The glow of the blue sky overhead was dimming, signaling dusk. A man hurried down the street, a stained canvas bag in one hand. Days ago he had thrown away his conspicuous uniform, and now he only wore a simple shirt and pair of slacks so as to not attract attention. His formal appearance might have served him well in the past, but that was another lifetime. Now, it served his purposes better to remain inconspicuous. His gloves were one of the few things he had kept, but with the fingers torn off and a layer of wear and dirt, the formerly pristine white gloves were nondescript and unrecognizeable.
He reached the middle of the road and turned to the row of buildings to his right. Like every other building in this town, each one was unlike every other building in this town. Whoever had cobbled this city together had cared far more about uniform purpose than uniform appearance. These particular structures were from every different culture, time period, and even world, but each was a living space of no particular impressiveness.
The man stepped into one of these houses, locking the door behind him. Pausing only to adjust his orange glasses, he went down to the basement and emptied the contents of his bag onto the floor. He picked up one of the dead chickens he had so unceremoniously dumped and made a fresh cut across its throat with a knife from his pocket. He used the bleeding body to smear a curious circular pattern across the floor, taking care to not let any of the blood go to waste. When the blood had run dry, he continued the process with the other two dead fowl. When they had run out of blood as well, he tossed the bodies aside and stared at the design. It was incomplete.
He carefully wiped the knife clean and pulled up his sleeve. He sliced open his forearm and used his blood to paint the final lines of the summoning circle. Satisfied with his work, he ripped off a strip of his shirt to bandage his injury, then settled himself at a simple desk he had previously set up in a corner. He pulled off one of his gloves, unveiling the red design carved onto the back of his hand – a cross bearing an eye in its center and surrounded several pairs of outstretched wings. Gendo Ikari reached out towards the circle with this hand.
“I hereby summon a servant, that I may do battle in this Holy City War.”
George had woken up one day to find himself somewhere he didn't know. He found this strange, since he knew most places he had been, and couldn't seem to remember having gone anywhere else. Here, light came from a glowing blue sky instead of a sun, and none of the buildings matched. There didn't seem to be any of those green pieces of paper or tiny round metal bits that people used to like so much. Instead people gave people things they found for things that those people had found. George liked this better. He was good at finding things, and people always seemed to want to give him shiny things and tasty things for his things.
He had spread out his found things on a big cloth, like he saw other people doing. Several people had already given him tasty things and shiny things in exchange for his things. And there was another person here, though something about this exchange of things seemed strange to him. She was a little girl with blue hair. That wasn't strange; there were many young people, and many people with odd hair colors. She had a shiny thing that he thought he could swap for a tasty thing; that wasn't strange. But she wanted the bottle.
George looked at the bottle. It was filled with dark red liquid, and had a special-looking shiny label. This was not a thing, he felt, for a young girl. But she was a young girl with a shiny thing. They exchanged their things.
Rika Furude had successfully obtained a small bottle of wine. According to the knowledge planted inside her head upon her waking up in this place, blood or silver would be more effective than wine, but in this scavenger city such resources would be much more difficult to obtain in the proper quantity. She had over many years learned how to use her child's body to its greatest effect, but this place was not Hinamizawa, and without the voice that had been constant companion for so long, it had been difficult to adapt. Thankfully, it seemed every other individual were similarly displaced, and without any sort of central authority, there was no reason for any of the people she passed to care about a little girl who carried a bottle of alcohol and bore strange red markings on the back of her hand.
Rika reached her destination, a small grating set into the base of a wall at the end of an alleyway. She pulled the grating aside, and pushing the bottle through ahead of her, squeezed her way through behind it. The opening widened into a small, damp room. Whatever entity had created this city had been haphazard, for it had neglected to give this room any openings other than the grating and one small window in the roof. Having such a secluded spot had suited Rika well thus far. The conditions might wear on her eventually, but she was in the habit of spending most of her time outdoors anyway.
Using the wine, she drew a summoning circle on the floor of the chamber. She was able to complete a small circle, though unfortunately there was only drops left for drinking. Rika set the bottle aside and studied her design. It was cramped, to suit the limited materials and space, and the material itself was hardly ideal. She didn't understand the source of the knowledge, but she knew that such a circle had the risk of weakening whatever being she summoned. It was a risk she felt she had to take.
Rika stretched out the hand that bore her command seals – in her case, these resembled some alien insect with a body like a blade, with spindly legs and a pair of curved horns.
“I hereby summon a servant, that I may do battle in this Holy City War! May my servant wield power capable of bringing about my victory.” Rika paused for a moment. “And may my servant understand the power that comes from having those you can trust by your side!”
