Sorry to keep you waiting.
Nodoka landed on her feet, straightening her back as she looked up at Setsuna. The half-Tengu swordswoman had demolished her target into a cloud of black smoke. As she hung in midair, she sheathed her sword and landed nimbly on the fire escape next to Nodoka. "That makes fifteen in total." She reported as Nodoka pulled out a small device. It looked like a smartphone, though it lacked any company logos or identifying markings. She tapped the screen with her finger, pulling up an overhead map of Uminari City.
"Yes, it looks like Iincho-san and Asuna-san have finished up their sector as well. That leaves the downtown area to the Enforcer squad."
Setsuna sighed. "The enemy is growing bold. First the attack on Yagami-chan, then assaulting the bakery. Now they've spread themselves far across the city."
Nodoka began manipulating the screen in her hand. "I guess it's even better that we came to help Negi-sensei. Did you know he actually thanked Asuna-san and I for our work last night?"
Setsuna laughed. "I'm amazed. Maybe we're getting to him after all."
Nodoka returned the device to her pants pocket. Turning on her heels, she bent her knees and jumped straight up to the next platform of the fire escape. "Maybe, or maybe it is Nanoha-chan and her friends."
"What makes you say that?" Setsuna followed her up the side of the building.
"Have you seen how he acts around the five of them? He's not as secluded as he was with us."
"Well, they already know he's a mage."
"I know, but even after we learned about his secret, he always seemed to keep things from us. Now, he doesn't seem so tired."
"I'm not so sure Nodoka-san," Setsuna landed on the roof of the building. "I haven't seen many changes in Negi-sensei. Maybe you've been seeing things I haven't."
"Maybe." Nodoka agreed as she joined Setsuna on the roof. "I just want what's best for Negi. Sometimes I think he took Haruna's ending to her manga the wrong way."
Setsuna actually laughed. "Do you know what made Haruna end her series like that? I mean, Negi becoming an immortal demon, Asuna being sealed away for one hundred years; I would have sworn she would have done something different."
"You mean something more akin to her dojiuns?" A heavy blush bloomed across the girls' faces.
"Y-y-yes, her original idea was something like that, but apparently the publisher threw it back in her face."
"So she ended it like that to spite her publisher?"
"Yes, it turns out they wanted to turn it into the next Shonen Jump hit. Paru hates that magazine."
"Hmm, and I thought Haruna wanted to take over the world." Setsuna chuckled. A loud chirping caught her attention. She tapped a small piece of plastic in her ear. "Sakurazaki," she spoke.
"Sakurazaki-san, we have a problem." Lindy's voice came in loud and clear over the ear piece.
"More Walking Shadows?" She asked.
"Yes, another group has been detected near you, five blocks to your east." Setsuna turned to face the rising moon.
"I can see them from here." From her vantage on the rooftop, both Mahora girls could pick out the erratic movements of the Walking Shadows, as they had been dubbed by the Asura's crew.
"We're setting up a citywide barrier. Once the sky goes black, you are clear to use your more powerful techniques."
"Copy that Lindy-sama," with a muted *beep*, the call was ended. "Nodoka-san, let's go!" The swordswoman leapt from the roof, followed closely by the librarian. The two girls dashed toward the encroaching shadows, sword and staff at the ready. As they made their final leap toward their foe, the night sky above them darkened even further. Setsuna reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out a card.
"ADEAT, Sica Shishikushiro!" Her original artifact appeared in front of her. With a flex of her will, all sixteen blades shot out, each one impaling on a shadow. She landed on the roof, bringing Yūnagi down in a two-handed cleave. Above her, she heard Nodoka chanting her spell. "Seventeen Arrows of Lightning!" The night around Setsuna was light up in a dazzling display. Each one of her bolts struck one of the blades Setsuna had set up, with the last one being channeled through Setsuna's own sword. Seventeen shadows burst into clouds of dust and smoke, drawing the attention of the rest of the pack.
"Your aim has improved Nodoka-san." Setsuna announced, slicing the next shadow down the middle, head to toe.
"Yes, though it was Yue-Yue's idea to use lighting with your swords." Three more lightning arrows burst from Nodoka's wand, staggering a much larger shadow. As its arms flailed, Setsuna pushed off of a rooftop vent, gaining the height she needed to decapitate the monster. However as she landed, a bolt of lightning struck at her feet.
"Nodoka-san, watch your aim." She called out, her eyes not leaving the prone monster.
"Ehe, Setsuna-san, I wasn't even aiming at you." As she said this, several bolts of lightning struck the rooftop. Some struck the shadows, while others landed a bit close for comfort around Setsuna and Nodoka. "What, what was that?" Nodoka asked, looking around frantically.
