Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha

Jaded Marble

 

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Chapter 2

 

Nanoha glanced nervously at the clock on her carfs dashboard, which read 23:12. Shefd been waiting in her own garage for several minutes already, but nervously procrastinated heading into her apartment while strings of guilt wrapped tighter around her heart. She ached to be with Vivio, yet the possibility of meeting... someone else held her back.

She didnft want to see him. Not yet.

Not now, anyway.

Nanohafs old apartment was built to house a single person, and with every year Vivio grew older, the girl needed more space. Eventually her apartment in Cranagan was too small, and she had to move. Luckily, she found one that was walking distance from Sankt Hilde, the school that Vivio attended, and was just over an hourfs drive away from the academy if you took the main roads, or thirty minutes if you knew the streets.

The apartment had two bedrooms, a spacious bathroom and a good sized living room which connected to the kitchen and dining room. It also had its own laundry. To top it all off, it had an amazing view of Lake Hilde, which was a sight to behold, especially at night.

She glanced in the rear view mirror to the stack of documents she brought with her. Even though she was now on holiday, there was work that still needed doing.

What Carrington had said resurfaced to her memory. eDid I make a mistake, Takamachi? Can you do the job?f

Of course I can, she told herself. Ifve been doing it for two months now!

And shefd done a good job too, if she wouldnft say so herself. Carrington had told the truth about the academy being on the verge of shutting down. Attendance rates had dropped dangerously low when Nanoha had stepped in, and it wasnft just because of a lack of students; Instructors were quitting or being forced from the job. Classes and lessons were re-organised (most were picked up by Nanoha herself), staff were rallied and hired, and a lot of it was done by no one else but Nanoha. She had to admit though, Vita had been a great help too. If it wasnft done by Nanoha, it was probably done by Vita. And if it wasnft done by Vita, then the other staff members had free dibs on taking responsibility.

It wasnft long until the academy was fully staffed again, and Nanoha could return focus on what was important: Recruitment. With so many officers resigning or being forced from the job, the Bureau was in dire need of fresh blood. Nanoha had organised with the other academies within the Bureau to start a recruitment campaign, which at first was almost impossible to get off the ground because the other, much more older and arrogant headmasters were too busy watching their backs or backstabbing someone elsefs to pay her any mind. But eventually, Nanoha made herself heard and the recruitment drive had great success.

And now the academy was running at full capacity. There was one issue that bugged her though... Some potential officers were turned away from the academy because they couldnft take on any more boarding students. Somewhere in the stack of documents was the red tape to build another dormitory, and some more general renovation of the old dormitory. The rest were back piled paperwork that needed doing some weeks ago.

Carrington must have known about what Nanoha had done. Why did she make the comment though? Because I wasnft answering my phone calls?

e... your daughter is lonely...f

The words ran out from her memory, grabbed her heart and twisted. Panic gripped her, and before she realised she was already out of her car and heading for the elevator.

She stopped, turned around and retrieved the documents she brought from work, locked the carfs doors and then headed for the elevator again.

The anti-grav elevator rose gently through its glass chute, past the commercial floors and then into to the residential floors. The idea of the apartments was to create a community, although Nanoha still firmly believes that you get a better community in the military dorms. Yes, the apartment stores on the bottom two floors let the residence mingle together, and the pool between the two residential complexes allows for more of the same, but when you soundproof a room so well that you could scream and all youfd hear on the other side was a muffle, people stop seeing each other as neighbours they have to get along with. And why have a pool when the lake was only walking distance away, and was probably a lot cleaner than the pool would ever be?

Although you had to get along in the foyers of all the floors. Every floor was effectively a gangway that hugged the outside of a great void in the building plan. Everything that was spoken on the top floor, the fortieth level, could be heard from the bottom floor.

The elevator came to a gentle halt and the doors slid open to the chime of a bell. Nanoha carefully made her way to the door of her apartment as she juggled carrying the documents and retrieving her house keys from her handbag. After successfully retrieving the key, she held it over a plate beside the door which faintly glowed with the numbers g2274h. There was a beep and the numbers shone bright green, and Nanoha pushed the door open. There was no handle, but then again why should there be a handle? Only those with keys were supposed to open them anyway. Handles were reserved for the inside of the door only.

She paused in the doorway, looking down. There was another pair of shoes next to Viviofs. Polished black clogs. Relief swept over Nanoha. Thatfs right, she thought to herself, Carrington said that Fate was looking after Vivio. And I spent all that time downstairs being worried for nothing.

eIfm home,f she called softly as she placed her work on the wooden floor boards and knelt to take her shoes off. Her house didnft have any shoe racks, and was made for wearing shoes throughout it, but Nanoha had found that old habits die hard. She had been brought up to take her shoes off at the doorway, and she couldnft find any reason not to. It made cleaning easier anyway.

eHello stranger,f Nanoha heard Fate reply as she reached for some slippers. She was leaning over the back of the sofa, looking at her with a welcoming smile. eWelcome home.f The lounge room was dimly lit in an amber glow. The projected television image was casting odd lights and shadows about the room as it mutely played the news.

eFate-chan...f Nanoha sighed. It had been too long since she had last seen her childhood friend, and hadnft realised how much she missed her.

When the slippers were on her feet, she picked up her pile of work, made her way over to the kitchen bench and lazily dumped it there. There was a hush from Fate. Nanoha turned to see her wearing the lacy lingerie piece she always wore for pyjamas, and Vivio dozing on her lap.

With a smile, Nanoha gestured an apology and made herself a glass of water which she downed in one go. She unbuttoned her uniform as she made her way to the sofa and, with the greatest of care not to wake her daughter, sat next to Fate. She then let fatigue take over as she rested her head on Fatefs shoulder and absentmindedly started to stroke her fingers through Viviofs hair.

eShouldnft she be in bed?f Nanoha asked Fate with a very soft whisper.

eLast day of class today. Shefs on holidays now,f Fate replied as she rested her head against Nanohafs. eShe said she wanted to see you at least once today. Shefs been having a tough time at school.f

There was a guilty pause from Nanoha. eReally...f she said. eThen Ifll allow it.f

Fate watched as Nanohafs fingers brushed gently through Viviofs hair. Her eyes then traced up her arm, and to the open collar, where she saw the insignia.

eYou were promoted,f she stated.

Nanoha nodded, her strokes hesitating once more. eAnd made headmistress of the academy.f

Fate straightened up to look at Nanoha properly, forcing her head from her shoulder. eWhen?f she asked. Nanoha looked away guiltily.

eTwo and a half months ago... Ifm sorry I didnft tell you.f She bit her lip. Why didnft I tell Fate? I could have still kept in contact with her! Ifve been a fool all this time!

Fate saw the apprehension on her friendfs face, put an arm around her and gently placed her head back on her shoulder with a sigh. eItfs okay. Congratulations.f

eThanks,f Nanoha muttered as she made herself comfortable again, and began stroking her daughterfs hair again. eDid you send Tiana to the academy?

eNo, she offered to go for me. I wanted to be here for Vivio. Was she angry?f

Nanoha shook her head. eDidnft see her. Grand Admiral Carrington spoke to me though. She met Tiana at reception though.f

eCarrington? What was she doing there?f

eThe same thing that Tiana was. Wanting to know why I wasnft answering my phone.f

eOhcf Fate held her friend a bit tighter. eDid you get in trouble?f she asked.

Nanoha chuckled. eShe told me to take two weeks leave or shefd suspend me,f she replied sheepishly, and Fate laughed softly. eThatfs right... Carrington also told me that you had something to tell me. Something about a get-together.f

eOh yeah... Arisa told me about it this afternoon. Remember Yuki from highschool?f

eShe was in our class, right?f

eYeah, thatfs right. Shefs decided to throw a graduation reunion and has invited all her friends. She says we can invite our friends too.f

They sat in silence as Nanoha thought about it for a bit. eSoc whatfs the catch?f she replied eventually. eIf I remember correctly therefs always some sort of crazy twist to everything Yuki does.f

eItfs a camping trip, and we have to bring our own supplies.f

eSounds tedious... When is it?f

eThis Saturday.f

eSaturday? Thatfs in four days!f Nanoha said, sitting up.

eYeah. Another one of Yukifs spur-of-the-moment ideas it seems.f

eI suppose so,f Nanoha replied.

There was a stir and murmur from Fatefs lap as Vivio started to wake up.

eAh... I think we woke hercf Fate stated as the young girl rubbed her eyes and looked around barely conscious. She looked at Nanoha, and then rubbed her eyes again. Nanoha smiled at her daughter as she looked slightly confused.

eMamac?f she asked tiredly, then dropped her head drowsily and then raised it again to look at her mother. As she realized that her mother was really there, her face lit up and then she pounced into her arms.

eMama! Welcome home!f she cried.

Nanoha laughed as she wrapped her arms around daughter, and Fate watched on joyfully. Nanoha had forgotten when her daughter stopped calling her Nanoha-mama, preferring to call her simply Mama. She wondered if it was when people stopped recognizing them as foster parent and child and began seeing them as a real mother and daughter.

eSorry for being a bad girl, Vivio,f Nanoha said playfully as she patted her daughterfs head. eWere you lonely?

Vivio buried her head into her motherfs chest. eMm. But Fate-mama came, so itfs okay. Did that lady yell at you?f

eAdmiral Carrington?f Nanoha asked, and Vivio nodded, her head still buried in Nanohafs chest. eShe did. She came to my office and got really angry at me. Then she ordered me to spend more time with you.f

Vivio removed her face from Nanohafs chest and sat up on her lap, but to Nanohafs surprised, Vivio had a sour expression. eWhatfs wrong?f Nanoha asked.

eMamac did you come straight from work?f Vivio asked carefully.

eThatfs rightc Why? Whatfs wrong?f

eYou need a shower, Mama,f Vivio said with no remorse, and Fate burst out laughing. Nanoha grabbed on side of her open shirt and sniffed the inside. Her daughter was right. After all, she did go straight from the middle of a training session to see Carrington, and effectively went straight home from there. Vivio started to laugh too, and she jumped off her motherfs lap and ran around the back of the sofa to hug her mother from behind. Nanoha felt slightly betrayed as she watched Fate roll backwards onto the sofa.

eThatfs mean, Fate-chan!f Nanoha cried as Fate tried to sit back up. eWhy didnft you tell me before?f

eButc!f Fate laughed, trying to compose herself. eYou looked so comfortable!f Nanoha got up from the sofa and took Viviofs hand.

eCome on Vivio, letfs wash your face and get you to bed. Tomorrowfs going to be a busy day after all.f

eReally? Are we going somewhere?f Vivio cried excitedly.

eYup. Ifll tell you in the morning. Now letfs leave silly Fate-mama until she calms down.f

Vivio looked back to Fate and then to Nanoha again, a bit disappointed. eBut Fate-mama smells better...f

eYes, okay,f Nanoha sighed as she ushered her daughter to the bathroom, eIfll soon change that, now come on. Letfs get you cleaned up.f

The pair left Fate, as she struggled to gain control of her laughter.

 

 

Half an hour later Nanoha was out of the shower, drying her hair with a towel in her pyjamas and watching her sleeping daughter from the doorway. She had made a habit of watching her daughter sleep since she started working until late in the night and was the only time that she had left to see her daughter. It was only recently that she realized how much Vivio had grown. Her daughter was twelve years old already, and growing fast. Shefs already considerably taller than Nanoha was when she was twelve.

