2018-11-09 - Oktavia Menuett I

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Oktavia Menuett I

The other half of the fork begun in 2018-11-08 - Oktavia Sonate, a group journeys to the heart of Oktavia's labyrinth to confront her and try to bring Sayaka back... to prove that the world is not as heartless and terrible as it seems.


Oktavia von Seckendorff, Kyouko Sakura, Lera Camry, Mikoto Minagi, Setsuna Higashi, Kozue Kaoru, Madoka Kaname, Endo Naoki


Haneda Airport

OOC - IC Date:

11/3/2018 (moved up for continuity) - 05-27-15

*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Haneda Airport +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
  Built at the juncture of Tama River and Tokyo Bay, Haneda launches its        
  planes over the water. Its control towers command a view of a landing strip   
  that seems to have ambitions of becoming a bridge across the sea, jutting as  
  it does against the bay, surrounded by a rectangle of bright green grass.     
  As each of its three terminals was built about a decade apart, they have      
  different styles. Terminal 1, deemed 'Big Bird,' is the oldest, and has       
  rounded, boxy construction, with an interior similar to an opulent gold-hued  
  shopping mall. Terminal 2 features wavy, cylindrical architecture, and its    
  mall is sleek silver. Terminal 3, the newest, has a downward-curving roof     
  that swoops weightlessly toward the sky, and a more businesslike, modern      
  interior. All three feature numerous restaurants and amenities, including     
  some oddly traditional-looking eateries, though Terminal 3 has a tendency to  
  turn into a ghost town at night.                                              
  One of the busiest airports in the world, Haneda is also one of the most      
  orderly and punctual. It handles domestic flights, while its sister outside   
  the city, Narita, handles foreign flights. The recently opened Terminal 3,    
  however, has taken some international traffic, mostly from Asia. There is a   
  lesser-known fourth terminal, as well, that handles VIP traffic away from     
  prying eyes. 


<Pose Tracker> Oktavia von Seckendorff [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Varizione De Un Tango - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WaoVXaDRa0

There is no surer sign of human presence than a name. Explorers who leave nothing else in their wake still name the places they discover. Vanished kingdoms and forgotten languages persist in the names of cities and mountains. Here in this twinkling metropolis heaped up upon a bay, there are far more names than people. No one builds pyramids anymore, but that does not mean humans have ceased from trying to leave the largest tombstone possible. Buildings and streets, universities and fortunes, wars and treaties--everything we call civilization rests upon the quiet belief that when we die, we will leave behind a name. And there is no grander burial than to rest within the memories of others.

But that is the new belief, the way of civilization. There is another. There is the old, bad way, that came before skyscrapers or castles or huts, that never really goes away no matter how many things we try to give names to. It says: the dead are the enemy of the living. It says: we leave only our wounds behind.

Has anyone ever asked you if you believe in ghosts?

The scissors pour off the shelves, and the door seals behind.


The dizzying expanse of the atrium has compressed to a narrow hallway. The path to the Witch is red, lit by dim round pools of light with no visible source, with only the occasional fiber of carpet catching a glint in between. Yellowed old damask lies brittle on the walls, its geometries nauseatingly inconsistent in the few places the light catches them, as though the pattern forgets itself with every shadow.

At some point, the gramophone stopped.


Every few yards, a decaying mirror decorates the wall. The reflective metal beneath seems corroded, and leaves cloudy distortions all over the surface of the glass. Memories are trapped within, pressed like flowers between pages. They are difficult to see, only comprehensible at their clearest moments, otherwise blurring to impressions.







(Are they really mirrors at all? Inset into the walls as they are they recall portholes, and they light they cast shifts with bathyic langour.)

More discreet than menacing, the doors swing softly closed behind. And before, there is a pair identical, with curved brass handles set vertically, each recalling an f-stop without invoking one directly. From behind them comes the sound of a single piano key.


With a flex of girders that grinds the very air, the Mermaid Knight lowers her heavy brow, and a gauntlet the size of a train engine crushes tight about the hilt of her sword. Beneath her, a white piano sits like a little seashell. A girl even frailer than her instrument is perched on its bench, her hollowed out eyes staring down. Her skin as as white as a piano key. Her eyes, as black.

She presses another key, and the Mermaid Witch's mass lurches, a motion at once too subtle to see and yet shifting such weight that a soft breeze flutters through the pianist's short blue hair. She pauses, looking up blankly, and the Mermaid Witch stares. Odeta never plays, though often she presses a key. Looking back down, she lets her fingers cascade down one, two, three more notes slowly. She has found a tune.

When the door opens, Odeta has lifted her hand, fingers draped as though she were letting water drip from them. The song is about to begin.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F31FdsiYK_M

Kyouko tosses her hair back, her footfall light and quick upon the darkened floorstuff so given over to pooled shadow. At first she gazes at the maudlin mirrors only sidelong, but as her vision slides off the glassy circles like rain sliding off a convex surface, she comes to stare more directly. She does not flinch as the gallery's portraiture comes into view, each little cameo plucked away from a life stolen young. What does it mean, that snatches of Sayaka's life hang mute alongside the way forward? Is the Witch taunting them, somehow knowing of their purpose? Is the Labyrinth itself a construct of her former friend's mind, a palace to honor the girl she once was?

She flashes a confident grin to her peers, half feigned for effect but not without its sincerity. "There's something left of her even now. Maybe she's calling to us by showing us these pieces of her? We're getting welcomed one way or another, red carpet and all..let's not disappoint her."

Kyouko's body ripples with tension, the fibers of her muscles somehow knowing that soon enough they will be called upon in an unsparing fashion. There will be more than one performance in this concert hall. A door closes as another opens. One thing leads to another, step by step. Beat by beat. There's gonna be a beating, alright.

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

Lera walks, footsteps careful and measured, as she moves through the Labyrinth. She dares not fly, yet; it feels like a fine way to draw undue attention to herself. Besides, she is here with others. She is, specifically, here with Cure Passion and Endo Naoki. Neither of them can fly. She walks at the side of the former. Her eyes turn towards her, for a moment. "Hopefully not much further. I don't know if you've seen one before, but..."

She swallows. "...The Witch won't look anything like Sayaka Miki. Not really," she says, quietly. She stops, slowly; her eyes, the whole time, are on Endo's back.

She remembers what he said. It still scares her.

Her eyes shift, slowly, to the door opening up. She glances towards Kyouko, and she hesitates, before she nods. "...Yeah."

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

And the dead will outnumber the living.

Mikoto does not look back, as they split their forces, though Yumi's words echo in her ears. She stalks with purpose through doors which seal like a closing trap. She knows it is a bad idea, what they have done - to split off and run into a labyrinth with no Puella Magi to guide them. She knows equally she could not have stopped them;

she wants them to succeed.

And perhaps they will be fine.

The pleasant little lies are not unfamiliar, in a place like this. The little gaps of uncertainty which offer absolution. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

She offers no comment on certain parties who move with them. She offers little comment at all.

The conibear trap presses down to a narrow slit of a hall, direct and claustrophobically dim. Keen sight offers little for the lighting of a Witch; its domain is not a thing which obeys any kind of law. Mikoto sees the way the damask curls with age, only to fray a few centimetres left where the light glances against it again. It makes no sense. It never makes sense.

It is a thing she notices before the mirrors.

It speaks to the way she turns her gaze aside.

It was - she was -

Perhaps they are pressed at the bottom of the ocean. It would not be the strangest place to end up. There is pressure enough to crush them. Or is that the enormity of what never was?

A wretched girl she was sent to kill.

A flash of blurred pink in a mirror-porthole.

That glance reminds her of what is at stake, and her eyes track over to Madoka, a brief assessing gaze. She can keep her safe. She can do that much.

"Welcomed," she echoes Kyouko, in distant wonder. A ship is not a ship with all its parts replaced. When every inch of herself is hollowed out with hate and hunger...

For some reason, it's a difficult concept to accept.

It is she and she is saying...

"I'm ready," Mikoto says, and perhaps this is an echo, too.

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

...Not all worlds embrace this civilization. There are some that linger, out there, and is their way the same as that old method? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe they have no relation, really, maybe the patterns between them are just illusions, hopeful lies a girl can believe in an effort to belong. Even so...

A girl in red, with flowing pink hair, can feel the menace in the air. It does not take much for her to feel something beneath, around, hidden in what she has come to know as this world. ...It doesn't take much because names in this way are new to her, because for most of her life, she did not have a name. She remembers what that was like, to live in a world without names.

Her Labyrinth and this Labyrinth, in that way, are not altogether different. Both are prisons for those who do not even remember their crime.


But that's beneath. Here, in the world of sight, Cure Passion turns her head, red eyes carefully watching the narrow walls, the small path... the brittleness of the place. She has travelled a long way before, and she doesn't need to carry misery into this place to feel its strangeness. Inconsistent shapes, impossible angles; her eyes do not shy away from them. She walks in silence but for the clink of jewelry now and then, for soft steps against carpet, and is expressionless.