The central spire of the Holy City was surrounded by clock towers. Several had complex systems of planets aligned in concentric rings, some had swinging pendulums and gears in great excess of what ought to be necessary, while others held spinning gyroscopes in orbs, and a few of the towers even held functional timepieces. The tallest of these had not still just a few days ago, but it now spewed out bizarre shades of steam, and its every tick could be heard even in the streets below, while its every tock shook the stones until the outside observer could not tell how the structure was still standing. The nearby towers had been gutted of all parts of any worth, and were now inhabited by anyone wanting a livingspace with a view, but only the brave or desperate approached this tallest tower.
If any of them had been able to make it inside, they would be able to see why this tower still stood – what set it apart from the other clock towers. It had been stripped like they had, but with different purpose. The other clock towers had been scavenged, reduced to useful pieces, but this one had been taken apart like some insane doctor seeking to perfect life might dissect a corpse on an unholy and tulmutuous night. The fruit of the madman's labor showed more and more further up the tower. With each increasing level, so too increased the number of pendulums swinging back and forth, the gears and cogwheels ever spinning, and the mechanical arms that carried and crafted and corrected.
The top room of the tower was the abode of the clockmaker himself. He was not bothered by the constant hum of gears and widgets, nor the ever present ticking of the great clock, as these had become more part of him than his own breath and heartbeat. The clockwork was far more dependable, as well; even the slight exertion of scrambling around the highest level of the tower caused his lungs to force his ribs out and in as if they yearned to break their way out of his already too-taut skin.
This emaciated figure crouched down on the enormous gear that made up most of the floor. Several mechanical appendages, extending from the walls and ceiling, were scratching a silver pattern into the surface of the gear. The man muttered and coughed as he watched their progress, occasionally using the tool in his own hand to correct or embellish the mechanical work. In this way the summoning circle was finished quite quickly. Still crouching, the man extended one bony and discolored arm. On the back of his hand was a red depiction of a cube encircled by a six-toothed gear. When he spoke the summoning incantation, it was as a continuation of and then a crescendo from his mutterings.
“I am Noximilien – no, Nox...I am Nox! My servant shall be powerful, powerful enough to obliterate the others! I will win this war! I hereby summon a servant, that I may do battle in this Holy City War!”
Light Yagami gazed out the window to the street below, a well-practiced look of bored disinterest on his face. And indeed, most of the view below was of little interest. But there was one man who was heading towards one of the houses opposite. There was little to set him apart from anyone else on the street – true, his glasses were a rather odd shade of orange, but given the nature of this strange city such an accessory was as unique as dirt. Next to other dirt. Next to a whole field of dirt. Light frowned. Such a metaphor seemed rather lacking, given his intellectual capabilities.
But metaphors were insignificant. What mattered was that he had noticed the glasses-wearing man was also wearing a pair of gloves. The climate of this city was not cool enough to merit wearing them for warmth, and they were too torn and dirty to be worn for aesthetic or sentimental purposes. No, those gloves were for hiding a command seal. Light turned away from the window and allowed himself a smirk. This war had not even properly begun and he had already discovered his first target.
Furthermore, he had devised a method to avoid similar detection. He had avoided something so obvious as gloves; instead, he wore a long-sleeved shirt that was several sizes too big. The sleeves were so large they covered the red design on the back of his hand: an apple bearing a closed eye and a single wing. It was a brilliant ploy – in this scavenger city, it was hardly unusual for clothing to not fit properly, so it would never arouse suspicion like something as obvious as gloves. Light shuttered the window and allowed himself a chuckle that grew into a full-fledged laugh. He had the Death Note, he had a head start, and he would soon have his servant; soon he would return to the true world with even more power. It was another piece of evidence that some force was guiding him, helping him on his glorious quest for justice.
Light turned to the summoning circle in the room, drawn in blood. It had been so easy to arrange its creation; so few in this city realized the danger of introducing their real names. He, of course, had been using the alias Yami Wright; his implanted knowledge itself didn't suggest that names would be significant in this war, but his own Note was evidence enough. But the Death Note would not be enough to win this war, if it came to physical confrontations. It was time to summon a servant.
“I, Light Yagami, hereby summon a servant to obey me, that I may do battle in this Holy City War!”
There were far too few trains in this city, the Rail Tracer thought. There were no tracks or stations anywhere. The two exceptions were the length of train rail nearly as tall as he was he had found, and the red design on the back of his hand. Technically, it was an abstract pattern, but anything that the Rail Tracer dreamed up – that is, naturally, everything – would have more trains to it. So it must be a train track, albeit one dripping blood. In that respect it bore a remarkable similarity to most train tracks the Rail Tracer had seen, albeit usually the blood was his own fault.
