2018-10-03 - Reckoning IV

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Reckoning IV

Madoka and Sayaka share a quiet moment, until a Witch is born.


Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Homura Akemi, Kozue Kaoru, Kyouko Sakura, Eri Shimanouchi


Haneda Airport

OOC - IC Date:

10-03-2018 - 05-19-2015


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

Madoka's fingers are threaded into Sayaka's tightly, and they are beginning to breathe together, Sayaka's back against Madoka's chest, in -- out -- in -- out -- when Kyouko catches back up to them. There's a flash of hope when she hunkers down closer to their level that passes through Madoka's face -- she looks up, her lips part slightly, and a glimmer of something other than agony enters her eyes, just barely visible within the cloudy depths, like sunlight glinting off a shiny rock at that lake the Kanames and Sayaka all went camping at, some years ago. Sayaka and Madoka tried to get it, diving into the too-cold, too-dark blue, for an entire afternoon.

And -- persistence her strength -- Sayaka finally did succeed, of course, she emerged with the pebble clutched in her fist and they spent the next few hours drying out and chattering on the rocky lake shore until finally they were collected by a horrified Tomohisa who bundled them in blankets and filled them with cocoa.

The stone turned out to be just a stone, not gold or crystal, with hardly any explanation for why it caught their eye in the first place.

It's sitting inside Madoka's humble little jewelry box even now.

The finality of Kyouko's goodbye drowns that tiny flicker of light as surely as if she'd pinched out a candle between red-nailed finger and thumb, and Madoka shakes her head wordlessly, her sopping noodle twintails sticking and unsticking to the side of her head with each rotation, as her two old friends retreat from her one oldest friend. No what? No no. No no no no no no no no no.

But Sayaka is healing, right? Right? As the other Puella Magi retreat her focus narrows back to a pinprick, to the precious bundle of blue that she's holding. "Mm!" she whimpers affirmatively, to Sayaka's 'see?'. Gently -- so gently -- she scoots back on her knees to support Sayaka's descent from having to sit up to being able to lay her head on Madoka's lap. With her hand that isn't woven into Sayaka's, she smooths wayward strands of blue out of her face. From there she seems unable to stop touching her, worrying at one of her shoulders with her fingertips, rubbing carefully at one of the miserably rare little patches of unmarred skin, back and forth, back and forth.

Their breathing desynchs when she notices the Soul Gem, Madoka taking in a snotty little inhalation of both shock and recognition that almost leaves her coughing. But she can't jar Sayaka, she mustn't cough, and she swallows it somehow into another hiccup. After that any pretense of smooth breathing is lost, and a few more tears litter Sayaka's face.

Now Sayaka can see her, see the mix of drawn white fear and blotchy red misery that Madoka's expression has become -- see the tiny tremble in her lips and the dimple in her cheek as -- with the reflected awareness that she's being looked at -- Madoka forces herself to smile for her very best friend. It feels like it takes all those hours that they went diving for the stone, and in the end it's a shoddy facsimile anyway, just a twist of the mouth and bit of muscle action that has nothing at all to do with what makes a smile a smile.

But it has everything to do with what makes Madoka Madoka.

"I've got you," she whispers, tiny-voiced. "I've gotchu. I've gotchu. I'm here."

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

Madoka can feel Sayaka lift herself a little as Kyouko approaches, her shoulders pushing down on Madoka's to place herself more fully between Madoka and the approaching Shepherd. If her instinct to protect Madoka from Kyouko is a bit insulting at this point, her instinct to protect herself from Kyouko is unquestionably common sense. Her lips are tight as she tries to get up on her knees, one eye pinching shut with discomfort as her stomach has to tighten. If she lived in this body still, it would be a lot more than discomfort.

But that fearsome spear clatters to the ground, and Sayaka stops struggling, alarm turning to wariness, her breath desynching with Madoka's as she holds it. When Kyouko squats down and Sayaka sees the expression on her face, even that falls away. She lets her chest rise and fall slowly again, her chin bent towards her collarbone so she can look at Kyouko, due to how far she's leaning back against Madoka. Her breath catches ones again, but this time, because a warm little diamond has fallen onto her cheek.

Sayaka stares up at Kyouko, stricken.

She can't say anything back, at first, though her lips move a little. It's only when Kyouko has turned her back that Sayaka finds her voice. "Anko," she calls. And, when Kyouko looks, or doesn't, "Me too."

Subsiding against Madoka, Sayaka lets out a slow breath. Maybe she should have said 'Kyouko' for once. It's too late now. She lets Madoka guide her to the pillow of a very small lap, and looks up at the skylight for a while, as Madoka's little voice soothes her, over and over. Gently she feels around the edge of her stomach wound, her fingers bare beneath torn-up gloves. It's healing more and more slowly now, but it's almost closed. A few more seconds, no, perhaps a few more still... the wound finally seals up, grudgingly, leaving smooth stained skin behind. She'll live, now, she knows. Her thousand other welts, cuts, and punctures are gradually closing up, pushing out, and smoothing. She'll be all better soon enough.

Amicae Carae Meae - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ufFNCURN1w4

Just when Sayaka closes her eyes to wait, she feels a familiar tingle across her skin, and hears a fizzle in descending scale. Her Puella Magi armor falls away in ghostly bubbles, peeling back to reveal not skin, but the same dark blue track jacket, blue tee and jeans that Sayaka had been wearing when she fled Madoka last night. Her soul gem is once more a dull grey ring around her left middle finger, its corruption less prominent now due to its small size.

Tilting her head just subtly, to try and keep Madoka from following her gaze, Sayaka watches a long thorn-scrape on the back of her right hand. She wills the diagonal red line to shrink from its ends, to narrow to a dot and disappear, but it just sits there. It's a strange feeling, to be normal like she wanted, and feel nothing but trepidation.

Sayaka leans her head back again, her sky-blue eyes bright even in moonlight. Lifting her right hand, she carefully navigates the upside-down portrait of Madoka she sees from her perspective, and places her palm on Madoka's cheek. From this position, her thumb is resting downward, towards Madoka's jaw, which is novel. She scrapes it along that soft rounded line a few times.

"Ne, Madoka." Sayaka smiles up at her. "Do you have a band-aid?"

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

It's a fair question to the class nurse, but Madoka lost her purse what feels like a lifetime ago. Still, it's also now the most unexpected question from this particular asker, and surprise juxtaposed with the miserable irony of the answer startles a wet giggle out of her, and contaminates her fake smile with a little bit of reality, as though it's meeting Sayaka's in the middle. Her cheek presses into Sayaka's palm.

"No," she admits dolefully, then sniffs. "Sorry... Mama's gonna kill me, another bag lost." Running around Tokyo with her magical girlfriends has done nothing good for her reputation as a mature and trustworthy teenager who keeps proper track of her belongings.

Talking about something so mundane opens the floodgates, though, and she starts to burble softly like a little pink brook. Maybe it's seeing Sayaka back in normal clothes that draws it out of her, too, letting them finally talk about girl stuff, instead of magical girl stuff.

