Hello there! Time to update this fanfic! I try to avoid any error in grammar and such but please keep in mind that english is not my language so don't be too harsh on me if you find some. (Edit: I did find some errors and I corrected them, editing the chapter once again, knowing how perturbing errors can be when reading something. For those of you who read the previous version, my apologies for the changes but I can't see my errors and do nothing about it. Now I can work on the next chapter.)
Blaze2121: Hi, thank you for your review and yes, I needed to accelerate a bit otherwise I could spend many chapters on building the characters and filling the story with many little details but well, the plot needs to go forward. I do try to put an emphasis on the emotions, pleased to do it correctly at least. Good read to you!
Nara375: Hi. She doesn't trust Fate or anybody else but she do care for Fate so it is complicated for her to just leave it at that. She can't. For the Reinforce lookalike's identity you'll see and for the monster you are correct, it is not Scaglietti. He's in jail. For now the TSAB is not corrupted, I don't know if I'll go there, the whole corrupted politicians is done already and it tends to bore me, I admit. We'll see. Take care Nara.
Sun2: Hi! Yeah, a bit serious and drama-like. Thank you Sun.
Reviews are not mandatory but they are very much appreciated, I love to know what you think about all of this.
Have a good read and a good day, dear readers! :)
Two of Diamond
12. Training and Fright
The strange encounters with the silver haired woman had decreased after that night but they hadn't stopped like she had feared. The strange woman reappeared last just two days ago, going at her in one of her mock fight again and this time, some of the others were there to see it for themselves. When she vanished, the woman hadn't said much but somehow, Fate felt like their strange relationship was rekindled, kind of.
Hayate had been insisting for days on end and after many refusals and as many arguments between them, Fate had finally relented and accepted to have her first real combat training since she left the medical wing of the TSAB. All the medics, Shamal included, had given their permission for her to use Bardiche in an all-out training. She was clear to fight again and as much as her body ached from the mock fights, she still felt the urge to act, the will to fight again and again because this was what she was made of. She was Fate T. Harlaown, the top enforcer of the TSAB and the Ace of the Navy. She was a softie at heart, kind, gentle, but at the same time she was the lightning, fast, fierce and unforgiving. For the longest time, even as a child, she had always felt pride in her abilities because thanks to them she was capable of protecting the ones she cared for. It was not given to everyone and she was very aware of that fact so yes, she was proud of her fighting abilities and always sought out new ways to improve. And she couldn't wait to really fight again.
Walking in her enforcer uniform, she was getting a lot of attention from every person who happened to cross her path on her way to the training field and, to be honest, it was overwhelming her. Her embarrassment when faced with strangers' solicitude was quite evident and was showing on her cheeks. It felt odd, sometimes, to be here and live this life when she could remember a time where she was alone and suffering, just like the elusive woman.
Halting this train of thoughts before it got too far and started to shadow her eyes, she went on, marching on the cemented path leading her to the training field. The short trip brought a discreet smile to her lips. The exhilaration and anticipation she always felt right before a fight was coursing through her veins, training or not. Her body was still recovering, she could feel the remnant of the pain, even if Shamal had worked wonders on her, consuming her energy to make sure everything would be fine with her. They were all so attentive to her every move that it was both comforting and overwhelming but she couldn't blame them for it, she did scare them. Very much so.
She smiled more visibly when another thought went through her mind. She was not alone anymore… and it was warming her heart.
The training field entered in her line of sight but some people were standing outside, seemingly waiting. When she saw Hayate and the Wolkenritten, she stopped in the middle of the path as someone walked by her, giving her a curious look while she was wondering what they were doing here exactly. Then she spotted Nanoha talking with Teana and she started to frown. What were they doing here? Overcoming the initial surprise, she made her way to the field and gave a very pointed look to the Lieutenant-Colonel who was grinning since she saw her appear. Nanoha had shown her a racoon once, back on earth, and that grin was exactly what a racoon would look like while smiling.
Whatever the brunette was doing here, this grin was absolutely not good.
"May I ask, what's going on?" She demanded to know, her tone neutral but one of her eyebrows going up in interrogation.
"Well, we were informed that a certain enforcer was about to train on the field and as a curious passerby, I decided to take a look," answered her brunette best friend impishly.
She knew there must be something else to it. Probably something related to the strange gem she could feel on her solar plexus. Since she had woken up, the Echo in her chest was doing funny things to her but she never mentioned it to anyone, thinking that her months of recovery were bound to leave some traces and that the little thing was still a foreign addition to her body. The discomfort was probably normal since she still needed to… adjust to it. Playing along Hayate's behavior as to not alert any of them, she smiled.
