PDA

View Full Version : Maid of Honour (ZnT)



PhoenixAct
November 30th, 2011, 10:16 AM
Disclaimer: I don't own ZnT.

Chapter I – Intoxication and Lust



The loud roar of an explosion tore through the air, disrupting the pleasant atmosphere of the spring afternoon. It was followed by a large plume of smoke, which reached up to the sky and was quickly dispersed by a light breeze.

Louise had done it, she had summoned a familiar she had performed her first ever, successful piece of magic. However she didn’t feel the elation she had expected to feel at her first ever success, instead she felt nervous and a little hollow. Her mouth and throat were suddenly very dry making it painful to swallow and she instinctively licked her lips in a vain attempt to make them moist. She could feel the sweat begin to trickle down the back of her neck and knew it wasn’t just from the rather warm spring day. Her stomach began to turn and twist itself into knots as though it was a living thing, she felt like she might be sick.

Her mind had gone blank and her legs wouldn’t or couldn’t move, she knew there was something she was meant to do next but she just didn’t remember what, instead she just stared ahead at the result of her successful summoning. Some small part of her was cackling like she was possessed and questioning whether it was divine mandate that she could never do anything without something happening.

A noise came from the crowd of students that were beginning to get over their shock from the small explosion that had occurred mere seconds earlier. It started as a low murmur that steadily grew and grew until it was the irritable racket of at least thirty people trying to talk over each other. Some of those in the crowd proceeded to throw heckles and jeers at the petite, pink-haired girl but they fell on deaf ears, some laughed but they too went unheard. Memories of the last two weeks were echoing through her slowly reviving mind, memories that made her feel conflicted as a dozen different emotions warred inside her.

Only one other person was silent throughout all of this. A small, blonde girl known as Montmorency was standing near the front of the crowd and eyeing Louise’s summoning apprehensively, with not a small amount of guilt on her face. She too remembered her role in the events of the previous two weeks and her darkest secret was, they were the result of her own selfishness.

Louise stood there for what felt like hours but in reality was at most two minutes, until a middle-aged man carrying a staff placed a hand on her shoulder and cleared his throat in an exaggerated manner. She turned her head to look at the man as he began to speak.

“I said well done Miss Valliére, after three attempts you have successful succeeded in summoning a familiar. Now please proceed with the second part of the ceremony.”
Louise swallowed hard, trying desperately to ease the dryness in her throat and somehow managed to summon the will to speak.

“I-professor, surely there must be a mistake, please allow me to try again.” If the man heard the trace amounts of fear that had managed to slip into her voice despite her best efforts to hide them, he paid them no mind.

“I’m afraid that’s not possible,” he answered, with a sympathetic smile. “The Springtime Familiar Summoning is the most sacred of the rituals performed here, once the familiar is summoned that is it. Now please proceed.”

Very reluctantly Louise began to move forward and tried not to think about her guilt.


- - -

It was an unreasonably warm day for spring and this had put Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Valliére in a foul mood, a state not improved by her current pursuits. It wasn’t so much the weather as the fact that it was causing her to sweat quite heavily, which in turn caused her clothes to stick to her girlish frame and her hair to hang matted and lifeless. Oh and she was starting to stink. Ugh, she was definitely going to need a bath before heading to bed tonight.

She had been practicing her magic, alone in an isolated area not far from the school and she had been practising for at least a few hours, ever since classes had finished for the day. The reason for this was because the ceremony where the seconded-year students summoned their first familiar was less then two weeks away and she had to succeed this time, she had to. Every time she had failed in the past she had accepted the blow to her ego and her pride and the ridicule of her classmates and attempted to soldier on, swearing to do better next time. But this was different. You only got one chance to summon a familiar; if she didn’t succeed on the day then she would never have another chance. The very thought terrified her, she was a member of the Valliére family, to fail to summon a familiar…? She could already imagine the disappointment in her mother’s eyes, the same disappointment she surely caused her mother every day. Not that Louise could hold it against her, her mother was a great and powerful mage how could she be anything but disappointed with a daughter who couldn’t cast even the simplest of spells?

However in all the time she had spent practicing and sweating under the evening sun, she had made absolutely no progress. It didn’t matter how much she practiced, what spell she tried or even how much she concentrated the result was always the same. The only difference lay in the size of the resulting explosion. It almost made her want to cry but she clamp down on that urge, hard. Crying was a sign of weakness, she would not give up, she would become a powerful mage! She would! No matter how much she repeated this mantra in her head she wasn’t sure if even she believed her own boasts anymore.

She raised her head and glanced around the small, meadow-like area, the ground was torn apart and there was dirt everywhere, even Louise realized, on her clothes. She also noticed the hints of orange in the sky and sure enough when she looked she could see the sun begin to set against the horizon. Begrudgingly she began her walk back towards the academy, she had almost spent all her willpower anyway so it wasn’t like she would accomplish much even if she did stay out longer. Her feet dragged along the ground and until she caught sight of other students and then she forced her self to straighten her back and walk properly until she reached the sanctuary of her room. Once inside she decided that the best course of action would be to call for one of the servants to run her a bath and perhaps prepare her something to drink, maybe a glass of red wine? Yes, that sounded like a good idea.


- - -

Montmorency almost felt the desire to cackle as she hovered over her bubbling concoction, counting down the last few minutes until it was finished and ready to be used. She had woken up early to prepare the ingredients and had left them it boiling while she attended her classes, stopping in briefly during her breaks to make sure nothing had gone wrong.
Her face was classically beautiful or would be under normal circumstances but at that moment the effect was ruined by a rather savage grin. Few knew that the Montmorency family had recipes for their own special love-potions, a large part of this was because the Montmorency family itself went to great lengths to keep it secret, after all love-potions were illegal in Tristain. Still, she felt no guilt for it after all it wasn’t like she was going to use it to seduce a king or hold someone against their will. No she just wanted a way to make sure her cheating boyfriend never laid his eyes or hands upon any other girl ever again. She’d caught him flirting with that floozy first-year again today and the sight had made her blood boil. Was her love not good enough for him?

Finally the potion began to boil to the point where it almost overflowed and she sprinkled in a pinch of a fine, white powder. Then she doused the fire and watched as the substance began to cool, first dying down to a simmer then becoming completely still. Next came the wait, she sat patiently at the end of her bed for what felt like hours but was likely only thirty minutes, still it was long enough for the sun to begin to set. When the potion had stopped steaming she put on a pair of thick, leather-like gloves and lifted the beaker from its position and from within her robes she pulled out a smaller glass container, one of the ones she usually used for her perfumes. Slowly, carefully making sure not to spill a single drop she poured about a quarter of the total amount of potion into it and screwed on the cap.

She gazed at the result of her hard-work from every angle proudly; it was the most complex concoction she had ever created. It was colourless and odourless and unless one knew better, one would most likely believe it to be nothing but plain, ordinary water. When she had finished the examination she’d had to suppress yet another cackle, soon Guiche would have no desire to seek out the company of any other woman ever again.

Now the question was, how was she going to get him to drink it? She pondered this for a moment before coming to a conclusion. She couldn’t very well give the potion to him herself, they’d had rather a spectacular bust-up when she had caught him with that tart, and he might get suspicious if she turned up all smiles and sunshine and with a gift as well. So what if she went to him under pretence of making amends. No not pretence that made it sound like she didn’t want him, she did she just needed for him to change a little first. Anyway she could have the serving staff bring them some red wine to drink while they talked, yes he wouldn’t be suspicious of a servant, right? She would have to be careful though, she would need to make sure the servant knew which drink to give to Guiche. Come to think about it maybe she should order red for him and white for herself.
While she was at it she thought it might be a good idea to dilute the potion. Better to have to use the potion multiple times, than to dose him something that was too strong after all.
Her plan made she left her room and began her trek to the kitchens.


- - -

The maid’s name was Siesta and she was looking at the table before her with not a small amount of trepidation.

About half an hour ago she had been called up by one of the students to draw a bath and she had done so. When that same student, Miss Valliére, had sat herself down in the tub she had requested that Siesta prepare her some red wine for after she was done cleansing herself. Officially the students weren’t allowed to order extra food from the kitchens and needed a teacher’s permission to procure alcohol. However a commoner did not disobey a member of the nobility and so Siesta had returned to kitchen and prepared the desired item. Besides which Siesta liked her job and wanted to keep it, it had the highest pay and best working conditions that someone of her class could expect. More than that she needed it, she had left home because her parents could no longer afford to keep her.

Then the cook had requested her help for two minutes and judging that she had plenty of time with Miss Valliére likely enjoying her soak, she had agreed. Upon returning to the table with a serving tray she had found herself in her current predicament, for the single glass of red wine had been joined by a glass of white and a second glass of red wine. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem; they were both the same brand and likely from the same bottle but many nobles could make a fuss over the smallest of things. Miss Valliére was well-known for being particularly volatile. Her nerves began to fray more and more as part knew that the young miss was drawing closer and closer to the conclusion of her bath.

Finally she picked up one of the glasses at random and hoped she wouldn’t know the difference.


- - -

Louise sat in her nightclothes at her desk reading the various pieces of paper that represented the sum total of her research on the summoning of familiars. The bath had left her feeling quite refreshed and even if she didn’t have enough energy for practical exercises she could at least study the theory. Besides it was better to use her time productively than to sit around doing nothing while she waited for the servant to return with her drink.

As though on cue there came a knock at the door.

“Enter.” Louise called. The door opened to reveal the maid who presented her with her ordered drink. She took without a word of thanks after all there was no reason to thank someone for simply doing their job. The maid took up a position behind her waiting for her to finish with the glass as Louise took her first sip before returning to her papers.
After a couple more tastes Louise felt like something warm was rolling over her, she was getting a little…drowsy? Perhaps her activities that afternoon had exhausted her more than she had thought, she should go to bed. She drained the rest of the glass in a single gulp and turned to place back on the tray the maid was carrying when she froze in place.
Hmm, before when she had called for her bath to be prepared she hadn’t paid much attention to how attractive the maid was. Not that she often appreciated the beauty of other women of course, but this one really was quite pretty. Her skin was pale and almost flawless, huh how did she manage that whilst living a servants lifestyle? Her hair was a black, a rare colour in Tristain and shone in a way that said it was well taken-care of. Her figure struck just the right balance between thin and curvy with breasts that weren’t too big but weren’t too small either. In fact Louise might have been jealous if hadn’t found them so…enticing. The uniform was very flattering as well; it seemed fitted in such a way that highlighted her assets. Unconsciously the petite blonde licked her lips.

“M-miss…?” Louise blinked, suddenly realizing that she had moved closer to the maid, far closer in fact, than was entirely appropriate. What had she been doing? Such concerns soon left her though, when she realised that she could smell the other woman. She smelled like soap, so she took care of herself, good.

“Miss?” the maid asked as Louise reached up to play with her hair.

“What is your name servant?” the young noble asked in the huskiest voice she could manage. She brought her other hand up to caress her forearm.

“S-Siesta, miss.” The maid replied. Her eyes were wide like a frightened animal and she was frozen stiff. She didn’t know what to do, she’d heard about stuff like this but she hadn’t expected it from a woman.

“Siesta. Siesta…” she spoke the name as though tasting it, “I like it.” She whispered this last bit straight into the maid’s ear, sending a tremor through her body and pushing back towards her bed. “Why don’t you take a seat.” The edge of the bed came into contact with the back of Siesta’s knees causing them to buckle under her.

“Now we can get to know each other better.” She caught the cute blush on the maid’s face and her eyes trailed down to her lips, they were plump and pink and just so very inviting. She leaned forward her own lips parted slightly.


- - -

Louise awoke the next morning to the sound of the birds singing outside her window, a sound which she normally found quite soothing, it beat the shrill voice of her oldest sister. This particular morning however she had the king of all migraines and as such she found the incessant racket of the birds to be incredibly annoying and painful. With a growl she grabbed her pillow and planted it over her head. Why on Earth did her head heart so much? Had she been more drained on willpower than she had previously thought? After a couple of minutes she remembered that she had class today and so she slowly, grudgingly slid out from underneath her soft, warm covers and went to put on her clothes.

As she stepped out of her room she heard the one thing she did not want to hear when she had a headache like this; the voice of one Kirche von Zerbst.

“Hello Zero.” Louise pressed a hand to her head and grit her teeth. She found the Germanian’s voice to be irritable even on a good day, today it was bordering on unbearable. She had heard boys gush about how her voice using terms like “sweet” and “lyrical”, in what way?!

“What do you want Zerbst?”

“Hmm, is there something wrong with greeting a friend? But I have to ask why are you wearing your uniform on our day off?”

“What are you talking about Zerbst?” Even as she asked the question Louise noticed that instead of the uniform the dark-skinned woman was wearing a rather short dress of questionable taste.

“Oh, are you wearing that for the young maid.” Kirche chuckled in a manner that the blonde found deeply disturbing, “You know Louise, I never would have guessed you tastes ran that way.”

“What maid. Start making sense.”

“Oh there’s no point in trying to play coy now Valliére, after all you spent the last week confessing the truth to anyone who asked. Not to mention witnessing your attempt at courtship. I must say you were far more aggressive than I’d thought you’d be.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” But she did. The memories suddenly struck her like a hammer blow from behind and she felt her stomach sink. She remembered the first night when she’d met when she’d been overcome by desire for the maid, Siesta, if she remembered correctly. She’d had the girl lying on her bed half naked and had been straddling her before the maid had apparently gathered her wits and throwing her off, sprinting out the room at top speed. Oh God, she … she had actually been sucking on her neck and fondling her before the abrupt ending.

Then she had spent the rest of the week trying to corner the young maid and succeeding a number of times but she would always get away or they would be interrupted. She remembered the irritation she felt when one of the serving staff would “ruin the mood” or how her gaze would linger on Siesta’s rear as she hurried away. She recalled the words she’d used in her attempts at seduction, she’d - she’d sounded like an old letch.

She had told the other students about her obsession as well. She hadn’t gone out of her way and shouted it from the rooftops but she hadn’t made any effort to hide it. She’d flirted with her in public; she’d even made public declarations of love. Then when the other students had questioned her on it she had declared her intention to court the maid.
She was brought back to the present by the redhead’s throaty chuckle and felt her face light up like it was on fire, the whole school would know by this point and they’d think she was even more depraved than von Zerbst. Then her face drained of all colour and she felt faint, what if word got back to her mother? She almost felt like crying, she knew she wouldn’t be able to bare it if her mother were to become even more ashamed of her than she already was and if Eleanor found out, her life wouldn’t be worth living.

Immediately she turned on her heel and took of down the hall her vision red, she was going to find that maid and have some words with her. She recognised the symptoms she’d been suffering from, even if she couldn’t actually perform any magic she studied harder than anyone. It was a love potion it had to be, it was the only way to explain her sudden obsession and the just as sudden recovery. That serving girl had slipped her the potion and then taken advantage of her, using her to help her own reputation no doubt. Except the more she walked the more her head cooled and she came to realise that her theory didn’t quite make sense.

Even through her own drug-addled recollections she could tell that the maid had been terrified of her on that first night and if she had been the one to give her the potion then she should have been expecting it. And if she had been planning for Louise to become obsessed with someone else then she would have left the room straight away rather than wait for her to finish her drink. Besides which, preparing a potion of any kind required the ability to perform magic, only a noble would have that ability and no self-respecting noble would provide a commoner with a love-potion; especially since they were illegal. The only conclusion that could be drawn then was that the poor girl had been a puppet, a pawn in someone else’s scheme, someone who no doubt wished to slander the Valliére name, she might have even been unaware of her true role.

So caught up was she in her own thoughts that she didn’t notice the dark looks some of the servants gave her as she passed them.

Suddenly she heard something that made her stop in her tracks, it sounded like snivelling, was someone crying. The corridors were empty, no doubt the students were using their day off to have a sleep-in, so curious Louise followed the noise around the next corner and caught sight of the very person she had been looking for. Siesta was attempting to polish the frame of a large portrait and doing a poor job of it, owing no doubt to the tears clouding her vision. Slowly Louise stepped forward and if the young woman noticed her approach she made no indication of it. When she was within arms reach she cleared her throat.

The maid jump and spun around, her eyes widened when she caught sight of just who had interrupted her. Louise felt something twitch in the base of her stomach as she looked into those eyes; there was genuine fear in them and she suspected that her tears may have something to do with the events of the last week as well.

“Ser-Siesta,” Louise began, cringing when her voice came out harsher than she had intended, “Why are you crying.”

“It is nothing you need to concern yourself about Miss.” She managed to get out through her sobs, her eyes lowered.

“I’ll decide what is my concern and what isn’t.” Louise responded causing the maid to wince and she once again concentrated on softening her voice. “Now please.”

“I…today is my last day at the school Miss. I have been dismissed.”

“I see. May I enquire why?” She managed to get out, although she had a sinking feeling she already knew.

“For…they said I was fraternizing with the students, Miss.” Louise felt her stomach sink for the second time since she had awoken less than an hour ago. The girl was being blamed for her actions over the last week, despite obviously being another victim of whatever nefarious plot had taken place. It also meant that the true culprit would almost certainly get away with what they had done, the very thought incensed her.

“I see. Very well, then I shall have a word with the headmaster on your behalf.”

“But Miss-“

“No buts. No follow me.” With that Louise stormed off in the direction of the headmaster’s office the maid following obediently in her wake.

As it turned out she had absolutely no luck convincing the headmaster to see her point of view. He had simply told her that school rules forbid such interaction between students and staff and that they would be enforced. She had attempted to take Siesta’s supposed crimes on herself knowing she was far less likely to receive an overly-harsh punishment but this idea had been dismissed out of hand. Louise had been tempted to threaten the old man with writing to her mother but they both would have known it to be an empty threat, for several reasons. First it would look like she wasn’t able to take care of her own problems. Secondly and more importantly she would have to explain to her mother why she wanted the maid to keep her position and how the situation had come about in the first place, and then she would know. Louise had very nearly shuddered at the thought.
And so less than five minutes after arriving the two were once again standing outside the headmaster’s door looking thoroughly deflated.

“Thank you for trying anyway, Miss.” The maid said, before curtseying and beginning to walk away. The young noble froze, that was the first time anyone had ever genuinely thanked her for anything, usually it was a case of habit and manners or an attempt at mockery.

“Ah, wait…” Louise began before trailing off, the other girl stopped and turned to face her. Why had she done that? She had failed to save her job, there was nothing she could do now was there? Well, except maybe… Struck by sudden inspiration she opened her mouth again:

“You are in need of employment now, correct? Then how about I employ you as my personal maid?” The look on the maids face was caught somewhere between joy and trepidation, it would have been amusing if Louise hadn’t known the cause behind the latter. “I give my word not to harass or molest you,” she said, galled that she would even need to make such a vow, whoever was responsible for that love potion would pay!

