2018-05-30 - What They Have To Lose

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Title: What They Have To Lose

Vita has rapidly recovered strength and magic both under the care of some of her fiercest enemies. But that same kindness touches her rawest nerve...


Fate Testarossa, Vita, Signum, Lera Camry


The Harlaown Household.

OOC - IC Date:

2018-05-30 - 2015-04-21

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Sometimes it's the simplest things...

Like a framed photograph of a happy family that's at just the right angle from the couch that anyone can see it upon waking up.

A family at the beach on a vacation. It could be anywhere - Earth - Midchilda. Probably a hundred other worlds even. Blue sky. White sands.

The woman in the picture is the same one that was standing atop the building that night - only a good ten years younger. Aquamarine hair bound in a ponytail and a bindi tattoo on her forehead, a toddler propped up on her hip that looks like a young version of the man standing beside her.

The kid looks grumpy even back then. But the two adults certainly look happy.

Oh also there's a familiar orange puppy sleeping at the foot of the couch.

When did she get here!?

She's no Cataractian battledoge, but she's certainly cute the way she's nuzzling the cushions by Vita's feet as she sleeps.

On the bedside table is a note resting atop a folded set of clothes which say quite simply: 'Don't overdo it - but make yourself at home. Bathroom is right behind the couch.' 'P.S. The fridge is well-stocked.' 'P.P.S. We had to guess at your size so they're probably a little large.'

By the angle of the sun coming through the window it's... mid-afternoon? Probably.

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Shortly thereafter, it was many hours later.

The redhead, one of her pigtails knocked free in a fight and the other by a rowdy turn in the night, wobbles upright, bleery-eyed. She mumbles, rubbing at her eye with a knuckle. The warmth at her feet surprises her - Zafira isn't so friendly as that with her - until she briefly looks around the room. Remembers.

There's no shock of panic, other than the dull, clawing feeling that she shouldn't be here, she has to be out there. But Shamal was insistent and Vita can already tell she's healing. Good.

She shifts to roll off, but finds her eyes captured by the note on the table. She picks that up, processes it. These people are so kind she'd once have thought it a sham. Now she knows these are merely shadows of true kindness. Note assessed, next the real object of her curiosity: That picture.

She picks it up. The woman from last night, she remembers, and dully recalls another night - a battle. Her. There was something...something personal about her and them, wasn't there? By now just about every magical girl and ally in Tokyo had a personal beef with the Cloud Knights.

Still, her lips crook as she looks at it. She thinks she remembers a young man about the right age relative to this picture. But has she seen the adult man yet...? Something about that...

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

There's no sign that he's living here certainly. Who could he be?

But such thoughts may be interrupted as all of a sudden the latch turns on the apartment door. Which comes open a moment later as a girl in the Infinity Elementary School uniform walks in - her blonde twintails more passingly familiar even than the woman in the picture. She's carrying a Midori-ya to-go box almost reverently, a schoolbag hiked up over her shoulder.

Her eyes light up upon seeing the other girl. "Oh - Vita - you're up! I almost wondered if you'd still be out of it when I got home - given how soundly you were sleeping this morning. We were trying hard to keep quiet so we wouldn't disturb you."

She hasn't yet seen what Vita is looking at - especially from this angle. Depending on what the other girl does she might not catch wind of it at all

Toeing off her shoes, she keeps walking into the house on her socks and puts the pink cardboard box down on the table. "I brought this for us to share. Cake always makes me feel better when I'm not feeling well. And besides - we never got to go to the Midoriya together with Chibi-Usa." She opens the lid - revealing that it's actually an assortment of several kinds of cake slices put arranged together to look like one singular composite cake, with several plastic forks within the box, "Hopefully you have a big appetite."

Propping up her bookbag against the couch, she seats herself down. "How are you doing? Lera told me you were..." There's some hesitation there - but then she lays it out, "...attacked?"

She sounds worried, but she doesn't expect anything untoward - especially not supernaturally. She just thinks that maybe Vita was being bullied and they went too far.

She knows all about people going too far...

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

The latch turns and Vita looks up. She sets the picture down shortly after. "Uh, yeah," she says, a little gruff, a little quiet. Talking to people her own age always puts her off, somehow. Less familiar experiences than the adults she knows. And they don't have the freebie card of Being Hayate.

She slips back to where she'd been sleeping. She keeps standing despite Fate approaching, hand going to her shoulder to roll it. "I only just got up," she admits.

And then: Delights. She doesn't realize the irony of going wide-eyed with excitement at candy so soon after thinking to herself how unlike a child she is. "We'll probably manage!" she says excitedly.

But before she can descend upon the cake kingdom like a terrible scourge, Fate prompts her. "...something like that," Vita mutters. An attack occurred, definitely. She sits back down where she started, grimacing a little. "I'll be fine soon, probably," she says. Lera healed her with a Storage Device, so it's not...unreasonable that she looks basically fine right now...

A little more data might tell a different story, but as it turns out, if anybody was taking it, it hasn't come up.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Arf meanwhile - unlike how you might expect a dog to react does not even move from her spot. Until Fate puts down the cake. Then her nose starts to twitch - sniffing in her sleep.

