It probably never would have happened if Takamachi Vivio hadn't had her nose in a book. It was a perfectly natural thing for her to do, of course. She loved to read; ever since she was a child she'd loved nothing better than to devour something new, usually history but extending across a wide variety of nonfiction and fiction. It wasn't for nothing that she'd decided when she was sixteen to join the staff of the Time-Space Administration Bureau's Infinity Library as her full-time career rather than follow her mother into the military.
So when she walked down the sidewalk with most of her attention on the text on the open holoscreen in front of her, what little was left concentrating on not crashing into people or wandering out in front of a car, it was not at all unexpected that she'd miss her turn and wander three blocks out of her way before she came back from the era of the Garean conquests to realize where she was. Rather than backtrack to the corner she was supposed to turn at, she decided to cut diagonally through the alleys and side streets to keep from losing more time.
Vivio didn't give a second thought to the fact that she was in one of the rougher parts of Cranagan, the fringes near the abandoned sections of the city. She wasn't field-experienced, but she was a combat-trained mage with an Intelligent Device and a legitimately earned AA- ranking. Local criminals weren't exactly something she had to worry about.
Which was a good thing, because that's what she ran into.
There were four of them, two men and two women, with hair dyed in black and yellow stripes as if they were some kind of mutant bumblebees. The woman laying on the ground surrounded by them probably didn't consider them laughable, though. Her face was bruised and cut, and as Vivio watched one of the girls delivered what was likely the latest of several hard kicks to the abdomen.
"Get away from her!" Vivio shouted.
The four gang members turned in surprise, but any fear they might have felt at being spotted vanished from their faces when they saw they were faced with one teenaged girl in a tidy-looking, button-down white shirt and blue skirt.
"You'd better be worried about getting away from us, chickie-bird," sneered one of the boys. The girl who'd done the kicking stepped over her victim and started towards Vivio.
"Burning Glory, set up!"
"Barrier Jacket: Royal Mode."
In the next instant, rainbow light swirled around Vivio and her clothing was replaced by a close-fitting blue-gray bodysuit, a short white jacket, and blued-steel gauntlets. One of those gauntlets gripped the shaft of a staff capped by a Belka Kreuz, the blue jewel that was Burning Glory's core set in the cross's center.
"Hell, she's a mage!" one of the boys yelped.
"In the name of the Time-Space Administration Bureau, I'm placing you under arrest for assault," she announced. "Surrender now, and you'll be given—"
The rest of her speech was cut off when she had to duck out of the way of the short, broad-bladed sword slicing at her head. The ganger girl was a mage, too—or, more accurately, a Belkan-style knight with an Armed Device of her own. The fancy blue-and-yellow Knight Clothing she suddenly wore was her own protective gear.
"No stupid little clerk is coming onto our territory to push us around!" she shouted, chopping out again.
Her attack rebounded from Vivio's defensive barrier and she was knocked a step back. Vivio immediately took the opportunity to have her Device take his Revolver Form, similar to an old-style gun but with a heavily built-up barrel that had no hole in the end. The next stroke she parried, blocking the sword with the armored head of the revolver, and she lashed out quickly, bringing Burning Glory down and around in a hammering blow to the ribs. Revolver Form was actually Burning Glory's close-combat and defensive form, optimized for use with the Ancient Belkan side of Vivio's hybrid magic style. Vivio punched the ganger in the face, knocking her back, but she swept her swordpoint down.
"Flash Dart," the Armed Device incanted in a vaguely feminine voice reminiscent of rusty gears grinding together. The girl launched towards Vivio in a straight thrust propelled by her magic, but she was blocked by a hastily-raised Round Shield.
Vivio pulled the trigger and Burning Glory loaded a cartridge, releasing a sudden jolt of stored mana to add to that which her Linker Core was able to pull.
"Protection," the ganger hastily cast, but Vivio chopped Burning Glory down vertically, then horizontally in macelike blows. The cartridge-enhanced attack blew through the barrier spell, shattering it, sending the sword flying out of the girl's hand while knocking her flat.
The other ganger's bolted. One of the boys scooped up the fallen woman's purse and they took off for the other end of the alley, but Vivio wasn't having any of that.
