2018-11-19 - TIMELINE 1: Homura's Depression! The Arrival of a Puella Magi Konbi!

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Homura's Depression! The Arrival Of A Puella Magi Konbi!

Homura has quietly left Sports Day. Madoka, worried, recruits her Puella Magi Konbi teammates, Mami and Eri, to go look for her. They make it just in time--!


Homura Akemi, Madoka Kaname, Mami Tomoe, Eri Shimanouchi


Between Juuban Public School and Homura's Apartment

OOC - IC Date:

12/4/2018 - 09-21-2013

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Tokyo blurs around Homura, unseen by her. It may as well be wrapped in fog instead of autumn-crisp like a dried red maple leaf. The only part of the city that passes through her awareness at all is the half-meter of ground surrounding her inward-turned and scuffing sneakers:

Even pale slabs of sidewalk concrete, occasionally edged by a yellow-pebbled tactile strip.

Smooth blacktop sliced with crosswalk white.

A geometric cobble of stone gilded by the lowslanting rays of a setting sun and crisscrossed by the shadows of bridge scaffolding.

Homura does not see the world around her, and in turn the world ignores the girl. She is an anonymous student in a crowd of uninterested strangers, still the sickly black-eyed susan in her Ohtori gym clothes, and this grants the lonely bubble she needs to sink deep into the arms of her most familiar and steady companion: depression.

These are the best first days Homura Akemi has ever had at a new school.

Gradually the crowd thins around her, then disappears altogether as she trudges her heedless way onto the bridge.

Depression works its abusive alchemy on Homura's glimmer of pink-hued hope. Instead of turning lead to gold...

These are also the worst first days she has ever experienced, and that can only be true because they were the best. For the first time, someone noticed her. Someone... wonderful. And she acted like she wanted Homura around, she...

She thought Homura's name was cool. She thought Homura was capable of matching it.

"I'm... I'm not. I can't do anything." The words fall out of her mouth, soft like bruises.

She'd invited Homura along with her, even after bearing direct witness to all that frailty in the nurse's office. Introduced her around like she was worth introducing to people.

"All I do is get in the way..." Couldn't even hold up a set of directions for others to follow.

Still the girl with the strawberry-scented hair gave her another chance, because she is the kindest and most good-hearted person Homura has ever known, sweeter than any shoujo manga heroine... And in return for that kindness, Homura lost them the tug-of-war. Useless.

Worse than useless.

"Will I always be like this?" She shivers, and the tremor is in her voice too, and in the quiver of welling eyes. "I-I'm... sorry." Homura is apologizing to Madoka; she is apologizing to the world. For existing.

If her own parents did not want her, why should anyone else? Beautiful rose-gold hope transmutes to lead and her weak heart sinks. All of her flaws are congenital, Homura is sure. There is no fixing what's wrong with her, because she is what's wrong.

The bridge is behind her now and she does not even know it; the park path beneath her toes goes all checkerboard and diamonds, a fanciful black and white arrangement that goes unappreciated. Her head is down; her glasses have slid down to her nose, but she doesn't bother pushing them back up again. Even her thick braids droop, flopping against her sides.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

It is time for the three-legged race, and Madoka had the perfect partner in mind. This way nobody would have to struggle, or be put at risk by an overenthusiastic partner; they could just walk carefully, heads held high, and smile their way across the finish line.

"Homura?? Homura-chan??"

There's just one small problem...

Madoka is showing off her sprinting skills yet again, a pink blur between clusters of students, especially Ohtori 8th-graders with even a chance to know the name in question. She asks her question, bows her gratitude, and moves on.

No one has seen her.

No one has seen her in quite some time.

And no one really seems to care. But Madoka winds up in front of Mami and Eri, tears threatening at the corners of her brilliantly (but unusually aptly) pink eyes from sheer, frantic worry. Her hands fist and unfist in her gym shirt, leaving marks where she's inadvertantly squeezed out moisture.

"Please!" she begs them. "I know it isn't normally what we look for... but please, help me find Homura-chan! She could have collapsed somewhere... this isn't her neighborhood, she could be alone and scared... we need to find her!"