"That's the third one this semester, we picked it out together, remember, the one with the white flowers? You saw it in the window and I liked it so much... and it had that passionfruit-flavor lip gloss in it, and my rail pass, and a coupon Papa cut out for me for a free crepe, and my school ID, and my favorite band-aids, you know the ones."

Sayaka does. Like the umbrella, they have ducklings on them, and she has had them gently smoothed down on innumerable scratches, scrapes, and even bruises by a sometimes overenthusiastic nursemaid who would cover every inch of her patient with them if it would help her get better even one second faster.

While she's been talking, Madoka has also been fussing with the ribbon at her throat, which, drenched and dried twice, has become quite a nutshell of a knot. It is particularly difficult to crack because she's making no sudden movements, not wanting to jostle or jar the girl on her lap. Finally, giving up on dignity, she brings it up to her teeth and rips it open. After that she has a bandage, of a sort.

"Here," she announces, letting the red and white fabric weave through her fingers, frayed on one side. Whatever satisfaction was in her voice shifts quickly to tenderness instead.

"Show me where."

She's said those three words to Sayaka so many times...

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

This is normal like she wanted, too, listening to Madoka talk. Sayaka holds up Madoka's cheek absently as she rests, the explanation tugging the corner of her lips a few times. She shakes her head ruefully.

"How many times did you forget to use that coupon already? It has to be expired by now anyway."

No band-aid after all then. Perhaps she should have known.

But instead, Madoka pulls free her ribbon, and Sayaka blinks up at her. Hesitating a moment, she then slides her hand off Madoka's cheek, and lets it droop at the wrist to display the scratch. "Hey, how big a cut were you expecting?" she teases, but she submits her hand to Madoka's attention.

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

Sayaka is so good at making Madoka laugh, and it comes bubbling out a second time in a few minutes, this time a little less wet though no less sweet. In affectionate retaliation she chases the retreating hand with the tip of her nose, nuzzling the palm before it can droop.

A strand of mucus connects them when she sits back up, and "Oh, gosh," Madoka objects, taking the messy hand in both of hers and cleaning off the goop with the sleeve of her jacket. Only after that does she turn it over to examine the scratch, somewhat meditatively.

The first thing that comes into her head pops straight out of her mouth: "I've seen worse," and somehow it's horrible and hilarious and most of all it's so very, very true that it makes her laugh yet again, and she's crying again too. But after that first choking moment, her breathing is calm and her hands are steady as she wraps the fabric between Sayaka's thumb and forefinger, then across her palm and over the back of her wrist, before tying it in a neat and wholly impractical bow that perfectly resembles the ones in her hair.

"There," she declares, but she isn't quite done. Sayaka knows what's coming -- some magic spells are far more ancient than their acquaintance of Kyuubey.

"Abracadabra... chuu!"

She pecks the spot where the scratch is, under the fabric, and Sayaka can feel the warmth of her breath across her face. Passionfruit, as advertised, and a little salty, too.

"All better," she finishes, and now at last her smile is wholly genuine.

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

Sayaka doesn't mind her hand getting a little nose-water on it. The mucus that comes out when you cry is hardly snot at all.

"Hey," she objects, tired but warm. "Nurses aren't supposed to make fun of their patients."

She watches Madoka's face as she works, holding her hand up obediently for the gentle process. Sayaka's supposed to say "all better," too, and she does, though it takes her longer than usual. Exhaling away the scent of passionfruit with a sense of vague regret, Sayaka takes her hand back gently, and examines it studiously.

"I take it back," she says. "This works as good as a band-aid after all." Placing both hands on the ground next to her hips, Sayaka pushes down a little, shifting some of her weight off the ground without actually lifting herself. "Help me up?"

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


Gamely Madoka hooks her arms under Sayaka's armpits, then shifts from two knees to one knee to no knees at all, and then they're both on their feet. This makes it sound easier than it is -- if it were the other way around it would have been effortless even for Sayaka's normal body, and indeed executed countless times, but in this direction it is a small struggle. It involves a grunt and a squeak before it's done, and also the return of the tremors. It's obvious throughout that Madoka is concerned about hurting Sayaka, by moving too carelessly or too quickly.

"Okay?" she asks, afterwards, craning her head around from behind to examine Sayaka worriedly.

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

Once she has her feet beneath her, Sayaka is able to help, though she is wobbly. When she pushes her legs out to straighten herself, she pushes back into Madoka more than she should, her coordination off. But when she is standing, she seems to come to herself a bit. Taking her weight off of Madoka, she puts a hand on her shoulder instead, using the shorter girl as a cane. Steering Madoka, she guides them both to the round benches that spot the ground, and turning, seats herself heavily there.

"I just need to rest a minute," she explains. It's all catching up to her, and as she sits there, her eyes sink closed miserably.

"I guess I lost." Sayaka leans back against her seat and lets her tired neck relax, her head hanging, hands on her thighs. "All the things I said to you, all the people who had to get hurt for me to get here... and I lost again." Tears rise to limn her lower lashes, glowing as if the moonlight came from within them instead of without.

"I hope Kozue's okay. I wish... I just wish I could see her right now." Sayaka swallows.

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

Madoka's hip nudges up against Sayaka's as she plants herself squarely next to her, one arm gently slung over her shoulders, just like at the station. It is not a deliberate echo. It's just how things have always been. And this time, it feels right. So do the tears, though they're painful to see.

"We can call her--oh," her head sinks on her own shoulders -- her cell phone was another casualty of that bag. "When I saw her last, she was okay," she tries instead, words a little more hesitant after her immediate solution died almost before it left her lips. "I bet... she'll be here real soon."

But then, Madoka isn't Madoka if she doesn't keep trying to help. Even when it costs her something -- especially as it costs her something.

"Do you want me to go find her?"

As it does now. Madoka is all but electric with the need to stay by Sayaka's side -- but a single word from her, and she would go.

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

"No," Sayaka nearly cuts her off. "No," she repeats, more in control. "I don't want to be alone right now."

Shaking her head at herself, Sayaka feels even that anxious energy draining away. "Sorry. There's no reason for me to say that. Everything that's going to happened has happened already. So that's it, I guess. This..." The way she trails off seems to stretch to indicate everything before them, to make referent the condition of the world itself.

"...is everything. I'm not sure what the point was. Kozue was right." Sayaka's voice quavers ruefully. "This is a rotten city. Probably the whole world is rotten. Even magical girls only care about magical girls. I'm not any better, either. Did I really want to help people, or did I just want Mami-senpai to see me do it? She's the one who taught me the difference, but..." She trails off.

"When she died, I wished so badly that it had been me first. I didn't want to die, you know? But everybody does someday, and Puella Magi sooner than usual. Maybe I thought that after everything she did for us, I had to go first, or I'd never be able to repay her. Or maybe I just needed to be a knight that badly, and I don't know how to do it without her." Bitter words, cutting a circle around the truth without touching it.

