AN: Many thanks to Heroslayer, Muramasa, Santo and Xamusel for writing & Betareading.
IV: Our dreams and feelings cannot be conveyed?
Kiritsugu didn’t speak as he drove the small van through the illuminated streets of Uminari, having taken over the steering wheel from the imposing man sitting next to him. Their destination was a small apartment in one of the lower levels of an apartment complex near downtown Uminari, rented under a false identity provided him by his old contact in Fuyuki. With Shirou out of town for at least two more days it would give him time to set up a base of operations.
The items in the back of the truck were simply far too dangerous to keep at home. He didn’t feel like showing this particular side of him to Shirou, let alone to the far more innocent Nanoha.
Driving up the parking lot, he swiftly parked the car before he and his fellow traveler stepped out into the cold night, the latter scanning the perimeter before giving the ok sign. Under the cover of night the two men transported their cargo into the building.
Thirty minutes later the van drove off again as the driver heading back for Fuyuki. Kiritsugu watched the car take off from behind the window on the fifth floor of the building, waiting until the van had turned the corner before closing the blinds. Behind him, stacked around an unmade bed was a collection of containers; all tightly sealed to ensure that their contents wouldn't be spotted by accident unless the correct key was inserted into the locking mechanism. But soon the containers started showing the spoils as Kiritsugu unlocked them, one after another...
Explosives, hand grenades, stun grenades, smoke grenades, C2 plastic explosives, trip wires, hidden fuses and even several radio transmitters.
Originally he had been planning on using the C2 to create a small bump into one of the larger leylines of Fuyuki, which would result in the destruction of the greater grail in the next large earthquake. However it seemed that the final act to seal that disastrous past would have to wait.
He had overheard Yuuno explaining to Shirou and Nanoha that mass-based weaponry and explosive devices had been banned on most worlds over 50 years ago as their magic made such weapons obsolete. Kiritsugu was willing to believe Yuuno’s assumption that regular weaponry would fail to penetrate a barrier jacket, even if the boy probably had no experience with that kind of weaponry aside from whatever he dug up on one of his digs. Even so, Kiritsugu was very aware of how effective ‘obsolete’ or ‘unconventional’ weaponry could be, especially when used against an opponent caught off guard.
Assaulting the mages directly would probably be a waste of time, but targeting their base of operations would be an effective means to stop them. The girl and her familiar had most likely set up camp somewhere inside the city which meant that she had a trail. Humans ate and slept after all, and thus somewhere someone would have seen a blond haired foreigner or her redheaded familiar buying groceries or renting a room. The recording Raising Heart had made during Nanoha’s last encounter had given him a detailed description of both females, leaving him with enough information to narrow down his search.
He doubted that the girl would manage to elude him for long.
Kiritsugu clenched his teeth as he opened another case, spotting the two disassembled weapons. The larger one, the Steyr AUG assault rifle, was all too familiar to him. It had been Maiya’s weapon of choice; the light assault rifle capable of fulfilling a variety of roles on the battlefield.The second gun was just as easy to recognise, the familiar shape of the Calico greeting him as he removed it from the case.
Placing the handgun aside he took the time to assemble the larger rifle. As he aimed through the window the man bit his lips in frustration, unable to stop the slight trembling of his arms. Back when his body had been in shape the eight kilos of the Walther had been nothing more than a minor inconvenience. But now the AUG, weighing less than four kilos, made his arms tremble like the legs of a newborn foal. Two years of the unrelenting whispers haunting his mind and the lull of peace had taken their toll on his physical body.
He turned towards the final container, placing the rifle onto the bed as he took in the sight of the rosewood. Kiritsugu slowly opened the lid, before tracing the distinctive barrel and the walnut grip of the gun with his eyes. It seemed that the handle of the gun had suffered greatly from both the heat and the ashes, the result of Kiritsugu discarding the weapon during his search for survivors.
It had taken quite some work for the Fujimura’s to retrieve the weapon from the police after it had been found during their investigation of the fire. The gun had been heavily damaged in the aftermath but it would still function. Restoring the weapon had been a rather expensive undertaking. Raiga had assured him that the gun wouldn't backfire on him but it was obvious that the weapon had seen better days.
Even worse was the fact that he now possessed only 14 origin bullets, having lost most of the remaining 29 in the chaos after Fuyuki and during the war. His mystic code was nearing depletion. Kiritsugu picked up a bullet, sliding it into the gun as he loaded the weapon...
“Over 10 seconds.” he noted with a scowl as he removed the bullet. “Reloading the weapon and infusing the bullet will take far too long. It seems I’ll only have a single shot.”
A small part of him hoped that it might not get that far. There was a chance that Yuuno , Shirou and Nanoha could bring this event to a good end without someone having to spill their blood...
But he had stopped believing in such miracles two year ago.
It was morning at the Emiya residence. The silence was broken by the ringing of Shirou’s alarm. Shutting the device off, the boy shook his head in a feeble attempt to get the drowsiness out of his system.
Normally he had no problem rising along with the sun, but lately his training with Yuuno had both children running simulations until deep into the night. After their last encounter, in which they had been unable to prevent Nanoha’s defeat against the other magical girl, both boys had strengthened their resolve. Yuuno had decided that Nanoha had a greater need of Raising Heart’s training programs so they crammed in one last training session themselves before the girl could be reunited with her comrade.
As a result Shirou had been awake most of the night as he and Yuuno went through simulation after simulation.
Shirou bit back another yawn as he carefully stepped around the futon he had pulled out for Yuuno. The blond boy was neatly sleeping under the covers. While he hadn’t really voiced a preference, Shirou had noticed that Yuuno did prefer remaining in his human form. However, he spent most of his time transformed to regain as much strength as possible.
Shirou had to say that he was happy to have a guest over. It made the house livelier. He had someone to talk to that knew about magic, even though their styles were rather diverse. Kiritsugu had been more active lately too, the constant dialogue between the guest and the older magus sometimes lasting for hours as they debated the finer points and limitations of their craft. Often both, Yuuno and Kiritsugu simply didn’t bother to keep the conversation at his level and it wasn’t uncommon for Shirou to completely lose track of what they were talking about.
