2019-02-24 - TIMELINE 3: Between Theory and Praxis
|Title: TIMELINE 3: Between Theory and Praxis|
Mikoto causes trouble, Eri tries to fix it, and Homura gets them out. Homura insists on consequentialism, Mikoto tries to apologise, and Eri gives them gold-tinted advice. Eri steps up to lead them, Homura tries to extract a promise, and Mikoto understands their priorities perfectly.
| OOC - IC Date:|
2019-02-24 - 2019-02-14
.******************** Yamanote High City - Ohtori Academy *********************. *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+ Classrooms +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* The heart of Ohtori Academy, the classrooms are lushly appointed. Brass-fitted panels of clear glass replace the walls, sacrificing privacy for a sensation of great, airy space. Cutting edge technology is everywhere apparent, albeit obscured with tasteful minimalist interfaces. Interactive digital screens take the place of traditional blackboards, the desks and chairs fold down flush with the ground when not in use, and some classes allow or even mandate the use of laptops. The natural dignity of most of the students, the strictness of the teachers, and the sound-resistant glass panels combine to keep the halls unusually quiet. When class is in session, the hallways are almost silent, though between classes they grow almost as lively as a public school might. Tradition does not die easily, of course. There are a few classrooms left that are still decorated in a more traditional style, generally heavy with dark-stained oak, faded but lush carpeting, and a permanent scent of chalk and old books. *+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+* Players +*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*+*
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
How can you fight the enemy - when you're fighting to keep your eyes open?
It comes and goes in flashes. Mikoto grasps tightly to the hilt of her blade - and the butt of a rifle is callously slammed down on a pressure point to make her release it. She is carried, limp, to a classroom. When she is able to open her eyes she drags herself to the nearest person who smells familiar - it's Eri, with Homura nearby - and curls next to her, face hidden by her leg, falling into fitful unconsciousness again once she can trust that she is around someone who can keep an eye out for her.
She is not quite sensate enough to judge whether or not either of them are in a fit state to keep watch.
She is not sure quite how long she sleeps, just that she stirs to the sound of an angry voice. "Stop pacing," it barks - he, a male voice, adult. Mikoto blinks her eyes open and lifts her head as she focuses on the noise.
He is a soldier, clad head to toe in battle-gear with a face-obscuring helmet, and he is waving a gun at Homura in a most disquieting way. It's a sudden shift; he's run out of patience.
He's not the only one who can change attitudes suddenly. Mikoto presses palm to ground and pushes herself up with movements only a little sluggish, stepping up beside her friend. "Leave Homura alone!" She says, and perhaps she has not perceived the depth of their situation. Perhaps the truth is a little blurry at the edges.
They are not the only students in the classroom; he is not the only soldier. Another swings their gun about to point at another cluster of girls, and none of them are known in the magical world. The soldier menacing Homura turns to look at Mikoto, instead, helmet tilting down a little as he examines her. "Huh," he says, as if he's just thought of something. "Wait a sec..."
Well, Mikoto had hidden her face against Eri, after all.
His rifle shifts down as he reaches to a pocket, and Mikoto's eyes track the movement and her own hand reaches out, as if to grasp the air opposite Homura. She has not noticed the other girls and their distress; she is too focused on her friend, and the opportunity which she has seen. She takes a breath. They cock their guns. In that instant Mikoto's eyes widen as her ears twitch and she realises the mistake she has made; in that instant she has to come to a decision.
It's not a hard one to make.
She's fast enough to take them out with their magic so long as she has her blade by her side.
She's not fast enough alone.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
The fight against Peshent was not kind to Eri Shimanouchi, who had not resisted the dizzying incursion that came after. Ushered to the classrooms she had no time to process all of it. Dead tired and sore down to her bones, she'd slipped unconscious almost right away when they'd introduced her to her classroom mat. The few thoughts she had were that it was a little like summer trip. If Summer Trip were being hosted under martial law.
She's still dozing a little when she first hears the barking anger of a soldier. The first thing she feels is that an arm and leg had fallen asleep. The next thing she feels is Mikoto curled up beside her. The girl's eyes open, blearily blinking away. It was unusual to wake up with her glasses on, usually she took them off, but right now those smudged lens gave her her first sight of the world - and proved just how tired she'd been.
Still aching, she gives the girl pressed up against her a look. "'rning 'ikoto" She mumbles in that half speech between sleeping and waking, however Mikoto is already is getting up, and suddenly her absence is getting to her. Eri slowly rises up, surprised at the feel of her clothes. Did she really have to sleep in a ballgown? Hastily she puts the green straps back up on her shoulders - and tries to shake off the cobwebs by the sudden adrenaline of it setting in.