Madoka bows more deeply than ever, and stays that way, trembling not from the effort of controlling her spine. It's the intensity of her feelings that has the tips of her ribbons making tiny figure eights beside her cheeks.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Mami Tomoe, of course, is as graceful as ever where she stands in front of the gym. She is wearing the gym uniform... but somehow despite the running around, hers is as immaculate as ever. ...She cuts off mid-word, though, as she sees and hears Madoka approaching. Abrubtly she's there, and abrubtly she's clearly upset.

So Mami turns towards her, listens. Honeyed eyes take in the request with a clear calm, and Mami does take the instants while Madoka is bowing to think. Someone missing; someone missing on campus could be any number of things, could be entirely normal... And if she's missing, then--

"We'll find her," the older girl answers. Her voice is clear, firm, and she reaches out to suggest Madoka rise. "Shimanouchi-san. The more pairs of eyes we have, the more quickly we can find her."

To Madoka, "Do you know places she might be likely to go? You know her better than I do."

Regardless, Mami starts off immediately. ...She can't be certain, of course, that anything involved is unusual. ...Regardless... She doesn't suggest splitting up. She gets to walking.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Umbra Nigra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rDLUUZgy9Dk

I can't do anything.

All I do is get in the way...

Will I always be like this?

I-I'm... sorry.

As though someone is, individually, sliding one lens filter after the next over the distant, overcast sun -- the crowning light of a vast microscope -- the world is, one of Homura's modest steps at a time, becoming greener. Black remains itself, but everything else that lies in between the vast spectrum towards white is suspect.

It's okay, though...

Homura always looks sick but now her sickliness is externalized. She's not quite an alien, but there is something, if not extraterrestrial, at least extraordinary, about the way that, even without her glasses, she can see about her own dragging feet.

There is a jerkiness to them, like dropped keyframes in an animated sequence. Like the world is having trouble rendering her paces, then catches up all at once, they're too slow-seeming one second and too fast the next. Unsettlingly, this doesn't agree with the feeling of the sidewalk beneath her feet, at all; the answering pressure of the world upon her shoes is as steady and regular as her plodding was intended to be.

There's one way I can make it up to them.

Then another blur of movement, harder for Homura to make out, as an eye opens behind her on one of the concrete blocks, and blinks.

The next block's markings shift almost before her foot departs it, into a scuttling shadow, which catches up with Homura's and perches upon the top of its umbra head.

Yes... all their trouble can go away...

The gradually growing green is not the green of living things. Olive at the most generous, but there's no vivacity here, only a dull constancy akin to a uniform. A helmet. The side of a tank. Homura's scarily white skin may carry the hue most clearly but there are lesser incarnations of it tinting her gym shorts, her stockings, her hair. Her ribbons are all but gray, purple and green cancelling each other out and leaving a no-mans-land of color behind.

All I have to do is disappear...

Her eyes, too.

Then I'll never be a burden to anyone ever again.

Suitable to her mood, all Tokyo has been lost to gray, now. Slow-moving, billowing mist swirls with unseen movement, or is driven by Homura's own. Hopefully the latter. But maybe the former -- there's a soft chittering, just at the edge of hearing, and more flickering shadows, just out of sight...

The only feature in this endless gloom is the green sun, barely visible at all through this miasma. Despite its height, it performs its role as a beacon well, giving a clear sense of direction.

There's still one way to go: forward.

<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Eri and Mami had been chatting, smiling. She'd reply but mostly had been content to listen to the other girl talk, like she could simply osmose some of that elegance through her ears.

Eri is taken aback to see her in that state, from the expression - with tears a threat like looming storm clouds, to her posture, "Kaname-chan?"

Yet its laid bare before long. Madoka is right that it isn't normally what they look for but...

All it took was one look at Madoka's face though, "I'll help... we'll..." She nods at Mami's response, grateful at her answering for her, then listens as she lays out the plan to split up. "Yes of course. I'll do my part to look for her. If I find out anything I'll call you both right away."

