2018-08-24 - Whatever It Takes..? Understanding Is As Useless As A Witch's Mercy!

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Title: Whatever It Takes..? Understanding Is As Useless As A Witch's Mercy!

After their failed assassination, Homura finds Mikoto. For Eri's sake, they make their resolutions. Mikoto's sake is not considered in the process.


Mikoto Minagi, Homura Akemi


Shitamachi Low City

OOC - IC Date:

2018-08-24 - 2015-05-07

.**************************** Shitamachi Low City *****************************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Shitamachi Low City +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 The traditions that the Shitamachi cultural region keeps alive were ancient
 long before the Shogun turned the fishing town of Edo into Tokyo, "Eastern
 Capital." The area has evolved greatly since then, but though Shitamachi is
 a highly modernized metropolis, its traditions somehow coexist with bullet
 trains, research universities, and electronics markets. The occasional
 person in kimono and sandals will wait at the crossing alongside salarymen
 in business suits. Compared to Yamanote, there are more bicycles, family
 businesses, and food carts, and fewer scooters, corporations, and
 convenience stores. Certain wards in Shitamachi can be just as dense and
 urbanized as anything in Yamanote, but there's a tendency toward low-rise
 apartment complexes in the residential areas, and office buildings rather
 than office towers in the commercial.

 The distinction between Shitamachi and Yamanote is messy, both
 geographically and demographically, but significant enough that it remains
 the most significant cultural divide in Tokyo. Shitamachi people, as a
 whole, take themselves less seriously, and have a stronger sense of
 community that feeds upon their active street culture of markets, shops, and
 festivals. They may not be fashionable, but they are fun. The Juuban
 public schools, undistinguished but in some ways better off for it,
 exemplify this plebeian joie de vivre quite well. The Shitamachi dialect is
 less distinct than it used to be, but it is still a force to be reckoned
 with, with a broader, less refined, and more energetic sound to it than
 standard Japanese.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Megadeth - Die Dead Enough https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LILNpbzv2Fw

Mikoto Minagi is all momentum. She has paused only long enough to sheathe her blade rather than carry it openly through Tokyo; it is small enough concession to the masquerade, the only one she makes. Without her vestments about her, she is left with her base athleticism: legs which pound at the pavement despite the pain at hip and calf and along a dozen bruises. The wounds are not severe; her body is too tough to allow a few glancing blows and a round of battering to bring her down. They are still unpleasant reminder of what has come. It is sweat which slicks her hair, now.

She should have stopped long ago. All logic dictates she should have no energy left to spare, every inch of her reserves bled into obsidian spires. But Mikoto has never cared for logic in the face of her love.

Her jagged heart pounds with the strain and her desperate mind puts a beat to it: Eri, Eri, Eri, Eri, Eri, Eri, Eri.

For she has looked into the face of terror, and it is a calm and unassuming thing.

Strength does not scare Mikoto. Mikoto is strong.

Savagery does not scare Mikoto. Mikoto is savage.

Single-mindedness does not scare Mikoto. Mikoto is single-minded.

Sublimity --

There is only one sort of person who steps onto a battlefield and does not strike at all; who chooses instead to suggest ruin with unhurried words. There is only one sort of person who wears white, knowing blood will stain. There is only one sort of person who is kind about their utter control of a situation.

Shizuru Fujino is overwhelmingly powerful, and it is a might Mikoto cannot hope to stand against.

It is with horror that she comes to know there are others - aside from him.

There are others, and they move against her.

She is such a small, small thing, ever in another's shadow, and she cannot fathom the capacity to stand against the type of presence she was shaped to serve. It is anathema. There were no mistakes this time.

She was not designed to disobey. Shizuru makes her gentle suggestions; Mikoto goes running.

And keeps running, terror the only option left to her.

She will kill Sayaka - but it is pointless if Eri is dead.

The pavement rises unexpectedly, and Mikoto does not move with a cat's grace, not now. Sensible Ohtori flat catches on the edge of it; she sprawls violently to the ground, crying out into the night. She pushes herself upwards, but it is a slow thing, made lethargic by muscles which tremble visibly beneath her pale skin. Her teeth grit against tears.

"Eri," she says on ragged breath, and the word is despondent. "Eri..!"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Homura Akemi travels the vertical with practiced perfection, much as she does the horizontal. She flits back toward earth from her buildingtop perch upon spotting Minagi cross below in all her momentum, but the acrobatics cost her more than usual tonight. This is becoming an unfortunate refrain, of late: everything costs more than she reckoned on, more than it should. She falls into step with desperation, a familiar devil sharing space on her shoulder with the rest, and descends ten stories one-armed.

