2019-09-28 - Conviction ~ Judgement

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Title: Conviction ~ Judgement

When Mikoto tries to deny the task she has been set, things rapidly worsen as it becomes clear just how much choice she really has in the matter. A reluctant fight becomes a desperate one, as the magical girls fight for their lives - and the safe return of their friend.


Mikoto Minagi, Lera Camry, Yumi Ohzora, Kasagami Araki, Fuu Hououji, Steven Universe, Eri Shimanouchi, Vita


Nishitama - Kawai Campsite

OOC - IC Date:

2019-09-28 - 2015-07-04


<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Les Friction - Dark Matter https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tAK681fF4ac

Have you ever fallen from a high, high cliff?

There is the slip. It's such a small thing. Your shoes didn't have a good grip, or perhaps it was rainy. Maybe you were horsing around with your friends, and someone shoved a little too hard. Suddenly - oh! There is no ground where there was ground.

Here comes the lurch. Innards rearranging themselves, as your stomach tries in vain to hit the top of your ribcage. Suddenly you're fighting air pressure for every breath. Suddenly, you're falling.

Reach out. Everything goes by too quickly; dirt and grass passes through scrabbling fingers like water. That is, of course, if you can grab anything at all. The world passes by, fastfastfast. It's so hard to focus on anything. Sometimes there's nothing you can catch.

Sometimes it's just you and the void.

Now comes the fear of landing. But isn't it also a little reassuring? No matter how long the fall, there will always be ground.

Imagine falling without that certainty.

Imagine the rushing black.

Hold that image.

After all, girls of Dark Fall...

... don't you call them Fallen?

You're not falling.

Mikoto is.

Dispensing of the metaphor --

The shoulders of a Dark Shadow curl, hunched over a massive blade, red sigils like eyes lit about its length. It is dark; they are dark, shadow cast about all their upper features, abjuring all light even as terrible red energy curls about the edges. Golden eyes more like headlights on high beam, solid yellow shining bright, white teeth against the void.

A pendant gleaming magenta, at what must be chest level.

The glow of those eyes turn. The battlefield is observed. The command is known. The command is understood.

Enemies must be defeated.

By order of assigned threat:

That Shadow launches forward, blade an inky flash as it charges into the secret-betraying Puella Magi. Do not mistake this shape for Mikoto, with all the flaws Mikoto has collected as a solo agent: no force is spared in its attack. This is no flat-bladed and half-hearted assault, flinching in its execution. This is - to carve out every extraneous word, the way Mikoto used to before she tried to speak as Tokyo does - an execution.

(Don't think of Mikoto. Mikoto is gone.)

Carve up diagonal from below, just above the hip.

Multiple enemies. Don't linger on one. Strike and move on.

It moves with alarming alacrity to the second threat: the strength-stealing Cloud Knight. Mobile. It leaps into the air - blade overhead, rotated from the shoulder without care for swallows which have flown there. Don't compare the taste. Miroku will not bury in the ground this time. There's nothing in those eyes to see - no dawning horror, no conflict, no pain. They are light, solid, unforgiving and harsh.

Another, stalwart. The warding Crystal Gem. Here is a riddle: what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object? Now put it aside. There is no room for levity when something so pitch charges forward; furthermore the question is immediately answered. That black blade swings about, once, twice, and finally carving in towards that round midsection. It is not aimed for his shield.

Now the spires. Its name is unspoken but this is still Miroku's magic, black glass erupting from the earth in waves. One, two, five, ten, obsidian spikes fan out around the Dark Shadow and reach into the air. Higher and higher and these are things of flesh and blood, in their fashion, the living guts of the earth made sharp by cool air. In volume they seek the encursing Witch who sought to bind darkness. In violence they do not bind. She is lastly prioritised. That Witch's power in her words, her mien; and don't think of Mikoto. Here, now, this is no wavering commitment to the silence of violence. It is not swayed by shared experience nor by personal desire.

A Dark Shadow has neither.

It is perfect and complete, a closed circle.

A weapon.

His weapon.


COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi transforms into A Dark Shadow!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Maul on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre on Vita Yagami.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Mutilate on Steven Universe.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malice on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Lera Camry covers Yumi Ohzora for Mikoto Minagi's attack, Demonic Spire: Malice, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Lera Camry perfectly counters 53 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malice, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Critical Counter!  Lera Camry's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Lera Camry's counterattack, Sentinel Flash, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji covers Steven Universe for Mikoto Minagi's attack, Demonic Blade: Mutilate, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji fails to counter Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Mutilate, taking 47 Fatigue damage!  Cripple applied to Fuu Hououji!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji's counterattack, Tempest Slash, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki covers Vita Yagami for Mikoto Minagi's attack, Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre, taking it upon herself instead!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki fails to brace Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre, taking 30 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!

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

For the last month, ever since a couple of days after the reunion on the Rainbow Bridge, text messages to Lera Camry have gotten one response:


Some never received an explanation. People that Lera didn't know well -- people she didn't trust all that much -- people that she, simply, didn't know what to tell them. Other people, the ones she was close to, knew the truth: she went home for a week. When a person feels lost, sometimes seeing where they grew up and talking to their mother can do more than anything else.

As it happens, the 4G and LTE networks spreading across Japan and the rest of Earth simply can't reach the interdimensional space used by Midchildans.

And, as a result, some messages have only been answered by that.

Today, though, Mikoto's text message sent -- and there wasn't a reply from Lera Camry's mobile phone. If that little change went missed in the events that occurred, one couldn't be blamed for that.

The first hint is a gleam of red-orange light in the air. It shines, focused like a cross-shaped diffraction spike, and then six brilliant arcs of golden energy explode off. They arc outward, then inward, and begin zigging and zagging, crossing over each other, and come down for that terrible, shadowed figure.

The six arcs of plasma are followed by a brilliant blur of light. Black glass erupts, piece by piece, bit by bit, around Yumi -- and then each slams into a cross-shaped flash of light as a static-filled, tinny voice (with that slightly English inflection) shouts:


The last, jagged spire of obsidian is met by a sword that clarifies out of a blur of motion. Two-toned, gold and silver, it catches the obsidian glass and holds it at bay -- and is held back by two arms, and a girl clad in a patterned black and green shirt, with form-fitting grey pants, and red-orange hair blowing back outward.

"Sorry I'm late!" she calls out.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Plasma Arcs on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi dodges 9 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Plasma Arcs, taking 13 Fatigue damage!  Lera Camry is Psyched!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!

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

It all happens quickly--too quickly. Yumi is trying to answer Eri's question, at first--"That--magenta light! The one shining from her pendant! It must be magical!"