"But I'm glad, now," she says softly. "It's so hard being second. I'm glad," her voice breaks on the paradox of that word, "that she never had to feel like this."

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

Madoka listens.

Her silence is as familiar to Sayaka as the soft warm weight of her arm, which has responded to the request to stay -- and, more importantly, the desperation behind it -- by tightening from a drape to a true embrace.

She doesn't agree with any of what is said. She doesn't shake her head or tense or tremble, but Sayaka can tell anyway because Sayaka knows who she is. She doesn't pretend, either -- no agreeable little grunts, no affirmative squeezes. No, her cuddles are unconditional.

Her weight shifts from one hip to the other and back again, though, as her discomfort grows with the awareness that Sayaka is starting to feel worse, not better.

But what can she say? What are the magic words? Abracadabra-chuu can't fix this wound too.

Sayaka can feel Madoka thinking, can see the thoughts racing in helpless circles behind her bewildered, squinty eyes, as though they're going to dribble out of her lower lip. It's the exact look she has when sensei demands that she stand up and read the next section, but she doesn't know the place because she's been doodling in the margins.

No, that's not right. She's been following along.

It's the exact look she has when sensei demands that she do the next problem on the board. But she can't, because she doesn't know how.

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

"It's all coming apart," Sayaka says softly. She has not returned the embrace, or even leaned into it. Madoka's silent attention lulls her, however, and the hug makes her feel safe--no, not safe. But it lets her be honest, somehow, more than she could have been otherwise.

"I couldn't handle that much territory forever. I'm so tired... I think my body won't let me get sick anymore. But it's..." Sayaka makes a circular gesture with a finger. "In my head, somehow."

A little breath chuffs through Sayaka's mouth, the dry dust at the bottom of a girl emptied of laughter. "I tried so hard, and it would have been better if I didn't do anything. The wards I wanted to protect are going to collapse and have more Witches than ever, soon. Because of me, Mami-senpai died, Kozue and Miki hate each other, and the city's only gotten worse. I even left Nori-chan to clean up my mess."

Shifting to look down at Madoka directly for the first time in a while, Sayaka sets her lips in a tremulous line. "Don't make a contract, Madoka. This world doesn't want to be saved. It'll fight you if you try. And you'll lose."

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

Madoka is getting lost inside her own head. She's still listening, but Sayaka knows the signs -- knows how her best friend can be so close right now and yet so far away. It's hard to compete with the chorus inside Madoka's fluffy little head, which keens and wails about her failure to say anything, to do anything --

-- some of them have Sayaka's voice, now, for the first time in her entire life.

But she is listening and she is close and the Sayaka in front of her is so, so much more important and precious than the Sayaka inside of her who sounds like yesterday's Sayaka.

Today's Sayaka is even more painful to listen to, but it is, if not a good kind of pain, at least an honest kind.

And today's Sayaka can see that exact moment when Madoka snaps back into focus -- when she intakes a sharp little breath -- when she lifts her chin so that their eyes, moon-brightened blue and pink, can meet.

When the first tear in a while rolls glumly down one cheek, and she swallows, and she finds her truth.

"I don't want to save the world," she whimpers, reaching up with her other hand to place her palm on Sayaka's cheek, to trace her cheekbone with a thumb. Reflected in silver and marble are two girls on the floor, and in posture they could be one another, not five minutes ago. "I just want to save you."

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Decretum - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IQ_V5fuxVmM

Sayaka doesn't lean into Madoka's palm. Can she even feel that, anymore? The words reach her, and those, she feels. But from the expression on her face, what she is feeling is pain. Her eyes well up again, her lips touched with sad irony.

"Protecting you, Madoka... it's the only thing I've done since the contract I can feel proud of." One corner of her lip pulls back, but it's not a smile. "...that's what I've wanted to tell you. But that's a lie. Whatever I saved you from, I put on other people instead. Do you understand?" She sniffs. "I thought I was't a Chevalier anymore, because I wished I let the Witches kill people so Mami-senpai could live. But that's how it always works. Do you get it? Any time we give happiness, we're taking it away from someone else, even if we're not trying to. And every day there's a little less to go around."

Tears are streaming down Sayaka's cheeks as she opens her far palm, revealing her egg-shaped soul gem, neat in its golden sconce. How long has she been clutching it? At some point she must have transformed it from a ring and taken it into her hand. What droplets of blue remain in its poisonous depths are wracked and struggling, fleeing with nowhere to go. The smooth, crystalline surface of the gem, ever-pristine even when its insides churned in the past--is now riven with cracks.

"There's no such thing as a Chevalier," Sayaka says, as if it were a little funny, but it's just her voice quavering. The remaining shreds of blue twist briefly, as if stirred. Sayaka doesn't seem to notice, tearful eyes on Madoka. "And anyone who tries to make people believe there's such a thing as justice," she says, "deserves to be punished."

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

"N-no," Madoka protests, softly but not weakly, halfway on top of Sayaka's requiem, her higher timbre creating a desperate descant even as a mermaid's tears get caught by her thumb. "D-don't, it's not, it's not like that..."

But the sight of the Gem shocks her into silence -- and startles her into motion.

Her eyes are huge and pink in her drawn white face, but they can't add enough color to the world to make up for what's been lost.

Her hands fly to one another, clutched prayerfully in front of her chest, wrung tight with horror and distress.

And then the two girls aren't touching anymore.

"Sayaka," whispers Madoka.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Puella in Somnio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGgLSTOpTI4

In the end Homura Akemi does not give up surmounting Kozue and Cassandra's unprecedented vortex herself so much as she perceives the situation, and thus her priorities, shifting. Ever adaptable, the violet magi shifts to match.

So it is that Homura distances herself from the imperiled center of her universe in order to save her. It will not be the last time and it is certainly not the first. She trusts Madoka's physical safety to the crimson-edged custody of Kyouko Sakura and leaves them both to the Labyrinth below the summoned saltwater churn. Homura will defend Madoka's soul.

It is... less difficult to escape the angry waters headed away from Haneda Airport, though neither HiME nor Child make it easy. She feels the wave-battered bruises as she runs, hidden as they are beneath the drenched angles of her henshin outfit. They don't slow her hunt.

There...! The sinuous flick of a white tail disappearing into an alley, headed in the direction of Haneda Airport. Homura Akemi draws no satisfaction from her accurate read of the situation. She draws a long-barreled shotgun from her shield instead, and pursues.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Time - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iA2fgBnGPBU

Through watery firmament Child and HiME drive, a sensation of breath being stolen away from Kozue. Before the rush of air returns abruptly and she returns into a freefall-dive. The airport is so small up here - yet it's growing larger by the moment, distending and having greater resolution from her eyes.

Kozue pushes her drenched bangs away from her forehead with a certain anxiety even as the waterskimming scatters more over her, her display having washed away all signs of makeup more thoroughly than battle. An arm clings to Cassandra's neck as she sits upon her neck. The bird looks like it is suffering - it's wings and armor scoured with wounds too numerous for counting.