This was still a remarkable lack of trains, to the point that 'Rail Tracer' was a rather poor choice of name, and perhaps he ought to use his old name of Claire Stanfield instead. This remarkable lack of trains also caused some small unconscious part of Claire's mind to try and remind him how people kept telling him that maybe the world actually existed outside of his mind, and was not dreamed up by him. This part of Claire's mind, however, was far too small for any conscious part of Claire's mind to truly take notice. Though this prodding may have been what caused Claire to consider an individual besides himself.
“Hmmm, this might be a chance to get some romantic advice.”
Claire hopped and skipped around the room, dragging one of his feet along the ground so it traced out the circlular pattern from his head. It did not strike Claire as strange that he would simply know the proper mystical design or incantation; just 'knowing' things was natural for dreams. The profuse amount of blood on the floor also did not strike Claire as strange, as he had been responsible for the untimely death of those people from which it flowed. No, it was their responsibility, because they had not been showing the train rail segment the proper respect, and he had merely administered justice. This reasoning was a bit weak, perhaps, but he really needed that rail. But enough pondering on arbitrary things like justice and respect. He had to decide what to add to the basic incantation.
Claire thought about the girl he had met on top of that train. Her lovely dress, striking eyes, not to mention her skill with a knife...ahh, he really was in love. This time, for real. There had been others, and maybe that was his problem. He needed to be better at sticking with one person.
“I hereby summon a servant, that I may do battle in this Holy City War, and get advice on being devoted to someone!”
It had been hard to collect so much silver. But she was already dealing with one contract gone awry; she would not let herself have to deal with another.
Still, it had been costly. Even with the aid of her mother's expert business advice, she had already used up half her magic to acquire and shape the materials for her summoning circle. With no way to know for certain how long this war would last, she might have to go without using any magic just to survive to the end. But now she was prepared to summon a servant. With the right servant, she would be able to survive: to see her parents and little Tatsuya again. She would return to see all her friends- no, that didn't bear thinking about. She had to focus on surviving. She would deal with the problems back home if she returned home. When she returned home. Until then, she would stay optimistic and she would survive.
Madoka Kaname, magical girl, extended her left arm. She took off her glove, revealing her Command Seals: a two-faced moon, surrounded by a ring with a single gem.
“I hereby summon a servant, that I might do battle in the Holy City War! May my servant have the power to survive to victory!”
The structure at the center of this city was not the tallest, but it was the largest by far. It was a massive edifice of stone and metal, with no apparent entrances. Its tallest point was a spire from which spewed a blue glow that rose up like smoke and eventually joined the dome that served as a sky.
But the most unique feature of this building was what lay inside: for this building was the the City's only library. Kept in this private structure was every story from which all the residents had been so unwittingly pulled. And thus the one who held it also held the incredible advantage of knowledge of every other participant in the Holy City War, assuming the right story could be found.
He who held this library was currently sitting in one of the more lavishly decorated rooms, on a very comfortable chair with a book in one hand and glass of wine in the other. When he had first arrived he had been on high alert, assuming that other masters would have knowledge of this place and strike immediately for access to the strategic target. After all, why would he be the only one granted a true understanding of this City and how it worked?
But no attack had come, so it seemed he had the additional advantage of being the only one who realized he had the advantage of this place. The other masters must have assumed that this structure was decorative or simply another oddity of the City, and thus dismissed it as insignificant to their pursuit of victory.
He pulled up the sleeve of his priestly garments to look at the Command Seals on the back of his hand. One was in the shape of the grail, and the other two were of a jagged design more familiar to him. A smirk appeared on his face; it amused him that he would be the one to represent his own story. He would be the only one from that story; that was one of the rules of this war that he instinctively knew. Not even the servant he had been in command of so recently would be able to appear here.
He stared at the silver summoning circle before him, thinking about the nature of the servant he wished to summon. Two courses of action were set out before him: he could either attempt to win this war as quickly and efficiently to get it over with, or try to enjoy life in this city in the same way he would anywhere else.
Kirei Kotomine stared at his glass for a long while, almost let out a sigh, and downed the wine. Best to get this over with.
“I hereby summon a servant, that I may do battle in this Holy City War. May my servant be obedient and know how to kill.”
I don't have much experience writing fanfiction, and I have not seen some of the shows I draw characters from for quite a while, so please forgive me if I make mistakes. Like how Durarara!! and Baccano! might violate my one-universe-one-character rule.
Chapter 2: Servants
Their summonings complete, Masters and Servants meet.
There was light and mist, and a sense of vertigo, and then all of these faded. He found himself standing on some sort of alchemical circle, and there was a girl who was really pink standing in front of him. And then understanding filled him. He was a Servant, with abilities including a Noble Phantasm, standing on a summoning circle, and the way too pink girl in front of him was his Master.
