2019-01-20 - TIMELINE 2: Crane Game

From Battle Fantasia MUSH
Jump to: navigation, search
Title: TIMELINE 2: Crane Game

Mikoto gives Homura advice on how to fight. Homura is an attentive student. Neither realise quite how bad it is.


Mikoto Minagi, Homura Akemi


Shitamachi Low City - Keiyou Industrial District

OOC - IC Date:

2019-01-20 - 2014-04-18

.**************************** Shitamachi Low City *****************************.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Keiyou Industrial District +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
 Stretching across eight districts, Keiyou Industrial Zone is like a small
 city unto itself, consisting primarily of factories, power plants,
 warehouses, refineries, and other heavy industry. Boxy, soot-stained
 buildings, multi-story chemical tanks, and baroque masses of pipes and
 girders dominate the architecture, and a distant clanking or hum can be
 heard at all hours of the day throughout most of the district. Cranes,
 forklifts, and other heavy equipment are common in this area, as are metal
 gratings exhaling steam, dizzying catwalks and ladders, and tall stacks of
 shipping crates.

 The buildings closest to the bay are often the most presentable, so as to
 avoid besmirching its beauty overmuch. The district cannot help but encroach
 upon the bay, however, for it is its lifeline, providing thermal power,
 naval shipping, and copious quantities of water for industrial purposes.
 Keiyo long ago outgrew the land allotted for its uses, and so artificial
 islands have been built up to permit its continued expansion.

 Since its relatively low potential for civilian casualties (particularly at
 night) appeals to magical girls, and its profusion of powerful industrial
 machinery appeals to their foes, combat is not infrequent in this area.
*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Remember, remember? There's magic in high places.

Mikoto doesn't remember. Oh, perhaps there is a strange wend which presses against her too - some shadow of desperation which inspired her to greater violence as she entered Tokyo - but it's all circumstantial, in the end. She did not recognise Homura, when the girl rushed up to her so long ago. She was shy, at first, caught without Mai to hide behind for once.

But Homura remembered, and Mikoto soon brightened to realise she had a new friend. Through her she came to know more new friends, like Madoka, and Eri. She never quite got so far as to questioning Homura on whether they were, in fact, old friends. Mikoto is not known for asking probing personal questions, especially not where the target is reluctant to divulge them.

She is known - then and now - to help her friends however she can. That's why, when Homura revealed she was completely new to fighting, Mikoto didn't hesitate to offer her own assistance. As a trained warrior, she was sure she could help Homura.

Unfortunately, Mikoto doesn't remember much of her own training.

That's about when she decided to join Kendo Club, to figure out how to teach people who didn't know how to do it. It's been... an interesting experience. The first time someone came at her with an actual blade to try and test her supposed experience, she ended up pinning them to the ground with dire intentions before she even realised what she was doing.

It's a good thing Kasagami is the School President, and her friend.

It's also good that she realised certain things were dangerous for her to do early on. Mikoto doesn't want to scare Homura; she's a sweet and innocent girl, for all her determination. And so she figured out early that she should give Homura advice and not engage her personally without preparing for it; it was important to draw a distinction between a real fight and sparring.

Given how the golfers of Ohtori have been hounding her, is it any wonder that Mikoto suggested Homura practice with a golf club? One day one of them handed her a club to see how she'd handle it, and Mikoto just walked off with the thing; she's too new to society to know that re-gifting isn't classy. It's lighter than a bokken, and blunt, so it suits a complete neophyte like Homura well.

Plus, a golf club isn't a real weapon.

Of course... there's something about her advice, as she settles in through the months to focus on helping Homura fight...


There's magic in high places; even if Mikoto doesn't remember, she has certainly imparted the advice again by now. The difference is, this time Homura is empowered to follow her as she leaps from girder to girder, up onto the scaffolding of a new building on one of those many artificial islands lining Keiyou's bay. Construction has stopped, by now, the sun hanging so low in the sky that the clouds are painted in stark oranges and pinks.

The colours match Mikoto's uniform: now the new year isn't so new any more, she's gotten used to her new life as a high school student, so soon after she transferred in. Compared to the black and white and red of her compatriot's middle school colours, it only serves to greater contrast the gulf of experience between them.

But Mikoto is new to the world, and does not really understand the undertakings of seniors and juniors.

