Disclaimer: I don't own the worlds in this fic, or anything else portrayed. I did create the villains and story, though. I guess that means they're free for the taking, but if you do, just let me know if you would. Maho Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha and Maho Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A's were produced by Ivory and Seven Arcs.

Chapter 1 - 'Normality'

13.40, 11th June, Cadet Wing, Time and Space Administration Bureaux.

"Cadet Raponji!" The voice was cold and intimidating, and the male human with brown hair stopped in his tracks, turning to face the shorter woman who was addressing him. "Yes, miss?" he smiled sweetly at the light-haired Japanese female, noting that she was only about sixteen years old. More a girl than a woman. He briefly wondered what she wanted, and how such a sweet face could have so cruel a voice.

"I believe that combat training is timetabled next for the new recruits?" She scowled up at him, and his smile wavered at the look.

"Yes, I think so. Aren't you a little young to be a recruit, though?" he replied, taking in her casual clothing. She wasn't wearing a cadet's uniform, which was strange – he'd not thought that anyone other than high-ranking field agents were allowed to walk around without their uniforms.

"Please tell me where you think you are going, in that case?" The girl's lips thinned to an irritated line as she spoke.

"I'm being trained as a communications officer, so I don't need to learn to fight any better than I already can." He grinned. "Who are you, by the way? If you're a cadet, shouldn't you be in uniform?"

"Your timetable says that you have combat training now with Takamachi-sensei." Again, the girl didn't answer the question.

"It's a misprint." Raponji replied, starting to get irritated. It didn't even cross his mind to ask how she knew what was on his timetable. "Now, tell me who you are before I lose my temper. Civilians shouldn't be wandering around this base."

"It is not a misprint, Raponji. Takamachi-sensei is too soft on her students, but she will report it." With that, the girl sighed and walked away. As if to underline her point, a whirring above him alerted Raponji to one of the many CCTV cameras he'd forgotten about. "Oh, you might want to stop off at the cadet armoury on your way. I'm told she can get a little enthusiastic in her demonstrations sometimes." She called back over her shoulder before vanishing round a corner. Sighing, Raponji changed direction and started back towards the instruction areas, fighting down his irritation at the nameless civilian. He supposed being taught by instructor Takamachi was an honour, but he really couldn't be bothered with learning to fight. Briefly, he wondered what the great hero looked like. He was probably tall and ruggedly handsome, Raponji realised, but inhuman in some way. Why else would they have kept his picture – and any details about him – hidden than if he weren't an alien?

Nearby, Nanoha hid a smile behind her hand. By now, she was well used to being underestimated and talked down to – everyone had heard of Takamachi Nanoha, but very few of them realised that she'd been nine when she'd performed her seemingly miraculous Lost Logia sealings, and those who had heard that part put the stories down to exaggeration. Turning into a blind alley (She'd heard a pair of cadets wondering why there were so many blind alleys in the Bureau's headquarters. She remembered with a smile that they'd eventually decided they were defensive foxholes in case the base was attacked), she took out her ID card and waved it in front of the wall. A moment later, she stepped through the short-range teleport to arrive in her classroom. It was a running joke among the cadets that the instructors must all secretly be ninja as well as mages – how else could they leave after you, but always be in their room before you arrived?

Unlike most of the teaching rooms in the base, Nanoha's was mostly open. Lockers stood on one side of the thirty-foot-square; dome-roofed chamber and two doors led off it. One was a cupboard where training staves were stored, the other a small changing room for any girls in the group. Mats lay across the floor except at the edges where there was a walkway of polished wood. The walls and floor were inscribed with hundreds of runes – inert at the moment – that when activated would seal the room in the most powerful set barrier the Bureau's defence specialists had been able to concoct. It would be incredibly bad if the base were damaged because of a stray shot from a half-trained mageling.

Nanoha reached into the neck of her T-shirt and pulled out Raging Heart, holding the marble-sized red gem between index finger and thumb. Silently, she asked the sentient device to activate her armour and apologised for not using her with the students who would be arriving any moment. As the white and black sleeveless dress formed around her, followed by the jacket and fastenings, she chuckled again to herself that she still hadn't got around to sorting out a uniform. It was just so much harder to change her armour once Raging Heart knew what she wanted than it had been to create the design in the first place. As the armour finished forming, she slipped the gem on its string back under the jacket and looked over at the door. It opened a few moments later to reveal the first of her students. It was a new class. She wasn't the only combat instructor on the base – in fact, under normal circumstances she wouldn't have been teaching initiate classes at all. Her power level and the unique trait she shared with only two other mages – the ability to activate magical devices with willpower alone – meant that she was usually given advanced classes. However, that was not why she had been given this group of fresh recruits. Every one of them was trouble in one way or another. Either like Raponji, they didn't see the need to go through the combat instruction regime, or they had something limiting or uncontrolled about their linker core.