Mikoto is shouting to leave her alone. It's getting bad swiftly, she has no time to shake off the cobwebs, so instead she does a stumble step in a bare-footed quick walk up over to Mikoto, and does this motion of ripping the shorter girl into a hug. "'neechan no!" Which includes a hand to the back of her head, and smothering her against her just a little to stifle that word from getting out. "Sorry - sorry - my sister is really protective of Akemi-chan."
Eri says as she stares down the soldiers, holding Mikoto in as much of a death grip as she can manage as she looks straight over to Homura. "She - she has a heart condition."
Eri begins simply on the lie that has a grain of truth. Just enough to be believed. Just enough to be plausible. Just enough to keep them all alive and out of trouble and make this situation unsuspicious. It's a tall order newly awakened, but she'd grown accustomed to lying - lying to her family. Lying to pretend she's not a Magical Girl. And so she continues on to explain Homura's pacing in a way that would deescalate this situation, "So she must be really nervous, about how she's going to get her medication from the nurse's office."
She could ham it up a little. Say how bad things might happen to Homura if she doesn't, but she didn't want to push it. Sometimes the best lies are ones that force people to draw their own conclusions...
... and besides, planting the idea that they must take Homura to the nurse's office several times a day is one that has possibilities for them all.
"I'm sorry - I'm sorry. We'll all sit back down - and be good - and won't bother you anymore."
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
It takes fifteen paces to walk the front of the classroom; ten to traverse the blackboard's length, in between. From there, the back of the class with its boarded up windows takes Homura eighteen and a half paces to reach.
There's a jagged run up the side of one dark stocking, disappearing beneath petticoats in disarray. Pale lavender silk scuffs up so easily, and her doll-pretty dress has suffered stresses ballgowns are never meant to endure. It may still be intact, but its fate is long since sealed. Her left braid has started coming undone, with black wisps frizzing out at odd points like a hose that's sprung a dozen little leaks.
She probably should have slept, by the bruise-dark circles beneath her eyes. It's painfully obvious she has not.
Madoka isn't in this room.
Homura has no idea where she is.
The guard's radios chatter from time to time and she listens in, hoping for news of a pink-haired captive. All she overhears is coded troop movements and a lot of chatter about the 'valkyries' they're looking for.
Every time a guard manhandles a student, in Homura's mind, that could be Madoka. Every time a warning of insurgents comes through on the radio, every time she hears reports of an injury in the captive population... Each slap of her ballroom flats against classroom tile is a syllable of her name. Ma. Do. Ka.
She'd make a terrible pillow for Mikoto right now. In fact, she's been slowly driving the guard crazy with her irrepressible anxiety. Her circuit takes her past her exhausted, slumped-together friends for the umpteen-billionth time and for the umpteen-billionth time she glances at them, and thinks: I have to wait for them. I can't do this all on my own.
Concern is there, too, just... secondary. She knows she should be more worried about them, but when it comes right down to it, all Homura can think is, well... if something happens to Madoka, how can it possibly matter what happens to anyone else? She'll just end up erasing it... It's a newer thought, and not a comfortable one, but in her umpteen-billionth circuit of a classroom there's no avoiding those sorts of thoughts.
"A-ahh?" Her nerves show in the stiff-limbed way she startles and then freezes, because she's looking directly down the barrel of a die-and-never-save-Madoka weapon, utterly unprotected by her dirty lavender ruffles.
'Leave Homura alone!'
Homura watches the guard swing his gaze and gun around -- she draws a rabbit-careful breath -- at Mikoto, and there's something in how he studies her...
Movement happens, on both sides. That beginning syllable strikes terror into her heart -- visceral with fresh personal experience -- and she gasps out, "No..."
A hug from a sister saves the moment, and if only that was the end of it. At mention of her heart condition Homura does a very unscripted and convincing death-pale blanch, and does not look at Eri. The guard glances Homura's way but briefly, though. He's too alert to something else, and he's still going in his pocket and pulling out a printout with student photos on it while staring at the hug-corralled Mikoto, and Homura has a flash of horrible foreboding. "Hold it right there," he says.
Homura swallows, hard, and then there's a brilliant crackle and a flare of violet light--
"HEY!" come the guard bellows, and he starts reacting with terrible speed, even as Homura transforms she sees him retrain the gun and begin to squeeze--
She's faster to her shield, but only by a sliver of a breath. Time stops, he stops, EVERYTHING stops except Homura's panic-edged gasps. They abate before she grabs Mikoto and Eri; it takes a minute, a precious minute, but Homura needs it.
