Fate opened her eyes to the back of someone's head. Not Nanoha's, which would have been odd, given that the smaller woman usually slept facing her and, ah, lower down. Black hair, pigtail... Ranma. She had finally gotten him in the sack last night. Such a strange day. Had it not been for her new lover's presence, she could have sworn that it was a dream. It was certainly strange enough.
Having satisfactorily resolved the identity of her bedmate, she snuggled up against him and went back to sleep. Well, she tried to, anyway; how were you supposed to snuggle with someone who kept moving away?
How he slept through rolling over top of her to get more space when he reached the edge of the bed was beyond her. She would not have believed that he had, except for what that Device- no, she was a seal, not a Device. Who in their right mind made a sentient seal? Anyway, the impertinent little thing had then rather pointedly reminded her that she needed to track down her roommate.
She grouchily sat up in bed, wincing as she swung one leg over the edge. With as much... practice as she and Nanoha got, she would have thought she would be in better shape than this. Swinging the other leg over, she found, dulled the soreness considerably. Maybe she had pulled something? She really did not want to spend time thinking about what down there could have been pulled, though.
Standing, she made her way to the bathroom- naked and as sexily as her sore self could manage, just in case he really was awake, carefully ignoring the scattered clothing that had made up Ranma's outfit. If he was awake, he made no comment, though the seal-thing wolf-whistled after her. Carefully skirting sticky patches- she found the first one by stepping in it not two feet away from the bed; surely they had not created all of these- she finished the ten feet to the appropriate door, leaving it open behind her as she carefully stepped over yet another puddle. She really owed the cleaning staff a tip. A big one. Probably with much alcohol involved; she would have to find out what the cleaning lady's drink of choice was and just hope it would not completely kill her budget.
It worked for pilots, after all. It was worth a shot.
The hot water helped considerably with the soreness. She took her time in the Western shower, half hopeful that the sound of running water would wake Ranma up for another few rounds. Another piece of her just wanted to get herself clean- getting messy might be fun, but being messy was just kind of disturbing. Especially when the mess was cold, slimy, and quite literally everywhere. If her ablutions absorbed their remaining hot water... well, Ranma would just have to deal with it. It was really too bad that their flat did not have a kitchenette; food would have been next on the list of things to attempt to wake her lover.
That led to another little daydream, involving the two of them, various fruits, Nanoha, and a tub of whipped cream, and aided by the relaxing heat; it suddenly turning cold on her elicited a yelp. Fortunately, her general soreness had meant that her hands kept doing their tasks instead of wandering off to what would have normally been a very pleasant diversion. She was... well, not clean, exactly, but clean enough so as to be presentable after the mess that was yesterday. At least she smelled like something other than sex.
Not that it would keep anyone with half a mind from realizing what had happened.
Still, she was not exactly quiet as she got dressed and then let the apartment door close behind her. Teach him to sleep in when she wanted some. He would find the note she left... eventually. Probably as soon as he went into the bathroom; she had written it on his chest in lipstick. What did it take to wake him up for another round?
Forty-five minutes later- damn morning traffic and laws that refused to let her fly without a flight plan!- she was pulling up to Kasumi's house. Shamal- apparently, Kasumi was still asleep- had answered the phone; she was in the middle of trying to produce breakfast and needed a hand that none of her cohabitants were ready or available to provide. While her cooking was not nearly as bad as it had been in other Loops, she was more comfortable with some kind of oversight in the kitchen.
Fate just hoped Kasumi would not get mad at her.
After a few minutes of pleasantries, the blonde Knight had confided that Nanoha had had a very rough night. So had Vita, for some reason. Whatever that reason was- and Fate very, very carefully did not ask about it- was why their Mistress was still asleep.
Climbing out of the car, she smoothed down her knee-length skirt over her hose. So what if it was technically a uniform piece? A skirt was a skirt, unless it was a dress skirt or a mini or-
She shook her head to clear that train of thought. Not what she needed right now. Still, she adjusted the garters, making sure they were laying flat- they chafed if they twisted; she never understood just how that happened, since both ends were attached- and smoothed her blouse on the way up to the door. Signum was waiting, in a workout outfit; it seemed that she had just finished.
The odd smile on her face was... interesting. "Good morning, Testarossa," the Wolkenritter said. "I trust that you are here for that thing?"
Fate frowned at her lieutenant. "Don't call her a 'thing,' Signum. You know her name."
The pink-haired woman shrugged. "It is what she is, and after last night, that is only moreso." She opened the door, stepped in, and took off her shoes. "I'm home," she called. "Testarossa is here for that thing."
"Not a thing," the brunette on the couch mumbled. She was face-down and completely nude.
"Good morning," Shamal said, sticking her head out of the kitchen. "Will you be staying for breakfast?"
"No," she demurred, "I have a house-guest of my own to feed. I just came for Nanoha."
The loli lifted her head. "Fate?" She rolled off the couch onto her feet and flew across the room. "Fate, you do love me, after all!"
The older-looking blonde caught her partner and held her to her chest. "Of course I do, I just needed the apartment for a bit. What happened last night, and why are you still naked?"
"Because she's raw from the waist down and around the ribs," Signum said factually, taking the girl's spot on the couch, although she remained sitting. "Scrya has a cream that might help with that."
Fate blinked and stared at the Sword Knight, not sure how she had meant that. Signum's face was impassive as ever, giving her no clues. "Um. I will be sure to ask," she said carefully. "Now, where are your clothes, Nanoha?"
"They're- they're-" The other Anchor looked to be on the verge of having a breakdown.
"They're in the Colonel's room," Reinforce said from the kitchen; so that was why Shamal was already cooking. Fate had been wondering. "I will send them over later. It might be better for her just to wear a Barrier Jacket until she gets home; that way, she does not have to worry about irritating the skin further. I will send her clothes over later, when we go into the office. You have no idea how much paperwork that little show generated yesterday."
Fate nodded. "You might be surprised. We should get going, though; he's still asleep. Or was, anyway. I need to get breakfast, if I am to keep him from eating the furniture."
Signum waved her off. "Go, then. Bring him our greetings... and let him know that Mistress will want to speak with him later. In person, most likely. His superiors will likely have a similar opinion, only she seems to be able to tell the difference between him and his clones." She paused. "How does she do that, anyway?"
Fate shrugged. "He says it is because she doesn't use just two sets of senses, and leaves it at that."
"Other senses than physical and magical," Nanoha said, pressing her face into one of Fate's breasts. "My family's style uses ki, so they have to be able to sense it."
The pink-haired woman on the couch blinked. "Huh. I wonder if I could learn that." She paused. "I may have to visit your family sometime, Takamachi. You never mentioned it to me."
"I didn't?" The girl scratched her head with a free hand. "Huh."
"Anyway, errands," Fate pointed out. "We shall see you later. Until then, have a nice day, Signum, Shamal, Reinforce."
Signum coughed into her fist as the long-haired blonde made her way to the door. "Are you not forgetting something?"
"Eh? What's that?" Fate asked.
Signum just pointed at the still-naked Nanoha.
"Whoops," the clone murmured, flushing. Nanoha, though, squeaked and summoned her Barrier Jacket.
"Better," the lieutenant allowed. "At least this way, you will not embarrass us."
"Hey!" Nanoha objected.
"Oh? You think that you leaving this place without a shred of clothing would make the division look good?" One eyebrow shot up.
"Well, when you put it like that..."
"Breakfast," Fate reminded her.
"Oh, yeah. Suppose we'd better get going, then."
The blonde nodded. "Have a nice day, Signum, Shamal, Reinforce. Say hello to Vita and Kasumi for us." The farewell was more firm this time.
"We will," Signum said, showing her to the door.
"Have a nice day!" Shamal and Reinforce chorused from the kitchen.
Nanoha was dropped off at their room before Fate continued on to the chow hall for takeout, the better to avoid questions about her wearing her Barrier Jacket. Fate collecting food to bring back to the room was hardly unusual.
Fate picking up five or six containers of mixed breakfast foods was, though, and soon enough, the rumor mill was flying fast enough to hit the forwards in the collective face.
"So," Subaru asked, munching on a slice of toast, "you think she finally got in His pants?"
"Probably." Nabiki shrugged; it was about time, by her reckoning. "Not really any of our business, though. I'm sure we'll be able to ask soon enough."
"Huh?" Erio asked. "Why?"
"Because ten of the chow-hall takeout boxes aren't anywhere near enough for Ranma. Besides, he just walked in. I wonder why Lilith is out, though."
"Oh." He paused and blinked at his teammate. "Where are you going?" he asked her.
"Someone needs to make sure he treated Fate right," Caro pointed out. "None of you are moving, and if I ask now, I just might get an answer instead of a faceful of food. Or mine stolen."
Subaru shrugged, absently stealing one of Caro's pancakes. "Shouldn't we ask her, first?" Caro twitched, glaring, and Subaru froze before putting the pancake back where she had gotten it. "I mean," she began, sweating, "shouldn't we, uh, get her opinion on it before we go and get his? We all know how men are when it comes to their performance."
"Hey!" Erio objected.
"No offense, Erio, but she's right," Nabiki agreed. "I know Ranma, and he would be boasting like crazy. We can ask Lilith instead, and she's more likely to eat one of us than overrate Ranma's performance." She might do that anyway, if she thought one of them needed it. None of them needed to know that, though.
"Lilith?" Caro looked confused.
"The Unison Device," Subaru told her.
"Oh." That took a minute to register, and then she squeaked, "He has a Unison Device?"
"No, not really," Nabiki said. "She's closer to being a seal than a Device. She eats up a lot of power, and has a lot in her own right. Well, she does now, anyway. His magic works a lot differently from how you do things." So did hers, but, again, that was her ace-in-the-hole, as it were.
