From her perch, she could see the spot where she defeated her first witch and spy on most of the park goers as they basked in the late afternoon sun. Kyuubey was up here with her for the weekly grief seed collection and today, she wanted to ask it an important question.
"Kyuubey," she said while tracking two boys who looked like they were into some forbidden love. "I know that familiars grow into witches and that witches birth familiars." The two boys held hands for a moment then let go. She smiled. "But it's got to start somewhere, right?There's got to be a beginning."
"You think you figured it out," it replied.
With a nod, she reached for her sketchbook and flipped through its pages. Carlie, Elisabeth, Maryna, Yvette. The gesture was for reassurance rather than recollection. "I've got a theory I'm not completely sure of. I was hoping you could help me fill in the gaps."
"Witches are born from great tragedy," she said. "Witches don't just spread nightmares. They live in one that's a memory of the past. A past when they were still people." She was sure of it. Infiltrating every maze meant that she had to understand their strange logic. And no matter how insane each witch and maze was, there was something distinctly human in them, something that she couldn't help but empathize with.
"You are correct," it confirmed after a long pause. "Witches were once people and a great tragedy is what transforms them."
She sighed in relief and snapped her sketchbook shut. "But so much tragedy happens everyday, which means that there would be more witches if it were that simple. Magic has to be part of it, doesn't it?"
It nodded. "Correct again. It is magic that lets the transformation take place."
"Then where does that magic come from? I only know two sources of magic: you and the Puella Magi." She paused to draw the strength for her accusation. "Kyuubey, do you turn people into witches?"
"I do not create witches directly. Puella Magi are the ones directly involved in the transformation."
"Have-" She gulped. "Have I created a witch?"
"No. You have not."
"So it has to be deliberate. Why do these Puella Magi do it, then? Is it to create more grief seeds for their soul gems?"
"Like every wish is different, so are the motivations of every Puella Magi."
Violet could only think of selfish reasons. She couldn't think of any scenario where she would want to turn a despairing person into a witch. "What should I do if I meet such a Puella Magi? Isn't such a person a traitor if our mission is to hunt witches?"
"Do are free to do as you wish," said Kyuubey, with a smile that said murder.
o o o
This familiar would be easy to dispatch. All of the maze's complexity was in the interwoven currents of wind that snaked through giant pinwheels and transported flocks of minions through the air. There were no anomalies to threaten her camouflage. Violet could have finished off the familiar much earlier, but she took her time so that she complete her notes on the maze.
At the moment, she was in the middle of sketching the minions. The creatures were nothing more than three pairs of bird wings attached to a feathery orb. They flew by flapping their wings and, sometimes, spinning their whole body in the air. Their movements were so frantic that it was hard to get a clear view. It had taken an hour of birdwatching before she got their body structure on paper.
Then, out of nowhere, her soul gem detected a new source of magic in the maze that radiated from where she had entered. Another witch or familiar! What was it doing here, though? Witches and familiars never went close to one another, even if one had birthed the other. And why was its magical signature so different from everything else she had seen before? How strange. How curious. She double-checked her camouflage and turned to a blank page on her sketchbook, ready to chronicle this new discovery as it came closer and closer to her position.
But when the source came into view, Violet gasped and shut her sketchbook. Another Puella Magi!
The outsider wore a deep red ball gown shaped like an overturned rose. The dress' skirt was layered like flower petals and was long enough to reach the floor. Around her wrist was a corsage that held her soul gem, which put out a muted red glow. On her head was a wide brimmed mother-of-the-bride hat made of gauzy material and decorated with ribbons. She was armed with a scythe whose curved blade was aligned with the shaft like an ordinary spear. She took one look at the sky to count her targets, but made no other move.
The flock of minions circled around her before they dove down in one coordinated strike.
Violet wanted to help. She really did. Instead, she froze in place and watched.
The outsider waited, still and serene. Then, she jumped. It looked silly at first, her leap didn't have the height to reach any of the minions. But at the apex of her jump, a ghostly set of butterfly wings appeared on her back. The wings flapped down and disappeared, flinging her upward so fast that her hat was left behind.
The minions didn't have time to disperse. When the she hurtled through the flock, she twisted in flight, sending her scythe blade through as much minions as possible. The flock braked and turned only to be victimized by the same attack from above. Right before the outsider hit the ground, one last flap of wings broke her fall. Its gust of wind sent her hat flying up. As it fell, she tapped it with the flat of her scythe blade and it landed perfectly on her head. The few surviving minions retreated back into the air and the outsider proceeded further into the maze.