Now she can make out fine details the arch - the seperate terminals. The hole cloven in the rooftop that marked her departure. "There - there!" The waterfall dive becomes a gentle curve that she nevertheless takes at full speed, scattering droplets that shimmer in the moonlight as they fall like rain on the runways.

She passes by the cracked portal in the glass without sparing a glance. Onward and over...

The whole airport just feels... too... quiet...

"Sayaka." She whispers, before working one leg around Cassandra's neck, and hiking herself up to one foot. Then another, before wrapping her Element around the Child's neck. As Cassandra passes overhead... "Sorry about this girl."

The Child does not even squawk in protest as she uses the friction of the chain to rappel down by the sickle, the weight eventually catching. The HiME lets go - while the chain clanks as it's rapidly drawn back up by the forward momentum of the Child drawing it over the rooftop. She hits the ground heavily in a hard roll, eyes stinging. Then pushing up with a palm, she brings herself up to a wobbly standing position.

And starts to run, soaked footsteps squeaking upon the tile as adrenaline pushes her to ignore her injuries beyond a limping gait. Shadows loom high as she plays hide and seek with the moonlit illumination - hightailing it towards the staircase, taking the steps down as rapidly as she can, then as she crosses to the juncture, she slides over the railing and takes the next flight at a stumbling run.

Throat bobbing with anxiety, she skids down the next flight, misses the jump and instead makes a hairpin turn to the next floor - rushing towards a stopped escalator and double timing it straight down. And down again - and down.

It was not so long ago that she was there - alone - miserable. Thinking that the other girl would never come. Perhaps under these circumstances while her senpai's death looms so large - she wouldn't think to summon her. That kind of pride doesn't matter to her right now after all they've been through. She knows she needs her.

And so she'll come for her no matter what.

Leaping over the rail of the stairs half-way down she comes to the final floor. Landing hard on her knees. And continues to break into a jog.

The central shaft is out of focus - until she gets closer. Closer. Details and definitions start to be made clear as the lighting slices further across them.

Sayaka upright.

Sayaka alive.

Sayaka with Madoka.

She can't voice her relief under the heaving of her chest, oxygen burning as it forces its way into her chest.

Panting with relief she paradoxically speeds up rather than slowing down. Further and further. The girl arriving dripping wet, clothing clinging. No Element. No Child in sight.

Just her.

She can see Madoka breaking contact with Sayaka, even as she speaks. "Sayaka..." Her fatigue scrapes like sandpaper in her voice and it's that moment that the lighting reveals the final blue droplet of vitae drowning beneath the shadowy weight of despair. "I'm..." Her eyes catch it and in that moment the second of the words conjoined are already coming, "...here."

However that final word has faltered under the new information given unto her eyes - it is something quieter now, like that relief has been snuffed like a candle's flame, to suffocate her in the lingering smoke left behind.

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

Sayaka had practically begged Madoka to stay with her, but she's unable even to look at her anymore. She feels thinned out; barely here at all. Her eyes have lost focus, staring out into the slanting sheets of moonlight that hold up the roof. Beyond their misty dim, the shadowy halls go on and on, heading down into the terminal, to a hundred closed doors that could take her on a hundred different journeys. But Sayaka Miki has been here too long already.

"Things never hold still, do they?" she murmurs distantly. Tonight's moon has hollowed her cheeks a little, and the moon of many nights proceeding has creased the skin beneath her eyes. A soft breath leaves her nose, as Sayaka becomes a little smaller. "Not even for a second."

The little smile she makes costs too much for what it's worth. It is brittle, tiny, and tasteless. But what's left to spend herself on? Like a duellist mortally wounded, she must lift the palm to acknowledge her defeat. She must recognize what has been done. As tears stream down from the crest of her cheekbones, slow where it is fat and fast where it is thin, so that in only an instant it becomes perfectly round. Submission will be her final act of defiance.

"I really was... so stupid."

As the gently wobbling teardrop falls, the final droplet of blue vitae in the soul gem is drowning away, winnowed by the instant. Inside what the gem has become, it can last no longer than a tear on a hot pan. But even as it turns to the tiniest scintilla of azure steam, a shadow has peeled away from the hallway, girl-shaped, waterlogged, urgent. It would be a beautiful story, if Sayaka's eyes could focus just then. If the girl in the window came back, after all.

Tell yourself it happened.

The teardrop turns to atoms. It fell upon the fossil of a dream; anything would have shattered. And now you can't see anymore. But you can look.

So look: the tails of a stately jacket. The upraised arms, fingers pinching a sliver of bone. A blue head bowing the moment before the orchestra is struck.

Look: the spotlights overlap, blurring away the figure within, making of him (of her) a photograph of a ghost.

Look: Sayaka's legs are too small to reach the ground, her shiny round shoes dangling. She always thought there was something beyond what she could see, something outside and inside and between. But she is about to hear it.

Look, because it's your last chance. She doesn't want any of it back anymore.

OST - Hero - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6bo14aOe1I

The gem cracks open and it cracks the light along with it, exposing jagged white bolts of it around Sayaka. They seem to char her to a blank grey, her face ghoulishly deprived of all features. All she has left is one gaping white cavern of an eye, sobbing furiously down her cheek as it lifts its blind hatred to the sky. She stands atop a shadow that seems no less real than her body, but it is twisted and wracked.

The room itself recoils. A shockwave hits the ground beneath Sayaka's feet, leaving her untouched but driving everything else away. Small bits of debris blast along the tiles, the hollow metal casing of the escalator endures with an audible tin wobble, the skylights high above clatter in their frames. A withering wind, easily capable of lifting a person, bursts as an aftershock, but it doesn't let up, howling as it escapes the soul gem.

On her feet somehow, Sayaka has her palm held limply forward still. Atop it, the gem finally shatters completely, marbley grains of it parting in a single instant of violence that reveals the spindley, eye-like outline of




that distends until it looms, until it seems at once to rest on Sayaka's palm and yet stretch story-by-story to the distant ceiling. From its base, roads are stretched to lay an imperious claim--no, not roads, musical staff, but in cold grey iron. And once the entire chamber is taken, it floods, great churning bubbles rising through dry air, dry walls rippling as though lost beneath the sea.

Above, streaming through the skylights, two vast blue tongues of light are twirling slowly.

Sayaka topples to the side, expended, her lanky body about to hit the tile hard when the floor drops away entirely. That half of the room becomes a blotchy sheet of parchment, like a mouldering opera pamphlet, ten stories tall and covered in scrawled notes and wriggling alien script. This censorious tractate buckles beneath whatever it is trying to conceal, as though straight razors were being dragged lengthwise along it, and soon enough it ruptures, vomiting bubbles, to reveal a chamber transformed. Vaguely spherical, its floor has sunken, dragging checkerboard tiles down the way a sheet is sucked into a gasping mouth. Wires or hairs or snapped violin strings or something drape obscenely from the ceiling, leading down in the far distance to a knob-headed horror. It is something like a ball of yarn and needles crossed with an empress, and it is so far that its face cannot be seen. And then it is so close that one can see nothing else.

