A/N: This is the end of my Vivio-centric series of stories ("The Road Onward"; "Shell Game"; "Steel Wings";" Memory of a Saint" and "Caramel Milk" being the others). As most Nanoha fans know, not one but two new MGLN manga series started in Spring '09, moving the series onward into the future. And one of the series actually focuses on Vivio directly!

The down side of this is that, of course, these new manga will start writing new, official canon continuity. These stories were designed to be a possible extension from canon, extending after StrikerS and Sound Stage X. Since there's a good 99% chance that the basic fundamental concepts (Vivio as Vita's student; Vivio having suffered Linker Core damage in being rescued by Nanoha in StrikerS) will be negated by new canon, and since I'm not big on the idea of writing AU stories, I'm therefore bringing my Vivio series to an end with this story.

But hey, if you're going to go out, why not go out with a bang? Unlike previous fics in the series, which were one or two chapters, this one's a full-length novel! With luck, the final chapter will post before 2010!

Massive thanks are owed to the folks at the AnimeSuki Nanoha Fanfiction Thread, who have suffered through the unedited drafts, offered suggestions and comments, translated my Belkan spell ideas into German, and generally been enthusiastic and supportive (indeed, several comments they made about this story ended up helping to shape "Memory of a Saint," as I noted there).

Buckle up your Barrier Jackets, folks; it's going to be a long, bumpy ride!

~X X X~

Petty Officer Golf was bored.

This was not an unusual condition for him. A guard at a naval base doesn't see a lot of activity. Particularly not a night-shift guard at an internal position. At least the guy at the gate had something to do with people coming and going. Golf was lucky if he saw one human being all night during his shift.

That was why the buzz at the door surprised him. He jerked in his chair, almost falling, then swung his feet down off the desk and hurried to the door. Peering through the small window, he saw a man there, tall and dark-eyed. He saw the naval uniform and the commander's stripes on his shoulderboards. Hastily Golf opened the door.

"Good evening, Commander," he said, saluting sharply.

"At ease, Petty Officer...Golf, is it?" The commander's forest-green eyes, a match for his shoulder-length hair, flicked towards his name tag.

"Yes, sir."

"I see. His mouth pressed into a flat, determined line. "You're on guard duty here?"

"Yes, sir."

"Then why am I in this room?" the commander snapped.


"Is it the usual procedure to simply admit anyone who presses the door buzzer? I thought this was supposed to be a secure area?"

"Y-yes, sir, it is a secure—"

"But you admitted me at once because you saw a uniform?" His voice lashed at Golf like a whip. "Don't you know that these can be had at any half-decent theatrical supply shop? You haven't asked my name or to see any identification. That should have been the first thing you did, before you even opened the door. Then you should have cross-checked my ID code to verify that I had the proper clearance to enter this room. The door over there says 'Weapon Development Section' for a reason, Petty Officer. Just because an intruder would have to pass first the perimeter, then the building security just to get to you doesn't mean it isn't possible. I should write you up for this dereliction of duty."

Golf swallowed nervously.

"But I don't think that will be necessary," the commander, continued, his voice softening. "If I did that they'd just replace you with someone else who needs to be taught the same lesson. My experience is that a person who makes a mistake and gets called on it is less likely to repeat it than someone who hasn't."

"T-thank you, sir."

"Let's finish this, then, so I can get on with my business." He tapped the visitor's badge clipped to his uniform's breast pocket.

Golf nodded and turned to his computer, activating the keyboard and beginning to enter the data for Commander Wilton Sonoma and his ID code. Perhaps not surprisingly, things began to go wrong. Confirmation was not immediate. Golf scowled down at his screen, unable to understand what was happening.

Wilton Sonoma-it was, in fact, his actual name, something that amused him to do-could have explained these failures to him. The TSAB's computer systems were remarkably efficient and reliable, as suited the fact that like all other Mid-Childan technology they were based on magic. They were not confirming Commander Sonoma's identification and clearance because he was not in fact cleared for entry into this area of the base, nor was he a naval commander, nor indeed a member of any branch of the Time-Space Administration Bureau at all.

"Damn computer," Golf muttered under his breath.

"Don't blame your tools, Petty Officer," Sonoma said, making Golf's back stiffen. Golf obviously thought he was receiving another rebuke from his superior officer. It just made it all the easier for Sonoma to insert his blade-shaped Device into the man's spine. Like any on-duty guard Golf wore a rudimentary Barrier Jacket but he was only a typical D-ranked foot trooper, and piercing Barrier Jackets was what Sonoma's Assassin's Kiss spell was supposed to do anyway. Golf made a little gurgling noise, then toppled over onto the floor as Sonoma wrenched the blade free.

Enough fun, he told himself. Time for business. Since Golf had conveniently activated the computer for him—he hadn't been making the idiot look up his ID purely for the entertainment, after all—Sonoma stepped into his place. Basic search functions found what he was looking for almost at once and downloaded the relevant data to a storage unit, which he slipped away into an inner pocket.

He glanced down at the dead man.

"Time to make you a hero, Petty Officer."

Sonoma entered another sequence on the computer, attempting to access further data. Not surprisingly, he quickly encountered blocks; the access rights of a petty officer on guard duty did not extend very far. Sonoma persisted in his access attempts, then, very carefully, tripped an alarm sequence. The screen blazed up in bright yellow, a condition echoed by the light strip running around the juncture of the ceiling and walls. He supposed it would have been more dramatic to go for red, but putting the base on red-alert status would have autobarriered it against exiting by transportation magic, and Sonoma didn't really feel like testing his luck against the entire force.

