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The Interstellar Medium
Join Date: May 2008
A bit... longer than I planned :x
Still. IT'S ON NOW.
The Unforgiving II
The deafening noise stopped abruptly as the pod slammed into the earth. The shock absorbers built into her suit and her pod helped against the instant halt from terminal velocity, but it still rattled her teeth, making her jaw hurt. A second later the walls of the pod flew off and she burst out of it, Raising Heart at the ready. Teana had landed next to her and waited with Cross Mirage in one hand, a serious expression clouding her face. Other pods landed shortly afterwards, one by one, walls flying off and landing in the mud. Rain soon covered the metal pieces as it fell with massive drops, drenching the mages as well. The rain and wind wasn’t so cold that it annoyed her, but she could still feel a chill on her cheek the longer she exposed herself.
“Teana,” Nanoha said, approaching her. Since her hearing had returned to normal after the drop, she could now hear fighting close by. It seemed to come from over a ridge. “Scout ahead and report back. The rest of you,” she said and turned as they approached, “wait here for my command.”
“Understood,” Teana said and disappeared right in front of Nanoha. The active camouflage the engineers had modified to work more effectively together with her Optic Hide worked perfectly. Her suit, as Signum’s, was customized to make the most out of her skills; lighter and tighter, it gave her far more agility while sacrificing protection. She wasn’t meant to receive damage, though she still had her basic shield. The suit itself stuck to her skin like a second layer, similar to what the Numbers had once worn.
The only clue to her existence now was the splash of water as she traversed the fields.
Nanoha faced the others. All of them had a small shield over their heads to protect them from the rain. “Once Teana gives the all-clear we fly to the nearest battle and support them. Once we’ve pushed the enemy back, we start moving towards the next objective; Cranagan. We will start our search there.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
Then the wait began. They lunged around in the rain, observing their surroundings while chatting amongst each other. From what Nanoha remembered they stood in a field that had once bloomed with seeds meant for bread, one of the larger corporate farms outside Cranagan. Now all that remained was mud for as far as she could see. The rain secluded the mountains to the East and though she should have been able to see the skyscrapers of Cranagan to the West, all she saw was the rain and grey fog. The closest building she could see was the farm’s, and that had been razed to the ground. It had stopped burning a long time ago.
“Yuuno,” she said and waved him over. He walked over to her, almost slipping on the mud. Behind him, Vita lost another round of rock-paper-scissors to Vivio, throwing a fit about it. “The Absolution. Have you come up with anything else?”
He shook his head. “We don’t have enough data, Nanoha. Beyond what you already know, we’ve discovered from the initial strike that their purpose for coming here has a religious connection. Other than that…” He shrugged.
“They view us as heretics, or something similar judging from what we’ve been able to decipher. We are, in their words; ‘to be brought in front of God to answer for our sins’.”
“It’s not even our God. If it exists. What sins are they babbling about? It doesn’t make any sense.”
“We don’t know that yet.”
She bit her lip and grimaced. She wanted something concrete to direct her anger towards, a reason she could understand. Philosophical mumbojumbo was not her forté. “What about Aeon-bombs? Any news on that?”
“Do you remember a lecture a long time ago regarding Earth’s arsenal?” Yuuno said.
“Somewhat.” She giggled, allowing a smile. “I wasn’t really paying attention that time, Yuuno. I think I was busy thinking about a new spell or something…”
He sighed, rubbing his forehead. “How expected of you. Anyway, these Aeon bombs have similarities to hydrogen bombs when it comes to yield. It’s one of the most powerful weapons ever developed.”
“Oh, hydrogen bombs… Yeah, I know about those. We did have history lessons in Japan, you know.”
He raised an eyebrow and thought for a moment before realizing what she meant. “Oh, right. Sorry. Anyway, these Aeon bombs are similar to Arc-en-Ciel in a way. The Arc is a bit stronger, but there is a vital difference. That difference is why the Aeon is so much more dangerous.”
“And that is?”
