A/N: A new fic! This time we return to Uminari City, to catch up with Those Left Behind when the main cast moved off to have fun on Midchilda. For those of you familiar with Triangle Heart 3, the game and OVA from which the Nanoha franchise spun off of, you'll see a number of familiar character...concepts...from there as well. This isn't really an AU story, though, except in one respect: canon (the StrikerS manga as well as StrikerS Sound Stage 1) establishes that Hayate and the Wolkenritter left Earth for Midchilda when Hayate was 15, after junior high. Presumably Nanoha and Fate left at the same time. Here, it's assumed that they stuck around until after high school graduation. Not that any of them actually show up in the story, but it makes a difference in some of Arisa's attitudes. And the omakes just wouldn't work without Hayate being around!
(Though I have to say, the fact that the military includes mage-officers who have only a junior high school education explains a heck of a lot about that conversation Hayate had with Genya about how mages get little respect from the mainstream brass. Enlisting all those nine- and ten-year-olds had to give up something somewhere...)
I had a lot of trouble deciding whether or not to use Japanese forms of address in this story. Ordinarily, I include them in my Nanoha fiction, because nearly all of it is set in Midchilda and it makes for a nice character speech tag for Nanoha, Hayate, etc. to be using them while the TSAB natives don't. But in this case the entire story is set in Japan and nearly the entire cast is made up of native Japanese. Therefore, I've decided after much soul-searching to stick with straightforward English forms of address, lest I embarrass myself horribly by having someone use the wrong one somewhere. They're still there in the omakes, though, since those characters address each other in specific patterns that I can keep under control.
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"Why are we here?" Racquel Elantra said, her lip curling in a sneer. "This place is as much of a backwater as any other non-administered world. A population of nulls, fumbling with conventional mechanical technology and brutalizing one another with mass-weapons. The only question is whether their towering ignorance is the cause or the result of their lack of magic."
Her associate chuckled softly.
"Oh, is that what you think? Then I would suggest that you take another look at the materials I provided you. Admiral Gil Graham. Ace of Aces Takamachi Nanoha. The present and only true Master of the Book of Darkness, Yagami Hayate."
Elantra waved her hand.
"Random sports. Every world has them."
"True, true...but what you are overlooking, my dear, is the significance of who--or perhaps 'what' would describe it better--these 'sports' are."
"So what's so fascinating, then?"
He shook his head sadly.
"My dear, haven't you realized? In consulting our records, Non-Administered World 97 has never produced a mage of less than AAA rank."
It got her attention.
"Not that the TSAB has any knowledge of. And consider this: on Midchilda, for instance, at least half the population is magically active to at least a minor degree. Yet what are the odds of two S-ranks being born in the same year in the same city?"
He cackled, then, a high, keening laugh as shrill and bitter as the cry of a murder of crows.
"Oh, yes, my dear. This world has much to offer, something I think your employer would be very interested in learning."
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Arisa Bannings turned her head to see Suzuka Tsukimura waving at her from the door to the locker room.
"Hey, slowpoke, I was just going to leave without you." The truth was, she'd actually been standing around 'just going to leave' for the past ten minutes, but there was no way she was going to tell Suzuka that.
"Sorry; practice ran late. We've got an important match coming up next week; if we win we qualify for the prefectural tournament! Coach is pushing us pretty hard because of that."
Suzuka was the high school's girls' sports star. Fate Harlaown was the only one who could regularly even keep up with her in athletics, but Fate didn't play on any school teams. She didn't want to let her teammates down if the Time-Space Administration Bureau demanded that she drop everything to go rushing off to some other dimension to save someone's life or stop a giant monster from eating the universe or something.
Arisa gritted her teeth.
"Inconsiderate jerks," she muttered under her breath.
Suzuka's eyes widened.
"Arisa, you shouldn't say that about them! Everyone is working very hard for the team to succeed!"
"What? Oh, no, I didn't mean them." Damn. She dragged a hand through her short, honey-blonde hair. "I was talking about the TSAB. They hauled Nanoha, Fate, and Hayate off a week ago on some urgent crisis or another and not a word since. They missed your birthday!"
