Oblivion was dying, and nobody knew except for her and the person she hated the most.
She sat hunched over on her black throne, clutching at the wound in her stomach. There was no blood, though black vapor leaked out between her fingers. Though she was in great pain, there was a smile of satisfaction on her face.
The towering door opened, sending an echo through the cathedral-like room. And in walked a bizarre looking animal. At first glance one might mistake it for a large black cat with a long, thin tail that curled over its back like a chameleon. However, its head was strangely triangular, with the tip ending at a beaklike point. Out of each ear hung a floppy appendage that appeared to be part arm, part antennae. Its beady eyes glowed red in the shadows of the darkened room.
Seemingly without a care in the world, the creature padded over to the throne and sat down on the floor, its unblinking eyes watching Oblivion with evident interest.
"Well, color me surprised," it said. Or rather, it didn't, for it had no visible mouth with which to form the words. But, even though they were not said out loud, Oblivion still heard them just as clearly. "You actually went through with it!" It turned its head and scratched it with its shoulder with its hind leg. "And here I thought you were just all talk."
Oblivion showed her teeth in a mad grin with triumph. "Y-yes…" she whispered, her voice growing weaker by the second. "I…I did. And you lost…lost your pawn."
The creature laughed. "And once again, you exceed my expectations of your stupidity. Dear idiot, how do you think the previous Oblivion vacated her position? You were always the expendable half of our relationship."
Oblivion's face, already unnaturally pale, was now dimming to transparency. "But it won't…be me," she gasped. "It won't be me."
"No, it won't." The creature turned away from the dying girl. "What a relief. You always were a bore. Fortunately, I have your replacement already, and she promises to be lots of fun!"
Oblivion would have answered, but she didn't have the strength. She sank back into her throne, her eyes now blind with agony. Her mouth opened, and black smoke issued forth in a thick torrent. The effect it had on her body was like that of a balloon punctured with a pin. It simply deflated, collapsing in on itself and fading away until there was nothing left but the swirling dark cloud overhead.
Kyoko Sakura awoke to the gentle sound of falling rain.
Her eyes opened just a crack, and she stared blearily at the apple and fish mobile hanging above her head. It moved slowly, the flat, plastic fishes chasing the red fruit around in circles. Kyoko didn't blame them. She liked apples too.
But at that moment, she decided that she liked sleep just a little bit more. She yawned, rolled over and pulled the sheet up over her head.
I don't own an apple and fish mobile.
Kyoko's eyes snapped open and she sat up with a gasp. As the sound of her heart pounded in her ears, she stared at the strange room she had woken up in.
She was lying in a bed with a metal wire frame and a plain white pillow and sheets. Directly across from her was brown dresser, and against the far wall was computer desk. There was a door next to the dresser. The lights were off, and she could hear the rain continue to patter down outside.
Kyouko recognized it immediately. The mobile was new, but otherwise the arrangement was almost exactly like her old bedroom, back home. Before she had become a Puella Magi, and for a short time afterward.
But why would she be waking up here? That room was gone, along with the rest of that place. And more to the point, why was she waking up at all? By all rights she should be…
A sharp chill ran down her spine. Kyouko threw away the covers and quickly checked herself. She was unharmed and dressed in her usual outfit, consisting of a pale green hooded jacket over a black tank top, a pair of short shorts and knee-high boots. That in itself was not unusual, but given her most recent memory, she should be in a condition that could only be described as "Broken beyond repair".
Kyoko grimaced and kicked the rest of the covers away. She had no idea what was going on, but she was certain of one thing. Someone was screwing with her, and it was pissing her off.
First things first. She needed to figure out why she was here and who had brought her here. And to do that, she needed to start looking for clues. She swung her legs around to hop out of the bed, or at least tried to. One of her boots had somehow gotten tangled in the sheets, and she found herself stumbling into the dresser with a gasp of surprise.
She managed to catch herself before falling over. Kyoko let out an annoyed grunt and shook the sheets free. Then she looked up.
Her blood ran cold.
There, above the dresser, was a collage of framed photographs. They were all of different parts of the exterior of her father's cathedral and were arranged in such a way so as to construct the whole building. However, they appeared to have been taken at different times. The ones near the bottom were from when it had been at the height of its success, with the stones clean and well cared for and members of the congregation standing around and enjoying each other's company. But as the pictures moved higher up they also moved forward in time, documenting the once-proud structure's decay until the ones at the top showed it for what it was now. Empty. Abandoned.
