Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha

Jaded marble


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Chapter 4


eWhat the hell are we going to do!f cried Mio. She wasnft taking the news that they were stuck in the forest too well.

It was dark now; night had fallen a little while ago. No one knew the exact time as their watches had stopped working too. At least the battery powered lights were operational though, but who knew how long it would be until they cut out, or if theyfd make their way out before the batteries died.

They sat around the campfire, that is, the adults did. The children had all been told to take refuge in Nanohafs large tent and get along, and most importantly, to behave. They were ordered to perform the last task to the letter.

eNow, now, Mio... settle down, therefs no need to panic...f Yuki said nervously.

eNo need to panic...? Youfve got quite some nerve to tell me not to panic, Yuki Kaira! Just whose stupid idea was it to have a camping trip in the middle of nowhere!? In a haunted forest too! People kill themselves here you know!f

An argument erupted as friends started to take sides. Nanoha, Hayate, Fate, Suzuka and Arisa, all sat on the fence though. Arisa and Suzuka were as worried as the rest of the campers, but they at least knew that there were three people with them that were completely calm.

What should we do? Suzuka asked generally. Fate had leant her Bardiche again.

Therefs nothing we can do, Hayate replied. Not openly anyways.

Any idea whatfs causing this? Arisa asked.

Not sure really... Hayate looked to Nanoha and Fate for their opinions

It has to be powerful... Nanoha contemplated. Itfs preventing us from leaving this place and cut us off from the outside world without being detected.

We seem to be trapped within an incredibly complex barrier too... Fate added. It distorts space in a way Ifve never seen before. When you walk into it, it sends you to the opposite side of the barrier. That explains why the road suddenly cuts off.

And the reason for this haze, said Hayate. The haze was still there. The night was getting chilly too. It also explains why we canft see Mount Fuji anymore.

Is there any way to break this barrier? Suzuka inquired. There was a silence as the three mages thought on it.

Starlight Breaker might be able to do it. Nanoha suggested, one arm folded and the other holding her chin in thought. But it depends on the barrierfs integrity. The more complex doesnft always mean the more fragile. Itfs often the other way around.

Thatfs out of the question, Fate stated flatly. You shouldnft be so eager to use that spell, Nanoha.

Yes okay, Fate, Mother Dearest, Nanoha said sarcastically, patting Fate on the head.

Ifm serious, Nanoha! Fate angrily knocked away Nanohafs hand. Last time you used that spell, Shamal ordered you to take a full year off heavy duties! Itfs too dangerous!

Well, there were other reasons why Nanoha was ordered to have a year off heavy duties, Hayate added. But Ifll have to agree with Fate on this one. We canft use Starlight Breaker, mainly because everyone else would notice. Not to mention the residual damage that it causes, you might just blow everyone here away by accident, Nanoha-chan. Hayate smiled cheekily.

Is it really that powerful...? asked Suzuka timidly.

Youfve seen it before, Fate said, still slightly irritated. Remember that Christmas Eve, when you two first found out about us, and there was that big explosion? Suzuka and Arisa nodded. Thatfs Starlight Breaker.

That was your spell!? Arisa cried, looking at Nanoha accusingly.

Her Starlight Breaker is a lot more powerful than it was back then now. Hayate added, and Nanoha threw her a look that told her not to say anything unnecessary.

It was only a suggestion! Nanoha cried in defence as Arisa stared her down. If we can find who or whatfs causing this though, we could probably find a way to end this problem!

Shefs right. Hayate said. But another problem we face is our food and water supply. Wefre going to run out of both tomorrow.

eOkay everyone, can I have your attention please!f Tomio called out over the arguing. Eventually everyone calmed down and turned to face him. eOne way wefre going to get through this is by knowing what we can all do. Not just job wise, but hobby wise too.f There was a murmur of general agreeing and Tomio took that as a cue to continue. eNow I have to admit I havenft been too honest with you all about my job. Ifve frequently been offered promotions to the ranks of lieutenant and detective. I keep knocking them back because I donft want the added hours and extra responsibility. I know it may not seem like it, but Ifm a family man.

eAs for my hobby, Ifm actually a professional hunter. Not many people like hunters, but I think our food supplies are going to run out very soon, and unless we find our own wefre going to starve to death. So there you have it, Ifve come out clean. Anyone else want to share a secret or two?f Yuki eagerly put her hand up. eYuki then, what do you want to share with us?f

eIfve also done voice acting for Adult Videos!f

e... Thank you Yuki, thatfs delightful to know. But unfortunately itfs not going to help us in our current problem.f

There was a moment of silence as Tomio waited for more people to come forth, but they never did.

eWell then,f Tomio continued, ehow about this. Letfs pool what we can do together, find out who would be best at what. What useful things we can do that will help us get out of this mess,f he added as Yuki perked up again. eNow Ifm a police officer who can hunt. Ifll be good for getting food. Yukifs a shop attendant bimbo, shefll be good at... nothing.f He gestured to the person to his right.

eSurgeon,f Murano said bluntly. eHobby is smoking. Ifll try to put you back together if you fall apart. Donft sue me if I canft though.f

eIfm a car mechanic,f Keiichiro said, eMy hobby is home entertainment I suppose.f

eWefll get you to see if you can keep out lights and batteries powered then. Next?f Tomio said.

eIfm a child day care attendant. I donft have any hobbies...f Tama said.

eThatfs fine; wefll need someone to mind the kids.f

eThanks...f added Tama dryly.

eDonft mention it. Next...? Ah, the faithful five.f It seemed that Tomio had wanted to get here the most. eSuzuka and Arisa, you two own a company, thatfs all well and fine... but you three... e he shook a finger at Nanoha, Fate and Hayate, eI have my doubts about you three.f

eOh? Is that so?f Hayate said challengingly. Suzuka and Arisa looked at her with slightly worried expressions.

Is this bad? Suzuka asked.

Could be, but itfs interesting, Hayate replied.

eYes, but I admit that you just may be a flight instructor and a private instructor, but an antique restorer? That onefs a bit hard to swallow, Hayate.f

eOh, and I spent so much time thinking that one up...f Hayate whined dramatically, which made Tomio smirk.

Hayate, donft make this any worse than it is! Arisa cried.

Tomio gave Hayate a smug grin, while the rest of the campers were looking on with intrigue. eIfm not sure about anyone else here, but I always thought that you three were rather... odd during school. I wouldnft say strange, but there was something about you guys that didnft seem right.f

eLike what?f Hayate asked eagerly. She was enjoying this.

eItfs hard to top the list off from my head... but letfs start with Nanoha shall we?f Nanoha shifted in response, but looked indifferent. eI remember when I sat next to you way back in elementary school you would look like you were doing something else during classes. Every now and then youfd seem to fade off and not pay any attention at all, while other times youfd work yourself up for no reason what so ever. And sometimes, itfll look like you were talking to someone... an imaginary friend perhaps.f

eI was a kid back then,f Nanoha said flatly.

eYes, yes I know. Thatfs all good and fine, but it was just... odd. This behaviour of yours worsened when Fate transferred in too. Then Hayate transferred in, and you three would suddenly be absent every now and then for family issues. Tell me, did anyone else find it strange that the three were absent so frequently every year for family issues?f

There was a commotion as the campers turned to each other, generally agreeing with what Tomio had pointed it. Arisa and Suzuka looked at their friends nervously, but they still remained indifferent. Hayate was looking amused.

eAnd then there was that car accident that you were hospitalised for Nanoha. For the better part of a year you were absent from school. I donft want to imply that you werenft injured, I know that you were. Fate and Hayate were incredibly worried about you, and you were in crutches for some time when you came back to school, but there was something odd about it.f

eWhat could have been wrong with it?f Liana spoke up, much to Nanohafs surprise.

eIt would have been a spectacular accident, donft you think? We all feared Nanoha wouldnft be able to walk again. But there was no news of an accident, anywhere within the city during the week we heard of the accident. You can check for yourselves in the library archives if you want, there arenft any records of major car accidents that hospitalised anyone. I didnft stop there though; I decided to check all the hospitals, just in case they missed an accident.f He paused dramatically. eYou werenft in hospital, Nanoha. Not in Japan anyway.f

eYou searched every hospital in Japan for me?f Nanoha asked, rather surprised.

Tomio laughed. eOf course I didnft, Nanoha. I called them.f He then turned his attention to Fate. eEveryonefs favourite Italian. Ifm surprised that everyone calls you that, seeing as you donft speak a word of Italian, nor can you read it.f

eI never said I was Italian,f Fate replied completely calm. eEveryone assumed I was because gTestarossah is Italian in origin.f

eSo where did you come from then, Fate?f

Fate smirked. eI thought you were going to tell me.f

eWell, it doesnft matter where youfre from really. I have a feeling that you wonft be telling me anyway. The one thing that gets me though is that while Nanoha was hospitalised, youfd run off just about every afternoon, and tell us how she was faring the next day.f He didnft say anymore. He had made his point, and everyone knew he was right.

eSo, have you got any dirt on me?f Hayate asked excitedly.

eWhy in fact I do. I know that you didnft go to school until the 3rd grade because of a medical condition. What was that condition?f

eParalyse. I couldnft walk, you should know that.f

eYes, but why did it suddenly heal? Murano, could you tell us what causes paralyse?f Tomio asked, turning to the man besides him.

eNerve damage. Normally it canft be healed, but in some cases we can fix it. Paraplegics are the ones who canft move their legs anymore. Itfs caused by spinal damage to the back, and every organ that would be connected to the nerve from then on no longer receives signals from the brain. Paraplegics often canft control when they go to the toilet either.f

eThank you, we really didnft need to know that much. Can it be cured though?f

eNo,f Murano said bluntly as he lit another cigarette.

eSo then, how did you suddenly start walking again, Hayate?f

eI got lucky?f Hayate shrugged with a smirk. eHonestly, the doctors who were taking care of me say that itfs a miracle because they donft know, how am I supposed to?f

eFair enough. So tell me, howfs your family?f Tomio asked.

eTheyfre doing really great, thanks for asking.f

eSo howfs your little dog, Zafira doing?f

Hayate shifted uncomfortably, not knowing why Tomio was suddenly asking about her knights. eHefs fine...f she answered cautiously, but was still eager to see where he was coming from.

eJust... fine?f Tomio asked. eHefs not getting by...? Because youfve had him since grade 3. Thatfs nearly twenty years now, Hayate. Dogs donft live that long.f

The mischievous grin returned to Hayatefs face. eHefs a very special dog. Youfll be hard pressed to find a breed like his.f

eIfm sure hefs a special dog, after all, he was a pup for the first ten or so years of his life. And Ifm quite sure Fatefs dog is the same breed as your Hayate. Aruf was it...? She was also a pup up until the last day I saw you guys. Also, the rest of your family, Hayate, Ifve heard you call them on several occasions your gchildrenh...f

eNo offence you guys...f Keiichiro said to Nanoha, Fate and Hayate as small conversations broke out amongst the campers again, ebut hefs got a point here.f

eOh, but thatfs not all Kei. There are some more things I remember that was odd about those three,f Tomio continued. eAround late junior high, and all the way through high school, when you three would leave half way through school for your gfamily mattersh, did anyone else notice something odd about that?f He waited for a reply, but knew it wouldnft come. eMost of the times when you were supposed to leave the school grounds, you didnft leave school; you went to the roof. Which is odd, because I followed you three a few times, and Ifm sure I saw you go through the door that lead to the roof, but when I peeked through the windows, you werenft there. I searched the roof, and you werenft there. Ifd like an explanation for that...

eBut before we get off topic, therefs one more thing that Ifd like to bring up. Now, I know that itfs said that lovers can talk to each other just by making eye contact... but honestly, you three take the saying to a new extreme. I swear Ifve seen you guys hold conversations just by looking at each other. Arisa and Suzuka seem to have joined in too now.f

Questions started to flare as the Nanoha and Fate sat there looking oddly indifferent, and slightly annoyed, while Hayate was grinning with amusement.

He followed you guys? Arisa asked, trying not to look at anyone. Didnft you guys realise before you did whatever it was you did on the roof?

Does it really matter? Fate said. The only thing Ifm worried about now is getting out of this mess.

Really? I think this just might work out better for us in the end, Hayate said, looking to Fate from the corner of her eye.

Hayate-chan, what are you thinking? Nanoha asked slightly worried.

Ifm thinking of taking command here. Before anyone does something stupid, or before Mio starts to think she really knows what shefs doing.

Wait, youfre going to tell them? Said Suzuka anxiously. Is that such a good idea?

I wonft tell them everything. They wonft believe us if we told them everything anyway. Hayate looked to Tomio again, who was waiting with a smirk on his face.

eDone talking?f he asked.

Hayate laughed again. eYes, we have. Thank you for being patient. So, was there anything you were expecting after telling us your observations?f

eI was expecting youfd tell me who you really are,f he replied sternly. The campers went silent.

Hayate let out an exaggerated sigh. eAh man, after all this time too. I have to say, hefs a pretty good detective, isnft he Fate?f

eYes...f Fate replied flatly with irritation, eI almost want to recruit him. Hefd make a better enforcer than some of the other officers out there.f

eHe lacks discipline though...f Nanoha added, just as flatly as Fate. eHefll need more training.f

Hayate chuckled. If she was a criminal, shefd be the type that would commit a crime for the thrill of the chase, and give praise and comment on the way the cops finally caught her. eIfll leave that to you then, Nanoha.f

The campers were completely silent now, and watching the three with confused expressions. Hayate sighed dramatically again, rocked back on her chair and then propelled herself out of it, coming to a rocky but solid stand.

eMight as well get this over with then...f she muttered out loud and then saluted the empty space ahead of her. eI am Colonel Yagami Hayate. Unfortunately I do not have the liberty to tell you which unit, section, department or government Ifm working for.f Hayate stated, her joking manor was now completely gone, and had been replaced by unshakeable seriousness. eI can tell you that the situation we are currently in is what I specialise in, and I guarantee that I will do everything in my power to make sure that everyone makes it out of this incident unharmed.f She stiffened her salute, and then promptly sat back down in her chair.