The maid look mollified but only slightly, still it was apparently enough.

“Very well, then I accept.”


- - -

Louise crouch down next to her maid, who apparently now her familiar also and who was lying flat on her back. The girl looked up at her with eyes that were wide and fearful.

“Just relax, it will be over in a moment.” Louise whispered. Slowly she leaned in and placed a chaste kiss on her maid’s lips. Everything was still for a moment and then Siesta cried out in agony and grasp at her right hand. Louise knelt there frozen not knowing what to do, a small part of her wanted to pull the girl into a hug and comfort her, another part insisted that such an acted would not be proper. Before she could make a decision however, the girl’s screams died down, her body relaxed and everything was still again.

Then someone in the crowd of students gave a wolf-whistle and Louise wand was out in a flash and pointed in their direction. The spring air was once again rent apart by a small explosion.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Author's note: Jeez... Okay, this is a story I started way back in spring and basically haven't touched since then, but obviously I plan to get back to it now. It's already up on SB and FFnet but I'm posting it here too because I want to know what you guys think. I was planning to post all three existing chapters here at once but...yeah, having read them it's obvious that they require some polishing.

So anyway, opinions?

deviatesfish
November 30th, 2011, 10:20 AM
Hm. Hm. ZnT!

nununu
November 30th, 2011, 10:41 AM
Oh cool, this one's here. I remember reading this a while back. It was nice.

Seika
November 30th, 2011, 12:33 PM
Cautiously interested (just, there's not been a whole lot of, ah, meaningful interaction between our protagonists as yet). I like the theory - never seen someone from the ZnT world summoned themselves in a fic. I suppose you're going to expand on why Siesta got caught by the spell later? 'Cause losing the otherwordly aspect of summonings could seriously affect the backstory - elves lacking their superior weaponry and so forth ...

Also, I understand that this is a more introductory chapter, but it feels like you could have brought out the emotions a little more in places - this rushes over some scenes a little. My feeling is that a little extra direct speech (especially when Louise is arguing on Siesta's behalf against Osmond, for example) could have helped give it a slightly slower pace and brought out the characters that bit more, but I'm hardly an English literary critic (let's save that for older tongues); I could be completely wrong about the effect it would achieve.

PhoenixAct
November 30th, 2011, 07:10 PM
Disclaimer: I do not own ZnT.

Chapter II – Unreasonable Battle



Montmorency had turned in early that night but sleep continued to elude her, it had been that way for the last week, ever since she had seen Valliére succeed with her summoning she had felt a weird sensation in her chest, like something heavy pressing down on her heart. She knew what it was, the hours of sleeplessness spent staring at the canopy of her bed had granted her an answer to that at least; it was guilt, mixed with fear.

She had no idea why she felt guilty; it wasn’t like she had drugged her classmate on purpose. But … it was true that it was her own ill thought-out plans that had brought the initial situation about in the first place and so one could argue that she was thus partly responsible the resulting fallout. Except she hadn’t intended for any of it to happen surely people would understand that. Besides she hadn’t started or partaken in any of the gossip surrounding the girl and her new familiar, and that meant something … right?

The fear was a lot more explainable, it could have been her. The way Valliére had repeatedly cornered the maid, the overly-aggressive nature of the pursuit. Not to mention what might have transpired that night the servant was seen fleeing the girl’s room with her clothes in disarray. If she had succeeded in giving Guiche that potion…

Sleep would continue to avoid her for the rest of the night.


- - -


It was well passed midnight and all of the castle’s residents were asleep. All except for one professor Jean Colbert, that is. The middle-aged teacher had been the one to oversee the summoning ceremony yesterday and what he had witnessed had made him curious enough to stay up late browsing the library shelves. Something he had not done in a couple of years at least.

He was sitting behind his desk with a large, leather-bound tome open in front of him, a lone candle provided the only source of illumination. This particular tome contained information on the Familiar Summoning Ritual and was open at the section which explained the meanings behind the various runic symbols that appeared when a mage contracted a familiar.

His interest had been piqued the previous afternoon by young Miss Valliére’s familiar, or more specifically the runes that had appeared on the back of the young lady’s hand once she had been contracted. Colbert had been a teacher for a few years now and as such had guided a great many students through contracting their first familiar, because of this he knew every runic combination there was, or so he had thought, these ones however… He had thought they looked vaguely familiar but the memory was hazy and distant, like trying to recall something you had read in a textbook decades ago. The desire for an answer had refused to leave him alone and so had caused his little, impromptu study session.

After hours of reading he had decided to give his eyes a break from attempting to make out the tiny letters. He leaned back in his chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb, honestly even with magic how did the author manage to make their writing so small?

As he rested he allowed his thoughts to drift and found them coming to a rest on the very two people who had caused his insomnia. He could certainly understand Miss Valliére’s unease, considering the events of the last couple of weeks. The young noble’s pursuit of the maid had been quite aggressive and had raised more than a few eyebrows among both the staff and the students. Rumours had very quickly started to spread but it had been obvious to the more experienced members of the faculty that the young Valliére had not been acting of her own accord, at least not entirely. Unfortunately none of them could discover just how she was being influenced; a love potion had been considered and had not been dismissed but deemed unlikely. Such things were illegal and were not taught in the academy, so it was highly improbable that any student would have knowledge on how to brew one. At a loss, the only option left to them had been to try and wait it out, whilst attempting to limit the damage.

Then the rumours had extended beyond the walls of the castle. This had been inevitable but the speed at which they had spread from the students to their parents and from there to noble society as a whole had been remarkable and unsettling. The first thing Colbert had done when he had learned just how far the news had travelled, was to put pen to paper and write a letter to an old colleague of his, who also happened to be the mother of one of the affected parties. The last thing anyone had needed was for Karin of the Heavy Wind to turn up, especially if she was angry.

After that they could no longer afford to wait, everyone new the truth or thought they did anyway, and the administration had to be seen to be taking action. So the next morning they had called the maid to the headmaster’s office and informed her of her dismissal. He had felt terrible at seeing the girl doing her best to hold back her tears and he was sure the headmaster had too. However they’d had no choice but to remove one of those involved and it couldn’t be the young noble, if the rest of the nobility found out they had done so even though she was under the effects of mind-altering mage-craft there would have been uproar. Besides which, the old man had reasoned that getting the girl to leave the castle would help protect her from Miss Valliére’s increasingly aggressive advances.

In a stroke of luck that Colbert couldn’t quite believe, the brainwashed young lady had regained her senses the very morning of the maid’s dismissal and what’s more had taken her on as her own personal servant. Of course they had been suspicious when she had petitioned for the serving-girl to keep her job, believing her to still be under the effects of the spell and merely trying to keep her target within the castle. Still that worry had proven baseless and the things had quieted down, on the surface at least. Amongst the student-body new rumours had started, rumours about why Miss Valliére had taken the maid on and some of them were exceedingly crude and detailed. As for the serving staff, it was probably best not to mention how they felt about the strawberry-blonde noble at the moment. Now that she had summoned the same girl as her familiar (something which had taken him completely by surprise) even more ludicrous stories were likely to pop up. The imagination of a young person could not be stopped after all, especially not when it came to things like illicit affairs.

He let out a long sigh. The way things stood, he could not foresee any way in which the current situation could end well.

Deciding he’d let his mind wander enough Colbert slid his glasses back up his nose and turned back to his book. He could probably get another hour of research in before he had to retire to bed.

He licked his fingers and turned the page, a somewhat relieve smile broke across his face. The smile slowly disappeared as he continued to read however and his eyes widened.

Now wasn’t this interesting?


- - -


Siesta opened the finely varnished wardrobe and selected her mistress’s clothes for the day. Actually there wasn’t much “selecting” to do, her mistress wore the same thing almost everyday after all, the white blouse and black skirt of the school uniform. She also preferred long, black socks that came up to her mid-thigh and so Siesta picked out a pair of those too before folding everything neatly and placing them on the small bedside table. Not far away a brass kettle was hanging suspended over a small fire.

As she worked she couldn’t help but recall how depressed her mistress had been yesterday afternoon, not that she could blame her. She was merely a commoner; she obviously didn’t look too impressive next to Miss Tabitha’s dragon or even Miss von Zerbst’s salamander. Even young mister Gramont’s mole and Miss Montmorency’s frog could go places people could not normally reach (that said, she’d like to see a frog wash its master’s clothes). Summoning a maid must have been quite the blow to someone as proud as her mistress. It was made worse by the fact that the other students had spent the remainder of the day making fun of her for it, when she had gone to bed her mistress had been looking very depressed.

After she had finished her task she walked over to the bed in order to awaken her employer, or was it her master now? As she leant over she could she the peaceful look on the young noble girl’s face, it was so different from when she was awake and looked constantly troubled; it almost seemed a shame to wake her. It was strange, Seista thought, that she now somewhat liked the young noble girl in an odd way, when only a week ago she had been terrified of her, although she was still wary around her. She had wondered when the offer was made, what exactly the young noble would ask of her during her service but well, she had just lost her job and had been desperate. Much to her surprise she had found Miss Louise to be far more respectful to her than a great many nobles were towards their servants, she even referred to her by name. Still she wondered what her motive was; it was her experience that nobles almost always had ulterior motives for their actions.

At first Siesta had thought it a trick and had expected something to happen the second she let her guard down, but nothing ever did. In fact she had made it a point to get her chores done quickly and spend as little time as possible with Miss Valliére, any jobs that she did in solitary, such as washing clothes, she took her time with. As the week passed and nothing untoward had happened she had allowed herself to relax but only slightly. Perhaps Miss Valliére was only being nice as part of an attempt to soften her up? She tried to put these thoughts to the back of her mind but sometimes the noble girl would get too close for comfort and she would feel her muscles become tense and the hairs on her neck would stand on end. She could feel her nerves fraying more and more each day.

Quietly she bent over and gently shook her young mistress’ shoulder; it took a couple of shakes but eventually the young noble began to stir and Siesta drew back almost instantly.

“Ugh, what…” Her mistress wasn’t too good in the mornings, even though she often insisted on being woken at dawn. The first morning Siesta had allowed her an extra half an hour in bed and had received a small telling off for it. Apparently the fact that she found mornings so difficult was the very reason she needed to be woken so early.

“Good morning Miss. Please wake up, it is just passed sunrise. I have already prepared your clothes and the tea is nearly ready.”

She turned and walked back toward the kettle and using a thick piece of cloth removed it from where it hung. She poured the hot water into two separate cups, one for her mistress and one for herself. She had been surprised the first time she had prepared tea for Miss Valliére and the young noble had insisted that next time she should prepare some for herself too. In fact, the maid got the impression that her standing to the side waiting for her mistress to finish her drink disturbed the smaller girl for some reason. Thus Siesta had taken to doing this at every feasible opportunity, although she was careful to never push her luck.

Behind her she heard the rustle of cloth as her mistress dragged herself from her bed and began to change. Siesta had assumed that Miss Valliére would be one of those types of nobles who insisted on not dressing themselves when there was a servant around who could do it for them. This turned out not to be the case, in fact she had gone quite red in the face when the subject had been brought up. Siesta had been most relieved; she did not enjoy the idea of being around a naked Miss Valliére, the thought alone made her quite nervous, after the lewdness the girl had proven herself capable of.

When Miss Valliére had finished changing the two sat down to drink their tea. It was awkward and quite, just as it was every morning and neither of them made any attempt to break the silence, still Siesta had never had a chance to drink from china this fine before. So they both just sat there, drinking their tea and passing the time idly until it was almost time for breakfast to be served. Eventually she worked up the nerve to speak:

“What is your schedule for today, miss?” The other girl looked at her for a moment as though suddenly remembering something.

“There are no classes today.” She said eventually, “Instead we are supposed to spend time getting to know our familiars better.”

“Oh.” That was all the young maid could manage. Did this mean she was going to have to spend all day in mistress’s company? If she did that then she wouldn’t have any time to do her chores, unless Miss Valliére intended to talk to her while she did her work but no noble would subject themselves to that. After that there was no more talk and when the two of them had finished their tea Siesta put the cups to the side, next to the teapot, to be scrubbed later.

As the two of them exited the room a few moments later, they heard the sound of approaching footsteps, which were quickly followed by a familiar voice.

“Hello Valliére.” The voice sounded cheerful enough but Siesta still felt the blonde-haired girl stiffen beside her and she understood why. From what she had gathered during the week she had been under her new employer, the voice’s owner was one of the people who most often poked fun at her mistress, for her apparent failings. Following behind the dark-skinned woman was a bright-red lizard the size of a tiger, with a flame dancing at the tip of its tale.

“What do you want, Zerbst?”

“Hmm? Is there something wrong with greeting a friend?” Siesta watched as her Mistress somehow managed to turn pale and blush at the same time, resulting in her turning a most unusual shade of pink.

“Since when were you and I friends?” the blonde responded, “Besides after the last time you greeted me in such a manner, I distinctly remember having a bad day.” Was it Siesta’s imagination, or was there an edge of nervousness in Miss Valliére’s voice.

“Oh? But didn’t that day end with your lover being contracted as your personal servant? In fact many of our classmates are wondering just how personal her service is.” The tone of her voice left no doubt as to what was being implied. “And I never did discover if she enjoyed your uniform.”

The paleness left Louise’s face leaving only a brilliant shade of red, and Siesta could feel her own face heat up like the sun, lover? What on earth? Had Miss Valliére said that? No, she looked just as taken aback as her. Still it was her fault, Siesta thought, after her actions such rumours would be almost inevitable; but Miss Zerbst’s last comment … surely the students didn’t think that her mistress had hired her to … to… The very thought sent a tingle of fear through her and made her feel a little sick as she remembered lying there on the bed completely still like a doll, as her mistress… She forcefully shook herself free of those memories as she saw her employer open her mouth to argue back with the Germanian, perhaps it would be best to politely cut this conversation short.

“Miss, if we do not leave soon we shall miss breakfast.” The shorter girl stared at her for a second before straightening her back and declaring:

“Yes … yes, quite right Siesta. We don’t have time to be associating with trash like this.” The two turned to walk away but didn’t get far when the dark-skinned girl spoke again.

“Trash? Oh, you hurt my feelings zero.” Siesta saw the young noble stiffen and the red-head bent over to stare her in the eye, “But if either of you need any help or even … practical instruction, feel free to ask.” She said stunning both of them.

It took Siesta a couple of seconds to regain her senses and when she did she found Miss Zerbst gone and her mistress staring into the space her rival had previously occupied, looking quite beside her self with either rage or embarrassment. Uncertainly she cleared her throat causing the young noble to jump.

“Miss, breakfast…” The young noble stared at her with blank eyes; she looked like that last comment might have broken her brain, until eventually something seemed to click. Oddly she could empathise, her own nerves wouldn’t last too much longer if she kept hearing things like that.

“Breakfast, right. But if I see that harlot again today…” Her mistress grumbled under her breath.

It took them less than ten minutes to reach the dining hall, although that time was even more awkward than usual and they passed the other students’ familiars as they entered. Siesta was very glad that Miss Valliére had not made her wait outside as half of her had feared she would; she did not relish the idea of keeping a dragon company, especially if it had not had its own breakfast yet. Inside they walked up to the table and Siesta pulled out a seat for her mistress to sit on. That done she set off towards the kitchens to procure their breakfast.


- - -


Montmorency was in a very foul mood, a night without sleep it turns out, was not conducive to keeping ones spirits up nor did it help keep a person rational. She had spent most of the night fretting over the love-potion fiasco and her nerves were shot. What was more she looked the way she felt, her hair was a mess after it had resisted all attempts by her to fix it this morning. Her eyes were slightly blood-shot and they had bags underneath, bags.

She could not go on like this and so she had decided after much thought, to stop feeling guilty over what happened to Valliére. The incident in question was unfortunate yes, but it was an accident and thus not her fault, in fact if anyone was to blame it was the stupid maid. Yes obviously the fool had mixed up the zero’s drink with the drink she had intended for Guiche. If she had been doing her job properly it never would have happened, thus she had brought it on herself. So, seeing as it was the maids fault Montmorency had nothing to feel guilty about.

As she entered the dining hall she caught sight of something that made her blood boil. It was Guiche, getting friendly with that first-year girl, again. Teeth clenched she stomp over in the direction of her errant boyfriend.


- - -


As she had picked up the plates off the counter earlier, Siesta had caught sight of the gruff, old cook out of the corner of her eye; he had been giving her a look that was somewhere between disappointed and disapproving. She understood and had been thankful when the castle staff had rallied behind her after the incident, many of the servants had begun to offer her tormentor substandard service with some refusing to have anything to do with her. However she’d really had no other prospects when Miss Valliére had offered her this position and she didn’t want to be put in the same position again. Besides she doubted being fired twice in one week would do anything for her career prospects.

She laid the plates down on the table and Miss Valliére gave here a nod, then she turned to make her way back to retrieve their drinks. She stopped when she heard a soft clink and felt something nudge against her foot, looking down she could see that it was a small crystal vial. Slowly she bent over, picked it up and cast her gaze around in an attempt to find who it could belong to. When she spotted Master Gramont and Miss Montmorency speaking rather heatedly, they were the closest to her and seemed to be standing roughly in the direction the vial came from. She didn’t really want to get in the middle of whatever argument they were having but if she failed to return the item and they found out about it, it might go quite badly for her, even if she was officially Miss Valliére’s servant now. In the eyes of most nobles a commoner was a commoner.

Hesitantly she began to make her way over, unfortunately for her Miss Montmorency spotted her and she also spotted what she was carrying.

“What is this, Guiche?” she asked, in a shrill tone that was very close to hysterical, “Do you just hand my fragrance out to every tramp that comes your way now?” Siesta winced inwardly, had that really been necessary? She could almost hear her nerves groan like a chain taking a weight that was too great for it.

“Please MonMon.” Guiche replied, in what Siesta was sure he thought was his most charming voice, “There is no other woman for me but you. You know I can not tell lies before your eyes.”

“Save your lines Guiche. I see the way your fawn over that first year and now I find that you have given this…this…scarlet woman, some of my perfume!” Wait, had Miss Montmorency just called her a prostitute? Part of her wanted to crawl into a hole, the other wanted to reach out and strangle her. No, she couldn’t. Harming a noble could get her flogged or worse. She wasn’t normally a violent person but the pressure from the last two weeks was getting to her, she needed to hand the vial over quickly then go and have her breakfast and relax.

“Erm…excuse me-“she began but was interrupted.

