2020-01-07 - The Right Hand Of Darkness

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Title: The Right Hand Of Darkness

Homura defends a beach party from the force which is Mikoto Minagi, and when she admits to using Mikoto as a weapon for her own ends, she triggers a realisation which becomes something much worse.


Mikoto Minagi, Homura Akemi


Tokyo Bay

OOC - IC Date:

2020-01-07 - 2015-07-28

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> New Model Army - Knife https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hXJ5vvoA6JE

Summer vacation is a time for dates, and shopping, and - exciting group excursions! The Sister Schools are in close communication with each other, and several of the sports-related clubs have decided to take today out for that most sacred summer activity...

Hitting the beach.

Sure, the swim teams will have the advantage in the water, but in the fading light of sunset everyone is raring to go for some classic beach volleyball. They string the net long across the sand. For people who thrive in a competitive, physical environment, even the slippery sand is its own thrill: more than one member has been good-naturedly shoved into a sand dune as this next event gets into full swing.

They would proclaim, naturally, that jocks have no natural predators in the delicate ecosystem of high school.

Except, of course, for other jocks.

Nothing interrupts their rough-housing and sportsmanship, even as a softball champ screams "YOSSHA!" in joyful celebration of successfully getting the ball past her competition. She might be fierce, but she still high-fives her opponent as they head past. They're foes when their respective clubs come to a head, but they still go out for sundaes on the weekends.

Nothing... yet.

A group as large as this - several clubs strong mean there are enough girls and boys here that they have their own tent set up with refreshments and emergency bandaids - is bound to attract attention. It's no wonder: music is playing from a boombox set up just outside that tent, and the whole setup just screams 'party'. Most of this attention is in the form of onlookers or admirers, shyly looking on from further down the beach, or brazenly coming right up to cheer them on. (Surely, members of the cheerleading club meet these brave souls warmly.)

It's a smaller crowd, perhaps, than they would have gotten in the middle of the day - but the sun has just set, and it's the best time to get into some strenuous sports, now the harshest of the summer heat is behind them. Orange fades to purple; the sky is their own natural lightshow.

Another game of volleyball sparks up - and there's one more person, hidden in the scrub-brush of the dunes. The shadows they cast help to disguise the black of that uniform, all trimmed in magenta at its edges. Mikoto's cape and spaulder are repaired, now, as if they had never been mangled in the first place. She does not belong, framed against girls in tank tops and boys in shorts: her sleeves are long, her skirt pencil-straight. It's just a little off - like a uniform for a school which never was.

No bag of books on her shoulder.

these days to remember just where it was that we came from

No: a blade rests there, flat against her exposed shoulder as she watches teenagers who could have been her peers, if not for her duties which have little to do with school at all.

She left in the morning, to gather their suffering. She has been hunting. She was not always an apex predator, in the grand food chain of Tokyo. But things have changed - she has changed...

She has found them.

(She was not invited.)

what was it that we wanted before all the changes

When she started, she tried to target the suffering of the magical - the people who could fight back. She tried to be selective. But her Lord Brother needs their suffering, and she is so desperate for his happiness, even as hers is a memory grown dim and dismal in the darkness. These girls cry like any other, helpless or not. He smiles, to hear them crying.

This is not the first time she's struck at civilians, she thinks, grim: and it will not be the last.

At least Mai and Takumi are not here. Under her own power, that is the one line she has managed to maintain.

That one, scarce thing...

and the hardest part is choosing and watching all the doors closing

They laugh, and they do not know the danger they are in, and it knots at the pit of her gut and twists her lips down. One scores another goal, and leaps in joy.

Mikoto leaps, too.

One lands like a meteor to a crater and the other tumbles to the ground, not the only one to fall in the wake of quaking sand. The volleyball net snaps in twain, carved down the middle by a great black blade: one end of the equipment tangles at a girl in pigtails, and she yelps as the sudden torque hits her. Mikoto swallows her reaction; the only hint she heard is the way her fingers tighten, around her blade, as she straightens up and sweeps it in a wide arc.

That it is an arc which does not catch any of the club members - even if it comes worryingly close to one boy who fell and hasn't yet risen - is not a thing she calls attention to. That boy laughs, nervously, as he shuffles back. "Uh - hey - cosplay swords don't usually cut like that... are you from Kendo, or, uh..?"

there's no turning back

Mikoto clicks her tongue to the back of her teeth, and turns on a heel to bring her blade overhead, carving the left post the net was tied to right down the middle.

The entangled girl squeaks.

"Run," is the one word Mikoto says, rumbling low warning as her eyes narrow to glare at one particular redhead - who looks ready to march right up and start trouble.

Not everyone is as brave as her, though.

