(I do not own Stargate SG-1. I do not own Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. I do not own Puella Magi Madoka Magica.)
(A/N: This story shares a continuity with Forever After Earth.)
It Means Flame
A pointer stick smacked into the palm of Ms. Saotome's hand with the righteous indignation of the unjustly spurned. "The correct way to fry and egg is sunnyside up or down? Come on, Mr. Nakazawa, I don't have all day!"
The boy in question flinched back as the pointer whipped towards his face. "Uh... you can fry it either way... can't you?"
"Yes, precisely. You can fry it either way. Therefore it goes without saying that you should never judge woman's beauty by the way she fries her eggs!" Ms. Saotome exclaimed as her much abused pointer finally snapped clean in half. "Remember, girls, do not associate with men who refuse to eat eggs that have been fried sunnyside down!"
"I guess it didn't work out," Sayaka Miki whispered as an aside to her best friend Madoka Kaname.
Madoka winced softly. "Whatever gave you that idea?"
"And you boys better make sure you don't grow up to be men who complain about how the darn eggs are cooked, understand?" their teacher ranted.
"Well, then!" Ms. Saotome continued. "Now that's out of the way, we have a new student joining us today. Come on in, Miss Akemi!"
"Hey, shouldn't that have come first?" Sayaka muttered.
Madoka leaned against her desk to get a better view as a dark-haired figure came around the outside of the classroom, stumbling slightly when she noticed the whole class was watching her through the acrylic wall panels.
The Akemi girl made it through the door and shyly offered Ms. Saotome her admission note. She had her raven-black hair in two long braids, and as she faced the class she almost seemed to cower behind the cute red-framed glasses she was wearing.
"Alright, why don't you introduce yourself to your new classmates?" Ms. Saotome suggested.
"Uh um, m... my name is Homura Akemi," she said, fidgeting with her hands. "Pl... pleased to meet you."
As Madoka watched the new girl stutter through an introduction, she got the funniest feeling, a bit like butterflies combined with a completely inappropriate and absurd urge to hug her and pet her and tell her everything's going to be alright.
"Miss Akemi has lost some time to a health issue," Ms. Saotome told the class. "Since it's been a while since she's been in school, she may be a bit behind on a few things. So I want all of you to help her out where you can, okay?"
Ms. Saotome caught Madoka's eye and discreetly made their previously agreed upon hand signal, indicating that she wanted Madoka to open a telepathic link.
Yes, Ms. Saotome? Madoka inquired.
The teacher glanced at the new girl. Miss Akemi's arranged to see the school healer during break period, Madoka. As the class Aide, you'll be sure to make sure Miss Akemi gets there okay, understand?
Madoka sat up a little straighter and smiled. Of course, Ms. Saotome.
"So, where was your last school?"
"Were you in any clubs? Ooh, do you know any magic?"
"Your hair is so long! That must take a lot of time to braid every morning."
Homura quailed under the onslaught of enthusiastic curiosity."Uh... um... I..."
"Excuse me gals," a new bright and friendly voice cut in. "Homura? Hi. I'm the Healer's Aide for our class. You need to go to the Healer's Office, right?"
Homura was supposed to check in every day during her first week back at school, to make sure there weren't any complications or relapses in her recovery. She nodded hesitantly.
"Then I'll take you there," the pink-haired girl offered. "Sorry everyone, but Homura here has an appointment to keep."
There was a chorus of, "Awwwh."
Homura got up and followed the Healer's Aide into the hall. As the transparent door closed behind them, the girl turned to Homura and offered her hand with a peaceful smile.
"I'm Madoka, by the way," she said. "Sorry about all that. They don't mean to be so overwhelming. They're just excited because we don't get a lot of transfers here."
After a moment's hesitation, Homura shook her hand and offered a small, nervous smile in return. "It's... okay. Thank you."
"You don't have to be so nervous, you know," Madoka told her. "We're a friendly class, even if some of us can get a bit excitable."
