Posted: 16/01/2008
1st Revision: 23/02/2008

Song available in LJ. Again, my final reminder. You need to know what happened in the White Devil fiction for this to actually make sense.

-o-

Resplendence of Ebony
Part IV

"Whispers in the Dark,"
- Skillet, Comatose.

No, you'll never be alone
When darkness comes you know I'm never far

To clothe you in crimson roses

-o-

"Starlight..."

Bright pink glow.

"...Breaker!"

The beam, the long, thick beam of pink light, slammed into the AMF barrier, and the ground shook.

Hands that held Raising Heart tightened, and she poured more energy into it.

A small ray of magic pierced through, hitting the wall; and the beam gradually grew.

She threw even more power behind her attack.

And the AMF barrier was overridden, the transparent shield fading into nothing.

An explosion shook the ground, the beam of light breaking the walls of the headquarters.

Time to dance.

Vita gripped the steel ball in her hand tightly, and a burst of red fire enveloped the ball before she tossed it into the air.

"Swallow Flier!"

Her hammer slammed the ball, and the burning orb crashed into a group of uniformed TSAB mages.

Not enough.

Not enough.

She snapped her hand out again - and four grey balls floated in the air.

Her hammer hissed as three cartridges were reloaded in succession.

And she swung, hard and fast.

Explosions, loud and sharp, rang in her ears.

Music to Vita's ears, really.

"Vita-chan!" Nanoha's alarmed voice. "You're - "

"Shut up!" Her blood was boiling. Her mind was filled with rage.

Vita. Calm down.

Shut up. You're noisy.

Vita -

Shut up. Shut up! SHUT UP!

Calm down -

I won't calm down. They hurt Hayate. THEY KILLED HAYATE!

She's not dead. The cold voice bit back at her.

Yet, she told her leader bitterly. Yet.

Yet. The cool response came. Our master is not dead, and our mission is to release her. Being reckless will do nothing.

A hand gripped her shoulder hard, and tugged her back sharply.

A light beam shredded some of her red hair.

"Vita-chan!" Nanoha's voice. Harsh voice. "Watch what you're doing!"

"I know that!" growled the knight, slapping that hand away. Her other hand gripped Eisen tightly.

And do not forget our other mission, Vita.

She gritted her teeth.

I didn't forget, damn it!

"Vita-chan?"

"Nothing!" she snapped back, even as a transparent red barrier flared from her open hand, blocking another beam.

Good. Then concentrate.

Her lips thinned.

"Let's go, Nanoha," she said.

Her voice was slightly softer, and the brunette noticed.

A ghost of a smile flickered on Nanoha's face.

"Aa."

-o-

"Bardiche!"

"Sonic move."

Yellow flash zigzagged around the myriads of mages.

And one by one, they fell.

Easy.

Too easy.

Her hands that gripped her scythe shook.

It was too easy.

Why?

Why?

Magic flowed through her veins, her blood; and she felt it tingling at the tips of her fingers.

Whatever moves she performed, whatever magic she did --

Her hand was raised, and yellow balls formed around her, crackling and bright.

"Photon Lancer Phalanx Shift."

Explosions, far and wide, threw the wind into an uproar and she almost flinched from the sharp velocity.

Too easy.

Too easy.

She used so much magic, and yet...

Why did she felt like she barely used any magic at all?

Regroup.

Signum's order snapped her out of her reverie, and she flew up into the sky.

Shamal must have found something.

Her eyes scanned the destruction below her, automatically seeking Nanoha.

She found her easily enough.

Wreaking havoc with Vita, per usual.

Her lips twitched to form a smile.

Then her eyes caught sight of someone, a mage dressed in black, hiding behind a broken car.

She knew as soon as she saw the gun in his hand.

A sniper.

And he was aiming at Nanoha.

His rifle was following the white mage's every movement.

The brunette hadn't noticed.

Nanoha hadn't noticed.

ba-thump

The mage was leaning forward, preparing to shoot.

And memories assaulted her.

