2019-04-03 - TIMELINE X: Bullet Versus Blade

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Title: TIMELINE X: Bullet Versus Blade

The mermaid witch's advent falls heavily upon a great many timelines. Deep into her devotional existence, Homura Akemi finds that one such tragedy triggers a firestorm of retribution from Kasagami Araki. Grief always has its costs.


Kasagami Araki and Homura Akemi


The Araki Estate

OOC - IC Date:

2019-04-03 - Somewhen amid the timelines

This begins with an opening cutscene, a collaboration between Kasagami's and Homura's players; then on to the scene!

It's been a week. A week since Sayaka Miki had given into the despair that's taken so many Puella Magi, that has sparked the transition into a Witch. While the revelation had been shocking, Kasagami Araki has dealt with it. Dealt with it by leaning harder into fighting in the Duels. Hunting youma. Training, anything to not think about the monsters walking and talking in the magical girl community.

Distancing herself from Homura Akemi, from Kyouko Sakura, and most of all from Eri Shimanouchi. Some of these had been close to her, and her own self-imposed exile has seen a drastic change in Kasagami. Gone are the days of encouraging her friends with bombast and confidence. She's been withdrawn, insular, and most of all, isolated and paranoid. More than once angry words and rages have chased away those who might in other timelines be solid allies.

But it hasn't been personal, not /really/. Until Saito Araki stopped responding to phone calls and texts. The curious silence has made a paranoid, wrathful Duelist worried for what feels like her only connection to someone who cares about her. Who isn't a potential enemy.

-Haneda Airport-

Midnight, Terminal 3. The last text had mentioned a business trip, a red-eyed flight to America. It took a few favors she was happy to burn, but she had the time, terminal, and flight number. He'd missed the flight, but a passenger had said he'd seen a man similar to Kasagami's uncle. The last location of his phone was here too.

An empty bathroom by an empty, closed restaurant. The employees and passengers alike of the airport had stayed clear through some intuition. All but the most vulnerable, the depressed, the weak. Drawn in, attracted by the unearthly minions of a deceased, brave hearted girl turned to a monster.

Saito Araki, business suit still impeccable, sits slumped over in a stall. His face is half melancholy, half regret. On his neck sits a hazy, indistinct mark, almost like a tattoo or a brand. An unfolded fan, or perhaps a half-sun of blades, their hilts the curls of musical notes. Already, the thing begins to fade.

"...Old man?" Kasagami starts, trying to deny what's in front of her. "Uncle...Saito?"

A phone slips from Saito Araki's cold hand, an unsent text flashing.

'I love you. The music won't stop playing. I'm sorry, niece.'

Screams and sobs fill the abandoned restaurant, and not long after, the police arrive.


The funeral is small. Saito Araki was a well respected man, but not well liked. A middle manager he reported to shows up. A few Ohtori students show to offer condolences to the Disciplinary Executive. The girl, usually so expressive and loud, brushes them off with silence and a set jaw.

Even the priest's prayers are ignored. When she approaches the closed casket, she places a hand upon it, and whispers words between herself and heaven.

"I'll stop every single one of those monsters, Uncle!"


Ohtori loses a bit of it's fire. The Disciplinary Executive, always so hands on, becomes a ghost. Gone from classes, from the halls, only emerging during Duels and seemingly at random to mete out harsh punishments on particularly unfavored students.

Delinquents, and those who slip out at midnight off campus are her worst targets. Curfew becomes tighter, stricter. Visiting certain areas of Tokyo more restricted as time goes on. It's an odd list.

Shibuya. Tokyo Bay. Akibahara. Keiyou.

Only a select few would see the common link.


Homura Akemi notices.

She's tracking everything, these days. These timelines. By now portions of her facsimile existence have become so rote she hardly notices them: school days blur into a series of tests she knows all the answers to and stolen glances at her pinkest-haired classmate, and even some Witch hunts feel more like practiced dances she already knows the steps to, however labyrinthine those steps might be.

It leaves her more mental bandwidth for tracking the changes, for spying and planning and worrying. Kasagami Araki, so frequently Ohtori's Disciplinary Executive and always involved in mahou goings-on, is a person she actively keeps tabs on -- like so many of the people Homura once thought of as friends. After all, Kasagami has so frequently kept tabs on Homura, over the timelines. It's an issue.

These newer developments spawn newer worries, suggest previously unseen issues.

Kasagami Araki bears watching. And so she is watched, by a pair of level and calculating violet eyes.


