Notes;Finally started writing this, almost half a year after I first started babbling about this AU. Warnings for, I guess, body horror, and some gore.

The first time Maka uses magic is when she is eight years old. She's trapped in an alley; the sky over her head is amber and orange, haemorrhaging blue.

It escapes her before she can control it, before she's even aware of it - a halting, wildfire burst that flares purple at her fingertips. The kishin egg pursuing her skitters to a halt; its mandibles click slowly, ponderously, as it considers her.

She is Maka Albarn: eight years old, living with her papa; she hasn't seen her mama for two months. She's supposed to be mature beyond her years, responsible and precocious; she'd gone home late from school, because she wanted to check out some extra books from the library.

Child, the kishin egg calls. Its pincers glint in the auburn twilight. Child, are you stupid, child.

She squeezes her eyes shut. She mustn't drop the books. She's scared. She's so scared.

"Mama," she says. The creature purrs. Mama isn't coming, it croons. Its spindly clothespin legs edge closer. I'll eat you up, little witchling, you'll make me big and strong.

She can feel its shadow looming over her. She can feel the chill of its wavelength, lapping against her own. I'm not a witchling! she wants to shout. I'm Maka Albarn, and I'm going to be a great scythe meister, just like my Mama!

There's something else, something stronger, unravelling at the seams. It feels warm, familiar. Mama.

Maka opens her eyes in time to see a shadow stretching across the wall. One arm is covered in dense brown fur from the elbow. The monster keens, a harsh, discordant sound and Maka can see black claws jutting through skin. Her mama snarls - really snarls, a sound that makes Maka tremble. It's not any sound a person can make; no, it's something deeper, crueller, far more vicious. Her mama's wavelength is warm, radiant, pulsing a deep, terrifying purple; more powerful than she remembers.

It's frightening.

Her mama drags her hand - paw? - down, and tears ragged gouges through the kishin egg's flesh. "Not - my - daughter!" she roars, really roars, and Maka shrinks back. She can feel her bones reverberating in her chest. When she can see clearly again the kishin egg is gone; her mama rushes towards her and scoops her up, almost effortlessly. Maka can feel claws pressing against her back; as she breathes in she feels them shift and warp, until her mama brushes her thumb under her cheeks and kisses her forehead.

"Mama's sorry she had to leave," her mama says. When Maka tries to look at her mama's wavelength again, it's back to normal - calm, blue, constrained.

But now, she understands.


Two days later, she casts her own soul protection spell for the first time.

Before, her wavelength was masked by her mama, a safeguard that disintegrated with her encounter two days prior. Mama takes her to the outskirts of Death City and breaks her wards, one by one, until Maka feels light and free, like she could float into the air. "Look at your soul," Mama says, her voice rough with pride.

Her mama's soul is the largest thing she's ever seen, sharp-toothed and immense. Maka feels ashamed of her own, so small and wavering in comparison.

"Will I be as strong as you, Mama?" she asks.

Mama wraps her arms around Maka's shoulders, and rests her chin on Maka's head. "Of course you will," she says.

When Maka goes home that night, there is a rough shell as knobbly as her knees, shielding her wavelength. Her papa wordlessly sweeps her into a hug, and mumbles into her hair, "Mama will be back soon."

Maka knows better. Mama knew best, she thinks, to leave Papa. It takes one to know one, with a woman's intuition and a witch's drive for solitude and survival.


She attends her first witch mass when she is nine.

She understands now, why her mama left her papa. It wasn't because of the other women, although that was part of the reason. It's because Mama is a witch, and Papa is a death scythe. Death City is no place for a witch.

It feels strange, to be wearing the clothes of a witch; Mama told her they were important, because they marked her as one of them, a sister to be welcomed and protected. There are pale, barred feathers fringing her coat, gathered from her familiar beneath a waxing gibbous moon. She isn't sure what that means; only that they belonged to an owl, and owl feathers are special because when an owl flies, it makes no sound.

Maka has never seen her mama like this before, fierce and proud and draped in a mantle made of a bear's rich auburn pelt. She huddles against Mama's side; the thick guard hairs tickle her cheeks and she when she smiles, Mama smiles back and squeezes her hand.

