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Game Theory III - Hawk and Dove

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Aleph, May 1, 2012.

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  1. Aleph Solidarity

    Avast, ye scurvy dogs! We be boarding this new thread, so ready yer cutlasses and prepare to plunder! The old threads we've forced to walk the plank go here and here, and our stash of Game Theory treasure be hidden away on fanfic.net!

    Contents:
    Prologue
    Chapter One
    Chapter Two
    Chapter Three
    Chapter Four
    Chapter Five
    Chapter Six
    Chapter Seven
    Chapter Eight
    Chapter Nine
    Chapter Ten
    Chapter Eleven
    Chapter Eleven Point One One
    Chapter Twelve
    Chapter Thirteen
    Epilogue
    Final Words

    Infodumps:

    On Game Theory (and sequels):
    What it isn't: 1, 2, 3
    Characters: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    Timeline: 1
    Locations: 1, 2

    On magic, mana and spells
    Mana and magic symbols: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    Mage rank and linker cores: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
    Devices: 1
    Mana constructs, summons and familiars: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
    Rare Skills: Carim, Yuuno, Mei (2, 3)
    Spells and their construction: 1, 2
    Dimensional barriers: 1
    Medicine and mana poisoning: 1, 2, 3, 4
    Lethality, and kinetic weapons: 1

    On historical events and entities
    Dimensions and world-templates: 1, 2, 3,
    Basic history (and magic systems): 1, 2, 3
    Alhazred: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8
    Dawn States: 1, 2, 3, 4
    Combat Cyborg Incident: 1

    On the TSAB and the present day
    TSAB structure: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    The Saint Church: 1
    Fashion and Jackets: 1, 2, 3
    Technology: 1, 2, 3
    First Contact: 1, 2, 3, 4
    Cultural elements: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    Special treatment: 1, 2, 3

    Note: As a standard disclaimer upon which all of my worldbuilding is constructed (and to hopefully stop people PMing me to ask permission to use it), everything in the Gamesverse is free for the taking. Not only am I writing fanfiction, which means I can hardly protest at people taking the stuff I come up with when I'm doing the exact same thing, the entire point of this worldbuilding is to create a reconstructed setting with lots of plot hooks and interesting sci fi stuff for everyone to take as much from as they think is cool.

    And lest I seem uncharacteristically generous, it's for partly selfish ends too - if enough of this stuff diffuses into the wider Nanoha fanfiction community, I get more fics of the sort I like to read. Everybody wins. So yeah, feel free to take as much of this stuff as you like, and leave as much of it as you don't. It's all up for grabs if you want it.

    Now, on with the thread!
  2. NHO Misplaced Mechmind

    So, was that another Alicia clone experimented upon?
  3. Aleph Solidarity

    Okay, I would like it on record that I totally got this chapter out on time, and with hours to spare, even! It's just that Spacebattles was down at the time, so it only came out on fanfic.net. In fact, you know what? I did actually post it here on time, you just weren't able to read it. Yes, that's right. And the timestamp for this message is glitchy, that's all.

    There are no logical holes in this declaration. At all. None whatsoever. Honest.

    :D

    Right then. As long as that's settled...

    Game Theory
    Chapter Seven


    ‘Dear Mama,’

    Nanoha Takamachi considered the words on the screen of the slim mobile phone, the blinking cursor to their right waiting for her to continue. Chewing on her lip idly, her fingers danced over the keypad as she continued the text.

    ‘I’m sorry it’s taken so long to write to you, but you did say to keep contact infrequent.’

    It had, in fact, been almost two weeks since she had left her mother in the small public garden to fight a Jewel Seed. Two weeks of living with Fate and Arf in a high-rise penthouse suite, sneaking out to search the region for the Lost Logia in shifts and trying their best to avoid anything the TSAB cruiser in orbit might notice.

    On the latter count, they had apparently been successful, as they hadn’t seen any of the foreign mages since the fight. Still, Fate remained wary of them, and Nanoha followed her lead, trusting her judgement on the matter.

    It would not, however, be a good idea to detail this to her mother, who was probably worrying more than enough anyway.

    ‘I have been fine, and Fate-chan and Arf-chan are both very nice. I have been keeping busy and helping them with their mission.’

    The patrols were, once she had got used to them, actually fairly dull. Fly over the next square of the grid. At night, since she still couldn’t go out looking like herself during the day, what with being a missing person and all. Search it for any dormant power sources that matched the Jewel Seeds. Fail to find any. Go back to the penthouse. Mark the square off on the big map in the office. It had been fun for the first two squares she searched, feeling like a secret agent conducting a mission of massive importance.

    By the fourth or fifth, however, it was just dull. She couldn’t even daydream or bring something to read, either. The scans, while repetitive, demanded her full attention. At least it wasn’t cold. Her Barrier Jacket kept her protected from more than just physical violence – a fact for which she was profoundly grateful, given the night-time temperatures several hundred feet up. But the boredom was a constant companion.

    She briefly wondered if it would be okay to draw a smiley face in the grid square for the next bit of searching, before discarding the idea. She was supposed to be being mature and grown-up.

    ‘I’ve been out and about once or twice, in disguise, but mostly I’m staying hidden.’ Raising Heart was able to maintain a basic illusion that changed her appearance enough that she wasn’t recognisable, and one of the first things she had done the day after meeting her mother had been to go out as a little black-haired girl and buy the mobile she was currently using. Still, Fate had asked her to stay inside the penthouse as much as possible during daylight hours. Her disappearance had thrown up something of a furore, and there was still a police hunt scouring the area for her.

    ‘Precia-san suggested that it might be a good idea for me to make my own Familiar. I’m not so sure. Fate-chan says that a Familiar is for life, not just for Christmas, and I'm not sure if I'm ready for such a big comit...’ she paused, frowning, and managed to find the correct automatic completion of the word on her second attempt, ‘commitment.’

    She paused, considering. ‘Well,’ she amended, ‘she didn't actually say that. That was just how the translation put it.’ She flexed her fingers absently. It had been a surprise, and a rather unpleasant one at that, to find that the two of them couldn't even talk to each other without their Devices. Fate's language, which translated as 'Mid-Standard', was completely unlike Japanese, and the other girl didn’t know any of Nanoha’s mother tongue herself. Arf had picked up a basic knowledge of it – easily enough to get by – but she made for a poor translator compared to Raising Heart and Bardiche. It made talking in the absence of the Devices awkward, to say the least.

    ‘Anyway, Precia-san says that it would be a major asset if I did, so I’m studying the spell and thinking about it. I’ve been learning a lot of magic, which is really fun, and I'm getting really good at it (though not as good as Fate-chan).’

    The magic had been one of the best parts of the past fortnight, in fact. Stuck in the admittedly luxurious penthouse all day, Nanoha had been left with nothing else to do but practice magic. She spared a little time to try cooking, and had proudly presented Fate and Arf with carefully made meals once or twice, but she mainly just learnt.

    And learnt. And learnt. She had blown through the first few beginner books in less than a day, trivially accomplishing the basic control exercises on her first try. Hovering balls of light to help with reading, simple projections cupped in the palm of her hands… none of them gave her more than a minute’s trouble before she had them mastered.

    It was a wonderful experience, the knowledge soaking into her like a cool balm and soothing an itch she’d never even known existed before she’d discovered magic. Currently, she was halfway through a more advanced text on movement magic, which she was devouring with speed born of gleeful enthusiasm.

    Lying on her stomach on the couch with her arms propping her up as she typed, the rays of the evening sun slanted through the huge window that took up the whole of one wall to wash over the brown-haired girl. She idly kicked her feet in the air, pondering what else she could tell her mother and looking over what she had written. A mewl from the side of the sofa gave her fresh inspiration, even as a small weight clambered up onto the couch and onto her back. She giggled at the ticklish, uncomfortable feeling of small paws resting the kitten’s weight on her, and tilted her head back.

    “Vesta-chan,” she mock-scolded, “stop pacing about back there and sit still, you’re tickling me!”

    “Mraa!” responded her pet, but obeyed her request, curling up in a ball on the small of Nanoha’s back and quietly starting to purr. Nanoha grinned at the feeling of the warm, furry little weight resting on her and added to the text, which was by now almost six times longer than a normal text’s limit. Still, she had plenty of free texts on the mobile from the last top-up, so it didn’t matter very much.

    ‘I do have a favour to ask, though. Fate-chan thought I would be lonely, so she kind of took one of Suzuka-chan’s kittens which she’d seen being friendly with me before. Vesta-chan is very cute, and I’m glad to have her as a pet, but could you please tell Suzuka-chan where she is, and apologise for Fate cat-napping her? I tried to get her to take her back, but Vesta-chan didn’t seem to want to go.’

    “Did you, Vesta-chan?” she added aloud, tilting her head back again to address her lump on her back. The kitten had actually put up quite a fuss at the time, somehow twisting out of the other mage’s grip as Nanoha had pressed the little ball of fur into her hands and hissing at her, before taking refuge behind Nanoha’s legs. She had refused to move more than a metre or so away from her chosen protector for the rest of the day, staying twined around the girl’s legs whenever possible.

    It had made walking difficult, to say the least.

    “Mraa! Mreow! Mraa!” replied the kitten to her owner’s question, batting at Nanoha’s pigtails with a lazy paw. She missed, not having the reach to connect with her target, but was apparently too warm and comfortable to move from her resting spot.

    Glancing back, Nanoha noted that it just so happened to be perfectly situated in the path of a sunbeam that fell over the couch, and smiled knowingly.

    “That’s right, you’re happy just where you are, aren’t you?”

    “Mraa!”

    ‘I don’t think I have anything more to say, so all my love to papa and Kyouya and Miyuki! And I promise I’ll come back as soon as I can! Hugs and kisses, Nanoha.’

    Nodding decisively at her conclusion, Nanoha’s thumb hovered briefly over the ‘send’ button before stopping. No, she remembered. First she had to check the content against Linith’s list of things-she-wasn’t-allowed-to-talk-about.

    Which was on the table. On the other side of the room. Too far away to reach.

    “Ah heh… Vesta-chan? Do you mind moving?”

    A faint growl was her only response.

    “… right.”

    Creativity it was, then. And at least this way, she got to exercise one of the new spells she’d learnt recently. Her tongue poked out of the corner of her mouth as she craned up as far as she could without disturbing the slumbering kitten on her back, getting a clear line of sight to the piece of paper she wanted. Holding out a hand, she concentrated briefly and a pink thread leapt from her palm to her target, wreathing it in a pink halo that covered its surface like a thin film as it made contact.

    “And now…” Slowly but surely, Nanoha flexed the mana thread that connected the list to her hand. And as gently as a feather, it floated up and across the room into her waiting fingers.

    Cancelling the spell, she let out a little hum of delight, half-turning to address her only audience again. “Did you see that, Vesta-chan? Wasn’t it great?”

    Low purring and a feline yawn indicated the kitten’s lack of acknowledgement, or indeed notice, of the feat. Nanoha pouted slightly at the disregard of her talents, but gave the kitten a mental pass regardless. Curled up on her back in the sunlight, the little creature was probably half-asleep; exhausted after a day spent running in circles chasing the training shot Nanoha had been threading around the room. Unfolding the list, she returned her attention to the matter at hand, checking the content of her text message against Linith’s list of don’ts.

    She hadn’t mentioned where they were staying, so that was fine. Nor was there anything on what the mission was; what she was learning or what her capabilities were. She’d said that she was learning more magic, of course, but that was kind of obvious, and probably okay to send. She’d named no places she'd been or names that her mother didn’t already know – well, other than Vesta, who was just a kitten and not that important. What was next on the list… ah. She had sort of given details of their plans, in talking about how Precia-san’s suggestion to create a Familiar.

    She hastily scrolled up and deleted that entire paragraph, leaving the message flowing straight from how she was staying hidden to how she was learning magic. Looking over the message again, she nodded firmly and reached backwards.

    “Sorry, Vesta-chan. I have to move now, or I can’t send this.” It took a little coaxing, but eventually the kitten reluctantly left her comfy seat on the girl’s back, settling for a carefully placed cushion instead and going quickly back to sleep. Nanoha smiled at the little curled-up ball of fluff, stroking her a few times, before saving her message as a draft and making tracks towards the roof, prying the battery out of the phone before she left the shielded apartment. That was on the list as well. Unless she was under the wards of the apartment that stopped the phone from getting any bars of reception its position could be triangulated from, the battery was to remain out whenever she wasn’t actively sending. Hopping off the roof into flight, she coasted through the darkening skies until she felt she’d put sufficient distance between her and the apartment, and slipped the battery back in again. It was the work of a moment to send the saved text, and then the battery came back out and she was on the way home.

    … home. It still felt strange, thinking of the penthouse as home. But it was, now, and Fate and Arf were her new flatmates. She giggled to herself. Flatmates. It sounded so old and responsible. And indeed, as she touched back down on the roof, she felt the mental nudge from the direction of the setting sun that heralded their return from the afternoon patrol. From the feel of it, it would be a few minutes before they arrived.

    Just enough time to get tea boiling, then. Rolling up her sleeves, Nanoha made for the kitchen.




    “We’re home!”

    Fate’s soft call reached Nanoha in the kitchen as she and Arf entered the apartment. It had taken a few days to get the reserved girl to call out in greeting like that, but it had definitely been worth it to hear the quiet note of welcome in her voice whenever she did.

