Beginning Author's notes: While this can be considered to take place after my MGLN Crisis fic, it can also be read as a stand-alone. But it does take place over a year after Crisis.
Recollections of a Lost Age
Chapter 1: Memory Reinforcement
The laboratory was dark and somehow... fuzzy. Beakers on wooden tables bubbled, providing the only sound in the room. Shadows danced along the walls in tune with the flickering flames of a blazing fireplace, illuminating the various books and ancient tomes scattered about; some open to random pages and resting on pedestals or tables, with countless more in the shelves lining the stone walls.
As she looked around, she realized it must have been her own eyesight that was fuzzy. She could barely make out any details, although just enough to make-out the hunched-over form of a figure leaning one of the larger volumes, mumbling to himself.
She opened her mouth to ask, "Who are you?" but no sound came out. And in fact, she found she couldn't even move.
Growing desperate, she wanted to scream, to trash about, to do anything to regain some control over herself. Her other senses seemed to work; she felt herself resting on a cold, wood surface, the scent of pine and leather most potent with the acrid smells of various unknown substances permeating the rest. Her ears could make out the mumbling of the figure in the distance, growing in volume now, threatening to overtake the bubbling of the beakers and the rapid beating of her own heart.
[Where am I?] she thought to herself, frantic now. Once more, she attempted to yell, or to call out to anyone. [Someone, help me!]
And then she felt herself fall. She attempted to brace herself for impact, but there was surprisingly no pain upon striking the stone floor. It was if she was numb in a way. Whether she actually caused the fall, she didn't know, but she did succeed in getting the attention of the figure on the other side of the room. She could only stare in fright, as he came closer and closer.
"Hmm, how did you fall off there?" he stated, his voice somewhat deep and soothing as he picked her up and placed her back where she was. "Can't have anything happen to you, my dear."
She got a good look at him now. His hair was short and brown, but there were white patches along his sideburns. His heavy round glasses amplified his silver eyes, nearly drawing her attention away from the slight wrinkles in his skin. His nose and chin made him appear somewhat hawkish and shrewd. Gray robes covered most of his body, completing the effect that somehow she knew him to be a wizard of much power.
He smiled, revealing a row of mostly-white teeth, except for the two metal ones. "After all, you will be my legacy, the greatest work this world has ever known!" He raised his hand, a sliver Belkan triangle appearing in it. "Into you, I shall impart power far greater than any one man has wielded."
She opened her mouth to speak again, but what came out wasn't her voice, although it sounded familiar. "Acknowledged, Doctor."
The magical triangle symbol flared bright red and her world exploded into noise and images, flowing too fast to comprehend. She was falling, tumbling, into a world of pure information, and she was out of phase. She could feel her grip on reality slipping.
Then she saw his face floating there in the midst, staring at her, smiling, mouthing something. But the noise drowned out whatever he was trying to say.
[I don't understand!] she cried in her head. [What's going on? Who are you? What are you trying to tell me!?] She focused all concentration on him, partially in order to drown out what was going on around her.
At first it was barely a whisper: "..ein.."
[What!? I don't understand!]
Reinforce Zwei's eyes shot open; that shout was not the voice of an older man, but of a young woman. As her vision came into focus, she could make out the worried face of her mistress, Hayate Yagami, above her, barely lit by the rising sun peaking through the shades.
"Rein!" the mistress of the Tome of the Night Sky called again, shaking her slightly with her fingers. "Are you okay?"
"I-I think so?" Rein offered, sitting up in her small bed on Hayate's nightstand. She then shivered as the blanket fell off her, her body covered in sweat. "I think I just had a bad dream." [But it seemed so real...]
"That's strange," Hayate said, her eyebrows furrowing in through. "You haven't had bad dreams before, have you? Ever since you were created, I can't remember you ever calling out like that in your sleep."
Rein felt some of the color drain from her face. "C-calling out!?"
