Free was nocturnal by nature but had agreed to turn in early tonight; Crona had already screamed himself awake once and had practically gulped down the sleeping potion Medusa had brought him. Now, during what humans called the witching hour, only the two witches were awake in Medusa's lair. It would seem fitting, perhaps—but the hour after midnight could have just as easily been called the thieving hour or the murdering hour. Witches were hardly nocturnal; darkness simply made illicit activities easier. Tonight, Medusa would have preferred to be asleep, but strong emotion tended to leave her with insomnia. As for Eruca—

At half-past, the door to Medusa's room swung open, and the ancient witch looked up from her book. Eruca was creeping into the room, brandishing a dagger in her shaking hand as she made her way towards Medusa's empty bed. She seemed totally unaware of Medusa's presence in the corner armchair.

"Planning to murder me in my sleep?"

Eruca croaked in fear and whirled around to face her, hiding the knife behind her back several seconds too late. Medusa let a smirk slip onto her face. "Unfortunately for you, I don't think I could sleep tonight if I wanted to. I'm far too excited."

At long last, the day had come. By this time tomorrow, before Medusa slept again, the Kishin would be free once more, its madness seeping into the world and inducing change where now there was only stagnation and rot. Honestly, Medusa couldn't remember the feeling of the Kishin's madness; but she did remember enjoying the sensation, that it used to quicken her heart and make the blood rush to her head. And this time, it would happen by her hand, with her black blood working behind the scenes.

Eruca's face twisted into a scowl. "You damn snake…"

Medusa smiled, marked her page in her book, and set it aside. "What did you intend to do after you'd killed me, anyway? Carry my head to Mass and hope they'd let you back in? I don't think they'd forgive you with Free still running around. For that matter, he's quite grateful to me; I don't think he'd take kindly to my death. Were you planning to fight him?"

"It wouldn't matter what happened to me," Eruca said, her glare defiant. "As long as you—"

Medusa cut her off with a laugh, dainty and scornful. "Oh, Eruca, dear Eruca, self-sacrifice doesn't suit you. You ought to just run like the childish little coward you are. …Not that you have any chance of escaping me, of course."

She slid out of the chair and approached Eruca, her eyes locked onto the frog witch's. Eruca cringed and took a half-step backwards, and Medusa saw her hand tighten quite uselessly on the dagger.

"Give me that."

Eruca resisted for a moment, but it was pointless. Hand shaking, she offered the knife to Medusa; Medusa examined it and then held its tip to Eruca's throat. Her eyes wide, not even daring to croak, the younger witch stood frozen in place.

After several seconds that probably felt much longer to Eruca, Medusa gave a soft chuckle and tossed the knife onto her bed. "You needn't fear harm from me right now, Eruca. I won't hurt you. I need you for tonight." Medusa didn't give a damn what happened to her after that, but she let Eruca dwell on the implications of the words right now and for tonight as she returned to her chair and her book. "Go to bed and sleep," she advised with a motherly smile. "I want all of you to be well-rested. We've a big day ahead of us."

She turned her gaze to her book, and did not look up when Eruca gave a tearful croak.

"Is there something you want to say?"

"You're insane," Eruca wailed—emboldened, perhaps, by Medusa's promise not to hurt her. "You're sick in the head! You're turning your back on your own kind and betraying the Elder Witch and endangering all of us just for the sake of your own amusement! You're worse than your sister!"

Arachne's face and the memory of her presence surfaced in Medusa's mind for a moment, making her feel sick, before she could chase them away. She shut her book slowly and ran her finger down its spine before sending a cool gaze at Eruca. "And how would you know that? How can you claim to know anything, you stupid toddler of a witch? How old are you—twenty? Younger?"

"I'm fifty-three!" Eruca retorted, indignant. Medusa sniffed.

"Still just a child. And one born into this rotting, immobile age… You truly have no hope of understanding what's wrong with the world. Not until it begins to take its toll on your sanity in a century or so—and then, will you realize what it's doing to you and take a stand against it, or will you go mad and set yourself on the path to self-destruction as so many of our sisters have?"

But then Medusa smiled, a twinge of excitement running through her chest. "Forgive me. I'm dwelling on the past rather than the future; after tonight, that question will no longer be relevant." For so long, she had thought like that, but now everything would change. The world would be set in motion; order would topple and new rulers would arise with ruthless, Darwinian beauty. Just the thought of the upheaval woke an eagerness that gnawed at her stomach and her back.

"Aren't you glad to be acting against this diseased world?" she asked Eruca, her eyes intent. The only logical answer was yes. No one should have wanted to preserve this world. No witch, certainly.

But Eruca's mouth twisted with tears, and she answered with a question of her own. "How can you betray the Elder Witch like this? Weren't you ever loyal to her?"

Medusa blinked, shrugged. "I was loyal once, yes. The black blood is something I initially developed under her instruction. As for why I betrayed her—who knows? Perhaps my frustration with her role in creating this stagnant world has something to do with it, but frankly, at some point it was simply the next logical step."

"The next logical step?" Eruca's voice was high with hysteria. "You disgust me! Don't you even feel guilty?"

"No," Medusa answered, "I don't." If anything, her passion for her research had only grown once she had resolved to turn away from the Elder Witch's control; for the first time, her all-nighters had become a regular occurrence, and she had continued her work as if driven from behind. Yet the Elder Witch had noticed nothing, trusting in even the most obvious of lies that left other witches eying Medusa suspiciously, and over time Medusa felt sicker and sicker to think that witch society lay in the hands of such a brainless old fool.

This world was dying.

Things had to change.

And if that disgusted Eruca, then that was Eruca's problem, Eruca's foolishness, Eruca's lack of experience. She would understand once the world began to shift. And if not, what did it matter?

Medusa stood once more and Eruca shrunk backwards, but Medusa only wrapped a firm arm around her shoulders and guided her back through the door and down the hallway. "Now, Eruca, you are going to do as I say and get some sleep. Today will be a big day, and I want you to be at your best. I simply hate to imagine what horrible things I would have to do to you if we fail."

Eruca pulled out of her grasp, disappeared into her room, and slammed the door behind her. Shrugging, Medusa returned to her own room and shut the door with less vehemence. Not for the first time that night, she considered her bed; but then she shook her head with a silent smile and settled back into the armchair.

There really was no hope of her getting any sleep tonight.