2018-10-02 - Reckoning III

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Reckoning III

Sayaka finally gets her chance at revenge for Mami's death.


Sayaka Miki, Eri Shimanouchi, Kyouko Sakura, Madoka Kaname


Haneda Airport

OOC - IC Date:

10-02-2018 - 05-19-2015


<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Lasse Pour Quoi - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oW3QWxkRz3w

Sayaka has fallen into a stark place, where all dark contracts to pitch black, and all light to pure white. The long prominence she stands upon is black, leading up and out before dropping away to nothing. The sky and horizon and depths beneath it are all white, patterned with the austere arabesques of an ancient astronomer's notebook. Nothing between these two colors remains, save the sacrificial red of a jagged sun, resting on the edge of the prominence.

Reason might suggest that the stone(?) Sayaka stands upon has no particular design. It lacks the right angles and aesthetic deliberation of human-made architecture. Instinct says that there is some higher design, that the curvature and texture is familiar. Taking a step backward, Sayaka raises her eyes, and is struck still by terror. High above her is a massive, blank face.

Glancing about her rapidly, Sayaka sees in the terrain a meaning she had not before. A shoulder, a clavicle, an arm. For in this stark place there is a graven maiden, a thousand feet tall if she is an inch. She wears a robe pious in its simplicity, which drapes with all the smoothness of real cloth. Her arm is extended sternly, her sleeve cavernous, stretched like the wailing maw of a lost soul. In her hand she grasps a monstrance, that reliquary borne by priests giving Benediction. Its sunburst pattern is wrought from red metal, glaring with the forceful abstraction of the divine from where it sits at the end of the colossus-saint's arm.

The whites of Sayaka's eyes are dim, milky. The black pool at their center is trembling as she stares.

Hesitantly, slowly, Sayaka lifts her foot. But when she places it down, it is with the precision of a dancer, laying her heel perpendicular. Stepping through, she turns to face the prominence. Her face in inky profile, she faces her long-sought sin.

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

The arm that bears the crimson idolatry and radiates false grace has a shape upon the division between the robe and the wrist. There is nothing to truly demarcate this boundary, but a girl kneels there praying. Like a pilgrim here to pay homage to a sacred land. Think that's what it is? Look more closely.

Its roots spread out beneath it. It’s dark branches creeping out of its back, swaying in a place with no wind. Its pose an illusion of vulnerability. Crimson idolatry radiating a false grace from terrible divinity.

As Sayaka watches, a shadow that feels out of place skims towards the maiden growing out of it. It is a familiar silhouette, robbed of illuminating color save for in portions of the inside of the skirt which skim her thigh. Her presence is no less illuminating though Her pace took her in a half circle at the base of the shadow arm - beneath the unseeing gaze above. It's like she'd traced some imaginary line in front of her. A samurai with weapon drawn, waiting, waiting - go. She crosses the invisible line.

Taking off into a sudden sprint, branches with face sprout off like the heads of a hydra, each with a terrible maw. There was a gruesome symmetry between herself and the witch. Shadow vines spring from her back to lop, and chop, and shred.

Her arms move in vicious arcing lashes which seem to sadistically peel them off from the girl shaped trunk. They're back in a flash. Rather than keep going for the kill, she leaps back - pirouetting in an awful whirl that rips them off several at a time.

Back behind the line, the witch is inert again as if oblivious to the invader. She advances again, and again. Each time the same result. Each time the same. Until the last she gets close - and the girl grows a grotesque shadowy trunk out of her back. There's a ripping noise as she kicks off of it slashing as she goes repeatedly into it dissolves into nothingness. Returns back to her place of sanctuary from pilgrim, saint, divine.

An outsider might think she's being overly cautious - afraid. Like she's afraid of death. A particular girl might know this more than anyone.

How many of her decisions could be traced back to that alley?

There's no fear in her eyes though. There's just cold sense of detachment. Less pragmatism and caution and more like a child ripping petals off flowers, tearing wings off butterflies. Or torturing an effigy of a divinity that cost her senpai so much.

Snipping pieces off the witch, watching it regrow.

Kyouko, Mikoto. Homura, Pluto. None of them are here inside this place with her. They were all so close and yet a world away. She does not need to pretend.

The only consequence was the magic she's burning. A ill-gotten shadow seed is pressed up to her hair, as it saps away. The motion is so automatic that it's like she isn't even conscious of it.

After she presses a finger to her shoulder with a grimace, she comes away with a smear of blood that mirrors the receptacle of divine grace. A singular spot of red upon her person. Rubbing the spot between her fingers, she eventually kisses them.

It watches as she darts in again, footsteps blurring as she slices the wretched thing over and over... and retreats with rapid hops backwards, lashing the sky as she goes.

Her back is to the second invader, her eyes forward. Her pose has the same illusion of vulnerability...

Dare she capitalize upon it?

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Witch World 2 - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lhX3JVCDH8

She's here. She's really here. Soaring above rows of grasping mouths, agile and deadly. Sayaka needs no color, no voice, no face to recognize her. Eri Shimanouchi.

From someone looking from uphill where Eri is, Sayaka would be scarcely noticeable. Her flesh and armor are the same coalstone-black as the ground. Only her cloudy sclera are fully visible, like an animal in the dark. Feverishly wide, faceless, they burn dim. This moment cost so much, cost things Sayaka never thought she'd have to give. She's lost her friends, her school life, and her health. She's turned the Chevaliers themselves into foes. She's left her own girlfriend behind in the jaws of killers. And she drove away Madoka, her sister... the left hemisphere of her soul. Her life has been cut loose like so much ballast.

Eri is deadly. Sayaka lost their last engagement badly, and she now gets to witness firsthand the talent that the veteran Puella Magi has gained. Honed by countless battles, trained by the finest weapon-master among the Puella Magi, she has come to control her plants like an extension of herself. Worse, she clearly has grief seeds to burn. Hopes of catching her depleted fade away entirely.

It's easy to feel scared of her, to feel inferior. It is a lesson thorns tried to teach, but it is more than that, too. Sayaka has not forgotten that somehow this girl managed to make a claim on Mami's heart.

Eri-chan... I started looking at her that way...

so much more to her than I ever...

she's very pretty

came to know me very well.

Sayaka's shoulders are quaking. How much worse that it was Eri, and not some demon or Witch. Sayaka, who worshipped, hates Eri for apostasy. Sayaka the loyal hates Eri for betrayal. Most of all, the Sayaka who loved hates Eri for taking that love away.

It's too late now to turn back. The day she made her contract she had a thousand choices, a thousand lives she could lead, but day by day she has winnowed them away herself. Day by day she walked deeper into her own Labyrinth until she stood at the end, and realized it had never been a maze at all.

I'll protect you.

I'll protect you and--

Without realizing it Sayaka has started striding forward. Her breath catching, she holds her hands out to her sides, palms down, and lets a pair of swords drop and land in the ground, their tips sinking there. Two by two she leaves her steel breadcrumbs. Clank.

I know you'll protect me.

The path--the arm--has started to rise. Sayaka's boots lift higher with each step. Clank.

You do so well at it.

No, she didn't. Approaching Eri from behind is a knight who watched her queen slain, and had not the honor to die with her. A fallen hero of justice. A weakling who not only failed to defeat Shimanouchi, but failed even to keep her occupied. But tonight, Sayaka is certain, she will be all of those things and a murderer as well. She can win, this time. Clank.

I couldn't ask for someone better.

Because she wants to kill Eri more than Eri wants to live.

Sayaka is close enough that she can start to pick out some details of Eri's form, differentiating corset from bodice, hair from skin, all in shades of black. She had expected this moment to shake her resolve, but when despite herself she reaches for the memory of cradling a bleeding Eri on her lap in a Shinjuku alley, she finds nothing but the sound of rain.

So close now.

Don't look, Shimanouchi. Don't hear. The once-green shadow of a foe is just one step away, now. It's so dark Sayaka can't make out where the soul gem is exactly. Never mind. There's no time.

She doesn't even summon a sword yet.

The first thing Eri notices is the musical circle spreading around her feet. A hand clamps on the back of her collar and hauls her back violently, even as a violent yank rips her whip from her hands. When she lifts her arms, the whip is wound haphazardly around them, her neck, her shoulders--anything Sayaka can reach. There's no time to actually tie it, but an instant or two is long enough to tangle it badly, with the help of Eri's own struggling.

Then the musical circle triggers, and Sayaka rams her shoulder into Eri's back with all the unnatural violence of her mystical propulsion, driving her forward into the waiting mass of familiars.

A fair few yards from her fading circle, Sayaka pushes herself to her feet again, a black blade sizzling out of her cape and into her fist. Far ahead of her, a forest of serpent-like silhouettes has been disturbed, their bodies arching away from the unexpected intruder, their heads twisting down to see.

Sayaka raises her hands up high before her, her wrists lilting. Her sword carves a deceptively supple pattern against the white backdrop. One-two-three two-two-three. Before her featureless black face, the shadow-serpents suddenly vibrate as one.

With an emphatic inward lash of her razor baton, Sayaka strikes up the orchestra. In one great heave, the familiars descend mouth-first.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> ibid

The filaments of her hair are shadow, as Sayaka grows closer there are tiny gaps between the strand where you can see the witch horizon. There is only a subtle motion of her breathing.

The shadows of staves appear at her feet, and you can see her moving for the first time - as if sensing danger. Instincts honed to take care of a poacher responding, the juke of her shoulders like she's going to go to the side. She's fast. Faster than her senpai even. If Sayaka missed her collar it would be a missed opportunity.

She does not miss. The pull constricts her throat even as Sayaka's grab takes her coiled whip. Writhing within it, she tries to slam her elbow back ineffectually only to find it bound by a cord as if the other girl were spooling a thread, her own thorns jabbing into her skin.

The impromptu ram takes the wind out of her even as the musical circle sends her outwards. And so many hungry heads await her.

BGM Change: Whisper - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0z7z6xnfws

At first the trajectory outstrips their ability to follow. They slide past her as she desperately squirms against her bonds- in a barrage of glancing blows that knock her this way and that. Until the momentum arrests. Until she strikes the ground.

Now they've found an easy target. They descend like vipers that have found prey wandering into her den. They do not clamp onto her flesh. They keep taking bites. And the girl screams, it's a high-pitched shrill noise that becomes a gurgle beneath the terrifying assault. Her whole body spasming as they chomp into her back over and over, her whole body facing the one who did this to her.

If Sayaka is right that she wants to kill Eri Shimanouchi more than Eri Shimanouchi wants to live...

Then it'll all be over very soon.

For now the girl suffers beneath the relentless hunger of the constructs, the platform becoming increasingly awash with crimson that does not belong to the monstrance looming in the hand of a nameless saint. In the name of Sayaka Miki's love for Mami Tomoe - Eri Shimanouchi has become dark sacrament where flesh transfigures only to blood.

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

Her sword now at her side, Sayaka walks forward slowly. It's fairly clear what areas are safe from the Sebastiens, and Sayaka stops at the edge of what seems to be that zone. With Eri prone, her tall, standing attacker looks ghastly, hollow pupils sunken into pale half-circles of white. Her blank face stares down with eyes alone, baleful, entirely without sympathy.

Sayaka still says not a word. She summons another musical circle beneath her feet, even her magic stained black in this place. She waits.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Again and again and again they descend. Eri Shimanouchi is not numb to pain. Far from it. She is no stranger to it either though. Pain is an old friend. The strangest senpai she ever had taught her new definitions of it.

Sayaka Miki knows. She was there holding her wrist when it beat so rapidly - and she was there when it slowed to nearly nothing.

The arm of the saint is a sloped hill. The first reaction to get out is not her own. Her own squirming and the impacts of the Sebastiens roll her all on their own. Even gravity has its place in a labyrinth. Each impact of a minion becomes a split second slower as she's taken away by her own movements.

The familiars are not clever. They do not latch on. They act out of strange instinct that does not include pulling her back in. The motion rolls the girl silhouette down the hill. She must be in a lot of pain right now. If she were thinking more clearly she'd know that's the last place she wants to be.

However, with each horrific blow, the gurgling panting noises from her start to sound more inhuman... and her consciousness starts to do unconsciously what Sayaka Miki does very deliberately on a far grander scale. It is part of what makes them all so splendidly suited for what they do every day.

It's starting to hurt less. She's starting to think more. If only her world would stop spinning-

The rotating silhouette of the other girl strobes into her vision and the thought she gets just when she's close enough that she starts to jerk away in recognition of what is about to happen next...

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

At first Sayaka remains still and watchful. Only at the last moment does she stab her sword into the ground to free her hands, and take a few sharp steps forward. Jamming her foot beneath Eri's weight, she applies a sudden wedge to her momentum, knocking her upwards enough that Sayaka can grasp her by the collar again, this time from the front, and with both hands. Dragging her up face to face, Sayaka glares coldly at Eri.

"Does it hurt? Do you wish someone would save you?" Sayaka asks softly. "Maybe you're thinking..." She takes a deep step back, and drags Eri's limp feet along the ground as she rotates her shoulders.

"'If only someone had killed these familiars.'"