Before anyone could react, Fate then shot out of her chair in salute. eSenior Enforcer Fate Testarossa Harlaown. Like Hayate, I cannot disclose who I work for, but I do have experience with this situation, and I also will do my utmost to make sure that everyone makes it out of here safely.f

Fate took her seat and then Nanoha stood up saluting. eMajor Takamachi Nanoha, Combat Instructor and Military Academy Headmistress. While I hope nothing bad happens, I would like to take the opportunity now, while wefre all here, to inform you that this situation could get very dangerous. The three of us will do everything we can to find out what or who is responsible for this and safely put an end to it. Until then, I would like to ask everyone to remain calm, and cooperate with us to the best of your abilities.f

Nanoha sat back down, and the campsite was silent for a few minutes.

eSorry...f Tomio said eventually. eYoufre all a part of the military...?f

eA military, Senior Sergeant. Therefs more than one military out there.f Hayate responded.

eForgive me for asking,f Jujiro said, raising his hand in the air, ebut Hayate, you said youfre a Colonel, and Nanoha said shefs a Major, right?f There was a nodding of heads. eI find that hard to believe, as it often takes a military officer about five to ten years to be promoted to lieutenant, or even sergeant.f

eThatfs true...f Nanoha answered. eBut we didnft enlist after high school.f

eActually, we enlisted when we were nine years old,f Fate added.

There was another silence. This one lasted slightly longer than the last

eAs children?f Liana finally said. eIfm sure there are several laws against forcing children into labour, particularly dangerous work.f

eYou seem to forget that wefre a part of the military... Japan doesnft have one,f Hayate reminded the lawyer. eThe laws are slightly different were we are working, and we werenft forced into it either. We volunteered.f

eBut as children!?f Keiichiro cried in disbelief. eWhat kind of organisation would accept kids pick up arms for them anyway!?f

eOne that takes talent when they first see it, and doesnft let go,f Nanoha told him.

eWe could be here all night arguing about this, so let me tell you guys straight,f Arisa said with her eyes closed. eTheyfre not lying. Ifve had the misfortune of seeing them work once too.f

Suzuka nodded. eTheyfre telling the truth. Theyfve dealt with these situations a lot in the past. We should listen to what they have to say.f

There was another brief silence, though this one was much more awkward than the previous ones.

eOkay then,f Tomio said, slightly annoyed. eWhat do we do then? You three seem to be the experts.f

eFirst we need to get prepared,f Hayate responded.

eFor what!?f Tomio cried.

eAnything. We donft know whatfs causing this, but wefre trapped here. No matter how much you try, no matter which direction you go, youfll always end up back at this camp.f She was right. Keiichiro and Tomio themselves had tried to make it to the main road after Fate had tried twice more, and they had done the same thing. eWefll need to set up our tents defensively. The harder they are to access from the outside, the better. That means theyfll need to be in a circle, ropes overlapping. There should only be one actual access point thatfs not hindered. Wefll use our vehicles to shield the back of the tents as well. The more difficult it is to access any side of the tent but the front, the better.f

eWefll need to find a new supply of water,f Nanoha added. eWhich means until we do find water, wefll need to ration our current supply. Strictly too, or wefd run out before the sun sets tomorrow.f

eIn the mean time, wefll also be investigating whatfs forcing us to stay here. The sooner we find out, the quicker we can get out of this mess.f

eThere you have it,f Hayate declared with satisfaction. She beamed confidently to the campers. eAny questions?f

eI have one,f Mio said. eHow the hell am I going to wash myself if youfre going to ration the water?f

The three mages sighed heavily and looked to each other. It was going to be a long night.



Vivio was finding the scary tales that the other kids from the camp site to be rather boring. They were ordered to sit in her tent and behave while the parentfs figured out what to do. They had to tell the stories silently, as they didnft want to wake Shion, and who knows what would happen if they did that. They certainly didnft want to find out.

The tales were all old and used, though the single torch that dimly lit the tent was helping to create an appropriate atmosphere. Vivio was actually surprised that she already knew some of them. Some of them were on-the-spot poorly created originals about ghosts coming to scare victims at night. Ken Matsuda was currently telling the story of other campers that were here being terrified to insanity by the vengeful spirits of those who killed themselves in this very forest was doing a good job of scaring the other kids, particularly Mai, but it utterly bored Vivio. She knew that it had being proved that even if ghosts did exist, their ethereal bodies couldnft affect anyonefs body or mind in any way shape or form, unless they were profoundly telepathic, and the chances of finding someone who is profoundly telepathic  was practically none anyways.

Vivio liked the young Takashi Kubofs tale best. It had surprised her that someone that young knew such a tale. It wasnft a tale as such, but rather a description of this creature called the gDrop Bearh, where as youfd walk carelessly under an overhanging branch, the Drop Bear would drop from the branch, clamp itself to your head and then eat your brains out. She decided to check with her mother later on to see if such a creature did exist.

Ken finished his story. The campers had gone insane and killed each other, confusing one another as other ghosts. It was a clichéd ending, but served its purpose as some of the younger kids hid under blankets. The young boy was satisfied with himself as he watched the kids reactions, but then he noticed Vivio, and his pride took a blow.

eWhatfs the big deal, Vivio?f he asked. eYou trying to make it look like youfre not scared?f

eBut it really wasnft that scary...f Vivio retorted, honestly, though Ken thought otherwise.

eNot scary!?f Mai cried as she peeked at Vivio through her blankets. eIfm going to have nightmares now!f

eWhy donft you give us one then, Vivio?f Ken said, his pride taking another blow.

eBut I donft really know any really scary tales...f

eJust make one up then, thatfs what Haruka did.f

eI did not!f the young girl cried. eThatfs a true story, and you know it!f

eWhatever, itfs your turn now Vivio. Give us a scare.f

Vivio thought about it, and Mai was looking at her with a very worried look on her face. Vivio honestly didnft have any scary tales she could tell. She did have them, but because they were events that really happened on another planet, she was forbidden to talk about it. Her mother wanted her home planet to remain blissfully unaware as to just how populated the universe really was, for their own good apparently. Vivio figured that her mother thought her home planet was too warmed up to the idea that they were the only ones here, as theyfd thought so for... well, longer than any one could imagine, and would go insane if they found out otherwise. Vivio had met insane people before, and preferred that this planet didnft follow suit.

She remembered the novel that she had brought with her to the camping trip. The story was about the legend of the three admirals. They had saved Midchilda from crisis many times, and their deeds to the Time-Space Administration Bureau had been retold (while admittedly, altered and spiced up) in many books, plays and television adaptations. The chapter she had just finished in her book was about the strange creatures that had inhabited one of the rural administered planets. They only appeared when the three moons of the planet had aligned themselves in a certain way, which happened three times every year. They were odd, but as the book described them, very creepy, and had an unusual appetite and eating habit.

Thatfll do just fine then.

eOkay. I got one,f Vivio declared. There was a whine as Mai further wrapped herself in blankets, and the other children eagerly leant forward to listen in. Vivio thought a bit as she re-arranged parts of the story to a more Earth-friendly version, then took in a deep breath...

eSome time ago, there was a group of travellers who were making their way through a dense forest. All they could see were trees. They had forgotten how long they had been travelling for. They were running out of food and water, and they were getting very, very tired. Eventually the leader of the group had ordered everyone to stop for a break. The sun was setting, and it was getting too dark to travel further. Their torches had run out of batteries, and they had nothing to light a fire with. They wrapped themselves in their sleeping bags and slept uncomfortably against trees and leaf litter.

eWhen they woke up the next morning, one of them was missing. They waited until midday, in case the missing person had gone off to the toilet before everyone else had woken up, or in case he had gotten lost. But they had to press on, they had to make it to the village soon or theyfd starve to death... or even worse, die of dehydration.

eThey travelled on until shortly after night fall, when the leader had ordered them to stop for the day. Everyone was exhausted now. They were starving, their mouths were dry and their muscles burnt. It didnft take long for the travellers to fall asleep. But the next morning, half of them had disappeared. They didnft wait this time. Something was taking them away, and they werenft slowing down.

eThe camp leader estimated that the town was just a day and a half away, so they set out again, with fear fuelling their exhausted legs. They scrambled over rocks and fallen logs, some of the travellers collapsed on the way, but scrambled back to their feet. No one was willing to stop anymore, and those who fell would be left alone.

eEventually, they ran themselves into the ground, and had to stop for the night. They had been running for most the day now, and they had forgotten when the sun set. They couldnft go on anymore though, they hadnft eaten for days, and they hadnft had any clean water for the same amount of time. Some of the travellers were starting to become very sick. The healthy ones took turns at keeping watch.

eThe next morning, there was only one traveller left. She looked around franticly for signs of her comrades, but it was no use. They were gone, and she was alone.

eShe pushed herself onwards; the town should only be half a day away now. She picked herself up every time she fell, desperate to make it to safety before night fell. And just as the sun set, she broke into a clearing. Shefd finally made it to the town, and she collapsed in relief. After she rested for a bit, she picked herself back up again. She had to inform the townspeople what happened to her travellers, and get the message to those who would be able to help her.

eBut she soon realised something wasnft right. Not a single light was on in any of the windows. She banged on doors, hoping that there was someone still in the village, but there wasnft any response. She broke into houses, trying to find any sign of life, but from what she could tell, the people who had lived there had packed up and left, in a hurry too.

eJust as the reality of the situation hit her, she heard something. It was like a mouse squeak, but much, much louder, and it sounded like the noise was also being rubbed across sandpaper. Shefd never heard a cry like it before, so she looked outside. It was long into the night now, and in the moonlight she saw bats swarming out from the forest.

eShe looked again. No... They werenft bats. They were too large to be bats. They had the wings of a dragonfly, two long and mangled arms hung limply from their strangely shaped torso, and a long and just as mangled tail, but no legs. Its neck was slightly longer than a humanfs, but its head was like a giant beak.

eThe lady traveller was terrified, scared for her life. These had to be the things that took her comrades. And by the looks of it, they wanted her too. She scrambled into one of the houses and desperately looked for a place to hide. Foolishly, she slid under a bed and prayed that she wouldnft be found.f

Vivio paused for a moment as she re-worked the story in her head again. She took the opportunity to see how the listeners were faring to her tale too. They were all listening intently, waiting for the next part of the story to be told. Even Mai had poked her head out of her blankets to listen in. Vivio decided that a bit of acting was called for now, and continued on.

eAs she hid under the bed she could hear the noise of the creatures searching the village. With every crash and bang her heart raced faster and faster...f she patted the ground to mimic the noise of a fast beating heart. eBadum-badum-badum-badum! Her palms were getting sweaty now, and she was breathing heavily.

eThen everything went silent. Did the creatures give up? She wasnft sure, but she was too scared to look at side. She loosened up as she decided whether to check outside, or stay under the bed. Not yet... shefd wait a bit longer...f Vivio paused for a moment, and the children leaned closer, eager to know what was going to happen next.

eBANG!f Vivio cried as she suddenly jumped in the air. There were cries of fright as the children backed away quickly. eA creature ripped the bed she was hiding under away and gave a mighty cry, its beak spreading in four directions!f Vivio spread her arms out on angles as far as they would go, mimicking the top beak of the creature.

eThe lady screamed as she tried to get away, throwing whatever she could get her hands on at the monster, but they simply bounced off. She scurried away, not daring to turn her back to the monster. Her back hit a wall, and she looked around desperately. The thing was approaching; she needed to get away, and now. There was a cabinet to one side, a door to the other. She tipped the cabinet over, and the creature backed away in surprise, then she leapt for the door, threw it open and slammed it shut behind her.

eThere was another creature in this room too! Theyfd cornered her, and it was slowly approaching her, using its arms as legs chirping softly,f Vivio spread her arms limply and moved them backwards and forwards, mimicking the slow gait of the strange creature. eShe looked around again; there was a door behind the creature which had been smashed in, and windows on either side. She ran to the nearest open window, the creature gave pursuit. Without even looking, she jumped...!f

Vivio hopped in the air slightly, but kept her arms in the air and her legs slightly bent while she looked to the ground, pretending to still be falling from her little hop. Shortly after she landed from the hop, she collapsed to the ground. She scrambled back to her hands and knees, and then looked to the eager listeners.

eShe hit the ground hard. She could hear the creatures bickering amongst themselves as she managed to get away, but she didnft look back. She didnft have the nerve to. She tried to run away...!f Vivio herself looked like she was ready to run off, but she skidded the leg she had tucked in across the ground and fell to her chest again. She got up again and continued the story. eHer leg gave under her weight. She twisted it in the fall. In fear, she looked behind her. The creatures in the room were fighting each other, but the others in the village were heading straight for her!

eShe couldnft let a twisted ankle hold her back now! She got to her feet, fighting against the agonising pain and staggered away. She didnft know where she was heading, just as long as she was getting away from the creatures.

eBut her leg was slowing her down. The creatures walked on their arms, dragging their tails along the ground, but the sheer strength in their arms more than made up for that. They were closing in fast. She had to make it back to the forest again, or itfll be all over! She could see the forest in the darkness, it wasnft too far away! Just a little bit more, just a little bit more! She could hear the creatures catching up... they werenft too far away now! She wasnft sure she was going to make it, but the forest was so close now! With her good foot, she gave a final leap... she heard one or the creatures screech, it was right behind her!

eShe landed with a heavy thud just beyond the tree line, and then she heard a...f Vivio clapped her hands together, eWHAM! The lady rolled onto her back to see one of the creatures had hit one of its grotesque arms on a thick tree as it tried to swipe her while she was in mid-air. It gave another mighty screech and then swung its arms down to try and hit her. She rolled over quickly, just making it out of the way as the arm hit the ground with an earth shuddering thud! She scrambled away on her back and then rolled again as another arm came down to swat her again.

eThe creatures were irate now, and the ones behind those at the tree line spread their dragonfly like wings and took to the skies again. She had scrambled away from the reach of the creaturefs lengthy arms and scrambled to her feet again. She turned and ran away as fast as her injured foot would let her. The sound of the screeching creatures now deafened her, she couldnft hear herself think!

