2018-08-19 - Kill Sayaka
|Title: Kill Sayaka|
Mikoto and Homura have come up with an elegant solution to all the problems the Shepherds and Chevaliers have had. Homura's made sure poor Madoka doesn't have to see it, but has no such compunction about Kozue Kaoru.
Azuma-bashi Bridge in Asakusa
| OOC - IC Date:|
Sun Aug 19th, 2018 - Thurs May 7, 2015
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
There is a long red bridge across the Sumidagawa River. The boulevard leading up to it is heavily laden with gift shops and food vendors, as this bridge links two of Tokyo's most popular tourist destinations: Sensouji Temple and Tokyo Skytree. On this, the last day of Golden Week, they saw particularly brisk business, but under moonlight each stall and shop is shuttered. The broad street has few pedestrians, even as it opens up to the arched bridge itself.
Two blue-haired girls, one slim but athletic and the other athletic but slim, walk together towards the bridge. Sayaka, the latter and taller of the pair, pauses before the seam in the pavement that would mark their proper crossover to the bridge.
"Ah..." Kozue's seen Sayaka lose focus a lot lately, and at first it seems to be that. She's not sleeping much. With Mami gone she is responsible for four territories, two of them very large. The Chevaliers help, but Sayaka has to be present to direct them, as they have no other Puella Magi. And she is still doggedly going to school, albeit with frequent absences and tardies. So sometimes she just phases out a bit.
That's not what it is this time, though. "Kozue-chan?" she asks. "Do you think you want to..." She clears her throat. "Since it's a bridge."
She reaches over to touch the knuckles of her fingers against Kozue's, inviting a grasp. She seems to think holding hands on a bridge has some self-evident logic to it.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed. <SoundTracker> Someday We'll Know - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l5VOpu87ljQ
Kozue's eyes flick over to Sayaka as she sees her lose her focus. She hasn't had her phone out at all tonight, paying full attention to her girlfriend even if she's pretending to be disaffected by her behavior. "Hmmm? Do I want to...?" Sayaka's knuckles touch hers.
There's something coquettish about her smile as she pretends to not get it. Feigning her eyes lighting up like she suddenly gets it, "Oh! Well of course I would."
And then she slips her fingers over Sayaka's hand, and rounds about in ront of her, standing on her toes in order to lean in.
Putting a hand behind her head as she presses a kiss to her lips. For one moment the two are pressed together in a kiss that may seem neat and tidy to an outside observer.
Until she steps back and you note the wet smudge over her blue lipstick. Mischief in her eyes as she steps into a backwards walk.
"Come onnnn." Kozue Kaoru tugs on her hand with an energy that seems almost bratty, adding her other hand to the mix. Like she's pulling at a stubborn horse, and playing up Sayaka's resistance on purpose to avoid the concept the true reason behind what her lack of focus might be.
Her wild energy feels inexorable. Irresistable, as she pulls her backwards towards the bridge.
It's like she's trying to draw Sayaka in to a place she can't escape from.
"It's your last night off right? I'm not going to let you waste a single moment."
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Some muffled syllable, brief, emits from Sayaka before the kiss fully tranquilizes her. Sayaka is notably gullible, and it's not exactly unreasonable to think that Kozue would not understand someone being shy over hand-holding. As usual, Sayaka falls for it: she thinks she accidentally asked for this kiss herself.
It only lasts a moment, but Sayaka sways on her feet when it's over. Even in her grim mood, there's a hint of a dreamy smile on her face. As she's dragged forward, though, she snaps out of it enough to glance around nervously. The streets do have an occasional nocturnal wanderer, after all, but it seems the brief kiss wasn't noticed. Her eyes start to dull a bit, but Kozue is very demanding right now, and Sayaka is forced to look at her again, and can't help but smile a little again, too.
"Do you want to go sit on that Asahi thingy?" Across the bridge, the Asahi Beer Company's headquarters sports an iconic golden flame, which looks somewhat like a horizontal Halloween ghost. It's in Sayaka's eyeline even at this moment, so it helps her tired brain think of an after-hours date idea, childish though it may be.
A gold ghost, though... Sayaka has to turn her mind aside.
"It's been a pretty good day," she insists to herself aloud. Finally giving in fully to Kozue's energetic pace, she falls in with her, to walk side by side, so that Kozue doesn't have to backpedal across an entire bridge. "Thanks, for helping. I know you have to be tired, too."
Belatedly, a breeze across the Sumidagawa makes Sayaka's upper lip feel strangely cool. Realizing, she scrubs hastily with her sleeve to remove the blue mark.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Another Version of the Truth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqOYnN1jXOo
The Azuma-bashi Bridge, red-ribbed and low across moonlit waves, would not be Homura Akemi's first choice of ambush location. Its belly scrapes a river's bounty of water, and considering their targets... It matches the other requirements she and Mikoto Minagi hashed out, though, and so they will deal with any tactical drawbacks. If all goes according to plan this won't be much of a fight. If it doesn't, then Homura packed arsenal enough to deal with the fallout -- and this is in addition to the black blade Mikoto wields, a own demonic arsenal all on its own.
Ten minutes ago the dark-clad magi popped out in front of Mikoto Minagi, appearing between eyeblinks from nowhere. "It is time," she informed her ally with a cool clarity that utterly ignored anything she was interrupting. Then she gave the place (the end of the bridge across from Asakusa) and left as abruptly as she came.
She had her own preparations to see to, to be completed in the costly leisure of arrested greyscale or not at all.
Homura constructs her nest between black-iron branches, wedged in the open-air scaffolding of a radio tower atop a flat-roofed residential building. A flock of starlings crowd the tower above her, as frozen as the rest of the world. Practiced grace keeps her heels on the bars; muscle memory guides her hands. Her mind is freed to wander.
Segments of rifle slide into place with greased-metal whispers. If she'd taken the shot, on what was left of the rooftop of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building...
Was it cowardice that brought them here? Was it just that she couldn't bear for Madoka to witness her commit this murder? Dark bird eyes, brightness made dull by the time-stop, don't see Homura's pale mouth twist in disgust.
It was not /just/ cowardice, she tells herself. And: I'm pulling the trigger now.
Homura lowers into place, crouching alongside a sleek-barreled weapon nearly as long as she is tall. Time resumes, her hair ripples in the wind -- the birds react as one, chirrupping strange starling-cries at this black-winged newcomer in their midst. In the night they gleam as one, and there is hardly any telling girl apart from gun.
She sights down the scope and eases a white finger over the SWM's trigger.
Two blue heads jump into Homura's magnified vision, bobbing with her breaths but unmistakable. They're together... they're not just together. Gritting her teeth alters the angle of the barrel and Homura forces her muscles to relax. She watches them kiss. Watches them part.
Mikoto Minagi is at the other end of the bridge with her obsidian blade, waiting for their targets to close... but Homura finds her trigger finger tightening now. She wants this done with, and she has confidence in her aim that more than borders on arrogance. Mikoto can catch up.
At an elevated distance of four football fields, enough to render people into indistinct ants under good lighting conditions, Homura takes aim. She lowers the barrel ever so slightly, checking for dead center mass of her target, then makes the necessary adjustments for distance and wind speed. She breathes out.
Time suspends between exhalation and inhalation. Goodbye, Sayaka Miki, she thinks. I am doing you one last mercy.
Just another thing she is sure they would never see eye to eye on.
Homura takes the shot.
The vicious WHOOM of a .300 winchester magnum round cracking the air creates a black cloud of startled birds -- it concusses a ripple through Homura's sable swallowtail hair, and she stays in place against the recoil by virtue of practice and being well-braced against a corner of the radio tower.
With a wheeze for compressed ribs, Homura inhales. Her heart races. There's an uncustomary tremor in her fingers as she readjusts the scope and brings the sniper rifle back up to check on the status of her target.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
Kozue's eyes show amusement at that, "What /that/?" Her tone makes it clear she thinks the idea is a little strange but... a moment later she agrees, "Alright."
What? So quickly?
"I'll bring the beer." As if she felt it were a prerequisite to sitting on anything belonging to a beer company.
Before releasing a hand to put a finger up to Sayaka's lips. "And you bring... these..."
It's a light tap upon them, so that even with Sayaka wiping the smudge away...
Kozue can't stop failing to call attention to them.
Before taking a step back, having no idea that doing so gives someone such a clear shot.
"Of course it's a good day. Didn't you say it when we went dancing? You're with..."
And then she feels the horrific sound of air shattering beneath the trajectory of...
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Marcin Przybylowicz - Hunt Or Be Hunted https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Ccpv3mz4HI
From the rooftops and the upper boughs, Mikoto has been watching. She has not gotten close - has not needed to, with senses like hers. She can smell their mortality. No matter their attempts to shroud themselves in the skirts of Madoka, to cling to the safety of the Chevaliers, there must always be some moment of surety. Some aspect to their routine which would betray them.
And to watch Sayaka is fine. Sayaka has never been anything more than a nuisance, turned into a nightmare. But Kozue - Kozue.
There is a rusted lock to a garden flooded; and every rose is dead, and every cat is gone. The HiME were never teammates like the Pretty Cures or the Sailor Senshi, no matter what Midori might say. Each one of them is an island all their own. And perhaps they can work together, but the truth is bitter plain -
- each HiME must choose how to use her powers for herself.
Kozue has chosen how to use her strength. So has Mikoto.
It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter.
... and she does not enjoy it, not at all.
Homura finds her at home - she has finished bathing before Mai, sin-black hair still damp. "Yeah," she replies, sharp-eyed. Unsettled, perhaps, at the intrusion, or perhaps just the implications. And all she says to those terrible details is: "... I understand."
Her role is clear.
She is not in clothes she particularly favours, as she leaves. She knows that she will bloody them. Black tights, a black long-sleeved shirt. There is no flair to her. She does not want to be noticed, now. Certainly not by Mai, as she slips away from her hearthfire warmth. She leaves a note, in artful hand: 'I'm going out. I might be late.' A pause in the ink, dark on the page, as if the pen had been held there for a long precious moment. 'I'll be okay.'
She does not write: don't follow me.
In the dark place she is going - Mai cannot follow.
That is why Mikoto has to do this.
Mai could not do this, but Mikoto can.
Mai could not do this, but Eri needs this to be done.
The moonlight is so miserable. It is still such a round thing, in the sky. Such a bright thing. Soon it will be halved. Not soon enough.
The bridge, then.
That it is abandoned when she arrives is a small mercy; it is well there is no one to be shocked by a girl so openly carrying a blade. Well, that her attempts to contain the damage have borne fruit. She could not worry about such a thing - and yet...