Tama sees the attack coming before Yumi does, looks sharply to her charge as she starts to put out a warning--but Yumi is still watching the sudden change in Mikoto, transfixed for the moment by strange golden eyes and shadow. She is not the fastest on the best of days, even against a force that is familiar, a particular sort of darkness--

But the bright, fiery magic Lera and Soaring Sky use shines in front of her, and each of the spires is beaten back and taken care of. "Oh--"

She lets out a breath she didn't realize she was holding after a moment staring at Lera. "Hey uh--no complaints here! Thanks!"

She shakes her head. "Gotta get back into this..."

"She's totally different," Yumi says to herself as her broom takes her sideways then, responding to her like second nature. "Tama, I--"

"If you leave her like this," the ancient cat says, "You'll never get through to her. ...Calm down--breathe."

"...Right," Yumi answers, takes a deeper breath as she shifts around the battlefield. "It's familiar, isn't it...? So maybe--"

Yumi traces another rune in the air as she comes to a sudden stop, but this one doesn't sear with gleaming dark into th enight; it glows, brilliant and radiant, as Yumi points the head of her staff down. "...Power of old, heed my call," she murmurs--

And it does; a beam of power that rushes like a jet of spectral water crashes forward, green-tinged and wreathing white light that brightens its path like a glimpse of sunlight, pure magic--

Seeking to set viridian flame to darkness itself, to expose, to reveal. "Mikoto!"

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Sacred Ray on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi dodges 8 Fatigue damage from Yumi Ohzora's Sacred Ray, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!  Stagger and Tangle applied to Mikoto Minagi!

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

Kasagami had been shoulder deep in a pile of Student Council brand paperwork when the text originally came. She'd been on her third cup of coffee, filing away the last few necessary piles and yelling at some poor flunky about 'shred that pile faster', when she'd unburied her phone enough to actually look at it.

After nearly choking on said coffee, she'd closed up her office, and was out the window.

The Girl Who Would Be King might have a penchant for grand entrances, but the Crimson Rose Duelist has far more worrying matters when confronted with the bevy of magical girls as well as the hurricane of a dark blade that once was Mikoto Minagi. Even with the sword, Kassie doesn't recognize the thing they're all fighting as she lands amidst the park and it's enivy'd bridge.

Her good eye goes wide, Kasagami kicks the ground as she looks up to the deadly and violent force coming for the Iron Knight, and she pulls her nodachi back far enough that her heel kisses the sword's spine. Up she rushes for the falling Mikoto.

"WATCH OUT!" Howls the Duelist. That's no blade meant to beat or even maim. An efficient, brutal slash meant to end something.

Kasagami aims for the other sword, trying to force a clash between them. To interrupt the blow with her own force, even as one hand shifts to support her rising blade's spine. She puts her back into it, and when the two meet?

The weight and power of a black storm hammer into the Duelist. The murderous weight behind Mikoto's sword causes shoulders to stiffen, bones to quake, leather where blade's bite threatens to tear away. The girl's coat and hair flutters downwards, and the girl herself soon follows.

Kassie tucks and rolls the impact. It doesn't matter, she bounces, back bruising and ground cracking. She skids back, up on her feet. Knees tremble as she finally gets her breath back. Legs are apart, long blade before her. It's a perfect, and defensive stance. Both eyes are wide. Her entire body is alert, wary, intense.

Her grin, too, is wary. Whatever joy she might find in fighting a worthy opponent? It's ash, when you're fighting a force of nature such as this.

"You okay, hammer girl!? What is that thing?" No, she can't call that her beloved friend Mikoto at all. Her gaze is only spared to the girl for a second, then to her allies and the battlefield.

"A King will not retreat even in the face of a storm!" Kassie roars, gathering her confidence, and leaping at Mikoto. Her movements are erratic, quick, never a straight line. Her sword becomes it's own whirlwind around her body as she turns, putting her whole body into a blow that she hopes to hamstring this Dark Shadow with as it passes!

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Rose Flash on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi counters 11 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Rose Flash, taking 33 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Kasagami Araki is Psyched!  Mikoto Minagi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre, partially gets through, doing 8 Fatigue damage to Kasagami Araki!  Critical Counterhit!

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

It has been a busy and long night for Fuu Hououji - and for her civilian identity, not 'just' for the Wind Knight. The archery team had its usual practice, and the meeting afterwards ran long enough to blend into supper. And then into karaoke, and other fun things done together (like hitting Crown Game Parlor to see what's new in their cabinets). Amidst the revelry and camaraderie, Fuu's phone - which she expected to charge upon returning home - ran low enough on battery to turn off entirely.

So it was a good bit after Mikoto sent her challenge that Fuu finally received the message - and broke one of her few practiced rules of being a magical girl: she transformed while still inside her family's house, even within her bedroom itself. And she left via her window, after scrawling a quick note so her parents or big sister would know she's out of her own accord, and not mysteriously kidnapped or otherwise spirited away.

(Not that magical girl things preclude getting kidnapped .... thank you, ghost of Rubeus and memories of Jasper.)

Moments later, a streak of green on the leading edge of a sorcerous wind plummets towards the intersection between a young Crystal Gem and a viciously sharp obsidian edge - and rather than Steven's resilience being tested, it is the Magic Knight of Wind who suffers the strikes. Her own sword and a hastily-invoked blade of wind don't do quite enough to stop the obsidian strikes ... but it's enough to let her land on her feet, more or less, with Steven safely behind her.

"Are you all right, Steven-san?" the Wind Knight asks, her sword still held at the ready. "I'm sorry I wasn't here earlier; our civilian lives occasionally yank priority." She smiles ruefully, then adds, "Winds of Healing!" The restorative breezes rise around her and Steven - and also about Eri; the Wind Knight might not have been able to shield the Puella Magi of vines as well, but she can help mend those wounds which are slowing her down, along with her own and Steven's.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Steven Universe.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Healing on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cleanse! All of Fuu Hououji's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Steven Universe accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Cleanse! All of Steven Universe's debuffs are cleared!

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

What felt like chances to reach out are growing. The four of them, Vita, Yumi and Eri, Much like the vines encircling its own lattice, grasping ahold of Mikoto long enough to talk helps. There is a distinct un-want Steven can feel. She could easily use fatal force, but she does not. "Mikoto, please listen to us!" the boy shouts, Lion skidding and kicking up the scree by the bridge in an emphemeral cloud of debris.

"We have solved so many problems already, and saved the world more times than I can count! If we can just talk, we can find a solution!" A belief that will never be broken, like the gem Temple it shall stand for as long as he breathes.

Perhaps that was a poor choice of words, considering the strange feeling in the air.

Ever had that moment of pondering when a strange feeling overcomes you? You know the one. You of course don't believe in what goes bump in the night. Things said that would spook you? But there is always that one singular moment.

If it were real... it would be behind you right now.

