2019-04-28 - Sleeplessover! The Incubator Explains It All! 2

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Sleeplessover! The Incubator Explains It All! 2

It turns out that an uninvited fairy makes for a guest spectacular even by magical standards.


Rei Hino, Takeo Akamizu, Kasagami Araki, Mai Tokiha, Setsuna Meioh, Ren Aizawa, Endo Naoki, Usagi Tsukino, Madoka Kaname, Nori Ankou, Steven Universe, Fuu Hououji, Setsuna Higashi, Nagisa Misumi, Vita Yagami, Mikoto Minagi, Kyuubey


Kaname House, Shibuya Shopping Ward

OOC - IC Date:

4/28/2019 - 06-03-2015


<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"Of COURSE I-- hrrm," Rei cuts her incensed insistence off as the Incubator explains. It's a little silly to say it cuts her off, when it's not even speaking with a voice. It still feels strange to talk over it with words when it's talking in her mind.

It might be for the best. (That is what those voices mean, right - for the best?) Rei is exaggerating a little when she started to say she understands entropy; certainly she knows the definition of the word, but she's fallen asleep during Ami's study sessions often enough, too. (Recently, well...) It gives a simple example, and the enormity of it staggers Rei back a step.

She almost trips on the three-chair pileup. There is a moment of wobbling as she shoves her heel back to regain her balance. Physically she steadies herself; emotionally she feels as if she will never find her footing again.

The Incubator is not the first thing she has faced which has taken energy from humanity; somewhere inside her heart, Sailor Mars knows it will not be the last. It is not the taking which horrifies her - as such. It is its amicable, genuine presentation -- from the metaphorical mouth of a thing like a fairy. It is like looking into a funhouse mirror too long. They should be able to trust something like this. It even sounds trustworthy, now, saying the awful things it does.

It is Madoka who gives shape to the horror she faces down, as she whimpers out a question. She is not touching Madoka; she is touched by the way her voice turns to shrieking, instead.

The Incubator is not the first vampire which has latched onto their necks. All of them -- every one have seen some horror. Her thoughts go to Setsuna, to Vita, as her gaze flicks to them -- and Rei holds them in esteem, though she does not know Vita so well yet, for what she sees as their strength in moving beyond it.

Rei's voice joins the chorus.

"That's SICK!" She shouts, and storms forward again, step over step - and she does not reach out to the pile around Madoka as much as she thrusts an arm out in front of her, between her and her white fluffy tormentor. (Between the Incubator and Usagi. Between the Incubator and Chibi-Usa. She is a soldier; she interposes.) "Second growth stage - you mean teenage girls, right?! Don't you think we have enough problems!" Her other hand gestures, broad and angry. "We have to handle grades, and love, and we've got friends, and we need to decide on a career, and then there's our families, and God help me, if you go to our school there's the rumours --"

It's such a little thing to focus on, in her frustration.

But it's just so astoundingly, staggeringly, monumentally -- "It's unfair!" Rei yells, pointing right at a bit of fluff. "Here's a news flash, you little rob--" here she chokes down a word halfway through the mora, in a vain attempt to avoid friendly fire, "-- you, you might not think you're holding a grudge, but that doesn't mean we won't! Do you think we won't fight you on this? Do you think we'll just -- lie down and let you drain us dry?! Get real!"

As long as Rei keeps yelling at the problem, she can pretend she doesn't feel like she's going to be crushed by everyone's grief - and her own.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Takeo had come when he had recieved the call from Madoka's parents. He didn't know her all that well, but there were school functions, and all that. He offered to go for a ittle while to help, and jsut to be there. He had made his way, riding the blue Kawasaki through the streets at a more sedate pace than usual. No reason to pull up to a somber location with squeeling ttires when you powerslide to a stop as evidence of how awesome you were on a motorcycle. There was a time and a place for that, and Takeo had guessed correctly that this was not one of them. He had parked his bike across the street, leaving his helmet to hang on the handle bars and had gone to the door to be let in. He waves to Fuu bowing his head to her and and whispering a quick hello before they all went up to Madoka's room. He spies Mai and gives her a quick shy wave.

He stood in the back and listened, arms folded over his chest, his eyes going over the room. Taking in the stuffies, and the general ... neatness of it. He listened as others gave Madoka encouragement and warm feelings and frowned, wondering if he should say something. Anything. He knows Madoka, they've crossed paths in the Ohtorri halls more than once. She even wore a Lancelot T-Shirt once (He really needed to find where to buy one,) and had been absolutely enthusiastic when he saw her in it. It was at a low time when he was feeling bad about Mika, and seeing SOMEBODY caring for what he did had made his day. So in her own way, Madoka had been there for him.

But then Madoka says the names of the dead and his head jerks up. He goes from somber to shcked. His eyes going wide before he whispers softly, "Eri.... Chan?" At about the same time Mai does. He doesn't know what to do.

He's not even sure what to say. He just stares in shock as he feels a tear form. He blinks it away as the Incubator speaks and he looks to the cat appearing thing, his hands making a fist so hard his knuckles pop. Eri was ... Besides Sparkles, and besides Mai (Who was a friend in a totally different way) his best friend. The person heshared lunches with. though not each other's lunches she ate vegetables and a man had to draw the line someplace.

Regardless, Eri was his best friend and she was dead. Not just dead but dead because this .... Thing, had given her bad deal. Tricked her for what? Some cosmic mumbo jumbo that liekly wasn't even a real thing? He opens and closes his right fist, wishing, just wishing he had either half of Arondight in either hand because then he'd ....

He took a deep breath. He let it out and placed a hand on Mai's shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze. If he was angry, he knew Mai was about a breath awy from summoning a dragon and roasting this place. Instead he simply looked at the Incubator and narrowed his eyes. "You killed Eri, because she was just a used battery to you?" He finally asks. His voice shaking with grief and rage. "And not jsut Eri, but ... All the other girls too?" He adds. He didn't know them very well, except Mami, and in the last few months they hadn't said much to each other since she had shot him. He has tears rolling down his cheek. "They were .... They were people. Our friends and you reat them like some kind of damn battery?" He looks to Rei as she makes her outburst and nods to her. "For the first time in my life I agree with Rei. You won't be draining anybody esle as long as we're around you white ball of stupid FLUFF! You're even worse than the goddamn RABBIT!"

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8N_PXTGdlGw

The tears of the embrace still shine upon Kassie's cheeks. She's pulled her love from the darkness of that great pool of sadness. In turn, Setsuna grips her own with both hands. Together, linked, as one for that moment. Wisdom touches her amidst the truth that the Incubator gives them all.

Not now. Let the thing keep chatting, keep spilling secrets, just keep on guttering the Truth that has sent so many magical girls into sadness and horror and suffering. And now has only helped lead to the deaths of more of her precious people Kasagami Araki has used to plug the gaping hole in her heart.

Entropy, starfaring, other races? This cycle of suffering and eating and pain, this whole thing that has killed so many close to her, close to those gathered, and how many others for how long? It's impossible for the Duelist to say.

The words of the others fill the Duelists' ears. Condemnations, rage, sadness...the heavy swirl of emotions burn through Kasagami's head as she takes it all in. The girl in black and red, that desires to be a strong ruler, a King, loses all of her tension and seeming rush to strike at Kyuubey. She stares, her body relaxed, all of a sudden calm as her mind casts back to a night full of fire and screaming and endings by something supernatural.

The Incubator puts a cute face on the machine. It's too cruel, just as Madoka says. And the thing has the pure gall to make it seem as if those lives are a trade off that's completely fine.

It's then, right there, that Kasagami knows Kyuubey is heartless. Is a monster without regard for their lives or their pain or their well being outside of being a twisted fuel source. At least with some of the Dark Generals she's come to blows with?

Well, they own their desires and ambitions. This thing though, is making it seems like it's doing them all a favor. Helping them. A friend.

A monster that took away those she loved. Last time a monster stood before her she was too weak to stop it. But what of now?

She finally turns her gaze from Kyuubey to Setsuna Meioh. The rage has subsided, left with anguish half wallowed in unbidden memories. Then, she looks to Madoka. Sweet, innocent Madoka, who's always tried to give hope and cheer even when a war was raging.

"Incubator. " Comes Kassie, clear voiced. Her free hand is held away from her friends, her former enemies, and most especially Madoka and Pluto. The hand gripped by Setsuna's feels that much warmer.

Then Kassie looks to the ring on her finger. Pulling away from Madoka, away from her beloved, she gives them both one last sad look. It's bare misery in her face. And something else, something she gives with a small smile. She shakes her head at her beloved, with her wisdom, her sense. Even as a tear stained face of the Guardian of Time beseeches her with cupped hands and sorrow that Kasagami hates to see risen in Setsuna once more. Another sin of the Incubator. The Duelist frees her hand.

The Araki girl finds her seat again, leaning into the cold, hard metal. The tall young woman drapes, leans back hard, balancing on the back legs. A glove falls from her hand as she stares at the ceiling of Madoka's room. She can hear the shrieks, how the girl weeps. The misery that the intruding Incubator has filled Madoka, filled everyone in the room with.

Kassie's legs tilt higher, as if she were on a swingset, so high does she left them in that metal chair. Her hands fall to the arms of the chair. They grip as her eyes close. Her body and heart ache as she too wracks in a moment of utter weakness.

"The grief that can fill up the human heart, filling the void left behind from losing someone? I believe it, that there's power in that pain and suffering. The universe? Entropy? You have come here today to tell us all of this agony inflicted is because of your actions. It's all because of your need for energy to stave off some far away doom that girls with hopes and dreams and FAMILIES are killed and eaten and driven mad with their own inner demons!?"

Metal creaks as she rocks back and forth precariously. "The wounds of loss doesn't just take in grief, though. We try to fill it with so many other things too. Love, hatred, ambition? All of those things exist because some human ages ago wanted to stop hurting. Look at that girl...No. Look at my friend, Madoka-chan. The suffering you've made her feel to fill the void."

Her head tilts to get a view of the alien. "The wracking agony you've made all of us feel! Want to talk about grudges, you sadistic rodent!? Consider just where you are, who we are, and choose your words carefully!" She adds, nodding sharply to Rei's own words as she feels them reverberating in her own mind.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Kyubey has answers. Logical, detached, rational answers to the demands and the screams and the questions of everyone gathered.

Kneeling by Madoka's bedside, Mai is listening. In a way, she's an ideal example of what the Incubator is talking about - a human who is filled with emotion more than logic, part of the species still bound to this rock. There's a deep anger in her, one that doesn't care one iota about Kyubey's reason, utterly steadfast against the creature's cause.

She's listening only for the sake of curiosity - to try to understand what twisted dream could be worth this kind of suffering. Maybe in a desperate hope that there's another way, but not very much so. Too many hopes have been shattered too recently.

Mai Tokiha does not have great grades in science - her understanding of the technical parts requires that same explanation. She does, however, have experience in budgeting, in trying to get those expenses and incomes to match up, and little bits are always lost...

But here, with a hand on Madoka, she can feel that grief and rage without loss.

Next to her former fellow waitress, she can learn about the calculus of spending teenage girls' hopes to help distant civilizations-

There's a sharp intake of breath as Mai goes very still, eyes wide, nostrils flared. The words are completely different, but the sentiment, the reasoning, the framing - it's all too familiar.

There's shouting in Madoka's defense - rage born of recognition from Setsuna, determination and exorcism from Nori, impending violence from Vita - and Mai's voice rises to join them.

"I guess we should also feel grateful for the opportunity to put in unpaid overtime, too?" Mai adjusts her position, rising up onto the bed a little more, unconsciously shifting herself a little more between Madoka and that inhuman thing. "You absolute - rat. You're just like every restaurant manager I've had the displeasure of working under - telling vulnerable people that we should feel grateful that you're taking advantage of us."

The embers of Mai's voice are glowing, heat building in her temper, gaze burning. "Telling us it'd be 'nice' if everyone else was doing well at our expense - that it's a good trade-off to steal from children for the sake of 'adult' cultures that apparently can't even budget properly!"

There's heat - and then, abruptly, Mai's temper seems to burn itself out as she hangs her head. She could only burn until she broke. "I never imagined it was so...those wishes weren't worth the suffering you demanded for them. All those people eaten by Witches deserved better. Eri deserved better. Mami Tomoe deserved better."

There's something between a sob and a laugh, as Takeo's hand reaches out to support her. Mai shifts again, to try to get closer to Madoka, to try to keep herself between her kouhai and this banal middle manager of an inhuman evil. "...they all deserved better than your stupid, selfish reasoning."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

All those tears transmit through the group embrace, and grief becomes... not lesser, not easier, but shared. It unravels knots as they form, in Setsuna's chest. Her hands tremble upon Kassie's. Amid it, the wish-granting creature does not stop.

There is something about that entreating tone...

Step into the grand halls of memory held within the soul of Time's Guardian, and know their unknowable scope. Her recall is keen; her vaults, vast beyond measure. Some of her earliest experiences, she does not revisit often. That which is dream to many is grief-filled formative memory for the senshi.

Grief recalls it to her now.

She was younger, then. She didn't attend the ball with the others; she was always apart from them. She guarded the Time Gate, even then.

But Sailor Pluto watched, and she remembers.

She saw the white ball of fluff at her Queen's feet. She heard tell of its proposal, the one her Queen would not entertain -- the one it moved forward with only after the screams stopped echoing in anything but her memory.

"You," she says, and the word thrums with realization as well as with anger finally voiced.

"I did not recognize you, before. Perhaps I had too much experience of your doings, and not enough of their mastermind." She straightens, and stands, every inch her full height. One hand stays with Kasagami as she takes that chair, fast upon her shoulder, and only the swordswoman knows how tight that grip is. Like a spasm. Still, her voice softens with reverence and sorrow as she continues.

"Her Majesty, in her wisdom, ever saw further than any could imagine... And she would not let you peddle your wares. She kept you from the Earth, and she kept you from us above it." Fresh tears, old tears, well. They brighten garnet but do not shed down Pluto's cheeks, and her eyes glitter all the more for it. "And look, look at what you have wrought with no one to stand in your way."

She joins the Madoka and Kasagami and all the others in their disbelieving anger, in their sorrow and their rage and their refutations, and in this Sailor Pluto is also not alone.

"You, who come from outside the gravity well of our sun to predate upon the Earth and her daughters..." Kyouko, she thinks. Eri. The graceful and golden and terrifying and ultimately, doomed, Mami Tomoe. Sayaka Miki, who tried so hard, who meant so much to so many even as she caused such wreckage. Lost Kimiko Akane, all the other girls who served as energy for the Incubators...

Innocents. Civilians. Fertilizer for Witches. For more lost girls. All of them, ground up into grief and gristle for the sake of... Her voice flutters, and the Outer Senshi speaks through emotion, with emotion, even as she stands very still.

"Alien, you are foe, and never were friend. We know your shape now, your ways."

<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

When the call came, Ren responded. She'd been somewhat familiar with Madoka Kaname, remembering a time when herself and several other magical girls protected her in a movie theatre. That felt so long ago -- back when fighting evil still felt like a Saturday morning anime.

She'd give anything to go back to those days. But they're long gone now.

Assembled here with everyone else now, listening to what this being known as Kyubey has to say for himself in regards to the Puella Magi and their true purpose. It's all so horrific. She feels as though it's some sort of cruel joke, at first. But by everyone's reactions it's all too real.

Mami-san... Eri-chan... Kimiko-san... All of them were pulled into this, without the entire truth dropped on them. This Kyubey is a monster...

No, worse than a monster.

She can't come up with the words to articulate her grief and anger. Her fists are clenched ever so tightly by her sides, and her eyes are closed, face set in stone.

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

Endo has been silent for most of his time in the Kaname household. The boy arrived with the rest of the visitors called to help cheer up the pink-haired girl so well known around the magical community. He has not been terribly helpful at the task, if only because he's only been able to offer brief-but tight-- hug before sinking into a seat.