"Now I feel flattered," she said, her cheeks heating up a little because the attention was kind of embarrassing.
"Show us what you got, Testarossa." Spoke Signum, her stone face expression sporting the beginning of a smile.
She didn't answer to her, not trusting her voice to express exactly what she was feeling at the moment. In fact, her emotions were in a bit of a mess so covering for it she reached her hand to get Bardiche. Nodding to Nanoha, who was piercing her with her stare to try and detect any of the discomfort she might feel, Fate let a calm expression relax her face, aiming to soothe her fears. After some hesitation, her best friend entered the commands and the screens went up before her eyes. The field was set up in seconds, robots materializing as she made some distance with the little group of onlookers. She was about to fly again, something she didn't do in quite some time since her encounters with the silver haired woman were mostly on the ground, and she couldn't wait to soar in the sky, to let the wind whistle in her ears.
Her default barrier jacket covered her frame and Bardiche had adopted the form of her usual scythe, the weight of its metal body grounding her. She let her gaze linger on the yellow crystal, secretly relieved to see it in top condition after the beating they both went through.
"Fate-chan?" Called Nanoha's voice next to her, a little concerned by her immobility.
Ah, she had forgotten about her audience. It was really embarrassing to have them all here to watch her first real training but she had no power over it, she couldn't make them leave if they wanted to watch and she couldn't voice her own preference when they so obviously wanted to see.
"I'm alright, Nanoha," she gently assured her best friend, giving her a small smile.
She then turned and flew high above them, stopping and flipping Bardiche before her a few times, she took some minutes to give it another look. The amount of energy flowing from her chest was moderate and after many encounters with the silver haired woman, she was getting better at handling it but she couldn't comprehend what it really was or how to fully control it. Letting the odd sensation recess to the back of her mind, she flew toward the field and searched for her first targets, discovering them on a rooftop to her left. Positioning herself she attacked the five robots with a sense of familiarity, doing it on instinct.
"Plasma Lancer," chimed Bardiche.
Five lightning gold arrowheads of magical power appeared around her, each in the middle of a circle.
At the soft-spoken command, the five projectiles darted to the robots shooting at her. She sidestepped the weak attacks with ease but an uncomfortable feeling was constricting her chest after the spell, diverting her from the mock battle. The five projectiles crashed to the rooftop with a stronger explosion than what she was accustomed to, a blast of wind sweeping across the training area and barreling from the cloud of dust a last shot came at her. She paid no attention to it whatsoever as it hit her in the right shoulder. She had felt the sting but she dismissed it as soon as it came, more concerned with the troublesome tingle crackling between her breasts. She frowned. This never happened in her encounters with the Reinforce lookalike.
A far call reminded her that she still had an audience and that for the time being, she should try to ignore the weird sensation in her chest and just go on with her training.
Whirling around, her white cape floating behind her, she caught sight of a larger target, a huge robot, blue and silver in color. It had five lenses on its front, three of them were lasers and the others were cameras. She knew that this one had a thick shield, she had fought those enemies before and knew they could fire at long distance. Seeing the laser beams lock on her, she decided to drop, letting herself pummel to the ground. It was a dangerous trick to perform in combat but it was quite effective to evade an incoming doom and she had faith in her flying abilities.
She heard some confused shouts but didn't take the time to address them. Time was of the essence if she wanted to neutralize the big pile of metal efficiently. The wind was rushing in her ears, the ground was coming fast at her and she couldn't help but smile, flipping her body and changing direction in a flash. She glanced at Bardiche again and a fleeting image of its broken state after hours of fighting against the strange woman.
"I'm glad to see you well," she said to her device.
Bardiche shimmed, a spark making it glint. "Likewise, Sir."
It made her smile and she lowered herself to the ground, almost brushing against it. Spotting a piece of metal angled perfectly and large enough to support her momentum, she flew to it, landed and gave an impulse that made her shot for the sky like a living rocket. Her body protested at the harsh treatment, a tremor of pain coursing through her, but she ignored it for the time being. A screen appeared to her left, a miffed Nanoha frowning at her.
"What are you doing, Fate-chan?" Asked her best friend, worry and irritation evident in her tone.
"Training," she answered, confused, not understanding her disapprobation.
She shifted in the air to avoid crashing into a building and went in the next one, navigating in the collapsed ruin with apparent ease although she was concentrating on this demonstration to let them see that she was perfectly fine and nothing would go wrong.
"You can't go all out, you could hurt yourself," lightly reprimanded the instructor, her worries easing a bit at seeing her fly so well.
"She's right, don't push yourself," agreed Shamal in the background.