Blink and you will miss the change.

Lion sense it first. Eyes go from large inscrutible, to glowing an ominous white. Fangs bare, and the cat bristles. This pings different. It isn't the same person. It isn't friendly, even remotely, and isn't right. "What is... oh." A pall hangs over Mikoto, the shadows may as well be a funeral veil, for if the glowing eyes have their way, she will need to wear it. Mere moments pass, and a giant blade, well known for its keen edge and catalytic sigils, is aimed at Steven's center mass! No time to dodge--

A catch of steel is heard, and the boy opens his instinctively shut eyes from atop his steed. Even Lion was caught offguard. "F-F-F..." He ekes out. He is trumbling. Something has snapped with his cat-aspected friend. No, not just that. This sudden change isn't natural. "Thanks. I think I'll... be okay. Please be safe, she isn't acting right! Just be careful out there, pleace! We need you, okay?"

He can only stare at Mikoto as she blazes around the stage set before them for what feels like an eternity.

A moment, a deep breath.

BGM: DragonForce - Razorblade Meltdown


"Thats. Not. Mikoto." He says, when his eyes open, though bleary from the past moment, are filled with stubborn resolve. "She would never do that...! We know the face of our real enemy here now!"

"THis is our chance to stop this!" he shouts. "Mikoto, I don't know if you can hear me, but you always told me how much you appreciated me saving you! Well, I'll keep doing it as much as it takes until you are safe!"

The boy gently tugs on Lion's mane, and the magical animal is off like a flash to keep up with the combat, which has now greatly increased in pace. Others have arrived o nthe scene, and none too soon, Mikoto, or whatever is affecting her, has increased her capaboilities by a frightening degree.

This is going to be a long fight.

COMBAT: Steven Universe has used Love Like You on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Steven Universe has finished attacking.

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

The pressure stops abruptly, as Eri sees that look on her face, the lash swinging one final crack against Miroku - before it falls sedate upon the ground. For one singular moment in time, Eri studies the position where Mikoto has crashed into And just breathes in blessed oxygen, panting from the pain. Envying her long time rival for her ability to deaden it. Swallowing, her throat dry, she tries her best to speak a word.


Something's wrong, and it's only by thinking of the last few seconds that she finds what was out of place. That flash of Magenta light.

Now she knows what Tama - and Yumi saw.

The handle of the whip goes slack within her fingertips as she stares at the demonic maleficence given form. Inky blackness and yellow eyes. Only an outline of the girl that Mikoto was is left in her vision. Only the vestiges of what she is left to her perception.

Perhaps that's why she goes after her first.

BGM Change - Nice to Meet Me - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z7m_qmr7KYA

Clenching her teeth, there's an animalistic, nasally scream through her nostrils at the sight - whether it's fear or frustration is anyone's guess. Turning on a foot, her whip vines follow her around in a full revolution. Her arm swinging from high as she completes the rotation, to low.

The whip slams against the flat of Miroku mid-air to ring it like a bell. It's an unequal impact to the force Mikoto is putting behind it. It turns the blade just enough to spare her the edge as the shadow bladewielder knocks her aside like a terrible inky Juggernaut, sending Eri hurtling to the ground.

The impact jars her already immobilized arm, almost causing her to swoon. Coughing in a way that sends more sand into her mouth, before she spits it out repeatedly. Putting her one good arm down, she finds herself dry heaving as she forces herself back up, raising her neck in a way to look at the deadly shadow in a way that sends sand showering out of her hair.

...being made to do it feels different, right?

"... That scum...!"

She grunts as her abdomen spasms, her arm hugging over it, doubling over it - as the healing winds wash over her. The sudden easing of the pain allows her to take one knee out from under her and put a foot down. Then another.

"That's not you in there right?" Bringing up a hand, she taps her gem with a finger of the same hand holding her whip. "If it was. You'd know better."

A glimmer of a green rune appears over her whip handle - and all the thorns on the three lengths of her whip shimmer as they triple in size, becoming needles as long as daggers. "Better finish the job right now - or when I find her Ani-Ue I'm going to carve off some pieces he'll miss-"

Her arm begins a spin overhead, a deadly whistling rotation which becomes more and more brutally fast by the second.


Well - she is Kyouko's kouhai after all.

Suddenly her arm shifts to the side, and the length of whip follows. It's motion shredding the ground at her side as she begins to advance on the shadow, every so often changing the angle of which the deadly rotating plant matter cycles to slice and rend the space around her with hundreds upon hundreds of whirling needlepoints.

"Ivy - don't give up - keep trying."

Perhaps a friend may hear an unspoken addendum.


COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi accepts Fuu Hououji's Winds of Healing, taking 0 Fatigue damage!  Cleanse! All of Eri Shimanouchi's debuffs are cleared!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has used Aerating Edge on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to counter Eri Shimanouchi's Aerating Edge, taking 53 Fatigue damage!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Demonic Spire: Mantlet, interrupts, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Eri Shimanouchi!

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

Vita's flaming hammer scores a hit, but...

Things go haywire. Vita's eyes widen, clear blue pools opening fully with shock at the transformation that rips across Mikoto. "Hey! No!" she shouts, short for words. "You don't want--"

But Mikoto's not the one who's making decisions, is she, Vita thinks grimly, teeth grinding in her skull as the feral figure drops in stance. "C'mon, give me something," she mutters, shifting her stance for defense. Just for a moment.

It doesn't server thet well. She squawks as the cosmic null-content that used to contain Mikoto suddenly blurs in the direction of the Puella Magi girl - and then, shortly after, right a therself. Vita roars out, "EISEN!" as she squares her stance, and Eisen BONGs an affirmative. But even as the Midchildan circle sketches itself in the air, Mikoto's blade is falling!

And intercepted, by another blade. Vita briefly expects Signum; Kasagami will more than do, and the Crimson Iron Rider releases a tense breath, her shoulders slumping from their brace. "Thanks," she mutters. Then, a question: "It's that Mikoto girl," Vita grunts. "I don't think she's home right now. But it was. Be careful, she's not playing around. She's fighting for kills."

Plural, and spoken with the voice of someone who knows exactly what that looks like. "Eisen, let's move!"

And with no more than this Vita blasts away from Kasagami, crimson dress fluttering in the wind behind her as she attempts to lock in a clear swing on the silent black figure. "C'mon, I barely know you and I know you're more than this!" Vita barks down. "Eisen, we're cracking that shell!" <<JA!>>

The duo divert, swinging down on a hard, direct line. Vita, like the mythical cheetah, only moves in straight lines, apparently. But she comes in fast and hard as she pinwheels toward the Dark Shadow of Mikoto, finally coming out with hammer overhead, held double-handed to SLAM into center-mass on that still and silent darkness.