    “Welcome home!” Nanoha called back happily. “I’m in the kitchen! With tea!” A patter of canine feet and a faint ‘mrowl!’ announced Arf’s approach through the main living space.

    Nanoha had to stifle a giggle as the wolf entered, though. Vesta had reacted surprisingly well to the enormous canine. Instead of being scared of or hostile to a creature that could probably eat her in one bite, she had stared at Arf for about a minute the first time they had met before mewling slightly and curling up into the wolf’s side. Personally, Nanoha was of the opinion that the warmth Arf had been giving off had trumped any fear created by her appearance, but the effect seemed to have stuck. Vesta was perfectly content in the familiar’s company, even to the point of including her in the mad games she occasionally played, which only appeared to make sense to eight-week old kittens and occasionally Arf herself.

    Which was apparently what had just happened. Nanoha hadn’t seen it, but given Vesta’s position on the back of the couch when she had got back mere minutes ago, she was willing to bet that the kitten had taken a flying leap from her lofty perch as Arf had trotted past. Now, the orange-haired wolf looked up at her and huffed faintly in amusement, the happily purring grey and black kitten draped over her head like a folded towel.

    “Are you offering rides now, Arf-chan?” she asked, and received another amused huff in reply. Arf trotted past her, over to the radiator on the wall opposite the kitchen door, and tilted her head down into the towel-lined basket that sat at its base. With a faint ‘meep’, the bundle of fur draped over her head slid down past her eyes, along her muzzle and onto the cushion of towels with a soft thump.

    For a moment, it looked as though Vesta were going to protest at the treatment, but then the waves of heat the radiator was giving off hit her. Apparently deciding that this was, in fact, where she had been intending to end up all along, she snuggled further into the blankets and voiced her approval.

    “Mraaaaaaaa…”

    Nanoha brought a hand to her mouth as she giggled involuntarily. “Where’s Fate-chan?” she asked, setting Arf’s tea on the table as the familiar resumed human form.

    “Updating the map in the study,” yawned Arf, taking it gratefully and collapsing into a chair. “And then she said something about a bath. Though if you have tea, she’ll probably be through here to pick it up en route.”

    A sound behind them caught their attention, and they turned to find a tired-looking Fate in the doorway. She had dismissed her Barrier Jacket already, leaving her in the black lace dress she had worn when she had visited Nanoha at her home, and she rubbed at her eyes as she made for the table, saying something incomprehensible.

    “Um…” Nanoha replied uncertainly, and Fate’s gaze rose to meet hers. There was a second or two of awkward silence as they remembered that they couldn’t talk to one another without their Devices.

    Arf broke the silence. “She said thank you for the tea,” she yawned again, and took another sip of tea, closing her eyes as the hot liquid warmed her from the inside. “And that she’s filled in the grid squares we searched. No successes, m’afraid. And boy, was that tiring…”

    “Ah… you were searching the grid edges again?” Nanoha asked. The furthest squares on the grid were usually covered by Fate, as she was the fastest and the most experienced mage in the group – and thus the best equipped to cover the large areas and long distances around the furthest regions of the area the Jewel Seeds were scattered over. But that much flying tended to be exhausting, and she was often visibly tired when she got back home from a long patrol. Arf said something in Mid Standard, presumably translating Nanoha’s query for her master, and Fate opted just to nod. There were bags under her eyes, Nanoha noted. Probably from staying up late into the night, plotting out patrol schedules and analysing what they had learnt about their opponents in the brief battle two weeks ago.

    Picking up the cup of tea, Fate took a long breath of the fragrant steam rising from its surface, closing her eyes blissfully at the smell and the warmth. With another parting remark aimed at Arf, she slipped out of the door again, taking the cup with her.

    “She’s going to have a bath,” translated Arf. “She’ll be back to talk afterwards. And I’m going to have a nap.” She paused. “Uh, she didn’t say that last bit. That was from me.”

    Nanoha nodded absently, sipping at her tea as the familiar curled up beside the radiator, her head lying on Vesta’s basket as her breathing slipped into the slow, heavy rhythm of slumber. Nanoha paid the animals little mind. She was thinking hard, staring into the translucent depths of her teacup.

    She hadn’t lied to her mother. It was wonderful, learning magic as she was. But there were less pleasant aspects of her new day-to-day life. It was the strange feeling of loneliness that was the worst, the feeling that despite fighting together and making a mutual vow to defend Alicia, there was still a gulf that separated her and Fate. A language barrier which they couldn’t bridge without assistance and a wall of life experience beyond that that seemed almost unbreakable.

    She shook her head in annoyance. She was imagining things. Fate was a little reserved; that was true. And her life had admittedly been very different to Nanoha’s, consumed as it was by training and preparation for her mission. Nanoha could scarcely imagine what it must have been like to grow up on the Garden. Fate was already becoming a close and valued friend, but there was so much they still didn’t know about one another. She tried hard not to wonder whether they’d get the chance to find it out.

    “Nanoha-chan?” The voice behind her made her jump, slopping the tea from the cup onto her hand. She instinctively flinched, but paused in surprise as she realised it was barely lukewarm. How long had she been sitting there, lost in thought?

    “Nanoha-chan? Hello?” There was a definite teasing note to the intruding voice now, a faint smile audible in the dulcet tones. Grinning ruefully, Nanoha turned to the girl standing a little way behind her, pushing the chair back under the table as she rose. Taking in the girl’s attire, she raised her eyebrows. The big fluffy bath robe was jet black – an unusual choice of colour – and at least three sizes too big for its occupant. The hem rested on the floor behind her and its folds swamped her almost to the point of obscuring her altogether. It did look awfully comfy, though. Soft and fuzzy and warm, it was just the thing to slip into after a long hot bath.

    “Heh heh… sorry, Fate-chan. I was miles away,” she excused herself. “You wanted something?”

    Fate nodded. Subtly examining her, Nanoha was pleased to see that the bags under her eyes had receded somewhat, and her hair and skin had a healthy glow that struck a definite contrast with the pallid, tired shades they had borne before her bath.

    “This is better?” Fate asked quietly. She said it without turning towards her, but Nanoha could see the faint traces of a smile tugging at the corner of her lip. She winced. Apparently her subtle scrutiny hadn’t been quite as subtle as she had thought.

    “Ahh… yes, you look much better now, Fate-chan!” She smiled cheerfully, nodding in appreciation. “You seemed really tired when you got back, but you look a lot more awake now.”

    Fate smiled; the subdued little curve of her lips that Nanoha had come to expect as the most expressive show of amusement she tended to display. “Well, I’m certainly glad to hear that,” she remarked, and gestured Nanoha into the study. “On another note, I have a present for you. Sort of.”

    “Um… really?” Nanoha’s interest was perked though there was a tinge of concern there as well. Her last present from Fate had been Vesta, after all, and she wasn’t sure she wanted to be party to another animal kidnapping.

    Fate apparently picked up on the hesitation in Nanoha’s voice, because her lips twitched again in another smile. “Don’t worry,” she reassured her friend, “it’s not like the last one. It’s something to help you in going out and about. Where’s Raising Heart?”

    “Ahh… in my room. Should I go get it?” Raising Heart? Nanoha considered the query thoughtfully. Maybe the present was some sort of upgrade to her Device? Something to do with the illusions she used to disguise herself in public, perhaps?

    “No, that’s okay. Basically… hmm.” Fate leaned against the desk. “You don’t know anything about clothes in Dimensional Space, do you?” Waiting for Nanoha’s thoroughly confused shake of the head, she continued. “Well, it doesn’t work quite like on Earth. You know how our Barrier Jackets function? Mana constructs generated by our Devices and Linker Cores?”

    “… yes…” Nanoha wasn’t entirely sure where this was going, now, and waited patiently for Fate to explain.

    “On most TSAB worlds, normal clothing works the same way, though without the defensive fields and body armour and stuff. They’re called Jackets. Without the Barrier bit, see? And that means that you don’t get lovely physical clothes like these,” she stroked the enveloping bathrobe fondly, “sold in shops. You mostly have templates that you buy from designers and download, or design yourself. Though designing a clothing template yourself takes a lot longer, and is harder than it sounds.” She frowned ruefully, and Nanoha got the impression that she had found this lesson out the hard way. “But it means that you can change clothes very easily and quickly, and carry a wide range of outfits on you at all times, stored in your Device. You see?”

    Nanoha nodded; her eyes wide at the possibilities. Quite apart from how much easier it would make clothes shopping, she could already see how being able to change clothes as quickly as she could activate her Barrier Jacket could help her go out and about. A change of clothes and an alteration to the illusion that masked her face, and she could effectively duck into a toilet if she was spotted and walk out as a different person.

    “Oh, and there are ways to tweak a Jacket, too,” continued Fate, smiling in response to the growing enthusiasm on Nanoha’s face. “I’ve sent a basic clothing guide to Raising Heart... Linith cracked the garments in it, so you should be able to try them out yourself. Have fun experimenting with them, and ask me if you want to try any big changes to the default outfits that come with it. Things like colour and cut should be easy enough, and they automatically fit your size, but changing a skirt into shorts is harder than you might think.” Again the frown surfaced, forcing Nanoha to stifle a giggle. “Okay?”

    Impulsively, Nanoha hugged her. “It’s better than okay!” she grinned ecstatically. “This is awesome! I have to go try them out… oh, but I was going to have a bath…” Torn between trying out the new magic and taking a bath of her own, she hesitated, dithering between the direction of the bathroom, and the direction of her bedroom and Raising Heart.

    Fate lightly tapped her on the head. “They’ll still be there when you get out. Have a bath first, then play with clothes,” she suggested.

    “… great idea!” Nanoha paused just long enough to engulf Fate in another delighted hug, before running off to suit action to word, practically bouncing down the corridor in eager anticipation of the new magic she had to learn and experiment with.

    Fate watched her go, and smiled. It seemed, she thought to herself, that her goal of cheering the girl up and keeping her mind off the negative side of her new situation was meeting with remarkable success.




    “This is tedious,” Heidi complained for roughly the third time in the last minute as she adjusted a nest of complex wiring inside the football-sized faceted metal sphere that was resting on her knees. “And I’m still aching from where that damn blonde caught me… honestly, someone that powerful and that young? It’s ridiculous, I’m telling you. We’re working against two AA-rank mages, and they’re both nine, it’s like the universe is being deliberately unfair.” She scowled, giving the device a sharp slap on the side, and nodded in satisfaction when it gave off a soft hum.

    “It’s not even as if they’re likely to come back here, anyway,” she continued, nimble fingers pulling the pentagonal faces back into position to seal the ball closed. “They’d have to be stupid for the Takamachi girl to show up anywhere they know we know she’s spent a lot of time at. This is drudge work, plain and simple.”

    “You know,” remarked her companion conversationally, “if you keep ranting like that, we’re going to get caught. Though at least you’re doing it in Mid, so it’s not like anyone will understand you if you’re overheard.” Pressing her face up to the chain-link fence that ringed the edge of the roof, Mei Ereignis peered down at the grounds of the school they currently stood atop. “We’re clear for now, though. Looks like classes are still on for a while, though if you could set that thing up a little faster…”

    “I’m almost done,” replied Heidi snappishly, as she clicked the last few panels into place. “Here. Where’s a good place to put it?”

    “Hmm…” Mei scanned the roof, spiky green-silver hair shifting in the rooftop breeze. “I’d say… over there.” She snatched the thing out of her teammate’s hands, grinned cheerfully at the squawk of outrage and danced over to the small hut-like protrusion within which the stairwell led down into the building. Casually disregarding gravity, she leapt up onto the roof and delicately set the metal sphere down.

    “You should’ve just stood on tiptoe,” remarked Heidi from below. “If you keep throwing magic around needlessly like that, you’re going to get us caught.”

    “Oh, don’t be such a spoilsport,” said Mei dismissively, waving the barb off. She assured herself that it was set firmly enough in the middle that it wouldn’t roll off, and then sent a faint pulse of magic to it. With a low hum, the edges glowed for a second with a dull white light, and then the entire thing rippled and vanished as the basic illusionary cloak activated.

    “Right!” chirped Mei happily; ignoring the glare that Heidi sent her way. “That’s that one done, and if either of the girls comes within a block of this place, we’ll know about it and we’ll catch magic too! That means just…” her eyes glazed slightly as she checked with her Device, “… seven more to go, and then we can go back up to the Asura and see what the Admiral wants us to do next!”

    Heidi rolled her eyes. Two years made a lot of difference in maturity, it seemed. Though Mei seemed to just be naturally… Mei-ish. Whatever the cause, it made for a frustrating partnership on her side.

    “She’s a flotilla admiral, not a full admiral,” she corrected, continuing her earlier rant at a grumble. “Which just goes to show how backwater this place is. This entire District has a flotilla admiral as its ranking officer, and its senior enforcer is wet and just out of training. And is the son of the flotilla admiral. And I suspect she had to fight to have him, just so she had a single AAA mage around. Honestly, I think back home probably has more assets than this entire district. And the old women in their towers want us to be strictly neutral.” She let out a frustrated groan. “We are so unprepared for a case like this! Urgh! And what is it, Mei?”

    This last she added because Mei was frowning, in the way Heidi had learnt to take as an indication that she was about to ask a particularly annoying question. Tossing her hair back over her shoulder, she followed the fifteen-year old in a quiet jump down from the roof onto the grounds, taking care not to be seen. While they could probably outpace anyone who discovered them on the school grounds, it would still be better not to get caught.

