Bread of life

Chapter III
'Dat panis coelicus'


"So you're saying I can't go back and talk to my fr-" Kyouko pauses, catching herself before the words trip off the end of her tongue.

'Friends'.

Were they her friends?

Kyouko hardly knew Madoka at all. Madoka was the stereotypical nice-girl, all big gooey eyes and babyish pigtails. Madoka was the sort of girl Kyouko laughed about but, deep down, was secretly jealous of- because she was so fucking innocent and naïve it hurt.

She reminded Kyouko of her sister.

But that didn't mean Kyouko had to like her.

Homura, then?

...The idea of anybody being Miss Cold-Eyed Super-Serious' 'friend' is actually kind of hi~laa~rious. Why hadn't Kyouko offered to be Homura's BFFL just to see the look of horror that would surely pass across Homura's face?

Damn.

That was a wasted opportunity.

Friends were liabilities, and Homura was not a friend.

Sayaka?

...That's a little difficult to pin down. It hurts to think about- more than it probably should, too (which isn't a good thing). Why did Kyouko rush to help that stupid girl? Maybe idiocy was catching.

Kyouko had paid for that brief moment of idiocy, though.

One single show of heroism and- poof- you've lost your life. You're dead. Hooray for you.

Kyouko doesn't know why she saved Sayaka, but she does know she was never Sayaka's friend.

Sayaka hated her.

...Understandable, as Kyouko tried to kill her a couple of times, but geez. That self-righteous little bitch with her 'I don't need your grief seeds!' and her 'I'm so incorruptible!' and her 'I'm better than you!'s had been a pain in the ass.

Sayaka had been… uncannily reminiscent of somebody, though. She'd been like another wide-eyed Puella Magi Kyouko had known once upon a time; the same wide eyes, all fired up on her brand new super-powered-strength and filled with determination to save the world.

And then Kyouko realized the world was a shit heap, most people didn't deserve to be saved at all, and any happiness you brought upon humanity was settled on some grand celestial scales in the sky with an equal dose of misery to keep everything even.

You couldn't have humanity getting too cheerful or optimistic. Did you think happiness was free?

…Well then. You're a fucking dumbass.

Kyouko kind of dropped her wide-eyed innocence after that little bombshell.

Her dad, covered in blood.

It didn't suit him. Red wasn't his color. Mmmnope. Not at all.

Sayaka reminded Kyouko a lot of herself.

An awful lot.

But Kyouko hated the weak, stupid Puella Magi she'd once been (Kyouko hated that dumb bitch who'd let her family die) and Kyouko didn't want to be that weak anymore.

Kyouko hated those moronic Puella Magis with their 'justice' and their sense 'right' and their 'wrong', too. Those girls started out so strong- but sooner or later they got broken down by the world and their own fucking optimism that had to gut out at some point when they opened they eyes and saw the world for what it was.

The world sucks. You sold your soul trying to save something unsalvageable. Oh, woe.

And then Sayaka turned into a witch.

Kyouko wanted to help Sayaka because Kyouko didn't think Sayaka could help herself. And Kyouko was sick of seeing weak people- why was the world filled with so many idiots?- getting ground under the ever-turning wheel of life.

Kyouko failed, though.

She couldn't save Sayaka.

Sayaka, with all her lost hopes and broken dreams and those weird mecha mermaid arms and giant cog wheels or whatever (an interesting arsenal of weaponry. That sword made Kyouko's spear look like matchwood), managed to defeat Kyouko.

The memory of the girl Kyouko had once been had come back all at once and bitten her on the ass.

Sayaka had never been a friend.

She'd been a headache.

…But that's okay.

Kyouko doesn't want friends anyway.

Fuck them.

...Well, not literally, but Kyouko is going to throw up the metaphorical middle finger at those people she left behind. Friends make you weak.

And, when Kyouko manages to re-teach herself that little nugget of wisdom she should never have forgotten in the first place, she feels a lot better. The crumbs of sugar cookie on her tongue regain their flavor.

The natural balance is restored.

Kyouko is a cynical self-obsessed bitch again, and all is well with the world.

Apart from those golden butterfly bastards that keep flitting around for no fucking reason.

Kyouko doesn't want to go back to Mitatakihara.

She doesn't have anybody to go back to.

