2018-10-05 - Reckoning VI

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Reckoning VI

After escaping from Haneda Airport, Homura Akemi tells Madoka Kaname -- and everyone else in earshot -- the awful truth: that Puella Magi grow up to become Witches.


Madoka Kaname, Sayaka Miki, Kozue Kaoru, Yumi Ohzora, Kyouko Sakura, Mikoto Minagi, Lera Camry, Endo Naoki, Kasagami Araki, Tsubasa Kazanari, Nori Ankou, Eri Shimanouchi, Homura Akemi, Setsuna Meioh, Utena Tenjou


Haneda Airport

OOC - IC Date:

10/6/2018 - 05-19-2018

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Haneda Airport +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
  Built at the juncture of Tama River and Tokyo Bay, Haneda launches its        
  planes over the water. Its control towers command a view of a landing strip   
  that seems to have ambitions of becoming a bridge across the sea, jutting as  
  it does against the bay, surrounded by a rectangle of bright green grass.     
  As each of its three terminals was built about a decade apart, they have      
  different styles. Terminal 1, deemed 'Big Bird,' is the oldest, and has       
  rounded, boxy construction, with an interior similar to an opulent gold-hued  
  shopping mall. Terminal 2 features wavy, cylindrical architecture, and its    
  mall is sleek silver. Terminal 3, the newest, has a downward-curving roof     
  that swoops weightlessly toward the sky, and a more businesslike, modern      
  interior. All three feature numerous restaurants and amenities, including     
  some oddly traditional-looking eateries, though Terminal 3 has a tendency to  
  turn into a ghost town at night.                                              
  One of the busiest airports in the world, Haneda is also one of the most      
  orderly and punctual. It handles domestic flights, while its sister outside   
  the city, Narita, handles foreign flights. The recently opened Terminal 3,    
  however, has taken some international traffic, mostly from Asia. There is a   
  lesser-known fourth terminal, as well, that handles VIP traffic away from     
  prying eyes.                                                                  
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Puella in Somnio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGgLSTOpTI4

Haneda Airport is in the process of being destroyed, but if you'd asked the Japanese Ministry of Transportation yesterday, they would have told you that it was in the process of being built. Yes, there's a new terminal in the works.

That means that high, high above the airport -- higher than the control towers -- higher even than the storm now coruscating out of it like an ultraviolet double rainbow (some of its bands are wind, and filled with dust and debris; some of its bands are light, warped and inverted beyond description; and some of its bands are screams...)

-- higher even than that is the top of a construction crane. From below, the struts are almost invisible against the night sky, painted black and unnaturally blue and green by the strange and impossible shadows cast upon it.

From above, the silver moonlight beams down on standard yellow paint, but it collects with an extra shimmer upon the fur of the slender white animal perched at the very tip of the structure. His eyes are closed, and he's leaning into the breeze, letting it toss his ears playfully behind him.

Far below, a double handful of Chevaliers and Shepherds erupt from the collapsing airport, some under their own power, some carrying each other, others somewhere in between. They land in a loosely clustered group, all together, because from the part of Haneda that they fled, there was really only one place to go:

The nearest runway.

From above, it's all twinkling lights, both mechanical and magical.

And then, two more, as Kyuubey opens his eyes.

He looks down at the group... and then over, at the one they unknowingly left behind. He can't see her from here, of course, not directly, but what he can see is gratifying. His tiny little paws with their tiny little pink toes take more of his scant weight as he leans forward over them, yearning with every fibre of his being to be closer still to the energy being released. Still, it bathes over him well enough at this distance. His fluffy white tail floats up behind him, but to ascribe happiness to his satisfaction of a job well done is to misidentify his species considerably.

<< This planet calls its juvenile females girls, >> Kyuubey muses to himself.

His eyes shift, back to the group on the tarmac.

<< Therefore, it's only logical to call its juvenile witches magical girls. >>

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

Two building-tall swords split the terminal. One faces forward, stuck into the building like the sword in the stone, matte black metal glistening with seawater. The other has fall, ripping open the roof in the process, and the wedge-shaped tear it has made in the facade drains green-blue seawater slowly. That shallow waterfall drops onto an awning at the departures area, where it parts to either side, draining into two separate puddles. Those are just the start of a vast field of puddles before the building, many quite deep, which pock both the airfield and the fields of grass around it. Moonlight glitters softly on all these waters, filling them with an ocean glow.

One half of the severed terminal is dark, its windows largely blown out, but as empty as the eyes of a skull. The other side, more flooded, radiates a monochrome disk of dark and pale, like the rings of a planet of nightmares. These are less hungry and violent than the churning grief-smoke that had come before, but no less malignant. Calm, pulsing, they absorb all color from that side of the building and the area around it, creating a black and white film reel.

The group of magical girls have gathered on a large, mostly empty space of tarmac. A few baggage carts linked together to make a train rest abandoned nearby. As if the surroundings were not surreal enough, an airplane driven off the runway onto the grass has tilted forward into the muck, and its tail sticks up, a shadow before the moon, its shape strange when viewed from this unnatural angle.

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

Kozue's been unsteady - weak most of the way here, but either pride or protectiveness reasserts itself every time it looks like she might have to stop carrying Sayaka and ask for help as she forces herself to push onward.

Once it looks like the group is slowing, she sags to a knee and shifting her off from her shoulder into her arms unsteadily, keeping a hand behind her head as she lowers her the rest of the way to the ground, the shadow of the airplane striking a diagonal just beside her on the concrete. Dripping - the two of them dampening the ground with every passing moment.

Kozue lightly pats Sayaka's body lightly on the cheek then holds it there to feel the lingering traces of warmth, trying not to be disturbed by the blank look in those eyes without closing them. "Why aren't you waking up?" She whispers, denying that the most obvious explanation has any veracity. Before giving the body a light inspection, lifting up a damp shirt to look at the wounds almost clinically. In these moments at least, she seems calm. Until she raises her right arm in her hand - and her eyes grow wider in that moment. "Where is it?"

Dropping that hand over her abdomen, she picks up the other hand, turns it over. "Where did it go!?" She says in rising panic. Calm shattered.

Did it fall off in the labyrinth? Did it get lost in the flow of water after?

Patting her down quickly as if to make certain it couldn't be somewhere else, she says finally, "Nono-no-NO!" Desperation. Panic. Frustration. Quickly she stands up. "Her soul gem - it's not here. It's... not..." Her eyes slide over to Nori, in the moment not thinking straight. Not thinking about how she's not in a position to order her to do anything, "Look after her - don't let any of the Shepherds touch her - I have to go back. I have to go back right now..."

She doesn't even know how she's going to even get back in to that labyrinth to search without a Puella Magi. She just knows she has to.

"... look for it..." She mumbles, putting a hand over her face, as if the enormity of the task is settling in. If it's not in the strange piano at the foot of the witch, it could be anywhere. Anywhere. It's like it's all coming apart as she considers it more and more.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

There's a chill here, in the darkness. Yumi can feel it, despite the burning in her arms, can feel it cut straight through her thick clothes, green leather and black fabric and all. She can feel it deeper than physical. ...But she can feel the physical, too, with Pluto behind and Eri and Mikoto in her arms. But not for that long.

Her broom and her passengers come to a gentle stop just above the ground, low enough that Mikoto and Eri both can simply let go without falling; Yumi doesn't stand at first, just lets the broom hover back up to be her seat, like sitting on a branch, catching her breath. Despite the cold, her arms are burning.

It's different from the usual kind of cold.

Yumi looks around the colorless surroundings and the normal grass, the airplane driven off and the baggage carts linked. She does not see a certain creature.

"Hey--" Yumi looks to Kozue, worried, but not as uncertain. "If you go back in there alone you might not come back out!"

They only have a professional relationship really, but--

...But it makes her look at Sayaka's unmoving form with a growing anxiety.

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

Kyouko spits out some water that had pooled in her mouth from her aquatic escape, and whips her head back and forth, violently spraying out excess moisture like a wet dog shaking itself off. Reaching back, she grasps at her hair, pulling it over her shoulder and wringing it further dry. Shivering in the night air of the open sky, she closes her eyes for a long moment, gathering her breath before opening them again.

Girls are gathering up, one after another. The blood rhythm of awful combat has broken, and now the actors intermingle along the stage. Among them are a few faces from the private performance that she herself had just ducked out from.

When Kyouko sees Kozue and cargo, she can't help but shake her head, just a little, and sigh. She's glad that Sayaka didn't have to spend the rest of her time there in the labyrinth. God only knows what might have happened to the body. Would it have been absorbed into the rest of that witch's brew, Sayaka's matter reconstituted into evil trails and passageways?

Kyouko knows what happened inside, or at least she knows enough. Now the rest of them will have to learn. She doesn't reach for a weapon, but she does tense. Will Kozue attack? Will battle be rejoined? Anything could happen, with just a little bit of pressure and heat hitting the right place from the right angle.

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

Mikoto's feet come to rest unsteadily on the ground, as Yumi lowers them. She releases her wrist, plants her blade in the ground - so similar in shape and colour to the black blade which towers in the airport. She raises her chin, scans the crowd which has gathered with eyes which cannot quite focus, as if she's been awake for far too long. Her friends are here. ... the other ones are here, too. Satisfied, she takes a breath. "That's enough," she says, the words quieted by fatigue, "Miroku."

And just like that, one of the twin swords which pierced the terminal fades. There is the sound of concrete and rebar crumpling in its absence.

It is not something which bodes well for going back inside to search, but the way Mikoto leans on her blade, she is so clearly at her limit. Those closer to her might see the way her muscles tremble as she keeps herself upright, the shuddering nature of her breath, the stubborn clench of her jaw.

If they start another fight, she thinks, sharp eyes falling on Endo, she will have trouble responding. She's in a bad position.

Hopefully, they're as spent as she is.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The platforms that Lera created could not be steered. As long as she maintained the spell, they would float there -- but they had to be navigated through. As she flew, she made more and more. It created a road to freedom; a path for Nori, Madoka, and Homura to use as needed. It was available for others, too. Lera flew, herself, until they came to the outside -- to the blinking lights of a runway.