    Once they made it out onto the street, Mei picked up where the conversation had left off. “Yeah,” she said, “I was just trying to remember. Which one is a flotilla admiral again? I remember the lower ranks, but…”

    Heidi raised a hand to pinch the bridge of her nose in frustration. “You are… urgh. How you passed your exams I will never know. It’s one rank higher than Captain, just below a Rear Admiral. Don’t you ever pay-”

    She trailed off, as Mei lost her hold on a straight face and started sniggering. “Good job, Miss Library. Who are you trying to impress, the natives?”

    “You… urgh!” Heidi exclaimed, swatting her on the shoulder. “Don't mess around like that! This is serious!” Taking a deep breath to calm down – Mei was very frustrating to deal with – she adjusted her beret and looked around. “Alright. Where’s our next target? We’ve done the house, the school, Lanster and Rizu are doing the bakery...”

    “The friends,” Mei reminded her, the joking exterior giving way to a brief burst of professionalism. “What were their names…”

    “Bannings and Tsukimura,” Heidi supplied, “yes, I remember. Were there any others we found?”

    “No, it was just two that she spends much time with. I think the Bannings house is closer… this way.” Mei pointed, and they fell into an easy procession towards their next target.

    “Alright,” breathed Heidi, still in Mid. She glanced around, but none of the people within earshot seemed to react noticeably to the foreign language. Perhaps tourists were common here? She wasn’t going to complain if it made it easy to talk freely. “Second mission. What have we got on the ramifications of the light show and so on?”

    Mei sucked in air through her teeth. “… not much. I mean, I’ve heard a lot of talk, but… not much concrete. You?”

    Platinum blonde locks shifted across one another as Heidi shook her head. “Similarly little. I guess we’ll have to hope that Lanster and Rizu got more on that front.” She sighed tiredly. “Come on. Let’s get the sensors set up and tag Takamachi’s friends with trackers. The sooner we do that, the sooner we can get back to the ship.”

    “Sure thing, boss.” Mei grinned. “Heh. You know Rizu has a bit of a crush on him?” Her grin turned teasing. “I’d love to see what they’re up to right now…”




    It wasn’t a date. Rizu reminded herself of that yet again as she blushed shyly in response to another question as to where she’d met her ‘boyfriend’. For the third time, she tried to explain that Lieutenant Lanster - or rather, Tiida - wasn’t her boyfriend. He wasn’t even in the café at the moment, in fact, which was why she was talking to its proprietor, to distract the woman from what he was doing. Somehow, though, the words got tangled up on their way from her brain to her mouth, and what came out was a stuttered explanation of how they knew each other through work.

    The brown-haired woman she was talking to chuckled, leaning on the counter. “A part-time job?” she guessed. “I’m surprised, at your age. Not many teenagers are willing to give up their free time like that.”

    “Ah… yes. I g-guess I’m just… keen?” Rizu shifted uncomfortably and tried not to look too suspicious. She glanced towards the window. Outside, Tiida should be setting up the sensor, a task which should be surreptitious. Should be.

    But Enforcer Harlaown’s report on the woman had been chilling. If she had been training since childhood, she would probably be as good as the Enforcer himself. Even as it was, with her magical talent a latent gift, the size of her unconscious reserves merited a B-ranking. That was higher than that of Rizu herself. And while the Takamachi matron wasn’t trained to use it, Chrono had reported that she seemed to be unusually sensitive to magic directed at her and prone to leaking mana into her surroundings when angry. It wasn’t impossible that she might detect the slight pulse of magic that accompanied the sensor’s activation if not distracted.

    And if she did… well. It was possible that she didn’t know the crude combat style her family practiced, but Rizu was very, very sure that it was not a risk she wanted to take. Momoko Takamachi needed to be distracted enough not to notice the faint taste of magic in the air when the sensor went online, or things could turn very nasty. They couldn’t just leave the shop alone, either. If the Takamachi girl was going to show up anywhere, it was most likely to be here or her home. And since the place was fairly empty, leaving the woman inside with nothing to occupy her attention, it had been up to Rizu to enter the dragon’s lair, buy herself a coffee and strike up a conversation.

    Which she really should be paying attention to, rather than drifting off. Rizu dragged her attention back to the matter at hand. Momoko had said something that she had missed, lost in thought as she had been. “Um… excuse me?” she asked, wincing internally. The woman didn’t seem offended, though, and chuckled again.

    “I said, you’re foreign, aren’t you? From India, maybe?” asked Momoko. Rizu froze again, terrified. Had the shopkeeper seen through her? Did she know that Rizu was TSAB-aligned?

    “Y-yes,” she stuttered, mind working furiously to come up with a cover story that would allay suspicion. “I'm... p-practicing the language, t-trying to get as much of a chance to speak it as p-possible.” She ducked her head. “I've always had th-the stammer, though... it m-means I h-have issues knowing how easy I am to understand.”

    “Oh?” Momoko raised an eyebrow. “Well, congratulations. You’re already quite good.” She smiled encouragingly. “Keep it up and I’m sure you’ll be fluent in no time!”

    “Ah…” Rizu coughed, “… yes. I hope s-so.”

    “But,” the woman continued, “just to check, are you sure your visa covers things like working in this country? Some don’t, and I wouldn’t want you getting in trouble because you made a mistake.”

    “Um…”

    “I can help you check, if you’d like. I know a bit about this sort of thing – we’ve had a few foreign exchange students working here, over the years.” Momoko’s expression gave every indication that she was serious about the offer, and Rizu slipped into panic mode.

    “Th-that’s very generous of you!” she squeaked, “But really, it’s fine! I-I’ve already… I know… it’s fine, I p-promise!” She bit her lip, trying to think of some way to extend the conversation and keep the woman’s attention on her.

    “So…” she looked around, searching for a topic, “This is a lovely place. How long h-have you been working here?”

    “Ohhh…” Momoko leaned heavily on the counter, counting on her fingers. “Let me see… yes, it would be about ten years now.” A gentle smile crossed her face. “Yes, because it was a few months after we opened that I found out I was pregnant with Nanoha-chan. My, was that a surprise.”

    Rizu tried to conceal her sudden tension. “A daughter? So she’d be nine, now?” She grinned nervously. “I remember when M-Mei was that age. She was a right little t-terror.”

    For a moment, the brown-haired woman’s face looked sad, but the expression was gone almost as soon as Rizu identified it. Shaking the brief morose flash off, Momoko leant further forward over the counter. “Oh?” she inquired, raising an eyebrow. “I doubt she was as troublesome as Nanoha was, when she was little.” It was a playful challenge, and obviously so.

    Sighing in remembrance, the TSAB cadet looked down at the coffee she was cradling as she picked over some of the more impressive feats her half-sister had managed, mentally editing out any mentions of magic. “When she was t-ten, she decided that she wanted to fly to o- to the moon,” this planet only had one moon, she had to remember that, “and d-decided to do so from the roof. She somehow got up out of the attic w-window, and then tried to t-take a running leap to start her flight from just above the p-patio. She was lucky she… um, l-landed in a bush, and got off w-with a broken ankle.” Yes, that would probably pass. Actually, she’d managed to slow her fall with magic just enough that her impact with the pavement had merely been bone-breaking, but this woman didn’t need to know that.

    She risked a glance upwards, to find Momoko staring at her, both eyebrows now high on her forehead. “… well,” the woman managed after a few seconds, “that’s… impressive, yes. She must worry your poor parents sick.”

    “Ah, just our mother,” corrected Rizu. “We’re half-sisters. My father… left, and our mother remarried hers. And he died a long time ago. Though honestly, I’m s-still surprised we’re related sometimes, we’re so d-different.” Belatedly, she remembered who she was talking to and what she was supposed to be doing, and coloured. She had let herself get caught up talking and forgotten her mission! “Uh… so yes, Mei was a handful. I hope your daughter isn’t quite that difficult to handle.”

    “Oh, I don’t know…” Momoko sighed, “Lately...” Her eyes lost the playful gleam they’d had, and for a moment she looked very small. “She disappeared, two weeks ago. I’m sure she’s alright, wherever she is – she’s a strong girl, and very good at taking care of herself. But I can’t help but feel terrified for her.”

    Rizu barely needed to fake her concern – she knew that the girl had cut ties with her family, of course, but it still tugged at her heartstrings to hear it from the mother she had left behind. “I’m so sorry… you’ve heard nothing from her? Do you know why she disappeared?”

    Momoko’s eyes snapped up, a hint of frost in the blue, and Rizu tried not to flinch. That had probably sounded a little too eager. Suspiciously so, though? She wasn’t sure, but regardless, she needed to repair the damage as quickly as possible.

    “I… I’m s-sorry,” she stuttered, backpedalling as fast as she could and waving her hands in denial, a crimson flush spreading across her cheeks. “I- I understand if you d-don’t want to t-talk about it, I just… I’m very sorry, and I hope you see her again soon, and-”

    A wave of the woman’s hand cut her off. “It’s alright,” sighed Momoko. “I understand. Thank you for your concern, though.”

    Gulping, Rizu nodded, wondering how she was going to keep the woman’s attention now. There didn’t seem to be any way to restart the conversation after that – though at least she was fairly sure, judging from Momoko’s behaviour, that the younger Takamachi hadn’t been in contact with her parents since her disappearance.

    She was saved from the awkward silence by the tinkling of the bell as the door swung open. Turning to see who it was; she felt a rush of relief as she recognised the tall, red-headed figure that stepped through.

    “Tiida-san!” she called gratefully. If he was in here, that meant he had set up the sensor already. She must have missed it, and evidently so had Momoko, so… mission accomplished! Tiida returned the greeting with a smile and a wave, and she watched as he took a seat on the other side of the café and began leafing through a newspaper that had been left on the table.

    “Um… Rizu-chan?” Momoko’s voice drew her back around. The woman looked a little uncomfortable. “Is… is that your boyfriend? Only… I’m not sure how to say this, but… are you sure he isn’t too old for you? I was under the impression you were about the same age.”

    Rizu honestly had no idea how to respond to that. She looked over at her partner, who was reclining in a comfortable chair on the other side of the café, the open newspaper in his hands. He glanced up as he felt her desperate scrutiny, nodded encouragingly at her companion, and returned to his perusal of the paper, a slight frown on his face.

    Well. That was no help at all.

    “We’re… only t-two years apart,” she offered. “And it’s not quite… like… that. Um.”

    Momoko’s frown only grew larger at the tentative explanation. “Are… hmm. Are you saying that because he told you to, dear? Because if he’s trying to make you keep your relationship secret, you should-”

    “No no no!” Rizu stammered out frantically, waving her hands again. “It’s nothing like that! He’s a good person, honest! He’d never do that!” She tried to keep her voice hushed so that the subject of their conversation wouldn’t overhear, but she still didn’t dare look over at him. She could already feel her cheeks going tomato-red. This was reminding her horribly of the times Mei had got an idea into her head which, while entirely tangential to reality, was almost impossible to dislodge once she’d decided it was true. One such occurrence had led to her little sister deciding that Rizu was being repressed by her dorm mates, and proceeding to drag her out for a night on the town.

    That had not ended well.

    “A-actually,” she continued, “I think I just remembered an appointment… I should just go and check with him if I have the t-time right.” She scurried away towards her partner. Possibly not the most dignified escape, nor the least suspicious, but anything was better than enduring more of the awkwardness.

    “Tiida-san!” she whispered as she approached the table, “Is it d-done? Can we go?”

    He looked confused. “Um… are we in any hurry?” he asked, eyes flicking over to Momoko briefly. “Does she…?”

    Rizu squirmed uncomfortably. “Well… no. I don’t think so. B-but… Tiida-san, can we please go? I’m… not c-comfortable with staying here. It’s putting me on edge, a-and… I’m afraid I’ll slip up. I think I nearly have done already, once or t-twice.”

    “Hmm…” Tiida’s eyes were focused on the paper, a slight frown on his face. “This is interesting…” He looked up, fully taking in the visible distress on his subordinate’s face for the first time. He blinked in mild surprise, but nodded readily enough, switching to Mid to speak. “Alright, we’ve accomplished our primary goal here. Did you find out whether the hostile has been in contact with her mother?”

    “I don’t think so,” Rizu replied in the same language, gratefully stepping back as Tiida rose. He tucked the paper under one arm, marking his place with a folded down corner, and dipped a short, respectful bow to Momoko, who frowned at him.

    “Hmm,” he remarked. “You may be right. I don’t think she likes me. You’re sure she doesn’t suspect anything?” Rizu nodded mutely, and tried to suppress the urge to grab his hand for reassurance. He sighed, and started towards the door.

    “Come on then,” he said, “Let’s go. Admiral Harlaown will be interested to see how much of our fight last fortnight has gone public.”




    Momoko sighed as she walked up the path to her front door, frowning at the wooden board covering the holes that had been punched through the wall beside it. It had been a long day, and while the girl she had been talking to had been polite and friendly, her boyfriend had seemed rather too old for her. An American, if Momoko was any judge, and if he wasn’t at least two years her senior, she would be surprised. She just hoped the kind girl – who was clearly trying very hard with her Japanese – wasn’t being set up for heartbreak. Of course, there was more of a gap between her and Shiro, but age differences meant less and less as one got older.

    Nudging the door open as she twisted the key in the lock, she called out as she stepped into the blessedly warm interior of the house.

    “I’m home!”