Many do start running.

no turning back

 COMBAT: Mikoto Minagi transforms into HiME Mikoto!
 COMBAT: Homura Akemi transforms into The First Apostle!
<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

It's a beautiful day at the beach, and the world is a playground for sun-seeking youth so energetic that their celebrations outlive the day. Heat, sand, and loud jocks as far as the eye can see:

This is not Homura Akemi's scene.

She's here, though, in her Ohtori orange-and-whites -- a uniform for a school which is. Even in the summer she opts for elbow-length sleeves, and the slender forearms extending out from them are hardly darker than the fabric; no sun-lover, she. Right now she has those arms crossed over her chest, a single note in a symphony of 'I am here by myself and no, I don't want to say hello' body language. She has a bubble of space to herself in the gathering crowd. It has worked well enough so far.

And there are no Wraiths present at the edge of this evening. No youma, either. Her Soul Gem swirls violet in its ring, quiescent.

Good. She can get out of here.

A crashing like a meteor interrupts her heel-turn away from the Bay, with a tumult and violence beyond what even Homura Akemi might expect from a gathering of noisy jocks. Immediately those large eyes narrow, and she's spinning 360 degrees instead of 180 -- was she wrong about the youma? Hard to tell through the confused milling of a crowd on its way to a panic...

Homura is a nimble girl, though, and she manages her way through the throng just in time to nearly get knocked down by the collective flinch Miroku's swing triggers in the front row. They're moving back, though, and she's moving forward, and so:

She finally sees that she was sort of wrong about the youma.

Run, says Mikoto. The crowd finishes finding its way to that panic, and the screaming chaos makes as good a cover as she'll find on short notice. None of the obediently fleeing people see more than a flash of violet, and then there is another girl in strange cosplay but hey, she doesn't have a sword so she's not terribly noteworthy, considering.

That redhead is going to be almost as much trouble as Mikoto, comes the irritable thought. Fine. Homura will just have to be more trouble.

She nocks blazing trouble and draws back on her bowstring, sighting through the flare of magic. Then she does the thing that she would never have done, in a world which no longer exists. She calls out to her opponent before unleashing her attack.

"No, Minagi."

Violet twinkles at the point of the arrow like a star, a vivid and fixed point amid the morass of afraid people.

"You should be the one running."

Released, her arrow screams through the air toward Mikoto -- and Homura wills its enwrapping magics to detonate moments before impact, seeking to blow the other girl back or down or away rather than pierce her. Then it is Homura's turn to leap, as high and as far as her enhanced legs will allow her (with, of course, a flip at the apex). Over the crowd, over Mikoto, to land between HiME and shoreline some meters away.

She puts the water at her back, and aims to put the vulnerable civilians at Mikoto's -- should she turn to face her new foe.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

There's a girl who wants to start trouble, and a girl who can't quite get out of the remnants of that net to run away, and a lot of other people who are running away...

This has all the ingredients of a strike which could go very, very badly.

Mikoto stares down the advancing redhead, with a wordless snarl of warning. The girl is plainly chilled - the scariest thing she's defeated in the past month is the very large spider which crawled into her little brother's room - but her courage holds out long enough to stand her ground. Yes, that sword is apparently real, but she's studied karate for four years now--!! Some mad girl in costume can't really... can't... really...

The warning issues from behind them, and the redhead looks behind Mikoto to pale further as she sees a second girl in cosplay, who, frankly, also sounds terrifying. Suddenly there are two of them, and they know each other, and whatever kind of performance this is, it's too much.

And so that girl runs, stopping only long enough to help up a girl in pigtails who has only just managed to struggle out of that net.

But a brave girl with a few years in the dojo was never the focus of Homura Akemi's threat; it just so happens that the Puella Magi was, in fact, more trouble.

Mikoto, then.

Because by the time that redhead noticed the purple girl, Mikoto had already turned to face the real threat of the arena. "Homura!" She snaps - yes, they know each other - yobisute and angry for it. Run, Homura says, and Mikoto does leap: springing away from the arrow before its explosion can reach her.

She growls, as she looks back to Homura - and regards the treacherous grip of the sand, coupled with the warding light of her magics. Violence in her eyes, violence on her breath, but she remembers what happened the last time she tried to fight her on an open plane.

Run, says Homura.

Mikoto slams her sword into the sand between them to bring up a shower of fragments between them, and yes: she runs. Away from the fleeing civilians, further down the coastline, down where the buildings crowd up to the water's edge and sand is replaced with stones to mark the edge...

The Industrial District has a long reach, across Tokyo, and it is made of concrete and steel and rebar, and if Mikoto is to fight Homura she would have it be on better ground. Higher ground: there is a building at the outskirts here half-finished, and Mikoto weaves through the bulky strats of the warehouse's skeleton, places half-done walls between her and anything behind her.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

There are a great many things Homura Akemi has unconscionable amounts of practice at doing, many of which she knows she will never do again: constructing pipe bombs, firing AK-47s, sneaking through the Kaname family backyard... Then there are the things Homura Akemi has far less practice at doing, skills she has not exercised in what amounts to decades of her lifespan, like getting civilians to flee dangerous situations, or prioritizing their protection in any way other than immediately launching an offensive.