“You're pretty lucky, Pinkie.”
Madoka lowered her outstretched arm. Her pose was defensive, as if in caution – or even fear. Accelerator smiled at the possibility of the latter.
“You see,” he continued, running several fingers absentmindedly through his pigment-less hair. “I'm the number one most powerful.”
Izaya Orihara walked through the crowd of people browsing at the various stalls, or carrying packs of scavenged goods to wherever they had chosen to live. There were also one or two stumbling around, staring at their surroundings in a daze. They must be the new ones, who had just found themselves in this strange place. But there weren't many; his Master, Gendo Ikari had told him that about a week ago this city had been almost deserted. The rate of newbies had to be slowing down, if there were so many people who had already integrated into their new lives.
As Assassin, he could stalk through shadows to stay unseen, but he could just as easily carry his bundled fur-trimmed coat in his arms as if it were something he had found, and in this crowd he would be practically invisible without even using any supernatural skills.
Of course, given his past as an information broker – just a simple information broker, of course that's all he was – knowledge was his specialty. He knew that this “Holy City” was a small universe, surrounded above, below, and on all sides by that strange blue textured glow. The scavengers would leave the city proper, go past the buildings to the flat plains beyond, where most of the new people and items appeared. Some of the more brave or desperate had tried to escape, but been stopped by the impassable blue just a mile or so past the edge of the buildings.
The people trapped here were each from a different place. Not different cities or countries, but different universes entirely. No two people came from the same universe. Of these people (a term that applied only loosely in some cases) seven were Masters, each granted with knowledge of how to summon a Servant and do war with each other with the winning team receiving a trip home and a magnificent reward. And this was where Izaya was troubled.
Most of this information could be confirmed with a bit of eavesdropping and a few questions. But the knowledge of the war was just in his head. Someone or something had reached into his mind and placed knowledge there. This was problematic, even assuming the knowledge's source could be trusted, and Izaya was quite sure it was not. When he first arrived, he had assumed his reward would be eternal life or the guarantee of an afterlife, but introspection revealed to him that this was nothing more than assumption. He had simply not felt that anything but eternity would match the magnificence of the reward that the source promised. So the source was manipulating the masters and servants with false or misleading promises. Further supporting this revelation was that his Master had mentioned his reward to be something about reuniting with his wife.
Thinking of his Master, Izaya wondered if maybe he shouldn't arrange to get a new one. A Servant without a Master could team up with a Master without a Servant, though there was a time limit; a Servant could only survive so long without any Master. This Gendo Ikari seemed more like the type to plan and plot, which would be problematic if his plans interfered with Izaya's own. It might be better to make arrangements with a Master who was less likely to use those pesky command seals to force Izaya's own actions and who was better able to defend themselves. After all, Izaya was sure that compared to other servants he was rather lacking in direct combat abilities. No, his specialties were in information, secrets, and people. He looked around at all the people who were stranded, lonely and without purpose or a real home, or any knowledge of the war that had already started in their midst.
Izaya grinned. He could work with that.
Kotomine Kirei stared at the Servant in front of him. He was young, probably not even most of the way through his teens. But he was muscular, scarred, and wore a drab military uniform with a gun holstered at his side. Kotomine looked at the Servant's eyes. Yes, this was someone who could kill.
“And who are you, Servant?”
“Sergeant Sousuke Sagara, sir.”
A simple answer. It seems he gotten the sort of Servant he had asked for. A capable one. An obedient one. A boring one.
“Permission to ask a question, sir?”
“You may ask what you will.”
“Can you explain the situation to me, sir?”
Now this was strange. “Do you not have knowledge of this situation? You should understand already, as part of your summoning.”
“I do, sir. I know that our location is the Holy City, that I am a Heroic Spirit acting as your Servant, that my class is Archer, and that in addition to my ordinary capabilities I possess a Noble Phantasm referred to as Lambda Driver. But I do not have the context to understand this information. I could not point out the Holy City on a map, I do not know what a Lambda Driver is, and there are too many physical impossibilities for me to comprehend, such as my transportation here.”
Kotomine rubbed his temples. This was just his luck, to have a Servant with too little imagination to even understand magic. Still, a Servant that was useless at thinking might still be able to perform acceptably, given proper orders.
“Go scout out other Masters and Servants. Learn what you can about them, but do not let them notice you. Avoid engagements. Return here as the sky darkens. Do not let anyone see you enter this building. That is your mission. Can you understand that?”
“I- yes, sir.” The sergeant continued to stand in place.