By the time Yuuno woke up and made his way downstairs, Shirou was almost finished with most of his morning routine. All that was left was to prepare breakfast and assemble lunchboxes for everyone.
“Is Kiritsugu going to join us for breakfast today?” Yuuno asked as he moved to help Shirou set the table for three people. “I haven’t seen him leave his room this morning.”
“Dad was out late the last few days.” Shirou answered as he made his way back to the kitchen. “He’ll probably sleep all morning again. I don’t really mind, except that whenever he comes home late the kitchen is always a mess. What does he do with the place?”
“Making an early morning snack, I think?” Yuuno guessed. “Didn’t your father teach you to cook?”
“It’s more like I taught myself to cook because of my father’s cooking.” Shirou replied as he directed a melancholic look towards the ceiling, around where his father was sleeping on the floor above. “I love the old man... but his cooking nearly killed me more than once.”
“Aren’t you being a bit...”
“I don’t make jokes about food.”
“I...I see” Said Yuuno as he whimpered in the face of Shirou’s unrelenting gaze.
"Hmm,” Shirou frowned as he opened the fridge. “It seems that we are almost out of groceries though. We have enough for breakfast but I’ll have to do some shopping this afternoon. You’ll have to go with Nanoha on your own. I’ll join you after I’m done.”
“Sure.” Yuuno noted as he watched Shirou sit down before both boys started to eat.
Shirou grabbed his bag as he walked towards the front door, slipping into his shoes and leaving his slippers at the door. As he opened the door Shirou turned around facing the hallway where Yuuno, back in his ferret form, stood as he watched him leave.
“I’m off to school.” Shirou nodded. “Say hi to my old man for me when he wakes up.”
“Don’t forget to return Raising Heart to Nanoha as soon as possible!” Yuuno replied, the voice only heard by Shirou.
With that, Shirou walked through the door and closed it behind him. Soon the boy was running down the street as Uminari city woke up to greet the new day. The lively roads of Uminari buzzed with both adults and children, each making their way to either school or work. But Shirou barely paid attention to them as his thoughts drifted back to the the magical girl dressed in black. She had been distant, except at the end of their last meeting when, for a moment, she had shown her true self. Anger and disbelief were clearly seen in her eyes before she covered those emotions with that empty look.
Those empty eyes made him remember the days after the flames had burned everything away, leaving him without purpose or identity. But he didn’t have anything left to hide behind those eyes back then. Unlike him, who had simply lost everything that made him human, that girl had chosen to bury herself in order to face Nanoha, Yuuno and himself...
...and it was horribly wrong. No matter the reason, that girl was trying to stop being human. Something was forcing that girl, who’s anger and disbelief had betrayed her true self; to kill off her human side in order to obtain the Jewel Seeds.
But why? Why was the girl so desperate in her effort to obtain those artifacts? Were they the key to regain something precious or was she trying to fill a void that had yet to be filled? What drove a girl his age to do something so dangerous?
Shirou couldn't find the answers himself. All he knew was that there was something wrong with that girl. That was all he needed to know. After all, he had told her that if she asked, he would help her.
Nanoha was ignoring him.
No, it was more like the girl was ignoring everyone and everything around her. From what Shirou could tell she wasn’t even using Raising Heart’s simulator. She was just spacing out. He could guess what the girl was thinking about, seeing that the same subject was keeping him from paying attention to the teacher’s lecture as well, but at this point Nanoha wasn’t even trying to hide her lack of attention.
Shirou welcomed the bell, signaling that lunch break had begun. He made his way over to Nanoha’s table. Hopefully he could get the girl to focus before...
"Give me a break already!"
...Alisa would blow a fuse.
Shirou sighed. For the last few days the spirited girl had made it rather clear that she had noticed that Nanoha had been acting differently. Both he and Nanoha had been acting rather distant and today had been the final straw. Alisa had probably been counting down the seconds until class ended so she could go grill Nanoha.
For the first time that morning Nanoha looked up. The girl was caught by surprise by the sight of Alisa looming over her with Suzuka hovering behind her, clearly hesitating over what to do.
"You've been staring out into space and zoning out since the other day, and even before that you’ve been acting strangely!”
"I-I'm sorry Alisa-chan."
"Don't apologize! If it’s so important that you can’t tell your own friends then don’t look at me like that! We are your friends. Why can’t you just tell us what is bothering you?”
“I can’t. I really can’t.”
“Is it because you don’t think you can trust us? Is it...”
“We get it Alisa.” Shirou spoke, finally stepping in as he placed his hands onto their shoulders, Nanoha and Alisa looking up at him in surprise. “The truth is, Nanoha can’t tell you because I asked her not to.”
It wasn't a lie. Back when they had first met Yuuno, Shirou had told her to never tell anyone of magic. Therefore he wasn’t lying..... really.
“Then! What’s so important that you can tell Nanoha but not me or Suzuka!” Alisa asked, redirecting her frustrations onto the boy. “You better have a good reason for making Nanoha keep this to herself!”
“It’s... a family thing.”
“Then why does Nanoha know?”
“It’s a families thing! Or... I think it is..?” Shirou averted Alisa’s gaze as he turned to face his other friend. Nanoha looked at him with a confused look as the hand on her shoulder strengthened its grip. “ ...Anyway Nanoha, you shouldn’t worry like this. You know you aren’t alone in this, we are in this together aren’t we?”
It was the three of them; Nanoha, Yuuno and himself that were supposed to carry that burden. Shirou should have known that Nanoha would’ve forgotten that but, seeing a faint smile creep on her face, it looked like Nanoha finally realised that she wasn’t alone.
“Hmm, thats right. Thanks Shirou. I’m sorry Alisa, Suzuka. I’ve been acting a bit strangely, haven’t I?”
“A bit?” Alisa sighed as the tension left her body. “ You’ve been... Suzuka?”
All of them turned to their other friend who was starting to mutter under her breath.
“... important... can’t tell anyone...” The quiet girl mumbled as her eyes shot from Shirou to Nanoha, a blush growing on her cheeks as she continued to count down something on her fingers. “...a family thing.... in this together...”
“... in this together...”
“Oh my.” The girl concluded as she suddenly started smiling at Shirou, who was feeling rather confused by the girl’s behaviour. “It’s something like that then? I never thought...”