    There was an answering yell from upstairs, which sounded like Shiro, and Momoko smiled faintly as she made a beeline for the kitchen. Her husband was probably engrossed in a conversation with another contact, old friend or past co-worker. He had an impressive array of them, and had been calling in an enormous number of favours over the past few weeks to deal with the situation and squash the media attention. How well it had been working was up for debate, but they were at least staying somewhat under the radar, at a local rather than national news level, so Momoko classed it a tentative success.

    Leaning on the kitchen counter, she sighed heavily again. The pink flower hanging on the wall drew her attention, pressed and framed the day after her daughter had given it to her so as not to wilt. Wistfully, she traced a finger across the glass, following the curve of one of the petals as she wondered what Nanoha was doing. Was she happy? Hurt? Fighting? It was a horrible feeling, not knowing, and Momoko fervently wished there was something she could do, besides just waiting.

    “Sweetheart?”

    She turned, and found her husband’s concerned face poking around the door to the kitchen, hovering just outside. She rolled her eyes at his hesitation to come into the room fully, and raised an eyebrow.

    “Yes, dear?”

    “Do you have a moment?” Shiro’s voice held an edge of anticipation, and Momoko’s eyebrow rose further. He wanted something. Interesting.

    “I suppose I do,” she replied laconically, and strolled over, following him into the living room, where the low coffee table was littered with papers and notes. He sat on the couch and she followed suit, wondering what this was about.

    “Alright,” he started without preamble. “Have you seen today’s paper yet?” At her puzzled head shake, he plucked it off the table and handed it over.

    It only took a glance to realise what he meant. Momoko drew breath in sharply as she recognised what could only be Nanoha, blazing and pink-wreathed, an indistinct white-clad figure in a halo of sakura-coloured light. The shock didn’t last long, though, and as the initial stab of panic faded, she looked over the picture with a more assessing eye. It was very indistinct, the intensity of the light had obscured most of Nanoha’s features from the camera - which looked like it had been a fairly low-end cellphone model anyway, from the graininess of the background. Momoko could tell who it was, but it wasn’t likely that anyone who didn’t know the girl personally would be able to pin it down to anything more than a young girl.

    “It’s not a clear image,” she said slowly, sharing her thoughts with her husband. “Probably not enough to identify her. Did this only just come out today?”

    Shiro nodded. “First I’ve seen of it. I guess whoever took it was trying to wrangle a higher price out of the newspapers, or something. Regardless… I won’t repeat the whole article, but there a quite a few observations and signs. The lights in the sky – pink and yellow comets downtown. That whole business with the hospital, six dead and a load of bodies from the morgue strewed across three floors – and people are saying that they were walking, moving around and glowing purple. There’s been a few rabble-rousers going on about it being a sign of the end of times. And then this.” He rapped the paper. “A high-speed chase through the streets, some sort of white glowing figure, and a pink-glowing girl flying down and attacking it. Which put a pretty large dent in the lorry it was on at the time, apparently.”

    Momoko nodded uncertainly. “Okay… so what’s your point? I understand that it’s probably not a terribly good thing that these events are being publicised, but what can we do about it?”

    Shiro fixed her with a serious, level stare. “Nothing directly. We can only hope that Nanoha’s disappearance doesn’t get linked to the magic sightings, because everything goes out of the window if they do. But, still, if events like this continue to spill over into everyday life, there’s a chance you could be put in danger. Now, Kyouya talked to me about his… ah… confrontation with that Harlaown boy you talked to, and that didn’t go very well. But it did show that he could at least get the first move in, and it was only the fact that he went about it in the wrong way that lost him the fight.”

    Momoko waited. She had a feeling she knew where this was going, and despite herself, a little seed inside her was eagerly waiting for him to say it.

    “So…” Shiro hesitated for a second, taking in the calm, patient expression of his wife, “… I’d like to teach you the basics of self-defence, in the Fuwa style. Enough that you’ll be able to at least get away from anything that happens, and catch anything that might attack you off-guard. Does that sound okay to you?”

    A smile slipped onto the brown-haired woman’s expression, expressing a mixture of satisfaction and anticipation. “That sounds,” she said, fighting down the urge to giggle triumphantly at the chance to learn what she was fairly sure might be something similar to magic, “absolutely wonderful.”

    The dojo, when they got to it, was empty. Miyuki was up in her room working on some school coursework, and Kyouya was visiting Shinobu again, so they had the large training hall to themselves. Shiro offered a quick bow to the shrine on the far wall, and then unpacked one of the training dummies, the padded torso mounted on a stand that put it on the same level as a standing person.

    “Alright,” he said, turning to Momoko, who had changed into comfortable slacks and a T-shirt, the better to move around in. “I know you already know the basics of self-defence – how to fall, how to breathe and so on. So we’re going to move onto the basics of attack. Specifically, I’m going to show you how to punch. Properly.”

    Momoko was privately amused at the lecturing tone her husband was taking, but kept her face attentive and interested, watching carefully as Shiro demonstrated the motions slowly for her, and committing them to memory.

    “You need to keep your wrist and arm aligned,” Shiro stressed. “There’s a lot of force behind a punch, and it’s being put on your arm just as much as whatever you’re punching. The bones in your hand and arm need to be lined up properly, or you could end up breaking your wrist.” He adjusted her arm slightly, nudging her hand down by a fraction and pulling her shoulder back a little. “Good. Now remember, you punch with your whole body not just your arm. Breathe in, feel your breath pool in your abdomen. Then punch in one fluid movement, and let the breath and force flow up through your chest, down your arm and into your target. Make sure to transfer all the force in one motion, don’t pull back or hesitate. A single, quick, clean movement.”

    “One movement. I understand,” Momoko nodded. Closing her eyes for a moment, she breathed in slowly, not into her lungs, but with her diaphragm, as she’d been taught. She let that breath go, drew another, and opened her eyes.

    And then, in a clean movement, she threw the punch, arm held relaxed but firm in the position she’d been shown. It hurt a little, as her knuckles sunk into the stiff padding on the dummy, but it was shunted backwards satisfyingly by the blow and she could feel the force that had been behind it.

    “Well done!” congratulated Shiro. “Very good. A little loose on the follow-through, but nothing too bad. Alright, show me again, and this time try to get all the force across in one impact, don’t keep pushing afterwards.”

    It took a dozen more demonstrations until he was happy, and Momoko’s knuckles were beginning to ache, but eventually Shiro called a halt to her practice and declared he was satisfied.

    “Now,” he continued, picking up from where his explanations had left off. “That’s an ordinary punch. But as you may have noticed, Fuwa is far from an normal fighting style. And the key difference between it and other styles is-”

    “Ki,” Momoko interrupted with a smirk, cutting Shiro off before he could go on a long lecture. He deflated slightly and shot her a dirty look.

    “Yes, fine, alright. Ki.” He rolled his eyes. “Now, the difference between a ki-assisted strike and a normal one is huge. So we’re going to get you started on trying to feel your ki and channel it into a strike. It’s okay if you don’t get results the first few times, that’s normal. All I’m looking for this session is to try and draw on it, and see if you can feel the difference in how the punch feels.”

    Momoko nodded, glancing over at the dummy. “Ah…” she hesitated briefly, “could you demonstrate first? It was a big help, seeing it.”

    Shiro nodded amicably, and took up a relaxed stance in front of the target. “Alright,” he said. “This is a normal, unenhanced punch.” He threw a rapid jab at the dummy, which rocked back on its stand from the force before settling down again. “Powerful, but nothing special. And this is with ki. I’ll use a small amount, so as not to break the dummy, but watch the difference closely.”

    He closed his eyes for a second as he focused, and then lashed out with a blurred strike without even bothering to open them. Momoko heard the impact; a dull crack that echoed slightly in the large room, and the dummy actually lifted off the floor for a brief second, sent airborne by the force behind the blow before it came crashing back down to the floor a metre or two away from its starting point. A warm feeling of pride and satisfaction glowed at the back of her mind for a second as Shiro calmly walked over and set it up again.

    “Alright,” he said. “Now it’s your turn.”

    He stood back, watching as his wife breathed slowly. “Feel your ki, the pool of power in your abdomen,” he instructed quietly. “Feel it surge and ebb in response to your breathing. Take a little of it, and funnel it up your body, and direct it along the line of your arm. Focus on the path it’s taking, on how it moves through your body and into the target. Breathe, and focus, until you’re certain of the strike. The movement itself is only the end of the process, it should be complete and perfect in your mind before you move a muscle. Run it through in your head over and over against before you even think of striking, every last movement you make, how it will feel, and how your hand will move. You don’t need to do this fast at the moment, you just need to do it right.”

    She nodded silently, and he could see the shift in her attention as it turned inwards. Relaxing slightly, he refrained from interrupting her trance with any more advice. He wasn’t expecting her to manage any visible change, anyway. This was just the first step, the beginner’s lesson in reaching out to touch her ki and understand what it felt like. Using it to noticeably improve her performance could come later.

    Watching her breathe and concentrate, Shiro allowed his eyes to slip up and down her form, an appreciative smile forming as he took in the familiar curves and features that were still just as beautiful now as they had been more than ten years ago when they had first met. The loose ponytail and comfortable clothes she wore didn’t make her any less gorgeous, and in the evening light that penetrated the dojo, she almost seemed to glow.

    He blinked. In fact, she didn’t seem to be glowing. She was glowing, a deep red-pink aura that was almost transparent, nothing more than a faint tint to the air. Shiro frowned, moving to call a halt to her practice even as a blazing sheath of red-pink light roared to life around her right forearm and she lunged forward.

    “Momoko, stop!

    Too late. Contact.

    Momoko’s fist connected with the front of the dummy’s chest in a light-streaked blur, and Shiro was barely able to note that her form was excellent as her hand sank through the layers of padding as if they weren’t there. It hit the wooden core, and a cratered impression around the point of impact simply vanished in a cloud of splinters and smoke. An echoing crack sounded as the dummy was sent bouncing across the room, broken into two separate pieces, to hit the far wall with a loud thud. It rolled to a halt, a wide bowl-shaped depression of the padding gone and a crater dug into the wood that had been split in half as the dummy broke. Smoke curled up from the burnt edges, and a small cloud of what looked like sawdust lingered in front of Momoko where the dummy had stood.

    Shiro stared, unable to quite process what he had just seen. Mouth agape, it wasn’t until the second time Momoko spoke that he registered her voice coming from the floor where she’d fallen gracelessly, bone-tired and tinged with an undercurrent of pain.

    “Dear? C-could…” she gasped for breath, “could you please get the medical kit? I think my hand is full of splinters.”




    The following evening was cold and overcast, a chill hanging in the air that forced pedestrians to don jackets and scarfs to keep warm. Walking away from the Takamachi household with the rest of the TSAB response team, drawing the occasional odd look for the relatively light clothing she wore despite the ambient temperature, Heidi tossed her hair to get it out of her face and sighed.

    “Well,” she remarked to the world at large, “that was a colossal waste of time.”

    Strolling beside her under several layers of clothing, Tiida threw her a mildly dirty look. After a night and a day of watching the Takamachi household, having been called down in a panic by the planted sensor picking up a strong magical discharge, he was not in a good mood. It might have been better had they actually found any evidence of the girl having visited, but even quietly breaking in while the occupants were out and searching the house had yielded no evidence she had been there recently.

    Chrono cleared his throat. “It may have been a false alarm this time,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean we can afford to ignore any future alarms. These hostiles are extremely dangerous, and we need to treat every sighting of them seriously.”

    Heidi rolled her eyes, but it was Mei who butted in to offer a counter. “We know that, boss,” she piped up, “I think Heidi is just a bit stressed at all the pressure, you know? And annoyed because we didn’t find anything.”

    Chrono considered this for a moment, and nodded. “You have a point,” he admitted. “We are under a lot of pressure here. Alright. Keep your Devices to hand in case we need to call you back for something, but subject to that restriction, I’m authorising some time off. Relax, explore the area… have some fun, and get proper sleep. You can’t work if you’re stressed and under constant pressure.” He nodded at Yuuno. “You too, Scrya. I’ll go back to the ship and inform Admiral Harlaown.”

    With that, he checked for any onlookers and teleported away. The backup team stood for a moment in mild surprise, before Mei broke out in a huge grin.

    “All right!” she cheered, pumping a fist in the air. “Score! Do I rule, or do I rule? C’mon, Heidi, Rizu, let’s go check out the bars!” She grabbed each girl, threading her arm through theirs and ignoring the stuttered protests of her half-sister and the eyeroll she received from Heidi.

    “Mei, what are the laws in this place on drinking?” she asked, and was met with a nonchalant shrug.

    “Dunno, don’t care,” replied the green-haired girl flippantly. “Say, will you two be okay without us?” she asked, throwing a glance at Tiida and Yuuno as Heidi facepalmed. Receiving a shrug from the former and no apparent objection from the latter, she grinned triumphantly. “Awesome! Thanks!”

    “Ah… Heidi-san?” Rizu asked as the trio moved away, neither of them willing to expend the effort it would take to avoid being dragged along with their enthusiastic partner, “can I just ask… um… a-aren’t you a little cold?”

    Blonde hair swished as the pale girl shook her head. “No,” she replied. “I’m from Schzenais, remember? This is a nice spring morning back home. You lot on your Type-4s and Type-1s have it easy.” Her voice faded away into the distance as they proceeded down the road, “I always used to hate the cold, and… back home in general, really. That’s one of the reasons I applied to join the TSAB…”

    Left alone as they departed, Tiida raised an inquisitive eyebrow at Yuuno, who seemed somewhat lost in his thoughts. “Want company?” he asked, though he suspected the answer was going to be ‘no’. The sandy-haired boy looked like he had something he wanted to do.

