Kyouko's heart beat hard against her chest as she watched the walls of the Sakura Cathedral from the second floor balustrades warp all around her. Her eyes were wide with disbelief. She had seen this sort of distortion before, but this was the first time she faced it as a Puella Magi.
"Miki-san!" Mami called out to her, "Come down and get ready to fight."
The ponytailed girl gave her a hesitant nod and she stared to make her way down the staircase to join Mami. As she hobbled down the steps, the distortion intensified and the blair of a powerful pipe-organ rang through the cathedral halls. Fear gripped Kyouko immediately and the girl lost balance in the staircase and nearly tumbled down the steps. She held onto the railings for dear life, but these railings were transfiguring before her very eyes.
"Argh..." Mami winced, covering her ears from the offensive sound. With a crumpled brow, she gathered herself. "Miki-san!"
She tried to use telepathy, but that overpowering sound blocked even that line. Kyouko's grip on the railings wasn't going to hold and the railings themselves were starting to be transfigured hazardously.
Long, thick, metal pipes started to appear all around the cathedral, running around the walls, ceilings and floors leading deeper into the void growing at the end of the hall. Mami felt a pipe by her feet shaking from the sound produced by the distant, phantom organ. Mami's eyes grew crafty.
The gunner was bathed in the golden light of her Soul Gem and she quickly produced a single rifle that appeared in her hands. She grabbed the rifle by the forestock and struck the pipes at her feet with the butt of her gun. The pipes smashed easily and the powerful sound started to wane ever so slightly.
"... just as I thought."
Mami smashed what pipes she could nearby then summonned a dozen more rifles with a courtsey. Two at a time, she shot at the pipes beyond her reach blew them open. The sounds of the distant organ, though still audible, became tame. The gunner saunted past the smashed pipes and hurried over to the shaken Kyouko to help her down the staircase.
"It's okay now, Miki-san." Mami comforted the ponytailed girl, "Stick with me and we'll take this Witch down together, okay?"
"... o-okay." Kyouko could barely speak. Her ears were ringing and there were tears at the sides of her eyes. Mami propped Kyouko up back on her shaky feet then propsed her battle-plan.
"Kyouko Sakura, the girl whose body you've taken control of, is a spear-fighter, Miki-san." Mami explained with a reassuring voice, "A melee fighter normally leads a formation, but I'll take the vanguard today."
"Still..." Mami continued as she eyed her surroundings, "Try to at least summon her spear, Miki-san. I won't let the Witch lay a finger on you, but you never know what goes down in a Witch's barrier."
The pipes that Mami had broken were starting to repair themselves and the sound was picking up in strength once more. They had to hurry.
"I'll give it a try." Kyouko said. She held out her red Soul Gem and let its brilliance transform her clothes. Kyouko closed her eyes and focused her energies into conjuring up a weapon. When she opened her eyes, a sharp two-wedged spear appeared in her hands. The weapon in her hands amazed her – she truly did wield the powers of this Puella Magi.
"That's good." Mami gave an approving nod, "Now, we're going to go down the cathedral hallway and follow these pipes to the central chamber. Watch my back, but don't lag behind, you hear? God knows what sort of minions will come out and attack us."
The gunner gave Kyouko one last pat on the shoulder and started to walk down the deepening hallway. Kyouko shakily clutched onto her spear and stayed a few paces behind Mami, her eyes sweeping left and right in fear. Even though she did have magical powers now, she still felt as frightened as ever.
As Mami and Kyouko made their way down the halls, the sound of the organ started to change key.
"D-minor…" Kyouko recognized the key.
"Is something the matter, Miki-san?" Mami asked, her eyes still glued forward as they walked.
"N-nothing." Kyouko shook her head, "It's just that… this sorta sounds like… well… a symphony."
Rumbling noises then echoed from beyond the void. Little black, grotesque limbs that were twisted into odd shapes appeared and charged at them from the darkness in all directions.
"They're notes!" Kyouko spoke again, whirling around in disbelief as she saw the shapes the limbs took. "They're note symbols… quarter notes, eighth notes… whole notes…"
"Whatever they are, they're coming for us!" Mami warned, summoning a circle or rifles that stuck out of the ground, "Ready yourself!"
The gunner picked up her guns and shot at the note-shaped limbs that approached them. Each bullet she fired pierced through two or three of the notes with two shots every second, but even her best efforts could only do so much. A handful of notes came too close for comfort and launched themselves at Kyouko.
"Ahh!" Kyouko screamed and whirled her spear around wildly, but her swipes somehow cut down the notes that came for her. She saw them splatter midair, torn asunder by her spear. "I… can do this."
However, more notes came to replace their fallen comrades.
"Stay focused!" Mami said, calling another circle or rifles around the two of them and all of them fired at the oncoming foes. "If anything gets past my barrage, cut it down!"
"Gotcha, Mami-san!" Kyouko was gaining a sliver of confidence and held onto her spear less tensely.
Mami's barrage tore down a good number of the notes, but a handful of them made it past the blasts and fiery powder. Kyouko swung her spear and cut the remnants down. Wave after wave of notes would swarm them, but their tandem was nearly invincible and Kyouko was impressed. Little did the girl commanding her know that Mami had fought battles alongside this spear-fighter in the past.
How else could the gunner's actions be so fluid and graceful with the spear-fighter at her side? Surely, these tactics and formations that Mami fielded weren't ones she made on the spot. Mami had used them before. Mami had faith in them.