“What are you waiting...oh. You are dismissed.” And Kotomine was alone again. He sighed, and returned to reading.
In another part of the city, another Master was feeling disappointed. Light's initial advantage had been false, it seemed. From his perch at the window, he had seen another man walk out of the house across the street wearing a fur-trimmed coat, so it seemed the house was either cooler than outside, or its inhabitants were used to warmer weather.
His Servant was also a disappointment. Yes, he was a Rider-class with two Noble Phantasms, but he was also just a kid who called himself Simon, with no particular skills but digging. He might be useful for reconnaissance, assuming no other servants were good at digging, but that was nearly useless. Or was it? The gloved man had left the house shortly after the one with the coat.
“Find an unclaimed building. Tunnel into that house across the street, and search for names, or any evidence that they are Master and Servant.”
“But, but I can't just break int-”
“Do it.” Light's voice was neither harsh nor loud, but he had the charisma to make it commanding and imperious nonetheless.
“Oh, um, got it,” said Simon, in a voice infinitely quieter and less distinct, and he shuffled off to his task.
Light smiled. His Servant might be useful yet. All he needed was the strong fist of authority.
“Nanoha Takamichi of Earth, ready for duty!” came the voice, small yet bold, through the still-dissippating mist. When she saw her Master, her resolute expression quavered somewhat. He was a nightmarish character, all skin and bones and ragged cloth, framed by his ever-ticking contraptions.
He opened his mouth and let out a growl: “A child?” His voice several times broke into a near shriek as more rage slipped into his voice. “I ask for a powerful Servant, and I receive a child? I no longer have the power of the Cube, but instead must rely on a child??”
Nanoha, like many people of her age, was upset at the idea that her age must mean she was incompetent. She felt the protection of her Barrier Jacket around her, and gripped the handle of Raising Heart. They were not quite the same, somehow, but she still understood them.
“I am not just a child! I am a Heroic Spirit, and a Servant of class Lancer!”
“Hnnn, so eager to prove yourself, are you? Then you shall prove yourself.” Nox raised his left hand and pointed at Nanoha. “I hereby command you, my Servant: find and kill another Servant.” The command seals on the back of Nox's hand began to glow.
Claire Stanfield sometimes had a poor understanding of what other people were thinking, probably due to his firm belief that other people didn't technically exist. For example, just after a Servant's summoning, they still struggle to process the sudden input of knowledge and their new surroundings, and thus tend to spend a moment standing stunned. This fact might have confused Claire more than the next person. But it is forgivable that he would not anticipate his new Servant to act upon this brief moment of confusion by instead screaming and slashing at him with her katana.
Claire had quick enough reflexes that he was able to lift up his rail segment to parry the blow, so no harm was done. The Servant was by this time adjusted, and sheathed her sword and put on a smile that belied the sudden ferocity of her attack. She was a charming figure, Claire thought, with that smile and her pink hair and that black dress and her impressive strength, though she was definitely too young for him. And he was in love already, he couldn't forget that. Still, this partnership looked like it would be quite enjoyable.
“The name's Claire Stanfield. Pleasure to meet you,” he said, extending one hand for a shake. She did not take it.
“I'm Yuno Gasai, Servant Saber. So we just have to kill all the other Masters and Servants to return to our worlds as quickly as possible?”
Rika stared at the red-haired boy sitting across from her in her hideaway. He looked to be merely about her age and size, but he was a Servant, and she knew that youth was insufficient to judge someone. She lived that truth every day.
“We should just hold out here for now,” he said, “No matter when this war ends, we'll be returned to the same time we left, so there's no reason to rush things. Other Servants will recognize me as a Servant, so I shouldn't leave, and I'm not about to let you go out unprotected, either.”
Rika pondered how to respond. She could be bright and cheerful, or let her weariness and cynicism show through. She wasn't used to it mattering so much. Every time she made the wrong impression before, she would always be able to try again the next loop. Now her situation had changed, and she was scared change would give her hope again.
“How very chivalrous of you. But I'm afraid I know how to look after myself. I'll head out on my own when I need to get food.”
“I'm a Servant, it's my duty to protect my Master. I'll go out with you.”
“Even at the risk of placing us in a battle we're not ready for? That seems a poor choice, particularly given the nature of your class.”
The boy pulled his staff closer, as if sheepishly trying to hide behind it. “Sorry, I can't really help that.”
Rika suppressed a sigh. “Then we shall stay together. But we will wait for now.” This would be much easier if there had been some wine left over.
“What was your name? Negi something?”
“It's Negi Springfield.”
“Well, Negi. I don't suppose you're any good at playing games?”
Introductions and expositions are complete! Next chapter things will begin properly.
