2018-10-16 - Like Clockwork
|Title: Like Clockwork|
Homura Akemi invites Eri Shimanouchi over.
| OOC - IC Date:|
Tues Oct 16, 2018 - Fri May 22, 2015
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
TXT from Homura Akemi: Eri-chan. Come see me at my apartment.
The address is hyperlinked to the text message, ready to drop a pin on one of Eri's maps.
Her building is a relic surrounded by renovations. The narrow flatiron rises pale over dark cobbles, and black iron curlicues adorn the lampposts lining only its side of the street. Each lamp glass is frosted with time: the thousand tiny scratches of weathering. They glow only dully in the night, hardly illuminating their own bases.
Newer construction dominates the rest of the block, sleek angles and plate glass windows looming over her address's humbler street-facing two stories. Its height is the only humble thing about its construction, though, for with its age the flatiron building retains an elder gothic elegance. Dark flourishes and classical lines etch its once-white stone facade. Columns and a smooth arch encase the heavy wooden double doors that lead inside, and above them twin ironclad windows bracket a grey-faced clock.
Homura Akemi's name announces her door from others at the very end of a long marble-floored hall on the second floor. The etched kanji are as perfect on the metal plate as when she writes them on the chalkboard.
Homura Akemi greets her visitor almost immediately after the first knock. She could not have been far from the door. It cracks, and her pale face peers through at a slight cant. "Eri-chan," she says, and the door opens all the way to admit the other puella.
She wears a grey pleated skirt, her toes visible bumps at the tips of her black leggings with her shoes off, and a long-sleeved purple shirt with button-up collar and cuffs -- and of course, the everpresent headband over sleek tresses. Eri's welcomed into a foyer first, a clean modern contrast to the ornate building they're in but otherwise unremarkable. Unadorned. There's a small neat mat for shoes by the entrance. Two exits, one leading to what looks like a kitchen, the other...
Odd movement and angles catch the eye, that way. With a violet glance sidelong at the other girl but no other words, not yet, Homura walks in that direction, toward the bright lighting and shifting shadows. She clearly expects Eri to follow.
This would be a wedge-shaped living room, in another apartment: wide open space, vaulted ceilings. Two tall windows are set in the narrowest wall, metal-barred, the same which were visible from the front of the building. The other walls expand from there to house a space so grand and white it nearly blinds, and all the strangeness one could hope to see from the quarters of Homura Akemi, newly revealed time mage.
She steps down into a recessed white circular space and sits on one of many colorful benches, a thin blue arc of a thing, to face a round violet table at its center. Across from her half-circle seat is its mate in yellow, and other green benches radiate away at unusual angles. Red semicircles encase those, and there are grey and aqua dots on the floor, among other colors. Nightmare imagery superimposes with otherworldly schematics in floating frames on another wall, their displays cycling through daisy-chained familiars and more deeply unsettling iconography.
The shadow of a doublemoon scythe swings across the pictures, back and forth. The scythe itself, unseen, unheard.
Homura sits still and quiet for a moment, her face composed, hands in her lap. She looks right at Eri and says, "There is a lot to talk about. It's not just what has happened, but what is to come."
There's a pause. Homura smooths her skirt fabric over her legs. They aren't in front of the assembled Shepherds and Chevaliers any more. They aren't in front of Madoka. But she can't apologize for what she said and how she said it, because she wouldn't take it back. The terrible truths and their terrible telling...
"I've tried to tell people before. They have never believed me."
It's the closest she can get, for Eri.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Drug Dog Reinforcement - Cruel Angel's Thesis - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8l7Nj9dddo
The rhythm of her legs met the pulse of the music, the flashing of the lights and the imagery. She was on her sixteenth track, but was no stranger to the marathon. Long days and nights walking across Tokyo had prepared her. People came and went on the platform beside her, their presence ephemeral, hardly acknowledged.
She kept going.