“Quiet harlot!” The blonde noble’s voice was definitely hysterical now, “One noble not enough for you, I take it? Now you come to seduce my Guiche and drag him into the depraved acts you and your master undoubtedly get up to behind-“ Her rant was cut off by the sound of flesh meeting flesh, unable to bare the pressure any longer Siesta’s nerves had finally snapped.

The maid stared at her hand in horror, she-she had just slapped a noble. No, no no no no no. This was a dream or a hallucination, her mind had just finally snapped was all and if she just closed her eyes she be back in her bed or in Miss Valliére’s room preparing tea. Upon opening her eyes again however she found she was not back in her room but Miss Montmorency was still standing in front of her, looking shocked and with a big red handprint on her cheek.

Oh no, now she wanted to cry. She could feel her legs weaken and begin to tremble beneath her and it was only through some miracle that she didn’t collapse on the spot. She felt hollow, empty, she could tell by the darkening look in the blonde girl’s eyes that her doom was fast approaching.

“Guiche, did you see what this commoner just did to me?”

“Yes my dear MonMon.” He replied, sounding as though he had just been thrown a lifeline, “I shall see to it that she is reported and punished.” Siesta whimpered.

“I have a better idea. You wish to prove you love me? Then defend my honour.” If she was scared before Siesta was terrified now. Defend her honour? That meant…

“Defend your…?” said Guiche, sounding taken aback, “But MonMon she is only a commoner and a girl at that. Please MonMon, this is rather unlike you.”

“Do you not wish to fight her because you intended her to be your next conquest? So I was right?”

“I…very well, she would be punished anyway.” He said sounding reluctant and resigned, although his next words had significantly more flair,

“Commoner, it seems someone needs to teach you your place and as your master is obviously not up to the task, I Guiche de Gramont will happily oblige. We meet in the Vestri Court in ten minutes.” With that he allowed Montmorency to lead him away.

Siesta’s legs finally gave out on her and she fell to her knees. A duel? No, no! Siesta shook her head frantically. She couldn’t participate in a duel, she’d be killed. She couldn’t die yet, she was only seventeen. She didn’t want to die. Caught up in the horror she didn’t notice the tears that began to stream from her eyes. She felt someone place a hand on her shoulder and looked up to find her mistress staring back at her.

“Siesta, what just happened?” But she couldn’t bring herself to responded. Fortunately someone else answered for her.

“Guiche challenged her to a duel.” It was Kirche and she looked much more sombre than she had earlier. Next to her was a small, blue-haired girl with pale skin that Siesta recognised as Miss Tabitha, who as always had her head buried in a book.

“What! Siesta can’t duel!” Louise exclaimed.

“I know but it’s true. Although it seemed like Montmorency was putting him up to it, he did sound reluctant.”

“Montmorency, what…?”

“Strange.” The quiet girl supplied, drawing a puzzled look from Louise.

“What Tabitha means, is that that Montmorency was behaving strangely. She looked a bit haggard actually.”

Throughout the short conversation Siesta had been completely silent. She had heard everything but taken none of it in, until Miss Valliére addressed her again.

“Come on.” She said helping the maid to her feet, “If it wasn’t his idea then Guiche will probably call this stupid thing off if you apologise.

Louise was wrong, Guiche was not willing to accept her apology. An aside glance indicated that the presence of his “official” girlfriend, who was glaring at him, may have had something to do with it. It may also have been because the maid had found herself unable to speak and thus her mistress had been forced to do the apologizing on her behalf. So ten minutes after the challenge had been issued Siesta found herself standing in the Vestri Court, surrounded by a heaving mass of students who were buzzing with anticipation as though this was some kind of show. She felt sick, really sick like she might just spill last nights supper all over the floor. Much too soon her “opponent” produced what looked like a red rose from within his cloak and began to speak:

“My name is Guiche de Gramont.” He began, although he sounded like his heart wasn’t completely in it, “My runic name is The Bronze. And now commoner, I shall teach you to respect your betters. Prepare to face my Valkyries.” He made a grand, sweeping motion with the rose and three petals fell to the ground, transforming almost instantly into three statue-like figures made of bronze.

Siesta instinctively backed away, those three golems towered over her, they looked like giants in armour. The first one charged and she ducked, the blow only just missed her. She was not so lucky with the follow-up kick which sent her sprawling into the dirt, clutching her ribs, breathless; unable even to cry out in pain.

“You know this could all end now commoner, if you forfeited” Guiche said, a note of anxiousness in his voice.

“It doesn’t count if you do it for her, Zero.” Montmorency added, seeing Louise begin to step forward.

Siesta couldn’t hear them; the pain was like nothing she had felt before. Each time she tried to suck in a breath her chest burned. She struggled to get to her feet. She didn’t know why she just felt it was important that she do it; the second she was upright though another blow sent her tumbling back across the ground. This time blood was drawn as the rough earth drew a gash along her cheek and her forehead. She struggled to her feet a second time but after only two blows she could barely keep her balance and there were colourful spots dancing in front of her eyes. She shook her head to clear her vision and felt her neck twinge.

She stumbled backwards half-blind, barely avoiding two more blows to the head. She tripped over her own feet but managed to twist herself in mid-fall to land on all fours. Already her breathe was coming in short ragged gasps.

Her mind was overloaded, trying to deal with her fear and the panic and the pain; and trying to sort through the damage she had taken. She couldn’t think and she never saw the next blow coming, over a hundred pounds of metal charged at her. This time there was a sickening crunch as the bronze foot connected with her ribcage and her world entered a new level of pain. She went flying through the air and when she came down she landed awkwardly on her left arm. There was another stomach-turning crack and this time she did scream.
The gathered students had stopped cheering and many of them had begun to go pale, their anticipation dead, they had expected a show not a massacre. Preoccupied with the injured maid none noticed Guiche bite his lip before risking an aside glance at his girlfriend and then nodding his head as though he had come to a decision. Once more he motioned with his rose-wand and dislodged another petal, which somehow managed to cross the distance to his opponent, as though blown by a soft breeze, and land beside her. It glowed brightly for a brief moment and when the light faded a bronze sabre had taken its place.

Siesta saw the weapon and reached for it desperately. She didn’t know what she hoped to accomplish, what could a mere sword do to these monsters? But a small voice deep in her mind, told her that it was her salvation so reached for it with the last of her strength. As her fingers closed around the hilt she felt a soft warmth begin to flood her body, the pain didn’t disappear or fade but somehow it became easier to bare. The world around her suddenly seemed to have slowed and she became aware of what she had to do.

She managed to make it back to her feet, her left arm hanging uselessly against her side and her right grasping her weapon. The nearest golem lunged at her but she pirouetted to the side avoiding the blow; skirt of her uniform flaring out around her. She brought her sword across as she faced it and severed what could pass as the creature’s neck. It collapsed into a pile of scrap.

The second and third golems moved in to attack her from opposing sides. She ducked as the one in front attacked and its fist crashed into the one behind her, causing it to fall and break into pieces. The she rose, swinging her sword as she did and beheaded the final one.
The golems defeated she turned to face the mage and this time it was his turn to stumble backwards, flailing his wand wildly as he fell. Siesta charged and even when four more of the bronze behemoths appeared before her she didn’t stop. Instead she dove between the middle two and spun on the spot, cutting through both their waist almost simultaneously. One of the remainders aimed a back handed blow at her head, she ducked and sprung forward lashing out as she passed and cleaving it in half. She heard the last one approaching behind her and turned sword aimed high and pierced its “throat”.

Once more she turned to face the boy who had unleashed those creatures on her and sprinted forward, once again he went for his wand but this time it was too late. The maid barrelled into him knocking them both into the dirt with her on top, straddling his waist. She raised her sabre and flipped I into a reverse grip, ready to plunge it into his throat.

“Wait, I yield I yield.” The blond cried desperately.

The blade came down…and plunged into the dirt to the left of the boy’s head.

Slowly Siesta released her grip on the blade and pushed herself to her feet. She saw her master’s face in the crowd and smiled, the petite noble looked like she had been crying. She tried to walk towards but with each step she took the pain that had been so easy to ignore before made itself known; only now it felt a thousand times worse. On the third step the edges of her vision had begun to go black and by the fifth the pain had become too much and she allowed herself to fall into the comforting darkness.
Even though she wouldn’t ever know it, she never hit the ground because her mistress had rushed forward to catch her on the way down.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Author's note: Heh, managed to get the second chapter edited. Anyway, please enjoy.

Seika
December 1st, 2011, 12:58 AM
I enjoyed this chapter. It feels a bit more ... cohesive and we're getting into a bit more of the Siesta/Louise interaction. So, having said that I like this, I will proceed to criticise it. Because I'm simply a miserable failure at being nice to people.


Instead the dove between the middle two and spun on the spot, cutting through both their waist almost simultaneously. One of the remainders aimed a back handed blow at her head, she ducked and sprung forward lashing out as she passed and cleaving it in half. She heard the last one approaching behind her and turned sword aimed high and pierced its “throat”.

This bit just needs a bit of cleaning up. 'She' for 'the'; 'waists' for 'waist'. 'Remainders' seems odd, given it's normally a sort of collective noun and generally operates in the singular, but I'm not sure it's technically wrong, and saying 'one of the remaining ones' just sounds silly. 'one of the remaining golems/constructs/Valkyries', maybe? I believe 'back handed' should be hyphenated to back-handed, being a single adjective, but that's occasionally weird. 'Sprung' I believe to be the past participle/adjective from 'spring': 'sprang' is the much more usual past tense form (see also 'spun' vs. 'span', though that's more dubious). The underlined sections should be separate clauses, in commas.

Other quick corrections I picked up in passing:

It was awkward and quite -> It was awkward and quiet

As she leant over she could she the peaceful look -> As she leant over, she could see the peaceful look

it is just passed sunrise -> it is just past sunrise

flame dancing at the tip of its tale. -> flame dancing at the tip of its tail

unable to bare the pressure any longer -> unable to bear the pressure any longer and somehow it became easier to bare -> somehow it became easier to bear

The fight scene seemed to get better as it went on. If you wanted to avoid the occasional feeling of it being disjointed and speed up the flow a little, I'd recommend a few more full stops in place of commas, and perhaps some more participle phrases instead of stringing finite verbs and 'and's. 'Turning, she struck' is simply faster to parse than 'she turned and she struck'. You're certainly doing this at points, but there are infrequent paragraphs I think could just be that bit faster-paced (especially useful here, given the initial discrepancy in speed between Siesta and the golems, and then the later reversal of that situation when her speed outdoes theirs).

If I'm honest, I think that is your biggest technical flaw (so by no means a terrible or huge one). It sounds more like something said out loud (with commas acting as pauses) than a writing piece at points because here and there you let sentences drag on by putting in commas instead of ending them dead. On the other hand, you also let clauses which should be contained by commas go by without them. See the two underlined ones in the above passage, for example. Maybe thinking about how the commas are functioning grammatically a bit more might avoid the underuse and overuse, I guess?

Alright, nitpicking over commas and pacing over. Narratively, I do like what you've done. The entry into the duel seemed reasonably handled, the characters acted according to their personalities (you even convinced me that early-Guiche would have had that moment of mercy, though he would hardly have expected the outcome). Please keep it up!

PhoenixAct
December 1st, 2011, 04:46 PM
Disclaimer: I do not own ZnT.

Chapter III – Convalescence



It was a miserable day for an early spring afternoon, the sky was covered by dull, grey clouds and a fine drizzle of rain fell lightly against the ground. As Louise climbed the stairs to her room she counted her blessings that she had thought to wear a travelling cloak for her little excursion into the town. When she had set out the air had been close and humid but she hadn’t liked the look of the sky, at that point it had already been clouded over. She had sweated quite heavily on the way in to town but then the weather had broken on the way back and the rain had come pouring down.



In her hands she was carrying a long item wrapped in cloth and a second shorter but wider package was slung over her shoulder; it was a present for Siesta, for when she woke up. Her maid had been in the hospital for the last two days in some sort of magically induced slumber. The doctors had put her under the spell in case she woke up during treatment, apparently her wounds were easy for a mage to heal but it would be quiet painful for the patient and would take time because of the extent of her injuries; her left arm had been broken in two places, she had had three broken ribs, a cracked vertebrae, a cracked skull and internal bleeding. Just hearing the doctors’ talk had made Louise feel like she was going to be sick, they had said she was lucky that Louise had brought her there so quickly. Although they had mentioned that it would have been better not to move her and to have brought them to her.



Against Louise’s will memories of the last two days began to return to her.



She’d carried Siesta up to the infirmary straight after the duel, with one of the maid’s arms over her shoulders. She had been unable to support her weight by herself and it was Kirche of all people who had helped her, the red-head had draped the girl’s left arm over her servant’s shoulders but supported her by the waist. When they had reached the top of the stairs (who’s dumb idea had it been to put the infirmary at the top of a tower?) the first doctor they had run into had refused to treat her, attempting to feed them some rubbish about the place being exclusively for students and faculty. Louise had seen red, anyone could tell how badly Siesta was hurt just by looking at her and this idiot was refusing her treatment?! She and Kirche had begun to argue back both of them getting angrier and angrier with each refusal. Fortunately before things had gotten too heated, Professor Colbert had turned up and ordered the man to treat her servant. He had agreed to treat her, after a lecture from the professor about it being a healer’s responsibility to help the injured, no matter who they were. Louise couldn’t care less what his reason was, the important thing was that the man had finally seen sense.



That night she had tossed and turned beneath her covers, sleep a distant dream. She had been tired but every time she’d closed her eyes she had seen Siesta battered and broken, her body covered in scrapes and scars and her arm hanging uselessly from by her side; but what she remembered the most was that smile. Just before she had fainted Siesta had smiled at her, a genuine smile that had been truly disturbing. Why? What had made her feel good enough? When she finally did manage to find some sleep the nightmares had come. Nightmares in which Guiche did not create that sword, where she didn’t get her to the hospital in time and where…



When she had awoken the next morning she had been out of sorts from her restless sleep and she had been expecting to open her eyes, to find her maid busy making the tea or folding her clothes. Upon opening her eyes she had felt an odd sense of loss and irritation, until she remembered what had happened; it was strange how you could become so used to someone within little more than a week.



When she had made to get dressed she had found she only had one clean school uniform left. She had four in total but the one from two days before had not been washed, Siesta had not had a chance to wash the first and the second had gotten blood on it after she had carried her to the infirmary, so she had had to change. She didn’t give herself time to ponder this, instead she’d tried to make her herself a cup of tea … it had tasted horrible. After that she had decided to go down to breakfast, even though she hadn’t felt very hungry. Her mother had said that one must always eat breakfast, even when one didn’t feel like it because it was the most important meal of the day and her mother always turned out to be right.



She surfaced from the reverie as she reached the top of the stairs and turned towards her room. Once inside she slid both packages under her bed and hung her travelling cloak on the edge of her wardrobe to dry.




She caught sight of the three, still-damp school uniforms hanging from the wardrobe doors. This morning she had seen them lying in a pile on the floor along with her underwear; the castle maids no longer came to her room and she’d realised that today may be the students’ day off but if she wanted something to wear when classes started again she’d have to wash them herself. She had expected it to be easy, it was something even commoners could do after all but she had found it to be very tiring, her arms had ached for an hour afterwards and she wasn’t sure she had done a very good job. Not to mention one of the uniforms, the one with the blood on it had had to be thrown in the garbage, as no matter how hard she scrubbed the stains just would not come out. That was fine; she’d had no desire to wear that particular uniform again anyway.



After that she had sat down to lunch and oddly enough both von Zerbst and Tabitha had sat down opposite her. She had been prepared for a full round of teasing but surprisingly it never came. None of them talked and it made for a silent but not uncomfortable meal.




It was an hour later when Louise came up with a plan. She would buy Siesta a present for when she got out of the hospital, after all that is what people did right? When someone they knew recovered from illness or injury? Yes, it was completely normal, so not even the rumour-mongers could get the wrong idea from it! Although it would have to be something practical and relatively cheap, she’d winced inwardly at that, she’d never had to do cheap before but the fact was most of her allowance was paying Siesta’s wages. It never occurred to her to consider how absurd it might be that she could pay a full salary out of her allowance.



Louise lay on her bed for a couple of moments and tried to think about nothing but it was no use. Just like the previous two days, whenever she closed her eyes she saw the maid’s bloody smile. With a sigh she rose to her feet and left her room intending to head to the infirmary, she hadn’t checked on Siesta yet today. When she exited into the hall however she nearly bumped into one of the last people she wanted to see; she tried to simply walk past him but then he spoke.



“Valliére?” Guiche said.



“Yes, de Gramont?” she responded, she could already feel her anger bubbling under the surface.



“I…how is your servant doing?”



“She will survive but I don’t see how it is any business of yours,” she failed to keep the frostiness out of her tone.



“Valliére, I wish to apologise for-,“ that was as far as he got before Louise held up a hand to cut him off.



“Firstly de Gramont, I am not the only one you should apologise to. Secondly, an apology isn’t going to take back what you did. What right do you have to enquire about her health, when it was you who caused her injuries in the first place?” Guiche didn’t respond instead he merely looked down at his feet. Louise growled, was he not going to yell back at her or attempt to defend his pride? For the last two days she had felt the anger and frustration building up inside her and she wanted, needed to vent and she couldn’t do that if this fop refused to argue back.



“I know Gramont, that my servant struck Montmorency,” she continued, “However, you should have reported this to me. You had no right to take matters into your own hands.”



“She’s right, you know,” a new voice spoke and the both of them turned to find Kirche standing in the open doorway to her room.



“What do you want, Zerbst?” Louise asked and felt a wave of déjà vu. She seemed to be saying that line a lot more often than she’d used to.




“Hmm? Well I heard a strange noise out in the hallway and came to see what could have caused it,” she said in an almost offhand manner, “Although I can guess the answer to that now.” She added, looking at Guiche.



“This isn’t any of your business,” Louise responded.




“Of course not,” replied the red-head, “I just thought I would remind Guiche that he could be in a lot more trouble than he thinks.”



“What do you mean?” the blond asked.




“Think Gramont, it wasn’t just some random commoner you slapped around but a retainer of the Valliére family. Not to mention a familiar is legally considered an extension of the mage and any action against her could be seen as action against her master.” Louise flashed a vicious grin when she saw the boy turn white. In truth she had actually forgotten about this little detail. Or rather, she had known about the attack and Siesta being her servant obviously but her mind had failed to make the connection, no doubt because of the stress and worry she had been feeling. This opened up new avenues of attack for her, she realised and she decided to take full advantage of it.



She slapped Guiche in the face.




“As Zerbst said, a familiar is considered an extension of the mage Gramont. So by law it was I and not Siesta who struck Montmorency; and now I have struck you, will you now challenge me?”



“I…Valliére, duelling between nobles is forbidden,” he responded.




