One of many plot bunnies that wont leave me alone and continue to prevent work on Absence and Aftermath.

As always, I own nothing and comments and criticisms are appreciated.

EDIT: 01/17/12: Fixed a few things, primarily with how Signum addressees Yuuno.

- Story Start -

It was perhaps an hour after dinner at the Yagami household. The sun had set and the artificial moon was beginning to rise from the far east corner of the TSAB HQ. All was calm as the family wound down from a hard day at work.

Hayate was lounging on the couch, a science fiction novel in hand and an intense look in her eyes. The hero of the story had managed to infiltrate the enemy space station, only to be captured by a traitorous subordinate. She was humming with excitement as she turned the pages.

Next to the couch was Zafira, curled up in his wolf form and gnawing on a bone. Some might consider it unusual or even a bit insulting for such a mighty blue wolf to be chewing on a femur like some common house-pet, but he had taken a liking to it. Personally, he blamed Arf for this. She had been the one to introduce him to the finer points of bone-chewing and now he enjoyed it too much to stop.

Vita had sat herself down at the family computer to play some games with Zwei. Normally the fiery redhead wouldn't play such 'time-consuming wastes of code', as she so stated before, but Zwei seemed to like them and it never hurt to bond a little over wholesale digital slaughter. One might even think that the Iron Hammer Knight was enjoying the game itself as her thunder hammer caved in the head of another chaos marine. Zwei seemed to favor distance and continued to pick off anything that was beyond the range of her Lord's mighty hammer. The duo giggled after a particularly amusing kill.

Shamal had curled up on the chair opposite Hayate with an array of colored twine and a pair of long needles. In her lap was a half-completed sweater that seemed to have been undone and redone numerous times. Still, her perseverance in the face of clumsiness was commendable. One would be amazed to see such fumbling fingers work their well tuned magic in the field of medicine.

At the kitchen table stood the fifth member of the family, busying herself with a small satchel. First into the lavender satchel was a small porcelain cup that was white with a blue flower print along the outer edge. Joining that was a heated canister, a bottle to match the cup and filled with warm sake. Lastly was a short novel whose edges were well worn and the cover faded from use. No one save Signum could tell you the title of the book now.

The satchel's latch clicked shut, prompting a look from Hayate. The Mistress of the Tome of the Night Sky turned her head so that she could see her General of Fire more clearly. "Heading out?"

Nodding to the rhetorical question, Signum placed the black strap of the satchel over her shoulder. "I should not be out too late, Lady Hayate."

It had become a odd custom as of late for the pink haired Knight. Every other friday night after dinner, she would gather up some warm sake and a book, and head out. She would make her way to a nearby park or a place with a good view of the artificial stars. There she would sit down and read, drinking her sake and enjoying the silent night air. On rare occasion, someone would join her, usually Zafira or Hayate.

She had been questioned about it at first, by Vita to be specific. Signum had explained that she simply wanted some time to herself. The redhead had been skeptical, but Hayate had intervened on behalf of the pinkette. Her Mistress had stated that everyone wanted or needed some alone time every now and them. It seemed to placate the second shortest Wolkenritter.

Of course, Hayate had gone into a more in depth questioning later, falling into her 'Mother-Hen' mode. Signum had answered all questions dutifully and assured her Mistress that nothing was wrong and that she wasn't doing anything dangerous. It was simply a small change of pace and scenery. No matter how much time passed, Hayate would always view the Wolkenritter as her beloved children and worry about their well being.

Hayate gave a smile from her position on the couch. "You always are, but still. Be safe."

"Of course, Lady Hayate," replied Signum with a smile of her own as she made her way to the front door. Turning and bowing as she always did before leaving, "By your leave."

A chorus of farewells and bidding of safety preceded her exit. An explosion sounded in the background, followed by Vita swearing violently, broke the serenity of the departure. Something about about corn?

Paying it no mind, Signum began walking down the concrete path. The night air was crisp and the leaves well into their annual change of color color, a sign of Autumn being underway. While wholly unnecessary, the TSAB had taken the steps to replicate the seasons at their headquarters. They based the timing off of Mid Childan seasons so that residents at the massive inter-dimensional space-station would feel more conformable living there.

