2018-11-10 - Oktavia Menuett II

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Oktavia Menuett II

The attempt to save Sayaka fails in a deadly way. Oktavia cannot be reached. Kozue decides to follow true love into the dark.


Oktavia von Seckendorff, Madoka Kaname, Nori Ankou, Setsuna Higashi, Mikoto Minagi, Kozue Kaoru, Homura Akemi


Haneda Airport, Oktavia's Labyrinth

OOC - IC Date:

11/10/2018 - 05-27-15


<Pose Tracker> Oktavia von Seckendorff [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Song to the Moon - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4qxi-sYUT9s

And in the silence that follows, it finally happens. Madoka and what's left of Sayaka are alone for a moment. The greathelm bends down, its dispassionate grille seething with an exhalation. Above her head, Madoka can see there is a sort of wrought-iron wrack holding decorative swords, spread behind Oktavia's neck. The sigil is not innocent, but it is very direct. It's a lot like...

As if summoned by thought, it hits the ground right at Madoka's feet, with a little tin click, bouncing a few times before clacking down onto its back. A Chevalier pin, with a cartoon knight on it.

Far, far above Madoka's head, at the very peak of the sky, the conductor's panel finally came off. There is absolutely nothing there, now that the pin fell.

The world groans as the Mermaid Witch rolls forward like a tide of metal, and with a rush like a clattering train, her palm collides with Madoka, engulfing her. She's flying suddenly, like when Papa used to toss her up in the air when she was even smaller. And when she lands, when gravity returns to, it is Oktavia's baleful face that fills her vision. In the wild aftermath of her momentum Madoka finds a Witch staring at her with wintery calm.

A few dozen Liviannas are looking down at Madoka as one, like glass-eyed bats.

Oktavia's thumb slips past her forefinger. Around Madoka's precious body, her fingers begin to crush in.

It's just firm at first, like when Madoka met Sayaka at the door and invited her in for that first big sleepover with magical girls. It grows tighter, cinching Madoka's chest the way Sayaka's arms did in a grim SEARRS cell. Then it is really squeezing her, the way Sayaka had when she told her how she felt about Kozue. And then, the gauntlet is crushing her like the hardest hug Sayaka ever gave her, that desperate embrace that wrapped all the way around Madoka's small torso to grasp her upper arms too, and mauled endless miserable love into her. It was after Sayaka had been cut to the ground repeatedly trying to protect Madoka from Kasagami Araki.

"I told you! You don't even have permission..." Sayaka shouted, swivelling her grip to seize her sword in both hands. "To look at her!"

It was after she emptied out what felt like half of Tokyo's magical girls to get her back.

Sayaka glanced over her shoulder at Madoka, casually pinching a wink at her. "Sorry you had to wait. Give me just a little longer. Ne?"

After a long sleep.

Carefully tucking one of Madoka's socked feet under a blanket, Sayaka left her on the living room couch.

After a short sprint.

Once freed from her blanket, Madoka's flight is swift and silent. Her arms wrap around Sayaka's chest, her head buries itself between her shoulder blades, nuzzling wordless sobs into her sweatshirt.

But no one is planting random kisses all over Madoka's pink hair. No one is here to make her feel like the greatest miracle the world has ever seen, just because she's okay. No one is washing soap spots off a glass.

Madoka's elbows are forced into her lower ribs, bending rib and joint painfully. A metal thumb is pressing into her lower back. Her nice new high school uniform's sleeves are pinched in the cracks of the gauntlet. Sayaka had never, would never hug Madoka this hard.

The blank, ridged disks set into Oktavia's helm stare. Once it had been easy to believe that cracking away this dark metal would reveal skin, blue eyes, blue hair. But the gauntlet, for all its weight, feels hollow to Madoka. The cold conveys to her skin even through the uniform she and Sayaka waited so long to wear. Yet armor like this must protect something, mustn't it?

Perhaps there is something inside that cannot be touched.

COMBAT: Setsuna Higashi transforms into Cure Passion!
COMBAT: Nori Ankou transforms into La Sirene de Diamant!
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The path to Oktavia is created by Kyouko's body, in the end, battered straight through layer after layer of protective red diamonds like a ram, and Madoka's next scream, wordless, is all for her. For Kyouko, who would do anything -- and may have just given everything -- for Madoka's very last chance to save her very best friend. For Kyouko, folded on the ground in a puddle of her own blood-redhair.

Madoka's heart is in her throat, as she closes those last few steps to Oktavia's base. It pounds so fiercely, and crazily out of time with the notes of the piano, the unholy orchestra.

It keeps pounding even when the music stops.

Even when she is lifted, high, high into the air.

Even as one of her brown loafers is jarred off, and splashes into the puddle next to the Chevalier pin.

Even as those massive gauntleted fingers begin to constrict.

It pounds harder than ever.

She can't hear her own voice over the roar in her own ears -- the world outside is distant, and tinny, like the music through a single shared earbud on a park bench -- but the others can. The soft groan. The sharp hitch, as the girl realizes she only has a little bit of air left in her lungs, and swallows the noise almost before it started.

What about softball? she'd asked.

What about snacks?

What about everyone?

BGM: Reprise: Raindrops -- Regina Spektor https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S_oLCJIYOVU

"What about Kozue?" she squeaks out, and those are the last words that her vocal chords are able to buzz; after that there's too little air.

No one has ever seen Madoka's eyes so large. They look like they're about to pop right out of her head, until they narrow in agony, transformed into pink slits, like chasms of petals breaking up the snow-white landscape of her bloodless face. They don't, but tears do, squeezed right out of her. They glitter down towards Oktavia's fingers. Next to her, though, they're too small to really be seen.

Even narrowed, even filled with the sea, her eyes stare -- Madoka stares -- into the grill, achingly close and yet so far away. Her lips purse like her favorite fish impression, which she likes to make to make Tatsuya giggle... and Sayaka, too.

Also like a fish out of water her lungs burn, they flutter miserably inside her, desperate to, unable to, expand. She doesn't feel her own lungs, though. She just feels fire, fire like the droplets raining down on them in that it is a dozen dozen individual tiny fires, starting in random places throughout her and then sliding -- onwards -- inwards.

It dances in front of her eyes in blinding white spots and every one of them could be a glimmer deep within that armor.

There's a little air left. Just a little.

Enough for a whisper.

Even now, she hasn't given up.

"What about me?" implores Madoka.

She is such a savant when it comes to hugging Sayaka that it does not require her to try to fit perfectly into the curves of her shape; they snap together like magnets.

A tear finds another and the two of them collide, then flow rapidly together down and off the tip of her nose.

Madoka hysterically bawls Sayaka's name, over and over, into her friend's arm and shoulder and ear and hair. Into her skin and into her shadows.

Her leg spasms; it has nowhere to go. Even her second shoe cannot escape. It winds up half on and half off, its lip jammed into her ankle.

She flinched from Kyouko's cruel truths and Eri's dark ones, from Homura's anger and frustration and control.

She can't feel her fingertips anymore, only the hissing, fizzing flame.

But not from Sayaka. Not ever.

"Please, Sayaka-chhhhhhh--"

The fire overwhelms her throat, and her vision, and Madoka says no more.

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

There are two Chevaliers unaccounted for in this moment.

One is small; and he would be a liability. He has never entered a Witch's Labyrinth, though he has seen their near occasion. Batiste remains in Shibuya, and he prays; he prays by writing in tiny copperplate script upon a roll of paper. His prayers will reach someone, though nobody here.

The other is of more moderate size, and this Chevalier, la Sirene de Diamant, has been having the devil's own time.

She had lingered in the back, so that there would be a way to move - and because there is the risk that they will not find Oktavia, find SAYAKA, where or how they expect. She makes bright lights (well, 'lights') and is tough. It is a good place for her to be, though the vanguard would have been better; yet that might have harmed the speed they might require.

La Sirene has also been glad to not have people seeing her face, because terror and grief have wracked her. Doubt, too. Can they do this? Is it even possible? It must be - but there is no way for them to be sure. They can beseech her, but la Sirene knows, too, that you may have to call out a thousand times to be heard once.

They may not have a thousand times. They might barely have one!

And there are no more wishes to be had.

So it is that the Siren of Diamonds has been racing through thick, through thin, and through nothing-and-everything-at-all to try to catch up. And not, it seems, a moment too soon:

For la Sirene enters the great dome at the heart of things in time to see Oktavia's thumb press down against Madoka. She had been running full tilt and she does not, exactly, stop, but she does come up momentarily short, the diamonds on the soles of her boots throwing sparks as she stares.

Thoughts fly through her mind like a flock of birds taking flight.


it's enormous.

she has madoka!

where is sayaka in there?

can she hear?

madoka's being crushed!

i can't fight this

it's like a tank!

madoka's getting squashed!!

it's like a brick of

madoka's going to die

and she swings one leg around and leans forwards.

She is not notorious for her speed, most times, but after a stagger-skip of one step she leans forwards. Her eyes wet with tears and the tears sparkle a pink-purple. The same hue flickered through the unlight that limns her in the past, but now it has a much clearer origin, a stronger primary hue: the little slip of pink in that great steel fist.

As she runs, Nori feels the same stuttering, jerking-film-in-a-rusted-projector sense she had before. The way she felt when she saw Mami die, so far away yet so agonizingly close. She feels as if she is splitting, as if parts of her are screaming. Some of them are saying in a chorus that she can't, she can't possibly; her lips move because they can't do anything else as she runs.


If I get this wrong, la Sirene thinks as she accelerates, then nothing else matters. It will be a failure through and through. There will be nothing but the grim skeleton of putting paid to whatever scheme Akemi is up to.

As she thinks this her left hand's fingers contort. Index and pinky extend; thumb presses down harshly against the ring and middle fingers. As she passes the discarded pin, one gorgeous black-leather boot sparkling with immaculate design stands next to a forgotten brown loafer. La Sirene leaps upwards:


As she flies, the trailing wisps of ethereal black radiance behind her come up like the tide going out. The leap is impossible enough on its own, but here, now, the impossible is the only hope. Nori thinks to herself: come on, just a little more. Her right leg extends in hope, in anticipation.


It is a matter of about three centimeters, but three centimeters in her favor. The first diamond gets traction and has enough behind it for la Sirene to mount upon the armored limb of the witch. She wheels about, her right hand raising as she screams words that are hardly, in and of themselves, reassurance.