When they arrive Mama nods to the guard, a tall, sharp-faced fox witch who gazes down at her with narrowed eyes. "So, it seems we've got a few little ones to welcome to the fold," she says. There is no warmth in her voice; it is harsh and clipped, like a cold snap. Mama smiles and doesn't say anything.

Maka doesn't really like the mass. It's full of unsmiling women wearing black; when she tries to perceive their souls she's overwhelmed by the rush of violent violet that sweeps from the assemblage.

"You shouldn't be invading our privacy like that," a voice whispers into her ear. Maka flinches; when she looks up there's a woman with blonde hair and tawny eyes, silver bangles clinking on her wrists. A child clings uncertainly to her leg; skinny and shifty-eyed, he - or she, Maka doesn't know - refuses to meet her stare.

"Medusa," her mama says. "Still working undercover at Shibusen?"

"Oh, yes," the woman says. The last syllable is soft and sibilant, a serpent's hiss. "Not everyone enjoys the same honoured position as you do, you know. You still dare to show your face here, after you killed one of our sisters?"

"She was already condemned by the Witch Queen," Mama replies coolly. "I was just doing the colony a favour. After all, treason is a heavy crime, isn't it?"

"How nice it must be," Medusa says as though she hasn't heard a word Mama said. Her eyes are terrifying, reptilian and starless. No light shines off of them; when Maka looks into them they draw her in, a mesmerising viper's stare. "To be a hunting dog for hire. Well then, who do you really owe your allegiances to?"

Her mama pretends to ponder the question; Maka's confused, because, isn't Mama loyal to Shibusen? That's why she's a meister, right? That's why Maka grew up in Death City, instead of amongst witches.

"To the highest bidder?" Medusa continues, the pitch of her voice rising to an incredulous laugh. Mama shakes her head. "Nothing of the sort. I just do what I have to."

Medusa's child fidgets; Maka finds it unnerving, how they've never made a sound throughout the entire exchange. The child sniffles and meets her eye; they're Medusa's, all right - Maka can see the resemblance, in the empty, lightless eyes.

A hush falls amongst the crowd. The witch mass has begun.


She is ten, and searching for a weapon.

Her papa shifts and makes a small, awkward sound when she declares, "I want to be a scythe meister, just like Mama!" He ruffles her hair and says, worriedly, "whatever you want, Maka," and she sets off for the orientation, flush with excitement. She doesn't miss the concern in his eyes; she doesn't miss the way his mouth tightens into a tentative frown, as if to say, will there be a weapon out there that will resonate with a witch's soul. She'll show him. It happened with Mama and him, didn't it? Maka doesn't understand why he's so nervous.

She meets many people she likes; they're all so nice, all so excited to be there, but none of them feel right. She begins to worry, begins to fear she'll never find a weapon that'll match the restless violet pulse of her soul encased in its disguising shell. She isn't used to it, isn't accustomed to the soul protect spell wrapped around her; she wasn't born to be tethered.

Then, there's the boy.

Maka finds him only because she tired of the clamour; it was discouraging, seeing all the other partnerships forming before her eyes, while she had to apologise for the sparking static that jumps across her fingertips when they attempt to gauge compatibility. It's not as easy, she thinks wistfully, as shaking hands and agreeing to a partnership; not when there is witch blood in her veins, not when she has to so much to hide.

He skulks in the half-lit gloom of a side-room, running his hands over the ivory teeth of a piano. He glances up perfunctorily when she enters; he looks, she decides, as strange as she feels on the inside.

"Hey," she says. He smiles, a sharp, wolfish grin. "Hey yourself," he replies, and slouches back into his seat. He has terrible posture, Maka thinks as she gazes at the uneven line of his shoulderblades. "Do you play?" she asks.

The boy shrugs. "Maybe," he says. His fingers begin to tap an idle beat against the lid.

"I'd love to listen." He turns to look at her properly when she says that; he has startling eyes, she decides. She isn't sure if he's unnerving, or interesting. He shrugs, averting his eyes from her scrutiny. "Sure, whatever," he says at last.