“You lost me.” Shirou confessed as the girl suddenly grasped Nanoha hands with her own. Nanoha let out a cute ‘meep’ as she was pulled towards the smiling girl.
“I understand Nanoha. Don’t worry! Alisa and I won’t ask anymore. We’ll wait until you tell us yourself!” The girl promised with a bright smile. “Although, you and Shirou were spending a lot of time together so we should have noticed it before...”
Shirou simply watched as a radiant Suzuka pulled a struggling Alisa out of the room as he and Nanoha were left behind, Suzuka smiling at them until she had left the classroom.
“I don’t get it.”
“Neither do I.”
Takamachi Nanoha still remembered the first time she met Emiya Smirou.
The classroom had been abuzz with chatter as the children spread the news. By now everyone knew that a transfer student was going to join the class, even though it was in the middle of the school year. Some said it was because the child had been kicked from his old school, others because his parents had suddenly moved. A few remembered hearing that a nearby city had burnt down and soon the strangest stories roamed the classroom as the teacher remained absent.
Takamachi Nanoha had simply sat down in her seat and waited. She hadn't really paid attention to the rumors, instead spending her time watching the closed door. Around her the whispers of children slipped into her ears, idle conversations about if it was a cute girl or a cool boy that would join them today.
To her it didn’t matter. Whoever stepped through that door would get a smile from her and a heartwarming ‘welcome’. To Nanoha, a stranger was simply a friend she hadn’t met.
The teacher sported a large smile as she called the class to attention, telling them that another friend would be joining them from that day on. Nanoha sat straight as the teacher mentioned that the boy had spent a long time in the hospital before moving to Uminari. Of course the class would do everything to make him feel at home while he adjusted himself to his new life.
As the classroom cried out in agreement the teacher called out towards the door. Nanoha watched as the door opened in a slow... and strangely hesitant manner. A red haired boy, dressed in their distinctive white uniform, quietly walked into the classroom. The sudden silence made the boy even more hesitant, his steps slow and insecure.
The boy looked like he had no idea what he was doing here in a room filled with strangers.
The teacher smiled encouragingly at the boy as she placed her hand on his shoulders, causing the boy to look up at her in confusion. "Go on,” she spoke with a smile, “introduce yourself."
The boy nodded before turning forward to face the class. Nanoha’s stare intensified as she looked at his eyes. Although she noted that they were a pretty golden color, there was something off about them. His eyes looked somewhat dull, as if he wasn’t completely there.
"My name is Emiya Shirou.” He spoke as he bowed to the class. "I hope to get along with all of you. Please take care of me."
With that the class once more exploded in chatter.
Nanoha watched as the boy’s eyes widened in surprise, a spark of emotion returning into his eyes. But soon the boy looked away from the class, unable to handle the pressure. He turned towards the teacher and the spark vanished from his eyes once more.
Nanoha barely paid attention to the teacher who pointed Shirou to a desk he could use, her eyes glued to the boy walking past her before sitting down two rows behind her. Soon the class returned to the usual routine, continuing the lesson from the day from before.
Even so, Nanoha found herself sneaking peeks at the new boy sitting behind her.
During his first week at the Uminari Elementary, the boy named Shirou had remained silent. Nanoha noted that, aside from answering questions or responding to others, Shirou didn’t really seem bent on making friends at all. The boy often sat alone, refusing all of her invitations to join her or any of their classmates during lunch, or any invitation from any other student for that matter. Most of her classmates had already given up on him, labeling him as a loner... a strange boy. But Nanoha knew that that wasn’t the case.
For if someone asked him for help then the boy would suddenly change gears. Whenever there was someone who needed help, the boy was suddenly reaching out to everyone. He didn’t just help people in his own class either. He soon could be found walking all over the school. If a teacher needed help with a task then Shirou would be the first to volunteer. If a kid had broken a toy, Shirou would take it to someone that could fix it. No matter how simple or demeaning, Emiya Shirou would help out.
But the more Nanoha watched Shirou help others, the more it started to bother her. Whenever Shirou was helping people, he would smile and encourage the other person. He would make sure that they were happy, but he never stayed around to share in that happiness. He would hand over a fixed toy or stand up to a bully and then leave without even taking in the thanks of the person he had helped.
It annoyed Nanoha for reasons that she couldn't really understand. But soon she found that it was his eyes that troubled her. The strange emptiness that would haunt them whenever he was alone. Those eyes would be filled with emotion when he was helping people or when he was trying to do something, but after the deed was done, he would fade back into that empty looking boy that she had seen the day he transferred into class. It bothered her, that someone that was doing their best to make everyone else happy wasn't happy themselves.
It was wrong. Nanoha was sure of that. Someone who was kind enough to help others shouldn't look so sad when the deed was done. Someone who helped others should smile along with the person he helped.
With that revelation in mind, Takamachi Nanoha acted.
Emiya Shirou still remembered the day the brown haired girl dragged him onto the rooftop of the school.
You don’t forget something like that.
One moment he was convincing his senior that she could just hand him the flyers she was supposed to deliver. The next moment, his classmate was dragging him away somewhere. In his defense he did try to struggle a bit but...
Nanoha had been rather determined to talk with him.
“So... Takamachi-san. Did you need me for something?"
It seemed that his first guess had been a wrong one. The girl scowled at him, placing her hands on her hips as she glared at him. Shirou swallowed as he took a step backwards. The boy couldn't think of anything he could have done to deserve that look but apparently he had offended the girl somehow.
”I'm sorry?" He said hesitantly.
"You're sorry? Why are you sorry? You didn’t do anything!” The girl threw her arms up in the air. “Why are you always like this?"
Her sudden outburst caused him to take yet another step back. Shirou was horribly confused by everything. Why was she angry at him? In fact, had they even spoken before this? He did not like the expression that was on her face. He backpedaled when she took a step towards him, but stumbled over his own feet and fell. Shirou gulped as the girl loomed over him and flinched when she pointed at him.
"Listen carefully, because this is very important..."
Shirou nodded rapidly.
"From now on." The girl spoke slowly and clearly, each word pronunciation to convey the importance of her message."You... will be my friend."