"Les Mysteres, COME!"

There is nothing leisurely about the charm, here. The tiny myocardial tension before her final syllable, la Sirene sighted into the joint of the Mermaid Witch's armor. Inside there is nothing, perhaps, and so it is that the silver-and-black-and-hope flash had no resistance to sliding inside. There is a brief burst -

No sound, other than the defiant scream on silver chords, the 'afterblast' of shape and color evaporating in the environs of the labyrinth. Except that the hand separates from the wrist - the silver light spreading outwards in triumph - and la Sirene's left hand spirals upwards. It might be victory, a moment of glory, if she did not know who she fought.

What la Sirene says next is: "Someone--!!!"

<Pose Tracker> Cure Passion [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Where Cure Passion hit the wall and fell, there is silence; she can't be seen. A moment's distraction was all it took. ...And the Witch looks down to Madoka, and the world groans. So many eyes, on Madoka, precious Madoka, so dear to the girl that this Witch was. ...Is? Is she, still?

One pair of eyes is not on her, at first. Not in the first moment, not as Madoka is crushed. With a heavy breath, instead, a girl in red drags herself up with one hand onto a platform, her arm full of unconscious mage. Carefully, Cure Passion sets Lera down, looks at her for an instant in worry, and up to the familiars. ...And there--There, she sees it.

The Witch, so close to Madoka, so far from her. The girl who is their hope here is so, so small in the hands of the great armored fortress before them. ...Seeing a person clutched in giant hands gives Passion a flash of memory; of many times. ...Of her own actions. And yet, like then, someone comes. La Sirene is running, running. And Passion looks to the girl she chose to work with, to a leader, and sets her eyes. "...I'll come back for you," she promises to the girl she sets on the ground, and turns. From a sprinter's crouch, she darts forward like a bullet, too fast to be seen almost as soon as she starts.

As La Sirene calls forth Les Mysteres, Cure Passion is a blur of flashing red, brilliant crimson in defiance of the gloom of the Labyrinth. A cluster of Aglae begin to converge on not where she is, but where she will be, and she shifts her shoulder forward, impacting and crashing straight on through like an americal football player, or a speeding car barrelling down the street.


Passion hears, bends at the knee mid motion, and leaps into the hazy air. Leaps, towards the girl in the falling clutch of a monster. Towards someone who is everything to someone.

She leaps into silver light, and extends her arms; only there does she slow enough to be seen. As a titanic hand looses its grip, Pretty Cure takes gentle hold of Madoka Kaname and twists, shielding her with her body as she sails up, up, past the Witch--

"I've got you," Setsuna murmurs, for just a shining instant, red light still sparkling around both of them.

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

'No matter what, I can't give up... 'cause I swore my life.'

'I did it so that she wouldn't have to.'

Their devotion is the same. Perhaps Mikoto does not know Kyouko well - but Eri is hers, and her worth is immense.

It is not a complicated input. Kyouko is on one side of the barrier, with the monster who was Sayaka. Mikoto is on the other. She throws herself against it; it holds. She howls protest and warning; she goes unheard. Force will not allow her to reach Kyouko, and she can think of no other way, because she is not thinking at all.

This close to the barrier, the wheels do not menace her. She is free to watch without seeing the way Kyouko is battered, until everything


And Madoka screams, and screams, and screams, and there are words to her war-cry but they are not so different at all. And rain drip-drips down as Madoka steps forward, step over deliberate step, past Kyouko's fallen form towards the monster who was Sayaka.

Echoing, a directive.

'Be careful. ...Make sure everybody comes back alive, Mikoto-chan. Everybody you can bring out.'

Echoing, a promise.

'Please take care of me.'

'I will.'

Echoing, a lesson.

'She was its prey. The only way to really help her is to kill our enemy, but I bought us some time.'


There is no time to run to Kyouko, to press fingers up against the joining of neck and jaw to find the beat there, to search out the gem which is her true self and ascertain her status. Everybody, Yumi said.

"MIROKU!" Mikoto howls, a word still afforded to her even in the depths of berserkergang, as she brings her blade about in full revolution. She plunges the obsidian length into its dark portal, as white light arcs out and casts strange shadows over the orchestra. It is an even more unnerving thing, here.

About the red - is it her reams of hair, pooling around her like a standard left to drape over the tortured ground of a battlefield lost? - erupt obsidian spires, thick and tall, and they crash over Kyouko in a cage of black. The tips, pointing up towards the orchestral pit, are not so unlike spears in their deadly acantha.

A fitting marker. Tomb or bulwark, she cannot stop to say.

There is movement, at the corner of her eyes, smaller than the great and slowly shifting Witch above. Bullet-swift Cure Passion runs, and behind her lays a girl.

Everybody, Yumi said.

Perhaps it is alarming when obsidian erupts about the place Cure Passion left Lera, but it is just another cage, thick volcanic glass which abjures the wheels which have not been lost to distraction.

They are things which remain as Mikoto draws her sword; she maintains them. They are huge things, designed to destroy titans. They will weather familiars well enough. They will protect Kyouko and Lera from the Aglaé, because she cannot stay to defend them.

The only way to really help her is to kill their enemy.

Her, in this instance, is a versatile pronoun. Kyouko, Lera, and...

There is someone else who needs help, after all. And every inch of Madoka is being squeezed away, like a giant moth captured in curious hand. Will it make noise, if it's clenched a little harder? Will she make noise?

It takes long seconds, to draw Miroku around, to tear the magic from the depths of darkness. Time spent on one is time lost to another; Mikoto's assistance is a zero-sum game. But in long seconds la Sirene de Diamant has surged forward, sprung upwards. Mikoto cannot remember her ever leaping so swiftly.

And 'tearing' is a good adjective for magic, right now. It is unlight which floods the sphere which is the world, now, and it rips gauntlet from wrist.

What a pure-hearted cry - for someone, anyone.

If Mikoto had the sense to feel anything but fury, it would be nostalgic.

But as Madoka falls, there is no help a girl like Mikoto can offer her, hands occupied at the hilt of a blade. But as the moments snapshot around her, there is Cure Passion, the intent of her charge now revealed at its apex. That's all they are - moments, divorced in time.

Flashes of the world.

Divorced in time, there was a lesson. And Mikoto had tried so hard to reassure them that she was still here, that she was still focused on their vain hope. She tried and tried until she was pushed under, and now there is no room to think about whether the monster which was Sayaka can hear them, because she does not think at all.

She hears their voices and she sees their movements and she is moving, too.

The monster which was Sayaka has a fish for a tail, and Mikoto knows how to butcher a fish. She can catch them, and gut them, and lay them out to be cooked. There is a midpoint, right about the belly. Carve in and through. It's simple.

Simple things are not always easy.

Everything in a Labyrinth is a matter of life and death. Make sure everybody comes back alive. Take care of her. Echoes over echoes, layering each other and creating a course.

If the Witch is killed, they will be safe.

Mikoto leaps, and Mikoto brings her blade down between massive scales in powerful overhead swing. Fish are fish are fish.

... they don't make noise, either.

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

Once upon a time, Kozue Kaoru received a letter from a boy. 'I love your piano playing.' It had said. Kozue had told her twin it was from a boy. And she told everyone else that her brother always covered for her. Is that really how it was though?

The witch world makes a mockery of her lie with the truth that is Sayaka Miki's ear. The beauty of her piano playing made manifest through the twisted beauty of the ideal that is the girl in the window. Odeta might compose the music, play it. Yet it all came from the mind of Sayaka Miki. It is no accident. It cannot be faked.

And there was no boy.

There was only a girl, a grubby tomboy she was forced to spend time with by their parents. The only link they had is that the tomboy loved music. She loved their music. She loved her music.

From her high vantage point there is the gruesome visage of the baroque helm. Yet Kozue can only see a girl throughout the stages that she'd known her. How did it come to be that first she couldn't be rid of her quickly enough, then later she desired nothing more than to be around her as they grew up together?

The others fight, the others call, and Kozue tries to gather herself up atop Cassandra. Her Child is not inactive. More water is dripping, pooling, gathering. Swelling and intensifying in how swiftly it comes within the center of the labyrinth around the center of Oktavia. Madoka tries to give her a hug.

When she lifts up Madoka, Kozue almost loses her nerve when she realizes this is not an act of tender affection - a protective gesture. "Stop-" Kozue says almost breathlessly. As the pin drops, as the grip starts to increase. "-Sayaka-" She cannot get any volume, as she watches Sayaka start to crush to death a girl she loves so much. A girl that offered Kozue a miracle. "-please."

For all the ways she wanted Sayaka Miki to change. This was never one of them. In her wildest imagination this is not something she ever could have wanted for her.

Yet as she's rescued, Kozue regains her ability to breathe, casting La Sirene, AkaMira, a grateful look to her and Cure Passion as she catches her. "Just in time." Part of her wants to say something else to La Sirene. Something more to her. She knows if she did, if she tried to explain, to La Sirene or to Madoka - or to thank them - she might lose her nerve. So she doesn't. "Keep Madoka safe - please." Junko Kaname would never forgive her if her performance for her daughter ended now. What a strange feeling, to actually care for what a parent thinks of their child.

It is ultimately a step on this emotional journey as readies herself with the knowledge that she has to be brave. The idea that she cannot turn away from this simply to bury her and move on. The idea that she can't let go in that way and doesn't want to. It's fundamental to where the two of them are now - and where they'll be.

It occurs to her that perhaps Sayaka cannot understand, is beyond understanding how they feel. Beyond words.

The idea that she can tell her how the words she has wanted to all along and not be understood because that girl has grown into something trapped within that armor that is too scared, too angry, or too isolated... it's almost too much for her to bear. Even as Mikoto tries to scale Oktavia like a fish - Kozue yells to try to get through to her even in her berserker rage. "MIKOTO - MIKOTO STOP! FALL BACK!"

She yells because it occurs to her - there's a way she can touch her even within her armor. "Everyone. There's something I need to do - something I need to tell her. I know a way. Even if she can't under..." She pauses and suddenly that idea doesn't seem to matter, "No. Even if she can't I'd need to tell her anyway. No matter what." Kozue does not look at them when she says, "I'll be relying on all of you. Don't let anything stop us."