    As expected, Yuuno shook his head. “I’m going to… just look around the city for a while,” he demurred. Tiida raised an eyebrow at that – he rather suspected the boy was going to search for the Takamachi girl – but left it be. It wasn’t likely that he would find her, and if he did he was smart enough to call in backup. Probably.

    And anyway, he had a much more important activity to fill his time with. Checking to make sure he wasn’t in sight of any natives, he sent a message to Amy asking to be teleported back up to the Asura. As soon as the transfer was over, he tossed the officer cadet a quick smile and nod of gratitude, and made for his room.

    The holo-window was waiting for him, and the call went through in moments. With a silent flicker of colour, the screen opened up to reveal…

    “Uh huh?!”

    … red. Quite a lot of red. In fact, the entire screen was red save for a small triangle of whiteness in the upper left corner. Bemused, Tiida raised an eyebrow. The sounds from the other end of the connection sounded somewhat harassed, and while he couldn’t make out the exact words being shouted from elsewhere in the house, there was a definite tone of exhausted exasperation in them.

    “Hello?” he ventured, and the mysterious redness shifted, before pulling back to reveal an excited face which had chocolate cake smeared around the general region of its mouth and a plaster on one cheekbone. Huge blue eyes raked him evaluatively, confirming his identity, and then crinkled upwards as the six-year old girl split into a huge smile.

    “Tiida-nisan!” she gasped in delight, before turning to shout off-screen at the top of her voice. “Auntie! Auntie! It's Tiida-nisan!”

    Tiida smirked in amusement as a reply echoed faintly through the connection, and greeted his little sister in turn. “Hello, Tea,” he smiled. “Have you been having fun at Saralyn’s?”

    The little girl nodded enthusiastically. “Uh huh! I found out where Auntie Sara keeps her cake! And I got some all by myself! With a chair Device!”

    “A… chair Device?”

    Another happy nod. “Yeah! Like your gun Devices! Only it was a chair.” Teana nodded with solemn conviction, clearly expecting praise for her inventiveness. Ducking his head and coughing to mask a laugh, Tiida took a moment to gain control of his amusement before looking up again.

    “Very well done, then,” he congratulated her. “But are you sure Saralyn said you were allowed to have her cakes?”

    Teana appeared to give this some thought, before another cheerful grin split her face and she waved her hands triumphantly. “She didn’t say I couldn’t have any!” she declared, “so it’s okay! And anyway, she found me eating it and just sighed in the boring grown-up way and sent me through here while she cleaned up the kitchen!”

    Tiida briefly imagined what the state of the kitchen must have been after Tea had finished using her ‘chair Device’ to extract the cake from whatever high shelf it had been stored on, and winced. “I… see,” he said carefully. “Um… is there any chance I could talk to Saralyn?” And apologise for his little sister’s being such a handful to look after.

    Tea, however, had other ideas. “No!” she objected, stamping her foot. “I barely ever get to see you, so you’re not allowed to talk to Auntie about boring grown-up stuff! The last time you called was…” she paused, and a moment passed as she tried to remember the date of his last call back home.

    “Three weeks ago,” he prompted, and she nodded furiously, sending her bangs flying.

    “Yeah! Which is ages and ages and ages ago! Since then I’ve been to the park two times and gone shopping with Auntie Sara three times and Kimi-chan has got a new pet bunny and I got to stroke him and… and…” she threw her hands up dramatically, “and I can barely even remember you anymore! If you don’t come back soon I’ll forget you forever and ever and ever!” She pouted. “And then I won’t make you any birthday cake, and you’ll be really sorry. So you have to come back home soon!”

    “Teana…”

    “And if you don’t, then when you do come back I’ll be all old and wrinkly, and you won’t recognise me either!” Tea fixed her brother with an earnest, serious expression as her tone spoke of disaster and calamity. “I might even have to be using a wheelchair by then!” She paused, cocking her head to one side as a thought struck her. “Huh. Could you have a wheelchair Device?” Then she shook her head, eyes widening. “Wait, no. I won’t need a wheelchair, because I’ll have learned to fly by then!”

    Tiida sighed, but inside his head. She was obsessed with flying, ever since she had seen him do it. At least the complaints seemed to have temporarily ceased. “I don’t know, Tea. And I’m sorry, but I can’t come home soon. I’m not on my training course anymore. We’ve been enlisted into an active case. Some mages are doing something bad, and we have to stop them before they get out of control and very bad things happen.”

    That got her instant attention, as well as sparking a gasp from somewhere off-screen. Saralyn moved into his line of sight, looking concerned.

    “Tea, sweetheart?” she asked softly, “why don’t you go and get the painting you did at school from your room to show Tiida? I’m sure he’d like to see it.”

    “Okay!” Tea’s face disappeared as she jumped down from the chair she had apparently been standing on, and there was a rapid patter of feet as she clattered upstairs to retrieve her artistic masterpiece. Tiida and Saralyn regarded one another in silence for a moment. They had known each other for some time, having been introduced by her daughters when they were put under his command, and he trusted her to look after his sister while he was away, but there was still a slight tinge of awkward formality in the air between them.

    “So,” she began quietly. He shook his head quickly.

    “It’s nothing too dangerous,” he hastened to assure her. “It’s a serious case, but we’re confident that we can recover the… solve it before anybody gets hurt. And our squad is just providing support. We have another, more qualified team arriving this afternoon who are going to be taking the lead role in the case.”

    Her concern seemed to lessen slightly, and she relaxed a little. “That’s good to hear,” she nodded. “Tea has been coping fairly well. She’s certainly energetic enough.”

    Tiida winced again. “Ah… I’m sorry about the cake… she can be a bit of a handful at times. Did she do much damage?”

    She rolled her eyes. “I’ve raised two girls before. After Mei, Tea is nothing I can’t handle. Though I gather I’m going to be handling her for a little longer than I had expected?”

    “Ah, yes. Sorry about that, but… Admiral’s orders. I can’t exactly say no.”

    The woman shrugged eloquently. “It’s alright. She’s livened the place up a little since the girls left. How are they both? They seem to have a chronic inability to call their mother and catch up.”

    Tiida chuckled. “They’re teenagers. I think that’s how they’re supposed to act. But yes, they’re fine. And your son?”

    “Coming up on his second birthday. He had a nasty cough a few weeks ago – lots of crying and screaming – but he’s all better now. And other than that, he’s been fine, if somewhat loud. I swear the girls weren’t this noisy.”

    “Tiida-san!” A high-pitched yell announced the return of the younger Lanster, and the adults’ conversation was cut short. “Look at my picture!” Teana proudly presented a roughly rectangular piece of paper laden with paint for his inspection. “See, that’s you,” she explained, pointing to a white and blue blotch near the middle, “and that’s the ground waaaay below you, cause you’re flying, and then this is an Evil Belkan Space Monster that you’re fighting, and then this is me coming to save you because you’d be doomed otherwise!” She gestured to her own avatar, which appeared to be swooping towards the menacing black smudge that the fictional Tiida was being defeated by. “And then once I beat it, I get a medal from the TSAB, and they make me a super-mega-captain-of-everything!”

    “It’s very good,” admitted Tiida. “I’ll keep an eye out for your sudden promotion, then, shall I?”

    “Okay!” chirped Tea, before fixing him with a stern look. “But don’t expect me to go easy on you just cause you’re my brother. If you want to get promoted to super-mega-assistant-captain, you have to work really hard and bring me back lots of presents. And tell me stories! Where are you? What are the super-top-secret Lost Logia you’re trying to get? Will they make everything explode? What type of world are you on? Are there lots of magic-users there? Have you had to fight lots of people yet?”

    Laughing, and waving for the barrage of questions to stop so that he could get a word in edgeways – and only somewhat surprised she had jumped to ‘Lost Logia’ as the reason he was away, despite the fact he hadn’t mentioned it – Tiida began to regale his little sister with tales of his current mission. Appropriately censored for a six-year old, of course.




    Delicate pages crinkled in protest as their reader leafed through them rapidly, scanning the intricate symbols and text printed on them. The flowing, spidery script took several seconds per page for Raising Heart to decipher and translate, but Nanoha had nonetheless got the basic gist of it an hour ago. Now the only things causing her trouble were the details of the spell, and the uncertainty over whether or not she wanted to use it.

    “Fate-chan?” she murmured, and the blonde leaned over for the twentieth time or so. She stifled a yawn as she scanned the diagram Nanoha was tapping, wiping away the moisture that formed in her eyes with the back of her hand. It was dark outside, sunset had been hours ago, and the long evening was beginning to take its toll. She didn’t have a watch on her, but a rough guess put the time at somewhere between midnight and 1am.

    “Hmm?” she queried blearily. “Ah. Um… yeah, that’s… uh…” She shifted closer, putting her history book down as she craned over Nanoha’s shoulder, breath tickling the brown-haired girl’s cheek, to examine the passage in more detail.

    “… yeah, that’s one of… thingies,” she explained, waving her hands vaguely. “Transfuser arrays. It sort of takes the structure of your brain – I think that one’s a bit of the one that does the language-y part of your brain – and overlays it on the animal as a template, and then makes it grow into the same sort of pattern.”

    Nanoha nodded distractedly. “Yeah, I get that, it’s just… where’s the maths? I can’t get my head around how it functions… it’s really annoying! It doesn’t seem to have any sort of sane structure, it’s just… higgledy- piggledy, in a big mess all over the place, with bits jammed together any way they’ll work!”

    The blonde nodded tiredly, already moving back to the other end of the couch and leaning back on her soft, warm, luxurious orange cushion. Which shifted slightly, and gave her a reproachful look as an errant elbow dug rather hard into its side.

    “M’srry Arf,” she mumbled, settling down again and giving her familiar a fond pat, before returning to her reading. Though how much reading she was getting done was questionable, with the amount her eyelids were drooping. Still, she had refused to go to bed until Nanoha did, determined to help her friend master the spell that she was, after all, insisting that the girl try to learn.

    “It’s Alhazredian, I think,” she murmured softly, uncertain whether Nanoha could actually hear her speaking at this volume but unable to muster up the energy to raise her voice. “They did things like that. No structure, just… spell bits that had worked before, glued together in any way that worked. S’okay. You don’t really need to understand it, just to learn it and say it by rote.” She paused, calculating numbers in her head. “… I made Arf when I was six,” she decided, after a moment’s consideration. “Or one. Depending on where you count from.” Another yawn overtook her, and the history book quietly slid from her hands, landing with a soft thud on the floor.

    Her only reply was a soft grunt as Nanoha flipped back several pages, waiting for the soft pane of light to manifest over the page and fill up with glowing pink kanji. Silence fell for several moments as she stared at the book, as if focusing on it hard enough with her eyes would force it to surrender all of its secrets.

    “… Fate-chan?” she asked after a little while. Another incoherent mumble came from the blonde-haired shape curled into the hulking orange mass of wolf-familiar. Even in the small circle of light cast by the standing lamp behind the couch, Arf managed to give off an air of relaxed alertness. Her head raised, ears pricked forward and tail folded gently over her half-asleep master, she looked for all the world like a guard dog waiting for any trespassers to show themselves. Perhaps she was. Nanoha didn’t know. She tried to imagine what Arf must have been like before being made a Familiar, and couldn’t.

    And that was the problem.

    “Arf-chan?” she whispered, and the long muzzle shifted slightly, pointed ears twitching as the canine flicked her gaze over to the girl. “Is it… right for me to do this?” she asked hesitantly. “I mean… it changes the animal I use it on. Completely. Isn’t it almost like killing them, and replacing them with something else? And Fate-chan said… about how a Familiar is forever. What if… what if something goes wrong?” She sped up, worries and doubts that had been building up ever since Precia had shown her the ritual pouring out in an uninterrupted stream. “What if I change my mind, later? What if we don’t get along? I can’t just… just…” she struggled with even the idea of pulling her magic back from a living, thinking person that it was supporting, even one she didn’t like for some reason. “… but… if I don’t… I’m just…” she looked up at the dark eyes of the wolf, who regarded her solemnly in turn. “… I’m just not sure,” she finished weakly.

    Arf was silent for a long moment – so long, indeed, that Nanoha was beginning to think that the wolf had ignored her outburst when she finally replied. A low, rumbling sigh emanated from the large body, and she turned to nuzzle Fate tenderly, striking Nanoha with the contrast between her usual silly antics, and the fierce, serious, fervent pride and loyalty and devotion with which she watched over her master. Would her own Familiar be like that? Or would it be more like Linith, with a warm tone and a maternal air, taking care of her with smiles and soft touches and cheerful optimism? Or something else entirely, something she couldn't even guess at?

    ‘I can’t claim to be unbiased,’ began Arf, slowly. ‘So this is just me speaking, here. But I would do anything for Fate. Anything at all. I’d fight the Saint King herself if I thought Fate were in danger, and I’d do anything I could to protect her.’ She looked at Nanoha intently, as if willing her to understand. ‘And I don’t think that’s because of anything in my head enforcing loyalty to her. I follow her… for a lot of reasons. At first, she gave me my life. I wasn’t a person, before. Wasn’t able to think, wasn’t able to know myself. I was just a cub. I don’t even remember it, really. No more than you remember being a baby, I would guess.’