If she missed a step - No big deal. Keep going. She's not here for perfection. She's here...
I do it to blow off steam. Otherwise all that stress just builds...
... to distract. People complimented her.
Buy you a ramune? Haven't seen you around here before... Hey do you really go to Ohtori? Come hang with us! You can really move!
People heckled her. She's not that good. She just broke her streak! She has a gym towel up there with her? Does she think this is a substitute for a proper workout? She's nothing! I once saw the Invincible Phoenix take on...
All she had to do was just not care what they thought. They were a single moment in time. Keep going.
Go long enough and everything became the burn of the muscles, the sweat she had to dab off her brow with a gym towel, the panting of her breath.
Keep going and it just became movement. Step. Step. Step. Step. Arrows prompting her legs where to move. It was too loud to think. Too busy to think.
Steps clumsy and less precise - a numbness of sensation in the limbs and a burning in the side.
Eventually the song was over, and she started to queue up another...
Which is when she heard a tone. The beginning of a guitar riff, before the start of vocals.
Homura ring tone(For Eri): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BnhMFj4DKY0
Huffing, she stepped off the platform, swiping her towel with her, grabbing her purse from where it lay in front of it by the strap and sliding it to a shoulder. Gripping her phone with two fingers, she pulled it out, and pressed the home key, the tone silenced as her thumbprint opened the phone and she read the message.
Staring at it for a long time, while she just breathed. Then hiking her purse on her shoulder, she turned and left, while tapping away at a message.
TXT to Homura Akemi: Across Town. Be there soon.
BGM Change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O2La7UHRoR0
The train ride is so surreal it felt like it had to be a prank. Finding out something as simple as where Homura Akemi lived - she'd taken for granted that such a thing would never happen. What would really happen is she'd get to the destination and get another text message. Then another.
What if it was different though?
Entering a tunnel - light strobed through the dark - and occasionally she saw a grim visage.
That was just her imagination though.
All the same she'd make a stop on the way.
Checking her phone again - she looked up at her destination. It was indeed a residence - nestled into a corner of an old street. It reminded her of something you'd see at the edge of an old market district. ... ... except, if that old market street had come out of someplace in old Europe. At least what she imagined older places in Europe to look like.
She'd taken for granted that Homura gave them the secret of her magic out of necessity only. However now came another.
Sayaka Miki becoming a witch was like a dam had broken free. A cascade of information that one struggled not to get swept away by.
Taking a breath, she dumped a bottle in the trash with a clink, a pleasant warmth crawling through her skull without it being - overwhelming.
Then put her phone away, then took off her glasses, took a moment to wipe them with a cloth from her purse.
"... can never get them clean."
The statement is like a sigh, before she stepped across the cobble street to check the name plate. How was the information just /there/ just /given away/ so simply? In a city of so many - it was a needle in a haystack, yet the fact that it was there to be found... raising a hand - she rapped upon the door quickly.
She's just a normal girl. One that happened to know they all became monsters.
When Homura Akemi opens the door - she'd see Eri in her high school uniform. She hadn't attended school today - but... all the same... perhaps it's more indicative of low effort.
"Homura-chan." She says quietly - then, "I was..." She trails off - like she was thinking of saying what she was doing, and instead shifted to a feeling, "... surprised. You're not... usually..."
Her eyes feel distracted by the sights. "... That style suits you." She says, of her clothes, though they're wandering over the foyer, assaulted by so much information.
And that's before she even steps into the living room. Eri Shimanouchi stops. Stares, eyelashes fluttering. Then looks behind her. Then forward again. "... What am I looking at?" She whispers, like she'd stepped into strange labyrinth of a museum. Works of after floating above as abstract as any witch's imagery. A pendulum scythe swinging like the ticks of a second in a grandfather clock.