Kozue puts a hand on Cassandra's neck and strokes it affectionately as she murmurs, "You ready Cass? It's time." -and the Child reacts by reaching her neck past her to rub her head against her HiME's cheek. Something in her eyes glimmers as she whispers to her, "I knew I could count on you to understand." She holds her hand against the metal of the Child's neck for a moment, takes another deep breath, finds that she isn't nervous or frightened at all, and smiles as she announces, "Here we go."

The Child immediately surges forth, riding a wave of her ensorcelled waters, barreling towards Oktavia Von Seckendorff like an avian battering ram. Yet it is not her aim to knock her off her platform, it is such an uneven contest of mass after all. The momentary impact jars the Avian Child back down to the stage, where she gets up - remaining in point blank range as she lifts her wings.

The HiME jumps off just before impact, One hand grasping the sickle of her Element. The other - the chain, holding it out as a loop.

She lands right behind the familiar in white. The loop of chain is wrapped around the girl in the window, immediately interrupting her song, before Kozue thrusts her sickle's blade under the chain, binding her forearms in improvised shackles of metal. Pulling her off her seat, she simply lets her impact the floor and lets go, immediately taking her seat.

All the while the Child batters Oktavia over and over at point blank range. Metal shrieking as its wings and beak pound into her. Yet it is simply a distraction for the truth. Water rises up like a living thing, surrounding the center of the labyrinth in an enormous hollow sphere. A shimmering aquamarine mass of rippling water that feels as ephemeral as water itself - neither denying entry or passage through it.

Its purpose is not to be a barrier after all.

Her fingers are on the keys, she needs no time to ready herself. She's not a little girl anymore, nervous about playing solo. This is a stage she could never imagine running from.

BGM Change: Decretum - Piano - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xvy_MTGaRtI

Both of Kozue's hands move in synch in a middle octave. Both even in tempo. Then asynchronously so. Her right flies across the keys while the touches of the left becomes heavier. The melody from the HiME causes the Child to react with her assault. Ten lines of water divided into two sets of five cut the circumference of the sphere from both sides joining at the middle, boring into the center with a relentless pressure upon the Mermaid witch.

More powerful streams joins perpendicular to these watery staves, each of these lasting only as long as a key press as they drive into her precisely like a fountain show. The music is put on display by Child even as the HiME gives the melody for her to follow.

The melody weaves a portrait of stubborn ideals. A decision made. A desperate stand in defense of that.

Can any warrior - no, knight stand in defense of reality eroding that away? The witch that stands before them seems to answer the question. Yet the music defies the answer by subsuming it in the romance of the act.

The sweet richness of the melody standing in to convey through the feelings she wishes to convey when words or actions cannot move her. It tries to convey the feeling of the essence of Sayaka Miki.

It is more than a one sided tribute. The composer's feelings always participate in any work of art. And thus it conveys the many myriad moments and feelings that tied them together...

It is love and admiration for the girl who came for her when no one else would.

It is the painfully shy look she gave her when she spoke those words of love.

It is holding her hand as they decide together to jump to her death.

It is the feel of her lips against hers when she's giving her breath...

...and taking it away.

It is triumph, desire, admiration.

It is pain, despair, loss.

And all the feelings in-between which cannot be conveyed with words.

It is everything that encapsulates the love the two share.

Even besides the feelings in the music there is something comforting and familiar in the smell in the normally stagnant air of the witch world, which emboldens her to play with a virtuoso confidence, a scent carried in the spray that drifts over her as the water Cassandra uses recycles itself.

The keys are becoming slippery, yet still she plays, matches that lack of friction upon them, uses it to pick up the tempo faster and faster. She cannot know that by some kindness of coincidence, or by some unexpected miracle of an ordinarily cruel world...

...that the water Cassandra has brought forth carries the subtle chlorinated scent of pool water.

<Pose Tracker> Oktavia von Seckendorff [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Farewell - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B7cxspAgzOg

Just as the iron grip threatened to cave in Madoka's ribs, La Sirene de Diamant's heels clank down on a broad metal forearm. Swift as an axe, the unlight drops through the weak point in the Mermaid Witch's gauntlet, severing it neatly at the wrist. The lost hand drops, loosening enough to fall separately from Madoka after a few yards, and belatedly, a jet of black liquid issues from the wound, as the walls of the room quake with a sonorous bellow. Perhaps it is not a liquid, however, but smoke instead; it seems a mix of both, and dissolves away into the air rather than raining down. When the gauntlet hits the ground next to Cure Passion, it doesn't even bounce, such is its weight. Slow tendrils of liquid-smoke start to rise from it.

The Witch's cry hits many notes at once as it vibrates her mouth-grille, striking a dissonant chord. The Elvies that have barred the door unlatch as one, all of their jaws opening at the same time to create a crossed grid of plastic bars and square gaps. Then they start raining down onto the floor, landing on their sides instead of their "feet" this time. Rushing to the Witch's aid, they start chomping their way forward like sharks, the pinch and spread of their jaws scootching them faster and faster.

A disk that recalls Sayaka's old musical rings spreads across the wounded wrist. This one, however, is black instead of white, and the lines of it are jagged like barbed wire. Lifting her sword, Oktavia smashes it down on the obsidian cage protecting Kyouko, which manages to hold for now. The impact is greeted with a unified swipe of bows across strings, as the Livianna orchestra resumes playing its haunting song. Odeta joins swiftly to lead them, her pale hands dancing on the keys. The other cage is tested soon after, as an Aglaé bursts right next to it, wooden shards blunting themselves as they strike the much harder material.

Mikoto is not going to wait around until her cages fail, either. Oktavia's sword swings down at Cure Passion like a hammer, sending chunks of black-painted stage flooring upward into the air, right before Miroku sinks up between the scales of her tail. Kozue urging Mikoto to fall back turns out to be unnecessary, because that tail is a lot more lively than it looks, instantly lashing up into Mikoto and catapulting her back near where Kyouko's 'tomb' is.

Roaring in atop a platform of water, Cassandra gives Oktavia her first taste of an enemy in her own weight class. Oktavia is considerably larger yet, but Cassandra can contend with her monster-to-monster, giant-to-giant. Beak and wing shriek against the armored Witch, drawing gleaming silver scratches in corroded-dark metal. Cassandra manages to wedge herself into the Mermaid Witch's swordarm, pushing it back constantly as the mermaid-tail below lashes up chlorinated spray. Smokeblood dribbles between the scales from Miroku's bite, outlining a small section of their pattern.

Odeta does not resist the conquest of her piano bench, seeming to accept her bonds philosphically as she's dumped overboard. The Liviannas halt along with their pianist, their glassy eyes 'lifting' again to look down at the floor. Their gaze distorts in ripples as the sphere of water rises, and when the first key is pressed, a jet of water disturbs the sphere enough that they can barely be seen at all.

The sphere of water is large enough that everyone except the unconscious Lera is inside it, though some had to be soaked first by its expansion. Oktavia seems confused by the music change, trying to look over Cassandra's shoulder. Then the notes start pelting her with more violent bursts of water, rocking her back and forth, spraying off her armor as its impacts make clumsy clanking noises.

But this is an unequal contest. Oktavia has hooked her sword against the back of Cassandra's neck, and though the metallic Child is resilient enough to bear it for now, it has her pinned. Using her recently handless forearm, the Mermaid Witch begins beating Cassandra's head and avian neck, simply clubbing the elegant swan until it falters. The moment that happens, Oktavia manages to wedge the sword between them and start forcing Cassandra away. The test of strength is rapidly being lost by Cassandra, especially when the dismembered wrist plants against her wing as well. With a hard shove, Oktavia forces Cassandra out to slashing distance, and raises her sword high.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Mona Lisa Overdrive https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMqenL2A9co

Madoka Kaname isn't at home... isn't anywhere she's supposed to be.

Kozue Kaoru is not at the Kaname residence, nor does she haunt a dead girl's bedroom together with another dead girl's body. Wherever Homura Akemi searches, she locates absences instead of mahou. The Chevaliers, the Shepherds, the unaffiliated but intimately involved -- none of them are where they should be when the puella makes her sneaking check-up rounds in the night.

Madoka, Madoka is nowhere to be found, and Homura suffers a sickling echo of rib-creaking sobs. This time, at least, horrible certainty is hers. She need not hunt the mists. She doesn't let shame slow her, though it fills her tip to toes to think of what a crumpled pathetic heap she was when Madoka last saw her. Homura's shame matters as much as the rest of her, balanced against the sanctity of a pink soul: which is to say, it matters not at all.

If everyone is gone, there is only one place they can be.

Her flawed dead heart contracts into a twist of cardiac dread, and she balls a pale fist over her chest with a grimace before reaching for her shield. There is no time -- but Homura Akemi exists to cheat time, and the devil.


Tokyo at night smears past, spilled ink running on neon and chrome at the periphery of Homura's vision. She pays it no heed. Her tenacious mind commits every iota of concentration to the pavement screaming beneath the Ducati 996 between her skinny knees -- and to the treacherous snarl of vehicles ahead, coming up so fast they might as well be standing still in comparison.

She's a fluttering slip of a girl in black-white-grey-and-violet astride the sleek machine, like a dainty goth handkerchief tied to a speeding bullet. Leaning low over the motorcycle, she slips between lanes and box-trucks at 120 km/h and squints -- a herd of cars stacks at the coming toll junction and beyond. No good.

There: an unloaded car-delivery semi, its twin tire-track trailer rising up over traffic. Homura downshifts, and the Ducati roars and surges. She freezes time to cut across the nose of a packed station wagon, resuming on the other side with the family of four inside none the wiser to how near disaster passed them, and opens the throttle wide.

Madoka needs her.

The Ducati rears up on its back tire and attacks the trailer -- a teeth-rattling ride up the railing's crosshatched metal -- and the girl and the bike scream into open space. Over cars and trucks and tollbooths, angling across the center divider...

...landing with a shock-killing crunch in the headlong zing of oncoming highway traffic, headed the wrong way into the underground corkscrew of one of Tokyo's massive subterranean junctions. Homura immediately wrenches the bike low and left, and one handlebar rips sparks from the road as she narrowly avoids pancaking on a tanker truck grill.