As a chill breeze blew by, the General of Fire was glad she'd worn the attire she had. Thick jeans and a magenta sweater beneath her tan trench-coat. One of Shamal's hand-made scarves wrapped comfortably around her neck. It was an earlier attempt at knitting and showed, but the General of Fire loved it all the same. Red in color with a oddly shaped sword at one end, she supposed it was an attempt to recreate Laevatein.

Tonight she had decided to take the long trek to one of the training fields. It would require taking one of the twenty-four hour buses, but it was worth it in the end. The open training fields rarely had anyone using them late at night and had a wonderful view of the stars. It was a good place to gather one's thoughts, simply enjoy the view, or in her case, read a book with a warm drink.

The bus ride was uneventful for the stoic beauty, its driver and scant few passengers making no attempt at small talk. She offered her thanks to the driver as she disembarked, a gesture he seemed to appreciate with a small smile.

As Signum walked down the paved pathway that connected the numerous fields, she noticed in the distance that one was being used. The flashes of light and lancing of a frequently deployed energy beam pierced the night sky. The tactical portion of her mind noticed that the magic was notably one-sided. Perhaps target practice or a purely melee mage? At the very least, the magic seemed rather potent from this distance.

She did enjoy watching the younger generation train themselves. It was heartening to see them push their limits to become more skilled and drive towards the impossibility of perfection. Vita had once asked her why she didn't try combat instruction if she liked seeing the greenhorns improve themselves. Signum's answer had been that she was far too much of a 'combat-junkie' to properly instruct. She had cited her sparring match with Nanoha as an example.

That had become somewhat of a legendary bout between the two. What had started as a simple sparring match had quickly evolved into a high end fight and then devolved into a bloody war of attrition as they began pulling out all the stops to defeat the other.

The General of Fire smiled fondly at the memory. The brief hospital stay and Lady Hayate's scolding afterwards had been worth it. Nanoha had thought so as well.

Thoughts straying more towards the lone combatant than her planned alone-time, Signum subconsciously began walking towards the training field. Perhaps she could enjoy her drink while watching the person train rather than risk having her favorite book fall apart again.

As she approached the training field, the situation began to become more clear. The combatant was not the one casting the spells, rather a target drone had taken up that duty to pepper the unknown mage with a myriad of powerful beams. The lack of counter attack indicated that the mage was probably one who specialized in defense rather than offense. The sounds of battle became louder as the drone increased its offensive measures.

When Signum reached the outer perimeter of the field, she got her first clue as to the identity of the mage. The lights were slightly dimmed in the field and defensive spellwork had been next to nonexistent. When the drone's beams lanced out in a way to trap the mage, a familiar green hued shield sprung into existence, nullifying the attack with ease.

"Scrya?" spoke the pinkette questioningly to herself. This was unusual. The Head Librarian rarely used the training fields by himself, claiming that the drones were too predictable to properly train himself. It would sound like a boast to most lower ranked mages. However to a skilled combatant, it was unfortunately true. Hence why many of the more skilled mages preferred to spar against another mage, preferably one of similar or greater skill.

Judging by the amount of movement he was doing, Yuuno was either practicing footwork or something had disturbed him enough to become careless in his motions. From past experience, she was certain that the former was the case. While agility was certainly something good to have, Signum never saw it fitting well into the librarian's combat style. He was too sturdy, too unbending, like a stone mountain.

It was always fun to see just how far she had to push herself to break his defenses. That she was capable of doing so was something that irritated Vita to no end. It more lay in Signum's ability to overwhelm Yuuno's guard rather than punching straight through it, as Vita attempted to do.

Noting that she had remained unnoticed, Signum sat down on a bench beyond the field's protection and took out the container keeping the sake warm from the satchel. Removing the bottle and cup, she poured herself some of the warmed alcohol and took a sip. Warmth flooded her veins as the clear liquid flowed down her throat. Rather than entertaining herself alone with a novel, she found herself observing a friend delving into battle.

Perhaps ten minutes or so had gone by. The frequency that Yuuno was using his shields had increased dramatically. It seemed that almost every new motion he tried after using his defenses led him further away from his intended practice. Perhaps frustration was setting in or he'd simply gotten stuck in a rut from fighting against a machine.

Signum decided that she'd had enough watching the skilled librarian demean himself against such a meager opponent. Draining what was left in the porcelain cup, she stood from the bench and approached the field.

