Chapter 3

        December 4, 2014.
        As agreed, Spy returned to the inhibitor room a few days later for his next meeting with the Fugitive. He wore his clean suit once more and was joined by Scout and FemScout.
        The three entered the area and glanced at the damaged Inhibitor 2 to the left, which continued to sustain a faint glowing slash across its viewscreen and pump out a column of smoke. They knew that they would not yet be able to repair the damage. A force field had been placed on that machine by the Opposition when it was slashed, and it repulsed any and all impacts, even from wrenches. Not that the destroyed inhibitor was the only thing they were concerned about; Engineer wasn't even awake to lend anyone his tools or design blueprints.
        Spy tapped his own headset-hat a few times before he noticed that a girl with long black hair was using the primary inhibitor at the centre of the room. The girl had a grayish-purple and white skirt, and wore long black boots, but Spy noticed a faint purple shine in the girl's hair.
        "Oh, please," groaned Spy.
        That twin-from-another-time he heard about was back again.

        A second-Homura, the doppelganger magical girl from another time who assisted the Resurrection Movement in battle, had been catching up on some information on the primary inhibitor. She had just listened to a high-priority audio archive file.
        It was recorded by a man who spoke of a "nightmare mistress" who tried to kill him with a sword on the day he recorded the message: December 16, 2012.
        Just then, the doppelganger put her hand over her mouth. She remembered that such a murder had actually happened the day after that Lambent Light rapier went missing. She allowed past memories to fill her eyes once more....

        December 16, 2012B.
        Homura wandered the city alone to search for clues behind the disappearance of the Lambent Light rapier. Moments ago, a faint shadow had passed her, but she didn't pay it any mind.
        Now she felt she should have.
        Homura turned around and reacted to what had made the brutal snapping noise.
        A man wearing sunglasses had been run through the chest by someone with a sword. That someone then pulled the sword out of the man's collapsing body and shook the sword clean of his blood.
        Besides noticing a frilly dress of some kind, Homura kept her eyes focused on the sword, too shocked to pay attention to the murderer's appearance.
        She couldn't believe what she saw. It was the same Lambent Light rapier that had gone missing from that event yesterday! A sword modeled after the one, if not the very one, used in a feat of heroism, and now someone had just committed murder with it.
        But the murder victim wasn't an ordinary man.
        It was the same man whose bled-out corpse Madoka laid herself on top of in that other timeline. The same man Homura tipped off to the authorities in this one.
        Madoka was not going to be happy about this at all.
        But Homura was too late to do anything about it.
        A quick upward flash drove the sword across Homura's upper right arm, right at the shoulder.
        Homura gasped in pain and shut her eyes as she clapped her left hand over the wound. Though the pain suddenly shot down her arm, she decided to do the only thing she could do. But she had to act fast before the murderer shoved the sword into her, too.
        Homura yanked her right hand onto the shield on her left forearm, and managed to turn it upside down.
        The murderer vanished as the silvery-blue tunnel with jagged black markings appeared around Homura. She braced herself for the jolt she would get in a manner of seconds....
        November 17, 2012C.
        Homura was knocked onto her bottom by that burst of energy. As she caught her breath, she looked at her shield on her left forearm. The round inner mechanisms were visible, but then the shield's windows closed up.
        Then Homura looked around. She was back in the inhibitor room.
        As if by habit, Homura then clutched the wound on her upper right arm. But there was no wound... at least not yet, and hopefully not ever.
        Homura stood up and faced the inhibitor. Even though it just zapped her, she could still use that machine to gain information, such as: Who forged that sword again? Or, at least, who designed it?
        Homura grimaced. She considered the possibility that she might have forgotten Asuna's storytime panel at the event the day the sword went missing. She fell into an inner rage as she closed her eyes and slapped the palm of her right hand onto the frontal column.
        She heard a recording of a conversation from the inhibitor.
        "Hey, aren't you supposed to be out hunting with the guild today?" asked a young woman.
        "Hmm... Yeah," replied another young woman. "I had to take the day off 'cause... I sort of have this little meeting with someone." This voice belonged to the sword's owner, Asuna.
        The signal scrambled with a bright flash. Homura opened her eyes and looked at the viewscreen.
        An image was displayed of Asuna talking to a pink-haired girl in a red waitress-like outfit, inside what appears to be a stone room. The date-stamp on the bottom left corner read JUN 24 2024, but it suddenly became overwritten with number-signs before disappearing.
        Homura noticed that Asuna was holding her sheathed Lambent Light rapier in her left hand. She also noticed what looked like an open-flame furnace in the back, and a big grinding wheel between the girls.
        Homura placed her right hand against her head as she took a closer look at the pink-haired girl on the screen. This girl must be Lisbeth, the blacksmith who Asuna said had made the Lambent Light for her.