She shakes off the feeling, somewhere between relief and sick dread, and slips down beside the anchorage block. Springs forward, grasps the girders, and pulls herself underneath. Presses herself between the gap left by pedestrian's path and steel support. It is not a comfortable position, of course. The bend of acrobatic limbs required to keep her anchored there - to keep her /sword/ anchored there - is a considerable thing. But the bridge is lit, in the night, and she thinks to hide herself. Perhaps they would not see her - perhaps they would. This is not a chance Mikoto Minagi thinks to take.
From Homura's distant vantage point, she is obvious.
From the bridge itself - she is not.
Now. Here is how it was supposed to go:
They would walk across the bridge - Sayaka would be shot - and Mikoto would be right there to finish the job.
Now. Here is how it actually happens:
They come to the far end of the bridge, voices still distant even to Mikoto's keen ears, and a shot rings out. It is not distant. The sound of a gun is always earth-shattering.
There are a hundred very creative words Natsuki could use to describe this situation.
Mikoto just hisses an agitated breath through grit teeth, lips curled in a snarl. /Homura./
A frustrated noise - as she wrenches herself, freeing her legs, swinging back and forward and up onto the bridge proper. She lands, bends legs stiff from tension, and charges down the bridge.
Even a freight train needs time to reach full speed.
She does not think for a moment that Sayaka is dead. Even she cannot see clearly the damage Homura has done, from a river's span.
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> A Time of Wonder - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw5vq79_aNQ
Sayaka dislikes the taste of beer--she's only ever had a sip, though. When it's her turn to speak, she's going to demand to know where Kozue expects to find beer in between the bridge and the building immediately at the end of the bridge. That plan goes awry when Kozue specifies Sayaka's own contribution to the potluck.
Her eyes are very large and rapt, over pink cheeks, as Kozue closes her lips with a finger.
Sayaka looks at Kozue, and feels something akin to pride, glowing and light in her chest. Is she proud of herself for getting such a wonderful girlfriend? Is she proud of Kozue for being wonderful? It's an odd sort of emotion.
Kozue is likely to remember this exact moment for a long time, so it bears a short examination. Sayaka is wearing casual clothing tonight. Black jeans (Aohime), blue track jacket (thrift store), a yellow tee shirt with a treble clef on it (museum), and a pair of stylish white velcro boots (Aohime). The hand that wasn't in Kozue's is in her pocket, the hand that is has dropped loosely to the front of her thigh. One knee bent, one knee straight. The gentlest smile, big blue eyes mooning. Kozue does not often directly reference romance.
Then a piece of supersonic lead punctures Sayaka's chest so suddenly that it is as though an invisible spear just appeared inside her, already impaling her.
Sayaka takes an uncertain step to the side, chasing her own balance, unsure what has just happened. She clears her throat a little, and touches her lip; she didn't get all the lipstick off, it seems. But when she glances at her fingertips, the color she sees it not blue. Sayaka lifts her foot to take a step in the other direction, to catch her balance. But this step misses the ground entirely, and Sayaka drops, with no more grace than a sandbag. Her eyes are blank and glassy. The circle of red stains slowly, leaking outward from its epicenter, and its epicenter is--used to be--Sayaka's heart.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
It's an image that will be locked into her dreams for some time - or it would have been. Now only her nightmares, if she lives long enough to have them.
Those mooning eyes, even if sometimes lately they have lost their luster.
Those feminine lips turned into such this gentle smile - full of pride.
The contrast of how Sayaka fills out that clothing, with every line of a muscle with her broad shoulders and arms and washboard stomach.
One knee bent just like she's getting down to her level.
The feel of the fingers so familiar she could identify them with just the lightest of touches.
It's picture perfect in it's sublimity. Like one could define so much of how one feels between ticks of the second.
Which is why it's maddening when it's stolen away. As a hole appears in her girlfriend's chest
Kozue's eyes don't see it at first. It's like she's too focused on what came before to register seeing something awful. It hasn't occurred to her when Sayaka takes a step back. Her eyes full of a question.
A question of what's wrong.
The answer comes as Sayaka starts to sink - misses catching her balance. As her fingers slip out of hers nervelessly. Kozue's eyes subtly widening in shock as the dark pupils dilate subtly.
By the time she hits the ground.... she does not even need the stain of red to know the answer.
Or to know what she must do.
"Cassandra." Her voice sounds as soft as a single breath. Kozue's image doubles as her eyes perform a sweep of the skyline. An intense murderous air permeating her right now.
Homura's sniper scope is immediately filled with red glowing eyes and an avian head. Blocking all view of a possible subsequent killshot from the metallic bulk beneath it. The baleful glare could not be upon her.
However all it takes is a glint of light off a sniper scope. A reflection is what has betrayed so many great snipers of history.
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJluols5x8k
The bird's break opens - as it trumpets a call. A loud din which can be heard even from there. Except - it's growing louder. And louder.
A fraction of a second after her perch starts to shake, it erupts as if the Puella Magi had set up beneath old faithful. The water from old pipes pressurized into killing blasts which disintegrate stone and steel in equal measure in a terrible array of indiscriminate cutting streams.
Blindly aimed, none are directed at her, yet it hardly matters given how many of them erupt over such a wide area with a precise violence on the rooftop before being raked across abruptly in a swift horizontal flash.
A moment later the roof and radio tower groans and starts collapsing like the Child had dissected it into several dozen pieces with cuts of scalpel.
Dust and water and steel slough off in a horrific feat of destruction, electricity from severed machinery sparking. Some of it collapses down to the next floor, while the weight of other pieces falls off the side and descends to the alleys beside the building in a horrific hailstorm.
Kozue Kaoru's eyes are on the building for just a moment as she watches what she presumes is the death of some hired gun from Ends of the World.
She does not prescribe to the idea of an eye for an eye. Instead it is a life for a hand. And to one who takes a life... she would take away everything and more.
At least that's how it was for her in the past. Right now such things seem so pointless. She cannot take pleasure in it, cannot revel in the moment. It is a pyrrhic, pointless victory in slaying some hired gun that might have been aiming at her.
Slowly, tentatively she kneels down beside Sayaka as her Child curls around them both. Her knee staining immediately in red given the mini-skirt she's dressed in.
Putting a hand against her cheek, as a small droplet of blood transfers to her knuckles from the spatter of the shot.
Those eyes which before were so full of life and pride - now blank and glassy. She watches the girl's skin pale. She strokes it with a certain fondness and tenderness that she'd perhaps never show to anyone while they were awake. "Wake up..."
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Hq0-47hyds
Something in her blue eyes glimmers as she says it a bit more insistently, ".../wake up/ dummy... don't leave me all alone here..."
She knew how much Sayaka Miki could survive. What if this was too much though? Too much even for her?
The thought causes her to sink in upon herself as her final words are spoken, whisper thin. "Please." Then closing her eyes it becomes more desperate, like a prayer as her hand trends down to Sayaka's, grasping it, holding it up to Kozue's own cheek between two hands, feeling the touch of the still warm skin and cool metallic band of her ring and the warmer blueglow of the gem, "Don't leave me before I figure out if that's what it really means."
What what really means?
Her words may be inscrutable except to the girl who lay dying on the ground.
"I want... no I... need... to figure out a better answer... than 'maybe.'"
COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru transforms into Kozue and Cassandra!
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
When Kozue first grasps Sayaka's hand to lift it, she could swear there was life in it yet. But when it rests on her cheek, it is utterly still. All the warmth of a living hand, and none of the tingle of connection. Not even a weak stroke of the thumb, or a moulding to Kozue's cheek. Not even a pulse.
Sayaka doesn't look like she's bleeding much, but that is because Kozue is looking at her from above.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Darren Korb - Old Friends https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ql8K3KJyWgY
In the distance, a freight train called 'Mikoto Minagi' gains speed.
She is halfway across the bridge before her eyes can catch the details well enough. Through the chest - bloodied. Were she living flesh and blood, she would be dead. She is not. She will be destroyed. Kozue kneels beside her. Her Child shields them. Larger than she thought. Strange.
It was not so large before.
She does not think of Kozue's comfort in the way Cassandra blocks their view, as she strokes Sayaka's skin unseen. Certainly, Kozue would not want her to see it. But it means nothing, seen or unseen.
Because here is the truth:
Mikoto is a warrior who can defeat any enemy - and its meaning is not as obvious as it seems. Mikoto is not the strongest girl alive. There are others greater.
No, it is not a measure of strength, to be able to defeat any who stand before her.
It is a measure of determination. A measure of her capacity to annihilate everything she once loved. A measure of her willingness to put aside her feelings, her connections, her desires - to become a storm of destruction which does not look to care or circumstance, in the face of a threat.
It is easy for Mikoto to assume she must be stronger; it is wrong.
BGM Change: Darren Korb - Rage of Demons https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGPaVcXz-0E
She just needs to be strong enough.
And the truth of it reverberates in her bones, and she realises only distantly that it is the sound of her scream. It announces her, alongside the horrible sound of metal grinding as her blade casts sparks from the bridge; the latter ceases, abruptly, as she leaps into the air. The truth of it reverberates in her bones, as that killing-blade comes down overhead, towards a mourning girl and her dying lover. Miroku will catch Cassandra and Kozue on its quest to cleave Sayaka in twain. They are incidental. The quickest way to Sayaka's flesh is straight through.
Tear out all your little kinships and kindnesses. Shred every inch of your friendship. Mercy is for other people; it is not for you.
She doesn't even flinch.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
The ambushers are in their appointed places, but one of them is still far more of a lone wolf than a pack animal. In striking early, Homura Akemi disrespects their partnership with her arrogance and betrays herself to Mikoto as unreliable. Not the most auspicious beginning for such a deadly undertaking.
The ghost-pale girl seeks kill confirmation through the scope of her rifle, doing her damndest to ignore the twitching of her fingers. The starlings shriek frightened indignance around Homura as she squints and searches, bracing for... the wrong sort of shock.
Cassandra's glare seizes upon Homura, flaring red through the scope in refractive halos, and it's like staring down the barrel of a furious laser. Homura bites down on a gasp, all the way in her perch; she's snapping up from her crouch as the swan trumpets vengeance, always quick to react but in this case not yet sure what she is reacting /to/.
Even if the beast glares right at her, what could it possibly do from so far away?
Kozue Kaoru's Child makes a demonstration of the ways in which she now surpasses any previous estimation Homura had of her powers across a multitude of timelines, originating directly beneath the time mage's dainty black-clad feet.
Few forces in existence rival water for sheer destructive power. The apartment building destructs upward. Pulverized building materials punches outward and skyward on pressurized turbulence like a shaken and uncorked champagne bottle venting shrapnel instead of bubbly.
Violence engulfs Homura Akemi in her sniper nest before she can touch hand to shield. Her shock-wide mouth fills with grey water, her violet eyes sting with the force of it, and she struggles to reach the lifesaving gears against awful pressure and the terror of drowning. A cutting stream slices across her body, and though her puella resilience spares Homura a mortal death, it does not save her a vicious rib-bruising nor the blooming of bruises across one side of her face. Then the water throws her free and into night-filled space --
-- and in the precarious freedom of the open air Homura reaches her shield, and disappears.