Roughly one half of one second after impact, the hammer blasts out a wave of force, cracking stone and hopefully magical miasmas.

COMBAT: Vita Yagami has used Tödlichschlag on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Vita Yagami has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to dodge Vita Yagami's Tödlichschlag, taking 35 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Stun applied to Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Muse - Exodus: Symphony, Part 1 (Overture) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9kqU_7-CgI

Additional targets. The transgressing Device-Wielder, aerial. The parleying Wind Knight and throne-pretending Swordswoman, earthbound. So they are designated and so they are known.

Context is provided by flesh given, corrected by umbral logic.

Plasma arcs through and forward and in a flash the Shadow is not where it was a moment prior. One and another fail to catch up. The third grazes. Four, five, six: these arc down and through, though it is difficult to say how they have hit, between that red aura and the black.

So too do spires lance up in retort, crashing in against Witch and Device-Wielder. High, high up. High, high spikes.

This caller cannot be reached either.

No answer is offered to the Swordswoman's query. Neither does a Dark Shadow scream - or yell - no roar, growl, bellow. No, this does not seem like Mikoto, though surely this was the place she summoned everyone. This does not resemble Mikoto at all. Those bright-bright eyes show no reaction to her brave advancement at all.

She is a nodachi whirlwind and it is the same, whirling in claymore-concert, bringing Miroku in to clash against that folded steel. The sound rings out. But a nodachi is thinner still than a claymore, and force meets finesse and the latter slips through, biting into that darkness.

It brings its blade about to slice at the Swordswoman while they are close. A vengeful blow, swung to catch at her back, her side.

Some of them do not attack. They go unanswered.

A Shadow cannot dwell on animals or healing wind, when a Witch's beams lance forward. Again it moves. It moves but the light is bright, accursed viridian lumens which sear at the closest side to where the magic has landed. For a moment that purifying light shows something underneath the black --

who are we, where are we?
when are we, why are we?
who are we, where are we?
why, why, why?

-- no, someone, someone terrified, cheek half-lit, the stray hint of imperial skin drawn in desperation, tears at the corner of one eye.

The teeth of that Dark Shadow show in a silent snarl as it throws itself into a roll, away from the scouring light.

Once more. Don't think of Mikoto.

Mikoto is gone.

There is noise from the Puella Magi, too. It is no command; it is not acknowledged. Acknowledged: the flail wielded. Crashing from the earth come obsidian spires, one-five-ten, crashing about a Dark Shadow in a black cage to weather the strikes.

The whip flenses. In motion it tears away at one spire - another - three, five, eight - ten, they shatter, and finally with needles like daggers they crash into the Shadow itself. It is difficult to gauge a reaction, from the darkness...

... but it almost looked like it staggered.

It springs towards the Puella Magi, blade crashing down - from above, now, above, and perhaps it would have angled to her head if not for another attack coming in a straight line. The blade jerks, crashes in towards the Puella's shoulder instead, and the Shadow does not quite manage to move away from the practiced warrior logic of the Cloud Knight.

Centre-mass. Slam.

It staggers forward, into the Puella Magi, and those headlamp-lights look up at her and this time when gold meets green there's nothing there at all.

Not even pain, even though it's supposed to hurt.

Sword-first it shoves the girl in green away and springs up, a vertical ascent to escape the way it is pinned between two enemies. Down it comes, and spires rise from the earth where it once stood, lancing in towards the Cloud Knight and Puella Magi. Still more course out to assault the ones who have not struck: the Crystal Gem and Wind Knight.

And it does not say a word.

COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malignance on Yumi Ohzora.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malignance on Lera Camry.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Blade: Maidenslayer on Kasagami Araki.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malediction on Vita Yagami.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malediction on Eri Shimanouchi.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malignance on Fuu Hououji.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has used Demonic Spire: Malignance on Steven Universe.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi decisively counters 9 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malediction, taking 3 Fatigue damage!  Eri Shimanouchi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi's counterattack, Gardener's Trick, fails to get through, doing 0 Fatigue damage to Mikoto Minagi!
COMBAT: Lera Camry dodges 14 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malignance, taking 21 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Lera Camry's Fade and Flash abilities activate!  Exhausted applied to Lera Camry!
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji braces 13 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malignance, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Fuu Hououji's Block and Parry abilities activate!  Exhausted applied to Fuu Hououji!
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki partially dodges 12 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Blade: Maidenslayer, taking 48 Fatigue damage!  Kasagami Araki's Fade and Flash abilities activate!
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora braces 13 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malignance, taking 11 Fatigue damage!  Yumi Ohzora's Block and Parry abilities activate!  Exhausted applied to Yumi Ohzora!
COMBAT: Steven Universe braces 18 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malignance, taking 15 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Steven Universe's Block and Parry abilities activate!  Exhausted applied to Steven Universe!
COMBAT: Vita Yagami braces 10 Fatigue damage from Mikoto Minagi's Demonic Spire: Malediction, taking 8 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Vita Yagami's Block and Parry abilities activate!  Tangle and Trap applied to Vita Yagami!
<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera nods, loosely, to Yumi. Her eyes fall on the shadow; she gets a sinking feeling, and Steven's cry confirms it. If it didn't, Eri's harsh words would. She sucks a sharp breath in. "Steven is right!" she calls out. "We have to get her out of there, right now! Before--"

Obsidian spires fly up, like wicked glass. Lera, already in the air, jerks to the side of the first. The second thrusts in close, but she rolls to one side. Then, the third slams into leg and slashes through the meat of her hip. There is a bright FLASH as the Barrier Jacket's protective spells waver, then a splash of blood onto the ground.

"Ghh!" she hisses and grunts at once, and she looks down at the shadow. She sees the way it peels back for just a second -- just a hint of cheek, and a tear -- and then Lera's eyes widen. "Vita! Maybe--maybe if we tear her out of it, somehow!"

She throws herself down, straight at the spikes that rose up to meet her. Lera swings her two-handed blade up, and light crackles up the length of the sword. "Sky! We need to break through these!"

<I think I can help! Lanzebrecher!> the Device chimes back.

And Lera chops the sword out. An arc of fiery plasma explodes off it, trying to rip through the huge spikes of obsidian -- and then she flies down, blade swing back, and she tries to finish the strike with a blow for the Shadow itself.

"Mikoto! Come on! Please--please be in there, y'know!" she shouts, her amber eyes widening with desperation.

COMBAT: Lera Camry has used Lanzebrecher on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Lera Camry has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi decisively counters 30 Fatigue damage from Lera Camry's Lanzebrecher, taking 10 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi's Reverse and Tactician abilities activate!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi's counterattack, Demonic Blade: Manoeuvre, partially gets through, doing 23 Fatigue damage to Lera Camry!  Critical Counterhit!
<Pose Tracker> Yumi Ohzora [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"Eri-chan!" Yumi cautions, hearing her friend maybe get lost in her anger--she worries. But when Eri can call back to her, ask her not to giv eup, she does hear the unspoken addition. She looks at her for a moment--and nods. "I won't."

