Considering that MGLN A's came out in 2005, I figured 2005 is the year the Aces are 9 years old. Go figure.
July 16, 2026; 06:44 PM.
"I did not realize that you smoke...Testarossa."
She watched those shoulders stiffen.
The blonde glanced back to look at her briefly, and a smile quirked on her lips before she turned to look back at the red sky.
"It's been a while," Fate said evasively, ashes flicked from the cigarette held between two fingers, "How are you, Signum?"
The knight shrugged, and stepped up to the railings, which the younger woman leaned against.
"When did you start smoking?"
A golden eyebrow arched. "You are inquisitive today."
Those words made her pause. Was Fate ever that blunt..?
Her eyes flickered over to the blonde, whose gaze had turned back to the view overlooking Mid-Childa.
Signum shrugged then. "Perhaps I am."
The blonde's only response was to press the cigarette to her lips.
Signum said nothing.
She didn't have to.
"...It shouldn't be hard to guess when I started, should it?" Fate's tone was soft and unreadable.
No. No, it wasn't.
"So this," Signum gestured blandly, "is your means of escape?" Just like how you ran away from her.
And then the painfully frank answer came.
Signum was not surprised by the reply.
If Fate Testarossa Harlaown was anything, it was honest. She lied, a lot, but those were situations that demanded it. (And those situations, Signum remembered, included times when the girl did not want others to worry over her.)
But she never lied to herself.
No, not even if those things were her weakness, not even if those things would break her and tear her apart.
And this, Signum knew, was the very reason why she was like this. She would not trick herself into believing something that was not true, even to protect herself.
Especially to protect herself.
Honesty, Signum thought ruefully, was a double-edged sword.
"How many more days?"
The knight knew what she was talking about.
"Will you be there?"
It was another long pause before Fate answered.
"I don't know."
"...It's been two years, Testarossa."
The blonde closed her eyes.
"Yes," she murmured. "Two years..."
July 20, 2024; 11:39 PM.
"Medical team! Emergenc - no! Hang in there, Fate-san! Fate-san!"
Blood splattered to the brittle ground.
Teana struggled to keep her hold on the blonde.
"You have to stay awake!" The usually curt tone of Teana Lanster was frantic. "Stay awake, Fate-san! Fa - "
An explosion shook the ground.
And it was with a sinking feeling that Teana realized their enemy was fast approaching.
Bzz - zzt.
May 14, 2024: 3:48 PM.
"This," Fate began softly, "may well be the last time we step foot on Mid-Childa. It is dangerous, it could incapacitate you, it could kill you."
A heavy silence descended.
"You have one last chance to back out. Leave this room, and you will be taken off the roster for this mission."
No one moved.
Bzz - zzt.
July 30, 2024; 04:25 PM.
"Give me the list."
Teana hesitated, the stack of papers held tightly in her hand.
"Perhaps you should see it later?" the orange-haired woman ventured. "It's not going to go anywhere, and you just woke up - " you were in a critical status for a whole goddamn week, Teana wanted to shout, you shouldn't strain yourself or you will break " - you should rest - "
Fate shook her head, grimacing when even that slight movement burned her nerves.
"Show it to me. I need to know. Those were my men that..." Her voice was bitter. "...I killed."
Still Teana hesitated.
She stiffened at the sudden formality.
The papers were passed over.
Two minutes later, they slipped out of her fingers and scattered on the floor.
Bzz - zzt.
May 7, 2024. 9.33 AM.
"I -- Takamachi-san, are you sure?"
"I am. Sign me up."
"This mission is dangerous."
"It is also by voluntary basis," was the flat reply.
There was another pause before the hesitant words came.
"...Are your parents aware that you are going for this?"
Her eyes flashed. "I am a member of the Time-Space Administration Bureau. I am a soldier."
"Y - yes, but.."
"I am legally an adult, a double-A ranked Aerial mage, and directly under Special Division. Who my parents are, what they are, and how powerful they are does not matter."
""But - "
"Sign. Me. Up."
The voice of the operator turned professional. "Vivio Takamachi, ID 445583123A. Qualification: Belka Wizard Rank, AA. Investigator; Special Division."
"Do you understand all implications of this mission, of its period, type, and danger level?"
"Do you understand that you will be in situations that will involve life and death - including yours?"
"Do you understand that you cannot drop the mission once your magical signature is registered here?" The operator waved a hand, and a hologram hovered in the air.
"Then please register."
Vivio lifted a hand, and a magic triangle formed on her palm.
She pressed it onto the hologram.