"You're going to be my friend,” Nanoha continued, “and I'm going to be yours. You're always working so hard to make everyone happy, but you never stay around, never wait for anyone to give their thanks. If you want others to be happy then you must first be happy yourself!"
Shirou just stared at the girl in front of him. He really didn’t understand what the girl was talking about. After all, wasn’t helping people in itself enough reason to do so?
"No!" The girl instantly shut him up. "You don't get to argue. I've seen you whenever you think no one is around. You always make such a sad face. When you’re alone you aren't happy at all! So, I'm going to make sure that you are happy, even if nobody is watching you!"
Shirou nodded rapidly in the face of that unrelenting gaze, if only to stop the girl from becoming even angrier. He didn’t understand the girl’s reasoning so trying to argue with her wouldn't make any difference. The girl took his silence as his consent, and as a smile grew on her face, he realised that he would never get her to leave him alone.
Once more he saw a smile so bright that he couldn't help but wonder what it would take to be that happy.
That afternoon Shirou and Nanoha found themselves eating lunch alone. For some reason neither Alisa and Suzuka had come to their usual spot, leaving the two of them alone to enjoy their homemade meals. By now Nanoha was looking somewhat better as the girl enthusiastically dug into the lunch her mother had prepared. Shirou eyed the lunch box with a slight hint of envy before looking down at his own. Compared to what Nanoha was having, his own lunchbox was definitely less than perfect, a fact that he begrudgingly accepted as he dug into his own meal.
“Another loss for me.” the boy muttered between bites. “She’s still far ahead of me.”
“Hmm? Is something wrong with your meal Shirou?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Hmm? Oh well.” Nanoha shrugged as she continued to eat. Neither of them spoke as both children finished their meals but as Nanoha started to pack away her mealbox Shirou decided that he couldn’t wait any longer.
“You’ve been thinking about that girl, haven’t you? Thats why you’re so distracted during classes.” Shirou struck right at the heart of the matter.
“Eh? Shirou already caught on to that?” Nanoha laughed nervously. “I didn’t know I was that easy to read.”
“You’re not the only one that’s worried you know.” Shirou pointed out. “Besides, I know firsthand how you get whenever you decide to help someone. You really get stubborn when that happens. Back then I didn’t even have a chance to say no to you...”
“I wasn’t that bad...”
“You were. I was so terrified that I couldn't even move!”
“I’m not that scary!”
“You suddenly declared yourself my friend before you dragged me over to Midori-ya to introduce me to your family." The boy pointed out. “Do you know how embarrassing it was to call my dad to pick me up because I’d abducted by a classmate?”
“It wasn’t that bad!”
“And then your mom found out that dad was about to leave the country again and suddenly I was eating dinner at a strange house before being told that I was going to stay there for the next three weeks.”
“... It wasn’t that bad, right?” Nanoha tried to reason. “It’s fun staying at our place right?”
Shirou scratched his cheek in embarrassment. In the end he did like spending time with the Takamachi family, even if he was only a burden. “Even so,” he added, “If you approach this girl the same way as you did me you will probably scare her away. After all, unlike me she’ll just fly away even if you corner her on the roof. You’ll probably have to shoot that girl down before you can get her to listen.”
“...Shirou, beating up people isn’t going to make them our friend.”
“Didn’t it work on Alisa?”
Even as Nanoha unleashed a devastating cheek-pinch attack on both sides of his face the smile he sported didn’t waver.
Nanoha was finally back to normal.
“We’ve just finished checking our block.” Shirou reported as the ferret on top of his head stood guard, watching the streets while Shirou reported to his father. “Nanoha just signalled that she also finished her sweep so she’s also heading to the next block.”
“That’s good,” Kiritsugu replied through the link Yuuno had set up. “I’m nearby your location. After you and Yuuno finish the next block we’ll meet up in front of the shopping mall before heading home. It’s getting late and I don’t want you three to be out for much longer.”
“I’ll have Yuuno pass down the message to Nanoha. We’ll be off then.”
“Call me if you see anything.”
Shirou readjusted the bag he was carrying on his back while looking up at the night sky with a frown. The four of them had been combing the city for a few hours now, with Kiritsugu searching for possible hiding spots where Fate could be camping while the rest sought out the Jewel Seeds.
"So, where were we?" Shirou spoke as he felt Yuuno move from the top of his head to his shoulder.
"I think we were going over the differences in Projection. Remember the last time I had you project objects from different sizes? I wanted to see if there was a link between the size of the object and the time it remains in the world.”
“Ah,” Shirou nodded. “But the swords I make always seem to last longer, so it might not have anything to do with size, aside from the power needed to recreate it in the first place.”
“I noticed that as well. I wonder if it has something to do with...” Shirou looked to his side as he felt Yuuno stiffen on his shoulder. Before he could even ask what was wrong, the familiar feeling of magical energy washed over his senses. An alien sky illuminated the shadowy world, lightning cutting through the air as magical energy flooded the area.
“A Barrier?” Yuuno spoke up in surprise. “Don’t tell me that girl is trying a forced activation spell inside the city?! This is dangerous! Shirou! I'll set up a barrier and call Nanoha. You scout ahead and see if you can find the Jewel Seed!"
“Right, what about the old man?”
“Yuuno already contacted me,” Kiritsugu’s voice suddenly popped up in Shirou’s mind, the voice surprisingly calm as his father swiftly followed with instructions. “Nanoha has already approached the girl called Fate but her familiar seems to be missing. Yuuno will go and track her down while you go and locate the jewel seed. I’ll join you once you find it. Stay out of sight until we can secure the seed.”
“But that leaves Yuuno alone against that woman!”
“I’ll support him for now. Now move, we are wasting time.”
Shirou moved, even as doubt and confusion fueled his thoughts. What could his father do against a magical familiar?
Kiritsugu cursed as he ran down the street, the Calico clutched in his hands while the sky above him was illuminated by the clashes between the pink and yellow blasts. Most likely both Nanoha and the girl called Fate had pinpointed the location of the Jewel Seed by now and were locked in battle until either one was defeated or their partner could secure it.
Most likely the familiar would try to acquire the Jewel Seed in the confusion...
“What's this? Another one? Where do you people keep coming from?”
… or she could be running right into him.