        Homura remembered the date-stamp on the image.
        The stolen sword wasn't supposed to exist for another twelve years, but...
        Homura then turned around, expecting two particular people to be in the room again. Sure enough, they were.
        That pink-haired blacksmith in that image was right there appraising Sayaka's sword in front of that transformed magical girl again. Lisbeth gasped in amazement as she felt it had such a high quality.
        Homura let her cold demeanor take over as she considered that maybe if she stopped that blacksmith before she recreated that Lambent Light sword here, this mess would never happen, the man would not be dead, and Madoka would stay happy a month from now.
        "I know what to do now," Homura spoke softly. Her glare became cold and she reached behind her shield.
        "This is the gnarliest magic sword a person can get!" declared Lisbeth.
        "I kinda feel like I wanna congratulate myself, too!" giggled Sayaka.
        A loud gunshot, amplified tenfold, rang out in the inhibitor room.
        Lisbeth let out an ear-splitting scream as she dropped Sayaka's sword and collapsed to the ground with her hands over her leg.
        Sayaka looked over and saw Homura with her gun pointed down at where Lisbeth's leg was seconds earlier. Homura then proceeded to put her gun away into her shield.
        An angry snarl began to form on Sayaka's face at the same moment one appeared on Lisbeth's.
        "What the hell were you thinking?!" shrieked Lisbeth.
        Sayaka picked up her sword and pointed it at Homura.
        "Stay out of our way!" warned Sayaka.
        Pew pew POW!
        Three bright explosive flashes caused Sayaka to lower her sword and Homura to look behind her.
        A man in a gray gasmask had appeared next to Homura. He held an electric baton in his hand.
        Sayaka was caught off guard by the man's presence to do anything, while Lisbeth could only focus on her wounded leg.
        "Malcompliance verdict," the man declared.
        Without thinking, Homura raised her shield up against the man as he swung his baton at her.
        The impact drove the shield back enough for Homura to notice that its circular windows had reopened, again exposing the mechanisms inside. She realized too late that one more hit could disrupt them.
        The gasmasked man proceed to swing his baton at her once again.
        The baton was locked against the shield's mechanisms as sparks crackled. Neither the gasmasked man nor Homura could break free before an electric arc burst out of the impact point and jolted Homura's head and the primary inhibitor.
        Homura was blasted backwards by the jolt as the area became engulfed in a bright light. As Homura found herself falling backwards, she felt as if her entire head was being remolded, her hair was caught in a constant pull, and her hands were getting crushed.
        February 15, 2012.
        Suddenly, the bright light faded, and was replaced with the darkness of the black voids once more.
        Homura found herself lying on the ground. She placed her hands on her face to try to rub away the pain from the electric jolt, but she noticed that her hands looked different. Her fingers seemed to have more of a flesh tone, and she noticed that, instead of Soul Gem markings on some of her fingernails, all her fingernails were strangely painted a solid shiny purple.
        Homura sat up and sweeped some of her long hair in front of her. It was still as sleek and shiny as it was since her first corrupted time-jump, but now there were faint purple reflective highlights in it.
        She had no time to worry about her appearance, as she began to hear some people behind her.
        Mio Akiyama placed her closed hands to her chest in a moment of thought, while Ritsu Tainaka went over to her.
        "Mio!" Ritsu called out with a giggle.
        "Hmm?" Mio looked over to her right. She then gasped loudly at what she saw. "Huh?! I knew it!" Mio angrily declared as she placed her closed hands against her hips.
        Kyubey, the white catlike creature, was on top of Ritsu's head with an unbudging smile on his face. Ritsu soon went on the defensive.
        "What?!" yelled Ritsu as she crossed her arms. "I've got a completely legitimate reason for that!"
        "Oh geez," muttered Mio as she let her arms fall to her sides and drooped her head.
        Homura then saw herself walk up to Mio and place her hand on her shoulder in an attempt at reassurance.
        "Umm... Ritsu?" asked Mio as she and the Homura from this timeline looked at Ritsu and Kyubey.
        Homura's mouth was now open in a surprised expression on her face. She was now in a timeline where there was already a Homura who rightfully existed. She never had to deal with other versions of herself when she jumped back repeatedly to save Madoka. But now that the gasmasked man had forced these new circumstances upon her, Homura had become the second-Homura of this timeline.
        The second-Homura turned the shield on its axis.
        Mio, Ritsu, Kyubey, and the other Homura all froze in place, caught in a dull wash of gray.
        Now that time had stopped around the second-Homura just as expected, she considered her situation more carefully. There was one bright side to being a temporal doppelganger. She could finally intervene and stop the one who stole the Lambent Light rapier from using it to kill that man in December. All she had to do was wait it out and stay in hiding, especially so that the other Homura wouldn't notice her.
