A/N: This story takes place in RadiantBeam's "Shadowverse" setting (which the Lutecia/Vivio pairing pretty much gives away in ten seconds) and is equally obviously another of my Magic Librarian!Vivio fics.
~X X X~
Lutecia Alphine slid her hands down along her flanks, smoothing the material of her dress, and regarded herself critically in the full-length mirror.
"What do you think, Caro?" she asked her friend.
Caro looked at the other woman seriously, a slight, thoughtful frown on her face. The shimmering black fabric clung to Lutecia like a second skin. It left her arms bare but covered her from neck to ankle, molding itself to her tall, sleekly curvaceous figure. The slit up the right side came far enough up the hip that too dramatic a movement would reveal whether the black silk mesh covering the uncovered leg was a stocking or pantyhose. The long sweep of Lutecia's violet hair falling to brush the back of her knees added color and contrast, the four-inch heels of her shoes added a little something extra to her walk, and the vertical oval cut-out in the center of the dress's chest was probably unnecessary, but Caro figured it would appeal to its target audience.
She grinned widely, showing teeth. Her momentary seriousness had just been to tease her friend.
"I think Vivio's eyes are going to fall out of her head when she gets a look at you."
Lutecia smiled, showing both a little smugness and a bit of nervousness about her appearance.
"You don't think it's too much?"
"That kind of depends on where you're going," Caro spoke from nine years of steady dating experience, which was the kind of thing that happened when one met one's perfect guy at the age of ten, invested four years in getting him to finally ask her out, and stayed together from that point on. "If it's for a burger and a movie, then yes, it's too much."
"We have reservations at Avercini's at seven, followed by tickets to the Memorial Belkan Opera's one-night-only performance of Sankt Kaiser der Traurigkeit and finishing up with cocktails at Ember after the show. It's the anniversary of our first date."
"That's fine, then. But...I don't think that you're going to have much chance of getting Vivio to go along with that plan."
Lutecia blinked—almost flinched. She'd obviously put a lot of thought and planning into this special occasion, and Caro's words were worrying.
"Because," the petite summoner said, her grin growing even wider, "you're wearing that dress, and I'm pretty sure that Avercini's has storage closets."
~X X X~
Takamachi Vivio's head was pounding.
The eighteen-year-old librarian returned to consciousness rather slowly. She seemed to be swimming up through a jet-black sea, rising to a pinpoint of light that beckoned from above her. She reached out for the light, and suddenly it exploded outwards, opening up into a full vision of a cold, gray room of bare concrete walls and floor. A moment later, she realized that she was not seeing a vision but that she herself was lying on the floor of that room, her cheek pressed up against the rough, gritty surface.
Vivio tried to sit up, but her stomach gave a sudden lurch, and she decided not moving for a while would be better. Several minutes of lying still and taking slow, deep breaths helped get her into a state where she was fairly certain she wasn't about to revisit her breakfast. Carefully, she tried sitting up again and made it without succumbing either to nausea or a wave of dizziness.
"That's progress," she said aloud. "Burning Glory, where are we?"
There was no reply.
She glanced down at her hand, realizing that the familiar weight of her Intelligent Device's standby form was missing from her finger.
Now she was worried.
Vivio glanced around herself. The concrete room was around ten feet by ten feet, with a large steel door that had no handle on this side and showing the heads of a number of bolts or rivets holding on plates that allowed for a shuttered slot near the base. The whole arrangement screamed "cell" to her.
So how did I get here? she wondered. She searched her memory, despite the message from her aching head telling her that it would prefer it if she didn't request anything particularly notable from it for the next few hours.
She'd arrived for work at the Bureau HQ like she always did in the mornings. She'd grabbed a breakfast pocket containing eggs, rice, and synthetic vegetables at one of the carts on the second concourse as she didn't always do...but would have to confess she did do a good three-fourths of the time so long as her mothers weren't within earshot. She'd taken the glide-ramp up to the fourth level, input her credit code to get a caramel milk from the vending machine, and...
Had she forgotten the incident? Vivio had learned about traumatic amnesia in her combat training classes. But she didn't feel like she'd been knocked out. She didn't have any body aches or damage to her Infinity Library staff uniform. And the ache in her head was generalized, not emanating from a single spot. Besides which, even a sneak attack should have triggered her automatic defenses, including Burning Glory's autoguard. She probed her scalp with her fingertips and didn't find any spot that was more sore than any other spot.
Drugged, she thought ruefully. Automatic magical defenses might or might not protect her from poisonous gases in the atmosphere, but they definitely wouldn't against ingested drugs. I guess Nanoha-mama was right about how skipping breakfast would be bad for my health.
As if her realization was some kind of signal, a communications screen opened up in the cell a couple of feet in front of her. The face on the screen was a woman with lime-green hair that tumbled in loose curls over her shoulders. Her face was attractive, but had crow's-feet coming in around her eyes and her lips had a tight, pinched expression when she wasn't talking.
