This fic, incomplete though it is, has long been in dire need of a touch-up.
While Yuuno Scrya was naturally concerned about the guns aimed at his face, he did an excellent job of not showing it.
After the tombs he'd explored, the depraved sorceries and curses he'd done battle with, and the man-eating zombie lesbian horde he'd once narrowly escaped - it had been months before he was able to be in the presence of his numerous lady friends without constantly looking for escape routes, and Hayate's teasing hadn't helped - a mere gunbarrel jabbed in his spine and several mercenaries in front of him were a relatively minor concern.
Acting as if he were in total control of the situation, Yuuno asked, "Is there something I can help with, gentlemen?"
He'd been exploring a recently excavated ruin - alone, of course; the work crews had neither the experience nor the bravery for the kind of heavy-duty cursebreaking Yuuno had been called in for - when he'd been ambushed.
Or rather, when he allowed his hostile companions to believe that they'd ambushed him, in the interests of obtaining information from whatever hooligans would bring weapons to an archaeological dig. Despite being a civilian, Yuuno's detection and defensive skills were equal - if not superior - to his childhood friend Nanoha Takamachi, the famed Ace of Aces.
From behind and to his left, Yuuno heard a silky feminine voice. "We require your talent, naturally."
After several years with Arf and Chrono as his primary sources of social interation, Yuuno couldn't help himself - he resorted to snark. "And of course the best way to enter my good graces is with a threat on my life."
The woman chose to ignore his jab. "Being an archaeologist of your expertise, I trust you're familiar with the legends of this star system - particularly those concerning the Ultimate Devil?"
Yuuno narrowed his eyes just a bit, before nodding. Might as well discern what they wanted with him. "In the myths of the civilization that inhabited this system four thousand years ago, it was a machine-god that fell to earth and went mad, sowing destruction on a wide scale and throwing the world into chaos until the Burning Fighter and his allies vanquished it."
In mocking approval, the feminine voice added, "You're as good as advertised, I see. But what I suspect you don't know is the existence of a ritual to summon it."
Contrary to his assailant's suspicions, Yuuno was indeed aware of such a ritual, or at least the rumors surrounding it. However, since this group's apparent plan was to go through with it, he was going to need details in order to effectively stop it. It'd be poor form to do something with the intent to stop it only to unwittingly play into their hands, after all. "Enlighten me, if you would."
"Of course, my dear librarian."
As she said that, the woman stepped around from behind him. "My name is Quattro, if you're unaware. Formerly of Scaglietti's Numbers. Anyway, as I said, there is a forbidden ritual that can breach the barriers of time and space, summoning and enslaving the Ultimate Devil - a monstrosity that horrified the people so much, its true name was stricken from all records found up to this point, to be referred to exclusively by that moniker."
His mind whirling with the potential devastation that could ensue if such a monstrosity were unleashed once more, Yuuno asked, "Supposing that your plan actually works - and I'm not saying it will - my question is: why? For what purpose would you want to unleash such a terrible thing?"
Quattro scoffed. "Honestly, I don't expect this hare-brained doomsday plot to work either. If I had any inkling that this could bring -" here she trembled in visible terror for a moment, before regaining her composure "- the Ace of Aces down on my head, I wouldn't have taken this job. Regardless of the paycheck involved. Now then, there's only one artifact I've yet to acquire, and then I can take my money and get out of this farce."
Having realized beforehand where this discussion was going, Yuuno relaxed. Calmly, he said, "You'd like me to get your last item for you. And in exchange, you don't kill me. Is that your plan?"
Quattro began to answer in the affirmative, before she frowned. Something about her captive's demeanor seemed suspicious... "Something's off, archaeologist, for you to act so nonchalant in a situation like this..."
This was for two reasons. First, because Yuuno had already had enough time to set up his victory. With a nervous chuckle, he explained the second reason aloud. "It's true, I probably look like the kind of guy who should be cowering in fear. Since I'm not, you probably suspect that I'm up to something. And you know what?"
Yuuno smiled. It wasn't nearly as terrifying as when most of his female friends would smile, but it still sent a chill of alarm up Quattro's spine. "You're absolutely right. Thank you for increasing the lighting in here so much, by the way."