The orderly bustle of Japan traffic shatters, and some especially polite drivers find themselves hitting their car horns for the first time in their lives. The tunnel reverberates with honks and tortured-metal shrieks, cars colliding with walls and each other in a massive chain reaction. Violent death whizzes by Homura with centimeters of clearance, close enough that the wrong-way whip of her hair in the tunnel turbulence could spell a broken neck if it catches on a passing car's mirror.

Madoka needs her!

Spiraling down between a dozen carcrash dooms, Homura leaves human wreckage in her wake. They don't matter, either, though the girl she loves would not agree. She shoots out of the tunnel exit and onto the Haneda accessway, threading wrong-way between shocked drivers before they can even hit their brakes.

A landing airplane rumbles overhead, racing Homura there. She wins.


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


It's a scream, even if it never escapes Homura's throat.

Some things do not get easier with repetition and the passage of time. However many times she sees Madoka in mortal peril, it never fails to drive a spike of terror through her. That Witchly gauntlet might as well clench around Homura's neck.

'Everything you do makes her suffer more,' she'd told Sayaka Miki. Homura doesn't feel vindicated, or sad, or even angry beneath the fear. She was right; she's often right, but... It has yet to make a difference. It has yet to save Madoka's soul.

There's something awful and fitting about how the thing that was Sayaka clutches deathly-hard around Madoka, to Homura. That girl can never let go of things, she thinks. Not even when she's gone, herself.

Cherished pink eyes widen, then go to pained slits -- it's all Homura can focus on from the chamber's entrance, that dead heart lodged up near her esophagus somewhere and choking her. Madoka's leg spasms and Homura runs, runs forward, pelting headlong and uncaring of bounding Aglae just as she was heedless of onrushing traffic, dodging them without really even seeing them. She darts past Mikoto's obsidian cage and its razor-edged protection, past the fallen spearmaiden in her crimson puddle, registers their presence but surrenders wholly to her singular focus.

She does see la Sirene's impossible leap, the arc of salvation writ in silver and black and a touch of a certain shade of pink that cannot help but draw a violet eye. The gauntlet severs; it falls. The center of Homura's world, she falls with it, and so does Homura's stomach.

Cure Passion crashes through a cluster of familiars and catches both of these latter things, though she may only hold Madoka in her arms. Just like that Homura diverts -- to anyone tracking the racing puella and her silent, stone-faced entrance, she simply disappears and then reappears across the room, directly beneath the Pretty Cure and her precious cargo.

Piano music falls note by note, aqueous droplets of melody suffusing the air. Homura ducks between them, letting the beautiful music skim off her like she's a particularly cold duck's back. She launches with all the inhuman strength in her legs to join the two girls above. Like dancers they meet, midair. Homura's hand clamps Passion's upper arm, pale and small and stronger than it looks. They hang upon the apogee of their leaps with Madoka between them, precious and vulnerable.

A giant's sword cleaves downward, seeming slow for its size -- but it simply travels a great distance very, very quickly, and its edge comes for them.

"I'll keep her safe," she shouts through Oktavia's scream-chorus, and whatever other lies and secrets this cold-eyed girl is responsible for -- this is true, desperately true, as true a thing as Homura has ever said.

And cradles with all care, one arm under Madoka's precious knees and the other gathering rounded shoulders to her chest like a bouquet, as if this precious girl could shatter in her arms. And shivers, seared through clothing and skin and bone, though her arms stay strong. Her every nerve is raw with shame, and the familiar gentle weight of Madoka sets each one screaming -- all of Homura knows how unworthy she is of the girl in her arms.

They land and she hears the crash of Oktavia's sword behind, and she does not know whether Cure Passion got out of the way -- but that doesn't matter. Only one thing matters.

"I'll keep you safe," she says, never quite meeting pink eyes, but this time it sounds more like a plea. Please, please let me keep you safe, Madoka.

<Pose Tracker> Cure Passion [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

'I'll keep her safe.'

None of the rest of Passion's fall matters. In the instants before, she sails up, up, barely evading the falling gauntlet that lands precisely where she ought to have been. ...The smoke rises, though; it harries at her back, and the red Cure does not want to know what will happen if she lets it touch her. So, in music playing, Passion's arm is touched--and she hears those words.

'I'll keep her safe.'

Red eyes snap towards Homura's. Less than an instant may feel much, much longer for the Puella Magi; when last she looked into these eyes, they were darker, duller. Passion remembers well what she'd thought Homura had done, the time they'd clashed in an empty city-world, dark except for the flashes of gunfire and explosives. In that instant, Cure Passion makes a judgement, and Homura can see it in bright red eyes, expressionless in a way unlike Homura's coldness like night and day. Cure Passion says nothing.

...But she twists towards Homura and passes over the brave girl in her arms. Pink hair is whipped around by the wind even soaked through from the shell of water that erupted out, and Passion keeps turning. It seems slow, so slow, those moments, as if her heartbeats have slowed to a stop.

The sword is coming down. With impossible force, the gigantic weapon swings into her space, and there is a shift, a movement just before the pieces of black stage erupt all around. Again, there is dust, there is no way to see...

But Passion is standing, battered, one arm hanging at her side instead of obeying her, waterlogged and bruised but staring upward at the Witch again. ...The sound of beautiful music, something she would never think to hear in an Other world like this, echoes in her ears. ...The call of Cassandra, too, struggling.

Passion forces herself to stay standing, and nods sharply once, the acrid scent of chlorine stinging her nose and throat, focrcing her into awareness. Kozue had asked. Kozue, who was strange, who was unpredictable... Who was her friend, despite everything, had helped her.


Pretty Cure leaps upward, singular but never alone as she rears back her good arm, her course taking her directly towards the armored Mermaid, her battlecry just the start of a gathering force of crimson light gathered about her fist. The aura brightens, makes her almost impossible to look at all the way as it radiates from her in all directions.

It is not about worth, for Cure Passion. It's not guilt that drives her upward, that takes her on a course to slip beside Cassandra and towards the inside of Oktavia's guard. And as soon as she gets close, Passion swings forward with incredible force, one giant-scale haymaker from a girl nowhere near the Witch's size.

It is something else, and she cannot put it into words, just the wordless call that goes with her strike.

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

Cure Passion has her. Madoka Kaname isn't dead. It is a victory of a sorts, but la Sirene has no real time to feel more than a momentary twinge of relief. Miroku is summoned forth and la Sirene *does* - by training and inclination - have the fraction of an instant to feel relief at the arrival of the thing, despite the irony. How time makes fools of them all.

Meanwhile, Oktavia - Sayaka - either way; Nori has taken her hand, she knows. She feels guilt in an obscure way but there is not time enough to develop it. Surely she can regrow it - and even if not, surely she would prefer that to -

Either way. La Sirene cannot stay here. After a moment to look at that horrid black inversion, she vaults from the arm of the Witch towards the ground. Her hair trails behind her and she sees the coming of the Elvies. Her arms come together, pointing forwards - she is able to wedge space to land that does not consist entirely of screaming consumption -

Ground. After a fashion. Her head snaps up at she hears the voice of Kozue.

'Don't let anything stop us,' Kozue concludes.

When Kozue begins to play, la Sirene understands.

There is a brief cramp inside of her. A frustration that this is where her hope lies. Exhaling with orce, she twists her hands around to spread them apart, the shadow-light sweeping Familiars away. In vain? Who knows, but it protects Kozue's flank.

La Sirene looks round. There is Mikoto and her weapon; there is Cure Passion, there is Homura lifting Madoka; over there is where Kyouko Sakura and Lera are sheltering. La Sirene nods to herself and raises a hand upwards, the light round her pouring out as her Pharos twinkles with renewed force, the energy flowing outwards, aiming to rise in polyform tendrils around

La Sirene blinks once.

Her head snaps to look towards Homura Akemi but before she can shriek her accusations, her indignities, Oktavia and Cassandra clash. The titans of steel and iron smash against each other with industrial noise, the afterechoes devouring swaths of what la Sirene shouts.

"What are"

"know what you"

"illed him! You mi"

"away from"

And then la Sirene attention snaps back to the Witch and its contention with the Child, and for a horrid heart-stopping moment la Sirene thinks: Did I almost let Kozue's creature get killed --

Slithering, the light doubles and redoubles (halves and rehalves?) - trying to flow against the tide, to coruscate through the chlorinated water in the air. The smell is dizzying, surreal. The scent of a public swimming pool - here, in such desperate straits -

But the goal is to grasp Oktavia's sword-arm, to pull on it. To weaken, to restrain. To stall! To buy time! Time for a quarter-note, a chord, a phrase, a bar.

Or time enough for a single decisive blow from the incoming Pretty Cure.

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


'No, don't! We can't...if we fight her here, it'll only make things worse!'


'Mikoto-chan! We're leaving!'




'No! Mikoto-chan, don't!'


'Get away from her!'


'Minagi. Mikoto Minagi. Let's get out of here. This is more trouble than she's worth.'




Mikoto has heard them reach out to her in the depths of berserkergang so many times. And some grope blindly and catch at nothing, and others manage to latch onto the reins which have been etched into her soul, and how difficult it is to tell which will be which.

There is a garden locked and flooded and it is every happy memory, every moment spent working together, every rescue, every defence, every piece of advice.

There is a garden locked and flooded, and all the tears are leaking out into the world.

Here is the sad truth: Mikoto does not stop, when Kozue calls. Mikoto does not arrest her charge as she leaps up to strike at the monster which was Sayaka. She is in motion; Kozue knows full well how intent her momentum can be.

Here is the sad truth: Mikoto does not charge in total abandon, either. There is something to the cry which makes her flinch, makes her hesitate for just a moment. Miroku digs into Witch-flesh and Mikoto does not lay sensible Ohtori flats against the scales and kick off immediately; for one, vulnerable moment, she swings. Fall back, Kozue said. It's not an acceptable directive because it is issued by an enemy. Fall back, Kozue said.

Here is the sad truth: Mikoto knows so well the penalty for hesitation. It is higher still when she is sustaining her dark magic, as Aglaé and sword crash down into Miroku's spires. Miroku is stronger than Mikoto, but they share an obsidian heart, and even Mikoto Minagi has limits. They are not all limits of magic. Some are binding promises about her soul. None are broken, because the spires do not break, the thing below does not break, and she does not break.

It is a close thing.

