2019-05-12 - Walpurgisnacht: The Fourth Wish

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Walpurgisnacht: The Fourth Wish

Never again shall darkness touch these shores.
Never again shall wonders blight the innocent.
Never again shall hope shine alone!


Madoka Kaname, Lera Camry, Fuu Hououji, Steven Universe, Usagi Tsukino, Ren Aizawa, Vita Yagami, Takeo Akamizu, Nori Ankou, Setsuna Higashi, Rei Hino, Haruka Tenoh, Kasagami Araki, Michiru Kaioh, Mai Tokiha, Fate Testarossa, Inori Yamabuki, Mikoto Minagi, Homura Akemi



OOC - IC Date:

5/12/2019 - 06-02-2015


<Pose Tracker> Pink Moon Stick [Admin] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nux Walpurgis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LcoGD_pvKvM

<< You all cannot defeat this Walpurgisnacht. >>

Kyuubey -- the Incubator -- must be here in the wreckage of Yamanote somewhere. Its voice beams directly into the minds of those who continue to stand against the inevitable.

<< It is not your fault, >> the alien adds, in its helpful little voice -- not without condescension.

Walpurgisnacht either cannot hear, cannot understand, or simply does not care about the narration of what must have been, at some point and in some way, her creator.

She just keeps laughing.

Laughing, as one corpse collapses beneath her, and two do not.

Laughing, as the Magic Knight of Wind's cyclone breaks itself against her body.

Laughing, as the princess among HiME smashes the blaze of her heart into her face.

Laughing, as Lancelot pours lightning through himself and into her, enough to stop a million hearts in turn, though she has none.

Laughing, as Kasagami tries again and again and again and again to stab her, but somehow never finds purchase in anything but her vast skirts.

Laughing, as Princess Serenity and La Sirene de Diamant, nee Nord, refract moonlight and unlight off her every scintillating hue.

Laughing, as Pretty Cure Passion's million hearts of happiness burst into brilliant pink sparkles against her ruffling sleeves, arms spread wide to receive them.

Laughing, as the Crimson Iron Rider brings down her strongest weapon -- and through a trick of the mandalic light, causes it to strike her head, that worthless thing, instead of her gears.

Laughing as she's engulfed in another one of those immense explosions created by the concentration of too many extraordinary forces.

Laughing as it fades, and she... remains.

<< By using her powers to repeat time over and over again, always to save Madoka Kaname, Homura Akemi ignorantly and carelessly bound the fates of countless parallel universes into one another. >>

More sparkling girls have appeared; this time their ring is centered around Walpurgisnacht herself, rather than around the assembled, below. There are, therefore, far more of them than the first time.

Far, far more. None a repeat of the first wave. Every single one distinct from the last in everything but what they're made of, that mangled cosmic strangeness, beyond stars.

<< And it is the nature of Walpurgisnacht to engorge itself on nearby Witches. Witches drawn near it across worlds by the ties of fate gave it an unnatural food source that grew again and again, with every one of Homura Akemi's loops. >>

When they first take shape they're that pre-dawn blue-black, again, but quickly, far more quickly, their interiors heat up. Are they going forward through time to sunrise, or back in time to sunset?

Can you tell the difference between the beginning and the ending of the day?

Either is a death.

<< You are not only fighting this Walpurgisnacht... >>

Curling into fetal positions, they roil their bodies' temperature to the surface of that disjoint sun.

And then they explode, upwards and downwards, into columns of Witchfire.

Everything shakes.

More buildings topple, this time from seismic dismay rather than the insatiable pull of the playmistress demanding more set to arrange.

A roseate shield, a flaming web, a fulfilled promise, destiny, good luck, BAD luck...

...survival is determined by so many factors.

At last it's over, but the world is an even more broken place than it was before.

High above everything, all but invisible behind the endlessly changing complexity of her aura, Walpurgisnacht watches the final act of her play unfold.

<< ...But, functionally, every Walpurgisnacht. >>

COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Princess Mars.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Sailor Uranus.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Vita Yagami.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Cure Passion.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on La Sirene de Diamant.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Princess Serenity.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Lancelot.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Mai Tokiha.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Steven Universe.
COMBAT: FINISHER! Pink Moon Stick has used We All Fall Down on Sailor Neptune.

COMBAT: Princess Serenity fails to brace Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 426 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Princess Serenity is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Princess Mars braces 248 Fatigue damage from Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 203 Fatigue damage!
Critical Hit!  Princess Mars is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: La Sirene de Diamant braces 180 Fatigue damage from Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 147 Fatigue
damage!  Critical Hit!  La Sirene de Diamant is unable to keep fighting!  La Sirene de Diamant's Block and Parry abilities
COMBAT: Steven Universe fails to brace Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 394 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Steven Universe is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Cure Passion fails to brace Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 278 Fatigue damage!  Cure Passion is
unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Lera Camry partially dodges 52 Fatigue damage from Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 210 Fatigue
damage!  Lera Camry is unable to keep fighting!  Lera Camry's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Vita Yagami fails to brace Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 287 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Vita
Yagami is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki fails to dodge Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 355 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Kasagami Araki is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji braces 220 Fatigue damage from Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 147 Fatigue damage!
Critical Hit!  Fuu Hououji is unable to keep fighting!  Fuu Hououji's Block and Parry abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mai Tokiha fails to brace Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 369 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Mai
Tokiha is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Lancelot fails to brace Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 224 Fatigue damage!  Lancelot is unable to
keep fighting!
COMBAT: Sailor Uranus fails to dodge Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 342 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!
Sailor Uranus is unable to keep fighting!
COMBAT: Sailor Neptune braces 252 Fatigue damage from Pink Moon Stick's Finisher, We All Fall Down, taking 168 Fatigue damage!
Critical Hit!  Sailor Neptune is unable to keep fighting!  Sailor Neptune's Block and Parry abilities activate!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

The grey girl glares resentful death at her looming enemy, but if looks could kill then Homura would never have had to go to all this trouble in the first place.

She's so intent on her hurt and her anger that she almost doesn't see it coming.

But she does, this time -- at the last moments the shadow of plummeting department store doom crosses her face and Homura, Homura is possessed of reflexes which surpass world-class, possessed of one reflex in particular which she has honed above all others, and she touches thumb to silvery flywheel faster than an eye could blink--

--and nothing happens and then she looks, she spends a precious fraction of a second on heart-plummeting shock and dread to drop her gaze to a shield which has no time left to give her.


She has run out, utterly.

...Almost utterly.

There is just enough left to her for the realization that this is going to HURT.

And it does.


Homura... made a promise to her best friend... and... she will always fight to keep it...

The thought dribbles out of her, weak and thready. Like her pulse.

The flow of blood down her face is much more robust.

If she was a discarded marionette before, the girl now lying in the rubble-strewn crater could only be a broken doll. Arms should not fall like that. Knees should not bend that way.

Perhaps she could right herself, given time, given magic. Perhaps, if she had either of those things. Perhaps.

But one of her wrong-way calves disappears beneath half of a department store, and the dainty foot at its end... well, is it, any more? She does not know. She does not feel it any more, regardless. What a small, cruel mercy. She feels the rest.

So perhaps even with time, even with magic, she would not be coming away from this intact. Still...


An Olympic gymnasium meticulously enshrouded in C4 was her best shot.

Those were all of her best shots, combined.

Homura Akemi has fought so many Walpurgisnachts. If asked she would know exactly how many, and would never say. With each loss she determined, THIS will be the new thing I do to deal with THAT, and HERE will be where I finish her for the LAST TIME. Her process has both been incremental and iterative; this combustive finale is the culmination of all that has gone before. Just like the one before this, and the one before that one, and... She has fighting Walpurgisnacht down to a science, except...

Except she has been losing to it for so very long.

Never before has Homura amassed such titanic destruction. She's thrown everything she has into this and it still is not enough.

And it never shall be, thanks to Homura herself. If only she could ignore the Incubator's words... But she never has been able to, even in her strength, and she is weak now, so weak..

The Grande Dame floats on, laughing that laugh which haunts Homura's dreams, and whatever changes explosions have wrought do not impede her in the slightest. The mahou still fight, some even shout her name, but if Homura was not so absorbed in her own precipitous misery she would be angry at them, not grateful. For defying her warning. For coming to die, like she did.

A whisper bleeds from her, the sort of weak plaint she would normally despise herself just for thinking. "Why...? Why... why can't I beat her, no matter how many times I try?"

Soundtrack change: nine inch nails - Leaving Hope https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-GwX5x1cio


made a promise...

"You said you can change history so that it won't end like this, ne?"

Her hand has shaken harder, but has never felt so weak, not even when her faulty human heart left her in arrhythmic gasps. There is only one path left to her. She reaches for her shield, slowly, so slowly, and the future of an entire timeline trembles upon febrile fingertips.

"Will you save me from my stupidity... before I get fooled by Kyuubey?"

...to her best friend, to her first friend, to the girl who saved her from death and from life and from a loneliness thick enough to kill...

It's the devil's voice she hears now.

'But Homura... isn't that she became such a powerful Puella Magi thanks to your repeating time over and over again?'

And it's Madoka she sees, not the cackling unfocused blur of the Grande Dame of Witches above. Madoka, strung up by fate as sharp as razorwire -- Madoka, her eyes overflowing with tears for her dead best friend, who is not Homura -- Madoka, with her soft thumb piercing a green shell too finespun to be made of anything but soul.

She will do anything for Madoka.

She will do anything for Madoka,


But Homura has been the greatest fool of all.

Truth screams against the inside of her chest, demanding to be released, and she no longer has the strength to cage it. The words flutter from her lips -- barely, barely, like the black wings of a dying bird.

"If I go back again... I'll... I'll only make Madoka's fate worse..."

