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A Komicer Productions
A Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha fanfiction
A good end. Nanoha lends itself surprisingly well to cross-overing. I didn't expect to see these sorts of people in this story, but not bad at all. A satisfying ending that reminds you that the Adventure is far from over. I wish I could go on, purple-prosing on how gushfully I lurved your story and all that, but I'm not very good at that, so I'll simply add (That my name is V and it is my very good honor to meet you) that this story was excellent. ~ Person with many aliases 200% better coherency than the Negima fic. You weave a story with grace, and since you actually focused it this time it was brilliant. I lol'd at the random Negima/FMA reference/cameos and the cunning use of internet memes in a more subtle manner (Do you know... Oyashiro-sama?) ~ The Ansem Man In any case, the story was very good, and had lots of my precious Fate-chan. Dual-wielding staves at the end stands as an epic moment of awesome. ~ Lestaki
Contents Foreword ~ p. 2 01 – Placement of Pieces ~ p.3 02 – Anticipation ~ p.14 03 – First Move ~ p. 31 04 – Taking the Queen ~ p.53 05 – Pawn at the End ~ p.73 06 – Sweeping the Board ~ p. 95 07 – All for the King ~ p. 126 08 – Game End ~ p. 151 Ending Words ~ p. 178 X1 – New Game Start ~ p. 179 X2 – Punishment Game ~ p. 184 X3 – A possible future ~ p. 188 X4 – Preview ~ p. 191
Foreword This story was written in 2007 during a moment of inspiration. It was well-received, despite the lack of romance or anything within. And since I do have an ego, I have decided to put the entire story in print. It is my hope that one day someone will actually put the entire story into pictures. Because I like it so. Keep reading and I am always free to comment more about it. Thank you.
Chapter 1 Placement of Pieces --------------------------------------------There was no loud thud or crash or anything when the body slummed onto the concrete pavement. No billowing of dust as the body landed. Not even the obligatory curse or last words from the man. Just a simple, short, undramatic fall, faced down on the ground. Compared to the desperate battle before, it was almost an anti-climax. To think after all those flashy moves and falling buildings around, all it took was a simple stone to the back of his head to take him down. Sure, the stone had been guided by magic, but it was still a stone picked from the ruins, chosen for size and weight rather than magical qualities. Perhaps he should just placed his luck on stones in the future... then again, that was what he was already doing. A quick check for the body's pulse. Good, it was still there, faint but still present. He only wanted what he came for. Lives were not what he wanted. The ruined buildings around would be restored to normalcy once he released the barrier around it. People would throng the streets again to do their night shopping, oblivious to the battle fought and the chaos around them previously. Nothing would have affected them, except for one unconscious man slumped face down in the middle of the street. For now... his eyes fell onto the bracelet around the fainted's wrist. It was sliver in color, adorned with a single rectangular emerald at the top. It looked pretty, just like any jewelery should be. Yet, just a few moments ago, it had been a gauntlet, punching air waves at him, creating holes and destroying houses everywhere around him. Well, he had just survived another one for tonight and the prize of the battle would be his... --------------------------------------------The sky was dark, saved for the occasional streak of lightning that illuminated the deserted land. She was in the air, surrounded by the booming of thunder and enemies. Thousands of them; each one with a weapon held in their hands, some of them familiar, others not. “Fate-chan!” It was now or never. A bright glowing circle of magical symbols appeared from below her. Orbs of electrical energy gathered around her, readying the upcoming attack. The lead enemy raised its weapon and gave a roar into the air. The roar was picked up by the rest, increasing the cacophony around her.
Now would be a good time. “Feeeiii-Tooo-Chaaan!” 'Get Set', Bardiche's robotic voice announced, the spell was ready. Just in time too. The lead enemy had started to lead the charge. The wall of opponents closed in upon her. Slowly and deliberately, but picking up speed. She tightened her grip around Bardiche's metallic staff and swung it towards the lead. “Photon Lancer!” she shouted as the multiple electrical orbs flew towards the enemies, leaving behind a trail of light, before releasing the powerful electrical charges within. Bodies fell lifelessly to the ground as the balls of electricity claimed their targets. Despite taking much casualties, the enemies still proceed undaunted. Shouts and roars still revert in the air. Not enough. She desperately prepared another blitz of electricity. What could possibly stop these mindless souls? She could just make out some of the shouts through the chaos if she strained her ears. They were shouting... “LET'S BE FRIENDS!!!” “Eh?” “FEEEIII-TOOO-CHAAAN!!” Fate Testarossa snapped out of her daydream. Her pencil was still held in her hand in the middle of copying something from the board. Whatever she had been trying to copy was no longer there. Not even the teacher was present. Her grip on the pencil loosen, allowing it to roll off her hand and continued rolling to a dramatic suicide drop from the edge of the desk. Instead, she was surrounded by her friends, their bags already packed, slung behind their back and looking at her with a mix of amusement and concern. There was no one else in the classroom save for them. Since when did she zoned out when she was doing the mental magical training? Judging from her half copied notes in front of her, probably half an hour ago... “Fate-chan, you must have tired out last night during training,” Nanoha spoke first, “Do you want to rest for today instead?” She would have known what they did, they had ran battle stimulations after battle stimulations aboard the Asura to polish on their fighting expertises. “Aaahh... no! I'm fine...”, Fate tried to blink the last remnants of sleep away from her eyes as she started to return her stationaries to her bag. In addition to the battle stimulations ran the day before, there was also a mission
briefing conducted at the headquarters. In a few days time, Nanoha and she would be involved in yet another mission for the bureau. It was no time to be daydreamingTo tell the truth, something else in her mind had been bothering her. Actually, not so much of bothering but rather, gently nagging her conscience. Admiral Lindy had asked Fate to consider her adoption again. Fate bent down to pick up the fallen pencil from the ground. To her dismay, the lead had broke from the impact. She had taken so long to get it to the perfect mix of sharpness and bluntness to write with. She would have to start all over again. In her mind, the blond child had pondered about the big question and her answer. She had always avoided answering Admiral Lindy her question. It was not that she disliked her, in fact, she loved her. So far, Admiral Lindy had showered her all the love worthy of her own flesh and blood. She had loved Chrono. She had loved Admiral Lindy. She had loved everyone. Living together under one roof in Terra, they were almost one big family along with the rest of the crew of Asura. It was only a formality in fact, this adoption. To make their lives now, official. So what exactly was holding her back? Making her stutter and delay over her decision? “Feeii-too-chan!” “Ah! It's okay, it's okay...”, Fate snapped out of her pencil-looking daze to return the broken stationary to her bag, “Maybe I'm just a little tired from yesterday's training.” she admitted. “It's okay,” Nanoha knitted her eyebrows and clenched her small, delicate fists with a look of determination, “Let us be ready.” There was a slight glint of light from Raising Heart as if it too was agreeing with her master. At the side, Arisa stretched herself to invigorate herself. After a sigh of contentment, she turned towards the two magical girls, “Do you know what date it is tomorrow?” she asked with barely concealed anticipation of their reply. “Eh?” Without waiting for a reply, Arisa grinned and answered her own question. “It's our first summer holiday together
with everyone! Let us plan our programme for the holiday! I want to go to the beach again!” At the side, Suzuka, the traditionally quiet one nodded quietly in agreement with her trademark gentle smile on her face. Oh, that. Oh darn. With their frequent missions and trainings, Fate had completely forgotten all about it. In the news of their upcoming mission, it would also be very difficult to spend their summer together. From Nanoha's growing look of realization, she too had understood the implications. “Sorry, Arisa-chan,” Nanoha tried to find the words to say, “Actually...” Arisa swiftly raised a hand towards Nanoha's face, cutting of the apology before she could continued. With a flick of her long, tan hair, she continued with a grand voice. “I know, I know,” she reassured with confidence in her voice, nodding smugly with confidence, “Don't worry! there will be time for other plans, but when it is summer, you MUST go to the beach!” “Aaahh..! The beach! Where, we play in the waters and split watermelons blind folded!” Arisa continued, savoring the memories that came with each experience, “Then we can barbecue some fish and play with sparklers at night!” Nanoha laughed uncomfortably at Arisa's enthusiasm in contrast to Suzuka's bright smile. With Arisa on the roll, it would be impossible to stop her. Not really understanding this summer beach tradition, Fate found her thoughts drifting away. From what Arisa was expounding, this beach sounded lovely and she would love to go along with everyone. Despite their frequent and occasionally dangerous missions and magic trainings, compared to the type of life she previously had prior to meeting Nanoha, these peaceful, gentle days when she could afford to listen to friends give long-winded speeches were too good to be true. Perhaps that was why she could not answer Admiral Lindy and make her, mother. It was too good to be true. A freak accident could easily tear their ties apart and hurt them both. She could become a burden to Admiral Lindy. “Feeii-Too-Chan!” It was Arisa this time, giving Fate a mock glare, “If you don't understand, please listen to me!” Then with a cough
of authority, she continued with her tales of the beach with growing enthusiasm. Her large, bright eyes shone with intense excitement and anticipation. Nanoha looked to her in concern, surely she would have suspected something by now. Although she always looked so happy and outward looking, Nanoha was really good at reading the feelings of others, especially since having fought through thick and thin together so many things, they shared an unspoken form of understanding of each other. It was not exactly telepathy, but it came close. “What is wro...” Nanoha started, then with a pause of consideration, decided against what she had wanted to say. If Fate had wanted her worries known, she would have already mentioned it. She probably knew, but did not want to ask yet. She would wait patiently until Fate was ready to confine with her. “Of course there is Hayate-chan who would find going to the beach trickier, but then there is the summer festival where we can dress in kimonos and play at the fairs, catching all those goldfishes and eating candied apples...” Arisa was lost in her own soliloquy of a fun-filled summer with everyone. As the girl went on, Nanoha started to twiddle her fingers in anxiety and embarrassment. Suzuka, ever the understanding one must have seen it since she said. “Arisa-chan, I think Nanoha had something to say...” Arisa put her speech on hold as she looked to her friend in question, “Nanoha-chan?” “Actually...” Nanoha looked to the ground in embarrassment, “the bureau already had something for us...” Arisa and Suzuka were two of the few non-magic wielders who actually knew of their true abilities and the existence of the bureau they worked for, having accidentally witnessed it before during their dramatic battle with the Tome of Darkness. In a way, Fate was glad that they knew. The knowledge sort of drew them closer as friends even if they would never understand the full magnitude of it. Now they looked absolutely crestfallen by Nanoha's admission. There was a gasp of shock and disappointment from both their friends. Fate too looked to the ground to avoid looking at her friends. It was bad enough for them to burst their friends hopes of spending their first summer together. It was worse when Fate admitted to herself in her heart, that she had totally forgotten that this was to be their first summer together. “But!” Arisa cried in indignation.
“Sorry!” Nanoha and Fate bowed low at the same time in apology. “We only knew of it yesterday and we forgot to tell you about it until now!” Nanoha said. Arisa did not reply, instead the hot-headed girl puffed her cheeks and looked away in silent protest. Suzuka was much more understanding even though there was still intense disappointment reflected in her eyes. “It's okay,” she said in her gentle voice, “Please tell us about it.” Nanoha looked to Fate and nodded in agreement before they started telling their friends about what they will be doing soon. It was after their usual magical training when they received the information regarding their new mission. There had been a series of reports of stolen magical devices recently across Terra, concentrated in the region of western Eurasia. Investigators sent to investigate these incidents had also found themselves disarmed in the process. At least, it had been determined that the culprit had been another mage of unknown origins, one who wields a local form of magic different from the Mid-Childa or Velka systems they were used to. As it would be too much a waste of resources to send an entire fleet against a single 'robber', the Time Space Administration Bureau had decided to send their local operatives into the region to subdue the threat. Admiral Lindy of the Asura who had made her home on Terra became the obvious choice to head the operation. Due to Hayate's regular visits to the hospital for physiotherapy, she would not be involved directly in the mission. Instead, she would be on standby instead, along with the rest of her Velka knights, should their immediate assistance be required. Thus, they would be leaving Japan for their destination soon, leaving their friends behind, unable to enjoy their first summer together... At this point, they apologized once again. Both their friends had been listening intently, even though Arisa tried to pretend otherwise. “Won't it be dangerous?” Suzuka finally asked in concern.
“Not really...” Nanoha laughed sheepishly, “We have faced worse...” Obviously, she was referring to their past run-ins with the Velka Knights before they became allies. To think that that had only just occurred slightly more than half a year ago. So many other things had occurred since then. The missions, the trainings, the occasional mock battles that will assured the destruction of another training room. All those outings with friends and... They really lived like a family, didn't they? Yet, Fate was not really family... despite everyone's common wishes, not yet. Not until... “Fate-chan.” Everyone was watching her again, even Arisa who was still trying to maintain her pretense of the cold front. The unspoken question hung in the air, they could see that something was bothering her. “It's really nothing, don't worry.” Fate waved her hands before her to reassure her friends. “Well then,” Suzuka said, “Where will you be going for this mission?” Nanoha touched her temple and tried to recall for a while, finally she admitted sheepishly, “It is this city on that large island in Europe. Starts with 'ron'... I can't really remember...” she looked towards Fate for support. “London?” Arisa suddenly blurted out, betraying her thoughts. Realizing that, the stubborn girl pouted with an angry blush and looked away again, determined to maintain her silent stand despite her obvious interest in the subject. “Yes, London! Thank you, Arisa-chan!” Nanoha cheerfully thanked her friend, “We should be back once the mission is completed.” her voice softened somewhat in uncertainty, “At least, Admiral Lindy said that it should not be difficult...” If Admiral Lindy said so, then it should not be that difficult or dangerous. Fate placed her absolute trust in her commander, she would never be wrong.
“Okay,” Suzuka replied, “We'll wait for you then. Right, Arisa?” The calmer girl deliberately emphasized the last part towards the protester. Arisa gave a huff in protest, adjusted her bag and started to walk out of the classroom. Staring at the ground and mumbling to herself as she walked, she seemed almost deep in thought. “Arisa-chan...” Fate tried to speak but was ignored. It felt bad, yet she felt that she could not speak up against the cold shoulder since she too was at fault. “She will be alright,” Suzuka assured the worried looking magical girl with a hand to her shoulder, “Once I get through with her.” the dark-haired girl added as an afterthought. She could tell that her tomboyish friend was plotting something, she could almost feel the cogs moving in her head. Knowing her character, Arisa would never let the matter rest until she was satisfied. In an unspoken agreement, the remaining girls started their last walk out of the school for that term. As they walked, except for the unusually silent Arisa ahead, they chatted about simple things, things like the best cake in town or the previous dodge ball game they had during physical education. Normal things that girls of their age should be talking about, topics of normal life. Outside, the fiery sun shone mercilessly on them as if to imprint the memories of a hot summer on them, but nothing could possibly spoil these peaceful days of their life. As Admiral Lindy had said, the mission could be over before they knew it. What could possibly go wrong? --------------------------------------------It was night, though it was not exactly dark or stormy. That would make silent movement too difficult and too wet. Neither was the moon full, it was only around three quarters full, not the most impressive type of moon for nocturnal activities. A single figure fleeted across the rooftops of the town. He was not leaping in bounds or anything. Instead, he was seated quite uncomfortably on a decently long staff which ended with a knob at the end, flying just slightly above the concrete jungle to avoid been seen while still maintaining a decent speed. It was really quite easy, wasn't it? Not really. He knew he was talented, at least the Professor said so. But he was still young, there was still much
for him to learn. He was most surprised to have survived so far. Another night. Another target. He did not win all the time, of course. Especially now that each hit was also getting harder as most of the mages had taken a more defensive stand such as traveling in groups. Most of the time, it was luck, plenty of those on him and none of them on his targets that allowed him to last for so long. The mage with the magical artifact he defeated just now had been alone, probably too confident of his ability to defend himself. There were times when he knew he could not win, he had turned tail only to regret it once he reached home. He needed those magical items, whatever they call them. No, she needed those. He must get as many of those as possible before the time ran out. The stone must be created. The time the doctors predicted had past without a hitch. That only meant that the ticking time bomb had been delayed for an indefinite amount of time. Maybe days, maybe months, maybe years. Maybe now. Until that time come, her life would shutter between those two places, a couple of weeks each, slowly but surely wasting. Until the stone could save her. At least, he hoped that book and the Professor was right. According to the Professor, they need more of those magical artifacts before the stone could be done. Draw out the biggest potential from the magical items, the Professor had said. Use your spells to force it, she said. When enough magical artifacts were collected together and alchemized, the stone could be formed. That he certainly did, and whatever those magical artifacts were, they were powerful weapons. From punching airwaves to shooting magical beams, as before, he was lucky to survive and even luckier that the school covered healing spells just recently. They did not work for her though. He should know; he tried. Magic just did not make the cut here; he needed more if he wanted to do anything those weak-willed doctors could not. Just the other day he encountered a mage with two familiars beside him. Given the advanced age of the mage in mind, he did not pose too much a problem and was easily rendered unconscious. He was about to collect the
target for the day when the two familiars attacked. He had never seen familiars like them before, humanoid with animal features such as protruding cat ears and tails that betrayed their origins. They were extremely strong too. One would engage in close combat while the other attacked from afar. After the third kick, he knew he could not win and had to flee. In the end, he had knocked out a mage, accidentally destroyed his home by releasing the barrier too hastily without restoring things to its original state and suffered numerous bruises and burns all around him. Yet, he got nothing. That day particularly hurt a lot. First thing the next day, he would go to the Professor at the campus to hand over the item, spell containers she had called them. Not that he really cared, he only need the stone the Professor promised to help create with all these things. He directed the staff to turn and lower itself to the level of one of the many windows at the apartment. Crouching slightly, he allowed himself inside the room before he landed. Despite the empty house, he paused out of habit to make sure he did not wake anyone. Then he leaned the staff quietly against the wall and started to sense for all those security and shielding wards the professor had helped to place along his home. Satisfied that there had been no unwarranted entries, he opened his drawer and took out a little box with multiple seals on it. Unlocking all of them using a tiny wand he drawn from one of the numerous pockets of his robe, he placed the prize for the night inside, the silver bracelet before re-sealing them. It should prevent other magically-inclined people from sensing the presence of the artifact. With the deed done, he finally let himself down on his bed, exhausted from the battle just now. It would only be a matter of time before his victims called in the authorities to get him, whoever those authorities were. For now, he would just like to rest. Once he received his next target from the professor the next day, it would be another hectic night again but he was getting used to it. What could possibly go wrong? --------------------------------------------It was quite different flying in the air with magic and flying in the air from within an airplane. Flying via magic only felt like running without support; you might be in midair but it just did not felt that different from on land.
Within the airplane, one could actually feel like being in the air. A mixture of awe for what mankind had achieved and terror for what the only thing that was keeping you in the air was a lot of metal, rubber and scientific theories. Luckily for Admiral Lindy, what the girls were mostly feeling now were more awe than terror. Both Fate and Nanoha were watching the passing clouds below from the small window of the plane with wonder in their eyes. The disappointment from not seeing their friends send them off had all but disappeared from their eyes. You would have thought that being frequently on board the Asura or the TSAB headquarters would condition the girls to be used to technical flight. Apparently not. To think that after hours of flight, the girls were still looking at the clouds, comparing their shapes with each other. Chrono and Amy had already fell asleep, Amy's head leaning on Chrono's shoulder while a thin strain of drool trailed from her mouth to his shirt. Arf, in her human form was also curled up in her own seat, mumbling about dinner and wagging her tail vigorously underneath the blanket provided. Due to Yuuno's work in the Infinite Library, he could not be part of this mission. Nanoha had looked quite downcast for a moment when that revelation was made known to her. Their relationship had grown so much since they first met. Then again, as fast as it came, the unsuitably depressed look on her disappeared and was replaced by her more common cheerful outlook. It was not as if they could not meet during this period. The Asura would ready to beam them back to the headquarters when the need arises. “Is this the first time you have taken a plane?” Lindy asked the girls gently. Fate looked back and nodded slowly, “Yes. It was very different from our flying, this one goes higher,” her attention was drawn back by Nanoha's excited squealing of a new cute fluffy bunny cloud. Lindy gazed upon the two girls. Despite their youth, they were considered two of the three aces within the TSAB, the third been Hayate back in Japan. For a Terran, Nanoha was exceptionally strong in magic and had the positive attitude to go far in the bureau. Fate's a good girl. Gentle, innocent, kind... it was hard to imagine that she was originally a clone intended for the destruction of several dimensions. She was always looking out for others without a thought for her own safety. That had been the cause of much worry for Admiral Lindy, especially during missions. Lindy knew that deep inside Fate, there was a craving for a family, a real one. Yet, after all those abuse that Precia Testarossa hurled onto her, she still regretted not having the ability to save her creator, the one she
acknowledged as 'mother'. She did not wish to add to her regrets anymore, denying her heart of what she wanted. She was always pushing herself so hard without a word of complaint, keeping all those regrets and worries deep in her own heart. If only Fate would accept her offer, she could be so much a better mother to her. It has been a week since the mission briefing at the base. Once the plane landed in their destination, they should be welcomed by Graham who should have prepared their lodgings and base for them. It should be a short and quick mission, then they could perhaps enjoy a fun holiday on this foreign land for a while. Then perhaps, she could ask Fate again. What could possibly go wrong? --------------------------------------------The airplane roared as it landed safely on the grounds of the airport. Soon after, the passengers started to alight from the plane and pass through the customs. Some of them excited at the prospect of arriving, others grumpy from the resulting jet lag. After a few minutes, a very impatient girl with long tan hair walked out and into the walking area, dragging her luggage behind her, the wheels squeaking in protest of the overtly harsh treatment. “Hurry up! Their plane should be landing any moment now!” A purple-haired girl followed closely behind, also dragging another but much larger luggage behind her. “Arisa-chan, do you think that this is right? We did not tell them that we would be coming along...” Suzuka said as she stopped beside her friend and looked around cautiously. Arisa beamed widely as she surveyed the scene before her. This had got to be the best plan she had since Nanoha and Fate told them about their holiday-impeding mission. If their friends cannot join them for the holidays, they would join their friends instead. The English environment should not pose any problem for her for she was, as she would put it across herself, perfect bilingual.
It had took some time to convince Suzuka of the plan but since Suzuka too had wanted to spend the summer holidays together, she was soon swayed. She had also taken the liberty to tell their parents that they would be traveling in a group of friends so everything would be safe. According to Nanoha, the mission should be over quite quickly, they would be able to enjoy a unique holidays together. Nothing was going to stop her from her dream holiday with everyone. Nothing. Her plan would be perfect. After all, What could possibly go wrong?
Chapter 2 Anticipation --------------------------------------------Dimension Terra is known as a dimension where there is high level of sophistication in several branches of magic, including some forms which the Bureau are unfamiliar with and are still studying. Yet, magic in itself is largely unknown to the general population of the dimension, save for the minority magic practitioners. This compounded with the fact that the technological advancements necessary for proper magical control and support are severely lacking make Terra one of the most unpredictable dimensions indirectly under the jurisdiction of the Bureau. According to past records, the magic practitioners of Terra had been known to create several magical artifacts that had later been designated as Class A Logias. Sentient magical dolls, a deck of magical cards which control specific types of magic and a wish-granting “Holy Grail” are just some of those which the Bureau knew of and are keeping track of. It is believed that more could have been in existence without the knowledge of the Bureau. All local operatives are advised to keep an eye out for any possible signs of Logia activities in the region and to report to their direct superiors immediately on confirmation. Opening of TSAB's classified folder on Terran occurrences
After an amount of hesitation, he finally knocked on the door of Professor Dante. He could already smell the faint scent of lilies wafting from behind the door. “Come in.” The voice was soft but firm. Despite her old age, the Professor of Element Transmutation (or more popularly known as alchemy) remained surprisingly virile and was still able to command much respect within the academy with her field of knowledge. Gripping the knob, he looked around to make sure no one was around the corridor before he entered, then shutting the door quickly. The smell of lilies was even stronger inside the room, overwhelming any other possible smells that could have been around. Even if something died, one would still only smell the lilies. The Professor turned from the device she was looking at, her wrinkled eyes widening at the student who just entered the office. Her dark witching robes swept behind her in contrast to the mass amount of deathly white lilies growing in pots big and small around the room. A smile of gladness crept onto her angular face. “Gabriel, welcome back. Are you safe?”
The voice, kindly, almost grandmotherly but full of anticipation. Gabriel, the student in question nodded as he reached within his robes and took a small box out. With a small wand in his hand, he traced the sealing symbols on the box carefully. Once completed, the box opened with a soft click, revealing its contents to the Professor. The Professor took the silver bracelet out from the box and studied it with interest, rubbing its smooth surface in her coarse fingers, sensing the magical potential within. “Good job. Good job.” she murmured, then she opened a drawer in the desk, placing the bracelet inside, alongside all the other assorted magical devices already within, “I think we would almost have enough.” “How is she?” she asked without looking back, returning her attention to the device. The device was in fact a crude but accurate miniature of the city, with every single building and street represented. Little orbs of light, like fireflies floated around the three dimensional map, inside buildings or on the streets. “She's fine...” the blond-haired wizard trainee replied, his facial features frowning in recollection and worry. He needed to hurry. Just because she looked fine did not meant she actually was. Gabriel could sense that most of the time, she was hiding the pain from him. The quickly disappearing painkillers provided by the doctors also hinted that to him. “Where will my next target be?” “No hurry, no hurry...” the Professor soothed, gazing calmly at the map with satisfaction, “Don't you have class to go to now? I cannot hold my student back from classes, can I?” “You know, I already knew most of the spells they are teaching now,” Gabriel protested. He wanted to hurry, to get the stone created. “You taught me most of them yourself.” The Professor chuckled, “Did I tell you that you reminded me of someone I once knew in the past? So talented and quick to learn.” “At least once a day.” came the quick reply. “And just as impatient too,” the Professor continued, “Go along. Come back after class. It will be where it will be”
With that, she shooed him out of the room, closing the door and the saturated scent of lilies from Gabriel. With a sigh of frustration, he trudged his way down the long, imposing corridor the school insisted on having, for his first lesson of the day. Advanced magical charms... perhaps. Most of the time, he would just sleep through the lesson, partly because he already knew more advanced forms of it, mainly because of his lack of sleep from the previous night's nocturnal activities. After the classes end, he would go down to the Professor for the next location and then down to the hospital to visit her. It should soon be time for her to return from that depressing place. Unlike the rest of the students who resided in the boarding facilities provided by the school, Gabriel was allowed to go home after school ended everyday, due to his more unique family situation. Unfortunately, that also meant that he needed to wake early to reach the academy on time. Even with magical aids, traveling across the country still took time. Yawning loudly without the care of the annoyed stares around him, Gabriel made his way reluctantly down to Room 64 of Mediana Magical Academy. --------------------------------------------The landing by the plane was just as uncomfortable as when it took off. The queasy feeling combined with the ears popping made it truly unpleasant. Yet on the whole, the plane ride felt worth it, Fate had never managed to admire the view of the sky from truly above despite her experience with magically-aided flight before. Having past through the customs with the rest of her team, she was faced with the throning crowd of the airport, tourists, locals, employees moving around in a vibrant, moving mass. Though Graham had chosen to stay in his homeland after leaving the bureau, he had still maintained links with Admiral Lindy as her father-in-law. He had volunteered his home as their headquarters for this mission. In a way, that would make him her grandfather... not. It was not official, Fate reminded herself mentally as she looked towards her mother-hopeful, Admiral Lindy. According to her, his twin familiars, Lizaria and Liselotte had promised to welcome them at the airport and lead them to the prepared headquarters. Fate looked around the premises, her eyes searching for the pair. Though, they had not met since the end of the Tome of Darkness episode, they still kept in touched through video recording and letters with each other, a fond practice dated back from the period of time she was away from Terra and Nanoha. “Feei-too-chaan! Nanoha-chan!” It sounded familiar but definitely not those of the twin familiars they were expecting. Since they were like the children of Graham and Admiral Lindy was his daughter-in-law, if she agreed to the adoption scheme, won't that make them her aunts-in-law? Fate found herself faced with the prospect of an
infinite expansion of her family with just a single signature, not that it was un-welcomed, but rather it felt too sudden and too easy for one who had committed so much wrong in the past... “Feei-too-chaan! Nanoha-chan!” The familiar voice sounded off again with a larger degree of annoyance, followed by approaching footsteps. “Fate-chan...” Fate felt a tug on her sleeves to see a surprised Nanoha pointing towards where the shouts were coming from. She looked towards the direction. Stunned silence reigned for a moment, interrupted only by running steps and squeaking wheels. “Uhm, Fate? Aren't they your...” Chrono leaned forward and asked softly into her ears. Fate nodded. Before them was Arisa, beaming and smirking in her full glory with her hands to her hips, her luggage behind her, despite the wheels, still worn out from all the merciless dragging along the floor. Suzuka, usually the more athletic one followed closely behind, her dark hair now tied into a ponytail trailing behind. “Arisa-chan... Suzuka-chan...” Nanoha said in awe, uncertainty could be detected from her voice. The same could be said for Fate. After all, who would expect friends who would follow them across the globe for the holidays. Fate could not decide if she should be very grateful to have such determined friends by her side, or she should become angry instead, an emotion that was so unfamiliar to her. Admiral Lindy broke the stalemate between the gang of four. Tidying her shawl, she smiled so warmly and gently towards the 'intruders'. There was an air of resigned amusement in her tone as she knelt slightly to their height level and spoke. “Hello, Arisa-chan. Suzuka-chan. I have heard so much about the both of you. Welcome to England.” The results were instantaneous. Arisa's satisfied look of victory disappeared as she quickly dusted herself and curtsy, “Good day, ma'am. My name is Arisa Bannings, friend of Nanoha-chan and Fate-chan... uhmm.” She seemed abnormally flustered and at a lost of words. Suzuka followed behind with her own curtsy, “My name is Tsukimura Suzuka. Pleased to meet you for the first time...” With a gentle laugh, Admiral Lindy stood up and bowed in return. “Lindy will do,” she said to Arisa, “Please do
feel welcome while we wait for our hosts.” That was when her cellphone rang its melodious tunes of Nana Mizuki's songs. She took the phone out and frowned slightly on looking at the caller's name. “Please pardon me,” she said apologetically as she walked aside to answer the call. “Wow,” Arisa whispered in awe to Fate, “Lindy-san is your admiral? She's really beautiful and friendly and kind of cool too...” For a while, Fate felt pride swelling in her. Of course, Admiral Lindy was all that and more. Fate looked towards Admiral Lindy with admiration and pride. She was the perfect woman to her. Strong, beautiful, kind, gentle and more. She was really glad to have met such a kind soul. Someday, she hope to be like her. To have the chance to live with her had been a blessing on her life. Then there was the adoption to become her daughter... It had to be too good to be true. Fate had always thought Precia to be her mother, even after everything, Precia, even when she told her in her face that she did not and never would love her, was still Fate's mother. Even now. She remembered a kind Precia once. A strong, beautiful, kind, gentle Precia. Those memories that have been inserted in her during her creation belonged to her origins, Alicia. The true daughter of Precia Testarossa. Yet, they felt real, were real but they did not rightfully belong to herAdmiral Lindy, in a way, reminded her of the old Precia in her memories. It was a chance to have a real family again. Just like that dream she had back then while trapped in the Tome of Darkness but it was still too good to be true. Did she deserve such happiness? Reality jolted her back. It was too good to be true. There was also the other matter at hand, despite the happy reunion between all the friends. Arisa and Suzuka had already joined their group as though they had always been part of it. Suzuka chatting cheerfully with Amy and Nanoha while Arisa looking around and observing everyone with evident interest. “Arisa-chan... why are you here?” “Because you two are here,” came the thoughtless reply, the replier peering curiously at Arf's behind, causing much annoyance and discomfort to the familiar. “But this is not Japan and we are on a...” Fate lowered her voice, conscious that she was in a public place,
“mission. It could be dangerous for you and Suzuka-chan...” Arisa stopped her observation and turned towards Fate, there was a look of confidence and expectancy on her, “We're friends, right? I am sure that between those missions, there will be time we can spend together, enjoy ourselves for the holiday.” “We won't get in your way,” Suzuka added, having overheard the conversation. She grabbed Fate's hand and looked directly into her eyes with a look of pure sincerity and hope. “We promise,” she added with a quick stern glance towards Arisa. “Yes, ma'am,.” Arisa answered somewhat half-heartedly before launching into another wave of conversation with Nanoha. There was nothing that she can do about that girl, Fate shook her head and smiled silently in resignation. Once she decided on something, there was no way she would give up. In a way, that was why they were friends; the impulsive girl never gave up on their friendship no matter what. At that point, Admiral Lindy finished her conversation with the caller on the cellphone and rejoined the group. A worried frown clouded her beautiful facial features as she clapped her hands to gather their attention. “Change of plans, we are heading to the local hospital,” she announced, “Graham will be meeting us there instead.” “Question, Lindy-san,” Nanoha raised her hand, “Why?” A look of anxiety washed across her face while she bit her lower lips. Then Admiral Lindy answered. “Because Graham have been attacked by our target.” --------------------------------------------Gabriel walked out of the depressing building with his hands tucked in his pockets. He hated the place. The chemical smell. The white walls. Those thoughtfully polite staff. Most of all, he hated what that place symbolized. And that she had been living there for the past few weeks. At least it was almost time for her return. They had a good talk just now. Talk about everyday things, his studies and stuffs like that. He was not really
paying attention; his attention was drawn towards the new bottle of painkillers beside the bed. He needed to hurry. He had been helpless in the past but at least, now, he had something to do. A wild desperate hope, but hope nevertheless. It was better than doing nothing and letting fate take its course. Gabriel felt for the small piece of paper that the Professor had given him inside his pocket. His target for the night had been written on it. It was that place again, the house he had accidentally destroyed. Perhaps the Professor expected him to search the grounds to find anything of value that might be left behind. At least it should be an easy job this time; there might not even be fighting this time. Pulling his cap down, the mage strode past the group of foreigners entering the building and made his way back to the apartment. He had to prepare himself for tonight's target, just in case. It was only a matter of hours before night fall. --------------------------------------------Admiral Lindy spoke English most fluently. Even more fluently than herself, Arisa grudgingly admitted. Having lived in Japan for the last few years, her own English had became rustier than she would like to admit. After hearing Lindy's request for directions, the nurse thoughtfully and politely directed their group towards where Graham was warded. It was one of those more expensive wards with a single bed and window overlooking the streets. There was some scrapping sound inside the room when Lindy knocked on the door. Slowly and cautiously, the door opened by a fraction, someone peeking out with narrowed eyes suspiciously at the newly arrived visitors. “It's us,” Lindy said gently. The eyes widened in acknowledgment and then the door swung open. The stance of the one behind the door visibly slackening. “Oh,” the lady replied and released a sigh of relief, “It has been a while.” Cat ears emerged on her head and flopped tiredly down as she let her guard down. She was the one of the two cat familiars this Graham had. Riselotte... or was it Rizaria? The old man, Graham was seated on his bed, closing the book he was reading while removing his reading glasses. His hair was whiter now compared to those photos Arisa saw in Fate's album. There were more wrinkles too. With a kindly smile, he welcomed the solemn group in. Nanoha and Fate went directly to his side,
asking about his well-being with worry in their voices. When all had entered, there was a noise of landing from behind, followed by struggling protests from Chrono. The other half of the twin familiars had ambushed Chrono, hugging him tightly and teasing him about his growth spurts. “Father, are you badly injured?” Lindy asked in concern, going towards the bed and grasping Graham's hand. Graham shook his head slowly, adjusting his blue wrist tag and looking at the scene around him. Chrono getting pestered and smothered by his enthusiastic past tutors while the rest laughed merrily at Chrono's discomfort. “Yagami. She did not come,” he stated with disappointment. “No, Father. It was not about the past,” Lindy consoled the guilt-ridden man, “She just happen to have other commitments.” Graham smiled sadly in understanding before he started to tell his tale to the assembled group. He was attacked at night by a young magic user. He was swiftly knocked out before he was rescued by his familiars. When he came to, the house was leveled but his device was still with him. There were looks of concern from the girls as they gathered around his bedside. Their target was not an easy one, Graham warned. He was stronger than expected and the magic he wielded was of a local variety. “The main issue now is that the cottage was destroyed, so you would have to find another place to set up your base of operations,” Graham concluded. The group was silent, each one deep in thought. Save for Arisa and Suzuka since they were not exactly part of the mission. Considering that he was speaking in terms of the Bureau, Arisa could not help but feel somewhat left out. She looked around earnestly at the rest. Lindy had her arms folded across her chest, silently contemplating. Nanoha's brows were furrowed cutely as she rested her head on Fate's shoulders, a move that sparked a slight stab of jealously in Arisa. She knew the current issue was about lodging and Arisa had just the solution at the back of her mind. It could be how she as a civilian could help. It could even be fun. With a cough, she stood up to get the attention of the rest in the room. “No worries,” she proclaimed grandly, “I know a place where you can use.” “After all, I'm English,” she added as an afterthought. With a pause of anticipation, she announced, “I, Arisa Bannings am willing to lend you my family's summer apartment for this period!”
--------------------------------------------Arisa did not take Admiral Lindy's rejection kindly. She frowned, she stomped, then she left the ward with a slam, leaving behind a stunned silence. Suzuka quickly got out of her seat and bow to the rest in apology. “Don't worry,” she apologized sheepishly, “I'll go with that hot-headed girl... I'm sure she would calm down soon.” Then, grabbing their luggages, she exited the room after Arisa. Fate could help her cries of “Arisa! Wait!” drifting into the room, getting softer along with the pattering of running feet. “Is she always so hot-tempered?” “Arisa has always been somewhat stubborn but she is a nice girl. I'm sure Suzuka would be able to calm her down...” Nanoha replied, sporting a worried, concerned look on her face. She was as observant as usual, reading the feelings of her friends as if she could see their minds. “Taking up her offer would be too much a burden for her as a civilian and place her and the residents around in harm's way. Regardless,” Admiral Lindy went back to business, “we need to start operations soon. Amy. Please seek out a suitable location for the base of operations away from the urban areas.” Fate was not really listening, lost in her thoughts. Part of her conscious briefly noted that Admiral Lindy was in command mode, giving out the orders of the mission to the respective recipient. So strong but still with an air of beauty and gentleness. Arisa and Suzuka had been most welcoming to her when she first came to live in Terra. However, this was the first time she actually saw Arisa truly blew it. Fate truly felt sorry for her. Arisa only wanted to help... she decided that she will look for her later to explain things out. Once this mission is over... “Fate.” Fate snapped into attention to see Admiral Lindy's concerned look. “Yes, Admiral Lindy.” There was a flash of disappointment on Admiral Lindy's face before she spoke composedly. “Fate, I am going over to Graham's destroyed cottage to retrieve some items. Can you come along?” “Ah, Nanoha-chan?” the subject asked uncertainly.
“I will be locating the rest of the magical population under the bureau in the region,” Nanoha replied. Then she nudged Fate gently. “Go along with Lindy-san, you know you want to,” she whispered. She was more used to working with Nanoha... but then, it could a chance to... “What about Graham?” Fate asked as she looked towards the old man on the bed. He was slowly putting on his reading glasses again while reopening the book to where he left off. “I'll be fine. Aria and Lotte will protect me,” he said as the twin familiars nodded in response, their eyes glinting with conviction. Finally she signed, “Yes, Admiral Lindy.” “Very well then,” Graham said while his eyes never left the book, “Are you going to continue keeping an injured old man from resting?” With words of farewell and good will, the group left the ward and the hospital. Then with an agreement to contact each other later, they split up for their respective tasks, leaving Fate and Admiral Lindy standing alone. “Well, Fate,” Admiral Lindy said with a gentle smile, “Shall we go?” Fate nodded quietly and followed closely behind her. “It is not really time to fly there with the public still awake,” Admiral Lindy said, raising a hand to hail a cab, “Does Bardiche have a translation mode? You might need it.” The mage shook her head lightly, her twin ponytails swung behind her. At least, she had never tried it before. It was slightly uncomfortable for Fate to be alone with her mother figure, especially when she was constantly nagged by the thought in her head. “You can always answer me later,” Admiral Lindy said softly, guessing correctly what was in Fate's mind, “Do not let that jeopardize the mission.” A pregnant silence reigned for a short while. Then the Admiral asked, “So where do you want to go after the mission? There should be plenty of nice places around...” “Oh,” Fate recalled the information she had read up on from the holiday guides in the library. “There is the Big Ben, the palace, the London Eye...” she recited off her mind in childish excitement, betraying her enthusiasm.
She especially wanted to enjoy the London Eye with Nanoha... Admiral Lindy could only smile. Despite her usually mature outlook, after her experience with Precia Testarossa, Fate was ultimately still a child with precious innocence and future. While there were surely classified and important artifacts to be retrieved from Graham's home, there was also some other items she had wanted to show Fate. Personal items. There was a braking sound of a cab stopping before them. Then a man looked out of the window and asked, “Where to, ma'am?” Admiral Lindy passed the driver a piece of paper with the address scribbled on it. “Will do, ma'am,” the driver glanced at the address and opened the doors, “All aboard.” As the cab drove towards their destination, Fate looked towards the gradually darkening sky. Night would soon fall. Hopefully, Amy would be able to find some suitable location to stay for the night. There was always the hotels... or Arisa's offer... Well, first things first. She would retrieve the items with Admiral Lindy and meet up with the rest later. Instinctively, Fate felt for the comforting shape of Bardiche in her pocket and looked at the Admiral's calm, gentle face. Just in case... but if anything happen, she would protect the Admiral with all she got. Officially mother or not, she promised. --------------------------------------------“Arisa-chan! Wait for me!” Suzuka's voice accompanied the sound of running feet and rolling luggage behind Arisa. Arisa was burning. Arisa was not happy. And when Arisa got unhappy, she got mad. How could they reject her? What was this about safety? They knew that that would be their best option! She was only trying to help! “Arisa-chan! How can you be so rude and left just like that!” Suzuka had caught up with Arisa, slowing down from her running pace to that of the hot-tempered girl's. Arisa
ignored her friend's chiding voice, venting her anger on the floor with her angry stomps. Save for Suzuka, there was no one else to stop her. Lindy-san might be cool but for all Arisa cared, the Bureau was out to deny their precious friendship with Nanoha and Fate. It was all a conspiracy to keep them separate, to keep them apart, and eventually they would be forgotten by the work-consumed mages of their group. Despite their best efforts, Arisa could already sense the invisible divide between them and the mages. She hated that. She hated the sense of helplessness against the quiet distancing between them. “Arisa-chan!” Suzuka made a grab for her shoulder to stop her rampage, “Stop acting like a spoilt brat!” Arisa came to a halt, standing in the hallway, looking to the ground in silent contemplation. “You can sense it, right?... Us... them...” Arisa spoke softly, clenching her fists in frustration, “The invisible divide...” Suzuka placed her gentle hands on her friend's shoulders and patted lightly in consolation. “I know,” she replied easily, “but we can't do anything about it. I am sure they had our best interest at heart. They are part of a world that we are not and can never be in. All we can do is to watch and give them our best support.” “Still!” Arisa burst angrily, “We're still friends, right? Friends share, friends help!” “Not, this, thing!” her voice softened in unhappiness. Her outburst was repeated in succession with decreasing audibility as it echoed across the empty hallway. There was a moment of silence. Suzuka too felt similar sentiments towards Arisa's outcry despite her calmer outlook. Then, with a determined glare, Arisa declared, “We will help whether they like it or not! Because we are friends! We will catch this stupid thief that force them to come here!” Suzuka gave a light laugh, it would be quite difficult to convince Arisa otherwise once she had made up her mind. Given how impossible her new goal would be, hopefully it would keep them occupied until Nanoha's and Fate's mission would be over. Not that she fully opposed Arisa's reasoning either.