Her infirmity, however temporary, aggravates Homura. She doesn't need this reminder of failure slowing her body down. Neither does the paranoid puella need any further show of weakness in front of Mikoto Minagi; she's an ally now, but the girl's loyalties retain a dark opacity to Homura Akemi, and she knows how fine a point these things turn upon.

With twenty stories to go Homura alights on the building's face, heels catching upon a ribbon of granite window casing -- a sharply-trimmed clock hand pausing its downward sweep for an intra-second caesura. Violet flares; a spindle of gothic lace *tinks* into the black-rimmed diamond on the back of Homura's hand, the steep cost of righting the injuries incurred by, among other things, a mere glancing blow from Miroku's forest of blades.

She completes the rest of her descent with both arms, but does not bother wiping the dark track from her chin. She tracks Mikoto Minagi as she goes, who provides less of a challenge to track than she might at other, less... damaged times.

The determination makes as much of an impression as the sheer battle power did earlier. Homura makes no effort to mask the gentle tap-tap of soles touching pavement, announcing her arrival some fifteen meters off Mikoto's left flank. Her face is an expressionless mask, but there's a tightness to the way she holds her limbs -- different from the earlier guarded stance of injury.

"Mikoto Minagi," she calls to the striving girl. "I just spoke with her. There is no attack, not yet. Shimanouchi-san is holed up, safe for now. She knows.

"And now so do they." Meaning their enemies. The ones that got away. They were thiiiis big...

She levels violet eyes at Mikoto, a flat look. "It could have gone better." It is impossible to tell whether that's an admission of culpability or an accusation leveled at her ally, the way she says it.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Akira Yamaoka - She https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcD7jjyeyFA

A HiME's magic is vested so heavily in her Child. Those obsidian spires were such deadly things - and yet here, now, in the aftermath, Mikoto has no recourse to repair herself. She is perfectly shaped for destruction.

And he is not yet here to watch over her. That bead, between chest and cloth, is inert.

She struggles her arms straight; pulls a knee underneath her. Her sides heave with the effort of it. There is the sound of someone alighting - her head snaps up to see. She breathes out, heavily, as it's Homura's presence she confirms.

Not - an enemy.

It is well she is the one who has found her. Mikoto is in no condition to fight. She pauses, as Homura speaks. She looks up to Homura, and listens.

Eri is safe, says Homura. Eri is safe. All else pales in the telling; Eri is safe.

The strain of terror on her face collapses like a building, its ground floor all a-set with charges. The tension in her cheeks releases from the point where her eyes were drawn so intently, and her brow is released from the knots which pull it down, eyebrows tilting upwards in their sudden freedom. Teeth once set in a line release alongside a jaw made prominent by its clenching, relieve the pressure which set lips in their pained grimace, and for a moment they are lax, as if they cannot believe the grace afforded them.

And then they turn upward, parted without baring teeth, spreading across her face like a light in the dark. Her lips push up her cheeks, which in turn raise lower eyelids, crinkling the view of those golden eyes. Tears flood them, unbidden and unchecked, and her breath hitches in its relief.

"Homura," she gasps, as words escape her, and the shamelessness of her assuagement extends to her voice. There is no veil to her succour. "Homura!"

Her partner in darkness wears a mask impenetrable; every inch of Mikoto's emotions is written plain upon her. It is a startling contrast.

She takes a steadying breath, finishes pushing herself upwards - stumbles, a little, but she catches herself on the side of a building. It is only once she is risen that she allows herself to go over those words again. Eri knows; but they know, too.

And... it could have gone better.

At first its meaning is plain: they did not kill Sayaka. But as those golden eyes search Homura's face, glinting feline in the night and catching every detail despite the distance, she catches the dark trickle at her lip, and she remembers.


No wonder it sounds like an accusation.

"... I... hurt Homura, right?" Mikoto lowers her gaze, brow drawn up, lips in delicate downward curve, and for a moment she is silent in her shame.

The truth is, after Homura's reckless actions, Mikoto could not trust that she would save her. The last thing she did before Cassandra swept her up, after all, was to fire on Kozue and Mikoto both. It was a dangerous act, for someone whose mind so instinctually categorises. Someone whose heart is so easily given to destruction.

And when she is alone - oh, when she is alone...

It is well that Mikoto is not often alone.

It is unfortunate that Mikoto felt alone, in that moment, despite Homura's cry.

And here she stands, talking to Homura as a friend - on the sake of a technicality. In that fight, it would have been so easy to slip into the obvious conclusion: that those who attack her are enemies.

... but Homura killed the girl who killed Mai Tokiha.