Yuuno's growing irritation with his regression in progress was cut away as the drone went into standby, displaying a warning about unauthorized field access while the lights returned to full illumination. It was a safety measure in case someone stumbled into the field by accident. He received quite the surprise when he turned to see who had arrived. "Signum?"

"Good evening, Scrya. I had not expected anyone to be out here at this hour, much less yourself." Signum took a good look at the man now that the lighting was back up to full power. She could see the sweat dripping down his face, but he did not seem too exhausted. He certainly had stamina to go with his drive, that was true. His blonde hair had been braided to keep from falling out of its bindings too easily and his Barrier Jacket showed the occasional scuff from a failed block or evasion.

Canceling the drone's program, Yuuno sent it back to storage while replying. "Evening, Signum. I hadn't expected anyone else out here either. I usually do this on Thursday nights and its pretty barren out here."

So this was a common practice for him then? "I saw that you were trying to rely less on your defensive spells."

"Ahaha... You saw that then," he replied with a small laugh of embarrassment. "I've been trying to improve my footwork so I can be more mobile on the field."

Signum nodded in approval, crossing her arms as she did so. "A wise decision. While your static defenses are superb, it never hurts to be more fleet of foot. It will certainly give you a better edge in our matches."

"I can only hope." A smile was on his face as he wiped his brow. Yuuno then turned the conversation towards the General of Fire. "How about yourself. What's got you out here so late, if you don't mind my asking?"

"I occasionally like to enjoy a book under the stars," she replied calmly. Before Yuuno could ask what kinds of books she enjoyed, not wanting that little bit of information out quite yet, Signum posed an offer to the man. "Would you prefer to test your mettle against a human opponent?"

Yuuno was indeed curious as to what manner of book would entice the General of Fire, but decided not to press at the moment. Particularly when Signum had withdrawn the sword pendant from her long coat, her device's resting mode. A grin of anticipation broke out on his features. "I would be honored if you would be my opponent, General of Blazing Fire: Knight Signum," requested the librarian while using Signum's proper title. Sure, he was feeling a little worn, but it would be a good handicap and good experience. You couldn't always fight at your best and alongside giants like her, Nanoha, Hayate, and the rest, he needed all the experience he could get.

An excited glint of fire appeared in Signum's eyes at Yuuno's words. "I accept, Head Librarian of the Infinity Library: Yuuno Scrya." It didn't have the same ring as her own title, but she responded in kind. "Laevatein."

"JAHWOL," shouted the device as the woman's body was enveloped in a pink glow. Not even a second later, the light dissipated and revealed the fearsome battle-ready form of the Wolkenritter's General with Laevatein sheathed in hand.

It was not the first time that Yuuno was struck by her beauty. He doubted that it would be the last. Many would compare women to flowers, precious jewels, or other such pretty items. Such comparisons all failed before Signum. To Yuuno Scrya, Signum was not some white lily in a field. Something lovely to be admired and caressed delicately lest it be damaged. No, the woman he was about to battle with was a weapon. A razor edged blade whose true magnificence could be seen in the flash of steel, the searing heat of fire, and the spray of crimson blood. Battle was where she shone through and the fine line between life and death was where the was most magnificent.

Though his home was amongst ancient tomes and ancient ruins with pen in hand. His place of comfort among lost civilizations. He felt that a Signum in the heat of battle was the most radiant Signum of all.

"Shall we begin?" queried Signum, the hiss of metal ringing out in the cool air as Laevatein was freed from its confinement.

Shaking off extraneous thought, the blonde man nodded.

There was a momentary pause as the field went silent and then nothing but motion.

Signum struck first, hard and fast, with a one-handed strike. Laevatein's white edge drawing a spray of sparks against the powerful green shield put up by Yuuno. The shield angled to the side and the blade slid past, an array of chains bursting from the hole created in the defenses by the motion. The reaction forced Signum to spin on her heel lest she be bound.

The spin preceded another vicious strike that drove Yuuno back, unable to deploy a shield to defend against it. Signum was hot on his tail, each strike against his shields echoing through the field. A shower of sparks brightened the arena whenever they clashed. Chains would fly from holes in Yuuno's defenses whenever he could manage a counterattack, only to be cut down by Laevatein's razor edge. Other binds would pour from holes in space, each cut down by the General's superior skill.

Yuuno found himself unable to press any advantage he could find. Signum closed any hole in her defenses far too quickly to capitalize on. Her strikes too fast and numerous to follow on the few counters he managed.