She settles down, feet resting on the concrete of the tarmac. She rotates a shoulder, and turns her head. Her shirt is bloodstained, blackened, and torn in places. Her hair is sweat-covered. Her eyes blink, slowly. It takes her a moment, as she looks at Kozue, and down at Sayaka. She realizes, then, that Sayaka isn't moving.

Kozue explains a little, and she understands why.

She swallows, then she quickly steps towards Kozue. Instinct and a drive to do something; to say something takes over. She holds a hand out. "I'll go with you," she says. "I can fly. Maybe--maybe my Device can search for her Gem. Sky could with the Jewel Seeds, so..."

<I'll try.> Soaring Sky sounds far from certain.

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

Endo, ferrying the unconscious Tsubasa, stops with the rest of the group when they reach safety. Once on steady ground he unburdens himself, though he doesn't have much time to rest. There are still other injured to worry about-and Sayaka, limp and silent in Kozue's grasp.

Her panicked cries about Sayaka's soul gem quickly draw his attention, and a question of: "What happened?" He asks, unable to find anything better to ask, or say, or do. He glances toward the rest of the Chevaliers, as if they might have some better idea as to how to fix this.

He glances also at the others, the Shepards, eyes wary. He still has his weapon, and though his ragged posture betrays his exhaustion he's unwilling to let his guard down. A narrowed glance lingers on Mikoto and her own weapon, but his attention has to return to his allies too, unable to linger too long on either side.

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

Wet socks are stripped off when she's nearly out of the terminal proper. Arms grab someone important to Kasagami as she glances to make sure her Puella companions are all moving under their own power. That, at least, sets some of her worries at ease. There's a whole host of others on her mind.

Including the beautiful bundle in her arms. Sword on her back, Kasagami has the limp form of Utena Tenjou in something of a princess carry. This is no romantic outing, however, as the Duelist is doing her level best to hold the One Engaged as rigid as she can particularly about the midsection. She takes care not to lope too much in her jog down the tarmac, for fear of jostling that wound.

"You know, Utena-chan, I'm really starting to think Puella Magi are living bad luck charms." She mutters to the unconscious Prince.

When the two groups start to assemble, and Kozue cries out, the young Duelist goes tense. Sayaka is there. She isn't moving. Could she be dead? It's the first thought that strikes her mind. There's the smallest twinge of sympathy for Kozue. Arms burning, she kneels to the ground. Whipping off her coat, she lays it flat. It's soggy still, but better than cold and dirty tarmac for the wounded. She'll lay out Utena gently as can be upon it before standing beside the pink haired girl. Her stance is protective.

The sound of the butt of her hilt hitting ground and the handle of the sword in her hand underscores it. She watches the Chevaliers warily. "...What happened in there?" This, quietly asked of Kyouko as she spies her first. But the question is most certainly aimed at the Puella around.

<Pose Tracker> Tsurubasa [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Tsubasa's willowy form rests now on the damp tarmac. As if unconsciously aware that she is now lying down in a quiet place, her face relaxes faintly. A moment later, her magical raiment shimmers, and returning her to her civilian clothing--a blue belt-tie blouse and white capris with sandals.

<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"What a fiasco," said La Sirene as they moved along. She sweeps her hair back with one hand, letting herself breathe steadily, even as they get nearer to Kozue, and to... Sayaka.

La Sirene de Diamant is holding up relatively well... almost entirely because her costume was already on the dark side and was made to stand rain. She is avoiding slouching and whingeing almost entirely on model training, and is moving slower than usual, if with poise.

She is glaring daggers at Kozue, as well, but she hasn't yet said anything. When she sees Kozue check for pulse, for echo, for SOMETHING in Sayaka and she doesn't find it, any half-formed bons mot dissipate. La Sirene hustles a little closer. "What...? Did -"

Kozue presents an explanation. Unease settles into a form that makes sense, not calmer but steadier. Sayaka's Soul Gem is missing. La Sirene can see the details of what happened, her mind creating a narrative that satisfies her. Sayaka dropped it in the Labyrinth - or was injured, but repaired it before - it holds up. The lurking unknown recedes.

They just have to find the Soul Gem. This is not new.

"I will protect her," la Sirene tells Kozue. "I hope you thought that all of this was worth it." As she steps nearer and sinks to a knee, she reaches down to gently touch either side of Sayaka's head. She smooths the girl's hair.

From her crouch la Sirene looks round. Kyouko. Kasagami. Mikoto still, too. "... Did the Witch... erupt, or something?" she asks, mostly because several voices have already asked 'what happened'.

COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene de Diamant!
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Eri had drowsed off in part on the way here, without truly letting herself sleep. There's a distance of abstraction, like she's in this liminal place where she's still aware of her surroundings yet... not too. It's almost cute the way she's riding the broom in this sleepy sidesaddle way in front of the pilot.

Yet when the broom lowers itself, she tiredly sets down her less injured leg, and balancing her weight on it puts her other one that's wrapped in a vine down less comfortably. Trying to bear as little weight on it as possible. The conflict that comes up - of whether Sayaka's soul gem is missing or not, she doesn't respond to.

She knows better than anyone how low on magic Sayaka was. Whatever sliver of magic was still left in that soul gem - it'd soon be irrelevant.

Sayaka Miki was a lost cause. Whether dead now, or soon to be, there's no doubt in her mind who is responsible for her death. So she doesn't answer the questions of what happened, because she took for granted that emotions would be running high. Putting a hand on Mikoto's back, she rubs it lightly, grateful for how she's spent herself - and ashamed over the price paid for her sake.

Some idle madness, a stray intrusive thought is that she should offer herself up if fighting does break out. She's come too far to take it seriously. Fought so hard for the sake of...

... herself... her life.

However much that was worth from moment to moment. Instead after a moment she starts hobbling over Kyouko to stand within her personal space, putting the fingers of her hand onto her arm just so she could take the weight off her leg. After a few moments of introspection she asks with this strange sort of abstraction to her tone, "Do you ever get this feeling like last summer is getting further and further away from us..."

It was the last time she can remember being on fond terms - when she can remember them all being friendly and carefree. "...while last fall... still feels so close..."

Shinjuku Metropolitian. The start of all this. And the end. Except it wasn't as tonight proves. Even more weariness creeps into her tone, "...so close that it's like we keep looping back around to it?"

It's been an awful descent through the seasons, such that Spring doesn't feel like Spring. It feels like Fall again. Or winter. Each time her decisions inflicting more despair upon others. Blighting and corrupting places out of paranoia - and fear - and desire for further power. Each time her decisions proving to herself the wretched creature she is again and again. And never truly allowing her to move on.

Perhaps she thinks its similar for Kyouko - how she's never allowed to keep running away from that hot stove.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sis Puella Magica (Music Box) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OtMwqJYGBug

Madoka is making many tiny noises.

She's coughing. Everyone's drenched but there's something especially drowned-kitten about a drenched Madoka, the way her clothes flatten to her frame, removing all illusons of bulk that air regularly provides. Streams slither out of her twintails and splatter on the asphalt.

She's hiccuping. Water is escaping her mouth, too, out of her lungs and away. It is, thankfully, only water -- somehow or other Madoka seems to have escaped the events of the evening unharmed. Well... physically unharmed.

She's sobbing. Her tears are almost invisible given the rest of her condition but their presence is still unmistakable. Her eyes -- dull, flat... if only they were empty, but instead they're overfull. They are wounds in her head. They are wounds in the world.

Weakly, she crawls out of Homura's arms and over to the bluenettes. There at Kozue's feet she re-establishes her connection with Sayaka, two of her hands taking one of her friend's. Her eyes close, her tears flowing forth faster than ever.

They fall onto Sayaka like rain, merging invisibly with the moisture there.

She isn't calmer there on the ground, rocking back and forth with Sayaka's hand like a creaky old chair, but she is quieter.

Until the questions start to fly from all directions. They aren't attacks, not from these friends and acquaintances, but they still fall heavily upon her little shoulders, which droop more and more deeply, hitch more and more tightly.

Madoka has a profoundly complex set of feelings about her role as witness, one that she rarely voices, and doesn't now. Instead, she wrenches her gaze from her oldest friend's face, up to Kozue's, for a long, agonized moment... and then over to the group as a whole.

"...Suh-Sayaka-chan...we were on the bench together...and her... Suh-Soul Gem... it was completely black... a-and then..."

It starts slow and low, hard to hear, but rapidly the pace of Madoka's relation accelerates, along with her heart rate, breathing, and pitch.

"...it, it broke! It shattered! Everything exploded, the whole airport, everything! And,"

She's completely hysterical now -- she and Sayaka are shaking together from the depth of her gasps. There's a flash of red between their hands. Madoka's thumbs frantically smooth and resmooth the clumsily-tied bandage tied around Sayaka's palm, a makeshift scrap of crimson fabric with a thin white stripe.

Ah. Madoka's uniform is missing its chest bow.

"And then there was a Witch -- a Witch and a labyrinth and, and, and Sayaka, and Kozue-chan and Eri-chan and Kyouko-chan and Homura-chan, they all helped save us, Huh-Homura-chan helped save her--"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Umbra Nigra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDLUUZgy9Dk

"You didn't save anyone."

That tearful downhill stumble of an explanation suffers interruption in the form of cold correction. Amidst all the charged emotion churning the air like Kozue's vortex in the ruins of Haneda Airport, Homura's voice is an implacable iceberg slicing through. She stands where Madoka left her dripping arms, a few paces apart from the huddle.

Kozue Kaoru, bent over an inert blue-haired form, is ready to take desperate action, and Lera Camry to accompany her. A useless errand for the sake of what isn't even a useless girl, any more.

Well. Perhaps Homura can make one final use of Sayaka Miki.

"That's not it. You saw it happen." The violet magi did not witness the final moment herself, not this time around, but she remembers. She has seen this before. "You just don't want to understand." No one ever does, she thinks. The incisive truth is that neither did Homura Akemi, once upon a time -- but she was given little choice.

Now they, too, will be forced to understand.