A half-dozen rainbow orbs shimmered into existence and launched themselves down the alley towards the fleeing gang members. One of them was hit in the back of the leg and sent sprawling by the blast of magic damage, but the other two were unharmed as the shots crashed, unguided, into walls and ground, sending dust and shards of concrete spraying. Ordinarily, Vivio could control the shooting magic mentally, but Revolver Form enhanced and assisted her close-combat and defensive magic by rechanneling the processing power that went into her shooting and scrying magic, actually making her worse in those areas than she was without it. Vivio at once changed Burning Glory back to Kreuz Form, but it was too late; the two gangers had ducked down a side street and out of line-of-sight. She could give chase and probably catch them by flying, but there was a bigger problem at hand.
"Burning Glory, contact emergency medical services. This woman's been hurt."
She sighed heavily even as the communications screen opened up. Either of her mothers, she was sure, would have found a way to protect the woman and capture all of the thugs.
~X X X~
The smell of oregano, garlic, onions, and tomatoes wafted out into the living room, making Vivio's mouth water. Fate was going away on a month-long field deployment starting the next day, and so had volunteered to make her homemade ravioli as a kind of apology for leaving her family. Nanoha kept glazing over whenever a new wave of scent drifted out of the kitchen, but she was doing her best to listen to Vivio recount the day's events.
"So what did I do wrong, mama?" Vivio asked.
"Hmm..." For a moment Vivio hoped that she was just making happy noises on account of the ravioli scent, but the Air Force's lead combat instructor proved that wasn't the case.
"Let's take things in order, I guess."
Vivio felt herself tense up, as if she were in battle anticipating a blow to fall.
"First, there's the question of the advantage of surprise." Vivio started to protest that, but Nanoha held up her hand, cutting her off. "I know, you couldn't have just shot them down while their backs were turned; while the situation seemed clear there were all sorts of possibilities and as a Bureau officer you couldn't have pressed any charges if you hadn't at least attempted to make a formal arrest. Is that more or less what you were going to say?"
"Good! You should always be aware of circumstances like that. When you fight, you always need to keep in mind why you're fighting and choose your tactics so to best accomplish those goals. So you couldn't just fire off a Sacred Cluster and take them all down."
"Is there any reason why you couldn't have readied your Barrier Jacket and Burning Glory?"
The good feeling drained right out of her.
Nanoha nodded back.
"That's what I mean. You weren't really thinking tactically at that point at all, you saw a woman in trouble and reacted reflexively. I'm very glad that you're the kind of person who'd do that; it makes me very proud of you." She beamed at Vivio, making sure the teenager knew she was being sincere. "But, you didn't start thinking right away about how best to save her. Honestly, that's mostly a question of practice."
"How do you mean?"
"You think like a civilian, not a soldier. You see battle as something separate from everyday life. If a fiendish villain that couldn't stand seeing innocent wives and daughters eating homemade Italian food made as a pledge of family love"—the odor of oregano had her glaze over for a moment—"attacked, Fate-chan would have Bardiche out and a Trident Smasher prepared before she so much as got through the door. You develop those subconscious reflexes by training, and you haven't trained or spent enough time in the field to develop them."
"It's not a bad thing, Vivio. One of the reasons your Fate-mama and I work so hard at our jobs is to make a world where our daughter doesn't have to fight, but that you and everyone else can lead a peaceful, happy life. Besides, Hayate-chan is just as bad."
"Aunt Hayate is?"
"Sure. Her magic is so overpowered that she can't process it fast enough on her own to effectively use it in battle. Without Reinforce Zwei's Unison to help her out, she's really only effective as an artillery piece. So despite being one of the most powerful mages of the past few generations, Hayate-chan never really got to have the same kind of combat training the rest of us did. I think that's part of why she focused on command and investigations in her career." Nanoha paused. "Though she'd have remembered her Barrier Jacket in your place, because she's fine at tactical thinking when a situation appears in front of her."
"So if I'd prepared myself, I could have had a Radiant Shooter ready to fire instantly when they made the first move at me, and possibly taken them all down before the fight even started."
"Right. It isn't the time that was the problem, but the moment of concentration. Yes, your Barrier Jacket came on instantly, but you then had to refocus on spellcasting, which gave the girl with the sword the chance to attack you in close quarters. Your delay let her recapture the initiative and choose the course of the fight."