More and more, groups of girls find themselves under the wrath of the Disciplinary Executive. She's around the school more, soon blatantly targeting those around Puella Magi. Detentions. Nasty rumors. Kasagami Araki's actions push away friends from those independent puella outside of more veteran, established magical girls. In turn, at night, these girls grow more desperate. More prone to infighting.

One girl becomes a Witch. Another gets expelled from Ohtori.

Kasagami Araki seems a little more like her old self. Yet there's something hard growing in her eyes. She laughs, but never quite smiles like she used to.


It only took a timeline or two for Homura to learn the personal cost of forgoing school. She went through a period where she tried skipping in favor of weightier concerns, but it always ended up being more trouble than it was worth: another system she could not escape, in the end. Besides, going to class keeps her close to Madoka. Seats away, in fact.

Having experienced the wrath of overzealous discipline before, she takes pains to dodge it now. Others are not so careful, nor so lucky, and she watches the sword of punishment fall with level gaze.

She keeps watching the wielder, and her worries multiply.


It's not just at Ohtori. Puella magi find themselves followed. Familiars being cut down. A sense of someone watching, waiting, lurking.

A fight breaks out. A magical girl in a red hoodie and nodachi follows a Puella Magi into a Labyrinth. The magical Witch hunter falls not to a lack of grief seeds, a Witch, or to her fellow Puella. The 'Red Samurai' ends it.

One fewer potential Witch. Even so, the young woman apologizes.

Kasagami Araki is absent from Ohtori.


The pattern repeats. At first it's fights. Then the Red Samurai ambushes, begins actively targeting those that have made a Wish. With all of her heart being consumed by vengeance and the stress of such a grisly task.

She is determined, skilled, and efficient.

Kasagami Araki stops apologizing. Her glee is twisted, her smiles sharp.


A week after she disappears from school, Homura Akemi appears on her impressive estate doorstep unannounced. She rings the doorbell until Kasagami comes to answer: persistent, repeated, intrusive ringing, like every press of the button is the jab of a finger.

Her cold, level lack of expression is not unusual. This dark puella keeps secrets with her face as well as her words. She has never seemed interested in sharing her thoughts, or hopes, or worries; not with this Kasagami, nor with anyone. Homura is long done with that.

Her voice is quiet, but not soft. "You've been skipping school, Kasagami Araki. What happened to your pride in Ohtori?" A friend would say those words with concern... Not Homura.

"And your extracurricular activities are a problem for me."

She doesn't even blink as she makes oblique but certain reference to the increasingly bloody blade of the Red Samurai.

"Get back in school, Kasagami Araki. It is where you belong. Leave puella matters to puella magi. If you continue as you are..."

There's a pause. Her expression does not flicker, because Homura has so much practice now at pretending not to care. She lets it appear to be for emphasis, but she is remembering when Kasagami showed up at her apartment late one night to insist she attend the Athletics Festival. The duelist didn't believe her then. Now, she does. Now...

Homura flicks fingers through her long black hair.

"The next time I show up on your doorstep, I will put an end to it myself."

She works hard to give no sign that she cares, none whatsoever, and does such an excellent job that Kasagami may never know how this cold challenge constitutes a final hand extended from a girl who once considered her friend.

Then she is gone again, exiting between seconds to leave the truant officer an empty doorstep and a choice.


The jig is up. Kasagami Araki finds herself glad rather than despairing, for this intrusion of a girl that at one time was a friend. What is Homura Akemi to her now?

Just another monster in the making, of course. Inevitable, tragic, and deserved.

It's a hint to just how deep into her own pain and paranoia that she's withdrawn into, the way she smiles. Her good eye is open, bloodshot. This Kasagami isn't vibrant, or burning. There's darkness under her eyes as if she hasn't slept in a week.

Her laugh is hollow.

"What's the point of pride, Homura Akemi, if you don't have family to share it with? Where would the meaning of it all be, holding the world in your hands if you can't share that with the people you love?"

She laughs, quiet and long. And when Homura is away like a mirage or a hallucination.

"...Yeah. We'll end this. For both of our sakes, you little demon!"


The attacks finally stop for a time. Kasagami even returns to school. Things seem almost normal. But the Duelist still acts strange. Friendless. Even her jokes come off as twisted, harsh, macabre things. Discipline finds it's hold on the school.

Because the newly reinstated Disciplinary Executive is frightening. She's changed, and on the edge of a very, very high cliff.