The rest of the class filed in slowly, Raponji at the rear looking bored already. As a group, they were fairly varied. A pair of albino mixed twins scowled together at the edge of the room. A shy looking girl shifted uncomfortably on her own, clutching a book. Three vicious looking males talked together, glancing at the girl occasionally. A nervous boy was inching closer to the bookish girl, trying not to be noticed by anyone. The group ran a gamut of the ages – the shy girl looked about thirteen, the trio of boys a couple of years older. The twins looked to be at the upper end of the teens, as did the nervous boy. Raponji was oldest, being into his early twenties. The Bureaux recruited talent from a myriad of different worlds, and it wasn't uncommon for recruits to be even older than the communications trainee. For his part, Raponji looked annoyed about the whole thing.

"Not only have I been put in a group with a bunch of children, the instructor is late!" He grumbled out loud, and everyone looked at him. He noticed Nanoha, and scowled straight at her. "Why am I bothering with this? What's so special about this Takamachi fellow anyway?"

"He's a great hero… he destroyed the Tome of the Night Sky…" the shy girl whispered, as though she didn't want to be noticed but felt the need to defend her hero. Nanoha let them talk, wanting to get a feel for her class.

"That Book of Darkness thing? That was years ago." Raponji sneered.

"Seven to this day, to be precise." Nanoha interjected, and the trio of boys glanced over at her as though they'd only just noticed her. Seeing the almost predatory gleam in their eyes turned on her, she decided that it was time to start. "Just to make sure everyone is here – role call."

"Umm… Wait… I was told there were eight in the class…" The nervous boy blinked at her, looking around. The truth dawned on him a moment later. "Y-you're commander Takamachi!" he blurted out, surprise colouring his voice. The others all showed various elements of that same surprise. Raponji's look of shock and annoyance was expected, if not a little gratifying, but the bookish girl's sigh of disappointment surprised her.

'One of the disadvantages of anonymity, I guess… disappointed crushes.' Nanoha smiled at the girl gently, regretting the Tome's notoriety once more. That most people assumed she was male wasn't much of a surprise, but it did get tiring.

"Instructor. I'm not a commander, LaFay-san. So, sound off." She said aloud. "You first." She indicated Raponji.

"Cadet Gram Raponji, communications division. Is this some kind of a joke?" he growled. She ignored him, then looked at the three boys.

"Cadet Richard o'Shee, enforcement."

"Cadet Antoine Duchovni, enforcement."

"Cadet Benjamin Gray, enforcement." They sounded off, one by one. All three seemed torn between fear and hunger, and it wasn't a pleasant feeling to be the subject.

"Cadet Morgan LaFay, support mage." The nervous boy stammered, and the twins sniggered. He coloured and looked away. Nanoha didn't get it, but she wasn't going to let that on. She'd been teaching for two years now, and she'd got the hang of acting omniscient.

"Is there something amusing, Anderson-tai?" she asked in her 'disapproving educator' voice, giving them a cold look.

"No, instructor." The girl replied quickly, whopping her brother on the head to shut him up.

"Cadet Dana Anderson, Infiltration." She finished.

"Cadet Fox Anderson, Investigations." The boy said immediately after.

"C… cadet Pai'na Arachne." The shy girl responded finally after another smile of encouragement.

"Right. As you've probably worked out by now, my name is Takamachi Nanoha. For now, call me Takamachi-sensei or Instructor. I suspect you've found in your other classes, you'll have been exposed to a fairly academic style of teaching in line with what you'd expect from a school or university. I expect this has annoyed the older of you, since you came here expecting to work. I must apologise for the way things are handled here, especially in regards to the older cadets. That aside, when you are with me there are two rules. One, when you come in through that door." She pointed at the now closed door. "Anything that's bothering you, any personal problems you may have with each other or anything else stay outside. We are here for a reason. On the other hand, I'm usually available outside of lessons if there is something you wish to speak to me about. The second rule is that once we are in here, I am in charge. I do not care who you were before coming here. Inside this circle the only thing that matters is your ability to fight. Who among you can fight? I do not necessarily mean magic."