She sweeps the assembled with that flat gaze, her black bangs still plastered to a damp forehead. "There is no soul gem to find. It is gone, and so is Sayaka Miki. She won't be coming back this time."

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

Some offer their assistance. Kozue stands frozen, like she can't even register it - caught in these moments of horror. The weeping that is right beside her feels like it could be her own under other circumstances. Yet - no... it's not. Maybe she'd be offering her gratitude in these circumstances, maybe she'd be shrugging it off.

It's only when Nori says 'I hope you feel like it was worth it.' that the hand lowers, and the head slowly turns staring at her blankly.

However then Madoka offers her witness testimony. And in those moments - she searches her memory - as if there were some images to find. She was further away. Yet she does remember that sound - and the rise of a grief seed. "What do you mean it broke?" She whispers - something in her tone profoundly distant and devastated all at once.

As she stares past Madoka unto Sayaka's body.

Her last vestiges of hope were grasping for a soul gem left behind. Now...

Now there's nothing to grasp anymore. Like it's slipped through her fingers.

Or was casually shattered. It's not even the girl's fault. Stunned, it feels like she's plunged into the darkness of a room alone. A room with only a thin sliver of moonlight to keep her company. Now there's not even that. Caught in the dark where she there's only..

It's like she's hearing Homura Akemi and someone else at once.

Looking at Madoka... and hearing something else. Someone else.

She does not crease that vast chasm from pink and blue over to dark hair. She keeps her eyes fastened upon the pair.

And then her fists spasm as she clenches her eyes shut as she raises her tone just slightly at Homura Akemi's words, "If she's dead - then just SAY IT! Spare me this cryptic bullshit! Say it - say it flat out!" She can feel herself breaking down, "Just- Jus-..." Not too many have seen Kozue in a profound moment of weakness. Normally she'd try her best to make certain so many never saw her like this.

However, it's like she's crumbling under this realization. Like she could only stand up to information so long before everything comes tumbling down all at once. She chokes on the next syllable, as it becomes incoherent. Then it's like gravity takes her to the ground - she'd never actually stepped away, just stood up. And so she collapses just right beside Sayaka and Madoka.

Choking on her own sobs, she gropes blindly for the opposite hand and when she catches it in one, presses the other against it and squeezes in both of hers, holding it up to her cheek as she cries in her own ugly display of grief. When she was at the lowest of the low before. Sayaka was there.

Even when she'd hit rock bottom and it felt like the world itself was against her, she felt like she could forget the danger for a while, be reckless and young and free - and feel safe to be. Now even though her body is right there, isn't even cold - she doesn't feel like that anymore.

Kozue Kaoru feels completely alone, the world itself is closing in, like shadows in a dark and empty room.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"You did good," Yumi murmurs to Mikoto as she sees her leaning, offering her a spot on the broom beside her, that's now something of a makeshift chair. ...She shifts her staff from its place beside the broom, but only to lean it against herself--and to lean against it in turn. She can feel the tension in the air, wonders if this will turn into another fiht with everyone here, but...

But Lera offers to help, at least. And Endo--

"We're not here to fight," Yumi says to Endo, shaking her head. Maybe if she says it, it'll be more true. But what happened? She wants to know that too. It seems like they're developing a plan, but...

But Yumi sets a hand on Eri's arm, softly, silently. She can hear her talking, hear how weary she sounds, and so the gray-haired girl just says, "Eri..."

They get answers. Yumi can't say that she wanted them like this, though, from a girl who seems so small whose pain seems so big, her awful crying, the bow... Madoka, and Sayaka. They were close, right? So close. And Homura saved--

Homura starts to explain, and Yumi blinks pink eyes at her. She's tired; she's tired like any of them would have to be, but there's no time to stop and go rest. No soul gem to find...

Yumi bites her lip. "It... broke?" Yumi asks, her voice small. "...The... If the gem holding her soul broke, then..." She glances to the side, and then to Madoka, with obvious, horrible sympathy. The sort of sympathy that says something awful happened, wanting to believe it or not. "...Girls like her, and you," she says to Homura, "..." She shakes her head. "Sorry, that's not..."

She bites her lip again, and looks down. "So she died, then. That's what it means, isn't it? If a Soul Gem breaks... it's like our bodies breaking." She looks up towards the sky. "...I'm sorry," she says. "I was hoping..." She stops, and looks at Homura. "...Look, I know it's best not to pretend that a bad thing hasn't happened, but aren't you being a little cruel? Look at her," Yumi says, gesturing to Madoka. "You could let her down a little gently, right?" She looks to Kozue, shouting, and Yumi's voice is still soft but gains some heat, "You don't have to be so cold! Sure, she was our enemy, but they cared about her!"

...Yumi doesn't notice that she's stood up until she feels the creak in her bones, the difficulty of a next breath, and she steps just a couple of paces closer to Kozue. "I..." She looks to these girls in so much pain, and her gaze to Homura asks the question: How? How can Homura be like this?

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

Kyouko watches Eri limp over her way, standing still for her journey. Even now, it's so important for the Puella Magi to remember to stand on her own two feet whenever possible...but to temper that truism with a reminder that she is not alone, and not unsupported. As her friend nears, Kyouko holds her arm out, just a little further, so little that the movement might go unnoticed.

Eri speaks with a dreamlike quality that's of some small concern for her, but it's more than understandable. She must be so tired...from the day, and so many days not so dissimilar from it. Eri's battered body will heal quickly, but the psychological toll has furrowed deep ruts that only time and temperament can address. It is the least that Kyouko can do, to support Eri as Eri supports her. The green gardener deserves more than that, of course. Such a curse is not hers alone, and perhaps if Kyouko did not share in it, she could be a better balm to Eri's ails. Such as it is, she can only do her best.

"I do...one feels like a lifetime ago, the other feels like it's always been. But it isn't so. The seasons will change all around us, and the world will remind us otherwise. Things will grow...things will die."

Poor Madoka...the weeping angel has born witness to so much blood and terror. Were there moments when she thought it couldn't be worse? Surely nothing save Mami's death has come close to this misery, and even then..as cherished a figure as Mami was in Madoka's life, Sayaka was her best friend and closest companion. They've grown up together, haven't they? Their roots drinking from the same waters...Kyouko does not know how to help, but even now finds relief in knowing that Madoka remains just that - a normal, if terribly unhappy, girl.

Homura breaks in...and Kyouko deflates a bit, a little air that she didn't know she'd pent up whispering out of her. She hadn't realized that she'd maintained some small hope in Sayaka's survival, even now. But Homura's cutting finality is as much as she needs to hear. Kyouko, more than most, is conscious of the significance of a soul gem, and the meaning of one's destruction is not lost on her.

"Maybe now it'll be over...maybe now we can heal. I'm glad she won't have to suffer this any longer."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nobuo Uematsu - Revealed Truth https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kB-J3FHSliE

It's Eri's touch which brings Mikoto back from suspicion of her enemies. She sighs, eyelids lowering, not quite closing, as she tilts her chin back to focus on the third most important person in the world. "Eri," she breathes. "I'm glad..."

She doesn't say why. It's obvious.

Sayaka is dead, or near enough to it. Her artifact is lost. She cannot possibly recover from her wounds without her magic. They cannot possibly find it in the ruins, where it has surely been swept out to parts unknown by rushing water. It means Eri is safe. It means Eri won.

And perhaps she makes herself a liar, trembling here, when she said she'd take better care of herself after Shinjuku.

Perhaps she makes herself a liar, but it is in her nature to expend herself for the ones she loves. At least, this time, she is not broken, is not bleeding. At least she did that much.

She looks to Yumi, as Eri goes to join her beloved senpai. "Thanks," she says. Yumi has seen before her efficiency with words, the way she uses so few to cover so much. It's 'thanks for acknowledging me'. It's 'thanks for saving me'. It's 'thanks for saving Eri'. It's 'thanks for helping when I asked'. It's 'thanks for trusting me'.

And it's 'thanks for the seat', evidently, because with one last cautious look to the enemies gathered about the blue knight, Mikoto shrugs off her case, sheathes her blade, and returns its strap to her shoulder. Hands free, she's able to hop astride the broom, with movements just a little too sluggish. She finds herself leaning on Yumi immediately, hands grasping at her to keep her steady on the living wood.

Cheek against Yumi's shoulder, Mikoto's gaze catches Sayaka's body, and there is a measure of distance to her eyes, assessing and cold. Even knowing her source of magic is gone, it's difficult to believe Sayaka won't just get up. It's difficult not to be wary.

... it's difficult to look at the limp fragility of her body. There's an unspeakable quality to it which makes her breath catch in her throat, now she is not in the throes of berserkergang. The tension in her body might be entirely evident to Yumi, at least.

Her fingers fist in Yumi's vestments as she turns her gaze aside. She looks at the gathered Chevaliers, instead, beside her body. It's strange. They care so much about Sayaka. Mikoto does not care about Sayaka at all.

It's just like last time. She can't feel bad at all.

Except Madoka is trying to talk midst her tears, and Mikoto blinks away dampness in her eyes, lowering her gaze as her brow knits. It feels like too much, to chance meeting that girl's gaze right now, no matter her feelings on her. She is not so cruel. She knows there is no compassion in her eyes. She knows how it must look to someone who loses and loses and loses without a single hope to fight.

Neither is she cruel enough to disregard the words Madoka struggles so hard to choke out, and her shoulders tighten as her breath hitches. She stares at her white-knuckled hands, gripping black fabric. "Shattered," she echoes the word, tremulously.

If Sayaka's Soul Gem is destroyed, she'll never be able to heal the wounds she has suffered. It's a good thing for them.

Why, then, does it fill her with such dread?

(If Sayaka's Soul Gem could break even in a moment of peace, she thinks and immediately pushes aside, so could Eri's. So could Homura's. So could Kyouko's, or Kimiko's.)

Homura is colder still as she speaks with authority. Mikoto lifts her gaze to her, face lined with the strain of uncertainity which draws down her lips and tenses her cheeks. She confirms what Mikoto had hoped: Sayaka is beyond salvation. The unkillable girl is finally dead.

