A/N: Several people said to me that the grief seed could not have tainted Kirche's soul gem. As a general reply I would like to point out that Sheffield is the Mind of God, a void familiar whose specialty is magical artifacts. If you remember when Saito absorbed the grief seed after Charlotte's mother was rescued, Derflinger mentions the Mind of God is meant to regulate that transfer. (Also the flow of darkness is moving out of Grief seed in that scene too.) Much like how the Windalfr can control animals as a side benefit to the magic that allows him to control incubators, the Mind of God's ability to control magical artifacts came from the development of its main function, manipulating grief seeds. (Sorry if this wasn't obvious enough).
Point is I've been hinting stronger and stronger that Brimir developed void magic and the void familiars around magical girls. When the Puella magi rules are bent or changed, ya'll should check and see if void magic is involved.
Chapter 23: Catherine the Witch of Others
"Kirche!" Charlotte called out in denial, pressing through the gusting wind toward the newly-forming grief seed. There had to be something she could do! Some scene from her book that could reverse the nightmare before her! Leaving her reason behind, Charlotte pressed forward.
Merely steps behind, Louise faltered at Id's voice. "Stop Charlotte. Everyone needs to remain close or the labyrinth will separate you all." Louise's eyes snapped to Id's unblinking gaze. Frozen, she barely held her footing and looked to Charlotte before her, and then to the others behind.
Without Charlotte's attention, the wires that held the Cardinal weakened enough for the beast of an undead to break free with a cry of rage. "Enemies of the Founder fell before his divine might!" The snares snapped with the crunching of ice. His staff swung up to intercept Sylphid's bite, knocking aside the dragon's head. In one smooth motion, the Cardinal brought his staff up, forming an axehead of spinning water that thrummed even over the screaming air all around. "Torrent Axe!" Spell named, the Cardinal brought his decapitating strike down.
"Partner!" Derflinger warned, flooding Saito with magic just in time. In unison, the two jumped between the strike and the dragon. Derflinger ate the buzz-saw of water instantly, but the solid metal staff behind still came down with all the force of a cannon.
Saito had half a moment to gape in surprise as Derflinger shattered under the force of the blow. Metal shards of his partner scattered about, hanging in midair as time seemed to slow to a still. "Derf?" Any further fears were knocked from Saito as the blow that shattered his sword impacted his chest. His world exploded into pain and he heard the crunch of his own ribs.
Limp as a ragdoll, Saito bounced off Sylphid's neck and sailed loosely through the air. The dragon dove for her savior, catching the boy before he could land on the hard stone floor. Colbert's fire leapt between the Cardinal and his prey, but the undead was already charging away.
As the cardinal fled, Louise remained still. In front, Charlotte pressed onward, toward her dying friend. Behind, Saito's shallow breaths weakened by the moment. "Louise!" Id's voice fell upon deaf ears as Louise failed to choose. "Fine, I will stop her." Id leapt from Louise's shoulder to the ground. Its fine claws found easy purchase on the stone floor and it ran toward Charlotte.
Before Louise could make her decision, the world shattered like glass. Up and down lost all meaning as vertigo filled Louise's very soul. Pearl white pillars rose from the ground to meet their twins falling from the sky. The great support beams shattered upon one another in a tremendous cacophony of crushing stone. Dust exploded outward, obscuring all view and in that instant, silence crushed out all sound.
As the dust slowly settled, Louise looked upon the alien world around and realized instinctively. This was a witch's barrier.
All around Louise stood a limitless number of ornate white pillars. Some leaned together in makeshift towers. Others stood tall on their own. From pristine to dilapidated, the world around was a maze-like menagerie of columns rising far above.
Rather than the stone ceiling of the lich's cave or even the great blue itself, a grand mirror served as a sky. Supported by a seemingly infinite number of columns, the cracked mirror shone Louise's own reflection down upon her. The girl nervously looked to the speck sized reflection above, scanning over the expansive cracks in the glass-like ceiling that threatened to fall at any moment.
So caught up in worrying about what was above, Louise started when she noticed the reflection repeated itself. That meant... Looking down, Louise realized even the ground was an expansive mirror cracked and on the verge of shattering. The very sight of so many repeating reflections cast a wave of vertigo induced nausea over her.
Shaking her head clear, Louise clamped down on her tumbling heart and looked around. Though not a soul was in sight, she was not without options. "Id? Are you alright?" Her mind reached out for her familiar.
Not missing a beat, Id replied. "Currently, but that status is subject to change." Id's usual monotone was laced with urgency. "Charlotte is currently attempting to reason with the witch." Then, after a brief pause, Louise heard Id's command to Charlotte. "That won't work! You must fight or you will-" A shot of pain flitted through the empathic link between Louise and her familiar, then nothing.