Think back, an instant ago; brilliant light pushes back at the darkness, pushes back, shows a girl beneath it, someone afraid for an instant, and she refuses even now to stop thinking of Mikoto because she is not gone so long as they refuse it.

Yumi Ohzora has had enough of passivity.

Meanwhile as they hang in the air, the black cat speaks in her older-woman's voice to the others, "You can see she's not in control--if you hold back, the Shadow will kill you! We'll try to find a better angle!"

More and more spikes; Yumi faces them head-on, staff empowering the shields that burst forward in front of her, circles meeting spike after spike, holding with visible effort--

One crashes through and slashes against her, sending her spinning back, breathing hard with exertion. "Come on--" She bites her lip, "...Come on, there has to be... more than just curses..."

A wound doesn't stop the Witch like this--despite her injury, she looks for an opportunity. "...Tama, isn't there... Isn't there some spell? I--I don't know how to..."

"Focus on what you can do, not what you can't! It will respond!"

Yumi stops--and then narrows her eyes, tracing out the runes again. "All right--then... We'll start--Here!"

A haze of black-and-green rushes forward, barely physical at all, to draw strength from shadowed limbs, to dissipate power into the air and gloom.

COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has used Weakness Hex on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Yumi Ohzora has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to dodge Yumi Ohzora's Weakness Hex, taking 13 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Yumi Ohzora is Psyched!  Exhausted and Stagger applied to Mikoto Minagi!

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

Kassie forces herself to smirk at Vita, nodding to the be-hat'd girl. "This is no sparring match, that's for sure! But you're wrong on one point! That is NOT Mikoto Minagi! It looks more to me like some mindless thing surrounding what looks like my friend!"

A flick of her head, and her glorious raven-and-red locks flutter behind her as the light shines from her perfect smile. "So this King and her gallant allies will beat back the evil that's stolen our friend!" A glance to Eri.

"Although it looks like a certain Shepherd is going to need a pike soon! Save some for us, Eri-chan!" 'Encourages' Kasagami with a bit of force behind it. She does not like anything she's heard or gathered of Mikoto's long-lost Lord Brother!

But the Dark Shadow cares nothing for Kassie's encouragements, only blade and body. Which as the thing passes, the Duelist is treated to a duo of deep slashes upon her person: back scoured by a biting blade, and her side similarly. Her coat parts first, part of it fluttering away. The pain erupting across her has her moving for the second, potentially deeper slash. Already staggering from the first hit, Kassie throws herself to the ground more than rolls.

She kicks at the fading Shadow's second blow, the heel of her boot torn and cut rather than her body. Once again she falls, and once again she gets back to her feet warily. Already the Shadow is off, and Kasagami chases.

She leaps onto the air, aiming to descend with a two-handed blow from on high.

"Die shadow! The only one worthy of wielding that sword is Mikoto!"

COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has used Falling Petals Cut The Soul on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Kasagami Araki has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi partially dodges 9 Fatigue damage from Kasagami Araki's Falling Petals Cut The Soul, taking 36 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi's Fade and Flash abilities activate!

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

'That's. Not. Mikoto.'

The Wind Knight grips her sword more tightly, nodding briefly to Steven, glancing back to give him a reassuring smile before he and Lion speed back into the fray. Then her own attention shifts to the Shadow at the heart of the blades, and to the battle at large.

If this is not Mikoto, who or what *is* it? It resembles her shape, it fights as ferociously (if not moreso) than the Mikoto whom the Wind Knight knows, has fought beside, and has fought against. And the challenge - that definitely came from Mikoto. Not from this ...

The Wind Knight shakes her head slightly, then turns her blade against the erupting spires - deflecting one, slashing through another before it can slash through her, leaping clear of the third and fourth, springboarding off the fifth. There are a *lot* of these spikes, and trying not to get skewered outright is a spectacularly intense workout. Trying to break through the storm and go on the offensive makes it even more challenging.

But she dares to confront the challenge - perhaps taking inspiration directly from Kasagami, for all the differences between the two girls: the Wind Knight charges into the teeth of that storm of violence and obsidian edges, and her voice rings out once more: "Winds of Admonishment!!"

At her cry, a second storm dives into the first one - a pure and magical wind lashing between the gale of blades, seeking out its source and opening up to embrace the Dark Shadow. Not a comforting or healing embrace, but one that strives to capture her like a raptor's talons, and to hold her still amidst the chaos.

COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has used Winds of Admonishment on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Fuu Hououji has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi braces 8 Fatigue damage from Fuu Hououji's Winds of Admonishment, taking 12 Fatigue damage!  Critical Hit!  Fuu Hououji is Psyched!  Cripple applied to Mikoto Minagi!

<Pose Tracker> Steven Universe [Juuban Public School (6)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Tristam and Braken - Frame of Mind https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SCD2tB1qILc

There is no slowing her-- she moves as a soldier possessed. The fear in the pit of Steven's stomach is whatever controls her may be content to let her perish fighting. And while he is sure no one here would attempt a mortal blow, wearing Mikoto down would be important to reaching out to her.

Lion streaks across the evening landscape, a blot of pink on a watercolor painting. Steven watches the others fight in the air. He wishes he could be up there helping them. He hopes they will stay safe...

Lion stays low, zigzags form his path among the trees. He remains evasive, but when obsidian spikes erupt in all diections, it is hard to dodge a sweeping effect. "Lion, look out!" Steven shouts. A quick shield projection is made where an incoming spike is predicted to erupt. The sound of metal screeching and pink sparks accompany the clash of magic, and the heaving earth sends Lion skidding to the left, both of them glancing off a tree painfully. At least it kept them from being horribly skewered, he will take an area on his arm missing skin over a gut piercing. His dad would kill him, if the spire didn't.

As the cat runs, Steven tries to think of what could be doing this to her... Was this a force? A power? Some kind of possession? He briefly wonders if someone nearby is doing this.

THe pair explode out of a tree line, nearby their target. "Lion, let her have it! We gotta keep her distracted!" The glowing feline eyes flare, and Lion's jaw opens wide, as a mighty roar reverberates out, shaking the very air, and sending out powerful soundwaves to shake Mikoto to her very core.

Or perhaps shake whoever is tending to Mikoto, if that aspect is true. "Has anyone see something like this before?! We need to get to the bottom of that shadowy eye thingy!"

COMBAT: Steven Universe has used Just Lion Things on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Steven Universe has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to dodge Steven Universe's Just Lion Things, taking 15 Fatigue damage!  Tangle applied to Mikoto Minagi!