When he plays, he seems to become another person; he sits straighter, moving to the music. She isn't sure what she expected from him, but she's sure it isn't anything like what he's hearing now.

It's unnerving, just like the rest of him. Just like his pale hair and his scarlet eyes and his sharp-toothed smile. A calming song, a frightening song - is there really a difference. Is this what it's like, she wonders, to be human. To live as a human, without fearing the magic that will spill through her. She doesn't realise he's stopped, not until she opens her eyes and finds him staring expectantly at her.

"That was nice."

"It's just who I am," he says. His smile shifts by degrees, something brittle and self-aware. "It's what I am."

"I like it. It's ... um ..." She has to stop and cast around for the right word. Ironic, that her vocabulary fails her now. "... so mysterious," she finishes.

"Is it cool?" he presses.

Maka stares hard at him. "Very cool," she says. He ducks his head, as though trying to hide a grin.

"Have you got a partner?" she blurts out. "No," he says. When she looks into his eyes there's an alien remoteness, as distinct as his physical distance from the rest of the new students. The others can probably sense their otherness, Maka thinks - the boy who played dark songs, and the girl who is a witch.

"I'm a scythe," he says, as though that's any sort of explanation. "Not many people know how to wield them."

Maka's heart beats painfully against her ribs. "Do you want to be my partner?"

The boy stares at her. "Okay, yeah," he says, and she smiles.

When she grasps his hand, there is nothing. There is no discordant thrum, no uneven rhythm.

"I'm Maka Albarn," she announces as the boy gazes at their hands in bemused wonderment.

"... I'm Soul Eater Evans," he replies.


When she is thirteen, she tries going to her first witch mass alone.

She hasn't heard from her mother for a long time, but it's all right. It's all right because she knows Mama is travelling the world, doing what she does best - hunting. Hunting for renegades, for exiles, for those with death warrants. The fox-faced guard-witch is still there; she nods, impassively, when Maka greets her.

There are faces she recognises - like those two, she's certain they're from the cabaret club her father goes to. Maybe she'll forgive him a little, she thinks, staring at the back of their heads; Papa seemed to surround himself with witches, whether voluntarily or otherwise.

Perhaps he feels lonely, left by his witch-wife.

Ahead of her are two girls her age huddled close together; one wears the accoutrements of a tanuki, her scarf-ends banded brown. Maka can't tell what sort of witch the other is.

"It's been a long time, hasn't it?"

She starts; Medusa steps sinuously to her side, effortlessly sliding through a gap in the crowd.

"I hear you're enrolled at Shibusen now?"

"I ..." Maka drops her voice to a whisper. She's aware of the witch assembly's unwillingness to associate with Shibusen; she knows what she, Mama and Medusa do are not by any means advocated. "I want to be a meister like my mother."

Medusa hums under her breath. When Maka looks at her, she has no idea what the other witch is thinking. "And yet you attend the Sabbaths. What do you have to achieve by doing so?"

"So do you," Maka whispers back. Medusa smiles faintly. "And I ... I want to be proud of who I am. I want to be a meister, but I also want to be proud of being a witch."

"Interesting. And what of when you forge a death scythe? You know what that entails, right?"

"I'll figure that out when I get there," Maka says. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see Medusa running her tongue over her teeth. Black crackling tendrils of magic flick over her lips. "I see," she says, and the word seems to echo in the air.


When she gets home, a light flicks on. Soul stares at her from where he's draped across the couch, chin propped on the armrest. Grey sleeplessness rings his eyes. He yawns ostentatiously and Maka's reminded of her mother, Mama on the night the kishin egg attacks her, baring an animal's teeth in a snarl. "Where've you been?"

"None of your beeswax," she says. He stares at her. Beeswax, he mouths, as though he can't believe his ears.

"We're supposed to be partners," he snaps after her when she closes her room door between them. "I thought we were supposed to trust one another!"

Trust your partner. You still have your secrets, she thinks, and I have mine.


There's something familiar about the person at the Basilica.

Their eyes flick uneasily, rabbit-wide and reflecting no light. Like a cornered animal. Whipcord-thin.