She is so very good at lying to herself, this broken doll of a girl, but her porcelain face has cracked -- see the red, liquid seams splitting her forehead, dribbling across her nose -- and the truth, once spoken, cannot be taken back.

Everything Homura has done has only made Madoka suffer more.

Her fingers... fall.

She has no more fight left in her.

Only the one path remains...

And she can no longer take it.

Shes not saving Madoka.

She is dooming her.

The only thing Homura is good for -- her promise -- is poison.

But it turns out there are two paths left to her, after all, and she takes the one she has refused for so very, very long.

Homura Akemi finally gives up.

The obscuring static of grief teems within a diamond-shaped chip of soul.

She cannot fight to keep her promise any more. She should have known, all along, that it was pointless. Worthless. After all... Homura has always been worthless.

All this time, she has only been pretending. Pretending to be strong. Pretending to be good at things. Pretending not to care.

Pretending she can change... anything.

She should have known. Madoka always deserved better than Homura. Madoka, who gives so generously of her heart; Madoka, who makes Valentine's chocolates for even the saddest of girls; Madoka, who would trade her soul to save a kitten.

Black swells like a tide in her Soul Gem -- black is a tide, rising, choking -- is there any light left within?

Madoka, who saved her, and who deserved better, a hundred heavens' worth of better, than what she got from the girl she saved. Homura should never have even tried. Madoka would be happier for it... happier yet if she'd never met a knock-kneed braid-bedecked transfer student, once upon a timeline.

Homura has always been lost. She just knows it, now... and knows she should never have been found in the first place.

It was all for nothing. For worse than nothing.

She does not feel the back of her head thud against concrete; does not feel her shattered body slump against the rubble, settling like a corpse into a coffin. All she feels is the acridity of self-hatred and beneath it, the terrified and terrifying pain of loneliness embraced until it embraces her back, wholly. She can't even cry. She is too empty, now.

This is what Homura deserves. At least one of the two of them is getting that.

A violet soul gutters, and the matching eyes of a girl who has never been more grey flutter shut.

Madoka... she thinks, but it is such a small thing: a final prayer released like a balloon into the sky, and Homura flies behind it like a string, letting it carry her away.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> You Will Become - Glen Hansard https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fEgN2uF3zcE

What is the sound of three hands clapping?

There stirs a little puff of air as Homura's hand, and the symbol of her despair borne upon it, disappear inside both of Madoka's. It takes numbers to beat size, in this case. Homura's is bigger and stronger. Madoka's are smaller, softer, and plural.

She's on her knees in the rubble beside her. Gravel that used to be depaato foundation is digging into her knees, straight through her stockings, but she doesn't wince. That just isn't the kind of pain she's concerned with right now. She's much more focused on what's shining -- and not shining -- between her fingers.

She can feel the blackness rising up within Homura's soul, as surely as though it were her own.

And she...

...if it's a smile, it's contained entirely within her eyes, because her lips are too soft and fragile to hold one up.

No, that's not quite true. It's the kind of expression that emanates from so deeply inside that she exudes it through her skin, from underneath her fingernails. It affects every aspect of how she carries herself--

--and how she carries Homura, Homura's hand.

Homura is empty but Madoka is full to overflowing, with... compassion.

Compassion can be gentle, and compassion can be kind.

But it's a terrible thing, too, to meet the eyes of the one you love and know that Madoka -- willingly, gladly, wholeheartedly in the most extreme meaning of the word possible -- is meeting you, not halfway, but in the depths of hell.

She gazes at Homura unflinchingly. The manner of her expression makes it obvious that whoever she's looking at is not ugly or weak or broken at all.

All that her eyes reflect is sadness.

"It's okay," Madoka soothes, and they are sad together. "It's okay now, Homura."

Their quiet little moment lasts forever, and it lasts no time at all.

They didn't even have to step out of the river of time for that to be true.

But it ends all the same, and slowly but without reluctance, she disentangles her hands from her protector's, and gets back to her feet with the intrinsic clumsiness of a foal not quite grown into its spindly little legs.

She turns away, her loafers making soft little scratches in the sand, to stare silently, solemnly, wide-eyed across their broken city.

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Tokyo +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+
The capital and largest city of Japan, Tokyo is a glossy neon metropolis, 
with heaped skyscrapers served by an advanced railway system. Having long 
ago coated its most desirable land in buildings, Tokyo continues to grow up 
toward the sky and out into the ocean, reclaiming land in its well-sheltered 
bay to become artificial islands. Earthquakes and firebombs purged this city 
of most of its oldest architecture, so while some of its hills are weighted 
by the heavy tile rooves of yesteryear, its skyline is that of a modern, 
Western-influenced metropolis, verging at times on the futuristic. 

Tokyo is divided into three zones. The Yamanote Zone is the southwestern 
half of inner Tokyo, an upscale area known for its weath and style that is 
home to the private Ohtori Academy. The Shitamachi Zone is the northeastern 
half of inner Tokyo, a lower-income and more traditional area that contains 
the Juuban public schools. Finally, the Tama Region is a quieter 
uptown/suburban area east of the other two zones, and hosts lush parks and 
the innovative new Infinity Institute. 

Unbeknownest to the vast majority of its residents, Tokyo is also one of a 
small handful of places on Earth where the veil between worlds is most 
porous, and beings friendly and (more commonly) hostile often slip through. 
The same tricks of arcane geography and literal buried secrets that make 
Tokyo a transit point for such foreign elements also make it fertile ground 
for magic, and so battles for the soul of this city are waged just barely 
away from the public eye.

Aa, Madoka loves Tokyo so so much. THE MOST.

She loves its shining spires, cast down.
She loves its little shops, in pieces.
She loves its water, choked to stillness.
She loves its sky, burnt to ash.
She loves its people...
She loves her friends...

She bears witness to all of it.

She /does not/ look away, even as bleakness closes itself like curtains across her face. Her lips part involuntarily with horror. Her eyes half-lid themselves in an instinctual wince.

From her place on broken bits of the home she loves, she sees destruction below, and the promise of more, shimmering above.

In between, numerous other broken people -- guardians all, and friends.

And one more.

The Incubator joins her, padding through the dust to survey the view at her side.

In response to a distressed noise from Homura, Madoka turns back around. She doesn't just look over her shoulder, but faces Homura full-on, putting Walpurgisnacht to her back. Its weirding light slightly obscures Madoka's expression -- and makes the Incubator cast a longer shadow than she herself does, oddly.

The sight of Homura restores whatever it was within Madoka that was lost, when she gazed upon what once was Tokyo. Again it transforms impersonal atrocity into personal tragedy -- focusing it, and focusing her.

Like a lens through which grief and love can pass, freely.

Her strange and sad and gentle and kind expression has returned.

Her serenity, so complicated. And so simple.

"Homura-chan... I'm sorry," says Madoka. She apologizes so often, so easily, so effortlessly; sorries are chump change to someone who historically tends to value herself so little. It is always easier to assume that she is in the wrong, than to stand up for what she knows is right.

Which is why this apology, though earnest and very, very tender, feels just a bit... off.

Now there IS a tiny smile on her lips. They have found the strength to bear the corners of her mouth upwards, just a little --

-- the strength of her heart.

It grows and spreads infectiously, becoming exactly enough of a smile to close her eyes, but they reopen, wide and guileless and -- resolute, like Mama -- as she continues.

"I will become a Puella Magi. Because... I finally understand everything. Because I found a wish I want to get fulfilled. So,"

She touches her hand to her heart, as lightly as her voice touched each word, each syllable delicate but not frail, intricate but not confused, like the Rose Window reforged in bulletproof glass.

"I'll use this life for that."

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

Lera isn't conscious to see her friend die. That may be a mercy. She doesn't, at first, even hear Kyubey's explanation of everything that happened. She drifts in and out of consciousness. It is, ultimately, a chunk of concrete slamming into her shoulder that wakes her; she groans, and her eyes flutter open.

She sees the lights of flaming webs, columns of light that used to be Witches, and the unfolding of the end of the world.

She glances at Walpurgisnacht looming above, laughing, while Tokyo is shattered. The knowledge that Kyubey gives her provides answers, but shatters her spirit less than it does another girl here. It is, instead, a long and tiring exhaustion that runs through her; one born of dead friends, of a war that she shouldn't have joined, of people driven to things they regret, and a trick played on the entire world.

Soaring Sky is chipped and cracked. His central gem flashes, weakly. It is the only sign that he is alive. Lera searches the depths of that bone-deep exhaustion, of the regrets and wishes that things turned out differently, and finds only one solace.

It isn't knowing that Usagi, Vita, and Ren are here. It isn't even knowing that Setsuna is still alive. She wishes they weren't here, even as she knows they have to be. She puts that, too, under a regret she will have to die with.

She finds an old familiar friend, and decides she doesn't hate her the way she thought she did: anger.

It's a feeling to cling to. A warmth in her chest, to give her a little strength, and a journey more than a destination. It's something to wear as a badge of pride, to choose to depart on her own terms.

Her amber eyes move towards Kyubey. She lifts Sky, and a length of plasma lightning crackles down the blade.

She speaks in a tired, raspy voice: "Shut the fuc--" A slab of concrete falls near her, the crash cutting the rest of her words out. The plasma crackles, then falls short.

Twin pink tails appear in her vision, speaking with such resolution. There is a little bit of jealousy when she hears that in her voice. Lera sighs with a final resignation at what Madoka promises. She could shoot, she thinks, but she won't.

Not with Madoka there, next to the thing.

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

Every ounce, every spark, every flicker; the Wind Knight throws everything she can muster into the Emerald Cyclone, reaching deeper and channeling more. If she could expend her health as magic, she would do so; if she could burn off her body and fuel her attack further that way, she would.

And it still wouldn't be enough - the Emerald Cyclone lashes at Walpurgisnacht to no avail. Even a mountain can be whittled away and shaped by the wind, but the Witch of Witches is immune to even this. Walpurgisnacht is not of nature; it simply *is*, and it laughs onwards.