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

As the shadow springs, Eri's rotation abruptly jerks up from it's flensing flow through the spires she's shattering. The shadow finds it's blade slapped by the side of a dozen razors screeching with it as it wraps around like a spiked chain.

And then she jerks her arm.

The shadow finds herself flying over her target - the blade's tip only barely parting the fabric, before it gives off a horrible screech as the momentum throws her off.

Her eyes meet her on the next pass, and it's like Eri flinches from what she sees, her expression spasming as Mikoto manages to shove her away. Her handle slips up into the parry against the shove, causing her to stagger away in a sideways stumble.

It's unnerving looking into eyes you thought you knew - and seeing nothing there.

Unnerving enough to jar her out of her anger. Oh that's still there. It's still there. Yet it's kept within the realization that Mikoto is being kept prisoner by what she's angry at.

"Some for you? You know how selfish I can be... Kasagami."

And suddenly she turns her whip upside down, and kneels into the sand - becoming an unmoving target. A glitter of green appears over the handle, and the lengths of vine start to burrow.

"Mikoto - whatever is between you and me - if you're in there... try to listen. Even if it's hard. Even if it's impossible."

There's a glimpse at the ground, of her focusing, and suddenly the whole ground is aglow with her magic. "When I was lost in a dark place. You were there for me. Even when being there for me meant... helping me end it all."

There's a flare of her nostrils as she keeps up her concentration. "I don't know why I'm back after that. Why anyone - anything out there thought I... I was worth it. I don't think I can know."

Keeping her eyes on the shadow, she just looks like a girl holding onto some tool stuck out of the dirt. A gardener at work. Not some warrior.

"I just know that I was." She whispers, "And if I am - then you are too. Nothing - noone - not your Ani-Ue - not some shadow demon - will convince me otherwise."

There's something at the edges of her lip.

"There was a lot of pain - and it hurt a lot. But now... now I'm really living."

Suddenly the ground erupts in two dozen different places, like a whole sequence of explosions has gone off in how much sand scatters.

"You'll live too."

She vows. Yet she's only saying the part about living...

...it is implied - that first must come the pain.

Two dozen wicked vines surge towards Mikoto, trying to grab her by limb, or body, or blade. It doesn't matter what they grab. There are so many of them - trying to bully her every which way - trying to grip and pull and tug. If one catches her - it tries to bring her into a favorable position for all the rest.

And that's before the girl slides her hand up the handle of her whip she's holding. And pushes her palm against it.

There's a green rune. The shadow saw it earlier...


...right before her thorns grow.

And they do. Grow on every single. Into impaling little spikes that jab into everything they're gripping.

Kasagami might note - that Eri never needed a pike. She brought her own.

Give her some credit. Not a single one did she direct for neck or face, or chest, or abdomen.

A few seconds later they all let go of whatever they have grabbed, retreating into the ground. And the girl simply pulls the handle out, her vines following as short as they were before.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Eri Shimanouchi has used Child of Thorns on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi fails to dodge Eri Shimanouchi's Finisher, Child of Thorns, taking 133 Fatigue damage!
<Pose Tracker> Vita Yagami [None] has posed.

It's the way she moves that bugs Vita most. She's fought many a beast in her time, but...it reminds her most of old battlefields, golem soldiers with no thought of safety or concern. Even she or Signum, at their worst, had some other thought to worry about. This is just...

"Details!" she bickers back at Kasagami, but she doesn't entirely disagree, either. This isn't much like Mikoto at all. Especially not the girl from mere moments ago; the girl who could barely bring herself to swing her sword. Even if they hardly knew each other, Vita knew that of her, the conviction to fight. The first hammerblow knocks the Dark Shadow's guard open, but can do little more than that. But it does mean Vita's in position to see the effects of Yumi's blast. "Minagi!" Vita bites out, reaching - but the Shadow's counterattack forces her to escape. She skates across the air, swerving and sweeping through the field of spines coming after her. She arcs up hard, slowing down once she gets near Lera, just long enough to bark, "I don't really do tearing, Camry! But....I'll try to get through! EISEN! We're punching through!" <<Ja. Raketenform.>>

The hammerhead begins to shift, its matter and structure rapidly shifting about. One hammerhead retracting and extruding a chisel-tip. The other, completely reformatting itself into a small-scale rocket engine. "I can't do healing lights or whatever," she mutters. Referencing the only thing that'd had the result they actually want, so far. "The only peace I can give a person is a long nap. But cracking shells, that I can do." Then she sucks in a long, long breath, and roars, her high voice booming across the field: "EISEN!!"

The hammerhead bongs at her and replies. <<I am right here. RAKETENSTART!>>

Vita hooks a leg around her hammer as it carries her away. The flight path is barely-controlled, screaming, quite literally, the air protesting the rapid flight of a six year old body through the medium. The hammer hits a spike and skips off it, making Vita forcefully correct. Finally, she draws near the shadow. She doesn't call a taunt as she releases her leg, allowing the hammer to start carrying her around in narrow circles, even as she hurtles toward the Dark Shadow.

She does, however, scream a wordless howl as that rocket-propelled and spiraling chisel-tip completes its last revolution intersecting neatly with the Dark Shadow's chest. It doesn't skip or slide, TEARING in. That is the purpose and power of Raketenform:

Breaking any and all barriers.

COMBAT: FINISHER! Vita Yagami has used Raketenhammer on Mikoto Minagi.
COMBAT: Vita Yagami has finished attacking.
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi braces 45 Fatigue damage from Vita Yagami's Finisher, Raketenhammer, taking 68 Fatigue damage!  Mikoto Minagi is unable to keep fighting!

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

Is... Lera shouting? ... it's hard to focus on anything. It's all going by too fast...

Who's... in here? Is someone here?

Surrounding... surrounding who, Kasagami?

Distracting... wait, kill them? Yumi?! Steven?!

Fuu? Wait, Vita, too?


A Dark Shadow does not. Plasma explodes and Soaring Sky comes down, and Miroku comes up to meet it. Above and below, celestial and terrestrial: power rings out between them, Miroku's red sigils lighting to white explosion in defiance of the plasma brought to bear.

There is no girl in the eyes which meet hers. Mikoto has looked at that Device-Wielder in hatred and in conflict and in sadness and none of it shows in this flood of yellow.

Something is almost too slight to bear acknowledging. The haze catches at a Shadow's ankle, and slightly it sinks, as if gravity has grown stronger in those nanoseconds. It only serves to curl it further over that blade, as if it is only begrudgingly upright.

Perhaps that extra weight makes it more difficult to move from the nodachi. It is still a blur, but nevertheless there is the sound of metal crunching against metal. When it next stops the silhouette of its spaulder is visibly crumpled in.