Then everything blinks from color to greyscale as Homura's hands land, one on each girl's shoulder, and she pulls them from the guard's world into hers.
"We- we need to go," she stammers out, her voice all wobbly from strain. "C'mon, just... just take my hands..."
Their footfalls echo strangely in the frozen halls. They find a space where no color-leached guards can be seen, a supply closet near the end of a hall -- it's dark inside and Homura doesn't reach for the lightswitch as she leads them inside, because light under the door might give them away.
The door clicks shut and then Homura lets go of them--
--and there's another, quieter smooth *click* as her shield slides into place and she slides back into the timestream next to them in the dark--
--and then the crackle of gunfire in the direction they came from, brief and sharp before it cuts off. There's a dull violet glow from the gem on the back of Homura's hand, and it limns the horrified shape her face has taken. "I... I think we're okay. For now."
But are the students they left behind?
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
"RO--khh?!" Mikoto is captured before she can finish her invocation, face smooshed against a shoulder, and she stiffens for a moment before she realises it is Eri's shoulder, Eri's hand, and Eri's voice.
Eri's voice, claiming she's her sister. "Nnh!" Mikoto complains, muffled by the gown's straps, but her attempts to keep her in place hold for the moment, because Mikoto does not want to hurt Eri, and Mikoto is still sluggish from her nap. "'Snuh!" But Eri keeps talking, and Mikoto scrunches up her face as she realises she's trying to defend Homura.
Homura, who said something of her own, when Mikoto moved to defend her. Something small and horrified. What was it?
"Rrri," she grumbles, wriggling, trying to get away, and she's just about gotten there. She cannot see the photos in the guard's hand, though she can hear him yell and then - she's not moving at all.
Until she is. Suddenly Mikoto can finish turning back towards the guard, because Homura's hand is pressed against her shoulder. Golden eyes widen against the grey as she sees his finger, tight against the trigger. "Homura!" She whispers a sharp warning - and it's certainly enough to convince her. She says they need to get out of there, and Mikoto will follow her advice.
Mikoto has taken Homura's hand many times; to lead her up a climb, to drag her to a ramen stand, to show her how to pet a cat properly. But how many times have her hands held a blade?
It's dark inside the supply closet, but there's light enough leaking from gap under the door, from the dull glow of Homura's soul gem... from the way the light reflects in Mikoto's eyes, unnerving little gold lamps which shine in the shadows. It is a bizarre phenomenon she fully fails to notice, and which makes the stress on her own face all the more obvious. She tries to figure out if the distant shriek she heard was terror or pain. Terror, she thinks, but uncertainty grips her, and the unsteadiness is a distinct voice in her memory:
'Doesn't this sound like your fault?'
"It's... my fault?" Mikoto asks, in dawning horror, eyes drawing wide with the tension of her cheeks as they tug her lips down, a thin row of white teeth. If she hadn't acted without thinking...
That too-bright gaze drops to the ground, and she is quiet for a long moment. Finally she shakes her head, drops down in the cramped space to press her cheek against the ground, and perhaps it is not immediately obvious what she is doing.
She's Mikoto. She's listening.
Her fingers splay and tap against the ground as she counts them out - two, four, four again, two. There is another moment, as she judges the distance of each set of footfalls, makes sure she has not mixed any together. "Two approaching," she whispers, finally. "Moving in pairs. Groups, sometimes. Not too close."
She does not give a time frame but it does not take long for the sound of boots on the ground to be audible to everyone; there is a heart-stopping moment as their shadows pass by the door, but mercifully, they don't stop. Perhaps Homura was right not to turn the lights on.
But it won't be long before someone thinks to check the closet.
Mikoto straightens and nods and waits for them to be ready. "Out the window," she says, "inside's too crowded." Has she not seen all the soldiers outside?
She doesn't mean crowded like that.
Once upon a time, Mikoto taught Homura how to fall. She took her up a big tree and said, today we're falling, and then she pushed Homura off with no warning at all so she could see how she fell. And then, once Homura had picked herself up, Mikoto fell beside her, and she did not fall on her face. She rolled with the impact; she used her momentum to keep moving. She showed Homura how to do it. It makes falling so much easier.
Of course, that never happened, but sometimes things which never happened can stick around.
It's a useful thing to keep in mind now, as Mikoto opens the door and darts for the nearest window. It is locked, but Mikoto has learned from a friend how to force a lock. She grabs one of the white roses from her hair, freeing her other braid, and tears the flower away, tossing it to one side carelessly, in a move which might have been poignant if she cared about the meaning of flowers.
