds, and perhaps veiled by the Chevaliers - there has been a freakish moment of luck, for la Sirene was not wholly discorporated by this. Her suit remains, the forlorn uniform of some marching band or paramilitary in a far-off realm, but she is contorted and apparently limp, hair dirtied and disheveled, skin smeared with smoke. The detonation is hurling her back towards Homura. Some shards of glass trail behind her - perhaps another injury, a final one, to the lantern she bears.

She'd grown, it seems, but not enough.


<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S4tVJASr_54

... the head of the hurled Siren tilts back...

And her eyes open, staring right dead ahead! Her lips split into a mirthless grin and the light around her flickers back like a balky neon tube.

"Is that so?" la Sirene de Diamant says, lips black with soot. The inside of her mouth is a shadowed glimpse of red in the whirlwind light around her. "Is that so?" she repeats.

Inside of that long slim body, Nori Ankou, in a sense, is in a swoon. But Nori Ankou is a person with many roles and she has spent the frustrated hours of a confined life in strange ways, and so her mind is here now, awake, alert, and perhaps liberated. Her voice is shaking but it is also exultant, almost. Perhaps this is the part of her she always drew back from; the inevitable pinnacle that comes after being pressed down so long and in other ways. (Perhaps it's Nao's fault, thus.)

"Far be it from me to disappoint you, then, O Mistress of Explosions," la Sirene says, her arm sweeping out as if she intends to do the breast-stroke backwards through the air. It is to some extent necessary; the energy around her pours, spilling like gelid ink out to grip the edge of the helipad, the link between it and la Sirene herself quiveringly taut.

"Tell me when you're surprised--"

And does she pull herself up by her own sorcerous bootstrap? No: la Sirene's magic snaps her forwards, accelerating her with elastic force. She turns round, aiming to catch Homura Akemi in the scoop of her long arm -- and keep going -- over the back of the building?!

When close, la Sirene says something. It crystallizes between the instant between when contact becomes inevitable and when it actually happens.

"I know little about you," la Sirene says. "But I must ask, Homura Akemi."

"Do you dream of another world?"

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AhMukHbUYJ0

Like chitinous limbs, like the bony wings of a skeletal angel spears sprout from Kyouko's back, rhyming with the ribbons, spearing at the golden noodles like so many fork tines. No more tears. Only dusky sandstone remains in her features, red granite. Slapped, she turned the other cheek, and received another blow for her trouble. She will not give up a third strike. It will have to be taken.

"Have you? You wouldn't have a seed to your name but for people dying. Every day somebody's dead of hunger or cold. Did I kill them because I didn't feed them? Clothe them? Do I deserve to die because I'm not Jesus risen? You could be saving people from Witches right now, could've been this whole time. But you'd rather come after me and let them feed instead. You think the two of you will kill as many witches as the four of us could before you ripped the world in two? It's okay when you don't hunt every hour of the day, but when I don't I'm a monster?"

She snarls at that. This time. She has much to feel angry about, much hurt to bear. But that truly offends her. "Didn't hurt her this time? Why the hell would I change my mind? I only do what I feel I need to and you know it. That witch of an apprentice has scrambled your brain and convinced me I'm not who you know me to be! I take her prisoner in a war I didn't want so I don't have to hurt her and you think that makes me somebody more likely to torture? To maim? You're delusional!"

She does miss it, in the flurry of articulated limbs all grappling and tangling about. In the heat of her anger and her disappointment. In the pain of being scorned. But she doesn't miss it for long.

The bullet's coming at a bullet's speed. Too late to dodge..her subconscious processes rally to her cause, joining with whip-fast muscular control to attempt something she's never even thought to do before. Her hand flashes out, fingers stretched and curled at their knuckles, and a tiny portcullis of gleaming crimson magic forms in a cat's cradle net. The bullet slams into the jumble..her magic stops it, but strains under pressure, and the heat of Mami's fury burns a sphere into her palm, hissing anger from her lips.

"Like you're so bloodless! Like you haven't killed so that you could live! You think killing me is gonna cleanse you of your own bloody past, to distract your insane kouhai from ever wondering too hard about how you lived before she stumbled in! If you wanna die chasing every familiar in town then go fucking do it! Attack my witches and starve me out! You don't have to kill me, you just want to and it's sickening! I've never killed when I didn't have to! You're so blinded by your bullshit halo that you haven't noticed your horns!"

And Kyouko falls..suspended in the air only by the mutual reinforcement of magical limbs wrestling magical limbs, she suddenly detonates every one of her spears, shredding the ribbons and tumbling back down to the roof before Mami can replace her net. Leaping back up as quickly as possible, she flings spears at Mami with wild abandon, more toothy tentacles sprouting from her back, surging forward to slice and stab at the air, slavering like a wolf pack.

<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

At first, it was merely glass and stone that two women crashed through. Soon, it was wood, paper, pencils; all manners of office supplies flying up in the air as the two swordwomen crashed through the building, redecorating some poor government agency's floor through their landing alone.

At first, Tsubasa landed on her heels, sliding across the floor like she was skating on it. The friction was so intense that the rails she left on the ground almost caught fire, but instead the grinding of Tsubasa's heels against the floor 'merely' left red, heated tracks. Ultimately, their speed reached a level where she could no longer stay on her feet, leading to her stumbling forward, rolling three times on the ground before crashing into a desk, where she finally regained her footing.

The power of the Symphogear reinforced her body; the crash had left nothing worse than scrapes and dirt on her body. It was painful, but it was manageable. Standing up in the wreckage of the desk, she faced the laughing Kasagami. It was a disturbing reaction; one that prompted Tsubasa to swiftly raise her guard once more, standing with her sword at the ready as the other woman laughed. Tsubasa scowled, clearly not finding this the slightest bit amusing.

"Are you mad?" She asked, cutting swiftly to the point. Who but a madwoman would laugh so genuinely in the middle of combat?

... Taking the time to flirt in a situation like this also seemed like the clear signs of a madwoman. "... Is that so?" Tsubasa asked, not really knowing what she was even asking. It was an expression of her confusion more than anything else. Kasagami winked, she bowed, all while Tsubasa kept her scowl - sure, the winking made her flinch for a moment, but her guard remained solid. "... Tsubasa Kazanari. And I have no more questions to ask!" Her yell signaled that she was ready for whatever Kasagami would throw at her, if not physically, then at least mentally.

After all, keeping up with the swift movement proved difficult. Here, there, anywhere; the swordswoman assumed one of them was the real Kasagami and the others were reflections, but even so, it was hard to keep track. Tsubasa needed the one moment, the instant where they all congealed to a single attack! Until then, her only option was to minimize the damage she was receiving!

She felt the sword cut her abdomen, slicing both the ceiling above her and the floor below her as it cut her skin. Another swing was aimed at her leg, her blood flying from the Sword of Dios and splattering over a wrecked desk, like it was a wooden canvas and Tsubasa was supplying the red paint. With her swift footwork, she managed to avoid deeper injuries from the blows, but if she continued to let Kasagami slice at her like this, then it'd be a death of a thousand cuts! She needed the one moment...! But the more Kasagami attacked her, the more Tsubasa grew used to her rhythm. The third blow only glanced at her leg, even as the punctured the floor behind her, and at long last...

... There! She could see it! Kasagami, coming towards her. Time seemed to slow down for Tsubasa, and she knew she only had one opportunity. This was literally do or die, so she raised her sword in the air to deliver an overhead slash...

Clash! A loud, metallic sound rang out as Tsubasa successfully parried the decisive blow! Ame-no-Habakiri and the Sword of Dios locked in a clash, both women putting all their strength into it! Tsubasa felt her hands and blade trembling from the tension of their locked blades, and she could feel her heels drive into the ground, leaving deep holes even through the building's concrete floor. Gritting her teeth, she leaned forward - through the swords, she could see Kasagami. They were staring right at eachother in a deadly stand-off, where a single moment of weakness would result in a fatal slash from the other.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Here Come the Ravens - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYdxC6AEKz4

Kyouko's not the only one who sees the guns. The glinting flecks of shrapnel raining down upon her senpai. And as she hears what her senpai says- her jaw sets. Not out of derision, but a fear that runs both deep and cold throughout her. That her senpai has prayed doesn't surprise her.

When I first saw what you did it was like a ghost walked straight through me, I couldn't shut the door. I saw my family again. I maybe saw God too, again. I didn't realize how much I needed it until you gave it to me. It made me feel like I wasn't alone, and that maybe they're...that maybe they're not screaming in the void.

Eri has no hope of beholding such a small miracle herself. None of mercy, nor peace. Not even sanity - she hears her plea for such when facing down the barrel of a gun.

Ueno's done. Tell your senpai I'm coming for her.

She hadn't told her, refused to deliver the message. She couldn't take that away from her. And now because she couldn't - those fears felt closer than ever. A girl who goes to confession believes forgiveness will come no matter what sins she commits tonight - doesn't she?

The languor of Sayaka's reaction as every lash strikes true is startling to some analytical part of her deep down. And yet her expression doesn't change at that. There's a faint tilt of her head, the light of her soul gem casting a glint over the hard edge in her eyes. It's as if she's wondering why she's recovering so quickly. Even though she heals fast, she should be in more pain than that.

"The only thing you're good at is not dying."

Up and over in the rotation - Sayaka catches the blade and comes at her, those movements janky. Sayaka sprints around and Eri watches her litter the rooftop with those glinting blades of hers. Eri's head turns fractionally as she follows that movement out of her eyes. "I'm sorry." She says with no hint of apology whatsoever, "Did I upset you by bringing her up?"

A shining missile is slung at her. Unexpectedly one of her vines snakes out - not at Sayaka but something out of the girl's field of vision as a lashing blur. None of her limbs are held up as a shield offered to the first blade. No resistance seems to be offered whatsoever. But then all of a sudden Eri's movement becomes a blur.

Because one of her limbs just grabbed Mami Tomoe's conjured ribbons, even from this distance. And it's pulling her out of the way with the speed of a whiplash.

The first missile was aimed true, mere centimeters from her face when it started to move. Instead it clips one of the green highlights in her hair.

Pulling away from her by limb of foliage, it suffers for it's audacity, the edge of the ribbon has begun to slice it apart, as it drips with green ichor. And yet it keeps her just ahead of Sayaka's advance, one step ahead of the crusader's shining, charge. Her other limbs start to move only then, striking at the flat of Sayaka's blade like forceful palm slaps, in repeated blows to throw her movements just off - just a little more. She can't understand why she's moving this way.

But she can use it to her advantage.

The limb abruptly is sliced off, and what's pulling her falls slack. A shimmer of green glitters as it fades, and then there's that rustling sound as she regrows it.

The Puella Magi's heels stab down on the concrete, as she picks up where it left off, but now even with her efforts, slashes are appearing on her armor. A cut here, a cut there. Part of it loses itself.

And then all of her limbs move at once. Each one could slice through steel and concrete as easily as a knife could flense off whale blubber. And right now she's lashing her repeatedly, grinding her in endless lashes by the thorned foliage as she switches from defense to offense. All the while she keeps moving in a circle, as if she's baiting her to a certain point.

"Oh Sayaka-chan. I thought we were being honest with each other. I thought I'd underestimated you. Instead you've disappointed me."

And once she's led her to the corner of the building, the two lashes at her thighs pushing off the ground backwards sending her vaulting in an unpredictable spring over her head, tucking in her legs to try to avoid any high slashes. Two descend in a blinding X of flashing silhouettes which are ominously silent as they leave their marks upon the concrete.

"It's not about them anymore. You're too petty a girl for that to hold up for long. Stop lying to yourself about how personal this is to you."

Eri's heels tap tap down. And then comes the terrible groan of metal as the foothold Sayaka's on starts to lurch and slide.

A huge triangular corner of the Metropolitian rooftop starts to slide down as it's revealed the Green Puella Magi cut through it all cleanly.

"If you had the strength you'd have already opened my throat and smashed my gem. But you don't - so tonight you're going to find out that being good at not dying only amounts to me getting to take my time making you suffer."

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

An angel--fair enough. Kyouko's expression hardens, but Mami was already there. She shakes her head, at that statement, that set of statements. Kyouko speaks, and Mami watches. Mami continues throwing her ribbons, and answers, "That's right. I'm a Puella Magi because of people dying. But you knew that."

The offense doesn't seem to dissuade Mami more than anything else did. "Do you hear yourself? The Kyouko I know wouldn't be trying to justify herself to me. Not with these tired statements."

Kyouko's magic is good enough to catch that bullet--Mami watches the new maneuver, and banks to the side, flipping in preparation for what she knows is coming. There is so much to be said here. And yet...

"You don't understand me at all," Mami answers. "You've lost yourself. You think she doesn't know what I've done? You think she isn't aware that I've killed before? That's the nature of this life. We do awful things, and we justify them to ourselves. Over, and over."

Mami touches down on the ground, and each of those spears detonates--each of those spears is flung at her, and Mami starts whirling, dancing on the roof as spear after spear crashes towards her. The first devastates the ground behind her, another landing just close--but more do hit. More do crash to slice, to stab, to tear blood from the Queen as surely as slicing through the fabric of her attire, of her ribbons, cutting and slashing.

"If you only didn't hunt familiars, would it really be my business? Once, I wouldn't have called it that. ...But it's more than that, and you know it. You don't simply let them starve, let them freeze to death in the winters--I'm not asking you to be your brother's keeper, Kyouko."

Mami whirls--and this time, moves her hands, conjuring ribbons to grab hold of one of those spears and whirl with it, slamming it to the ground and using it to vault upward, firing another shot, another shot, another, each launching her higher into the sky.

"You grow them! You bring more Witches, you feed people to them, you plant them where you know people will be! All so you can feel safe! What about their safety? What about the families you've destroyed as surely as your father!?"

Mami, finally lined by moonlight, launches a battery of rifles, a brace, and starts running across their stairway, higher and higher, ribbon trailing at her sides, from both hands, whirling in mid-air, starting to make a shape.

"If you told me it was necessary to let them run free, we could talk. But you go farther than that. You perpetuate them. You think Sayaka's the one who's directing me?"

Mami's ribbons are starting to become a falling pattern, braiding over a section of the battlefield, as she conjures two rifles in her hands while she starts to fall, firing one and moving to fire the other, spinning as shot after shot after shot, her Soul Gem blazing with the power of it.

"I think of those who died because of me every day. I remember every face. ...And the only reason I could let myself ignore what you've done is that I didn't have to see any of those faces myself."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

"Mad!? I am insulted! Can't you hear my allies and yours putting their all into this fight!? I am not mad! I just simply know what it is to seperate out a fight from a war. None of this would be necessary if you Chevaliers hadn't failed to realize the inherant flaws in being a Puella Magi." A shrug. Kasagami doesn't explain herself there.

"No, I'd say that the Chevaliers are the madmen and women. Clinging to the ideals of a golden-haired murderer and a bluenette psychopath. This is a war you all started."

And then she's grinning, as adrenaline and pure love for battle fills her. She doesn't have to think about fire, or pink, or green, or the many colored roses that surround her in the Student Council. About two scorched bodies, or her own. This is the face of a young woman wielding absurd power given to her all so that she could forget.

"You really should learn to love what you do, Tsubasa-chan! How can you ever find someone to cherish you if you don't at least put a smile on your face sometimes! And there is no brighter, more pleasant smile than one given during a battle for one's dreams!" Snarls Kasagami, as the two close in on each other.

Her blade slashes, painting the office red. But Tsubasa is a terrifying opponent. Finally the two lock blades, pushing back Tsubasa in the process. Both eyes, one steel, one white narrow. Through the power of the Sword, she can truly appreciate her opponent.

Sparks fly as the two girls clash, and the building shudders from the dueling powers of Ame-no-Habakiri and the Sword of Dios! Even as they press, the warring powers and pure fury from the pair grinding blades has more and more of the office tearing apart. The scent of roses fill the room, and stained glass litters the area as if on instinct. Untouched walls bend in from the force of the two powerful magical girls clashing. Kasagami looks around with a glance.

Then she leans in harder against Tsubasa. "No one becomes strong without dreaming about something. Tsubasa. If you really do believe in this war...then tell me what dream has led you here to oppose those I love!" That flirtatiousness drops like a boulder, and then she pushes off, flashing away in an easy steppage that leaves more of those after images. The Sword of Dios is held to her side, almost as if sheathing it. She's knelt slighly, knees bent, and she lets out a sigh. Smirk.

"Show me the power of your dreams and your blade or be cut aside! FALLING PETALS CUT THE SOUL!"

And then, in a single motion, the One Engaged makes an iaido strike that would make a grandmaster faint in it's elegance even without a sheath to lay that blade home in. The Rose Bride is nearly forgotten, after all.

Crimson, the same shade as her own rose petals, blossoms into a wave of pure power that seeks to smash right into Tsubasa and her powerful weapon. Kasagami Araki revels in how her hand trembles, her body shakes at using and directing so much nearly-divine strength. With a howl of war and delight, she lets loose with the power granted to her.

The building quails, and a second floor-ruining explosion of crimson light engulfs where the pair have chosen as their battlefield. No matter what fate awaits the pair of swordswomen, glass, steel, and concrete explodes outwards as the power in this section of the building gutters out from the clash of magical strength.

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

Kyouko smirks to the taunt of tired statements, of losing herself. But she leaves it off, for now. There are so many more dishes to dine on at this feast. "I think she thinks you shit gold, and I think it makes you feel good, even if you're smart enough not to believe it."

She tastes some blood now. If it were anybody else then she'd be licking her lips..but by the moment her heart weeps a little less and less. Mami's clearly made her resolution. It will be enmity to the end, and she's just trying to help her old student accept that.

What a good teacher.

Mami plucks one of her spears as deftly as if she's nabbing a dumpling with a pair of chopsticks. Kyouko knocks one bullet aside with her spear in a wide swing, but the second, so quick in succession, slams into her shoulder, sending her whipping back in an eighth-circle with the force and leaking blood in a gurgling furrow.

"The hell with that! I keep track of them! I wait until they can give a seed and I kill them, right then and there before they get stronger, and I only wait because without those seeds I couldn't kill any more of them, and if you think it's bad now wait until there's nothing stopping them! I hate what it is but you can blame God or the world for the food chain! You keep going like this and burn out and chase out or kill the others and there won't be any Puella Magi left in Tokyo and then it's gonna be a massacre! What about the families I've saved by all the witches I've stopped from growing into their full strength, the families I've saved by knowing where those monsters are instead of having to wander around looking for them while they're gorging! What about your life, Mami? What about Sayaka's? Both of you have been at death's door, saved by seeds I've had to spare that you lacked!"

Mami runs..and Kyouko gives pursuit. Instead of following along the same route, which could be disincorporated beneath her at a moment's notice, spears sprout around her like roots, a parallel ramp up to that same starkly framing moon.

"It is necessary, dammit! You think I would if it wasn't? I would've given real thought to stopping and just hunting the way you do if you'd asked me to one of the five or six times I came to you to try to negotiate a peace, if that would've knocked this off! We could talk? Then let's talk. I told you it's still not too late. I just don't believe you want to." As Mami's golden birdcage settles around the sky, Kyouko's red nettles lace and thread around them. As Mami falls, Kyouko hesitates, slinging a few spears down before diving headfirst in pursuit, spinning her spear in a rapid fanning circle in front of her to try to eat up enemy fire.

"I think of them too. I see my face and yours and every other face of every person I've ever cared about reflected in those poor people. It devours me every day and I wish I could've told told you so any of those times I so desperately wanted to talk, those times where you two wanted to walk away instead. But you just want my blood. Don't worry, I haven't lost myself, and the Kyouko you know is still here. She was just a fool enough to thought you ever had any love in your heart for me. Just a fool enough to have love in her heart for you. But if you keep pushing me I bet you can get past that. I'm not gonna be your sacrifice."

Landing near Mami, she throws the heel of her hand forward, spraying flechette in a mist.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Endo has no time to survey the battlefield, to find allies or give aid to anyone else. He hardly has time to see what's even beside him before a wall of obsidian closes in around him, walls rising and caging off the knight from his allies. Leaving him with Mikoto, wreathed in spikes and radiating anger and anguish. It is, perhaps, where he aimed to be regardless

And she speaks now, in words that are more jarring than any anguished howl she's put forth before. She accuses him, and in her voice he hears the echoes of others past and present-

I have to make my wish come true.

Master will die if I don't.

I love them. I won't let you hurt them.

-- And obsidian shards crash against his armor, enveloping the world around him. The ground gives and he falters, leaps and attempts to rebalance as more shards rip through the space around him. For a moment, he falters.

And then purple fire explodes outward, Fallen Stern whirled in a circle to clear enough room to breathe.

"I'm sorry." It's the best he can offer. Acknowledgement of her pain, of the symmetry in their desires and obligations to the people they love. "But you're wrong! You're friends want to sacrifice other people for themselves! If that's what you really want-then just keep coming!"

Triangular symbols form around his feet, burn to life as they launch him forward at double-speed. Mikoto's seen this before, just as fast, but different now. His blade comes at a horizontal arc, chasing after her, and fire comes with it. Energy bleeds from the blade, extends its edge to chase after her if she tries to avoid it. Burning hot and fast, with no regard for the energy expended.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Stabbing Westward - Lost https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdhfLQPexfc

Mami's ribbon digs into Eri's vine, slowly slicing it. Of course. It is not for her.

Sayaka is hot in pursuit, clinging tight to her sword as Eri's unnatural limbs batter at the blade. The moment Eri drops free onto the ground, Sayaka is upon her, chasing her lithe movements with steel, opening shallow rents in green cloth. Her reflexes, however, remain slower than Eri's ever seen them. When Eri strikes back, again the assault is satisfyingly effective. A parry here and there scarcely stems the striking vines, and thorns catch and snag not only on Sayaka's armor but on Sayaka. Even this most durable of Puella Magi should be howling right now. Sayaka's lip barely twitches.

"As if I care--about disappointing--you!" she grunts. Repeated impacts are impeding her ability to have her lungs form words.

Reliable as Eri's strikes have been, most are not direct hits, as Sayaka's offense keeps Eri busy despite a lack of defense. This changes as a thorny vine sinks into Sayaka's shoulder with a thump, driving her back. Sayaka's eyes are white and wide as she rolls with the blow and out of it, catching on the ground. Cape concealing most of her body as she kneels on the corner of the building, Sayaka tosses her head up to fix a ghostly glare on Eri.

Then the entire corner slides down.

Concrete dust erupts upwards as Sayaka sprints. Friction is scarcely an impediment to something so heavy and neatly severed, and she can't keep up with the near-freefall speed. Reaching the severed tiles at the end, she takes a wild leap, catching onto the remaining edge of the building with gloved hands. Dangling, helpless, she gazes up at Eri blankly, half her face hidden by bloodsticky bangs. Eri's final threat is the first that actually seems to cut through and awaken some fear. Every thorn is as sharp as a garden shear.

"I would have believed you, once. E-easy... to wonder, when all you're good at is not dying." Sayaka pretends to be watching Eri's face, but she is blind to it. All of her attention is on the corner of her eye--on Eri's feet. Judging distance. "But I know now. I'm better than that." She waits until Eri is close.

OST - 2:30 into the above

"Because Mami-senpai..." May that name still have enough power over Eri to make her want to hear the rest. She lets Eri take one more step, then, suddenly, releases her grip, falling straight down into the opened corner of the building. But before Eri can even retreat or rush forward, Sayaka erupts upward into the moonlight, far faster than she fell, her cape snapping and rippling in the air, her teeth bared savagely. Down inside the hollow left by the shorn building corner, a slowly rotating ring of musical staff fades away, its purpose served. A hard knee closes Eri's teeth into each other so violently that the clack is heard across the roof, and Sayaka falls down atop her rival, with a handful of her collar in one hand and the hard hilt of her sword drawn back for a punch in the other.

"IS PROUD OF ME!" she shouts as she swings, the deep follow-through of her shoulder merciless to Eri, and even more merciless to the open wound in the shoulder itself. She drags the hilt of the sword up for another blow. Still Eri sees only one, frighteningly distant eye in Sayaka's half-shadowed face.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It's the second series of explosions Homura Akemi has set off so far tonight, and she has no intentions of stopping there. When the unfair luck of the Chevaliers wins through once more in the yet-corporeal corpus of La Sirene, the frustration of it all glints in Homura's glaring assessment. Why aren't bombs enough with these people?

She launches into rapidfire calculations in the shattered fragments of time after detonation, watching the balletic form of the girl get flung across the space between towers upon a series of shockwaves. Each of Nori Ankou's long clean limbs is still dismayingly attached.

One hand slides beneath and behind the other forearm, behind her shield, even as the puella magi mentally flips through her arsenal. Which gun is best for target-shooting an arcing Sirene out of the sky? Such tactical considerations don't find their conclusion.

A mid-air redirection of gaze and wicked grin through the smudged soot of survived pipe bombs interrupts, arresting Homura Akemi's attention -- along with the rest of her -- at a critical moment.

She catches that strange flicker around la Sirene and it reminds her. Homura remembers, previous timelines, previous displays, remembers the sheer eldritch potence that repeated history has proven can pour forth from this foe...

And oh, it pours: it propels la Sirene on a torrent of power, it closes the distance between the two girls at easily a third of the time Homura Akemi's calculations allowed for -- the slingshot speed and the sudden close quarters fostering a special kind of frantic fear in the slight puella. She does not like being grappled.

There's a defiant refusal to admit to her surprise in Homura's return glare and the sideways pull of pressed lips. She has her pride. But then there's that question that hangs in the moment before the targeted collision...

Scooped by that impressive Siren wingspan, Homura is a frail bird in hand, and a resentful one. They sail across and over the edge of the Metropolitan Building together, and even as they fly together, she twists against that arm -- with a huff in for breath forcefully expelled -- and curls to a ball, knees up between them, dark heels raised.

In the weirdling privacy of their midair tumble she begins her reply, voice strained by the proximity. It is full of meaning as layered as the timelines this pale shadow of a girl has discarded, in search of...

"Another world. No, not exactly." She grunts and finally finishes the movement begun before impact, drawing free a chrome brick of a handgun from the shield on her arm. The Desert Eagle perfectly fills the gap between the two girls' torsos, lined up between Homura's knees. She offers La Sirene the deadly promise of the barrel's bottomless eye, as flush and point-blank to center mass as is possible in such cramped quarters.

La Sirene is welcome to push away of her own accord, or to allow the recoil and impact from the handcannon's firing to force their separation. Before Homura squeezes the trigger she finishes the thought. "I stopped chasing daydreams a long time ago."

There's a defiance there, still, but it hints at somewhat else. It says that this is a girl who once believed in such things. When did she stop, and why? Homura seems disinclined to share more than bullets at the moment. "Don't you have more important things to worry about?" Like the suggestion is itself an irritant -- like she wants to find some other topic. "Survival, for instance. You Chevaliers are bad at priorities."

The report barks out with enough force to burst eardrums, the muzzle near to a flashbang in such close quarters.

<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hMJaJqCTF0

Their blades locked together, sparks flying from the grinding of metal on metal. Tsubasa's grip was firm on the handle, but she coud feel her entire body trembling from the force being generated both from herself and from Kasagami as they put everything on the line for this one clash. Tsubasa was clenching her teeth, focusing all that she had in this one moment. Her heels were digging into the ground, but so too were Kasagami's; at this rate, they'd end up drilling a hole straight through the floor!

"What I loved is long gone!" Kasagami's words had lingered with Tsubasa, and even though they were locked in this moment, Tsubasa couldn't let the comments remain unanswered. Kasagami frustrated her, and it wasn't just because of the bleeding from her stomach and legs. "And in this world without love, I don't need to smile...!" Tsubasa continued applying pressure to the Sword of Dios, even as it generated more and more sparks. Ame-no-Habakiri was unbreakable as long as her relic remained intact, but... Tsubasa herself was not. She could feel her arms ache, her legs tremble, the blood pushed out of the open words. The damage meant that she couldn't muster her full strength...!

"And I don't need dreams! I'm nothing but a weapon!" Though she claimed to not need emotions, Tsubasa howled with rage. Her wounded legs meant she couldn't keep her balance properly; when Kasagami stepped back, Tsubasa almost fell forward, having relied on the mutual pressure to remain standing! With that stumble, there was no time to dodge!

The sound of Kasagami's swing was loud, but then, there was nothing but silence. The entire building seemed to be still... But as the building started to collapse around her, floors and walls crumbling, Tsubasa realized that it hadn't gotten silent. The blow Kasagami had delivered had cut her deep, and now Tsubasa was falling through the open floors, down the building. The windows on every floor they fell down to was blown out from the sheer force, the entire interior crumbling, yet Tsubasa heard nothing, feeling only her warm wound.

Was this it? Even if she survived, there was no getting up from this wound. In a way, the thought was comforting. She had fought for so long... A rest didn't seem too bad.

In a way, this was what she had waited for ever since that day.

But as she fell, resigned to whatever fate awaited her as each moment felt like an eternity, she heard it... A voice, calling her. Tsubasa didn't know what inspired her to listen to it, even as her body crashed against the ground, rubble surrounding her and Kasagami as they had fell three floors down, having taken a dozen or so windows with them.

Though she moved slow, her body aching, Tsubasa stood out. Her hearing had returned, even though blood ran down her suit. Standing, she could barely hold her sword, but the red gem at her chest - her relic - shone with defiance. Tsubasa's bloody hand took a harder grip of her sword, and instead of speaking, she sang.

It was a sad song, in an ancient, forgotten language. As Tsubasa sang the song, her wounds opened wider, and blood ran from her mouth and nose.

This was her ultimate, final resort. The Swan Song would bring her body to its very limit - by destroying it. A final blaze of glory, reserved only for the wielder of a Symphogear. Battered, beaten and bleeding, Tsubasa stood up, her body reinforced by the song. She could feel her body falling apart already, but no matter what: she refused to lose!

Taking a firm stance - far firmer than her wounded body should allow, were it not coursing with symphonic energy, Tsubasa made a strong leap right at Kasagami, sword at the ready to deliver a sharp blow! r

"This sharpened weapon, Tsubasa Kazanari, will show you the power of her determination!"

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Credens Justitiam - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqQ3hP_q7Ns

"But in order for them to get strong enough to give Seeds in the first place people have to die!" Mami shouts back. "You can fool your Shepherds, but I know how Witches work, Kyouko! I know what you've done, I know what you do every day! I know how Ueno opened up in the first place, how that girl died and what you had to do with it! I know that you seeded that Witch!"

Mami has a resolution, that much is true. As she moves, she keeps track of what slides home to Kyouko, what doesn't. Blood leaks from both of them now, but it shows more on Mami's white-and-black, on her yellows, and as Kyouko speaks up... "Sure, she makes me feel good. But I've told her. She knows I've taken down Puella Magi before."

"You've saved families, sure. But you make Witches grow where they wouldn't otherwise, plant them anew, cultivate, and don't try to pretend to me that you don't. That doesn't make it better! It's not a zero sum game, where it's fine that you murder people just because you might use some of that added power to spare some others!"

Mami runs--Mami knows, Kyouko has saved both of them before. Eri has. Just as she saved Eri, once. And yet--

"When will you stop lying to yourself?" Mami asks. "When we had this out before, you didn't pretend it was necessary. You didn't have any of this. You do it because you think you have the right. Now you, of all people, pretend to be moral? Pretend to be heroic, somehow? When I bled to try to keep you off of this path!?"

Mami hits the ground, and Mami gets spears flung towards her, taking a gouge down her shoulder, then worse at her arm from the rush of flechettes, turning fabric to ribbon of a different kind indeed. Mami pauses right where she is, a rifle in her hand pointed straight for Kyouko's chest. The cage of her ribbons finally settles down around them, all around--thin vilaments, crashing about them, inches away from either, on all sides. ...The ribbons themselves are razor-sharp, set to draw blood if Kyouko moves into them. But Mami holds her fire--she does not bring out another, letting their battle pause on the edge of a heartbeat, the edge of a spear for a moment.

"...If that's true," Mami says softly, "Then you'll put down your weapon, now. Call off the others. I'm not heartless, Kyouko. If you mean what you say, then stop this, now. You say I won't listen? Here's your chance. No negotiation, no tricks. ...Just promise you'll stop feeding people to Witches, and ask Eri to do the same."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Invidia - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AL7kYY_q9g4

Mami clings to hope. She clings to ideals. She argues their wrong-doing. It's what Eri Shimanouchi thinks at least - and expected. A battery or rifles drives home Mami's point in a terrible fusillade. She turns her head just in time to see the gunsmoke clearing. She thinks she can understand the atonement Mami hopes to find - but Eri believes there's no absolution to be had in this violence between saints and sinners. That saints and sinners is a false division as things are now, and perhaps it has been from the start.

That her senpai is arguing with her - part of her is glad for the fire, the ardor. But her heart is still sinking rapidly - and the dueling spiked flechette sent back to Mami in answer does little to allay it's descent.

And yet as she looks down upon Sayaka dangling, she takes a step forward. Then another. It's like her toes are about to make contact with those fingers, to crack bones. To force her to fall. And yet she doesn't quite yet. She's just looking down at her - listening to what she has to say.

And then the foot raises for that final step. She hesitates upon hearing 'Mami-senpai.'

And then Sayaka falls. Blinking in disbelief, Eri lurches forward then slides back in alarm. Her tendrils lash wildly in the air. "You little-"

Several are severed just as Sayaka slams past her guard, knocking a knee into her teeth. It brings her heels up off the ground. Then slams her down so hard that her mouth cries out in silent alarm.

With blood smeared across her mouth, the girl panting. Then she actually smiles at her, with red painted across the whites of her teeth. "It t-took her that long? You gave an arm for her and you're the anchor of her..." It looks like her lips are shaking with silent laughter.

The hilt makes contact once with a sickening crack to her collarbone as her face twists in pain. And as it raises for another blow -

Two tendrils wrap around her hilt and the hands. Thorns rake the back of her hands as the prehensile appendages maintain their grip, halting it from descending. It's then that a third blindingly fast creeps up from behind, grasping around her throat in a strangling grip. "... my senpai saw God again because of me. She saw her family again. If you truly loved your 'Mami-senpai'..."

They raise Sayaka off her gradually, she might take more kicks, more blows. But with preternatural strength they're suspending her overhead in mid-air, the ones around her arm sliding down like a macabre carress to try to pin her arms. "... you would have aimed for my gem when you had the chance."

Pushing up with a hand, she grasps her injured collarbone, takes a seed, and pushes it to her forehead, with all of its warped black from fast draining magic. "If you truly loved her you wouldn't come within my reach. Because now she gets to watch me do this to you."

With blinding speed the limb crashes down Sayaka's cheek to the concrete rooftop and rakes her across it, pulverizing it as it goes with her body, inflicting her with road rash far worse than setting down any motorcycle aground. When it reaches the end of it's momentum, before moving upwards like the sine curve of a whip lash as if Eri had flicked her wrist with the strength of some colossus and smashes her down.

Again and again. And again, on different portions of the rooftop as she tugs her along like she's trawling for greater prey, never releasing the strangling grip on her neck. "Congratulations moron." She says coldly, her voice still a touch pained, "She's going to be so proud that you failed her."

Yet despite that seeming confidence she doesn't stop. She doesn't. Because she's witnessed just how much Sayaka could get up from - a fear reaching her of what might happen if she keeps managing this feat.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Here is the truth about glass, even poured from the crucible of a volcano's heart: it is not a solid like earth, or stone, or crystal.

Glass is amorphous. Glass melts.

Fallen Stern's wicked flame carves a circle through the obsidian, black glass melting onto the concrete. It flows through the cracks in the ground, drip-dripping onto steel structural beams. The molten edges fade into nothingness.

I'm sorry, says Endo, and Mikoto stares at him with a baleful gaze. He cannot know what he is apologising for.