Vivio Takamachi, Belka Wizard Rank: AA.
Assigned to mission BT251-444, headed by Admiral Fate Testarossa Harlaown. First briefing will commence on May 14, 2018, 1530 hours in Hall 2A, second floor.
Bzz - zzt.
July 31, 2024; 3:35 PM.
"I want status reports on each squad," she said, voice hard. "I want to know the condition and current capabilities of each soldier, and I want it in five hours."
"F- Fate-san," Shario fumbled. She wasn't - she had not expected the cold fury in those formerly kind burgundy eyes.
"Update me on the status of the ship as well, and how long it will take for repairs."
She had not expected the admiral to plan an offensive against the terrorists, either.
It was not wise.
Not in their current condition.
Not while her commander was emotionally unstable, as well.
"Perhaps it may be better if we retreat - "
The soft voice was hard and commanding.
"Y - yes, sir?"
"Do as I say."
And she did, because this was not the kind and sympathetic Fate Testarossa that Shario had come to know.
This was not the same commander who had always spared a second thought, even for their targets. Especially for their targets.
In front of her right now was a cold, calculating commander.
A commander who would not show mercy.
And, despite Shari's reluctance to admit it, that was what Athers needed right now.
The former Fate Testarossa did not have the cruelty to deal the killing blow to their enemies.
But this one does.
May 14, 2024: 3:35 PM.
Her gaze swept over the room filled with soldiers. And as she did so, she tried to memorize their faces, their looks.
There were so many of them...
She never wanted to forget any of them.
But even her sharp eyes could not notice a girl by the corner, blocked by taller soldiers.
"Good afternoon. I am Admiral Fate Testarossa Harlaown. I will now brief you on this mission.."
August 17, 2024; 1:37 PM.
" - not your fault. It's not your fault!"
She shook her head.
"Enough," she whispered.
"Fate - "
Hayate's temper rose.
Furious blue glared into dull red.
"I never thought you were such a coward, Fate Testarossa."
Bzz - zzt.
August 7, 2024; 02:25 AM.
The door opened.
She didn't move.
A warm hand pressed itself on her shoulder.
"You should go back and rest," Hayate said softly.
She shook her head. Her tightly clasped hands were pressed to her lips, as if to stop herself from frowning - crying, screaming, lashing out, destroying - and her elbows rested on the soft surface of the bed.
Slate blue eyes swept over the figure on the bed. The screen by the bed continued to make repetitive beeps, and it was the only assurance that the sleeping woman was alright.
"Not until she wakes up."
The grip on her shoulder tightened.
"She's not going to wake up today -" I know, " - you've seen the reports, haven't you?"
don't tell me don't tell me don'ttellme
"Even when injured, even when she almost - " could? Should? " - died, she continued with the mission, and it was - " a failure, failure, failure - " a success - " it wasn't in HER eyes - "Fate-chan turned what could have been a hundred of deaths into something all of us consider minimal casualties - "
Hayate stopped, but the unsaid words floated in her mind. It was a memory far too fresh - too raw – and it was ingrained in her mind.
...despite serious injuries, Admiral Testarossa admirably led her team to a success. But towards the end, many had witnessed her coughing up blood and collapsing -
"I..." Nanoha's closed fists pressed against her face, as if trying to hide the pain - the sorrow, the anger - that was etched onto her face like hot steel branding her skin, "I don't want to hear it. No more. No more. Please."
It was a long moment before Hayate did speak again.
"Just remember, Nanoha.." whispered the general, her voice sad, "she's still alive. She's here, breathing. She's here."
She knows, damn it. She knows.
But Vivio wasn't here, was she?
Bzz - zzt.
August 20, 2024. 08:45 PM.
"She wanted to prove to you that she can do it! That she can take care of herself! That she is capable!"
It wasn't their first argument, but it was their last.
"I've known she's capable all the while. What I don't understand is why did she - " She cut herself off, and her voice was both hoarse and cracked. "Why - that girl, she - why?"
Blue eyes shut tightly.
"It's too late." Nanoha's whisper was as broken as it was cold. "It's too late. She's gone."
July 21, 2024.
Vivio Takamachi died in the line of duty.
Bzz - zzt.
July 21, 2024; 00:04 AM.
She was terrified.
But she stood her ground.
Because she would never let them touch her mother.
Bzz - zzt.
Bzzzzzzzzzzzzz - zt.
Final update for Expiation as of today. I debated on posting this for a while now, and decided I will.
Please read end notes of Stigma for an announcement.