"They're doing very important work..."
"And they couldn't get someone else to do it? I mean, graduation will be soon enough, and then they get the three of them full-time. Would it kill them to wait a couple of months?"
Suzuka smiled, laughter sparkling in her violet eyes, the hue matching her long, silky fall of hair.
"You miss them, don't you, Arisa?"
"Hey, I'm not an idiot. I know that high school friends go their separate ways after graduation. They go to different universities, get jobs in different cities and end up being just a name on your New Year's card list after a decade or two. But moving to an entirely different planet in a different dimension is pushing it!"
"I'm sure we'll see them again more often than you think. But...I'll miss everyone, too. And not just them. You're not running off to another world and I'll still miss you."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Well, you're applying to Tokyo University, aren't you?"
"Yeah, but so what?"
Suzuka gave her a wry, sad little smile.
"Do you really think I can pass the entrance exams?"
She had a point. Since grade school, Arisa and Nanoha and later Fate had battled for the top spot in their class. There was no doubt that Arisa would pass Japan's most stringent college entrance exams. As for Suzuka...perhaps not so much. Though ironically she was the most poised, elegant, and ladylike of their group, she excelled in the physical, not the academic. Not even Tsukimura money was going to be able to bend that standard.
Damn, Arisa thought again. It was turning into that kind of afternoon, the kind where she ended up swearing a lot in her mind over things that she couldn't control. She hated things that she couldn't control.
And the idea of being separated from her best friend bugged her more than she wanted to admit.
"Quit talking about such depressing stuff, anyway," she declared firmly. "Are you being picked up?"
"Mmm-mm. I knew that practice might run long, and I didn't want to inconvenience anyone by making them wait around for me. I'm just going to walk home."
"In that case, why don't I give you a lift?"
"On your bike, you mean?"
"Sure; I carry a spare helmet."
"I'm not sure..." Suzuka said hesitantly. "Are you certain it's safe?"
Arisa snorted again.
"What, are you afraid of motorcycles?"
"No, not really."
"Better not be. I'll have you know that I'm a first-class rider!"
She looks so cute when she gets all shy and blushy like that. I'm...kinda jealous. "Shy, dreamy, and ladylike" were not words that described Arisa well. She used terms such as "assertive" and "self-actualized," while certain others were more inclined towards "brash," "loudmouthed," "aggressive," and "Hey, dye your hair red so a fellow can at least have fair warning!" That last one had come from the last guy who'd asked her out. It's not like he didn't deserve it, hitting on me with those cheesy lines, she thought defensively.
Arisa glanced at Suzuka again and smiled. That was what real friendship was like. The people who loved you liked the you that you were. That's not to say that they wouldn't bring her up short if she crossed a line somewhere--they'd all do that for each other--but they didn't ask her to change who she was.
"Arisa? Are you okay?"
"What? Oh, yeah, I'm fine. Just thinking, that's all."
"Oh, good. Well...shall we go?" Arisa had already changed out of her school uniform skirt into jeans for easier riding, so it was clear she was ready herself.
"Yep." They set off across the parking lot. "Hey, have you ever ridden a motorcycle before?"
"No, this will be my first time."
"It's really great. I've got to admit, it was a little scary at first, but...it's like I'm finally getting an idea of what Nanoha and the others feel like when they're flying. It's totally different than in a car. You're out in the open air, wind whipping around you...and I guess I've mentioned this about a million times, huh?"
Suzuka giggled again.
"Arisa wouldn't be Arisa without her enthusiasm."
The parking lot was nearly empty. A cluster of teachers' cars in their reserved end, of course--funny how they always seemed to be working late while the administrators left on the dot every day. There were a few other cars, too, of students like Suzuka with late club activities, mostly used subcompacts. A burgundy Toyota minivan and a cream-colored Nissan sedan had adult drivers waiting at the wheel, no doubt there to pick someone up. And Arisa's red-and-white Yamaha was right where she'd left it. As always, she thought, it looked like it was going a hundred kilometers per hour even just standing still. She wasn't that great with the mechanical side of things, yet, but she loved the bike and hoped Suzuka would come to like riding, too, even if just as a passenger.