"LIAR! You always say that," Mikoto snaps in return. "But you're starving Eri! It's not Eri's fault she has to eat!" There's anger in her voice, but there is a distance there which never existed before. As she continues speaking, that anger is layered on with distress, like the words wound her as they leave her throat. "Does Fallen Stern's wielder think - I like letting them die? That, I wouldn't involve them if I could?"

Emotion flits across her face, only to be consumed by the depths. For a moment, her eyes reflect terrible sorrow. "Does Fallen Stern's wielder think... I'm a monster?"

The words hurt, but they are so easy to say. Endo's magic propels him forward, and Mikoto swears she could hear sound snap at the speed of it. Obsidian spires crash out of the ceiling to meet his blade -

The first stalagmite melts. The second melts, too. Third, fourth, fifth - they melt together, as the war machine Fallen Stern generates the terrible temperatures required to create the obsidian flows. Each slows his arc, just slightly. Sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth, tenth -

They are two unstoppable forces, Fallen Stern and Miroku. Obsidian meets blade, again and again, and each time the blade cuts through and keeps coming. Endo's desperate push would be something to be feared, for any normal girl. But Mikoto doesn't know fear at all.

Eleventh. Twelfth. Thirteenth...

Fallen Stern's sword is halted, just an inch from her head. The blazing energy threatens to burn her cheek as she defiantly struggles to pull her face away.

"Miroku," she says, and her voice is not touched by pain, though she sweats from the heat of it.

The obsidian spires launch from underneath the rooftop once more, destroying Endo's footing again. These glass spikes are thicker - there's simply too much of them to melt for them to be neutralised so easily. They shoot upwards, towards the sky, seeking to impale Endo in a single stroke.

Mikoto watches, empty-eyed.

"... if it's for people I love, I'll be a monster."

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FcCfkS22Hw

It is well for the interior balance of la Sirene de Diamant that she cannot, right now, see Sayaka's peril, hear Mami's words. Instead she hurtles into the pastel abyss of the Tokyo night with her captive, the tendril-wings of inverse light huddling round them as she grins.

This close there are strange things about la Sirene other than her damnable not-being-dead, which is probably annoyance enough. There is a strange smell of distant seas that aren't that distant at all, although it has a febrile tang to it. La Sirene herself is cold to the touch. But then, who wouldn't be, right now?


In this moment, in this pitched battle, in this boil's head of war for heart and soul and blood, la Sirene has seen an opportunity. And if it should so happen to save her most precious and beloved friends by happenstance? All the better.

Of course, even in this shiny moment of a chivalrous dream, there are problems. Like the gun. La Sirene's eyes turn down towards the weighty iron that Homura points at her.

La Sirene de Diamant rests a fingertip atop that yawning chasm. Her light fills the weapon's barrel, even as she says to Homura, "Stop that."

Homura, of course, does not. "It's not a dream!" la Sirene insists, sweeping that hand away from the gun and finding herself once again interrupted by that hellacious BANG of the discharge of the weapon. "Unh!!" she cries out, the burst, the recoil, enough to send her haring away from Homura like a sabot round's casing. She pivots, she kicks - in the end, she ends up smashed against a satellite dish, clinging to it with pallid fingers and dangling.

The dish comes loose, but it takes a while. La Sirene's abdomen screams at her and she struggles for breath. The shards of the leaden round, eroded by a thousand tides in the moment of la Sirene's touch, fall away, most of them; as Homura descends she may notice that the cartridge casing is firmly stuck in place and has become a sea of corroded green verdigris.

Either way: Falling down. As the dish falls, la Sirene thrashes her way into it, lets it scrape mystic gibberish against the side of the building as she does. It is a stuttering, staccato descent. La Sirene is happy to lay on the skin, a transmission from a far-off star. She looks to Homura, raising her voice: she is gasping for breath even now, for diamond may not break but certainly seems to bruise. But she is audible, at least. There's that.

"You must have seen it - the living sea! The tombs of Luxor! The forests of pine and sugar-cane! The gulls and the parrots in their aerial races..."

There is a hissing, gurgling noise, and then la Sirene seems eased. She sits up, grasping onto the passing strutwork of another dish, letting herself dangle, pulling herself up to stand with poise and grace once more. If there is a red thread gripping her heart: let it grip, she resolves.

"Stop chasing daydreams, you say. Focus on priorities, you say! All you have to do is put down your bag of guns, Homura Akemi, because I tell you that there is a place for you. I can feel it in you, I know naught else but I can feel an aquifer of tears lives inside of your heart! I can smell it! It reeks on your breath, it echoes in every flat note from your mouth!"

She spreads her arms out in soliloquy. "Do you mistrust me? Ask Mami Tomoe - ask her for the name of the bakery! Ask Madoka Kaname how the cake tasted! Ask Sailor Moon! Bah! You ask if I have more important things to worry about?"

La Sirene's pale gaze turns down. "I owe you an apology," she says.

"I ought to have seen from the first, but your guns make an awful racket! I could not focus, but now I can do nothing else! Forgive me that I did not see your tears --"

Her hand snaps forwards. Index and pinky fingers up. Right arm upraised. "-- but you can't blame me for protecting my loved ones. LES MYSTERES!" la Sirene cries out.

The shapes come. The light, the illumination. Against the backdrop of the building the veves are immense, sliding things, or are they animals of an alien sea? Is the difference profound in a place like the Sea of Tears? What is far more concrete is the down-stroke of the right arm, the shout of "COME!" and the shrieking burst of black-and-silver light, bursting out and trailing inklike threads as it wends its way down to engulf Homura.

Is it possible to shoot through that thing? One wonders.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkbKakYw9wo

Kyouko spits, her saliva clouded pink, and shakes her head. It's true, Mami looks bloodier between the two. But that's the thing about the color red..it doesn't conceal many stains but those under its purview it manages magnificently. A grief seed had taken much of the edge off, but the fight with Garnet below had still drained her. She hopes Mami doesn't realize that things are far more even keeled than they might seem.

There's alot that's said. A lot to say. Two whole lifetimes of words that could be. And yet...

"I really never dreamed it..that it could go like this. I've thought about it, sure. What if we ever came to blows, really came to them. But it never felt real. Like havin' a plan to fight Santa Claus or the Prime Minister or Girls Generation. Not that any could hold a candle to you."

She spits again. It's that much bloodier this time, and her body tenses like a runner preparing for a sprint.

But whatever she was readying to do...doesn't happen. She knows all too well what a rifle pointed at her chest means..how, in an instance, they find themselves in a quick draw stand off. It wasn't that long ago that Mami and Kyouko alike were blissfully unaware of their Achillean weakness. Between the pair, the gunner is better suited to pluck out hearts than the spear fighter. Mami's sluggish descent of golden streamers is set in earnest..and Kyouko for her measure drags down her own nest of branched blades to pursue and to mitigate it. In practice, a lethal dragnet is doubled in scope..but beyond that mental exertion she does not physically stir.

She stares for a long moment, her chest rising and falling, her eyes unblinking. Her heart flooded past the levies.

"...I don't think I could stop it now, even if I tried. You're right. You've been right all along."

She remembers, a memory left half done. Familiars, black and white, their corpses strewn in still and quiet mystery, as if a great battle had taken place between them. A serpent devouring itself...a black and white chessboard labyrinth..walking through its enigmatic halls with the girl who had taught her how to fight, and to smile and to lean her head on the shoulder of another after so many years of supporting her own little sister's tiny head in the same way. How did that end? She cannot remember..and the fragment of the memory feels like an opportunity lost. Something that could've been, but never quite was. Surely they destroyed it...but how? She'd wanted to ask her old friend about it, to see if they could remember an ending together. But she knows now that it is never to be.

Mami had taught her how to fight. But she hadn't taught how to survive. That she learned all on her own.

"...we've already fallen...it's already done..."

BGM Change - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_oEDGONSc4 

Thirteen spears bloom up, ripping chunks out of the concrete just before her feet, so tightly packed as to form a crude fence. They will do very little to stop a bullet...but they do make it harder to see.

Collapsing down to her belly, Kyouko immediately rolls back and away. Closing her eyes, she murmurs another prayer now, of a very different sort.

"Fuck it..."

Spears explode from the ground like spines from an inflating pufferfish, surging forward on the ground to where Mami had been standing with a frightening and wobbling speed. All around Kyouko, molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide and all the sundry components of the air reconfigure into magically reinforced steel chains, each wrapping around her limbs, her torso, limned as red as her beating blood. Her hair flows free, her face exposed, but newly framed by crimson lacquer bordering all four of its sides. Along the top sprouts a crown of gleaming gray and cinnabar, its points each razored speartips. A dress, too, is made of stiff metal, its hemline a pointed star of blades.

Spears emerge from her back again...but where before there were a handful, now they seem beyond count. Long and prehensile, each spanning more than her entire height, fanning and flickering about her like so many cilia... A number issue down, too, draping past her steel skirt like a peacock's dragging tail feathers. These bite into the ground like climbing spikes, flexing their mistress up into the air, supplanting her legs.

Their royalty is not like that of that thin old man who they call Tenno. The royalty of the Puella Magi are warrior Queens. And a Queen deserves to die only by another Queen's hand.

The chains along her soul gem part, their tendrils wriggling in the air, exposing the rapidly darkening red beneath. A grief seed is between her fingers, sucking out the black. And then the chains restitch to conceal the gem behind their metal veil...they are not strong enough to stop a bullet, not nearly. But without Rudolph's glowing red in the fog, how could a hunter ever track him? Mami will have her work cut out for her, making this shot.

And then she surges forward, her body-halo's spears ripping out chunks of concrete to surge closer and closer, her body darting and jerking in the air in irregular movements as her magical limbs expand and contract. Chains weave over her hands and extend, blades sprouting from them, her arms themselves made spears.

"I will not die! Not to you! Not to anyone! And if we're not already in Hell then I'll see you there when I go! Mami Tomoe!"

COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Everburning Kyouko!
<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Too many shards. Too many blackened barriers, three and four more for each one that Endo's blade burns through. He drives forward still, though one, then another, and another still. Fallen Stern vibrates in his hands, shakes with energy, rattles and aggravates every slash and tear that Miroku and it's wielder have inflicted on him.

"That's the wrong choice." Another spike burns, and another, shorn by metal and purple-black flame. Endo doesn't speak again after, grits his teeth tight with focus on the only task at hand. There is no reconciliation to be made here, not any borne by words. One side will yield through force, and force alone. The only way is forward, and forward he goes.

But not far enough.

He stops short. Too short. The fire still burns, but only for a moment more-and then it gutters, flickers as the weight of this battle and the last come crashing down. Steam hisses from Fallen Stern's vents, expelling heat as the blade darkens once more.

Endo is on the defensive once again, against a foe he's entirely unused to. One that he's ill-suited to fighting, requiring more movement than he's used to. Mikoto's blades are overwhelming, swarming, too fast and too numerous to be struck down by Fallen Stern's ponderous blows, by Endo's exhausted hands and fading power. Glass shards smash into his barrier jacket, piercing, breaking magical protections and digging in deep. First one, and then a second, third, fourth.

One tears through is uninjured shoulder. Another, a leg. Somewhere on his back, elbow, hand. His fingers are clasped against his weapon, but it too is mired in spikes, bound tight in walls of blackened glass.

And though he struggles, his eyes remain focused on his foe. On Mikoto, the last thing he may ever see. On a monster made of love and obsidian blades.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.



<< Madoka! You need to hurry! >>

Cold night air, made colder by speed, chills Madoka's nose to a cherry and her ears to match her ribbons, which stream out behind her, twintails too. She's not wearing her helmet, and with her skinny frame bowed over her also-beribboned handlebars, for all the world she looks like a gnarled sakura tree, or maybe just a single petal in flight.

Two petals falling together, a pink one and a white one -- because Kyuubey's second, longer pair of ears are also being swept back by the velocity of the bicycle like the ends of a scarf, from his primo seat in the silvery wicker basket basket where the headlight would be on a motorcycle. Their tips skitter across Madoka's chest and occasionally bonk lightly against her chin.

Her jaw is set, teeth clenched unwisely against the struggle of this moment, and she tastes her own smell. Every frantic breath in through her nostrils stings her side with another stitch. Every exhalation, a tiny, huffing whimper escapes her lips.

How can she be so cold and so sweaty at the same time? The white rubber tires eat up the Tokyo streets. Every block is a blur, punctuated only occasionally by an awareness of stoplights. When she sees red, she sees Kyouko's hair and stains on Sayaka's cape, and pedals faster. When she sees green, she sees Eri's eyes and her own face in the bathroom mirror at three in the morning, and pedals faster. When she sees yellow...


Spinning silver spokes. Kyuubey a tumbled heap of fluff a meter away; Madoka herself staring at the tiny pinpricks of blood welling up on on her palms.

They both swerved. No one was hit. Hyperventilating fades to sniffles -- and then, grimly, Madoka gets back on the bike. Kyuubey's warnings echo between her ears but the whirr of the rubber meeting the road is louder, and the sound of her own heartbeat loudest of all.



"Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa~do~ka~chan," slurs Junko as she giggles her way through the front door. Her eyes widen as she takes in the tableau in the kitchen, and her gaze struggles to focus on the streamers; the burned down candles; her fine china, set for a cocoa service instead of a tea. "What're -- whurr -- whass all dis?"

When her daughter doesn't leap up to help her in the door -- doesn't even look up from a fixed point on the family's best tablecloth, the Egyptian Cotton one, which is wrinkled from where her bone-white hands have been clenching it harder and harder and harder for an hour -- her brow wrinkles, and she staggers to one of the many empty chairs, falling in heavily enough to rattle the place settings.

There are a lot of empty chairs. More than their dining set allows; the various profoundly different desk chairs from Tomohisa and Madoka's bedrooms, plus Junko's home office, are intermingled with the more appropriate upholstered wooden seats. Madoka is in one of the latter and now Junko is too.

The shadow of tears on Madoka's face is more effective than any hair of the dog to return her mother to sobriety, but it can't happen quickly or all at once. It is possible, in between, to be serious and slurred at the same time.

"Looksh like-a party," she murmurs, reaching over to lay her hand over one of Madoka's. They are almost identical, one the miniature of the other; same curvature, same polish, neither coincidence. Junko's nails are longer, better cared for. In fact, some of her daughter's look freshly chewed. "And nobody came?"

Madoka nods in silent misery... then changes her mind and starts shaking her head instead. Her twintails droop across both cheeks.

"It wasn't a party," she corrects, small-voiced. "It was... we were all gonna go out together. Mami-senpai... she asked me to... to... to just, give everyone a hot drink first. Before we went out. In the cold. B-but..."

Her lower lip trembles, and she doesn't finish the sentence. She doesn't have to.

"Your friends ditched you, huh?" After giving her kid's hand a squeeze, Junko pours herself a cold teacup of cocoa from the central silver pitcher, the pitcher with the pretty etchings on it that Tomohisa knew she would like but let Madoka give her for Christmas when she was three. The cocoa itself is slow, sludgy. "Screw 'em. Party with Mama instead, eh kiddo?"

She starts to lift her teacup in a toast... then lowers it. Madoka's still shaking her head, the back-and-forth momentum forcing more tears down to the pretty tablecloth. Her voice hitches in her throat.

"It's because they're in trouble," she whimpers. "And because I'd juh-just be in the way." Jamming little fists in her eye sockets, she rubs, and mumbles something that starts unintelligably and ends rhyming with 'night'.

Junko pauses, then completes her toast, gulping down the cooled drink in long, hearty swallows.

"Well, fuck that," replies the world's best role model. "Kiddo, whatever's going on... Mama trusts you, and Mama knows you best of all, so you need to believe Mama when she says that you aren't the problem."

She walks to the door on steadier legs and retrieves Madoka's coat from the hanger, giving it a vigorous shake to restore it to maximum puffiness.

"You are part of the solution."

Junko is gratified by the sight of her daughter's pretty pink eyes finally lifting.

Behind her, sitting on the shelf next to the door where the Kanames put their keys, hats, umbrellas, and anything else they don't want to forget for their next outing, a white plushy looks back.



Brakes squeal as Madoka pulls up in front of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building...'s rubble. Wisely, Kyuubey leaps out of the basket and onto her shoulder, locking himself on by winding his tail around her neck, because a moment later she's dumped the bike at the base of debris-strewn steps and is running-falling-scrabbling her way into the courtyard.

Her jaw drops at what she sees there, but nothing passes between her parted lips save hoarse, desperate little wheezes.

She does not stop, plunging into the nearest tower in a straight line that takes her through a conveniently pre-shattered window.




The elevator on the Chevalier-side tower chimes open.

<< Hurry, Madoka!! >>

Madoka stumbles out duck-footed, grayfaced. If she were Sayaka she would have thought to bring a water bottle. If she were Sayaka she wouldn't have had to.

Battle rages all around her -- bullets and swords and spears and vines, none of these are needed on floor fifty to explain what happens next. The atmosphere alone would be enough to tug a twintail sharply left, to drag the ruffles of her skirt to and fro.

But it isn't a natural wind that buoys her one moment; nor the one that nearly flattens her against the rooftop, the next.

If it were just the wind, it wouldn't matter. If it were just the wind, she wouldn't be here.

Natural or not, though, the wind can fill her lungs.

She heaves in air lost to her long ride and short sprint. The concrete in her palms grinds into her socks at the knee.

And then -- when she can -- she looks up. She looks upon all of it.

Even veiled by her bangs, Madoka's eyes are the brightest thing on either rooftop.

And the dampest.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Chateau - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFGQDdQ2lYc

She daren't jam her crowbar between the cogwheels of time, not unless she wants to bring the other girl in on her secrets. Instead she seeks comfort in the hefty span of her Desert Eagle, embraces the chill metal grip with both hands. Her chin bridles upward by an inch as la Sirene touches finger to barrel and tells Homura to Stop That. It feels like a direct rejection of the distance she's so desperate to reassert.

Everything la Sirene de Diamant is saying and doing feels that way. Invasive.

Homura lets the large caliber bullet express her agita.

She doesn't know she's firing what remains of a large caliber bullet, not immediately. But there's an alien feel to the kickback, a motion she knows as intimately as the swinging of her own arm at her side, that tells her something is wrong.

Still -- it does the trick, snapping the girls apart like a wishbone giving way. The Deagle's recoil rockets Homura backward, and she jackknifes open in a blur, the motion best followed by the inky looping of hair in her wake. They tumble free of each other within the squared-off space beneath the tower's roof, satellite dishes sprouting between them like so many skyseeking mushrooms.

Homura flips out of Nori's sight behind a dish. Her trajectory doesn't resume on the other side as it ought. Where...?

...she's up there, over an entirely different satellite dish. Dropping straight down onto it on ballerina toes, neat as you please, in an impossible displacement of location and cool defiance of demonstrated momentum.

Her back groans from a brutal, pinwheeling collision with the corrugated metal wall, clumsiness suffered in the face-saving solitude of a time stop. She endures bruised bones and la Sirene's speech with the same stiff composure. The gun flashes upward, but even as she levels it Homura espies corrosion, understands.

She tosses the ruined weapon into the open air, careless of its downward arc. Anyone still milling about in the courtyard after a sliced-off corner of the Metropolitan building hit the ground has earned a Desert Eagle to the cranium in her estimation.

"Those things, that place. I've heard the tales." This Nori Ankou lacks the temporal continuity to remember how an earlier version of Homura Akemi -- a more innocent version, unvarnished by years of ground-in cynicism -- listened at what counts for a magical otter's knees, spellbound by stories of a Sea made of Tears. To a girl who had already shed what felt like more than her fair share of those, it sounded, well, poetic and nice. Like a storybook.

It doesn't sound so nice to her now. The invitation tweaks a keen awareness of her lockstep waltz with despair. "You've come a long way from the girl I first met." It is true in this timeline; it is more true across many. Maybe, she thinks, that's how this frightening, capable Sirene dowses out the reservoir of tears the puella thought better-buried. "But you're wrong. There's no place for me. I don't want one, I don't need one." Homura Akemi needs one thing, and that narrowness of purpose defines her almost as much as the need itself.

It also makes her a little... single-minded. She plucks a name from many. "You claim to care about Madoka Kaname? If you had any idea how dangerous it is for her, you'd never let her get tangled up in any of this. You'd let her be the normal girl she's supposed to be!

"So if it's all the same to you..."

La Sirene calls to her mysteries -- what answers is veiled and viscous in ways that light and shadow were never meant to be -- and in the doing calls to the fine hair at the back of Homura's neck, too. She reaches behind her shield, and too-small fingers find their adjusted grip on a shotgun stock sized for adult hands.

"...or even if it's not..."

Violet eyes squint down against the streaming silver, the burgeoning black. She slides the impossible length of the Mossberg out out out and free, swings the matte black barrel around, and brings it to bear on the murky smudge that is La Sirene through the obscuring furor.

"...why don't you keep your cake, and I'll keep my bag of guns."

Is it possible to shoot through it? Homura Akemi intends to find out. She stands firm against the coming tide and pumps slug after thunderous slug into it, a WHOMP-WHOMP-WHOMP-WHOMP hammering of a single spot. Every shot is a battering ram, unless and until one punches through -- every shot after that counts for premeditation, if not murder.

She spends precious seconds in the loud full-color here instead of in the dull leached there of comparative safety, budgeting magic like a miser, and Homura ends up paying for it out of her hide. Liquid power hungers toward her and she throws the emptied shotgun at it like that might sate the thing -- it won't, it doesn't -- and throws herself in the other direction, too late.

A tendril catches her by the leg, a sidelong blow rather than a grapple. It sends her flying, and it's only by catching a thick satellite cable in both hands and swinging the skin right off her palms that Homura averts what was going to be a forty-some story plunge. She releases on the upward rebound, slick-fingered now, and shoots over the edge of the roof.

SOUNDTRACK ends abruptly

There's a lot to see up here, green and blue and gold and red -- plenty of red -- but only one sight that matters to Homura Akemi.

Pink where pink should not be.

Liquid pink through puffy pink fringe.

The rest comes down to noise, a dreadful and soul-endangering noise, and everything that is stark about Homura's existence achieves absurd and heightened definition. Her adrenal system only truly comes alive, these days, when the heartstopping goodness of Madoka Kaname's soul reflects so brightly in her eyes.

It is everything. It is everything she fears.

The serpent is around her neck, white like a worm's belly. The name suspends upon Homura's tonguetip, catches behind clamped lips, even as her heart screams it. The letters of it spell ma-do-ka, but it sounds more like no-no-no in her head.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

'That's the wrong choice.'

"But it's the only one I can make," Mikoto replies, sadly. There is a basic honesty to her, here, which seems strikingly uncharacteristic. Why? Why is she talking, when she has never talked without outside intervention?

Why is she talking, when she only understands action?

It's something Endo understands, too; their blades cut the same way. Fallen Stern vents its steam, and Mikoto shifts the claymore called Miroku in her hands, the light of the moon catching on its sigiled edge.

The smell of blood and trampled grass and night dew. A full moon, illuminating everything in pale light, temple robes and dark stains and obsidian blade. Her grandfather, smiling with pride. Syllable by syllable -

"No!" Mikoto yells, twisting painfully in her obsidian bonds. Once again, the memory cuts short. She is not ready to remember what she has wilfully forgotten, and yet joined with Miroku, the past lurks so close to the surface. It is deliciously bleak.

And it saves Endo's life.

"MIROKU!" Mikoto screams, all despair and instinctive reaction, calling out to the only thing here supporting her as if it could be her salvation. They bleed the same blood, Mikoto and Miroku, their definitions blurred - and it hears her, and responds to her suffering. The smaller spires of the volley, the ones with any hope to lance Endo straight through, jerk to the side at her foolish command. What should have been a multi-stage attack is reduced to one overwhelming option.

Only the thickest stalagmites collide with him, the true Child-killers, the ones designed to tear through monsters the size of a house or larger still. They are uneven and cruel, too many to deflect or attack. The glass rips through his barrier jacket, but they are simply too large to impale him utterly, his defenses working just well enough to keep him from being torn apart by the horrific force. It is like trying to skewer a rat with a battering ram. They strike him with all the power and speed of a freight train, and he is left hanging on jagged edges which join together in a rough tilt. They pin him, there, along several huge spines, like an insect on an entomologist's glass slide... just as Mikoto is pinned.

They are both trapped.

"... not dead," Mikoto realises, struck with dull wonder as she looks up at him, as if she were not the sole cause of his misery. The words seem as though they could be impressed, but her tone is flat again. And yet, there's a hint of relief as she says: "I didn't kill Fallen Stern's wielder..." She isn't a murderer.

He isn't dead, but he is defeated. Even Mikoto can see it. She could leave him, there, pinned by black glass, and he would do no more harm to the Shepherds that night. She could leave him alive like she left the soldiers of SEARRS alive, when they poured through Ohtori's grounds like so many ants.

Mai would want that. Mai would want her to spare this boy. But Mai is not here. Mai is safe, far away from this war, just as Mikoto and Eri have strove for. Mai wouldn't understand something like this. Mai shouldn't have to understand something like this.

So no one is here to help her. And no one is here to tell her to stop.

But there is someone whose memory is always, always with her, even when she is alone.

You cannot hesitate. "... I cannot hesitate."

You must destroy enemies. "... I must destroy enemies."

People who attack you are enemies. "... people who attack me are enemies."

Mikoto recites lessons from long ago, and she's not talking to Endo, any more. She must be reminded of her purpose. There is a a far-away look to her, as she listens to the echoes of her Lord Brother's voice.

There can be no quarter, no surrender, no regret. The only acceptable outcome is Fallen Stern's wielder dying by her hand. Mikoto cannot stop now.

"Miroku," Mikoto calls, and it is a pact sealed.

A hundred obsidian needles, long and thin and razor-sharp, erupt from the tortured concrete of Mikoto's arena. They course towards Endo, moving between the gigantic stalagmites towards his captured form. These will lance through, obsidian promising to tear out his flesh on the sacrifical altar of the tower. Let the blood mingle with the cooling obsidian flow, just like the old days. This would be a pleasing end to the frustrations presented by the meddling Fallen Stern and its incorrigible wielder. Bring them low. Gouge the flesh and kill. The weapon can be turned to a greater purpose. The boy is meat.

"What-?" Mikoto shakes her head, struck suddenly by how her feelings seem not entirely her own. But she dismisses the idea, because it is not worth thinking about. There is an enemy before her. Fight the enemy.

"... fight the enemy."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Even as blades grind and room deforms, Kasagami stares right back at Tsubasa. She doesn't flinch even at her declaration about a loveless world and not needing to smile. But something she says has Kasagami's face flushing in anger. Her eyes narrow dangerously.

"How can you be that blind!? You talk to me about love lost and the cruelty of the world? Can't you see, if you were a weapon, then you would not feel a thing! And yet, here you are! You're fighting me, aren't you? You're supporting the Chevaliers because you believe they are in the right in this war, AREN'T YOU!?" Howls Kasagami right in the other young woman's face.

And then the floor gives way against the force of two immensely strong magical girls. Kasagami leaps down after Tsubasa even as part of the floor above their original arena comes falling down. Looking up, she slices at the falling debris once, blowing out more upper windows and giving the place a lovely new skylight thanks to that crimson energy directed upwards.

Even as Tsubasa sings and slowly stands, Kasagami tch's and knocks one boot against the other. She lets her opponent sing and ready herself. "You are a person, Tsubasa. Someone who's obviously lost something very important to them. Maybe that's why you're helping the Chevaliers. Trust me. I can relate to that. Calling yourself a weapon is to throw away your pride in yourself, your allies, and those you love! Don't spit on their graves with words like that!"

The young woman shivers, and then grins. She can feel the power coming from that song, how Tsubasa hurts herself to even be ready to strike.

"But I'll agree with one thing. This world sure does love to take away everything and everyone that a person cares for. Throwing away your smile is fine. A weapon can't change the world. Only someone with ambition and a dream can do that! And I am going to remake this world into one where love can live, and THRIVE! Come on, let me show you the power of dreams!" And then, with a warcry, Kasagami charges for the thrumming Symphogear wielder. Once again, she's an illusive, flashing point of stained glass. No dodging here. She wants to meet Tsubasa head on. Sword of Dios shining brilliantly above her, she brings the sword down with every bit of her strength.

The intense look in her eyes begs her opponent to do the same.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=btmSuNcxiIU

It's true that Mami's ribbons themselves will turn against those she is facing today. True that trying to use them as a Shepherd will come at a cost... Maybe even more true for Eri. Mami's weapons are dangerous, and they are more than merely her beautiful guns. ...But they are all aftershocks by comparison to what she levels at Kyouko Sakura, at the full attention she gives to her onetime student, her oldest friend, and more. She's thought about it, too...

Mami watches, and listens, as Kyouko says that she could never have dreamed of it. She is still solid, still resolute... But now can be seen a tinge of sadness in her golden eyes, distant, far, far away. Kyouko tenses--and still, Mami's rifle is trained inexorably on her Gem. It's the golden gunner's nature--find the right target, settle it out, move to the next. It is how she fights, how she lives. Even when that target is a heart precious to her. Mami's descent of golden ribbons sets all around them, joined by a cage of blades; to approach either of the two veteran Puella Magi would be suicide, now.

"...I can't say the same," Mami admits, to having never really thought of this, never imagined it coulld be real. Kyouko stares, and Mami stares back. She wonders, in that moment, if Kyouko really will stand down--but that is only a high, conscious voice. In her soul, in the Gem shining at her hat, she knows the truth. She knows what is coming.

She couldn't stop. Mami should take the shot right then, but she, too, remembers for a moment. She remembers facing Kyouko much like this, tears in her eyes, calling for her to come back. ...Calling. This girl who reminded her how to laugh, who bright fire into the chill of her hearth for so long. This girl...

No, Mami did not teach Kyouko to survive. Mami has not taught anyone to survive but herself.

The spears rip up, and that first chance is gone. Mami fires regardless, bullet crashing into the crude fence, blazing past Kyouko as she rolls away. Another prayer, indeed. The spears launch upward, spines, and Mami can feel the magic surging. Her teeth grit as she steps back immediately, shifting to a sideways stance to make herself smaller, pulling the small object she retained after conjuring the Egg and clutching it close.

The true might of the warrior before her shows, beautiful and terrible. Mami's eyes close in on her target--the red, shielded by the fog, shielded by the metal. The spears rip closer--

"We all die sooner or later, Kyouko. ...But I won't today."

BGM Change: Immortals - Reply https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSZPxJEV9lU

A corona of golden light erupts around Mami as she drains the rest of the Grief Seed in one go, drains her last bit of magic, her last hope to stake on this battle. The spears surge forward, and Mami rushes into them, twirling on one foot in a graceful dance as concrete where she was standing erupts, pulverized. Another, and her step is just ahead; another, and she is surging, spinning through her own blood flying as spears grow close enough to run gouges down her calf, her forearm, her shoulder. Yes, she is bloody.

But Mami knows Kyouko's style. The two of them know each other in the way only old partners can. And while Sayaka and Eri fight, while Madoka shows--

Mami sees only Kyouko, conjuring a brace of muskets for covering fire. They erupt forward towards Kyouko as Mami tugs her web close, the razor ribbons rushing for Kyouko like a cat's-cradle as Mami lets the recoil pass her up, up, farther up still--

The ribbon at her wrist snaps, and she throws it out before herself. One hand still conjuring rifles in staccato pulses, blam blam blam, deafening, while the other begins to work its magic, shaping something larger, shining, silver, terrible. As she works her magic, her left leg hangs useless, her right favored, blood spreading and spilling.

Concrete blooms beside her even this high, as she fires again, and again, every single shot aimed for where Mami guesses the Gem to be.

But still, her free hand works. Conjuring. Shaping. The magic burns into the air, and her voice rises over all of it.


<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOG3eus4ZSo

As for la Sirene?

Well, it's a paradox, and she has little time to examine it. She is feeling a certain sort of hope here, a certain tense glee. To convince Homura of this would be the proverbial killing of two birds with one stone; even more so, if Homura could convince the others...

Wouldn't it be beautiful?

La Sirene has a tendency to fall in love with such dreams and chase them. Perhaps only fortune has kept her flying til now. But fortune just has to hold a little longer --

"Homura Akemi-- That is not YOU speaking! It is the weight of this world, burned under a yellow star! You are trapped in a world that you never made but it does not mean that it must be forever!" the Siren cries out - before there is a little intaking gasp at the mention of Madoka.

"Do you think I do not know!? What am I to do, stuff her into a bottle instead!? She does this from her own wish!" Perhaps a bad choice of terms, but la Sirene knows not, cares less: "Do you think for one moment that I thought I deserved her regard?! She gave it to me unbidden! Even now I do not deserve it but it is, it was, given!"

Les Mysteres' manifestation is cloudy and umbral. Getting shot repeatedly does not help the coherence of the rolling cloud of manifest unlight touched by the charms of ancient entities beyond rational ken, however far-off. Even so, the ink-and-silver cloud seems to billow and fold partway in on itself as the shotgun is hurled into the mess. The shotgun does not, visibly, fall out.

But this has not all been sea-salt caramels and lo-fidelity hip-hop for the Siren of Diamonds. She pants for breath, struggling, waning perhaps where she waxed. As Homura moves with unwonted agility, la Sirene reaches to touch at her Pharos - and finds her fingers sinking into a gap she didn't expect. The pad of her middle finger is nicked on the obsidian edge of the Black Mirror within, and she immediately pops it into her mouth. Her abdomen hurts, she feels momentarily wan... but that cut stings.

It should, of course. It got Sea-water in it.

But the un-light waxes anew before long (no connection - honest!) and la Sirene's voice lifts after the ascending Puella. "Homura Akemi!" she calls up after her, already leaping from satellite dish to satellite dish in a more stepwise and less vaulty ascension. "You think that you can flee from me?! You cannot even run from yourself--"

A final leap, a grip first with rising light and then with long fingers that leave only a stray droplet of blood. A twist up, like gym class.

La Sirene de Diamant is upside down when her eyes take in those pink twin-tails, those wet eyes. For the third time she is stunned; the light around her wanes again, momentum alone finishing her vault up. She lands with her back to Madoka but only for the barest instant.

She whirls round. The entire vista before her is revealed, spears and vines and obsidian. "I ... I can see you did not rest on your heels," la Sirene says, her voice blanching even if her face, kind of, can't really get any paler.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Innocent - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dbmW_FZNrwY

The highest achievement of Sayaka's life, the capstone of her identity, is that Mami Tomoe is proud of her. Perhaps the fact that Eri takes Mami's pride in Sayaka for granted should flatter her, and her reasoning is not empty. But to Sayaka, right now, all Eri is doing is spitting on her greatest treasure. This next punch? It's going to be an unrequested nose job.

But it never lands.

In the stories, the heroes are never the ones with extra limbs; that's a monster thing. In a video game ugly monsters like that go down by the dozens. Here, Sayaka suddenly realizes as her hands are drawn uselessly upward, the advantage it gives Eri is terrifying to contemplate. One thorny vine holds one wrist, another holds the other--that's just combat, a contest she can win. But the third?

That third vine can do anything it wants to Sayaka.

A brutal grip crushes Sayaka's throat closed. Tugging at her nerveless hands, Sayaka succeeds only in cutting thorns into them, unable to reach her throat to loosen it. Tensing her neck muscles briefly opens her airway just a sliver, but how long can she hold that? Sadly, suffocation is the least of her worries.

As she's drawn into the air by hands and throat, Sayaka gives Eri a violent boot to the shoulder, just before she can't reach any longer. Her reddening face glares hate at Eri, but she cannot speak to gainsay Eri questioning her love for Mami. With a miserable gurgle she tries to resist the tendrils sliding down, cutting as they go, to bind her arms tight to her sides. Here, she has only her weakest arm muscles to lift against them; there's no way she can break them by raw might, now. And even as she watches, Eri restores her Soul Gem to full strength, almost at leisure. The situation is truly dire.

