Beginning Author's Notes: IMPORTANT! This is a continuation of my Crisis series. As such, in order to fully understand what is going on, it is recommended that you read the following fics first:
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Crisis
Red Jewel Diaries
Recollections of a Lost Age
Also, it is recommended that you are familiar with Sound Stage X and Vivid.
MGLN: Through a Mirror, Darkly
Chapter 1: Casting Shadows
The only illumination came from the half-dozen torches lining the chamber, their flickering blaze casting dancing shadows along the chamber walls. In silence, they observed the entry of their representatives, five hooded and cloaked individuals who came to stand under their respective torch. The constant shifting of light occasionally exposed small portions of white, expressionless masks hidden underneath the hoods, further obscuring identity of the room's occupants from any casual observer.
"I am Lance," came the female voice of the first, speaking the ritualized words. "I am the guide, pointing the way our destiny lies. What comrades have I?"
"I am Sword," intoned the second, female, in a stoic tone. "I part the darkness with my blade, giving light the avenue to shine."
One by one, each of the five recited their identifying pledges with a solemn air, that spoke both to the reverence each had for this meeting.
I am Bow. I give strength and support those that fight for the light." A lighter voice this time, but still identifiable as male, with firm, yet determined undertones.
"I am Ax," spoke the fourth, a deeper voice that indicated he was male as well. "By my hand, the unrighteous are cleaved apart from the righteous."
Gazes turned to the fifth and last member, who spoke with the strongest fervor of all. "I am Dagger, he who watches the back of those that fight for the light. May the light of the Saint guide our way towards vanquishing the darkness, empowering those who ceaselessly and tirelessly protect humanity from that which would destroy it."
"And once more, you just have to put on a show," Ax accused in tired, but derogatory tone.
"Perhaps because you don't seem to take what is to come seriously enough," Dagger shot back.
"Silence, Ax, we must observe proper protocol," Lance admonished him. "And Dagger, there is no need for provocation here. We are all aware of the seriousness of the coming event." He paused to clear his throat. "I call this meeting to order. As you all know, the time of trial is approaching, and we must now make a decision as to our course of action. Up until now, we have been divided. But if our world, and the universe at large, are to survive what is to come, we must be united to lead it from darkness and into the light. I open the floor for last words, and then we will cast our votes."
"I still believe we should approach her and explain our cause," Sword stated with her usual tough, but feminine voice. "I believe she will understand and consent to what must be done."
"The sun shall darken and the skies turn red, as the land that guards the many seas, shall be the first to slip into eternal nightmare," Dagger began to quote.
"Good shall become evil and three who have been kept apart by time shall unite. The King shall be consumed by darkness, and be no more." Bow finished for him. "We all know the prophecy, which is why all of us have taken the vow to protect the light from the darkness."
"We all know who the King is," Dagger stated with barely contained hostility. "Do you really think she'll allow her daughter to be sacrificed for the greater good? If she says, as you all know she will, then we are exposed, and our task made more difficult. If we are to lead, we must be decisive and take action. The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few. The cause is too important!"
"Much as it pains me, I am forced to agree with Dagger," Ax added with a disgruntled sigh, nodding towards the other man. "There is no room for difference of opinion here, not when our cause is righteous. We cannot suffer darkness, lest it gain a foothold. I know her well; she is not one to accept or understand our ways, much like the rest of the Bureau. She must be dealt with."
"Easier said than done, my dear Ax," Lance added in an amused tone, which the others found unusual for her. "While the idea of crossing spells with her interests me, I have to admit it might not end well. She single-handily defeated the reincarnated Saint. I don't relish my chances."
"And any mother will not hesitate to act when their offspring has been taken," Sword added, giving the impression of a challenging stare as she met each masked gaze in turn. "Given their bond, if you want the Saint to be cooperative, you will need her. The texts we have come across while researching the prophecy, hint that she may be required, too."
"Ah, but that's where you are mistaken," Dagger countered, delight in his tone as he brought out a covered object. Now was his time to show the half-witted fools that he was more than capable of dealing with everything. "For I have at last located the eight-sided mirror!" He slid the black cloth partially off the object, revealing a gold, ornate, octagonal mirror.