"Oh, like that spell you used on the Book of Darkness simulation?" Erio asked.
The brunette twitched. "Yes, like that. Except... well, you saw the binding spell in the Center yesterday, right?" She waited for their nods. "That was something he came up with. It's called Glepnir, and as far as I can tell, he pulled it out of his ass."
The pink-haired girl blinked. "What?"
"Pulled it out of his ass, made it on the fly, had a brainstorm-" Subaru began helpfully.
"I know what it means," the summoner snapped. "How do you come up with something like that out of nowhere?"
Nabiki shrugged. "It's what he does. Other people make plans, have superpowers, or have Deus Ex come save them. He doesn't bother, since plans all go to hell around him anyway, and the ones with the superpowers are usually trying to kill him. Weren't you going to go ask Lilith something?"
The younger girl glared at the older one, and the gunner simply stared back. After a minute, Caro stomped off in the general direction of Ranma and his "Device."
"Was that really necessary?" Subaru asked quietly.
"She'll learn," her teammate returned. "Just hope it's not the hard way. If she tries to get in Ranma's face, though, it probably will be." Nabiki shrugged. "And who knows, Lilith actually might eat her."
"What!" Erio barked, half-standing.
"Oh, sit down, kid," the older Looper told him, waving him down. "Not like that." She paused. "Okay, maybe like that; I don't know what her kinks are- and I'd like to keep it that way!" she snapped at the cyborg at the table, who had her mouth open to answer. "If she needs to get off, Lilith will be able to tell and then do something about it. Not now, probably, but eventually, and before it turns into a problem. She's had more experience with that than you can imagine."
She coughed into her hand. "Anyway, my point is, she needs to relax a bit. If she doesn't, someone will make her, and it won't be pretty." She frowned. "For any of us. One thing I learned a long time ago is that yeah, you can push Ranma- but his life pushes back."
It was Subaru's turn to frown. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Nabiki hesitated. "Things... happen... around Ranma. There's no other word for it. Do you know what the word 'ran' means in Nanoha's language, the way he writes it?" she asked, apparently switching subjects. "It's how he signs technique scrolls, training certificates and the like."
Subaru blinked and thought back to the few Loops she had spent any real amount of time on her idol's homeworld. "Um, isn't it something like 'crazy?'"
"Close enough," the gunner allowed. "It's usually read 'wild,' and with the stuff that happens in his life- just happens, without him even doing anything!- makes him live up to it."
A moment of silence, broken by Erio. "Isn't that dangerous?" he asked, slightly worried.
Nabiki shrugged. "A little, yes. Not too bad, though." She cast an eye over toward Caro, Ranma, and Lilith. It looked like the girl was fine; she was still standing and seemed to have all of her limbs, anyway. "So, what happens next?" she asked.
Subaru blinked. "Huh? Oh, that. Um, let's see," she mumbled around a mouthful of cold cereal, "we get some more training in, Tea snaps, we get a level of limiters taken off of our Devices, and then Vivio gets here."
"I hope I can pass on the whole snapping thing," the brunette replied sardonically.
The purple-haired woman shrugged. "Dunno. You seem to be a lot better balanced than Tea used to be."
A bell-like laugh sounded from where Caro was attempting to question Ranma and Lilith, and they turned in time to see her flee red-faced. The furiously blushing young lady made haste back to their table, and Nabiki asked, "Well?"
If anything, the little summoner blushed harder. "We can, um, go check on them in a few hours. They said to give the Captains some time to, uh, pull themselves together. Maybe after lunch."
One of Nabiki's eyebrows went up. "Oh?"
Caro's face literally started glowing. "Stop trying to embarrass me!" she whined. "The nerve of that thing! I can't believe it wanted to..." She shot a quick look at Erio. A trickle of blood made its way out of her nose, and she wobbled uneasily on her feet, steadying herself easily with the back of her chair and turning the totter into sitting down. "How do you stand her?" she demanded of the two older, and presumably more experienced, forwards.
Nabiki chuckled. "Well, you were the one that wanted to go ask."
Subaru shrugged. "I never had to deal with her."
Nabiki grinned maliciously. "She knows a lot of tricks- but so do I."
Caro decided not to ask just what kind of tricks those were. Not in public, at any rate.
Several hours later, Lieutenant Colonel Yagami Kasumi made her way into work, accompanied by Reinforce. She was fairly sure that the Ground Forces commander, General Gaiz, was going to try to make an example of someone, and she was going to do her damnedest to make sure it was not one of her people.
Ranma, on the other hand, was on his own.
Kasumi had barely settled in when Admiral Chrono Harlaown stormed in. In person, no less, and inquiring loudly as to the whereabouts of no less a personage than the Honorable Ranma Scrya, Head Librarian and Chief Archivist of the Infinite Library, bane of the Book of Darkness, etc, etc... also known, in this case, as "that fuzzy bastard," "Goddamn ferret," or to-be-served-his-own-genitalia-for-lunch. Poor Reinforce was trailing behind him, attempting to dissuade him from further interrupting her Mistress's morning routine.
While Kasumi greatly appreciated the man's equipment, she much preferred it where it was, and so she stood and greeted one of the unit's sponsors. "Admiral Harlaown. How may I help you?"
"Where is he?" the man demanded.
She blinked and waved off the non-com. "By 'he,' you mean Ranma?"
"Who else would I want to see?" Chrono snapped.
"I have no idea," she told him honestly. "I have not seen Ranma since the... incidents... yesterday. He spent the night with Fate, though; Nanoha ended up on my doorstep because of it."
The admiral's mouth flapped dumbly. After a moment, he murmured, "My mother... and my sister?" Another minute later, he firmed and raised a fist. "Ranma Scrya, for what you have done to my family, you dishonorable cur, prepare to die!"
Kasumi could no longer stop herself. She fell back into her chair, laughing her ass off.
"No," Chrono ranted, "death is too good for you. No, I shall ensure that no one may call you a man!"
Kasumi slumped over the desk, hunching over and clutching at her stomach. "No more, please!"
"Um... No more what?" the senior officer asked, distracted from his righteous tirade against the foul despoiler.
The junior officer just pointed at him.
He turned around, hoping that there was someone or something there to earn her mirth. There was, but it was Reinforce, who looked just as confused as he did. He reiterated, "What?"
"Ranma- man," she managed.
The admiral blinked. "He's not?"
"No, no," she managed through her mad cackle, waving, "he is, but- but you have no... No idea what he will do to you if you try something like that."
The admiral twitched and snapped, "Oh, yeah, because he's just so threatening. I could take him."
Reinforce arched a delicate eyebrow. "Is that so? Could you take the protection program?"
Chrono cringed as that little reminder hit home. "You have any suggestions?" he grunted. "You just don't touch my mom like that!"
Kasumi laughed harder.
The sergeant sighed. "You know, that might be part of the problem."
He stared at her blankly. "Huh?"
"When was the last time she got any?" the construct asked pointedly over her commander's laughter, and then modified it slightly. "Before today, I mean."
"She's my mom! How the hell should I know? It's not like I want to know about her sex life," he snapped bitterly, slumping into one of the guest seats. "When Amy called, she thought she'd been raped or something. She was taking the twins over to spend the day with their grandmother while she ran some errands."
Reinforce muttered, "My point. I'm going to go have some tea made."
Finally regaining enough self-control to stop giggling like the schoolgirl she technically had been a year or so ago, Kasumi straightened her blouse and leaned forward. "And so she called you?"
The man nodded. "When I got there, she had Mom covered with a blanket, but Carol and Leira were asking why Gramma looked so happy, how come she got to be naked, and what all that white stuff was." Chrono shuddered. "And the smell. Do you have any idea how hard it is to explain that to a four-year-old?" he demanded.
She stared at him flatly.
The brunette sighed and stood to face her window. "Admiral, do you have any idea how old I am?"
He blinked. "You're nineteen."
One hand went to her face, presumably to cover her mouth. "That is not exactly what I was asking," she murmured. "Do you know how many different Loops there are, or how many different ways any given Loop might play out?"
He cocked his head as the non-com came back in with a tray. "No. What does that have to do with it?"
"There are many, many Loops that carry the chance of raising children," she expounded. "My own is not normally one of them... but we are one of the oldest Loops out there, and the shortest. Do you understand what that means?"
Kasumi was treated to two blank stares over steaming cups of tea, and she frowned. "Reinforce, I had thought that I had taught you better than that."
"Of course, Mistress," the Unison Device said, flushing slightly and picking up a cup of tea to offer her superior officer.
"Thank you." She sipped lightly on the cup, and then set it down. The silver-haired woman moved the cup onto a saucer, and the Colonel sighed. "That was unnecessary, Reinforce," she remonstrated. The recalcitrant Device shrugged, and the brunette ignored it in favor of her point. "You have no idea how many four-year-olds I have had to deal with, Admiral. And I will be the first to assure you- if, for some reason, your mother has not, that children have the most interesting questions about things. Even if it is only 'why,' repeated endlessly."
"Yeah, but how many of them have been your four-year-old?" the man shot back.
"Do you really think that it would matter?"
"I think he's still trying to get past his mother having a sex life," the sergeant contributed.
"You should not speak so about a ranking officer, Reinforce. Even if it is true," Kasumi said, sipping again at her tea.
"Hey!" Chrono barked. "I'm not that bad!"
"So you think," his hostess murmured.
"Yagami Kasumi, I'll have you know that there is nothing unusual about not caring about your mother's sex life," he snapped defensively.
"Then why did you want to kill Ranma?"
"He had sex with her and left her there!"
"And how is that not caring about her sex life?"
Reinforce's head swung from side to side as she watched them toss their points back and forth.
"Because Amy and the twins walked in on her!"
"And they did not wait on the door?"
"She wasn't answering! Amy was worried!"