Heading off in a separate direction around Minato, Eri Shimanouchi passed by a playground with a long cylinder cutting across the park. Children playing atop it with parents on a bench.

"Ah..." She kept walking on rather than asking if they'd seen her, second guessing that they'd know anything. In fact every person she passed she went through this dilemma. Considering asking - but not actually following through. What would she even say? She rationalized it away, perhaps she's just sitting on a bench somewhere. Perhaps she'd gone to the station by herself. Perhaps, it wasn't as bad as Madoka feared...

Making a turn towards the closest station in the Minato district, she kept going, trying to spy a lone set of dark twin-tailed braids in every corner, every shadow. She had no idea where to even start.

Eri was a people watcher by nature, a habit she'd picked up from her loneliness. She liked to imagine she could understand people by watching them for long enough from afar... but she'd hardly gotten a glimpse of Homura Akemi. Didn't know a thing about her?

Stopping for a moment to take stock of the small tidbits she knew of Homura Akemi, looping her fingers together as she did.

She just that she was nervous during her class introduction. Shy. That she seemed to lock up when her classmates surrounded her with questions.

So she'd probably not be any place with a lot of people...

Other than that all she knew was that she was sickly enough that Madoka was scared she'd collapsed...

...and she'd heard rumors already of how she spent a lot of time in the hospital.

BGM Change: ?https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uTWLm55BEnc?

That thought causes her heart to skip a beat and she doesn't know why.

Ah... Otousan. When you were discharged... I saw you signing something.

Yes Eri. It was a DNAR which means...

She can't know how Homura Akemi feels. She doesn't understand a thing about her.

... I understand what it means. I-I just wanted to know - why?

I was more fortunate than any person ought to be this time. I just want my wishes to be known if something like this ever happens again.

And yet her heart is beating so fast right now, she can't calm it down by thoughts that Homura Akemi is simply sitting on a bench by herself somewhere.

Your wishes...?

What happened to me... I wouldn't have wanted to be a burden on the rest of you while I linger in a hospital bed. I'd have wanted it to end that before it even started.

Pulling out her phone, she swiftly checks a web browser, to the site of Ohtori's newspaper club, scanning uploaded pictures of the events.


It was the hardest on you wasn't it?

Until she spies a shot of her straining as the anchor of the green team. Enlarging it as much as she can.


You don't have to say anything. I know how difficult it must have been - letting go. Well all you need to know now is...

And suddenly darting out in front of the next person she saw, face held up and thrust the rectangle towards their face, "Have you seen this girl!? The one with the long braids and glasses-! No?"

...the decision is out of your hands.

And then to the next one... and the next one. She normally wouldn't have the courage to do this. Not for a girl she didn't even know. To put herself out there and demand this of people. Right now though she's frantic, driven by the thought of a miracle unwanted, a miracle that is life seen as a burden.

"Have you seen this girl!? Anyone? Please!"

When there are no people she's jogging, through dark corners and strange places besides, looking every which way to find her. Where there are people though... she's asking the question, with her cell phone held out like a missing person poster.

"Have you seen this girl?! Somebody?

It is all she can do to alleviate this feeling of helplessness.

"...please help..."

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> La Mer (live) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF-5_Mg8bkQ

The world around her, the one she's never felt a part of, greenshifts and at first Homura notices as little as she noticed all the other changing scenery. Less, even. This is no crosswalk or fork in the path, requiring some modicum of attention from her to navigate. The feeling of being out of place, of not belonging here... that is familiar enough to her that it does not pierce her awareness.

And those thoughts, insidious with their enticement of a solution, they feel close enough to Homura's own that she accepts them without question. She internalizes them... she integrates them.

They just make so much sense.

They come out of her mouth and they feel like her own. "It's okay. I can make it up to them."

A wrongness paws at the depression-dulled glass of Homura's mind, begging to be acknowledged. Something... about her feet. The way they move... the way they drag and then race suddenly and then stop moving altogether for a few seconds just like the way her weak rabbity heart will lose its rhythm and steal all the strength from her limbs.

This steals a different sort of strength.