It makes her one of the more approachable veterans, all told.

Mikoto settles down on the bare top floor of the building, concrete which has set but which remains unadorned for the moment. A crane hangs overhead, its broad hook dangling down near the centre of the floor; she doesn't engage with it yet. Instead she pulls out a pair of bento, handing one over to the other girl.

"Mai made teriyaki last night!" Mikoto chirps, tearing into the lunchbox with her characteristic vigour. Mai, of course, is not here to help advise Homura, but her food is here.

And for long moments she is silent but for the sounds of food rapidly disappearing, until, mysteriously, all that food is gone. "Mai's food will definitely be a success," Mikoto insists, not bothering with context. It's probably obvious anyway: she's been animatedly talking about their plans to make a good cat cafe for some time now.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Everything is different for Homura Akemi this time around, and the difference bubbles out of her -- not that anyone knew her before, not anymore. She's a magical girl now, just like all of her heroes, even if her powers are awkward and strange compared to most. Fresh on the heels of a heartfelt wish, the purple puella brims with a cheerful certainty. It came true, right? She woke up in her hospital bed with a lovely egg-shaped gem in her hand, like a palmful of miracle. So it will come true. Homura's going to save Madoka. What did she trade her soul for, if not that?

First, though, she has work to do. Between now and Walpurgisnacht, Homura must master her powers and learn how to fight.

It was so good to see Mikoto again. So good to see them all again... As if nothing bad had ever happened to them. And in a way, it hasn't. Not yet. It's a relief to know that when she stops Walpurgisnacht and saves Madoka, it'll help to save the rest of the mahou, too: the Covenant of Style, as she still thinks of them, though she doesn't say the name aloud. It feels wrong to, somehow.

So relief and enthusiasm both drive her over-eager and often confusing greetings to her new-old friends, like her dear friend-of-cats-friend Mikoto, who she felt really bad about overwhelming. Her explanations kind of help, but kind of don't; she's met them all before, because she's a time traveler who can stop time? That's... the kind of sense that doesn't make any, so she learns to stop mentioning it, especially since Homura doesn't exactly want to get into the details of it all.

Her sister in dark braids doesn't press her on that. Once upon a timeline ago, Mikoto took gentle care of a nervous Homura like she was one more shaky kitten in a shed. Homura remembers, even if Mikoto does not, and it helps. It's like... even if they're different, people are the same. And she finds that reassuring, much like Mikoto's friendship.

And Mikoto has offered to teach her how to fight better! Homura really, really needs that help. She remembers, too, what a devastating mahou warrior Mikoto is -- was -- well, whichever, Homura's eager to learn.

The golf clubs work out astonishingly well! They're made for swingin', after all, and that lightness is a blessing for Homura's skinny arms. She's so delighted to receive a special weapon (...ish) from Mikoto that the regifting doesn't even register.


Another thing Homura remembers that her friend doesn't: a jaunt into the treetops, once upon a timeline ago. There is magic in high places, and Mikoto showed it to her. It feels right to continue in this way, and now, now she can keep up!

Kiiiind of.

Confidence does not beget skill. She's still uncoordinated and gawkish, still prone to misunderstanding her own momentum. Contracts DO beget puella speed and strength, though, so she has the raw tools. Following along behind the acrobatic catliness that is Mikoto Minagi could be no better teacher, and so with some overbalancing and knee-scuffing and a few perilous dangles from roof edges she didn't quiiiite reach, she bumbles along behind her friend.

With a few months of puelladom under her belt Homura is doing better in the stamina department, but she still huffs and puffs as she settles down across from Mikoto on the bare concrete. A little wince shows on Homura's face -- that's cold on her legs, even through her stockings! But she doesn't complain out loud.

"A bento... from Tokiha-san? Really?" The widening of purple eyes further conveys that Homura understands what a culinary honor she receives. It also makes her even hungrier. "Her cooking is so delicious, Minagi-san. Um, please tell her thank you for me." She sets to as well, dainty in her manners and eating like a bird.

"It-it has to be! Anyone who tries this," and she waves a piece of teriyaki in the air between chopsticks -- abandoning those manners for a moment in favor of enthusiasm -- "would come back every week for more. And bring all of their friends. And you're so good with cats, Minagi-san... Are you close to opening?"