Ruined. By her hand.
Kyoko swallowed. Her eyes moved back down to the depictions of its happier days. In the center photograph on the bottommost row was a smiling family. Her family. Her father and mother stood on either side of her younger self, with her little sister sleeping contently in her father's arms. She remembered taking that picture, right after she had made the contract that had transformed her into a Puella Magi and ensured her father's success. Or so she had thought at the time.
Then she noticed that the dresser itself also contained framed photographs. However, only one was sitting upright, with two others lying facedown. Unlike the picture of her family, this one had captured an event that had never happened. It was of her, with her arms around the shoulders of two other girls and her trademark smirk on her face. The girl on the left was a bit older than her, with a full figure, heavy-lidded eyes and blond hair that curled in two spirals on either side of her face. She wore a small but confident smile. The girl on the right was the youngest of the trio, with short blue hair and an energetic grin. All three wore the extravagant outfits of the Puella Magi.
Mami Tomoe and Sayaka Miki. Fellow Puella Magi, and the only two that she had been on any kind of friendly terms with. And in both situations, things had turned out badly. Very badly.
With a growing sense of apprehension, Kyoko picked up the fallen pictures and set them right. One was of Mami Tomoe's corpse as it was devoured by a monstrous witch. The other showed the bodies of her family, hanging lifeless from the roof of her father's cathedral, just as she had found them after her father had forced them to commit suicide, all in response to finding out the true reason for his church's success.
Kyoko stared at the photographs. Though she had not witnessed Mami's death for herself, she had no reason to believe that the scene depicted before her was inaccurate. The one with her family certainly was.
Then she turned her attention to the computer desk. It was bare save for a laptop sitting closed in front of the chair. She walked over to the laptop and flipped it open. It booted immediately, the glow of the screen illuminating the room with an eerie luminescence. There was but one program, a media player. Inside, she found but one file, a video under the file name of "ENDGAME".
She moved the cursor over the file and double-clicked.
The video started playing immediately, and the room filled with the sounds of battle. The picture showed Kyoko herself, in full Puella Magi gear but bleeding from multiple wounds. She was riding an oversized version of her spear, the tip of which was pointed directly at the heart of huge monster that seemed to be part mermaid, part night and part orchestral conductor.
The spear hit, killing the witch and Kyoko in the same action. There was a brief pause, and then the video restarted.
Kyoko once again stared at the display of cruelty. The witch had been what Sayaka Miki had become despite Kyoko's best efforts to deter her. And once it had become obvious that she could not be saved, Kyoko had decided to eliminate her in that manner so as to put her out of her misery and ensure that she would not die alone.
In fact, that had been her most recent memory before waking up in this place. She was supposed to have died then. This video confirmed that. She was supposed to be dead. Why, then, was she now alive and uninjured in a sadistic mockup of her room surrounded by pieces of her past displayed specifically to torment her?
Her mouth twisted into a snarl of rage. Her hands balled into fists, and her body started shaking. Then, with a cry of fury, she smacked the laptop across the desk and sent it crashing into the far wall. The screen cracked, but the video did not stop looping.
However, smashing it against the floor and stomping on it until it was nothing more than a mess of circuits and crushed plastic did the trick.
Then she turned her attention to the pictures on the wall and dresser. Still crying out, Kyoko tore them down and smashed them against the floor, the top of the dresser, the wall and the door. Anything with a hard surface.
After that came the dresser. She yanked each of the drawers out and tossed them aside. Doing so upset their contents. Gnawed chicken bones, empty pocky boxes, discarded candy wrappers, rotten apple cores and other evidence of food long eaten scattered everywhere. This of course only served to enrage her further. It was not enough that they had to torment her with horrible scenes from her life and (presumed) death, now they were taunting her as well. She grasped the side of the dressed and pulled it down into the mess. Then she slammed the heel of her right boot into its back until the thin wood cracked and her foot plunged right through.
Following this was the bed. The sheets and pillows were flung every which way, the mattress upended onto the wreck of the dresser and the frame overturned. Then she snatched up the chair and slammed it against the top of the desk until it broke into pieces. The desk itself was then overturned in short order.