Yet with every passing second the strangeness of this place felt... right. It felt more homely than the weird realities they dwelled in. This felt like a place where a Puella Magi belonged - assuming the strangeness some quality of Homura's time magic. Eyes still glued to schematics of girlish figures, she steps forward, laying her purse on one of the red couches, before lowering herself on one of the half circle blues in front of Homura. Her hands absently smooth out her skirts. "...I believe you." She finally says as she centers her vision behind her spectacles on Homura Akemi, "... at the time maybe I wondered if you were just... saying that, to make Madoka-chan less... likely to make a contract."
Telling people they might become a monster would feel like a deterrence to most.
"... Now that I know though... I don't know what to think." There's something distant in her voice, "... I thought if we ran out of magic. We just... died."
That still feels like the case to her though. Perhaps becoming a witch is a strange confluence of factors at that moment of dying.
"... so I thought it must have been something I did... to..." Her eyes slowly grow lidded, "... to Miki-san."
As if she were some Dark General or something, and that it was a specific amount of emotional and physical suffering she inflicted. Her knees press together. "To cause that."
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Homura stands with her hand on the doorknob and watches, unblinking, as Eri Shimanouchi crosses her threshold. There's scant outward sign of the fever-shiver that runs through her in the moment, a whispered enervation echoing from cobblestones through fog. Rarely is the time mage's deja vu so keen, so immediate. A day old; less. So fresh it slices deep.
So Homura Akemi is quiet as she leads the other puella further into her mysteries, rather than showing a response to the initial astonishment and the compliment. She studies Eri, uniformed on her day off, as the girl takes a seat.
The curiosity does not go unnoticed, though. Privately, Homura thinks, good -- she still shows interest in the world. It's like filling out a list of symptoms in the waiting room and not having to mark 'throwing up blood' even if there are still an awful lot of checks on that paper.
What is Eri looking at? "Walpurgisnacht," comes the succinct reply. "You are looking at what is to come."
The violet table holds maps and more schematics; strange annotations line Tokyo's rivers and neighborhoods, each punctuated with at least one UTC timestamp. Most have several timestamps. They rest in the very centerpoint of the room, the focal point of a concentric space. Every motion in the room dances to the same unearthly, silent song, a ballet of coming apocalypse and one girl's single-minded drive to stop it.
Now she faces Eri Shimanouchi across these plans: a girl who has, at least, some inkling of how strongly she figures into them... And some inkling of her importance aside from that. Homura had to rescue Kyouko and Eri. There was indeed little choice in the moment, beneath the hulking azure shadow of a newly-hatched Witch, but to bring them into her time stop, to see these key allies safely out.
She didn't have to invite the green magi over to her clearly-labeled apartment. But Homura is... concerned. She would rather not admit how much. It is that, and a darkly incisive understanding of how much the other girl might value being in such rare confidence, that led to tonight's invitation.
"Good," she replies when Eri states her belief, voicing an approval of this critical acceptance of their reality. She listens to the rest, to the crushing responsibility Eri admits feeling. It is... not an unknown feeling, to Homura, either.
"No. I tried to stop it, but that was always going to be Sayaka Miki's fate." Homura says the words as truth because she believes them. She has witnessed a few versions of that particular decline, now. "It isn't her you should be worried about."
Even though she was already sitting up straight, now there's something even more upright about her posture. Homura looks at Eri dead-on across her table full of notes and summons up her determination. The words come out flat. "You and Sakura-san both, how are you dealing with this information?"
Past reactions have rarely been what she would call... healthy for Soul Gems.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
It's such a strange word. She'd heard it before, but the language still renders it mystic, arcane. Yet the imagery all comes together in her head. A witch. Familiars. The witch at Shinjuku General had become so powerful as to live outside of a labyrinth - and Walpurgisnacht was an urban legend before that one even existed. It brings a shivery tingle to her skin.
Because now she knows that it's a Puella Magi that has ceased to be human. Has become that strong. Could she become that if she killed and killed long enough? A witch that became a force of nature?