It took strength to keep going, through the repeated hospital stays and a disjointed lonely school career; it took determination and a will to live that exceeded a flawed body's ability to fully support it. Perhaps this sickly flower wilts, but she wilts because her roots shiver in deep snow; that she has survived thus far at all is Homura's miracle, the one she cannot see in herself.

Now she murmurs, somewhere between hypnosis and despair, "Their trouble... I can make it go away."

A poisonous green seeps into her every hue, until none are her own any more -- but she does not notice that, either. Homura Akemi is porous with depression, and so the thoughts seep in too, filling all the empty spaces in her. There are so very many of those.

"I have to disappear..."

Her eyes were violet, before. Big and dark and shining, even hidden behind nerdy glasses, undiscovered gems... until recently, perhaps. Now, though, they dull and grey and half-lid. She sinks beneath the surface of suggestive despair. She whispers an echo of the words in her head: the solution. The only way.

"Then I'll never be a burden to anyone ever again."

She trudges toward that solar green, never even noticing that her chin has lifted from her own skitter-trudging toes to better harken this sole beacon. It is the only way for her now. Forward... Away. Homura treads past and through the shifting shadows and accepts the wrongness with all the rest. This is where she belongs... right?

A shiver. She keeps walking.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Madoka gives Mami and Eri a smile blinding in its relief. "Okay! Thank you!!" she agrees, and gets to trotting at Mami's heels. Trotting backwards, so she can see their partner. "Thank you so much... Eri-chan... would you maybe please check nearby? Every corner, just in case she didn't get far. Mami and I will start down the path she'd take if she was just heading back across town towards home."

She doesn't actually know where Homura lives, but assumes, blithely, that it's near Ohtori. This isn't a completely innocent idea -- how could someone recently released from hospital possibly be up to a significant commute?

Soon enough she's caught up to Mami and now they're shoulder to shoulder, side by side.

A few blocks into the route and Madoka blinks down at her ring.

It's shimmering. A ghostly pink sparkle follows her hand's every movement.

She looks up from it, stares at Mami in a single, long moment of perfect, wordless -- horrified -- understanding --

-- and starts to run.

They pound the street in the easy unison of longtime jogging partners. They pound the street with the deliberate haste of hunting wolves.

Their twintails bounce behind them, rose and gold.

Gone is the last trace of any timidity, any uncertainty, from the girl who struggled to trace the path of their prey at Dream Land in Tomoeda. Gone is even the single tiniest concern for what she must look like, her hand thrust out in front of her, holding a beautiful egg-shaped jewel.

Madoka squints through it like it's a monocular viewing crystal from days of old, and guides them left -- right -- left -- and onto a bridge.

<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

They had been chatting... but the conversation can wait. Madoka's suggestion seems good to Mami, who gives Eri a Look as they split up. "I'll have my phone," she says, and the implication she thinks is clear. Of course she's prepared to stay in contact here. ...But it's looking for one girl. And, truthfully...

Mami is less confident in her ability to find her alone and recognize her as such than someone at least in her year.

Despite the concern, as they starts off Mami smiles back at Madoka. "It's fine," she says. "We'll find her. ...I'm glad that even as a new student she has someone willing to look out for her, hm?"

Mami knows Ohtori's grounds very, very well, more even than almost any student with the way it's a part of her hunting rotation. Even if no one can really 'claim' Ohtori, she spends time here, safeguards her classmates as best she's able... and here as they get a few blocks away, she keeps her eyes open.

Mami spots Madoka looking down--and the sparkle at her hand. Mami finds that it is mirrored in yellow on her own, and her expression becomes very, very serious. That moment comes--

Mami runs, too. Steps pound, faster and more even than one might expect to look at her. Nevertheless, pink and gold move quickly, and Mami can see the difference. She doesn't need to pull her Gem; Madoka has the trail, and Mami follows her partner without a moment of hesitation. Left--right--left--

On the bridge, Mami slows just briefly, just long enough to start looking around, to get a sense of who's been here--if anyone. There's a 'feel' to places touched by Witches.