Shaking with adrenaline, Kyoko panted as she surveyed the devastation, searching for something else to break. She then noticed an object hanging on the far wall, opposite of where the desk had stood. Eyes narrowed, she took an aggressive step forward with the intention of adding its destruction to the wreckage.
And then she recognized it and froze in her tracks.
It was one of her segmented spears, the ones she created to battle witches. Held normally, it functioned as a spear was supposed to and could be used to counter, whack, stab and slash alike. But when she wished it (as she often did) the shaft would separate into linked segments and lengthen, allowing her to whip it about and deliver a satisfying amount of punishment. Kyoko had always been pleased with her weapon's adaptability. It suited her personality.
Now, she stared at the one hanging before her. She had not taken on her Puella Magi form, so there was no reason for it to just be hanging there, independent of her.
Then realization struck and she looked down at her hand. When not in use, she wore the source of her power, her soul gem, in ring form on one finger. It was easier to carry that way, and should she ever need to summon something pointy without going through the rigmarole of transforming, it was always at hand.
But now it was gone. All of her fingers were bare.
Kyoko quickly searched herself and came up with nothing. She then frantically looked about the room, overturning the wrecked furniture, trash and smashed pictures. It was nowhere to be found.
The feeling of dread that had been growing inside her ever since she woke up now skyrocketed. How could her soul gem be gone? As the name implied, it literally contained her soul. Without it nearby, her body would become a lifeless thing, no better than a corpse. But even when she didn't have it on her, she was always able to sense its location, just as she knew where her hands or feet were without having to look at them. It was a part of her. Separating her from her soul gem without her knowledge should be impossible.
But regardless, her soul gem was still missing.
Kyoko stood stock-still as the implications flew through her mind. Then the horror melted away as her fury was ignited anew. Someone was screwing with her. Someone was screwing with her a lot. And she could think of only one way to deal with people who screwed with her.
She snatched her spear down from the wall and hefted it in her hands. It felt as natural as always. She gave it a couple experimental swings to test the balance and then gave the command for the shaft to separate. To her surprise, it obeyed, just as it always had.
Kyoko grinned. Well, she had that going for her at least. She cracked it back and forth, tearing gouges in the walls in the process. Good.
Satisfied that it was working as it should, Kyoko turned to leave the room. There was someone she needed to find, someone she needed to hurt. She didn't know who it was yet, but it didn't matter. They were going to be hurting soon, no matter who they were.
Then she remembered something. Kyoko glanced over her shoulder, sighed, and swung the spear around in a swift arc. Severed from the ceiling, the stupid fish-and-apple mobile fell to the floor, allowing her to stomp it into ruin.
That done, Kyoko opened the door and left the destroyed room behind her.
Who…where am I? What happened?
Despite the pains that had been taken to make the room that Kyoko had woken up in resemble her old bedroom, the same attention had not been paid to the rest of the place. Kyoko wasn't sure where she was, but she certainly had never seen it before.
The best she could tell, she was in some sort of house or apartment. The room exited to a hallway. The end to her left opened to what had to be the living room. The end to the right had nothing but a full length mirror. There were only two doors in the hallway, the one she was now leaving and one a bit down the way from her, near the mirror. More pictures lined both walls, though these were less psychologically cruel. The ones on her end just showed endless crosses, ranging from detailed crucifixion scenes to hastily scrawled "t" shapes. The pictures on the other side were all of musical notes. Kyoko didn't understand it but didn't care. She knew that her prey was a nut.
Most of the lights were off, leaving the place a dim mystery. There was some sort of flickering white light coming from the living room, and the light in whatever room was behind the other door was on. Beyond, she could hear a shower running, meaning that it was probably the bathroom.
Kyoko's grip tightened on her spear as an eager grin slashed its way across her face. So, her prey had decided to clean themselves up. Well, murders in the shower were classic scenes from the movies, and always turned out poorly for the person without the blade. Kyoko liked the idea of playing the killer. Though in this case, she wasn't going to kill them. Not right away, at least. First she was going to make them explain what in the hell was going on and where they had brought her. Then she was going to torture the location of her soul gem out of them. And then, when she was sure that there was nothing more they could tell her, maybe she'd kill them, depending on what kind of mood she was in at the time. Either way, this was going to be a blast.