Heart skipping a beat, Louise asked. "Id?" Only silence was returned to her.
Without Id, Louise examined the barrier all around her. Fearing for Id, Saito, the others, and... and Kirche, Louise grit her teeth and focused. She had to move. She had to try and find somebody. Hopefully some of the others were together.
Summoning all his will, Colbert clamped down on his spinning head and looked around. Though his one time students were nowhere to be seen, the man breathed a sigh of relief when he spotted Sylphid amidst some pillars, cradling Saito under her scaled belly protectively. Sigh catching at the sight of the unconscious boy, Colbert hurried over. "Sylphid! Is Saito...?" His fearful question faltered at the sight of a shallow breath rising. The boy yet still lived.
However long that would be. Colbert grimaced at the sight of the shards of the boy's own sword embedded in his chest and arms. This was not the first time Colbert cursed his magic. At best, he could cauterize the wounds, but that was risky at best. The metal shards were holding in the blood for the moment and cauterization would do nothing for any internal injuries. Now more than ever, Colbert wished he had even the slightest talent for water magic.
Sylphid looked between the boy beneath her and Colbert. The professor saw the worry and anxiety mixed in the dragon's gaze. Of course, she did not want to abandon the comrade who had saved her, but she instinctively needed to go to her master's side. At that thought, Colbert realized that with the empathic link and enhanced sense of smell, Sylphid might be able to navigate the world around to find Charlotte. The girl's healing alone might be enough to stabilize Saito and Louise might be there as well.
Any further plans of moving the boy vanished when heavy footsteps echoed from behind him. Those plodding stomps could belong to only one party. Grimacing, Colbert turned to face the Cardinal as the undead stepped out from a forest of columns.
"Even faced with such enemies, the Founder offered peace." Colbert's eyes narrowed at the odd use of scripture. As the Cardinal had yet to make a move, Colbert hesitated and followed the abomination's shifting gaze to the ground. There, the cardinal looked to a few fragments of metal of to the side. Fragments of the lich's phylactery! Colbert put two and two together quickly. As soon as he was free, the Cardinal had fought toward those fragments. No doubt his mistress had some use for them; and whatever that was, it could not be good.
Swallowing, Colbert made up his mind. "Sylphid, protect Saito." Fighting the Cardinal would be hard enough without having to keep an eye on Saito. Reaching down, Colbert retrieved the unconscious boy's pistol. One shot was all he had. Mentally, Colbert remembered the range of the dispelling shot's aura and mentally mapped out where to keep his own fire away from.
Striding forward, Colbert began chanting. Recognizing Colbert's intent, the cardinal called forth his own magic. A tendril of water lanced toward the phylactery pieces. Yet before the magical appendage could grasp its prize, steam erupted as fire met water. An instant later, Colbert unleashed a second blast of fire to melt the Cardinal's target. Yet just as before, steam erupted when the Cardinal's water intercepted the attack.
Mind racing, Colbert evaluated his opponent. At long range he seemed to have the advantage, though that was somewhat negated by water naturally countering fire. At close range, Colbert knew he wouldn't last long, but he had never fired a pistol before, let alone attempted to do so with his offhand. Any chance of a hit would need to be a point blank shot.
Colbert's mind was made up for him when the Cardinal dashed toward the phylactery. Water arced high and over Colbert toward Saito, but the professor had too much experience to be fooled by such a diversion. He heard the sound of water impacting dragon scales as he raced to meet the Cardinal head on.
The undead man met soldier-turned-teacher head on. Water coiled into a trident head and thrust toward the chanting fire user. Still without a spell ready, Colbert continued his long chant and ducked. A red line appeared on Colbert's cheek as the sharpened prong of water grazed him through his evasive maneuver. Flicking his staff up, Colbert struck the side of the Cardinal's knee. Even at such a weak point, the Cardinal remained firm as a rock, yet Colbert wasn't finished. Stepping in, Colbert shifted the edge of his staff completely behind the Cardinal's knee and used the closer leg as leverage point. Strong as he was, the Cardinal's stance faltered as his weight bearing leg was swept from beneath him.
Though he fell, the Cardinal caught himself with one arm and swept his staff out with the other. Trident forming into a scythe, the undead struck at his opponent's legs. Colbert was already airborne, leaping backwards over the strike, his chant not faltering even for a moment. Midair, Colbert leveled his pistol mere feet from the Cardinal's brow and pulled the trigger.
The second it took for the wheel to spin and ignite the shot was just enough for the Cardinal to raise his arm. The dispelling shot tore through the Cardinal's water defense like paper. Instantly, the limb went slack and the staff clattered to the floor. Having banked everything on hitting, Colbert landed on his back with a muted thud. Not missing a beat, Colbert rolled to the side just as the Cardinal's still working arm slammed into the glass, right where he lay a moment ago.