    She looked up at the ceiling, her ears fluttering a little and her tail twitching pensively where it covered Fate. ‘Because of her, I was able to understand who I was. She gave me thought, consciousness, feelings. I swore to protect her without a second thought in return.’ She sighed, blowing air out with a soft growl. ‘But the more I got to know her, the more I liked her for herself. She’s… kind, and so determined, and a wonderful master. And now I follow her less because she gave me the gift of life, and more because I think she’s someone worth following.’

    Her head swung around again, fixing that laser-intensity stare on Nanoha once more. ‘And she thinks that you’re a good person, too. She likes you. A lot. She’s never really had a friend before, besides me. Too much training, too cooped up in the Garden. You’ve made a big impression on her. Even with the mission to worry about, I haven’t seen her this happy in a long time.’ She frowned, appearing to realise that she had wandered somewhat off-track.

    ‘I guess what I’m saying is… if Fate-chan thinks you’re a good person, I’m sure your Familiar will as well. And if I’m thankful to Fate-chan for giving me life, and Linith-oneesama is thankful to Precia-sama for giving her life, I’m sure your Familiar will thank you for giving it to them.’ She nodded firmly, having communicated her point adequately enough to be satisfied, and laid her head down on her paws, still keeping a relaxed state of alertness with one ear cocked and her eyes half-open.

    Nanoha settled down on the couch as well, after briefly considering and discarding the notion of going back to her room to sleep. Her gaze drifted along the back of the couch to the small ball of fur that rested on a cushion balanced there, its grey and black fur illuminated by the soft light of a moonbeam.

    She had a lot of thinking to do.




    It had taken two or three weeks of running repairs to patch up the damage that the quake had done, but the Asura was looking much better than it formerly had. A gleaming silver needle slicing through the Dimensional Sea once again, its sensor network was trained on a small region of the world it orbited, the inhabitants of the little blue-green world unaware of the attention being focused on them from beyond the borders of their dimension.

    And onboard the ship, its captain marched through the brightly-lit halls towards the primary teleportation bay for long-distance travel, feeling a sense of profound relief for the first time in more than a fortnight. Chrono and Amy followed behind her, both having to trot slightly to keep up with the brisk pace that Lindy set.

    The new arrivals were waiting for them in the bay. There were three of them. The man was huge, almost two metres tall, with broad, hulking shoulders and a shock of dark brown hair. He wore a light brown tunic under a darker longcoat, with solid-looking metal boots and an armoured gauntlet on his left hand. Thick brows and eyes like chips of granite gave him a formidable, imposing appearance, and when he spoke, it was in a deep, authoritative rumble.

    “Flotilla Admiral Harlaown, I presume,” he said, nodding gravely at Lindy, who returned the gesture.

    “I am,” she replied. “And you must be Investigators Grangaitz, Nakajima and Alpine. I’m glad you’re here, we have something of a situation-”

    “We’ve read the files,” said one of the women. Her long, lavender hair fell back behind her in soft waves, and her black lace dress was flared at the hips and hemmed in indigo. She was noticeably pregnant, and one hand rested gently on her swollen belly as she continued. “Two hostile AA-rank mages in possession of dimensional-threat-level Lost Logia. We transferred from the Shroud case as soon as your message got through.”

    “So why don’t we get started?” the third member of the trio spoke up, her hair a darker shade of violet than her companion’s. It was done up in a ponytail to keep it out of her face, and she wore a tunic of segmented metal armour that reached down to her mid-thigh. The overlapping metal plates covered her upper arms as well, but both forearms bore heavy metal gauntlets that had gear-cylinders fitted around the wrist. She idly tapped her fingers on the left gauntlet’s gear as she spoke, producing a series of quiet clinks as metal touched metal. “How about you brief us quickly on what you’ve managed to do since we read the files a few days ago, and then we get started?” Her voice was warm and friendly, in contrast to the reserved formality of the other woman, but it held an edge of steel command beneath the cheerful tones.

    “Yes, of course,” agreed Lindy, half-turning to lead them towards a conference room, before hesitating. “Ah… is it… entirely wise for a pregnant woman to be taking part in field operations, might I ask? After the third trimester,” she glanced down at the other woman’s stomach, “you shouldn’t be on field duty at all. In fact, the guidelines state that…”

    The woman in question smiled politely, though the expression didn’t reach her eyes. “I won’t be going into the field,” she explained. “Just remaining onboard the Asura to provide support, and possibly doing a little reconnaissance during periods of inactivity.”

    Lindy nodded slowly as she started to lead the group off, her lips drawing into a thin line. “That’s… good to hear. But I really think that you should be on maternity leave… it just seems a dangerous risk to take.”

    “Your concern,” the woman informed her haughtily, “is noted, and appreciated. But I will not be in any danger, and in the unlikely event that I am threatened, I am perfectly capable of taking care of myself with a minimum of risk to my child or my person. I will be remaining here to support my team.” It was not a statement that invited any further discussion on the topic, and Lindy dropped the topic, turning forward with a disapproving frown. Behind the adults, Chrono and Amy exchanged a glance and winced at the veiled hostility already starting to leak into the atmosphere.

    But before things could go any further, all thoughts of the budding animosity were driven out of everyone’s minds, as the intercom screeched in warning and alarms began to sound, a high pitched wail that spoke of the sensors screaming to report the volume of magic they were being bombarded with.

    Somewhere on the planet below, a magical reaction of incredible power and potency was taking place.




    The sensors screamed, and officer cadets at the bridge scrambled to try and track the signal, triangulating the reading from the different sensors on the planet surface to locate the source of the outburst. But this was no small-scale battle, this was a virtual hurricane of magic, condensing mana into a mass so concentrated that the sensors were shorting out in trying to measure it.

    Shouts and orders echoed across the bridge as the Asura prepared an active scan to locate the source of the disturbance, a series of pulses of magical resonance directed towards the region from orbit so that the sensors could analyse the reflected wavefronts. Other members of the bridge brought the teleporters online, priming them for rapid transit. As soon as the scanners located the pulse, they’d be right there in full force, ready to apprehend the mages responsible.

    On Earth, Momoko jerked violently, head snapping around to stare out of the window as the tray of breakfast she was carrying over to the kitchen table fell to the ground with a crash, unnoticed and unimportant compared to the pressure she could feel pushing and pulling at her from somewhere in the distance. Without a word of explanation, she bolted for the door, running towards the inexplicable sensation that she somehow knew was her daughter.

    In her hospital bed, chatting to her new friend, Chikaze Yoshida paused as her vision blurred and the room seemed to sway. It didn’t feel like the horrible experience a few weeks ago, but it was certainly something similar – a force that was swelling and growing somewhere in the city, strong enough that she could feel it expanding even this far away. The brown-haired girl sitting on her bedside gasped for air, letting herself collapse backwards across Chikaze’s legs to avoid falling off the bed entirely. Both of them traded worried glances, wondering fearfully what events this new phenomenon heralded.




    In the beginning, there was the word. And the word was “I”, and she shouted it at the heart of the universe. And it echoed back, and she knew herself to be herself, and for a fraction of an instant, she was content. But how could one word be enough? How could one word ever be enough, when there was a whole world out there?

    Engorging, expanding and recursively self-iterating; the mind of Vesta found itself growing beyond comprehension. The ‘her’ of each instant was incomprehensible to the one a moment before as she grew, flashing through years of development in seconds. How could her old world of senses and emotions and urges possibly compete with this? This alien mind-coldness of clarity and comprehension, of divisions and demarcations, of eloquent expression that allowed her to shape the world in her own mind and understand herself to be a part of the world, yet separate from it?

    She looked up, a titanic effort that felt like lifting her head while a mountain sat atop it, and saw the source of the spell that was calling her, singing her into being. Part of her – the fleshy, biological part – saw a young human girl who stirred a faint recognition, standing before her and singing in a high, clear voice, haloed from behind by sunlight and trees. But the rest of her was still caught in the spell that twined their minds together, as the mind of the source offered a guideline for her own to grow along. And through that connection, more intimate and heartfelt than the closest bond of family or friendship imaginable, she saw.

    She saw vibrant passion and stubborn determination. She saw a burning flame of optimism and a sense of duty and responsibility that fuelled it and was fuelled by it in turn. She saw a pink sun at the girl’s heart that blazed and coruscated with power as vast streams of energy flowed out from it and into her. She saw a keen intellect that eagerly hungered for new things to devour and learn and understand. She saw concern and hope and resolve, and understood each in turn. She could feel the girl’s spirit building hers higher and higher, the sensation of new blocks slotting into place into her head, granting knowledge that it felt as though she had always known, and with every new block of sapience and understanding, her animalistic past slipped further away, into hazy feelings and vague notions. Or perhaps it wasn’t slipping away from her, but rather she was slipping away from it, her experience and memories of each second of the process becoming clearer and sharper.

    Whatever the reasons, she could feel that sublime understanding of the girl slipping away, the clarity of the memories too low and too hazy for her newly uplifted mind to make sense of them. She could hear the song coming to an end, and for a moment she grieved at the loss of the transcendent feeling of her mind, her very self growing and learning and expanding by the second to become more than what she had been. But even as the details of what she had seen and understood slipped away, she remembered the feeling she had experienced, and the knowledge of her source, her creator, remained deep within her. And as she rose to her knees – her new, humanoid knees – and raised dark grey eyes to the white-clad girl swaying in exhaustion before her, she knew her for what she was.

    “… Master,” she whispered, and lunged to catch her as she fell.

    Squashed into her new Familiar’s chest, Nanoha struggled for a moment before extracting herself far enough to breathe. She made no attempt to leave the fiercely protective embrace, and blearily noted that Arf had been right. This wasn’t bad. This wasn’t bad at all. She could feel the love and loyalty and protection flowing out from the strong arms that held her tenderly, like the most precious thing in the world. No, she was glad she had done this, and the exhaustion was well worth it, even though she had never spent so much magic before in her life. She felt completely drained, and wouldn’t be surprised if she hadn’t got a drop of mana left in her system.

    And as she drifted off into sleep, Bardiche spoke sharply, its tone brisk and warning.

    [Active scanning detected, Sir,] it stated. [Wide-area reflected pulse.]

    Fate bit her lip, forcing down panic. That was fast. Faster than she had allowed for. They would have to move quickly.

    “You,” she addressed the familiar. “Vesta. Get up, we need to be moving. Bardiche, Raising Heart, shut down. Complete lock-down, everything off. No magic at all.”

    The grey-haired cat-woman hissed at her, slate-like eyes regarding her warily. Fate closed her eyes for a second, keeping a tight grip on her temper. “Listen,” she stated, “the TSAB will be here any minute. You know about our situation; that should have been part of the Uplift. So get the hat on her, put on one yourself to cover your ears, and then let’s get out of here. And I mean it; no active magic from anyone, not even Jackets. If they find us, we’re through.

    The clearing they were in was secluded enough that nobody was likely to walk in on them, and Nanoha had declared that the Buddha statue in the centre would be good luck for them, but it was still in a public park. A minute of brisk walking would take them to the road outside the park, where they could melt into the crowds of pedestrians and be impossible to spot.

    Fate was already moving towards the dirt path that led out of the little wood they were in as she spoke, pausing to let Vesta catch up with Nanoha limp in her arms. Pulling up the hood of the cheap jumper she was wearing so that her hair was covered and her face was obscured, the blonde reached over to adjust the other girl’s hat as they hurried along the path. She tucked a few locks of brown hair under the brim so that they were completely hidden, and adjusted the strands of fake black hair that stuck out from underneath. Combined with the way she looked small and fragile in Vesta’s arms, the disguise gave Nanoha an almost pixie-like appearance.

    They hit the streets and started to hurry away as fast as they could without drawing undue attention. Vesta, pale and feral-looking, attracted stares anyway, but not too many. After a couple of minutes of rushed jogging, Fate felt secure enough to slow down, and they dropped their pace back to a walk.

    “Are we safe?” asked Vesta, shaping her mouth awkwardly around the new sensation of talking. Fate didn’t answer, her red eyes roaming over the surroundings in constant motion, and Vesta’s own attention was still mostly focused on her surroundings, and anyone who came within a few metres of her and her charge. Eventually, Fate spared a moment to glance at her, taking her arm and pulling her across a road and into a crowded mall.

    “This,” she murmured quietly, “is where we find out.”




    Zest Grangaitz inhaled deeply, taking a lungful of the clean air in the little clearing. He looked around it assessingly – reasonably wide, with a statue of some fat man sitting cross-legged in the centre of a circle of paving stones. Two stone benches stood on either side of the circle, and the morning light filtered through the canopy of overhanging branches high above them to bathe the clearing in green and gold.

    “It happened here. No question about it,” declared Megane. The purple jewel on the back of her black gloves pulsed in confirmation, the Device Asclepius assessing the leftover traces of magic in the clearing. Zest nodded, brows drawing together in a grim frown.

    “What were they doing here?” he wondered softly. “I can feel the magic in the air – whatever this was, it took an enormous amount of power. It’s as if a full-power magical battle happened in this clearing alone. What puts out that kind of magic without leaving any marks on the surroundings?”

    “They could’ve been using a barrier,” suggested Quint from where she was crouching to examine the ground near the path that led out of the clearing. Pushing herself to her feet with a grunt, she shook her head. “Sorry, Boss. Nothing. We’re not going to be able to track them away, not unless we can get a read on them. Meg?”

    “No,” replied the other woman. “Sorry, but everything cuts off here, no magical traces that I can follow lead away from the clearing. Looks like they’re playing things smart.”