Hayate let the blankets fall off her nightgown as she moved to sit on the edge of the bed. "You were moaning, tossing and turning, while mumbling 'Who are you?' and 'Help me!' I was really worried."
"Ah, heh heh, maybe I just had too much pizza last night!" Rein tried to joke and cover up her embarrassment.
Her mistress tapped her finger to her lips. "Still, I think we should have Shari take a look at you later."
Rein frantically waved her hands in a warding maneuver. "N-no, that's okay! I'm fine now!" She tried to laugh it off.
"Well, if you think so..." Hayate said after a few moments, briefly touching Rein's forehead to check for temperature.
Rein smiled and nodded. For some strong reason, she didn't want anyone to know about her dream, at least until she could figure it out on her own. She didn't want anyone worrying about her.
"Alright, well, let's take a shower," Hayate continued, smiling and standing up. "We have a busy day today. We have a small intro class to teach today with Nanoha, on the subject of Unisons."
"Alright!" the little girl replied, shedding her clothes as her mistress did the same, heading for the washroom.
Breakfast and the rest of the morning passed quickly, as Rein tried to busy herself with her work, preparing for the class. She wanted to avoid thinking about the dream, but couldn't quite put it out of her mind. Fortunately, the scheduled time for the class came quickly enough, that she could focus on that.
"Nanoha-chan!" Hayate called, waving as she approached the other girl.
Rein floated up from where she was sitting on her mistress's shoulder, to salute the Ace-of-Aces. "Master Sergeant Rein, reporting for duty!"
Nanoha giggled and saluted back. "And how are you two this morning?"
"Well, Rein woke me up this morning with her moaning, but I slept well," Hayate said wryly.
Rein's face went red. "I DID NOT!" Then turned away and did a "hrmph" as the two girls shared a laugh.
"How do the recruits look?" Hayate asked at last, after the laughter died down.
Nanoha partially turned to wave her hand at the gathered men and women, chatting in low tones across the room. "We have about ten for this first batch, and they all seemed skilled and eager. Shari gave the green light on the last unison device last night. They aren't as advanced as Rein, basic functionality really, but headquarters has really been pushing the creation of a unison unit for awhile."
Hayate nodded. "They've been wanting to make unison devices for a long time, ever since they saw how well I worked with Rein. It took many tries to create her, and even then, it was my magic and the memories of the old Reinforce that gave her that final spark of life."
Rein was only half-listening, studying the new dolls floating near the recruits. They were about her size, but not quite as animate. They were more like a rudimentary AI with their own magic, and ability to fuse with their master like Rein possessed. But they didn't have near the function and capability that Rein herself did. Not even Shari had Rein quite figured out yet, although with Agito's nervous consent, she was able to finally make some progress lately.
For all intents and purposes to the TSAB, Reinforce Zwei was a lost logia they were attempting to duplicate to shore up their military forces. A unisoned mage could rise several ranks in power, greatly bolstering the Bureau's power. Now that Shari had managed to get the unison device manufacturing process down, they could start testing them. Which led to this introductory class to teach the first group.
"Well, shall we get started?" Hayate suggested.
Nanoha nodded, then proceeded to the front of the class, Hayate and Rein following. "Good morning everyone!"
"Good morning Instructor Takamachi and Instructor Yagami!" came the seemingly well-rehearsed reply from the class as they lined up.
"Hey, what about me!?" Rein demanded, steamed.
Nanoha tried to hide her smile at the class's confusion, and mostly failed. "That's right, Sergeant Major Reinforce Zwei is a major part of this class. Perhaps you didn't realize it, because your own unison devices don't have quite the... personality she does. Yet. But hopefully with time, they will."
The class quickly apologized, which mollified Rein some.
Hayate took over. "Each of you is here because you are some of the best of the regular forces, and also because your magic style is Belkan. For now, that magic style is more compatible with Unison devices."
"For instance, I use mid-childan magic style," Nanoha continued. "So I could unison with Rein, but it would only be a minor boost in power at best. We haven't quite figured out the compatibility issues, but the good news is that your individual units have been tuned to your magic, so there shouldn't be any problems. Now, shall we begin?"