"It's... it's not that," Homura murmured, shyly keeping her eyes on the floor in front of her feet as they walked. "I don't... I'm not used to being called by my first name so much. I mean... the healers didn't... and it's, it's such a weird name, so other..."
Madoka made a surprised noise. "It's not weird!" She looked up with a dreamy expression. "It means 'flame' so it's like you're meant to flare up passionately! I think it sounds cool."
Homura felt her face heating at Madoka's whimsical praise, but then her shoulders slumped. For all of Madoka's earnestness, Homura just wasn't like that.
"I guess I don't live up to my name," Homura sighed.
Madoka spun around and stopped in front of her. Homura blinked, looking up and realizing they were standing in the middle of a glass-enclosed bridge between two parts of the school. The view of the Mitakihara skyline was actually kind of spectacular, and the pale arc of MidChilda's smaller moon hung in the clear blue sky. Homura met Madoka's rather striking golden eyes and found herself stunned by the sheer... encouragement, she was faced with.
"But that's such a waste!" Madoka exclaimed. "If you've got a name that great, you should work to be just as great yourself!"
Madoka's cheer was infectious, and Homura couldn't resist smiling in half-hearted agreement.
Of course, that didn't last long. Homura had been bedridden for months. Every lesson just drove it home how far behind she was. Five minutes into Athletics, and she was nearly ready to throw up. In history and science she'd kept up with the reading, but was utterly lost during the class activities. Maths was better, but she already felt so miserable that she was the last one to finish the work.
The next day wasn't any better. At least when the class drilled on conjuring light, she was actually the only one in the class to manifest a complete MidChildan Circle. The glowing purple-black image hovered faintly over her hand, but it was barely bright enough to be visible, let alone actually function. It fizzled out in mere seconds, and Homura hung her head.
"Agh! I don't get why we have to learn this," one boy complained, a lopsided loop of blazing pale yellow light wavering in front of him. "I mean, anybody with enough power to cast real spells is just going to get a Device anyway, right? This is lame."
That comment started an argument that Homura stayed out of. Her parents had always told her that a mage who was helpless without their Device wasn't much of a mage, but a brash blue-haired girl seemed to be making that point well enough on her own.
When school ended for the day, Homura set out to make the short but exhausting walk back to her empty apartment, feeling absolutely dejected. It was hopeless. She was never going to stop being a useless weakling. She could never live up to her name. She was worthless...
So wrapped up in her moping, Homura didn't see Madoka until she almost ran into her. Madoka stood just outside the campus gates, smiling as if she was genuinely pleased to run into Homura. Homura's heart clenched with a sudden desperation to keep from tarnishing Madoka's brightness with her own misery.
"Oh! H-h-hello, Madoka," Homura greeted.
Madoka giggled lightly, clasping her hands in front of her. "I saw you looking kind of down, so I thought, maybe I could walk you home, Homura."
Homura was honestly taken aback, but managed to stammer out, "Oh... okay? Y-you don't have to..."
Madoka fell into step beside her. "I don't have anyone to walk with today, either. Hitomi's mom is picking her up and Sayaka is staying late for Strike Arts. So come on!"
Homura helplessly returned Madoka's smile. "Alright."
As they strolled along the sidewalk together, Madoka did most of the talking. She told Homura more about her friends.
Sayaka Miki, the blue-haired girl Homura remembered seeing, apparently dreamed of joining the TSAB despite her rather lackluster magical ability. Madoka's other friend, Hitomi Shizuki, was the green-haired head of their class, and according to Madoka, she was being groomed to be an architect like her mother. Madoka joked about Sayaka's boyfriend, a musician named Kyosuke, getting all dreamy over Sayaka's pretensions of being an action hero.
Something about the whimsical way Madoka shared these anecdotes just made Homura smile. During that short walk, Madoka probably managed to drag more smiles out of Homura than she'd had in the past month combined.
Inevitably, they arrived at Homura's apartment building.
"Ehhh? You live here, Homura?" Madoka asked, sounding confused. "Isn't this building for studio singles?"
