Where there is light, shadows lurk and fear reigns. Yet by the blade of knights, mankind was given hope. When the first Horrors crawled through the gate, the Makai Priests were there to hold them back. Then came the Knights, clad in brilliant armour borne of Soul Metal.
Still humans sought more, and in their endeavours, they created alchemy, homonculi, and the alchemical weapons called Busou Renkin.
However, no matter how hard humans fought in the twilight, it seemed as if the tide of enemies were never-ending. Desertrians, Witches, Noise... even wars between humans continued; the Holy Empire of Britannia spread far and wide, inexorable in its advance, crushing and absorbing all that lay before it.
Yet more foes came from beyond, enemies from space, from across dimensions, pursued by the Time-Space Administration Bureau.
The beginning was all too sudden.
Cure Moonlight has lost. She'd never anticipated that Professor Desert would bring his pet creation, this... thing standing before her, standing over her, with that hideous eye – not golden, but yellow, like a poisoned moon. They couldn't be more different. Cure Moonlight wavers on bare feet, her beautiful armor stripped from her, leaving her dressed in no more than a shroud of light. She's beaten, bruised and bloodied, gorgeous lilac hair in tatters, one eye nearly swollen shut – yet still, she refuses to fall.
Her opposite number stands tall over her, wrapped in black fabric. The poisonous silk is almost a part of her, not just something she's wearing – like that one black wing at her shoulder, leathery; a bat's wing. Desert raises his hands. The man's title of 'Professor' is misleading. He is a bear; a bear with a thick white mane and a steel mask for a face. His voice is deep, but starchy, like the wind from a quarry down to the dregs of its quartz, made rough by rustling through the cut rocks and rusting machinery. "Now, at last, Cure Moonlight has been defeated... and with her, the Heart Tree will die too." he paused, just for a moment, to survey their battleground. The Heart Tree is, according to the Fairies, the source of everything good and wonderful in the world; when it blooms, the world is at a lush peace, and if it should ever wilt, the world will become a barren desert – not just in appearance, but in the behavior of those who live in it. Her battle has stripped most of its flowers from its thick branches... but those that remain refuse to wilt. Professor Desert's tone is suddenly confused, wary. "Why... why does the Heart Tree not wilt?"
"Too bad..." Moonlight forces herself upright with sheer willpower, her body screaming. Even that motion almost causes her to come apart at the seams, but she allows no trace of her pain to show on her face. She swallows the harsh, coppery taste on her tongue. "Those whose hearts bloom happily still exist in the world... even without me, as long as those hearts flower, the Heart Tree will never wilt!" She looks back over her shoulder, at the tiny Fairies, one pink and one blue, quivering in fear in the thick, knotted roots of the Tree. They hold between them the remaining two bottles of Heart Perfume, the sacred items that allowed the existence of Pretty Cures like Moonlight. She swallows again, reminded of her own partner – reminded of the way he'd been mercilessly blown apart by the black reaper before her – but she doesn't let it show. Her fear, her pain, her abandonment; none of them can be allowed to show on her face. She's Cure Moonlight, the Strongest Precure. She may die here, but she must at least pass on the legacy of that strength. "Fairies! Go and search for my replacement!"
"But, Moonlight -" they begin, and Professor Desert raises a hand, calling on his bloodhound.
"Dark Precure! Do not allow them to escape!"
The black warrior leaps forward, crimson energy crackling around her fist, towards the two fairies, but suddenly Cure Moonlight is there, urging her broken body into one last act of resistance. Stripped of her armor, without her ability to fight, she raises her Precure Seed – the last remaining legacy of her partner. Purple, like him; adorned with intricate engravings and the crescent moon, the symbol of her power. She grits her teeth so hard they grind, audible even over the blazing powers Dark Precure commands, and the Seed flares to life, becoming a silver barrier that Dark Precure smashes into. The shockwave strips the grass away from under Moonlight's feet, burns her pale skin, forces her eight inches deep into a crater – yet still she stands. Dark Precure snarls at her, yellow eye wide open. "Out of the way!"
"I will not move! If you wish to advance, you must go through me!" Moonlight snaps back, sparing only a single glance at the Fairies. They've run, by now, flitting away from the floating island in the sky that houses the Heart Tree, down towards the Earth below. Dark Precure, seeing that her quarry has already vanished beyond the chase, lets out an earthshaking howl – pure, blazing fury, wrapped around a core of molten bloodlust. Moonlight summons the last of her strength, matches Dark Precure's howl with a roar of her own, amplifying her barrier with sheer determination. The clash of power becomes a miniature star, turning day to night, shattering the clouds around the floating island.