"Enough with the mother hen attitude, let her train already," intervened Hayate, putting an end to the call.
The screen blinked off and she made a turn, glancing upward to assert the opening right above her. She came to an abrupt stop, still feeling the crackle in her chest. To be totally honest it was distracting her. She never felt it with such intensity before. She was tempted to contact Nanoha or Hayate to ask them if they knew what it could possibly mean but she refrained, not wanting to worry them uselessly if they had no answer for her. The TSAB knew very little of the Echoes, even Yuuno was at a loss on the subject. She had been pondering long enough in the crumbled building, if she stayed here much longer, her audience might worry so she jumped and flew right out of the hole, surging in the sky like a black and white bullet. Fleetingly, she asked herself why she was training on the field, which was not much of a challenge for an Ace. She would have preferred a fight against one of the knights or even Nanoha but seeing as the crackle in her chest was intensifying it was probably better like this. It made her frown though as she flew over a group of robots. In the mock battles against the strange woman, they never used spells nor went up in the sky for too long… was it the reason why?
Taking a sharp turn to the right, she came back to the big one and the laser beams came back on her body, tracking her as she evaded a lot of shots coming from it and the little ones on her left. The big one was charging a more powerful attack. Annoyed by the lesser robots showering her with shots, she gripped Bardiche more forcefully, pointing her device at them.
"Photon Lancer." Obeyed the scythe.
Six projectiles appeared all around her and she stared at the little flock of robots waiting to be blown by her.
The arrowhead like projectiles shot toward their targets and the resulting explosion surprised her again, being more powerful than she could remember. The crackle in her chest was more pronounced and it was now almost burning her. She heard a warning shout and turned to the big robot, lifting an eyebrow at the massive beam it was launching at her. Lifting her free hand, she casted her Defender Plus spell, the protection defending a wide area around her, wider than she intended and that she thought possible. The crackle erupted in her chest, menacing to distract her but she kept defending herself as the large beam crashed on her protection. She was unscathed of course but she knew now that something was wrong with the Echo, somehow it was strengthening her magic but not reacting well to it if this crackle was anything to go by.
"Bardiche, what's going on?"
"You are adjusting, Sir," answered the device.
"Adjusting?" she demanded, even more perplexed now.
"An attack is imminent, Sir," warned the synthetic voice, the gold crystal glinting.
She let herself drop from the sky again, her frown accentuating as she tried to comprehend what her device had meant by this word. Flipping in her fall, she went straight for the annoying robot and planned on cutting through it.
"Zamber form," responded Bardiche, already transforming.
The large, gold sword she was now gripping in her hands was pulsing with energy regularly, flashing every second and if she hadn't been so intent on cutting the big robot in half she would have noticed before delivering the blow. As it was, she barreled to the big machine, took a swing and slayed her mighty sword in the middle of it, crashing its shield and slicing down right through it. When her sword touched the ground, a large circle extended on it and thunder roared loudly in the clear blue sky, giving her just enough time to see the dark magical clouds forming above them. Then three large lightning bolts descended on the training field, one where her sword had landed while the other two came crashing down in her back, one to the left and one to the right, blasting the entire area with a mighty explosion. The violent wind flipped her cloak angrily, dust flying everywhere while her ears were ringing. The crackle in her chest was almost insufferable now, the burn getting stronger.
Looking around her, she saw that what was a built area was now completely flat as some boulders kept on smoking. Her head was spinning and she was feeling weak but she shot to the sky anyway. She had to make sure that attack didn't hurt anyone since she didn't know its range had somehow changed. High enough, she could see her audience looking at her in pure astonishment. It would have been funny if not for the feeling in her chest. Something lashed at her back and she grimaced, wondering what was going on when a string of gold energy left her body as the crackle intensified. Then a multitude of golden wisps of energy surged from her and her chest erupted in a burning volcano. Her eyes shot wide open and she let out a surprised scream, losing her ability to fly. The pain was so strong that she lost consciousness right when she heard someone screaming her name.
Nanoha had made sure to follow all of her best friend's moves on her monitor, not losing her once. They all had seen the pauses the blonde enforcer had taken during the training, sometime in dangerous situations, and she had been unable to restrain on contacting her. Now that Hayate had cut the call, she was glaring at her friend, not pleased with her. She knew that the Lieutenant Colonel wanted to see what the Echo they had implanted in Fate would do in a battle situation that's why she had pestered the blonde enforcer with a real training for days on end. And she knew that she wanted to know out of concern and not out of some misplaced curiosity. But still, Nanoha was anxious and the powerful blast her Photon Lancer was producing only added to that feeling.
