"Ready to go, kid?"
Takamachi Vivio gulped. Vita was a family friend, of course, but this wasn't the friendly redhead whose body looked to be no more than a year or two older than Vivio's, maybe that of a child of twelve. In her blood-red dress, with her hammer-style device, Graf Eisen, carried lazily across her shoulders, this was the Iron Hammer Knight of the Wolkenritter, one of the deadliest and most ruthless close-combat specialists in TSAB history.
And she was going to be Vivio's personal battle trainer!?
Part of Vivio wanted to turn around and run away. Go back to school, complete her course of study, and join the rank-and-file. No special treatment.
(No giant hammers!)
Vivio shook her head forcefully, not to Vita's question but to shake out those traitorous thoughts. She was the adopted daughter of the Ace of Aces, Takamachi Nanoha, and of the TSAB's top Enforcer, Fate T. Harlaown. Her mothers had been the heroines of the Jewel Seed incident and then the Book of Darkness incident when they were only nine, a year younger than Vivio. She wasn't going to be scared off by a training session.
(With giant hammers!)
Besides, this wasn't "special" treatment based on who her parents were. This was because of her own particular magic abilities, a training regimen suitable to who she was and the potential she held. It was justified.
"Mmn!" she answered wordlessly.
"That's the spirit. Come on; let's see what you've got."
~X X X~
--One month ago--
Brigadier General Yagami Hayate looked up with pleasure as the holo-screen showed the face of Mariel Atenza. Being the youngest general officer in the history of the TSAB Ground Forces was a major accomplishment, but it meant that far too much of the petite Japanese girl's time was spent on dull paperwork and duller politicking. Mariel wasn't just a friend; she also tended to come up with interesting topics, making her call doubly welcome.
"Good morning, General Yagami."
"Hi, Mariel," Hayate replied, cuing the green-haired engineer to drop the formality. "What's going on?"
"Well, we've had a request from the Saint Church magic school to analyze a student's test data, and...well, you're going to want to see this."
Mariel tapped a few keys, and a second screen opened in front of Hayate. The results of a magic-school student's quarterly aptitude tests were displayed.
"Support nil, midrange minimal, long-range nil, close-combat adequate...wait, what's this last score?"
"That one stands out, doesn't it?" Mariel said with a grin.
"Yes, but why come to me? The teachers can deal with one-note prodigies well enough and...oh, wait a minute. Mariel, does this bit at the end mean what I think it does?"
"Well, that explains why you came to me. I know who this student is, don't I? It's Vivio."
"Got it in one!" The name field, previously blank, filled in with "Takamachi Vivio."
"Well, it stood to reason. She's an artificial-life clone of the ancient Saint Emperor, so it's only natural she'd have an affinity for Belka-style magic."
"And since you're the resident expert on that..."
Hayate was the mistress of the Tome of the Night Sky, an ancient Belkan artifact once called the Book of Darkness. She and the Book's guardian knights, the Wolkenritter, were the majority of the very few known practitioners of Belka-style magic.
"No wonder her test scores are lousy," Hayate mused. "She's having to backchannel everything she does into Mid-style magic and that steals half its efficiency." Hayate paused to think. "What about the device problem?"
"Leave that to me!" Mariel caroled, then stopped. "Oh...um...would you lend me one of the Wolkenritter, though? I'm going to need a sample to work from and Elio's off-world."
~X X X~
Most young mages, faced with an opponent like Vita, would have stood off and fired some kind of long-range attack. It didn't take a genius to see that the Iron Hammer Knight's primary specialty was getting in close and smashing down an opponent at short range. Vivio didn't do that, though, but charged in directly. She wasn't ignoring the obvious or trying to take her opponent off-guard by doing the unexpected; she just didn't have any distance attacks that she could use without a delay for preparation.
Vita pulled her head back to dodge the first punch without moving her body, leaving herself free to easily sidestep Vivio's follow-up roundhouse kick. The third punch could have as easily been avoided, but Vita intentionally raised a barrier to block it instead, wanting to gauge the strength of the girl's blow. She was pleasantly surprised; the magic-augmented punch struck with nearly the force she'd have expected from a C-rank mage. Huh. Some potential there, at least, if we can teach her how to fight and not leave herself open. For example...