"Have you... encountered it before?" She asked, because even if she couldn't understand the context of every image... the fact that Homura knew about it. It felt like some strange rivalry from all the manga she used to like. Between a Puella Magi and a former one - Homura Akemi must have been doing this since elementary school. Long before she transferred in...
Strange possibilities in her head. The warm feeling overcame the other sensations, allowed certain things to filter through.
It wouldn't be so bad right? To go out fighting something like that. It's the kind of thing she thought when she was trying to give deaths meaning.
Homura regards her though and her expression finds her way back, away from the strange movements of the arcane imagery to catch her with the 'Good' for her acceptance.
Then - 'No.'
The word should bring relief, but it doesn't. "Oh." 'Always going to be her fate.' "I... I see..." Because of how she acted as a Puella Magi - or because she was a Puella Magi though?
The hand bearing her ring filters back through her hair, as she traces it through the side of it. There's something almost anxious about the gesture.
"I'm taking no part in... what the Chevaliers are doing about... it." And the Shepherds who joined them. Though she doesn't say that.
How are they dealing with this information though?
"I haven't heard from my senpai since that night. She'll... take it well I think. That's just how she is."
Would that she were the same way.
Growing silent though after she discusses Kyouko, her hand falls away, and her gaze turns upwards.
"... ... ... I need help though." It's... a strange admission, oddly vulnerable for her. She could be prideful about not being a burden upon others. Mikoto had convinced her to ask for help, because she needed it. "Everyone puts down... roots which helps them get through life. Strong ones to keep them stable. And every time I... learn something new, it's like I have to tear myself up and start over..."
Placing her palms on her lap, she folds them together, "It's... tiring. And I've noticed... my magic consumption. It's increased over time. It would be untenable if I... didn't hunt as I do. I used to be able to stretch a grief seed a lot further when I was a scavenger. I'd need to purify my gem less. I... don't think it's because I've gotten stronger either. If anything... I'm more efficient than I was back then... so it has to be..."
Her speech stops abruptly, as she spreads her hands apart, and looks down at them, her voice growing quieter, "I don't want to become a witch." She sounds frightened, "How do you... deal... with the things you've had to do so well? I'm... not like senpai where I can just... flip it off, like some switch, and not think about it..."
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> UNKLE - Lonely Soul https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1pwCgBhvck8
"I know what to expect from it."
Oblique, that answer, like the girl giving it. So recently come from a harrowing battle with, and loss to, her own inability to open up, there is no part of Homura that can retread that painful ground so soon. She doesn't even try to say how many times she has fought Walpurgisnacht, and how many losses she has suffered beneath a rain of flung buildings.
She doesn't confide in how much worse those losses have gotten, over more recent iterations of her strange repeating existence, or how much that frightens her in the dark of the early morning when she can't get to sleep. Homura doesn't say how frightened she is all the time, these days. How it gets hard to breathe at points for the crush of panic and the phantom sensation of a skyscraper sitting on her chest.
Instead she continues with all the projected cool she can muster -- a significant amount, even now. Her eyes are level, her voice steady if fractionally thin. Her hands, calm on her lap. Untrembling. "And I know it's not going to wait for us to be ready. It's coming, and soon."
She was, of course, also intentionally unspecific about the fate of the blunette. Such fine control of the dissemination of information, so carefully curated to leave false shelter for uncertainty...
Her white-bodied adversary would be proud.
News of Kyouko Sakura's state receives a nod. The spearmaiden's savage fortitude is something Homura will have to rely on, for now. Let her predator instinct keep her in motion, she thinks, with a calculating flicker of violet eyes. Back to Eri.
She is still throughout the admission. It would be fair to say that a seasoned eye, one familiar with the subtle spectrum of her stillnesses, can see in the stiffly straight lines of her arms and the careful pace of her breathing that Homura is caught in the headlights of that unexpectedly deep confession.