Fate dropped from the sky again and like earlier her heart missed a beat.
The change in direction in her best friend flight was brutal but impressive as she went straight to the robot, Bardiche transforming in its Zamber form. The massive sword was as imposing as always but it was flashing, which it never did before.
"What's that?" Pointed Signum, frowning.
"No idea," she responded, not liking this, entering a command to zoom.
Fate made a swinging motion and sliced down the big training robot in half with ease.
"She's showing off," mumbled Vita, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Maybe she is," replied Shamal in anxiety. "But she shouldn't."
A gold circle of magic extended itself under the big sword of her best friend and she tensed in worry.
"Wha…" Vita never got the chance to finish.
A very loud thundering sound echoed all around the city, making all of them jump in fright, and they lifted their eyes to the sky as dark, angry clouds gathered above the training field. Flashes of gold light were brightening the clouds sporadically when three large lightning bolts furiously descended on the training field, the resounding sound they produced when they landed making Nanoha pale in cheer dread. She took a step back, reeling from the raw power Fate just displayed and looked at the monitor to see her best friend standing in the middle of a newly created no man's land half the size of the training field.
"Holy…" Whispered Hayate, bewildered.
Fate shot for the sky and Nanoha left the screen to stare directly at her blonde best friend, eyes a little wide still. People were running toward the training field, searching for the source of the ruckus.
She saw it then, the grimace on Fate's face. The bolt of gold energy. And she heard her scream of pain even from this distance. A chill ran down her spin when the blonde started to free fall from so high in the sky and she ran.
Raging Heart materialized in her hand and she took flight at maximum speed.
"Flash move," reacted Raging Heart to her master's wish.
In her panic she simply didn't think. She reached Fate in a second flat and caught her in her arms, whimpering when the wisps tore at her. Ignoring the lash out, she kept her hold on her limp best friend and tried to maneuver them safely to the ground. When they landed, rather brutally, she let go of her unconscious friend, rolled away from the wisps and gasped in blatant pain, closing her eyes in hope it could somehow alleviate the burning agony.
Hayate and her knights, minus Zafira, were running towards her and she stayed on the ground, not daring to move an inch. She was bleeding, she could feel it and her head was spinning, probably in reaction of the blood loss and because of the dangerous maneuver she just executed. Was it the Echo? Those wisps were the same than that day when the woman calibrated Fate and saved her. Damn, it was so painful, how did this woman manage to stay in them for so long that day? Shamal was kneeling before her, her hand stroking her cheek and a reassuring smile coming to her lips when she opened her eyes to look at her. The green clad doctor worked her magic on her and the pain receded slowly, her wounds mending progressively. Vita was fuming behind the concentrating doctor, casting an accusing glare on her.
"Didn't you see the damn wisps? Why did you caught her like that when we could have secured her landing?!" Vita angrily berated her, masking her concern behind her anger.
"Vita-chan," softly called Hayate, preventing the short-tempered woman from saying something she could regret later.
The knight of the hammer rounded on her master, also angry at her.
"Why did you put this thing in her? Why the hell do you trust that culprit? It could kill her!" Fumed the short woman, ready to say more.
"Vita!" Curtly snapped Signum, her brows furrowed.
Nanoha was feeling better but the lack of words behind her and the wounded look on Shamal's face told her that she should turn around and see what was going on. Grunting, she turned, apologizing to the doctor under her breath and discovered a still fuming Vita standing beside Fate, toe to toe with a very distressed Hayate. Her best friend was looking at the blonde enforcer with a guilty expression, very much worried for their best friend and clearly berating herself for it all. Signum was at her master's side, watching over the fallen blonde with a glint of concern in her eyes. Nanoha quickly threw a look at the unconscious blonde, seeing the gold wisps lazily revolving around her she worried too but decided to reassure Hayate first. The brunette needed her support immediately.
Sitting up where she was with Shamal's reluctant help, she tried to ignore her own incertitude about the Echo and addressed her best friend.
"It's okay, Hayate," she softly spoke. "I know you did it for the right reasons."
Tears welled up in the young Lieutenant-Colonel's eyes while Teana stayed silent, her gaze fixated on her superior's limp form. Faced with her master's anguish Vita broke out of the angry haze clouding her judgment and she touched her arm in remorse. Hayate broke down and hugged her, falling to the floor in her guilt-ridden anguish, Vita following her down with regretful eyes.
"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! It was the only way! I'm sorry!"
Signum had closed her eyes to dissimulate whatever she was feeling at the moment, a frown marring her features, the emotions in her mistress' voice making all of them uncomfortable. Hayate was really beating herself up for the dangerous decision she made on her own.