"She is hardly of an age to be worrying about such things," Kasumi noted absently. "It also has nothing to do with why Ranma was involved."
"She said something about his Device, and it's not like it'd go anywhere without him."
Reinforce chuckled lightly. "She's not a Device, you know."
"Whatever," he grunted, waving it aside. "That has nothing to do with this."
"On the contrary," Kasumi corrected him, "that has everything to do with this. She is a sex demon, after all."
"My mother is not a sex demon," the Admiral growled icily.
"Oh, my, not her," the Colonel said sweetly. "I meant Lilith."
Chrono froze while that processed, and the women sipped their tea. After a moment, he bolted to his feet and roared, "WHAT! I'm going to kill them!"
"Oh, do sit down," the brunette scolded him. "It is not like you would be able to do anything about it, even if you were to find them."
"Wanna bet?" he snarled.
"You can't take me," the silver-haired woman pointed out. "What makes you think that you could take her? Or him, since they did?"
"I don't care," he snapped, and stomped out.
"He left his tea," the Device said mournfully.
"Oh well," her commanding officer commented. "More for us."
"Stop laughing at me!" Chrono snapped at two soldiers on the way out the door. The poor maintainers had no idea what he was talking about; they had only just come up here, responding to a request to fix a broken pane of glass by the door.
After the admiral stalked angrily through the door, seemingly not noticing its presence, one of the workers shook her head. "We loose more doors that way."
The other shrugged. "We're not paying for it," he noted. "It's all government money, anyway. Just be glad we're not on the crew for the Infinite Library. One of my buddies does work there; says the place is run by an army of clones. Says it's enough to drive you nuts."
She blinked. "You mean it's being run by a Device? Who'd have enough magic to power one like that?"
A number of people and one demoness in and around Crannagan sneezed.
Chrono was not one of them.
He shook his head. "No, that's the thing- they're all people."
She shuddered. "Freaky." Squaring her shoulders, she hefted her Storage Device. "Let's get going. This place is weird."
The biggest thing about the Library, Ranma had always thought, was that it had no business being as large as it was.
It was imposing enough from the outside, a giant block of a building, with the only real windows in the original structure in the vestibule. There were one or two that he had added in his wing- even after all this time, he still preferred the easy access of an open window to having to go find a door, just in case. Again, though, those were things he had added. Most of what passed for windows were actually part of a network of near-real-time self-sustaining scrying spells, all tied to appropriate places on the outside of the structure.
It was all terribly inefficient, magically speaking, but it was secure.
Somehow, despite the exterior, the interior was even larger. It was not quite subspace, nor was it the "L-space" that the Unseen University Librarian had taught him about. It was just something that was.
It was also copied to his personal subspace pocket, but you needed backups, right?
To the uninitiated, even the unrestricted portions of the Library were a confusing maze, the stacks of books stretching endlessly in every direction but down. Unless you were flying; then they went that way, too. As a matter of course, people were not allowed in the Library unescorted. Doing things that way meant more ass-pain later; search parties had to be organized, guides supplied, and generally shutting down the Library for a few days. They had lost people for weeks, back there, and it was both easier and safer to sit people down in a reading room and supply what they wanted.
Chrono had figured that he knew better.
When he stormed into the Library, he had grabbed each clone and fylgja he came across, trying to derive the location of the original. When they knew nothing, he dispersed them- usually noisily. That would draw another, to see what the ruckus was, and the cycle repeated itself, migrating slowly into the deeper shelves.
The next thing he knew, he was surrounded by twilight, the vague shapes of bookshelves surrounding him. He blinked; he did not remember ever being so deep in the Library. It was what they had researchers for, after all; he himself had rarely strayed beyond the front desk, and not even that in years.
"So, I hear you're looking for us," Ranma's disembodied voice said from... somewhere. He spun again, trying to figure out just where the man was. He even looked up, but to no avail; the archivist must have been hiding.
"First Nanoha, then my sister, and then my mother," Chrono spat. "Can't you even try to keep it in your pants?"
"Hey," the man said defensively, floating down from the high shelves, "I'll have you know I didn't lay a hand on Nanoha or your mother."
"Bullshit, Scrya," the admiral barked. "I know what a woman looks like when she's been fucked silly- and Mom and Nanoha wouldn't fuck just anyone."
One of Ranma's eyebrows shot up. "Really, now. To hear Amy talk, you'd be the last person to know what that looks like." Ignoring Chrono's startled denial, he continued, "I didn't say that I wasn't there, just that I didn't touch them. That was Lilith."
"She's a Device. Same thing," the other man snarled.
Ranma sighed. "She's not a Device," he said tiredly. "She's a damn seal. How often do I have to explain this? It's not like 'she eats the extra power I don't need so the multiverse doesn't collapse' is a hard thing to understand."
"More bullshit." Chrono snorted. "Nobody's that powerful."
Ranma looked at him, amused. "Really. I took out the Defense Program myself... and I was still holding back. The only things I used in that fight, once we got it out of Kasumi, were things I learned here. What do you think would've happened if I'd used the ones I'm used to?"
"More tornadoes," the admiral replied instantly.
Ranma blinked. "What for? It's not like I'd need to. Anyway, how do you even know about Nanoha and your mom?"
"So you did!" The blue-black-haired man pounced on the perceived admission.
"When did I say that?" Ranma sighed. "You know what? Lil, you did this, you deal with it." The "Device" appeared with a startled squawk. "Have fun," her Master said, and disappeared into the shadows. "I have to go make sure this dumbass didn't kill off all of the Library staff."
"Dammit, Ranma, my name's 'Lilith,' not 'Lil!' And you are the library staff! If he'd killed you, you'd know!" She stomped a tiny foot. "Ranma! Get back here!"
Chrono eyed her skeptically. "Are you sure you weren't designed by the same people who made Agito?"
"I wasn't designed, dammit! Ranma! Come help me explain this!"
A fading, ghostly chuckle was her only answer.
The succubus sighed. "Well, he told me to have fun," she said, eying the man speculatively. "I might as well. I'll just apologize to Amy later."
Chrono blinked. "What? Why would you have to apologize?"
The demoness's form abruptly swelled into full human adulthood. "You'll see."
Ranma arched an eyebrow as an adult Lilith sauntered back into his quarters. "You didn't do anything permanent, did you?"
She waved a hand dismissively. "No, of course not. I'm not stupid." That was met with a snort, and she admitted, "Okay, I might have to apologize to Amy and maybe Fate later. But it wasn't like I wouldn't have had to do that anyway. Chrono's her toy."
The Librarian sighed. "Did you at least clear up that bit about you not being a Device?"
She smirked. "That was the easy part."
He gave her a Look. "What did you do."
She curled a finger around her chin-length hair. One of these days, he would get her to explain why she kept it that length; how long one's hair was did not seem to be all that important, after all. "Nothing permanent."
"What did you do," he repeated.
She sighed. "Go look for yourself. It wasn't that bad, I promise. He's in one piece, he's not bleeding, and he's probably in shock, so you'll want to get him home anyway."
"Dammit, Lilith," Ranma grunted, "I'm tired of cleaning up after your meals. Can't you drop them off somewhere after you've beaten them senseless?"
Lilith's jaw went slack. After a moment, she pulled herself back together, and flatly replied, "Yes. Beaten. That's exactly what I did. I beat him unconscious, and that's why I'm going to have to apologize to Amy and Fate, but not Chrono at all."
"Well, he was being an ass," the Librarian said reasonably.
She shook her head. "I don't understand you sometimes. And after all this time... Ah, well. Whatever. What you don't know won't hurt you." She paused. "Well, not this time, anyway." She shrunk down to what they had learned to be her normal size for this Loop and plunged into his chest.
He sighed and cued up a comm screen to the lead janitorial clone. "We'll need to find Chrono and get him home," the told the shadow-clone. "Let me know when it's done."
"You gonna tell me where he is?" the janitor replied sarcastically .
"Why should I- oh, wait, Chrono didn't get you, did he. Well, he's off in the middle of the Library..."
"Because that narrows it down oh so much."
"Shut up, you. You know what? I'll just send one from here." He sighed and cut the connection.
Two hours later, he began slamming his head on the desk. "Dammit, Lilith!"
By Nabiki's lights, it was early. Okay, so she had woken up and eaten breakfast out of habit, but when she found out that Kasumi had declared it a reconstitution day, she had gone back to sleep. The last thing she had expected when the banging on her door started was an interrogation, especially since the one making the racket had been her roommate.
Sitting at her desk after hurriedly throwing on a pair of shorts, Nabiki looked at the munchkin that, in any other military she'd been exposed to, would have been the platoon sergeant. "What."
The redhead glared up at her. "What the hell was with the cat talk!"
Nabiki rubbed her forehead. "Have you even tried talking to Kasumi about this? Or, you know, Ranma, since it's his problem?"
"She's busy, doing the paperwork from yesterday's mess," Subaru, sprawled on the top bunk, said helpfully. "And the Evil Master's working. I know better than to..." She paused to look at the spluttering brunette. "What's so funny?"
"Evil... master," she managed through her laughter.
"He is," the cyborg insisted. "You haven't..." She stopped as that sent the gunslinger into another round. "It's not that funny," she pouted.
"Dunno how he trains you," Vita muttered, "but he ain't evil. I've seen evil." The redhead's eyes darkened as she slipped into memory. Snapping out of it after a few seconds, she added loyally, "Kasumi and Nanoha wouldn't be his friends if he was."
"Trust me," Nabiki chuckled, "you haven't seen bad training. Just wait until you're where we're from. It'll happen eventually, and then you'll meet Ranma's dad and his master. Then you'll see bad training.
"He's been working on that program of his for... well, I don't know how long, and he's tried most of it out on me, once he's sure a normal person can handle it. He's got it down pretty well by now, I think."