Miroku comes up in defensive stance, against the blowing wind. In an instant it determines leaping through scouring air would only cause more damage; instead it stands in bulwark. The air curls about it, lashing in, and when it comes time to get away from the animal's sonic roar it cannot.

Once more, it seems to stagger.

They are not acknowledged. They are not acknowledged and Mikoto is gone.

... everyone...

No. No, Mikoto is gone. A Dark Shadow turns, Puella Magi coming into its sights. Noise comes from her.

Eri? Eri, it is dark. It's so dark. Eri, please --

Legs bend; it springs away. One vine does not catch.

The second does.

One begets another. Grasping and catching and lashing and it moves amongst these still, wrests its sacrificial flesh from where it is held - until the thorns grow. Until they pierce.

A Dark Shadow does not make a sound, though it looks as if it ought to.

A hundred needles which pin it to the board, as an uncontrolled girl flies forward, path jagged. It cannot move away. It cannot... move.

Sigils like eyes alight on Miroku's length; the darkness broils and the light of that pendant washes over it, washes over them, white and harsh and blinding. There is the sound of shattering volcanic glass as a hundred defensive spires crumble to dust.


In its defence it can only expend all power. There is no choice. That chisel comes too close to the source.

And so there's a net at the bottom of the cliff, and it is made of plasma and hexes, folded steel and wind and sonic waves, hammers and vines. It's springy; it absorbs the impact, and now there is ground where there was no ground.

A gasp tears from Mikoto as the shadow recedes, back into the jagged shelter of her obsidian heart. There is a moment's desperation as they pass each other, known and unknown --

-- and then confusion, numb like she's run a marathon without even realising she was upright. Metaphorically. She is not upright, now, slumped weary against the ground. A hand pushes underneath her, brings her up, slowly, as she looks over them.

It is evident on her face, blinking bleary as her gaze focuses in on the others - bright gold, but they are eyes like any other. "What..?" That isn't right. Those injuries...

... they all look like...

... Mikoto's eyes widen, realisation crowding out her uncertainty. "Did I... do that?" She can see it - she can smell it. She doesn't even know how Fuu got here, or Kasagami - she hasn't even seen Lera for a while...

Her eyes reflect every wound and her pain is unguarded, tears collecting in their corners.

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

"I'm not picky, y'know?" Lera says to Vita, with a glance and then a nod. She hangs back as she takes off.

Altogether, it proves effective.

Lera lowers down to the ground. Boot-clad feet lower onto it, gravel crunching unevenly as her left then right foot flatten out on it. She walks, then, feet over the pavement. She slides Soaring Sky onto her back, held there, and she lifts her chin.

She looks down at Mikoto, seeing her look exhausted -- slumped over, and pushing herself up. She wipes at her sweat-covered brow -- and then looks down at Mikoto. She hesitates for a second, and then smiles.

"...Hey," she says. "You still with us, Mikoto? You look like maybe you could use a drink."

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

Despite the dire circumstances and the worry fluttering in her heart for Mikoto, Kassie can't help but the smallest of smiles to Eri.

"You be as selfish as you want. As long as it gets us our Mikoto back!"

And so Kasagami bares witness to that selfishness turned to unselfish ends, pinning and pricking and holding as the shadow and the power around Mikoto boils away into that amulet. It leaves familiar eyes and a familiar form.

Kasagami breaks out into a smile, ignoring the weariness in her bones as well as the acheing wounds across her back, heel, and sides, she leans on her blade as she walks over to the now slumped girl.

"Ahh, Mikoto! You had me worried!" Admonishes the Duelist with a scowl to the tearing up sword-wielder. She looks to all the faces that helped knock her out of that dark horror.

"That doesn't matter right now. The only thing that matters is that everyone's alive and that you're you!" She's already going to walk-limp over, one hand reaching down to try to rub the top of her head even as she shoots a grateful look to those present. At that, Eri in particular!

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

Eri's expression spasms as she sees Vita's impact into Mikoto. It's hard not to wince at that. Suddenly she feels like it was a very fortunate thing that she'd only watched her in action. Eri doesn't realize she's holding her breath, until the shadow recedes. And she remembers with one sharp inhalation...

...to breathe.

Eri takes a step forward. Then another. Mikoto is on the ground. Yet she does not move to embrace her, does not treat her like she's not a threat. The whip stays in her hand.

Instead she sinks to her knees from a short distance away. Just long enough that it respects the danger she presents in defense of another.

"No." The girl says to Mikoto gently, but firmly. "It wasn't you."

There it is, kept nurtured within her like a hot coal. That anger. She just had to shift off some of the embers and ashes.

...being made to do it feels different, right?

"Someone made you."

It is paradoxical perhaps to say that it was not Mikoto, and yet it was Mikoto - that someone made her.

Right now Eri sees no paradox. She simply cites words that she thinks Mikoto will understand.

"It was different."

With a whisper, she adds.

"Please... don't give him the chance to do it to you again."

It is her plea, it is an offer.

Come back to us.

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

Tama, the cat, has seen something like this before, as Steven says. But does it mean that they can solve it? What advice can she give to them? How can she offer help? Maybe if someone looks at the small, furry figure at Ivy's side on the broom, they'll see the depth of feeling in the old guardian's feline eyes.

Maybe they'll miss it and see a different look in Yumi's eyes, worry and focus and wondering and... frustration, and love. It all mixes together. It's her responsibility, isn't it? To look after her.

Yumi can see the otehrs, from her perch behind; Kasagami bold, Eri moving closer, Vita hammering. Maybe they can get past this barrier.

When the Shadow falls, when Mikoto appears again--the tall, thin Witch is the last to arrive, her pointed hat wavering as she stumbles off of her broom and steps forward with long, unsteady strides. She sees the hurt, in Mikoto's eyes--

"It's okay," Yumi adds to the others' reassurances. "Like Eri-chan said, it... wasn't you. Something shaped like you took over--"

"It's that light. You..." She bites her lip, reaches to set a gloved hand on Mikoto's shoulder. "...Stay with us a minute, okay? We can--we can figure it out, see what's going on. Help you."

...The cat pads over, followed by a broom. She doesn't look reassured.

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

Vita grits her teeth. Her black gloves look dainty, for play or the ballroom rather than for hard, whiteknuckle gripping, but they serve her well for it just the same. She keeps her eyes wide, forces them. In a moment of stress she might be tempted to shut them, exert all her attention down to the thin sliver of her body putting all the work in. But she needs the information. What's doing this, what HAPPENS.