"I'm sorry too, Hayate," murmured Vita.
To see the Lieutenant-Colonel in such a distraught state stirred an unpleasant feeling in her gut and Nanoha stood up, walking to her. Since her wounds were almost healed thanks to Shamal effective healing spells, she felt little to no pain on her way to her side. She kneeled down and encircled the weeping brunette in her arms, sorry too to have doubted her in the past when she so obviously was berating herself ever since she took the decision.
"It's okay, Hayate, everything will be fine," she tried to console her best friend.
Teana made the curious onlookers go away before she came back to the group, coming beside her superior and sitting on her heels, mindful of the troublesome wisps.
"How can we help her?" Asked the younger enforcer to no one in particular.
"You can't, but I can," answered a voice they recognized instantly.
They had seen the silver haired woman just two days ago when they saw her mock fighting the blonde enforcer, and when she appeared two feet away from them, Nanoha felt like blasting her. Maybe not to oblivion but to hell at least. She wanted to take her nerves on something and the skittish woman was very easy to hate but… was she to blame for this? The echo did save the enforcer and it was Hayate's decision to use it.
"You again," flatly said Signum, defiance radiating off of her.
"Who else?" Calmly answered the silver haired woman, smirking derisively. "To answer you, Nanoha, yes everything will be fine in the end."
"How can you be so sure?" Whispered Hayate, her tears drying up at the Reinforce lookalike sudden appearance.
The strange woman made a face, staring at each one of them in what seemed to be disbelief and Nanoha almost scowled at the look. It was almost insulting.
"So, you didn't guess yet?" Said the woman, lifting an eyebrow at them.
"What?" Snapped Vita, very much miffed by the look too.
The woman lifted a hand in the air to placate her while raising the other one to her chest, touching it lightly as she addressed them again, her eyes on Hayate. "That I have an Echo too."
And admittedly even if now it fully dawned on them, no one had ever made that assumption before because they couldn't be certain of it. They suspected but the confirmation was kind of unnerving. Although after what they just witnessed from Fate, it meant that the Reinforce lookalike had never truly attacked them half seriously. Not even when she was fighting Fate that day. And as Nanoha exchanged a look with Hayate, she knew that the Lieutenant-Colonel was thinking along the same lines.
The woman's face softened as she glanced at Fate. "I can sense when something goes wrong with her, that's why I am here with you." She explained further, closing the gap that separated her from the blonde enforcer.
Nanoha could see that Teana was listening to the exchange and studying the most wanted mage of this year so far, clearly confused by the unexpected confrontation. A surge of protectiveness and possessiveness welled up in her and the air instructor was unable to stop the next sentence from tumbling from her lips, even if it was potentially extremely dangerous.
"If you hurt her…" She trailed off and the atmosphere tensed a bit at the implied threat, Hayate shooting her an alarmed look while the others glanced at her in hesitation, probably wary of the idea of fighting this woman.
"Yes, I know, you will kill me," the woman guessed the unsaid part, not surprised as she made eye contact with her. "Take your turn." She added in a jaded tone.
Hayate put a hand on Nanoha's arm, trying to make her understand that antagonizing the woman now was really not in their best interest. She's maybe the only person able to help Fate-chan out there, said her brunette best friend in her head. As it was, the air instructor was able to see reason and even if she had a hard time admitting it in her distressed state, she let herself relax a little, discarding the blasting idea to the back of her mind. They had seen the silver wisps after all and now that she just confirmed what they all suspected, the woman was indeed more knowledgeable than any of them on the subject.
"What do you mean by you can sense when something goes wrong?" Inquired Hayate, bringing her back to the conversation, doubt firmly anchored in her frown.
"I sensed a ripple in my chest, it was faint but I decided to check on her anyway," explained the silver haired woman. "Since I calibrated her, we share some sort of… connection," she added with a shrug.
Her answer actually intrigued everyone around her and she had to admit that her curiosity was getting the better of her. Observing the awkward looking woman, she was a bit weirded out by the fact that she was standing with them with no protection, no weapon, no care even. They were still enemies for crying out loud! Even if the TSAB had delayed her arrestation in the hope of learning more about the Echoes and their purpose, she was still warranted and she was taking a risk by showing up here and talking to them. The woman was offering herself to their wrath and it truly was astounding. But not as much as her concern for the blonde enforcer. Her curiosity and her need to understand the woman were slowly but steadily growing within her whereas her anger and hatred toward her was slowly fading to something much more undefined. She could never resist prying when tormented eyes, especially of that color, where looking at her.
"Why do you care for her?" She forcefully asked, her eyes narrowing as she observed her more carefully.