The roof was abandoned; the last salvo of lightning destroying the last of the creatures. The night air smelt strongly of ozone, putting Setsuna at unease. Being part Tengu, it was instinctual that she be warry around lightning, especially lightning spells thrown around so carelessly. She could feel her hair stand on end. Though something told her that it wasn't pure caution doing it.
"Nodoka-san look out!" Setsuna cried, throwing herself into the librarian. Just as the two girls hit the rooftop, a massive bolt of lightning stuck the spot where Setsuna had just stood. Her ears were ringing from the deafening sound of the thunderclap. She had to take a moment to compose herself, to regain her hearing and balance. In that time, their mysterious assailant was made known.
"F-Fate-chan?" Standing on the edge of the roof was Fate Harlaown, dressed not in her Barrier Jacket, but her school uniform. She stepped off the rooftop ledge and began walking toward them.
"Fate-chan, what's wrong?" Nodoka asked. Around them, the shadows had ceased their assault. Now they stood, their amber-colored eyes watching the three girls with unblinking attention.
Fate halted about twenty feet from the Mahora girls. Looking up at them, Setsuna saw that her eyes were glazed over, her red eyes were now tinted a deep brown, almost to black. She raised one arm and pointed at Setsuna.
"JUMP!" She shouted as an arc of lightning shot from Fate's outstreched finger. The rooftop exploded in a burst of electricity, the shock wave of which launched Nodoka and Setsuna up to the apex of their jumps.
"Nodoka-san, did something happen to Fate-chan?" Setsuna shouted.
The two girls landed on a new roof, halfway down the block. They looked over at the smouldering ruins of the upper floor of the building, thankful for the damage supression fields currently active.
"Setsuna-san," Nodoka had activated her artifact. "I don't know what's going on with Fate-chan." She passed Setsuna her diary, revealing Fate's inner thoughts.
"Why am I alone? Where is everyone? Mother, Mother where are you? Everyone? Please don't leave me alone again."
"Dark magic possession?" Setsuna asked out loud.
"This looks like a more advanced form," Nodoka replied. "I haven't seen anything like this since Negi's training." The sound of crackling caught their attention. On the far rooftop, Fate was standing amidst her own personal lightning storm.
"Nodoka-san, go find Asuna-san," Setsuna brought her sword to a ready position. "I don't doubt your skill, but I've been trained to fight the posessed without killing them." She flipped her sword, so the blunted edge faced away.
"I understand. Please be safe." With that Nodoka departed, heading toward the last location of Asuna and Negi.
Setsuna gazed down the length of her sword at the young girl. To be captured in the throes of dark possession was terrifying, but to be at the level where the magic controlled your actions was something entirley different. Any person would be crying out for the comfort of loved ones in an instant. Setsuna focused her ki into her hands to insulate them against the electricity. "Don't worry Fate-chan," she whispered as she leapt off the rooftop.
"We will save you."
Fate was waiting for her. As Setsuna brought her sword down, Fate nibmly dodged out of the way, sending several lightning bolts toward her. She blocked two with her sword and allowed the rest to pass overhead as she ran to close the gap. The two met in a flurry of blows. With electricity running down her arms, Fate blocked most of Setsuna's attacks. The swordswoman had landed a few hits on the girls legs and stomach. The two sprung appart, Fate landing with a noticable limp.
"Sakurazaki-san, do you read me?"
" Harlaown-san?" The voice of Fate's mother came in over Setsuna's communicator.
"Sakurazaki-san, what is going on?"
"I"m afraid Fate-chan is under an advanced form of dark magic possession."
"What?" The startled gasp of the admiral caught Setsuna off guard.
"If we can restrain her, Asuna-san and Konoka-chan will be able to heal her. However,"
"However what? Baridiche's signature isn't active."
"Her magic abilities have been bolstered. It's difficult attacking her without injuring her." While Setsuna was distracted from her conversation with Lindy, Fate took the opening presented to her.
She turned from her opponent and leapt off the roof.
Setsuna did not stop to think. She immediately jumped after her, tracking the blond's movements as she leapt from roof to roof. She pumped her Ki into her legs to propell herself faster than Fate.
"Sakurazaki-san, I'm triangulating your position. I'll be there shortly."
"M-maam, I should be able to catch Fate."
"I won't let anyone hurt my daughter again." And with that the connection was cut. Setsuna narrowed her eyes and leapt high over Fate's head. She landed facing the girl, her sword out in front of her. "That's far enough." She announced.
The sky above the two of them begins to glow. The possessed Fate tried to bolt again, but this time Setsuna is ready. With her sword out, she catches Fate in the solo plexus, flipping her onto her back and laying her out. In a flash of light, the admiral arrives, the innate glow of a barrier jacket casting a pale glow on both girls. "Fate-chan." She shouts, running toward her daughter. Fate tried to scramble to her feet, but the blunt edge of Setsuna's sword keeps her shoulder down.