The dark-haired, dark-eyed ice queen of the puella would be no less helpless in this moment if that swallowtail was still in braids. She's never been very good at this, not really. That's part of the problem. Homura Akemi is just better at hiding her helplessness these days.
She's not getting any less worried, though. Quite the contrary. She thinks, Eri...
But in the end this is what she says: "Then you need to find a way to be like that." Because that is what Homura believes is her hard truth, and it is to every appearance Kyouko Sakura's hard truth, and she trusts in that over other people. Eri sounds as frightened as Homura feels, and that only makes the pressure on her chest grow more intense. The checks keep showing up on that intake form, a constellation of symptoms Homura knows all too well...
Eri lacks roots, lacks an anchor. She is drifting toward the dark. Eri needs help.
Homura gives by taking. "I have a reason to keep going." A short admission. "I can't let myself fall. So I don't. You also have a reason to keep going. Let that be your everything. Leave no room for anything else, and there won't be." Because it's just that simple... Homura flinches away from the fresh memory of knees on cobblestones and wet, cold cheeks, of that dying sprig of new-sprung hope in her breast. Of pink receding into the distance.
Violet eyes bore into green. "You promised me, Eri-chan. Walpurgisnacht is nearly upon us."
She could try to give Eri a purpose beyond the coming storm, something more... longevitous. But Homura Akemi has her pink-tinged priorities, and they are everything.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
There are subtle tells in the way of Homura Akemi. From the games they played where she'd ask questions of her as a normal girl - avoiding the subject of her being a Puella Magi. Perhaps she thought she'd share now that several secrets were out - yet that isn't the case, and she doesn't press further.
Because she knows she's hit the limits of what Homura Akemi will give.
Still - she can read certain things in it. It is something to be feared. It is something that can kill her. Despite the fact that she's so hard to kill. She told Sayaka Miki that she doesn't need to survive 'anything'. Just the 'next thing'. Always the 'next thing'. Is Walpurgisnacht where that streak will end for her?
However - as she bleeds all over Homura... Homura seems unmoved by the crimson to her eyes. Puella Magi do not happen in a vacuum. Homura Akemi does not seem like less of them than the rest of them. Just moreso. Whatever trauma she's suffered to become... all she understands is it must have been substantial.
It would make things so much easier if she could be like her, or her senpai - Kyouko Sakura. There's this thin upturn of her lips. "It's that simple is it?" It's her eventual response. It's not challenging. "Become someone else. Oh how I've tried that. Way back when I was younger, stupider - when I was something Miki-san /admired/. I just tried to become someone else. Mami Tomoe. Kyouko Sakura."
Her eyes lift onto Homura Akemi. "You." Three brilliant girls who went through a crucible of trauma and became goddesses of war. "At the end of the day though. I'm me..." There's a slow blink of her eyes, which seems painful despite the curve of her lips, "... and I'm alone with the things I've done."
That alone might seem to seal her fate, in Homura Akemi's eyes - except... "You're right though. I have all the reason I need to bear those things. I just have to think of the people who mean the most to me..." Raising a hand, she rubs a hand, under her cheek, which slides up beneath her eye, like she's scratching an itch, or just wiping the exhaustion away.
It's what Mikoto told her to.
"... and keep my promises..."
It wasn't so long ago that she might have told Homura Akemi that she wanted to give meaning to the lives she took. A reason she survived and they didn't. Giving meaning to their deaths is another way of saving someone - right?
Except she's begun to realize. There's no meaning in death. There's no meaning to surviving longer than others if in the end you just become a witch and destroy all the meaning you attributed to such things.
She has to tend to the living. She has to tend to the things that matter.
"... so they can survive what's coming."
Even if she doesn't.
It should be insane to hold herself to such promises made without her having even a concept of what she was agreeing to. With the idea that forcing herself to go on would just mean she becomes a witch. Yet, she does it all the same.