    “Hn,” Zest grunted. “There aren’t enough nice dumb criminals around. Alright, in that case we’re going to have to do this the old-fashioned way. Quint, you take the city centre, scout around a bit and see if you can find out what the word on the street is about the damage they’ve already caused. Megane, you see if you can-”

    All three of them froze as rapid footfalls approached, pounding down the path. Trading glances and nodding, Zest and Quint moved soundlessly back into the trees, taking cover out of sight of the clearing, while Megane sat calmly on one of the benches and rested her hands across her lap, staring up at the vaulted canopy above and looking for all the world like a peaceful mother-to-be enjoying a quiet moment of relaxation.

    She looked down from her contemplation of the light breaking through the branches as a brown-haired woman ran into the clearing, alert and looking round frantically. She blinked when she saw Megane, gave the clearing a last round of scrutiny as if to check she hadn’t missed anything, and then walked over to the lavender-haired woman, panting lightly from her exertion.

    “Excuse me,” she said, out of breath, “have you seen… a little girl around here? About nine years old, brown hair…” She trailed off as Megane shook her head, looking at her sympathetically. The TSAB Investigator recognised her as the mother of one of the hostile mages, of course, but she did a convincing job of pretending otherwise as she patted the bench beside her.

    “Sit down,” she advised, “you look out of breath. And I’m sorry, but I haven’t seen anyone here, though I haven’t been here long. Is she related to you?”

    “Ah…” Momoko hesitated briefly, “yes, my daughter. She’s disappeared off somewhere, and…”

    Megane nodded sympathetically. “I know the feeling, believe me,” she confided, and patted her belly. “Not with children… this’ll be my first, but some of my colleagues at work… well, the team I’m on is wonderful, but some of the others are impossible to deal with. Always going off and doing their own thing in their own little fiefdoms without listening, and then having the gall to complain about the way I do my job.” She smiled with a tinge of sardonic humour. “Hopefully this little one won’t be as much trouble.”

    Momoko chuckled, shaking her head. “I’m afraid not. My experience of young children is that they’re almost universally difficult. My daughter’s friends are as bad as her, in some ways.” She grinned at Megane’s grimace. “Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll do fine. How far along are you?”

    “Just past seven months,” smiled Megane genuinely, looking at her belly with fond affection. “And I’m going to be very happy to see my feet again, let me tell you.” She noticed Momoko frowning slightly out of the corner of her eye, watching Megane’s lips move, and decided that a retreat might be in order before the woman noticed the slight delay between speech and sound that arose from her Device translating for her.

    “Anyway,” she rose, keeping her face half-turned away as she shaded her eyes and looked upwards contemplatively, “I’ve really spent enough time here, I should probably get going. I wish you the best of luck in tracking your wayward daughter down.”

    “Oh no, no,” Momoko insisted, “I know how it feels to be at the waddling stage, and these paths are overgrown. I’ll walk you to the nearest bus stop.”

    “I…” Megane hesitated. She wasn’t keen on spending time around the woman, but there was no way to refuse without attracting suspicion. Biting down on the denial, she nodded uncertainly. “Well… alright. Thank you.”

    “Oh no, really. It’s no trouble at all,” Momoko smiled as she looped an arm through Megane’s. “Have you picked out a name yet?”

    “I… was thinking of Lucinda, or maybe Lutecia, if it’s a girl.”

    The walk to the bus stop was awkward, full of uncomfortable pauses and a sense of uneasiness. Momoko seemed to pick up on it about halfway there, and the conversation petered out, leaving them in a self-conscious silence for the rest of the way. When they arrived, the café owner barely spent the time to offer a quick goodbye before escaping, and Megane sighed in relief as she left. Strolling back into the park, she met Zest and Quint at the gate, and glared at them to forestall any comments about what had just happened.

    “So,” Quint stated, doing very little to hide her smirk. It was a prompt, and Megane considered for a moment.

    “Harlaown’s son is right,” she said softly. “She’s magical. To sense whatever happened from… probably her home, which is some way away… there’s definite potential there. And she’s got power, too. A lot of raw power and no way of knowing she has it, nor any ability to use it. It was a little unnerving, to be honest. We should probably try to avoid magic around her, there’s a good chance that she would be able to sense it.” She sighed. “Regardless, the girl isn’t here and she won’t be coming back if she has any sense.”

    “Alright,” nodded Zest. “You go back to the ship and start trying to piece together the readings we got out. I want at the very least some theories on what it was by the time we get back. Quint, you find out how much damage has already been done in exposing magic to the locals. And I’ll see if I can track down our hostiles, or at least get an idea of the general area they might be operating out of. Rendezvous back onboard the ship in three hours. And Megane?”

    The summoner raised an elegant eyebrow.

    “Try not to get into a fight with the captain, would you?”

    She teleported away without a word, and he sighed in exasperation, rolling his eyes. Looking at the woman beside him, whose expression suggested she’d rather prefer to have her armoured gauntlets on, he clapped his hands together.

    “Okay. Let’s go.”




    “… Suzuka-chan?”

    The purple-haired girl groaned from her place under a small pile of dogs, shifting slightly to dislodge a trio of puppies that had claimed her lap and pushing away a mongrel that had been nuzzling her shoulder. “Mm… what, Arisa-chan?”

    “I… Nanoha-chan is… doing this magical girl stuff.”

    Suzuka sat up at that, causing a small cascade of animals that had settled on and around her as she took a nap outside on the lawns of her friend’s house in the sunlight while the blonde played with some of the more rambunctious animals. Arisa was sitting hunched over now, though, her knees pulled up to her chest and her face pensive.

    “… yeah,” Suzuka agreed. “It’s.. weird, to think of it. Our friend Nanoha, a magical girl of love and justice.” She giggled a little at the thought, before sobering as she remembered the cost that Nanoha had paid for it.

    “Yeah, that’s just it. She’s… doing all this good stuff, but she’s had to leave home and there are people after her and… I want to help her.” Arisa sounded resolute now, and Suzuka looked at her warily.

    “Uh… I’m… not sure we can really do that, Arisa-chan,” she pointed out. “We don’t know where she is or exactly what she’s doing or… anything, really.”

    “Yeah, but… there has to be something we can do! Even if it’s just cheering her up, or bringing her presents – like that kitten!”

    Suzuka scowled at that. She had not been happy when Momoko had informed her of the reason behind the disappearance of one of her charges, and had still not quite forgiven the blonde mage for stealing one of her cats, even if it was for an ultimately good cause. At least it had put an end to her worried searching for a missing kitten, and the fear that the curious little thing had managed to get herself run over.

    “We just have to find her first!”

    But her irritation had to be put aside to head Arisa off on this now, before it developed into something that would get them both into trouble. “Arisa-chan, I really don’t think it would be a good idea to go looking for her. Even if we could find her, isn’t she supposed to be hiding?”

    Arisa looked at her as though she had said the sky was green. “Well yeah. That’s why we meet her in secret, see?”

    “I don’t like where this is going, Arisa-chan…”

    But the blonde was fired up now, and Suzuka knew from long experience that once her friend was set on a path of action, it was extremely difficult if not impossible to deter her from it. Heaving a weary sigh, she shuffled over to where Arisa was sitting and slumped down again.

    “Fine then,” she muttered, unwilling to expend the titanic effort it would take to get Arisa to change her mind. “Where do we start?”




    And across the city, in a high penthouse, the lift door opened with a quiet woosh of air and Arf darted over to welcome her master back. Fate had forbidden her from tagging along, saying that four people were at a greater risk of being caught than three, and that Arf wasn’t required to be there for any reason. It had taken a long time to argue the wolf-familiar down, and she had been in a tense state of nervous waiting ever since the two girls had left.

    ‘Fate-chan!’ she barked happily as she shot towards the penthouse door, tail wagging furiously, before skidding to a halt at the sight of the pale woman carrying Nanoha. She was a little shorter than Arf’s human form, with grey hair and slate-coloured eyes, and she smelt of cat. Arf had known that the little kitten that had gone out with the girls would be coming back as a familiar, of course, but it was still a surprise. Reflexively, she shifted back to human form, and a staring match between the two Familiars ensued.

    “Ahem,” said Fate meaningfully, and both of them jumped slightly as she broke the tense silence. She nodded at Vesta. “If you wouldn’t mind getting her to her room? It’s this way.”

    Arf followed as well, curious about the new Familiar. She noted with approval the tender way that Vesta handled her unconscious master supporting the sleeping girl’s head in the crook of her shoulder and treating her as if she were made of glass. She was aware of Arf – that much was obvious from the backwards glance she threw the orange-haired woman – but made no comment about the scrutiny.

    She laid Nanoha down carefully on her bed, and stared at her in a kind of child-like wonder. Arf waited until Fate left to get something to eat, and then stepped softly into the room. She was expecting the woman to snap around protectively as she did so, and didn’t react to the sudden movement. Instead, she leant against the door nonchalantly, taking the new member of their little group in with an assessing air.

    “It’s an incredible feeling, isn’t it?” she remarked. “Thinking. Understanding. Being.”

    The ferocity slipped away, Vesta’s features relaxing from their feral cast, and the childish wonder returned as she looked around the room. “Yes,” she breathed. “It’s… amazing.” A giggle escaped as her gaze fell on the desklamp by the bed, and she pounced on the cord, quickly locating the power button and pressing it. Light bloomed from the lamp, and Vesta grinned in delight.

    “I can do that! I know how to do that! I know that the button makes the light come on!” she crowed triumphantly. “And I know that it’s called light! And that not-light is called dark!” She breathed in deeply, chest swelling in pride. “I can open closed doors with my hands!” Vesta exhaled slowly, letting the breath go again. “She has made me into a god.”

    Arf smiled indulgently as the kitten-turned-human played with the light switch some more. She had been like this as well, just after she’d been Uplifted. Torn between the near-fanatical devotion to her master, and the sheer wonder at the world, the sense of discovery at being able to think, feel, speak and understand. Everything had been new, everything had been different. The sky, the ground, the smells – which suddenly meant far more than they once had, now that she had words to put to them. Those first few weeks of sapience had been a heady and intoxicating experience. Seeing someone else go through them was oddly endearing, in a way.

    “How good is your hearing?” she prompted, and Vesta froze for a moment as it occurred to her to pay full attention to her senses, basking in the feeling of being able to put definitions and meanings to the things they told her. A look of awe crossed her face.

    “I… oh, wow. It… heh. That’s…” Her still-feline ears twitched as she turned her head this way and that, obviously listening to sounds that Arf couldn’t detect. She consoled herself with the fact that her sense of smell was still better, and moved on.

    “How far away can you hear things, though?” she asked. “Anything in this apartment? Further?”

    “Well… I can hear your master in the kitchen,” the cat-woman answered, bemused. She was right, too. Arf could also hear the faint clattering sounds of Fate moving around in the kitchen, preparing herself some food. A sandwich, from the smell of it. “So I suppose… yeah, probably anywhere in the apartment.” Vesta cocked her head, confused. “Why?” Her mouth dropped open slightly as a sudden realisation struck her. “Hey! I can get food out of sealed boxes! And tins! No-one will ever stop me getting food by putting it in a cupboard again!” She blinked, before somehow managing to look even more triumphant. “Cupboard! I know that word now! It is a word that I know! One of lots of words that I know!”

    Arf smiled at the madly grinning girl as she capered around elatedly. “In that case, since you’ll be able to hear Nanoha-chan wake up no matter where you are in the apartment… how about we go off and see what you’re capable of?” she said sweetly. “After all, you do want to be able to protect your master as best you can, right? And then we can eat,” she added, providing another irresistible incentive.

    Her smile became a grin as Vesta’s instincts warred with one another, but it was a foregone conclusion. Ultimately Arf’s offer won out over the desire to sit and watch her master, and she nodded grudgingly. The orange-haired woman beckoned her out of the room, leading her towards the main room for some basic lessons on shifting between forms and using magic in a support role.

    Vesta might be young, but Arf was damned if she was going to go into combat without knowing what she was doing.




    Elsewhere, as cat and wolf began to test one another’s capabilities, another person was experimenting with something new. Pale hands moved deftly over the dials and switches on the outside of an isolation chamber, as their owner focused with narrowed eyes on the injured animal within. Faint whimpers of distress echoed from within through crystal-clear speakers, and Precia pursed her lips, looking through the reinforced glass at the malevolent glow that emanated from the squirrel-like animal’s chest and the circle of charred flesh that was expanding around it.

    “Interesting…” she mused, speaking aloud into the gem of her Device, which was taking verbal notes for her. “But not complete. Hmm. Perhaps with a less chaotic pattern of integration between the Jewel Seed and the-”

    She stopped talking and frowned as a wet, fleshy noise came from the speakers and the inside of the window was splattered a dull red. “And more reinforcement,” she added. “To avoid feedback loops.” The glow from within the chamber was brightening, and her frown turned into a scowl.

    “Stop that,” she snapped, and a circle formed around her feet, flaring as she wove a crushing net of power around the activating Jewel Seed. The pressure stopped rising abruptly, and the unearthly glow dimmed back down to its previous levels, forced back into the container from whence it had come.

    Pausing for a moment to let a coughing fit brought on by the effort pass, she tapped a few more keys, setting the chamber to extract the Jewel Seed from the messy remains and clean itself in preparation for her next experiment. Sighing in annoyance, she moved back over to her desk and gratefully lowered herself into the seat.

