Another failure.

Homura Akemi looked up at the monstrous sight of the witch, casually destroying buildings with its presence alone. Her broken body, kept animate only by the minimal amount of magic she could muster, could scarcely do more than lie in wait. That shrill, maniacal laugh continued to ring in her ears as if she was still right next to its source.

She has to go back. A few moments to stabilize her body was all she needed to ensure she made it back alive. But the shriek of the witch made it hard to focus. With the power it has, Homura wondered if the familiars were just for show, but the thought was pushed out by more pressing concerns. It was bad enough that she still couldn't defeat Walpurgisnacht now Madoka had shown up, as she often does. Kyubey was taking advantage of Homura's momentary weakness to speak to her. Just the sight made her want to retch. But she could not fall into despair. She will not let Madoka succumb to the Incubator's machinations. It was the one thing Madoka asked her to do, the most important request she'd ever made to her, and she'd be damned if she wouldn't fulfil it. Even if it meant she needed to repeat this cycle over and over and over and over.

Walpurgisnacht was a witch like any other, albeit a particularly durable one, and that meant it could die and subsequently drop a grief seed. She just had to figure out what steps needed to be taken.

This cycle was going poorly from the start. Mami confronted her more times than usual and died later than her confrontation with Charlotte, stifling a lot of the progress she normally makes. She finally got out of her hair when she took her life after finding out the truth about magical girls. Kyoko fought Sayaka to the death over some banal nonsense about justice, becoming a witch shortly after. Homura no longer cared what childish justifications Sayaka came up with or how she succumbed to despair, but Kyoko interfering with more than passive aggression was always a headache.

Oktavia von Seckendorff is a joke at this point; Sayaka was never that powerful to begin with and she never would be. Ophelia showing up, however, is an extremely rare occurrence. Kyoko wields strong magic, so her witch form isn't something she can just autopilot her way through. Each time Ophelia appears she has some maneuver Homura hasn't seen yet. She honestly should have expected the candlestick flames to be as hot and precise as they were. She would just have to do better next time. She'll have to become better. For Madoka. There was no other option.

Speaking of whom, Madoka began glowing. Kyubey was nowhere to be seen. Which meant she formed a contract. And Kyubey left because he accomplished his goal. Another reminder of how she failed. As if the laughing of the witch and the state of her body wasn't enough. She hardly registered the tears that fell. She cried every time it came to this point, so she hardly noticed it. But if she was able to cry, that meant she had stabilized enough to stop her from truly dying and could now safely turn back time. She channeled the remaining magic she had, the shield clicked, loaded and ready.

But then, the strangest sight appeared before her. A streak of red shot through the sky, lighting the grey world with an otherworldly hue. And just then, the streak of red paused then redirected itself, trailing towards her location… It was such a bizarre sight that Homura was distracted from turning back the hands of time. She followed the light as it drew closer and closer and… stopped right in front of her. It was then she realized that this wasn't some freak power Walpurgisnacht had, but was created by something else entirely. And this something was now floating in front of her. Clearly it wasn't a witch, so could it have been another magical girl? But what magical girl would look like this?

Its visage could only be described as demonic: skin black as obsidian, eyes and veins of fire, four wings spread about it, a giant sword held in its hand. She couldn't accurately tell, but she believed it was glaring at her shield.

Homura had been on the brink of death before and was no stranger to hallucinations. But this was something she wasn't sure her mind, even in its fragile state, would produce. Especially when it spoke. Just from its appearance, one would assume it was some harbinger of the end times, announcing to all that their time on earth was over and to prepare for judgement. Perhaps some higher order being thought enough was enough as was going to take matters into its own hands. But this devil spoke very casually- and in English no less.

"So… I take it you're the cause of the time loops." Though it spoke, its mouth didn't move. It turned its head, looking at Walpurgisnacht. Homura looked past it at Madoka, who was still glowing. Good. She wanted to leave before her transformation was complete. "And I'm gonna assume that's why." It turned back to her. "Of course the source is in Japan. All sorts of crazy shit happens here. But a kid of all things-" smoke billowed from its mouth as it released what Homura assumed was a sigh. "Getting real sick of having to play babysitter." He paused as Homura had no response but to stare past it.. "Oh, right. The whole language thing." It quickly switched to a rough, accented Japanese.