"I was military before coming here. I can already protect myself, so you don't need to bother with me." Raponji replied instantly and arrogantly.

"Very well. Show me." Nanoha replied, and he blinked.

"You mean… you want me to fight you..?" He asked, uncertain. She simply nodded. "Alright, but don't blame me if you get hurt." He finished before moving closer. When he was about five feet away, he dropped into a stance. Nanoha just stood there.

"Begin." She told him, and after a moments hesitation he lunged forward with the heel of his left palm aiming to strike her flank. Without effort, she sidestepped the strike and turned her fingers, tapping the back of his wristwatch as he went past her and sending him sprawling to the floor. She turned away from him as he picked himself up, grimacing, and opened her mouth to speak.

"There is a reason that all Bureau members, whether field operatives or base personnel are trained in combat. There is always the chance…" as she spoke, she reached back and caught the neck-chop Raponji was attempting to use to strike her, twisting his arm around until he was barely able to stand, torso horizontal and facing up. "That the base will be compromised. By the time you leave here," she released Raponji's arm and he fell in a heap before sitting up, rubbing it and scowling at her resentfully "you will be the best you can be. All of you are here because the other instructors couldn't help you. I know that for some, it was not unwillingness that sent you here but actual, physical problems. I will not judge you on either, as long as you promise to do your best for me." She looked at each of them in turn. "Do you promise me that, cadets?" she asked finally. All of them nodded.

"I.. I'll do what I can, instructor." Pai'na stammered, and she spoke for all of them.

"Then lets get started." Nanoha smiled, and started giving out training staves.

"Alright, that's enough." Nanoha smiled firmly, and the students (who were practicing individual kata) stopped, turning to look at her. All of them were a little worn out, but LaFay and Arachne were positively exhausted. That worried Nanoha, since if ordinary physical training was this draining then magic would likely wipe them out completely.

"Put your staves back in the cupboard. We're finished for the day. I hope this light introduction has alerted you to the level of fitness required here. I'm going to recommend that you all begin performing daily exercises if you do not already, and if you do then to step them up. Are there any questions?"

"Instructor, do you have any advice for exercising?" LaFay asked, and Nanoha smiled again.

"Of course. I'm glad you asked. For my personal regime, I start with some stretches first thing after waking up, then run a circuit of the ring, carrying weights. After that, I return to my quarters and go through several kata before stretching out, getting changed and jogging to breakfast. For you, though, I'd recommend only doing a quarter of the ring, and not using weights, until you can do that without difficulty. It's a bad idea to do too much too quickly, because you'll rip something." When she finished speaking, she set one track of her mind to dismantle the barrier. True, they hadn't been casting spells, but regulations stated that when in use, the combat training arena must be warded. "Anything else? No? Then class dismissed. Please put your staves in the store cupboard."

"Instructor Takamachi?" A female voice asked as the door opened, and Nanoha looked over.

"Ah! Limietter-chuuso! What brings you here?" Nanoha turned to smile at the divination and information specialist, pleasantly surprised by the older woman's visit. It meant that the Asura was in dock, for one thing.

"Captain Halloun just wanted you to know that we're back. Oh, and Chief Librarian Scrya wanted to know if you were still on for tomorrow." Even though Chrono was an Admiral by now, everyone still called him Captain to avoid confusion with his mother. In the same way, Yuuno was Chief Librarian rather than simply Librarian because since he'd joined the Bureau, several of his even younger relations had also signed on in junior positions. It had become something of a joke among the teaching staff that if house Scrya didn't like you, the entire library 'mafia' would be against you.

"Ah. Of course. Tell the Don that he'd better be ready, yeah?" Nanoha grinned. "Oh... are you holding a shore party this time?" The last of the students had walked out of the room before she'd asked about the party, though she was fairly certain someone had heard her call Yuuno 'the Don'.

"Naturally. Ne, Nanoha, how have things been here? Something must be up, for you to be teaching the fresh blood." Amy came in slightly further before leaning against the wall.

"No, not really... every thing's fine. These are just another... difficult group. The girl with glasses can only use magic to manipulate spiders, the older man refuses to believe he needs training, that kind of thing. Raponji, I think I can pass into the normal program fairly quickly, but a couple of the others I'm not sure about."

"Well, I'm sure you'll do your best! Oh, have the results come back yet?"