As she looks on the first of the mirror-like surfaces, it settles into clarity for her only briefly. ...These aren't really her memories to view, aren't her stories to know... Is this Sayaka, sharing them? Or are they looking into her private thoughts, unwanted? Though Kyouko says it is one, Setsuna can't be sure.

The closing doors seem natural to her, as she walks beside Lera Camry. Her gaze turns Lera's way. "...I've seen," she says quietly. "But I've never seen the girls they were before, not knowingly."

She looks at Endo, and back towards another 'mirror', towards Mami Tomoe in a seat, holding something small... Something plush? What is it about this...?

"...The music stopped," Passion murmurs quietly, as her turning gaze settles on Mikoto, for a moment.

Welcomed. ...She doesn't feel welcomed. But it would be unkind to say it.

COMBAT: Setsuna Higashi transforms into Cure Passion!
COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi transforms into HiME Mikoto!
COMBAT: Lera Camry transforms into Barrier Jacket Perihelion!
COMBAT: Kyouko Sakura transforms into Puella Magi Kyouko!
<Pose Tracker> Kozue Kaoru [None] has posed.

It is the simplest thing for someone tucking in a cold corpse for their rest to believe someone is dead. Pouring all of your feelings into that denial, into keeping it fresh, and all that remains still are still lingering traces of what that husk once held. Memories of hands held. The way those eyes looked at you. Imprints of expressions. Happy ones. Sad ones. Pensive ones.

What if you could get those feelings back though? What if you could win back a smile? Their laughter. Their pain.

Their everything.

It is a miracle offered by Kyouko Sakura and Madoka Kaname. It is a miracle she is willing to believe possible. It is a miracle that she would risk everything for rather than accept that all that is left is something meant only to be buried.

Eighty more years. One more day.

She's here to find out how much time she can win back. And thus they all Orpheus in this trek through an emotional underworld. She'd like to believe Sayaka is Eurydice held captive. A pale shade that can be led out. And yet... she remembers. She remembers the witch.

An idle thought is that she is less captive, and more that she has eaten a pomegranate of cynicism and cruelty that Kozue herself had offered to her. And now she has become the Queen of this emotional Underworld.

Kozue's hand tightens around Madoka Kaname's, though her eyes stare straight forward at Kyouko Sakura - their guide. Her other arm has a chain wrapped around her shoulder idly, the links shifting to offer this eerie metallic clinking every now and then, her hand clutched white knuckled around a sickle.

There are mirrors on either side of them. Of course there are mirrors. What are mirrors if not another kind of window? On each edge of her periphery there are some images familiar - but if she dares a glance. They're gone. Only traces. Impressions left behind. Like the memory of a smile.

Or tears.

Or the look of a face while sleeping.

Kozue tries to force herself to stop looking. Tries to force herself to focus on the fact that its simply evidence that what she desires is possible - takes Kyouko's words as reassurance. "... I wish disappointing her is all we had to worry about." There's something wistful in that. However Lera then states something... "You're right."

The weight on the end of her chain drifts from side to side as she steps, and steps causing a clinking pendulum like motion. "She doesn't look anything like herself at all." There's a measured pause, between the clinking pendulum like shift of the chain, "You'll also see something in there that will look... a little like me. Only not."

Madoka Kaname will feel the lightest, most imperceptible squeeze of pressure in her hand as she comments.

"Don't hesitate if it becomes threatening. It's not me... it's..."

The girl in the window.

"... not me."

I saw her from far away, just a second. A glance, right?

There's something even more muted in her voice as she tries to hold onto that. That image. That nervous courage of a girl in the midst of one of the hardest decisions of her life. "It's..."

But from then on, I had to see her again.

"... not me at all."

The music stops. And Kozue takes this single panicked breath, as if steeling herself. As if this were her reprise - her second chance of walking through endless flooded staircases on her journey to...

... her.

She can sense she only has a few moments to say anything. And in that moment she confides quietly to Madoka Kaname, "I wish I could say I feel ready. It feels like I'm walking onto the toughest stage of my life. Improvising a kind of duet I never practiced for." There's something like a guilty smile, "Heh. Usually she'd be the best kind of audience. The only kind I'd want to put on a show for."

That she's not tonight... well. It feels like her fault.

"Well... here we go."

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

Madoka has already wept for the incomprehensibility of labyrinths -- the feelings of girls she didn't understand, didn't even knew existed, even as she passed through them. Candy and needles. Archways and flowers. Rotoscopes and merry-go-rounds. Their warped connection to the 'real' word -- the ordinary world is a better word for it, because this is all too real -- was always obvious. But her innocence was cruel. She saw the what but never even imagined the why.

She shudders as she hears Lera's words, and Kozue's, her heart quailing with the thought that it's the opposite. What they saw -- what they are about to see -- will look very much like the lost girls. Like Sayaka-chan.

(But that's the kind of truth that hurts too much to say, and would hurt even more to hear, so she keeps it locked inside behind the keyhole of her mouth.)

She isn't ready to see, and swallows, then swallows again. 'Ready,' says Mikoto, and Madoka nods queasily. She has to be ready. For the others who are risking themselves to protect her. Most of all for Sayaka-chan, she has to be ready. She wants to see her again so badly... how can she want that enough to die for it, to become THIS for it, and right now be so afraid of what she's about to see?

Her heart pounds out its conflict on its own miserable metronome, but it is quiet. She is quiet.

Even her footsteps are quiet -- trained quiet, trained by Mami Tomoe and Kyouko Sakura who leads her bravely and gamely even now. Mami and Kyouko, who taught their little pink shadow how to not attract attention in dangerous places she insisted on following them into, in those innocent, ignorant times. Toe, then heel, slowly. Her weight spreads lightly across both legs. But it is too practiced, too easy, to distract her enough from the walls.

Her brow furrows. More than anyone else here it should be easy for her to understand what she sees in Sayaka's mirrors, her bedroom collection hung orderly on walls and filled with pieces of her beautiful life. The others see her grow pale -- Kozue feels her hand grow clammy -- and her gait stumbles. Toe trips over heel. She doesn't fall or even lose her balance overmuch...

But inside she's falling, falling, falling. She didn't so much lose her balance there as never regain it in the first place. Not since... not since she doesn't even remember when anymore.

It's all so cloudy. The mind's eye can fill in what the cornea cannot, Madoka learned that in biology class, but right now it feels like the opposite. The negative space behind the glass is overwhelming. Her lips jerk to one side, yanked harshly by wires of guilt.

Her best friend. Her oldest friend. She was supposed to understand her.

She failed then and she's failing now... a blur of pink, mingled blue, shining gold. Her eyes swim. She knows what she's seeing and she doesn't know. Even knowing what she knows, she still doesn't understand.

"Oh, Sayaka-chan..." she whimpers.

Mama taught her that everyone has a reason for what they do. Even if it seems incomprehensible... that's just because she doesn't understand properly. It's the meaning of life, the solution to everything, at least at the bottle of a clinking glass full of ice. Condensation rolls down onto her finger.

Madoka blinks and pulls away from the portholes -- moves forward, moves onward. The corners of her mouth taste salty. She's nibbled the inside of her cheek too hard. But they taste like something else, too.

She looks between Mikoto... and Kozue.

She sees Haneda rubble and the gloom of Mami's apartment.

It turns out that faith tastes like blood.

Her grip on Kozue's hand tightens painfully. It isn't obvious why. It could be a million things and is all of them at once.

Eyes wide open, Madoka enters her best friend's demense, and dares to hope.

Dares to hope that she can finally understand.

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

The door creaks open primly, to the interior of a massive globe. Surely it is concentric to the globe of the labyrinth itself. If so, it is the penultimate layer.

The round walls are painted like a night sky, but not consistently. Some of the stage panels have fallen away, leaving shadowy gaps, and others are smeared or have fallen crooked. A hideous tangle of string or hair, as if from a violin or a mannequin's half-bare scalp, dangles from the ceiling. Below, a circular platform hangs at the equator of the chamber, seemingly suspended only by the narrow bridge that leads to the gallery hall. And atop that platform, the Witch.

This is Oktavia von Seckendorff. A bent metal giant. A rusting empress. Her armor curls and curves, exaggeratedly baroque, her waist sleek but everything above it overbalanced by its own brawny might. The crater-like discs of her eyes bore into her face above the metal grille of her mouth, and beneath, a sullenly glowing red bow, like that worn by Ohtori middle school students. This one, however, is obscenely long. The one bright spot of color on Oktavia's whole decadent form, it is highlighted further by the tattered black heap of a royal cape sways with a filmreel flicker.

And below trails the tail of a mermaid. Somehow it too seems corroded, its bluegreen scales stained in big patches with reddish rust. Despite its vast size, the tail rests daintily somehow, sidesaddle atop its throne.

Collapse - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GQ8yHaiijc

Odeta's last three notes hang in the air for a long moment, and their vibration seems to dislodge the arm of the gramophone. Said phonograph is the size of a two-car garage, and rests to the left of Oktavia--the side where she is not armed. The gramophone's pin lands unsteadily atop a spinning wheel--not a vinyl record. It looks more like the wheel of a fancy ladies' carriage, brilliant gold with blue spokes. And as its whispery sputters of music kick in, the great golden horn above softly wails, midway through a harmony that joins Odeta's song seamlessly.