On his belly, Colbert kept his chant up and looked to the reflection below. Leg raised, the Cardinal stomped down toward the professor. Using the reflection of the mirrored floor, Colbert pushed himself into a slide between the Cardinal's legs and clear of the stomp. Still prone, Colbert aimed his staff and finished his chant. "Ignite Serpent!" Taking the spell that was his trademark and combining it with the rapid combustion used in his experimental engines, Colbert launched all his power in a concentrated burst.
Fire so hot it burned white pierced through the Cardinal's chest in an instant. Flesh burned to ash and the world shone with endlessly reflected light. Pouring ever more power in, Colbert widened the blaze and burned away as much as he could. The flame drank hungrily from Colbert's willpower, but he poured more of it forward. Then, fearing willpower depletion, Colbert let his spell die.
Momentarily blinded by his own brilliant light, Colbert had to blink a couple times. As his vision was restored, Colbert looked upon the Cardinal teetering above him. With more hole than chest remaining, the massive undead looked to crumple into a pile of limbs. Yet before the chest could give way, the Cardinal's knees did. Crumpling, the undead man collapsed next to Colbert.
The thud of flesh on glass elicited a relieved sigh from Colbert. Planting one hand, he pushed himself to his knees and looked to the discarded metal staff beside him. Better safe than sorry. Reaching out, Colbert slapped the staff away. Yet the staff did not roll. Instead it morphed into fluid metal and simply let Colbert's hand pass through it.
In that moment of confusion, a massive hand closed around Colbert's throat. Eyes bulging in surprise, Colbert barely managed to turn his eyes on the Cardinal beside him. Though the body remained motionless, the arm gripped Colbert with a mind of its own.
Colbert gasped vainly, clawing at the iron-like grip around his throat. He couldn't breathe – and with no breath came no spells. With no magic to save him, Colbert flailed about, desperately trying to break free. Slowly, his strength died and the world began to fade. No... Colbert fought through the fog encroaching on his mind. I still need to-
Rows of teeth sharp as daggers crunched down on the undead arm, releasing the captive Colbert. Sylphid bit through flesh and blood like a twig, shredding the arm from shoulder to wrist. Then, with one claw bracing the body, Sylphid reared back and tore the arm free with a true dragon's roar.
Coughing and dazed, Colbert gasped for precious air. His mind still clouded, he couldn't react in time as the Cardinal rolled over to grasp his staff with his remaining arm. Chest already half healed, the Cardinal aimed toward the rearing dragon above and uttered his spell through gargled breath. "Whirlpool Spear." Water formed into a whirling drill-like spearhead and propelled upward.
Sylphid's roar turned into a cry of pain as her scales were shredded along her throat. Her natural armor held just enough to deflect the fatal blow, but dragon blood sprayed from the deep gash all the same. Sylphid collapsed to the side, writhing in panic as more blood fled from the wound.
Though unfamiliar with dragon biology, Colbert didn't need to be an expert to know an artery had been hit. Staff in hand, Colbert tried and failed to rise, still weakened from his massive spell and loss of air. Summoning everything he had, Colbert looked to the Cardinal closing wounds. No! Launching his fire forward, Colbert desperately tried to end the fight. The steam that erupted from the meeting of fire and water sank Colbert's heart while the lance of water that shot toward the unconscious Saito froze it.
Launching his own spell, Colbert just barely managed to intercept the killing blow. Then, when he turned back to the Cardinal, Colbert gulped at the sight of the last of the undead's wounds closing and the phylactery fragments held by a tendril of water. At the very least, the arm hadn't grown back, but Colbert doubted he could win even with that small grace. The tendril of water stowed the phylactery fragment within a pouch on the undead's belt and then coiled, ready to strike. Staring down the spell, Colbert readied to intercept whatever target it might have.
Moments before the spell launched, the scene was interrupted as glass cut through glass in a strange and wrong imitation of laughter. Instantly, the Cardinal whirled on the noise and blasted the newcomer to pieces. Fragments of glass and fine clothing scattered before Colbert could get a good look at the figure. However, a multitude of more figures began to exit the forest of pillars beyond. Each identical, Colbert noted in morbid fascination.
Clad in fine suits, the men of glass walked in eerie, shambling gaits. Rather than a head, each figure had large hand mirrors that reflected Colbert's own face back at him. No, that face was younger, the face he had worn when he was a soldier. Memories of his bloodied hands flooded Colbert's mind as his own reflected face laughed the laugh of glass on glass, shaking the professor to the core.