As Kiritsugu looked up he found the red wolf looking down on him, perched on one of the streetlights. “I must have rather crappy luck to keep running into mages on a backwater planet like this. Anyway, you should probably leave the barrier if you don’t want to get hurt,” The beast growled. “but from that scary look on your face it seems that isn’t going to happen.”
Kiritsugu didn’t answer, his lack of response seemly entertaining the beast.
“Well then, don’t blame me if you get hurt...”
The next moment Kiritsugu found himself rolling over the ground as he barely dodged the beastly familiar's claws. Using the time he had won he created some distance between the two of them. The beast’s eyes narrowed in what appeared to be anger before it sped after him, only to crash into a green barrier.
Kiritsugu looked over the head of the howling beast and found Yuuno running towards them. Following his gaze the familiar soon noticed the boy as well, turning around to face the source of her current headache...
...leaving her wide open as Kiritsugu pulled his Calico from his coat.
“Let’s see just how ineffective bullets are against those barriers.” The man mumbled as he pulled the trigger.
Nanoha dodged another round of lightning as she and the blond girl continued their duel in the sky. While she knew that her friends and Shirou’s father were moving below her there was no way she could take her eyes off her current fight.
Fate was strong. Even after all the training Nanoha had pushed herself through the girl was still keeping her on the defense.
The blond flashed forward for another strike. Not prepared for a frontal assault, Nanoha barely managed to put up a barrier, but could not stop herself from being shot backward from the power of Fate’s sudden attack. Crawling out of the rubble Nanoha’s breath froze as she spotted Kiritsugu lying on the ground as the familiar named Arf turned towards Yuuno. Relief filled her body as the old man suddenly moved, clearly showing that he wasn’t just done yet.
“You should pay more attention to your own fight.”
Fate’s warning caused Nanoha’s head to snap up, desperately looking for the next attack. But by the time she found her opponent the girl was already on the move. Nanoha, could only watch as Fate raised Bardiche and directly shot towards her.
Both girls froze, the latter in mid flight, as a rapid series of dry explosions echoed through the empty city. Both looked at the other, neither girl recognising the sound before both turned to face the ground.
Nanoha followed the gaze of her opponent towards the beastly familiar, currently enveloped in countless orange flashes as dozens of object slammed against her barrier. The beast cried out in surprise. The kinetic force behind the rain of metal made the wolf stumble, causing her to lose her balance as she smacked against the ground, the barrier protecting her continued to flicker under the onslaught.
Nanoha stared at Kiritsugu, the man crawling up from the ground as he continued to point the contraption in his hand towards the beast. Nanoha wasn’t so ignorant that she didn’t recognise a gun when she saw it. Even so, her mind refused to connect the image of the kind old Kiritsugu wielding such a weapon.
Shirou’s old man was a kind person, even if somewhat scary at some times. So why was that man shooting a weapon meant to kill without any hesitation?
But as both Nanoha and Fate froze in indecisiveness, the familiar acted. Arf let out another cry as she shifted back to her human form before slamming her hands against the ground. In response a series of barriers appeared between her and her assailant, shielding her from the gunfire.
“You lunatic! Using mass weaponry? You really are a brute from a backwater planet!” the woman cried out as the gunfire ceased in response. “But I can shield myself from that annoying ammunition just fine! You won’t even get through this barrier with something as small as that! Try armor piercing bullets next time!”
“I’ll keep that in mind, but for now this works just fine. “ Kiritsugu answered as he once more raised the weapon, causing the woman to strengthen her barrier once again.
“After all, all we needed to do was to keep you occupied in one spot.” Yuuno added as he revealed himself. Arf eye’s widened as she finally noticed the spells the boy had prepared while her attention had been focused on the older man.
An intricate web of green chains broke through the barrier, binding the woman to the ground, leaving her unable to as much as lift a finger. “A barrier created to stop kinetic weapons won’t be as effective against magic, and vica versa.” Yuuno continued as a confident smile grew on his face.“The moment you decided to focus on Kiritsugu’s weaponry you left yourself open to normal binding spells. It was the same as when you faced Shirou and me last time. You should keep all of your opponents in mind!”
Whatever Arf was going to say was cut off as the ground trembled violently once more.
Nanoha’s eyes widened, the girl’s skin crawled as she felt the Jewel Seed, which now was producing far more energy than it had been when she first detected it. She had to get to it and seal it before...
“Nanoha!” Shirou’s voice echoed through her mind. “I found the Jewel Seed, but it’s going haywire! I’m feeling strange just by standing near it. We have to seal this one, quickly!”
“I’ll be right there! I just have to get past Fate before...”
But as Nanoha looked up she found no trace of Fate.
Shirou clenched his teeth as a familiar yellow bolt raced towards him, the signature magic style of Fate Testarossa. Behind the yellow blur was a familiar pink flash, meaning that Nanoha was already in pursuit. Stepping around the glowing artefact he positioned himself between the girl and her goal.
Once more the familiar shinai appeared in his hand, although the first sword was soon joined by a second one. Shirou did not cut any corners this time. He made sure that the copies were nearly indistinguishable from the original. Most likely there would be no time to recreate a third sword like in his fight against Arf. Fate’s attack would take him out in a single blow if he couldn't block her first strike and Yuuno wasn’t there to support him.
Then again, he only needed to last until Nanoha caught up.
He waited until Fate was only seconds away, the girl having raised her scythe as she prepared to meet him head on the moment she had noticed the sword in his hand. As she drew closer he focused on her forehead, slowing his breathing as he removed all useless thoughts from his head until it seemed that time was crawling to a stop. Shirou let out his breath as power flooded his body, his fingers tingling as he raised both arms, ready to meet his opponent....
... before throwing the first sword like a javelin towards the girl.
Shirou had expected the girl to dodge the impromptu projectile, diving towards the ground and leaving her inside his range of attack. Instead the boy watched with dull surprise as the sword struck the barrier protecting her face. Fate blinked, equally surprised. The sword, aided by the resulting difference in momentum and it’s nature to defy reality, proved to be just enough to pierce its way through the shield.
A dull thud echoed through the battlefield as Fate came to a sudden halt. The girl cradled her head while a moan of pain escaped from her lips. Moments later she once more assumed an aggressive stance while glaring at him. Shirou noted with some satisfaction that the girl was displaying both anger and embarrassment, a great improvement over her usual empty look.