The news of the death of the Shepard's leaders passed without comment, and with only muted surprise. Some might feel the pain of loss for such news, but if it adds any more weight than what Endo was already bearing with it's nearly impossible to tell.

But it's the latest words from the small white mascot that rouse him to anger. Not as loud, but just as venomous. "That's...that's awful." Fingers clench tight around the dulled purple stone in his palm. They squeeze until his knuckles go white. "Nobody asked you for that. They didn't want anything to do with that--"

"You didn't even give them a choice!"

If he had the power, he'd lash out at the horrid little creature more than words. But words, choked and furious, are all he can muster now.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Usagi Tsukino could unleash a million Moon Spiral Heart Attacks and feel less dizzy than she does now. The incubator lays out a universe that Usagi Tsukino cannot even comprehend. One of cold - clinical - cruel science. She's not stupid, she can at least wrap her head around the concept. It's simply that her mind chooses not to grasp it in a way where it could ever take hold. It's too alien. Too callous. The world - the universe cannot be this way.

Mami Tomoe's life worth only the equivalent of a superior crude oil on a universal best scale.

Madoka Kaname's best friend... all those other girls.

No. It's not that she can't countenance it. She won't.

Usagi Tsukino's arms however which had loosened as Madoka's fire quickened and grew. The arms tighten around Madoka to the part where it feels like she could ever fail to release her. The girl's eyes shimmering with tears.

She remembers.

She's a lot more dangerous than you are.

Madoka laid out in burlap sacks. Madoka sedated.

Can't have her wake up and saving herself. I suppose you and she are both princesses, that way.

"All along... you just wanted Madoka to become a witch?"

It's a plaintive sort of disbelief. That her adorable same height sister was the target of something so insidious - to turn her into a monster. To twist the hopes and dreams of the thing most sacred to her into despair.

The normal girl.

"That's... what you were doing to her? All those long nights she spent - agonizing over... you were making her suffer just... to convince her to suffer more?"

Setsuna names it alien. Setsuna names it foe. And she remembers distantly from another life - from visions of this life. The creature in Serenity's court.

It's been the enemy of the normal girl before Usagi Tsukino was ever born. Since the Silver Millenium was at its height and fell.

How many normal girls have been doomed since back then? How many lives twisted and turned monstrous?

"Y-You-" There's something in her voice like she's slowly coming to a conclusion. "-You can't have her." Usagi finally whispers, in defiance.

As if the incubator were simply a thing representing the world's cruelty predating on all that is sacred to her. She won't countenance it. Not this.

"You cu-can't!" Something in her voice breaks as her tears stain the other girl's shoulder. "Madoka... Madoka... let's not listen to it anymore..." She whispers - as if it were simply any other Dark Fall Youma. A Demon. It does not matter what its intent is. It has defiled something sacred on a scale she can barely comprehend, as she finally stares at the fluffy demonrat and whispers harshly, "... you..."

The image of the girl she's holding becoming a witch lending something equal parts fear and anger to her tone. It is not equal to Rei's anger - it simply holds a frantic desparation to cling to her in the midst of a universal tragedy.

"... stay away from her!"

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Sympathy For The Devil https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GgnClrx8N2k

Things do not improve.

The objections grow louder and more heated; the accusations fly; the threats begin. Politely, the Incubator listens to each of them in turn, while Madoka cries from her place on the bed. The little alien curls its tail around its body, a cuddly gesture, when Labyrinth is brought up. Its voice stiffens with mild offense.

<< It is hardly a fair comparison, Citizen #ES-4039781. The technology from your planet is much less efficient. If Moebius knew how to collect the emotional energy yielded by the birth of a single Witch, he could have filled that Fuko Gauge with a single Puella Magi's transformation. Why do you think we never bothered to take it from you? >>

Its nose twitches, pink membranes flexing as its nostrils flare.

<< But more importantly, he is collecting that energy solely for the good of himself. We are collecting it for the good of everyone! The universe itself is at stake. >>

The fact that morality was the SECOND objection, rather than the first, to the comparison between the Incubators and Labyrinth, is, as it's called in the business, a little bit of a tell.

It turns away as she collapses against Madoka, who puts a protective arm around her, and fixes its adorable, unblinking pink eyes on Steven's dark ones, instead. It does not deign to directly respond to his confusion about entropy and where it comes from. But the OTHER part of his statement... its voice warms, a little, entreatingly.

<< That's just it, though. Being able to recruit more magical girls in an emergency is a feature, not a bug, in the system! The Puella Magi have helped this planet face countless threats that had nothing to do with Witches at all. >

Nori interrupts, and her high drama -- though it causes Madoka to thread her other arm above Chibi-Usa, past Usagi, over Mai and around Fuu, to reach out to her, fingers grasping weakly but desperately for her friend --

-- and her high drama, it all just kind of crashes against the calm and collected seawall of the Incubator's mien in a way that makes it feel just a little bit ridiculous and overblown. Needless to say, she does not get a rise out of it. It just stares at her, and finally says:

<< That is not a rational reaction. You don't really want the entire universe to end. All planets frozen over, all molecules slowing, until the last... atom... stops. >>

Madoka shudders inside everyone's arms, at that.

Fuu's talking now, about how what the Incubators have done is essentially anathema to what it is to be a magical girl; then Vita speaks to having heard this all before, and when Graf Eisen goes off one of the alien's little cat ears flicks towards it. Then the other one flicks towards Rei, and has to stay there for a while. At the point that Kasagami chimes in, the Incubator has run out of ears (sort of; the two dangly ones are less mobile and expressive), but it turns his head to gaze back as she speaks, as abysses do.

Then someone says something truly unexpected, and it turns, wholly, to regard the untransformed Sailor Pluto with surprise. This isn't a common reaction, so let's take a moment to examine it: its tail and ears all fall limp, and it holds very still, as though forgetting, for a moment, that it even has a body, because it's too distracted.

And yet -- even with this revelation, that Homura Akemi is not the only time traveler in play -- Setsuna Meioh, another ancient being, simply comes to the same conclusion as all the rest.


When next it replies, this time to all this anger and rejection, it sounds a little bit tired. A little bit impatient. The schoolteacher again, who is having to repeat itself to unruly students.

<< Do you think this was our first choice? We have been working on this problem for millions of years. This is the culmination of almost uncountable generations of effort. >>

The Incubator pauses, as though reluctant, and then admits, head lowering an inch:

<< It is all we have. Our best and only chance to prevent the end of all life. >>

The conversation takes another turn, as Mai brings up the economics of it all, and the alien greets her with something almost like relief, various body parts perking back up again. Tail, ears. Its eyes even close in something like a smile. Here, at last, is a misunderstanding it can lay to rest.

<< No, no, you don't understand, you're missing some important facts, still! Humanity is very much benefitting from this arrangement as well, it is not at all one-sided. Quite the opposite, really, it is MUCH more beneficial and immediate for this planet than the distant eventuality of universal heat-death. And -- if you'll just let me finish -- every girl DOES have a choice, we're making the contract only if you agree to it... isn't that kind enough for you, Madoka? >>

It had to address Madoka and her accusations of cruelty -- it had to switch gears immediately, right in the middle of selling all the benefits for humanity -- because someone ELSE started addressing Madoka directly. Usagi can feel every shiver, which have continued since the first, like aftershocks after the quake.

Told not to listen, she shakes her head that tiny fraction, makes that back-of-the-throat nnn sound that she's made so many times before. It is gentle but earnest. It is not difficult to understand why.

She owes it to them. Mami, Sayaka, Kozue, Kimiko, Kyouko and Eri.

She owes it to them all.

Just like it was with her friends' grief.

She can no more turn away...

"YOU'VE JUST BEEN TRICKING US!" she screams, like a circuit abruptly closed, a conduit torn violently open, defiance coursing through her like a bolt of lightning.


Downstairs, Tomohisa and Junko are eating some of those cayenne chocolates, which one of them had the presence of mind to half before letting the rest into their daughter's room.

They look at each other. It's starting to get a little bit loud up there.

Tomohisa raises his eyebrows.

Junko shakes her head.

Tatsuya demands more chocolate, his mouth smeared all the way around with dribbling brownish-red.

"AB-JAA!! AB-JAA!!" he burbles, thrusting a chubby finger at his parents.

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


The light in the room has shifted, perhaps because the streetlights outside have switched on. It lends an electric, flickering paleness to the bedroom, moderating black and white equally to gray. The Incubator, taller than everyone thanks to the advantage of the plushy-filled shelf, is suddenly casting a huge, sharp-eared shadow, straight down the bed, across the floor, and up the wall. It is the clearest thing in the room by far.

<< Madoka, >> it explains, patiently, << We don't understand the meaning of 'to trick' to begin with. When you regret a wrong decision based on a misunderstanding, you humans tend to hate the other party for some reason. >>

"I MEAN," the mouse roars, "THAT THEY HAD NO IDEA -- THAT THEY WERE FIGHTING -- because of... you...."

Madoka does not have very much roar in her and she runs out very quickly. Her earlier sobs are becoming hiccups.

"Mami-chan and Sayaka-chan wanted to save everyone, but no matter what they did *HIC!* e-eventually they'd become.... the monsters they swore.... *HIC!* to protect people from! Kimiko-chan, w-was killed... by another girl, w-who wanted her Grief Seeds, to keep from becoming a wuh-Witch herself, longer... and Kyouko-chan and Eri-*HIICchan just wanted to live... b-but they had no idea... that even as they farmed Witches... they were really farming *HIC!* each other... and, and... you, you... were farming THEM."

She closes her eyes and tries to breathe.

"All that fighting... over the right way to deal with Witches... it was all..."

Her hands grasp at nothing. She starts to say pointless, but nothing comes out but the 'puh' and a miserable hiccup. It's just as well, because that wasn't true anyway, and forced to take an extra second to think, she comes to a different and stronger conclusion.


Madoka sniffs, as the waterworks decide they'd like to go another ten rounds. Her nose may not survive this.

The Incubator lashes its tail back and forth, distressed. It even gets up and starts pacing. Every step is perfectly placed, and it is able to weave, gracefully, around and between each of its stuffed-animal companions up there, without disturbing any of them.

<< It's hard for us to understand the value standards of humans. Your population is rapidly approaching seven billion five-hundred and thirty million right now, and it's still growing by sixteen every four seconds. So why do you make such a big fuss over the loss of just one of you? Or even just six? >>

Madoka's rage is spent again for the moment, and the eyes that she reopens, that she looks back up at the alien with, are dull.

And her voice is as empty as it was when everyone first entered her room.

"If that's how you think... you really are our enemy."

The Incubator's shadow moves with it, its edge slowly crossing some faces and leaving others.

<< I came here, on my own, to explain it all to you. I wanted you to understand what greater good your sacrifices serve. And -- you really still have only heard one part of it. I see now that the survival of the universe is lacks importance to you, to all of you, because of its lack of immediacy. So, please... you need to hear the rest. >>

It sits again, now squarely between the bluebird and the puppy, and resumes lecture mode.

Madoka is still looking at it, from within her crowd of friends.

The Incubator sighs. << Do you ever feel bad for cattle? Do you ever think about how their meat ends up on your plate? >>

Its eyes suddenly flash red.

Sudden images flood the minds of everyone nearby. They come quickly and relentlessly, and were the fate of her soul a kinder one, somewhere, somehow, Eri Shimanouchi could know the satisfaction of everyone being forced to endure the horrifying vision of slaughterhouses, superimposed over one another. Cows and chickens. Close quarters. Blood, running down the drain.

Madoka grabs her head, agonized. "STOP IT!"

It's over before it's even begun, the room and everyone in it returned to normal.

<< That's an unreasonable reaction! >> The Incubator fires back at her. Then it -- well, does it really breathe? It takes a moment to compose itself, at any rate, or maybe to let Madoka and the others compose itself, before continuing. << You're missing the true essence of the matter if you think it seems cruel. To feed humans, they are protected from the wild and bred without natural selection. >>

More images flow in, gently. Happy cows and calves gamboling through green fields. Contented chickens fluffed out over eggs. Fuzzy baby sheep. Somewhere, in the distance, a goat makes an adorable 'mehh!!!'

<< The reproduction rate of livestock is overwhelmingly higher than that of wild animals, >> the Incubator narrates helpfully, over this. Briefly the vision swaps, to show the rough and edgy life of wild steers, often emaciated, always dangerous and uncertain, and so wrung out in comparison that they practically look like a different species. Then it returns to the cows in the field, the mother contentedly chewing her cud as the calf nurses, below. << You all live in a reasonable and mutually prosperous relationship. >>

The vision again fades.

Madoka is simultaneously incredulous and horrified and so, so, so tired. Her voice is smaller than ever.

"Are you saying it's the same?"

<< But rather than treating humanity as cattle, we actually make plenty of compromises with you. We accept you as sentient beings and negotiate with you! >>

Even as the Incubator draws itself up proudly, Madoka visibly sinks, and sinks, numbly, more deeply into her grief and depression and misery. Her head falls forward, her twintails swinging forward with it like a privacy screen.

She says nothing at all.

DICE: Nori Ankou rolls 1d20+0 and gets 19!
DICE: Fuu Hououji rolls 1d20+0 and gets 16!
DICE: Takeo Akamizu rolls 1d20+0 and gets 11!
DICE: Kasagami Araki rolls 1d20+0 and gets 7!
DICE: Vita Yagami rolls 1d20+0 and gets 6!
<Pose Tracker> Nori Ankou [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGq5KNZxz7A

Nori's face burns a little. "I am not a reasonable person," she says to Kyubey with what venoms remains. She then says, as if quoting something: "Reason is a hireling."

But her face is burning. The thing, the creature, Kyubey - it is speaking. And it has, Nori can tell, the part of Nori that studies in school and makes plans, one of the major swatches in a character she envisions as a patchwork sail on a ship -

Nori can understand it. That is the part that makes her reel. It is abominable, but what if the creature speaks truly? She had always thought Kyubey was strange and fey. She had thought perhaps Kyubey was simple, or had a different perspective. Now, of course, she knows. She tastes bile.

She shuffles away from the creature, towards the sweets. She does not want to look at it. She has already forgotten the flan she left on the windowsill.

The creature outlines its horrid perspective again. Nori weeps without words. Her tears fall down onto the flan she brought as she picks up the knife to cut off a fresh piece. The knife is not familiar to her, but Nori can feel the subtle grooves in the wood. Like the ones in school classes. At home, the knives were rarely used. At home, Nori does not chop many things up.

She might have disappeared in silence into fantasy, cutting pieces of flan and staring down at it, but something happens.

The vision comes to her. The vision of the abatoir. Horrid. Bloody. Visceral. Death upon death upon death. The transmission from Kyubey reaches Nori and she jerks, she tightens, and with a sudden horrid certainty she imagines something:

If Kyubey can do something like that...

How far could it go? How many visions of horror would it take to drive Hououji mad? How many rivers of blood to scar the small girl? Would any of them take too many treatments like that vision of slaughter without screaming for mercy?

What would any of them give to spare one another such agony - to say nothing of the innocent figures, so nearby? What could such images do to poor little Tatsuya?

What would Madoka do to stop that, Nori thinks. Her fingers tighten on the grip of Tomohisa's knife. Kyubey speaks further and Nori turns to shuffle back towards her seat, a flan on a plate before her. She keeps her eyes on the flan and thinks to herself: les mysteres attend me, les mysteres attend me, les mysteres attend me, les mysteres attend me.

Nori does not know if Kyubey can see within her heart. It might have no need to. Then again it might.

Sayaka, help me, Nori thinks. Please. I have to protect Madoka for you. They can protect her body but this creature, Nori thinks. This creature can do something worse. And all she would have to do is say those words.

Madoka speaks to the creature - 'Are you saying it's the same?'

