The City Endangered

 

The cool evening breeze was in his hair; and was all that lay beneath his feet for tens of meters. Shinji tried not to look or think about that.

There was something to distract him from the feeling that he should be plummetting to the ground below; but not the sort of distraction he would have ever wished for -- down the boulevard, the gangling shape of the thing that had marched past him, uncaring, a few hours before.

A voice crackled in his ear.

"Are you ready, Shinji-kun?" Misato speaking.

"Y-yes."

It wasn't as if there was any option.

"Shinji-kun," Ritsuko took over.

"Just think of controlling your flight now. You must learn to command your Device."

"But, I don't speak whatever language it is."

"It should understand your intention."

"Forwards," he suggested, hesitantly.

Slowly, in a wobbling movement, he drifted towards the creature. The initial uncertainty in his flight continued to build, all his attempts to keep to a straight line just too slow to keep control until a final spin left him tumbling on the ground, only the heavy material of his cloak and uniform keeping him from skid burns.

Stationary, he unwound himself, lifting himself on one arm and looking up.

He wished he hadn't.

Distantly aware of Misato's panicked voice, he stared up at the Angel that was reaching down with one its enormous hands.

Casually, it picked up not only him, but a patch of the road surface as well, and then he was flying again, in a smooth ballistic arc, one that intersected the glassy surface of one of the tower blocks. The slab of asphalt took out the plate glass before he could hit it, but he still slammed hard enough into floor and furniture to be winded, and he could only watch as the Angel tore away the face of the building.

It held out the palm of one hand, where blue light gathered.


The main topic of conversation at the impromptu late night supper in the Takamachi household was an obvious result of Nanoha's escapades -- what to do about someone's lost pet ferret, while waiting for the owner to answer an advertisement.

Nanoha's initial trepidation was soon overcome. Yuuno-kun was an immense hit with her mother and her older sister; and that fact alone was enough to pre-empt any objections from her father.

In fact, Yuuno's presence was a welcome distraction from the details of what she had actually been doing during the long hours into the evening while everyone had been waiting anxiously in the shelters. Being caught away from home and in another shelter, and then walking back home after the all clear was all entirely plausible; so she didn't actually have to tell any outright fibs. So long as she didn't mention the exact time that she had been walking back through the park, harmlessly mistaken conclusions could be drawn.

So while Yuuno was being fussed over, she could sit and quietly work her way through the spread that her mother had put together; then, when so full she could not take another mouthful, she collected the ferret, and headed off to bed.

A small basket, lined with a piece of old blanket together made a ferret-sized nest, which Yuuno curled up into, while she changed into her pyjamas.

"Goodnight, Yuuno. Goodnight, Raging Heart.", she said as she climbed into bed.

"Goodnight, Nanoha," Yuuno uncoiled and looked at her, before burrowing back. And from the red jewel on her bedside table, the faintest pulse of energy.

With a contented sign, she pulled the bedclothes over her. This had been a good day.


In the hour of the wolf, Shinji snapped awake in a cold sweat. Whatever night terror it had been, retreated into the formless depths below consciousness.

He was in a room he had never seen before; furnished as a hospital ward.

In the background, the sound of a radio, tuned to some early morning exercise drill lent the scene a bizarre familiarity.

So this was his new life.

His brain raced, futile thoughts buzzing through his head, keeping sleep at bay.

After what seemed like forever, the dim night-time lighting gave way to the first grey light of dawn.

Impelled to move, he clambered out of the bed, opened the door, and found himself in a long corridor, the windows looking out onto parkland. Even at the early hour, the heat was already enough to waken the cicadas into tentative song, and their trilling driving out thought.

A sound slowly emerging from the background caught his attention, footsteps, and the squeaking of wheels, a bed being wheeled along the corridor.

Apart from slightly trimming her course, the nurse propelling it paid him no heed, carrying steadily past, as he looked at the occupant of the bed -- the girl he had seen last night, now wearing a hospital robe, but still looking as frail. Only her one visible eye moved, to look at him as she moved past. The expression on her face was nothing he could read.


As the morning wore on, recovery teams began the work of clearing the debris from the streets of Tokyo-3.

And in a dark and hidden place, Gendo Ikari was clearing his own path of some of the other fallout from the previous night.

The Committee's attempts to tell him how to do his job, he let wash past him. Let them worry about the fictions of their accounts. Let them jeer at his passing the Lævateinn to his son.

"Next time, Ikari-kun, endeavour to recover the Jewel Seed intact, otherwise all this expenditure will have gone to waste."

"And that is not your only responsibility. The Enlightenment Project. That should be your highest priority."

At last. This would be about the only exchange that would justify the time spent in this charade.

"Precisely. Under these desperate circumstances, that project is our one and only hope."

The meeting moved on. The Committee moved to the next item on their agenda, their images vanishing from this meeting room.

Only the chairman remained, squatting like a toad at the far end of the virtual table.

"Ikari. There is no turning back," he said, in a tone that might have been meant to be avuncular, before vanishing.

Now, he could resume his real work. He picked up the phone.

"Infirmary? This is Ikari." pause "I shall be visiting to check on Miss Testarossa's condition."


Evening at last. Another day, another new bed. Another ceiling to stare at, and hope for sleep to come; that little escape from the world, and the responsibilities that it was thrusting upon him. Misato. His father. And that girl, Fate. And the other one.

