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The City of Witches

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Homura Akemi is going to live forever.

1.

This is the city of witches.

Homura fights the darkness, stops the destruction, until one day it brings the storm and blots out the sky. It screams and tears at her flesh; it devours the air until she can do is destroy the world.

After the world ends, Homura wakes up in the hospital. It’s spring, and sweet, warm sunlight floods the room. This time will be different.

The fortune teller is rumored to be the best in the city. They say she can tell the very day a sparrow in your garden will fall from its nest. Her eyes have the darkness of ancient wells, and Homura thinks she has seen them before. Homura feels like she has seen everything before, and this time and last time and next time are starting to blur.

The fortune teller’s dark hair falls down her back and her delicate hands sweep the table as she balances the water over sand, wood over metal. The world she has constructed spins, comes to rest. Homura waits for the future to be revealed.

The fortune teller has a hand-lettered sign on her window that reads simply WITCH

“Bad news and good news. You’re going to suffer more than other people, but your joys will be about the same,” the fortune teller says. She doesn’t even look at the miniature world created on the table, an indifferent god.

“You’re a liar,” Homura says. She stares into the self-proclaimed witch’s dark eyes without blinking.

“You’re not the first to call me that, the question is, will you be the last?” the fortune teller says.

“If you know the world is going to end--”

“You didn’t ask about the world. You asked about yourself and my prediction stands: your suffering will be greater, and your happiness about average.”

“How can I save her?”

“You don’t.”

Homura will never accept this for an answer. Each time the world is reborn, she will return and ask how can I save her?

How can I save her?

The seed inside you will never blossom.

How can I save her?

Your love is unrequited, but you will always be loved.

How can I save her?

You don’t.

How can I save her?

You’re going to live forever.

This is the city of witches. Time bends and stutters. You can fall asleep next to a girl with dark hair and eyes like the sea and awaken next to golden waves and eyes like the sky. As night falls, the buildings take the forms of black cats and conical hats and gingerbread bridges lead to dark forests suspended in tunnels under the city. Rivers fall silent under masses of night-blooming lilies.

How can I save her?

Some days the fortune teller doesn’t seem to remember Homura at all. Once, she sees a white, almost feline shape lurking in the potted plant behind her chair and a pair of inhuman red eyes. Homura screams and brings down the crystal ball on top of Kyubey’s head. Its body goes limp, but the eyes are still open.

“That was expensive,” the fortune teller says.

“By next week it won’t have happened. Tell me, how can I save her?”

 The witch is so large she blackens the sky. The witch is so small she could be bound in a walnut shell and set out to float across the sea. Homura fights the only way she knows how, the way that means she’s already lost. She stops time, plants her bombs and waits. They explode, and the witch’s flesh falls to earth in bloody chunks and burns everything it touches. Madoka screams as they come to life around her, infernal voices singing as they grow. Each drop of blood births another witch. Madoka falls to the ground and the world ends.

After the world ends, Homura wakes up in the hospital. It’s spring, and sweet, warm sunlight floods the room. She imagines Madoka walking to school, laughing with her friends. This time will be different.

“We could be witches together. We could be witches together and eat the world.” Madoka smiles and the world ends.

The witch spins across the sky. How can something so heavy fly so quickly? Madoka fits an arrow to her bow and readies her attack. Witches surround her like wolves, drawn by her power, their sightless eyes turn towards Madoka and their hungry arms reach out to devour. Their screaming ends quickly, pierced by wild bolts of raw power. Walpurgisnacht is over. Madoka’s tears scorch the ground as her Soul Gem turns black.

“How can I save her?”

“You have to let her choose,” the fortune teller says. This time there is an elaborate spread of gold-edged cards to ignore. “It’s her choice, not yours, as soon as you accept that…”

“I will never accept it. Never!”

“Yes, you will.” Her dark eyes are filled with sorrow. “You have to.”

2.

“I could have wished for anything.” The girl stumbles through the cold hospital corridor. Despair chokes her newly born Soul Gem and tears sting her eyes. Madoka wraps her arms around the sobbing girl and the black clouds dissolve before a Grief Seed can blossom, before Charlotte can emerge to smother the world in drug-laced icing and devour the Magical Girls who stand against her.

3.

“Even though we don’t know why Demons attack, we can still hold proper strategy meetings.” Mami pours tea with a steady hand, but a few drops splash off the tower of sugar cubes in Kyoko’s cup and land on the glass table. The glass triangle is perfect for three girls.

“Proper strategy? We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing and attack. It wasn’t because of strategy that Sayaka died. It was because…” That fight hadn’t been any different from other Demon fights. Kyoko tries to remember, but thinking about Sayaka is painful and the harder she tries, the more the memory slips away. Sometimes she has nightmares of an underwater queen, with Sayaka’s marine blue hair and Sayaka’s sword, conducting a grotesque symphony in an empty hall. Whatever happened to Sayaka, it couldn’t possibly be that, but Kyoko still wakes up with her pulse racing.