She finishes quickly because she eats little, and keeps her seat while her friend finishes. Homura summons her shield to her arm with a flash of violet light and a faint chiming, as if of distant bells, then pulls a golf club out.

It's the same one Mikoto gave her, now reinforced with lots of tape and bent back into shape a few times. She pulls out a few more, after, which are newer -- she's taken to carrying a bunch. But that first one is her favorite, for all the abuse it's taken. Soon about ten line the roof nearby, glinting beneath the crane. Homura's just getting her arsenal in order.

She gives that dangling hook a curious glance. "What's the plan today, senpai? I've been practicing my swing, um... I think I've gotten better at follow-through. And I haven't lost my grip in a whole week..." That last comes out with mixed embarrassment and pride. In the past, many a window has fallen prey to Homura swinging and slinging due to her weak grip on the club handle.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Kind of is enough - it's a mistake to think Mikoto's choice of location isn't its own form of training. A different kind of training, perhaps, to the drills only her body remembers: this is the ineffable instruction of cats. Mikoto shows the safest path up the building-in-progress through her own route, so that Homura can follow, and learn how to make landings without flailing or faltering.

She keeps an ear out to make sure Homura doesn't get into too much trouble, but if she ends up dangling off the edge a couple of times, Mikoto isn't going to turn back and hurry to help her. She just pauses for a moment, to let her clamber back up and get her footing again, calls back encouragingly: "Come on!"

She doesn't help her because Homura can do it; she has the capacity, just like any Puella Magi does. Much like cats move from bringing dead prey to living prey in an attempt to teach their kittens gradually, Mikoto's gathering-places have grown more and more precarious. It started with showing Homura the route up to the roof of a building, hopping up from the fire-exit, and it's only gotten worse over time.

If Homura really got into trouble, Mikoto would help her, but those little struggles are just how anyone learns. She can be remarkably hands-off like that.

This does not change the fact that Mikoto is, as always, proud to see Homura at the summit. "Yup!" She chirps, to Homura's honoured surprise. It's an answer to both questions, really. She's economical with her words, this time, for an entirely obvious reason: food!

"Mai's not sure how we'll get funding," Mikoto says, scrunching up her nose in the universal gesture of not quite understanding the problem, "so we're gonna try and set up a stall in the festival! Then everyone'll see how great it is!" She has already recruited several strays to her cause. How did she do this? No one can answer that question. "Just gotta ask Kasagami..." But surely Kasagami will support their dreams, in much the same way as Mikoto supports Homura's dream here and now.

Even if she doesn't quite understand the fine details of why Homura is so determined to protect everyone, it doesn't really matter. It's normal to want to protect your friends.

It's still a little strange to hear herself called senpai, even if she is inarguably Homura's senior. "A week!" Mikoto exclaims, with a bright smile. "Great, Homura!" One thing has never changed: for all Homura keeps her polite keigo about her, Mikoto does away with honourifics in a way which would register as blatantly disrespectful to anyone who had the slightest experience with society. It's clear enough that Mikoto does not mean to insult her with her familiarity, though. She does this to everyone, from Madoka to Mai.

Putting the bento-boxes aside (they can rest next to her sword-case beside her), Mikoto gestures up to the hook dangling from the crane. "Hit that," she says, "and don't get hit back." Mikoto isn't an attentive-enough student to know what the laws of motion are defined as, but she has certainly dangled enough cat toys to know the reality of it: the more a toy on a string is batted at, the more it moves.

Of course, a construction crane's steel wires aren't exactly a length of string, and the hook at the end of it is no catnip-ball.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

If she can't climb a building, how can she conquer a city-ending storm? Homura applies her determination to Mikoto's wordless lessons, and together they scale toward the sky. She learns, and between her huffs and puffs she's just as wordless until they gain the exposed top floor. It feels comfortable, somehow, and despite the dizzy way the faraway streets spin beneath their feet she feels safe too.

After tucking away as much of teriyaki heaven as she can possibly manage without stuffing herself, Homura packs away the rest nice and neat for later. "Funding, oh. That's... I'd never thought of that." She's never needed to worry about money, and likely never will, plus it's such a grown-up concern -- another thing Homura never figured she needed to worry about. "A stall is a great idea. Um... let me know if I can help, Minagi-san! I've never had a job before, but... you've done so much for me."