Kaa-san. Chrono-niisan. Amy. Arf.

ba-thump

Blood. The scar. Blood. Arf. Nanoha.

ba-thump

Blood. Kaa-san. Amy. Chrono-niisan. Arf.

ba-thump

Nanoha.

Nanoha.

Nanoha.

Her grip on Bardiche tightened, and she felt her fingers shake.

The sharp wind ruffled her blonde hair, and a magic circle grew underneath her.

Her mind was blank.

As if in a trance, sharp, yellow daggers formed around her.

"Plasma Lancer."

Her gloved hand snapped forward.

And the knives sped.

Sped with a swiftness Fate never managed before.

It was fast, too fast.

But she realized it too late.

And it was that moment in which she realized why it was all too easy, why her every spell seemed to take so little effort.

Arf died.

And so the magic that she provided to her familiar had returned, pooling back in her reserves.

The explosion shook the ground, and Nanoha snapped her head around.

Blood.

Blood.

Blood.

Blood poured out to the ground, next to the black wreckage of that car.

Her grip on Bardiche shook.

Blue eyes were staring at her as she descended slowly.

Disbelief. Astonishment.

Horrification.

She wondered if her expression mirrored Nanoha's.

She had just killed someone, after all.

-o-

Clap, clap, clap.

"And so the first blood is shed?"a cold voice asked, sounding amused.

Her head jerked around, looking for the source of that voice.

Not that she needed to look for very long, since a large, wide screen soon appeared in front of them.

The TSAB mages had stopped attacking.

"Goooooooood morning...!" Singsong tone.

She stared.

Nanoha stared.

"You..." whispered Vita.

Takeru Kisato.

The very same man who kidnapped Nanoha's family once upon a time, used them as hostages against her, and...and...

A scene flashed past Fate's vision.

Slate blue eyes. Dark, cold, merciless. And Takeru, bound by her rings. And the deadliest weapon Nanoha could ever use...

"Yes," the mocking voice brought her back to reality. "Me."

Something in Vita snapped. "You bastard.." hissed the redhead. "How the hell did you get out of jail?!"

"How do you think I gained control of this little ground headquarters, Vita-san?" He tsked. "So how was my welcoming committee?" Takeru asked curiously. "Did it satisfy you, Testarossa-san?"

Her grip on Bardiche tightened, and she drew in a sharp breath.

"I was almost certain you needed to vent your anger ...after all, your family died." He was smiling amiably. "As did your familiar. The poor, poor little wolf...fighting to the end." Then he grimaced, and rubbed the side of his neck. "She almost got me, too."

She stared at him.

Her mind whirled with possibilities, making her dizzy.

She couldn't think.

"Ah, that's right," he said as if remembering something, and the grin turned maniacal. "I was the one who killed her, too."

She froze.

"I pierced right into her heart," he was murmuring.

His tone was oddly melodic, singing to a non-existent tune.

"Even at the end, she tried to claw at me...that poor, poor little wolf...but then she died! And I threw her into the wall! You should have heard the bones snapping! It was wonderful! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

For one of the few times in her life, she saw red.

"You..." Her voice was a soft hiss, and her hold on Bardiche shook harder. "You bastard..."

She took a trembling step forward, and Nanoha was suddenly next to her, holding her back.

"Don't..." whispered the brunette. Angry, hard and fierce, but begging Fate to regain her control. She held her in a vice-like grip. "Don't listen to him."

"He..." she sucked in a sharp breath, trying to force clarity back into her mind, and failed. She grabbed the hand that held her, fingers shaking. "He did..."

Nanoha held her tighter.

There was a pause where Takeru seemed to consider something.

"Maa, maa...calm down first. I still have other things to entertain all of you with." He sounded amused. "You didn't seem to notice it earlier, Testarossa-san, so I decided to keep quiet. But now..."

He snapped his fingers, and another screen, large and wide, blinked into existence.

She stared.

Suddenly, her legs seemed to lose all strength, and it was only Nanoha that kept her standing.

"Look!" he chanted in a sing-song voice. "Look at what marvelous destruction you have done!"

No.

No.

No.

How could she not have noticed?

