Chapter 9

        May 20, 2014.
        The day after she pulled out of the inhibitor room, the second-Homura ended up back there alone.
        On the primary inhibitor, she watched live coverage of Engineer's interview as a witness of the attack at the "platform of infamy". Sure enough, Engineer was talking to some police officers in blue uniforms. Three accompanying men, wearing light-gray gasmasks and darker combat vests, looked on as construction happened just near the platform. Yet, however advanced the signal scrambles were, the audio from the interview that Engineer had with the officers could not be picked up. Also, unusual for a police matter, there was no yellow tape set up around the area at all, and this interview was happening two days after the attack instead of right afterwards...
        But the second-Homura was concerned only with the men in gasmasks. They weren't ordinary police officers at all.
        The doppelganger placed her hand against her head once more and thought back. She had last seen these very men years ago, during the week that a certain man didn't end his own life after all....
        December 11, 2012B.
        Homura had submitted an anonymous tip to the authorities over the phone the night before. She had told them that there would be a man attempting suicide, specifically by blood loss, on the 15th at the outdoor fountain in the city. She suggested that it would be best to take him into protective custody. However, she felt sorry for the man and wanted to alert him of the situation.
        Homura found the man's username on a social media service and typed a few short messages to him.

Do not attempt to visit the fountain on December 15. Furthermore, do not attempt to do anything drastic at all this week.

Police officers will be at the fountain, and they WILL take you into custody. I urge you: PLEASE do NOT end your life.

Madoka and I are worried about you. If you really are upset, I'll take care of any witches or wraiths in the area.
You know what? I'll take care of anything horrible. If you have any concerns, contact me. Keep your chin up! -Homura


        December 15, 2012B.
        Four days after she warned the man against inflicting the major blood loss she witnessed before she jumped back in time, Homura decided to sneak over to the fountain on the cold snowy day. She agreed to meet with Madoka at an event, but wanted to check the fountain where the man's suicide happened... or didn't, hopefully.
        With time stopped around her, Homura, in her magical girl outfit, walked down the empty streets and hid around the corner of one of the nearby buildings. She gave a nod to herself.
        Her shield clicked back to its dormant position, and ambience surrounded her once more.
        Homura peeked around the building. Sure enough, she saw some police officers along with three men in light-gray gasmasks standing at the fountain. However, the area had not been sealed off with any yellow tape at all.
        The gasmask men seemed like they originated from a dystopian city and were armed with what looked like neo-futuristic electric batons. Homura heard the gasmask men's electronically-filtered radio-like chatter from a distance.
        "Possible 11-45 here, request airwatch tag."
        "Affirmative. Suspect location unknown. Sweeping for suspect."
        "10-4. Block is holding, cohesive."
        Homura knew that if the man she warned online was stupid enough to go to the fountain, he'd be caught and, like she suggested, arrested on the spot. Besides, from the numerous posts Homura read that weren't of the man threatening to end his own life, she found out that he had final exams to write on that day anyway. She didn't see that man anywhere near the fountain; he'd probably be somewhere else writing his exams already.
        Come to think of it, Homura's Soul Gem, which was currently in a purple diamond-shape on her left hand, wasn't reacting to any witch barrier entrances or anything sinister in the area. Besides, the officers and gasmask men were doing their job staying on point.
        There was nobody else there, except a passing young petite girl. The girl had candy in her black hair and wore a green hoodie and a sturdy brown skirt. She didn't seem important to the issue at hand.
        Homura's job was done. She knew everything she needed to, and she was supposed to meet with Madoka about ten minutes ago. With a turn of her shield, Homura disappeared from the fountain area.

        Madoka, in her own magical girl outfit, hurried Homura into the room before a crowd of people followed suit.
        There was a highly-publicized panel going on there. Hosted by a female visitor with long chestnut-blonde hair, the panel was about the events in two particular virtual-reality video games over a period of three years.
        This visitor told of her experiences during each of the incidents she took part in within each of the two games. The visitor, Asuna Yuuki, was famous as "The Lightning Flash" within one of the games, and even spoke of a young black-haired man she had feelings for. She was that willing to retell her stories to people at the event.
        Yet, even Asuna felt an inexplicable fish-out-of-water sensation from just being there, so she claimed that the events took place from November 2009 to May 2012 instead.
        Asuna had been excited about getting a chance to do some show-and-tell. Luckily, or even strangely, she received some items she used in the VR games, if not surprisingly-well-made replicas, in the mail about a week ago: her red-and-white Knights of the Blood Oath skirt-outfit and a silvery-turquoise rapier and weapon of choice named Lambent Light.
        Nobody at the panel questioned Asuna's stories or belongings at all.
        After the panel, Homura and Madoka waited out in the hallway while Asuna talked to other people in the room. Homura saw Madoka hold a digital camera in her white gloved hands. She felt it was weird for Madoka to even have a camera, but considered that was the reason why she got invited along, and didn't overthink the oddity of it any further.
        Soon, Asuna stepped out of the room with her rapier in hand. She was very careful not to swing it around the area as she walked; she had to go through a lot of paperwork to even bring it into the event in the first place. Asuna noticed Homura and Madoka standing by the door, and walked over to them. Then, she noticed the camera in Madoka's hands.
        "No worries," Asuna softly reassured the two. "If you're feeling up to it..." She pointed at the camera with her left hand, and then at her sword.
        Before long, the three of them had fun with their impromptu photo session. They took turns taking short video clips and self-portraits while they held up peace-signs and waved their hands to Madoka's camera in increasingly affectionate ways. Asuna even felt free to perform various poses with her rapier, including pointing it at the camera. Anyone who discovered these photos or videos, if they were placed on social media sites, would be jealous of Homura and Madoka for getting "The Lightning Flash" herself to participate in their photo-op session.