That was when they took a good look at where they were. The empty corridor. Empty benches. Not a patient or hospital staff in sight. The sun outside seem to be setting. Save for the florescent light above and from the vending machine behind casting their eerie glow, the place would be quite dark. “Suzuka-chan, where are we?” Arisa asked hesitantly. Suzuka shook her head in answer. She had been too concerned with catching up with Arisa to notice where they were heading. Walking forward, she tried to look for any signs that would lead them out. Arisa followed behind and tried the closest door. Locked. With a sign, she checked her watch for the time. It was getting late and they had yet to even settle down at their lodgings. That was when she heard it. Footsteps. Soft footsteps approaching from behind. “Did you hear footsteps?” Arisa whispered frantically to Suzuka as she hurried back to the side of her friend. “No,” Suzuka replied, still dragging the luggage behind her, still unsure of her current location. Arisa heard it again, the footsteps, louder. She was very sure it was not her imagination. “There it was again,” she whispered with a higher degree of urgency only to meet sorry consolation from Suzuka. “I'm sure it was only your imagination. Places like here plays up one's mind...” Suzuka was about to continue when the shuffling footsteps became louder and closer. That too caught Suzuka's attention. Then there was a 'tap', the grinding sound of machine mechanics and the sound of metal can dropping into the chute of the vending machine. Fumbling of plastic cover before the satisfied sign of having retrieved one's canned coffee from the machine. Someone else had came. Slowly, they turned around to take a look. It was a woman dressed in patient's gown and shawl at the vending machine. She was tall and had long wavy dark hair that reached her shoulders. She looked beautiful and to a certain degree, fragile. The lady was about to turn back when she seemed to have noticed the lost girls since she smiled warmly towards the staring girls and then approached them.
“What are two girls doing in this part of the hospital at this part of the day?” the lady asked, her voice warm and friendly as she placed a hand on their shoulders. Arisa could not help but notice that the tag around her wrist was white. “Ask her,” Suzuka looked towards Arisa helplessly for the 'native English' to speak for them. Arisa was much better in English than she was. Arisa quickly composed her speech in her mind as the lady gazed at them with concerned eyes. After some stammering, she spoke, “We are lost in here. Can you help us out?” “Yes, that would not be a problem,” the lady replied and motioned them to follow her, “Please come with me.” The girls quickly followed behind, relieved that their way out was at hand. As they walked alongside the lady, Arisa asked out of curiosity, “Why is that area so quiet?” “People don't like to go there,” the lady replied without loosing her footing, “it is not a suitable place for young girls like you.” “Not when you have so much more ahead of you,” she added softly, with a tinge of regret in her voice. That quietened Arisa and they continued their way towards the lobby of the hospital with only the footsteps and heavy breathing from the lady. When the nurse at the lobby saw the lady, she quickly went forward to support her. The lady waved her hand lightly to signal that she was fine, then she pointed towards the main entrance of the hospital for the girls. “There it is,” she said with some difficulty, “Don't get lost again.” She had been wheezing from her walk. Another nurse wheeled a wheelchair towards the lady and the lady slackened into it with some reluctance. “How can we thank you?” Suzuka asked, visibly upset that they had inconvenienced the fragile lady through her aid to them. The lady shook her head, “No, it was good to walk around occasionally.” “Then, we'll visit you,” Arisa said impulsively, “I'm sure that will be fine.” The lady smiled weakly and nodded in agreement. “Then, how do we find you?”
“My name is Testarossa, Precious Testarossa,” their guide replied softly before the nurse proceed to wheel her back to her ward, “Feel free to come.” --------------------------------------------The cab came to a halt in front of an isolated cottage on the outskirts of the city. When it left, two female figures, one of them mature, the other still a child, remained behind, looking at the building before them. Then with a confident step, they went forward and disappeared behind the shimmering illusion field. Admiral Lindy and Fate surveyed the ruins of what remained of Graham's home. Most of it had been leveled, safe for the porch and a couple of surviving rooms at the end. With an upset frown, the Admiral went towards the ruins, opening the forlorn front door carefully and entering. Fate quickly followed behind, amazed and saddened by the sights. From the looks of it, the blast that destroyed most of the house came from within. Surprisingly, there were some furnitures that were still intact. Probably the main purpose of the blast was to make a quick escape route, or they were 'unfortunate' collateral damage during the ensuring fight. Fate picked up a cracked photo frame from the ground and gave it a little dust. It was a photo of Admiral Lindy, her deceased husband, infant Chrono and Graham. They were a family. Those past smiles reminded her of her own possible future. She could join them. Be a family. Have a mother like Admiral Lindy who was hugging infant Chrono in the photograph, looking so happy and satisfied. The setting sun cast an orange hue onto the cottage ruins. Beyond the rays of the sun, the night sky was casting itself, engulfing the sky slowly with darkness. “Fate, come here, “Admiral Lindy said to Fate over the quiet ruins, “Look at this.” A light ball was hovering over her shoulder as she knelt, dusting the photo album with her hands. “These are my old photos from my trainee days.” Removing the photograph from the cracked frame and putting it into her pouch, the young mage made her way briskly towards her Admiral. Night was falling and soon, things would change.
Chapter 3 First Move --------------------------------------------Most advanced civilizations found out about dimensions as the last frontier beyond space. Dimensions are sometimes considered as 'alternate realities' due to the similarities between each other. It was known that one can sometimes find alternate dimensional versions of themselves with eerily similar background. While that might be true, scientists have recognized that just because they look similar, share similar names and are supposed to be cross-dimensional forms of themselves, no two person are the same. This had been best proven through the 'Thousand Thomas Tea' of Golk Year of the Itching Chimpanzee when eccentric billionaire Thomas Wayne of Dimension Golk invited all known versions of himself, from female to beggar to his mansion for tea. Invited scientists and sociologists from everywhere had a field day researching about cross dimensional relations on that day. Sadly, the day ended in tragedy with one of the versions turned out to be somewhat suicidal and dimension-phobic. Extract from 'Devious Dimensions', part of the 'Horrible Science' collection Just a couple of minutes ago, the sun still cast its orange glow on the evening sky. Before one knew it, everything gave way to the darkness of the night. Then like fireflies, the city came back to life, electrical lighting bursting to life to the crackling of electricity by themselves one by one. Soon, a million dots of lights could be sighted from the dark countryside, flickering just slightly due to the distance. Gabriel never really liked the dark; especially if the dark was too dark for sight. However, the night darkness was the time of choice for operations; he was counting that his targets like him would not see too well either. But it was always nice to have some light... Hovering in midair on top of his staff, blended into the surrounding black sky, he looked into the darkness of the countryside through the slits of the featureless mask over his face. There was little street lighting here to light the surroundings. Where there was light, there were hundreds of annoying, buzzing insects fluttering around in hypnotized daze. Strange. The cottage was still there, fully intact. He swear that he did accidentally destroyed around half of it that day in his desperate bid to escape the fury of the cat familiars. He was impressed. Those mages were good, but that would also make his work much harder. If the cottage was back, those cat familiars might be back too. Sure, he was more prepared this time; they could be just as more prepared. Gabriel felt in the pockets of his robe for those items he brought. Hopefully these
would give him the upper edge but it would be better to avoid confrontation. There was no light in the cottage, maybe the occupants were asleep. Hopefully not away. 'Away' usually meant that there would not be any of those artifacts to steal to make the stone. Circling around the cottage quietly, Gabriel lower the altitude of the staff and landed at the side of the cottage. That place he remembered as that old mage's bedroom. It was the only part left not too damaged from his previous visit. If there was any magical artifacts, it would most likely be there. Slower, carefully, the thief crept towards the cottage, avoiding the most direct route where he could be seen from the window. Closer and closer, avoiding even rustling the grass, then there was a brief shimmer. The quaint cottage had disappeared, leaving behind the scene he last remembered lying in perfect ruins before him. Somewhat taken aback, he took a step back. There was the cottage again. A step forward again. Ruins. At the back of his mind, he was even more impressed by these people. This illusion had worked well enough to have him fooled, it was even somewhat cool. Yet, there was no time to stand there, basking in the 'coolness' or 'niftiness' of this magic. Just because the cottage was actually in ruins did not meant there was no one. Those cat familiars might still be in there. Waiting for the thief to return to the scene of crime. The thief kept close to what was left of the walls of the cottage, hidden in the shadows as he made his quiet way to the windows. Silently, Gabriel used his staff to push the window open. Then grabbing the ledge, he hoisted him up and let himself into the room through the opening. He landed softly on the wooden floor, the ends of his robe landed lightly behind him. With a cursory check on his staff's stability to keep the window open, he surveyed his surroundings. There was no one in the room. There was nary a sound in the ruins except for the singing crickets in the fields. Then there was the conversation going on outside the room, accompanied by laughter. There were people around! Gabriel stopped his movement, slowed his breathing to avoid any noise that might alert those people. Then he stood up with care, making his way silently towards the door way. Hiding himself behind the door, he strained his ears to catch what those people was saying. “I was so young then. That was when I met him, Chrono's father... Have you found anything?” A lady. “No, Admiral Lindy. I think we should check the bedroom,” The younger sounding voice replied. Gabriel did not really understand the language they were speaking in. Some foreign language, probably Asian
from its sound. He did not want to risk discovery to peek out; most of the artifacts should be in this room anyway. From his position, he could see the bed, the desk, the wardrobe... usual bedroom stuffs. Just where could an old mage keep any magical stuffs? Most likely they were all taken with him, but there might just be a chance that something got left behind. Then there was those people out there; they might be mages of the same association, with magical artifacts of their own. His hands reached into his robe and slowly pulled out a thin wand. If he ambush them fast enough, he might be able to knock them out before... Footsteps. Worse. Approaching footsteps. Those people were coming towards the room. For a while, Gabriel panicked. The staff! It was still at the window! “Mea Virga,” he whispered without thinking, pointing the wand towards his staff. The staff shook briefly in response, then it came flying across the room, into his open hands. Then the window came down with a deafening crash. Wincing to the noise, Gabriel cursed his lack of consideration. If they were not already coming, that crash would have attracted those people outside. Sure enough, there was shouting followed by running, approaching footsteps. Gabriel tightened his grip of the staff in anticipation. There was no place nor enough time for him to hide save for... he turned his attention towards the wardrobe. This was so not his day. --------------------------------------------“Bardiche 'Assault' Set up!” The triangular intelligent device crackled with electrical energy in Fate's hand as she ran towards the room. 'Set up,' the computerized voice replied as the black mechanisms of Bardiche materialized and assembled themselves into her staff within seconds. The barrel spun with a whirl for a system check before the device announced, 'Barrier jacket set up.' Her civilian clothings gave way for the lighter, more maneuverable barrier jacket. The intelligent device attached itself to the glove of her right hand. Armored glove formed around her other hand along with the stockings and metal boots at her legs. As Fate stepped into the bedroom, her black cape formed from neck down, appearing like a wave of black around her.
'Set up complete.' The entire process only took seconds. “Thank you, Bardiche,” Fate replied as she looked at the room that laid before her. Nothing seemed touched. There did not seem to be anyone in the room. Could it had been the wind? “It is not the wind,” Admiral Lindy said levelly as she entered the room, “The window was supposed to be shut in the first place. Someone was here” She switched her attention towards the wardrobe to the right. Walking towards it, she placed a hand on the handle. Then she looked at Fate knowingly, pointing towards it and placing a finger to her lips to signal silence. Fate nodded and leveled Bardiche towards the wardrobe, ready for battle. Then suddenly without any sign, Admiral Lindy opened the door of the wardrobe. There was a tense moment. Then Fate gave a sign. There was no one in there. Just some of Graham's clothings and some other stuffs. Seeing that Fate had relaxed, Lindy looked into the wardrobe and reached into it, removing a box from within. Curious, Fate walked towards the Admiral to see what she had retrieved. It was a wooden box with intrinsic designs carved onto it. Holding the box, Admiral Lindy smiled fondly and with nostalgia. “What's in it?” Fate asked, studying the strange design of the box. “Something precious,” Admiral Lindy replied, dusting it with a fond look. Then she looked towards Fate delightedly, “Let me show it to you.” She proceed to open the box carefully. Fate came closer to get a better look at what was inside, what had invoked so much fondness in Admiral Lindy. That was when they heard the rustling sound. That was quickly followed by the dropping of a couple of pellets. They bounced on impact with the floor, once, twice, drawing the attention of the Bureau mages. "Unus Fulgor Concidens Noctem, In Mea Manu Ens Inimicum Edate" A blast of white electricity coursed from above, striking the pellets with an illuminating white energy. For a moment, Fate could make out someone, wearing a smooth mask of pure white clinging on to the ceiling above, a hand holding on to a wand which had released the magical blast. Then the pellets exploded with a blinding white light.
--------------------------------------------He had not expected that 'Spiderman' trick to work but it did. Gabriel could hear the crashing sound he made when he dropped to the ground with his eyes closed. Those flash pellets should have blinded those people temporary. The cries of surprise confirmed that. The blinding effect would not last long, but it would just be enough... Opening his eyes, he made a lunge towards his target, that wooden box which the lady was holding. The lady tried to tighten her grip on it but Gabriel was too fast. With a swift action, he swiped the box and made a run for it. Whatever was in the box should be something of decent value for the lady for the box to be so elaborately decorated. If there was a magical artifact in here, that would be it. Tucking the box into his robe, he leapt onto his staff and mentally ordered it to fly. Go as far, as high, as fast as possible. He had to make himself scarce; be as far away from the ruins as possible. The chase would soon startThere was a shout from the room, sounded like an order. Running. The younger mage emerged, holding on to that battle-axe-liked staff. No wings. However, he had learnt never to underestimate these mages. With what look like a leap, the girl levitated into the air. The mature, lady mage appeared outside the room. She seemed like the superior, probably around the same age as his mother. She was using a communication device, must be calling for reinforcements. The pursue was on. Faster, faster! He urged his staff. The girl was catching up. Fast. As if she had rocket boosters to her feet. Her cape billowed in the wind as she narrowed the distance between herself and Gabriel. Close enough for him to hear her quiet magical commands. “Sonic form.” Taking the risk, Gabriel turned to look at his pursuer. Her cape along with the bulkier armor on her dissipated into the wind in a shower of yellow sparks. Wings, tiny yellow wings appeared at her boots and arms. With a sudden burst of speed, the blond mage zoomed forward, swinging her staff towards him. Up! He griped the staff and pulled it upwards, narrowly avoiding the swing of the staff. He was now flying
upwards, gaining altitude as he climbed the sky. No time to think. Escape as far as he could. The girl was no where in sight. Oh shi- she appeared before him, swinging the staff at him again. Too late to dodge. The only wayGabriel threw himself off his staff to avoid the attack. Falling from the sky, he could see the staff plunging into the countryside downwards as it lost the direct magical control from Gabriel. The girl was speeding down towards him once again. A hand out-stretched towards him. To save him. It was a nice gesture. Really. But he was not in the mood to get caught. Not when she needed the stone. He drew his wand from his robe. “Mea Virga!“ His staff stopped its descent from the sky, pausing as Gabriel took magical control over it again. It swung like a compass towards Gabriel and then sped towards him. The girl was closer now. “Grab my hand!” she was shouting, in badly accented English. So they could speak English. With her so close up, she looked so young, probably around his age, give or take a couple of years. Despite her attacks, she seemed like a really nice girl too. Too bad about his speeding staff coming from behind which she failed to notice. Killing her was not what he had in mind. He pointed towards his speeding staff, just enough a warning. The girl diverted part of her attention towards where he pointed to, just enough for a reaction to avoid a direct hit from the incoming staff. Though not enough to fully avoid the fast moving staff from scrapping across her shoulder. There was a cry of pain as the young mage was veered out of course. She spun out of momentum in the air before regaining stability. By then, Gabriel had caught his staff with a hand, holding on to it tightly as the staff continued its blind speeding to nowhere. The girl would survive. Right now, he needed to run With a swing, Gabriel got himself back onto the staff. Mentally, he urged the staff to accelerate, to get as far away as possible. Lowering his body toward it to minimize air resistance. Destination did not matter. Distance was what mattered. Actually... he could consider taking down that young mage for her magical artifact. As long as he was fast enough to do so before reinforcements arrived. As long as he was fast enough to bring the fight to familiar
terrain. It might just workThe surrounding air glowed yellow with lightning. The crackle of electricity. A shout of “Photon Lancer!” A brief glance confirmed that the girl had started throwing out magical balls of electricity at him. She was hovering in midair, her face a picture of calmness despite her wounded shoulder, the magical balls revolving around her while a yellow magical circle glowed faintly in the night sky at her feet with illegible symbols inscribed in it. He had seen those before, these were the symbols of whatever type of magic those people used. They meant trouble. So the gloves were off... The magic trailed him like heat-seeking missiles, leaving behind a blazing trail of yellow light. A weave to the right! Down! Accelerating down! As the treetops beckon, pull up to the left! He could feel his perspiration sweeping away into the wind as soon as they dripped from his temples, just as the combination of crashing and blitzing noise from the impact between tree and electric ball echoed at the back. There were still more coming behind him, plus the mage seemed to be conjuring up more. Climbing the sky. Pure running was no longer an option. It would not be long before he was overwhelmed by all those magical attacks. Time to fight back. Balancing on his speeding staff, he turned back to face the incoming magical attacks. Directed his wand towards them. Feel his magic coming to him, concentrating themselves at the tip of his wand. It was strangely trilling, pitting his skills against another. The spell was a simple one, one taught to beginners for magical dueling. But very effective and popular among the duelists back in the academy. “Sagita Magica Septendecim Sagittae Fulguralis!” As he raised his voice at the last part of the enchantment, he could feel the magic bursting out of his wand like streamers from a popper, releasing seventeen electrically charged magic arrows, each one towards their intended targets. Each magic arrow went straight for a trailing magical ball, each one exploding on impact, neutralizing both itself and the target. The rest of the magical arrows went for the pursuing mage herself. Gabriel directed the staff to fly reverse, keeping his eyes on his attack. The remaining arrows zig-zag across the night sky, before rushing head-on
towards the young mage. The mage did not even bat an eyelid. Coolly, she simply raised an open palm towards the incoming magic arrows. The arrows hit something and exploded. When the dust cleared, the mage remained standing in mid-air, glowing circles of magical symbols forming a magical shield around her. She looked non the worse, ready to continue fighting. Not a good idea to stay gawking. Gabriel forced the staff to accelerate. If he could reach the built-up city, he might have a better chance of winning. Without the barrier set-up, every single damage done remained done. Those mages should be less inclined to pull off too powerful a magical attack in fear of harming innocents or attracting too much unwanted attention. The female mage was catching up again. He could hear a monotonous, robotic voice spoke, 'Load Cartridge. Haken Form.' A cranking sound as something was ejected and then loaded, followed by the hissing of emitted steam. Even more cranking sound as if gears were in movement. Finally ending off with an eruption of blitz and static. Then he could hear another magical command from behind. 'Haken Saber!' A swishing sound as though something was slicing through air. Approaching at a very fast speed. Too close for any form of comfort. Taking another glance, he could see the spinning blade of electrical energy spinning through the air like a boomerang towards him. Swerving abruptly to the right, the blade past him by and continued spinning ahead. Before he knew it, the blade made a turn in front and made its way back, just like a boomerang. To the left! Missing the blade narrowly, slicing off part of his robe that got caught in its path. The dark material of his robe fluttered its way down to the ground as he watch the blade returned and reattached itself onto the mage's staff. A scythe. A damn scythe. A small voice in his head recognized the weapon was based on. The energy blade of the weapon cackled with pulsing energy. The young girl lifted the weapon again and floated higher, gaining for precious upper ground. Then, she dashed towards him, swinging the energy scythe in a downward slash.
With a cuss, Gabriel tilted his staff and flew aside, barely avoiding the attack. Then, accelerating as fast as he could, he placed vital distance between him and the adversary before slowing down and turning back. Escape! Run! His mind urged him. This girl was unlike the rest. She was too strong. Then, what about the stone? His heart questioned. He needed to get that artifact of hers, even if it was a dangerous looking piece of work that could kill him if he make a wrong move. He needed it to create the stone for her. To save her. For a while, neither of them moved, staring each other down. He still balancing on his floating staff with his wand drawn, bidding his time to make a quick run for the approaching city lights. She, levitating in midair without any form of support. Even more balls of electricity forming around her along with that familiar magical circle glowing at her feet. Her staff, now a scythe of blazing electrical blade. Great, that was just too unfair. Death was a cute girl in black; and she was on the other side. --------------------------------------------Fate tried to maintain her calm composure, ignoring the wound at her shoulder. After all, having survived Nanoha's Divine Buster before, a brush with a speeding wooden staff was nothing. Not that much at least. In her mind, she could hear Admiral Lindy's instructions to her and the rest of the team across their communication line. Chrono and Amy had found a suitable apartment for rent. The one in the closest vicinity would be Nanoha, she would be arriving in a couple of minutes. Both Arf and Chrono were also on their way. She concentrated on the thief some distance away before her. Not exactly big sized, might be a young boy. Magic user. Unfamiliar form of magic. Neither Mid-Childan nor Belkan. Probably a local form. More interested in running. The thief stared back at her, as if he too was making his own analysis and strategy against her. He seemed to be
especially interested in Bardiche, staring at it with somewhat nervous eyes much longer than he should. She might be able to use that against him. At least she was sure she had an advantage over him for now. In a few minutes, with the arrival of Nanoha, the odds should get overwhelmingly high against him. The thief made his move first. He drew his wand back, then jabbing it forward, “Sagita Magica Septendecim Sagittae Obscuri!” That move again. This time instead of lightning, arrows of dark matter shot out of his wand, blending seamlessly into the darkness of the night sky, visible only by their speeding trails toward Fate. “Plasma Lancer!” She directed her own magic to counter the attack. Magical balls of electricity went head on with the dark arrows, releasing static and energy with each impact. The boy had taken the chance to make his escape, flying away on his staff towards the approaching cityscape. Fate quickly gave chase, keeping him in her sight. Throwing her off would take more than random twist and turns across the sky. She must get him. First, he was the thief they were after. Capture him now and their mission would be over. She would have time for everyone. Chrono, Amy, Arf. Admiral Lindy. Suzuka, Arisa. Nanoha. More importantly, he took something that belonged to Admiral Lindy. She had to get it back. Before she knew it, the noise of the city hit her. The blaring of horns by impatient drivers. The footsteps of hundreds of pedestrians below her. The untamed melody of a city alive at night. The thief ducked quickly between the narrow gap between some buildings. No time to think. Fate followed behind him. Ducking occasionally to avoid the various pipes or obstacles before her, staying on his trail. He had slowed down somewhat, also encumbered by the need to duck and turn in the built-up area. Turning
back, he unleashed another wave of attacks towards her. The dark projectiles sped towards her, changing their directions when necessary to avoid obstacles while the thief further himself from Fate. She twisted herself to avoid the attack, using Bardiche's blade to counter some of them, the rest that could not be avoided, Bardiche's auto program, “Defenser” took the damage for her. Stop him from running. Fate raised her free hand towards the boy. The binding threads of Mid-Childa symbols materialized around her hand, ready to keep the boy still. “Lightning bind.” With that command, the threads flew forward with lightning speed, ignoring all obstacles for their one target. The first one caught the staff, wrapping itself tightly over its pole, bringing it to an abrupt stop. Inertia. With a shout of surprise, the boy was flung forward off his transport, in to the air with land still some meters away from him. The mask hiding his face was flung off, hitting the streets with a dull thud. He was lucky the second magical bind caught in by his hand. The rest of the bind caught up fast, capturing and binding the thief to prevent too much movement. When they were done, only his head and hands could move. He was caught like a fly in a spiderweb, with only the ability to struggle futilely. The chase was over. Fate slowed herself down, stopping before her captive to take a better look. A young boy. Young, probably around her age. “I don't know why you do what you did, but you fought well,” Fate said encouragingly towards the boy. The boy shot her a dirty look in reply, wriggling his arms in vain against the tight bind. “Admiral Lindy, Nanoha, I have caught the thief,” she reported back through their mental communication link. “Are you injured?” Fate could hear Admiral Lindy's concerned voice. “I'm fine, just a flesh wound,” she replied, keeping a eye on the culprit, “Thank you,” she added. “Okay, then once Nanoha arrived, bring him back to base.” “Roger!” Nanoha's enthusiastic, cheerful voice could be heard over the link. Fate felt a slight bubbling of happiness as she listened to her best friend's voice, “Good job, Fate-chan! Wait for me! I can almost see your location already!”
“Alright,” Admiral Lindy said, “I will report to the main HQ later about the success and the rest of the week should be freHer speech was cut off. “Admiral Lindy?” No reply. “Admiral Lindy? Nanoha?” No answer. “Arf? Amy-san? Chrono-kun? Admiral Lindy!? Nanoha!?” Their communication line had went dead. That was when Fate noticed the silence. No cars, no people, no noise. The sky, still dark but with a reddish-tinge to it. Barrier, her mind identified. Cuts off most links with the outside. Damage to physical landscape dealt within could be restored by caster of the barrier. Her captive smirked confidently at her. His barrier. After all those wriggling, she could see a small, metallic pendent fall into his palm. He grasped it tightly, directed the face of the pendent towards Fate. The circular symbol glowed for a while, then she felt a massive force flung her into the wall of the next building. There was a crash. Her crash, as she hit the wall hard, leaving causing some of the looser bricks to fall to the ground below. Then she fell to the ground, her landing softened by the rubbish bags laden on the backstreet. She was going to wake up with an aching back the next day. With the loss of concentration, the binds loosened, allowing the boy to release himself. As he fell, he quickly summoned his staff back to his side and after giving her an apologetic look, made a run for it. Fate quickly forced herself to regain the composure, pushing herself up from the dump to give chase again. The barrier was giving her the creeps, it felt too quiet, as though time had stopped within the area. She flew up, above the buildings and looked around. It was relatively easy to spot her target flying within the dark alleyways. He was the only one moving. Other than the two of them, there was no other signs of life within.
This time, she would keep a better eye on him if she managed to immobilize him again. Flying as fast as she could, she swooped down like an eagle, slashing down her Bardiche at him. The boy managed to dodge, swerving to a side, starting a climb to get above and avoid getting ambushed again. Fate sped forward for another direct attack. He dodged again. “Why do you do this? We can help you,” Fate tried talking while she dodged the counterattack. It had worked so well against her in the past when she first met Nanoha. Somehow, she could sense a similar vibe from the boy. Confidence in his own skills but yet, some form of sadness and sorrow. The boy laughed while he circled himself back towards Fate. “Who do you think you are, Death? Social Service?” “Death?” Fate paused in surprise. “No,” she answered hesitantly, “I'm not Death. My name is Fate.” The boy frowned before he retorted, “Death or Fate, they are the same. I'm sick of facing either all the time.” Fate could feel a subtle change in the air, dodging by instinct, avoiding that air attack from him. It was followed by multiple magical projectiles coming directly towards her. 'Defenser' Bardiche's auto-guard program kicked off just in time to protect Fate. The magical attack was stopped just centimeters away from her, close enough for her to see the dark matter smashing into the magical barrier around her and dissipating after that. “Thank you, Bardiche,” she said out of habit as she hurried to catch up with the thief, “Lightning Bind again, please.” 'Yes sir,' The robotic voice replied from the chip, 'Lightning Bind.' The magical binding threads materialized again, soaring through the dark-reddish barrier sky towards the target. This time, she would make sure to bind his hands as well. He had seen it, speeding as fast as he could, cruising alongside the building. The threads closed in onto him. Just as it reached him, he jumped, crashing through the windows, leaving his staff to speed away. The glass shards scattered, fell to the ground, shattering with its sharp sound. Fate saw him dusting himself of the debris, then running deep into the building, away from the windows. She followed suit, avoiding the sharp edges of the broken windows. The room was dark, dark enough for the thief, if
he wanted to, to meld into it. She walked, carefully avoiding the littered grounds, using the glow from Bardiche's blade to light her way. It was one of those office buildings with full length glass windows. No one inside. Working hours was over anyway. 'Area scan complete, sir. No life found on this level.' Fate walked into the next room, keeping her guard up just in case. It was the lift lobby, an elevator moving up, stopping at the next. Probably the boy. Too easy. She took the stairs, careful not to make any sound. Step by step. The entrance to the next level laid in sight. The lock to the door had been broken, zapped to be more exact. Gave the door a little push. Nothing. Just in case. “Lightning Form activate.” In closed areas, defense might be more useful than speed. She could feel the added weight of the extra armor and cape forming on her barrier jacket. Tap. Tap. Tap. Fate entered to see the boy seated on one of the chairs comfortably, tapping on the armrest patiently. “I'm expecting you guys to come along soon enough,” he said as he stood up, walking towards the wall, hands in his robe, “The enforcers would soon come to stop me from stealing, robbing every one of you. I'm pretty sure I have fought some of your investigators in the past” “I'm sorry,” she said as she prepared her Lightning Bind, her magical symbol forming at their feet, lighting up the dark room somewhat, “We cannot let more harm come to our people on the ground. Come with us. Let us help you.” “I'll have to reject your kind offer. Not when I'm so close to completion.” He started running, slamming a hand onto the wall. That was when Fate noticed the symbol drawn crudely on the wall with chalk. A simple circle, with some triangles and lines in it. When the boy's hand touched the symbol, it glowed with a white light for a while. The room started to shake. Fate sent out the Lightning Bind towards him. He deftly dodged, using his wand to
direct the furnitures in the room in their direct path. A creak. From above. Fate looked up to see a hand made out of concrete forming from the ceiling. It came down, too fast and too surprising for her to avoid, grabbing her, forming a prison of concrete around her, lifting her up from the ground. Not too tight, just enough for her not to move. Seeing that the Lightning Bind had stopped their advance, the boy walked towards her. “Sorry, but I've got a life to save,” he apologized as he prepared his spell, “I would try to make it hurt as little as possible.” Fate watched quietly. His tone. His eyes. They reminded her of someone. Herself. Back when she was still collecting jewel seeds for her mother, Precia. Perhaps he was in a similar position like her in the past. He needed help. Despite his stubborn stand, he needed help. She was speaking from experience. And to do that, she needed to stop him first, even if it meant hurting him in non-fatal ways. Before the boy could finished the spell, she mouthed one of her own. “Jacket Purge.” She could feel the magically-enhanced defense of her barrier jacket unraveling, switching over to explosively charged magic. Then they let loose, blowing off the surrounding concrete, smashing them into little pieces. Fate could just held him cursed as the boy ducked to avoid the fragments of concrete from hitting him. She herself fell to the ground, defenseless, quickly gathering magic to form another barrier jacket. She could hear light bouncing. The boy had threw another bunch of pellets at her. She was not going to fall for that again. As fast as she could, she got up, avoiding looking at the floor directly, ready for the flash of white lightning to activate the blinding effect. Before she knew it, the thief was on her, tackling her like a rugby player, pushing her towards the window. Then
together, they smashed through the glass window. Down to the streets below. The boy was struggling to remove Bardiche from her, grabbing it with both his arms, tugging it towards him. Fate tightened her grip, struggled against him, ignoring all the cuts she received from glass shards of the window from smashing back first into it. As both of them struggled for the possession of Bardiche, all the while, they fell without control towards the pavement below. --------------------------------------------“Fate! Fate! Answer back!” There was no answer from her ward. Admiral Lindy could see the reddish barrier that engulfed the city from where she stood. It had appeared so suddenly, sweeping across the buildings and streets. When it stopped enlarging, it towered over everything like a mysterious dome. That was when the communication with Fate was cut off. Who knows what might be going on within the barrier? Lindy considered her options as she ran along the gravel country road towards the city. She had been doing so, trying to catch up with them since the box had been snatched by the thief. Curses! Such carelessness! She should have been more careful. Right now, the box and its contents were the last thing in her mind. She should not have let Fate face the thief alone, could have ordered her to simply track him until reinforcements arrived. If anything happened to Fate, what will she do? “Lindy-san! I have reached the barrier where Fate is. Permission to break the barrier,” Nanoha's voice rang through the communications link. Nanoha had arrived, hovering just above the reddish surface of the barrier in her sailor-uniform barrier jacket, Raising Heart ready in hand. “Not a good idea,” Chrono's leveled voice came in, “I am on my way now, I would be better to have more people on standby. I am sure Fate would be able to handle herself for some time.” Everything was happening so quickly, so suddenly. While Fate had faced and survived harder opponents before, this thief was an unknown, unpredictable They came expecting only a simple thief, underestimating him. She had seen how Fate was hit by the speeding staff. This thief, he was smart, he would not be an easy target. No one knew just how much tricks he had up his sleeves and from experience, the strongest ones were the young ones. There were so many 'what if's or 'if only's. Her main concern was Fate's safety.
“Fate could be in mortal danger! We should get to her and join her as soon as possible. Permission to break the barrier,” Nanoha again, her voice filled with anxiety. Particles of pink light were already gathering like fireflies at the firing tip of Raising Heart in preparation. “Go ahead,” Lindy gave the order. She could only hope that she made the right choice and that Fate would still be safe at the moment. She would never forgive herself if anything happened to Fate. With the permission given, the magic gathered around the head of Raising Heart as pink luminous light-balls took up speed, coming together to form the main core of magic for the attack. Nanoha could sense the growing magical power, almost ready for activation. Her magical circle formed before her, rotating slowly and glowing faintly pink. On cue, 'I am ready, my master.' “Thank you, Raising Heart. Please start the countdown.” The long, thin wings like those of her flier fins materialized on the staff of Raising Heart in preparation for the attack.'Yes, my master. Countdown begin. Nine...' Roman numerical signifying the countdown status flashed on her intelligent device, slowly dropping as the feminine, robotic voice counted down the seconds to the eventual blast. “Nanoha! I still think it is a bad idea now. You know Fate,” Chrono's urging came in, “She can handle it.” “Sorry, Chrono-kun. Please come as fast as possible. I'm going in for Fate now.” That said, multiple magical circles had appeared before her, around the tip of Raising Heart, concentrating the magical power at one single point; a large one directly in front, acting as the targeting cross hair for the attack. “Starlight...” Nanoha tightened her grip on Raising Heart, anticipating the throwback from the blast, “Breaker!” Every single stored magical power was released into the single shot, creating a beam of concentrated magical power, directly against the walls of the barrier. Starlight Breaker, possibly one of her most powerful attacks, was known to destroy everything in its path. Few could have survived a direct hit by it. The barrier held on for a while, then everything crumbled, shattering into the air, into nothingness as the magic weakened.
The path was now clear. 'Fate-chan, I'm coming,' Nanoha thought as she began her descent downwards. --------------------------------------------'Sir. Barrier Jacket ready. Set up.' Bardiche announced evenly, either unconcerned towards the struggle for his possession, or more likely confident of his sir. Fate felt the armor returning to her, her cape formed, now swept in the passing wind as they fell. Concentrating magic on her index finger, she let loose a Thunder Smasher square on the thief's chest. He grunted before he was flung by the impact towards another building, smashing through the windows into it, then out again. At that point, his staff came flying towards him. He grabbed it and climbed onto it again. Hovering for a while before swooping down to the streets. Fate allowed Bardiche's flight magic to take control, slowing down her fall before she came to a stop in midair. Finally, 'Load Cartridge', the intelligence device ejected the spent cartridge and loaded another one into it with a slam. The cartridge fell to the ground with a tinkle. The thief was on the run again, descending to the main street, speeding in between the stationary vehicles on the road. Fate followed closely behind. There was not a single person in the vehicle. It was as if someone had taken this area and removed every form of life in it without touching anything else. It was creepy. If a simple local magically trained thief could perform magic like that, who knew what else he could do. He directed the wand towards a dustbin beside and chanted evenly, “Tel. Ma. Amoris!” The bin glowed before following the turning of his wand, flying directly towards Fate. She simply levitated herself slightly higher, bringing Bardiche down, cutting through the dustbin and spilling its contents across the road. Then there was the cracks on the inner barrier surface. First a little. Then it spread across the entire wall. A bright pink glow emitted from the cracks before the entire barrier gave way to the familiar magical blast from outside. Fate smiled. Starlight Breaker. Nanoha had came. The blast continued, smashing through a building, causing slabs of concrete, bricks and steel to come falling towards the ground.
That was when the people reappeared on the roads, in the buildings, along the pavements, like a wave. Time was moving again, along with traffic on the road. 'Sir. Danger from behind.' Fate turned and stared into the approaching headlights, heard the surprised shouts, only pulling up in the final minute, avoiding the vehicle. Everyone could see her. Worst, they were in the path of the falling debris. When the civilians had took notice, there were screams and pandemonium as the mad scrabble to avoid being hit took place. None of them took notice of the two dueling magicians. They only and rightly so saw the danger from above. She could see the thief's eyes growing wider in surprise. His mouth opening to mouth some pretty nasty language. He turned, ready to take the chance to run. Fate would not stop him, she need to protect the civilians first. The gigantic corner of the ledge was coming closer. As fast as she could while she flew upwards to meet the falling debris, she gathered more magical power for a Photon Lancer. She unleashed the first wave of magical balls, each one of them smashing into a debris, causing it to shatter into smaller pieces. Unfortunately, these smaller pieces were still large enough to hurt and they were more numerous too. Then there was the largest one, heading straight towards her. “Divine Buster!” A blast of magical energy shot past her, taking out that one before Fate could react. She looked back and nodded a thank you to her best friend. Nanoha nodded in return and together they turned their attention towards the rest of the debris. The first one hit the ground, leaving a depression on the pavement and smashing into dust but luckily, hitting no one. The rest were only a couple of meters away from the ground. Fate and Nanoha sped closer while preparing the spells. Before they knew it, multiple magically charged arrows sped past them towards the rest of the debris. Each one exploded into their intended target, shattering the remaining debris into dust and fragments that showered lightly towards the ground. Fate looked back in surprise. It was the boy, wand ready pointing towards them, frowning at his own civility. He might not be such a bad guy after all. He signed in relief and turned, speeding away as fast as he could. “He doesn't seem too bad. Maybe we can let him go this one time. For helping us,” Nanoha spoke, smiling, “At
least you are safe.” She looked at Fate, noticing her cuts and bruises from the fight for the first time. “Fate-chan! You're hurt!” Nanoha quickly took out a handkerchief from a pocket of her barrier jacket, spat into it and wiped lightly at her bleeding cuts. “I'm fine,” Fate replied, her heart fluttered lightly at Nanoha's concern towards her, “I think I want to speak to him. He reminds me of myself. And he took Admiral Lindy's item.” Nanoha gave her a light push, “Then go. I'll support you from behind.” With that, Fate took off, changing to sonic form and quickly caught up with the back of the thief. He had been ascending the sky, getting out of sight of the civilian, flying as fast as he could, towards his destination. “Stop! I would like to talk to you!” The boy looked behind, a look of panic took over. “Not again!?” he whined, accelerating his flight, turning slightly to get away from Fate. However she was fast enough to keep up and catch up, now that she was in her sonic form, without the extra burdens of her barrier jacket. The boy fumbled in his pocket, and threw something out. Then he threw it behind him. Into her face. As she tried to slow down, she could see that the item was two test tubes filled with liquid. They hit each other, shattering. The liquid were exposed to each other and then--------------------------------------------There was a small explosion behind him. Gabriel knew that the explosion should emit harmless but very, very thick, gray smoke that could cover a large enough area, enough to throw off any pursuers. Then there was a scream. That was not supposed to happen. He turned to watch the girl fall from the sky, unconscious, her staff/scythe flung away from her into elsewhere.
Mentally, Gabriel made a note that the explosion could also render one unconscious in close proximity. Curses! Damn bloody agents of... whatever! Must they look so human? And young? There should be a law against employing children in magical services. Then he remembered he was probably just as young. Anyway. He found himself descending as fast as he could to get the falling girl. Curse his kind nature! Actually it was probably more of his fear of death, especially other's death. Death, whosoever death only reminded him of the impending death in his hand. He did not appreciate the reminder. Gabriel had drawn level with the girl, made a grab on her gloved hand, the one with the yellow, triangular chip on it. Then he forced his staff to slow down. The grip slipped. Slightly. Then the girl slipped out of her glove to continue her descend downwards. The rooftops was approaching fast. Gabriel fumbled with the glove, then threw it into the air. Hurrying downwards again and made a grab at her wrist. Such a delicate wrist. For a while, he feared that it would break when he forced his staff to come to another stop. Safe. He held on to the unconscious girl by her wrist, straining to maintain his grip. The smoke was already slowly dissipating to the wind. Never mind, his home was just around the corner. Well, he would slowly descend and let the girl down on another rooftop far from his apartment before“Fate-chan!” Damn! There were more of them. There would soon be enough visibility for them to see him. Not enough time to hide else where and put the girl at a safe place. Gabriel looked towards the window into his apartment. Perhaps he should consider the risk. His apartment was after all, shielded against magical detection, some of them wards personally placed by Professor Dante. “Feeeeeiitttooo-chan!” The smoke was clearing fast. He could already make out, one, no, two shady figures in the smoke. Another girl in a dress with a staff of her own. The other a slightly taller boy figure. If he could see them, it would not take long for them to see him.