eThen before she knew it, something was swinging right for her!f Vivio stopped, panting. She was on her feet again, as she stood up, pretending to run away with a limp. She casually sat back down to the ground and looked to the listeners sternly. eThatfs all she remembered. Everything was black from then on.

eThe next thing she remembered was that she was all slimy, as if someone had sneezed all over her.f There was some ewwing from the listeners, which Vivio appreciated. eShe heard some people crying for help, and recognised some of them as her travelling companions. She could also hear various arrays of screeching and squeaking.

eShe then realised that she was being carried. She hadnft opened her eyes yet, but she assumed one of the creatures was carrying her. She couldnft move her arms or legs, something had bound them together.

eAfter a while, she was let down to the ground. She heard something flutter away and then chirping... lots of chirping. She opened her eyes and then screamed. There were tiny little creatures inside a dark cave, lit by glowing bugs. All the little creatures were scurrying towards her. She tried to back away, but her bounds wouldnft let her. She couldnft move. All she could do was watch as they approached her with what she thought was glee. They leapt for her and she thought that it was all over, they were going to eat her.

eAnd they did.f Vivio then grabbed onto Maifs long black hair, and the little girls gave a yelp. eThey clamped their odd beaks onto her long hair, swallowing it length by length...f Vivio then grabbed clumps of Maifs hair as she made her way up to her scalp, Mai whined every time Vivio grabbed onto a new clump. eIt took a long time, several tens of hours until they finished with the hair on her head. They used their course tongues to lick the rest of the hair on her head off, and then she was completely bald. But that didnft satisfy them. They wanted more hair. Any hair seemed to do.

eBy the next day, they had licked every bit of hair from her body. The hair on her arms, the hair on her legs, her eyelashes, her eyebrows, the hair in her nose...f Vivio paused as she looked at all the listeners with a cheeky grin, eeven the hair we donft have yet. She wept in disgrace as the tiny little creatures scurried away disappointedly, leaving her lying naked on the floor, soaked in slime.

eSome hours later, one of the larger ones came and picked her up again. She resisted, but it was no use. Her bounds, which were a silky spider web like thing, were too tough and just wouldnft give. She was taken through the cave, and eventually dropped to the ground again. This time, two medium sized creatures hulked out from darkness and began licking under her fingernails and toe nails. Their tongues burnt like flames, but no matter how much she struggled, she couldnft make them stop. Eventually, they burnt through the part that held the nail to the figure, and flipped her nails off and crunched on them greedily.

eShe woke up some time later. She had fainted after the second fingernail was licked off; the pain was just too great for her. The creatures had finished licking off her nails and were nowhere to be seen. Her finger tips and the tips of her toes burnt furiously, and they felt odd and naked, and raw to touch. Her bounds were gone now as well, but it was too painful to put wait on any foot now, and she was too exhausted to try and crawl away.

eSurly enough, another larger creature came to get her again. She didnft fight this time... she didnft have the energy. She let the creature loft her over its bulky and ugly shoulder, carrying her to the next spot for more torturous pain. She was placed on the ground in another bug-lit cavern. There were a group of larger creatures. These ones were much larger than the others she had seen. They stood three times larger than any man, and were three times as ugly as the ugliest creature she saw. The creatures were fighting amongst themselves for some reason the lady couldnft possibly comprehend. Eventually a winner was declared as the last remaining creature dropped drowsily to the ground. There was a combined screech as the creatures that were watching celebrated the hulkfs victory. They parted way to allow the large brute through to the other side of the cavern.

eThere, sat a whimpering man. His voice sounded familiar, but the lady couldnft make him out as body was bare of hair. He started to cry as the creature approached, pleading and begging for it to not do whatever it was going to do. The creature didnft listen though, and lumbered over to the pitiful man, reached over and picked him up by his head. The man cried for help, beating the bulky fingers with his raw red fists.

eThe oversized creature lifted its beak to the ceiling and spread the beak as wide as it could, making a gargling squawk noise, and then raised the screaming man over itfs now open beak. The lady watched in horror as the creature then forced the man down itfs through, and then snapped its beak shut, biting off his hands that were gripping onto its large fingers.

eThere was a roaring screech as the other creatures cheered. The large monster then leant against the wall, its chest bulging and bumping every now and then as the lady could just hear muffled but agonised screams from the man within as he was digested alive. The creature actually looked annoyed and beat the bulge in its chest violently, the screaming and movement then stopped. Then another fight broke out.

eEnergy drained from the lady as all hope faded. She was certain that after one of the hellish creatures had one, itfll be her turn. She hoped that her death would be a peaceful and silent one, but now she knew she wasnft going to have such a luxury. She was going to die painfully and slowly, being digested alive by a terrifying creature with unusual eating habits. She collapsed to the cavern floor weeping.

eEventually, another large brute of a creature won the unruly brawl. It lumbered over to the broken lady and rolled her around with a giant finger. The lady didnft react, she just kept crying softly, painfully accepting the fate that had befallen her.

eThe creature then roughly picked her up and threw her up into the air and snapped itfs vicious beak open, waiting for the lady to—e

eHey guys...f A voice called from behind them and all the children bar Vivio screamed and leapt for the far end of tent in fear. The sudden screaming woke Shion up and she started to cry for her mother. Haruka started to cry too.

Nanoha looked to her daughter, to the group of children tightly huddled together in one of the far corners of the large tent, then back to her daughter again.

eWhat did I do?f she asked her daughter worriedly.

Vivio chuckled. eThey wanted me to tell them a scary story. So I did.f



Commander James May liked his command. There was little for him to worry about with it. All his subordinates followed his instructions to the letter, they were proficient in their work, and generally, he didnft have to worry about them. That young Lanster can be a rabble maker sometimes, but he was sure itfs just her youth and shefd soon grow out of it. He hoped so anyways.

He had high hopes for the young Lanster though. She was blossoming under the wing of her partner, the Harlaown girl, of whom he didnft have hopes for; he simply knew shefd do a brilliant job every time. The pairing was a god send in his opinion, but he figured that it was about time he split them up and utilise the two girls more efficiently. Lanster was proving she was ready to go solo with her current investigation as well. It was all going smoothly, apart from the fact that Lanster would need an aide. She was currently aided by Shario, who was Harlaownfs aide, and unfortunately there werenft aides left to give to the young lady. For now, hefd have to leave her paired with Harlaown.

Though, itfs not that it was such a bad thing. Harlaown always managed to spread the work load she had evenly, making sure every job not only got done effectively, but efficiently and as quickly as possible too. Shefd also worked with Lanster before she was an enforcer too, making it easier for them to work together. Harlaown was his trump card though; she was a respected Ace with plenty of acclaims to her name, and was always prompt and did everything to the letter, more so than his other subordinates.

This was probably why he was having difficulty comprehending what the young Lanster was telling him. She was sitting in front of his desk, in his nice secluded office where he couldnft hear the buzz of the other officers busily working away. Not that you could anyway, as it was rather late and everyone was either getting ready to call it a day, or already had.

eWhat do you mean she hasnft contacted you?f May asked with confusion. eYou shouldnft have to... she should be on her way home. Shefs supposed to be back today for the sweep of the underground tunnels tomorrow.f

eYes sir,f Tiana replied, ebut she hasnft been seen checking in to any dimensional transfer station.f

ePerhaps shefs held up somewhere. She has a family on number ninety-seven, does she not?f

eYes sir. Ifve contacted her family, but they havenft seen her since she left for the reunion. They were expecting her to arrive back today. Theyfve been trying to contact her, but have had no luck so far.f

James May leant back on his chair and stroked the trimmed beard on his chin in thought. eHave you tried to contact her yourself?f he asked eventually.

eYes sir, but I canft establish a link. Her family has the same problem.f

There was another long silence filled with beard stroking.

eSir, what about the operation tomorrow?f Tiana asked. eWe wonft be able to go ahead with the mission without her.f

The commander gave her long, disconcerned look. eReally? I think wefll be able to pull it off still.f

Tiana looked puzzled. eSir?f

eWefre continuing the mission as scheduled. We canft lose this chance Lanster, itfs tomorrow or never. Who knows when wefll get the help from the 108th battalion again?f Harlaownfs connections were another side of the young lady that May had admired. Shefd befriended the two daughters of the battalionfs commander, the eldest even admired her. Getting Major Nakajima to help was simple once he dropped the Senior Enforcerfs name.

eBut sir, with all due respect, how are we going to make up for Fate?f Tiana cried.

James May thought about it for a while, gently swaying back and forward on his leather chair while stroking his beard with his thumb. eYou should be able to cover for her.f He said gradually. eDonft worry... Ifll team you up with that Nakajima girl. Youfve worked with her before havenft you?f he added as he saw Tiana about to protest.

Tiana hesitated, and then sighed heavily. eYes sir, I have. But Ifve never taken command of an operation before!f

eWell, donft worry too much about it. Itfll be like taking command of the forwards from section 6 again, but this time youfll have just a few more members in your team.f

eJust a few more? Itfs a two hundred man operation, sir!f

                May straightened his chair, and gave Tiana a steady, stern look. eLanster, we are doing this mission tomorrow with or without Harlaown. I know that youfre not prepared to take command for such a mission, but unfortunately we donft have a choice. Youfre a natural leader though, Lanster, and everyonefs got to start commanding somewhere.f He eased back into his chair again. eDonft worry about Harlaown though. Ifll ask around to see what our options are. For the time being though, focus on tomorrow. Youfre dismissed, Lanster. Get a good nightfs rest, youfll need it... Wefll all need it.f



The next morning, Fate and Hayate were helping out the other families re-arrange their tents so they tightly encompassed the camp fire, while Nanoha went out in search for water, as Arisa had told her about the stream she saw when she got lost with Mai and Vivio.

The muddy ground wasnft helping the tent moving though... It stormed last night, much to the dread of most of the parents, whose children were having enough trouble sleeping as it was after Viviofs story. Vivio, on the other hand, slept soundly. She loved the rain, and didnft mind lightning. Though she was jolted awake by a close strike, she soon drifted back to sleep.

The only problem now, was that Mai wasnft so friendly with Vivio anymore.

eGo away!f she cried as Vivio tried to talk to her. eI couldnft sleep last night because I was so scared! Itfs all your fault!f

eItfs just a story!f Vivio argued. eI didnft even get to finish it! The lady was saved in the end and lived happily ever after!f

eYoufre just making that up!f

eNo Ifm not; itfs a true story after all!f

Oops. Mai gave Vivio a horrified look. I wasnft supposed to say that, Vivio told herself.

eThose things are real!f Mai cried in horror.

eThey were, but theyfre all dead now!f Vivio quickly defended herself. eAnd they were only found where I live, so they canft possibly be found here!f

eWhere you live?f Mai cried again, but then her face turned serious. eWhere do you live, Vivio?f

Oh dear, I was hoping she wouldnft ask this, Vivio thought. I canft tell her I live at North Midchilda; itfs not even on this planet... oh dear...

Mai was now giving her a face that was mixed with confusion and disbelief. eMama said I couldnft tell you...f Vivio carefully told her sheepishly. At least it was the truth. eYou know... itfs to do with her work and all...f

Maifs odd facial expression worsened.

eLook, Ifm really sorry about last night... I got carried away! What can I do to make you forgive me?f

Mai looked away, contemplating something. After a brief moment, she looked back to Vivio, with a very serious expression this time. eThere is one thing,f she told her.

The request Mai gave Vivio ran a chill down her spine.



Not too long after she left, Nanoha returned to the camp site and made her way to Hayate and Fate, who were helping move the Matsudafs tent.

eThe stream that Arisa found is within the barrier, thankfully. Itfs fresh water, and comes from a small cliff face.f

eIs it drinkable?f Hayate asked.

Nanoha nodded. eIt tastes great. Ifll empty out one of those large ice boxes that used to hold our food.f

eThatfll help us out a lot,f Fate said. eI could use a good drink now.f The storm last night had raised the humidity to unbearable levels, and anything that could be considered an activity left the participants sweating profusely.

eDo you need someone to help you?f Hayate asked.

eNo,f Nanoha said, shaking her head, eIfll get the job done quicker by myself. Itfll take about half an hour to walk there, if you know what I mean.f

eOkay. Thanks for the help, Nanoha,f Hayate said as she made her way to the four-wheel-drive that held their large ice box.

As Nanoha filtered through the belongings, making her way to the large insulated box, Vivio and Mai approached her.

eWhatfs up Vivio?f Nanoha asked as she yanked the large box out of the car and put it on the ground effortlessly. eWhatfs wrong?f she asked as she noticed Vivio had a pained look on her face.

eWell...f Vivio mumbled, not making eye contact. She hesitated before continuing. eMai has a question of you, Mama...f

Mai, unlike Vivio, had a very stern and serious look on her face. eHow do you guys do that?f she asked.

eDo what, Mai-chan?fNanoha replied, looking between her guilty looking daughter and her determined friend.

eTalk without talking,f the little girl answered.

Talk without talking? Whatfs the little girl talking about, how does one talk without talki- Oh. Nanoha realised what the girl was looking at and she shot a look to her daughter.

Vivio, did you tell her? She asked sharply.

Vivio looked back at her mother, upset to the point where she was nearly crying. I didnft tell her anything, Mama! She just asked me all the sudden!

eYoufre doing it now!f Mai cried. eHow do you guys do that!?f

Both Nanoha and Vivio looked at Mai. eWhat are you talking about?f Nanoha asked carefully.

eYou know what Ifm talking about!f Mai cried frustrated, stomping a foot on the ground. eYou just asked Vivio if she told me, and then Vivio told you that she didnft tell me anything, and that I just asked her all the sudden! Ifm not lying, I heard you!f She then turned and ran away into the forest.

Vivio, stay with her and donft let her get out of your site. If anything happens, tell me straight away, okay? Nanoha told her daughter.

Vivio nodded and gave chase. What should I do if she asks more questions? She asked.

Tell her that Ifll tell her later. Nanoha then focused on her friends. Hayate, Fate... Wefve got a problem...



Mai returned to camp a few hours later by accident. But she didnft leave again; instead she retrieved a book from her bag and sat on a stump on the edge of the clearing, far away from the campfire, reading her book and playing with the green orb she found, ignoring Vivio completely.