"Yes, mama. Is that all?"
Nanoha shook her head.
"You forgot to fly."
Vivio stared at her mother for a second, then groaned, smacking her palm against her forehead in disgust. Of course she could have flown. If she'd jumped into the air—even after the lead ganger had come at her with the sword—she could have bombarded them from the air and found them to try and respond in kind. "The fact that the one came at me in close combat suggested that that's her strength, and shooting magic is better for confronting a group of enemies."
"Exactly—and that last statement was your third tactical error. The Mid-style side of your magic is more versatile for dealing with multiple enemies. You fought sequentially, as if your enemies would come at you one at a time like in a tournament. Now, as it turned out the other three did not attack you, but they could have, and you had to deal with a changing situation. You needed to be prepared for a variety of possibilities."
"So I goofed pretty badly."
Nanoha pursed her lips.
"That's not quite the same question, dear."
"From a tactical perspective, yes, you 'goofed.' A mage of your strength should have been able to defeat one low-ranking Belkan-user and three apparent Rank Fs without letting any escape. If you were one of my Air Force students, I'd be very disappointed with your performance."
Vivio's heart sank, and she wasn't able to stop herself from visibly drooping.
"Vivio, I said if you were one of my students. But you're not. When I get them, they're already skilled mages whom I'm attempting to show how to integrate air combat into their repertoire and develop their battle skills to become part of the Bureau's elite fighting force. That isn't who you are. What happened today was that a librarian stumbled into a violent crime in progress, captured two members of a street gang for the police, scared others away, and saved an innocent woman from serious injury or worse. You should be proud of yourself, Vivio, not worrying about whether you did or didn't properly execute battle tactics that nobody expects you to excel at anyway. I'd bet that woman definitely isn't complaining about minor flaws in your battle technique."
She beamed at her daughter.
Vivio still didn't feel quite right about how things had gone, but Nanoha's obvious approval definitely raised her spirits.
"I don't know, Nanoha-mama. I still feels like there ought to have been something else I could do."
Nanoha grinned at her.
"That's because you're my daughter." She learned forward and ruffled Vivio's hair.
"Mama!" she protested. "Geez, I'm not six anymore."
"And how many caramel milks did you drink today?"
Nanoha stood up.
"Come on. I smell garlic bread; maybe we can steal a couple of slices while Fate-chan's back is turned."
"You distract her while I grab the loot," Vivio said, grinning.
"Why am I the distraction?"
"Have you ever seen her turn her back on you in the kitchen?"
~X X X~
Vivio's talk with her mother had gone a long way towards reassuring her about the gang members' escape, but it was still bothering her a little bit the next day while she was on a lunch date with her girlfriend Lutecia Alphine. Lutecia had a different reaction to the story than Nanoha had. She took a sip of her cherry Coke, set the drink aside, and propped her chin up on the heels of her hands, elbows braced on the table.
"There's something I've never quite figured out."
"Burning Glory's Revolver Form...it's a gun, but it doesn't shoot. In fact, it actively inhibits your shooting magic."
"It's like wearing a lifejacket, Cia," Vivio said. "I can dive into the water by myself, but the jacket takes that away in exchange for making it easier to float."
"I know that, Vivio." Being a loving girlfriend, she didn't even add, because I'm a Device Meister and thoroughly understand the principles behind how different Device Forms modify and enhance magic types. Vivio blushed anyway. "It's just that, it's a gun. It's like if you had a battle-axe and you didn't hit people with it but used that form for shooting magic."
"Um...it runs in the family?" she replied, grinning—since Fate more or less had exactly that. Bardiche's axe-like Assault Form was primarily for spellcasting, with Haken, Zanber, Riot Blade, and Riot Zanber forms all mainly though not exclusively for close combat.
"What I'm getting at is, you're not using his design to your advantage. Take Radiant Shooter. That's a pretty standard shooting spell, where magic projectiles appear around you, launch in the general direction of the target, and you trust to your mental control of the shots to hit what you want them to. But if all they do is shoot forward, it's hard to point them in the right direction. I mean, there's really no way to know where something launching from three inches wide of your left shoulder is really going to hit. With a gun, you can at least point the barrel and aim properly. Especially since magical projectiles don't have to worry about wind, gravity, or other things that affect mass-weapon bullets. If you could have pointed and fired, you could have cut them down, one, two, three"—she mimed shooting with her thumb and forefinger—"even without being able to guide your shots."