Vita looked at her flatly. "He's nineteen."
Nabiki shrugged. "He's also the oldest thing in this Loop. Don't ask me how it works, it just does."
The Iron Knight sighed. "One of these days, I'm going to make one of you explain that."
"Good luck with that." The brunette snorted. A moment of silence passed, and then she asked, "What happened to the lizard, anyway?"
A Ranma Scrya sneezed on the video screen in front of him. A Ranma, because several others were clearly visible in the background over his shoulders; two of them appeared to be arguing about something.
"So you see," the caller said, ignoring the splatter that fogged his view of the man- men?- on the other end, "because of yesterday's events, you are legally required to submit reports-"
He yawned, scrubbing off the screen with a loose sleeve. "The one that was on your desk this morning, General?"
"We submitted it late last night," the Ranma explained. "It should have been on your aide's desk this morning."
He lifted his gaze from the screen to stare at Auris, standing by the door. She indicated a sheet of paper off to the side of his desk, currently being used as a coaster for his coffee mug.
He picked it up and glanced at it. Brow furrowing, he looked at it a second time, and flipped it over. Apparently dissatisfied with what was on the reverse, he returned to the obverse side and frowned some more.
"It's one paragraph."
"You're not cleared for more."
"It doesn't say anything!"
"Yes, it does."
"You're telling me, then," the General paused to take in a deep breath, "that you knew about this- this fiasco weeks ago?"
"Months," Scrya corrected him.
"Months! When did you plan on informing the chain of command!"
"This is totally- what?"
"I submitted a plan of action to the TSA Council when the Mad Arcanists' Union came to me about hosting the conference."
"The Council? I am your superior officer! All of your correspondence with the Council should go through me!"
The Scrya grinned viciously. "Wanna bet?"
Regius glared at the screen, flecks of foam beginning to build up at the corners of his mouth. "The hell I'm not!"
Auris cleared her throat. "General..."
"What!" His glare transferred itself to the woman.
"I am afraid that the Archivist," she said nervously, stressing the title, "is correct. He has no actual superiors, and is answerable only to the Council."
"You might want to wipe your mouth," the man suggested. "You're frothing, and you look like a mad dog."
It paused. "You know, the only reason I gave you a tear-line copy- and if you were paying attention, you'd know- was a courtesy performance evaluation, since Section Six was assigned as peacekeepers, and last I checked, they fell under you. I've included a good five other agencies on there."
"Be careful, General. The Infinite Library archives every record every arm of the TSA produces- physical, media, and data- not just books. It's amazing what finds its way here."
"It's just amazing, looking at who's backstabbed whom. Of course, someone like you would never stoop to that. Still, you might want to be careful. You're not gonna get any help from me after this, though." The screen vanished.
"That little..." Gaiz's voice trailed off. "Fine, then," he growled after a minute. "He's just as vulnerable as I am, then. As for you..." He glared at Auris and drained his mug. "Get out!" he roared, hurling the cup to shatter against the wall by her head.
Ducking shards of ceramic and thrown knickknacks, she fled.
":Do you really have any dirt on him?:" Lilith asked curiously.
"Some," Ranma admitted. "He's been playing the game for a while, after all, and he's working pretty closely with some of the crazies. Only the weapons types, though; he's always looking for a bigger bomb."
":I thought bombs were illegal here.:"
"You know what I mean," he grunted irritably. "He's always looking for a stronger weapon. We caught some of them, but a few got away, too- and they aren't cross-identifying, either. The only way to really know what he's up to is to beat it out of someone."
A purple-haired man in the local police force's holding cells sneezed.
"Are you all right, Doctor?" his companion asked solicitously.
"Just fine. When will the others be here?"
"Soon, Doctor. Very soon."
"Today? Today sucked," the young man grouched, flopping back on his single bed in the Library. The room was downright tiny compared to most in the Library, only four meters square, and the bed took up a quarter of it. The freestanding wardrobe took up another two meters of wall, and left just enough space for a small desk. The size of the room was hardly ever an issue; he was hardly short on space, after all. "First Nanoha, then Lindy and Chrono, and then Gaiz. I need a break."
":Wuss,:" Lilith's voice snorted.
"Half of it was your fault!" he grunted back.
":You'll live,:" she replied with a distinct lack of sympathy. ":Not like you haven't seen or done worse.:"
"I'm not the one that pulled off a shikima act."
":That's your fault.:"
"How the hell is that my fault?"
":You're the one that got them so worked up,:" she said logically. ":If you'd just banged one of them-:"
"They'd have tried to chain me to a bed somewhere, and you know damn well just how much I enjoy that." He snorted. "Is it wrong t' not wanna hafta screw people silly just to get some peace?" the young man demanded.
Lilith's silence was absolutely deafening.
Sitting back up, he continued, "Just 'cos I wanna keep my relationships simple? Soon as you toss sex in, things always get all weird."
":That's because you don't do casual sex,:" the succubus snapped. ":When was the last time you had sex just to have sex?:"
"Fate, today," he replied immediately.
":Bullshit,:" she said. ":That was trying to get her off your back. Not too bad, I guess, since it ended up with her on hers, but no dice.:"
":Not really,:" the voice said dryly. ":I'm a sex demon. Trust me when I say I know the difference.:"
"Why're we talking about my sex life?" the young man asked after a minute.
":You tried to blame me for today,:" Lilith promptly replied. ":Besides, you're just bitching. I like you, and I care, but not enough to just let you keep going.:"
"I am not bitching! It really did-"
":Suck, yeah, I know. Still, you got to sex up two really hot ladies-:"
"Two?" he interrupted. "Fate, yeah, but who was the second?"
":Me, jackass!:" the succubus thundered.
"I dunno," Ranma said doubtfully. "You're a little-"
":Oh no you don't,:" she interjected, ":you aren't getting away from this. I took care of Chrono for you, and you enjoy giving Gaiz aneurisms. How was today really all that bad?:" She paused for a moment. ":Thought so. Now, do I need to drag our other two anchors into this, or are you going to behave?:"
"I'll be good," the Librarian said meekly.
"How much of the paperwork is left?" Reinforce asked, setting a steaming cup of tea in front of her Mistress.
The brunette gratefully clutched at the container and took a sip before responding. "Just one more form," she replied after swallowing. "This one is only fifty pages."
"Can it wait?" the sergeant asked.
"Unfortunately not," Kasumi sighed. "It's the nine-oh-four-three-two. It was supposed to be done by noon, but it can't be done until all of the rest are-"
"I'm familiar with it," the Device said. "A lot of the data are things you can copy from the other forms, so it's not so bad."
"Is that allowed?" the officer wondered doubtfully. "We have to fill them out individually..."
Reinforce sighed and raised a hand to her forehead. "Mistress, how have you gotten this far?"
The mage put a delicate finger to her chin. "Oh my, I wonder. Long hours?"
The brunette smiled. "Did you really think that I did not know how to make shadow clones? I admit, I have not quite figured out the fylgjaur, but I can come close, I think." She sighed. "Now that all of the reports are on the system, though, the fylgjaur have become much, much more important, and I have even less time to work on them."
The Device shook her head. "There is more to efficiency than getting things done," she remonstrated. Kasumi smiled and took another sip even as Reinforce continued, "And to think, we had worried about how fractured your reports were."
The lieutenant colonel frowned. "My reports are not and have never been fractured."
"When was the last time you looked at your first few dozen?" Silver hair swayed as the woman shook her head. "We can talk about that later. What was with that giant lizard?"
The Mistress of the Night Sky blinked. "The Godzilla? It shows up every time Ranma tries to summon something, whether or not he actually gets it. I have never really understood why; I think you might understand that better than I."
Reinforce shook her head again; there was something there, but she set it aside for later pursuit. "And he- summoned- something? It felt nothing like when Private Ru Lushe summons anything..."
Her commander shrugged. "He must have. I am not quite sure what that mist was, but Nabiki might know." She set down the now-empty mug and looked distastefully at the screen. "Thank you for the tea, Reinforce. I have to get back to the reports."
Recognizing the dismissal for what it was, the Device collected the cup and left.
Caro's day began with a very noisy slam against the wall of the next room. Nabiki's response to Subaru's methods of wakening her was almost as good as an alarm clock.
If only she and Erio were allowed to share a room. Stupid cohabitation rules. Like any of the higher-ups actually followed them.
Collecting her toothbrush, washcloth and a hand towel, she stumbled to the door and made it halfway to the women's wing communal bathroom on her floor before realizing that she had left her workout clothes in her room. Sighing, the pinkette turned back to collect them.
Forty-five minutes later, she stomped down the stairs outside the barracks. Stupid Scrya, making them run this much. Nanoha may have made them run, but not twice around the base before running to the training pad.
Or the wind sprints they did after that. She hated wind sprints with a passion. She was supposed to stay still, summon things, and boost her team's abilities, not run around like a moron! She had allies she could call upon for that!
And those bullet-spells of his were stupid. She wasn't going to run faster just because of some stupid spell. No, she ran faster because of the occasional surprises those spells contained. Watching the older girls occasionally getting shocked, drenched or set on fire may be entertaining, but not when was happening to her or Erio.
Mostly her, she had to admit to herself. Erio had been fast to begin with, but- and she felt a little glow of pride for him on this- he was getting even faster, and was hit less often.
She was another story.
How did those get through her shields, anyway?
That thought was enough for a blue-green orb to make it through, catching her on the inside of her left thigh and soaking her pants. That led to several more strikes- two empty and a bright red electrical sphere as she tried to recover from the initial dousing.
"Not... fair," she panted as she collapsed at the end of the crossfire zone.
"Fights aren't," the hammer-wielding redhead supervising the torture said unsympathetically. "Get back in there."