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A foot stops her momentum. Her world stops spinning. Dizzy and nauseous her head reels as she comes face to face with her Shadowy Executioner. The words do not register in her ears, at least until the last moment, when she's hurled back. Impacting the ground, the witch's minions go blood-mad upon the return of their feast.

Driving into her over and over again. One gnaws on her whip by accident, her already loose bonds go lax but she's in too much pain still to do anything at first.

As she twitches and spasms, there's a strange effect. Her eyes staring at the other girl, void pools on the outline of her face, like she's sinking deeper and deeper into herself. There's no accusation within her eyes, she's just focusing on the blurred silhouette.

BGM Change: Oblivion - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Swp4FmTPkpc

A Shadowy Silhouette. A Demon Queen of Shinjuku - a creature she considered the worst Magical Girls had to offer.

P-Please - may I live?


Kyubey ... why would you ever make a girl like her a Puella Magi?

The chill of January and alley concrete lingered on her skin. The warmth leeching out of her moment by moment. A feel on her wrist.

The Sebastien heads torment her like thin strands and crossbow bolts sinking into her back and breast.

Sayaka Miki is not that girl - but despite how distant that moment was... she...

"...huur..." She croaks not a word but a syllable that sounds inhuman. It sounds like agreement with one thing Sayaka Miki says.

She is not the same girl. Perhaps that incident led to one of her greatest regrets. However it did teach her something about herself, about the world - and especially about Puella Magi.

With a guttural sound, her arm reaches across the mid-line within her own loosened grip, and pulls a thorned scourge out of her ravaged body. Already in motion, it's sent into the air. The crack resounds like a seal of the apocalypse has been released, disintegrating one Sebastien outright and causing the other five to rear back, momentarily stunned. Rolling onto her back, a wounded leg snaps up, and a vine extends out of her boot in an upward arc. It swoops around the remaining necks, wrapping them all like she's binding together some wicked fasces.

Rolling up to a knee, she stares death into the other girl, then begins to lope at her - with a limping jog at first that quickly gains momentum, her boot dragging the five Sebastiens all the while. Out of her there's an effect like smoke, or a strange unlight like a sunbeam filtered through a dusty room. All in shadow, wafting off of her. The red spots raining upon the blackened saint arm as she goes.

Coiled whip back in hand, she sprints towards her, she brings her arm overhead- then in a half snap of her wrist brings it below and back up gaining deceptive momentum... before it rockets down into the other girl with a terrifying speed not like a simple lash - but bone-pulverizing smash carrying a frightful concussive force to try to flatten her into the shadow arm of the saint. That strength is a terrible reminder of whose kouhai she is. And then Eri Shimanouchi keeps rushing on by the downed silhouette.

And she brings the hounds of hell with her, their necks all distended taut to a thread of their former selves, elastic, they're drawn right into the fallen knight to gnash their teeth blind with their fury. The girl brings up her opposite arm to press a grief seed against her head.

Perhaps she's trying to speak at first - but the only language she knows is pain until the words return. "Come... full circle... have we?" Balancing on one leg, Eri Shimanouchi jerks her other leg up viciously to jam the Sebastiens maws further into their blind feast in this horrific reversal - the smoky unlight still drifting off of her.

There's something crawling out of her other boot, imbedding in the ground. "I'm only thinking... that."

Because the thing Eri Shimanouchi learned about herself from that experience, is that every Puella Magi has within herself the worst kind of monster - it only takes the right stimulus to bring it out. And thus she will never beg for her life from a Puella Magi. She will never think someone else is coming to save her from a Puella Magi.

In order to survive a Puella Magi - one must use fear of death - to become it.

COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi transforms into Eri Eri Quite Contrary!

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

Unhurried, Sayaka pulls her sword from the ground, arming herself in order to guard safety from one who does not deserve it. Her pale eyes narrow as the familiars start to fall, and she bends her knees, taking an outfielder's stance. But when the line drive comes, it is nothing she can catch.

Snapping her sword into a horizontal block, Sayaka succeeds only in getting it slammed against her own breastplate as a deafening whip-boom spreads from the impact. Her armor stops the sword, but Eri's thorned whip flattens fully across her torso and around one shoulder to her back. In that first instant it feels like Kyouko's spear haft rather than Eri's whip; it does not bend, and slams Sayaka into the ground violently.

There's no time to sit up, even, before the collared Sebastiens roll into and over Sayaka like a pack of hyena, dragging her a few yards further back. Sayaka's sword is lost in the initial struggle, left behind spinning on its asymmetrical axis as the feeding frenzy begins.

But what Eri had to suffer, Sayaka is merely aware of. With depraved calm she can act without distraction even with teeth sinking into her, and the Sebastiens have pushed Sayaka right next to the last two swords she pre-planted for herself. In just a few seconds, a jagged series of noises erupts from the mass of familiar-stalks--the sound of their dark essence dispelling violently when their bodies are ruptured. Eri buys a few more seconds of frenzied damage to Sayaka by shoving the remainder forward before Sayaka can recover, but no more than that. With a wide sweeping slash, Sayaka finishes off the familiars and erupts into the air, one knee tucked, her swordarm held fully across her body at the terminus of her swing.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Hello - Theme of Eri's Lotus World - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9MHGtlEYZBA

The silhouette of Eri Shimanouchi is acutely aware of Sayaka's lack of feeling now. Ever since Shinjuku. She does not understand how she does it. However she's starting to understand the disadvantages. There's something imprecise in her movements...

The familiar heads begin to rupture and her leg suddenly lurches just subtly against the wrap growing more lax. "Not going to invoke her?" This is what the other one was for. It steadies her just subtly. However in rooting herself it causes a problem she's aware of - a problem which will manifest quite clearly the moment Sayaka Miki is free. "Maybe you understand now... what I did then."

However, Eri Shimanouchi does not move. Takes no action. Right now she's concentrating mostly on holding for as long as she can and the wisps of smoke which are healing her far too slowly. Almost too slowly.

She did not have her opponent's gift. She was not splendidly suited towards not dying.

It wasn't fair having to choose.

Even having to choose means a piece of that choice stays with you.

"Perhaps I killed her... but some of the responsibility lies..."

The familiars all die, and she snaps her heel to the ground, the vine that was attached dissolving. "... with the girl who thought she'd found a purpose in the senseless murder of a child..."

Sayaka Miki tucks in a knee. Eri Shimanouchi is far too still, her shadowed visage just boring into her. "... when any fool could have seen what her purpose should have been. Now come on..."

This isn't what she wants.

I hate this! I hate everything!

Why do we all have to be so stupid?

In her ideal world... Sayaka was there. She has a place.

Does some ideal desire matter though? The dissonance between action and yearning is held within that taut jaw.

"... it's time to get real stupid."

Perhaps she's already leaping at her... and yet Eri Shimanouchi, is still for the moment. Maybe she needs a few moments rest.

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

The golden knife Eri twists was stabbed in by Sayaka herself. It is not a pain of the body. It is not something Sayaka can distance herself from. As she drops her voice lifts, higher and higher, in a shout of anguished anger. She lands practically inside Eri's instep, wild reaping slashes carving at the whip, taking thorns off, digging notches.

"That's why!" Sayaka fumes. With a twist of her wrist, she wraps her sword in Eri's whip, and delivers a sharp rabbit-punch right to the shorter girl's mouth. Pulling hard across her body, Sayaka drags Eri by their tangled weapons, forcing Eri to bow down, since her feet are literally rooted to the ground. Sayaka can compensate, and remain standing, so suddenly Eri is an easy target. Yanking her sword out to the side to keep Eri's whip out of the way, Sayaka clamps her free hand on Eri's shoulder and starts kneeing hard up into her abdomen.

"That's why!"

"It has!"

"To be ME!"

Panting, Sayaka releases Eri, only to grab a fistful of her hair and shove her back down again. Her sword is still tangled up in the whip, but she starts struggling to get it back. She's staring down at Eri's neck.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Numquam Vincar(Live) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5J8NPrXjghs

Eri Shimanouchi's movements are a blur upon the fulcrum of her right heel. Everything pivots on that. Sayaka Miki's blade carries in it a design similar to Miki Kaoru's - yet she has none of that fencing finesse. Instead of turning away from rapid needlepoint thrusts she's trying to lift her left away from Sayaka's step inside of her personal space. Eri Shimanouchi parries with her coiled whip. Once, twice, thrice. Thorns get sheared off as several blows strike near the keeper.

Then Sayaka twists the blade just right to catch in the loop, caught, Eri's wrist slides the whip up all the way to Sayaka's ornate basket hilt even as she whips it up to batter her with her own hand, and the blunt force behind it.

Dazed, she's dragged, but plays tug of war with her right foot which seems to refuse to move. Her fingers gripping down suddenly on that hilt even as Sayaka twists her arm out wide. Grabs her hair with the other, and knees her. Once, twice. The first blow smashes in hard. The second makes her gag...

She has nothing left to lose from her belly that the labyrinth floor has not taken already. The two are locked in a shadowy warfare, as Eri Shimanouchi's hand suddenly clamps down even harder over that basket hilt. Her head bowed over. Sayaka shoves her head, and her grip does not loosen.

It is that of a lesser devil - a demon. To the greater one that is her senpai. From their locked position, Eri Shimanouchi's featureless face drifts up...

Then her grip on her basket hilt gives way suddenly, as her looped whip coils back and off of it, Eri Shimanouchi starts to twist around. That's when Sayaka might start to hear it. A rapidly impacting noise of some strange reverberation. A ground making a stark shifting of strobing white to dark. One gets the impression if not caught within the strange environs of the labyrinth - it'd be quite green.

Perhaps she might begin to realize why Eri Shimanouchi rooted herself to the ground, making herself such an easy target.

A vined tendril erupts behind Sayaka Miki as it rises up like one of the Sebastiens, to curve up and over her her left shoulder, slamming down with a yanking motion around her right hip and up and back over as it yanks her so taut as to try to bend her over backwards.

Eri Shimanouchi finishes her pivoting motion, her near ruined whip unfurling as she snaps it down forcefully-

-on the ground beneath Sayaka's imprint.

The blackness of the colossal saint's arm shatters- not like glass, but like inky stone suddenly pulverized into dust. "I'm... GLAD!" The tendril now without resistance forces her down.

Inside it is like a shadowy briar patch. The sort you might find from the deepest darkest forest. Sayaka Miki falls within and its tangled loops shift just enough to greet her with an embrace, the barbed imprints of thorns sinking into her breastplate and skin. It feels like you could drown within it - like it has its own currents and eddies. The vine keeps pulling her beneath.

It is a place you can find only in the darkest sort of fairy tale. A deep witch forest meant to claim knight-errants one by one by one.

For a while the only sound out of Eri Shimanouchi is a raspy kind of breathing. A hiccuping sound, like Sayaka had impacted her diaphragm and made it hard to breathe. It's then. "But that's why... I can't let you..."

The hand opposite to her whip idly draws out another pointed seed of ill-begotten despair, and presses it to her hair. How much magic is she burning for this? How many lives has she taken just to take this opportunity? "...if I let that happen... everything I've done has no meaning." It almost sounds darkly apologetic, in some twisted way.

Even if that meaning is an excuse. A delusion which she lives by. She'd rather that than the alternative that the world is entirely senseless.

However - for however much she seems to sympathize. "Does it hurt...?" It feels like an ineffective echo of Sayaka's earlier words. Nothing is hurting her of course.

The sudden shift in her tone feels like a grim and terrible shift, a shifting that doesn't feel so much like an echo at all, "...your failure?"

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

Eri is clinging desperately to the hilt of Sayaka's sword, but Sayaka has the greater brute strength. She will have it back soon. Arm trembling, she rows the hilt back inch by inch.

The tendril takes her utterly by surprise; she hears it but cannot risk letting go of her sword, lest she get stabbed with her own weapon. The whipcrack wraps her torso from the shoulder down on both sides, and Sayaka's spine flies into an arch from pain she cannot truly feel. Sayaka takes looping machete-hacks at it, shearing off the fibers nearly all the way through each time. But she can't quite manage to hit the same spot twice, and a quarter of a vine is plenty to hold her weight... or slam it down.

Sayaka grunts explosively as the tendril tries to drag her backwards, forced to keep her arch right where it is. With a lurch she spreads her feet and applies her abdominal muscles to the task. Eri is close enough to see the subtle highlights on black as a sheet of muscle hardens beneath the soul gem on Sayaka's navel, shivering with effort. Sayaka stops hacking and extends her arm as far as she can, but the tip of her sword wobbles a good foot away from Eri's chest. White teeth gleam in frustration.

Then the ground bursts beneath her feet. Instinctively, Sayaka jumps--it's all the mobility she has, unlike her fellow Puella Magi. But even as her legs make use of what leverage the falling stone offers, the vine around her torso snaps taut and halts her almost instantly. One hand shoots to her shoulder to try and loosen it, but it is too late; she is already falling.