The creature replies. Nori sees it move -

And that is when Nori moves. Whirling round the plate of flan leaves her hand, going flying down into the ground loud enough to make a sound. Her left hand, firmly grasping that carving knife, comes up. The blade, not overly burdened with frosting, glistens in the streetlight.

"you don't know anything"

It comes down, aimed at the central axis of Kyubey's proud little posture.

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

The Incubator's body offers next to no resistance to this mistreatment. Tomohisa's knife has never known a better use. It glides as neatly into the alien's skull, and directly downwards into its center of mass, as it has glided through bell peppers and carrots to prepare them for the stir fry.

It lodges there comfortably, like a miniature and horrible version of the Sword in the Stone.

And the Incubator topples over, onto its side, reduced to just another inanimate object among the many others on the shelf.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Takeo is only getting more and more angry as the thing speaks. He clenches his fist and takes exactly one step forward with his hand raised to give the incubator the mother of all left hooks when Nori moves fast past him and murders the thing with a piece of silverware.

Takeo stops in his tracks and blinks several times. He lowers his fist and looks to Nori. "Your idea was better. I was just gonna punch it until it stopped moving." He looks down at the thing. The Alien. Then looks to Nori. "You okay Nori-chan?"

He does however turn to look to Madoka and speak to her for the first time. His eyes going soft, though still red and ear filled at the news of Eri's death. "Madoka-chan. We're all here for you. You don't have to listen to that crap bag anymore. Call any of us and we'll be there. Anytime. I swear it." He looks down to Kyubey and barely resists the urge to spit on it.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Steven lends what little patience he has to hearing this creature out. He is trying his best not to make a scene but, a good number in the room already are. "That is crazy! You are offering false truths by omitting important parts of the signup, or whatever it is called! No one would sign up for this if they knew what would happen to them."

Steven just rattles his foot against a chair leg as he leans back in his seat, quite unenthused. The mention of using the powerful energy from the conversion to a witch also bothers him immensely. "What is it with everyone out there looking to use emotions like pain and despair? Seriously, could it hurt one ancient power to go for good emotions?!"

He waits a while before speaking again, letting everyone else talk as well. Emotions are running incredibly high in this room. He is honestly worried someone in here may lunge for Kyubey. And as much as Steven dislikes this creature right now, this information is really important.

"Okay, so you have been trying to find a different way for a super long time. But my dad always told me to make better music, you need to understand and absorb other types to make your own. Tell me this, cat guy...?" He isn't sure what Kyubey even is. "Have you tried to work with other people out there to find a different solution than this?"

They probably have, but was worth asking.

He has little else to say until the imagery comes. He tries to shut his eyes to keep out the pictures that remain on the insides of his eyelids. He knew it wasn't a kind prcoess. He has been to a butcher before, once, near Beach City. Meat doesn't grow on trees.

"Well, may avoid hot dogs for a while..." he murmurs. "There is a difference between people and animals! It may not be much, but there is. Your lack of emotions don't let you see it!" He accuses.

It was a frail argument. "This can't possibly be the best course of action... I refuse to believe it." He wants to believe otherwise, but the calm way 'millions of years' is stated suggests he isn't lying this time.

Perhaps Kyubey isn't even a liar. More along the lines of selective omissions being his forte. Providing a jigsaw puzzle with a fiew pieces missing.

Nori makes a move and inserts a blade into Kyubey, much how one would sheathe a blade.

As if it belonged there.

"...!" Steven reflexively scrunches up in his chair ad the vicious act. "You just... killed it?!" he states, fright now in his voice.

Even he, one of the smallest in the room, feels sadness for its demise. What if there was something more it could have said that was important!

The boy holds fast to the chair as if it was one of his caretakers, eyes affixed to the now lifeless body.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

A misunderstanding. Not at all one-sided - like the Puella Magi are getting a paycheck, so it doesn't matter how they're abused.

Fury wants to burn in Mai Tokiha's heart, and yet it feels like there's so little fuel left for that fire. Passion means nothing - emotion means nothing to this creature other than an inexplicable source of power, and those heartfelt arguments don't mean a thing.

A dozen different managers giving a dozen different lectures are echoing in Mai's ears as Kyubey talks, because it's the same story all over again. 'The business benefits if you suffer, so really, you're coming out ahead!' Pushing back just means that the job hunt begins anew, and Mai is just tired of having to argue it again and again.

She wants...she wants...

Then Kyubey claims that it's kind because the girls agreed to the contract, and Mai can barely hear Madoka's scream over her heart pounding in her ears.

Mai only knows the wishes of two Puella Magi. One was that of her best friend - an attempt to stave off tragedy, a gift that was tainted into so much worse. If she has to speak to Eri's father, she...doesn't know how it will go.

Musings are interrupted by a bloody vision - Kyubey is still talking, still just talking and talking and talking about livestock and food chains and that same unending detachment from any kind of meaning to anything - and the sights would turn Mai's stomach if she'd eaten anything since breakfast.

It claims that humans should be grateful that it negotiated at all, instead of just treating them like food animals.

"...Negotiate?" Mai lifts her chin, voice cracking, memories of a nearly deserted otherworldly island dripping down her cheeks. The second wish she knows, learned from someone she couldn't stand but understood, the first of the fallen, a wish to just live-

"Mami Tomoe's wish was made under duress and you damn well know it."

Nori acts. Mai watches the halves of the Incubator topple over, blinking through a teary-eyed gaze, before finally turning back to Madoka. She can't see the other girl's face, can't begin to wonder what words of compassion might do - but her fire is guttering out, and her gaze falls again.

"I just...I want my friend back. I want that half a year back, when that thing's game forced her into morals I couldn't accept. However selfish it is..." Even those words fail her, and Mai sinks back down to the floor.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

'... it was all ... rigged.'

Fuu's hand tightens a bit more on Madoka's arm as she hears those words, her eyes falling into shadow as her head tips forward, bangs hanging further down. Madoka's sobs are enough to make the archer tremble - not entirely in sympathy, although mostly so.

Whatever she *might* have said is violently derailed by the slaughterhouse vision; Madoka's clutching at her head breaks Fuu's grip, and the blonde draws her arms back around herself, not quite huddling against the vision.

Then the blood-soaked vision passes .... and slowly, her left arm untucks, her hand seeking her pocket and delving into it. Her eyes remain in shadow, her thoughts and emotions hidden but for her own continuing shiver. By the time she *does* raise her head ...

Kyubey has already been stabbed. Impaled. Lifeless.

Fuu nods quietly to Nori, as if to thank her. "There was nothing it could have said to persuade us, Steven-san," she murmurs to the young boy. "And I doubt it would have told us anything - *useful*." There's a distinct acidity in that word before she starts moving back towards her chair, crouching long enough to recover her glasses and inspect them, letting out a faint sigh.

"We're not just numbers. *We* know that."

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

"It's not true," Endo snarls. "They're lives are important. Every life is important!"

He starts to move, to rise and to protest further-and then the visions come. Slaughter and death, meat and blood. The boy lets out a whine of distress as the small while creature broadcasts those images throughout the room, teeth clenched and fingers grasping for something to steady himself on.

By the time he's regained his senses the white monster is already lifeless, strewn on the shelf. Perhaps he lied before-that's one lift into life that won't be missed.

He doesn't speak again, but he does rise unsteadily from his seat. Just enough to scoot and touch a hand to Steven Universe's shoulder. A small comfort, and the few he can provide.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

With Usagi, as Kyubey keeps speaking, Chibi-Usa is quiet--but she clings more tightly to Madoka... and to Usagi, possessively, protectively of both of them, glaring with her small face and liquid red eyes straight towards the creature before them. It is wrong. And what Puu says--

Chibi-Usa looks to her in wonder, and relief, and expectation, for a moment, but this recognition is some of what gives her that strength. She can't say everything she would...

But her silence is as loud as the bigger Usagi's cry, and if she shakes as she does it, then maybe that's an important feeling, too.

But Setsuna--#ES-4039781--stands at first. Kyubey stiffens, certainly, but its answer? Setsuna's lips twitch in return. 'Never bothered.' 'Not fair.' ...And that's not even--


She's too overcome to continue; as Madoka puts an arm around her, Setsuna collapses into tears for a few moments more, unable to hold back the conflicting swirl of emotion that is so, so much more than she was raised to prepare for, that she could never have expressed working like this creature did. It keeps talking, of course. It goes on, and she hears it, trying to gather her composure again. Benefitting...

When Madoka calls out, Setsuna manages to rise again, lips pressed together hard, eyes reddened more than just in their irises now. Don't understand...?

"Don't play stupid," Setsuna manages to spit out, at the matter of 'tricks.' But... Is it that? No--she did that, too. She took pride in what she understood, and they didn't...

"It's not--it's not numbers, it--"

The images flash through Setsuna's mind. A girl raised without animals of any kind, with artificial living, total avoidance of nature--she freezes, in place, and compresses, in horror and nausea and more than she can voice and name. "W-why--" The words choke her, and the images aren't transmitted but aren't gone, and she wavers, in place, looking and feeling like she's going to be sick.

This whole world; this wonderful world, that she chose to love... is viewed this way, by someone too. How much influence do they have? Has she traded one Ruler for a number in the shadows? Has--

Setsuna's reverie is barely interrupted at first. Nori's movement is subtle, until it is loud, and Setsuna blinks, looking up--

She stares, for a few moments, at the fallen Kyubey... Before she starts to rise, stumbling. "I-I--" She can't even see, looking around. "Where is--where's your b-..." she tries to ask, to find the words, but she can't move from there at the moment, her complexion still ashen.

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

The Incubator simply refuses to stop coming with the justifications. With the self righteous belief that the contract it gave out was fair and proper and was a good deal for everyone involved. Kasagami stops listening half way through to that voice that keeps in invading her very head! It's here when she finally shies away from Setsuna's touch upon her shoulder, eyes narrowing suspiciously as the far older Time Guardian speaks of the past. Kassie burns it into her memory, those words.

And invade even worse as the images of slaughterhouses run through her brain. Kassie grimaces, for the second time that night happy she hasn't eaten since lunch. A horrible pain takes up residence in her skull. And what is a Duelist to do when she can barely think straight, and her head is full of rage?

Cattle. No matter how it says it's not, it's treating her found family now lost, just like meat to be dined upon.

Legs, already tilted towards the air, come slamming down as she leans forward to leap up out of her chair with powerful calves and ankles. The violent motion is almost a half spin, and sends the metal seat upwards as her heel hammers into it hard.

"DON'T YOU DARE COMPARE MY FAMILY TO ANIMALS, KNAVE! There will be no room in the world of a King for the likes of demonic conmen with false contracts and wishes made of glass as their wares!"

She catches the metal chair by a single leg, holding the thing behind her back as long legs step forward. A breath is sucked in, she reels back with the heavy metal chair. Eyes, wild and furious, stare at the thing with it's justifications that find only hate staring back into the emotionless abyss that is Kyuubey. This isn't the form of a girl wielding a chair like a club as much as she's trying to use it like an improvised sword. She readies to put her whole body weight and height into it just to 'cut' through her floppy eared enemy.

Even in the midst of her wrath, the girl who would be King finds that emptiness apalling just as it is horrifying. A shiver runs down her spine.

Nori beats her to the punch, choosing the far simpler route before she can bring down such an overly complicated strike. The chair is high in the air as Kasagami stops herself. Silence, then a look to the Siren, and then to the body. With a frustrated howl, she hammers it down to the empty floor.

Maybe she should be concerned with what the Kanames might think. Right now, she really, really doesn't care. That chair won't sit right for a while. Not without a good beating back into shape.

Passing Norin, she nods. "...Good cut. I hope he enjoys being a pincushion in the frozen depths of Hell!" Kasagami has very much decided she hates Kyuubey and all of his kind. Steven's distress? She aches for her young friend, but lets a less infuriated touch handle it. She won't do him any good, and she knows it.

Then, she's over to Setsuna Meioh, now empty handed, and throws her arms around her girlfriend without reservation. She buries her face in the taller young woman's neck.

"Your Queen was wise! That thing and all of it's kind are evil! Her only mistake was in not executing it on the spot!" Whispers the young woman, riding out the feelings of black hatred and stirred up mourning for those so freshly lost to them all.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Caught within Madoka's hug - hugged in turn, Usagi shivers as she does the thing she told Madoka not to do. To listen to the incubator. She can't exactly not. She tries all the same. "Stop it..." And then as it keeps going, "Stop it!" Madoka screams and Usagi's arms spasm around her in the hug circle that has formed to surround her, as if to encapsulate this moment - the warmth they're sharing with each other defying the cold truth of universal entropy.

"You... you-!" The girl quavers as Madoka continues to shout at it, understanding her grief - sharing in a part of it. In these moments she just tries to hold the girl, crying on her shoulder. "Nuh-Noone wants to hear you anymore! Leave us all alone!"

As she just simply bobs her head to Madoka's declaration that it is their enemy. And then all of a sudden her head swims with a kaleidoscope not of feeling, but of images of cattle - chickens. Humanity's worth in this thing's eyes distilled to that which can be found on an abattoir floor. Usagi's grip on Madoka falls lax for a moment under this psychic assault. It is not an attack - and yet it is.

Like an attack on the value of Mami Tomoe and Sayaka Miki and - Madoka Kaname. An attack on the feelings of normal girls everywhere. Five girls were once killed before Usagi's eyes to become a horrible alien vector and it is an equal anathema to her. To the images of goats and chickens.

And something within her twists as she whimpers - and can stand it no more. Rei will perhaps see the sign more easily than most that even Usagi has reached her limit in this torment.

And that is the exact moment that Nori's knife enters the thing's skull. The shock of the moment floods Usagi Tsukino, "N-Nori-chan?" As her eyes go wide, and suddenly as in a delayed reaction, Usagi's hand quickly shifts over to behind Chibi-Usa's head to keep her gaze gripped against her and Madoka.

"Don't look. Don't look. Don't look." She whispers fervently, soothingly, protectively and perhaps it's more that she herself doesn't want to look than she doesn't want either of them to. It feels like the thing had brought the slaughterhouse to them. That it had hoped to show them their value as premium cows and chickens and goats only for it to take the knife instead.

"Noone has to look at it anymore. Noone has to listen to it anymore..." The girl whispers to the other girls within arm's length. It all sinks in afterwards. Just the weight. The gravity of it all. Like the Incubator had tried to show them something cold and dark and unfeeling about the universe - had set the constant of those terrible forces higher so that it would press down on them.

It is not the universe that Usagi Tsukino remembers. Warm and inviting and bright with promise.

So she cannot accept anything it said.

It has still exhausted her all the same. There's something sad - and quiet - and exhausted in her tone right now - yet persistent - stubborn in her focus on her, "We all came here for Madoka-chan's sake."

There's perhaps the faintest echo of Madoka's past words in that. On a night where Madoka told her she needed a friend and not a soldier. So as the incubator falls, she focuses on what is most important to her right now.

Being Madoka Kaname's friend.

"Your feelings - they matter more to us than anything it could ever say."

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

The torment of others is a wound on a limb you don't have. Who can reach such pain, to lay a hand upon it, to contend if not to mend? And all the worse when those who once suffered are now gone, taking with them both weight and scale alike. What needed to be balanced will remain askew.

Nagisa has her palm against Honoka's at first, fingertip-to-fingertip as they lean against the wall side-by-side. Their fingers slip and entwine as the others vent their anger and grief. Even in pink tee and bleached hair, Nagisa seems washed out, a watercolor girl whose strength means little on the night's thin canvas. Her lips flinch from Madoka's scream.

"Wait!" she cries, but by the time it comes out the objection is already just a censure. Nori's commitment to the motion turns in-the-moment to after-the-fact before knife even sinks into the fairy's head. Her lips curling back, Nagisa gently places a palm over one eye, her head dipping as if to let the visions of meat and slaughter empty out of her sight. Killing is a horror all too recently illustrated, and one Nagisa needed no psychic slideshow to recoil from when it is so near and so visceral. Marble Screw's eradication is a merciful method for demonic victim, yes, but also for killer.