The Cardinal hesitated for a moment, shuddering as if his body were being pulled in two different directions. Then, as if an order had been set, the undead man charged away. In response, glass men jumped toward the running undead. A multitude of them latched to the runner, clinging tight to the undead flesh. Reflections of the Cardinal's own head pushed through the mirrors of the glass men and bit into the flesh of the original. The carnival of self-cannibalism continued as each bite was regenerated before another could be taken and though the Cardinal fled through the pillars beyond Colbert's sight, the sound of flesh tearing echoed throughout the twisted world.
With that horrific image fresh in mind, Colbert looked from where Saito lay unconscious to the rapidly weakening Sylphid, then back to the monsters all around. His willpower was nearly depleted and he was still drawing in shuddering breaths from the Cardinal's attack. Despite that, he was the only one still capable in combat and though these two may not have been his students, they were just as important to him as the rest. The multitudes of glassy constructs were closing in and surrounding the group – there were too many for him to count. He looked down at his own reflection in the mirrored floor and with a shaky breath, steeled his will. Injured and drained, Colbert prepared to make his last stand in defense of his comrades.
Readying his final spell with the concentration of a soldier staring down his own death, he failed to notice the whistle of the projectile sailing toward his position.
Louise looked up to the reflected ceiling and considered flying once more. On one hand, it would be faster, but on the other, it was hard enough keeping her sense of direction in this vertigo inducing maze when she could still stop and mark pillars. If she took to the sky and started weaving around through the multitude of columns, she could end up just wasting magic and getting even more lost.
Summoning forth a small bit of dark energy, Louise carved an arrow into the pillar before her and followed it. With nothing more than her gut instinct to follow, Louise hoped for the best and continued on. At the very least, she had yet to run into one of her direction markings. Of course, that assumed this world didn't just repair the damage she did to it. Or mess with her sense of direction more subtly. In the back of her mind, Louise almost expected her efforts to fail. Until now, they had scraped by just barely, failing every step of the way but still managing to press on. Now though... now her sister was captured, everyone was scattered, Saito and Id could very well be dead, and Kirche was...
Louise bit down and refused to face it. "I thought I was supposed to rely on you." Louise half accused under her breath.
Though she did not expect an answer, she ended up receiving one. The screech of glass cutting glass imitated echoing laughter as fine clothed men made of glass began to filter through the forest of columns toward Louise. The hand-mirrors that formed their heads shone with Louise's own reflection, mocking her with a face so subtly off that it shook Louise unconsciously. On an instinctive level, Louise knew what these were: the familiars of a witch.
Copies of Louise's own face opened with inhumanly wide jaws and leapt toward her. Summoning forth her magic, Louise spun and let out a scattering of weak shots. The glass men around her shattered into fragments under her power, filling the air with reflecting mirror shards. As they fell around her, their reflections killed any sense of victory within Louise.
Upon the shards, Louise was assaulted by images directly from her memories. She could see her every failure. From her countless miscast spells, to seeing Montmorency pierced by Wardes, even all the way to watching Kirche's Soul Gem shatter before her very eyes. Each and every one of her failures clouded in on her heart, revealing just how useless her efforts were. Just how useless she was.
The hesitation instilled by the reflections nearly cost Louise her life as another familiar's jaws closed, aiming for her neck. Belatedly reacting, Louise leaned out of the way, barely saving her own skin. Flicking up her staff, Louise summoned forth a wide spearhead of dark energy and cut the monster in half. Continuing the motion, she spun and cut two more in twain. With more and more familiars appearing, Louise mounted her staff and flew upwards and away, seeking escape. The brief respite faltered at the sound of stone groaning from above.
Within the reflection of the mirror ceiling, a column fell independently of its real counterpart. Against all reason, the great pillar smashed through the glass from beyond and came crashing into reality. Glass shards as large as wagons fell toward Louise in a swarm of blades. Focusing, the magical girl found her gap and lanced through the oncoming storm. Twin cuts rained down her back, grazing her just enough to draw blood; but Louise was through the next instant.
She looked above to see the glass ceiling still solid, as if it had never broken. Then, gulping with fear, Louise spotted several more pillar reflections begin to lean, pushed by the reflections of familiars. She got lucky dodging one, it would be impossible to dodge them all. With certain death above and an army of glassy familiars below, Louise took her chances with the ground and possible cover.
Lancing down, Louise cut through the waiting familiars and did her best to ignore the memories their dying shards called forth. A cacophony of shattering glass resounded above and Louise raced toward the rubble left by the first pillar. Louise sliced apart three more biting heads and slid into a gap in the stone rubble just as the world around was filled with falling glass.
Sheltered as she was, Louise looked from her haven to the multitude of leftover familiars being shredded by the falling glass. The instant the storm of glass finished, all noise vanished. With no familiars or glass left, the only sound came from her heavy breaths and the fading echoes in the distance.