She swept Graf Eisen around at Vivio's exposed side; it smacked into the girl's makeshift Barrier Jacket.
And bounced off.
While Vita was trying to process this information, Vivio tried punching her again and almost got in a hit; someone with better technique probably would have. Vita grinned, sprang back, then came back in with a windmilling combination. Vivio yelped and tripped over her own feet, landing smack on her bottom. Her mismatched red and green eyes grew wide with fright.
Beneath her, a bright silver rune formed, triangular in shape, then twisted, torturing itself into a circular pattern.
"Defenser!" Vivio cried out. A shield sprang into existence in front of her, and in response Vita gave her own attack a little extra oomph, flame bursting from the back end of Graf Eisen. It made no difference; the hammer clanged off the barrier.
"Damn, I didn't see that coming." And that's two good reasons for me to be here. She switched Graf Eisen up to a larger form, the hammer head extending and retracting as it loaded a cartridge, releasing the burst of stored magic.
"Explosion!" echoed the Iron Count's deep, vaguely metallic voice, as the hammerhead became a drill point and the burst of flame from the reverse side drove it like a jet engine. The hammer slammed into Vivio's barrier, light cascading everywhere from the clash of energies, but the barrier still held out. Vita's arms trembled; she could feel a slight give but not...quite...enough.
She loaded another cartridge, the Explosion's jet flame roared up white-hot, and the barrier shattered in shards of white light. Vivio grunted as she slammed into the ground, driven by the backblast of her defense breaking. Vita spun the hammer aside before Graf Eisen could make contact with the girl, then smiled down at Vivio.
"Y'know, given that was a half-assed spell done crossways and backwards, kid, that was one fine piece of defensive magic. Just think what you'll be able to do when I teach you to do it right."
She extended a hand, and after a second to clear the spinning stars out of her head, Vivio smiled back and took it.
~X X X~
"So how much did they tell you?" Vita asked Vivio as they jogged back towards the Ground Forces HQ.
"Just that you could"--huff--"give me special training"--puff--"so my magic would work right." It had always bothered Vivio in school. She graded out high on potential and always worked really hard, but had never been able to produce results above ordinary level. She wanted to be like her mothers, both celebrated Aces, and use her powers to protect people. So if Vita could help, she was willing to work at it.
Though she had to admit, their initial sparring match had dampened her enthusiasm a bit. Vita had clearly been holding back and Vivio was still going to have a fresh crop of bruises. And now instead of taking a transport over to the base, she'd insisted on jogging: It's a good cool-down after sparring, and we've got to start building your wind, anyway.
Vivio hated when adults gave her good, logical reasons for making her do things she didn't like. Not only did she still have to do them, but she couldn't even get her frustration out by whining without making herself feel guilty!
"That's right. Um..." she started, looking a little uncomfortable. "How much do you know about...er, how you came to have Nanoha adopt you?"
Vivio figured out what Vita was getting at and why the ordinarily blunt-as-her-device Wolkenritter was dancing around it.
That's really sweet of her! Vivio thought, and immediately felt guilty over the bad thoughts she'd had about Vita. But it's hard to remember someone's a good person when they're swinging a giant hammer at you!
"It's"--wheeze--"okay. I know that I'm an artificial mage. Fate-mama is"--gasp--"too, so I know it"--choke--"doesn't make me any less human, even if some people would think it's strange." She didn't thank Vita for being nice about it; Vivio had an instinctive idea that would just embarrass her new teacher.
"Hell, I'm a program based on magical data from the old Book of Darkness before Hayate and Reinforce made us independent entities, so you won't hear me saying anyone's less than human. Anyway, the thing isn't so much what you are as who. You were based on the bloodline of the ancient Belkan royalty. When that freak Scaglietti plugged you into that weird battleship, it cemented that relationship. The magic talent you've got isn't like your mothers' or the people in your class. You use Belkan-style magic, so you need someone who uses it too to teach you how it works before you can start adapting it. Fate had Signum tutor Elio when he was starting out; same difference."