"You actually found it!" Ax blurted, disbelief evident in his surprised voice even as he covered his eyes with his hand. "Careful, idiot! If the legends are even remotely true, you shouldn't completely uncover it! That lost logia is incredibly dangerous!"
Under his mask, Dagger grinned, but he did replace the cover on the object. "It was discovered on an unadministered planet, where the natives are ignorant of magic, instead relying on technology. So they had no idea what it is they had in their possession. I was able to trade some of Ax's weapons data for it. Since then, I have studied the device and have confirmed its origins, as well as its powers. With this, we can go ahead with my plan."
Silence descended upon the chamber, the torches paying no real heed to the dissension and contemplation within. While each was leader of their own particular sect, branches that had separated from the main Saint Church hundreds of years ago with slightly different beliefs, they were still united in one purpose. And right now, that singular purpose is what held them together, rendering any other disagreements minor by comparison. With the fate of the world, and the entire universe, at stake, dissension could not be tolerated.
"Bow, you have been mostly silent thus far," Lance spoke up, breaking the temporary lull. "What say you?"
"I have been divided over this issue myself, for reasons long stated by others here," Bow replied thoughtfully. "And while I am initially inclined to agree with Sword, I must admit, we are facing a dire crisis and ultimately, we cannot afford the chance of failure. Dagger's plan, if the lost logia will work as intended, seems to be our best option at this time. My sect wants concrete action, and is worried that the main church will step in before we are ready."
Sword shot a gaze over to Bow, which he met evenly, and then shook his head ever so slightly. Dagger glanced from person to person, his thoughts jubilant. [I have them! Sword will still vote against me, and perhaps Lance, too. But with Bow's swing vote along with Ax's, I hold the advantage, 3 to 2!]
"All of our sects face that same danger," Lance intoned with solemn reprieve. "The rest of humanity would not understand, which is why we hold these meetings in secret. We have been charged with a terrible responsibility, and it is up to us to lead mankind out of the coming darkness and back into the light."
"What about the others?" Sword questioned, laying the charge into the open. "If they join forces again, the way they did against Jail, we won't stand a chance."
"This is true, we cannot directly stand up to them," Dagger answered her, pleased he got the indications of surprise from her; she probably didn't expect him to outright admit that. "But indirectly, we are more than capable. Everyone has a weakness, and we can exploit theirs to divide and turn them against each other, keeping them off balanced and distracted while we are free to move. Already, our agents are moving into proper position, the product of years of preparation." The fervor in his pitch began to grow. "The darkness in their own hearts will be what defeats them, and enables our advantage. Never forget the righteousness that guides our hearts. If we do not stray from the path, then we cannot lose!"
Lance nodded. "We have indeed spent years grooming our people for this, and they are a resource not to be treated lightly. At any rate, the time for debate is over, and we must cast votes. To keep things simple, raise your hand if you agree with Dagger's plan."
Under his mask, the slow smile grew wider, as Dagger's initial observations proved correct; the members votes exactly as he expected them to; Sword and Lance were against the plan, while Ax and Bow voted with Dagger to put his plan into motion.
"Then as we have voted, let us now put aside our differences and be united under Dagger's stratagem," Lance decreed, meeting each member's gazes, who nodded in turn. They each knew what they faced, and knew that they couldn't afford to act against each other. "And let lay our united hearts bare to our Beloved Saint, so that we may bring her honor and glory. Dagger, have you any immediate need for our support?"
"I have the necessary mages and ritual prepared, so I can act immediately," he replied thoughtfully. "I will just need the necessary intelligence reports I have been receiving, in order to properly plan out what is to come."
Lanced nodded. "Then we adjourn for now, and may we all bring the Saint honor, as we look forward to her true rebirth, and her sacrifice."
The torches continued to flicker, offering no disagreement, just silent observation. They had no way of knowing that they bore witness to the small ripple that would soon expand and consume an entire planet, with repercussions that would affect the entire universe.
"You look more worn out than me!" Nanoha mused aloud to the holographic video screen.