“The Aeon is small enough to fit in a backpack.” He looked up towards the sky. “And since the Absolution uses androids as a majority of their fighting force…”
“Every one of them may carry an Aeon bomb since they can be sacrificed,” Nanoha finished for him. She groaned, closing her eyes. “What are we supposed to do about that?”
“Two things,” Yuuno said. “First, we can detect them from a long distance. It may give us the edge to escape the yield. All of your devices have been upgraded with that functionality. Secondly, judging from how little it is used relative to its size, they might not have that many of them.”
“Still, those aren’t good odds.”
“No, I suppose they aren’t.” He sighed, scratching his head. “If we combine our shields we might be able to create one strong enough to withstand the shockwave, though. A last hope, you could say, in case we get cornered.”
Nanoha nodded, saying nothing. Instead she clasped Yuuno’s hand, looking him deep in the eye. He looked back, surprised, and then smiled. He was more to her than a mentor and friend, she knew that. Nevertheless, she had lost sight of him in the past for whatever reason. Now that the world had become like this, she was determined not to do it again. She would save him. She would save Fate.
She would save them all even if she had to walk towards the end of the world.
“Please be careful,” she whispered. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose you.”
He nodded, squeezing her hand. “I promise.”
“Nanoha.” Teana’s voice interrupted the moment. It came from her headset with just a hint of static. “There is a battle on-going to the North. No anti-air is deployed and they seem distracted by our allied forces for the time being.”
“How are they holding up?” Nanoha asked, letting go of Yuuno’s hand.
“Outnumbered, but they are holding for now.” A pause. “Shit. You have to hurry. I see several tanks coming in. They will overrun their position.”
“Then we move.” She turned to the others. They had all become alert from her exchange with Teana and were now facing her. “Everyone, go!”
Streaks of light appeared as they all shot into the sky. Since Teana was the only one without the capability of flight, she would remain on the ground and provide intel in case something happened. It allowed Nanoha to focus on the battle at hand, which she could now see in front of her through the rain thanks to her high altitude. The first thing she noticed was the gunfire cutting through the air, bright lines appearing for the fraction of a second over and over. There hundreds of them, both allies and hostiles, the latter getting closer to the former.
“Zafira, Yuuno. Veer off to support our allies. Signum, Vita, Vivio, on me. Let’s break through.”
The six broke into four and two, turning in opposite directions. Nanoha opted for a higher path than the rest as she prepared for air-to-ground support. Signum and Vita went lower, almost touching the ground, as they aimed for the middle of the enemy. Vivio remained between them in case she needed to support either of them. She would be on stand-by until that moment, just as they had trained.
, Raising Heart said and locked onto the tanks in the distance Teana had reported. Ten of them moved through the mud, their treads kicking up dirt as they moved. They were hard to see in the rain since they had the same color as the ground and had a low profile.
[Loading parameters. Core synchronization starting.]
Nanoha glanced at Signum and Vita as they arrived at their position, slamming into the androids that walked close to one another. Chains of fire cut them in half in an eye blink while Graf Eisen proceeded to smash them into metallic dust. Concentrated gunfire rained down upon the two within a few seconds, causing their shields to flicker as they moved back to back, spinning around wrecking havoc. A few shots pierced through eventually, but only glanced off their armor. It would take more than that to bring the two heavy-hitters down, especially when it came to Vita. Her armor was the strongest of them all, almost encasing her inside it, and together with her small build she was even harder to hit.
[Target locked, ready.]
A scope materialized on Raising Heart’s handle and Nanoha peered into it, targeting reticules appearing over five of the ten tanks. White light started to gather behind her together with a constantly rising noise. Raising Heart began to hum as magical energy began to accumulate. The shaft vibrated in her hands and she had to tighten her grip to hold it in place.
“Divine Buster Extension Repeat!”
One second separated each of the beams that shot out from the device. They soared one after another through the rain, making it fizzle, leaving a trail of steam behind them, before they hit the tanks. The energy beam pierced their armor, melting it, and proceeded to burrow through the entire tank until it reached the ground. Each of the tanks burst into flames as their fuel and ammo deposits ignited. The explosions that followed created shockwaves that threw the rain away for a moment before it started to fall again.