It is fortunate for this unpracticed hero that she is up against a villain who is not wholeheartedly committed to her villainy. It is even more fortunate for the redhead, and the girl caught in the volleyball net, and all the others who escape untouched by obsidian edge. They have the time they need to help each other free while the two girls in the frightening cosplay square off.

Homura tosses her chin and long black strands of hair whip with the motion -- long red ribbons ripple. She meets Mikoto's glare and growl with a hard, level expression. Her knees bend, her stance lowers, her heels dig deeper into shifting sands; she is ready, bow before her.

When Mikoto actually runs, Homura... blinks. Then she's off like a shot, pursuing the other girl like one of her own black-headed arrows.

She follows at the pace of a fleet near-mortal, unable to close the gap with a cheating flick of her thumb. Her heels find better purchase on stone than in sand, and better still on steel. Up goes Mikoto, and Homura follows after, and there are echoes of decades ago for the grey girl in how she catches glimpses of black braids around the corner of half a wall as she leaps and climbs behind.

"I thought you were a beast on a rampage," she calls up through the empty space where a floor is not yet laid. "Just another magical monster, attacking mindlessly."

Seconds later she jumps up and whirls upon landing, but no attack comes. Yet. A scuff of loafer on cement comes from above. Homura sets her free fingers to air and a bowstring lights between them in the same way a candle might.

She leaps up to a skeletal corner of scaffolding, part of the open-air shaft for the construction elevator -- there! A shadow thrown onto some drywall which just might be a slight figure bearing an enormous slab of a weapon.

"You said magical girls are your enemy, Mikoto Minagi." The full name, used deliberately, as it always is, to command whatever attention she can. An arrow coalesces in her grasp and she draws, never taking her gaze off that shadow.

Her tone is cool, a frosting over concentration and calculation as she eyes the relevant angles and metal surfaces. "So why are you swinging your sword at helpless people?" A second later the arrow shrieks free, released.

It blasts a metal I-beam and streaks off and upward at a crazy angle, to immediately strike and ricochet off of several walls -- leaving scorch marks wherever it goes -- and flies out of Homura's sight, into an unknown space a floor above, a space she has never seen but has conceptualized in her mind's eye...

A space she calculates Mikoto Minagi to be, or at least a piece of unseen construction that casts a shadow very like Mikoto Minagi.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Tom Mauritzon - Face to Face https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EbwWaEurZuA

Homura is unpracticed at her heroics, and Mikoto is unpracticed in her villainy, and between them the worst injury anyone suffers is the whiplash from that net.

The maniacs in costume rush away, and slowly the jocks filter back into their trashed arena. One inspects the posts they used to set that net up, and says: "This thing's brittle as anything! I bet anyone could have split these things in half!"

The sportsmen and women murmur agreement, none of these fit figures wanting to admit that the people they just saw dashing away beat any records any of the Track and Field teams have set. A particularly offended girl from Ohtori flips her hair, and demands: "Were we just pranked?"

Gasps erupt from the unsettled crowd.

"But there are so many clubs here!"
"We'll never be able to figure out who did it..!"
"What kind of special effects even were those?!"

Just like that, it's plain to the assembled crowd that what happened here was nothing out of the ordinary, because anyone could have snapped that net with sufficient determination.

There are bandaids in the tent for that one unfortunate girl, and water for the one who faced a monster down and is still, despite the sensible reassurance, a little terrified... but she'll be fine, too, as soon as she realises the spider was scarier.

And life goes on. The cross-club meet isn't ruined. They just might not settle who's best at volleyball, this time.

After all, there's no evidence in front of their eyes that anything strange is really going on.

That evidence has taken flight - to the structures in progress at Keiyou, after quitting time at the myriad factories there.

A beast on a rampage, Homura says, and Mikoto Minagi flinches. For just a moment, she's still, shadow casting long on the drywall. She betrays herself with a word, more hesitant than before. "I..."

'... if it's for people I love, I'll be a monster.'

"Because - because it's for--!!"

TRAP, screams the instincts at the back of her mind, excepting of course than her reptilian responses do not use words at all. Her legs bend to hurl her away from where she once was, but her own plan betrays her: there is more cover here, and more cover means less room to manoeuvre. She finds herself slowed by another I-beam, and before she can redirect herself the trick arrow catches up to her. She manages to twist away from the black projectile proper, but that arrow - like Homura - is not alone. The light which pairs with it is blinding - more than; Mikoto finds herself flung away from her hiding place, landing once and bouncing two more times before she manages to get a hand beneath herself and push herself standing.

"It's for my Lord Brother!" Mikoto yells, and she does not sound wounded because of the scorching she has taken. (At least, not entirely.) Her next question, incisive, might not quite follow: "Isn't this world worth protecting?!"