Fate starts to idly scritch her ears and her tail starts to wag slowly like she's getting her motor running as she nuzzles Fate's thigh.

Some Guard Dog she is!

<<Is that for me?>>

<<Sorry - but with Vita here you can't have any in front of her.>>

<<Come on - her knowledge of dogs is 'such doge' - 'so wow' - she won't know any better!>

<<I'll make it up to you later.>>

<<Meannnn Feito-!>>

Fate just is all smiles at Vita's excitement, but becomes more subdued when she talks about 'something like that.' She can understand why someone would not want to talk about their situation - "Things can sometimes just get so complicated that it feels like noone can understand. Sometimes it feels that way for me at least. So if you don't want to talk about it. You don't have to."

With a nod instead, she picks up her fork. "We can just keep things simple and enjoy eating cake together. Do you have a favorite? The Takamachis packaged me up all kinds so we could figure out which one you liked the best."

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Vita cannot sense this conversation, but with her situational awareness kicking in she begins to suspect something of the kind is occurring. Talking about their unexpected guest...if she's lucky, they still don't know. Surely they'd have put her in some prison, or thrown her to the Tuners, or something of that kind, if they did.

These ruminations distract her from saying much more. "I just...don't think there's much else to say," Vita mutters, eyeing Arf briefly before her attention is recaptured by cake. "I got hurt, is all." From Lera's and Lindy's description, it was a bit worse than 'got hurt'. She looked like she'd been smashed up proper. And possibly set on fire. And knocked entirely unconscious and left in the street. She seems fine now, though. Trick of the light...?

But being knocked unconscious looks the same in any lighting...

"Uhm," Vita says, uneasy by sheer nerves. She should go. She has to go. Hayate needs her. But Shamal said to wait for someone to come get her, and she still feels unaccountably tired. She knows it's magic depletion. She was burning herself too hard, too long. She needs weeks of rest. She'll give herself a day. It's still too much.

She shakes herself out of that long train of thought, suddenly becoming aware of the too-long pause. "I'm not...picky," she says, though she sees a slice of strawberry in there and locks on it, mouth opening slightly in excitement.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

"..." Fate's eyes have zero targetted in on Vita when she's saying that she got hurt and that's all. Like she's homed right in on something ominous - given how beaten up Vita was. Still she at least knows it wasn't some domestic situation. After all she's seen Vita around Hayate and Signum. There's no way something awful is going on there. So instead she's thinking of some neighborhood delinquents or something. "Well it's just... if someone hurt you... I'd want to do something about it. That's all."

There's some momentary consideration in that respect of at least telling Hayate and Signum. But she also knows sometimes that can make things worse. This girl is keeping things close to the chest for a reason after all.

Fate sees the way she's honed in on that part of the box - and with a hand, idly turns it to angle it in her direction. "All yours." There's a smile there, "You look like you really had your eye on it."

And that's when Arf whines - and there's a sudden weight upon Vita's thigh. As the dog paws right there. Right there, having draped herself all the way over Fate's lap in the space of a few seconds and pointed in Vita's direction. Her eyes big and hopeful for some of the cake. "You're totally shameless Arf." Fate says a little reprovingly, but with a smile. "Now I can't even lean over to get some myself..."

<<All according to keikaku.>>

Fate continues rubbing her with a sigh - deciding to move on to safer subjects. "Do you like living with your cousin? She seemed really nice when I met her."

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Vita almost falters again at the thought. She focuses on cake. She makes a high noise when Fate turns the box, and Vita has - almost faster than the eye can track - served herself. "Eeeheeheehee," she giggles excitedly, pulling the cake up to her--

intrusion doggo

Vita looks down at those terribly clever eyes, and recognizes the similarity to Zafira. Even if Zafira would never beg for cake. (He doesn't have to) (they just give it to him) "No way!" Vita declares, boldly, and makes a show of chomping fully a third of her slice down in a single bite. She makes eye contact with the dog. i am the master, creature. cake is mine.

She looks up at Fate, and...weirdly, her brows knit. Bringing up Hayate sours Vita's mood almost immediately. The plate doesn't so much return to the table as it drifts there, Vita's eyes turning melancholic. "It's the most fun I've ever had," she says, quietly. Part of her still burns, galls at hiding it. Hayate isn't her cousin. She's her master. Master! She wants to scream it from the mountaintops, declare it in the papers. The finest master anyone could ever have! She shouldn't have to hide it! Whatever weird hangups the people here have doesn't matter compared to how great Hayate Yagami is!

She buries the emotion as it flares in her like a star, though her fist clenches. "She...hasn't been home in a while," Vita says instead, quietly, and has trouble saying the words. "It's..."

These words don't come. Finally she mutters, "The doctors," the only related word she can force out, before quietly reaching for her plate to bury these feelings in sugar.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Fate herself giggles just a little herself - not just at Vita's cake enthusiasm, but in how she meets Arf head on and...


Arf looks extremely put out - because she was thinking Vita would be gullible to her cuteness. Instead she's sinking into her shoulders - hunching in, and grumbling in her cakeless existence.