Rubble shifted behind Louise and instantly her heart rate spiked as a familiar trapped in the rubble made a lunge for her. Cramped as she was, Louise had no ability to dodge. Instead, she pulled her staff around and wedged it in the monster's jaws. Glass on metal pinged as the jaw bit down with animalistic force. Wrestling, Louise held the snapping familiar off and pushed away from the rubble with her own staff wrenched from her grip in the process.
The folly of such an escape dawned on the girl when she looked down and saw the reflection of falling glass. When had-?! Louise realized that another pillar had smashed through just as the previous storm had been landing. Her staff was with the familiar in her only cover and out here was-! Louise's heart froze as she looked up to her falling death, glued to the ground by indecision.
A cloud of steam erupted forth, covering Louise and her surroundings in an instant. The thick, taffy-like fog blotted out the shattered familiars, the falling glass, and even the twisted world itself. In that dense, white world of soft steam, Louise fought the hope blossoming in her heart. There was only one person who used steam like this, and that was the same person she had left behind. "Louise.'" The Valliere whirled to meet Montmorency's voice.
Though mildly obscured by the thick steam, Montmorency stood before her all the same. Desperately, Louise restrained her heart for fear of yet another trick by this torturous labyrinth. Yet weakened by fear of death and tortured by her worst memories, Louise lacked the strength to resist. "Is it really you?" Louise asked with vulnerable hope.
Stepping forward, Montmorency pulled Louise into an embrace. "Ah, I'm here Louise." The two gripped each other firmly, each desperately confirming that they had reunited.
Not willing to meet Montmorency's gaze, Louise said with a cracked voice, "It's Kirche. Kirche turned into a witch." It felt like an admission of guilt. It was her failures that brought this to be.
Unfazed, Montmorency just placed a hand on Louise's head. "Colbert told me." The mention of the professor was enough to draw Louise's surprised gaze. "Siesta and I found Colbert, Sylphid and Saito. They fought the Cardinal and then got ambushed by familiars. I healed them as best I could and left Siesta to protect them." Montmorency smirked through a grimace. The maid had not been happy about that plan, but it was the best option in truth. A tingle ran down Montmorency's spine as her steam was shifted by another. "The familiars are closing in, can you fly?" Closing her eyes, Montmorency focused on the forms wading through her magic.
Louise glanced from Montmorency to the white world around. "I can, but there's no sense of direction in here. If I get lost then-" Louise halted when Montmorency flicked her brow.
Smirking at Louise, Montmorency chastised, "Have a little faith in yourself. I came from that way," She pointed beyond Louise then jutted her thumb in the opposite direction. "So we go that way." Stunned at Montmorency's ridiculously simple plan, Louise faltered.
Heart buoying, Louse felt the strength gained by having her closest comrade at her back. "Right, let's go." Mounting her staff once more, Louise felt Montmorency's familiar weight settle into place. The next moment, the steam about began to swirl. Sucked in by Montmorency's will, the steam flooded into her mouth and filled her body. The instant the world around faded back into view, Louise launched skyward and away from the crowd of familiars. Above, more pillars began to fall, but Louise leveled out and raced forward, clear of the danger. Now that she was ready for the attack from above, dodging them was easy enough.
Louise glanced back and hesitated for just a moment at the sight of Montmorency. Now free from the obscuring steam, Louise could see the unnatural pale of Montmorency's skin and the way her eyes seemed clouded over. "Monmon, are you okay?" She had never seen Montmorency use her magic that way before and something worried her, especially how she refused to meet her gaze.
Nodding, Montmorency hid behind a bent truth. "I'm a bit hurt, but this steam will keep me moving until we have a chance for you to heal me." With each breath, a trail of steam emanated from Montmorency's mouth as if the pressure within pushed the vapor out. Though worried for her friend, Louise knew setting down to heal was dangerous with those familiars below and above. Whatever injury Montmorency had, Louise would have to trust in her friend that it could wait.
As the two soared through the alien sky, Louise cradled the shred of hope within her heart. With each pillar she weaved around and falling storm of glace she outpaced, Louise's resolve grew. As hard as everything had become, with Montmorency at her back, she could press forward.
Keeping a straight heading turned out to be relatively easy with the contrail of steam left behind by Montmorency. A simple glance over the shoulder was all it took to correct any drifting. With the speed of flight coupled with Montmorency's aid, it wasn't long before a great glass wall appeared before them. Just as Montmorency had instinctively identified the outer barrier, both girls knew that this was the door to the witch's lair. Steeling themselves, the two flew through the last barrier and shattered their way into what waited ahead.