With a sign, he swung the girl- she called herself Fate, right? -onto his back and made a dash into his windows. The smoke did not bother him, he knew the place where he had grew up like the back of his palm. Bending down lower than usual to accommodate the extra weight on his back, he entered his room. Quickly, he placed the girl down on his bed. Then he went on to shut the windows and pulled the curtains. Silently, he peeked through it. The smoke had cleared, leaving two fancifully dressed characters hovering outside, shouting for 'Fate-chan'. They kept at it for a while before they flew off, looking elsewhere. Satisfied, Gabriel turned away from the window cautiously to face the unconscious girl on his bed. He left himself down on the floor, exhausted from all the magic of the night. Panting. Slowing letting the laughter of relief creep onto him. He had survived! He was not dead! Only a section of a building in the city had been destroyed but no dead! He was one step closer to completing the stone for her, to save her! He had survived. With the prize. At least- he petted a bulky part of his robe, where he had placed the box -he gotten something today. Everything, the fight and the career switch to kidnapper would not be for naught. When he finally calmed down, enough for him to start the mandatory checks on the security and shielding wards, one thought came to him. What was he going to do now? Especially if he had a hostage. Deal with their wounds for one. Her blood was already staining his bedsheets. Taking up his staff again, he placed the knob at the tip on the girl's chest. It was moving up and down lightly with her breath, still alive at least. “Planta of vita , commodo thy vires ut resarcio viscus , vigoratus!” The staff glowed lightly with channeling the spell into the body; the wounds, the nasty cuts and bruises slowly closed up and faded from her body as if they were never there. With that done, he turned his attention towards himself, preparing for the strange feeling of magically accelerated healing. He could check his booty later. Regardless, his guts told him, everything was so going to get very messy now.
Chapter 4 Taking the Queen --------------------------------------------Elemental Transmutation, or alchemy, is not so much a form of magic than it is a form of science. It is both a magic and a science. It is the instant application of scientific processes to any given material, to transform it to another through magical aid and adherence to the basic laws of alchemy. To fully master alchemy, one must have a firm grasp of both conflicting subjects. A common practice for alchemists would be to first draw the necessary magical circle and symbols, each one representing a part of the formula; followed by the use of magic to activate the formula, producing the desired results. This book aims to teach the aspiring students the fundamental concepts, rules, techniques and application of alchemy. Opening of the Elemental Transmutation Textbook of Merdiana Magic Academy “Are you sure you need so much reinforcement?” The face on the screen adjusted his glasses and looked from his clipboard, “It is only a search and capture mission.” Admiral Lindy wished she could punch him through the screen and communication link connection. That face! That uncaring, unconcerned, unwilling face! “Yes,” she finally answered, struggling to keep her emotions in control, “One of my best mages is missing in action. The city is too big for a mere group of five. I would appreciate if the Bureau would provide the necessary manpower for such a wide-scale search.” Fate was missing. The bookish manpower officer on-screen sniffed dismissively. “I feel your anxiety,” he replied without a hint of any, “However the numbers you requested seemed more like an army than a search party. Are you sure no Lost Logia are involved in this case?” No, you do not. All you care is about those numbers on that clipboard of yours. At least, that was what Lindy wanted to shout at that obnoxious man, preferably inflicting some painful, non-lethal punishment to his face. With effort, she kept her fantasies of breaking that clipboard over his head restrained and answered evenly, “None, to my knowledge at least.” Fate was missing. The man scratched his head with the clipboard, further fueling her furious fantasies. “The Bureau will look into
your request and see what we can do. Until then,” he saluted, “the best of luck with the mission.” Admiral Lindy returned the salute half-heartedly as the screen went black. She remained silent, deep in thought while her hand reached subconsciously for her cup of green tea. She took a hasty gulp, before spiting everything back in the cup due to the scalding heat. Dejectedly, she pushed the cup aside with a sign. Fate. Was. Missing. They had only just moved into the apartment Amy had found for them. The moment the door was locked, everyone was back into action, setting up the communication networks and checking the home for possible intrusions. There was not a minute to waste. Arf, Chrono and Nanoha were already outside, searching the city for clues of Fate's current whereabouts. The apartment was empty apart from Amy and herself. Even now, Amy was transfixed on the multiple holographic screens before her, scouring all the electronic intelligence available to them. Hospital records. Police reports. Internet chatter. Anything that could be of use to them. Admiral Lindy laid her head on the couch, strained eyes granted a brief rest. However sleep was not forthcoming: a single thought dominated everything, pushing everything else to the sidelines. Fate. Was. MISSING. Nothing else mattered. Their only clue to Fate's fate was that their thief, their target, might be the one responsible. For that, the mission had taken on a new urgency and a personal agenda. They will catch the thief. Even if it meant flooding the entire city with a hundred—no, three hundred!—TSAB troopers. Then, they will make the thief tell. The windows slid open and Nanoha entered, still clad in her sailor uniform-modeled barrier jacket. She landed softly, clearly exhausted from all the activities so far. Without pausing for breath, she ran towards Admiral Lindy, a look of excitement and anxiety across her face. “Lindy-san! We have found Bardiche!” Lindy perked up immediately, almost snatching the yellow intelligent device from Nanoha's hands. It was still attached to Fate's barrier jacket glove, a single crack running through the smooth surface. “It was left abandoned on a rooftop close to where we lost Fate,” Nanoha continued her report, her eyes occasionally glancing back to the window she left open. She was already thinking about returning to the search. After Lindy, she was probably the most anxious of them all. After all, she and Fate had gone through so much together. They were almost inseparable.
Lindy ran her hand through the surface of Bardiche, and the chip gleamed in acknowledgment. “Where is Fate now?” she asked the intelligence device. 'Sorry. The information is not available, sir. I was lost from the hands of the assailant before Master Testarossa was declared missing,' the voice replied stoically. “Thank you,” Lindy sighed wearily as she passed the chip to Amy for repairs, then she turned her attention to Nanoha. “You too, Nanoha. You should take a rest,” she added to the young mage, “You have not had any sleep since the flight.” “I’m okay, I can continue the search,” the girl answered quickly, “Fate is still out there somewhere.” Determination. That was what Admiral Lindy saw in her eyes. One of the greatest aspects of her personality which made her one of the greatest rising stars of the Bureau. However, determined persistence isn’t always an advantage... She looked at Nanoha, the girl trying so hard to fight her exhaustion, stifling an unwelcome yawn. “Rest. Now. This is an order,” she shook her head, also feeling the tiredness in her bones. “But“At least for a couple of hours,” she relented slightly, “go and sleep for now. I can keep vigilant alone.” With some coaxing, Nanoha reluctantly transformed back to her civilian clothing, replacing Raising Heart’s passive mode to its familiar place around her neck. Then, Lindy gently accompanied her to her assigned room, each of them thinking about what they need to do next. Everyone had a tiring night, everyone had been exhausted. It would be a good time to call Chrono and Arf back to rest for a while. The search for Fate would be her burden to bear. “I...I shouldn't have let Fate chase that thief alone,” Nanoha whispered with guilt building in her voice, “If only I had gone with her, or went myself...” “It was not your fault,” the officer replied, patting her head. “It was mine,” she added mentally. “I could have stopped her from going after the thief at the ruins. I could have been more vigilant. I am responsible, not the
poor, guilt-ridden girl before me, trying to control her tears and emotions.” I wish I could cry too, but as an officer, I need to keep a level head for everyone else. “Fate-chan said she wanted to talk to the thief. To convince him to return that thing he took from you,” the girl continued, rubbing her eyes of tears of guilt and tiredness. She was starting to sob slightly. “It's okay. Fate is a strong girl. She will be fine. Get some rest now and we will continue later,” Lindy consoled both herself and Nanoha with her best soothing voice before something caught her attention, “My what?!” “The thing that the thief took from you. Fate went after him because she wanted to get it back.” That... oh no... Admiral Lindy groaned to herself. That was the final straw. If only she had been more careful, more cautious. In her bid to win over Fate's heart... Now Fate was missing because... “That box...” she sank to her knees in despair and guilt, “They only contained photos!” --------------------------------------------Perhaps it was the strange smell of burning sausages. Perhaps it was the sound of roaring fire followed by the yelps of surprise and hissing steam. Or perhaps it was all of the above. Whichever the factor was, Fate woke up on the unfamiliar bed, feeling most refreshed and energetic. There was nothing like a good night's sleep to get one to feel much, much better. The bed was most snuggly, almost too comfortable to wake up. But wake up she did, stretching her arms to rid them of the sleep. Scratching her hair in appeased satisfaction, Fate mumbled incoherently faintly to herself, looking around the surroundings through sleepy eyes. Sun rays filtering from behind the drawn curtains provided just enough light for her to see clearly and tell that it was daylight. That was when she noticed the strange pattern on the bedsheets, small patches of reddish-brown that stained the otherwise perfectly white bed sheet. Then there was the strange tattoo on her arm, three bands of black, each one labeled with roman numerical, I, II, III. One, two, three... Then she realized that she was still in her barrier jacket, except it did not feel so protective anymore, being somewhat skimpy and all... and there were also parts there were torn, cut, exposing her fair skin beneath. The events of the night before slowly prodded their way into her memories, like embarrassed late-comers to the
pictures, before asserting their presence on every thoughts, reminding her what had happened and nudging any feelings of comfort or peace out from her mind. She had better contact the rest through the mental link. “Admiral Lindy!” Nothing. “Nanoha-chan!” Nothing. “Bardiche, we are going,” she stated, pushing aside those warm blankets and getting up hurriedly from the bed. No comfortingly neutral reply of “Yes, Sir.” She raised an uncovered hand to eye level. Her glove, the one which Bardiche was attached to was missing. A creeping sense of dread came to her. There was no reply for a simple reason. She could not sense any mental communication link between them. She could not sense anything that was remotely magical at all. She could not even feel her own magic. She raised the other hand, tried to concentrate on forming something, anything magic on it. Even a simple lighting spell will do. No reaction. It was like that time when the Belkan Knights took her linker core, except worse. At least that time, there was something left. At least she woke up with everyone by her side. This time, there was nothing. Except for the charred smell of burning eggs and thinly veiled cusses from outside the room. That was when she started to take in her surroundings, attempting to make out her current location in a bid to close the doors in her mind to even more fear and panic. She needed to keep calm, keep cool. Fate had been into many personal rooms before: Nanoha's, Arisa's, Suzuka's, Hayate's, even Chrono's. They were usually neat and organized with posters of their favorite stars or a personal touch or two. This place... could be considered neat to a certain extent... if neatness meant organized chaos. It was as if great care had been taken by the usual occupant to categorize the mess before her. Books, towering stacks of books were placed in
a specific corner of the room. Another corner hosted a pile of clothes, some torn, some bloodied but mostly wearable. Posters of the local variation of magical users doted the wall as they pleased, they in various poses, holding staffs, wands, swords... A small desk and a suite of drawers, both with their top surfaces covered with a layer of paper and dust completed the collection of furniture within. The door. She approached it cautiously and reached for knob. It turned, unhindered. Before Fate decided to truly open the door, she checked around her for anything that can act as a weapon. It felt strange, exposed without the steadfast presence of Bardiche or magic. Her sonic form barrier jacket was still on. Those armored plated boots could probably do some serious damage to any unknowing person's foot. That should do. The door swung open as Fate hid behind, waiting for any traps to be activated. No movement. She then took a peek outside, keeping her guard up against any possible surprise. The scene looked harmless enough. The boy, the thief from the previous night was seated at the table with a glum look on his face, poking whatever was on his plate gingerly with his fork. He was dressed in a similar robe from yesterday's battle, pale faded brown from multiple washing and his staff, the one which hit her, was leaned against the table beside him. On the other side of the table, another plate of 'probably breakfast' laid neatly. If there had been a trap of sorts, its only nasty effect must have been the thick scent of burnt food as though the air itself was smeared with overcooked grease. He looked up, there was no change in the disappointed look on his face as he sighed and spoke, “I can see you. Breakfast... something at least is ready. Come and eat it.” As if in response to the word 'breakfast', Fate's stomach gave a growl of agreement. She was hungry. There was food. It did not look too dangerous yet. If the boy meant her harm, he could have easily done so already. Hesitantly, step by step she walked towards the table and sat herself down opposite the boy. Looks like the word food might be the closest polite term to describe what was on the plate. Everything seemed to have a thin layer of dark, crispy soot. From the sausages to the eggs. “You burnt eggs?” she finally found her tongue to ask, turning whatever was on the plate for any patch that was not black. It was amazing how evenly burnt the food could get. “So I'm bad in cooking,” the boy admitted breezily while he finally convinced himself of the edibility of the charred toast and crunched into it with a pained look of distaste, “Why would Death care about food quality?” “Fate. Not Death,” she retorted, mildly annoyed, imitating his food poking, and wondering if she would really meet Death if she ate it. With food so black, it probably did not need to be poisoned to kill.
“No difference. Both are personifications of the inevitable. Hate them.” It was strange how normal everything, save for the inedible food, seemed to be. They were just bantering as though nothing happened, as though yesterday's midair battle never took place. “Where am I? Why are you here?” she asked suspiciously, lifting the eggs and letting them drop on the plate. It landed with a 'tink'. “My apartment. You are my hostage,” came the reply between crunches as though it was the most normal thing to do in the world, “No where else to put you.” “What did you do to me?” “Nothing... well, not really. I can't let you escape, can I,” the boy answered without a pause, looking at her reaction with interest, “See those black armbands around your arm?” he pointed to her newly acquired 'tattoos' with his fork. “Magic limitation spell,” he said, placing emphasis on 'limitation', “removes all magical capability on the target for a limited time span. One band per day. Without magic, you are just another girl, Death.” “Fate.” came the automatic correction. Three bands, three days, Fate mentally translated. Three days of non-magic. “Then what happens after three days? I blast my way out here?” “If by three days, I have not completed the stone, I'll just recast the spell,” he replied without a care, “Otherwise you may go, I've got no need to keep you around.” “What stone?” “Why should I tell you?” he replied quickly, “You are only a hostage, Death.” He seemed to take childish relish in annoying Fate with that nickname. Fate could not help but feel a sense of helplessness. Removed from her friends, her magic, with only the enemy for company. Unlike the time she was trapped in the Book of Darkness, this was real. Everyone, especially Nanoha and Admiral Lindy must be worried sick about her. They would be... a smile came to her face. That
thought brought some comfort. “Admiral Lindy will find you; Nanoha will find you; my friends will get you,” she looked straight into his eyes with assured confidence of her group's capability, “Then you will pay.” She forced the fork into the sausage for impact, breaking it into half to reveal some parts that are actually not black. “Try,” he replied with the same assured confidence even as his brows twitched at the fork meeting plate, “This apartment is warded from all forms of magical detection. Break-proof, sound-proof, one way glass. No ordinary person can find it.” “My friends are not ordinary persons,” Fate replied with all the trust in her companions. They stared at each other, refusing to give away any emotions. There was something quite familiar about the boy... Fate gave up the childish staring competition and turned her attention back to the non-black areas of the sausage, going through the events and information in her mind. She is now a hostage. Having breakfast... well, not really. Talking with the boy who was and is still the enemy. She could not really remember what happened after the contents of the test tube exploded before her. There were no signs of any wounds on her... “Where are my cuts?” “You care about those?” he asked in surprise, “I healed them, can't have you bleeding all over my bed.” So he was not all bad, after all. Maybe he could be reasoned with. The boy looked sulkily at his work of horror of a breakfast, the confidence in him deflated as quickly as it came. “Your people wasted my whole night yesterday.” He stood up and took a beautifully decorated box out from within his robe. The box he robbed from Admiral Lindy. Then he threw it heavily at the table before Fate. “There! I'm returning this blasted thing to you.” She picked up the box carefully and then opened it. There was nothing but photos of Admiral Lindy and Chrono in the past, photos of them having fun and looking so happy as a family. Something that Admiral Lindy had offered to her as well. “Thank you,” she said softly as she returned those photos of happiness to the box, closing it firmly.
“Don't mention it,” he replied gruffly, “They are no use to me.” After a pause, he added, “If you are wondering about that staff of yours, I don't have it. Must have lost it.” he almost spat the last part out, disgusted by his own failure. “Why?” she started again, “We can help you.” “You won't understand,” he answered quietly and picked up his staff. Then he walked casually towards the front door, “Don't bother to try the telephone. I don't have one.” he shouted back as he exited the apartment. “Enjoy your stay, Death.” “Fate!” she shouted back. There was a smirk before he turned his back and drew a wand. “By the way, the lock is magic too,” he said before closing the door. The lock clicked behind him with finality. The moment he left, Fate immediately got out of her chair and ran towards the door. Locked. Then she will have to find some other methods of escaping. For the next hour, she searched the home for any opening she could possibly exit from. The boy had been most meticulous to cover every exit point, every single window had been locked and grilled, even the little one on top of the toilet. By that time, her stomach had started growling again and she returned to staring at the blackest breakfast ever made. After much hesitation, she took a small piece of the sausage and attempted to bite into it. Having spat out the offending piece of crunchy meat, she took to raiding the refrigerator for anything edible and wondering how a boy around her age could survive and fought her evenly with breakfasts such as these. Where was his family anyway?... Perhaps he was an orphan, surviving on his own, thus explaining his need to steal, Fate reasoned with herself, munching on bits of chocolate as she turned her attention to what was around her, hoping to find something that could tell her more about her adversary. If she was going to be magic-less, she would at least try to gather intelligence. What better place than his home to look? When Nanoha or Admiral Lindy or Chrono or anyone finds her, she would be ready with new information. Two rooms. One locked, the other the one she had slept in. Television, couches, cabinets. Everything which one would expect in an apartment. A light spread of dust coated everything. Picking up a book at random, Fate blew the dust away to reveal it as a book on alchemy. Something she knew to be about changing lead to gold or eternal life. Something like that. The cover of the book had an elaborately drawn circle, filled with symbols and shapes... reminding her of the thief's methods.
Circle on the office wall... Circle on the pendent... Fate turned the thin pages delicately, reading the words of knowledge within as she retreated to the bed in the room. Now she knew those reddish-brown stains on the sheets as her own blood. That was when something caught her eye. Putting the book on alchemy down, she gently picked up the simple photo frame from the headboard of the bed. It depicted the thief's happier times with his mother. The thief was much younger then, five or six years old, tugging anxiously at the long, dark dress of his mother. The women smiling so happily as she prepared to pick up her sobbing son. It was a picture of family bliss not reflected in the rest of the apartment. Fate felt an uncharacteristic stab of jealousy in her heart. That raven-black hair. The soft, caring face. The warm eyes. The smile that she knew but never saw. She knew her, this lady in the photo. The woman never smiled so warmly before her, never picked her up, hugged her, comforted her. This lady... Fate looked longingly into it, recalling those implanted memories in her. She knew that they were fake, replicas, imitations, but that did not make it any less real for her—originally hers or not, these memories were the memories she had. This lady is... --------------------------------------------“Ms. Testarossa!” Arisa announced her arrival into the ward with enthusiasm and anticipation, “We have come to visit!” She waved the basket of fruits in her hand to show the fair lady seated upright at her bed. Behind her, Suzuka entered and gave a light bow, placing a bouquet of flowers at the bedside. “I wasn't expecting you to really come,” the lady on the bed said with a gentle smile as she motioned them to the seats beside the bed, “I would have made my hair beforehand.” “We keep our promises,” Arisa replied as she strode over and sat herself down, “How was your health?” “With your lovely presence, I feel better already,” Precious Testarossa laughed lightly, taking over the basket of fruits, “Thank you for coming.” Her hands trembled slightly as she took a grip on the sides of the bed. “I'm getting tired of sitting in the bed. Shall we take a walk?” “Isn't it difficult?” Suzuka quickly reached out to support the lady. Ms. Testarossa accepted Suzuka's help gratefully. “Yes,” she said as she lifted herself out of the bed, “But one would still like to do so. It helps keep me distracted.”
With the help of Arisa and Suzuka, Ms. Testarossa slowly stepped out of the room and started walking down the corridor. It was a regal ceremony as the girls escorted the lady along. They walked quietly, accompanied by the soft breathing of Ms. Testarossa, just enjoying the joy of just walking. Perhaps it was because of the timing, there were more people around compared to the previous time. A couple patients alongside their medical staff, walked about the hallway with all the purpose in the world. Almost of the patients had been wearing the white tag around their wrist. Some of staffs nodded towards the lady as they passed and in turn, the lady waved lightly back. Everyone smiled, the doctors, the nurses, the patients, even the cleaner. Save for the rhythm of footsteps, no one spoke to each other nor made a sound. Despite the cheery surface, Arisa could not help but shivered. Everyone just looked too happy, too glad while the silence hung over them like blanket. The air around felt heavier than elsewhere, it was as though behind all the smiles and the nods, a deep sadness and regret was hidden beneath. “Are you alright? There is a bench over there,” Ms. Testarossa broke the silence for them when she noticed Arisa's disquieted discomfort, “I think I might need to sit down for a while.” Sweat droplets dotted her pale forehead as she led them towards the bench. Ms. Testarossa sighed in satisfaction as she relaxed herself. For a moment, she gazed wistfully at the ceiling and at the people walking past her, one by one, with a look of tiredness and sadness in her eyes. The girls sat themselves beside her. Then Arisa tugged her sleeves. “Ms. Testarossa, what part of the hospital are we at?” The fair lady looked at her and sighed, “You know, I've got a son around your age. So young but you would have thought he was the father instead. Always bossing me around, not letting me get out of the bed.” Suzuka and Arisa looked to each other, then they returned to the talk. “You could have met him if you came earlier,” she said jokingly, “He's a handsome, young man. You would have liked him!” She reached out a hand and touched Arisa's golden hair, letting them flow out of her hands. “I've always wanted a daughter... Do you have a boyfriend?” Suzuka noted with amusement as her usually tomboyish friend started to blush and fluster over the lady's teasing comments. Arisa really should let this rarely-seen side of her come through more often. “W-w-well- I'm gl-glad that you l-l-liked me b-but-” Arisa never finished her sentence as she was interrupted by joyful laughter from the lady.
“This is the first time I've actually laughed for so long,” she said between laughs before those became coughs and Suzuka started to rub her back to soothe them. “You are such a nice girl, I'm sure your mother would be proud of you,” the lady continued when she finally caught her breath, ruffling Arisa's hair, “What is your name, my kind, cute girl?” “A-A-Arisa Bannings,” the girl looked at Ms. Testarossa suspiciously. “And you?” Ms. Testarossa turned her attention to Suzuka. “Tsukimura Suzuka, ma'am,” the dark haired girl bowed formally with her introduction. Ms. Testarossa bowed in return and smiled, “You're not English, right? Let me welcome you to our humble lands.” She started to mumble their names softly and quickly to herself for a while to the curious looks of the girls. “Arisa- Alisa- Alicia-Then I shall name my daughter Alicia,” she finally said, “Alicia Testarossa. She would have this beautiful golden hair of yours.” She fawned over Arisa's hair fondly, bringing another blush to Arisa's cheeks. “Then she would have your beautiful voice,” she said to Suzuka with a genuine smile. The fragile lady adjusted her shawl, laid back and sighed again. “You know what?” she perked up slightly to address the girls, “Earlier this morning, the doctor came to see me. He told me that I should go home, catch up with my family and enjoy myself as much as I should.” There was sadness in her voice as she stopped to catch her breath, coughing slightly. “That's good, right?” Arisa asked innocently. Ms. Testarossa chuckled to herself before she continued, “Yes, it is, I supposed. It would be nice to get out of this place for a while.” They sat silently for a while before the lady spoke again. “I did not tell my son about it except to tell him not to come visit me tomorrow. I want to give him a surprise, to let him return home to a mother for once. Would you girls like to help me?” she gave a conspiratory wink at them, “You can even meet him.” “Of course!” Arisa stood up to proclaim. Immediately, all eyes around were locked onto the impulsive girl for her sudden outburst. She sat down embarrassedly to the hushing of nurses. “But we are only helping you to get home and prepare.” she added as an afterthought.
“No?” the lady pouted, “He's a fine, young man, you know.” They laughed at that, attracting the curious stares of the passersby. It was fine time to bring much needed gaiety into this quiet, heavy part of the hospital. Their laughter finally subsided when Ms. Testarossa started to cough roughly. Then, with the help of the girls, the lady got up from the bench to slowly walk back to her ward, relishing every moment she had left beyond the four walls. When they finally laid her down on the bed, Arisa said with her hands at her hips, looking away from Ms. Testarossa's lying figure, “Okay. Maybe we can stay for a while tomorrow.” A nurse had entered the ward, fussing over Ms. Testarossa despite the lady's signal that she was fine. Ms. Testarossa laughed merrily at Arisa's reaction, soon joined by Suzuka's bright peals of laughter. “Why, thank you, Arisa,” she said, breathless from laughter, “Then I might have a chance of getting a daughter now.” Deliberately ignoring the vehement protests of 'No' from the blushing tomboy, she continued with a weak, exhausted smile, “You will like him; he's a good boy.” The nurse began to start shooing the girls away. The patient, Ms. Testarossa had had plenty of activity for today; she needed to rest. Arisa could already hear all the jokes that would come out of this, should her friends such as Fate, Nanoha or Hayate catch wind of it. Hopefully, Suzuka would keep it to herself. She muttered a half-hearted goodbye before she stomped out of the ward to hide her reddening face. Before Suzuka followed behind, she turned and bade her farewell. Ms. Testarossa waved back and then lay back on the bed to rest. The athletic girl quickly caught up with her hot-headed friend as they stepped out of the hospital into the warmth of the city. Her friend was already consulting a tourist map, making small circles and notes on it. “So what shall we do now?” Suzuka looked over Arisa's shoulder to study the map. “We look for a good starting point,” Arisa replied, concentrating on the map and thinking at the same time. The Palace seemed like a good place to start... Suzuka merely smiled encouragingly, knowing full well that they knew nothing about this thief they were trying to catch. “We can try to call Nanoha and Fate first,” the more level-headed of the two suggested.
“I tried, no one answered. They're always too busy,” came the reply. Suzuka could sense a tinge of resentment in her friend's tone. “I'm sure they had their reasons. Perhaps the thief has proved more difficult than expected?” Arisa snorted with annoyance before returning to the map. She was determined to catch the thief and have fun at the same time, now that she was back in her country of origin. But... it just wasn't the same without the rest of their friends... “I wonder how they are doing now?” --------------------------------------------“Hmmm?” Professor Dante mused aloud without turning her back to face Gabriel, “You did not managed to get anything yesterday? Why?” She was looking at the device again, hypnotized by the floating orbs of light hovering within the miniature cities, never tearing away her gaze to even glance at him. Gabriel wrinkled his nose in a failed bid to lessen the impact of the thick scent of lily. If his unintentional creation of the stench of burning fats exposed themselves to the victim in their full glorious impact of a single, near-fatal blow, the professor's preference for lily-scented perfume combined with the many pots of the deathly white blooming flowers to produce a the thick, heavy scent of lilies in this room crept silently onto you, assassinating every single, last scent bud in your nose before one realized too late that one can only smell lilies. “There were those mages. New ones. Strong. Organized.” “Hmm...” the professor moved her spindly index finger towards the edge of the map, then slowing tracing them into the center of the city, “Tell me about them.” “I think there were four. Three of them are very young, around my age. One boy, two girls... Strong enough to penetrate my magic barrier from outside,” Gabriel paused to think about his hostage in his home. Did he make a mistake leaving her alone there? Should he tell the professor about the situation? At that point, the professor perked up, ogling at the map in intense interest... or desire. Gabriel strained his neck to take a peek at the map, there seemed to be a huge influx of light into the map, gathering at one single point of the map. Professor Dante licked her thin, parched lips with her tongue in barely suppressed glee. “And the last one?” she urged anxiously, continuing to stare at the new concentration of light, rubbing her hands unconsciously.
“The last one was a lady, perhaps in her early thirties. She did not fight but she seemed to be their officer, the one giving the orders,” the young wizard quickly answered, putting his questions to the back burner. Professor Dante stood up and swept across the distance between her and Gabriel, placing her hands upon his shoulders, gripping them tightly. “Interesting,” she said, looking fixedly into his eyes, “Tell me more.” “She looked mature, quite beautiful. Long, azure hair. Warm, friendly voice. Probably the leader of the new group,” he listed from memory of the officer's interaction with Fate and from the photographs. Quite motherly too, he added mentally. “Hmmm...” the old professor released Gabriel and circled around the room, oblivious to the choking smell of lilies. “Do you think she would look good in a dress?” she asked nonchalantly. “Yes?” the young wizard answered, confused by the strange, irrelevant question. A new vitality had come to the professor with the new discovery. She was more enthusiastic, more anxious now. Gone was the slow, grandmotherly patience she tended to exhibit. He watched as Professor Dante circled a couple of times more, scratching her cheeks with her manicured fingernails and musing excitedly to herself. Finally she stopped with a halt as a conceited smile spread across her long, wrinkled face. “Gabriel! It is time!” she announced triumphantly, returning to the map to study it, “Is there a place that has a large hall that could be used without attracting attention?” Gabriel thought for a while, then something struck him. “There is an abandoned warehouse near my apartment. Large, empty space that can hold many people inside. Are we making the stone now?” he asked, full of excitement and hope. The stone is the priority, nothing else mattered. (if this was internal dialogue, it seems like it would be redundant for him to ‘remind’ himself of such.) “We need one more... no, two,” the professor raised her fingers to indicate the same numbers. She then quickly scribbled onto a piece of paper, two addresses in thin, scrawny handwriting and shoved the paper into Gabriel's hands. “Go, tonight,” she licked her lips again, her tongue leaving behind a thin trail of saliva, “Make as much noise as you can. Expect a fight.” Gabriel looked at the addresses. “Professor Dante,” he said, “These addresses are both very near the warehouse. Won't that...”
“That's the whole point,” interrupted the reply, “Don't think too much. You need the stone, right? Trust me. Now, go.” She then shooed the blond-haired wizard out of her office, “And keep safe.” she added as an afterthought. Standing outside the room, with the door between him and the lilies, Gabriel could feel his sense of smell slowly returning to him. The stale, musty air of the magical academy welcomed the resurrection of his scent buds. The wizard took one last look at the paper, crumpled and jammed it into his robes. Oh... he did not mention about the hostage... Gabriel paused, wondering if he should tell the professor about it... The professor seemed to be hiding some things from him too. The sudden burst of assertion and conviction from the professor scared him but if the professor did so to add urgency to the creation of the stone... then... The girl, his hostage. She might know something. If not, at least about the background of their people. She would be helpless now. He could probably contain the situation himself... He had better check back before he proceeded with the hunt though. Then Gabriel left, taking a slow, purposeful walk towards the exit, only taking a brief detour at the changing room. --------------------------------------------Fate had intended to be ready for the return of the thief. The original plan was to hide behind the door with something hard, perhaps the charred, greasy saucepan. When the boy returned, she would catch him by surprise and hopefully knock him out. Then she would escape through the generously opened door. However, by the time she managed to tear herself away from staring at the photo frame, half an hour had passed. She then spent most of the time reading as much of the randomly thrown books lying forlornly on the ground, digesting the information in her head. Then she found herself drawn back to the photo frame, gazing at the portrait of happiness within, gazing at the woman with the bright, warm, gentle smile. She did not notice the gentle creaking of opening doors. Nor did she notice the soft click as the door was locked again. Nor did she notice the light footsteps approaching from behind her. She did notice when her thoughts were interrupted by, “Interested in my family?” Fate looked back to see that her captor had returned, leaning against the dust-covered cabinet and staring at her. “Well? Why are you looking at my family photograph?” He bit into a sandwich devoid of any greens of any sorts, hurriedly swallowing it with nary a chew. She pointed her finger towards the woman in the photograph, praying that it was all a coincidence and not a test
of loyalty for her. That would just be too much to take. “Who is she?” “Her? Kind of obvious, isn't it,” the boy walked leisurely forward and took the photo frame from Fate's hand with his free hand. He stuffed himself with the rest of the sandwich as he touched the photograph fondly and placed it back on the headboard, “She is my mother.” Fate tried to compose herself. This could all be an over-reaction on her side but she had to know. “Where is she now?” His eyes glared suspiciously at Fate, “Why should you care?” “I... I don't have a real mother...” she answered half-heartedly, returning her gaze to the photo frame. “That is something I've never known...” The boy's expression softened just slightly. Taking a quick glance at his watch, he motioned Fate to go outside to the table outside. “I've bought something for you to eat,” he said gruffly while he threw a dark robe beside Fate, onto the bed, “and wear that. Can't have you walking around in that fancy dress costume.” Fate picked up the black, velvet robe, feeling the smooth, thick cloth it was made of in her hands. “Thank you,” she mumbled as she tried to slip on the robe over her torn barrier jacket. “I nicked it from the changing room,” he added helpfully before he left the room, “too bad if it fits poorly.” When Fate emerged from the room later, the end of the robe dragged behind her, sweeping the dust from the floor. It had been at least two sizes larger than her, more suitable for someone older and taller than her childish frame. While she could easily fold up the sleeves, there was nothing she could do about the rest of the clothing. Shuffling towards the table, she took the sandwich from the plastic bag and started eating; her stomach growled in satisfaction, having not had anything since the disastrous breakfast. “Now you even looked more like Death!” The boy laughed as he sat at the other end, unwrapping another sandwich for himself. A small pile of lettuces and pickles laid on the tabletop as testimony of his distaste for vegetables. “Fate,” she replied between chews. The long sleeves of the robe dragged along the table as she reached for another sandwich. Soft bread never tasted so good. “Let's have an exchange of information,” he said, “I answer some of your questions and you answer mine.”
Fate thought for a while, then she nodded. She could always refuse to answer anything too sensitive. “Why did you do it?” she asked. The boy paused in his action of picking out the distasteful bits of the sandwich to consider, then he answered, “I need the stone. Those magical artifacts I stole, they will go into its creation. My turn. Your group looked organized, who are you?” “We are from the bureau, we are here to get you,” Fate answered vaguely, “And they will.” she added confidently. “What stone? Why do you need it?” “That's two questions,” he rejected. “You did not properly explain the stone you mentioned just now, that was just a continuation of the first question.” The boy sighed in defeat while taking a glance out of the window. The sun was about to set soon. “Philosopher's Stone. It is the pinnacle of alchemy, requiring huge amount of raw magic to form, thus all those artifacts.” That had been what the Professor had told him, at least. “The Philosopher's Stone allows the user to bypass the usual laws of alchemy and give immortality. Most importantly, it can do what modern medicine cannot do...” He dropped his head in melancholy. “What?” Fate prompted when the boy slowed down, his voice trailing off into silence, “Don't worry. I can understand...” “No. You never had a real mother, remember?” his voice rose sharply in despair, “You don't know how it felt when someone close to you is dying. When all you can do is to watch helplessly as she suffers in pain, and yet... still smile at you as though nothing was wrong.” His eyes widened in hatred, “The stone. That will do the trick. Soon it will be completed and she will be saved... Nothing must stop me now.” He glared towards the direction of Fate, yet it seemed as though he was glaring at something beyond her, at the entire concept of fate; his anger towards everything that had went against him building along with the emotional topic. Now she knew why he kept rejecting her name. He was fighting more than her and the bureau. He was fighting against her namesake itself. “You can still stop,” Fate said in her most soothing voice, “Your mother, the bureau can provide the best medical care for her. We can help you“No! You think I never tried magic before?” the boy interrupted angrily and his hand arced across the table,
sweeping the pile of vegetables off, “Magic can delay, magic can accelerate, that's how I healed wounds. Yours and mine. But it cannot reverse time or cure genetics. The stone can, it can change the chemical structures of things itself. It can remove the disease like it never existed.” He sunk into his chair and took another look at the window. The setting sun cast an orange hue upon everything in the apartment. “Why am I telling you all this? I'm not drunk. I’m too young to legally drink, anyway. And you still have more questions to answer… You feel familiar... Really, who are you? Death or Fate or is there some other real names?” “My name really is Fate. Fate Testarossa,” Fate answered, taken aback by the boy's sudden change of moods. He began laughing. Loud, angry laughter. “Yes. My name is Fate Testarossa,” she asserted, “There is nothing funny about it.” “Stop joking,” he said, “You must have found my name written somewhere. My name is Gabriel Testarossa. My mother's name is Precious Testarossa. 'Testarossa' is not a common surname. If you hope to gain my mercy by having my name, it did not help.” “No, it really- “ Wait. What did he say about his mother's name? Precious Testarossa. Close enough. She had heard about cross dimensional similarities but for this to occur on her... That would mean... “Your mother's illness. Coughs a lot. Pain in the abdomen region,” Fate listed from memory, from what she could recall from her past mother's last years, before she met Nanoha. Precia never cared for her and other than complete, unquestioning devotion, never expected any care from her either. She had tried to hide the illness from her, the coughs of blood, the pain... As they grew stronger, she became more desperate in forcing Fate to seek out the jewel seeds. “How do you know?” Gabriel jerked up in shock, “There was nothing about her around... do you know about her already...” He trembled at the implication of his accusation. His mother would be in danger. Fate had never questioned how, she never questioned why, she never questioned what. Now, with the demise of the closest thing she had to a real parent and the release of the case folder to her, she knew. Precia was already dying then. Her fall into the vortex with Alicia must have been a sweet release to her pain; at least she would finally be with Alicia forever. But, she left Fate alone. If not for the company of Nanoha, Admiral Lindy, Arf or the rest of the Bureau, she suspected, she would have became just like Gabriel, always full of anger. Gabriel's response confirmed it. Cross dimensional relations. That was the official term for doppelgangers of the same person in different dimensions. Nothing much was known about it or why it occurred. Except for some
details, they tend to share the same fate. In this case, incurable disease. It all felt like a giant inter-dimensional joke. Now it was on her. “Look, Death. You are only a hostage,” Gabriel trembled in fear and anger at the prospect of the one he was trying to save getting dragged into the conflict, “If you, or anyone tries to stop me“Stop,” Fate tried to calm him down, persuade him, “its okay. Its“No! I'm not giving up. Not when I am so close. Once my part is done, the professor would do the rest. Then we can go on living normally, without fate or death hanging around us,” he stood up and adjusted his robe. Grabbing his staff, he prepared himself for the upcoming hunt. Outside, the sun had set; the risen moon casting long shadows in the room. Picking a piece of paper from the floor, the wizard quickly drew a symbol on it. Fate observed as after he finished the hastily scrawled symbol, he placed his fingers on it. The symbol glowed brightly, bringing some light into the darkened room. Then the paper hardened, bent and shaped itself into the smooth, white mask he had worn the previous night during the fight. The light faded along with the symbol as the transformation completed itself. He took the completed mask and placed it over his face, replacing his facial features with nothing. Gabriel then walked towards the window and opened it. Placing a foot on the ledge, he hoisted himself over and jumped out. Soon, he appeared in view again, hovering on his staff just outside the window. “Then, I don't care what you want to do to me,” he finished with a spat of anger. With a gesture of his wand, the window shut itself and was sealed with magic. He then flew off for another dangerous night of battle, leaving Fate stunned and lost for words in the dark, cold apartment.
Chapter 5 Pawn at the end --------------------------------------------Words contain power. Magical words contain magical power. In a library that contains million of magical books, each one filled with pages after pages of magical words, it is inevitable that eventually, space gets distorted. Your magical libraries tend to be named 'Infinite' or something like that because they are. There is no constrain in space due to the distortion in time-space continuum. Every single magical library gets linked to each other, through time, space and dimension. All the books in the world -some not even written yet, some never will be written, others still merely an idea in the authors mind- all of them could be found in the library; IF you know where to look. And that's how I came here. Through L-space. The concept of L-space, translated from 'Ook, ook, ook.' All he could remember about his father was that he had blond hair. That was where he got his own blond hair from. Other than that, he never left anything else for Gabriel. Not even a stitch of memory. His mother would occasionally talk about his father in fond terms, calling him the best husband in the world or some other goosebump-inducing terms. However he never did a very good job in being a husband or a father. Soon after Gabriel was brought into the world, he died. As far as Gabriel remembered, it was just him and his mother. His mother who taught him the A, B and Cs. His mother who punished him for stealing the lollipop from the store. His mother who worked day in, day out to support both of them. His mother who received the letter that informed him of his latent magical abilities and admission into Merdiana.. His mother who ended up suffering from illness. First it was a couple of days in the hospital. Then it became weeks. Months. The doctors tried to explain everything to him in simple terms, hiding the terrible truth from him. When it became too obvious, his mother brought him aside to tell him the truth directly. That she will die in a year. Of course, when the year past and nothing happened except for the pain, the doctors predicted another year.
Mother was transferred to the hospice where she would live there, receiving the best treatment the hospital could provide. It was where people go to live the rest of their life in peace. Occasionally the patients would be allowed to return home for a couple of weeks to spend some time with their family. If the doctor had encouraged the patient to return home despite the evidence otherwise, it was signal that the end was near and they should spend as much time they have left with their closed ones. Gabriel was never one to wait. He had after all, actually attempted to leap through the window to escape getting grounded. He is a wizard, or at least a wizard-in-training. If medicine cannot cure, magic will. If magic did not work either, he will find something that will. So he searched the library. When that did not yield any results, he searched deeper. Until one day, when Professor Dante caught him reading in the forbidden section. “How can I help you?” she had said. “I want to save my mother,” he had replied directly without fear. The elderly professor laughed with a glint in her eyes. Then she told him about the Philosopher's Stone. Showed him the book described what the stone can do. Explained that she knew how to make one and that she needed the 'ingredients'. “These are not your usual iron ore, mercury or sulphur, my young, talented student. I need pure magic; there are not many things in the world that had pure magic in them.” “I will do it,” he volunteered without a thought, “Then you will save my mother.” After which, the professor brought him back into her office and consulted that three-dimensional map of the city. She scribbled the address onto it and then gave it to him along with instructions. Look out for whatever looked important or jewelry like, she said. Those were magical artifacts that would provide the components of the alchemic reaction. He would be going after magical forces he did not know of. There would be times when he would have to fight for the artifacts. For that, she would give him extra tuitions to teach him everything he needed to know about magic so that he could fight back. If there was a fight, the thing to go after would be the weapons of the mages. The first fight was easy enough. The mage never knew what hit him. Now when he was so close to creating the stone...