Her hands clasp together over her chest, earnest emphasis. Have another stray, Mikoto! "Araki-san is helping, too?" Another person Homura remembers, but interestingly the new Ohtori High President symbolizes something baffling to her: change. How did that happen? She doesn't understand. Shouldn't everything be the same? "She um... I'm sure she'll bring lots of attention to your stall!" Still earnest.

Even if some things have changed, it'll be okay, because Homura's living her dream too.

She stands, but only to dip again in a bow of gratitude for the praise. "Arigatou, senpai!" Homura is already used to Mikoto's lack of honorifics, and it never bothered her in the first place; in turn, she's glad her friend doesn't beg her to lighten up with her politeness.

Then it's time for more learning. Each club except the last slides into some impossible pocket behind that dainty shield of hers; she keeps a short new titanium putter with surprising heft to it. Homura straightens up with a determined slant to her expressive eyebrows: she's ready. "Hit it... and don't get hit back," she repeats, staring down her opponent. Hook, you're on!

From her usual wayyy back running start she sprints, braids tossing, club lifted high in both hands. Her run has gotten better! ...It's still pretty awkward, but she finishes it without toppling forward with her swing, and the metal club CLANGS against the bottom edge of the hook.

This is already so much progress. She didn't trip and fall on the way there; she kept her weapon; she hit it on the first try!

The hook rattles at the end of its wire, wobbling in place rather than moving. Impact, now, that she has trouble with. Homura huffs out a little breath. Then... she hits it again. And again! With some effort and timing it starts swinging, then it starts really swinging, and then she's suddenly in danger of getting hooked herself -- which is entirely the point.

Bluntside-first it swoops in at Homura, who still foolishly stands right at the center where it dangled motionless -- exactly where it's apt to fly back through again, just like this. It catches the grey collar of her henshin coat and starts her spinning, and she lets out a "YEE--

--disappears upon the edge of a second--

--reappears at the edge of the roof, arms windmilling from skidding to a stop. Her mouth is shut though, since she finished her shriek within the same timestop she used to avoid getting noggin-clonked by a swinging hook.

"Whewww," she emits, regaining her balance. The hook continues its swing uninterrupted, a dangerous pendulum avoided. For now. There's a huge rip in her nice neat collar, and that side's braid is all mussed. Homura blinks at Mikoto from her new spot, "I um... I think I need to get to my shield even faster," she confesses.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

"'Kay!" Mikoto chirps, happily, as Homura reveals herself a stray like any other. She nods, with an affirmative noise, as she asks whether Kasagami's helping too. Of course, Kasagami hasn't offered to help yet, but Mikoto is confident she will, so she doesn't feel the need to clarify any more than she already has.

There are little changes, in the world, like a pond hit with a skipping stone. Bounce-bounce-bounce it goes across the water, the tensile strength supporting each leap, and it is true now as it was not then: even Mikoto is different. She never used to be so competitive with that boy, Endo, but an explosive match at the School Festival seems to have cemented them as fierce rivals. She always used to be more cautious in a fight, backing off before she fell, rather than throwing herself into it fullheartedly like --

-- well --

-- that's past and gone, anyway.

Even if she's a little different, she's still the same Mikoto.

Homura thanks her and Mikoto smiles, brightly. She's never criticised Homura for the way she talks; after all, Homura has once again witnessed Mikoto growing comfortable over the months with her words. She's gotten better at talking like her fellows, even if she is still often laconic. So it is when Homura repeats what Mikoto tells her, and Mikoto just gives her a grunt of confirmation.

Mikoto watches as Homura runs; she's not overbalancing any more, she notes. The hook rattles and stubbornly refuses to move, and here Mikoto's cunning plan to teach Homura about force is revealed: it won't be easy to set construction equipment in motion. When Homura realises she can't just hit it any old place and has to plan her timing, Mikoto calls out: "Good!"

Unfortunately, Homura is not so good at positioning.

It comes at her - comes at her - Mikoto watches unblinking as the hook catches at her collar. It is not so much a lack of sympathy as much as absolute necessity, though the two might look similar on the surface: if Mikoto flinches sympathetically, she's liable to miss the moment Homura slips out of the world.