Fate walked besides Nanoha and placed her arm around her. She bent her head down to her shoulder and quickly sniffed. eMmc much better,f Fate told Nanoha softly. Nanoha vaguely tried to shake Fate off her out of annoyance, but gave up and leaned against her instead. They both stood there in the silence, watching Vivio sleep.

eDo you do this often?f Fate asked her.

Nanoha nodded. eEver since I was promoted, I never got home in time to see her to bed properly.f

eI know. Vivio told me.f They stood there for a moment longer, until Nanoha finished drying her hair and closed the door to her daughterfs room. She made her way back to her bedroom with Fate closely behind.

Though it left little room for anything else, she had kept the large bed that was made for her and Fate from Section 6. At her old apartment she only had one bedroom, so she needed a bed to fit her and Vivio. It also proved handy for the times when Fate decided to stay the night. Both Nanoha and Fate slipped into the thick blankets and they made themselves comfortable. After a while, Fate shuffled across to hold her friend again.

eYoufve been rather clingy today, Fate-chan,f Nanoha told her, not shifting around to face Fate as she found her friendfs actions to be rather odd.

eI canft help it. Itfs been so long since I saw you last. And Ifm worried about you,f Fate replied.

Nanoha didnft. eSocf Fate said when Nanoha turned around after she realized Fate was staring at her. eAre you going to tell me what happened?f

eWhat do you mean?f Nanoha replied with a stiff yawn.

eYou know what I mean. What happened with Yuuno?f

Nanoha didnft seem to like the question. She looked down uncomfortably, and then rolled over again and shuffled away from Fate.

eNanohacf Fate called with concern, but Nanoha tightened the blanket around her. Fate shuffled towards Nanoha again. eI asked Vivio why Yuuno wasnft with her at nights. She said she wouldnft let him in anymore. I canft contact Yuuno anymore either.f Fate put her hands on her friendfs shoulders. eCome on. Tell me what happened. Ifm on your side, Nanoha.f

            Nanoha was silent for a bit, but Fate patiently waited. eHe cheated on me,f she said eventually.

            eCheated on you?f Fate asked, a bit confused. eWere you two going out?f

eWell... nocf Nanoha whimpered. eBut I was waiting for him! I was waiting for him to tell me he loved mec waiting for him to ask if he could spend the night with me... waiting for him just to ask me out...f Nanoha curled herself into a ball. eAll those times we went out together, he never arranged one. Ifd always call him, or Vivio would say that she wanted to spend some time with him.f Her voice started to croak as her emotions started to flare. eShe started calling him Yuuno-papa you know? She was treating him like her father.f She sniffled heavily, trying to keep tears at bay.

eWhy didnft you tell him how you felt?f Fate asked as she propped herself up on one arm and stroked her friendfs head with the other.

eI was scared! I was worried that he didnft feel the same way I did! I mean, hefd never ask to meet me, Ifd always ask to meet him, or drop by the Library.f She reached around to find comfort in her friendfs arms and sobbed in her chest. Fate continued to comfort her by stroking her head. eSome time ago, he became harder to contact. When I asked him about it, he made vague excuses, like he was too busy, or that it wasnft a good time. So I started visiting him at the library more often. I started to notice this other woman was with him a lot. I didnft think about it much at first, but they started to get closer.

eThen one time I went to see him in his office...f The memory became vivid within Nanohafs memory as she told Fate. She was going to tell Yuuno that she had been promoted, and was now in charge of the Academy. The other librarians had told her that he was in his office and she eagerly rushed over to see him. What she saw when she opened the door still seems surreal to her. Something small was standing on the desk, the light shinning off it brilliantly. Yuuno was sitting in his office chair with a waxed look on his face. She was in there with him. She was sitting on his lap, slowly turning her head back to look at Nanoha with a devious grin.

eShe wasnft wearing anything!f Nanoha cried as emotions took control and tears streamed down her face. It hurt Fate to see her friend this way, and she held her tight. Fate knew that something had happened between Nanoha and Yuuno, but she never even imagined that hefd be seeing another woman, yet alone be stupid enough to be caught in the act. But it was all... wrong. It didnft make any sense. It took several minutes of comforting to calm Nanoha down again.

eThat doesnft sound like the Yuuno I know...f Fate said. eWhy would he do such a thing?

Nanoha didnft respond.

eSo what did you do?f Fate asked her gently.

eI donft know...f Nanoha said in between sobs. eI felt sick. I think I ran away.f

eIs that when you stopped answering your phone?f

Nanoha nodded. eI didnft want to hear him. I knew that shefd be with him, just thinking about them together made me feel sick. I worked longer to keep my mind off it. It hurts, Fate-chan, it really hurts to think about it!f Nanoha fell into tears again. And silently, so did Fate.

 

 

It was zero six hundred hours the next morning, and the late sun was peaking over the horizon. Lexus Carrington, Grand Admiral and leader of the Time-Space Administration Bureau was already hard at work. She sat in her Midchildan office, hunched over various paper documents that needed approval, or signage, or both.

Paper documents...

With the greatest known technology in the Dimensional Sea, the leader of the most powerful known organisation – sorry, government – still uses documents made from pulped trees. Well, there was a time when Carrington herself didnft understand why they werenft using more gmodernh technologies, but when you come to power you realise how reassuring it is knowing that the only people who know whatfs written on the sheet in front of you is the person who wrote it, and the person reading over your shoulder. Anything within cyberspace can be hacked by anyone anywhere. You have to get through at least ten security check points and then lock pick two safes with a security check point between them to make it into the Bureaufs archives.

A sudden silence caught Carringtonfs attention, and then she realised there was a shadow hovering over her desk. The person reading over my shoulder? she thought and cautiously looked up from her work.

Standing up against her desk was a tallish prim man, whose black hair was brushed straight back. He wore an unfamiliar uniform that had a somewhat Bureau design to it. It was pure black, but had the shoulder caps that all the other uniforms had. This one was gold. The jacket was also a trench coat. He also wore white gloves. They were clenched. So was his jaw.

eAh,f she said, leaning back and smiling pleasantly, eCharlie Maybach. What brings you here this morning?f

eIfve been here for five minutes!f Charlie cried. His voice was grating and nearly hysterical. eIfve been talking to you for five minutes and youfve only just noticed me!?f

Carrington gave him an innocent and perplexed look. She pointed to his trench coat. eWhatfs with the suit?f she inquired.

eOh this?f Charlie said, brightening up as he stretched his arms out and inspected himself. eThis is the new uniform for the senate.f

eThe senate?f

eYes, for all the senators. Looks good doesnft it?f

eIt looks obnoxious,f Carrington said with a sneer before returning to her work.

Charlie gave her an offended look. eWell, you donft have to be so rude about it.f

There was another silence as Carrington read over a few more documents, signing where needed. She then sighed.

eYoufre still here, Charlie...f she said, not looking up.

eYes.f

eWhy?f

Charlie tensed up in the way a chicken would normally ruffle it feathers. eHavenft you heard a thing Ifve said!f he squealed, forcing Carrington to shut her eyes.

eNo, I have a habit of ignoring the annoying and irritating when Ifm working, you see.f

eFive minutes! Ifve been here for five minutes and you havenft listened to a word Ifve said!f

eWhat is it, Charlie?f Carrington demanded, putting down her pen and looking at him angrily. She never did like Charlie. He had the same air about him that fashion designers had, and that only causes trouble in the military.

eThis!f he cried, pointing to a piece of paper in front of him. Carrington frowned at it and read it up-side-down. She frowned further and looked back at Charlie.

e... And?f

eYou canft be serious, can you? Allow cities to govern their own laws!?f Charlie threw his hands in the air. eWefre a government now! We decide the laws!f

eYes, and we have,f Carrington said with patience. She was half expecting this to happen. eIf youfd read the document properly, youfll see that Ifve listed the laws that are to be followed –e she drew a line down the sheet next to several bullet points, e—right here.f

Charlie bent over and critically inspected the document. eAll planets under Time-Space Administration rule are to abide by the following governing laws... One. All states are to surrender all mass weaponry to the Bureau for destruction. Two. All states are to either, ay; merge all military bodies with the military of the Time-Space Administration Bureau. Be; Disband all military bodies. Three. All states are to use Time-Space Administration Bureau currency. Four. All states are to abide by the laws set by the Time-Space Administration Bureaufs Headquarters. Five, for all other laws, each state may declare their own policies and submit them to the Time-Space Administration Bureau for approval!?f

Charlie slammed his hands down on Carringtonfs desk, disturbing several papers. eHow is this governing!? Itfs not even written properly! And itfs the senate that decides the laws, not you!f

Carrington glared at the hands on her desk until they were removed. eThatfs where youfre wrong, you see,f she said, putting down her pen and folding her hands on her chest. eIfm quite sure that this governing system you pushed for was a militant government.f

eDemocratic-militant!f

eMilitant none-the-less!f she barked. eAnd Ifm the commander of this military, that means I make the final decisions!f

eBut these laws are the basic requirements for coming under the Bureaufs protection! Thatfs before we formed this government, when we were just a mere organisation!f

eYes! Thatfs righ-e Carrington cleared her throat and gave an irritated glance to Charlie. His annoying habit of emphasising key words was starting to rub off on her. eThatfs right. Ifve played along with your stupid idea of becoming a government, but in the end this is still the Time-Space Administration Bureau. We have far too many states for us to fully govern, so wefll take care of all the big stuff while the states themselves can take care of their own little problems. Is that understood?f

Charlie opened his mouth to protest, but hesitated and thought again. Carrington watched him sternly as he thought over things. His jaw moved oddly as he did.

eYou know, Charlie,f Carrington said gently. eWhen Admiral Mizetto died, the Administration Bureau started to fall apart because some fools thought it would be good to turn this organisation into a government. Donft look at me like that. In fact, I can safely bet that if General Kill and Advisor Leone Fils didnft step back in to whack some people across the ear and sort out the mess, we wouldnft be here. The Bureau would have failed. It was then when we went about weeding all those within the bureau who tried to make it collapse for their own gain. Now this...f Carrington bent over to open one of the cabinets in her desk, where after a moment of shuffling about, she produced a thick folder which she dropped on her desk. She had a cheeky and amused look on her face as she opened it up and flicked backward and forwards through the documents. eThis is a report that I was given by some of my most trusted staff member. In this folder contains the names and profiles of all the people who have been judged to be most dangerous to the stability of the Administration Bureau.f

Charlie craned his neck to look at the documents. His face went slightly pale when he noticed that a vast majority of them had the word gTerminatedh stamped across the profile in red.

Carrington raised an eyebrow when she noticed his gaze. eThese people... they tried to use the Bureau for their own person gains. Remember that big corruption investigation we had? It was like a witch hunt, really, and went for months. Such a hassle; and so many good officers were lost. Oh my...f

She stopped at a page. It didnft have a big red gTerminatedh stamp on it. It was Charliefs profile. Although Charlie didnft say anything, his jaw was moving.

eI see youfve remembered that Ifm still your boss,f Carrington said as she closed the folder. eWould you like to know why you havenft been gTerminatedh yet?f She briefly raised an eyebrow as she hoped for Charlie to reply. He didnft. eYou havenft been terminated because I know that you actually use your head, Charlie. You think twice about taking a risky action. And you can still be of use for me, if you keep thinking that is.f Carrington put the folder away.

eWhat do you plan to do with the senate?f Charlie asked. His voice was a bit shaky.

eOh, Ifll still have a use for the senate, donft you worry. Ifm not going to be bothered with looking after everything...f Carrington cleared her throat again. eBut if I hear word of the senate working in ways thatfs against the image and policy of the Bureau... Ifm sure I donft have to finish that sentence.f

Charlie realised that when Carrington finished her sentence, she wasnft looking at him, but rather over his shoulder. He threw himself against Carringtonfs desk in fright when he looked behind him. There, stood rather tall and regal man. His hair was grey and curly, his uniform was mainly black with red shoulders. He looked down his nose at Charlie, before shifting his gaze to Carrington.

eGood morning mafam,f he said dismissively. His voice was lazy and just as regal as his look. eI do believe this man has not got an appointment.f

eWho the hell are you!?f Charlie squealed.

eCharlie, I would like you to meet my advisor,f Carrington said.

eVindicator Jeremy Clarkson,f the tall man said. He kept his hands behind his back and glanced at Charlie as if he was an afterthought.

eI never heard you enter!f Charlie pointed to the large metal doors that made safe vaults look like plywood.

eThat is because, sir, I was always here.f And he could have been. The room was certainly large enough, and if someone was good enough at making themselves blend into the surroundings it was possible to go unnoticed. Although those exiting would have noticed the Vindicator sitting behind his desk near the massive doors, just out of the peripheral vision of those entering.