“Yet you duelled my familiar, who by law is considered my representative. Did you feel safer because she was unarmed and incapable of magic? Perhaps people should know that the only opponents the son of General Gramont can fight are unarmed serving girls?”



“I…” he spluttered.




“There might be no need for things to go that far.” She said, attempting a soothing tone that was rather spoiled by the savage look on her face, “But I will have to insist that Guiche beg Siesta for forgiveness, after all she is the victim.”



“I suppose-“




“In public,” Louise cut in, “In fact,” she added suddenly remembering something. “We have a festival coming up don’t we? With the princess and other nobles attending? But it will be up to her whether or not she accepts.”



Her piece said Louise began to walk away leaving the boy staring blankly at her back, she actually felt a bit proud of herself having to grovel before a commoner was one of the most humiliating things that could happen to a noble. Part of her new that such a thing was extremely unlikely to happen and would likely cause a great political mess if it did but another part of her simply didn’t care. That would teach people that she would not tolerate anyone messing with her servant! You did not touch what was hers! She was interrupted from her self congratulatory thoughts when she felt someone fall into step beside her.



“I must admit myself impressed, Valliére. A bit rash maybe but still…” said Kirche, “Why that could almost have been considered fighting dirty.”



“Why are you walking beside me?” she asked.



“You are on your way to the infirmary to visit your maid, aren’t you? Then I shall walk with you.” Louise looked at her suspiciously.



“Why?”



“I need to see a doctor myself. Personal reasons,” she added before Louise could ask.



“Finally catch something, did you?”



“I understand you’re angry, so for today I will let that go. Although, it does seem you actually managed to get yourself some wit in the last day or so.”




The two of them walked the rest of the way in silence and when they reached their destination Kirche went off to find herself a doctor, whilst Louise sat herself down in the seat beside Siesta’s bed. Most of her wounds were healed now but there was still a very faint scar along her left cheek. The doctor had said that this would remain because the cheek had been pierced right through rather than just cut but Louise wasn’t fooled. The man had been reluctant to treat her in the first place and had done the bare minimum necessary to avoid punishment. Fortunately Professor Colbert had later been able to find another doctor who had been much more willing to treat the maid.



Looking down at her servant, she felt a sudden compulsion to brush a rogue strand of hair out of the girl’s face but resisted. Even though her treatment was over she still looked incredibly pale and fragile almost like she was made of china, the doctors assured her it was because of the sleep spell, when she woke up she would be much more lively. She checked the back of the maid’s hand, the one where the runes were imprinted. She had seen those runes glow faintly when the maid had grasped the sword, at first she thought she had been seeing things but as time went on she became more and more convinced that it had happened.



She leaned back in her chair and struggled to suppress a yawn, suddenly her body felt so heavy; well it was no surprise really, she hadn’t been sleeping very well recently after all. She thought she probably just rest for a couple of moments before heading back to her room to get an hours study in before dinner. Yes, that sounded like a good idea.


- - -


Slowly, little by little, light began to filter through the smothering darkness and she gradually returned to consciousness.



Siesta blinked to clear the blurriness out of her vision and found herself staring up at a plain, stone ceiling; although it was one she did not recognise too well. Suddenly she became aware of a faint noise beside her and she turned her head to find Miss Valliére reclining in a seat next to her bed, apparently asleep and snoring very lightly. Now she was confused, why wasn’t she in her room and why was her mistress sitting beside her bed? Casting her gaze about the rest of the room she discovered more beds, so she was in the infirmary? Well, that would at least explain her mistress’s presence but why was she here?




Suddenly it all came back to her, the argument in the dining hall, finding the glass vial and striking Miss Montmorency on the cheek. Then, oh God, then she had been challenged to a duel. She couldn’t remember much of it, except for being thrown around by those bronze golems and the pain, the pain had been unbearable, just remembering it made her curl up in a ball under the hospital sheets. Although maybe she should consider herself lucky, she had been fully expecting to black out in that duel and never wake up again. Everyone knew that commoners did not often survive fighting with a noble. Suddenly someone spoke, drawing her attention to the foot of her bed and standing there was someone she would never have expected to see.



“So, you’re awake.”




“Miss Zerbst…” Siesta began but didn’t know how to continue. It would be very rude to ask why she was here and the last thing she needed was to offend another noble.



“The very same,” Kirche replied, “So, how are you feeling?”



“I…feel fine”



“I see, so the doctors did their job properly then,” she said as she rubbed her chin in thought. “Well that’s good; Louise will be relieved she was worried about you.”



“Eh? Mistress was…?” Siesta asked. She found it hard to believe that a noble would spend any amount of time worrying over her.



“Oh, she would never admit it but she was quiet upset when you were injured. Perhaps she still feels responsible for the love-potion incident.”



“Love-potion?”



“Well, it may not have been a love-potion, in fact probably not because of them being illegal but the end result was the same,” Kirche said.



“I…don’t…”



“A couple of weeks back, I’m sure you remember. You did after all run from her room in tears.” It took Siesta a tremendous amount of willpower not to begin fidgeting, she remembered that incident all too well; and it dragged to the surface thoughts and feelings that were still fresh and sometimes caused her to wake in a cold sweat in the middle of the night. But was Miss Zerbst saying someone else was responsible? Someone had tricked her into delivering a poisoned drink to her mistress? The idea that she had been used in such a way made the blood boil beneath her skin, not that she would ever say so aloud.



“I…why?” asked the maid.




“Well, most likely to try and discredit the Valliére, although I don’t actually know.”



“No…I mean, if it was obvious…”




“Ahhh, you’re asking why the students believed you and zero were up to depraved things behind closed doors?” Kirche asked, after receiving a nod of confirmation and an intense blush she continued, “Well some of them may not have noticed, even though they like to make fun of her, few know her as well as I do. Besides, an illicit affair, more a homosexual, illicit affair between a noble and a commoner, a Valliére no less, makes for juicy gossip, especially in Tristain where people are so repressed. Most people probably didn’t want to dig much deeper anyway, their imaginations probably came up with stuff that they found much more … entertaining.”



The way she spoke that final word left no doubt to her meaning and made Siesta blush to the roots of her hair. The idea that people might of imagined her and her mistress in such compromising positions caused her stomach to churn. She could understand the temptation though given the books she read…or used to read. In truth she had not touched any of her books since her flight from Miss Valliére’s room. Bodice-rippers, she had found, were far less enjoyable once you knew what it really felt like to be confronted by such an aggressive suitor. She didn’t want to continue this line train of thought and cast around for a different topic of conversation, her eyes fell on the sleeping pinkette.



“Umm, how long…?” she asked.




“Oh, only about ten minutes or so, she’s been quite busy since she got up this morning.” There was a couple of moments of silence before Kirche spoke again, “Well then, if you’ll excuse me I have an appointment in a little under an hour,” she said as she turned to the door.


“Thank you!” Siesta called after her. She couldn’t believe that Miss Zerbst had stuck around to answer her questions, she wasn’t going to spoil it now by showing bad manners.



“You’re welcome~,” Kirche sang as she closed the infirmary door behind her.



Siesta passed the minutes in silence, simply looking at her still sleeping master. If Miss Zerbst was right and her mistress wasn’t responsible for her own actions that night, then why had she hired her? She had thought that she had been hired simply to keep her near, which is why she had gotten so nervous whenever her master had gotten too close, she had been constantly expecting the smaller girl to try and jump her. In fact if her situation had not been so bleak she probably would not have accepted Miss Valliére’s offer but then she would have been summoned as a familiar and ended up here anyway. It depressed her to think there may be some sort of cruel destiny behind what had happened. Although, if she wasn’t really going to try and … take her, then maybe working for Miss Valliére would be okay after all, the girl had certainly been nicer to her than she had expected.



As she continued to ponder, the pink-haired girl began to stir. With a low, sleepy moan she groggily opened her eyes, she just stared at Siesta for a moment or two and blinked twice before reason seemed to return to her.



“Ah, Siesta you’re awake.” She said, almost a little too excitedly. She smiled and Siesta noticed that she was actually rather pretty when she wasn’t in a bad mood.



“Um…yes mistress.”



An awkward silence hung in the air, neither one of them having any Idea what to say after that.


- - -


Guiche sat at the end of his bed just thinking, he’d been doing that a lot since his defeat at the hands of Valliére’s maid a couple of days ago. In truth the loss no longer bothered him, after the match a part of him had been upset that he had lost to a commoner but he’d had no right to complain given that he at least had still been able to stand. Besides which, he had underestimated his opponent, something against which his father had always warned him. No what bothered him most was his conduct.



When the duel had started he had felt confident, after all she was merely a maid, a commoner who had forgotten her place and had indeed struck a member of the nobility. However when she had displayed that she did have some talent for battle fear had grasped him and he had panicked. Was that all he was? Was he only able to fight foes who could not hope to stand against him and cower before those who could fight back? Was the son of the famous general Gramount such a coward?



He dropped his head into his hands. Not only had he disgraced himself during the duel itself but even before that he had allowed himself to be talked in to fighting a duel he didn’t really want to fight. MonMon had obviously been distressed since before entering the dining hall that morning and argument between them had only made things worse. When the girl had slapped her she hadn’t been rational he had or at least more so than MonMon, he should have known better. He knew at the time that the right thing to do was to go to Valliére and allow her to handle punishment. Not to mention she and Zerbst were right, he had undermined the other young noble’s authority and assaulted her retainer which could be considered an insult to her family’s honour.




He sighed, when he had been young his parents had read all the old stories to him; epic tales of brave and noble knights who had vanquished great foul beasts and evil tyrants and inevitably saved a fair maiden of some description. As a small child those heroes had seemed to him to be the very pinnacle of what a noble should be and he had wanted nothing more than to be like them, he had even started to model himself on them. Of course back then he had had very little interest in fair maidens and his imagination had concentrated much more on the parts about vanquishing dragons. That had changed when he’d entered his teenage years of course and he had found himself to be quiet good at the charming the young women around him, they positively swooned over the image he had crafted for himself. Somewhere along the way his dreams of heroism had taken a back seat to his interest in seducing the large number of girls around him and somehow, without realizing it he had become a man who would challenge unarmed, mostly innocent girls to armed combat to protect his image. Far from heroism, he had drifted much closer to the role of the villain!



That had to change, he must change.


- - -


Siesta stared at herself in the mirror, she was wearing the new clothes her mistress had bought for her to replace the ones that had been ruined during the…during the duel. It was only a plain, white blouse and a long, black skirt but she appreciated it none the less. The style suited her, she wasn’t one for overly fancy things and she could tell that despite the simplicity the ensemble was still of a higher quality than anything she had worn before. The cloth was smooth and at the same time felt substantial but light and the stitching was barely visible.




She could see her mistress in the mirror, sitting at the end of her bed, watching her no doubt waiting to see if her generosity had been appreciated. She could feel her stomach begin to twist in nervousness and immediately felt bad about it. If Miss Valliére had not been in control of herself during…when that had happened then there was no need to feel nervous around her now that she was, right? In some small act of penance for her involuntary bad thoughts she smiled at the girl’s reflection before she turned to face her short mistress and curtsied deeply.



“Thank you for the gift, mistress.” She said, attempting to sound as humble as possible.




“It’s quite alright.” Louise replied, looking a little awkward, “There is something else as well.”



On the bed was another package, this one longer and thinner than the one that had held her new clothes and it had felt a bit heavy when she had lifted it earlier. For some reason when she had had it in her hands it had made butterflies erupt in her stomach. She picked the parcel up, feeling its solid weight and began to unwrap it, when she was finished she let out a small gasp.



It was a sword. Simple in design; although the hilt was a bit odd, simple steel wrapped in cloth and it was long enough to accommodate one hand and perhaps a couple of fingers from the other. The blade was doubled edged and about four feet long with a fuller that ran to where it began to taper to a point, and t was polished to a mirror finish. The polished steel caught the light as it drifted in through the window and the blade shimmered softly. The effect could’ve been called beautiful. But still, it was a sword, an instrument to be used to maim and to kill. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to find her mistress looking at her.




“Just in case.” She said and Siesta understood or at least, she thought she did. She was a familiar as well now and a part of a familiar’s duties was to protect her master and she had somehow proven herself to be skilled with a sword. That was what she had heard since leaving the infirmary anyway, honestly she couldn’t remember much of the duel itself, just pain and darkness and she hadn’t been able to believe it when Miss Valliére had told her she’d won. That explained the glowing looks she’d received from the rest of the castle staff, there was even a small part of herself that swelled with pride whenever she thought about it, she had beaten a noble! However that pride was tempered by the potential consequences, there was a very good chance that the rest of the nobility would not take too kindly to what had happened.



There came a knock on the door and Siesta moved to answer it. When she returned she was holding in her hands a small white envelope with Louise’s name written on the front in thin, purposeful writing. She watched as her mistress opened the envelope and began to read. She started to feel very nervous as the young nobles face slowly drained of all colour, by the time she finished it Siesta thought she looked like she might faint. The letter fluttered to the ground and Louise cleared her voice loudly in what Siesta thought was a vain attempt to regain her composure. After a moment the student began to speak.




“The letter was from my mother,” she coughed nervously, “she wishes to pay a visit to the academy so we can discuss recent events.”



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Author's Note: And with that, all the pre-existing chapters of this story are up. Thank you to those who have taken the time to comment, especially to Seika for her advice. Now I just have to work on finishing chapter four.

Just a note but if any one spots any instance in these three chapters or the first half of the next, of me referring to Louise as pink-haired, please let me know. When I first started this I was running with the anime representation of their appearances but have since decided to go with the light novels' version of strawberry-blonde.

So, anybody got any thoughts they'd like to share?

Comartemis
December 2nd, 2011, 03:07 AM
I am enjoying this. Siesta is one of the ZnT characters I like best (Tabitha and Kirche being the other two) and it's refreshing for her to be the main character rather than one crossover character or another.

Larekko12
December 2nd, 2011, 05:13 AM
SO Damn this is nice but. Louise got her a punk bitch sword instead if Ancient Harbringer of Magey Death and Portection?

Guy
December 2nd, 2011, 07:15 AM
I liked the fic, Siesta is a character that should appear more

Prince Charon
December 9th, 2011, 05:22 AM
Interesting. Still hoping Louise finds out what MonMon did. Had the thought of having her blackmail MonMon into being Siesta's servant.

PhoenixAct
December 23rd, 2011, 11:58 AM
Disclaimer: I do not own Zero no Tsukaima/familiar of Zero.

Chapter IV – Company



She was beginning to despise teenagers.

Louise sat at the back of the classroom trying to avoid attention, she could feel her eyebrow twitch every time one of the other students turned and snickered in her direction. Since waking that morning she had become aware of another rumour doing the rounds, this one questioning her ability as well as her integrity. Apparently she was supposed to have somehow convinced her servant to pose as her familiar, so that she would not be embarrassed in front of her entire year. Not only that, but many of the more imaginative students were entertaining themselves by day-dreaming about just how she had managed to persuade Siesta into doing such a thing. Perverted fantasies aside, the summoning was the first time she had ever performed proper magic and now they were trying to take that away from her. Well they weren’t going to, she wouldn’t let them.

A part of the blame for her mood could be laid on her growing anxiety over her mother’s missive, it had been four days and there had been no visit or further word. She understood of course, despite being officially retired from the military her mother still had responsibilities. However there was also another reason for her current state of emotional distress.

It turned out von Zerbst had been right; people were coming up with their own reason for why Siesta had been dismissed from her job and why Louise had offered her a new one immediately afterward. Other than those simply giggling themselves silly over whatever indecent thoughts their filthy minds had come-up with, there were those who had taken a far nastier tone. Some of the students had taken exception to … to her supposed homosexuality, she had heard the words “disgusting” and “pervert” whispered whenever she walked by, as though she couldn’t hear them. With the exception of von Zerbst, Tabitha and, to her surprise, Gramount, everyone seemed to edge away or become nervous when she drew near, like she was carrying something contagious. Worse, this appeared to have been going on for some time, probably ever since the incident that had started it all. She’d just hadn’t been paying much attention, her head had been to full of stress and worry, particularly over what her family, what her mother would say. Now she had to worry over whether these newest additions had reached her mother’s ears.

She sighed, all of her life she had dreamt of having her own legend like her mother, now it seemed like she was getting her wish.

At least she had a properly cleaned and ironed uniform again now; she had to admit she’d never had a servant who could do laundry quite as well as Siesta. The maid had actually started work again the very evening she’d returned from the infirmary, Louise had tried to get her to lie down and rest but she had insisted. She couldn’t help but think that whatever man Siesta eventually married, would be very lucky indeed. Still, properly cleaned clothes were a small consolation, even if they did feel very fresh.

To her left and a little behind, stood her maid; it was strange but she didn’t feel as nervous as she thought she would with someone looming over her shoulder. Maybe it was because Siesta was too small to properly loom, or because she was simply used to the young maid but Louise found her presence to be oddly comforting. Around her waist was fastened a thick, leather belt, from which hung the black, wooden scabbard that housed her sword. Louise was pleased to see that, a couple of the snickering students would occasionally catch sight of that sword and hurriedly look away.

Currently Siesta was simply staring straight ahead, listening to the teacher with rapt attention. Not that Louise could blame her, this could possibly be the first time in history that a commoner was allowed to sit in on a lecture about magic and actually be allowed to learn from it. Although it looked like most of the material might very well be going over the girl’s head. Which was to be expected, Siesta had no knowledge on the mechanics of magic, whereas most students had a solid grounding in the basics before they even set foot in the academy.

She would give her maid a proper lesson in the fundamentals later tonight, Louise decided. At least that way she would be prepared and they might be able to avoid another incident like that hideous “duel”. No doubt the fear of offending another noble was why Siesta had remained so quiet for the whole lesson, despite obviously being thoroughly confused by everything. Or maybe she believed it to be none of her business as a commoner? If that was the case, then it would unfortunately be Louise’s duty to talk her maid afterwards about her new responsibilities, as the petite mage realised she hadn’t done so yet. It would likely mean being alone with the maid, for an unspecified amount of time, but the rumours could not possibly get any worse.

Another snicker drew Louise back to the present as she felt her teeth begin to grind together of their own volition. Really, why couldn’t these people just grow up? She returned her attention to the front of the classes and tried her best to block out the annoyances of the world around her.

The teacher for this class was an earth-mage, Chevreuse of the Red Clay and the lesson itself was on transmutation or the ability to turn one type of mineral or metal into another. Even without her mind on her personal life, Louise wasn’t really paying much attention. She already knew the theory behind it, as she knew the theory behind most of what a student could expect to learn during their second year; she had spent countless nights sitting up studying until she fell asleep with the book still in her hands. The problem was that every time she tried to actually apply the theory something went wrong, she just couldn’t get it to work. As many of her classmates constantly reminded her, she was the zero.