Quattro began to open her mouth, before she realized that none of the goons behind her had made a sound or even moved for quite some time.
In dawning horror, she turned around to see the squad of knocked-out mercenaries bound in light-green chains - the librarian had kept her attention completely focused on him, while he'd captured the mercs with binding magic silently and without giving away his intentions. And if the room they were in hadn't been so brightly lit, she'd have caught the glow from his magic usage.
Uttering a curse, she then turned back to subdue Yuuno, but found several bright green chains snapping into place around her limbs, causing her to stumble forward and land face-first. Quattro felt her lip break open from the impact.
Just before the ex-Number could make any kind of remark, a synthesized voice said, "I am saddened by your lack of competence, Quattro. As for you, archaeologist... you will retrieve the artifact in the ruins, or we will irradiate the surface of the planetoid, thus killing you all."
Yuuno turned to observe the drone that had teleported in, and frowned at the barely-visible figure on the screen. "If you do that, then I won't be alive to retrieve your artifact for you."
The figure on the screen replied, "Your cooperation is a convenience, not a necessity. I can send drones after it if I must, but your assistance is faster... cheaper... and cleaner. If not for your life and those around you, then do it to ensure the integrity of the ruins."
Yuuno glared at the drone for several seconds, before he visibly caved in. "Okay. I'll do it. Tell me what you need, and I'll retrieve it. You have my word."
Despite not seeing the figure on the screen's face, Yuuno got the distinct impression he was smirking. "Very well then, Librarian. The Sash of the Master, fabled to be at the center of the ruins - retrieve it for me, and you have my word that everyone leaves this planetoid alive."
Sighing, with no real choice but to take the villain at his word, Yuuno cracked his knuckles before staring into the dark halls that would lead into the ruin. Concentrating for a few seconds, the Infinite Librarian kneeled and rested his hand against the stone floor. "Wide-area search, activate."
As he said this, a green glyph appeared beneath him, before rapidly expanding and vanishing. Twenty seconds later, he stood up again with a working knowledge of the temple layout. It was far from comprehensive, but he'd managed to locate a few lingering traces of magic he'd need to take care of for the main team of archaeologists, as well as an exceptionally powerful barrier a few floors down.
Naturally, the Sash he sought was almost certainly sequestered somewhere near the center of that barrier.
There wasn't anyone he could contact for help within the range of his telepathy, and attempting to stall for time would probably just make the situation worse. With no other options, Yuuno took a deep breath and headed into the cloister, the architecture amplifying his normally quiet footsteps until they sounded dramatic.
While keeping a sharp eye out for signs indicating a non-magic-based trap, such as poison darts, flamethrowers in the walls, or a concealed spike pit, Yuuno briefly mused about the structure and how the ancients might have used it.
The acoustics in here make me wonder if this place might have been a meeting hall or amphitheater of some sort. If this were some building of importance, it's possible that they deliberately structured the floors and walls to carry and amplify sounds. Perhaps a system to warn people deep in the structure about intruders, or a way for officials to carry their voices over a crowd. Then again, unless I stumble across some written records, there's no way to be certain - for all we know, the floors and walls carry sound so well for no other reason than because the architect thought it would seem impressive.
After several minutes and no problems, it occurred to him that , despite the relative size of the structure and the apparent existence of a precious artifact, perhaps this particular ruin hadn't been important enough to warrant much in the way of non-magic boobytraps.
At that moment, he detected a barrier directly in front of him, covering the staircase to the next floor. Finding a small pebble by his feet, Yuuno tossed it into the barrier, raising an eyebrow as it crumbled to pieces. Tearing a small strip off of his cape, he tossed it in as well; the result confirming his suspicion. "Probably a field that messes with either time or molecular bonds," he mused.
Popping his neck, Yuuno muttered, "Well, time to earn my paycheck," and prepared to analyze and disable the field.
Quattro glowered in the direction that the librarian had gone. To mask the shame of how effortlessly she'd been taken out - surprised and then caught in a binding spell before she could even react - she asked her employer, "Don't you think he's running rather late?"