Except that in a couple of months, she won't be there.
Damn. She wasn't supposed to be thinking about that.
It soured her mood and her enthusiasm for the coming ride. It made her steel herself and put her head down and march straight across the parking lot.
The driver of the burgundy minivan turned the key. Arisa didn't really notice, so she didn't so much as look around to see who was being picked up. Nor did she take particular notice of the Toyota backing out of its parking spot, then driving towards the school, curving around at the far end of the parking lot, and coming back up in a big U. In fact, she wasn't really aware of it at all until it swept up next to the girls and screeched to a halt, its side doors were flung open, and three men jumped out.
"Hey, what the--?" Arisa started, the broke off when her brain processed what she was seeing. The three men all wore black suits and dark glasses like movie yakuza, and one of them was carrying a nasty-looking black automatic.
"All right, now, come with us," the gunman said, jabbing the weapon at Suzuka. But maybe he wasn't as used to carrying firearms as his appearance made him look, or maybe he just felt overconfident because he was dealing with a teenaged girl. Though he threatened her with the weapon, he didn't make sure to keep it pointed at her while he grabbed for her upper arm with his free hand.
Suzuka lashed out, her hand cracking against the gunman's, and the weapon went flying, skittering across the pavement.
"Stop screwing around!" shouted one of the others, but Suzuka ripped her arm free from the gunman's hold and shoved him. He went staggering back, but the man who'd shouted stepped in. He was holding a stun-gun rather than a firearm, and before Suzuka could reach he jammed the electrodes against her body.
"Hey, get away from her!" Arisa shouted. The third man had primed a hypodermic needle, so Arisa rushed at him to try and keep him from getting to Suzuka with whatever drug was inside. The man with the stun-gun, though, reacted too quickly for her, turning and jabbing Arisa with the weapon. Pain rushed through her body; it felt like she'd been kicked by a horse. She dropped limply to the pavement, barely conscious.
"Arisa!" Suzuka screamed. Dimly, Arisa heard the electric crackle of the stun-gun again, then the sounds of scuffling and cursing.
"Come on, get that into her!"
"I'm trying, but she--" A sharp exhalation of breath cut off that voice, like he'd been hit in the belly.
"Help! Let me go!"
"Damn it, what if somebody comes?"
Gotta get up... Arisa's numbed brain thought. Gotta...help...
Suzuka screamed suddenly.
"What's it doing to her?"
"Just get her in the van, now!"
The girl's cries of pain continued to sound out until the van door slammed shut. Even so, they continued to ring in Arisa's ears though muffled by the running engine and the metal vehicle. Dizzily, she pushed herself to her hands and knees as the van started to move. They were ignoring her, didn't have any use for baggage--and it wasn't like she could tell the cops anything useful as a witness.
Witness. A bystander. Someone who could only watch as something horrible happened to her dearest friend.
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A/N: For this story, because the chapters are kind of short, even for me, the omakes are going to go on the road and accompany every chapter!
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Arisa and Suzuka's Omake Roadshow!
"So you're thinking about getting a motorcycle, Arisa-chan?" Hayate asked.
"Oh, Suzuka told you? Yeah, I've been thinking about it for a few months now, and I have my license for it." She dug into her bookbag and pulled out a magazine, then flipped to a page she'd dog-eared. "Here's the one I'm thinking about getting."
"Hm, a Yamaha. Nice," Hayate said, then looked at her and frowned. "Still, something seems off." Hayate pursed her lips, thinking it over. "You're a dog person...I know! Have you looked at a Ducati?"
"I'm not really fond of the European models...wait, why do you think I should get that one?"
"Because then all we'd need is a blue wig and to teach Fate-chan some summoning magic."
"...leave me out of your cosplay fantasies, Hayate."