The lesson proceeded well enough, at least Rein thought so. She actually found it rather boring, and as a result, her mind started to drift in between demonstrations of fusing with Hayate. Eventually, it came time for the class to try uniting, and one-by-one they stepped forward to attempt it.
The first two went fine, but on the third, Rein found herself a bit hypnotized by the young man's silver Belkan triangle magic symbol. Images of the dream came back, clearer than before, of the older man and the similar silver Belkan triangle. On the edge of her vision, she could barely detect Hayate looking at her with concern. She wanted to turn and smile or something, but she found she couldn't move at all.
And then the fourth trainee stepped out and activated her magic, a red Belkan magic triangle, and Rein felt herself falling, barely detecting Nanoha and Hayate turning and shouting at her, as her world went red... and then black.
"How is she?" Vita asked, as her, Signum, and Zafira entered Shari's lab. She turned to look at Rein, floating nude in a small jar, eyes closed.
"Still unconscious," Hayate said, not taking her eyes off her device and friend. She couldn't displace the feeling that something was very wrong. "Shari is still working on it." She could hear the tapping of keys somewhere behind her where Shari and Shamal, were engaged in low conversation.
"She'll be alright," Signum tried to assure her mistress.
Hayate didn't say anything, but felt a firm hand on her shoulder, turning her head finally to see Zafira in one of his rare moments in human form. He preferred his natural wolf form, but he also knew his human form could be comforting to other humans.
"She may be small, but she possess strength greatly beyond her form," he offered quietly.
"I know," Hayate replied just as softly, her gaze returning to the small jar. "But I should have taken her to get checked up earlier, then maybe she wouldn't be in this state. She said she was fine!"
"That idiot would say that," came the voice of Agito, floating over Signum's shoulder to land beside the jar. "When she gets out of there, I'm gonna fry her for making me, err, us worry like this!" The little demon's mis-speech didn't go unnoticed by the rest of the group.
That gave the Mistress of the Night Sky a small smile. "Thank you, Agito."
Vita turned to the duo across the room. "Shari, Shamal, any news on what's wrong with her?"
The Wolkenritter doctor came over to the group, bringing up a window of data as she studied Rein. "If she were human, I'd say she was just in deep slumber. She has all the signs of REM sleep."
"She's dreaming?" Zafira asked.
Shamal nodded. "There also seems to be indications of conflict in her synaptic patterns, as if a suppressed memory were resurfacing. It's affecting her conscious mind and effecting a mental breakdown."
"But I've been with Rein since she was born, mostly," Hayate protested. "She couldn't have any traumatic memories!"
"It's not exactly that," Shari stated, swiveling around in her chair to face the group. She brought up a display panel near them. "There seems to be some sort of extra program in play here, attempting to rewrite her code. Rein's conscious mind seems to be in combat with that." She pounded the table in frustration. "And I can't stop it!"
"Isn't there anything we can do for her?" Signum voiced the question they all wanted to ask. "She is one of us; the Wolkenritter do not fight their battles alone."
Shari cast her gaze downwards as silence fell upon the room. Shamal turned back to her work, while Zafira reverted to wolf form and moved into the corner to curl up and start his vigil. Hayate knew he would stay there until Rein was out of the woods. She knew all of them would stay there. Signum was right; the Wolkenritter, no, her family would always be together, and would never let one fight their battles alone.
At that thought, Hayate's head came up. "I'll unison with her."
"Hayate?" Vita said, surprised.
"I'm not sure if-" Shamal started, but Hayate cut her off.
"You said she's dreaming, and that her conscious mind is fighting it, right? Then I'll lend her some of my power to help fight, and if I go into REM sleep as well, I may be able to interface with her dreams and see what this is all about."
Shari sighed. "It's... possible, but risky. Whatever is wrong with her, could affect you negatively as well."