Eri's right, for once. Sayaka doesn't want Mami to see this.

Sayaka's vision is filled with grey as she whips down into the pavement, but when she hits, it blossoms with black motes, yellow sparks, and shifting red haze. It does not hurt, though Sayaka never knew the texture of her own face quite so well as she does now. Her Soul Gem has only the thinnest and most distant link. This gangly, boyish body of hers--it is like a remote control car to Sayaka, right now, or a friend she's talking to on a walkie talkie at the edge of its range.

But when Eri grinds her into the sandpaper concrete and then scrubs it with her bound body, Sayaka learns what it's like when someone screams into that walkie talkie.

A white cape careens about the ground. With a flick of Eri's wrist, that cape goes up into the air and smashes down even harder than the first time. It's like Eri wrote this big white H on the ground by accident and now she's using Sayaka to erase it. Again she's slung up and crunched down, again dragged through. She should not be alive.

But when Eri goes for this motion yet again, Sayaka twists violently, and her legs swing into the ground first. With her feet spread wide, she lets Eri hammer her into a standing position, the nerve pain that would have driven her to the floor normally not reaching her Soul Gem at all. In this deep stance, she has a strong grip on the ground. Teeth bared, half of her armor ruined and reddened, Sayaka would look like the end result of a fatal car accident if it were not for the sheer power of her posture, and the rage in that one wolf-blue eye.

Forcefully, she takes a hard step back, yanking Eri along with her and loosening the vine around her neck. Her gaze is filled with zeal. "How can you," she wheezes, in a gravelly voice. "Kill me..."

She takes another step back, and again her numb strength drags Eri a step forward. "If you can't even..." Bound to her side, her hand nevertheless grasps the hilt of a sword--one of those that she left littering the area like so many tombstones.

"HuRt mE?"

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Blood and glass.

There's not much to do now, not many nerves left to struggle with that don't send pain racing to the center of Endo's brain. The larger shards press in like walls, while the smaller obsidian stalagmites bite down deep through armor and magical protections. He clings to consciousness still, trembles under the pressure of the ebony spikes that pin him to the sky. His fingers retain their desperate grip on Fallen Stern's hilt, but there's no longer space or power to move the ancient weapon.

He watches Mikoto from across the space of their narrow arena, gazes into a that darkened mirror held aloft by the same spikes that pierce him. They want the same thing, in the end. To protect the people they love. To fulfill their purpose. But only one can prevail, and it isn't him.

Is it because she loves more

Or is it because Mikoto is a better vessel than he could ever hope to be, a better tool for a better weapon, one made not by mortal hands but by those of a god?

Either way, it's his own failure.



"I'm sorry."

The purple stone at the crossguard of Endo's weaponen pulses once, and then goes dim.

Obsidian shards come.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Had Enough - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TQOwFS7pLhk

The boot to her shoulder causes a sharp crack, and the girl almost doubles over in a spasm of pain. Yet even as she holds her arm with her other hand. She understands something. So long as she had enough magic - she didn't even need her arms. That was the kind of monster she was now.

When Kyouko shouts that, it feels like it's a seal released in the Book of Revelations. It rings parallel in her head to what her senpai told her on that day.

You and me..damn right. Damn right..I've thought...maybe this is Hell..but you're here. So maybe it's not...

Kyouko has gone to that place again - her kouhai can see that. The same place she'd seen her against the disaster she'd wrought. An erinyes on wings of razors, ready to pierce even an angel with all of her fury. It's in that, that she dares to hope. As she is now she's unbeatable - and that's just what's needed to match the force that is Mami Tomoe.

Get up and LIVE!

Eri's not the same girl she was on that day - when she first saw her like this. When she needed that. Yet right now... she needs this too. Seeing her like this.

It's what she needs to validate what she's about to do to Sayaka Miki...

The girl struggles and strains and her endurance is something that still has her in disbelief. But all it will take is one shot to her belly at the right time. The right opening.

And then this pestilence upon her life is gone.

And yet as the girl gets her hands beneath her - as she yanks on that lash causing her to stumble step forward before her heels slam down as if regaining her footing in a tug of war. Eri's eyes widen in disbelief. Seeing Sayaka like she's just been in a car accident yet recovering so swiftly. Those dilated pupils suddenly narrow as the whole of her beingshakes with fury... and equal parts fear.

An adrenaline rush she hasn't felt since...

"EASILY!" It's a near shrill shriek. Her breath saws out in little hyperventilating gasps, "I- HAVE - HAD - ENOUGH - OF YOU!" She clenches her teeth, and let's some of the fear sift through, "It's not about hurting you anymore. What I'm going to do to you now..."

A lash smashes the ground, and it's imprint leaves the sigil of her magic, through that indirect touch. The furrows in the rooftop sprout fluorescent veins, vines bursting out of cracks already formed, along with layers of briars, weaving and weaving around Sayaka's body to hold her in place.

As she speaks something that feels like it could have been translated in class, because she doesn't have the words to express how she feels otherwise. "... will be the terrors of the earth." It's what she needs to do to keep up that confidence in the face of this.

Yaori... stopped eventually. If Sayaka doesn't... if she doesn't then...

Eri's rips the lash away from Sayaka's neck and hand so violently that it's the whiplash of an accident. A coup-contrecoup jolt as she rips it away.

"... and once I'm done I'll show you how easy it is. Do us both a favor - don't embarrass yourself calling out to 'Mami-senpai' to save you. You think she'd really stay proud of a girl who can't stand on her own two feet?"

Every limb coils up, as sigils of bright green flare into life all around her. "And don't even think of beg-"

And yet...

Her heart is like ice, like it's been plunged into the deepest depths of hell reserved only for the betrayers at the coming judgement. Mami says one thing. But what she hears.

Tell your senpai...

There is only momentary hesitation - as the gathering magic around her dies.

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

As those obsidian spikes head for Endo, seeking to end him utterly and entirely without hesitation... hope finds a way to spare him. From up above comes several glittering, phantasmal battle lances made of pure mana. They strike the shards of dark glass surrounding the downed knight and his would-be killer, embedding themselves so firmly that they form cracks that spiderweb across the surface. And then in the next breath they explode, sundering the barrier in an instant. As glass rains down, in comes a bronze streak of force that smashes into the ground directly in front of Endo, meeting Mikoto's incoming life-ending spikes head on in an explosion of brilliant light.


The only sound in Ren's ears are the wind and her own heartbeat, racing wildly as she streaks through the air where she and Heraut had been directed to by Stern. To get such a potent distress call from the typically stoic device was jarring. Her mind reeled even as she transformed and took to the skies. The possibilities of what she'd find once she arrived were endless. This whole conflict had been something she felt Endo had tried to keep her out of. And now he'd gone off again to play his part in it, sparing her any sort of warning. Part of her was infinitely upset at him for being so stupid. Didn't he know she'd back him up?! Well... of course he did. Which is why he neglected to tell her about tonight. Again, to spare her. It was done with good intentions... But now he's obviously in grave peril and-

Before she could finish that thought Ren had reached the battlefield. Her eyes scanned the immediate area to see several combatants engaged with one another. She almost falters when her gaze falls on a face she hasn't seen nor spoken to in what felt like a lifetime.


Guilt washes over her immediately. Was this what Endo had been trying to shield her from? The two of them had once been friends. Ren had even visited Eri's home and met her father. He'd been hurt in an accident. She could remember all the details clearly. It all came rushing back to her -- like sensory overload.

'Maybe if you'd been a better friend... Maybe if you hadn't gotten so wrapped up in your own selfish wants and desires... Maybe if you hadn't had the audacity to be happy with Endo and-

No. Ren takes a deep breath and turns away from the fighting Eri and Sayaka. She can't do that. She just can't. Endo needs her right now. Another ping from Stern comes her way, and she turns to stare intently at the glass shards where she knows both he and Endo are. "Heraut! Please!"

<I'm with you!>

Both master and device are thankfully on the same wavelength, and with a flick of her hand and the summoning of a Midchildan runic circle, they go to work...


As the dust settles, the panting form of Ren can be seen, standing protectively in front of Endo. The spikes are there, but have been stopped short, melted and splintered and rendered inert. She chances a glance behind her and flinches when she sees the bloodied and battered form of the boy she loves. The grip she has on Heraut tightens, and she shifts her gaze to the one responsible.

"I don't know who you are." She says to Mikoto, keeping her eyes locked on the younger sword-wielding girl. "But I'm going to beat you. And I'm not going to be sorry about it."

With that bold declaration out of the way, Heraut chimes, and more spears like the ones that pierced the barrier spin into existence, shooting off in the blink of an eye to assail Mikoto.

COMBAT: Ren Aizawa transforms into Barrier Jacket Lustre!
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YvTsPjCgFXY

Razors and ribbons drip red and yellow from the sky like blood and ichor spilled from the ripped stitches of creation. Kyouko feels like the sky is falling in shales and flakes..but she knows that they are neither blood nor ichor but tears spilled from two demigoddesses, the earth trembling from their passions.

It will tremble further still.

She had seen that glimpse of sadness in Mami's eyes, that fleeting specter of syncopation. Of response. She has ached for her smile, for her laugh. For her food and her succor. Her onetime teacher, her oldest friend, and more...that sadness is a bitter substitute for her cravings...

...but in this moment it means more to her than the world itself, that some candle still flickers for her in Mami's heart.

And now she sets to snuff it out, alongside all its sisters.

Lurching, her razor ribcage gives pursuit to the golden glove. A rain of razors, a storm of swords...and the halcyon judgement of a smiting divine. "I know. Everybody wonders if I'll turn the knife to them, sooner or later. Most are afraid...but not you...Mami..."

Her heart had pounded when she hit the ground. No better aim...no faster pull..she would've had to have sprung up a barrier, or flashed her wrist to catch it with the blunt of her spear. Acts of cornered desperation. But no more corners now..now she will dance with the finest partner she could have ever dreamed of.


Skinny and small, Kyouko blinks as she fumbles with the broom Mami tosses her, nearly dropping it. Her face is unguarded and soft, her eyes large windows into her soul, curtains drawn in full exposure of her spirit and mood.

"The bristles mess with the balance..the heavy end wants to drop."

Mami laughs softly, politely. Primly perched upon her seat, she sets her tea cup upon its saucer, standing with a princess' mannered grace.

"Of course. Do you think your spear will be any better? If anything this is a poor substitute..but it will make do for now. When I'm sure you won't hurt yourself, then we can work our way up." She nods, and a look that almost approaches cockiness comes to her expression..but in an inviting way, not challenging. Like an extended hand offering to take her along for the journey. "Now come. Try to hit me with the broom end, if you can.

Kyouko gulps, and nods as fully as she can. Her smile is a little meek, a little shy. But she's excited and eager. Squaring her feet with such conscientiousness that it would seem like a parody if not for her obvious earnestness, she holds the broom to her side...

"..ok...I'll do my best, Mami-san...Hyy-yeah!"

...and thrusts, her weapon screaming forward, her arm itself a telecoping torpedo so sharp that it whistles in the air, stretching out by scores of meters, eager to rip out gobs of muscle and meat as its peers pulverize the roofing below with every step.

"Our whole world is death! All around us, all the time, bigger and smaller than we could ever hold in our heads or our hearts!"

She sneers wide, seeing all too well what Mami is doing with her grief seed...knowing all too well that while Kyouko has them in abundance, Mami might not even have another. "Was that your last one? Think you'll be in any state to get another if you manage to worm away from me? Because you won't even see any of mine...and I could level this whole district before I ran out..."

And then, the ranger does something the red panther did not expect..and moves closer to her path. Her wide eyed surprise is writ stark and clear on her face, a highly unusual expression of frenzied astonishment as she attempts to bend over to keep Mami in her line of sight..but, as her gaze bugs, she can barely make her out beneath her own thicket of steel centipede legs. No longer moving forward, her spears can only randomly, wildly stab at the ground, pecking at Mami like a murder of crows, her "wings" arcing down to join in the hunt, widening the outer perimeter of the kill zone. She can feel purchase..but only in slivers, nothing that solid. A spoonful of noodles sliding back into the broth, leaving only wispy scrabs to consume.

In her panicked surprise, in her experimental fury, she is slow to realize what should have been obvious...all around her she is a furious engine of cleavers and barbs. There is little she could not instantly render into a hundred pieces all around her...but below...

Below she is vulnerable...

Her heart swings into overdrive, adrenaline varnishes her circulatory system. Immediately her "legs" stop their blind fury and plant into the ground, extending up as quickly as she can manage..her "wings" follow suit, raising up and hurtling towards the nearer of the two towers, whizzing past the heads of assembled mages, and innocent Madoka Kaname to dig into the wall, pull her away and not just up...but before they can make purchase, her dear friend, so known for her thoughtful gestures, yet again displays her panache..with a twenty one gun salute blasted up towards her dangling legs of flesh and blood at the heart of the gnashing teeth.

Shrieking out in pain, her tendrils of her wings sag flat, though they in their drop they miss any person who may have inadvertently stood near. Her ground-born struts just keep growing, longer and longer, higher and higher, wobbling a little as her focus is disrupted..her legs are badly punctured. Snarling, with bloody spit flecking out of her mouth and down her chin, burning red eyes now lock on Mami's figure, newly exposed by Kyouko's flight. More chains sprout beneath her skirts, wrapping serpentine around her bloody limbs, stitching around them tight to form armor..but blood still weeps down from the gaps like that from the eyes of a statue of the Virgin Mary blessed by the Trinity's miraculous kiss.

In her distraction, though, she is slow to notice her other pursuer..a she only notices that golden net when she loses a sheaf of her hair, dangling ribbons tightening around her shoulders, draped there like the stinging tentacles of a jellyfish attempting to swallow her skull.

Screaming again in pain and fury, her wings snap up, shredding the air around her with blind force. Her own spider's web of spears contracts, its joints and limbs crashing into the ribbon structure, tangling and shattering the mess between the two weaves.

And then she sees Mami, blasted into the air by her own rocket recoil...sees her just past the gleaming silver of a musket barrel aiming for her heart.

Her hair throws back, wild and unkempt, a mane if there ever was one, her jaws parted in a worldly, guttural explosion of air. A bullet blasts into her breast plate, and another, another...probing, searching. The first three knock Kyouko back something fierce, and she can feel purple blossoming in her skin like nightshade. Her wings fling into the space between the two, sacrificing themselves to burst into shrapnel, absorbing the ballistics and regrowing like the Hydra's heads.

But she can see what's happening...who couldn't see that thing staring down at her..Shunting both of her arms forward, their spear heads the size of industrial drills, the bottom limbs of her wings snap down, severing her "legs" near their base, sending her hurtling back down to earth..and in her fall her wings search again for a tower to yank her to safety.


<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Tsubasa's body hurt all over. Her wounds were opening wider, and blood ran out of her mouth and even her eyes. The symphonic energy ravaged her body, coursing through it with more energy it could contain. She stepped forward, then backward: despite the fact that her body hurt, she could move with surprising ease. It was like she could control her body seperately from the pain.

Was Kasagami right? Was Tsubasa spitting on her beloved's grave by calling herself a weapon? Either it was due to the empowerment by the Swan Song, or because of the profound bloodloss, but the swordswoman felt she had a clarity in the matter she otherwise lacked. That's why she grabbed her weapon firmly, with a bloody grip enhanced by her ultimate song, and called out those words:

"This sharpened weapon, Tsubasa Kazanari, will show you the power of her determination!"

It was the words she screamed as she threw herself at Kasagami, her slash transforming into a blaze of blue! The blade came down like lightning, greeting all of Kasagami's strength with the full might of Tsubasa's Symphogear and Ame-no-Habakiri!

"Then witness the sharpness of the weapon that shall cut your dream in two!" Tsubasa responded loudly and confidently to Kasagami's boast, as they once more clashed. This close, Kasagami could see the blood welling in Tsubasa's eyes and out of her mouth, but the gaze of the blue-haired swordswoman remained determined -- even maniac, now. Applying even greater pressure to her blade, Tsubasa pushed herself forward! Her foot had rammed into the floor, puncturing the concrete with her heel to balance herself, as she broke the lock to exchange a flurry of blows with Kasagami, sparks flying everywhere as their blows met over and over, tearing apart the floor around them. Tsubasa's body was breaking more and more with every passing second, but despite that, her slashes just grew faster and faster!

"Kasagami Araki! Today, your false love will meet its end!"

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The End - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VltS49TIDgY

Mami has no smiles for what's happening now. Not for Sayaka, beaten and battered by Eri Shimanouchi, but still coming. Not for Madoka, unknown here, rather than safe far away as she intended. Not for Homura Akemi, facing the Sea of Tears. ...Not for her Chevaliers, loyal and true. No, this is past the time for smiles and laughter, food and succor. This is long, long past that day.

Kyouko knows. Mami stares amidst the battle, stares amidst their trading blades. "No," Mami agrees with her, calling out as she dances, as she whirls, as she leaps. "I'm not afraid. Not anymore. For so long... But not now."

The dance goes on.


"No! Don't you ever do that again!" The worry is etched into young Mami's face, the terror evident in her voice as she kneels beside Kyouko, wounded, as the Labyrinth fades. "You can't save anyone if you're dead. Sometimes... The shot isn't worth it."


"You've come a long way from holding a broom, hm? ...Come on, again. And don't be afraid to call the attack! You liked the names I gave you, didn't you?"


The weapon screams forward, the air whistling with it. It comes for Mami, as surely as the words behind it. It comes, and Mami is waiting, curling her hand about the shape forming of her ribbons, bringing it into being flourish by flourish, bow by bow.

"Not all of it," Mami counters.

Kyouko asks after Mami's grief seed, and the older girl shakes her head. "Quantity can only take you so far, Kyouko. You know I've gone farther on less. You know I can."

But it's true; Kyouko has so much power, so much that Mami has had to plan every step of this as best she can, every movement of the dance from the beginning, set her net as soon as she started fighting. And Mami is there, the spears stabbing towards her, wildly, each hit tearing forth more of hr flesh and sending bright stars of pain slashing through her. But none of that pain can compare to losing Kyouko in the first place. No pain of the body can compare to years of loneliness.

...and below, Kyouko is vulnerable.

"You see it," Mami says. Kyouko's pain shrieks into the air. The chains clank and clink, and Mami bleeds. She is still free falling, still throwing more and more guns, as she conjures the last. The air is shredding. Kyouko is shot, and shot, and shot, and Mami readjusts with every impact. The wings crash between them... But Mami can see Kyouko's defense, see her gigantic spears. Kyouko is searching for safety. The drills are crashing towards Mami.

...And the gigantic gun between them shines, complete, flourishes down its barrel, down the grip, lovingly in gold and silver at the chambers, at the hammer, ribbons golden and pure connected to Mami's bleeding hand. She stares down.



With a cacophanous roar, Mami's great cannon fires, a column of light wider than any girl's full handspan crashing down from the heavens, crashing down, down, like the hammer of an avenging goddess. It is so bright that in its wake color drains away, snapshotting everything for a silent instant in sepia. When it rushes for Kyouko, everything will disappear in its wake--spears, girl, wings, and all, towards the ground, far, far down.

With Mami Tomoe, staring down, eyes unblinking, at her oldest friend. Her skirts swirl in the winds as she falls, her sleeves billowing, her leg still useless, her right arm burning in pain and aching of use, her left up at her lips, her breath caught. ...Nearly caught. Kyouko... Mami's voice comes as almost a sigh, onto the air.

"...I never stopped."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

It's over!

Miroku's sigils turn on Endo as if staring into his soul, an ancient and unknowable thing, starved and thirsty from years of slumber. Mikoto leans forward, feeling a strange sense of eagerness.

Her lips lift over her teeth in a snarl, like the animal she is. He is an enemy. He deserves to die.

Pull him to pieces! Grind him to dust! Crack him open!

There is a cracking, but it is not from her victim's skull. Mikoto's head turns as obsidian whirls her around to face the obsidian wall, as it shatters into a thousand pieces from the force of Ren's devotion. It all happens in an instant, lances and barriers and bronze, bronze, bronze.

Mikoto is turned back, by the obsidian shards holding her aloft, jagged edges biting into her skin where they meet each other. It only took an instant, but there she is, shining and bright. Obsidian spines drip into the concrete, where she has blazed through with temperatures hot enough to reduce them to flow.

It is right to mix obsidian and blood, but not like this. Mikoto stares at Ren, her face pale and devoid of the emotion it had held a moment earlier.

She won't be sorry about it.

Her identity is meaningless. She is an enemy. Rip and tear. "Yes," replies Mikoto, to the unspoken command.

"I understand. You are also my enemy." Her voice is strangely hollow. "And I must destroy you. Miroku!"

Spears come forth, and meet obsidian spires which thunder out of the ground to catch them in a spontaneous lattice. With her arena destroyed, the battle is no longer constrained by Mikoto's futile urge to keep her allies from harm, and the wide spread of the spikes is at real risk of interrupting anyone still on the Shepherd's tower.

Speartip joins with obsidian. Obsidian cracks. But this time, there are more stalagmites beyond the first. This time, she is not breaking a boundary, but a true defensive attack. This time, they cannot get through.

"MIROKU!" Mikoto screams, and obsidian surges out from the lattice-point, in a horrific wave of glass which churns the concrete beneath it. The ground is not safe - and even the air is a tenuous bet, the way those spines bite into the sky.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> MAGIA (Ver. Shaft Audio Mistake) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_aLGHLvissw

Didn't Madoka just stagger onto the rooftop? Why does she feel, instead, like she's just emerged at the base of an entirely different tower? Or perhaps at the feet of warring giants, the footsteps of their lunges and ripotes shaking the ground? Everything is massive, overwhelming compared to its regular scale.

Everything is horrifically familiar, at the same time.

Vertigo claims her as obsidian spikes erupt off to her left like the branches of a bare tree unfurling in fast-forward, a lifetime of growth squeezed into a single breath -- flickering purple at its heart, and, unexpectedly, a massive golden explosion in between. The rooftop shakes, and she only barely keeps her feet.

"H-horrible..." she shudders, her teeth starting to chatter from the icy tsunami of panic rising within her.

To her right, chained spears crash into the concrete, spraying shards all over her, but despite their descent, what's at their other end is growing, too, like a bloody plant deepening its roots even as it explodes upwards towards the rising, expanding sun. Their fury and grief is not unrecognizable; two of her best friends seeming to mutually to each other's demise...the inevitability is overpowering...she feels so small, like she'll be swallowed up by the roof...

<< We can't do anything about it... but I'm sure they're all prepared. >>

The glorious pink cosmos of Madoka's eyes vanishes as she blinks, slowly, the curtains falling. 5... 4... 3... 2... 1...

The curtains rise again just in time to see two of her other best friends even further along in the process of mutually assured destruction. Well, one of her best friends, and her best friend, now more red than blue in the exact shade of the stoplight she ran on the way here. She can hear the oncoming semi truck blaring its horn, her ears are ringing, it's impossible to make out what the literal plant monster (unlike these metaphorical branches of the tree; somehow, juxtaposed next to chains and shards, it seems less 'natural' in comparison) is saying to the zombie. She doesn't have to hear to know, though. The hatred, the defiance, pierces her slowly, like the ground is pierced by an earthquake. She feels the jagged edges inside, the growing chasm. The gap between... unstable footing...

Green returns to Madoka's cheeks, bile burns her throat. She gags. Her companion continues, calmly -- calming? His voice echoes through her mind and despite the fact that he's pressing into her neck, for some reason right now it sounds like it's coming from a great distance.

<< It's over once you give up... but you have the power to change this destiny. >>

"I..." she whispers faintly, in an echo, just as La Sirene, Nori Ankou, aquarium scents flooding her, addresses her directly. The goddess of black diamonds can intuit clearly the disjoint of this moment -- that Madoka is not replying to her, but to some other stimuli.

Her awareness flickers up, front and center now, high, high above, just as an angel of death rises over everyone and everything and stares at her.

Their eyes lock.

<< All this tragedy, all this destruction... you can change it, if you want. >>

Branches strain upward all around them... Building 2 shatters again distantly, beneath the strain of two swordswomen clashing into one space, and the deja vu continues to cloyingly drown her as pieces of building fly upward, fly forward, at unnatural angles...

<< The power to do so lies within you. >>

"Rea...lly?" Madoka replies, too slowly, bordering somnolence, the syllables spilling from her mouth on nothing but muscle memory. "Can someone like me... really make... a difference..."

no-no-no She feels stabbed by those eyes, those familiar eyes, those screaming eyes, and she wants with her whole self to help them... the wanting fights nausea with fire, smoldering as coals, about to erupt into raging wildness...

...and yet it's all so distant and strange...

Kyuubey's warm bulk tightens around her comfortingly, then leaps away to face her directly, a few feet down the roof.

<< Of course you can! Just-- >>

Madoka never quite finished asking her question -- the cadence of her voice failed to rise, just droned on into a monotone. It interrupts him now, the mumble fueled terror and denial, both and neither, as her mind tries to process everything, and, failing--

"What... a crazy... dream..."

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Tsubasa throws herself at Kasagami, and the young woman finds herself anticipating the clash. Though they might have entirely different personalities, something about this young woman calls to Kasagami. Two people that have suffered hardship in the extreme. She couldn't bet on it, of course, but that absolutist attitude and her willingness to throw herself into a fight without hesitation is hauntingly familiar. In comes a furious series of blows as Tsubasa breaks the lock, blood leaking from the Symphogear User. Teeth grit, and Kasagami focuses.

That blade slashes down, and the sudden strike is almost missed! She brings the Sword of Dios up barely in time to catch the first blow on the guard. Her 'good' eye twitches, and a bead of sweat drips down her brow. The single exchange is enough for an expert swordswoman of the Student Council.

No need to hold back. It's best that she truly put her all into it. Kasagami Araki gives Tsubasa Kazanari a single, warm smile in a silent moment.

It all really is a shame, isn't it? That brief struggling smile says.

The sound is deafening. Even Kasagami can't hear anything but her opponent's words this close. First she lashes out into every swinging strike, her sword parrying, catching, shoving away. The pair are blue and red streaks of motion as the blood-soaked Tsubasa almost seems to push the One Engaged back. Step, strike, step, strike. The entire building groans once again. Kasagami leaps two steps back, the Ame-no-Habakiri catching a good half-inch of her hair in the process!

Both hands grip the Sword of Dios. It's longer in her hands, and the hilt as well. More than enough to put her whole body into blows. That maniac face is greeted with one of mixed pleasure and yet fury. As much as she enjoys this battle, she knows her Family is out there. She can't let this young woman, no matter how strong, defeat her!

And so even as crimson-tipped-raven locks are cut slightly short, Kasagami Araki hammers right back. Pushed back several feet, she too renews an outright assault against her opponent! Her boots shatter concrete and steel of the floor to meet Tsubasa in turn! A slice to her mid-drift, twice more, and yet the Sword of Dios is everywhere now that she holds it true. Sparks redouble between the pair, threatening to truly set the building on fire as both put everything they have into this flurry! The cloth of her uniform rips again and again, a flick of the head streaks off sweat from her body, and yet the One Engaged holds firm even in the face of such a storm that is Tsubasa and her blade as symphonics run through her body!

Offices are cut clean through, rent to nothing, and pillar after supporting pillar is sliced apart. The duo may as well be dueling forces of nature rather than people as blades land again and again and again.

"Tsubasa Kazanari! Maybe I will die today, but it won't be because of my love being false! Love...love is the only thing that's ever driven my life! Love for those I've lost, love for those who took this pathetic dreamer in! Gave me a Family to believe and care for! Love for the hands that grasp mine with nothing but adoration, one lost and another hidden thanks to this horrible travesty of a war! Go on, Tsubasa-chan! You could take my head right now, spill every drop of blood in this ugly body of mine, but you still would not be able to sever my dreams or my love!"

Blades swipe as Kasagami concentrates. Both hands pull back, and again she meets her opponent. Not one, but two this time. Reality bends, a second blade strikes against her foe. Another, and a third lashes out, side, up, left. The blur of single strikes to meet Tsubasa's quickly becomes a riot of stained glass refractions of the Sword of Dios as Kasagami's heart beats faster and faster. The sting of her bad side would have knocked her out, but the steadying healing of the Sword makes it all too numb. She doesn't even realize the pain that she's under, building beneath the poisonous blessing of the Rose Bride she had left behind so callously to fend for herself.

Three, six, eight. Kasagami's strikes blossom slowly like a flower, aiming to spread enough crimson to take down this valiant opponent.

"The only thing that can change this world is Power, Tsubasa! When I become this world's King, I will set everything right or die trying!" This is no triumphant howl. Tears streak her good eye, a desperate plea for everyone's suffering to end in this tragic passion play.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

<ACCEPTABLE.> Fallen Stern warbles, as Ren comes crashing into the arena of obsidian shards.

Endo is freed, dark spires burning and shattering, setting him free from his agonizing prison. He doesn't go down gently, comes crashing to what remains of the floor of the roof beneath him, ground fast evaporating. The sight of Ren makes his heart jump, shocks him out of his reverie for just a moment.

"Ren." He doesn't speak loudly, but he lets her know that he sees her. That he's glad she's there, even if he might have wished to spare her from this before.

"Be careful..."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A scrape of metal, and Sayaka has a sword in her hand again. A powerful flex of her neck, and she inhales a gutteral, needle-spiked chestful of air. That she has a few seconds of oxygen, that she has a sword scarcely gripped in an arm pinned hard to her side: these are defeats disguised as victories. But no amount of pain seems able to teach Sayaka that.

The vines trying to rip her off her feet only make Sayaka's first step towards Eri heavier, and more final.

Like a bullwhip a tendril lashes around Sayaka's shoulder, gripping and pulling. Feeling nothing, she twists violently free of it, snapping it. But another grips her ankle, and when she starts to rip it right out of the concrete, it stretches to fibers instead of tearing. Briars begin to coil up her calves. A root hooks her ankle and her knees strike the ground, and immediately straps of living plant loop her ankles, hook behind her knees.

Angling her sword, Sayaka manages to hang onto it while planting the hilt on the ground, and saw one arm free. But immediately she's forced to slam that palm onto the ground to avoid being dragged prone, and then that wrist is rebound just as swiftly. As slithering tendrils crawl and clutch, Sayaka throws her fury through her one eye, just before several of the slim thorn-branches tighten violently, fastening themselves tight by the most awful expedient. The terrors of the earth.

"You should be punished," Sayaka growls, "for every time my senpai wasted her breath saying your name."

When Eri rips her whip free of Sayaka, she's held in place too tightly to twist as much as she ought, and the wrenching motion yanks thorns. It is obvious now: Sayaka cannot move. For all that her voice is like a black raincloud, she is helpless. On her stomach, a blue Soul Gem churns with dark ink as it labors to repair a thousand wounds.

At long last, helplessness permits a knife of fear to puncture Sayaka's numb heart. She does not know that Madoka is here, or that Mami is fighting so fiercely. She only knows that she has failed.

"Please..." she whispers.

And a golden light touches her downturned face. Tiro...

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

As Mikoto goes on the defensive, Ren jumps into the air, devoting part of her magic to erecting a steady barrier around where Endo now lay free from his spiked torture. She chances yet another glance back down at him. He's moving, barely, and she's sure she sees him mouth something she can't quite hear. But she holds on to the hope that he'll be alright. He has to be alright. Just long enough for her to finish this.

It's a good thing she's taken to the sky, though, since the ground erupts into more of those horrific obsidian spikes. The concrete is reducded to near nothingness in such a trivial span of time. She's not safe, however, since those spikes jut themselves into the air haphazardly. She dodges one, two, and then a third one before she's caught in the back and side by a fourth and fifth one that she isn't able to twist away from in time. Her barrier jacket holds for the briefest of moments before it's pierced.

"Argggh!" Comes Ren's pained scream as she jerks herself away from the offending shards. Clutching at the wound on her side, now dripping blood, she's thankful the hit somehow managed to knick anything vital. There's no time to rest though as more of those shards come spiraling up from the ground like terrifying obelisks, seeking to skew her. She dodges, ducks, and weaves, putting on a fanciful yet frantic aerial ballet of sorts. Though in the end she's hit again... and again... and yet again. The final blow knocks her from the air and onto a section of ground that hasn't been completely torn asunder. The spikes waste no time closing in on her, barricading the fallen mage in a jagged prison of shifting obsidian.


Ren stands on the observation deck of Tokyo Tower, looking down at the city below. Endo is right next to her, an arm wrapped around her waist as he too gazes down at the city. The sun was starting to set, casting everything in the warm orange tones of the fading evening. They had been on a date for most of the day, Endo having declared they needed one before school started up for them again. Ren had said yes almost immediately, of course, wanting to take her mind off the fact that this year would be their last of high school. Neither of them had spoken on it much during the break. It hadn't come up on their date, either. And Ren felt an odd sense of relief about that fact. Because right then and there, on that observation deck, she felt the most content she'd ever felt in a long awhile. Her fears for the future melted away when Endo turned to her and smiled. She returned it, and then leaned forward to plant a kiss on his joyful lips. Everything was going to be fine.

Yeah. That's right. Everything was going to be fine. She remembered that as she lay there within the treacherous cocoon of obsidian. Even as it closes in around her with enough force to turn a lump of coal into diamond, she doesn't fight. She doesn't struggle. She... She...

There's a flash of light, and the glass surrounding her is atomized, particles of sand floating delicately through the air. Ren is there... but she's changed. Her barrier jacket has taken on bits of armored-plating, most notably around her chest, arms, and legs. And most prominently on her head, resting within her raven locks, is a glittering crown. She opens her eyes, a mixture of serenity and purpose within them, and exhales.

Yes. Everything was going to be fine -- and she was going to make sure of it.

Mikoto is focused on again, and with an outstretched hand Ren conjures forth a another lance as before. Though instead of sending it racing for her opponent, she takes it within both hands, giving it a single twirl before rushing forward at the HiME, obviously intending to clash with her -- up close and personally.

COMBAT: Ren Aizawa transforms into Barrier Jacket: Sovereign Mode!
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUJVacmswM8

Kyouko can taste blood in her mouth by that coppery quailty..it's so strange, who goes around tasting metal? Who figured that out that that's what that taste is? Who went around telling everybody..her heart is still trying to kick its way out of chest, her fear only beginning to drain out of her pores. But she wants to smile, so she does.

"I'm sorry..I didn't mean to worry you. I'll listen better next time...because I want to save people..."

She laughs, and in laughing slightly coughs, some blood coming up and out in gobs and spatters.

"...and I don't wanna die, neither..."


She smiles, blushing a little. She's proud of herself. Prouder more for the praise. She nods, but then hesitates a little.

"You're right..it's more fun that way, isn't it? I did like them, a lot! But.."

She looks down, a little sheepish, and kicks a rock towards the road.

"...I kinda wanna..try coming up with some on my own, I think. Like one idea I had was --"


Startled, Kyouko looks up..and needs no time to see a puffed up police officer sternly marching towards them both. "Uh.."

"Don't kick rocks, punk! What if you scratched a car? Give me your name, I'm gonna make sure your parents set you straight!"

Opening her mouth, she hesitates for a moment..then a grin comes to her face. With a flash of light she is suddenly her magical self..the man can hardly start sputtering in confusion before she lifts up her hand, twirling like a ballerina..and then flinging the heel of her hand towards him when she comes to face him again.

"You Don't Know....Ky-ou-ko!"

A red light pops off like a camera's flash. The officer blinks a few times, then wanders off, sternly scanning along the street to look for troublemakers..or generally people to harangue. Still grinning, a little color to her cheeks, Kyouko curtsies to Mami, and with another flash is her civilian self again.

"It was that one, actually." She giggles. "..my idea.."


When she hears that terrible scream she knows it was all for nothing. Not much chance for escape when there's nowhere to escape to..she won't find a vertical surface quickly enough to zipline her loose. But still she tries.

She tries everything she can think of.