The inward churn of thorns catches Sayaka's legs, snagging her leggings and skin in a hundred places and dragging her down. With a sharp twist of her wrist, Sayaka tosses her sword within her own grip to reverse it, slamming it into the side of the pit. She's already down to her waist by the time she gets her second hand on the hilt to try and pull herself up, and her arms are fully extended and locked. With a gasp and a growl, Sayaka performs the most horrible pull-up of her young life, her elbows bending as she lifts partway from the thorns. The thorns lift with her, however, stuck in thoroughly to her cape and flesh, and the growl grows to an agonized whine.

Eri can see Sayaka down there, a shade of a girl. The thorns are far more distinct in this black-and-white world than they would be outside it, their motions vivid as they rotate downward against Sayaka's efforts. The swordswoman's eyes are fixed obsessively on Eri, and with a groan, two hardened biceps, and a hideous effort of will, Sayaka drags herself and her attached thorns up, up, until her chin crests the hilt of her sword. Taking a risk, she lets go with one hand and slashes that elbow upwards, managing to hook it over the flat of her blade. Hatred burns in her inky eyes as she leverages her elbow to pull herself up further, the thorns pulling hard, some tearing free in snapping staccato. For Eri, it is not unlike watching a wight crawl from her unholy grave. Her lips move in slow motion.

"Shima... no..."

Sayaka's weight is pressing down hard on the hilt of the sword, but worse, the thorns are pulling, too. The sword wasn't meant to bear so much weight from this angle. It cracks in half loudly, and Sayaka is yanked down faster even than gravity would take her, the thorns rubber-banding her down into their churning mass again. With a shout of despairing fury, Sayaka hacks about herself with her half-sword, sinking to her waist, then her chest. A whispery chorus of clinks speaks of thorns prevented from penetrating the metal part of her breastplate, but there is much of Sayaka that lacks that protection. Even with her senses narrowed to a keyhole, the agony is rising towards a crescendo.

If only Sayaka knew how distant the peak of that crescendo really was.

With a final shout at Eri, Sayaka is churned down completely into the pit. The surface is disturbed by her struggles, and Eri can see a hint of a dark form under countless layers of thorn-branches. Sayaka is trying to climb, grabbing with her gloved hands at the cords twisting around, pulling herself up a foot only to get dragged down two. So many thorns wrap her sword that the splintered remains of the first cords protect the new ones from being cut open, and at that point it is ripped from her grasp.

There's no way up, and with every second that passes this worthless body of hers is getting destroyed worse. Her healing keeps up well with small cuts and pricks, but the sheer number is outpacing it. When she runs out of mana, it's over. She'll have nothing to fight Eri with. There will be no justice even for Mami.

Clenching her eyes shut, Sayaka tries to summon a musical circle beneath her feet. The consequences of using it are terrifying, but not so much as the consequences of not. But she's being turned around and twisted, constantly wounded. She can't envision a steady plane on which to place the circle for long enough to complete it, and repeatedly her musical staves bend and snap, their notes jangling off into the dark. The only surface she can keep track of is the ground, so she plants one there, gritting her teeth until it is complete.

Now she just has to get down. But the thorns churn towards the center, not the bottom, perhaps anticipating this gambit. Gravity helps but not nearly enough. Thrashing, forcing some space open with her shoulders and elbows, Sayaka manages to fall a yard. She repeats this a few times, until her foot nearly brushes the bottom, but her endurance is running out, and she starts losing ground instead of gaining it. How she wants to seal off her senses all but entirely, and drift to sleep in this rotating globe of bladed shadow.

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

Stay with me, not just near me.

All right. I'll stay with you wherever you go.

Devotion - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-zvtIZ0BYs&t=170

In a narrowing box of futilities, love thrashes anew, bright and violent. The bright golden past is gone, but Sayaka remembers it still. And she remembers a moment like this.

If only... the platform... were closer.

Two swords shoot down through the thorns, sinking through the intangible mystic circle. The thorns grab them up automatically and start pulling them into the center too, but Sayaka keeps dropping them, one by one, slinging them down. Most clang onto their sides or get caught in Eri's awful web, but one by one a few of them stand upright, a small graveyard of steel. Taking a deep breath, Sayaka summons one final sword, and slashes.

Her two feet hit two of the sword-pommels, as Sayaka draws her sword back and covers her face with her arm. The instant her legs are fully compressed for a leap, she activates the circle. Viciously she drags one long, deep slash through endless rows of thorn-plants, partially clearing her path, though countless other thorns catch and rip free every instant. Severed segments of thorn spray and fall away behind her passage, and Sayaka hits the final layer of thorns, which catch across her shoulders and torso at every possible angle, a thick layer stretching with her momentum, about to drag her down.

Right about here, Sayaka thinks distantly. That's where Mami was, when the teeth of the Dessert Witch were closing.

Sayaka screams and with unspeakable savagery rips her sword in a circle around her. A lightning bolt of steel bursts through the layers of thorns, sending them all recoiling away as if in terror. As they overbalance themselves and topple back into the pit, Sayaka soars on her remaining momentum, individual thorns and scraps of cloth trailing behind her as her silhouette reaches up into the white sky. She drops without grace, slamming down onto her feet so hard that her legs give out and drop her forward onto her shoulder.

Mercy - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyMmU2wl0wk&t=15

Without hesitation, Sayaka plants a hand on the ground and forces her ragged body to stand. She has to pick up her sword with her off-hand, the main one hanging limp. Half of her cape is ripped off, leaving a thin strap on one shoulder that spreads out to wide tatters around her calf. Her armored breastplate is gone, caught and ripped free, though the only way one can tell is by how it makes her profile more gaunt when she's lifting herself up spine-first. Eri can only see the milky hemisphere of one of Sayaka's eyes, and by the scraps of cloth sticking out here and there around her hands and wrists, it seems her gloves are all but gone as well.

The fallen knight's posture is shambolic, but she takes a step, and then another. She flexes the fingers in her dominant hand as she starts to regain use of it. But Sayaka's every limp is a swagger, and her every whimper is a snarl. The thorns still sticking to Sayaka body's monochrome outline merely serrate her.

By the time a scythe of a grin splits Sayaka's mad face, it is obvious. No trap will spare Eri her true final battle against this girl, because she is not a girl anymore. She is a nerve-dead automaton of cold flesh. She is a death's head premonition in spilt ink. Sayaka Miki has made herself a god-damned human tombstone, a granite slab sunk deep into the loam above the most beautiful corpse in the world. No friend, no magic, no dark forest of thorns will save Eri from standing face to face with Sayaka.

With a lurching topple, Sayaka's savaged muscles drop her into 'set' position, her back rearing up powerfully for the sprint. There is no recourse or outlet to the hatred she and Eri have built together. Surely this reckoning was already shivering in the leaves, that very first day they met.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The shade's lips are slightly parted, the whites of her teeth showing before her soft palate melts away into void black rather than becoming part of the red.

Why did she shoot you?!

Now you're nothing but a better murderer than she is.

Why did she have to be like that? Why couldn't she just...

You're okay now.

I held your wrist and told you not to die. I'll hold your wrist to stop you from killing too.

... we're not friends.

It's silly. Stupid to feel like that's a betrayal. To think holding her wrist means something more than it is.

I thought about you a lot...

Everything she's done to this girl, everything she's doing to her right now. Less a shape, now just movement in a pit, she watches that movement undulate within the abyss of her own torturous designs.

So what's it going to be Eri-chan? You're going to play a druid right? Or maybe you'd be more into the cool elven ranger type!

That was only a manifestation of what might have been. It all goes back to a single moment.

Her fingertips begin to part - and she has this insane intrusive desire to have her vine grope blindly in the dark for the other girl's wrist. She can't even do that with how tightly wound it is.

Just like with...

No. It wasn't like her at all.

She hates this girl beyond all reason. Every part of her. Save one.

And then she feels a thrashing. A sudden anxiety over the thought she might get out. She presses a sharp point again to her hair feels that renewed flow of magic cause her to shiver. She puts those thoughts aside - she is dark and terrible and brilliant. She is what her senpai needs. She is Mikoto Minagi's savior. She is Homura Akemi - the Outer Senshi's ally.

A merciless arbiter of life and death - that is what a gardener is to all within her domain. Choosing which receives special attention, and which is torn up and forgotten.

She is motionless other than her breathing as she feels the shifting of Sayaka Miki's steel, her gaze intense. It won't be long now...

All she sees is a white and black flash from within - and then she watches her trap fall apart, one layer at a time. One at a time. It does not so much explode, as it is rent asunder, ripping apart her foe as she goes, as she gasps and raises an arm to shield her face from the shredded life before the magic within them dissolves. Her eyes though - they drift skyward. Eri Shimanouchi's throat works as a silhouette rides the white sky bereft of divine grace to bring vengeance instead in a place like this. An angel of wrath - of vengeance of - Mercy.

The knight falls upon the ground, and her gaze is fixated upon that spot - as if fascinated by some new sight, new miracle. Transfixed by what devotion brings. Eri Shimanouchi would like to think her devotion to Kyouko is equal - but she does not worship her. She thinks that her senpai makes foolish mistakes sometimes and she knows what's best for her. She does what's best for her.

Eyes upon the tattered shreds of a girl... she watches the mad grin split her face feeling eerily cold - unnerved. Her hand raises again with a new grief seeds in apprehension to her hair.

Sayaka Miki knows Eri Shimanouchi's fear of death too well for her blood not to run cold, like a late winter frost. It is foolish to feel betrayed because in reality she had a conscious hand in creating this monster - every - step - of - the - way.

She can take responsibility only for the worst parts of her - the only thing which is left. And now she will kill her or- she sniffs, and the scent of wrongness strikes her nostrils.

I want your death to have the most meaning possible. Because...

She would fight until the end, as hard as she can. Something has changed though - and she knows it. A possibility.

BGM Change: Icarus - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ns7fNPiNiNc

Eri Shimanouchi's right heel lifts subly out of the ground, the magic of the vine dissolving, as she turns herself to face the shambling remnants of Sayaka Miki head on. Eight shadowy tendrils, adorned with noir leaves and thorns and twisted wisps of smaller tendrils - unfurl just subly from behind her four at her shoulders and head, two more from her flanks, and another pair from her hip. And one last one held tightly within her hand. "Sorry sen...pai..." She swallows, the too dry labyrinth air feels like it is scorching her throat.

Maybe this is hell... but you're here.

I'm not going anywhere without you.

Snapping her whip down on the ground like an earthly creature trying to tame celestial vengeance, karma, or one of the forces beyond her understanding, the gesture is more beckoning her into her embrace.

Her soul feels like it is on fire with all the magic it is burning. Bringing a wispy flare of smokey shadow to mark where it lies onto her head. Her opposite hand brings up another grief seed already to replenish it.

"... if I make you a liar before this is done."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Lady D'Arbanville - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAc-xhCnqu4

Off with a snap, Sayaka burns across the ground like a fuse. Her half-cape rattles its shards behind her lashing legs, her shoulders leaning deep into her charge. A pike of living wood erupts from the ground diagonally with a spray of stone, set like a spear-hunter receiving a boar charge, but Sayaka just seems to turn her hips like a skier, and her fluttering sprint swishes to the side of it, passing it without losing speed. Repeatedly they attempt to cut her off or slow her, but Sayaka skids back and forth away from them. The sixth, she beheads close to its base and blasts right over, nearing her foe. When battle is nearly joined, a final row of densely packed pikes cracks out from the stone, as unkind an abattis as ever received a knight.

Sayaka kicks off the ground, her knees tucking nearly to her chest, her blackened hair haloing behind. With a clink of her hilt, she chambers her sword to her shoulder. One half of Tokyo's premiere Puella Magi konbi drops onto Eri Shimanouchi like a human javelin.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Shadowy strands feel like whispers in the dark as they lash the ground before Sayaka Miki's feet in the middle of her charge, bringing strobing imprints. Forked branches like small saplings puncture outwards from the magical imprint each left.

Her feet nimbly carry her backwards, side to side as if in some pugilistic dance that's subly arcing her to keep her away from both Elsa Maria and the edge. Her wrist cocking deceptively so often for feinting motions as if she were going to wait for the right moment to slip the lashing whip inside her guard.

Her foe is a dark shadow overhead, the vines attached to her shoulders stab at the air and staccato tap her blade as if to throw her rhythm off just subtly. Unravelling her scourge from her hand she snaps her arm across as if she were going to send it aloft at smash her foe out of the sky. She never tries. Instead it's held up with the keeper in the way of the strike, the blade sinking into right where it meets it.

Twisting the parry her body pivots sideways to try to force her blow to carry her to the ground within her personal perimeter rather than scoring a palpable hit. Her vines then sidle in to greet her with their awful thorns. Some aim for the blade. Others to give her the worst handshake of her life. Others to glide by thigh or calf.

The blade of the fallen Chevalier frustrates them all though as she pirouettes into a full turn, whip unravelling as it crosses over in a low circle - in a brutal attempt to try to thrash her legs out from under her.

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

The sword sheathes itself in and through the whip, and with the blade trapped in the cord, the tip is diverted from Eri's flesh with a yank. Ripping her sword free, Sayaka advances through her own dark geometry of parries and ripostes, thorns dropping to the ground in her wake.