        The shield spun back to its regular position, but it didn't do it on its own. The gasmasked man appeared next to the second-Homura with his hand on her shield, having turned it back into place.
        "All right. You can go," said the man before chuckling to himself.
        The second-Homura felt it was best to avoid further trouble. She took him at his word and left before the other four noticed her.
        December 16, 2012.
        Throughout the next ten months, events played out exactly as they did before the murder.
        Over this time, the second-Homura relearned that her rival Mami met with a man with a yellow construction helmet who built sentry turrets for a living, that Madoka met a young female guitarist and a blue-haired girl with a squid-like cap on her head, and that a bunch of people had imitated other people's voices just for fun on April Fool's Day. She also learned that these people, among others, met up in the inhibitor room just because they almost sounded like each other, or because they were trying to leave messages for a man to try to dissuade him from harming himself.
        But what mattered to the second-Homura were the events that happened within the last month.
        The other Homura still had a mishap with the primary inhibitor, Lisbeth still happily appraised Sayaka's sword without incident, the gasmasked men still set up post at the fountain, Asuna still hosted her panel at an event, and the Lambent Light rapier still went missing.
        The second-Homura was now back in the city where the subsequent murder of the suicidal man was about to take place.
        She was going to do one single thing to change the course of events from that point on: prevent the murder.
        The doppelganger rushed over to where the other Homura was while staying out of sight. She watched as the faint shadow passed her present-day self. That faint shadow took the form of someone with a black frilly dress. The second-Homura couldn't identify any particular details of the attacker who was cloaked in shadows, and the Homura of this timeline also had trouble.
        The attacker soon appeared to have a conversation with a man wearing sunglasses-- the man who was forced to avoid suicide the day before. But the second-Homura was ready. Once the attacker raised out the sword to impale the man, the second-Homura turned her shield.
        Everything froze around her in a wash of gray. The second-Homura sneaked up to the attacker. She pulled out her gun, aimed it nearly point-blank at one of the attacker's legs, and fired off several shots.
        The bullets all froze in place as they surrounded the attacker's leg. The second-Homura took a few steps back and fired more shots for good measure.
        Then, she hid out of sight before returning her shield to its original position.
        As everything in the area returned to full color, the tenfold gunshot rang out and struck the attacker's leg. This drew the other Homura's attention.
        The Lambent Light rapier clattered loudly on the ground. The man then jogged away as fast as he could out of the area, and barely noticed the second-Homura as he passed by. The other Homura watched the man run off, and then sighed in relief.
        But only the second-Homura noticed another thing that was different.
        The other Homura's hair had been back to its old grayish-black tinge. It was like that ever since she went up to Mio months ago. Soon, the other Homura whooshed away to parts unknown.
        The man's life was saved. He would surely not go through with trying to end his own life after that near-death experience.
        The second-Homura decided to leave before the attacker would notice her and try to impale her, too. She turned her own shield on its axis.
        Hours later, there were news reports on TV about a homicide attempt on a particular man who wore sunglasses during the winter. The report stated that an unseen protector used a gun to attack the would-be killer. Both people had disappeared without a trace, and the authorities had found little evidence about the attack.
        On the Construct grounds, the second-Homura watched from a distance as Asuna, Madoka, and a few mercenaries used a wall projector to watch the news live. The news displayed a photo of the weapon used in the homicide attempt, the stolen Lambent Light rapier, as it was displayed at a panel during a recent event.
        Asuna had a worried look on her face as the photo appeared on the screen.
        "I don't know..." said Madoka as she rubbed Asuna's shoulder.
        The people watching found it unusual that the man who was targeted in the attack had managed to avoid identifying himself. They were concerned about his claim that people with something against him would try to kill him. But the man did at least identify the weapon's design, and that was all they needed.
        "Sorry, miss," said a man wearing an orange construction helmet.
        The second-Homura then decided to go into hiding once more until it came time for her efforts to be needed again. Even though she herself was now a stranger to this timeline, she finally prevented the man's death.
        Madoka would remain happy now.
        And that made the second-Homura happy.
        She considered whether the Homura of this timeline would be happy, too. Then she thought about whether the people she was spying on would be important in the future, but shrugged off the idea.
        She prepared to turn her shield once more.
        As the memory of the Construct grounds burned away from her eyes, the second-Homura heard a French-accented voice behind her.
        "Pardon me," said Spy.
        The doppelganger took a glance at the sharp-suited man before turning her shield.
        As the machines in the area faded into a dull-gray wash, the second-Homura quickly passed by the suited man and his two friends. She hid behind Inhibitor 3, the machine across from the damaged smoke-billowing inhibitor, and turned her shield back.
        She quietly peeked over the machine as the three members of the Resurrection Movement went about their business.




Chapter 4 >