Homura Akemi is a creature of practicalities, driven by necessity and to obsessive, controlling perfection. She does not hang her hat on ephemerals like hope, or at least, that's what she would claim. The truth? Well, Homura Akemi is also a liar.

Still. Still, she does not allow herself /hope/ that the grief-crazed duelist will back down. She has never known Kasagami Araki to be the sort to back down, and also, Homura knows what grief can drive a person to do. To be.

So she prepares.

It doesn't matter how many implements of destruction she slides into her shield. That dainty receptacle always sits light upon her slender arm, its face silver and circular and impassive over the terrible secrets it hides within. Kasagami Araki will be a deeply deadly foe, she knows -- deadly fast, deadly strong, and most of all deadly in intent. She has killed puella already.

Her usual armaments are not the best tools for this job, and there are other things she knows about Kasagami. Homura fills her shield with cruelty, deliberate and dangerous.

When the attacks stop, it should be a relief, but it is not. She keeps her watch on the black-mooded Disciplinary Executive, and her lack of faith finds its reward.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Never let it be said that the Araki doesn't have a sense of drama, or that she ignores certain older traditions. A sign is left nailed into the floor in front of Homura Akemi's apartment door. Wood and bamboo, it's something one might see in an Akira Kurosawa film.

The Red Samurai is challenging the Monster known as Homura Akemi to a duel. There will be no roses in this one.

Most of the Araki Estate remains in ruin. Burnt out ash can still be found in older sections of it. But the main house has been cobbled back to working order. It's a large thing, consisting of a three story building that takes up a full third of the grounds. The repairs are a mixture of fresh construction and cobbled parts where funds ran dry. The roof is high, almost pagoda-like at the top.

It's front door is doubled, large knockers on each bearing the head of a hawk as well as a sword-shaped handle to pull on. Large, sturdy things, in defiance of more traditional flimsier materials deeper in.

There are no maids, however, and everything has a fine layer of dust. An obsessed girl has no need for a place for friends. For family. All she has left is her sword, a half-finished moldering house, and a festering wound in her heart.

In the largest room towards the top, Kasagami Araki sits. A table is set out, with food and sake for two. A traditional meal, fit for a warrior. The young woman is dressed in a kimono that's been cut and slashed to resemble a hoodie. All blacks and reds.

Her combat boots are kicked up, and she'd look utterly indulgent if it weren't for the sword at her side. Polished. Pristine. And ready.

"I'm so…." Alone. Sad. Hurting. She'd been laughing two hours ago. Crying after that. Her emotions come and go like tides.

"Hurry up!" She snarls to an empty room and it's ghosts.

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

The sign nailed into the floor earns a rare frown, unseen by its instigator, from Homura as she opens her door. Some of it is for the task now before her; some of it is for the defacement of personal property, and this is not the first time Kasagami has disrupted the sanctity of her home.

She waits for night, then makes her move. Homura keeps her promises.


Once upon a timeline, Homura Akemi was a meek and polite girl who used manners to shepherd her through the terror associated with social interaction.

Tonight, tonight she has not come to share dinner with her host, and she does not knock at the front doors like a polite dinner guest.

Instead she blows them in.

<SoundTracker> Roni Size, Reprazant - Railing Pt. 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D88UQa2UV38

They're sturdy doors, strong and old and fine, but fire has already shown the Araki Estate the power of its hunger and Homura Akemi believes in concentrating power for full effect. She has the leisure of her private greyscale world to set the thermite charges precisely where she wishes them to be.

She appears for a brief moment on Kasagami's doorstep, her hair blowing in the night wind. She presses a button in the small black box in her hands, and disappears again -- seeking a safe distance.

Then the expectant still of a night spent waiting erupts inward with enough force to blow paintings from walls and fine china from dinner tables, and all is painted in the fervid red-orange-yellow-white of fire as explosions unfurl from windows and buckle solid old doors right off out of their frames. Wood splinters and glass window shards shred the air in a sharp-edged cloud ahead of all that combustive force.

Explosions can feel like they last forever, but in truth scant seconds pass as flame intrudes with its wash of pressure and heat. When the explosions are done, though, some growing embers remain: small crackling chars catch on cloth hangings and wooden furniture, the seeds of fires rapidly blooming.

Homura reappears: a dark outline of a girl with unbound hair whipping from the heat-winds, now, standing still and grim-faced in Kasagami Araki's smoldering and splintered foyer. Her shield gleams on her arm, and her eyes are as cold and as hard as her customary pistols.