And as the record plays, so does Odeta. She adds her piano sparingly but decisively, plucking melody from smooth grainy walls of sound. A gutteral wind flutters her hair as Oktavia bends her heavy helm further to listen, the iron growl a mixture of satiety and pain, like feeling coming back to a numb hand. The song just seems to be beginning, and--

The needle slips off the carriage wheel. Such a wheel only has a thin ring available to play on; now the spokes just gently tap the needle now and again, a rhythm without a song.

Odeta turns her avian neck to look blankly at the intruders. Her eyes seem unable to blink. The platform rumbles as Oktavia shifts to look as well, the bridge leading to the intruders drizzling flakes of paint into the void below.


The scream is unbearable. The grille of Oktavia's helm quavers, a portcullis restraining the rage of endless pain. Pebbles and carpet fibers shear off the ground as ninety tons of steel scrape up and off, and Oktavia's sword lifts towards the globe's apex, or the sky it cannot be, or to the heaven that sky cannot be. Her other fist grinds metal as it lifts clenching, her adamant chest facing the door. If you still believe in names, name her Fortress.

The doors behind slam against the windstorm of Oktavia's scream, and the walls below it crawl with the sound of scratching. Sailing up as they leap from the walls, pairs of orange scissors begin to assail the closed door. The first two toss their closed jaws through the handles from opposite sides, forming a door bar. The next two bite each other's jaws as they hop against the bottom of the closed door, so they rest flush against the door with their crisscrossed jaws sealing it. Through their handles, the next pair stabs their jaws, impossibly managing to sink their dull-looking blades right into the wall, so that they pin the handles down. In this fashion, the loyal Elvies stack themselves row after row, until the entire door (save handle) is sealed by X-shaped figures of Elvies biting one another. A few seconds after that, all of their handles are pinned down securely too, and the bristling Elvie crossbars have sealed the door completely.

Around the fiercely rippling curtain of Oktavia's cape, glinting shadows spin up high into the air. Two dozen more oversized carriage wheels churn the air above and behind the Mermaid Witch, their gold color revealed by the light. Swinging her fist in the air to join the one wrapped around a hilt, Oktavia pauses for a moment, framed by her pink and teal Elizabethan collar, then lashes both down to either side like a conductor. The wheels fire themselves down as if from slings, whistling as they cut the air.


Disks of grandly painted hardwood pelt the walls and floor, shattering in explosions of splinters and spokes to the sound of a roar echoing through armor. They do not seem well-aimed, and perhaps they are not aimed at all. But the cone of their impacts is directed roughly at the intruders, and with large, numerous projectiles, many strike on target. Lera and Kozue need to deal with (potential) direct hits. A wheel bursts on the wall right next to passion, a mixture of concussive impact and debris threatening her. Another lands between Mikoto and Kyouko, right at their feet, scorching the red carpet there. And Madoka has a wheel aiming dead-on at her defenseless little body.

But even as the wheels shatter, more are replacing them, spinning up from the depths to the call of the Mermaid Witch. Odete, staring at the sudden combat, rests a hand on the keys once more, even as a debris-flaked breeze washes over her from the distant impacts. With her other, she picks up a pencil on her music stand, and begins to write, her spidery handwriting mussed here and there by the way the Witch's rage causes her piano to shudder. By the time her skittishly fast composition reaches three lines, the number of wheels behind Oktavia is double what it had been for the first volley.

Once more, the Mermaid Witch lifts her bladed baton. The peace of the fading gallery, just a minute gone by, exists nowhere in this world. There is a lodestone here dragging everything into herself, and her name is Fortress.

<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K42ED-7PWAo

The arena looms. Kyouko stands as rigid as a Buckingham sentry, spear gleaming with lethal potential raised up from a clutched grip. She does not dwell on the aesthetics of the awful chamber, taking stock of structure alone. Tapping her foot in idle syncopation with the gramaphone's wail, she considers the spherical contours of the lair. Yes, this is just about the size.

Zip, zip.

Digging her heels into the bridge, she grimaces at the scream. The moment Oktavia's shriek dies off, Kyouko juts her jaw out, tossing her hair back and thrusting her spear forward, opening her mouth for a scream of her own, emptying her lungs in an instant as rage pours out of her eyes like dry ice's smoke, teeth gleaming in the murky light.


The scissors scramble forward like rats crawling over each other's bodies in the flood. Kyouko glances long and hard at them, assessing their movements. When it is clear that they intend only to seal off their escape, she grins a wicked grin. It could not matter less - they will fade away with the rest of the Labyrinth. Succeed or fail in their stated purpose, this witching hour will be Oktavia's last. That the monster diverts its strength to so meaningless an end is all for the better.

The wheels begin to turn. Kyouko has seen them spin before, and knows what is to come. Hurling her spear at the ground, its tip buries into the wooden planks of the bridge..and dozens of tips emerge, growing from the ground like a forest. Clapping her hands, spears sprout by the dozens in a rough half circle in front of the crusaders' path, forming a makeshift moat of spears, a fort to catch as many of the discs as she can manage. Cursing, she leaps back as a wooden chakram detonates near her feet, a lance leaping to her grip as she swings in a wide arc. Her hair is already in disarray, a ragged cloak about her shoulders, framing a fanged mouth as the pulse of her blood echoes behind her eyes.

"Keep moving! Step small if you must, but don't stop! We have to get Madoka as close as possible!" She looks to the small girl, a paragon of quiet bravery, ashen faced though she might be. She also looks beyond Madoka to the situational associations tying strands of would be fate to her friend like so many marionette strings..and sees the wheel headed straight for her. Snarling, Kyouko explodes her heels from the ground, shoving the pommel of her spearshaft into the ground to propel her up and forward. Arching up through the sky, she intercepts the discus' path, shoving her spear through its spokes, gripping white knuckled as its careening force shakes her weapon to a fearsome rattle. Heaving her shoulders, she twirls her spear off towards a distant wall, launching the menacing circle off towards peeling panels of black. Landing on her feet, she beats her small chest with a fist, looking back behind her at her friends, her comrades.


All around her, wheels grind and hiss against her wall of spears, Kyouko already gaining on the meager perimeter that she has established. Her weapons crumble against the percussive assault, but most manage their purpose well enough. Her spear sings in her arms, steel swinging above her head like a spinning censer, cutting through wood even as jagged splinters stud into her forearms, dozens of little bloody rivulets popping loose from her ivory flesh. She roars again, stamping her feet in defiance and resolution.

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

Lera never knew that Passion had seen the inside of a Witch's labyrinth before. She glances at her, sideways, and then she nods. She swallows, once. "All right."

And then, it is through the door, and into the innermost lair of the labyrinth. Lera's footsteps slow to a stop, black and green boots against the strange texture of the ground. Her amber eyes look upward and upward, at the technicolor terror of the mermaid Witch. Her mouth hangs open; she can be a literal girl, and the sheer difference between this Witch and Sayaka's human form stands out to her more than the thousand little ways that she calls upon the idea of Sayaka.

Lera's fingers curl, tightly, about the hilt of Soaring Sky. "You seeing this, buddy...?"

<Yes. I didn't think I was capable of contemplating whether I should believe in God,> Sky chimes, and there isn't an ounce of humor in his tone. <Both of you be careful.>

Lera swallows, looking up -- and sees the wheels come flying out. Debris comes raining down; one of those wheels comes screaming in for her, and Lera hisses softly, before she swings Sky up in just the nick of time. Wheel meets blade, and sparks fly as the wheel grinds against the edge of the blade before bouncing away.

The impact still knocks the girl backward, her breath catching. She doesn't call out to Sayaka, yet; she reasons that someone else should first, someone who knew the girl better than her. Kyouko points out exactly who that might be. Teeth gritting, Lera nods and lifts Sky up. The Intelligent Device glimmers, light leaping up and down the sword's blade, before a trio of plasma lances form -- and fly off, stabbing for Oktavia, one after the other.

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

Creak. The carpet, the creaking door; this too is something. Setsuna doesn't let its image distract her from looking to the next sight. She sees a night sky, but broken; she sees a girl at a piano, but not. Kozue mentioned that they shouldn't hesitate, that it isn't her, that they'd see...

Passion nods, firmly, certain, as her red eyes take in the titanic sight of this Witch; not just any, but the center of this dilapidated stage, not merely the ruler of this strange land but its embodiment, its essence. ...Is that so strange, to see? To understand? That place and person need not show the distinctions people assume of them?

Flicker, flicker. Passion's eyes fall over the ribbon, down through the tail... Dainty. This is not a robot, not some mere monster; knowing the truth now, Passion believes she can see the hints of a girl it once was. She once was? She is?