Finally, the Wind Knight can sustain her spell no longer - and in that moment, the glimmering specters, those echoes which flock to the Witch out of nowhere, gather anew, glow, and detonate.

If there were to be the divinely blessed gift of a 'later' in which to ask the Wind Knight what happened, she wouldn't be able to tell the questioner whether it hurt more from the Incubator's dispassionate explanation, or the shockwaves of those eldritch blasts, or the sight of her allies scattered and fallen and helpless. She would only remember having an instant in which to react - to try and cushion the impact against herself, and to trust the defenses raised by a few of her friends who could still act, who *were* still acting in that moment. And she would remember the surprise of still being conscious when her battered body finally came to rest.

Surprise, and of course, no shortage whatsoever of pain. Maybe, the Wind Knight thinks in the terrible moment, she's conscious because it hurts too much to pass out. Underneath her breastplate, her chest rises and falls fitfully, her gasps uneven from the pain stitched across her torso. Her ribs, possibly, cracked or outright broken. Her head hurts, too. So do her arms. So do her legs.

She tries, briefly, to lift her head, to look around for her allies; the effort hurts, but she makes it anyway - and blinks, seeing pink hair, rosy eyes. "Ma-" Fresh pain lances through her, and the Wind Knight coughs, despite that hurting her as well. "Madoka ... -san ... why?" she gasps. "Too dangerous ..."

... a wish. By Madoka.

"But -" the Magic Knight of Wind tries to exclaim, but she can't get the air behind her words. Her scream of protest is purely internal: the Incubator *said* that if Madoka becomes a Puella Magi, she'll then become a Witch more powerful than any. And if she became a Puella Magi capable of annihilating Walpurgisnacht, then - if the power levels carried over - the ensuing Witch would ...

"You can't ..."

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

Lion creeps to his feet, as the lump of a building shudders above, held barely aloft. A sad look to Steven, and he limps one step, two steps forward. Looks back. "G...Get out of here!" the boy shouts angrily. "You can't... fight anymore! Run!" The cat's side was lacerated. He limped on a bloody paw, which for all Steven knew, could be broken. There is a silent moment where only exhaled flames and sparkling color make sense through the silt falling.

A final portal opens, and Lion is gone.

The building falls.

A side of brick and mortar explodes outward, as an expanding Bubble Shield cracks and ruptures it. "Hoof... Ugh..." Steven, visibly shaken, says. Falling to his knees, he looks back to the wreckage. "Could have did that with him... Couldn't have made it this far without him... Stay safe, buddy."


He must continue on foot.

The fight is so much harder to keep up with as the battles cross districts and parks and factories above. It was like running a marathon, and if you didn't get first place... well, let's just say you got first place. Best not to think about the rest.

EVERYONE had to get first place. At the same time. He would stop running until his flip-flops wore out. And even then would keep going, until he had skeleton feet or something.

He would never give in.


Incandescent flames chase allies down a streetway, many of the tall buildings folding inward, making an eerie tunnel of man's triumphs rent asunder. Steven watches angrily from an alleyway, still catching a breather. He waits until they pass before acting. "Keep going!" he shouts, and with all his might, whips his shield at a corner of a multi-story building tipping over, but not yet given to gravity.

The shield breaks stone and causes a catalytic reaction. The structure falls, and the blastback helps give the retreating friends seconds to get away.


In the last moments being caught off-guard, others are face to eerie upside-down face with Walpurgis, having approached them from so far, though the movement looked as though she only took a single step to reach them. Steps are metaphorical in this case, with a creature that has no lower half except for a clockwork engine.

Steven leaps out, slams his shield down, and expands it as wide as it would go, or he could support.

The flames come.

A scintillating inferno. If hell could be festive, this is what it would be like.

When it clears, and Walpurgis has found new targets to host auditions with for her grand soiree, there is a clean melted V-shape in the shopping district concrete. Rebar is melted, and structures warped, except in the path protected. Those targeted relatively unscathed.

Steven did not fare so well. Once again, the ancient power of the shield stands more resolute than its bearer. His hands and forearms look severely burned. He had to hold them out toward the shield to hold the line.

They look like they were stuck in a pot of boiling water and held there. He falls to his knees and screams in pain. The sun-level heat bled through the shield, even though the flames themselves were routed.


It was difficult to ascertain with the hit landed, though the lilted laughing growing louder should have been an indication his ambush point was compromised. He remembers soaring through the air and landing on his head.

Eyelids are heavy and and almost refuse to open. Slowly they crack and spy light. One side clear, the other bloody red. A trail of crimson trickled down the boys normally fluffy hair.

A burnt hand slowly comes out of rubble. His lower half refuses to move upright hwoever. Something has him pinned at the waist.

"Hurt... I..." He mumbles out.

Voices nearby. A familiar one. There is no way they could be here. Ears ring painfully.

An explosion. Shouts. Fighting is still happening...?

"Ma... doka..." He ekes out. Hurts to breathe. Hurts to speak. Pain. So much...

"Do... you..."

He can't talk any more. He wants to tell her so many things.

Like what would happen if she did this. What the cost would be. What she may be giving up.

But if he wasn't hallucinating, and she truly came all the way out to this brimstone-scored battlefield to do something, then there was no way she could be dissuaded now.

She stepped directly into hell to make something happen. He has been that stubborn before. He would just tell her to do what she feels is right in her heart.

But he is just seeing and hearing things, right? He is delirious.

That pink though... It came through even the red-tinged eyesight...

<Pose Tracker> Princess Serenity [Juuban Public School (10)] has posed.

"Mars...!" It is a wonderful thing to see her friend placed back in the trappings of office. To see her garbed in brilliant crimson. It is wonderful until the fire web lattice gathers around her. "Mars... what are you doing?" One would think it is a dire moment for her concentration to be divided. However right now her focus is exactly where it ought to be. The brilliance of the moment is stolen by the tragedy. And... the realization.

Of what she's doing.

It is easy enough to remember their friendship. As easy as breathing. Compared to that - Mars' duty feels secondary to her. Even dressed as a Princess of the Silver Millenium.

It is then that she understands. And her tears are hot. "...Don't. We... We have this."

Tears stream down the Princess's face as Kyubey gives out truth with all the condescension of someone telling Usagi there's no chance she won't fail the big test. It is not a personal attack - perhaps, but she takes it as one. "I don't want to hear it!" There is denial, for she's known that these things can be denied with a strong enough faith, a firm enough resolution, and a deep enough love.

The light caresses the Dame Walpurgisnacht like a lover - and she laughs. It laughs as every single Mahou Shoujo offers their best to defeat it.

It feels like Kyubey is laughing at them.

As their best efforts engulf it - and it remains.

And then it explains why.

The girl's eyes widen in a certain shock at the truth inherent in this epiphany. It does not cause her to stop in her assault - but it simply solves the mystery of Homura Akemi. Her love for Madoka Kaname. She does not understand everything. There are words in there that her mind can hardly connect and follow - but the underlying meaning remains.

How did Homura Akemi know she was Sailor Moon?

Why does she want to protect Madoka Kaname - when Madoka Kaname hardly knows her?

There is now an answer. When before there was none. There are so many gaps to be filled - more questions - but in the end. It is simply that understanding that is enough.

Madoka always being in danger...

...Homura Akemi being there.

The sparkling girls form a ring in their awful dance, becoming witch of twilit hues. It is an awful truth it hands down.

Which takes the form of the world crumbling around them. The seismic shockwave rocking into the fiery web that surrounds her that blunts the blow. . The Princess stumbling such that she seems like to trip over her hem. Falling. And the Princess has time to raise her arm skyward mid-fall. The Ginzuishou responds by reflexively conjuring a shimmering barrier of light. It's not unlike what one might have seen in her fight against Metallia. However it is not to protect her - as she remembers ancient and recent tragedy well.

It is around - Princess Mars.

It fades almost immediately, shattering like shards of glass instantly before the buffeting assault, fading away into liquid starstuff. A building falls across what used to be a street and roils out a cloud of dust over the pair.

All is quiet for a time. The incubator's awful truth hanging over the battlefield. As the dust settles.

She's on the ground, her gown having unravelled into pink ribbons that are nigh inert. The crystal returned to the open brooch over her chest. And she is on the ground.

What was that about a nap? She wants to take one right now. Her eyelids feel so heavy, in the way she's sprawled out on her side. Her eyes on Mars rather than on the doom overhead. "Mars...?" She whispers - checking...

In the distance there is a whisper. The girl they'd been looking for so long was here. Or brought here, she doesn't know which. The revelation that Homura is a time traveler is so new in her mind. In her haze, she can barely follow what she's saying - only to understand the inherent truth in it. She wants to tell her not to give up - but she's tired right now. Too tired to tell someone else to be strong.

Usagi's eyes start to close, and there are only tears at realizing the truth are so awful, in their thin-lidded gaze.

However - there's another voice. And Usagi Tsukino's blurring eyes slowly open wider. "Madoka... chan...?"

Come on. Come on, Usagi-chan, lean on me... let's go home, okay?

Even as doomed as they were - that voice... it made her feel safe and warm.

Perhaps that's what she thinks in this dream like state. That this is after Tokyo Tower again. That it's like that. It is being directed at Homura Akemi - and she still feels that way. Now she feels like she can go to sleep safely.

However then she hears...

... something that turns it into a nightmare.

And Usagi Tsukino's eyes just flare open wide, shocked so much that a few tears caught on her eyelashes suddenly flow freely. "Muh-" She croaks out the syllable, before tremblingly, placing down a palm, she thinks she can see a little smile - like someone about to sacrifice themselves. Like the way Venus smiled at her on D-Point before saying she's going to catch up, except without the lie to spare her feelings concealing its intent. She sees it as a smile that holds so much...