The whipcrack wraps one ankle, but fails to get the other, dragging one of Sayaka's feet out far and demolishing her stance. Relentless, Sayaka yanks that foot back as far as she can while remaining upright, her bootheel grinding as though she were wiping something from it. Her own grip on the whip yanks Eri close, and Sayaka greets her with a downward slash to the newly exposed forearm, forcing her to choose between her weapon and her hand.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Snared in her whip, Eri's arm yanks taut even as the other girl's foot forces it forward with it's backwards motion. And steel slices downwards. This close she can see the whites of Eri's eyes, whereupon the labyrinth usually drinks them in. The shadow outlined in the thinnest green releases her fingers before the guillotine can claim them.

The result is predictable between gravity and the motion of the other girl's foot. Even as another vine from her hip darts in low to try to reclaim it in a mid-air wrap before it can be drawn completely out of her reach. Perhaps it may preserve her weapon - but at the sacrifice of keeping them locked together.

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

Sayaka's sword slashes empty air, but Eri's lost her whip. Fiercely defending her advantage, Sayaka backfists the incoming vine with the swept hilt of her sword--but now it's her hilt that Eri has a hold of. There are plenty more vines for Eri to get that whip with...

Advancing with the whip-wrapped foot, Sayaka drives it between and behind Eri's feet, the handle of the whip sailing past Sayaka's ankle when her boot jerks to a halt. With the whip out of Eri's sightline, Sayaka twists her shoulder under Eri's armpit, throws a hip into her, and yanks down on her swordhilt like a ripcord to hurl the smaller girl into the air.

 <Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Locked in this close it's a dark brawl over their toys between two school girls. Her vines hope to change that though - as they start to curl as if they were going to wrap Sayaka within a twisted embrace. It's almost too quick for her to follow - under her arm and through her hip and with a yank of her sword.

Twisting into a side aerial immediately as she's thrown - a dark shadow from her opposite hip glides out on it's own clandestine mission. A hungry shadow that slides behind the other girl, the tip whirling around where the length is lifted just subtly off the ground.

The other vines make a sweeping rake to try to scythe the ground beneath her. A wild feint that masks her true intent. The moment she lands the stretched strand jerks the other girl's leg out from beneath her even as she tucks into a roll and comes up to a knee.

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

Braced in a wide, ferocious stance on the ground below, Sayaka sees the handle of the whip sailing up into the air, carried by Eri's vine. She doesn't need to look down to know what is going to happen in a moment. But as her strong thighs act as springs to dart her here and there between slashing vines, Sayaka is left with no time for any countermeasure. When she feels the whip on her ankle go taut, Sayaka just makes sure her tongue isn't between her teeth.

Her body hits the stone like the arm of a mousetrap, her forearm cracking down on the stone to limit her facial injury to a nasty bounce instead of a broken jaw. Sayaka has lost her sword, which is now an elegant fishook dangling from one of Eri's vines. But it is not a replacement she summons. It is a concentric ring of musical staves, tinkling like the black keys on a piano. Sayaka's prone body is its centerpoint, and she lies directly beneath Eri.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The noir staves make their appearance - and Eri Shimanouchi shoots a look over her shoulder at that ghastly grin. Lip curling, she lowers herself just subtly.

Then vaults up abruptly from that position, springing hastily to launch herself aerial to try to get ahead of her foe before it can go off to try to get ahead of her. A girl-shaped shadow on the witch horizon.

Except she's not girl shaped anymore. With the eight extra appendages - one bearing a skinny needle following her like awful strands - she is a silhouette presence that is less than human.

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

The musical ring triggers, and Eri's lashing has left enough loose rock around that a spray of stones bounces up around Sayaka as she launches. The rocks, uncentered, fall away quickly, but Sayaka shoots up like a crossbow quarrel. The drag of her tattered cape helps flip her head-up, as Sayaka rips a sword from its pale inner lining. Wind shrieks across the blade as she drags it into position.

Teeth clenched, she hauls a slash through the dragging wind... but for every inch of resistance the wind provides, Sayaka's momentum repays it by a yard. If this connects, it will rip Eri in half.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> String Theory - Les Friction - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_jBdQk244ec

As the other girl rises up to meet her - the wispy dark smoke drifting off her soul gem flares with it's strange unlight. And then she's smiling too - perhaps the first time since Shinjuku. A thin-lipped look that seems to appreciate the sadism of her handiwork.

The other girl rushes up to meet her and Eri Shimanouchi looks far too still. Like she's wanting to be cleaved in half.

Then with a dark blur, the strand attached to Sayaka Miki's first blade darts into the way of the strike. Parrying it within the loop of that swept hilt - and offering more resistance than merely the wind even if the vine cannot truly match her momentum. Licking her lips, the other tendril lifts up its other caught prize and tosses it sideways back to its mistress.

The keeper of her scourge is back in her hand which is already in motion to back-hand the conjoined blades away from her face at the last possible second.

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

Glittering black in silhouette, Sayaka's old sword whips down at the end of Eri's vine, clanging into the hilt of her current weapon hard enough to dent it. Her shoulders jerk with the impact, but Sayaka shouts, throwing her weight fully behind the slash. The disruption buys Eri just a breath, however, and it's enough for her to smash Sayaka's hilt a second time, this time with the handle of her whip. Her blade diverted back, Sayaka passes Eri without harming her.

As she goes, however, Sayaka sees her old sword spinning above her, slapped up high in the air from the earlier impact. Slashing Eri's vine as she goes, Sayaka grasps the severed end of it. Now she has her old sword at the end of a rope.

Twisting in the air, she slashes her arm down, whiplashing the rope-sword down like a dart.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

And once Sayaka Miki gets to a certain height - she feels that tugging at her boot. Eri Shimanouchi's other hand joins it - in which she tries to make this moment the apex of the other girl's gain on her.

And reverse it, her intent to cast her down with a vicious two handed throw - angling her towards the red monstrance in the background.

So eager is she in this - she almost misses the thrown sword dart. The strange shadow tantalizes as it slides down to her. Can she throw Sayaka Miki away and everything attached to her before it reaches her?

She doesn't test it. Instead she twists in a side aerial, a shadowy vine at her shoulder clipping up to strike it off target as it grazes by her ribs with a shredding of fabric.

Direction reversed by the maneuver - she waits for her whip to grow rigid again. And heaves with all of her might - her eyes upon the blackened profile of the colossal saint.

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

Eri's the one to forfeit this game of chicken, which is wise when the stakes for Sayaka were getting thrown and the stakes for Eri were getting stabbed. But right when Sayaka yanks back on the vine to retrieve her sword-dart, Eri throws Sayaka the other way instead, towards the face of the statue. It's distant, but she's hurtling fast. Does she have time to...?

A musical circle appears in front of the saint statue's left eye, blossoming and rotating, its obscure song black against the white sky. Sayaka hits it the moment after, legs compressing, and launches herself not directly at Eri, but upward past her, to regain high ground. As her rope-sword slings at her own face, Sayaka parries it neatly with her main-hand blade, and slaps it about to aim its tip downward. The moment it's aiming at Eri, she whips it down again. She keeps retracting and hurling it again, covering her passage as she hurtles back-first upwards, the ground nauseatingly distant now.

 <Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri snaps her wrist up in a wave like motion, bringing the scourge tip looping back to her hand. She's losing skyward momentum as a result of her horizontal throw - however now she's coming back around to face her opponent again. First she's on the periphery - and then she's almost dead center.

The tethered blade is gliding back. Throwing her arm out in a harsh lashing motion. It slaps away the whip-sword the first time - the impact steadying her course dead center. Her vines start doing the rest.

Even with one lost, they stab forward and back with serpentine quickness in their attempt to create death by a hundred cuts in a terrible flogging equivalence. Each carrying it's dark rending thorns - they still cannot lash quite as hard as a proper whip with its blunted impacts They do however make charting a course back to that Puella Magi labyrinthine.

The whip in her hand strikes out again and again forward and back in time with the rope sword, punctuating the rhythm like an accented musical note. Probing a course for a sharp decisive blow.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Battle of the Shadows - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3i0kDtxI7eI

Sayaka's head jerks back from the impact of a whipping vine, a red line on her black cheek. The eye above the welt opens slowly, as if in insult to the wound. Whatever happened to it in the pit has just finished healing.

Clumsy in the air, Sayaka slashes parries into the whips, but there are seven of them even without counting the one in Eri's hand. It's the same problem she had on Shinjuku's roof, and the result is much the same, too. They start slipping through almost at once, and Sayaka can only choose one quadrant of her body to protect at a time. As she and Eri plummet towards the ground, her remaining armor is getting torn, and her skin constantly battered. The way the vines catch when they land speaks to how deeply they land their thorns.

The final straw is the main whip, which cracks so hard into Sayaka's chest that she can't breathe for a few seconds. Grimacing, Sayaka flips onto her stomach instead of falling headfirst, slowing herself enough to gain some distance from this beating. Whirling the rope-sword until its whistling hurts the ear, Sayaka hurls the blurry disk she's created into the oncoming vines, enwrapping several and lashing them together as the sword loops them closed.

Inhaling, Sayaka calls up some of her precious remaining mana, and spreads her half-gloved hands. Two swords drop down in front of her, and with a glint of energy, more start to fill in after them, curving in both directions behind Sayaka until a circle of swords joins behind her. With a good sixteen or so falling in perfect formation with her, Sayaka starts flinging them, starting with the one already in her hand and re-arming herself opportunistically as she rotates with the force of her own throws. Barb after barb sails down at Eri, many past her, a rain of black blades. And as the circle depletes, new swords start filling in.

There is a bloody-toothed satisfaction to the barrage of steel Sayaka is letting loose. She is not normally able to engage at range so intensely, but gravity is her ally right now. Her soul gem glitters darkly as it fuels the storm.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Even from afar, there's a sense of dark anticipation in the other girl's expressionless face. It's right there in the subtle parting of her mouth. Oh it's not there all the time. It's just here and there - every time she sees Sayaka Miki bleed. Given whose kouhai she is - is it truly any surprise that red pleases her so much?

She does not relent as she sees Sayaka Miki whirl her improvised rope blade about, however she does coil her whip back up in her hand. Without her eyes - one cannot see the challenge within them.

Sayaka repeating her earlier trick with the Sebastiens to her vines causes a darkening upon her lips, as they all try to tug free and get snatched up on their thorns. With a snarl of frustration she grabs a grief seed and presses it against her head. The strange unlight flaring up anew.

Her hand flexing upon the coil, she starts sending it out furiously as the rain of steel is sent at her. One, two, three - faster and faster, the rain dicing the vines up as she goes. The problem is that Eri must recover from each swing while her foe can launch into the next throw while she is. She slaps one out of the sky, and has to turn sideways just to stop one from skewering her shoulder - which leaves her open to more.

Less lashing accurately and more furiously snapping her whip in a defensive up and down. Then her brain seizes upon a strange idea.

Instead of aiming for the next, she crouches in mid-air, watches one come so close that it feels like it might part the noir filaments of her hair, then up and overs her whip turning to swing it behind herself.

The whip wraps one of the spent blades - just in time for her to take one more unto her thigh. It sinks into the flesh without resistance. The girl's whole body spasms in mid-air, and in that moment all vines that had been growing out of her begin to vanish. The spent one that was attached to Sayaka Miki's rope sword appears to be withering too - as if it were on its way out.

Is it because she's lost concentration due to her injury? Because she's low on magic?

The other girl swings around in a full one hundred eighty degree circle - two lengths of the scourge crashing against Sayaka Miki's remaining field of steel with titanic force. And the third lagging behind with the weight of the sword it's carrying, as it attempts to embed it within a new sheath entirely. Just before she'd try to pull her savagely out of the sky - the pained grunt indicating this is more anger than actual strategy.

... Because on the way down, Sayaka Miki will cross Eri Shimanouchi, and that is the last place she should want her to be.

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

A telling blow was landed, and Sayaka's crescent smile glows once more in the dark. But her next volley of swords is swept away like needles under a broom as Eri's whip passes through, as superior to her secondary vines as Kyouko's main spear is to her metal shards. Sayaka crosses her arms over her face to block one that spins up towards her, but it blocks her vision for the crucial instant in which the third tongue of Eri's whip is coming around.

Throwing her abdomen forward, Sayaka manages to avoid getting stabbed sideways through her kidney, but the whip coil strikes her side instead, and the sword at the end of it loops around Sayaka and smacks blade-first down onto her lower stomach. Most of the force is dispersed, so the cut is shallow, but it is long. Worse, it's only an inch below her soul gem.

Sayaka's back is yanked into an arch as Eri uses the sword like a grappling hook, to pull them together in the air. The moment the whip isn't taut anymore, the sword falls harmlessly off Sayaka, released to plummet into the darkness below. Sayaka plants her feet on Eri's chest to shove them apart a little, enough for her to draw a fresh sword, and start swinging downward at Eri, punctuating it with deep fencing thrusts. She's still physically above Eri, an advantage that makes her blows faster and less predictable, and Eri's the opposite.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Fueled by fury - she nevertheless let's out this squeal as Sayaka's feet impact her chest. She hasn't had time to coil back her whip. Desperately her other fingers slide up past Sayaka's foot.

