It felt good to fight, thought Kyoko. It felt good to stay in that pure moment of simple problems with simple solutions. Stab, dash, slash, stab. There, three minions down. A bear, a scorpion and a tapir. No fuss. No drama. No need for war cries, naming your moves or stupid people forcing you to do just that. The thought of her mentor made her growl in anger and attack in a blurred flurry of jabs. Three more minions fell, perforated enough to kill them twice over. Everything was just a game to Mami, she thought as she stepped over the corpses. Mami didn't see how dangerous this life was, how magic and witches and death were ever so linked. She was too busy sugarcoating it all under playing the hero and announcing her "special moves".

The truth was that killing witches didn't really save anyone. So what if a witch's victims survived? They were the same people as before, still capable of harming themselves or people close to them. And even when not under the influence of a witch, people were still capable of doing horrible things. People like her father-

The thought of her father's hanging corpse and the blood dripping from his hands made her scream. Since the rest of the witch's minions were all tied up trying to hit her decoys, she had nothing to fight, nothing to kill. The lull in the storm allowed the mental image in her head to grow more vivid. She could see the damp trail of tears from his eyes and the threads at the frayed end of the rope.

The whole family was still at home, she thought. No one would find the bodies until tomorrow. It wasn't too late to go back and join them. Continuing to live didn't make a difference anyway. The world would be a better place if we stayed together, even in death.

But the wild, animal side of her that wanted to live was too strong. With a manic smile that flashed her canines, she dispelled her decoys. The witch's minions paused in a moment of confusion then swarmed toward her. A reckless move, but it was exactly what she needed to return to the purity of battle. Bad memories moved aside to make room for the dance of split-second strikes, feints and parries.

When the last minion fell, Kyoko was refreshed in spite of the cuts she received. Even the trickling of blood down her arm brought comfort, as if the grief was flowing out of her. It still wasn't enough, though. She was still on edge, her breaths were still quick and deep from the physical fight and the mental flight. Her thoughts refused to slow. A hysterical madness tickled her throat, trying to force out a giggle at the absurdity of needlessly risking death in order to cling to life.

But the human side of her was still conscious enough to sense that she was at the edge of her sanity. She knew that she needed to calm down before she fell over to the other side. With quivering arms, she drove her spear into the ground, piercing through a dead minion's corpse. Then, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a box of Rocky.

She spent all her focus into opening that box. Pull the cardboard tab and tear it out. Flip the cover back. Lift the foil pack out. Careful, don't drop it. Pinch it here and here. Pull it open. Drop it back down in the box. Take one stick out. Put it in your mouth. Mmm, chocolate. Now chew. Don't stop. Keep chewing.

She stared into space as she finished the snack one stick at a time. Swallowing kept her throat too busy to laugh and the sweetness on her tongue was one of the few things that would always be good and true. Chocolate would never do anything to cause her pain (unlike that cursed strawberry flavor). Then, when the box was empty, she sighed and let it fall to the ground. After defeating this witch, she'd buy a whole crate of the stuff.

With a steady hand, she pulled her spear out of the ground and through the dead minion. Time to move on.

But before she left, the slightest curving of light around the impaled corpse caught her eye and was gone as fast as she could blink. Had she gone mad without knowing it? She poked the corpse again to make sure, paying closer attention this time.

Whew, still sane. There was definitely something here, a glamour around the minion that bent light and color to hide its true nature. It was the brand of magic she was all too familiar with, although she didn't see the use of applying it this way. With the tip of her spear, she prodded at the enchantment and cut it off, curious as to what was underneath.

The minion was nothing like the bear it pretended to be. It was a spidery creature made mostly of humanlike flesh and limbs, as if two people were caught in an embrace and fused at the chest. Where heads and necks should be stood a single giant eye instead. It wasn't as bizarre as some of the things she had seen before, really.

Kyoko then looked at her surroundings and wondered if the witch was hiding more. The zoo imagery of this maze could be something else. On the spot, she designed a spell that caused her soul gem to radiate an illusion-dispelling light. As soon as it shone, the maze around her showed its true colors. The terrain was completely made out of thick, textured sketchbook paper. The cage bars, trees, rocks and benches on the path were folded paper, like props in a diorama. The pile of dead minions was comprised solely of one-eyed flesh spiders rather than the menagerie of animals she had seen earlier.

