Chrono took another glance at the digital clock on his desk. It was almost noon, Mid-Childan time. It would be at least another hour and a half before the enforcements reached the Alpine household on Carnaaji.
Honestly, the ideal outcome would have been to get Yuuno and the Alpines out and have everyone back on the home world so that he could focus all of his attention on the Materials. Of course, getting the ideal result from a scenario that developed so rapidly wasn't something that happened often.
Right now, the last report he received from the shuttle pilot that had been escorting Erio and Caro was that he was on his way back to Mid-Childa. The pilot also explained what he knew about the rough plan that the two had come up with on the spot in order to protect the Alpines and buy as much time as possible for the backup to arrive on the planet.
The problem with that plan was that it depended on how well of a charade that they can put up. If the Materials got wind of their occupations that meant that those two would be at a disadvantage if forced into battle. They wouldn't even be able to get a lot of assistance from Lutecia. Even with Hayate's authorization, the limiter on the Insect Summoner has to be removed with the proper equipment which Erio and Caro didn't have on them.
So they would have to count on luck in order to achieve their goal of getting everyone out safely. And once they had their people back, his forces would need to confront the Materials. The current plan was to engage in a battle of attrition while preparing their portable AMF generators which will need time to get up and running. Although considering the power levels of their enemies, the feasibility and effectiveness of this plan was up for debate.
Honestly, this type of plan offended Chrono's pride as a military strategist but it was the best he could come up. He probably could have gotten Nanoha, Fate and Hayate to join the operation as well but with the travel time in between the worlds, he would prefer it if they stayed on Mid as a line of defense. In the meantime, Erio and Caro would be on their own until those enforcements get to the planet.
'They'll be fine,' thought the young man to himself. 'They're both smart mages and they've gone through the Strikers program. They should be able to handle themselves.'
"Not bad," said Material-L with a grin as Garyuu smashed into her barrier jacket and sent her sliding back half a meter with the marks easily visible on the dirty ground. "On a scale of ten, I give that one a three."
"I would have given it a two."
"Nah. He made me slide back, and I did feel that blow," chirped the Fate replica in response to the remark made by Vulnificus. "So, come on! I'm being as generous as possible and I'm staying on the ground so you can have your air superiority! What more do you want?"
Garyuu just stared at his opponent, his eyes barely concealing his shock. Even if she was a clone of Testarossa, she was a lot tougher than the blonde was. The last time he had sparred with Fate, his blows at least were enough to make the blonde woman stagger a few times. Granted, she had been under a limiter and he wasn't fighting for his life back then but it still was galling to see this insane, blue-haired version of Fate take his best attacks and not even get scratched by them.
"Ara… there goes that guy with the lance. Seikou's done already, eh?"
He had no time to lose. Erio's already down and at this rate, they would take out Caro and come back to the resort to cause trouble for Lutecia and Megane. Mustering up what reserves of strength he had left, Garyuu charged again…
… only to find his attacking arm missing the Lightning Assailant as she moved out of the way.
"Already? Well, guess that's that then. Thank you for playing, contestant! Although you won't get a chance to see my super ultimate technique, I'm giving you a perfectly awesome consolation beat down just for trying your best earlier!"
Garyuu took a step back and prepared himself for whatever the Material had up her sleeve. He knew a lot of different fighting styles, having observed plenty in his life, so, he thought he was prepared for anything.
He was wrong.
Rai jumped forward, her fists up near her head with her palms facing him. "MANTIS BOXING STYLE!"
The next thing Garyuu knew, he was stumbling backwards from the blow to the head he took. He didn't understand it. She just took a pose and appeared to float towards him… and then BAM! He got hit by a blow that appeared out of nowhere.
"SERPENT POUNCE TECHNIQUE!"
Garyuu shook his head and looked at Rai as she was jumping at him, again, this time holding one of her arms like it was a coiled up snake, before striking and hitting him in the chest and spinning him around.
"FLOAT LIKE LOTUS BLOSSOM!"
"… … ?!"
He could see Material-L in a rather... unusual stance as she floated into the air, with her hands and feet pressed together, her hands above her body and her feet below her body. He nearly groaned as she seemed to bounce off of his head.
"STING LIKE SCORPION!"
Garyuu swore that if he survived this, he was going to find a scorpion and throw it into the air just to see if Rai's impersonation of a flying scorpion was correct. The last blow forced him to the ground and just as he tried to catch his breath, he looked up to see the blue haired nutcase standing on one foot, her other foot extended out at him.
"Flamingo Stance." As usual, she had that grin on her face which caused him to take a weary step back in order to try and figure out just what type of fighting style she was using. Not only was she quite insane and fast, but she had strong hand-to-hand combat skills. While Fate was heavily reliant on Bardiche to deal damage, Material-L could dish it out with or without her device.
"Are you done playing with him?"
"Hmm..." Rai took a more neutral stance and turned around while scratching the back of her head. "I think so, but you know it's just not really the same. I feel like I'm missing something."
Garyuu saw his moment. She was completely defenseless with her back turned. Quickly extending his blade, he rushed forward, aiming at her neck. He wasn't going to kill her, but if he could just get the tip of his blade against her neck, he could at least get her to surrender.