"You know, I've repeated this same month so many times I've nearly forgotten what it feels like to have style. So just sit tight and I'll deal with… whatever that is."

And the demon flew to face the witch. As far as hallucinations went, it was one of the nicer ones, offering to fight Walpurgisnacht on her behalf. At least it wasn't mocking her with her failures or showing a fleeting fantasy of what life with Madoka would be like. Those hurt the worst. But, time isn't going to rewind itself. As her shield clicked again and spun, the last thing she registered was a streak of light slashed Walpurgisnacht. In the next moment, she was staring at the hospital ceiling. She quickly used a grief seed to purify her soul gem and then magically fixed her body. As she did such, she wondered if her previous vision meant that she was in hell, forced into a futile quest to save the person she loves. But she couldn't consider that possibility for longer than a second. She was alive. Madoka was alive. And they needed to survive the witch together.

"Do you value your life?" That's what Homura asked her earlier. She can't get Madoka's shocked visage out of her head. Going to school is always so difficult. Every time, without fail, she sees Madoka sitting in the same seat- so innocent, so pure- but she never remembers her. Reintroducing herself to the most important person in her life is nothing short of torture. And unknowingly, Madoka goes through her same, unchanging speech.

Homura-chan? That's an odd name… Not that I think it's weird or anything. In fact, I think it sounds cool!

Homura usually has more tact, but this level of directness stemmed out of frustration. She can only hope it doesn't sour Madoka's opinion of her. That would be even worse. But if it did, she still answered the question. And with such a kind answer, too. The exact kind of answer Madoka would give.

Homura clutched her chest. As much as it pains her, she cannot afford to dwell on Madoka at the moment. She still had things to do. She made the excuse of not feeling well to leave school early; having been hospitalized for an extended period of time, as far as they knew, it was easy to get away with. She made her rounds of killing easy target witches, ensuring she had a good amount of grief seeds and some to spare. She made sure to be careful. Homura couldn't afford to waste any magic, so they had to be taken out methodically. Unfortunately, this also has the side effect of being very slow. It took much longer than she would have liked, but now she was under the mall, looking for the last witch on today's list.

"I haven't seen you before." And there it was. She grit her teeth. The Incubator, ever present in her affairs and the cause of her misery. In the shadows she made out its beady eyes, floating ethereally from her perspective. Its voice made her sick. Homura resisted the urge to blow it to smithereens. Much as she wanted, it is a futile effort, a waste of bullets, and would attract too much attention.

It took all her willpower to remain stoic.

The furry white creature came into the light slowly, silently creeping from the darkness, it's expression unchanging. "Or, more accurately, I do not recall seeing you before." The voice was projected directly into her mind, the creature's mouth remaining still, its red eyes unblinking. Homura reminded herself: though it communicates telepathically, it can't actually read her thoughts unless she lets it. "We have clearly met before, as you have already been contracted as a magical girl." It began to circle her, like a predator sizing up its prey. "I'd appreciate it if you could tell me why that is."

Stopping time was too great a risk for her. The Incubator was smart; if she used her magic without restraint, it was extremely likely it would learn what her magic could do. She couldn't afford that. "Oh, are you unable to hear me?" It said. "Unlikely, since you are deliberately disallowing two-way telepathic communication." Homura cursed its inductive reasoning. She needed to remember its mental acuity is its most threatening aspect. "I noticed that you have destroyed several witches and collected their respective grief seeds in the past three hours," it said. "As an offer of goodwill, I will inform you that there are two magical girls who currently manage this territory. This will not go unnoticed by them." Homura continued to remain silent. Anything she does could give too much away. Realizing that it wasn't going to get anything out of her, the Incubator slunk off to wherever it goes. Homura ran a hand through her hair once she was alone. The Incubator being present meant that, most likely, Mami Tomoe was close. A confrontation wouldn't be beneficial. Not that she was desperate enough to fight for Gertrude's grief seed in the first place. it would be best to let Tomoe kill Gertrude and take the grief seed. Worst case scenario, she grandstands and lets the witch escape. As long as Madoka doesn't get involved it shouldn't be an issue.

