Unearthly, grapefruit-sized dandelion puffs glitter like fireworks in the darkness. Sayaka treads warily, reminded of the mustached cotton balls in her first witch barrier that gnawed and sliced. Kyoko has a swagger in her walk and knocks the glowing seeds right and left with the spear slung over her shoulder, but Sayaka's not fooled. All the redhead's senses are on high alert. If a mouse sneezed on the other side of the road, she'd know.
Yuma, on the other hand, is really just skipping.
If this were a real place, Sayaka would say the white sparks that carpet the ground weren't there originally. Long ago, when the high stone walls around them were smooth to the touch with evenly spaced gargoyles standing sentry every few feet on their heights, these streets were walked too often for plants to grow. The empty waterfall in the plaza before them flowed freely, its pristine white marble basin shining in the light, sculpted wolves rising proudly from its center.
Now the pavement has been invaded; the mortar in the walls has crumbled and given way to plants with long leaves and flowers so pale as to be almost translucent. Yuma nearly trips over the claws of a gargoyle whose body has otherwise crumbled to dust. The wolves are headless, the basin at their paws filled with moss: living descendants of the scum that flourished once the water stopped running.
"There," hisses Kyoko, swinging her spear.
Because this isn't real, Sayaka remembers just in time. A witch's barrier has no past. This city was created abandoned.
The familiar is a collection of gold filaments, arranged in the vague shape of an animal like a sculpture made of wire. It leaps and twists, avoiding a direct strike as Kyoko's weapon segments and thrusts right through it, then twisting until it gets itself thoroughly entangled. Not good: the spear is entangled just as badly.
"Oh, hold still!" yells Sayaka, leaping to the rescue. A couple of well-placed sword strikes whip the thing to pieces, but she'd rather not get punched in the stomach by Kyoko's spear, again.
They stop wasting time admiring the plant life after that. Halfway across the plaza, Yuma lets out a squeal and begins whacking a second familiar with her cat-headed staff (it's satisfying, the way the thing squishes). They keep clear of the fountain when something gurgles in its depths; Sayaka, not for the first time, wishes Mami or even Homura were there. Star Wars had her fooled all these years. Blades are elegant, sure, but there's something to be said for the ability to blow something up without getting any of your limbs in biting distance.
Their target is under a cupola with statues in place of pillars: impossibly tall women with too-long limbs, holding pitchers in front of their narrow gowns. Two of these are still pouring water, incongruously clear before the thirsty carpet of greenery soaks it up.
The witch itself is a tree.
No leaves here, just mottled lichen and bare, gnarled branches. The stone pedestal at its base crumbles where the roots plunge through, chunks and fragments of marble mingling with the dandelions. Its largest branches claw in their direction.
"Stay back, Yuma-chan," cautions Kyoko, as Sayaka charges forward. The branches take the bait; she dips, dodges, hacks them off as speedily as she can. New swords appear in her hands the instant it flings an old one away.
Sayaka's doing great until a thick branch comes out of nowhere and (just her luck) whacks her in the stomach. She goes down hard (do these uniforms get grass stains?), just in time to get a worm's-eye view of the segmented spear arcing around and plunging into the witch's heart. Yuma's beating off a familiar that snuck up behind them. Good kid. She'll go far.
Everything blurs for a minute, so that Sayaka isn't sure if the barrier's collapsing or if she's passing out. At last it settles into Kyoko twirling a Grief Seed between her fingers, while Yuma hops up and down and squeals, "That was really good, Sayaka-neechan!"
"What are you talking about?" demands Kyoko, knuckling the crown of the girl's head through her hood. "Who exactly got the killing blow, here?"
Sayaka finishes self-healing before letting her power fade, Soul Gem settling into her cupped palm. They're in the middle of the too-long pedestrian bridge that leads to Hokkaido. Not a lot of plants here, though she can hear the waves sloshing around below.
"But she softened it up for you!" enthuses Yuma. Their uniforms fade back to casual clothes in tandem; Kyoko taps the Grief Seed against Yuma's Soul Gem before her own. "Because Sayaka-neechan is a hero of justice!"
"Yeah, whatever," says Kyoko, trying and failing to sound like she doesn't think Yuma's the most adorable thing since Hello Kitty. She holds out the Grief Seed as casually as if she's offering Sayaka a stick of pocky, and only the half-raised eyebrow betrays that she knows what it means.
Whether Yuma knows it or not, she's been good for Kyoko — softening up her rough edges, giving her the fragile beginnings of a new family to live for. Sayaka thought what she was living for was Kyousuke: her pivotal role as his companion and savior, his knight in shining blue armor. Stripped of that, what's left except the fighting? And yet...and yet...Yuma seems delighted to claim her back from the edge. Maybe she can be Yuma's knight. Or co-knight, because Yuma would never give up Kyoko, but there's not much Kyoko can do if the kid decides to share.
(And maybe she can be Kyoko's—)
Sayaka takes the Grief Seed. "Just admit it," she says, tapping it against her Soul Gem and smirking at Kyoko. "You'd be lost without me."