The figure on the drone's screen scoffed at her. "As hasty as you are inept, I see. This isn't some videogame dungeon with traps and mazes designed to challenge a ten year-old, Quattro; the ancients - who defeated and sealed a God - designed this place. The man is, I've been told, the best in his field. I am confident that -unlike you- he can be left to his own devices and trusted to achieve the task set before him without assistance."
Though she refrained from show it, Quattro was very deeply hurt by her employer's harsh words. Only her professional pride as a terrorist flunky kept her from crying.
Meanwhile, Yuuno had disabled the field that had impeded him previously - it weakened and shattered molecular bonds, causing solid matter to disintegrate - and was now standing before the barrier that protected the Sash of the Master.
Taking a moment to analyze the powerful magic field, Yuuno eventually came to two conclusions. First, that simply entering the barrier by itself probably wouldn't have any ill effect on him, though leaving could be a different matter entirely. Second, he had no means of taking down the barrier from the outside, nor could he use magic to affect the interior unless he entered the room.
"In all likelihood," he mused, "there's probably some kind of guardian spirit that'll confront me once I get far enough in."
Steeling himself for whatever happened next, he muttered, "Here's hoping I managed to learn at least half of what she taught me..."
Yuuno inhaled sharply, stepped through the barrier... and aside from a faint tingling sensation, nothing happened that he could immediately detect.
Looking around, he observed that the room was large and cylindrical. It reminded him, honestly, of a fighting arena with several floors on top of each other. At the far end, directly across from where Yuuno currently stood, was an alcove with an ornate-looking... well, for lack of a better term, it was a treasure chest.
Thoroughly scanning the chamber with another Wide-Area Search, he was unable to find any sort of a typical deathtrap. Thinking out loud, Yuuno said, "Artifact right in front of me, apparently unguarded, no discernable reason to leave it alone or retreat... If I had one, I'd bet my Device on this being a guardian spirit trap. Still, it's not like I have any choice in the matter... no feasible way of getting off this planetoid alive before they irradiate it, and unless the status quo changed up there while I've been cut off, my best chance to end this fiasco without any bloodshed is to get that Sash and hand it over."
Warily walking forward, Yuuno made it halfway across the platform before a rough voice roared behind him.
"You must be quite the fighter, if you think you're man enough to invade my tomb!"
Unable to keep from being thrown off-balance by surprise, a detached part of Yuuno's brain began taking notes. Guardian spirits, while occasionally nightmares to overcome, where wonderful sources of information.
Turning, Yuuno observed that an old man with gray beard, braided ponytail, and wearing a purple martial arts outfit was blocking the exit.
Hoping that this particular spirit could be reasoned with, Yuuno attempted negotiations. "Actually, I'm just an archaeologist. My name is Yuuno Scrya. Truth be told, though, I'm currently working under duress. Unless I deliver the Sash - which I'm guessing is in that chest behind me - people are going to be murdered."
The old man grimaced, though the fierceness of his expression never wavered. "I can sympathize with your plight, scholar, but given the choice between a few lives at the hands of people now, or the risk of all human life lost to the Dark Gundam..." The ancient warrior's expression gradually shifted back to one of resolve. "No, there is no choice. I must stop you here and now, according to the tradition of the Gundam Fight!"
The old man then took a martial arts stance before yelling, "I AM THE UNDEFEATED OF THE EAST - MASTER ASIA! IF YOU SEEK MY SASH TO AWAKEN THE DARK GUNDAM, THEN WIN IT FROM ME IN BATTLE!
"GUNDAM FIGHTER SET!"
Realizing what was about to happen, Yuuno waved his hands before him in a non-threatening manner. "I'd really rather not fight you if I can help it!"
He was summarily ignored as Asia bellowed "READYY! GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!"
He then rushed at Yuuno with teriffic speed, and despite expecting the charge, the librarian had had only a fraction of a second to deflect the first punch aimed at his kidneys. Though a number of years training with his live-in girlfriend Arf had made Yuuno a competent - some would even say excellent - hand-to-hand fighter, he was still less physically powerful and skilled than Arf or Zafira were, and it was clear to the archaeologist that Master Asia was leagues ahead of anyone Yuuno had ever met.