And reappears, in blink-and-you'll-miss-them flashes, here and there, to and fro. She flits down through the falling wreckage of the pulverized building in a strobelight-quick ballet of vignettes, beating the pace of gravity by a considerable margin.
The thought grinds through Homura's mind as she descends: That... was a miscalculation. Her right cheek swells, forcing that eye to a perpetual squint.
It's all the admission her pride will permit, and besides, she has more immediate concerns. Her heels touch down on the bridge and she sprints away -- blink -- she's fifty meters away and the first bits of radio tower strike the pavement behind her -- blink -- she's a quarter of the way across the bridge, still well behind Mikoto but closing with that unnatural stutterstep quickness.
And Homura doesn't need to close the gap to inflict more damage. Her wet hair flaps as she runs, its length made ungainly by water-weight. She pulls a heavy double-barreled shotgun out of her shield and trots sideways to get a shot clear of the sparks thrown by Miroku against the bridge.
It's enough vantage to catch that Sayaka is down, looks lifeless but intact -- to glimpse Kozue kneeling over her, beneath a too-large Cassandra who shelters them both. Her swollen cheek contributing to a snarl, Homura looses two booming shells at the looming swan-creature, otherwise known as the greatest apparent threat to the puella magi.
"Let's finish this quickly!" she urges, either Mikoto or herself -- it's not clear.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed. <SoundTracker> Thanatos - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8H8LRmNUdg
The feel of Sayaka's hand grows colder by the moment. There is pulse. Not that she even checks it. Such things seem meaningless to a girl who runs on magic. To a girl who can regrow an arm. Magic is her blood more than the red stain beneath her knee.
The question is not whether she feels dead. It's whether her soul burns brightly enough.
Whether the blue light upon her fingers fades into darkness before...
There's a familiar sound of metal grinding, and Kozue lets Sayaka's hand go. Acting on sheer instinct alone, something materializes into her hand. The dark circle meets black greatsword and it feels like such a flimsy defense for Miroku's strength. It does not feel equal to it at this range.
More sparks fly as Miroku presses upon the beard where the blade meets the half, the girl never having had time to even get up from a knee. The proper answer is to get out of the way. To save herself. With Sayaka laying beneath the arc of the blade though.
The Child bellows murder. And yet - it's actions...
A wing stabs down just behind Kozue before scraping across with a razor sound that's not unlike that of the other girl's greatsword upon concrete. It gently nudges Sayaka backwards.
Just as Kozue turns her sickle just subtly.
Mikoto feels the weight subtly shift, as Miroku smashes down. The impact strong enough that it sends Kozue careening roughly into her child as the debris showers her. There's a gasp of pain as a rock slices her brow and the wind is knocked out of her from her spine impacting her own Child so roughly.
The Child's beak stabs down as if a great spear aimed in order to force Mikoto backwards.
"Mikoto." It's a word - that sounds half-dazed. Yet unsurprised.
The shifting of understanding from Ends to Shepherd is made so quickly.
Water beneath the bridge bubbles up... even as Homura appears. Two shells launching from the shotgun towards the child. It rears as it's raked by metallic rain from a position of surprise, shrieking in pain as divets appear upon a metallic wing - and a few razors peel off entirely.
Water careens up from the ocean as a thick appendage, before streaming towards the pale girl's corpse body with horrific speed. It encompasses her as easily as a fist, cocooning all of her in rippling blue other than her head, and snatches her off the ground to hover in the air.
While Cassandra can be of wild temperament - she understands her HiME's priorities all too well.
It's only now that Kozue herself recovers enough to act. "Two of you huh?" She recognizes the girl with the raven hair. Under other circumstances. She might be thanking her for Alyssa Greer. These are not those circumstances, "Well come on then." It's said with a cold sort of anger. "You know I'm sweet on her." The words may resonate with something she said to Mikoto long ago.
Cassandra's wing slashes in the air.
Slicing through the wires boxing in civilians and the railing besides. Cutting jagged tears in the metal, as the Child moves towards the edge... its eyes on Homura and Sayaka's inert form starts to be pulled through in a descent.
It's intent is clear to the twin warriors. Bring Sayaka to the water below where Mikoto will have a tougher time setting up for a killing blow.
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N5Gk_GXgiJU
The HiME herself is trying to block her from that though as she starts a lazy swing of the chain, which starts revolving faster and faster within a split second, with whooping noises every time the weight passes by in a hellish doppler effect. "And you know I'm not the kind of girl who's going to roll over."
Pivoting on a foot, she turns like she's going to hurl the Kusarigama's weight at the Puella Magi. Only to take that momentum in a savage three sixty and reveal the feint as she turns it into a hammer throw.
It skips off concrete with an awful ricochet. Like she were skipping a stone off a pond, chain jangling like the reaper itself is coming as it smashes upwards in a blinding fast upwards angle at Mikoto. Twin blades leading behind its juggernaut flight.
"So in the words of Utena Goddamn Tenjou - BRING IT!"
Even if it's hopeless... she's making her stand here.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
Cut through. Cut through. Cut through!
But here is the truth:
An Element is the expression of a HiME's power. It will not be cut, not even by the sharpest edge of obsidian which has stolen into Mikoto's heart. Kusarigama and claymore are locked in eternal stalemate by this essential fact. They are locked together in struggling expressions of their might.
Mikoto's stance is wide, from where she landed so close to Sayaka's fragile form; it is an instinctual thing, to plant herself in a way which will allow her to strike so much more powerfully. She is a tiny thing; above Kozue's knelt form, the limp body of the target, she towers. There is nothing but black hatred, in those sharp eyes. There is no shred of remorse, of mercy.
It is not only might they bring to bear.
Kozue's wit redirects the blade - just far enough. It slams into the ground, buries three inches into the concrete; flesh gives so much more easily. Cassandra's beak does not allow Mikoto the luxury of pressing her attack. She must leap backwards, tearing Miroku from the bridge as she goes.
Kozue says her name, and there is no response at all. Not even a shift in expression.
She is an enemy; enemies must be defeated.
Cassandra is taking Sayaka away. This is not permitted. Those terrible golden eyes dart to her waterlogged form - briefly.
Back to Kozue. There's no response, as she makes her brave declarations. It is as if Mikoto Minagi does not hear them at all. Except -
- she calls back to the first time she told Mikoto the truth, where everyone around her lied. The first time she did not underestimate her capacity to understand.
Bestial eyes narrow; her lip curls in imperious rage.
Mikoto snarls, and it is not a human sound, not at all.
'Won't Mai be worried?'
'... yes. But I must.'
It doesn't matter.
And any glimmer of recognition is squashed in an instant.
Cassandra's violence is unconstrained. It will take Sayaka into the ocean. The ocean is familiar to Mikoto. It is a bad place to fight. It does not go well for her.
Cassandra must be stopped.
There is someone in the way.
Kozue strikes at Homura. Mikoto charges for Cassandra.
Kozue is not striking at Homura at all.
The realisation comes on the heels of a jangling chain - rushing air. It will tangle her. It cannot be allowed. She bends, leaps. The blades meet her ascent, catch at the flesh of her hip. There is precious little meat there, before the bone. Something has kept her from growing as she ought. What a regrettable thing it is, in this moment.
She lands in a roll, more heavily than she would like. She does not land on her blade; she throws her arm out before it can catch her. Once, twice, three times, and she comes to a kneel.
Golden eyes alight on the bird which carries her prey where she cannot easily follow.
Single-mindedly, Mikoto springs upwards, charges the Child. And the blade which comes towards it is well-suited for the task. She spins, once, twice, three times, pulls her unruly blade in upwards swing - diagonal - towards the breast.
Kozue is left aside.
The most direct path is through Cassandra.
Kozue is no longer in the most direct path.
Kozue is no longer a target.
Homura said to end it quickly. The guidance has been acknowledged. The instruction is clear. Her role is clear. Destroy Cassandra - so she might destroy Sayaka. Waste no time. End it now.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
The violet magi drops her emptied shotgun and keeps running, noting what little damage it managed against Cassandra. Her poker face does its job, masking dismay. Just how inert is Sayaka Miki? Is that a terminal sort of lifelessness, or will she come back from the impossible brink yet again with that trademark infuriating tenacity of hers?
They'll have to make sure. At this point, Homura will settle for nothing less than the physical obliteration of Sayaka Miki's shell and a Soul Gem powdering just as thorough. It's a gruesome thought, and it leaves a dark stain on its way through her mind.
Homura Akemi snaps forward another unlikely fifty meters in an instant, and from one point to the next, the grimace on her face has grown. Close, now -- she gets to appreciate Mikoto's brutal art as applied via the cleaving brush of Miroku. Another rush and she's an obsidian swordslength away from her ally, off her left flank.
It's close enough to make her an excellent feinting target. One more mark against Homura as a teammate in this sortie, perhaps. Mikoto warned Homura about the treacherous length of that chain weapon, and Homura flinches back behind a bridge column... needlessly, as it turns out. Recovering from her own dodge, she's only able to watch as the Kusarigama snakes toward Mikoto instead.
She casts a glance around and Sayaka's body is not where it was. Eyes wide, Homura spins on her heel and spies the weirdling tendril of river claiming the girl's shell.
Okay, that's /another/ thing she's never seen Kozue Kaoru do before. "Great. More surprises." She needs to stop that thing, somehow. But how do you stop water from doing... anything?
"Just-- just keep her busy, Minagi!" Not that she needs Homura's urging -- Mikoto is already doing a terrifying job of just that, in her charge of Cassandra.
The time mage has a go-to, a one-overwhelming-size-fits-all sledgehammer approach for when more elegant solutions do not present themselves, and now she reaches for that sledgehammer. Tonight it takes the form of six M67 grenades at once.
She takes full unfair advantage of the edge a time stop affords her, which is the only way one person can deploy that many grenades by hand simultaneously. She's got a very good arm for this now, and lobs them to cluster close to Sayaka's submerged form, each plunging at least half a foot into the ensorceled water.
When she blinks back into existence, the grenades appear too, and their short fuses have but a second or two left to them. Homura wrings one of her sleeves out as she watches for the detonations, and for the ensuing fragmentation.
With luck it will be quick, and thorough.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
As Mikoto lands in a roll, Kozue is in a hurry yanking back on the chain like it were simply a tethered ball. Her arm already beginning another spinning revolution even as Mikoto glares murder at Cassandra. Even as she leaps- and Kozue can see she's not aimed at her. Cassandra squawks in alarm between that and Homura's apparent disappearance from her field of vision.
And something spouts out of the cracks in the bridge as if there were a hidden fountain. One sheet of water. Two. Three. A threefold defense that Mikoto smashes through the first. The second. Crashes into the third.
