"I don't know if I was bulkier, but I definitely felt stronger and faster. Okay, so here's what I'm thinking," Sayaka said, walking back with Madoka, hand in hand. "I'm the tank, you're the support, Kyoko, Mami-san, and Homura deal the damage. You buff us, I go all in, take his attention, the other three nuke him to high heaven. We do this fast enough and he'll be toast."

"Um… I don't think that's a really good idea."

"Huh? Why not? It's perfect!"

"Well it's just… I couldn't, ah, what did you call it… 'buff' Sakura-san earlier when she asked me to. What if I can't do it?"

"Then I'll just have to work double time."

"But what if you get hurt!? I couldn't bear it if anything happened to you, Sayaka-chan…"

"That's what you're there for, right?" Sayaka grinned.

"That's cyclical reasoning, Sayaka-chan," Madoka frowned.

"I don't know the meaning of the phrase!"

"I don't like the idea of you putting yourself in danger!"

"I can't say I'm the biggest fan either, but you gotta do what you gotta do, right? The whole world's at stake! We're the only thing that stands between Dante and… whatever it is that he wants."

"You don't know?"

"Nah. Homura has some idea, but I couldn't really follow it when she explained everything. Something about complete global saturation or something." Sayaka shrugged. "Not that it matters. He's evil and we're good, so naturally we gotta stop him."

"Does it have to be us, though? I'm sure Akemi-san can find others to help her."

"No, I don't think so," Sayaka said with a frown. "According to Kyoko, magical girls typically don't work together. Getting enough together to fight Dante was pretty hard for her. Homura said she mostly had to go it alone."

Madoka hummed.

"And when she talks about it, she just looks so… sad. I see a lot of pain in her. I really wanna help her."

Madoka's eyes narrowed as Sayaka continued to talk about Homura. "I'm sure Akemi-san is grateful for your assistance," Madoka said tersely.

Sayaka gave a mirthless chuckle. "I can't help it, you know? She's like… a little dog."

Madoka rolled her eyes. A moment of silence passed between them. "Now I'm curious: what do you think of the others?"

"In general or specifically?"

"Please just answer the question..."

"Honestly? I think they're pretty cool."

"Really?"

"Oh, totally sure! There's nothing cooler than fighting for the sake of others. That's what being a hero of justice is all about!"

"...I'm sorry?"

"Think about it Madoka: Mami-san, Homura, Kyoko, all of them are fighting witches for the sake of humanity. Putting aside their wants so the world can keep on living in peace. I don't think you can be cooler than that. All of them, not just Homura, have been through a lot of tragedy. But they keep on fighting… I guess I find it admirable."

Madoka stopped, letting go of Sayaka's hand. "So that's why you're fighting with them?"

"Well, not just that-"

"What is it then?" Madoka snapped. "I've been so worried about you! You've been disappearing at lunch and after school every day, I thought something weird was going on!"

"Um, 'something weird'?"

"Only to find out you've been risking your life against a… a-a demon! And you never told me! What if something happened to you!? What if you got really hurt and I had no idea!? What then!? Would I have to live without knowing whatever happened to you? That… that would…" Madoka sprang forward and pulled Sayaka into a tight hug. "I can't let anything happen to you…" she said. "I won't let anything happen to you!"

Tentatively, Sayaka returned the hug. "Thanks Madoka-chan. Now that you mention it, I… don't think I ever thought that far ahead."

"Sayaka-chan, you're not invincible. I don't care how powerful you feel, you need to take better care of yourself." Madoka tightened her grip. "If you can't, then I'll have to."

"Hey, that's the spirit," Sayaka said, pulling away. "You've always kept me out of trouble before!"

"And I'll keep doing it," Madoka said, a fierce determination overcoming her as she stared into Sayaka's eyes "I will keep you safe. I promise."

"First things first, we gotta stop Dante for good."

"..."