Nanoha went about collecting water, and Fate and Hayate continued to help re-arrange the tents to a more defensive stance. As the sun started to set, Nanoha finished filling the water tank, much to the surprise of everyone else in the camp, and all the tents had been re-positioned properly, leaving the cars to be moved.

Nanoha, Fate and Hayate decided how to deal with the new situation that has arisen, and then, along with Vivio, they approached Mai. She had her mother with her, who was trying to get her to return to the safety of the camp site. Tama saw them approach, and stood up.

eNanoha, Fate, Hayate... she seems to be upset about something that you guys have done.f Tama told them. eShe wonft tell me though... could you tell me what happened?f

Nanoha glanced to Mai, who turned her back as soon as Nanohafs eyes landed on her. eShe asked me to tell her how to do something, but it took me some time to decide whether I should or not.f

eIs that all...? What was it?f said Tama, as Mai looked back to Nanoha. Her mood had slightly improved already.

eBefore we can tell you, therefs something we have to test first,f Hayate said as Nanoha sat behind Mai.f

eTama, could you do me a favour and stand in front of your daughter and hold both her hands.f Nanoha asked.

Tama did so, and took both of her daughterfs hands. Mai looked around in confusion, and tried to look back to Nanoha, but couldnft as her mother was holding onto her hands and she couldnft twist her shoulders around.

eAll you have to do is look at your mother and answer everything that Nanoha asks you honestly, Mai,f Fate told the little girl. Mai looked to Vivio, who nodded reassuringly. After a moment of contemplation, Mai then looked to her slightly confused mother.

eIfm sorry about earlier Mai-chan,f Nanoha said without turning back. eWould you forgive me for not answering you then?f

eYes...f Mai replied.

Would you still like me to teach you how to talk without talking? Nanoha asked.

eYes!f Mai replied excitedly to her mother, as there wasnft anyone else she could reply to. Her mother looked back, confused.

eWow, so you were right...f Hayate said in dismay.

Youfre a very special girl, Mai, Fate told the child.

eIfm special?f Mai repeated, then chuckled to herself in self-pride.

eHuh? Whatfs going on?f Mai asked the others.

eWhat wefre about to tell you, you best keep as a secret, Ms. Akihito,f Hayate warned. eFor your own sake, that is. People would think youfre crazy otherwise.f

eOkay...f Tama responded slowly.

eNanoha, go ahead and teach her how to do it,f Hayate said.

eI already am...f

Hayate smiled. eTherefs a reason why we joined... this military at such a young age, Ms. Akihito,f Hayate said. eWefve a special attribute that... most people donft have.f

eEvery generation, only a handful of people will have telepathic abilities,f Fate added to Hayatefs annoyance.

eAre you telling me that my daughterfs telepathic?f Tama cried out softly, trying to keep her voice as quiet as possible.

eWell... just look at her...f Hayate said, pointing the small girl. Mai wasnft paying any attention to the conversation the others were having. Her face was shifting through different expressions of amazement, excitement, confusion and concentration... almost as if she was having a conversation, and learning something new.

eActually...f Nanoha spoke up, eI think shefs more telepathic than we think... She just read my mind...f

eWhat? No way!f Hayate cried.

Well, she just asked me what Midchilda is... Nanoha told them. All eyes were then laid on Mai, as she looked around confused.

What? Whatfs Midchilda? Is that where you guys are from? Hey, tell me more, this is fun! Mai said to everyone telepathically, and then she giggled excitedly out load.



That night was an odd one. The three mages were talking about the discovery of earthfs latest magically attuned child, who was profoundly telepathic, and now she unfortunately new it and was running around the campsite, standing next to random targets and then spilling what she could dig out with Vivio telepathically before they ran off to the next target.

When they found out about the little girlfs incredibly rare ability, they decided not to hold any cards and spilled everything to her and her mother, telling them that what they were being told was, once again, best kept a secret for their own well being. After all, who would believe them anyway? Tama had trouble believing them, though her daughterfs now frequently changing facial expressions were beginning to bug her and give her second thoughts. At least now the little girl thought she knew all there was to know about the three mages, and left them alone.

Dinner was sparse. All they had left were sandwiches made of ham and cheese, and they could only spare one sandwich per person. Tomio vowed to go hunting yesterday, but Miata and Jujiro both said theyfd go scavenging for wild berries just in case.

The adults then brought up the topic of what the military was like to the three mages, because, as Hayate had pointed out before, Japan doesnft have a military. Nanoha, Fate and Hayate told them as much as they possibly could without revealing the true nature behind their work.

Eventually the topic changed to how Japan would be like if it did have a military. Everyone agreed that it probably would be no different to what it was today, and then they came to the conclusion that it really didnft need one. In fact, they concluded that just about every military in the world was just an oversized and over glorified defence force.

That was when Liana brought up the news of the new controversial general, who was appealing to the UN to allow the Japanese government to build a military, which met mixed reactions.

After that, they called it a night, and Nanoha, Fate and Hayate took shifts in staying up to guard the camping site.



Sometime later the next day, Grand Admiral Lexus Carrington dropped into her new office chair that, to those who had been to the office of the 4th Northern Midchilda Military Academyfs headmistress, looked disturbingly like Nanohafs plush leather office chair. She blissfully let its comfort sooth her worn muscles for a fair while, before opening a command console and set about checking some vital documents for her next meeting.

Carrington wasnft looking forward to the meeting. It was about the budget for the Ground Defence Force. They seemed to like their budget keeping and frequently checked it, more often so than any other of the defence forces. Carrington, however, found it pointless and a waste of her time. She really was only there to say gyes, okay, motion it forward,h or gwake up to yourselves and fix it before making me have to sit though another boring session like this again!h

She wasnft a person for past or present events; Carrington looked to the future. She looked for potential, for opportunities, for ways to make things better, rather than just maintaining the status quo. Now that she was Chief of Staff, she could actually focus on the future of the Time-Space Administration Bureau, but for some reason her generals want her to hold their hands while they worried about their current issues. If these issued didnft impede the future of the Bureau, as far as she was concerned, they were none of it.

With that said, she hated incompetence with a passion. Those who would not perform to her standards would be shunned and pushed aside without second thought. Also, as she was a person who looked to the future, she praised and admired true skill and talent, and smiled upon good performances. One could say that she was biased, but that didnft worry her, mainly because it was partly true.

This behaviour of hers was one of the main reasons why she was so interested in Takamachi. The young lady was incredibly talented and had unbelievable potential. It was people like her who attracted Carringtonfs attention, and she would personally make sure that they were where they needed to be, personally promoting and transferring them if she needed to, as she did with Takamachi.

An item in her inbox caught her attention. Oh yes, she said to herself, itfs that article in one of the Midchildan university student newspapers about the gDevilfs Instructorfs Rampage at Infinity Library,h or so the headline says. She had heard some of her officers talking about how Takamachi had caused quite a fuss at the Infinity Library not long after she began her leave, and Carrington had ordered them to find out more information. She was surprised it had taken so long for them to actually hand her something about it.

She opened the email and was surprised to see there was a video feed. At first there were some teenagers, goofing around in front of a camera, but then the background noise died off and gave way to some sort of commotion. The camera then spun around to look at Nanoha and her party, who were confronting some stuck up receptionist.

Carrington smiled as it was obvious that Nanoha had the upper hand during the entire confrontation, and grinned at her last attack in which she let her daughter throw the last verbal punch. The party then left and then the usual commotion returned to the Library lobby, but then the cameraman started to follow the party into the bowels of the library and –

There was a knocking on Carringtonfs door. With a heavy sigh, Carrington paused the video feed and gave her large chrome and coloured steel doors a tired look. They werenft grand oak doors like Takamachifs... Perhaps shefd get those replaced too.

eEnter...f Carrington called out with dread. If it was another pathetic report about some operation that was happening within the capital, Carrington wasnft sure if she could restrain herself from jumping out the oversized glass panels behind her that overlooked the city from several hundred stories above.

With the sound of a single large gear being thrust into place, one of the large doors opened. The man who entered the long pathway that lead to Carringtonfs actual desk was Vindicator Jeremy Clarkson. Carrington straightened up in her chair. Clarkson was one of the officers from the main office that she had hopes for. He was also inline to become her Judicial Adviser, a position she had yet to fill.

As he finally made it to the front of her desk with a folder tucked under his arm, he nodded in acknowledgement of her presence, instead of saluting. eMorninf Mafam,f he added.

Carrington smiled. Unlike other superior officers, Carrington didnft get that warm fuzzy feeling running through her when her subordinates saluted her like their life depended on it and giving large and pointless introductions at the tops of their lungs. In fact, such acts caused her considerable irritation.

eGood Morning Vindicator Clarkson. What news do you bring?f she said.

eThe sweep of the city undergrounds has begun Mafam, lead by Enforcer Tiana Lanster and supervised by Commander James May. So far we have thirty traffickers arrested, and have uncovered two drug labs,f the Vindicator told her with a very formal tone. eSo far we have ten officers injured. There are no casualties to report.f

Carrington gave him a long look. eI hope thatfs not all you came in here to tell me about, Clarkson,f she said with a very unimpressed tone, ebecause you should know that Ifm not interested in minor updates. I only want results.f

eWell, actually Mafam, I thought you would be interested seeing as itfs Enforcer Lanster whofs leading the sweep. Not Senior Enforcer Harlaown, as you ordered.f

eWhatfs this about?f Carrington asked in surprise.

Clarkson dropped the folder that was tucked under his arm in front of the Admiral. eIfve just received word that Fate T. Harlaown is missing, Mafam. She was supposed to report back yesterday, but hasnft. All attempts to contact her have failed.f

Carrington picked up the file and flicked through several files. She then gave it a nasty look and threw it on the desk again.

eAs youfve probably noticed, Colonel Yagami Hayate and Major Takamachi Nanoha are missing too,f Clarkson added.

eYes, I did...f she grumbled softly. Great, first the girl doesnft talk to anyone for a few months, now she gets lost on her bloody home world, she thought. Not to mention that Colonel Yagami and the Harlaown girl are stuck with her too. She looked up to the roof. She knew she couldnft afford to lose those officers. Something needed to be done.

eThank you, Clarkson. You can go now,f Carrington sighed as she leaned back into her chair again, allowing its comfort to massage the stress out of her.

The Vindicator nodded, turned away then hesitated. eHave you seen the video of Takamachi at the Infinity Library yet?f he asked.

eNo Clarkson, you interrupted me while I was watching it,f Carrington replied, and then gave him an inquiring look. eIt was you who found that video feed, wasnft it? Howfd you get it?f

He shrugged nonchalantly. eWasnft too hard, Mafam. Bump a few heads and you always get some results.f

eYes... Thank you, Clarkson.f

eMafam...f he nodded then turned and left the oversized room. Carrington sighed again, and then went back to watching the video feed.



That morning, the men of the camp site had strolled cheerfully into the forest to do some hunting. When asked what they were going to hunt with, Tomio had drawn his standard issue pistol the police force had given to him, which didnft really impress his wife.

It was now in the middle of the afternoon, and the remainder of the campsite had yet to hear a gunshot go off in the distance, which didnft come to a surprise to anyone, seeing as they were loudly walking off into the forest, and could still be heard up to an hour after they left.

This however, meant that they had yet to find food, which was a problem as theyfd eaten the remainder of their supply last night. The children were starving, and water was now being misused and they were starting to run out of that again.

Now, however, all the women of the campsite were standing around the cooler box that Nanoha had being using to fetch water with a mixture of confused and dismayed faces. Nanoha had decided to keep the water tank at least topped up, and seeing as it was below the halfway mark already (much to her irritation), she had decided to fetch more water from the stream. But now that was proving a problem, seeing as it was filled to the rim, almost overflowing, with packaged food.

There were meats, salads, savoury snacks, sweet snacks... a lot of sweet snacks, and carbonated drinks. They were all packaged, labelled and interestingly enough, priced as well, and were well within their use-by date.

eIs it edible?f Mio asked eventually.

eDonft know...f Miata replied, tilting her head to one side as if to see if she could judge the foods liability from a new dimension, or angle for that matter. eShould be,f she added.

There was another silence.

eTry some of it,f Mio told the lady.

Miata shot a look at Mio. eWhy donft you?f

eYou said it was edible.f

eYoufre the one who wanted to know!f

eOh stop your bickering you two, youfre acting like school kids,f Yuki said. eOh, are those jelly beans? I like jelly beans.f

eIf you like them so much, why donft you try them?f Miata said, with Mio agreeing eagerly.

eHuh? What, eat them? Er... no I prefer to... look at them, yes. Theyfve an interesting shape these beans.f

The bickering continued like that for some time, until Fate reached for one of Pocky packets, and took one of the sticks out. Everyone held their breath and watched her intently as the stick was placed in her mouth, and then the tip was bitten off. They watched her as she savoured the taste, chewed on the small snack for a bit, and then she ate the rest of the snack and swallowed.

eTastefs alright...f Fate stated as she took another stick out of the packet. You could almost hear the pent up air in their lungs escape as all the ladies suddenly relaxed.

eShefs not turning any funny colours, is she?f Tama asked.

eNot that I can see...f Nanoha said, looking inquisitively at Fate as she herself took some of the chocolate coated sticks from the confectionary box.

eBut what if other parts of her body are changing colour...f Tama continued, even though she accepted some sticks from the box that was now being passed around.

eIfm not taking my clothes off, Tama,f Fate said dryly, ending the topic as Tama looked to the ground rather embarrassed.

eWell in any case, it looks like we wonft have to worry about our food for now...f Arisa said with a Pocky stick precariously sitting in the corner of her mouth.

eShould we check to see if the other boxes are the same?f Kuda suggested much to everyonefs surprise. The lady hardly talked to anyone but her husband.

eThatfs a good idea,f Suzuka said, eIfll go check and see.f She then trod off toward her car, and some of the other ladies followed suit. They all then came back, declaring that they were well supplied with food.

eSo what now?f Mio asked. Unusually, she asked Hayate, instead of declaring what was going to happen, like she normally did.

eWell, itfs good that wefve got food now. But wefd have to ration it properly, therefs no guarantee that something like this will happen again. Ifd like to try to get five... maybe seven days out of this food,f said Hayate in full authority role. She had her fingers pursed against her lip in thought. This idea was welcomed to with several complaining moans.

eThe only question is,f Liana spoke up, investigating a tin of diced pineapple rings, ewhere did this stuff come from?f

There was a collective silence. eMore importantly though,f Liana continued, ehow are we going to open this?f



Just before sunset, the men who had gone off hunting had returned back, much to everyonefs surprise; they were expecting them to be brought back by one of the military officers. They werenft surprised that they came back empty handed though.

