2019-04-22 - Red Present

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Red Present

After Ohtori's memorial for Sayaka, Nori checks up on Madoka.


Madoka Kaname, Nori Ankou


Ohtori Academy

OOC - IC Date:

4/22/2019 - 06-01-2015

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Ohtori Academy +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
  The ivory crown on the brow of Southern Cross Island, Ohtori Academy is       
  separated from the world by more than just water. Outside, education can be   
  a luxury. Within this white-walled compound, education is /luxurious/.        
  Marble colonnades spring up like fountain spouts, scarlet flowers drench      
  every free surface. The architecture is at once daringly art deco and         
  austerely Classical, white marble lending an angelic weightlessness to        
  pillars and fences that can seem more woven than carved.                      
  At the center of campus is the Chairman's Tower, a dizzyingly tall spire in   
  the center of a manicured grassy field. Radiating around this field are the   
  lecture halls, dormitories, art buildings, and other facilities by which the  
  chosen few receive education, with small class sizes in large buildings.      
  It's common for students to refer to a building's location as if the hour     
  hand of a great clock extended from the central tower. At twelve o'clock,     
  for instance, the Duel Arena looms like a jade stormcloud, a great forest     
  forming a living pagoda of leaves that reminds even longtime students that    
  their school keeps many secrets.                                              
  The rose is the emblem of Ohtori, and campus is decorated with a profusion    
  of them, both living and frozen in frieze. Poppies are favored as well, and   
  thick carpets of either flower can be found wherever the loosest excuse is    
  available. Only the most bitter of winters seems able to fully erase the      
  faint fragrance from the air, and students who leave the island via quick,    
  convenient bridge or ferry can often find a memory of it on their clothing.   
<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Someone drones up on the stage. The microphone picks up every breath, every inhalation even. The AV club is too skilled to allow feedback, but the break it would provide would almost be a relief.

"...Miki-san will be fondly remembered for her contributions to the Girls' Softball Team..."

An anonymous sea of Ohtori Academy students fill the largest indoor gymnasium. Some are crying; some are not. Some are rapt; some are bored. Most, one way or another, are stunned.

People come and people go from Southern Cross Island. They transfer in; they get expelled. But multiple inexplicable deaths -- in the same brief period -- is unheard of.

It has wrapped everyone in a sort of weird, soft cocoon. Not pleasant soft. Pillow being used to suffocate you soft.

"...M***-sa* was * **od c*ass**te, an* le**es beh**d *any ***ends..."

Kids are kids and they grapple with mortality in different ways. The famously shining white walls of campus are starting to see more graffiti than normal, as people paint -- or, more often, etch -- their horror and despair into something more solid and permanent than they've turned out to be.

The counselors at the Mikage Seminar are performing grief counseling at record rates. All the trauma from the invasion last year is bubbling back up -- as though the deaths, alone, weren't enough.

"...****-***'s ***** ** * *******. ** ****** *** *** information, please contact *** **********'* ****** ***********."

The assembly is over.

Madoka stood up a heartbeat before everyone else. This may have been coincidence. Her expression is not one that has any engagement with what's going on in the room right now. It's obvious that if it were five minutes ago she would have walked out in front of the entire room and caused a flurry of rumor. If it were five minutes later, she would have walked out alone.

It's obvious because of the emptiness in her eyes. The way her limbs move only vaguely and belatedly, the sort of signal lag ascribed to a self-driving car on satellite link. Lack of affect on this famously expressive face -- the face of someone who feels everyone else's feelings at least as strongly as her own -- is unsettling in the extreme, like she's been replaced by someone from the uncanny valley.

Her shoulder accidentally knocks at least six people on her way out; she's bumped around like a pinball; but she doesn't seem to notice, doesn't seem to mind, and most notably of all, doesn't bother to apologize.

She winds up in one of the many covered porticos between buildings, staring into the courtyard it contains.

One of her fingertips slowly swipes up -- then down -- the huge marble pillar next to her. Other than that, she could be made from the very same stone.

She's certainly pale enough. Girls aren't that color.

Corpses are.

Corpses like ******'*.

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

Nori Ankou is here.

In a sense, so is everyone else that she is, but she is doing well, she thinks dully, to be here at all. It is a little hard to breathe. She does not have any AkaMira glamour or accessorization on her, other than a pair of earrings that frankly may have just been left in ever since that fateful night.

Her fingers and her ankles still hurt, a little.

More of her hurts more. Why was I spared? she wonders.

Why was it not me?

These are understandable thoughts and it would not be surprising for anyone to hear them within their hearts in these moments, but for Nori Ankou the matter has its own numbing sequelae. She did not know Sayaka as long as many others. But she knew her well... or felt that she did, which comes to the same here.

And she knew her in the dark and the terror. She saved her, and was saved by her.

Nori does not rise up quickly when the assembly ends, but rise she does, moving with deliberation. Every motion she has is poised and not too abnormal in the specific case. In a bird's eye view it might seem... strained. As if everything she does requires thought. She files out.

She does not spot Madoka in the assembly.