"Tell me about it," Hayate huffed, then blew out a long breath. "I just finished a meeting with Auris. According to her, the council has seemingly grown more and more combative over the proposed reforms to streamline the Bureau and make it more transparent and accountable in an effort to fight corruption."
"You don't want want happened with Regius to happen again," Nanoha noted. She knew her old friend well; that line of thought formed the basis for a lot of Hayate's motivation lately.
The Naval Investigation Commander nodded. "I thought the civilian council elected to replace the brain council that Due killed, would be more eager to institute these reforms, but it didn't take them long to resort to petty spats. Their flight during the Al-Hazard crisis a couple of years ago made them look bad to the rest of the population, appearing to abandon Mid-Childa to save themselves, so they were more eager to address those reforms in order to shore up popular support. But now that time has passed, that incident has faded from the public's mind. And so things have once more resorted to politics as usual. Also, entrenched interests still exist, and very much desire the status quo of secrecy."
Nanoha raised an eyebrow. "Something's different this time, though."
Hayate paused, pursed her lips, and then nodded. "At least, Auris thinks so. Thanks to support from Genya and Carim, she has quite a bit of pull on the council, but she confessed that it is starting to look like someone is fighting her, however she doesn't know who or why. Still, she feels like there is a deliberate push to keep certain things secret..Apparently, what stays in the shadow, doesn't want the light shined on it. And it makes sense that the brain council had more going on than just Regius. We never did figure out how they created Jail or who worked on that project, after all."
"Do you want my help?" Nanoha asked without hesitation.
Surprised graced Hayate's face for a few seconds, before she smiled and shook her head. "Thank you, but no. You still have four months left; your only duty is that child! You know the regulations about mothers-to-be staying off duty. That, and after all you've done, you need to rest your wings for awhile."
The pregnant woman smiled fondly while rubbing her enlarged belly. "I know you're right, but I still want to help my friends. I think that's been the hardest part of all this; being forced on maternity leave. And my wife and husband have told me the same things."
Fate, more so than Yuuno, had been vocal about Nanoha needing to rest and take care of her child. Of course, both had been great spouses, taking turns helping her out with the housework and Vivio. Although she suspected it was more to keep an eye on her so she didn't overexert herself; her fond smile only grew at the notion of them being worrywarts.
"I remember almost having to order you," Hayate mused with a wry smile. Then she shook her head. "No, I'll deal with this, somehow. I'd like to have Fate, Shari, and Teana back to help with the investigation, but they are indisposed with another mission right now."
Nanoha nodded. "Fate has been off on that mission for over a month now, although she said she might be back in a few days to visit." She turned thoughtful. "Do you or Auris have any leads?"
"Some," Hayate answered, sitting back in her chair. "General Atrai on the council has been one of the bigger proponents of trying to keep the civilian government out of military secrets, under the guise of interplanetary security. He seems to be gathering more and more support, but Auris isn't sure how he's doing it."
"I know him," Nanoha revealed, thoughtful. "He was one of my instructors after I joined the Bureau. He's a powerful and capable mage in his own right who has been in the military awhile, but I was always a bit uncomfortable around him. I guess his dismissive views on normal humans always rubbed me the wrong way."
"He does feel that mages are superior and thus should be the ones leading," Hayate agreed. "But he's always been a patriot, and acquitted himself well in the Cradle and Al Hazard incidents, so his loyalty was never much in doubt."
Nanoha remembered them both well, having been involved deeply in them. The Cradle was where she fought against Vivio in order to reclaim her daughter. And she'd never forget Precia arriving on Mid-Childa piloting the lost city of Al Hazard. Fate had lost her real mother that day, who had somehow survived her plunge from the Garden of Time all those years ago. Nanoha, too, had lost a pair of people she had felt a close kinship with: clones of her brother and sister.
"Well, I'm sure you and Auris will figure everything out," Nanoha stated with a confident smile after a moment.
Hayate couldn't help but catch the infectious smile. "That's so like you, always believing everything will turn out right. Sometimes I have to wonder how you can always think like that. I must admit that, no matter how much I want to think like that, I always have a few small doubts because I was unable to save Reinforce."