How does terrorising the innocent protect this world..?

Mikoto doesn't stop to explain, continuing her route up the construction site. To the rooftop, half-made: a few entryways have been forged to the walkable areas, concrete poured just long enough ago to be firm underfoot. "Homura taught me - whatever it takes! Right?!" Mikoto's demand has an edge of desperation to it, lined with the despair of facing her actions. "Or is it just me now, Homura?! I won't back down! I'll do whatever it takes! I'll hurt them - I'll..!"

She is angry, angry at herself and angry at Homura and her tricks, and angry in ways she cannot focus on for their profanity. Her rage glances off him and reflects to her again, and from the corner of Mikoto's eye she catches the crane anchored to this building, hook now free of the materials it has ferried up from the ground. With a growl, she flings her weight to that side, slamming the flat of her blade against that hook - to send it swinging across the rooftop...

Right along the route she took to get here.

"I'll make everyone suffer!" Mikoto yells, volume climbing to a frustrated fever point. It's no wonder she's feeling so foiled: she does not know the clubs at the beachside have rationalised away her attack, diminishing all of her returns, but by now she is confident it is true. Two months is not long, in the grand scheme of time, but it is long enough for her to know her efforts never get far.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Blink-blink-blink-blink-FLASH go the violet-white flickers of ricochets and detonation across an impassive face. The arrow's flare steals all shadows for a critical moment, leaving its archer in suspense. Homura's long hair flows in the wind, with a single shock of red ribbon dancing amidst the black; the rest of her does not move until Mikoto's pained shout returns to her.

Isn't this world worth protecting...? "Tch." Now the grey girl catapults herself upward through the elevator shaft, leap by leap. Not that Homura Akemi is unacquainted with unusual methods of guardianship, but she has doubts that Mikoto's Lord Brother concerns himself with protecting the world.

Mikoto climbs and Homura gives chase; but who is predator, who is prey, here? With every upward somersault the sharp-eyed and sharp-minded Puella Magi scans the building's skeleton, a certain malevolent slab of obsidian ever on her mind.

It helps that Mikoto keeps talking -- she can better tell how far ahead her once-senpai is.

What she's saying, though...

Homura did teach her that; she was as merciless with Mikoto's innocence as she was with any enemy she ever turned her Desert Eagles on.

And it availed Homura precisely as much as the rest of her efforts ever did.

Is it just Mikoto, now, doing whatever it takes?

Homura skitters away from that thought and where it leads with all speed, just like she's racing her way up the incomplete scaffolding of a building-to-be.

And then, antagonized, she goes on the offensive (defensive), shooting back with words which echo off the half-built walls to reach Mikoto rather than arrows which ricochet. "Yes, I taught you that. It was useful to me. I needed to kill Sayaka Miki, and there you were: a deadly weapon. You were ready to learn, though. You were willing to do anything..."

One last flip, left heel leading, and she alights on a girder just below a poured concrete walkway; coils there, fingertips splayed on the cool steel, and pauses to catch the scuff of loafers just ahead and above.

"...to keep Eri safe. Little did I know I was arming your Lord Brother, too. You're a very... loyal person, Mikoto Minagi."

Worlds of cold criticism live in that small pause. Homura leaps up to the concrete immediately thereafter with a nocked arrow twinkling upon her bow, ready to follow attack with attack. Mid-leap, she hears the clang--

--there's a skull-crushing mass of hook hurtling directly at her, whipping along at the end of a chain that seems to stretch right to the heavens.

'Duck,' comes the musty ghost of an echo. 'Don't think.' Lessons she has integrated into the very bones of her being by now, so deeply learned that she rarely hears the words any more. Impossible not to, now.

Homura ducks.

She drops, really, flinging herself down and back in a flash until her slender body bends like her bow. The pitted curve of the crane rattles on like a chained-up freight train -- the wind of its passage rips at every ribbon affixed to the grey girl just like one, too. Homura misses having her pert little nose ripped off by centimeters, and she could swear the smell of iron lodges in it.

No time to meditate on how close she just came to getting meathooked. No time to think. She slaps her palm on concrete and throws herself up onto her toes, arrow still twinkling, but this time it's aimed straight down -- and she looses it immediately.

There's a bright sound and a loud burst of light, and Homura Akemi is flung skyward by the concussive force of her own explosion, trailing violet-white streamers as she ascends. The blast pushes out, hard, in all directions, hopefully to knock back any nearby HiMEs and their deadly Children too.

She lands partway up the crane itself, with one leg and one arm hooked through its architectures some twenty meters up, looking for her friend and foe.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Lacuna Coil - Entwined https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ZpztCaoYFg

Once upon a time, in a fairytale from a dark Book, Mikoto was happy living alone on her mountain. She was happy because she fought beside her Lord Brother - defeating the monsters who would otherwise threaten the world. They were training to save it, and so she took her hard training with cheer.