Because all the monster which was Sayaka needs is a split-second to catch Mikoto, striking up from below to wrench her from her like an errant fishhook and send her crashing away. When she fights Witches she knows what it is like to be victim to a freight train instead of its driver, unerring and effortless strength which swats her away as casually as an insect. This is not the first time it has happened. It never gets easier.

She hits the ground - once, twice, three times. Somehow, she manages to avoid carving herself open on her own blade, though it never leaves her hand. Partly this is luck; partly rote training.

Distantly, there is music.

But she does not break, because she carries her love in her heart. Perhaps it is foolish to suggest the love of the notes which play resonates with that affection, as Mikoto summons the strength to push herself standing again. After all, Kozue is her enemy.

Ah, but the foibles of 'perhaps' are well-known.

Cassandra floods the world, and Mikoto notes distantly that this time it smells like chlorine instead of salt. The wave passes, hollow inside the sphere. The music keeps going. It is faster, now.

Kozue asked them not to let the monster which was Sayaka stop her, but it would in fact be foolish to assume Mikoto heard that much, struck down as she was. It is not her request which makes those too-bright eyes fall on the Witch. Perhaps it is the music, quick of tempo and filled with emotion. It is known, as well, the effects of music on savage beasts.

'Miroku', she'd said. She said the word. Her image did not mirror; her shadow did, cast in harsh white light. And the question must be asked, with Cassandra striving against its fellow giant: where is Miroku? Kozue said the word - and there it was. Mikoto said the word, and...

Well, it's an interesting mystery, isn't it.

Because Miroku is Element, and Miroku is Child. It is a fascinating duality unique to Mikoto Minagi.

And sometimes she says the word, and her sword returns to her.

And sometimes she says the word, and...

Her sword did not disappear from the world, did not reappear by her side. And so, the question must be asked: where is Miroku?

Mikoto knows.

"Miroku!" She calls, again - and this time it is the ground beneath Oktavia which begins to shudder and slough away. With a great rumbling of something which is not quite earth, something far too large erupts from the floor of the sphere. At first, it is too massive to discern its form - it is just a mass of steel, emerging from behind the monster which was Sayaka. Spikes along its curve, each larger than a girl.

And then it wrenches itself free and it is clear that it is a club, held in a massive gauntlet. It is stories tall. Perhaps, to la Sirene and Madoka and Homura, it is familiar. They have seen it once before.

The creature it is attached to remains unseen, below the earth. It must be a colossus. It does not care to make a proper appearance. But Mikoto is angry enough, deep enough, that she is able to call out, able to coax it to lean just slightly out of the shadows for just a moment.

It is ill portent.

It is Mikoto's Child - Miroku.

La Sirene's unlight wends about the Witch's sword-arm, and with ferocity which belies her size Cure Passion leaps up to strike with light blaring crimson and true. One causes shadows to cast from the titanic cudgel which swings up from below; perhaps they are fuel for the other. The earth grinds in protest at the movement of something so large courses through it. Cassandra struggles at the Witch's front, and from below, that massive club comes up to impact the monster which was Sayaka's back.

Perhaps it's bitter irony.

Homura taught her how to break her peace-bonds to strike where Sayaka was weakest.

And now, she pours her full force into a blow from behind.

Then again, Mikoto Minagi never had a chance of defeating Sayaka Miki in a fair fight.

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

So pinned by Oktavia Von Seckendorff, Cassandra is taking blow after blow. Her ability to match her HiME falters with each one. And yet she picks up immediately, renewing her effort after each wound.

Armor plating is rocked by the first blow as she's clubbed over and over. A wing is crushed beyond her ability to move it. An eye loses its light. The beautiful magnificence of a swan loses more and more of her elegant construction with each blow that causes a sparking shriek of metal. Each time she squawks in pain but continues its own assault.

Kozue doesn't call her off. It is not that she is uncaring for her plight. It is simply that she has made her own decision. The stage trembles, she is soaked further and further by the spray. And yet she keeps playing.

And then she speaks.

BGM Change: In Deepest Blue - Joshua Hyslop - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NzyOUDhc1qo

"I need to tell you something Sayaka. Not just with your song."

Something about her seems uncommonly beautiful in this moment. In this idea of vulnerability, in this idea of embracing vulnerability when before it was something she was terrified of. Something she would reject, consider a failing.

"With words too. I've hurt you in so many ways, more ways than most people could possibly bear. And I can't say I'm sorry for that. I just can't. Because it brought us together - because without all that pain - there would be no... us."

Most people could not talk while playing at such speed, under such conditions. On her best day before she could not have played under such conditions. Yet still she plays. She plays as Cassandra's leg buckles beneath her.

"There was one way I never wanted to hurt you though. And that was saying how I feel before I knew it was something true. Something lasting. You deserved better than a 'maybe' and a half-hearted answer wasn't good enough. And... I was scared, that maybe I was wrong about that feeling - or that it would go away. And I'd never feel that way about you again."

She's waited until the song reaches a part where there's a faint lull in the tempo. A subtle succor, like granting rest to a tired warrior by offering their head a place on her lap. Cassandra's neck seems twisted at an almost unnatural angle from the next blow.

"I love you. I love you so much. You're the only one who has ever made me feel this way. And that isn't going to change. I know that now. I want to grow up with you. I want to be there for you every step of the way. I want to kiss you all the time, and for you to know every time I do how alive it makes me feel to have you in my life."

Her finger touches are becoming lighter, and lighter. It's a sweet and soft accompaniment to the words now. Cassandra writhes in Oktavia's grip, almost pathetically. Not to break free - just struggling to keep up the song.

"And right now it hurts. It hurts that right now I finally can say it and maybe you can't understand. Can't comprehend how much it would mean to me to kiss you right now. It hurts that I can't know how you feel right now. It hurts to think that we didn't have longer. But if it ends now, if this is our final day..."

Cassandra takes such a terrible blow, one that nearly flattens her as it throws her aside and Kozue flinches like this is it, botching a measure of the song, before she reclaims the song again.

"... I have no regrets." Then she corrects herself, "No regrets except two."

The shadow of the sword raises, the shadow of it dwarfing Cassandra and Kozue both. The Child does not move. It cannot even lift its head. It makes no attempt to defend itself in the twisted pile where it lay. For a moment she cannot continue following her HiME's song, and the assault falters. Kozue doesn't move either.

When that blow falls, she knows that's it for Cassandra - and that means that's it for her.

She does not resent Sayaka this after all the ways she's hurt her. If she wants to lash out at her for this final act. She feels that's only fair. She just wishes that it could have been her alone taking this beating. That Cassandra did not have to suffer for her love. For her choice. Her decision. Even knowing she's about to die. She feels a profound sense of loss just knowing that. Even as much as she hurts the people she loves - she can never forgive anyone who hurts them. And that includes herself for making this choice.

"... that Cass has to suffer this beating instead of me... and..."

She'd rather it have been her alone that paid the price. That she did not have to sacrifice her. At least she knows - they'll pay for it together. That is the price for accepting a Child. Putting her life on the line.

Her eyes widen with the energy blast she knows came from La Sirene, and the shadow of Mikoto's mysteriously until now absent Child. If not for them - this might have already been over - and she might have been cut off. And who knows how it would end then? It would no longer be her decision. She feels a profound sense of gratitude at least for that. No matter how tumultuous her relationship had been with both of them.

Calmly she shutters her eyes so she does not lose her nerve, feeling the sting of the tears beneath them. With eyes shut the scent of the chlorine is even stronger. The scent which says so much for her even if she doesn't know it. She cannot know that to Sayaka the scent is...

...Kozue's hands holding onto hers - reassuring her as she learns to swim.

...that intangible feeling in the air that made a decision so easy.

...that smell in the air as her lips touch hers. Shivering - weak - and yet triumphant.

It is telling Sayaka she doesn't need to be scared anymore as the other girl drowns. Not of this. Of what comes even at the end of life. Of what comes next for them both - because she's here.

She's holding her hands. And she won't let go. Even if it means they drown together.

It's strange but with eyes closed she isn't thinking about what happens next. The chlorine scent is too strong. Ever had it been a force in her life - as the pool had been her sanctuary from the world. That security was nearly stolen from her.

Yet they failed to steal it away entirely, because right now that scent brings to mind the happiest moment of her life. It is the moment when she started falling in love with Sayaka Miki, even if she didn't know it until now.

[|Happiness in Blue]

"... that I can't send us off with a kiss."

With words now said and with eyes closed the HiME holds down the keys and holds down hard on the pedal with her foot to sustain that final triumphant note. A shiver runs through Cassandra before she turns her head just enough for her remaining good eye to look upon her death. Or rather - look through it. The Child's final act commanding the top of the sphere starts to churn at a fantastic rate, swirling to incredible rotational speed.

It is not an attempt to stop her.

No indeed she can already feel the air shifting from the mass of the blade falling. Nothing could stop that from colliding into Cassandra.

The water sphere collapses from top down, the narrow end of a terrible waterspout she'd conjured before descending upon the witch's antique helm as fast as a lightning bolt - drilling into her like a natural disaster.

As natural as gravity - as love. It cannot be stopped either.

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

Cure Passion holds Madoka and feels, somewhere, that the Fuko Gauge is rising; La Sirene can clearly see that she's continuing to silently cry. Pain -- she's in pain. Being freed from the Witch's grasp has not saved her from that. Some is simple physical reality; her body is one large bruise. But more is something else.

She coughs, weakly, when drenched in pool water, and then flinches, tensing into a rictus board of a girl, at the aftershock of suffering that causes her bruised body. It's the first sound she made upon her arrival in Pretty Cure's arms, though she was too alive, too agonized, to be mistaken for anything else. And once she's soaked to the skin, at least her tears aren't visible anymore.

Her eyes are raw, stung by far worse than chlorine, as they blink up at Setsuna.

"Thank you," she rasps, at the one who's got her.

Then her gaze slides past her, to the Witch and the magical girls converging there. It's hard to focus on any singular detail; all of it is hard to see, both literally and metaphorically. It's easier to listen, and eventually her eyes close, close so that her ears can better comprehend Kozue's piano through the chaos.

She is passed from girl to girl to the sound of music.

She is passed from girl to girl to the sound of love.

More words fall onto her ears like lead, and her eyes blink open, gaze up at the face of someone who loves her, instead.