It's impossible to say who initiated it, or name the person it is for, but Nagisa finds herself holding and being held. Her arms are tight around Honoka's back at first, but loosens on one side so that their embrace leaves them open to the room.

"It's dead," she emphasizes, in quiet proscription against the violent hypotheticals Nori's knife cut short, and the rage it did not.

Looking down to the blue eyes of her partner, Nagisa lifts her shoulders slightly, a helpless shrug. If she could have stopped Nori she's not sure she would have. It's only the start of things Nagisa Misumi doesn't know, and so she turns, as she has in a hundred math lessons, to the Queen of Knowledge in hopes that her eyes can convey an answer.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

The caring of her past-and-future Queen puts Setsuna in awe. She does not kneel, but it is in her eyes as she watches Usagi wrap Madoka in a fierce protectiveness: a reverence kin to what burnished her voice, earlier.

From there she looks to Small Lady, whose heart has been her inspiration ever since they first found each other. How could she not, in a time like this? But Setsuna does not know if it is possible to protect her friend from the terrible ways of the world. She knows herself to be among them.

In that moment of doubt, sad garnet eyes meet wondering red.

She doesn't feel guilt or resignation any more -- just love.

And then, resolve.

Some may think the Soldier of Revolution and steadfast Guardian of Time to be some statue, to be a stoic, and a cipher; she can be those things and still be underneath it all a lonely young woman who needs the belief of her loved ones to keep going, however far they may be. Across time and space; across a small span of bedroom amid a council of grief and outrage.

Their enemy goes on.

Setsuna's anger stokes. It burns in her chest, heavy like coals and as apt to sear its handler. It is different, she thinks. However long this beast claims it has tried to solve the unsolvable, whatever claims it makes to this being the best solution, the way to save the many at the expense of the precious and vulnerable few...

No. She puts her trust in her Queen, and holds tight to that look in her Princess's eyes. Through abattoir imagery -- Small Lady! she thinks -- and through insidious explanations. Through the pull of Kasagami's shoulder from her hand, which she does not yet understand.

The unexpected violence from Akamira muse and then, moments later, from Kasagami drags the senshi from her processing. Flashing metal, and Setsuna's eyes narrow...

The beast dies so easily. It hardly makes sense to her. Gratitude toward Nori is followed by sympathy for Kasagami's unspent rage... Ah, if only, she thinks to her love's proclamations. She has known a world like that, and it is gone. She has to believe it will be again, the way she remembers.

But what of the Tokyo of Here and Now, the one she has grown so dangerously attached to?

At least now the beast is dead. Her arms fit just so around strong shoulders, a dearly known quantity, steady with caring and tight with a need to comfort. To soothe Kasagami's pain instead of feeling her own so keenly. "She was," Setsuna whispers back. "She was."

She has to believe.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Behind her Rei hears Usagi yelling in Madoka's defence, and she hears her desperation and it sets her own jaw in a line. They all came here for Madoka -- but how can they protect her from something like this?

From something which has been lurking here for so very, very long.

And then it gets worse.

Images force their way into her mind's eye and she is so aware of the intrusion, but though she takes a breath to steady herself and tries to shore her psychic defences, there is little she can do to lock them out. Some part of her realises even as the bloody images cloud her mind that if she cannot protect herself, the others have little hope. The rest of her is transfixed by the violence of it.

"You had no right!" She snaps, an unsettled base to her anger. It is a protest which means little, as the Incubator pours more images into their minds. That it is gentle dominion does little to assuage Rei's disgust. And the message...

Her arms drop to her sides because her hands have curled into fists, so tense she's trembling. Her maw opens to shout something or another -- if this is your idea of /negotiation -- you arrogant little --

Nori is there, suddenly, in front of them, and she takes action.

Rei gasps more to see her take it than in any regret for the thing's passing; it falls inanimate, and the tension leaks from her all at once. She sinks down, a hand fumbling for Madoka's bed so that she sits somewhere on it instead of landing in a heap on the floor like her erstwhile chair. (She'll straighten them up later - maybe - hopefully.) "Thank you," she says, to Nori, and a hint of the rattling she has taken is evidenced in the quiet of those words.

She takes a breath, closes her eyes for a moment as she centres herself, and turns on the bed to face Madoka - and everyone around her. Which, in some way, seems to include Rei now, because she reaches out with a hand to make contact with her arm. She still doesn't know what to say.

Luckily, Usagi does.

(It does not strike Rei, immediately, that she said something like it, when they entered.)

"We're right behind you," she says, after a long moment. "All the way, Madoka-chan." After all - hasn't she been supporting them this whole time?

Madoka might catch the way her fingertips still tremble just slightly, the untold story in the way they eventually fall to the bedspread. Setsuna has stumbled up, and with her choked words Rei's face turns to her, new concern joining the old. "Secchan!" She calls - oh, yes, Madoka has influenced her here too - and she glances to Madoka again before she pushes herself from the bed and steps over to a girl looking blindly.

"Come on," she urges her, gently, a hand on each shoulder as she helps her navigate through the maze of chairs. "It's this way..."

She doesn't particularly know what to say, but she can at least save the attendance from getting any worse than it already is.

Never mind that she still feels so unseated - after something defeated her mental defences so soundly. Too vulnerable and too exposed.

It's for Setsuna and Madoka's sake. That's what she'd tell anyone.

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Vita stands with a posture ready to strike. But she lets it talk again. She's running numbers, on some subconscious back lane. Can she attack? She'd have to pull out Eisen, and he's not really built for tight quarters. Even her most controlled shot would probably tear down the far wall, and she's pretty sure Hayate wouldn't appreciate owing another family a home reno after they generously invited Vita over. But this can't continue. She can't let MORE people be prey to something this horrible! But--

She's about four layers deep on this circle when Kyubey releases what she can only really call a psychic attack. She stumbles back, Eisen's BONG of alarm as startled as her own squawk. Her hand goes to her mouth. She's not the actual child she appears to be and often enough behaves like, she knows the words the Incubator is saying, but to have it forced on her--

But she's seen battlefields, too, so other than standing there shaking in the silence of Madoka's roar of rebuke, she does not entirely lose her composure.

She takes a step forward. She has to force it, drag herself. Forget the wall. She'll figure something out. But...she sees Nori.

The knife plunges down and Vita makes herself watch.

She closes her eyes. But she has to keep her focus now. "Yeah," she husks, in recognition of Steven and Nagisa's horror both. "Hopefully." She suddenly feels back in that world of anxiety with her old masters. The Book always made sure they stayed alive just long enough. She can't help but wonder if there's a trick she's missing. Keep it together, she reminds herself. You wanted to be better for Hayate. Breath.

Now they have a very practical kind of problem. Vita can solve those. "Anyone bring a pillowcase they don't care about much?" she asks the room. There's no levity to it; for all she looks like a young child, Vita knows that's not something they can just...leave bleeding on Madoka's shelf, either.

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

This was a remarkably goreless execution. The hole could have been bored through the Incubator with a drill bit, and it has no innards to speak of, just a continuous dark red expanse. It isn't leaking.

Madoka is.

Words of comfort, words of strength. Hands and hugs.

At first she remains tearful but quiet, enshelled, as she was before. Safe behind the retreat of silence and stillness.

But as the mood in the room begins to shift towards something like relief, her distress overwhelms, like an overflowing chalice.

She starts rocking back and forth, first barely, then gently, and finally a little too hard to be comfortable.


And she's mumbling something under her breath, her eyes clenched tightly shut.


Her tears join many others on the comforter. Let the bad times roll.

"...I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry..."

There's a pointy-eared shadow on the other side of Madoka's blinds.

<< There was no point in doing that. I have countless spares, of course, but making me use them up for no reason like this... it's wasteful. >>

There's another stuffed animal, high on the shelf.

Neatly, delicately, it bends its head to the corpse beside it --

-- opens its mouth --

-- and starts to eat.

Madoka has no reaction at all. No surprise. She's obviously seen this before.

She's sorry. She's so sorry that her friends thought it would be over, but it isn't.

The fluff -- it is fluffy, the corpse, when torn to bite-sized pieces, as fluffy as Madoka's hair, and as pink too, when the red inside and white outside blend together -- traveling down its throat, does not in any way inhibit its ability to speak. It has no vocal cords, after all.

<< Can't you believe what I'm telling you? >> it continues, matter-of-factly, as the old Incubator vanishes into the new Incubator without any apparent change in the latter's size or shape. << Maybe I should show it to you? >>

Its throat pulses as it gulps -- its chin lifts as it looks up from its meal -- from its recycling process -- to look straight at Madoka.

Oh, it is hungry, but not for its own flesh.

<< The past that Incubators and humans have shared for thousands of years... >>

Pink eyes stare at her, at everyone, at the entire room at once. The Incubator's gaze is as absolutely steady as it would be if it were washed out in shades of timeless gray. The creature doesn't have nervous tics. It doesn't even have instinctual ones; absence the need for the pretense of cuteness -- of organic origin, even -- all unnecessary motions are abandoned. No more ear perks. No flicks of the tail. So often the Incubator looks like its peers among the plushies on Madoka Kaname's bedroom shelf, but never moreso than now.

Except for those eyes.

They aren't empty, except of emotion. They aren't blank, except as boxes that might otherwise be checked 'humanity'. What looks out from behind them is calmly alien. Not in the extranational or even the extraterrestrial sense. In the incomprehensible sense.

This time, when they flash red, the experience is much more disorienting and much more profound. Everyone is -- you are -- transported out of Madoka's house entirely. You are floating in midair, and moving very quickly through it; you can feel the wind plaster your hair back, feel it chill your ears, the tip of your nose.

You are alone -- which means everyone else must also be alone right now -- flying -- being pulled -- through a tunnel, a vortex, a mandala of intricate, beautiful, very slightly rotting lace. It is brown instead of white and it has threads loose, here and there, warping the perfection of the pattern. Runes flash -- here and there -- on and off -- never the same one twice. Witch Runes.

Up and down have little meaning, here. There is only... onward.

It is very much like being in a labyrinth, only without the comfort and contempt bred by the familiar touches, the little pieces of humanity instilled there by the remnants of the girls who created them. There is no candy here. There are no needles.

No pianos.

But there, in front of you, is something shining! A vividly brilliant green Soul Gem -- then a red one, hotter than coals -- then a shining silver one -- then one blue, blue like royal, blue like ocean, blue like princess -- then one golden as straw under sun, as wildflowers, as the inside of a cake --

-- each one with its own, unique, intricate metal casing --

-- you fall past all of these in an instant, because that's all they represented. There are more, spiraling downward before and around you. Dozens. Hundreds. Thousands.

BGM Start: Sis Puella Magica! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ARSpkaprwwU

The image of a person, roughly hewn on stone by a caveman's hand, appears, then disappears, replaced by a middle-aged rendition of a princess.

It's around that time that the Incubator's voice returns. Unsettlingly, while there is normally a sense of externality to its mental voice, now it echoes from within, as though it is thinking with your thoughts.

It narrates with its usual chipper, informative, too-light, too-blank tones.

<< You know, we have interacted with you since prehistoric times. What was left of your species, after the entities Beryl and Metallia were done with it... it really wasn't very much at all. >>

The princess flickers out too, and, like a composite gradually created by the application of countless sheer layers, each one containing a single piece of the whole, a broader landscape spreads out before you.






A girl. In Egypt. Alone.

A rune flickers, lingers, vanishes.

Cleopatra casts a long, long shadow upon the sands.

<< Countless girls have made contracts with Incubators and had their wishes fulfilled, then devoted their bodies to despair. >>

Cleopatra, a wise and brilliant ruler, sits upon her throne.

<< What begins from a prayer ends in a curse. >>

Cleopatra's corpse upon the floor, and the puncture marks of a snake.

And the Gem on her chest, darkening... darkening...

You're torn away to a new place which forms around you, piece by piece.






A girl. In Japan. Surrounded by those who need her.

A rune settles upon each shoulder before never existing at all.

Himiko, the shamaness-queen, prostrates herself in prayer, wielding a sakaki branch decorated with paper streamers.

Himiko, ushering in a desperately needed era of piece after decades of warfare.

Fire. The shrine, the temple, the entire city aflame. And among those flames, something else rises.

<< It's the circle countless Puella Magi have repeated until now. >>

You're moving faster now. Details simultaneously stand out and become impossibly indistinct.






A girl. In France. Trying to lead an army.

A rune burns upon her forehead, then inverts into the negative.

Jeanne d'Arc, astride a noble steed.

Jeanne d'Arc, ragged, covered in blood, in the middle of a terrible battlefield.

Jeanne d'Arc, burnt at the stake.

<< Some of them turned the tide of history and led society to a new stage. >>

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

Nori lets go of the knife, and perhaps more than that.

No blood, she thinks. Nor tears.

She breathes heavily. When Takeo approaches her she doesn't look but her voice, though rusty, is comprehensible. "... No; but, it had to be done, didn't it? I suppose I proved its point, in the end. But..."

She looks up at Takeo then. Her arms come up to hug herself, tightly. "But it was sending those visions... I... I could not just let it do whatever it wanted." One of her hands comes up, rubbing her fingers and thumbs over the faded brooch of the Chevaliers.

"... yes," she answers Steven. "I did." Her head turns a little to look at him. "Please... I cannot ask you to forgive me. But I saw what it was doing. A-and..."

Nori stops and swallows.

Kasagami praises her. It feels hollow. Usagi's turning towards Madoka. Nori feels her skin slowly cool. She looks at her hand then, the one that held the knife. Should I have done that? she thinks. Sayaka...

"It was attacking you," Nori says. She seems to be begging for agreement, almost. "It was an attack." Wasn't it?

She's standing there. She doesn't have blood on her hand, exactly, but... Nori looks to Madoka, or towards Madoka, for a moment. Towards the others. Vita has a dully practical proposal.

Maybe I won't ever be able to come to something like this again, Nori thinks dully. Was it worth it if it means this little devil will no longer plague Madoka - Tokyo - perhaps even Earth?

And if that is so, Nori thinks as the world seems to tremble a little in her vision, does that not just mean the creature was right?

And then.

Then... The Incubator comes back.

Nori stares at it. Beyond shock, beyond horror, beyond despair, there are depths to any ocean, and what dwells there is strange and in some lights wonderful. As Incubator eats Incubator, Nori says, "But... I... I killed you, didn't I?"

Kyubey looks past her, at Madoka.

Then it comes. The attack! Nori knew it. She knew not the exact form the devil would take in its action but this is a lie and a deceit, she tells herself, even as she looks up. She anticipates horrid fractal razor blades. She anticipates guns. She anticipates a seven-headed Kozue coming down to mock her and then rip her up for anglerfish stew.

None of these happen. She sees Soul Gems, in infinite hues of the rainbow. She sees girls...and she hears that voice. The vision comes. Egypt, France, Japan.

Nori is struck silent by the mystery.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Setsuna nods mutely at Rei when she comes over, overcome for the moment. There is something fragile in her expression at the moment, something haunted; she still has memory of something like this. But--

Chibi-Usa stays with Madoka. Setsuna's expression tightens at the apologies. Something--something feels wrong--

She freezes, when she hears the voice again, and turns to look slowly and inexorably, reddened eyes wide, tear-streaks still obvious on her face. She thus can see it eating itself, and she can see that it discards the need to pretend at emotion. Oh, some might draw parallels there, that often when Setsuna is stressed she shuts down showing her feelings, but it is what is learned and what wasn't learned. Expression is difficult. But feeling?

Feeling was never something this girl could escape forever.


When the visions start, Setsuna recognizes much. Shapes. ...Sensations. And yes, that she is alone, again. The runes, the motion...

This is not her history, not really, but she has studied some of it. 'Within', the voice comes. The history given... Beryl. Metallia.