"I am a tool, tools arbore no feelings," deflected the woman with a shrug, not convincing anyone.
"You are not. Your concern is obvious," flatly stated Signum, not fooled in the slightest, a stern expression on her stony face.
The woman's right lid was twitching but she didn't say any more words after that, not denying it but not confirming it either. She was staring at some distant point far in the horizon, clearly self-conscious and sad again, somehow. Nanoha was about to talk some more, to try and uncover what was the reason behind her demeanor but when the woman shifted her gaze back toward them, she was much more controlled and largely more distant. And maybe a little hurt too, which made no sense at all for her.
"Will you let me help her, or should I be on my way?" Simply asked the silver haired woman when no one spoke for an extended amount of time.
Silence responded to her. It was the first time this woman actually thought of leaving without helping Fate. She was too stunned by the question itself to answer, Hayate was scrutinizing the complicated woman in hope of comprehending her, Signum was as stern as ever although clearly hesitant and Vita for once was not trusting her own words after hurting her master like she did earlier. Shamal for her part was inspecting the woman from head to toe, trying to see the scars she knew should be there, or trying to see if other wounds had been added to the woman's body recently. As it was, it was Teana who got things moving again as she turned to face the skittish woman waiting silently.
"Help her," requested the younger enforcer.
The red eyes landed on her and appraised her for a couple of seconds, a flash of complicated emotions lighting up her eyes and disappearing in the next second.
"Stand clear, this is dangerous," the Reinforce lookalike advised as she sent a meaningful look at Nanoha.
The air instructor could still feel the lingering pain of the wisps and she was not about to undermine this statement. Slowly she rose to her feet and helped Hayate to stand in order to move them both away from Fate. Vita was following with a tormented expression on her face while Signum and Teana took some steps back too. Shamal was relatively safe where she was standing, alone on the other side of the strange woman so she stayed there, watching silently. The fact that they couldn't help her best friend themselves was so irksome that Nanoha wanted to blast something to ease her frustration but it was the sad truth. They could do nothing. Hayate was still shaking beside her ever so lightly, some sniffing escaping her control and she let one of her arm rest behind her back. The Lieutenant-Colonel was still distraught by the whole situation, knowing she was the one who had made the daring decision to implant the Echo in their blonde best friend was eating at her more severely than she ever cared to admit to them. Nanoha made the mental note to talk about it with her in the privacy of her office.
The woman moved closer to Fate and entered the circle of the wisps, grimacing slightly when some came in contact with her. Kneeling behind her head and leaning slightly on her right, her two hands made contact with Fate's face, encircling it as her two thumbs settled on the blonde's forehead.
"Her connection to the Echo is still fragile," calmly explained the woman, ignoring the painful wisps for the time being and concentrating on the unconscious enforcer while speaking. "What I mean by that is that the Echo hasn't fully accepted her yet. It means that while it will strengthen her magic abilities in combat it will also lash out at her if she draws too much, too soon." The woman paused in her explanation, closing her eyes as her own silver wisps sprouted out of her. She then started to whisper. "An Echo is temperamental and have a safeguard manifesting itself in the form of thin tendrils of energy, the wisps. If its integrity is in danger, no matter in what form, it will sense it and the safeguard will defend it."
They watched the scene in silence. Nanoha had stopped her soothing movements in Hayate's back as her whole attention focused on the woman and whatever it was that she was doing to Fate.
"Is it dangerous for her?" Hesitantly asked Shamal on the other side of the fallen enforcer, casting a quick, concerned look at her master.
"Hard to tell," answered the woman, eyes closed and still concentrating on her task. "It will depend on her."
"How so?" Further interrogated the green clad doctor, her brows slowly furrowing at the woman's strange, tilted position.
"She has to be patient," sighed the silver haired woman, frowning a bit. "The Echo has not rejected her so the bond will work, it's a certainty, but those things need time to adjust the symbiotic connection with the host."
"Symbiotic?" Murmured Hayate beside her, raising her eyebrows.
"Yes, it is how they work," the woman stopped her explanation for a couple of seconds, tensing suddenly as the gold wisps around her began to take some speed, agitated by whatever she was doing.
Suddenly a wisp became as fast as a bullet and cut the woman on the cheek, making her bleed and curse under her breath, pain flashing on her features. Was it warning from the Echo? Shamal took a step closer to assess the damage but the Reinforce lookalike stopped her immediately.
"Don't move," it was an order, the authority behind it being a first in the woman's voice. "Those things are ancient, older than Belkan technology and I don't know much about them. What I do know, I learned on my own."