She doesn't like what she finds, but she doesn't stay behind, either--it must be soon. So Mami catches up without a problem. ...They have to hurry.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Agmen Clientum https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28DFSRT7gxs

When did everything change?

Was it all at once?

Was it too slowly to notice?

Homura's feet hold no answers.

But the beacon does.

Because it isn't the sun, after all.

It's almost the sun.

It was a reasonable mistake to make.

I spy something round.

This is round.

I spy something filled in solid.

This is all one color.

I spy something fiery.

This is on fire.

I spy something with shadow underneath it, and above it too, as though it's part of something... bigger.

I spy something getting narrower and narrower.

I spy something that blinked, faster than the eye can see.

I spy something


red, and a little higher up off the ground than it was a moment ago


in fact the whole world is red, red and black and frozen, a static world of stoplight and shadows, shadows cast by






like more than three, like a moebius strip on steroids


which is an apt analogy because they're all made of origami paper, black with varying patterns of unspeakable white runes


and their folds moving past each other as they advance, they make the exact sound that a razor makes, as it slides down the edge of a porcelain bathtub


crossed with the meaningless chittering babble of something like, but disquietingly not at all like, squirrels


they close in from all sides


but that's okay, because there is nowhere to run


and no reason to hide


because everything is red, and red means


<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

Even little Homura got her traffic safety lessons like other kids, and so ingrained they are that she got here by following them blindly, without thought. Learned reflexes are powerful things, but even more: colors have their own power. Nurturing, verdant green means go for a reason, and Homura Akemi shuffles forward in an emerald spell cast by something that is not a sun... until the spell breaks, and red invades.

The hue shift filters into her awareness dimly, light through murky water, even as her eyes go from green-washed grey to the dark red-purpling of bruises and stormy sunsets. Homura stumbles, uncertain, but keeps moving forward. She blinks like there's something in her vision. "Nnnh..."

That sound wakes her. Metal on porcelain, a song of seeping red. Violent, terrifying, it slashes through her despair-daze and shocks her awake like the icy winds of terminal velocity against cheeks might.

"Ahhh!" She sees red. She sees them, and warped black shadows fall across her. "What- what's happening...?"

She doesn't need to understand the mobius nightmares surrounding her to know mortal menace, right down to her terrified marrow. The mesmeric seduction of nihilism shreds before such visceral horror, and the trapped girl learns something very important about herself, far too late:

Homura wants to live.

"No... no, please! Please--"

Homura wants to live, or at least does not want to die like this, not beneath these awful chittering things and their vorpal contortions. Eyes strained and white (and red), she falls onto her backside and lifts her bare arm in front of her face, a useless warding gesture with a skinny and shaking limb.

They'll tear right through it... they'll tear right through her.

She screams with every last bit of air in her weak lungs, the torn and terrified sound of a girl in mortal peril:


<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Credens Justitiam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqQ3hP_q7Ns

Mami elicits the last of Madoka's glow -- she flushes very slightly beneath the weight of her senpai's praise, but sparkles, too, in a way she never would have a few weeks ago.

But it is the last, at least for a while.

Together they are deadly serious, and mutually silent, as they close the final yards, as the lights on their fingers glow more and more brightly.

Different Puella Magi open portals into Labyrinths differently.

Some cut. Some weave. Some simply fire holes into reality, puncturing it utterly, tearing it aside to reveal the terror beneath.

Madoka -- beribboned, now, and full of frills -- draws a mote of pink energy not out of a quiver but out of thin air, between thumb and forefinger.

With a delicate fingernail flick, it begins to spin, lengthening further than that span of webbed skin can encompass, until she's twirling a baton.

No, an arrow.

She plants it, tip down, in the ground. Where the sidewalk ends, and the nightmare begins...

It has no visible fletching, until it does, unfurling a bloom of pure energy. More follow from there, the sort of slender fairy tale vines, heavy with blossom, that are engraved in the margins of each page of a very old, very Victorian, very precious storybook.

Exactly that sort, in fact.

Inside the border, another world awaits. Just like at bedtime.

Madoka and Mami step through together.

And then they start running again.

It doesn't take them long to find their prey.