She may never know how hard Mikoto fights for her sake because of it. Even when that battle is simple as saying she did not realise she would hurt Mikoto at all; that her only crime was eagerness to destroy the enemy. It was an effort. She was barely conscious of the process. Love at war with lessons; surely one is stronger.

Mikoto presses her lips together, hums uncertainty through them. She does not like the complexities of the situation. She focuses on the most prominent fact: she hurt a friend. She looks back up to the other girl, and the lines of her face are etched in earnest remorse. "Sorry... didn't mean to."

And there is not a shred of a lie to those words. Homura may well appreciate the issues of collateral damage - if not the dark vessel in which they come.

It is a startling contrast for different reasons, perhaps, to all those times she has driven black blade and black glass into Homura's body - again, and again, and again - with not a shred of mercy or remorse in those terrible eyes.

And it is startling contrast to the Mikoto at the beginning of this cycle, who would not have dreamt of such destruction in response to her pain. She is becoming ever more extreme in her black rage; ever more terrifying.

How quickly does the war usher her progress towards oblivion?

It is so clear in those wide and honest eyes that she does not suspect a thing.

The unwitting harbinger of that obsidian apocalypse looks up to Homura, and her muscles tremble in the innocence of her love.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Know Your Enemy https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zSHtniUl8V4

Homura has more practice with delivering the other kind of news. All the grateful emotion that takes over Mikoto's face when she hears the good word of Eri's current, if ephemeral, safety is more than she expected, more than she bargained on.

She retreats further into her mask, and diamond could not glitter with more unapproachable, sharp-edged beauty. Beneath she stifles the panic of a spectacled girl who has never known how to really handle such things. It's a thorough retreat, and she shows neither the anxiety nor her relief when being a cold-faced jerk pays its dividends and forestalls any further gratitude.

They do make for quite the contrast. Homura watches Mikoto and sees the humanity she has left behind, or so she'd tell anyone who brings it up -- anyone who even makes an opening to mention the topic.

Homura makes no mention of her own failings in their shared assassination attempt. She does not venture how she jumped the gun and fired well before their targets were in position, nor of how she sprayed machine gun bullets across a swath of battlefield occupied by Mikoto herself.

When Mikoto asks if she hurt Homura, the pale girl shrugs with one shoulder. It's a jerky motion, acknowledgement and dismissal. That she didn't mean to hurt Homura is no lie, but then, deception has never been one of the lethal dangers Mikoto Minagi poses.

If the murderer of your friend's murderer is your friend, then perhaps that is all Homura and Mikoto need right now. Homura would not call it friendship, but she is a jerk of all trades and can be needlessly standoffish in this respect, too. If someone called her out and said Mikoto deserved better, she would not disagree.

"You didn't mean to," she echoes, finally. And: "We encountered outliers tonight. Context would not predict the intervention of Tenjou and Fujino." As close as she'll get to saying that it was not Mikoto's fault. The girl is a useful ally. She remembers things this Mikoto does not, iterations, variations... She remembers what it is like to have Miroku and its guardian for enemies instead.

She measures Mikoto with another look, opaque as she calculates, as she runs this timeline and its events through her mind. "Eri's taken you hunting. You've got practice fighting alongside puella." A tilt of her head. "And you don't hesitate." Violet slides away. This way is better. The olive branch is on offer because Homura finds it more advantageous to her than any other path, a cold match for the trust in Mikoto's eyes.

"Kaoru and her swan are stronger than previous experience would suggest. And Miki is as impossible as ever." Always, always an extra edge in Homura's voice, reserved for Sayaka and Sayaka alone. "More dangerous, now. A wounded beast always is, but that's giving her too much credit. A wounded beast has the sense to go to ground and lick its wounds. If I know that girl..."

'Now I know you'll always be my enemy.'

"If I know her, she won't wait. She'll just come right back at us, right back at Eri, as soon as her legs will hold her up."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Mikoto is utterly overwhelming - in battle and, it seems, in emotions. She is an unstoppable force to the immovable object of Homura's stony-faced impassivity. She does not question for a moment whether there is something more to it. She is such an honest thing; she takes people at face value. Homura's face...

... well, perhaps it's no wonder Mikoto feels so chastened.

Were the situation different, she might criticise Homura for her misjudgements; but Mikoto is consumed by the knowledge that she has caused Homura harm, and it seems so much more grievous an error, in this moment. No matter that Homura's mistakes led to her own. She does not think of what caused what, in the face of her failings.

With anxiety she looks to Homura for forgiveness - with relief she lets out breath she hadn't realised she'd been holding, as Homura offers it in her fashion. It is bare acknowledgement of Mikoto's words. It is enough.