... sacrifice. "-Madoka- No! Please! Don't- don't let that thing-! If you do that-!"

The thought of Madoka Kaname - becoming the same thing her best friend became. The thought of Madoka Kaname becoming that thing that just decimated all of them. Another unfortunate girl trapped in its web.

"Don't-!" There is blubbering in her tone, unable to even articulate why with words. There is fear in her tone. Fear of loss. Having seen something else in the sacrifice that she's known in this girl. In what she feels she lacks. "... Madoka... chan... please... I duh-don't want to lose you! I... I love Madoka-chan... just the way she is."

There's an even fainter whisper, an echo of Madoka's words delivered once to her. Similar to an undelivered text message. Except... instead... of saying it is okay. It is a plea.

"Please... love her too."

COMBAT: Princess Serenity transforms into Usagi Tsukino!
<Pose Tracker> Ren Aizawa [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Laying on her back, staring up at the darkened sky, Ren breathes.

In. Out.

In. Out.

It takes everything for her to turn herself over onto her side, resisting the urge to cry out in pain when her body protests via the injuries she's sustained. Endo. She has to...

She begins to crawl, much like an insect that is barely clinging on to life. Slowly she drags herself across the battered and broken ground to where she can just make out his form. Whatever Kyuubey says is completely lost. There's no time to listen to that horrible little creature's words. She has to get to Endo before-

The great and terrible witch causes more mayhem in that moment, causing what feels like the very foundations of the Earth itself to quake uproariously. The chunk of ground Ren's form is splayed upon upends and tosses her forward. She doesn't scream or shout, instead reaching a hand out towards Endo as she goes sailing slightly past him, impacting with the ground with a sickening crack.

She's still.

And then...

Ren stirs, coughs, and picks her head up. Her gaze focuses on Endo first... then, out of the corner of her vision, she spies pink hair.

Madoka. She's here. Ren here's Fuu's protests soon after, and it dawns on her just what she's here to do.

A wish.

Weakly, she begins to crawl again, sheer determination getting her over to Endo. And it's the same determination that allows her to summon the strength to sit up and pull the boy's head into her lap. She cradles him, stroking his hair back from against his forehead, amber eyes gazing down at his still form. Then, cracked lips part to whisper something.

"I'm here..."

With that said, she returns her gaze to Madoka -- pristine and untouched Madoka who braved the end of the world to be here in this grave hour.

More pleas come, this time from Steven and Usagi. Ren, however, remains quiet, and watches...

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

Vita lowers her hammer with all the titanic strength her body contains, every trace of magic she has left in her. Every Cartridge she can load into it she deploys, power crashing down.

And still the thing perseveres. She's sure she positioned for the gears, but that mandala is twisting things, somehow. Nothing she can't destroy. That's been the word.

But she can't DESTROY what won't REMAIN HIT.

Vita floats, face twisting, as Eisen withers down to his normal polo form. She turns and starts down toward Lera and the others. This isn't working. They need a plan, of some kind. SOMETHING that can--

Then the pillars of fire. It misses her, by some miracle, but the eruption, the catastrophic blast waves and flaring rubble churn the air, sending Vita careening wildly. "EISEN!" she screams, half audible; <<PANZERHINDERNIS!>> the Armed Device replies. She is wreathed in crystalline light.

Two shockwaves later it explodes, and Vita, like a crashing airplane, burning, burned, and screaming, careens toward the rubble of Tokyo and slams into the wall of what was a donut shop, three hours ago. Glass, masonry, dust, flour and sugar fly into the air in the aftermath. Vita lies in a crumpled pile, half-embedded in a display case, blood pooring from a cut scalp. Everything's hazy. Her mouth tastes like copper. She spits a mouthful of red, and strains. She STRAINS, she DRAGS, she grips herself and FORCES herself forward, out onto her feet, which hold her for four seconds of stumbling before they turn to jelly and flop her out onto the ruined street.

"It doesn't," she wheezes, "hurt," and she slams her fist to the ground as her entire spine screams. "It DOESN'T," she snarls, "HURT!"

She jams Eisen into the ground, head first, for stabilty as she forces strength through tortured shoulders. "It doesn't hurt...half as much...as her...as all the people that rat betrayed...it doesn't HURT..."

She puts everything into her shoulders and lifts her knees a full 12 centimeters. "So people...don't have to make these DAMN choices...."

"It can't..." She heaves again, a new surge. "HURT...."

Eisen skitters against broken earth and fails her. She falls with a yelp, collapsing in a boneless heap. She wheezes. She breathes, ragged, as her eyes dazedly drift to a puff of pink above them.

Shehe slaps her palm to the ground. "It doesn't--" she begins again.

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

The lightning hits, but simply washes over Walpurgisnacht, the power he unleashes is frightening, and yet it simply isn't enough. Lancelot falls to one knee. He grits his teeth tries to pour on more power. Anything and everything he has is put into that strike, and when he can't channel anymore energy, he does anyway.

Until finally he can't.

Already on one knee, Lancelot falls to his side, his hands smoking and burned very badly. Somehow he looks at the Witch of Witches and begins to ry to get to his feet once more. To push on, regarless. He doens't have much left, but he has enough for maybe, maybe, one more attack. One more bolt to send in defiance of hell.

He's looking at the thing that killed the two Pretty Cure. He's looking at the thing that killed his friend, Endo Naoki, somebody he's joked with, and spent winters in Hokaido with. It's telling that their relationship had been mostly in the Magical Community and that somehow he considered Endo to be one of his better friends. He finds Ren with a quick turn of his head and his heart simply breaks for her.

One more attack. He can channel power for one more attack.

Only ... He can't.

He looks to Mai and he almost breaks down in tears, his breath coming out in a sob. He want sto say something. Anything. He wants to whisper words to her that comfort and let her know that somehow, someway, we can, we WILL win.

Only he can't.

He said everything he needed to over a year or so since their dance. In awkward silences, in shared lunches, in badly cooked cake, and many attempts at having a real date. And of course, in the rain with atcual words. There was nothing he could say now that would make things better or do anything but be empty promises. He can't do that to her. He is, as he told her after all, only human.

Then his head whips toward Madoka. When in the hell did she get here? "No! Madoka-chan! Don't do it! That thing is the damn devil! Don't sell your soul to it, not for us, not for anybody!" He struggles to his feet, his hands curled and held close to his battered and blackened breastplate. He's shakey on his feet as he looks at her. "I can summon Sparkles, she can get you far from here, please, whatever that ... 'thing' is offering isn't worth it, he's using you! Please Madoka - "

His legs get out and he falls to a knee again, putting a burned hand to catch himself and cries out in pain as he rolls onto his back and whispers, "Please .... Just ... run .... "

<Pose Tracker> La Sirene de Diamant [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Phdd9WBwQU

The radiance fades from her. La Sirene feels herself sway. When the creature speaks to her -

The Devil is kind. In an abstract way.

It is sickening, almost, to la Sirene. Malice she could understand. Callous exploitation. But the creature is encouraging them. Sort of. At least, it seems to comprehend that... that...

Endo, Nori thinks, and then not of anything else for a moment.

The Witch is laughing. And the Incubator --

-- says --

What? la Sirene thinks, the allure of enigma making her atually attend.

... Time?

But, la Sirene thinks, as her vision grays and brightens and grays again, I thought... I thought she had power over explosives. Fireworks or something. I suppose... "that does make sense," la Sirene mumbles aloud.

She gazes ahead towards the sparkling girls.

'You are not just fighting this Walpurgisnacht...'

La Sirene feels her spine stiffen. She finds strength enough to stand upright. Strength enough, despite its silence, to brandish Fallen Stern with one hand as if it were a fencing rapier. "Look fuh-favorably on this," she begins, and then--

Well, in the end, it is neither the Siren of Diamond who breaks first, nor Walpurgisnacht, however infinitely refracted. It is, it seems, Tokyo itself that cries out in dismay. The ground itself shakes and la Sirene staggers forwards nearly five yards before she topples forwards, bracing herself on the Device and managing mostly to land on the ground in a controlled way rather than on her face. A shower of brickwork smashes down into her back and she cries out piteously. "No - o - o - o - please," she gasps. "Please, at least -"

She tries to get up a total of four times, each attempt weaker than the rest, before she lays on her belly, fingers dragging down the side of the Device. Her hair falls in front of her right eye. Her left eye sees.

It sees...


I have died, la Sirene thinks with a flabby distance. She's speaking to Homura. Ah, that's Homura there. Maybe if I reach her... oh; what is the use now. Perhaps it is alright if I give up here. I tried... the best that I...

Madoka looks towards them. For a moment la Sirene meets her eye and she blinks away tears. I hope, she thinks, that the whales got loose. They could flee into the ocean. Far far away. To wheresoever they wished.

I wish I could go there, she thinks. She can't find her voice. She tries, weakly, to smile at Madoka. She calls out no denials. Not now.

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

There--there, again. That voice. Cure Passion cannot muster right now the particular feeling she thinks she is coming to associate with the Incubator and his 'helpful' words. She has room in her heart only for a final, desperate outpouring. She does not think, now, that she can destroy the monster before her. She has found the limits of her violence, and her fists, and this, she can accept. But even so...

If just one of those refrains of laughter could show something beyond despair--If only--if only she could reach beyond the horror to what she knows must have been part of her, through the souls that came to fight them, to something precious--

Her world was already blurred from tears and effort. Now, as the last of what she can do ends, her song ends with it--and there... There, she is present. She laughs. And those girls--So many. So, so many. And Kyubey's words.

"She..." To repeat time. To bind fate, over and over. It wasn't only one. It was never only one. Across parallel worlds...

Cure Passion stares as the souls heat. That must be what they are. And it is so much. The sheer scale goes so far beyond even what she knew, even what she could previously think, the difference between worlds and galaxies, and a girl from another parallel world can only watch as they curl--

Everything shakes. Passion has no effort left to devote to her defense.