Why, then, did Mami never mention anything about this spear-fighter she worked so well with to Sayaka and Madoka?
Before long, Mami and Kyouko were able to wipe out ranks of the notes. Any notes that remained were afraid and were rightfully so. Piles of bloodied limbs lay about all around the two girls and their faces were covered in dark crimson, but there was not a scratch on their bodies. Those notes scampered away into the darkness in fright.
"They'll reinforce the Witch's defense for sure." Mami said, holding onto two loaded rifles as she watched the notes flee. "It's time for us to tighten up the noose."
"Let's do this, Mami-san!" Kyouko was now comfortable wielding her spear and was growing eager.
Together, the two of them ran down the darkened halls towards the source of the pipe-organ music. As they got closer, the path of the metal pipes became erratic. Thin strands of pale, deathly wood started to curl around the pipes, growing thicker and thicker the further Mami and Kyouko went down the path. Then, gruesome crosses built from bones bound with ligament started to line the path.
"This is strange…" Mami said with a serious tone. "The energy around here's way too strong for just a Witch."
The gunner held out her golden Soul Gem and watched as it reacted to the energies around them. Indeed, it was sensing an unusually strong power.
"We're already too far in to stop now." Mami reminded herself, "All Witches have to be dealt with – this one is no exception."
"Wait!" A voice halted Mami and Kyouko in their tracks.
"Akemi-san…?" Mami was surprised to hear her voice. She and Kyouko turned around to see the mysterious transfer student standing there in her Puella Magi attire. Beads of sweat peppered her forehead and she carried a Type 89 Howa assault rifle in her hands. Her breaths were short and the barrel of her gun was still smoking.
"We're in a bad situation here." Homura said as she caught her breath. "This isn't the barrier of one single Witch. Three separate Witches manifested at the same time here at the Cathedral. We'll need every ounce of magic we can muster. We have to take them out one by one."
The symphony that Kyouko had heard earlier now became clear and distinct to the three girls. It was the fourth movement of Beethoven's 9th Symphony – the Ode to Joy.
In the private room of Kyousuke Kamijou, Heartseed sat on the bed face to face with the Incubator. Heartseed was busy tying up a new bandage to reinforce Kyousuke's now broken cast while the Incubator looked out to the setting sun.
"Homura Akemi has entered the barrier, Heartseed." The Incubator reported, "She's fighting her way through to where Mami Tomoe and Sayaka Miki's Kyouko are."
"It is just as I expected." Heartseed said in his usual monotone, "This will be an interesting battle – a three-on-three. Isn't that fair?"
Kyuubey tilted his head at the mention of the word 'fair'. He didn't seem to fully understand what Heartseed meant by 'fair'.
"Do you enjoy watching them fight and suffer, Heartseed?" The Incubator was curious.
"Hmm… I don't know." Heartseed started straight into the ceiling, "I think there's more to it than that."
"Is that so?"
"Yes indeed." Heartseed turned his blank eyes back to the Incubator. "However, since you and the rest of our kind have shunned emotion, I do not expect you to understand my reasons."
Then, there was silence in the private room. Only the ticking of the clock broke that silence, followed by the loud chimes of the town clock to mark 7PM. Heartseed listened to the chimes and declared in his monotone,
"Take this!" Kyouko cried as she charged towards the first Witch – a skeletal mastodon with the skull of a human girl but with vicious obsidian trunks protruding from her cheeks.
With a powerful swing of her spear, she smashed the front legs of the Witch and brought it face down to the cathedral floors with a loud thud. Yellow ribbons burst from the seams of the stone at Mami's command and held down the Witch.
"Farewell." Homura said coolly. She produced an anti-tank missile and aimed it at the Witch's wailing face. She pulled the trigger and a powerful blast crushed the mastodon's head into ash.
A glassy ding echoed in the chamber as a Grief Seed fell onto the floor. Homura picked up the Grief Seed to cleanse her gem. Then, to Kyouko's and Mami's surprise, the transfer student passed the Grief Seed over to them.
"There's still a lot of space in that one." Homura said, "You'll be able to fully cleanse your gems with that."
Kyouko and Mami had no intentions of complaining. They cleansed their gems and tossed the spent Grief Seed aside. As the Witch's corpse faded away to nothingness, the bone crosses disappeared, leaving only the metal pipes and the wooden tendrils that wrapped around them left on the path.
"So…" Kyouko said, "That's one Witch down, two to… argh…"
The 9th Symphony playing on that distant organ picked up in pace.
"Miki-san!" Mami cried out, tending to the ponytailed girl immediately, "What's wrong?"
All of the sudden, Mami too started to grunt in pain.
"Another round of body-swaps?" Homura realized what was going on, but she too started to feel pained.
Moments later, the pain stopped and the three girls came to.
Kyouko and Mami gasped as they looked at each other.
"Tomoe!" Mami cried, realizing who now controlled Kyouko's body.
"Sakura-san!" Kyouko replied, recognizing that manner of speech without a second thought. Just as their encounter was about to heat up, a groan caught both of their attentions.
"Guys…" Homura spoke in a worried tone, "I think the transfer student and I switched this time round…"
Outside, at the courtyard of the cathedral, Sayaka Miki dazedly looked at her two hands.
"This can't be…" Sayaka muttered, "No… no!"
To Be Continued
Author's Notes: Been a while, but yes - this project is still alive. I did what I could to get it out before New Year's for you guys. Here's to a great 2012 and an even more wonderful 2013 to come!