It scatters into droplets as she swings - meeting only slightly resistance.
However, Mikoto and Miroku's momentum slows just subtly.
That when the giant swan child jerks, she's hammered by the flat of the blade instead of sliced by the edge and crashes against the side of the bridge, hanging precariously between the twisted metal.
Kozue's arm has been revolving around the whole time. Which she tosses out at the other HiME's rear, catching her by the flank as the chain seeks to wrap around her. "Do you two have any idea-" Before she jerks her arm back, trying to yank her off her feet and send her- chain unravelling as she goes through the opposite civilian railing of the footbridge and through it towards abandoned automobiles if she doesn't stop herself in time. "-what it TAKES to keep me busy?"
However Cassandra hardly has time to recover before she notes the pineapple shapes in her vision, hued red by her eyes.
They impact the water cocoon around Sayaka.
In that same moment, two things happen. The first is that it flows around to wrap around Sayaka's head too.
And the second is that the floating pineapples suddenly - startlingly - move outward as the entire streaming appendage holding Sayaka splits off.
It doesn't make it far before they all detonate. The water holding them disintegrates in an explosion, the blastwave striking the second holding Sayaka's inert form.
It bulges inwards for a moment, before collapsing all together. Droplets splashing outwards against the twinkling light of Tokyo even as the sequential explosions flatten the Child against the ground too as its legs seem to give out..
And the girl starts to fall, head first towards the ocean. It feels like her descent is played out in slow motion.
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxUcVR54ukk
Kozue watches the blue-haired girl fall within her vision. And her footsteps splash upon soaked concrete as she abandons the assault on Mikoto briefly to just run to the edge.
Her mouth open wide, mouthing an syllable as her eyes follow her. Like she's ready and willing to jump after her even if it's a futile effort.
Cassandra pushes up just enough off her taloned feet. And pushes her bulk up and through the wreckage, as she dives over the edge like a swan slipping in water towards the bay. In mid-flight she spreads her wings and one might imagine her snatching the girl up mid-flight like a hunting bird.
Kozue's eyes fasten to her like everything important to her was falling to smash against the unfeeling ocean.
Cassandra makes no headway closing the distance. And instead water begins to flow, dancing about the surface of the bay as if she were a weaver shaping every droplet into some grand creation of her designs. It starts out narrow, then begins to flatten out at the top, spreading out like a wide and thin surface that concaves abruptly upwards. As Sayaka falls close enough, it wraps around her as if she were meeting the embrace of a parent - or friend - or lover, springing down subtly as it cushions her impact.
The Child lands in the water less gently. Smashing into it as if a ship were launched from on high, displacing the water violently and taking out the thin umbilical tethering the dying girl to the bay.
Leaving her in a perfect oval egg hovering in mid-air. Just above the bay.
Kozue's breath seethes in relief as she watches the save.
However - it will become painfully clear to Homura by now. The Child has abandoned all attempt at offense. It is on complete defense. She is preserving Sayaka Miki at all costs.
Kozue turns back to face Mikoto looking like she's overwhelmed and needs a moment, but can't allow herself anything. No time at all. None. And so she speaks in a sotto voce, voice ragged with emotion as she snatches back up the chain, "Did you Shepherds think keeping me captive for a while tamed me?"
As she begins to revolve the chain again, "You of all people should know when a wild animal is most dangerous Mikoto."
Of course it's when defending mate or chicks or nest of course.
She faces down a girl that she knows might be her death for Sayaka's sake. And she does it alone.
It's like something is cracking in her voice under the strain. As a wild rasp enunciates each syllable like staccato notes. "I . will . ne . ver . let . you . have . her."
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Nobuo Uematsu - Mystery Sword https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-y1rf0gQFho
Water cannot -
- Mikoto crashes through the first wave -
- will not -
- Mikoto crashes through the second -
- stop her.
And Mikoto crashes through the third.
It does not stop her.
It was not meant to.
It is enough to confuse her sight, as those terrible golden eyes are forced to blink away the intrusion. The smell of blood guides her - but Miroku is angled wrong. It crashes into Cassandra more like a baseball bat than a blade, and yet she has poured all her force into the strike.
It is force enough even to send such a huge Child flying.
'Just-- just keep her busy, Mikoto!'
The instruction is heard.
The instruction is acknowledged.
Mikoto turns to Kozue - just as that chain flashes out. She snarls as she leaps away. If Kozue's Element obeyed reason, she would escape. It does not. It is as long as it needs to be to capture her in its metal embrace.
Snarl turns to yelp as she is tossed. She is light, even if Miroku is heavy. It is not difficult to manipulate Mikoto Minagi.
Distantly, she is aware of explosions. They are not distant.
She twists in the air, as she goes flying over the railing. Her arc is high enough that she could have been flung into the ocean - it would not be the first time, not even the first time at the hands of a blunette - if not for the upper reaches of a semi-trailer left idle on the bridge.
Sensible Ohtori flats press against the metal - push back off.
At this angle, she can see Cassandra, crashing down into the ocean.
It will be difficult to reach it now.
Keep her busy.
Mikoto lands upon the bridge, tears into a sprint towards Kozue's form. She does not give her a moment to recover. She does not spare her a single kindness. She is coming to kill Kozue. It will keep her busy.
She has no opinion on Kozue's captivity. Kozue is an enemy.
She cares nothing for Kozue's threats. Kozue is an enemy.
She is unaffected by Kozue's cracking voice. Kozue is an enemy.
'You can't - have Eri. I'll /never/... let you touch Eri. You'll have to - get through me! And I'll, /never yield!/'
"Never," comes dark and snarling echo, as Mikoto's implacable form bears down on Kozue. "Never..."
And that blade comes up in a wicked spiral, at precisely the height to bisect Kozue into two equal horizontal halves.
Her voice rises in terrible bellow, each mora higher and more forceful than the last.
"Never! Never! /Never!/"
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> (Ocean) Bloom - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ODsUpq0WAYY
Even in silence you have ears, even in darkness you have eyes. In the void itself you still have hands and skin and flesh. Even when there is nothing at all to feel you will be given the final, desolate consolation of feeling nothing itself. You will hear stillness, see darkness, feel your own body.
There are deeper states you may fall to. Slumber or profound meditation. Intoxication or coma. The moment before death where all that you were is crushed to a pinprick of light. Earless and eyeless and bodyless, you will experience only the corporeal abstraction of your own brain. To separate your self from the nerves and lobes where it dwells is the task of monks and philosophers. Many consider it impossible, say if the soft ripple of electricity within your skull falls still, there is nothing left of you.
But magic and miracles do exist.
The electricity has gone dark. Sayaka lacks not only outer senses, but every inner sense she once had as well. She is no longer a brain experiencing itself. Is it any surprise that the last time this happened, she could remember nothing of it? What could happen to an eyeless, earless, brainless ghost that homo sapiens could understand?
Any approximation must travel back as far as flesh can go. Unwind the clock past the caves, the plains, and the mud, back into the formless infinite ocean. There is a tiny wriggling life inside that universe of water. On that life is a sensitive speck, not worthy calling an eye, but it can discern light along a wavelength. Pretend that what remains of Sayaka knows what a color is. What color does she see?
She sees yellow.
Further back, to the first time a sense became more than a sensation. That speck is now just one cell that knows dark from light, and conceives of no in-between. A mote of sensation, felt by nerves with no brain, like a lighthouse with no ships to see its signal. So then. Does Sayaka "feel" dark, or light?
She feels light.
There is nothing--not even nothing--past that. Just clumps of algae, then minerals, then Space, and then something unknowable, strange even to the void. You could travel forever through such alienation before you found anything. All that came after this beginning is but a single tile on an endless hallway. What can Sayaka know of such a place?
She knows nothing.
But there is something before the beginning, after all. There is something before sense, before sensation. Something worth creating heroines and monsters, granting wishes and unleashing curses, worth chaining girls inside gleaming stones. Something more powerful than everything that came after. When she reaches this something, what is Sayaka?
Sayaka is love.
This entity that does not know what a color is yet in love with Kozue Kaoru. This brainless ghost is suffering because the flesh that people called Mami Tomoe stopped moving, off on a planet it has no memory of. This footnote of non-corporeal physics feels that it is in some way /one/ with another footnote, briefly named Madoka Kaname.
Walk forever past the lowest consciousness and there you find the highest. This is the power that the Incubators found and enslaved. This is what Sayaka could not remember when she awoke. This is what you cannot remember, either.
And it can rebuild a heart.
She knows nothing. She feels light. She sees yellow. Sayaka trickles back into her own brain, and it feels like she's being poured onto a hot pan. She resists. She wants the yellow to enfold and comfort her. She wants to be close to it. But somehow she keeps pouring herself, and her thoughts start to flicker on, like old flourescent bulbs. Her chest still feels impaled, and something in there is wrenching around and struggling to survive, to grow, to spread. It cannot afford to wait until it is intact. It contracts, and shoves blood, and suddenly everything works again.
Sayaka gasps pure water, heaving it deep into her frail new lung. Her eyes shoot open, and see yellow no more--is the water brackish from the bay, or are they stinging? She's going to die again soon, and there isn't enough of her left to keep pouring onto the damage. Sayaka lifts a hand and stares at it. Somehow her white glove is on. She closes its fingers in wonder.
Behind where her fingers were, Sayaka sees blurry human figures rippling, distant outside the water. She has no idea what they are doing over there; the last thing she remembers is Kozue's face, and something wet on her lip. But she sees a familiar color, there. She sees blue. She sees blue bent unto breaking beneath black metal.
The egg erupts, a great gout of clear water glittering against moonlight. Riding its peak like a seahorse of myth, a white-cloaked girl emerges from its foam. She hits the bridge's surface violently, rolling shoulder-over-shoulder as her plume of water spatters a trail behind her. But as she comes to a stop, her limbs are already looking for the ground, and her cape peels up from the wet pavement as she rises, pink droplets dripping down from inside her breastplate. When her knee gives out, a sword rings into the night air, reverses itself, and plants into the concrete, taking half of Sayaka's bent weight to keep her upright. She managed to make it within ten feet of Kozue.
Her wild eyes fix on Homura Akemi.
As if expressing her opinion on the topic of Homura's presence, Sayaka doubles over and violently vomits water all over the ground between her feet. Panting knives into her lungs, clearly unable to lift her own sword, Sayaka drools riverwater from her bottom lip, along with the only word important enough to spend oxygen on right now.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
The grenades really should have done the trick -- except, of course, that this is Sayaka Miki and nothing involving that girl EVER works out the way it should. From the way violet eyes narrow and affix on an itinerant schoolgirl-model, Homura Akemi knows who gets the credit for this latest unlikely survival.
Aohime's playing out quite a hand. Not many nights feature this many new sights for the seasoned time mage. Despite its extreme inconvenience to her attempts to finish the job, she watches the deployment of a protective cocoon of water with some interest. Grenades aren't much use against that, and she guesses most projectiles will have trouble, too. Noted.