As the notes hang in the air, Passion begins to step further, quietly, carefully, eyes on the spinning wheel for an instant. Music kicks in... Piano. Keys, and steps, and steps, and suddenly--

Passion cannot help but slip back, hands rising to her ears at the horrible shriek that comes. The scratching-scratching of the way being barred, the rippling curtain--

As the wheel behind her shatters, Cure Passion whirls in place, impossibly quickly--she swings out with her fist and shatters a spoke that was whirling towards her face, as the rest of the debris crashes towards her. Less vital places suffer cuts, and the shockwave of force knocks her backwards, briefly off of her feet before she lands half-turned, staring up towards the Witch again. There are more, all over. ...There are more coming. Passion feels the draw...

She lets herself rise. Once again, Passion says nothing; she glances once to Lera and Sky, and nods. ...That's all the time she has before the second volley comes. The pink-haired warrior surges forward, diving forward and out of the way, a wheel slamming into the floor where she was standing an instant ago. She bends at the knee next, and leaps, more wheels approaching. Somersaulting through the air, she curls in on herself to be a small enough target to evade the next--

When she lands less than an instant later, she does not evade. Suddenly in front of Madoka Kaname, Cure Passion stands with her forearms crossed over one another, a wheel shattering against her. Unmoving, she acts in the moment as a shield, and as the volley continues, she whirls into a spinning kick, jumping just a foot upward to knock the next off-course.

"I'll do my best to keep you safe!" Passion promises, looking over her shoulder to Madoka. She is still nearly expressionless, hard to read--but there are notes there. Certainty, a faith she has learned to place thanks to someone else.

But Passion speaks through her actions, more than that, beginning forward to act as a shield for Madoka's approach.

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

Directed her thought, Ishtar, the daughter of Sin, to the house of shadows, the dwelling, of Irkalla, to the house without exit for him who enters therein, to the road, whence there is no turning, to the house without light for him who enters therein, the place where dust is their nourishment, clay their food. They have no light, in darkness they dwell. Clothed like birds, with wings as garments, over door and bolt, dust has gathered.

There is never a Witch which is easy to behold.

Some of them have points of light which flare like nuclear explosions. Some of them pour nothing over nothing until the whole thing floods. Some of them peel apart endlessly. Some of them slough metal like skin after five days without washing.

This is Oktavia von Seckendorff, and it would be easy to call it 'Fortress'.

With siren's rust and tarnished steel it towers, and Mikoto's lips shape a mora and the sound is 'Sa-'

But what voice can hope to stand against the scream which shatters the world? It screams and screams and she raises its blade, and Mikoto grasps Miroku's hilt in plow stance as a stray rock tumbles from beside her to roll into oblivion.

There is movement, behind her. She glances. It is the familiars, blocking their path. She turns her gaze back to the thing girl which who was Sayaka, though she still listens.

There is movement, in front of her.

She was right. There is a piano.

(Oh, and there is Odeta, that birdish thing which is un-like Kozue, and there is a sick pit in Mikoto's stomach as she

realises they are accessories to their suffering

wonders what horror would wear her face. It is just another little horror she pushes aside, into the dark corners of her mind, where it will not affect her in the moment.)

There is light. It is gold. Gold like eyes, or cages, or curling drills of hair.

There are wheels.

It is on instinct Mikoto moves, leaping from the impact-site of a wheel, away from Kyouko. Her blade flashes as she whirls, and her mind catches up from the realisation she has abjured. Get Madoka close, she catches Kyouko saying. She doesn't need to hear what comes before. She knows it well.

"I'll carve a path," Mikoto says in clipped confirmation, in abstract reassurance, and this too is echo.

Kyouko establishes a perimeter; Mikoto leaps to its forefront. A wheel passes in mid-air, clips at her side, but it is not aiming at her. They are not aimed at all. They do not need to be, in this volume.

Oh, the girl who was Sayaka knows volume.

It's always been bizarre, to Mikoto. Creating a hundred swords, instead of relying on one. She always wondered why she would put her faith in countless breakable things.

Like a hundred hopes - or a hundred hearts - or a hundred little beliefs, torn down one by one.

Puella Magi aren't happy people, she'd told la Sirene.

Mikoto does not have a hundred swords; she has one. She hefts it in wide circle as she lands, a full rotation which catches at the trajectory of one of the wheels and sends it spiralling away before it can sink into the midst of their little group. She steps forward, Miroku drawing up to slam against another as it tears towards her. Force meets force. Wood splinters like chopsticks in a clenched fist.

She keeps moving forward, with bestial snarl on her lips, and she means to do precisely what she has promised.

She is not a shield, but a blade. This is how she can keep Madoka safe.

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

The truth that Madoka Kaname saw is not one she could see before. Not quite. She could see shades of herself in the Odeta. Not her. The girl in the window. The girl that Sayaka hoped to see a glimpse of begin yet Kozue always shut her out from. The truth is that what remains of Sayaka Miki is not laying tucked into Mami Tomoe's bedroom. She is here. Exaggerated, distorted - but here.

She had felt the too tight grip of Madoka Kaname, she had felt the clamminess of her skin. The other girl might not feel the same in parallel - in echo of her because of this. Just a fractional cooling, a twisting of her fingers into applied pressure.

That is her reaction to seeing her again.

The final notes of Odeta's song feel just subtly out of tune. Of course it feels that way to her ear. The gramophone spins up a carriage wheel...

...and Kozue sees Sayaka through Broken Halves of Vinyl in her hands.

Kozue starts to shout, "SAY-" The witch screams even as the first syllable leaves her throat, leaving her feeling like she's drowning again in this pool. Because she doesn't just see the towering Mermaid in Armor conducting. Oktavia Von Seckendorff screams...

...and she sees her shout - and bolt out of her seat. Startled by her cruelty again.

... and she sees her collapse to the ground with her dolled up face and lovely dress. Her hopes betrayed.

...and she sees her walk away in disappointment. Unable to see who she came here to see.

...and she hears her voice grate over a receiver before she hangs up abruptly.

...and she sees her clutch her chest in confusion as a red stain spreads and her legs fail her.

...and she sees her bent over Mami Tomoe's corpse. Her white cape surrounding her like a funeral shroud.

Is it any wonder she's screaming?

Even now it is not so much that the Mermaid Knight has betrayed her capricious Blue Princess. It's the other way around. The Blue Princess has betrayed her so many times that she has backed her into a corner of the wall. It is the only possible outcome.

Kozue doesn't want to but she knows she has to release Madoka's hand. "I have to let go now." She says, as she reluctantly does. Perhaps not wanting the courageous girl to be associated with her in what's coming. To protect her, to protect herself. "We'll get you to her."

Kozue it hurts...

How did she ever respond to so much pain?

I want her...

With cruelty of course.

... to come back.

It is the only way she's ever known to respond to such things. 'Sorry' isn't good enough - she regrets the outcome, but she doesn't regret the journey. Because it drew them both together.

She cannot apologize for that. There are things she can apologize for - but not that.

Thus she does not speak right away. She ignores the snipping of scissors cutting themselves behind her. She ignores the reverberating echo of the scream in her ears. Shrugging the chain off her bicep, she grasps it with her opposite hand, taking the loops and beginning to spin it. Back-peddling as she sees the trajectory of the wheel, she abruptly pivots around and casts the looping chain forward.

The weight spirals forward and smashes into the wheel. Splintering it into two halves of twisted metal and spokes. It's momentum of flight takes it to her. Kozue manages to get up the sickle to deflect one - but the jarring weight still spins her around into the path of the second which takes her in the side of the hip. Sent sprawling past Madoka Kaname, it's thankful that Kyouko Sakura was there.

"Nnnn..." The girl lifts herself up on one arm - and there's something a little twisted in that pained smirk. "Go ahead." She rasps, "You need someone to lash out at? Make it me."

Getting up on a knee, she begins to run forward at Kyouko's command, far be it from being too proud to take the crimson Puella Magi's marching orders. She drives forward at the flanks of the other girls that are defending Madoka Kaname. "Hurt me..." Perhaps it's the "... punish me. When I say I'll never forgive someone for disgracing you... it means me too."

It doesn't mean she can apologize though. For anything she's done - save one thing.

Her chain keeps revolving, and her movements keep the flashing image of Oktavia and the Girl in White. There's something in that movement that reminds her of the wheels, but it's more someone instinctually grasping parallels. It whips wildly around, narrowly missing others as it batters the precious witch treasures. Knocking them off course. Reducing them to debris which pounds into her and sets her back a half step with every half dozen.

The franticness of her attacks seems on tempo at a frenetic pace as they push forward. And then strange inspiration strikes in these moments of reflection upon her own cruelty - and it comes from the girl in white.

BGM Change: Siren - Tori Amos - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bmv63lEQ_SI

"Sakura." She pants, "I have an idea to distract her so you can get Madoka closer. If Sayaka's still in there... I don't think she'd be able to ignore this."

She breaks off notably from the flank, continuing her forward run. Perhaps it looks like she's going to distract the witch itself with some kind of attack on her. It's not... precisely wrong. Kozue pivots suddenly and the weight pitches outwards in a sudden arcing curve. Tethered to an ever distending - lengthening chain. "Sayaka! If you're searching for the girl in the window..."