And when it's gone, along with half the island, so is Cure Moonlight.
Dec 1, Uminari City, Sakuradai, 0635
"I guess I'll wrap up this morning's practice with some shooting control practice."
"Lyrical, Magical!" A pink circle spreads out at her feet, filled with innumerable interlocking sigils. Takamachi Nanoha, nine years old, raises her small hand, calling forth a brilliant light. "Holy Light, come to my hand... under my guidance, reverberate throughout the sky!" she raises the light above her head and sends the empty soda can in her free hand hurtling skywards. "Divine Shooter, shoot!" In a flash, the light bursts upwards, overtaking the can. Nanoha's brow furrows, eyes shut. "Control..." The light curves, strikes the can and juggles it into the air, over and over again. Nanoha's focus is entirely inwards; she can only just hear Raging Heart counting up from its spot on the park bench.
[XIII. XIX. XX. XXI.]
She could have keep going like this indefinitely, but that wouldn't be training. Nanoha lets out a breath and increases the pace. "Accelerate...!" The pink ball blurs into a line through the sky. With her bullet moving twice as fast, it's twice as difficult to control; the clanking sound of the bullet smashing into the thrown can threatens to distract her, and she bites her lip, forcing her attention to the task.
Nanoha lets her breath out and opens her eyes, tracking the falling can. She swings her hand, calling the bullet nearer. "Last one...!" As the can falls level with her, the pink bullet whizzes by, smashing it towards a trash can... but it hits the rim and bounces off, rattling to the grass. Nanoha sighs. So close.
[DON'T MIND, MY MASTER]
"Thanks, Raging Heart..." she laughs, self-effacing, and scoops the can up by hand. "How would you grade my training today?"
[ABOUT 80 POINTS]
"I see." That wasn't a big improvement over yesterday, but it wasn't a loss, either. Maybe if she hits the can at a better angle... although she needs to work on the speed of her eyes if she wants to do that with any consistency. So much to do. Nanoha turns, viewing the sunrise from the park she'd chosen for her training. Fatigue was a constant companion, but she'd never felt at ease if she wasn't doing anything. Nearly seven... she ties Raging Heart – the little red sphere that had come to be her closest companion – around her neck and turns to leave. If she doesn't hurry, she'll be late for breakfast.
Morning only throws Nanoha one curveball. Everything else is the same: her father reading the newspaper, her mother and sister making breakfast, her sister complaining about missing Yuuno... but the best thing is the thing that throws her off her routine: a new video message from Fate. Nanoha thanked her brother, only too happy to hear something from her friend... the criminal law trial she'd been involved in with the Mid-Childan courts had taken a long time, but was finally nearing its end; hopefully they could meet soon. In reality, that's what's occupying Nanoha's mind more than anything else, and it's taking a lot of willpower to keep her focus on her training – letting Raging Heart drain her Linker Core to zero while she slept to exercise it like any other organ, physical training in the mornings, image training during schoolwork... it never ended.
Nanoha checked the black ribbons that held up her auburn hair one last time before she left, making sure they were still in place. A gift from a friend. Fate...
"This isn't good." she crouches over the enforcer's limp body, frowning deeply. They weren't dead, but they were like that when she got there, even though it's her they'd been tracking down dark alleys and winter nights. Not your normal combat mages – these ones had customized their uniforms, and their Devices, dead without a Linker Core to fuel them with magic, are in the form of spears. She recognized them, of course: the TSAB's specialized Belkan branch, descended from immigrants and Knights of old. The problem, however, was that she didn't sense anything resembling magic from them. "What do you think, Skull Heart?"
The Jolly Roger pendant hanging around neck almost seems to twitch. The eyes and mouth glow golden against the black jewel it's set into. [NO MAGIC DETECTED]
"That's what I thought." the woman stands up and shakes her dark hair back. "Earth, huh... I haven't been here since I was a kid. This is where that kid they're calling the White Devil is from, too. Probably best to not stick around for too long... but, this is worrying. If something's going around draining people's Linker Cores..." she rubs her chin. "The TSAB is going to be all over this. I'd better not eat them or I'll draw all kinds of heat... still, now I'm curious. Wanna go look?"
"You're as useful as ever," she grins. "Alright, let's go take a look around. There's a seriously strong magical power around here... so if someone's suckin' Linker Cores dry, they'll go there."