"Why do I have to do this anyway?" she complained, making no move toward getting back on her feet.
Vita decided to help her out, picking her up by the back of her shirt and spinning around to gain momentum. "You... need... to... learn... to... dodge!" the loli grunted, tossing her back into the field.
"Not fair!" the girl complained again, but began dodging her way to the edge of the area again.
"More sweating, less bleeding," Nabiki suggested. She had yet to be hit today, the bitch.
Yet, as a golden electrical capsule swiped across her belly, leaving her hunched forward but still dodging.
"Less talking, more dodging!" the redhead commanded.
"Where did he get the idea for that, anyway?" Caro asked an hour later on the way back to the dorms.
"Father," the brunette replied, saving her breath for the run.
"His father threw spells at him?"
"Wasps' nests," the older girl corrected.
His father had thrown wasps' nests at him? "What for?" Erio asked.
"Hand-eye and speed. And he's crazy."
"If you're talking, you're not running fast enough!" their tiny sergeant bellowed, chasing after them with her hammer.
They ran faster.
"What's with the danmaku training approach, anyway?" Nanoha asked later that day, as the "instructors" sat at their table for lunch.
"Reaction speed," Ranma muttered around a mouthful of noodles from Vita's plate. "Also helps to teach sensing attacks."
"Hey!" the redhead snapped.
"Well, I guess it'd work," Nanoha allowed. "Still, I don't know that it's the best way."
"You got something better?" the Archivist asked, helping himself to a pickle from Nanoha's, even as he absently defended his plate from Vita.
The brunette scowled at him. "You know, one of these days, I'm just going to blast you for stealing my food," she observed darkly.
"So?" the Ace of Aces snapped, "So? You've seen what happens when I blast people, and that's with me holding back!"
"And you've never seen me go all out," the man pointed out, taking another mouthful from Vita's plate, much to the hammer-girl's dismay.
The captain snorted. "As if you're strong enough to challenge me."
Signum, filling the fourth seat at the table, snorted. Coincidentally, she was just close enough to Ranma to be part of the conversation, while still being far enough away to keep her food from being stolen.
He snorted and stole Nanoha's salad. Somehow. Considering that he only had the one fork, and there were quite a bit of lettuce and cabbage in that salad, it was vaguely impressive... but not enough to keep her irritation down. "That's it! You, me, tomorrow morning, in the training grounds! Knockout!" she snarled, slamming her cutlery to the table and standing up on her chair to point at him, one foot resting on the table.
He paused in his pilfering long enough to give her a serious look. "Are you sure you want that?"
He shrugged and eyed her briefly before going back to stealing food from the rest of the table. "Whatever. You realize you're giving the rest of the mess hall a show, don't you?"
Indeed, even Vita had paused briefly to stare up her skirt, and was that a drop of blood at her nose?
She flopped back into her chair with a squeak, blushing furiously. "I'm still gonna kick your butt," she declared into her remaining food.
"Sure you are," he said indulgently.
The redhead shook herself and stood on her chair, careful to keep both feet perpendicular to the floor as she cried out, "Taking all bets!"
"Dammit, you midget, that's my schtick!" Nabiki roared over the crowd suddenly surging at the instructors' table. "You don't have a damn idea what you're getting into!" she continued to shout, struggling against her teammate's grabbing hands. "Dammit, Subaru, watch what you're touching!" she complained, struggling as the cyborg's superior strength pulled her back into her seat.
Signum looked at the irate gunner and then back toward the "younger" Knight. Leaning behind the angry brunette, making sure to keep a hand on the girl's collar, she asked, "Does she really run books in her spare time?"
Ranma nodded. "She's been doing it pretty much forever."
The ponytailed woman blinked. After a moment, she mused, "It is not my position to discipline Stars squad, but some extra training may be in order."
He just grinned. "Go for it."
"Is this really necessary?" Ranma complained aloud to Nabiki, the brunette busily affixing various baubles and plates to the antiquated Chinese fatigues that Mid "science" insisted were his "barrier jacket." What difference did it make, that he spun clothes out of magic now? They were clothes.
"Yes," she responded tiredly, as if repeating something for the hundredth time, "It lets us-"
"Keep track of who hits whom, where, when, and how hard. I know; I designed the damn thing. It doesn't do magic," he interrupted peevishly.
"It does now, Master!" An energetic cyborg with long purple hair, clad in a tank top and sweat pants, bounced lightly on her toes. "Master isn't the only one who knows how to make new things! Nabiki-sempai took what you made, and now it does magic!" She beamed broadly at the brunette, who shifted uncomfortably.
"Nabiki-sempai?" the young man asked, amused. "She's younger than you are right now, Ginga. Why are you calling her sempai?"
"Sempai has been with you the longest," the cyborg explained, still bouncing.
He digested that, watching her... bounce. "Why are you so excited, anyway?"
"Because everyone is always saying that Captain Takamichi is the strongest," Ginga scowled, "and now, Master can finally kick her ass and show everyone who's really the strongest!"
"Damn nine-ball," Nabiki muttered, hiding a flushing face by busily working her way down to Ranma's trousers, kneeling to improve her angle.
The sudden change got Ginga's attention, and she squealed excitedly. "Ooh, Sempai feels that way about Master too? Can I join in?" She skipped forward and put her hands on the other woman's shoulders, bending forward just enough to let the Archivist see down her tank top. "Subaru will be so jealous!"
Nabiki sighed greatly, slumping and hanging her head, and Ranma palmed his face. "Ginga!" he snapped, "Would it kill you to act your age and rank?"
The young woman pouted, crossing her arms under her chest. "But it's been so long since Ginga has had her Master. Is it really so wrong for her to want to be with him?" She ducked her head, the better to look at him through her eyelashes, eyes glistening with unshed tears. When he did not answer immediately, she demanded, "Is it," a little hitch in her voice.
"No, of course not," he said, looking away uncomfortably.
"Damn, she's good," Nabiki muttered under her breath, fastening one of the plates to his shin.
"Huh?" Ranma blinked.
"I said, 'lift your foot," she lied.
"Is Master angry with his Ginga?" the named girl asked, watery eyes still trained on Ranma.
"Of course not. You're a good student-"
"Ginga is a good girl?"
"Yes," he sighed, "Ginga is a good girl. Now, will you please-"
"Pet me," the cyborg commanded.
"Huh?" He blinked.
"Pet Ginga," she elaborated. "On her head. Of course, if Master wants to pet his Ginga elsewhere..." She blushed delicately, shooting a coy glance his way, forearms lifting her assets and turning slightly.
"No, your head's fine," he said hurriedly, placing an uncertain hand on her head.
She chuckled, glowing healthily.
Nabiki turned to look up at the other woman. "That... that is weird," she declared quietly. Turning back to Ranma's other shin, she sniffed, and then froze. Taking a deeper breath, she looked at her "kohai" and shrugged before again turning to her equipment. "Whatever works for her, I guess," she muttered, shrugging. "Freak."
The cyborg ignored the comments, instead focusing on her Master's praise.
"Other foot," Nabiki directed, tapping the inside of his ankle. "And… there. Now, hate to break up the love-fest, but I need to get up to the recording booth and figure out if Subaru's done with our boss yet." She snorted. "That munchkin had the general idea right, but she has no idea how to do it. It's like teaching a baby."
"Munchkin?" the older girl wondered, looking to her teacher for clarification as the Looper walked off.
"Yagami Vita of the Wolkenritter- the redhead with the hammer."
Ginga's face scrunched up. "I thought you meant Captain Takamachi."
"Well, she is, too- but no. Why don't you go see Subaru? It's been a while since you've seen her, hasn't it? I need to finish up, anyway."
"Okay!" Grinning, the purple-haired young woman strutted off.
"Why is she always like that?" he wondered, shaking his head at the retreating figure. "I don't think I'll ever understand women. Now, this is magic-only, so let's see…"
"Hello, Subaru," the long-haired woman said some few minutes later.
"Big sister!" the younger cyborg cried out, abandoning her brunette charge and attempting to run head-first into the older one's chest.
Attempting, because Ginga did something, and why did she have a faceful of DFC?
"Now, Subaru, you know those belong to Master." Was this supposed to be funny? Why did she sound like she was trying not to laugh?
After a quick grope and a indignant squeal, Subaru spun around the living barrier and went low. Ginga did whatever it was again, and after a blissful moment of soft, round firmness, was face down in the dirt.
"Stupid pervy cyborgs," Nanoha huffed, dusting off her hands. "Put me down, she snapped, glaring back over her shoulder. Shrugging unrepentantly, the sergeant obeyed, dropping the loli on said pervert's back.
After a surprised squawk, Subaru looked up at her tormentor sadly. "Ginga! Why are you so mean to me?" she whined.
"You know the rules, little sister," the older temptress declared implacably. "This," she continued, running her hands down her sides, "is all Master's."
Subaru's whining "But it's not FAIR!" was overridden by a growled "And just who is this 'master' of yours, girl?"
She switched her gaze to Nanoha, who was, if anything, even more pissed. At least, judging by her voice; since she was still standing on Subaru's back, the teen was hardly in a position to tell. "Master is Ranma-sensei, of course. You're saying it wrong," she added critically. "You have to pronounce the uppercase 'M.'"
She may have been fairly obviously ignored by the person to whom she was speaking, but she was hardly going to let a little thing like the Ace bursting into a pink-and-black lightshow slow her down. "Come on, Captain, say it with me: 'Ma-'"
Only reflexes honed by years of Ranma's training allowed her to avoid the haphazard staff strike, skipping back and away.
"Ranma Scrya!" the munchkin bellowed with a voice far too large for her frame, stalking off Subaru by way of her spine and past Ginga.
"I may have overdone that," Ginga admitted.
Her sister stared at her incredulously. "You did that on purpose?"