<<So mean.>>

It is strange though that Vita gets melancholy when she asks about Hayate - in fact she looks a little taken aback by it.

Vita had been so happy putting her head in Hayate's lap. Hayate had been so happy treating Vita like she was her own daughter or something rather than her cousin. She can't understand why bringing her up would-


Fate's heart feels like it sinks all the way to the lowest pit of her stomach. "I'm so sorry! I had no idea." She thought she just couldn't walk - she had no idea that she was ill in other ways.

However she also remembers - every image she possesses of Hayate in her memories is the girl being cheerful in some way. "She's very brave... and tough. Way tougher than people would think I bet. So I'm sure she'll be home soon."

And suddenly it makes so much more sense why Vita wouldn't think being hurt is a big deal - why she'd not want to talk about it with her - or anything - "I'll ask Lindy-san and the others to... not to say anything to her. So she won't get worried- and can focus on her own recovery."

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Vita quietly forks off another length of cake. "Hayate's the strongest," Vita breathes. It really is more like the love of a child for a parent, rather than cousins, the way she talks. "She's fighting super hard, harder than she should ever have to. She's in so much pain...I won't let it be for nothing." Something surges in her. "I won't!" she all but yells, and shoves the forkful of cake in her mouth.

...that...didn't sound quite right, did it? A child grapples with impending death in a variety of ways, but Vita sounds like there's something she, personally, can do. What could she...

Vita's plate hits the table again. "Yeah," Vita murmurs, and she doesn't say anything for a few seconds, visibly fighting a lump in her throat. "She...she doesn't need to know. Thanks."

She sits there, her appetite suddenly gone. Unconsciously, her hands rise up to press against something under her shirt - must be the charm on the end of the necklace she's wearing.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

It hurts to hear that Hayate's been fighting that hard - suffering. That girl who seems all cheerful and all smiles. To think she's hurting so deep down.

The way Vita says that so forcefully - well. It does take her back just a little. But only a little. Back then - when she was serving her mother - wouldn't she just be as passionate on the inside about what she was doing for her? Vita's a normal girl, so she must feel so powerless about Hayate's illness - and just wants to be able to do something.

Arf whimpers once just as sympathetically, in a light whine. As she puts a paw up against Vita's thigh. Almost noone could interpret it as seeking cake this time. "You care for her so much." She says quietly, as if a little awed.

What do you say to something like that? It feels like anything would be false reassurance. 'She'll get better.' 'I'm sure it won't be for nothing.' 'I'm sorry.'

Instead she falls into silence for a while - after Vita thanks her for not telling her. And then she says quietly, "My mother was really sick for a long time. Probably... before I was even born. And... she didn't tell me. She just dealt with it - and dealt with it on her own. I admit... I'm actually kind of jealous of you... because you're able to be there for her in that way- to support Hayate like that."

Her mother couldn't be more different from Hayate Yagami. Her mother was perhaps the most terrible person she'd ever known.

But all the same - she loved her.

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Vita looks down as Arf whimpers at her. She knows, of course; remembers Fate Testarossa and her familiar well enough. But she accepts that kindness just the same, hand quietly finding its way to the top of Arf's head and rubbing gratefully. "She's," Vita starts to say, responding to Fate's awe at her love, but she cuts herself off. It burns in her stomach, that she can't just say it. The cover words are ash in her mouth, to the point they feel too much like lies.

Fate comparing her to her MOTHER, noted incredibly evil person Precia Testarossa, earns her a surprisingly sharp look, Vita's eyes suddenly widening with flaring anger, her fingers tensing a little too harshly against Arf's head. How DARE she--

She stops herself, again. The anger comes so easily now. She's let it take her again. Hayate taught her better than that. She...she should do better. About that. She should.

"Yeah," Vita croaks. Fate can't possibly know the way she's flaying Vita with her words - not just comparing Hayate to Precia, but talking about Vita being THERE for her. Vita hasn't been able to BE THERE for her in weeks. Months? The sudden gravity of time crashing down on her - something she so rarely had to worry about until now - seems to drain much of the girl's remaining energy. She makes herself stand, dislodging Arf and stepping away. She doesn't really try to excuse it; just quietly steps away from it, shoulders shaking as she finds a window to stare at. Her fingers ball in her shirt. How can Shamal say she has to stay here? Her pain means nothing. Vita'd fight with a shattered skeleton if it cut one fraction of one second off of Hayate's suffering.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

She can't possibly know any of this. Arf may sense the stiffness of Vita's fingers but not what's behind it. She's not empathically linked to Vita as she is to her own master.

If Fate had known what she'd done though she'd be horrified - because she does not intend to compare the two in that way. Even unintentionally. Just simply the scenario of two people who are ill and dying and the people they love wanting to be there for them.

Because she doesn't though - she just gives Vita this sympathetic look as she steps away. Arf does not follow, simply laying across Fate's lap in a gesture as the two sit in a state of mutual helplessness.

It's like they just want to make this better for Vita but can't without brushing up against something that makes things worse. And while they can understand that from their own experiences, they don't know how to make it better.

<<Hey Feito... maybe we should just not talk about it anymore. It's obviously hard on her.>>

Fate doesn't answer - because she wants to know this. She wants to understand what Vita is going through. As she's about to answer...