        Later that day, Madoka dragged Homura along to meet with a pink-haired girl she saw walking down the halls. The girl had her hair in a ponytail over her left shoulder. After being directed to a nearby corner of the hall, away from the small crowds, the girl, Serah Farron, got to know a little bit about Homura and Madoka through some friendly introduction among the three. Before she knew it, Madoka coerced her into another photo session where she got to wave at her camera, too.
        Madoka even materialized her rose-topped bow and placed it in Serah's hands. Serah, who had some experience with archery, immediately raised it into position and pulled back the bowstring back with her fingers. She had not considered the fact that Madoka's bow was active even outside of battle.
        As a glowing pink bolt appeared within the bow, Madoka began to panic. But Homura stepped up and calmly and carefully got Serah to carefully return the bowstring to its original position in her hand. The pink arrow faded. The three had narrowly avoided an injury-related incident among the few people wandering in the halls.
        Serah briefly covered her mouth with the hand she used to draw the bowstring back, and quickly bowed her head in apology.
        Suddenly, the three heard a sobbing yelp.
        Asuna stumbled past the small hallway crowd and stopped in front of the three girls with a worried look on her face. She held a scrap piece of paper in her right hand.
        "It was just..." sobbed Asuna. "I don't... want...!"
        Her right hand trembled as she held her paper up. There was a small rough sketch of her Lambent Light rapier on it that looked like it was made with a pen. The sketch was made so quickly that the details on it weren't neatly drawn. Above the sketch of the sword were hastily-scrawled words reading, "HELP!!! Have you seen this?"
        "Please..." cried Asuna. Her right hand fell to her side as she lowered her head against her left forearm and sobbed into her sleeve....
        The second-Homura watched the image of the upset Asuna burn away from her eyes. She found herself staring at the primary inhibitor's now-blank viewscreen as the constant amplified hum of the damaged inhibitor to her left faded back into her surroundings. The doppelganger turned her head toward the third inhibitor behind her and noticed that a small beige camcorder was still attached to it.
        The doppelganger didn't take long to walk over to that inhibitor and reactivate it.
        "Inhibitor 3" appeared on its viewscreen.
        Having already spied on the team as the members went through the footage a day before, the second-Homura decided to fast-forward through the same clips until she saw a clip of Asuna with a drawing of her sword; hopefully, there was a better drawing than the one on that scrap paper Asuna had that fateful day. She placed her hand flat onto the frontal column and slid it slightly to the right as the many frames of the rapid montage flashed onto the screen at a quick pace.
        MAY 16 2014 appeared on the screen, followed by MAY 17 2014, and finally MAY 18 2014, along with a rapidly increasing hour-and-minute count for the corner timestamp.
        The second-Homura raised her hand away from the column, and tapped her fingers on it with a few swipes to the left.
        The screen read MAY 18 2014 3:59 PM. The paused frame showed Asuna waving at someone while holding her "MISSING: Lambent Light" poster in her other hand.
        The doppelganger studied the poster carefully. It looked like it was made on a computer, but it was definitely a huge step up from that old scrap paper. Underneath the bright red "MISSING" header and black text reading "Lambent Light", there was a scan of a well-made illustration of the silvery-turquoise rapier. It looked like Asuna spent some time on the art with markers and pens, as if she had the sword in front of her as she outlined its design on paper. Asuna even jotted her name down in a signature near the hilt and marked it with a heart.
        The text printed below the illustration read:


Last seen on Dec. 15, 2012
Connected to Dec. 16, 2012 homicide attempt
One-of-a-kind design by Lisbeth (Rika Shinozaki)
Very valuable, could mean SERIOUS trouble
if it fell into the wrong hands!

        That was followed with the contact numbers for both Asuna and someone named Kazuto Kirigaya-- the young man she spoke of during her retellings.
        The second-Homura noticed some annotations on the poster made with a pen: Lisbeth's real name was next to her nickname, some words had been underlined two or three times for emphasis, and Asuna's old phone number had been crossed off with another one written next to it.
        As the second-Homura looked back at Asuna's smiling face above the poster on the viewscreen, all she could think about was helping the team get the stolen Lambent Light rapier back for the poor girl. It wouldn't matter if the sword was now in the possession of an enemy that neither she nor the Resurrection Movement was certain of.


*   *   *

        Outside the RED base at the Teufort area, Soldier was wearing his blue military uniform as well as a red plaid-patterned brimmed hat he stole from Demoman. He noticed a mechanical box-like trap device on the ground. The device had a red gas canister and a Medigun handle attached to it, and was projecting a red hologram of Soldier above it that had the shape of his standard-issue helmet instead of Demoman's hat.
        "Thanks, toymaker," laughed Soldier. He placed his right hand onto the open box and reached his left hand to the back of his belt, where he tapped a small penguin doll.
        Soldier disappeared with a loud electric noise and a bright light....
        Spy, again in his bloodstained suit, faded into view as his cloak disengaged. He wore his black headset-mounted hat on his head, and looked around the area for signs of trouble.
        Though Sniper was in a coma, Spy didn't feel the need to rummage through Sniper's belongings for his lost Spytron 3000 device just yet. Sniper had taken the comm and disguise device for himself after Spy accidentally left it behind while feigning a death against that psychopath Rena just a year ago. However, Spy didn't want to cause any more of a stir while the third Opposition Member and that other sniper were still out there.
        The team's ringtone sounded on Spy's headset. Spy nodded once.
        "What did I miss?" he asked.
        "Get over here and defend the freaking point!" FemScout cried over the comm.
        "Of course."
        "Come on, man!" FemScout managed to call out before the sound of a fiery electric crackle erupted over the comm, followed by the loud crack of a shotgun.
        KRSHH! KBLAM!




Chapter 10 >