Mikoto doesn't generally care about not being noticed, but Homura is trying to act cautiously, and she has at least a vague sense why. So she slides the hair clip along the lock until she is able to shove the window open, leaping into the bushes below. They're on the second floor. Roll with the movement. Don't cry out. Be ready for scratches from the branches. These are all things she might have said, once upon a time.
(Now her tulle stole rips, tears in the motion, and one side of it is revealed, her birthmark on display. There's no more hiding, now.)
They are close to the garden.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
Eri knows Mikoto is protesting, she's wriggling enough to get loose, but right now it's a scenario where she's trying to protect them both with quick thinking and lies.
Mikoto does not lie. She is elementally herself. And doing anything else might get them all killed. She can't even whisper to her right now anything real other than, "It's okay - it's okay. They're not going to..."
However Homura there's a flare of violet light. And Eri's eyes go wide. She cannot blame Homura, she's such a skittish girl - of course she'd panic. She's about to let Mikoto go, she's in the midst of transforming herself. Her soul gem is already within an enclosed palm - and -
The first flash of gunfire doesn't even go off - as her world becomes grey. She's been in Homura Akemi's time stop effect, so she's only momentarily startled, but it's a relief. "Right." She says as she unlaces her arm from Mikoto, careful not to break contact entirely.
Eri leaves right away... though her eyes do check to make certain there are no girls in the direct paths of those guns.
Madoka and Mami Tomoe - would be disappointed in her if she didn't.
It's a dizzying run down the hallway, and once in the supply closet. Eri asks, "How's your-" Gunfire sounds in a quick burst, "-magic..." Even though she looked, she can't help but flinch anyhow.
Her hand shakes a little as she takes her glasses off. "Alright." She takes a breath. "We're okay."
Folding up her glasses she hooks them onto her dress, then holds up her soul gem for an eerie green effect to match the violet glow. "It's not anyone's f-"
However then Mikoto marks the boots on the ground, and Eri smothers her soul gem between her hands. Eri nodding at Mikoto's affirmation as she whispers, "We need to find a spot on the grounds that won't be guarded or patrolled... get our bearings. Homura is our trump card if anything happens - but we shouldn't rely on her magic as much as we can help right now." The implication being that they have no grief seeds left. Given that it's stretched between the five of them.
Once the bootsteps are more distant, there's a flash of light, and a smell like rain. And she's transformed.
Eri rolls her shoulders, thinking it's kind of a relief to be out of that ballgown. She wouldn't be able to sneak around in something like that. Holding her whip coiled over her arm, the loops between her hand and elbow, she stays low across the hall. Her footsteps lighter than usual due to the preternatural balance she had as a Puella Magi. Moving towards the window, she squats down beside her, looking at Mikoto in surprise as she jimmies the lock. "You know how to do that?"
The girl then leaps up and over, just allowing herself to drop in free-fall into a muffled landing in the bush.
She then turns around and motions for Homura to come down with a wave.
She doesn't want to make it obvious that she's ready to catch her if her landing is less than graceful.
"... shed for now..." Eri mentions to Mikoto. "...we keep a spare key under a stack of flower pots outside."
COMBAT: Eri Shimanouchi transforms into Puella Magi Eri!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
She's dimly lit in her soul gem's glow, and clad in her streamlined henshin angles rather than scuffed ballroom ruffles, which is to their benefit since those petticoats aren't taking up space. It leaves Homura looking severe, and her glasses frames cast strange shadows upward across her brow. Catching that feline glint from Mikoto's eyes, she shivers, and immediately hopes Mikoto just chalks it up to the situation.
But she's thinking of an oni's unkind ministrations, which leads to a guilty looking-away as Mikoto asks if it's her fault. Homura isn't sure how to contradict that. Eri speaks up, and she's relieved as the onus passes, but--
There's no time to worry about that, suddenly. Timelines of experience tell Homura to trust Mikoto's senses. She freezes in place, hardly daring to breathe, and covers her soul gem as the boots stomp past.
"The window?" It's a scary thought, going out there, but... Mikoto and Eri both know what to do. They might expect Homura to come along obediently, as is her usual wont. "I used my last grief seed in the fight, and then..." And then she was useless. So she's tanked up, but it's her last tank. "I have enough to get us a little ways if we need it. Okay," she says -- there's that agreement.
But -- "But," she says, "We need to find Kaname-san- and Tomoe-san, too."
ONCE UPON A TIMELINE:
Homura Akemi's face was one big wince behind those red glasses frames, and after a self-conscious peer every which way... she plucked herself up off the ground with a groan and a rubbing of her sore behind, and gave her treetop senpai a hangdog look. She watched Mikoto fall with a second wince, but didn't let that keep her from watching.