In one of those rare moments, Nanoha was unable to think of anything to say. Reinforce's death had been partly her fault, but it had been what old unison device and Book of Darkness AI had wanted. It was something that, in hindsight, she might not have done; but at the time, she had been swayed by Reinforce's words that her death was the only way to protect Hayate.
"We're home!" Yuuno called from the entryway, sparing Nanoha from thinking up a response. "Vivio, take your shoes off first."
Hayate's smile became a mixture of amusement and fondness. "Well, I'll let you go. Take care!"
Nanoha replied similarly and signed off, just before a bundle of energy zoomed into the living room and attached itself to her waist. "Mama!"
Nanoha turned and knelt down to hug her daughter with delight. "How was your day? Were there any problems?"
"Nope, I got mainly all A's!" Vivio declared proudly, showcasing the strip of paper with her scores. "Although Rio got higher magic scores and Corona got higher on the written knowledge test." Her smiled turned into a bit of a pout.
"That just means you're well-rounded," Nanoha assured her, patting the young girl on the head as she leaned back up. "Now be a good girl and go get cleaned up for dinner!" Her adopted daughter obediently complied and scampered off. She looked up as Yuuno put a couple of bags on the counter. "Did you get everything at the market?"
"Most of it," he answered, wiping his brow. "But that one store was out of that sauce you like. Said they'd have some more tomorrow. I'll see if I can squeeze in a trip tomorrow when I come home."
"No, I'll get it," Nanoha insisted with a shake of her head. "And before you say anything, I'll be fine. I can't have you and Fate doing everything for me, as if I were helpless. I need to get out of the house and do things for myself occasionally. The market isn't that far away."
Yuuno almost looked like he would argue, and then shook his head with a smile. "I should know I can't argue with you." He sat down beside his wife and draped an arm around her shoulders while giving her a kiss. "I hate to leave, but I'll need to head out back to the library after dinner, where I'll be staying all night. I need to complete that research project for Enforcer Sephia so she can wrap up her case."
"But you'll be back tomorrow, right?" Nanoha inquired, leaning in and settling her head against his shoulder. "Vivio will be sleeping over at Rio's, and if Fate can make it back, it'll be just the three of us, so I wanted to make something special."
"I'm hoping so, but since the Bureau has grown, there have been more requests lately that I'm finding it hard to keep up," the Infinity Librarian admitted. "Arf used to help out some, but she's back on Earth now with Arisa's new unit. Vivio has turned out to be surprisingly talented in the use of search spells, which has really helped me out, but she has her school work to focus on."
Even though she knew there was nothing to be done, Nanoha couldn't help but feel a little let down, but before she could even think to vocalize her thoughts, a ringing sound from the kitchen caused her to shoot to her feet. "Oh, almost forgot I need to check the stew!"
"I'll help!" Yuuno stated, following her into the kitchen. "I feel bad for Fate, though, who has to miss out on these home-cooked meals."
Fate Scrya Takamachi sneezed, then rubbed her nose as she looked over the information on the holographic screen; so far, the operations had been going smoothly. If she didn't know any better, it would almost seem too smooth. Just a short distance away was the pirate's secret hideout, under the cliffs in the shadow of a mountain. It was from here that they launched their raids on ships in the sector, but they hadn't been able to find it until the bureau received an mysterious hint as to the location. Had someone in the pirate group ratted them out? Or had it been a local that found them? Either way, no one had stepped up to receive the reward for the tip, so it was still unknown.
"The pirates are secure," Teana Lanster announced, coming up behind the other woman. "We really got the drop on them this time; no one escaped. The enforcer squad has taken custody of them."
"Thanks, and I appreciate your help on this," Fate replied, looking up with a smile."Since you got your full Enforcer Agent status, you're not officially my partner anymore, so you have your choice of assignments."
"Doesn't mean I can't help out with your bigger cases from time to time," Teana declared with a wink. "Besides, I was in the area for the first one, and then the next, and things just spiraled from there... " She trailed off and shrugged. "What are you up to now?"
"I was just going over their history reports," Fate told her, returning to her screen. "This particular group has been operating for some time, below the Bureau's radar. Before, they seemed to almost know where we were and were able to hide themselves fairly easily."