She realizes this when she spots her outside, when she had drifted in silence for a moment, and sees that she is leaning against that pillar. In a moment the cotton wool peels back. A sharp shock to see her in such a state, though she has every right to be there. Why didn't I see her before, Nori curses herself, feeling a familiar burning of barbed wire in her midsection.

Because I grew, she realizes, understands, despairs as she nears Madoka. Because I'm going to end up tall if I don't end up dead.

Nori Ankou forgets, for a moment, that dull listless ache, that sweatsome anxiety, that formless fear, that sense of emotional amputation. If she thinks of anything in specific as she approaches Madoka she thinks of pilot whales leaping into a late-winter sky.

The whales struck the water of the tank and it burst, and the spray reached all the way... to...

"Madoka," Nori says quietly. Her voice tries to be soothing and manages 'soft'. "..."

She comes up close, close enough to hug or to lean against but not yet performing such a motion. She makes herself smile, though it is the ghost of a smile. The rings beneath her eyes are very stark, but there are still sparks of warmth there. Perhaps few, but she is not inclined to hoard them.

"... would you like to sit?"

Perhaps she means the ground. (In fact, she does.)

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

Madoka has not grown.

If anything, she's shrunk. When you're small, more of your size is carried on presence, at least proportionally to everyone else in the world.

Madoka isn't hiding. She just isn't there.

But it amounts to the same thing; she truly cuts a tiny, pathetic figure in the hall. It isn't that unusual a perspective, though, for someone who's seen Madoka on countless battlefields. It's just strange to see her that way without a monster looming nearby to lend her frame that extra relative perspective of delicacy.

She freezes when she's addressed, which is more present than she was, since it acknowledges Nori, even if only by lack of acknowledgement.

Eventually a shifting shadow upon the plane of her cheekbone indicates that she's still alive. She blinked and left an eyelash behind. It sticks there, garishly pink against the nearly translucent pallor of her unfortunately sickly complexion.

She grunts, which from a throat like hers can more accurately be called a squeak.

She does not sit. And she does not look.

She just... stares at nothing. Nothing could be a bed of roses and a basketball court, but it isn't.

Nothing is somewhere else entirely.

Over and over again.

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

Madoka freezes up.

Nori feels a certain rotten misery at the sight of Madoka, a sickly feeling in the back of her mouth. It tastes acidic, like fruit that's gone off in a way you notice only when you bite in.

Was this worth saving those strangers, Nori thinks.

Some businessmen and yakuza, who will get to live, and instead, Madoka. Madoka, Madoka.

La Sirene raises her hand and Nori finishes the motion, touching that stray pink eyelash with her fingertip and drawing it away. It is a liberty, perhaps, but not a great one. "Madoka," Nori says.

The tone is different. She can feel herself pulling on a tunic, a costume. Putting on a face. Well, I don't have to wear it heavily, Nori thinks to herself. I have advantages. They oblige me.

Her hand goes down to take Madoka's. She is not physically warm, but the second hand - the full clasping of Madoka's hand that did not reach for that stone pillar - has its own tenderness. "Let..."

Let me take you away from here.

Let me take you somewhere else.

Let me take *me* somewhere else.


Madoka is here.

"Let me buy you lunch, or... some juice; even sweets, I think, would do you good. Alright...?"

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

When the gentle, careful finger approaches her face, Madoka blinks a second time, and sees Nori for the first time.

"Ohh," she exhales.

To say that she snaps into the moment would be doing everyone a serious disservice. Imagine instead the lens flare, as the focus -- slowly -- changes. Maybe it changes a little too far. The end result is blurry.

Madoka swallows, but the lump in her throat is too big and too hot and too sharp to go down easily.

"You don't have to," she says, hoarsely. Maybe it's gears her larynx is jammed up with, dusty and crumbling and heavy.

She looks down at their joined hands like someone studying an abstract painting.

Her fingers twitch, inside Nori's, like the green stuff inside a woody brown wintering vine. Maybe that's too optimistic. Her fingers twitch like a marionette's. Maybe that's too pessimistic. Her fingers twitch like a body's, when a defibrillator is applied.

But she does not resuccitate.

Already, her gaze is slipping further away again, over Nori's shoulder, towards the sky.

It's gray.

It's late May already, it should be blue.

...maybe it's better like this.

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

Nori thinks about what Kozue would do here. Laugh and pat Madoka's cheek, perhaps with condescension. Nori thinks Kozue would say something like, 'don't be silly, Madoka-chan.'

She thinks about what Mami would say. Something elegant. 'But it would be my pleasure.'

She thinks about what Sayaka would say. Something brave. She'd put her forehead against Madoka's and say something like 'I want my precious Madoka to eat til she busts!'

Nori can feel jagged fragments of those girls in her stomach, in her heart. Some are being digested. Mami perhaps more than the others, though it would shame Nori to think it quite that way.

None of those girls are here.

Nori squeezes Madoka's hands, in that doubling embrace.

"I want to," Nori says.

There is a moment of silence.