And then Yumi starts drawing conclusions.

And Mikoto's gasp is sharp and pained as she stiffens, visibly.

There are things she was never told about. There are things even her closest friends did not trust her with. There are things, in the end, it was too dangerous for the obsidian monster called Mikoto Minagi to know.

They were things she might have guessed at, given what she knew, if she were the type of person who questioned her loved ones.

She was never designed to question.

She didn't know. She didn't know.

No one told her.

Her breath comes thin and shallow past her lips as she pulls back to stare at Yumi, and slowly, that disbelieving gaze turns to Eri instead. There are a thousand questions in the crease of her eyelids as her brow draws up to a pained point, in the part of her lips, the rapid rise and fall of her chest.

There are a thousand questions, and her lips cannot shape any of them.

She knows it's true. She heard the shattering at Shinjuku.

She didn't realise what it meant.

Perhaps it's right, and good, and just. Perhaps it's proper she was kept in ignorance. She does not need to know the truth to fight. She has never needed to know the truth to fight. Her usefulness is not defined by her comprehension; it is defined by her ability to follow.

She must have had a good reason. They all must have had a good reason.

Mikoto takes a ragged breath, swallows at a lump in her throat, and her eyes fall on the one girl who has always told her the truth, even when everyone else dodged the question.

Her eyes are damp again.

"Yeah. Sayaka's dead, Kozue." It is not delivered with any sort of animosity. There's a numbness to it.

In this moment where she is in the dark, it feels like the most important thing to tell Kozue the candid truth. She can do that much for someone who has always done it for her.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

The explanation gives Lera a little context. She knew what happened when a Soul Gem shattered; when Madoka said that, her eyes widened. She heard what happened when Mami's was shattered by Eri -- and she knew that was how her friend died. Lera's fingers curl, slowly, into a fist, and her hand falls down by her side. She ends up walking next to Endo, by her long-time teammate, and she falls quiet as she listens.

But then her eyes snap upward, towards Homura -- and then at Kozue. "That's..." She swallows. "If her Gem shattered, then..."

She puts a hand over her mouth.

The reason she became involved in all of this was a friendship with a girl who died. It dawns on her, slowly; the way that Mami used to talk. The way that she was inspired, in the end, to be better.

'I'm going to fight differently. Even when I have to fight other girls, I'm going to avoid killing. I'm... I'm going to remember the girl who wanted just to help people.'

'It sounds like the right thing to do, y'know? I mean... I used to think we shouldn't fight other girls, ever. But... that was naive of me.'

Lera looks down at that blue-haired girl, cradled by one pink-haired girl and another blue-haired one. Her jaw works, slowly; muscles tensing, tightening, and relaxing. This was who Mami found that answer for. And now, she was gone. Lera couldn't see that through. She blinks her eyes a few times, but she finds them hot and stinging.

"Mikoto," she says, softly, almost chiding. "That's enough."

She frowns, then looks back at Homura. Her voice starts to shake as she speaks. "There's nothing we can do?" she asks. "This... this isn't how it should end, y'know? We were supposed to..." The words die on her lips, before she can finish the sentence.

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

"It shattered?" Endo can't keep the alarm from leaking into his voice at Madoka's explanation. He's seen a soul gem broken before, and the effect was fatal. That Sayaka's gem may have suffered the same fate at Mami's is almost too horrible to comprehend.

The way it's explained isn't what he expects either, and there's clear confusion on his face. Homura only confirms Madoka's proclamation though, and Endo's face falls. "Sayaka-chan can't have" His voice is trembling and uncertain.

He glances toward Mikoto when she speaks, and the words sting, but he has trouble mustering any more hatred at this particular moment. When Lera steps up beside him he turns a questioning glance toward her, though he finds she has nothing better to say than him. "We should have been there" His voice is wilted, like all the air has already been pushed out of his body. "It wasn't"

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

Answers don't come in the form of Eri Shimanouchi, who remains silent on the matter. Kasagami lets out an annoyed breath and twitch of a brow, but she's not going to hold it against Eri. She nearly was drowned not but a few minutes ago. Nevermind whatever horrors she encountered in the Labyrinth itself.

A bench. An explosion. Kasagami remembers the pressure against the sword wall of Tsubasa. So Sayaka's soul gem exploded? Was that what happened to Puella Magi when they went dry of magic? It makes her think back to when she was first told of how Puella worked.

That...seems a bit more than just dying. Her face is grim. A boot scuffs the tarmac and she grips her sword tightly.

Homura's voice is a knife through the darkness. She all but confirms it. Sayaka Miki is dead, and Kozue is left with nothing but that lifeless husk. Another life lost. She can't blame Sayaka Miki for attacking Eri, and she can't find itself to try to spread blame for Sayaka's death. Not to any one person. Like a fuse leading to a cluster bomb, Mami's fall was the start in the Duelist's eyes.

And she can't say she didn't feel something like this was coming either. A lance of guilt wracks her. She grows more rigid, still, mouth tight.

More blood on everyone's hands. More on hers.

Yet the Duelist isn't so self absorbed that she ignores Kozue. Or, rather, as she lashes out at Homura's cruel words and goes for Sayaka's hand? She looks away. She won't rubberneck, won't take Kozue's suffering as some kind of entertainment. No amount of anger or grief can bring back the dead. Words from an enemy won't help Kozue's suffering. Maybe nothing will. The least Kasagami can do is try to leave Kozue a bit of dignity and respect.

Yumi's rebuke has a mirthless smile briefly lighting up Kasagami's face. "There's no gentle way of letting someone know a precious person is dead."

Kyouko's words of healing? A shake of her head. Kasagami's thoughts grow increasingly pessimistic. She kneels down and flicks a few strands of idle hair away from her current charge's face. Her shadow looms, part of her grateful Utena doesn't have to witness and hear this. Maybe a little envious.

Through lidded eyes, it's an act of will to not descend into old thoughts and grief, to offer empathy through shared experiences. Like a well meaning nurse or psychologist. That, in her mind, would be cruel. At least if Kozue and Madoka have someone to hate, something to blame?

She knows well how vengeance can motivate.

A glance back. At least Eri is still alive. And yet Kasagami finds herself shivering. Is it 'easier' to be blunt and heartless or obscure the truth and draw it out? She has no answers, not here. Lera's pain and Mikoto's simple speech has the loud, boisterous Duelist only further falling to silence.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBs-lPvk3Zk

Someone she hates speaks. La Sirene looks towards Eri then, her expression like white jade smeared with oil. "It has been a while, yes," she states, flatly. She gleams faintly, but makes no further move.

And then she looks at Madoka and her heart skips a beat, melting into a puddle as she speaks. Madoka pours her tears over Sayaka and they do not work a miracle, but la Sirene, at least, can recognize the honor. She reaches over to smooth back a lock of pink hair but otherwise listens.

La Sirene breathes in sharply at the words from Madoka. "It broke...?"

Madoka pleads with them. Tells them? La Sirene can't tell - there may be no real difference between the two actions. She looks down at Sayaka, who looks so - so - she seemed normal, only asleep. But, she thinks, if her Soul Gem's...

If her soul gem broke - like Mami's - then -

La Sirene looks down at the face of Sayaka and she mumbles, "Sayaka, you can't... I... it c-can't really be like that, you have to have been tricking them, right? You can't do this, this... th, the last things I said were so angry... you aren't going to lose over something like this, are you?" Nori's voice raises in volume as she goes, a sort of thready swaying in it. "You have to wake up, eh? C-come on, don't - don't -'

She feels that same fuzzy rasp in her vision as she did when all of this happened before.

Homura speaks.

La Sirene feels, hears, a slow distant whining - and she takes a deep breath - and she is momentarily startled when the Blue Princess speaks before her, her mouth opening and closing for a moment as she sets back on her heels. In shock, she looks at Kozue as she chokes and she strangles and she collapses.

Nori Ankou feels a terrible empty lurch in her belly and her heart skips half a beat again, her fingers trembling.

"Do you think," she half-husks, eyes cutting back to Homura, "that we are stupid? That we do not know what death is? So now your c- your count is TWO -" The attempt to reach that high dudgeon fails and she just blurts out at Homura, "And you just stand there with that stupid look on your face!! Why don't you GLOAT about it! Tell us how stupid we are! Rub our noses in it! Show us how powerful you are, you stupid explosion girl! Eh!? Maybe then you'll be happy!!"

In the course of the screaming her face reddened - perhaps the first time color of that kind has come clearly to the face of la Sirene - and her lips and her eyes and her nose all wrinkled and tightened.

She feels the anger swirl round. Inside of her it reaches out as she looks towards Kyouko, Yumi. Part of her wants to spit fire and acid. Why aren't you cheering, your enemy is dead -

It's a small part. Her shoulders sag as she finds herself ventilated in full against Homura Akemi and she blubbers out, "All she wa-wanted to do was make people safe so they could live happy lives. That was all this was for. She wanted to make your stupid world better and all you could do was - was -"

"Sayaka-a-," Nori half-bawls, head tilting down, chin practically to her collarbone.

Mikoto speaks up. La Sirene sobs. It's a loud, choking sound as she struggles again. Before the feeling of wanting to 'curl up and die' was temporary - more shock than anything, a bruise that will hurt but did not do harm. This is worse. She does not answer Mikoto beyond the sob, her face washed nearly clean from the tears by now.

Her face loses its color. She wants to swoon. She hears people nearby - the voice of Kasagami (if not the words) pangs her. Hearing Endo - Endo! - be so uncertain makes her feel a lead weight. She has to say something now.

I don't want to, Nori thinks: I wish it had been me instead.

Even so she speaks. It is slow but even.

"Well; you won; so go enjoy it, somewhere else," she says, not looking at any at the Shepherds. "Th-"

The composure derails again and she raises up her hands and digs the heels of her palms against her eyes. She screeches but she tries to keep it soft, a low keening in the back of her throat.

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

There's this light - almost succinct nod, that feels a touch slow from her fatigue. However she accepts the wisdom for what it was. It's the kind of wisdom that a gardener can accept. Things grow. Things die. The cycle turns. She shuns response to La Sirene so thoroughly because her words were never for her.