The woman turns on her heel and stalks away, coat fluttering in the wind.
Can you find it, Vita?
It's weird. It's like it's here and not here. Still, it's freakishly strong...
The red girl raises her hammer. She wears the loose outfit and skirt of a Knight; the only two stylistic remarks are the beret, outfitted with two plush rabbit heads, and the leather twin tails than hang down from the back of the tunic. As the hammerhead falls, a crimson triangle spreads at her feet, hanging in the chill night air below her. Each point comes to a circle, marked with runes at each edge. "Barrier Field, Extend."
Her hammer speaks, growling out in guttural, mechanical voice. [GEFANGNIS DER MAGIE]
The sky warps around them as the field extends, hedging out mundane folk. In reality, it was more like shifting everyone magical half a dimension over, so that they were out of phase and invisible – and so that any damage they did to the scenery didn't stick around and make things difficult for her Master. Vita shuts her eyes and focuses on her search. Without the too-weak Linker Cores creating static, finding the overwhelmingly powerful magic source she'd been searching for is almost too easy. "Got it." her blue eyes come open again. "Magical reaction... it's the real thing! Let's go, Graf Eisen!" she glances at her hammer, and smiles when it speaks, showing a single small fang.
Even this late, Nanoha is still at her desk, finishing up her homework. There's no way it's getting done in the morning – that would interfere with her training - so even if she has to stay up late, it's getting done before bed. It's Raging Heart's voice that snaps her out of her study, jerking her to reality.
"Hm?" Nanoha starts to look up – but then the Barrier overtakes her and she shoots up to her feet. "A Barrier? Here?" She scoops up Raging Heart, honing in on the source. "... whatever it is, it's coming closer...?" There's a moment of hesitation, but only a moment; Nanoha slides into her shoes and slips out the window, easily falling the two-storey drop to the road. First things first is to get away from anyone who might be hurt; she needs to try and drag the fight up into the sky, or further away, out of the city and over the bay.
By the time she's got far enough for her liking, she's ended up on top of one of Uminari's many skyscrapers. Nanoha quickly twists and turns, casting about for her target. Where was the person behind the Barrier?
Raging Heart's warning is almost too late, but Nanoha's reflexes are lightning, and her eyes fix almost instantly on the gold-and-red bullet hurtling down from the sky towards her.
[HOMING BULLET] Raging Heart identifies for her. Nanoha spreads her legs for stability and raises her hand, calling up a magic circle as a defense. The bullet slams into the shield, grinding against it, but she can hold it... at least until another bullet, this one a girl, drops in behind her, hammer raised. Her voice is a pure, feral, roar. "Deadly Punishment!"
Nanoha's other hand comes up, blocking that attack as well – but being punished from both sides, something has to give, and the rooftop under her feet cracks, shudders, and finally crumbles, ruining her footing. The combined impact blows up a smokescreen; the smoke roils as Nanoha bursts free, ejected from the clash and left falling headfirst towards the ground too far below.
She doesn't show even an ounce of fear. Nanoha has fallen from worse heights than this. "Raging Heart, please!"
[STANDBY READY] The jewel around her neck glows, those same words appearing in spidery text, not etched into the surface, but rather, held inside. [SET UP]
The hammerite is forced to hold back as her target is wrapped in a brilliant pink glow – not just an aura, but almost a living thing that clung tight to her body and filled out, turning from nothing more than light to a wonderfully brilliant dress, primarily white with striking blue highlights, tied at the chest with a single red ribbon over a brief golden breastplate. The sleeves end in almost-Renaissance styled armor that wrap her wrists and extended up her forearms, while her hands are half-covered in fingerless gloves. Raging Heart changes, too; the jewel becomes the centerpiece of a golden-headed staff with a white haft and a single white wing extended from the reverse side of the head.
Vita doesn't give her any time. She raises a hand, gripping an iron ball, and flicks it up, bringing Graf Eisen to bear.
The hammer hits hard, smashing the ball down as a bullet – just like before – and strikes the pink sphere Nanoha had been hovering in. Vita is about one second behind it, smashing through the smokescreen with the red hammer, but Nanoha vanishes before that, making her way out of the cloud even as Vita splits it in half.
"I don't remember doing anything to provoke you like this!" she calls back, turning and coming to a halt on the pink wings extending from her heels - her source of flight. "Where do you come from? Why are you doing this?"
Vita ignores her and raises her hand. Yet more iron balls snap into being, smaller this time, held between her fingers.
Nanoha flicks her hand out to the side. "If you don't tell me, how am I supposed to know?"