Which meant she certainly experienced everything Fate will have to experience, but alone. Nanoha once again tried to see past the façade this woman was constantly putting up but it was so very hard to understand her. Why was she mock battling the blonde enforcer then? Why was she explaining all of this to them? To reassure them? What sort of enemy did that? Signum was right earlier, the silver haired woman truly cared for Fate. Relaxing a little at the thought, she watched as the golden wisps started to slow down, floating lazily while some colors were returning to the blonde enforcer's cheeks.
"She won't die from this, right?" Hayate asked in an unsteady voice, her blue eyes never leaving the enforcer's frame as all the wisps dissolved into thin air.
The woman opened her eyes at the question, lifting an eyebrow at the Lieutenant-Colonel and seeking her eyes with her own. "She won't," she answered quite confidently to her best friend but then, taking in Hayate's expression, she seemed to soften. "I told you already, Lieutenant-Colonel, that I won't let her die."
Something passed between the two of them. Nanoha didn't know what exactly but some sort of mutual comprehension was there and for a second, she wondered about it. What had they shared exactly in that one meeting that changed a lot of things? Making a mental note to ask her brunette best friend, the words the woman just said fully settled in her mind and she shot her a startled look. She just admitted it, her concern, her care for the blonde enforcer. Did she say it on purpose or did it just slip through her lips?
When a blush erupted on the woman's cheeks in realization, an uneasy expression spreading on her face, Nanoha knew she didn't mean to say that to them. On the ground Fate opened her eyes with a start, her burgundy red eyes catching the red ones above her own and staring intently into them. The woman jumped in turn and scrambled back with hast, clearly taken off guard by her rapid return to the conscious world.
"Why wouldn't you?" the blonde enforcer rasped out, sitting rapidly and turning to stare at the retreating woman as everyone sighed a sigh of relief.
Nanoha was finally truly reassured to see her best friend awake and talking again, swiftly scanning Fate's frame to make sure everything was back to normal with her. The anxiety in her dissolved like sugar would in warm water and she felt her shoulders loosen, the tension leaving her completely. The blonde enforcer was injured but it was nothing serious, just like the woman whose cheek was still bleeding faintly. Although the silver haired woman was sitting, dumbfounded by her own slip it would seem, three feet away from the blonde.
"You heard that," mumbled the silver haired woman, very embarrassed.
"I did," softly confirmed Fate, tentative. "But why?"
The awkward woman simply stared at her for the longest time, not moving or answering, a complex array of emotions washing over her face. The air instructor couldn't decipher any of them because they all came and went too quickly for her to read them. Plus, she didn't know the woman enough to have this sort of knowledge yet. They all waited for the much-needed answer. There was something more to this woman but what was it? The question was spiraling in Nanoha's mind endlessly, reminding herself that the strange woman had a master and that she had been following orders after all. Could they resent her for something she had no full control over? Or was it all an act or a trap of some sort?
Regaining a semblance of composure, the Reinforce lookalike shook her head like someone wanting to shake away some troublesome thoughts and rose to her feet, her face very controlled again.
"Why don't you answer?" Insisted softly Fate, standing up too, her long blond hair covering the small gash in her cape.
"You don't have to know," answered the silver haired woman. "I just won't let you." She reiterated to soften her rebuke, a flicker of a smile, contrite and somewhat sad, playing on her lips.
Nanoha was both relieved and worried at the same time, inwardly asking herself if this woman had feelings for her blonde best friend or something. It didn't feel like it but she still couldn't help but wonder. It was so, so very strange to see this woman who almost killed the Ace of the Navy smiling like this at that same person. It was so difficult for her to dissociate the compassion and the anger tied to this Reinforce lookalike that she didn't know how to react to the reiteration.
"Don't push yourself," sternly recommended the woman, taking another step back.
"You're leaving again," sighed Fate, a light reproach in her tone.
"If I stay, I'll be under arrest," reminded her the woman, making them face the situation for what it really was. "Besides, my master will whistle me soon enough. I have to answer his command."
The stunned silence that followed her words was disturbed by Fate who took a step toward her but in turn the woman took another step back. Nanoha was surprised by the woman's choice of words. What was she to this man, a dog? The very thought made her frown despite herself, the degrading concept awakening her compassionate side. Hayate, who was still at her side and much calmer by now, took a step in the woman's direction too, catching all of their attentions as she finally spoke in a cautious tone.
"I could lift the warrant for the time being," she suggested, not paying attention to the reticent reactions around her or to Signum's eyebrow shooting upward at the farfetched suggestion.
"Why would you do that?" Dubiously wondered the silver haired woman, not prepared to hear such an offer it would seem.