“Divine Buster!” Gabriel swung just in time to avoid the pink beam of energy from the enemy mage. Another girl, this time an Asian. She looked the same age as his hostage, Fate as she called herself ironically. Probably this time he was facing this 'Nanoha'. The auburn-haired girl in the white, frilly costume pointed her staff towards him again. Several balls of magic hovered around her in preparation of another wave of attack. Her face was cold and hard as she asked the same question she had repeated again and again. “Where is Fate?” “Beats me!” Gabriel shouted back while he prepared his own spells. They just get tougher and tougher as he approached his goal. These Bureau mages were getting desperate with one of their own missing. With their desperation, the battle had also taken on a whole new frenzy. Perhaps he should use this against them. “Liar!” came the retort, loud, fierce and angry. The magical orbs behind her vibrated briefly, then with the command, “Accel Shooter!”, they went directly after Gabriel. Damn! Gabriel was forced to fly away in top speed, dodging the speeding balls of magic trailing him. They just keep coming... Looked like it would not be a good idea to inform about their Fate in his hands. They were mad enough. He let his staff drop slightly to avoid an incoming attack, making his turn gradually to return to where the Bureau mage was. The girl glared at him, threads of magical symbol forming around the head of her staff, the ball of magical energy growing at the tip ready for fire. It looked powerful. He had no desire to find out if her attacks could go stronger than that “Divine Buster”. Once was more than enough. Gabriel directed the staff to swerve sharply to avoid another attack while he turned back, aiming his wand towards the girl. The girl sped forward with those tiny wings on her shoes with the staff leveled at him. He was starting to regret not trying to reason first. It was probably too late by now. From her speed and the look of the gathering magic at her staff, if the magic did not kill him, that pointy head of the staff will. The girl drew her holding hand back -wait for it, the timing must be exact. If it failed, he would die and their only hope would be- and trusted it forward. Gabriel could hear the mechanical voice from the staff rang out, “DivineNow. “Sagita Magica Una Fulguralis!”
A single streak of lightning shot from his wand towards his target, the very tip of the enemy's staff. It hit, producing a blast of static, just enough to force the staff upwards. The blast of magic was directed upwards instead, producing a beacon of pink light into the night sky. A small success that only resulted in making the mage even more determined to take him down. That was when he was hit at the side by a ball of magic. Not careful enough. He had not taken care of all the stray balls of magic that he had dodged previously. It felt been punched by a heavy-weight boxer many times over. Losing his grip on the staff, Gabriel catapulted forward and downwards. The good thing about fighting in midair was that, if he fell, there was no ground below. The bad thing was that if he fell, there was no ground below. Wand out. Calling for the return of his staff. Another ball of magic coming towards him from below. Too late. At least, the hit propelled him upwards, buying him some more time away from the ground that will definitely kill him. The girl sped forward to land him another midair blow. “Where is Fate?” “Killing me won't help you,” Gabriel rejoined, concentrating on the returning staff. In times like this, the stupid staff just seemed to take its time. The girl brought the end of her staff to his stomach, sending him flying away like a rag doll. Then before he knew it, she flew behind him, ready for another blow. “Where is Fate?” “Everywhere,” he shouted as his staff came within reach. He reached out his hand and grabbed the hovering wooden staff, just in time to suffer another blow. This time, there was his staff to prevent him from dropping out of control. Damn! Too tough! Fueled by anger and anxiety, the girl was a loose cannon. He had to lose her before he break any more bones. Healing spells tended not to work very well on bones and broken bones made even holding the staff hurt like mad. Scrolling his mind for the useful spell to use against her, he dodged another attack, trying to maintain his grip while swinging wildly on the speeding staff. The staff turned again to face the incoming enemy. Gabriel could see the girl readying her magical staff for another attack; magical symbols were glowing faintly as a thread around the tip while the magical force grew. As he approached, he smirked faintly as a spell came to mind. It had better work.
The girl brought her staff up as long, slender wings puffed themselves from the head of the staff. Multiple magical circles materialized before her, locking on on Gabriel as the target. He had to do it fast. Gabriel urged the staff forward, closer to the girl while he recalled the spell he had in mind. Close enough for him to hear the countdown of the blast. “Last chance. Where is Fate?” No time to answer. The moment he closed in, he turned sharply, reaching the unprotected side of the girl. With a flick of his wand, he called upon the winds. "Flet une vente, Flans saltatio Pulverea!" The girl raised her free hand throwing out a protective shield before her. It would have worked for his magical arrows. However, it could not do much against the strong blast of wind that swept her balance away, shield and all. Chance! Gabriel swung himself back onto his staff and accelerated ahead. The force of the push had broke the girl's concentration and spell for just enough time for him to do his tricks. With a quick jingle, he loosened the bracelet Professor Dante had given him from his wrist. The pendent on it was a symbol that would allow him to manipulate the surrounding air through alchemic reactions. The girl had finally stabilized herself, preparing another spell. Gabriel lunged to her side, bringing his wand before her. Her eyes widened in surprise. “Practe Bigi Nar Ardescat!” It was one of their most elementary spells. A single, small spark of flames appeared just at the tip of his wand. He then concentrated on the pendent. The symbol glowed faintly while he altered the chemical contents of the surrounding air, exponentially concentrating all the oxygen and hydrogen around the little ball of fire. The fire flared, then exploded, the back draft knocking the girl off the air with a scream. She would survive without permanent damage, but her grip on her staff should have weakened just enough for him... Gabriel then sped ahead, raising a hand, not to help but to snatch her magical artifact, his hope for the stone away from her hands. He got closer, closer... He did not noticed the blur of dark blue coming towards him as something rammed into him from above and pushed him away from the falling girl. Holding on to his staff tightly, he swung out of control across the air until
the closest wall stopped his spinning descend. As Gabriel grimaced in pain and the newly acquired sore back, he watched the dark-haired boy in officer black uniform hovered coolly in midair over him. Behind him, the girl had regained control over her fall and was approaching with care, her staff aimed directly at him. The boy seemed to be communicating with the girl mentally as she halted, keeping her distance though maintaining her aim and readiness. The boy brought his attention back to Gabriel before speaking in cold, official, somewhat accented English. “You are under the arrest of the Time-Space Administration Bureau for violation of CodeScrew him. He did not know what this arrogant looking boy was about to go on about, but anything that involved him being unable to complete the stone seemed like a lousy deal. He raised his wand, ready to fire off a spell at the officer. Without a word, the officer flicked a card from his pocket, transformed it into an emotionless white spear-like equipment and directed it at Gabriel's head. For a while, Gabriel was impressed by the coolness of the action and thought briefly about incorporating some moves that involved flicking cards out of his sleeves when he was interrupted by the officer's words. “Don't. Try. We will not harm you. We need your co-operation in the matters. If you try to do anything funny, Nanoha behind me would be most willing to fire off her most powerful Starlight Breaker at you immediately,” he brought his face closer with a grim grin, “And you do NOT want to feel a direct hit of Starlight Breaker. Not when she is as angry and worried as she is now.” Gabriel took a glance at the girl behind. A term came to mind, upon looking at her seething rage. White devil. He felt a single drop of sweat of fear dripped down his temple as he turned back to the calmer boy. “So what do you say?” the officer asked, “You put down that wand, I lower my device. Look. Trust me, she even shoots that at her friends and you are definitely no friend of hers.” Gabriel took another cursory glance at the girl and her staff and made his calculations. The stone, he needed the stone. He could not afford capture now, not when he was only a few days away from completion. Professor Dante had told him that. He grinned brightly in return to the opposing boy, “I'll take my chances.” He focused on the pendent in his other hand, condensing the moisture in the air, then forcing it towards the officer in high velocity. The force of the pushing air forced the officer back, enough for Gabriel to make his escape. There was loud cranking sounds akin to the loading of many shotguns as he sped ahead, further shoving the
other boy out of the way while he made his escape. He could hear the officer shout, “Nanoha, no!”, followed by a loud, shrill “Starlight Breaker... EX!” That did not sound good at all. The hair at the back of his head bristle in fear as he quickly swerved by instinct. The force of multi-millions thaums of magic blasted past him in ironically cute pink color, the resulting back draft knocking him out of his desired direction of escape. White devil. Gabriel gritted his teeth as he struggled to maintain control over his staff, for the first time fearing for his life rather than capture. Cute-looking, cooties-inducing, uniform-clad girl but really a devil in angelic white disguise. And he thought his battle with Fate was bad enough. The young officer closed in onto Gabriel swiftly. “Struggle bind,” he raised a hand and summoned the many magical thread intended on binding the thief. Gabriel quickly retaliated with his wand, casting “Deflectio!”, deflecting part of the incoming binding magic. He was not going to get captured by that kind of spell again. The rest, he twisted and turned in the air, trying to shake them off while he mumbled the incarnation of another spell. Gabriel could see the warehouse now. He could to hide there for now, as long as he could lose his pursuers. “We can do this the easy way or the hard way!” the officer shouted as he readied his spear for another spell, “You should just surrender now while I still have some control over Nanoha's surging emotions.” Lacking a wisecrack retort, Gabriel simply replied in action, firing off multiple dark arrows towards both the remaining binding threads and the officer. Then he continued speeding towards his destination, searching his pockets for the two smoke-producing test tubes. The officer emerged from the barrage unscathed, dusting his uniform lightly before continuing the pursuit. Behind him, Gabriel could feel the incredible power of the white devil coming closer on him. If she was emotional now, he would never want to fight her when she was calm and in control. Found it! He removed his most trusted equipments from his pocket and threw them into the air. These had nothing to do with magic, just simple science, but they worked wonders. They worked the day before for his fight with Fate, hopefully it would work again. As to the formula, the test tubes broke upon contact with each other; the chemicals within met and reacted with each other, producing the thick, billowing smoke that Gabriel counted on to hid his direction. He then slowed down his flight to avoid making any sound or disturbing the smoke. He could feel his pursuers coming closer, the choking smoke not putting a dent in their determination to get him. It was time for the backup. Raising his wand, he gave it a little twist and whispered, “Aeriocardio Valkyriam! Contbelaria Gladibaria! Age Capiav!”
Several wispy clones of Gabriel appeared beside him. After receiving their commands mentally, they scattered, each one speeding off in a different direction, leaving behind a trail of parting smoke. On his part, Gabriel quietly floated across the slowly thinning smoke towards the warehouse. Spying an open window, he squeezed his small frame through it and looked for the darkest corner where he could hide. There were shouts outside as his pursuers realized they had fallen for his diversion. Gabriel silently crept towards the corner of the empty building casted in shadows, dragging his staff with him, feeling all the aches and pains catching up on him. Letting himself down on the floor, he took up his staff to prepare the healing spell. It was yet another fruitless night with him fighting more than stealing. Sometimes he wonder if it was all a deliberate ploy by the professor to just train him on fighting and running rather than stealing more magical artifacts for the Philosopher's Stone. A sound. Someone was coming. Gabriel froze in his position, hoping that the shadows would be enough to hide his presence from the intruder. He could already see the disarming white uniform of his white devil standing out of the darkness of the warehouse. She stepped forward, step by step, scanning the surroundings with squinted eyes. Step. Step. Step. She stopped, staring into the darkness where Gabriel was. She did not move, just stared at the shadows. More footsteps as the young boy officer stepped in. He strode towards the white devil and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Nanoha. You need to calm down before you actually kill someone. That Starlight Breaker EX would have killed the only source of information about Fate's whereabouts. If your emotions get the better of you, it might be better to take you out of the mission before your wanton actions jeopardize the mission and everyone else's safety.” “How can you do that when Fate is missing? She could be in pain,” the white devil jerked her head back to face the cool boy. The boy shook his head disappointedly and spoke softly, “I know that you are taking Fate's disappearance badly but so is everyone. Mother just called in three hundred shock troopers into the city for a search party. That is not a rational decision, neither is your rampage going to do us good. Too much had been put at risk here.” “Remember the mission,” he patted her shoulder once, “we came to capture, not to kill. A “Struggle bind” would worked better than any other offensive spells.” He turned to walk out of the warehouse, “Oh, and Admiral Lindy,” he switched back to his cold, officer voice, “just ordered us to return for a briefing session with the rest of the three hundred.”
The white devil stared back into the darkness for a brief moment before following the boy. Only when the footsteps got softer did Gabriel feel his heart start beating again. That was too close. And three hundred shock trooper?! That was overkill for a thief like him. They must be more desperate than he thought. Bringing his staff closer, he casted the healing spell on himself, feeling the accelerated healing of any bruises and sores he had acquired in the battle. It would be too risky to go outside now. Since Fate would not be able to escape, there should not be too much of a risk. She could always prepare her own breakfast. It would even be better for her. Mother had specifically instructed him not to visit her the next day. Perhaps it was because it would be the occasional body check up period. She probably did not want him to see her deteriorating away with each new check up, the countdown timer to the end drawing closer for her. It did not matter now. Soon everything would be solved with the creation of the Philosopher's Stone. Mother would be saved. Removing a chalk from his pocket, he drew an alchemic symbol on the floor before touching it with trembling fingers. The circle glowed before the concrete floor rose with a long, tired groan to form a wall in front of him, hiding him from outside, prying eyes. Tucking his legs in, Gabriel started to consider his options. --------------------------------------------The day before had been a fruitless day for Arisa and Suzuka... Okay, perhaps not that fruitless. They certainly had had quite a bit of fun sightseeing the various tourist attractions of the city. Arisa had actually taken notes during their journey, mostly about places that they could visit again along with their magical friends. On the other hand, they had achieved absolutely nothing on finding the thief. That was to be expected given their total lack of information about the situation they barely knew. If their friends had any information, they were not telling. No one picked up their hand phones despite the many calls. There was not even a single text message to say that they were too busy to pick up the call! It also managed to put Arisa in a foul mood. She had traveled half way across the globe to be with her friends and now, they were not even replying to phone calls. Fine! Just what were friends for? Then she would also give them the cold shoulders treatment. Of course, there was their promise with Ms. Testarossa. That would be something to look forward to for the day as Arisa and Suzuka took the cab from her summer home to the hospital. All the while Arisa looked out of the window sulkily as Suzuka kept silence. She knew when to keep her distance and let Arisa think for herself. She
may be hot-tempered and easy to hold a grudge, but Arisa was also one who drop grudges and forgives easily. She would be fine, once she cooled down. Sure enough, as the hospital approaches, Arisa started talking enthusiastically about how they could help Ms. Testarossa spring her surprise homecoming on her son. Suzuka quietly smiled to herself at her easily-read friend. By the time Arisa and Suzuka entered the hospital ward with Arisa's usual energetic, cheerful “Good afternoon, Ms. Testarossa!”, the addressee was already packing her luggage with the aid of a kind nurse. “Thank you for coming at the unworthy request of a frail woman,” Precious Testarossa broke into that familiar warm, friendly smile and bowed gratefully. Instead of the sterilized blue patient's gown, she was dressed in a lush, mystical, deep purple dress that reached her knees. “What do you think of the dress?” she gave the girls a little twirl, “It is the best dress I've got in my wardrobe. I have not worn it for a long time.” “It is beautiful, ma'am,” Suzuka clapped her hands in agreement. Arisa nodded enthusiastically in agreement. Even the neglected nurse clapped politely at the side while she placed the last change of clothing into the large luggage. “Ms. Testarossa,” The nurse said, “We will send your belongings over to your apartment later. You may leave at any time you like now.” Then she added with a tinge of regret in her voice, “Please enjoy yourself as much as you can.” “Oh, I will,” Ms. Testarossa answered carefreely as she took a sun hat from the edge of the bed and wore it, shielding her face from direct sunlight. “Shall we go?” Arisa asked, admiring Ms. Testarossa' outfit. The dress might have been somewhat old-fashioned in her opinion, but Ms. Testarossa had fit it perfectly, looking exactly like a beautiful English governess from a children fantasy book. “Girls,” Ms. Testarossa came closer and shepherded the girls together, “My son will not be back for quite some time. His school tends to end somewhat late. Then, there are many things I would like to do first and I would love it if you are willing to come along with me.” Arisa could not help notice a change in Ms. Testarossa other than her change of clothing. She seemed brighter, healthier. With the removal of the patient's gown, Ms. Testarossa seemed to have shed the solemn atmosphere of the hospital along with it. Perhaps her illness had come under control. Or the prospect of returning home had brought the illness under rein for now. Regardless, it was good to see her feeling and acting so much better. It was almost enough to push the issues of them and their magical friends aside for now. At the back of her mind,
she could not help but worry about Nanoha and Fate's progress with their mission. “We would be honored, ma'am,” Suzuka spoke for them, “But where do you have in mind?” “Well...” Ms. Testarossa spoke softly, “Firstly, there is always this shop which supposedly serves wonderful ice cream down the road...” --------------------------------------------A light kick to his ankles woke Gabriel up. On well-honed instinct, he grabbed his staff with one hand and extracted his wand from his robe with the other, pointing it before him as the sleep-induced daze cleared. It was already noon... he was beyond late for magic classes. He might as well be a truant. The strong, penetrating smell of lilies gave the identity of the assailant away. Even outside of her office, Professor Dante wore a thick layer of lily-scented perfume on her. However, unlike her usual dark witching robes in the academy, the Professor was dressed in a blood-red, regal dress that covered most of her body., supporting herself with a lady's cane. “You did not come today,” she stated as she strode away from Gabriel, surveying the interior of the warehouse with her bright, eagle-sharp eyes, “I figured that I come around here to take a look first. You have chosen well, I quite liked it.” “They were too tough,” Gabriel said as he lifted himself to his feet, “I could not get anything this time. Please give me some new co-ordinates!” Two more artifacts to go and the stone could be made. Two more... if need be, he would go out right now to get them. “No need,” The professor waved her hands uncaringly while she continued to examine the place, “This will do. Did you learn anything new about them yesterday night?” The young boy thought for a while before blurting out, “They mentioned that there were reinforcements! Three hundred of their best soldiers! That's overkill!” The professor laughed raspingly in reply, her eyes narrowing in glee. “I know. That will work wonders, yes it will! Can you imagine three hundred magical vessels?!” She stepped towards the center of the mostly empty hall and raised her hands, as if to embrace everything she saw before her. “This is wonderful... Everything is going just as planned.” “I will set a trap here,” she snapped, pointing repeatedly towards where she stood, “I can deal with all those
soldiers, all three hundred, preferably more, of them. You,” she turned towards Gabriel, “got something special to do.” “Yes!” he answered immediately, feeling hope coming back to him. The professor's confidence must be contagious, “I will not fail again.” “Fine!” The professor acknowledged, “Then I shall prepare our little surprise for them.” She raised both her hands and clapped them together loudly. Then with hands trembling with old age and excitement, she took up her cane, lifted it up slowly and slammed it down onto the concrete ground. The loud, sharp crack of the tip of the cane hitting ground echoed across the vast, empty hall. Gabriel stumbled back in surprise as streaks of magical energy flowed from Professor Dante's cane towards the ground, dancing wildly across it and taking shape around the creator. They encircled the Professor in circles, then lines, then symbols. They were, Gabriel realized, forming another transmutation circle. The ground shook, cracked, groaned and moved apart where the magic streaked across, arranging itself in accordance to the Professor's wishes. Unlike other practitioners of alchemy, or elemental transmutation as the official name goes, Professor Dante never needed to actually draw any symbols to get the transmutation going. Gabriel had observed that all she had to do was to clap her hands together and things happened. They said that she was the first; the first to introduce alchemy as a new form of magic into the coven decades ago. From the looks of it, Gabriel was inclined to agree with the rumors. Professor Dante certainly had the age and expertise to look the part. With a final shudder, the ground ceased its change, having achieved what the Professor had wanted. A perfect alchemic symbol of shapes and symbols Gabriel had never learnt before were etched in cervices across the concrete floor. The Professor stood calmly in the epicenter with her eyes closed in concentration and palms held upright as though she was receiving divine instructions. With a deep breath, she clapped her hands once again, took her cane and brought it down on the ground once more. When the cane struck ground, the earth trembled again as from the different corners of the transmutation circle; concrete gave way for cylindrical objects rising painfully from the ground. The cylinders rose taller than Gabriel, acting like guardian pillars to the symbol on the floor. On closer observation, Gabriel realized that they were really glass tanks, each one filled to the brim with dilutedred liquid. Warily, he approached one of the containers, reaching out with his hand to touch it. He could sense the aura around it; every single drop of the liquid was concentrated with magic power. Any form of magic would be greatly enhanced merely by being in its presence. However, something did not feel right about it; Gabriel tried to control his uneasy stomach, to stop the urge to hurl. Whatever the liquid was, it just did not feel right, it was a
monstrosity. “Control yourself!” Professor Dante shouted from within the transmutation circle, surrounded by the tanks of foul liquid, “Ignore it! It will pass!” Gabriel stumbled away from the liquid, falling to the ground in disorientation. The liquid. They spoke to him. Of course, he could not really hear it but he could sense something in there drawing on him. They seemed to reach for his very soul. It felt, Evil. He lifted himself from the ground before with an unbearable moan, he vomited. Slowly, Gabriel returned to his senses, clutching his queasy stomach in a pained expression. He took another glance towards the liquid tanks. The feel was getting weaker; He was getting used to it. The puke helped too. If such was the ordeal he had to endure to acquire the Philosopher's Stone, so be it. If would be nothing compared to what Mother had when through. “Good, fight the feel!” the Professor boomed as she walked out of the circle, passing the tanks without even a twitch of discomfort, “Control it!” Gabriel placed his hand on the nearby crate for support, breathing raggedly from fighting back the nausea and dizziness from the red liquid. “There, there,” he could feel Professor Dante's firm hand patting his back, soothing the horrible feel. “What is that... thing?” the boy wizard gasped. The effects were mostly gone, leaving behind much distaste and an uneasy sense of fear. “Nothing important,” his professor answered as she walked towards one of the tanks and placed her palm on it. Professor Dante's face was lightly reflected on the glass surface leering in immense anticipation and satisfaction, “Just part of the formula for creating the stone. Now, regarding your role for the trap tomorrow...” Gabriel listened intensely at the professor's instructions. Then he nodded in acknowledgment. Soon, he was reminded, soon all the necessary parts to make the Philosopher's Stone would be at hand. Soon Mother would be saved. They would take the rest of the day and night to prepare everything. There would be no rest. “I will return to the academy tomorrow to get the artifacts from my office. The trap will be sprung tomorrow night. Do you understand what you had to do for now?” Professor Dante questioned her student, “Much of our success lies in what you need to do. Make me proud.” “Yes,” he replied, “I will not fail again.”
--------------------------------------------“Ook.” (Helo.) Yuuno tried to imitate the sound the great ape before him made. He had been practicing for some time now, and he was fairly confident of it. “Ook? Oo- Ook!” (Helo? No. Hello.) It had started a couple of weeks ago, before Nanoha's London mission and all. Yuuno Scrya, as the chief librarian of the Infinity Library was doing his usual job of keeping the massive collection of books in order, not to mention doing his personal reading at the same time. It was not the most exciting job, and it could get extremely tedious at times, especially when it involves Chrono's usually unreasonable demands; but for the chance to read some of the rarest books in existence, it was worth it. It was the quieter moments at that time with little activities. There was little ongoing missions, thus little requests for immediate information for him to attend to. While it was always enjoyable for the girls, especially Nanoha to drop by the library to visit him, help him out or invite him over for some fun, they were having their papers then and had to study. With little needs to see to, it was quiet enough for him to allow the rest of the library staff a couple of days off. This short, precious moment of peace would allow him some valuable personal time to catch up on his readings. So there he was floating in the infinite space of the library, enriching himself with a couple of books hovering around him, their pages flipping slowly as he digest the words from it when it appeared. The great, red ape just appeared and strolled easily down those shelfs to help himself with some books. For a while, Yuuno could not believed his eyes. While he was used to familiars of humanoid form,for a real animal in a library, his Infinite Library for that matter, to just appear and wander around was just... weird. He raised a single finger trembling in surprise and pointed towards the ape. “You!” The ape turned around and stared back with its large, sunken eyes. Beneath all those red fur that covered most of its body, Yuuno could just make out flabs, just a lot of flabs. Unfortunately, they were all flabs of muscles. “You, monk-” he paused as he recalled a picture book he saw at Nanoha's home in the past, “You, orangutan!” The orangutan did not speak before it gave a wide grin, showing off a full set of its yellowish teeth. They looked
nasty and in severe need of a good brush. “Ook.” it said in approval and moved towards where Yuuno was. Somehow, it managed to lumber through all those spaces toward him, instead of floating. Then, it placed a banana, which it took from nowhere, into Yuuno's hand. Using its rough hands, it took hold of the chief librarian's hands and guided it back to his chest. “Ook.” it repeated again, nodding its large, overgrown head sagely. It then lumbered back towards the bookshelf, look around and wandered to the back of the bookshelf. It was minutes later when Yuuno finally recovered from the shock and surprise to take a look at the banana. It still look edible, even if somewhat squashed. Gathering his courage to soothe his curiosity, Yuuno made his way to behind the bookshelf. The ape had disappeared, just like that. Later, he learnt from the more veteran of his staffs that the great ape was a regular, if somewhat strange visitor to the Infinity Library. They have learnt to either ignore or get along with him. At least unlike their own officers of the bureau, the ape generally returned the books intact, sometimes even thicker than it was originally. Whatever you do, and this, the staff with two missing front teeth warned very solemnly while jabbing intensively at the 'Children's Guide to Animals': Never, ever call him a monkey. He hated that. They refused to explain why they knew that even when Yuuno tried to probe further. The lull period ended soon after that. However Yuuno would occasionally spy the orangutan return to his library in his calm, lazy fashion, returning the books he had taken and removing other books from their shelves unapologetically. As the chief librarian of the library and curious young mage, he once approached the great ape to ask how he managed to make his way into his library without setting off the security alarm. The reply came as, “Ook, ook, ook.” Eventually like two soul brothers connected by their passion for books and dislike for demanding requests, overdue returns, loud small talk and the worst of all library sins, downloaded mobile ring tones, they came to acquaintance themselves with each other, enough for Yuuno to attempt to pick up orangutan speak. So far it was not too difficult. The entire language consisted of only one syllable. Everything else was all in the tone and diction. Yuuno was about to try it again when the familiar large holographic screen appeared to his side. All the action around him stopped. He could almost hear all his staffs running up and down the library groan in unison of the expectant eleventh hour workload increase. A familiar (if not necessary welcomed) face graced the screen with
its usual serious, no-nonsense look. “Ferretboy, this is an emergency,” Chrono said his famous opening line. More groans could be heard all around at the confirmation of their worst fears. The last time Chrono made an emergency call to the library resulted in days of frantic searching for some long lost tome that suddenly someone at the top was interested in. It was by Yuuno's talent for scanning magic that they managed to locate information on it before the deadline. “Yes, Chrono,” the chief librarian faced the bearer of overtime wearily, “How may the library serve you?” Chrono's eyes widened in surprise as he stared at the orangutan beside Yuuno. Then he returned his deadpan stare to his chief librarian, “I don't know what is with you and animals but I'm going to pretend I never saw a monkey behind you.” There was an outburst of outraged 'Ook's from beside Yuuno accompanied with furious swinging of lean, muscular arms. Fortunately for Chrono, he was only present holographically to experience physically the wrath of an ape called a monkey. “There has been a situation in our current mission. We need your immediate presence,” the officer said, ignoring the orangutan's melee challenge. “You mean, no new requests?” Yuuno asked suspiciously. Much breath was held all around as they anticipated their desired answer. “No. All we need is your immediate presence,” came the reply. There were sighs of relief, and perhaps a cheer or two from the rest of the Infinity Library staffs. “Wait! Your current mission is the one Nanoha had told me about! That robber in London thing,” realization dawned to Yuuno, “What happened? Did Nanoha get hurt?” “Not really,” Chrono answered coolly, “We will be teleporting you to our location now if you don't mind.” Yuuno looked down at his attire. As a civilian, he was not required to wear the bureau uniform. Instead, he was decked in sweater and jeans. The sweater was not exactly clean either... “Wait,” Yuuno said, “Give me some time to- There was a blurring of his surroundings, accompanied by the swishing sound of high speed travel and the glow of the teleportation spell circle. Before he knew it, he was standing somewhat disorientated in the middle of a crowd of tough, masculine, uniformed soldiers. -I hate it when you do that,” he growled at Chrono who was standing in front of him.
“I did tell you that we will be teleporting you,” Chrono stated without a bit of remorse before pointing towards his allocated seat in the front of the briefing room. Yuuno sighed defeatedly as he snapped his fingers, activating his barrier jacket. His pale brown magical armor materialized on him, followed by his cloak on his back within seconds. If he was to attend a military briefing, he should at least look ready. He then took up seat at where Chrono had directed him to. “Hi, Yuuno-kun,” Nanoha greeted him dully from beside. She had been seated in her uniform-inspired barrier jacket, head down in dejection while still tightly gripping Raising Heart's staff. She had been gripping her intelligent device so hard that her knuckles had gone white. Back when they were working as a team, collecting the jewel seeds, even at the worst of times, she had remained so cheerful and optimistic. Yuuno had never seen her so tense up, so grim before. Something had gone very, very wrong. “Nanoha, are you alright?” Yuuno placed his hand gently on her shoulder and asked. Nanoha merely nodded her head weakly while still maintaining her posture. “Are you sure?” he continued, very unconvinced by her physical reply. Nanoha shook her head tiredly. He looked around to see if there was anybody that could give him a better answer. Fate would know what went wrong. However, everywhere around the room, there was only TSAB troopers mingling among each other. There was no blond, twin-pony tailed girl in black barrier jacket in sight. “Nanoha, where is Fate?” Yuuno asked innocently. No answer. Then the girl's shoulders started to tremble while she stuttered incoherently for an answer. “Nanoha?” he asked anxiously, “What's wrong?” The trembling got worse as loud sobs could be heard coming from Nanoha. “Nanoha?!” Yuuno turned the girl to face him directly. His action faced no resistance from the tearing mage. Her eyes were already bloodshot and puffy from continuous crying as she struggled to speak the words to her friend. “Nanoha, please tell me. What happened?” Yuuno asked again, gently and firmly against her anguished sobs. She had only just sent him that traditionally cheerful message full of life and jest about her mission in this foreign land two days ago. What could have caused such a large change in her? “Fate... I... Fate is missing... It was my fault,” she finally found her tongue and wailed, pouring her heart out as she buried herself in Yuuno's chest, “It was my fault,” she repeated softly again and again, sobbing in guilt and helplessness, “It was my fault... I shouldn- shouldn't have allowed her to...” Her sobs increased in volume, drowning out her speech.
For a while, Yuuno was caught off guard by Nanoha's outburst. He blushed sheepishly as he realized that the two of them had attracted annoyed and amused looks from around. Hesitantly, the boy wrapped his arms around her and patted his girl friend's back gently. “Don't worry,” he soothed the girl, trying his best to console her, unaware that he was repeating words that many others had said to her, “Fate is a strong girl. They will be able to find her. It will be fine...” he struggled for more words, trying to recall what heroes tend to say to heroines in those fantasy books he occasionally read, “Everything will be okay... Remember that time with the Tome of Darkness? Fate disappeared then too. She turned out fine in the end... everything will be alright...” He was starting to understand why Chrono had pulled him out of the library without his consent. If they had to search the whole city for Fate, he might come in useful... “I will help you find her,” Yuuno said softly, “I promise.” The sobbing stopped abruptly as Nanoha raised her head, looking forlornly directly into his eyes. “You promise?” she confirmed softly. “Yes, I pro- “ Yuuno was interrupted when Admiral Lindy stepped grimly into the room followed by Amy and Arf. Silence fell as the crowd shuffled themselves back into their seats. She nodded in acknowledgment of Yuuno's presence and started to address the room in a hoarse voice. Yuuno watched as the Admiral briefed those present about the situation. One of our best agents was missing. Our objective was to find her. That was what she kept emphasizing during the briefing. In many ways, Admiral Lindy had suffered as much as Nanoha did from Fate's disappearance, if not more. The tell tale signs of sleeplessness and tears. Her weary actions and occasional misjudgments. She was pushing herself too hard in this search. “Now you know why I got you here?” Chrono sat himself down heavily with his arms crossed beside Yuuno and leaned back, “I am concerned about Fate too but this is getting out of hand. Too much is at stake to catch a thief. This would only put Fate in even more danger than before. You are the best person to watch her back.” He jerked his finger to indicate the girl in Yuuno's arms. “Don't worry, I will,” Yuuno replied, patting Nanoha's head to calm her down. “I mean... You will know,” the officer said calmly, “On my side, I will try to bring some rationality on the team before Mother hurts herself and everyone else. That would not be what Fate wanted.” He added quietly as he looked at his mother's forced actions with worried eyes. “Your side? Aren't we on the same team?” “Not really. You'll know,” came the enigmatic reply.
“Nanoha,” Admiral Lindy raised her voice to get the girl's attention, “With the recommendation of Officer Chrono, I'm officially reassigning you out of the mission. You are getting too emotional in the matters. It will be better for you to take a break. You will be helping Yuuno in the Infinity Library from now onwards.” “What?!” Yuuno turned towards Admiral Lindy in surprise. The girl in question remained silent, having already been aware of her transfer and fought unsuccessfully against it. “Yuuno, please take care of Nanoha,” she sighed wearily as she closed her own eyes for a second in exhaustion, “Make her rest. She had barely slept recently. We will keep you informed about the situation.” “Everyone else, you know your orders. Spread out!” the admiral stood up and commanded, fighting back the exhaustion of her protesting body, “Find my girl now!” --------------------------------------------Around an hour or so after Gabriel left when Fate felt a sharp pain at her arm. It felt like the sudden removal of a rope wound up around her arm. On closer observation, there were only two black bands around her arm left. Two more days to go before she could finally use magic again. It was the next day now, sometime in the late afternoon. Gabriel never returned to his apartment from the previous night. Part of Fate suspected that it was possible that he had finally been captured by Admiral Lindy and Nanoha. However there was no joy in that thought. Gabriel’s capture would spell the end of his quest to save his mother, Precious Testarossa. Once again, she would see the woman die before her. It would not be something she could live with. If only the stubborn boy would accept her help. If only there could be a way to save her- no, his mother first before they dealt with Gabriel’s misdeeds. Her suspicion became less probable when there was no dramatic entrance or sudden raid to rescue her. There was no movement in the apartment except for hers. She was starting to get torn between her empathy for Gabriel’s motives and her allegiance with her friends and Admiral Lindy. It was lonely. She had been too used to being surrounded by the laughter of friends. It was hard to imagine the past when all she had was Arf for accompany. Those were the days she did not want back. She missed being with everyone. It was only a day or so, but she already missed everyone. Where was everyone? When will they come for her? Doubt was creeping in… No! Fate forced the nagging thought out of her mind. Her imagination was going wild with the absence of company. They could not possibly forget her; she trusted them, believed them. She still did. They will come, she assured herself. She will wait patiently for their eventual rescue. She just needed to keep her mind occupied
while she wait. Fate had tried breaking the windows earlier. She could tell that the apartment was at least a couple of floors high, but perhaps she could shout for help or something. The stubborn glass refused to give way. She has tried throwing anything that she was strong enough to lift at it, hammering it, ramming it. Not a single scratch appeared. Gabriel was right when he mentioned that it was almost impossible to escape without magic. When her attempts to escape failed, she turned her attention to raiding the refrigerator and reading the many magical books that was piled up in his room. Wizardry. Alchemy. Philosopher's Stone. She had to know as much about them as possible. The Philosopher's Stone was mentioned occasionally in the various books. What it was supposed to be capable of and how people over history had sought its creation. It also mentioned that all attempts had failed. After reading the books, Fate found herself gravitating towards the photo of Gabriel and his mother again. It was possibly the only bright spot in the cluttered apartment. Beside her, she had arranged the photos of Admiral Lindy and young Chrono neatly on the blood-stained bed. Everyone in the photos looked so happy, smiling at their sons with all the pride of a mother. Never mind that Gabriel was sobbing badly in his photo. Or Chrono had a thin trail of mucus from his nose in one of the photos. They were happy, children and mother. Fate felt that she could empathize with Gabriel and his desperate search for this Philosopher's Stone. It was only instinct. It was to keep the happiness he once enjoyed, the joy of having a mother. To be cared or to care. It... was something she had never truly experienced before. But Admiral Lindy was offering her a chance... A chance to be cared for, to enjoy a presence of a mother, to have a brand new start... As she stared, gazing at the array of photos before her, she considered her answer, oblivious to the sound of entry. --------------------------------------------The next time she travel overseas, Arisa decided, she would find a local guide. Ms. Testarossa had been a wonderful guide for them, bringing them to places which they never knew of. There was the ice cream parlor that served the strangest but most delicious flavors. Then there was the fish and chips shop that sold chips that were so, so heavenly tasting. Then there was... Arisa made a mental note to check her weight later. It was fun. However she just could not shake out the feeling that all these would have been so much better if only Nanoha and Fate were around. Save for the occasional stops they had to make for Ms. Testarossa to catch her breath, she was generally much more active and healthier than when they first met her. Her enthusiastic level only increased as she led them to
her apartment in anticipation of the wonderful surprise she would give her son. “My dear girls, welcome to my apartment,” Ms. Testarossa wheezed out of sheer breathlessness. There was a glint in her eyes as she extracted the keys from her purse. “My son (His name is Gabriel Testarossa; he took my maiden name) may or may not be home now. I want to give him a real good surprise... He seldom invites his friends over, let alone two cute girls...” she bit her lips as she fumbled with the lock. The door opened with the satisfied click of the lock, revealing the inside of the apartment. It was not exactly tidy with the thin layer of dust over the entire home and paper and books strewed everywhere across any available surface. It could have been worse, given that the young boy was living by himself... “It's really nice,” Arisa said politely as she and Suzuka stepped into the home. “Oh pooh. Don't tell lies,” Ms. Testarossa surveyed her home critically, “It's awful! I'm going to have to teach Gabriel a couple of lessons about hygiene and cleanliness. Make yourself at home,” she said warmly while she slapped the couch loudly with her hand, beating up clouds of dust, “Go ahead and explore. Just don't touch the books.” There was a gasp of surprise from one of the rooms, followed by audible shuffling of paper. Someone was in the room. “That's Gabriel's room,” Ms. Testarossa encouraged over her coughs, “He must be home. Why not you go inside and get him up?” Arisa stepped cautiously towards the room where the sound came from, looking into the room, going through the speech she had prepared in her mind to introduce herself; only to come face to face with a familiar, blond, ponytailed friend wearing a midnight black, over-sized cloak more suited for a story book witch. Her friend stopped in her hurried process of keeping the photos on the reddish-brown stained bed back into the box and gasped, “Arisa-chan?! What are you doing here?!” “Fate-chan?!” Arisa returned the favor, “What are you doing here?!” “My, my, my. What a pretty girl! I didn’t know Gabriel brought girls home…” Ms. Testarossa appeared from behind Arisa, speaking calmly, even if somewhat surprised, “This is a surprise. I might have to start talking to him about the birds and the bees sooner than expected… Do you know her?”
“Ah… yes,” Arisa stared at Fate’s outlandish outfit, “She is also my friend from Japan. Her name is Fate…” she paused to consider the coincidence that just came to her. “Fate… Testarossa…”
Chapter 6 Sweeping the board --------------------------------------------Admiral Lindy Harlaown, I have spoken to Officer Cadet Takamachi Nanoha regarding her recent on-field performance. During the seekand-capture mission, she had fired a S+ level Starlight Breaker EX at our target against my distinct orders. I have duly enlightened her regarding the importance of understanding orders, that she is no longer a civilian and that she was liable for getting court martial under Act 34B of the Time-Space Administration Bureau Code for Non-compliance to Reasonable Instructions from Superiors of Higher Ranking or Position. I am in opinion that right now OC Takamachi is getting too emotionally involved with the investigation. This had inhibited her ability to think and analyze the situation before her in a calm, collected manner and would impede the general progress in our investigation of the MIA OC Fate Testarossa and the local device robbery. As the second in-charge of this mission, I would like to recommend that OC Takamachi be removed from the mission and transferred to another department temporarily, until the fore-mentioned mission is completed. Chief Librarian Yuuno Scrya of the Infinity Library is a good friend of OC Takamachi and should be willing to take her in to keep an eye on her. On another note, Lieutenant Colonel Frank Archer had volunteered his service and his men to our mission. However I would discourage the Admiral from associating with the Lieutenant Colonel. He is notorious in the Bureau for his actions and ambition and his presence would do us no good. Thank you and may you consider my humble advice. Regards, Major Chrono Harlaown Fate stared at the woman standing behind Arisa. The woman returned her stare with a genuine warm, friendly smile. It was just like the smile in the photo at the bed; it was just like it should be from her memories, just like it had been during that dream in the Tome of Darkness. However, this was the first time she was actually seeing the real smile for herself. It was... what's with the blurry sight? She could not possibly be crying, could she? She should have gotten over it already... They said that time will heal all wounds; perhaps just not enough time had passed yet...
“Fate-chan! What happened?” Arisa shook her friend lightly, “What are you crying?” “No. It's nothing,” Fate reassured the girl as she wiped the tears away with the long sleeves of the robe, “Strange. They just won't stop,” she laughed in shock, rubbing her eyes, “They just won't stop.” “Fate-chan!” Suzuka too had entered the room, attracted by the commotion. The soft-spoken girl rushed forward to console her, admonishing Arisa for being harsh towards Fate. “It wasn't me!” the more impulsive of the duo protested, “But Fate-chan here just started crying!” she turned her attention backed to Fate, “Is something wrong? You did this to you? I'll sic my dogs on them!” “No. no,” Fate tried to fight back the tears, “I'm justThe lady had approached her, gently nudging Arisa and Suzuka aside. She then bent down to Fate's height level and drew her into a warm, tight hug, patting her back lightly. “It's okay, my little Fate,” she cooed, rocking the mage slightly, “Whatever it is, it's okay now.” It's so soft, so gentle. The patting of her back was so comfortable and soothing... so much different from the cracking and searing of the whip that she had came to associate with those hands. Fate closed her eyes to better feel the rhythmic pat, the warmth of her body and even the slight tightening of the squeeze from the hug. This had been what she always wanted. To actually feel and experience this motherly love, something that had been denied to her for so long. This is real. This is not a dream. This is not an illusion. This is real... “Mother.” she murmured, caught in the embrace of bliss. The arms that hugged her so comfortably tight released their hold and gripped her shoulders instead, reluctantly pushing them apart. Fate finally opened her eyes again, bringing her back to reality. Her uncontrolled tears had stopped its flow in the moment of warmth. She blinked the remnants of the tears from her eyes and faced the woman that had held her.