Then she clambered back up to try again: for her teacher, and for Madoka.
BACK IN THIS ONE:
Mikoto jimmies the lock and Homura's eyes are nearly as wide as Eri's -- delinquency! She's the last one down, and it's an awfully long ways down, but there's boots sounding down the hall and there's no time to dawdle.
Roll with the movement, she thinks. Don't cry out, she thinks. No branches, at least...
No squeak emits from Homura's mouth as she drops, braids flapping, and she hits a little hard but rolls admirably -- bumping right up into Eri's knees if the other girl doesn't move, which might help Homura out in arresting her roll. She'll take a hand up, if offered, and bites her lip to keep the "ouch" inside. That gets easier every time she does it.
The garden -- the shed. So many warm memories live in that shed for Homura. She swallows and looks at the two girls who have no memory of naming kittens with Madoka and Nori. "Yeah," she agrees about the keys.
What luck they have holds. No patrols pass as they head toward the garden, and the humble key is still right where they remember, a perfect fit for the humble lock.
Inside they are alone with the smell of musty earth and fertilizer, and the occasional soft rattle of gardening trowels when a distant explosion rumbles the earth. "This is awful, I've never seen anything like it," and Homura finds that rattles her further. She prefers things with precedent. "They were talking about valkyries and hostages on the radio, and... we're all separated, how do we find anyone without getting caught? They're all over the place, with those... those guns."
They're nothing like Mami's guns, somehow. Colder.
What if one got pointed at Madoka?
"We have to find a way though," she says, heading for a shuttered window. The wood creaks as she eases it enough to peer through a crack... she just can't stand not knowing what's going on out there. "We could... we could try to fight them? But if I use my bombs it'd just draw attention, and besides... besides, they just cause more problems." Her shoulders hunch; she's facing away, they can't see the guilt on her face.
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
It's okay, Eri says, but it isn't.
It's not anyone's fault, Eri tries to say, but it is.
"Sometimes windows are locked here," Mikoto replies, quietly, to Eri, as if the new skill makes perfect sense. Perhaps it does, to someone who travels arboreally so often. "And no magic, and being quiet..." The words trail off into a frustrated little hum of concentration as she tries to remember how it works. She does not betray who taught her, but it is difficult to imagine the skill being used for good ends. There have always (always, always) been rumours in Ohtori that Mikoto is a bit of a delinquent, but they're just rumours, aren't they..?
Mikoto is a good girl. She wouldn't do bad things, would she?
Then again, the thought that Mikoto would summon a vast malevolent oni and start attacking her friends might have seemed outlandish a day or so ago, too.
She trusts Homura to follow her without complaint, because it's necessary. She doesn't realise how tenuous the question is. She doesn't even realise it's a question.
She hasn't even mentioned it.
There's no time. Mikoto nods to Eri, silently, and they go; and no one, thankfully, has stolen the keys. She does not truly know the weight behind Homura saying she's seen nothing like it - though Homura has tried so hard to convince them. "Their word for us," Mikoto replies, to 'valkyries'. "Miyu used it." She is, as ever, frustratingly vague about the scope of 'us'. Perhaps she doesn't know.
"We gotta --" Mikoto starts to say, and then she realises what Homura has said, and perhaps this is the only time they'll ever have.
But it's hard.
The truth is a little blurry at the edges, and Homura remembers so much and Mikoto remembers so little.
And perhaps Eri sees what Homura is turned from: the way Mikoto's trunk shifts aside, too, as she looks away. "Homura," she starts, and the word beseeches her notice but her throat is too dry. She swallows, a hand reaching up to rub at her arm, where that strange star is etched into her flesh. "I... did something bad, right..?" As if she's not sure.
"I didn't know, I didn't... ask for that..." but it happened, it happened, and there is nothing but cruelty behind those spires, they are dark and terrible and they hurt. "I mean, I don't... think I did, but... I was just, so angry... I dunno, maybe I..." Mikoto shakes her head, fiercely. "But I'm -- sorry, Homura!" Her emotion catches in her throat and she quiets it, pressing her lips together. "Even if Homura hurt people, I... Miroku just reacted." As if they're different.
(And what a strange place to mention her sword.)
Mikoto takes a shaky breath. "Homura didn't mean it neither, right..?" She offers, and she hopes the answer is what she wants it to be, because she is scared of the alternative. "Homura's not my enemy. Homura's my friend. It wasn't on purpose," she says, and oh, she could be talking about any one of them, couldn't she? "It wasn't enemy action. It's okay." As if she is trying to convince someone.