The men, who were starved and exhausted, were surprised that there was something to keep them running until the conservative dinner was prepared and served. They asked where the food had come from, and simply told that no one had any idea, and they left it at that. They quickly learnt to leave all the technical details of this situation to the officers, as they seemed to be enjoying the situation like a doctor enjoying the discovery of a new disease.

The rest of the night had continued without hassle, and now it was nearing midnight. Nanoha was now standing, or rather sitting on guard in front of a dying fire that smouldered in the middle of the ring of tents.

Even though Nanoha had slept for a several hours before changing with Hayate to watch over the camp, the gentle cracking of the wood as it slowly burnt and the glowing orange-red and yellow wood was hypnotising her back to sleep. The night was heavily overcast again, and it threatened to rain, although the heavy haze was still present. They deducted that the haze was the barrierfs doing.

Then she heard the screech.

It actually sounded like a squeak, but she could tell that it came from something far off, and whatever it was, it was large. The squeak also sounded like it had been scrubbed against sandpaper. It was enough to catch her attention though.

She looked up to the cloudy, hazy sky, not to try and see where the sound was coming from, but to adjust her eyes to the gloom of the night again, and she heard more screeching. The call worried her. Out of all the creatures she had known of on Earth and within the dimensional universe, she knew of none that had this call.

She got to her feet and walked outside the ring of tents. She could feel the something coming to them, like something approaching her from behind, only this time it was coming from all directions.

The screeching was getting louder.

Fate, Hayate! she called. Wake up, somethingfs coming!

Huh...? Whaddoya mean somethingfs com- Hayatefs drowsy reply was cut off by yet another screech one that was a lot louder than the others, as loud as someone screaming with all their might. It woke the rest of the camp up too.

Nanoha looked back to see tents starting to glow with warm lights as their occupants turned on their battery power torches and cursed to herself.

Turn off the lights! She called to everyone who could possibly hear her. Turn off the lights, now! Lights were bad in these situations, she knew that from experience. Not only could whatever it was out there see where they were clearly, but theyfd also blind her if she had to fight.

She ran back into the campsite and started stomping out the smouldering fire. Hayate and Fate were already running from tent to tent getting the torches turned off. They didnft ask, they ordered. Ordering had a much more immediate effect, especially at times like these, as people seldom asked why.

As the last torch was switched off and the last spark was stamped out of the fire, there was a large crashing brushing noise. Nanoha spun to see one of the tree tops swaying in the still of the night. She couldnft see what was causing it to sway in the darkness of the night, but she knew something was on it. Something large.

eMama...f Vivio called softly from behind her. The little girl wasnft scared, but rather unsure as to what she was to do.

eVivio, get back inside the tent,f Nanoha told her, twisting around. eWefll take care of things here.f With a nod, the little girl hurried back inside the tent.

The campsite was stirring, and those who were trying to get out of their tents were ordered back in. Hayate had gotten into an argument with Tomio over weaponry for some reason, and then Nanoha heard the large... things chattering. They were everywhere. Soft squeaks and the sounds of clicking came from tree tops and tree bases around the camp.

Hayate, shut him up, quickly! Nanoha hissed.

Ifm trying, hefs just not listening!

The chattering intensified and Fate stepped in, using one of her speed enhancing spells to get behind the man and knock the pistol out of his hand while getting him to shut up by covering his mouth. She shushed him quiet as they all listened carefully to the chatting of whatever it was that had surrounded them.

Then the chattering stopped. The three mages looked around in the gloom, trying to see every angle at once in case something tried to jump them from behind.

Then everything around them screeched.



Tomio had no idea how Fate had gotten behind him. He was trying to offer Hayate his pistol, as she obviously didnft have anything to defend herself, or the campsite with. For some reason, Hayate refused though, saying that she had no need of such primitive weapons.

Primitive? A Glock? Never the less, she persistently refused, and even though he was crouching in the doorway of his tent, he didnft even see Fate at all until she had knocked the gun from his hand, sending it spinning into his tent, wrapped an arm around his chest then smothered his mouth with her hand and then shushed him quiet. He was in no position to argue, so he did so.

The chattering then came to an abrupt stop. There were several nervous moments as the officers looked around franticly, hoping to catch whatever it was before it caught them.

Then everything screeched. It was deafening, Tomiofs eardrums felt like they were going to burst. He collapsed to the floor clutching his ears as Fate had let him go. By the time he got back upright after the screeching stopped, Fate was no longer there. Out side... something hard to describe.

There were yellow and pink lights blazing through the sky, with the occasional white light. He could hear cries of exertion from the three officers. He wasnft sure what was happening, but he thought they were trying to fend them off with their bare fists.

He scrambled for his pistol, eager to give aid to those fighting outside. He could hear the screeching of the things that were attacking, along with thuds of large objects hitting the ground and the sound of what was someone flicking a towel in the air, but several thousand of them.

His hand found the pistol, flicked the safety off and went to charge out of the tent when something forced its way in, throwing him back against his wife and son. He looked up as he re-gathered himself, to the large beak like object that was now inside his tent door.

It was alive.

It looked around, and then focused on the family. Its beak opened in four directions, making a disgusting X as it screeched hideously, spitting putrid phlegm everywhere, its breath smelt of decaying body. The family screamed in horror in return.

Tomio raised his pistol, fired once, twice, three times, but the thing only flinched in annoyance. It lurched back, and then started to lunge forward, but a beam of brilliant yellow light pierced through what Tomio made out to be its head and the thing dropped to the ground, oozing a pool of purple liquid before the entire creature evaporated in blue steam.

Tomio traced the yellow beam back to its owner. Fate, in a white mantle, and black trench coat was at the end, the beam turning out to be some sort of glowing sword. She raised the sword and swung it down while still standing in Tomiofs doorway. The blade seemed to do most of the work for her though, extending itself to reach its next target.

eNanoha, theyfve got Mai!f Fate cried as she gathered her sword again. Tomio could only just hear Nanohafs acknowledgement... from the sky?

eHayate, Ifll try to lure them away from the campsite,f Fate continued after she sliced another one of the things cleanly in two. eWhen the campsitefs clear, create a barrier! Wefll hold them off outside!f

Fate then turned to face a bewildered Kubo family. eStay in the tent, no matter what!f she commanded before leaping into the air. She didnft come back down though. Half of one of the creatures did though; a torso and tail hit the ground with a wet thud before it too evaporated in blue steam. Just after that half of the creature evaporated, there was a terrific crash. Tomio couldnft see what caused it, but he assumed the other half of the body landed on one of the cars.

Bewildered, Tomio shook his wife off his arm and scrambled for the tentfs entrance. Those three were up to something, he knew it.

eWait, Tomio, where are you going?f his wife called after him. eShe told us to stay in the tent didnft she?f

eLike I can sit in here while there are those... things running amuck out there!f he cried, waving his gun to the open flap. There was the sound of several small explosions, and he instinctively ducked. As he got up, the world seemed to change that very instant.

It felt as if his insides were swept out of his body, and everything was shaded a black, green and red. It made him feel nauseous. He pushed on though, ignoring his wifefs pleas and dived out of the tent. There was nothing out of the normal outside though, apart from the black, green and red shade of the world, and one of the tents had been destroyed. It was Tamafs.

As he ran over to the ruined tent, he remembered what Fate had said... gtheyfve got Mai!h The bastards have her daughter! But where were they? He looked around but he couldnft see anything. But that didnft make sense! They were large, larger than a human and didnft have any legs, so obviously they couldnft run fast, and... they fell from the sky.

Tomio risked a glance up. The glance then became a dumbfounded stare as he came to a halt. They were in the sky, in fact, they were the source of the several thousand flapping towels. They were just outside the strange black, green and red space that caged the campsite, flying on dragon wings and swinging huge mangled arms at Fate and Hayate.

Wait, Fate and Hayate? What the hell are they doing up there? And whatfs with their clothing? Are those black wings on Hayatefs back? And those weapons; Fatefs glowing yellow sword that makes Monkeyfs staff look like a toy, and Hayate was using a staff herself with three points on the end to club and spike the creatures to death with.

Fate ran another one of the creatures through with her extend-o-sword and then sliced up through its head, spraying purple matter through the air. The limp creature then started plummeting towards the ground, heading straight for Tomio. By the time he realised it was going to land on him, it was too late for action, and his body knew it as his legs simply buckled and gave way under his weight.

He managed a cry brief cry before he shut his eyes expecting the end. But it never came. The large creature had landed on the strange space that was the black, green and red shading as if it was a brick wall, then it too evaporated in blue steam.

In dazed disbelief, Tomio gazed up to the supernatural fight commencing above. None of it made sense. It was impossible. People arenft supposed to fly, gravity saw to that. Swords werenft supposed to extend and shine brilliant yellow, and most of all, be that size. He knew that there was a law against blades that big. And most importantly of all, strange circles that blazed yellow in the night werenft supposed to appear underneath people with balls of intense electricity forming in a perfect vertical circle around them, which is just what was happening to Fate at this moment.

The balls of electricity then shot forward, the speed forcing them to change to the shape of sparkling lances. Each lance sped to a different target, impaling them in the chest and then exploding in a brilliant storm of yellow and purple. Some managed to avoid the lances, but only to be impaled from behind as they spun around with an arm swipe from Fate, back into their target.

His attention shifted as something ran past him and he whipped his gun up in defence.

eMrs. Akihito!f he heard Nanohafs daughter cry as she made it to the ruined tent. Tomio got to his feet and carefully made his way towards her, gun still levelled. Vivio held Tama in her arms, the mother had struck her head and was bleeding slightly. It didnft seem to be too serious, but he knew that with head injuries, you could never be too sure.

eMrs. Akihito, wake up! Mrs. Akihito!f Vivio cried again, gently shaking the lady. Tama moaned slightly, but didnft open her eyes. At least she was alive, Tomio thought.

Vivio then looked up to Tomio, to his gun, back to Tomio and then to Tama again. eThatfs dangerous,f she said.

The calmness of the little girl unnerved Tomio. How could anyone remain so calm in such a situation?

eIt would be best if you put that down before Mama came back, Mr. Kubo,f Vivio continued as she checked Tamafs pulse again. eEven I admit that shefs very protective. Mama wonft like it if she sees you holding a gun at me.f Vivio reached besides her and picked up a water bottle. She poured the clear liquid over Tamafs wound, and the lady winced in pain.

eWhat the hellfs going on?f he asked. He sounded like he was only holding onto his sanity with his fingertips.

eWefre being attacked,f Vivio answered with eerie calmness, eby something that doesnft belong here. Please, put the gun down Mr. Kubo, Mamafs coming back soon.f

ePut the gun down, Tomio...f Tama said weakly, then coughed violently.

eMrs. Akihito, are you okay?f Vivio franticly asked as the lady stirred in her arms.

eYeah... just...f Tama replied. Suddenly, her eyes widened in panic and she looked around franticly. eMai... Wherefs Mai!?f

eItfs okay, Mrs. Akihito, Mamafs got Mai. Shefs fine, calm down Mrs. Akihito!f

eWhere, where is she!?f

eOver there,f Vivio answered, pointing towards a streaking pink light that was darting through the sky. Occasionally, a pink explosion or two would surround it. eThe pink light, thatfs Mama,f Vivio added as she realised Tama and Tomio had no idea what they were looking for.

eBut itfs flying,f Tomio stated, rather stupidly.

eYes, but please, before Mama finds out, please lower the gun!f Vivio cried. She then looked briefly surprised, then slumped as she appeared to give up. eToo late...f

Tomio gave her an utterly perplexed look, but then a pink bolt sped into his gun, knocking it from his hands. The bolt then spun around, and then knocked the gun straight up into the air before the bolt decomposed itself to nothing.

Tomio watched as his gun spun rapidly high into the air, before it dropped down into Nanohafs hand. The gun spun around her black gloved hand once before she gripped itfs handle, aiming the weapon at Tomiofs head.

eNever point any sort of weapon at my daughter again!f Nanoha growled before tossing the weapon aside. Tomio took a step back in shock. He didnft even see the woman there before, and she would have been quite hard to miss. Her white outfit looked like a heavily modified version of their elementary school uniform, complete with oversized cuffs, an interesting quarter skirt (that was a quarter as it only went three quarters around her waist, leaving the front quarter exposed) that revealed a rather short miniskirt. The outfit had an array of blue gold and black trimmings, with the occasional red gem placed neatly here and there. In her other arm, the one she didnft use to catch his gun with, was a limp Mai.

eAre you okay Tama?f Nanoha asked as she made her way past Tomio. eI managed to get Mai back. Shefs okay, she only passed out.f She passed the child back to her mother, who started to weep in relief.

The black, green and red malted shade then faded away, and Tomio felt his insides get sucked back into his body.

eHayate, Fate, are we clear now?f Nanoha called into the night sky. As Tomio looked up, he saw two figures gently gliding down to the ground. Fate and Hayate gently landed on the ground.

eShould be, theyfve retreated for now,f Hayate replied. Her four black wings, which Tomio now noticed werenft even attached to her body, they just floated where they were supposed to be attached, vanished shortly after she landed. eWhat where those things anyway? Ifve never seen them before.f

eCravens...f Vivio said. Everyone turned to look at her.

eCravens? They donft exist anymore, the three Admirals wiped them out,f Nanoha said.

Vivio nodded. eBut theyfre Cravens. They look just like my book says they do...f she faded off as they became aware that the other campers were cautiously making their way out of their tents.