Certainly not to the dead-eyed Homura.

Not Madoka, who looked so much like her little sister.

Not...

Not even Sayaka.

Stupid, stupid Sayaka- you blithering idiot, complete imbecile. Bet you were wishing you'd listened to nice Kyouko's advice when you tried to save the world and the world turned round and slapped you in the face, huh? I bet that hurt. It hurt when it happened to me too, kid, but I picked myself off the floor (covered in my family's blood) and I pulled my act together. I'm not the one who turned into a fucking metal mermaid, am I?

You looked so stupid I wanted to laugh at you.

Kyouko doesn't have anybody left she cares about. They'll all dead.

They're dead because she killed them.

Maybe that's a good thing.

Kyouko's not too sure.

Kyouko can't bring herself to care anymore; not about other people. Other people will only let you down. Friends can turn against you. People disappoint you all the time. The only one you can rely on in the big bad world is yourself. Kyouko used to think different once, but she grew up.

You can't be innocent in this world for too long or it'll break you.

That is an inescapable fact.

You have to keep going forwards.

Going forwards is easy. You just put one foot after the other, even if it hurts. Even if your body keeps shouting at you to stop and slow down it's far too painful. You just tell your body to shut the fuck up and keep right on going.

It's looking back at the past that opens old wounds.

"So," says Kyouko, smirking. She abandons her previous question. It doesn't seem too important anymore. "Why did you weird, self-proclaimed 'witches' call me here anyway? Tea parties are nice and all, but I'm not a fucking five year old."

"You're so rude!" Beatrice says haughtily, giving Kyouko a cold look. "Especially after we prepared this tea party for your benefit, to put you at lease. Show some respect."

"I just exploded. If anything, you should show some respect to me," says Kyouko. "I could have some severe mental trauma!"

"Your severe 'mental trauma' will seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the large amount of physical pain I could cause you using only this teacup," Beatrice snaps.

Kyouko only yawns in response. After you've seen your own beloved father slaughter your family in cold blood, all other displays and/or promises of violence begin to seem a little lackluster.

"Yeah, yeah. Death threats aren't new to me, Beatoriiiiiche."

"W-why you..."

"Beato," says Virgilia, resting a hand on the younger witch's shoulder. "Please calm down. You're doing this as a present for Maria, remember? Do try to contain your temper."

"I-I..." Beatrice says- but she's tripping over her words. Her face blossoms light red. "I-I'm sorry, teacher... You're right."

Beatrice looks down at her lap, her eyes downcast.

This Beatrice is worlds apart from the other one. Her change in emotion is so rapid it's almost enough to give Kyouko whiplash. Is Beatrice a bitch in sheep's clothing? Is she a nice girl hiding behind a mask of hate and anger? Or maybe she's a rare breed Kyouko had only heard about in comics- a 'tsundere'.

Who is Beatrice the Golden Witch, exactly?

It's a mystery.

The world might never know.

But Kyouko doesn't really care.

It's not like she ever stopped any of the other witches she met for a conversation before she killed them. Excepting Sayaka, of course… And look how fucking well that turned out.

Then again, Beatrice and Virgilia look less likely to sever Kyouko's head from her shoulders than the normal witches she's familiar with.

The other witches would never have offered Kyouko tea, for one thing.

Greedy bitches.

"Who the fuck is Maria?" asks Kyouko, dashing through Beatrice's little pity party with her typical 'grace'. "You've mentioned her before. Is she another witch?"

"You could say that," says Virgilia- explaining everything as per usual. Kyouko doesn't mind, though. She has a nice voice. Soothing. You could say all sorts of bullshit with a voice like that and anybody'd swallow it, just… just 'cause.

Kyouko's old man could've learnt a lot from Virgilia.

"Maria is a different witch to Beato and I, though," Virgilia explains, adjusting her hat once more.

Kyouko rolls her eyes, smirking.

"Oh, I'm used to 'different' by now. I'm a Puella Magi who traded in her soul for a kick-ass outfit and a spear, and I'm saving the world from the evil powers of entropy and some physics shit I don't fully understand because the talking ferret told me to," says Kyouko, voice flippant. "Oh, and now I'm dead, apparently. And my whole life was a lie controlled by bitchy witches with clothes even more ridiculous and impractical than mine. So yeah, I assure you, nothing you could do or say next will shock me. I am unshockable. 'Maria' could have the head of a goat and I'd just be like 'is that all'?"