The maze was too vast for everything to be illuminated, though. Her bubble of truth only reached roughly three spear lengths around her. A bit further than that, the illusions blurred or went off-color. In the distance, everything still looked like a zoo. While far from perfect, she sustained the glow and headed deeper into the maze, where more of the witch's minions came out to meet her.

This time, the witch's minions went berserk as soon as they were illuminated under her light. With nothing left to hide, they threw themselves at her with a monstrous ferocity and knives held in all four hands. But what they had gained with their aggression was lost in their lack of organization. Each minion attacked Kyoko on its own and, head to head, no amount of knives were a match for a spear's reach. Their large, vulnerable eyes were easy targets without an illusion to cover them. This was how it should be, she thought to herself as they fell one by one. Strength and skill were the only things that mattered in a straight fight. Truth was power.

All this time, she had burdened herself with lies. Her decoys had only delayed her victories by drawing foes away from her spearhead. Believing her father was a good man in spite of what he had just done had almost torn her apart. And wasn't it also her fault for looking up to him even before? For being so sure that she understood what he and other people thought and cared about? In truth, the only things she could ever be sure of was what she thought and felt. The only person she could rely on was herself.

The entrance to the witch's chamber was ahead of her now, a zoo building with a poster advertising the latest attraction: the violet North American mouse, whatever that was. Kyoko looked behind her one last time, making sure that the only thing behind her was a trail of defeated minions. Then, she kicked the door open and went inside.

Like many witch's chambers, this one was much bigger than it looked like from the outside. It was all open ground, with the witch waiting for her at the center. The witch itself looked like one of those medieval watchtowers, three stories of stone blocks and a crown of crenellations. Its base was surrounded by a moat of rose bushes whose thorns extended so long they were more like sea urchins. On top of the tower stood a lone, blindfolded girl with a crossbow. She aimed down and fired.

At this distance, Kyoko's reflexes were good enough to sidestep the bolt. The projectile embedded itself into the paper ground and the light of her soul gem revealed it to be a pencil. The blindfolded girl held the bowstring and pulled it back with her bare hand. The string bit into her flesh and made her bleed, but the weapon was ready to fire again. She loaded another bolt and took aim without firing, perhaps waiting for her target to close the distance.

Kyoko stared at the girl and evaluated her options. There was no way forward except to run through the no man's land and up the tower. Old habits made her twitch, a fragment of the motion she did when summoning decoys. But decoys weren't possible in this situation because they couldn't replicate the truth-bearing light of her soul gem. The real her would glow obviously rather than blending in. While she could turn the glow off, that would stop her from revealing the witch's illusions. And, as she had just learned, it was time to live a new life that stuck to the truth no matter what.

She charged forward, weaving randomly from side to side as the blindfolded girl rained bolts down from the tower. Only one shot managed to hit before she reached the moat. A pencil had embedded itself in her shoulder, but she didn't let that slow her down. To falter was to die. Speed made her a hard target and it was essential for what she had to do next. She pointed her spear to the edge of the rose-filled moat and used the weapon as a pole vault. When the angle was right, she made her spear extend and launch her upward, redirecting her momentum without losing much of it.

Her flight path was predictable. She was an easy target for any decent marksman and she expected to take another hit before she landed. But as luck would have it, the shot missed and she managed to reach the top of her parabolic arc unharmed. Now, as she fell, she pointed her speartip towards the blindfolded girl and made it extend downward to her target. The blindfolded girl flinched at the incoming attack and missed her second shot before being impaled on the spear. The crossbow fell to the ground. The maze began to blur and fade away.

Victory. Time to buy that Rocky. Two whole crates of- The glow of her soul gem revealed another illusion. The maze wasn't really disappearing. It was a trap! Kyoko turned her head around just in time to see a cloaked silhouette dashing toward her, dagger in hand. With no time to spin her weapon, she thrust the butt of her spear into the thing's gut. It staggered back, as surprised as she was. The maneuver gave her the breathing room to pivot and bring her spearhead to bear.