Setsuna allows Lindy to embrace her adopted daughter. She steps back as Lindy takes Fate's hands in her's. Memories of Negi's training and Makie, Anko, and Akira's actions guided Setsuna's decision. "Fate-chan, can you hear me?" Lindy cupped a hand to Fate's face, looking into the girl's clouded eyes. "Just listen to my voice, Fate-chan," Setsuna could hear the wavering in Lindy's voice. "Don't be afraid. I'm right here for you." Setsuna turned to the horizon. In the distance, she could seethe approach of Negi and Asuna. Soon it would be over.
The sound of scuffling drew Setsuna's attention back. Lindy had wrapped her arms around Fate. Tears were falling from her eyes. "It's ok Fate-chan. Mommy's here." She whispered. Setsuna saw Fate put her arms to Lindy's shoulders. She drew her face in close with Lindy's. And then...
Not my momma.
The sound of shattering glass echoed through the night. The faint glow of Lindy's jacket went out. The smell of ozone was overpowering as Setsuna's hair stood on end. "LINDY-SAMA!" Setsuna shouted, dashing forward to separate the Admiral. However, she could not outrun an explosion.
With a deafening roar, the rooftop exploded in a flurry of lightning and smoke. The concussive wave threw Setsuna off the roof, high into the air. Pain blossoms across Setsuna's stomach as she is spent hurling through the air across the city. Two pairs of hands grasp her form and put an end to her impromptu flight. With Negi on one side and Asuna on the other, they gently set her down on the street below. She clutches her stomach, more than just the sting of her injuries causing her pain.
"This is my fault. I should have insisted."
"Signum, the shield program was cleared by the Asura. We all thought we knew what was going on."
Everyone had been called up to the ship. Setsuna was seated, a fresh set of bandages wrapped around her stomach. Even though the medical staff of the Asura had been able to heal her broken ribs, they still insisted on keeping them wrapped. Konoka was at her side, stroking her hair in an attempt to comfort her protector. Signum and Zafira are both arguing, while Shamal and Vita attempt to comfort Nanoha, Hayate, Alysssa and Suzuka. Negi is pacing, while Asuna, Ayaka and Nodoka are all whispering in hushed tones.
The arrival of Admiral Graham puts and end to everyone's musings. He lifts up a yellow piece of metal, triangular with one long crack running down the middle.
"It was found halfway between the Yagami household and Fate-chan's apartment. Coupled with the fact that Lindy's barrier was destroyed, we can confirm that this magic has found a way to bypass and disrupt Intelligent Devices and Barrier Jackets."
"Most disturbing news." From the same door came Captain Picard of the Enterprise, and Amy. While Picard carried himself with the dignity of his position, Amy seemed to be barley holding together. Her uniform looked rumpled and uncreased, her eyes bloodshot red, and the front of her hair looked damp; as if she had tried splashing water on her face.
"Do we know where Fate-chan is?" It was the first question out of Negi's mouth. Apparently it would have been the first thing out of everyone's mouths. The admiral sighs and Captian Picard takes over.
"Unfortunetly we lost track of young Harlaown after the explosion. The burst of magic caused enough interference with out instruments that by the time the channels were cleared, she was already gone."
"What about a recording from Barridiche," Signum asked. "Wouldn't her device have some information about her disappearance?"
"The device in question is heavily damaged. Barridiche has gone into safe mode. It will take some time before we can recover any information from it."
An oppressive silence hangs over the group as the next question is brought up.
"What," Nanoha is the brave one this time. "What about Harlaown-sama?"
All attention was paid to the three officers. Picard and Graham exchange unpleasant looks. Amy took a deep breath and stepped forward.
"Due to the damage of the Admiral's Barrier Jacket, she sustained heavy injuries during the explosion. The, the severity of her injuries has caused her to lose consciousness. At this time," she breathed deeply, steeling herself against what was to come. "As of this, this time."
"As of this time, our medical personnel cannot properly estimate Lindy's return to consciousness, nor at which time she may return to active duty." Picard finishes.
And the hammer falls. Amy quietly excuses herself from the room as Graham sighs. "So, by Navy regulations and Beura doctrine, I, Admiral Gil Graham am forced to take command of the ship Asura and her current mission." His eyes passed over the group presented before him. "And all under its command."
It's inexcusable I let this sit for too long. Over a year now. Granted, a lot happened in that year, but still.
I apologize if this chapter doesn't seem up to the standards as the others are. I went through three different drafts. It was difficult to write, to be honest. This is smack in the middle of two BIG events in the story; the Mahora crew arriving, and what is coming next. I needed to write this as a bridge between them. Perhaps in the future I'll go back and revise it.
I can't promise I'll return to my once a month schedule. I'm employed now, and I also have THREE high-profile stories to manage. For now, I'm going to put up a poll, asking which should be updated next, EOA, IM, or FF.