Homura nodded, staring at the ground. "Y-yes. I live on my own."
"Oh! Well, um, that's... very mature of you, Homura," Madoka tried weakly.
"It's okay," Homura murmured. "My parents are both... they were Killed In Action. My mother was from AnteChilda, so, when, when the Ori War started, we went back to that dimension and they were with the rest of the TSAB combat mages who, who fought in the Battle of New Aln."
The Battle of New Aln. It was one of the most horrific losses in modern TSAB history. Homura had worried for her parents, who believed her safe at home, but after the Ori starships annihilated the TSAB response fleet, they were able to push through all the way to AnteChilda and land troops. Homura had been there during the first orbital strikes, and she'd nearly died choking on the dust of fallen buildings. Dozens of broken bones, and she'd needed to have both her lungs completely regrown. She hadn't even been conscious for the evacuation of civilians to MidChilda.
Fortunately, the Ori were pushed back before they could capture any of the Dimensional Links.
Homura glanced up through the top of her glasses to see Madoka's eyes shining, and the next thing she knew, Madoka had thrown her arms around Homura. Madoka was hugging her. Madoka was hugging her, and why was her face getting hot...
"That's so sad," Madoka whispered.
Homura smiled softly. "I miss them, but I've had time to come to terms with it."
Madoka pulled away and nodded.
After Madoka left, Homura rode the elevator up to her floor, lost in thoughts of the other girl.
For the rest of the week, Madoka continued treating Homura as if she were someone worth spending time around. Homura was starting to get this warm wriggly feeling in her chest every time Madoka smiled at her, or touched her.
Madoka's friends weren't nearly as welcoming, but they didn't seem to mind her.
Homura didn't understand why Madoka was going so far out of her way to include her, at first, but after spending more time listening to her, Homura got the impression that that was just how Madoka was.
"Are you sure you don't want to come over for dinner?" Madoka asked.
"I'd like to," Homura admitted shyly. "I just don't think I'm up to walking that far."
Athletics had been particularly bad that day, and Homura was feeling even more like a cripple than she normally did. She hated it more than usual, too, since it was forcing her to refuse something Madoka wanted. A cold knot settled in her gut and her eyes started to burn, as she -
Madoka slipped under her arm and helped to support her weight, giving Homura her best comforting smile. "My mom's off work tomorrow. What if I got her to come drive us?"
Homura swallowed the lump that had risen in her throat. "I don't want to put anyone out of their way..."
"Don't worry about it," Madoka assured her as they reached Homura's building. "I'll see you tomorrow, okay?"
Homura nodded shyly.
As Madoka stepped out into the bustling foot-traffic of a busier street, she smiled and let the mood of the crowd wash over. Faint telepathic probes brushed over the whole of the street, not enough to impinge on anyone's privacy or to draw the notice of any trained mages that might be in the vicinity, but sufficient for her to drink in the kaleidoscopic mood of the people around her.
Madoka considered herself fairly average in most ways, but when it came to telepathic skills, the only word that fit was savant. She could establish a standard communication link before she could walk, and had mastered every non-classified skill by the time she started school. It made Madoka happy that her greatest talent revolved around the purest form of communication, bridging the distance between people.
Her skills were more or less an open secret. Since detecting when someone was trying to get into your mind was the first step in learning the standard communication link, Madoka's talent was regarded as far less threatening than it might have been had she been born on a less magically-advanced world than MidChilda, even by those who didn't know her personally.
Meandering her way home with a faint smile on her face, not really watching where she was going because she could feel everyone around her, Madoka bumped into someone.
- empty - cold - disgust - smite the heathens - divine wrath will flow from these veins - hallowed are the Ori -
With a gasp, Madoka fell to the ground. The fairly nondescript man she'd bumped into glanced down at her before continuing on his way, and Madoka burned his face into her memory with a determination born of gibbering panic.