Undoing her transformation, she made her way back to the top. She snuck a brief peek into the record store, seeing Madoka and Sayaka, currently oblivious to the predator that stalked these halls.


Those two not being exposed to magical girls on day one typically meant a smoother loop. Sayaka always takes a few days to make her wish, and the later she does the better. Satisfied with this, Homura made her way back home. She still had to plan out her next few weeks carefully, trying to account for things that could go wrong, gathering more weapons, etc. Over her many repeated time loops, she learned the importance of planning out everything beforehand. Even if those plans tended to go awry.

"Hey, kid." She was brought out of her musings by a voice. It sounded vaguely familiar, but she didn't know anyone that spoke with an accent. Undaunted, she didn't even break her stride. "Hey!" The voice said a bit louder. "Kid in the uniform! With the long black hair!" Okay, that was pretty much her description. If she kept walking, he should leave her alone. "Look kid, don't make this difficult. I just need a sec." Now people were staring. Homura huffed. He was persistent. Quickly moving past several pedestrians, she ended up in an alleyway. If he had ill intentions, he would likely follow her in here. She doubted any of those bystanders called the police. Not that it mattered; some creep wouldn't last a second against her. Literally.

"Annoying," she muttered. She manifested her soul gem and transformed. Having to use some of her magic just to avoid some heckler soured her mood more than it already was. The gears on her shield clicked and the world went gray. Seeing a route, she parkoured up the building and let time resume. Since she was already out of her way, she debated fighting a few more witches, though that might just make Kyoko appear sooner, and she couldn't tell if she'd be a problem or not this early.

"Neat trick."

The gun was in her hand the moment she heard the voice. Turning around, she saw a white haired, older looking foreigner in a long red coat. He eyed the gun with an easy smirk. "You this friendly to everyone?"

Homura kept her sights on him.

"How did you get up here?"

His smirk didn't falter. "Same way you did." He slowly started to pace before her. "Guess it's my lucky day," he said. "Never thought I'd find you so quickly."

Find her? Who would be looking for her?

"Who are you?" How did he follow her? Is this a witch's minion? It's not like any minion she's seen; too human. No witch she's encountered had minions like this. So does that mean it isn't related to a witch? Then how could he have gotten up here so quickly?

The man chuckled. "Try not to think too hard about it. So," a snap of his fingers and he pointed at her. She swore she saw him glow red for a second."Tell it to me straight. You a demon? 'Cause they're the only things I know that manipulate ti-"

In the next moment, Homura stopped time. It might have been a bit out of panic, yes, but how could he have known? Her ability has never been discovered this quickly! She didn't want him to finish that sentence. He absolutely couldn't. For all she knew, he was somehow connected to the Incubator. Best to just end this quickly. She fired twice: one for the head, the next for the heart. Once time resumed, he would be no more. And if this was all just some poor sap enthralled by a witch, then what a shame for him. Perhaps finding a dead body would install a city curfew, limiting Madoka's exposure to magical girls. There would be solace in that. And everything was going relatively well.

Homura closed her eyes and took a breath. Killing a normal human wasn't something she was unfamiliar with, but she still couldn't over the feeling of taking someone's life. Jaded as she might be with the reality of witches and magical girls, personally killing an innocent bystander wasn't something she reconciled yet. Though this guy did suss out her ability, so perhaps he wasn't so innocent after all. After going through countless repetitions, she forgot that other people actually existed and weren't just background extras like on a TV show. Trying to remember every detail about what everyone did was practically impossible, so she focused only on Madoka and her core group of friends.