“Five to go,” she mumbled as cannon fire graced her shield. She dodged with ease as the remaining tanks had stopped and now fired at her with their main cannons. While their combined firepower would destroy anything the TSAB could throw at them on the ground, they were too slow to track a small, moving target. Dodging them wasn’t a problem as long as they didn’t get reinforcements.
[Target locked, ready.]
Nanoha fired again. The remaining five tanks were destroyed in a mixture of fire, energy and mud. “Armor destroyed,” she relayed to the others. “You don’t have to worry about them anymore—“
“Nanoha!” Teana’s voice. She sounded frantic. “Incoming Wraths from the South!”
Wraths; agile and fast air fighters that looked like malformed hawks. With two pointy wings angled backwards, their shape was thin and slim. She turned and peered into the distance, but she couldn’t see them yet thanks to the fog. “Vivio, I need some backup on this one.”
Nanoha aligned Raising Heart towards where she thought the Wraths were coming from based on Teana’s last report. She analyzed the situation in her head, but without knowing their numbers there wasn’t much she could do. Starlight Breaker was an alternative, but the magical debris around her wasn’t enough. Besides, if she missed just a few they would have a free shot at the ordinary troops.
If they just weren’t so damn quick,
we could take them out before they get too close.
As it was, the Wraths would outrun them if they fled, and dodge any long range attacks. She’d never seen machines that fast before.
“Mom.” Vivio arrived beside her, punching her clenched fists together, wearing a grin. “I’m ready.”
Nanoha grinned back at her. Even amongst all this destruction, her daughter remained how she always was; eager for a fight, ready to go. She hadn’t changed at all since the days of the invasion.
“Wraths visible,” Teana reported. “There are…
twenty of them?
Nanoha’s grin froze. The most she had fought at once was seven. But twenty of them? They needed help. A lot of it. “Vita. Think you can handle those androids by yourself?”
The short girl laughed, noises of war in the background. “What do you take me for, Nanoha? Of course I can take care of these scraps of metal. Signum, go.”
Nanoha looked down to see a pink streak of light moving up towards her, leaving Vita behind. With the chains of fire gone, all that remained was the hammer. Not that it mattered; the androids clumped together even more now and Graf Eisen dispatched of them with swift, powerful strikes. If anything, Vita seemed to grow more effective when she didn’t have to think about Signum being in the way for the wall of steel. Jet fire grew brighter from Graf Eisen, accelerating the device and its master into a whirlstorm of crushing death. Metal limbs and electronics flew in all directions as she rampaged through them.
“That girl,” Nanoha muttered. “She’s still amazing.”
When Signum arrived she positioned herself in front of Nanoha, Vivio remaining by Nanoha’s side. It was a classic triad position, meant to protect the ranged mage at the back. It wouldn’t be very effective against Wraths, but she hoped it would buy them some time. They needed it.
The Wraths appeared from the clouds, bearing down upon them.
“Here they come!”
Nanoha and Vivio opened fire immediately, the former opting for Axel Shooter while the latter fired off her modified Divine Buster. The Axel beams intersected, spinning around their own axis, before spreading out and piercing three of the Wraths before they had the chance to retaliate. The larger and more powerful Divine Buster beam missed most of its targets as they dodged, but still managed to grace two more Wraths that fell out of the sky, smoke bellowing out from the fuselage.
A few seconds later, after Vivio managed another Divine Buster since it had such a short recharge time, the Wraths were already upon them. Signum raised Laevatein above her head and extended him again, casting Schlangebeißen. The sword disengaged from itself into several parts and rammed the incoming Wraths, hooking them onto the sharp parts. With a quick move of her arm she intended to slam them into the rest of their comrades, but they avoided her before she could do it.