The man was gone by the time Madoka picked herself up, and she didn't know what to do. She'd seen the vids from AnteChilda, but the Ori were supposed to be safely contained in that other dimension. How did that man get here? If the Ori could be here, what was going to happen to her home? Her family? Her friends?
Around her, the milling pedestrians gasped and stumbled back as Madoka's body exploded with a shining pink light bright enough to temporarily blind those closest to her. And every single mind she could touch for miles in every direction was suddenly filled with an image of the Ori Zealot's face and the same glimpse into his thoughts Madoka had gotten.
Madoka fell to her knees, dizzy from the mental effort.
Her world was filled with screams and panic and blaring car horns.
Homura staggered under the sudden mental intrusion, ice crawling down her spine as she comprehended it. She didn't know what was happening or why she'd been given this warning, although based on the distant sounds of a city in chaos she wasn't the only one to receive it.
Going from window to window, Homura peered through the curtains to see if she could see what was going on.
Captain Mami Tomoe streaked across the sky over Mitakihara in her gold and white Barrier Jacket. Her squad raced across rooftops behind her, but unfortunately, Mami was the only Air Mage in the city and her backup was lagging because they couldn't fly.
The local TSAB office had gone into a frenzy in the wake of the... monstrously powerful telepathic warning. The source of the warning had been back traced thanks to the distinctive disturbances in the city's surveillance grid.
Mami braked hard as she reached the relevant city block. Hovering in place, Mami pointed Galvan Soul out in front of her as a gold Circle flared into being under her feet. At the moment, the Intelligent Device was in the shape of a simple black scepter, topped with a golden crystal rose.
AREA SEARCH, her Device announced in feminine tones that managed to be musical and mechanical at the same time.
Three small orbs of gold light came into being around Galvan Soul, then raced down to begin a spiraling search pattern. Fortunately the streets were mostly empty as people had fled the area. Once the critical threat was dealt with, they were going to need to search the crashed cars and broken storefronts for injured civilians. Mami also wanted to talk to whoever had sent the warning about being more careful in the future. Somewhere down there was a civilian who could cause untold chaos and destruction if they ever wanted to.
Sergeant, please deploy the Ground Mages in a paired perimeter, Mami ordered when she caught sight of a red blur in the distance.
You got it, Caps! Sergeant Kyoko Sakura replied.
After a painfully long wait, her search spell alerted Mami to a facial match. The man was walking down the center of an empty street. Mami shifted her grip on her Device and willed it to change shape.
ARCHERFORM, Galvan Soul announced as it dissolved its conjured structure and reformed as an elegant black longbow with a golden handle.
Target sighted, Mami sent. All forces, converge on these coordinates.
Mami dove off the edge of her Circle, taking flight as it dissolved behind her. She wove between buildings and swooped down to alight on the pavement a cautious distance in front of the suspect.
A small Circle formed in front of Mami's longbow-shaped Device like a targeting reticle LUX SEEKER.
A glowing golden bowstring and arrow formed between Mami's fingers as she took aim. "Halt! You will identify yourself and submit to questioning, on suspicion of being an enemy combatant! Comply or force will be used!"
With a sinister smile, the Ori Zealot drew a flaming shortsword from under his coat. Mami drew and released, sending an arrow made of enchanted photons screaming towards the enemy.
He slashed with the sword, and Mami's attack exploded, somehow leaving the man unharmed. Mami immediately drew on the bowstring of her still-active spell and fired two more arrows in quick succession.
Those attacks were also blocked with the sword, but Mami had expected that. With his attention focused on blocking, hopefully he wouldn't notice Kyoko plummeting towards him from behind. Kyoko leaped from the roof of a skyscraper...
The Ori Zealot thrust his sword out, and roared, "All who do not follow the Path of Origin must be destroyed! May my blood herald the Fires of Celestis!"
And to Mami's shock, he brought his sword down and opened his own throat with a single efficient slash. Burning blood flowed from his body in a torrent. As the Ori Zealot collapsed, his flaming blood moved on its own, inscribing an alien ritual circle.