There is a reason, perhaps, why her Lord Brother would frame the harvest of suffering in language which defends the world.

Perhaps there is a reason...

Homura has reasons, too, and at first the outpouring of them will find no reply but for an edge of anguish to Mikoto's yell. For a moment all she thinks of is reprisal, harsh and violent. She cannot know that her mind followed a similar track, lifetimes ago. She cannot know she herself equipped Homura to abjure her threat.

All she knows is that Homura responds - adeptly, and without pause. In another situation, she might have praised her for it. Here and now she snarls, sees the arrow loosing so close, and she sees the hook, swinging back around, directly in her fleeing path.

So often Mikoto's assaults infringe on her as much as those around her.

If she leaps it will catch her, and it alone would be fine but the arrow - no. Mikoto wheels, bringing her blade up in bullish blocking stance, and the decision only takes long enough for the arrow to hit ground.

Light consumes.

When it fades the hook sways lightly, its momentum arrested. Where Mikoto was she is not, now: instead there is a pile of her, and she has collapsed a carefully-stacked slab of bricks with her scarce weight, dust rising and crumbled halves falling to the new concrete below.

Long sleeves hide any scrapes or bruises - but she breathes shallow, she winces. For a moment, she is still. She is quiet.

"Eri... Eri was always borrowing me," comes her defence, verbally, and it is weak on her lips. "We both knew... there was someone I had to put first. I didn't know I'd have to do these awful things to Eri, but, I..!"

She sniffs, and shakes her head. It's probably not the brick dust.

"Useful... a weapon... who'll do anything," Mikoto echoes, always Mikoto echoes, despair settling over her bones. "That's what I was made for. Eri... Eri used me, too, but... it was normal. What Homura wanted, was normal. It wasn't normal, when Eri - Eri wanted me, not what I could do. I didn't understand. I don't... understand. It shouldn't hurt."

Mikoto insists it as she rises, bits of brick all a-tumbling from her, and somehow it doesn't seem she's talking about the bruises. "It's normal," she repeats, like a mantra. "It's what my Lord Brother wanted. So why... why am I mad at Homura?! He's never said it since he found me, but, it's the same--!"

Her tearstreaked face, twisted in its anger and betrayal, all a sudden


It blanks in a bloom of magenta light from her pendant, as some force or another forbids her to go any further in her conclusions. They are so tolerant of her little doubts, her brief imaginings - but this, this denial is too much. She is angry at Homura, yes, but the implications...

Don't worry. Mikoto is alone, but she isn't by herself. She has so, so much help. Help from her blade, from that magenta light...

... from the shadow which lurks between the jagged edges her obsidian heart.

Mikoto's face blanks, yes, but it is absent for only a fractional moment. The slip from a high, high cliff.

A dark shadow descends.

It cloys about her upper half, and all detail is lost to a yawning abyss. The only hint of its edges - its edges, it may retain the general shape of a girl but this is no pure-hearted maiden - is in the terrible red light which emits from its boundaries. The only detail to it is solid gold, where eyes should be - white gleaming teeth - a pendant, glowing light like a beacon at its heart.

The command is known. The command is understood.

Enemies must be defeated.

The void of its eyes looks up now to the manipulative Puella Magi. It does not blink. No sound comes from its maw as it opens, bares teeth. No growl, no snarl, no yell, no howl. Nothing, not even as it tears forward, leaps faster than the girl it has taken, leaps higher, blade tearing through obstacles like butter as it swings its blade over its shoulder and down, down, down.

This is no strike with reservations, fettered to the flat of its blade. Down the middle, Mikoto once said of their common foe, and it seems her logic is preserved here. The Shadow fully intends to kill its enemy.

And yet - it will kill this Puella Magi the way it would kill any girl.

Her head, not her hand.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Tomandandy - Damage https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hgXxTGIl2gs

The hook's uninterrupted momentum carries it past Homura's nose in a great swooping circle, and it must return to whence it came. Like a pendulum.

From her perch she tracks it to its tremendous, dust-hurling impact with the most fiercely immovable object in the immediate universe. There, there is Mikoto, punctuating the hook's looping statement like an exclamation point: a crumpled dot of a girl with her black blade in hand.

Homura's face is a cold wall, her eyes fixed on Mikoto and defiantly impassive as the other girl speaks. She hangs upon the crane's neck like a fluttering gothic necktie, and draws her bow, and listens. Her arrow does not interrupt.

Homura borrowed Mikoto. From Eri, to put not too fine a point on things. And now she's being compared to Mikoto's incomparable Lord Brother, and clearly the comparison rings far too true for his little sister. Homura does not allow her fingers to tighten on her bow, nor her lips to twist -- her control is icy and absolute.

Thus one girl's face is rigidly and artificially blank even as the other's blanks truly.