Overfilling the room, crater-sized metal disks blast you with their anguish, and a grille of metal shrieks an afterbirth scream. The tightly pressed bars may as well be holding back a thousand grasping demon hands.

And in just enough time for a heartbeat to stop dead, the monster is neither close nor far. It dominates the chamber, burdened by its own size, by the weight of its overheavy armor. Baleful is its very mass, its weight in the universe. It is a dragon. It is a mad king. It is a bloody altar.

Before it, Sayaka's small body falls.

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


Black where blue should be.


Sayaka is crying but the short distance between them is infinite when you're immobile.


A burble deep within, the opposite of a virgin spring.


Sayaka is speaking but it sounds like she's so so so far away.


Cracks, cracks everywhere.


Pink pinholes where her eyes should be, Madoka is a statue.


Ashes, ashes, we all fall down, Sayaka is a corpse.


Panic beats its wings against horror's frozen cage until, bruised and battered, it breaks free, finds Madoka's voice, and activates it.


In the same moment, the piece of porcelain becomes a girl again. But she has no more ability than a china doll to resist being swept up by the shockwave, swept away by the tide, hurled twintails over heels off the bench and through the air. One of her shoes is torn right off.


She can't hear herself scream and that makes her scream all the harder, her eyes squeezing shut and her face distorting long and twisted and strange.


But only bubbles emerge, iridescent pink rendered cotton candy blue in the same way that reality alters out the other side of a sepia photograph. Even lighter and smaller than she, they fly further and faster. Acceleration tugs them into oblong shapes, blown glass gone horribly awry, they cannot hold, and pop--

--the airport fills with sound--

It is wordless.

It is agonized.

It is terrified.

It is Madoka.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fg5tg0-6Yw8

Kyouko steps gingerly amidst the serrated metal debris and jagged concrete rubble strewn chaotically about the terminal floor. She walks slowly, for the ground is hazardous, and her cargo precious. Eri-chan is still in her arms for the moment, and though her weight doesn't particularly slow the spearfighter's conscientious departure, she is all too aware of her friend's weakened state, and the recency of her restored flesh.

A single word shrieks out behind her, and the skin on her neck crawls like a carpet woven from strands of living ants. Kyouko knows screams, and the wrongness of this sound would be obvious to an amateur. An anguished wail is one thing, even a cry of catastrophic pain sounds different than this. Those pink letters are sharp to the touch, a cornered sound, the panicked animal shout of a creature in peril and tremendous fear.

Kyouko stops, and looks down, locking eyes with Eri, holding her gaze for a long moment, but saying nothing. And then she turns.

Her hair blows back in the breeze..the breeze? Is there such a wind in this guttered monolith? Or is it the decayed remnant of something else, the distant whimper of a mighty roar? Kyouko's weight shifts as her posture tenses. The ground beneath her feels ever so slightly strange, as though the solid surface supporting her is overlaid by a second surface tension, more mutable than the first.

More fluid....

"I don't wanna leave her...but I'm not leaving you..Eri-chan..got any more room left for excitement tonight? Can you stand, in case you need to?"

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> No Light No Light - Florence and the Machine - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cun2trxHyuM

To protect your story, you would be best served leaving your companion to destruction.

Look a tragedy. The girl not even quite realizing that's what it has become yet. A Prince - a Knight, so overwhelmed that she does not even know the girl in the window had come back.

The girl in the window though is also the girl who has hurt her so much. The girl who has punished her kindness with reinforcement that the world is rotten. Some might say it's only fitting that her iniquity is punished... because she never got to tell her - for how much she considered the world rotten.

I'm so stupid that it's- it's funny.

That the other girl made it better for her simply by existing in it. A teardrop shimmers-

And in that second is the last time Kozue sees Sayaka Miki as she knows her. There's motion in her limbs that are in the throes of panic, as she's caught in this moment of profound apprehension of what's happening. She's the girl in the window, the wicked princess, she is so many things and nothing all at once in this moment. She is Kozue. And she knows she's losing something precious right now...

Except she doesn't know how horrifically right and wrong she is. The gem cracks and she's between seconds, between movements eyes fixated upon the horror. The shockwave slams into the ground and into her and it buoys her off of it, carrying her away, as blue bubbles burble out of her lips and become distorted in color and shape.


The motion of her being tossed away causes a strange unlight to catch those...




So many thoughts enter into her head. Of all the things she didn't say. The conversations unwritten. The conversations where she wishes she could take something back. The pain. The desire. The feelings she cannot even describe. Everything at once.

I don't forgive you. And I don't understand you. I don't know why you do those things. I just... don't care. I don't care anymore.

It's not dissimilar from the look those eyes held after Homura Akemi placed a hole in her heart, and in that is a desperate denial.

In that denial her Element returns at her silent call, as she skewers its shimmering appearance into tile as she reaches out to catch ahold of Madoka's hand, the chain billowing out behind her. Kozue holds on with a death grip which feels like it might dislocate the other girl's joints as shapeless words slide out of her mouth as bubbles.

Then her eyes catch it - a grief seed.

She knows enough at least to realize she's witnessing the advent of a witch and a curse becomes more bubbles, a torrent of them artfully lifting away in strangely awful blue shapes, like each bubble was greying beneath the weight of her curses. However her mind cannot make that awful connection required to fully do it as the labyrinth forms around her, as she has a sensation of drowning, bubbles drifting out of her mouth - music in her ears.

The alien world that seems so strangely familiar as places from her youth distorted. The creature looms over her both terrible and beautiful. And yet she's focused on the girl in front of her as the expansion drops and the two hit the ground, crawling up to a knee she unhooks her Element - then her hand from around Madoka's as the sensation of drowning leaves her throat. And actual blessed sounds are uttered, "I'm going... I'm going TO GET HER!" The words feel like half a desperate scream themselves - suppressed before - unleashed now, the look in her eyes wild.

The disks of metal that make the witch eyes fixate upon her from on high, towering over the corpse of the girl she's been through so much. She does not know how she will reach her. She just has to.

It is the only chance she has that they continue writing their story together.

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

Eri's eyes have been closed for a while. Profoundly exhausted, she's just leaned against Kyouko in a liminal trance somewhere between sleeping and waking. However there's an awful sensation that runs throughout her. A magical experiment gone so wrong, like two children playing with something they didn't really understand - like fire.

That feeling is just as intense as any soundless scream, and her lashes flare open to present her green eyes to her senpai's stare. "..." Stunned into silence, that horrible sensation grows as the pink unscream rises in the air. Before flinching as the wind covers them, as if she's seeking the other girl for succor. She endures it against her.

That terrible, awful feeling.

Like the weight of her sins pressing down against her - haunting her again. It's easier, when she's with her.

And once it's over... once that fluid music and strange world is around her... Kyouko makes her request, and Eri shifts a leg. Something sparkles as a vine twists around her mauled leg, steadying the joint. She toes her other one down first, before balancing her weight, and leaning up against her, hooking an arm around her so she won't burden both of her arms.