Teana glanced at the holographic screen and tilted her head. "So you're saying there's more to this then just our luck with an anonymous tip that led us to their location? What would anyone have to gain by doing that?"
Fate sighed and closed the screen. "Perhaps I am over-thinking this too much; luck does play a role in our line of work from time to time, too."
A new video screen opened nearby, showing the local enforcer squad commander. "Pardon the intrusion, but we're just about to transport out with the prisoners, and we've received a new message for you. I'm putting it through now."
"Thank you, commander," Fate replied, nodded as he saluted and signed out and she had Bardiche decode the attached text package.
"What is it?" Teana asked, look over the green screen as scrambled words slowly became recognizable.
Fate's eyes narrowed. "More orders from the Bureau. There's another request to assist some locales with the Orion crime syndicate on a planet a couple of teleports away."
"Wait, I think I read something about that in the files awhile back," Teana stated, thinking. "They're supposed to have fingers in several pies on many worlds; protection, extortion, smuggling, the works. The few members we've apprehended so far have been small fry that didn't know much. They haven't directly confronted us so far, but they've been pretty good at sneaking around with semi-legitimate business. They also tend to operate mostly outside of Bureau space."
"And apparently the Bureau has received a good, solid lead on the upper echelons of the organization, and they want us to check it out," Fate intoned, her gut feelings giving her pause again.
"Another anonymous tip?" Teana ventured.
Fate nodded, then sighed and turned the screen off. "But as you said, there's no reason why someone would deliberately help us shut down groups of pirates and crime syndicates."
"Unless it's someone using us to get rid of competition?" the other agent ventured. "I've learned to trust your judgment, and I have to admit, mine is becoming curious, too. This is the third group we've been able to deal with easily, due to an anonymous tip."
Fate closed the screen. "Perhaps, but for now, let's get back to town. I owe you dinner as a proper congratulations for making AA rank!"
Teana allowed herself a small blush. "Thanks, but it was nothing. Subaru and Erio made AA rank as well. Although Caro is still A+, she should be able to catch up before the end of the year with ease."
"I'll owe you all a dinner when we get back!" Fate told her partner as the two women took to the skies.
"Given our current workload, that'll be awhile," Teana noted wryly.
Fate didn't reply, as despite her efforts to rationalize the circumstances of their latest cases, her thoughts were still troubled.
"...and the 38th mobile division is still assisting with the cleanup on Administered world #42," Genya finished in his capacity as Marshal of the Armed Forces; a post he had held since Largo died during the Al-Hazard incident a year ago. He leaned back in his comfy office chair and let out a breath. "And those are all the unit movements and assignments currently. We are stretched a bit thin at the moment, but I don't foresee any issues."
Leone Phils closed his notepad. "Well, I think that sums things up for this meeting. The next council session is in three days, so we'll need to be properly prepared."
The third member in the room, the current Bureau Chief of Staff, didn't make any moves to close up her data screens. "We're still ignoring a vital subject."
Genya sighed. "I know what you're getting at, Auris: General Atrai. Yes, he can come off a bit-"
"Prejudiced?" Auris supplied a bit darkly.
"I was going to say 'strong-willed,'" Genya corrected, somewhat amused. But he sobered quickly. "I've known the man for a long time. He means well, even if he can come off a bit stubborn."
Having been given the post of Bureau Chief of Staff by Hayate, Auris had leapt into her role with considerable vigor. She had been given a second chance by a woman she had initially disliked, and thus had come to see her in a new light. Given what became of the JS incident, Auris had realigned her love of rules as influenced by Hayate's strong idealism.
She raised an eyebrow. "A bit? He practically called for your resignation on the council floor because you weren't a mage and thus didn't understand the issues. He called for all three of us to resign, and for our positions to be filled by mages, because mages were the only ones who could truly protect Mid-Childa, and thus only a mage should be in charge of other mages."
"He has a point, much as I don't want to admit it," Leone interjected, crossing his arms over his chest. "The Bureau has placed it's power in magical hands, thus it is mainly mages who have been handling the danger we come up against. Largo and Midget were both mages, so he was mostly placated. But with their passing, and non-mages replacing them, I can see how Atrai would be troubled."