Blooming magenta reflects on the parchment-pale of Homura's face and lights up the vitreous portions of violet eyes. It lasts only a moment before the consuming black dims both reflections. In the ensuing dark, Homura's impassive eyes widen. There is, though, a hint of red...

That soundless golden snarl unnerves the dead-hearted girl. She feels the fear in her marrow, cold and killing, like a mouse feels as the hawk's talons cast their sharp shadows.

'If conditions are good I'll try for a headshot. I've never seen any puella come back from one of those.'

She gave Mikoto Minagi very good advice on how to kill one of her own kind, once -- although not as good as she could have. Even then, plotting the murder of Sayaka Miki, Homura had withheld the secret of a shattered Soul Gem from her ally -- her tool, her weapon -- out of caution. How well will that omission avail her now, with Miroku sweeping for her skull?

There isn't time enough to get out of the way. This wouldn't have been a problem for Homura Akemi, once.

She still moves, because catching a steel-cleaving dreadsword nearly anywhere else on her body is statistically likely to improve her immediate survival. World class reflexes save her, but only by margins defined by her Soul Gem's capacity. She is a white-black-grey blur beneath the coming blade's edge and then she is a white-black-grey-red one, and the thing which has consumed Mikoto can feel how its weapon has bitten in the resistance and hear it in the awful *thud* and in its prey's rare and strangled cry.

But still she falls away, and down, fluttering like a cleaved and dainty handkerchief as she descends from the crane and the splattered place she once occupied. There is something about her left shoulder and arm, to the tracking enemy eye, which might seem... off. Misshapen. Ragged.

Then she hits the fresh-poured roof and, leaving a trail, runs off at an uneven gait, like she is hopelessly off balance. Violet surges, like a supernova, vivid and electric and bright like the ribbons trailing from her coat never are, until light occludes girl...

...and that dark figure is running off beyond the dying flash at a much better clip, and the angle of her arm seems right again. She disappears behind a stack of construction materials. Only then does Homura permit herself a shudder -- a slump, with bangs across eyes, as she fights back nausea.

Swords, she thinks with some savagery.

What has her enemy -- senpai -- friend become? Homura has never seen this before. Never.

So she asks, in a voice deceptively cool: "What are you, Mikoto Minagi?"

Fresh violet flares around the outside of the rebar pile she's behind, castoffs from a freshly-nocked arrow. Fear grips her hard, pulls blood from her cheeks. She has no more do-overs, and death is out there, blackbladed and terrible. Homura forces herself to keep moving, as merciless with herself as she is with others.

She steps out of cover, sable hair flying like a banner, to sight and shoot -- a single arrow wrapped in power, a hope and a prayer that she might emerge from this encounter alive.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Bloc Party - The Pioneers (M83 Remix) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwWPZrVj_qQ


Who is in control?

Is it the Puella Magi, blood like banners fluttering, a flash of violet to make things whole again?

Is it?

It is unmoved, as it watches the Puella Magi reconstitute herself. There is no victory to it, no growl of satisfaction, not a huff or a snort to bring in the scent of bloody air. In the depths of her berserkergang, Mikoto could take gratification in a job well-done, even if her task was dire.

There is none of that - here.

It watches her run. Its head turns, to her voice, as she asks. Pinpoints her location, as out she steps.

It does not reply.

It does not acknowledge her words... at all.

What it acknowledges is the arrow which flies towards it, and wordlessly - wordlessly! - the void of its hands pushes its blade into black portal. Black spires crash out around it, at tilted-in angles, a cage for its borrowed flesh. The arrow strikes, and sears, light boiling at obsidian. One layer shatters, another. A third --

The light floods over a cocoon of glass, and if the arrow digs in and strikes true, it isn't telling.

Because when that glass shatters whole - it is standing just the way it was before. Hunched over its blade, no hint of pain to it.

Its eyes snap to the Puella Magi, quick in her escape.

Its blade twists, in the earth.

More spires.

These do not crash out around it - but around the Puella Magi; crashing out in waves and she is just their epicentre, the spires crushing brickwork and sending unpoured bags of concrete to dust the tortured ground. They are a shrike's nest, uneven and sharp, and they will pin her where she stands.

It is - has ever been - a weapon.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Her projectile flies true, by the sighting of her critical eye; but she gains no satisfaction, whatever that might amount to. It seems to strike. It makes no mark, draws no blood, simply detonates against an impassive and implacable foe and then dies, like any lone spark might in the growing night.

And the sunset, it continues apace, surrounding the combatants in a dome of painted sky. Swathed in fading, valiant blues and chased by the deep violet of coming night, that day's-death pink blooms delicate and slowly fades. It will come again.

At first it seems that Homura's question gets no answer... but it does. The answer is just physical rather than verbal.