The door works it's way open as they both encounter Amy Limietta carrying an overladen paper bag alongside Lindy Harlaown who is similarily carrying another large shopping bag. This would be entirely unnoteworthy except - "... It's a little ridiculous what we're made to work with. We can't even bag it properly for processing." "Hai - Hai. Well it's not like we're worried about forensics like hair fibers or skin cells or anything - you know. Anyhow - we're home!"

... for the fact that atop of one of Amy's shopping bags is a very familiar red hat adorned with bunnies with stitched over mouths and eyes. "Welcome home." Fate calls out. Before quirking an eyebrow at the sight of Amy and Lindy set down their shopping bags and Amy snatches the hat up from atop her bag. "Is that?" "Yep! Feito-chan do you mind putting these away? I'm going to take this to my..."

Catching sight of Vita. Amy starts to wink at Fate. "...'workstation' up in the 'study'."

Lindy meanwhile heads through the living room, only to stop, and double back to fix the position of a picture which is 'just' out of place. It's one of those nagging things to someone who is used to military order. However as she's fixing it. She just picks it up to stare almost nostalgically.

Arf hops off Fate's lap, as the pair make their way towards the kitchen... and Amy starts to cross their path on the way...

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

She sucks in a breath and her entire body quivers. She finds her hands pulling it out, so she can feel the metal of Graf Eisen's shrunken charm form in her hand. Despite residing under her shirt, it's cool. He can't speak to her too openly right now, but he can do such a small thing as that, at least.

The door shuts and Vita turns, the tiny charm of a polo hammer dangling from her neck. Defensively she knuckles at her eyes, trying to hide the tears that were budding there. "Uhm," she says, and her voice wavers. "H, hi," she stammers, and comes away from the window. The group starts to scatter their ways. She comes across Lindy first, edging up on tip-toes a little and desperate to both sate her curiosity and not at all talk about Hayate for a while. "Who is that?" she asks with a child's tact.

...and then her head whips to the side when she sees what Amy's carrying. "That's--!"

She stops short, words catching in her throat. uh. shit. "...a great...hat!" she says, trying not to just grab it and flee like an actual child.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

"Hey - hey! Good to see you up and about! I'll call Lera to let her know so she can stop worrying."

But when Vita approaches Lindy - Lindy blinks whatever sad nostalgia is away from her eyes - because she's an expert at recomposing myself, "All full of energy again I see." Lindy says with a calm smile - and indeed she is glad that she's recovered, "It's one of the last pictures taken of my husband - Clyde - while we were on a holiday together. He passed away just over eleven years ago."

It might seem strange that she talks so openly about it - but Lindy Harlaown has never believed in sugar-coating matters just because of age. She knows quite well that children can deal with the concept of death since her own son was made to deal with it when he was three years old.

Fate was in the process of unbagging the objects - her pace only slowing as Lindy talks about it. Whereas Amy stops in her step as Vita points out - that -

"You really like it?" Amy snorts a little, obviously finding it a little funny, "I mean... I guess if you're into the cute 'goth' kind of thing..."

Amy's lips purse and suddenly she looks annoyed - perhaps because she just thought of Chrono - he whose barrier jacket is adorned with so many spikes that his lawn probably cuts itself. "... the bunnies are a bit much for me." She grumbles and shrugs.

Arf - being a puppy by now has wandered out of the kitchen, padded up to Amy - and - stares at the hat - letting out a low growl. Amy leans over and starts waving it in mid-air.

"Not a fan of it either Arf? Well that's fine - maybe once we're done with it you can get a new chew toy."

Lindy clears her throat in her own way of showing disapproval - because obviously while it's informal she expects better than evidence disposal by giving it to the wolf familiar.

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

But somewhere, Hayate is crying. Or worse: SHOULD be crying.

Still, she hears what Lindy has to say. She looks like she's maybe five; the concept of 'eleven years' should surely be an impossible sum to such a child, even if death is not. Which is true, in its way, for Vita. But she knows what happened to Clyde; Lindy told her that. She remembers it now. She barely has time to murmur, "Eleven years..." before Amy catches her undivided attention.

She should control it. She was just TELLING herself to CONTROL it.

   That hat is a gift from Hayate, adorned with other gifts from Hayate, and personally blessed by Hayate.
   It is the most precious, sacred object in the universe.
   She can practically hear Amy enunciate every individual letter of the words c h e w t o y.

Vita doesn't even notice herself moving. "I WON'T LET YOU," she screams, full and proper. She runs, three four five quick steps, LEAPS, and tackles the hat entirely out of Amy's hands, clutching it close. If she had her powers, she'd swing around, land on her feet.

She does not. She hits the ground hard, on her shoulder, and curls around the hat like it is the only thing keeping her alive.

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

It's such a sharp turn of emotion within the room. In that moment that sort of wistful sadness - but now - now - Vita all but launching herself at Amy.

Now Vita maybe looks like a first grader and Amy is well into her teens. But Amy is caught entirely flat-footed as Vita yanks the hat out of her hand. "What are-" Absolutely startled she actually stumbles backwards - while Arf simply stares at the Vita shaped missile going past her - hitting the ground - and clutching it.