He could feel it in her strikes as their match went on. The fire was beginning to fade, a reflection of his inability to press her to a higher plane of battle. Certainly, the bout was inflicting knowledge upon his body, but what about her? What about Signum's desire for combat? Yes, she offered to assist him, but couldn't he do something to repay her?

A switch flipped in Yuuno's mind. Why did his shields have to only stop a strike? Knights of old did not just defend with those towers of iron. No, they crushed. They smashed. They broke swords and shattered pikes. It was something he had known, but never truly understood until now. Couldn't his shields do the same? Couldn't he take the fight to Signum? His eyes narrowed.

Signum's fire from earlier had trouble staying lit. Yuuno was just too tired, it seemed, to give her a proper battle. At the very least, when he was fresh, he could push her to overcome his defenses. Burn through a full set of cartridges at his best. A stalwart bulwark against any foe. However right now, the blonde seemed more molehill than mountain. His drive was still there, but it wasn't enough to match her desire.

That finally changed when Yuuno did something wholly unexpected. Rearing his hand back as was the norm for his summoning of directed chain binds, that hand did not open. As Laevatein was stopped by another shield, that hand became a solid fist. That fist glowed faintly green before a shield of similar color erupted into front of the appendage.

Laevatein's sheath stopped the small shield for a moment before Signum felt herself hurled backwards with terrific force. The Knight impacted near the opposite wall of the field with a mighty crash, sending dust into the air. Standing from the unexpected bow, the fire returned to Signum's eyes. She saw her opponent still standing, fist outstretched and a slightly bewildered look on his face. He was learning, adapting, overcoming.

As Yuuno watched Signum pick herself up with ease, he had trouble believing that his impromptu offense had worked. It had been a hasty maneuver with a modification to his Round Shield. Repel instead of halt, smaller instead of larger, and movement. Apply repulsion to motion and they compounded on one another.

A small voice in the back of his head asked him, 'Why are you standing there?' Why, indeed, Yuuno Scrya? The librarian lunged.

Now the exchange had intensified. Yuuno's experimental offense paired with tried and true defense clashed against Signum's expertly skilled and finely honed existence in battle. He never managed to land another such blow during their battle, but it had intensified greatly.

The entire match lasted perhaps no more than five minutes before Yuuno's strength gave out. He was on his knees with Laevatein pressed against a flickering shield, sweat pouring down his face. "I yield." The device ceased it's pressure and the blonde collapsed to the ground, breathing heavily. His Barrier Jacket was torn in some places and looked all the worse for wear. It dissipated, revealing green sweatpants and a sweatshirt of matching color.

Signum, for her part, hadn't even broken a sweat. At best, Yuuno had managed to scuff her armor in a few places, but nothing close to what he could do at his best. "Not bad, Scrya. That first strike was quite impressive." Her armor vanished, returning the woman to her civilian garb from earlier and Laevatein going into standby.

"Too bad I couldn't land it again," bemoaned the librarian as he took Signum's offered hand, allowing her to help him up. "I wanted to at least give you some fun in that bout."

Signum smiled at his admission. "I appreciate the sentiment." She gestured towards the bench where her satchel rested and he joined her, grabbing a water bottle by the field entrance that she had apparently missed.

The two sat in relative silence for a moment. Yuuno offered Signum some water, which she declined and stated that he needed it far more than she. He accepted her refusal and drained a good portion of the liquid.

"I am curious, Scrya. What prompted your sudden offense, besides your desire to push me while in such a state." Signum poured herself a cup of still warm sake as she asked this. She make a wordless offering of some to her companion, who politely refused.

Setting down the water bottle, Yuuno answered. "You could bash someone with an iron shield, so why not a magical one?" An embarrassed grin appeared on his face. "I just never thought about it until now."

Signum smiled. "With polish, that could become quite a formidable tactic."

"I have a lot of polishing ahead of me then..." A yawn broke off his words as the weariness from the day and the combined battle and training began to work its way through his body.

"Polish that should wait for another night, perhaps?" She poured the last of her drink into the delicate cup and offered it to Yuuno, who accepted the cup and drank a portion of the burning liquid before returning it. Signum swirled the remaining sake as if contemplating her next words carefully. "If you do not mind, I would like to work alongside you in developing this technique."

Yuuno seemed surprised at the request. "Pardon?"