"Of course. I want her to have no excuese for losing when Master kicks her butt."
"You don't think that her being too angry to fight with any kind of strategy wouldn't be an excuse?"
While the sergeant mulled that over, the tiny brunette roared, "Ranma Scrya! For toying with young maidens' hearts, breaking up my harem instead of joining it, and not having sex with me, prepare to die!"
"She has a harem?" Ginga asked. Subaru just sighed.
Two layers of binds and some whispered threats later, the fight was almost ready to begin.
Nabiki strode to the center of the ring, microphone in hand. "Hello and welcome, ladies and gentlemen," she began in her best announcer voice, "to the first ever Riot Force Six exhibition match! Our match for the day is the Ace of Aces, Takamachi Nanoha, versus the Keeper of the Infinite Archive, Ranma Scrya!" A giant Street Fighter-esque fight poster appeared high in the air above her, giant portraits divided on a diagonal with a "vs" in the middle. "Make your bets now, ladies and gents! This promises to be a match for the ages!"
After a minute, the teen sighed. "Cheapskates." Into the mic, she continued cheerily, "Well, since nobody's betting, let's get this show on the road! In this corner-" she pointed to the tied-up Nanoha, far to stage left- "we have the Ace of Aces, the White Devil, the Littlest Demon herself, Cap~tain Takamachi Nanoha!"
The crowd roared appropriately.
"And in this corner," she pointed to stage right, switching her hands on the mic to do so, "we have the keeper of secrets, the thousandfold man, who defeated the Book of Darkness singlehandedly, Ran~ma Scrya!"
Ginga's lone squeal of "Kick her butt, Master!" was clearly audible in the wake of that uncomfortable reminder. As one, a massive section of the crowd stood.
Nabiki grinned viciously. "At this point, I'd like to remind the spectators that, per Mid-Childian and Cranagan law, all betting is final upon the introduction of the opponents."
They sat back down.
The squealing and struggling from Nanoha's corner intensified again.
"This match is based on a point system. Each successful attack, as counted by our special detection system, is worth one point; captures and disables will be worth two. Should one opponent incapacitate the other, the match will end immediately."
She looked up at the crowd. "Our commentators for the day are Captain Fate Testarossa Harlaown and Lieutenant Yagami Signum of Lightning Squad." The overhead screen displayed a real-time feed of the two commentators, Fate waving gently and Signum sitting stoically. "Our judge is Admiral Chrono Harlaown." Unlike the women, Chrono held his head in his hands, as if wondering how he had been dragged into this. The announcer kicked herself up into the air and towards the commentators' seats, allowing the first few rows a quick glance at her bike shorts. "And now!" she announced, "Fight!"
The orange and green bands on Nanoha disappeared, and she immediately took to the air, Raising Heart changing to shooting mode. Ranma, on the other hand, stayed on the ground, hands in his pockets.
"This match should be fairly interesting," Fate said into the microphone. "Nano… er, Captain Takamichi, is rated at SS-plus and has an Intelligent Device, while Ran- uh, Mister Scrya does not, and has never been fully evaluated, but is suspected to have a capacity of at least S-plus. He has also innovated a number of new support spells, to include his famous fylgjaur."
"He is also extremely skilled in hand-to-hand combat," Signum noted. "Unfortunately, we will not be seeing that today."
Nanoha launched a ten-round salvo of (relatively) tiny pink orbs. "Axel Shooter," Fate identified the spell. "At this point, they should be just sounding each other out."
The orbs spiraled down to form a wheel around the pigtailed young man, and he raised an eyebrow at them before looking up at his airborne foe. She smirked, and they spun into a blur. As a second, and then a third, salvo spun themselves into place at sixty degrees off the horizontal, he held his position.
"An excellent example of control," Fate praised her partner. "She's using her Device, Raising Heart, to the fullest."
In an obvious display of showmanship, the tiny brunette raised one hand, letting her opponent get a good look at it- and then clenched it into a fist.
There was a flash- pink and olive drab and the brown-red of old blood- and Ranma stood where he had been, unscuffed and unmoved but for his left arm. It was locked out at the shoulder, and from it dangled a dully glowing net of power.
The part that got the crowd's attention, though, were the brilliant pink orbs inside.
"That should not be possible," Signum murmured as Nabiki surged to the commentator's desk, seizing one of the technicians.
"What are they saying?" she hissed. "Get a mike on them!"
The frightened tech made a quick series of gestures, bringing up a holo-keyboard, and typed a few keys.
"-nk that'd work? I mean, really?"
"You weren't moving!" the girl accused. "And you can't do that!"
He looked at her oddly. "Why not? It's just a reversed shield."
"Shields don't work that way!" she insisted.
Signum put one hand over her microphone and leaned over to Fate. "Have they eaten Shamal's cooking?"
"Says who?" the man asked his opponent.
That stumped her, and as she floated there, mouth hanging open, he exclaimed, "An opening!" and threw the shield-bag at her.
She blinked at the noise, and it blew up. "Yuuno never used them that way," she told the dust seriously, as if nothing had happened.
"If you hadn't noticed, I'm not Yuuno," he grunted, backflipping out of the cloud and into the air. "Were you trying to kill me or something?"
"I know! You're just a meanie who won't have sex with me! And you would've been fine. You survived a night with Fate, after all."
The crowd's attention switched from the fight to the incandescently glowing blonde, completely ignoring both the wail of "Master!" from within their midst and the grinding sound from the judge's box. The blonde, for her part, found her lap extremely interesting, and Signum patted her shoulder. "There, there, Testarossa, you can punish it later."
"I don't ge-" Ranma began after a minute.
"An opening!" the Ace parroted, blasting him with a massive pink beam.
His figure was overwhelmed for a moment, and vaguely-formed static came from his audio pickup. A spiraling web of lines traced its way back along the massive beam, detonating on Nanoha's barrier jacket. It did no visible damage, but did manage to interrupt the beam.
"Cheap shot!" he decried, ribbons of smoke trailing away.
"You just did it!" the Captain snapped back.
"Well, if you wanna be like that," he growled. "*I call the light of Heaven down upon my foes!" he chanted, hands and feet tracing delicate patterns in the air.
"Hey, that's my spell!" Nanoha objected. "Raising Heart!"
"Yes, Master," it chimed.
Signum shot to her feet. "Shamal! Zafira! Arf!" she shouted, snatching up her microphone. "Shields at full power!"
"All hands, defensive positions!" Fate added, taking her own advice and hiding under the desk. The audience just sprawled everywhere, frequently overlapping.
"*Stars, gather in my hand, and become the light that pierces everything! Tear through everything in a flash of light!*" Ranma incanted, a massive ball of energy gathering before him.
But it was Nanoha who finished it first, empty shells and magazines bouncing as they hit the ground. "Starlight Breaker!" she bellowed, catching Ranma's beam as the orb began to burst. The waves of magic struggled against each other, neither seeming to make headway.
Despite all prior experience, the combatants were extremely surprised when it exploded.
It was Nabiki who took the first chance. She had been hiding behind Subaru, offering her a triple layer of protection- the cyborg was hiding behind her panicky big sister.
Some things never changed, it seemed.
She sighed mournfully at the steaming water where their brand new training ground had been. It was followed by a happy one on noting the two forms face-down in it, a winged ferret and what appeared to be a nude brunette, floating a hundred meters apart. All that money…
She rapped her partner on the back of her head. "It's over now. Go get them." The Nakajima sisters instantly perked up and hurried down to their idols. "What did I do with that mike?" she wondered absently, quickly sweeping her gaze over the stands. It looked like the barriers had held; they were still there, after all, and nobody was screaming, so they were fine, unconscious or dead. One out of three for not being sued was good, right?
Spotting her fallen microphone, she scooped it up and tapped on it to make sure it still worked. When it did, she cleared her throat noisily. "Will Admiral Harlaown and Lieutenant Yagami Vita please report to the front. You're safe now," she added belatedly. "You can resume your normal positions at this time."
This was accompanied by many a ringing cry of "pervert" and the sound of flesh-on-flesh. Had more of them been female, the brunette thought absently, Akane would have been proud.
Vita arrived first. "Look through the bets," the private directed. "See who bet on a double K-O within…" She made a quick series of gestures and frowned at the resulting screen. "I can't understand... Cross Mirage?"
"Three to five minutes," it responded.
"That. They are both unconscious, aren't they?" she asked Chrono as he stumbled up.
"How would I know? I just got here." He scowled at her.
"Well, go check, already, that's your job, isn't it?" She turned her back on the spluttering officer and shouted at the cyborgs, "Hey! Molest them later! Get your butts back here- and bring them! I see what you're trying to do, Subaru! You're in public! Knock it off and wrap her in a towel or something!"
"What the he- What in the world just happened?" an irate silver-haired woman demanded as she swooped in, brown uniform skirt traded out for sensible pants.
"They're out," Chrono concluded loudly after a cursory examination, turning back to the announcer. "Can I go now?"
Ginga tucked something down her top, trying her hardest to be inconspicuous.
"Sure," Nabiki said, waving the man off, more focused on the angry NCO than the fleeing admiral. "Captain Little and Ranma here blew each other up."
"Captain Li- Use her title and name correctly!" Reinforce scolded. "She is your superior officer! Captain Taka..." She trailed off. "What did you do to my brand-new practice field! Captain Takamachi! Mister Scrya!"
"They seem to be unconscious," Signum noted, sticking her head out from under the desk, not a hair out of place. She crawled out and stood, nonchalantly knocking some nonexistent dust off of her knees. "Well, that thing is," she amended, looking downrange. "I do not see Scrya."
"He's unconscious," Ginga provided, blushing when the group looked at her. "Trust me, I'd know."