They kept on jogging. Vivio didn't say anything else, just concentrated on sucking in oxygen.
"So that's the big reason why I'm going to be training you, if you want this. Reason number two is, except for Nanoha, I'm the best combat instructor around. Since she can't do it, you've got me."
The mention of her mother made Vivio try talking again.
"Why can't"--gasp--"Nanoha-mama train"--huff--"me? Because she uses"--puff--"Mid-style magic?"
"Nah, though you'd still need a separate magic tutor. Combat training, though, that's about how you apply your magic, not the technical stuff. No, she can't do it because she's afraid she'll take it easy on you. Nanoha's so good at it 'cause she pushes her recruits right to the edge of breaking, just far enough so that they don't snap but so when you-could-get-killed-out-here battle starts they're ready for it. She's hard on her students because it makes them able to survive and do their best when they hit the field, but you're her daughter. That's a whole different kind of love than teacher-student." Vita grinned at her. "Basically, since I'm not your mom, I'm happy to beat the crap out of you on the training ground to get you ready and not feel guilty over it. That's the first two reasons."
"Yep. Chances are, I'm a better teacher for you than your mom, anyway, because we're a lot alike. We're close-combat forwards. We get right up in the teeth of the bad guys and take them head-on so the support mages don't get pounded on, the center is free to see the field and plan strategy, and the shooters can pick off targets. Hell, even though that's without a device, your hand-to-hand attacks were punching and kicking. Can't get more close up than that. I'll have you work out something for distance attacks in a pinch, but it's going to be strictly backup. Hope you don't mind getting nose-to-nose with the bad guys, 'cause that's how you're gonna take them down most of the time."
Vivio wasn't sure she liked the sound of that.
"Tell you one way we're different, though. Me, I'm good at breaking stuff. If I want to protect people, I pretty much have to do it by figuring out what's hurting them and smashing it. You'll be able to protect them directly with your defensive magic. You've got a real talent there."
"Saint's Armor," Vivio whispered.
It was a ghost of a memory, something from when she had been, as Vita put it, "plugged in" to the Saint's Cradle by Jail Scaglietti. Her memories weren't any clearer than those anyone had from when they were four--probably worse because she'd been under mind control--but she thought she'd heard Quattro say something about Vivio's magic, when increased by the Relic they'd implanted in her, being the "Saint's Armor." Nanoha-mama had saved her and removed the Relic, but even so it made sense that Vivio had a natural talent for defensive magic.
When Vivio didn't answer (desperately trying to get air made a good excuse for not discussing uncomfortable things), Vita let it drop. In a couple more minutes, they reached the gates of headquarters and Vita at last stopped. Vivio dropped to her hands and knees, wheezing. The stitch in her side burned like she'd actually been hit by Graf Eisen. She started trembling, but Vita grabbed the back of her T-shirt and hauled her up to her feet again.
"Uh-uh. Walk it off; don't lay down. You collapse now and you won't get up for another ten minutes, and the lab won't wait around for you."
"Yeah; we're not here for my health. Unless you decide that you don't want to train with me."
Vivio wobbled a little; her legs felt like they were made of gelatin.
"If I don't want to?"
"Sure. Nobody can make you be an army combat mage if you don't want to. The offer's open because you're in magic school, and you've told your parents you wanted to train for the military. But it's your choice, nobody else's."
"Do I have to decide now?"
"Yep. Mariel's got something for you, and if you turn me down it'll be a big waste of her time and the lab's budget to go further." Vita shrugged. "Sorry, but that's how it is."
Vivio shook her head.
"No, I understand. It's like how Fate-mama has to go out on missions so she's away from home sometimes." Being a military brat gave a person a good sense of the fact that life didn't always fit their schedule.
Vita wasn't sweet-talking her or trying to "sell" the deal. She was laying it on the line. If Vivio took her up on the offer, she'd work her butt off and probably wish she was dead after most training sessions. But on the other hand, it was the best way for her to achieve her dream. Her mothers hadn't just become Aces; they'd worked hard and suffered for it, but they'd counted the goal worth the risk.