Had Vita not glanced back over her shoulder, just in case, the fight might have been over then - but she does, just in time to see the two pink bullets closing in on her six. When had her target set those up? She raises Graf Eisen with both hands, blocking the attack and wiping it out in a flicker of fire. Projectile attacks abandoned, Vita turns back and rushes at Nanoha, hammer held high. "You little twerp!"
By the time the hammer comes down, Nanoha isn't there anymore. She's moved so fast she's left a silhouette in the air, leaving Vita swinging at nothing, and takes advantage of the gap to bring Raging Heart properly into play.
Wrapped in pink, Raging Heart changes, going from a staff to a full fledged cannon – the head shifts, coming to a white-armored lance surrounding a golden barrel; three pink wings extend from it, two on top and one on the bottom. Below the haft, the blue armor opens up, offering a grip and trigger, which Nanoha takes in her left hand, steadying the cannon with her whole body. Wrapped in magic circles from head to base, Raging Heart glows, drawing pink lines in the air as it charged up.
"Listen..." [DIVINE] "... to me!" [BUSTER]
Even Vita can't block it properly. The blast is just too big and too strong – who is this girl!? - and the best she can do is deflect it to one side, where it arcs and whistles off into the sky before petering out, burning her clothes. The wind sets her orange hair whipping, and she lets herself get distracted for a moment, just in time to see her hat falling to the road below.
No words. Vita's voice catches in her throat somewhere between a snarl and a growl, and Nanoha flinches backwards in the air, completely involuntarily – just the glare had been enough to make her body move. Vita's hammer comes up, then to the side, and another magic triangle grows beneath her feet. The head of the hammer extends, revealing a breech containing a single red-filled capsule. "Graf Eisen... Cartridge Load!"
The hammer gleams... and smashes back together again, venting steam as the capsule slams into the guts of the Device. [RAKETENFORM] The hammer is wrapped in red bricks that shift, spin, and shine away into the air. When they clear, the weapon has changed, going from a simple hammer to a full-fledged halberd – one side has been sharpened to a point, while the other has become nothing short of a rocket engine.
Nanoha grits her teeth, ready to defend herself. This is going to be bad...
Vita's voice rung out. "Raketen...!"
Nanoha manages to dodge the first swing. The second time, she isn't so lucky.
The hammerhead comes through the air, tracing a golden arc with its rocket trail, and smashes clean through the barrier she called up, grinding against the head of her staff like a jackhammer. The look of shock on her face says it all. Nothing could have prepared her for that hit.
But, Vita wasn't done.
The impact blows Nanoha across the city block and clean through an office window. She crashes through the window, scattering glass everywhere, and bounces across the ground – but she wasn't out yet, and she scrambles to her feet, ready for the next blow in spite of Raging Heart almost falling apart in her hands. Vita is there in the next second, merciless, and Raging Heart acts of its own accord, flashing up a pink circle in the air.
Nanoha's barrier hadn't been enough the first time. Weakened as she and Raging Heart are, they don't stand a chance.
"Break through it!"
Graf Eisen shatters the barrier and misses Nanoha's chest by less than an inch. Only her Barrier Jacket saves her, and even that is smashed to pieces, scattered into the air. Nanoha hits the wall and slumps down. The impact is bad. She's hit debris from the initial attack and landed jarringly; everything below the waist just isn't answering her right now. In spite of her blurring vision, she grinds her teeth and struggles to raise Raging Heart. Vita stands over her, like the monster from a nightmare. Graf Eisen vents steam and discharges the spent canister; it tinkles onto the ground and rolls away.
Nanoha is defenseless. Neither attack nor defense can save her now. She squeezes her eyes shut as Vita's hammer descends.
Is this the end...? No...! Yuuno... Chrono... Fate!
A pure bell rings, followed by the unmistakable scream of metal on metal.
Nanoha looks up, hesitant, hopeful.
The girl Nanoha wants so much to see stands before her, back turned, locking blades with Vita. She feels a reassuring hand on her shoulder and turns, ever so slightly, to find the blonde boy she'd called out to smiling at her. "Sorry we're late, Nanoha."
Vita snarls and twists Graf Eisen free, leaping back just enough to get out of immediate range. "Your allies?"
The black polearm in the girl's hands sparks to life with golden light, forming a crackling arc of energy. Its voice is bright, firm, with a soft British accent to it.
Fate Testarossa's red eyes come up, hard like rubies, and her soft, dusky voice echoes over the battlefield.