"Whatever," the gunner grunted after a moment. "Vi- ah, Lieutenant," she corrected herself, casting a wary eye in her superintendant's direction, "are you done with the bets yet?"
"Gimme a minute," the redhead growled back.
Subaru finally arrived, and set her captain down on top of the desk. "She's heavier than she looks," she noted.
"Yes," Fate agreed immediately, still under her part of the desk.
Signum frowned down at her. "You should come out from there. It is not as if it were a closet, for you to hide in."
"What's that supposed to mean?" the blonde snapped, not moving.
"The spectators can still see you," the knight pointed out.
The teenager squeaked and rolled out from under the desk. Unlike Signum, she was slightly mussed, and spent a moment fussing over her appearance before moving onto her towel-wrapped partner. For her part, Reinforce began growling angrily about such subjects as "appropriate conduct" and "upholding the image of the Service."
"Where's Ranma?" she asked after a minute, satisfied that Nanoha was merely unconscious.
Ginga blushed some more, but before anyone could question her, Vita announced, "Only one. Here." She flicked the relevant screen along to her cohort.
"Sorry Sergeant, got business to attend to," the brunette interrupted the spluttering woman's incipient rant. "Attention in the audience, attention in the audience. The word from our judge is that it was a double K-O, at four minutes and thirty-seven seconds. There was one bettor on this outcome, a double knockout at five minutes or less; at one-to-eight hundred odds, Yagami Kasu... the hell?" She took a closer look at the screen. "Yagami Kasumi." She swallowed as the crowd began to mutter angrily. "I do assure you, she began hurriedly, "that this will be investigated in accordance with Mid-Childian and Cranagan gambling law. In the meantime, all other winners, please hold on to your ticket stubs, and winning accounts will be posted in the local papers..."
Reinforce stole the microphone. "Now go home." Rather than deal with the faintly glowing woman, the crowd dispersed. "Not you," she commanded the Section Six members on site. "You get to come with me to explain this to the Commander.
"Shamal! Arf! Zafira! I know you're up there, get down here!" she shouted into the microphone, and turned back to the group, running an evil eye over them and pausing briefly on the unconscious Nanoha. "Where is Scrya?"
"I am taking care of him," Ginga said, blushing again.
"Is that so," the sergeant major murmured, running a critical eye over her and stopping at bust level.
The teen's blush deepened. "It is."
The Unison Device held out one hand. "Give."
Ginga's hands went to her chest. "But-"
"Give," the older woman commanded insistently.
The cyborg sighed and began fishing down her tank top, eventually pulling out one comatose ferret and dropping him in the older NCO's hands. "What?" she defended herself, blushing under the combined gaze of those present. "He's in shock. People in shock need to be kept warm, right?"
"You normally do that with a blanket, not your tits," Vita quipped.
"You're just jealous," Ginga sniffed, folding her arms under the named assets and lifting slightly.
The redhead scowled. "You did not just go there."
"Stop," Reinforce snapped, "Stop it now. We've already had one fight today. We do not need to be discussing the Sergeant's inappropriate choices in first aid here. Now fall in- the lot of you are marching back to Headquarters to explain this to Colonel Yagami.
"And to give her her winnings, of course. Zafira! Arf! I see you! Human form, fall in! Lanster, this is your fault, you get to carry Captain Takamachi!"
Reinforce shepherded the group into the Commander of Riot Force Six's office, closing and sealing the door behind her; the lock triggered with a final click. She unceremoniously dropped Ranma, apparently still unconscious, on her mistress's desk and took up a position by the door. Kasumi herself was staring out the window, standing at parade rest. "Oh, dear," the brunette said once they had all lined up, "that is the second training ground you have destroyed in three months. It has been quite a while since Ranma broke anything of mine, though. I thought I had him trained right." She turned to them, pouting briefly, and then pursed her lips. "I do still have some of those Instant Jusenkyo packets we picked up from our last trip on Earth. Perhaps I should give him some time with my second favorite horsey?"
Reinforce's face twitched.
The brunette's gaze next rested on Nanoha, still riding piggyback on Nabiki. "Please put Captain Takamachi down, Nabiki."
The gunner winced. "She's still kind of…"
"Well, wake her up, then."
The private sighed and squatted, gently bouncing her captain. "C'mon, it's time to wake up. Fate and Ranma are ready for you…"
"'M awake," the brunette mumbled, scrubbing at her eyes. "Where…" She took in the office, and then her state of (un)dress before giggling nervously. "Um… I won, didn't I?" she asked, drawing the towel tighter.
"A draw," Signum corrected her.
"Oh, pooh," she pouted. "Where's Ranma?"
Kasumi cleared her throat and indicated her desk.
"Ha! I won! I woke up first!"
"Oh, but he was awake when he came in," the commander mused. "Surely, then, he won?"
"But he's just lying there!" the tiny nineteen year old objected, pointing accusingly at the still form.
"Too still," Kasumi, Signum, Vita, Nabiki, Reinforce, Ginga and Subaru all said at once. The group looked at the younger cyborg, Signum even raising an eyebrow, and the girl blushed lightly.
"Shamal," Kasumi directed, "could you please take Nanoha here and make sure she is dressed as befits her? Remember, she has been a very bad girl."
The blonde squealed and pounced, dragging the struggling Nanoha to an adjoining room. A final "Fate, help me!" echoed despairingly through the room, and the door slammed shut.
Fate did not so much as move a muscle, keeping her eyes fixed firmly forward.
"Are you going to get up, or should I call Shamal back? She has some new things for you, too. And there are always those packets…" Nothing happened, and the brunette frowned. Opening a drawer, she reached in and produced a pen. She tapped it on the desk next to his head, and when nothing happened, she poked his belly.
The ferret exploded in a dark red cloud of smoke. Reinforce scrambled for the door, and as soon as it was open, it began boiling down the hall.
"What the heck was that?" Reinforce coughed, glaring at the three more experienced women as they came stumbling out.
Nabiki shook her head. "I don't know. It looked like a smoke bomb, but the fire system isn't going off…" The sirens and sprinklers finally triggered. "Never mind," she grumbled, wiping her eyes. "Any of you know how to create a rain shield?"
Subaru shrugged. "It's easy, you just-"
"Drop the explanation, and what the hell did Ranma do?" the platinum-blonde woman growled.
"I told you, I don't know!" the brunette private shouted back.
"Watch your tone!" the Device yelled.
"EVACUATE!" Signum roared. "Chew her out later!"
Reinforce blinked, suddenly realizing just what was going on. She sighed and pushed back her shoulders. "Everyone, outside. I'll make sure the commander's coming."
"What about Nanoha and Shamal?" Fate asked, looking relatively tiny, pathetic, and drenched. "They're still in there."
"They'll be fine," Vita growled. "Now, out!" At some point, she had produced Graf Eisen, and she used it to herd the rest of the group down the hall. "Shamal, shouldn't you call emergency services? Let them know what the hell happened?" Vita's voice faded as they went, finally drowned out as they turned into a stairwell.
Grinning irritably, the woman stepped back into the room. The Colonel was slumped against the windows, unconscious. Reinforce checked her front side over carefully before pulling her away from the window to look at her back. Nothing seemed to be wrong…
"Ah," Kasumi murmured. "Reinforce. Ranma went boom."
Reinforce blinked. "Yes, Mistress. Yes, he did."
"Reinforce was here, and Ranma was a ferret so Reinforce put him on the desk and then Ranma went boom and I was against the window and then Reinforce was here," the brunette rambled.
"Yes, mistress, I know. I think we're going to have to get your head examined."
"Oh, no, I'm quite well, I just don't remember what I did with my pen."
"I'm sure we'll find it later." Pieces of it, anyway; there were ink stains on her coat and blouse.
"But I don't wanna," Nanoha's voice interrupted.
The Device blinked. Had they not noticed..? "Mistress, did you soundproof that room?"
"I dunno~… I'm tired, Reinforce. I want to take a nap…"
"No, Mistress, stay awake until we can have a doctor look at you. Shamal's just next door." She sighed; she'd have to bring it up later, after they were all out of the building. "Just stay here a moment, and don't go to sleep."
She stood and made her way over to the other door. This would take quite a bit of cleaning; Kasumi's chairs were all over the place. Oh, well, another thing to have their little forwards do to make up for this fiasco…
"Shamal," she shouted, banging on the door, "get out here! Kasumi's hurt!"
"I will be right out," Shamal reassured her through the closed door.
"Shamal, we need to leave! Now!"
"I can get dressed myself!" Nanoha whined.
"Shamal, I'm coming in!"
Nanoha was half-dressed, fending the blonde off with a stuffed horse-head on a broom stick. "But Nanoha, it has to be just right," the doctor complained, waving a red piece of fabric in one hand.
"I don't care!" the munchkin snapped. "And what's this here for?"
"It's Mistress's second-favorite horse," Reinforce grumbled. "Circle her around so I can get at her, Captain," she directed.
Nanoha blinked over her shoulder, and the distraction gave Shamal the opening to pull it over her head before getting stuck on her arms and shoulders. Reinforce sighed and reached over the pair to grab the Knight of the Lake by the back of her collar. "What part of 'Kasumi is hurt' did you not hear?" she growled.
"I'm sorry, is that what you were saying? I could not hear you over these sirens. What turned them on, anyway?"
"Talk later," the Device snapped. "You!" She turned on the tiny Ace, who flinched and scrunched down on herself like a kicked puppy. "… You know what? I'll chew you out later, too. Get dressed, and then get out."
"But the outfit-" Shamal tried.
"Fix it later. You're coming with me to see Kasumi."
Reinforce sighed and looked at the retreating back of the fire marshal. She could not believe it had taken this long for them to understand that it was a false alarm. Sure, safety first and all, but three hours was ridiculous. "Couldn't they just check the alarm panels?" she mumbled and turned to look back at the building. At least some medics had shown up to take Kasumi to the hospital to be checked; Vita was going with her, and Shamal would be leaving shortly. Ginga Nakajima headed to the Library, to check on Ranma.