At this range she can't properly attack her. She has to flog the maximum distance she can hit, and so she keeps striking upwards near her head and the recovery gets longer each time, try to use the harder keeper to parry each blade blow at first. All the while her fingers keep moving unseen.

And then Eri Shimanouchi screams murder - despite the fact Sayaka hasn't stabbed her. Despite the fact that the cut that got past her guard was only a shallow one that glanced off her whip to hit her collarbone instead..

Red flies through the air just as Sayaka Miki gets a mad sense of something coming. The other girl draws Sayaka's sword out of her own thigh, and drags it forward into a reverse grip.

It's not her proper weapon, she can't use it well, so instead she uses the blade stained with her own blood like some extra long parrying dagger, holding it sideways to try to block the blade long enough to rear back her whip over her opposite shoulder and-

Nothing. Because the black arm of the stone saint rises up to meet them both.

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

Sayaka keeps trying to straighten out her body and fall faster, to catch up to Eri, but the whipcracks both shove them apart a little, and tend to unbalance Sayaka. It's hard for her to close distance like this, and repeatedly their weapons foil one another. But Sayaka is getting closer, and Eri's pathetic use of that borrowed sword won't hold Sayaka off for long. Just a few more seconds...

And just like that, her peripheral vision is full of dark stone. It's impossible to judge scale when the arm is so featureless, when she's falling so fast, but she knows she has only instants. Throwing out a palm, she summons a musical circle as far away from her as she dares, knowing that if it plants on the ground, it will be useless, but if she passes through it before it is ready to use, it will be no better. It seems to form agonizingly slowly, notes filling in, the song half-written and dissonant...

When she hits it, Sayaka triggers it anyway.

The burst of opposing momentum decelerates Sayaka violently, crushing the air from her like a fist crushing her torso. But she never reverses direction, and a second later, she hits the ground.

The velocity is not terminal, in the technical sense, but it would have been for most. A stomped bug that once called herself a knight lies crumpled on the stone, a queasy looseness to her ribcage, her freshly healed dominant arm limp again. Her bleary eyes lift to her surroundings, though her body remains stunned.

After a beat, a falling sword drives down into the stone a foot in front of Sayaka's face, like divine edict.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri Shimanouchi did not even have that.

The impact would have shattered a normal girl's spine and skull.

She might have blacked out for a moment there, which is why she doesn't know where the sword is anymore. Strangely the whip is right there, unspooled strangely.

The words of Kyubey mockingly enter her head. Remade. Splendidly suited.

A wave of nausea takes her as she realizes she can move, and the first movement she makes is onto her side, sucking up air from the fetal position as she suffers. The gem on her forehead responds, as wisps of unlight drift off of her.

Gulping again, and again, she shakily flexes her hand... and uses that hand to slowly shift a seed... closer... closer. Her head rests on the black stone beside it as she nestles her cheek next to it. Even concussed she knows she doesn't have long.

It doesn't... take long.

Her hand nestles upon one of the scourge lengths, understanding her other one is useless. It's eerie the way she stands up. It's not under her own power, her body straightening as her vines press beneath her from beneath. Before two slide to her sides.

An extra one coils around her right leg, wrapping around it to brace it. She's not... ready...

She doesn't have time to be ready.

Looking over her shoulder at Sayaka Miki.... she can see Elsa Maria past her. An extra shadow vine - the only one she can spare right now slithers out towards the other girl. Closer. Closer.

What's a nudge between old friends?

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

It takes Eri starting to get up for Sayaka to realize her ears are ringing, because she can't hear the rustle of the vines. If one of them fails to get up in time, they die, so Sayaka plants her good hand on the ground and pushes. It doesn't feel like getting up; more like she is lifting the giant stone arm off of her body. But the stone gets further from her.

She's healing fast, but there's much to heal. Sayaka's vision is blurry, and unlike Eri, she has no mystical way to stand up faster. She thoughtlessly tries to rest weight on her bad arm, and nearly topples as it gives out, though there is no pain. Grimacing, she turns her stinging eyes up and catches a glimpse of her sword's golden hilt, waiting patiently. This close, she can even see a hint of its color, largely lost to shadow. A refracted dot of its light rests beneath one of her eyes, as Sayaka stares transfixed for a moment.

"Sen... pai." Lifting her bare, bruised fingers, Sayaka reaches out, and up... and her hand closes around the metal hilt.

Blinking, Sayaka finds herself swaying to her feet, having blacked out for a few seconds. Her thoughts are rapidly growing clearer, as a rib wiggles in her side and then fastens itself, but her body remains a work in progress.

Just like always. One foot in front of the other, Sayaka stalks forward towards Eri, and every step is stronger.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri's in the same boat of having too much to heal and too little time to do it. The downside is she doesn't heal remotely as fast. The upside is she has enough magic to do that and still function while doing it.

Whatever functional means right now. Kyubey never said how long, or how much magic it'd take for them to heal from their last drop of blood just that they could theoretically do it.

Unfortunately her foe is way better at doing it. She has to prevent herself from whimpering when she sees Sayaka grabbing her sword - and already walking towards her.

A juggernaut who wants not to live - she just wants to kill her at whatever cost. Swallowing, she fumbles another grief seed over the thorns in her hand to her head.

The vine which she extended falls limp on the ground - as she tries to camouflage it on the shadowy stone - immobile.

Two more come into being over her shoulders just as Eri Shimanouchi experimentally puts down her right foot, and uses that bracing vine like a crutch to pivot and face her.

Raising her one good arm, she tests it, trying to experimentally lash across the gap between them at Sayaka Miki. It's so languid that a beginner kendo practitioner with a shinai could block it.

That was her intent though. Because two extra vines wind back, then snap forward to lash each side of the other girl’s torso.

The final vine lies in wait on the labyrinth’s black stonework for Sayaka to walk over it...

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

So exhausted that conservation of energy is her first instinct, Sayaka lifts her sword artlessly, smacking aside the first vine with a horizontal blade, and just keeps going. She's forced to exert herself in slapping away one of the two subsequent lashes, but with her movement limited and only one arm fully functional, she has the dubious privilege of simply choosing which to get hit by. The one she lets through hits her bad arm with an unpleasantly meaty sound, but Sayaka does not flinch. Step by step she is approaching the trap-vine, invisibly monochrome on the ground. Her foot lifts...

And she stomps instead of steps, twisting her heel into it to pin it momentarily. Her sword swivels, reverses, and skewers the vine, pinning it into the ground. She bids farewell to the trap as if it were a cockroach, grinding her heel disdainfully as she lifts it away.

"You think you're so smart," she rasps. A new sword gleams obsidian as she withdraws it, her limping pace hastening as it clears. "Think you can get out of anything. Not this time."

Sayaka does not even charge this time, just swaggers right into Eri, hauling a slash like an uppercut as she goes. She claims Eri's space with every step and defends it with wide, flailing strikes, the flat of her steel making low-pitched whoops in the air as she forces Eri towards the familiars again.

"Not this time," she seethes, as a perfectly white tear bisects each of her cheeks slowly.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

With a flex of her arm, she draws it back to herself in waves - sloppily recoiling it one armed as she uses the motions to twist it around her elbow even as her other vines impact. Her anticipation growing as Sayaka grows close. Hopes dashed by the other girl pinning it, she forces it to tug away where it strains into shadowy wisps. It does not give, so she begins to circle in a strange shadowy ambulation around the flank, her eyes spying something in the distance.

"Anything?" It's like a whisper in the night, it's not a statement of triumph, no prelude to something greater. It is only a hiss of manic desperation, as if that were something innately terrible and matter of fact. "No. Not 'anything'."

As her arm begins to pump. Her whip lashing out in once - twice - faster each moment. She's not healing that quickly, desperation fuels her arm. Each time there's a snapping reverberation against the other girl's blade with each slash. As she works her strikes from hilt to tip in an ever changing-rhythm of short strikes.

One vine slices out horizontally when she passes a certain point in what seems like random to then dart back in and slice away the pinned vine with the reclaimed blade she tore out of her own thigh. Strangely she does not use the blade again, the strand glides back as if she's trying to keep it back.

"Just the next thing."

The girl pants as the vines support her like dark crutches in a backwards move whip still pumping in her effort to keep her back.

... towards the shadowy shape of a witch - backwards unto crimson receptacle of divine grace shining in the horizon.

"Because I have to."

These days... it feels like that's all she ever does. Survives the next thing. And the next.

"Can you..."

At the invisible line in her mind where she knows the witch cannot fail but to react, she does not hesitate....

The vines step over the line, and it's like she's caught in a mirror corridor with the witch behind her. Because a dark web of lines has just erupted from the witch - painting the sky in it's shadowy supplication.

"... say the same?"

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Overcome - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0mkGwstsII

The repeated blows to her sword force Sayaka to spend much of her time correcting her stance and grip, and slow her assault. She does not hesitate to step across the threshold to sacred ground. The Sebastiens rise up in rows, roused from their pews in time for the hymnal, one by one all the way to the back where their saint awaits, bending her piety to endless worship. She will drive Eri right back to the Holy of Holies--that red sun in the distance.

"She's dead," Sayaka answers Eri dully. "For me, there is only one more thing."

The Sebastiens plunge, and Sayaka springs with surprising grace, her leg already mostly restored to her. Ankles together, she hops side to side as if going through a tire course, serpent fangs biting stone instead of her flesh. They are not as dense here as they will be. Ducking and twisting through her slashes and thrusts, Sayaka engages Eri weapon-to-weapon, in their most direct duel yet. Her sword pits itself against that living scourge that Kyuubey tore from Eri's soul, fending off lesser strikes from the tendrils at her shoulders. She and Eri are both forced to dodge or slice away constant attacks, but Sayaka's focus is far and away focused on her opponent, and she starts to take a few grazes as she drives Eri further into the swaying stalks of familiars.

Clawing towards the sky, branches begin to scourge their way from Elsa Maria's back. Their growth is slow and crackling, spreading like cancerous wings from her supplicant shoulders. Is it God's will that a tree should grow whenever innocence risks going unpunished?

Sayaka's sword rings out against thorns over and over beneath the sound of ripping wood at the far end of the path.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

In a backwards motion, she slides her good left foot behind her, as the vine crutches slide backwards, and allow her to take a short spring backwards. The two play the most dangerous game of hop skotch ever. A high stakes match between two children without the trappings of innocence anymore.

"You coward!"

Her arm is growing faster and faster with every moment, the world around her taking on this strange quality of seeing it through a pane of glass in a dusty room. All the same, for all the progress she makes, it feels like she cannot catch up to that which is suffered. Not the least of which because of the witch - dark maws on stalks are flickering shadows she must deal with instinct and periphery alone.

"You can't even imagine living with yourself after this."

Her lash is tri-forked, even those that merely glance off the blade are still rebounding at a blur in an unpredictable way. Even lashes that don't hit rebound into grazes, or to catch a thorn on flesh that's hastily torn away. The familiars are claimed as collateral damage of they are rent with nary more attention than one gives to a mosquito buzzing by one's ear.

This is perhaps a mistake, for they profit from the gardener's neglectful singlemindedness. Harvesting armor and flesh beneath with their hungry fly-trap mouths. The fibrous appendages over her shoulders have taken to swatting away those that get through - a control she's performing with only feeling alone before she becomes so frustrated that the one holding Sayaka's own blade begins to swing wildly with all the grace of a machete being swung around drunkenly on a rope.

"If this is all that's left for you - you're just a waste-"

Flicking one slashing thrust wide with the lash, she catches a graze across her ribs - her vine twisting away to keep itself from being severed. Pivoting on that left, her vine crutch slips behind the girl in a swiveling motion at a distance inside of her guard, as she raises it up to bring it down at point blank range which as much strength as she can muster to try to knock her away just enough to start a rally and drive her towards the witch.

"-of time-"

Faster and faster the lashes come. As if she's now found a sadistic fervor in trying to lash her repeatedly - whether or not she hits home - or is parried - she has become a relentless engine of her own form of retribution on Sayaka Miki.

"-of seeds-"

The motions of her arm are all one can see of her scourge now - the strands are thin enough they do not even carve a blurring silhouette but still blend away more and moer familiars as they come as if they were hitting an invisible barrier. Her scourge is an invisible tormentor that can only be followed by the movements of her arm.

"-of tears-"

In such a labyrinth, even the thought is simply a shadow, devoid of color or life.

"-and most of all-"

The final two lashes seem punctuated with each word - slower yet with more depth to them - like she wishes to twist the knife and does not know how.


She does not care if she feels them or not. Whether every nerve in her body has been severed. Whether every emotion within the other girl has been burned away. As she feels right now she would grind the girl's tombstone, or even her own memories to dust if it would wipe her existence away.

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

The whip is hard to parry completely. Eri, Sayaka thinks resentfully, doesn't even need to do anything to make that work; probably she can't even predict how those three thorny tongues will react to a given impact. They just fly crazily past the parry, and sometimes one or two hits Sayaka anyway. Eri getting things without trying is a bit of a sore point for Sayaka.