Homura may not describe Mikoto as a friend - but she is friend to Mikoto's eyes. A dear friend, who did something most valuable for her, who she would surely strive for. And she is so completely unaware of the disconnect between their approaches.

"Outliers..." Mikoto speaks the word in quiet consideration. It takes her a moment to make sense of the statement; she has never performed well in maths. But she gets there, in the end. Homura means that they weren't supposed to show up. That it was strange. That they would have done better had the strange thing not happened.

(A brief flash of fear in her eyes, at the mention of Fujino.)

Gold meets violet, and there is a smile of pride and affection on Mikoto's face as Homura mentions Eri and the work she does for her. She nods, with an affirmative noise. She won't hesitate.

She can't.

It is a smile which fades at the mention of Kozue and Sayaka. Mikoto frowns, stepping in to lean against the wall for support. "Kozue wasn't like that... before," she says, her tone muted by concern. Perhaps it, too, is small apology for the information she once gave.

Hands curl to fists, pressed against the brickwork. Mikoto's eyes scrunch up, and old tears make it so much more difficult to open them again. "I won't let Sayaka touch Eri," she says, voice wavering in its emotion. "I love Eri. When - when I'm with Eri, I feel safe, and wanted, and happy... Eri's seen me, and Eri didn't go away. Why don't they understand?!" It does not waver any more - it cracks with new tears. "Why don't any of them understand - Eri has to live?"

Her breath comes shallow past parted lips. "If Eri died... I don't know what I'd do."

It is not intended as dire threat. It is an expression of her complete despair. And yet -

"So I'll do anything, to keep Eri safe. And - and one day I'll make Eri smile again. I will. I will!" Mikoto repeats, shaking her head, braids whipping every which way. She opens those tearstained eyes, and pleads so plainly with the devil: "Just tell me what to do."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Homura shares a span of masonry with Mikoto. The latter leans against the wall; the former keeps her back to it. "She's never been like that," she says, and Homura's working with a sizeable statistical sample. "But there's always something." She can't bring herself to resent new developments. The real fear lurks deeper. It anticipates an event horizon beyond which the variations between timelines die out.

She drags her gaze back, until it searches the distance instead of the future. Mikoto has an audience for her plaints, though Homura listens through an affectation of unaffectedness.

Ah -- there it is. Underlying instability, an atom whose merest threat of splitting fuels megatons of rage. What would Mikoto Minagi do if Eri died?

The swordbearer says she doesn't know. Homura has empirical data enough to suggest hellish possibilities.

"Why do you want their understanding? You might as well look for mercy from a Witch. It would be as impossible to attain, and as useless." Useless Sayaka understood Homura all too well. Perfect white teeth lock behind flat-pressed lips.

Mikoto asks guidance from the girl with hair like dark wings and catches a sidelong, measuring look. Homura sees determination and devotion and despair, and a reflection of herself in wet eyes.

What would Homura Akemi do if Eri died?

Eri has died before, many times, in the curls of Homura's strange loop-de-looping lifeline. Everyone has. But what if this Eri died...? Dating sims and darkened parade floats... Homura Akemi looks away again, across the empty street. She answers Mikoto's plea.

"When word of our attempt gets around, it's going to stir them all up. The Chevaliers live to stick out their noses." Homura just told Eri it was the green magi's job to herd the cats, but... "After you check in with Eri, check in with them. If their noses stick out too far, bloody them. Make sure they stay clear of this."

Homura Akemi knows what to do with a loaded weapon. You take aim, and you fire.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Nine Inch Nails - The Big Come Down https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8O8efV1S4CQ

She's never been like that, says Homura, and Mikoto does not question for a moment where the other girl is getting her experience of Kozue. She was not designed to ask questions, much to Eri's chagrin.

What would Mikoto Minagi do if Eri died?

Go back six months - and she would sob in disbelief. Homura knows what happened, as well as anyone there.

But now, after six months of fighting girls instead of monsters...

Well - certainly she has fought monsters, too, made fat on the blood of the innocent. Homura makes the comparison in her ever-cool manner, and Mikoto bows her head. "I - I thought..."

That maybe if they understood how important Eri was to her, they'd stop opposing them? That maybe if she found the right words to say - everything would be all right? That maybe she was not the dark portent she is, and there was some other option? That maybe she could fix things, and Eri would be happy again?

It's naivety. It exposes how weak she is to the words of those around her. It is not for nothing that she was taught never to listen to her enemies in battle, never to speak and reason with them.

Mikoto shakes her head, vulnerability written on her face, and feels foolish for thinking it.