Thank you, everyone, for your comments and kudos! It's awesome to know that people like what I'm writing.
Chapter 3: The First Battle
The stage is set, and the war begins in earnest!
Far above the floor where mechanical arms had inscribed a summoning circle not long ago, the walls were dominated by the backs of four massive clock faces. A panel section of one of these slowly spun open, so that Nanoha could fly out to accomplish her compulsory task. Nox stared up at the sky visible through the opening. There was a flash, and suddenly he was up in the opening, staring out at the City and the sky above.
The sky's blue glow reminded him of another blue glow – the Eliacube. His purpose, to serve its whispers and feed it energy. No, that wasn't right. He had another, greater purpose. The Eliacube was a means to an end. How could he have thought otherwise, and been distracted from his great purpose?
No matter. He still had his clocks. He was still a Xelor. With the power of this City to augment his own, he would overcome that god who had so cruelly forced time into a single, forward flow.
Nanoha flew low over the streets of the City. The sight of her caused a stir in the crowds below: gazes upward, a general murmur, pointed fingers, even the occasional scream. It seemed that the Servants and the Masters were the only people here who had enough power to pull off such a feat. She would have liked to fly higher, to avoid notice, but the sky was not so high here. And if she was higher, she would not be able to sense who was a Servant, and that went against the magical compulsion that drove her.
Nanoha hoped desperately not to find another Servant, to just be able to find a place to sit and think of a way to not have to fight in this War. But she could feel the weight of the Command Seal's magical compulsion, forcing her to search for a Servant so she could...she didn't want to think about the next part.
And then she sensed a Servant below. A pale teen, with white hair. A very pink girl stood beside him, probably his Master.
And then she felt herself aiming Raising Heart, and against her will her mouth formed the words: “Noble Phantasm: Starlight Breaker!”
Madoka and Accelerator were walking along the street. Accelerator was trying to speak through bites of a small loaf of bread.
“We don't need to find a place to stay.” A bite. “We can just - ” some chewing “- finish this right now.” More chewing. “And you have the limit on your magic or whatever anyway, right?”
“I doubt we're capable of attacking everyone and winning,” Madoka replied. “Particularly because I limited magic reserves, right? We need somewhere we can defend.”
“What's that, Pinkie? You think I'm just some ordinary Caster?” Another bite. “My vector control ability is a hundred times better than any quack magician.” Chewing again. “Pretty stupid that I'm a Caster, though. I'm an esper, not a –”
Then they heard the commotion ahead of them. Madoka saw the girl flying above them – a Servant – and saw the rings of energy forming around her weapon. Madoka's reflexes kicked in, and she started drawing her bow – but did she really want to shoot a fellow human being? Again?
Her quandary was made moot by Accelerator stepping in front of her, still munching on his bread, now between Madoka and the other girl. And then everything was a blaze of pink. Madoka covered her face with her arms, temporarily blinded, hearing only a slight ping through the massive explosion that she was sure even now was engulfing her.
And then it cleared. Her eyes adjusted. She saw the blasted remains of street all around her, and looking past Accelerator, saw that the street was destroyed for many meters in front of them as well. Accelerator was not impressed by the decimation that lay around them, or he simply had an extraordinary ability to continue eating calmly under pressure. The flying girl was nowhere to be seen.
“What just happened?” asked Madoka.
“My Absolute Reflection Vector Control,” chewing, “seems even better now that it's a Noble Phantasm. I'm totally untouchable.” He took a final bite of bread, and once he had finished chewing and swallowing, a smirk spread across his face. “Come on, let's see if there's anything left of that Servant.”
He leaned forward, and with another pinging, he was rushing forward through the air, just above the ground.
Nanoha struggled to sit up. A piece of rubble slid away and she fell back down. There was a sputtering, and her Barrier Jacket disappeared.
What had happened? An attack of that magnitude – had she felt what it was like to be the target of her own Starlight Buster? It seemed that such an attack was too much for even herself. She wasn't in any shape to fight, now. She knew she had to retreat to be able to survive.
But she had found another Servant. She had to kill him.
A figure appeared before her, made a silhouette by the still-settling dust. Was that him? Nanoha raised Raising Heart, despite knowing that she would be useless, and she should try to escape instead; she was going to die, making this futile gesture of resistance.
But then the figure wasn't the pale Servant. It was the pink-clad girl, who must be his Master. Nanoha let her arm fall back down again. Now she could at least have a more peaceful end, this Master willing.
Madoka stepped forward, bow stretched in front of her, testing each step as she continued through the rubble. She could see the Servant lying on the ground in front of her, blown through the walls of this building by the intensity of the blast. The Servant raised her strange lance, and Madoka almost fired her arrow, but then the Servant's hand fell again.