Yaori came full circle through Mami and back to Sayaka. Eri became a killer to avenge herself on her. Sayaka tried to become a killer to avenge Mami. Something about feels natural. The only unnatural thing is her. It feels like there's a wrongness, a sickness in her - and that is the cause that creates the effect.

She wishes she could feel relief when Madoka says the soul gem shattered - when Homura confirms she's dead. Then Mikoto and others besides. And yet she can't feel relief through that display of grief from Madoka. It feels wrong - when she just took her best friend from her - and didn't have enough shame to hesitate when an opening presented itself. The grief becomes a chorus - intermingled with anger.

Instead she feels like she's caught in some thick choking miasma that's smothering her, then realizing it's her.

Sagging against Kyouko. There's at least acceptance of Sayaka's death, though no real release.

After the words sink in she offers after a moment, offering a hushed response, "Maybe that's so."

For Yaori.

For Mami.

Now for Sayaka.

After a moment, she confesses, "... I sure don't feel like some hand of mercy though." Instead she feels like a sadistic torturer who wrought so much suffering on each of them before ultimately murdering each of them.

She never wanted this.

She never thought that this life would take her a place where now all she can wonder about is who will be next? Will someone else who is here become her next victim for the affront of wanting her to stop? That is why she cannot comprehend a world where she'll be allowed to heal.

Because she doesn't feel like this can be over.

Something within her wrenches within her as Nori declares she should go enjoy it. That jolts some part of her. And now she can no longer ignore her. Her eyes falling upon that girl as she draws herself up to her height.

"And if I told you I enjoyed it - this?"

There's something dark in this challenge at least. Like she would take a knife to La Sirene's anger and grief and carve through it.

"Would it make you feel better if things were that simple?"

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

Surprised by Homura's interruption -- putting aside its contents, even, just the simple jarring moment of being cut off -- Madoka hiccups, then starts to choke, as though her unspoken grief is piling up, word by word, to clog her throat. One of her hands releases Sayaka's, and goes to her collar, and with harsh little coughs she clears her air.

Would that it were so easy to clear her misery.

Numerically, Homura's interruption is like a tiny rock in the wild, crashing river of Madoka's words, but it acts more like a frozen dam. She says no more... but it is possible to watch as the Puella Magi's actual meaning sinks into her, as she processes what she's heard, syllable by syllable.

Her breathing neither slows nor speeds -- it just breaks.

Her eyes were already dull, but now they are lightless.

Her head lowers to her chest, and sandwiches Sayaka's hand there.

She cries in complete silence.

Others speak; some bargain; some argue; some shout; some weep, softly or loudly. It all rolls over Madoka like a muffled bank of fog. There's only room in her heart right now for one person's voice and she will never hear it again.


But Kozue.

Kozue, who demands a clear answer -- and Mikoto responds -- and Kozue sobs -- and Madoka's chin snaps back up like it's on the end of a string. It is this interruption that brings her voice back. With each tortured breath she takes, there's a staccato sob so painful to make that it's almost more of a wheeze. It rips itself free of her lips, but despite its force, the rest of her moves very slowly, almost dreamily.

A twintail goes 'squelch' between them as she rests her head on Kozue's shoulder. Her free hand moves around her from behind, holding her close.

If you were far enough away, you might be able to mistake the two girls, pink and blue, for the pair at the bus stop. At Shinjuku. In the school basement. In the chapel. In the forest. They clung to each other countless times.

Holding Sayaka with one hand and Kozue with the other, Madoka cannot pretend things aren't what they are. But just -- just for one moment --

"I gotchu," she whispers, she whimpers. "I gotchu. I'm here."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Another Way of Caring https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWrZMI9va40

The pale girl with the long black hair stands still and straight. Unmoving. Unmoved. Unnatural, as if she is a standing corpse to complement the fallen one nearby.

Kozue Kaoru shouts at her to be even more blunt; with big empathetic eyes Yumi Ohzora accuses her of being too blunt. La Sirene de Diamant, whose hand so recently lifted them to safety, screams accusations of gloating. Homura hears their complaints. She does not care. There is only one person here who matters to her.

'Everything you do makes her suffer more,' she'd told Sayaka Miki. 'Yes. Of course it is about her. It is always about her.'

Now she hears the reply, an echo off the inside of the white porcelain the others see for a face. 'That's a relief. Now I know you'll always be my enemy.'

It is still about her, but now Homura is here and Sayaka is... not. I win, thinks Homura, but it is more hollow than the echo preceding, because she has to think it over the heartbroken wracking of grief from the girl she loves. Is she more affected by her pain, or jealous of its cause...? Go to hell, Sayaka Miki.

Time to make one last use of her enemy.

From behind her mask of merciless indifference, Homura speaks to Madoka Kaname and Madoka Kaname alone. If she was cold before, now lava could cool on her tongue.

"Sayaka Miki's Soul Gem went beyond the point of no return and became a Grief Seed, then hatched into a Witch. This," a pause as she unfolds her arms, moving at last, "is the final secret of the Soul Gems."

Moonlight glints from the dainty shield on one arm as she twists it to present her hand, palm up, between them. An upright violet egg rests there in a intricate metal enclosure, painting the parchment-white of her fingers with its smooth glow: her Soul Gem. Her soul.

"She let her Gem turn black. When they fill with corruption, they turn into Grief Seeds, and we become Witches. This," and the open hand becomes a fist, the Gem disappearing -- she chops a curt gesture at the lifeless girl they surround, "is not Sayaka Miki any more. That is Sayaka Miki, or what is left of her." She points to the flickering darkness of the Labyrinth, seeping from the wounds they've opened in Haneda Airport.

"She has become a monster. We all will. This is our fate, the last thing we will all do in this world, if it doesn't kill us first. This is the true cost of a miracle." Kyouko and Eri are red and green smudges together at the peripheral of vision filled with a small and shaking form.

Homura keeps going.

"Everything you risked for her sake, and it still came to this. It was a waste to try to save her. It always was."

She is hard, and she is heartless, and she is cruel.

Because she will do anything to keep that brave, loving pink soul from this very fate.

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

Mikoto echoes that she's dead. Others say it too in their own way. Some ask Homura not to be cruel. She doesn't care. She'd rather Homura be cruel if it meant she'd be direct.

And then she doesn't care about anything except her sobbing.

Rocking back and forth with Sayaka's hand against her face. She certainly doesn't expect anyone to understand.

You took his name.

It's just a name.

How can anyone?

I don't care what I do for your life.

... It's impossible.

I'm in love with you, Kozue. Only you.

And yet - she feels the pressure of something against her shoulder, a little touch of pink in her periphery.


Maybe it's not so impossible after all. If anyone could - it's her. "Ma...do... I..." Shivering and shaking as Madoka tries to comfort her... she cannot compose herself, as she gulps down air - yet there is something in that moment that at least lets her feel less alone.


... some part of her had underestimated Homura Akemi.

To not just have a cruel truth held back, but to deliver it so cruelly.

Kozue isn't stunned out of her grief suddenly, instead she's still choking on her grief from before when it hits her.

Horror is an act of exile. It is the story that places the unbearable, the putrid, and the nihilistic in the furthest dark.

As it drives air out of her lungs and it makes her feel like she's suffocating.

The grim bleak past, the outer reaches of the stars, the guts of a deep cave, or the far crevices of your own darkened bedroom; these are the prisons.

It can't be. It must not be.

Horror springs not from such places; we drive the monsters there. Well. Here.

It definitely is. It's there as surely as she can feel a hand against her chest - it's fingers icy.

This is why your story cannot be real.

The feeling plunges further into there. Like it's seizing some part of her deep within.

What is inside here, the real. We must send it to the dark if we are to live until our bodies fail us. We must banish the real and dwell within mere truth.

This isn't someone lying. And she knows it. She wishes for it to be - yet it all fits too neatly. Sayaka - not dead - but a monster. Sayaka - suffering. Sayaka - that thing. Sayaka - the girl at the piano is the girl in the window. Her sobs are ugly incoherence until... something else is said.

It was a waste...

BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QdpCJIyyi4

Homura could not have hurt her more if she were actually putting effort into it. As in that moment Kozue drops the hand, still hiccuping... it is the adrenaline of anger that causes her to rise unsteadily to her feet as she takes a circuitous route around Sayaka's body to spare Madoka and her body.

Instead she's lunging at Homura's face in a moment, grabbing her collar with her hand. "You-"

Her eyes running with tears, the rest of her expression a tableau of anger and grief from her expression to her running makeup as she presses into her space. Something grating in her voice like knives, "You... complete and total - bitch! Don't you... dare EVER say anything for her sake was a WASTE! You knew about this the whole time - and you only deign to say something now? None of this needed to happen!"

Her grip suddenly strengthens as she gets up in her face, so close that Homura can feel her hot - ragged breath against her face, "NONE OF IT! What is wrong with you? Did you hate her so much that you just just decided to get off on her suffering? Did you laugh it up guessing whether she was going to die or become a monster first? Well-?"

She only allows a split second before shouting all of her rage and grief point blank into her face, vision blurring to distort Homura's visage into something monstrous on its own in her own vision, "-ANSWER ME!"

Even now - knowing this, she knows what her priorities are and she isn't. Yet in this moment. She knows what true hatred actually is - and it needs an outlet.

<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Do you think I don't know that?" Yumi asks Kasagami, her words more cutting than the gentle tone she uses would suggest. She knows loss, and she knows many of them do. Certainly the Chevaliers do. But Homura doesn't care; she doesn't even seem to react, indifferent, inhuman. Yumi stares at her through that, stopping only when she feels Mikoto change. She turns to look at Mikoto for an instant, and puts out her arm towards her. "Mikoto-chan..." It's not that she specifically kept it from her--but no, she wouldn't have told Mikoto, of all people. Not even with the amount of knowledge she did have. But she offers her arm, at least. She can do that, can try to rub soothingly at her back. And Eri, Nori--

...Lera tells Mikoto it's enough, and Yumi says, "It's all right. I've got it." Protectiveness, maybe; for all that Yumi was willing to fight them, these are her friends, are valuable to her, and she will not ignore that.