Homura will keep her safe.

"I know," she sighs, and that exhalation, onto sore ribs, contains a whole world of feelings. It is too complex to understand easily, which is unlike Madoka, really.

A few snapshots: her eyes are gentle. Her words are surprisingly firm -- acknowledgement and affirmation and acceptance. Then why does it feel so... strange?

And then she starts to wriggle, one inflamed joint at a time, out of Homura's grasp. Little miserable hitches of breath accompany each movement, which comes at a cost.

"I'm getting down," she explains, unnecessarily, in a croak, but it isn't phrased as a question. "Because... I need to be here. Until the end."

Madoka probably needs to go to the hospital, but bones and muscles, flesh and blood, aren't really why she's in pain.

She knows the truth.

She knows this isn't goodbye, because goodbye already happened, here in the airport on that fateful night.

It would be easy to say that she's always known, and there's even a fragment of truth to it, but it's inadequate to the moment, because Madoka -- for Kozue, for Mikoto, for everyone, for herself -- dared to believe.

It is an easy thing to kill a fairy with spiteful words. The opposite is not as simple as saying a sentence out loud and clapping your hands. It only counts -- it only works -- if you engrave it on your whole heart, drill it into your soul, leave no room for doubt, none at all.

Maybe she didn't believe enough for it to work, given the outcome.

But she definitely believed enough for it to hurt.

Her arms fold across her chest as though she's hoping to hold in her heart, and she stands there, among the buckling Labyrinth, quaking from so many energies from so many people. She stands there safe. She knows that Homura will protect her from death.

But nothing can protect her from this.

Even then, as the grief pours through her harder and colder than the artificial pool ever could, as she shivers and shakes and somehow through some act of terrible bravery or terrible self-destruction or perhaps both keeps her chin high, stares right at it all -- she isn't ready, when the music changes.

Her head snaps around hard enough to send her soggy twintails slapping across her cheeks.

"No," she gasps, this inhalation the exact inverse of the sigh Homura received. It isn't complex; it is desperately simple in its horrified realization -- acknowledgement, but not affirmation and definitely not acceptance.

And then it turns out that she has the voice left in her for one more scream, after all. It explodes out of her like a shattering star.

No, that's pretty words creating a false distance from reality, and this is a moment for Madoka's truth. It explodes out of her like a breaking heart, because that's what it is.

"KOZUE!" she shrieks in dissonant descant, high above steel string and steel swan and steel sword.

This is a coda of despair. One part is a falling blade, unknowable except in its suffering. One part is falling water, directed with terribly knowing finality.

One part of it is Madoka.


<Pose Tracker> Oktavia von Seckendorff [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> This Silence is Mine - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQrQEmClpWc

Descending with lethal force, Oktavia's sword arrests suddenly, her arm snagged by a web-like grid of split light beams. As steam rises from her water-soaked armor from the contact, she wrenches at La Sirene's bonds hard, trying to rip through to defend against Cure Passion. And so it tears, leaving a pale pattern on the armor, but too late. Passion slips past and hammers her glowing fist right across the grille on Oktavia's faceplate. The impact tolls through her towering helm, leaving a quarter of the mouth area caved in.

As Oktavia lists to the side, the floorboards splinter upwards, black paint baring pale yellowish wood. A split second later, a great obsidian bludgeon smashes into Oktavia's back like a battering ram. The armor there is particular strong, but it cannot withstand this. Beneath one shoulderblade, the obsidian drives in, too dull to penetrate, but wedged there tightly, forcing Oktavia to remain upright. Smokeblood drools from the injury, and a fine dust of it chuffs out of the mouth-grille.

Spared execution, Cassandra has not been idle. Above the groaning Mermaid Witch, a lake is gathering... or perhaps a pool. But she has now spent the time that was bought for her.

Oktavia's sword seems unable to cut Cassandra's metal feathers, but it remains a heavy iron bar. The beating resumes, and worse than before, as Cassandra is no longer able to keep the sword away. Its blunt-seeming edge slams down into her shoulders and wings over and over. It is not long before parts of the ethereal swan seem loose and jointless. Cassandra, that prickly and disobedient bird, had always had nothing but gentleness towards Sayaka, and risked death more than once to protect her at all costs. But it has not bought her mercy tonight, as the sword crunches down into an increasingly helpless Cassandra. The Mermaid Witch does not even hesitate to break and break a creature that cared for Sayaya Miki like her own egg.

Kozue's confession filters over the cries of Cassandra, and between the punctuation of hammering strikes. It is a soft voice amidst iron. It is a scent through a grate. It is written in pencil on an oil painting. It is small. But it is not lost.

But sometimes I do things just because it doesn't match the picture and I want it to.

This time when she's hit, Cassandra doesn't move.

And I guess in my picture

With a sound like bending rebar, Oktavia lifts her sword up and reverses it.

we were friends.

The sword drives through Cassandra's back, pinning her to the ground. The last note plays. Cassandra hears it, and she answers it. The water above her impaled body starts to invert, as if it would turn into an upside down teardrop. Her head drops.

And she is gone.

A single, whistling note blasts from the damaged grille on Oktavia's helm. Her armor rattles, and her shoulders lurch back and forth roughly. She yanks at her sword to try and free it from Cassandra's corpse, but the task seems to frustrate her.

Lying still by the legs of the piano bench, Odeta seems to Kozue to be looking at the battle. But the hollowness of her eyes and mouth are completely gone, leaving a completely smooth white face.

A corkscrewing pillar of water hits the Mermaid Witch in the back of the neck, a ragged pyramid of spray blasting down and off her armored shoulders. Lurching down, she supports herself with the sword, shaking with the constant pounding force she's forced to carry. She manages to push herself up, chin pressed down into her breastplate by the withering pressure, waterfalls pouring down her armored chest. But the dent on her helm gives, forcing her head to drop much lower. Dropping, she catches herself with the stub of one gauntlet, that arm's joint starting to bend already. A whale-like cry is draining from her helm.

"It... it's okay," Sayaka said at last. "We still have time."

The prone form of Cassandra, resting beneath a great cross of iron, has dissolved away almost entirely into motes of pale blue light. With a heavy of her burdensome shoulders and a lash of her tattered cape, Oktavia rips her sword free admidst a beautiful arc of glittering light. The plates on her back are caving in on each other. Every vast motion quakes. But she lifts the weapon, until its shadow bisects the white piano.

That sunbeam smile isn't coming back today. Maybe Kozue will never feel it. But the corner of her lip is tilted up, and her sad eyes are reassuring.

The motes of light have expended their momentum, and hang in the air, knowing nothing of gravity. The sword hangs in that amber instant, too. Pieces of Cassandra cast tiny glows here and there on the hideous Witch's visage. The shadow across the piano is as thin as it will ever be again.

As the iron passes back downward, it disturbs the motes, dragging them down as well. The shadow spreads across the piano, and diagonally across Kozue's body, swallowing her lap, her shoulders. It claims key after key, spreading from middle C.

"We'll always have time."

Oktavia's breastplate ruptures utterly, water tearing apart every seam.

<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> The Greatest Bastard - Damien Rice - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBmWVrAI9r0

There is the sound of Madoka's 'NO!!' in her ears. That denial. She can understand her shock, anyone's shock in this moment. She wishes she didn't have to see it - to bear witness - to hold this memory of it. And yet...

There's something that feels so right about it. So poetic. That for all the enemies she's made, for how she could have died at any moment that one decided to end her, that she ends here.

Like this. At the hands of the girl she'd hurt more than anyone. The girl she loves so much. For hurting her so badly that she'll die too - for sacrificing her beloved Child for that to happen.

There's a certain rightness - a certain justice - in everyone seeing it happen. Like a public execution she'd submitted herself to for every cruelty she'd inflicted upon even so many of her onlookers.

Kozue's eyes are shut when she hears Cassandra die and her whole form flinches as she hears her death screech. "I'm sorry g-" She's interrupted by a wall of steel overtaking her. There's no Element in hand. All of her magic had faded her and she didn't even know it. She's just a normal girl sitting at a piano for a recital.

She never stood a chance.

All of her senses feel so sharp as to be overwhelming. The pain enough to make her feel like her whole body is overloaded. Like a live wire.

Then all of her senses are so dull. She feels pain certainly, the feeling of water on her skin, and the hardness of the surface she lays upon. She doesn't know what she's laying upon though. She smells an even fainter chlorine upon her skin. What she hears, she's not certain.

What do her eyes see though when they languorously - painfully - open?

There is beauty in the green motes floating off of Cassandra's fading corpse past the visage of Oktavia Von Seckendorff. Like fireflies on the night of a summer festival. Ordinarily it would be just a pretty sight that would in no way comfort someone dying.

However there's another sense she has too. Something deeper beyond the superficial. Something she feels as Cassandra dies - as Sayaka fades - like something invisible running throughout herself and Sayaka that she never knew existed. Never could feel until now. For however blue the two might be - there is indeed a red string attached.

My life is a whole lot of sameness usually. People come - people go.

All of her life she was looking for a connection with someone else, that she thought she could only find in the ties of blood. Believing that is the only thing that could keep her together with someone. Yet she realizes this in this one supreme moment of clarity from this feeling. Sold a false bill of goods - she can't even resent that.

Everyone wants something from me. I give and take more from them in exchange. They use me and I use them.

Because the truth showed her that that connection had been formed from someone else. Madoka Kaname had offered her a miracle. What she does not realize is that she'd given Kozue one. The opportunity to experience this. If she hadn't come tonight - believed it was impossible - that there was nothing of Sayaka left - she never would have felt this.

Then they're gone - almost noone ever wants to stick around for long - and even if they do. I don't want them to.

"Oh..." It's such a pathetic sound from her lips, it could be mistaken for the agonal gasp of a dying person rather than an actual word.

It is evidence no matter how much she hurt Sayaka, no matter what she became in the end, no matter who is to blame for that. No matter how much the deck was stacked against her for finding something real, something tangible with someone else.

They found each other. They forged this together. It was real, their feelings for each other. That connection - that bond. It existed. The knowledge that it existed cannot be taken away from her - even in death.

That knowledge from that feeling is such a comfort to a dying, unsentimental girl who had lived her life as such a cynic. Who had hurt others casually for her own greater good, living unhappily in the pursuit of power. Who had only found true romance in the end. To know there actually is beauty in this cruel and wretched world.