She crept toward the bathroom and stood ready by the door. She was going to have to do this quickly, before they had a chance to realize what was going. Taking a deep breath, she grabbed the handle, threw the door open and leapt inside.
But for the second time in so many minutes, what see saw brought her up short.
It was a bathroom, as she had predicted. Before her was an old-fashioned ivory bathtub, the kind that sat on brass dragon's feet. A showerhead was stuck on the top of a long pipe. It was turned on full blast, spraying steaming hot water on the bathtub's nude occupant. For their part, they didn't seem to notice that the water was starting to scald their skin and cover them with first-degree burns. In fact, they looked to be completely unconscious.
It was as good as a setup as Kyoko could have hoped for. Unconscious and burned, they would be unable to fight back. However, all thought of attack had been driven from Kyoko's mind. She knew that person. She knew them very well.
"Sayaka!" Kyoko cried. She dropped her spear and raced to the other girl's side. "Come on, wake up!"
She grabbed Sayaka by the shoulder and shook her. To her relief, Sayaka let out a weak moan. Good, she wasn't gone just yet. But if she were left in that water much longer, she might as well be.
"Come on, Sayaka," Kyoko said as she grabbed Sayaka by the armpits and tried to haul her out of the tub. "Get out of there, you stupid-" Scalding water hit her hand. "-Ow!"
Kyoko lurched back and sucked on her fingers. "Idiot," she hissed at herself as she rushed over to the other end of the bathtub. Two ivory knobs stuck out just below the edge. She grabbed the one controlling the hot water and tried to twist it.
It wouldn't budge.
Feeling panic rise, Kyoko looked up to the showerhead itself. Maybe she could…No. Smashing it would be a horrible idea. She'd just end up spraying the water everywhere.
There were several fuzzy green towels hanging from a nearby rack. Kyoko grabbed two, wrapped them tightly over her hands and once again tried to lift Sayaka out of the tub. She braced her feet against the tub's side, set her teeth, and pulled with all her might.
This time it worked, and she was able to get Sayaka out of harm's way and onto the linoleum floor.
Kyoko threw the towels aside and starting slapping the only part of Sayaka that hadn't been burned by the water: her face. "Sayaka!" she yelled. "Can you hear me? Come on, wake up already!"
Sayaka moaned again but didn't regain consciousness. Kyoko sat down next to her, drew her knees up under her chin and wondered what she should do next.
It was then she finally noticed that there was something horribly wrong with the blue-haired girl lying unconscious at her side. While her torso was covered in painful looking burns, she was, at least, fully human from the waist up, exactly as she had been before becoming a witch.
From the waist down, however, things were different. Instead of legs, she had a large fish's tail, covered with scales of blue, black, and maroon and two fins that flared in a rainbow of the colors of fire. In short, Sayaka was now a mermaid.
Now Kyoko was getting scared again. The horrifying witch Sayaka had become, the one that Kyoko had sacrificed herself to kill, had also been in possession of a mermaid's tail. Of course, she had been much larger then, wearing a full suit of bizarre armor and behaving in a generally terrifying manner, but a mermaid she had been.
It was then that Kyoko finally noticed the state of her surroundings. The same level of care that had gone into turning the bedroom into a house of horrors for her had gone into turning this bathroom into one for Sayaka. However, instead of framed photographs, the vile scenes were in the tiny ceramic tiles of the walls themselves.
Two mosaic scenes were depicted on either side of the room. On the left, Kyoko saw Sayaka as a normal human girl, surrounded by the people she cared about. Holding her right hand was that one violinist boy she had been so obsessed about, whatshisname. Holding her left was that dippy pink-haired girl, the one everyone always seemed to think was so important. Next to her (and farthest away from the violin boy, Kyoko noted) was that one green-haired girl. Behind Sayaka with their hands on her shoulders were a pleasant looking man and woman. Kyoko guessed that this had to be her parents. Everyone was smiling and looked happy to be together.
The scene on the right, however, wasn't nearly so lighthearted. It looked like it was of Sayaka's funeral, with a photograph of her face surrounded by candles. However, only a fraction of the candles were lit, and none of the people there seemed to care. The violin boy and the green-haired girl were off in one corner, kissing passionately. The pink-haired girl was laughing and holding hands with that mystery Puella Magi, Homura. No one was paying Sayaka's picture any attention, and her parents were nowhere to be seen at all.