"...It's not a victory," Yumi says to Nori, looks at Eri. "I know you didn't," she says quietly, simply, a bald accusation of someone she loves. "That it wasn't--"

But can she keep talking? While Homura finally breaks her uncaring silence? Maybe Homura is only talking to Madoka (there is no maybe), but Yumi hears her anyway, looks to the thing in her hand. They turned... They--

They become Witches. Yumi's eyes widen, but she has the icy certainty that Homura isn't lying, though part of her wants to jump to that conclusion immediately, wants to assume the worst and not consider that this could happen to Eri, but--

...But Homura keeps going. She mentions the cost of a miracle, mentions that it was a waste. And that is so intolerable that even amidst this awful, chilling moment Yumi cannot help but call out--

"What's WRONG with you!?" The words escape her lips easily, the anger in them sudden but not surprising. "That--You're saying this awful thing happens, and all you can do is claim that trying to help her friend was a waste!? That helping any of you -- helping your /friends/ is a waste!?"

Kozue starts to talk. Kozue has lunged at Homura, and Yumi turns, starts to reach towards Eri, "Eri, don't listen. It's not a waste--" She moves to try to hold onto her, to pull her towards her with some amount of gentleness, tries to hug her friend, to ensure she at least won't be alone, and as Kozue shouts--

"It's not that I think you're lying," Yumi tells Homura without looking at first, knows she's sheet-white and suddenly is leaning on Eri as much as she's trying to hold her. It would be effortless for Eri to break away, if she wanted. Yumi knows this feeling. "It's not..."

Some things are awful because they are true. But this? Yumi looks to the place where Sayaka is, from what Homura says, and there are tears in her eyes as she looks back, and she doesn't know when they started, if it was when she heard those words. Was it when she felt them for Eri?

"It's not that I think you're lying. But something this horrible, it's... It's like you're enjoying this! It's sick!"

"You say you all turn into monsters, but I don't think you have to turn into one at all."

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

Kyouko feels Eri's body collapse against her own. With both her arms she wraps her hands around Eri's waist, clasping her fingers together as she helps keep her propped up. Closing her eyes, she stands like that for a moment, and shakes her head. "You saved me. You saved yourself too. At the end of the day you were protecting yourself. It isn't evil to choose not to die, even when that choice costs."

As Eri responds to Nori, Kyouko loosens her embrace, but stares, for a meaningful moment, over Eri's shoulder at the other girl. If La Sirene wants to make hay of the moment, the first sword she crosses will not be Eri's. There's still plenty of airport left to shred.

And then Homura speaks.

~~SOUNDTRACK CHANGE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5wqIafRKms ~~

Kyouko's eyes widen as her brow furrows, the tension of a face colliding with itself in its uncertainty of where to move. She bypasses doubt entirely

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

Kyouko feels Eri's body collapse against her own. With both her arms she wraps her hands around Eri's waist, clasping her fingers together as she helps keep her propped up. Closing her eyes, she stands like that for a moment, and shakes her head. "You saved me. You saved yourself too. At the end of the day you were protecting yourself. It isn't evil to choose not to die, even when that choice costs."

As Eri responds to Nori, Kyouko loosens her embrace, but stares, for a meaningful moment, over Eri's shoulder at the other girl. If La Sirene wants to make hay of the moment, the first sword she crosses will not be Eri's. There's still plenty of airport left to shred.

And then Homura speaks.

~~SOUNDTRACK CHANGE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5wqIafRKms ~~

Kyouko's eyes widen as her brow furrows, the tension of a face colliding with itself in its uncertainty of where to move. She bypasses doubt entirely - it all makes a horrific sort of sense. Kyouko had long wondered where witches come from, aside from other witches. How, like a fungus, unseen spores erupt into fuzzy corruption in even an apparently closed system. Her stomach dives for her knees, kicking off of them to launch back up to her throat.

Her arms, which had eased from around Eri's torso, now suddenly tighten, violently tighten, her muscles exerting themselves of their own accord as she bundles up this precious girl into an embrace too tight by orders of magnitude. A hidden failsafe clicks in her spirit, and suddenly her muscles slacken, her arms held together around Eri's waist only by her own linked fingers. When Yumi comes to hold Eri, Kyouko thoughtlessly breaks off her own grip.

Her mind races. How much more dangerous had circumstances just become, now that Eri not merely killed Sayaka, but demonized her? Would the Chevaliers surge forward to the war drum of Madoka's wailings? Would the Shepherd allies be repulsed from their allegiance? How many people might Kyouko have to kill to get Eri out of there?

And beyond that, the grander implications loom. Is this to be her fate? Woe to be a Puella Magi...what further monstrosity awaits revelation? What horrible insight remains as to her condition? Dying in battle seems a mercy. Sayaka has been made a witch. Is there any piece of Sayaka that yet remains?

Kyouko's eyes, shocked and dilated, slide over to Madoka, wailing over the shell upon which Sayaka's face is painted. This girl calls to the dead. Perhaps her words can be heard on the other side? Her stomach hisses and convulses, black bile surging up to burn the back of her throat as her feet assume a combat stance, the rest of her tumbling and stumbling through a world that has just been further revealed to her.

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

Mikoto did not speak to comfort Kozue, but she spoke for Kozue.

It is unfortunate that there are more people to hear what she says.

She leans against Yumi, looking up at her with eyes wounded, and there is a shift to her expression which suggests a little comfort at the gesture.

"Lera..." Her name is quiet, as Mikoto looks to her, and there is no hostility to the mora which cut through la Sirene's sobbing. She bows her head, lowering her gaze. Lera has seen her so often unwilling to take her eyes off of her, unwilling to show that submission to an enemy. It is silent admission that she is not trying to fight in this.

It's not as simple as trying to hurt Kozue. Nothing's simple, is it?

Being lied to hurts.

She hears Yumi's defence of her, to Lera, and it is a relief.

Her gaze snaps to Homura again. She takes a sharp, shuddering gasp at the conclusion of her surgical incision on Madoka Kaname's hope, and finds it stolen from her lungs, frozen in breathless stupor for long moments. Her eyes cast to Eri, to Kyouko, to Yumi, to Kasagami, to the Chevaliers.

They didn't know, either.

Her eyes fall on the first amongst the Shepherds.

'It was a waste to try to save her. It always was.'

'...there's no way to save her.'

"Eri," she at first can only grasp for her name, the most important person here, as her mind roils with a thousand concepts she cannot find words for at all. It is all colour and shape and emotion and every inch of it screams no, no, no. On her lips her voice is horror and grief and denial.

"... Eri... Eri..." Little shakes of her head, jerking movements which seem just a shade too halting.

It didn't matter. In the end, none of this mattered, because Mikoto cannot make things better for Eri at all. She cannot bring any measure of equity to Eri's life.

Kozue makes her demands, but she is thinking of a different girl entirely. Each HiME has their Puella Magi, and Mikoto has not a thought for Sayaka, not right now.

Unlike Kozue, she does not rise from the living wood of Yumi's broom; she is stunned there. It is only when Yumi rises that she realises she can still move, even if her lips cannot. She goes to Eri; wrapped up as she is, Mikoto instead reaches to grasp her hand.

She takes a jagged breath, tears leaking freely down her cheeks, and finally grasps hold of her words as well. It is Mikoto's turn to speak around sobbing, now. "We worked - so hard - ah-and, that's what's waiting?! That's too cruel! If, Puella Magi gotta die at the end, just - just kill them! It's too much to ask you all to... to do all this and... and then..."

Her fingers clutch, and perhaps it is a mercy that she is untransformed. "It's horrible! It's horrible! Huh-how could this happen to Eri?! Eri's gone through so much and, Homura's saying - if Eri ever stops eating - that happens?!" Her teeth grit against the thought.

A sharp gasp. "And - Witches we're feeding, were all -"

Girls, she does not say.

They were girls, and the things they became knew nothing but hate and hunger.

'I don't have nightmares about witches anymore. Just people. Only people.' The words claw their way into her mind as she recognises with dawning horror that they are one and the same.

"Even if it's pointless," Mikoto shakes her head in tremulous denial as she echoes her words to Mai, braids flicking about tearstained cheeks, "Eri's not a waste. I won't give up. I won't..!"

She will not turn against Eri Shimanouchi.

Eri could never be her enemy.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera glances at Yumi and Mikoto, but it's a brief look. Her eyes fall back to Endo.

"If--if we'd gotten here quicker, if we'd found a way to stop her, maybe, it..." Lera tries to find an answer for Endo, but it falters into a hitched noise in the back of her throat. She shakes her head, finally. They couldn't have simply taken Tsubasa down faster; there wasn't, somehow, a way to have gotten to Sayaka and stopped her before things went this far.

Her jaw clenches and her eyes narrow, as Nori screams. Lera looks away, at first; then, Eri issues her challenge, and her eyes narrow. Her fingers twitch, starting to reach up towards Soaring Sky on her necklace.

'She let her Gem turn black. When they fill with corruption, they turn into Grief Seeds, and we become Witches.'

Her fingers tremble, as they fall away. Lera takes a couple of shaky steps backward. "That--" Her mouth feels dry. She feels sick. It wasn't, she realizes, the Shepherds that killed Sayaka. It was the very thing that they went to save her from; the weight of killing someone else. "--that's..."

She remembers a night, over a year ago, when she carried a badly-wounded Mami Tomoe home. She remembers Mami standing at the door to her apartment, leaning against it with a tear-streaked face, and a gold and silver ring that had blackened and tarnished. Lera thought nothing of it, at the time. She swallows, hard, as it dawns on her, slowly, what really happened that day.

The screams and accusations bring Lera out of that, though. She looks at Homura, and the color that drained from her face begins to be replaced with a deep, angry red. She lifts one hand, balled into a fist, and covers her heart. "You--you could have warned them! You could have told them! Helped them! Given them a better chance to live longer, be happier, do something, try anything! How could you do this to them!?"