Losing momentum, Sayaka sidesteps, bobs, and lunges to avoid the lash, sometimes intentionally baiting Eri into whipping a few Sebastiens to death behind Sayaka's back. Every time she succeeds at that, she surges forward with unbound aggression, knowing that for a few seconds, she can trust that her back is covered, and Eri cannot. Her rampant, wheeling assault is nothing like what Mami taught her. Only hatred can teach savagery like this. Whatever pain leaks from her scourged flesh to her soul gem can no longer breach Sayaka's own frenzy. The final barrier has fallen away. As Sayaka darts about Eri, she fights with total recklessness, practically throwing her sword every time she swings it. She does not feel relief when she avoids being lashed, or regret when Eri scores a hit. Nothing interrupts her murderous design save the occasional necessity of executing a Sebastien or two.

Eri manages to swivel behind Sayaka, a risk that is almost fatal to her. But Sayaka has been ignoring the Sebastiens too much, and as she leaps and catches up her hilt in both hands to bring her blade ripping down through Eri's head, three mouths sink their teeth into each of her shoulders, holding her up for a crucial few seconds, legs kicking, until she can swivel her sword above her head and sever them. When her boots hit the ground, suddenly she's on the defensive, being lashed back towards Elsa Maria.

Eri's final two lashes are thrown with all her skill and might, and the first knocks Sayaka's sword from her hand, sending it sailing off the edge of the statue. The second cracks her right in the breastbone, where normally her armor would have shielded her. But with the metal plate down in a pit somewhere, even the nerve-dead Sayaka is struck by the need to grasp her collarbone and retch for air.

Pivoting as she draws a new sword, teeth bared in a rictus of grief at Eri's taunts, Sayaka lunges in a deep, fencerly balestra, driving the point of her blade diagonally through Eri's guard.

"Don't you dare," she shouts through her attack, "talk about MY senpai!"

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There's a moment when it looks like the lunge is going to be driven cleanly into her torso. As Sayaka charges closer, she can see the whites of the girl's eyes, though the irises remain pools of filamentous black - like the wings of some ghoulish butterfly.

"... What was it you said to me once?"

And then the girl swipes the whip upwards savagely at the swept hilt of the sword, sweeping up into the gap of the finger guard. There is a sharp crack as it slams against the metal. The blade is knocked in a spinning arc in the air - cutting through two Sebastiens as if the rotor of a helicopter had been torn clean off and sent flying.

A line of red traces up Eri Shimanouchi's torso, from the disarmed blade's lunge turned into a sweeping cut by the motion.

The momentum takes her arm to her opposite shoulder, where she then lashes it down point blank at the other girl, the trio of lengths wrapping haphazardly but decisively around her form.

Her vines cannot commit to making this worse, right now they're all that's holding her upright - and beyond that they are fending off umbral assault that comes from so many angles. Even now one clips her shoulder...

Her anger is not smothered by this development. It simply transforms as she grinds out words through her teeth as if they were passing through mortar and pestle.

"'I can't even dogeza'?"

If the other girl is not too berserk - perhaps that might reach some shameful core of her. Where she found herself wanting for her treatment of her senpai.

"Well just walk over that way..."

The look in Eri's eyes is perverse in it's accomodation, as she cants her head towards the kneeling form of the girl. Right now with her minions doing their dark work, she looks even more the condemned prisoner awaiting execution. Strung up to be drawn and quartered by scapegoated sins given form and substance.

"... and I'll give you your chance to make up for that right now."

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

Disarmed and bound, Sayaka digs her heels into the dark stone, dust grinding up behind them as Eri forces her forward, step by step, towards the Witch. Her lips curl in horror as she's used as a shield facing the worst of the Sebastiens, which periodically knick her limbs as she's frog-marched forward. Her eyes wide, she tries to plant her feet to shove back decisively, but Eri has too much control over her movements for her to leverage her height and strength; she's shaken from her footing every time she sets up to do so.

The red monstrance draws closer by the second, and the back of the Witch, her slim dark form possessed of supernatural menace. To approach close unarmed surely must be death. Scrabbling with her bootheels, Sayaka starts to panic. Strange, but it's Eri who focuses her.

Turning her eyes to one side as she considers Eri (who she cannot see without twisting around much further), Sayaka lowers her forehead sullenly, her lips curling in a sour smile. "Maybe senpai fell in love with you once," Sayaka rejoins meditatively. "But she'll never be proud of you."

Reversing course, Sayaka takes a step forward suddenly, possibly setting Eri to stumbling. Footstep by dogged footstep, she marches deeper into the Sebastiens. Elsa Maria looms larger and larger before them, and something in her serene posture suggests patient anticipation. Jerking her head away from a scraping familiar mouth that ripped across her cheek, Sayaka lets them chomp into her, in exchange for dragging Eri to greater and greater exposure. Reaching back behind her shoulder, she clamps her fingers into Eri's collar to keep the green magical girl with her.

"This is where you want to go?" she asks grimly. "Fine. Let's see who lasts longer."

Surging forward, Sayaka drags Eri directly at Elsa Maria.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

While she's marching her forward, Eri has subtly raised her hand - it still aches horribly. To hold the conception of another creature within her pinky and ring finger along with the lash and hold it against her head as she tries to keep her magic flowing. She allows the other girl to guide herself into her own doom, allowing her to face the Sebastiens as her shield. Her arm grows still. A tendril vine is pointing the girl's own steel at her as if it were insurance.

The girl's eyelids lull a tad by the other girl's words.

"If you truly loved her you would have never made her my ene-"

Sayaka reverses into her, and the tendril tenses up, however with her vines carrying her, her balance is off. The preternatural elegance of a magical girl is incredibly clumsy and it jerks the vine holding the blade out of alignment. The Sebastien's which were gnashing their teeth at her are now latching onto her shoulder - a boot.

The teeth insert themselves hungrily - as if remembering the taste of her flesh from before - as if that bloodlust was carried through all of their brethren. And the girl through clenched teeth says, "...IDIOT..."

The tendril holding the length of purloined steel whips back, and then suddenly hurls it forward as it releases it...

"... who do you think my senpai is?"

... right towards the witch's neck.

If there is one thing Kyouko Sakura has taught her. It's how to survive. If she cannot last longer than a girl who cannot die, she would be the worst kind of failure.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Witch World 2 (reprise) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0lhX3JVCDH8

The Sebastiens arc inward, instinctively seeking to protect their mistress (their body? Their slaver?), but they are not faster than a sword hurled like a sling bullet. It sinks into the face of the monstrance, splattering it in the same instant with a hideous curling stroke of fluid. Elsa Maria's head, struck off neatly, thumps into the monstrance a moment later, slithers down it a foot or so, then peels off and bounces down to the ground.

Sayaka is frozen, no longer seeking to drag Eri. She stares at the Witch instead, holding her breath as the head rolls to a stop next to Elsa Maria's knee.

With a ripple, Elsa Maria's body sinks, now like soft human clay. It contracts. Trembles. And bursts outward in a massive, slithering starburst.

Dozens, then hundreds of extended hands at the end of bolt-straight arms erupt in all directions. They stream like countless ruptured fire hydrants, grinding against and through the sone below, respecting nothing but the solar monstrance before them. Eyes wide with zeal, Sayaka barks a single, hideous laugh, then wrenches her body hard, her shoulders dragging Eri around. There's no time to use Eri fully as a shield, but Sayaka manages to get them both facing perpendicular to Elsa Maria, to share equally the punishment Eri has earned.

"It doesn't matter," Sayaka says, her voice hazy with unholy bliss. Her gloved hand tightens on Eri's collar, and her free hand snaps instantly to manacle Eri's whip-wrist the moment she tries to pull away. "If I can't see my senpai again," Sayaka whispers harshly. "Then neither can you."

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There's no way to predict how a witch might react to an attack. Severing a head might be a mortal blow, or the decapitation might be a mere inconvenience. A gardener should have guessed that the witch who is like a tree would not die unless it were pulled up by the roots.

Desperation and anger can make someone forget the funniest things sometimes.

The witches reaches out to them both. A person does not need so many hands. The witch has hands for only one kind of touch. They scythe across them both - ripping and tearing like awful spears even as she drags stumbling out of position. Even caught within her whip - even with it over she's fighting.

Normally she would respect that tenacity.

Both vine start on the attack again again - scything violently back and forth like it's threshing wheat in order to try to keep the hands at bay - however it feels like they are everywhere. On the defensive, she cannot attack, not with the girl bound.

However then Sayaka says something that causes Eri to focus suddenly. What is going to allow her to see her senpai again?

"Like - HELL!"

Abruptly one of her vines breaks off the attack to lace around the girl's head, winding about over and over. Perhaps she is truly unable to feel pain - but she is still aware of the thorns as they are dragged horribly across flesh of neck, throat, and wind around the mouth like a terrible serpent constricting and constricting as it tries to tug her head back.

"I wonder how well you'll defend that dirty little gem..."

That's just as the tip begins to slither up towards the bottom of her nose. It's movement has become slower with the friction of thorns against the skin - but it's still moving...

"... without your eyes."

It's a bluff perhaps. One born out of desperation. However she knows - she knows too well. She may not last much longer in this position.

And whether she lives or dies may depend on what happens in the next few seconds, may depend on having her lash free again.

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

The vine swirls around Sayaka's face, fastening layer by layer over her mouth. She has to either drop her sword or let go of Eri, and given that Elsa Maria is her true weapon right now, she chooses the former. With her newly freed hand she grabs onto the vines and tries to drag them loose, only to freeze up, staring as one menaces her eye. Hyperventilating through her nostrils, Sayaka prepares to snatch it before it lunges in response to her motion. It has a lot less distance to travel... her odds are poor.

Elsa Maria intercedes, if not exactly on Sayaka's behalf. A sudden torrent of furious hands blasts into both Sayaka and Eri, smashing them to the ground and then apart, the vine nearly breaking Sayaka's jaw when it rips free. By sheer luck, fewer hands smashed into Sayaka, and she has an arm free to draw a sword and start hacking them off at their straight, featureless wrists.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The tip of the vine creeps into Sayaka's periphery. The shadowy tip feels like a thorn in it's own right as it starts to part an eyelash...

And then the Puella Magi is blasted by a hand across her arm. She tries not to loosen her grip on her lash - but another is spinning her around on her good foot and she cannot... another clips a vine holding her up and slashes it's width in half. This stumble allows for another to smash right against her side and send her sprawling.

Suddenly the direction is not so randomly focused on her anymore.

Now they're lancing into her repeatedly on the ground like terrible pikes. One after another - without ceasing

Line after line of red appears across her profile.

The girl is pinned to a ground with a scream that's cut off by her drowning beneath the onslaught of hands.

Hands with only one kind of touch - and that touch is for killing her.

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

Hacking away a hand from her ankle, Sayaka shoves herself decisively to her feet. Not only can she not feel the damage, but here in Elsa Maria's realm, she cannot see it either. She truly is invincible.

Casting about rapidly for her foe, Sayaka sees only a dense mass of arms shoving at a spot on the ground, and infers that Eri is there. She starts forward to finish her while she's pinned, but she's struck across the cheek, then the shoulder, and then, as she reels, the thigh. The arms keep blasting past and into Sayaka, and those atop Eri will need to be killed just to reach her. Grimacing, Sayaka unwillingly turns to Elsa Maria. It seems, in the end, that a Witch's power cannot be ignored, even for a conflict like this.

Summoning a musical circle above her, pointing diagonally down at Elsa Maria, Sayaka leaps up, plants her feet against it, and shoves off, her whipping cape trailing her as she smashes bodily through the arms and directly into the decapitated Witch's back. With a heave, she lifts her sword high, then smashes it down, beating Elsa Maria again and again with it. It's as though it were a bludgeon instead of a weapon, as Sayaka's frenzy grows, blow by blow. But she's getting exhausted, whether or not she can feel the discomfort of that. Though oil-black fluid flies from her blows more copiously with every savage second that passes, Sayaka keeps getting grazed by new hands erupting like pinions from Elsa Maria's back.

Just when the Witch seems to be faltering, just when Sayaka's metal club of a sword seems to have beaten her shapeless, a final surge of hands patters all over Sayaka, shoving her back a few paces, snatching hold of her cape, her hair, her ankle. She hacks away the one on her cape, only for another to hook her bicep. If she's driven away here, Sayaka doubts she can get back again. And this deep into the Witch's sacred grounds, fleeing would be even more difficult. She has only two options: kill Elsa Maria, or jump off the statue's arm and hope there's something down below other than the fatally distant ground.

Vengeful, Sayaka grinds her boots against the ground and tries to advance on Elsa Maria. Fleeing is not an option.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Head twitching pathetically - she sees the movement of the shadow magical girl rebounding off air and starts wailing into the witch. It's a different experience. In what feels like a lifetime ago her senpai flew on wings of vengeful razors into the twisted iris of an eyeball.

Aqueous humour is replaced by squelching shadow with each blow.

It's like a mockery in a way - a mockery of her memory. What should have been her greatest triumph was replaced by only regret for a senseless act - a desire to make it mean something. What was a failure for her though was a triumph for her senpai. In her she could see the survivor she wanted to be.