Thre is fire, and there is light, and Sailor Mars did not leave them at all. Maybe, a part of her can reflect, she can give back... one of those cocoas. And this...

It is a death. ...But it is not hers. Once more, Cure Passion stays in this world when she could easily have left it. She recognizes that the flames do not erupt against her, that the concrete does not fall on her, as the ground shakes and shakes and shakes and the beautiful defenses above hold, but the sheer violence of it all sends her tumbling. The Passion Harp blinks away; Akarun, unmanifested, would surely be frightened so show herself. She has no more defense--her attempt to bring her arms to shield herself is sluggish, her attempts to roll with the impacts ineffective. In time, the dust and debris settles, and in the middle of this field of destruction, she finds a resting point, hitting the ground roughly. ...She wouldn't be elsewhere. It had said this Witch was unbeatable, and yet...

She'd said it then, hadn't she? That, whether they could win, or not...

Passion hears a small voice--and her eyes from where she lay crumpled on the ground, leaning on a chunk of concrete, cast out to find the form of Homura Akemi. Touched in red--broken, destroyed, and yet... Alive. For so long Passion has known despair, and yet...

"You're..." She can't survive, with those injuries. Is this how the change comes, for a Puella Magi? "You're alive," Passion breathes, and it is a tiny joy in this awfulness even if it will not and cannot last. It compounds; she blinks, and there, a friend, a familiar pink-haired friend, and only after Setsuna feels the simple happiness of seeing her safe does she realize where she is, where she must be, and she blinks, her exhausted heart turning once more towards worry. "Madoka-chan," she starts, something beginning to come together. She looks so--

Just her face, just that expression, is so arresting; Passion thought she was out of tears, but she isn't at all, and something again grips her heart. Before she even says it...

Something is wrong. It may seem obvious, but simple, broad truths--these are emotions that anyone can have. And Passion tries to work it out, as she with effort turns her head, looks to the others, sees Lera living, angry, vibrant--

And she is so glad, then.

She cannot reach her, in the moment--she thinks to try, and then she thinks instead, as the shape of what is wrong occurs to her, to reach madoka, as she--she apologized. Is this--


She remembers, what was said. But Madoka Kaname seems so sure. She seems to know so well, and Setsuna feels the desperate fear that comes of knowing--that sometimes, where people msut go, you can never follow.

"Wait," she asks, and she can't imagine what it is, can't think. "I--"

"I don't understand!" Her cry is plaintive, even childish, and she can only reach out a hand. "What--what is it, that you--"

Why? Passion lacks the power now even to move, but--


<Pose Tracker> Princess Mars [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"I'll keep you safe," Princess Mars says -- swears, as Serenity questions her methods. Preparing to counter an attack instead of launching her own offensive. "Give her hell." And maybe it's not just the Princess speaking, now. The threat of death looms over them, chiming at crystalline vows -- but it's not just one life she's lived, now.

And so the world explodes. Firstly through their efforts -- efforts the Incubator deems hopeless. "Be silent!" Princess Mars demands of it, but their explosion fades and the Witch is still here.

She knows something of explosive force, too. Witchfire expanding out, exploding, rocking existence.

"No!" Another demand, as Tokyo crumbles around them. That web of flame surrounds Princess Serenity, foremost, searing through a steel beam, a hunk of concrete, smaller things -- a potplant discarded from an apartment window, a television, a bicycle.

But it is a larger lattice than that; it extends, lashing out at a car sailing towards Cure Passion, a hunk of road which threatened Lera in her unconsciousness, a broad billboard toppling towards Kasagami and the top of the building which follows it. Foremost, Usagi: after her, the rest.

She even strikes at the earth, where fissures threaten to open and the ground tries to push up against itself. She denies them, answering force with force. She can't stop the shaking. Princess Serenity stumbles --

-- still clumsy, she thinks --

-- and it's the last normal fond thought she manages to have before she realises what Serenity has done.

"Wait--!!" She cries, as she is encased, as everything is reversed and she is the one kept safe. And it's in that moment of panic -- of fear -- that her endless efforts waver, and debris overwhelms flame.

(Don't judge her too harshly. Even a Princess destined to safeguard another is only one girl. Walpurgisnacht, as Kyubey says, is everything.)

The barrier is overwhelmed, too. It shatters, leaves a building behind.

Rei Hino is not clad in elegant red dress any more -- not even in white and red and purple. She lies in what was once a nice, open window. Now it is shattered, twisting metal where it used to glide open and -- glass, of course. I'll be cut to ribbons if I move, too, she thinks.

And then she hears Usagi's voice and that doesn't matter so much any more -- she strains to reach for her anyway. She bites down on the sound she wants to make as her fingers stretch and can't quite make it without shifting something which feels too broken inside. "I'm here," she says, instead. It doesn't feel like enough. "I'm here..."

Someone else is here, too.

She turns her face this time and sees a flash of pink -- that same girl she promised Usagi they'd keep safe. She's here, she's here with Homura -- Homura's alive, at least for now Homura is still alive -- and she is speaking with conviction, Rei thinks. She would recognise that tone anywhere.

But if Madoka Kaname becomes a Puella Magi, she will become the most powerful Witch.

And they can't even defeat this one.

She can't help the way tears spring to her eyes, hearing Usagi plead.

She hears someone in the wreckage, and Vita's conviction gives her strength anew to struggle, pushing at the edge of the window to try and leverage herself up: "... tch... right! This isn't over. As long as -- we're here --" a moment of silence as she hisses breath through her teeth, collapsing back to the ground. (Crunch.) Thready desperation weeds through her, in the little pauses for pained breath and the strain of keeping it out of her voice. "We'll never stop fighting to save you -- Madoka-chan!"

Rei's hands tighten to fists as something bites at her inside, teeth all locked together. "We're not done yet. We're not done yet!" One more time, pushing herself up. (How many times has Homura been here, she wonders -- how many times has she reversed the tragedy of Madoka wishing? How many times have they --) she manages to get a leg bent, pushes her flat sole against the debris. "Don't--!" Rei might have said more, here, but the word strangles in her throat as it becomes a sound of pain instead. Gravity plays favourites; down she goes. "... don't," she says again, instead, and does her valiant best to stop it coming out as a whimper.

(Sometimes her best is not good enough.)

COMBAT: Princess Mars transforms into Rei Hino!
<Pose Tracker> Sailor Uranus [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

So then. The pact is fulfilled.

Sailor Uranus hops off the edge of her building, catching a drainage pipe with one hand and skidding along it with her boot for a few meters, until she's low enough to jump. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with her partner, Uranus gives herself a moment. Her path has kept her in the dull light of dusk for so long, but every now and then, even she can do something she's proud of. Something it wouldn't hurt her to see.

There is silver light in her eyes, and it takes Uranus a moment to realize that the moon is below the clouds. Princess.

So it's true, then. Love your life, and it will love you back.

This fight should not be worth their lives. Uranus has no doubt that at least one Outer Senshi will survive this--doubtless clutching at least one lamp saved from that strange room of hers. If Saturn is the only one of their number that remains when dawn breaks, this world and many others are doomed. Tokyo is all but lost already, and however much damage Walpurgisnacht may mete out, all indications are that it will not wipe out humanity. The Outer Senshi have fought hard today, and they have repaid their debt. Duty demands that they retreat.

But... duty to whom?

"Neptune," Uranus calls softly. She turns to her partner. "Maybe..." There's an almost pleading tone to her voice. "Maybe we can still win this." A gamble, double or nothing. Put the survival of the whole solar system on the table, and with luck, maybe they can win back Tokyo.

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Neptune [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

'Maybe we can still win this...'

The wind cries.

Sailor Neptune wishes that she could, too.

She looks at the beautiful wild eyes of Sailor Uranus and she knows already what she will say - it was written the moment she understood Uranus's question - and her stomach clenches, a ripple of self-disgust washing through her. Yes, though she may be fair, the rippling shudder of that sensation, that betrayal, that miserable and cold and murderous decision --

She might as well sharpen her teeth on their bones. And yet. And yet there is no choice. It is damnably unlikely that the one who they must fight has perished in this-- Sailor Neptune does not believe in fortunate connections or strokes of good luck, not any more, not after the one that she thought she had has put so much terror in her life. To balance out the joy? Perhaps-- but if she had left well enough alone-- She herself would have been alone, but...

But Sailor Uranus would not be gazing here, at her.

She breathes in. She breathes in the burning air of the dying city. She quavers. Ah, she thinks, I'm being cruel. Rip it off. She can hate me. As she breathes out--

"No," she replies. It is quiet. Sad. Her eyes are turned down. "... We have done what we could. We-"

<Pose Tracker> Sailor Uranus [Infinity Institute (12)] has posed.

Uranus, for all her size and strength, is as small as anyone else today. Compared to that thing ruining the city, she may as well be Usagi Tsukino herself. She knows this. She knows World Shaking can't do anything Fallen Stern or the Silver Millennium Crystal itself cannot.

But her eyes are so blue, right now. And she wants this so badly. She wants permission to believe, and if the world won't give it to her, then perhaps Sailor Neptune can.

Her powerful shoulders slump down, beneath a dark navy sailor scarf. Uranus looks down for a moment, her dirty face resigned. Then she places her gloved palm on Neptune's cheek. They should be running already. They should have run as soon as their spear was off.

"You're so strong," Uranus tells her. "Even after all this time, I'm trying to keep up."

Neptune can see the weary resolve in Uranus's face. She can sense with near certainty that the decisiveness she feels in her partner is a renewed submission to her mission. But wise as she is, Neptune will realize she is only near certain. What if it is her liege rather than her mission that the senshi has chosen? Hand still on Neptune's cheek, Uranus turns her face towards the light of the moon, and the flowing silver dress in the distance. To bid farewell, or to answer?