As the roar pours down upon her, overtakes her, wells back up and surrounds her, grinding into her ear drums and flattening out into the hollow ring of tinnitus in each..as her world is made white flourescence..her every wing, her every leg, each curl up like tight petals of rose bud. Crimson rays of energy form in triangles and grids, layer after layer after layer attempting to carve out a split in the great tidal wave coming to claim her..a little patch of dry land, a boulder to divide the rapids. Like the shingles from a roof in a hurricane they are torn loose and flung about with the effortless ease of a giant hungry for humans to eat in the puny building they cower within. As every countermeasure disintegrates, as every defense is overwhelmed, she flings out more and more, pouring out magic like a dying dragon's defiant last breaths.

Striking the roof's ground, so mangled and treacherous from her own effort mere moments ago, she rolls, and rolls. And as the light fades from her, Kyouko's body can be seen, positively smoldering...her metal armor, her steel skirt, her cutting crown, her weaponized arms, her centipede legs and her deathly angel's wings are all gone. All that remains is a girl and a dress and so much blood all about...and a soul gem's red blood peeking up from beyond the swirling grime.

She lives...

Kyouko can taste blood in her mouth by that coppery quailty..it's so strange, who goes around tasting metal? Who figured that out that that's what that taste is? Who went around telling everybody..her heart is still trying to kick its way out of chest, her fear only beginning to drain out of her pores.

She doesn't want to smile, either. She doesn't want to do much anything...but she manages this much.

First, she spits the blood out of her mouth..in no small quantity. Second, with a quivering, shaking hand, she roots around for a grief seed...clutching her shuddering wrist with her other hand, by will and by force she shoves her arm into its proper place...and the dark star begins its slow ascent towards her bruised red heart. Third, she musters so much of the little strength she has in the moment, so that when she speaks, her voice will carry up.

"I never stopped neither..."

<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Their blades clashed repeatedly, steel hitting steel in bright flashes of red and blue. In a way, they were in synch; each time they swinged their blades, they'd meet the blade of the other, unable to break the rhythm. Clang, clang, clang: the sounds of their blades are loud and heavy. But with the beat intensifying, Tsubasa felt her energy grow. She could hear music in their blows, and songs and music was what gave Tsubasa strength!

Faster, faster, faster. She could feel her muscles tearing from the unreasonable strain she put them under, and her mouth was filled with the taste of blood. The rhythm dulled her pain, but Tsubasa knew that the moment the song ended, her body would no longer be able to stand it. !

"Foolishness! No matter how much you ramble, it won't change anything! Neither love nor dreams will save you!" With that, Tsubasa raised her sword over her head, enveloping it in a blue blaze as she brings it down! A lash of energy leaves the sword, slicing in two against the Sword of Dios, and tearing apart the area behind Kasagami. When their blades meet against, the friction is so great that a flame breaks out between them.

When last Kasagami had torn reality to attack Tsubasa from every angle, Tsubasa had been able to do nothing but dodge. But now, empowered by her swan song, she could parry the blows! Ame-no-Habakiri split in two, and armed with two shorter swords, Tsubasa could deflect! Certainly, Kasagami's overwhelming strength meant that her blows tore at Tsubasa's body even when she parried, but Tsubasa was no longer merely on the receiving end!

Tsubasa meets Kasagami's many strikes with her own blades, her body screaming in a pain she couldn't yet feel. "Very well! But you will change nothing until your Power surpasses mine!" Considering the state Tsubasa was in, perhaps it already did, but the swordswoman was nothing if not stubborn. "And as long as I draw breath--" Suddenly, Tsubasa took charge with her foot, raising her leg to deliver a sharp kick to Kasagami! Of course, it was no mere kick: as Tsubasa's leg stretched out, her metallic boots unfolded to reveal yet another blade! "-- You'll never be king!"

With the swing of her third blade, Kasagami would have no choice but to retreat backwards, but Tsubasa was already on the move. Cutting the floor underneath her, Kasagami would be tumbling through the floor yet again, but this time, Tsubasa was the one in pursuit!

"This is where your ambition ends!" Following her through the broken floor, Tsubasa was aiming a dropkick at Kasagami mid-fall -- but as a sword now pointed straight out from Tsubasa's heel, said dropkick took the form of a plunging attack from Tsubasa's blade!

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Madoka's arrival goes unwitnessed. Her pink-haired friend too small. She cannot know she's quavering there. Watching - knowing that she's another horror in a a bad dream right now.

The girl she was fighting can't even hope to compete with her attention right now. But something reaches her, even with her back turned.

Idiot... I already have been.

No matter what happens. It always ends in punishment for her. That's what she's learned. Even if she makes it - all that will happen is that her punishment changes.

With her wounded shoulder, all Eri can do is hold it with the other hand ... as her legs move for her. Pounding at the pavement with the determination to outrun a world. To outrun a legend. Determination isnt enough though, its terror that drives her.

And so she pushes herself. Her strides are stretching out, her legs are pushing themselves and pushing themselves. At the edge her boot contacts the concrete one last time. She lifts her legs - and gives herself to the urban void.

But she doesn't let it take her. Two tendrils reach far and away, to grasp two circular dishes low and on the other side, snapping her down and forward with all the speed of a lashing whip, while two reach upwards for the edge of the other building. Grasping the concrete of the side of the buildins- she slingshots herself upwards into the night.


The might of Mami Tomoe is undeniable. Its the only thing she believes could defeat her senpai ... other than her senpai herself.

The blast causes Kyouko to vanish ... and her kouhai to vanish too in the haze of cannon that follows, the flaring light ripping through them. To anyone who saw the shape coming coming they might believe that both are gone. Without time even to scream.

Because Eri Shimanouchi was too late.

Just a fraction. Just a sliver. Just a hair. Close enough was not good enough. Mami Tomoes resolve outstripped all she had to give.

However... she sees a red light in that thick cloud. Still shining, no matter how diminished.

I never stopped.

For it to stay that way though...

BGM: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WKtapZFSs7c

Thats when a dark shadow veiled in wispy smoke descends- blurring like a heat mirage. It cracks down upon the triumphant Golden Queens lovely left wrist hard enough that it feels like something out of a Western. A ghastly snap that sounds like rawhide upon flesh as it encircles it. Before she can even react, there are three more snaps. Her right elbow, her left ankle. Her right knee. And then a sharp tug of all wrenching all those limbs forward.

As the vapor clears, the girls expression can hardly be human. Four of her conjured vines are still present ... but two have been utterly incinerated. Half of her body is blackened by the fringes of that blast. Her expression taut. Her voice sibilant with cold rage. Due to the blast she couldn't position herself directly between the dueling Goddesses, but nevertheless... she's there. That her senpai speaks, is more relief than she can know - but elation cannot smother her rage.

"Turning that upon her... you have such a twisted way of showing it." She locks eyes with those of the victor, her own devoid of affection. "Well - are you s-satisfied?"

Letting it drape upon her uninjured arm. Coils looped up in that hand. Her injured one comes to rest on one of the ones attached to Mami. "...are you? You beat her. But no - that's not ENOUGH for you!"

Its her real arm that yanks as she balls up vine in her fist, "... I always hated this side of you the most. Nothing... is ever enough. Eventually it takes more than anyone can give to make you happy..."

Whatever heat there was in that momentary shout is gone. "Well unfortunately for you..."

All of the vines flex at once, dragging the Golden Queen towards her roughly. Her one good arm holding the lash raising.

"...I don't need you anymore."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

To her credit, Homura Akemi is quick at assimilating the insane, the unacceptable. It takes her a moment to process that the center of her universe is here, now. That eyes that should forever be innocent -- should have never have to see these things, damn them! Damn Homura herself, for whatever failure of hers allowed this, most of all -- reflect this unholy carnage of bleeding puella bodies and bleeding puella relationships, of mahou fighting and fighting until they physically cannot fight any more.

Of war.

A moment, hung upon the apex of her looping leap some twenty feet above the battered edge of the Tokyo Metropolitan roof, in which violet eyes to flare rounder at their corners over that firmly closed mouth. A moment shared with Madoka Kaname, if only through a look that Homura clings to with as much desperation as she felt when she tried to escape Mami's earlier.

Which ends as the Earth's pull reasserts itself.

Homura begins her fall with a little upward ruffle of black hair and white trim. With that precious girl in her precious pink still firmly centered in her field of vision, Homura takes a fuller stock of the battlefield. She assesses the aftermath of blows exchanged while she was below the surface with la Sirene: the red-smeared rubble. The missing corner of a building. Swords possessed of varying degrees of sentience and autonomy have demolished absolutely astonishing swaths of the rooftops... no, that is not right. Those wielding them in rage and determination and furious glory, as always, are the true architects of destruction here.

She sees Kyouko and Mami locked in a savage ravel of rust and ribbons, shredding away each other. Eri and Sayaka hardly look like themselves -- though Homura knows that look well, that dead-limbed dead-bodied emptiness -- and no matter the martial imbalance of the moment, who can tell what is winning and what is losing any more?

She's a quick thinker, and more, she's capable of multithreading her risk assessment. It's one of many hard-won skills. La Sirene still lurks below, Homura knows. Those words weren't lost on her, oh no. Trapped in a world she didn't make, that strikes a little close to home.

The sable swallowtail of her hair streams above as Homura touches down on the roof's edge, gaze directed back to her foe for the time being. (A pink smudge is anchored firmly in her peripheral.) She's angry, and while those hard level lines of her face don't put it on display, that slashing motion of one arm in Madoka's direction has a certain expressive vehemence. The flayed palm of her pointing hand weeps and drains onto porous, rubble-rough concrete. She doesn't particularly care.

All she says is, "See?" It's the worst I-told-you-so in the world, the one Homura hates repeating.

But it's not like la Sirene understands the danger. No one here really does, thinks Homura Akemi. No one but her. She looks back to the Danger Himself, now perched in front of the girl with the pink-puff hair like some cute innocent mascot, and suppresses an open sneer.

The unmatchable brilliance of the sun's deadly regard shines in pink eyes, and Homura recognizes the haze behind the glory. She knows that dissociated look for what it is, as well as she knows the look in blue gone beyond numb to dead, in green pushed past their humanity into consumptive fury. The beast can whisper its poison: the girl is not listening. Not really. At least not yet.

She has time.

Homura knows what to do with time. She backpedals down the edge of the roof, not even looking, every heel falling with uncanny precision along the jagged terrain of a building ravaged. Every few steps she pulls a fresh beretta out of her shield -- between she empties clips. The violet magi is an excellent shot when she wants to be, but that is not her goal here. She's simply spraying bullets in a fine deadly screen between herself and la Sirene, an offense turned to defensive purposes.

There's no way she can afford to turn her back here. The ink-stained threat of Les Mysteres looms, and la Sirene is herself far too incisive, too dogged.

But she's not bothering to place her shots with care because her attention is really on Madoka Kaname, it is always really on Madoka Kaname. In this moment and on this rooftop, Homura must also split her attention between the girl and the unfolding savagery around her, the falling spears and the vicious words and the lashing vines. On the devil before her.

It makes the bullets fly a little wild. One of the guns slips right through her bloodslick palm and *chunks* into the rooftop butt-first, and Homura barely notices. If a few bullets fly especially wild and bite the concrete inches from the white creature before the pink girl, well.. Those might be a bit more purposeful. Expressive.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

She protects him. He is her weakness. But though Miroku sends an obsidian spire to crash against Endo's barrier, Ren's love, in this instance, is far too strong. The glass splinters and breaks.

Perhaps if Mikoto could focus on him, it would be different, but her attention is focused entirely on this shining girl who has appeared before her. The monster made of love and obsidian blades grips the hilt of her sword with trembling fingers, watches keenly as the stalagmites pierce the air.

A few spikes she can dodge, easily, buoyed by purpose. But they just keep coming, an unending cacophony of black glass. She will erase the enemy from existence.

She goes down. "Miroku," Mikoto says, the command utterly disregarding her excruciating plight. There is no mercy in her heart, for someone she's never met. Even if she loves someone, too.

Black glass shards surround Ren, creeping closer without the speed they have shown so far. "Finish her," Mikoto snaps, as if she wants to get it over with, but there is no need to hurry. "Miroku!"

First, the enemy will fear death. And she will remember.

Mikoto clutches at her temple, with her weakened hand. "No," she murmurs, shaking her head from side to side. "I..."

Obsidian hesitates.

Light blazes.

Sand floats over Mikoto, and she's forced to cover her face with that hand, so that the black granules don't blow into her eyes. It catches in the wound Endo has left on her arm, in the little slices her obsidian scaffold has bitten into her.

Ren Aizawa has utterly obliterated her obsidian cage - so bright the heat, it does not even melt. She is an unbelievable threat, far more than she was just a moment ago. "You!" Mikoto shouts, with no name or title to assign her.

She takes her lance in hand, just like Mikoto normally would. But Mikoto is not normal, right now. Mikoto is held up by obsidian spines, vulnerable and beaten, chest heaving with the pain and effort of her breath. Mikoto, who normally would meet that lance with relish, cannot possibly lift her blade to attack. It takes all she has simply to hold it.

"Miroku," she says.

But with Mikoto comes Miroku. Underneath the roof, there is something lurking. And it responds to her call, obsidian spines twisting up around Mikoto, creating a shining obsidian cage around the HiME.

Ren's lance slams upon it, again and again. Crack, splinter, shatter. There is something familiar, in the way she ferociously destroys Mikoto's defenses. Something implacable, just like her. Mikoto's breath catches in her throat - in fear? Admiration? Sorrow?

Do not sympathise with the enemy.

"Yes," Mikoto says, unnervingly calm, responding to the unspoken words as lance crashes through spine after spine. Despite this threat, Miroku will protect her. She watches Ren's face as she works, as if studying a curious bird.

It's the last word she says, before Ren impossibly breaks through. But hardly the last thing at all, because as that lance catches her on her wounded side, rips her from her obsidian bindings and tosses her to the destroyed concrete, she screams. It is a sound of unparalleled agony. Ren is beating a body already broken.

She finds her voice, and it is full of desperation.


As if forgoing the volcano entirely, obsidian erupts from the rooftop. It surrounds Mikoto, and it courses out to strike at Ren, thin and long and neverending and fully, entirely reactionary.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Gramofon Waltz - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1p0pe-1_xUk

That green light had been the guillotine, and just like that, it is gone. Sayaka stares in disbelief at Eri Shimanouchi's departing back. Unlike the Shepherds, the Chevaliers are low on grief seeds, and Sayaka has none to use to catch her wind. But the certainty that she cannot move means liberation, at last, to look at the rest of the battlefield. That certainty means she can focus on staying still and healing.

But the moment she understands where Eri is going, certainty means nothing at all.

Twisting her shoulders violently, Sayaka manages to twist her bound wrist as well, and her sword sinks into a vine. She begins to saw as best she can, but Eri is almost across already, and Sayaka has not loosened one vine.

With a whinny of frustration, Sayaka throws her consciously as deep into the far corners of her soul gem as she can, and simultaneously blasts sheer, desperate frenzy into her body through the needle-thin connection that remains. Her wrists haul, her legs shove, her shoulders ram over and over into her bonds, and by sheer thoroughness she discovers where she has slack; by sheer violence, loosens it further.

Beside the Shepherds' tower, a lurid musical staff spreads. It's slow this time, like honey dripped on a table. The notes aren't quite fastened down; they swivel, sometimes flipping all the way around like tiny acrobats on a high bar.

Sayaka manages to get on one foot, her other knee still pinned. Planting her sword diagonally on the ground, Sayaka spreads another musical circle midway between the towers, and is hit by a sudden wave of nausea, somehow. Why? Shouldn't she be feeling nothing from her human body?

Vines snap around Mami's limbs. Sayaka has felt that left wrist cool her forehead when she was sick. She has been nudged primly by that right elbow, seen that right knee in perfect seiza, and bandaged that left ankle when it twisted. She

will bE


before she lets Eri's thorns touch them.

Throwing her weight to one side, Sayaka hacks the other way, severing the thickest vine. Mami. She needs to help Mami. Shivering with sudden cold, she summons her third musical circle. One, two, three, a gradient of pale blue to a dull, metallic azure. Their tinkling, subaural song reels and tumbles in the night air.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami laughs as they clash, and Tsubasa claims her love and dreams won't save her! The flame that bursts between their grinding blades has Kasagami's eye going wide. Fear is writ across her face, but she digs deep. The very things that Tsubasa rails against gives her just enough backbone to howl and lash aside that fire. Her uniform gains a light scorching, as it's sent barreling away to light this particular floor into an inferno that will only grow when the pair leave it.

Twin swords parry blade after blade after blade! The air sings with metal clashing, but Kasagami only has eyes for her opponent amidst the fire and her own furiously beating heart. The Sword of Dios' healing powers help sweat evaporate, and the pure feeling of power running through her body keeps her from the panic she would otherwise let creep in. Anthy's touch and the associated blade is a drug that lets Kasagami push far beyond even her own limits!

"They alone will not save me, no! My parents' love didn't save me fully from the fire that consumed all of my innocent dreams and foolish desires! But don't you dare say that they didn't help! They sacrificed everything for me! All so...." Her eyes run white with tears, even as her beautiful opponent runs red with blood and acheing, screaming muscles. She herself is soon in a tight sheen of sweat, beautiful military Student Council uniform cut, slashed, and sleeves and legs up to the knees ruined. Part of her hair is cut asymmetrical thanks to a strike from Tsubasa, but the One Engaged doesn't dare, or would offer such insult as to back down before this iron-willed opponent!

A sharp kick lashes out, and Kasagami lets go of the blade to bring up her arm! She blocks on leathery, scarred skin, and is sent flying back from the force. A young woman after her own heart, even as she feels ground leave her boots, she can't help but give a grim smile at Tsubasa!

"Is that so, Tsubasa-chan!? Come and let's fall together, and see who really has the most Power! On the graves of my parents, nothing will stand in my way so long as I too breathe! Rejoice that you join a King-To-Be in battle!"

The freefall is met with Kasagami opening her arms and falling backwards. She doesn't know how long it'll be after those slicing, kicking sword-feet. All she knows is that Tsubasa will follow. It's what she would do. Aggressive, determined, and relentless.

'This is where your ambition ends'.

Eyes close. A massive blade strikes a shadow over Kasagami as the fall starts. She doesn't need to see it to hear and realize the blade that seeks her heart. Options, tactics, things driven into her head and reactions enhanced by the burning crimson gifted by the Rose Bride in her shining blade lighting the way down flash through her mind. And then her eyes crack open in a slit.

~Years Ago, Araki Family Estate Dojo~

A woman, with perfect raven hair and a warm smile taps her wooden training nodachi against her shoulder as she looks down upon her daughter. The young Kasagami's arms ache as she lets out a loud, determined cry. Her stroke is nearly as perfect as someone her admittedly tall-for-her-age stature can command. The boken is too big, too heavy, but despite the screaming of her arms, she lands it upon the training dummy with desperate precision.

She almost overbalances. A firm hand catches her, and pulls her upright. Kasagami's mother laughs, and pats Kassie's head.

"You've improved, my little knight. Just as good as I was at your age. Now then. Tell me what the Araki Family Style believes in!"

Kasagami uses both hands, nearly topples, but puts that sword over her shoulder just like her mother. "Face the opponent! Never back down, and swing with skill and grace! Defeat them for the people you love!"

Kasagami's mother seems infinitely tall, but she smiles softly despite the fire in her eyes. "Good. Which is better? Offense, or defense?" She waves a hand. "Strike me. Now!"

Kassie blinks, and then nods. Taking up her training sword, she charges forward with all her legs can give. "Offense!" Calls the little girl!

A hand leaves a blade. Steel and steel pairs of eyes meet, one in confusion, one with love and just a hint of smug arrogance as the young Kasagami Araki finds herself on her back.


"No. Here...I will break your blade and show you what it means to live for a dream!" That tip of Tsubasa's blade makes to ram right into her chest from the heel of Tsubasa. Kasagami's feet, mid-air, right themselves horizontally. Boots dig into the very fabric of reality itself, caught on stained glass. They chip, smash, and grind dissipating lines as the Sword of Dios flares brilliantly. She too puts it all on the line, both hands gripping the sword, pulling back as if to meet Tsubasa's drilling, falling kick mid-air! The Sword of Dios lashes out...right towards the tip of that heel-sword, and almost gently starts to grind and push it aside. A slow, deliberate feint as one hand leaves the sword...and reaches up higher for Tsubasa's ankle!

"Mother....the answer is DEFENSE! ARAKI FAMILY TECHNIQUE!" One boot kicks up higher just before the pair threaten to crash into the ground, and Kassie uses the momentum and her strong arm to turn aside her opponent in a mid-air aikido-throw ending with a smashing hilt of the Sword of Dios at Tsubasa's side!

"Wilting Petals Torn From The Rosegarden!"

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Madness. Chaos. All her friends are being torn apart. La Sirene de Diamant stares ahead as the world seems to swim before her eyes. Nori Ankou wants to faint.

Nori Ankou has developed a self image that does not faint right now. Even so, the light at her hip dims again, threatening for a moment to go out entirely, like an oil lamp being lowered far too far. La Sirene's lips work, forming words that don't quite come out. Homura has less hesitation.

Homura speaks a single interrogative.

That dolly-shot view of the cosmos focuses abruptly. La Sirene's breath hitches.

Of course, she thinks. Of course.

"Madoka," Nori Ankou breathes.

In comes another breath...

The light around her blooms outwards and she leans forwards. "MADOKA!" la Sirene calls ahead. "I AM HERE!"

She kicks off the ground and is almost immediately stymied when a 9mm round smashes into the toe of her boot. (Steel capped, of course, beneath the leather, but the blow still feels like someone hit her with a modest but stout sledgehammer.) Stumbling, she hisses, and her head snaps towards Homura. That strident tone echoes out again: "Fool! Idiot! Are you so dedicated - hah - s -"

For a single eye-swallowing moment la Sirene could swear she can see a bullet coming right towards her, aimed at her eyes. Perhaps her magicks would keep it from doing its worse but the blow would still be crippling. Inability to move, inability to guard; she might as well leap into Miroku's obsidian blades and flense herself directly.

Her heart starts to beat.

It feels like she's dragging her arm through the sea. La Sirene's pupils narrow in the raw intensity of the focus of that tiny blur coming towards her. She sees her right hand enter the side of her field of vision.

i can't i can't i can't i can't i can't i have to

SPANG! One of the diamonds on the back of la Sirene's hand explodes at the same time that her right hand is kicked back, hard enough to make her hiss. She swings her achingly numbed arm outwards then and the light around her billows, like the distortion over a camp fire on a cold night; the confusion sweeping ahead, towards Madoka and one other nearby.

It is to that one other that la Sirene speaks.

"Kyubey!!" she calls out.

"Help me!! I can't stop her forever!!"

Although there is a sudden surging wash of that same inverted light towards Homura, but where it simply swept like a veil over the immediate area of Madoka, it actually seems to gain cold teeth on its way to Homura. She might not want to stick too close to the edge.

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

The lance is impossibly hot. It sizzles and sears through the very air around it as Ren wields it effectively. But within her own grasp, this impossible heat is not felt at all. In fact, it feels... comforting. There's also no fury in her face as she shreads those obsidian spikes that are trying their best to protect Mikoto from her assault. Instead there's only a look of serenity. Of righteousness, even. This is her purpose at the current moment. To deliver justice for those who cannot.

More glass splinters until she has a clear view of Mikoto. Without hesitation she strikes out at the girl, sending her flying out of her destroyed cage. The scream the wounded girl lets out normally would've caused Ren to flinch and reconsider things...

...But this isn't Ren.

Not exactly.

This... is the Sovereign.

The armored mage turns to gaze upon her opponent. Even as she screams for Miroku, summoning up a fearsome amount of chaotic obsidian that she immediately directs at her, the Sovereign doesn't miss a beat. The torrent of spikes that would shred anything in its path like tissue paper runs headlong into an invisible barrier that stops it just mere inchest from it's intended target. A flurry of Midchildan runes become visible for the briefest of moments, circles spinning furiously, brimming with intense energy, before fading away again. The Sovereign is still, weathering the storm. Simultaneously she shifts her spear to one hand and holds it above her, where it begins to twist and change shape into something distinctively more... ornate. And two pronged. It's still a spear, though on a much more distinguished level. It seems to hum within her grasp, vibrating with power.

And with that, she starts walking forward, heading for the screaming Mikoto in eerie silence.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Silence

All those memories--all of them, ticking away, shining in these little Gems that hold all they are now, that beat as surely as any heart in silence, glowing. The day of Kyouko's idea...

Did they both happen upon that memory, then? Was there a touch of kind fate after all, bittersweet? Or is there only the battering force crashing from the heavens now, roaring down upon the unfortunate younger of the two?

You Don't Know...

Mami always wished that she could know, though.

Her golden eyes reflect the explosions below, reflect the unstoppable beam that is her attack. There is no cup and saucer playfully held in her hand this time, though, no jaunty victory celebrated even from here. Mami looks down at the fading light, towards a smouldering Kyouko. She looks down, seeing those wings gone, seeing the girl and her dress and her blood...

And a rifle leaps into her hand as she continues to fall, no longer buoyed by fabulous recoil. She begins to raise her hand, to direct ribbons to catch her, to shape her fall, to take her to do what she has to do.

To end this.

....But she hears that little strength, that voice, and it reaches her heart. She does not stop... But she knows the truth of her onetime student's words. No, this is not a battle of distant entities who have never faced one another. This--

...Is interrupted.

Eri wasn't fast enough to stop Mami, but honeyed eyes snap towards her as her left wrist is caught suddenly, mouth opening against her will in a cry that she manages to suppress at first, fingers twitching in reflex against the sheer force of it--and her musket falls from her hand as the snaps take her elbow, clattering eventually on the ground as it bounces and falls. Mami is no longer falling. The catch of her knee brings a groan of agony despite herself, a little nick in her elegance, at a limb she can already barely move.

"Eri--" she starts, breathing heavily--But Eri is speaking. Eri has more to say than that, as she has her caught now, and Mami grits her teeth looking at her. Her voice is cool, controlled, calm. Her mind is racing, plotting her next move.

"Eri--" She starts to say something more, but the way the vines flex brings a louder noise from the Queen, a sharp breath of pain that runs through her whole body, her hand shaking suddenly as vines grip tightly around battered limbs. And Mami's eyes narrow.

Her eyes flick once down, towards Sayaka, Sayaka with her desperate circles looking towards her--can she meet those precious blue eyes, for even an instant?--back up towards Eri's green again, the echo of La Sirene de Diamant's cry in her ears. All of them, here... Her eyes set. Her resolve is clear. One last time...

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZoK63Bk7pgw

Already Mami's gem gleams darkly, flit through with shadow amidst the honeyed gold. But once again she stirs to brightness, to brilliance, magic cascading all around her, coating her limbs, her arms and legs, shining in her eyes. From her collar they start--ribbons, then at her wrists, at her shoes, bursting towards the vines, seeking to slip under, to cut, to burst, to break free--


Mami pours her heart into the call, using the name as she always has, to banish her fear and banish everything but the show, the show that must go on, the show that will bring her home again out of this battle.

The ribbons burst all around her, seeing to cut vines, and already Mami is lifting her hand. The light shines before it, rainbows in specks, gold cascading as she starts to form another gun--a gun for--


<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Every time her name is spoken by Mami's beautiful lips - without the honorific, it's a punishment.

Perhaps the worst she's ever known.

Whatever wrath could come from aural blue would be a mercy compared to hearing it again... and again... and again.

The ribbons slice through one - two. In a blink of an eye. Even now Mami proves her skill of experience. How many near-death scenarios had Mami Tomoe thwarted, from monsters and savage hunters who cannot even be called people anymore. Like a devil - a demon Eri slams her off-balance with the preternatural strength of her vines. Right now she is a forest spider dragging in a predator far greater than her. Great enough that she herself would be prey under all other circumstances.

Mami might believe a third was cut off as the grip upon her remaining leg suddenly grows lax.

Until it smashes her full on in the stomach, driving the air out of her in a stunning bullwhip to her solar plexus. Unlike her kouhai - she's not immune to pain.

The final lash attached to her wrist yanks her forward - even off-balance she almost manages to recover with the theatrical elegance she's known for. Mami's already conjured a gun. All she has to do is aim it. And then it'd be over.

Her name is spoken one last time.

Which is when the lash in Eri's hand descends like a pendulum hanging overhead.

It swishes by Mami's blonde hair and the flair on her beret so quickly that it might feel like a breeze from on high. A single curl swishes, not a single filament harmed.

The lash is lax in the other girl's hand however, as it settles upon the ground. The conjured one upon Mami's wrist vanishes into green motes with a smell like a forest fire.

To outside observes it's like she's reached her limit. The end of her magic. That it's well and truly over for Eri Shimanouchi.

The girl's lips move mutely as she speaks four syllables.

And then...

There's a small sound - that is nevertheless so sharp and clarion clear in it's horrifying significance to all in this battle.


A five pointed flower - more lovely than any of the stars in the sky shatters into ephemeral shards.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Silence

<< Madoka, focus! Everyone needs you! >>

Adopting a tone half parent and half teacher is an effective way to manage the psyche of a Mama's good girl and dutiful student.


So is the bellow of a dear friend.

Madoka blinks again, and the howl of bullets that patter between her and Kyuubey snap her back to the current place, the present time.

There are no gears. There is no tree. The streetlights, far below, are not red.

All the red in the world has been expended elsewhere, though. A different living nightmare and the same one on replay, on endless loop, accelerating into a garbled chipmunk chorus -- Sayaka's body, Sayaka's cloak, the axes of a Witch and the thorns of a Puella Magi are indistinguishable in their effect and Madoka can't breathe.

"Ohmigosh, Sayka-chan," she gasps, involuntarily flashing back to the sound of a crunch and what happened after, the wailing, the curling -- the vast, terrible absence of her arm.

But that isn't what's happening now. Sayaka isn't just damaged. Madoka has seen Sayaka hurt more and more severely and more and more often -- and yet -- a cold vice closes around her own throat (where her heart is) as she instinctively recognizes that this is somehow


and yet it is also the utterly desperate trajectory of Sayaka's attention that is the only thing that could shift the weight of Madoka's own horror in the same direction. Sayaka's misery guides her own like a lodestone--

--she didn't hear the rawhide crack but she sees the result now, the eclipse of the fading solarbeam that is the end of Madoka's favorite attack -- made moreso by the miraculous survival of its target, which dimly and naively goes attributed to the aggressor rather than the endurer. The way Mami is dragged, is splayed, into a shadow across her own sun.

She is fully in the present as gold reasserts itself against green, and the thing she feels most is relief. As awful as everything is, there's a special, invincible magic spell that Mami Tomoe can cast to make Madoka Kaname smile, any time, anywhere.

Or maybe it's Madoka that casts it on herself, that shining belief that everything is going to be all right -- it's faith in Mami, but it comes from inside. That's where the real magic is. That's what the cartoons say, and what her parents say, and what the Chevaliers say too, the Sailor Moons.

Kyuubey's response to La Sirene is high-pitched and frantic and Madoka can hear it but she isn't listening.

<< The only one who can save you is Madoka! It doesn't matter what she wishes for -- she can put an end to everything! Please, she has to form a contract with me RIGHT NOW! >>

Right now.

Right now the green is blurring too fast for Madoka to see -- the gold, too, along with it. Right now everything is going to be all right.

Madoka's smile falters.


<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Silence

Resolve--certainty--necessity. These can enter Mami Tomoe's voice as she says Eri's name. ...Not hatred. Not loathing. They may be opposed, they are opposed, but there are ways... that opposition can manifest. Can be shown. There are times when it almost could have been different. Almost. Just so close.

Mami's ribbons tear through vines; they have fought before, by now, and no matter how Eri has grown Mami still knows how to cut. So she does. ...One, two--three? Mami is whirled around, rather than moving herself this time, the forces of gravity and Eri's magic whipping her back and forth as she cuts through, as another goes lax--and then suddenly slams her in the stomach. The pain is nauseating, stunning, terrible, and Mami coughs with it before she manages to call Eri's name again. Mami is pulled off-balance, but even so, she starts aiming. She starts aiming, and she says that name, pulling her rifle and angling it up, up towards Eri's circlet, towards that beautiful green--

But the lash is lax. ...The lash about Mami's wrist disappears, at the terrible report of gunfire.

...Madoka can cast a spell on Mami, too. A pure, wonderful spell, only by being there. But she was never meant to be here tonight. She was never meant to see any of this. And Mami does not know that she is here, even now, has eyes only for Eri.

But the lash is lax. Eri speaks, and Mami's eyes are on hers, wide, golden, taking in every sight of this girl. She hears those words, and her heart catches in her chest.

...A tiny flower breaks, golden and ornate, pinned beautifully to a hat, jaunty, perfect. Mami's eyes are on Eri's.

...And Eri can see the moment that that changes, alone of everyone else, the moment that heartbeats turn to nothing, that an instant's shock is a doll's expression of nothing at all.

The brilliant ribbon bridge connecting the two towers shimmers--and turns red, dripping like blood until there is nothing left of it at all. Mami's gun on the ground fades, the gun in her hand melting like anything else, her cage all around Kyouko draining away, draining like the last of rain down the road.

And Mami Tomoe begins to fall, a final time, a fall from which she will never rise again.

<Pose Tracker> Tsubasa Kazanari [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

With her leg extended, and a new blade pointing out of the heel of her boot, Tsubasa truly looked like she was one with her sword. She was one singular extended blade, plunging straight towards Kasagami, all while her body broke, wounds opening up and blood gushing out. Her eyes were stinging from the blood leaking out, and she could feel she was about to throw up, but she struggled to keep everything inside herself.

The tip of their blades touched for an instant, blades soon sliding along their respective lengths. The movement would put Tsubasa's blade off-course, away from Kasagami's heart and off her body. Moving away her leg with a sharp kick, Tsubasa deflected the Sword of Dios from touching her ankle, but she could not dodge the grab. Momentum from their fall used against her, she was slammed against the ground, air knocked out of her from the impact and the slam of the sword's hilt. But Tsubasa did not lose her grip of Ame-no-Habakiri at any point during the fall. Holding her sword tight, she returned the favour by immediately countering, slamming her own hilt against Kasagami, both women painfully hitting not only the floor, but also eachother!

The impact makes the two of them slide away in seperate directions, leaving them lying on the floor. Lying there, on the floor, Tsubasa can see Kasagami before her. Three of her, even. Her vision was starting to get blurry. Putting her trembling hand against the ground, Tsubasa fails to get enough strength to stand up at first. Her body was finally giving up. Struggling to her feet, Tsubasa finally realized it was all ending as she threw up blood in front of her. But even so...!

Grabbing a nearby desk for support, Tsubasa pushed herself up, needing to lean against it to stand. Though her vision was blurring, she could see the fuzzy red and black outline before her. Tsubasa moved slow, her legs heavy, stepping forward towards her.

Step. Step. Step.

Every step required all the energy she could muster.

Step. Step. Tsubasa felt no fear, and no regret. Ever since that day, she had been waiting for this. To correct the wrong where she had survived, and her most important person had died. In a way, she had looked forward to this.

It was strange, then, that in what Tsubasa thought might be her final moments, she thought of the Chevaliers. Tsubasa had never truly considered herself a part of them, for a Sentinel walks alone, but despite that, she saw some of their faces.

Tsubasa remembered the first meeting she had had with them all, in a booth after her concert. She still didn't consider herself their friend, nor a true member of the team, no matter what Kasagami's claimed, but...

While Tsubasa had long wished to die, and join with her beloved in the afterlife, she still wanted for her death to have meaning. This one didn't seem so bad, after all.

Step, step.

Finally, Tsubasa stood before Kasagami. Her eyes met her opponent, and for the first time in their battle, it was Tsubasa who smiled.