Pointing his device at the security door, he summoned up an attack spell, a bright orange Mid-Childan rune burning beneath his feet.

"Burning Detonation-Delay 15!"

A glob of light spat from the blade's tip and stuck to the door in a roughly pyramidal shape. At once, Sonoma began to incant his transportation spell, even as his device's hollowly metallic voice began counting down from fifteen. At four, he heard pounding feet in the hallway outside, a rapidly responding security team. At two, Sonoma's body faded to translucence and was gone. At zero, the spell detonated like a shaped explosive charge, blowing the security door out into the hallway ahead of a cloud of fire. The lead two guards went down, their Barrier Jackets and autoguards preserving their lives although not enough to prevent injury, while Protection and Defenser magics kept the remainder of the response team unhurt.

The third mage in line burst through the open door almost at once, taking in the absence of a hostile mage, the dead guard, the flashing-yellow screen, and the now-red alert bar.

"Clear!" he announced. "The guard's down, sir; the computer's on yellow status." He checked the status of the other door. "WD section door is still on lockdown, the barrier seal unbroken since fourteen-twenty."

"Check," replied the team leader. "Control, this is Response Four. Intruder has apparently escaped, but he left a little surprise behind. Send medical. WD section is unbreached."

"Roger, Four. Medical en route."

"Integra, check the computer," the leader told one of his troops.

"Yes, sir," she replied. After a moment's response, she told him about the ID search, the data download, and then the failed access attempt.

"So, he gained access to this room under false pretenses, then forced Petty Officer"—he checked the guard's name tag—"Golf to access the computer for him while Golf was checking his clearance. Only, Golf fobbed him off by downloading some superficial data and then tripped an alarm."

"Do you think that he did it on purpose, sir?" Integra asked.

"It's the only way that it plays for me. Someone goes to the trouble of getting inside the base to a priority-linked computer, he's ready to hack into the system for sensitive data. The way I see it, Golf deliberately put the wrong info on the intruder's storage unit, then set off the alarm by not doing what the guy wanted him to."

Integra nodded.

"I wish we'd caught the intruder, though, sir. I knew Golf; he was a good kid."

"Me, too, but at least his spirit can be happy that whomever this, what did you say the name was, Sonoma?"

"That's right. Probably false, though."

"Probably. But even so, Golf can at least rest easy that he kept the sensitive data out of Sonoma's hands. The only thing he got away with was the schedule for routine fleet exercises. That stuff would be released to the public transit authorization authorities anyway, so all he did was get it a week or two before everybody else on the planet would get to read it anyway."

~X X X~

Carim Gracia, Commander of the Knights of the Belkan Saint Church, was worried. The elegant thirtysomething blonde possessed considerable power, both political and magical, so most of her concerns were things that she could deal with more or less easily. This kind of problem, though, was quite different.

She stared at the deck of cards in front of her. They sat there, the elaborately painted plaques of thin wood rather than paper. There was nothing special about them in particular—Carim could have attuned her gift to any deck—but she had a fondness for these because they had belonged to her mother. They beckoned to her, calling to the Knight-Commander like the flame called to the moth.

Carim was the possessor of a Rare Skill, a unique gift, a tweak in the genetics that made her a user of Belkan magic. This was an inheritance from Ancient Belka, from the days when that empire had been an active ruler instead of a historical footnote. Perhaps appropriate for a churchwoman, Carim was a prophet. She could use the cards to gain cryptic, even sometimes misleading, but nonetheless accurate glimpses of what was to come.

She didn't call upon this power often. It was useful, but continuous reliance on it created trouble, a web of contingencies and branching paths that ultimately denied the value of human intervention. Even when she did use it, she'd found that the best solution was to take note of what was said and arrange for people to be in place to act as best they could.

And then there were the times that the power called her.

Carim had felt it that night, the tickling at the back of her mind, the pressure behind her eyes that told her the enhanced perception of her gift wanted—needed—to be used.

Taking a deep breath, she lifted the cards from the table and released her magic. A soft humming filled her mind as the cards rose from her hands, levitating in a ring around her, turning and turning, shining with a soft glow. They called to Carim hypnotically, the images on the cards flickering before her gaze, taking shape, painted pictures seeming to come to life, archaic images replaced with people clad in modern clothing, antique buildings turning to skyscrapers. Warriors were medieval swordsmen one minute, TSAB soldiers the next, carried in chariots, then in troop transports. All around her, the tangible reality of her office faded to nothingness as the visions consumed her.

Then the spinning began to slow. The cards shone with a soft light, but one was illuminated brightly, culled from all the rest. Carim reached out, scarcely aware that she was doing so, and her fingertips lightly brushed the image of a tower shattering beneath a lightning bolt. Her lips parted, and the words came through her.

"When the Night Sky shall reign o'er Asgard, the Guardian shall turn his spear in rebellion to bring forth the Fall, save should the King's Mother be willing to bear the crimson brand."

Carim sagged back into her chair while the cards swirled down, neatly resuming their stack on the table before her. For a long moment the Knight-Commander did not move, letting the force of the magic ebb away. But her mind was already at work, putting the pieces together as best she could. When she felt herself able to talk freely, she opened a communications link to the Knights' security office. A young woman, her eyes bright and eager despite the hour, appeared on her screen.

"Yes, Lady Carim?"

"Sister Nova, please open a secure connection for me to TSAB Ground Forces Headquarters, eyes-only for General Yagami Hayate."