"... this is," Mikoto says, finally, and perhaps it is strange to hear her say so much, when she speaks so little. "So we find Mai, and Madoka, and everyone." She does not say they will escape, because perhaps Mai would go along with it - perhaps Madoka would try to keep everyone else calm instead of breaking away. "I wanna fight," she says, and that much is plain enough, "but I can sneak around, if... that's what Eri thinks I should do," the statement trails off into a question, as she glances back to her for guidance. Of course it is Eri; for all Homura claims to have more experience, Mikoto cannot help but treat her like a kouhai. But Eri has a certain appreciation for what must be done which Mikoto can admire, for some reason.
There is a certain type of person Mikoto tends to follow, revealed over long experience. People like Mai, and Madoka, and Eri, and Yumi. And then, there are people she advises instead; like Homura and Setsuna and Steven.
Oh, but she didn't express any concern for that last one at all, this time around.
She only knows him as the boy with a shield.
And as for Setsuna, well... it took a lot of effort on her part, after she'd defected. It used to be Mikoto putting in the effort. This time around she only fought Eas when Eas got in her way, and she wasn't seen trying to convince her to the side of good at all. It just wasn't her problem.
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
"They'll be okay." Eri insists about Mami and Madoka. If anyone could take care of themselves here, it was them. She had that much faith in them. Right now she had no idea where they were, which means her responsibility was to take care of what she could. It's hard being calm in this whirlwind of events, when inside she feels like she's twisting in the wind. She has to be.
She can't fail them after the trust they've put in her.
Eri only nods at the comment about windows being locked, not commenting that she thought Mikoto would just bust through them. She knew she could be stealthy but...
... Homura on the other hand makes the roll, and Eri gives her a pat on the back of comraderie as they take off for the shed. It's a quick search for the key then - the transformed girl sinks down on a bag of fertilizer. Homura may recognize these bags of fertilizer as once having been camouflage for a certain box.
For a certain mother and her newborn litter.
"I need to think for a second. Just need to sit down and think."
The girl pauses, transformed but still her nerves a little shot, her palms resting on the bags. She lets Homura speak of the situation, without much comment. Not saying anything until the end. "Don't look down on your bombs." Eri says lightly, not realizing the implications. "You work very hard on them and they get the job done..." However - she does notice Mikoto's posture change at that moment, her expression quizzical. Her eyes shifting from side to side... "Eh?" She doesn't interrupt, she just keeps listening.
She at least gets the hint. Homura's bombs hurt someone, Mikoto acted in anger and hurt her. There's something like a ghost of a smile, as her eyes look down at her hands.
How does it feel to know that the two are hurting so much over an accident? How does it feel Eri Shimanouchi?
And slowly, she pushes herself up. And speaks softly, "It wasn't so long ago that someone died because of me. It was an accident - and I was angry but I didn't mean to kill her." She says this quietly, calmly, then looking at them both. "Afterwards, I was told that we can only do our best. There's no guarantee we'll succeed. The longer we're at this, the more it becomes true that sometimes we'll make the wrong call, or fail to stop someone - or make a mistake - " Her eyes fall upon Homura, "- or go too far." Then land upon Mikoto.
"We can't change that. We can only try to do better next time. If we dwell on it - it'll just hold us back. When we need to keep moving forward."
Madoka and Mami were counting on her. And so she echoes the words of their senpai.
"I... just thought that the both of you... might need to hear that."
Though she thinks Mami Tomoe said it far better than her. The ghost of a smile still remains.
"So let's focus on what we can do. And what we need to do right now. Akemi-chan and I need magic. With enough magic Akemi-chan can go anywhere - find anyone. There are witches on this island. The ones furthest from the school will be the ones safest to hunt. Let's not panic and sneak around quite yet. I know there are people all of us want to find - but we can help them better if we take care of ourselves first and prepare."
It's strange. She never thought that her father's stories about the JSDF would give her thoughts - ideas on how they must be operating here. However ideas were already forming in her head. Eri holds up three fingers. "Our number one priority is magic supplies. We need to hunt in places that won't shunt us out near troops."
She puts down a finger, "Our number two priority is information. Mikoto can sneak around with the best of them - and you can stop time. I'm relatively useless in comparison - but I'll do what I can as well once we're stocked up. You two can get us all the information we need. Which will tell us how to find the others."
She puts down another finger, "Our number three priority is supplies. Food - water... Akemi-chan doesn't have access to supplies to make more bombs... so she'll need to steal them here - on site. They have to have supply depots somewhere."
And the final finger goes. "With that in mind - I think we should use one of your bombs as a distraction."