"... Don't worry..."

It's a whisper, yet a resolute one once the world is one capable of sounds rather than bubbles...

"...I'm your kouhai, after all."

As she said to Sayaka not so long ago - she doesn't have to survive 'anything'.

Just the next thing. Then the next. One thing at a time. It's what Kyouko taught her. To survive in the cruelest possible circumstances this world could throw at her, one step at a time.

Steadying herself up straight against her, she doesn't force her to make that choice. She would never force herself to make that choice when it comes to Madoka Kaname's life.

"Let's go get her."

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

Homura Akemi hears it happen.

She's midair, her costume's ruffles and angles fluttering upward and drying in the wind of her descent from the top of the airport's parking garage. The sound emerges from the surrounding black, a ghost's birthing howl made stranger yet by echoes off concrete and glass. It echoes strangely in the circular halls of Homura's memory as well. She recognizes it the way distortions of a song ring familiar through the static of an out-of-tune radio station.

Soundtrack: NIN - Another Version of the Truth, Remix https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFH4absfbxc

Homura hears it happen, and she knows.

Here is a list of the things the old soul in the young girl's body does not feel: Shock. Sorrow. Confusion. Horror. Vindication. Regret. She has repeated more timelines than there are stages of grief since she first heard this sound and learned its meaning, its... implications. The lack of expression on her cold, pale face does not change; her legs are graceful and sure, her knees unwavering, as she touches down on pavement.

Here is what she feels: Bone-deep weariness. Worry. On the heels of that, a trickle of adrenaline.

How close was Madoka? What happened to Eri? Is Kyouko with them?

She runs, through a world alternately living and frozen.

<Pose Tracker> Sayaka Miki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Venari Strigas - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bta-3a8wncI

For a few seconds, there is relative calm. A ribbon ripples on the monster's behemoth chest as the wind dies down. Sayaka is falling--it feels slow, not the way it would in the movies, but as though Sayaka were unusually light. Past sickly-dark scales she drops. Beneath her, there is a some sort of furniture, glossy and white. Everyone present is viewing it from behind, so it takes until just before Sayaka reaches it to recognize its shape.

A grand piano. Sayaka hits it with an off-tune clangor of strings, instantly knocking the stand over so the lid slams down neatly over her. There is no sign of struggle from within, despite Sayaka's famous tenacity. It just seals like the lid of a coffin, and sits silently.

The monster's arms curl in on themselves, metal grinding, taut with unearthly might. It bellows across the chamber, a chord played of many screams at once, and as if in response, rails of steel burst from around its base, ripping their way into the sky in rows of five--a musical staff.

The monster's scale seems fixed, now, and it is vast. It could easily fold anyone in this room entirely within its palm. The regal high collar of its cape seems like some sort of mockery--of those present or the monster itself it is not clear--but the joke is grim indeed. As the musical staves reach a certain height, they bend over violently, setting to tumble numerous rolling wheels. They look like they come from some old-fashioned carriage, their spokes painted gold.

Surely this is a Witch. Kozue and Madoka are closest to it, but they are not the ones directly in its field of vision, and so none of the wheels are aimed at them. It is Eri and Kyouko who will have to contend with them. If they had the right sort of childhood, perhaps it will remind them of a demented toy racetrack. When the wheels run out of staff, they plunge forward and down, their aim irregular; they only target the general direction of Kyouko and Eri, and it's hard to tell if it is even an intentional attack on them. It may just be lashing out. But regardless, the wheels are numerous enough that some are aimed dead-on, and will have to be dealt with.

Kozue, much closer, lands with Madoka near the edge of where the checkered ground dips into a great concavity. Witch and piano alike are at its nadir, and at least for the moment, the former is not looking at them. The descent is steep enough that it is just barely climbable by mundane means; Madoka would risk skidding down on her butt, though the tiles are smooth and even oddly yielding, so there is no intrinsic danger in that.

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

The scream stops as abruptly as Madoka's hand is held.

It's a one-way grip as reality distorts around them; Kozue has her wrist more than her fingers, and Madoka flaps behind her like a mad banner in a hurricane. But their eyes come together, then, in both place and purpose. Denial, indeed. No. No no no no no no no no.

And when she comes to rest upon what passes here for ground, she is only ragged and torn, not broken.

Kozue's announcement breaks over her like a wave of relief. "Please!" she cries back instantly, gratefully. Not gladly. Gladness cannot exist in a place like this, much less at such a time. Gladness was already a fading memory after Shinjuku. Now it is almost satire, heresy.

She risks a moment to desperately scan the area around them, her body twisting with her gaze, her twintails paradoxically unable to keep up, instead floating slowly upwards around her head like a strange halo, seeking something very small and very white.

But he isn't here. Or there. Or over there. How is it that he was always on hand when she was considering wishing for cake, but at times like this...

She shakes her head a final time, this not to look outside but to clear what lies within. Where Kozue is wild, Madoka is now, if not preternaturally calm, at least... focused. She continues to quiver like a leaf, her body betraying her heart with vibrations that make her teeth chatter in staccato counterpoint to the insane beat of the unholy orchestra.

But her soul is still inside its flesh, and sometimes, at times of greatest need, it comes to know a small shining thing called courage.

"I'm coming too!"

She is sliding down the side of the hole before she even knows what she's doing, before the words even leave her mouth. She is sprinting towards the piano -- and therefore, towards the Witch, whose appearance strikes a certain terrible chord in her that in this moment she is unable to translate from the music of the spirit to the music of the mind. It's the piano that matters right now, and what lies within.

Frantically she jams her fragile little fingers beneath the lid, trying to get a good grip and lever it off. For the first time she becomes aware that she's slick with cold sweat. She slides... and catches.

She heaves until the edge of the lid reaches the scant height of her wobbly arms. She does not look inside -- she looks at Kozue.

"Please!" Madoka repeats. Please help. Please grab her.

Please save Sayaka-chan.

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

Sayaka happens to be resting her head on an outstretched arm, there where she lies atop a brazen mattress of wire. Her lips are slightly parted, her tired eyes closed. Her limp body does not respond to the wedge of light Madoka's trembling arms admit into her stately coffin.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PxeiXbP3cK8

Kyouko smiles down as Eri's eyes flutter open into something more like consciousness, as she wordlessly conjures up a splint for her battered limb and stands with the cautious tremulousness of a fawn. Her kouhai. It's true..and Kyouko is her senpai. She won't let the other girl down. Not tonight.

The ground, the air, the walls and the skies all warp into something far more alien as they walk. Creeping along the parchment, bubbles flittering from her nostrils, there is little ambiguity in her mind or in her heart. It could only be a labyrinth, recently hatched into existence and unfurling all around them. Kyouko and Eri had not made it far, when they walked from the broken battleground. It seems that they will not have to walk far now.