She's uneasy. The stranger's soul flares, an angry reddish-purple. The air begins to reverberate with their weapon's scream.


Italy is her fault. She's sure of it. It's because they didn't trust each other. That's where things go wrong.

Maka doesn't like hospitals. The clean, chemical stench; the white ceilings.

In the antiseptic silence when she's with Soul, she dreams.

The first: a snake, eating its own tail; its coppery eyes lock hers and she tries to run. She disintegrates and reforms; her arms are wings.

In the second, she's an owl. She swoops; her claws close around a scurrying mouse. Her talons slip, slicing it from throat to belly. It bleeds black.

The third: Medusa, dressed in white, holding the Rod of Asclepius. A black snake curls around it. Its tail flicks, a diamondback's warning rattle.

The last one isn't a dream. It's Medusa. It's really Medusa. She gives Maka herbs to calm her twisting nerves, dried medicines to help her sleep. "A witch's dreams are often prophetic," she says. "All of us bear the mark of the Sibyl."

"Why're you doing this?" Maka asks her. Medusa takes her blood pressure, and smiles to herself. "Why are you helping me?"

"We are all daughters of Hecate," she replies. "The sisters of Lamia and Lilith must look out for one another."


When Soul wakes up, he's subdued. She doesn't comment on the fact that he's been having night terrors again. It's been a week since he was discharged. Maybe it's a consequence of sharing space with a witch. Fever dreams bleed through, don't they?

"How're you feeling?" she asks.

"Like hell," he replies. He sounds so nonchalant.

Maka wonders what he dreams about. "What you said, about trusting your partner," she begins. He grunts and sinks into the sofa. She feels guilty for listening in to his checkup but something strikes a chord. He doesn't trust you enough to tell you.

She knows he dreams about demons and Faustian bargains. She knows he dreams about trying to escape and reaching for a light, and then clawing through her body, his fingernails digging into her spleen, her kidneys.

Maka has her own dreams, too. Dreams where she's an owl, tearing through a white ferret that opens its sharp-toothed mouth and screams with a human voice. Her talons clench. She pulls out its lungs, its liver, and divines from the spatter of blood against pale fur.

"I have something to tell you."


Soul stares at her. His face is white, bloodless.

"I'm a witch," Maka repeats. She smooths down the feathers of her cloak. She can hear her blood pounding in her ears.

What will he do, she wonders. His fingers tighten and she thinks, suddenly, of a sleek, curved blade where his arm would be. That'd be a sensible reaction.

Wordlessly, he walks to his room. The door clicks shut.


They don't talk for two days.


She tells the others on the third day.

"If you don't want to associate with me any more, I understa-"

"I've known all along, did you really think I didn't catch on at some point?!" Black Star barks. "We grew up together! Don't underestimate me! I'm not that small-minded that I'd get worked up over such small things!"

"You never said anything! And it's not a small thing, what are y-"

"Because I didn't think I had to! You were always Maka and you'll always be Maka, so what difference does it make?! Right, Kid?"

She turns to Kid. His coppery eyes make her think, irrationally, of Medusa.

"Your mother is a loyal member of the Shibusen staff and a brilliant technician," he says by way of explanation. "Father never saw any reason to distrust her child, and neither do I."

"What about Liz, Patti and Tsubaki?" She thinks about her classmates. "The others?"

"You'll always be the Maka we've always known," Tsubaki says. Maka thinks she still looks surprised. "We're not going to stop being friends just because you happen to be a witch, too."


Her father calls the same evening.

"I'm going to have a word with that punk!" he shouts into the receiver by way of a greeting. Maka has to hold the phone a foot away. Soul's gone; he probably left the house before she woke up. It's strange, how he's awake before she is. Maybe he doesn't trust her. Maybe he thinks she'll kill him in his sleep.

"He's not here, Papa," she says when her father stops to catch his breath. She pictures him purple in the face, his complexion clashing with his hair. "And I don't need you to fight my battles for me!"

The door creaks. Soul slips furtively through. There are groceries in his hands.