Things with you are different.

And that beauty is the two of them.

And I don't know what that means.

".... its so beautiful." She croaks, her lips tugging into the shadow of a smile her muscles can't quite work to form fully. All of her senses start to fail her. Her sense of taste starts to fade, then touch, then hearing... she holds onto the sight of Cassandra and Sayaka's fading form for as long as she can. When it fails her there is only scent - that faint fading pool scent. And when that too is gone she only has a singular moment for thought left.

It's the most wonderful final thought she could have ever had.

And then she's gone.

<Pose Tracker> Oktavia von Seckendorff [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It doesn't take very long at all, in the end.

Stately as they fall, the instruments of the orchestra drop like a curtain, filling more and more of the air. Between them are the limp forms of dozens of Liviannas.

The gramophone needle, which had been softly clicking against the spokes of its rotating wheel-record, finally snaps against the spoke, dropping the arm into them and halting the rotation. The severed stub of Oktavia's arm is pointed towards the device, but without a hand it is not long enough to reach.

The skinny Elvies sharking their way across the bridge flop onto their sides, until the last one freezes up and tilts with a rattle of plastic. As the far end of the bridge begins to fall into the abyss, the now inert pairs of scissors skitter down loosely, dropping one by one into the darkness.

With the kusarigama around her wrists somehow evaporated, Odeta could stand up, but she just lies there with her back to the shattered piano, as if it were an estranged lover.

For a moment, light plays across the scales of Oktavia's long mer-tail. As dull and grimy as they are, there is a rainbow of dark color there. It blurs together as though the viewer's eyes had suddenly started to water, a thousand glints dancing. Her grim helm lies in a puddle of pool-scented water, diagonally sunken, much deeper than it looks like it should be able to sink.

And then the walls peel away, as if they were just cloth the whole time, and their other side, glittering red velvet.

The girls who came here tonight in hope now stand--or lie--scattered in an abandoned wing of Haneda airport, with blue moonlight streaming through the broken skylight above. The artful metal-and-glass elevator now stands where Oktavia once had. Madoka is near the elevator's open doorway, with the others fanned out behind her. But there is no sign of Kozue Kaoru at all.

In the exact center of the elevator, there are two objects. A spindly bulb of dull lead and gleaming black, standing impossibly on a single needlepoint. And, somehow, the smudged, well-scratched Chevaliers pin that Sayaka had put on so long ago.

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

There are promises - old promises - half-forgotten things which pin Mikoto's movements as surely as a butterfly against a board. When a Puella Magi becomes a magical girl, she gains a wish in exchange for her life. Mikoto never managed to tell Eri, in the end...

... HiME don't get a wish.

They make a vow.

There is a reason Miroku has revealed itself but once to the world. There is a reason it dwells beneath the earth. A Child is the seat of a HiME's strength - the locus of her magic. It is a thing of great and terrible power... but HiME are mortal creatures, mortal blood in mortal veins.

Miroku is Mikoto's weapon.

It is a mistake to think that this means Miroku defends Mikoto.

No - it is Mikoto's sworn duty to defend Miroku.

But they share an obsidian heart, and Mikoto must defend herself to defend her Child. This is the way of the world. HiME and Child are twinned together, inseparable forces. One cannot survive without the other. There is no Mikoto without Miroku.

She knows this much is true, though she cannot remember why.

And because this is true, it must mean...

As surely as a butterfly against a board, Miroku's club slams into Oktavia, tethering her in a mockery of posture. It begins to grind into the armor, there, pushing inch by painful inch. It is inexorable force against immovable object.

Perhaps if it had pulled back, swung again instead of seeking a mermaid's tears, things would have been different. But the ineffable nature of a thing cannot be changed, after all. Isn't that what they've learned, coming here..?

Oh, the things she could learn, if not for the way she thinks of her experience as so typical to the world.

Because Oktavia slams down, again and again and again, and Cassandra is mortal, after all.

All at once the chill of being soaked hits Mikoto, cold ice lancing through her heart. The shock jars her into emotion - into thought - into fear. Distantly, she realises she has stopped snarling, because her mouth has fallen agape. Her breath is ragged.

All at once the cudgel which held Oktavia straight is consumed by its own lattice of black glass, and it shatters, and there is nothing there at all. All at once, the obsidian cages about Kyouko and Lera fade into nothingness, leaving only the ground they have disturbed.

In Kozue's final moment - Mikoto must see to her vows.

She cannot save her.

She cannot even try.

Assessing the danger she places his assets in was ever one of her duties, after all.

Helplessly she watches as the sword descends, even as her swan-song drives in, tears the monster which was Sayaka to pieces. Her lips shape a word and the word is 'Kozue' and there is no air behind it, no air at all. In the end, Kozue exhibited that same unstoppable momentum.

She finds that she is trembling.

She finds that she is overcome. Lachrymose. Afraid.

They are unpleasant intrusions on a mind which was so blank with fury just moments ago.

She finds herself, and her breath hitches in her throat as it ends, though she knows she should not feel that way. Yes, her eyes have started to water. It is hard to see the details through a misty veil.

And then it is over, and the world smells right again.

Mikoto shakes her head, hands grasping tightly about the hilt of her blade. "... Kozue promised, too," she says, to herself, and the words are thin with grief.

They are so, so mortal.

There is nothing left of Kozue, after a strike like that. She moves to Kyouko, instead. She would look for life signs in a normal girl. With a Puella Magi - she looks for her Soul Gem, instead. It is all right. She is all right. Bruised and bloodied and alive, so gloriously, thankfully alive. She sheathes Miroku, and sees to her fellow Shepherd. Picks her up, with hands now free, and straightens.

She cannot quite bring herself to look at any of them as she leaves, to take Kyouko to a safer place. She cannot quite make herself speak in the wake of the terrible reality. But her eyes - her eyes are so sad.

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

Once again, it happens so quickly.

La Sirene's tendrils have weight, have strength, but perhaps she underestimated the Witch. But then, Oktavia was operating with the emphasis and the momentum of a dark fate. Such thoughts elude La Sirene as she hears Madoka shriek for Kozue and Nori sees everything. Water crushes without remorse even as Cassandra is slain; even as Oktavia cries out like a dying cachalot...

A dying one. Cassandra perishes in a constellation of glamour and magic. Inexplicably, almost, Oktavia throws off the great cudgel of Mikoto's demon, whose name la Sirene has not yet learned. Will she rally? On some miniscule level la Sirene hopes so: for surely if she has such endurance then Sayaka is still--

'It's so beautiful,' La Sirene hears Kozue say -- And just like that it all wraps up.

La Sirene is reminded of Sayaka, the Sayaka *she* knew, or felt she knew, for the first time when she sees how quickly everything wraps up. How the orchestra lays down its instruments. How the light plays over the tail of Oktavia, the first moment of something near to beauty that even la Sirene had seen in this bag of shards from the pulverized soul of her friend! And of course, a moment later, the curtains rise. Red leaves, and the moonlight is blue, and it's

It's Haneda Airport.

La Sirene de Diamant stands there, glowing quietly. The elevator is open. Sitting on the floor is what remains.

All that's left.

La Sirene feels the wind blow through her. 'La Sirene', maybe, is the wrong word. In this stark moment there is nothing there. For long moments she feels the sound of wind over the ocean. Eternal. Empty. There isn't anyone there to hear.

How long does it last? La Sirene doesn't know.

She hears Mikoto speak even if it was to herself, and it is enough of a crystallation point that la Sirene, Nori, AkaMira, whoever she is, comes back, like a snowflake forming out of a formless potentia. She manages little more than to break her looking-towards the elevator in order to put her attention upon Mikoto, who is moving. Mikoto checks Kyouko and bears her away. La Sirene has no words, but she manages a nod.

Her eyes meet Mikoto's for a moment, but then Mikoto departs, and la Sirene begins a very long walk.

At each step it is as if she strode a mile. There is no strength in her legs. Her boots feel like lead - no; lead would be easier. She shuffles more than she steps. She drags those vaunted gems that have saved herself and others across the carpet, and the precious jewels of another star scuff up already-damaged terminal carpet.

After another eternity she reaches the elevator door. Kneeling down is easier. La Sirene considers the grief seed for a moment, or at least, looks at it; but it is a brief thing, for what she reaches for is that small badge. She reaches down and cups her hands over it, as if it were a wounded baby bird. She raises it, the scuffs and the smudges and the scratches shining like the microengravings of a holographic film. She looks at it and she sees Sayaka...

Her hand tightens...

And it is then that the lead weight of duty and determination slide off her shoulders, and she finds somehow that she CAN talk, that she can, in fact, SCREAM.

"SAYAKA!!" La Sirene wails, smashing her fist into the side of the elevator door once, twice, four times, six times. She accomplishes nothing but bloodying her hand and leaving dents in the process. She kicks at the floor, she rolls onto her back, she kicks at the glass and she shrieks Sayaka's name six more times before the words can come back.

Rolling onto her side she runs her bloodied hand through her hair, staring into nothing. "Wh-why-- why didn't you hear us - wu, we did everything we c-could - why-y-y-y---" Another kick, this time at a piece of metal that gains another set of scuff marks.

Thrashing, she rolls onto her back again, burying her face in her knuckles as she sobs out, "All any of you WANTED w-was to live and, and to - to - to help PEOPLE aa-and and and kuh-kozue whyyyy, what am I supposed to do now, n, nghk -"

Another rolling, now onto her forearms and knees. "What am I supposed to do without you there, you idiot?! You fool, you kept getting INTO all of this, if I'd been the one doing the same you'd have told me I was being an idiot child, you would have clucked your tongue and - and done that little sigh thing and you would have said 'Nori-chan stop trying to get involved in fighting witches' and NOW YOU --"

Nori's arms and legs slide forwards as she kicks at the ground again, sobbing as she does. "Now what are we going to do?! All of us! Why did you have to take Sayaka with you!? Why why WHY WHY WHY WHY - wh - whaahh -" And from there she runs out of words to say, grinding her face into the carpet and smelling nothing but the mindless sterile sanity of a chlorinated pool.