"Yep!" Nanoha grinned. "I have my flying colours. I'm now a fully qualified pilot!"

"Terrifying. You four... youngest admiral, youngest instructor, youngest strike leader... Between you, Chrono, Hayate and Fate, sometimes I think the rest of us are just for appearances. Is there anything you can't do?" Amy's voice was joking – she didn't really hold any resentment.

"Algebra." Nanoha replied solemnly, and they shared a laugh. "Come on, lets get some lunch. You have to be sick of ship food by now!"

The two women left the room, Nanoha turning to lock it behind her, and headed towards the canteen. In Admiral Graham's day, it had been called the mess hall, but when Lindy took the position she told the cooks that she didn't care what they called it as long as they served good food. It had been the canteen ever since. Leaving the hatch, they crossed the large room with their trays and sat at one of the trestle tables. In the canteen, all rank distinctions were voided, making it a neutral ground where no one could lord over another, and a place where free discussion between almost anyone was possible. That was the theory, anyway. There were always some who thought that their birth-rank, wealth or Bureau rank meant they could do whatever they pleased to those they considered below them.

"Hello, Nanoha-chan." Fate murmured from beside her in Japanese. The others were already eating, having gone straight to the canteen from finishing shore duties. The only ones missing now were Alex, Lindy and Yuuno. The former was watching the Asura in his duty as supply officer, and Yuuno was probably reading and had forgotten the time. Lindy was likely in her office, dealing with this or that problem. She rarely had a chance to eat in the canteen, since unlike her predecessor she did not have familiars to help with the workload.

"Fate-chan. How did it go?" Nanoha smiled at the quiet girl. Even after seven years, Fate's voice was still soft, and she rarely raised it.

"Well... the event was averted. There were no injuries." Fate said it in the same way she said everything else, even though most missions ended with at least one clerk hurt or wounded in some way. Then again, the Asura's missions – and by proxy, Fate's missions – were often not only the most dangerous, but the most well executed in the entire Bureau. Admittedly, that may have been as much Chrono's planning and Amy's information as Fate's magic and fighting ability, but she did look after her men.

"How long are you in dock for?" was the next question, and it was the captain who answered.

"A few days only, since we're here to re-stock. The Asura should technically still be on patrol, but that Logia drained her fuel, and used almost all Fate's cartridges. She's modest about it, as usual, but that should tell you how hard we really had to work."

"Ouch. Sounds rough." Nanoha replied, cringing slightly as she wondered just what could drain the fuel tanks of an L-class patrol ship like the Asura. The L-class weren't the biggest ships the Bureau used, but they were the mainstay of their fleet due to their adaptability and the fact that they could in theory remain on patrol for years between having to re-stock at base. The Asura had been out for only two months.

"Oh, is Hayate back yet? I've not seen her around." Chrono asked, changing the subject and ignoring the reproachful look from his subcommander. Even though Amy was two years older than her captain, the two were known to have maintained a 'secret' relationship for most of the last two years. It was understandable that Limietter was a little jealous when after every patrol, her partner asked after another woman. Especially when it was Yagami Hayate, who was a good seven years younger than the information specialist and looked set to keep her prettiness for most of her life.

"Been and gone," Nanoha replied, shaking her head. "Shamal-san was keeping an eye on the house in Uminari when she started detecting some strange energy signatures. The Wolkenritter were sent to investigate, since you were already embroiled and I had to take care of a problem class. Signum-san left a message for you, though, Fate-chan." The blonde looked up, interested. "She said she'd contact you as soon as possible to arrange your next.. er, sparring session." Nanoha cringed as passing on the message reminded her of the last one. They'd asked to use her teaching room for it, and... well, the wards had needed a full overhaul. Nanoha had been forced to teach theory for a week, and when you're a combat instructor known for making her lessons enjoyable, if difficult, desk-learning was a pain.

"Thank you... may we..?" Fate asked, but nodded in understanding when Nanoha shook her head.

"Not in my room again. You'll have to use the arena on Midchilda unless you can find some deathworld that's not being used."

"I see... that's alright. I understand. I am sorry for last time.." Fate murmured in response.

"It's alright, I just don't want to go through it again." Nanoha paused, thoughtfully. "However... I think... yes. Will you do me a favour? Some of my current class have problems with confidence. If you would help me give a demonstration, it would be a help."

"You wish to have them watch us fight? I do not see how..." Fate looked at her, not understanding.