Once, soon after they had met, Kyoko had pointed out that since Sayaka had cured the violin boy of his injury with her wish, he no longer needed her. Kyoko had then sardonically suggested that if Sayaka wanted to make him hers forever, all she had to do was break all of his limbs. She had even offered to do it herself, as a favor. She hadn't been serious at the time but now, looking at that scene, Kyoko really did want to cripple that boy. And everyone else in that scene, for that matter. Sayaka had given up everything for them, including her humanity and her life, and how did they repay her? By spitting on her gifts and refusing to so much as thank her.
Kyoko knew exactly what that was like.
Then she looked over her shoulder. There, in the wall around the toilet, was pictured a huge armored monster holding a sword. It was the orchestra-conducting witch Sayaka had become. Only in the mosaic showed it slumped over with Kyoko's spear cutting through the breastplate and protruding out the back.
Kyoko reevaluated the targets of her anger. Forget Sayaka's so-called loved ones. Kyoko needed to get back to what she was doing, and deliver the one responsible for this situation into a world of pain.
Sayaka's breathing had slowed to a peaceful rhythm, but she still showed no signs of waking. Kyoko hoisted her up again by the armpits and dragged her over to prop her against the wall.
"All right," Kyoko said. "I'm going to be right back. If you wake up before I'm done, don't go anywhere. If I get back to find you gone, I'm going to be all kinds of pissed."
Sayaka didn't answer. Of course.
With an annoyed grunt, Kyoko stood up. Then she grabbed her spear and headed out.
The hallway was just as silent and empty as it had been when she left it. Apparently all of the shouting she had just done had failed to attract the attention of their kidnapper. Kyoko slipped out of the bathroom and carefully closed the door behind her.
The light from the presumed living room continued to flicker, and if she concentrated, Kyoko could just make out the sound of voices, barely audible through the sound of the shower. She crept forward, spear at the ready. When she reached the end of the hall, she took cover along the way and peeked in.
As predicted, the room beyond was some sort of living room. Or at least half of it was. The right side was a small combo kitchen/dining room, with a refrigerator, sink, stove and round table surrounded by four chairs separated from the left side by a linoleum counter. The other half held two couches along the walls, a recliner in the center of the room that faced away from Kyoko and a television sitting in a wall unit. The television was the source of both the light and the voices, as some sort of movie was playing with the sound down low. There were no windows.
There was, however, someone sitting in the recliner.
Kyoko's grin returned. There he was. Or her. That point was going to be resolved in a few seconds, along with several other mysteries.
She tiptoed toward the chair. Then, when she was close enough, she whipped the spear around so that it wrapped around the recliner and it occupant and grabbed it as it came swinging around. She pulled tight, trapping her target in the chair.
"Move and you're dead," she hissed.
Her target obeyed.
Kyoko nodded in satisfaction. "You probably thought you could get away with it, did'ja?" she said. "Thought you could just take us away and screw with our minds. Guess no one told you how dangerous Puella Magi are. Or maybe this is just some sort of complicated form of suicide. Either way though, you're going to answer some questions. Let's start with the obvious: who in hell are you and why did you bring us here?"
Kyoko waited, but her target was apparently so paralyzed by fear that they couldn't even speak.
"Hey, didn't you just hear me?" Kyoko asked. She gave her makeshift lasso a sharp tug. "I just asked you a question! Who are you? Why did you bring us here? Where's my soul gem? What's with all that bullshit in the pictures? How did you make Sayaka human again? Come on, start talking or I'm going to start counting how many bones I can break before you go into shock!"
Again, her prisoner remained silent.
Now Kyoko was growing mad. "What the hell are you trying to prove? I mean it! I will kill you as painfully as possible if you don't start talking. Come on, say something!"
When this too failed to elicit a response, Kyoko's temper snapped. "You irritating bastard!" she cried as she yanked hard on the lasso. The chair fell backward, occupant and all. Kyoko whipped her spear away and gave the chair a sharp kick, sending it tumbling to its side.
Kyoko leapt onto the side of the upturned recliner. She landed in a crouch and pointed the tip of the spear at her fallen prisoner. "All right, that does it! I'm going to start with the toes and work my way…Huh?"