Eri suggests, "Set one off to draw their attention in the opposite direction that we need to go - but within hearing. Maybe set your timer longer than usual. Regroup up, and make a run for it. Hunt with Mikoto to make up for the fact that we're both lower on magic than we'd like - then come back to get the information we need."
The girl looks between them, trying to be as confident. Trying to be a leader - even though she doesn't want to be. She needs to be one. Madoka and Mami were counting on her to take care of them.
"I think that gives us our best shot of getting all of us out of here alive."
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
Mikoto was there, and Homura hears it in her name as the other girl speaks it.
Did Mikoto do something bad? Did Homura? She looks back over her shoulder, through that haphazard spray of black hair out of one braid, to see her friend rubbing that strange birthmark on her arm. Sharp pains recall to her: the brutality of Miroku, the berating of Kozue. The beautiful and costly guardianship of Mami Tomoe.
That Homura can't answer is answer enough. She looks down.
Mikoto tries to explain, and she listens; she feels no urge to join in, to make it a chorus. Homura burrows into her shame, but feels for her friend. "I know you didn't mean it, Minagi-san..." Homura stops there. Does sorry change that Miroku smashed her into the air like a tossed doll, and the repercussions of that? What if it wasn't Homura, but Madoka who suffered the obsidian oni's strength?
Eri knows her shame, knows their shame. She speaks up, and Homura awaits the expected harsh words -- maybe not 'nitwit', but...
They don't come. Instead, a terrible truth is shared, and reassurance tinged a warm and familiar gold. Homura has trouble believing that Eri could have... but she believes, because she now knows how bad the world can be. "Shimanouchi-san... that's terrible, oh no..." They can only do their best. The death was just an accident. Maybe they'll fail sometimes, but they just need to do better next time. Homura turns away from the window.
"I'm... s-sorry." And she is, but she's not apologizing for the bombs. "I want to believe what Tomoe-san said but... It's-" Swallow; if Mami was here saying it herself, Homura wouldn't have the courage to contradict her, but... "It's not enough to just do our best. It's not! Even if it wasn't on purpose, that- that doesn't change what happened. What if... what if Kaname-san got hit?" Her voice strains; one hand is a trembly fist, her nails dig into her palms. Does she mean by bombs, or by Miroku? She's not specific. Probably both.
"It's not okay..." she mumbles, dropping her gaze again. "Even if my magic wasn't working right... it's no excuse." Homura knows no other way than to be hard on herself, and more importantly, she knows the stakes.
She listens to the instructions in that same stance, nodding to indicate she hears but otherwise not looking up. Then: "I'll... I'll do what I can to help. We do need more magic. But... if we go away from the school, we're not going to find the others. I don't want to leave them..." She can't just leave Madoka.
"So only if you promise we're coming back." And there's an obstinate gleam in violet as she looks up, an edge as hard as the cut of her henshin coat. A nascent leadership, tested by the likes of glasses-wearing Homura Akemi? This would have never happened a timeline ago.
A timeline ago, Homura still believed in a world that was fair and just.
But she's also pulling a pipe bomb out of her shield, and taking a deep breath. "If... you're both ready...?"
<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed. <SoundTracker> Akira Yamaoka - She https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcD7jjyeyFA
Everyone notices the way Mikoto collects information on cats like a sponge, as if she'd rather talk about nothing else. Few people look harder than that to realise that Mikoto picks up other information, too. She is keen-eyed and sharp-eared to any advice or guidance which can help her in her mission, though she does not bother with precautions when she feels no threat.
Perhaps the Puella Magi have noticed it, when Mikoto first fell into hunting a Witch with them. She listened and learned. But who she learns from, what she learns from them...
... it changes each time.
It changes, and Mikoto changes, too.
She used to work hard to redeem people like Setsuna Higashi, because she could understand their point of view. Now she does not bother.
She used to turn the edge of her blade aside, so she would not cut human enemies. Now she sheds blood.
She used to be friends with Natsuki, and Nori, and Endo, and Kasagami, and so many more besides. Now she doesn't care about them.
Mikoto is liminal. Or... perhaps the word is 'volatile.'
It would certainly fit the spires, black as sin.
She didn't mean it. She didn't mean it, but that doesn't make the truth go away. This strength still possesses Mikoto. And unlike Madoka's overwhelming might, Mikoto does not have precise control. Perhaps Mikoto just does not have control, precisely.
Surely Madoka could beat even an oni's strength, but Homura knows the cost of a Child's death, after all. Mikoto would be forfeit. And Mikoto and Madoka are friends.