The onslaught of punches and kicks was ferocious enough that Yuuno was struggling with all he had not to get obliterated, and the old master was steadily wearing down his guard. If it keeps up like this, I don't have a chance...
An idea suddenly occurred to him, and he grimaced. This is going to hurt like I don't even know what...
Seeing Asia throw a particularly strong kick, Yuuno relaxed his body and focused on creating several shields behind and below him; the force of Master Asia's unimpeded kick sent Yuuno through five floors and shattered the librarian's shields.
However, it was just as Yuuno had planned - the weak shield spells had slowed his acceleration, thus reducing the injuries he would've otherwise sustained. Furthermore, Master Asia's kick had been strong enough that, while he was still flying back with a cracked sternum, Yuuno had enough time to prepare his counterattack.
Muttering the incantation for his spell, Yuuno engulfed the entire chamber in a barrier that would allow for teleportation of anything inside it.
Asia lunged at Yuuno with a fist encased in dark energy, roaring, "IF YOU'VE SOMETHING TO SAY, BOY, THEN SPEAK WITH YOUR FISTS!"
Just before the punch would have connected and killed him, however, Yuuno teleported to a point several feet behind the Master, and ensared his ankle with a binding spell. "If you don't mind, sir..."
Yuuno then whipped the chain with Asia on it like a flail, throwing his spirit opponent into the wall at high speed, before then creating a five meter-thick horizontal column of shield spells layered on top of each other and slamming the makeshift battering ram into Asia with as much force as he could muster. As the wall collapsed, several tons of debris falling onto the guardian, the archaeologist concluded, "I'd like to use magic as my fist."
Mere seconds later, Master Asia exploded out of the rubble with only a busted lip and a black eye to show for Yuuno's effort. Grinning, Asia said, "I see I don't need to play around with you then."
Yuuno blanched at how outrageously tough the ancient spirit was, before creating a single thin shield and launching it at the old man at high speed, before continuing the barrage for several seconds.
However, Asia kept breaking through the shields with minimal injury to himself, steadily making his way to Yuuno. The only thing that saved Yuuno this time is that Signature Moves are somewhat telegraphed by their very nature - once Asia's hand was glowing with dark energy again, Yuuno immediately had a sense of timing for when he'd have to counterattack.
Master Asia's ebon-glowing palm reached for Yuuno's face, with a roar of "DAAARKNESS FIINGEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEER!"...
But Yuuno twisted out of the way at the last second, encasing his fist in several layered shield spells and punching Master Asia in the kidneys as hard as he could; if Asia weren't a spirit given physical form by the ancient spellwork, blood would have gushed from his mouth.
Intent on not giving the superior combatant a chance to regain the advantage, Yuuno wrapped a binding chain around Master Asia's neck and repeatedly flailed him into what was left of the walls and floors until he was too mentally exhausted to keep up the spell.
More exhausted than he could remember being at any point in his life thus far, Yuuno warily eyed the dust cloud that Master Asia's latest impact had kicked up. Once the dust settled, Master Asia was once again smirking triumphantly, though Yuuno could now discern some light bruising on the old warrior.
Yuuno tiredly asked, "I suppose you won't stop for anything less than complete destruction or something of that nature?"
Strolling toward the archaeologist at a casual pace, Asia replied, "A Gundam Fight isn't to the death, boy. It ends when one either gives up, is too badly injured to continue, or is disqualified."
A passage from a book he'd read about the ancients' war customs occurred to him, just then. He couldn't immediately recall the exact wording, but it one of their rules went something like 'a Gundam Fighter is disqualified when they are no longer in the ring'.
Granted, another rule explicitly stated that 'Earth is the ring', so apparently anywhere on the surface of the planetoid - or underground - was legal to fight on, so being 'outside of the ring' would have to mean...
"I think... I think I have one last trick, then."
Making an effort to stand up straight despite the violent protest of his aching limbs, he focused on one last spell. Reactivating the teleportation field, Yuuno collapsed it until Master Asia was the only target that would be affected. Then, clenching his fist, the ancient spirit disappeared, having been forcibly teleported beyond the planetoid's atmosphere.