Kyouko sees the conductor, monstrous in guise and proportion. Snarling her lip, combative and feral, she tenses her muscles and takes a step in front of Eri. "Don't show off. Save it for if you need it, kouhai." There is a lot to drink in, too much to scan all at once. But Kyouko's senses are no strangers to such environs, and she is drawn first to motion. The careening wheels spinning their way towards them, wild and barely controlled like a stampeding herd kicking up dust. Reaching an arm back to steady her companion, her free hand casts a wide arc, and spines burst from the ground to form a jagged wall of acutely angled spears, catching the spokes by their tips.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

Kozue's shoes start to slide down the tile at the dip of the ground. Bending at the knees like she's on a surfboard that's riding a wave, she hits the bottom like it's a bass clef and pivots wildly as her momentum keeps her going unto the lid of the strange grand piano. Even as Madoka declares she's coming.

Don't be stupid!

It is her reflexive response. Yet it's all wrong. It's all wrong to the girl who headbutted her to save her friend. To the girl who was willing to jump off a building for Sayaka. To a girl whose known her almost as long as her - and who has known her meaningfully for far longer. That reflex is smothered and instead blurts out something stupid, "Quickly! Before it notices us!"

After all. Someone once taught her that the stupidest things are done together.

The momentum of the slide takes her closer, as her knees bend down, and then at the moment she reaches bottom of the clef - she starts to run alongside her, almost ramming into the lid head on. For once she's grateful for their enemies for the distraction...

Though that gratitude might change into desperate protectiveness soon enough.

Madoka gets her fingers under it first, and Kozue shoves a palm up underneath more forcefully in a synthesis of effort. Her opposite hand fumbles at the stand to wedge it up into its place in the groove in the lid. Heaving herself over the side with both hands, the strings make muffled dissonant dins as her weight causes the strings to vibrate as her torso strikes them.

Kozue reaches out to tug at Sayaka's limp arm to draw her close, "Come on... come on..."

Then letting herself slide back to the ground over the edge. The mere act almost bringing her to tears in this small desperate triumph.

Got you. I've got you.

It brings to mind a cascade of water - a descent into an abyss. If only she would wake up... if only...

Instead she slides her over her shoulder, then lowers herself and with a motion tries to more securely balance the weight.

"Got her! Now run! RUN!"

With her Element shifted into her other hand - she has no hand for Madoka Kaname now. All the same... she'll run together with her in this futile attempt to protect the girl who means the world to them both.

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

What happened here?

It's a question that's in Eri's mind as she tries to keep up with her senpai, tries not to hinder her too much. The witch is vast even by the standards of witches. Fighting it in this state would be suicide. She hasn't even recovered from her duel with Sayaka - and a witch. This is already like facing a witch equally monstrous on that day in the Shinjuku Metropolitian after Yaori fell.

Yet defeating it is not their goal.

The corpse of the girl descends... to be claimed by the lid of the piano.

It feels too much like that day already. Like everything is mocking her. How it parallels to it - how everything belongs to her, and has nothing to do with her. So far out of her control. A terrible twisted convergence of the cruelest things this world has to offer in some awful home movie.

"This can't be real..." The girl says mutely with this odd sense of distance. As if at any moment she'll wake up, and that other world will be more real than this one again.

Don't show off.

Her senpai's voice grasps her out of that sense of distance, draws her back, "... that's almost funny coming from you."

Before it had been bluster - now it's just sheer fatigue that's still laced with affection, like she's just tired of even... dealing with this, moving by sheer muscle memory.

Reaching across the midline, she tiredly removes a lash out of her opposite sleeve. Coiling it - she knows her goal. Defend Kyouko. Save Madoka. Save herself.

The wheels come and she trusts her senpai to deal with most of them. Which she does with usual ferocity - spears catching like her senpai was running a ring toss.

Instead her lash snaps into the air as the whip wraps around one wheel spared the frenzy of pikes in three places, gumming up the spokes even as its momentum keeps carrying it forward.

"Hnnnh!" Shifting her weight, she heaves with her arm and tugs it off course as it slams into the orchestral seats- clipping her shoulder as it goes.

Panting, her head dips - her green bangs dipping to frame her weight as she singles out the pink-haired girl below.

"...we'll have a good laugh about it later..."

Eri whispers - so tired that now, wanting to curl up and cry herself to sleep rather than deal with what she's dealing with right now, she cannot. Knowing there will be no laughter later. Because she's stolen it from their lives.

"...after I wake up..."

All she has to do is survive until its ending...

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

The violet magi appears out of nowhere, amidst howling nightmare and between the bounces of gilt wheels. It is how she often appears, and she appears as she often does: composed and impassive, her clothes and dark hair in motion around her while she stands unmoving.

In the same moment, a trio of pipe bombs appear in the path of a handful of wheels slaloming toward Kyouko and Eri. Their red eyes blink; Homura does not. The detonation opens a wheel-free blast window of opportunity which she steps into, and suddenly she is by the side of the two puella.

She does not look their way. Violet eyes are fastened close to the beast whose realm they now inhabit and, more to a point, they are fastened upon Madoka, who is far too near to it on her dangerous, pointless rescue mission.

Why? Why must she always risk herself? Why must she be so damned /brave/?

Neither does Homura miss the proximity of Kozue, though, and brutal expedience drives her, so she swallows the scream in her throat and stays where she is. First she must see her allies safe, the fierce and ruthless puella whom Homura Akemi has invested so much of her energy and time into this time around. The two girls who are her Walpurgisnacht strategy, the two who might change everything for her.

Perhaps they have already changed something, if only in Homura Akemi herself.

Because with her gaze still on Madoka Kaname she extends her trust to them both via an arm held out to Kyouko Sakura.

"Take my hand."

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

Sayaka's tall, fit, and as limp as a bag of sand, so she's a fairly significant burden for her girlfriend, when grasped at full extension by the wrist. But by determined effort, Kozue drags her close, hugs her to her chest, and hauls her torso out. It is hard to get the height to get Sayaka's hips out, but with some effort, Kozue manages that too, and her legs come easily after that. But as her ankles slide out, the edge of her shoe catches, and that leg travels off to the side laterally instead of exiting. When it does pull free, it smacks the stand on its way out, and the lid crashes down heavily, with a sound like striking every note at once. And with a clear view across the piano, now, Kozue sees herself sitting at the keys

Sitting on the bench, perfectly upright, the girl is snow-pale. She wears a dress of lace, which is sewn into her skin at its hems, as is natural for a doll. Her hair looks just like Kozue's, but its texture is strange; more ragged, somehow, and yet more glossy. It takes a look at her forehead to realize, for where there ought to be a loose lock of air, there is instead a loose pinion. The pianist's hair is bluebird feathers. And where her eyes ought to be, there are circular windows installed right in her face, with stained hardwood frames and elegant Victorian-style wrought-iron muntins, forming radii around an iris-like circle in their center. They are larger than eyes ought to be, giving her a gawkish, fairy-like look. Her mouth is a little metal plate with a keyhole, and she has no other facial features.