She had aged since the taking of the photo. There were some visible wrinkles on her face while streaks of gray marked her hair. Yet, she was still beautiful, carrying an air of grace and warmth around her. Precious Testarossa looked at Fate with a warm, satisfied gaze and asked, “Are you fine now? Do you need a glass of water?” while stroking her hair soothingly. Fate shook her head quietly like a guilty puppy. She had over-reacted but it was all so... “That's my girl,” the lady grinned as she stood up and faced Arisa and Suzuka, “Girls, I don't know why your friend is in my son's room. I don't know what's going on here when I am in the hospital. And I don't think you will know how to answer my questions either.” “However...” Ms. Testarossa turned back to Fate who was seated forlornly on the bed. Her friends turned to look at her too, “I think someone knows how to answer them.” “It's about the mission, isn't it?” Arisa directed the statement to the blond mage, “You being here and in that cosplay... no, wait. Your usual outfit is worse...” She frowned and rubbed her chin as she started to connect the dots between everything she knew while she studied what was around the room. Fate looked to Suzuka, silently pleading for her understanding. Anything she would say would be classified Bureau information; civilians were not supposed to even know of their existence. Suzuka shrugged in reply. “We're friends, right? We, especially Arisa had been so worried when you and Nanoha never answered our calls or replied. We too wanted to know what was going on. Help you even if it is within our capabilities. That was why Arisa convinced me to come along for this trip. We can't always just be passive audiences.” Fate could only laugh helplessly. There was nothing she could do if that was the understanding between them. It was hard to argue with friendship. It was not exactly the rescue she had envisioned but they were still her friends. “So tell us, Fate,” Ms. Testarossa pulled a seat out and sat on it, “Who are you? Why are you here? What is your relationship with my son?” Fate thought for a while. Should she tell the lady about her son's acts? How will she react to his reasoning for stealing all the artifacts? “But Mothe-” she corrected herself. She was only Terra's version of the mother she knew. “Ms. Testarossa...”
“Why did you call me 'Mother'? Why did you know my name when none of us told you? Why did you cry when you saw me? Am I so ugly and fearsome?” the lady continued, pouting sourly over the 'insult', “I so love a good story. Start from the beginning and pray, make it exciting. ” Fate sighed. This might take a very long time. --------------------------------------------“Chrono! What is the meaning of this?!” The briefing had ended with the shuffling of seats and the mass exodus of troops to accomplish their designated objectives. After getting Nanoha to promise to wait for him, Yuuno quickly caught up with the officer and pulled him aside from the crowd. “Obvious, isn't it? Nanoha gets assigned to assist you in the Infinity Library temporarily until otherwise.” Chrono darted his eyes around the room while he replied to the angry question, “You can tell how emotional Nanoha had became over the mission. That will definitely affect her judgment; she's already trigger-happy enough. She fired without orders! If the thief we are after isn't agile enough then, he would have been killed already. We cannot let her jeopardize the mission further.” “Yes, yes,” the librarian waved his hands in dismissal, “But if we go by that logic, won't we need to take Admiral Lindy out of the mission command too? Won't it be better if Nanoha and I both work on the mission together? We would be able to find Fate so much faster!” “Exactly!” Chrono hushed himself up after the sudden outburst, looked around for anyone who might have heard him. Satisfied that their conversation had not become of interest to anyone else, he returned to his usual deadpan tone, “Why are you so concerned? You do know that Fate is your biggest rival to the girl, right?” Yuuno allowed himself to blush slightly at that remark before regaining his composure, “That, that's beside the point! I'm Fate's friend too! I can't just let her remain missing!” The officer leaned forward; close enough such that only the two of them could hear what he had to say. “Did you seriously think that Nanoha will just follow you meekly back to the library?” he hissed while still keeping a lookout, “Look. I can already guess that Nanoha would rope you in to do her own independent investigation.” Yuuno was about to protest his innocence when Nanoha’s words came to his mind. He promised her to find Fate. He promised… Yuuno nodded weakly, guessing ahead what Chrono would say next. The smart aleck
probably had everything thought out beforehand before he called him in. “I'm counting on you to help and watch her back,” he whispered, “Right now, only you have enough clout to keep Nanoha restrained. At least she might listen to you. The mission is to capture the thief and retrieve the stolen artifacts. Throw in, rescue Fate unharmed and ensure her safety. If Admiral Lindy finds the thief first without the guarantee of Fate’s safety, chances are he would be killed first. Then our best trace on finding Fate would be lost.” “Find that damned thief. Find him before we do. Find him before Mother’s rashness and emotions get anyone hurt in this mess. And once you have done so, find Fate through him,” he ordered, “Once you found Fate, contact me immediately so that I can put a stop to this madness. Or do it the other way round, I don’t care as long as you do so before we do.” “And then perhaps Mother can rest easy again,” he added softly. Yuuno slapped his forehead and shook his head in exasperation. “So what can I do?” he admitted defeat. “Use your scanning magic. You are the one who can find some long-lost tome in the Infinity Library. If anyone can find anything in this confounded, foreign city, it will be you. Good luck.” Yuuno watched glumly as the officer gave him a wink of confidence and a thumb up. With a defeated sigh and a strained smile, he returned the thumbs up to the retreating officer. He hated it when Chrono did not consult him before getting him involved in any of his schemes. He hated it even more when he knew that Chrono was probably right. He returned to his seat where Nanoha was waiting patiently, fiddling with Raising Heart in thought. When he approached the magical girl, she stopped and stood up in silence; pulling Yuuno aside to where she felt was more isolated, away from prying eyes and ears. “Say, Yuuno-kun,” she started softly with her head down, “You promised to help me find Fate, right?” Yuuno sighed again. He could just imagine Chrono grinning maliciously with headphones while thinking 'Just as planned'. So this was how it all started, eh? Perhaps he should be glad that Chrono was on their side rather than masterminding plots against the bureau. There was no way he could resist Nanoha's request even if sacrifices had to be made. Plus, Fate was also his friend. He wanted to be part of the search mission. He just did not expect to end up operating secretly from the sidelines.
“Yes,” Yuuno replied, “I think I know what you are thinking. I will help you.” “But,” he added, “There are some ground rules you must obey.” “One. You follow my instructions. You are still assigned to be under me even if we are not doing library work,” he watched Nanoha nodded solemnly in agreement. “Two. You must always keep your cool and think calmly.” Nanoha jerked her head up and shot him a startled look at the remark. “How can you remain so calm when Fate could be hurt?” “Because I must,” Yuuno answered with a light smile, “If we want to find her, we must remain calm and think things coolly. Right now, you are beyond emotional and worried. You are not thinking clearly and that inhibits actions. That was why you were transferred to be under me.” He reached out his hand to stroke Nanoha's cheek tenderly, wiping off some of the tear stains on it, “Remember our time with the Jewel Seeds or the Tome of Darkness? Despite all the troubles, you always remained cheerful and optimistic, urging us forward. There was so much to be worried of, to be scared of; but you never gave in to your fears or were over-emotional. We can do this together, just like old times; we can find Fate and that thief but we need that Nanoha back again to do it.” Yuuno gazed at the girl he had introduced magic to as her head drooped sullenly, reflecting. Did his speech work? He had only made it all up with it on the spot after all. “Nanoha?” “Did you think you are the first to tell me that?” the girl questioned him, her eyes obscured by her thick bangs. “But am I the most effective?” “I think Chrono was better, especially with his threats of court martial for disobedience to superiors,” Nanoha looked up with a sad grin, “I will try, I promise. For Fate.” “I've still got one more condition.” “There's more?” she pouted, eager to start the search immediately.
“Look in the mirror,” Yuuno laughed, “You are getting panda eyes. You are getting some sleep now.” “But“My orders. Get some sleep,” the de facto leader of their team of two said gently but firmly, “This thief operates at night, right? Then we find him when he is resting in the day, when his guard will be down.” Nanoha nodded in reluctant agreement to his reasoning. “It is getting late. You rest for now,” Yuuno repeated as he prepared the teleportation spell to return to the library. As the green glow from his teleportation spell circle engulfed them, he continued, “I want do some research first. First thing tomorrow morning, once you have gotten your sleep, we find Fate and our thief.” --------------------------------------------She told them everything, answered every question which they asked and explained every non-Terran terms in her narrative. The mission, her battle, her interaction with Gabriel. By the time Fate ended her story with their discovery of her presence in Gabriel's room, night had already fallen and the city outside was lit aglow by the thousand electrical lighting from the streets, from the buildings. “That is why Nanoha never returned our calls,” Suzuka realized, “She must be worried sick, combing the entire city in search of you, ignoring everything else.” Fate looked to the floor in regret and anxiety for having caused so much trouble with her capture. She then felt Arisa's arms wrapped snuggly around her neck, squeezing her tightly as she brawled noisily at Fate's misfortunes in life. In a way, it was comforting to know that she had friends that cared so much. Mo- Ms. Testarossa had remained silent most of the time, listening attentively while occasionally asking something or to clarify some unfamiliar terms. Then she remained silent, gazing at Fate as though she was looking at her long lost daughter that she somehow recognized but never knew, contemplating about the events that had occurred around her. She winced as there was a sharp sudden pain at her arm. Fate took a quick glance at her exposed arm to see the last remaining black band. Another day was removed from the magic limitation spell that bound her. One more day to go, before she regained control over magic.
Ms. Testarossa finally broke her silence as she stood up from her chair and walked towards the locked window. “So you all know about magic,” she murmured loud enough for them to hear, “That's convenient.” She turned back to address the girls in regretful tone, “I am sorry for what my boy has done. What he has done is unforgivable to anyone. As his mother, I have failed in my teachings. For that, for my boy, I apologize to all of you for his deeds, his crimes, his wrongs.” She bowed deeply to the girls, “What he had done, he did for me. If you must blame anyone, if you must punish anyone; If you must charge someone and bring him to justice under your organization, please let me take the blame.” She then stepped towards Fate, closing the distance between them. She knelt down and clasped Fate's hands tightly, drawing them to her own forehead as though saying a prayer. With her eyes closed, she spoke to the stunned Fate. “Please. I beseech you, with what power you have. It might be an unreasonable request but I beg you. Please forgive Gabriel for what he has done. He only had his mother in his mind when he committed his horrible crimes.” “Please stand up,” Fate quickly said. She had never expected this. Especially not from someone who looked so much like her own late mother and was in a twisted way, her late mother. “I...” she thought about what she felt so far, how much she, despite her allegiance, identified with Gabriel. She never hated him, never truly blamed him for all he had done… He was only trying to save his mother and now, his mother is trying to save him. “Please stand up,” she answered softly, “I… I forgive him.” “What?!” Arisa interrupted. Raising her voice in indignance, the hot-headed girl rose from her position and brought her hands to her hips. “This is robbery, thievery, kidnapping. A crime, an offence! It is not something that can be 'forgiven' just like that! Fate, thiShe found herself expertly gagged by her counterpart who bowed in apology in her place. “Arisa is just speaking from her heart. Please ignore her rant,” Suzuka said apologetically. “So am I,” Fate replied with a forgiving smile, “While I cannot assume that the Bureau will do the same, I, at least, forgive Gabriel for his deeds.” She fell to silence, reflecting on her decision. “Not because Ms. Testarossa begged me or some Stockholm syndrome. Just that... if I cannot forgive him, neither can I forgive myself for my own past mistakes... for what I once did, I too do for mo-“ much. “However, we must still get Gabriel to surrender and return all the stolen devices,” the mage continued, “He must She stopped herself; she had already spoken too
also atone for his deeds and face the consequences. It is up to those at the top to make the final decision.” “Then it is settled,” Ms. Testarossa finished with a sad smile, “At least he has your forgiveness. The rest, I can only leave to your superiors.” She returned to her feet and looked out into the empty night sky, faintly illuminated by the glow of the buildings, “I will go with you to your superiors the next day, if you don't mind.” She took a glance towards the blond mage. Fate shook her head, “It is fine, Ms. Testarossa.” Her resemblance to the other Precia Testarossa might pose a problem but if she was around, it should not be a problem. She hoped. The lady returned her gaze to the night sky. “It's so late already. Would you mind staying over here for one more night? Or would you prefer it if I call a cab for you?” she asked. The girls looked around them at the chaotic room with the thin layer of dust and paper over everything. This was the place where Fate had stayed for the past two days... and it was quite late. Arisa's summer home was quite a long way away. It would have to do for one night. “But we could not really sleep in our current attires,” Suzuka pointed out, feeling the material of her blouse. “Don't worry,” Ms. Testarossa replied with a warm smile and a clap of her hands, “I've got the girls' clothings just for you all.” Faced with the puzzled faces of the girls, she added, “I've always wanted a daughter, remember? It's a dream of mine to play dress up. I will go get the extra mattresses and clothings for you,” she said with a bit too much enthusiasm in her voice as she left the room, leaving the girls alone. The girls remained silent for a while, looking around the room again. Finally Fate broke the silence. “Thank you,” she said gratefully, “for coming for me.” “It's nothing,” Suzuka replied as she took the hands of Fate, “We only found you by accident. We did not even know you were missing.” “Then I should thank you for accidentally finding me,” Fate smiled tenderly, “I wonder how is Admiral Lindy, Nanoha and the rest doing now?” “You know? We can always try to contact them,” Arisa whipped out her mobile phone and keyed in Nanoha's number furiously. There was a couple of rings before Nanoha's cheerful voice announced to them that she was not available to pick up her phone and to please try again later or to leave a message after the 'beep!'. Having heard that for the umpteenth time, the hot-headed girl fumed as she closed her own mobile with a snap.
“Do you know where your group is?” she asked Fate in annoyance, “How are we going to find them, to tell them that you are safe?” The Bureau mage could only shake her head. She had been out of the loop for at least the whole day, not knowing what was going on outside the apartment where she was kept. With a sigh, Suzuka took her own mobile phone and keyed in a short message for Nanoha. “Hopefully, she will see it soon. It is back to the waiting game now.” Ms. Testarossa returned to the room with the mattresses and pyjamas in tow. With a heave, she let them flopped on the floor while she leaned herself against the drawers, breathing heavily from her exertion of strength. After she had regained enough breath, she took the first of her pyjamas and showed it prominently to the girls. It was a wedding white, long flowing gown with many, many frilly bits elaborately sewn into the overall design. There were even ribbons to go with it. It looked most... embarrassing. “I don't think my boy will be returning today,” she said sadly before energy resurged back into her, “It might be better for what I want to do.” There was a glint of enthusiasm in her as she gazed wistfully at the girls before her with eyes of an idol master, or a girl who had just received a brand new doll. “So, who wants to go first?” --------------------------------------------“This is a trap. No questions about it.” Chrono was scrutinizing the piece of paper that lay on the table before them. He was only stating the obvious, such a thing even she herself could deduce. The question, for Admiral Lindy to make, with the rest of the core team members awaiting her decision, was what to do with it. “This reeks of a trap,” her son repeated firmly and looked to her, “Paper just do not conveniently dropped from the pockets of thieves we are chasing and also include where they are, how to get there and even detailed instructions on when they are going to do what they want. This has got to be the worst laid plans ever.” The rest of the table nodded their heads in agreement and looked to her to make the call. Should she or should she not? Admiral Lindy tried to blink out the blurry tiredness from her eyes. She had barely gotten any rest recently, choosing to spend the time monitoring the half-hourly reports the various squads were
spending back on their progress. Find Fate. Find the thief, but more importantly, find Fate. That was the orders she had given. Find Fate. Rescue Fate. A particular squad had chanced upon the young thief they were after and gave chase immediately. Suddenly, every action was focused on them. The thief barely fought back. He merely slipped into the maze of dark, unlighted back alleys of the cities, keeping one step ahead of every single trooper that was in pursuit of him. Even now, late into the night, almost morning even, the chase was still on and in the observation of all of them in the multiple holographic screens around them. They just were not used to the urban landscape. TSAB troopers were trained to fight; they were the best but urban scouts they were not. Big, flashy explosions, akin to those that Nanoha was infamous for, were just not suitable in narrow, tight corners with innocent civilians everywhere. Two of the troopers even got knocked out when they got separated from the rest, resulting in their devices joining the list of growing stolen loot in this fiasco. This piece of paper was found near the vicinity of one of the fallen trooper with details and giveaways scrawled eligible enough for all to see. The aim was glaringly obvious. It even specified that she, the 'beautiful, mature lady officer who was at the ruined cottage two nights ago' should not turn up lone because they would not know about the 'secret, secret plans that would take place in the abandoned warehouse located at XXX-XXX-XXX at the next day.' The question was how they should deal with it. This could be their chance to capture the thief, their only link to wherever Fate was. This could be their only chance. She had to make the call. To find Fate. Rescue Fate. “We ignore this note. If the thief is really going to do something with the stolen devices, we should be able to detect it on our sensors,” Chrono said, “We cannot just walk into this trap.” Lindy closed her eyes, leaned her forehead against her palms, resting her elbows on the conference table, pondering her decision. Chrono had his point. They could always just wait around the area. Then again, every minute they wait, Fate would remain missing for another minute. Can't have that. Fate was lost trying to retrieve her box of photos. She owed Fate to get her found. Find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. “On the contrary, I think that we have enough troopers to handle whatever they intend to throw at us,” a slick, slimy voice said, “I am willing to personally lead my troops to subdue this wretched robber.” Lindy opened a bloodshot eye to see the pale officer with dark, combed-back hair leering back, waiting for her answer. Lieutenant Colonel Frank Archer, commanding officer of the troopers that she had been granted. Probably the most ambitious of the troop commanders. Always looking out for military glories, possibly the
reason why his squad volunteered to aid her in the mission when no one else did. “I ask you, Admiral, that my troops would be able to get this young thief before the trap would have enough time to be sprung,” he coaxed the tired commander with a confident sneer, “We should just go in and do it. Capture the thief and rescue your poor, little girl.” Catch the thief. Find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. “I still think it is a bad idea,” Chrono said, “I faced the thief before. He might be young but he is not an easy one. We just do not have enough intelligence about him yet. He has no style, no techniques, no method. But he has knowledge that none of us are used to dealing with. These make him the worst type of enemy to have, one that is totally unpredictable. Brute force would not work against him.” Her son was right of course. However, she needed to find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. “No matter how strong he is, he is but one!” The lieutenant colonel retorted, “We are three hundred!“Two hundred and ninety-two,” corrected Chrono with a smirk. “The young fry is still hopelessly outnumbered!” Frank Archer snarled, “He can only be so strong or so smart. He will be nothing against my best troopers!” “Don't look down on the young. Nanoha or Fate would be able to take on the whole lot of you easily if they wanted to.” “I don't see them here, do I?” Archer slurred, “My men and I are highly trained with profession experience that came with age! Unlike others that came on the shoulders of others...” he cast a vicious eye on the young officer. “You!” Chrono lost his cool and stood up, slamming his palms on the table angrily, “What do you mean by that?” “I did not mean anything, young boy. Or do you mean that say that it meant something?” He returned the glare with a sneer of his own. Admiral Lindy could feel the pressure at her forehead. Things are coming apart. And now her son is arguing with the other officer. A nasty work of nature, a true bastard but their only aid in finding Fate. She had to find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. “Stop it!”
The stare down changed its focus towards their commanding officer. Lindy rubbed her eyes, sensing the pent-up anger and exhaustion in her. She was no longer that young. She needed to rest before her body breaks on her. But she has to find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. The choice. The decision. The obvious, obvious trap. The chance to end this ordeal. She felt the triangular chip of Bardiche in her pocket. The only physical reminder of Fate. Find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. “Frank Archer,” Admiral Lindy sighed wearily, “Call back all but the basic searching troops. I will brief them about the plan later. In twelve hours time, we attack. I will lead the first squad personally. You will support me with the second squad.” “Mum! That's too risk“No. Officer Chrono, it will be the best way.” “Then I shall go in your place.” “No. You will stay behind to monitor the situation. If anything happened to me, at least there is someone to take over in the HQ,” Lindy ordered, aware that Archer will be smirking behind her at his little victory. “Now every one of you, go and rest for the plans for the day,” she sank back into her seat, staring unwaveringly at the screens around them as the reports from the various search parties continued to filter in, “This is not your ordeal. It is mine alone to bear. Only I need to keep vigil.” For she had to find Fate. Rescue Fate. For she owed it to her. --------------------------------------------Gabriel slipped into the nearby convenience store to grab some food and some deck of cards. Many decks of cards. He had an idea. It would even be cool. It was easy enough to lead all those soldiers on the wild goose chase. They were big, they were burly. Compared to the two girls he had faced recently, they were much more fearsome. But only on first sight. Somehow, after fighting Fate and White Devil, almost nothing they threw at him would scare him. Big, burly,
gung-ho soldiers meant that they would have less space in the alleys to maneuver. Since they were men, he did not feel compelled to hold back, as compared to fighting young, cooties-inducing magical girls in either little or very frilly clothing. They could survive a couple of hard knocks or falls easily, resulting in them being knocked out but not dead. There was no point in creating death when he intended to save Mother from death. He had no stomach of such. Those leftover troopers were probably still lost inside the winding alleys, looking at overflowing bins and hissing black cats. They were in his territory and Gabriel did not feel like failing again. He had more than enough time to do what he was doing, go do some shopping, drawn a couple of alchemic circles here and there as traps and then return to finish up. The first trooper was knocked out by the sudden extension of the brick wall beside him. His unattended weapon quickly relieved from his unconscious side. Then Gabriel deliberately 'accidentally' dropped the piece of note on the floor near the man. Lure them into the warehouse, into the trap. The lady officer that he saw and mentioned to the Professor must also be present. That was Professor Dante's instructions. Given how desperate they have become, Gabriel figured that such a simple note might just work. They come in, boom! They wake up later with all their weapons missing and he would never bother them ever again. He could only hope White Devil would not decide to crash the party. If she did appear, he would be prepared. He gave his full pockets a reassuring pat. And he would also do it in style. He hoped. Shouting came from the next alley. Plenty of hissing cats giving him enough warning of another approaching soldier. This could take the whole night. He had to return to the warehouse, to guard it from intruders if they came too early. There would be plenty of time to deal with them one by one the next day. While he slipped away into the darkness, avoiding the unhappy, unaware soldiers, he wondered what was going on back at his apartment. How was his captive doing? The three day limit of the spell limitator would wear off the next night. It would be prudent to recast the spell. His mother. There was his mother too. How was she doing back in the hospice? Did her check up go without any new problems? Of course she would be cured soon; the Philosopher Stone would be ready soon. Perhaps he should visit her. After all, visiting hours should- he checked the time on the tower of the skyline -be over... he could always just popped in to ask. They probably would not turn back a young child, will they? Maybe he could sprinkle some water at his eyes to fake tears for the kind nurses beforehand. Changing his direction, Gabriel headed for the hospital to visit his mother, his heart filled with glee at his wouldbe success. After all, everything will end soon. Once all those soldiers fell for the trap that the professor had
prepared and he had their magical artifacts, the Philosopher's Stone would be at hand. Soon Mother would be healthy, would be happy and they would be normal, as normal as a wizard-in-training and his mother could be as a family, again. --------------------------------------------Something woke her up. It was not Arisa's snoring. It was not that loud anyway. Neither was it the light rustling all the frills on the sleeping gowns Ms. Testarossa managed to make all of them wear. Fate watched the trickle of light that seeped from the narrow gap below the door. There it was again. A desperately muffled, guttural series of coughs coming from outside. It did not help when she was finding it difficult to sleep. Meeting the dimensional twin of her late mother face to face was... it was hard to describe. She was just like how her true mother should be, how it was like in her memories. Warm, kind, motherly. This is real, she reminded herself. This is not a dream. This is real. She had found her mot- no, she had only found someone who acted like how her real mother should be. The real Precia Testarossa, or at least her Precia Testarossa, the only one she had called Mother was dead, gone; leaving her behind, alone, motherless. It was an empty spot in her... no, not really either. She did not deserve it but there is one. One person who tried so hard to help her, to fill up the empty spot in her, to give her a mother. Admiral LinAnother round of the hacking coughs interrupted her train of thoughts. Quietly, Fate slipped out of her covers, making care not to disturb her sleeping friends and crept towards the door, opening it just slightly to peek out. The door to Ms. Testarossa's room was ajar while the lights to the bathroom inside was switched on, illuminating the dark adjacent rooms with a faint light. More coughs. Slowly pushing the door to avoid any creaks, the young, curious girl made her way towards the source of all the noise. Ms. Testarossa was leaning against the basin, holding on to the sink with a hand for support while the other hand covered her mouth, muffling her painful coughs. Bottles after bottles of pills, capsules of all colors lined the basin top. Many of them were empty. She noticed Fate standing at the door and raised her hand, indicating her to stop approaching. With a trembling hand, she emptied a couple of pills into her hand and with a gulp of water; she popped them into her mouth and
swallowed. More coughs forced their way out, though they sounded less ragged, less painful. They were the last. The frail lady breathed heavily in exhaustion as she washed her hands, dying the tap water light red. Then she turned back to Fate and smiled sadly, “Please don't tell them about this. This is... not a nice thing to know.” Fate nodded silently in reply. Terran or Mid-childan, it is the same. The terrible, terrible secret that would be kept hidden. Ms. Testarossa is nearing the end. It was not a nice thing to know. Gabriel knew. He was fighting back. “Did I wake you up?” Fate shook her head. “Can you sleep?” Fate shook her head again truthfully. “Are you troubled?” Fate did not answer, merely gazing at the familiar figure that asked her the questions of concern so gently and warmly. This. Could this be a second chance? A second chance to do something different. A second chance to save the life which she did not succeed the last time. A second chance to enjoy love, motherly love. Ms. Testarossa walked slowly towards Fate and took her gently by the hands, leading her towards the living room. There was enough moonlight filtering from outside for them not to switch on the lights. “Many times,” she said as they sat down on the couch, gazing into the shadows, “You almost called me Mother. You called me Mother. That dimensional science fiction stuff you talked about. I have some dimensional twin out there, who was your mother, who died. Tell me more about her.” So Fate spoke. A small trickle of information at first, then nostalgia took over as she went on and on about her situation, pouring her heart out to the stranger not. There was something about Precious Testarossa that put her guard down. She just talked. Telling her everything, her past, her present and her hopes and insecurities for the future. About Admiral Lindy and that one fearful choice she had to make. The motherly figure just listened quietly; nodding in understanding and holding her hand firmly, in that warm, gentle, comforting grip that put her at ease. It must have been strange to hear that somewhere out there, she had 'died', was almost responsible for the destruction of many dimensions, had created a clone of a dead daughter. Ms. Testarossa just smiled and listened patiently, calmly.
“I, I...” Fate stuttered, trying to find the right words, “I don't think that I deserve this happiness. I have done so much wrong in the past. If I accept Admiral Lindy, it would be unfair to her. To...” her voice trailed off as the face of Precia Testarossa came to mind. She had a mother once and that happened. To give up the name of Testarossa, to pursue a new legacy with Lindy Harlaown who loved her so much. Once bitten, twice shy. Betrayal to her past. Guilt. Everything that contributed to her indecisiveness. That only made everyone waited. And waited. And... “This Lindy Harlaown,” Ms. Testarossa asked softly, “She wanted to adopt you. Did she truly want to give you a mother, to love you like a mother does?” “I thi- think so,” Fate answered truthfully with her head down in shame. Admiral Lindy has always been there for her, filling that empty spot in her heart with her love. And all she did was to drag her own feet in fear and guilt. “What about you? Do you want it?” Fate fell silent. Then she said, “But that would be“Why should that be a problem?” the lady interrupted, “She loves you enough to take you in. You love her enough to feel guilty, to feel that you would be a burden. Both of you, deep in your heart,” she put Fate's hands gently to her heart, “wanted it. So why should it be a problem at first? You can always deal with it later.” “But won't it“Everyone deserves a mother,” Ms. Testarossa said softly, “Even the worst of children. Like Gabriel. This Lindy sounded like a really nice woman, a good loving mother that you deserve.” “What about you? What about my first mother?” Fate blurted out. “I like you,” Ms. Testarossa patted her head, feeling her long, blond hair delicately, “But I am not this Precia Testarossa. I am me. I would be most happy to take such a beautiful, kind, gentle girl as my daughter but I am not your mother. Perhaps a godmother instead. But I am not your mother.” “Then...” “It is for you to decide,” the lady said, “Everyone deserves a mother. Even you.” She placed a single finger on the girl's nose and pressed it affectionately, “It is time for you to sleep, Fate. Come on and don't tell anyone about it.” Fate gazed to the floor sullenly, thinking. About her fate, her mothers, her future. Admiral Lind- no. No... Mother.
Admiral Lindy will be her mother. They can sort out everything else later. For now, they can be mother and child, just like how she, they wanted. Just like her dreams. She will be strong; she will not be a burden. Another chain of thought came to her mind. What could Mother be doing now? She must be worried sick about her... she will have to leave to find Mother when dawn comes. Ms. Testarossa took Fate's hand, to lead her gently back into the room, turning their back on the night sky outside the window. The young girl followed, taking a slow shuffle towards the room to join her friends in their deep slumber. The fog in her mind had finally dispersed, only to be replaced with another worry. There was a click from behind, followed by the opening of the front door. They turned their heads, to see Gabriel standing in his dark robe, a hand still on the door knob as he was about to enter the home. There was stunned silence for a while, both sides starring with each other. Gabriel's eyes seemed to widen as realization set in about the scene before him. Fear, disappointment, unhappiness. “Damn,” he whispered, “I should have known.” “Gabriel!” Ms. Testarossa released Fate and took to her feet, stumbling as she ran towards her son, “What have you beenThe boy wizard responded equally suddenly, averting eye contact with either of them, turning swiftly out of the home and slamming the door before them. There was a loud click as it was locked from outside, locking the occupants of the apartment inside. “Gabriel!” his mother hammered the wooden door with her fist, “You come back in and undo what damage you have done! What have you done while I’ve been away?” “Sorry, Mother. But I cannot do so now,” came the desperate, frustrated reply. There was a thud as he leaned heavily against the door as though to hold it shut with his weight, “I will do so after everything is completed. You just have to wait and you will be saved.” “Who taught you that you can do what you did!?” Ms. Testarossa shouted angrily, “You will release Fate and turn yourself in! Turn back before it is too late!” “No! Not until...” the plead from the other side wavered, trembled just slightly, “Not until it is done. It will be completed soon! Everything will be fine... everything will be back to normal.” “Gabriel! You-“ Another wave of coughs broke up Ms. Testarossa's speech. She fell to her knees before the door,
still trying to hammer weakly at it while she continued to cough those loud, hacking, painful coughs. “Ms. Testarossa!” Fate ran forward to support the lady, recoiling in horror at the dabs of blood that came spurting out from her mouth with each painful cough. She knew that such would happen eventually but it still shocked her. “So you are there too, Death,” Gabriel addressed Fate through the door, “Please look after my mother. Don't take her away just yet.” His voice was soft, wistful and almost regretful. “Everything will be done soon. The Philosopher's Stone will be completed soon. Then I will come back to release you.” “Fate,” the girl replied out of habit while she wiped the splattered blood on the door away using her sleeping gown unsuccessfully, smearing the blood stain across the wooden surface instead. Ms. Testarossa's coughing had finally subsided, leaving the lady breathing raggedly on the ground with a pained look of sorrow and regret in her eyes while she stared at the locked door. “Whatever,” the boy retorted as there was sounds of him standing up, “Please take care of Mother. Everything will be over soon, I promise.” With that, there were footsteps that became softer as Gabriel left with his heavy heart, leaving the door locked and those within, without a way to exit and to interfere with any of the plans. --------------------------------------------It was already afternoon. The green magical circle rotated slowly around him as Yuuno sat cross-legged at the top of the building at the mercy of the hot, unforgiving summer sun, closing his eyes in concentration as he scanned through the city for anything, anything that could be a clue or a hint. His invisible magical treads sped through the roads, the alleys, the crowds, the buildings. Prodding, searching, investigating, processing all the information that filtered in from everywhere. Yuuno furrowed his brows in concentration while he sweated under the hot sun. He could almost see the heat waves rising from the building top they had chosen for him to do his scrying. Still no signs of Fate or the thief. He had covered almost everywhere in the city, found most of the unstolen magical devices in it and most of the Bureau operatives that were scattered across the city. Many of them seemed to be heading back towards the headquarters urgently. Nanoha paced impatiently behind him in circles, her energy and enthusiasm revitalized by a night's rest under Yuuno's watchful eyes. She had tried to keep her cool, held back her emotions and anger back so that Yuuno could concentrate on the task before him. So that their unauthorized actions would not be discovered or foiled by the Bureau just yet. It was not her part yet. However, that could not prevent her from feeling impatient over their
progress. After all, Fate was still not found. Fate was still missing, still in danger out there without anyone knowing where she was. Something. Something strange. Yuuno found himself in a dead end. Not so much a dead end but simply an empty spot in the middle of a building. There was nothing there, absolutely nothing. Not even a presence of anything. It was a total vacuum of nothingness. Usually there would be some trace of magic in any place, things that had came into contact with magic before or people with undiscovered magical potential. It might be a shielded zone, an area which magic cannot penetrate... which could explain why all sensors failed to detect that area. It was just a hunch, but it was his only option at the moment. He opened his eyes and got up. Shielding his eyes with a hand, he looked over the skyline, figuring out the coordinates of the location he had in mind. That vacuum zone, they would investigate that area first. Nanoha came to a stop, alerted by Yuuno's actions, ready for some action of her own. “Nanoha, please prepare yourself,” Yuuno said as he prepared the teleporting spell, “There is a place where I want to investigate.” The ground around them glowed fluorescent green from the impending magic while magical energy gathered force, whipping their hair and barrier jackets in the wind. “Yes, Yuuno-kun,” the girl gripped the staff of Raising Heart tightly in anticipation of the spell. They closed their eyes as the spell took effect. The hastening of the winds around them and the swishing sound as their location changed to where Yuuno had intended to go. After a few seconds, the winds slowed down, indicating their arrival to the desired location. “Darn,” Nanoha heard her boy friend murmured as the winds took speed again, teleporting them to another location. When the sounds finally ended, the magical girl opened her eyes to see themselves standing at the stairways of an apartment block. “Where are we?” she asked the boy who was surveying the surroundings, trying to regain his co-ordinates. “I tried to teleport us into a particular apartment. Turns out that they have blocked magical entrances too,” he motioned Nanoha to follow after him, “Come this way. Try to avoid fighting here; we do not want to attract unnecessary attention.” They climbed the stairs, stopping occasionally for Yuuno to scan the area for directions. Finally they stopped in front of a door. A simple, hard wood door that led to the apartment which Yuuno felt was suspicious. This was definitely it, neither of them could sense anything beyond the wooden door.
“Though it looked innocent enough.” “Hush,” Yuuno whispered as he signaled for her to move aside. He walked cautiously towards the door and tried the door knob. Locked. He then leaned against the surface, listening for any movements. There was some strange scrapping sound from behind, muffled pounding of someone particularly violent hitting the door repeatedly with a blunt instrument. He made a hand signal, to tell Nanoha to keep away but be ready. Nanoha nodded in reply, loading a new magazine of cartridges into Raising Heart and taking aim. The ball of magical energy was already gathering slowly around the tip of her intelligent device. Taking a deep breath, Yuuno rapped the door lightly. The pounding stopped in response. “Who is there?” The familiar voice asked suspiciously. It brought to mind someone they knew, someone who tended to be very impulsive and had a quick temper. “Arisa?!” Nanoha lowered Raising Heart and went forward to touch the door, “Arisa?! Is that you?” “Nanoha?” the voice behind the door rose in joy, “Yes, of course it's me! Suzuka-chan, Ms. Testarossa and Fatechan are also here!” “Eh... what are you doing inside this apartment?” Yuuno asked while he probed the door for any form of weakness, something that could allow them to enter. “Long story,” Arisa answered from within, “You finally came to rescue us! Hurry up!” There were scrambling footsteps from inside as another voice was heard. A voice that belonged to someone they had been searching for all the time. “Nanoha-chan! Yuuno-kun!” “Fate-chan!” Nanoha raised Raising Heart to a shooting position, “I'm going to get you out now! Please stand back!” 'Yes, my Master! Countdown start, ten, nine,...' her staff responded, equally enthusiastic about blasting a hole in the apartment. “No!” Yuuno waved his hands furiously, realizing the impeding chaos, “Think of all the people around! Stay calm! I can handle this.”
Nanoha lowered Raising Heart almost disappointedly as the intelligent device announced that the countdown was cancelled. “Wait for us, Fate-chan! Arisa-chan! Suzuka-chan! Yuuno-kun will break this door soon enough.” “Don't worry, we have got time,” Yuuno returned to sensing the ward on the door though he maintained an eye on Nanoha, “We can do this quietly...” It was an amazing ward, one which Yuuno had never seen before. It was almost perfect. There was almost no weakness which he could exploit. Perhaps if he places a counter-ward at this particular area... There was some shuffling and conversation behind the door. Then Arisa's loud, lively voice came ringing out, “Ms. Testarossa said that there was no other families in this apartment now. We will be moving out of the way now. So just blast away!” Wait a minute. Ms. Testarossa? Who was Arisa referring to? “Is that fine?” Nanoha asked Yuuno, almost shyly, giving him that watery, irresistible look with her eyes while she fidgeted with Raising Heart in her hands. It's that look. The one that would always resulted in him doing something for her. That fatal weakness of him. Yuuno sighed in defeat, he really needed to learn how to impose his will on others rather than get pushed around. But how can one resist it when Nanoha asked him in that manner? “Alright,” he said, trying unsuccessfully to sound like he had intended so from the start while he set up a barrier around the area to contain the blast, “Just a little one at this point,” he pointed towards a particular part of the door. “You hear that, Raising Heart? Continue the countdown!” Nanoha raised the intelligent device again and directed it towards the door, the magical force before it gathering in full force. There were sounds of a mad scramble to get out of the way from behind. 'Yes, I do, my Master! Let it rip, my Master! Countdown continue! Five! Four! Three!' The device sounded almost gleeful. Sometimes Yuuno wondered if that was really the Raising Heart he gave Nanoha, Raising Heart certainly was not so destruction happy when he was the master. No! The barrier isn't strong enough yet! “Wait! A little one will do!” Yuuno frantically enlarged the barrier and the strength of it, “A little, concentrated blast will do!” She was not listening, more interested in doing what she did best.
“Starlight... Breaker!!!!” OH SHI--------------------------------------------They managed to get out of the way before the blast of magical energy erupted through the door, smashing everything in its path, before stopping in mid air. On closer observation, there was a faint sphere, almost invisible unless you know what to look out for, containing the blast, but just barely. Her brain quickly registered what was going on around. The greasy pan which she had been using to hit the doorknob in her attempt to break it lay where she had thrown it. What was left of the door, along with everything directly behind or around it, scattered around them, landing in little splinters. There were actually smoke, dust clouds that emerged due to the forceful blast. There was a loud scream from outside (Nanoha), followed by much coughing and mumbling (Yuuno). Arisa took a peek from her prone position to see the boy emerged, coughing and stumbling from the smoke. His face was stained from the dust clouds. He then fell to his fours, still coughing at the smoke. Nanoha emerged from behind in an equally dust-and-debris-stained uniform and holding on to her magical staff. There was a queer mixture of sorry, excitement and relief on her face. She quickly knelt down beside Yuuno, patting the disorientated boy on his back. “I'm so sorry, Yuuno,” she quickly apologized, “Are you alright now?” The boy (the ferret as Arisa remembered him) raised his head and gave a strained smile, “I really need to recommend to Chrono that a limiter be imposed upon you.” Fate was already back on her feet, running towards Nanoha and pulling her best friend into a tight embrace. With a smile of relief, Nanoha returned the embrace. Tears were already streaming from their eyes when Yuuno finally got up to dust himself and watched the emotional reunion between the two best friends with a smile of his own. No words were exchanged. There was no need for them. It was some time when the girls finally broke their embrace, even if they continued to hold each other at arms' length and look at each other with the slight embarrassed blush on their cheeks. Arisa could not help but feel somewhat jealous. Fate certainly did not embrace her or Suzuka when they found her. She turned her attention to Yuuno almost wistfully. If only he had come in his ferret form instead; it would be so much easier to hug him... “How are you, Fate-chan? Did they do anything to you?” Nanoha asked anxiously.