"Correct me if I'm wrong, but you three also decided on a civilian government to reign in the military, lest we let what happened with my father, happen again," Auris stated pointedly at him. "That meant six elected civilian seats on the council, a majority, over two military seats and our three. The second military seat, Colonel Jaconz, is supportive of General Atrai. But somehow he has swayed three of the civilian seats about the importance of his cause. That brings him up to five seats, a near-majority."
"Based on these reports I am getting from groups operating outside Bureau space, and the slow spread of anti-magic technology leftover from Jail, I understand his concern," Genya admitted. "But the Bureau has placed all it's eggs in the magical basket, repeatedly telling the people that clean, magic-based technology is the way to go. We can't very well tell them that might not be the case anymore. And so we need to develop other technology in secret."
Auris slammed a pad down. "But that's exactly what Jail was doing, developing technology in secret! I thought we all agreed that wasn't the right way to go!"
"This new technology will still require mages," Genya soothed. "But it still needs to be developed correctly. You know about it; you signed off on the memo authorizing its development."
The Bureau Chief of Staff sighed. "But that still leaves us with Atrai. Perhaps its my instincts from serving under my father, but I don't fully trust him. He's up to something; I just don't know what."
"We appreciate your instincts, and for what it's worth, I do agree with you," Leone offered, surprising Auris. He stood up and straightened his uniform before glancing out the window of the high-rise government building. "But for now, he hasn't done anything wrong. We'll keep an eye on him. He still needs six people to force any resolutions through the council; he only has five at most."
Auris finally stood as well, closing her data screens. "I hope you're right, for all our sakes."
She was conscious of Genya and Leone's gazes on her as she headed for the door. But it wasn't until she was seemingly alone in an empty hallway, before she paused and waited.
"The cameras and scanners in this area have been hacked, no one will hear or see anything out of the ordinary," came an almost bored voice from the air around her. Then it promptly turned amused and almost eager. "And we can end all your other problem just as easily."
"I told you before, we're not killing anyone," Auris told her, letting out a slightly annoyed breath.
"Shame, really," the invisible Quattro replied with an equal sigh. "But are you sure? Tre and I can slip in and out from the shadows, making it look like an accident, and no one would be the wise-ow!"
"You heard what she said!" an equally invisible Tre barked. "We don't do that anymore! We just guard her and investigate!"
Auris couldn't suppress a smile. On a suggestion from Hayate, she had freed Quattro, Tre, and Sette from their rehabilitation center. The three had finally decided to repent after the death of Jail, and had assisted in the defense of Mid-Childa during the Al-Hazard incident, but they still lacked a place they could go to. Not wanting to go with either the church or with the Nakajima clan, and knowing that it would be uncomfortable working directly with the Armed Forces they had fought against, Auris had given them a new option: work directly for her. Officially, they were her bodyguards. Unofficially, she used them to carry out operations that were slightly off the books. She didn't want to, but she couldn't shake the feeling that actions like this were needed. She justified it as a necessary, and only to protect the peace of Hayate's vision.
"Stick to your assignment, please," she said at last.
"You already having us trail and investigate Atrai secretly, which is technically illegal without an official investigation stamp," Quattro pointed out. "Although we haven't found anything yet. Whatever he's up to - and I'm very confident he is hiding something - he's doing a fine job of keeping it secret. I'm impressed." Her tone of voice indicated a high degree of professional respect for her target.
"We'll work from the shadows for now, with surveillance and investigation only," Auris reminded them again. "If, at such time, I determine we need to eliminate someone for the greater good, I will give the order. Not before. And hopefully, we won't need to, not if we can gather enough evidence first."
"Suit yourself, but my way would be easier," Quattro taunted before giving up. "Well, targeted assassinations are more Due's territory anyway. And there is only so much three of us can do, if you really plan on going this route."
Auris closed her eyes and took a breath, reminding herself why she was doing this, and the promise she made to herself. [Hayate, I will walk in the shadows, so you don't have to. You play the hero, the role you are good at. And I will support from behind, doing what you cannot. I will do my best to walk the line. Even though I don't believe blind idealism can truly work, I'll trust your judgment for now.]