"Maria doesn't have the head of a goat," says Beatrice. She looks slightly affronted.

"Ushiromiya Maria is a young girl. She's a human, but she holds within her immense magical potential, and could even become the next Beatrice," Virgilia explains. "However, humans with magical power often find themselves... ostracized... from other people."

"And don't I know that," says Kyouko, reaching forwards for her... twenty-eighth cookie?

Kyouko groans. She's going to get fat sitting there and eating and doing fuck all. Can you burn calories by running your mouth? Then again, Kyouko's dead already. If her corpse gets fat from beyond the grave that really would be unfair. Kind of like robbing somebody's house and then kicking their cat for good measure. Unnecessary, overkill- but funny as hell.

"Maria sometimes joins Teacher and I for tea... But it's not enough," says Beatrice, her voice strangely sad and wistful. "She needs real friends in the human world to keep her company.

"Maria managed to create a friend for herself called Sakutaro. She crafted his existence- thoughts and feelings, a whole new person- from nothing but her own magic and a stuffed lion toy. It was... amazing. Really amazing. Most witches can give life to dead corpses with ease, but only a handful can give life to completely new beings. That is the power of origins. But I've been watching over Maria for a while now, and I feel... Concerned."

Beatrice's voice is soft. It sounds almost tender, as though she's a mother talking to a child. It's difficult for Kyouko to believe this is the same woman who threatened to brutalize her with a teacup a mere five minutes earlier.

Beatrice has some issues, obviously.

Any one person with that many flitter-fluttering emotions needs to see a doctor.

I guess not even witches are free from split personality disorder, Kyouko thinks, sniggering, as she bites into her cookie.

"...I've begun to think perhaps one friend is not enough to protect a child from the cruelties of the world," says Beatrice.

"Wait wait wait," says Kyouko irritably, her teeth gnashing together against cookie (yayy fattening). "If Maria is the 'witch of origins' as you said, then why can't she just magic up some new friends from thin air? Don't change the rules half-way through- that's such a cheat."

"The magic of origins is exceedingly complex. It's not so simple," says Beatrice. "Even I have yet to master it."

"But apparently Maria has- so what's keeping her from making a little army of living stuffed lion toys?" asks Kyouko. "Why'd you have to drag me into it? I could be… y'know. Dead. Doing dead people things. You're holding me up here."

"Maria's magic only works with belief," says Beatrice. Her eyes are downcast, strangely sad. "And recently... Maria's belief in witches has begun to slip. Maria hasn't come to visit teacher or I a while. I think it must be the bullies at school... or Rosa... all wearing her down. The seven sisters tell me Sakutaro is still alive, b-but if it fades..."

"At any rate," says Virgilia, placing a comforting hand on Beatrice's shoulder. The blonde witch looks close to tears or something. "Even if Maria could create more friends with magic, it wouldn't be the same as having a... a real friend. Somebody who stands by you not because they have to, but because they want to."

"And, out of all the people in the world for that role, you chose me," says Kyouko, her voice disbelieving.

Virgilia shakes her head. "Not quite 'chose'. We merely searched for suitable pieces..."

"Suitable?"

"Pieces that match some of Maria's ideas of a 'friend'."

"...Maria has a really shitty taste when it comes to good friends, then," says Kyouko. "I'm an asshole and I'm not ashamed to admit it!"

"You might think that... but I'm sure there's more to you than that," says Beatrice. She lifts her head- looks directly at Kyouko. It's a little unsettling, given how serious she suddenly is. "And Maria needs somebody to comfort her. She needs a few friends to thrive- like all people do. Secluded human beings eventually die of loneliness..."

Awww, how cuuute. Beatrice has a soft side too!

I didn't take her for being a 'friendship is awesome!' idiot like Sayaka. Maybe they could get together and form a club.

I hope Beatrice doesn't flip her shit and try to kill me like Sayaka did, though. That would noottt be cool.

Especially not after all these cookies I've eaten.