Kozue's wild syllables find Homura, her "ne . ver" bothers the puella despite her unwillingness to be bothered by such things.
"Never!" her sword-wielding ally chants. "Never!" Mikoto insists, she yowls, "Never!" Homura understands well that kind of never, too.
Three girls who intervene personally, bodily, in the paths of their nevers clash over the water -- over the body of a girl the water seeks to claim. She glares at the striving Kozue in all her desperate fury, and there's frustration in the level slash of Homura's mouth.
"I don't want her. I've never wanted her." Extremis roughs the edge of Homura's usual soft tones. "I just want her out of my way for once."
A bitter-black and unexpressed thought: wasn't it /Sayaka/ who didn't want /Homura/, even way back in the beginning? A stumbling, bumbling Homura tried, she really tried, but... only Madoka wanted her. Sayaka always saw how... how useless Homura was.
Well, now /you're/ the useless one, Sayaka Miki. Not me.
And I'll be the one to save her. From you, from the Incubator... whatever it takes.
Homura repeats the last part, quietly: "Whatever it takes." It buzzes between gritted teeth.
Cassandra and a goodly portion of the salt waters beneath them are doing a laudible job of protecting that girl's body. An indirect assault, then. Homura will join her ally in hammering on the mastermind of their defense. "I'm getting a better idea of what keeps you busy, Kaoru. Keep showing me your tricks. Let's find the bottom of your barrel."
Without moving a muscle she's somehow closed to within twenty feet of Kozue, the better to focus fire on the girl alongside Mikoto and Miroku. "Once she's down, the rest will follow!" With an arm so slender the size difference could almost seem comical -- except, of course, for the deadly seriousness -- Homura Akemi drags first one, then another AK-47 out of her dainty shield and braces herself.
She freezes with each finger on a trigger, on the verge of peppering Kozue Kaoru with two magazines full of bullets. The spectacle of Sayaka Miki's emergence, riding the water's foam like she is apiece with its rough purity, allows nothing less, even from the famously stoic violet puella.
"You... YOU." Is Homura angry or despairing? "How many times do I have to kill you?!" Strain rings her eyes -- it's like she's seeing ghosts.
She sprays Kozue with as much wild lead as a few seconds' span will allow, the double muzzle flare stealing nightvision from Homura for critical moments. She backpedals with the recoil and the bullets go wild, but there is an awful lot of them in the air right now, zinging like a swarm of furious hornets.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
"Of... course... you... don't!"
Comes her reply to Homura. Kozue has never fooled by Mikoto's small frame or the ever-shifting size of her black sword. She knows it is more akin to a Titan straight out of Greek Myth coming out of her, and her armed with no thunderbolt. A word - /her word/. Repeated over, as if to deny the truth from her lips and apply it to Mikoto's own truth. A truth that includes her death.
Most people under the circumstances would lose their nerve.
She is not most people.
Desperation drives her forward as Mikoto comes at her, the sword moves in a spiral momentum. As her feet slide beneath her. The movement kicking one of her flats off ineffectively in the airto be slashed by Miroku early in its arc. Uneven halves bisected and thrown.
The rest of Kozue's body is letting gravity take her down. Gravity is a bit too slow though, a /shwrip/ noise as it catches part of her top and turns its side into a slit one - the air awash in red from a shallow cut. The rest of her thuds down heavily, not even trying to stop her, the rest of her sliding forward. Before coming up onto her feet as a wounded animal - relying on Mikoto's forward momentum making it hard to change directions to give her time.
Leaping up to run upon the railway seperating the street from pedestrians as she darts at the raven haired Puella Magi.
"She's too good for you!" Kozue spits at Homura as if knowing full well how she's insulting herself, "Don't even try to explain yourself. Do you really think... I don't know what you are Akemi!? It takes a special kind of twisted to be like you or me!"
Kozue runs straight at the girl producing the AK-47. Like an Erinyes ready to lash at her for an eternity - even fully willing to expose her back to Mikoto for this.
Fully ready to run her down.
And then it's like she hears music - and her pace slows down.
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvy_MTGaRtI
Like her world is music, in the first scattering of water droplets that strike her.
She shouldn't be surprised that she fell in the first place. Can any warrior - no, knight stand in defense of the reality of the world eroding that away? Perhaps not, but music holds no judgment. It's about the romance in such an act. The sweet richness of the melody.
A love and admiration for a girl and her stubborness. The beauty of growth and change.
A rebirth. In those eyes. In that white cape. In the ringing note of a sword she knows that's wielded in her defense.
She's here. She's back. So close to her.
And her name feels the most beautiful it's ever been when spoken by those lips for the first time after her breath is stolen from her.
Kozue's first words in contrast are unequal to it. Unequal to how she feels. Because of course they are.
"Took you long enough."
It's a ragged whisper, full of emotion. Like she wants to go to her right now. And knows she can't - and that hurts.
A muzzle flare lights up in her vision. And then a wall of rippling blue cascades out in front of Homura. The girl seeing a vision - a reflection of herself in every flash of the gun. The wall offers no resistance to the bullets. It welcomes them with a loving embrace. All of Homura's fury.
Bullets which pass through though - they seem positively lethargic when they pass out the other side. Like the water has lapped up that emotion like a lovely treat - supped upon its momentum. And indeed each of them stings like hornets - some raising welts. Others though penetrating into a multitude of wounds.
A good six meters behind Homura - metal buckles. And there are red eyes, fixated on her with an avian antipathy. Then stares past her at the HiME with the Dark Sword. Which is when Mikoto might feel it. A tendril of water that has reached through the bridge to try to snatch her leg through one of the thinest gaps - and snatch her out of her attack against the two, and pull her brutally down to smash against the pedestrian walkway. Not just once - it tries to do it again and again. To make it as difficult as possible to free herself from its influence.
Kozue finally succumbs to those wounds, losing her balance to fall to the ground facing Sayaka Miki a short distance away, landing heavily. And surprisingly. She starts to laugh, in this wounded - almost unhinged way.
"As dates go... I think this... rates even worse... than the French restaurant."
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
One of Sayaka's lungs is still rebuilding herself, and the wry chuckle she begins at Kozue's quip wracks her down to one knee, briefly, before she can stop it.
"Omatase," she pants. It's all she has time and air for.
Sayaka has seen Homura fight many times, and is well-familiar with her discipline and cool. It startles to hear her so emotional, to see her burn hotter. It takes Sayaka a moment for it to click. There's only one thing Homura Akemi seems to care about.
"Oh my gosh," she says. So innocent with her cursing even after someone shoots her in the chest. "This is about /her/?"
Homura's first answer is a cataclysm of lead. Kozue's water-wall is peppered with big concentric ripples, overlapping one another more and more with every moment until the whole liquid edifice is pure chaos. Sayaka draws her sword from the concrete with a gasp of horror, surging towards Kozue one step. But as she does so, panic and effort spike her heartrate. Sayaka's valves aren't even fully intact yet, and the pain this effort causes her is like a heart attack. She drops to both knees this time, and her sword clatters away as she catches herself on her hands, panting blearily.
She's healing quickly. Every second she just rests is real progress, but it's another second Kozue has to endure Homura's onslaught alone. It's a dilemma with massive stakes. Sayaka's vision is blurry, like the whole bridge is sloshing around beneath her hands. Kozue's standing, fighting. Standing. Standing. Down.
Whimpering in fear, Sayaka presses a hand hard on her barely-reformed ribcage and pushes herself up. Reeling, her own breath loud in her ears, Sayaka stumbles through the water-softened gunfire. Her breastplate is strong enough to deflect one of the slowed bullets, but another thuds into her upper bicep, causing her to hiss and nearly lose her balance. Drawing two swords at once, Sayaka topples to her knees facing Kozue, her back to Homura, and slams both blades into the ground, holding onto them. She will need to be able to remain a wall even if she goes unconscious.
Sayaka sniffle-snorts at Kozue's dry joke. "That bad," she whispers. "Huh?"
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> How To Destroy Angels - Fur-Lined https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ul0cqfSJJxo
It is well that Homura is twenty feet back: Mikoto swings wild and wide. It is not difficult to imagine tragedy. Well - not difficult, perhaps, for the others. Mikoto does not imagine much of anything at all.
Her world is action and reaction. It is violence, brutal and unrestrained and tearing towards the core of Kozue's gravity.
And she knows: Kozue will not break.
That is why Mikoto has to break her.
Miroku carves through the leather of her flat as easily as it might a sheet of paper. It is ill portent for Kozue's flesh, which has not been hardened and shaped and treated in the manner of dead skin.
But Kozue is not there.
Kozue is lower.
Mikoto hisses a breath through clenched teeth as Kozue slides down, under the blade, away. She smells blood, but she can see, in that moment before Kozue leaves her sphere of vision, it is not enough.
Her momentum is fearsome, and denied by no one - least of all herself. The ribbon carved from Kozue's top flutters away in two pieces as Miroku buries deeply in the railing. Mikoto growls, plants foot against rail to yank it free. It takes precious moments.
And her world is action and reaction and violence and echoes.
'Once she's down, the rest will follow!'
'But call her a pet again and you may just have more of a problem than you can handle.'
Ah. When the ice was so much more unkind than the water.
It doesn't matter.
Homura is - heard. Acknowledged.
Except, as that blade comes free, as Mikoto whirls again -
In a shower of sea-foam comes a girl half formed. She is struggling to stand.
She is breathing.
She is repairing herself.
"No," comes a word from sides which heave like a racehorse after a dash. "No... no!"
'How many times do I have to kill you?!'
Lips curl up over teeth. "Many as it takes," she snarls, and perhaps it is for Homura's ears. "Again - again - again..!"
Those bullets are absorbed - enough to give Mikoto time to leap away, sparing scarce thought on /Homura/ in frustration again. Had the enemy not been in the way -
Kozue's back is to her, now.
Mikoto howls as she charges, wordless in her fury. There is vicious logic to Homura's instruction which she accepts so readily. Kozue is HiME; mortal blood in mortal veins. Kill her. Finish Sayaka after.
She leaps, that terrible black blade coming overhead, and it is so clear it means to crash like an executioner's blade to split her down the middle.
Here is the thing, about being airborne without the power of flight or redirection: it is a motion locked into its initial momentum.
Kozue - and Cassandra, through her - have correctly intuited that Mikoto's momentum is not just her greatest strength.
It is also her greatest weakness.
She feels the rush of water, pulls up her legs - useless. Water stretches. Water clenches. Scream becomes yelp as she is swung through the air, slammed into the ground. And Cassandra is echo, as well.
Again - and again - and again...
Mikoto cries out, wordless.
Again - and again - and she twists in Cassandra's watery grip, and she is not wordless, as she plunges her blade into the bridge. Concrete cedes to dark portal; white light floods the excess. "MIROKU!!"