But the next thing he knew, his hand was grabbed and he saw Rai looking at him while grinning. "You fell for it! You... are so PREDICTABLE!" She turned around and yanked his arm, forcing his momentum forward so that his jaw would meet her open palm and send him flying backwards. The insect summon winced in pain as he landed flat on his back on the hard ground.
"Hey! Come on, come on! I'm not done yet!" Just as he got up while shaking off his grogginess, he saw Material-L vanish from his vision.
"We're not finished yet." If Garyuu could have made facial expressions, he would have had a very surprised one on his face upon hearing Rai's voice coming inches away from his ear. He braced himself as she drove a fist into his back, between his shoulders, sending him upwards at an angle.
"Air combo launcher!" exclaimed the Fate replica as she materialized in front of him again and battered him for a bit before wrapping up with an uppercut right to his body. "Combo finish with Shoryuken! And finally…!"
She appeared behind Garyuu at the top of his ascent before grabbing both his arms with hers and wrapping her legs around his. "Let's see if all bugs go splat equally! QUEEN DOME BUSTER!"
Garyuu was only aware that at the moment, she was in the middle of some finishing move as she bent him over so that they both were upside down in the air and directing the both of them towards the ground. No matter how hard he struggled, her strength kept him from budging.
"This might hurt a little."
"Well, duh," replied Vulnificus sarcastically just as they crashed into the ground a moment later. Garyuu was out cold while Material-L still felt fresh. She dusted her hands off just as she looked down at the unconscious insect warrior.
"That was fun. We should do it again!"
"Well, yeah. Did you expect me to turn him into hamburger? And speaking of burgers, we need to go on a quest to burn every White Castle to the ground!"
Had Vulnificus been an organic sentient life form, he probably would have rubbed his head in order to fight off the incoming migraine. "...Why?"
"Too many onions on their burgers. You do NOT put that many onions on the burgers! It takes away from the flavor of the meat!" huffed Material-L as she slung Garyuu's body over her shoulder.
Deciding not to bother asking about it, the device switched topics to something else that was of more importance. "I wonder how the dog is doing."
And as if on cue, a giant body slammed on the ground just a few feet behind the replica. She turned around to see her dog summon, with several burn marks on his body and the right and left heads each having their cheeks bulged as if holding something. "So, had fun?"
The only response that came from the dog was silence as the two heads on the side spat out what they were carrying. One head spat out a battered up small white Dragon that was barely breathing; its eyes were glazed over slightly. The other head spat out the pink haired girl, whose dress was heavily damaged with most of the fabric either burned or torn off. She was bleeding through various cuts on her head, arms, legs and body but even with her injuries, the look in her eyes still showed she had some fight left in her. In fact, she was trying to push herself up to her knees so that she could be ready for whatever Cerberus and Material-L threw at her and Fried.
"You didn't eat them? Did you lose your appetite?"
"YOUR SISTER ASKED ME TO LEAVE THEM ALIVE."
"Must have been Seikou-chan then." The Fate replica saw some of the battle damage that had been inflicted on the dog. "They nicked you a few times?"
The middle head merely glanced down below at the blue haired mage. "THEY FOUGHT WELL. THAT IS ALL."
"Hehehe… maybe if Pinky had an impossibly cool looking yet very impractical sword, she might have won then." Rai grinned and prepared to head off. "Kero-chan, keep an eye on them while I go check on Seikou-chan! We're probably gonna head back for dinner soon! I can just taste that chicken now…!"
'Let's see… the soup's staying warm on the stove, the salad's been tossed and the roast potatoes are ready…' Megane paused for a moment and took a quick peek inside the oven which showed her that the chicken meat was turning a nice golden brown. 'Chicken's baking nicely. And the dessert is on standby to be served later at the end of the meal.'
She felt proud of herself for putting together a sizable, nutritious and delicious meal to feed seven people on such short notice. Since things were coming along nicely, she figured that it would be time to call her daughter and have her escort any guests in the compound to the dining room table. As for Sette and Yuuno, Megane figured that they would be aware of the time and would make their way back accordingly.
"Lutecia, can you get everyone together for dinner?"
There was no immediate response to the telepathic call. At the same time, she felt a slight magical surge coming from the other end of the household which prompted her to start worrying. She wanted to go check but that would mean leaving dinner unguarded and considering how Material-L had been lurking around the kitchen earlier…
No, she shouldn't have to worry herself about that blue haired woman. After all, that Hayate lookalike was still around to keep the Fate replica from ruining dinner for everyone. With that in mind, Megane set aside the cooking utensils and moved towards where she sensed that surge of magical energy. 'Could it have come from the training arena?'
Before she could think about it further, she felt another magical energy surge. And this time, she was able to identify that it was coming from the interior of the library. Moving quickly, she got to the doors and just as she opened them, a huge gust of wind forced her to shield her eyes. A moment later, the scene was calm again with the only traces of activity being the window that had been forced open, a few black feathers floating down towards the table and a purple light moving further away from the compound.
She wondered what had happened but that was put on hold as she spotted her daughter's body sprawled out on the floor. "Lutecia? Answer me!"