Kyouko shrugs. She's not sure what else to do- and she hates feeling confused. "Don't ask me about 'friendship'. I don't know what qualities Maria wants in a 'friend', but they're sure as hell not in me. I left that cutsey 'touchy feely emotional' stuff behind a lo~ong time ago."

"Oh, really?" asks Beatrice. She smiles pleasantly, but it's not a real smile. It's cold. Icy. Looking at it for an extended period of time makes Kyouko shiver, as though she's dipped her toes in freezing water. "Is that why you're such an unlikable person, Miss Sakura?"

"You're resorting to personal insults now?" Kyouko asks. "Reaaal mature. I expected more of you, Golden Witch Beatoriiiiche. It's not like I'm making fun of your stupid name, which I totally could do 'cause it's ridiculous."

Heheh. Beatrice's name is fun to say.

Beatriiiiiiice.

Kyouko runs the 'iiiiiice' through her head in a long, unbroken chorus, stretching it out like chewing gum.

Hehe.

Thank the heavens for the simple pleasures in life.

"Say what you will," says Beatrice, folding her arms (Kyouko kind of wishes the real world was operated under comic book laws, just so there could be a 'boing' sound effect to accompany that), "but Maria isn't a warped, twisted, pathetic little waste of humanity like you. Maria is still a child. She still has hope. And most 'magic' relies on 'hope'. You, more than anyone, should know that."

"Hey, I still hope," says Kyouko, her voice a little indignant. "I didn't turn into some weird starfish alien thing, did I? Not like poor little Sayaka. I don't need to pin my hopes on the goodness of the whooole world, though. The world is far too big to pin all your hopes on, 'cause out of six billion people odds are somebody's going to betray your trust and act like an asshole. I don't need any of those fuckers. I believe in me. I'm all I need. I'm, like, a one person army here. Anybody else would only slow me down. That's just how I roll."

When Kyouko tried to save Sayaka her soul gem went ka-boom.

That knocked a little sense back into her.

All you need is yourself. Everybody else is emotional baggage.

The younger you learn that the better, right?

Sucks for Maria- but seriously, the whole world's filled with horrible people and most of them won't help you if you fall down. They'll just laugh at you. You've gotta learn to help yourself.

"Not everybody shares that philosophy," says Virgilia quietly.

"I know that," says Kyouko. "Those are the Puella Magi who end up dead."

"But trying to live by yourself is not possible, nor is it feasible."

Kyouko raises a brow. "And why's that?"

"Because you get lonely," says Beatrice.

Kyouko stares at her. "What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Being alone is torture. The worst kind of torture," says Beatrice. There isn't a trace of irony to her voice, even though Kyouko searches for some. Her search results come back as nil. Beatriiiice is actually telling the truth.

Who'd have thought?

"You don't realize this because you haven't been alive as long as I have. But one thousand years of being alone, waiting for somebody, anybody... Y-you couldn't even begin to comprehend it." Beatrice smiles a sick, twisted smile. "And my dealings with loneliness are nothing compared to the tales Lady Lambdadelta and Lady Bernkastel could tell you. Unlike me, they have both been trapped inside logic errors."

"Huh?" Kyouko scowls. She can't help herself- and she feels she every right to.

There she was, sat there being all nice and polite, and then out of nowhere that fucking blonde bitch with the comedy gag boobs started cutting into her personal philosophy and Kyouko never even ASKED her to.

"Why else do you think witches invite humans to their world?" asks Beatrice. "For fun? Maa~aaybe. But if we didn't get a few new faces round here every once in a while we'd get lonely."

"My heart bleeds for you," says Kyouko, her voice flat, emotionless.

Beatrice ignores her. "You'd be a stupid girl indeed if you thought you could be alone forever. Nobody can do that. Only weak people afraid of being hurt run in the face of human kindness."

"You don't have any human kindness," Kyouko spits at Beatrice.

"If I don't, then Maria surely does. She's just a young girl, and she's been alone for so long... I-I don't want her to suffer like that. Sakutaro isn't enough. I'm not enough, Teacher isn't enough. Maria needs more friends, or... I fear for her," says Beatrice, her voice somber.

"And I think you need to learn to stop being so cynical too, Miss Sakura," says Virgilia. "It would do you a world of good."

Somehow, Kyouko knows if Beatrice said that, it'd piss her off a lot more.

Even from Virgilia's mouth it's still irritating, though.