<< Thank goodness! There she is! >>

Homura hears them before she sees them, on a snatch of vaguely familiar tune.

It sounds like hope, in the same way that the sunrise feels like it.



Three more arrows follow the abandoned first, fired from midair. The three closest orgami figurines explode into papercuts, then nothing.



Madoka's shoes clap loudly on the ground in front of Homura as she lands. Her glow is back -- this time relief, an ocean of it, a tide of unvarnished gladness to see Homura Akemi alive.

"It's okay!" she promises. "Don't worry. We'll protect you! Everything is going to be all right."



She turns back to face the larger creature and nocks another arrow to her bow. The whole world isn't red anymore; it's pink -- and it's gold -- and it's the white of her eyes, as the Puella Magi sights down the shaft and awaits her senpai's command. Madoka isn't just in front of Homura. She's also very slightly to one side, affording Homura a profile view of the determination in her chin, the confidence in her shoulders, and the lingering, joyful smile on her lips.



The friendliness in her eyes, like a galaxy of promise.

It is unmistakably class nurse Madoka Kaname.


<Pose Tracker> Mami Tomoe [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Credens Justitiam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WqQ3hP_q7Ns - Continued

There is a time to set down; to focus, to prepare. Together, Mami and Madoka close the final yards, and as Madoka plants the seed of their route, Mami herself regards the Labyrinth before them carefully. She is no longer simply a student; she wears the raiments of an established magical girl, her fingerless gloves covering hands curled in preparation for movement; her blouse is crisp, her boots solid, her hair golden.

Together, they step through...

<< I see her! I'm right behind you! >>


The five figurines moving to fill the gap left by the others explode into brilliant golden light, the rush of gunfire bombastic in its arrival.


Clap clap--another pair of shoes hits the ground, and Mami Tomoe stands back to her full height beside Madoka, ahead and to the other side of Homura once again. Her head turns lightly to the side, to regard Madoka first, then Homura sidelong. "You're in good hands," the older girl declares, a refined distance to her voice--but a warmth, too. But her eyes face forward before the moment is out.


"The small ones won't stop coming. Keep them at bay and I'll clear you a shot!"


They move in seemingly perfect sync; the golden glow of the second arrival is further lit by shafts of brilliant pink, the joyful first firing one, two, three again, forcing back the paperthin figurines as quickly as they rise to crowd forward. There is a sound closer, too--bursts of light and air, as beautifully silvered rifles suddenly sing into being, multiplying by the moment as the older girl pulls more free of a sleeve, of the air before her, of a curtsy to the light ahead for the last--


Now the golden bursts number too many to count, radiant light crashing forward, no longer just at the figurines but towards the largest creature present; the set before is replaced by an entire line at once, grander then the last. "It's weak while it's recovering! Get ready--"



Not one has made it past their line, but now instead of focusing on the small, Madoka Kaname--who else could it be--lines up one more arrow, holds this one in her sights as its pink radiance gleams brighter and brighter and brighter, as the great form ahead ripples with the bombardment of golden bullets. The light shines, and shines--



"Now!" The senior calls, and the golden shots cease for less than a heartbeat. Less than a heartbeat, because one great pink blast cascades forward in the same instant, the light building--


<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Here Comes The Sun https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xUNqsfFUwhY

It takes something special to reach Homura through screaming terror and through the circle of ravening knife-folded familiars. Something... something like that beautiful melody -- the one she knows, somehow... Bright notes sparkle in the black and they constellate hope where Homura felt only its freezing absence.

No more screams -- she gasps instead, fragile chest heaving with one fist clenched over it in sympathetic mirror of her heart. Homura knows that tune. She knows it!

Red frightens her so much less when beauteous pink joins it, like gentle fluffs of hair beneath cheerful ribbons. When arrows lance down like breaking light the huddled girl realizes it could never have been the sun she was trudging toward earlier because the sun has only just arrived, as heroic and beautiful as a fairytale.