She does not think for a moment what happens after. She is being hurt. She cannot escape. She cries out for absolution.
What happens after is not controlled or contained. Black-glass spikes burst from the bridge, erupting out from that initial point of impact, and it is not a wave of water which comes to meet the battlers on the bridge. It is an expression of desperation, uncoordinated and untargetted.
And supremely, overwhelmingly destructive.
Mikoto's magic is obsidian and it carves away with sharp edges.
It will kill Sayaka. It will kill Kozue.
As for Homura - as for Mikoto...
She does not think for a moment what happens after.
[OOC] Shizuru Fujino is no longer set as an observer.
<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.
"Is that so?" Shizuru Fujino asks of the voice speaking through her cellphone, head tilted thoughtfully. "Yes, I saw the video. Yes. ...Yes, that's correct."
She pauses, and laughs faintly, shaking her head. "And why would I answer that?" A beat, "Do take care. It is rather late, isn't it?"
The call ends, and the former Vice President of Ohtori's Student Council glances down at it for a moment, no particular expression on her face as she considers. It's not long before she slides through her phone's address book with a deft finger... and arrives at a particular name:
Utena Tenjou. "Moshimoshi," Shizuru begins as the call connects, a sly smile on her face.
She looks out over the cityscape from her perch on a balcony, the lights of the restaurant behind soft, warm. There are worse ways to have a dinner interrupted.
The night sky stretches ahead as a black car comes to a slow stop some distance before reaching the bridge proper that contains all the excitement ahead. Gunfire; shouting; the sparks of steel on concrete. There is rather a lot of it.
The car's lights switch off before they're even close enough to shine on the combatants. In moments, doors open--
Shizuru Fujino steps out of the car second, her white coat clear against the dim... if someone looks. She regards the scene ahead quickly. "It seems that we're late," she mentions to her companion, thumbing the rose signet she's wearing next to her engagement ring. Her lips press together only faintly, her red eyes intent.
"I'll be right behind you," she says to the Engaged, and extends her hand to the side--but does not yet summon her Element. Instead, she begins forward, her heels lightly impacting the sidewalk with each step, granting her height, a sense of amplified grace--
Utena Tenjou has arrived. COMBAT: Utena Tenjou transforms into Revolutionary Girl Utena!
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> The Birthday Massacre - Kill The Lights https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzhLj8UMOkE
Inadvertently, Utena announces herself by aroma.
An explosion of air displaced by her arrival carries with it the unmistakable essence of wild roses -- of unrestrained growth. Of sun-drenched summer afternoons. It washes over Sayaka and Kozue like a cool breeze on a sweltering day, like a drenched washcloth on a fevered brow, like relief. It crashes over Mikoto and Homura like the tsunami of perfume that might be whipped up over a field by a sufficiently furious storm.
She is smelled before she is seen, but when she is seen, she is seen landing.
The bows on her sneakers, red as the bridge they're on, bounce, adjusting their tradjectory only reluctantly from down to up to finally perfectly neutral, as the tips of her toes make contact with the concrete as seemlessly as a droplet of water glides onto the surface of the sea. Impact seems unnaturally slow, but it isn't, as the pothole of spiderwebbed cracks immediately evidence. A fallen angel Utena may be, but she falls willingly, gladly. With all haste.
Her hair spreads out behind her like a curtain falling on this play, separating Sayaka from Mikoto and Homura and the hungry, hungry obsidian, and it, too, bounces -- it's still finishing those momentous pink oscillations long after her legs have bent to bear her own weight, then started to rise to claim someone else's.
Sayaka will never marry Utena Tenjou but tonight she is a bride. And if her groom's haste is infectious, so is her gentleness, as she looks over the many colors that the iconic cloak has been stained away from white -- a lover of red and of pink, still it catches her throat. But nothing catches her flight -- as still more obsidian spikes chase her down the bridge, she (with increasingly frenetic effort, Sayaka can smell sweat as well as roses, now) uses them as stairs, as balance beams, as a desperately sharp tightrope.
It would be easy to say 'she does not look back', Utena has a reputation for coolness -- but it would be a lie. Once clear of the deadliest portion of ground zero, she turns, affording both Sayaka and herself a view of what Mikoto's rage has wrought.
For her part, she is looking not for either Shepherd, but rather looking after Kozue -- and Shizuru.
"I got you," she pants, each syllable a fast, tight breath that in no way puts the lie to the corresponding word. If anything, it reinforces it. It's an oath as solemn as any ever sworn on this Puella Magi's sword. "I got you, Sayaka."
<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed. <SoundTracker> The Birthday Massacre - Shiver https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=noJxeT0tFwY
It is only after the start of the terrible black glass's appearance that a woman in white appears, suddenly on the move, darting forward with her brown hair flowing behind her and a strange red naginata in both hands. The diamond at her finger glints; the rose crest catches the light. Red eyes focus one place, another--
The first sight the combatants will have of her is not her presence behind Kozue and Sayaka on the bridge, running forward. The first is the whipcord snapping of red chain, coiling around Kozue Kaoru in the span of moments, ungentle but strangely not painful, either--save of course for the sudden /tug/ that pulls her free of the bridge entirely, pulls her towards the figure in the air some ten feet above a now-ruined car.
"My my, you do seem to be in trouble, don't you?" Shizuru's voice melts pleasantly into the night, over terrible ripping sounds and the smoke of recent gunfire.
In her hands, the haft of her strange Element glints, and she moves her arms with precision to deposit Kozue on the concrete behind, well behind--as Shizuru herself lands lightly on the concrete before Homura and Mikoto, her heels clicking in place. She is not dressed for the sort of war they might expect: her shoes are three-inch heels, ruthlessly arching her feet; her armor is a cream-colored long dress, a long-sleeved white jacket over it whose cuffs gently drape at her wrists. Her hands, aristocratic, with perfectly painted lavender nails lightly grip the haft of her great-bladed naginata, its tassel draped down.
"I hate to be a bother," she says pleasantly, the sort of honeyed tones hiding something else that suggests anything but, "...Minagi-san. Akemi-san." She smiles at the both of them. It even reaches her eyes, somehow. "But I'll have to ask you to lower your weapons... and leave."
It is not a request. That much is clear, as Shizuru touches down, turning her head just enough without looking to show Utena that she knows she's there, that she knows she is looking. ...Somehow she only lands after the immediate danger.
She dips her head to her opponents politely, that same smile still on her face, as if it were a pleasant social call.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Homura has a vital disagreement with Kozue's assessment: it's not Sayaka Miki she's not good enough for. That's fine. She gives a denial, which may be convincing because Homura is good at convincing herself, first and foremost. It's icily emphatic, at least. "You're wrong, you have no idea what kind of monster I am. But I don't need you to understand me." Being understood has never helped Homura, and she doesn't expect it to start helping now, of all times.
The words don't stop Kozue's charge; an impossible entrance does. For a shared moment neither Kozue nor Homura try to kill each other thanks to Sayaka Miki's miraculous reappearance.
Homura is quicker to resume the killing, shaking off wonder -- or is it horror? -- with the ease of a too-old soul that belies her young form. She retorts with erratic arcs of machine gun fire, and the water comes to Kozue's call. The river fends all that killing velocity until it can only sting and maim.
She sees a dozen dozen desperately firing Homuras reflected in the face of the defending wave. All the duplicates burn into her retinas atop muzzle flares. Mikoto replies to her haunted hypothetical, and the answer she gives is a match for Homura's own. She sets her face in a disdainful mask, and her disdain for herself lends it authenticity.
Sayaka Miki earns herself a hard look for her blurted insight, a second answer in the wake of those wave-broken bullets. Homura drops spent machine guns to the bridge with an empty-metal clatter. "What do you care? Everything you do makes her suffer more. I'm just trying to put an end to that.
"Yes. Of course it's about her." Homura's head finds a new angle, oblique, and it shifts the fine geometry of her face to something inhuman. Strands of hair flutter across it like rivulets of smoke. "It is always about her."
Cassandra cracks a piece of the bridge behind Homura and Sayaka loses that icy eyelock to the titanic threat. The swan seizes Mikoto with the river and Homura alters targets, flipping to face the avian foe in a lithe and circular motion. She unfolds with a flash of gun-barrel black and lands mid-bridge, crouched behind an artfully deployed anti-materiel rifle angled to take in the sub-bridge bird.
"I've heard swans are considered pretty pests. Now I believe it." Homura thinks she might just have an answer for the defensive properties of water loaded in the rifle's chamber: a high-explosive armor piercing round. As long as it arrives on the other side of whatever shield Cassandra conjures, the explosion should do plenty of damage. Mikoto yelps, and Homura calls back an unhelpful "Hang on," as if her ally has much choice in the matter.
She pulls the trigger in the last half-second of relative calm, right before obsidian spikes riddle the bridge.
Her shot flies, whether true or not, and then Homura doesn't get to see the result. She's flung skyward as the world erupts beneath her -- for the second time in two minutes at most. For a girl whose entire life is an extended deja vu session, it feels like a barbed joke nested in a cruel shaggy dog story.
The bruises down Homura's side from her earlier encounter with killing-force water gain abraded bruises of their own. She's tossed on the rising fury of Miroku's indiscriminate summoning like it's a storm-churned obsidian sea. She bites her lip at the cost of a painful puncture, but doesn't cry out -- fair trade.
A liberal pausing of time and Homura regains her feet in privacy, to reappear perched atop one of the only still-standing streetlamps lining the bridge. One arm curls over her stomach, like either arm or stomach has suffered injury. A dark line tracks downward from her bottom lip toward her chin.
Her back is to the end of the bridge where Shizuru Fujino's car stops. It's the clear sharp sound of heels approaching that pulls Homura's head around, and she catches the scent of wild roses as she turns. Violet eyes fasten only on the Engaged at first, because the pink-haired girl demands nothing less with her very presence.
Utena Tenjou polishes the gold standard for dashing entrances (it's one she set, to be fair) and rescues the girl without drawing a single gunshot. There's a deep-buried romantic somewhere in her who once upon a time would have blushed to see such a display, but she's locked far out of reach of Homura Akemi's cheeks these days. The time mage watches instead of firing, but she's running the odds with cold eyes.
It was never going to take long, but Shizuru hastens the decision-making process in that unbrookable way that she has. She has the naginata out, and Homura Akemi's gaze narrows by another fraction, the shape of one eye marred by the swelling of her cheek from Kozue's first retort. She doesn't curse, just thinks angry words behind clamped lips.
She folds her other arm over the curled one, and there is something obstinately feline in the gesture, as if to say 'I'm not that badly injured, and I'm only leaving because I want to, not because you showed up with terrifyingly overwhelming force.' Because she is Homura Akemi, she makes a good show of it.