"Gotta go, bye," she says and hangs up before her father can get another word in. "Soul, look-"

"No, wait, listen," he says, and then stares awkwardly at his grocery bags. "We're partners," he says in a rush when she opens her mouth. "And I'm sorry, I just had to stop and think about things, and to be honest I'm not surprised because I can sense these things, okay, you think I never noticed when we couldn't reach perfect resonance?"

He says all that in a single breath. Maka stares at him, and turns his words over in her mind. "What?"

"Look, just leave it, okay? I already knew you were keeping big things from me, but since we're partners I told myself I'd wait until you find the right time to tell me, and I'd still stick with you, anyway. I've made up my mind, okay, you're not getting rid of me that easy, so don't get your hopes up."

He turns from her and scowls at the wall. She stares at the back of his head and wonders just how long he's been preparing himself for a conversation like this.

"Thank you," she says at last. His ears turn red. "'s nothing," he mumbles. "Gotta trust your partner, y'know, we're stuck with each other."


They unlock Witch Hunter that night.

In the frosty London night, Soul's form is beautiful; a crescent-moon edge, humming with magic. Her magic.

The wolf-man smiles. He shows far too many teeth; his eyes are full of secrets. When she thinks of gouging them out, she's horrified. So this is it, the sway of magic that sings in the blood of every daughter of Hecate.

How ironic, Maka thinks as she feels the magic recede back into her, as Free tumbles into the frigid waters below the bridge. How ironic, that she'll use her power to hunt her own.

"That was cool." Soul's voice breaks through her fugue. He peers into the dark rolling surface of the Thames. Maka breaks into a coughing fit, and wishes for the downy feathers of her familiar.

There is blood on the white backdrop of her gloves. It's black as pitch, black as an anathema.


She tells Medusa about her dreams; about the black gobbets of congealed blood she coughed onto her palms.

"Haruspicy," Medusa says when Maka tells her about the dreams with the ferret. "The art of reading the future in entrails. As for the bleeding, sometimes when you exert yourself too much and use too much power at once, it happens. Your internal magic circuits may rupture. Congratulations, I might add, for it seems you have forged your unique brand of Witch Hunter. Blending a witch's magic and an anti-insanity wavelength ... an interesting development, indeed."

"The haruspicy. Is that another comorbidity of being a witch?" She can never read the expression in Medusa's eyes. What is she thinking, Maka wonders. What does she think, of her power to slay her sisters.

Medusa smiles and folds Maka's fingers around a bottle of capsules. "Take these. They will stop the haemorrhaging that may occur with inexperienced magic use. They'll also help you sleep easier."

"What's in them?"

"Oh, a little of this and that," Medusa replies, and pats her shoulder gently. "Nothing to worry about."


The dreams get stronger. More vivid; worst, after the herbs.

Medusa, with snakes sliding off her shoulders; their scales glimmer, sleek and black. They circle a winged staff in her left hand. Ragnarok's dragon-wings. The caduceus.

Herself, reflected twofold in the ferret's wide, staring eyes. Scarlet eyes. Danger, danger.

"Maka, you don't look so good," Soul says. His voice sounds soggy, indistinct. Spongy, almost, like he's shouting from the bottom of a well. The echoes hurt. "Ssstop," she says. Her tongue feels like lead. Her mouth feels full of cotton. Ha, ha, cottonmouth.

"Cottonmouth. A species of pit viper," she slurs and laughs at her own joke. Soul stares at her like she's grown another head. He steps towards her, uncertain. When she looks at him she sees the ferret again. There are clean stitches on its chest, from belly to abdomen. A Y-incision.

She transforms. She remembers eating, choking down something slimy and tasting of iron. The liver. No, it was soup. No, pills, washed down with warm water. The gelatin capsules slide down her throat.

"Just a dream," she mumbles. Soul's brows furrow in concern. "Maka?"

The ouroboros, its eyes fixed on hers. Its jaw parts and unhinges, wider than its head. Magic crackles around its hollow fangs; it retches vapour, forming into a black dragon. Ragnarok, Ragnarok, screaming. Singing. The song of the end of the world. A skinny child with unkempt hair and black eyes. Bony shoulders, bony wrists. Maka crushes the joints together in her talons; the stranger digs their fingers through the pale feathers on her breast.