"I'll just rebuild myself all over again." She eventually decides. The reasons stay the same - she just has to put down the roots to support herself - just long enough. "And try to blow off steam in the meanwhile."
The last time she tried, she lost Ueno. Now though? Now the Chevaliers have no Puella Magi. Now that territory is up for the taking. And now that she knows where her future ends - she can prune off unnecessary parts of her life.
Midterms had become just another one of those things.
Who cares if she fails out this semester? Who cares about her high school career? What does that have to do with anything? Why would such a thing be important?
However her thoughts then shift from one thing to the next, "Time Magic." She says quietly. Homura might take it to be speculative, however then she adds with a hint of admiration, "You're amazing Homura-chan. I never would have guessed that was how you do the things you do." It feels like nothing could possibly be a threat to her if Homura tried hard enough... and yet...
That would be a mistake, and she knows it. Homura would never be worried about this witch that is coming if that were true.
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Studied, the violet puella studies back. The effect her words have on Eri Shimanouchi is of paramount interest to her. There may thus pass a period of intense and mutual scrutiny before that narrow curl, proximate to a smile, takes the other girl's lips.
Did it work? Can she count on this demonstrably deadly magi and her killing vines to stand by her side, come the cackling bonfires of Walpurgis?
Will the funny, curious girl who knows the tender secret of Homura's love for Madoka survive her unkind preview of doom? The quiet breath of a secretive puella bates as she waits to see.
At first it doesn't sound promising. Just bitter, like every pill Homura has swallowed. Eri's thorns always seem most barbed on their inward turns, and this is no exception. What she has to say sounds... familiar.
The admiration. The attempts to emulate. The feeling of worthlessness in the unmatchable shadows of personal heroes past, however things might have turned between them in the present.
It is /distinctly/ uncomfortable for Homura Akemi to be placed upon that pedestal rather than shivering in its cool dark lee. She belongs in the shadow. Anything else might risk putting her unworthy self between Madoka and the light. Homura is a despicable thing hiding behind her intricate shield and the endless guns she pulls from it, and she knows it. Her hands curl upon her lap as Eri looks up at her. Her chin rises, ever so slightly, as she bridles and then suppresses it.
The other girl keeps speaking. Moves past the praise. Eri says Homura is right and it hardly loosens the knot in her chest, but her chin comes down. She nods, once: affirmation. It can be Homura's approval, if Eri needs it to be.
The promise will be kept.
A long breath. She flattens her fingers, one hand palm-down on each leg, and her arms bend lightly. Away from that stiffness.
"Yes. Give yourself no choice. Simple, if not easy." There's a hard sort of sympathy in that last, a wry acknowledgement. "With fewer puella in the city, there are more Witches to go around. Hunting is a good way to stay busy and prepare." Another piece of advice from the Homura playbook, which is perhaps not as one-size-fits-all as she'd like to think.
Now it just has to be enough.
The promise needs to be enough to keep Eri going. The Grief Seeds she's methodically hunted and stowed, a clicking heap of seeds of dead magical girl souls, each one a different life's prayer and a different death's curse, they need to be enough to fuel her through the storm to come. The armory she's assembled, the weapons of widespread destruction and their precision deployment, must add up to enough firepower. Eri and Kyouko need to be enough to tip the scales of Walpurgisnacht, finally, in her favor.
It all needs to be enough to keep Madoka Kaname from wishing her brilliant future away, just this once. Please, please let it be enough.
If it isn't...
Homura just told Eri there is no choice but to go on, but in the black bottom of her despair she knows herself for a liar once more. Can she, if it isn't enough, this time?
And now there is a fragile sense of shyness beneath the quiet, rising just barely to the surface. It's an old embarrassment. "Time magic," she repeats. She has never truly known self-confidence, and this power of hers was a strategic sticking point for a long time before it was an asset.