Nanoha’s cry caused the blond to narrow her eyes before she disappeared in a blur of yellow sparks. Shirou was nearly ran over as both Fate and Nanoha rushed past him towards the Jewel Seed. Both Raising Heart and Bardiche clashed against the Jewel Seed as the air screeched, the pressure and energy of the impact with energy causing the devices to tremble. But suddenly the Jewel Seed responded, both Nanoha and Fate letting out a cry of surprise before another blast of energy propelled the two girls away from the seed as started to rampage.
By the time Shirou had gotten to his feet, the heat emanating from the lost logia was making the air burn his lungs. He couldn’t see Nanoha nor Fate anywhere but he had a clear view of the disaster waiting to happen. Shirou felt his stomach turn as he noticed that a nearby building had already caught fire, the lights of the barrier making the flames look even more ominous...
...as a black sun rained fire down on the city...
He had to stop this. If they didn’t stop the Jewel Seed then such a disaster would occur again. But he had no sealing magic, no device...
Even so... there were lives at stake.
Shirou stepped forward.
“Fate? Fate!” The familiar howled inside the cage of binding spells as Kiritsugu kept an eye on the woman, the familiar growing more desperate after she had witnessed her master getting launched back into the sky along with Nanoha.
After confirming that Nanoha had escaped the explosion unscathed, Yuuno had left to find Shirou. His chains kept the familiar in place even in his absence. But, just to be safe, Kiritsugu had returned his Calico to it’s holster as he instead held his mystic code in his hand. Even without the use of an origin bullet the power of the Contender would most likely prove far more effective than the Calico.
He had already pushed himself too far. His limbs trembled as the strain of the battle on his weakened physique became more apparent. Just dodging the familiar before had wracked his body after hitting the ground. If the beast escaped the cage Yuuno had created then he’d have a single shot, if he even managed to make that before the familiar overpowered him.
Even so, he had remained silent as Yuuno had sped off. From what the boy had told him before he had gone off, the Jewel Seed was already in it’s booting stage, the artefact slowly activating as it started to dump raw magical power in it’s environment while it waited for input to guide its actions.
Sealing the Jewel Seed at this stage would take up all of Yuuno’s strength if Nanoha was unable to assist him. He couldn't hold him back in with such circumstances.
He would keep guard here, until either the Jewel Seed was sealed by Yuuno or Nanoha or until the familiar would break free again. Hopefully the woman would prioritise reuniting with her master before going on the offensive.
Yuuno flew with all his might as he tried to withstand another shockwave the Jewel Seed had unleashed. Each pulse was disrupting his flight spell and it was taking all of his concentration to keep from crashing into the ground. It was taking far too long to get to the epicenter; precious seconds wasted in restoring his flight path as the Jewel Seed continued to extend it’s power. If he didn't hurry then nobody would be able to seal it.
Suddenly the pressure faded.
Yuuno wasted no time, using the lull to speed towards the Jewel Seed but as he finally came in sight of the disastrous lost logia, a horrible feeling of nausea erupted from his stomach.
Shirou was there, kneeling on the ground as his hands enveloped the lost logia. The boy was vigorously repeating the same sentence, tears streaming down his face as Yuuno realised that his hands were being burned away, a few parts already starting to blacken from the heat.
“...stop it... stop it...stop it...stop it...stop it...stop it...“
“Shirou?” Yuuno whispered as he approached the boy slowly.
Suddenly the boy stopped, looking up at Yuuno with empty eyes as the Jewel Seed grew brighter and brighter until the light shrouded Shirou from Yuuno’s sight.
“.... I can’t stop it...” Shirou whimpered, barely loud enough for Yuuno to hear...
...and then he screamed as a storm of fire and light exploded from where Shirou had been.
At the center of the storm stood a single boy.
The power seeping through his fingers filled Shirou to capacity in less than an instant, ravaging his body as it ripped through trembling arms. Blood trickled from his mouth, having bit his tongue while unable to stop his body from shaking. Every single muscle in his body had gone haywire, leaving his limbs out of his control. The hands trying to enclose the Jewel Seed felt like they were full of holes, fingers bent in ways they were never meant to.
The flesh burned, before turning into steel as he willed his hands back into position.
He had to stop it, he had to stop it before the city burned. He had to stop it before that happened all over again.
A cage of flesh and blades surrounded the Jewel Seed. His body was burning, the power flooding it enough to kill any human instantly by burning them to a crisp.
Still, he lived.
The power of the Jewel Seed sought the path of least resistance. Within Emiya Shirou twenty seven channels desperately tried to dump that overwhelming power somewhere, anywhere in order to survive. With just a single surge the circuits burst at their foundations. Miraculously the circuits held, even as power beyond their limits was forced through them.
Emiya Shirou’s true nature was that of a collection of circuits, a conduit specialised for but a single purpose. It was horribly underdeveloped, but the fundamentals had already been laid down on that fateful night two years ago.
The body follows the nature of the soul. The soul follows the impulse given to it from the very beginning, no matter how inhuman it is.
For a single moment Emiya Shirou realised that he was not human. Because he was not human his flesh did not burn. His body was made out of countless blades. As he spilled his blood the power carried through his veins turned the flesh into steel whenever his skin was torn away. There was neither fear nor surprise, for his heart was devoid of such feelings.
Steel does not burn. Steel does not know fear.
“My body is made of swords. My blood is of iron, my heart that of glass.”
But even that wasn’t enough to save him as the pressure of the jewel seed continued to increase. At that moment, with his mind tethered at the edge of consciousness, Shirou realized...
...there is something inside of him that he cannot see, something beyond the limit of his vision.
It was darkness, not a wall that stopped the magical energy until now. An empty void existed beyond the shadows, a hole that he could not fill on his own. But it could be filled, it must be filled for his body to survive. The power of the Jewel Seed that desperately wished to ‘fulfill’ found itself a purpose in the circuit that exists to ‘create’.
The limit beyond the darkness was destroyed, pushed aside as if it never existed. The Jewel Seed slipped through the cage of fingers and steel as it was drawn into the conduit that facilitated a miracle. Burning circuits turned into liquid metal as Emiya Shirou’s mind succumbed, unable to handle the strain.