Now, fully exposed to the light of her soul gem, the shadow cowered with its back to the wall. Once again, it was knife versus spear under the light of truth. There could be no other outcome. Kyoko thrust into the true witch, which didn't even bother to fight back. The maze dissipated for real.

And where the witch once stood was a pair of grief seeds, one engraved with a rose, the other with an eye.

o o o

Two years ago.

"I wish I could just disappear," said Violet faster than she could think. "Whenever I wanted to, I mean," she added. Scary. Had she almost wished her non-existence?

"The contract is formed," said the not-quite-a-cat creature that called itself Kyubey. It said something else, something about entropy, perhaps. But Violet barely heard it through the sudden pain that gripped her entire body.

It felt like her heart was being lifted in the air and forced to carry all her weight. She stood on tiptoe and reached out to try and grab something, anything. But her flailing only made the pain worse. Gravity pulled her down, stretching her veins to the point where they would surely snap. Every heartbeat was a burst of agony. All she could do was look up into the night sky, starless from the city's halo of light.

Then it was all over. She was back on her feet and the pain was gone, replaced by lightness. At her chest, embraced between hands and heart, was her soul gem. She held it out in front of her and couldn't help but smile at the glow that mirrored her name. As she stared into it, understanding flowed into her, carried by its soft light.

She focused her mind just so, exactly as the gem taught her, and triggered her transformation. For a brief moment, her clothes vanished and the evening breeze chilled her skin. Then, one by one, new garments appeared. Around her body, a short-sleeved indigo dress the reached above the halfway point of her thighs. It had just the right snugness for comfort. On each hand, a long glove in a lighter shade than her dress that stopped before the elbow. On her feet, a pair of low cut brown boots.

But despite all the skin exposed so far, the last element of the costume hid it all. A blue-gray hooded cloak with a white trim covered everything below her shoulders down to a spot slightly above the top of her boots. The hood was down, hanging on her back. At her front, the white edges of the cloth adhered to form a light seal. Around her neck, the silver cloak's clasp held her soul gem.

Under the cloak, a dagger hung from its sheath on the left side of her belt, its weight calling out to her palm. She answered it, reaching across her body to grip the weapon and drew it to slash at an imaginary foe. At the same time, her cloak fluttered open as if blown by a gust of wind, clearing a path for her strike. There was no resistance at all. The blade was weightless. It was as if its edge parted the air itself.

On a whim, she tossed the dagger in the air and grabbed it by the blade with her thumb and forefinger. She wasn't afraid of cutting herself. It was as if she had practiced the maneuver every day of her life, as if the dagger was alive and spun to land perfectly between her fingers. Then, she flung the dagger towards the concrete wall beside the fire escape. The dagger spun twice before the blade embedded itself into the wall and vanished. Her hand moved automatically to the sheath and found that the weapon had returned. At the same time, her cloak fluttered to close up, reseal and cover her.


She threw a few more daggers at the wall, varying her distance and angle to the target with short hops around the rooftop. In a short while, the slices on the wall combined to form a small depression. Her throwing arm didn't even have a hint of an ache.

It was only then when she noticed a more subtle type of magic on her. Her cloak didn't just feel warm. It felt like it protected her, like it was an infinitely strong barrier between her and the outside world. The only part of her that felt exposed was her head. Unless- She pulled the hood over her head and knew instantly that she was safe. With the hood up, she was unseen and unheard. She could still see herself and hear the noise of her breathing, but she knew that no one else would notice. It was a fact she believed in as surely as she could throw a dagger.

It was her wish, after all.

"It is good you are happy with your abilities," said Kyubey. "Now you must hunt your first witch."

"Just tell me what I have to to," she said, a hand already on her dagger.

o o o

Violet didn't bother to dispel her magical costume when she left the building. With her hood up, she didn't have to explain herself to her parents or worry about a suspicious glance from the guard at the front desk. It was a lot more fun, too. The couple that rode down with her in the elevator weren't embarrassed to say the naughtiest things to each other. She couldn't control her giggling as she watched, although Kyubey didn't comment at all from its place on her shoulder.