Fate shuffled her foot on the ground, answering softly, “No. Not really.” “My, you did a really good job destroying my door,” Ms. Testarossa said as she emerged from behind, approaching the new arrivals and surveying the destruction around her. Instantaneously, Nanoha pushed Fate to her back and pointed her magical staff directly towards the lady with a fierce glare. Yuuno in turn, held Nanoha along with Fate to his back, his other hand extended slightly forward with a glowing shield of magical circle before him. “Precia Testarossa,” the protective boy murmured with barely controlled distaste, “I should have known.” Fate quickly broke out of her barrier of friends and positioned herself between them and Ms. Testarossa, stretching her hands out. “Stop!” Fate pleaded, using her body as a shield for Ms. Testarossa, “She is not who you think she is.” “Then who is she?” Nanoha lowered her weapon, but only slightly. Her guard was still up; so was Yuuno's defense magic, “Why is she here?” “I will tell you everything. Please put down your intelligent device.” Yuuno looked to Arisa and Suzuka for some form of assurance. Arisa quickly nodded. Ms. Testarossa definitely was not the guilty party involved, even if she was related. On that note, he then nodded to Nanoha, even if he remained suspicious of Ms. Testarossa and unconvinced, giving the signal to stand down. “Alright, if you girls think so,” he said, dispelling the magical shield, “Please tell us what happened.” --------------------------------------------The warehouse stood before them like the cheese sitting snuggly on the gapping mouth of a mousetrap. It was quiet, too quiet. “Squad two is in position, Admiral!” “Squad four is in position and awaiting your command!” The men were almost ready; all of them ready to rush in at the moment's notice. Lieutenant Colonel Frank
Archer stood beside her, giving the other commands, organizing his men. Admiral Lindy had given the order that all communications to be cut off. The upcoming raid was too important for unnecessary distractions. Fate might be in there. Find Fate, rescue Fate. “Squad three in position, ma’am!” There was the beep of an incoming message. Not wishing to be distracted, she signaled to the lieutenant colonel to take up the message in her place. Frank Archer nodded in acceptance and took the incoming message. “Yes.” he said emotionlessly, “I understand.” Pause as he listened on. “Yes. Fine,” he broke in a large, malevolent grin, “Later then.” Then he cut off the communication link. “What was it?” Lindy asked, never taking her eyes off the warehouse, the trap that they will enter with their eyes wide open. So that they could find Fate, rescue Fate. “Nothing,” Archer replied coolly, “Just your son wishing us all the best. All the men are ready. Shall we begin?” She raised an eyebrow in suspicion. Chrono was not the wishing good luck type of officer. However that was not the point. Their target is what lay before them. Putting her hands back into her pocket and feeling the reassuring presence of Bardiche, Admiral Lindy stood up and in her best commanding voice ordered. “All squads stand by, ready. Move out!” --------------------------------------------When the green glow of magic around them faded into darkness, they were back in the Infinity Library. They had already teleported Fate to the local headquarters along with Ms. Testarossa, Arisa and Suzuka. He had updated Chrono about their discovery and 'rescue' of Fate. Chrono had relayed the message to Admiral Lindy through this Frank Archer. It would be best to follow orders and return to what they were supposed be doing. After all, Nanoha was supposed to be helping him out in the library, not wandering around the foreign city with him in toll. According to Chrono, their men would be raiding where the thief was believed to be soon. Everything would end soon. Fate had been found. The thief would be caught and all the artifacts retrieved.
For now, Yuuno could look forward to spending some quality time in the library. With Nanoha no less! She was already prancing around the place, looking at the books with the more intriguing titles with interest. Her mood had improved considerably with the discovery of Fate and that she was safe and sound. She could finally relax herself. Plus he wanted to do some research for himself. Raising his hands, the chief librarian magically scanned the books for the topic he had in mind. A couple of books floated lazily to his side, revolving around him. Picking one up at random, he opened it and started to read through it. “What are you reading about?” Nanoha asked from behind. Leaning herself on his back, she tried to peek at the book Yuuno had in his hands. “The Philosopher's Stone,” he answered with a smile, shifting the book so that Nanoha would be able to read the words too. This Philosopher's Stone which Fate said was the objective of the thief sounded interesting. He had read about it before, there were stories about it in the past. If the stories were true, then should the thief managed to acquire the stone, his mother, this Terran Testarossa would definitely be saved. It might actually be better that way. However, in view that the thief would be caught, he figured that he might as well find some other methods to create the stone. So that Ms. Testarossa could be saved. “Strange,” he rubbed his eyes and squinted, “The words are getting blurry. It just gets worse nowadays.” “That's because you need glasses,” Nanoha chided gently and gave him a light hit on his head, “You spend too much time reading in the dark. After this, I'm going to make you go out with me...” Her voice trailed off to a stunned silence. “That would be nice,” Yuuno answered with a cheerful smile, happy that everything would be fine when he noticed Nanoha was staring at the lumbering sack of flesh, muscles and orange fur approaching them, “Oh, that's the orangutan. He visits the library occasionally to borrow books. He's really knowledgeable.”
“Good evening... Mr. Orangutan,” Nanoha greeted the great ape uncertainly, staring in surprise at how it could be wandering around just like this. She seemed to be taking it quite well that an unknown orangutan had been able to make its rounds in his Infinite Library and struck up a friendship with him. Perhaps she was already accustomed to talking to animals. Kind of like how she talked to him while he was in the ferret form, or like those princesses in the occasional Terran fairy tales Yuuno indulged himself with.
The orangutan ooked and nodded its head in greetings, grinning in appreciation of the correct identification of its species type. He then extended an oversized palm to shake her hand. Nanoha took it with her dainty hand, shaking it lightly in amazement and awe. “Hello,” Yuuno greeted as he pointed towards the collection of books around him and asked innocently, “Would you by any chance know about the creation process of the Philosopher's Stone?” The grin on the ape's face disappeared replaced by a frown. With a loud ook, the orangutan lumbered off into the darkness of infinity grimly. The children watched as it reappeared soon after, waving a thick, worn-out book with red leather-bound jacket. “Ook, ook, oooook!” the ape shoved the book angrily into Yuuno's hand and jabbed repeatedly towards a bookmarked page. There was no name on the jacket. Flipping through, Yuuno could just make out that this was a journal written in untidy, scrawny handwriting. Turning to the indicated page, he started reading. Then his eyes widened, his hands started trembled in shock at the realization. “What is it, Yuuno-kun? Nanoha asked out of concern. “Is this true? Is what is in it true?” Yuuno turned to the orangutan and asked. “Ook” came the solemn reply. Without a second word, Yuuno grabbed Nanoha's hands and started to prepare the teleportation spell around them. “What is it?” Nanoha asked again. “Something bad. Really bad. We've all been had.” he replied, his voice rising in terror and urgency, “We are going over to the headquarters now. If this is true... we must stop the attack before it is too late!” --------------------------------------------Save for all the crates and building structures of pillars and beams, it was hard to make out anyone in the warehouse. The quietness only made the place feel more worrying. Admiral Lindy tightened her grip on Bardiche's staff. Using Fate’s weapon seemed like a good choice, a good reminder to herself.
There was no Fate in sight. She had ordered Frank Archer to keep his distance. He and the rest of the back-up squad were only supposed to show up when the situation became desperate, when she gave the order to do so. There was no point in revealing all their cards immediately. With a signal, she gave the signal to move to the man next to her. The man nodded in acknowledgment and past the message down. Soon, they were flanking into the heart of the warehouse, sticking to the shadows, keeping to high alert. Still no sight of Fate. In the middle of the barely lit room, on the floor, Lindy could make out a giant magical circle that covered almost the entire ground. The symbols which she had never seen before. The large tanks of red, glowing liquid around it. A faint smell of lilies. It looked like it was in preparation of some mystical ritual. A shadowy solitary bent figure standing in the middle of everything silently completed the mysterious, suspicious look of everything... A figure! Lindy peeked from behind the crates at the figure. The shadow displayed little movement while before it, laid neatly as a stack on the ground were a mound of trinkets, jewelery, cards. Silently, she pointed towards her breast pocket. The second-in-command of her squad took the thaumometer from his pocket and took a glance at it. Then he nodded. Those were their artifacts. With a signal, the rest of the squad flanked out, creeping silently in the shadows, surrounding their target. When everyone was in position, Admiral Lindy got up and strode boldly towards the figure, stepping into magical circle. The figure made no attempt to surrender or escape. It just stood there silently, looking, observing; any noticeable features were covered by the dark robes and hat it wore. It is not Fate. Fate is still missing. Disappointed, Lindy pointed Bardiche towards the figure. It was time to make the arrest. Speaking coldly in her authoritative voice, “You are under the arrest to thLoud, shrill laughter rang out, interrupting her speech as the figure reared to its full height, removing the large hat from her head. She was only an old woman, even if there was a lively glow of glee in her eyes. Wrinkles etched across her face while her long, silver hair was tied in a tight bun behind her. With a snap of her spiny fingers, the lights of the room were switched on, removing the cloak of shadows that hid Lindy’s men from sight.
“You are just as beautiful and mature as he said,” the old woman grinned widely, tilting her head to study Lindy's body and looks like a curious grandmother, “You would look perfect in a dress.” She reached a thin, branch-liked arm forward to touch the Admiral, the other hand holding on to the slim, wooden cane for support. Lindy knocked her hand away, only to hear murmurs of “Beautiful features. Smooth, really smooth skin. Bright, wonderful eyes…” listing her physical features. Ignoring the disturbingly interested leer of the old woman, Lindy tried to repeat her lines, “You are under the arrest of the Time-Space Administration“What if I say I am resisting arrest?” The old woman smiled in satisfaction. She raised her hands to give herself a single clap, “Can you get me? Can you all get me?” She looked around the warehouse, taking note of every single exposed trooper present, each one of them with their devices aimed at her. Frowning at the woman's antics, Admiral Lindy raised her free hand, the signal for her exposed squad to move forward and surround the woman. They did so in rank, closing in on the old woman, stepping into the magical circle without lowering their weapons. “We have you surrounded. Please surrender.” Then, Lindy thought, we look for Fate. “Tsk, tsk, tsk,” the old woman was not impressed, judging at the gathered troops with a sneer, “Is that all you got? This is pathetic. I know you got more troops outside... you should get them to come in and join the fun.” With a swift, very uncharacteristic move, the old woman slammed her cane into the ground, releasing streaks of magical energy towards her targeted trooper. Upon contact with the magic, the ground below him rose and engulfed his feet whole, sealing him to his position. The startled trooper, finding himself suddenly immobilized, fired a magical shot towards the witch. The witch clapped her hands once and brought her free hand, palm-first to meet the shot. Instantly, a block of freezing ice formed in the air before her, acting as a shield against the shot. When its job was done, the ice fell to the ground, shattering into many pieces. “Is that fighting I hear from there?” Frank Archer questioned through the telepathic communication link. “Yes, stay back. This is not a magic we are used to,” Admiral Lindy ordered while magical balls of electricity started to hover around her. 'Photon Lancer ready for fire, sir,' the intelligent device announced. No sooner when she finished her sentence, more troopers started to file into the building under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Archer. He strode proudly forward into the circle with his hands at the back, stopping beside Admiral Lindy.
“This is direct disregard to orders,” Lindy stated without moving her sight from the old woman. The witch had clapped her hands once more with the same, conceited smile on her, showing no sign of fear of the increased number of troops around her. “Only a hag?” he sniffed in contempt, “You want me to stay back because of an old hag. This is too easy. I will show you how a real officer does things.” He raised a hand and executed a forward signal. Immediately, the other troopers raised their devices and started to fire. The witch laughed loudly, deliriously, gleefully. The chilling laugh echoed across the large space, mixed with the loud firing of magical energy. There were loud smashes as magic hit large, thick slabs of ice that formed in its way. One by one, the witch dispatched the increasingly desperate troopers with her magic, never once leaving where she stood. Many times she would clap her hands as if she was giving herself the standing ovation to the falling troopers in her circle. “I will deal with you later,” she hissed at the smug Frank Archer as she raced forward, avoiding the suddenly slippery ground. Rising ground, flying chunks of ice, sudden air movement. These were manipulation of the elements around her, Lindy observed. It's the clapping. Stop the clapping. Raising Bardiche, she prepared to fire the Photon Lancer at the witch. “No, no, my dear lady,” the old woman spoke, unconcerned of all the magical attacks coming her way as she pointed a single, long finger at Lindy, “You, I've got other plans for.” A single streak of magical energy snaked towards Admiral Lindy. The ground below Admiral Lindy rose into the air like a tower before it flung her out of the circle. She quickly scrunched herself into a ball, landing painfully on her shoulders, still holding on tightly to Bardiche. “Don't hurt yourself too much! I need your body in perfect shape!” the old woman shouted over the din of magical blasts as Lindy could hear the cracking sound of crystallization above her. Looking up, she could see the water vapor in the air freezing into a block of ice. She had just enough time to command Bardiche to return to its device form. Then the completed ice fell directly on her head. Before she was knocked out, Admiral Lindy could hear the loud, shrill words of the old woman. “Now that all the people I can detect are here, let us start the process!” There were creaks and groans as the metal grills were pulled over the entrance to the warehouse. A clap, followed by the fearful screams of the hundreds of men. A fantastic bright glow of red that washed through everything and sheared into the eyes.
Loud triumphant laughter was the last thing that Lindy could hear beyond the sea of red light before she truly fainted.
Chapter 7 All for the King --------------------------------------------I have finally found peace. There is no military in this little town. What military that might come, they would not recognize me. I must not be found, not with my research and the horrors that came with it. But they will come, one day, to take me and my terrible knowledge back and put it to use again. I must destroy it, but such a discovery is too much to destroy. I shall lay down my warnings here in plain form, for those who might one day learn from my mistake and never commit such atrocities again. I was the Crystal Alchemist, the head researcher in charge of creating the legendary Philosopher's Stone for the military. The Philosopher's Stone will allow us, alchemists to bypass the laws of equivalent exchange, to make miracles. I succeeded but at the cost of hundreds of lives, untold horrors and my very conscience. It is not the usual iron ore, mercury or sulphur. It uses souls, lives to fuel its miracles. Hundreds, thousands have died senselessly in its creation. This creation of uncountable deaths is powerful, too powerful. With it, the military had become a monster of war and destruction. I must run; I had ran, taking with me everything I know about the Philosopher's Stone and destroying what I cannot take. The military's appetite for war is insatiable. If I stay, they will force me to create one more, to use it for its monstrosity. Never again. Never again must it be created. Never again must it be used. From the journals of the late Dr. Tim Marcoh, date unknown The night sky took a tint of blood red from his magical barrier around the area. Save for the squeaking of marker meeting paper, there was no sound to be heard within the lifeless area contained within the barrier. There had been no sound since that noisy chaotic battle that had ended with that loud prolonged scream. That did not worry Gabriel much. That meant that Professor Dante had won and would be in the process of creating the Philosopher's Stone. His orders were to stay outside the warehouse and watch for intruders. Do not come in. I will come out. Don't worry, numbers are good. Those were the words she had specifically said before the Professor entered the warehouse. So Gabriel stayed out of sight, watching as the many troopers, hundreds perhaps, entered the previously
deserted building in two waves. None of them had come out yet. That was not his concern. As long as the Philosopher's Stone got created, Mother will be saved. Those troopers probably had entire inventories of those weapons; the one they were holding on to would not be missed. So on the rooftop some distance away where he could keep an eye on things, he waited and waited, allowing his mind to wander aimlessly, gravitating towards his worries. Mother knew. She had returned home without his knowledge. She had found out about that... Fate. She had found out about his nocturnal activities and obviously she had disapproved. It was for her! To save her! Did she think he liked to physically hit little girls who are obviously better trained than him? Did she think he enjoyed risking death and capture all the time, fighting for those darn trinkets? Gabriel drew another small magical circle at the corner of the Six of Spades. He had already completed inscribing the alchemic circles on five decks of cards. A couple of decks more and he would be done. It was better than mopping over Mother. After all, Mother should still be back at home with Fate looking after her. He had locked the door behind him, sealing the door with a ward. They should not be able to escape and stop him. Those coughs he heard from behind the door... each one of them a stab of regret at his conscience, every single one of them, a step closer to her de... More cards. Need to take the mind off the negative. The cards would be cool when he is done. White Devil was not in sight; with luck, she would not come at all. The Philosopher's Stone would be created soon. Everything will be okay soon. After all, at this point of time, when things are so close to completion. What can possibly go wrong? --------------------------------------------“Something is wrong,” Chrono hammered at the control panels before him, causing Amy to jump in fright, “No one is picking up. Not even that damn Frank Archer.” Fate had not arrived yet when Yuuno and his group teleported into the headquarters with the grave news. The atmosphere of the headquarters had barely had time to celebrate Fate's safety when everything became grim again. “What if it is too late?” the officer paced around the room, mumbling to himself, debating, “What if... damn... if only I had insisted... Amy! Has Mother replied?” he shouted.
“No, Admiral Lindy cannot be detected!” the petite female officer answered, frantically keying the controls, “Something seems to be interfering with our communication link! I am doing the best I can to break through the interference.” “Damn. Damn. Damn. Damn! Damn!” Yuuno and Nanoha had never seen Chrono so agitated before. Chrono was always cool, always in control. He was not one given to cursing and swearing aloud to no one, working himself up so much. In a way, it, Yuuno supposed, was to be expected. It was one thing to say tell others to keep cool and clear-headed. It was quite another thing to do so yourself. The one in trouble was not just anyone anymore; it was his mother, his only other direct family member left in the world. “I'm leaving for that damn warehouse,” he announced angrily, materializing Durandal in his hands and stomping out of the room, only to be stopped by Nanoha who stood resolutely in his way. “Step aside,” Chrono ordered, “You are supposed to be at the library with Yuuno.” “I cannot do it.” “Step aside,” he ordered again, “This is insubordination.” “You need to stay here. To provide leadership,” she countered, “You told me that I am too emotional to fight and be in the front line. What about you now?” Chrono stared at her dumbfounded for a while as a look of pained realization dawned to him. He returned to the commander's seat and slumped into it, picking up the yellowing book which Yuuno had left on his desk and flipping through it. Then he closed his eyes to gather his nerves once again. “Yuuno,” he asked, “Tell me,” he looked pleadingly to the librarian, “Please tell me there is a chance that this book is an elaborated hoax between you and Nanoha.” “Ooooo- ook,” the orangutan replied for Yuuno. He had insisted on coming along with them. It was too serious for just the two of them. The ape's meaning was clear to all. This is not a hoax. Trust me. “So,” Chrono was too worried to be bothered that he was talking to an orangutan, “According to this journal by this damn Doctor Tim Marcoh, the Philosopher's Stone which our thief is after is made of souls, lives. If that is true, there is a high chance that all our troopers were lured into the warehouse specifically for this ritual. Even more so now that apparently, we have lost all contact with anyone involved in the mission, including Admiral
Lindy Harlaown. This could mean that...” his voice trailed off in fear of the implications. Everyone gone, probably dead or whatever you call being changed into a stone of infinite possibilities. “Telepathic communication link established with Admiral Lindy!” Amy's voice rang out as a blinking green spot appeared on their screen. Chrono only had just enough time to shout, “Mother!” before the green spot disappeared again along with the rest of the power, diving the room into darkness. “There is a strong barrier around the area that blocks magical penetration. I can penetrate the barrier if I use all the power of your system,” Amy explained as she continued tapping into her keyboard and the power began to filter back into the system, “However, I can only hold the connection for a few seconds each time I do so before the system overheats and gets cut off automatically. It should be enough for us to determine that Admiral Lindy is alive for now. It seems that everyone else is gone...” Chrono took a deep breath and stared at the screen silently. Then he started to give the orders as steady as he could control himself. “Amy, please continue to keep tabs on the status of Admiral Lindy,” he turned to Nanoha, “You have broken through that barrier before; Please do so again. Please get some new cartridges from Arf now.” Nanoha nodded determinedly in reply before receiving and pocketing her new ammo from the familiar. “Yuuno. Please support Nanoha,” he said to Yuuno's nod before facing the orangutan, “Errr... The mon...” he quickly stopped his tongue when he saw the ape's face twist in annoyance and took a quick glance to Yuuno. The chief librarian was mouthing the proper name frantically. “The o-ra-n-u-ta-n... can follow as long as he does not interfere with the mission,” the officer saw the ape grinned in satisfaction and mentally sighed in relief before continuing, “As long as circumstances allow, we will be keeping constant contact with all of you. I am counting on everyone. Please rescue Admiral Lindy.” There was a unison of “Yes, sir!” before Yuuno casted the teleportation spell for the closest available position to the barrier. Before the green glow of the circle engulfed them, they could just barely see Fate making her long awaited entrance into the headquarters, oblivious to the news that awaited her. --------------------------------------------“Mother!” Admiral Lindy stirred from her sleep. She was sure that she just heard Chrono called for her through the telepathic communication link.
No, wait. Fate was missing. She was in the middle of a mission. They were fighting an extremely strong old woman and she was knocked out in between. She opened her eyes, only to be temporarily blinded by the bright electrical lighting of the warehouse. “Oh, you have awakened. I was expecting it to take much longer. I wasn't quite fully prepared yet,” A soft but firm voice that came with old age and experience. The white spots of her vision were starting to clear, showing her the area before her. There was no one but the old, virile woman approaching her in a slow, deliberate manner. She smiled lightly, almost like a grandmother as she came closer. The stench of lilies became stronger, more choking. “I'm just doing some cleaning up for now, the second part is still in the preparation,” the old woman explained warmly, “Oh, and by the way, I am Professor Dante of Merdiana Magical Academy. Take care to remember that. You will need to if you want to live in this body.” The ground. There was nothing. All the ground symbols, all the tanks of glowing red liquid were gone. The pile of devices all swept forlornly aside in a discarded pile. All her men, even that slimy Frank Archer was gone. Fate was never here. “Where are my men?” Lindy asked, still groggy from her unwelcomed respite from consciousness. She tried to move, only to realize that she could not do so. She had been tied tightly to the chair she was seated on. There was also a dull pain from her right hand. Looking down, she could see the yellow triangular chip in her hands. Subconsciously, she had been gripping Bardiche so tightly that the edges had cut into her palm. Now that she was back, she tightened the grip further. “They have made the greatest sacrifice,” the self-proclaimed professor drew closer to caress Lindy's face, her other hand reaching into her robe and taking out a small stone the size of pebble, jagged like an uncut diamond. It glittered blood red under the light as Dante held it in the air. “The Philosopher's Stone, the greatest alchemic artifact known in all dimensions, the ability to bypass the laws of alchemy and do miracles,” she said in satisfied awe, “Your soldiers have been instrumental in its creation. Their sacrifice will not be in vain. If only there had been more... such a small stone would only be good for one use. But that would be enough. For my use.” “You killed them. You killed them all,” Lindy stated, struggling with the binds.
“Such intellect. Such beautiful, beautiful skin,” Dante waxed without denial, “They will serve me well.” “Everything was a ploy. All those thefts, the kidnapping, they were only to lure us in here.” “Kidnapping? I know not kidnapping,” the old woman continued to feel Lindy up greedily in the victim's inability to resist the roving hands, “But yes, that was the plan. Partly also to lure someone of a high position fit for me into the region. We would need to do something about your outfit. It certainly is not my style.” Lindy felt a light sense of relief from the woman's ignorance of Fate's disappearance. At least, Fate was still out there somewhere and not with this horrible woman. All she had to do was to escape now. Dante clapped her hands lightly and placed them on Lindy's navy blue uniform. Instantly, dark red color spread like dye across the rest of her uniform, removing any traces of blue. The material at her sleeves shortened and puffed up while her working dress extended to her ankles, acquiring bulk and waves at the same time. Before she knew it, Lindy was in a regal Victorian gown, complete with lace gloves and corset. “Beautiful!” the old woman admired her work, “Red suits you so beautifully!” Startled by the sudden transformation of her attire, a creeping sense of dread spread and rooted as the old woman's obsessed over her appearance. “...Why did you leave me alive?” Lindy asked in growing suspicion and horror. “Because you are so beautiful,” Dante cooed as a white, deathly lily appeared in her hand and she carefully pinned it into Lindy's aqua-colored locks like an artist adding the finishing touches to his creation, “I love your body so much, I want it.” She said it quite like the smacking of lips in anticipation of a sumptuous meal. “It is not much fun being immortal when one is aging, when one's body is breaking down,” she added as she turned away reluctantly from admiring her handiwork. With a clap of her hands, she touched her own dark robe. Cloth changed color and extended to form a matching red gown that ended just above the floor. “This will take quite a while to complete,” she stated, “So please be patient. Don't try to do anything to that beautiful body of yours.” The old woman brought her hands together in a clap again and then sweeping towards the center of the empty hall, brought her cane slamming into the ground. Magical currents ran from the cane and spread swiftly like wild fire across the floor, transforming the ground where they touched. Lindy watched in stunned amazement as the ground split to form lines that continued to trace a figure of eight on the floor. Lines after lines formed the shapes, the incompressible words that lined the edges, the third circle that linked both larger circles together in a loop. A star with six hands and the curves that weaved in and out, linking all three circles completed the array of magical
circles. Dante then returned before Lindy, kneeling downing painfully to look directly into her eyes. “What beautiful eyes you have,” she mused perversely, “I will never get tired of looking at you.” She grasped Lindy's immobilized hand with a cragged hand of her own, feeling the skin greedily, “I really will miss looking at you once your body is mine. Looking into the mirror just isn't the same thing... Perhaps I should enjoy the beautiful sight before me longer...” Lindy tried to look away from the chilling gaze only to have the old woman placing her hands on her face and forcefully turning it to face her again. For an aged woman, she had frighteningly large amount of strength in her grip. “That is not good, don't even bother to resist. Think of it is an honor that your beautiful, lovely, lovely body will be playing host to me. Now, use those large, brilliant, beautiful eyes of yours to look into mine.” She pried open the officer's eyes with her vice-liked fingers, taking great care not to scratch Lindy's face. Lindy could feel her strength, her resistance sapping away as she was forced to stare into Dante's eyes. It was like looking into a bottomless well of darkness. There was nothing, just emptiness in her soul. Eventually, though she struggled helplessly against it, Lindy's body lost all strength and she fell into a deep trance. --------------------------------------------The shimmering wall of translucent red before them stretched across the city, devouring whole buildings, streets, roads. Nanoha had seen it before. Above them, the walls met, forming the dome that would act as a barrier against any unwanted intruders or magical penetration. That is, unless sufficiently large amount of magical powers were used against it. Yuuno had teleported them onto a building just outside of the barrier's perimeters. After doing so, he and the orangutan were immediately captivated by the barrier. “Amazing, this is nothing I have ever seen. It seemed not only to block off magic, but in fact time and existence as well,” the boy reached out to touch the static energy wall. His hands past through it easily and he retracted it. “Life such as non-magical humans,” he pointed to the busy street below which people were entering and exiting the barrier like it was nobody's business, “would be able to enter the barrier and continue with their lives, but they would not see what was really in it. The magic within the barrier had created almost a mirror image dimension where the magicians can operate at their will without getting discovered.” “Ook,” was the orangutan's response of agreement.
“Ah?” was Nanoha's response. “Never mind,” Yuuno answered, withdrawing himself from the barrier and concentrating on his own magic. The green glowing circle of light appeared below him and seemed to expand, beyond the size of the original barrier and over everything in the perimeter. Looking through the walls of his barrier, the night sky became faintly green. “I have teleported all the detected lifeforms within the vicinity out of the way. It should be safe to destroy that barrier now,” Yuuno gave Nanoha the signal to fire, “My temporal force field should be able to hold against any excessive damage.” The magical girl leveled her intelligent device towards the wall of red energy. “Are you ready, Raising Heart?” 'Yes, my Master. Load cartridge.' The loading mechanism of the staff pulled back quickly, loading the magical cartridges into the device, pumping the instant boost of magical power into it and ejecting the spent cartridges onto the ground. Four long, slim wings materialized on the staff as the ball of magical energy gathered strength at the tip. Multiple magical circles appeared layer after layer in the direction of aim towards the target. 'Attack is ready, my Master. Please give the command.' Nanoha adjusted her aim on the barrier, trying to avoid hitting any buildings that might be inside. Sensing the impending throwback of the blast, Yuuno and the orangutan instinctively moved another step back. Satisfied with her aim, Nanoha took a deep breath, tightened her grip and shouted. “Starlight Breaker Plus!” Activated, the intelligent device delivered its full load of magical energy upon the barrier wall in a single pink blast. The wall held on. Then in a familiar sight, the strain of the immense, continuous magical impact started to force the collapse of the barrier. The wall broke apart like glass, disappearing into nothingness, revealing the area to them. Someone was already speeding towards them on his wooden staff, reeling in his effort to avoid the blast. He stopped upon seeing the source of the destruction of his barrier and gave an audible groan of frustration.
“Not again?!” Gabriel groaned at the sight of Nanoha before him, “I was afraid that this would happen.” And rightfully so, Yuuno added mentally as he readied himself for battle, calling upon his binding magic. At the distance, he could see the young wizard firing off multiple arrows of dark matter towards them. With a swift move, he pulled Nanoha behind him and casted a shield around them. The dark matter splattered harmlessly on the glowing green magical circle before him. The wizard was closing in with his wand ready for another spell. “Just like old times?” Nanoha said as she raised and aimed her staff again towards their incoming thief. The magical circles started to form before it as magical energy gathered in growing power. Yuuno smiled faintly. It really was not the time to be reminiscing but then again, “Yeah, Nanoha. Just like old times.” “Ook,” came a reminder. “You too,” Yuuno added, “Watch your back.” Once Yuuno lowered his shields, Nanoha fired the starting shot of their battle. --------------------------------------------“Admiral Lindy is still safe for now,” Amy announced as the system power shut down again to prevent overheating. Chrono sagged into the commander's seat in relief before straightening up to face the newly arrivals. “Good evening,” he greeted them as they entered. Suzuka calmly and keeping her curiosity in control, Arisa fluttering around like a curious butterfly, peering at the different controls and holographic screens. He hesitated for a moment when he saw Ms. Testarossa, amazed by the uncanny resemblance and coincidence, then he greeted her in his usual cold, official manner and gestured towards an empty seat for her. The moment Fate stepped into the room, she was hounded and hugged by a weeping Arf. She returned the hugs gratefully as she scanned the room for an important someone. Something did not seem right to her, especially with the announcement she had heard. “Chrono-kun, what is going on in here?” Fate asked, looking around, “Where is the Admiral? Why is it important that she is still safe for now?” Arf's hugs came to a stop. The familiar then placed her hands solemnly on Fate's shoulders and spoke, “Fate-
chan, there is something that you need to know.” At that moment, the monitoring system came to life. “We have received feedback from the area. Nanoha had managed to destroy the surrounding barrier!” Multiple holographic screens burst out before them, each one taking a different angle of the battle before them. The screens focus upon Yuuno weaving in and out of the buildings, avoiding the incoming magical arrows which followed him closely behind while Nanoha was preparing another wave of Starlight Breaker against their enemy from above. “Gabriel!” Ms. Testarossa burst out in both fear and anger on recognition of their quarry. Their enemy, Gabriel sped across the streets, countering the incoming magical binds with magical attacks of his own. He darted out of sight of the screens into an alley, before re-appearing from the other side, throwing dustbins with precise magical control in the direction of the binds. He then fired off a bolt of lightning into the air, towards Nanoha. As the bolt rushed towards her, Nanoha released the charged Starlight Breaker towards the wizard, engulfing the smaller attack and burning past it. The wizard swerved aside into the safety of the alleys while the sheer force of Nanoha's magical blast tore the road and cars in its path apart, scattering debris everywhere. “We have managed to pick up Admiral Lindy's signal!” Amy announced, “But she is not replying to us through the communication link.” Chrono stood up and walked towards Fate, then guiding her gently towards the empty seat beside her friends. “Ms. Testarossa,” he addressed, “As you can see, we are currently engaging your son in magical combat. While I cannot assure his safety, we would try to subdue him with the minimal force.” The lady nodded in reluctance agreement. Gabriel must be caught for what he had done no matter how 'noble' the motives behind his offences may be. “Fate,” he turned to address her, his voice wavered slightly, betraying his emotions but he maintained control over it, ”Admiral Lindy has been captured.” “What?” “Please remain calm,” Chrono said as evenly as he could, as though he was reading from a manual, “I know that you have only just returned to us but Admiral Lindy had gone with the squad into the warehouse. Everyone was missing now; we do not know what happened to them... we think they might have been killed in the creation of this Philosopher's Stone... but at least Admiral Lindy, according to our systems is still alive. Yuuno and Nanoha
are doing their best to get her back.” “What?” Fate answered in disbelief. She had only just returned, only just made up her mind. The answer, she wanted so much to answer Lindy's question. Then they were trying to take Mother away again... “What? You mean my son killed?” Ms. Testarossa said. “We cannot be sure but“That means yes,” the lady ended the sentence for Chrono, “but Gabriel would not kill. He... my son is not that type of boy.” “Please stay calm, ma'am.” Chrono tried to reassure her, “We will know what really happen when Nanoha and Yuuno complete their mission.” Ms. Testarossa stood up, having come to a decision. “I'm not staying here doing nothing,” she proclaimed, adjusting the shawl on her shoulder, “I'm going to stop my stupid son, even if it costs me my life.” She then stomped out of the room. “Stop! It's dangerous!” Chrono shouted out but she did not listened. She had left the room. Suzuka and Arisa looked to each other and nodded, both of them thinking of the same thing. “We're helping her,” Arisa shouted as they left the seats and followed behind. “Stop! No civilians in the field!” Chrono shouted uselessly after the two girls. They too left the room. Fate was left sitting alone, contemplating her next move. Lindy- Mother was captured. Mother was in danger. She took a quick glance towards the black band around her arm. It would be suicide to rush in head on to rescue Mother now, not when she was magic-less. Then again, three days as Gabriel had confidently told her. It was the third day already. Going by that, any moment now, the magic limiter would wear off and she would be able to fight again. “You, at least, will stay here...right?” Chrono asked Fate, “I can get Arf to bring back Ms. Testarossa and your friends. It is unsafe for you to go out there now.” “I am going, Brother,” Fate stood up, “I cannot leave my friends alone.” “No, Fate, no. We only just- “ Chrono's brain froze for a while, “What, what did you just say? Can you repeat it
again?” “Don't worry,” Fate turned back to smile, “It is my turn to watch over Mother, Brother.” Leaving Chrono gaping in dumbstruck surprise, she left to join her friends to rescue Mother. --------------------------------------------Yuuno flew across the skyline, watching out for any sight of a speeding figure. Nanoha was high above, providing him with the necessary cover to engage the boy if they met. Together, their firepower might be many times stronger than Gabriel; but he was crafty, more difficult to handle than expected. This was his city, his terrain. He had a clear advantage over them in this area. He knew where to hide, where to lay the traps and where to pop out, surprising him with another attack. He lowered his altitude, landing softly on the road. Everything was too quiet. There was no one inside the barrier except for them. Concentrating on his magic, he scanned the area for the boy. He was traveling at a very high speed, coming in his directYuuno jumped into the air, avoiding the speeding figure that had come suddenly from behind. Hovering just a few meters away from the ground, he watched as Gabriel turned the staff back to face him with his wand. The boy did a little twist with his holding wrist, then, “Sagita Magica Septendecim Sagittae Obscuri!” “Nanoha, now!” Yuuno ducked into the nearby building to avoid the incoming arrows of dark matter, throwing out a round shield to take the damage of the occasional faster arrow. He could hear the massive blast of magical force sweeping across the road outside. Gabriel would have easily avoided it but Nanoha's Divine Buster should keep him occupied for a while. From within the dark room, he re-scanned the surrounding area for magic. Gabriel had escaped the blast, resuming his uneven travel around the buildings. He could detect Admiral Lindy's signature presence in the warehouse, accompanied by another presence. Someone who possessed huge amounts of magic residues. Admiral Lindy should be their target. “Nanoha, keep Gabriel distracted,” Yuuno commanded, “I will proceed towards the warehouse.” “Yes, Yuuno-kun.” Another series of explosions could be heard outside, followed by the groaning sound of crumbling buildings.
With a re-scan to confirm that Gabriel had started engaging Nanoha in range combat and the orientation to the warehouse, Yuuno made his way out of the building quietly, creeping along the alleys in the direction of the building. High above the skyline, silhouetted by the moon, Nanoha and Gabriel clashed in a series of magical projectiles and counter attacks. They flew in high speed, circles around each other like mid-air acrobats, never giving each other breather time. Huge piles of dust and debris billowed from where their missed attacks hit, bringing varying levels of destruction to the city properties. At least, most of the damage should be undoable before he released the force field around the area. The warehouse was in sight. It seemed that the boy was the only line of defense, albeit an annoyingly efficient and dangerous one. With Gabriel occupied, Yuuno quickly flew across the last stretch of road towards the building. “Yuuno! Look out!” He turned and activated a round shield, just in time to hold off a high speed tackle from Gabriel. Turned out he was found out faster than expected. Before Yuuno could react, Gabriel landed on his feet and swung his staff like a club wildly in his direction, using the momentum of a fast about-turn. . The round shield could hold off physical attacks from the front, but not from the side. Yuuno felt pain coursed through his body from where the staff connected and stumbled back from the hit. It was not enough to break any bones but it would leave a painful bruise the next day. “Change of plans,” Chrono’s orders came through the telepathic communication link, “Fate is joining to rescue Admiral Lindy. Hold Gabriel down until she arrives.” That makes things more direct. Taking a quick step back to avoid another swing and blocking using another shield against the subsequent dark arrows, Yuuno mumbled the chant for his next spell Nanoha unleashed a wave of Divine Shooter, raining the glowing balls of magic upon the grounds before Yuuno. The road trembled and potholes forcefully formed where her magic connected with powerful explosive power on the ground. Seemingly satisfied that Yuuno would not be moving towards the warehouse any moment, Gabriel quickly backed off from the scene of wreckage, speeding once again towards the magical girl to engage her. Green sturdy chains started to emerge the ground, rattling as they extended into the sky, ready to bind people to its magic-inhibiting powers. With a mental command, Yuuno sent the struggle binds towards the thieving wizard.
Gabriel quickly flew out of the way; turning to avoid Nanoha's Divine Buster and divert the struggle binds from behind. Speeding towards a close-by building, Yuuno watched as Gabriel crashed through the windows and into the building. That would not be enough to escape the pursuit. The chains followed behind, smashing through bricks and glass without regards to the obstacle, to maintain their straight course. Yuuno could sense the wizard speeding through doors, rooms, before crashing through the windows from the other side of the building. He then took a sharp turn, coming back towards Yuuno. By the time, the lightning arrows reached Yuuno, his force shield was already up, holding up easily against the magical attack. He watched as Gabriel reached into his robe and extracted something from within. Pulling his arm back, Gabriel threw his weapons towards Yuuno. The cards sliced through the air and struck the force shield with their alchemically-enhanced sharp edges. The shield held against the physical attack and the cards drifted harmlessly towards the ground, having failed to penetrate the magical barrier. A chain had managed to grab hold of the end of Gabriel's staff. The thief leapt off his staff, allowing the struggle bind to take hold of it while using wind magic to slow down his descend towards the land. He then shot multiple arrows of dark matter towards the struggle binds that had wrapped themselves around his staff. Another wave of Divine Shooter from Nanoha went slamming into the ground around the wizard, forcing Gabriel to seek safety in the nearby building. More magical arrows burst out of the building's entrance, towards the air in a blind attempt to distract Nanoha. There was a faint glow, an emission of warmth from the ground. Yuuno looked down, to notice that the cards Gabriel had thrown were glowing warmly. The magical circles drawn at the sides had begun to glow red for a while. Then the cards exploded in a sudden release of energy, throwing up the debris from the ground before Yuuno, forcing him back with the force of explosion. There was just enough force to break Yuuno's concentration on the struggle binds. The struggle binds loss its hold on the staff and it fell towards the ground. Lifting itself up just before it hit the ground, the staff flew into the building Gabriel had seek shelter. Seconds later, Gabriel sped out of the building on the staff, heading towards Yuuno's direction, ready once again to continue the fight and to keep them out. ---------------------------------------------
Ms. Testarossa stepped heavily into both the brake and the acceleration pedal as she swung the steering wheel into a full-lock position, allowing the van they were in to drift into the left turn without any decrease of speed. Fate could already see through the rear mirror that Arisa and Suzuka were already feeling the creeping queasiness of motion sickness. She herself was starting to feel somewhat uncomfortable with the lady's penchant for speed and disregard for traffic rules along the busy streets despite being accustomed to high speed magical flight. Arisa must have regretted paying off the random driver they had picked off the street for total usage of his vehicle. Since Ms. Testarossa among them was the only one who knew how to drive, naturally she assumed the driver's position. Her 'talent' for driving combined with her desire to get to her son as fast as possible turned out to be a lethal mix for her passengers. Amazingly, she had managed to avoid any forms of accidents so far. Seated in the front, Fate held on tightly to her seatbelt as she considered her next move. Chrono had later reluctantly allowed her to go with the rest, mainly to protect them should the need comes. Through the earphones she was using in place of the usual telepathic link, she could hear the conversation going on between Yuuno's party and the headquarters. It seemed like Gabriel was turning out to be a harder nut to crack just as expected. So far he had managed to hold off Yuuno and Nanoha's attempt to get to even the warehouse. The van careered along the road, overtaking the traffic ahead in quick successions. Ms. Testarossa seemed to be enjoying the ride, even having a slight smile over her look of concentration and anxiety. Perhaps it was because it might be her last chance of being wild and letting herself loose. Fate could already see the flashing headlights of the traffic police following behind. The lady must have saw them too since she simply stepped heavily down on the acceleration pedal, increasing the already illegally fast speed of the van, throwing the police off their trail. As though by magic or the machineries of the Bureau, traffic lights ahead turned green just as they neared and the roads cleared for their smooth passage. As they approached the warehouse, for a moment there was a shimmering before them, then the empty, pothole ridden road lay before them. The force shield had allowed them passage into it. The wreckage and ruins from the ongoing battle could be clearly seen, if not for Ms. Testarossa's insanely fast driving. Debris was strewn across the roads as lined scorched marks could be seen where Nanoha's Divine Buster had hit. Certain buildings had even collapsed. If not for the force shield removing all non-magical civilians from the site, the amount of cross-fire casualty would have been immensely high. In the middle of all the ruins, the warehouse stood untouched by the combat due to the defense Gabriel had put up. Even now, they could see Nanoha, Yuuno and him duking out with each other in mid air. Every now and then, Nanoha's trademark pink magical attacks or Gabriel's combination of wizardry and alchemy would light up the green-tainted night sky.
“They will hold Gabriel down,” Chrono's voice came through the communication device, “Go ahead to the warehouse first.” Ms. Testarossa continued to speed up in the direction of the warehouse as the magical beings fought above head. The distance between them and the warehouse became closer. That was when Ms. Testarossa's illness struck again. Clutching tightly to the steering wheel, she started to cough painfully, using her hand to cover her mouth. “Are you alright?” Fighting back her nausea, Suzuka asked from behind out of concern. “Yes,” the lady answered breathlessly, removing her hand from her mouth and returning them to the steering wheel, “I will be fine.” From her position, Fate could see that things were definitely not well. Her hand was leaving bloodstains on the steering wheel while Ms. Testarossa wheezed to regain control of her driving. It was too late when she noticed the huge pothole before them. Holding on tightly, Fate watched as Ms. Testarossa turned the wheel as fast as she could. The van began to tilt as control over the fast vehicle was lost. As they neared the warehouse, it was too late to brake. The van fell on its sides, skidding across the last stretch of the road with the momentum it had, hot sparks jumping from the downward side. The metal grill stood no chance against the incoming van as the crashing van went skidding through it, taking it along with it. Through the cracked windscreen, Fate could see the figure of eight etched deeply into the ground with an old woman and Lindy in a Victorian dress in each end. Mother seemed to be in a trance, standing obediently without any restraints. The symbol was beginning to glow. The skidding van could not be stopped as it continued across the large room, directly towards where the occupants stood. With a clap of her hand, the ground below the old woman rose, bringing her out of the way of the van. Mother, however, did not response, maintaining her position without any sign of fear or surprise. Fate could only watched in horror as the van skidded towards her mother. There was a moment of recognition as the van came close enough for Admiral Lindy to see who was within. She gave a small smile, just enough for Fate to see. Then the van hit her, tossing her out of the alchemic symbol like a rag doll.