Black scraps of violent paper burst in confetti defeat to arrows and gunfire all around Homura and she hardly sees, with her dinner plate-round eyes on the thoroughly magical girl who just touched down in front of her. "Y-you..." she manages, and it was supposed to be the beginning of a sentence but becomes its awed entirety: a stammered prayer of recognition.

The kind girl with the heartstopping smile who hummed a peppy song in the nurse's office, who said her name was cool and invited her along and included her... is the resplendent hero now standing between Homura and the death she just realized she does not want.

Madoka Kaname says it will be all right, and for the first time she can remember, Homura Akemi believes it.

Into the blooming center of that budding belief drops the resplendent presence of puella Mami Tomoe, with all the stunning confidence of a veteran writ elegant -- like she descends into a grand ball held in her honor rather than a nightmarish battleground. Her first impression on Homura Akemi shimmers like fresh-poured gold, molten and precious.

She stops shivering in her miserable heap on the ground. Her fingers, so hard clenched, fall open and loose. And one high-raised eyebrow lowers, leaving its sister up and quizzical over her glasses: even in all this wonder, still she wonders.

With all those lovely mahou fireworks reflecting in her big eyes she watches Madoka and Mami and Madoka again, and the long dull nightmare of Homura's existence gives way to something new. Something precious.

<Pose Tracker> Madoka Kaname [Ohtori Academy (8)] has posed.

As soon as the first projectiles impact, the world transforms again, from fierce red to a more cautionary yellow!

And the creature's body becomes more visible as golden bullets blast away the last of the obscuring mist. The familiars are it in miniature in the same way a snow globe miniaturizes a city; a few of the major features, after a lot of shaking around, but no real ability to capture what it feels like to be in Tokyo, in Sapporo, in Kyoto.

Besides the lifesize stoplight (which is to say, ridiculously large, nobody really appreciates the size of a traffic light hanging high above until they're up close to it), attached to the bulk by fan-folded paper that resembles nothing so strongly as a pseudopod, the rest is all abstract, rustling paper things. A disorderly pile of creations, attached to one another like homemade paper dolls or snowflakes. But in that very attachment, none of them can ever be complete; none are whole, for they all share a part of themselves with the next creation over in the bulk.

Come to think of it, every last familiar has a single torn edge, somewhere on its body.

The witch only has three lights but they stop obeying any sort of logic when it comes to color; only one is ever on at a time but it flickers between orange and blue and brown and purple and much else besides. The light changes every time one of the paper things that makes up its body is punctured by Mami, forcibly flattened, which means that in short order it's a disco strobe.

It is for that reason that true gold, and rose pink, become more and more prominent, their constancy difficult to compete with. The Witch seizes the momentum at points -- there are daring escapes, bold refusals to move, lest Homura be harmed -- but never enough to escape, or survive.

In the end there's nothing left of the witch but a small, sharp black orb sitting on the sidewalk nearby, and the forcible reassertion of ordinary Tokyo, one mildly vertigo-inducing ripple at a time until it's all that's left.

It wasn't just a dream, though. Madoka and Mami, their ruffles, their ribbons, remain.

Madoka never really stopped smiling, but now that the immediate danger is past, relaxes visibly, unwrinkling lines of tension along her bodice and sending another ripple, this one tiny and fluffy instead of vast and dizzying, through her skirts.

"I'm so glad," she sighs, a certain post-battle sleepiness suffusing her in a pleasant glow. "Thank goodness we found you in time." They must have noticed Homura went missing from the festival; must have been looking for her, just for her.

Looking between Homura and the golden goddess beside them, she realizes they may not know each other. "Homura-chan, meet Mami Tomoe-senpai, the very greatest Puella Magi there is!" Her own chest puffs up with pride in her friend.

...and then deflates a little, as she realizes what she's done. Her apologetic giggle is more sheepish than awkward, though, and something else, warm and bright, dawns within her eyes, something precious and beautiful all on its own:

A shared secret.

"Uehihi... you'll keep our secret, ne, Homura-chan?"

She flips what is fast-becoming her signature salute, with her eye half-hidden behind her splayed fingers... and half visible, as it winks.

"You see, um, being a magical girl isn't strictly an approved after-school activity..."