"Good afternoon, Miss Librarian," she said with patently false cheerfulness. "I hope you had a nice nap. You'll need to be well-rested for the work you'll be doing."
That was kind of odd. Vivio could see why her captor would play coy with her own name, but Vivio's? That didn't make sense.
"If it's all the same, I already have a job, and I'm not really looking for another one," Vivio said. She was only eighteen, after all, and wanted to sound cool in the face of danger.
"Oh, I think you'll take this one when you hear about our benefits package."
"We'll let you keep your life."
That wasn't really a good sign. Kidnapping for ransom was one thing; Vivio had a lot of personal connections to various groups that might pay well for her safe return, but this seemed to be more about her abilities than her value. That had happened once before, when Jail Scaglietti had kidnapped her in order to serve as the mind-controlled ignition key for the Cradle. That kind of thing was far outside the ordinary scope of professional crime.
Amateur criminals, as Fate-mama had told her, were usually more trouble than professionals. They had strange motivations. They had no experience, so they got nervous and rattled. They rarely knew what they were doing, and so felt a desperate need to act like they were in control even when things were completely falling apart around them. And, distressingly often, they were involved in hyper-destructive acts of terrorism, either on purpose or by accident.
"What do you want me to do?" Vivio asked nervously.
"Why, to do your job," the woman replied. "The skills of the Infinity Library archivists are legendary, and you will no doubt be motivated to do your very best."
With that, the screen winked out.
~X X X~
"Very nice, Miss Pacifica," the lime-haired woman's associate complimented her.
"Thank you, Dante. We do what we can. I think that we've made our position clear to our guest. The only real question is whether she has the skills to do the job."
Dante Lucerne frowned. He was a pretty man—handsome really would have been inaccurate—with long, silver-blond hair and soulful gray eyes. The two of them had been treasure hunters together for over a dozen years now, snatching discoveries ahead of legitimate archaeologists like the Scrya clan and selling them on the dimensional black market. Their discovery of this facility, though, believed to have been abandoned centuries ago when the Garean hordes overran this world, would be enough to set them up in luxury for the rest of their lives.
Presuming, of course, they could dredge its secrets out of the archives.
"Do you have doubts?" Dante asked.
Miss Pacifica tossed her head.
"You know me, Dante. I always doubt. It would take a team of librarians six months to make sense of this facility's archives and the spirits only know how long to actually go through the books for the information we need."
"Which is why we kidnapped the girl. The advanced search magic of the Bureau's library elite is the only chance we have. And the fact that the girl had an Intelligent Device with her"—he gestured to the containment unit holding the ring—"tells me that she must be a high-end talent."
Miss Pacifica nodded. They knew that they were pressed for time. Their discovery of this facility wouldn't go unnoticed forever, and the legitimate Alduin authorities would move in. Neither she nor Dante was ready to pass up the prize: the royal treasury of Aldu! The historical records—she was legitimately a scholar, despite her rather casual attitude towards the sanctity of archaeological data—said that the last king had set aside a significant cache in anticipation of having to flee, so as to insure a luxurious exile. Money, art treasures, and magic were stored in preparation for his escape, only the Dark King's Mariage hordes had overrun Aldu far faster than had been expected. The royal family had been slaughtered with the rest of Aldu's government, and the cache had been left, eternally waiting for them.
The treasure hunters' research had suggested that no one had ever discovered the Alduin fortune. The Gareans hadn't cared; they were interested in conquest rather than loot, and by the time their dominion had fallen no one remembered. It was still out there, waiting. Just like this facility had been, with its systems cold and quiet, waiting for someone to awaken them as Miss Pacifica had.
"It's too bad about that Intelligent Device in its way, though," Dante said. "The girl's ID data is on it, and we can't access it like we could an ordinary comm terminal. It's much more effective to bribe or threaten someone when you can make it personal, and their name is key to that."
"I'll make her tell us before she gets to work. Getting her to say 'yes' to anything, even a little request like that, helps manipulate the subconscious towards making her more accepting of later demands." She'd put herself through university by selling used cars. "Still, I can't think it matters very much. There's no mistaking that uniform, so we know she really is a librarian, not a supply clerk or something useless to us like that."
A loud, metallic ringing echoed over the surveillance system they had on the girl's cell. Both of them whirled towards the video display.
"Um, actually, Miss Pacifica, I think maybe we really could have used that information."
~X X X~
Vivio, it must be admitted, was a bit of an impulsive hothead when it came to diving into situations. "Act now" would always be preferred to "wait and see," whether the subject matter was professional or personal. But her decision to try and escape right away wasn't because of that. Well, not entirely because of that, she amended.