    “The principle is sound in theory,” she said to her Device, drumming her fingers on the surface of the table irritably. “The problem is modulating the Jewel Seed’s chaotic power output into something coherent and steady, as well as preventing it from degrading the body where the two connect. Anything past a timescale of minutes risks severe damage from mana burns.” She pursed her lips again, staring off into the distance as she considered the problem. Eventually, she blew out another irritated sigh.

    “Perhaps… no, this may not be a viable method. Hmm. Alhazred might be able to overcome the problems with it, though. Set a reminder to compile what I have on the procedure into a set of notes. The more they start out knowing, the faster they will be able to succeed.”

    She leaned back, closing her eyes tiredly and letting the strange harmony of the Garden’s sounds lull her into a half doze. “Alhazred…” she whispered; her voice brittle and longing. “Just a little longer…”

    Alicia’s image filled her mind’s eye, as it so often did these days, her little girl laughing joyfully as she ran and played on the warm grass underneath the sun. Lulled by the memories of happier times and pulled onwards in the hope that she would see them again someday, Precia drifted off to sleep, the exhaustion of a full day and night spent working finally catching up to her. Carefully, quietly, Linith crept into the room as her mistress’s breathing evened out. She carried a warm blanket, which she spread over the sleeping woman tenderly, and then turned to look at the chamber. It still had a splash of arterial crimson on the inside of the reinforced glass plate, and the cat-woman sighed heavily.

    “I just hope you know what you’re doing, Precia-sama…” she murmured in concern, before yawning. “Oh… my.” She blinked in faint embarrassment as she recognised her own tiredness, allowing herself a self-amused little smirk at having failed to notice it as she loitered outside the door, having been banned from the lab while Precia was working there. Stepping over, she closed the sealed unit again and watched for a second as the automatic cleansing system thrummed into life, removing the last few traces of scarlet viscera.

    A few moments later, two sets of slow, even breathing occupied the room, the latter from the sandy-haired cat curled up on her mistress’s lap, purring softly as she let herself rest.


  4. mdkcde [ ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) INTENSIFIES]

    It appears the chapter links need to be updated. I'm getting an Error message whenever I try check out the previous chapters.
  5. NHO Misplaced Mechmind

    Let me repeat the question to the chapter you totally posted in time.
    Was that another Alicia clone being exploded after experiment with Jewel Seed?
  6. Aleph Solidarity

    Yeah yeah, working on it. In the meantime...

    ... well. As it's been mentioned in this chapter, I think it's time for the long-since promised and way, way overdue infodump on FASHION!

    Clothing in TSAB-occupied Dimensional Space generally doesn't follow the preconceptions of Earth. For one thing, very little of it is actually cut from cloth and fabric. Rather, it is similar in principle to a Barrier Jacket - layers of light magical fields taking care of things like "keeping you the right temperature" and "preventing you from hurting your feet on the gravel path", while the physical element of the clothes is spun out of raw mana. Obviously, they're nowhere near as power-intensive as a Barrier Jacket, having none of the draining shields or protections that such combat suits do, so more or less everyone who has a magic rank at all can wear one.

    This has quite a lot of interesting ramifications. For one, clothing is mostly ordered online, rather like an e-book. You don't buy a jumper, but rather a template that's been designed by some fashion designer, which your civ-Device then implements. You also have some control over it, in parameters like size (which by default automatically sizes itself to fit you), colour, sleeve length, etc. Nothing huge, but basic, standard parameters that can be easily programmed just as a floating value are changeable. That means that you generally only need one or two "t-shirt" templates in your wardrobe, which correspond to entire rooms full of possible patterns (though complicated ones might be an additional module you'd have to buy, especially dynamic ones that moved or changed). Things like texture, or very different cuts, however, are getting into the region of "you need a new template".

    It is possible to alter templates more extensively yourself, as Fate mentions. However, the physical aspect is essentially not that different (though there are some differences, it's not completely virtual) to a computer model of a set of clothing, describing everything about what it looks like, how it moves, how it's shaped, etc. The programming is complex, and most people are content to just let professionals handle it. You can even find freeware templates online, though of course, humans being humans, what you're buying when you buy a template from somewhere isn't so much clothing as uniqueness.

    Another of the consequences of this paradigm is, of course, the range of outfits you'll see on the street. Jackets, as they're called, keep you perfectly warm and protect you from rough surfaces no matter what they look like. So you're fine wearing summerwear in the middle of winter, though the climate control does have limits, so you can't go out in Northern Canada wearing a bikini - you'll want to invest in a desgined-for-serious-cold-weather Jacket for that, the equivalent of what you might buy at an outdoors store like Millets or Blacks on Earth (which will take more power for upkeep). Some people also prefer to keep a real pair of gloves around for cold weather, because it's a strange feeling, touching things with fielded hands. So people leave the fields off over things which are likely to get touched or come in contact with stuff, and a lot of people will have one or two physical outfits around somewhere, for various special occasions or other reasons.

    Your outfits don't even have to be physically possible - you can have a cape that permanently billows in a wind that isn't there, or a dress with such a low cut that by all rights it should be falling off. You can have moving patterns and glowing light integrated into your clothes, and of course you can change outfits instantly. No more spending thirty minutes getting dressed in the morning, just click, poof, out the door you go.

    At the high end of the more expensive designs, you also find physical components integrated into the spell matrix. Jewellery is the least of these, of course, as well as slots for Devices to fit into it - like how Bardiche fits onto the back of Fate's glove. But at the high end, you might find a dress template designed to integrate a flowering vine which coils around the woman's body in a delicate embrace, which is protected and kept alive by the spell matrix. Or an animate boa of liquid water, contained in forcefields to form a shimmering snake-like mantle that rests on your shoulders and can flow out, if the wearer focuses on it, and act like a third limb.

    And the TSAB endorse this happily. Very happily, in fact. Because in wearing a Jacket, you are in fact exercising your magic on a low but constant level of output. It's effectively a very low level of training for the magical muscles, and while it won't produce prodigies by itself, it means that the baseline of magical reserves in TSAB space is just that little bit higher, due to the constant workout that people get just by wearing clothes. Which means that their recruits come to them just that little bit more magically powerful. Which is nice.

    Indeed, it's a big things for a child, when they first manage to support a Jacket (and that's another reason the TSAB encourage it, because if someone manages it very young, they're someone to watch for magical potential). It's one of the signs of growing up, getting to choose what you wear in that way and being able to handle the magical output. Which can, sadly, have nasty social consequences for those far ahead of or behind the curve, because in the former case you're a prodigy (which often breeds hostility), and in the latter you're either a magical weakling or too stupid to do the basic calculations. Children are unfortunately vicious little buggers, at times.

    However, once potential recruits get into the TSAB, they find that the uniforms are actual cloth, real materials. This is because while the workout of magic is very good pre-TSAB, once recruits are on active duty, the TSAB doesn't want them wasting power on any frivolous and unnecessary expenditures of energy. Thus, the only Jacket-like, needs-magic-to-manifest-and-maintain-them clothes that TSAB agents wear while on duty are Barrier Jackets, which are far more armoured. The difference in the strengths of the protective fields incorporated into the average Barrier Jacket and the average civilian Jacket is greater than that between cotton and silk-lined kevlar and ceramic bulletproof vests. The things are tough.

    So yes, that's about the state of things. It makes for a very different paradigm in shopping and general presentation to Earth, where we have a lot of clothing shops, and the limitations in our clothing are... well, limiting. On places like Mid, you see clothing styles that are completely impossible for physical materials, and that's just normal civilians. Once you get into things like professional theatre costumes... wow. Magically embedded effects and augmentations, elaborate moving parts, impossible sophistication... the works. Not to mention the special effects that go with them. They're a real sight to see.
  7. EarthScorpion Fell on His Sword

    "Precia pursed her lips, looking through the reinforced glass at the malevolent glow that emanated from the squirrel-like animal's chest and the circle of charred flesh that was expanding around it."

    Yes, NHO. It was precisely an Alicia-clone. As we all know, Alicia was actually Squirrel Girl. Fate was a failed clone because she didn't have prominent teeth, and a long bushy tail. We will not comment on whether or not her lips taste like hazelnuts.
    Mortifer likes this.
  8. Vehrec HAB Mecha-Hater

    You mention that cold weather gear requires a special kind of 'Jacket', what about the ultimate in extreme environment clothing-both deep sea diving and outer space wear? Would a space suit automatically require enough power to be a Barrier Jacket, and ditto for whatever you use on a deep sea repair job?

    Also, this is probably the most girly bit of worldbuilding you've done, and I mean that in the best possible way. Now I'm tempted to link some of the fashion stuff that's shown up on tumblr in the past day.
  9. NHO Misplaced Mechmind

    I am Blind! BLIND!!!
    Sorry. I missed that point and began to make a hypothesizes. But I want to point out that squirrels are little different from little girls.
  10. Aleph Solidarity

    Space suits are actually fairly easy. You just need something that can withstand a pressure differential of 1 atmosphere, which isn't too hard; deal with supplying air, which is a bit harder, but solvable; and handle heat management in a vacuum. Deep-sea pressure suits, on the other hand, are probably approaching mono-focused Barrier Jacket levels. The line blurs somewhat.

    ... I'm girly. Huh.
    ...
    :D

    Yeah, but Precia doesn't exactly have a bunch of little girls lying around, and she's mostly seeing if it's plausible for a Jewel Seed to be used to reanimate a dead body in as good a condition as it was just before dying, with no negative side effects. There's a reason we use rats in medical trials. They share enough of our biology to be a good starting point.

    At the moment, from the observed results, the answer appears to be "no".
    Winged One likes this.
  11. EarthScorpion Fell on His Sword

    That we know of. She might have all sorts of tanks full of failed Alicias... you know, the ones with no eyes, the ones who have black hair, the ones who have no mouth and yet try to scream... you know how it is, when you're playing god.
    Winged One likes this.
  12. Jonen C F.M.D.G.

    Imagine for a moment the SATG:Nanoha/ASCR crossover, in which there's the MISAKA on the one hand AND the FATE on the other.
    EDIT (just because I can): And all of them talking in third person.

    In other news, Arf gets to play big sis, Arisa loves playing with fire and we see hints of cross-timeline continuity.
  13. Aleph Solidarity

    Links repaired. And I'm going to be slowly starting to piece together the infodumps into an encyclopedia-style appendix, which I'll throw into a public GoogleDoc for people to view once it's got everything. It'll also get updated with stuff by both me and ES whenever we have an worldbuilding session or feel like elaborating on some of the things within, so expect it to get more detail than the thread infodumps, and be written more prettily.
  14. Robo Jesus Your Mechanical Messiah

    Thank you for that. ^_^
  15. New chapter in which the Tsab grunts perform legwork, Nanoha being studious and getting her familiar.
    What whacky hijincks will they end up in or is "operation Vesta takes over the world;) " to happen in an future omake? Oh can't forget the possibilities of future scenes with Nanoha playing dressup :p what will the style of that be.
    Nice update Btw.
  16. Momoko learns how to use magic...at least partially.

    :) Nice scene there Ms. Aleph.
  17. Starman4308 Abuser of Ellipses

    I would just like you to know that Vesta is completely adorable like this. And, is this confirming then that familiars have many of the senses and other physical capabilities they possessed pre-uplift?

    Also, I wonder what Suzuka will think when she gets to have an actual talk with one of her cats.
  18. Jonen C F.M.D.G.

    Your text color is basically unreadable on the darker (less eye searing) forum skin.
    That said, Vesta is as adorkable as ever, and will be right back to showing (without giving the appearance that she's trying to show) the world her (and - new objective - her Masters) greatness, as soon as she gets over the fact that she now 1) has hands, 2) knows just what those hands could potentially be used for and 3) big sis Arf teaches her the ways of the BEST FAMILIAR (she'll have competition for the title soon enough).
  19. Why didn't Fate inform Nanoha that the familiar binding process would release a huge amount of mana in the environment and let the TSAB detect their location? Or did Nanoha 'screw up' the process?
  20. Starman4308 Abuser of Ellipses

    Er, I thought it was implied that Nanoha was indeed informed of this; it's just Fate wasn't expecting the TSAB to respond as quickly as they did, so she had to hurry up the escape.
  21. SolipsistSerpen Solipsist Serpent

    You went with the Flex-whatever dark grey, too, I see. After so long reading white on black SB forums the white background (and light pink quote boxes) just blinds my poor subterranean eyes.

    As for the chapter, I thought it was a nice slow set up chapter that worked well to let the audience catch their breath before the next time things go horribly wrong and devolve into desperate battle, without being boring.
  22. Jonen C F.M.D.G.

    Aye on the forum theme. Can't wait for SB standard to be (re-?) implemented.

    And Aye on the chapter - also note it introduces not just one, but four entirely new (if only one original) characters, and gives us more of a chance to get to know the four more or less original characters introduced earlier.
    Means we get to know the characters and can emphasize more easily.
    This means that when something horrible inevitably happens later on...
  23. Nolrai aka HWSoD

    Awesome chapter.
  24. Keter 682 Grumpy mutant hamster

    Magnificent chapter Aleph, the awakening of goddess Vesta to her new being was masterful, truly a great chapter that reflect the careful world building and excellent crafting of your history.
  25. Atreidestrooper The most lowliest trooper of House Atreides

    Finished reading the new chapter.
    Momoko being trained with the Fuwa style, only for Shiro to notice the large reserves that dwell within her.
    I have a feeling that Momoko is going to end up much like Nanoha, as in breaking the rules of the Style with pure power.
    Winged One likes this.
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