Vivio really, really wanted to live up to their example.
So she stuck out her (still shaking) hand.
"I accept, Vita-sensei!"
"That's the language from where Nanoha and Mistress Hayate are from, right?"
"Thought so. 'Sensei,' huh? I kind of like that. Okay, kid, let's go in and see Mariel."
The laboratory complex awed Vivio. She'd learned in school about how Mid-Childa had adopted magic as the clean and efficient basis for its technology, but the how of it, the technical details of making that power useful to everyone, not just mages, amazed her.
Mariel, the engineer who greeted them, was a new face but apparently was a friend of Vivio's mothers as well as Vita, and she had a nice smile that put the girl at ease.
"Ah, so this is Vivio! She's decided to go ahead with training in Belkan-style magic?"
"Great! Come this way," she told Vivio, and led her on to the next room, with Vita trailing behind.
"Why are we here, Miss Mariel?" Vivio asked curiously.
"Vita didn't tell you?"
The redhead grinned.
"I figured it'd come better as a surprise."
"Great! Then I can! Since you're going to be undergoing serious training as a combat mage, you're going to need a device that you can work with."
"A device? Like Raising Heart and Bardiche?"
"Actually, more like this boy." She pointed to the tiny hammer-shaped pendant that was Graf Eisen's shape when not in combat form.
"Right. You're a Belka-style mage, so you need a device that works with Belka-type magic." Her smile grew. "It was great! I got to study Signum's right down to the core!"
Vita howled with laughter.
"I'd have given a year's pay to see that!"
"I know! Signum just stood there twitching and glowering the whole time, as if she I expected I wouldn't be able to put Laevatein back together! I almost wanted to toss in a few 'oh, dears' and the occasional 'wait, now where did that go' just to tease her."
"Think Mistress Hayate picked her instead of me on purpose?" Vita asked between guffaws better suited for an old man than her childlike frame.
"Knowing the General's sense of humor? I'm sure of it."
Vivio wasn't quite sure what to make of this exchange, except that she knew Signum was always very stern and serious and not at all the kind of person who'd be comfortable being teased.
"Anyway, the point is, I was able to analyze and research a Belka-type device, and then make one for you, Vivio. Shari's going to be so jealous! Strada just doesn't compare." She stopped in front of a sealed case, then input a passcode making the security field vanish. "Vivio, meet Parsifal."
Vivio stepped up to the case and stood on tiptoe so she could peer over the edge. A bracelet made of what looked like polished black marble, set with a single dark blue stone, rested inside.
"Um, hello, Parsifal."
The stone flickered a brighter, royal blue shade.
"Guten morgen." Its voice was rumbling and deep, making Vivio think of a sleepy bear. She jumped a bit when it spoke.
"He talks!" She looked up at Mariel. "Training devices don't talk!"
"What, I'm going to waste my time on a training device? Parsifal is the real thing, a genuine Intelligent Device."
"And he's for me?"
"He'd better be," Vita said. "There's nobody else who could use him right now."
Eyes wide, Vivio reached into the case and picked Parsifal up.
"Thank you for working together with me. I'll try to be a good mage and treat you well."
"All right, then; let's try him out. Since you've never worked with a device before, I didn't know what secondary parts to add, so why don't you configure him now?"
"Secondary parts?" Vivio asked.
"For extra battle forms and like that," Vita explained. "It wouldn't make much sense to add a rotating Gatling barrel if you were using a sword."
"Oh, I see. But how do I pick?"
"Don't try. Just let the magic flow, and Parsifal will work with it to adapt to the best form for you," Mariel advised. "But do think of what you want your Barrier Jacket to look like."
"Mmn!" Vivio agreed with a nod. "Okay, Parsifal, let's do it. Set up!"
Royal blue light blazed up around the girl as she imagined her Barrier Jacket: a charcoal-gray bodysuit, covered by a sleeveless dress the same color with blue-gray piping. Her hair was tied up and back in a single, off-center ponytail like Nanoha were, with a blue ribbon. Parsifal had fitted itself to her upper right arm, expanding into a kind of shell that embraced the arm and protruded past the shoulder in a flange.