Why didn't she notice?

Her breathing was suddenly ragged, and her heart hammered against her chest painfully. She couldn't hear what Nanoha was saying frantically to her.

Voices around her seemed so hollow, so faint; and she couldn't focus on anything but the screen.

Dead.

All dead.

The mages she attacked earlier.

They were on the ground, still and unmoving.

But it couldn't be!

Her control was perfect.

Her control had always been perfect.

She aimed to maim, not to kill.

"...It must have been wonderful to have the full capacity of your magic back," he murmured thoughtfully.

Realization hit her full force in the face, and she jerked involuntarily.

And she understood.

She understood.

Because she no longer supplied magic to Arf.

Because she had more magic than she used to have.

Because she channeled a bit too much magic.

Just a bit too much magic.

"Such irony..." Takeru chuckled, "You who tried to stop Takamachi-san from killing me, from getting her very first kill..."

He laughed, softly, bemusedly.

"And now...you're not just a killer anymore, Testarossa-san," he said quietly, almost comfortingly. "Given your duty as an enforcer, of course, you must have tasted your first kill before."

Tasted?

Tasted?

Fate felt disgust overwhelm her.

"Your hands are not stained with the blood of one anymore, Testarossa-san." Laughter. Pure, humored laughter. "Not two, not three. Not tens, not twenties. Fifties! Do you know what that means? You're a MASS-MURDERER NOW! MURDERER! AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!"

She was dizzy.

She couldn't think.

Couldn't focus on anything.

Couldn't breathe.

Blood.

Blood.

Blood.

"..Fate-chan! FATE!"

A sharp pain on her left cheek, her face jerked to a side.

Dazed, she turned to stare into fierce blue eyes.

The brunette had slapped her. Hard.

"...Na...noha...?"

The white mage almost said something, but Takeru interrupted.

"Ah, Takamachi-san...How are you?"

A grit of teeth.

Blue eyes tore away from her to glare at the man on the screen.

"It appears that you're healthy...unfortunately," he muttered.

But then he smiled.

"We never did get to finish our game before, did we?"

A smile so cold and malicious.

Another screen blinked into existence.

The blonde felt Nanoha shake.

The Takamachi family. Arisa. Suzuka.

Bound and imprisoned.

There were two TSAB officers there, rifles in hand.

"Ah, ah...do not move, guardian knight," he tsked, glancing at Vita, who seemed ready to attack. "I have your precious master with me, too."

He stepped back, and behind him...

The redhead froze.

Hayate.

On a bed, unconscious.

And Rein, sleeping in a pool of blue water encased in a transparent, clear box.

"Now, if you would be kind enough to stay there, guardian knights..." He sat down on the chair next to the bed, gaze sweeping over Signum - who had narrowed her eyes dangerously - and a seething Vita. "...Let me deal with my lovable, favorite girl first."

He turned back to face them.

"Saa...shall we continue our game, Takamachi-san?" He was smiling so brightly. "Once more, I have your family in my hands...and your precious friends too, this time. Admiral Chrono was not there to stop me this time, which is fortunate, no?"

"Bastard," hissed Fate.

"No, no. Testarossa-san, didn't I say such a word is unbecoming of a lady?" he chastised.

She felt a growl forming deep in her throat.

He sighed at the murderous glare.

"Naa, all pleasantries aside...let us get on to the main event, shall we?" He leaned forward. "Allow me to explain it...though the game is fairly simple, really."

A third screen appeared, and three zeros were on it, a bright blue in the black background.

"You have a time limit of thirty minutes. Once that's passed..." Takeru paused. "Well, they will be dead by then."

Dead by then.

By then.

By then.

"...For every five minutes," his voice dripped with sugar, "one person will die."

The blonde stiffened.

"That's why I said the time limit is only half an hour, ne?" He smiled.

"You..." snarled Signum.

"Me," he mocked back. "Where's the fun in the game if you are not actually desperate to finish it as soon as possible?"

Vita growled at him, and he turned his gaze back to her. "Patience, little knight. Your time will come."