As it turned out, the thing in the chair was not her captor. It wasn't a person. It wasn't even alive. It was the upper half of a suit of extravagant armor. It wore a cape with a tall, heart-shaped collar that was tied with a red ribbon around its neck. The helmet was skull-like and disturbing, with several miniature swords fused into a metallic representation of a high hairdo. Clutched in one hand was a cutlass, identical to the ones Sayaka had wielded in battle.
It was the same armor that Sayaka's witch had worn, the one from the mural in the bathroom. Only now it was shrunk down to human size.
Kyoko stared at the empty armor. The fire in her veins was again freezing to ice. Her invisible adversary was playing mind games with her again, and damned it if weren't effective.
It was only then that she thought to check what was on TV.
It was another one of her memories, one almost as recent as that of her death, but somehow even more painful. Kyoko stared at the television and remembered.
It had taken her a long time, but Kyoko finally found her. Sayaka was sitting by herself at a subway station at night, staring at her shoes with a look of hopelessness on her face. Rolling her eyes, Kyoko ran up to her, out of breath from the search.
"I finally found you," she panted as she sat down next to the blue-haired girl and pulled open a can of chips. "How long are you going to blow off your friends?"
"Sorry to bother you," Sayaka muttered. She did not meet Kyoko's eyes.
Kyoko, of course noticed. "What's wrong?" she asked irritably. "You're not acting like yourself."
Sayaka took her time answering. "I just don't care anymore," she said at last.
Kyoko didn't have a response, so Sayaka continued. "What do I even care about? What do I want to protect? I don't even know anymore."
"Hey," Kyoko said, just a bit fed up with Sayaka's self-loathing.
Then Sayaka opened her hand, revealing her soul gem. Kyoko gasped in horror when she saw that the its normally blue color had been consumed by darkness.
"The balance of hope and despair is always zero, you said so yourself," Sayaka continued, seemingly heedless of her own perilous state. "I understand what you meant now."
Now Sayaka's demeanor was starting to scare Kyoko. She was swaying back and forth, and seemed to be speaking more to herself than to her companion.
"I've saved plenty of people," she said. "But in exchange, resentment and pain took root in my heart." She held up her corrupted soul gem, an empty smile on her face. "I'm even hurting my best friend now."
"Sayaka!" Kyoko blurted out. "Are you-"
"As much as I wished for the happiness of one," Sayaka continued, not even noticing Kyoko now, "someone else must be equally cursed. That's how the story of a Puella Magi goes."
She took a deep shuddering breath and finally turned to face Kyoko. Tears filled her eyes, though that empty smile never left her face. "I've been such a fool," she said.
And then a tear fell from her eyes to land on her soul gem.
The next thing Kyoko knew, she was being thrown back by an explosion of force. Sayaka's soul gem had exploded, and the pieces reformed themselves into a shape that she knew all too well: that of a grief seed, the talisman of a witch. Sayaka's body fell limply to the ground as darkness and strange shapes danced in the air around her.
Kyoko managed to grab a nearby railing and held on for dear life, though the dark power emanating from Sayaka was too strong. "Sayaka!" she screamed as she desperately tried to keep her grip. And then…
Then there was a click and a whirr. Static consumed the image, and when it cleared, Kyoko was once again running up to Sayaka as she sat alone on a bench.
Kyoko, the real one, cried out and threw her spear right through the television. The screen exploded in a spray of sparks. She yanked it back out and started bashing the machine into scrap, just has she had done with the laptop. Only this time, she had a weapon, and was able to reduce the television to ruined components much faster.
"Where are you?" she screamed when she was done. "Stop hiding in the shadows! I'm right here! Come and get me!"
She hadn't really expected her challenge to get a response, and thus was not surprised when it didn't. However, she was plenty pissed off. She hated being screwed with, and she hated being ignored. And now her unseen enemy had managed the strange feat of doing both at the same time.
Kyoko was sorely tempted to thrash this room as she had the bedroom, but was able to rein in her violent impulses. She was done with this place. It was time to get Sayaka and get the hell out of here. So she yanked Sayaka's cutlass out of the metal fingers that held it and marched back toward the bathroom.