--------------------------------------------There was little talk this time. There was no need for talk. They had to stop him. He had to stop them. There was no persuasion this time. Not when previous experience had told them that actions against him spoke louder than words. Right! Gabriel mentally commanded his staff. It obeyed, turning swiftly to the right and avoiding the pulsing blast of magical energy. As he turned in the air, he pointed his wand towards the attacking duo and fired. "Unus Fulgor Concidens Noctem, In Mea Manu Ens Inimicum Edate" The white lightning blitzed through the air in a flash. The male mage immediately flew ahead to hold the attack with his defense magic. The lightning hit his force shield with a crackle before it fizzled out. When that happened, the boy lowered his flight course, in time for the White Devil to fire off another magical beam from behind. “Divine Buster!” Gabriel directed the staff to swoop down, allowing the beam to pass from above. Faster. Lower. Fast enough for the ground to approach fast. Low enough to ambush. Them. From. Below! He turned the staff upwards again, speeding up as fast as he could go while he prepared another wave of attack. With a jab and the corresponding command, the magical arrows of dark matter soared towards their targets above. The male mage was already coming ahead to shield the attack. Just as expected. Up! Faster! Faster than his own dark arrows! Gripping his staff with his wand-holding hand, he extracted a single piece of card from his robe and activated the small alchemic symbol at its side. He could feel the card harden and sharpen in his hands as the reaction took place. With a final boost of speed, Gabriel closed in onto the male mage, slashing the card down into the shield. The shield held. Turning and twisting in the air, keeping a close watch on the magical girl's staff, he continued to attack the shield with a fury of swipes, weakening the shield as much as he can. He was starting to feel the heat on the card he held. Only a matter of seconds now... A flick of his hand sent the card coursing towards the shield. Then he let himself fall, diving towards the ground
again. The card exploded on contact with the shield, distracting his adversary enough for the dark arrows to hit their intended targets from the side. He could hear the shouts of pain from behind as he prepared to regain control of his flight before the ground got too close for comfort. The male mage fell through the sky beside him, quickly saved by the magical girl's quick descend. As the duo slowed down to a hover, the male wincing in pain of his multiple wounds, Gabriel was already back in control of flight. He would be able to finish them off, wound them enough to make them reconsider entering the warehouse. Nothing must stop him now that the stone was so near completion. Something shadowed over him. Something was falling from above, with long limbs and a huge body. The boy wizard looked up just in time to see the red ape fell upon him, grabbing hold of the boy to slow it’s descent, dragging him towards the ground with its heavy weight. Shit! Gabriel struggled against the strong grip of the primate as he watched the other two mages ascend into the air from the corner of his eyes. This was getting too much. He was ready to fight two mages. Three was just unfair. The primate grunted in a feral manner as it fought Gabriel in mid air. The mass of red hair and wizard stumbled through the air, crashing into walls and windows as they struggled for control. The ape was started to pry open Gabriel's grip on his own staff. Another card. Once the card had completed the first stage of its alchemic transformation, Gabriel slashed the ape's arm with it. It lost its hold on the boy, fell from its position but managed to grab the end of the staff with a single hand fast enough to avoid falling immediately to the ground. Flying erratically, Gabriel commanded the staff to climb the air again, swerving to the right to avoid another beam attack from the girl, then he started to circle wildly in a bid to shake off the ape's grip. Crashing the ape into the surrounding buildings; causing the fall of blood-stained bricks and glass to the ground. The weight was still there. Looking back, Gabriel could see the ape grinned widely and maliciously towards him. Those were nothing to him, the ape seemed to mean as it reached out for the staff with its other hand. Another wave of magical balls approached him from behind, closely followed by the green binding chains behind. Left! Into the cluttered alley! He turned his flight route, going lower and dragging the ape through the rubbish heap. Lower, such that the ape could feel the ground.
Turning back for a short moment to check on the incoming magical attacks and fire off some magic to intercept them, he sped upwards, turning through the maze of overlaying pipes and ladders between the buildings. There was a sudden loss of weight at the end of the staff. Looking back again, the ape had released its grip to land on the ground. It was now in hot pursuit behind, swinging acrobatically on the pipes after him. A few warning shots to scare it away. It simply dodged them deftly with the agility not easily associated with the large heap of body mass. The best way to get away would be to get out of the alleys. As long as the ape cannot fly, as it had already demonstrated, it would not be able to get to him. Rising up again, leaving the ape behind, Gabriel turned just fast enough to avoid the blast of magical energy. Speeding into the open air and in plain sight of his pursuers, he took grip of the air-modifying pendent into his palm. Both the girl and the boy were already coming after him, weapons ready to attack. Nothing must stop the process of the creation. Nothing must stop him from saving his mother. He would do anything to hold them back. He would make the sky burn. As they approached for him, with a war cry, he sped towards them, firing off his magical arrows. All the while, using the pendent to concentrate the amount of oxygen and hydrogen in the surrounding air. Once there was enough, all he needed was a spark. ThenThere were screeching from below. Glancing downwards, he could see the van drifting around the corner of the road, speeding towards the warehouse. There was only one person he knew in the entire city who could do that crazy stunt... his immediate plans forgotten“Mother?!” That was enough distraction for White Devil to close in upon him. Aiming at his stomach with the back of her magical artifact, knocking him off his staff. The staff continued its flight, out of sheer momentum before it fell to the ground. As for Gabriel, he fell and rolled painfully onto the concrete rooftop, aching from where the girl's staff had hit him. Picking himself up, he started to run, using wind magic to jump onto the adjacent building's roof as the pink blast of magical beam tore the building he was on apart from above.
There was a crash as he saw the van flipped to its side, spinning out of control into the warehouse. Damn! He started to run towards the warehouse, preparing to call back for his staff at the same time. Mother must be on the van. Mother must be hurt. He needed to get to her. There was a blur before him, and then he was knocked back to the floor by a powerful tackle. Looking up, he could see White Devil standing before him, pointing the spear-headed staff directly at his chest. “Do not move. I do not wish to hurt you more necessary,” she said as her boy partner landed from behind. Yeah, right, his subconscious snorted back, then explain those beams of pink death. But he had no time for them now. Mother's hurt. The Philosopher's stone should be near-completion. It could be used to save her once and for all. In a swift movement, using the hardened card, Gabriel scratched a simple alchemic circle into the floor and touched it. It glowed faintly before the floor rose as a gigantic hand, wrapping itself tightly around the surprised magical girl before she could react and lifting her above the ground. “Nanoha!” The partner shouted as he started to run forward. Magic was starting to gather around the head of the girl's staff. Quickly adding another symbol to the original circle, Gabriel tightened the concrete squeeze on the girl. The staff fell to the floor with a clatter as the girl passed out, after struggling fruitlessly against the strangle hold. “Stay back!” he placed the card at the girl's exposed throat, “I do not wish to hurt any of you! Just stay away!” The boy halted. Then he continued to resume his advance slowly. “Gabriel, right? I know you will NOT harm Nanoha. It is not in your character,” he talked slowly, “We can talk about this.” “I've got no time for it! Mother is hurt! Stop there!” “It's the Philosopher's Stone, right?” the boy did not stop, “Do you know what it is made of? Souls. Lives. All the
soldiers that entered that warehouse? Probably dead.” “Professor Dante would not lie to me. STOP there!” “I am not lying! You can check for yourself. Right now, there is only one survivor known to be left and we are here to rescue her,” he stopped. His outfit reverted back into casual, civilian sweater and jeans. “Tell you what. I have undone my barrier jacket now. I am harmless for now. You can go to the warehouse and find out the truth for yourself. Leave Nanoha here and go,” he continued. Gabriel casted a suspicious eye on the boy. “Mea Virga!” His staff flew back to his hand. With the other hand, he picked up the magical staff of the girl. He was not going to let her come after him any moment soon. Then adjusting himself on the staff, he flew off in the direction of the warehouse. From the corner of his eyes, he could see the boy running towards the unconscious girl, reactivating his magic to release her from her concrete prison. None of that was his business. The final stretch laid before him, the final struggle would soon be complete. --------------------------------------------“Mother!” Fate struggled out of the inflated airbags and the overturned van and ran unsteadily towards Admiral Lindy. Her soon-to-be mother had landed in a pile of crates. Below where she laid, splinters of wood were scattered across the floor, mixing with the growing pool of blood. “Mother!” Admiral Lindy turned her head weakly towards Fate and smiled on hearing her. A single trail of blood dripped from her mouth as she gasped in pain. A long piece of wood was jutting out horribly from her stomach like a skewer. Fresh blood dripped from it, contributing to the pool of blood below. Fate got down and grasped her hands, cupping them towards her chest. To think she had waited so long for this
moment, and then this“Thank you, Fate,” Mother whispered, “for saving me. For calling me Mother.” “No. Not now,” Fate attempted to stop the spurting blood from the wound. There was no way any magic she knew would heal that wound. As Gabriel had told her in his heated rants, magic can delay, magic can accelerate but it cannot reverse time. Magic cannot patch up that gaping hole in Mother's stomach. Her voice was breaking from the surge of emotions. She had come and killed her mother. Again. “I- Your- It's my fault. I- ” “It's fine,” Admiral Lindy raised her hand weakly and placed the triangular shape of Bardiche into Fate's hands. The edges of the intelligent device had been stained by her blood, “It could be worse, my body could be stolen. At least- At least I have become your mother.” The tears streamed down from her eyes as another gasp of blood made their way out of her mouth. Then her head rolled over and she moved no more... “Mother!!!” Fate buried her head in Lindy's body in despair. She did not come here just to kill her. It would be the second time her mother had died before her. SheWait. Fate felt frantically for Mother's wrist. Mother was still breathing, very weakly but still... There was a pulse. There was not enough time to send her to any hospitals but at least there was still hope. Still chance that Mother could be saved, if she was fast enough... There was a crash as Gabriel landed through the roof, holding in his other hand, Raising Heart. He looked around frantically, stopping his eyes on the figure of his mother struggling out of the destroyed van relatively unharmed. Suzuka and Arisa were also stumbling out, dizzy from the crazy ride. They had all suffered cuts and bumps but those would heal. He sighed in relief until he rested his eyes on the dying figure of Admiral Lindy. His eyes widened in horror as he looked furiously around the room for the many soldiers he had expected to find unconscious. “Where are they?!” he shouted towards the old woman walking stoically back to the centre of the room, “Where are all those damned soldiers? Why are all the artifacts I've stolen still here?” “Gabriel,” the old woman replied, “Here is the Philosopher's Stone, just as you wanted.” She took a small, pebble-sized stone from her pocket and held it to the air. “With this, anything can be done!” “Where are the soldiers? That boy. He said that you used souls to make that. You killed all of them to make that.”
“So you know,” the old woman said without any remorse, “Yes. That was true. The stone needs magic to be created. And where can you find more magic than a whole lot of souls, magical souls!” “Professor Dante...” Gabriel took a step back in shock, “Then- That stone- That is horrible. That is murder.” “Yes, it is.” “But you told me- Then why must I steal all those artifacts?” “You think I can just alchemize the entire city to create this stone without getting all those magic users of Terra after me? No! We lure all those magic users from alternate dimensions that no one will miss here and use them for the raw materials. Stealing the artifacts grabs their attention. Stealing the artifacts disarms them while more and more will come. Including high profile, beautiful female mages! And this is the result!” The Professor Dante brandished the stone with pride. “Too bad there is only enough for one use,” she scowled at the imperfection of her plan. Gabriel sank to his knees, dropping Raising Heart on the ground. The guilt of the offence weighing down on his conscience. “Then- then, we can use this stone to save Mother?” he asked pathetically. “Sure, I suppose we can,” Dante kept the stone in her dress, “That really was my intention after I've done what I want. But! Now that there is only enough for one use, I would very much rather use it for myself. And I would have already done so, if not for those meddling people!” She turned her attention to Fate and Lindy, “Now you have gone and ruined my new body! What a waste. What a waste of such a beautiful body!” “What?” Gabriel asked. “I have not changed bodies ever since I've arrived in this dimension. When was that, more than a century ago I guess? Do you know how long it took to rediscover and introduce alchemy, my dimension's form of magic, here? In a way, they, the magical academy saved me, slowed down the rotting process of this body with magic. But it still rots. It is time to change. And it would have been done so!” The old woman swept her hand towards the symbol on the ground.
The stone. Of course! The Philosopher’s Stone! That would save Admiral Lindy. She needed to get that red stone Dante had. She needed the Philosopher's Stone. There was a sudden sharp pain at her arm. The magic limiter was gone. She could sense all the surrounding magic once again, especially the massive aura of magic radiating from the small stone Dante had. More importantly, she could now fight. She tightened her grip around Bardiche. “Bardiche, are you fine?” “Yes, sir,” her intelligent device answered, “Welcome back.” “Set up.” “Yes, sir.” As Fate stood up to face Dante, her barrier jacket formed around her, replacing her civilian outfit. As her cape rolled out from behind, her long, black staff, tough and sturdy materialized in her hand. “Set up complete.” Turning the staff in her hands, getting back the feel of magic, she approached the old woman step by step. Then a jerk, she bought Bardiche towards the woman's neck. “Hand over the Philosopher's Stone. I am putting you under the arrest of“I’m afraid not,” Dante answered confidently as she looked at another direction. Fate felt a wand point towards her. Without lowering Bardiche, she turned to see Gabriel with his wand directed at her. The wand trembled and shook angrily in his unsteady grip but it was still as dangerous as ever. “Gabriel,” she tried to reason, “You know that the stone is“I know,” he answered bitterly, “But it is still my only hope of saving Mother. The stone must be mine.”
“On the contrary,” the professor said as she brought her hands together for a single clap. Then she directed each palm towards both Fate and Gabriel. “I still need the stone to switch my body,” she said calmly with a smile. “I believe the stone will be mine!”
Chapter 8 End game --------------------------------------------A chill descended upon them as the air froze, forming rows and rows of icicles suspended in midair by magic before them. Each one of their sharp, cold tips pointing towards them. Professor Dante smiled broadly, delightfully. Then with a flick of her finger, the icicles rained on her targets. Almost immediately, almost together, Fate and Gabriel did a double-turn and casted their respective spells against the cold ice barrage. “Sagita Magica Septendecim Sagittae Fulguralis!” “Photon Lancer!” The multiple electric-based magic projectiles sped towards the icy spears, smashing them into a cloud of ice shavings that scattered like snow around them. In the midst of the attack, Dante had already stepped back with the cane in her hand, slamming into the ground. The streaks of magical lightning coursed from the cane, spreading across the floor and raising the ground they stood on. Just before the ground destabilized them, they took a quick glance at each other and their eyes met. Then they both agreed on something: That while they were definitely not allies and would not hesitate to fight each other; they would have a temporary truce until one of them acquired the Philosopher's Stone from Dante. Fate leapt off the rising ground just as Gabriel took to his staff; getting out of the way fast enough to see the next stage of the old woman's alchemic attack. The ground continued to tremble as it rose and took shape. The groans of the splitting floor took on a serpentine roar as the features of the rising form took shape. The giant snake of concrete snarled furiously, spitting bits of debris onto the floor as it turned to face the children. Then with a roar, it reared its ugly head and dived towards them, scattering even more debris around them. Bardiche's barrel spun as it slammed its cartridges into itself, providing the instant magical boost to its attacks. As it released the hissing steam of expended magic, the head moved upward with a grounding sound into its scythe form.
'Scythe Form.' the electronic voice announced. Instantly, a burst of magical energy spurted forth from Bardiche, forming itself into the shape of an electrical blade. 'For Mother,' Fate silently thought to herself as she gripped Bardiche with both her arms and leapt-started her flight into the air to avoid the alchemic serpent's crash. Flying along the body of the twisting snake, avoiding the jerks and spasms, she dragged Bardiche's blade through the concrete, cutting it up as she flew towards Dante and the Philosopher's Stone, trailing sparks of electricity behind her flight path. A slicking sound as a couple of poker cards sliced through the air and embedded itself into the concrete body of the serpent. Fate turned to avoid that area, summoning the electrical balls of magic around her for an attack on Dante. Behind her, she could hear the explosion of the cards rip the snake apart. Having been blown up into half, the rest of the snake crumbled back to the ground with a tremendous roar. Dante had clapped again, swiping her hand over the air. The sudden chilling of the air as all heat was removed through alchemic reactions within. A wave of dark arrows hit the growing ice from her flank, shattering up the icy shield. Then Gabriel came swooping down, his hand outstretched to snatch the stone from the Professor's hand. Before he could close in on Dante, the Professor did a flourish in the air with her hand and the ice formed at the side, growing longer, thicker into another serpent of ice. With a chilly roar, the serpent soared into the air and came diving down towards where Gabriel was attacking from. Gabriel could only swerve in time to avoid the tons of ice from crashing into him. “Plasma Lancer!” Fate sped forward, mentally guiding her magical attacks towards Dante. As expected, the barrier of ice formed in their direction to hold the attack. That would not work this time. Her magical balls of electric shifted their directions, flying along the ever-growing icy barrier, looking for a point of weakness to penetrate. She herself closed in on the barrier and held Bardiche high above her head, ready to bring the energy blade down into the ice. A roar from above attracted her attention. She looked up to see the gapping mouth of a crashing ice serpent coming towards her. Diverting her lightning balls towards the snake, she brought her scythe down in a arch, smashing through the ice. Shattered ice scattered all over the room as Fate accelerated towards Dante. Dante backed away, thrusting her free hand forward. An 'fwoosh' sound as the air pressure suddenly changed according to Dante's becking. Fate quickly flew upwards, just in time to avoid the blast of air from below. Then she dived down, thrusting Bardiche's end forward to knock the Philosopher's Stone out of the woman's hand.
More sounds emitted from below as Dante's staff twisted in shape, turning longer, sharper and harder. With a swift movement, Dante used the newly formed cane sword to parry Fate's attack. Pushing Fate back, she unleashed another fury of icicle shards onto the young mage. 'Defenser' The auto-guard program for Bardiche activated immediately to hold the damage from the attack. The wave continued unabated. Gritting her teeth to maintain the active defence, Fate raised her palm forward. The yellow magical circle formed before it, signaling that Thunder Smasher was ready for casting. Gabriel landed with a thud beside them, having used Dante's momental distraction to fly over the wall of ice. Jabbing his wand forward, shouting off the necessary enchantments, he fired off another round of dark arrows point-blank towards Dante. Dante swung the sword upwards in the direction of the arrows, neutralizing each and every single one of them heading in her direction. “Thunder Smasher!” Taking the chance, Fate blasted the spell towards the ground where the old woman stood. The impact blew the woman off the feet, throwing her into the air before a wave of air brought her descend into control. Gabriel pounced immediately, casting his spells on his professor, aiming specifically for the hand holding on to the Philosopher's Stone. His cast was held off by a swift retaliation from the Professor, casting a deflection spell before her. Not to be left out, Fate flew forward, attacking with furious swipes of Bardiche. Neither of the young attackers gave the Professor any chance to perform any more alchemy, continuously pressing on her with their attacks. Every parry was met with another attack from the other side, then another. Then another. And another. The fighting trio moved, the young fighters never letting the pressure die off, always pressing forward, forcing Dante into a corner. Despite the pressure from both flanks, the Professor showed no sign of slowing, defending herself with her single cane sword with ease and flair, keeping her hold on the coveted stone. Gabriel swung his staff clumsily, having not been training in proper melee fighting before. However, his determination and grim resolve made up for it in the ferocity of his swings and his thrusts, supported by his liberal use of magical attacks at close range. The boy wizard's shortcomings in close range combat were more than made up for with Fate's expertise in the field. She continued to apply the pressure on Dante with her scythe, slashing towards her target of the stone. As
she maintained her waves of attack, turning, blocking, slashing, the thought of Lindy continued to spur her on against the growing strain of tiredness in her young body. She must get the Philosopher's Stone from Dante. She took another swing at Dante, only to be held off by the cane sword at Bardiche's staff, the tip of the energy blade stopping just centimetres away from her target. Fate was forced back again before she leapt forward with another attack. Using the opportunity to go back into the offensive, Dante stepped forward in Fate's direction, stabbing the cane sword towards her. Gabriel flicked a card out from his long sleeves, holding it in his hand for a second, just enough for Fate to notice a small alchemic symbol at the corner start glowing. Then using the card, he slashed towards his Professor's hand. The card cut through the hand like butter, spilling the Professor's blood across the floor and the assailant. By the time the blood-stained card completed the arch of Gabriel's wild slash, Dante had stopped her attack. Dropping the cane sword, she held up her injured hand with her free hand; her face twisted in agony and pain as the blood spurted out in gushes of red. There was only the index finger and the thumb left on her hand; the rest of her fingers scattered in units across the warehouse floor. The crystalline red stone, released from the Professor's tight grip, sailed through the air unguided before landing on the floor with a final thud, rolling a few times before coming to a stop. Another quick look between Fate and Gabriel. Then both of them lunged towards the unclaimed stone on the floor. Whatever truce they had had, it was off. --------------------------------------------Get out! Get out! Arisa's survival instinct screamed madly at her and her foolhardiness as Arisa and Suzuka helped Ms. Testarossa to her feet. The roar of the artificial serpents struck terror into her soul, drawing out her girlish repulsion towards those slimy creatures, weakening her will. That must be why Fate and Nanoha always make sure they were never involved in their Bureau matters. They were always so close to danger, living on the edge of their lives. They never wanted their non-magical friends to
experience the same terror. The crashing sound of tons of ice cascading to the ground reinforced her fear for herself. Everything was too dangerous. It would be best to just get out while she still can. Get out while the old witch with her magic was occupied with fighting Fate and Gabriel. What about her friends? Her conscience, the great defender of friendship questioned her. The reason why she even came to this city in the first place was to help her friends, Fate and Nanoha. Was she going to just make her getaway just like that? Then what can she do? Her survival instinct questioned. She was only human. She could not even master that magic trick with the cards from her 'Magic for Beginners' book, let alone help them in their magical battle. Fine ice showered upon them as Fate destroyed the icy serpent in the air with her explosions. Suzuka had gotten Ms. Testarossa's arm around her shoulders. They were ready to leave, now that they were helpless against the situation. Arisa turned away from the fearsome sight, running over to Suzuka's side and together they dragged Ms. Testarossa out of the warehouse. Fate and Gabriel had started to engage the witch in melee combat, having penetrated her barrier of ice; they as a whirlwind of blurred action slowly drifting towards a corner of the emptying warehouse. An unconscious body lying some distance away from them caught her eyes. Those azure locks of hair... Arisa broke away from Suzuka, ignoring all the protests from her survival instinct. She had to get Admiral Lindy out of the danger zone too. It was the least she could do to help. “I'll be back!” Arisa shouted back to Suzuka and ran towards where Admiral Lindy laid. The lady was laying there, unmoving with an almost peaceful look on her face. The pool of blood was still growing around the body, dying the regal gown redder than before. Above all, the horrible piece of wood that pierced out of her womb like a stake, stained rusty-red from the drying blood on it. Stop the blood! No! There was nothing that she could use around her... she looked down to her own clothings. Won't that be- It was not time to be hesitating! Taking hold of the hemp of her dress, she tore a generous portion off it, roughly reducing the dress to a 'mini-skirt'. Then using the piece of cloth, she attempted to soak up the blood as she frantically tried to recall the first aid skills she had learnt in the past. Nothing useful seemed to be coming to her.
Pull the stake out? No, that would widen the wound, most likely making it worst. The fitful breathing was getting slower, less often. CPR? No, that was for drowning or heart attacks, she think. It would not help stop the lifedraining flow of blood. Move the body? It might make the wound worse. Arisa started to fumble helplessly with the cloth that used to be part of her dress. Once again, she was useless. A shout of pain, followed by the clang of dropping sword punctured the steady clash of weapons. Arisa looked up from Admiral Lindy to see the old woman clutching her bleeding, fingerless hand in pain. She stumbled back, falling on the ground as she stared blankly at her missing units. The Philosopher's Stone that everyone wanted, the red, diamond-like stone had been flung from the momentum through the air, landing on the ground. There was a brief pause from the battle before both the young fighters lunged towards the stone, their hands outstretched to grab it before the other one did. Gabriel's staff propelled him forward at a faster speed as he got ahead, closing his hands around the stone. A painful thrust from the back end of Fate's scythe knocked him off his balance, sending him skidding across the floor. His hands loosened in surprise and pain, allowing the force of the blow to knock the stone off. The stone traveled up into the air, then falling directly into the waiting hands of Fate. Fate closed her hands around the stone, just in time for the strong surge of wind to sweep her off her legs and the stone off her hands. Gabriel zoomed past her, grabbing the stone before it landed. As he rose into the air, he turned back for a moment and pointed his wand downwards. “Sagita Magica Septendecim Sagittae Obscuri!” The dark, murky spurts of shadows burst from the tip of his wand, all of them heading directly towards Fate. The boy did not even looked back as his magic connected, releasing clouds of billowing dust from the ground upon impact. He continued heading up, then turning towards the exit of the warehouse. The dust cleared, revealing Fate unharmed under her magical shield. The shield was dispelled and Fate was on Gabriel's tail again. As she drew her scythe back, there was the calm electronic announcement of 'Arc Saber'. Then she hurled the energy blade like a boomerang across the air towards Gabriel. Gabriel swerved in the air to avoid the spinning blade. Fate was already up into the air, catching the returning blade expertly and swinging it towards the boy. He dodged the attack, drawing his wand back and jabbing it forward for another spell.
“Practe Bigi Nar Ardescat!” A tiny spark of flames burst to life just before his wand. It flared once. Then it blew up, knocking both parties off their flight paths with its throwback. Gabriel turned in the air for a moment before flying up towards the roof. Fate quickly regained control of her fall, having managed to protect herself from most of the fiery blast with her cape. She then followed closely behind, determined to stop Gabriel's escape. Both flew upwards, diving and turning among the aerial beams above, dodging and deflecting each other's attacks, leaving trails of magical streaks behind them. The building's structure groaned with each misguided impact on it. Arisa turned her attention back to Admiral Lindy. The blood was flowing nonstop, even soaking into her socks and shoes. What can she do? What can she do? “Arisa!” Ms. Testarossa's voice rang out. Arisa looked up from Lindy's body to see Ms. Testarossa running towards her anxiously. Upon reaching the girl, she knelt down and hugged her tightly. “What's taking you so long?” she said softly, “We were so worried about you...” Her voice trailed off as she finally took notice off the bloodied body beside Arisa. The lady released her and took a grim, closer look at Admiral Lindy, lifting her limp hand slightly to feel for a pulse. “Apply pressure on the bleeding area,” she ordered, “Do not touch that piece of wood; do not even try to remove it.” Grateful for the instructions, Arisa nodded, performing the instructed task immediately. Ms. Testarossa checked Lindy's breathing. Satisfied, she picked up a piece of nearby debris to prop Lindy's head up. “I did not spend years in the hospital for nothing,” she answered when Arisa gave her a brief questioning look. She then stood up, looking up at the battle with a mixture of sadness and anger. Fate and Gabriel continued to exchange blows and magic with each other from above, neither of them gaining an advantage over each other. There was a clap. Arisa looked to see the old woman bring her injured palm to the floor. Magical streaks jumped from her hand, electrifying the ground as the ground crumbled. The concrete slabs and metal bits seemed to
melt into each other, sharpening and reshaping itself, surrounding and reinforcing her arm and forming an armor of sort. When she stumbled back to her feet, the old woman flexed her newly acquired metal claws with an bitter grimace. The metal units creaked into position in accordance to her will. She then turned her head towards Lindy's body. An annoyed frown. Ignoring Ms. Testarossa, she continued to turn towards Arisa, staring at her for a moment. Then she smirked in satisfaction. That brought chills down Arisa's spine, freezing her to her spot, unable to run or scream when the old woman started to run towards the young girl in large, heavy stomps, dragging the massive artificial claw behind her. --------------------------------------------'Zamber Mode' Gabriel decided to risk a glance behind as he swerved over the beam. What he saw did not make him feel particularly hopeful. The head of her staff was realigning itself, splitting into a hilt. Then the electrifying yellow blade burst into presence. Great. Just what he needed. A big bloody blade of energy that was bigger than its wielder. Fate swung the gigantic sword towards him with surprising ease, cutting through all those metal support as though they were nothing. Gabriel turned, landing himself on another support beam away from her. The swordwielding girl flew closer, blade ready for another slash. He tightened his hold on the evil stone in his hand. No way was he going to give it up. No way could he ever turn back. He had given up his innocence, his conscience for it. He will use it to save his mother. For now, nothing else matters. And that girl coming towards him was yet another obstacle towards that. Reaching into his cloak, he drew his cards. Allowing his fingers to brush against the alchemic circle he had drawn for each and every single card, Gabriel threw them towards Fate. The multiple cards started the alchemic transformation in mid air, becoming harder and sharper as they spun towards Fate. Fate swung the sword at the cards, deflecting them away from her. She continued speeding towards him with the
cold, determined look on her face, bating not an eyelid as the deflected cards exploded beside her. Gabriel threw another set of cards. And another set. Every set he threw was deflected by Fate, until she got too close. She was before him, unharmed by his attacks and swinging her gigantic sword at him. Gabriel took a step back, jumping backwards off where he stood just in time to avoid the slash. As his fall was broken by his staff, he drew an entire deck of cards and threw them upwards into the sky. The cards scattered into the air. As they fluttered down in descend like snowflakes around the surprised girl, the alchemic circles glowed briefly. Then they all exploded. “The two of you! Stop fighting now!” Gabriel jerked his head towards the voice. Mother stood below, cupping her mouth and shouting angrily towards the both of them. That was it. He will grab her and make a run for it. Then he could perform the healing ceremony. Turning his staff, Gabriel sped towards Mother. He reached his arm out to catch her as he came closer. Stomping. A savage swing hit him from the side, knocking him into the wall. The stone fell from his hand, rolling onto the ground. Red clouded his vision as the pain from his back spread across his body. Dante scooped up the stone, never slowing down in pace in her strides towards the auburn-haired girl beside the bleeding body. He could barely hear his mother scream at the sudden attack on him. Mumbling the healing spell, he lifted his injured head up just to see Professor Dante knock Mother aside, pushing her off her feet and into a pillar. “Mother!” He scrambled back to his feet, scrambling towards his mother's side, gaining speed as his body began to heal magically. Mother tilted her head slightly towards him and smiled faintly. Then she frowned. “Now you stop all that fighting! You have caused enough harm...”
There was a scream from behind. Gabriel ignored everything, feverishly casting the healing spell on his mother to heal her physical injuries. The loss of the Philosopher's stone and the possibility of Fate coming from behind had been temporarily casted to the back of his mind. As she regained her strength, Mother's facial expression changed from anger to horror. She then pushed Gabriel away from her, rising up and ran towards Professor Dante. Dante's new claws were wrapped around the girl's body, lifting her up in the air for Dante to inspect. Her eyes widened in surprise, and glee. Another sadistic grin came to her as the Professor licked her lips, unaffected by the girl's struggles and cussing. Mother rammed her own body against Dante in a bid to free the girl. The Professor did not even bulge. Instantly, a wall of concrete rose from the ground, separating her from the woman. “Mother!” Gabriel rose, having fully healed and sped towards his reeling mother, landing at her side. Mother grabbed him by his collar and held tightly, breathing heavily and coughing hoarsely. “Save Arisa,” she said angrily, “You caused this mess, stop it now!.” She then released the boy, grabbing a piece of wreckage and swinging it at Dante. The Professor casually swatted her aside, never leaving her eyes off the captive girl. Gabriel flew ahead, grabbing Mother before she hit ground. She coughed painfully, still struggling to get back to her feet and having yet another go at Professor Dante. Taking care to lay her down gently, he turned towards his Professor. She had been so concerned, so grandmotherly, offering so much guidance in the past. All those... were only to use him as a pawn for her own ends? That he did not mind. But to use up his last chance of saving Mother. But to hit Mother... If he was to save Mother, the stone must be his. If that meant defeating Dante, so be it. “Mother, go now!” he hissed as he raised his wand, firing off a blast of lightning, destroying the concrete barrier. “Not until Arisa is safe and you, stop all these nonsense!” Mother used her make-shift bat to support herself as she coughed.
“Fine! I'll save her, okay?” Gabriel replied to his foolhardy mother in frustration, “Just stay here.” Then grabbing his staff, he sped towards his target. --------------------------------------------Arisa kicked at the metal arm furiously, cussing in words that she had no idea the meaning of but had heard before when the monster knocked Ms. Testarossa away. Her mind was going into a frantic overdrive as fear and panic started to sweep across her. The grip tightened slightly, just enough to keep her still but not enough to hurt. The old woman tilted her head in interest as though she was studying a fascinating new specimen. “I had chosen you, since I am in an even more urgent need of a new body now and that you are the only suitable candidate at the very moment” she said slowly and deliberately, casting a disappointed eye at Admiral Lindy's dying body before peering back at the frightened Arisa with curiosity, “But you possess a most interesting magical aura... this could do me real good...” What magical aura? What is going on now? Arisa slammed her fist into the arm in another futile attempt to make the old hag let go. The monster lifted the clear red stone in her other, normal hand with satisfaction. Without warning, the floor trembled as symbols started to form in depressions on the ground. A single streak of dark matter knocked the stone off her hand onto the ground. She turned her head to where the shot came from, just in time to see Gabriel sped forward, seizing the stone from the ground. Then he circled, flying back towards the old woman. There was a crash, as Fate came swooping down from above, her outfit somewhat charred and tattered from all the explosions but otherwise physically unharmed, bringing her gigantic sword down on the ground before Gabriel's path. Gabriel swerved wildly to avoid the blade, turning away from her blond friend. Fate then swung it towards Arisa's captor, slicing through all the slabs of ice that had formed around the old woman. There was a fleeting moment of fear in the old woman's maniacal eyes, then she pushed Arisa into the path of the sword. Arisa watched helplessly as the blade came down in an arch towards her, cringing in fearful anticipation of the inevitable.
The blade stopped just in time as Fate pulled back, glaring at the old woman in anger. The balls of electricity started to gather around her, filling the air with the buzzing of electricity. Gabriel came from behind, knocking Fate roughly aside and continuing his path towards Arisa. He turned and twisted, avoiding the incoming stakes of icicles, swinging upwards and slammed his palm onto the metal claw that had held Arisa so tightly. Arisa noticed the pendent on his bracelet glowed briefly, then the air seemed to become more concentrated and thicker around. A crushing sound as a dent appeared on the metallic arm, then more started to form around it. Gabriel smiled in satisfaction as the air pressure started to crush the arm, weakening its grip on Arisa. As he leapt off the arm to avoid the blast of ice, the grip around Arisa loosened enough for her to slip through the claws. She fell into Gabriel's waiting arms and before she knew it, Gabriel was speeding just above the ground, straining to carry Arisa to the safety of Ms. Testarossa. As she tightened her hug on him to avoid falling, Arisa could see Fate returned to her feet, engaging the old woman in combat. The old woman, despite the weight of her damaged metal arm jumped acrobatically to dodge Fate's magical attack, returning the fire with many of her own projectiles. At the mean time, the ground cracked along the path of Gabriel's flight and long, thick spikes burst out of them, threatening to impale both of them. Gabriel swerved to avoid the rows of spikes, leaning downwards for more speed. Out-flying the spikes, he came to a stop before Ms. Testarossa, putting Arisa down by her side. “There! I've gotten the Philosopher's Stone! And I've rescued her!” he said to his mother, firing off a couple of magical arrows to destroy the incoming spikes, “Let's get out of here now! Then I can heal you!” After Arisa finally caught her breath, her first reaction was to hit Gabriel as hard as she could. “How could you do that to Fate!?” she cried as fear and sheer relief came rushing back into her. Gabriel stared unbelievingly at her. Almost immediately, Arisa regretted hitting him. He was after all, the one who saved her... and a magical user compared to her. Technically, he wasn't the good guy either. “What!? I- I saved you!” Gabriel clutched his cheek in hurt, “Even my father has neverArisa's blow was followed by one from Ms. Testarossa.
“Must you hurt Fate? Must you do all these?” the lady scolded her son, “You are the cause of all these. You go and help Fate defeat that murderer.” “I did it to save you!” he answered bitterly, clutching the crystal, red Philosopher's Stone in his hand tightly, “I fought with them. I was hurt, thrown, kicked, punched, chased, all to get this. All to save you!” he looked to the ground, ignoring the fight between Fate and the monster behind him. “I can come back later to help her,” he said, “After you are saved, after you are healed.” “No.” Gabriel looked at Ms. Testarossa in shock. “No,” the lady repeated herself as she knelt down to hug her son, “Thank you. I'm really, really happy that you did this for me. Thank you, my son.” She then pushed Gabriel away gently, “But this is wrong. I never taught you to steal, or to do anything illegal or wrong. And you know it.” “ButMs. Testarossa's eyes suddenly widened in shock as she grabbed hold of her son and threw him aside. For Arisa, time seemed to slow down as the horrible scene played out before her. With her actions, Ms. Testarossa exchanged positions with her son. The stake of icicle pierced through her body from the back, spurting blood out of the already frail body. Ms. Testarossa never screamed, just gasped in pain before she fell to the ground, never to get up again. --------------------------------------------“Mother!” Gabriel threw himself to Mother's body, frantically feeling for any signs of life still in her. Arisa, the girl he had just rescued and ungratefully hit him in return knelt down, crying out his mother's name as tears streamed from her eyes. There was still life, but it was weakening fast. There might just be enough time for him to do it.
Grabbing a card from his sleeves, he brought it to the ground, using its alchemically-reinforced edges to start drawing out the alchemic circle he had memorized and revised so many times in the past. He could just feel the power that the Philosopher's Stone could offer him. He could do it, once and for all. A hand stopped him. “No, son. Let it be,” Mother whispered weakly as she withdrew her trembling hand, “This is something that could come eventually anyway.” She coughed again, then she sighed in relief. “It would be a good release from my pain.” Gabriel hesitated, before he brought the card back down on the ground. He can do it. He will save MotherMother brought her hand onto his, using what little strength she had left to stop his actions again. She then shook her head weakly, too tired to speak. Taking one last deep breath, she spoke. “Arisa,” she addressed the girl, raising her trembling hand to wipe off the tears from the girl's face, “You know I want a daughter. Would you mind being my god-daughter? I can make you the elder one.” She smiled weakly at her little joke. Arisa nodded as she tried in vain to sniff back the mucus and wiped off the tears, putting up a brave front. “Thank you. Now I have a wonderful daughter to help me take care of Gabriel. He is a good boy, really...” her voice was trailing off as she seemed to be looking ahead at something they could not see, “Gabriel... I will always be proud of you. Stay strong... and do the right thing always...” “I will save you first!” Gabriel stared helplessly at the wound despite his bravado. It was not something magic can heal. But he had the Philosopher's Stone. He could use it. “No. Let me go,” Mother gasped her last words, “Go and help Fate and her mother instead. This is my last wish... With a sigh of satisfaction and relief, she exhaled one last time. Then with a light, gentle smile on her face, Mother closed her eyes with a peaceful expression and died. ---------------------------------------------
Fate swung Bardiche in Dante's direction as Dante leapt away and brought her hand and her claw to a clap. The aged woman separated her hands as magical streaks danced briefly on her fingers. Fate could feel the chill of the forming ice around her as the very air chilled around her. Before the icy bits threatened to engulf and imprison her body, she soared away while magical balls of electrical energy gathered at her side for another attack. Gabriel's scream of frustration echoed across the warehouse, followed by the loud sobbing of Arisa. Taking a quick glance to the side, she noticed the scene. Arisa was hunched over Ms. Testarossa's limp body, crying loudly in mourning. A melting stake of icicle not unlike Mother Lindy's wooden stake protruded from the lady's body. Gabriel simply stared blankly at his mother, the Philosopher's Stone rolling out of his loosened grip due to the shock. A single drop of tear streamed from his eyes to the ground as he bit into his lips in anger and helplessness, drawing a tiny flow of blood from it. The significance of the scene hit Fate. Ms. Testarossa was dead. The Precious Testarossa of Dimension Terra had died, just like her Precia Testarossa, her mother. And she could not do anything about it. She paused too long for Dante's frost to catch up. The cold ice burned her skin as they formed quickly around her limbs, incapacitating her movements. Fate fell to the ground clumsily, losing her hold on Bardiche's hilt. Separated from her, Barchide returned back to its Harken form. Dante towered over her fallen form, gazing at her with her greedy, desirous eyes. She took a lustful survey of Fate, even bending down to feel Fate's skin and hair. “In ten years or so, you would be perfect,” the Professor mused pensively as she got up, “Perhaps I should hold you for now...” This must be how Mother Lindy had felt previously. Fate squirmed unsuccessfully against Dante's touch. She had to get herself free, get the Philosopher's Stone to save Lindy.