Madoka neared the Servant, arrow still nocked. In some other life, she might have been shocked to see that her opponent was so young – surely she couldn't be even younger than Madoka herself? - but Madoka had been through too much for such a feeling. The enemy Servant's powers were clearly failing. One arrow through the heart would buy Madoka another day.
The enemy Servant, this young girl, closed her eyes, bracing herself for the fatal blow. It didn't come.
“Why are you fighting us?” Madoka asked instead.
“I...what?” came the weak attempt at a reply.
“You attacked me and my Servant. Why did you do that?”
“Because I was – I was ordered to. I'm sorry, I can't help it, I'm sorry,” Nanoha managed through wavering voice and watering eyes.
Madoka lowered her bow. She could kill the girl in front her. She knew that all too well. But maybe, this time, there would be a better way. Then she heard footsteps behind her. Turning, she saw Accelerator. He was twirling a rock around in his fingers. In anyone else's hands, it would be an innocuous thing, but Madoka understood better. So she stood, resolute, between him and Nanoha.
“We aren't going to be killing her,” Madoka said.
“Oh?” It was more breath than speech. “And I suppose you've thought of some grand plan to win this War before your time runs out, other than defeating our enemies?”
“There's got to be something better than this, at least. And in this case, we just need to get the other Master to call her off.”
“Ah, so we could go talk to this enemy Master. Ask him to call off his Servant. Maybe find a nice cafe, have some tea, and make small talk about the weather.” Accelerator raised the rock higher. “Or, we could deal with this helpless Servant, and then deal with her defenseless Master.”
Madoka raised one hand, removing the glove to reveal her three command seals. “You will not kill this Servant. Not today.” It was an ordinary command, with no magical power behind it. Madoka and Accelerator stood and glared in silence.
“So that's how it's gonna be, oh great Master of mine?” Accelerator asked. There was a pinging; Madoka felt a rush of air just past her side, and spun around. Nanoha was bleeding from a new cut on her face, but she wasn't seriously injured. The rock was embedded in a chunk of rubble just behind her. Madoka glanced back at Accelerator, who merely shrugged, then back to Nanoha.
“Would you tell us where your Master is?” Madoka asked.
Nox stared down at the mask in his hands. He had been planning on making armor for himself since long before he had become involved in this War. What he had managed to create was not work to be proud of. The mask was little more than a metal plate, with two blue lenses, hammered into a shape to fit around his face. The rest of the armor was similarly crude. His blueprints were more ambitious, and he wished to find better material, but as always, the inexorable flow of time was his enemy.
With both hands, he placed on the mask, tying it on with long strips of cloth, like bandages. He put on his breastplate, armguards, and leggings, tying up the lengths of bandages over any areas still exposed. Now he was truly deserving of his new name, and soon he would be ready to become victorious in this War.
Soon was too far away. From below came splinterings and shatterings and the other sounds of his clockwork defenses being destroyed. Which was quite all right; they were serving their purpose. Simple stone and metal traps would not be enough to kill a Servant, and only served the purpose of delaying them. He was not fully prepared yet, but letting the Servant destroy the rest of his constructions would accomplish little. Suddenly there was one great blast, louder than any of the sounds before, and all noise stopped.
That didn't seem right. With a blue flash Nox teleported to a corner of the chamber, in which an assortment of lenses was housed. Looking through them, he could see that on one of the lower floors, there was a hole smashed through one of the outer walls. Had the attacker or attackers chosen to flee? Or -
There was a pinging, and then another great crash, as the face of one of the clocks exploded inwards. With the debris came two young individuals, one pink and one pale, though both colors were muted by the blue that now streamed in through the shattered clock face. The pink one, aiming a bow at Nox once she had landed, spoke first.
“You are Lancer's master? Take back your order to her.”
“And why should I?” Nox asked.
“We're going to kill him if he refuses, right? That much is okay, right? Just checking, because apparently we're winning this war through pacifism,” said Accelerator.
“Just take back the command. Your Servant won't be able to accomplish it anytime soon, anyway,” said Madoka.
“I'm afraid I don't want to agree to anything at arrowpoint,” Nox said, “though that can be remedied.” There was a flash, and he was gone. Madoka's mind scrambled to process what had happened, where Nox could be; before she managed, she was struck from behind. Madoka fell forward, feeling her magic draining as it rushed to heal her injury. She rolled as she hit the floor, spinning up until she was in a kneeling position, bow drawn. An impressive feat, though it was taxing to her body and magic.
As she had been rolling, Nox and Accelerator had met blows, and Nox was tossed back through the air by a reflected strike. Nox teleported in midair, arriving standing on the ground. “A most troubling ability you have,” Nox said. “But it will not save you.”