Because there it is, a split-second later. Homura isn't being dragged any more, and Mikoto has to swing her gaze around to catch where she is now, because the scream cut off midway through, too. Luckily, Homura is a windmill of movement, and it doesn't take long to find her again. "Homura's still panicking," Mikoto remarks. She used to tell her to stop panicking, but evidently, that isn't working so well. And so, she tries a different tack: "Don't come back until Homura's ready to fight, 'cause Homura won't be able to rely on tricking enemies all the time. Calm down in the grey bit." On the one hand Mikoto doesn't understand Homura's powers very well; on the other hand she's remarkably insightful.

The hook is still swinging, and Mikoto points to it. Did Homura think she was done.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

Little changes, little ripples. It's true, the Ohtori presidency is hardly the only change; it may simply be the splashiest. A Homura of later timelines will think of these skipping-stone shifts as allies, signs that she has options left and paths untaken. The Homura of this timeline tries very hard not to dwell on the changes, because they don't make sense to her and, if dwelt upon, can unsettle her newly minted confidence.

She hasn't asked Mikoto about her fight with the boy Endo. They were friends, before. That doesn't make sense to Homura either. Ask her a few timelines later how that can happen.

This is still the same Mikoto, and that's what matters. Even better, Homura feels closer than ever to her friend thanks to the cumulative knowledge. It's a little strange sometimes, a little lopsided, but... that's okay. It'll all be okay.

Even if she has, well... a ways to go before achieving true warrior status. For instance: Still panicking. Homura nods to her senpai, and the ripped-up collar brushes her cheek. "O- okay, Mikoto-san. I was trying to get back as fast as possible, but..." Deep breath. "It's so hard to think when something's coming at me like that."

There's the root of many of her problems. She's reflexively afraid of the very idea of getting hurt badly because she never has been, and that fear disarms her in combat. "But if I do what you say... It's like a secret advantage." Homura likes that, by the little smile on her face.

It drops as Mikoto points. Right... Right!

"Hai!" Her brand new club is bent nearly in two from its use, so Homura drops it with a clank to the concrete and draws another. Overhead stance again! No subtlety to this girl, none at all.

This time it goes quicker because she's got the hang of banging on the crane hook, for better or worse. After another spate of wild-swinging effort from her it really gets going, whizzing in oblong circuits around the rooftop at head-cracking speeds.

When it whizzes right at the purple puella she looses a full "Eeeek!" before stepping between seconds, but this time...

This time she appears directly in front of Mikoto, maybe six inches nose-to-nose, with her hands folded before her and her heels together. She stands as if at attention, almost, with a very serious tilt to her eyebrows, and her braids shine as neatly as they do first thing every school morning.


Homura stopped time, but still finished her reflexive duck and took a fall forward, but thanks to Mikoto rolled instead of tumbled. Unfortunately, one of her braids caught a crack in the pavement and her controlled fall jerked to an ungainly halt -- and that braid wasn't braided any more. So Homura, determined to carry out her senpai's lesson to the fullest, sat down and rebraided her hair just like she does every school morning.

'Don't come back until Homura's ready to fight.' She can't fight with her hair flopping around everywhere!


The gem upon the back of her left hand throbs a dull purple, but Homura has that tucked beneath the palm of her right so Mikoto can't see. "How did I do?" she asks, eager to have learned that lesson well for her senpai. The hook rattles past behind her.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It's even advice Mikoto would give Homura, if she figured out how to ask: don't focus on details which don't make sense. Everything will work out okay. Certainly, it is a philosophy she seems to employ in her friendship with her fellow braided girl; every so often Homura knows something Mikoto thought she hadn't told her, but she just smiles and puts it aside. She must have just forgotten.

That much, in a certain measure, is true.

Mikoto has forgotten, and Homura remembers.

For now, no matter Homura's secret advantages, the power balance is still on her side. Mikoto nods, smiling, as she realises the tactical superiority her powers grant her. "That's Homura's talent!" Mikoto says, encouragingly. It's much harder for her to try and help someone who disappears half the time, but there's a reason Mikoto has not ever told Homura to stop slipping in and out of the world. Stepping out is a power unique to Homura, and Mikoto fully believes her path to success is through mastering it.

Homura goes into an overhead stance, but it's all wrong. "Bend knees and elbows, leg back, front foot forward, back foot out!" It might be vain to expect Homura can listen to that sort of correction in a live-fire exercise, though. Mikoto makes a note to correct her stance later.