And then the chain stops lengthening - the curve taut. The momentum of the weight no longer carrying it forwards, but hurtling it sideways towards the head of the white pianist on the bench.

"... you can do better than that one."

What kind of world do they live in where cruelty can both save - and damn someone all at the same time?

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

What a cruel thing, that Madoka's mind refused to fill in the broken pieces of memory arranged like incomplete mosaics on the labyrinth wall, but when she looks at the Witch, this function performs perfectly.

They enter her first as a series of impressions, the way the mirror images were supposed to.







but her brain translates these signals immediately and precisely to







and they don't come in through her eyes, they stab so deeply through her ribs that they emerge out her spine on the other side. Is the world stabbing her or is she stabbing herself? Does she see truth or just what she wants to see?

She couldn't explain any of it out loud, or even find the words within herself. They aren't even thoughts, just feelings, and all of them are painful. Still, they can be passed back through some sort of lens in order to give them form, to understand them more coherently than Madoka herself does.

The bow is almost an afterthought.

Sayaka, with the armor she should have had but was never given, concealing and protecting and imprisoning her.

Sayaka, with the cloak that armored Madoka so many times, saved her life from washing flame and shocking force and monsters monsters monsters, symbol of her heroism, dyed in ink, in the darkness of the world.

Sayaka, who made a wish for someone who never saw her back, but refused to disappear. Who found the right someone instead, who found her happy ending. And then this happened anyway. Worse than a fairy tale...


Oh, Sayaka.

Madoka was expecting to be afraid -- and some sensible part of her mind has made her knees quake and her eyes become mostly whites and her teeth are chattering. Kozue leaves her, Kozue loves Sayaka, Kozue starts showing it. Madoka loses Kozue's hand and gains the ability to reach out. It grasps the air wildly, the air in front of her, the air that creates space between herself and Sayaka.

She wants to touch her...

...to hold her hand...

...on the bench, at the bus station, on the train, under the covers...

Terror is a primal element but it isn't the humor that flows through her most strongly after all. Distress, yes, but -- not for herself.

"Oh," she repeats in a shrill whine. "Ohh, oh."

Kyouko fights to grant her wish without her even voicing it in words, and she tries to move forward with the group. Her legs are uncooperately clumsy -- the fear -- and she staggers and stumbles more than she bobs and weaves. She isn't looking at where she's going at all. She's looking at

"SAYAKA!" She mumbled it in the hallway but now it's a barbed arrow and it rips and tears its way out but she doesn't care, it has to come out.

She balls her hands into tiny fists and her bitten-to-the-quick fingernails start carving little pink crescents onto the skin of her palms. Replacement for the single little blue one. The missing one that they have to somehow find. It's waiting for them. She's waiting for them.

She has to be.

Cure Passion makes a promise. They're all making promises, so many promises. Red eyes find reddened eyes. Madoka's red ribbons bounce with her nod of gratitude and she moves more ably, afterwards, though not easily. Nothing is easy here. Mikoto makes a promise too, lives it, and Madoka strives to emulate her good example.

She doesn't really see the wheels, just impressions of gold as they're shattered around her by the others. By her friends. Every single person here is her friend.

And they brought her here to speak. She takes a deep breath, a belly breath like Papa taught her.

<SoundTracker> One Light - Kalafina https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqWV6mBwHgU

<Translation> https://canta-per-me.net/lyrics/one-light/

"SAYAKA!" she repeats, more powerfully. Although the scream is about the same maximum Madoka volume, it is far more intense. Now she is the one controlling the arrow, and it arcs from the bow of her lips instead of simply being ripped from her flesh. She stares straight at the helmet, at the discs supposed to demarcate eyes. "SAYAKA, PLEASE LISTEN! IT'S ME, MADOKA-CHAN!"

Her other hand comes up to clasp the uniform over her heart. There's no bow there to tug. It's still wrapped around the hand of an empty shell.


A bit of shrapnel from an exploded wheel opens up a tiny scratch on Madoka's right cheekbone, and she winces. "Puh-please," she gasps. "Please come home..."

She presses onwards, her whole body bent a little bit forwards as though she's fighting through a storm.


<Pose Tracker> Oktavia von Seckendorff [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Symposium Magarum - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LtY_RXoF1wA

In quick succession, three bolts of plasma clank into various parts of Oktavia's chest armor, leaving visible scorch marks but no clear damage. Oktavia does notice Lera's attack, however, and with another scream the sword lifts, then falls. The titan's blade strikes the platform like an aftershock, threatening to knock the intruders to the ground.

The walls, too, shake. The sphere communicates stress rapidly, and panels begin to drop from the ceiling. They shatter, powdery, on the platform, some bouncing against its corners and dropping into the darkness. But where one peeled away near the apex of the spher, it has revealed a large drum and a metal music stand, both hanging upside-down from black-painted "floorboards." There is a girl standing upside-down before them, with pale blue skin and a school uniform, just like the girls who had taken a prisoner through the antechamber. In her hands she has two little mallets.

Odeta has reached the final line of her composition.

The sword grinds away from the floor again as Oktavia rises.

The Livianna-drummer starts a quick, soft rolling of her mallets on the drumskin.

With two sharp slashes of her pencil, Odeta marks a crescendo at the start of the piece. At the same instant, the Elvie that leaped through the left-hand door handle snaps open to create a horizontal V with its jaws, the Livianna above starts to drum increasingly hard, and the sword





of cymbals, a host of panels plummet from the ceiling as one. The sword dislodged the covers for much of the percussion section and about half the strings. Violins set to wailing as viola reel, and Odeta strikes into the keys to accompany. There is a drunken grandeur to the song, a late-night waltz for the dissolute, played by the minds of the diseased. It sloshes back and forth like an ocean in a wineglass. And, with a third smash of her sword, a soloist joins in, her violin pleading its way above the melody like the hand of a drowning girl pleads above the waves.

The wall of spears holds at first, though about half the time, an impacting wheel either bends the haft of a spear or half-dislodges its tip from the floor. Thus this fort cannot last long; by the time Madoka is ready to advance out of it it helpfully collapses outright. Mikoto is ploughing forward, winnowing how many are on their way to the main group, even as Passion and Kyouko defend Madoka from the many that do manage to pass her.

If Oktavia is particularly responsive to Kozue's presence, she shows no sign of it. As she makes her way through the wheel-hail, Oktavia does not yet look down at her. Madoka is approaching, directly from the front and bristling with defenders. Perhaps this a reunion of sorts. If the bow on Oktavia's chest is just the memory of a bow, that is all right; Madoka knows those memories too and the recognition is as strong. So many times, Madoka has offered out a soft hand to a sharp blade, and sometimes it even works. But even when it fails, there is a response. Incredulity, from those who do not understand kindness. Hesitation, from those two do. Both feelings might last just a moment.

But Madoka feels not a flicker of either. Can there really be even a single, darkened corner of Sayaka that doesn't care about Madoka at all?

With a surging scream, the Mermaid Witch blasts her response to Madoka's loyalty, the wind witheringly strong on a girl who has yet to reach five feet tall. Hastening to keep up, Odeta lifts a hand to snatch her pencil, scrawling another mark on the sheet, sFz, and the orchestra responds emphatically, just in time for the storm.

The golden wheels tighten their formation suddenly, and start slinging down in a much tighter stream. Like a Maxim gun they drill down, pop pop pop, their scatter much-reduced as they seek to annihilate Madoka. This is not an assault for the crossed bracers of a Precure or even a simple shelter behind Miroku; it must be battled with everything one has just to survive a few seconds.

And it lasts for twenty.

That is when Kozue gets within striking range of Odeta. The distraction works; Oktavia swivels on her throne and smashes her sword down like a gavel, knocking free the panels covering a few woodwind players above. The wall of steel bisects the chain of Kozue's kusarigama, snapping it and pinning Kozue's end a few feet deep into the ground. The other end simply flies free, but the sudden yank at the chain alters its momentum. The curved blade chops into the side of the piano like an axe, sticking there quivering as a dissonant chord twangs through the instrument. Odeta pauses to stare at it.

With Oktavia's sword otherwise occupied, the Aglaé wheels are no longer being commanded to focus on Madoka, but they do not wait for further direction. The volleys are over, and now the command is fire at will. They launch at random, constantly but without the same brutal coordination. They pelt the ground, Passion's arm, Kyouko's spear. They split apart from the reaping of Miroku. More tiles are dropping, ONEtwothreeFOURfivesix, only hitting the ground here and there but never failing to hit the present count when they do.

But worse, Oktavia has lifted her sword, unbarring the passage to Odete. Drawing it back over one shoulder, she swings it horizontally for the first time, the disturbance of air in the great chamber dragging a soft howl from the depths below. The blade is massive, an unstoppable object, and it sweeps across most of the bridge all at the same time, smashing through a few wheels as it goes. A blade that big cannot truly be sharp to a human, but the blunt wedge of its edge is no less lethal for it. And right at its center of balance, where its aim is most true, stands the girl Sayaka Miki promised to marry, five days a week, for almost a decade.