Charlie looked to Carrington, the back to Clarkson. His expression changed from shocked to puzzled, then looked to and fro again. eWhat sort of rank is Vindicator?f

eWhat sort of rank is a senator?f Carrington asked in reply. eDonft look at me like that, Charlie.f

Clarkson gave an inquiring glance to the Admiral. She sighed and shrugged.

eVindicators are what you may refer to as special agents of the Saint Church, sir. After the Administration Bureau formed government, all of the Church Knights are now members of the Bureau.f

eSpecial agents?f Charlie asked. eYou mean like an Enforcer?f

eOh please, Senator Maybach,f Clarkson laughed as an amused grin cracked his wooden face. ePlease donft weigh us up against the Enforcers of the Bureau. They pale in comparison to us Vindicators.f

eHow many of you are there?f

eThat will do for now, Charlie,f Carrington interrupted. eIt appears that Clarkson has something he needs to tell me.f

eWait, whatfs he an advisor of?f

eGoodbye, Charlie.f

Carrington and Clarkson waited for the clunk of the closing metal doors before continuing. Carrington winced when they did.

eYou know,f Carrington said as the sound faded off, eI should get someone in to make this office more warmly. Takamachi has a good office. Nice woodwork, a door to respect. Wonderful chair. This office is cold and harsh really...f

ePerhaps at a more suitable time, mafam,f he said as he dropped some documents onto the clutter of Carringtonfs desk. She looked at the curiously as she read it up-side-down. eHowever it seems our city guard issue is becoming a problem. While our military capacity is steadily increasing again, our guards seem to be rapidly dissipating.f The regal air that surrounded Clarkson had now dissipated as well. While he still looked to attention, he felt at ease. He was still stiff, but you could argue that before he was rigid.

eThe coppers are leaving us?f Carrington questioned as she continued to read.

eThatfs the issue, mafam. Police, or city guards, are civilian; whereas our current guards are enrolled within the Bureau, which makes them military personal.f

eWhat, our guards are leaving us because of a technicality?f

eNo, mafam, theyfre using the opportunity to be re-trained within the Bureau, or are simply applying to be re-assigned to an actual military unit.f

eWhy?f

eI do believe it is because the pay is better.f

Carrington sighed. eAssign some reserve units to patrol the streets then.f

eThat would put us under martial law, mafam.f

eWe are a militant government, Clarkson.f

eYes, but we are also a democracy, mafam.f

Carrington rolled her eyes. eI knew this was a bloody stupid idea.f

 

 

Nanoha found herself lying awkwardly across the bed. A blinding glare was coming from the lake; this must mean her curtains were open. She checked with her bleary eyes. A purple square was temporarily burnt in her sight. Yes, they were open.

After the purple afterimage faded, she looked around the room. Fate was already awake, and was already dressing into her uniform, buttoning up her jacket but still yet to put on her skirt. Nanoha shuffled to the edge of the bed and straightened her pyjamas, but didnft bother doing up her buttons which had mysteriously undone themselves in her sleep. The last thing she remembered last night was crying in Fatefs arms, which would probably explains the odd position she woke up in.

eGood morning, Nanoha,f Fate said as she noticed her, sliding into her jacket and buttoning it up. eFeeling better?f Nanoha wearily got out of bed, walked over to Fate and embraced her firmly.

eMuch better,f she said softly. eThank you, Fate-chan.f

She honestly did feel better. She felt lighter and refreshed, all the baggage she was wearing on her shoulders had been carefully removed by Fate. eDo you have to work again today?f Nanoha asked as she let go of Fate to allow her to continue getting dressed.

eOnly for a little bit. Ifve got to finalise some things for Tiana before I can take my leave. I hope Ifll still have time to spend with Leila and Claude though...f

Nanoha put Fatefs lacy pyjamas on a clothes hanger and hung them on one of the racks in her walk-in wardrobe. The two had decided to keep some of their clothes in each otherfs house, just in case they unexpectedly decided to stay the night. They often did anyway. The uniform that Fate was putting on was a spare Nanoha kept in her wardrobe. Yesterdayfs uniform was already in the washing basket.

Nanoha took off her pyjamas and then took one of her favourite casual pieces from the rack; a pink top with a long sleeved black cotton jacket with a thick belt and tight thigh length skirt.

eYou donft mind if I tag along?f Nanoha asked as she reappeared from the wardrobe. Fate had already gotten dressed and was putting the scrunchie on the end of her long blonde hair. eThere are some things I want to do too.f

eSure, I donft mind...f Fate said. eWhat do you have in mind?f

eFirst I want to thank Tiana for dropping by,f Nanoha said as she made her way to the door.

eAnd then...?f Fate asked, a bit concerned.

eI might go out to do some shopping with Vivio a bit later, but nothingfs set.f Nanoha opened the door, and Fate followed closely behind.

eReally? I think Ifll join in then.f

As they entered the short corridor that led to the bathroom, Viviofs room and laundry, a smell from the kitchen caught Nanohafs attention. She checked Viviofs room and found it vacant.

In the kitchen, Vivio was hard at work cooking pancakes, using an unusual fool proof technique Nanoha had never seen before. Two frying pans were on the stoves, instant pancake mix to the left, and plates to the right. Two plates already had four pancakes on them, and the remaining plate had only two. Vivio took the right frying pan, and flipped the pancake cooking on it onto the plate. She then took the left frying pan and flipped the pancake from that frying pan into the right one. After she shook the right frying pan to centre the pancake and turned off the left stove, she returned her attention to the morning cartoon that was playing on the television in the lounge room. Vivio was paying so much attention to the cartoon, she didnft notice as Nanoha placed her clothes on the files and documents that placed there last night.

eVivio...!f Nanoha gasped as she admired her daughterfs cooking. eYou shouldnft have!f

Viviofs attention snapped from the television to her mother, and her face lit up once again. eMama!f she cried as she ran over to hug Nanoha. eGood morning!f she said after she ran into her mother and wrapped her arms around her, almost knocking Nanoha off balance in the process.

eGood morning, pumpkin,f Nanoha replied as she patted Viviofs head. eAre you making breakfast for us?f

eYup!f Vivio replied joyfully, enjoying her motherfs affection. Vivio then leaned back while still hugging Nanoha to look at Fate. eGood morning, Fate-mama!f

eGood morning, Vivio. It looks delicious,f Fate said as she retrieved a bottle of orange juice from the fridge and some glasses from one of the cabinets.

eMama... you should be more lady-like,f Vivio complained as she started to button up her motherfs top. Nanoha squealed and then fiercely hugged her daughter.

eYoufre such a good girl, Vivio!f Nanoha cried and kissed her daughter on the forehead. Vivio chuckled, gaining the praise and affection she was hoping for. Nanoha had realised some time ago, but was just reminded again that Vivio wasnft just growing quickly physically; she was also becoming alarmingly mature. So much so, that her teacher, Sister Schach, had told Nanoha some months ago that Vivio was having some peer issues within her class. The girl was the tallest not only in her class, but her grade, and was significantly more mature than the rest of her grade. And to top it all off, her eyes were different colours. The combination made it hard for her to make friends and made her an easy target in a peerage that had begun to quickly discriminate anything that was different to the majority.

Nanoha idly thought how it would be for her, Fate and Hayate if her class mates found out that they could use magic. She wanted to believe that everyone would be amazed and fascinated, and would all agree to keep it all under wraps, but she knew better. It was hard enough trying to convince her family that she could use magic, and Arisa and Suzuka only believed them because they were caught in the middle of it. Realistically, she believed everyone would fuss, argue, and then decide to keep their distance.

Vivio released herself from her motherfs grip, flipped the last pancake onto her plate, turned the stove off and changed the television channel to one that had the morning news on it.

eYou donft have to change the channel,f Nanoha told her daughter as the three of them sat down at the small table to eat their breakfast.

eItfs okay,f Vivio said, plopping down on the chair, eIfve seen it before anyway.f She picked up a bottle of maple syrup, held it high over her pancakes and watched as they syrup slowly fell to the pancakes. eSo where are we going today, Mama?f she asked, still watching the syrup seep down.

eWell tomorrow, wefre going to your grandparentfs place,f Nanoha said after she swallowed a slice of her pancake.

eReally!?f Vivio was already getting excited.

eAhh..! Be careful with the syrup Vivio!f Nanoha cried as Viviofs distracted hands ventured the stream of syrup towards the edge of the plate. Vivio carefully ended her show of syrup spilling, and then passed the bottle to Fate.

eYes, wefre all going back to Earth tomorrow, Vivio,f Fate added as she put a small dollop of syrup on her pancakes. eThe day after tomorrow, wefre all going on a camping trip with some of your motherfs old friends.f

eCamping!?f Vivio squealed excitedly. eIfve never been camping before! I canft wait!f

eI wonder if itfs okay to bring children though...f Nanoha wondered after thinking over it a bit. eDo you think therefll be other children there?f she asked Fate, who shrugged.

eI donft know... itfs possible. It has been fifteen years after all, I donft think youfre the only one in our class that has a child,f Fate answered, and then took a sip of her orange juice.

eAre Elio and Caro coming?f Vivio asked.

eNo,f Fate said, shaking her head, ethey wonft be able to make it in time. I told them last night though. They hope we enjoy ourselves.f

eThatfs okay. As long as Mama and Fate-mama are with me, I wonft be lonely.f

eWatch yourself Vivio!f Nanoha jokingly warned as she pointed her knife to the ceiling. eFlattery will get you nowhere!f Vivio chuckled as she took a sip of her orange juice. eBut today, wefre going to go shopping for the camping trip. First, wefll have to go to Fate-mamafs office. She needs to finish off some work before she can go camping, and I need to talk to Tiana.f

eOkay!f Vivio said, and she took a she took a hefty slice of pancake and tried to fit it all in her moth, smearing some syrup on her face.

eSilly girl...f Nanoha complained after she picked up and licked one of the paper handkerchiefs on the table before she used it to wipe Viviofs face with it. eTake smaller slices, it wonft run away.f

eYes, Mama...f Vivio moaned uncomfortably.

Fate suddenly reached for the remote and turned up the volume of the television. The news was a reporting of a drug smuggling bust in Southern Midchilda. It was a large operation involving enforcers and some ground defence units. It didnft end peacefully. Several people were injured on both sides of the law, and some on the bad end had died.

eAh... Fate-mamafs on TV,f Vivio stated to no response. The footage on the projected screen showed Fate in her barrier jacket and with Bardiche in hand, next to her was Tiana who was also in her barrier jacket. They were standing in the middle of a rundown street with some old and neglected cars parked on the curbs. Fate was questioning one of the Ground Defence troops and Tiana was taking notes. It looked like the usual after operation mop-up that the Bureau always ran. That is, until there was an explosion from one of the windows which had everyone ducking and running for cover.