Hayate's determination didn't waver. "I would rather risk my life, then lose any of you. I know you all would do the same." She didn't wait for a response, but went and laid down on the examination table. When no one moved, she added, "Please."
Shamal sighed, then half-smiled. "I think we all know you well enough by now, that you'd do it even without our help." She started to attach sensors to various places on Hayate's body. "But if it looks like things are going bad, we'll pull you out of there."
Her mistress nodded firmly, determination still firing in her eyes, but understanding there, too. She watched Signum stand back with the others, concern evident across all their faces, as Shari placed Rein atop Hayate. Normally, it took a conscious effort on both parts to create a unison, so Shari was going to artificially induce it on Rein's part. The technician asked if Hayate was ready, and then started the connection.
Hayate closed her eyes.
For awhile, there was just the void; blackness swirled around her. Then dancing phases of green replaced it, reminding her of her of her first fusion with the Book of Darkness, all those years ago. Before she could think about what to do, a familiar voice startled her.
"So you've come," the soft female voice intoned.
Hayate's breath caught in her chest as she turned to confirm what she heard. "Reinforce!" She recognized the first version she had named, wondering what she was doing here. "I thought you were gone?"
The figure that held the original Reinforce's visage shook her head. "I'm sorry, I'm just a failsafe program left in place by the first Reinforce before she left. But you can call me that if you wish. I was created to guide you, in case there was a problem with my descendant."
"But how did you place a program on Rein?" Hayate wondered, reaching out to touch the program's cheek.
"Reinforce didn't," she replied almost emotionlessly. "The program was placed on you, in your subconscious. I have been laying dormant there."
The SS rank mage blinked in surprise, never realizing she had such a thing floating around in the back of her mind. "Oh. Well, how do we help Rein?"
"We'll have to venture into her mind, but it will be risky," the Reinforce-program explained. "If Rein's mind mistakes you for an intruder, she could attack you. But if I hide your mind within my program, you should be safe. I am similar enough that I shouldn't be regarded as foreign material."
"Okay, I'm ready, let's do this!" There was no hesitation in her voice. At least, she hoped there wasn't.
Reinforce floated over to her, covering her like a protective coating, until only the former could be seen. Then the two rapidly seemed to descend. Images flew past, which Hayate assumed to be visual memories of Rein. Slowly, their speed seemed to decrease, and then there was a flash of light; Hayate found herself standing on solid ground.
"[I am trying to pick up Rein's trail,]" came the voiceless mental contact. "[Her awareness has been moving all over, and it's hard to pin her down.]"
The mistress of the Night Sky studied their surrounds, which appeared to be some sort of underground laboratory with a cobblestone floor. Light came from the fireplace, as well as a handful of torches. Despite the warmth from the flames, a chill brushed her skin that seemed to suggest she was standing in a very old place.
"Well, isn't this a surprise," an elderly voice called. "I didn't expect to see anyone for a long time."
The fused duo turned around to find an elderly man, of what Hayate guessed to be at least 70, clothed in a simple gray robe and rope belt. Short gray hair encircled his bald scalp, and he adjusted his weight slightly as he leaned on his gnarled wooden staff. He reminded the girl of the old wizards depicted in in her home planet's entertainment.
"Probably why I appear this way to you," he said, grinning and tapping his head with the head of his cane. "Yes, I can read your mind, and I know the real you is in there. Don't worry, I'm not sure any other denizen of this mind could detect you; but I'm special."
Hayate finally found her voice, but spoken with Reinforce's tone. "Who are you?"
He laughed, but it came off as more of a cackle. "Let me show you, and you'll understand." He hobbled across the laboratory, stopping to tap a book on a table. Of course, Hayate recognized it instantly.
"The Tome of the Night Sky!" she breathed. "Are you one of the past masters?"
Her question was met with more laughter. "In a way. I'm the first!"
Her eyes widened. "You created it!? Who are you?"