Lindy's expression goes from surprised to grave in about a half a second.

Whereas Fate rounds the corner out of the kitchen - just as wide eyed.

"I see." Amy - who is right now clutching her chest as she straightens herself back up blurts out. "Well - I DON'T! Vita-chan what were you think-ing... Oh..."

Amy almost goes cross-eyed at the same moment that suddenly the connection is made by everyone in the room. If Vita were looking she could see that moment where Vita the child becomes Vita the Cloud Knight to everyone.

Even Fate - Fate remembers then what Signum told her that night. That their master is dying. And that their energy can save them. She's not quite there where she can believe Hayate is their master - unable to reconcile it with what she's heard about what a Master of the Book must be. However suddenly Vita's desperation - everything.

It makes sense.

It's a tense moment where everyone seems like to act very soon. Even Arf has begun the shimmering transformation to her human self. "Geez - you know how much trouble you've given all of us - and then you take advantage of our hospitality right under our noses!"

However - Fate - slowly steps over towards her one step after another. She seems grave even in her silence but eventually after clearing her throat, "You know I guess it makes sense now. When it feels like noone can understand you and it feels like it wouldn't matter even if they did..."

And she holds out a hand to her, "... and maybe it doesn't - but Signum told me your master is dying - and... if that's true - these people put everything on the line to save me from... where I was. We just want you to talk to us... and we can go from there."

And maybe it even sounds pretty convincing - except for the fact that Lindy Harlaown is holding a card in her hand that's metallic. Obviously it's her device. She hasn't activated it yet - but the implied threat of 'if this doesn't go properly' just lingers.

And after what happened to her husband - can she really let go of that personal stake?

<Pose Tracker> Signum [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-q4w2QHL8oA - you'll be surprised

A breeze enters the living room, stirring hair.

It isn't a breeze that you would expect. It comes mostly from above; it has the easy passage of wind moving across an open field, not the steady channel of an opened window.

Arf could smell the fresh air coming in, like a heavenly gift. The scent of sun-warmed concrete; the distant fragrance of the highway. A thousandfold dinners being prepared, whether with slapdash necessity, artistic skill, or simple love.

Red light slides in a moment later, the light of an afternoon that doesn't have much longer to live. The light is tired and spent from its passage through Earth's atmosphere after its leisurely eight minute voyage from the star that warms and energizes this world. The light spreads, fills in gaps, pervades, pours in.

Something is taking the side of the apartment apart. It looks like wire - no, a strand of barbed wire. That isn't correct either. The motion is precise, almost like the sight of something coming back to rest, easing back into a comfortable seat. Shards of concrete glisten with laser-perfect edges, a single curtained window rustling lightly in the breeze. Everything rests backwards in a leisurely double coil, like a mantra written.

The sun is obscured, partially eclipsed, by a figure in a pale magenta coat. Her hair is in a long ponytail with a high knot. It stirs in the breeze. It is the only thing that moves.

<<DISCLOSURE COMPLETE>> speaks the impossible wire - the weapon - the Armed Device Laevateinn.

Signum raises her head, opens her eyes, and gazes down.

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

But it has betrayed her. Vita feels something snap, deep in her gut, behind her soul. Some line pushed too far. Or maybe it was just its time. She holds it, clutching that hat, eyes clenched shut. Shaking, shuddering with emotion and tears flowing freely. "I won't let you," she chokes. "I won't LET YOU!" she screams - a child's petulance, a fury, terror and anger, eyes flashing back open.

They meet her with silent eyes. The pieces assemble so easily. The injuries, the tension, the desperation, the sudden anger. She'd said she'd been hurt by one person with red hair and one person with black. There were some few Dark Fall groups that matched that description...or, it could be Lera Camry and Mikoto Minagi, whom the Knight of the Iron Hammer had clashed with mere hours before Lera found Vita by the road.

She looks up at Fate's outstretched hand. Her lip curls. They know these eyes; words are useless now. Her hand rises up to that dangling pendant, when the wind shifts. But they're inside...

The far wall deconstructs. It is a delicate, fine thing, a masterful display. Vita barely notices beyond recognizing the silhouette. She draws in a long breath. Forces herself to rise. She glares around; at Lindy, spotting that card. At Fate, with her outstretched hand.

She sets the hat on her head, adjusting it to where she knows it's straight even without looking. "You've been kind," she says, with her low and raspy voice. "I didn't deserve it but you did it anyway. Thank you."

She begins to walk, brushing past Fate's hand.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera Camry didn't leave the Harlaown house, after she left Vita. She went off to check on a few things; to speak to Chrono and Yuuno.

Which is why she comes back. Still in her Infinity Institute uniform, the orange-haired girl comes around the corner. She appears a little behind Amy, and a question is already on her lips. As she is prone to, she blurts it out: "Uh, is everything okay in here? I heard a big--" The light from the shorn open wall falls onto her face, her eyes widening, and they search out until they meet one figure: Signum, in her pale coat, and the blade in her hand. Lera's lips work.

They finish the word, even if it seems utterly irrelevant and completely inadequate, now. "...noise."