But it made sense. The woman had called her "Miss Librarian" and had talked about Vivio being there to use her archive-scrying spells. In other words, they didn't want Takamachi Nanoha's daughter or the Sankt Kaiser's clone; she'd just been the handiest librarian to be snatched up. So they didn't know her capabilities, and wouldn't be prepared for them. They were expecting to be guarding an office worker, not someone who'd had combat training before her love of books had pulled her into her current job.
She also really didn't want to wait around to be rescued. The last time she'd been kidnapped her mother and several friends had had to save her, and while she'd only been six at the time Vivio didn't want to be the kind of burden who went through life making her loved ones constantly bail her out of trouble.
And she was supposed to have a date with Lutecia that evening!
Vivio stood up and took a deep breath. The headache was receding the longer she was awake, luckily. She just needed to remember her magic use without her Device's help. Thankfully, Nanoha-mama had been a strict teacher in that respect; she hadn't let Vivio even get a Device until she was ten. So she'd used to be pretty skilled at using magic without having Burning Glory as a crutch.
So what am I doing wrong? she thought to herself when her Barrier Jacket did not start taking shape. She reached for the magic again, trying to form the protective garb, but nothing worked. She couldn't quite grasp the mana she needed to—
Crap. She was under the effects of an Anti-Magilink Field. Ever since Jail had rediscovered that once-lost Belkan technology, it was getting into the hands of more and more criminals, despite the Bureau's best efforts to stop it. The idea was certainly a good one in terms of prison design, but it made the escape rather more difficult.
The good news was, it was possible to use magic in an AMF. Vivio's mamas and their friends had developed the techniques while fighting Scaglietti. It required a significant amount of power, to be able to overwhelm the force that prevented a mage from linking mana, but, well, power Vivio had. Skill in using that power was a different proposition, but as far as access to brute force, that she had covered.
That reminded her that Belkan-style attacks which augmented physical assaults from within instead of projecting magic damage against an enemy would not be affected by the AMF, so at least she'd only be suffering power loss on one end of the spell instead of both. And since her first target wouldn't be a person, but the cell door...
Vivio punched her fist into her palm.
"Barrier Jacket! Royal Mode, set up!"
The triangular rune of Belkan magic swelled into place beneath her feet. The magic seemed to flow like syrup, thick and heavy, but it shone with rainbow light and her uniform vanished, replaced in an instant by her blue-gray bodysuit and short white jacket, with armor-like gauntlets covering her fists. The effect, she decided, was like exercising with with weights or doing combat training under the burden of Nove's special limiter bands.
Vivio grinned. Under that analogy, she supposed that she could look at this as a challenge!
Channeling her magic, she took a stance and punched out in a Strike Arts technique that focused the power of her magic into the blow, enhancing it like a Belkan strike technique. The steel door rattled at the impact of the metal gauntlet, and Vivio launched a second blow, a third, a fourth. Dents appeared in the thick plate, but it was the concrete where the hinge-pins had been set that gave way in the end. Her fifth punch ripped the door free of its moorings in a shower of gray dust and set it crashing into the opposite wall.
Two men came running from Vivio's left as she stepped out into the hall. Both wore sturdy, tan work jackets, khaki trousers, and heavy boots; one man had a bright blue beard and the other wispy brown hair and deep, sunken eyes. Both of them carried mass drivers, heavy rifle-like weapons that hurled metal slugs or flechette clouds at high velocity. They'd function perfectly under AMF conditions, making their choice sensible for the guards.
"What do you think you're doing?" roared Sunken Eyes, raising his weapon. Next to him, Bluebeard did the same. "Get your hands up and hold still!"
"Um...no?" Vivio replied. She launched herself at them—literally, as she was flying after the first step. They fired, probably by reflex rather than by plan as shooting a kidnap victim one wanted to do something was generally considered counterproductive. One's shot missed entirely, her sudden motion throwing off his trajectory so that the flechettes rattled off the walls and floor behind her. Vivio was flying directly at Bluebeard, though, so it was virtually impossible for him to miss. Unfortunately for him, it was also virtually impossible for him to hurt her; Vivio's Barrier Jacket shed the kinetic energy of the projectiles like an umbrella shedding raindrops. An instant later, her armored fist crashed into his jaw with an audible snap of bone and sent him sprawling a good five feet away. She landed, and while Sunken Eyes tried to turn she crashed her elbow into his hands, knocking the mass driver loose.
Vivio grabbed the guard by the lapels and shoved him up against the wall, hard enough that he grunted with the impact.
"What kind of monster are you?" he babbled. "There's supposed to be an AMF down here!"
"I'm a monster who doesn't like being kidnapped!" she roared at him. "Now tell me everything!"
"I'm just a hired hand, lady, honest! I don't know anything!"
"Who hired you?"
He hesitated, apparently having at least some amount of honor among thieves, or at least fear of his employer. She rammed him against the wall again, not that hard but more as a reminder.