It was then that Fate spotted Tomio, who had just fetched his gun again.

eI told you to stay in your tent!f she yelled.

Tomio pointed an accusing finger at them, but his mouth opened and closed as if he was a fish out of water. Eventually he found the words he was after.

eYou lot should tell us whatfs going on, right now!f



While she rocked on her chair as her feet rested on the chair in front of her, hands behind her head and twiddling a straw in her mouth in an absent minded fashion, Sergeant Major Subaru Nakajima silently wondered what the sudden recall to base was about in the vacant briefing room, but never-the-less, she was glad to be doing something other than law enforcement. She the commander of the Search and Rescue 37th Emergency Response, gBlitzschnelle Rettungh (BSR for short), not some random police officer that needed an attachment. For five months they had her detaining civilians, instead of saving civilians, and she wasnft the only one who had enough of it; her squad was getting annoyed about it too.

After Section 6 had disbanded, she was transferred to the Search and Rescue Division after been scouted by its superiors. Four years later, she became one of the most decorated officers within the division, had been promoted three times, and was asked to form her own Emergency Response Squad.

A few days and a folder full of candidates later, Subaru was then travelling all over the dimensional universe to search for her squad members. As Nanoha had done with her and Tiana, Subaru chose her squad from their potential, not just their accreditations. She also took full advantage of the newly developed Sash Devices, devices which didnft require the user to be a mage, but on the downside, could only be used to store the equipment it was programmed to store, which in this case, was their light armour, and their weapon of choice.

Subaru was surprised when she heard that her team would need to be armed. As it turned out, Emergency Rescue Squads also did hostage rescues. Not that Subaru minded though, seeing as she had the training to deal with hostiles, and she was still rescuing civilians anyways.

The other thing that the Sash Devices stored was the squadfs trademark. As the squad would have trouble keeping up with Subaru while she was riding Mach Calibre, she issued them all with state of the art hover blades. While it sounds ridiculous, the end result was incredible. They were the fastest, most proficient Emergency Response Squad ever assembled. They had only failed six of their one hundred and eighty-nine deployments, and that was only with hostage rescues, and the enemy was waiting for them.

While her team was one of the best, it was also the most denounced. Not many of her superiors liked the BSR, which they often referred to as the Bloody Stupid Rescuers. This was mainly because her team was very un-disciplined and often acted how they wished. Subaru had at least forced them to respect a superior ranking officer, like say, a captain or lieutenant, but that was all she could manage. It was all that she needed to do though; the teamfs laidback attitude suited her fine as well.

However, as she was strolling – or rather, patrolling – a street of one of the governed planets that was running low on officers and needed an extra unit to boost its law enforcement needs, not that it really needed it, Subaru had received orders to return to base immediately for a new assignment. With a spring in their step, her squad packed up shop and immediately made their way back to Midchilda, where they were given fourteen hours leave until they were to be briefed on their new assignment.

Subaru rationed her time rather well. She met with her father and sister at the 108th battalionfs headquarters, before seeing Mary for her overdue body check up, then tried to get in touch with Nanoha, Fate and Tiana with little success, did some shopping before going to sleep for four hours. She should have been with her squad, but theyfd probably try to shake her off so they could go to some bar or night club to party until the very last minute, or most of them would anyways. But she wanted some time for herself anyways, so it was all good in the end.

She had returned back to Search and Rescue Headquarters in South Cranagan forty-five minutes early. Vita had hammered tardiness out of her back in Section 6, and she now made habit of arriving early. Her commander told her that he couldnft tell her anything about her next mission, so she sat patiently in the briefing room, awaiting her squad who she expected to turn up just before the briefing.

At least the silence was a nice change. It had been a while since she could last hear herself think.

The rear door the briefing room burst open and announced loudly: eJazz Ifm never talking to you again!f

Subaru didnft look back, but could hear the commotion as her squad entered the room, finding whichever seat which seemed most comfortable to them at the moment, which was often the chair furthest from anyone else.

Well at least the silence was good while it lasted, Subaru thought to herself. Her squad seemed to do everything with a commotion. The person who she assumed cried out when the door burst opened was probably Private Magna Morris-Kimber, or Flash as shefs known in the squad. That was another unique thing about Subarufs squad. Instead of having a squadron callsign (which was Blitz), every member of the squad had their own individual callsign. Subaru thought it would be cool, but she had trouble with some of the memberfs names.

Flash was Subarufs third hand. She was effectively a jack-of-all-trades, who specialised in a number of athletic abilities, such as rappelling, climbing swimming and was also very acrobatic, which went well with her skills with the hover blades and her twin automatic cartridge pistols. Shefs the spirit of the squad, but often gets irritated by the previously mentioned Jazzfs inability to keep his mouth shut. Shefs also the first one Subaru had to keep an eye on when things got hairy when on a dangerous mission. She stormed to the chair furthest away from the door which they entered from and sat cross legged and armed with her back to everyone else.

Someone took a seat behind her and started platting her now long hair while humming. Subaru looked up and, sure enough, it was Vixen, or Private Ginetta Tuscan. Since Section 6, Subaru decided to let the hair on the nape of her neck grow, and it now reached as far as her shoulder blades and looked a bit like a blue fox tail.

Vixen was now lovingly platting it, humming happily as she did. Subaru didnft mind, but the rumours about her bisexual tendencies made her feel a bit uncomfortable. The rumours didnft prevent Subaru from putting Vixen on the top of her candidate list though. The young womanfs eyesight was amazing; she could spot the smallest detail in anything and see a pin that was lying on the floor from the other side of the room. She filled the role of the teamfs far sight and spotter, and was also one of their support snipers, not to mention shefs incredibly accurate with a rifle. She was shy and timid for the first few months that the team had formed in, but now shefs open and friendly... perhaps a bit too open and friendly at times.

A black shade sliding in front of her re-directed Subarufs attention. Corporal Xsara-Aceca Leyland, her first hand, stood before her with in a rather ridiculous pose. He then clapped his hands and brushed them over his corn rowed hair. He wore his black mirror shades, as per usual. Everyone called him Jazz, mainly because hefs a jazzy black dude whofs dripping with soul, but partially because Subaru canft pronounce his name to save her life.

eYo Chief!f he sang. Jazz had a problem with talking normally. eSup?f Everything Jazz did, he had to add some sort of flare to it. Sometimes it gets overbearing, but Subaru eventually realised that Jazz surprisingly doesnft take offense if you simply donft pay any attention to him, so she just ignored him.

When it came to the job at hand though, Subaru trusted no one more than she trusted Jazz to get the job done. Beneath all his flare and vanity, Jazz was a pure hearted humanitarian and hefd do anything to save the life of those who were in peril. Subaru assumed he grew up in a circus too, as his acrobatic skills were just breathtaking, though he just laughed off the suggestion when Subaru asked him.

And as mentioned before, he had trouble keeping his mouth shut.

eSay Chief, you hear the news about Flash?f he asked rhythmically as he spun his chair on the spot before sitting on it backwards.

As he sat down, Flash shot up. eDonft you dare tell her, Jazz!f she cried, much to Jazzfs amusement.

eIs this the story of how she got completely drunk while in training and did a lap of honour around the academy completely naked?f Subaru said with a stifled yawn. Four hours sleep just didnft seem to do it. eWasnft it a dare or something?f

Flashfs face was now so red, she was almost glowing. eChief...!?f she cried, her voice strained by her embarrassment. eHow did you know that!?f

eWhat? I thought everyone knew it...f

Jazz burst out laughing, slapping his leg while Flash started moaning in her embarrassment.

eAh, tis a story of legend at the academy...f Church said over his bible, eMany a time does a single student hear the story during their studies.f Church, or Private Aston Cooper, was an odd one. Much like Subaru, Church was a Belkan mage, and a member of the Saint Church Order. He wishes to become a Church Knight, but has an odd understanding of the Saint Church religion. He believes all the saints to be some sort of Supreme Being, even though he had been told time and time again that they were once just ordinary people who gave everything they had for their followers.

To make things worse, Church was a fanatic. Hefd pray five times a day, on the move if he had to, read the bible whenever he could, starting back at page one once he read the very last words which were the publisherfs details, and would sing hymns while aiming down the scope of his sniper rifle. Because of this, Subaru had to make sure that when she needed Vixen and Church in sniping positions, shefd keep the two out of earshot of each other, as Vixen almost shot Church once. Church doesnft sing the hymns softly; he sings them loud and proud so the Saints can hear him giving his praise to them. At least his bad habit was useful when Subaru needed a decoy.

And yes, he talks like that, all the time. Through all his faults though, Church was Subarufs first scout, and was the squadfs tracker. He still manages to irritate Jazz just by existing though, and Jazz was giving him an over-exaggerated puzzled look.

eWhat about you Boomer-buddy, you hear the tale?f Jazz said looking over to the bald man who was waiting quietly in his seat.

Boomer, who would normally be called Corporal Zonda Koenigsegg if Subaru could pronounce his last name, was the teamfs demolitions expert, and hefs passionate about his job. The only time youfd see any sort of emotion on his face is when he detonates a few explosive charges; the larger the better the reaction. Apart from that, he barely reacts to anything, yet alone speaks. His relationship with Jazz was odd though. Their personalities couldnft be any further apart, yet they got along like twin brothers.

Boomer looked to Jazz from the corner of his eye and nodded. eWould pay to see it,f he stated.

Jazz laughed loudly and wickedly again, clapping his hands a few times in appreciation of Boomerfs reply. eHot damn brother, you said it! Gimme some skin!f Boomer simply held an open palm out and Jazz full golf swung his hand into it, and then started dancing a small jig on his chair.

eOh, now donft be like that Flash, is all good...!f Jazz whined as Flash started to gently beat her head against a wall. eBluebird, stop the poor girl before she hurts something vital!f

Bluebird, or Private Brera Veyron, or just Blue, was the squadfs field medic. She graduated top of her class, and Shamal even sung praises about her when Subaru asked Colonel Hayate for a hand with her selections. She was also a talented mage with lots of potential. The only problem was that she was incredibly danger shy. Anything daring, she backed away from, which proved to be an issue on many missions where they had to jump from aircraft. During every one of those missions, she was thrown out of the plane or helicopter by Subaru, and screamed all the way down and several minutes after she landed, until she was blue in the face.

At the moment, Bluebird was rather irritable as Vixen and Flash probably didnft let her get the sleep she wanted, and was trying to use the time between now and the briefing to get as much rest as possible.

eItfs your fault, you fix it,f she stated before dropping her head again.

eCfmon Jazz, be a ladyfs man for a change,f Vixen purred, still platting Subarufs hair.

eWhat you talking ebout baby? Ifm a ladiesf man!f Jazz made sure he got across the difference between the singular and plural usage of the word gladyfsh while he dramatically flicked his collar straight. Subaru and Vixen tried their best not to laugh.

Jazz spun to his feet and began to glide toward Flash, but then halted as he noticed Bulldog waddle in front of Subaru.

Bulldog, whose real name was Private Lionel Bamford, was the teamfs second hand. Or muscle. He preferred to be the muscle. He was born with an unusual Linker Core defect, where most of his magic was actually being fed to his physical structure. When he wanted to, he could increase his muscle mass to two and a half times its original mass. Subaru didnft realise this until after she gave him his callsign of Bulldog, otherwise shefd call him Hulk. He was always bulky enough as it was, and could intimidate any bouncer just by standing beside him.

It would be better if his brain could increase in size too when he hulked out, but then again, it would probably be crushed in his skull. Bulldog wasnft all too bright. He was slow to realise things and needed to be told specifically and precisely what he was to do. At least you didnft need to talk to him like a baby though.

And at least he knew how to use his body. Apart from Subaru, he was the only member of the squad who didnft have a weapon. If there was someone he was supposed to take down, hefd either charge into that person, or swing one of his oversized arms. The person would either be sent flying, or feint and drop to the ground anyway. It was a win-win situation.

But there was the occasional situation where you wish hefd just learn. He snapped the backing off one of the chairs and then placed his elbow on the base of it.

eI challenge you, Chief,f he declared. Everyone looked up, even Boomer, and Flash stopped beating her head against the wall. Bulldogfs voice didnft portray how thick he was. In fact, it often deceived people.

eWhoa, Bulldog, ease up buddy!f Jazz sang, sliding back beside the thuggish man. eYou sure you wanna go through this again?f

Bulldog nodded slowly. eSame rules as always. Chief can use her powers, but I canft.f

eFoolish bravado,f Church said, returning to his bible. eYee shall never win in such fashion.f

Jazz brushed the religious fanatic away with a flick of his arm.

eYou sure about this Bulldog?f Vixen asked. Bulldog simply nodded again.

Subaru removed the half chewed drinking straw from her mouth and placed it into the empty thick shake cup in the chair next to her, removing her feet from the chair in front of her before carefully moving it out of the way. There was a cheer from the small squad as Subaru got on her knees and put her elbow on the snapped chair, taking Bulldogfs massive hand. You could fit about twenty of Subarufs arms in Bulldogfs

eOne thing before we do this Private,f Subaru said. She always used their rank when she was being serious. eThe broken chair comes out of your pay.f

There was a brief laugh as Bulldogfs shoulders sank in sadness. eYes Mafam...f He said guiltily.

eOkay, here we go!f Jazz cried. There was a tense atmosphere as everyone watched intently. eOne... Two... Fightfs on baby!f

The two arms shuddered as they were pushed together with equal force, but Bulldog quickly got the upper hand, his lips sucked into his gums as he slowly but surely began to force Subarufs arm to the base of the chair. The squad was cheering Bulldog on as Subaru whistled impressed.

ePretty good Bulldog, youfre doing better than normal!f She then yawned and stretched her neck. There was a click and whirring noise, and then Subarufs eyes went from azure blue to tainted yellow. Subarufs arm stopped just short of touching the base of the chair. The cheering intensified.

eHere goes!f Subaru roared, dragging the syllables for as long as she could. Her arm started to lift Bulldogfs massive arm across, turning the tables on him as the whirring noise started to sound like a turbine. Bulldogfs face was red with effort; beads of sweat were dropping from his brow as Subaru continued roaring, her arm reaching the halfway mark.