But later, when she arrived at the busier side of town, she realized invisibility had disadvantages of its own. Strangers bumped into her a few times, which was quite lucky when she thought about it, because it warned her how much more dangerous it would be to cross the street. She briefly considered transforming back to normal while walking the streets, then changed her mind. It felt better to stay unseen. She just needed more practice.

As she navigated the city, she began to formulate a few simple rules. Stick to the sides and walk through gaps before they close. Don't be afraid to push through if there's no path in a crowd, at least you won't get knocked down. Stay close behind someone moving at your speed and use him as a shield. The spot behind couples holding hands is safe. Avoid dense crowds, they'll try to fill up the blank space you occupy.

All the while, Kyubey coached her on how to track the witch. Sensing the trail was the easy part, really. It was as simple as following a trail of breadcrumbs. The tricky part was when the trail lead right through a wall or went straight up to the sky. All the could do then was guess the direction the witch travelled and hope to find the trail's continuation. If mistaken, there was nothing else to do but double back and guess again.

After almost an hour of following the meandering route, Violet stopped in her tracks. She had just picked out her name in the murmur of the crowd.

"What is it, Violet?" asked Kyubey?

She didn't answer. Instead, she circled in place, looking for a face she would recognize, the witch's trail forgotten.

"Violet?" said Kyubey again. "Violet?"

At last, she found the source. A bunch of her classmates were gathered together at the outdoor table of a cafe. She came closer and stifled a gasp when she heard her name mentioned again, forgetting her cloak muffled her sound.

"Whatever," said one of her classmates. "Violet deserves whatever trash grade she'll get if she doesn't pull her own weight."

"She really might have a good reason for bailing on us," said another classmate. "We'll ask her tomorrow."

Of course, thought Violet. She was supposed to meet them tonight and discuss their group project for literature class. The excitement of the contract and the witch hunt left no room for schoolwork in her head. But now that she remembered, shouldn't she appear to apologize at least?

"Violet," said Kyubey. "We do not have time for this."

What would her classmates think if she appeared out of nowhere? What would she say if they asked for her excuse? And if she did appear, she couldn't just leave right away to continue tracking the witch. No, she'd have to leave this problem for tomorrow. The witch was more important.

"Sorry," she said out loud to both Kyubey and her classmates. The witch comes first.

She turned her back to the cafe and ran.

o o o

It wasn't part of the city that never slept. At this hour, sidewalks carried few strangers, kept company by their shadows born from regularly spaced street lamps. Most shops were closed, covered by steel shutters and their signage unlit. Only convenience stores which boasted twenty-four hour service defied the night with blinding fluorescent light.

Violet made good time under these deserted conditions. Soon, she reached the end of the witch's trail: the wall between a luggage shop and a Chinese restaurant. On the brick, black cracks converged to a single point that sent a dose of vertigo if she looked too closely at it.

"Is that the witch?" she asked.

"Witches hide in spaces of their own making," said Kyubey." "That is only the entrance to its space, its maze. Your soul gem knows the spell you need to enter."

Violet gulped, feeling apprehensive for the first time that night. All the magic so far had been empowering and made her feel like she could do much, much more in this world. But here at the edge, she could tell that the forces in the witch maze more than matched her own. She gripped her dagger unconsciously yet found no comfort.

"Are you ready, Violet?" asked Kyubey.

Violet stretched her arm forward and cast the portal spell before fear could change her mind. The cracks at the wall flew toward her (or perhaps it was she who flew into the cracks). Then, nothing made sense anymore. Crisscrossed shadows filled the pebbled dirt ground even if there was nothing between it and the dim light above. The incessant sound of rustling leaves filled the air despite the lack of the faintest breeze. Thickets of sharp wooden stakes thrice her height made the space a literal maze.

"Kyubey," she said. "My cloak..." She felt naked. The cloak wasn't hiding her here, even if its hood was up.

"I see the problem," it replied. "It is trying to blend into the normal world, not the world where this witch lives. To hide effectively, you must be consistent with your surroundings."

"But this is crazy!" she said out loud. Her voice echoed in the warped acoustics of the maze instead of being muffled under her hood.

"Then you will just have to fight the witch with your daggers."