Witchfire erupts, a chaotic energy of incredible magnitude. Neptune and Uranus have expended their chance for retreat in indecision, and Neptune can see the agony of guilt as Uranus's eyes shift back to hers. "Cover!" Uranus urges, and when she splits off from Neptune it is in unison, as part of their usual tune. She separates but coordinates. She's running away, not forward.

Diving behind the apartment building, Uranus covers her head. Flame and rock hammer down upon her as the sky goes black.

Long seconds pass.

A white glove shoves through rubble, and Uranus drags her blonde mane through the debris, gasping, "Neptune!" With a groan, she pushes a concrete block with a foot, shifting it until it topples off the pile and down to the ground. But that is all she can do. She reaches her hand out towards Neptune, symbolically, then lets it drop, panting.

"M-my fault," she smiles miserably.

In the distance she can see it. Uranus's eyes have always been sharp. The pink hair is enough, given that she already knows Homura's location. Weakly, Uranus rests her chin on her forearm, and squints her eyes closed.

"...always that kind of girl, isn't it?" she asks Neptune.

That goes to the stake, she means.

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

Over and over and over again, Kasagami tries, to no avail to land a blow on the deceptively agile Witch. With every blow the Duelist's screams grow louder, attacks more keen and focused. The world is only herself and trying to end the Witch that's devouring Tokyo and its defenders.

Or so she'd like it to be, as the words of the Incubator grind into her skull once again. The realization is enough to make her pause, landing on a heap of rubble. Surveying the others as they, too, try in futile actions to put down the grand beast that they've chosen as their opponent.

Kassie flicks her blade to clear it of the detritus of battle, shivering at the implications. A Witch devouring witches from timelines long gone, Homura's every action strengthening it. It makes a horrific amount of sense that sends the Duelist's blood running cold.

Just how can she, they, or anyone fight such a gorged opponent. For all her grand dreams and ambitions, in this moment Kasagami Araki starts to feel utterly inadequate before such circumstances. During that moment of weakness and doubt, she prays that Pluto is safe, that her Uncle is safe, that somehow they'll pull through.

Then she sharply curses herself for listening to the mind-invading alien, reminding herself once again of just who is responsible for it all. Kasagami prepares herself for one final attack. "This is all your fault you devil! Don't you dare tell us who and what we can't beat for the sake of our home!" The words feel hollow on her tongue, but she simply cannot let Kyuubey's words stand. Hands grip her blade harder, a little more sure. Arrogance, at least, can be a fortress for the Duelist. She can't imagine herself as doing anything other than going out fighting, even if this is foolish and imposible to win. It's what a King would do, right?

And then, the ground shakes, Witchfire from the erupting lost souls blinds her. Heat enough that she fears for blisters once more on her face finds her as she raises her guard defensively. Shadows of falling debris lance for her from the shaking and crumbling buildings that the Witch fells with its power and minions, battering at Kasagami. She doesn't know where she is, nor how close she is to the fallen Homura Akemi. Once again the girl hits the ground hard as Tokyo is further ruined, flagging adrenaline not hiding the pain of shattering ribs and other effects of such a rough fall.

And a massive billboard casts it's weight downwards, seeking to crush her. She can do nothing but look up as it comes for her. Her sword is just out of reach. Is this how it ends? "Setsu-chan, I'm so..."

This time, flame is her saviour as that billboard is reduced to ash. It jolts Kasagami to wakefulness, even if the resulting agony makes her wish for unconsciousness. Finding a hand that still functions, she slips it into her pocket. A jangle, and she swallows something, gasping as she finds the clarity to cast her gaze over to the Princess of Mars. A smile, one of relief, as she too in turn is saved by Serenity, by Moon. Why did she ever insult these girls? But the momentary hope is shattered by wracking pains, and the ever-present laughter of Walpurgisnacht above mocking their failures. Even that, however, pales in comparison to the sheer terror she experiences as she hears the words of Madoka Kaname.

Slumped over, unable to properly do more than crawl for a few movements, Kassie's good eye turns to stare in horror at Madoka as offers to trade her life to the Incubator. Letting out a shriek as she shoves herself up, ribs protesting and moving in unhealthy ways, she gasps for breath to find words to put to her feelings.

She grits her teeth, finding herself on the eve of witnessing a tragedy in bloom. She's never seen it herself, and it's the last thing she wants to witness, the birth of a Puella Magi.

"Madoka! Don't you dare do this! You're throwing your life away!" She starts, a sob piercing her voice, mixing with anger and fear.

An aching, bruised, battered arm cuts the air. "Giving that little monster exactly what he wants! Please, I beg you, don't put your friends and family through this! Find another way! I don't want to be crying over your coffin too, okay!?"

She tries to shove herself up to her feet. "We can...destroy that...Ahhh!" And then she collapses back down, a sea of red and black hair obscuring all but a single good eye streaked in pain and tears.

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

Mai's heart blazed with all her fury, pushing to her limits and beyond, and it wasn't enough.

The ashes of the district are barely any cushion as she hits the ground, drained of what strength she'd managed to muster. The pain on impact is sharp, rooted in reality, reminiscent of a leg injured in desperation. How long might she be laid up this time?

Optimistic, perhaps, to think she might live long enough for the injury to matter.

Kyubey's 'voice' triggers an instinct - spurs her, for a moment, to try to lunge to her feet, to lash out at that smug little fairy. It's a mistake - even trying to move feels like too much, sends a twinge, and her fire seems to have burnt itself out.

It speaks of repeating time, and a few pieces of the mystery that is Homura Akemi seem to click into place. Her actions surrounding the Jewel Seeds, her assassination of Alyssa Searrs - if those were driven by knowledge from another history, then maybe the girl in violet can be understood.

Its explanation of Walpurgisnacht doesn't matter to Mai - she's too distracted by impotent rage at how smugly Kyubey talks about it.

Those visions of stardust, though - those girls of other times, other worlds, dancing endlessly. Given how dangerous even one of them was, the sight should be terrifying - but as burnt out as she is, Mai can only feel sorrow. Sorrow that they had lives that led to existing here - sorrow that so many sacrificed themselves like every other Puella Magi.

When those stars blaze bright, becoming a conflagration of Witchfire, Mai can only close her eyes in resignation, buried among the ashes.

There's a cry, as the world ends.

When it burns, when it crumbles-

There's voices, beyond the end of the world, and Mai opens her eyes to witness an even more unfamiliar wasteland.

Why is she alive?

Maybe it was the efforts of those driven to protect - Steven's shield, or Mars's lattice of flame. Maybe it was her Element or Child conjuring a barrier without her will behind it. Or maybe it was her element - the love of fire, the cushion of the ashes of a city, to blow her away like yet another cinder on the wind.

Maybe it's a question deeper than this struggle.

Mai Tokiha lies in a circle of ashes, blackened and scorched beyond their previous incineration, and she coughs out some of those she had inhaled. She's slow to stir, and barely moves when she does - a small cry accompanying the attempt to move one arm. Her signature rings are gone, faded from exhaustion or from that desperate attempt to preserve her life.

It's barely possible to move - the most she can manage at first is to turn, just enough to meet Takeo's gaze. There's meaning in his eyes, apology conveyed with a glance - and Mai flinches away, unable to answer in kind. A promise to survive seems so...so petty, now.

What might this fight cost, she'd wondered.

The voices are getting louder, more desperate, and she's barely able to place them. Usagi's plea, Fuu's protest, Vita's denial, Takeo's warnings, Kasagami's rage, Mars's desperation...

Madoka Kaname's determination.

The words filter in as Mai catches sight of that familiar pink hair, of that precious figure bravely walking forward. Mai tries - she tries to roll to her knees, tries to rise to follow, tries to do anything - but her strength is spent. She'd poured out her heart and soul in senseless fury and now that it matters -

"Madoka-chan, your life..." Her voice is all she has left to offer, and even that's so very weak. She should protest like so many others, to argue that this girl shouldn't have to sacrifice herself.

But in her current state, Mai doesn't have the strength for hypocrisy.

"...are you sure?" Her words sound so small - Mai feels so small, unable to deter someone from such a familiar course. It's a feeble question, but it's all she has, all she can do. "Are you...really sure your wish is worth that?"

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Fate Testarossa is on the ground. Her Barrier Jacket is gone. Bardiche snapped in half at her side, his yellow gem glowing faintly. Her blonde twintails and skin caked in dust.

Endo is dead. The last time she'd spoken to him...

... it isn't fair she didn't get to follow up on it.

Lera is in a bad state. The Pretty Cure are gone. And...

"Vita..." It is quiet, as Vita says it doesn't hurt. "... you..." And perhaps she understands the girl a little better in this moment. Something in her heart twists to hear her trying so hard for other girls. "... it's okay to say it hurts."

Why was it like this? It was like the world offered second chances to girls like her. To girls like Vita.

And gave none at all to girls like Sayaka - and Mami Tomoe.

What made them more worthy? It felt like it stole happiness away from everyone else to give it to Hayate - or the Wolkenritter - or herself.

Something about Kyubey reminded her of her mother. Without malice or anger - simply in how it used people, feeding into their delusions. It is like something in Vita's words click in that moment. About the choices girls have to make.

Would it be the same for Hotaru? Would she be another girl like these unfortunate Puella Magi? Or - another miracle?

If you asked her right now, Fate would give no answer. Her eyes would say it all from the despair.

Homura Akemi feeds into that. The idea of trying to save a girl again and again and all it resulting in is an unbeatable monster and failure.

Why is the world like this?

There is Madoka Kaname though. She knows her as a presence at the Chevaliers meetings - and trick or treating as James Bond. Her eyes slide over to her from her position laying on the ground.

There is something in the things she says that reminds her of...

"I trust her."