A great Colosseum formed by broken pillars acted as a cage for the twisted form of the witch. Clad in a fleshy, putrid gown that seemed more like a monster sprung forth from the ground to consume her, the giant witch knelt. Six gargantuan spindly arms reached skyward, holding up the glass ceiling in lieu of the broken pillars about. Straining under the weight of the sky, the witch's back buckled under the strain and leaned downward. Rather than a head, a great eye hung low, looking down at the girl below.
Though the witch remained at her task of holding up the sky, below, the fleshy tatters of her dress chased Charlotte around the arena. As soon as Louise caught sight of her friend, she flew herself into a dive. Charlotte held her book in one arm and cradled a bloodied Id in the other. Pages fluttered about her, ready for their magic to be summoned. "Chapter 26: Taldir's Wall!" Pages flashed from existence and in an instant, a great barrier of ice intercepted the grotesque tendrils of cloth racing to grasp her. Panting, Charlotte dodged another strike. "Kirche!" She called out to the towering witch once more in vain hope. The witch above only stared on as Charlotte was surrounded by the autonomous dress.
Twin blasts of dark energy severed the attacking dress just as Louise and Montmorency landed on either side of Charlotte. Whirling her staff, Louise cut down another tendril, "Are you alright, Charlotte?" Though Louise worried for Id, she could not take her eyes of the tendrils that slowly edged around their perimeter, looking for a chance to strike.
Despite the exhaustion from her drawn out fight, Charlotte was still relieved for the backup. "Tired, but Id and Kirche..." She trailed off, holding forth the wounded familiar and glancing to the witch that was her dearest friend.
Taking assessment of the situation, Louise ordered, "Cover me while I heal Id." Scooping the familiar up, Louise quickly set about filtering her power into the Incubator. Ice drawn from paper and steam clouds whirled about as the tendrils lanced forth, but despite the clash Louise remained focused. Thankfully, Id was a rather compact creature; it was a quick job to repair the deep gash.
As soon as the wound closed, Id's eyes fluttered open. "My apologies. I intended to only take enough damage to rouse Charlotte's resolve, not to be disabled to such an extent." Now healed, the incubator righted itself upon the floor.
With her task done, Louise summoned forth more dark energy and flung it against the encroaching tendrils. In the brief moment of respite, Louise asked, "Id, how do we turn Kirche back?" With Id behind her, Louise fell back to back with the two other magical girls in a defensive perimeter.
Id paused briefly in surprise, long enough for Louise to notice. "Do not attempt that." Id stated with what finality it could emulate. "The transformation into a witch has never been undone." Each girl grimaced defiantly and Id's mind began to race. This was not the first time it had seen magical girls commit this folly.
Steeling herself, Louise glanced to Charlotte and redoubled her resolve. "Hasn't been done, but you didn't say that it was impossible." Again, the tendrils attacked and were repelled. Though safe for now, Louise knew that was simply a test of their defense.
Id knew it needed to convince Louise quickly. "Just because it cannot be proven impossible due to the irregular nature of magical girls doesn't mean you are special enough to preform what no other magical girl has managed." Once again, Id found itself wishing Louise would dump her emotions, if only for her to gain some objective logic rather than for the precious data it usually requested.
It was Montmorency that responded to Id's statement. "Well, we're the only magical girls you've met from this world, so I'd say that makes us special." Glancing to her side, Montmorency smirked to Louise. "A plan where everyone survives."
Louise smirked back and nodded. "Charlotte, we'll protect you. Just get Kirche to wake up." Her order set, Louise and Montmorency raced forth to beat back the encroaching dress. In a storm of spinning pole-arms, the pair fought in a flurry of practiced teamwork.
Momentarily safe from attack, Charlotte disregarded the staring Id in favor of stepping forward and meeting the gaze of Kirche above. "Kirche." Charlotte swallowed. For so long she had closed in on herself, now it was hard to even form words and bare her heart. But if there was one person who deserved that effort, it was Kirche. "You once said that you would follow me to hell and back." The eye blinked, letting loose a single eyelash the size of a tree. Alert and ready, Montmorency propelled herself over with steam and smashed the massive eyelash away. Not missing a beat, Charlotte continued, "If this is hell, then now is the time to come back. Come back with us, Kirche." Pulling forth one more handful of pages, Charlotte called forth the mirror used to return the memories stolen from Ilvaldi's princess. "Chapter 27: Mirror of Remembrance." The ornate ice mirror formed with a soft blue glow.
Reflections shone from the mirror to the witch above. Memories of Kirche standing by Charlotte. Of their battles, their travels, and even their simple school days, spent lounging in the courtyard. Memories of the solitary girl and the companion who refused to let her friend remain alone. Those memories shattered as a tendril shot forward, crashing through the mirror and slamming into the alone girl. "Charlotte!" Louise and Montmorency called out in unison as their defense was breached. With one down, the onslaught intensified and it was all they could do to just hold off the attack.