When she opened her eyes again, all doubt and uncertainty was mostly gone. "Enough chat, it's time to get back to work. I believe it's time to relieve Sette of her tracking duties."
There was no response to that as she began walking, but she didn't expect it. Her mind was already focusing forward, on the tasks she would have to perform. Both legal, and otherwise.
"Mama, over here!" Vivio called happily, ducking into one of the small shops.
Nanoha allowed herself a small smile, recognizing it as a toy store. "In a bit! I need to finish getting groceries."
Yuuno had volunteered yesterday to pick things up on his way home, but it would mean he'd have to leave work early, and she didn't want to put him out. She also wanted to continue being as independent as possible; she had managed to take care of herself and Vivio this far, and she wasn't about to stop now. Her smile widened a bit more when she recalled talking with Shamal long ago, about how she was supposed to take it easy, but she was the type of person to do that. As long as there was a job to do, she'd do it.
She finished paying the lady in the fruit stall for her purchase, and then moved on, glancing down the market road, lined with various vendors. She always liked this particular spot, as it reminded her of the market her own mother used to take her back in Uminari. She preferred buying from locales, and was a large reason why she procured a house in this area; it was close to this type of market.
"HEY!" a voice shouted out suddenly. "STOP! THIEF!"
Nanoha turned as a quick-moving form nearly ran her down. Reacting on instinct, she quickly raised her left hand and fired off a single magical shot. Her aim was true, impacting the back of the thief before he could get too far. And then Nanoha stared in disbelief as his body was launched into the air from the force of impact, heading straight towards a wall. She quickly thrust out her other hand and concentrated harder, encapsulating the body with her magic and slowing his movement, stopping him mere inches from the wall and setting his unconscious body down.
Nanoha stared at her hand as she quickly trotted over to the man she had just downed; she hadn't meant for her spell to be that powerful. What had happened? Worried, she turned him over, but was relieved to see he was still breathing.
"Are you okay?" she asked, seeing his eyes flickering open.
"Thank for you stopping him!" an elderly male voice sounded from behind her. She glanced up to see him kneel down and take the object wrapped in cloth the man was cradling against his chest. "And thank goodness it is still intact." He looked up at her smiled.
Nanoha shook her mind clear. "I work for the Bureau. I can contact the police if you wish to press charges."
His toothy grin was her response, even as he shook his head. "No, that's okay. I got my mirror back, so there is no harm done." He looked down, and surprisingly began helping the groggy thief up. "As long as this young man promises not to steal anymore, I see no reason to ruin his record."
Said young man promptly shook his head and came fully awake. "I promise! I'm really sorry, I just... wanted to get my girlfriend something nice for her birthday, but I couldn't afford anything..."
The elderly mirror vender looked him up and down. "I see. If you come by tomorrow, I might be able to make you something small, that I can sell to you at a discount, alright?"
The young man eagerly agreed, which made Nanoha smile as he leapt to his feet and waved goodbye, and then walked the elderly vendor back to his stall, which was full of handmade furniture items. "Well, I'm glad everything worked out well."
"This is my first day in this market, but I tend to find most people are good at heart, if you give them a chance," he explained and then proudly gestured the variety of small cabinets, nightstands, and hand-crafted lamps around his stand. "I move around to peddle my wares throughout Mid-Childa, little knick-kancks I make myself, like this." He carefully unwrapped the object the young thief had stolen, showcasing an octagonal mirror in a bronze octagonal setting.
Nanoha felt her eyes lock onto her image in the mirror, something about it causing her to unfocus slightly, as if she was compelled to keep staring. In some ways, in almost felt like she was going to be drawn into another world. The hustle and bustle of the marketplace around her faded, and the only thing that mattered was how her reflection stared back at her. But something wasn't right; were those really her eyes?
"Miss?" the elderly man questioned, covering up the mirror. "Are you okay?"
She finally snapped out of it, a bit confused. What had happened? "Hmm? Yeah, I'm fine." She shook her head. "Anyway, I'll bring my friends and family around sometime in the next few days. We could always use a well handcrafted item to brighten up our house!"