“Well then, how about you Miss Valliére?”

Louise jerked in her seat. Crap, the teacher had just asked her something and she’d missed it.

“Yes, miss?” she replied somewhat sheepishly.

“I was wondering whether you would care to come to the front and give a demonstration on transmutation?” Miss Chevreuse answered, a frown appearing on her face. More sniggers from the class at large, it sounded as though they weren’t even trying to hide it anymore. She felt here ire rising and fought to rein it in, even though a small part of her already knew it was a losing battle.

“Miss,” a voice spoke from the front of the class, it belonged to a boy she thought was named Malicorne, it contained barely suppressed mirth. “I’m not sure that’s such a good idea.” She saw some flash across the teacher’s eyes, she couldn’t make out what it was but it served irk her further. Suddenly Miss Chevreuse looked ever so slightly nervous, as she turned away from Louise and looked at the other students in the class.

“Ah, yes. Perhaps someone else would like to volunteer?” she said.

Okay, that was it. She felt something inside her give way and instead of trying to remain calm, it was all she could do to keep her voice level. Slowly she rose from her seat and gave the teacher her most charming smile.

“That’s okay professor, I can do it.”

With that she began to walk towards the front of the class, to the teacher’s desk, on which lay three unassuming lumps of lead. She hadn’t really been listening to miss Chevreuse talk but todays lesson had been on transmutation so… As she got closer she felt her nerves tighten more and more, a part of her asking what the hell she was doing, knowing this was going to be another failure. She mentally shook herself, she would be fine, she had studied the theory behind transmutation thousands of time as long as she aimed for simple, dot level magic she would be alright.

When she reached her destination she took a deep breath in an attempt to quell the storms brewing in both her mind and stomach. Slowly she brought out her wand and extended her arm, to hold it above the three lumps of metal, and she reached for the information she had acquired during all those hours of study. She began to mumble self-assuring words and tried to push her magic into the length of wood in her hands. Her eyes were closed so she didn’t notice several of the other students take cover under their desks.

A familiar loud roar tore through the air, accompanied by several screams and the crashing of debris and people being flung across the room.

When the ringing in her ears had stopped, Louise dragged herself unsteadily back to her feet, wobbling a bit as she attempted to stand. The back of her head hurt, she must have hit it at some point on the way down.

After the blurriness in her vision cleared, a single look around the room was enough to tell her what she needed to know. Another failure. Damn it.


- - -

The maid turned familiar stared up at the towering bookshelves, each packed with parchment and books of all different shapes and sizes. The library was a very tall room, at least three times as tall as the average classroom, and all of the bookshelves reached right up to the roof. There was no ladder for reaching the higher shelves either, she supposed that because all (or almost all) the mages in the school could levitate, the faculty had never seen the point. Still, it could potentially make her task more difficult in the future, if she was able to get that far that was. Idly, she found herself wondering how her mistress had coped with it for the last year.

Back in the classroom, after all of the students had regained their equilibrium, she had received a first-hand demonstration of her master’s relationship with her peers. It had started when one of the students (a boy, judging from the sound of the voice) had cracked a joke, referencing her mistress’ infamous nickname. The laughter that followed had been deafening and really quite, shockingly cruel. When she had first begun to work at the academy, it had been her first job and she hadn’t exactly proven herself a natural. However, instead of mocking her for her lack of ability, the other servants in the castle had taught and guided her until she had been able to perform her duties by herself. There had been some ribbing and jokes of course, but nothing like the outright mockery she had witnessed that morning. She believed she may very well be alone in noticing the dark look that had passed through her master’s eyes, as she stood there apparently resigned to their jeers. There had been hints of sorrow and self-pity of course, but also barely-contained frustration and anger. Siesta thought that her mistress may have been torn between turning her wand on her classmates and breaking down crying, but after only two weeks the maid already knew that the young mage’s pride would allow neither.

After seeing that little demonstration, Siesta had resolved to assist her master in whatever way she could, if only to repay her for the clothes and because she still felt nervous around the noble girl, despite knowing the truth. Unfortunately she didn’t know much about the mechanics behind magic, she like most commoners had never put much thought into how it worked, she had been content simply to know that it did. To solve that little problem she had decided to visit the library.

Most commoners couldn’t read very well but Siesta could, she learnt it from her grandfather who’d taught himself when he was younger, around the time he’d met her grandmother. He’d even taught her another language he called Kanji, which he claimed was from a far away land. Her father had said it was waste of time, that she’d never need that stuff but she’d enjoyed spending the time with her grandfather and had continued reading long after both her grandparents had moved on.

When she’d first entered she had approached the librarian to ask for the location of the more basic books and the woman had shot her a downright filthy look, no doubt offended that a commoner wanted to use her library. Still, she had pointed Siesta in the right direction without saying a word about it, before leaving with a huff. The maid guessed she owed this to her new status as a familiar, Miss Louise had told her that familiars were seen as an extension of the mage and thus action against them was often considered action against the master. To be honest, she had found this news to be something of a relief; the Valliére were the most powerful noble family in Tristain, second only to the royal family itself, there were few who would willingly risk evoking their wrath. Still Master Gramount had assaulted her less than a day after the ceremony, so the protection wasn’t total. She already knew that most nobles weren’t nice people and you couldn’t always trust them to play by the rules. So far, her mistress seemed to be the only exception to this rule.

She leaned forward and scanned the first couple of rows, taking in the titles emblazoned across the spines of the books. After a few moments she pulled a couple off the shelf and went to look for an empty table. Finding one, she sat down and opened her first book.

Before delving into the mechanics of the gifts granted to us by the founder, we must first examine and understand the philosophy behind His teachings. When the founder was in the land of…

Siesta sighed, it was a good job she didn’t have any chores to do until after the afternoon classes had finished.

With her attention taken up entirely be the task in front of her, she did not notice that some one was watching her.


- - -

Count Mott strode through the hallways of the Tristain Academy of Magic with a smug grin on his face. Today had turned out to be somewhat satisfactory after all and to think, when he had awoken this morning, he had not been expecting much from it at all.

He had been tasked with warning the academy’s headmaster, that the notorious thief Forquet, was reported to be in the area. A piffling, little errand that could have been performed equally as well by just about anybody; still, when the royal family themselves ask you to do something; it wasn’t exactly prudent to say no. Besides it did his pride some good to know that when the most powerful family in the country wanted something done, they came to him. It had been Princess Henrietta herself who had written the request, a foolish little girl attempting to perform a man’s job, but she was very easy on the eyes.

He had finished his task shortly after he had arrived, delivering the message to the headmaster, who it transpired was a senile old fool, although, for such a fool the man did have remarkably good taste. The secretary (he couldn’t remember the name and didn’t really care) had been very attractive, the very image of the teacher fantasies he had entertained in his youth and that disapproving glare she had shot him on his way out had made his blood race. Oh, how he would love to break that haughty attitude, it was always so satisfying to see the ones with a bad attitude learn their place.

After he had finished his business he had decided to take a small walk around the school and visit some of his old haunts, for nostalgia’s sake. As he travelled he began to remember some of the reasons why he had loved school so much. To start with, the girls’ uniforms made them look so appetizing, the skirts were so short and showed of quite a bit of their young, supple legs, stopping in just the right place to give a tantalising hint of what might lie beyond. Clearly they had been designed by someone who knew a woman’s true place in the world. And the maids, usually overlooked by the students, were everywhere if you paid attention, working away so vigorously, getting all hot and sweaty. In fact, he had bedded a couple of them in his time here, some of them had pretended that they didn’t want it, but they all came around in the end.

As he drew near to the library the one of the doors opened and someone stepped out, it was a woman, and a pretty, young thing, at that, she had her head buried in a book and was scowling at the pages as though confused. He paused to take in her appearance, her hair was black and soft-looking, her skin pale and smooth, her eyes large and so innocent, so naïve; oh the things he could teach her. Her garments however gave him pause; they were simple, but too fine for her to be a regular commoner, and yet at the same time not fine enough for her to be nobility nor were they part of the uniform of the school’s serving staff. So then, perhaps she was the private student of one of the students? Though rare it was not entirely unheard of for students to bring a servant with them to attend to their things, but they did have to clear it with the headmaster first and it was considered a slight against the school’s ability to provide adequate service. Most unusual, he would have to ask around and enquire as to whom this lovely creature belonged.

The girl in question suddenly froze as the large, oak door slammed shut behind her, slowly she raised her head and her eyes locked with his. Now he could see the emotions in her eyes, nervousness and even a little fear, but that was to be expected, he knew, in the presence of one of such stature as him. He gave her what he thought of as a charming grin, but what anyone watching would have described as savage or predatory. Her eyes widened and she began to tremble ever so slightly, as he took a step towards her. Even if he couldn’t have her yet, it was always worth making a good first impression.


- - -

Outside, in the academy’s main courtyard, a second carriage pulled up alongside the one that had been ridden by Count Mott earlier that day. Though just as richly decorated this second carriage appeared less ostentatious and imposing.

As soon as it came to a stop the driver leapt from his seat and rushed to open the door for his passenger, bowing low as he did so.

Out of the carriage stepped a woman with long, strawberry-blonde hair pulled back into a severe-looking ponytail. She stood straight-backed and proud, her face a picture of stoicism as gazed upon the building where she had spent her own years as a student. After a moment or two she began her walk towards the main doors with a military grace.


- - -

Louise had managed to suppress most but not all of her anger, by the time she returned to her dormitory that evening, after all it wasn’t like being angry would change anything. It was just, she was so tired, tired of being mocked, tired of tired of being a loser, tired of being a failure.

When she opened the door to her room a high-pitched, squealing noise pierced the air and caused her to jump and cast a frantic gaze into the room looking for the source. Her maid and familiar was standing in the near the table, cleaning cloth in one hand and she looked like a startled rabbit, ready to run at a moments notice, her eyes wide and her hand on her chest, her breathing obviously heavy, much like Louise’s own was at the moment. After taking a moment to compose herself Louise entered the room, closing the door behind her. She could feel worry begin to creep into her heart, Siesta may have surprised her by making that noise but the maid should know to expect her back around this time but something obviously had her shaken.

“Siesta?” she asked, “Are you alright?”

“Of course I am miss, why wouldn’t I be?” the maid replied, just a little too fast. She then turned around and returned to her work, scrubbing the table top with more vigour than was necessary.

The young noble stepped forward careful, she recognised the look in her servant’s eyes, she’d since it once before, on the night of the love-potion incident. She could feel her stomach begin to turn on itself; she had thought that things were getting better between them, certainly Siesta had seemed warmer towards her as of late and far less jumpy.

Better? Spoke a small, mocking voice at the back of her mind, You attempted to violate the poor girl. And you think that a single weeks worth of being nice, will make things better?

What? No. That hadn’t been her fault, she’d been under the effects of the potion, she’d literally been unable to control her own actions, she couldn’t be held responsible.

And? Do you think that makes any difference to her? If she had not been able to shake you off and flee, do you think it would have changed the end result?

‘But-but … that was … girls can’t do that to each other! It’s impossible!

You keep believing that. After all, it’s not like you were planning to take her right then and there on your bed. Or that you stalked her through the corridors trying to catch her alone, so you could pounce.

No! Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!

That’s why you took her in, isn’t it? Because of the guilt.

No! She didn’t take Siesta in out of a sense of guilt. She didn’t. Although it was true that Siesta didn’t know she hadn’t been in charge of herself that, so she was technically this way because of her, even if it wasn’t really her fault. Besides, it hadn’t been Siesta’s fault either and everyone had been prepared to just cast her aside.

She was pulled from her inner conflict by a firm rapping at her bedroom door. Immediately Siesta’s head snapped up and locked onto the doorway and Louise felt the knot in her stomach loosen before tightening up again immediately. It looked like the maid’s problem wasn’t with her, unfortunately that meant that whatever it was may very well be waiting for her on the other side of that door right now. With some trepidation she return to the, when she opened it she could hear Siesta’s sharp intake of breath behind her.

The person who had come calling was the man Louise least wanted to see, ever. It just felt to her like he was coated in a thin layer of slime and he smelt like he was wearing some sort of cologne that was just obnoxious. She didn’t like the cocky way he held himself either nor the shark-like grin, that she guessed was supposed to be charming. What she disliked most of all however, was the way his gaze had immediately locked onto Siesta behind her and taken on a look like a snake, that had just happened across some particularly succulent prey. As he opened his mouth to speak, Louise beat him to the punch.

“Good evening Lord Mott,” She said, making a deliberate effort to be polite, “What may I do for you?”

“Good evening, Miss Valliére,” He replied, in voice like that of a snake-oil salesman, “I came to have a small chat about the young lady you have in your service.”

Louise heard an almost inaudible squeak from the girl in question and from the look in his eyes, so did Mott. For a moment she thought that Siesta had managed to offend another noble, then dismissed as unlikely, her familiar was not one to act above her station, the situation from a few days ago had been the result of a misunderstanding and the Count’s face looked more amused than annoyed. She forced herself to suppress a shudder when she considered the other reason Count Mott might be interested in her, she had heard rumours of the man’s … appetites. She noticed that his gaze was still locked on Siesta and from the way he was looking at her; she thought that the rumours may not be entirely unfounded. This in mind, she decided on her next course of action and turned to face her maid:

“Siesta,” she spoke, as gently as possible. “Please continue with your duties.” Then she turned back towards the count and trying for the same firm tone her mother used when talking to disagreeable people, she said:

“Lord Mott, I’m afraid we will have to continue this discussion in the hallway,” she waited for him to back away from the doorway before stepping through herself, making sure to close the door firmly behind her.

“Now sir, what is it about my maid that you would like to discuss?”

“Straight to the point, I like that. Actually I was quite surprised to learn that we seem to have the same tastes,” he replied, and coming from him it didn’t feel like a compliment, Louise didn’t much like the idea of him approving of anything she did. “Simply put, I wish to purchase her contract.”

Louise’s had to fight to keep the expression of surprise from her face, for some reason she felt an incredible desire to slap the smirk off of his face.

“I’m sorry but you have wasted your time,” She said, with as little emotion as possible, “My familiar is not for sale.”

“Oh please, come now Miss Valliére. That familiar story failed to pull the wool over the eyes of most of the brats in this academy; it is hardly likely to fool one such as myself. You and I both know the truth.” Louise felt her anger dissipate, to be replaced by an icy chill in the pit of her stomach.

“Truth?” she asked, only just managing to keep her voice from breaking, “What truth?”

“I have been reliably informed Miss Valliére, that you paid your maid to pretend to be your familiar, in order to avoid embarrassment in front of the entire school.”

Immediately anger ignited once more, in the younger noble’s mind and she clenched her jaw. Those damn rumours! Quickly and as she discretely as possible, she took a couple of deep breaths in an attempt to calm herself down.

“I can assure you Count, that those rumours are completely false.”

“Come now, there is no need to lie.”

“I am not lying, sir. And my answer is final.” She grated out, barely keeping herself from growling at the man’s continued ignorance and the insufferable smirk that was still on his face.

Before Mott could reply a new voice entered the conversation.

“Valliére? Is everything alright?” This time she did growl, this was just the person she didn’t want to see at the moment.

“Everything is in hand Gramount. What do you want?” she replied.

“Ah. It is simply that I heard raised voices and wondered what was going on.” He answered, “However, I think I can hazard a guess.” He added, eyeing Mott with obvious distaste.

“Ah, the young Master Gramount, it is a pleasure.” Mott said, in a voice thick with false humility, “I have heard tales of your exploits and I must say, I am impressed.”

“Excuse me, what?” Guiche asked.

“Your talent with the women, of course.” Mott replied smoothly, “Why, the stories remind me of myself at you age.”

Louise watched as Guiche’s face rapidly became very pale, to the point where she thought he might very well faint where he stood and a haunted look entered his eyes. Then suddenly he shook his head and said in a somewhat shaky voice:

“Be that as it may, I would like to know why you are here.”

“Ah, I am simply negotiating for the contract for Miss Valliére’s servant,” the older man replied smoothly. Louise could feel her last tenuous hold on her temper begin to slip, why couldn’t this fool just accept her answer, no meant no damn it!

“Um, I’m not sure you’re completely aware of all the facts my lord,” Guiche replied uncertainly, “But Valliére’s servant is also her familiar.” Mott looked at Guiche quizzically for a moment as though not quite understanding what he was hearing. Louise dared to hope for a moment that the man had finally got it through his thick skull and would leave, before:

“Ah! I understand, the two of you are in on this together of course. Do you take turns with maid or go at the same time?”

Guiche somehow managed to turn an even paler shade of white but Louise’s anger overrode the sick feeling in the pit of her stomach and she finally exploded.

“And just what are you implying!” she screamed, her face a furious red. Mott opened his mouth to respond but what that response was none would know for he was interrupted by another new voice, a woman’s voice, and it was stern and well-spoken.

“Indeed, I would quite like to know the answer to that myself.”

Louise leaned sideways so she could see past Mott and get a look at the newcomer. However even if she had not she still would’ve have known who it was, she would recognise that voice anywhere.

“M-mother…” she breathed, all her righteous fury dissipating in her mother’s presence, all of a sudden she felt very small.

“We will speak in a moment Louise” he mother replied firmly, “First I would like to know the reason for Lord Mott’s presence, it is obviously my daughter you are calling on, you are holding this conversation outside her doorway after all.” Her voice cooled as she spoke and there was a dangerous glint in her eyes.

“I was merely trying to negotiate for the contract for your daughter’s servant.” Louise noticed that he was no longer attempting the false familiarity, nor was he smiling. In fact, he seemed to be attempting to adopt a more straight-forward, business-like persona.

“I see, Louise?” Lady Valliére replied turning her gaze towards her youngest child.

“I-I have already refused,” she managed to get out.

“Very well, then this business is concluded.” When Mott opened his mouth to argue she interrupted him.

“Even if the situation were not as it is Lord Mott, if my daughter does not wish to sell her servant’s contract to you then she is under no obligation to do so.”

Mott opened and closed his mouth several time seemingly trying to think of and argument before apparently giving up and sighing in defeat.

“Very well, if you’ll excuse me.” He said, doing a poor job of hiding his frustration, with that he turned and marched back down the hall. He had barely gone more than a dozen steps when she called after him:

“Oh and Lord Mott, from now on if you wish to meet with any of my daughters, you will need approval from me first.” She watched him until she was out of sight before turning to face her daughter and Guiche, her gaze penetrating.

“Ah, yes well,” the blond boy began, “if the situation is dealt with, I’ll just be returning to my quarters.” With that he hurried in what was obviously a barely restrained walk, back in the direction of his room.