Shortly afterwards, Bulldog ran out of effort, and his arm crashed to the other side of the chair. There was a glorified cheer as they let go of each otherfs hands. The whirring died down and the blue returned to Subarufs eyes.

eNot bad, Bulldog, youfre getting better!f chirped Subaru as Bulldog smiled bashfully and received several pats on the back from Jazz.



Vindicator Clarkson was gazing through the small window pane of the door that entered the rear of the briefing room, watching the arm wrestling match in disappointed amusement. The Grand Admiral had sent him to find a team suitable to go to Unadministered Planet Number Ninety-Seven to search for three high ranking officers that she simply didnft want to use. To him, it was a waste of resources, but that was Carrington for you. Shefd do what she pleases, and something good often came from it too.

Naturally, when it came to rescue missions, youfd look to the Search and Rescue division, so he ordered the best squads to be recalled from whatever it was they were doing and await briefing. He wanted three options, but Major Hammond only left him with one.

e37th Emergency Response Squadron... Blitzschnelle Rettung... or BSR?f Clarkson read the squadfs name from the file he received on them out loud. eTheyfve got their own bloody Squad name? Oh, I see one of your clever staff thought he or she was witty and wrote them as Bloody Stupid Rescuers. Very witty, very witty...f Clarkson added venomously.

Major Richard Hammond shifted on the spot uncomfortably and loosened his tie a tad. He wasnft the highest ranking officer in the Search and Rescue division, but his rank was high enough to make him one of its supervising officers, and his superiors didnft feel like being with a Vindicator today. So the job was lovingly passed onto him.

eIfm terribly sorry sir,f Hammond said, clearing his throat before his nerves chocked him, eIfll be sure that such a thing never happens again.f

eNever mind about the name calling... You do know that brute just destroyed Bureau property for his little game? Which he lost mind you. Where the blazes do they think they are? On a high school field trip?f

eThe Sergeant keeps them more or less in line, sir. Shefll have some sort of punishment in line for Private Leyland, Ifm quite sure of it.f

eYes, I hope she does...f Clarkson muttered as he read through the file some more. eWho assembled this team? Why is its Mage Ranking so weak?f

eSergeant Major Nakajima was asked to assemble the team herself, sir. I assure you that despite the weak Mage Ranking, theyfre more than suitable for the job.f Clarkson hesitated. eUm... would you be able to tell me what the job is, sir?f

Clarkson looked up from the file, screwing his face up with yet more dissatisfaction. eTell you about the job? Heavens no, Major, what part of Classified didnft you understand?f He looked back to the file, shuffling through several pages. eMage rankings are... Ground triple A, Ranged C minus, er... unclassified C plus... (What the hellfs unclassified?) Ground B minus, Medical A minus... and one, two... three that canft use magic at all! Oh wait, the unclassified one has a linker core defect, so you might as well count him out of the rankings too. Oh, they did.f

Hammond cleared his throat again. eI assure you sir, as much as it doesnft seem like it, they are the best squad we have to offer. Nakajima controls her squad magnificently and they respect her. As you may have read, they have a ninety-eight success rating, thatfs fifteen percent higher than the next best squad.f

eHmm... So it seems...f Clarkson muttered to himself as he flicked through yet some more pages. eIt seems that Nakajima has had the most training too. Oh, she was a forward in Section 6? Trained personally by Takamachi too... worked with Harlaown and Yagami... And she was partnered with Lanster while she was training at that military academy...f

eIs there any meaning to all that, sir?f Hammond asked.

Clarkson threw the file back to the over inquisitive Major. He fumbled with the documents, spilling some to the floor. eYes, but youfll be damned if Ifm going to tell you,f Clarkson said. eIfll take it from here. Have a pleasant day, Major.f

Clarkson then pushed his way through the rear door of the briefing room, leaving Hammond to collect the spilt documents. The squadfs commander didnft even look back to the noise of the door opening, though the other members did.

eSquad to attention!f Subaru commanded. It was like a switch. The group of seeming school kids suddenly jumped to form a line beside the Sergeant Major, becoming military officers at her beck and call.

Clarkson took his place in front of the large projection screen, and gave them yet another dissatisfied look. eVery nice...f he said. eNormally I would let you stand at ease but I worry about what might happen if I do.f

There was no reaction, which pleased Clarkson. Thatfs the way military officers are supposed to act.

The Sergeant Major suddenly saluted. eSearch and Rescue 37th Emergency Response Squadron, Blitzschnelle Rettung, assembled and reporting for duty, sir!f the lady cried. He noticed that she looked like the youngest member in the squad, probably in her early twenties, while the other members looked between mid-twenties and mid-thirties.

eYes, I noticed that Sergeant,f Clarkson sighed, and Subaru snapped her arm back down to her side. eYour next mission is classified Top Secret. Grand Admiral Carrington, the Chief of Staff, has personally assigned you to this mission, so I do hope youfll take it seriously.

eIfm not going to be briefing you on the mission. Instead, you are to rendezvous with another officer at the Time-Space Administration Bureau Main Headquarters in ten hours. You are to be in unmarked casual clothes. The officer will give you your instructions from there. I havenft the authority to tell you who the officer you are to rendezvous is, but Sergeant Major, youfll know who the person is when you see them.

eBest of luck. Dismissed.f



eI donft like this...f Vixen said. eItfs too cloak and dagger.f

It was their last rest period while en route to the Main Head Quarters via Dimensional Transfer Jumping. Vixen was sitting, and Subaru wasnft sure if she was taking advantage of the situation or not, but Bluebird was resting her head on Vixenfs lap, catching up on lost sleep. They all wore a smattering of casual clothes, all unmarked as ordered. Youfd have to know them to believe they were officers.

eThe lady is correct,f Church preached, turning another page of his bible. eI do hope we shanft be misused on yet another occasion.f

eYfknow...f Jazz said, swallowing a bite of hotdog. eIfm actually agreeing with bible-boy here. Have you ever heard of a gTop Secret Rescueh before?f He tore off another bite of hotdog and angrily chewed at it. eIfm paid to save lives, not do some dirty work for Carrington... Fuck this shit!f

eCfmon Jazz, calm down,f Flash said, soft drink in one hand and french-fries ready for the other. eChieffll tell eem right if need be, wonft you Chief?f

Chief wasnft paying attention though. The sketchy details of the mission worried her as much as the rest of the team, but what worried her more was that a Vindicator had handed the mission to them, that he labelled the mission as top secret, said that it was a direct order from the Chief of Staff, and relayed them to an unknown person to brief them.

Theyfd had missions given to them from Vindicators before. They always kept her team to the appropriate task, so Subaru doubted that this time would be any different. But the mission will be either incredibly difficult, or theyfd be going in blind with no intelligence what so ever.

And whoever it is theyfre going to be rescuing, must be very, very important to the Administration Bureau, if Carringtonfs behind it.



Meanwhile, the three mages spent the entire morning explaining what was happening. The previous night was exhausting, and the last thing they wanted to do was sit down and talk all through the night and morning. And with Vivio telling them that the creatures were Cravens, they knew that theyfd be safe for the rest of the night. Cravens new when to pull back, unlike most other carnivorous creatures.

They told the campers how Nanoha and Fate first met, how Hayate became the mistress of the Book of Darkness and the Wolkenreitter. They spoke of their speedy course through the military academy as they decided to work for the Administration Bureau, and about the mission where Nanoha almost lost her life. The creation of Lost Article Control Mobile Section 6 was spoken of, including how Nanoha found Vivio and the final mission of the unit. They wrapped up with what happened in the last six years, mainly about the corruption investigations that has gutted the bureau. They decided not to talk about Nanohafs little problem with Yuuno.

Of course, every now and then theyfd have to stop and re-iterate what they were talking about. The campers, particularly Mio and Tomio, were having great difficulty coming to terms with the concept of mages, space craft, dimensional travel and the fact that they had been living on another planet for most of their lives now.

But eventually, they managed to finish brining everyone at the camp up to date, and informed them about what was happening right now. Someone, or something had set up a special barrier that bends the space theyfre in so that it loops infinitely. To make things worse, Cravens, which are supposed to be extinct, have appeared too.

The Cravens were a carnivorous race that was wiped out by the legendary three admirals when they were discovered on one of the Governed Planets. The creatures were nocturnal, only coming out to hunt for its prey not only when it was dark, but when the two moons were aligned which happened three times every year. It seemed they ate anything, and their eating habits, as mentioned in Viviofs scary story, were gruesome and sickly, one that ensured that the victim died painfully. After saving the woman in the story, the admirals then destroyed the colony of Cravens, evacuated the planet and then declared the planet to be Dead, on uninhabitable. Now, after years of no food source, the Cravens have been declared extinct.

The most startling thing about the three admiralfs discovery with the Cravens was that they preferred the young over the old. The younger the meat, the fresher the meat. This would explain the reason why Mai was taken, but not her mother.

 One thing that the mages couldnft explain was why the food mysteriously appeared. The food which they ate yesterday had been mysteriously replaced. The water tank had filled itself up. The Akihitofs tent was no longer damaged. And the toilets no longer stank, much to everyonefs relief as no one wanted to empty them. The other thing that puzzled them was why the creatures evaporated when they were killed.

Even though they themselves had no idea what was going on, the mages were confident that they could get everyone out of the mess they were in. They could cast a barrier around the campsite at night, and protect everyone from any further attacks, which didnft ease anyonefs worries, but it helped.

And as Mai sat alone on the usual stump, gazing into the endless depths of the green orb she found, she couldnft help but to think back about the story Fate had told about her biological mother, Precia Testarossa. She had said that her real mother was a criminal, who didnft really plan on destroying the world, but what she wanted to do would consequently end up destroying it anyways. She had supposedly died while she fell into the void of dimensional space, believing it to be the road to Al Hazzard, some mythical world that was destroyed eons ago because it became too advanced.

Mai had trouble believing the story. Surly, mothers couldnft be such bad people. After all, her mother was a good person, Mrs. Takamachi was a good person, Mrs. Matsuda was an... odd person, but good never the less, and Mrs. Kubo was very kind too. How could Fatefs mother be such a bad person? She wondered if Al Hazzard really did exist, so she could meet her in person to find out.

And then to Maifs awe and amazement, a tempest started to brew within the green orb.



An unorganized rabble strolled out of one of the Time-Space Administration Bureau Headquartersf many dimensional transfer depots, not knowing where they were to go, but aimlessly walking on as they didnft know where it was they were supposed to go.

This was something that Bluebird was having trouble with though. eSo where is it wefre supposed to go?f she asked.

eDunnocf Subaru said distractedly as she watched the fake projected clouds roll across the metal frame of a building that hung from the ceiling like a cube icicle. She put her hands behind her head as she continued on. eWe were told to come here. That was it. Apparently Ifd know who wefre to meet.f

eSee anyone you know up there yet?f Vixen asked.

eNope,f Subaru answered.

eSo where are we going then?f Bluebird asked again.

Subaru tipped her head to the side in thought, as if to tip the less useful thoughts away from the more useful ones. The more useful thoughts turned out to be more slippery than the useless ones however, and only the primal ones remained.

eTherefs an ice-cream parlor around here I wanna go to. You guys wanna come?f

eYou just had a thick shake, Chiefcf Flash told her.

eThatfs a drink. Ifm hungry now, and wefve got nothing to do anyway.f

eTherefs a parlor back there,f Bulldog said, twisting back to point at one of the shops that they had passed as they walked through the large artificial city park. He then hesitated.

eNot that one, Ifve been there before,f Subaru said. She didnft realize that the rest of the squad had realized that Bulldog, who always brings up the rear, had stopped, and thus, they had stopped too, leaving their commander to stroll off on her own.

eThis one does a really good slab mix I hear,f Subaru continued, oblivious to the fact that no one was there to listen. eDo you guys know what a slab mix is? Itfs when they get this really cold slab of rock, paste the ice-cream of your choice on it, and then crunch up all these goodies and mix it into the- OUCH!f

Subarufs head was suddenly jerked back as someone grabbed her ear and pulled back. Before she knew it, she was being dragged back the way she came. Through the pain and yelping, she managed to glance back.

eOw, hey wa- ouch! That hurt! Ahh...! Huh, Tia? OW! Cfmon, Tia, quit it- ow! Okay Ifm- ouch! Sorry already!f she cried as she was dragged past her bewildered squad. They watched silently, along with the rest of the streetfs population, as another lady dragged her off towards the ice –cream parlour that Bulldog had pointed to.

There was then a soft thud as Bulldog walked into Churchfs outstretched arm that barred him from walking any further.

eEasy now my murderous friend,f Church said in a calming voice. eWe do not wish for violence here.f

eBut Chieffs...f

eIt appears that Chief knows her custodian. Anyways, we all know she could easily break free from such a restraint.f

eSo the orange headfs the person wefre to meet then?f Flash asked.

eIt would seem so...f  Church answered distantly. He seemed to be fixated on something, though no one could make out what. Church was like that sometime, and it was often best just to let him be. Sooner or later hefd surface back up again.

Which he did sooner than later this time. eWell, in any case,f he said, snapping his head upright again, eI suppose we should give chase. If the lady is the one we are supposed to meet, then shefd be coming after us soon.f

Church lead the way as they followed their commander and her apprehender to the ice-cream parlour that Bulldog had previously pointed out. Usually, the person who did the leading was Jazz, but seeing as Corporal Church was a specialist, and Corporal Jazz wasnft, Church took command when Subaru was absent. Which was just as well, because Subaru didnft trust Jazz to make rational decisions.

Subaru and the red head made it to the parlour well before the rest of the squad did, and as they made it to the door, they could hear an argument coming from within. It didnft sound like the argument youfd expect to hear from two adults; rather an argument that was between a mother who was angry at her child for not checking on the dog, who was now somewhere in the next town.