Over, and over. Girls 'chosen', special, with their vital tasks, their wishes...

"Get out," Setsuna whispers by the time she sees Himiko. But there are more, and more. She looks around, looking for a way out, a way to stop, as banners of war, great hills, a burning girl etch themselves into her mind. Her hand fumbles at her waist for her Linkrun. "STOP IT!"

(New BB message (3/42) posted to 'Character Announcements' by Pink Moon Stick: DEAD: Kyouko Sakura)

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

Though many indeed may see the Guardian of Time as this unchanging statue, Kasagami knows the warmth and love beneath the sadness and duty. And right now? She feels it utterly keenly much to the joy of her boiling soup of feelings and pounding heart. For all their problems, all the things that seek to pull them apart, right now the feeling of togetherness is complete in Kassie's heart.

A scarred cheek nuzzles against a dark one, and she smiles. "I love you so much. We won't let monsters like that survive!" Quiet words of affection and a promise all in one to her wise and strong beloved. Setsuna is the bedrock she needs amidst all of this suffering and the full truth of the Incubator's predations upon humanity.

Not that she's forgotten the others, not entirely. Madoka first of all of them. "It's..." No, it's not okay. There is nothing about this that is okay, her insides scream.

"We'll get you through this. Don't listen to those with gilded tongues and crafty agendas. I'll bet that thing was just trying to play us."

Kasagami has the distinct feeling that the Incubator, at best, thinks it's right. She doesn't want to think about the implications of it being straight on the money about the survival of the universe at large. She banishes stray thoughts by filling her vision with green hair.

The Duelist twists around, arms held fast about her love, but the Incubator's twin is here. Kasagami, always fast to talk, is struck silent and horrified as it devours itself. The thing's slayer speaks Kassie's own thoughts, and Nori breaks her of the stupefication.

Even for someone harboring strong passions, the Duelist finds herself running out of the ability to feel anger at the thing. Contempt, arrogance, disgust and a full body shudder? Tonight she reaches deep into the Eri, Kyouko, and Kimiko shaped holes in her soul for those black emotions. They're as much knives for self defense as they are needles jammed and tearing under her fingernails. No words. She can't adequately express herself.

At least until she's swept away, through rotting latice and a floating body experience amidst a riotous rainbow of so many colors. Fresh tears stain her cheeks upon seeing a few colors, then the enormity of it all hits her. She feels cold, and realizes why.

Her arms are empty. She is alone with this thing and it's visions and still trying to convince her. Unbeknownst to Kasagami, trying to convince everyone.

"Taking the beautiful dreams of girls, taunting them with promises that end in death or worse all to create a cycle of misery!? Making a deadly raw deal sound like a proper exchange! Nothing more than an opportunistic scoundrel, Incubator!"

Hands clench into fists. "You don't get to take credit for their accomplishments. It's their dreams and work, not yours!" The girl who would be King chafes at this display of great figures and the cannibal creature's claims of responsibility.

Half of her body feels phantom sears. A hand reaches for a pocket, for things that aren't in them to dull the pain.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

When Kyubey returns, Takeo snaps his head to look at the thing as it speaks, "You have WHAT?!" he says in absolute surprise. He lets out a low growl and he prepares to maybe do something similar to what Nori did when the damn cat devil satan thing's eyes flash red again.

He's transported through a strange portal, and appears in time to stare at gems. He listens as Kyubey speaks about Prehistoric times.

Then as he speaks of Cleopatra, standing for her kingdom against her brother and later Rome. Brilliant and beautiful and wise. The gem darkening and Takeo winces.

They are suddenly in Japan. A temple, fire, things moving fast.

France. He knows it's france. It's different than what he has in his mind and in his memories, later in time, but the hills are .... They feel like home. He wincesinwardly, since he currenlty has no being. He wants to shout "Enough!", but instead screams, "Assez!" The sight of France bringing his older memories to the front.

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Not entirely far away, Zafira snuffs as Mikoto struggles to maintain some shred of composure. The big wolf-dog stares at her silently as she all but disassembles in front of him.

The thing with thread displays is that one of the things they tell the recipient is that you feel threatened. He rises. He pads over across the distance until he senses her body language stiffen. Then he plops down, calm as you please, and shuts his eyes. Keeping his keen senses, those of a sentry, a hound, and a Guardian Beast all, attuned not on the room, but the other people in the house. Just in case things escalate in that room. Just in case he must fulfill his duty. It was not what he planned to be here for tonight, but having any warning at all is a blessing, sometimes.

Vita, for her part, casts a long look around at the girls trembling with discomfort. "...yeah, I know," she mutters. "But--" Huh, Madoka's whimpering. Huh, it's not bleeding. Huh, it's still oh DANGIT Vita's eyes snap to the creature as it reintroduces itself, and watch with mounting alarm as it consumes its own carcass. "We've seen--" she starts to spit, and then the universe falls away.

These are histories she does not know. Women of glories gone by. The names imprint themselves when they are needed. Vita can still feel herself. That's new. But still...just the same...

She wonders if he's going to destroy her, at the end of it.

<Pose Tracker> Usagi Tsukino [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Madoka apologizes again and again and Usagi's fingers thread through her hair, trying to soothe her. She does not see the shadow when it comes. Usagi is not looking at it. She hears the voice in her head. Her eyes lift up in surprise-

And she sees it start to eat. Suddenly Usagi Tsukino is nauseous. So nauseous she breaks into dry heaves on the spot. Skin paling before a nightmare that won't end. "No... Don't..."

She rasps as the creature says it will show them.

And then the breadth of human history stretches out before her. She is alone. And she is in pain. Agony really to see the depths with which this thing interfered with human history after the Silver Millenium fell. It is no mercy to invoke Metallia and Beryl when the vision of what they did to the Solar System is fresh on her mind.

Disoriented instantly beyond the kaleidoscope imagery flying around her - she's forced to look - she's forced to see.

She doesn't want to. Forced to look at this against her will. There is an image of a Princess. Beautiful. Then - despairing.

Another Princess - lovely - then the world is aflames.

An army. A slaughter. A-

Usagi Tsukino is no student of history. She sees only three girls that the creature as good as murdered. Each of their lives as beautiful and precious as the five that fell at Tokyo Tower, "Stop - stop! I don't want this! I don't want to see any of this! Stop! Nothing you could show me would ever make me forgive you for what you've done! Bring Madoka-chan and the others back! Bring them back right now!"

The girl whimpers, trying to hold her head in a way that will block it out and she cannot. She cannot. She cannot. She is for a moment completely overwhelmed by the relentless and cruel march of time.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

A balm, that familiar texture against her cheek. She feels the smile, more than sees it, and makes a quiet sound back. It is a dear moment among dreadful, and they draw solace from each other. "We won't. Whatever it takes, my love."

But the horrors have no end. As Sailor Pluto, she should have learned this lesson out on the precarious edge of the solar system, standing against the invaders. Her empathetic heart is in the end one which wishes to hope, as well. The beast's reappearance takes her by surprise, and then the way of it... Kasagami can feel it through their embrace, the brief stiffening. Her jaw clenches against revulsion. The Guardian masters herself -- it is what she does. But not immediately.

Then their autocannibalistic adversary's eyes flash red and--

And there is no embrace left to feel. Her arms are empty, are cooling even as she clutches them to her chest reflexively as if she could capture some lingering essence... But Kasagami is gone and however Setsuna tries to twist, to look, is nowhere to be found. "Kassie...! Small Lady!!"

Small Lady is nowhere to be found.

The steady rhythm of a steadfast heart doubles. Her fear she then locks away with long practice. She plunges through those strange veils and into an unwanted presentation with a stony face and hands which long for her sacred weapon.

It's trying to explain to us, wants badly for us to understand. Setsuna tells herself. As long as I am unharmed... all I can do is trust that they are, too. It hardly eases her.

The alien shows Time's Guardian the past of the planet she has protected, for longer than the Incubators have infested it, and thinks: how did I watch for so long, and miss this? What other sorrowful secrets remain uncovered?

What has become of them all, since the fall, since Beryl and Metallia? The screams, did they ever truly stop?

"We will never know what could have been, had you let history run its course. Had you let them be." Let them be alone; let them be the girls they were before...

And then she says what's really in her heart. No one is here to hear it but the enemy. "We will never know what Kyouko and Eri... what they could have been. They never had a chance. None of them did. You took their souls. Their souls."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Mai has failed. The reason for coming here was to try to give Madoka support, try to pull her out of a depressive shell, to help with her grief - but Mai can't seem to do that. She's falling apart just thinking about a sampling of the recent tragedies, and taken as a whole-

She might have broken sooner, without Kyubey to blame and hate. But the Incubator is dead - bisected - and now she's free to just fall apart in grieving when she's supposed to be helping.

Or so she thought - but Mai stiffens as that placid voice returns from a minor inconvenience.

She can only stare in voiceless horror at the sight of Kyubey eating itself, unable to put words to the sight. Too late, she recognizes the creature's hungry gaze; too late, she turns her tear-streaked face to Madoka. "...no more-"

The vision overwhelms.

Probably it was meant to, to batter down the group with an unending heap of evidence, piling on examples of just how long the Incubators have been free to act.

It's similar to seeing the fall of the Moon Kingdom through Nephrite's eyes - just as uncontrollable, just as daunting, just as infuriating.

The weight of the ages catches fire, that endless lecturing serving as fuel for renewed anger. Emotions run like a roller coaster some days, and this ride leaves Mai with a bone-weariness, but by the time the armies of France are charging she's well beyond having enough.

"That's your argument, that you've gotten away with your...your predation for thousands of years. It's how it's always been, so you expect us to accept that's how it always should be?" She's not sure if it's even her real palms that her real nails are really digging into, but the act of trying - believing - can at least focus that ire. "You're not even hiding that whatever those girls got in exchange turned to ashes and curses."

A deep breath, as a woman who tried to make things better burns for the attempt. "That doesn't absolve you. Ruining lives for the sake of some cosmic plan doesn't make this better. Giving away poisoned apples and tainted lives-" Mai's breath hitches, and tears fall across history.

"Unforgiveable. This was never acceptable, never right, you ruined my friend's life and I hate you and I hope everything important to you burns to ashes and-" A scream echoes into the abyss, followed by shouted invectives far less coherent or polite.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

It just... lays there. Steven hasn't seen an something akin to a kitty die before. A space kitty... bunny... thing? "It... seems like it was trying to tell us..." he says softly. He remains stunned by the impaling action for the moment.

Everyone reacts differenly to its demise. People wonder. Some think it was too good for it. Some even nonchalantly moving on.

Steven has an ache at the pit of his stomach seeing it lay there. He wishes the others were here. A look across the room at Madoka. This isn't good. This isn't healthy for her.

It returns.

"It's... not dead?" he says, slowly releasing tension. It doesn't help that the creature begins to eat itself. Fright turns into something that assures he will not have any sweets tonight. The cookie cats will have left their families behind for naught.

"Maybe it could help," Steven says dimly. He doubts it will. For it seems Kyubey is doing everything in his power to convey the situation, but the equation lacks the variable that is emotion. And that single little article makes this entire problem, splayed out for all to see, impossibly foreign.

The lack of individuality and self-purpose. Hopes and dreams. Emotions.

There is a feeling. A rush of motion and the sensation of lifting off a chair.

fabric and magic flicker all around. He has seen something like this before! "Ahhhhh!" he yells through the kaleidoscope of frayed lace.

It was not unlike Lion when he portal-jumped. And yet he was alone on this journey. No one from the room was here.

A flicker of color. "What's that?" he says, as he falls in what feels like a foreign direction. A Gem? No, it had metal on it. Something akin to what Lapis was snared in. But these weren't Gems. he has seen something similar on Magi before.

He reaches for it--! Gone. Another as well. All flash past before fingers could snare them. Soon there were so many flying past him it looked like acid wash was splashed onto an oil painting of a glass mural. Colors run and blend together rapidly.

It's voice returns. Somewhere within his mind. As if piggybacking on this journey from right behind him, weightless, effortless. The colors make way into a scene upon the desert. At a beautiful shrine. Rolling greenery.

It seemed to be history repeating itself in a fashion. They rise They pave the way for change. They fall. As the scene changes, Steven calls out. "You have been doing this for so long! Is Earth even the only world you have done this on?!" he yells through the path stretching through infinity. "How many people have you affected?!"

<Pose Tracker> Nagisa Misumi [Juuban Public School (11)] has posed.

Hand against her mouth, Nagisa gags her way into a whimper as Kyuubey devours his own body. When he doesn't just take a chomp, but continues into a feast, she averts her eyes entirely. This is a more sensitive matter to her perhaps than to many here. Pretty Cure are very close to their fairies. More than most, Nagisa has a sense of the vitality in their spongey little bodies. Kyuubey may or may not be made from similar stuff as Mepple, but this was the closest Nagisa had gotten to seeing what was inside her little companion. There is knowledge she envies, like Honoka's, and knowledge she never, ever wanted.

And so, not looking, she feels her hand slip right through Honoka's.

Opening her eyes already grasping at air, Nagisa feels or sees or experiences the growth of humanity, and is disgorged down through layers of female hope. Murder, fire, execution--the only other thing that could turn out the whole town back then was a festival, and was this not that as well?--and Nagisa is reeling, no longer aware of her body.

"Creation," she remembers aloud. But too quick, too violent. Not the unfolding of light that she knows.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Fuu turns to look at Madoka as the pinkette begins apologizing. Again. And this time, the blonde archer is at a loss for what might be wringing those mumbles of 'I'm sorry' out of Madoka. She opens her mouth -

And closes it again, her gaze flitting to the resurrected (respawned, she corrects herself) form of the Incubator. Eating its previous iteration's remains. Not that Fuu can see very clearly what's transpiring on that shelf of plushies; she starts to put her glasses on, but the lenses have been broken badly enough that she'd see worse with what's left of them than without them at all.

Perhaps, all things considered, that's a mercy. She doesn't see the consumption, or recycling; she doesn't see the lack-of-a-look in the creature's eyes.

She sees the mentally projected vision clearly, very clearly, *far* too clearly.

The Wind Knight hasn't fought that many Witches, but she recalls the environs of a Labyrinth, and the brain-scorching runes. And she can hear the words which accompany the sequence of visions, too distressed now to try and block them out. Even if she closed her eyes, she would see these images.

"Who are you to speak of prayers?!" Fuu snarls, her left hand emerging from her pocket, fist clenched under the glove-jewel she's now wearing. "How dare you say those girls 'devoted' their bodies to despair, when they were swindled and misled into making their wishes to your kind, not knowing the price they'd pay?!"

Not that the names are lost on Fuu. Cleopatra, Himiko, Jeanne D'Arc - each of them etched in history and enfolded by legend. And there's a corner of Fuu's mind which wonders, if the Incubator is speaking truthfully, whether those legends would shine as brightly if the Incubators' magic hadn't been there when each of those young women needed power beyond their own, to rise and confront the ages into which they were born.

Fuu wants to believe they would have. The possibility that human history *is* indbeted to such creatures ...

Her stomach twists, clenches, contorts into knots.

Her mind reels, against the intrusive illusions and the implied manipulations.

Her very soul quivers, in horror and revulsion and rejection.

But there is no escape for her.

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

'All that fighting... over the right way to deal with Witches... it was all... ...rigged.'

'Who told you the world is fair?'

Mikoto hears and and she knows - she knows there is nothing they could do. Caught in a whirlpool, there was nothing to do but be sucked under.

She didn't want Eri to drown alone.

... so they drowned together.

She refuses to regret it. She meant what she said. There is nothing worse in this world than being alone.

Is it cruel, then, the way images lance through her mind to prove the Incubator's point? A butcher knows how blood should smell; knows how blood should feel. A hunter knows the truth of wilderness, the weaknesses which take root in survival of the fittest. Choosing who lives and who is led to slaughter...

She can't look away from her own mind. She can't retreat in - can't escape it.