Stupid fucking over-opinionated witches. Kyouko liked it more when they were patchwork zombies with soulless eyes-

It used to be Sayaka. That monster. It used to be Sayaka.

It's pretty hard to believe.

There's no Sayaka left in her anymore.

Hey, you stupid, headstrong, full-of-life and oh-so-'pure' little girl... Did you grow up already? Despite your (fake) mask of smiles, is this ugly monstrosity the true form of the thoughts and feelings that ate you up from within?

You want to kill me?

I guess I deserve it. I mean, I did try and kill you.

Fair's fair.

Oh well.

It's a little hard trying to protect somebody when they're already dead.

Guess I've got to cut my losses here.

Shut up and explode.

... ...Stupid Sayaka.

It didn't even have to end this way.

Kyouko shudders, the memories tearing through her mind with the force of scissor blades. No, no, no- Kyouko wanted to forget about all that! She wanted to be strong! It's all about her; she's alive and Sayaka... is being fucked around with by the evil witches in the sky. Maybe they're setting Sayaka up already for another game? Another game where she goes insane and Kyouko realizes, a little too late, she always wanted to save somebody- but she can't, because Sayaka already sold her soul to become Miss Mechanical Mermaid with the wheels and the giant fucking sword.

But Kyouko doesn't need Sayaka.

She doesn't need Homura, she doesn't need Madoka.

She only needs herself.

...But Kyouko thinks, given the horrible nature of the witches in 'her' universe, the witches she's sat with here (Beatrice with her blonde hair and... 'interesting' facial expressions, Virgilia with her awesome hat and always-shut eyes) are actually quite a bit nicer. At least they're not eldritch abominations made of dead girls that Kyouko knew once.

Dead girls Kyouko could have saved.

But that ship sailed a long time ago.

Beatrice and Virgilia aren't that bad.

But Kyouko wishes they wouldn't talk to her.

Fighting's easier.

It always has been.

Telling Sayaka her fucking sob story back at the ruined church had been horrible- and not just because of the memories it brought up. Kyouko trained herself to think of it like a movie, and then it doesn't hurt so much.

It hurt because putting words into order and making them make sense was such a struggle for Kyouko.

Talking to people means you trust them and trusting people leads to emotions and emotions lead to stupidity and stupidity leads to selfish wishes and that leads to bloodshed.

Blood everywhere.

It's better to be alone really.

Isn't it?

"L-look," says Kyouko- and she's horrified to hear her voice is shaking. Her eyes feel horribly watery, too. Fucking golden butterflies everywhere- surely they were allergens! "Y-you can't sit here and criticize me. You haven't lived through half the shit I have. If you... I-if you saw your own dad- the guy who used to tuck you into bed at night and kiss your forehead and tell you stories, THAT guy, the guy you love more than anything- MURDER your own mom and little baby sister because of something YOU did you'd be pretty... p-pretty... Pretty fucking cynical about humanity in general too! If you live alone you can't hurt people. End of."

"But if you live alone nobody can help you. Nobody will know when you've had enough... a-and you can't do it by yourself anymore. Everybody needs somebody. Even if that 'somebody' isn't even real," says Beatrice. Her fingers press against her heart, taking hold of the black and red material of her dress.

Beatrice's eyes look distant. Far away. She's probably shifting through some deep psychological trauma (what the fuck could Beatrice feel sad about? Did she get served Darjeeling instead of Earl grey once? Kyouko is just dying to know), but Kyouko doesn't really care.

Kyouko's the victim here, damn it!

"I give a shit about your back story," Kyouko snarls, slamming a fist against the table. Hasn't she already done this before...? Huh. Who knows. "I don't want to get involved in a little pity party right now, and I'm not gonna spill my guts to you about how sad and lonely I am- poor me! Because I'm not sad or lonely. I make do. On my own."

"Then... perhaps your uniquely 'optimistic' attitude can help Maria. She needs somebody to help her," says Beatrice.

"I already said, I don't need anyone-"

"But Maria does."

Kyouko bites her lip.

You always wanted to protect somebody-

Shut up brain

But it's true!

You wanted to protect Sayaka. You laugh about it now, roll your eyes and call yourself stupid (it was a moment of madness!), but you wanted to help her. You've fucked up all your other human relationships in your sad little life, so I guess you wanted to break with tradition.