So this was how other Puella Magi fought, thought Violet. She had expected the battle to be messy and brutal rather than this elegant aerial dance. The explosions of force she was capable of were so crude in comparison to this girl's fluttering. And that war scythe, unlike her daggers, had reach alongside its lethality. It was both amazing and humbling.
Violet trailed the outsider, glad that her camouflage worked just as well on a fellow Puella Magi's senses. Along the way, the flock followed the outsider and was reinforced as more minions arrived to join it. The flock was larger than than before. And this time, they scattered and surrounded her before diving.
The outsider couldn't use the same trick twice. She glimpsed at her corsage, sighed and raised it in the air. Her soul gem flashed green and vines grew from the flower around her wrist. They wrapped around her arm, traveled down her shoulder and spread until her upper body was encased in armor. Thorns rose outward from the vines to complete her defense.
The spell finished in time. The vanguard of the flock collided with her and was pulverized by the force of impact. The surprise was enough to make her lose her balance and stumble backward, but a split-second flap of butterfly wings restored her footing. She raised her scythe and prepared for the rest of the attack.
With swirling strikes, she cut up the next wave of minions before they could reach her. But when the flankers closed in, she was hit twice from the side and once in the back. She was prepared for the strikes, though, and weathered them without breaking her stance. She continued fending off the minions ahead of her and paid no heed to the ones hitting her from other directions.
Violet wondered if the armor was really that good. It couldn't be, or else the outsider wouldn't have bothered cutting down the bulk of enemies who attacked from the front. She was stalling for time, waiting for something to happen.
The flock of minions was at its thickest when the outsider decided to act. The vines unwrapped from around her body and whipped around her. In the space of a few seconds, the swarm of minions was nothing more than a cloud of feathers. The few lucky survivors broke off and flew away, leaving the outsider standing straight in the middle of the carnage, her corsage held up in the air while vines writhed around her. When she was sure the coast was clear, the vines dropped off from her corsage and fell, already wilting before they hit the ground. She stepped over the dead vines, her war scythe held firmly in both hands and proceeded toward the familiar.
Violet didn't know what to think of it. While her flying daggers could give similar results to what the outsider just did, she could sense that the vines didn't use up that much magic. What was a desperation move for Violet was just a standard technique for this Puella Magi. What else could this outsider do? What would she think of her stealthy style? The only way to find out was to continue observing.
The coast was clear to the familiar's chamber, which was just a nest in the middle of the pinwheel filled plain. When the outsider approached, a giant egg as large as she was jumped out and bobbed from side to side. The outsider cursed under her breath. "Ugh, familiar."
The egg cracked around the middle and the upper half of the eggshell floated in the hair. Inside was a smaller egg that jumped out. The floating eggshell closed and the smaller egg repeated the process. As the familiar multiplied, the outsider slowly walked backwards, avoiding sudden movements. She didn't make it far when the familiar and its copies attacked.
In this battle, the outsider held back. She used her scythe's dull edge and favored blunt strikes with her polearm's butt and shaft. All the while, her pivots, hops and steps brought her closer to the exit. Then, when one egg was stunned by a staff strike, she sprinkled the ground underneath with seeds that sprouted instantly. The vines that grew wrapped around the egg, immobilizing it. Flowers bloomed and sprayed a cloud of pollen, their purpose unknown to Violet. As the fight continued, more and more of the eggs got trapped as the outsider found openings to disable them. It should have been safe to finish them off now, but the outsider continued her retreat.
"What are you doing?!" shouted Violet under the silence of her cloak. "You're a Puella Magi! You're supposed to kill it! People will die if you leave it like this!"
She watched the mobile eggs ignore the outsider as they tried to free their comrades. The outsider would be gone by the time it finished.
"Why?" asked Violet.
The sight of the magical plants made the answer come to her. This Puella Magi was a gardener, a farmer. She wanted this familiar to grow and become a witch so she could harvest its grief seed. She was one of those Puella Magi who created witches. The thought angered her so much that Violet didn't really think about what she did next.
While still invisible, Violet went over to the ensnared eggs and cut them free with her dagger. The keen edge made it an easy task. One by one, the freed eggs bounded off after the outsider. She didn't bother following them. She would just wait here until the outsider fought the familiar again then finish it off once they returned, tired and weakened. Hopefully, the outsider wouldn't be prepared and would suffer a few deserved bites.