“Ha! You think you can defeat me? I am Accelerator! I am -” and suddenly Nox's hands were around Accelerator's throat. Nox had not struck, he had not brought them there – they simply were there, within Accelerator's protections, and Accelerator lost all thought in his desperate struggle to breathe, to scream.
It was Nox who screamed first, when an arrow of pink light found a gap in his armor and sunk into his flesh. Nox lost his grip, and teleported away from Accelerator. This time Madoka was prepared, and swung her bow around behind her to release another arrow, which found its target. Nox screamed again, and then he was in a far corner of the chamber, hunched over in pain.
Madoka advanced toward the other Master, necessity forcing her to, for now, push away thoughts of concern for her Servant: he had fallen to the ground, gasping and clutching at his neck, still recovering from Nox's terrible grip. Madoka prepared to again ask Nox to recall his command, but Nox was faster: “I hereby command you, my Servant: Defend me! Now!” and Nanoha was there, not even half recovered, but standing firmly in the way of Madoka's path towards Nox.
“Your order is to defend your Master, right? So there's no problem if we don't attack him, right?” Madoka asked, lowering her bow. Nanoha nodded in response. “Then let's call a truce,” Madoka said. “We won't attack each other. If we're the last two teams left, then, we'll figure that out then.”
“Agreed,” Nox said. And Madoka went over to Accelerator, picked him up, and bounded out the hole in the clock face.
“Master?” Nanoha began, “Can you please never ask me to kill anyone again? I will defend you and help you, I know I can, but please, don't make me...do that.”
Nox stared at Nanoha, the Servant doing her best not to quiver under the cold, blue stare of the Master. “Very well. I can see that it wouldn't be the best use of you,” Nox said. And Nanoha smiled broadly with an enormous wave of relief.
Kirei set another book down on the ever-growing stack. He had flipped through dozens, with nothing resembling a lead. It seemed that every other world must have its magic hidden, like in his own, so that almost any great work of literature would take place in a mundane setting. While hardly detrimental from a literary standpoint, this made the tactical advantage of this library decidely less useful. His magical foes would never have their abilities described in a book that cared about being taken seriously. And the rest of the participants had just been mundane people; his own Servant was apparently some sort of child soldier, with almost arbitrary supernatural powers tacked on as part of the summoning. The literature would give Kirei very little useful information in such cases, and it would be quite hard to track down the character in the first place. And nothing in this library would have been shelved under nonfiction anywhere else. Wonderful.
At least his Servant was useful as a scout.
“If we don't find any enemies soon, we could always start killing people,” Yuno suggested. Several bystanders started walking away from Yuno and Claire as fast as they could without drawing too much attention to themselves.
“Really? Just start killing random people?” Claire responded. True, that would be quite likely to draw attention to themselves, and so be a speedier way of meeting other teams than their current method of simply wandering the streets, but such a massacre seemed so pointless. Claire usually had good reason – well, some reason – for killing a person. It was going to take awhile for him to learn from his Servant's philosophy of seeing other people as potential obstacles between her and her beloved.
Yuno raised her gaze from the strange device she kept staring at. She had called it a “cell” phone and said it was able to record diaries and predict the future, or something. Claire figured he would understand it when he needed to. “Nevermind. Found some,” Yuno said.
Claire followed her gaze to one of the clock towers near the center of town. There was a big hole in the side that he was pretty sure had not been there before. He tossed the segment of railroad up into the air and caught it. “Alright! Let's have some fun!”
Rika had won almost every word game she and Negi had played. This made sense, given her exceptional amount of experience. But she would have gone easier on him if she felt like Negi had been playing properly. She was getting the sense that the boy was much smarter than he liked to appear.
So far they had stayed inside her little hiding place, as Negi had suggested. That changed when her stomach began to growl.
“I'll go get food,” Negi said, almost automatically.
“And I'll come with you,” said Rika.
“I'm not about to let you get caught up in a battle. You can't defend yourself against an enemy Servant.”
“And leaving me alone would hardly be better. We should just stay here anyway.” Rika was beginning to reevaluate her ideas about Negi's intelligence.
“I'm not about to let you go hungry!”
“I've endured worse.” Much, much worse.
The two of them each stared the other down. They were more filled with childish stubborness than either would like to admit. But Rika, when she wanted to, had a gaze that filled even most adults with dread.
“Alright, let's go together,” Negi said, relenting. And so they crawled out of the hiding place together.
I originally intended to kill off Team Lancer in this chapter, but now I have greater plans for them. Mwa. Ha. Haha.
My apologies for taking forever to update. I hope you can forgive me.