In her she could see what she could aspire for a lifetime and never be, because she cannot let things go in the same way - and move on with her life. The two kouhai feel like a twisted reflection of each other's failure to uphold the ideals of their respective senpais.

A failure of a protector - and a failure of a survivor. Even if she survived this - here and now. She was still a failure, because she could not turn off that side of herself no matter how much she wants to. Not completely. No triumph would ever give her that.


Her smile splits as if she's seeing some wicked humor in this awful duality. And starts a rasping laugh like nails scraping across a chalkboard.


Don't forget calling me senpai, either.

The single vine she has left swipes down - not for the hands... but it's pointed at the other girl.

Get up and live!

The angle of the vine's journey changes in the end, as it caresses the ground in front of her unable to deny the allure of the witch's power. It's slithering touch leaves an impression like light rippling on stone. It continues forward like a snake in the grass along the black arm of the saint, leaving a noir lighting as it shoots towards the witch.

"Aha... hahahahaha..."

The girl raises a hand through her wheezing, suffering laughter, and snaps the two fingers together.

Dark branches erupt out of the ground, looping up in curling coils, skewering the arms of the hand in its roiling lengths of awful foliage. The growth is explosive, above ground erratic, but it has an order to it in how it travels along the same straight line as the vine, missing the other girl just enough.

The eruption of awful growth strikes the witch and the awful branches twist around her this way and that jabbing into her from erratic directions and strange angles - pinning her arms other than for the thin gaps left, new arms and fingertips growing to push through each gap. The amorphous body looks like it's boiling within as her containment strains until one breaks free...

... were she alone she could not manage it. However... it might buy time for the other girl to tear it up by its roots.


Why shouldn't she laugh? It's too funny how backwards everything is in this moment to her.

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

A wave of plant life courses along the ground, splashing over the base of the arms holding Sayaka, and swamping Elsa Maria's body for a moment. Throwing vines onto that constantly erupting mass is like tossing them into a fire, and Elsa Maria rips them up as fast as they can arrive. But with her focus there, and the arms grasping Sayaka mostly torn away, Sayaka is free.

She casts a dark glance over at where these plants are coming from. Neither of them will survive this if the Witch is not defeated. For an instant, Sayaka considers just... dropping her weapon.

An image of Kozue and Madoka sitting on Madoka's bedroom floor comes to her, so faintly that it's like a charcoal sketch, and then it's gone.

Hurling herself at Elsa Maria again, Sayaka thrashes her sword down across her as though driving a golf ball. One, two, three times, back and forth, she hacks the increasingly shapeless mass of Witch around, spattering her maddened face with black ink. Finally, she reverses her sword and drives it down with both hands, skewering into Elsa Maria with a deep, rupturing stab.

All is silent.

A jet of fluid sprays suddenly.

And with a faintly musical creak, a vast crack starts to spread across the white glass sky. Flakes of heaven ten meters long detach, falling with the slow bulk of a drifting whale. Smaller shards glitter by the thousands as they trail down. Sayaka holds her sword pinned through, gritting her teeth, as the arm of the statue begins to crack, too, lurching beneath her feet. The world is shuddering itself apart, a violence in its geometry building and building until stone and glass stop cracking and SHATTER all as one.

Sayaka drops to the ground, her sword clattering at her side, amidst the mundane colors and sights of the airport terminal. Curled about her, her ravaged cape hides most of her body as she lies still for a moment. Half the blade of her sword is buried in the ground, driven there when the Labyrinth disappeared out from under her murderous stab; apparently she broke it, because the hilt and the rest of the blade are lying at the base of that small steel monolith.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Everything is a frenzied blur before her eyes. The girl hacking - and hacking - and hacking. A horrific tableau of the gardening job the other girl intends for her - or so she thinks.

The world is falling down around her. The sky cracks like glass, eschewing it's imagery to where it is all half-formed. On the borders it feels like a place she's been that she wishes she could tear down. A monument to trauma that's akin to an inferno she'd run away from rather than touch.

It all comes down.

The pain doesn't stop though. Color has been returned to her, and her laughter stops amongst her too hoarse throat. She is green - laying in a puddle of red.

Yet not enough red...

It is less than half of what the girl saw that day beneath her. Swallowing, she takes a seed, and presses it shakily against her head.

Outside of the unlight of the labyrinth, that light takes on an wispy emerald hue - light filtered through a dusty window as if it were restricted somehow by the hour.

Panting as she struggles to breathe against ribs that feels like they're on fire from all the stab wounds of terrible fingers, her eyes trail over to her half-shredded lash. The hands had cut it's length to less than half for most of them, and what's left is missing their thorns. It's not much to look at right now - much less think of using it for survival.

However she knows that she'll find no mercy in the kneeling girl in the white cape.

None at all.

She knows better than to expect it of any girl Kyubey has made into a Puella Magi.

 <Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Darkest Days - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-FRvboWZl8

The last of the Labyrinth falls away with a sound like blowing into your hands on a cold night. Its shadows peel away as Sayaka sags to her feet, color pouring down onto the monochrome world, breathing life into its cheeks. Its inky darkness slips off to reveal the dim gleam of metal and glass, the green of Eri's hair, and the gold of a sword hilt. But beneath the opaque shadow over Sayaka, there is no warm peach skin, no chivalrous blue or noble yellow.

All is covered in in shifting, teeming corruption. It ripples in disk-shapes stretched over her body, with subtle rings of texture running through them, like the concentric circles raked into a zen garden. Ashy, black, it shimmers restlessly as she moves, making it hard to see details of her form. At any given time, some part of her body is uncovered; sometimes a shoulder, sometimes most of her face. But at all times one sight is clearly visible: the dark mist bleeding from her soul gem.

Eri lies there, as injured as Sayaka, but healing much more slowly. The race is all but run. All that is left is to become a murderer's murderer, to smother a dream to death and hope that it takes a golden ghost with it.

Bending down, Sayaka rips her sword free as she goes, its snapped tip glistening with harsh metal grain. It's unceremonious in the end; she steps over Eri's stomach, drops to both knees with weary resolve, and lifts her sword-hilt high, to drive a stake into the heart of the Adversary. With a raspy shout, she swings it down with both hands. By force Sayaka will give Eri the one innocence she failed to take.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Rootless Tree - Damien Rice - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25cO4K4kHpE

Eyes glued - as the scrape of steel scars the floor. The girl does not whimper, or shake, but her throat does bob a little. She keeps looking square at the monster she helped create.

As Sayaka raises the sword hilt high, the vine tendril by her shoulder lashes out sideways. There's a tug, and the keeper of her scourge is brought back to Eri's hand. Her arm swings out - desperate in mid-motion even as she catches the lighting off the descending blade.

The ruined lengths snap around it as Eri tries to jam her wrist out sideways - the spare vine returning. It does not attack - it instead lashes around Eri's hand to simulate a two handed grip and give her some additional strength. From this position - she has far too little leverage and strength.

And her opponent has far too much. She tries desperately to make up for it with the tools she has.

I guess somehow we're friends right? Even...

Such thoughts are far too distant right now - they cannot cross this gulf of abject hatred she feels.

Even though we all have our own reasons for doing this.

Given even the smallest opening - she'll stab that blade straight into this girl's heart or throat - or gem.

Her lash is - already shredded by the witch's work, its length continuing to tear under the strain. A sound like a great weight straining against a rope as she tries to turn a broken blade aside and backwards. Her one good foot fumbling as it tries to brace her against the girl's ankle...

Eri's gem is dirtying by the second from the terrible consumption of her magic - the vines attached to Eri shimmer, then disappear. The Puella Magi makes a small animalistic sound of frustration as she instantly loses headway and her foot starts kicking that ankle again and again.

Eri's other arm - which is slick with red following the witch's deadly touch, slowly reaches up to join the handle of her lash with agonizing slowness. Her fingers won't work around it, so instead Eri puts her palm up against the side of it, trying to push her whip - and with it pull the blade...






Locked together - broken sword wound up in ravaged whip, she levers the sword off to the side. Limbs shaking as she tries to twist the sword around to face her opponent, and if she has her way - bury it into Sayaka.

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

Normally the presence or absence of sun and moon would be irrelevant; it is a soft, warm, lusciously golden light that exudes artificially from each marble pillar, and above the various storefronts throughout the atrium.

But now that light is gone.

Instead, Eri and Sayaka struggle at the very bottom of a vast, open space which only gradually begins to come into focus around them. Moonlight coats the area, the only illumination, and it traces soft and gleaming lines along the metal railings that circumscribe each level -- balcony above balcony above balcony, linked by grave-still escalators and bisected by a central elevator shaft whose transparency has been transformed into a tower of darkness instead.

It isn't the only dark place. Anything deeper than the edges of the balcony are quite invisible -- they are stores, but there's a certain infinite possibility to their absence, as though every floor could contain something entirely different and new. More disorienting are the sharp bar of shadows cast here and there by any one of the supports cutting through the skylight, in turn slashing up and down and across the gray and silver world this airport has become and leaving nothing of color behind in their wake.

And there is one more. Unlike the ceiling, which is unmovable and unmoved by the violence being perpetrated far beneath it, this new darkness appears suddenly and without any more warning than a squeak of damp sneaker sole on a marble floor, which is where it begins. Next, it flows down the escalator that connects floor one to floor two as though drawn by both gravity and urgency. And finally it slides starkly across Sayaka and Eri's faces, though only one is visibly the darker for it.

Madoka might as well have come straight out of the Shibuya rain, as though she was frozen in time from the moment of their separation to the moment of their reunion (which, it must be added, is unusually possible a scenario for her, to be sure, but not in fact the case tonight). She is soaked to the skin, and without the air normally carried within fabric to add to her apparent bulk she is painfully tiny, making it all the more surreal that, with help of height and angle of moon, the shadow she casts is so very long indeed.

Her expression is easy to imagine, and memories of the rooftop of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building can easily color in the equally vast and equally empty spaces between the sparsely moonlit lines of Madoka's face.






The moon transforms a single tear to silver upon the soft pink palette of her cheek, but Madoka will find no crystal there.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> With Any Sort of Certainty - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pbzQM25SdI

Snagged on the way down, the sword halts before it reaches Eri's chest, hovering just inches away. Sayaka drag down on the hilt, forcing the blade down a little further, but as Eri brings first a vine, then her other hand into the fray, the tip starts diverting off to the side, and the further it goes, the more leverage Eri has, and the less is left for Sayaka.

They struggle in near-silence, save for the soft rattling of the damaged blade and the labored sound of their breaths. The closest thing to a word that Sayaka speaks to Eri is a soft vocalized grunt. Her biceps strain, pushing out hard and round. Her fingers bend against their joints, unable to take so much as a moment to realign themselves. But nevertheless, the whip that killed Mami Tomoe is drawing the tip of Sayaka's sword away from Eri's heart.

With an explosive exhalation, Sayaka yanks a hand off her sword hilt and, even as her lone remaining hand loses control of the blade, catches its flat in her palm. Now bracing the sword from the side, Sayaka is able to force it back into place slowly, ignoring the way Eri's foot works at her ankle. Her blue eye strikes Eri's green in a glance like steel and flint.

Pushing up higher on her knees, Sayaka manages to get her elbow above the level of the hilt, and the sudden advantage in leverage nearly sends the blade right through Eri's chest. It halts, instead, at green fabric, and quiveringly descends, its rough edge crushing its way through the material to scrape Eri's skin. Sayaka is staring at Eri's eyes, feverish, as she leans her body weight down, the dull grain of the sword's broken end pressing into Eri's rib. It is a hideous intimacy, the likes of which she has never known. Eri's whole chest feels hollow and brittle beneath the sword.

We're all so frail. Sayaka never understood until Shinjuku.

Above Eri, Sayaka's face teems, as though polluted with liquid static. Eri can feel the pressure lift off a little, and she knows right away what it means: Sayaka is positioning herself to slam her full weight down on the hilt.

The squeak of a nearby footfall draws Sayaka's eyes up warily, but most of her focus remains on the struggle, right until her gaze lands on the girl above.

There is no definable moment of recognition or surprise. Perhaps there is always a part of Sayaka that is waiting for her best friend, when she is not around. Their eyes meet when Sayaka's are still steel, but Madoka is nothing of a stone. Sayaka cannot cut her. No, never Madoka.

But a Labyrinth was the least of the barriers between Madoka and this conflict. Sayaka and Eri share a hatred so profound that no one else can truly be privy to it, and so their battle takes place in a ream Madoka cannot enter. There will be no salvation tonight, not for anyone. For the innocents of Shinjuku,

--Sayaka's shoulders rise for the turn of the millstone--

for the cold corpse of Mami Tomoe,

--Sayaka's lungs fill, her stomach tightens and--

for the shattered heart of a girl who used to believe in the world, Sayaka chops down with her arms, pick-axing the sword into Eri Shimanouchi's chest.


Sayaka's resolve remains ironclad. It's just that... Madoka wasn't supposed to see this happen. Anyone else would have been fine.

Briefly, Sayaka's tongue touches her bottom teeth. In that moment, her arms relax, just a little.