The grip on her sword loosened, and the blade fell to the ground. The relic on her chest shone bright, as her Swan Song finally ran its course. The relic shone brighter and brighter, until Tsubasa's broken body no longer could contain the energy within.

And with that, Tsubasa's Symphogear exploded right before Kasagami! The large explosion would bring down large parts of the building, and the two swordswomen were right in the middle of it! In a brilliant flash of glory, the curtains fell down on this concert!

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qb9WgYW0ruE

Kyouko sits in near delirium. There is ozone in the air..she can smell it, at least she thinks so. She's never smelled ozone before..but isn't that just how it is, so close to a lightning strike?

She can't see it, but a blood vessel has burst in her right eye. A rupture...a vessel no longer capable of containing its precious contents. All of that life just...spilled out to mix with the rest of that globe..that sphere, so mundane and so astonishingly, endlessly complex.

She notices the blood dribbling down her nose, though..the blood coming out of her ears. The myriad cuts and contusions and scratches and scrapes all up and down her body, seemingly at random, as if a cruel fairy had sprinkled petals upon her sleeping form and rendered injury where the delicate strokes settled in their fall.

The black burr of the world leeches the poison from her..a vile orb claimed from an evil sovereign at the destruction of its small kingdom. It..doesn't make her feel good. It doesn't take away the pain or the detachment. But she can feel strength return where the black recedes. She can feel her resources return. So terribly slowly, her gleaming armor..her steel hem..her crown of needles..slowly they return to her.

Much too slowly...she's staring up like she's looking for God in the moon. The only face she sees staring back at her positions a gun for her chest. Her aim would have to be good, at this distance..she would have to be skilled. But Kyouko needs more time for her strength to return. She needs fire, not the lukewarm ice that has choked off her veins.

And there is no mistaking her executioner's skill.

Weakly, little wriggling earthworms of chain links soporifically attempt to stitch themselves back over her soul gem. Tightening her fingers into debris that broke her descent, she tries to gather her strength for one last desperate, flopping roll.

Her sense of time seems to have slown. Is that shock? It's happened before..it all feels shocking enough..she can only blink numbly as she sees her exterminating angel so high in the sky joined by another. She can only stare with mouth agape as the long metal finger, that judge that signs death warrants with a point, rotates so terribly close to her in her shackles, formed of her shattered and recalcitrant muscles and bones..and then stops.

green, she thinks...




Her eyes widen, and she begins to blink very rapidly. It's Eri...Eri is saving her...she has to help Eri!

She stands, immediately. And then she collapses, immediately, moaning in pain. Gravelized concrete shards cling to her cheek like glitter, digging disagreeably into the soft skin. Growling, she gathers dust into her fist, her fingernails groaning against the sheer intractability of the stone they scrape against. She is angry, now, angry at her helplessness.




She flings herself up now, her arms trembling as a spear finds its way into her grip. Weak little articulated shafts issue out from her waist, much thinner than before, but carrying her up into the air all the same.

She has to help Eri...She can see Sayaka in the distance, gnawing at her leash. She has to reach her friend, her comrade, before then...fear flickers across her face. Kyouko had told her just that night that she'd watch her back...

Right after Eri had told her that she'd watch hers.

Kyouko can see it all quite well in her ascent. She wants to hurtle her spear like a javelin..but her aim is as well as her arm and at the moment it feels like half chewed beef jerky. Fear flushes her heart, corruption flushes her gem, as she sees Mami break free of her bondage, and wheel that terrible rifle around...

And then...

BGM CHANGE - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdXss7qI2R8

And then...

She is blind. Blood dribbles down from her broken scalp, caressing the rolling contour of her forehead, riding down along the bridge of her nose and spilling into her tear duct..mixing with the shimmering silver that has started flooding out from it. Her entire vision becomes pink, and then red..and then black.

And she falls.

So slow, so meager was her ascent that she suffers no injury..even in the black tumult she finds herself thrust down, she manages to land, shakily, on her feet. And there she stays, for a moment, her entire body quivering. A dozen spirits have surged into her every orifice to possess her little body and now rage and war to lay claim to her emotions..to her response. She doesn't want to open her eyes yet because she knows what world awaits her when she does.

Her body boils hot, and freezes cold. Her limbs start shuddering uncontrollably, anxiety and terror bursting into the control room of her brain and manically sabotaging all manner of chemical lever and dial. Her windpipe seems to have shrunken to a sixth of its typical circumference. And her legs, wooden and lobotomized, slowly churn forward.

The corners of her eyes have turned red in angry, frightened protest against the acrid saline weathering chemical burns against their fallow vulnerability. With her thumbs she twists into them, digging out her sorrow. For a perverse moment she thinks to dig that much harder, that she will never be vulnerable to seeing what lays beyond her lids. But still she marches on..and like she's been trapped in a cellar for a week she squints her gaze open to the light in all its harshness.

There she is.

But..no..that isn't right, is it? That's the rub of it..she isn't there at all.

Not any more.

She wants to run to her side, to sprint and to slide by her like she's stealing home plate. But she can't she can't she...just can't. She fears her body cannot support it. She feels that her heart, if it stops its brutal chokehold on her emotions for even a moment, she will be swept away in their riotous, grieving insanity. So she can only march forward.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Glass is amorphous. Glass melts. But when glass is hit by something more abrasive than it, it can turn into sand. Both of these processes are on full display, as the Sovereign pierces through.

Mikoto was not expecting such strength. But as she struggles to stand, leaning on an obsidian pillar, she realises what is necessary.

"Miroku," she gasps, pain clipping her words. It knows what to do.

The next black spike which emerges in front of Ren's path is not glass, and it does not melt, no matter the heat or force she pushes into it. It feels like steel, a cold mechanical thing, and it will not bend.

The ground rumbles and and tears. The spikes of Miroku's body rise from the concrete, and the black forest blocks the Sovereign's path towards Mikoto. She staggers, stumbles towards them, grasping one for dear life with one hand as the other holds Miroku's blade in an unshakable grip.

It does not emerge, beyond the spikes which jut up from the upper curve of a red body. The rooftop where it has emerged is displaced completely, debris crumbling through the cracks. To the Sovereign's side, the earth shakes.

A gigantic hand clad in a monstrous gauntlet rises from the decimated structure, heavy, ponderous, alive. It holds a spiked club, stories tall, wide and thick.

That club lifts, almost ponderously slow. There is a groaning, a deep bellow of attack.

And then it comes down, and it's not slow any more. It's blindingly fast, just like the obsidian spires it's been attacking with so far. It comes down like a brick tossed from a skyscraper, massive and weighted and utterly, utterly implacable.

It threatens to destroy the section of the roof it lands on - and the levels below.

And as that terrible thing comes down... something shatters.

Mikoto's eyes fall on the Puella Magi, across the towers.

Eri is acceptable brilliant and dark as her motion completes, shattering Mami's Soul Gem into a thousand sorrowful pieces. She does what Mikoto could not - what Kyouko could not - what any of them could not.

Her breath catches in her throat as she sees Sayaka, burning vengeful and mutilated and utterly, utterly unkillable. She knows how this ends. She can't allow it.

No. It would be too much of a risk to expose Miroku to the Puella Magi, but Eri is wounded and they will target her and Mikoto must think of her duty but Mikoto must think of her friend, must think of the girl who held her and healed her and fought with her and never turned her back on her and her loyalty is misplaced but she loves Eri she has forgotten she remembers Eri's warmth!

"MIROKU!" Mikoto screams, and a second hulking hand emerges to collect Mikoto from its back. The beast called Miroku tears itself from the tower, using its club for leverage, leaving so little ground to move as its massive bulk rips through steel and concrete and - caught on one spike - a strangely out of place length of government-white wallpaper. It is a massive oni, spiked and bound with white rope and red armor, and as it rights itself it is clear that its spikes are not upon its back but its belly.

And, strangely enough, it does not attack the Sovereign at all.

It deposits Mikoto upon its back - properly, this time - and she slumps against white cloth rope, as it leaps, in one devastating movement. It does not land on the Chevalier's tower directly, for it would crush them like insects. Instead, it drives its massive club into the tower, several stories down, and hangs there, its back level with the roof.

"Eri," Mikoto calls, drawing quick pained breaths between the words, "we need to go." Miroku's free hand swoops up, to scoop Eri from where she stands.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Kasagami's eyes catch that slamming hilt that finds it's purchase on her side! The duo of red and blue slam each other into the ground nearly at once after they both impact with each other, with the floor beneath cracking and trembling as their magical bodies hammer into the man-made ground below. Kasagami twists and spins desperately, hitting a heel of her boot and slamming into the floor with an outline of her glorious form that has her bouncing in a tripping fall! She too has the wind knocked out of her, but reaches a hand below. With a painful grunt, she flips herself backwards and back away to stand on her own two feet. She pants, sweat dripping down her face. Head lowering for a second and glorious crimson-tipped raven locks follow. Then she flicks it all behind her and tosses off the sheen of physical and magical exertion all at once! One steel and one white eye comes to regard her opponent that slowly pulls herself up via the nearby desk. Her gaze is almost soft as she opens her mouth in the lightest of adrenaline and victorious dazes! She stands tall, her dark and red hair fluttering behind her without a single bit of doubt that she's claimed victory with the Sword of Dios in her hand. The One Engaged is triumphant, and she lets out one more laugh that is simply exhausted.

"Tsubasa! I am utterly amazed....at..."

Whatever ego-inflating compliment she had for the young woman dies in her throat as the swordswoman coughs up blood. What little adrenaline and conflict-driven mirth that she'd gained turns to ashes inside as she takes a step back. Then another. Tsubasa still walks forward.

Kasagami holds her blade out warily. Tsubasa has proven her determination, many times over. She raises her blade, ready to strike the woman down, a wary thing. Then Tsubasa Kazanari smiles. For all the physical wounds that this girl has given her, that alone strikes Kasagami Araki the most. This 'weapon', this warrior that threw away that smile...took it up again. A blade is dropped. And the One Engaged lets this proud and valiant soldier fall.

"If only you were my knight. We could do so much together!"

Then, her gaze drops. And twin eyes go utterly wide as she realizes the pure potential of that glowing Symphogear, and the end of the Swan Song. There's no opportunity to dodge, and barely any to react as the whole of the building rocks with the pure impact of an Explosion. Energy lashes, and the building itself is nearly split in two if it weren't for the earthquake-level design in it. Amidst the furious calamity, windows and steel rent asunder, one could almost make out a vague blur of red and black and roses tumbling far, far away from the battle even as fate nips at heels in Shinjuku.

The Rose Bride may or may not notice her Engaged ripped past the battlefield in a glorious streak of pure self defense. Wild bangs flutter in the air, until even her magic can't sustain the Sword of Dios in her hand. Kasagami Araki lands in an alleyway, skidding first to her boots, then to her knees before she draws a wakizashi at her side and grinds it into a brick wall. Her exunt arrested, she shoves herself to her feet. Slowly, she lets go of that ruined blade, and pulls up a single white opera monacular to her eye. One eye. She's half blind again, and it drops from her hand.

Her body shudders, and that feeling of painlessness evaporates. The many bruises on her body, the thin strikes and pure ache of having fought such a powerful magical warrior runs through her. Then her burnt side flares up as it's been trying to all evening. Eyes, sighted and sightless, go wide as a furious wave of built-up savage pain ravishes Kasagami Araki's body enough that the One Engaged falls to her knees and bends over. A scream overtakes her.

A grasping hand finds her pill bottle, and she swallows down enough that, with a few moments, she can move. Gasping, magic...her own magic...finds her hand. She takes up her nodachi and uses it as a staff. A cane to carry her forward. Every other step is more sure, but she stops every now and then to gasp and regain herself.

She has to at least go drag out Anthy if nothing else. Yet she can't find a smile on her face.

Worry fills her. Is Eri-chan and everyone alright? Her lip is bit, bleeding. Even as medicine soothes some of her aches, the pain in her lip keeps her going with an uncertain mind.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It is their deepest, warmest truth. Everything they do together matters.

Sayaka used to count everything, with Mami. How many times they'd walked home together, how many times Mami had used Sayaka's first name. Long ago she'd lost track of how many times gold eyes had met blue, but her heart will never stop leaping when it happens. When every sinew and every thorn-torn muscle strains to be where Mami is, her gaze makes Sayaka feel they are already together.

Eri tears them apart.

How could Sayaka hear it? Amidst a raging battle, on a lonely tower in the darkened sky, a tiny gem shattered. She might as soon hear the vibration of a cold ocean trench. And yet she knows she did not imagine the sound. She knows that this little glasslike tinkle is just the noise that echoed softly against concrete.

Sayaka listens so deeply. Perhaps it is simply that, after all this time, she knows what Mami's soul sounds like.

Mami is falling.

In the silent lee of her own frenzy, Sayaka's eyes widen. Her shoulders are giving little hitches, thorns still biting deep. Her tattered cape is hanging off of only one shoulder now. She tries, like she did before the battle started, to breathe in the night. To take everything outside in, to fill herself with the world. In a tremulous moment of silence, she drains out the very sky.

But Sayaka can't find her anywhere.

Something soft and precious falls to the ground off in the dark, across towers.

Everything in Sayaka slams forward, loose cargo in a storm. Vines split, thorns tear, and Sayaka is here now and she makes herself feel it all, because her skin may be flayed but the tip of her finger is a few feet closer to Mami than the cold gem on Sayaka's stomach. She leaps willingly into her own agony, and her boots leave the tower, slam down into her first music ring, and launch once more. She's rushing towards Eri, perforce, but there's no hatred left in Sayaka, no room for anything but the deepest dread she's ever known. The second circle seems to crackle under her feet when she lands, and several notes fall like disturbed snowflakes into the dark below. But Sayaka presses into it until its ghostly glow catches the tears still suspended in her eyes, and drives herself off again. One more.

Nearly every note is driven down into the dark on this third circle, the impact of Sayaka's weight too much for it. Sayaka has no time to gather what strength is there, lest she drop into the void herself. She leaps again instantly even as the platform gives under her feet, and her own muscles are not enough. Sayaka hits the edge of the building instead of landing atop it, and drops until her hands catch hard on the corner of the concrete.

It barely slows her. Hauling herself up, she scrapes and shoves herself back to her feet without stopping her forward momentum, sawing rust into her lungs with every gasp. She has enough boot left to skid on her knees as she reaches Mami. For the first time since Mami's gem cracked, Sayaka hesitates. Sayaka stares.

Gently, her dirty white gloves slide under Mami's shoulders. Gently, she shifts Mami, dragging shoulderblades up off the ground with a soft husk, until Mami's head rests on the crook of Sayaka's arm, and Sayaka's lap supports her back. She hasn't checked yet. Because she knows, and because she refuses to know.

Mami could still be here, and breathing. Almost impossible is not impossible. If there's a way to live in these moments Sayaka will find it. If there's a way to make the half of her life before she lost Mami even a second longer she would give anything for it. Sayaka hates her tears for the honesty she lacks.

Gently, Sayaka touches Mami's hair. Through the numbness of a gloved finger she strokes a golden filament back into its curl.

"Senpai?" she whispers, as quietly as she can. She can't be certain Mami would hear it.

<SoundTracker> Golden Slumbers - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldx_eCvsrgk

She fell from the night sky.

Sayaka had been rushing into the dark, hand in hand with Madoka, chased by a demon of metal and bone. Perhaps it was the truth itself that sought to rend the girls apart in its rusty maw: that Sayaka had been born into a world meaningless suffering. That hate and evil have their own strength, and the innocent have no weapon to deny it.

Even if Sayaka had lived through that revelation, she might not have survived it in the end. Sayaka had been born privileged enough that her mediocrity was her own fault. She had been born with the wisdom to see her weakness, but without the will to fix it. She never knew what she should do, much less what she should be. She sought in vain within herself for meaning.

Strangest of things; her meaning had crystallized into a living girl long ago. And that night, Sayaka got to meet her at last.

"Please, settle back, would you?" That a girl so beautiful even spoke the same language as Sayaka was startling. Golden-haired, her voice as gentle as the feather in her hair, Mami Tomoe smiled in Sayaka's direction. "This won't be much longer."

"Cool..." Sayaka breathed. There was a taciturn transfer student here, and a Warring States general, but Sayaka was helpless to choose which she admired. The best decisions--the ones that really last--were never decisions at all.




That was all Sayaka had managed to fill out on this character sheet, which lay in the warm puddle of light falling from her desklamp. Madoka's first campaign... Sayaka was used to running a game just for Madoka, and had never been a player before. As the GM, you didn't need to pick just one thing to be.

Sayaka tapped her lower lip with her pencil eraser for a while, then sat back in her chair, looking at her darkened window. With no one around, her head half-blank from the quiet, she finally leaned forward and placed her pencil to the paper.

Name: MAM


Sayaka stared at the paper, then reversed her pencil to squich out a little of what she wrote, and add more.




Remember how it was raining, senpai?

I lost so badly. I was supposed to show you how sorry I was, but it was my first time with the sword. I didn't even make it into the duel arena...

But you were there, and you saw. I just remember trying to explain, how I wanted to do it the right way, the way you taught me. I thought I could prove that I'd never do anything to hurt you again. But all I could really think about was how it was raining on you. And I couldn't take that. I kept trying to give you my umbrella.

"I forgive you," you said. "I'll always forgive you, Miki-san."

You said that even though I didn't get to prove anything. So I'm going to prove it to you a different way, senpai. A way I like better. I'll prove it every day instead.


"Well, I don't want Ueno," Sayaka told Kyouko crossly. "I'm a Puella Magi konbi with Mami-senpai, so I'll fight Witches with her!"


"Then, you carefully consider your target..."

Blindfolded, swimsuited, Mami was only facing the general direction of the watermelon.


Like the executioner's sword, she swung the baseball bat downward... and lost her grip, sending it spiralling off into the air across the beach. It was one of the few times in her life that someone hit Kyouko in the head and she didn't somehow deserve it.

And Mami was mortified. So, amidst the chaotic aftermath, Sayaka picked up the watermelon, carrying it atop her head like a jug. When she reached where the unintentional projectile had fallen in the sand, she turned to make sure Mami was watching, and hurled the melon straight down into the metal bat, cracking it.

"There," she said, and oh, she could smile like summertime when it was for Mami. "It broke after your first swing." You could sieve down Sayaka and not find one happy grain that knew how to patronize Mami.

"That means no bad luck, right, senpai?"




Don't forget that I love you, all right?

Promise me.


Two walls of triangular teeth close down flush. Sayaka's shoulder is on one side. Her arm is on the other.

She is not brave right now. Not even with her other arm around Mami.


I'll protect you.

I'll protect you and--

And I love you.

You really do.


It is not Mami who feels cold. She is warm.

It is not Mami whose face is a rictus. It is so peaceful. She's the most beautiful girl Sayaka's ever known. She told her that over and over.

It is not Mami who has been taken. That is impossible, because Sayaka would give her arm again, or both. Both, and all her legs. If so much as a cruel whisper on the wind told her it would make Mami open her eyes Sayaka would give anything it asked.

Sayaka draws Mami up, pressing the elegantly puffy shoulder against her chest. She imagines that her arms are a wall that Mami is safe inside. She imagines that Mami is sad, that Mami needs her. That Mami needs her.

There's something malignant on Sayaka's arm. It is like crude oil stirred by the static of an old television, and viewed through a bending mirror. It prickles her skin. That whole arm--the one that should not be here--is dark. That is something from the outside, she knows. That is something trying to get Mami. And it is something that does not matter, because Sayaka will never let anything hurt her senpai.

But tears are dropping now. On Mami's blouse. One on her cheek. Sayaka's most powerful memories have been thrown in the face of a growing apocalypse that gnaws away at the edge of her denial. When Sayaka feels them so strongly, Mami is not gone. She is alive as long as she makes Sayaka feel such joy. But her joy is almost gone.

She feels so much colder than Mami. Grey to her gold. The sparkle of Mami's perfect eyelashes, the white gold of her skin--Sayaka feels like it is she herself who is leaving, now. She who will be torn away from the girl she wanted to love forever. Touching her forehead to Mami's temple, Sayaka inhales against her hair and tries to remember something strong and pure. She's torn out so many pages and each one fends off the end a few seconds less than the last.

That's all then. She's...

Oh. No, there is one more.

Another time like this, where she could do nothing, but Mami made her feel safe. Where she could say nothing, but she made Mami happy. Another time she wished could last much longer. Forever.

Remember that, senpai?

tinyurl dot com/shesproudofme

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> God Knows - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UY4zobmito

And what of her murderer? The girl stands silent, as the light fades from those eyes and a beautiful husk where a wonderful girl once lived falls. The world is stopped for Eri Shimanouchi even as it moves. Even as it moves out of her field of vision, she cannot take her eyes off the spot ahead of her.

Her silence just as maddening to her as it must be to those around her. She's everywhere and nowhere at once in her mind.

She's six going on seven, working up the courage to speak to someone on a park bench. When she never shows up again at that park, she cries.

She's fourteen going on fifteen and she's just made an important decision... there's a girl in her gardening club that's started talking to her. And another who's agreed to meet with her... all she has is a name.

She's fourteen going on fifteen and she's finding herself going to a dorm room more and more... thinking it would have been nice to have sisters like those two...

She's fourteen going on fifteen and she's dying in an alley and can't even be honest with herself. There's a hand on her wrist. There's whimpering in her ears. She feels everything slipping away - and then suddenly there's a warm golden light.

Fourteen going on fifteen and she's ignoring text messages... letting calls go to voice mail...

Fourteen going on fifteen and a girl who once drove her off savagely and without mercy is hugging her and telling her it's going to be alright.

Fourteen going on fifteen and she has a gun held to her forehead.

When fourteen becomes fifteen... she only remembers it was her birthday the night after. She tells someone anyhow just so it'll be celebrated...

She's fifteen going on sixteen and she doesn't know why her heart flutters when she thinks of a special someone...

Fifteen going on sixteen and she finally knows how she can be of some help to her senpai.

Fifteen going on sixteen... and she just watched the light fade from a little girl's eyes.

Fifteen going on sixteen... and she's in a forest filled with smoke and fire... on a beach in the sun... in a bolthole in the sewers... in a fragrant garden... at a concert.

Fifteen going on sixteen and Christmas Eve passed defending an invasion... and her senpai just proposed a name for them.

Fifteen going on sixteen and she has promises to keep...

Fifteen going on sixteen... and.. she's gone...

I really love it when you smile like that Eri.

That voice. The memories cannot even cause her blank expression to twitch. Cannot cause her to try to find the eyes she remembers in them. Eyes as warm as a summer day. Everything is cold right now. The heat of her anger stolen.

You would really go that far... For me Eri-chan? I... I don't deserve that kind of devotion.

She's in a worse place than that forest of blood and fire and smoke. She's atop Shinjuku Metropolitian - and it's as cold as D-Point for her.

Eri you... you were amazing... I thought I was dead... that it was finally over.

And she can't bring herself to even look at her. She'd stolen the most precious treasure she had. Her wish. Her life. What time she'd won her she'd taken back. The most terrible kind of thief.

...I shut you out a long time ago, Eri-chan. I thought it would spare me. ...That you were going on a path I couldn't help you with. And after that, I was bitter. But, now I know it was a mistake.

Happy memories, sad memories, any memories were almost too much...

It has gone wrong. But I wanted to talk with you anyway. To tell you how I felt... And maybe hear from you, too. There's a lot I want to say... Eri-chan.

Because in almost every one of them...

Do you think I'm ruined, Eri?

Her name is there.

And she doesn't deserve any of these memories. She doesn't deserve any part of her. It feels like she's stolen something by simply having come into her life. All of them are her punishment.

She hears something cracking. Like branches being smashed and torn in a windstorm. For half a heartbeat she thinks it's over. That Mami Tomoe's final shot had shattered her gem too. Yaori's final ones had vanished as they struck her. But the genius of Mami Tomoe cannot be denied even in death.

That's what she thinks at least.

A hand moves up. She has time for final words at least she thinks. And dimly she realizes her senpai is there. She can hear her. Dimly. That's what brings her out of it. And the words that come would have been for her... "Senpai... I..."

Except what can she even say? Saying she's glad she's alright is also saying she's glad her mentor has died. Anything and everything she has to offer will only add to the pain of a girl who ran from it. And so she falls silent, preferring the idea of falling over... rather than adding to that in her final moments.

The circlet holding her soul gem breaks apart, the twisted branches snapping, as it swings on an ear and is caught in gloved hand before it can even leave her forehead. The other piece - broken by gunfire hits the ground. The gem itself is intact, whole. She can feel that cool surface in her hand, unmarred - save by impurity.

She's alive.

Her senpai is safe.

And once again there's only one choice left to her.

Mikoto is telling her they must leave. And she agrees. Kyouko is too distraught to give the order. So she'll do it. She'll take that responsibility too. She'll take every sword of blame and recrimination. Every look of hatred and disappointment. Eyes full of grief and desolation.

Scooped up in Miroku's hand she must look quite intimidating. She doesn't even notice what she's being picked up by - other than understanding implicitly it's Mikoto.

"Shepherds... we're pulling out. " Her lips feel as arid as if it had been parched by a desert wind as she forces them to move again. She does it anyhow to support her.

She can't look at her too either, but all of her energy is still directed towards supporting her. "We're leaving."

It doesn't matter. It's all just dirt

"If the Chevaliers want Shinjuku so badly - it's all theirs."

She doesn't even need to look at the girl in blue to know she's there.

The first emotion to enter her voice however is for her... a bitter stab of ugliness. Even in this moment of grief she cannot offer her a total reprieve.

"I hope it was worth it."

She's fifteen going on sixteen and her existence is the worst curse on this cruel world that she can think of.

Nothing else comes to her. She feels empty. Drained. And so after a moment she offers just another name, quiet, "... Mikoto."

The HiME has heared Eri say her name a thousand times with so many nuances of inflection to it. Happy. Affectionate. Sad. Despairing. To everyone else it might sound devoid of anything. To Mikoto alone - tonight she might understand Eri well enough by now, has heard her name enough times. That she might understand implicitly that her name is a plea.

<Pose Tracker> Endo Naoki [Juuban Public School (12)] has posed.

Endo would have liked to have known Mami Tomoe better.

He knew her enough to know how important she was. As one of the leaders of the Chevaliers, and as a person. He knew that she was Sayaka's mentor, and that she was Madoka's friend, that she was cherished by both. He knew that she made him feel safer, that she was a golden light in the dark, a wise and gentle mentor.

He knows she is gone.

He can see it through a blurry lens, half-obscured by Ren's barrier, blurred vision, and fantastic discharges of light across the towers. Through the deafening explosion of Tsubasa Kazanari's ancient weapon and the cacophony of obsidian shards.

<WEAK.> Too weak to protect anyone.

The world begins to crumble at Mikoto's child emerges from the tower to meet Ren, stone and tile giving way, collapsing what little he's come to rest on.

<REMEMBER THIS: > The shape, the darkness that blots the space between the two towers, the figures that stand upon it, the girl crowned in once-verdant greens and speaking bitter words he's too far gone to hear.

He tumbles, down, down, down, the massive outline of Miroku burning itself into his fading consciousness.


And still he goes, further still, into the dark.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The 9mm net she's cast catches unexpected prey. She wasn't actually trying to tag la Sirene, but Homura Akemi won't complain about scoring a few hits. She sees that impossible parry, in a sense, and in a sense can hardly follow it. Perhaps to Nori it feels like she's dragging her arm against ocean currents -- from the perspective of the black-haired girl with all the guns, there is a glint as if from a thousand shattered facets all at once beneath a blind-blur sweep of motion. Then comes the confounded whine of a bullet deflected, and the swing of an intact hand away from the point of impact.

But her concern is not precisely for the girl she's just finally, more or less, shot -- though la Sirene's call to their mutual foci, white and pink, certainly rates.

Homura has just watched the patina across Madoka's eyes flicker and fade, freeing them to focus. To see.

The no-no-no starts up again. It counts along to every crack of heel to concrete.

La Sirene de Diamant never got to finish her question, but the answer was always going to be yes. Yes, Homura Akemi is that dedicated. At this stage in her existence she cannot afford to be anything but.

She converts from a smooth backpedal along the dizzy ragged edge of the roof, hitting one of the corners that still exists in this world with both feet, treating it like a springboard. It has no yield. The shock runs up Homura's slender body, jolts through a spine still aching from earlier collisions. But it's there, and she uses it, reversing in a dark ricochet like one of her countless bullets.

The pure-hearted center of Homura's universe pulls at her, and she comes crashing to that call, a dark comet.

Eldritch and toothsome, a tide of inky power swells, rising up between them. She sees what la Sirene has wrought and makes right for it, because Madoka Kaname is on the other side. Homura doesn't even think about how she's going to deal with that viscous torrent, just knows she must and she will the moment it becomes absolutely necessary.

She speeds inward, running full-out, she's flying, she's falling forward -- her feet hardly seeming to touch the ground. Time spools out in all its cruel increments but Homura Akemi lets it happen. It's too soon. Everything is happening all at once, but none of it is resolved, it's all in motion and she can feel the pendulum scything down but she doesn't know yet which direction it's going to come from--

When it comes, it is not direct.

It does not come for Madoka Kaname, nor for Homura Akemi. But it comes, and the violet magi watches. Mid stride the violet magi kicks harder with one foot and pirouettes into a sidelong controlled careen; she turns toward Eri Shimanouchi, toward Mami Tomoe.

There is a finality in the downward lash of a fury beyond nature. It falls with all the weight of an ending. It feels familiar, and it feels sickening and it feels awful, like a bone broken and set and healed and broken again. And again. And again.

This is not the first time she's watched a girl's soul shatter. It's not even the first time she's seen it happen to the person that only Homura knows to be her senpai. Who taught her one of the most vital skills she'd ever have, practice; who taught her how to wield an awkward power more fully, to make it a weapon.

When Mami Tomoe first met her, Homura Akemi was a nothing. It is in part thanks to the Golden Queen that she is anyone at all. When vivid pink arrows streaked overhead to the rescue of a terrified, cowering girl, they sparkled against the endless elegance of golden ribbons. She still remembers the feel of them beneath her feet, springy and smooth, remembers the absolute trust she once had in their support.

She also remembers how they felt sliding around her arms and legs, cinching tight to pin off all possible escape. Remembers looking down the barrel of one of those many ornate muskets, as elegant and deadly as the lonely girl they spring from.

Her honored senpai; her failed senpai; her most dangerous opponent. She has seen Mami Tomoe die so many times, yet has never once attended the girl's funeral. Strange, why does that occur to Homura now? Her eyelids close, a solemn midair observation, the split second a devotional to the cessation of a bright golden thread in the complex tapestry of this timeline.

Will Homura see Mami Tomoe again? Only if she fails, and sets the hourglass on its end once more. Even though she knows she could, she acknowledges -- as she has so many times before -- that it is now her best case scenario that she never will again.

Homura swallows the pang as she has swallowed so many others, absorbed tragedy and death and unspeakable unthinkable horror. She opens violet eyes, dry and hard and glinting, and turns them once more to the girl she races toward.

The girl who she knows can only be here for one reason.

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

The lance is almost singing in her grasp now as it vibrates. Asking. Begging to be embedded in the one who has caused such strife. The Sovereign moves ever forward with the sole goal in mind. But thankfully for Mikoto, she has a protector who will not see such harm come to her. The advance of the Sovereign halts momentarily as Miroku -- the CHILD Miroku -- rips himself from the very battered ground beneath their feet. There's a moment where the Sovereign tilts her head and studies the massive creature. She remains wordless as the moments tick by, and it's only as Miroku lumbers forward and rears that mighty club to bring it down upon her that she finally speaks:


The club comes down... but does not connect. For something far more devestating takes place on the battlefield. The Sovereign has thus far remained somewhat aware of the others nearby doing battle with one another. So when there's an awful shattering of something -- something brilliantly golden and so full of justice -- she abruptly turns in the direction of the Puella Magi.

Mami. It's... Mami.

Suddenly the Sovereign is gone, and Ren is standing there, the last vestiges of armor vanishing to leave her in just her plain barrier jacket. Her eyes are wide with shock as she watches Mami fall. Gone. For good. As the Sovereign she felt that brilliance get snuffed out in just the blink of an eye. But unlike the Sovereign, her emotions were no longer smothered with absolute zeal -- and the death of the Puella Magi leaves her quivering uncontrollably.

But Endo's sudden plummet off the ruined rooftop serves to pull her back into focus. Instinct alone propels her forward, her body still mostly numb yet still capable of springing into action given the circumstances. As she rushes down to catch him, she hugs him tight, terrified of what might happen if she doesn't. "Endo... Endo... Endo!" She begins to shouts his name over and over, tears starting to spill down her face, body wracked with sobs as she maneuvers them away from this hellish landscape. They're no longer needed here. It's over.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

La Sirene cries out to Kyuubey, with a certain air of futility, "I'll do it!" but her eyes follow where Madoka is looking even as she does.

La Sirene's eyes are not the eyes of a mortal girl. Just now she (just) saw a bullet coming, and (just) moved fast enough to parry it, even if her arm is screaming agony even now. The roof is erupting with obsidian death but that is not where her eyes focus. They focus far away.

There is a terribly tiny sparkle.

Blue-gray-white. It cradles gold.

La Sirene hears a tear fall. Then another.

Another forms in her own eye and for a moment the world blurs into three.

One side is red and formless and has nothing to say, a feeling and a mood without a form inside of it, not now. Another is staring, cracking like a pane of glass. There are tears there. She spoke of an aquifer she could scent within Homura Akemi: the analogy was drawn from within. New wells are struck inside of the porous rock of a girl's heart. In time they will pay but it is rare for things to move with immediacy.

In the middle is la Sirene de Diamant, a tended tree that has grown out of strange soil. She stares dead ahead and the feeling is hollow even as her cheeks wet. The heroine of another world, the dark faery of mystic import, feels every seam in her creation. If the blurring punch of a feeling in her heart had words it would be something like: I am a poor thing, put together from half-fermented stories and visions. The only thing that leavens me is a few foreign tales.

why wasn't it me?

The absence feels like a lead sheet resting on her, a dentist's lead apron of the soul. La Sirene de Diamant drags herself towards an upright stance without elegance, without grace. It feels like effort enough. A moment later comes another cannon's blow; Endo, that stalwart knight and master of another star's magic, plummets, pursued by Ren. A moment later, Miroku rises before her, a horror grown from the building itself. Is there no end to this? La Sirene thinks. I am just a patchwork thing.

The memory comes to her. The memory of the beauty of a mended chair. La Sirene's hands tense coldly. Then, she thinks, I'll stop the devil. I'll find Eri Shimanouchi. I'll set her straight. I'll show her what a patchwork - can -

The devil does not wheel upon her. Miroku is departing.

It's not fair, la Sirene thinks obscurely, even as she stares after the passage of the great ogre. The thoughts fade into a hollow meaninglessness with a few more inward cries: 'getaway,' 'mami,' 'i'll protect this broken world,' 'i won't let'.

Something vast and impotent swells in her heart. I know what Melancholy must have felt, oh so long ago, la Sirene thinks, her pale eyes blinking back another streak of tears. I understand now why the storm has never stopped, even if it comes and if it goes.

La Sirene stands, her hair flat and limp as the rooftop wind stirs it. She feels like she stands there forever.

But it's really more like a heartbeat. No, she thinks. It's not meaningless. It can't be. I'll take Homura to that place; I don't care if I lose that contest, now. Something good will have come of this.

But, la Sirene's creaking and shuddering film-strip of an interior vision, hopelessly narrow and flickering, goes on: Homura Akemi is a tough girl... and she's shot me three times, and so she can wait her turn. (I hope she doesn't shoot me any further, she thinks. I doubt I could do that again.)

"I suppose I am what remains," la Sirene says, to the wind, or to Kyuubey. A little fillip of glamour, perhaps. Even if I'm a patchwork ghost of the sea shore, she thinks, I can at least take her hand. I can take her across, or home, or to the farthest reaches of this planet, if she wants.