She stares, her eyes darting towards Fate -- and then they dart back towards Vita. It takes a moment for everything to catch up with her. The first is that aspects of her seem familiar, and in a way that isn't vague and formless. The second, though, is the hat; her eyes drift, down, to it. She notices the hat clutched against her, and that is familiar.

She understands, then. "You're--" She said she fought two people, one with red hair and one with black. Lera realizes who the one with red hair was. "--you're a Wolkenritter, too. Fate..." She stares down at her.

Then, her head snaps, to look at Vita -- and at Signum. "Your--your cousin. The one who's so sick that you might lose her."

Lera's words feel thick and heavy in her throat. "She... she isn't your cousin. Is she?"

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Amy looks increasingly unnerved by Vita's shouts - that fury and terror. She isn't a combatant after all. Her composure is such for the war room. Lindy however looks rather intense, the way she holds that card aloft. At the ready.

And Fate - Fate knows those eyes well. Once upon a time she made the polar opposite to those eyes. The cold dispassion that stands apart from Vita's angry furious desperation.

The hand doesn't quite drop though. Instead the look in her eyes sharpens. Lera enters the room. And Lindy says quietly, "Your timing couldn't be better Lera." Arf is watching Vita closely seeing the way she's reaching for her charm "I'll say - Feito get away from her!" She looks like she's about to say something - like Fate is going to say something too to Vita - and then the side of the apartment starts to be taken apart - piece by piece - wired up in so many coils.

"Signum." Lindy says in her own sort of respect. A simple nod as she assesses the situation and understands implicitly what they're up against. "You've made your point clear - and placed us at an impasse. We won't bar her departure."

Amy sinks down to her knees. Looking somewhat faint by this development.

Fate is looking Signum's way as Vita starts to talk to her - and there's this tiny sound from her throat as she looks back her way. "Please... wait- it's not about - deserving... kindness..."

She remembers once upon a time when she tried to tell Nanoha she doesn't deserve her friendship after all she'd done. But she finds herself speechless for a few moments as Vita brushes past her hand - as Lera questions Vita on that. Suddenly she's a little tense - because she knows how Vita was about her cousin in the room. How she acted. How even brushing upon the subject had made her so upset. And yet how else can we do it. She gives Lera a wary look - before looking between Vita and Signum.

"Your master is dying - that's what you've both said. Our desire to help - nothing about that has changed."

Taking a deep breath she adds, "It's not - contingent... on anything." Her eyes return back to Vita solely, "I didn't think I deserved their kindness either."

<Pose Tracker> Signum [None] has posed.
<SoundTracker> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hpDvtIt6Lsc

Signum's free hand flicks something towards Vita with every expectation of a successful capture. Two Cartridges. Enough to get going, perhaps.

Her eyes turn towards Lera. "Yes," she confirms. Then, a moment later, with a small motion of the head: "No."

After this Signum's attention turns to Lindy. "Thank you," she says. Her eyes turn then towards Fate.

"You have shown us little save kindness," Signum tells Fate. "Were you motivated by disorder or desperation, your fighting technique would have suffered, and so I will say that I know you speak with the true warmth of your heart. You are owed explanation."

Signum is quiet for a second. Drawing together her thoughts.

"My purpose," Signum says, "is to guard my Master. To execute her will. Hayate Yagami is the finest who I have ever served, and perhaps who I ever will. There is no question, no choice, no ambiguity. My indecision has rested solely in the nuances, in the fine shades in which I may serve her."

"You know that the Book is dangerous, in terms of its power," Signum then says to Lindy. "That danger will be removed decisively under its administration by Hayate Yagami. Her ill health is due to its incomplete state. You see why these facts are not things that I may controvert."

"All solutions which I see hold unacceptable risk," Signum says. "And though I would die for her at her command, I know that this is a question without meaning. For I am not like you, Fate Testarossa." Her head turns slightly to look at Lindy, at Lera. "I am not like any of you. You are capable of faith. I am not."

"I know that there will be a great price that I must pay," Signum says with an air of conclusion. "I shall pay it in full. You need fear no great shadow upon your realm, once Hayate Yagami, whole and healed, dwells there. I regret only that the price has been so high, for all of you."

Her attention returns to her comrade. "Make haste, Vita," Signum says, if without rancor. "We cannot afford another ambush."

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Signum's response is measured, as Signum often is, though in a way, so thoroughly, bluntly explaining is nearly explosive. Vita, of course, is rarely 'nearly' explosive.

"She's not," she spits it. Fate was right, something about the topic of Hayate sets Vita entirely on edge. She raises her voice nearly directly to screaming, arms flung out with emotion. "She's not my cousin! She's my Master! The greatest Master we ever had! A wonderful, kind Master who never wanted for anything! She didn't hit us or make us sit in the dark, she didn't even make us hurt people who were cruel to her! We offered her everything! The world! And she only....she only wanted..."

The tears come again, her face twisting with sorrow as the same time as her shuddering shoulders wrack her whole body. "She only wanted..." she whimpers, the strength leaving her.