"Araki!" she calls above the sound of a crackling window casement crashing to the floor. "I got your calling card. All you had to do was nothing... and yet here we are. You never can leave well enough alone. And you are now too dangerous to be left alone."

Even as she detonates her way into her schoolmate's home, Homura's words claim no responsibility. She is simply doing what must be done... or so she says. So she claims, even to herself.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Things never go the way she wants them to.

A wonderful life with her beloved parents shattered in a single night.

Duels lost when she strived so hard. Never able to defeat her rivals on the Council. And now, after all that time spent preparing to give the Puella Magi what they deserve? To be let off of their misery and keeping those they care for safe no matter what it took?

No matter what it cost her?

The doors blow off in a great fiery eruption. The place is as beautiful as it is ramshackle in places. This makes for /excellent/ kindling as so many pounds of expertly placed explosives rapidly create a growing inferno as cloth catches fire, bamboo and wood and other building materials recreating the disaster that struck this place so many years ago.

And in a fashion that has Kasagami falling to her knees, unseen in the upper floor. Her mind crawls back to the youma that invaded her parents' abode. This is just like that time. /Exactly/ like that time.

There's even a voice that yells out. But it isn't her mother.

A voice she knows. The Puella Magi Homura Akemi has decided to take her up on her challenge. Her hand, sweating underneath a glove, grabs the handle of her sword and hefts it over her shoulder. Her laugh rings out, something like joy but not quite filtering down the stairwell.

"HOMURAAAA!!! You came, you really /CAME/! I'm not the one who just blew in my front door! Come heeeeere little demon! You've finally come back to finish what you started! But you won't take me! Not this time!" Glee rings in her words. Her voice is scratchy, even as it carriers all the way down. She coughs, waving away the smoke, staring at the flames.

The Araki heir is too tense to feel fear. Her heart beats achingly slowly for the situation as history repeats itself.

"I'm going to do you a favor, and stop you from taking any more mothers or fathers or uncles! All you monsters do is eat, and eat, and gorge yourselves on the suffering of others! A magical girl destroys monsters that do that, don't they!?"

She takes her first step forward, almost leisurely. And then, she leaps upon the first set of staircases, doing a manic hop to take them by twos down from her upper sanctum. Her other hand spins something in it faster and faster as she plays hopscotch with a little whistle.

It's almost casual how she rounds the last step. Her smile would almost be friendly. Like she's at a game of baseball, instead of feeling the sweltering heat of an inferno blister her skin. Old memories and terrors stab at a heart that is hardened and tired from rages and vengeance.

"Come eat me if you can!"

She steps, and slashes at Homura with her blade. But it's a feint. Instead, her other hand whips a bottle of sake through the fire and towards where she thinks Homura might dodge to. An impromptu molotov, and a repudiation of her rudeness.

Upstairs, china and plates shatter. Homura didn't even ask for an appetizer.

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

"A monster? I don't deny it." Indeed, the grey girl remembers a timeline in which she insisted this was the case. No one believed her, then. "And I keep my promises."

The wild-eyed fervor amid the bloodshot in Kasagami Araki's good eye is belief aplenty, too late to be anything but dangerous: to the other puella magi, to Homura, and most importantly to extremely puella-adjacent Madoka Kaname, whom Homura can never quite seem to successfully shift from the strange-eared shadow of the Incubator.

The slip of a girl at the bottom of the grand estate stairs is tense, too, though she works hard not to broadcast it. Harder, as the Araki heir in all her vengeful battlejoy descends with that deadly sword upon her shoulder, like standing ground before a mad bull. Which way will Kasagami's horns slash?

She's seen the proud duelist fight so many times before, but Homura has never personally tempted the edge of her nodachi. She expects terrible strength, and terrible speed... but has historically done poorly with anticipating the wilder aspects of the girl she once looked up to. Kasagami has a way of catching Homura by surprise, and with some battlefield misdirection she does it once more.

That first sly slash comes for her, a blade-first attempt to chivvy her like prey. Homura is terribly quick, too -- without ever touching her shield she evades, but the attack was never meant to connect in the first place.