Normally her time loops followed relatively the same path: Mami introduces Madoka and Sayaka to the concept of magical girls, Sayaka makes a dumb wish, Kyoko shows up, and then they all die. The Incubator reveals he figured out what her magic is and essentially makes fun of her, and then she fails to kill Walpurgisnacht.

But never has she had someone walk up to her and blurt out what her power is on the first day of the time loop. It was extremely worrying. She wanted to just start over, but she couldn't without understanding more of who that guy was. If something out there was aware of time looping, it would throw her entire plan into jeopardy. Just the thought was making her soul gem darken. She rationalized killing the man was the best course of action. She couldn't dwell on it. She just needed to move forward. Maybe she should take it back home? Get a clue as to his identity and where he could have figured her out.

"What is it with women shooting me?"

Homura jumped at the voice. She hadn't even noticed, but the man in the red coat had gotten up and was now sitting on the edge of the roof, very alive and un-shot. "I'm not cut out for this sort of sugar job, you know." He turned to her, grin still on his lips. "You ready to talk now?"

Homura frowned. "Why are you so interested in me?"

"'Cause right now, you're the best lead I've got." Homura gave a cold glare. "We already met the other day, don't tell me you don't remember me!" Homura narrowed her eyes. She doesn't remember anyone like this. Before she became a magical girl, she was hospitalized for an extended period. Was he from the hospital? He didn't look like a doctor. "You know, next to the giant, laughing circus. Size of a building, upside-down?"

"Walpurgisnacht!?" Homura couldn't hide her surprise.

"If that's what you want to call it."

"How," Homura's fists clenched. "How do you know this?" As far as she knew, it was impossible for a normal person to even perceive Walpurgisnacht. Though considering how alive he was, perhaps 'normal' wasn't the right word.



"I was minding my own business and next thing I know, I was caught in a repeating ti-" The click of her shield was practically instant and the world went gray around her. She walked to the man and forcefully grabbed his shirt by the collar. "-me loop." His eyes moved around the colorless landscape. He gave a small hum as a hint of amusement reached his eyes. Homura wasn't sure what his expression was, but she likened it to fondness… or nostalgia. "Guess you can get the full story some other time."

"I don't know how you came to know this, but do not speak of my abilities so casually." The man gave an easy shrug. "Since you insist on being persistent, I will speak with you. It will be easier for both of us." She let him go and allowed time to resume.

"It's like Lady all over again," the man said, mock dusting his shirt.

"Here," Homura said. The man caught the note she tossed without looking up. "Come to this address in one hour. Do not follow me."

Homura jumped off and ran to the local Yakuza family. She had no clue who this man was, and yet he sussed out her ability in moments. Unless he already knew? Could he read minds? Was he toying with her? Some other agent connected to everything? Regardless of his origin, he was a bigger threat than she anticipated and needed to be eliminated.

Dutifully, the man showed up one hour later.

"Not the kinda place I thought she'd pick," the man said. It was a construction site, some parking garage or superstore to be erected. Not that he cared. "Hey, you in here kid?" He called. No response. "Guess she's up higher." Just as he stepped forward, an explosion hit at his feet. Smoke and dust rose up, and a hail of bullets fired into the cloud. A moment later, a piece of the floor above came crashing down, cracking the ground where it fell. Finally, a rocket flew at the spot, destroying the debris into smaller chunks, effectively obliterating them. Homura tossed the discarded rocket launcher. It had taken four instances of stopped time to accomplish that gross display of firepower, but the job is done. Not even a whole grief seed would be needed to restore what she expended. The only thing she lost here was time, but a couple of hours in the first few days was negligible.

Just as she was about to leave, she stopped at the sound of a whistle.

"I'd hate to be the guy who gets on your bad side." Homura grimaced as she slowly turned her head. Leaning against a wall, the red coated man smiled and waved, once again, completely unharmed. "It was one thing with the gun, but the rocket launcher? It really is Lady all over again. Derivative, sure, but you get some points for style. Judges say?"

Crazy- the voice boomed from somewhere near the man.

"There you have it.'