"At least nothing was seriously damaged this time," she sighed. "He's still going to pay for this, though."
She turned her eyes on the forwards. "And you lot… Go home. I'm too tired to deal with you now."
Nanoha raised her hand. "Um, can I have something else to wear?"
Reinforce raised an eyebrow. "What's wrong with what you're wearing?"
"It doesn't have a bodice, that's what! I don't want my belly button on display!" Her hands snapped back down to cover that little piece of anatomy.
Nabiki sighed. "I don't care. I'm going home. See you tomorrow."
"I think it's cute," Subaru offered.
"You coming or not?" Nabiki grumbled.
"Fine, fine, I'm coming. See you tomorrow, Captain."
"It'd be fine if you wore it right," Shamal sniffed, seeming to make a point of not looking at her.
"My hair's fine as it is, and I had to knot the back so that it wouldn't fall off," the tiny brunette snarled. "What part of this did you think was going to fit?"
"Well, she got your hips right, at least," Fate tried to comfort her.
"Hips! I don't have hips!" the loli snarled.
"Nanoha, please calm down…"
"I don't want to be calm! He screwed up the auction, and we just blew up the training grounds- again! At this rate, what if we don't meet Vivio?"
"I'm sure Vivio's fine," Fate sighed.
"But we haven't seen or heard anything, and we always-" the girl began.
"Only if she's awake," the blonde cut her off. "Are you going to let Shamal finish dressing you?"
"No. It's bad enough as it is."
"You know," Signum murmured, "you could just use your barrier jacket."
The brunette blinked.
"Do you not have somewhere to be?" she suggested to Shamal.
The short-haired blonde followed in the tiny captain's steps. "I do?"
"The hospital," Signum pointed out. "You are Mistress's primary physician. And you." She sighed and shook her head at Reinforce. "You and I are going home. You need to relax."
"I have too much to do! Mistress Kasumi is in the hospital, I have to look after the forwards, and the paperwork- the paperwork!- and deal with Ranma-"
"Sergeant Nakajima is taking care of Ranma, and Vita is taking care of the forwards. The paperwork will wait- you cannot get at it until the building is repaired, anyway. Mistress will be home as soon as they finish running tests on her. She will need to rest, and she will not be able to if you are out, running all over the place."
Reinforce gaped. "But-"
"We are going home, Sergeant Major. Now."
The blonde scrunched in on herself. "Fine…"
There was a small cafe across the way from the Infinite Library. It had been there for almost thirty years now, and had been intended more as a "family diner" than anything else, since back then only desperate people tried to find stuff in there. Well, that and the maintenance crews, but they usually did not stay to eat. When Mister Scrya had settled in and shaped the Archive up to the point that you could actually find what you were looking for without wading through sixty years of accumulated un-filed paperwork, the owner had figured that it was the start of a new era for the district. They would need people to run the place, after all- it was too big a job for one man and a familiar. The workers would have to live somewhere, and not many people wanted to live too far away from where they worked.
She was completely wrong.
Nobody had predicted his "illusion-clones," or the speed with which the "maintenance crews" were dealt. It had made for interesting times, since the whole social order of the area had been overturned. The cafe still got most of its custom from the dinner rush. The Librarian himself even dropped by once a week or so- at least, she was pretty sure it was him. She had never seen one of the illusion-clones eat, at any rate, so she was almost positive that it was him. She did get more people during the day now, but those were mostly people watching the Library, trying to get in, or both. And the occasional researcher who had managed to get in, but those were rare. No, most of the Ground Forces Inspectors were extremely obvious and uncomfortable in academic suits and ties. The occasional one that was comfortable was always some sort of analyst here doing their token field assignment and also bought something more than tea and snacks.
She had disabused them rather rapidly of the idea of bringing their own lunches.
Currently, they were sipping on cold tea and staring at the one sweeping the Library steps. This was not terribly uncommon; even government offices had to clean up after themselves. Nobody had seen a cleaning van outside the place in almost ten years, and anyone who asked the Librarian- or one of his smarter clones, assuming that one could tell the difference- would be told as much.
The Librarian might call them "shadow clones," "chakra constructs," and "fylgjur," but when he started talking like that, everyone just translated as "new way to use magic."
It had taken most of those ten years for the more thaumaturgically inclined to admit that this was not the case.
The army still had not.
As the clone knelt to sweep up its dust-pile, a series of brownish-red shapes superimposed themselves over it. There was an inrush of air, a cloud of sidewalk debris that was pulled up with it, and a dirty ferret that belly-flopped the last two feet into what was left.
After a minute, it pulled itself to its feet and sighed before beginning the seemingly Herculean task of climbing the stairs. It chirruped at the door, and a mail flap opened.
One of the observers, an official looking blonde, shook her head as it scrabbled up the front door to the slot. It had to have been a familiar, even if there was not anything about it in the Archivist's profile. Maybe it was new.
Real animals didn't curse, after all.
By now, and especially after all of the transformation magic he had used, Ranma figured that a simple change of form should not give him any problems. This particular one, for whatever reason, was an absolute pain in the ass.
It just felt weird, like there was a switch on it. With his curse, he would have had to fight it, twist it to his will, not simply throw a mental toggle. There had to be something wrong with it. It was just too painless. One of these days, he would just have to take the time to figure out what. With any luck, that would be before it bit him in the ass. After a moment's contemplation, he opened his eyes to the dark, quiet, and empty Library. Just like always.
He paused and revisited that last thought; there was something wrong with it. "Hey, you gonna turn on the lights or not?" he complained loudly, working up a mage-light while he impatiently tapped his foot, waiting for a settings window to appear.
Nothing. Not even a clone popping up to tell him what was going on.
That was the problem; no clones, dark, and the security Device not responding meant, all taken together, that something Bad had happened. He sorted through his most recent memories- a clone in ferret-form unraveling on Kasumi's desk, and a wave of surprise.
How had he missed that?
"Fuck," he grunted to himself, and started working his way to the command center, popping off two pair of fylgja and one of shadow clones to check for damage- and intruders.
"Hey, you lot, time for chow!" one of the pair of guards yelled, slamming his baton on the door-frames as he made his way down the cell block. "Get'cher crazy asses out here!"
He grinned maliciously, staring through the glowing barrier that kept them away. "Not following orders, eh?" he growled, free hand slipping up to a stud on his uniform blouse.
"Leave it be," his partner sighed, setting out the trays of food on the long table. "They can't do anything until we're out of here, anyway." She began taking plastic cups from her cart, filling them from a pitcher. She eyed her partner irritably; at the best of times, he was an absolute ass. The only reason he was working in this wing was because he was- supposedly- flamingly, flamboyantly gay. That and a sexual sadist. He had no business supervising men, but he was supposed to be too good at this to just let leave. Maybe she should ask the shrink to take another look at him. The second quality might be a more significant factor than the first. He enjoyed the button too much.
"Shut up, the first guard, a tall, lanky brunet that was really not all that bad looking- nothing to rival the Doctor, of course, but still not bad- snapped. "They ain't obeying orders, that means they're breaking the rules."
His partner, a short, dumpy woman with sandy blonde hair, shook her head. "They won't be in there forever, you know. Someone who can barely use the baton really shouldn't taunt thugs that much stronger than they are."
"I can use the baton just fine," the man snarled.
"Right," the woman snorted. "That's why you use that damn button so often. It doesn't use your power, so it doesn't matter how little you have." She set out the last cup and began pushing her cart to the exit. "You going to open the door before I do and lock you in with them?"
His eyes went wide. "You wouldn't!"
"Don't push me," she snapped. "People can only be pushed so hard. You never know when they're going to push back."
He almost ran to the door, and she suppressed a smile. Uno, in her cell, nodded slightly. She kept pushing the cart forward, stopping it in the door.
"Like now," the female guard said, setting her right hand on the man's back as she passed him. He stiffened as three long metallic claws shot out his chest. "My sisters thank you for their upkeep, but they have to go now.
"Besides," she said, "you've been mean to my sisters. That's not allowed." She smiled beneficently as she pulled them part-way out, and frowned as she groped inside him. A bit of blood dribbled from his lips. "Oh, that was a lung, wasn't it. That means it should be just about... Ah!" The "guard" made a twisting gesture, accompanied by a larger spatter of blood. Pulling her hand out, she held a twitching gobbet of meat. "This should make up for everything you did to them. Especially my poor little Quattro." Her smile took on a somewhat vicious cast. "The Doctor's calling, and it wouldn't do to keep him waiting."
Omake by Nanya and ringlhach
Ranma: So, if we're going to keep them from catching you, we're going to want to get you as strong as possible.
Vivio: I'm already pretty strong...
Ranma: Not nearly strong enough. Even Nanoha's stronger than you.
Vivio: Of course Nanoha-mama's... wait, what do you mean even Nanoha-mama?
Ranma: She's the only one I haven't trained since I've been here. Lilith's worked with her some, but it's not the same.
Vivio: Who's Lilith?
Ranma: Oh, don't worry, you'll meet her eventually. (looks at Vivio consideringly) Hm. Bakusai Tenketsu first, I think. Stay still while I tie you up.
Vivio: I need an adult.
Ranma: I am an adult!
I've been sitting on most of this for close to a year and a half now... I just couldn't get that last scene right. I still don't know if it is.
Yes, there are Noodle Incidents regarding what happened to Lindy. Nanya's written a scene, available in the TFF Lemon section somewhere. And no, I'm not going to post it.
Male guarding women: yes, I know, in the real world, it doesn't happen. This isn't the real world, and I tried to justify that to fit my sensibilities in the story.