"Wow!" the girl exclaimed, looking down at herself. She could tell that the Barrier Jacket was much more powerful than her old one, and it felt better, too, more natural. When she said that aloud, Vita nodded.
"That's 'cause Parsifal's doing it right for you, Belka-type magic; before you were creating the Jacket Mid-style."
"Oh, I see. Thank you, sensei."
"What I don't understand is, what kind of weapon is Parsifal trying to be?" Mariel contributed. "It's not a sword or a staff or a gun or anything I've seen. The cartridge loader is in place properly," she observed, "but...I don't get it. What kind of weapon is he?"
"Nein," replied the device.
"He's a vambrace, Mariel."
"What kind of weapon is that?"
The question made Vita and Vivio both laugh.
"It's not," Vita took pint on her. "C'mon, you already know that Vivio's magic is way overbalanced towards defense. It's only natural her device would be a piece of armor."
"Is that going to be okay, though? A combat mage has to be able to defeat her enemies, not just protect against them."
Vita grinned evilly.
"Don't you worry about that."
"All right, then, Vivio, I'll set up Parsifal for you as is, then. When you and Vita find out what changes from the base form might be useful, bring him back in and we'll see what we can do."
"You sound really excited, Miss Mariel," Vivio said as she returned Parsifal to its bracelet shape.
"Hey, it's not every day I get to work on something like him. Building a Belka-type device from the ground up...I can't wait until I tell Shari!" Mariel's cackle unnerved Vivio enough that she glanced at Vita for reassurance. The childlike mage knight just grinned and shrugged. Some things, it seemed, you just had to accept, and a certain amount of crazy in any skilled scientist was one of them.
"So what do we do now, Vita-sensei?" Vivio asked on the way out of the building.
"Well, first off you go take a shower."
"I meant with training and stuff," Vivio pouted.
"Nothing much. You'll train with me in the mornings, then school, then another couple of hours of training in the afternoon."
"Wait--I still have to go to school?"
"Damn straight. Math, science, history, writing...if you're going to be in the military, you need more than just magical skill."
Vivio sighed. "At least I'll get to see my friends every day," she looked on the bright side, "even if I'll be training and doing homework."
Vita snapped her fingers.
"That reminds me. Speaking of homework, I want you to spend some time talking with that ferret boy. Yuuno can teach you a lot."
"Sure. He's the best defensive magician I've met. Even gave me a hard time once. He can teach you more about barriers than anybody."
"But he doesn't use Belkan magic."
"That's what you've got me for, to teach you how to make the power you have manifest your intent. What he can teach you is what that intent should be, how to make the strongest shields you can--and how to vary them in different situations, against different attacks, when you want to protect one person or several, that kind of thing."
"Oh, I see."
"Good! Stick with me, kid, and I'll make sure you become a mage your moms can be proud of."
"So, you up for a run back to base? Stretch those legs of yours out a little?"
"Vita-sensei!" she wailed.
~X X X~
A/N: Of course, this is the first in a projected series of Vivio-centric stories, more of an introduction to my concept of the character as an older child into her teens. Technically, these stories don't take place either in the continuity of my YuNaFa fics or my NanoFate ones, though they could be considered an extension of either. Intelligent Devices, like the gods, speak in boldface type. And any and all German translations are purely courtesy of Google, since I know nothing of that language.
~X X X~
Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!
Vita waved her hammer hello as Vivio entered the training ground, making her student grin.
"You ready, kid?" the tiny, red-haired Wolkenritter asked.
"In a sec. Okay, Parsifal; set up!"
The metallic, rumbling voice of the Intelligent Device answered at once.
"Barrier Jacket; Armor Mode."
"Hey! Hold on!" Vivio snapped.
"I know Mariel designed you, but I'm a Belka-type mage, and you're a Belkan-style device. There's a certain style to be maintained." She raised her voice. "Right, Vita-sensei?"
A sigh came from the device.
"Jawohl, mein Kaiserin. Panzer Modus."
As Vivio's Barrier Jacket took shape, Parsifal muttered, "Ten thousand mages in the TSAB and I get the one who sends me for language lessons."