She could not let another of her mother die before her again. Dante jerked reactively towards Gabriel's direction, forming her shield of ice just fast enough to hold against the multiple dark arrows coming towards her. Gabriel had stood up, holding his wand with one hand and the Philosopher's Stone on the other. His wand was directed towards Dante, trembling in its wielder's anger. He stepped forward heavily, not looking up. Without a word, he pointed the wand at his Professor, his mouth moved silently to form the enchantment, “Tel. Ma. Amoris.” His staff left aside, trembled before it flew towards the ice shield at an incredible speed, smashing the cold barrier with the knob at its end upon impact. He took another step forward. The pendent at his wrist glowed as Fate felt the air around her became more concentrated. A single spark of fire burst to life at the tip of Gabriel's wand, transferring the heat from it to the air around her. Her icy restraints were starting to melt. Dante brought her hands together and the ground trembled as the dragon of earth rose from it, roaring as it came to life. With a swift movement of his hand, Gabriel threw his cards at the dragon before it had time to fully emerge. The cards embedded itself on the head and exploded, scattering the debris around them in fine particles. Her restraints were weak enough for her to break loose. Fate brought her ice-encased hands to the ground, smashing up the ice. Dragging herself towards where Bardiche was and taking it up with her still shivering hands, she brought the end of her intelligent device to her feet to smash the ice around it. Something caught her eye from the side. Raising Heart was lying just across the floor. Scrambling to her feet, she made a grab for Nanoha's intelligent device. The ground around Dante started to freeze, coating the floor with its slippery ice. Stalagmites of crystal-clear ice burst from the ground, surrounding her with a shield of spikes. Even more of the cold spikes punched out of the ice-covered floor randomly across the room, forcing Gabriel to dive and slide away from the attacks. Raising Heart's orb gleamed in acknowledgment of Fate when she took hold of the staff and rolled away to avoid the rising icy spikes. The circular head of the intelligent device realigned itself to form the spear-head. The gears within Bardiche cranked and shifted as Bardiche switched to its Scythe form, the blazing scythe blade flaring to life. The air began to heat up as Gabriel's pendent glowed brightly in response to Dante's freeze. The ice around
them were starting to melt fast, causing the ground to become even more slippery. Without a word, Gabriel fired off another round of magical arrows. As the projectiles of dark matter punched through the melting shield of ice easily, Dante raised her metallic claw to defend herself, allowing the arrows to damage her artificial arm. Dante then clapped her hands, bringing them to the ground. Instantaneously, the ground below the combatants started to rise, lifting all of them up into the air. Then like a tidal wave, the ground around them rose higher up, walling them in, closing in on them, threatening to bury them alive. Fate pounced forward, thrusting Raising Heart like a spear towards Dante. The Professor turned quickly, using her metallic arm to parry the attack. The ground movement stopped with the Professor distracted. The surrounding air was starting to feel increasingly warm as the pool of water from the melting ice gathered at their feet. The surrounding air gravitated between heat and cold through the alchemic manipulation of both Dante and Gabriel as both alchemists continuously altered the surroundings to gain an advantage over the other. Fate continued to attack, wielding both Bardiche and Raising Heart to push Dante back, occasionally firing off a Thunder Smasher or even Divine Buster, punching holes through the wall that had came to surround and cut them off from the outside. With a violent cry, Dante clapped her hands and thrust her artificial arm forward. Before they knew it, the arm split into two, extending forward at a fast speed. Each one of them grabbed a surprised child, wrapping itself tightly around them, immobilizing them. The arms continued to push ahead, pressing the children against the wall. The grip around them tightened, crushing the breath out of them, forcing them to drop their weapons in pain, including the Philosopher's Stone from Gabriel's hand. Without releasing any pressure from her grip, the claw that held them steadfast to the wall then separated from her main arm like viscous liquid, sealing them to the wall. Fate watched Dante as the villain smiled in sinister satisfaction at the sight of the red stone. She walked forward leisurely towards Gabriel. The ground below the Philosopher's Stone rose like a mini pedestal, lifting the stone to Dante's height. “You killed her!” Gabriel spat in fury, struggling against the hold of the metal claw, “You monster! To think I trusted you!” “In my defense, I was not aiming at her,” the Professor took the stone without even looking at her student, checking it for any damage done. Satisfied with its condition, she turned back to Gabriel and smirked, “I was aiming at you for damaging my body. You were such a good student; I had such high hopes for you... You could
have been such a good alchemist, better than Edward even. Too bad really. Too bad...” “And you!” she turned towards Fate, ignoring Gabriel's angry curses at her back, “I am getting tired of this unsightly automail. Since I cannot get that beautiful officer, she been dying and all, I shall take you instead.” She stroked Fate's cheek in perverse delight, “It will be fun to enjoy another childhood again. I will be most disappointed when it would be time to change again. That friend of yours outside would do perfectly by then.” “They will be able to tell,” Fate answered as calmly as she could, clamping down on all the fear in her, “You can take my body and my friends will be able to tell. They will catch you for Mother Lindy's and my sake.” “Not when no one knew,” Dante replied, pointing towards the walls around them, “Only my poor student will see it and he will soon be an ex.” “They can tell. You'll see.” Dante stared at the girl before she grinned, revealing her yellowing, rotting teeth. There was the stench of death around her. “So we'll see,” she leered confidently. Suddenly there was a crash from directly above, followed by the falling shards of glass. There was a loud “Ook!” as the mass of orange fur and muscles fell through the roof window and landed with a heavy thud on the Professor. There was a moment of stunned silence before Dante flung the orangutan aside, using her free hand to form a cage of concrete where the ape had landed. The ape leapt agilely away before the cage was fully formed. It then charged towards Dante with a ferocious bellow, smashing through the rising slabs of ice shield towards the Professor. As the orangutan closed in upon the Professor, raising its fist to a direct punch, Dante brought her hands to another clap, shouting at the same time. “Monkeys should stay where monkeys should be!” The orangutan stopped in its track, staring dubiously at the Professor. Its shoulders seemed to sag in defeat and despair as it turned away slowly, taking a couple of heavy, thoughtful steps away.
“Is this depressed monkey the best you can throw at me now?” Dante laughed, believing that she had found a simple weakness to the new enemy, “Monkey! You hear that? Monkey!” The orangutan turned back and nodded sagely. It had heard it alright. Then it grinned broadly, cracking its knuckles as it reared to its full height. And it did not like what it heard. The orangutan charged again, faster, more fearsome. Climbing over the debris without any loss of speed, with an angry “Ook!”, it brought its fist down heavily onto Dante's metal arm, breaking it apart with the sheer force of its punch. The faint whistling sound of a gathering breeze caught Fate's ears. Turning towards Gabriel, she could see the tell-tale sign of his glowing pendent. The wind currents from below blew their weapons upwards, into their waiting hands. Fate felt the sturdy grip of Bardiche in her hand. Concentrating on the spell, she turned her palm towards her bind and fired off a Thunder Smasher on it. It broke easily, releasing her from the hold. At the side, mini explosions could be heard. Then Gabriel emerged from the dust, bitter and vengeful. The orangutan continued its fury of attacks upon Dante, punching and scratching the aged villain, keeping her down and distracted. There was little time for her to react; using what was left of her metal arm to shield her from the powerful punches. Gabriel dashed forward, the winds growing ever stronger below them, lifting everyone upwards. Fate took flight, the wind whipping her cape from behind as she hovered upwards, the electrical sparks trailing her from behind through the roof into the sky outside. Gabriel followed behind, allowing the wind to carry him up before his staff returned to his side. With a fast movement, he grabbed his staff and sat himself on it, circling the air quickly, his pendent glowing brighter. The orangutan gave the villain one last punch into the arm, then it threw Dante into the air. The swirling wind immediately took hold of the body, sweeping it up into the green-tinted sky above. Fate closed her eyes, concentrating on the spell she had in mind. As she murmured the incantation, 'Arcus Cultus Aegeas', the yellow magical circle started to expand below her. 'Photon Lancer Phalanx Shift', Bardiche announced as the air started to electrify. Multiple magical circles were
materializing around them, flashing in and out of sight as more and more formed, each one creating a ball of energy for the attack, electrifying the surrounding air. As Dante fell from her position, four magical circles flashed briefly around her as magical binds formed around her limbs, holding the villain in place. Dante stirred from her position, flexing her arm from the bind. Then she looked up towards Gabriel, circling the air like a vulture; towards Fate, the magical orbs of electrical magic surrounding her like fairy light and buzzing in overflowing volts. The young mage's cape billowed behind her in the wind as the magic concentrated around her, ready for firing. “What a pity,” Dante said without any tinge of regret in her voice, “You would have made a wonderful body.” Fate opened her eyes, raised her hand up to gather all the magical balls around her. “Photon Lancer Phalanx Shift,” she gave the command as she brought her hand down towards the binded Dante, “Fire!” Every single orbs of electricity around her blitzed towards their target. Hundreds, thousands of them exploded into a thunderous crackle of electrical energy upon impact, drowning off any other possible sounds. Above them, Gabriel had stopped his circle, instead swooping down towards the warehouse. He had noticed something Fate had failed to see. Fate watched the Philosopher's Stone fell towards the ground from where Dante was. Gabriel sped downwards, his hand outstretched as he closed his fingers around the stone. Then he turned around, removing a single card from his cloak and threw it upwards. Sensing danger, Fate quickly flew downwards, trying to catch up with Gabriel's fall. The single card flew upwards as it started to glow. Then it blew up in a release of heat. The air around Dante flared orange as the heat spread. Then it started to burn brightly, fiercely in the abundance of flammable gases in the air. Wildfire swept across the sky, consuming everything above them, burning everything to ashes. The fire in the mid-air brought an orange hue to all within the force shield. Nothing could have survived the blast. Ashes and bits of flaming debris rained into the warehouse like miniature meteorites as Gabriel and Fate landed on the ground. Already, parts of the ruined warehouse were starting to catch fire from the burning sky.
Gabriel looked at Fate for a while and then threw the Philosopher's Stone to the ground before her in disgust. He never looked back up, walking blankly towards where Ms. Testarossa's body laid. The orangutan and Arisa stood silently beside the body, mourning her passing. Arisa had placed his mother's hand across her stomach, covering up the gaping wound. There the boy fell to his knees, spent and defeated. Then he stayed in the position, staring blankly at his dead mother, oblivious to Arisa's consoling arms around his shoulders. Picking up the stone, Fate ran towards where Mother Lindy laid and felt hurriedly for a pulse. It was still there, but it was getting very weak. It was sheer luck that the body had been protected from all the crossfire near it. Perhaps it was part of Lindy's will to survive that kept her alive for so long, despite the wound. However, it would not last much longer. She had the stone; she could heal her, save Mother. ... How? She did not know alchemy. Fate tried putting the blood-red stone on Lindy's body. Nothing happened. She tried clapping her hands together, then placing her palms near the wound. There was nothing. She tried again, hoping against hope that something magical will happen. Perhaps Lindy would open her eyes again and smile. Perhaps the wound will magically closed by itself. Nothing happened. The stone was useless. She could not do anything about it. Another of her mother will die again before her. She had failed. Fate took the stone and almost flung it away in frustration. Then she looked towards the other end of the room where the rest had sat quietly beside Ms. Testarossa's body in mourning. Part of her felt that she should be with them, but only after her mother had been saved. Something in her frantic mind clicked. Gabriel.
Gabriel knew alchemy. He knew healing magic. He could save Lindy. She walked softly towards Gabriel, placing a hand on his slumped shoulders as she knelt down to his level beside him. Ms. Testarossa looked almost peaceful, as though she had only gone for a deep sleep. “I'm sorry,” Fate whispered gently to Gabriel, “I did not know this will happen.” “Just let me be,” he answered without looking back, his voice on the verge of breaking. “I need your help. I need you to help me heal her using the Philosopher's Stone,” she pointed towards where Lindy laid. “Not my problem.” “Please, Gabriel. Help me save her. I- I cannot let someone else die again.” Gabriel never replied, merely stared dumbly at his dead mother. “Please,” Fate begged weakly, “You are the only one who can do so now.” Silence. “Please, sh- she is my mother. Please save her,” her vision was starting to blur from the flowing tears. He was her last and only hope now. Gabriel turned his head slowly to face her, gazing at her. For a moment, sympathy and understanding seemed to flash across his look. Then without a word, he took the Philosopher's Stone from her hand, stood up and walked thoughtfully towards where Mother Lindy laid. Fate followed his actions closely, holding her breath in hope. As he approached the dying body, the pendent around his wrist started to glow. Wind swept away all the debris from around Lindy. Then an alchemic circle began to be punched out by air pressure around her. First the outline, then the symbols and lines within. When Gabriel reached the edge of the newly formed circle, he glumly threw the stone into the centre of the circle. The stone landed lightly on Lindy's body, inducing a slight wince of response from Lindy. Then he knelt down and touched the circle. By the time Chrono and Yuuno burst into the room with Nanoha lying unconscious on Yuuno's back, a bright,
warm glow from the alchemic circle filled the warehouse. --------------------------------------------It later became known as the Philosopher's Stone case and was considered a landmark case for the Bureau. What started out as a simple search and capture mission to retrieve stolen devices quickly escalated into a matter of life and death as Admiral Lindy Harlaown's assigned personnel was captured. Due to the rash actions of Lieutenant Colonel Frank Archer, this mission had cost the lives of hundreds of our best troopers to subdue the cross-dimension criminal known as 'Dante'. However, due to the valiant actions of the young officer cadets and local collaborators, 'Dante' was probably killed in the final battle that resulted in the firestorm that burned over most of London for days before it was extinguished. Her body was never found. After the incident, the Bureau had felt it prudent to work more closely with the local authorities towards a common goal and to protect its interest. Dialogues and high-level exchanges between the local magical communities and Bureau representatives had been organized and an official Bureau ambassador appointed for Dimension Terra. Relations between the dimension and the Bureau have never been better. Official Bureau File on the Philosopher's Stone Case --------------------------------------------Fate walked up to the grave, dressed formally in black. As she knelt down, she placed the bouquet of lilies onto it. Engraved elegantly onto it was the name “Precious Testarossa”. A yellowing photograph, fading from its exposure to the elements had been taped to the grave. Through the photograph, the late Ms. Testarossa smiled her eternal smile, consoling young Gabriel. It was a brief moment of family bliss captured in the single piece of aging photograph. The grave was well tended to, the weeds trimmed and another fresh bouquet of flowers placed prominently before it. Someone had just visited the grave. Behind her, her friends, Nanoha, Yuuno, Suzuka, even Hayate and her Belkan Knights approached, each one of them dressed in black and carrying a stalk of lily. Without a word, they solemnly placed the flowers beside Fate's flowers and bowed in respect towards the lady. Then they filed out of the graveyard silently, each of them deep in thought.
“I wish I had met the lady personally before,” Hayate finally broke the silence as she walked unsteadily with them. Vita quickly held on to her master's hand, acting as her support. “She was a good woman,” Yuuno said softly, “She lived her life to the fullest till the very end.” “She had a liking for driving at extremely fast speed and a knack for it too,” Suzuka added quietly. “She was beautiful, gentle and kind,” Nanoha said, “Always willing to help and sacrifice.” “Ms. Testarossa was a wonderful person,” Fate ended, “She was survived by her son, Gabriel Testarossa and her god-daughter, Arisa Bannings. She would always be in our heart, inspiring us all.” The group fell silent as they continued to walk down memory lane, recalling their respective encounters with the lady. As they strolled along the path, they finally came to a stop at a particular ice-cream parlor. It was where Ms. Testarossa had brought Suzuka and Arisa to snack at that time. The gang took their seats overlooking the busy main street teeming with people moving on their daily lives. Most of them would never know what had happened at that time; most of them would never know the truth behind Ms. Testarossa's demise. It was something even few within the Bureau knew about. Their order soon came and they began to talk again, the solemn pall of melancholy lifting from them and laughter soon returned. To think that everything had happened only one year ago. So many things had happened since then. All the injuries they had sustained during the many battles had healed. The damaged buildings had been repaired by the Bureau's expertise and then there were school and all the other missions. It was only on a summer break like this that they could return and look back on the events. “The report did not say much about Gabriel's involvement, did it?” Hayate asked as she dug into her vanilla icecream. “No,” Fate answered. After the events, Chrono pulled many strings behind the scene to remove all the official charges Gabriel will be facing. Most of the official telling of the case was pure fiction. The truth behind everything, about Ms. Testarossa's sacrifice lived only in those who were there and a few selected few... “That is why we had to preserve this memory, to honor her.” “So where is Gabriel now?” They looked around them. There was one of them who was conspicuously missing. Arisa had honored Ms.
Testarossa's last favor, taking Gabriel in under her care. Since Gabriel had also insisted on taking over Dante's role of spreading alchemy and learning more about it, they generally travel during the holidays to various magical schools around Terra from the list that Chrono had given them. Suzuka added, “I think he is also teaching her some magic. The last time a boy teased her about her new 'brother', his books caught fire... ” Judging from the maintained look of the grave, they must have arrived earlier than the rest of them. And they had most likely left too. Gabriel seldom talked to them if he could afford it. Arisa on her part, respected his decision although she never gave up trying to make him befriend the rest of the gang. Could things have happened differently? What if Ms. Testarossa had survived the final battle with Dante? Perhaps. Just perhaps, Fate could have 'found' another mother. Perhaps Gabriel and she could be sworn siblings, maybe even getting along with each other. “Fate-chan!” It would have been only a futile dream. Investigations with the hospital had confirmed that Ms. Testarossa was probably at the last stage of her life by then. She would have died from her illness soon, that was why Gabriel was so desperate to get his hands on the Philosopher's Stone. “Feeeiiitooo-chaaan!” And he did, at the heavy cost of hundreds of Bureau troopers and his conscience. But even with the stone, he was unable to prevent the death of his mother. It was sad, as though fate had rolled him a role in a comic tragedy. “FEEEIITTOOO-CHAAN!” “Ah,” Fate returned from her drifting thoughts to face Nanoha. “Fate-chan, you are day-dreaming again,” her friend said as she pointed towards her left, “they had finally arrived.” Chrono and Lindy were walking towards them, waving at them in welcome. As they approached, the observant shop owner brought out two more seats for his new customers. Their table was getting quite cramped with the new arrivals and the atmosphere, joyfully rowdy.
Gabriel's use of both alchemy and healing spells had worked wonders with Lindy's wound. When Lindy came to, there was not a single scar on her. According to the Bureau's medical staffs, subsequent checkups had found all of Lindy's scars, blemishes, maladies healed. It was as though Gabriel had given her an entirely new body, free from all diseases of the past. With saving Lindy's life, the Philosopher's Stone had been used up. Not a single bit of the red crystal was left. For Gabriel's sacrifice, she was grateful. Fate looked at her friends around her. Could it have ended better for everyone? “Fate,” Lindy's soft, gentle voice called out to her, bringing her back to reality. “Yes, Mother?” “You're zoning out again,” her mother said as she rubbed the girl's head in warm gentleness, “You are thinking about it again.” “Yes, Mother,” Fate admitted. It was hard putting the memory of Ms. Testarossa's sacrifice away. It was something so tragic, yet so brave of her. “Precious Testarossa was a brave woman, a wonderful mother. I am sure wherever she has passed on to; she has done so without regrets. She will always be proud of her children,” Mother said, “and you, my dear daughter.” “Do you think, when a time like that comes around... I will be able to do the same?” Fate asked quietly. “Oh,” the lady gasped in surprise and then she started to laugh lightly, “I would think you are still too young for that at the moment.” Fate started to feel her face burn with the coming of the blush. Embarrassed by the implication of her question, she sought to hide her feelings by poking the untouched ice-cream before her. Everyone else were talking merrily with each other, living the life they want the best they can before her. “But...” Mother mused as she drew closer; placing her arms gently around Fate's shoulder and leaning the child on her own shoulder lovingly, “I am sure when the time comes. You will make the right choice and be a great mother.”
The embarrassed blush grew deeper as Fate nodded in her mother's warm hold, determined to fulfill her future. She carried in her, the name of the two greatest mothers she knew. She will not let her legacy down. “Fate-chan! The ice-cream is delicious! You've really got to try it!” Nanoha's cheerful voice urged Fate. With a nod towards her friends, in the presence of her friends and family, Fate T-Harlaown tucked in. THE END
Ending Words There are many references to pop culture within this story. I shall not mention the specific ones but I shall list down the characters that played a role in the story. Most obviously, since this started off as a Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha fanfiction, most of the cast came from that fandom. However I did include many other characters besides those from MGLN that readers might not be familiar with. Gabriel and Precious Testarossa are original characters that are based heavily on the MGLN characters since they are intended to be cross-dimensional counterparts of the MGLN characters themselves. The wizard academy, Mediana Magical Academy which Gabriel attends came from Negi Magi Magister. That exact same school which Negi Springfield attends. The alchemy used in the story was based on the animated version of Full Metal Alchemist. The Librarian or the orangutan is actually a character from the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. Librarian of the Infinite Library in Discworld's Unseen University, he utilizes the concept of L-space to move from library to library. Including that of Yuuno's. LTC Frank Archer is the MGLN counterpart of the Full Metal Alchemist version. Like in FMA, he got caught in the alchemization for the Philosopher's stone. Dante is the exact Dante from the animated Full Metal Alchemist. I had worked on the assumption that she had managed to survive Gluttony's attack at the end of the series by going through the gate herself. Once through the gate, she went on to discover magic and re-invent alchemy on Terra. It has been fun writing this story. One of the best stories I've ever done. It had its fair shares of flaws but it is still one of the best stories I've ever done and from what I understand, also one of the best MGLN stories ever. Remember that much of the story focus on what made MGLN tick. Not the romantic undertones but violence dealt by little girls in the name of friendship. If you have managed to complete the story so far, thank you for your reading. Read on for more extra bits of the story that I did not include as the main story. KC Komicer
Omake 1 New Game Start --------------------------------------------The boy hesitated for a moment as he raised his hand. Then he looked towards the girl who stood impatiently beside him. “Oh, just do it,” she fumed, combing her blond hair nervously with her fingers. Two small pigtails adorned her hairstyle at the side, adding a childish look to the hot-tempered girl, “We travelled around the globe, trekking and interviewing through the countryside of Germany and now we are back here again. Just do it.” With a weary sigh, he rapped his knuckles on the wooden door. It was only a simple apartment located in an urban part of Japan. Nothing on the door indicated anything different about the inhabitant of this particular home, except for the fact that they knew who might be behind the door. The librarian had told them (or at least, shown them journals, considering that all he spoke was ‘Ook.’) stories about the person they seek. “The door is not locked,” a loud, mature voice boomed from behind the door, “Come in.” The boy pushed the door open, stepping cautiously into the cluttered room, followed closely behind by the girl. There were books everywhere the room, books on rocketry, books on mechanics and more importantly, books on alchemy. A single suit of armor stood proud and tall at the corner of the room, watching over the mess in the room in stoic silence. It was almost a library. No wonder, the librarian knew about this man they seek. Chances are that the ape had access to the apartment through L-space. Across the small apartment, in the sun-lit balcony, there was a small coffee table with a chess set placed on it. The boy could not help notice that all the pieces had been nicely laid out, as though it was expected to be played. There were two chairs. One invitingly empty. In the other, sat an aged man. He was not exactly tall, with streaks of youthful, surviving blond marking his graying hair. His beard was neatly trimmed and hanging to the left of his head, was a long ponytail. He was dressed somewhat formally, sleeves and trousers but with the top buttons of the shirt undone and the sleeves folded in. Most intriguingly, where his right arm should be was an intrinsic, mechanical metal arm that gleamed in the morning rays.
“Care to join me for a game of chess, young man?” the old man asked. He turned to face them and nodded towards the girl behind him, “And young lady.” The duo looked at each other, then the boy approached the man, leaving his backpack down in the room. Turning back and without waiting for the boy to be seated, the man started to move the pieces on the chessboard. “You see,” he said, lifting the white king with his mechanical arm, “Life is like a chess board.” He paused in contemplation. “No, no, I was wrong,” the old man corrected himself, “Life is like a chessboard created by Bloody Stupid Johnson. Multiple sides, multiple colors, perhaps even four, five, six-dimensional. Who knows, with Bloody Stupid Johnson involved, what one gets?” He placed the king back on the board and removed the black queen from play. “Everyone is a player on this chessboard. I make a move,” he moved the white knight, “he makes a move,” then the black bishop, “she makes a move,” the white pawn. “Every single move by every single person adds up,” he whispered as he knocked a white rook off the board, “It all adds up. The best part is,” he smiled, “no one knows how. Everything can be so confusing, so messed up. But in the way things work, it all adds up and everything fits into place.” “We place our pieces down and anticipate each other. I make my first move and you take my queen. I move my pawn to the end and you swept the board. However, in the end, we go for the king,” he moved all the pieces to surround the black king, “The game ends and we start all over again. Everything comes in circles. Some call it by the cheesy ‘Circle of Life’ but in a way, it is true.” He looked at the chess board before him and smiled to himself in satisfaction. Then he grinned at the young boy, “Forget what I said, that was all bullshit. So what is it that you want to learn from an old man?” “Alchemy,” the boy answered confidently and definitely. “Hmm…” the man mused, scratching his beard, “I have not heard of that since the Second World War. Tell me more.” “I am Gabriel Testarossa,” the boy introduced himself and he pointed towards the blond girl still in the apartment, “and she is my partner, Arisa Bannings.” “Elder sister,” Arisa corrected with an annoyed frown, “We- I mean, he would like to learn alchemy from you.”
“I’m afraid I cannot help you there.” “You are Edward Elric, the Full Metal Alchemist from your dimension, one of the best alchemist there and now, probably the only true alchemist left on this dimension,” Gabriel argued, “We know of your stories from the Librarian. You and your brother brought your mother bacMr. Elric raised his arm to stop Gabriel from continuing, “Don’t do that. I can see it in your eyes.” Having stopped the boy, he leaned back into the chair, staring at the chessboard in deep thought before he spoke again. “What is the main principle of alchemy?” he asked. Gabriel shrugged and answered, “Alchemy is the instant application“No, no, no,” Mr. Elric waved his hand in dismissal, “I don’t want that textbook answer. You still have much to learn about alchemy if that is the first answer that you intend to give me.” “Then teach him!” Arisa burst in frustration, stomping forward, her pigtails bouncing at her head in indignation, “What’s with all those chess stuffs? He came all the way here to learn more about alchemy; we spent so much money to track you down. So teach him your alchemy!” The man looked at her in curiosity before he smiled, “You sounded like my brother. Except he tended to be a lot more polite… so you want me to take your little brother in as a student?” Arisa nodded against Gabriel’s protest that he was not really the younger of the ‘siblings’. “You…” Mr. Elric pondered, scratching his temple before he removed himself from his seat and walked towards the pile of books on his work desk. He shifted the books away, shuffling them around until he found an old telephone beneath the mess. Picking up the telephone, he asked without turning back, “How long more before your school starts?” “Two more months before the end of summer break,” came the answer. “That would be more than enough,” the man said as he dialed the number, “I shall give your little brother a task to complete. If he can complete it, I shall take him as my student. You, as his sibling will do it with him.”
“Wait! What do you mean?!” Both children asked in unison over the strange condition. “I’m not the one learning alchemy!” Arisa protested indignantly. “Yeah! I don’t need some interfering, bumbling girl by my side!” Gabriel added in agreement. “Yea- What did you say?! I am NOT- I bet you simply don’t want to expose your weakness to your big sister, heh?!” She folded her arms and smirked at him smugly. “Oh, and I bet you simply don’t dare to take the challenge!” The boy retorted with a scowl. Mr. Elric ignored the squabbling siblings and continued to talk through the telephone. “Yes. Yes. Instant teleportation, please. Yes, I owe you one. Thank you.” The surroundings around them seemed to blur for a moment; then before they knew it, they were no longer quarreling with each other in a middle of a cluttered, badly maintained apartment full of books. Instead, tropical greeneries surrounded them. Just beside them, there was a stream filled with crystal clear water. The call of birds and wildlife could be heard everywhere around them. The remnants of an ancient, glorious civilization lay in ruins around them, engulfed by creepers. Most bizarre of all, there were books everywhere. In the trees, on the ground, even drifting in the water. Stacks after stacks of them in perfect condition despite the surroundings and the lack of human maintenance around. It was enough to stop the petty squabbles and force the pseudo-siblings to gap in wonder of the surrounding sight. “There,” Mr. Elric dropped their belongings before them, “This is almost the same task my teacher gave me when I first started. In fact, you have it easier.” “Where are we?” Arisa asked, dumbfounded. “Mahora Library Island,” the man answered without a pause before he continued, “You two are to survive here without the use of magic or alchemy for thirty days. You are free, and in fact encouraged to explore everywhere. At the end of it all, you must be able to answer my question, ‘What is the main principle of alchemy?’” Arisa looked around her. The calls of the wild were starting to sound creeping. There were way too much roaring, howling and hissing in the background.
“Wait! I don’t even know much magic!” Arisa tried to argue. “Don’t worry! No magic required, just survive,” Mr. Elric said with a cheerful smile, “Oh, I almost forgot.” He clapped his hands together and brought them to the ground. The trademark streaks of alchemic energy leapt from his hands onto the soil. Something began to take shape from the soil, pushing itself upwards into the hands of the aged alchemist. When he was done, he held a single machete in one hand and a huge timer in another. “Here, you might need these,” He said as he placed them in Arisa’s hands and started to blur, fading away from sight before them, “Good luck, both of you!” He disappeared into thin air; probably back to the old, untidy apartment before any of the children could reply. Arisa sank to her knees in despair. What had she gotten herself into? Why had she done so… Ms. Testarossa’s last words came to her. Oh… Was she always so responsible? Somewhere at the back of her mind, she could imagine all her friends cheering her on. Nanoha, Fate, Hayate, Suzuka… maybe Ferretboy in ferret form, waving his furry paw on Nanoha’s shoulder. Fight on! They would say. She can do it! … Somehow… She was starting to wish she had chosen to drag Gabriel to their gathering in London with everyone else, rather than accompanying him, as his elder sister (she reminded herself) to meet that eccentric cyborg man. She looked miserably behind to Gabriel. He was surveying what was around him glumly, looking just as surprised with the encounter as she was. Obviously, this was not something he had expected. With a sigh, he opened his bag and looked into it disapprovingly. He was already taking up the survival challenge. Then he turned towards Arisa and shouted, “Come on! Help me out here!” With a sigh of her own, Arisa got up and walked towards her ‘adopted’ little brother. It will be a long thirty days for the both of them. NEW GAME START
Omake 2 Punishment game --------------------------------------------One month after the Philosopher’s Stone case, It was a beautiful day on Terran. It was the kind of day which everything, even that gross, slimy slug crawling up the weed leaf, looked beautiful. The sky was dotted with white, fluffy cotton-candy clouds, providing occasional shade to the inhabitants of Terran, especially those who were running merrily, shouting and laughing at each other in the swaying grass fields in the parks. It was the kind of day that homework should be relegated to the very last priority so that children could go outside and soak in the vitalizing sunrays of the beautiful day. Unfortunately for Nanoha, she was stuck at home with her unfinished summer school work lying on her desk as she stared out of the window into the blue, blue sky, laying the brickworks of a magnificent castle in the air. Raising Heart was placed snuggly on her folded handkerchief on the table, gleaming like an exquisite glass marble. “Hey, Raising Heart,” Nanoha spoke. “Yes, My Master?” “I have an urge to try something new.” “Yes, My Master?” There was a bit of uncertainty in the voice. “Would you mind if I try riding you?” “…Master?” ------------------Yuuno was doing his usual in the Infinity Library. The beautiful day outside was of no concern to him, not that space can be very beautiful in the first place. There was another tight deadline to see to, courtesy of dear Officer Chrono. His staffs were running up and down frantically around the library, tearing through shelves after shelves of books in search of information of some ‘Reiji Maigo’. On his part, his scanning magic was scanning through the collection at a faster rate than any physical means possible. There was still no ‘Reiji Maigo’ anyway…
Closing his eyes for concentration, he searched through the books again and again, delving deeper into the collection of infinity. A holographic screen popped up beside him with a ‘blink’. “Yes, dear officer? How may the library serve you?” he asked without even looking up. The channel was only available to certain people and usually Chrono was the only one trigger-happy enough to harass him through it. “Yuuno-kun! I’m in trouble!” Nanoha?! His eyes sprung open to see Nanoha’s anxious face reflected on the holographic screen. “I was riding on Raising Heart just now… you know, just for fun…” “What?!” Yuuno’s face turned bright red at the thought. With a gulp of anticipation, he asked, “Riding?” “I was going to ask Fate to join me with Bardiche but then I thought that I should try it out first! Now, Raising Heart is stuck! I can’t let the others see it! It is too embarrassing!” Her face also turned a shade of red from the flushing blood, “You are the only one whom I can trust to help me!” Yuuno’s face went even redder. He was pretty sure he could find some books on the topic in the library, but… if it was what he thought it was… perhaps he should, you know, turn up in person… “Yuuno-kun! Can you… you know… come down in person to help me in person? I might need your healing spell…” Nanoha asked shyly. Oh, Haruhi-sama! Oh, Oyashirou-sama! The librarian’s mind was going into overdrive with all the possibilities going through his mind. Could this be… could this be… Despite the fact that Nanoha could be seen dressed in her barrier jacket through the holographic screen, the image of Nanoha in a bunny girl costume flashed through Yuuno’s mind. It was too much. “I will be there in a moment!” Yuuno quickly started his teleportation spell. The rotating green magical circle for teleportation never burst out faster. Screw Chrono’s ‘Reiji Maigo’; that can wait for now, it probably will last forever anyway. He needs to be by Nanoha’s side now. “Where are you now?” he asked. “The forest near my home. Please come fast!” Nanoha pleaded before she closed the connection.
In the wild… he never knew Nanoha had that in her. The bunny girl image flashed through his mind again. It was probably someone at his current age should not be thinking, however in the library of infinity, it was inevitable that he would come across books that teaches such things occasionally, by accident. The green light of the teleportation spell engulfed the librarian. With a whistling sound at his ears, Yuuno travelled from the Infinity Library to the forest near Nanoha’s home in an instant. He was in luck. Nanoha grabbed hold of his hand the very moment he materialized. “Yuuno-kun! I knew I can count on you!” she cried out as she started to pull Yuuno aside, “Over here!” She was almost in tears. Her usually neatly maintained auburn hair was unkempt and undone at one side. There were even leaves stuck in her hair. Her barrier jacket was also torn and roughed up at places. A single stream of blood flowed from under her dress, on her leg, staining her petite, white socks. Nanoha must be quite desperate. She must be in much pain. Yuuno was starting to feel ashamed of himself. How can he think of such things as he did? He cannot take advantage of Nanoha in times like this. He looked down in shame as he forcefully banished the errant thoughts from his mind. “Here we are! Please! Raising Heart’s stuck!” The magical girl pointed upwards. “What?” Yuuno looked up, somewhat unsure what was going on now. As his sight followed in the direction of Nanoha’s pointing, he caught sight of the pink end of his ex-intelligent device protruding out of the canopy of the tree. “Raising Heart is stuck in a tree?” the librarian asked weakly, feeling all his strength draining from him. “Yes… “ Nanoha shuffled her foot, creating a smear of blood on the grassy ground, “But she is really stuck! Really, really stuck! And it is too high up there for me to climb!” “Okay… “ Yuuno answered uncertainly. It did look very high up. Just how did Nanoha get Raising Heart so high up in the first place… wait a minute… he was missing something very important. “The blood!” Yuuno exclaimed, “How bad was it?” Nanoha had been bleeding from underneath her dress all these time. He knelt down to examine the more urgent of the matters… “Nanoha? Can you show me your wound?” he asked shyly. Blushing slightly, Nanoha nodded and started to lift up her dress.
No, wait! Yuuno screamed mentally but was unable to remove his fixated eyes from Nanoha’s rising hemline. Higher, higher… It stopped at her knees. There was an ugly rash at her knee, caused by the friction of a nasty fall. It was still bleeding despite Nanoha’s best efforts to clean it with her handkerchief. With an admonishing sigh, Yuuno started his healing spell, watching the wound close up slowly. “So how did this happen?” he asked. “Well…” Nanoha started with a sheepish grin, “Remember last month in London? Gabriel was riding his staff with that knob at the end everywhere. I was wondering if I could do the same with Raising Heart; so I rode her… but my controlling was not very good so… CUT!
Omake 3 A possible future --------------------------------------------In the forest of Japan, The kantana was returned to its sheath before the corpse even hit the ground. When it did hit the ground, there was a fizzle, then the corpse was no more, disintegrated to the shadows it always was. With a casual huff, the teenage girl took a mobile phone out of her costume and dialed the number she had done so many times before in the past. “I have defeated the latest wave of shadows as per contract. Yes- No wait.” With an agonizing groan, more of the shadowy monsters emerged from the dark forest. They had no physical body, just a dark mass of shadows that wavered shakily in the presence of the evening sun. Groaning and moaning their undecipherable language, they pushed themselves to advance towards the lone teenager. “Ah shucks, there are more of them. I’ll call you again later.” She snapped the mobile phone shut and kept it carefully back into her costume. She then casually dusted her dirty white robe with its red lining, frowning at the state of her ‘uniform’. It was supposed to be pearl white, not ‘dirty white’. Her originally perfect stockings had been torn at certain places due to the pathetic clawing of the shadows and her short, neck-length hair was unkempt, her usual pigtails had been undone from the previous skirmish. It did not do well to her image. After all these, what she needed was a good, long soak in her local mansion. Perhaps do a bit of catching up with her friends, if they were in town at the moment. Shifting her stance, she re-extracted her kantana in a deliberately slow fashion, allowing the soft, slick sound of the drawing sword to draw out. On cue, the wings of blazing fire puffed out from her back, bringing a fiery glow to the darkening surroundings. Holding the sword with her black-gloved hand, the teenage girl brought her other gloved hand forward. This glove was white, made from the finest spark-producing material and had a symbolic circle carefully printed onto it in red. For the learned, the circle represented the alchemic symbol for the creation of fire. Taking one final survey at the approaching monsters, the girl grinned confidently. The mindless creatures had
arrived bunched up together, with little space between each other. This could take less than a few minutes. And so Arisa Bannings, now a contractor for the various magical organizations of Terra, snapped the fingers of her non-kantana holding handA sudden gust of wind swept across the woods, rustling the leaves and lifting Arisa’s robe to a level high enough to be considered fanservice. With an instantaneous pink blush on her cheeks and all the approaching dangers forgotten, Arisa hastily suppressed her billowing cloak to salvage her decency and dignity. “Do you seriously want to set the entire forest on fire? That would have been a total mess!” The slightly muffled but definitely cocky in Arisa’s opinion, voice sounded off from above. “Gabriel! Must you do that?! I- I just- !!!” “Don’t worry, ‘Burning Arisa’. All those shadows would not be bothered the slightest from your flashing.” The teenage boy landed from the air, alighting from his long, wooden staff (with a knob at the end). He was draped completely in black. Long black sleeves, long black cloak, black boots, black gloves, black trousers. The only visible non-black part of his outfit was the blank mask he insisted on wearing on his face, despite Arisa’s complaints that it muffled his voice and scared little children at night (at which he would answer that that was precisely the point.) Arisa also commented on his clichéd fashion taste. His only answer was that he felt black was cool. Arisa still felt that it was a rather lame excuse for poor taste of clothing. “That’s ‘big sister’ for you, little brother,” Arisa hissed angrily, “Then why not you tell me a faster, more effective way to deal with them. I’ve got a hot bath to go too.” She jerked a finger towards the coming threat. Extracting his wand from his cloak, Gabriel pointed the slim wand towards the monsters, silently saying the necessary incantations. The wind started to gather at their feet again, growing in strength where the monsters were stumbling. The wind became a gust, then a hurricane, sweeping the monsters and everything below them off the ground. Arisa wisely pressed her robe down to preserve what modesty she had left as she watched all the monsters getting thrown helplessly in the cylindrical blender of fast moving air. Gabriel did a little movement with his wand and started to mumble another spell. Then he jabbed the wand forward. A single bolt of lightning shot from his wand and into the lethal mix of wind and moaning monsters. There was the blitzing sound of static before the magical-blender exploded, scattering the disintegrating
shadowy parts everywhere. Arisa looked at the scene of carnage before her unimpressed. Trees, grass, rocks, everything before them had been uprooted and thrown aside by Gabriel’s magical display. “And you call my tactics a ‘mess’,” she said deadpanly. “At least mine does not spread,” Gabriel retorted before he turned away and added, “Nice choice of pink panties.”
Omake 4 Preview --------------------------------------------Year 20XX - Four years after Philosopher's Stone case “So they are really going to do it.” Chrono did not even attempt to feign surprise. He simply continued to deal with the growing pile of documents and reports on his desk with the resignation of one used to paperwork. Someone had to do it, he had reasoned to himself. He just never really liked the idea that that 'someone' would be him as he climbed his way up the hierarchy of ranks within the TSAB. “Yes,” his sister answered, “Or to be more precise, Arisa intends to do it and Gabriel will have to follow whether he likes it or not.” The thick folder labeled 'Bannings Agency' in thick red marker stuck out like a sore thumb in the middle of the desk. Chrono had read through the entire folder. Twice. And he knew that most of what was inside was false. If the real truth of the history of this 'Agency' was to be documented, it would have even been thicker. “And they are looking to us for contracts,” the now Lieutenant Colonel Chrono placed his palm to his face and shook his head in exasperation. “Does Arisa think that we don't have enough field agents to do our work?” “The Bureau does make use of civilian agents before...” his sister replied softly but left the sentence incomplete. Chrono looked up to Fate who stood before his desk of paperwork. She was looking around with the most theatrical innocence ever while giving him the warmest, most hint-laden smile. He could sense the unspoken threat left hanging in the air, just like the incomplete sentence. Yes, Chrono admitted to himself that the Bureau had deployed Nanoha, an officially untrained civilian in the 'front lines' before. However, this is different. Those two are really untrained and untested... okay, so maybe Gabriel will be able to handle himself but Arisa?! Their intelligence reports had indicated that she had learnt some magic for herself but... He took another peek at Fate from behind the folder. She was fingering Bardiche in her hands. Not good.
“Fine,” Chrono finally gave in, and signed the approval “I'll give them something.” He could always give them something so simple that it would not be worth sending real agents to do. Maybe even something old. To his relief, his sister returned Bardiche to her uniform pocket. “Thank you, big brother,” Fate said with a warm, genuine smile before she skipped out of his office, having successfully persuaded her elder brother into accepting the proposal and fulfilling her promise to her friend. Gabriel Testarossa and Arisa Bannings. Almost four years had passed since the case then. How much had changed since then? Chrono stared at the folder before throwing it into his 'out' basket for completed paperworks. He could already imagine the new influx of paperwork that approval would create for him... As for now, the Bannings Agency is officially recognized by the Bureau. --------------------Every Agencies has got to start somewhere. They have survived a century-plus old master alchemist. Can they survive a conspiracy too? The first installment of the Bannings Agency series. And hopefully not the last. ------------------Contracts and Conspiracies Komicer Productions ------------------Despair! The unnecessary obligations of people to create part twos have left me in despair!
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