Sometimes despair becomes hope due to the strangest things. There is something almost childlike in her sense of trust. It comes from a girl telling her on Halloween that she can in fact be a hero - when before she was a villain.

"After all..."

And it comes from a girl who managed to make her smile when she was sad from the simplest of things.

"... she knows some powerful magic."

shaken not stirred

If Fate tried to articulate what she means by that. She would sound more a child than ever. Yet right now she trusts in the judgment of this girl who lost her best friend in the worst of ways - a girl who made her smile once upon a time.

<Pose Tracker> Inori Yamabuki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Cure Pine isn't Cure Pine anymore right now. Inori Yamabuki lays on the dirty ground. Her whole body trembling with injury. It is moments like these that she doubts her choice. That she doesn't believe.

Just like when Setsuna died.

Now it's because she's mourning White and Black. Even after they fell she told herself to believe. To believe. That like Setsuna - there might be happiness. The kind of happiness Love always promises just by being in her presence. That if she strived hard enough - they'd get it.

And the two would be back. Curled up in the fetal position she sobs, mourning the fact that they won't. That all amount of belief means nothing in the face of Walpurgisnacht.

Believing death comes at any moment, she sucks in a breath and squeezes her eyes tight and waits. Mourning small dreams like dancing or becoming a veterinarian. Mourning lost friends.

It doesn't come though. She has the sense that Walpurgisnacht is such an apex predator that it need not concern itself with finishing them off. A lion does not concern itself with stomping on ants repeatedly.

Her eyes slowly draw themselves back open, relaxing in her despair. Would Cure Black be proud of her that she saved all those stray kitties?

The two died hand in hand. It's fitting at least. Even if it's cold comfort.

It is Setsuna she hears first, wrapped up in herself. Which causes her to look out in a daze, comprehending only barely what's happening.

"Secchan... I'm so glad... you're..."

It settles in quickly. The terrible choice that Madoka Kaname - her classmate is making. To make a contract is to risk becoming something awful. She understood only the barest glimmer of the girl's suffering in her experiences with her. That day at the Midoriya...

... but she knows her classmate has a good heart, and cares a lot. That should mean something. Her friends always taught her that it did.

In her eyes tears. And there is a certain resignation in the way she exhales, in the expression that one can read on her face.

"Maybe we don't... have to understand..."

It is her response to Setsuna. She didn't understand Eas for so long - or Setsuna Higashi. It came eventually.

There was something else though about her relationship with Setsuna Higashi and Eas though that was always true - long before there was understanding between them.

"... maybe we just have to believe..."

When all belief in one's self is gone - it has always been the simplest thing for her to place that belief in someone else.

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

Mikoto Minagi should be satisfied.

Was satisfied, for a moment, to see Mai block her dueling opponent like that, a gesture born of instinct. To see the Wind Knight helping her.

They are tiny moments of hope which tinnily strand together around a growing core of desolation. It's hard to see the screens any more. She's crying too too much, biting down on a finger to stop from calling her name, the others curled around her jaw. Her other hand clutches her pendant to her chest, feels her heart pounding fast with each staccato breath.

She doesn't want to see, but her Lord Brother was kind enough to let her know what's happening to her friends. She can't spite that gift by turning away. Even though it hurts so, so much, to watch in helplessness as they're hurt. Lancelot, beginning to sag between his motions. Steven, bringing them together to strike. Kasagami retreating in the face of flame.

Lera's Barrier Jacket isn't holding. La Sirene's holding that glass from another world in her bare, bare hand. Cure Passion is burning. Vita is too, even though she has barriers.

The other Pretty Cure are doing what they do best.

That boy, too.

It isn't enough.

And she should be satisfied.

Because there's a hand where his skin ought to be, ribs muscle organs, and she knows at once how horrific the wound and a strangled noise whines past her fingers. She wanted this. Had to want this, pride and identity and stoked-hot hatred, made desperate by survival and fear. He's dying. He's finally dying. It's what he deserves, isn't it?

Except that through her tears she sees him grasping at that hand, struggling to see his friends, gaping like a fish out of water and he can't hold his sword or his weight and he crumples. And she should smile but it's a sob which breaks through her fingers, and she knows she never wanted this at all.

They die and they don't come back and she never wanted it, not even the ones she hates, it's not fair that they're gone. It's horrible. It's horrible and she hates it. She doesn't want this.

Maybe that's why she couldn't do it, on Shinjuku's roof, as the moonlight shined through.

It hurt too much to do it again.

He can't, and she can, but she doesn't want to, she doesn't want it, she doesn't want this.

She realises through her tears as she searches the screens that she cannot see Cure White or Cure Black any more, either, and she moans new horror through her fingers.

But where is Mai - where is Mai?!

There, spending everything. Falling from the air, landing and not rising, though she tries, she can see her try. Not even Princess Serenity can assuage the fear she feels, then, because she has watched every moment of their struggle and she knows.

She knows.

It won't work.

They can't win.

A thin, mewling sound pulls from her as the world trembles too, and Mai's Element is gone now. Without it...

... without it, she...

Suddenly Mikoto finds her legs will not hold her and she falls to the black stone below, sword-case clattering beside her. Madoka has found her way to them - to Homura; she is the centre of their world, on the surface. Mikoto cannot tear her eyes from that one screen, the way Mai tries to rise and fails.

She'll die, Mikoto realises, ice clamping shut around her heart.

Walpurgisnacht could do anything at all and Mai will die.

Mikoto will be fine. It can't touch her here, in her Lord Brother's sanctum. He would abjure any attempt, she is certain, because she knows he is stronger than anything else. But they are not involved. He would involve them if he willed it.

He hasn't.

She can't.

She's breathing too fast, whining little things, and she has to look up higher to see the screens now. Mai, she screams and says nothing, Mai, Mai, Mai.

And everyone... everyone else...

Even that girl who made sure the stray cats were all safe...

Madoka is the only one standing, and it doesn't seem so strange to Mikoto, any more. They've done too much together for her to think of her as a bystander.

But hope is a distant memory, and all she tastes is horror.

"Lord Brother!" She mewls, laid broken, and he is there beside her. She grasps for the fabric about his knee, leans heavily against his leg, and feels his fingertips trailing soothingly through her hair.

And she looks up at the screens, and she waits for them to die.

I'm sorry, she screams, and it echoes through the hollow of her chest and traps in her heart. I'm sorry, Mai, I'm sorry.

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

Fate rasps at her as Vita struggles to get strength through broken limbs. "IT CAN'T!" Vita suddenly screams. "It--" she grits her teeth and groans and tenses, pain making her clench which only makes the pain worse. Her teeth hurt, like everything. Maybe they'll crack this time. "If I can't," she stammers out, and wheezes, "If I give up...while people are in pain...if I give up because it HURTS, then their pain gets even worse! This...."

She chokes out a noise and forces herself to roll onto her side, near to screaming by the time she gets there. It lets her glare, bleerily, at Madoka beyond, and she gasps for air. "What kind of knight would I be," she whispers, "if I let people suffer because I couldn't take it..."

"SO I CAN!" Vita yells, and slams her hand down, pushes herself up on trembling muscles. "I have t--"

The word trails off in an agonized gurgle and a mouthful of blood hitting the pavement before Vita's arms fail her completely and drop her to the ground like a stone. "I have to..." she whispers, eyes hazily seeking the tuft of pink. "I can't......"

One second. Two seconds. "Trust her," she whispers, remembering the girl weeping in agony in her bedroom as the devil very politely explained why she would give him her soul. "Is it...?"

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

She's so distant from everything, floating along behind her dream of love... Below, in the ruins of a girl's psyche, despair boils up in a black sea. It floods, and chokes, and rises, and soon there will be nothing else left at all, soon it will boil up to drown this flyaway bit of soul too. There is no escaping. Homura only delays the inevitable with her fantasy.

It's cold, so cold, and it would be so easy to let go and fall in. Even the act of clinging to her love for Madoka, here and now, is a fight, and Homura has fought so long, and is so hurt and so tired and so crushingly sad...

Does the hungry black reach up for her, or does she slip down to meet it, finally? Does it matter, in the end?


it is not the end


a familiar warmth calls her back.

How long has it been since Homura felt these hands clasp her own? It does not matter. She could never forget the feel of those gentle fingers. They pull her out of the dark, so much brighter and stronger than her fantasies and dreams because this is real, this is...

"M... Madoka... ...?"

Just one name emerges, simple and complete. The name which has buoyed a shred of soul like a mantra. So small, so weak, that voice. It hardly sounds like Homura at all, except...

Except that the girl she loves has seen her cry, so maybe it does sound like her to Madoka, now.

Her eyes open after her mouth does, slowly, like her eyelids are almost too heavy to lift. She manages it, though. Within Madoka's hands, a larger hand twitches back to life.

The gem upon it still burns black, so black, but... Homura's eyes are still that soulful sunset violet, and they lift to Madoka like a lost kitten's. She's just a girl, after all, the girl Madoka always saw in her, hurt and frightened and lonely, all of it laid bare upon the rubble. And for a moment after that compassion enfolds her, she's just... better. Less hurt. Less frightened. Not lonely at all.

It takes that moment for her head to catch up with her heart.

For her eyes to shift to the devil at the side of her angel.

For her to realize.

The fear squeaks out of her. "No... No, please... Madoka...!"

That compassion in Madoka's eyes begins to hurt, to twist in Homura's chest like a knife.

Madoka, who gives so generously of her heart; Madoka, who makes Valentine's chocolates for even the saddest of girls; Madoka, who would trade her soul to save a kitten...

Madoka, who looks at her like she is... like she is worth looking at, somehow, still.

Madoka, who says it's okay now, but it's not okay, nothing about this is okay, nothing about what Homura knows deep in her bones that Madoka is about to to is okay, and the flaring of panic in her eyes is the scream she cannot manage from a half-shattered chest.