The moment the alien Circle formed, it exploded in a column of fire. A column of fire Kyoko had flung herself right into.
Kyoko's scream of pain tore at Mami's heart as the Scarlet Sarge hurtled into the flames. Kyoko's charred form emerged, and Mami flew up and caught her. The redhead's Barrier Jacket had taken the brunt of it and she was still alive, but the burns were bad enough she might still die of shock.
Mami flew up to Kyoko's second. "Sergeant Sakura needs a medievac, now!"
Madoka was despairing of her own stupidity. She couldn't believe she'd actually talked herself into following the evil Ori worshiper. Hiding under an abandoned car, Madoka gasped in awe when the golden mage descended to confront the man, then in dismay when he shrugged off her attacks.
The column of fire ripped through the air far to close to her hiding spot. Madoka shrieked and covered her head, waiting for the roaring heat to pass.
Once the storm of flame died down, Madoka peeked out, and what she saw made her eyes go wide in horror. Ori soldiers. Dozens of them, if not hundreds, all wielding blasting staves. And leading them, three Priors. Three Priors.
Shooting spells of various colors blasted down from rooftops and out of alleyways, but one of the Priors merely raised his glowing staff and the magical attacks exploded harmlessly against a shimmering shell of force.
The second Prior made a grasping motion, and a girl in a dark green Barrier Jacket came tumbling out of an alley. Madoka wasn't sure what happened next, except that there was a green flash, a series of explosions, and then a half-dozen soldiers were unmoving on the ground while the mage in green lunged at one of the Priors, her glove Device covered by a blazing energy blade.
The attack was stopped cold by telekinetic might, and with a vicious shattering the mage's Device fractured catastrophically, and her Barrier Jacket dissolved. Another Prior grabbed the formerly green-clad mage as she stumbled back. His hand gripped the back of her head, and she only had time for a gurgling wail of agony before her head burst apart in a shower of blood and brain-bits.
From above there was a scream. "Tiro Finale!"
Mami watched in horror as Private Roberta was reduced to a headless corpse. As a Circle formed under her feet, Mami pulled back on Galvan Soul's bowstring as targeting and containment rings sketched themselves in the light of her magic, forming a barrel as big as she was.
TIRO FINALE, her faithful Device intoned.
Mami released. "Tiro Finale!"
The colossal destructive bolt of magically co-opted photons blasted down towards the invaders, and Mami smirked in bitter satisfaction when she saw all three Priors raise their staves together and visibly strain to repel her ultimate attack spell.
Mami shot upwards while the enemy was busy shaking off her attack.
Alright, listen up! Mami ordered. Backup is on the way. Our job is to contain the threat in as small an area as possible, and buy time until our reinforcements get here. We know they've figured out the trick that getting out of a Dimensional Shift is as easy as hitting the boundary really hard, so we can't rely on academy tactics here. Here's what we'll do...
The hope that had swelled in Madoka's chest popped like a balloon once the dust cleared. The Ori army was unharmed, and with a wave of a Prior's glowing staff, even the soldiers that the green-clad mage had taken down were back on their feet.
More shots and blasts flashed in from every possible direction.
Two of the Priors had placed themselves on either side of the soldiers to deflect attacks, while the third seemed to retreat among the soldiers and sit down in a meditative pose. Madoka didn't know what he was doing, but she doubted it was good.
Then destruction in various colors rained from the rooftops, arcing to strike the invaders from directly above. Madoka covered her face, but the soft impact of a pair of elegant boots made her peek. The mage in gold and white was standing just a few feet from the car Madoka was hiding under, the bottom edge of a vertical Circle visible beyond the mage's legs.
RIBBON LOCK, a mechanically melodic voice declared.
Hundreds of glowing golden bands snaked along the ground, slipping under the force shield that was busy blocking the attack from above. Soldiers cried out and fell as they found themselves tied together by their feet and legs.