But as it turned out, the place was not done with Kyoko and had one last trick for her. Before, she hadn't paid much attention to the mirror in the hallway. But as she rounded the corner, she got a good look at her reflection.
In it, she was wearing a sleeveless waist-length red battle tunic that opened over a maroon-and-pink striped skirt. She had on black thighhighs and tall boots the color of dried blood, each adorned with a red gem at the knee. White detached sleeves covered her arms, with heavy black cuffs around the wrists.
It was her Puella Magi uniform, the outfit she wore to battle. The only thing missing was her soul gem, which she always wore as part of her tunic, just below the collarbone. The space for it was there, but the gem itself was gone.
Kyoko looked down at herself and her green jacket and pair of short. Then she looked back at her inaccurate reflection. The pieces were now coming together.
Sayaka's tail aside, most of what she had seen so far could be accomplished using only human resources. The pictures, the mosaic, the videos and so on were possible to replicate by ordinary people, if not difficult. But she hadn't known of any technology that would cause her reflection to be changed to such a degree. Hypothetically speaking, such an illusion might exist, but it was far more likely that the effect was achieved through magic.
Of course, the fact that she was still alive and moving around without her soul gem had already confirmed that, as did Sayaka's partial return to humanity. And this only cemented it further. The suspect pool had been narrowed down to three types of enemies.
The first was that this was the work of an Incubator, like that damned Kyubey. Their full capabilities were yet unknown, and they were certainly capable of something like this.
The second was another Puella Magi. Despite having a common origin and ultimate goals, the Magi rarely worked well together, and it was not unheard of for one to start attacking her competitors.
The final suspect was the most likely. She could be inside a witch's labyrinth. Bizarre mind games were right up their alley, and while all the labyrinths she had encountered thus far were composed of bits of the witch's past rather than that of its opponents, finding one that worked in reverse was not outside of the realm of possibility.
It was this last possibility that Kyoko feared the most. If this was a witch's labyrinth, then there had to be a witch attached. And the only witch she had encountered thus far was Sayaka herself. True, she had been partially restored to humanity, but the change was not complete. Furthermore, her restoration to her former appearance could just be another trick, something to lower her defenses. If that were the case, then Kyoko was likely going to have to kill Sayaka all over again.
She didn't want it to come to that. She didn't want that to happen at all.
First things first though. She still needed to find her soul gem, and that mirror was looking like a probable hiding place. Heck, perhaps it was a two-way mirror, and her target was watching her from the other side.
Only one way to find out. Kyoko lunged forward and swung her spear out. The head smashed into the glass and broke it into pieces, sending shards flying everywhere. Kyoko snapped the spear back to its normal form and examined the damage.
Nothing. The only thing on the other side of the glass was the mirror's wooden frame.
Kyoko sighed. She walked over to the broken mirror, grabbed it by the frame, and wrenched it off the wall. Again, there was nothing to see but the bare wall.
Well, it was worth a shot. Kyoko gave up on the mirror and returned to the bathroom.
Sayaka was right where Kyoko had left her, which was encouraging. However, she had not awakened, which was disappointing. But her condition had improved. The burns on her torso had cooled to an inoffensive shade of pink, so that they were less threatening than a sunburn. That was good news. It meant that Sayaka still had her advanced recuperative abilities.
However, now Kyoko was presented with the problem of how she was going to move her. Normally she would just hoist Sayaka onto her back and hold onto her legs. But seeing that Sayaka had traded her legs in for a fishlike tail, that way was right out.
Finally, she ended up hoisting Sayaka onto her back anyway. First, she tore off strips from one of the towels and tied Sayaka's cutlass to her waist. After this she moved Sayaka's arms so that they hung to either side of Kyoko's neck and tied them together, so as to prevent her from slipping off. Then she gathered up Sayaka's tail under one arm while keeping a strong hold on her spear with the other. Then she leaned forward, making sure that the mermaid was firmly in place, and slowly stood up.
Sayaka was heavier than she looked, but thanks to the contract she had made and all the exercise witch-hunting gave her, Kyoko was unnaturally strong. Still, it was an awkward bundle to carry, but after a few moments of grunting and adjusting her weight she managed to rise fully to her feet.
"Just so you know, you owe me big time," Kyoko hissed to the unconscious girl on her back. "And I'm gonna make sure you pay. So you better wake up soon."