The familiar music failed to quiet his racing thoughts.

The other one.

The one in white.

Who was she?


Sitting on the edge of her bed, the Raging Heart cupped in her hands, Nanoha concentrated.

Unobserved, a circle of pink light expanded about her feet, swirling, reaching out, fading in intensity as it grew.

"Nothing," she said, after a while.

"That means that none of the other Jewel Seeds are active yet. We might find one if we stumbled upon it. Until then, we just have to wait."

She felt rather let down. Last night had been ... exhilarating. As if it were what she had been waiting all her life to do.

But that boy...


The evening breeze was cool in her hair, as she stood atop one of the towers of Tokyo-3, watching the giant approach the city.

"You must get close enough to be able to seal the Jewel Seed."

She pondered. This magic should be able to...

"Flier fin."

Winged heels. So that was how it worked.

She launched herself towards the remote figure, watching to see if it would react.

And react it did.

Fierce light gathered before it, the blue of an arc lamp, which it then spat at her.

From such a distance, what started as a mere spark blossomed, larger and larger, but slowly enough that she could evade with ease. Evade that, and the next two that followed it, though even their passage snatched and twisted at her magic.

She pondered a moment. Being a magical girl didn't seem to mean that she could get away without sound tactical planning. Well, that was one thing that she had picked up from watching the rest of her family at their swordplay.

"I'm not going to be able to get close enough like this. It's still coming this way. We can wait until it's here in the city, and then I should be able to ambush it."


"Shinji! Shinji!"

Misato's voice crackling in his ear sounded desperate.

"Command your device -- 'Cartridge Load!"

"Huh? OK. ... Lævateinn, cartridge load!"

A mechanism near the hilt cycled, spitting brass, and a stink of sulphur.

"Explosion!", it announced in a self-satisfied sounding tone, then "Gepanzerte Festung!"

A dome of lilac light blazed around him, just as the giant figure above him unleashed its fury. A shaft of blue light like an arc-lamp pounded at the globe, like God knocking and demanding to be let in. Around him, half hidden in the blaze of energies, concrete and steel failed under the assault, crashing in waves off the barrier, and then he was flying again, the disk of floor under his feet loosed from the tower that was now collapsing like a house of cards.

A few brief seconds of near free-fall, then impact, bouncing and rolling, until his little sanctuary fetched up against another building, and the barrier flickered, and went out.


"Now, Nanoha."

The Jewel Seed creature had paused, looking at the remains of the building it had demolished.

"While it is distracted, we can seal it. Now, speak the incantation that comes into your mind, to focus your magic."

"O.. Okay."

She paused, contemplating then...

"Lyrical! Magical! Jewel Seed, Seal!"

"Sealing Mode. Set up."

Fins of light eruped from near the crook of the Raging Heart.

"Jewel Seed, serial XII..." she began, and a ribbon of light sprang forth towards her target.


Beneath the level of conscious thought, Shinji reacted.

As he lay sprawled in the rubble, he was vaguely aware of Misato talking off-mike -- "We have to abort the mission. Prepare the First for emergency recovery!"

He had had a bad day, and he was going to spread the grief around. Using the Lævateinn as a prop, he hauled himself to his feet. Without word or even explicit intent, he cycled the mechanism twice.

"Blitzschlag!"

Eerie purple energies crackled along the blade and he launched himself at the tormenting figure above, and the blue globe that looked like its heart.

"The Third Child is amok!"

Howling with rage, he swung his blade, only to be deflected at the last instant by a whirling blue octagram.

"It's no use!! As long as that A.T. Field is up…"

Back and forth, swinging, chopping at the barrier for all he was worth, he began to drive the Angel back, stumbling into and through the buildings.


Nanoha's first strike passed the creature by, as it retreated under this sudden onslaught, out of sight behind another building. Now, at least, it was completely distracted, she had no need to hide herself behind the blocks. Soaring into the air, she took up station above and behind the creature as it made its slow retreat.

Many ribbons of pink light poured from her staff, winding themselves about the creature.

"Stand by. Ready."

"Lyrical Magical! Jewel Seed, serial XII... Seal!"

The number blazed on the creature's brow.

"Sealing."

Gouts of energy spurted from between the tightening ribbons, and then, in a cruciform blaze of light, it evaporated, leaving a small blue spark drifting downwards.

She swooped towards it.

"That is a Jewel Seed. Now we can capture it."

As she approached, it was drawn as if by magnetism towards the Raging Heart.

"Receipt Number XII." it announced, as the red globe swallowed the blue crystal.

With a feeling almost of anti-climax, it was over.

She looked for the other, the one who had attacked the creature while she had first tried to seal it, but there was no sign.

So, she had done her part. Time to leave before she had to explain anything.


Howling with inarticulate rage, Shinji pounded against the blue design, feeling it begin to crack.

And then light. Too much, too bright, as if the creature were bleeding like a sun.

He felt the Lævateinn put up a barrier, seeming like the silhouette of a figure hardly visible against the glare. Some long-forgotten reassurance seemed to fill him as he flew backwards, into darkness.


He awoke from recollection, of what he had done just a day before, brought to the present by the screen door sliding open.

"You did a very praiseworthy thing, Shinji. You should be proud of yourself. Sleep well."

As if he could.


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