But it's gratifying, too, this confirmation of how well her secrets have kept. She tries not to think of round red eyes and an alien voice in her head uttering the same phrase. "When the storm comes..." A hesitance, shared with Eri, and she continues. "Stopping time is a large part of how I operate." Those are hard words to say, even knowing that the other girl knows. But... the part of Homura Akemi that wants to continue wins, this time.
"I can bring you in with me, again. You and Sakura-san both. It... helps. If you know how to make use of it." Mami Tomoe showed her, once upon a time.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
There's something stark. Absolute. The idea of no choice. Often she felt like she was trapped into a corner where there was none at all.
The Book of Darkness stripped away all such beliefs. There is always a choice. She could have lived in a world where Sayaka Miki and Mami Tomoe were alive. Where they were all playing games together with Homura Akemi and Kyouko Sakura. Where Madoka Kaname was the lynchpin holding them all together. She didn't have to be this girl. There is nothing necessary about it.
There is something wrong with her.
She could have had what she truly wanted - and she threw it all away for something more basic and wretched.
Yaori Kumori, Mami Tomoe, Sayaka Miki.
There was a choice.
And now she's created a monster. Oh Homura Akemi can say it was Sayaka Miki's fate, but she was there when she started down that path. All because she did something cruel and thoughtless. And again... and again.
"...It won't last. Kyubey will make too many replacements."
She knows this, because she was made when there was no territory to be had. There's nothing disdainful in her voice necessarily though. Simply matter of fact. "But... I already know how to distract myself with the hunt." The revelation of how she is a witch had been the death blow to the barrier between normal girl and Puella Magi. Now there was only the Puella Magi. Normal life cannot bring true distraction from the supernatural. The supernatural is what exists. What is important.
It is why this apartment is becoming more and more comfortable to her.
"The Chevaliers have offered their... assistance... hunting... but I don't trust them. And even if I did - I have no desire to let them work out their feelings for what happened to..." There's a curl of her lip like she's just encountered a bad smell, "... Miki-san through me."
There's a flicker of... something though in her eyes. Like as if she thinks she misheard her. Homura Akemi had always stood apart. Before when she was the veteran and Eri was the baby chick who Homura used a firm hand against.
Even once they were allies... even when they fought together. They fought apart. There was still distance.
Now though? Now it felt... like something has changed.
Something eases away. Something... and Eri Shimanouchi actually allows herself to smile. It's subdued, but it's there. There's nothing hidden in that smile. "Really? You'd really like to... team up like that. I'd... That'd be... /incredible/!" It is... just a delightful acknowledgement of how far they've come. Delighting in at least being a little more of a friend, a little more in her confidence, a little more trust. "Just thinking of the things we could pull off together..."
However then there's something else, like some thoughts /did/ occur to her, and they're not all that nice to whoever opposes them. "... it gives me this little shiver down my spine."
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Above the diagrams and maps, above the violet table at the center of jarringly colorful rings and rays -- above Eri and above Homura -- a grand machinery works.
From below it is impossible to say how the metal gears hang, so intricately and so consummately enmeshed with one other. Toothy wheels rotate, smooth as glass despite their obvious weight. They must be perfectly machined, perfectly timed. One can hardly make out the subtle clockwork whir.
But it is here. It sings at a singular, whispery tone above their words, its hiss the death rattle of seconds passing one by one. Homura never stops hearing it. Eri has sensitive ears; perhaps she catches it, too.
Only Homura knows what it sounds like when the wheels reverse their spin.
Let Eri believe this is the only shot. That is the kind of desperation that drives greatness. It also drives great sacrifice, but Homura does not peer too closely at that. Neither does she examine how many more shots she herself has left. Violet is a dark color. It is not so different from black, is it? Especially when the night is deep.
"You do," she agrees. Eri is a huntress to match her senpai in Homura Akemi's estimation, whatever this master of the whip and the hungry vine thinks of herself. "Whatever replacements come along can fight each other for border scraps. I have no intention of letting them feed on Grief Seeds that could fuel our fight."