Her gaze narrowed, and Signum clamped a steely grip on Vita's shoulder before she could move.

Then she was oddly silent; but if glares could kill, Takeru would be dead a thousand times over.

"Maa...before we get off-track too much...who wants to guess the objective of the game?" He was smiling so widely, so brightly, so sickeningly.

But no one spoke.

No one wanted to speak.

He sighed again, disappointment gracing his features. "You're all no fun. Well, no matter..." he muttered.

"The objective of the game..."

A dramatic pause no one felt.

"...is for Testarossa-san to die."

The blonde felt something cold and dark enveloping her.

"A life for six people. Maybe less if you spend too much time delaying, ne?" Amusement, a sense of humor so malicious and cruel laced his voice. "But that's more than a fair trade, if you ask me."

Her grip on Bardiche was loose, her stance frozen.

Silence.

"Do not hesitate for too long, my dear," he advised. "Time is precious, ne?"

The timer on the screen blinked, beeping once, twice, and thrice.

And the seconds began to tick.

Tick.

Tick

Tick.

The hands that held her left.

The brunette took shaky steps back.

Away from her.

Distancing herself from her.

The hand that held Raising Heart was shaking, so very badly.

They stared at each other.

Movements ceased.

Breathing stopped.

The wind ruffled their hair.

Dark red eyes stared into horrified, fearful slate blue.

-o-

"Nanoha..." Her name was being called, painfully, intensely.

Burgundy eyes, furious and sad all the same, were fixed on her.

Choose.

Choose.

Choose.

But she couldn't.

"No...no..." Weak, hoarse words. "I can't...I can't..."

"Oh?" Takeru's cruel voice said. "Then...you don't mind them dying?" He gestured, and one of the officers raised his rifle.

She jerked to stare at the screen. "Stop!"

"Then kill her," he encouraged, voice saccharine sweet. "The clock is ticking."

Her gaze darted to the timer.

Two minutes had passed.

Blue eyes returned to meet dark red.

The blonde hadn't moved.

Watching her silently.

Stance loose and open.

Waiting for her to decide.

To attack.

To kill.

And she was suddenly furious and mad.

LIAR!

The blonde didn't move, but there was a small flinch.

So small it was almost unnoticeable.

Then burgundy eyes were hard again, piercing into hers.

Forcing her to decide.

But she couldn't.

Her hold on her device shook.

She couldn't, she couldn't.

Her family or Fate.

Suzuka and Arisa or Fate.

Unthinkable.

Unacceptable.

Forbidden.

Who was more important?

What was more important?

The ground beneath her did not feel so steady anymore.

Her gaze was locked with Fate's, but she wasn't seeing those beautiful, grim burgundy eyes.

She wasn't seeing anything at all, thrust into cold abyss.

One life.

Six lives.

Her significant other.

Her family. Arisa, Suzuka.

Choose.

But she couldn't.

"Four minutes and coouuuuunting..." sang Takeru.

Anger, a fury so cold was building in the pit of her stomach; chilling even herself to the bones.

She forced herself to focus.

Think. Think.

There had to be a way to save them.

But that involved killing Fate.

"Thirty seconds left..."

Tick.

Tick.

Tick.

She heard a brief tussle from the screen, and snapped her head around to stare at it.

Miyuki was thrust forward by the collar, the tip of the gun pressed to her head.

There was a grimace on her face, and her family struggled to escape their bindings.

"Nee-chan..." The familiar, fond term came from her so quickly, so hollowly.

"Fifteen seconds! Who will die first, I wonder?"

Her fingers shook.

She turned again, slowly, to stare into deep red.

Kill her.

Kill her.

Kill her.

No.

The answer came swiftly.

Not her.

Never her.

"Three...two...one...and it's a zero!"

Bang!

There was the sound of a figure falling to the floor.

She didn't turn to look at the screen.

She couldn't.

Her hands shook.

Intense, fierce burgundy pierced her; regret and pain so clear in them.

And she knew.

She knew.

Miyuki was dead.

"Such indecisiveness..." tsked Takeru. "Now it's down to five people. Don't spend too much time deciding, ne?"