But Eri Shimanouchi knows something of mistakes, and Mikoto looks to her as she rises. She glances down, as Eri looks to her and confirms her fears: she went too far. Homura is not the only one ashamed. Still, Mikoto listens, and what Eri's saying makes sense, after all. She can't think about bad things all the time. It's better to put it aside. "Okay," Mikoto says.
At first she thinks Homura is apologising.
'It's not enough to just do our best. It's not! Even if it wasn't on purpose, that- that doesn't change what happened. What if... what if Kaname-san got hit?'
"I wouldn't!" Mikoto insists, but her face pales as she thinks about it. There is so much in a maybe, a perhaps, a what-if, and Mikoto can't avoid it entirely. Her voice is more uncertain, now. "... I wouldn't hurt Madoka, right..? Miroku wouldn't..." Maybe it is an excuse. Maybe she has no excuse. Maybe it does sound like her fault.
After all, Miroku attacked Homura, even though Mikoto said she loves her. And she cares for Takeo, too, and she hit him just as fiercely.
And Mikoto has never said that her magic wasn't working right, because Mikoto is elementally herself, and does not lie.
Mikoto Minagi works exactly as intended.
But she quiets, and she looks to Eri again, as she goes on to outline what they should do. Mikoto nods, firmly. "I don't wanna leave neither," Mikoto says, to Homura. "Mai's still here." Mai must be okay. She has to believe that much. "But it's easier to find food in woods, Homura. Grief Seeds, too. We'll come back, okay? We won't leave them." She is quite serious, as she looks to her. The both of them have their priorities.
She pauses, and glances to Eri. "... might be hard to find plants though. Sorry." Perhaps she can find a creek with big enough fish, or they can sneak to the shoreline...
"Don't worry about me if I gotta leave," she says, finally. With a light pause, a light frown, "I... can work on my own." And Mikoto has made it evidently clear that it is working together which is new to her, and perhaps it is important to wonder why she has so much skill as a solitary agent.
Perhaps she is just too dangerous for allies to get too close.
How many of them has she almost cut on that obsidian blade - even before she revealed her Child..?
<Pose Tracker> Eri Shimanouchi [Ohtori Academy (9)] has posed.
Eri's eyes simply close for a moment in acknowledgement of how terrible it is. "Your best changes as you grow stronger. More experienced." However she then opens it. "I may have similar feelings about Mami-senpai's advice, but the heart of it is still there. We can do better. Be better. And surpass our best." She takes a deep breath, "And if something happens that's not okay, then we live with it. Or we don't. That's all there is." Between Homura and Mikoto both mentioning Madoka though, she decides to speak out on it. "If I got Madoka-chan hurt - then I'd feel terrible. If she died..."
She wouldn't be able to live with herself.
"... If you feel terrible - I won't tell you not to feel that way." She already stomped all over Mikoto's feelings by doing so. "Use that to make your best better. If that's what it takes. Don't abandon what you know though - what you can do. Your magic is unique - you've found your own way to fight Akemi-chan." There is a momentary pause, before she says, "Just do it better. Better than your best. Then better than that."
However, she knows what Homura's concern is, her true concern, though perhaps she does not know the context in it. Homura Akemi was drawn to Madoka Kaname. Who could blame her for being drawn to her - Eri herself certainly was.
"I promise. I don't want to stay away any longer than we have to." Her fingers clench into a fist, "It may seem like we're leaving them behind - but I promise... I would never, ever... leave anyone behind. This is us regrouping to rescue them. We WILL come back for them. And it will be soon."
Eri does actually allow a little snerk though as Mikoto mentions that, "No... it's okay... I'm not laughing at you... it's just... that's so thoughtful, when it wasn't even a concern of mine. I understand I may have to compromise on my diet."
She confides in Mikoto, "I ate meat until I was twelve. And I still eat a little fish and an occasional egg. It's just... a choice I made - on how to live my life. Right now I understand I can't be picky."
And Eri nods as Mikoto says not to worry, "I trust both of you to act on your own. Just remember. Take care of yourselves first - or you can't save anyone at all. If you see an opening to get Madoka-chan or Mai-chan out - take it, but stay safe. We'll set up a place for us all to meet up to make plans, sleep, eat, hunt."
And then as Homura pulls out the pipe bomb from her shield. "Let's do this. Try to set it off outside of the g-" She pauses for a few long seconds, before the girl rubs her temple, "-can't be picky, can't be picky. Ah..."
It's a contrast to her earlier nonchalance about it. It may make the others realize just how making compromises are actually... not easy for her internally.
The girl takes a deep breath, pushing out her palms, "...alright, alright, I'm ready."