She sniffs and scrubs at her wet eyes, and her stance squares. "The Book has been incomplete too long, so it's killing her," she says. Direct. Flat. Echoing Signum's testimony. "So we'll finish it. Or we'll die trying." She turns reddened eyes on Lindy, glaring like the woman were the source of all her pain. "You've already told us plenty about what you think of that."

She turns on her heels, sucking in a too-long, quivering breath. Her shoulders shake. "Thank you," she breathes. "You did help me. You've done an incredible kindness for me."

   "You reminded me what I have to lose if I fail."

She starts walking again. She roars, loudly: "GRAF EISEN!"


The polo hammer Device leaps off her necklace, whirling around in that eye-watering way Devices have of growing and changing in a flashing moment. Her hand snatches the expanded handle from the air, and light races down her body. Gloves; vest and skirt; armor-shodden boots. Her hair explodes with light and reforms in its pigtails.

The hammerhead of the Iron Count describes a wide arc as the Knight of the Iron Hammer sets the massive polo mallet against her shoulder. She keeps walking. "Yeah. Best if that gun chick doesn't show up, huh?" Vita says, chuckling toward Signum.

She steps up to the edge of the vivisected wall, and half-turns toward the group.

"We swore we wouldn't kill anyone. We've honored that. Fought our hardest to keep people alive, even when it was hard. So lemme be real clear about this:"

Her eyes flash with a sudden, unequivocal murderous intent. "If you or any of your Chevalier or Tuner cronies come anywhere near Hayate Yagami, I will not hold back."

She steps over the threshold, and begins to hover up toward Signum. She heaves a sigh, some of the tension of the moment leaving her. "Was feelin' all cozy in there, too," she asides. "I'm feeling better, I'll take sandworms today."

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

Lera shares a worried look with Fate, for a moment. She doesn't know how Vita responded, before. She knows it can't possibly be good. But, what else can they say? She looks back at the two Wolkenritter, her amber eyes wide for a moment. She meets Vita's eyes, and then she nods, loosely. "She--it's the Book. But--but there has to be a way! A way besides filling the Book."

She swallows. "We'll help you. We've lost people, too, y'know? Fate and me both--and Miss Lindy, too. We know how much that hurts! We don't want it to turn out that way."

Then, she looks down at Signum's words. "That's not... but you do have faith. You have faith in--in Hayate, right?"

She never met her. She doesn't know who Hayate is. She can only go off what they have said; what the Wolkenritter have described, which points to a good person. "...If you believe in her, then you can believe in others, too!"

But, they're leaving. Lera looks between the two -- helpless, it feels, to stop the two of them from leaving. Her jaw clenches, but she steps forward. She stares, a moment, and then looks back at Fate, then at Lindy. She looks at them. "They won't--we won't! We'd never go after her. We..." Her shoulders slump. She doesn't have the heart to say it.

Saying that Mami Tomoe is dead makes it feel real, again. That feeling of darkness swirls up in her, at the very notion.

"...We wanna help her too!"

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Signum speaks - and everyone in the room tenses. Except perhaps for one. Lindy Harlaown returns calmly.

"And when she becomes the book's master - what then? Tell me Signum - do you remember a singular time that the Book's Power was used for a purpose other than destruction? You're assuming her nature can overcome an ancient power. Lera is correct. It's not that you are incapable of faith - it's the opposite. And in that you make a dangerous gamble. I for one know precisely well how dangerous the Book of Darkness can be when it's master awakens fully. A whole generation of Magical Girls - an entire Division of the TSAB. My husband's life - became part of a statistic at the hands of your prior master."

Lindy is calm - but her voice is steel. "I acknowledge that things are different this time. The two of you - the feelings you're showing for her are proof of that. It goes beyond mere loyalty. And yet all the same - if you are more than your programming - then I implore you to ask yourself. If you are wrong. If the danger does not pass - then what happens to her?"

She allows that to linger, before turning to Vita. "Yes I've said plenty - but now I'll say one more thing. Perhaps you think there is no choice other than to finish it or die trying. Or deny that there can possibly be another one now that your mind is made up. I have not lived so long as either of you - but I can still understand... there is always a choice."

Fate on the other hand looks horrified - because it feels like - even though it isn't the same situation... it feels like how it was before for her - the desperation she felt reaching new heights as one reminder after another came of what she stood to lose.

Steadying herself - then looks up at the two hovering Cloud Knights. "You don't have to worry about her anymore..." There's a note of sadness there when it comes to the 'gun chick.' "...she's..."

Fate can't say the word 'dead'. "... gone." She doesn't deal well with death. Instead she looks Lera's way, inhales a breath - then looks forward at them. "They put everything on the line to save me - a girl who had so much to answer for. Maybe you can't believe that we'll do the same for Hayate. If you can't... I understand - because I couldn't believe it either."

And then her eyes look between the two... "We won't go after her - we won't hurt her. But we won't hold back either. And once we save her - you two will have to believe in Lera - just like I learned to believe in her."

<Pose Tracker> Vita [None] has posed.

Lindy speaks over Vita's silent retreat. She doesn't turn back, even as Lindy scores her back with truth - brutal honesty, the beliefs of someone rational.