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

Oktavia's great blade crashes to the ground. It sends a rolling shake through the whole chamber, and it knocks Lera to her feet. She comes down, taking a knee without any will over her own, and she grits her teeth. She looks up in time to see Kozue's efforts fail to garner any attention from the Witch. Lera's heart sinks a little more then. She stabs Sky down into the ground, the tip of the blade splitting some of the strange ground here, and pushes herself back to her feet with her Device as a brace.

A trickle of blood runs down her cheek, where a piece of debris from one of those waves of Aglaé struck against it. The orange-haired girl spits on the ground, and her eyes are locked onto Madoka's back. She hears her scream out Sayaka's name.

She sees the Witch's answer, and Lera's heart finishes sinking the rest of the way.

The sky seems to darken with all of those wooden wheels. Lera's eyes widen for a moment, as she sees them swirl up -- watches them rise like a tidal wave of cracking, breaking hardened wooden wheels that crest up over Oktavia's form, and then seem to come crashing down at one point. Panic floods Lera, then, like ice rushing through her veins.


<Locking onto the targets!>

The tall girl forces herself to her feet, then swings her sword up, held in one hand. The muscles in her arm tense, lines clear against the strange, twisting light of the Witch's lair. The blade clicks, and then splits down the middle, as arcs of golden lightning leap between the two halves, growing steadily in number.


A Belkan triangle swirls, underneath Lera's feet. Its rotation causes a small wind to pick up; droplets of blood splash down, at an angle, and her hair whips to one side. One, two, and then a third spinning rings of light, filled with runes, appear before the blade.


The glow between the two blade-halves builds to a fever pitch. Then, finally, there is a titanic pulse of white-gold light, and it shoots straight down the middle of the beams. Then, it curves to the side, as Lera turns her arm -- and the beam rips across the huge wave of Aglaé, burning through them one after the other.


The beam fades, after a moment. An afterimage remains in the air. Lera lets out a shaky breath, rattling in her throat, and her eyes turn down towards Madoka. She flashes a brief, quick smile at her.

The second wave of Aglaé come. Without guidance, they cannot all come for Madoka. But a quartet of them come for Lera. Her eyes widen--

--but before she can make her protection spell, they slam into her, and smash her backward. The mage hits the far wall of the theatre with a crack, and then crumples down to the ground with no ceremony.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Bear McCreary - The Differently Sentient https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cq6d0QEsg9U

Now when Ishtar had gone down into the land of no return, Ereshkigal saw her and was angered at her presence. Ishtar, without reflection, threw herself at her. Ereshkigal opened her mouth and spoke.

Mikoto swings her blade, and shatters wood.

The girl who was Sayaka swings her blade, and shatters existence.

Mikoto does not fall but she staggers, and in the moments of distraction Aglaé pour past her. She finds her footing a moment too late to stop them.

From the fallen panels is revealed a drum, a beat which only serves to further break the sphere which is the world. Down, down fall the panels. It's like being caught in a sudden rainstorm without an umbrella - the sort where the rain falls fiercely and without any warning at all, but for a sudden scent in the air and the sensation of shifting pressure.

The drum beats.

One panel falls a few inches shy of Mikoto's flank. She leaps out of the path of another, twists in motion to avoid a third. But they do not fall in staggered series: they come all at once. There is no time to pause before she arcs her sword up, to cleave a fourth in half.

It is only circumstance that a wheel-familiar bludgeons its way past her when she is occupied with the motion, battering her out of the way and sailing past her to the group. Golden eyes catch, this time, the way it is shattered on Cure Passion. Mikoto is not alone.

She stumbles for a moment - regains her composure with a deep breath. She snarls.

The girl who was Sayaka screams.

Eight months is not so long, compared to Kyouko or - as much as she would be horrified to know - Madoka, but it is long enough for Mikoto to have a sense for reading changes in a Labyrinth. The orchestra - there is an orchestra revealed now, with the swinging of that greatest blade, it has not just shuddered the ground beneath their feet - responds in frenzy. The wheels shift focus. She looks to their trajectory.

She does not cry out - Madoka, Madoka.

She just acts, with wordless howl of rage.

One second, and acrobatic legs bend to send her leaping to stand before Madoka in a much more immediate fashion. It is not such an unfamiliar thing, standing against an endless assault. Two seconds, and she swings her sword in downward arc as she lands, shattering a wheel beneath her. It is a disrupted stream; the others are doing their best to winnow it. Three seconds, and she brings Miroku up to catch another. There was no one to assuage the attacks on her as she grew. Four seconds, and there is no moment when Mikoto is not in motion. She had to stand; she had to fight.

Five seconds. The wood splinters.

Six. There are still too many. Three drive in at once, and she cannot carve through them all. She does not fall as they drive into her. She is not suited to raw defence. She is still a monument compared to Madoka's frail form.

Seven, and she has gained the footing to bring herself around in full revolution, to cleave the Aglaé in twain. She must be careful. She does not want to cut Madoka on her obsidian edges.

Eight seconds. Blood pounds in her ears, drowns out the sounds of Witch and familiars. Another wheel. Nine, and it is her own little soundtrack, the one she listens to every time she fights. Ten, and she can taste blood. One of the familiars impacted as her teeth grit, and it caught on her flesh. Oh, yes, it tastes like faith. Eleven, and she plants her foot as she brings Miroku down on wood. She does not step far. Madoka is behind her.

Twelve seconds; it is not a simple shelter. Were she alone, she would be overwhelmed. Thirteen. She remembers being overwhelmed. She remembers falling under the onslaught. Fourteen. It's a memory because she is stronger now. He made her stronger than this. Fifteen --

This is surely the last possible moment where despair would set in. The moment where it would all seem hopeless, impossible, unending. The moment of realisation that these attacks will not cease, and it is not possible to stand forever.

There is no moment like that for Mikoto Minagi.

She keeps fighting.

Sixteen seconds. Seventeen seconds. Eighteen seconds. Nineteen seconds. Twenty seconds. The length of time does not matter. All that matters is immediate reaction to what is in front of her. Everything in a Labyrinth is an enemy. An Aglaé makes it close enough - an Aglaé is destroyed.

Twenty... one.

It changes.

The impact of the giant sword registers; there is no place here where its tremor is not felt. Mikoto does not look back to the distraction. She looks to the wheels, and she sees the way they tilt, the way they lose focus again. She snarls wordless warning. It doesn't stop. It just changes.

She doesn't stop, either.

Surely the girl who was Sayaka knows the advantage to a long blade; the area of exclusion which can be created with reach and strength. She takes firm step from Madoka, to ensure she will not catch her in her arc. She spins. It is rotation versus rotation, and the blunt force of the wood catches on the sharpness of hers.

She doesn't get dizzy any more.

She worked until she got rid of that, too.

Her arc ends; her gaze lands squarely on the girl who was Sayaka. She does not have the thought to spare on the fact that it does not matter if the ship is the same. If every part is replaced by a monster...

She does not think on that, or on anything at all.

She sees the sword heft - and she leaps to escape its trajectory.

She does not realise it was not aiming for her, but for the girl behind her.

By the time she does, she's already in motion.

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

This time, the scream does not catch Cure Passion in the same way; she braces herself for it, and when the titanic blade comes down, she shifts her feet and adopts a stable stance, keeping her footing with a resolute look. She turns her gaze, to check what's happening, looking around quickly--and the panels are falling. Falling, turning to dust, with the strange little girls as they continue their music, such as it is. When the sword crashes down--

Cure Passion is still there, is still resolute. With Mikoto as the sword, she can be a shield, a feathered guardian before the girl whose eyes Passion met for a moment. Nothing is easy, no--but the bounce of red ribbons is its own kind of music.

...And Passion can hear those words; she can hear Madoka's heart, as she calls out, as she heartbreakingly speaks to her friend. She asks--she promises, too--

The howling response comes. It is not what Passion has seen, before--but it is what is here. At first, though, Pretty Cure stands resolute; those who are not here can still be her strength, and Cure Passion starts forward, trying to keep up, striking at as many wheels as she can in the next instants. It won't be enough. When Mikoto surges upward, begins attacking them, Passion is still there, shattering one that makes it past her--but it is not enough. The familiar sound and feeling of swirling Belkan magic sounds, then--and the column of light is there, leaving Passion trying to catch her breath as they get a brief reprive. ...Too brief.

They come down again, and Passion takes one right on her arm before she can finish getting in position to block, battered backward, forcing her to lunge forward for another. Almost she manages this one, but as she whirls, she sees more coming for Lera--before she can get her protection spell up. "No--!"

Passion, too, is slammed backwards, rocketing towards the wall much like Lera, her defenses momentarily pierced as she's distracted, the deafening roar of attacks obscuring the sound of her impact.

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

Two girls compose. One is Madoka Kaname. And Kozue's heart feels... something. Touched and profoundly uncomfortable all at the same time by the depth of the feeling that seems almost like a song.