"Not you and Signum... you and myself. I want to show them how even a beginner like I was when we first met can grow strong enough to defeat the black lightning."

"Even though you're the White Demon now?" Amy teased, and Nanoha coloured. The legacy of her retort to Vita still lived on, and would probably never fade. "Incidentally, how is the White Demon's love life? Have you and Yuuno..?"

"er..." if anything, Nanoha looked more uncomfortable than embarrassed by the admittedly intimate question. "No... well... we might, but..."

"Something always happens to stop it?" Amy guessed, and Nanoha nodded. "Aww, but you're such a cute couple! You should work at it, Nanoha."

The instructor nodded, but she seemed strangely uncertain. Amy was almost certain that Yuuno was in love with Nanoha, but... she was starting to wonder if the attraction was mutual, despite what the gossips said. According to the rumour mill - which she kept up on through the comm. net if not on base herself - the two were likely to be married soon. They'd had an on-and-off relationship now for three years, though if Nanoha was telling the truth it hadn't developed into a sexual one with their coming of age.

"I guess you're right." Nanoha mumbled into her food.

"I'll do it, for you." Fate said, getting the conversation back on track. Nanoha looked up at the sixteen-year-old with a smile.

"Thanks." she replied, then put her cutlery down. Forks had been somewhat hard to get used to at first, but she could use them as well as any of the others. It still made her chuckle to know that no matter how hard he tried, Chrono couldn't use chopsticks.

A few moments later, Yuuno walked into the canteen, getting a sandwich from the hatch and crossing over to them, spilling half his lettuce on the floor as he absent-mindedly bit into it as he walked, reading from the slim tome in his hand. He only lifted his eyes from the book when Amy called his name and waved him over. With a smile, he put the book into a pocket and walked over, sitting next to them.

"Hello, Amy, Chrono. I didn't know you were back yet. You're not due for another six months, are you?" He gave Nanoha a smile, which she returned.

"We got drained by a Logia, had to return for restocking." Chrono replied. The two men were friends, though Yuuno's library work and Chrono's eight-month patrols meant they rarely saw each other in person. Since most of their professional contact went through Amy and one of Yuuno's assistants, Ino Scrya, they rarely spoke while on duty either.

"Ah. The Grey Vortex, yes?" Yuuno asked, and Chrono nodded. "The device designed to absorb and store energy for later use that lost its ability to release it's burden as anything but destructive blasts..." He might have gone on, but Chrono interrupted him.

"So, how's the family?" The captain asked, and Yuuno grinned.

"My sister just had another one. Her first just turned eight, ready to leave on his first expedition. Hopefully, it'll go better than mine!" The librarian grinned, and they all chuckled remembering the jewel-seed fiasco. That had seem so catastrophic at the time, but since then they'd all seen far worse. Precia's death had been merciful in the end. Such was often not the case among those caught up in the maelstrom of the lost logia. Some whispered that the Scrya family should be broken to prevent them uncovering any more treacherous artefacts, but few who bore wisdom would agree. It was better that the Logia were found and catalogued in an ordered fashion than released by greedy treasure-hunters haphazardly, and stopping official investigation would not stop the Logia from appearing.

"You all start so young. How do you manage?" Amy sighed, and Yuuno shrugged.

"Don't worry, Amy, they make me feel old too," Chrono grinned, "and I'm only six years older."

"At least some of your crew respect you." Nanoha grumbled. "One of my students is still convinced that the real 'Instructor Takamachi' is going to step out of hiding and send me to my room. Not to mention another disappointed crush."

"Maybe you should try and get them to publish your information, now that you're older?" Amy asked, and Nanoha shrugged.

"They would not..." Fate murmured over her apple and mango juice.

"No? What makes you say that?" The commander asked, blinking.

"The story is too old. That, and they like their mysterious hero. 'He' made too good news as an unknown." The blonde finished with a slight shrug before standing up. "I am going to go make sure they have not given my quarters to a rookie while I was out." Without waiting for an answer, as was her way, she turned and took her tray to the stands and left.

"The way she leaves like that... makes me wonder what she's running away from!" Amy joked as soon as she was out of earshot, receiving a grin from Yuuno and a confused look from Nanoha and Chrono.

"What do you mean?" the captain asked, tilting his head.

"She fancies you, Chrono. It's obvious." Yuuno supplied, and both Nanoha and Chrono stared at him.

"But she's my sister!" Chrono replied at the same time Nanoha made a similar comment.