Her hands are empty and she makes no move to fill them. "Minagi," and then she thinks back to careful instructions shared during their premeditation; "Mikoto Minagi," she calls. She doesn't look around for her ally. Homura never looks away from Shizuru Fujino, in the same the way a snake handler won't take their eyes off a cobra in the room. "Let's get out of here. This is more trouble than she's worth."
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
Cassandra's head starts to dip as Homura pulls the trigger, enough that Homura cannot see the results of the armor piercing shot flying. Yet the pretty pest bellows in pain as the explosion rocks the bridge.
"You'll have to... make it up... to me... later." Kozue's smile seems flirtatious even when she's dripping crimson onto the bridge. At this point it might seem like bluster though to even pretend there might be a later. Because Mikoto effectively shows that there is none. Trapped within an infinite loop of battering pain - the only choice she can make is to blindly destroy. Obsidian spikes erupt from the bridge towards Kozue and Sayaka - she can't even get up right now. The chain reaction of Homura's earlier shot seems to have loosed the grip on the blood-crazed Mikoto, but far too late to prevent the destruction.
Unable to run - instead she spends the time saying to Sayaka, "I'm..."
She wishes she could lie to her. Say that without a doubt she knows that she loves her - or something like that. "... happy..."
She can give her this though. And know it's not a lie. "... that I met you."
Her last thought might have been: 'Maybe she'll survive this too.'
Whether it's the spikes, or her own demise... who can say?
Instead what her last thought turns to pink entering into her field of vision as wave like strands of sound. Even as she feels something wrap around her.
Even as she feels herself being yanked roughly away.
Even as she hears a voice that sounds like it's gloating. As Kozue is dropped to lay at her feet.
Had that happened out of order at all she would have thought that Shizuru Fujino had come to gloat over her demise. Now it feels like she should be kissing her feet.
She won't though. Instead she looks up at her in a state of stunned shock. As if wondering if this were simply a cat playing with her before she bit off her head. She's... just not sure. And in that uncertainty is succor. In this place where she does not know how to act - how to feel until she knows for sure.After a moment she slumps to the ground - her lip twitching, as she giggles in this manner of unhinged disbelief.
This was too much. Even for her. These wild shifts of emotion between death and life. Between despair and... vague hope.
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DDHwIQIcknY
One moment ago she might have died. The girl who matters the most to her might have died.
She's been living on borrowed time since her expulsion.
And who should extend it but- this pair?
It's too much.
After a moment the tears slough off her face to mingle with droplets of blood. "Utena... Goddamn Tenjou..." Like she's repeating her earlier statement. Like she finds it funny, "...Shizuru... Goddamn Fujino..."
To drown the life out of her - only to save her later. It's such a strange and cruel twist of fate.
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Vague Hope (cont)
Sayaka clings to the swordhilts and bends her head. These are rifle rounds being fired through the water; Sayaka has at this point in her life been shot by both, and she knows the difference intimately. She knows they will not be entirely neutered, that like the slug wedged in her upper arm right now, they will have the power to kill. But Sayaka's blood is a currency, and Kozue's is a treasure.
Perhaps Sayaka has all but spent her currency. That's all right. Homura will have every penny of it before Sayaka moves.
Sayaka has been dully expecting pain, but when, she could not say, so it surprises her nonetheless. Another dull thud, this one in the lower back, then two in the shoulderblade at almost the same instant, thankfully stopped by the bone there instead of compounding the damage to her chest. Bent clinging to her swords, Sayaka stares at her own navel for a moment, at the darkened churning soul gem.
"Thanks for your hard work," she says, in a softly friendly tone.
The gunfire ceases at last, and Sayaka hears the guns clatter to the ground, Turning wearily, she gives Homura a single, small nod.
"That's a relief," she says, of Homura's singular and unvarying motivation, which is not so dissimilar from Sayaka's own purpose as a Puella Magi. "Now I know you'll always be my enemy."
Always might not be very long, however. Homura's icy threat and Mikoto's fiery rage compete to steal Sayaka's life, and right now, she holds with those who favor fire. There's no point in even trying to move. The tiny chance that no spikes will arise under her is all she has left, and what then? Perhaps she'll be executed like that Vietnamese man in her school textbook. Sayaka looks down at Kozue, the most selfish girl she knows, who without hesitation fought with everything she had to save Sayaka. Her mouth is dry as Kozue begins to speak.
She sniffs sharply at 'happy.'
She smiles at the rest.
"Kozue," she whispers back, beneath the sound of ripping pavement. "I l-"
The scent of roses washes Sayaka's loose, wet hair. She looks up, uncomprehending, as a storybook prince arrives. Weak, just hanging from her swords instead of really gripping them, she loses hold on them when Utena scoops her up, and cries out in a moment for fear of being separated from Kozue. But as Utena navigates a forest of obsidian, Sayaka is able to look behind them and see Kozue rescued as well. Finally letting herself relax, Sayaka looks up at Utena and her solemn promise.
"Tenjou-san," she whispers back. She's always been on a last-name basis with Utena, and the consistency of it even in this moment has a sort of comfort to it. They're still fellow Ohtori jocks, it seems, even if they aren't fellow Chevaliers anymore.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
In a garden locked and flooded every flower is dead.
Why, then, are there roses?
Mikoto lands with her blade; leans heavily into it as her magic pours out in waves. Lips part for hungry breath. She trembles at the epicentre of her terror. A thin line carved through those tights as one of the spikes emerges too close to the core of them. A paltry thing when the bridge will soon fall. Water has never stopped her before.
Anything - everything...
She will give everything. Every last inch of herself. She is hurt; she is angry; she is afraid. She prays to dark and transcendent things for their destruction. It is an unkind thing. She is an unkind thing.
That terrible golden gaze lifts to witness their end. She must be certain.
/Ah,/ she thinks, widened eyes, an inward breath through flared nostrils. The scent is overpowering.
And she has just realised why the world smells of roses again.
The realisation alights, gathers Sayaka.
'... Utena isn't like us. Right now, all I can do... is be grateful... Utena isn't like us.'
Utena isn't like her.
She is not grateful now.
"No!" Mikoto snarls, as that pink Prince makes her dashing escape. It is desperation and it is fury in equal measure. "No-!!" Obsidian drives at her. She is too quick. Too graceful. Too daring to flinch or to fumble.
Distantly, it is an insult, to see her astride the spires like tightropes. They are made to batter, to pierce. They are not /footholds./
Movement. Mikoto's head jerks back towards it, to see Kozue as she is torn from her grasp, just in time to avoid the impact of black glass. Placed far.
Mikoto will go further.
Mikoto will -
BGM Change: Masashi Hamauzu - All The World Against Us https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnnw1HAFWgM
The fury on that face is stricken aside by shock as that voice registers.
And those obsidian spikes do not course out, do not spread to bring down the bridge and everyone with it.
They - fade.
They fade, as Mikoto takes a staggering step backwards.
"Shi...zu...ru," and each mora is made long by their betrayal, as surely as she had stabbed her. And pain is reflected, there, in those eyes. Pain - and shock - and disbelief.
She takes ragged breath past parted teeth.
It doesn't matter.
They clench together. She snarls, the row of grinding white displayed openly.
"Don't get in my way! Give me Sayaka," Mikoto demands, as she grasps her blade in white-knuckled grip. "Now!"
She sucks in a breath through those teeth, as she hears her name. Her chin inclines back, in Homura's direction, but she does not look away from Shizuru.
"Eri's worth - /any/ trouble." And her words are cold portent.
And she is almost done.
<Pose Tracker> Utena Tenjou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Shizuru and Kozue's well-being is established, and Sayaka, adjacent, can feel the effect that has on Utena's torso, on her arms. The next breath she takes is a deeper one, and with oxygen comes a cool clarity that spreads down her burning muscles.
She doesn't relax; she focuses.
She focuses on Homura, watching her watch Shizuru and finally make her choice.
She focuses on Mikoto, watching her watch Shizuru and make her own argument.
Then Sayaka can feel Utena's shrug -- a jocky shrug, a long, lissome movement that rolls her shoulders like an engine turning over (or a great, horned beast, shifting weightily in its sleep). It's the sort of gangly teenager gesture that one might make when /nobody is looking at her/.
Then she flexes her legs and leaps another one of those great leaps, those bounds that can cross the Dueling Arena -- or a city block -- or the height of a building -- in an instant. The Tokyo skyline glitters all around them, and the distant lit windows and the starscape above blend wildly into an impressionist portrait of distance.
The people. The heavens. They're all equally far and abstract, right now. Tokyo is just the four of them...
...and, with every passing moment, it's closer to being just the two of them. She flashes a quick, two-fingered 'peace out' sign over Sayaka's shoulder at the others, in case someone looks up, as she totally bails, taking their objective as far and fast away as she can muster and trusting the other two to cover her escape.
You don't always have to fight, to win.
She holds her burden close, so close that she can feel Sayaka heal. So close that she can imagine Sayaka hurt -- blocked nerve endings or no, Utena's sympathies fill in the blank. It darkens her eyes from that empyreal blue, shading her in with shadows.
<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.
'...Shizuru... Goddamn Fujino...'
It is funny, isn't it? Kozue's giggling does not impact Shizuru's expression much--she simply gives what seems like a light shrug, as if to say 'ah, see?' while still watching her opponents. ...But even that does not last long. It does not last long because /Mikoto/ approaches, because Homura is staring at her while mentioning her retreat. Yes. ...But in this case...
The cobra looks back, and Shizuru may well be as cold-blooded. It is for the best that Shizuru's allies in this moment cannot see her face while she stares down Mikoto, while she watches and absorbs the shock that interrupts the girl's fury. The spikes fade. Shizuru does not look away. Mikoto takes her step backwards, and Shizuru does not move so much as an /inch/, does not so much as shift her stance. She hears her name, made long by betrayal, sees the /pain/ in Mikoto's eyes.
Perhaps later, she will cover this. Perhaps later, she will make answers. For now?
For now it is an intensity of feeling in Mikoto even before her rage returns that Shizuru /memorizes/, and if Homura Akemi looks at the other HiME's eyes in this moment then Shizuru's red gaze may look as cold as any Incubator.
This: to push someone, to see what they reveal in the moments they lose their guard, stop being able to rely on their patterns...
Utena Tenjou leaps away. A beautiful, glittering leap that Shizuru sees only in the reflections of windshields, of the weapons opposite her. But she can feel it well enough, inhales an instant of that rose scent.
The mark of a true Chevalier, really. ...But Shizuru? Shizuru is not that.
"No," she answers simply on the matter of Sayaka, and tilts her head again. Still she is so, so poised, unmoved. "I think your defense of your friends is an admirable quality, Minagi-san." Shizuru straightens her head again. "Really, I do. ...But you won't have your quarry tonight."
She lets that hang very briefly. "...The way you are willing to go to any length to protect her... It's a love I can respect. But shouldn't you consider--if you're making an offensive..."