Apart from the camera man, who foolishly stood his ground for the sake of good footage.

 A figure appeared in the flaming window frame and fired several rounds from his rifle, but Fate already had cast a protective shield and the rounds ricocheted off into the pavement. Tiana spun around, dropping to one knee as Cross Mirage materialised in her right hand and she returned fire.

Fate spun back around, yelled something at the cameraman which couldnft be heard over the anchormanfs report and the background noise of heavier gunfire and more unseen explosions, then ran towards the camera and off screen as Tiana began to retreat as well, creeping backwards while covering everyone with return fire.

The camera suddenly shook and panned up violently, and then the footage cut to the reporter standing further down the street several hours after the incident. The street was blocked off by several Ground Defence APCs and they were guarded by a squad of troops, heavily armed and standing shoulder to shoulder.

            eFate-mama, you look good on TV,f Vivio said casually, and Fate replied with a smile. Vivio knew that what she just saw was another day at the office for both her godmother and her mother. She clearly remembered what happened on the Cradle as if it was yesterday, and Nanoha had often wondered if that was the reason why her daughter was unusually mature for her age.

The article ended and went onto news about a rare animal in the zoo being pregnant, only to be silenced again by Fate, who was uninterested.

eSo howfs the investigation going?f Nanoha asked.

ePoorly,f Fate ate another slice of pancake. eWe walked straight into a trap. Theyfre taking advantage of our personal shortage and shipping drugs to and from the administered planets. They must have formed up or gathered an alarming amount of members during the corruption investigation.f

eWell, at least theyfll be easier to find if therefs more of them,f Nanoha stated.

eItfs not their members that Ifm worried about, itfs their trading routes. I have no idea how theyfre shipping off the planet,f Fate said, shaking her head.

eKeep at it, Fate-mama! Youfll get eem eventually!f Vivio cried energetically. Fate smiled again and patted her on the head, who grinned as she enjoyed the attention.

eDonft worry, I havenft given up yet,f Fate told the little girl.

Nanoha finished her pancakes, drank the rest of her orange juice and thanked her daughter for the meal. eIfm going to have a shower now,f she told the remaining pair at the table. eI wonft be long. Vivio, have you showered already?f

eYep!f her daughter replied.

eOkay. Donft forget to brush your teeth once youfve finished your breakfast.f

eOkay Mama!f Vivio dug into the remainders of her pancakes, eager to go out with her mother and godmother, as Nanoha picked up her clothes from the bench and made her way to the bathroom.

 

 

Not many people know about the Vindicators, but to be honest, thatfs the way itfs supposed to be. They were indeed the special agents for the Saint Church Knights, but they were the ones who did the jobs you couldnft possibly ask someone else to do. Such jobs are commonly cited by authorities as being gHighly dangerous with life threatening risks to personal evolved and anyone within a one hundred kilometre radiush, gWill be traumatic to any involved in operationh, and most frequently, gTo be honest, this operation is damn well impossible, but youfre going to do it anywayh.

Thatfs the con of being a Vindicator. The pro of being a Vindicator, is that youfre simply told what needs doing. How it gets done, is entirely up to the Vindicator. Vindicators are also judge and jury as well, being allowed to convict and sentence anyone on the spot, then and there. And it seemed to Clarkson that the late Admiral Mizetto along with Judicial Advisor Fils, made sure that a Vindicatorfs judgement was carried out. After all, they immediately informed the Admiral of the Advisor of the convictions, not the local authorities. But then, thatfs because the authority isnft supposed to know about the Vindicators, because if the authorities knew, then the criminals would know too.

But in honesty, the criminals did know of the Vindicators, in the form of folk lore and rumours. Tales of how an acquaintance of a friendfs friend somehow managed to escape from, or spied on, or heard of how a lone person single handed foiled plots to rob banks or raid cities or pinch the old ladies bag. The Vindicator was the shadows. It was indestructible. And it stalked like a wolf closing in on its prey. Clarkson actually enjoyed being likened to a wolf, so he quite enjoyed that one. And he quite enjoyed the faces of those who have been told by stories by a friend of an acquaintance of the friendfs friend to find that the stories, while exaggerated, are actually true.

One thought was running through Clarksonfs head at the moment. It was from Senator Maybach, when he squealed, eWhat kind of rank is Vindicator?f

Clarkson had to admit, that it was a damn good question. He himself had thought what it meant too, when he turned to a trusty dictionary for a definition to the word. The word derived from Vindicate, which had three relevant definitions; To set free. To avenge. To free from allegation or blame, or to provide justification or defence for, or to protect from attack or encroachment. Clarkson believed that the last one you had to choose which ever was appropriate at the time, as they all could be summed up with a few simple tasks: To deliver, to avenge, to defend, to justify, and to confirm.

Before he read the definitions, he wasnft sure if Vindicator appropriately told what his job was supposed to be. But hefd been ordered to infiltrate institutions of other planets and governments, and sometimes companies to retrieve goods which may be illegal, dangerous, or useful to the church, which took care of gto deliverh. Hefd been ordered to assassinate, which took care of both gto avengeh, and gto defendh. Hefd been sent on espionage missions too, so therefs gto confirmh. Although gto justifyh did confuse him. He suspected it was a twist of the word justice, because hefd convicted many felons too.

Oh yes, there was another con for being a Vindicator, one that was now being removed. The Vindicators didnft exist. Yes, they did exist physically, but they had no form of identification, and they werenft in any database. The only forms that held their profile was in a secret compartment within the leader of the Church Knightfs desk. If they were caught by anyone on mission, and the Church Knights were asked to give an explanation, the people doing the asking were allowed to search through their databases in search for the caught Vindicatorfs profile with no success. But this also meant that friends and family had to think that they no longer existed too.

Now the files were being taken out, and handed to the Bureau. Vindicators now existed. Life wasnft as harsh anymore. Although Clarkson didnft have any family or friends, so he really didnft care.

Clarkson reached the door he was walking to. When he opened it, several high ranking officers turned to look at him, wondering who had the nerves to disturb them.

eTerribly sorry for being late,f Clarkson said as he entered and closed the door behind him. eThe Admiral needed something attended to.f

eThatfs perfectly fine, Sir Clarkson,f Said the man standing in front of the projector screen. eWefve only just started.f Clarkson knew the man as Jensen May, commander of the Midchildan branch of enforcers. A reliable man with a steady head, and has a firm grip with his command. Hefs age was starting to show with greying hair and wrinkled face, but May wasnft the type of person to let something like age get in his way. Clarkson respected that.

May continued where he left off as Clarkson found his seat. eWhere was I..? Oh yes. Yesterday, with thanks to Major Morris, we successfully intercepted a smuggling convoy. The smugglers fought fiercely to protect their cargo, and as a result several of our troops were injured. Many of the smugglers were injured, and... er... I have confirmation that one had unfortunately passed away this morning.f There was a murmur of disapproval from the rest of the officers as the faces of all those injured appeared on the projector screen. Clarkson didnft understand why though, but they always did this when loss of life was mentioned. He thought it was odd for military personal to be so concerned of the life of the enemy.

eThe other wounded smugglers are now in stable conditions. They should be ready to be questioned within the week.f

eDid any of the smugglers escape?f asked one of the officers.

eUnfortunately quite a few did. My officers couldnft tell exactly how many trucks there were in the convoy, but they estimated between six and nine vehicles were in use. We are not sure if there are any more smuggling routes that they are using, but judging from the smugglerfs counter attack, it would be safe to assume that the smugglers have a very large group, and do have alternative routes available.f

eBut why counter attack if they have more routes?f asked another officer. eWhat was their cargo?f

eIt appears to be a new form of liquid narcotic.f The projector screen changed to show a simple vial, containing a milky blue substance. Shown next to it was a create full of the vials. eWhat the substance does and how itfs administered, we are currently investigating. Wefre calling it gBlue Milkh for now.f

eDo you have one of these vials?f Clarkson asked.

eNot with me, Sir. But I can arrange for one to be sent to you.f

eNo, thatfs quite alright. Ifll personally visit your office some time and see them for myself,f Clarkson said as a notepad appeared from his pocket. He wrote something down, and then turned back several pages. He stopped when he arrived at a picture of a vial. It was a simple design, much like the ones shown in the projector, although this one was almost empty. Sitting in the bottom of the vial was a clear blue substance.

 

 

Tiana sat at her workstation, or rather, slumped on her workstation with her head propped up by an arm, gazing at the information that scrolled across her monitor with complete lack of interest. In her idle hand, she fidgeted two vials of simple design. One was milky blue, the other was clear blue.

So far the information was only leading her to sleep, but if Fate was here, shefd probably tell her that shefd need to find the routes the drugs were being smuggled through. It was painfully obvious though. Drug trafficking is just that; trafficking. Remove the operative and you have traffic. Traffic needs roads to operate on. Shut down the road, shut down the traffic, shut down the drug trafficking.

The only problem is, you often have no idea which roads the drug smuggling is happening on, and of course, it wasnft happening up on the streets. It was somewhere they didnft know of. And the reason why they didnft know of the roads being used was often because they didnft have any information of the roads. The only information she had that was remotely helpful was other smuggling case reports and current, up-to-date city maps and plans, and they were... well, next to useless really.

From the way the smugglers attacked them, Tiana had to say that they were either incredibly stupid, or incredibly clever. They had been tipped off about suspicious vehicles entering a tunnel in a rundown part of Southern Midchilda, and as they went to investigate with a squad of Ground Defence troops, they just happened to come out of the tunnel. They didnft even try to flee at first. They took one look at the troops and opened fire. And they came back again sometime after the fight had finished too. And when they went to investigate the tunnel, they found some more tunnels that werenft on the maps, which to Tiana was a good indication that they wouldnft be using old routes, and if they did, it would only be as a decoy. So the previous smuggling cases wouldnft help much. Tiana also knew that Midchilda had been built on, then demolished, then built on again, and then demolished again, and then built on some more. And therefs every chance that for good measure, it was demolished yet some more. It was more than likely that the current maps and city plans she has donft include abandoned and sealed off underground tunnels, sewers and subways, and that makes the maps she has almost useless too.

She needed more information than what was available. She needed details on the city and maps that dated back to when the city was first and had already sent Shario to try and get permission to access to the secured archives that only the highest ranking officers could access, and now she was scrolling through the old cases in the slight hope that something of worth would appear.

Another problem she was having trouble with was how they were shipping off the planet. All ports and transfer stations in Midchilda were tightly secure with customs and defence force units in attendance, getting through with contraband would be incredibly difficult. That meant the smugglers either had a flawless mean of transporting their goods, or someone was helping them from the inside... and the last thing Tiana wanted was yet another corruption investigation.

But if all went well, and Tiana managed to take out the smuggling routes, theyfd be able to avoid another witch hunt, one which the Administration Bureau probably wouldnft survive.

A movement from the corner of her eye caught Tianafs attention. She was expecting Shario to return at any moment, so she continued to gaze at the information scrolling past the monitor. eAny luck?f she asked.