Someone who is not clawing forward, inch by bloody inch, in a desperate, dirty effort to save the one good thing they've ever known.

   'Then what happens to her?'

"Then she dies anyway," Vita says, quietly. Something horrible leaks from her voice when she adds: "And then, nothing else matters."

Graf Eisen's hollow tone chimes, and Vita hovers there, beside Signum, while Lindy says her part and Fate says hers. Her head slips down. "Is she?" Vita says. She thinks she knows what that means. "That's a shame. I would've liked to--"

She draws in a slow breath.

"We're not saying there's no choice," she says, and turns over her shoulder to glare at Lindy. "We're saying we've made ours, and you've made yours."

She turns back - and starts to drift away, gaining altitude and distance swiftly.

<Pose Tracker> Signum [None] has posed.

Signum looks at Lera. In her mind, she remembers a cold stone room. She remembers their Barrier Jackets, their only garb. She remembers...

"You would not," she tells Lera. "Others would. Seas may rise, and all lands may be changed. I cannot think only of today and tomorrow."

Her eyes turn to Lindy. "She is not like they were," Signum says, with assurance. "... I accept your sentiments." Vita says what needs saying.

The wall begins to seal itself back together. "We will, no doubt, meet again. My condolences," Signum says as the window is carefully placed back, perfectly in joint, "to the family of Miss Tomoe."

The gap is sealed. The air within is still fresh. A little flicker of magenta and the cracks themselves are gone, as if they were never there.

She turns to follow Vita. If she speaks, it is not heard by the residents of that home.

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

There is a flicker of something in Lera's eyes, when Fate says those kind words about her. She opens her mouth, to say something more or try to downplay it -- but then she closes her mouth. It isn't something she wants to disagree with.

"She--" Lera closes her mouth, and then she shakes her head. "...We'll do everything we can to make sure she doesn't! And--and even if she does, there's..." She looks down. "...There's what Hayate would want and who she is. I don't know her, but..."

Her fingers curl, slightly, at her side. "...Those wouldn't just disappear, either."

She looks over her shoulder -- peering back at Lindy -- and then she looks back at the wall. She watches as it seals up, bit by bit. The Wolkenritter are gone, then; vanished behind it, the damage to the house gone. Lera lets out a soft sigh.

"We can't..." She keeps her voice quiet. "...We can't let word spread, about Hayate Yagami. Signum's right. If some people knew about her..."

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Lindy's look is grave as she looks at Vita and Signum - but she knows well the time for words have passed now. "So we have." She says in acceptance - understanding fully well that Hayate Yagami is different and praying somewhere deep down that it will change something.

The wall seals itself - and... Amy murmurs,"... I hope we didn't just forfeit our security deposit."

Fate closes her eyelids - and behind them, her eyes are wet - she can feel the droplets gathering. They've been doing so ever since Vita mentioned they liked her - and Signum offering her condolences - it's too human. And what they're going through is too cruel. "I've met her Lera... she... she's a very nice girl who cares a lot for them. ... and she doesn't deserve what she's going through... and..."

A little choked up after a moment she nods quickly, she nods her head in agreement. "If the Tuners find out - some of them will take it upon themselves to end this - by any means necessary."

She knows fully well - some of the Outer Senshi - many of the Shepherds are Tuners like them - and yet not them. While others maintain the status quo - they hope to make it better from the inside.

But it's asking a lot of Lindy Harlaown. And yet time and time again - she was willing to compromise her position - her reputation - everything - for what she thought was right. "I see no reason to report this to the Conductors until it's confirmed beyond any doubt." Lindy finally slowly "And I suppose it's time for me to call in a few favors - it's just about the only currency I have left."

<Pose Tracker> Lera Camry [Infinity Institute (11)] has posed.

"They never refund those," Lera says, idly, to Amy.

She frowns, looking at the wall with an undeniable distance to her gaze. She stares at it for a moment, and then she looks down at Fate when she talks. Her head bows, slightly, and her eyelids half-close. "I..." She frowns, a little. "...I'm sorry, y'know? I'd like to meet her sometime." She hesitates. "...Maybe not now. I don't know if that'd be a good idea with the two of them."

She hesitates, before she puts a hand on Fate's shoulder. She squeezes once, gently, and then she shakes her head.

"We can't let that happen." She looks back at Lindy, then she smiles. Her smile is slightly sad; she has an idea of what she is risking, to do this. "...Yeah. Thanks, Miss Lindy. We'll... we'll do everything we can, to find a way to resolve this."

She looks down. "Maybe the other Chevaliers will help..." She would be late to their meeting, after all. "...As long as we're careful, y'know?"

<Pose Tracker> Fate Testarossa [Infinity Institute (5)] has posed.

Amy let's out a small strangled noise as Lera relays that fact. Because she put down the payment for it - and it was substantial.

"When this is over I'll introduce you."

Fate promises quietly as Lera puts a hand upon her shoulder before she finally wipes at her eyes. Opening them - she gives a sharp nod. "I hate to say it - but right now..."

She eyes the wall where they departed - thinking of Mami's death. How each and every one of them must feel.

The war may not continue as it stands - but... they still needed something to get behind. "... This may be exactly what they need."