Keep calm. That was what she needed to do. Losing composure was a surefire way to die. This was an enemy, but it was a smart enemy. Its ability to speak put it leagues above Witches with their one-track minds, if they could be said to have any. "Who are you?"

"Name's Dante. What about you, Little Lady?"

"... You're rather tenacious, Dante," she said.

"It's gonna take a lot more than that to kill me."

"Those explosives were powerful enough to take off your limbs."

"Might wanna get a refund."

"Then what would it take to kill you?" He shrugged. Homura fought back a grimace. Dante's durability was an extremely high concern. Walpurgisnacht was understandable, but this rando showing up out of nowhere and not dying from several high grade explosions or a bullet to the face just didn't make any sense. In her mind there were only two possibilities:

"Are you a magical girl?" Homura asked.


"I suppose that would be too easy an explanation," Homura said, a hand running through her hair. Unlikely as it was, that would have been a lot easier to manage.

"The hell is a magical girl? Sounds like something Patty would come up with." Homura looked around. She didn't sense Kyubey around, but she couldn't discount the possibility that Dante was somehow connected to him, though at this point it didn't seem likely. What purpose would Kyubey have in making a puppet that couldn't die? Magical girls needed to die by necessity and a puppet of his own making wouldn't aid his goal, so this seemed counterintuitive. Then, could it be that Dante is a completely unrelated actor? Then how could he explain his resistance to death? He could be another extraterrestrial creature masquerading as a human, but he seemed to be performing overly well. Just thinking wasn't getting her anywhere but more panicked. She decided it was a good idea to test what he knows. At least that could help her figure out something.

"If you are unfamiliar with the plight of magical girls, then you have no business fighting witches. Especially Walpurgisnacht."

"'Witches'?" He repeated. "Pretty sure that thing wasn't a green chick with a pointy hat."

Homura glared. "Did the Incubator put you up to this?"

"Don't know what hatching eggs has to do with anything."

He avoided revealing anything. Of course."You're mocking me."

"Look, Little Lady, I'm on your side here," he said, his hands up in defense. "I'm just trying to stop… going back."

"So am I." Homura appreciated the euphemism. Kyubey, intelligent as he was, due to whatever quirk defined his 'logic' could not understand such linguistic tricks, talking more like a lawyer than a con artist. He told intent not only by literal content of language but by physiological tells, like rising in temperature or increased heart rate. Dante's ability to talk like an actual person did add points in his favor.

"And you can't 'cause of the circus freak, I get it. Honestly, I've dealt with a couple things like that before. If I could go back in time to stop them before they could kill thousands of people, I would… maybe." Homura didn't mention that she just wanted one specific person to live. "So either you let me in on this, or I'm gonna have to waste both our time and figure it out myself." Homura winced when he chuckled at his stupid joke. Of course he could approach the subject with levity, he isn't the one that's failed to kill Walpurgisnacht hundreds of times. For all the man's bravado, he had no clue what he would be up against. "Come on, kid! I'm practically beggin' ya here!"

But the fact remained that this man, who survived a significant portion of her arsenal, stood before her. Could it be true? Could some higher power have taken pity on her and given her a helping hand? It all seemed so convenient; he never showed up before, but all of a sudden some guy she can't kill offers to help her. The warning bells in her head still hadn't stopped ringing. Then again, there was that nagging feeling- that desire to hope that someone, anyone would help her, to alleviate even a little of the burden she carried for so long. It couldn't be possible. And yet... and yet here is someone offering themselves to her cause. The risk was great, undoubtedly. There were still too many unknowns about Dante. But, if it turns out he actually wanted to help, she might as well use him. As a distraction at the very least. Perhaps get him to reveal how he knows her power. Going with him would be the biggest gamble she'd ever done, but he could prove useful to her.

"Homura Akemi." Dante nodded. Against her better judgement, but she found herself believing he may be her saving grace. Desperation causes desperate acts, she supposed. "If you're going to help me, I need to know what you can do. Follow me."

"This ain't gonna be another attempt at killing me right?"

Homura said nothing as she walked on.

Is this a good premise? Probably not, but I wrote it anyway.