Hearing her daughter's voice helped Megane calm down a little. "Are you alright? What happened? Did she hurt you?"
"No, she was… asking me questions and…" Lutecia gasped once. "Erio and Caro! They're in trouble!"
"What do you mean?"
"They're here on the planet! And apparently they rescued Yuuno but now those crazy women are going to kill them! We have to help them!" The insect summoner tried to get up but her legs weren't being responsive. "Dammit!"
A quick examination by Megane revealed what was behind her daughter's condition. "A paralysis spell?"
"As if something like that's gonna stop me…!" growled the younger girl as she forced mana to her legs and slowly got up with her own power. However, it only lasted for a brief moment and her lower body locked up again, forcing Megane to catch her. "This spell is so annoying! It's disrupting the nerves that connect to my Linker Core!"
"Lutecia, you need to take it easy. I know that you want to go out and help but you're not in any condition to do anything of that sort," said the older Alpine gently.
"Then who's going to save…?" Lutecia trailed off as she noticed her mother's facial expression and put it together. "Wait a second… you're going to…?"
"I know a thing or two about dealing with rogues so just leave it to me, dear. I'll need to borrow Asclepius though since I don't have any other device that I can use." Megane paused upon noticing the way her daughter was staring at her. "Oh, don't give me that look. I know I'm a few years out of practice but once I start working with Asclepius, it'll probably come back to me!"
"Mom… if you didn't want me to worry, you should have left out the word 'probably'."
When Erio came to, he found himself restricted in a binding spell of sorts. A quick glance showed that Caro, Garyu and Fried were also in the same predicament and placed right next to him so that meant at the moment; they were at the mercy of these Materials. His device along with Caro's had been taken away but the good news was that they hadn't been destroyed yet.
As for what their captors were doing right now, he saw that the Nanoha replica was simply standing by, as if waiting for something. The dog summon was nowhere to be seen. He had probably been dismissed so that he could recover energy. And as for the Fate replica, she sat there only a few metres away and stared at them with those red eyes. The way she stared at them with those psychotic and hungry red eyes reminded him of a predator eyeing their prey. He could feel the pressure of the atmosphere smothering him, all thanks to her presence.
"So… is there any particular way you want me to carve you up once Yami-chan's done with you?"
He couldn't tell which was creepier: the fact that she asked him something like that so casually or the fact that if she just changed her voice by a few octaves, she would sound exactly like Fate.
"Cuz I was thinking of starting with the right arm. Then the right leg would be next. It would be like what Zombie Giant Man did to Black Panther except the meat will be fed to Kero-chan!"
Material-S stayed quiet, ready to act in case Material-L did actually attempt to cut their prisoners into sardine bits before they were interrogated. The Fate replica had been in a rather foul mood when she had been told about Yuuno's disappearance and the pair's involvement in it. Seikou did make it clear that throwing a temper tantrum to wreck the planet would be unproductive and that they needed those mages alive so Yami could extract the information from them.
So Rai had to stay her hand for now and think of other things such as what she could do to these prisoners once Material-D had gotten what she needed from them. "Maybe I should go an original route. Cut off a little piggy? Or maybe I should slowly grind off the part that Pinky likes the most?"
"What are you talking about?" asked Erio in a weary tone.
The Lightning Assailant rolled her eyes. "Don't play dumb! I'm talking about down there!" In a flash, the axe head of Vulnificus was pointing right to the area between the young man's legs which got a rather strong reaction from the device.
"Don't point me there!"
She brought back her weapon to speak to it directly. "What's wrong?"
"I have no interest in making extended contact with the male reproductive organ!"
"Are you worried that it'll be a gay thing? That's a little silly but if you're that worried, I bet that the Golden Rule would apply here!" chirped Material-L.
"… … Golden Rule?"
And once again, those vocals of hers came to life with a song. "It's OK when it's in a three-way! It's not gay when it's in a three-way! With a honey in the middle, there's some leeway! The area's grey in a one-two-three way!"
"… I don't think I want to know why you're singing about threesomes."
Before the wielder of Vulnificus had a chance to reply, the air shifted to signal the arrival of the third replica, Material-D. She landed gracefully on the ground, right next to Material-L. "Ah, there you are, Yami-chan! If you had taken any longer, I probably would have flown back and brought you here!"
"Thanks but no thanks," retorted Yami before focusing in on the prisoners. "Now then…"
She didn't get much further as Erio stood up to his full height and put himself between the Materials and his companions. "Are you the leader?"
"Your head is too high," growled the Hayate replica as Yersinia Kreuz prepared a spell. "On your knees, mongrel!"
It only took a second for the effect to kick in and for Erio to go down on his knees as his strength left him. At the same time, he could feel a burning sensation from his Linker Core which caused him to let out a painful cry. "Graaaaahhh!"
And that was enough to wake Caro from the unconscious state she had been in since Cerberus overpowered her and Fried. "… Erio-kun!"
Yami snapped her fingers to release the spell's effect and let the young man catch his breath. "So the both of you are now awake? That's perfect. Now we can have a proper conversation about where you have hidden our companion."