Struggling on the floor from the blow, Charlotte tried to rise. Around her, she heard the other two calling for her to try again. That they could keep it up. Yet wounds began to appear as they were slowly overwhelmed. Could they really keep this up? A white paw pressed against the soul gem on Charlotte's chest. Gaze turning to the side, Charlotte met Id's gaze just as the world slowed to a near halt. In the depths of her soul, Charlotte felt the incubator grip and push its own memories into her.
"So it's possible." The red-haired, wild looking young girl glowered at Id.
Watching on, Id replied, "There's no precedence for it." The girl fervently ate from the pile of miscellaneous food before her and angrily rambled.
An instant later, that same girl spun her spear in a desperate fight against a mimicry of a mermaid, holding off strange wheels as a pink haired girl called out "Sayaka! Please recognize us!" Again, the vision faded to reveal that pink haired girl unconscious in the arms of another. The red haired spear wielder was nowhere to be found.
"She died." Id stated as more images flooded in.
A blonde girl, clad in golden armor shouted at the top of her lungs,"Renee!"
A trio fought against a harlequin somehow puppeteering itself, "Chelsea!"
More and more images of girls from countless ages and cultures filled Charlotte's very being. A thousand hopes flickered and died, each accompanied by Id's direct statement of their demise.
Id stated its sins with complete honesty. "I have presented that farcical possibility and led far more than just these few to their deaths. Every single one of them failed." Turning, Id looked to the weakening Louise and Montmorency. "If this keeps up, they will die by Kirche's curse." Then, once more meeting Charlotte's unfocused gaze, Id impressed the terrible truth upon her. "Kirche is gone. The only thing you can do for her now is to erase her curse."
Red eyes pierced the cloud of doubt that filled Charlotte's blue. Fear replaced the fading doubt and Charlotte shook her head fervently in denial. No! She denied it with all her being. She had broken free of her uncle. This wasn't supposed to happen! "Kirche please!" Clutching her book to her chest, Charlotte shuddered as the scene around her unfolded. To her left Montmorency swatted away three attacks, only for blood to spray as one slipped through her guard. To her right Louise unleashed all her power, blasting without regard to her ever darkening soul gem.
It was the same as what Id had shown her. The logical voice in the back of Charlotte's mind told her what had to be done, and she wanted to crush those thoughts with all her heart. This thing before her was Kirche right? "Kirche?" Above the witch watched on complacently. Its great eye turning ever so slightly to look as its familiars began to arrive. Glass men encircled the magical girls, hemming them in on all sides.
Both her comrades were exhausted and there was but one outcome if this continued. Clutching her book tighter, Charlotte burned the image of her injured friends into her mind, fueling what weak conviction she could muster. "Chapter 29: Frosts of the North." Pages fluttered to the wind and blue light heralded the summoned blizzard. Wind, sleet and snow swirled in a mad frenzy, tossing away the encroaching familiars and obscuring the world.
Ice began to creep along the witch, freezing up her dress and to the arms above. Through the wind Louise called out with worried confusion, "Charlotte?" But the princess made no reply. If this had to be done, she would be the one to do it.
Then, nodding with a somber heart, Charlotte steeled herself. Tears formed at the edge of her vision as she stood. Those tears fell as she grabbed another chapter from her book. Tearing the pages from her soul, Charlotte looked upon what Kirche had become one last time. "I'm sorry." With one final breath, Charlotte closed her eyes and summoned forth her magic. "Chapter 30: Heaven's Lost Star!"
As if breaking through reality itself, a meteor as large as a house punched through the magic circle formed by the scattered pages. The massive missile crashed into the witch with a torrential blast of power. "Charlotte?!" Louise and Montmorency cried in surprise even as the shock wave shattered the world around.
The witch moaned in an echo of warping glass as its life ended. The world wavered as the barrier's source of power vanished. The light of Charlotte's star and the world itself faded into darkness and once more, the dimly lit caves of the lich's abode surrounded them. Charlotte crumpled to her knees. She had killed her dearest friend.
The soft pink glow of Louise's healing magic faded over Saito. The once shallow breaths returned to steady and deep gulps. Placing the last metal shards of the shattered Derflinger at his side, Louise studied the closed wounds. Once again, Louise had pulled him back from ridiculous injuries. He, like the now healed Sylphid, slept blissfully unaware of the despair filling the dimly lit cave. Charlotte had yet to move and refused to talk to Colbert despite the man's best attempts to comfort her. Without even a body to bury, Charlotte silently cried for her lost friend.