With all others gone, Lady Valliére finally turned her full attention on her daughter; Louise was barely able to keep herself from trembling.

“Now then Louise,” her mother said. “Shall we step inside?”

Hurriedly Louise made to open her door, then paused. Hesitantly she turned back to her mother in a voice that she struggled to keep from breaking:

“Of course, mother. Just please, give me a moment.”

“Be quick,” came the reply.

With a nod, Louise pried open her bedroom door just enough for her to squeeze through. Once inside she saw Siesta merely staring blankly at the table she had been polishing so fervently earlier, her thoughts obviously not in the present. Again she stepped forward and spoke the maid’s name softly then carefully placed her hand on her shoulder. This time the maid didn’t jump; instead she merely turned her head to look a Louise, the blank look slowly fading from eyes.

“Yes, mistress.” She asked, her voice properly respectful but somewhat distant.

“Siesta, Mott is gone.” When the maid gave no reply she continued, “Are you alright?”

“Yes miss.” The maid replied, her voice barely a step above shaky, “I’m fine.”

Louise hesitated, she wanted to enquire further, Siesta was obviously holding something back, but she wasn’t quite sure how to proceed. Not to mention her mother was waiting outside the door and she certainly didn’t want to keep her waiting.

“Siesta, do you remember a week ago when I received that letter from my mother?” the maid nodded, “Well she’s waiting just outside,” She felt her familiar’s shoulders stiffen beneath her fingers. “In a moment I’m going to let her in. So take a deep breath and prepare yourself.” Briefly she wondered whether the advice was more for her servant or herself.

Siesta moved to stand next to the small breakfast table and Louise went to open the door. Her mother entered the room and Louise noticed her gaze immediately lock on to Siesta for less than a second before scanning over the rest of the room. Louise knew that her mother had learnt more about the maid with that swift, appraising look, than she would normally be able to learn in a whole year. As usual, her mother got straight down to business.

“Now then, your explanation, if you please.”

There was no need to ask what she was referring to, so Louise launched straight into her explanation of the events of the last month. She explained about the night that had started everything, carefully avoiding Siesta’s eyes the whole time, which she was sure her mother picked up on, she made sure to mention her suspicions that she might have been drugged with a love potion. She explained how Siesta had ended up in her employ and the events of the summoning ceremony; finally, she concluded her report with the disastrous “duel” and its aftermath. After she was finished explaining, her mother was silent for a moment which seemed to stretch into an eternity, during which time Louise’s stomach busied itself by twisting into knots. Eventually the older woman spoke:

“I see. So you believe you were under the influence of a love potion?”

“Yes, mother.” Louise replied.

“Well, the symptoms you listed do match… Very well, I will speak to the headmaster about this personally. In the meantime Siesta will remain in your employ, she is after all your familiar; however your allowance will remain as it is. If you require extra funds you may write home to request them, however I will want to know what they are being used for.” That said, Lady Valliére left the room and strode down the hallway, in the general direction of the headmaster’s office.

Louise slowly sank into a sitting position on her bed and breathed a sigh of relief as her stomach unclenched; that had gone easier and far quicker than she had been expecting. She had been expecting her mother to question her more on her suspicions of a love potion or on the circumstances surrounding the duel. After a few seconds simply watching the slowly darkening sky outside her window, she shot a quick look at Siesta and saw the girl still staring at the doorway through which her mother had departed. Easing herself back to her feet, Louise slowly approached her servant:

“Siesta?”

“Yes, miss.” Came that same reply.

“Are you sure you’re okay?”

“Of course miss.”

Louise bit her lip. Here was her chance to finally discover what Siesta was keeping bottled up, whatever it was Mott had done or said, with presumably no interruptions and she had no idea how to approach the subject. Not to mention, it was Mott and given the tales about him and now her own first hand experience, she wasn’t sure she wanted to know. But, her mother had always stated that a servant’s well-being was part of a noble’s responsibility and Siesta was more than just her servant, she was her familiar. If she could not approach the subject herself then maybe she should try and convince Siesta to make the first move? Or perhaps it would be best to sleep on it and approach the subject with a fresh mind tomorrow. But would that just be leaving it to fester?

Her eyes locked with the serving girl’s and as she saw the lost, somewhat haunted look that lurked behind what were actually quite a pair of beautiful, dark eyes, her decision was made. She set her resolve and pressed forward, keeping their gazes locked she said:

“Siesta, if you ever have a problem, you can come to me with it.” She laid her hand on her Siesta’s arm and found herself quite pleased when the girl didn’t pull away.

“Yes miss…” Siesta breathed.

The two stayed in that position for some time, until it struck Louise how intimate a picture they must make to anyone looking in. She wrenched her hand back as though burned and her cheeks turned a furious red and felt like they were on fire. Quickly she tried to recompose herself.

“Y-yes well, if that’s settled then I guess it time I got ready for bed.”

However, sleep would elude Louise for a long time that night as she was assaulted by the pessimistic thoughts her mind conjured up. Again she wondered why her mother had not stayed longer. She did not doubt her mother’s ability to learn all she needed to know in as few words as possible, perhaps she just did not wish to stay in the presence of her least talented daughter for longer than necessary. After all, everyone knew that Louise was a failure, that was why they had suck her with that detestable moniker, a noble that could not perform even the simplest of magics, she was a joke. To her mother, and to her father’s and sister, that she had summoned a commoner as her familiar must seem like final confirmation of that. Part of her yearned for the presence of her second-oldest sister Catelleya, for the simple soothing words she always seemed to have to spare, she did her best to silence it.

She remembered when she had first arrived at the academy, full of hope that she could live up to her mother’s and her family’s reputation, that memory just made her current situation seem all the more depressing. They had been full of kind words and encouragement at first, the teachers and the students but as that first year had worn on the reassurances had become less and less while the mockeries crew in number, until she knew that even the teachers referred to her as “The Zero” in the privacy of their own heads.

Finally she recalled the moment from only a couple of hours ago, when she had lain her hand on Siesta’s arm, even now she got a warm feeling just thinking about it and her stomach felt…fluffy. Mott’s accusations rang in her ears and a treacherous part of her wondered whether he was right.

She shook her head violently against her pillow. No! She did not think of Siesta like that, she did not hire her because of she found her attractive or to fulfil some base desire. She was not like him! If the two were closer than was normal given their stations, it was because of the bond as master and familiar; and perhaps because they had both suffered as a result of that frightful love-potion incident.

Not entirely convinced by her own words the young mage eventually managed to fall into a fitful sleep.


- - -

Siesta lay in her bed staring up into the blackness, beyond which was the ceiling of the servant’s quarters, a whirlwind of emotions behind her eyes.

She still felt…afraid, she couldn’t think of any other word to describe it. When Lord Mott had approached her outside the library, she had felt her stomach preparing to relieve itself of her dinner and a icy chill had run down her spine. There wasn’t a servant in the entirety of Tristain who had not heard the rumours of Lord Mott’s appetites and from the way he had acted towards her, she would guess those rumours accurate. The things he had said to her, the places he had tried to…to touch her, she had a suspicion he thought himself charming but any woman would have to be insane to find what he said appealing. In the end she had simply fled, only for him to turn up at her mistress’ room mere hours later. She had felt so unclean after that meeting that she had scrubbed herself extra-thoroughly during her evening bath. Even now she lay with her sheathed sword clutched in her hands, for the first time drawing comfort from its presence.

She had now been almost violated twice, in the space of a month. Was this some sort of ironic punishment for those illicit books of her’s? For her secret fantasies of some rich, charming noble to sweep her of her feet and ravish her? If so, she would burn those books tomorrow and curse the person who wrote them for making situations like that seem attractive.

But Miss Louise had defended her, despite having already gotten in trouble with another noble no long ago her mistress had taken her side. For some reason that made her feel warm inside. It was strange; about a week ago she’d been terrified that the young noble would be the one trying to take advantage of her and now her mere presence reassured, even if it couldn’t completely relieve that feeling of wrongness that had come from being near Count Mott. And at the end, when her mistress had placed her hand on her arm it had felt strangely nice.

Then she had met Miss Valliére’s mother, well not met exactly but rather stood in the same room as. Nonetheless, the woman’s sheer presence was both awe-inspiring and a little frightening. Perhaps part of it was due to the stories surrounding her but there was no denying the pressure she’d felt when the noble’s eyes had landed on her. It was a gaze that seemed to look straight through her and learn everything it needed to know about her with a single look.

Slowly tiredness overtook Siesta and like her master she fell into a disturbed sleep.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Author's Note: Whoop, chapter four! So what do you guys think? This is the first chapter where I'm gonna start delibritaley evolving their personalities differently that in canon, rather than having old personalities reacting to new situations, so any advice would be helpful.

nununu
December 23rd, 2011, 11:12 PM
An update!

Have I mentioned that I really like your portrayal of Louise so far? Because I do.
The build-up of Siesta and Louise relationship is also quite nice. It quite peeves me when fanfic writers make Siesta, and other commoners, lump Louise into the 'nobles are corrupt and greedy' box.

I'm curious to what Karin's assessment of Louise situation is and also expect Mott to rear his ugly head again.

Seika
December 27th, 2011, 04:27 AM
My text-walls return to this thread! (Apologies)

Excellent, a new chapter. As odd as it might seem, I really liked Guiche in this chapter. You've avoided the trap of falling back too far on his canon personality after giving him a scene in which he realised a part of what was wrong with the 'old' him (honestly, failing to retain your own character development happens more often that you'd think). He's obviously nervous about facing down Mott but he still did it. Mott's not the easiest person for Guiche to do that too, especially when he's so ready to point out the similarities between the two of them (or, at least, Mott and Guiche as he used to be). Perhaps that comparison will even help Guiche to avoid returning to his old self.

Very well, to the nitpicking!

I think the structuring of your sentences is much improved, with far fewer times when I thought you weren't sure where to stop. Just one or two places where I reckoned that was still an issue:



After seeing that little demonstration, Siesta had resolved to assist her master in whatever way she could, if only to repay her for the clothes and because she still felt nervous around the noble girl, despite knowing the truth. Unfortunately she didn’t know much about the mechanics behind magic, she like most commoners had never put much thought into how it worked, she had been content simply to know that it did.

I think you might want to consider breaking it off after 'clothes' here? Reading it as it is, feeling nervous around Louise doesn't seem to have much to do with Siesta wanting to help her. If that is the way it's meant, perhaps a little re-ordering of the sentence might be in order, or a little explanation in its own sentence. Also, the first comma of your second sentence seems odd to me. There is a causal connection, but a comma seems like it's not denoting that clearly enough. I'd use a dash here, but I think a colon might work as well. Moreover, 'like most commoners' should be separated off by commas or parentheses.




Most commoners couldn’t read very well but Siesta could, she learnt it from her grandfather who’d taught himself when he was younger, around the time he’d met her grandmother. He’d even taught her another language he called Kanji, which he claimed was from a far away land. Her father had said it was waste of time, that she’d never need that stuff but she’d enjoyed spending the time with her grandfather and had continued reading long after both her grandparents had moved on.

Particularly the first and the last sentence here need looking at. For the first, I feel you've got too many possible independent clauses and finite verbs, which slow reading down. I think you could simply break it with a full stop at 'Siesta could', but a more radical reinterpretation might flow a little better, along these lines:

Whilst most commoners couldn't read very well, Siesta could, having learnt to do so from her grandfather. Indeed, he had taught himself when he was younger, around the time of meeting her grandmother.

As for the last, I don't know - it just feels like it needs breaking up in places. A comma after 'stuff' might help (and would work better if you wanted to change 'said it' to 'said that it'), but you could also put dashes around 'she'd never need that stuff', producing this: 'Her father had said it was a waste of time - she’d never need that stuff - but she’d ...' That sort of makes the bit in dashes feel like Siesta's father actually said it, lending some more immediacy to the sentence.

Other points in that paragraph - 'stuff' feels too informal, even as indirect speech from Siesta's father. Perhaps just 'it' or 'that'? Maybe 'that skill'? You're also missing an 'a' before 'waste of time'.


And onto the really small details:



The laughter that followed had been deafening and really quite, shockingly cruel

Your comma is extraneous.




When she had first begun to work at the academy, it had been her first job

Repeating the word 'first' in so short a space seems awkward. You could actually get rid of the first 'first' (oh, and doesn't that prove my point), and it would work better, if seems less emphatic.




Their had been some

'Their' should be 'There'.




She believed she may very well be alone

Your tense has switched mid-sentence; to keep it consistent it should be 'She believed she might very well have been alone ...'




that had passed through her master’s eyes, as she stood there apparently resigned to their jeers.

I'd have phrased this as that had passed through her master's eyes as she stood there, apparently resigned to their jeers. The comma seems out of place.




the private student of one of the students? Though rare it was not entirely unheard of for students to bring a servant

The first 'student' should be 'servant' judging from what follows.




And you think that a single weeks worth of being nice, will make things better?

Week's should have the possessive apostrophe and the comma is unnecessary.

PhoenixAct
March 3rd, 2012, 11:29 AM
Disclaimer: I do not own Zero no Tsukaima/Familiar of Zero

Chapter V – Ripples






The thief known across the continent of Helkegenia as Forquet stared at the moon from her position atop the tallest tower of the Tristain Academy of Magic, pondering her next move. The question was simple, should she go ahead with her plans or not?

No, that was wrong, the heist had to go ahead, Tiffania and the children were counting on her and the potential pay-out was just too high to give up. So the question became, how should she proceed?

The situation had become unexpectedly chaotic over the last month or so, all because of that incident between the Valliére girl and that maid, Siesta she believed the name was. Forquet had no doubts that the girl had been drugged with a love potion the symptoms were just too obvious to anyone paying sufficient attention and old Osmund no doubt believed the same; despite his acting like a senile old man he was no fool. She had been pleasantly surprised by the young noble’s actions too, instead of hiding behind having been enchanted the child seemed to be seeking some sort of atonement. It was always good to see that there might be at least one member of the “nobility” who still knew what the word noble actually meant. That is, if that’s what it actually was and not just some clever response to the rumours that had arisen, it never paid to give the nobles too much benefit of the doubt.

Still, she felt somewhat bad for the young noble. Were she a man she would likely be celebrated rather than vilified for her apparent conquest; her supposed actions were no where near as bad as the things Mott was rumoured to have done.

Her personal feelings about those involved aside however, the event had drawn an uncomfortable amount of attention to the school. Originally, with events calming down and nothing major happening since that Montmorency girl decided that the best way for her boyfriend to defend her honour was to beat on an unarmed commoner, she had hoped that the school would return to being as quiet as before. Then yesterday had seen a visit from not one but two nobles; Mott didn’t concern her too much, the man’s thoughts were transparent and he wasn’t half as clever as he believed himself to be. The Valliére matriarch however … in Forquet’s line of work information gathering was of critical importance and she had become very good at it, she knew the woman’s real history and it made her nervous. Valliére had left for now but she might be back depending on how the situation with her daughter went and trying to deceive Old Osmund, the Flame Snake and the Heavy Wind all at the same time? The idea was not appealing, perhaps she should do what she came to do before things became any more complicated?

Still, she couldn’t rush things, acting in haste often sent even the best laid plans awry. No, in the end it seemed the best course of action might be to stick to her original plan, even if those three were present their attention would be elsewhere. She’d have to think on it some more and she would need be more careful in the meantime, just in case but she was sure that she could pull it off.

Slowly she rose to her feet and stretched, she needed to get some sleep, no doubt she would have another full day tomorrow, she’d need the rest.


- - -

It was getting close to summer and as such the air was stiflingly warm, an almost non-existent breeze gently ruffled the grass and leaves of the fields of the Tristain Academy of Magic.

Siesta took a deep breath as she slowly unsheathed the bastard sword Miss Louise had bought her for the first time, she held the weapon out in front of her one hand grasping the hilt the other hand grasping the scabbard, she winced slightly as the polished steel caught the sunlight. She could feel her blood pumping, hear it thudding away in her ears, her skin tingled all over and she had to lick lips that had suddenly gone dry. She knew the reason for her nerves, she was used to seeing swords being carried by armed guards or mercenaries but she never expected to be carrying one herself; she knew intellectually what swords were made for, what they could do and never expected it, never wanted it to be asked of her.

However, there was also another reason; as she gazed upon the length of blade that was no longer covered by the scabbard, she could feel in the back of her mind vague recollections of some great agony. Though she couldn’t remember any of it clearly, except for those bronze monsters bearing down on her, she knew the sense of pain and fear came from her fight with de Gramont.

The story of that duel had become quite a popular tale amongst the students of the academy, even if not all of them liked it, she had caught a couple of them giving her dark looks that set her on edge when her mistress wasn’t around. However among the staff of the castle it had become a legend, by this point the retellings had caused the story to become quite wild and they were making her out to be some sort of hero, the female staff in particular seemed overjoyed with her “victory”. She didn’t really feel much like a hero though, in fact that was one of the reasons she was out here. She had finished her chores early again today, looking after one girl was considerably easier than cleaning up after an entire castle, even if she had had help. After some time spent in the library once again researching familiars and once again making very little progress she had decided to come outside for some practice. As long as she returned before the end of the evening meal she should be alright. She’d also made sure to dress in some of her older clothes instead of the nicer and more expensive clothes Miss Louise had bought for her.

She was supposed to be Miss Louise’s familiar, that meant she was supposed to be the one to protect her and last night it had occurred to her that she was failing in that regard. She had lain there in her bed thinking and she had realized that every time something bad had happened she hadn’t been able to do anything except hide behind her mistress. With de Gramount and Montmorency, when she had lost her job at the Academy and with Count Mott; she had been almost completely helpless. The incident the day before yesterday had also made it clear that the protection her mistress afforded her was incredibly limited and with her run of luck since the love potion fiasco it was probably only going to get worse, she needed to find a way to fend for herself; which brought her back to the sword.

Slowly she slid the scabbard the rest of the way off the blade and turned the weapon upright, so that its tip was pointing towards the cloudless sky, it was heavier than it looked. She took another deep breath, she honestly didn’t know what she was doing. It wasn’t just that she had no idea where to begin with her self-imposed training but why she was even bothering when she knew she’d never have the stomach to actually use it on someone. Nor did she have anyone who could teach her how to use it; none of the serving staff had ever used a sword before, the school relied on the teachers for protection, and even though a couple of them did have military backgrounds they were mages, what need did they have for blades?

With a mental shrug she slowly raised the blade above her head and swung it back down, almost losing control of it as it descended. She heard everyone talking about the apparently amazing prowess she’s shown with a sword previously but she was experiencing any of that now.