"That is a long story, and I'm sorry I don't have time to tell it to you fully right now," he told her sadly, sitting into a comfy chair beside the book. "You shouldn't stay here long, not if you want to save the book. My name is Clarius. I am, or was, a refugee from Alhazard. One of the earliest settlers of Ancient Belka. I created the book as a way to document the emerging magics, as our scientific way of life had nearly been the end of us. Our people sought a different way."
"Clarius, do you know what's happening with Rein?" Hayate asked. She wanted to know more, but somehow she also knew this old man was right; she didn't have a whole lot of time.
His gaze seemed to turn melancholy. "The answer to that lies with one of the book's previous owners, I suspect. As you know, the book's program was corrupted over the years by some of the owners." He pounded the floor with his staff. "My legacy was to document the rise of magic, hoping to avoid the mistakes of pure science. I was an arrogant fool. I should have realized there would be power-hungry mages who would break my protections. And now you and your Rein must pay the price."
Hayate kneeled down beside him, laying her hand over his. "It's not your fault; you couldn't have known what would happen. But can you tell me which owner and what they did?"
He shook his head sadly. "I'm sorry, my dear. I am but a residual program in the book as well. I've hidden my existence, so I could be a guide of sorts to any who would come here. Perhaps it was my attempt at immortality. I can't see very well what goes on out there without revealing my existence. But I do know there have been some major corruptions over the years."
"We ran into the defense program before," Hayate agreed. A thought struck her. "But the original Reinforce sacrificed herself to destroy those corruptions. Why is this happening now?"
"What you call Reinforce was merely the software," he explained. "So whatever went wrong, has to do with the hardware, the book itself. I'm guessing a false page or two of programming was added. It looks like an ordinary page, but it's a place for a magical program to hide. However, removing it won't solve your current problem. The current software has been infected, so you would have to wipe that as well as fix the book itself."
The original Reinforce's sacrifice in the snow came to her mind; a virtual mind-wipe would erase the Rein she knew and basically be the same thing. "No, I won't lose Rein the same way. There has to be a way to save her."
Clarius waved the end of his cane. "Then you have to venture out there. Find he root cause of the problem and destroy it. And before you use the Tome again, you have to find the right page and remove it. I'm sorry I can't help more, but I can't leave here without being detected."
The new mistress of the book smiled at him. "You've helped a lot, thank you."
He held out his hand, and Hayate helped him to his feet. "I can give you a headstart." He hobbled over to the fireplace, ablaze and crackling. "Jump into the fire, here. Think of it like a shortcut; it should take you close to where Rein's conscious mind is. Don't worry, this is my place, so the fire won't hurt you. You'll have to be careful elsewhere, though, as not everything is what it appears to be. And be careful what you attack, or you could hurt Rein."
Hayate leaned down a bit to hug the old man. "Thank you very much for your help, Clarius."
He protested. "I'm not dead yet, and if you succeed in this, you can come back to talk again another time. Now go, time is short."
She nodded, then turned and leapt into the fire. Before it swallowed her up, she thought she could hear the old man whisper, "I should thank you, for allowing me to see my wife again, even if it was just a shell program."
The fire was warm, but it didn't burn or hurt at all. Hayate allowed herself a few moments to think of the old man, Clarius, then focused her thoughts ahead. The tunnel of flames flew past rapidly.
"[Where are we headed now?]" she asked the Reinforce-program.
"[I am unsure,]" came the reply. "[I wasn't programmed with too many specifics, and this is my first time delving into my descendant's mind.]"
"[I guess we'll find out together,]" Hayate told her, smiling, then her gaze turned serious. "[Hold on Rein...]"
The flame tunnel abruptly ended in another flash of white, depositing the fused pair in a forest clearing. The sky was overcast, cloudy, with thunder echoing in the distance.
"[Hold on, scanning to determine direction,]" Reinforce sent.
Hayate's visage hardened as she turned. "[I don't think you need to bother.]"
Sitting on a hilltop on the horizon, gloomy-looking black castle served to further darken the skies. The lightning in the clouds surrounding the castle seemed to be the source of thunder as well. Hayate almost found the scene too cliché. She wondered off-hand if she would be attacked by flying monkeys en route.