"I realize that I am not well suited to instruction and that Zafira would be more familiar with your style of combat..." Signum trailed off, realizing that she was not making a very good case for herself. Truthfully, the pinkette wanted to see more of this ability. To her recollection, she had never seen anyone utilize shield and barrier spells like that. There were plenty of offensive spells to augment melee capability, so why bother converting a shield into something that did the same?

The possibilities of shield augmentation developing into new forms of combat was tempting to the General. It would be something completely unknown to fight against. Something unknown to push that border between life and death even closer. Combat junkie indeed.

"Actually... You would be best for this, Signum," spoke Yuuno after a pause, hand on his chin in contemplation.

Now it was Signum who wore the surprise, albeit far more reserved than the blonde's. "Pardon?"

"If I worked with Zafira, we'd probably get results faster... But we'd be less likely to develop something that works the way I think I may want this to. Even if he is more offensive in nature, we're too similar in style." Yuuno's eyes had narrowed as his mind set to explaining his reasoning. "Vita or Nanoha would be good at instructing, but there isn't any need to develop this kind of spell for fighting against them. You, however, would be perfect."

"What do you mean?" Would she actually have a chance to fight against his fledgling and unknown skill? To help develop it into a proper foe?

The grin of realization spread across the librarian's features. It was the same one he wore when he finally tracked down that last piece of the puzzle amongst hundreds of ancient tomes. "Combat-wise, you are my natural enemy, Signum. You break my shields faster than anyone else who can and I'm pretty sure I've only ever managed to get in a proper counter against you a mere handful of times."

"And who better to teach you how to defeat someone than the person you are aiming to defeat?" Signum queried with a raised eyebrow.

Yuuno shook his head, his mind going a mile a minute. "Not quite what I mean, but close. The way I see it, is if we develop something that lets the shield use a spear, then the spear has to learn how to use a shield. Both will learn new ways of getting around the other, constantly evolving over time."

"So we'd both benefit from this venture..." Now that she thought about it, it could work and she would get her fights. Plus, if she improved from working with Yuuno, then everyone else they fought would have to improve and the battles would get even more wonderful. If it weren't for her calm and stoic demeanor, the General of Fire would have been drooling in anticipation.

"If you're still willing, I'd like to take you up on that offer, Signum." If nothing else, Yuuno was always enthusiastic about learning something. Even if it was learning how to turn a shield into a deadly bludgeon.

Signum downed the remaining sake in her cup. "I would be a fool to back out now," she responded with an eager smile.

A beep from Yuuno watch brought the pair's attention away from their plans and noticed that it was now midnight. "Um, wow... I didn't know it was this late. Would you like a ride home? I drove here and it is rather chilly."

"Is not your home in the opposite direction?" questioned Signum as she gathered her things. "I would not want to impose."

He waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about it. Its not that far." Truthfully, it was actually a rather large distance. It was still the gentlemanly thing to do in his mind.

She acquiesced to his offer with a smile. "Thank you, Scrya."

They walked to his car in a comfortable silence that remained during the drive to the Yagami residence. As Signum stepped out of the car, Yuuno asked something he had been curious about since earlier that evening. "If you don't mind my asking, Signum, what kinds of books do you like to read?"

Thinking to the well worn book in her satchel, a romance novel that was one of her guilty pleasures, a slight tinge of embarrassment colored her cheeks that most anyone would attribute the the cold. It was not something she really wanted known outside of her family. Finally deciding on a response, she leaned back into the car. "If all goes well in our work, I shall tell you. Thank you for the ride, Scrya. I shall call you later and we can arrange a time to meet. Is that acceptable?"

"Sure thing, and thanks for everything," the Head Librarian replied with a smile, even more curious about the pinkette's choice in reading. "Good night, Signum."

"Good night, Scrya. Drive safely." She shut the car door and he was off.

Turning towards the front door, she walked the few steps to the threshold. Signum stepped through the open doorway with a soft call announcing her return, shedding her large coat as she did so. The house was dark, so she did not want to make a racket and wake anyone.

Carefully making her way up the stairs to her room, she made sure to avoid that one creaky step that Vita often hit when going for a late-night snack. Quietly disrobing and changing into her pajamas, Signum curled up in bed while allowing a smile to grace her features. Images of wonderful battles to come and new fights danced in her head as sleep claimed the General of Fire.