She raised the blade above her head again and, this time checking her grip first, she swung it downward again, this time she struck the dirt at her feet, again she raised the blade and swung. Repeating this process several times combined with the warm time soon had her sweating and her arms aching, it had been mere minutes since she began when she could take no more and collapsed onto her knees, allowing her sword to fall to the ground. She stared blankly at the ground, maybe this had been a bad idea after all, she’d been stupid for even considering she’d had any talent for this sort of thing.

“You know, you’ll do yourself an injury if you carry on like that,” came a voice. Siesta’s head shot to find the person who had spoken and found Professor Colbert walking towards her.

“I would ask what you’re doing out here but I believe that is self-evident,” he continued. Siesta immediately turned her gaze back towards the ground, “Do not worry, I’m not going to chastise you, I simply wondered why you would be practicing swordsmanship out here?” She looked back up at him and opened her mouth to explain but could no find the words to verbalise her thoughts, so she simply settled on:

“For Miss Louise … and for myself.”

“I see,” he replied and there was a long moment of silence where he stared at her with a scrutinizing eye. It appeared to Siesta that every noble she crossed paths with recently felt the need to study her, as though she was the subject of some academic fascination? Still, at least Professor Colbert’s gaze was softer than Lady Valliére’s penetrating glower and less intrusive than Count Mott’s lecherous stare.

“Very well,” he eventually said, “I may be able to offer you some pointers.”


- - -

Louise’s hand fidgeted in her lap as she tried to avoid thinking about that letter for what might be the hundredth time that morning and tried to concentrate on watching the competition; she was failing miserably. The missive had just arrived that morning and was from Henrietta de Tristain, the princess of Tristain and someone she considered a friend and who she was glad to find, still considered her one. The letter stated that Henrietta had wanted to come and meet her herself but had been unable to, apparently there had and still were, a great many eyes on the academy and her since the week of her … indiscretion. She supposed the increase in political manoeuvring explained the oddness of the letters arrival, for it had certainly not arrived normally with the regular mail for the other students. Siesta had handed it this morning and told her she had received it from Professor Colbert, who had received it from the headmaster who in turn had received it directly from a private messenger.

One of the first things Henrietta had mentioned was that she didn’t believe all of the terrible things said about her; Louise had been grateful for that but still, she had been highly perturb by the mention of “all those terrible rumours”. Her mother hadn’t mentioned that during her brief visit, just what had people been saying about her? She was no fool, she knew most of the nobility had spies everywhere because even the smallest detail or scandal could prove highly advantageous in politics but there was no way they could’ve gotten any in here, was there? Then again, it sounded like the rumours were worse than the truth, so perhaps it was simply they going by the undoubtedly exaggerated letters home from their children?

The letter went on to mention that her father was apparently facing a lot of mockery and verbal attacks on the family at court over the issue, something else that her mother had neglected to mention. That had pulled on her heart strings something fierce, she knew that lack of ability brought a good deal of shame to her family, the last thing she had ever wanted was to add to that. The Valliére were one of the most prominent families in Tristain and as such, there were always many political opponents looking for daggers for their backs and she had given them a nice clean opening to aim at. She just wished she knew more details on what was going on out there, perhaps she could do with hiring some spies of her own? Not that she could afford to hire anyone else at the moment.

After learning everything the letter had to say she had stored safely in the back of her wardrobe, where no one would find since none of the castle servants attended her quarters anymore. Then she had called Siesta and the two had gone to join the rest of the castle in the festival held in honour of the founder Brimnir. When they had reached the courtyard Siesta had been drawn into conversation with some off the castle servants and Louise had left her to it. Her maid seemed to have gained a certain amount of celebrity recently and she wanted to let her enjoy after everything she had been through. Still, Louise hadn’t been able to help feeling a small pang of loneliness when the two of them had separated but she’d fought it down.

Right now she was watching the other second year students parade their new familiars before a panel of judges hoping and having them perform various trick, in the hope that theirs would be voted the best. Needless to say, she hadn’t entered; she certainly didn’t want any of the extra attention and besides it would have been demeaning for Siesta to have her participate in what was essentially a competition for animals. To Louise’s surprise however three others had failed to enter the competition as well, those being Kirche, de Gramount and Tabitha. The last was no surprise she never participated in these sort of things but Kirche usually liked being the centre of attention (and certainly she and Tabitha had the most impressive familiars out of this years students) and de Gramount hardly ever missed an opportunity to show off. Eventually though she’d shrugged, Kirche and Tabitha probably had their reasons and she didn’t care what the blond fop’s problem was.

Her mind surfaced from her thoughts and she found that she had missed the last six familiars to perform, not that she cared very much. With a snort she placed her wine glass back on the table and rose to her feet, this area was too noisy with all the people celebrating and she was in no mood to share their good cheer. Drawing her cloak around her, she grabbed some of the food from the table in front of her and wandered off into the fields surrounding the castle to find somewhere quite where she could sit and think.

After ten minutes walking she was a sufficient distance away, in a spot near to one of the academy’s towers, that the noise of the celebrations had fallen to a dull clamour. She unclasped her cloak, spread it out on the ground before her and laid down on it looking up at the sky, arms folded behind her head.

She stared up at the sky her mind going back over the melancholy thoughts from before and she could feel a rising frustration mixing in with the guilt; she really wished she had some way of finding out what was going on. That said she didn’t want to draw anymore attention to herself or Siesta, they both had plenty of that already and she didn’t want to get her family into deeper trouble. To be a disappointing footnote on the family tree was one thing but possibly bring them to ruin? The mere thought made her sick to her stomach. Was this her destiny? Not only to fail dismally but to bring about the downfall of those she loved most? She’d end her own life first. Her thoughts continued on a similar path for sometime and only served to feed her depression, there was nothing she could do but carry on as she was and even that merely amount to ignoring all the turmoil surrounding her, she felt trapped.

She had no idea how long she had been there deep in thought, idly eating the scraps of food she brought with her when she was eventually brought out of her reverie by someone leaning over her and blocking the sun. With their back’s to the sun Louise couldn’t make out anything about who it was except that it was a girl and about her age, she was about to ask when the person spoke:

“Louise-Françoise?” Louise started, even though she couldn’t see the face she would know that voice anywhere, hurriedly she managed to scramble to her feet.

“P-Princess Henrietta?” she spluttered, “What are you doing here?”

“I saw you leave earlier and was just able to excuse myself,” the Princess replied, “although I will have to make my way back soon.”

“What about the contest?”

“Louise- Françoise, you wandered out here over two hours ago. The contest is long since finished.” Louise paused at that, she’d lost track of time whilst dwelling in her own thoughts but she didn’t expect it to have been that long. However there was one other question she probably should ask:

“Are you sure you should be in my company? If someone were to see us…” It may have been her imagination but Louise thought she saw Henrietta’s face become trouble for less than a second.

“Why are the rumours about you true?” she attempted a light tone but Louise could hear the heaviness under it.

“Too answer that I would need to know what those rumours are,” she replied, her heart beginning to beat faster as she realized that the truth in those words meant her oldest friendship, perhaps her only real friendship could be on the line.

“They say that you’ve been engaging in acts of debauchery, they say you received a visit from Count Mott.” Louise felt about ready to be sick, although she had expected the rumours to be along those lines it was far worse to hear them and that some had apparently put her in the same category as Mott…

“I can assure you Your Highness that the first is very much false and while Lord Mott did pay me a visit; it was because he had a business proposition. He left disappointed.” The Princess’ smile seemed just a little more genuine after hearing that.

“I see, they also they that you attempted to have sex with your new maid and that you pursued her for a week when she turned you down.”

Louise felt as though she had just taken a blow to the stomach, she should have known it wouldn’t be that easy, life seemed to love raising her hopes only to crush them again. Her lips had gone dry so she ran her tongue over them, which proved to be futile as that too was devoid of moisture, in fact her whole mouth seemed to have dried up. She considered her option but found she couldn’t bring herself to lie, it was not just because Henrietta was her Princess and would one day be her Queen but also because Henrietta was the only person she’d ever been sure was her friend; she couldn’t lie to her, she just couldn’t. But her mother had seemed like she had wanted to prevent this from becoming a big deal and if the royal family were to come to be involved it would surely become so; what was she to say?

“Those particular rumours are not entirely inaccurate.” There was a moment of silence that seemed to stretch out into eternity and then the Princess replied:

“…Oh.” Louise felt her heart sink still further, from the tone and the way Henrietta was looking at her she understood that her first ever friendship was over.

Suddenly it felt like the whole world had come crashing down on her shoulders: the love potion incident, arguing with the headmaster, the familiar summoning, the duel with de Gramount, the meeting with her mother, Mott’s appearance, attempting to stretch her allowance, the constant failures, repeatedly disappointing her family and now losing her best, her only friend. It was all too much, she desperately didn’t want to cry not while there was someone around who could see her but she could already feel the tears forming in the corners of her eyes and the sobs mounting in her throat, and she knew she wouldn’t be able to stop them. She opened her mouth, whether to ask Henrietta to leave to to excuse herself so she could flee to her chambers she wasn’t sure… She’d never admit it but right now she wanted her sister Catelleya.

Suddenly there was a massive roar as the wall of the nearby tower exploded outward and the both of them were thrown from their feet. She choked on the dust as she pushed herself onto her hands on knees and tried to stop her spinning. Quickly remembering that she wasn’t the only one caught in that blast Louise frantically cast her gaze about trying to locate the Princess and found her attempting struggle to her feet not far away. She scrambled forward to Henrietta’s side and tried to help her to her feet, a task made all the more difficult by her own impaired balance and Henrietta herself being only half conscious.

Slowly the dust clearly and Louise almost felt her knees give way entirely. Bearing down on them was a golem larger than anything de Gramount had ever made, obviously the product of an exceptionally powerful earth mage. Her sight was drawn to a figure sitting on one of the golem’s shoulders, presumably the mage in question.

“Your Majesty!”

Suddenly there was someone at their side, a blonde woman wearing a green cloak.

“Are you the Princess’ bodyguard?” asked Louise, to which the woman gave a nod to the affirmative, “Then take her and get her away from here.” The blonde woman’s response was to scoop the Princess up bridal style and run back towards the treeline.

Louise smiled until she realised that she was now alone with that thing and it was almost on top of her. She clumsily drew her wand and pointed it in the direction of the construct. The ground next to its right foot exploded almost bowling it over but it managed to right itself. All she seemed to have succeeded in doing was attracting its attention; now it was heading straight for her and drawing back its fist.

Then for the second time in the space of a minute she was bowled off her feet as she felt something come crashing into her, something considerably softer than a fist made of rock; and she felt more than saw the gigantic appendage strike the ground next to her. She opened her eyes to discover to who had come to her rescue and was shocked to find her maid and familiar kneeling over her.

“Siesta, what…?”

“Please stay down Miss,” Siesta replied, rising to her feet and drawing the blade that Louise had bought for her. Louise could see the maid was shaking and there was definitely fear in her eyes but she showed no sign of retreating.


- - -

Siesta had wondered more than once in the last month, what she’d done for her life to take this sort of turn.

She hadn’t been particularly enjoying the festival, she didn’t actively dislike it by any means but she had been finding it hard to join in the celebratory spirit like everyone else. She’d also spent much of it in the presence of the other maids and whilst having their admiration had been a novelty at first, discussing the same subject over and over soon became boring. Not to mention that the subject in question was actually quite a painful memory for her and she couldn’t even remember most of it.

Then there was the fact that most of the rest of the staff were all too keen to badmouth Miss Louise. While she understood there misconceptions having laboured under the same ones until her talk with Miss Zerbst, some part of her couldn’t help but feel annoyed by the accusations all the same. That said however, she hadn’t been able to work up the nerve to tell them otherwise, she wasn’t even sure if she was allowed to tell them the truth. So instead she had merely stood there feeling awkward, spending more time looking at her drink than actually drinking it and letting the other girls do most of the talking. She’d also spent a large amount of her time watching the other festivalgoers.

It was during one of people watching moments she’d noticed Miss Valliére sitting alone at her table. In fact most of the other students seemed to be going out of their way to avoid her, although she wasn’t sure her mistress had noticed, she’d seemed to be off in her own little word; and from the look on her face it wasn’t a happy place. In that moment she’d wanted to go and sit with the young mage, perhaps to try and distract from whatever was bothering her or maybe just to provide some company for the both of them. However she’d been too scared of what the others might say, of what new rumours might spring to life. But when she’d seen Miss Louise get up and leave with a melancholic look on her face something had compelled her to follow, so she’d made her excuses and left.

When the young noble had stopped in the middle of the clearing Siesta had stayed within the treeline suddenly feeling very hesitant. Her master obviously wished to be alone and Siesta wanted to respect that but at the same time she didn’t want to leave the girl alone with her being so obviously depressed. Torn with indecision she had settled on a compromise and sat under a nearby try and watched. Sometimes she would drift off into her own thoughts, about the pointers Professor Colbert had given her yesterday or about her own research on familiar or about when she was going to get around to burning those damn romance novels. But her attention always returned to her mistress.

She had been watching when Princess Henrietta had arrived. She understood that the two were actually old friends, but something about how familiarly she addressed her master caused some unknown feeling to build in the pit of her stomach. Not that she would mention that feeling to anyone, ever, a commoner like her had no right feeling irritated by royalty, God knows what would happen to her. Apparently the conversation wasn’t pleasant, she’d noticed the play of emotions across her mistress’ face and felt her own heart ache in sympathy.

Then chaos had erupted, something had burst through the tower wall by Miss Louise and thrown her and the Princess to the ground. She’d sprung to her feet but froze solid when she saw what had caused it. It was a golem, bigger even than the ones that broken her body and put her in hospital, the ones that had caused her such pain that she still woke up in a cold sweat. And there was a person, hooded and cloaked, sitting atop its right shoulder.

Everything seemed to slow down, she seen Miss Louise scramble forward to reach the Princess and she watched the approached of the blonde who must have been hiding amongst the trees like her. It was only when the creature raised its fist that the spell broke and she charged forward, intent on saving her mistress from a painful death.

Now here she was, standing over the collapsed form of her master, sword drawn and facing a monster much larger than the things that had given her such a thorough beating last time. The rune on the back of her hand was glowing brightly.

The golem pulled its fist back again and operating on instinct, Siesta scooped her tiny master up under one arm and leapt backwards with as much force as she could muster. The blow impacted against the ground, sending dirt and dust everywhere. She placed the young noble down and charged forward, she needed to keep it distracted from her still disoriented master. If she couldn’t beat the monster itself then perhaps she should aim for the master, according to the stories that was how she had defeated de Gramont.

She heard the next attack before she saw it, the sound of something rushing through the air. She dove to the side just in time, as once again dirt and debris was sent everywhere. She raised her sword to guard, gripping the hilt with both hands, despite the little good it would do. She ducked under a horizontal sweep and leapt back from the follow up attack. She kept dodging even as every blow came so close that she could feel the wind from there passing.

Then her enemy struck a heavy downward blow again, this time she took her chance. She sprang forward and ran up the length of the beast’s arm, aiming for the person who had created it. She was less than a step away when the mage gestured with her hand and a piece of the golems hide flew off, striking Siesta in the stomach and sending her crashing into the dirt.

Her insides felt hollow, she found it difficult to breathe as she struggled back to her feet and her head spun. The creature was reaching out towards her as though to grab her, when she was suddenly knocked off her feet again. She looked up and found her master caught tight in its grip.

She charged forward, not knowing what she would achieve, only that she must rescue her mistress. The hand holding the petite teenager swung around, hitting Siesta full on and sending sprawling once more.

Now she was having real difficulty breathing and her mind was feeling dull, sluggish. She attempted to struggle back to her feet but her arms just wouldn’t hold her weight and she collapsed into a heap. The darkness was starting to encroach on the edges of her vision.

There was a sound, as of something crashed into the golem, and whatever it was it was hot; then the voice of someone approaching. She thought she heard the enemy mage utter a curse under her breath and then there were the booming stomps of the golem hurriedly moving further away. As whoever it was drew closer Siesta fell into unconsciousness, only one thought on her mind:

Louise…

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -


Author's Note: Okay this is not a rerail. Many of the antagonist and other characters in ZnT had their plans firmly in place before the story even starts. It's going to take more than Louise summoning a human familiar too make them change. It won't be until later when Louise and Siesta start to have a bigger impact on the world stage that the villians will be forced to change their plans to accommodate them.

Also, I am aware that I haven't corrected all the faults in chapter four, they will get done eventually.

The Silver Sky
March 4th, 2012, 01:06 PM
Yay~ an update to one of my favorite ZnT fics!

Fafnir
March 4th, 2012, 07:59 PM
It lives! Praise Brimir!

PhoenixAct
April 16th, 2012, 07:38 AM
Disclaimer: I do not own Familiar of Zero/Zero no Tsukaima.

Chapter VI – A Desire to Act




She awoke with a start, her body springing into a sitting position and throwing back the covers; her breath came in short, ragged gasps and for a moment panic clouded her mind.

Slowly it began to withdraw, her breathing began to return to normal and Siesta managed to bring her thoughts back into order. She could feel a cold sweat all over her body and her sheets and pillow were drenched, she must have been having a nightmare, although she couldn’t remember what it was about. Suddenly she realised it was very dark; she raised her head to look around and was hit by a wave of déjà vu. The only illumination was provided by the moonlight drifting in through an open window but despite this she could still tell where she was, she was in the infirmary, again. She pressed her hand against her head as she tried to remember what had happened.

Louise.

That was right! Miss Louise had been taken by that intruder! She felt a mixture of emotions well up inside her anger, confusion, sadness but above them all she felt shame and a sense of loss. She remembered the last time she’d had awoken in hospital, her mistress had been waiting at her beside, with presents no less, which was more than any servant should hope for. Now she was in the hands of that mage and Siesta could feel it building already, the desire to go and take her master back. But she had no idea how long she’s been unconscious not what could have happened to her master in the meantime. She could feel the first stirrings of anxiety begin to bubble up in her stomach mixed with a strange pain she couldn’t quite understand.

She threw back the sheets and swung her feet over the edge of the bed, slowly she eased herself to her feet. She stumbled a little at first and her legs felt so weak that they nearly buckled under her but she managed to remain standing. She looked down at herself and found she was wearing a hospital gown, she had been wearing the new clothes Miss Louise had given because of the festival; they were probably ruined now. She actually felt the thought tugging at her heartstrings and not just because they were the finest clothes she had ever owned.

Her sword! Where was her weapon?!

She cast her gaze about the room searching for her blade; it would be bad form to lose both of her master’s gifts in the same day. It was strange, she felt uncomfortable with it in her hands most of the time, but felt some distress over the idea that she might have lost it. It wasn’t anywhere to be seen and she felt the anxiety in her stomach begin to build further. She was starting to feel light-headed.