All of the Wraths that had survived so far closed the distance and unleashed their weapons, focusing only on Signum. She became covered in gunfire and smoke for a second or two, before they veered off and prepared for another run. When the smoke cleared Nanoha drew a sharp breath; Signum’s armor was scarred and dented. Her shield seemed to have failed, too, because there was blood dripping from a deep gash on her cheek. She was breathing heavily, Laevatein hanging by her side.
“Signum, are you alright?” she asked, contemplating breaking formation to support her.
Signum looked at her over her shoulder and rustled herself. “I’m fine. Continue the assault.”
Nanoha nodded back and turned to face the Wraths. This time they fired from afar, aiming for Vivio and herself. Some of the shots flew wide, but others hit where they were supposed to. Their shields absorbed them with ease. When the Wraths didn’t focus their fire, there wasn’t much to worry about. The danger was when they did, as they had done with Signum.
They continued to fire as they came closer, Nanoha responding with several Axel Shooters. Vivio started to glow as she gathered magical energy into her fists and then flew straight at the Wraths, dodging their fire. She got close to one of them and smashed it into pieces with one solid hit. She used the momentum to reach another before they veered off again. Debris fell from the sky, down on the forces beneath them.
“Just a few to go,” Vivio said, not showing any signs of fatigue.
The remaining Wraths put a far amount of distance between, which surprised Nanoha. That was different behavior from before; usually they would continue their assault until they or their enemy was destroyed. This was something else.
“What are they doing?” Signum asked, touching the wound on her cheek. She grimaced, but hid the pain after that.
“I don’t know,” Nanoha said. “Prepare for anything.”
The Wraths seemed to wait for something. Eventually they started to clump together, almost hooking their wings into each other to form a larger Wrath.
“What in the world…” Vivio whispered.
From each point of their wings, bright orbs began to glow. Lines started to form between each orb, culminating in the center ahead of the Wraths. The air around them began to warp, as if heat were rising from them. The rain seemed to bend around their hulls as well, creating a weird illusion.
“Is that a new weapon?” Signum asked.
“No idea,” Nanoha said, peering at the Wraths, “but we should gain some dis—“
The Wraths fired. A thick, white beam with a few smaller beams orbiting around it flew towards the trio that scattered before the beams reached them. The beams blew past them at a high speed, heading straight for the TSAB troops on the ground. They left a roaring wake of steam and crackling thunder in the air behind them.
“That was their plan? Shit! I’m mad now,” Vivio said, slamming her fists together again.
Nanoha felt helpless as the beam washed over the allied forces, annihilating them in less than a second. Compared to the magical beams of her own, Absolution weaponry was a mix of ordinary projectiles and energy beams… which meant they couldn’t pacify, only kill. She didn’t know how it felt to be hit by one of those beams, but judging from the scorched earth and burned armor that remained from the soldiers she didn’t want to find out.
It enraged her all the same. The Wraths disengaged from one another, but remained packed together as they picked up speed.
“I’ll settle this now,” she murmured and Raising Heart began to grow, adding modules. Light began to gather from the skies, magical remnants being absorbed. She had to use it before they dispersed. She wouldn’t get this chance again. The noise of fighting from below urged her on.
The Wraths seemed to sense something was happening. Signum and Vivio nodded to each other and split up, flying in a wide arc towards them. They wouldn’t get in the way as they intended to force the Wraths back together, closing any possible escape routes.
Whiteness. The beam covered the sky, an arc widening to encompass almost everything in front of her. Rain evaporated and the air bent around it as it pierced the heavens, leaving a deep rumble that rolled across the landscape for several miles. The Wraths exploded in puffs of smoke and fire, falling down to the earth, ruined and battered. A single one that had escaped the slaughter limped away with a broken wing, but Vivio finished it off with a fist, forcing it to crash into the mud and breaking into pieces.
Nanoha caught her breath, feeling victorious. That was that, the battle would be theirs now. She felt relieved, calm, as magic dust fell like snow all around her.
“Nanoha, we have trouble,” Yuuno said. His usual calmness was gone, ice filling his voice. What could it possibly be now? The area wasn’t so important, so why did the Absolution throw everything they had at them right now? They needed a break.