The very essence of improvised weaponry shatters against the wall just in front of Homura, splattering sake-turned-liquid fire in all directions, and the bloom of a bottle-born fireball reflects in big dark eyes gone wide--

--and so quickly it should not be possible, so disjointedly there is no transition to guide the eye from one spot to the next, a distinctly smoldering Homura crouches off Kasagami's other flank entirely. Somehow she crossed all that space and ended up with charred smoking holes in her clean white-and-grey henshin, the clear marks of liquid fire that is still actively splattering the air she just vacated. One porcelain cheek bears an ugly red score too, tracking downward as if a tear somehow scorched her face on its way down.

She doesn't look sad, though, or angry, or even as hurt as she should. Homura is implacable and cold, even amid all this fire. Her mien underscores accusations of inhumanity.

"Don't do me any favors, Araki. It's nothing personal."

But it is, somehow. Behind the icy near-whisper and the hard lack of expression there is an edge which gives the lie to that last statement. She rises from her crouch and backpedals away, black hair streaming, and there is a slab of deadly metal in her hand: a Desert Eagle, grey as the ribbons on her coat.

Then follows, not the concussive wallop of a .44 magnum splitting the air, but a sibilant shriek and a flare of white-hot flame spitting across the brief distance between girls as Homura lets loose with highly illegal white phosphorus rounds.

Nothing personal, indeed -- this is a deeply personal attack, indeed an assault on what Homura knows to be her once-friend's trauma-induced phobia. She hates herself for doing it, but in no way lets that stop her. Homura has done things even more unthinkable in the name of her promises.

Whatever she hits -- girl, wall, staircase, expensive heirloom vase -- the bottom floor rapidly fills with caustic smoke from the phosphorus, like a choking sea made of billowing white. Here and there a glow of red permeates, and a rising crackle speaks to how hungry the flames are for what remains of Kasagami's ancestral estate. Phosphorus doesn't just burn, it consumes in a pyrophoric rage.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Homura's movement is always something that's perplexed Kasagami. Sure, the girl is fast, but not /that/ fast. Can this demon of a Puella actually teleport!? Then why was she hit? Surely she could've avoided such a cheap trick if that were the case!

Kasagami Araki isn't sure, but she intends to find out. In her mind, she knows it might be key to winning against such a powerful opponent.

Things like that, though, are a little bit difficult to concentrate on when your neck is suddenly erupting in liquid, burning flame.

Spying wisps of hair and then the cold lump of steel in Homura's hand, the athletic young woman widens her stance. Gripping her blade with both hands, she aims a savage slash to the space between them! Kasagami is indeed horrifically fast even with her overly long sword's weight, her motions a blur as Homura's gun barks.

If it had been a normal bullet, it would've been cut in two. Instead, there's a splattering of white phosphorous that lashes into her hoodie and across the skin of her neck. Her scream hits the air even before she realizes the obscene amount of pain she's in. A magical girl won't be felled so easily, of course. But the burning gunk is already adding yet another deep, horrible scarr to her body that she won't recover from.


Ripping off the hoodie portion of her kimono, she tosses it aside, before she steps towards Homura. There's no feint here, as her spinning strike sweeps her blade towards the young woman's kneecaps. She isn't aiming for a shallow strike, either. She knows how tough Puella are, and would much rather cut them out than just annoy Homura.

But she doesn't stay still. She stops, and then leaps towards the staircase. Up, up, and around to the second floor. There's a bend in the staircase leading to a much thinner hallway. Luckily the roof is higher up.

As she sucks in rapid, pained breaths, her blade is held high. Her eyes are wide, wild, waiting for the slightest sign of the girl.

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

Whatever dread feats of martial prowess and athleticism she's seen from the duelist known as Kasagami Araki before, Homura Akemi has never seen anyone move so swiftly as to simply cut one of her bullets in half. In this moment, each deadly combatant gets to wonder at the capabilities of the other...

But it was not simply a bullet after all, and so Homura transgresses against the Geneva Convention to score a terrible hit on her opponent.

It's not like the grey girl to stick around in the range of things like swords, but it's harder to keep her distance against such blinding speed and steel-described range. The counterslash comes before she can get clear, and in split second desperation the hard-faced puella springs straight up -- there's no safe way to suffer a blade like that.

World-class reflexes deny Kasagami those kneecaps for bounty but she does not pull through with an unblooded blade. It's a near thing, but the duelist hears a strangled sound of pain and feels the pull of connection--

--and the moment the blade's past Homura disappears again, leaving just the spray of red through white smoke to tell of a hit scored. In the monochromatic safety of her own private world, Homura Akemi learns how much it blackens a Soul Gem to restore a ruin of a foot.

All is quiet, save for the crackle of flames beneath billowing white smoke, for long seconds after Kasagami attains the second floor.