Her head bows; she signals defeat. Tears leak down past those eyelashes. It's true. It's true. It's terrible and it's true.

The images stop. She hears the exclamations below. Nori, she thinks, as she puts together the voices. Nori has killed it. Her chin raises; relief floods her face.

'I just...I want my friend back. I want that half a year back, when that thing's game forced her into morals I couldn't accept. However selfish it is...'

It is short lived. All at once succour becomes stricken as she thinks that she will never reach Mai again.

Oh, she will not reach Kasagami, either.

Mikoto chokes down a sob, shoulders hunching as she leans forward on her knees. She does not glare at Zafira's approach, as hands come up to press an obsidian bead against her chest in search of some scant comfort. The whirlpool has taken them down, down, down. Eri is not coming back. Mikoto knows Eri will never, ever come back.

"Don't," she tells him, instead, and grief wears the threat to something thin and brittle. "Don't get close to me."

And then she hears a voice in her head again.

Mikoto shakes her head, flinching in with a hum of dissent through closed lips, but it cannot see or it does not care.

She has been in Labyrinths before. Has been in a great many, in fact. So many Witches.

So many girls.

And it has stolen her thoughts and it is more wrong than before - not unfamiliar but wrong, this thing is not hers, has never been hers - and there are girls over girls and every Witch was a girl and every girl had a dream and they did so much for the world and then -

It's not like Mikoto didn't know.

There's a difference between knowing something and knowing it, feeling it bone-deep, staring it down until the abyss stares back too long.

What she has done - what she has already done --

She tightens up in the abyss of memory, arms clutching at her sides, chin ducked. "No more," she pleads, quietly, as she sees another girl who became a garden. "I know what we did, so please..."

Eri did not even get to change the world.

There is no safe haven amongst magical girls for girls too sharp. There never was.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Setsuna can feel it - the way Rei's fingers tighten, as she turns to face the voice.

"Y-you --" For once in her life, Rei is speechless.

It's too bad. She ought to have had some rather choice words for the Incubator, threatening them with another psychic assault.

Instead she doesn't manage to protest at all -- before she is swept up into the sky. "What?!" Rei yells, and the words echo into oblivion because she is very, very high up. Or perhaps very far down; it is impossible for her to get a grasp on existence, here.

She has not fought Witches or Familiars often, though certainly she has gotten involved when she knows they are causing harm; Rei does not seek them out because they are a wrongness she has never been able to correct. She is used to unsettling, unnerving things, but Witches are a realm entirely unlike spirits or ghosts. They do not obey spiritual laws.

And over and over, those gems repeat.

And Rei has been separated from the room, and she does not care for gems, right now. "Usagi!" She screams, as if she could tear through the illusion with hands and with words. "USAGI--!!"

She yells in frustration as nothing but the Incubator's voice echoes around her -- as images rush past her eyes. So many keystones of history -- all of them Puella Magi. And she is quieter as she says: "All these girls..." It is horror and it is marvel.

What she is alone in the sky is not marked by fury; as each presence rushes past her accusation is overwhelmed. "... how could you? How could you take advantage of us, as soon as you could just..." As soon as the Queen could not protect them.

Anger takes her again as her hands clench to fists. "No further. Not one more inch! We'll find a way to carve you out, and you will never come here again. Do you hear me, Incubator? You'll never make Madoka-chan suffer again. You'll never make another girl suffer again."

No more girls like Cleopatra.

No more girls like Himiko.

No more girls like Jeanne d'Arc.

No more girls like Mami Tomoe.

No more girls like Sayaka Miki.

No more girls like Kimiko Akane.

No more girls like Eri Shimanouchi.

No more girls like Kyouko Sakura.

No more girls like Madoka Kaname.

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

"Get out... STOP IT!"

<< No. She has to see this. She has to understand. And it will help if you do, too. >>


"You don't get to take credit for their accomplishments. It's their dreams and work, not yours!"

<< Even humans have moments of wisdom. One said that genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. This is so, but without that one percent, that X-factor, all that hard work would have been for nothing. >>



<< It isn't enough... not yet. >>


"Stop - stop! I don't want this! I don't want to see any of this! Stop! Nothing you could show me would ever make me forgive you for what you've done! Bring Madoka-chan and the others back! Bring them back right now!"

<< I do not understand the concept of forgiveness, but it is not what I came here for in any case. >>


"We will never know what Kyouko and Eri... what they could have been. They never had a chance. None of them did. You took their souls. Their souls."

<< Kyouko Sakura could have died of hunger, or Eri Shimanouchi could have lived in solitude. They made their wishes for their own reasons. Only another Puella Magi can judge a Puella Magi. >>


"Unforgiveable. This was never acceptable, never right, you ruined my friend's life and I hate you and I hope everything important to you burns to ashes and-"

<< The universe is important to us. >>


"You have been doing this for so long! Is Earth even the only world you have done this on?!"

<< No. >>



<< Yes. >>


"Who are you to speak of prayers?! How dare you say those girls 'devoted' their bodies to despair, when they were swindled and misled into making their wishes to your kind, not knowing the price they'd pay?!"

<< I am the Incubator. >>


"No more... I know what we did, so please..."

<< Soon. >>


"No further. Not one more inch! We'll find a way to carve you out, and you will never come here again. Do you hear me, Incubator? You'll never make Madoka-chan suffer again. You'll never make another girl suffer again."

<< We do not make girls suffer. It is their choices that create suffering. >>


"Stop it already!" Madoka begs, sobbing.

She is no longer afforded the privacy of her own mind, but when a lack of gravity lifts her twintails off her cheeks, it still feels like an extra layer of violation. With the oldest and first of all human instincts, she tugs herself into the same tight ball she had occupied on the bed, knees to her chest, arms around her knees, only now she is spinning head over heels.

If only that was the reason she felt sick.

It's less like air and more like water now, as space spirals around her, into her, through her and through you too, like hypnosis and like a whirlpool. Bubbles are everywhere, like her tears, short-lived; each one pops into a rune, ephemeral, gone. She is drowning in history and yet she cannot drown.

"They believed you!" she screams, until she's raw. "They all believed you, and yet you betrayed them!"

At the middle of the spiral, behind her, behind everyone, is the Incubator, its eyes enormous even on the scale of its proportions and expressions.

<< We didn't betray them... their own prayers did. >>

The bubbles are becoming motes of light. They rise, slowly, around Madoka and around you.

<< Every wish that does not fit within the bounds of reason gives birth to some kind of distortion. Action, and reaction, to equilibrium. It is an obvious conclusion that the outcome will be the worst. >>

The Incubator's eyes are growing, expanding hugely, there are multiples of them superimposed over each other, pink and darker pink, and red. The lace stands out against it, suddenly bright in comparison to the alien, and spinning, spinning beautifully, until it can't be seen because the Incubator has filled the whole space, there's no room left for anything but it and its ideas, and Madoka holding her head, spinning in front of him, and you, doing the same.

<< If you consider that a betrayal, then making wishes is a mistake to begin with. >>

There's a fluttering, flapping noise that is out of place. Strange bits of paper are blown in, briefly stick to you, then begin to fall. They are covered in runes, each with the image of a girl on it, like an off-model thousand-yen bill. You're slowly losing your spin and falling, too, and other bodies are falling with you.

They're indistinct in the way that generalizes them from one to many. Some are riding warhorses, and then some have parachutes, and a city -- EVERY city, which gradually solidifies into Tokyo but never ceases to contain multitudes -- fades in from negative space.

Airplanes are falling towards it, and so are you.

<< But I'm not saying that it's foolish. Factually speaking, the history of humankind has gone on thanks to their sacrifices. >>

More and more airplanes plunge to their doom --






--and the falling stops.

Madoka lands, spread-eagled, on her back, and so do you.

Water flows down a drain. It's from the garden, outside, where it's pouring out of the gutters, but it sounds like the slaughterhouse and it sounds like the end of space too.

She's sweating and gasping, short little gasps of horror, and her friends can hear them, because they're all back in the room.

The Incubator looks down upon the room and everyone in it.

<< It was a plethora of tears from the past that laid foundation to your current easy life. >>

Madoka's hands wring each other like dishrags. And then they clutch at those nearest to her instead, holding them tightly, holding them close. Which, really, almost proves the Incubator's point for it.

<< If you acknowledge that, then why do you consider just a few people special? >>

She looks up, tears in her small voice as well as pouring down her face.

"You felt nothing while watching over those girls?"

Something was missing, in the vision. There were endless images of girls and their stories, their cycles, their ends, but the only feelings present, she had to bring herself.

The idea of it makes her more and more distressed, and she shakes her head, then shakes it again, more fiercely. There's something terrible in her face now, in her heart, and it is knowledge.

"You didn't even try to understand how hard it must've been for them?"

Before, she only had to be sad for her dead friends, and for her living ones, and for herself.


<< We wouldn't have come to this planet to begin with if we were capable of understanding that. >> The Incubator admits this freely but also a little bit impatiently, incapable of understanding why she, why them, are incapable of understanding it. << In our culture, the phenomenon called emotion is only a mental disorder. That's why we were surprised when we discovered you, humankind. We couldn't even imagine a civilization where every individual had their own feelings, and yet managed to coexist. >>

Madoka whimpers.

"If only... you hadn't come to this planet..."

<< You'd still be living in caves, I think. >>

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

'She has to see this. She has to understand.'

This is what makes it clear to Setsuna--this is what makes her look up again. Her eyes snap up, and they are red and reddened both, but they are sharper. Her jaw sets, and her hands fall back to her sides again. On her own, she could not sustain this torment, this torrent of awfulness, but...


She still feels sick, as she sees more and more. Papers; runes. Setsuna looks to the images, to the bodies... she can't understand it all. But she can hear Kyubey's words. 'Their own prayers.' '...Reason.' Reason, always reason."

The spinning, unfortunately, is what does it. Care for Madoka, targetted, in need, has brought her out of her own overwhelming spin, but her feelings don't control her stomach... and the horrors of before are still in her heart, too.

When Setsuna is finally done spinning, when she falls on the ground, she coughs, loudly and then rolls onto her side. A hand slides up as she wipes her lips, It is not only tears that make her a mess now, but she pushes herself up again, lifting her eyes to try to find Kyubey... Finds Madoka.

"...We consider emotion to be something inconvenient, too. Something to rise above, to ignore," Setsuna says, and her voice is low. "...It's why Mobius-sama decided everything... why we worked for efficiency..."

She is tired. And yet...

"You're no better... No."

"You're worse!" Setsuna calls at it. She knows... she doesn't have a solution. Obviously, they can't just destroy it. And those 'extra magical girls'? Some of them were instrumental in stopping threats she knows well. Still...

"..." Setsuna's jaw sets, and she breathes. She seems to be speaking calmer, if not actually being calmer, gross and tear-streaked and so many things--

"Sharing your opinion of where humans would be seems like a waste of effort to me," she says, keeping her voice carefully even. "Considering that you just told us imagination isn't a strength of your civilization." She stops, then, frowns--looks to Madoka, wondering, worrying, and then back to Kyubey. The twists and turns of these moments are a knot in her head, an ache, the shift from emotion to emotion too much.

"...Why?" Setsuna asks then, and it is genuine, wondering instead of horrified. "...Why is it so important that she understand this? Why are you telling any of us this? Even if we can't tell every girl you could possibly talk to, even us knowing any of this seems an unnecessary risk for you. ...Why would you tell us? Why are you showing her?"

"...I know why Madoka-chan is special to me. Why I care, about specific individuals, instead of just people as a whole. But..." She stares, and looks--can she find Rei? ...Can she find something, her things, a cloth?

"Why do you?"

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Takeo lands spread eagle and winces in pain as these images and sound bleed through him. He hears Kyubey and glares at the thing, as he clambers to a kneeling position, pinching the bridge of his nose to try and clear his head. The sights and sounds still assail him, and finally looks away from the demonic cat-ferret with a slightly uttered curse. "Yeah. You demon eyed fuzzball, Assez means enough, and I'm pretty sure consent is a universal thing." He makes his way to his feet and stares at Kyubey again.

Breigly he considers punting the damn Alien through a window.

He sighs. "Stupid cheat codes." He mutters and softens his look by the smallest of hairs. "You're just wrong Incubator. You're wrong and plain evil. You used them. Every one of them. Form the girls in history to... To Mami." he closes his eyes and wipes a tear away. "She was my enemy at the end, but she was my Sempai first, taught me when to use to my powers, and how to use a library." He sniffles and wipes away a tear form the other eye. "Sayaka was a damn good swordswoman, and stood for goodness and light. I didn't know the others." he squares his shoulders and stands defiantly. "Except Eri. Eri was my friend, and always tried to get me to better myself. All the others you showed us, the girls through history? I bet they were just as kind hearted and strong willed. You just .... You just used them for your space magic crap." He shakes his head. "You can't convince me, and I doubt you'll convince the others." He gives Kyubey that cocky roguish grin of his. It's half hearted, because he knows he can't beat this alien, but he figures he might as well be himself. "So. Just do me a favor Incubator and go bugger off."

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

A polite - ever polite, not even smug because being smug would require feeling an emotion - comment that the universe is counted among the things that Mai indirectly suggested immolating.

"Did I STUTTER?!" The scream into the abyss did have some words, after all.

The vision builds to a climax - builds to a union, to an impossible infinity of Incubator ever talking and talking and talking -

And then it's over. Back to the room, back to the rain outside, back to the ever so polite conversation. Mai is breathing heavily, feeling hoarse, feeling worn out, emotions and body just wrung dry and why is that thing still talking.

Madoka's answering - Madoka's still able to attack this thing's points because it wants something from Madoka. All words about the big picture, about sacrifices to be made for a greater cause. About how it can't comprehend how caring about someone in particular could be important. About how humans should be grateful, again and again.

There's voices in the room with the strength to retort properly, and Mai wishes she could join them - join in pulling those threads to pull apart the thing's logic, to protect Madoka from this endless 'rational argument'.

Mai doesn't have the strength to bring up her passions again - her tears burn and the holes in her life ache and so much has been ruined - and the fire of her anger is just exhausted with this thing's endless explaining and explaining and explaining-

"If you try-" Mai swallows the lump in her throat, tries not to croak too much. "If you try to 'explain' your logic to us yet again, to try to 'help us understand' one more time, then..."

She pulls herself upright again, hands trembling on the bedspread. "...you hate waste, right? I'll burn every one of your bodies that I can to wasteful ashes, just to teach you what 'spite' means."

She might do it anyway.

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

Kasagami merely snarls at Kyuubey's assertion in that old quote. She says nothing. Doesn't deign to give him satisfaction...if he could even feel such a thing. She highly doubts it now. Her hair streams amidst first the floating, liquid like tension of the vision. Then, the spiral and fall and the obscenely large-eyed incubator.

She may be only privy to half the conversation. But the Duelist has her own responses that further stoke the fires within her. Inwardly, as she promised outwardly, she declares this horrific thing her enemy alongside the rest of it's kind.

"Of COURSE it's a mistake to Wish when it's with the likes of you, cheat!" It's a common sentiment earlier in the night. Kassie feels it more strongly.

They're back, and the Duelist's breath hitches as she breathes again. Her first instinct is to hunt for the hand of Setsuna. Then she's putting eyes on the others. A sympathetic brush of a toe is given to Madoka, and her eyes latch to Kyuubey.

"Your voice grates on my skull, Incubator. Your justifications for your atrocities and false promises fall on deaf ears. Do you actually expect us to believe you're only in it for the universe and not yourself? I only hope you discover the emotions you've denied. Maybe then you'll give a little thought to the consequences for those you've used!" She seeks out her love's presence.

In any other circumstances she'd feel nightmares scratching at her skull from Mai's proclaimation. But Kasagami already has nightmares being fed into it tonight, and so there's no room for old wounds. Only a growing, humorless grin. Oh yes, she can imagine a field of ashes and beady pink eyes. On a night like this such black thoughts are beautiful.