She turns to look towards Madoka. Her eyes close to blink back the last moment of tears. She takes a breath, composes herself, opens her eyes...

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> See You Tomorrow https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NvFW5RQZvOw

Mami has just saved Madoka for the fifty-eighth time, not that she's counting, okay she definitely is counting. Syringe-wielding familiars have been dispersed effortlessly by golden blasts, golden ribbons. The immediate threat behind them, they walk forward together towards the next.

"I'm grateful for what I have, but... it's greedy, and it's selfish. But I wish I had a life where my most pressing concern was finals."

"It's not -- it's not selfish! You've done so much, for so many people. So don't... don't call yourself greedy or selfish, but even if you were those things, you'd still be my friend and I'd be yours."

They are in what is now, as of this exact moment atop Tokyo Metropolitan Building, the second-most horrible place Madoka has ever been.


It takes her a second, and because of that, Madoka experiences Mami's death most keenly through other people. They engrave themselves on her heart forever.

Kyouko shuddering, churning, marching like a rictus toy soldier, blood fighting tears for dominance of her eyes.

Nori's tears, beautiful and vast and impotent.

Miroku shattering the roof to the left of her -- Mikoto atop it. Mikoto slumped. Mikoto's short, agonized breaths.

Eri's circlet snapping, her words too, bitterness but grief, too, grief where emptiness dares to play pretend.


"Uehihi, I've been saving it for an emergency, you know? It's why I like to go out with you two on patrol, other than just being together..."


Sayaka's whisper -- Sayaka's clenched teeth -- Sayaka weeping, forehead to forehead, Mami in her arms -- Sayaka...


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


She doesn't see Homura coming -- cannot see Homura at all, through the black wave La Sirene has summoned to protect her, to protect them both. La Sirene can see her, though, can see the exact moment that Madoka's world changes forever, as one era dies and another is born and the annual suffix transforms into AFTER MAMI.

Madoka hasn't quite started crying yet. The dikes are under pressure, and soon they will be breached, but first the light has to leave them. Like it left Mami's. A smaller death, but a death, all the same.

It fades slowly, like an artfully thumbed dimmer switch or a flower pressed between pages.

Slow like the last day of summer.

Slow exactly like a soul gem's shattering isn't.


They indulge in the fantasy together. Somewhere along the way, they started holding hands.

"Madoka... I could make you meals to take along when you went off to your patrols together. Hear all about your stories. And I'd be getting to know my classmates better in the meantime. And maybe if I were in danger, you could save me."

"You could join a club -- two clubs! And be captain. Get good grades, and go on dates. Sleep in on the weekends because you stayed up late going to concerts. And -- I would save you every time. I could do it right now if you want. You don't have to fight one more Witch."


La Sirene du Diamant, nee Nord, is exquisitely suited to sensing the explosion about to come, but she doesn't have to be a Queen-In-Waiting of the Sea of Tears to hear the thin, high wail leaking out of Madoka's throat.

It is wordless and shrill, and a moment later, it is wet and broken.


They come back to reality. They don't stop holding hands.

"But I'd be asking you to do the same thing that I don't want to do now, that I want to stop. I'd be taking those clubs and dates from you. And I'd be abandoning Sayaka to the conflict with the others. I want it. I want it very badly.... But even knowing that you're willing... That you feel that way about me, I... I-I'm so happy!"


Madoka bawls with all the unselfconsciousness she needs so desperately every day in the hallway at school. She is not a pretty crier. Her face resembles a mottled tomato and her breath hitches and there's already the solid beginnings of a mucus moustache, snot dripping shamelessly down and out in a sticky microcosmic externalization of her own psyche.


"I'm happy too. And... you don't have to decide right now, anyway. Keep it with you, right here." Reaching up with her free hand, she touches Mami's chest, right over the heart, lightly, with two fingers. "And, um, if you decide you're ready... then I'm ready too. It's a promise."


It's not easy for Nori to take her hands because Madoka's hands are on her own chest, right over the heart. It's where they have to be right now, because she's receiving something she'd given away a long time ago.

She curls up around herself, sinking to her knees, grinding more concrete into them. She becomes tiny. She becomes tinier by the minute.


The touch is light, pink to her, and Mami lifts her spare hand to rest over the place Madoka indicated. "Madoka... Thank you. Knowing I still have the chance..." A look down at her dear friend, "It's everything I want. I'll keep it right here. I promise, when I'm ready I'll tell you."


But the second touch, the golden touch, never comes, never joins her stubby, nail-bitten fingers.

They aren't holding hands.

They never will again. Madoka can hold her hand, but that's all.

Because Mami Tomoe was never ready. And now -- and now it's too late...

<< This isn't the end! >> Kyuubey sees fit to remind the crumpled ball of writhing, raw emotion on the ground. She wasn't trying to communicate telepathically, but her mind is no barrier to his observation. His round, unblinking gaze is watching her very closely indeed, has been throughout this entire period. He hasn't moved a muscle, flicked a tail or either set of ears.

Until now. He leans forward and upward, pushing his weight onto his front paws, his forehead approaching Madoka's just like Sayaka's is Mami's.

<< Remember why you're here! >>

La Sirene is the first to see the endless pink worlds behind Madoka's eyes reopen, first as slits, then wider, wider, as she does as she's told.

But she isn't the last.

Homura bursts through the black veil just in time to join Nori in witnessing the cruelest and worst of all emotions rekindle, just a little, in Madoka's eyes.

She's yet to so much as unfurl from her ball, or her bawl. She's choking and moaning and can't breathe through her nose anymore. She's ugly and miserable and shivering with shock.

But the hairs on the back of her neck prickle, she's goosebumps all over, electrified, as Madoka Kaname begins to remember hope.

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

It doesn't take long for Kasagami to return. No longer gripping the Sword, the bruised and battered young Duelist leaps from the side of a building, kicking her way back to viewing height of where her friends and enemies have ended up upon the skyscraper. All in time to spy a moment of utter tragedy.

Golden curls fall. Eri and Kyouko, alive. Sayaka taking up Mami. Kyouko frozen in the grip of her own emotions. Mikoto telling them they have to leave.

Her heart aches. The pain in her body seems like a far-off sensation as realization of just what happened sends a spike of cold right down her spine. The Golden Queen of Shibuya is dead. The delinquent princess of Ohtori is dead. And all by Eri Shimanouchi's hand. Her mouth is dry, and all she can do is stare at the corpse of Mami Tomoe in shock. Of all the things she expected tonight, Kasagami Araki did not expect to find one of her most hated enemies to meet her end.

The idea gets rejected in her mind. Mami has been a constant in her life ever since she'd first captured Madoka Kaname and they ended up fighting in that warehouse. Been the motivation for meeting the Shepherds despite her not entirely being in line with their philosophies and reasons for fighting. If it weren't for Mami Tomoe, she would never have gained the family that she's come here with, ready to risk her life for. She would never have met Pluto and then Rinji, finding love and something almost like enjoyment in a life that's been seeking a way to change the world.

All of those nights spent pouring over student files and punching a desk every time she finds Mami's grades once again lowering, wasted potential even when she knew what the girl was doing and up against. The unfair odds stacked against every single Puella Magi that was infuriating to even think about.

Brilliant in a fight, strong, always quick with a retort and never taking any of Kasagami's taunts without a reply. The sounds of muskets firing, clashing, adding an almost musical tone to the chaos where the Chevaliers and Shepherds fought. Elegant, poised, her title was earned. But it's their last fight that sticks out in her mind.

Kasagami facing that parade of a firing squad. Cornered by a counterattack, vulnerable in body and heart as Mami so effortlessly tore away her own scabbed insecurities with the same polite tone.

'I should tell you'.

'It's really not very kind of me to enjoy this as much as I'm about to.'

She'd gone down, but Mami had let Pluto take her away even after the shots ended. To live, to heal, an act of mercy even for someone she hated. For all that they were at conflict, at war, this was how it was supposed to be. Matters of strength and skill. A gentleman's war. A conflict decided and done with. Then they could all go back to their lives.

Enjoyment wasn't something a Puella Magi like Mami was given. A life of hunting to survive, even in exchange for a Wish, had always rubbed Kasagami in a grating way. Another tragedy in the world to be erased. For all that she thought the Chevaliers were misguided, that Mami was wrong, their noble ideals called to her. Maybe that's why as her legs feel like lead and her mouth feels like a desert, Kasagami Araki's mind can't help but be happy for that day.

At least Mami had that. A little joy, even if vindictive and coming from what she'd wrough upon the golden haired one. Kasagami should be happy. One less delinquent. One major threat to her own life and goals gone and unable to get in her way. She wouldn't need to stare at a file in annoyance. Visit her home with stacks of homework and harsh words about representing Ohtori. Face off the fury of her ribbons and guns, their sound and pain. No more having to worry about what might happen if she pushes Eri or Kyouko too hard and they run out of magic.

This should be a moment of victory, and yet, Kasagami can't look upon the Mami's face with hatred or joy at her being gone. A sleeping regal Queen for all the world she looks, beautiful even without the light in her eyes.

Managing to swallow, she can tear her gaze away. Can't move, even though she knows she should. Realization finally works it's way to her brain. Hands clench into fists, shaking. Her mouth set in a grim line. Her chin tilts downwards and her hair hides her face. There is no victory here. There won't be any in this war for survival. Nothing but cruelty and tragedy and pain. Kasagami's stomach turns, she feels queasy.

It's been a long time since she felt like this. She wants to laugh at it all. Say, do something. She is the One Engaged, a Duelist, a Student Council member. Surely, she has to do something. Anything. To change the world like she told Eri she would. To stop all the tragedies, big and small.

To stop Mami Tomoe from being a victim. All of that power. And it's completely useless.

Mami Tomoe is dead. One of her favorite enemies is dead. The woman she loved to fight and try to break her cool, to make her life hell is dead. No more fights, no more yelling and retorts. That figure that Kasagami was so sure would be a crux of her life has fallen away. Like a dragon in a storybook, the blonde tressed Puella who should've just been a girl is felled.

Her eyes sting. Kassie doesn't feel that her hands are bleeding from short nails digging in, or the long lines of tears burning down her cheeks as she gets a front row seat for something horrible. The only reason she doesn't sob is that her throat is too tight for it. Only those nearest to her can hear her finally speak.

"...Why?" Is her whisper.

Why did it have to happen like this? Why must the world force a mere girl to take another mere girl's life?

Why does she want right now, more than anything, to see Mami Tomoe's eyes open and shoot her just like all those other times?

Just like that, Kasagami Araki feels another part of her life going up in quiet flames.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mgq5r08Scm0

y Kyouko's slow pace she nears the side of what was once her oldest friend, her mentor..the light of her life at the time of its greatest darkness. A light snuffed out..and it is so terribly snuffed..the hollowness of those pupils horrifies her. She hesitates..close enough to clearly see the body of she who tried, and so nearly succeeded in killing her..in making her into that which she now sees.

Her hair hangs down low, a mossy mess of overgrown vines as she doubles over, away from what used to be Mami, and vomits onto the pockmarked rooftop. Most of what comes up is bright red.

And then she straightens, and wipes her mouth with a kerchief and tosses the damn thing away from her. And then she turns to what used to be Mami and falls to a crouch, that same ocean of hair falling feathery and loose among her knees. She hugs them, close, but she is too tightly wound to spill, and can only gather her strength.

Because there is another who has beaten her to the body..and she cannow yet risk sorrow without strength. Though her strength rallies to her weakened position, it is slow, and incomplete.

So her gaze lingers, peeking through the high grass of her savannah mane, scraps of gold shining through the blades. And she stands, her jaw visibly clenched, her muscles painfully taut, her neck so tightened that it feels like its bones seek to escape out into the cardinal directions.

And behind her she hears the racked bawling sobs that she hears in her own head, that she can't seem or can't risk to release. The raw and unvarnished pain of a saintly innocent whose heart beats so quietly strong that it has withstood so much horror and misery around her for so long. Surely this is its greatest challenger yet. Kyouko's lips move, a barely audible whisper, dry and parched, what little moisture they found only in the taunts of her own unsatisfying blood.


Why is...why is she here..why...she's not..not supposed...

More tears are wrung from the rag..more sour water to join with the blood and the grime. Kyouko shakes her head with sudden, vicious force, like a dog drying itself from the rain. She will not be blinded again, not yet. Instead she turns from Mami...Mami that was...Mami that has nowhere to go. And she sees the little pink puff bound up in her agony.

Her heel does not lift from the ground. Instead it drags forward..tiny tremors like lilliputians stabbing it with spears. But she walks a little quicker, now..not from more urgency. Her inner reinforcements are trickling through the gates..at once she sheds the vestigial and nascent armor of steel slowly stitching itself back around her, and stands simply in her armor of cloth and lace. Where her expression is not grimly restrained or stricken it is sympathetic and worried. She must find words of kindness and comfort in her for this girl who has shown her so much of each, no matter what, no matter when.

<< This isn't the end! >>

It slinks...

She had trusted it completely, once. Why wouldn't she? A fairy from a story tale, come to give life to her dreams. And then in the great bonfire of her vanity, some of that trust had burned along with so much else..but it still clung on, replaced not with suspicion so much as uncertainty. As the pillars of good and evil which gave structure to the world she knew fell away, replaced by the gleaming obelisk of the savage garden and the food chain, she realized how little she could understand how it fit into any of the world her eyes could newly see..and how unsettled that made her feel. And then those eyes went as dull as a doll's, and it's tail swished as it told them what splendid vessels it had made of what they still thought were their bodies..bodies they found it had taken from them to remake without comment or consent. That's why she knows that the crumpled form behind her was only Mami's body in a sense, that Mami was a stone now scattered..though that'splendid vessel' it had made of her was the only Mami Kyouko had ever known. But it was that revelation, then...that shattered more trust, more confidence. And what scarification filled the vacuum where that trust had been purged was not uncertainty as before.

<< Remember why you're here! >>

She no longer trusts it. And she knows, now, why Madoka is here. And what it is trying to tempt her to do.


Not much slowness to her stride now. Not much shock deadening her nerves. Her injuries protest, but their cries are perfunctory. They know they will not be heeded under the river of anger that floods into her. Under the fire that burns away all that hinders her, in the way she has always recovered.

"Madoka! You mustn't!"

She's sprinting now, red in her footprints. She pants as comes upon them, and the furious glare she gives it cannot be mistaken. She does not understand it, what it wants, where it fits. But one of the most meticulously honed systems of instinct and intuition in the city is starting to produce. She is starting to form suspicions, even if she is far from concrete guesses. But that is not for now.

Kneeling down, she reaches out with a cautious, hesitant hand, swallowing in regret as she sees its broken, dirty form, regretful that its filth will sully this pure girl. She hopes her affection will shine brighter than the murk..and very gently she brushes Madoka's bangs away.

"Madoka...I'm so sorry...I'm sorry this happened...I'm sorry you saw it...I'm sorry I can't stay with you through the storm you're suffering through...I know you are sick and lost in your grief but you must listen to me now."

Her grip is gentle, like she's trying to hold a dove-chick..but still she squeezes, as little as she can but enough for a glimmer of her strength to come through, squeezes Madoka's little shoulders and peers directly into her eyes. Kyouko's face is haggard, tired, taut, and trembling. It's clear that she's having trouble keeping herself together. But she is still keeping all the same.

"Madoka..this is what it is. This is what happens to the Puella Magi. This or..or being eaten by a nightmare. This is..this is why I try so hard..this is why I wish with all my heart I could take it back..my choice..nothing but ruin has come from it. I thought I was saving the people I loved the most. That is not what happened...Madoka, I know you're sick with grief, and that you might be thinking you can do something to make it better. But you mustn't. You mustn't. You mustn't make a contract. It will go wrong, somehow...and then you will be damned and it won't have been worth it. Nothing could be."

And then she leans in, and hugs her friend..the only one not to pick sides when everything was split into two. And she closes her eyes, and for the moment lets herself cry too.

She wishes she had more than that moment..but that moment is all that she has. She kisses that pink crown of hair, and murmurs "be strong, and know always that I am your friend." And then she stands. She looks at it again, but it is not a glare this time. Instead she looks at it blandly, clinically, as expressionlessly as those red marbles stare back at her. And then she turns..but not back to what was. Not yet.

There is a hand in the sky, carrying two angels of death. It is to them that she walks..and there is no hobble in her stride any more.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Peter Broderick - Diverge - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiTJQzNxOss

That's all of it, then. It's all gone.

Sayaka has the sunken head and heavy shoulders of a cathedral carving. She has the hollow, crumpling chest of a pumpkin scooped out too many times. Her eyes are acid and her tongue is coffee grounds. If hope is a curse, what then is its absence?

"Mami," Sayaka whispers, and this time she wants to be heard. "Mami. Mami." She shakes Mami's shoulders, so softly. Her head lolls into the crook of Sayaka's shoulder, like she wants to sleep. Sayaka gasps the way she might if she had walked into a knife.

"Mami..." Sayaka's mouth is melting, tears flowing steady rather than by drops. Her lips sputter the next word, "Stay..."

Sayaka knew what she had before it was gone. She knew. She understood that this was her happiness: a triangular glass table with Mami, Kozue, and Madoka all drinking tea. A quiet hallway at night doing laundry to the soft unseen rhythm of Mami's cutting board in the kitchen. Naps on a couch that started without a blanket and ended with one mysteriously appearing. Posing back to back, gold and blue. She would not have traded the life she had with anyone's--not a celebrity or a genius or a billionaire. Sometimes she just lay awake in her bed thinking about it, and realizing that she had spent her whole life wishing to be strong, beautiful, smart, or brave... when all she was and all she needed to be was lucky.

She had been the luckiest girl in the world.

"Stay here... with me."

Yes, she knew what she had. And she put it on the line every night. She thought Mami was invincible--or almost, perhaps, like Achilles. She thought that if the worst ever came then it would only be a matter of how much she'd be willing to give, that she could bargain with the reaper. Another arm, another leg.

She needs Mami back. Pressing her face into Mami's shoulder, Sayaka holds her tight. She knows Mami is gone but she needs her to be safe. Whatever is trying to gnaw through her arm and get to Mami has spread up her shoulder, and there are winking marks of it on Sayaka's other hand, on the part of her cheek visible above Mami's puffy shoulder. Never mind. That is not her real body.

Please. Please go back. We went the wrong way.

She was so stupid. Nothing could be worth this. Let Kyouko and Eri feed faceless strangers to monsters. Let them set Shinjuku alight and dance among its burning filth if they would. Mami loved her. She loved Sayaka, and Sayaka loved her, so much. What stranger was worth that? What thousand, or ten thousand? How dare she betray Mami to death for the sake of her own conscience?

Sayaka's lips spread around agony-hardened teeth. A shimmering black glaze slides like a puddle of mercury on one side of her face, pooling in the socket of her hidden eye, lapping down her cheekbone.

So, Sayaka thinks. I'm a Shepherd, then.


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

Through the black veil she can't see her. She didn't know she was here at all. She thought - she thought she was far away from here. Someplace safe.

But if you think I'll just... I'll just do nothing... then you aren't a-asking me to be myself. You're asking me to be the one to change. And I d-don't think that's very fair.

How foolish of her to underestimate the resolve of the girl... it's not the first time she's been responsible for her tears. That happened in what feels like a long time ago in an alleyway.

How many nights since has she cried over worthless her?

How many times since has she been responsible for her tears?

How many times has she underestimated that wisdom and resolve?

Oh, Eri-chan... Please don't say such sad things. All this, all of this -- it didn't happen because of who you are or who she likes. The problem has never been with you or Homura-chan or Sayaka-chan. The problem wasn't ever that anyone was wrong. It's that all of you are right. So... I don't think it's Eri-chan and Sayaka-chan and Homura-chan that have to change anyway...

Even now her senpai is messed up. And now she's aware of where she is, sprinting to Madoka's side. Offering comfort. She admires her for it. A girl who runs from pain - yet she's so giving to the people she cares about. Time has softened her senpai in her eyes - but she doesn't think that's a bad thing. Quite the contrary.

And her wisdom...

It's true. It's so true it resonates with the deepest parts of her. This nightmare she lives in - the nightmare that Madoka would condemn herself to by wishing.

Eri's teeth are still blood-smeared, as she lifts her chin just so and resolves herself to bring further tears - because she is that kind of monster. She is what she must be. And what she must be right now is someone who will bring more tears. Homura and her had that understanding. She cannot bring her legs to move - but that's not the only way to make one's voice heard.

<<You said it yourself didn't you? We're all right. What we're fighting about - isn't about who is anymore. So the moment she's back... the fighting would just grow worse than ever.>>

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UioSu2j8K1c

It's Sayaka that draws her to look at Mami again. To look at her for the first time since she saw the soul's gleam leave her eyes as she fell.

Once upon a time she'd told her the same lesson she's learning now... while she was holding a jag just above Mami's insensate head - aimed at her soul gem.

She's not a good enough person that the idea of saying something doesn't occur to her.

But instead - as she sees those lifeless eyes again. Those golden curls. That body ravaged by battle. As she sees that girl cradling her and begging her to stay with her.

She can't bring herself to do so.

Not right now.

It's not for Sayaka's sake in her grief. It's not even for the sake of the girl that once lived there.

More selfishly, it's because right now her emotionally dead eyes are beholding what true love is.

True devotion.

And the knowledge that whatever feelings she held for the girl that once lived there...

... cannot even begin to compare...

... when not even minutes ago she was chiding her for her lack of love for her senpai...

Even holding her to blame for this - right now she cannot question her love.

That hollow - septic feeling grips her as that realization settles in.

Before she could not look.

And now she cannot look away - her eyes as vacant as they are green.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Black Wave - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2RiG5nhuPs

It comes.

Inexorable and terrifying and black, with all the force of a thousand sorrows that accept deferment no more, la Sirene's wave comes. It dwarfs the fleetfooted slip of a puella charging it. It washes in like an engulfing tide, and no one can stop the tides.

Except that it stands between Homura Akemi and the girl she loves.

She would personally pull the water back from all the sands of all the beaches in the world, dig with pale hands until flesh and blood and tendon wore away, and still Homura would keep clawing it back, delicate white phalanges bleaching in the sun, if it would keep the tides from lapping at Madoka Kaname's exposed toes.

Will the wave hit her? Yes. Will it hurt? Without doubt. Does Homura care what happens to her body if she makes it through la Sirene's swell of despair? If that expenditure of self is in service to her? No.

The fear is a deeper thing. It doesn't slow Homura -- it keeps her moving forward, always forward, she can't stop moving or it will all catch up to her and she'll... She fears what will happen if she doesn't get through that wave more than she fears the wave itself. And so Homura hunches her shoulders up around her ears and aims for the thinnest point in that inky-bright membrane. The way to Madoka is through.

As she goes she slips one bloodied hand to her other forearm. It rests upon the silvery mechanisms embedded in the front of her shield, rather than sliding into the infinite space behind it. Her thumbpad settles into the rounded groove of a flywheel, a heartbeat away from setting it spinning, painting it red.

Homura hits the wave, or maybe the wave hits her. One ripples through the other -- again, unclear which is which. Black crawls into every pore of her skin. It oozes across the exposed whites of eyes she did not dare close and if there was time and space for her to shudder, the tremors would take her full-body.

But there never is. Homura Akemi keeps going. When she begins to pull through and free it should be a relief but she gasps for air too early and suspires sorrow. It drips into her opening mouth and drools away across smooth cheeks. Darkness streams across and away and behind her, and the separation of puella from wave is a tangled indistinct transition, until the glossy black of her hair finally pulls away from the eldritch roil of Les Mysteres.

Laying eyes on pink clearly again, THAT is a relief. And a fresh stab of pain. And another desperate shot of adrenalin, all in one. As ever, Madoka Kaname is everything.

And she's sobbing.

She's a ball of wracked sorrow, and that awful red that splashes across the night and skinless palms, it has invaded pink. It's in her soft cheeks and rings bawling eyes. But it doesn't matter how Madoka goes about her crying, she'll always be the prettiest girl in the world to Homura Akemi. The most heartbreaking.

Her tunnel vision expands to include somewhat which is not Madoka Kaname -- an aperture expanding outward by a stop.

La Sirene is to one side. Kyouko Sakura stands over Madoka, clear now and moving away.

Kyuubey is much, much closer.

The hateful little beast leans so near to Madoka that his reflection in her eyes nearly occludes the dreadful hope he's dared to foster there.

If he touches her, then Homura can't...

The look in her eyes...

Homura stuffs a scream down her throat. Useless. USELESS. This is not where this timeline ends. She REFUSES.

Her thumb feels its way forward. The blood on the gears is slick, but her touch is sure. She has done this a thousand times before.

With a whir and a click, the world


SOUNDTRACK CHANGE: Time-Manipulation - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x6V6XJp3tso

Blue and red and green and even pink, they all disappear, robbed of hue and vim and vigor. It's like they're joining gold out of respect and mourning.

Homura straightens from her crouch in a place that is grey, a grey simultaneously smudged and crystal sharp: a newsprint still life of itself. She herself possesses the only color left, in violet trim and violet eyes and the violet gem atop one hand. Small pebbles wrung from the pulverized building's corpus hang in midair, tumbled off of boots and blades and bodies. Every single being on the rooftop, arrested mid-lunge or mid-shout or mid-snarl.

Mid-fall. Mid-embrace. Mid-sob.


Maybe half an inch separates the unadulterated white of Kyuubey from the pale greyscale of Madoka's bowed head. It is a terrifyingly brief distance, barely enough for Homura's purposes. But first...

The cold-faced girl with all the cold-barreled guns clenches fists that ooze color -- drip, drip, until the droplets nearly reach the concrete and then they too arrest, losing color and velocity until they are indistinguishable from photocopied raindrops. She swallows, visibly. Except it is visible to no one, she is near the center of a battlefield full of open eyes that cannot see, and that is the point.

"It's all going to hell," Homura Akemi remarks to no one but herself.

It's been such a successful timeline, as these things go. So many surviving puella. So many prospective allies. So many threads to pull...

She won't give it up so easily. She gives up nothing easily. If it's going to hell, then Homura will drag it back out again with both hands. Like the tides.

She steps toward the pink-gone-grey girl in her agonized, unmoving crouch, reaches out, and sees as if for the first time the flayed meaty exposures in both palms. Homura's hands are awful, ugly messes. She doesn't want to stain Madoka with them. So it's with hasty bandages torn from hem of her henshin skirt and wound around each hand, ruffles that start white but soak up color and wet well enough, that Homura finally reaches back out again.

There is this... pause, right before her fingers close around Madoka's upper arm. A little freeze, when she moves as little as the world she has forcefully stopped. Like touching Madoka might have a greater effect on Homura than the other way around. She pushes through that, too.

Readies herself.

Whatever promises Sirene offered up to a wolf in mascot's clothing, whatever comfort Kyouko Sakura tried to give Madoka... It won't be enough. Homura knows it won't because it cannot be enough. Only she has the power to save the girl in pink. The very disposition of a violet-colored soul depends upon that belief.

With thin cool fingers bounded by soft cloth she grabs hold of the center of her universe and yanks, more roughly than may seem strictly necessary to anyone but the girl doing the yanking. Back, and away from the devil before her. Up, and out of a world that breathes and moves and hopes -- into the grey realm of Homura Akemi.

She pulls sideways, puts some spin into the motion like Madoka is a top, and catches her by the other arm too. Color spreads from Homura's pale hands into the girl she's snatched up until there is pink in the violet magi's world again. It makes it all a little more bearable.

Homura keeps going. She doesn't wait for Madoka to get her bearings, barely even lets life return to those big, mournful, hopeful eyes. This is for Madoka, isn't it?

"It's going to be okay, Madoka Kaname," she says, and it's meant to comfort but it's also a defiant insistence in the face of a great deal that is very much not okay.

And all the while telling herself still that she is doing this for Madoka, all for Madoka, and not herself, she draws the girl she loves more than anything in the universe in for a hug. One arm pulls, the other slides up and around those precious shoulders, whether they hitch still with sobs or not.

Her hands remember the span of Madoka's shoulders so well, her arms know exactly how perfectly the pink girl fits within them. In the quiet of absolute still, the soft-cloth rustle of the hug fills the air. And with her mouth so close now to Madoka's ear, Homura drops her voice.

"It's over now," she whispers. "The hard part is done. Just let it all out."

They're the right words, Homura knows, the words you're supposed to say. She's said them to Madoka Kaname before. They've worked.

And they have to work now.

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

Engulfed by Kyouko's affection and concern, Madoka's whole world becomes a different shade of red.

She does not flinch from the Shepherd's touch; if anything it replaces, and catastrophically fails to replace, the absence left by Mami's hand. It is a phantom feeling, and it is a real one too, and it is the only thing perhaps that can tease her own hands into unclenching themselves from her shirtfront.

She entwines her fingers into Kyouko's without hesitation or caution, but she doesn't look to them, doesn't notice the way that they're so sorely mistreated. She can't, because the Puella Magi's forehead is pressed against her own.

But they both know it wouldn't have mattered anyway.

They share a still, quiet moment, clear-eyed pink locked onto clear-eyed red, and the grief that passes between them, an oscillating wave sloshing back and forth between two hearts, is not noxious and choking and black, because the antidote to poison and pain and darkness is connection.

And also because Madoka was still daring to hope. Kyouko sees it there, sees it clearly through those twin roseate windows: a world where Mami Tomoe is still alive and Madoka Kaname stands beside her, beside all of them. A world of eternal battle and terrible choices. A world a little bit brighter because while not all that glitters is gold, at least now there's a particularly precious candle lit within it once more.

And then Kyouko sees that world drowned.

What she flinches from first is the apology, as though it's struck her fiercely about the ears; the tide of tears had stopped for an instant, shocked away by Kyuubey's reminder of her responsibility, but they cannot withstand this mix of gentleness and closeness and, most of all, the terrible, terrible way that, in this moment, Kyouko keeps herself together -- to passionately advocate for a world without Mami -- for MADOKA, for her own good.

What she flinches from second is Eri's warning, which comes to her simultaneously with Kyouko's, the two messages different and the same and, ultimately, inseparable to her.

this is what it is

the fighting would just grow worse than ever

Clenching more tightly into her ball like a miserable armadillo, the wail rises within her throat again like a siren, the pipes are all open again and blasting saline and mucus, and she tastes the edge of vomit too at nothing could be. She sobs into Kyouko's embrace, but though they cry against one other, the connection has been lost, severed, broken. Madoka cannot hold up her half of the bargain anymore, unable even to form a single coherent thought, much less a compassionate one.

And so they grieve adjacent, but not together.

When Kyouko leaves, she has to leave Madoka behind uncertain if she's even aware of her departure. The kiss lingers on her brow and the Puella Magi's scent is still all around her, and she rocks back and forth on her heels. Disentangled, her hands have a fresh coating of dried blood on them now which she grinds once more into themselves and into her shirt.

you will be damned

it won't be worth it

nothing could be

Even when she's yanked roughly upwards, she doesn't get it right away. Vertical instead of circular like her name Madoka is not less tiny or less miserable. It doesn't matter that the crushing sound that accompanies Miroku's simple presence has fallen away and it doesn't matter that she can't smell anything and it doesn't matter that her teardrops are now hovering in midair around her, once they've detached and fallen from her chin by about a foot.

nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing

She has never wept into this sensible shoulder before, and she has wept into it countless times. It isn't dreamlike familiarity that comforts her now, though -- it is practiced familiarity. Madoka is Pavlovian, beneath Homura's arms and her whispers, too, which slide into her ears with a sniper's perfection and reduce her even further to the world's most unhappy putty.

In that silent place between seconds, Madoka folds into Homura's embrace and cries, and cries, and cries, and

nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing

worse than ever

this is why I wish with all my heart that I could take it back

I wish I had a life where my most pressing concern was finals

I wish I had a life where

I wish I had a life

Just let it all out.

"I wish," she blubbers into Homura's shoulder, "I-I-I, I wuh-wish..."

Kyuubey, frozen next to them, cannot hear her to fulfill any contracts. Does she know that or not? Does it matter?

"I, I..." She can't get the worst straight in her head, she can't get anything straight, it's all -- it's all terrible. "Wiiiiiii--" dissolves into a wail again.

"I wish," she weeps.

that mami and kyouko and eri and sayaka and homura had never made contracts

"I wish," she sniffs.

that there were no such thing as puella magi

"I wish," she murmurs, lifting her face from Homura's blouse with an almost audible crack of shattering dried tears and snot, and tucking her chin on top of her shoulder instead.

that there were no such thing as w

Her eyes open, and what she sees annihilates her midthought with more detonation than thirty-four blocks of C4. Homura can feel it, feel the exact moment that Madoka's entire world ceases to be contained within her outstretched arms.

She was shaking, irregularly, all this time, rattled to and fro from the force of her own sobs, but now the trembles are higher and faster and infinitely more intense. Up an octave.

"Sayaka," Madoka gasps.

She doesn't understand what she's looking at. There is no recognition. No flash of blinding insight.

No, it is not induction that rules Madoka, and as she's seized with panic she immediately forgets that they have something statistically similar to all the time in the world. The instinct she feels -- that she is about to lose Sayaka forever, as totally and irrevocably as she just lost Mami -- it isn't learned or practiced from anything but a hundred sleepovers beneath Totoro's watchful smile.

From games played late at night with the volume turned down way too low to avoid parental detection.

From sitting next to each other at ten consecutive first day of school ceremonies.

From sitting next to each other at concerts.

From sitting next to each other in a hospital waiting room.

From sitting next to each other on the very last train in from Tama. Lying on each other, next to each other, the moon shared in their eyes.

"She's, she's going to," if Madoka had even one percent of a calculated mind she would realize that if she just lets this happen she could then wish Mami AND Sayaka back, but that, too, is not what rules Madoka, "She's -- SAYAKAAAAA!!"

Her scream drifts through the space between them and gets lost in the time between them instead.

She scrabbles desperately within Homura's embrace, now, trying not to pull away but to pull them BOTH across the intervening distance. Her hands clap around one of Homura's like a sandwich. But Homura is iron and she is as light as a fluttering moth's wing and she cannot move -- she cannot reach Sayaka -- she cannot get there without Homura's consent. Her leash extends right to the tips of her own fingers.

"Help, help! Please," she begs, the tears renewing yet again with new, frantic heat, "Please. Please help. Please help Sayaka-chan."

It's unbearable to look away for even an instant and it is incredible relief to retreat away from -- that -- to the relative familiarity of Homura's eyes.

"Please," she whimpers. "Please..."

And as quickly as she lost that feeling of that perfectly closed world, just the two of them, Homura gets it back.

She's the only one Madoka's looking at now.

She holds Madoka's whole world in her hands.

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

La Sirene de Diamant comes near to Madoka and she practically falls down into a rough seiza crouch. Her boots jingle for a moment, an improbably cheery sound. She does not touch Madoka, not yet, but she is within hand's reach. She does not feel obscurely right to do so without prompting. Everything has just happened. It all moved so fast.

She does not say anything to Madoka because there is nothing to say. She feels momentarily grotesque. What could she promise Mami, or Madoka, beyond the hope that it is all some gruesome mistake?

Her thoughts flicker dully.

"Don't badger her," she says just as dully, the words lead bellstrokes, as Kyuubey speaks. It is more weary than chiding. The creature must truly be strange, to not understand, to...

The thought terminates in the arrival of Kyouko Sakura.

La Sirene stares at her with eyes like bone but within a moment Kyouko is practically bawling. Her slow response may be a blessing, for once, she thinks, instead of a curse. Kyouko pours her heart out and la Sirene looks at her and her head slowly turns, panning like the mechanism of a great turret, over the tiny contorted pink form of her dear friend, the friend who took her to see the pilot whales.