"A g-guy named Lucerne! A real pretty boy. He wanted us as hired hands!"
"To do what?" Thump.
"W-we got into Bureau HQ with false ID. Lucerne had made sure the food-cart guy was out. All I had to do was slip the drugged food to the first librarian that stopped by. Vik had another cart on the third concourse, same deal. Then we just followed, pretended to take you to medical when you passed out, but really smuggled you out in a ship Lucerne had waiting. After that we were just extra guards, to keep an eye on you."
"Where are we?" Thump.
"Aldu. Some old ruin out in the mountains."
Aldu, she remembered, was Administered World 41, a former possession of the Belkan Empire. It had been conquered by Garea during the era of the Dark King Ixpellia, then later was the staging ground for a battle between the Hegemony and the "Thunder God," Dahlgren, a generation before Olivie Sedgbrecht, and—
And maybe this isn't the best time to be thinking of ancient history? she reminded herself.
"How many people are here?"
"Just five: me, Vik, and Tobias, then Lucerne and his partner, Miss Pacifica."
"He's with me and Vik. He's a mage, so he's on guard outside where the AMF doesn't reach."
"What rank?" It was always nice to know the strength of the opposition.
"How the hell would I know? It's not like he goes in for formal tests, right?"
"I don't effing know! He'd better than the cop mages we've fought in the past; we used to be mercs on Faurus."
"Is there anything else I ought to know? Think hard, 'cause you don't want me annoyed that you overlooked any little surprises."
"I don't know, really! I don't even know if Lucerne or Miss Pacifica are mages!"
"Then I guess we don't have anything to talk about." She pulled back her fist to knock him out, then stopped. A physical knockout could cause serious injury, and it wouldn't hurt to test her ability in these relatively safe conditions, either. Vivio pointed at his chest, then once again summoned her magic, this time for the casting of an actual spell.
The bullet-like orb spat from her fingertip into Sunken Eyes' chest and instantly put him under. Vivio put him down, then grinned girlishly. Lutecia would be so proud of me, interrogating that guy! She'd pretty much played it like she'd seen it in books, since she didn't have any training, but it seemed to have gone well. It's too bad I don't have Burning Glory; he could have recorded it so I could play it back later and have her give me pointers on my technique.
~X X X~
"I guess I'd better get going. I know you don't want me underfoot for your date!"
~X X X~
Belatedly, Vivio realized that it might have been nice if she'd asked Sunken Eyes for directions before knocking him out. Thinking about Burning Glory, though, had reminded her that she definitely needed her Device back, not only because he was an important partner and friend but because without him she didn't have any way to call for transport home!
She took a deep breath. This was clearly a job for scrying magic, and that was something she was good it; indeed it was the point of her work as a librarian. Vivio held out her hands, summoning the spell; the light flickered a bit as she extended her perceptions, but she held the effect against the AMF.
"Initiating wide-area search. Extending awareness. Targeting: Intelligent Device Burning Glory." If she'd still had Burning Glory, she could have let him maintain the WAS while she went about her escape, but without him she had to do it all on her own. Parallel processing of spells was one thing, but actually having her consciousness in two places at once was the kind of multitasking that required an AI assist. Her search moved outward from her position in a spiral pattern, seeking her companion.
~X X X~
"What's she doing?" Dante asked, looking over Miss Pacifica's shoulder at the surveillance screen.
"It's some kind of scrying spell, from the look of it." She bit her thumb nervously. "How is this happening? She's a librarian, by the saints. She's not supposed to be able to knock down steel doors, fly, and shrug off weapons fire under AMF conditions."
"Is the AMF working? We could send in the mage to subdue her if it's not."
"Yes, definitely; I tested it when we locked the girl up."
"Then how is it happening?"
"I don't know, blast it!" Miss Pacifica swung her gaze around to the containment unit. That should have been my first clue, she thought. Ordinary Bureau clerks weren't issued the expensive, unique Intelligent Devices; they'd have Storage Devices or none at all. That their victim had had her Device immediately marked her as something other than what they'd expected to find.
Since she was looking that way, Miss Pacifica actually saw the seeking orb of rainbow-streaked light hover over the Device and wink out.
"Dante, I know what she was doing."
"Was doing?" He looked at the screen and saw the blonde drop her arms and the rune vanish from under her feet. "Damn, she is finished. What was it?"
"Looking for her Device."
They shared a quick look. They'd been partners for a long time; they'd had plans start to fall apart on them before. Each knew what the other was thinking.
"No," Miss Pacifica said after a moment. "No, it's too much. We can't afford to pass up a chance like this one."
"How do we fight? Neither of us has the power to use magic under AMF. We're outclassed."
"I know. That's why we won't do the fighting." She whirled back to the terminal and began to rapidly press spots on the touchpad. A second screen opened next to the surveillance image. "These will."