Odeta composes too - more literally. 'What' Kozue can't see from afar. Only the results. The girl in the window composes the music for Sayaka's world. There's a twisted sense to that that would make her feel flattered on most days. Not this one. The girl in white is an adversary. A rival. It is cruelty to attack her. If it plays any part in saving her though - she'll do it.

Kozue doesn't hesitate to try to cave her head and she does it subito sforzando.

Oktavia's response was anticipated. It felt like last time she had to tie up Sayaka to prevent her from protecting her image of the girl in the window. Now - unrestrained, she cannot fail to defend her. With a brute ferocity that equals Miyu Greer's finesse, she severs Kozue's Element, the chain snapping back. Kozue gripping her severed chain. Sending it smashing into the piano.

It'd be a lie to say she gets no satisfaction from that.

The blade unoccupied then swings again, and Kozue can who is in its path. Madoka Kaname.

Does she not see her? Or does she not care? Either way Kozue blurts out, "SAYAKA THAT'S MADOKA!" As if hoping that would stop her. Everyone has their own reaction to it. The tide in the room is changing. She can feel the creeping doubt in others because she can feel it within whatever counted for own calculated logic. If she's willing to attack Madoka Kaname then perhaps this in vain. Perhaps there's nothing left. She cannot believe that. She refuses to believe in it. She still believes in the miracle Madoka offered.

And even if she didn't. This could not be in vain.

The shift in the tide should make her feel like she's drowning. Should make her feel unable to breathe. Instead it makes her calm. Stalking forward like a thief in the night, she is a creeping shadow at Oktavia's periphery. Without the Aglae so directed, she stalks forward. Light-footing it. Every so often stopping to deal with a random one entering her path. To hop back, to pick up the pace. To parry.

The assassin that is Kozue Kaoru finally reaches her rival. The sickle is raised behind Odeta's back. A knife that is about to fall - to ruin the symphony of Sayaka's world.

The sickle descends... with a thought still looming.

... how it will ruin the music of Sayaka's World

"No." The Element buries itself in the bench a one fourth beat after she says the word. It does not sever it. It sticks in. She pries it out while staring at Odeta from behind. Then steps back. Then further. It's the faintest sussurus of a whisper, "That's all wrong."

Even if Sayaka was beyond telling her anything. There is something she had been trying to tell her all along. And that is what stays her hand - even in this silent betrayal. Killing this rival might help make this easier for all of the Magical Girls fighting. For Madoka Kaname.

She doesn't understand - but just like it wasn't Sayaka's choice anymore - it's not all hers either.

The only choice is their choice.


BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rnNBeyxe_W4

Kozue doubles into a phantom afterimage of herself. The double transfiguring into something avian and beautiful even as water rises from its advent. A swan in gleaming silver armor. On its head is a crest that harkens back to a peacocks in how feathery soft the metal seems. Like it was more demarcating elegance than royalty.

Yet like all swans, beauty hides temperament and brute force. The wings are for all their curves and feathers are all curves and metal. The beak is a thin spear. And the tide is rising. Where it's coming from - it's hard to say. Perhaps seeping it through the damaged airport - or conjuring it herself from the strange physics of the witchworld. A mermaid's habitat is water. It would be unusual if she couldn't bring forth a drop in here. It drip drops all around the side of the labyrinth's center without threatening a single other Magical Girl here.

Kozue stands upon her with a hand upon her neck. The Child glides away from the stage on a gathering swell of water that seems to move with her, taking HiME back away, parrying a pair of undirected Aglae with its wings as it goes before swiveling back around to face the thing that is Sayaka Miki.

Even with the way she feels now... Kozue still needs to give herself a moment.

COMBAT: Kozue Kaoru transforms into Kozue and Cassandra!
<Pose Tracker> Kyouko Sakura [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2sS964ecfWo

Kyouko whirls. Her spear snaps out like a striking snake, sinking its immense tooth into ring after ring. A wheel whips by her, and her hand darts after it, bursting a crucial swathe even as wooden needles run her through. Tears spring to her eyes, birthed of more than just pain. Her heart sinks in the thick of her bloodlust.

It isn't working. Yet.

Dropping her spear, her entire body spins around as her heel cracks against the pommel, launching the lance forward as a makeshift missile. The shaft widens and flattens, less launching forward and more growing ineffably forth, extending meter after meter. Kyouko sprints along the narrow catwalk, charging straight for Oktavia with tears streaming down her face, seized upon by a witch'es brew of emotions far beyond her reckoning.

Thorns sprout from her back like skeletal wings, stabbing and slicing golden rings by the dozen. Her hair whips behind her, a meteor's fiery tail. She comes upon Oktavia, shoving down the impulse to tremble, not from the monstrosity of her opponent so much as the hideous depths from which a pure hearted girl has fallen.

Sayaka was an avenging angel, a creature of light and white feathers. What hideousness will contort the demon Kyouko, when the last vestiges of humanity seep from her red haired body? It is one thing, to be a fallen angel. What of the fallen fell? Enough of that, such morbid thoughts. Kyouko has been doomed for a long time. The details are just set dressing. The mermaid looms larger. Kyouko thinks of Sayaka, thinks of the stories of her childhood. Of course. She should have remembered.

Mermaids cannot speak to the creatures of the land.

"Damn you. You always had to be in the middle of everything. Little peacock girl, always crowing for attention. Well you've got it now!"

Kyouko leaps. For a moment she hangs there in suspended relief, mid-air, face to face with the gnarled helmet. Her spear is in her hand. Twisting it with a quarter turn, she shoves with all her might, slamming the flat of her blade into Oktavia's cheek.

"We're all here for you! Are you so vain that you'll spit on that? Are you so set on being a victim? Have you really given up?"

Another twist of her wrists. This time her spear head is horizontally aligned with the ground beneath her soaring feet. Swinging her weapon like an executioner's axe, the blade's needletip corner digs into the Empress' collar. Hauling herself up with her arms, Kyouko flips forward in mid air, vaulting up to land on the spear haft with a tightrope walker's balance. Slowly she steps forward, an accusing finger extended.

"Damn you. Damn you! Snap out of it, you insufferable girl! You BITCH! How DARE you give up! How DARE YOU! Do you have any idea what you might've meant to me? DO YOU?"

It takes no time at all for the realization to sink in. There will be no dramatic confrontation, no cathartic heart to heart. If Oktavia even heard her, she gives no sign. The wheels spray as savagely as any rain of razors ever cast from the crimson corsair's hands. There is no hesitation in the Witch's composure as she seeks to slaughter her former friends. Her shoulders shift...a sword raises... and Kyouko murmurs, too quietly to be heard.

"Damn you...even now you're a pain in the ass..."

A thought shoves into her head as aggressively as a knife, and she is reminded to make time for the living. Leaping down, she lands upon Oktavia's raised sword arm. Spinning on her heel, she produces a grief seed. Black floods over red and washes out just as quickly as she burns an inordinate amount of magic a moment before restoring her soul gem to immaculate prominence. Glowing red diamonds sizzle into the air in enormous strands, the first wave an enormous net that crashes into the swing of the sword, furling around it but holding strong, gumming up all of that savage momentum. The second wave is a curtain call, an enormous ring alighting all around Oktavia con Seckendorff, sealing her off from the others...and sealing Kyouko in with her.

"Madoka...it's now or never!"

Everything came down to the pink haired angel. If there is any antidote to all of this twisted corruption, surely only one utterly pure of heart could be beyond doubt. Madoka, who resembles the saints of the stories Kyouko grew up with as much as anybody she's ever met. Kyouko came here with a single drive, above all other impulses. Her purpose here is to protect Madoka. To give her a chance to reach out, spirit to spirit. Kyouko will not fail in that, no matter what. Kyouko will not fail her.

It all leads to this. Sayaka must be saved. It's the only way that the rest of them will be saved. That she'll be saved. That Eri will be saved...Kyouko has found few causes she'd risk her life for. In this moment, Sayaka has inspired her to fight for a hope...a hope whose champion's name is


She will not fail her.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> One Light -- Kalafina (Continued) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vqWV6mBwHgU




Madoka scarcely registers the transforming sphere, the falling panels, the orchestra. Over and over this has happened, especially to Homura's dismay: when Sayaka is in danger Madoka's tunnel vision is absolute.

She doesn't even see the wheels coming, not that she could do anything about it. But they're in the middle distance, and the focus of her gaze -- bright with horrified tears, but bright, too, with hope as the lighthouse that refuses to extinguish in the middle of the storm -- is beyond them. What they do is throw her into shadow, such that only her eyes are left, the rest of her simply a darkened silhouette.

Madoka in windblown outline. Struggling to keep her feet. She grabs onto one of Kyouko's wall-spears for support and for a few scary moments becomes its battle flag.

She refuses to even be disheartened by the lack of hesitation. Certainly she seems to have Oktavia's attention. Just with words, amid the swirl of violence all around her.

That alone is a good enough reason to keep trying -- and there are many other reasons too. Like how Kozue, also, was able to get Oktavia's attention.

Like how Kozue, also, is looking for a miracle. Like how Mikoto. Like how everyone else.