The Puella Magi knows these spires. She has seen them employed against others, to dread effect. She has suffered them herself, though only as collateral blows, caught in their punishing aura. The unfixed world goes mad around her, concrete churned by obsidian, and even Homura's nimble toes do not know where to find their purchase.

She is surrounded. Overcome. She curls, in the last moments: becomes a ball.

When the violence abates, she is still a ball.

Compact, curled: a chrysalis of girl, dust-soaked and still. Her color is grey-brown, now. She lies in the crater-nest which Miroku has wrought, delicately cradled in a webwork of shattered rooftop. The only color which flies unabated is that red, red ribbon in her hair. It defies the dust and dread in its cheery brilliance. Her bow lies cracked beneath her, its delicate recurves sundered; her arms are curled about her stomach, her face, hidden.

She lies there, downed prey. Vulnerable.

Unseen, in hands which clutch near her stomach, an arrow half-coalesces -- its gleaming head secreted between her palms. Waiting. A bullet without a gun.

A deadly thing which she will emplace personally if the hunter comes to finish its kill.

All Homura can do, in this moment -- eyes closed, body fearfully still -- is regulate her breathing within a ribcage which trembles. In. Out. In. Out. Timing is everything. She's good at timing. In. Out.

It is not as if her very life depends on it or anything.



<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Homestuck - Crystamanthequins https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A91UB3QkdE

In service to dark and transcendent things, a Dark Shadow plunges the construction skyline into chaos. The building is all spikes at its top - like some strange and venomous coral, swaying in the water.

And, the enemy...


Small but breathing: she is breathing, chest rising and expanding, in and out. Another of those scant things they share, in their fashion. But the Shadow is not Mikoto - will never see a kouhai in the girl coiled there.

It is greater than, and it will not give her time to catch up.

One step. Two. Those are Ohtori flats - it's still possible to see them, the cloying shadow does not quite reach so far as its feet. They crunch through shattered pieces of obsidian without care for how the glass carves into the soles; through a shattered steel beam, through the mechanical pieces of the bottom of that crane, scattered by so many puncture wounds.

Those feet track concrete-dust in. Three, four, five.

Miroku d r a g s a line through concrete already poured, now made cracked and broken. Scrape, scrape, scrape.

The spires in its way dissolve to let it pass.

It comes to the Puella Magi.

Its foot sweeps out, and forward, and it lifts its blade. The shoulder rotates and it does not mind the motion, the way Mikoto does; it does not need to worry about tomorrow morning. Up, up over head, and gravity is on its side now as it comes down - down - down.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

Does keeping her eyes shut make the waiting easier?

Or more terrible?

For a girl with a remarkable, if straitjacketed and gagged, imagination...

Step. Step. Crunch. Step. Scraaaaape. Drag. Step...

...it can only be the latter.

But she began this with eyes closed and to open them now would only tip her hand, and Homura Akemi is nothing if not a thoroughly committed poker player. She suffers the awful things her mind's eye attaches to those approaching sounds and even in the fear knows that the thing which is actually coming can only be worse, and Homura does... not... move.

The sounds come skin-crawingly close.

They stop.

It requires all of Homura's willpower to not react, and she ruthlessly employs it, and does not move.

She counts, instead. One. Two...

And she moves.

Twisting bodily, thrusting upward, and forcing dregs of burned magics OUTWARD--

the gold-wrapped diamond upon the back of one hand gleams, but dully, like a street lamp which needs a change of bulb

--and a black-bodied arrow explodes from her joined palms at point-blank range, the projectile bursting into existence for just long enough to stab forth like some too-graceful dagger at her point-blank foe.


For a breath's span they are as close as an arrow's shaft can allow two people to be. Homura's eyes are wide and ringed with strain, as this Mikoto has never seen them. Perhaps she still has not.

She keeps twisting after, fluid, like a golfer following through with a swing, the better to get out from under descending death, and her opening eyes catch and reflect that setting sun. She's desperate for distance, and will take the edge of the building to gain it if she must.

One last thing she can try, hopeless though it feels, and she hurls it breathlessly:

"Mikoto Minagi...!"

How many times can one use a magic spell before it loses its power...?

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.
<SoundTracker> Akira Yamaoka - My Heaven https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BiAs_lwmka8

Downed, not dead.

A Dark Shadow does not borrow much, from the mind of its sacrificial flesh. Her dalliances are distractions from destruction, and it is more perfect, more pure in its fulfillment of the highest being's wishes.

It does not remember the Puella Magi's advice; nor the Puella Magi's tenacity. It has never watched helplessly, as she fought to breaking point. It does not know how much suffering she will undergo to survive.

And there she bursts out, through those few remaining spires, and glass shatters and then an arrow impacts. Under that cold, terrible darkness, it is flesh and it acts as flesh: a tearing, the sharp scent of blood, the resistance of muscle and bone, and finally - terminus, no more shaft to bury.