"I do trust you," firmly stated Hayate, conviction in her words, and Nanoha did her best not to comment on that now even if she wanted to. When the woman tilted her head, looking at the Lieutenant-Colonel in a strange manner, lifting her eyebrows, the brunette seemed to understand the silent question. "You're not our enemy."
The woman said nothing for some time again, probably surprised by her best friend's words just like the rest of them. Except for Fate. The blonde enforcer had not reacted to the offer made by the Lieutenant-Colonel, showing no surprise nor animosity toward the idea and Nanoha watched her back, trying to read the thoughts of her very still blonde best friend. Fate-chan? Mentally called Nanoha, careful for some reason. Nanoha. She should stay, answered Fate in the privacy of her mind, worried. Why do you think so? Prudently asked the air instructor, shifting her gaze toward the distant silver haired woman. She needs our help as much as I need hers, simply said her best friend in response. Look at her. Look attentively, suggested Fate, motionless as she too was studying the woman still talking with Hayate.
"Glad you finally understand it," remarqued blankly the silver haired woman, frowning imperceptibly while studying the Lieutenant-Colonel. "But I am still bound, whether I like it or not." The woman added, shaking her head.
Nanoha did as her friend had suggested to her and tried to see what it was that had caught her attention. The black and silver barrier jacket was not on the woman today, she was wearing casual clothes, mostly black in color. Taking some time to really detail her face, she ignored the gash on her cheek and looked at her eyes so reminiscent of Fate's own, seeing the purplish shadows under them. As the woman shifted on her feet, she looked at her legs or more specifically at her stance. Then she saw it, she was keeping her weight off of her left leg. Returning her eyes to her face, she looked harder yet. It downed on her then that the woman was really pale, more so than she normally was. She's sick? Nanoha made the assumption, addressing Fate with a tinge of concern. That, or she is hurt, concurred the blonde enforcer.
"I would like you to trust me too," admitted Hayate, as serious as they come.
Nanoha almost shifted her attention back to Hayate when she heard this, the wistful tone in her voice giving away how sincere she was, but she managed to ignore it for the time being. Understanding by now that Fate was concerned, and a bit worried, for the woman who just helped her, Nanoha didn't know what to do about it. Glancing toward Shamal, she tried to attract her attention but to no avail so she decided to directly speak with her by telepathy. Shamal. The blonde doctor blenched a tad and gave her a startled look, visibly surprised in the middle of her own inspection. Nanoha-chan? The air instructor shifted her gaze back to the woman, leading the doctor's gaze back to her as well. She's hurting, she informed the doctor, who nodded several feet away from her. I saw it… but she won't accept our help, sighed the green clad woman in a defeated tone, frustrated and probably not mistaking on this. Maybe they could do nothing about it for now.
The difficult woman abruptly turned her back on them, effectively cutting off the conversation. "Whatever." She mumbled, starting to walk away. "Aggeris."
"Phantom mode, set up," answered the masculine voice of her device.
Her body vanished and this time Fate didn't try to call after her, probably unsettled by the woman's words and her well dissimulated physical predicament. Now that the skittish woman had left Nanoha walked to her best friend, brushing her arm with her hand in a supportive gesture. Fate looked at her with her beautiful eyes and she automatically smiled under her troubled gaze, taking her hand in her own to squeeze it gently. She could see it, the lingering concern etched on her face.
"It'll be okay," she reassured her blonde best friend, Hayate giving them a quizzical look in her peripheral vision. "You should rest," she added to prevent any kind of protest, just wanting to see Fate recovering peacefully.
Shamal firmly nodded her approval, giving the blonde enforcer a very stern look when she was about to protest and Fate relented, tiredness settling on her frame. Her free hand went to her chest which made Nanoha watch the movement in concern, wondering what the blonde was feeling there to be so distracted by it. Fate then let go of her barrier jacket and she let out a heavy sigh, admitting in her softest voice that some rest would do her good. Nanoha let go of her hand with a last smile before they all parted ways for the rest of the day. Fate was to go back to the medical bay with Shamal for a complete check-up. Hayate had to go back to her office, Signum in her wake while Teana retreated to the office she was sharing with Fate, lost in her thoughts. Vita was still at her side, sending her some glances but uttering a word after the whole ordeal. Nanoha could tell that the knight of the hammer was more perturbed by what happened that she wanted to let on but since the shorter woman didn't want to talk, she didn't start any form of conversation with her. Maybe later. With her own sigh the air instructor thoughts went back to her students and what training they will go through in the next hours. Vita was there to help.
But even if all of them were back to their activities, Nanoha just knew that all of them were mulling over what just took place on the training field.
To be continued...