This mute pianist has an abstraction to her, a sketched-out look to her physical details, but she is somewhat less abstract than most creatures one finds in a Labyrinth. She looks at Kozue with no apparent interest, or perhaps she was just already looking n that direction, and cannot move at all. After all, the only response she has is via the living paper butterfly she wears as a hair ornament, behind her ear. Its wings close and open slowly.

With a grinding sound of metal, the Witch turns its head to look down at the piano, and Madoka and Kozue besides.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mgq5r08Scm0

Kyouko's expression draws taut as she purses her lips. This plan wasn't particularly on the rails in the first place, and but whatever grounding it might have possessed was clearly gone. If they had yet to draw the witch's full ire, they had at least drawn its attention. She can hear Eri cry out as the wheel takes a bite out of her shoulder. She can see that pink puffball of hair zip towards the grand piano, venturing further in to danger instead of seeking retreat.

Variables are rapidly permutating. Old calculations are made obsolete, the facts of the ground changing in a blur. But her central premise remains the same. She has to get her kouhai out. She looks to Eri...and as she turns back to the grand piano, and sees it slam shut...as she sees a body pulled from its maw that is not quite the one that had first dropped within it..as she sees the immense horror shift its gaze...

Her voice is a murmur, but it needn't travel far. "We should go."

And then, Homura appears. Kyouko listens, her brow furrowing, but she does not hesitate. Her arm is tucked under Eri's own, wrapped around her body to help prop her afoot. Her other hand grasps Homura's in an instant.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> A Time of Wonder - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pw5vq79_aNQ

This is my shell, Sayaka, but I am already hatched.

It was just a glimpse. A moment in time, at close quarters through the gap in piano lid.

Just a glance.

She is the girl everyone else knows. A bully at school. A villain at night.

People look at others every day and find no meaning in it. Yet right now in that adrenaline fueled traumatic rush. It's like it sears into her. From the lace, to the shade of the skin - to the feathers in her hair.

This is not the girl you love.

The strangeness of the face, with the strange circular window panes...

I'm the girl in the window.

Yet instead of being horribly disturbed - she finds herself being caught by the familiarity. Even as she runs. It's like she can feel those windows looking at her even when they aren’t.

Her single arm loops in a desperate circle, before she releases that arm, sending the weight on the end of the chain spiralling outwards to the top of the slope. Embedding at the top of it, she holds out the chain for Madoka to put a hand on. "Grab on!"

Then with a twist of the handle it starts to retract - or rather it's like the chain itself is shrinking into some in-between space as it starts to pull the two along the slope. Pivoting herself around - she faces the witch head on, as it carries her in her backwards retreat, feet backpeddling as she holds on during their ascent.

Her lips part... with this strange distant sense of wonder as she stares at the witch and the strange faceless girl at the piano up to the towering witch staring at her act of grave robbery. Like there's a piece of her here, like she's played some strange profane role in this - and she can't quite grasp it.

What does it mean?

Perhaps nothing.

What's important is taking Sayaka away from here. Keeping her safe. She cannot even feel her chest moving against her shoulder. Nothing but the press of her from gravity.

That's only temporary though. It'll move again. It'll move. It has to.

Just like before.

She just has to keep her safe long enough to show her who she truly is - once again. To play music for her. To say all the words she wanted to say before.

It won't be much longer now.


<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Time and Time Again (Lost OST) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FXnfjS339Yo

The arm Kyouko clasps bears a silver shield, that dainty receptacle for so much destruction. The thumb of Homura's other hand touches down upon its gleaming flywheel and as she spins it, for the first time Kyouko and Eri can see the perfection of its clockwork in motion, hear the subtle whirring of


and only that

as it stops and the rest of the Labyrinth halts with it, leaving them in silence.

The wheels suspend mid-bounce.

Kozue with her already unmoving burden pauses mid-backpedal.

Madoka is cradled safe and unknowing within a frozen moment.

The Witch's great gauntleted hands cease movement with the rest of her, a statue of thunderous nightmare presiding over the tableau.

They now inhabit a world gone grey, as grey as the skirt of the girl who has transported them here: a photocopy still life of itself. The three girls provide the only color this realm seems to know, their breathing its only sound. If they bleed, it is only red before it leaves their bodies; droplets arrest midair before touching what passes for ground in this strange place made stranger, joining the rest in greyscale.

With all else an uncanny frieze around them, a girl whose mysteries have just peeled back a layer turns still-violet eyes toward Kyouko and Eri.

Into the quiet Homura says, "Don't let go, or time will stop for both of you as well." She clasps back, making her side of the grip firm. "I'll come back for her after you're clear." There is only one 'her' she could mean.

With that, she begins to lead them away from the monochrome tragedy.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sis Puella Magi - (Ice Remix) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT0hDTsNais

From this distance they're a blur of pink aside blue - carrying blue. Eri follows their progress with their eyes. A strange white noise like a old time film reel playing through her skull.

A new friend inviting her to a crafts session...

...leads to her meeting that girl's best friend as they carried on like the two had known each other for years.

Homura is there then. Though of course she is.

She expected her to show up with the stakes currently in play. Though there's a strange dreamlike quality to it of Homura Akemi offering her hand to her and her senpai...

A gun is pressed against her forehead. 'You didn't listen to me before.' The gunmetal is cold as its pushed in further against her forehead in a more threatening gesture. 'Tell me why I should believe you now?'

Nestling up against Kyouko's shoulder, the dreamlike quality of this moment feels more and more in this strange reversal from so long ago. The fatigue of the day pressing heavy against her. "...Let's get out of here."

Her senpai clasps Homura's arm, and she clings to her and her shield clicks around...







Certainly there's the warmer red and the cooler violet but otherwise they exist in this strange in-between place of silence and stillness.

Even the witch is affected - frozen. As if all the gears grinding in this strange world had just stopped moving. Making her feel more and more like they're in a dream - the world an elaborate music box whose song has been suspended. A film reel stopped on a single monochrome frame. It's all stopped.

There's a strange abstracted look to her as Homura Akemi explains the mystery. Not so long ago she would have been all enthusiastic. Full of wonder and amazement at the explanation. A magic which stops time. Such an incredible power. Now... now though...

"Thank you..."

Instead of enthusiasm - there's just a profound sense of relief. She knows what she risks doing this. Homura Akemi survives by mystery. However because Homura Akemi has revealed this to them - they'll be safe. And then Madoka will be safe.


It'll all be over soon. Yet as they run along along the strange frieze of a frozen witch's labyrinth-

"It's crazy how another witch just showed up like that."

There's a strange similarity to her senpai's experiment in Ueno. Or that Dungeons and Dragon's night. Yet she doesn't partake in the strange introspection this monochrome world leads to, accepting that simply the predator sensed their vulnerability.

Instead she just gives voice to her relief as she mumbles something to her senpai - as if it were gratitude to her too for showing up at the right moment.

"If it had jumped us while I was still fighting that girl... I... I don't know what I would have done..."

Died probably. Yet even now she does not want to admit how close to death's doorstep already. How close she was after Sayaka Miki and that other witch put her there.