You wanted to try helping somebody for a change.

Don't people say doing that gives you a nice, warm, fuzzy feeling?

Reaching out to Sayaka was a kind gesture and all, but it sort of didn't work because she was too thick-headed to listen (or maybe you didn't explain it well enough) and oh yeah, Sayaka went fucking postal and tried to kill you.

She did kill you.

You get ten points for effort, but that was really all kinds of pathetic, Sakura Kyouko.

You want to help somebody?

Prove it.

Pick yourself up from the floor and start again.

It's easy to keep walking forwards.

Kyouko hates it when her brain talks to her in that 'listen up bitch' sort of voice, because she generally listens to it. And then she makes some 'Really Bad Decisions'. Prime example of a 'Really Bad Decision'- making that fucking contract with Kyuubey in the first damn place.

But...

Kyouko scowls.

This is stupid. Ridiculous. Her last encounter with Sayaka is proof enough she should just leave other people the fuck alone. She was fine by herself. Less people seemed to die that way. W-why is Kyouko even considering this?

Everybody needs somebody.

Well.

There is that.

It sounds like a valid point.

Kyouko sighs, her fingers pressing against her temples, as she tries to sort through this deluge of thoughts. Give it another go, hero? Try and protect somebody else? Get emotionally attached- then get hurt all over again as you fuck up, or they fuck up, or the whole world around you fucks up and ruins everything you worked for?

Mmm. No thanks.

"You say that Maria's a human," says Kyouko- and she hates herself for considering this, she really does. But she can't help herself. "Is there a chance that she could turn into a witch...?"

"Not a 'witch' by your definition of the word," says Virgilia. "The witches you fought do not exist in the 'Earth' Ushiromiya Maria inhabits. Neither do Puella Magi or incubators."

"Sounds like a nice world," says Kyouko. She can't help but smile at the thought. "There's got to be a catch, right? There's always a catch. What about entropy?"

"That exists across the universe."

"Oh..." Kyouko wonders whether she should be upset, but she isn't. She never really understood entropy anyway. Physics- who needs it.

There are other, more urgent, matters to talk about.

"I won't disappear into a puff of logic if I set foot in Maria's world, will I?" asks Kyouko.

"Of course not," says Virgilia. "Not if we modify you a little to peacefully co-exist with the rules of that world."

Ah.

Now here's the crux of the problem.

'Modify'.

Kyouko doesn't like the sound of that word.

It makes her think of needles and science and any number of other unpleasant things.

"What are you going to do to me?" asks Kyouko, wrapping her arms protectively round her body. "I've seen people with botched plastic surgery, right, and it looks awful. I like my body the way it is."

"It's not like plastic surgery," says Beatrice, a small smile crossing her lips. "It's relatively painless."

"Relatively...?"

"It's magic. I'm not going to cut you," says Beatrice.

Kyouko sighs. "I don't know if I believe you. I bet you'd enjoy that. You freak."

"Maaa~aaybe~ Kihihihi~"

"S-so..." Kyouko folds her arms, tries to look uninterested, but the small stutter gives her away. "How old is Maria?"

"Nine."

Kyouko's eyes widen just a little.

So young...

Too young to be all alone.

The same age as my sister.

Aiko...


a/n: Emoshunal stuff. Kyouko is a pretty complex character : she has her 'I don't need anybody!' attitude, but I'm sure it's there to mask a softer side- but she doesn't want to show that softer side, because when she made her 'selfless' wish she (inadvertently) destroyed her whole family. And then the second time Kyouko tried to show her softer side by trying to 'save' Sayaka, she was too late. So I can imagine Kyouko would be a little skeptical about 'helping' anybody again after those two crushing disappointments XD

Beato is also an interesting chara when it comes to emotions, though. She acts like a selfish, bratty child most of the time, but that's also to hide a softer side. And I don't know how many people have read episode 7 of the umineko visual novel, but that reveals some stuff about beato's character which made me think 'given her past, she'd probably hate being alone', but that's my interpretation of her character XD I can't really go into much detail about that without giving huge spoilers for episode 7 of umineko here, but if anybody wants I can explain my reasoning behind beato's character in a pm XD

~renahhchen xoxo