When it happens, it all happens at once.

A slip of a puella appears halfway up the stairs at a dead run, and to either side of the grand Araki staircase behind her a handful of small dark objects hover in the air as if dropped out of nowhere -- grenades? But why behind her?

Then she is but a black silhouette against a sunburst of white as several flashbangs go off simultaneously, blowing her raven swallowtail of hair forward over her shoulders as she comes. Homura makes for that hallway behind the duelist, low and dark within a brilliance of explosions.

She'd checked the original floor plans for the Araki Estate before coming -- another of her meticulous preparations. There should be a service elevator shaft at the end of it, and she'll go up it if she can. Homura wants more space to evade that far-too-sharp nodachi.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

A grin splits Kasagami's face despite the sheer pain she's in. The adrenaline helps, and the sight of the blood of a monster like a Puella Magi? She long ago came to enjoy the violent act. A righteous one, saving those she swings at through pure violence.

It's better to meet a warrior's end rather than live to become a monster.

Homura is gone. The teleport again!? The fact that she hit, that she felt that connection of blade and flesh is proof. It's reality. And yet...

There she is. Running. A full tilt, not a leaping dash. As if she could move too fast to be seen even by Kasagami's sharp eyes! There's no sign of her injury, either! She's pretty sure she caught at least an ankle, if not a foot! While she knows the recovery abilities of a Puella are vast.../when/? And where did those grenades come from!?

The flash of light and sound cut through her head like a spike driven through her skull. One of her ears is bleeding from the proximity. it doesn't take Homura's time stop to get past her, with her eyes flashing white and her head filled with that awful sound!

It's a few strands of black hair that tips her off to where Homura's going. Ignoring the ringing in her head, blade and perfect form never wavering, she rushes after the girl. She can barely see, vision swimming. Her aim would be off in the open setting that she guesses the Puella is going for.

The old service elevator. Despite the torment she's trying to clear out of her noggin, there's good cheer in that dark twisted way creeping into her face. Homura quickly find outs /why/.

Up the stairs, around the corner, smoke and fire following them both as the Estate's main house starts to collapse in part. It lurches, just a bit, and Kasagami stumbles. What does Homura find?

Nothing but a boarded up dead end. A few loose bamboo and wood slats reveals concrete beyond. It's been filled in, not merely covered up. Even a block of C4 wouldn't help her get up using this old place.

Kasagami herself ordered it filled in. The Duelist steps into the hallway, bodily blocking Homura from leaving. She takes three steps with a laugh on her lips. She doesn't need to see right to be able to move through the hallways here, and her instincts guide her. Only her steps are slowed, hindered, from the effects of the flashbang scrambling her neurons.

Her grip on her blade is tight and steady, however.

"Sorry Homura! I've been renovating, you crafty devil you! Ahhh, it's been too long since I've fought a real fighter...die by the technique of the Araki family with your honor intact!"

The only warning is a slight refraction of space, her hand seeming to leave little mirrored turns of light. One can see the reds and oranges of flame dancing about the blade again and again as Kasagami steps in. It's an overhand strike. A dire thing, meant to carve Homura clean in half from the top of her skull and downwards. She'll have to slash through wood, nails, and concrete to do it. But these things offer no resistance through the sheer magical muscle and obsession-honed skills of the girl who once dreamed of being a King.

That would be deadly enough, but five more blades menace the Puella. They're points of light in all of this fire continuing to creep. Both shoulders. Both legs. And the midsection. The hallway walls are slashed through in the same instant. Kasagami is close, closer than she would for merely cutting a humanoid.

It's as if she's trying to slash a mounted warrior in half. After Homura's impressive feats, she wants to carve the girl into constituent parts to make sure she doesn't come back.

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

Even with her escort of 7 million candela delivered directly to Kasagami's good eye, Homura skirts wide around the deadly puella hunter. Perhaps her foot is mended, but a clean-edged flutter of severed black cloth around it tells part of the tale.

Her dead heart thudding hard against her ribcage, she pelts full-tilt for the corner and hits the wall with one foot, kicking off it to retain momentum -- she can ill afford to lose speed with this foe at her heels -- and rockets for the elevator shaft.

The... boarded up... filled in elevator shaft.

The floor plans for this grand estate did not account for the scars it sustained after their filing, any more than Kasagami's childhood pictures could foretell the burns which would rake half her face. Once again, Homura's carefully laid plans go awry. Kasagami is not the only one here who feels like things never go the way she wants them to.