The hook starts swinging, and even Mikoto has to duck down at one point to avoid getting snagged by one particularly wild curve, even though she's sitting at the edge of the floor. It is, of course, much more dangerous for her - she's not transformed right now, after all - but luckily, Mikoto has the foresight to lean down before the projectile is right overhead. Homura is still not quite as quick on the draw, but Homura has a secret weapon.

In a heartbeat she is right in front of Mikoto, and it might be difficult not to laugh at the way her eyes widen and her head jerks back in exactly the manner of a startled cat.

To her credit, she isn't shaken for long, and as her eyes track over Homura she notices the way one of her braids is no longer mussed from her previous near-miss. Mikoto cants her head, peering at that spot just a little to the side of her face.

Her first response to Homura's eagerness is very simple: "Duck."

(This is, of course, because Mikoto can also see behind Homura, and she can see the way the crane's hook is swinging back around for revenge. Even if the response throws her, the way Mikoto flattens out against the concrete should be demonstrative enough.)

Once that's sorted, Mikoto straightens up sitting again. "It's good," she says, because she can't see the gem on her hand, and what it has cost her to follow her advice. "Appearing unexpectedly's good, too. If Homura's ready, and startles enemies, it's easy to de-- duck," Mikoto says, again, because Homura really has gotten the crane going.

She spends the next few seconds considering whether Homura has had enough. Certainly, there have been days where she's spent hours drilling her on some aspect or another, until Homura is too exhausted to stand. Her body remembers how to learn, positive and unrelenting. But there are other things she has noticed, and she needs to address them, too.

Mikoto may never know how sensible her decision is to ease off on Homura today.

She puffs out a breath, and stands, drawing her blade. "Homura did good. Sit down now," she says, as she steps out into the whirling exclusion zone Homura has created. Mikoto is utterly fearless as the hook tears in towards her - and when it meets her she does not disappear. Rather she brings up the flat of her blade and catches it whole, and her firm stance drags against the concrete as she meets the rampaging piece of construction equipment with her own might.

Metal against metal is a screaming sort of sound, but the only peep which comes from Mikoto is a grunt of effort as she digs in her heels and forces her blade forward. Homura really has learned how to apply force, she marvels, to herself. She does not arrest its momentum with tricks, but with brute force, and when it finally sways back in a more sedate manner she catches it and guides it back to the centre of the floor.

It would have been easier to just chop the hook off and let it sail into the ocean, but then the workers would need to replace their crane, or however that works, and they're defenders of humanity first and foremost. Once the difficulty in replacing equipment was explained to Mikoto, she's at least tried to make sure she won't disturb the normal lives of Tokyo.

Well. Tried, anyway.

Sometimes a window or two gets broken, but a window's not such a big deal, right?

Once the crane has been calmed, Mikoto heads back to Homura, sitting back down and slipping Miroku back into its case. "One thing," Mikoto says, serious for a moment as she thinks back to Homura's stammered words. "Don't think, Homura. Thinking just means being distracted. Learn to act and react, or Homura will hesitate while trying to decide." It's something she's emphasised more and more, recently. Don't hesitate. The enemy won't hesitate, after all.

After a pause, Mikoto smiles, scooting in to wrap an arm around Homura's side as she leans in against her. This, too, is typical: Mikoto is not only encouraging but affectionate, too, no matter Homura's fluster. "Making it move was hard, right? I'm happy Homura did it so good. I could tell how fast it was going." Mikoto is entirely honest in her tone and expression, and she does sound impressed. "Once Homura's rested for a bit, show me how Homura holds club overhead again. There's better way to do it." At least it's much less taxing than what Mikoto had her doing before.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.

She tries to listen mid-swing but combat multitasking just isn't Homura's forte, not yet. Maybe later for the stance correction.

"Ahh!" No, Mikoto's startlement doesn't get a laugh out of Homura -- it just startles Homura right back, and then she feels kinda bad. "O-oh! Sorry, senpai."

Then she looks around for the duck.

Wrong type of bird, Homura. That's a crane swinging for you with its one good claw! Luckily she turns that direction first, and then she does duck with a shrieky yelp, just in the nick of time, and then she gets it. Verb, not noun.