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

Endo's voice is choked with grief, when he speaks again "It should be you." Whether La Sirene rises to Eri Shimanouchi's challenge or not, he does. "Not Mami, or Sayaka, or anyone else. It should be all of you." It's not delivered coldly, or with any sort of composure, or even that much menace. It's more grief, helpless and despairing frustration.

He can't quite make it to true, genuine anger. Homura's revelation ensures that, his tear-stained gaze shifting to the violet Puella Magi as she begins to speak, and then lays out the truth of Sayaka's fate and the path that all of her kind follow. Endo's throat is dry, and what words he can find soon trail off: "That's..."

He wants to say that can't be true. That something so horrible couldn't have happened, or be happening, or been happening. His eyes flash across those over Chevaliers, as if waiting for someone to confirm Homura is incorrect. But there are no more Puella Magi to be found amongst them, no Mami, no Sayaki, only the cold truth that the dark-haired Shepard is offering them.

His gaze turns toward the destruction, his voice strained. "There...there has to be a way to fix it. It's not right! How do you fix it!?" His eyes go to Kozue as she seizes at Homura, demanding answers. His voice joins all the others, demanding answers, demanding something, anything.

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

Sirene lashes out, tells them to leave, to enjoy their victory. Kasagami's bitter smile grows. One hand clenches, gripping her rose signet roughly before untensing. She rubs it's surface. The cruel words of Eri hits her ears, and Madoka sobs as well as how she tries to comfort both fallen and affected in blue.

She slides her sword from her back, deftly steps aside from Utena, and forward. Kasagami lets herself fall backwards to the tarmac with a heavy thud. It's not anger or grief that overwhelms the Duelist amidst the surge of emotions that takes up the airport.

"Puella magi...all of it is ridiculous." Unfair. Horrible. Cruel. Unsustainable. Indignation, bitter, sits in her voice. Something that shouldn't exist. Kasagami's heart rejects it utterly. Her chuckle is quiet, humorless, almost indistinguishable from a bitter sob.

But it's Homura's revelations that have her sitting up, at least marginally. In just a few sentences, what was once an untenable system to be fixed and molded into Kassie's world view becomes something else entirely. Something she can't put into words. Other than truly, utterly alien and wrong.

Kasagami is silent for moments, as the wheels in her head turn. A fist punches the tarmac, and she's back up to her feet. Shadows fall over her face, and her good eye turns to Homura, then to Kyouko, and then to Eri. She holds each in turn.

"...Homura, what kind of insane logic are you spouting?" It's her first instinct, to call Homura mad, to reject what she's just heard. Hands go to her pockets, scrunching and balling up inside of them. She finds herself breathing harder than even that long fight should have made her do.

The logical conclusion of what Homura has stated aloud. Kasagami might be a fool at times, but she's not stupid by any means. "If what you're saying is true..." She licks her lips. Why does her throat feel like it's on fire? "No. That can't be right. Eri-chan and Kyouko-chan aren't monsters! They just kill them so they can live. It's unfair, it's messed up, but that's the truth of the situation!"

She looks over to her fellow Shepherds for confirmation. Her gaze is both imperious, seeking the truth, and yet begs that what she's thinking isn't right.

"A Witch is...A magical girl, a Puella Magi, would be hunting and killing other Puella Magi to survive! No!" She smiles.

"Eri-chan. You're no ouroboros. You've just tried to live. To defend yourself. You're not a monster!"

"Right?" It's asked, directly. A tear streaks down Kassie's cheek. Murderer, survivor, all forced onto her.

But Eri is no monster, surely. Her dear friend that she's fought for and slayed Witches with can't be a monster.

"Homura Akemi's just manipulating the enemy, right?" Quiet, oh-so-quiet.

Kozue goes for Homura, and Kasagami can't find it in herself to stop her. Some part of her finds herself rooting for the blue haired young woman. She can't imagine what it would be like to hear such words spat at her, fresh from her own losses years ago. Deep in her heart, a little seed of pure hatred for Homura Akemi is planted.

Yumi's words cut, producing a visible wince from the Duelist. But her gaze is locked solid upon Eri. Her friend, the one she sat at a dinner table with, flirted with and promised she'd make a better world where twisted situations like Puella Magi don't exist come about.

It's Mikoto that has Kasagami looking down at her boots. She spouts her own thoughts aloud, and runs them further to the logical conclusion. If Puella Magi are fated to be monsters, then they're a risk. A monster in waiting killing other monsters. Killing people. Like her parents.

Maybe, if circumstances were different, couldn't she have been a victim of a Witch? A victim of a Puella Magi?

Endo's voice cuts out hard, angry. He demands how it's all 'fixed'. There's a quiet, bitter little sound. How?

She runs her finger across her rose signet. A glance, vision blurry from tears and stress, to the One Engaged on the ground.

With a miracle. By bringing Revolution. She wants nothing more than to curl up on the ground beside her fellow Duelist, to fall into the arms of Pluto, pretend this isn't reality.

She looks once again to Eri. Looking for an answer that will deny Homura's words, almost desperately.

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mikrp7ln-fE

Eri speaks and la Sirene does not even think to dissemble. "No," she answers her, not looking.

"Nothing would."

Maybe she will kill me now, Nori thinks-- and that lets her tendency to fantasy spiral away from her, her mind leaping with relief away from what is before her, from the huddling of Kozue and Madoka, from the corpse of Sayaka. Maybe she'll cut off my head or something like that. Oh -- it would be sad; but at least it would be over. She is sure that Kasagami, Endo, Lera - all of them would stop it... Or at least save the others. Batiste would be sad, and Tsuru too - but -


Homura is talking.

La Sirene looks at her through the spread of her fingers.

She feels the world blur a little again.

Inside of her there are once again three tracks, though they are not the same as those blurring moments after Mami's death.

One part of her stoutly insists: She is full of it. That is impossible. There aren't enough of them! They grow from familiars - that was their entire project!

Another thinks: No wonder she has been so sad!

The last part...

The last part of her watches as Kozue moves. (Externally in this moment la Sirene is glassy-eyed with shock. She probably isn't alone.) But it cranks backwards. Her eyes flick towards the others.

La Sirene de Diamant hears the grief of her beloved ones. And that of her foes. She can see the tension in Kyouko and in Mikoto. She breathes in deeply and lets it out. Her hands stay on her face and she rises up slowly, pressing with her legs alone. The half-dried mud on her boots flakes off as she thinks back -

Sayaka couldn't any more. She told Nori that Nori had to, now. That was the moment when Sayaka left them even if they remained in cooperation to hunt Witches. Now, the hunting part is left aside.

La Sirene turns her hands away from her face as she reaches her full height. Her Pharos glitters for a moment at her waist. Not aggressively; a simple jostling of such a lightsome thing.

She turns to look towards Homura. "You're wrong," she tells her, her voice mild.

La Sirene makes herself place one hand on her hip. It is a pose. She must pose here. She has to make eyes come to her because there is no choice. What had felt like a burden, what she had screamed at Sayaka about - it is now the legacy she has been handed. The weight is still a leaden thing but it is a precious weight now. In her heart she grips it with an iron intensity.

"Wrong, at least, about Sayaka."

La Sirene breathes in deeply.

"Sayaka Miki was my precious friend. She dreamed of protecting the innocent, and high ideals. And that dream did not die with her. She has passed it to us, Akemi. To all of us. Even you," here she looks towards the Shepherds, "have been touched by it."

Her attention returns to Homura. "She couldn't bear its weight any longer. So she had to hand it on. But she knew that it was precious. She knew it deep in her heart--!!"

La Sirene stalls, abruptly. Her breath hitches. She can feel her own heart flutter in her chest again. It's real, isn't it, she tells herself. She is dead. Whatever Homura is saying - why - though - her mind swirls, and she shakes it off, eyes widening again.

Her hand turns, fingers curling, as if to sweep up Kozue - and past her, Lera, Endo, even the forms of Yumi and Kasagami and Mikoto. Her fingers turn as if to pass over Eri and Kyouko.

"So," she concludes, and she makes herself keep looking away, because she knows if she sees Madoka again right now she will collapse fully. "Why did you hold this back? Are you here for their tears, Homura Akemi?"

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

What Kyouko says - she wants to take it to heart. Perhaps that's not evil but...

Eri is facing up to La Sirene as the chorus of grief grows. Hearing her response, she only says two words, "Fine then." She can at least understand that. However whatever she expects from La Sirene next... it is fated to be interrupted as Homura starts to speak. At first she isn't really paying attention. Not really. She thinks she's about to face on more comers. However something then clicks in her head. Not truth - but merely the dissonance in those words from what she knows.

Eri,... Eri... Eri...

"Mikoto-chan it's just a bad..." Then mid-sentence she changes who she's addressing, as if lost, "Homura-chan I know you really hated her but that's not funny..." Eri says quietly, at first allowing her inner fatigue to speak for her.

It's not that she is calling Homura out for her cruelty, it's just... she thinks saying they she turned into a witch - it has to be a bad joke. "I mean... I killed her."

There's a strange abstraction in her tone, in this confession, "She's dead. It's-" And then Kozue gets up in Homura's face. Growing more tense within an overwhelming sense of dread, Eri falls quiet, having this profoundly lost look in her eyes.

She doesn't want to believe it. She doesn't.

Yet there's less to refute it by the moment. She feels her senpai's arms around her waist, she feels how they grow lax - can sense Kyouko's own conflict. "It's not true..." She repeats hollowly even as she is pulled into Yumi's arms.

Eri don't listen.

Too late.

This monster was created by her. In killing Yaori she started her down this path. In killing Mami she twisted her further down it. And then she turned her into this by not even killing her properly.

You're not a monster!

She already thought Kyubey turned them into monsters splendidly suited for killing by ripping their souls out of their body and recreating them. Now to find out she was subsisting off girls whose existence as monsters she was prolonging - letting them kill and kill for the sake of power - resources - seeds until one day she can do it no more and joins them.

It's horrible! It's horrible!