Nori's hands slide away and she reaches forwards and she gathers up Madoka into an embrace that might lift the smaller girl off her feet, no, definitely would. "Please-- Madoka-- I would take you for a thousand dinners if you wanted... anything you liked, anything at all... I... I don't..."

Don't want to lose you too.

"I don't want you to get sick..."

The embrace loosens though it doesn't depart. A familiar cupful of guilt dumps into her stomach. It has no words with it this time. The emotion is not linked to language. "I..."

"I'm worried about you... alright? Just..."

Nori exhales with force.

"... I just want to... to try to..."

The words trail off and fade into the sand of the clouds. The embrace loosens another step, though Nori does not break it.

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

Madoka lets Nori pick her up, but it is, indeed, nothing like the thousand thousand ways that Sayaka used to pick her up. She isn't swung around and she isn't giggling. It is not all that different from lifting a doll. She's light enough. Too light.

It wasn't Sayaka's death that put Madoka off her food.

She drinks deeply of the guilt Nori offers her, though, and takes a shuddering breath herself. It doesn't smell very good. Her hygiene regimen, foundation of her day, is starting to slip.

Her cheeks begin to mottle with blood. Let's not patronize her by calling them roses, today. Heat is better than cold, though, and Nori is close enough to feel it.

"Mama is worried about me too," she says in a thin, high voice, "Because I'm not crying anymore. Because I'm not talking about it. I'm not... doing all the right stuff you're supposed to do..."

She turns away from within Nori's grip, which is to say that their cheeks wind up almost touching each other, left to right.

"Sorry," she concludes, listlessly.

But Nori can feel the connection, the frisson, formed by a drop of saltwater suddenly bridging their cheeks.

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

Nori could use with a wash of her hair, but has always been more stormy on this matter than others.

Madoka speaks. Words. Her voice is forming words. Nori feels the subtle electric tension of a shed tear. A drip. A prick of the blood of the heart, the subtle light that flows through all things, the infinitude that is Sorrow. A droplet of it.

"Madoka," Nori murmurs.

"You have nothing to apologize for. Not to me. Not... to anyone, I think. Unless you stole your brother's pudding..."

It is a reflex of humor, a dying twitch. Nori speaks more gravely.

"You should cry, when you want. You should laugh, when you want. The laughter may become tears. The tears, laughter... these are... I don't... I don't want to say normal, but... but they will come when they come, you know? I know I can't say it will hurt less, but... you do not need to apologize for feeling what you feel, alright?"

It is wisdom from another star that Nori has taken to heart, like a religious convert. As it comes back out of her mouth, played back from the shellac record of memory, it feels hollow to her.

But Madoka shed a tear, she thinks. And she got a little color in her cheeks.

Progress. A victory for the Chevaliers, she thinks, equally hollow.

"If you want to speak," Nori says, "I want to listen."

("But I do mean it - let me treat you to something...")

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

It feels hollow to Madoka too. She forces herself to take more deep breaths. They're a little too deep, actually; she flirts with the border of hyperventilation.

"I don't want to do anything," she replies, a little bit shrilly, a little bit defensively, a lot exhaustedly. "I don't want to speak."

She pauses -- and looks at Nori -- and really sees her.

It may occur to Nori for the first time that, perhaps, avoiding processing everyone else's grief is why Madoka has pulled so far away, for once. After Mami's death, she was omnipresent. Even after Sayaka died and Oktavia was born, she was still there for everyone, more fiercely than ever. Cookies in a karaoke booth. Bento in a wasteland. Her little hand in theirs. In yours.

Her shoulders slump. She deflates, like a pink and white balloon who was already out of helium and mostly bumping along the ground.

"But..." she mumbles, turning her eyes from Nori's misery to the ground, and the rose seal emblazoned there, "...I want to listen."

She might be lying.

Then again, it's Madoka.

She might be telling the truth.

She disentangles herself, stubbornly ignores the single tear that continues to glitter on her cheek. No more come right now.

And she holds out her hand.

"Maybe... in the... cafeteria?"

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

Nori's eyes focus on Madoka even as Madoka looks at her.

Then Madoka deflates.

Things seem to fade away. The incessant little worries in the back of Nori's mind smooth out. That sense of pulling in a dozen directions, like a glittering school of fish, quiets. Madoka looks down and Nori raises a hand to take the offered one.

The tear glimmers in the grey light. Why does it have to be so beautiful? Nori thinks.

It's like touching broken glass.

"Of course," she says. "Let's head that way."

Nori knows the way. She walks, quietly. About seventy-seven steps go by, when she says, "Thank you," and does not explain it, picking up a thread another seven steps later to say:

"Is there anything, you would want to hear...? I don't mind, if you... If you want to, ah..."

"To hear something that isn't..."

It is Nori's reflex to slide back into imagination and fantasy, however glamorously ill-defined within the secret vaults of her mentality, in the face of these things. But it does not work well, lately, somehow. Every dream is black, and not the gorgeous kind.

Nevertheless she turns her head and smiles at Madoka, slightly. An attempt at encouragement. She tries, after a moment, to smile as Madoka had smiled at her so often.