Arms curled over her head, she peers up through her elbows at Mikoto after. "Oh. The... other kind. Of duck." Her face is redder than it was from the earlier exertion. Then she attends to her further lesson on the value of surprise. Next time, she drops right when her senpai says to, and the hook whooshes overhead. Homura Akemi is a very quick learner.

She knows she's not supposed to run her Soul Gem down this far, too, but the drive to succeed for Mikoto overcame Homura's self-preservation. It's not a visceral thing for her, not yet, the fear of inky tendrils snaking through purple. Later she may shamefacedly ask one of her puella senpais for a Grief Seed, because she's not good enough to hunt her own yet.

Mikoto tells her to and, obedient, Homura sits. Awed, Homura watches -- although she claps her hands over her ears, too, because that metal scream hurts. "Minagi-san could stop a train with her sword," she breathes to herself, but not so lightly that keen ears cannot hear. "So strong..."

And oh, that sword. Miroku earns a long look from Homura before Mikoto puts it away. Imposing, runed, obsidian... And perhaps, a grave marker, once upon a Walpurgisnacht. The frail puella shivers and hugs herself, avoiding Mikoto's eyes for the moment.

"Don't think," she repeats without thinking.

Then she, well, thinks. "Oh...! Oh. Um. I'll try, Minagi-san. That's..." Even with all her wishborne confidence, Homura is all too aware of her limitations. "That's hard for me. But I'll do my best."

And she flusters like clockwork when Mikoto takes over the hugging duty from Homura's own arms, albeit with a fresh little smile for all that praise. "Ahhh... th-thanks. All the credit goes to you, senpai. You're so good at fighting... like you've always been doing this." She thinks to things Mami's said about her own golden prowess, and adds, "You must have practiced a long time. Like the kids who play piano in concerts..."

They all started young, but Homura doesn't connect those dots -- what it would mean to start early with something like lethal combat instead of piano playing. Far too innocent. She just squishes up in Mikoto's warm squeeze, skinny shoulders shrugging upward. "Okay! Once my arms stop feeling all rubbery." She's gonna save Madoka for sure.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Mikoto blinks as Homura misunderstands. "Sorry," she says, as if it makes perfect sense for her to be at fault for using an ambiguous word.

It makes perfect sense to her that Homura would sit when told to sit; she's being instructed, after all. Mikoto hears the way Homura praises her and plants her stance a little firmer, enough to stop the crane from pushing her back with its gathered force. She can't help but feel pride in her work when Homura is looking up to her, after all. That she is impressing on Homura her own strength - well, that's part of teaching, isn't it?

Isn't it?

She does not know why Homura curls in on herself, and thinks perhaps that her advice is intimidating. It's an assumption which seems to be confirmed a moment later, as Homura stammers. "It's okay," Mikoto assures her, smiling. "Homura'll get better with practice."

Practice... Mikoto rests her cheek against Homura's shoulder, and it hides the way her eyes glance aside at the compliments, the way her gaze falls on her sword in its case. Has she always done this? Certainly she cannot remember a time before it, but she cannot remember much at all.

Mikoto has known Homura for some months, now, and there are two paths their friendship can take. Perhaps she has known her long enough to trust her with a confirmation; perhaps she can open up enough to share why her training methods are so comfortable to her, as natural as climbing.

But she has scarcely been here eight months. Homura may remember, but Mikoto has forgotten. She is not the girl who shared that she grew up in the mountains, one late-night sleepover between their secret kitten club. She has not had years to gradually open up. Even back in 2015, a year from now, Mikoto was still vague on many details of her past.

What hope does she have of reaching out now?

"I'm not that different," Mikoto assures her, instead, and she has never lied to Homura, and perhaps she does not think she is lying now. "Just started a little earlier than Homura." And there is a lot which can be fit into the concept of a little.

Homura's not the only one being fooled. Don't focus on details which don't make sense; put it aside and move on.

Deflection is natural to Mikoto, too, and she focuses on Homura's complaints immediately. "It's 'cause Homura's muscles are tired," Mikoto explains, and perhaps neither of them realise quite what she reveals in the telling. "I can fix it!"

Poor Homura may be even more embarrassed when she realises that Mikoto fixing it means massaging her arms, with the sort of practiced motions of someone who has long since learned how to correct training pains.

It's a much more present thing to focus on than the question of Mikoto Minagi.