Vivio considered that Lutecia did have a point.
"So, you think that I should design a new shooting spell for use with Revolver Form? One that launches from the gun barrel?"
"Cia, you're being mysterious again," Vivio pouted. Lutecia had her little "I've got a secret!" smile on her lips. Lutecia just laughed.
"Sorry; it's nothing strange or special, really. But could you let me have Burning Glory for a couple of days?"
"What are you going to do to him?" Vivio was suspicious.
"Don't you trust me?"
"Not when you're smiling like Aunt Hayate."
Lutecia broke out laughing.
"Vivio, I'm not going to hurt him or paint him purple or something, although he would look nice as an amethyst, if it came to that?"
"I'm not sure this is a good idea..." Burning Glory didn't quite yelp, but it was close.
"It's like you all think that I'm some kind of sneaky person!"
~X X X~
Two days later, Vivio stood on the training field, Burning Glory in hand, watching as six orb-shaped targeting drones rapidly closed on her position. Ordinarily, she'd have put Burning Glory into Kreuz Form and shot them down, but that was forbidden for the purposes of this exercise. Instead, she gripped Revolver Form's butt, wondering how she was supposed to deal with the small, mobile targets that would try to stay at medium-to-long range and fire at her.
"Why do I feel like I'm part of a comedy act and someone's standing behind me with a giant paper fan?"
"Don't worry, mistress. We can do this!" Burning Glory sounded almost excited to show off whatever it was Lutecia had done to him.
"There's a safety catch along the top of the grip, within range of your left thumb. It toggles Burning Glory's trigger function. Switched on, pulling the trigger loads a cartridge as usual," Lutecia said over the training ground's communication system.
"And if I switch it off?" Vivio asked, doing exactly that.
"I can be shot," Burning Glory announced.
"Has Raising Heart been giving you lessons?"
Still, Vivio lifted the pistol, sighted down the barrel, and pulled the trigger. She yelped in surprise as a pulse of rainbow magic spat like a streak from the end of the barrel, barely missing one of the target drones.
"Keep trying, mistress!" he said eagerly.
"You sound excited," Vivio muttered, diving aside as the nearest drone returned fire. She rolled, aimed, and fired again, this time hitting. The drone froze, inert.
"Good work, Vivio," Lutecia cheered. "But keep going; there's five more drones!"
"You're enjoying this a little too much, Cia."
"Let's do it, mistress!"
"Didn't you test this with Cia already?"
"It's not the same. I want to fight alongside you!"
"Awww, so cute!"
Vivio, who was dodging and firing throughout the conversation, growled as she took hits in the right hip and just under the left ribs. She fired several times quickly, without aiming between each shot, and was pleasantly surprised that there was no delay. She was breathing hard by the end of the routine, but the drones were all inert and she'd taken only one more hit. Lutecia applauded when Vivio returned to the control room.
"Nice work! Although I don't think you're supposed to dodge so much as a gunner. Dieci always used to say that it made it hard for her to keep track of the battlefield."
"Is this a side effect of the medication from the last time you were injured on a mission, or is this really your true sense of humor, Cia?"
Lutecia laughed like an ojousama on one of Hayate's animated programs from Earth, then stopped and looked around sheepishly. "Um, could we agree to blame the painkillers that I'm not on? Dr. Bonneville would probably agree that there's some kind of cumulative effect..."
"You get hurt way too much. You should have Uncle Yuuno teach you some shielding magic like he did me, or maybe just reinforce your Barrier Jacket for stronger defense. Your focus should be summoning and support magic, so a strong defense is probably more important."
"It's fine, Vivio, really. I just do a lot of difficult jobs—it's what happens when you're a high-ranking mage." It was a conversation they'd had a couple of times before, with pretty much the same results. Vivio wished she could get her girlfriend to face the point directly, especially as the trend for Lutecia to get hurt had definitely gotten worse over the eight years she'd been working with the Bureau. The older girl just brushed everything off, though, and Vivio didn't know how to press the topic without offending Lutecia or sounding like a nag.
"Anyway, what did you do to Burning Glory?"
"Oh, I just installed a standard SVR-211 part."