Sayaka frowned at Madoka's downcast expression. She sighed. "Come on, let's go get something sweet."

Madoka trailed behind Sayaka as she continued to walk. "There's nothing admirable about fighting like this, Sayaka-chan," she muttered. "All you do is hasten your own death. I will keep you safe Sayaka-chan… I won't let you get hurt…"


Homura ran as fast as she could through the city, stopping time as she went. Finding Dante was proving to be an arduous task. He stands out for sure, but finding one person in a city as big as Mitakihara was infeasible. Still, she needed to find him. How was he dealing with the grief seeds? What was he planning to do when Walpurgisnacht came? What did he want with Kyubey? What did he glean from the questions he asked them? She had to know in order to plan for when she reset time again.

Yet while she focused on getting answers to these, a part of her couldn't help but feel guilty. As per her instructions, Dante acted as a villain -far too well- which caused a chain of events that resulted in Madoka contracting. At this point, nothing could be fixed. She debated whether she should tell him that. He was an anomaly, a being that existed only in this timeline; there was no guarantee he would even exist in the next iteration. This was another point she was conflicted on. For the first time in a while, she could envision a way to the future she wanted. But she messed it up. What if he never showed up again? He proved to be a brilliant asset if she could use him properly. If he was gone, she'd be back to the same, tired strategies that weren't getting her-

No. She couldn't afford to think like that. She was a person with infinite time. Every possibility was guaranteed to occur. Saving Madoka was inevitable.

She simply had to force herself to believe that. Despite that guilt growing with every failure.

"Homura Akemi." The childlike voice penetrated her thoughts and made her stop dead in her tracks. She looked around, but the owner wasn't in her line of sight.

"Incubator," she said.

"As I thought, you are aware of my purpose. If you have the time, I'd like to speak with you regarding Dante."

"If you want to talk, show yourself."

Kyubey leapt down from somewhere, appearing in front of her. "I hope you're amenable to conversation," he projected, staring unblinkingly at her. When she didn't respond, he continued, "I had the opportunity to speak to Dante just now." Homura looked askance at him. "He repeated his proposal. I believe he has aspirations towards world domination, or total annihilation of the human species. While I have yet to fully understand him, his goal appears to be within expected outcomes. Many of your species wish for that kind of authority, even without our intervention. Regardless, it seems that your claim holds true: I know nothing about him. Conversely, it appears he knows nothing about me, either."

"Is that so?"

"You are also unknown to me. As I'm sure you realize, I am concerned about this. Dante is an enigma, but you are undoubtedly a magical girl. After observing Dante some more, I don't believe he is the reason for that, at least consciously. Therefore, I conjecture it is much more likely to be by your magic that I knew nothing about you both. I would suppose the wish you made has something to do with traveling through different iterations of our universe?"

Homura tensed.

Kyubey flicked his tail. "You won't confirm this? Ah, don't misunderstand, I will not stop you. Operation of parallel universes is outside of our power, and even considering managing things on that scale would be quite inefficient. But I digress. In the context of this conversation, I'll be working under that assumption. However, before that, perhaps I should be thanking you."

"Thanking me?"

"Indeed! As you know, Madoka Kaname has an absurdly high potential! Various threads of fate are woven around her soul. I assume the same is true for Dante, but I am unable to see his soul. I can see why he would be important, but I do not understand what Madoka Kaname has to do with either of you. Still, with her alone, I think we will have enough energy to stop universal entropy for millennia! Long enough until we find another suitable species. I'm sure the other incubators in the other universes you've experienced would say the same."

Homura's fists clenched.

Visions of pulling out her weapons and eviscerating the incubator with her firearms and obliterating his body with heavy ordnance flashed through her mind. How dare he. How dare he! Talking about Madoka like she was nothing but an over glorified battery… who cares about that!? Who cares about entropy, the universe or anything!? Madoka didn't deserve this, she didn't deserve any of this!

But, despite the turbulent emotions, intense anger, desire to strangle the creature before her and the futility that notion encompassed… he had a point. Her interventions over various timelines have made Madoka's life worse in several ways. But without her, she would be doomed regardless!

Though what about the timelines she left behind? Did she just leave Madoka to suffer all the times she left her? Did she go on to destroy the world? It was a discomforting notion.

"It is a rare occurrence," Kyubey continued, "for a magical girl to appreciate the scope of my mission. I am glad you are able to view our arrangements logically. I do not understand why humans react negatively when the terms of the contract are explained. It is, I suppose you would say a relief, that there are magical girls like you. Isn't there a human saying, 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few?' Humans' view of morality overall is quite inconsistent. But I digress; you have made my job easier. I am thankful for that."

Homura bit her cheek. If the Incubator was giving this earnest thanks to her, she knew she messed up beyond all recognition. That was a blow to her she'd never recover from. Her teeth clenched tighter.

She could taste blood.

No. She would not fall into a spiral of existential dread. Not again. She had a pure and noble purpose here. This situation was just like the others. Immaterial. Inconsequential. Failure tests the mettle of the heart, mind and body, and she would be forged into something stronger.

There is no other choice.

Gathering her wits, running a hand through her hair, she focused back on Kyubey, sitting in front of her, tail flicking back and forth. She resisted every urge she had to harm him. The Incubator may have conjectures, but he couldn't prove anything. She would continue on and reach Madoka's happiness.

"Why bring this up?" She eventually asked.

"Dante still poses an issue. Whatever mechanism he uses to draw power from the grief seeds is unknown. Before I leave this planet, I need to know what this is. We will then modify the soul gem/grief seed system accordingly. So, to that end, I will lend my support."

"Support?" Homura asked. She had to steel herself; she couldn't let the hatred and vitriol she felt toward the creature show. Kyubey was showing more of his hand than he ever did before. This timeline wasn't salvageable, but she could still learn something useful. "And what would that entail?"

Kyubey briefly looked into the distance before turning his head toward her. "After further consideration, I believe I'll take his offer of partnership."

"What?"

"It is the best way to observe his soul and the modifications he made to it. I'd originally refused, believing him to be the result of a mind twisted by using a witch's power, but his anomalous properties fall outside expected parameters. He does not give off the usual signs of a witch, or the male analogue of one, and the power he displays has been increasing exponentially quickly compared to the typical linear increase." Kyubey flicked his tail. "Humans continue to surprise me when left without our direct intervention, so if there is a chance to learn something useful, I'd like to observe it. In other circumstances this would not be a good use of resources, but after using Madoka Kaname, a side research project wouldn't be too difficult to incorporate."

This came as a surprise. Kyubey couldn't tell anything about Dante, which meant he was more of a wildcard than she thought previously. 'Modifications' to his soul… would that be the reason for the abilities he displayed so effortlessly? Unlike the others, and apparently Kyubey, she knew he wasn't actually using the grief seeds for anything. All the power he displayed was solely his own, but she didn't know anything about it. And it wasn't like he'd tell her if she asked- she wouldn't reveal her power on a whim like that, after all. But Dante has figured out the mechanism behind magical girls, albeit an incomplete understanding, and reached a conclusion that wasn't too far off. She was at a disadvantage when it came to him. Maybe she could learn something about him from this; the source of his power or a way to replicate it if she were lucky.

Homura's stomach dropped. Was she actually considering going along with what Kyubey said?

Inconceivable.

But she might not have a chance like this again. She should take it. She needed to take it.

For Madoka.

She'd do anything for her. Even if it meant going against everything she was. Her life was meant solely for Madoka. She was a tool in service of her. Any advantage that benefited Madoka was worthwhile, even if it went against any semblance of morals or autonomy she had left.

No price was too great.

"So why come to me with this?" She spat. Despite already concluding to work with him, she still had a character to play. "Did you think I'd acquiesce to you making Dante more powerful? You're only working from assumptions. Granting his wish is only going to make things more difficult for me."

"I understand your reluctance," Kyubey said. "If your ultimate goal is to kill him, this would seem counterintuitive. However, you are going to fight him regardless. If he is integrated into our system, he would be beholden to the same rules you are. Destroying his soul gem will be much more effective than anything you've tried in your previous battles. If his soul gem transforms into a grief seed, you fight a beast operating only on base instincts as opposed to a thinking opponent. Depending on the content and wording of his wish, he may end up weaker than he is currently."

"This seems like a gamble coming from you."

"The result is inconsequential. I simply want to gain insight into his soul; this is the best way to do so. And as I said, I would offer my support by telling you any relevant information I uncover. His interference is a detriment not just to you, but to all magical girls. Whether you accept my assistance or not, I am going to approach him regardless. I am telling you this as a token of my appreciation, you could say."

Homura quashed the nausea that emerged. Every fiber of her being screamed to obliterate the loathsome creature before her. Fantasies of bullets, explosions, and meticulous torture liberally applied to the Incubator raced through her mind. She quieted herself by repeating the mantra that kept her going through this infinitely repeating hell: For Madoka.

It was all she had left.

"Lead the way."


Honestly? Dante was having a great time. He sat staring up at the moon, thinking back to everything that's happened so far. Getting a new enemy was always a good time. And all because some kid needed help with a fight. He chuckled to himself.

He never was the biggest fan of kids; hell, dealing with Patty took several months for him to get used to. There was a reason his parties were 18+; the most PG fun he could have is tying balloon animals since Nero vetoed everything else he came up with. But the group of lil' ragamuffins he's been handling have been a relative breeze! Clearly Nero was just bad at dealing with kids. And the poor guy didn't even realize it. What would he do without good influences like him and Kyrie? Probably explode.

Yup, this month has been sick, and there wasn't anything that could possibly ruin it. Unless someone tied that inordinate property damage back to him and he got fined. Or pizza and ice cream were outlawed. Or the world collectively decided to enforce prohibition. But other than those three very specific and outlandish things, there was absolutely nothing that could make this day worse.

On an unrelated note, it appeared Homura was quickly approaching him. And she was bringing the little demon with her. And after that whole spiel about how much she hated it? Now this should be good.

"Dante." He waited until she fully approached and addressed him.

"Well if it ain't my second favorite Lady," he said, repositioning to face them. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I will not mince words," she said with a notable frown. "Kyubey has… agreed to your offer."

Dante quirked an eyebrow. "No bull?" He snorted. "What changed all of a sudden?"

"Kyubey explained to me that, after considering more data, an… arrangement with you would prove beneficial."

Kyubey blinked and nodded once.

Dante stared at them.

"You're serious."

"So it would seem."

A moment passed.

And another.

Silence seemed to stretch on until-

He laughed.

Really hard.

Homura sighed in exasperation as Dante continued on.

"Damn, you really thought about it, huh?" He asked, his laughter dying down.

"It would appear so," Homura said, eying the creature that sat beside her.

"Why the hell do I need to wait for the circus when I've got this clown show right in front of me?" Dante said with an amused gesture toward them. "Yup. That's a knee slapper."

Kyubey tilted his head.

"Congratulations on joining the winning side! So," he clapped his hands. "What's the deal?"

Kyubey looked at Homura. Homura shut her eyes and sighed deeply. She couldn't believe this was actually happening.

"Kyubey… has decided… to grant you a wish."

"Oh yeah?"

"It is a similar contract to-"

"I can wish for anything?"

"...Within some limits as defined by your-"

"Great! I've been thinking of this for a while. Listen up:"

"Dante, you really should consider-"

"I'll take two extra larges. The first has all toppings, but hold the olives. Also, and this is important, half of it has stuffed crust, the other has regular. The second one I want split into quarters: one part is meat lovers, one part Hawaiian, one is veggie- don't forget the mushrooms- and the last is only anchovies. And make sure the Hawaiian part has an herb flavored crust. And I want it so that it's always hot, and whenever I close the box and open it again, there's more pizza."

Homura stared incredulously as Dante described his wish. If she had not practiced keeping a stoic disposition, her jaw would drop. She wanted to say something, but her words left her. Before she could even fully process the content of what Dante said, Kyubey's appendages had elongated, and were about to reach into Dante-

And in the next moment, the Incubator's body had burst into flames.

Homura stepped back reflexively, the fire burnt so hot she could feel it threaten to ignite her even when she stood so far away.

And just as suddenly as it started, in the next moment the Incubator's body was gone- combusted so thoroughly that not even its charred ashes remained.

Homura's fists opened and closed. At the display, her mouth did sit agape. Dante had developed a counter to Kyubey ripping your soul out? How!? He did a number of outlandish things, but this was beyond anything she had seen before. A complete rejection of Kyubey's modus operandi- a protection against his false promises. An obliteration of his body. Destruction of his purpose. Retribution against him for daring to harm them.

It was beautiful.

It was sublime.

It was perfect.

And it was better than anything she had hoped for.

Dante sighed. "I can't even use magic to get a good pizza?" He said with legitimate disappointment. If he couldn't even sell his soul, then there truly was no hope of reaching pizza nirvana. Is it because he threw in the second one? No, clearly it was because Morrison's taste in pizza was dog shit. Anchovies and nothing else? That pizza deserved to die.

"How?'

"How what?" Dante asked, remembering Homura as still there.

"You destroyed Kyubey as he was about to grant a wish. How did you do this? I need to know."

Dante gave an easy shrug, but was taken aback when Homura yelled.

"Please! You have no idea how long- how long I've searched for something like this! If I could learn how to do the same thing then-" She stepped closer. "I must know! If you tell me, then she'll be safe! Please tell me, please!" At this point she had crossed the distance and was tightly gripping his coat. Tears were streaming down her face as she repeated her pleading cries.

Dante sighed at the sight. "Look, Homura," he said, gently pushing her off of him. "I got an idea for why Kyubey exploded, but I-" he paused. Seems like a couple of the girls were approaching. Wouldn't do to have her lose face like this. "I'll get back to you." Homura sank to her knees. "Look alive- we've got company." She remained still. "Don't worry, we'll figure this out," he said as reassuringly as he could. It seemed to work because Homura looked up at him with, for the first time since he's known her, hope.

Shit. He'd really feel like a villain if he didn't actually do something.

He took it all back. Dealing with kids was annoying.

"Homura!" Sayaka yelled as she ran forward. Dante vanished right then, and Sayaka ran and slid to her, clad in her magic girl attire, and caught Homura into a secure embrace. "Homura, are you okay!? We came as fast as we could! What did he do? Are you hurt?"

Homura looked over Sayaka's shoulder, not caring how uncomfortable she was at Sayaka's hug. She saw Madoka, also transformed, coming towards them. At her approach, Homura regarded her with an earnest smile, joyous tears falling down her cheeks. Finally- finally- she was seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. Her journey was coming to an end. She would never give up her soul to Kyubey. She could live with all the happiness she deserved. Her Madoka would be saved and would never suffer again.

Madoka looked at Homura, being held by Sayaka, and the grin she gave her.

Madoka huffed through grit teeth, turned, and walked away, ignoring the rain that began to fall.


Welp, here's a little somethin' somethin'. Hope you liked it! Or don't! In another news, I recently went back to school. Now I'm pursuing a doctorate. Yay me. Now, what does this mean for you? Absolutely nothing. I already write maybe two words a day on average and pat myself on the back for a job well done. Now if you'll excuse me, I gotta get back to playing Baldur's Gate 3 on my Nintendo 3ds.