Thus she slices a bloody line of demarcation within the ranks of the foregone souls. There is a 'them' consisting of interloper puella who are not committed to battling Walpurgisnacht with Homura Akemi.
And there is an 'us' for Homura Akemi, now, a halting recrossing of ground she'd thought long lost, tender and treacherous under feet she likes to think of as sure. Eri Shimanouchi is a part of it.
Woe be to the unsuspecting them.
"I don't blame you. The Chevaliers can't be trusted. Sooner or later their precious morals will get the better of them again. We are best served sticking with those who are equal to the stakes. Sakura-san, Minagi-san." She names the two deadliest girls she knows, aside those in this room. Homura doesn't voice her private reservations about the latter, the feral-eyed girl with her doomsday blade and her dangerous loyalties. Eri doesn't need those right now. "You know your Shepherds."
Time is the single greatest arbiter of change, no matter how the grey-hearted girl would will things otherwise. Repeated contact has not conferred any immunities, and time has wrought its magic on her too. Perhaps this is its retaliation for her hellbent abuse of causality.
She has changed. Her friend smiles, a smile with all the fullness of a green summer's day, just to be further included in Homura Akemi's strange static-colored world of freezeframe violence. It's such a strong shift from what came before that it drives a blink, no, /two/ from the violet magi.
Maybe... maybe it will be enough? It's hard to dare inhale, for a moment. But Homura does, because she swore to keep moving, too. Instead of a return smile she leans forward, but with a looseness to the motion of her slender neck. An elasticity, instead of brittleness.
Over a table full of plans to assassinate an apocalypse, in the heart of this shrine to the tempest terminus of timelines, she gives the other girl a long and intent look. A fellow predator's avid promise follows. "Eri-chan, if it all goes according to plan, our targets will never know what hit them."
And it always goes according to plan, doesn't it...?
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
Eri Shimanouchi never really understood why Homura Akemi used a shield. She still doesn't. However the sound it's familiar. The click of a plate sliding open. The whispery tone like that in frozen time. She cannot possibly mark the purpose of the machinery overhead, what this strange magic that animates this apartment contains. She just knows somehow it must be connected - even if it's ways unfathomable.
For now it is simply the sound of Homura Akemi's mysteries. The things clandestine about her. The things she feel closer to.
What Homura says is so cold. Eri's lips faintly part. Something in her throat feels dry. This is exactly the opposite of why she founded the Shepherds. It is a scavenger's desperation. The fight over grief seeds that drives so many girls to become Yaori Kumori. It causes the pecking order of Golden Queens which force the creation of bullied children that become feral murderers.
The reality of the Shepherds is that she wanted to give those girls a place to go. A place where they could find help before desperation drives them too far. Territory could be divied out more fairly. Aid could be given to each other while independence maintained.
Now she knew what was truly at stake. Not just their lives. Those neglected - those lost children would become the witches - the grief seeds that fuel their fight. It's... terrible. It's pragmatic. It's necessary. It's the kind of sacrifice that must be made for /their/ good.
It also goes against everything she thought she was founding the Shepherds for.
Those girls would be used. Not just gardening that supped on people's lives, but grew from the suffering echoes of lost girls. Each of them once like her and Homura Akemi. Each of them... each of them... like Sayaka Miki.
The thought is nausea inducing. And she finds herself closing her eyes to try to force that feeling down her throat. "You're right." In a sotto voce, "Has to be done."
As she made a silent vow to shatter every single scavenger - every single poacher's soul gems if there was not the territory to sustain them. A mercy killing. Nothing could be done for those who had already become witches. She could at least try to spare the ones who were most likely to meet that fate.
How many times had she nearly become one herself - simply for lack of territory?
She tries to focus instead on 'us'. The bottom line.
"Then... let's see what we can get started together..."