She is trapped, with a bloody-minded samurai at her back.

Kasagami's laughter fills the narrow hall as Homura turns in place. The puella's mouth is a hard slash, and her hands are empty. The hungry flames beneath heat the floor, heat their feet. In no way does Homura Akemi look as terrified as she feels.

At the word 'honor' her eyes narrow slightly. When Kasagami moves,

So does she.

Flame reflects, and scarlet scintillation casts across the puella's pale face like paint splashed on parchment. The ceiling splits before Kasagami's focused might -- the walls splinter, and a refraction of death comes for Homura upon the edge of the Araki family blade.

Hung upon the terminal focal point of all that fury of motion, Homura reaches for the shield on her arm

and the next thing Kasagami sees from the apogee of her assault is the pitch-black barrel of a Desert Eagle, staring her down and split visually by the metal of her blade, then there is muzzle flash and the five other bullets she fired in the timestop fly, too.

Now the bullet turns the blade.

Impossible. Any one of those shots would be impossible, taken together...

Homura doesn't stick around, but she can't go far either with Kasagami still baying her in the dead end hall. She skitters away on one black heel and one unclad one thanks to her blade-torn tights, until her back is against the boards blocking the elevator. She grits her teeth, and reaches for her shield once more.

These days, Homura prepares for contingencies with overwhelming firepower. Tonight she went with overwhelming fire.

<SoundTracker> nine inch nails - Burn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsM4FM3MiK0

A flicker, that is all -- like someone degaussed Homura Akemi's appearance in the world. But when she reappears it is with three tanks strapped to her back, and a relic of a weapon in her hands. Its long metal nozzle points at the Red Samurai, and black swims in the Soul Gem on the back of Homura's aiming hand.

A Japanese Type 93 flamethrower, in pristine shape, preserved since World War II.

"Honor is worse than a lie in this world, worse than worthless. If you can't see that with your Estate burning down around your ears then you never will, Araki."

And with a twist of a dial she unleashes inferno.

Heat roars forth, first in a jet and then a blooming fireball. It could be beautiful. So many deadly things are.

Homura bears down on the nozzle and pours a brilliance of combustion into the narrow hall, letting it blacken the walls and eat through the sword-gouges, until all she can see is a wash of angry redyellowwhite. Somewhere in there, somewhere in the firestorm, is the girl who tutored her at history and brought back her missing mitten.

Homura clenches her jaw against a pathetic squeak, grinds it to dust between her teeth, and pours on the gas.

<Pose Tracker> Kasagami Araki [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Each bullet connects, turning aside Kasagami's expert swings just enough to avoid being split into sushi. Sparks fly, setting more smoke into the room and singing tips of Kasagami's hair. Metal shards slash into her clothes and beneath, but the girl seems to pay little heed to the damage.

She is focused, and wants only one thing. To end a girl who was a friend.

A girl, it seems, that has a trick up her sleeve. And one that, as Homura's world flickers and degausses like an old CRT, finally clicks into place in Kasagami's mind.

The movement, how she seems to act and disappear. How she was able to meet the many sword strikes all at once! The mechanics of it don't matter. But now Kasagami knows the what of it. And where it seems to come from. She eyes the shield.

Only for a thing of nightmare to be brought forth. This close, as Homura retorts about honor, it's like staring back into the demon that first brought this home to ruin.

For the second time in her life, her whole being if consumed by flame. And there's no body to shield her, nothing to keep half of her safe at the cost of another's life. The old warhorse flamethrower works quickly as Homura turns it up and throws away the feelings they'd shared together in that long-passed timeline.

Kasagami screams in agony. She writhes, stumbling back. Her knees bend, her hands tremble. One of the columns in the nearby wall fracture from the hole the burning fuel has put in it. A shard of it falls.

Amidst the suffering, the heat, and the horrible smell? A pair of bloodshot eyes stare at Homura, miraculously unclouded by the fire she spews. They're unmoving, wracked with pain, all of the fury and suffering she's endured since the loss of her uncle and resulting spiral into vengeful madness.

They grow clear, as Homura's words catch an old memory.

Sitting together in the Dojo, beside both of her parents, her trembling young hands painted two sets of kanji. One of 'Honor' to her left. One of 'Truth' to her right. The things a proper warrior-ruler family should embody. High ideals.

All of that agony is traded for clarity at the grave insult spoken aloud in the site of her parents' resting place. And one that may very well be her own.