“I think the Demons are manifestations of the Seven Deadly Sins. They’re feelings that everyone experiences, but somehow they are able to escape from the subconscious and take material form. Feelings like pride, greed, envy. Gluttony,” Mami says as Kyoko reaches for a third piece of cake. “What do you think, Homura?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Homura says. Wishes, she thinks. Thousands of people, millions of people wishing every day, wanting the world to change for their own convenience. “Madoka,” she says. Kyoko and Mami exchange worried glances. They don’t know anyone called Madoka, and Homura’s tone frightens them. It almost sounds like she’s praying.

“It’s getting late. I think I’ll walk around the city hall area before I go to bed. Everyone else in my class is staying at school tonight to work on the Culture Festival, so at least I won’t be the only sleepy one tomorrow,” Mami says.

“Why aren’t you there?” Kyoko asks.

“You know that’s impossible.”

“If you’re going to do the school thing, do the school thing! Homura and I can patrol by ourselves. We can handle it.”

Mami continues to protest as they walk her to Mitakihara High School. The second floor is ablaze with lights, and a group of students are hanging a banner from the roof. It drops halfway, gets caught on a tree, and the three girls can hear the laughter before they even reach the gate.

“Now go in and apologize to your classmates for being late.” Kyoko pushes Mami through the gate.

“Thank you,” Mami says. A girl in the window waves at them, and Mami waves back.

“Maybe I’ll start going to school,” Kyoko says. Her Soul Gem emits a faint scarlet glow. No Demons yet.

“I don’t think you can just walk in after missing two years,” Homura says.

“Oh, yeah? Watch this. Rosso Fantasma!” Her Soul Gem blazes as her red coat transforms into a Mitakihara Junior High uniform and her ponytail becomes two neat braids. “Kyoko Sakura, class 3-1, please take care of me.”

“Rosso Fantasma?”

Kyoko shrugs. “Mami likes it when we name our attacks. It’s what proper Magical Girls do. Did she ever talk to you about your wings? She thinks it’d be cool if you shouted something like Ali Bianche when you use them.”

“No.”

“Don’t flip your hair at me, Homura. It wasn’t my idea.” Red sparks dance around Kyoko’s Soul Gem. Both girls feel the change in air pressure, the thick, unnatural energy of Demons.

“It’s here,” Kyoko says. She tosses her Soul Gem in the air; it slices through the Demon’s barrier. The false school uniform dissolves into her red battle dress.

Homura follows Kyoko into the barrier. It will be strange if Kyoko does join her class. Her classmate should have been Madoka. Homura tries to clear her mind. This is the kind of weakness the Demons exploit.

It’s going to be all right. It’s a whisper only Homura can hear.

The other girls say Madoka is a story—a dream that lingered into Homura’s waking hours. But Homura knows it is real, and this certainty carries her into battle.

There are seven Demons, buzzing like flies on rotten fruit, hiding their faces, and Homura wonders if Mami is right about the Seven Deadly Sins. It isn’t likely, but the first one she aims at is slow, Grief Cubes lazily circle his head, as if he can’t be bothered to defend or attack. Sloth, she thinks. Her dark purple arrow shatters his mask.

“You gotta give that attack of yours a name,” Kyoko yells. She drives her spear into a Demon, his Grief Cubes fall to the ground as his body crumbles to dust. Kyoko spins her spear around and drives another Demon into the path of Homura’s arrow. The remaining Demons flee, the barrier melts, the clock above city hall tells them it is just after midnight.  

“Damn,” Kyoko says. “Now we’re going to be chasing them all night. Mami had better hook us up with some free yakisoba at her school festival.”

“I think she’s helping with the tea room.”

“Typical. She owes us cake then.” Kyoko’s face is tinted pink in the Soul Gem’s placid light. “I really am thinking about going back to school. Sayaka was always talking about it, and now that she’s gone, I feel like it would be doing something for her.”

“I understand,” Homura says.

“Do you really think there’s a super special Magical Girl out there who takes us away when this is over? Wouldn’t Kyubey know if it was true?”

“The little alien doesn’t know everything. It is true, I know it.”

Kyoko’s Soul Gem flares, the barrier cracks open.

“If Mami is right, we’re going to take down Greed, Pride, and Envy. Ready?” Kyoko leaps into the wasteland, and Homura follows, wings of swirling power unfurl behind her.

There are two ways a Magical Girl can retire: she can grow up and lose her powers, or she can die. Mami chooses the first path, Kyoko the second. As for Homura, she’s going to live forever. She’s going to fight for the world Madoka wanted to protect.