For a moment la Sirene's vision blurs. The pilot whales. She was sitting there in the chilly early-spring air - was it just last year? Her birthday wasn't long ago - with Madoka, and the whales danced, and it was sweet and clean and she felt good and like she belonged and Mami is a rapidly cooling body over that way yonder.

When her focus returns from the momentary fugue, Nori Ankou is still a screaming siren (so to speak) to the diamond girl, but she's found herself on her feet. She raises a hand to press to her forehead. The world is swimming. Her head hurts.

Did she hit me? la Sirene thinks. In the head? Are we still fighting?

In her mind the shadow is there, and the sounds don't match. The pretty thought lasts only a few moments, before the lead apron is set back around her shoulders again; though she stays standing, if only out of inertia.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Puella in Somnio - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGgLSTOpTI4

On silent film, there is Mami Tomoe. She could well be asleep: monochrome robs her injured body of the telltales of violence, and her bloodied henshin uniform has been replaced by a pristine dress, her torn stockings with smooth tights. Her face is serene, almost wistful. Frost has settled on her closed lids in the form of long eyelashes.

A delicate, feminine dress like this seems out of place on a field of rubble and concrete. One small foot overlaps the other; just a little nap, it seems, in her short, heeled boots. Her forehead is tucked into Sayaka's shoulder, but not enough to hide her soft features. Just enough to hide her hollowed out hair ornament.

Mami Tomoe slumbers inside the shell of a sleepless ghost. The arm wrapped around her is shrouded in a long, tattered white cape, and where a white glove should be cupping Mami's upper arm to pull her close, there is a malignant shadow grasping. Where a noble blue breastplate should serve as Mami's pillow, a sort of simmering ink is frozen, an obvious snapshot of restless motion. A grey sheaf of hair falls down over what should be an eye, and the seething dark that boils from it over part of Sayaka's face.

Where Sayaka's skin is visible, it is pale and dirty. Her lone eye is haunted, her cheekbone drawn by desperate grief. It is that bare half of her face, uncorrupted, that is pressed against Mami's temple.

Pure for all its tatters, the cape is a swirl around both Puella Magi, dead and mourning alike, as though they rest within a white rose. But within, all across Sayaka's body, there is a darkness halted in the act of teeming.

On Sayaka's bare naval, a gemstone in the shape of a stylized moon looks like obsidian, save for thin veins of lingering clarity.

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

Kasagami feels like some sort of perverse watcher, as she stares at Mami and Sayaka. Laid in her arms, Sayaka mourning, the young Duelist's tears dry only because she can't find more. She can't appreciate the depths of the connection as a Puella Magi can, as Eri Shimanouchi can. But the sight of the grieving over the begrieved opens up an old wound. The sobs that previously threatened to spill out and choke her to death fade. Her good eye becomes a slit, sleepy looking if it weren't so bloodshot and trembling.

Mind and heart wars within Kasagami's soul, caught between the needs of now and once again having a pillar of her life crumpled like wet paper. Another piece of Ohtori's beautiful little storybook tossed aside in the face of cold hard reality. Of the story she's tried to write herself into, as King.

Kyouko comforts Madoka. She spies the young woman in the redhead's arms nearly by accident as enough wits come back for her to rip her gaze away from her beloved enemy. Madoka. Madoka. The little girl that was the catalyst for everything. An order and a theft from the blue haired girl, Mami's hatred earned, and then the long tumble to the Shepherds and now this. What once felt like winds of fate becomes an unbroken line in Kasagami's head, dominoes falling into place and putting her right here, right now. To tear through a friend she thought dead in her heart. To lash strength into a beautiful swordswoman at her wits' end.

And to have the Sword of Dios fail in slashing through the kind of suffering she's devoted her life to ending no matter what it took.

There won't be a Revolution tonight. Only regret.

Her head aches, and she feel dizzy. Stumbling forward, Kasagami catches herself. Rubbing away tears on her streaked face, she takes several breaths. Deep, calming ones, just like mother taught her. What she wouldn't give for her mother's arms right now, her wisdom. Telling her what to do.

But her mother is dead, cut down by a monster right in front of her eyes.

That brief, fleeting memory snaps Kasagami out of her grief-and-shock laden daydream. The pain is fresh and her arm burns furiously from stress and fatigue. But her mind proves strong and finds a connection. Once more she looks to Sayaka. A young woman with someone she loves in her arms, cut down. That much is plain as day. That someone's murderer is too in a daze. Eri Shimanouchi, despite her orders, is still here.

Like a splash of icey water to a sizzling flash-burn, cold hard logic creeps it's way into Kasagami. There's little room right now for bombast or even more grieving for the lost. The pain here is thick enough to cut with a blade. It's tinged with an aroma she's familiar with, one laced through with fire and soot and screams and burning pain.

With horrific realization of a possible future, Kasagami finds herself holding someone just as Sayaka does. An older woman, the two spitting images of each other. Something looming, deadly. Sayaka and Kasagami share more in common than Kasagami would ever dare admit to others or herself aloud.

And she knows exactly what she would want to do to someone or something that cut down a precious, beloved part of her life. Bravery and her powerful raging emotions fail, except for one. Fear. Naked, undisguised fear lifts the lead from her legs and then she's rushing over to Eri Shimanouchi to reach for her shoulders.

She grips, the good side of her face ashen and the rest all ugly scarrs as she struggles with this new terrible weight they all now share in differing, unique forms of trauma and pain.

"Eri Shimanouchi. This is not the time to go daydreaming! We have to get out of here. YOU need to get out of here, as fast as you can, do you understand me?" Kasagami's voice is hollow, choked, and quiet in the night. Yet she finds strength in that fear for her beloved friend. Murderer twice or no, she loves Eri Shimanouchi as friend, ally, and family.

That's not a pillar she's willing to let get crushed tonight too. No Revolution or Wish would be able to keep Kasagami moving if that happened.

She blinks, and finds tears as she finally lets go of a sob. Really, she didn't think she had anything left. She'd laugh if her lungs weren't on fire.

"I am not letting you get cut down for vengeance, fair or not. Damnit, too much is ruined tonight already, let's just get going and leave this wretched tomb forever, okay? I've been in that girl's shoes! Go, please God, I'm begging you!" Gulp. She turns around, letting go, and sets into a guarding position, One hand on the hilt of her smaller katana. She can't draw her nodachi, her heart hasn't the power in it. By how her hand trembles? It'll be a miracle if she could draw the shorter one if she really needed to. She tries to physically block Eri's view with her larger body.

She doesn't know what any darkness in Sayaka might mean. All she knows is her own past. And so she projects. With what little strength left in her heart, she urges her dear friend and Shepherd leader to live.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwkFixCq9t0

Kyouko can see into Madoka's heart with such clarity..that most unguarded and unprotected of spirits. It is not a new insight, that she is so. It is just so remarkable that that delicate pink flower has not wilted or died in such ingenerous soil, such stingy rays of sun, such bitter water and buffeting breeze. She sees her fragility, now. And what's..not gratitude. Nothing so thoughtful as that. A more primal sense of relief for some stability, wobbly reed though it is.

Would that she could've come only this far. That she could comfort her friend and take away her pain. That she didn't have to come further. But Kyouko's further aim is not one of comfort, or reassurance. It is to strip away the one outlet of optimism, the one narrow channel of possible efficacy and control she has left. Not to tell her that she cannot open that door, but that she should choose not to.

No wonder she recoils..Kyouko reached out an oar for her to clutch in the sea..then drew it back, and told her the island she had invested her prayers in is but a mirage.

And now she leaves her to sink or to swim. She hopes so terribly that she hasn't severed their connection, their friendship, for good. But the killing kindness is the only that can be spared. She must wring the neck of the mutilated lamb, mewling and dying in such prolonged agony. And even if the dark seeds of enmity and hate for her take root in the heavenly soil of Madoka's heart, it will be worth it if she forgoes that door.

So she is seen in the black and the gray, in the in between, not of worlds but of moments. Her poise is strong, and tall. Not entirely removed from the haggard survivor she'd just been - she is still badly injured and fatigued. But she is weakened in the way an injured lioness is weakened - there is nothing frail to be seen. But, halted in time..Stepping so close from where Madoka once stood before she was whisked up above it all..uninterrupted by the constant shifts of muscles in motion, Kyouko in still relief betrays more of her tension and grimness and woeful despair. Her shoulders are a little hunched, her back a little stooped..her brow a little tight, her jaw a little clenched. A girl who has swallowed the pain she has just inflicted on a genuinely holy creature..and, perhaps, her own wish, deep and benign in its inert state, but threatening to spill viral corruption if the walls containing its sleeping potential were ever breached..that it would be so lovely, for somebody to take it all away from her and the others, even if the bargain cost a pure soul who needn't be involved. To be saved as by Him who she has seen since his carving was hung over her cradle, since he swayed in the air from the chain around her father's neck as he leaned in to kiss her brow.

What a vicious thing it is to hold hope.

Whatever happens in the crevices between time is not for her to know. She can hear something behind her, above her..but there is no time for her but to move forward.

She hadn't gotten a good look at it before, in the fog of war. Even now the thing whose name she does not know called Miroku..she would blink and shake her head if she had the focus to spare, but she does not, let alone to truly look at the immense creature. For now it must be enough that she sees who is raised on its palm.

Spined lengths plunge into the rooftop, pitons to anchor her against the grand rock, but there is no violence in their pace, only urgency. She does not become a Queen of Blades, but still she rises..her body so small in its silhouette against the moonface, born up by those long limbs, crowdsurfing on spears. She lifts herself to that hand..and to the girl perched on its palm.


Oh, Eri...

She hangs for only a moment, suspended above the hand by her cables, her legs dangling down, wreathed each in complex tributaries of blood in varyingly fresh states. And then she dips down, finding ground, the umbilical cord tracing her back to the rooftop disappearing..and she runs before her friend and her savior, throwing her arms around her shoulders and hugging her close, hugging her tight, lifting her feet off of the ground for just a moment.

"Eri-chan..you saved me...you saved me..you saved me...Eri-chan.."

Kyouko cries freely now. Now, with Eri..now, just for her..she reveals a measure of the utter terror that still grips her at having come so close to a fate so feared that she has made a demon of herself to hedge against it. A fate only spared by the loyalty, the love, the friendship, the hardship, the sacrifice of the guardian angel in her arms. Shaking, she kisses Eri's cheeks, her forehead. She holds her tight, tight..

"I was..I was going to die..and you saved me.."

Kyouko is like that for a long moment. Eri is not Madoka..there is no stiff medicine to administer. No cold mercy. Nothing but warmth and frantic relief and the light of her love.

"I know..it's all so much..so much to feel..right now..I can barely manage it all..and I'm sure it's even harder for you..I don't..I don't know if in that head of yours you're flaying yourself..in that heart you're hardening yourself..but you are an angel of light and you have saved my life and I will never forget what you have done for me...I hate that she did this..I hate that she didn't stop...I hate that she came here...I hate that she is gone..and I hate that you were forced to act to save me...That she and they put you in this position...but I would be dead if it weren't for you. You saved my life..and in my heart you are a hero, in that heart that loves you completely and utterly. I am so sorry for what you had to do...so lost to depression and rage that it had to be done...but I am so grateful that you did it..."

Wreathing her arms under Eri's own, bending up at their elbows to tenderly grasp at her shoulders, forearms draped against her upper back, Kyouko smiles, weeping freely, and presses her forehead to Eri's and closes her eyes, just standing there for a long moment and feeling her heart against her.

And then she pulls back, her arms still on her friend, not yet breaking contact. She smiles still, but there is a fierceness in her eyes.

"I'm gonna go say goodbye to her. And then I'm outta here. Leave if something happens before then. If not..."

She darts in and kisses her once more on the cheek, a roguish and conspiratorial tone to her whisper.

"We'll leave together!

Only now does she part from the embrace. Kyouko flashes a wink, and dives off from the giant's grip..back to that which lies below...

Steel forms around her body anew. Her razored skirts, her armored crown...the concealment of her soul gem. Her arms remain just that, for now...and the many limbs of her many spears do not form. But she is dressed to defend herself, weakened, but not weak...

For as she lands upon the roof, Sayaka Miki lies before her, protecting the broken vessel of her oldest friend. And she is sure that she will not have it...just as Kyouko is sure that she will have her goodbye.

She steps forward..and hesitates, frowning. Her eyes are fixated on...


What..what is happening?

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

Mikoto is sprawled over the Child Miroku's back, nestled against the knots of a gigantic bow which supports her on three sides. The sword Miroku is held in the iron grip of one hand, red sigils burning grey now - the other, muscles weaker from the wounds on her side and her arm, grasps desperately at the cloth, mid-flex. Sweat lines her face, teeth exposed from a breath taken mid-pant. She looks to Eri, held in Miroku's massive palm.

The expression captured on that face, behind the pain written over it: concern and devotion, in equal measure. It is the face you wear when someone precious is deathly ill, and all you can do is offer simple comforts. There are no veils, no hidden things. Everything is written plainly in the curve of her brow, the tenseness of her lip.

It's love.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Persistence of Loss - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FJTzc3zrIrw

Homura Akemi clutches her whole universe to her chest. She stands firm and tall, and she supports the sobbing Madoka through the sheer force of the hug. She asked for the other girl's tears and now she has them, pouring out onto her trim grey-and-black collar in great torrents. She wrested up Madoka's grief for her own, tender and heartbreaking and precious.

And God help her, it feels... so... good. It fills up a girl who has been hollow for a very long time.

Her arms cinch in; her fingers squeeze, laying claim. Possessing. Homura closes her eyes. Enjoys the moment, in this greyscale frozen privacy she has conjured for them. Enjoys the spoils of the horrific murder of Mami Tomoe at the hands of a girl who loved her.

Then Madoka starts... wishing.

Even though Homura knows the Incubator is as unmoving and impotent as the rest of the world, even though she knows it is safe, just heard that word over and over, from that mouth, in that voice... It's awful. It rips the breath right out of Homura's lungs. Her worst nightmare, murmured like a hopeful prayer, over and over. "Stop... stop that," she starts to say when Madoka lifts her head. Her voice betrays her a little, hitches upward, but then she stops altogether when that look comes over the other girl's face.

Sayaka? The realizations start to cascade in Homura's brain -- she's good at tracing chains of events -- but she doesn't need to finish figuring it out for herself. The short girl with the oversized heart screams, that girl's name, and begins to struggle. Madoka's forcing her to see, and every tug and squirm is another little death of Homura's dreams.

When Homura sees the roiling distortion, the black that pours and bubbles over the freeze-frame tragedy of Sayaka Miki's grief, she realizes her folly. That as deeply as the death of Mami Tomoe has affected Madoka, that this, this might well and truly end it all. This might just be too much.

That girl, the thought grinds. That girl always falls. She always matters so damned much to Madoka. She always finds a way to ruin everything. There's an absolute mercenary savagery to Homura's lack of empathy. She doesn't care that Sayaka Miki is about to lose the struggle for her very soul on the edge of shattering, gutspilling grief. She cares that it's going to push Madoka over the brink. It's another thing Homura cannot allow. She holds on with all the unyielding strength her strange puella magi body can offer, but it does not take much, not really. Madoka Kaname is smaller and weaker (and precious, and to be protected at all costs), after all.

When the girl with the pink hair, the only color that matters in the static that surrounds Homura Akemi, looks back to her, comes back to her, it could be a benediction -- she's begging Homura for help.

But Madoka wants Homura to help Sayaka.

"Stop that!" she snaps. The moment is fled for her, no matter how much she misses it. Her eyes are as hard and her voice is as cold as the guns stored in her shield. "Help Sayaka Miki," Homura repeats. Her face is a wall, her mouth is a knife slash.

"...Yes. I could do that." Her arms are still around Madoka, but they have an awkward rigidity to them, held carefully. "She can still be saved. I could even give you the Grief Seed to waste on her." On the worst of lost causes. "All she needs is that and..." Homura knows what else Sayaka Miki almost certainly needs. She is not at all certain it will help in the long term, but the immediate crisis is her concern. The rest, later.

She hates it. Finally, Homura finishes, "And you to bring it to her."

But she's not pulling the Grief Seed out, she's not releasing the girl in her arms. She's not done, not yet. "But I'll only help you help her if you'll make me a promise, Madoka Kaname."

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

In a frozen world. Eri Shimanouchi stares at Sayaka Miki clutching Mami Tomoe. A hand clutched to her forehead - holding her soul gem in place that can no longer stay there on it's own. In this world she might as well be a statue right now. A thing carved out of marble. At least - that's how she would hope, as she's trying to hold it in. But to an outside observer right now in this single split second of time it's obvious how she must feel. Emptiness is how she thinks she feels. But the widest space and most far-reaching void is still filled with something - it cannot truly be empty. And she is a vessel right now waiting to overflow...

Why is Eri Shimanouchi still here?

It's a question that Kasagami might ask. And Eri slowly tears her eyes off of the torturous devotion at the sound of her voice. She doesn't respond at first. And then - "You're right. We're leaving. But by that I mean we are leaving." There is at least emphasis on that syllable. "All of us."

She had promises to keep. To her Senpai. To Homura. To the Outer Senshi. One of them was that no matter what happened - she would keep surviving. At any and all cost. But right now on the Shepherds - noone had died. And she aims to keep it that way. She aims to ensure it.

And while her presence makes her the biggest target - exacerbates matters. It also means that the wounded stragglers would not suffer for her retreating early.

Her tone is cold and twisted, but it is the only refuge she has left. The connections and bonds she's made that are unbroken. The pieces of her that are still whole.

They are the most precious things left to her - which is proven when...

Her name is spoken.

For a moment dread manages to overwhelm emptiness. She's like a child who wonders if a parent is about to punish her or not for what she's done.

Kyouko Sakura had always been gentle with her after their first meeting. Always. It was the one constant in her life.

And yet - had things changed the moment she killed her mentor? She'd heard her senpai's grief. She'd known how deep and far reaching it was - how much it had torn her to fight Mami.

And for a second or two her eyes are downcast, before she looks at her, like a child that's going to accept whatever is coming.

And that's when she finds herself in her arms.

She has to keep her hand to her forehead right now - but after a moment she shakily raises her injured arm that had wounded by pommel strike. It raises behind her back, fingers twisting and flexing like claws. And it slowly wraps around her in her pained state. "... senpai... I thought..." Whatever dark bitterness has overwhelmed her tonight - this constant remains.

Her senpai cries freely, and she rests her forearm against her, trying her best to comfort her. "Thank goodness..."

That she made it. That she's still a part of her life.

"... thank goodness." She rasps softly - as more emotion enters into it. "... you... I..."

Being called an Angel of Light - when she feels she's the worst kind of monster. One splendidly suited towards hurting the people she loves.

It makes her feel weak in the knees. It's the most unexpected thing. Like being told she saw God again thanks to her. Or that she saw her family again.

Her love is the only thing that could possibly vie against this torrent of emotion.

"... I think..."

Eri finally murmurs nigh inaudibly beside her. "... I think there are no angels in hell..."

Her lips take some time to move. To work... not so long ago she thought perhaps maybe the fact they're together is the proof that they're not in hell.

Now she knows that they are - and the only worse way her life could be punished is if she loses her. If she loses all the people that stave off its cruelty. "...but as long as you'll have me... I'll be yours."

On any other day the kiss on her cheek might have made her smile. Right now it can't. But that makes it no less precious as the first time her senpai did that.

But as Kyouko parts from her. "Of course..." She says quietly before stealing a glance at the HiME "Mikoto... do you mind waiting just a little longer until she does...? Then we can leave together."

But as those words are spoken - a scent both familiar and wrong enters her nostrils as she looks back upon her - and the girl in blue - and a fallen Golden Queen.

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlbASi61-7Q


Once upon a time a Golden Child wiped a forest off a map to send a message. She was there as it burned. When she woke up to the next day was ugly desolation. A scar in the Earth. It was bad enough. The constant reminder - but even in that, there was hope.

A forest can be regrown - even if it takes a generation of hard work and effort and love. She'd started organizing efforts towards it as soon as someone lost turned up alive.

Someone special had confessed her love. It felt like that out of tragedy there would be recovery. And hope in her life.

Three days later - it started to rain. Ever since she was a child - she loved the rain. So much. One of her favorite indulgences as a child was playing in it alone. Splashing, exulting. Getting so wet that she might even catch cold.

As a middle schooler she didn't do that. But she still lifted her head. A smile cracked upon her lips as it pattered down upon her face.

But that feeling of exultion - of joy quickly faded as the curve of her lips faded.

She couldn't place it at first. Exactly what was wrong.

It took her a while to place it. Certainly Ohtori was still filled with flowers - but without its forest - there was a missing element.

It doesn't smell right anymore...

One of her favorite things had been turned into something cold and wet... something that could only chill her to the bone.


It was raining again.

And Mami Tomoe had come to offer her hope. Hope that there could be something better - even after she'd almost killed her senpai.

"...I don't want to fight you. I just wanted to talk with you again. That's all I wanted from you. I miss you. I just wish... I could have done better.

The droplets are striking her face one by one. And in the coming downpour... it smells all wrong again. And she can't bring herself to be kind as the feeling of despair crawls through her.

"You give me false hope - then you take it away. I'm not even sure you can help yourself. I think as things are now... all we can do is hurt each other. And that means there's no chance for anything else between us. Do yourself a favor and stay away from me and senpai."

She leaves her standing in the rain beneath an umbrella - alone.


Black swirls in Sayaka Miki's gem as she leans over Mami Tomoe's lovely husk.

And the girl in red goes to say goodbye to her - she's clearly startled.

A feeling she knows well chills Eri Shimanouchi to the bone.

It's not raining tonight in Shinjuku. There are clouds in the sky and even with the Spring Humidity - there's not a single droplet falling from the sky. "Senpai... whatever you have to say to her..."

And yet... it's growing stronger so strong that that wrong-scent is stinging her nostrils. It's so strong that she has to close her eyes, look away, "... we should go before it starts raining..." And where the heavens fail to provide - behind her eyelids, she feels it gathering - but she wills it back until they can well and truly leave this place.

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

Her thoughts are not her own. Mikoto knows this, now, as she argues with herself. They sound like her thoughts - they're shaped like her feelings - but they don't come from her at all. It was Miroku, could only ever possibly be Miroku, her weapon who must always forever eternally stay at her side. She couldn't see it, because their hearts beat as one. She couldn't possibly see it until her own leapt into her throat, started pounding with fear over the terrible fate of Eri Shimanouchi.

You betray your purpose. I can't... Defeat the enemies. Protect Eri! They have not been defeated. You must defeat the enemies. Sayaka will kill her! She too is an enemy. Defeat the enemy. She'll kill before she dies! Unimportant. The girl is death walking. She has told you this. I'm not giving up on Eri! You must fight. We gotta save her! That is not your purpose. I want to save her! Your wants are irrelevant. You are not a shield. You are a blade. Miroku, please! Eri needs us! ... are you so sure?

She's never been more sure of anything this night. All her ferocity, her single-minded savagery, and yet it is Eri's life which forces her past the point of her berserkergang and into reason. It is as if Mami's shattering has poured icy cold water over her head and into her chest.

NO MERCY FOR ENEMIES, cries Fallen Stern, as Endo falls in the most satisfying fashion. No mercy for enemies, Miroku pushes at Mikoto's thoughts. In this, they are in perfect accord. In this, they are of one mind. They know it is their first priority, their most important task.

But for once - for one rare, shining moment - Mikoto disagrees, even as Miroku rails against the independent thought.

It is not an easy thing, to leave the Sovereign alone, especially as her eyes catch the greatclub missing its target. Mikoto does not only shake with pain. She feels sick. It is wrong. She is a threat. She will attack. Strike first! Mikoto hunches her shoulders, ignores years of training to look away from Ren's blazing armor. She knows that if she keeps fighting this enemy, with her unusual strength, Sayaka might have time to...

Mikoto shakes her head, fiercely, clutching at Miroku's ropes with a trembling hand which loosens and tightens, as if she could keep her heart beating with the pantomime. "Please," she murmurs, a private and fragile thing. It comes through shaking breath, from a chest which aches from the agony of even that small movement. She's fought many times, today, each time to her limit and then further still. It is only by the grace of Miroku that she stands. If she refuses to fight, she can bleed.

But perhaps there is some twisted affection in Miroku's shared heart for Mikoto, even with her temporary alliances, because it turns from the Sovereign and leaps on her command. It will allow her this foolishness...


"Thank you," Mikoto breathes, the words drowned out as Miroku crashes into the side of the tower.

Eri is captured in one giant hand, as she gives the command to withdraw. There's something else there, too - her name, simple and plain. Mikoto's face softens. "Eri," she replies, and hers is reassuring and firm. They don't need to speak so many words to understand each other, not after so long without them. Eri has understood so many of Mikoto's clipped sentences, words trailed off, subjects left implied. She's been there as Mikoto learned how to use words more effectively. She's been there as Mikoto has found herself unable to use words at all, consumed by the heat of battle which doesn't seem to burn her at all right now. Eri understands. And Mikoto understands, too.

She's going to take care of her. She's going to keep her safe. She loves Eri, with all her heart. She doesn't care if she's a murderer. She doesn't care if the world calls them bad people. All she cares about is the people she loves.

She looks down, at the corpse of Mami Tomoe, her gaze distant. She will not mourn. She was an enemy - Mai's enemy and Eri's enemy both. This makes her anathema, in the eyes of Mikoto.

Someone who threatened the girls she loves most in the world never deserved to live. Her pitiable existence is over now, and she will no longer menace the people she cares about. She is defeated. It is a good thing.

Thinking that, Mikoto doesn't understand why there are tears in her eyes, looking down at Mami's lifeless body. She doesn't remember why it makes her hand tremble in its grip. Death should not confront her, and yet witnessing Kyouko's miserable grief is like standing against a riptide which threatens to pull her out to sea. Sayaka, a broken vulnerable enemy, she could dismiss. But Kyouko is not her enemy. Kyouko matters.

But she's wrong. Enemies must be defeated. There is... nothing... sad about it. Nothing sad at all. Mikoto blinks away tears without a purpose, and rips her gaze from Mami. There's something about Sayaka's grief she can't bear to look at, even though she is an enemy. It's so familiar, as if it could have been her own. But she cannot sympathise with her enemies.

Kyouko goes to Madoka, a bawling useless girl, and perhaps she understands, because there is a grim determination to her now. She tells Madoka the truth about Puella Magi. Mikoto looks at Eri, that battered girl holding her soul gem to her skin. The Puella Magi are damned. There is nothing she can do. But even if she's cursed, Mikoto won't turn away. If she can make Eri smile even one more time, she'll fight forever.

Mikoto is sprawled over the Child Miroku's back, nestled against the knots of a gigantic bow which supports her on three sides. The sword Miroku is held in the iron grip of one hand, red sigils burning grey now - the other, muscles weaker from the wounds on her side and her arm, grasps desperately at the cloth, mid-flex. Sweat lines her face, teeth exposed from a breath taken mid-pant. She looks to Eri, held in Miroku's massive palm.

The expression captured on that face, behind the pain written over it: concern and devotion, in equal measure. It is the face you wear when someone precious is deathly ill, and all you can do is offer simple comforts. There are no veils, no hidden things. Everything is written plainly in the curve of her brow, the tenseness of her lip.

It's love.

When she looks back, Madoka is gone. Mikoto doesn't know how she moved so quickly. She hopes she's all right. She doesn't know Madoka well, but even she heard the abject sorrow in her tears.

Kyouko says all the words Mikoto can't seem to find, and more. Mikoto has never been as close to her, as she's gotten to some of the other Shepherds, but in that moment she feels a great kinship with the Puella Magi whose red coat smells of blood. And then - she leaps. "Kyouko!" Mikoto calls out, frustration in her voice.

Doesn't she realise how hard this is?

Harder still, as Kasagami comes to stand before them, ready for the fight. Mikoto should be there, too. But she has to get everyone to safety. The teeming darkness of Sayaka Miki earns a baleful glare from the pain-drawn lines of Mikoto's face, wary and unkind - it is a new danger, at a time when her friends are all so desperately wounded. They can't afford to fight another battle. She can see that, now, her mind cleared by the singular miracle of worry and responsibility. ... is this how Mai feels, all the time?

But Eri asks her to wait, and Mikoto can't deny her. She is the most important person on this tower. If she can quiet Eri's heart for just a moment by waiting for her senpai, she'll wait as long as she can, straining against the effort. She'll wait until the last possible moment.

This war - these battles - these wounds - all for Eri's sake. All for Eri Shimanouchi, who held her when she was alone.

"I'll... wait for her," Mikoto promises, through rasping breath. "Just... stay close."

Not to Mikoto, whose body is broken, but to Miroku, eternal and strong.

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

The true horror of this moment -- there is no singular horror, not really, but there are firsts among equals -- is that Madoka barely even notices the corpse. The tragedy that had shattered her psyche, laid waste to her heart, has already been replaced -- twice.

First by Eri's bitter cynicism and Kyouko's despairing pessimism, both of them together painting a world for Madoka where there are no such thing as happy endings -- where magic and miracles don't exist. Did she weep for this world or did she weep for the ferocity of their belief in such a world? Does it matter? Already, she was shedding her tears for far more than Mami Tomoe.

All matters of philosophy, though, were driven from her mind by someone else.

nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing nothing


sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka

with such speed -- especially such comparative speed, when one recalls the long minutes-within-a-millisecond that she spent sobbing into Homura's shoulder before beginning, once more, to feel capable of thinking about what to do about it all -- that it is almost offensive to the memory of Mami.

Upon the altar of Mami's death, Madoka laid grief but also fear.

Fear that Eri and Homura would make good on their early threat in the sunlit garden, to simply kill her twice.

Fear that Kyouko was right that it wouldn't be worth it, that she would just be damned for trying.

Fear of becoming a Puella Magi.

Eri's threat and Kyouko's warning both hurt Madoka, but was it really pain that she wanted to avoid? They gave her excuses, excuses that her own cowardice desperately wanted to believe.

But these are all -- not shower thoughts, not three am bedroom ceiling thoughts -- they're blanket thoughts, rolling around and around to the detriment of the well-being of bedding, her spinal integrity, and Totoro.

Certainly she isn't thinking them right now.

sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka

sayaka's eye

sayaka's cheek

sayaka no

"Stop that!"

BGM: Mindy Gledhill - Mi Ancla https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RLg7N1lKPGc

Translation: https://lyricstranslate.com/en/mi-ancla-my-anchor.html

Madoka sags, as much out of reflexive obedience to such a stern order, as relief. But it's mostly relief all the same. She doesn't stop trembling as it fizzes through her veins; Homura can feel it, how even in stillness from her former flight, her little bird's heart is still beating so fast and so hard that it shakes her whole body, tiny and soft against the pillar that is Homura.

Homura can feel it, can see it in her eyes, as they stare upwards -- once again brimming with what experienced Puella Magi might characterize as an unfortunate infection of hope. It might be terminal. It is definitely terminally faithful. She glows with it, with belief in Homura's ability to fix everything.

In a dark place, surrounded by horrors, Madoka gazes upon Homura, and sees her savior.

She's guileless. The awkwardness, the rigidity -- they don't even register; Homura is just confident and capable and knowledgable and strong. It's only the hateful caesura between adjoined 'ands' that induces a corresponding pause in Madoka. Still birdlike, she cocks her head a little bit to one side, bewildered, and in so doing sneaks a second look at Sayaka, still irrationally fearful that at any moment now it will be too late.

At least she isn't left to her confusion for long. Or a second round of agony, as, through her proposal, Homura has indirectly drawn attention to

sayaka's gem

"But I'll only help you help her if you'll make me a promise, Madoka Kaname."

And of course she doesn't resent -- doesn't question -- doesn't wonder -- doesn't worry.

It's so very easy to make a Contract with Madoka Kaname.

She's frantic again, the words tripping over each other as they spill out of her mouth in their rush to seal the deal. Tears do too, but they aren't tears of grief -- only desperation. She blinks them away and gets on her tippy-toes so that she can look Homura dead on in the eye and help her understand how much she needs this, how much she needs

sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka "Yes! I promise!" sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka "I'll do anything you want, Homura-chan!" sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka

There's a terrible conviction to her promise, her glow of adoration replaced wholly by a no less intense glow of integrity. Of true commitment. She really means it, all the way.

It isn't that Madoka's thoughtless.

It's just that right now her heart only has room for one thought.

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

Homura is strong and sure, for Madoka. She can support such a gentle burden. She adjusts one of her arms lower, beneath one of Madoka's, and drinks in the tremor. It's that look that threatens to be more than the stoic puella magi can bear. She loves that shining hope. It is everything she fears.

All is turmoil beneath the implacable surface of Homura Akemi, roiling and wretched. Being this close to Madoka, having her gathered up and vulnerable and needy, it's intoxicating. It's making her weak.

That's when Madoka gets up on her toes, gets nose-to-nose with her and says

'I'll do anything you want, Homura-chan!'

with eyes like big dewy sakura petals and Homura just can't breathe, it's too much. Madoka is so close she can see the precise upward tilt of Homura's firmly level eyebrows, can see exact shape her mouth sags to for a moment: a little teardrop, bottom lip round and stricken.

There's so much Homura Akemi wants.

She can't allow herself any of it. The stakes are everything, and she is herself the sacrifice. But she thinks about it, she daydreams -- no matter what lies Homura spat at la Sirene between bullets to safeguard the sanctity of her emotional privacy. She has to keep herself going somehow.

Homura closes her eyes and her mouth and just takes a second. Gets her priorities in order. In this she is as savage, as merciless, as without empathy as she is regarding the fate of Sayaka Miki.

She has to be sure. No matter what it takes.

"You probably think you can undo all of this by wishing Mami Tomoe back to life. Maybe you could." Hope scrabbles for life in the gap between sentences. Homura steps on it and grinds her heel down. "Except that I will never let you. If I have to keep you here forever, if that's what it takes, I'll do it."

What are the limits of her secretive command over time? Are there any?

"Maybe you think I can't." This Madoka cannot know that another Madoka, one whose remaining boldness places the event many timelines ago, found herself under similar threat and called her devoted captor's bluff. And this Homura Akemi knows exactly how to drive her point home -- she calls the bluff herself, just enough to make it really convincing. She gives Madoka a push, enough to send the girl staggering backward and away.

Then Homura lets go.

From Madoka's perspective, a second pa-

The violet magi watches the pink flicker and fade, watches Madoka tilt and tip over and then slow. The physical fall is deferred by a metaphysical one as Madoka plunges back into the timestream. Homura can't help it. She steals two breaths' worth of magic from herself to study the way a puff of bangs falls across the warmhearted curve of one of Madoka's eyes.

Then she tells herself to get it together. Homura crosses behind Madoka in two swift steps, seizes her elbows, and...

-sses by and Homura's gone like a switch flipped her existence off in front of eyes that are pink again, except that's not true at all because Madoka is falling backward into white-sleeved arms, against a steady shoulder that's ready to catch her.

It's a stutterstep ballet between dark lead and lovely follow.

Her mouth is by Madoka's ear again, and Homura takes advantage. Her voice is quiet, but this time it is not soft. "Give me your word you won't wish Mami Tomoe back. Promise me, and I'll deliver you to Sayaka Miki myself. You can save her." The way I'm supposed to be saving you.

A whispered reminder, like satin over razor blades. "Or you can doom her to die all over again. You can throw away your soul, and make it so Eri Shimanouchi has to do that twice." Like thorns embedded in cheerful yellow silk.

"Your choice, Madoka Kaname."

The secret is that Homura Akemi is now whispering because her voice might betray her. There is nothing in her that enjoys further breaking the tender heart she adores.

Better a broken heart than a forfeit soul.

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

The first time Homura takes a second, impregnating this timeless place with the one fruit forbidden it by nature -- anticipation -- it is Madoka who anticipates. She swore already, she swore with her whole heart, swore to this girl, this magician, this savior who, a moment ago, was looking at her with a heartstoppingly stricken expression.