Like how herself.




Which isn't to say that a little bit of shrill desperation isn't entering her rapidly-hoarsening voice.

"SAY-A-KA!" she enunciates more carefully as though trying to talk to an American tourist in English. Well, no. As though Sayaka would try to talk to one. Sayaka always did all the talking for Madoka.

Not anymore.

"YOU HAVE TO COME BACK!" she screams. "THERE'S SO MUCH OUT THERE THAT YOU'RE MISSING! WHAT ABOUT SOFTBALL?" A wildness has seized her tongue, and it rushes from memory to memory, transforming them into sound fierce enough that it rivals the rising orchestra.




And then the wheels hit.

And then the wheels hit Miroku and Aurora Burst Ray.

And then the wheels hit -- Lera.

The spear-wall collapsing all around her, Madoka loses her voice as she sucks in a shocked breath. Her fingers weave into a wall across her mouth, and she turns to look -- to see the sacrifice someone has just made for her safety... and for Sayaka's. To see Passion rushing to her side.

She inhales sharply and too-shallowly, the beginning of hyperventilation. It mangles the next volley of words but nevertheless she persists.

"What -- about -- US?" she demands to know. "SAYAKA-CHAN, EVERYBODY WANTS YOU TO COME BACK!" This is true; the Chevaliers want Sayaka back and the Shepherds want witches to be able to come back. Not that Madoka is thinking straight enough to make that distinction right now. Her cheeks are flushing, not with anger exactly, or even its lesser cousin indignation, but with a hot-teared sympathy for the girl who founded the Chevaliers, reduced to their butcher.



"PLEASE STOP!" she begs. "YOU DON'T HAVE TO HURT ANYONE ANYMORE! YOU DON'T HAVE TO HURT ANYONE EVER AGAIN!" This is true too. If Sayaka can come back then they don't even have to hurt Witches -- they can, as Kyouko suggested, save them.

She's interrupted by Kozue's scream. "SAYAKA THAT'S MADOKA!"

As with the wheels, she hardly even noticed the sword. As with the wheels -- moreso, really -- it wouldn't have mattered. In a way her tunnel vision is flattering to her allies; her trust in them is absolute (or else it's her indifference to her own safety that's absolute; or else it's both at the same time, compartmentalized contradiction).

Ever do they repay her faith. Kyouko's anger has penetrated Madoka's focus on Sayaka about as much as Kozue's stealth mission off to one side (which is to say basically not at all) but in what would have been her final moment -- that she was aware of, thanks to the scream -- her eyes are cast so deeply into shadow that even the pink is gone, her sky wholly filled by Oktavia's sword.

Until it crashes into a tsunami of red. She is saved, and Kyouko is in grave peril because of it. It's now or never -- her chin lowers, and much like this tiny china bull once charged Kozue, she now rushes forward, straight at the Witch that was Sayaka, that could still be Sayaka.




Aglae explode all around her like machinegun fire on a battlefield. Somehow she gets closer and closer, her arms spread wide, outstretched beseechingly, like she's about to hug that mermaid waist.


This may only be true in Madoka's sunny, rose-colored heart, but it is true with all of that heart.

"I CAN'T MAKE EVERYTHING BAD THAT HAPPENED JUST GO AWAY," she chokes out through the breaths required to propel her speedy, twig-slender legs. "BUT -- IF YOU STAY HERE -- NOTHING GOOD WILL EVER HAPPEN EVER AGAIN..."

She hiccups.



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

The blow intended to slap Kyouko out of the air just makes her wobble in her leap instead. The girl Sayaka called Zhang Fei the first time they met has all the weapon mastery of her mythological forebearer and more. After a moment suspended before the Mermaid Witch, she whips around and drubs the great baroque helm with her spear-flat, the clang a brief disruption to the orchestra's song. But the armored faceplate only turns about a quarter of the way it would have taken her to shake her head 'no.' Physics suggests that shifting her head even that far is demonstrating incredible strength. Kyouko was not striking to injure, as it happens.

Oktavia does seem to pay attention to people who hit her in the face, and she shifts to follow Kyouko with the moon-like craters that pass for her eyes. Only an armor-shaking grizzling from the depths of Oktavia's 'throat' answers the pain wrenched out of this hard-hearted girl. Oktavia seems equally indifferent to insults and pleas. She smashes a hand into her own arm to try and squish Kyouko when she dismounts.

Most of the ceiling is gone now. The spherical chamber forms an inverted orchestra pit above, with bassists, percussion, and harps in the back, and slices of wood, silver, and gold marking the different sections as they move inwards. The very top panel, behind which the conductor surely stands, is still intact, and yet the orchestra plays on.

Even Odeta is playing. And with every blow struck, with every villain felled, the song swells with more instruments.

It's the only way she can hear it anymore. Call her Fortress.

Lera's blistering Belkan magic massacred a company of wheels, before the last four broke her instead. Cure Passion follows soon after, even her Precure might beaten down by the onslaught. With Kozue drawing no attention for the moment, only Mikoto and Kyouko remain in a position to defend Madoka, and they do so fiercely. Oktavia seems to sense victory, and presses the attack. The final sweep of the sword crashes into Kyouko's net of magic and...

incredibly, it holds. The edge lodges there, unable to dig into the diamond barrier. And suddenly, for the first time, Oktavia's sword has had its movement controlled by something other than Oktavia.

The orchestra halts abruptly with a shriek of strings, though a few Liviannas muddle forward a few notes in their confusion. Even Odeta's piano has stopped, though it was her composition. The Mermaid Witch lets out a piteous, grinding wail at the silence that has fallen.

Odeta sits very still on her piano bench. It is not the conductor who stopped her. Slowly, she turns, her hollow mouth gaping at Kozue neutrally. She makes no move to protect herself, but her fingers are frozen on the keyboard. Is she afraid? Curious? Do these words mean anything to a familiar? She doesn't even have eyes to reflect the glint of the blade as it falls.

Gently, she turns her face down, to look at the sickle where it has buried itself in the bench. Her eyes then follow Kozue as she steps back. Only when she begins to summon Cassandra does Odeta seem to feel she can turn back to her sheet music, and rip off the page she's written on, balling it up. In the background, the sound of Oktavia's longsword bashing the barrier punctuates Madoka's sparrowsong voice. You don't have to hurt anyone again, she says. But the colossal blade lands again and again, sparks flying from the barrier as the orchestra tentatively starts and halts with some of the more dramatic swings.

Ignoring the Liviannas' confusion, Odeta scratches out her last few notes, and sets her fingers to the keyboard.

Rolling Girl - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zY9lxhHBu0I

Oktavia rears back at the unexpected swell of piano. Odeta plays with virtuouso confidence, no longer supporting a gramophone or an orchestra, but carrying the song herself. Melody and harmony flow from one hand each. She drags her hand across the keyboard, sweeping through keys like Lera blasted through wheels. It's a much faster tempo than before, even as Kozue slows down and draws inward. But Oktavia seizes upon it.

Mikoto is trapped on the wrong side of the barrier, and so it is only Kyouko and Oktavia out here. The Mermaid Witch turns her wrath on Kyouko, to the sound of tumbling piano notes. Back and forth she reaps her sword, her great armored shoulders flexing and groaning. But the proximity is awkward; she begins to swing the hilt of the weapon instead, and slam her great gauntleted fists into the ground and barrier, trying to land a blow.


Perhaps so.

The Mermaid Witch has boxed Kyouko in and forced her to parry, which soon forces her to outright block. And the very first time that happens, Kyouko loses that spear, and it's all over.

From Madoka's perspective, it's as though Kyouko suddenly fired herself like a rocket at the barrier. Kyouko's back slams into the diamond fence, her body crushed into it by a massive fist. When the great metal wall of knuckles draws back, Kyouko slides a bit, and then is caught on her way down by the other fist, this one with the sword-hilt in it, smashing her into the wall again. This time Kyouko falls down to eye level, the second layer of the wall protecting Madoka. Her feet catch the ground, keeping her up for a moment whether she's awake, unconscious, or dead. Madoka can see Oktavia's fist drawing back far this time, the sight broken up by kaleidoscopic red diamonds.

The third punch smashes Kyouko right through her own barrier, and one can only hope the reason it shattered is that Kyouko lost control over it, because otherwise it's her own, hollowed-out body that finally broke the rigid magical wall. She rips through it amidst its shattering pieces, her long hair shivering like a pennant as it folds over steel knuckles. Her momentum, largely dispersed by the crushing mpact, will deposit her broken form right by Madoka's little loafers.

The rain of wheels, which had been temporarily breaking against the barrier, had never stopped, and suddenly they are whipping past where it stood. Fortunately, that same shattering has released Mikoto from her chain as well... but instead of running for the safety of Miroku, Madoka just keeps going. Somehow it's beginning to rain in here, droplets pattering on Odeta's white piano as she pours her hands into the keys still faster, as Cassandra rises into the air. That's when it ends--the song, that is. It ends to the a decisive slam of elegant fingers.

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

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

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

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

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

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