Even so, he lived.
Everything broke before being reforged.
The flames spread, and the city burned away.
When Nanoha finally managed to open her eyes, her arms trembled. The staff in her hands suddenly felt as heavy as lead.
"What… what is this?"
There was no sign of the purple sky, nor of the strange twilight zone that accompanied the barrier. Instead she watched as large swaths of the city disappeared only to be replaced with a wasteland. The buildings that remained were devastated, fire’s burning down everything as one after another collapsed. The sky was filled with smoke, ashes from the flames obscuring everything from sight. The ground was scorched clean of any signs of life and Nanoha could see fire dancing around at random all over the streets.
Flying through the rubble, seeking her friends, Nanoha couldn't stop her tears at the sight of the ruined city. Again she had failed. She had promised to protect her hometown but without the barrier...
Suddenly she noticed something moving inside the rubble. Recognizing Yuuno’s blond mop between the rubble she sped towards the ground...
As Yuuno’s warning reached her, she dodged to the side, barely avoiding the silver blur that rained down from the sky. As it fell down to the flames below Nanoha gave it a second look.
It was a sword. It was far from complete, jagged and half forged, but the weapon had been intended to be a sword. It was odd, but she realized that she recognised the blade. Although deformed it resembled the nodachi her brother carried around.
"Get close to the ground.” Yuuno continued. “It seems that whatever is causing this is targeting everything that tries to get close with whatever you just got shot with.”
"Yuuno-kun. What… what is this?" Nanoha asked as she landed next to Yuuno, her vision blurry from the tears in her eyes. “Why did the barrier fail? Why is the city…?"
“We are still inside the Barrier. This isn’t really Uminari City." Yuuno replied. That statement caused the girl to freeze. Relief filled her body as she let out the breath she was holding the entire time.
"Shirou grabbed the Jewel Seed.” Yuuno continued, setting Nanoha on edge once more. “I’m not completely sure what happened after that, but this twisted world is still inside the barrier. Even now my original spell is still consuming mana, although the drain is larger than before. I think that the Jewel Seed has created another barrier inside mine and that it’s pushing against mine in an attempt to punch through. Even so, this strange world is incomplete and full of holes. That’s why parts of the city are still appearing inside this world.”
“... but then, what happened to Shirou?”
“I haven’t found him yet.” Yuuno confessed. “But seeing that this world is actively shooting those swords at us when we try to get closer to the center. Shirou’s powers might be controlled by the Jewel seed, which means it’s using him to keep us away from it. ”
“Then we find the Jewel Seed first. Shirou should be nearby” Nanoha nodded. “But, if it’s using Shirou to make those blades then why did it make this strange world as well?”
“I don’t know.” Yuuno answered solemnly as he gazed around the strange world all round them. “Right now we need to find Shirou first.”
Nanoha couldn't agree more with the boy as they left their shelter. They made their way through the wasteland, dodging the steel and wooden swords aimed at their heads as they went.
With a final push Arf ripped the chains off her limbs, the spells had weakened ever since this strange world had appeared. Immediately she jumped backwards, creating some distance between herself and the dangerous man standing in front of her, but...
The man hadn’t moved. Even though she had, rather loudly, escaped from her prison, he was not paying any attention to her. Instead he simply stared, bloodshot eyes gazing into the burning city as his whole body trembled. The hand holding onto his weapon had turned completely white from the grip he was exercising. A small trickle of blood ran down his hand and on to the barrel of the gun.
By the looks of it Arf could probably walk up to him and wave her hand in his face. Her ears twitched as she noticed that the man was mumbling to himself, desperately clutching the back of his right hand with his free hand.
“... impossible, this is impossible. That fire...“ he muttered in a low tone, repeating the phrase to himself as the city burned around him.
Ark knew that if she wanted she could take him down right now, if only to pay him back for the humiliation from before. Mana gathered around her hand, transforming the deadly claws into a blade that could cut through steel with ease.
It would be so easy...
Arf tsked and dashed away, ignoring the man. The power gathered in her hand quickly dissipated.
Finding her master was far more important than petty grudges, or so she told herself.
“[Target located. Distance 60 meters ahead]”
Nanoha frowned as she tried to see through the smoke and dust surrounding this part of the city. The occasional attack by flying swords had stopped ever since she and Yuuno had entered the center of the barrier but they had been forced to continue on foot.
Nanoha squinted before letting out a gasp. Without warning she rushed forward, leaving Yuuno behind to cry out in surprise as the girl made her way towards the humanoid shape moving in the smoke.
“W-what is this....”
Nanoha raised Raising Heart in front of her as she recognised Fate’s voice, it hadn’t been Shirou that she had spotted through the smoke. As Nanoha entered the eye of the storm, devoid of both dust and smoke, she immediately spotted the familiar yellow scythe on the ground, Fate’s arms limp at her sides as the golden haired girl sported a look of complete horror on her face.
Following the girl’s gaze Nanoha suddenly felt her knees buckle as bile forced it’s way up to her throat. It was too much for the girl to stomach. Seeing the city on fire had been bad, but this... this was just too cruel...
"Oh god, Shirou..."
Nanoha barely noticed Yuuno’s arrival, instead forcing back the vile taste in her mouth before she willed herself to look up again, to watch that horrible spectacle. Shirou had collapsed onto the ground. There were holes in his shirt from where the fire had burned through and she could see red-tinted skin beneath, and even a few spots where the skin had turned black altogether. The boy's red hair was covered in ashes, painting white streaks down his head, mingling with the blood seeping from small cuts all over his body.
Because she hadn’t been there Shirou had....
“Thank god! He’s still breathing! His burns look bad but....”
Nanoha looked up as Yuuno suddenly paused, the boy was looking down on their friend with a confused look as he stared at the wounds.
“...what's happening here? Is the Jewel Seed repairing the damage?”
Nanoha forced herself to look at Shirou again, before realising what had stumped Yuuno. Shirou’s burns, although still hideous, had already started to fade. The flesh was shifting, burnt parts returning back to normal healthy skin even as other parts tore open again. It seemed the power of the Jewel Seed was both ravaging and repairing Shirou’s body all at once. But there was something else. Nanoha noticed that parts of his skin had been replaced with strange scales, gleaming in the twilight...