But she couldn't move.

Anger and despair snaked around her with a grip so suffocating, holding her there, freezing her.

Fate tore her gaze away to glare at the screen.

"The game will be over when I die, right?" she asked - growled - at him.

"Aa. Of course. I'm a man of my word." Takeru smiled.

"Fine."

Fine?

Fine?

She felt something terrible, so very terrible and cold, sinking in her stomach.

"Fate...chan..?"

Deep red eyes looked back at her for a brief moment, and a monotone male voice echoed in her ears.

"Sonic move."

Then the blonde was suddenly behind her.

A gloved finger touched the back of her neck before she could react.

"...I'm sorry." Husky, faint voice; filled with regret and pain.

Electricity jolted through her nerves, and her device clattered to the ground.

Strength faded from her legs.

Her muscles refused to move.

She couldn't move.

Her nerves were numbed.

She could barely feel anything.

"...You will be back to normal in a little bit, Nanoha." Soft, quiet words.

She could only feel the shadowy sensation of slender hands catching her before she could fall.

A hold so gentle and familiar.

And she understood.

She understood.

"No..." she managed to whisper, even as she felt something clenching so tightly in her chest. "Don't..."

Her vision blurred with tears.

She tried to move.

But her body refused to.

"No...no..." Her voice was faint and weak, as if even saying that took so much effort. "Don't...do it..."

But Fate wasn't listening.

She felt another pair of hands grasping her, and the blonde stepped back.

"Thank you...Signum."

"Are you sure, Testarossa?" Calm, unreadable words from the pink-haired knight.

"...Yes."

A pause.

Gloved fingers caressed her cheek, brushing away stray strands of hair.

"You're always so kind, Nanoha..."

Blue tried to focus onto soft burgundy through all the blurriness.

There was a slight smile on that face.

So very familiar, so very gentle.

A soft kiss was pressed to her head.

There was a faint scent that was uniquely Fate's.

Three words were whispered into her ear.

She couldn't respond.

Couldn't breathe.

Couldn't think.

"Liar..." she whispered, voice cracking. "You liar..."

The smile grew a fraction.

Then that familiar, warm presence moved away.

And she could only stare, watching the back of the person that was so very dear to her.

"Testarossa."

Signum's clear voice cut through her haziness.

"Allow me...to do it."

Surprised burgundy turned back to look at the knight that held her.

"Signum?"

"No death by suicide is honorable."

The lightning mage blinked.

Then there was a smile.

"I...see."

A soft hiss of sword unsheathing.

Her feet touched the ground, but there was a strong hand around her waist.

"...Is that fine, Signum?"

"It's fine. You are not the first person I have killed before, Testarossa."

"Sou. Then...that's okay..."

Burgundy eyes closed.

Nanoha's gaze darted to Signum's, whose eyes revealed nothing but cool calmness.

"Don't..." her voice was so weak.

Signum didn't listen to her either.

"Laevantine."

"Schlangenform."

The knight jerked her hand, and her sword - broken apart and linked together by a chain - sped towards the blonde.

It pierced her.

Through her middle, out the back.

Blood splattered to the ground.

-o-

You can't leave me, ever.

I won't. I promise.

You won't die? You won't disappear? Ever?

I won't. I will be with you. Always.

-o-

A/N: You guys are in for a treat this month? That's three fics/chapters in a row for January. Boredom is a very bad thing, I think. Though I have a feeling some of you will start hoping I get even more bored.

Just one thing I have to say, people.

Stay with me to the end of this story. Speculate however you like, but do stay with me. I don't think you'll regret it, because it is a happily ever after ending. In a somewhat morbid manner, that is. Though that could be interpreted as bad ending as well. But it's a surprise, and with some of you predicting it correctly and wrongly, that's my cue to shut up. :D

That aside, I've finally gotten the epilogue written, which took ages, though I'll likely be tweaking a little bit more. Now, though, part V and VI is proving to be a bit of a problem, so the posting of the next part may take a little longer, with/without beta-ing.

Till next time,
Eagle.