Eventually even that runs out. Laying there, la Sirene moans, "why did - did you have to GO - even when I HATED you - I - naaagh -"

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

It is purely on the sufferance of crimson-eyed judgment that Homura receives Madoka, now, and well she knows it. She did not relish the idea of facing Cure Passion again, especially not in such tight quarters. When last they were so close it was a live grenade between them and not the girl with soft, kind hands who once upon a timeline rebraided Homura's shining-smooth hair.

It's hardly a fair trade: she'd given Eas a faceful of combustion, and feels that off-kilter balance between them as Passion helps transfer Madoka to her. But Homura is not here to even any scales, nor to feel comfortable with what she does and has done. She is here for one reason and one reason only.

Her chin tucks toward Passion, though, for a beat before they part and fall their own ways. Then she is gone, and Madoka with her.

Shreds of outrage pierce chlorine melody and foundry bellows, giving Homura a less than complete understanding of la Sirene's objections, but... they weren't exactly friendly before Homura used the Mermaid Witch's advent as a cruelly teachable moment. She makes note with that calculating corner of her mind that is not screamingly occupied with Madoka Kaname: keep an eye on the Siren, going forward. Miroku ascends, though does not emerge as it did during the battle for Shinjuku. Titanic. Unrestful. Deadly. Mikoto has learned well from the cold-faced puella she thinks is her friend, and Homura notes that, too.

She promised keep Madoka safe, but where can safety be found within this benighted nest of nightmare the blue knight has become? As they land she fights her arms' urge to crush the girl in them with all the fear coursing through her, as if that could do the trick -- perhaps she and this thing that was Sayaka Miki have more in common than Homura would care to admit.

A swan shrieks pain, counterpoint to Kozue's piano playing and spoken word -- and all of these sounds are love, terrible love, even the pain. Especially the pain, to Homura's ears. She holds pain, and she holds love, because she holds Madoka Kaname, even if she cannot even look at her--

'I know.'

--she looks, now, with a mouth fallen slightly open, with rounded eyes that once had shutters, except the shutters got blown off when she let Madoka see her sobbing decades of overdue tears into the cobbles. Now she can try to pretend, but... but Madoka knows. Madoka knows what a weakling hides behind hard violet eyes. It feels keenly like pretending. It /looks/ like pretending, now, if only to the girl who's seen her cry.

She knows Homura will keep her safe, but the knowing... what lies beneath it? It's so hard to look at her, but she can't look away either, just stares directly into a pink sun and lets Madoka sear her.

In turn, Madoka gets a view on all that love and pain. It's always been there, of course. The waters just run high, tonight; the sorrows swell full like the moon, dragging one and all with them as their tides. Homura pretends she is immune, but...

What lives in heaven-pink eyes is too complex for Homura to understand, though it hollows her; the flayed quality of sunset violet exposes in a look the sort of desperate love that might drive a girl to do absolutely anything.

She finally breaks free, looks down and away, because Madoka is leaving her. It is as familiar to Homura as the death throes of an armored mermaid, a thing she has seen over and over again. She no longer mourns the mermaid; she has not mourned the mermaid in many timelines, now. Madoka, though...

Madoka has to go; she has to be there. Homura draws a short, quick breath through her nose. She does not reply, or even nod -- she can't. It's already taking everything that she has to set Madoka's feet to Witchly ground, to step away, to let go.

Homura manages it. But she stays close, fingers to shield. She is ready. She will keep Madoka safe.

Love leaves her arms, and she is left holding just her pain.

And a couple of Desert Eagles.

Miserable with her own romantic agonies, the grey girl watches as if she is the one timestopped.

Music swells, the mortal crescendo falls blade-first on the girl playing the piano and everything peels away vivid red.

Tortured cygnus devotion becomes green, floating lovely green.

Obsidian rage, overcome, sheaths and carries a rusted spearmaiden. A siren screams crimson-fisted.

All around the still grey girl, blue grief condensates.

And pink, pink...

Sayaka Miki is dead, again. Haneda surrounds them, again. The grey girl stands apart, again.

Over and over... This time she does not say a word. She does not voice the choked apology that claws at her throat, when she finally moves and walks past Madoka (Madoka!). She says nothing cruel, nothing cold, nothing calculated: nothing at all.

She glides like a ghost, holstering pistols in her shield; she passes the place where Kozue Kaoru's body would have been, had she not surrendered tonight within the orchestral Labyrinth, had she not fallen in love with a doomed girl. The porcelain mask of her face chills straight down to the bone beneath, the cold sears her.

She stoops in the elevator, quiet as the last sigh of a dying dream, next to the sobbing Sirene in her pool of glass and blood and moonlight. She plucks up a spindle of sorrow. Then Homura Akemi walks away, without fanfare and without disappearing, alone before she ever leaves the assembled mourners.

OOC: Watch this space for final poses from other plot participants!

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sore Ja Mata Ne (Music Box) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qWEVKP1QJUs

Madoka earnestly believes that there is a significance -- a profound importance -- to bearing witness. Papa and Mama explained it to her when she was very young, and worrying her lower lip raw over something that happened at the park. She hadn't wanted to open up to them about it, but over cookies and tears the story burbled up like a virgin spring. It was nothing revolutionary; a boy, a girl, a hairpulling. Tiny Madoka, her twintails mere tufts secured by ties with clatter-clatter plastic balls, all torn up because she didn't know what to do about it.

"Madoka-chan," said Papa, "If you don't feel safe, you don't have to intervene. But it is important to go get help, and tell someone who can help what you've seen."

"Mm," Madoka-chibi-chan agreed nervously around cookie crumbs, nodding reluctantly.

Mama reached out and ruffled her hair. It was already messy but now it's irreparably so. "Being a witness is an important job, Madoka-chan! The world needs people who aren't afraid to tell the truth when they see it!"

She reached in and they nuzzled noses. "Mm!" Madoka agreed again, more enthusiastic now...

...There's so much water. The light is blue. Everyone is a blunette for a moment, everyone is Sayaka, everyone is Kozue. The color of Madoka's eyes is not strong enough to assert against this optical effect, and they turn blue too, the fuzzy gray-blue of a lake under clouds.

And they stay open.

Madoka rocks back on her heels, then forward to her toes, clutching at herself fiercely. Homura's light touch is the only thing that keeps her from sprinting towards the piano and its descending shadow, but it is enough -- not because of its implicit threat -- but as a tiny, thin tie to the rest of the world. A reminder that more exists, between heaven and earth, than blue -- blue Sayaka, blue Kozue, blue Madoka's blue, she wants to be with them --

The sword comes down before Madoka's wide eyes and in the aftermath of the jangle of a piano's destruction and the quieter noise of a girl's, she emits a horrible strangled sound somewhere between sob and second scream.

But Madoka's eyes are open, fiercely open, locked that way by muscles that are already throbbing in the beginnings of a terrible headache to go with the heartache, and so it is that her voice is arrested as surely as a dried tear by the faintest glimpse of a shadow of a smile on the lips of a dying girl. The shock sends tingles down her spine -- and by then the world is turning upside-down, then reasserting itself.

Only it doesn't.

Yes, it's the airport. Yes, all the madness that magic brings is gone. Yes, the world is sensible concrete and rebar and glass, hydrogen and oxygen is dripping silently down her cheeks.

Closest to the elevator, she takes a tiny, tentative step nowhere, like a docile fawn testing the forest floor with an uncertain hoof. The ground is solid beneath her stockinged foot.

(Her shoe is gone, taken to the same nowhere place as -- as --)

But that's impossible. Impossible. It's ridiculous to be standing here in a world without --

-- Madoka knows all the best spots in the hallway past the kitchen to put her stockinged feet, and so in perfect silence she creeps up towards the sound of two low, husky voices mixed with that of clinking ice. And also in perfect silence, after a moment's consideration, she sneaks back to bed.

She never says a thing --

-- Without looking, Madoka rummages around in her desk drawer looking for supplies for a school project. Her fingertips grope for pens and paper but what they find instead is a plastic object as familiar to her as another girl's hand. Indeed, she used to hold both at once, guided down the page in order to steadily create a curve, a corner, a straight line, a snowflake. It occurs to her that maybe she had better look where she's putting her hand, but not because of the safety scissors.

They can never hurt her --

-- she takes a second step, cautiously, and the grit grinding into her white stocking feels very far away. Other things are close. The silky air adrift in Homura's passing, as she picks something up and leaves. The expression in Mikoto's eyes, as she does the same. Those are real. Nori... Nori is real...

...Nori is screaming...

Madoka bends down, slowly, numbly. She can feel Nori's words through the vibrations in her feet, and then the vibrations into her arms, but she can't really hear her. Nori's tears drip onto her as she gently, gently, tightens her embrace. Madoka's tears drip onto the back of Nori's neck, into her shoulders, into her hair.

Nori grieves for Sayaka, and Madoka's eyes are open. Nori grieves for Kozue, and Madoka's eyes are open. The scent of strawberry shampoo competes with that of chlorine. It can't win, but it can at least make itself known. Madoka is small and soaked but somehow she feels warm, even feverishly hot.

She makes her own noises, but won't be able to recall them later. There aren't very many words involved anyway. There are no words for this, just a primal need to soothe the unsoothable. Her vocal chords buzz and her tongue presses against her teeth and she murmurs nonsense that means, mostly, 'I love you.'

Nori has gotten so much taller than her, but she's still big enough to rock them both. Toe to heel, heel to toe. Madoka's eyes are open, and she watches Nori until she's still.


Somehow she heads home, navigating streets and trains in the too-familiar daze of too-familiar late night Shibuya. There's no fog tonight, which feels like an obscenity. Every single detail of their neighborhood stands out in stark relief.

Madoka stumbles across the tiles they always hopscotched across without breaking stride.

Inside, she leaves her parents bewildered and upset, not breaking stride at the foyer, either. The bedroom door slams too-loud behind her, louder than she meant to close it, and she quivers at the mistake and the message it sends.

She hurls herself on the bed she hasn't slept on in weeks, ignoring the futon rolled up on the floor.

The sobs finally come, hot and huge and muffled by Totoro's chest. They shake her violently like they have her by the scruff of her kitten's neck.

She finally closes her eyes, closes them tightly, which doesn't dam the flow but squeezes the tears out faster and harder.

Her eyes are closed, and she cannot see the light change in the room, as a sharp-eared shadow engulfs her...

ROLL CREDITS: MAGIA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwquipMpsiQ