Chapter One: Sounds of Silence
Sayaka came to life with a strangled gasp.
Ugh. Dust in her throat. Dust in her eyes. Ow. Owowowow. After a second of blind panicking, the teal-haired girl realized something.
She was alive.
But that wasn't right.
Sayaka had given up… she was sure she had just…
Confusion rifled through her brain. The last thing she remembered was - right, yes, there had been a train station and - and she had been talking to someone… who? Red hair… name, so familiar, on the tip of her tongue and she had been… she had been showing her soul gem… dark blue, webbed with cracks of green…
Prettiest… prettiest thing you ever did see… that green color… like… seaweed… yes, just like… seaweed… from heaven… and she had been a fish… swimming through the… and… there had been all those suitors that…
Adrenaline shot through her.
No. No, it was ugly, it was hideous, it was poison. It wasn't her. That wasn't her.
"Kyouko," she managed to gasp. She didn't remember – couldn't remember – but she knew something awful had happened. Something awful had happened and it was her fault. "Kyouko," she said stronger, more urgently. "Kyouko."
She cracked open her eyes. Everything hurt. Her vision was blurry. A stench – something putrid and rotting – assaulted her nostrils and she nearly gagged.
Focus Sayaka, focus.
Her body was just hardware right? Get up. Get up. This is your zombie soul ordering you to get up.
She flopped uselessly for a few moments before taking a deep breath. Alright, zombie soul not doing what it was advertised to do. Figured.
"Kyouko?" She whispered again. "Ma…" A pang of guilt.
'Madoka, you really want to help? Then become a puella magi! That way-'
Why – why had she said those things – why had she said such vile, hurtful things to her best friend? That wasn't… that wasn't her. It couldn't be. "Madoka?" She begged.
She was a puella magi. She was a puella magi that focused on healing. She wasn't sure what was wrong with her body, but if she focused… flesh re-knit, her breathing eased, eyes started focusing and the pain went away. There was an unfamiliar ceiling staring at her, but that might have been just the darkness. It was probably night. She flexed her fingers. Wiggled her toes.
Ugh, the smell.
Taking a deep breath, Sayaka swung herself off the bed and got to her trembling feet. Nearly collapsed.
"Kyouko?" She asked the darkened bedroom. "Madoka?" She licked her lips. It was possible she had died. "Ma-mami? Any – anyone?" She swallowed. "Please – I don't – I don't want to be alone. Please, I just-"
The back of her head was ambushed by a pillow.
"Arrg, do you ever shut up?"
Kyouko had been having a good dream.
Everything had been bright and cheerful and normal. Dad had ruffled her hair and laughed when she had pouted. Mom had baked a cake that smelled a little off but that was alright because it wasn't like they could be picky about what they ate anymore and Anko-chan had laughed and everything was really, really alright.
"Oh geez, Kyouko-chan don't cry-"
"I'm not crying," Kyouko said proudly, sniffling as she rubbed her eyes. "I have, um, I have allergies. Yeah. Serious, serious allergies. Hay fever like you have never seen."
Her parents gave each other a soft, shared grin that parents sometimes gave each other when they believed that they saw through their children's facades and it was so condescending and so normal that Kyouko's allergies went into overdrive.
"Onee-chan," Anko whined. "Onee-chan. Stop crying! We made you cake!" There was frosting in her hair. She held up a grubby hand to tug at Kyouko's skirt. "I helped! Mommy said I helped lots and lots!"
Kyouko knelt down and gave Anko a brief hug. Before the moment became overly sappy and her parents started to suspect that she was on drugs or something she then did a one-eighty and gave the tyke a noogie. "I'm not crying you little pipsqueak. I have allergies."
Anko squirmed. "Mommy! Daddy! Heeelp!"
Kyouko had always liked Father's laughter. It boomed big and strong and stable.
After everything had settled down, they all got into position around the table. Father said grace.
"Amen," came the chorus.
Before they ate, Father announced: "Now I know, I know that things haven't been easy. But we'll get through this. I promise. Have faith, if not in me, then in Him."
"Dear, we never doubted you," Mother said sagely, cutting into the cake.
The smell – of something sick and rotting – became stronger.
Kyouko ignored it.
"Yeah Dad!" Kyouko said, fist pumping in the air. "You're the best! All those dummies-"
"Now now, no name-calling," Father said sternly.
"Dummy! Dummy!" Anko parroted happily.
"All those other douchebag priests don't know what they're talking about." Kyouko harrumpfed, crossing her arms.
Dad gave a helpless laugh. "Well, I'm glad you have such faith in me but remember that the good book-"
Her head whipped around.
"Did you hear that?" She asked her parents.
Mom looked at her in concern. "Hear what, dear?"
Kyouko frowned and shrugged her shoulders. "Nah, I just thought someone called my name."
Her head whipped around again and she furrowed her brow. "Hear that? Some girl was totally calling my name."
Father and mother both looked at her in concern. Dad put a hand to her forehead. "You do feel a trifle warm," he said uncertainly.
Kyouko decided very firmly to ignore the voice. She hadn't eaten in a while. Clearly it was affecting her ears or her brain or something. Or maybe the devil was speaking to her. She mentally gave the devil the middle finger, just in case.
"I'm fine," she said, grabbing Father's hand and giving it back to him. "Just –ha ha – clearly my imagination. Let's not waste this excellent cake that mom made."
Mom coughed. It was a 'hem-hem' sound that was clearly fake but she smiled hugely. She gave Kyouko a slice. It glistened and squirmed and smelled even more terrible. Kyouko swallowed but forced a smile on her face. It wasn't like they could afford to be picky.
"Thanks Mom! Thanks Dad! Thanks little sis!" She chirped, picking up her fork. "Best birthday ever."
Kyouko's eyebrows ticked as she brought the spoon to her mouth.
Kyouko threw the spoon down. Damnit, damnit, damnit. Why was that insufferable girl always making her feel guilty?
"Kyouko-chan, what are you doing?" Mother asked, alarmed.
"Kyouko-" Father started to say.
I don't – I don't want to be al-
Kyouko stood. Her allergies were acting up again.
"I'll be back soon," she wanted to say but couldn't get it past the lump in her throat. Her family's faces suddenly became disturbingly gentle, even Anko-chan's. Then they nodded, all at once.
For a moment she saw grinning skulls and maggots but she kissed them all anyway because they had waited, they had waited and they would wait longer and-
And then the world shattered.
Coming back to life was a lot less interesting than Kyouko thought it would be. In fact, it didn't feel any different from waking up after a long nap. Look, she was even in her own bed.
Blearg, what was that stench?
And hey, Sayaka was still trying to throw herself a pity party.
Kyouko grabbed her pillow and slung it across the room. "Arrg, do you ever shut up?"
The teal-haired girl's expression, framed by nothing stronger than filtered moonlight, was priceless. "You-" Her face looked like it was trying to reboot. "You're not – I – I –"
There was so much emotion packed into that one word that the redhead in question was momentarily struck speechless, mostly from surprise. Then there was a noise like rubber slamming into wood and Sayaka was somehow tackling her right off the bed. Kyouko hit the ground with a yelp, hundred pounds of schoolgirl trembling on top of her.
"Ow. Sayaka-" She complained.
"I thought I – I thought-" the other girl babbled and Kyouko could feel her hyperventilate, breath hot on her face. "I thought I dreamed, I dreamed I was a fish in a pond, right? And I – and I was was being serenaded by a thousand different musicians except not the one I wanted. And then the fisherman came and- and- Kyouko I think that I-"
Kyouko very carefully flicked Sayaka on the forehead before the lunatic chatter got out of hand and she went all Cthulhu on them.
Sayaka reeled backwards, hands clutching her forehead. "Owch!" Green-blue eyes stared balefully at her from the darkness, their half-remembered rivalry flaring up. "What was that for?"
"You," Kyouko pointed out, "are giving me a headache." Then she added, because Sayaka hadn't seen fit to release her legs: "Now get off. I need food."
There was a moment of fumbling where neither of them blushed. True story.
Kyouko straightened out her puella magi getup and tried to turn on the lights.
Electricity wasn't working. Not exactly surprising. If she hadn't been here she hadn't paid the bills. Someone had probably disconnected the electricity. Or maybe the light had just happened to blow.
"Kyouko, what are you-?"
Kyouko followed the wall until she met the window. She pushed aside the blinds – just a hair's width – and peeked out.
The streetlights weren't on either. Pitch black darkness met her eyes. She could vaguely make the out the skyline and dark buildings but beyond that… all she could make out were details visible by moon and starlight.
"Electricity's out," she reported glumly. "I hope that smell isn't my poor, powerless fridge plus two months worth of rot."
All that wasted food-!
Sayaka planted herself blindly in front of the redhead. Her voice was strained. "Kyouko, what's going on? I'm… I'm supposed to be dead, aren't I? I remember – there was… there was a price to pay, happiness for unhappiness and now-"
"Yeah, I have no idea what's going on either," Kyouko confirmed cheerfully. She patted Sayaka's shoulder. Or what she hoped was her shoulder. It felt bony anyway. "But hey, you're not three stories tall pretending to be a mermaid cosplaying as a knight so all-in-all I think it's a plus."
She marched off, clambered over the bed, grabbed the flashlight that she usually used while raiding the local convenience store for candy and had nearly made it to the door before Sayaka managed to say anything. It came out a bit strangled.
Fridge was a total loss. Bummer.
Also? Although rancid, it was not the source of the smell that seemed to permeate every inch of her rather sizable apartment. Weird. Her nose was getting used to it but it still reeked.
Heating and water were also out. Thankfully the preserves were still intact. Kyouko tossed Sayaka a bottle of water and a box of pocky. They'd at least have to wait until dawn for the stores to open up.
Especially since Sayaka was eying the pocky suspiciously. Looked like robbing convenience stores was soon going to be a thing of nostalgia.
The redhead sighed and opened up a can of Pringles. She shoved a chip in her mouth. Sayaka didn't touch her food but she didn't dismissively toss it over her shoulder either.
That was progress, right?
"You," Kyouko said, over her munches, flashlight tucked under an armpit, light jerking drunkenly at every crunch, "turned into a witch. Me and Madoka tried to snap you out of your funk." She shrugged her shoulders. "Didn't seem to work. I made my soul gem explode," so you wouldn't be alone. "And now here we are. Any questions?"
"I turned into a witch?" Sayaka asked after a good minute of silence.,
Clearly her half-dreamed memories hadn't quite prepared her for what had happened.
"You had fishy legs," Kyouko confirmed. "And you hit me wheels. And a sword." She stopped and added, pensively: "It was a very big sword."
Like, as big as her apartment big.
Sayaka appeared to be in troubleshooting mode again. Her face screwed up adorably when it was confused. "Err… wait, what?"
"What what?" Kyouko asked, already on her eighth or tenth Pringle.
"I turned into a witch… and then you made your soul gem explode?" The puella magi finally asked, scratching her head.
Kyouko felt her cheeks heat up. She tried to mumble something.
"Repeat that?" Sayaka asked-ordered. It looked like the other puella magi was moments away from tearing out her hair. Finding out that you hadn't just gone homicidal but actually turned into soul-eating monstrosity probably did that to a person.
"I didn't want you to be alone, okay?" Kyouko finally ground out, shoving half-a-dozen chips into her mouth and chewing furiously. "I was…mrpf… feeling sappy." She blushed and then waggled a chip at the other girl. "Don't expect me to do that again."
Sayaka's face exited troubleshooting mode. She looked appalled. "…you died with me because you were feeling sappy? Kyouko, that's-"
"The height of stupidity, I know, I know. But I brought Madoka-chan there, I had to buy her some time to get out," the redhead said firmly. "Don't think I wouldn't have retreated if I had any other choice. It's all about me, remember?"
As an excuse, that was admittedly pretty weak.
Sayaka gave her a sceptical look but didn't point out the contradiction. She licked her lips. Probably a nervous gesture. "I'm… well, I'm sorry about the whole..." she broke off and said, distractedly, "did I really look like an…an armored mermaid?"
Sayaka winced then shook her head. "Well. Um. Sorry about the whole," her hand made a complicated zigzagging motion that probably didn't mean anything, "trying to kill you thing."
Kyouko waved it off.
"Wasn't your fault," she said, biting into another Pringle. "None of us knew. Kyuubey never told us." She bit into the next chip more viciously. "When I get my hands on that – that thing I am going to strangle the life out of him."
"Yeah, he's a butthead," Sayaka agreed, sounding distracted.
For all their sakes, Kyouko chose to disregard Sayaka's horrific lack of vocabulary. She'd teach the heroine how to swear later.
"That little asshat was pretending to be this cute and cuddly little-" she made various strangling motions with her hands. It took a bit of juggling what with the water bottle, the can of Pringles and the flashlight but it was doable.
After that particular stress had been relieved, Sayaka – turning the box of pocky around in her hands – asked: "But how are we… I mean- alive? You said you made your soul gem go boom, right?"
"Beats me," Kyouko said, honestly enough, her train of thought cut off. Then she winked. It was hard to make out in the darkness, probably, but whatever. "Maybe this story had a happy ending. Where courage prevails and the good guys win and everybody goes home happy."
Sayaka nodded slowly but looked a little sceptical. Kyouko couldn't blame her: she didn't believe it herself.
Miracles had a cost.
What had been paid this time?
"Welp," the redhead declared, deciding that it was best if they put the whole embarrassing 'I-died-because-of-you' episode behind them. "Storytime's over. Any last questions?"
Sayaka opened her mouth to speak when they heard it.
It wasn't so much a noise as it was an emotion. A sharp, keening wail laced with regret and hunger. Kyouko's blood ran cold and although she wasn't consciously aware of it, her spear was already in her hand. A quick check revealed that Sayaka was holding her sword.
That had been the death cry of a witch.