A hand taken in Mikoto's... an assurance that she's not a waste. Eri continues to have this look like she's completely lost as she looks from Mikoto to Yumi, she does not hug back, or squeeze that hand. "Mikoto it's... Yumi... Kasagami... senpai..."

It's like she's drawn tight - stretched. She wants to meet their expectations - answer them - she knows her senpai must be distraught on her own right now. She has to say something. Say anything at all. Or ask questions of Homura - make things right somehow.

Yet her whole being - her whole sense of self feels twisted around. Violated. Or perhaps its she that's the violation because of how fitting this cruel joke has become..

A wave of nausea takes her over, and she spasms in warning within their grasp, as her free hand covers her mouth in a choking noise as she forces it back down. Right now after all she's been through, it's agony and fire in her guts as she whispers three words behind her hand.

"...I feel sick."

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

A cacophony rises in response to Homura's words, but Madoka says nothing at first, a deer in the headlights, a fragile doll torn off the shelf and falling, falling. Let it not be said that she does not hear -- that she is not filled with the denial, rage, grief, betrayal, desperation, determination of the others. Even now some dare to hope. She can no more resist being swept up and away by them -- by all of their feelings, the dark and the bright -- than she can resist the oncoming floor. Wind rushes around her as reality rises to meet her. Her stomach twists. Her nostrils flare.

In the end she is the last to speak, in that caesura between the rolling thunder... and the place where Homura might reply.


All those words Madoka had swallowed begin to leak from her in a broken jumble, like pus from an infected wound. They have to compete for space in her swollen throat with other things -- misery. Misery in ten different shades of blue, and red and green and gold besides. Even purple. Sadness, yes, but terror also. Fear for each of them.

Naturally, fear for Sayaka most of all.


Much of the attention of the group has shifted to Homura -- including Kozue's. Madoka trembles as she's left alone again, as they're left alone together. Her abandoned arm falls to her side, and then, quietly, she slips it underneath Sayaka, pulls -- gently, but also hard, in the sense that Madoka is not a strong person and so it takes a great deal of effort to shift her at all -- so that her head is on her knees, her thighs.

Sayaka could be sleeping.

But Sayaka isn't sleeping... is she?

Madoka lifts her head and stares past Homura, past Kozue, past everyone, at what used to be Haneda Airport for a long, still moment.

But she isn't seeing Haneda.

And she isn't even seeing Oktavia.

Charlotte's teeth close over Sayaka's arm.

Tiro Finale vaporizes Gertrud.

Izabel is lanced to pieces.

...a girl with bluebird hair and windows for eyes, at the piano...

... ...Now Oktavia ripples into view of her mind's eye -- an incomplete vision seized from a fractional, desperate moment where all of her attention was on the one she thought was Sayaka...

... ... ...Spears, whips, bullets. Swords, sorcery. A best-case vision, it's so easy to imagine, where all of these things execute a monster, without anyone else... getting killed...

... ... ... ...

A single tear slides down Madoka's cheek, distinct from all the others only in that it was the first to be shed in this brave new world that has such horrors in it. Within it glistens the violence done by and to and for and against countless Puella Magi who do not even know who it is they're fighting.

BGM: Can't Help Falling In Love (Kina Grannis) - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tyoAsprwDRc

A single word struggles out of Madoka's mouth.

It rhymes with 'cry'.

It rhymes with 'lie'.

It is both statement and question.

Madoka curls herself around the corpse -- are Grief Seeds corpses, then? this is still a corpse, her corpse -- protectively. Nose almost to Sayaka's chest, her words are muffled but distinct.

Why, she asked, but now she continues, in a reed-thin dirge, her voice a wire already snapped. A broken window. A ruined chair. A shattered cup of cocoa.

"...she wanted...to protect people...from witches..."

Her cheek against Sayaka, she can hear a heartbeat but it's just her own blood, pounding in her ears.

"...she wanted...to make a better world..."

Her knuckles whiten as she knots her fingers in Sayaka's damp track jacket.

"...that's the kind of magical girl she wanted to be... but now--!"

When she runs out of words that can capture how unbelievably awful this is, her jagged voice simply goes on without them. Her wail ends only when she runs out of air, like a siren lost to distance.

Afterwards, it's lesser, more disjointed sobs, passed through Madoka into Sayaka like she's playing a rapidly cooling blue instrument. But she is the instrument, and Homura the conductor.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Time and Time Again (Counting Crows) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Mxo-FJ8W0Y

She makes it look easy, the cruelty. To all appearances it costs Homura Akemi exactly nothing to utter these unfeeling words. The girl is a creature apart, aloof and inhuman:

A very convincing monster.

Even as the violet magi tells a most terrible truth, still she deceives. Her fallen enemy knew her for a liar... And at this stage in her existence, Homura Akemi hardly knows any other way. The dead thing in her chest that passes for a heart clenches like a fist, twists with each tremble she sees run through Madoka, and not a whisper of the cost of speaking those words surfaces through projected impassivity. It kills her and unlike the rest she cannot and will not vent her pain -- it must fester beneath her mask.

Grief is a storm and her name is Kozue, and Homura does not jerk away as the other girl rages up and seizes her still-wet collar -- she sways in the grip, her slight frame easily moved and unresisting. This close, this slack, she loses some of that ineffable edge; her mouth gapes to draw in a breath, her eyes round at their margins, and her accusant may catch the sense of Homura bracing herself.

When the vocal knives come out, the volume and the intensity blasting Homura, the puella magi averts her gaze. Her eyes angle down and away and so does her chin, and Kozue gets her pale cheek, and all can see that even Homura Akemi cannot stand unflinching forever.

Maybe she isn't enjoying this, after all.

She never looks back in Kozue's direction. Not once. A chorus rises around them, of anger and confusion and disbelief, of hatred. What is wrong with her? Homura looks at Madoka, only Madoka.

"There is a balance, and Sayaka Miki was never going to tip it. For all the good she wished into the world, she matched it with her suffering. The lives she saved can only equal the lives she will now curse."

Homura pulls back, now, with caution -- seeking to disengage from that grasp on her collar rather than get decked by the girl whose eyes she still won't meet, but prepared to suffer either outcome.

One more breath, to burn in tight lungs, and then she continues. To Madoka. "Do you see, now? Do you understand? This is what you want to spend your soul on. This is the thing you've admired." For Madoka.

And because she will not suffer any hope to live, she replies to the stirring words of la Sirene de Diamant with a final volley of cold, all the while forcing herself to look at the miserable pink-haired girl she loves so much. "If you want to protect the innocent, then you should go hunt the thing that Sayaka Miki has become. Before she kills some of them."

She takes a few steps away, drying hair a flat swirl behind her... and disappears utterly mid-turn, leaving the remaining mahou a void instead of a target for their anger.

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

Inch by inch Sayaka is shifted, her clothing and the heel of her sneakers grinding quietly across rainslick pavement. One of her hands lies across her stomach, fingers spread--that's the one with Madoka's neck ribbon wrapped around it. The other rests palm-down on the ground, as if feeling it as it goes by. When Madoka manages to get her head up on her lap, her nape sinks into the dip between Madoka's legs, just a little asymmetrically, so her face turns slightly to one side. Sayaka's hair is starting to dry, feathering away at the edges of lingering damp, and one of the dried locks slips across her forehead towards her yellow hairclips.

No one else knows what Madoka has lost tonight. They have words for it--best friend, 'like sisters.' They weren't there. They didn't see two girls grow up side-by-side. For no one else is the expression Sayaka wears now familiar. Because right now, Sayaka is not feeling anything in particular.

Like on the train to school.

Like when she phased out for a minute, before resuming her homework.

When she fell asleep, after the stress of the day left her face, but before dreams kicked in.

When she stopped pedalling her bike, as a shallow hill took over from her tomboy legs, and let the wheel click softly as they glided towards the bay.

Because that's what it's like. The best person in your life is the one that's bored you the most, the one you don't think about sometimes, the one who sometimes just bumps you a little in the kitchen because both of you are too lazy to move aside properly and neither of you care about brushing the other that much. Madoka might share Sayaka's shining eyes with Mami, her frustrated grimace with Kyouko, her shy lips with Kozue, but this was hers. She had all of Sayaka's nothing.

And so she has all that's left.

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

La Sirene de Diamant looks towards the girl who is the author of her misfortune, in a sense - Eri Shimanouchi - and the thought crosses her mind, forced as it is into the straitjacket armor of Sayaka's ideals:

What if we had had a different meeting in that garden shed?

She cannot reach a state of emotion beyond sorrow, pity almost, even for Mami's killer, before Madoka begins to speak. She can all but smell the tear on Madoka's cheek. Madoka is pleading.

Homura speaks of a balance. La Sirene de Diamant cannot bring her lips to form a rebuttal until after Homura has tossed her hair and vanished as if God decided she did not particularly want Homura to continue existing. La Sirene doubts she is this fortunate.

The thunder rumbles in the distance.

'she wanted to protect people from witches'

'she wanted to make a better world'

'that's the kind of magical girl she wanted to be - but now-'

"Balances are for merchants," la Sirene says, to herself. She sucks in a deep breath and turns again, her hands clasping before her.

"We cannot fight this Witch now," la Sirene says. "We would lose."

"But this airport is badly damaged," she continues. "There will not be many people. It is a wide open space; if... the influence of the Witch should draw someone; they would be easy to see coming."

"Let us keep -" her voice chokes as she sees the shifting of Sayaka in the corner of her vision, but she recuperates: "Let us keep watch. Until we are ready to..."

Don't choke now, she thinks. This is the dream she gave you. You can't take her to Plutonia, la Sirene thinks: You can't even take her out to a movie, now, but you can do this. The small of her back tightens and the red thread around her heart does too.

"Until we are ready to conclude things."

La Sirene tilts her head forwards, to look at the ground. "I will go first. Speak with me if you will. I..."

The red thread can only tighten so far. La Sirene trails off, a statement unfinished. Cut it off and say 'it ended here'. She still cannot look towards Madoka. Not yet. But despite the mud and the pain and the soreness and the grief, she can, at least, stand - and even shine, a little bit, in the darkness.