Only then did Violet notice that she held on to a drawn dagger, her knuckles white. The blade felt so small. She wished she had a sword. For a while, she stood there, paralyzed. It took the distant sound of a goat's "meh" to snap her out of her panicked trance.

"That is probably a witch's minion," advised Kyubey. "It is coming to investigate, but we are not deep enough to get the witch's attention. Do not lose hope, Violet. You will still be quite difficult to spot even if your camouflage is imperfect. As long as you strike first or keep moving, you should have the advantage."

It didn't help. She didn't want to fight like this, with all the attention on her. She wanted to disappear. It was her wish, after all. And so, instead of preparing for battle, she concentrated on the crosshatched pattern of shadows on the ground and willed her cloak to match it. The feeling of protection began to return.

"I see," said Kyubey. "I suppose this is one way you could fight."

Violet didn't reply. The shadow patterns were complex and difficult to match with her movements. What was left of her attention strained to listen for the sound of footsteps that began to get louder and louder. Then, when the sounds seemed to be right around the corner from a grove of stakes, she crouched and watched. Her dagger was drawn, held inexpertly with two hands.

The creature that emerged was a goat, all right. It hopped around upright like a trained circus animal, its front legs dangling forward in awkward prayer. After hopping into Violet's field of view, it stopped and sounded a loud "meh", perhaps sensing that something was off in the scene. It hopped forward towards her.

Violet stayed as still as she could manage while the creature came closer and brought the dirty stench of sweat and dung. Its eye, with an iris in the shape of a four-pointed star, surveyed the area. Violet was close enough to see her silhouette reflected off its eye, but the goat paid her no notice.

Without warning, the sourceless light of the maze grew brighter and everything shimmered under the strong light. The ground, the stakes, even the goat-thing sparkled as if covered in glitters. Everything except Violet and her cloak. In that moment, the goat's gaze focused on her in recognition. It shouted a loud "meh" to call for help, but was cut short by a dagger in its eye. A perfect throw, right in the middle of the star. Too late, though. The sound of hooves on pebbled ground echoed around her. The cry for reinforcements was heard.

She stumbled away from the corpse and crouched with her back to a thicket of stakes. The thrill of the kill and the fear of discovery gave her just enough presence of mind to weave the magic to update her camouflage. After just a moment, her cloak now matched the glittering effect of the world around. Another dagger had somehow found a way into her hand.

What had just happened to the light, she thought. What blew her disguise? Had Kyubey known how bad she panicked? She should have thrown the dagger right away instead of grasping it for comfort like a baby's safety blanket.

Two goats- No. Four goats came into the clearing. After surveying the area, one of them went down on all fours and began sniffing at the dead goat's corpse. The rest spread out, encircling the place. Violet would have ran away, but her cloak warned her that the slightest movement caused imperfections in her camouflage. The enchantment was just too crude and rushed. All she could do was stay still and hope that the lighting wouldn't change again.

The light dimmed and the world was covered in shadows like before. Violet's cloak became a bright, glittering beacon in the almost darkness. All four goats zeroed in on her position. The one already on all fours charged at Violet, its horns pointed at her. Before it could close the distance, a dagger flew and landed between its horns, piercing its skull. The goat fell and skidded on the ground, dead weight.

The other three went down on all fours and charged in unison towards her flurry of daggers. The one in front was struck in the neck. When it fell on its side, the goat behind it tripped and fell on its comrade. The fall saved it and the dagger meant for it flew over its head.

After missing that vital shot, Violet paused to look at Kyubey on her shoulder. The hesitation was just the opening the last charging goat needed. It reached her before she could react and gouged its horns into her stomach. The impact was strong enough to knock Kyubey off its perch and Violet would have lost her footing if she hadn't willed magic to hold her in place. With a scream, she plunged the dagger downwards in an underhanded stab. The goat wasn't dead yet, so she pulled her dagger out and stabbed again and again until the beast fell. Violet took a step back to let the horns slide out of her. It was almost as painful as when they went in.

By then, the goat that tripped had recovered. It scratched the ground with its hoof before charging at her. In that moment, with the twin points of pain in her stomach and her dagger slippery with blood, Violet wanted nothing more than to disappear. She didn't want Kyubey to see her die pathetic like this. And with that important need, she wove a new illusion. She projected her sparkling image onto the dead goat in front of her and switched her own camouflage back to match the dim light.