There was a pulse of... something, from the Priors. Madoka didn't know what, but she could feel it. In response, every soldier who could get a shot aimed as one and fired their blasting staves. The mage staggered as her Circle shattered under a sudden telekinetic assault and the volleyed storm of plasma slammed into her Barrier Jacket.
The multi-colored barrage from above faded out, but Madoka gasped at the blinding storm of magic that somehow remained in a roiling ball above the army. She was pretty sure she heard the mage gasp as well.
The captured attacks suddenly blasted out in a torrent, and Madoka heard a scream. She pressed herself to the pavement as the redirected blast rocked the car Madoka was hiding under just by its passing.
The mage in gold and white slammed into the side of the building and fell to the sidewalk in a shower of rubble, her Barrier Jacket in tatters. She struggled to rise as she coughed, flecking the sidewalk with blood. The mage collapsed again.
Heedless of the danger, Madoka crawled out from under the car to... she didn't know what she could do, but she had to do something. She gasped as she recognized the mage's face. Madoka had seen her on the news. This was Captain Mami Tomoe.
On the other side of the now somewhat flayed car, the remaining mages were launching desperate attacks with everything they had, but the Priors were just too strong. Their power broke through the mage's defenses one by one.
Madoka gently helped the fallen mage sit up. Captain Tomoe eyes widened when the locked onto Madoka.
"Run," Captain Tomoe gasped. "Run... away..."
"But this is my fault!" Madoka choked. "I panicked. And now this is happening because of me!"
Captain Tomoe coughed again, spattering blood on Madoka's school uniform. "You... you sent..."
A scream and a sickeningly wet tearing sound made them both look over, even though they couldn't see much, hidden behind the car. The sounds of blasting staves had joined the other sounds of battle, but individual shots just spent themselves ineffectively against the mages' Barrier Jackets.
"You..." Captain Tomoe coughed. "You did... good... Get away! Save... yourself..."
Madoka shook her head furiously.
COMPATIBLE USER DETECTED, her Intelligent Device interrupted.
Mami Tomoe froze, and then her face twisted with guilt. With an irridescent shimmer, her Barrier Jacket and Device vanished, leaving her in an immaculate TSAB uniform. She held out her hand, and there on her palm was a gleaming golden rose petal made of crystal.
"If you... want to... help..." She coughed up more blood. "Take it... destroy... the Priors..."
Madoka stared, and accepted the Intelligent Device with shaking hands. Mami stopped breathing.
With tears in her eyes, Madoka looked over her shoulder. The battle was winding down but it wasn't over yet. Could she really made a difference? Captain Tomoe seemed to think so. If she could really help protect her world from the Ori... Madoka's hand closed in determination.
GREETINGS, NEW USER, the Device said. THIS DEVICE IS GALVAN SOUL OMNIA. PLEASE CONFIRM REGISTRATION.
"I am Madoka Kaname, and I want you to help me fight the Ori. Please!"
CONFIRMED. ADAPTING TO DETECTED AFFINITY. EMPATHIC SYNCHRONIZATION COMPLETE. ADAPTING BARRIER JACKET PATTERNS. OPTIMIZING SPELL TEMPLATES. STANDBY. READY.
Madoka dragged Mami Tomoe's body into the dubious shelter of the closest doorstep, then she stood and faced the battle.
"Galvan Soul," Madoka said. "Set up!"
Their mission was simple. In the name of the gods they would cross the boundary between realities and bring Origin to the heart of the heretics' civilization. Then, in their righteous crusade, they would call out, may their prayer be heard by their Ori brethren in this universe.
The heretics must be made to understand that even escaping to a different universe will not protect them from the wrath of the gods, for the Ori are hallowed and eternal.
The heretics did battle with their blasphemous, stolen powers, but with the might of the gods behind them, the Priors could not fail.
"I have located the Stargate," the sitting Prior informed his brethren.
Working together, the three Priors wrapped a shell of telekinetically hardened air around their forces, and prepared to carry their holy spearhead force away. They were on their way to -
Then there was only light. And it was pink.