Praying that that would count as having 'disqualified' Master Asia, Yuuno turned to the 'treasure chest' and sat down against the side, taking a few moments to catch his breath. When a few minutes had passed and Asia not making a reappearance, Yuuno decided that it was safe to say he'd managed a win.
Managing to push himself back up, Yuuno turned and managed to push the heavy lid off of the chest/crypt/box, finding a purple sash neatly folded inside it, and in perfect condition. As soon as Yuuno grasped it, however, he was blinded by a flash of light... and then found himself completely restored to his mental and physical condition before the battle, as if it had never happened in the first place.
Taking it, he then turned back to the door and nearly had a heart attack when he found Master Asia standing right behind him. Instead of restarting the beatdown, however, the old man laughed and clapped the librarian on the shoulder so hard the blonde was almost knocked to the ground.
"Hahaha! You aren't the first lad to fight me for that sash, but you are the first to beat me. Granted, I'm not as young - or alive - as I used to be, and you had to resort to teleporting me out of the ring with sorcery... but you battled with everything you had, and the strength of your will was enough to overcome me. So I suppose I'll let you run off with my sash."
Caught off guard by the old man's now-friendly demeanor, Yuuno froze for a few seconds before he rebooted and bowed with a muttered, "Thank you, Master."
Asia then added, "However, if the Dark Gundam is resurrected in this world, it will fall to you to defeat it."
Yuuno grimaced as he said, "Yeah, it looks like that's what's going to happen. So tell me, Master - if this... Dark Gundam, as you call it, is powerful enough that history remembers it as the Ultimate Devil, how am I to beat it? And just what is it, precisely?"
Folding his arms across his chest, Master Asia pondered the questions for a moment. Deciding on a suitably brief explanation, he said, "The Dark Gundam is the ultimate machine of war. It has the capabilities to self-repair and to self-upgrade, in addition to having an artificial intelligence that nearly qualifies as sentient - I say nearly, because while it can learn from its mistakes and adapt to an opponent's actions, it's not self-aware. As for how it can be beaten, why, the same way you'd defeat any other Gundam: disable the head unit, or destroy the cockpit/power source."
He frowned, before adding, "You're not strong enough to break through its armor yourself, though. If you stumble across an artifact of my pupil, Domon - you'd recognise him as the Burning Fighter - then you might have a chance at it. Now get going, you've got those people you were going to save."
Yuuno complied, floating across the ruined arena, before stopping at the door. "I don't suppose there's any way that you could join me, Master?"
Asia snorted in amusement. "My place is here, boy. I can't leave, whether I care to or not."
Yuuno nodded, understanding. Most guardian spirits were, in exchange for a semblance of life, unable to leave their protectorate. "One last question, while I'm here."
Master Asia raised an eyebrow, but nodded. "Very well. What is it?"
"...What, precisely, is a Gundam?"
The look on Master Asia's face was priceless. "... You know what, kid? It's a long story, so come back some other time and I'll tell you then."
"I'll hold you to that, Master."
As the archaeologist left for the entrance of the ruin, Master Asia muttered to himself, "Yuuno Scrya... Hmph. If you were born in my era, you might've been quite the interesting opponent."
Now back where he'd started, Yuuno faced down Quattro, her gunmen, and the messenger drone. "I've got the Sash - can I trust you to keep your promise?"
The figure on the drone's screen replied, "Naturally. Hand it over to Quattro, and we'll leave in peace. You have my word."
Yuuno reluctantly handed over the Sash, trying to get a mental 'lock' on her magic signature. When they teleported to their ship, he'd follow along and attempt to hijack the vessel. It was subpar as far as plans usually went, but it was the best he could come up with given his time and resources.
No sooner had the Sash left his hand, however, then he felt a tranquilizer dart embed itself in his shoulder.
The mysterious figure said, "I vowed not to take life here, and I won't. That said, however, I cannot have you interfering with the ritual. Good evening, archaeologist."
Yuuno attempted to fight the chemicals, but passed out after a ten seconds with a whispered "no..."
As I explained before, pretty much the only reasons Yuuno was able to defeat Master Asia, is because I engineered the encounter to allow for it, between Asia having the very severe handicap of being dead, and Yuuno suddenly having done intense Strike Arts training alongside everything else he does.