To the goat, it looked like the intruder had just fallen to the ground, bleeding. It shifted to attack its now vulnerable target. While Violet stepped back from her decoy, a lucid part of her mind made a mental note. Flawed camouflage can be compensated for with misdirection. Funny. They always said your life would flash before your eyes. A self lecture wasn't the most romantic of last thoughts.

When the charging goat struck the illusion-wrapped corpse, Violet conjured the appropriate light and sound. She made the illusion scream in pain. She made blood spray from the new puncture wounds when the goat threw the corpse off to the side. She made it cry as it helplessly tried to crawl away. Then, when the body double suffered the finishing charge, she made it tear apart and die. She only had limited knowledge of her own anatomy, but it was enough to form the image of a grisly death.

It had to be over. It had to be. She couldn't take any more, the pain and the gore was too much. Then, the goat began to eat the flesh of its former comrade, believing it to be her. That's when it was too much for Violet. She tried to close her eyes to hide the sight of the gore, but couldn't escape the vivid mental image she had to invent when forming the illusion. Against her will to survive, she vomited.

She was dead, she thought, while she bent down and her stomach purged itself. Without her focus to sustain them, her camouflage and body double would disappear. She would suffer the same fate she had just imagined. Tears fell to the ground on top of her vomit. No flashbacks came, though. Was her life really that boring?

But nothing happened. She looked up and wiped the tears out of her eyes. The false gore and the minion devouring it were still there. The cloak still hid her with better camouflage than before. In her earlier panic, she had infused everything with much more magical energy than needed. The illusions would only disappear once that surplus was depleted.

She ran before either the energy or her luck ran out.

The path to the exit had changed. Stakes bent down to form fences that blocked off paths between two thickets. She could only guess which way to take by trying to put as much distance between her and the witch she detected deeper inside. In her panicked flight, she didn't notice her wounds had closed and the puke slid off her clothes. She didn't remember she had left someone behind.

Her presence of mind only returned when the stakes bent to point upwards and the way to the exit cleared. Proof, perhaps, that the witch and her minions thought her dead or gone.

Gone, she thought. Something was gone. Only then did she notice that the weight of her companion on her shoulder was missing. Where was Kyubey?!

The light brightened and the maze glittered, but there was nothing to witness her revealed presence. She was safe now, and the only witness to her spectacular failure was missing. The exit was ahead, a short sprint away.

Violet never ran faster in her life. When she broke into the night air, nothing in memory felt more refreshing. She didn't slow down from her sprint. She concentrated on that relief, not wanting to think about the companion she left behind.

It was only when she reached the end of the street before she realized something was wrong. Her cloak wasn't hiding her at all. It was still set to camouflage her in the witch's maze. If anyone saw her right now, they'd see her as a window to that awful place. The thought scared her as much as the death she had just escaped. She ripped the illusion away so violently that there was a blinding flash of light. Without the spell over it, the cloak reverted to its original state and hid her from the normal world. Only then did she truly feel safe again. Her legs steadied and lost their uneasy wobble as they took her home by instinct.

During that long walk back, her mind kept trying to come up with excuses for her failure. Kyubey shouldn't have forced her before she was ready. Kyubey should have taught her more about magic. Kyubey should have given her more advice in battle. Kyubey shouldn't have confused her by urging her to fight when she could've used magic to hide. Kyubey should have used what power he had to fight the minions with her.

But in the end, Violet was too smart to lie to herself. She knew the truth. Kyubey had made only one mistake.

She should never have been chosen.

o o o

Creative Commons CC-BY

o o o

Yep, this is an OC fanfic. Sorry to reel you in with some Kyoko. nothin... personnel... kid...

No, wait. Please don't go.

Rather than remix the stock characters and plot, I wanted to build something based around the major epiphanies and turning points in the anime. You know: magical girl makes contract, magical girl learns witch hunting is hazardous to your health, magical girl sees the world sucks, magical girl discovers how baby witches are made and so on. I've got crossovers with some canon characters to bookend the story, but that's about it. I apologize to Madoka/Sayaka fans.