When they opened the door, they confirmed that surely enough, Subaru was on the defence.

e... did you think was up there?f they heard the red haired lady cry as the door swung open. She shot them a hot glance, then bore back on Subaru.

eTia... Ifm sorry, okay! Vindicator Clarkson never told me who we were going to meet, or where wefd meet!f

eSo you still walk straight past me!? While Ifm waving to you!? Mr. Muscle even waved back!f

All heads turned to Bulldog, who interpreted the comment as a compliment for noticing the red head, who turned out to be some lady called Tia, and beamed with self-satisfaction.

eIn any case, wefre all here now...f Tia said, resigning from her attack on Subaru. She gestured to a group of tables in the parlour and moved to take a seat herself.

The squad noticed as they all took up seats facing Tia, that the parlour was completely empty apart from themselves. There was no one else enjoying freshly made ice-cream, there was no staff servicing the floors, and most noticeably, no one behind the counter. No ice-cream behind the counter, Subaru noted with disappointment.

When everyone was seated, a click sounded from the door as another lady, with long brown hair and glasses, locked it with an overly pleased smile and then drew the automated blinds.

eFirst, Subaru, before we do anything, tell me what Vindicator Clarkson told you about this mission,f Tia said, facing the squad on her chair, with both her arms and legs folded.

eNot much really... He simply told us to come here, to the main branch, not this ice-cream parlour, and that the mission was handed down direct from Grand Admiral Carrington. Apparently itfs top-secret, so he wasnft going to tell me, but you are instead.f

Tia exchanged a glance with her spectacled counterpart, who simply shrugged in reply. She then turned her attention back to the squad.

eWell then, we might as well get along with this... Ifm Enforcer Tiana Lanster, and this is my assistant, Sergeant Shario Finieno.f Tiana gestured to her assistant, who nodded in acknowledgement.

eYou can call me Shari though,f Shario said.

eWefre the Search and Rescue 37th Emergency Response Squadron, Blitzschnelle Rettung,f Subaru responded.

eSquadfs pathfinder, Corporal Aston Cooper, call-sign Church.f

eFirst hand, Corporal Xsara-Aceca Leyland. You can call me Jazz.f

eDemolitions. Corporal Zonda Koenigsegg. Boomer.f

eSquadfs spotter, Private Ginetta Tuscan. Call-sign Vixen.f

eSecond hand, Private Lionel Bamford. Everyone calls me Bulldog.f

eThird hand, Private Magna Morris-Kimber. Call-signfs Flash.f

eSquadfs field medic, Medical Private Brera Veyron. My call-sign is Bluebird.f

Tiana blinked. Apart from that, she remained expressionless. eCall-signs?f she asked Subaru.

eCool, ainft it?f Subaru said with a cheeky grin. eMinefs Chief by the way. The squad made it for me.f

eDamn straight we did...f Jazz muttered just a bit too loud.

Tiana had a very pained look on her face and Shario coughed politely. eAnyway,f Tiana continued, eI hope none of you are wearing marked clothing because the following mission will take place on a Non-Administered planet. Number Ninety-Seven to be precise.f Everyone noticed Subaru straighten to the news of which planet they were heading to.

eCultural level: A. Technological level: C...f Shario said as a large screen appeared between her and Tiana, showing the rotating globe of the Earth. eNo magical level. The population of roughly 6.7 billion people know nothing about magic, although there are rare occasions of inhabitants showing magical abilities. To the inhabitants, the planet is known as gEarth.h e

eOur mission will be to search for a group of locals who went missing while camping... here...f the map zoomed in on Japan, then all the way to Mount Fuji.

eWhoa, hold up!f Jazz interrupted. eThis is a Non-Administered planet, yeah? How come wefre being sent in to find some locals then? I thought that the Tee-Sab didnft involve themselves with local issues of these planets.f Jazz frequently pronounced the acronym of Time-Space Administration Bureau.

eWefre being sent in because four of the twenty-two people reported missing, four of them are citizens of Midchilda. Three of them are high ranking Bureau officers.f Four images then appeared on the screen, all of the respective person.

eMajor Nanoha Takamachi, her daughter, Vivio Takamachi, Senior Enforcer Fate T. Harlaown and Colonel Hayate Yagami...f Shario told the team.

Subaru could tell that Tiana was intently watching her expression. She was honestly shocked that Nanoha has been reported missing on her home planet, but not only that but with Fate and Hayate as well... those three were considered to be—

eNo way!f Flash cried out, almost jumping out of her chair. eThose are the Three Aces, right!?f

eOh, Ifm glad you know them.f Tiana said with a hint of venom. Subaru knew she was iterated, but not to this extent.

eYeah but... theyfre like, the best of the best arenft they? I canft believe theyfd just go missing unless something or someone...f Flash left her sentence hanging.

eYes, exactly. In case you guys donft know, Subaru, Shari and I were a part of Section 6. Hayate was the commander, Fate and Nanoha were our captains. We know exactly what theyfre capable of, and thatfs why wefve got you guys here. Ifve been told that youfre the best at what you do, even if you do do it a bit scrappy...f Tiana cleared her throat. eAnyways, five days ago they set off for a reunion camp with some of their friends from the planet. They were expected back two days ago, but no onefs seen or heard anything about them.f

eThe most worrisome thing is,f Shari took over, eFatefs familiar fell into a coma the night before they were expected to return.f

eWhatfs that mean?f Bulldog asked.

eFamiliars are linked magically to their masters,f Bluebird explained to him. eThey live off their masterfs magic. So if a master slowly cuts off a familiarfs magic supply, they start becoming weak, and eventually theyfll die some time after their master stops providing them with magic.f

eSo Miss Harlaownfs dead then?f he asked.

Bluebird opened her mouth but hesitated. Shario answered instead.

eWefre not sure. Itfs an unusual situation, but we assume, or at least are hoping, that something is just blocking Fatefs magic from reaching her familiar.f

eLocal rescue teams are already searching for the party,f Tiana continued. eWefre to arrive at a pre-established transfer point and rendezvous with Admiral Harlaown.f

eThe Admiral will give us a final rundown on the situation and provide us with any local supplies that youfre going to need,f Shario said.

e gYoufre...?h e Subaru asked.

eShario will be staying here at headquarters,f Tiana explained. eAlso, I know this may be obvious, but at no time is anyone allowed to use any magic. Is that understood?f

eIs all cool, baby, some of us canft even use magic,f sung Jazz.

eRight... Anything else you lot want to know?f

eYeah, I have something,f Vixen said. eWhy is this mission top-secret?f

eBecause Carrington doesnft want it to look like shefs favouring a few officers over, say, a remote governed planet that fell into uprising since she pulled a squad off of it to go look for these officers,f Tiana responded.

eWhat...?f Vixen looked confused. eThe townspeople were docile while we were there. There wasnft any hostility or anything that would suggest theyfd take to arms as soon as we left.f

eWell theyfre protesting anyways. They donft like the fact that the Administration Bureau has plucked away one of their towns only peacekeeping force.f

eNot only that,f Shario continued, ebut because you guys are being sent to look for not only the Bureau officers, but the civilians too. If the other Non- Administered planets that keep in contact with us hear about this, theyfll want favours done for them too.f She sighed heavily. eItfs all political nonsense really...f

eRight. Any more questions?f Tiana asked. Silence answered. eGood, wefve got to get moving. Admiral Lindy will probably be waiting for us already.f



Hayate rested her legs for a while, and enjoyed a hot cup of coffee for a change. On the whole, things were looking better. They could now move about without worrying about casting magic in the presence of others, and the Craven attack only lasted about ten minutes before they pulled back. As it was mentioned yesterday, Cravens werenft as dumb as they looked; They knew when to pull back.

The only problem was, that often meant they returned to the drawing board. Hayate hoped they werenft that smart.

The turn for the better had an expensive bill though. Nanoha, Fate and herself were now getting little sleep. They could keep it up for several more days, but Hayate honestly didnft want to be around for anymore surprises. The three of them had agreed to up the scale of their investigation which started yesterday afternoon, and while one person stayed back to rest and freshen up, the other two were sent off to search the surrounding areas for... well, anything really. They literally had nothing to work on in this incident.

While the third person was to rest, there were other things that needed attending to. Like correlating the information that the other two might gather, mapping out the area and attending to the camp. And they hadnft even been able to take off their barrier jackets once, in case something happened.

Thankfully, thatfs when Suzuka and Arisa stepped in.

The two couldnft just sit back and watch helplessly while their friends ran themselves to the bone trying to figure out what was going on, and offered to help out in whichever way was possible.

Arisafs genius level intelligence that she had during her school days was with her, and she managed to calculate exactly how far the barrier they were trapped in extended: Forty-seven kilometres, six-hundred and eighty-two meters and eleven centimetres. The fact that Arisa managed to calculate it down to the exact centimetre gave Hayate the chills, and she considered that perhaps, Arisa actually knew the millimetre length too.

Arisa however, couldnft pinpoint where the barrier was cantered. While she could work out how large the barrierfs radius was, she said that it seemed to shift around the campsite. The other campers were asked if theyfve noticed anything unusual, apart from the never-ending supply of processed foods, water tank that filled itself and toilets that seemed to be connected to the sewage system. Oh, and apart from the Akihitofs self-repairing tent. As expected, nothing had been noticed, which meant that either they simply hadnft noticed whatever it was they were looking for yet, or the barrier was being projected.

Projecting a barrier isnft a hard thing to do though. Many of Hayatefs own spatial spells she was capable of projecting to a distance very far away... But a barrier of this magnitude? A dimensional loophole? Surely by now, the Administration Bureau would be taking notice of their absence, and would be sending at least an Enforcer to investigate. All theyfd have to do is step foot on the planet to detect such a spell, even if they were on the other side of the world.

But wait... Such an extensive spell would be exhaustive to cast, yet alone hold for long periods of time. And this barrier had been held for two, maybe three days now. Hayate doubted that she could even hold such a complex barrier up for two hours, and she had more magical capacity than Fate or Nanoha. There had to be more to it than a single mage holding them down for some reason.

But in any case, if the barrier was projected, therefd be nothing they could do about it from here... apart from trying one of Nanohafs Starlight Breakers, which was out of the question anyway. It still doesnft explain the strange appearances though. Processed food, water, sewage and extinct carnivorous creatures that were very hungry... what next?

Oh.  Nanoha coming back from patrol would be next. Damn. And Hayate hadnft even finished her coffee yet.

eFind anything interesting out there?f Hayate asked as she stirred her coffee and watched it with dismissed intent.

Nanoha smiled. eWherefs Arisa and Suzuka?f she asked.

eKeiichiro called them for something,f Hayate answered with a shrug. Nanoha dropped into a seat next to her and sighed deeply, already making the most of her break period. eYou donft mind if I finish this before I head out, do you?f Hayate asked, raising her still steaming coffee mug.

eBe my guest...f Nanoha muttered, and then looked up with a confused look. eWhen did we have coffee?f she asked.

eIt appeared this morning. Good stuff too... Itfs in the box over there.f

Nanoha made her way to the box that Hayate had pointed to and retrieved the grinded coffee, and proceeded to make herself a mug from the boiling pot over the fire when Suzuka returned, looking rather anxious.

eUmm.... I think you guys should come with me...f she said with uncertainty.

eWhat now...?f Nanoha groaned.

eWell... itfs Fate... But itfs not Fate...f

eWhat do you mean?f Hayate asked, slightly irritated that something else has spoilt her day. eFatefs out scouting the forest, shefs not expected back for another thirty minutes.f

eYeah, I know... but... Just come with me, youfll find out.f Suzuka said, ushering the two mages to follow.

With reluctance, Hayate followed with Nanoha. Suzuka was trying to explain what happened, but seemed to be having difficulty to come to terms with the problem herself.

eKeiichiro found her on the edge of the clearing... she tried to run away, but he caught up with her. She looks just like Fate but she isnft. Shefs younger too. I donft know whatfs going on!f

They met up with the rest of the camp, who had circled someone. They noticed Hayate and Nanoha approach, and then spread out, allowing the two to clearly see who they had found.

Suzuka was right. She did look like Fate. In fact, she was the splitting image of Fate, only when she was fifteen years old. She was wearing a white one-piece that ended at her knees, with a red ribbon threaded around the collar. She wore her hair like Arisa and Vivio did when they were younger. In fact, she looked a lot like the image of that girl in the photo that Fate always carried with her, the picture the her true mother and –

eAlicia...?f Nanoha said in stunned shock.

The girl looked up to her. She was scared, but wasnft sure whether to be glad or even more worried that Nanoha knew her name.

eWhere am I?f she asked with a choked voice. eWho are you? Wherefs my mother?f

eAlicia?f Hayate asked Nanoha out of the girlfs earshot. eIsnft she...?f

eFatefs original. Shefs dead.f

eWhat do we do, though?f Suzuka asked.

eWell, therefs no point in just throwing her back out into the woods. The Cravens might get her at night...f Hayate then looked at Alicia. eWhy donft you come to our campsite, Alicia? Itfs safer here then out in the woods.f

Hesitantly, Alicia approached them. eDo you know where my mother is?f she asked cautiously. eI was with her not too long ago, but then I was suddenly... here. And how do you know my name?f

eWefll get to that,f Hayate responded, eeventually. But I bet youfre hungry. Wefve got food if you want.f She then looked to Nanoha. Nanoha, you best warn Fate before she returns. And wefll need to keep an eye out for her mother...

Yeah, good idea, Nanoha answered as Hayate and the camp escorted the girl back to the ring of tents. When they were all clear, Nanoha called Fate. Since the camp knew about them now, they didnft hold back with the magic or the technological stuff that Earth had yet to comprehend, and they now communicated with video feeds. It was better than just a voice anyway, and body language can often tell you what you really need to know.

The transparent screen appeared before her with Fate in the middle of it, her face drowning in concentration.

eNanoha...? What is it?f she asked.

eUm... Ifm not sure how to put this so Ifm just going to say it as it is.f Nanoha told her, which caught Fatefs attention. eWe just found Alicia. Shefs in the camp now.f

For a moment, Fate looked surprised. She then nodded.

eShefs been asking for her mother,f Nanoha continued. eWe should keep an eye out in case... she appears.f

There was a brief silence. eNo need.f Fate then said, with a strangely emotionless voice. eIfve already found her.f



To Chapter 5


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