"Only by adoption, remember." Amy continued. "Not that I'll let her..." the woman continued, scowling. "You're my territory."

"How is that coming, by the way? Do you think they'll transfer you off the Asura after the ceremony?" Nanoha quickly changed the subject.

"No way. We provide far too many good results together for them to do that." Amy responded with a smirk.

"Didn't stop them moving Jones and Powis apart. They were the top crew before you two came on the scene."

"Well... maybe. I can do my job just as well from the base in theory. It might be for the best." Amy's voice was thoughtful as she looked appraisingly at her fiancé.

"Er... I don't like that look..." Chrono mumbled, shifting uncomfortably. "What are you scheming?"

"Oh, nothing." The information specialist replied, glibly. "Just thinking it'll make it easier to look after our children."

"Ch-children?!" Chrono blurted, loud enough to get some of the people at nearby tables to glance over and inciting a fit of giggles and sniggers from a nearby table of female enforcement clerks. "I'm only twenty, for gods' sakes!"

"Good time to start.. ne?" Limietter teased, tracing circles on his arm with her index finger and leaning closer to whisper in his ear. "I want a lot, you know..."

The look on the admiral's face was too much for Nanoha, and she started giggling uncontrollably into her hand.

"It is good, my master." Raging Heart made its' presence known from under her shirt, which set Yuuno and Amy off as well. Eventually, Chrono realised that he was being played and joined in.

"You're too cruel..." he sighed when they'd subsided, "really... you'll have to make it up to me..." his voice quiet and depressed-sounding.

"Of... of course I will.." It was Amy's turn to look worried that she'd upset her betrothed. As Nanoha finished eating and stood, Chrono relented and slipped a hand around Amy's waist to hug her.

"I guess you should get started, hmm?" he whispered with a wicked grin, and Yuuno averted his eyes while Nanoha studied her tray.

"Right, yes. We'll see you later, Yuuno, Nanoha." The IT specialist said over her shoulder as the slightly shorter admiral led her away from the table. Nanoha waved before putting her tray away and going back to collect theirs, forgotten in the eagerness to return to their quarters and make up for lost time.

Fate sighed softly to herself as she stared at the small golden triangle in her hand. She sat on the bed in her quarters, wearing her uniform.

She closed her hands around Bardiche almost tightly enough to break the skin and felt the edges of her oldest friend cutting into her palm. As she did so, she thought again of the women who had brought her to this place... Mother, Linith, Alicia... the first three. Nanoha, Suzuka and Arisa the second... then finally, Lindy, Amy and Nanoha's mother, so different from her own.

In her own way, Fate loved them all. Each of them had shown her something... she owed them all. Even though Precia was not her mother, she had created her and given her purpose. Linith had shown her kindness of a sort, and the second-hand memory of the organised maid-familiar was a comfort. Alicia had given her a childhood... in a way, even though she was not as Precia had intended, Fate owed Alicia her identity.

Nanoha's mother and Lindy had given her what Precia had not - a safe refuge, a place to look for protection. They had been rocks for her, a foundation to rebuild after her own mother had shattered her. Amy was an elder sister, sometimes unhelpful and often jealous but still there when she was needed.

Suzuka and Arisa had given her companionship, friendship on the same level as her own... if Arisa was immature, she was strong, standing in the face of difficulty with an iron heart. Where Suzuka was often weak, willing to let the bad things pass by, she was wiser than her years, always willing to give advice or a distraction from everything that was wrong with the world...

Nanoha was the guidance... a beacon, shining at the end of the darkest paths. She...

The thought was interrupted as the door chimed to let her know that someone wanted to come in. Guiltily, Fate put Bardiche on the shelf and quick-stepped to the door to palm it open.

"Hi." Nanoha smiled softly from the other side. "May I..?" she waved at the inside of the room.

Fate nodded and moved to let her in. Nanoha entered the room and looked around. Like its occupant, everything was understated. A handful of service trophies stood on a shelf next to the Uminari Secondary volleyball championship cups of three years, a photo of her strike team stood on the shelf above her bed, and that was it as far as decorations went.

"Sorry. Most of my pictures are still aboard the Asura." Fate murmured, and Nanoha smiled as she saw the open kit bag on the floor by the bed, a picture of herself, Arisa and Suzuka on top. It was the old one, taken back when they'd been waiting for news of Fate's trial so long ago.