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

"I don't judge them, Incubator, I judge you!" the senshi cries into the strange and shifting space.

"Your duty to them... you think of yourselves as caretakers, as shepherds." The word cannot help but have some extra weight to it, for Setsuna. "Making wishes was not the problem, and was never their mistake. Making wishes to you, Incubator... that was the problem. But they did not know, because you did not tell them."

But the airplanes are falling, the bombs are dropping, and even this guardian who knows gravity so well cannot gainsay it here and now...

--she's on her back, and hears Madoka's deep distress over the thudding of her own heartbeat in her ears.

Why consider just a few people special?

Puu looks for her first, best friend, both because she needs to know Small Lady is safe and because she is the beginning of her answer to that question. She thinks of her fellow soldier-sisters, and not of the distance between herself and them -- but of the beautiful closeness between sky and sea.

And Setsuna reaches for Kasagami's hand, because she needs to feel that strength, to share what she can give of her own, and because her love changed the senshi enough that she can reach out, now, like this.

Fingertips brush in the seeking and she knows them. There's flutter of fingers finding their fit again, and she clasps hard -- gives a little squeeze when Kassie vents her ire, to underscore and admire all that anger-honed eloquence.

With a tug she sits upright and pulls, so that the tension between them allows the pair to rise. So that it brings them together, again.

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

The mystery swallows Nori Ankou. La Sirene de Diamant isn't here right now. The Red Future is on vacation.

Airplanes sail. A truth is explained. A rationalization of sacrifice. A rationalization of sorrow. It reminds Nori of hearing about the nature of suffering, yet something about it doesn't accord. Is it only the difference in perspective?

She has been overjoyed, horrified, furious, and has even struck a killing blow in the last ten minutes(?)

Who am I, seeing this creature? Nori thinks. The memory of the vision, the centrality of Madoka in portions, the looming spiralling landscapes... all of it is still there, just behind her eyes. But here she is now once more. She feels hollow and transparent. Yet when she raises one hand she sees skin, nails, even a slight stain of caramel sauce on the right ring fingernail.

"You know little of tears," Nori mutters to herself. She reaches up with her left hand, grasps the back end of Madoka's bed...

Ugh, she thinks. I can't do this. I might never move again. I'll lay here forever and become a heap of dirt. Nori's eyes half close.

From an external position Nori pulls herself upright, approximately, and slides onto the bed, legs splaying bonelessly behind her. She begins to slip, seems to startle on some organic level, and kick scrabbles herself up onto the bed.

Nori blinks awake lightly. She looks further up the bed. Her eyes are bright, now. There is none of the eerie, alien cast that she has sometimes held, particularly as la Sirene. More gradually, more determined, she pulls herself up onto the bed. It feels like a blessedly soft beach, but in her current state of nervous strain and exhaustion, an oyster bed would feel plush as down.

Something sticks in her mind. Nori crawls forwards, towards the others. If they push her away, she thinks, so be it. She probes the thought, like it were a broken tooth in her mouth. But one she has to find...

Because the creature spoke of tears, and tears are sorrows, and those are her duty.

Nori reaches for Madoka's ankle, which is the closest thing. She is still struggling to form her words, but she tries to give her a squeeze, through the comforter.

"Devil," she says, and of course it is clear who she is addressing, but she sounds rather flat about it. Nori looks past her bare shoulder, hair hanging half in her face, as she regards the creature, not on its level but having climbed, she thinks, nearer to it.

"Why did Akemi destroy your form?"

She gestures with her hand. "... I know why I did it. But..."

Nori pulls herself up enough to roll onto her side.

"... I cannot understand her. I had thought... she had slain you, so she could cultivate Witches and live forever, as the only one who can find them easily. But it isn't that, is it?"

Her tone is flat, almost whining, but her eyes turn towards the others. Wishes, she thinks.

Here I am, with all these people.

Perhaps my wish has already come true? Ah, but at what price...

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

When the vision finally releases them, Fuu collapses again to the floor, twisting to her side and not quite curling up, shivering violently as her body is once more her own, her mind ... not yet sacrosanct against the Incubator.

At least it's only making conversation, now. She lies there for a long moment, shuddering, letting reality settle once more upon all her senses in turn. Vision, hearing, touch, smell ... even the taste of bile at the back of her throat is something that she can take notice of as 'real'. And it gives her time, while recovering, to hear others speak up, or cry out.

Finally, she speaks again, her voice beginning as a hoarse whisper.

"You measure the cost by mere numbers. You see emotion as an anomaly, or a resource. And that is why you understand nothing about us, *Incubator.*"

If her tone was briefly acidic earlier, it's downright venomous and hateful when she speaks the Incubator's chosen name. And as Fuu gathers herself enough to sit up, a similar hatred burns in her gaze when she turns it back to the creature so designated.

"Every girl and boy in this room is valuable to me. Not as a 'resource,' the way you'd try to value us. Not as numbers in a fight. Not just because of their being humans alongside myself. I value them for *who* they are - for the relationships that interconnect us, the emotions we've shared. The emotions we'll share in future. What you see as a mere source of energy, we treasure as the source of our bonds: the feelings we engender in one another."

She smiles wryly, getting back to her feet once more. "Even when those emotions aren't always positive ... but that usually means a relationship which has room to be nurtured, rather than rejected. But you would never understand that, either ... an 'Incubator' who nurtures nothing."

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

"So this has gone on elsewhere...!" Steven says, seething quietly as he is shown more and more. One the slideshow of people who have been led down paths of indignant suffering.

The air grows thick, and the sense of someone being there with Steven grows to intense levels of pressure. As if Kyubey is trying to make a point without actually harming anyone. Which in and of itself is surprising at this point.

"You compared us to being like cattle, and their path to the slaughterhouse. Does that make you the herder that sold them to there?! Because it sounds like it!" At this point Steven is growing haorse with varying usage of his voice, and even doubts that the Incubator can hear him. His voice is neutral and indifferent as always.

Eyes cannot ignore the image of Kyubey superimposed in the background. Or was it the foreground in this nexus of the mind? He was everywhere and nowhere. Eyes seeing everything upon everything, over and over. Then there is falling. The end comes swiftly, and invisible impact that is like breakin the surface from under the water, and taking a deep breath of consciousness once more.

"Emotion... is not a disorder!" Steven shouts. "If you are without emotion, your life... your lives... must be so empty of meaning. I wonder if it is related to your ability to not... die?" A pause. "Things are so different if you only have one life to live...!"

"THere are some things that cant be explained by numbers or equations. Things that are impossible that happen without things like wishes. These are all because of things like emotion. I'm just a kid, I can't explain this really well, but... you gotta believe me! Emotions are more than just an energy level!"

He balls his hands into fists, still dizzy from the mental visions and interaction. The arms eventually go limp. It probably wasn't that he wouldn't understand. More like he couldn't, if what he says is true.

"I dunno, above everything else you chose a horrible time to do this... it couldn't have waited like, a week or something?" Steven takes a moment to consider something, one of those hands raised to his chin.

"Why even tell us..." His consideration ends in no question, only a statement. A very upsetting one, at least to him.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> ALI PROJECT - Coppelia no Hitsugi https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3sb-3bIvm9Y

Soon, Mikoto's thoughts assure her, but they are not her thoughts, and it is uncomfortably clear in this moment. With eyes dulled by despair she watches the parade, and she listens.

It is a mistake to make wishes, she comes to know.

And she is falling, until she isn't. She feels the impact and cannot tell whether it is her mind playing tricks, her proprioception manipulated in the same manner as her skin or her eyes. It does not matter; she has fallen.

For a moment she does not rise; the Incubator points out the route which has led to a good life, and she closes her eyes against the pain of it. True things hurt. She's okay now, after all. Isn't that what she said..?

All it costs is just a few people.

She can't regret it. Not now. Not after everything they did together.

The monster left alive becomes aware of herself in time - finally struggles to right herself, from where she has fallen uncomfortably against her sword-case. She looks about the roof and does not see the wolf any more. At first she thinks she is alone, until she catches movement from the corner of her eye. Her head snaps to the roof intruder and finds a shock of white hair on pale skin, and light red eyes meet bright gold. The house is unevenly spread; he is perched on a higher section of the roof. He must have slipped in while she was confronting the enormity of her sins.

"Nagi," she growls, under her breath, as her shoulders stiffen and her chin jerks up. The shift in her expression is instant; she does not want him to know she is hurting.

"Lying down on the job, Mikoto-chan?" Nagi grins, elbow lent on a knee, chin in hand. He at least has the courtesy to lower his voice with hers. "What are you doing brooding out here, huh? All your friends are inside... and they're so sad already! Give it a shot, I bet you could --"

"Do I have to?" Mikoto grumbles, scowling at him.

"Aw, come on... you're not even going to try?" But she just glares at him, and he waves his free hand dismissively. "Fine, fine, it was just an idea I had. If you want to stay miserable out here on your own, I won't stop you. But you know, you're no fun when you're this grim, Mikoto-chan."

Mikoto hums displeasure through closed lips. "Then leave."

"Oh, sure - cast out poor, friendless Nagi," he sighs, dramatically. "It's just... I wonder what you're neglecting while you're out here, passing notes and zoning out..?" Nagi does not bother to hide his amused smirk, as Mikoto's eyes widen and her lips curl back over her teeth in a show of alarm.

"I --" She grimaces, glancing back to the edge of the roof and the voices which pour from the window, before her gaze snaps back to him. Her voice snaps, too, in unveiled irritation: "Say that first!" She does not bother to name the task which drives her, as acrobatic legs bend and spring away from the rooftop and the gathering below.

As much as she has always disliked Nagi, she knows what he means.

She can't afford to linger out here any longer.

And if she happens to be sad about gardens she has tended, the bones in the soil...

That's fine.

She can be as sad as she likes, so long as it does not interrupt the task she has been set.

After all...

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Vita takes it all in. She doesn't entirely have a choice. Perhaps her strange origin makes it easier. Perhaps her mentality makes it harder. She doesn't speak in it. What more is there to say? Violence doesn't solve this, and that's really the only thing Vita knows how to solve problems with. Words grate in her ribs like scratching claws. She usually lets Shamal speak. Lets Signum. Lets Zafira. Vita isn't an instrument of peace. She never has been. Even this, even trying to find words, she finds her muscles yearn to pick up Eisen and break, and break, and break.

Vita does not surrender to this. To her own weakness or to the Incubator marinating her in the cosmic timeline. But she finds herself painfully certain that this is not a problem for her; not a task for the Knight of Iron. This is a problem for the Master. The Master could kill this, she thinks, with belief akin to the woman she saw burned: Total, unending, devout unto her truest lord. Hayate could save them from this. But she's not here; and without Reinforce, with the Tome's core burnt out...no, perhaps not. Not anymore.

She slams back into reality with what feels like every inch of the force she remembers receiving from Sailor Jupiter's dragon, though the ground does not erupt into flinders at the impact. She lies there, dazed. Silent.

And then she breathes, "You underestimate them so completely." She forces her hand to land beside her; forces herself up to a sit, Her hand paws for her plush, which impossibly is mere inches away, not a thousand billion light years. "To think you're the only one responsible for them..."

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

The Kaname parents and their son have wound up on the front porch.


That is the sound of Tatsuya blowing a raspberry into the gigantic fuzzy belly of canine Zafira.

Tomohisa snatches him up and blows a raspberry into his own round little belly in turn.

"Uehihihihihi!!! UEHIHII!!"

His laugh is Madoka's in miniature.

Junko, chuckling low and warm, reaches over to scritch Zafira behind the ears.

"She really does have nice friends... I'm glad."


Universal condemnation.

Madoka: surrounded by support, loud and silent, close and slightly further away. She cries hysterically, but she does not cry alone.

<< It's not working out, is it. >>

Incubator: master of understatement.

Madoka does not dignify that non-question with a reply; she only snuffles. But there are other questions that other people have asked, and unanswered questions are as irresistible to the Incubator as catnip should be, but isn't.

Why Madoka?

What's up with Homura?

It couldn't have waited like, a week or something?

The alien swivels its head on its neck to look at each person in turn. This sometimes necessitates going too far with it, like certain kinds of owls seem to. The unnatural within the natural.

It never truly lets its prey out of its sight, though, even while also looking at other people.

BGM: Puella In Somnio https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGgLSTOpTI4

<< Madoka, very soon, the stage-setting Witch, Walpurgisnacht, is going to come to Tokyo. Do not think of it simply as a Witch; think of it more as a natural disaster. Walpurgisnacht combines with other witches in the same way two powerful tornadoes are able to combine and become larger. It has happened before, but never, ever like this, on this order of magnitude. Thousands of people will die immediately if it even materializes. If it isn't defeated, everyone in Tokyo certainly will. >>

It said 'Madoka' but really it said it to everyone, didn't it? It's giving them time to prepare. An opportunity to make plans, and execute them.

<< And it can't be defeated, not by Homura Akemi and not by everyone else here... this Walpurgisnacht is different. It is unique, like you are unique. >>

This implies a connection, but the Incubator does not explain it explicitly. As to its motivations... aha. It is giving them that opportunity because it does not think it will -- they can -- make a difference.


It continues on, inexorably confident in its predictions.

<< Sometime in the near future, you shall become the strongest Puella Magi... ...and then turn into the strongest witch. When that happens, we'll be able to collect immense amounts of energy! >>

There is a sharp-eared shadow behind Madoka's blinds.

Its voice is bright and cheerful.

<< If you ever feel like dying for this universe, just give us a call. We'll be waiting! >>

And then it is finally gone.

It's very quiet.

Madoka's tears continue to fall. Her shoulders shake -- she trembles all over.

<Pose Tracker> Takeo Akamizu [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

Glaring at the incubator he sighs in relief when the thing finally leaves. He runs a hand through his hair and takes a deep breath before he lets it out. Doom was coming apparently, but you know, it's actually Tuesday so, that's par for the magical person course. He looks to Madoka and frowns slightly. "Don't listen to that thing Madoka-chan." He says softly and gives her a slight smile. "We've faced some seriously evil things that have made the same claim. There is always some big dark evil claiming it's too powerful yadda yadda." He gives her a wink, "But we'll stop it. So like, don't give in to the Alien's hate speech, and just know, every one of us in this room have your back."

He moves to the window and looks out, incase the incubator is still around and watching. Waiting. Because he's pretty sure that thing is one of the most evil things in the universe. It's always the cute things. Incubators. Rabbits. Both adorable in appearance. Both better off as hasenfeffer in Takeo's professional opinion. He refolds his arms over his chest again and then looks over his shoulder at the others in the room. He looks to Mai and Fuu and Steven to make sure they're okay. Just taking a mental image to see if he needed to check on them later. Then he looks to Madoka and those around her, just being a presence in the room if he's needed.

<Pose Tracker> Mai Tokiha [Ohtori Academy (12)] has posed.

'It's not working out.'

No kidding.

There are still questions for Kyubey, interspersed with all the threats and convictions. Why does this thing think it has any right to stick its nose into a room of grieving to layer guilt upon guilt upon guilt?

There's an answer. A chill goes up Mai's spine at the name, at the promise of menace. There's retorts that could be made, that some of the girls assembled here have faced equal threats before - that lives upon lives were at stake when Metallia awoke, when the Dark King was nearly freed, when Alyssa held a gun to the assembled schools.

But they're hollow. Stopping Metallia required a miracle to bring hope back from the multiverse. The Dark King was only stymied by acts of sacrifice and a desperate play from another faction. And Alyssa...

Dying for something is a conviction Mai understands too well.

The Incubator keeps speaking words of absolute certainty - and with almost a chipper tone, makes a final offer that elicits a strangled rage from Mai's throat. "Don't you dare-"

It's gone. At least there's that.