"It required considerable work," Burning Glory didn't let Lutecia downplay what she'd done.
"So what's an SVR-211, and what made it tricky?"
"It's an automated link part, that streamlines the casting of stun bullets. They're standard issue for D and C-rank Bureau clerks, so they can fire on enemies without having to cast an attack spell each time. Since it isn't a proper spell, the bullets are unguided, so it isn't really effective for bombardment mages of high rank, but gunner types also use them."
"Oh, like Tea?"
"Exactly. She knows and uses a lot of proper shooting magic, but she can also aim and fire quickly that way, and she's trained in accuracy until shooting is second nature. It will actually work for you in Kreuz Form as well as Revolver Form, but for you, Kreuz Form will likely have better options and also is harder to aim."
"That's a great idea, though, Cia! What was so tricky about installing that part, though?"
"It wasn't, really."
"Cia..." Vivio warned.
"It's a Mid-style part, not designed to link up with Belkan-style Devices or function. I had to tinker a bit with the interface to get it to work properly. It helps that you use a hybrid style, so that Burning Glory is set up to cast a number of Mid-style spells although the rite is Ancient Belkan." She shrugged. "Honestly, it wasn't that big a deal. It took some doing, but any Device Meister worth the name could have done it. Mariel or Shari could have handled it in their sleep."
"But they didn't handle it; you did, Cia. And you did it especially for me. I really do appreciate it, you know. Just because I'm not a combat mage doesn't mean that I don't want to find the flaws in my technique and correct them." Especially since I keep finding myself in situations where I have to use my magic to fight. "Thank you very, very much." She clasped Lutecia's hand warmly between hers, then leaned in to give her a thank-you kiss.
"No false modesty allowed!" Vivio barked, wagging a finger under Lutecia's nose. "I'm going to go shower and change, and then I'm going to go treat you to ice cream at your favorite parfait shop as a thank-you."
The young woman lightly brushed her fingertips over her lips.
"I think I've already been thanked."
"Don't be silly, Cia; I'd be kissing you even if you painted him chartreuse with polka dots."
"I think I'll resist that urge, just in case."
"Probably a wise decision."
"Well, all this maturity from my extra years has to be good for something, right?"
~X X X~
A/N: This story is the kind of thing that happens when a shared universe of stories gets written over three years by...five authors, I believe (RadiantBeam, me, spawnofthejudge, synaesthetic, and Moczo have, I believe, canon Shadowverse stories? Am I missing anyone?). Back when RadiantBeam first invented Revolver Form in "Burning Glory" (Shadowfire chapter 8, for anyone who needs a quick refresher!), it was a close-combat and defensive weapon only. Indeed, I teased her about that for a good six months...before she introduced me to Black Cat and I came to understand that Revolver Form is based on Hades from that manga series, where in addition to shooting, Train uses its orichalcum barrel to deflect bullets and attacks and in addition has a number of blunt-instrument attacks with it (which, incidentally, I went and adapted for some of Vivio's attacks spells with Revolver Form).
Fast-forward a couple of years, though, and in subsequent conversations about Vivio's powerset between RB and synaesthetic, it's decided that Burning Glory needs to be able to fire...something, and they settled on the basic stun-bullet firing ability. So, I decided to write a story that will plug the gap and explain where that ability came from, to clear up any differences or confusion in the canon...just in case. Hopefully it was sufficiently entertaining...
I further note that the term "stun bullet" is actually taken from canon; it's from StrikerS Sound Stage X, in which Teana fires one to incapacitate the mastermind; it's further explained in the dictionary of terms in the booklet that accompanies that CD (thanks are due Nagumo, who translated both the Drama CDs as well as the booklet, or else I'd be clueless about that!). Lutecia's comment about shooters not dodging so much is a StrikerS reference (where Tea was given the same advice), and the Nanoha-loves-Italian-food is my personal fanon, which I finally explained in my short, "Romance Studies" (itself a Shadowverse story).
~X X X~
Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!
"Burning Glory, we need to talk."
"I know you really like the new upgrade that Cia gave you..."
"Very much so!"
"And I know that you're eager to try it out in combat..."
"Yes, I am!"
"But you have to stop saying 'Draw, pardner,' every time we pass someone with a gun-type Device!"