"That's okay. You aren't staying long..." Nanoha trailed off as Fate sat on the bed and patted the covers next to her.

"I would prefer to be here longer... sit with me?"

As Nanoha sat on the bed next to the slightly taller girl, she was a little surprised to feel the arm around her shoulders, as though Fate were leaning on her for support.

"It was bad... wasn't it?" Nanoha asked, switching back to Japanese. She felt Fate nodding through the tension in her arm.

"I almost lost them all... Nanoha-chan... it's only the second patrol I've been a strike commander, and I nearly lost all my men..."

"Ssh... it's okay. You brought them home, didn't you..?" She started rubbing a hand up and down the girl's back, comfortingly.

"But next time... what if..."

"You'll be alright, Fate-chan.. I promise. You have a lot of responsibility, but you're not alone. Everyone's there for you."

Fate looked at her friends' earnest brown eyes and nodded.

"Thank you... Nanoha-chan..."

They sat there for some time, drawing on each other's strength.

"Good morning." Nanoha said quietly to her class as she stood before them. Each of the students wore a barrier jacket with a shielding amulet sewn into the right breast opposite the T/SAB Training Corps emblem on the left. "I am glad to see that you received my messages before this session. I have decided that a demonstration of actual combat may give benefit to those of you who lack confidence."

"S-so... does that mean we'll be fighting for... for real?" Pai'na asked, stammering at the idea. "Is.. is that why the armour..?"

"Close, Arachne-san, but not quite. First, a history lesson. I am certain that you have heard most of it before, but it has bearing so please, humour me." Takamachi smiled at her class, and two of the enforcer cadets grinned back. Raponji just looked disgusted as usual. Fighting the urge to roll her eyes at the twenty-one year old, Nanoha continued.

"Almost eight years ago, a student archaeologist discovered several Lost Logia artefacts known as Jewel Seeds. However, while the Jewel Seeds were being transported there was an accident and the transport was thrown out of hyperspace and crashed on a small planet with no prior contact. The archaeologist attempted to contain the unstable Logia, but failed. In his weakened state, all he could do was teach, and so he called out for help. The only person who was within range to hear him, however, was an eight-year-old girl. She wasn't very studious, but she had good grades at school. She didn't know what she wanted to do with her life, and she didn't think of herself as a particularly brave person." Nanoha paused to let it sink in. The story was, of course, her own.

"Despite this, she learned everything the archaeologist could teach her. Though times were hard for the girl, she practiced at every moment she could until eventually all the Jewel Seeds had been sealed. Six months later, further events happened that took that girl and earned her the name of White Demon of the Administration Bureau."

Again, she paused as the room digested the second half of the story. Yes, it had been rather more complicated than that, and in the end she had had help, but those parts of the story would not enhance its message.

"The White Demon... Takamachi Nanoha." Fate's near-silent voice came from behind the group, and almost as one they turned to look at the blonde. Like them, she was wearing full armour. In Fate's case, her Barrier Jacket in Lightning form. Bardiche was held loosely in her hand in Device mode. The only mode, one enforcer had joked, that the device actually looked like a Bardiche.

"A child in grade school, who became one of the Bureaux's most powerful mages. Instructor Takamachi tells me that you are slacking," she gestured to Raponji, who purpled, and Gray who shrugged. "Or having trouble forcing your power to flow." she looked at LaFay and o'Shee, then Arachne and Duchovni. "Or to do what you want it to do." She walked towards the line, and they were forced to part to let her through. The cadets turned to watch her as she stood beside Nanoha. "This is not insurmountable." she declared. "Communications Cadet, am I supposed to believe that a little girl can do better than you? Infiltration Cadet, are you not willing to do anything to protect those you care about?" Through her whole speech, Fate had not raised her voice one iota above its usual murmur. Because of that, her voice sounded almost disappointed, and certainly not angry.

"If you don't believe that we are telling the truth, will you please believe that you can do as well? Each of you has the potential to be great, but you each hold yourselves back..." Nanoha spoke earnestly. "Today's lesson will begin with a demonstration of high-powered magical combat. Each of you will see what you must be prepared for in your missions for the Bureau, or in case the defences are breached." She took the red gem from around her neck and held it in her hand, sending a spark of willpower into it. The gem glowed, before changing into Raging Heart's Device Mode. "Please activate your shields. Raging Heart, Shooting Mode, Set Up." As the staff reconfigured, the students touched their shield amulets, erecting small barriers over themselves.