To Tianafs surprise, there wasnft a response. Sure, Shario often played tricks with her, but she was always serious about work. After a brief moment of patience and thought, Tiana lazily turned around. Shario was nowhere to be seen, but looking at the monitor over her shoulder was a young girl. She wore an open blue cotton jacket with a light blue buttoned shirt underneath, and a frilly knee length, multi-layered skirt that was fastened to her waist by a beaded thin leather band which wrapped around her waist a few times before it loosely sagged down one side and finally clipped to the tighter part of the band. On her feet were a pair of sports shoes with baggy white socks, strapped to her shoulder was a handbag and her long golden-blonde hair was tied into a waist long high pony tail. Tiana briefly wondered who she was until she noticed the girlfs eyes. Green and red.

eVivio?f Tiana said.

The girlfs attention snapped from the monitor to Tiana, and her expression lit up just as fast.

eHello Tiana-san!f Vivio chirped, giving Tiana a fierce hug.

eVivio, what are you doing here?f Tiana asked, slightly confused but happy to see the girl. eDid Fate bring you along?f

Vivio shook her head. eI came with Mama!f Vivio beamed. Tiana looked past the girl. Surely enough, her mother was smiling warmly besides Fate.

eHey, Tiana. Long time no see,f Nanoha said as Vivio released Tiana from her hug.

Tiana greeted Nanoha and they briefly talked about what people normally talk about when they catch up with each otherfs lives; their immediate health, work, social life and of course, the weather.

eBut still, I canft believe youfre my academyfs new headmistress...f Tiana went on.

eWell... I wanted to tell you, but something happened...f Nanoha said sheepishly. eSorry.f

eNo, no, you donft need to apologise. So what happened?f Tiana asked as Fate sat down at her station and started opening several files.

eIfll tell you later...f Nanoha said uncomfortably. eThis isnft the best place to talk about it.f

eOkay...f Tiana said, and then was distracted by Fate trying to get her attention. Fate and Tiana set down to work, while Vivio pulled Nanoha aside to tell her stories of the mischief she and her friend got up to in school.

eNanoha!f Shario called in surprise as she returned back from her superiorfs office. eItfs good to see you again!f

eYou too, Shari!f Nanoha said as she gave her a friendly hug.

eShari, howfd it go?f Tiana asked her leaning back on her chair.

eNo good,f Shario shook her head. eThey wonft allow junior officers into the archives, because we gmay not be as loyal as we seemh.f

 Tiana gave a soft cry of frustration. eHow long are they going to be this paranoid!f she moaned.

eWhat are you looking for?f Fate asked her.

eMaps and blueprints of Midchilda,f Tiana replied as she picked up the clear blue vial and started to fidget with it. eThat ambush yesterday was crafty and well planned. Itfs obvious theyfre incredibly organised, and theyfll be smart enough to know that wefll be monitoring the smuggling routes that have already been used. We need to find other possible routes, but now we canft access the Bureau archives, Ifll have to go to the Infinity Library and try to find the maps in there.f Tiana let out another irritated moan. eIfll be there for weeks looking for these maps!f

eAbout that...f Shario added carefully, ewe wonft be able to get to headquarters until tomorrow. After yesterdayfs incident, they shut down all the transfer stations to prevent any of the smugglers from fleeing the planet. The shut down applies for both military and civilian transfer points.f

eWhat!?f both Nanoha and Fate cried out in unison.

eAh... donft worry! The military transfer points will be operating again tomorrow. If youfre with an officer whofs on duty, youfll be allowed access. Expect to be searched thoroughly though,f Shario replied hastily, not wanting either of the two to get upset.

eWhat about from headquarters to Earth though?f Fate asked.

eYoufll be fine once you get to headquarters. Only Midchildafs transfer points have been locked down. Once you get to headquarters, you can move where ever you want.f

eThank goodness,f Nanoha sighed. eWefd be in trouble if we couldnft leave Midchilda tomorrow.f

eLooks like youfll be coming with me then,f Tiana said with a smirk. eArenft you lucky that Ifm here for you guys? Whatfll you do without me?f

eWefd probably go with Shari,f Fate said indifferently. Tiana threw her an irritated glance, but left it at that.

eHey, Nanoha, do you think you could come with me to the Library?f Tiana asked, propping herself forward in her chair. eItfll really help if you could get Yuuno to assist...f Tiana stopped herself in midsentence, noticing that Fate was looking at Nanoha with incredible concern, and Vivio was clutching the end of her motherfs jacket and looking up at her in worry. Nanoha herself also became rather gloomy. e... Whatfs wrong...?f

eItfs nothing,f Nanoha said, forcing herself to act cheerfully again. eDonft worry about it.f There was an awkward silence before Fate cleared her throat.

eWell, I think wefre about done here then,f she declared and turned off her workstation. eI transferred those files to the shared drive, Tiana. They should help you out a lot. Best of luck.f Fate got out of her chair, and started to leave with Nanoha and Vivio after they said their farewells to Shario.

eHey, hold up!f Tiana cried as she jumped out of her chair and hastily turned off her workstation. eIfm coming with you! You owe me, Fate, remember!?f

eHuh? Tiana, youfre still on duty...f Fate said nervously after she looked beyond Tiana.

eIfm not going to get anywhere looking at those old cases, if anything I might be able to find some clues in the city. Come on, Shari, letfs get out of here for a change,f Tiana said and she went to turn around. eI havenft had a decent launch for weeks...f Tiana trailed off as she saw her commander between her and Shario. She laughed nervously. eAh... Good morning, Commander May...f

The tall, aging man cleared his through politely, and then looked down at Tiana again. eGood morning, Lanster,f he said softly, but his voice still seemed to boom. eGood luck on your investigation.f He turned and walked back towards his office at the end of the hall. eDonft enjoy yourself too much,f he added as he walked away.

 

The drive to Cranaganfs shopping district was long, but worth it, and Nanoha used it as a chance to tell Shario and Tiana a less emotional version of the story she told Fate last night.

As they drove down the highway towards the city centre, Nanoha told Tiana and Shario a less emotional version of the story she told Fate last night. Nanoha, Fate and Vivio were driving in Nanohafs red sport sedan, and Tiana and Shario followed behind on Tianafs bike. They were forced to leave Fatefs two seat sport car behind at the apartment, but Nanoha thought that was for the better as she silently swore it was a super car. The first time she drove it, she almost crashed from its incredible acceleration, and she vowed never to sit behind its wheel again.

They spent most of the day window shopping and trying out outfits in random fashion outlets. Every now and then, Tiana and Shario would ask the occasional shopper and worker if theyfd noticed anything odd recently, but they all knew that today was about Vivio and Nanoha, and never did anything that would interfere with their day.

They ate lunch at a fancy Balkan diner, and Tiana made a fuss over Fate paying for her, insisting that she owed her for last night. Fate reluctantly gave in as a waiter reminded them that there were other guests in the diner too. Several hours, stores, and a few bags of clothing later, Tiana and Shario parted ways and Fate, Nanoha and Vivio made their way home. Fate drove the car down the orange sunlit highway as Nanoha and Vivio sat in the back seats, Vivio asleep on Nanohafs lap.

eNanoha...f Fate called to her softly, looking through the rear-view mirror. eAbout tomorrow...f

eWhatfs wrong, Fate-chan?f Nanoha replied, slightly drowsy. The day had worn her out, but she felt refreshed.

eAbout going to the Infinity Library tomorrow... Are you sure?f

Nanoha didnft reply. Instead, she looked out the window, watching the forest of buildings fly past.

eYeah...f she said eventually, eIfm sure. You told me last night that Vivio wouldnft let Yuuno in anymore. I never told Vivio what happened, so I want to know what happened between him and her.f

eWhy donft you ask Vivio herself?f

Nanoha shook her head softly, and then looked to Fate through the mirror. eI want to hear his side of the story,f she said, then smiled to herself. ePlus, if Viviofs not letting him in anymore, I want my house keys back.f

Fate replied with a smile, and the rest of the trip continued in silence.

The sun was almost under the horizon when they arrived back at the apartment. Vivio was awake again and bouncing with energy again at the concept of having to pack her bags for tomorrow and meeting her grandparents, aunty and uncle again. Fate apologised for not being able to stay for another night, and she left in her black sports car to prepare for tomorrow herself.

Later that evening, after Vivio had fallen asleep on the sofa with her bags packed and ready to go, Nanoha started sorting through the documents that she took from work and began to fill out the forms that were needed before she could plan the refurbishment of her academy. The ten ofclock news caught her attention as it started to air on the television. She reached for her cell phone, it would be about seven ofclock at her parentfs home now, the cafe should be closed and her parents at home. The phone rang through her receiver several times before someone answered.

eHello...? Mum? Itfs Nanoha, how are you?f she began as the phone call continued through the night.

 

 

Now its one ofclock in the morning, and in the north western part of Midchilda, in a dying and crumbling city by the name of Neueburg, the last train service pulled into the only station still remaining in the city. Only ten passengers departed. No one boarded the train which left immediately after on its journey back to Cranagan.

Nine passengers left the station immediately, the tenth detoured to the public toilets. Years of no maintenance have left the facilities unusable and made the smell unbearable, but that didnft bother her. She just needed a few moments of privacy.

A minute later, the passenger reappeared from the toilets, shrouded in a hooded cloak which was washed out blue, brown and grey in colour. She made her way to the automated ticketing gates, and left silently as the station shut itself down behind her.

The streets were run down, and somewhere in the distance a fight was breaking out. But they did here in Neueburg. The city was and still is famous for its violent history. No one wants to live here, but those who do donft want to live anywhere else, although some will argue that no one will take them in anyways.

The shrouded passenger made her way from street to street, dodging streetlights and whoever was brave or stupid enough to be out at this hour of the night, zigg-zagging through the streets to the outer reaches of the city that is still standing.

She reached a more expensive street, one which was maintained and kept. Cautiously, she made her way to the largest block of land. And it was large. The street was about a kilometre long, but this block took up about a third of it, and probably even more in length. It was fenced off with the classical spear-head metal fence, except this one was taller than normal, and the spikes were sharpened to a real point. Cameras also watched the perimeter. Whoever owned this house wanted their privacy.

That didnft matter to the shrouded passenger though. She walked up the street until the cameras werenft facing her, then pulled her up one of the spears with one arm and flung herself over the fence with the other. She landed with professional silence and dashed for the cover of a large and thick garden, hiding behind a large tree while she caught her breath again and waited for any alarms.

When satisfied that she wasnft noticed, she made her way towards the main building. It was a large mansion, and to her it wasnft very remarkable, but for a run-down city like this it was like a brilliant diamond among a pile of coal. A few lights were on in the building, so she ignored the main entrance and made her way silently around to the back of the house.

She made it to the back door, or the gworkerfs doorh as it is often known as among the more regal people in Midchilda. She found it ironic that she would be entering in such a way, but she knew that it would never be locked, and possibly it wouldnft be monitored at this time of the night. She reached for the handle and hesitated. She heard something from inside.

Just before the door opened, she flung herself back against the wall. A young lady came out with a sigh, adjusted her handbag and made her way towards the workers exit to sign off for the day. After a few steps she paused. The door hadnft closed yet. She turned around to see no one, and the door slowly shut. With a shrug, she turned back and headed home.

The figure stood in the doorway for a while, perfectly still. She searched ahead with her ears, hearing the faint sound of kitchen work and some feet walking on carpeted ground. She wasnft alone in the house, but thankfully, she was in the room.

With a hushed haste, she took the cloak off and checked the lockers. None of them were locked, so she picked one with a maidfs uniform and switched into it. The house didnft employ many people, so shefd still need to be careful, but the uniform would help if she was seen in the corner of someonefs eye.