Off to the side, Siesta anxiously watched Montmorency, still clad in her magical girl clothing and emanating steam with each breath. "Did she...?"
Montmorency simply shook her head. "There wasn't any time." As if chewing over something, the blonde looked to Charlotte and then to Louise. With the memory of Kirche's witch fresh in mind, Montmorency evasively asked Louise as she approached, "Is your soul gem clean?" Though confused at the odd question given the circumstances, Louise nodded. With the grief seeds provided by Siesta they had more than enough for the foreseeable future. "Then... I could use some healing." Letting her transformation drop, steam fled Montmorency's body. The soft glow of gold flickered away and as soon as the strength of her magic left her, Montmorency crumpled.
Siesta was ready and caught the blonde before she fell. Slowly, the maid lowed Montmorency to the floor as the now panicked Louise hurried close. "Monmon, what happened?" Though Louise had attributed her friend's pale skin to that new steam eating technique, that assumption proved false as now Montmorency was even paler and her eyes clouded over.
Rather than answer for herself, Montmorency let Siesta explain. "She got stabbed with some kind of necrotic poison. She insisted to go after you despite... despite this." Siesta did her best to keep her voice hushed as she looked to Montmorency.
Worried, Louise readied her soul gem and a grief seed just in case. She just needed to heal Montmorency. There was plenty of magic right? Pink light shone down on Montmorency and magic filed her body. With her soul, Louise felt for the damage to undo. Felt for the injuries to heal and flesh to strengthen. Louise felt nothing. Just dead flesh. "Monmon, I-" Louise's breath caught in her despair. This was... This was so far beyond her that she had no idea what to do. The only reason the flesh wasn't rotting was due to Montmorency's own magic preserving it. With even a shred of life, Louise could try something. But this... this was a corpse.
A dead hand reached up and pressed a grief seed into Louise's Soul Gem. What shards of darkness that had formed within the pink gem were whisked away, "Don't freak out, blockhead," Montmorency managed. Without forcing steam within her, it was hard to manually move what she needed, but she could manage for Louise. "We'll figure something out." Even crumbling, as long as she was beside Louise, Montmorency could find hope.
Reigning in her emotions, Louise knew that panicking would do nothing. With multiple wounded and people breaking down mentally, she needed to keep everyone together. "Louise." Id's voice tempered Louise. Glancing over to where the familiar watched the exit tunnel, Louise waited. "Footsteps. Eight bipedal likely non-undead moving at a fast pace."
Of course. Louise grimaced. Once more transforming, Louise leveled her staff and called Siesta to her. Right now, Charlotte could only do so much and Colbert had drained nearly everything he had. "Not yet." Louise spoke to where Montmorency reached for her own gem. Whatever technique Montmorency used to move, it couldn't be helping her body. Placing herself and Siesta between the opening and the rest of her comrades, Louise steeled her will for whatever may come.
Soon enough, the footfalls could be heard even by her own ears as the enemies arrived at the boulder that sealed them inside. After a moment of silence, stone ground against stone as the boulder slid aside. Cloaked men hurried inside, quickly splitting up into a semicircle perimeter as soon as they saw Louise. The sight of pointed ears chilled Louise to the bone. Elves had found them. "Spiritkin?" A familiar disbelieving voice met Louise as the final figure entered.
Not quite believing it, Louise looked upon the familiar elf. "Bidashal?" Closing her mouth, Louise swallowed and opened it again to ask, "What are you doing here?" Glancing to the readied, if hesitant, stances of the other elves, Louise kept her staff raised.
Noticing Louise's glance, Bidashal raised a hand to his subordinates. "Stand down, they are not our enemies." Though still hesitant, the other elves slowly took a step back. "Human airships snuck into our territory and hid under the protection of the lich eater. When we had a chance, we struck. Sadly, the flagship escaped toward the human lands at the cost of its escorts." The elf grimaced, annoyed at the order to refrain from possibly sparking a war. "What are you doing here, if I may be so bold?" Bidashal glanced over the ragged group with worry.
When Bidashal's eyes stopped on Montmorency, Louise looked to her friend as well. Though lying motionless on the floor, the girl still clutched her soul gem firmly. As beaten as they were and without Sylphid to track Cattleya's scent, Louise knew she had to make a choice. "Bidashal, do the elves have good healers?" Eyes still on Montmorency, Louise hoped fearfully.
Understanding her intent, Bidashal nodded. "The best anyone could ask for."
Closing her eyes, Louise knew she had to gamble with trust yet again. "In that case, I'd like to ask for a favor."
A/N: For any interested at the reference to Kyouko and Sayaka. Id is the same Incubator who did most of the talking in PMMM. It came to Halkeginia before Madoka made her wish however. So Madokami ain't a thing and will not appear in Unforeseen Consequences.