Black blood. A red demon and a checkerboard room. It's dark.

There's light. She swims towards it; it looms closer, closer, closer. It's warm. It smells of prey, its pulse beating around her.

She bursts out of herself. Her nails scrape against false ribs, against her hipbones. I'm going insane, get me out of here, get my out of myself, she wants to say. Something's screeching, the hunting-cry of an owl.


It's a week later. She doesn't know why she's staring at the infirmary ceiling.

"What happened?" she asks. Soul fidgets in his too-small plastic chair and avoids her eyes for a while. "You got sick," he says. He shuffles in his seat; she follows his gaze to a small bottle of pills on her nightstand.

"What was in them?"

"Mandrake, Datura, henbaneand aconite." Professor Stein says and swivels around in his chair. His glasses glint. She can't see his eyes. "Quite the witch's brew you've got there. You're lucky you're alive. But, I suppose it's a little too late to tell you that. Why did you have such dangerous medicines in your possession?"

"What are you insinuating?" She feels irritable. Her throat feels dry, rough as sandpaper. "I'm sure Death or my father have told you-"

"That you're a witch, yes." Stein reaches up and begins to turn the screw in his head. His voice trembles, faintly. "I can only imagine what your insides are like ... what it's like, to be so in tune with the currents of insanity. To be caught up by the sway of magic. The witch's brew serves to multiply and amplify those effects. Who gave them to you?"

Maka thinks about Medusa and her hypnotic gaze. We are all daughters of Hecate. The sisters of Lamia and Lilith must look out for one another. She thinks about Medusa's objectives in Shibusen; why she lies undercover, a snake in the grass. She makes a mental note to investigate. "I made it myself," she says. Stein cocks his head to the side. "I wanted ... to ... see what it was like."

"I see," he says. He doesn't press her further.


The party. She doesn't want to think about the party. She doesn't want to think about Medusa, perched atop a tower spire, fingers curled into claws. The air chokes her with the tang of magic. Arithmetic magic; spatial magic; magic far beyond her abilities to corrode. Here, far underground, away from prying eyes - her power sings and hums in her ears. The tawny barred feathers on her coat lend a soothing lightness to the fabric; Maka draws up her hood and runs her fingers over its amber eyes. Tonight she fights as a witch; as a scythe meister. Both. A witch hunter.

Like Mama.

"We are all daughters of Hecate," she snarls. Eye-to-eye; the snake and the owl. Witch mother, witch sister, this will be the end of one of them. She has no intention of losing. Not after the fever-dreams. "The sisters of Lamia and Lilith must look out for one another. You made that up, didn't you?!"

Medusa laughs, a jagged spike of sound. "Did you honestly believe that?" she jeers. "Did you really believe such trite falsehoods? Our kind is built on the backs of the fallen and the weak. We destroy and devour one another to survive. My, you really are naive."

Magic honed to a cruel edge. Medusa's magic. An arrow grazes her shoulder and Maka responds in kind; hers is a barrage of feathers, their trajectories calculated with coordinates. Matrix magic. Matrices against vectors.

"I had high hopes for you," Medusa calls. Out of the corner of her eye Maka can see Stein feinting; she can hear her father shouting, a muffled entreaty for her to press onwards. No. No. She won't run away. She won't. "I expected greater and better things from you, much more than anything I could expect from my own miserable child. I could see you being so powerful, a bastard queen. A reaper amongst witches."

Maka thinks of her dreams. Medusa, with the caduceus. It all makes sense now.

"You still have a chance. Forsake the others. They will only hold you back." Medusa bats aside Maka's magic. "You could be so much more. So much stronger."

Maka opens her mouth to respond. She never finishes. Stein steps behind her and launches her halfway across the tunnel.

"Delay the others and engage them when necessary!" he shouts. "Leave the witch to me."

I don't need anyone else to fight my battles for me, she wants to say. Her blood boils at the thought and far ahead, another wavelength spikes sharply in response. Rich and pulsing with black blood.

She has a score to settle.


She remembers them now. Gaunt, hollow-eyed; a restless stare. "I don't know how to deal with you," Medusa's child whispers.