After she had changed, she took from her cloak a small PDA, and a small veil which held a clear blue liquid. She checked the PDA, which displayed a map of the house before placing both in her pocket and moving into the corridor, up the stairs and down another corridor to a large set of doors. No one had seen her. Good

She tapped gently on the doors twice.

eHmmm... Er, yes... Come in...f The voice was very elderly.

The passenger opened both the doors before entering politely and professionally, closing the doors behind her.

eGood evening, sir,f she said as she made her way to a cabinet on the wall.

eWah..? Oh yes. eEvening...f the aging man grumbled. He was resting in a recliner, possibly as old as he was, entertaining himself with an old and frayed book. eYoufre, er... Here early today.f

eAre you sure, sir?f she asked as she opened one of the cabinetfs window and reached for a glass. The book suddenly snapped shut.

eDo not question me!f the man barked. eI may be old but I know my routine!f

The passenger turned around and bowed deeply. eIfm terribly sorry, sir. I was out of place.f

eHmmm... Very well then,f The old man opened his book again, but watched the passenger straighten up and turn back to the cabinet. eYou girl,f he called. eAre you new here?f

eYes sir, this is my first time working this hour. I may have entered earlier than I was meant to, I apologise.f

The man grunted in response.

eIs there any beverage you prefer, sir?f

eBeverage?f the man cried, but then fussed over himself in an unusual way of calming himself down. eRight, yes... first time... hmmm... No. Water is fine...f

eVery well, sir.f The passenger stole a glance in the cabinets reflection. The old man had gone back to his book. She pulled the veil out of her pocket, and emptied it into a glass before filling it up with water, and placing on a small table beside the man with the flask of water.

He grumbled as he reached out for it, downed it in one go and went back to his book. But before he started reading again, he paused and looked at the passenger again, who waited attentively besides the table.

eWhat are you waiting for...? Hmmm, fill it back up, girl!f he barked.

The passenger smiled politely. eI donft think youfll be needing anymore tonight, sir.f

eHmm? What?f

eIn fact, I donft think youfll be needing anymore...f the passenger revealed the veil from her pocket and placed it next to the empty glass, e... ever, sir.f

The old man looked at the flask, then back at the passenger. His eyes widened. eYou!f He cried. eCurse you! Somebody! Anybody, get in here now!f

The passenger grinned as the old man started to wheeze and he grabbed his chest. eYou wonft get away with this, woman! Ifll see to it!f he wheezed.

eOh? And how will you do that?f

The man reached down beside the recliner and pulled out a knife. The passenger stepped back cautiously, but then grinned some more and laughed.

eHah! Try it old man! You canft get out of your own chair!f

But the grin faded when the old man himself grinned. He then brought the knife to himself and slit his own throat. The passenger watched on stunned as blood sprayed from his neck. She then grinned again as she wiped some of the blood from her face, but not worrying about the blood on her dress.

eLike thatfs going to stop me,f she muttered before turning to make her way to the door.

Which then burst open. eSir, are you alright!?f a maid cried.

The next scream could be heard several streets away before it was cut off. And this time, people paid attention to it.

 

 

The next day, Nanoha and Vivio arrived at the Central Midchilda Military Transfer Depot and were welcomed by a crowd of protesting merchants and businessmen. While the military transfer points opened again today, civilians were forced to take interplanetary transportation to get around to other planets. The process could take weeks, and those whose journeys became unbearably long decided to protest instead of idling on a confined spaceship.

Fate was waiting for them, wearing a casual outfit this time; Dark blue denim jeans and a white blouse. Tiana and Shario seemed to be having an argument with one of the guards.

eIs Hayate coming?f Nanoha asked Fate, noting her absence.

eShefs leaving tomorrow,f Fate replied with a shake of her head. Unlike Fate and Nanoha, Hayate had no family to meet on Earth and she made it known that she had no need for a home on her birth planet when she moved to Midchilda while still in high school.

The three joined Tiana and Shario in their argument to gain access to the transfer point, and eventually were let in.

eThis would be so much quicker if Fate-chan transferred us herself,f Nanoha complained after she remembered Fate was able to cast transfer magic.

Fate laughed. eItfs illegal to use transfer magic without authority though.f

eNot to mention that with the recent activities around here, youfll probably be discharged if you get caught,f Shario added.

Transferring from Midchilda to Headquarters wasnft instantaneous. The distance was so great that to safely make the trip, they had to make several stops along the way. With each stop, they needed a fifteen minute break to prevent their bodies from synchronising with the dimensional field that propelled them from one place to another. If they didnft take a break, they ran the risk of parts of their body staying within the dimensional field when they arrived at their destination, which was either extremely painful, or in most cases, fatal, as certain parts of the body remained in the dimensional field after the rest of the body came to its destination.

During the trip, Tiana constantly informed everyone how anxious she was about having to venture towards the older archives of the Infinity Library. While the Library itself was unbelievably massive, it still had the problem of being limited within the space stationfs walls. A scientist several years ago had came up with a solution however, and invented a machine that creates dimensional pockets, making it possible to extend the library into another dimension rather than into containers outside the station. And so, as new books, files and archives fill the library each day, the older books are pushed farther and farther into the dimensional pockets. On a rare occasion, however, the machine that generates the gate between the dimensional pockets would over heat and shutdown, trapping all those within. It was possible to generate the gateway again, but the gateway from within the pocket could appear anywhere, and anyone trapped inside could die before they found the gateway again, which thankfully, hasnft happened again.

Shario then reminded Tiana, that she didnft have to worry about the gateway disappearing while she was inside the pocket, but rather the gateway disappearing as she was passing through it. Or even worse, the dimensional pocket itself collapsing. It took another half an hour to calm Tiana and Vivio down before they could continue to headquarters, as Shario informed the party that dimensional pockets runs on the same principle as dimensional transferring, and that they can run into the same problems the dimensional pockets have while in mid-transfer.

Surely enough, an hour and fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the Time Space Administration Bureau Main Headquarters and freshened up before they made their way to the Infinity Library. While the library was built in the bureaufs station, it was still a public facility, and people from every corner of the dimensional sea were streaming in and out of its entrance, including bureau officers.

After the party took a few steps inside the doors of the Infinity Library, Nanoha came to a sudden stop, and everyone looked back to her. Fate followed her gaze to one of the ladies at the reception desk.

eIs that her?f Fate asked, watching the woman from the corner of her eye. She wore her dark green hair in a similar fashion to Viviofs. She had a full fringe, but her hair was tied into a high, but curly neck long ponytail. She wore half spectacles with golden frames and looked very sour, but Fate deducted that she looked like that because she saw Nanoha in the entrance was and was shooting a dark look at her.

eAre you sure you want to do this, Nanoha?f Shario asked her quietly. eWe can talk to her for you...f But Nanoha didnft listen. She took a deep breath, clenched her fists and stormed straight for her. Vivio decided to take cover behind Fate, while the rest of the party followed closely behind Nanoha.

eWhat do you want,f the green haired receptionist said bitterly as she adjusted her glasses, but smiled pleasantly.

eWhy hello Caprice, itfs nice to see you again,f Nanoha said pleasantly, and Caprice flashed a distasteful look at her. eI was wondering if you could take me to see the head librarian, Yuuno Scryer.f

eWhy should I?f Caprice scoffed, her arrogant irritation ruining her rich British voice. eWhy donft you run off and play soldier like you always do? Ifm sure thatfs more important than a boring conversation with him.f She made a show of adjusting her glasses again.

eYes, you can stop that, it makes it look like your glasses are irritating you,f Nanoha said, still with her pleasant voice, which was making her friends feel very uncomfortable now. eUnfortunately I canft play soldier for a while, my boss came to me at my academy and told me to sort out unfinished business and then spend some time with my family. And while I know youfve got more important things to do than assist a military headmistress and two enforcers from the Administration Bureau, it seems that youfre the only staff member whofs not pre-occupied at the moment.f

This was half true. Every other staff member saw Nanoha and her party approach, and either made themselves busy or fled to the staff area in the back. The situation between Caprice and Nanoha was well know among the staff of the Infinity Library, mainly from Capricefs behaviour, but what was more famous were the over-exaggerated stories of Nanohafs supposedly hellish combat training and discipline, which would float in from various Bureau trainees. The library staff didnft want to be caught in the crossfire, but those who were still in the lobby were interested in the outcome and the two women had become the centre of attention.

eWell then, if you know I have better things to do than to put up with you, why donft you run off and find Yuuno for yourself?f Caprice retorted.

Tiana, impatient for results and with a need for information, grew tired of the receptionistfs attitude and stepped forward to put her straight, but without even looking, Nanoha blocked her path with an arm.

eOh come on now Caprice, donft give me an opportunity like that!f Nanoha laughed. eSure, I could easily find Yuuno in this Library; Ifve known him for over fifteen years after all! And do you really want us to be alone together? Who knows, I might just rip off his clothes and get a bit intimate with him in the middle of the library!f A man somewhere in the lobby chocked on something. eYoufd know all about how stuff like that works, wouldnft you?f Nanoha added softly and subtly, but everyone in the now dead silent lobby heard it.

Caprice jumped out of her chair before she realised that everyone was watching her. She looked around angrily, intimidating some of the onlookers back to their previous task before adjusting her top and leaning forward onto the counter.

eWhat the hell do you want?f Caprice hissed to Nanoha.

eDidnft you hear me?f Nanoha replied, still using her now unnaturally pleasant voice. eI would like to see the head librarian, Yuuno Scryer.f Nanoha paused in thought for a moment. eAnd then my good friend here,f she indicated to Tiana, ewould like assistance in an investigation of great importance. If you watch the news, Ifm sure youfd know which investigation Ifm talking about.f

Caprice glared at Nanoha and gritted her teeth; her clenched fists slowly tore up some papers that were on the counter. eFine,f she conceded, talking through her teeth, efollow me.f She then straightened up and stormed from behind the counter and marched towards the entrance to the gravity-less library with everybody watching her. Nanoha grinned to herself with satisfaction, and an idea for one last jab came to her mind. She reached out for her daughterfs hand.

eCome on sweetie,f Nanoha called, eletfs go see Papa.f

Several ladies in the lobby gasped and Caprice immediately stopped in her tracks, spinning around to face Nanoha with her hands clenched furiously and posed as if she was about to yell at her from the top of her lungs. But she realised that she was still the centre of everyonefs attention and hesitated, looking as if she was about to blow up. Vivio realised what her mother was playing, and ran from Fatefs protective cover, eager to add some of her own fuel to the fire.

eI donft like that lady, Mama,f Vivio said innocently as she slipped her hand into her motherfs. eWhy is she always with Yuuno-papa?f Capricefs eyes went wild as murmuring erupted through the lobby. Finally she let out a moan of irritation, spun back around and stormed out of the lobby.

eDonft worry sweetie,f Nanoha said, closing the act as she followed Caprice to the no gravity zone, ewefll see Papa soon.f Fate, Tiana and Shario followed behind, stunned from her friendfs unusual behaviour.

They reached the entrance of the no gravity zone, where Caprice, Tiana, Shario and Vivio grabbed Walking-Sticks from the dispenser before the entrance. Walking-Sticks allowed those who arenft versed in the field of aviation magic to traverse through the library with ease. Basically, it was a walking stick that once in zero-gravity, always stood up right, was unaffected by inertia, and was controlled by thought via hand contact. The library staff saw the sticks as a godsend as those who couldnft fly would need someone to rescue them if they started tumbling out of control, and bored kids couldnft use them as swords or throw them across the library. Those who knew how to fly didnft need one though.