It's vulnerability of a different kind which meets Homura as she looks up again. Those words etch themselves upon her, a breath hissed in between grit teeth as Mikoto realises what will happen to Eri now they have failed.

They will come for her.

Here is the truth: Mikoto is dark portent, and there is vicious logic in the words Homura speaks. It is logic she accepts so readily, so easily. To destroy Eri's enemies - is such a natural thing.

"I understand. If Chevaliers get involved," Mikoto echoes, a note of distance to the words. "... I'll make them regret it."

There is no other option.

She has to keep Eri safe.

She has to be a bad person to keep Eri safe.

That terrible logic is comfortable and comforting. It must be. She can't...

"I won't let my failure hurt Eri," Mikoto says, and there is a bitter and ferocious edge to her words now which bring them back to the present. "I - I can't. If I messed up, and Eri got hurt..." Mikoto lowers her gaze again. Her voice quiets. "... Eri's... gonna be okay, right..?"

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

As readily as Homura gives direction, Mikoto accepts it. She accepts Homura's disdain, by the vulnerability on display. She accepts responsibility, and Homura does not meet trusting golden eyes.

She studies the four-sided chip of soul embedded in the back of her hand instead. Rich violet, like her irises; bottomless black to match her pupils. The secret time mage blinks and lifts her head. With heel to brick she pushes off from the wall and crosses the sidewalk with two smooth strides.

"You're effective, Minagi-san. Teach them the same lesson enough times and they might even learn it."

The immediate area is eerily unoccupied, as is so often the case within blocks of large scale destructive showdowns. Homura paces to the center of the empty street. Her quiet voice carries over her shoulder more clearly than it should, making the scene no less uncanny.

(She perfected the trick of throwing her voice years ago, and it's been in her arsenal right alongside the AKs and the grenades ever since.)

"Maybe." Someone else might try to temper the words with a sympathetic tone. Not Homura. Same tone as ever, cool to match the rest of her. Nevermind that she's oriented away from eye contact, still. "There's no saying now. Eri Shimanouchi..." By the tilt of the back of her head, she's looking up at the sky.

"If there is a way to survive, she'll find it. If that means tearing a hole through Sayaka Miki to get there, she will. She's effective, too." More quietly, now, but not beyond the limits of keen hearing. No tricks in Homura's voice. "She's not a lost cause. Not like some people."

Homura's talking only about her blue-haired enemy there, surely.

"Be ready, and do whatever it takes. I'll be making preparations." A pause. "I kept the grenades away from you, at least." And there it is, the barest concession, a hint of a shade of a whisper of an admission that Homura Akemi was less than flawless in her own performance, tonight. It's just disguised as a defensive boast.

"Tell Eri hello for me, when you see her."

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

A thin smile, from Mikoto. It's nice - to hear she's effective, from someone as capable as Homura. Even in the midst of all this trouble... it's nice.

She is effective; there are effective methods.

With the right approach, Mikoto Minagi is easily handled. Perhaps she could be accused of instability - but she is entirely consistent. That it is to a pattern so few can see in its entirity...

... well, that just affords certain people advantages.

She is such a simple creature.

Homura steps away, and does not look to her again. Mikoto is still watching. Under the miserable light of the moon, the Puella Magi is like black ice. No wonder, then, that a girl with a black glass heart listens so closely.

Back turned away, Homura surely cannot see the way those eyes widen, the curve of her eyelids as they are drawn down with the tension of her cheek, into lips which fall so terribly they expose bottom teeth. Mikoto does not like relative statements; she deals in absolutes. To say there's no saying it -

- it means Homura is not confident enough to say Eri will be fine.

Homura is a girl of machinations; it is not difficult for Mikoto to tell. If Homura cannot see a clear path, it means the worst for them, and anxiety clenches at a jagged heart.

"Eri's dark and brilliant," Mikoto replies, quietly, but not so quiet that she cannot be heard by listening ears on a cool spring night. "I'm lucky to fight by someone so good." There is no veil to the admiration in her voice.

It is salve on bitter wounds. Surely Eri can handle this, too. Together, they will destroy the enemy and become strong. "Whatever it takes," Mikoto echoes dark agreement.

Can she possibly know what she asks?, wonders Mikoto, distantly, before she pushes the thought away. She does not need to think about this.

There's something in that last statement - which makes her reach out, from the wall she has occupied to support her exhausted frame. "Homura - thanks." They are simple words, simple words, and their gratitude speaks volumes. Of course, what is written in those tomes...

A sharp breath, and that hand curls in the air. "Wait," she bids Homura, at the eve of her departure. "Where is Eri?!"

Simple words and practical concerns.

Even in the midst of her sharpest edges, she is still Mikoto Minagi.