The silhouette of Kasagami and her now crystal clear gaze is gone. There's a flicker through the fire and a shadow falling on Homura. High up above, scoured and scorched with her skin ashen, powerful legs push off of the ceiling. It splits beneath darkened toes.

The tip of her overly large sword drives towards Homura's gutt as she aims to pin flamethrower user and volatile weapon down together, butterfly-like to the wall. Press. Further. Further. /Further/ to the hilt, if she can manage it.

Twist. Tear. Slide.

"...Truth...is the only valuable thing in this world, Homura. No matter...ngghh...what it costs. You can't escape it." Her voice is raspy, vocal cords burnt and ravaged. She can't walk anymore, and even her breath smells like ash.

Her arms remain as hard as steel, utterly unwilling to give.

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

Through the growl of her weapon and above the crackle of an Estate going up in flames around them, Homura hears the awful sound of Kasagami's agony. The weapon she chose is cruel, so cruel that honorable battlefield commanders no longer deploy it -- there is a reason it is so old.

But fire is the only thing she can think of to repel the terrifying might of Kasagami, and Homura cannot afford to die here. She'll do anything for Madoka, including terrible things that stain her forfeit soul and keep her up in the middle of the night.

She redoubles her grip on the flamethrower's nozzle, relying on the horrific wash of flame to keep Kasagami from her. The hallway begins buckling, but it is the baleful pierce of a wounded girl's gaze which rounds the edges of large dark eyes.

It is as impossible as the shots which deflected a sixfold strike earlier.

She has committed her hands to her terrible weapon and her feet to their planted stance. Homura Akemi underestimated her foe, and she has just enough time to recognize the lethal cost of her miscalculation before a death named Araki falls through flame for her, bladefirst and blackened. The knowledge is in her eyes.

Whatever monster lurks beneath her porcelain facade, Homura exists in the shape of a girl, petite and bird-boned. She is shorter and slighter than the older and athletically-minded Red Samurai by many degrees, and there is in the end very little of Homura Akemi to come between nodachi and wall. Even the sturdiness granted by a traded soul splits before the steel brand in Kasagami's smoldering grip.

Homura pins easily, with hardly a sound except a soft one from the back of her throat. "...!"

The back of her head thuds against the boards behind her but the sensation is a dull one, as distant as the clang of flamethrower to floor. The blade in her belly, though...

They are as close as dance partners, bound closer yet by this moment of shared mortality. Even as Homura tastes the agonal ash on Kasagami's breath and sees smoke rise from fresh-charred skin, the other girl can reap the results of that sword twist in how her pinned quarry's face twists, too -- can feel her shudder bodily.

Homura's porcelain cheeks grey to match her ribbons, and a treacherous weighty cold seeps into her limbs.

"Can't... escape it? That's... where you're wrong, Kasagami Araki," she hisses between clenched teeth, and stares up into the torment contorting the other's features. "Truth has failed me... every time." There's accusation amid all the agony in her eyes, like Homura holds Kasagami personally responsible for this.

Maybe another Kasagami was, partially, once upon a timeline long gone. It is hardly fair to hold that against her now, but Homura's world is not fair and now neither is she.

And now -- now all the many possibilities this timeline held are gone, and her choices have dwindled to one, the same choice she has made every timeline previous. There is one escape left to her, and even skewered like a flame-singed moth she can still reach the shining implement her soul's wish summoned.

It is not the first time her shaking fingers have smeared blood upon the shield's perfect mechanisms and it will not be the last.

She doesn't often consider what befalls the wreckage of the timelines she abandons like sinking ships. In the smoking shadow of Kasagami, surrounded by the swiftly-crumpling corpus which once was her Estate -- which once held safe the very graves of her parents -- Homura is forced to consider, and she does: when she leaves will this timeline flash out of existence behind her? Or will this proud duelist who so often went out of her way to try and reach a painfully withdrawn transfer student burn, alone, in her wake?

But she considers only briefly, and the thought does nothing to slow her hand from twisting that gleaming silver counterclockwise. Their mortal clinch is so close that the duelist can hear the rare susurrus of sand flowing. The last Kasagami sees of her viscerally trapped prey is a flinch: she looks aside, away, can no longer meet that anguish even as she flees.

Homura knows herself for a coward. She is a liar, too, and a thief. She will be whatever she needs to be.

Then she is... gone, simply gone, and Kasagami is left to whatever fate awaits the abandoned.