The Infinity Library was originally designed for those who knew how to travel in zero-gravity, with or without magical assistance. It fills the largest vertical shaft in the station, with quintuple helix bookshelf spiralling through the shaft from end to end, the twisted bookshelves stretching as far as the eye can see. Branches of bookshelves and platforms fork off helix every so often, providing more places to hold books, but more importantly something for the library visitors to manoeuvre on. Old library regulars often prefer to go into the library without the Walking-Sticks, claiming that working on your zero G manoeuvrability was a part of the Infinity Library experience. The introduction of the dimensional pockets has added a new challenge for them as well.

Nanoha... Fate timidly called, telepathically. Remind me to never get on your bad side again.

Oh, Fate-chan, youfre over-reacting, Nanoha replied.

That felt good! Vivio chuckled.

That was terrifying! Shario cried. Ifve never seen you act like that before!

I have to agree with Shari... Tiana added, morbidly. I thought that I had it bad when you hit me with my own spell back in Section 6.

Ifll have to agree with Vivio, Nanoha laughed, that did feel good. Youfre such a good girl! She hugged her chuckling daughter, but then Caprice wheeled around a stopped inches from Nanohafs unflinching face. Vivio fearfully hid behind her mother as the receptionist was having difficulty keeping calm.

eAre you quite having fun?f she yelled through her teeth.

eYes, I am,f Nanoha replied politely.

eDo you have any idea how much youfve just humiliated me?f She continued, ignoring Nanohafs answer. Nanoha thought about it for a bit.

eI think youfll be able to answer that question yourself by answering mine. Do you know how much youfve hurt me and my daughter?f Nanohafs voice took a serious tone now.

eI donft care about you or your daughter!f Caprice screamed back. Nanoha smirked and Caprice backed off.

eLetfs keep moving,f Nanoha said, ewefre not here to fight.f Nanoha suddenly accelerated forward and stopped just millimetres from crashing head first into Caprice. eAnd trust me,f she added, grinning, eyou donft want to fight me.f

Caprice flinched back with a whimper. She nervously looked around to the rest of the party, and could clearly see that they werenft brave enough to hold back their friend if she was ready to start a fight. She once again straightened her uniform.

eCome now,f she said with a nervous croak, efollow me...f

Nanoha, stop it! Shario pleaded. Ifm going to have nightmares if you keep it up.

Donft worry, if she knows whatfs good for her thisfll be a silent trip. Nanoha said, looking back to Shario, still grinning, failing to make Shario feel any more comfortable. Nanoha noticed a small crowd following them from a distance, but paid it no mind. No crowd, regardless of its size, was going to stop her now.

It seems that Caprice did know what was good for her, and she kept nervously silent until they found the head librarian. Viviofs anxious cling to Nanohafs jacket had her concerned, but she continued on regardless.

Nanoha was alarmed at how calm she was. One of the reasons why she kept herself at work was to avoid this very situation, but now she was living it, she found it almost too easy to bare. She was so calm that she was actually enjoying it, and felt a chill of pride and power every time she managed to damage Capricefs overbearing pride.

eYuuno, dear,f Caprice called out as they approached him, eyou have... guests.f Yuuno turned around and gave Caprice and irritated gaze and was going to say something until he saw the arriving party. He slipped the book that was in his hand into its spot in the bookshelf before he gave Nanoha his full attention. Nanoha never understood why he individually placed each book in its spot one at a time, and she knew that it was a painstaking task. But for some reason, Yuuno enjoyed it. He wore a soft orange-cream coloured suit with a green tie. His hair was still tied in a low ponytail that reached his hips.

eNanoha!f he called out, glad to see her again. eWhere have you been? Ifve been trying to call you!f

eI know.f Nanoha said, stopping several feet away from Yuuno, glaring at him. Yuuno quickly realised that this wasnft going to be a friendly reunion, and stopped too. Nanoha brushed Vivio off her jacket and ushered her to Fate. Caprice tried to take Yuunofs side, but Tiana and Shario stopped her.

eOh no you donft,f Tiana whispered to her. eYoufll be safer over here, trust me. I still need your help in my investigation, remember?f

Yuuno looked away as he tried to find a way to break the ice. Nanoha stared at him defiantly, allowing him to make the first move, and the pressure wasnft making it any easier. eLook, Ifm sorry about what happened before...f he said weakly, not sure if it was the right thing to say.

eAre you now? I donft think you are. After all, you never actually came to see me,f Nanoha returned spitefully. She didnft allow Yuuno room for defence though. eI didnft see you chasing after me after I caught you two in the act. It must have been terribly hard to get her off your lap. And therefs also the fact that youfve changed your contact number without telling any of your old friends. From the sounds of it you donft care about us anymore.f

It took a moment for Yuuno to find his answer. eDonft say that... you know thatfs not true. I was worried sick about you, Nanoha! You disappeared from the universe for two months!f

eDisappeared? Hardly!f Nanoha laughed. eIf you were seriously worried about me you would have gone looking for me, not getting comfortable with the woman I caught you with. And donft say that you had no idea where I was, it took Fate-chan less than an hour to find me. Obviously your little receptionist is more important than me.f

eNanoha...! I have my own life to attend to...! I canft just drop everything to go looking for you!f

eI have my own life to attend to as well!f Nanoha cried out, her emotions were starting to take control and pulling strings on her vocal chords. eAnd I thought you were going to be a part of it! I tried to make you a part of it! For 6 years I tried! But it seems you werenft interested after all, doesnft it?f

Yuuno was taken aback. He looked puzzled and confused.

eShut it, Nanoha!f Caprice yelled, being quicker on the uptake than Yuuno. eYuuno, dear, we donft have to listen to this nonsense—e Shario interrupted her with a sharp nudge.

eHonestly, for your own sake, be quiet! Nanohafs scaring me right now, please donft make it any worse!f Shario hissed, praying to herself that the receptionist would shut up.

eWait... what are you saying?f Yuuno asked, after giving Caprice another irritated glare.

eIfm saying I loved you!f Nanoha cried with exaggerated irritation. eI thought it was so obvious...! Hell, even Vivio started to call you Papa! What kind of relationship do you think we were having Yuuno!?f

Yuuno, again, took a moment to comprehend what he just heard and a bit more to think of a reply. eI didnft know... You should have told me, Nanoha...f he said in shock.

eI thought I didnft need to!f Nanoha bent over and clutched her hair as if she were about to tear it from her head. eAnd I was always afraid that you never felt the same way! You never asked me out for a date, it was always me! You never came to visit on a whim, I had to invite you! You never visited me at work, I visited you! You never called me just to hear my voice, I always called you!f She took several deep breaths to calm herself down and compose herself again. eBut this isnft the reason why Ifm here... I want to know what happened between you and Vivio.f

eVivio and I?f

Nanoha clutched her head in one hand as you would if you had a headache.

eThe time when Vivio refused to let you in,f Nanoha said painfully. She let go of her head and glared defiantly at Yuuno again. eI want to know what you did that made my daughter lose her faith in you.f

eMade her lose faith in me...?f Yuuno muttered to himself. eOh...!f he cried as he remembered. eThat was the night I brought Caprice with me.f

Nanoha stared at him with stunned disbelief. eYou did what...?f she growled under her breath, her glare changed from defiance to anger.

eI brought Caprice with me. But Vivio took one look at her and slammed the door on us. I thought it was a good idea to bring her because shefs one of the librarians at Senkt Hilde, and Caprice said that she got along well with Vivio...f Yuuno scratched his head and looked down guiltily. eObviously I was wrong,f he added. Nanoha slowly shifted her gaze from Yuuno to Caprice. Tiana and Shario, who were holding the receptionist at bay, quickly backed away from her.

eWhat did you do...?f Nanoha hissed. Caprice glanced between Yuuno, Nanoha and Vivio, unsure of what to do and panicking quickly. Nanoha held her glare, but then moved to Vivio, who was looking anxious, and upset. Nanoha knew Caprice had done something to her daughter, she could think of a few plausible scenarios, but she knew it had to do with her daughterfs problems at school. She was angered at the thought of an older woman making her twelve year old daughterfs life miserable. Nanoha held Vivio lovingly, gently stroking her golden hair, and Fate gave the two some space. Vivio put her arms around her mother, and started to sob.

eThere, there,f Nanoha whispered, comforting her little girl. eWhy donft you tell Mama what the lady did? She wonft be able to do anything to you anymore.f She shot a hot, anger filled look to the receptionist. eIf she tries, I wonft let her regret it.f

eYou wouldnft dare!f Caprice croaked nervously, but everyone knew Nanoha wouldnft bother with the dare; shefd do it without a second thought.

After a moment and some sniffles, Vivio gathered the courage to tell her mother about the origins of her troubles at school.

eIt all started when she came to the library...f Vivio sniffed. eShefd start talking to some students as if they were telling them a story. But theyfd be looking at me all the time. Then theyfd start calling me names... gFreakh... gOdd Eyesh... gAbombimb...f Vivio fumbled on the word Abomination as she broke down crying, but she was determined to tell her mother one more name and tried to calm herself, but was having little success. She took a deep breath and cried out, gTube Girl!h

Nanohafs blood ran cold and her heart skipped a beat as she realised the story Caprice were telling the children. She was about to move to give Caprice what she deserved, but then Vivio held her tighter, crying but trying to control herself so she could continue.

eThen my friends stopped talking to me,f Vivio said, her voice heavily croaked as she was unable to control her emotions. eMy lunch would be covered in sand! One day someone tore up my note books during lunch break! Someone would throw a rock at me every now and then. I tried to spend my break times in the library, but then she kicked me out..!f Vivio broke down crying again.

eThatfs enough, Vivio... Ifm sorry I wasnft there for you...f Nanoha said soothingly, trying to calm her daughter down, but Viviofs emotions were uncontrollable. eItfs okay now... Ifm sorry, Vivio, Ifm here now...f Nanoha continued, tears streaming down her cheeks as she felt her

eCaprice...f Yuuno said in disbelief. eHow could you do that to a child...?f Caprice chocked on her answer a few times, unsure how to answer and then she eventually gave in to her own frustration.

eOh come on, Yuuno!f she cried. eThat... thing doesnft even qualify as a child! I donft understand how she can hold it like that; itfs not even her own daughter!f Caprice started to ramble, and Yuuno tried to tell her to stop but shefd just talk over the top of him, and Vivio started to cry harder. eIt wouldnft even be here if it werenft for some... perverted scientist! You do remember how she was created, donft you? A bloody glass tube filled with...f she was cut short as a hand spun her shoulder around and then a hand smacked her head back the way it came from, the collision sounded like a whip crack and forced her half spectacles from her head. She held her already swelling cheek in shock as she watched droplets of blood float from her gaping mouth. She turned to look at her attacker. eHow dare you!f she shrieked at Fate, who was fuming. Little did Caprice know that she wasnft only offending Vivio with her outburst. eIfll have you for assau—e

Fate cut Caprice off short again as she grabbed her collar in both hands and viscously pulled her close. eThink long and hard about what youfre going to say, woman!f Fate yelled, almost screamed, filled with hate. She then thrust a finger towards Nanoha. eBecause if she wants youfre blood, Ifm going to give it to her!f

Caprice nervously looked to Nanoha, and was terrified. Never before had she seen someone filled with so much hate, so much rage, so much loathing. But what terrified her most though, was that Nanoha wasnft wild. She was in control. She was allowing her body to clench and tense in rage, and she seemed to wear it like another piece of clothing. Fate shook the woman violently to get her attention.