She remembers her fear. Her weakness. She wasn't strong enough. She thinks, fleetingly, about using her magic.

Power at the cost of sanity, Soul says. No, it's not Soul. A red demon in a black room. She agrees.


The black blood. She's a queen amongst witches, ripe and rich with black blood. She plants Soul blade-first into the ground and perches on him. Her toes curl in her boots and she sways on her makeshift branch, unsteady without talons to grasp with. What a hoot. She's going to fall off the perch.

Crona laughs jerkily and Maka giggles back. They dance.

Crona feints and strikes - a swipe to her left. Maka blocks with her arm and laughs, giddy with joy. Black feathers fan from her sleeve and she elbows Crona away. Crona bends over backwards to avoid the blow; the motion's sinuous, fluid, almost boneless - Maka can see the family resemblance, the supple undulation of a snake.

She kicks out at Crona's ankles. A low strike. The steel caps of her boots lend a welcoming weight to her blow. Crona ducks back and sweeps the sword. Ragnarok. The bringer of the end of the world. The blade slides through Maka's chest; she feels her flesh part before the metal. She feels herself lifting. Not good.

Maka braces her knees and rests her weight experimentally on her toes. Like a cat. Like a ballerina. Gravity drags her body down. She can feel something tearing in her chest. Lungs? Membrane? Cardiac tissue?

"Is that the best you can do?" she taunts. An uppercut, Crona braced against the curve of her scythe. Her knuckles crack satisfyingly against Crona's jaw and the skin splits like the peel of an overripe fruit. A kick to the head, and Maka can feel the sword slipping back out.

The metal bumps against her ribs, against her sternum. Blood tickles her lungs. The palm she presses against her chest comes away slick. "Oooh, it's black," she singsongs and licks her fingers. She laps absently at her knuckles. The blood - Crona's blood, spilt from her earlier punches - is thick as molasses.

She weaves towards Crona, with uneven footwork her opponent follows with darting eyes. Maka kicks with her right foot, aiming for the side of Crona's head. Crona grabs her ankle and twists; she staggers. Maka uses Soul to lever herself off the ground and hears a faint, metallic complaint. Ignore it, her instinct whispers; heed the Sway.

Her left heel slams into Crona's chest and Crona releases her. What a terrible duo they make, she thinks; a duet in asynchrony. She straightens; they regard one another, warily.

"S-s-stop it, you're c-creepy," Crona mumbles and lunges at her with Ragnarok. Maka parries with her hand. She grabs Ragnarok's blade and pulls them closer, close enough to see Crona's pale lashes. Crona attempts to jerk away.

"How does it feel to be such a pathetic witch!" she crows. She can smell fear. The stench hangs low and heavy in the air, rich as the smell of blood. Delicious, the scent of cornered prey. "Not even a witch, you don't even have magic! What a disappointment! Your own mother wants me more than she wants you, how does that feel?!"

She moves, a slow, sweeping slash with her arm. Her calculations are erratic, the precision of her coordinates thrown off by the haze of black blood. Maka squints, and casts. Black feathers, dead feathers, dirty grey flecked with witch-purple. She blows Crona back; pinions weapon and wielder to a pillar, a bug speared on collector's pins. A positive hyperbola, graphed on chunks of masonry.


She has to go back. She can't bear to watch herself.


The Kishin, awakened. The sway of magic, the song of insanity and destruction, humming in her veins. The black blood lingers around her and she can feel it in her blood, calling towards the Kishin.

"Maka," Soul says warningly.

She sees things. Fever-dreams, she finds, are far more frightening when she's awake.

Herself, as an owl. Her feathers are stained and inky. Her talons are scythe-blades and she tears the white ferret open and picks out its liver, fat and sleek.

A snake, black patterned with yellow. She meets its mesmerising stare as it unhinges its jaw and swallows her whole. Her brain melts and oozes black from her ears, fatty and viscous. Her plumage slick and stinking, damp with cranial fluid. The snake's fangs shred her flesh; she sees her feathers slide off of her body in a single, shivering sheet. Flayed alive, just like the Kishin.

When she wakes, the Kishin is gone. Pandora's Box has been opened.