“Are those... knives?”
“Nanoha,” Yuuno suddenly spoke up. “Whatever is trying to repair his body... it’s not going to last. If we don’t seal the Jewel Seed and separate it from Shirou it’s going to continue to destroy him from the inside.”
“B-but, its inside Shirou! Can we even do that?”
“[Sealing mode. Serial number XIX]” The baritone voice of Bardiche suddenly spoke up, revealing that Fate had pointed her device towards the boy.
“You, what do you think you are doing?” Nanoha cried out as power gathered in front of Bardiche’s tip, aimed directly towards Shirou.
“... Saving him.” Fate answered before lightning struck Shirou’s body once more.
Nanoha winced, the girl forced to close her eyes before the blinding light would leave her without her vision. The world around them reverted back to its natural state, the sky roaring as the twisted world collapsed.When the noise died down Nanoha slowly opened her eyes.
The city had completely disappeared.
The air was dry and hot, the dirt underneath her feet shifting as a soft breeze made its way through the barren wasteland. The sky was clear, tinted red as she spotted the sun resting just above the horizon.
“A bounded field? But why....”
Kiritsugu’s voice shook Nanoha out of her stupor. When had the old man appeared right next to her? Suddenly the girl noticed that they weren’t alone. Just a few meters ahead stood an equally confused Yuuno and just ahead two more figures suddenly appeared. Arf had somehow returned to Fate’s side without anyone spotting her, as if she had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. It seemed both familiar and master had no idea on how they had been reunited, both looking at each other in utter confusion.
“Shirou? Where’s Shirou?”
Nanoha panicked as she looked around, desperately seeking the missing boy until she finally spotted her friend. He was lying face down on one of the hilltops surrounded by half a dozen blades, amongst them several swords which Nanoha recognised from those her family possessed and the shinai which Shirou had recreated countless times.
She wanted to ask. She wanted to know what this world was, what Shirou had to do with it and why this sight, even though beautiful, was filling her with such feelings of sadness. But before she could open her mouth the plains faded away leaving the six of them standing in the city once more. Uminari had returned to normal, or rather, it had returned to the barrier that Yuuno had set up. The town was empty but unscathed. There was no sign of the fire or destruction from the Jewel Seed.
Nanoha let out a breath of relief before looking up. Next to her, Shirou was lying on the ground unconscious but breathing. The burns had completely disappeared, along with the strange knives pushing out of his skin.
"Thank god." Nanoha smiled, relief flooding her body as she stared at the boy's sleeping face.
Nanoha froze, the skin of her neck tingling as the blazing yellow blade nuzzled against her barrier jacket. Arf had Yuuno pinned down and was watching the both of them. Nanoha slowly turned her head around, careful as not to cut herself onto the blade, only to find the girl looking down at the boy.
"....The Jewel Seed."
Nanoha blinked, before she realised that she hadn’t seen the lost logia appear after Fate had sealed it.
“Didn’t you seal it?”
“I did, but it didn’t detach itself.” The girl replied, her eyes closed as the girl seems to be weighing her options.
“That’s rather unsettling.” Kiritsugu’s voice suddenly interrupted, accompanied by a soft metal click as Fate suddenly found herself facing the metal barrel of the gun in his hand. “Now, please step away from the boy and leave your weapon next to him on the ground if you want to get out of this unharmed.”
“You want to get pounded into the ground old man!” Arf yelled before Kiritsugu glared, the sheer intent of his chilling gaze stopping the familiar in her tracks by instinct alone. Arf gritted her teeth as she realised that her hands had begun to tremble. This man wasn’t a fighter like herself or any of the other mages. This man was a predator, a killer.
She had clearly underestimated him.
“Your familiar said to me that I should have brought armor piercing bullets. With that in mind I’d like to warn you that this weapon has much more penetrating power than the one I used on her. You might manage to stop the bullet before it burrows through you but I doubt that at this range you’ll survive the force behind it.”
“Why...” Nanoha croaked, unable to believe what the man in front of her was saying. “something like that...”
If Kiritsugu heard Nanoha’s cry then he didn’t show it, cold eyes glaring at the confused blond who had taken a step back in confusion. It seemed that Fate didn’t really know if Kiritsugu was telling the truth but that Kiritsugu’s cold tone of voice alone was enough to make her hesitate.
“That’s a gun Kiritsugu-san!” Nanoha cried out. “ Why... You can’t just point it at her like that! Such a thing...”
“Right now this is the only option I have to protect both you and Shirou, as well as this city. Either this girl surrenders and hands over the jewel seeds or I’ll end this situation right now...”
“Stop her? But that’s a gun! Guns... guns kill people! That’s not something you can just do, you can’t kill people!”
“That’s enough for now Nanoha.” Kiritsugu snapped, cutting the girl off. “Please, take the device from that girl and help Yuuno get up.”
“...surrender the Jewel Seeds? Like we’d let you do that!” Arf snarled, slamming into Yuuno’s side before jumping in between Fate and the gun. Nanoha could only watch as Kiritsugu narrowed his eyes as his finger moved...
“...Old man?.... What's going on?”
He almost didn’t hear it. Shirou’s faint voice, almost a whisper, made Kiritsugu freeze, his trigger finger pausing just for a instant.
The next moment a gunshot echoed through the empty city as the bullet punched through the concrete.
The blond and her familiar had vanished before the weapon had been fired, saved by a single moment of hesitation.
“You shot...” Nanoha whimpered as she shook her head, the girl unable to believe what she had seen.
“I missed...” Kiritsugu spoke, his voice faint as he spoke in surprise, blankly staring at the gun until it fell out of his trembling hands. Moments later he followed the gun towards the ground as he collapsed right where he stood.
“Kiritsugu! Nanoha, please check on him. I’ll look at.... where’s Shirou?!” Yuuno looked up, finding no trace of his friend. “ Don’t tell me... they took him with them!?”
“Kiritsugu-san?” Nanoha shook the unconscious man. “Please wake up! You always knew what to do. What should we do!? Please!”
As the two children panicked, they slowly started to realise the truth. What had happened was nothing less than total defeat.
The Jewel seed was gone, and Shirou along with it