eAnd if youfre not careful, I just might take your blood myself!f Fate glared intensely at the terrified woman, but then noticed that it was now rather silent, and looked down to Nanoha. Vivio had cried herself to sleep, and Shario was carefully taking the little girl from Nanohafs arms. After Vivio was taken from her arms, Nanoha slowly straightened her body and looked to Caprice. You canft really describe the look she was giving. It wasnft a glare, or a stare or a gaze... just a look that was filled with so much hate it seemed to stretch time. Her stance was neutral, arms and shoulders limp yet as tense as a wound spring with her feet shoulder width apart, but she wore her anger like a coat and it felt like she could snap and pounce at any second, and in any direction.

eNo...f she decided with wavering calmness. She slowly turned her head to look at Yuuno again, and ever so slowly began to close the distance between them. eNone of this would have happened if you hadnft placed her at that library, Yuuno-kun.f

eCaprice requested to be placed there herself!f Yuuno cried in defence. eWhat was I supposed to do? Say no?f

eYes... You were supposed to say no...f Nanohafs calm was breaking, her clenching and unclenching tensely. eYou knew my daughter goes to that school... You told her about Viviofs past... I trusted you to keep that confidential... You would have known about the troubles that she was having since you posted her there...f

eYes, but I didnft think it was...f

eAnd then you took her to my house...f Nanoha interrupted her voice cracking as she slowly closed in on him. eMy house... My home... My house...!f She came to a stop, several feet away Yuuno, who was becoming increasingly nervous.

eLook, Ifm sorry Nanoha...f he said, trying to reason with her. eYoufre right... I shouldnft have brought her...f

eYou took another woman to my house!f she yelled. Yuuno looked around, trying to find a way out of the mess he got himself into.

eLook, Ifll give you back your house keys...f he dove a hand into his pocket and Nanoha pounced. Yuuno doubted that hefd make it through his encounter with Nanoha without getting hit, and he braced himself for a heavy slap as Nanoha reeled back her right arm. But it never came. As Nanoha closed in, she swung her fist down short and tight forcing her body into a spin which she magically accelerated. Her heal connected with Yuunofs jaw at incredible speed and with a sickening crack during her second rotation. Nanoha was a soldier, and she knew how to hit people properly.

The hit caught Yuuno by surprise and he was thrown head first into the bookshelf behind him, crashing into it with a messy thud. The crowd that Nanoha had completely forgotten about moaned and groaned in sympathy. Caprice tried to make it to Yuuno, concerned about his health, but she couldnft escape from Fatefs grasp.

eYOU BROUGHT ANOTHER WOMAN TO MY HOUSE!f Nanoha screamed in rage, her voice echoing throughout the library.

eI TRUSTED YOU! I TRUSTED YOU WITH MY SECRETS, I TRUSTED YOU WITH MY DAUGHTER! I TRUSTED YOU AND YOU BETRAYED ME! YOU TOLD EVERYTHING TO THAT BITCH OVER THERE AND SHE RUINED MY DAUGHTER! THEN YOU WENT AND FUCKED HER IN YOUR OFFICE RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! THEN YOU BROUGHT HER TO MY HOUSE! MY HOUSE! YOU BETRAYED ME! HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU!f She stopped to catch her breath and then started to sob quietly. Yuuno watched on silently, unable to say anything as blood dribbled from his mouth and the wound on his head that he clutched. He knew she was right. She had also fractured and dislocated his jaw.

Nanoha calmed herself with a few deep breaths. eKeep the keys,f she said, emotionally worn, elet them be a reminder of how you ruined over fifteen years of friendship. Ifll change the locks instead.f She moved over to Shario and retrieved her daughter, who was beginning to wake up again. After she kissed Vivio on the forehead and held her close, she looked at Yuuno again, this time with pity. eCongratulations on your relationship with Caprice, Yuuno Scryer. May fortune light your future. And pray that we never meet again.f

With that, Nanoha turned around and made her way to the libraryfs exit. Fate gave one last look of disgust before she pushed Caprice away and followed Nanoha. The crowd parted as they approached and then started to cheer and applaud, but the two ladies had little to celebrate. Caprice tried to make her way to Yuuno, but Tiana and Shario caught her before she managed to get close.

eCome on, itfs our turn now,f Shario told the battered receptionist as they dragged her away. Caprice struggled to break free but quickly gave in. She was too exhausted, her face stung, and Yuuno gave her a look that simply read: go away. As she was dragged away by the Bureau officers, Yuuno herd the pair start sharing stories of how Nanoha took Tiana down during practice, or how she cast one of her most powerful spells on her own daughter. Yuuno closed his eyes in pain and rolled over in mid space, the taste of iron filling his mouth.

eWow, you really got what was coming for you, son!f he heard someone beside him say a few minutes later. He looked to the voice from the corner of his eye and recognised the man as one of the old regulars, and if Yuuno wasnft mistaken, he was a high ranking military police officer.

eThatfs one fine kick shefs got there...f he said admiring her as he looked towards the distance Nanoha had disappeared into. He then looked back to Yuuno with a joking face. eYoufre not gonna press charges, are you? Cus if you do, I wonft be surprised if the girl kills you!f He laughed to himself but Yuuno couldnft find the humour in it. Yuuno simply gave the regular a discontent look as he tried to work out what to say.

eHyank hooh, hofffysir,f he decided to say, unable to move his jaw. The regular gave Yuuno a friendly grin.

eHey, donft mention it. Advice is free! Gimme a look at that, that looks painful,f the regular cheerfully said as he moved Yuunofs hand from the wound on his head, allowing a decent sized puddle of blood to slip out into the open. eOh my, thatfs a nasty one. Youfll need stitches for sure. And therefs no doubt that your jawfs broken. Cfmon son, letfs get you to the hospital. There should be an ambulance here by the time we get to the exit.f

By the time the regular began to assist Yuuno to the exit, Nanoha, Fate and Vivio had already left the library. Vivio held her motherfs hand and Fate followed closely behind. Both were looking at Nanoha with great concern.

eMama... Are you okay...?f Vivio asked quietly and Nanoha slowly came to a stop, looking straight up at the artificial sky. She covered her face with her hands, took another deep breath and held onto it for as long as she could before exhaling heavily and letting her hands drop limply to her side. She then bent over and scooped up her daughter in her arms and smiled.

eYou know... I feel much better,f she said to her slightly bewildered daughter. eLetfs go visit your grandparents now.f

 

 

Moments later, in the city of Neueburg, a rich black sedan rolled into the most expensive street in the city. A crowd of locals had already gathered around the main gates of the house the passenger infiltrated the night before, as had several media crews. The local city guards were having trouble keeping the crowd at bay.

The car stopped just before the crowd. Clarkson stepped out and quickly surveyed the area before telling the driver that hefd call him when he needed him again. As the car pulled away, Clarkson looked at the spear fence. A section near him was damage, bent over like silver spoons in a telekinesis show.

The cameras caught his attention too. They looked like theyfd been painted too thickly, and were in mid drip before the paint dried. He almost glared at them before taking out his notepad and writing in a few words.

Folding the notepad back up and putting his hands in his pocket, he then casually made his way into and through the crowd. He gave a nod to one of the city guards who gave him a curious look. eGood morning,f he said.

eExcuse me, sir, youfre not allowed in!f the guard called after him.

eOh yes I am,f Clarkson replied without looking back. He then nodded to one of the Bureau officers heading towards him from the house. eGood morning, Lieutenant.f

eHardly, Sir,f the officer replied. eItfs a bloody horrible one.f

eWhatfs the situation?f

eGeneral Fils was found in his room this morning, Sir. His throat was slashed. Two dead maids and a dead kitchen hand. Herefs the poor soul now.f

They approached a canvas on the ground which covered the body. Several other Bureau officers were searching the immediate area. Clarkson bent over and pulled the canvas back. The kitchen hand was a young man, his face frozen in surprise. Blood had trickled and dried from his eyes, ears, mouth and nose.

eHefs warm,f Clarkson noted.

eYes Sir, itfs the same with all of them. They seem to have been cooked from the inside... Like a microwave. All of them but the General.f

Clarkson pulled out his notepad again. eSo son,f he said as he flicked to an empty page, ewhatfs your story?f

eSir?f the officer asked.

eOh, not you Lieutenant. The poor boy. Every body has a story to tell; you just have to learn how to listen.f

Clarkson remained crouched beside the body for a while, jotting down notes every now and then. But it wasnft long until he covered the body with the canvas again. eRest in peace, son,f he said sombrely before standing back up again. eWherefs the next body?f

eNear the entrance, Sir,f the officer said as he lead the way again.

eHave you found anything that explains the damage to the property?f

eDo you mean the fence and security cameras?f Clarkson nodded. eFrom what wefve gathered so far, itfs similar to what killed the staff. They were superheated, possibly microwave again. Ifm not aware of any microwave weaponry within the Bureau though, Sir.f

eThere isnft any,f Clarkson said as he made his way up the steps and through the entrance. Another canvas wasnft too far away, just before the stairs. Clarkson crouched beside it, and pulled it back. The young woman had the same expression as the man, and same wounds. The notepad was brought back out again.

eAre they all this young?f he asked.

eYes Sir. The General like to be surrounded by youth.f

eItfs a shame he was a grouch.f

eActually, Sir, the staff say he was more like a grandfather to them.f

Clarkson looked back to the officer and raised an eyebrow.

eWell... A strict grandfather.f

With a smile, the Vindicator went back to jotting down notes. After he had finished, he covered the girl again, paid his respects and turned to the Lieutenant.

eWherefs the next body?f he asked.

eWith the General, Sir. Theyfre upstairs.f

eHas anything been moved in the room?f Clarkson asked.

eNo, not that Ifm aware of, Sir. The Captain ordered the room to be left alone until after you had finished your investigation.f

eHas anyone been in the room?f

eOnly the Captain from what I know. Shefs still in there.f The Lieutenant hesitated. eShe... The Captainfs taking this rather hard, Sir. She frequently visited the General.f

eFrequently?f

eYes, Sir. At least once a week. She enjoys the presence of the elderly.f

eIs she old herself?f

eWell... figuratively speaking sir. She appears to be very young, but we all know shefs older than we are. Here we are.f

The double doors that lead to General Kilfs room were left open. The bodies in the room werenft covered by canvas this time. A maid lay dead in the doorway, her expression of shock and surprise was the same as the other two deceased. The General lay slumped in his chair, his blood covered a large area of the room in front of him. The recliner was soaked in it.

The Captain stood in front of the General, her back to the door. She looked about twelve years old, but Clarkson knew better. He recognised red pigtails immediately.

eCaptain Vita,f he called.

Vita slowly looked behind her. Her eyes were swollen and red. Emotion was drained from her face.

eSir Clarkson,f she said as she turned around and saluted. eIfm glad youfve come.f

eNot at all.f Clarkson nodded to the Lieutenant who dismissed himself. eI was told you visited him regularly.f

Vita nodded. eHefd tell me about his past. He always enjoyed telling me his stories...f

Clarkson placed his hand on her shoulder. eTake the rest of the day off, Captain, thatfs an order. Meet up with Yagami, youfre a wreck.f

Vita nodded again. eIs there anything youfd like me to do before I leave, Sir?f

eYes, tell the Lieutenant to lift the media blackout. Tell them everything, donft hide a thing. And close the door after you. Good day, Captain.f

eGood day, Sir Clarkson,f The doors shut after Vita.

Clarkson turned back to the deceased General and walked over to his chair side table. eHello General Kil. I apologize for your loss,f he said as he picked up the empty vial, inspecting it carefully.

He smiled bemusedly as he pulled out his notepad once more. eI have to say, sir, itfs refreshing to have someone expecting me for a change. Care to tell me what happened?f

 

  

To Chapter 3

 

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