"Are you the only one?" She delivers this news casually, without rancor. "Please give her my regards."
Shizuru bows lightly, then, Element still in her hand. And waits.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
'Now I know you'll always be my enemy.'
Homura feels like the monster she claimed herself as to Kozue earlier, because /now/ she feels a sense of loss she did not at several points earlier tonight while pulling several different deadly triggers. She could end Sayaka Miki in a dozen timelines or more and her death would only take on more of a strange and dreamlike impermanence the more often she causes it.
Call it desensitization; call it dehumanization. Homura Akemi would certainly agree that neither of them are human any longer.
When Sayaka says they will always be enemies, Homura knows recognizes something true enough to transcend timelines, and it loses her the other girl more surely than any past or present murder can end their association.
But... it does simplify things. Well, then -- enemies is a thing they can be, a thing they have practice at. Homura sucks in a breath, a short little huff like there's a hitch in her side, and then Cassandra demands her attention... before Utena Tenjou and Shizuru Fujino make their own unassailable demands for the same.
Homura wonders how much blue remains in Sayaka's gem. She needs to know how long a fuse is left to this particular time bomb -- but she's in no position to force the issue, not with the girl tucked under the wing of Utena Tenjou. With her gaze affixed to Shizuru, Homura doesn't miss the way Kozue passes into protective custody.
The pink-winged guardian bird takes flight with their prey and maybe pursuit isn't impossible for the time mage, but it doesn't have much to recommend it on a night when Homura has already spent power heavily. Killing Sayaka is /a/ priority, but as Sayaka herself pointed out, it is not /the/ priority.
Madoka, she thinks.
Walpurgisnacht is coming, she thinks.
Mikoto mentions Eri, and Homura's chin drops half an inch. Eri, she thinks, is a reason to retreat. She would understand the question of resources, the necessity of cutting losses. But she'd also understand Mikoto Minagi better, far better than Homura will ever allow herself to. Mikoto probably would have listened if Eri sounded the retreat.
But Sayaka is as out of reach as she's likely to get in the arms of an ascending Utena, and Shizuru... that look pours an extra chill into the ice in Homura Akemi's veins. She has no fondness for eyes so red and so cold.
The girl with the naginata says her piece. Homura silently braces herself, then hops down to the ground some eight meters beneath the street lamp's arc with no sign of what the light movement costs her. For their friend's sake, she thinks. "Mikoto," she says. "It's Eri who'd want you back."
Homura has no real belief in her persuasive powers here. If anything, she feels the need to reassert her presence after Shizuru worked her hypnosis on Mikoto. There's no percentage in startling an ally so dangerous. For their friend's sake, she doesn't just leave, but waits blank-faced to see if Mikoto shows signs of standing down.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Murray Gold - Loving Isn't Knowing (The Almost-People Suite) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=721eh0AoyjY
Utena steals Kozue away. Mikoto takes a step forward as if to follow; stumbles in the gesture. She plants her blade to keep herself from falling.
It means that she looks up, bent over, as Shizuru speaks. As if she bows to her betters.
Shizuru must know better - and yet.
There is no veil to Mikoto's expression. There never is. It is savage determination, hard and unyielding.
Catlike eyes widen in naked terror, as Shizuru so calmly and casually poses her question. Her face grows ashen with the realisation; a knot ties about her stomach. Her teeth are not clenched any more, to make way for dropped jaw.
"No," Mikoto says again, and this time it is a whimper. "No - please. Not Eri. Not Eri..." And her head bows, and perhaps the gesture is more intentional, now.
Mikoto was never supposed to make friends in the course of her dark task.
And she is brought low in an instant.
Mikoto turns those horrified eyes to Homura, and this, more than anything, might communicate the extent of her distress - that she has turned her gaze from the enemy. "Homura," she says, and her voice is thin and scared. Distantly, she notes the way Homura carries herself. She was not acting that way before. Mikoto has hurt her. She does not have the presence of mind to apologise.
Eri would want her back.
Eri would want her by her side.
She wants to be by Eri's side.
She wants to protect Eri.
She tried to protect Eri.
She wanted to - she tried to -
"Homura's fast," Mikoto says in her strain, for speed is the only explanation she has for Homura's prowess. "Go to Eri, okay? I'll - I'll catch up..."
Sucking in a breath through hungry lungs, Mikoto straightens, wrenches her black blade from the ground. One more glance to Shizuru - and she tears off.
No matter her exhaustion - she has to run.
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
'Kozue, I l-'
This would be one of those moments from moments from a film. Where a dashing rogue or a femme fatale says something like 'I know.' She's heard it before. In a confession which might as well have been five minutes ago from how well she remembers it. She's not upset when this moment is stolen from her by the scent of roses.
If anything she's grateful - and vaguely jealous.
During these moments - Kozue stops looking at Shizuru to start looking at Sayaka in Utena's arms. It doesn't make sense, why she would look away from the viper as during her giggling tearful episode. It shouldn't at least.
Except that if Shizuru killed her right now she just finds that she wouldn't... even... care.
Maybe her vengeful ghost would, but right now the important part is that Sayaka is safe.
Safe as Mikoto snarls her fury and as Shizuru gives her a reason to go. Safe as Homura tries to talk Mikoto Minagi down too.
Safe as Utena leaves with Sayaka - and assures she stays safe for this night at least.
One more night.
If what you ask, then, is how much time she has now? Not enough. A day perhaps, or perhaps eighty years. Not enough, not enough.
Delight in it.
I'm greedy I guess. Selfish. Anything on that timeline I think - 'Not enough'. Especially on the lower end. But even if it all it bought - us - is one day. I think I'd have done it all over again.
The girl rolls down on her back, making small noises that are choking ones. Anyone would mistake it for human suffering. Anyone.
The reality is that it's unfiltered joy.
And in such moments comes strange epiphanies. The knowledge she'd had before but could not articulate. Though she tries now inadequately.
"It's all... so... pointless..."
It is not some act of gross nihilism. It is an acknowledgement that tonight only matters to her for one reason and one reason alone. It is a feeling. It is a celebration.
Her triumph is that Sayaka Miki received one more night of life.
It is the naivete in knowing that if you communicated that feeling to everyone that all the fighting would cease immediately. It is the cynicism in knowing it would change nothing - not even herself on most days.
It is everything and nothing.
Drawing in a nasally breath, as the pair leaves. She finally regains enough composure to close her eyes - "Before I say anything else. Do I have to walk to the hospital - or are you going to ask me to get in the car?"
She hasn't ruled out that the latter means her execution is not off the table at all.
<Pose Tracker> Shizuru Fujino [Ohtori Academy (U)] has posed.
The witches' night is coming, but it is not here. No, here is a princess staring over her regal weaponry, watching Homura for a moment--watching her say something that could almost be tender behind her blank face. Is the girl with the guns /really/ as cold as she makes herself see? Is she like Shizuru?
...She could be fascinating.
Mikoto, meanwhile, in all her fury--cannot stand against a few words uttered in the right moment. Like so many great warriors, it is not /war/ that brings her defeat, and Shizuru watches her whimper dispassionately, inclining her head once as if with a sad smile. Mikoto's head bows.
...They are both going to leave. Mikoto, running, though she is so, so tired. Homura... who knows?
But Shizuru hears Kozue's strange noises, mentions that thing she does...
Shizuru is polite. She does not comment on Kozue's suffering or joy, as she simply looks at Homura--smiles--and turns to begin walking back towards Kozue, and her car. Kozue, eventually, asks her question, and by this point Shizuru is beside the vehicle. She turns again, towards her.
"...I helped you tonight because I pay my debts, Kaoru-kun. I suggest that the two of you be more careful in the future."
She pauses. "...You can take my word, or not. But I won't harm you tonight any further, regardless." A beat, "But you're in no condition to walk anywhere. The car is unlocked."
"If I wanted you dead," she says mildly, "I would have brought a gun, used it while you were helpless, and called it Akemi-san's work. I think you'd prefer the car."
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
"To think that you'd consider that a debt to be paid."
There is something coy in her tone. Certainly she wouldn't say it aloud.
There is a certain resignation in her tone, "I guess we understand each other even better than I thought."
It does not take long to decide, "I'll get in the car."
How long it'll take her is truly what's in question. She's too proud to ask for help.
<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Sayaka leans back, so her head can see past Utena's arm. She looks back at the white figure facing Mikoto, and watches from a distance, holding her breath without realizing it. The more time that passes without combat, the more likely it seems that Shizuru has somehow won. Homura knows herself too well to deliberate long, and Mikoto? Mikoto does not like to negotiate to begin with. Once a building blocks her view of the bridge, she lets herself relax, bringing her head down again to rest her temple against Utena's bicep.
"Ow," she whispers. Something stung her arm. Touching there with her fingers, she finds the wet, lumpy bullet that her flesh just spat out. She smiles at it for a moment, turning it over in her fingers despite how it pinkens the tips of her gloves. Then, winsomely, she flicks it away into the night air, as if dropping a penny in a wishing well.
The noble beauty of the prince carrying her implies a weakness that Sayaka knows all too well. Even if a knight is cunning, she cannot use her cunning fully. If Utena and Shizuru arrived together, nine times out of ten Sayaka knows who had gained mysterious knowledge.
"She knew somehow, huh?" Sayaka is not curious about it right now. She squints one eye shut as another rifle bullet starts to work its way out of her back. She's thinking again, the way Sayaka often thinks.
"I trusted her even when she didn't deserve to be trusted," she remembers. "And that's why I'm alive."
She does not need to fill in the rest for Utena, probably. That was a Chevalier thing to do, back then. What had seemed wrong on the roof seems right on the bridge. She believed in it so much, once.
Sayaka feels like Mami was involved both times, somehow. And that's where her weary heart has to stop. Because Eri has to die.
"Wherever Fujino-senpai is going to take her," she asks Utena. "Please. I want to be there too."
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Homura is fast.
She picks up on Mikoto's fear in an instant, which is the same speed at which she responds to her ally's plea. For what may be the first time in this star-crossed assassination attempt they communicate well and work in concert. She nods assent to Mikoto's request, eyes still unmoving from the greatest current threat, and concentration like steel becomes her mask.
Shizuru Fujino turns away, releases her. A fifth of the way through what promises to be a balletic rotation, Homura Akemi disappears from view.
She appears further down the bridge mid-stride, eats up pavement at a breakneck run, then winks out of existence again.
Is she flitting from place to place like a hummingbird, too quickly for the mortal eye to follow? Or is whatever Homura does too seamless, even for that?
She's nearly to the end of the bridge next, a black-and-white smudge beneath a distant streetlamp, and she ceases to be at the rim of the pool of light. Wherever Homura appears next, it is not in line of sight to anyone she just left behind.
Wherever she is, she is that much closer to Eri Shimanouchi.