Instead, the maze just vanished. The outsider must have been caught by surprise and was forced to kill them all.
Violet switched her camouflage back to match the real world and spun around to look for the outsider. She found her crawling away on her stomach, leaving a thick trail of blood. "Serves you right," said Violet when she caught up and stood above her. Despite her superior position, Violet's hood was still up. She was still afraid of how the outsider might reply.
The outsider crawled a bit more then stopped and flipped on her back. Her injuries made Violet gasp. She looked like a dissection from science class. Her stomach was ripped and some pipe-looking organ protruded out. But worst of all was her soul gem, which was completely black.
The outsider looked up into the sky and smiled. Green shoots began to grow from the dirt around her. Some shoots grew straight from her flesh, tearing out of her pores. She laughed and smiled even if it looked painful. The sky shifted from night to day. The moon split and became twin suns.
Violet's cloak warned her that her camouflage wasn't working anymore, but that wasn't what scared her enough to hold her in place. The outsider's magical aura had changed. According to her soul gem, the Puella Magi was gone.
A witch was right in front of her.
o o o
When Kyuubey came the next morning, it found Violet curled up in bed. She held a grief seed to her soul gem, draining it slowly to keep her reserve of magic topped up. The excess magic was wasted as a bright violet light that filled the room. Thick curtains kept it from spilling out into the outside. On the floor lay five grief seeds, sucked dry from a night of panicked hysteria.
"You knew this whole time," she said, her voice cracking. "You knew everything but wouldn't tell me."
"You're taking this better than most Puella Magi," it replied. "Most cannot cope as well as you. They end up doing something they regret."
She picked up the depleted grief seeds and held them on her palm. It was silly how they always managed to stay upright. "You want these, don't you? That's why you always came back to visit me. This whole scam is because you want these things."
"It is true," replied Kyuubey.
"Why?" she asked. "I'm not giving you these seeds until you tell me everything. And if you won't, I think I might just blow my whole stash up."
Kyuubey stared at her. She stared back and tried to match its smile.
"Very well," it said.
The alien told its story. It talked of entropy and history, the fate of the universe and the fate of humanity, the sacrifices of countless Puella Magi and the lives they saved and lost. At the end of it, Violet handed over the depleted seeds and the half-drained one in her hand.
"Take them," she said to the incubator. "My donation to the universe. I'm sure it's a good cause."
Its smile didn't change as it caught the prizes with the hatch on its back. "We appreciate this, Violet," it said. "All intelligent life does."
She said nothing as she lifted her soul gem up and stared at it.
"I hope you understand that both potential and existing Puella Magi cannot know of this," said the incubator. "It is healthier for them if they know much later or if they never find out at all. You yourself almost went over the edge with this knowledge."
"Who are you to decide?" asked Violet. "You did say that your kind can't understand us fully."
"I do my best based on empirical observations."
"I'll tell them. I'll find every other Puella Magi and tell them everything."
"As you wish," it said as it turned and walked away. "Let me warn you, though, that this has all happened before. The harsh truth often hastens their fall, which can disrupt our designed balance of witch and Puella Magi. Are you sure this is what you want?"
Violet mulled its words in her head, staring at her soul gem until the afterimage of its light was burned in her eyes. What did she want?
o o o
She named the outsider's witch Gertrud.
By now, Violet was so familiar with her magic signature that she could track it from across town. The beautiful rose gardens of her maze was a place she visited often, a place which felt almost as cozy as home. The moustached minions who worked to maintain the garden were charming in a way, as long as they weren't driven berzerk in battle or harvesting people to fertilize the plants and sustain their mistress. Violet tried capturing one once and, like roses picked from Gertrud's garden, it didn't last long outside the maze.
Today, Gertrud was compelling a police officer to shoot himself. Violet stood by to the side as the officer stared at loaded chambers of his revolver, thinking of all the ugliness he had seen and how nice the roses around him looked like.
"I think I know who you were," said Violet to the witch. The sound of her voice didn't leave her hood. "Another magical girl wanted more seeds for herself. She came to your town and drove you out. Because of the fancy way you fight, you didn't have any spare grief seeds, or maybe you used them all up when fighting the invader. So when you retreated and arrived here, you were running low on magic. You had no choice but to let the familiar go. You needed that seed when I had so much to give."