When Homura made that face, that is when Madoka knew she made not just the right decision -- which was never in question -- but a wise and safe decision too.

No one who looks at her like that could ever make her promise anything bad or wrong.


So when Homura closes herself off and forces Madoka to wait, it may be savage and merciless to herself but it isn't either of those things to her tiny pink friend. There is nothing painful about anticipation when you're in the arms of a purple fairy godmother. There's only the sweet knowledge that it's almost Christmas morning.

Which isn't to say Madoka expected the wish to be pleasant or fun. She didn't expect anything of it, simply opened herself to the duty of performing it, no matter how strange. Because it doesn't matter what it is.


Homura doesn't say it straight out right away, and Madoka in turn sweetly fails to get it right away. Even when the threats start, she doesn't really understand what's going on, because Homura intimidating her out of making a wish is... normal. It's almost jarringly so, like being at the scene of an apartment fire and seeing someone's favorite dolly, untouched on the pavement outside.

It's the second time that Homura takes a second that hurts Madoka.

Not because she was pushed, and then caught roughly.

And not because she was threatened with an eternity in this place with Homura.

No -- when she's returned to the timestop, when one second has passed in the real world, and Homura is whispering in her ear, Madoka -- looking forward -- can see exactly how much more the seething darkness has crept up Sayaka's face, has consumed what remained of her again by half, like when they play the game together in her room where there's one cookie left and Madoka takes half and then Sayaka takes half of a half and they keep going back and forth until there's nothing left but crumbs on their greasy hands. In one second Sayaka has become one second closer to being lost forever.

Madoka isn't afraid to spend forever here.

She's afraid to let Sayaka spend one more second alone.

She's no ballerina, whatever some have told her. Ballerinas are beautiful when they're in pain. But there's nothing beautiful about Madoka as she hangs within Homura's arms like they just did a sweet trust exercise, they used to have to do those every year in PE, and Sayaka would always tease that she'd drop her but she never, ever did, and

Homura will. Homura will right now, and Madoka may fall but Sayaka will break.

Break like Mami did.

As her face crumples, more tears slide off her cheeks to hang almost as helplessly in the air, this time above Homura's shoes, as Madoka herself. They're in better shape, though, because they don't know how helpless they are.

Madoka knows. And Homura can see that she knows.

Madoka knows with her whole heart that she is tiny, and worthless, and can't do anything for herself.

The light goes out.

She closes her eyes, squeezing out more liquid -- she doesn't want to be near Homura anymore. Instead, behind her eyelids, she sees the rising sun on New Years morning as it embellishes the kimono of Mami Tomoe about one-one-trillionth as well as the simple fact that it is touching its occupant.

She sees Mami's many smiles, and few truly wholehearted ones.

Before, she agreed, but now, she chooses. Now she has to own it completely. Eri killed Mami to save Kyouko. Now Madoka will commit no lesser sin.

"I-I promise!" to never see Mami smile ever again, she sobs, and she means stop it, please stop, you're hurting me. She senses, though, that even this won't be enough.

She opens her eyes and she sees Sayaka needing her -- and now she needs Sayaka even more, she needs her so much --

It doesn't make it easier, saying it while looking at Sayaka. It only makes it possible.

She chokes out the words around the huge lump in her throat, the sharpest lump in existence, made out of knives.

"I promise -- I won't -- wish Mami-chan," that suffix rare and only used sparingly when they were alone, a tender thing she sometimes dared to call her senpai in those moments when age and experience were less important than their shared quality of being two girls who loved each other, "back, b-back... to life."

The secret is that there are no secrets that Madoka can keep from Homura. She's whispering by the end of the sentence because she doesn't have enough breath left in her to scream.

She's still afraid. She's so afraid.

That Homura won't believe her.

She cranes her chin, letting her head dangle backwards onto Homura's chest so she can look straight up at her captor. Her savior, still. The kind that someone worthless like her deserves. MORE than she deserves.

"I p-promise," she repeats, a little more clearly but with much more clear conviction, her voice trembling with more intensity in all ways, admirable and pitiable. It is no less a lifetime commitment in this moment than I Do.

She really means it, all the way.

Forced to chart a new course, her tears slide backwards, collecting in her eyebrows, a few making it as far as her hairline.

"I promise. So please..." she weeps. "Please believe me. I promise I won't. Please, please..."

Please save Sayaka-chan.

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

It works. She stopped praying years ago -- she has had quite enough of prayers -- but it's still a bit like one has been answered, to hear that hurt, sobbing promise come from the girl in her arms.

No, what Homura did in the name of this was nothing like a prayer.

The proof is Madoka Kaname's eyes when she tilts her head back into Homura's chest, nestling further into the arms of her determined savior and tormenter. It's in the way hope has gone out from them like the light from a shaken and shattered lightbulb filament.

She did that to Madoka. ...It worked.

All Homura has to do now is fulfill her side of the bargain.

Madoka begs, please, please, she promises, please, and she doesn't even have to say the name, Homura hears it behind every sobbing breath. She sees it in the saltwater tears pooling and dripping up across Madoka's forehead. Practice means Homura can speak through clenched teeth and make it sound as cool and unaffected as she needs to. She uses that acquired skill now.

"Let's not waste any more time then."

Madoka is already in her arms, her precious featherweight already firmly supported by Homura. It is the easiest thing in the world to crouch down and sweep the rest of the girl up, to scoop stockinged knees in the crook of an elbow so that her connection with the frozen rooftop is severed. So she has full and complete control, so that Madoka is supported by Homura and Homura alone. A dead heart thuds.

So that she can't go scrabbling off prematurely, Homura reminds herself, and warns Madoka aloud. "She's on the brink. You don't understand what's happening." The violet magi shows no inclination to explain. "No going to her until I SAY to." Emphasis places an unfamiliar stress on what is usually close to a monotone. Despite that, she's taking no chances.

It is an entirely practical action.

Homura bride-carries the girl she loves toward the shadow-wrapped form is only just barely still Sayaka Miki, toward a tableau of horror and grief and awful transformation. Toward Madoka Kaname's best friend in the whole wide world.

She pulls a dark spindle from her shield and presses the hard little knot of concentrated grief and magic into Madoka's hands. Wasted, the thought twists, and Homura shoves it back down with the rest. For now.

They stop just short of that roiling darkness. Homura looks down upon grey versions of a girl who should be blue holding the body of a girl who was once gold.

"I'm going to set you down right next to her. Don't touch her -- don't touch her -- until everything starts again. But you'll have to be quick when it does. She's nearly gone."

With movements far more gentle than her voice Homura crouches down and returns Madoka's feet to the concrete, keeping the hand with the shield on the other girl's shoulder to keep her in the time stop. She reaches for the shining gears, finds an indentation still marked red, and squeezes Madoka's shoulder.

"Get ready."

Homura isn't, but it doesn't matter, seconds drain away and so does precious magic. It's time.

"And don't forget." The promise. The threat.

With a click and a whir, the world resumes...

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

Homura sweeps Madoka off her feet and realizes, afterwards, that it was very necessary; there's a moment of limp emptiness, once the smaller girl realizes that she's done it, she's convinced Homura -- it worked -- that could have allowed that terrifying second second to elapse by accident. She all but swoons with relief. The weeping does not stop -- it only changes.

A connoisseur of Madoka's tears, Homura recognizes these as that finest of vintages: gratitude, untainted even by a hint of resentment -- or of hope. Madoka cries with gladness but it's a sick and pathetic joy, joy that Homura is willing to help someone useless and silly like her. Such broken feelings are no antidote to fear.

So her bonelessness doesn't last. Relief pours into her but also through her, the softness that of a rubber band that's been held in hypertension for too long. It isn't the same shape, afterwards, and neither is she. It comes out the other side and what's left behind is the only thing she has left:

sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka

Her quiescence in Homura's arms turns out to be inversely proportional to proximity. As they get closer, her distress grows instead of shrinks; the slow, deliberate approach does no favors to Madoka's well-being, because as she sees more and more of her best friend she becomes more desperate, not less.

Her sobs are stilled by her running out of breath, her lungs forgetting how to hold air so as her own body becomes rigid with the heart-deep awareness that this is even worse than the time she killed Sayaka, worse than holding her corpse in her own hands.

Briefly their ties -- Madoka's hair-ribbons and Homura's neck-bow -- become entwined by the frantic shaking of Madoka's head, red and purple twisting around each other, then releasing when the momentum turns back the other way. She does understand.

She understands the only important thing, and that's enough.

She inhales in a terrible, shuddering gasp.

"Hurry," she begs, unable to believe that even the mighty time-rending powers of Homura Akemi can keep whatever horrific fate awaits Sayaka at bay for long. She squirms not out of any real conscious desire to escape her carrier, but because her whole body, every last ounce of her, wants to get to Sayaka for Sayaka and needs to get to Sayaka for Madoka.

Her heart beats so quickly it might burst -- her living heart, pounding into Homura at every point that they're connected.

sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka sayaka

Her fingers close around the curious artifact that she has been forbidden to touch so many times, by protective mentors, friends, and fairies. At another time she might have even been a little bit eager to touch the hard-won trophies of the Puella Magi.

At the moment she's completely incurious. This isn't a Grief Seed. It's just the thing she needs. The thing Sayaka needs. It's the second most beautiful and precious thing in the world, after the first.

Homura's timely secret is only kept by accident; Madoka's sweet willingness to speak not of this world between worlds at all, to everyone, does not go so far as to give a single care, not even one, for 'don't touch her until everything starts again'. Homura is gentle but Madoka is not -- she rips herself free.

And freezes, the scantest of scant hairs-breadth from reaching her goal.

It is in fact more effective than following Homura's instructions (though that, too, is an accident), because it means that when Homura turns time back on, Madoka already has momentum, she is falling into shadow, slamming directly into the awful mystery that is threatening to overtake Sayaka entirely, without a second thought for herself.

But from her own perspective, she tears herself away from Homura and towards Sayaka so hard that not even time can stop her.

And the next thing that she knows is the only thing she knows: that she is there, she is finally where she has to be, she is with Sayaka, sobbing wildly in every way that she has in the last few cruel minutes -- with relief, terror, desperation, despair, and -- yes -- grief.

She is such a savant when it comes to hugging Sayaka that it does not require her to try to fit perfectly into the curves of her shape; they snap together like magnets. One of Madoka's hands winds up on Sayaka's back, under her billowing cloak, holding her fiercely close.

The other is at her navel.

Madoka is an inexperienced handler of Grief Seeds, and does not appreciate that they're a bit pointy. She notices but does not care when the sharp end digs into her palm, as she presses it into the moon that she's been told is 'really' her best friend.

Madoka knows better, as she hysterically bawls Sayaka's name, over and over, into her friend's arm and shoulder and ear and hair. Into her skin and into her shadows.

She flinched from Kyouko's cruel truths and Eri's dark ones, from Homura's anger and frustration and control.

But not from Sayaka. Not ever.

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

Sayaka's lips spread around agony-hardened teeth. A shimmering black glaze slides like a puddle of mercury on one side of her face, pooling in the socket of her hidden eye, lapping down her cheekbone.

So, Sayaka thinks. I'm a Shepherd, then.


She's there all at once, and from nowhere. In between the frames of a decaying film she slips. And her arms are already sliding around Sayaka, even as the air she displaced so suddenly wafts around Sayaka. Madoka takes up precious little space in the world, but it is enough to softly fill her cape, its marble-carved folds softening to puff out around them. Sayaka's blue eye grows wide, her pupil small, as she stares in blind disbelief over Madoka's shoulder. Her mind has slowed until it flows like hardening amber. Her body sags back by increments, Madoka's little form seeming to need to lean in a foot for every inch Sayaka's dense, battered body yields, until this impossible hug fastens tight. Sayaka's cape begins to empty of miracle's breeze. Slowly, uncomprehendingly, Sayaka's eye focuses, and looks down at her best friend's shoulder, and the pink hem of her twintail.

The surface is so far away. Tears freeze. Sayaka's sore throat shapes the breath to speak, and her jaw and lips part around its sound. "Ma-"


Like a room full of startled cockroaches, the corruption in Sayaka's soul gem seems to churn, seeking to fill what little space remains. Black mist seethes through the gem's surface, made permeable by the grief seed, and into the leaden hollow of a Witch's heart. Yes. This is grief, after all.

Sayaka's tongue had shifted to touch behind her top teeth, but, as the clock seems to slow, it relaxes away again.


What a disgusting person you are, Sayaka Miki. Mami is dead in your arms and you want comfort. The moment she's gone you want to bandage over the precious wound she left you. Bleed. Bleed for her.

Sayaka turns her head, quivering against her own resistance, to separate her cheek from Madoka's. Her lips are half-parted, shapeless.


This ice-cold black creeping up the inside of your ribs. That is where Mami is. That is where you put her. Follow her. She's alone. She's all alone and she trusted you. What does the cost matter?

The grief boils out at the same rate the seed is siphoning its haze. The difference is, the seed will fill, but the grief should go on and on. If Sayaka feels even a little less pain, if she so much as stops gasping from shock, then Mami is that much further away from her. She shrinks in fear from Madoka's repeated calls, from the softness of her hug, but Madoka is relentless, her arms too tight to even struggle.


Sayaka's lips close, and press, trying to say it.

Please don't. This hurt is mine.

Bearing down on her lips, Sayaka holds them, trembling, closed, as their corners curl.

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

Kyouko and Madoka cried next to one another, but not with one another.

Homura held close Madoka as she wept, but they have never been further apart than they were in that moment outside of time.

At last, Sayaka and Madoka grieve together.

"Mami," she completes in a pair of syllables so choked that they sound more like one. "M-Mami... Sayaka, Mami's..."

She shakes her head furiously against that white-cloaked shoulder, which inadvertantly causes one of her puffy pink twintails to brush against Sayaka's cheek again and again.

"It hurts," she whispers, tiny-voiced as though she's been screaming for half an hour, her eyes huge in her face -- huge shadows. Huge with need. "I-it hurts -- so much..."

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

The syllable is stolen right from her lips. But Madoka doesn't make hers. She makes it theirs.

It hurts enough to steal breath, too. A thick clot of grief passes into the seed at her navel. Suddenly, Madoka feels the most familiar arm around her back. It drags her in close, stopping the brush of twintail by capturing it between their cheeks. Rubbed against one another, pink strands that would have been silken feel softly grainy as Sayaka nuzzles Madoka's cheek.

"doka," Sayaka gasps. "Madoka!"

Soundtrack - I Guess That's Love - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoMpGbE_qK0

Top Subtitles - tinyurl DOT com SLASH ychzq75e

Suddenly the soul gem is not refilling. The effect on her skin is immediate, as teeming mirror-oil ripples away from pale, thorn-cut arms. Mami has sunken lower into the crook of Sayaka's arm, because the other that was hugged around her is now hugged around Madoka, and the three who had been the true team taking care of Yamanote are all together for the last time.

"Madoka, she's gone," Sayaka cries, not to tell Madoka but because she knows Madoka knows, the same way she knows. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

Squeezing Madoka tight, Sayaka lets herself cry. It hurts awfully, sharp and bitter, but it does not sicken her, for now. The surface that felt too distant to ever break, she tears through in desperation. This is who Sayaka was at the beginning. It is who she is deep inside, and on her skin, and every layer between. It is more nameless than loyalty or passion, and passes through courage and cowardice without touching either.

When Madoka needs her, she is there. It is that simple. And miraculously, with no regard to reality or fate, Madoka was here when she needed her, too.

Without so much as a glance at the slim shadow of a girl standing above them, Sayaka holds Madoka, as Madoka holds Sayaka.

The wounds are closing, skin pinching together and sealing, unbroken though blood lingers. Madoka's hug is literally healing Sayaka, as magic becomes available to feed her voracious regeneration. Physical pain drains away, and though the emotional pain cannot truly dim, it lets Sayaka breathe through it, through Madoka's soft hair, through guilt and the yawning hollow of Mami's absence.

"Madoka..." The name leaks from Sayaka's lips.

Nothing is okay. But one thing simply is.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Even at the last Sayaka Miki nearly ruins everything, rips Madoka right out of Homura's arms before she can even finish speaking. That girl doesn't even have to be animate to get in the way, thinks the violet magi with some savagery. It's better than feeling the sudden absence of a hummingbird pulse that had become the drumbeat of Homura's world.

An obsidian moon cracked with bare dregs of light glints from the girl's belly, nearly lost to sight beyond tenebrous, tangible grief and the desperate loving missile that is Madoka Kaname. It would be impossible if the world was in motion, and it is only conceivable here because Homura Akemi is very good.

But she could do it. She could take the shot.

No matter how tricky the firing angle might be, it also feels so simple. Homura can't allow what's happening to finish, obviously, can't risk the eruption of one of the great and terrible secrets of puella magi existence to swallow up the rooftop. Madoka Kaname is on this rooftop. Even by her most ruthless calculations, this transformation must be stopped. But there is Madoka's way of stopping it...

...and there is Homura's.

She remembers looking down into the eyes of the girl who rescued her from a worthless death and an even more worthless life -- close, so close -- brimming with fearful hope and loves Madoka with such ferocity it sends spikes of pain through her chest. She remembers looking down into the same eyes emptied of that hope, robbed of it, and hates herself as much as she ever has in a long and wretched existence.

Her thumb upon its groove in a clock gear trembles before an application of willpower stills it. She needs to get this over with.

When the world resumes the Homura Akemi who was in the first half of a split second streaming sorrow from la Sirene's black wave in a headlong rush toward a bawling Madoka is now, in its second half, standing over the reunited huddle of pain that is Madoka hugging Sayaka. There is no visible transition to ease the eye from one spot to the next.

Ravenwing hair flows in counterpoint to the cloudwhite billows of Sayaka's cape, spilled ink that runs across the night above and blots it out. Something grim and terrible frosts violet as she looks down on the two.

She sees no gap in the heartbroken torrent, no interjection point into this healing embrace made of shared love and friendship and horrible pain. The dark puella stands on the outside of it and looks in. Homura reaches from her shield to her headband and flicks black strands sideways. The jagged ice in her gaze sharpens the blade of her voice as she cuts in:

"Don't forget."

It's unaddressed, but she could only be speaking to the girl with the pink puff hair. The one she always seems so very preoccupied with, whatever other motives lurk behind the opacity of Homura Akemi's demeanor.

Opaque, indeed. It is unreadably inhuman, like the mask that it is. The pale girl can feel the hard edges of it all the more keenly -- there is the slender ridge of a seam as it slides off of flush, only palpable internally so far but increasingly unsecured and treacherous.

One black heel scrapes half of a perfect circle into the gravel-ground detritus littering the rooftop as Homura turns away. Behind a veil of darkly swirling hair she drops one hand to the shield once more. Then she is gone.

She doesn't go far. She doesn't take one more step. Homura stands in place, as unmoving as the timestopped world she just left behind.

The sound that emerges gets strangled on its way out. No one hears what a pitiful whimper Homura Akemi produces when she can no longer hold it back. No one except Homura herself, and that's okay: she can't possible despise her own weakness any more than she already does.

After all she has done, all she has given and sacrificed and wished away, after everything they've shared that Homura will always remember even if she has to reset the world a thousand times...

Madoka wanted Sayaka.

Madoka needed Sayaka.

Homura wants to forget the way Madoka squirmed to be free of her, how every desperate movement conveyed absolute fear and love for Sayaka Miki. She can't.

She chose this.

This is a part of her sacrifice. It isn't about being with the girl she loves; it's about saving her.

But isn't it about being the one to save her? whispers the same shadowed part of her psyche that keeps replaying how it felt to clutch a sobbing Madoka to her breast.

Homura Akemi clenches both fists until the makeshift bandages wound about raw palms drip. Then she runs off into the arrested greyscale night, runs away from the embracing girls and her dead-again senpai and all the horrors of war.

But she can't flee from the jealousy and hatred that sink like stains into the crevices of a heart already inked painful black, and she can't escape how it felt to rescue Madoka Kaname, to have her swept up and secure within her arms, and to then give her over to Sayaka Miki.

She should have taken the shot.

SOUNDTRACK: Something I Can Never Have (Still version) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEW8riKU_tE

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y_ezfsJ4-Lw

Kyouko was ready.


Sayaka stands defiant, wiping away her tears and brandishing her sword with irrepressible gusto, even now.

"Monster! You won't touch her!"

Kyouko's lips curl into a snarl. Gripping her spear, she leaps...and the duelist leaps to meet her. Their battle rages for minutes, blue and red lights whirling above like binary stars, but Kyouko triumphs, and gathers Mami into her arms, and finally allows herself to weep, and to grieve...if only for a moment.


Sayaka stands defiant, wiping away her tears and brandishing her sword with irrepressible gusto, even now.

"Monster! You won't touch her!"

Kyouko's lips curl into a snarl. An immense woven mass of spears and blades, some two and a half feet thick and terribly long, blasts out of her body to smash into Sayaka's side, effortlessly plowing her aside with a freight train's force. Running forward, Kyouko gathers Mami into her arms, and finally allows herself to weep, and to grieve...if only for a moment.


Sayaka stands defiant, wiping away her tears and brandishing her sword with irrepressible gusto, even now.

"Monster! You won't touch her!"

Kyouko's lips curl into a snarl. And Sayaka's exhaustion gets the better of her...and she drops her sword, though she still carries her glare. Kyouko is relieved too..her own exhaustion so terrible to bear. She can feel her hate on her face and on her back, and Kyouko knows she doesn't understand. But it doesn't matter now. Kyouko gathers Mami into her arms, and finally allows herself to weep, and to grieve...if only for a moment.


Sayaka stands defiant, wiping away her tears and brandishing her sword.


Kyouko waits, the veins in her head so painfully pressured, muscles and joints in her neck and her back and her arms and just all of it so terribly strained.

And Sayaka sheathes her sword..ambivalence clear on her face...but grief wins out over hate.

"...you loved her too. You deserve to say goodbye..."

An immense tear, immediately and fully formed, comes flying out of her eye as violently as if a tooth had been knocked out of her mouth by a sudden haymaker punch. A knot in her heart that she has carried for so long is suddenly detangled with a single precise tug as Sayaka Miki recognizes her humanity again for the first time in so long. She will cry for that, too.

Her armor is gone. In a moment she's in a scruffy little hoodie and shorts, running to their side. Kyouko gathers Mami into her arms, Sayaka still holding fast to her mentor and teacher and beloved friend...and as they weep, and grieve together, their arms find each others shoulders and backs, and the three embrace in a paroxysm of shared agony.



Sayaka slumps, broken, her tears adorning her like a funeral wreath...and a terrible shade has overtaken her.

Kyouko has never seen it. She has never seen the river Styx well up into the world and here it bursts from a white knight's body. She has never seen those terrible strands, gossamer and shining blacker than blacks that do not just lack their own light but almost seem to blot out that light which surrounds their terrible passings. Sayaka weeps and bleeds a black as black as the grief seeds that are the heart of the most terrible evils Kyouko has known. She has never seen it before.

But she knows to be terrified.

She steps forward, though her every instinct screams against it. She is a little girl again, weeping in her bed with terror over thoughts of Hell and true evil. She is older now, but still so terribly small, wandering the streets in a fugue state, the ashes of her former life and of her entire family still staining her clothes as she realizes what world she has found herself in, and how terribly she would strive to survive it.

Sayaka had shown her once before what Kyouko has endeavored to avoid for all her life. An unfiltered, unvarnished, uneuphemized truth of how a Puella Magi can horribly die in a way that Kyouko had no familiarity with, no emotional preparation against. Something beyond war and witches. Then it was the light of her being gone dark in an instant so unfathomably cruel in its callous disregard for the humanity it was snatching so suddenly, offering nothing for goodbyes or grief. But Sayaka the survivor had come back from the dark, living on to teach more lessons.

Is this, too, a vision of the nightmare from which Kyouko has been running and hiding and defying?


Kyouko wants to understand. She wants to know what is happening. And...and...

She wants to help.

There is no war. There is no corpse. There is no immense hand with her best friend in the world waiting for her in pain and fear, no girl near her struggling for control, bewildered and frustrated that they have not yet left. There is not much of anything but a girl before her eyes being swallowed by damnation.

So Kyouko starts to sprint, her heart pounding..but in only four steps, Homura Akemi and Madoka Kaname are there with the falling girl and her fallen adoration like angels come to collect the dead and dying. And her instinct appears before her like a shadowy version of her own self, stepping into her path in opposition, shoving back at her forehead with the heel of her hand. Kyouko stumbles, and trips, only narrowly managing to still stand. But she no longer runs, or moves.

She bears witness.

Kyouko witnesses the grief seed struggling to absorb all the darkness from a gem that has gone utterly black, like EMTs struggling to staunch the bleeding of a severed artery. Kyouko witnesses the purest girl in the world comfort her friend, all but vanishing into the corona of darkness that has inured her from the world of joy. Kyouko witnesses Homura Akemi, standing with cold control, and an understated intensity of feelings that she cannot identify or understand..but strongly suspects that surprise, confusion, horror, or uncertainty or not among them.

Kyouko witnesses Sayaka Miki whose feet, legs, hips and torso, whose hands and arms and shoulders were dragged down into the gaping maw by the thousand limbs of the wordless wailing damned, whose head and neck alone remained among the living...Kyouko witnesses Sayaka Miki pulled back.

And Kyouko witnesses the crumpled form of what used to be her friend in so many terrible senses..so terribly beautiful even now. It is wrong to call her serene, there is no serenity in death, especially not a death in violence. But Mami looks now as she did when Kyouko vomited blood not long before, spared from the sight of her kouhai's near devouring.

Kyouko vomits again. There is blood. Is there also some black amidst the red?

She looks to them all. On Mami her gaze lingers, her stomach tightens, and her face, finally screws up in distraught pain, her lips pulling down and apart to expose her quivering teeth in a stricken wailing frown, only without an audible sound. Her hands ball into fists, her arms shaking.

For Kyouko knows that she has come as far as she is to come, tonight.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://soundcloud.com/griffinmcelroy/discovery-and-recovery?in=griffinmcelroy/sets/the-adventure-zone-ost

Sayaka will not countenance her, even now. She is sure of it...The grief seed should have cleansed the gem without struggle or strain. Instead it seemed to merely keep pace, but Sayaka was not performing magic and...whatever that was, it was not healing. The seed seemed to have staved off the dark..but so did Madoka. If...that...was related to her emotional state...Kyouko cannot risk it with her presence. Not even for...


Her eyes shut. The blood on her brow has since darkened and dried, but coagulated flecks still wash into her gaze, the last bitter dregs.

Not even for Mami...

Kyouko will not feel her friend again tonight. She will not hug her, or kiss her hair, or whisper how sorry she is and how badly she wishes she could...wish for so much. She will not hold her hand and she will not say goodbye.

Not tonight.

In anger and anguish and helplessness and defeat, Kyouko rips the crown from her head, tosses her spear to the ground. Both vanish into nothingness before they make contact. And she opens her eyes to look again.

Sayaka...she had been ready to tell her, if the moment called for it, that moment which now will not come. Ready to tell her that at least now she understands...what it means to be a Puella Magi. But...in this moment, Kyouko is not so sure that she understands herself.

Madoka...she thanks for being there to do what she couldn't. Kyouko wanted to flock to Sayaka's side, to do what Madoka did...it wouldn't have worked. Would it have made it worse?

Homura...she delivered Madoka to Sayaka. It is the only explanation in a forest of mysteries. How did she do that? How did she know to do that? And...why, even now, does she stand so unflappable?

Mami...so many images and snippets of words and moments churn through her mind, bewilderingly jumbled from all over their shared past...some, perhaps, even from a future that is now closed to them. Kyouko knows that she has not even begun to truly feel her death.

She whispers.

"Mami...I'll say goodbye...but not tonight."

Kyouko turns her back on the lot of them, for now, turns to the friends she has neglected and delayed. She leaps, her little body so tiny against the vastness of the night sky...and she lands upon the outstretched hand that has waited too long for her.

Threading an arm around Eri's shoulders and hugging against her, as much for Kyouko's own sake as for her friend's, and she calls out to their pilot.

"Mikoto...I'm sorry for keeping you. I'll feed you for it...I promise."

Kyouko closes her eyes and gropes for a moment of stillness. Finding whatever there is to find, she opens her gaze to the world around her.

"Let's go."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Hurt - Nine Inch Nails - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPz21cDK7dg

The terrible feeling persists in the air - that overwhelming grief. Her eyes are still stinging when the sound of Madoka's grieving abruptly changes. From farther to closer - the bawling has moved. And she wills the rain to halt its advance just a little longer. She opens her blurred eyes - the little droplets upon the windshield of her corpse body blurring her view. And there they are. Sayaka and Madoka. Holding each other. Their pain so palpable that they don't need words - but the words are enough.

It's a stab of intense bitterness that she caused Madoka this kind of pain. Her friend - who despite hearing dark rumors about her, and seeing their truth with her own eyes - that the girl had never seemed to hate her. Never seemed to take sides. She didn't begrudge her for being around the Chevaliers in times of war. What friendship of just nigh under two years can compare to one that formed long ago; weathering anything from skinned knees to the death of a friend?

None at all.

When she'd asked Sayaka Miki earlier if Madoka would hate her - it's because she believes its inevitable. All that she feels she has to do are things that cannot fail to spell the end of her first real friendship. All that she's done tonight - and all that she's said cannot fail to.

It's for the best.

Homura is there too - and she discerns her role in this almost immediately. Anger boils up almost reflexively, but it dissipates like steam. It was her own decision - their own bargain. That they'd both work together to keep Madoka Kaname out of this life. If it's inevitable that she hate her - she can hate her as a normal girl. Rather than as a Puella Magi... after tonight it seems inevitable that if she made that contract - that they'd be destined to fight. And one of them destined to die.

There's also a beautiful corpse on the ground - and she tells herself she can't allow herself grief or hurt. She can't allow herself any part of it. To do so is to betray everyone she killed her for. And so thoughts of saying goodbye do not occur to her - or rather she wills them away.

And finally there is her senpai - calling out that girl's name and her angel bears witness to her bearing witness. Sprinting as the grief is sopped up like a rag trying to stem the flow of a hydrant - until the pressure starts to stem, like a bolt being cranked and turned back into position. The wrong feeling fades.

But the wrong scent in her nostrils feels more stagnant - the scent of her senpai's vomit cannot replace it. And there's a pressure welling up within her.

There's a feeling gnawing away at her and all she can do is focus upon it and that scent, it's growing more intense than the pain in her shoulder and the burns that have consumed a full half of her.

The hurt is from something like a faint echo - even right now.

Please don't say such sad things. All this, all of this -- it didn't happen because of who you are or who she likes. The problem has never been with you or Homura-chan or Sayaka-chan. The problem wasn't ever that anyone was wrong. It's that all of you are right.

It wasn't too long ago that she could tell herself that - but here and now - tonight. Upon seeing all of them gathered like this, she knows the source of that hurt. And she can tell that phantom voice of Madoka Kaname...

You're wrong.

She's so wrapped up in this - that when her senpai returns - she didn't even notice it until the arm threads over her shoulder. The stimulus causes her to look at her, the droplets of water visible in her eyes for just a moment, before she closes them again and nods in agreement - and intense relief. She doesn't want to stay here any longer. "We're-" Earlier Mikoto's name had been a plea - and now her voice seems coarse, pained. Like the words are burning her to say them, "-done here."

If she ever comes back to Shinjuku again... it'll be too soon.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> New Model Army - My People https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eW07wD_bzA

There is darkness, in Mikoto and Sayaka both. But Mikoto was born to it, shaped for it. Sayaka...

It looks so foreign, on her enemy's skin. It makes her hair stand on end. This is not Sayaka's purpose, Mikoto decides. It can't be. It's wrong.


She looks to Kyouko, that girl who has foolishly shed her armor as she stepped forward to say goodbye, as if the blood-red girl could provide answers. But there are no answers, here. Only the creeping fear that something terrible is about to happen, when each and every Shepherd is too wounded to face it. She should strike the enemy down while she still has the chance!

"Ngh..." Mikoto grasps the side of her head, grimacing. You cannot hesitate, Mikoto! For the sake of her friends, you must destroy the enemy! ... but if she fights, who will get everyone away? No one else can do it - everyone's wounded, everyone's struggling, and she can't even stand... you may not have the strength, but Miroku does. You have been trained to use Miroku to defeat your enemies. You must do it now!

But when she looks back to Sayaka, conflict in her eyes, Madoka is there, body pressed to that of her still-living enemy, grief seed at her gem. For a moment, it doesn't seem like it will work. But then the darkness seeps away, as if Madoka had pulled the plug on a dirty tub of bathwater and let it drain away. Down go the bubbles, down go the grime. What is left is Sayaka, one of the remaining Chevaliers, with perhaps only a thin line of dirt marking the water's treacherous high tide.

Her grip on her sword ward bond promise tightens, as she looks down at the revitalised Sayaka Miki. This, more than anything, is the moment she has feared. The moment where Sayaka retaliates. She knows it is coming. Miroku's fingers curl upwards, blocking the path to Eri with four great bars. Even as she asks it of her Child, pleads with it to extend its safety to her precious person, she knows she is not a shield but a blade. There is still time to defeat the enemy as she recovers. Defeat the enemy and claim victory. That is the only way to be safe.

"You can't - have Eri," Mikoto spits, instead, raising her voice loud enough to be heard by her enemies, breath struggling to escape battered chest and teeth grit against the pain. "I'll never... let you touch Eri. You'll have to - get through me! And I'll, never yield!" Though Mikoto is crumpled on its back, the gigantic threat of Miroku lends weight to her words. She should have stopped so long ago. She hasn't. She is utterly, utterly implacable.

And yet she is so utterly, utterly mortal...

They have to get out of here. But she waits, for Kyouko, because Eri asked it of her. She waits for Kyouko's sorrow, for Kyouko's questions. Such grief which Mikoto cannot even begin to understand. Such grief, for a bitter enemy, and for mysteries Mikoto does not have the information to solve. She does not understand the meaning of Kyouko's sickness, but her obsidian heart aches for her all the same. "... Kyouko..." She meets her eyes. She nods in acknowledgement.

Miroku's palm is vast, but easy enough to scale for a magical girl, even the tired and weary. It offers safety from Sayaka. It offers distance, from the shattered shards of Mami's soul gem, the repose of her body. It is not gentle, and it catches Kasagami with the side of its hand, bowling her over and scooping her onto its palm as it lifts the remaining Shepherds from the rooftop and onto Miroku's broad back.

"Let's - let's go," she says, a pained cough breaking up the words. To Kasagami, who so nobly volunteered to stay and fight just as Mikoto knows she should have done, she insists, a perfect echo of her beloved Eri: "Everyone. This time, let me... help you." Let her fight in vain against training and purpose, for the singular goal of safeguarding those she loves.

Let her take Eri from this wretched place, before her pain overwhelms her - the one thing Mikoto cannot abide. She sees the way Eri hardly notices Kyouko, even through her pain. She hears the cobblestones which have lodged themselves in Eri's throat. She will not abide it for one more moment. She must help Eri leave, and the others alongside her. Even after everything that's happened... it's love which drives Mikoto Minagi forward.

"MIROKU!" Mikoto cries, the command towering and volcanic, and though it goes against their very natures it pushes off from the tower, thunderously. It threatens to topple the entire summit of the building with its force, as it leaps away. The green apertures on the bottom of its body open with light, and there is a terrible rumbling from below. Miroku jets into the air, more like a rocket than anything organic.

It seems horribly unfair, that something so massive can fly. Miroku is not fair. Miroku is indeed horrible. It is Mikoto, only Mikoto, who wishes to save her friends from the aftermath of their own actions. It is Mikoto's will alone which sees them leave, which sees them to safety. She is still the one who wields the weapon called Miroku.

For now.