"[I believe you are correct,]" Reinforce replied after a moment. "[I appear to be getting the strongest disturbance readings in that direction.]"
Mentally agreed, the fused pair took off, arriving at the black castle within a few minutes. There didn't appear to be any signs of life, but Hayate was sure that Rein was here, somewhere. While debating where in the castle to land, she figured that if this was all some sort of bad cliché, then her target should be somewhere in the central section, which should be the throne room.
Finding a balcony, she landed and entered without hesitation or stealth. She figured it was a safe bet that if anyone inhabited this place, they would know she was here. In fact, if anyone was here, she wanted them out here now. She wasn't sure how much time Rein had.
"Hello!" Hayate called in Reinforce's voice as she exited the room and into a stone hallway. Torches lined the walls, providing light.
"[I am not sure that was wise,]" Reinforce communicated. "[I am not sure what we are up against here. I am only a shell program, and do not have the combat abilities the original Reinforce did. I can only provide minimal protection.]"
"[It's okay,]" Hayate soothed. "[The sooner we find out what we are up against, the sooner we can move against it. Don't you have any memories of the original Reinforce?]"
"[I do not,]" she replied. "[I am just a guide program here to assist you. I do not have memories nor feelings.]"
"[That's sad,]" Hayate replied. "[I think you might. Perhaps I can ask Shari to help you with them, after this.]"
"[If you wish.]" Her demeanor changed. "[It knows we are here.]"
"Greetings to my unknown visitor!" a male voice called out, echoing throughout the hallway. "Had I known you were coming, I could have prepared for it. Even a simple knock at my door would have been helpful. But if you came all this way to meet me, you can find me down the hall, in the throne room!"
"[This way,]" Reinforce sent, and the pair jogged down the hall, following Reinforce's sensor readings.
"I apologize, I didn't realize this abode was occupied," Hayate spoke, still using Reinforce's voice to hide her presence. She arrived at a large double door, which she naturally assumed to be the throne room.
"That is understandable," the voice replied back from the other side of the door. "It does seem quite empty, doesn't it?"
Hayate pushed the door open and entered. She realized she probably could have guessed what the interior looked like, as it was similar to the black stone and torch motif outside. Only the figure on the throne took her a bit by surprise. Short ebony hair, long flowing black cape, but otherwise clad in grey knight's armor minus any helmet; almost attractive, in a bishojou romance manga sort of way.
"Well now, I didn't expect to see you," he stated in surprise, giving Hayate a start that he might have seen through her 'disguise.' His next words allayed that fear, however. "I thought you had destroyed yourself to save your current master."
"If you know who I am, that means you are who I am looking for," Hayate told him evenly, wishing she had her staff and Rein for aiming. "Where is she?"
"[I can function as both,]" the Reinforce-program told her. "[But only here in this mental world. Prepare any spells you need.]"
Hayate's magic triangle sprung up underneath her, black instead of white as the Reinforce-program covered it. She raised her hand, black energy gathering inside it as she formed her Diabolic Emission spell.
"Well, we don't seem to be wasting anytime," the man said, amused. He stood and spread his arms. "But you might want to ask yourself if you really want to cast that."
The Belkan mage froze, noticing for the first time the golden locket around his neck, that his previously crossed arms were hiding.
The shining surface held the symbol of Rein's Azure Sky Tome on it. She watched in horror as the locket was opened to show the inactive form of Rein, held captive within.
This should be about a 6 part series. Beginning and End chapters, with 4 chapters in the middle for each of the Wolkenritter. I haven't decided quite which order to use them in, but it will go into their backstory. Tentative schedule:
Chapter 2: Knight's Honor (Signum)
Chapter 3: Fangs and Shields (Zafira)
Chapter 4: Hippocratic Oath (Shamal)
Chapter 5: Nothing They Can't Destroy (Vita)
Chapter 6: Second Wind