The officer loaded the cylinder, spun it and cocked the hammer. He stared at a rose and cried.
"No, that wasn't you," said Violet. "I saw you fight. You were too good to lose to someone else. There wasn't an invader. Instead, you fought so much witches until you finally saw how beautiful some of them were. Those were the ones you couldn't kill, so you just let them go. You became a gardener of emotion, pruning the more destructive witches and letting the better ones do as they wish. The world is more colorful with a bit of sadness, you decided. And so, you left your town because you wanted to show this to other Puella Magi. I should have stopped to listen to what you had to say. I would have understood."
The officer stuck the barrel in his mouth and fired. Violet flinched at the sound but didn't look away at the splash of blood as red as roses.
"No, that wasn't it," said Violet. "You had a friend, another Puella Magi who fought by your side. During a battle with a witch, she made a mistake and took a hit that no one could have survived. She didn't die immediately. You watched her slip away as you wished that you had wished for something that might have saved her life. Then, she turned into a witch that you couldn't bear to kill at first. Like me, you watched her and learned to love her despite what she had become. But in the end, you decided she had to die. You killed her and every familiar you could track down. Every familiar except the last. You couldn't kill the last one. If I had offered to help, I could have done it for you."
With no more despair to take after his death, Gertrud returned to tending her flowers. Already, new ones were beginning to grow.
"Who were you?!" Violet asked the witch. "I wish you could tell me. But you can't, of course. None or your copies talked back no matter what I did. You'll always be a dream too far." She drew her dagger.
She launched herself straight up into the air then created another burst that aimed her down to Gertrud's heart, through the unarmored top of the witch's cocoon. Gertrud didn't even have time to be aware of her death when the strike came. She died happy, looking at her flowers.
When the maze faded away, Violet picked up Gertrud's grief seed and attached it to the clasp of her cloak, right beside her soul gem.
o o o
Kyuubey sat on Violet's suitcase as they both waited for her train to arrive.
"I already have your replacement scouted out," said the incubator. "I think you would approve. She is an idealistic preacher's daughter who would relish the chance to protect others from witches."
"A preacher's daughter?" asked Violet through telepathy. She didn't wear her magical outfit today. Being visible made travelling with luggage more convenient. An illusion covered her face like a mask, just in case she bumped into someone who knew her. "Didn't the church close down a few months ago?"
Kyuubey nodded. "Her family is going through hard times because of that. Her wish will help improve their situation."
"Good for them, I suppose."
The sound of an arriving train interrupted the silence between them. It wasn't Violet's ride. Her train out of the city wasn't due for another half hour.
"Violet?" asked Kyuubey. "Are you considering telling this girl that she will eventually become a witch?"
"I won't. Someone needs to take care of the local witches while I'm gone."
"I am glad we could come to an understanding."
"Don't come to any conclusions just yet," she said. Her hand came up to her neck to grasp at where her soul gem and Gertrud's grief seed should have been, but found nothing to hold. "I won't interfere just yet because I don't know what to think about it. I don't trust you to give me a clear picture of how things are for other Puella Magi. I need to see them for myself."
"And yet, you burned everything in your apartment, as if you have no plans of returning."
"I didn't want anyone to see my drawings, okay?! They were unfinished. And if someone didn't know about witches, those pictures would really creep them out." She kicked her suitcase and the incubator wobbled. "Everything worth keeping is in here. I promise to come back. Be ready for it."
She thought of the ashes and smoke as the wind carried away the remnants of her loose sketches. Her witch book was the only remaining hardcopy of all her records.
"I count on it," said Kyuubey.
Violet fidgeted during the next few minutes of silence. There was nothing more to say, really. The current train began to leave and the station announced that Violet's train was next.
"Do not think this is goodbye," said Kyuubey as it hopped off her suitcase and walked away. "Expect to encounter copies of me or my associates in your travels."
It was too weird for her to imagine. "Goodbye, Kyuubey," she said. It seemed like the right thing to say.
When the incubator left her sight, she relaxed and let herself daydream while she waited. There was a world of Puella Magi out there, interesting people who could do wonders with unique magic. She couldn't wait to be surprised at the sights and, while it made her heart flutter, she was excited at how their meetings would turn out. Would she be seen as a knowledgeable mentor? A mysterious figure? A wise visionary?
Her train finally arrived. She carried her suitcase inside and, like many times before, she disappeared once more.
End Part Four
o o o
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