It's blinding, blazing darkness that she sees. She can't entirely make sense of it, except that the shadow departs, sinks in or scatters away she can't be sure. In that heartbeat Vita forces Eisen aside, sending herself tumbling to a halt some dozen yards away; skidding one or two tumbles before the rocket recedes and she's able to plant her boots against concrete. She breathes, one, two, three sharp breaths, and then brings her stance back to center, swings Eisen over her shoulder, wandering back over to the main group. The hammer turns back into its normal polo hammer form somewhere in the transition.

To Mikoto's question she idly rubs her nose with a gloved knuckle, glancing off to the side. "Wasn't so bad," she says, in a thin attempt to placate, though all she can think about are those blaring headlights where Mikoto's expressive gold should've been. Wiping out everything... her eyes cut to Lera, worried and unsure. Bothering to stick around to pick up the pieces is new ground for her.

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

The Wind Knight bides her time a moment, remaining on guard until she hears Mikoto's voice. She should probably *stay* on guard, just in case, but -

She lets her sword vanish before walking over to Mikoto. "You look much more like yourself now, Mikoto-san," the green-clad Magic Knight says, smiling with relief and reassurance. "Whatever was attacking us ... it wasn't 'you' in the sense that matters. It wasn't a 'you' that the normal 'you' should blame yourself for."

Physically, perhaps, it was Mikoto. Mentally? Even though the Wind Knight was a late arrival on the field, she's prepared to believe that it *wasn't* Mikoto - not the Mikoto she's fought beside, not even the Mikoto she's had to fight *against* a few times - who was unleashing such destructive, deadly force against the magical girls (and Steven). Not even the Mikoto who sent that challenge, drawing them out to this park and campsite.

"Are you feeling all right?" the Magic Knight of Wind continues. "We did have to dish out rather a beating to stop ... do you know what it was that we *were* fighting? Even if your body formed its shell somehow ..."

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

The fighting is intense. It is difficult for Steven to even keep sight of it. all. Blades and vines and spells are flying against vicious edges ant so, so much obsidian.

"Look oooout!" The boy calls toward others fighting. Trying to give them some kind of warning for incoming attacks. Lion's own lands well, and helps the others succeed with their stronger gambits. But somewhere along the blades and vines, something snaps again. Umbral shade and golden malignance fade away, leaving a most confused Mikoto. The look on her face can be seen from so far away, when staring into nothingness is finally replaced with something. Something desired. "MikotoooOOOOOO!" shouts the boy, as the two end up near the spot she landed. "Okay does everyone have all their arms and fingers!" I-I don't have any bandages good for fixing those but I u-uh, I dunno!!! Just we can find help if not!"

"That was super freaky, please don't do-- or if it wasn't you, let-- that happen again! Please?!" he asks, flustered and waving his hands wildly.

A look around the landscape. Looks pretty torn up. Lion seems to at least be back to normal, just sorta sitting there and yawning.

"Any idea what might have done that? It was so scary!"

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Next to Normal - You Don't Know (Reprise) (Explicit) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_YQqvNEdAM

"I - I'm here... now." Mikoto says, uncertainly, as Lera ventures that question. She hums uncertainty, looking down at her inert blade. "... guess I... went somewhere else."

Sometimes she goes away. She doesn't think she's... gone away this much before...

... except...

... that's wrong, isn't it?

It feels like falling and she knows... it feels... like falling.

She looks to Vita, brow knit, and hums wordless acknowledgement as she tells her it wasn't so bad. From the little pieces she can snatch from what happened, she's...

... not sure that's true. And listen to Steven...

Mikoto looks down, as Fuu asks what they were fighting. "I... don't know..." Her voice wavers, on the final mora. She swallows, face blanch to reflect on Steven's panicked plea, too. "... I don't know." Not only what it is, but what she can do.

Eri sinks down nearby and part of Mikoto wishes she were closer, even as she knows she can't be closer. She says it isn't her fault, too - and there's comfort to that, shaped through things Mikoto said without comprehension. Her free hand curls, clasped to the pendant at her chest. Its light feels so weak, now. ... she must have really given her all.

"... Eri..." In her name is yearning and sorrow and vulnerability and it is not a curse.

Her eyes squeeze shut, as she feels Kasagami's fingers in her hair. There's the sound of a strangled whimper, caught between the contact and the threat it poses. "I'm... me..."

And there is Yumi, too, a hand on her shoulder. Mikoto looks up at her, lost and lonely and hurting, and for an instant perhaps it seems like she'd like to.

Then she sees something, in the grey of those eyes, and her gold widens and slits to catlike points in alarm. "No!" Those sigils light along her blade again, weary and ever-watching and a rumbling shockwave of power rocks at the girls surrounding her. With a panicked wordless grunt, she shoves her way up, bullying her way past Yumi and Kasagami, taking steps away until she's metres back from them.

"Stay away!" She says, voice thin and desperate and pallid in its despair. "I can't stop it! It doesn't - matter what I want," and perhaps there is some clue as to what she tried to say, there, as she says again and understands what she has said this whole time. With battered mora, shou-ga-nai, her eyes find Eri: "... it can't be helped."

She has no choice.

Maybe she never did.

Mikoto thinks: she cannot let them get close to her. She cannot go to them for reassurance. She will forget again. She will hurt them again. And Vita will downplay it again, and Yumi and Kasagami will try to approach her again, and Lera will offer practical solutions again, and Steven will be alarmed again, and Fuu will not know what happened again, and...

... Eri's voice will reach into the darkness again.

No. No.

There's only one person who can weather the storm of her. He is waiting.

Don't give him the chance, Eri says, but Mikoto has always given him everything.

She turns, one last lingering look amongst them; she flees.


The Obsidian Lord's back is turned. There is a certain tension to him, and Mikoto cannot help but cringe into herself to see it, teeth pressing in against her lip. Any uncertainty she might have over whether she has done something wrong is interrupted by the way he raises a hand, silently gestures her forward.

Her feet take her forward.

"You know..." There's a certain detached reflection to his tone, as if considering some fascinating and far-off star. "I'm the only one who can help you." His head turns in fractions, his face shadowed by the light of the screens, gold eyes gleaming in the gloom. "... isn't that right, Mikoto?"

He asks her agreement and her mind makes it so, true because he has said it is true. Distantly, looking so far up to his broad frame, she notices she is afraid. "Yes, Lord Brother!" Mikoto says, and written in the fragility of her gaze and the totality of her surrender is that present truth: she is wholly dependent on him.

Everything revolves around him. All paths lead to him. He is alpha and omega. He is.

And she needs him.

Her Lord Brother turns and he is smiling - of course he is smiling, warm and welcoming and so very glad to see her back. Mikoto's breath catches in her throat, relief gentling her expression, and she latches about his waist and hugs herself to him, sheltering from her fear within his strong and steady arms.

Drawing closer to him to escape her fear of...

Mikoto tries not to think about any other help she might have wanted.