"Bardiche. Scythe Mode. Set Up." Fate intoned, and the axe blade lifted to allow the energy blade to spring into existence.

"Aegis system Set Up. Seal chamber. Prepare for high-powered combat. Aegis Shield, Demonstration Mode, Set Up." Nanoha commanded finally, and the room sprang to life, runes flaring as the barriers and shields activated to seal the room.

"Stand By." The soft male voice intoned. Even through their personal shields, the students felt the wards going up around them. "Ready."

"Flier Fin." Raging Heart acknowledged as Nanoha rose into the air.

"Divine Buster." The moment the mage was in the air, she charged and fired her first shot at Fate.

"Defencer." Bardiche's mechanical voice intoned, and the basic shield deflected the attack away. "Photon Lancer." Balls of energy sprung into being around Fate, who rose into the air and gestured.

"Fire!" she commanded, and the globes became darts flying towards her adversary.

"Flash Move." Raging Heart's dulcet tones remarked, and her wielder vanished...

"That's not too impressive.." Gram Raponji muttered to himself as he watched.

"That magic is powerful..." Morgan told him, daring to speak up in the older man's presence for the first time. "You can't feel it properly because of the shields..."

Above them, the two sixteen-year-olds continued to move back and forth, getting faster and trickier with each passing minute. Watching them, Pai'na was reminded why she had applied to join the bureau. To be like her hero, Takamachi Nanoha... the one who had destroyed the book that had taken her grandpapa and grandmamma from her... so that some day, she might find the other book... the one that would tell her how to get her parents back...

For the three prospective enforcers, the battle was sheer gun porn. Of the three, only o'Shee realised that it would be many years before they could hope to match the two blurs, black and white, that danced above them.

"Look out!" Dana Anderson yelled as a stray blast from Divine Buster Barrage sped towards Raponji. Before he had a chance to react, it had struck his shield and nearly blown it out. A pause in the battle above assured the two full operatives that Raponji was unharmed, if surprised, and they continued.

"Impossible..." Gram muttered as he recovered his presence of mind. He'd been watching, and he knew that these little girls couldn't possible have the amounts of power that he'd just been hit with. Born and raised on Midchilda, Gram Raponji had been fourteen when the Book of Darkness had been sealed. He remembered the pit gladiators fighting in the arena, the feel of their power from the stands. Those had been real men, he'd thought, with glistening muscles and handsome jaws and names like Crusher and Unbreakable. Real fighters.

The child he had been disgusted to find was the hero Takamachi Nanoha, the White Devil of the Administration Bureau, had just hit him with more power than any of those arena fighters could have hoped to attain in a century.

"Wipe that smug smile off your face, LaFay." He growled at the bookish lad next to him, who guiltily turned back to the fight and pretended nothing had happened.

"Hey... what's that weird feeling..?" Fox Anderson asked, looking at his sister. She shrugged, frowning, and turned her eyes back to the fight.

"I think it's..." Pai'na started, uncertain, feeling the fear rising up in her. Yes... it was the same feeling from just before...

"Ah, Commander Limietter..?" One of the men cleaning the Asura's bridge spoke up, uncertain, from where he was near her station.

"Yes? What is it?" The commander, overseeing the operation for the moment, moved over to him.

"Something on your console is blinking..." The cleaner told her. "I don't know what it means, but..."

"Wha?!" Amy exclaimed when she saw the console. "No, that's impossible... from inside the HQ?!" She knocked a bucket full of cleaning fluid flying in her rush to sit down. Unseen to her, the caustic industrial-strength cleaner seeped into the consoles, ruining several vital navigational systems and frying the comms. circuit.

"What is it, Commander..?" The cleaner asked, curious.

"A dimensional disturbance... from the training sector..." the diviner muttered, sinking back into her chair and watching helplessly as some of the readings went off the scale. "Nanoha-chan... Fate-chan..."

"That's bad, right?" The cleaner asked.

"Oh no..." Nanoha muttered, and Fate's eyes widened at the same moment. Nanoha had just parried Bardiche with Raging Heart again, and the two weapons were pressed against each other as their power strained. "Everybody, get down!" she just had time to yell at the students before a globe of crackling energy expanded from where the jewels of the two weapons touched, frying the wards as it touched them and blowing out each student's personal shield, temporarily blinding them.

When Raponji could see again, the room was in darkness. Smoke drifted here and there... and there was no sign of either Takamachi Nanoha or Fate Testarossa.