The apartment was just as creepy as before, though Kyoko barely noticed. Her concentration was partially taken up with the burden on her back and with keeping an eye out for any new dangers. Fortunately, none presented themselves, and she was able to make it to the front door without much difficulty. Though she did spare a second to glare contemptuously at the fallen armor, even as she made a conscious effort to stay well out of its reach.
Once she had reached the door, Kyoko set her spear against the wall and tested the door to see if it would open. To her surprise, it swung upon with ease, allowing the two of them to leave the building.
As Kyoko had guessed, they had been in an apartment building. The one they had just exited was on the bottom floor, within the shadow of the upper walkways. Directly in front of them was the parking lot. The rain was still coming down, splattering against the asphalt and the metal rails from the levels above. Beyond, the structures of a city could be seen. Those in themselves looked normal enough, but it did not take long for Kyoko to realize that they were someplace strange.
For one, there were no cars in the parking lot. Each space was empty. Despite this, the place had not taken the overgrown and trash-filled looked that quickly consumed abandoned apartment buildings. The walls were clean, the plants well cared for and there was very little litter to be seen.
Second, Kyoko could see the city streets from where she stood, and either the city had some serious flooding problems to address or this place used canals in place of streets. Water rushed by like a river, completely oblivious that it was passing through sidewalks and under blinking intersection lights.
Third, the city itself was lit up with so many colors that it was almost painful to look at. Neon signs, banners, and advertisements were everywhere, covering the cityscape with flashing lights.
And finally, there was the sky itself. The storm clouds were unlike any that Kyoko had ever seen. They rolled and twisted over each other, forming themselves into bizarre and random shapes. Grinning skulls melted into mighty ships with in turn gave way to fluttering butterflies and so on. The clouds themselves were not the usual grey and black of a rainstorm, but a myriad of colors that likewise exploded and clashed against each other, turning from yellow to red to green and the rest of the spectrum.
If there was any doubt that Kyoko was now inside a witch's labyrinth, it dried up in that instant. But she had never seen that recreated an entire city. And here she was, without her soul gem (how that was possible, she still couldn't figure out) and with an unconscious Sayaka to defend.
That was, assuming that Sayaka herself wasn't the witch…
Almost as if in response to that thought, Sayaka let out a small groan and started to move. "Wha…where?" she muttered.
Kyoko grinned. "Hey, looks who's finally coming around." She quickly moved Sayaka's bound hands up over her head and carefully set the other girl down against the wall. Sayaka blinked several times, squinted at Kyoko and rubbed her eyes.
"Ugh," Sayaka moaned. "What…what happened?"
"Huh? You don't remember?" Kyoko exclaimed in disbelief. "You got turned into a witch like an idiot! And I tried to save you, like a fool! And we both ended up killing each other!"
Sayaka squinted at her. "I…I'm sorry, but none of that made any sense. At all. Uh, do we know each other?"
"Huh?" Kyoko's jaw dropped. "Are you serious? You don't remember me? At all?"
Sayaka thought for a moment, and then shook her head.
"Well, how about that one friend of yours, Ma…Makika? Right, Madoka!"
Sayaka shook her head again.
"Then what about Puella Magi?" Kyoko pressed. "Or Kyubey? Or soul gems? Or witches? Or grief seeds? Or…or that boy with the violin? You gave your humanity to fix him!"
Sayaka took a deep breath. "I'm sorry," she said.
Kyoko felt like tearing her hair out. "Argh, goddamn it, Sayaka! Don't you remember anything at all?"
"I…I remember the music." A small, wistful smile appeared on Sayaka's face. "Such beautiful music…"
Kyoko felt a chill run up her spine as she remembered the orchestra that Sayaka's witch had been conducting. "And that's it?" she asked. "You seriously don't remember anything else at all?"
"I remember…" Sayaka frowned. "Wait, what did you just call me?"
"Huh? I called you Sayaka! That's your name, Sayaka Miki!"
"Sayaka? No, I'm pretty sure it isn't."
"Oh?" Kyoko growled. "Then what is your name? Or, wait, don't tell me. You forgot that too, haven't you?"
"No, I know my name," Sayaka said. She smiled in triumph, happy to have remembered that at least. "It's Oktavia. Oktavia von Seckendorff."