The hilt twists out of Sayaka's hand so roughly it skins her palm. The flat of its blade flashes wildly as it swivels on a different axis with every rotation, a moment of pure chaos as Eri and Sayaka share control over the blade. The broken sword halts just as suddenly when it plugs solidly into Sayaka's stomach.

The fury leaves her all at once. Blue eyes stare blindly. Perhaps some revelation is granted in that moment, for Sayaka looks like she's deep in thought. But if some small knowledge passed between girl and steel, it is theirs alone. Sayaka's gently parted lips share no hint of it, as she lifts a hand towards the impaled blade. She touches it with such care, as if it were blown from glass.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Did Eri Shimanouchi see Madoka Kaname in those moments?

Would it change anything if she had?

The sudden jerking motion of the reversal has brought her up slightly out of her laying down position. Her hands still in their position right beside the broken blade on her whip. They hover in mid-air alongside the stabbing victim. Her breathing an irregular panting.

For whatever feelings of hatred she holds for this girl. She feels a strange sympathy pain for her in this moment - inflicting a similar fate on her that had once been inflicted upon her in an alleyway.

Something inside her twists though, the bitterness of those hypocritical feelings of betrayal drench her like a sudden shower of rain.

Some part of her wants to grab her wrist - but it's a very small part of her. A remnant of a remnant of a feeling of someone she once was.

The rest of Eri Shimanouchi wants to twist that blade in more deeply.

And that's the moment she catches a glimpse of matted pink hair. And there's a hissing of a sharply inhaled breath - like someone poured salt on her many wounds.

What does she want to say?

I couldn't let her take away the meaning from what I've done.

I couldn't let it be her.

I had promises to keep.

I'm sorry. We were... stupid.

All excuses.

In the end she doesn't give excuses to Madoka. Instead she whispers something to her foe - in ragged gasps, "I'm sorry..."

It must sound like some perverse jest - apologizing to her right now. She certainly isn't sorry for what she's done to her.

"... that she had to... see this too."

Except it isn't. In their awful duality right now - at least this is one thing she can communicate to her with something other than steel.

In her time as a Puella Magi she has inflicted so many horrors upon Madoka Kaname's mind and conscience.

This is the last thing she would have wanted to inflict upon the girl who reached out to her in that garden. Her first real friend...

If she loved her more - she wouldn't take her best friend away from her.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UUJVacmswM8

Kyouko soars...but mid crest the atrium vanishes around her. Reality swirls like the iridescent flux of spilled oil, lines contorting and elongating, shedding definition in curly strips. Kyouko blinks, floating through a nothing of sorts, her momentum carried over from when her spear had something solid to grip to. Is it over already?

Her hair rises as her arc descends, the ebb and flow of a transitional reality resolving itself into something more concrete. Cement dully thuds against her boots, her posture thrown wobbly by a sharp and sudden landing upon a surface that only just now blinks into being. Kyouko stands as her mind catches up with her there upon her mountaintop of metal and glass.

Madoka is not with her as the cool wind whips into her scarlet mane of hair. In short order she realizes that she stands on the wrong side of the high vaulted ceiling of the same airport terminal flooded over, not so long ago. Squeezing her eyes to narrow her vision against the buffeting air, she can't say if her imagination has arranged the blue and green dots peeking out from curved transparency, so many stories below. Slicing up in the air with her spear, she twists her hands in a quarter circle, and brings the flat of her blade down hard against the glass roof, pounding at it again and again to urge the spidering fissures of glass ever thicker in their tangles, eventually cracking a hole through its shell just large enough for her to slip through and fall.

And fall...fall as she fell not long ago towards another pair. The dance is different this time, involving different partners. It's them, she's sure of it now. No mere trick of the light. The closer she comes, the better she squints out the struggle that Eri and Sayaka are locked in. Terribly close...even now, is she too late?

Nearing groundfall, she jams her blade into the elevator shaft, unheeding of the terrible shriek she carves out in a furrow as her momentum is slowed. Just as she readies to leap down to earth, her eyes widen and her heart stops as a blade whirls about...and vanishes.

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

Madoka nearly kills herself scrambling down the powerless escalator, the notched edges of its steps treacherous, and her clumsiness exacerbated by the extremity of the moment. She winds up in a half-tumble, half-fall that ends with her palms scraping the marble floor. More sharp rubbery squeaks fill the air as she hastily rights herself and closes those last few feet, but they're drowned out by the screaming.

It might have been 'stop' but before she even had time to open her mouth up on the second floor, seconds ago, it was already too late, and what pours out of her instead may be wordless but is no less effective in expressing the fractured state of her heart.

She winds up on her knees behind Sayaka, a moment later, which leaves the bluenette filling a sandwich between her best friend and her worst enemy. Eri and more distantly Kyouko are able to see the wells of agony where her eyes should be, and whether they seek their own guilt or absolution there it is wholly projection, a funhouse mirror of their hearts, for right now her eyes are only for one person. Sayaka is able to infer the expression aurally, though, as the scream turns into hitched breathing and the occasional hiccup.

Distantly it occurs to Madoka that Sayaka will be mad at her for crying, but the tears refuse to stop, and they drip onto Sayaka's bare shoulders as she cradles her from behind -- reclaiming her weight, which she lost on the bench at the bus stop -- their bodies fitting together as perfectly as ever, like two puzzle pieces -- too little and too late.

Her skin practically glows against the complex and terrible darkness that is the Puella Magi's, but there is no shadow left between them because there is no space for it to dwell.

"Oh, Sayaka," she chokes through her thickened throat and the heart of glass that's pounding there. Her voice is as fragile as Eri's chest and Sayaka's stomach and Mami's tiny, beautiful little soul. "Sayaka, Sayaka... oh..."

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

Sayaka is sunken over herself. When Eri speaks, her eyes flicker, unmoved by the apology, but drained of aggression, and all other emotion besides. But mentioning Madoka in a hurtful way has always been the surest way to get a reaction from Sayaka, as Kasagami's overly boastful jaw learned to its detriment.

Sayaka's fist seizes a handful of Eri's collar, and for just an instant it seems as though she's made a fatal mistake, or at least a painful one. Sayaka is taller than Eri, and stronger, and though neither mattered much in their battle, up close like this it gives her a flash of animal intimidation, as though she were pushing Eri against a locker. Her other fist lifts a little. Sayaka has enough in her to...

...do nothing else. That last defiance loosens around Eri's collar as a sense of fatigue washes through Sayaka at the motion, and she lets her scabbed knuckles drop to her lap without further troubling Eri with them. Not even her eyes show a desire to kill, now. She just looks sad.

A small familiar warmth fits into Sayaka's back, and she lets herself sag into it. "Ma... doka," she whispers. "Nn. Don't worry." Her voice sounds a little dreamy. "It will heal soon."

Probably the first aid manual at the nurse's office Madoka frequents would say to leave this sword in, but it feels like it's going to slip out on its own, so Sayaka illustrates her comforting words by gently tugging on the hilt, letting the half-sword clatter down on the ground between her and Eri.

"See?" she says. And it is healing, yes, more slowly than usual. But looking down at her soul gem, already churning with something like liquid smoke, Sayaka feels a creeping fear. It would be better, she thinks, if she could stop healing.

If that's possible, Sayaka doesn't know how to do it. Instead, she gropes around with one of her hands, alongside her own waist, looking for small fingers to grasp.

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

Kyouko's teeth clench together, acrid water swelling up in her eyes. She feels cold, and she feels tired, and she feels hollow and small. This is it after all... the girl who wouldn't stop lies pierced by her own lethal intent, draped in the repose of her hardfought crusade, at last at its end.

Kyouko is certain of that. Even now, her mind considers and weighs. If Sayaka possesses any grief seeds, then she'll produce one now. But now is a fickle, fleeting moment, even now slipping away into then, and the now that will come will offer no room for the black luster the blue lady requires. That miraculous healing ability requires a magical fuel, and without it she is just a gutted girl, doomed to die slowly. If Sayaka lacks a seed, she lacks also a comrade to supply her one. There are no Puella Magi in the vicinity that would stand with her now.

She wants to help. She wants, quite badly, to do as she has done before...to produce one of her own seeds and to pull this girl back, again, from the brink that she cannot stop barreling towards. But Sayaka has been persuasive in her stubbornness and drive, and Kyouko knows that her focus will not be shifted. To save Sayaka is to prolong her demise and the war along with it, and to risk Eri's life and her own. She wants to help, but she can't have them both. Eri or Sayaka...and in that decision there is no real choice. Not for her.

Eri...poor Eri, so battered and bruised. Take away the sword in her stomach and Eri-chan doesn't seem to fare much better. This awful grinding gnash of heartless fate...it has chewed her Eri up something savagely. But there is another difference beyond the blade. Eri-chan has somebody at her side who will not allow her to spill into nothingness. Eri-chan has a friend who can do something, who will do anything, to protect her.

It would be wise, and perhaps merciful, to put Sayaka out of her misery here and now. That broken deer of a girl...but little hiccuping Madoka, sobbing saint of an unblemished soul...there would be no mercy in that for her. Madoka will have her last moments with her friend. Perhaps there will be no mercy in that, either...but it seems better to Kyouko to give her that. Better, too, to deny Eri-chan that burden...to spare her from the sin of finishing this in front of somebody she holds dear. Surely even Madoka could not forgive her best friend's executioner, not forget the image of the final coup de grace. Surely Eri chan would not forget the look on Madoka's face, either.

So many considerations...in Kyouko's mind, there is one thread that she can make out among the rubble, straight and narrow in its circumvention of all of those factors and truths. She will take Eri and go, and leave Sayaka to die in Madoka's arms.

Kyouko approaches, casting her spear to the ground in a clatter. Placing her hands on her knees, she bends over and looks down upon Sayaka. A tear falls from her eye to splash upon the chevalier's forehead.

"Sayaka-chan...I'm sorry. I wish it could be different. I wish you could be different. But then you wouldn't be you...would you. I'm glad to have known you, and to have been your friend." Screwing her eyes shut, her voice gives out, buckling under its own slippery encumbrance. "Goodbye."

Stepping away, she opens her eyes to see Eri beneath her, and she smiles a little smile. Bending low, a grief seed appears between her fingers, clasping tight to an off emerald gem that has seen better days, clutching the two together as tightly as rosary beads. Drinking deep of her companion's darkness, she pockets the seed and threads her arms under Eri's own, placing her forehead against her friend's, her breath softly sensed at this close distance. "You've done enough. It's time to go home...Eri-chan."

Kyouko straightens, slowly, and as she stands she lifts Eri with her, supporting her weight with her own. They do not move quickly, but they move all the same...stepping towards the world beyond this broken building, and whatever sad denouement awaits its last inhabitants.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The scream drowns out everything for just a few moments.

And then she's lifted up off the ground. Her eyes go wide. She thought it was done. Surely Sayaka Miki couldn't do anything else. Surely not. Surely trying to heal her impaled stomach would drain her dry. Her entire body has been ravaged by this battle - she can hardly even think to lift a knee to try to finish her with one sharp tap to the abdomen.

Instead she's stunned by the realization there's nothing left she can do to attack that she hasn't already done. Stunned she turns her head to the right and squints her eyes closed, the gesture obscuring her soul gem. It's an instinctive gesture - a survival one - like someone who knows she's about to get beaten badly and just trying to protect herself as best as she can.

The hand... on her collar comes free and the girl sinks to the ground, eyes prying open to stare at her latest victim in a sort of shock. Lips gaping a little like a fish. Like she wants to say something - like she wants the last iota of sympathy she has to escape as something hurtful.

Instead she hears the clatter of a spear. That metallic reverberation that's so familiar. Punctuated between each 'Sayaka...' or 'Oh.' it feels like the words are skewering her like that spear. Each one a knife of guilt for the harm she's inflicted upon that girl - or for turning up the heat of a stove incrementally to another.

And there she is - resplendant in red. Something sinks in her... for she knows... she knows...

What does she know?

And then those arms are around her. Scooping her up - in a reversal from that battle after Shinjuku. "Senpai..." It's only now that tears dot her eyes silently. Now that she's facing away from it. Now that she doesn't have to see it - only hear it.

'You've done enough.'

You're okay now.

'It's time to go home... Eri-chan.'

Whatever she was about to say is gone from her head without a trace. Between the tears behind her - and the words of Sayaka trying to comfort her... instead she just sinks into those arms, exhausted, drained despite the fact that her soul gem is as pure as it can be in this state now - thanks to her gift.

"Home." She repeats, like it's a strange choice of word for them both. She says this she leans her forehead against hers - closing her eyes.

It's fitting though isn't it?

"... sounds nice." She whispers as if she'd come to a certain decision about that word for the two of them.

That my future is a red one.

She's loathe to leave Madoka behind but... what can either of them do for her? What can she possibly say? The fact is that right now it feels like the best thing she can do for Madoka Kaname is to stay as far away from her as possible. All she's done is take and take and take from her. Her best friend is only on the latest of the list of casualties.

It's only once they've started to move, that she's instead started to rest her head against the other girl's chest again that she murmurs whisper thin, "...You know for a moment there when it got bad I wondered if I was going to make you break your promise..."

I'm not going anywhere without you.

"...I think that would have made me the worst possible kouhai you could ever have."