She groaned, brushing away a strand of hair on her sweaty brow, and collected herself. “What now? What do they throw at us this time?”
“We have to run.” He paused. “Check your devices.”
“Raising Heart?” she said, looking down.
[Aeon Bomb detected,]
her device said flatly.
[Advise gaining range.]
She grew cold, staring at the device. “They aren’t…” She grit her teeth. “But the rest of our forces! They won’t get away in time.”
“Neither will we if we don’t move now,” Vivio said. “There is nothing we can do. We can’t project a shield large enough. Damnit!”
“How could it get so fucking close without us knowing?” she snapped at Yuuno before she caught herself. Shame swept over her. She never spoke like that. What in the world was happening… “Sorry, I didn’t…”
“It’s okay.” He sighed. “The detection system still needs work. That’s why.”
“We must move now,” Signum said.
Nanoha nodded, forcing herself to realize the truth. She couldn’t save them; they were already doomed. All that remained was—
She’d forgotten. Teana.
“Teana, where are you right now?” she shouted over the comms. That brought the rest of her squad into panicked attention. How could she have forgotten about one of her own? Insanity. She had never done that before.
“To the South, moving towards the forest,” Teana replied. Nanoha looked in that direction. It was a fair distance, but not enough to escape the blast radius. “Don’t worry about me, I can—“
“Keep running, I’m coming to get you!” She disconnected, refusing to hear any arguments from Teana. “Signum, take the rest and move away. I’ll be fine.”
Pleading eyes from Vivio made her pause and she felt herself smile. “Don’t worry, Vivio. This is nothing.”
With that said, she shot away towards Teana. She let Raising Heart dissolve into its pendant and erected a shield in front of her, using it to redirect the airflow. While she was faster than most other mages, she had to increase her speed before the Aeon detonated. The raindrops shattered against her shield, leaving small whirlpools in her wake.
“Boosters, ready,” she murmured. She hadn’t used them to their full extent until now. She had only used them for fast maneuvering before so she didn’t know how powerful they were over longer distances. She felt the boosters on her ankles deploy their jet exhausts and a low wheezing noise reached her ears as they started to spin up.
The wind that had been so loud before became a deafening roar. She went deaf as the boosters activated and a white glare from behind her illuminated the sky all around her. That froze her to the core, because the boosters didn’t give off much light. Which meant…
She pushed them to their maximum. She saw Teana down below, at the edge of the forest, still running. Teana tossed a glance over her shoulder, spotting Nanoha, then the Aeon’s shockwave rushing towards her. Her eyes widened in shock and she pushed herself harder.
I have to make it
, Nanoha thought.
I can make it. It’s still possible. I have to… go faster…
Five seconds at the most remained until the shockwave would catch up. She could already feel the searing heat behind her, scorching the tip of her boots. She dove, gaining a little more speed, and aligned herself with ground, flying just a few centimeters above it. Mud was flung aside and strands of grass were ripped up with their roots as she passed. She had no idea how fast she was going.
She found she didn’t care.
“Teana!” Her words were drenched out by the chaos around her. The shockwave lay like a massive wall behind her and her skin frizzled from the heat mixed with energy. Just a little more. Two seconds; that was all she needed.
Teana stumbled just as Nanoha caught her in her arms.
The beast caught up to them.
“What do you mean, you lost them?” She turned to Mariam, eyes wide with shock and anger. “This can’t be happening!”
Mariam wrote furiously on her keyboard. She didn’t seem affected by the situation and kept her cool, though her eyes darted back and forth as if possessed. “The detonation wrecked havoc with our sensors. The frequency is all messed up. We have to wait until it clears to be certain.”
No. No! It can’t be, not now,
Hayate thought, turning back to her console. She tried to regain control of her emotions. She had to remain calm until they knew for certain. Yes. That’s what she had to do. Not panic like a little girl. She had been through worse than this.