The Puella Magi's eyes are wide and strained, and the only change in a Dark Shadow's is the way they narrow, as the new information filters in. The whites of its teeth show the void of its maw as it draws in a greater breath to replace the last, and this is the only proof she has that she struck a solid blow.

She twists, and it turns with her - she will find the path it took free from spires, though the rest of the roof is still a deathly briar patch. If she means to leap from the rooftop, it will not save her.

Nothing can save her.

... why's Homura look... scared?

Step - step - step.

Did I do this..?

Scrape - scrape - scrape.

This... this is too much! Please!

Here - at the middle of the rooftop - it pauses, the high-beam of its eyes closing in a slow blink. Stray thoughts, intruding from the back of its mind. But Mikoto is the sacrifice, and hers is its pound of flesh.

She's so dark..!

And it does not borrow much, from her mind: it does not know the meaning of the word, does not realise why there is so much desperation behind it.

But there is something Mikoto did terrible things to save a Puella Magi from, in the world which never was.

Fingertips trailing over dark Fabergé...

Its blade lifts up, as if to plunge into dark portal once more.

But those knees are bending too much - it falls --

No, that's not quite right.

Torn from the darkness by a magic spell from someone who has advised her for far too long, Mikoto falls, one hand to concrete as the other holds her blade. The spires sparkle, fade to nothingness.

She gasps out breath, sinks back on her knees so she can feel at the arrow which has sunk deep into her side. It hurts. It hurts, but the reason it hurts is...

"Homura!" Mikoto realises, struggling for memories as she looks up to try and find her.

<Pose Tracker> Homura Akemi [Ohtori Academy (10)] has posed.

She wasn't sure it would hit. Wasn't sure it would save her, if it did.

The arrowhead bites deep, and she twists away, but that is not what saves Homura. Obsidian cages her...

Is there something shifting in those golden things which stand for eyes? Homura's own are currently so unusually open, her soul's windows letting the fear out and, perhaps, allowing some thin tendril of emotion in as well.

That's all Homura has, as the blade rises.

Except... She closes her eyes. She still sees the sunset. Beautiful, fading, pink.

The blade does not fall upon her.

Homura opens her eyes and sees: Mikoto has saved her.

And it is Mikoto again. She has only one shadow now, and it stretches out beside her, long and sharp-edged from the angle of what natural light remains. Mikoto is bent like her shadow, bent over the black arrow still lodged in her.

The spires subside even as she does.

'Homura!' she cries, and Homura is there, kneeling too, an arm's length away. Her eyes are large and dark, just like the diamond on the back of her hand.

Some other girl might reach for the wounded Mikoto, however her hand shook from fear. Some other girl, some softer girl, might stammer that name back with the same worry she heard her own expressed with earlier. Some hopeful girl, some friend with bashful almost-smiles and black braids to match...

Homura Akemi flees.

Mikoto gets one last glimpse of now-narrowed violet eyes before the other girl takes the exit which is no longer barred to her. The not-quite-building's edge is not so far, especially for a being with enhanced strength and speed; it is a single spring away, if the jumper has little care for her landing. (Homura figures she'll sort that out on the way down.)

She can't stay.

But she can't hope to escape that look in Mikoto's now-normal eyes, either... Just that terrible demon's blade which wields her.

<Pose Tracker> Mikoto Minagi [Ohtori Academy (11)] has posed.

Fear is in Mikoto's eyes, now, and they are too-too bright but they are eyes, not a rough facsimile.

She is not scared of Homura, in that moment.

No - the way her gaze darts to that dark gem - she is scared for Homura.

Tears well in her eyes and this time she does not plead with Homura to stay; it is dangerous, for Homura to stay. It is dangerous because Mikoto is placing her in danger. She was angry, but... she never wanted this.

The pain in hers is wordless, as she watches Homura turn, dart to the edge of the building. She does not follow. She does not know whether she will fall again, and Homura is dark and it is difficult to remember but she thinks --

Homura even looked scared.

Her gaze lowers; she sinks further down, against the concrete. Her fingers release Miroku, to curl around her chest, hugging her arms to herself as those teary eyes squeeze shut.

"I can't take it any more," she mumbles through her hiccoughs, as she tightens in around her core. "It's too much..!"

And it is permissible - for her to cry about it, up here, now no girls are watching. She is allowed to feel that much, as the suffering she bears floods over all barricades.

She is allowed so much, so long as she picks herself up - and picks up her blade - and climbs down the building - and finds her way home. Home, down cave and cavern, to him.

The Obsidian Lord reaches for her, on his throne, and she rushes to him and collapses down beside him, burying herself against his warmth in the chill of the Palace. He murmurs gentle hushing, and his fingertips are gentle through her hair, too.

It hurts so much. It always hurts so much, but he is here for her and he hollows out her pain, takes the burden from her.

Her pain is his, now.

She's safe, now.