There's only the people here, the people who have been condemning Kyubey at every turn, the girl who was the object of the Incubator's arguments. Mai turns, sees Madoka, and-

-and she's rushing to be closer to her side, as close as she can, and there's murmurs like a panicked stream of attempted comfort. It's quiet, intended for Madoka's ears alone and possibly too mumbled to make it that far, but she's trying.

"Don't. Don't think about dying for a cause because it's not worth it, you don't deserve to have that on your shoulders. We'll work something out, all of us, all of your friends. Just, just don't listen to that thing. Please..."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Higashi [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

Setsuna Meioh--Sailor Pluto--looks for Small Lady? For Chibi-Usa? She can find her easily, with the older Usagi and with Madoka both. ...After the horrors she's already seen--the horrors she's lived--the ones they've been forced to endure tonight are too much. She can't speak; she can't look up, or even seem to want to move. ...Only Puu knows the full truth of what she's seen, and why it might remind her of other things...

But anybody can see her misery; a young girl crying isn't, in this world shepherded by the Incubators, at all hard to imagine.

Setsuna Higashi is still there, by the door, where Rei Hino left her. She watches Kyubey, but she listens to the others. ...She feels much as Nori does. She shares Kasagami's anger.

She finds Mai's spite a balm, a little reminder of the fire that burns for something more like justice, like care. One boy's confidence push; another's attempt to explain... A girl's insistence. And one other outsider like her, speaking of underestimating.

Setsuna waits for the answer, and this time, she is able to stare into those red eyes, alien in an altogether different way than she is alien. For Setsuna, life on Earth is a matter of translation. For this creature...

Maybe there is no understanding each other, really.

Its answer is chilling. The danger that settles, certainly; Setsuna wonders, if this is part of why she was given the timetable that she was, all that time ago, though it's just an idle thought. Undefeatable--but no, worse. Much worse. Centered here, death, and--

Combining. ...Merguing. A disaster that compounds, one to another... No. A host of girls, trapped in despair, finally coming together again for one purpose, for the curse that comes of their betrayed hopes.

Setsuna stares, and she does not have the energy to show all the fresh horror she knows she feels at this very concept. Kyubey's answer, its assurance comes... And it is gone.

Setsuna swallows, slowly. She looks to Takeo, and his bold words, and back to Madoka again... and then to Rei. She bites her lip.

"...Even if it's unbeatable," Setsuna Higashi says quietly, in the name and the clothes that she chose, on this world. "Even if we can't win..."

She starts to turn, and thinks of the city that adopted her. "...I'm fighting anyway. Someone..."

Her voice cracks, and she looks down. To be forced on, like that; on, and on... never knowing. Never being heard. Despair...

She looks back to Madoka. "...It told us itself, didn't it? What would happen to you."

She bites her lip. "...Rei-chan," she says quietly, "I'll... I-I'll be right back, all right?"

She puts a hand on the door, and her steps are soft.

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

Fingers intertwine, and that great tension has them together. For all of Kassie's anger, just the opposite runs under her skin and makes her shake. There's too many emotions for one person to take. And so she doesn't take it alone. Kasagami's eyes turn to her love, letting all of her inner horror and fear and hatred for Kyubey sit in them. She needs to calm down.

Her hands grasp desperately. Her heart is all love and a stubborn desire to get through this beatdown of the obscene truth they've all gotten tangled up in. The Guardian of Time's protective nature lets her share the things she wouldn't before, her weakness, and the need for a true companion.

Then the Duelist is looking away reluctantly to warily watch Kyuubey. There's no trust in her for anything it says.

"Steven's right! Emotions, the desire to change the world around you for yourself and others! That's what creates ambition and the heights of beautiful new countries and rulers! It's you I don't get, Incubator. Cold logic alone just means you're a soul-less machine." She mutters. It's not even really aimed to the Incubator. More frustrations being vented. Others ask questions out loud.

Kassie still wonders where the profit comes in.

And there it is. Walpurgisnacht. An oncoming, deadly storm that this horror of an alien doesn't think they can all defeat with their combined power. That in order for this unholy disaster to be averted, Madoka will have to become a Puella Magi. And then become a Witch, suffering the fate of Sayaka, of so many girls.

In a night of intense emotions and cold truths, the Incubator leaves with one more unintended insult. It's underestimating them all. It's underestimating her!

Kyubey isn't the only arrogant one. She grips Setsuna, and once again tries to pull closer to Madoka. Comfort and warmth is what she can offer here.

"Don't take the bait, Madoka! There is no such thing as 'unable to be beaten'! Whatever Walpurgisnacht is...we'll fight for everyone's sake. For your sake, and your family!"

There's no boasting in her words, even if she underestimates what they'll face. She simply doesn't want Madoka Kaname to lose her parents and her little brother. The sweet girl simply doesn't deserve it.

<Pose Tracker> Fuu Hououji [Infinity Institute (10)] has posed.

Out of all the monsters Fuu can remember fighting - youma and Nakewameke and Terribads, Dark Generals and Executives, Noise and Vertex and Witches, Phantom and Alcyone and Ascot and Beryl and Metallia, too many other kinds and individuals - there is a peculiar new menace presented by the Incubator: an embodiment of evil that promises its actions are for the ultimate benefit of living beings, even at the cost of individual lives and souls.

Next to that, the threat posed by Walpurgisnacht is comprehensible. Immense in scale and extraordinarily dire, but nothing that the assorted magical girls haven't faced before on one level or another.

The Incubator is gone before Fuu can muster herself enough to speak in rebuttal; she simply shakes her head, and moves to Madoka's side - and if she can, if Madoka and others allow her, Fuu tries to give her a hug. Not a long one, and a very careful one at that, but still, a hug, if it's permitted.

"You shouldn't have to make that choice, Madoka-san. Even now ... no, *especially* now that you know what it will cost to do so. I can't speak for the others, but I *will* stand to fight Walpurgisnacht, and I'm sure I won't be alone."

Thousands will die if this new Witch even materializes. How much of the city would that be? Which part? And if not defeated, it won't matter - all of Tokyo will be destroyed, and everyone who lives in the city will die. Next to those stakes, Fuu's promise to come home alive to her family pales to nothing: her parents and big sister can't mourn Fuu if *they're* dead.

Fuu sucks in a breath, and steps back again, bowing her head as if in apology - or perhaps just to veil her own emotions once again. Removing her glove-jewel is a useful distraction for herself.

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.

Steven watches Kyubey closely. Such a strange being. His rage has died down some, though still is thoroughly unentertained by it's presence here now. "How do we even know that saving the universe is where that witchy energy stuff is going? You could be making an evil artifact or planning to destroy us all!"

There is zero proof of concept here, only how the plan itself functions. And even if Steven did see that, he wouldn't go with it anyway.

Kyubey however, lets everyone know a little secret. A Witch is coming unlike what has been seen before. Far too powerful. "What..."

He will put a pin in that. Madoka will become a Magi, then a witch of the highest caliber?! "Okay smart guy, let's say that-- HEY!"

It fled. Or perhaps it tired of the company and left of its own accord.

A quick look toward Madoka. "Don't listen to him, okay?" he says a nicely as he can manage right now. Which is fairly kind, all things considered, though there is some tension behind it. Each word goes back toward that little rotund boy's standard demeanor, like the one from the Seaside Park. "Even if he is telling the truth on that, we have dealt with world-destroying problems before and always pulled through! We can do it again, right? I think we can...!"

A pair of hands rub his temples, as he tries his best to calm down. "If they thing doesn't understand emotion, then he doesn't understand how we could beat it, obviously! I think..."

At this time, he would get down off his chair and move over toward Madoka.

"You don't have to be alone in your pain. We are with you, promise...!"

And if she would accept it, he would offer a hug as well.

<Pose Tracker> Rei Hino [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There is nothing crueler than evil done for the greater good.

Evil for evil's sake is monstrous - but there is an honesty to it. Everyone knows where they stand.

This is --

Rei falls in a heap, and for a moment she just grumbles, a dazed acknowledgement that she is, in fact, still extant. It sounds something like, "Mmmgrbl." A hand reaches out to pat the ground until she finds some part of Setsuna, who she no doubt fell beside.

"Ugh," she grunts, as she pushes herself up. "Never do that again." At first it is a dazed sort of reproach. Is she back in reality? Is the world right again?

Her mind presses and cannot find intrusions, save the voice which just won't -- shut -- up.

She finds herself well-disposed to Mai's plan, despite herself.

"You say it's their choices which make them suffer -- but you're not giving them a choice," Rei responds to what the Incubator has said, now she is in reality again. "It's a --" she pauses for a moment as she tries to think of the word, "you know, it's a false choice, when people think they have freedom but they really don't. Don't say they did this to themselves when you set it up! Madoka-chan already called you out on this!"

No, it's really not working out.

The Incubator describes Walpurgisnacht to Madoka, and Rei is there, still sitting on the ground, ashen face framed by raven hair which spills over her shoulders in the misbehaving way it does when she has just stopped sprawling. This fluffy little thing -- this thing which was Kyubey, the cute little fairy advisor to Madoka Kaname -- it's shaped like belief. There's something so... wrong, about it.

If things were just a little different -- this would just be one more advisor warning them of an impending evil.

But it's warped.

"Shut up!" Rei barks, scrambling to her feet. "Just shut up--!" And it does, though not by any effort of her own. Just like that, it's gone.

Rei huffs out a breath and turns to Madoka, on her bed. Once more she goes to it -- kneeling beside it, to the side of Madoka, this time. Too many things have loomed over Madoka tonight. Madoka is the same height as Usagi, and Rei is taller. "Madoka-chan," she says, reaching out to place a hand over hers. "Madoka-chan, hey..."

(Chibi-Usa gets her other hand, silently.)

What can she say? What mixture of words will somehow -- make this better? Nothing can, Rei thinks, sorrow weighing her dark eyes. But she has to try. "No one here will ever ask you to sacrifice yourself - okay? That's not how we work. Not ever." There is something here she does not say, with skin too new for sixteen years. "If that awful thing thinks it can bully you into making an impossible choice..."

Oh, God, Rei thinks, what if it can?

She shakes her head. "No way," she says. "No way."

She hears Setsuna, and she nods to her, with understanding in her eyes, before she returns her attention to Madoka.

"Everyone who can fight this thing is going to be out there," she says, quietly, in echo of Fuu's promise. "You've always believed in us, Madoka-chan. Can you believe a little longer..?"

<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

Every day, Zafira finds a new way Earth is amazing.

Vita largely sits through the Incubator's parting shots. In some ways, despite this communal suffering, she feels apart. She's reminded of how OLD she is in moments like this. Vita didn't watch over Earth for a thousand thousand lifetimes like Sailor Pluto or the Incubator, but she's seen so MANY other worlds, so many people pulling themselves across the sands of eternity. Here, on Earth, for the first time, she has been given the luxury to sit down and marvel; to take in with awe the magnificence of these people, who are told 'death' and hear only 'life.'

So this is how the sausage is made, Vita thinks, dully. She wonders how of--

"So does this just happen every time?" she asks the room, with the brazen rudeness of the neophyte.

She takes the subsequent five seconds of deep, racking sobs as a no, and forces her knees under her to stand up, dragging her rabbit behind her as she plods over to the sweets table. She feels numb. "We believed in you," she says; that's for the whole room. "We...."

...she stops talking, eyes shutting for a moment to shake her head. What else is there to say? Acting like the veteran here is as silly as anything.

So she jams a slice of cake in her mouth to stop herself from wanting to talk.

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

Nori raises her eyebrows at Kyubey's statement regarding if it is working.

Then she slides forwards a little, like a landed seal. Kyubey explains what is to come. The creature speaks with clarity. 'More as a natural disaster.' It will combine with other witches, Nori thinks. There are others out there, aren't there? It is unlikely that they cleaned up everything... and surely in a city as great as Tokyo, there would be girls who they simply never met.

Thousands will die if it even materializes.

If it isn't defeated, everyone in Tokyo certainly will.

Nori feels her spine stiffen. At least, she thinks to herself, it will not be difficult to find. But she does not speak this aloud. The thought has no humor to it, a grim sense of minor amusement at most.

Her eyes turn back to Madoka. She undulates up a little closer, to be more or less side by side with her.

Ah, she thinks. There are so many things I cannot be for her.

But, she thinks a little more, I can be this.

"I love you," Nori says, and then she slides her arms round Madoka and gathers her up for a brief, tight hug. Her cheek rests on Madoka's hair, her nose wrinkling just a bit at the touch of one of those tiny pigtails. "Don't worry. That damn creature must be hiding more. Wheels within wheels... I do not understand it, but it wants you to do this."

"But," Nori says, "it doesn't understand people... it doesn't understand tears... or the heart."

Nori kisses Madoka's forehead, then loosens her grasp. She smiles. Her eyes still have that light in it.

Somehow, Nori thinks, this is comfortable.

... Maybe I am just tired, she thinks. Maybe I am putting on Sayaka's dream.

... That's alright. It was a pretty dream...

... and all I ever dreamed of was to be here... in a place like this.

"It won't be easy, will it?" Nori says - more to the others than Madoka. "I don't doubt... that some of what it said was true. I suppose we will have to find Akemi. Who knows if she will be forthcoming."

Then she looks at Vita.

And this is where her heart finds a false rest, for she says to Vita, with an ease that feels almost eerie - like a sore leg that is comfortable again because it is numb - "Oh... worse than average, I would say... but usually we don't have sweets, either."

<Pose Tracker> Setsuna Meioh [Infinity Institute (U)] has posed.

"Small Lady," she whispers, and it could be a scream.

She has to get up -- she tugs harder at Kasagami's hand, and they meet all the sooner for it. It's a quick clasp, rough and hard in a way the senshi rarely indulges in, especially in the company of others. "Kassie," she murmurs into the other girl's ear. She keeps her love's hand a heartbeat longer, long enough to pull those knuckles to her own cheek beneath closed eyes. Then she draws back, she slips away like sand through fingers.

Small Lady is in need, and Puu in turn needs to go to her. The look on her face... In no time at all she is here for the other girl, present at her side with arms which ache to hug and to protect all at once.

"Small Lady," she whispers again. "It won't... be like that, again. I will do anything in my power to keep it from happening. I promise you. We will stop it."

Disaster comes, and it has its own name. Walpurgisnacht is, Setsuna realizes with her still-new understanding of the way of things, a she. Or was, once.

Their enemy speaks of the future as if it is a thing known, as if it could be, and Setsuna's chin rises. Then... she looks to the shaking girl it addresses. Madoka Kaname, carrier of so much sadness. Kaname-san, the sweet soul she remembers from the first Halloween she ever experienced, who took her hand even after Setsuna spoke her cold question.

And this beast wants to reap her, the way it did the others. To fill its quota with her grief.

"That is not yours to decide, Incubator. It is hers, and now she knows."

Its absence is a relief even as the way it simply ceases to be sends a shiver crawling up the tall senshi's spine. Ancient, inhuman in ways far more salient than boundaries of species... enemy.

She stays by Small Lady's side, one knee to the ground, herself a human promise. Whatever it takes. She will plant her bootheels firmly in the path of any apocalypse she must.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Have You Got It In You? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bbDVA5nJW2Y

"Don't listen to that thing Madoka-chan."

"We'll work something out, all of us, all of your friends."

"It told us itself, didn't it? What would happen to you."

"Don't take the bait, Madoka!"

"You shouldn't have to make that choice, Madoka-san."

"You don't have to be alone in your pain. We are with you, promise...!"

"You've always believed in us, Madoka-chan. Can you believe a little longer..?"

"We believed in you."

"I love you. Don't worry."

"It is hers, and now she knows."

Madoka's tears feel as infinite as her supposed potential, but even they cannot withstand being hugged, held, leaned against, knelt nearby. They begin to pile up behind her eyes, present but unshed, held back by the unseen force of everyone's support.

Her eyelashes inadvertantly knock them loose as her eyes close into her watery smile of agreement. She reaches out, in turn, towards those who can't reach back.