Madoka, who is telling her she's sorry.

Fear fills Homura, seizes her heart, and Madoka, Madoka is smiling...

Somewhere deep within all that sharp-edged terror, a soft and rare bubble of wonder forms. Homura has enough soul yet left to her for that. The look in Madoka's eyes, the surety of her voice -- Homura has seen so many Madokas, and none of them have ever looked or sounded like this.

Homura's next protest dies on her open lips. She draws a ragged breath into half-collapsed lungs... and it holds there, in abeyance with the rest of her.

The stage is Madoka's, and Homura watches wide-eyed with the rest.

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

The objections and outcries of Madoka's many friends are unexpected music to her ears.

It means they're still alive.

It means that when she turns her head to look back down from their rubble mound, at all of them, her smile contains entire new dimensions--

--of sweetness--

--of sadness--

--of affection--

--most of all, of profound understanding.

Madoka's eyes are a mirror of everyone she gazes at, one by one.

They reflect Lera's resignation.
Fuu's suffering.
Steven's bewilderment.
Usagi's agony.
Ren's grief.
Vita's defiance.
Takeo's protectiveness.
Nori's smile.
Setsuna's fear.
Buki's faith.
Rei's misery.
Kasagami's anger.
Fate's trust.
Mai's question.

She takes it all into herself, inhaling sharply, as one does from the top of a high, high mountain. As one does when they're willing themselves not to cry, too.

She does not make a sound.

She just smiles...

...and nods, once, firmly, perhaps in response to the last.

The "Mmm!" is silent.

Homura is not, and Madoka can no more leave her in this state than she can fly...

Turning on her heel -- again the gravel makes that scraping crunch -- she walks away from Kyuubey in order to return to her side.

Again she kneels next to her, but this time she holds her even closer. Instead of taking Homura's hand, Madoka cradles her in her arms... threading one between Puella Magi and rocks, in order to lift her head a little bit, supporting her away from such rough pillows, while the other crosses over them both to rest reassurringly on Homura's shoulder.

Her cheek presses against Homura's forehead, and Homura can feel Madoka's temperature, the fluttering but fiery furnace powering through this impossible moment. Homura can smell her favorite strawberry shampoo. And her breath, which reveals that the last thing she ate was one of Papa's choco-mints, the kind that he presses on his children at times of stress.

Madoka's so warm.

She's as warm as her voice is tender.

"I'm sorry," she repeats, more fiercely than the first time though not more dramatically, other than her timbre rising, a little, in shared distress -- and keen understanding of why Homura in particular, Homura especially, is being sacrificed to this plan. "I really am sorry..."

Her eyes sink shut as her voice confesses an awful, wonderful truth, and she nuzzles even closer.

"I really, truly think I turned out this way because you protected me, and looked out for me, all this time, even more than everyone else."

It's so unfair. It makes Madoka want to weep. But she has wept enough.

Everyone has.

It's time for the need for tears to stop.

"I'm so sorry," she says still again, squeezing Homura's hand when it comes into reach, and willing all of her gratitude and regret to pass through their tangled fingers. It doesn't. It can't. But it's something.

Here is the rest.

"This is the answer I found," she explains gently. Her expression softens past affection to capture a little bit of shyness. Bashful or not in telling her mysterious guardian that she's found a solution, she goes on insisting, all the same.

Her eyes contain a promise.

Her eyes contain a secret.

Her eyes contain hope, and at a time like this -- especially at this time -- that's a revolutionary choice. It's dangerous to hope. It's vulnerable. Kyuubey would say it's irrational.

But Mama pushed her out the door. And there's just a hint of wonder in Homura's eyes.

She'll just have to live up to all that.

"Believe in me," she concludes. "I won't let all of your work go to waste."

Then -- even more slowly and carefully and gently than the last time -- she disentangles herself again -- lays Homura to rest again against the concrete instead of within the circle of her arms -- and rises.

She has to rise, because Homura's just like any other Puella Magi... as things are right now, she can't be saved until her hope is restored.

She looks back over at Kyuubey, and much as the sight of Tokyo emptied her of softness, so does he. He's positively fluffy with anticipation. He's never looked cuter, combining that 'noble animal' upright seating position, two paws straight down, two haunches rolled back, with that massive, curling tail and his pointy ears eagerly erect.

For someone who claims to not experience emotion, he sure seems excited.

<< You're shouldering the destinies of countless worlds, as the focal point of every fate line. No matter how impossible your wish is, it could probably be fulfilled! >>

"I'm counting on it," Madoka snaps back rustily, a bit of emotion knocked loose in her chest, creating the closest thing her tiny self has to a rumble. It isn't a low rumble, though. At her most rumbly Madoka is still sweetly high-pitched.

He does not clue into her darkening mood, so maybe he is telling the truth about that stuff after all. Instead he just rattles off the too-familiar, too-often, too-much question that he has asked her over, and over, and over, and over, and over...

<< Now, Madoka Kaname, what do you wish for so much that you'll pay for it with your soul? >>

The question that IT has asked, this alien creature, countless other girls, over and over...

She isn't smiling at all anymore. A frown is a thundrously pronounced thing on Madoka's face -- contortions of pain and misery are a familiar sight, but abject fury is not.

"I--" she begins, taking a quick step forward...

...and then she remembers her Mama's wisdom, and cuts herself off.

Are you sure that you're not being tricked by someone?

She pauses.

She closes her eyes, letting her arms hang down in front of her.

She takes a deep, deep, cleansing breath, and relaxes her shoulders, her fists. One of her hands again drifts up in front of her heart, but there it clenches earnestly, instead of painfully tight. Her posture straightens, unstiffening.

She exhales anger with the Incubator, and inhales her own resolve.

Her eyes reopen, crystal clear again.

This isn't about it.

This is about them.

And she knows exactly what she's going to say.

What she has to say.

What she wants to say.

What she chooses to say.

This... is her choice.

Magic and miracles do exist.

Her eyes flash.

"I want to erase every witch before they are even born!"

Madoka's declaration isn't serene or gentle, as it had been to Homura, to the others; she's still frowning, but not mad, just... extremely intent, as she incants each and every syllable with tremendous thought and care.

"Every witch, from every universe, from every dimension, from every past, and every future."

With the totality of knowledge gifted to her by the fates of Mami Tomoe, Sayaka Miki, Kimiko Akane, Kyouko Sakura, Eri Shimanouchi, Homura Akemi...

You know I'm not that brave.
You can just be sad.
Neither of us have a choice, do we?!
We should, we must try to save them.
There's... just something wrong with me...
What about everyone who's trying to protect you?

...everyone crumpled all around her, plus a few more empty chairs...

...and the Incubator itself.

"With my own hands."

With each and every way that it has all become so personal.

She knows she's asking a lot.

She will do it HERSELF.

Everyone deserves nothing less.

The Incubator stares silently at Madoka.

Madoka stares straight back.

And wins their brief, intense contest when the Incubator flinches back, as light is born, flickering between her fingers and her heart.

In less than a second it becomes too bright to look at directly, much more white than pink in practice, due to its sheer, ludicrous, raw intensity.

<< That wish... >> it gapes mentally, in rising, squeaky concern. << If your wish is fulfilled, it will surpass even Homura Akemi's interference of space-time! >>

The Incubator is white, and the light emanating from beneath Madoka's hand only grows, and grows, and grows. Amid her radiance, only its eyes are still visible now, and they're glistening with shock...

<< It's a treason against the wish itself! >>

...and dawning horror.

It can't stop this. That isn't how the system works. It asks the question...

...and she gives the answer.

That, the Incubator knows, is what it means to create a Puella Magi. That is the contract. The two sides of the equation that its people have discovered a way to exploit.

<< Do you really want to become a god? >>

In fact, she's still answering its original query.

"I don't care what I become," Madoka murmurs, quietly but firmly, closing her eyes to maintain her concentration -- to not let him distract her.

Her toes drift off the ground, as her twintails drift off her ears. She's suspended lightly inside a column of her own soul's shine, now. Her little fingers are unable to contain the magnitude of what's about to happen. Her whole body can't. But she tries anyway, joining a second hand to her first, there at the heart of the light, and clasps them together reverently.

"I don't want to let all those girls cry," she continues, as inexorably as he so often has been to her, unstoppably determined and, in an understated way, as deeply hurt as she is profoundly defiant.

"All those Puella Magi who believed in their hope and fought against witches."

She doesn't scream.

"All their friends who tried so much to help but could only win pain."

She doesn't cry.

"I want them to live on with smiles on their faces."

She speaks her truth, simply and forthrightly.

As honestly as she ever has.

She's a good girl, after all.

She doesn't lie.

She doesn't do bad things.

"I will destroy the rules that prevent that. I will change them. This is my prayer. This is my wish."

Her eyes fly open, and she pierces the wish-granter with her expectant gaze.

"NOW-- fulfill it, INCUBATOR!"

This little light of Madoka's soul stretches from beneath her feet to above the clouds.

And then it -- she -- detonates.

That whole fireworks display, up until now, was just the fuse.

Ignition. The very planet trembles. Cut the Earth a break, though.

It was not made to perform the birth of a star.

It is pink like the flowers she loves. Pink like the erasers she lends out and never gets back. Pink like the bubblegum she's not supposed to chew because it will rot her teeth. Pink like flamingos, which are silly like she is silly. Pink like her ears in the cold when she forgets to wear the hat Papa made for her. Pink like her cheek that Mama slapped on the stairs earlier. Pink like her lips that say sorry too much. Pink like Tatsuya's little nose, and like hers sometimes too, when she gets embarrassed.

It is pink like Madoka Kaname.

Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

What follows swiftly and blindingly expands in radius, to consume the whole of Tokyo, just as Walpurgisnacht's explosions once did.

Only instead of destroying everything it touches...

...it feels...