"Many thanks!" he offered profusely. "I'll have a selection of my finest items for you!"
She smiled, somehow warmed by his friendliness, and bid him adieu before locating Vivio at the toy shop and moving on with her shopping. But she couldn't shake the uneasy feeling in her stomach. She attributed it to her unexpectedly more-powerful-than-normal spell, but she'd just have to ask Shamal at her next checkup.
Torches once again lined the walls of the cavern that night, but it was one far larger than the one Dagger had occupied in his meeting a couple of nights ago. And as before, those torches would be witness to something world-changing, although it would be quite awhile before the world noticed those effects. For now, they could only flicker in silent observation of the white pentagram drawn on the ground, a hooded figure at each point, while an octagonal mirror rested in the center.
One of the hooded figures raised his hands, and Dagger spoke from under the white mask he was still wearing. "Begin the ceremony."
Magical circles flared to life underneath the feet of the five as they brought their power to bear, and the mirror left the ground and began to float. As the five mages poured their magic in, the mirror began to spin, emitting a faint pink glow that grew stronger and stronger over time.
"Keep it steady," Dagger commanded, then began his incantation. "By the ancient pact, I invoke the eight sides; bring us the one we have chosen. Across time and space, we beseech the ancient gods to answer our plea and bequeath unto us our chosen vessel!"
In her house, Nanoha began to toss and turn, still asleep, her dreams growing increasingly distressful. She whimpered, her body beginning to glow a faint pink, which slowly increased in brightness while she tossed and turned. Vivio whined a bit in her sleep, as she felt her mama roll away and leave her grasp.
Back in the cavern, the chanting and humming had reached a crescendo, and suddenly ceased as the ceremony reached it's peak. The mirror stopped spinning and floated face down, a volume of pink energy poured out of the reflective face, which coalesced on the stone floor. The surrounding mages watched in awe, as the oozing pink magic slowly pulled together and took human form.
"Do it now!" Dagger ordered, as the his five subordinate mages raised their hands and chanted under their breath.
Many circular binds, inlaid with magical symbols, appeared around the arms, legs and body of the human form and then implanted themselves into it shortly before the form began fully human.
"Welcome to our service, Nanoha Takamachi," he intoned with a smile. "I trust you are well?"
With surprising speed, she thrust her hand up and grabbed his throat, hissing with a hoarse voice, "Who are you?"
Dagger quickly got over his surprise and gestured his own hand, which promptly wrenched the one from his neck. "We've implanted control spells throughout your body. They cannot be removed, except by me. With a minor flick of my wrist, I can stop your heart, cause your kidneys to explode, or..." He glanced farther down.
Her whole body suddenly convulsed in painful spasms, which forced her to her hands and knees, the shock therapy ending shortly thereafter. When she raised her head again, a venomous glare was directed his way, but she didn't speak.
Dagger made a small show of dusting his robe. "There, I trust we understand each other now? Work with us, and everything will turn out wonderfully for you. Those who serve the light are well-rewarded. Those who don't, well,... it is our mission to exterminate darkness without fail."
She finally seemed to gather enough strength to stand, although she was a bit unsteady on her feet, while giving him a hard glare. "Fine. For now."
Under his mask, Dagger grinned. "Excellent. Then we have much to discuss."
In her mama's bed, Vivio wimpered in her sleep, her arm searching for something that was no longer there. But then her hands found the body again, and she clutched tightly to it. Nanoha paused to smile and stroke her daughter's hair, then closed her eyes to go back to sleep.
In Crisis, I used slightly different names for the three old admirals of the Bureau, but I'm hopefully using the more correct versions of them here: Largo, Midget, and Leone. The first two, if you remember, died in Crisis, and their positions filled by Genya and Auris, respectively.
Anyway, this fic will have a bit more political intrigue, and also probably more than one faction acting as antagonists. More than that, I cannot say, but all will be revealed in due time. This takes place about the same time as G-Squad(Mirror starts a month or two later), but that focuses on Earth, while this one focuses on the main characters on Mid-Childa. There won't be any real crossing over between the two fics, although mentions will probably be made of a connection or two. Stay tuned...