Of course she had. All the stress and loss that had collected itself in the past few days came crashing down onto her shoulders, trying to crush her. She wouldn’t let it. She would remain standing because she was still needed. Nanoha wouldn’t die from that. None of them would.
“Commander,” one of the navigators said, “
Hayate turned her attention to her screen and looked at the flagship of their defense fleet. Their orbit completed, they’d reached the rendezvous. It was a little larger than the rest of the warships, having been fitted with more armor than usual. It seemed bulkier, as if it had more muscle; a new concept, developed before the Absolution had arrived, and it had worked out well so far.
“Commander!” Same navigator, but her voice had changed into panic. That was never a good sign. “Several new signatures just appeared over the north-pole. The Absolution fleet has returned!”
We really don’t need this, Hayate thought and prepared her mind for battle. They just couldn’t catch a break. “Man all stations. Raise alert to highest. Prepare for battle.”
turned, slowly, to face the new arrivals. So did the rest of the fleet as they, too, had discovered the threat. The Absolution fleet was already within engagement range and data flooded across her screen. The only reason the fleet hadn't fired was because they were still recharging their man drives.
The TSAB fleet had the upper hand, for now.
“Target the closest battlecruiser,” Hayate said, not bothering to wait for the rest of the fleet to call targets. “Once that is down, focus on the smaller ships. We can’t let them close this range.” She paused, looking at her screen. “Use everything we can afford to fire. Now!”
The Warship shuddered as it unleashed its full firepower. Hundreds of beams emerged from its hull and rushed across the emptiness of space towards the hostile fleet. Soon the rest of the warships were firing, coloring everything in white and yellow; rainbows of pure destruction. She couldn't even begin to count the amount of beams fired as the warships prepared to fire again, creating a lull in the volleys. The magical drives required a few seconds of recharge for each volley.
Not that it mattered. The poor ship that had been selected as the primary target became engulfed in energy that proceeded to rip it apart down to its bare molecules. It broke apart at the middle, its superstructure rupturing. Flames were suffocated as soon as they appeared and the remnants collided with the ships closest to it. They had all emerged way too close to each other; either brought on by a navigational error, or, as Hayate suspected, limitations with their jump drives. The ships that were bumped spiraled out of control in various directions.
Yet despite their inferiority in navigation, once their drives came online Hayate wouldn’t stand much of a chance unless they could lessen their numbers before that happened.
“Second volley firing,” the navigator said.
Another shudder, more beams. Each of them homed in on a ship of their own, destroying them as soon as they touched their shields. Flowers of destruction appeared over the planet as they all exploded simultaneously. The smaller ships didn’t have much in terms of defenses and the beams were too large to easily dodge.
“Thirty-two fighters down, Commander,” Mariam said. “However, the rest of the hostile fleet is preparing a counter attack.”
Hayate glanced at the screen and saw the Absolution starting to move away from each other, forming up in formation. Their weapons lined up to point towards the main allied fleet. “Shit. We’ve run out of time. Target the—“
The words stuck in her throat as a new Absolution ship emerged from warp, one she had never seen before. It dwarfed the other ships, towering above them. Gasps and murmurs made their way through Hayate’s crew. It was much wider than the other ships, almost as flat as a disc. A normal Absolution ship had a rectangular shape, which made this one even weirder. The ship’s middle had small open ports all around it and something was extending from them; weapons. Large ones.
Hayate stood as if rooted to the floor, staring at the behemoth. Only Mariam retained her cool, though she also hesitated slightly.
“Judging from our data it may be an Absolution Dreadnaught, Commander. Compared to all other ships in the enemy fleet, it has identified itself with a name.”
“And that is?”
“It is being translated now,” Mariam said, falling quiet. She stared at the screen as light began to form around the dreadnaught, gathering at a location on the disc that pointed towards the allied fleet. Hayate noticed it, too, and ice raced up her spine. This wasn’t good. She had to give an order, anything, but her mind was blank. They were too slow. What could they possibly do now?
“Well?” she asked.
…” Mariam whispered.
The behemoth called the
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