“So you are awake, how do you feel?” asked a familiar voice.

Siesta’s head shot up and to look for the one who had spoken and there, standing in the doorway to the infirmary was Professor Colbert. Unlike when she had last met him he looked very serious, his face solemn and grim. Silence hung in the air between them for a moment before Siesta broke it.

“My sword…” she began, it was the first thing that came to mind.

“Is safe,” he replied. “It is locked away quite securely in my office.”

“Miss Louise…”

“Has been taken by the thief Fouquet,” he confirmed.

Siesta felt a wave of despair hit her, so Miss Louise really was gone and captured by a thief who had garnered a reputation for being uncatchable. She felt a little hollow, her mistress was one of the very few nobles who had treated her with respect. She had even tried to protect her a commoner, from other members of the nobility, something she had never heard of any noble doing before. Then when the time had come for her to protect her mistress she had failed miserably. She felt tears begin to well up behind her eyes but she fought it down, she had learned a long time ago that crying never really helped anything. She also felt a little ashamed to admit that she also wondered if the students she had angered by defeating the young de Gramount would be more daring with Miss Louise gone.

Underneath all of these emotions however was a single thought, she knew what she had to do and felt compelled to do it. Despite the icy tendril of fear that ran up her spine of the task ahead she still opened her mouth to speak.

“My clothes,” she said. “And my sword, I need them.”

“Oh?” Professor Colbert replied, “And what do you intend to do with them?”

“I have to go after Miss Louise,” she responded, her voice did not betray any of the fear she felt at the mere prospect.

“Indeed, however you need not go alone, many of the faculty had the same idea,” he neglected to mention that for some it was because they feared a second visit from the Valliére matriarch, especially since she was already annoyed by the recent scandal, this time heads would role. “It’s just over an hour until dawn, I will find some clothes for you and in a few hours we will meet in the headmaster’s office. The healer will have to clear you before you leave anyway. I trust this is okay?”

Siesta nodded slightly taken aback, even though she suspected the question was more for courtesy’s sake.

“Then I will see you in a little while, the clothes will be up shortly.” With that Professor Colbert nodded curtly and turned to leave, closing the door gently behind himself.

Siesta climb back onto her bed simply lay there in the darkness staring up at the ceiling and thinking. Her thoughts of course, went immediately to her mistress. She hoped fervently that she was okay and that Fouquet hadn’t done anything to her. She had heard stories before about what happened to women captured by bandits like this Fouquet was reputed to be. She surprised herself when the thought of this thief harming Louise in any way made her want to break something and part of her swore that if he did anything she would destroy him. The violence of her thoughts disturbed her but oddly they also gave her some comfort. And so she lay there lost deep in her own thoughts until the first golden rays of dawn began to filter in through the window.


- - -

Louise clawed her way out of the depths of the darkness and almost immediately began to wish she hadn’t. She ached all over, a dull pain throbbing away in every part of her body her arms, her head; she swore even her hair hurt, except for her legs, oddly they didn’t hurt at all. On top of that she felt cold almost like she been out in the middle of a snowy field. A strange noise echoed from somewhere, it sounded deep and mournful but she couldn’t tell what it was.

She’d just been having a dream but she couldn’t quite remember what it had been about. She recalled being naked and a sensation like falling, yes that was right, she had been falling through a large, black void. For some reason just trying to remember it made her stomach plummet and chill run down her spine so she stopped. That noise came again and this time she realised it was her moaning in discomfort, the deepness came from the fact that her voice was echoing. She could also hear a second noise as sort of scuffling, like someone treading over a dirt floor.

She tried to open her eyes but found the lids heavy, with some effort she managed to pry them open only to find that everything was one big blur. After a couple of moments her vision cleared and she found that she was looking down at herself. It was no wonder she was cold her cloak was gone and the rest of her clothes were a mess her skirt, blouse and socks were all torn and her shoes were missing and she was covered in blood and dirt. After that she realised that her arms where bound with rope, apparently she was being held captive. It was at this point she realised that the reason her legs hurt was because she couldn’t feel them at all. Panic started to rise up in the back of her mind as she was struck by the thought that they might be broken or worse. They looked whole but were covered in scratches and bruises as was she noted, much of the rest of her. She attempted to move and found them responsive but only just, she also found that she could now feel them as a jolt of agony shot through her, snapping her out of her stupor. She couldn’t the yelp of pain that passed her lips.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.”

Louise’s head shot up to look for whoever it was that had spoken, as she did she caught sight of her environment for the first time, it looked to be some sort of cave. It was dimly lit by what seemed to be candlelight, which was probably a good thing as judging by the throbbing her eyes wouldn’t be able to take too much brightness right now. She winced as her head protested the sudden movement.

Standing across from where she was sitting was a figure wearing a hood that cast most of their face in shadow, at the sight of this person Louise’s memory returned to her. She recalled first the conversation with Princess Henrietta and felt her stomach sink as she remembered the end of the only friendship she’d ever had. She almost felt like crying but fought it down, she would not shed tears in front of her captor her mother would be ashamed if she did.

Next she recollected the explosion and the golem that had attacked herself and the Princess. She remembered how the giant construct had been bearing down on her and how she had been saved by Siesta and how the maid had been injured. Then how she had put herself between Siesta and the monster but after that her memory grew somewhat fuzzy. Her first thought was to hope that Siesta was alright, the girl had looked badly hurt and Louise hoped she had been taken to see a healer immediately after the battle. The idea that Siesta had gotten hurt because she Louise, had been too weak to protect herself caused her stomach to twist itself into a knot.

“Your legs were injured when you were seized by my golem,” the figure spoke again, the voice was soft feminine it was definitely a woman’s voice. “I did a quick examination while you were unconscious, I believe one of them is broken and the other fractured. Unfortunately I am no healer so there is little I can do, except to advise you to move as little as possible.”

“Who are you?” Louise asked. She tried to sound forceful but it came out as little more than a croak, her throat was incredibly dry and now that she thought about it she felt very thirsty.

The woman produced a bottle from within her robes and knelt down to place it against Louise’s lips, she turned her head refusing to drink as she had no idea what was in the bottle. The woman sighed as though in exasperation and took a quick sip from the bottle herself before placing it back at the student’s lips. This time Louise drank from the bottle greedily and didn’t stop until it had been drained dry. Tt was only plain water and it was warm but at that moment, it tasted better than any fine wine.

“If I was going to kill you I would have done it while you slept. As for your question, most know me as Fouquet.”

“But…you’re a woman,” Louise responded, unable to hide her shock.

“Does this surprise you?”

“I-well, most people refer to you as a man.”

“Nobody has ever gotten close enough to discern my true sex,” Fouquet replied with a shrug. “Not until now at least.”

Louise was a little stunned, she was being held captive by the infamous Fouquet, who was a woman. Moreover this thief who reputedly bore some sort of grudge against the nobility hadn’t killed her yet.

“So, what do you intend to do with me now that you have me captive?” the young blonde asked.

“I am unsure,” came the reply. “Capturing you was never part of the plan that was just your ill luck and mine. And killing or ransoming you would be unwise; I do not wish to draw the wrath of The Heavy Wind.”

“You know of my mother’s title?” Louise asked, not many outside of their family knew that name. Fouquet merely laughed.

“I know many things that the nobles try to keep secret. For example, I know who it was who fed you that love potion.”

“What?!” Louise yelped, and winced when her headache reminded her it was still there. “Who?”

“My apologies, but information comes with a price.”

“Would it kill you do some honest work?” Louise grumbled.

“Oh? And what would you know about honest work? Your allowance is more in a week than many earn in a year.” Fouquet replied, a hardedge coming in to her voice. “Have you ever worked for all that money you have? Have you ever ploughed a field? Have you ever tried serving drinks while every man in the room attempts to pinch your arse? Have you ever taken orders from a fat slob and done the hard work while they simply sitting eating and drinking and getting fatter? Or how about trying to scrape together enough coin so that the children don’t starve?”

Louise was struck speechless; she couldn’t truthfully say she had done any of those things.

“You did surprise me though,” Fouquet continued, “You accepted responsibility for your actions when you had a ready made excuse to shift the blame. I have lost count of the number of times I have discovered that a noble child’s father isn’t really his father. Or the number of noblemen who have their way with naïve serving girls and then use their wealth and connections to bury the matter when the girl ends up with child. You however took the maid in, paid her out of your own pocket and treated her with respect. You may be one of the few nobles who remember what the word “nobility” actually means. Which makes me even more loathe to do you harm.”

Louise sat there stunned. She wasn’t completely sure but she thought she may have just been paid a compliment and by her own kidnapper of all people. Quickly she tried to put together a response.

“I-I couldn’t just sit by knowing I was the cause of her suffering. She deserved better than that.”

“Yes” Fouquet said in agreement, “Unfortunately that means the one who created the situation in the first place may go unpunished.”

“No,” Louise responded. “I will find out who put the love potion in my drink and caused Siesta and myself that misery.”

“You place the maid before yourself?”

“I-I well…that’s not…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Fouquet said with a shrug. “What if I were to tell you that you were not the potion’s intended target?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Louise insisted, “They still brewed an illegal potion and intended to use it on someone, that they got the wrong person just shows they were irresponsible and reckless on top of that.”

“Indeed I-“ Fouquet cut herself off and her head shot up as if something had caught her attention. “I see, there are people coming, probably to rescue you. Unfortunately I have no intention of allowing myself to be caught.” As she was saying this she reached into her robes with one hand and pulled out her wand.


- - -

Guiche de Gramount sat in quite contemplation at what he was about to do. When he had first heard that Valliére had been kidnap he had been unsure what to think. He had heard of Fouquet of course, you would have had to have been living under a rock for the last several years to have not but there had never been any reports of him committing a kidnapping before. As far as Guiche’s knowledge went the man was a just a thief; a skilled and intelligent thief undoubtedly but still just a thief.

After hearing the news it had taken him mere minutes to decide on his course of action. He had made the conscious choice to change himself, to become an actual hero rather than a self-serving fop and here was his chance. Not to mention that if he was going to tread this path properly and seek redemption, then he should probably find those he had wronged and make amends and he had certainly wronged Valliére and her servant. With these two thoughts running through his head he had marched straight up to headmaster Osmund’s office and requested to be made part of the rescue party. After that he had returned to his room and packed what he’d thought he would need including a wand, a plain wooden one, leaving the more fanciful rose wand in the drawer, where it had been since the duel. Then he had told MonMon about his plans…

MonMon, he was growing more and more worried about her, she had become increasingly erratic since the day he had duelled Valliére’s maid. She had become far more secretive as well, one time he had entered her room looking for her and she had not been there, she’d virtually exploded at him demanding to know what he had been doing in her room. Or the time after the confrontation with Count Mott outside of Valliére’s chambers, when she had ordered him to tell her why he had been “hanging around” with Valliére. Then when he had told her about this little trip…well it sufficed to say the two of them had had an argument, a very loud argument.

He lay back in his seat and tried to close all thoughts of his girlfriend out of his mind. Whatever her problem was he would be unable to deal with it until they returned to the castle, right now he should be mentally preparing for whatever lay ahead.


- - -

Siesta could feel the nerves building in her stomach as the tiny wagon trundled along, she could feel each bump of the road as they passed over them. Her sword still in its sheathe was laid across her lap, she hadn’t let it out of her hands since Professor Colbert had returned it to her a few hours earlier.

The professor had returned the sword to her personally when she had arrived at Professor Osmund’s office; however her new clothes had been delivered earlier while she was still in the infirmary, by another servant. The servant had been another girl a little older than Siesta and had apparently also been given instructions to help her get dressed. It had been an uncomfortable and embarrassing experience, because she was not used to having others wait on her and it had meant being naked in front of the other girl. The incident when Miss Louise had been drugged and the later experience with Lord Mott had made her very conscious about her body in this regard, no matter the gender of the third party.

The clothes themselves had also been of a better quality than those she had worn as a servant, not as fine as the ones Miss Louise had given her but she suspected these were meant for more practical purposes. The clothes had been a simple white tunic, a pair of lightweight leather boots and a pair of brown breeches bound by a leather belt; she wasn’t sure how to feel about the latter as she had never worn anything but skirts before, they were a little uncomfortable. As well as the regular clothes she had also been given a set of tanned, leather armour consisting of a cuirass, vambraces, greaves and what appeared to be strips of leather bound together into what could loosely be called a skirt. She actually found the cuirass a little restrictive across her chest and the other girl had blushed fiercely when explaining that it hadn’t been made for someone with her…assets.

In fact wearing armour at all felt strange and not very comfortable. For a start it was a lot heavier than it looked and much warmer too, something not helped by the fact that it was late spring and thus very warm, it did not take very long for the parts of her covered by the armour to begin sweating; which in turn became itching. Then there was what the armour represented. Never in her wildest dreams had she seen herself wearing something like this, that she now was and by her own volition she found to be deeply disturbing. Once or twice in her old fantasies before she’d been struck in the face by the reality, she’d had daydreams about fair maidens distress and valiant chevaliers coming to the rescue. Only, in her dreams she had been the maiden and now she found herself acting out the role of the chevalier.

It had been weird when she had reported to the headmaster’s office before setting out on this mission. She had expected to find a group of teachers instead she had found three students and one teacher. Sitting on the opposite side of the cart from her where Guiche de Gramount, who appeared to be deep in thought and Miss Tabitha who was reading her ever-present book and sitting beside her was Miss Kirche. Professor Colbert was up front directing the horses, he had volunteered to lead them because he apparently the land in these parts very well. She was troubled greatly by the presence of de Gramount his being there was part of the reason for her nervousness. Even though she knew it was stupid, that he wouldn’t try anything with the others around she couldn’t stop her eyes darting back to him every few seconds to make sure he hadn’t moved. Miss Tabitha seemed content to ignore everything around her and keep reading her book and Siesta wasn’t quite sure what to make of her, she gathered that the girl was here simply because Miss Zerbst was. However she did find Miss Kirche’s presence oddly comforting.

The Germainian had actually come to visit her in the infirmary again that morning. Unfortunately she had entered the room just at the moment where Siesta had her breeches on but before she had donned her tunic, giving the noble woman a clear view of her naked upper half. The red-head had actually paid Siesta a compliment about her bust that had caused the maid to turn a most incredible shade of red that hadn’t stopped at her face.

After this little incident the two of them had walked to the headmaster’s together to be briefed on their mission where they found the rest of their party and received more details on Forquet’s attack. Apparently the thief had been in the vault before attempting a breakout through the wall; Miss Louise’s capture was probably the result of her getting in the way of his escape. She also learned that he had made away with a highly valuable item known as the “Staff of Destruction”, a powerful, magical object from the time of the Founder Himself and they were to try and recover that too. Siesta did not care about any stupid staff, she was going for her mistress and that was all.

Siesta was brought out of her reverie quite abruptly when there was a loud roar and the cart they were in was sent flying. She felt the wind get knocked out of her when she impacted against something hard. She shook her head to clear away the stars that had erupted in her vision and finding that she still had a solid grasp on her sword crawled her way out of the wreckage.

When she was free she found herself kneeling in a shadow. Raising her head she found a stone monster similar to the one she had been beaten by the other day towering over her. Suddenly she found she couldn’t move, she was rooted to the spot by sheer fear. The creature raised one great, stone fist above its head ready to bring it crashing down turning her into a red stain.

Something a lot less hard than rock barrelled into her, sending her crashing to the side just in time for the stone fist to miss and strike the earth with a thunderous crash. Miss Kirche the one who had pushed her out of the way, now helped her to her feet.

“Keep your wits about you,” the red-head chuckled, keeping one hand on Siesta’s shoulder and guiding her backwards at a cautious pace. In the next moment Professor Colbert was standing next to them.

“Siesta, listen to me,” he whispered urgently. “In those mountains over there,” he indicated with his head, “are a series of caves. That is where Fouquet most likely is and where Louise is most likely being kept. Head over there and find your master the rest of us will deal with this.”

Siesta nodded in response and headed off towards the mountain he had indicated as fast as she could.

Colbert watched the young gandalfr’s progress across the fields for a moment before turning his attention back to his most immediate problem. The golem was simply standing there, apparently waiting for them to make a move. He kept his gaze upon it even as he heard one of the others walk up alongside him, from the sound of the footsteps he would guess it was young master de Gramount.

“I don’t mean to question your judgement Professor, but are you sure it was wise to send Siesta by herself?” Guiche asked, proving his assumption accurate.

“She will stand a better chance against Fouquet than against a golem with only her sword,” he replied. However in truth, he was extremely anxious about having sent the young girl off alone despite knowing the truth of his own words.

“Besides which,” he continued, “As you should know, a golem requires a constant stream of willpower from the mage who created it in order to be maintained. Forquet will not be at his full strength.”

“So we force him to fight on two fronts,” Kirche supplied.

“Precisely, now…” Colbert raised his wand and pointing it straight at his enemy, fired the most powerful, focused fire spell her could manage quickly. The flames struck the creature dead on but seemed to do next to no damage. The creature simply bellowed in response, as though mocking him.

“Magic resistant,” came a voice from his side, indicating the arrival of Miss Tabitha.

“Indeed,” he replied, unable to help the grim expression that surfaced on his face. Well that adequately explained why it had been content to sit there waiting for them to make the first move. Unfortunately it disrupted the hasty plan he had been busy conceiving; he had been hoping to finish quickly so that they could go provide the young familiar with some backup. However it looked like this battle was going to be an interesting one in and of itself.

A small part of himself that he had tried long and hard to kill couldn’t wait.



- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -



​Author's Note: And there we have chapter six.

Enjoy.

Explorerbean
April 16th, 2012, 05:28 PM
Good to see another chapter! One grammar nitpick:

Colbert raised his wand and pointing it straight at his enemy, fired the most powerful, focused fire spell her could manage quickly.

R.Lock
April 17th, 2012, 07:47 AM
Colbert will show his abilities earlier, won't he?
I was waiting for update. Your fanfic is pretty good in character development. And it's good since from premise I thought it'd be H-fanfic. Hopefully, it isn't.
/Returns to lurking this topic.

PhoenixAct
April 17th, 2012, 10:04 AM
Okay, added an extra paragraph after someone on another forum on another forum pointed something out to me. Nothing big, just some small character insight.

Also, I wonder how many of you have noticed that the only people to have supported Louise over her handling og the love potion aftermath were Kirche (whom she considered an enemy/rival) and Fouquet. And Fouquet is the only one to show her support outright.

PhoenixAct
June 6th, 2012, 09:13 AM
Disclaimer: I don't not own Familiar of Zero/Zero no Tsukaima


Chapter VII - Contracted




It took Siesta too long, to find the entrance to the cave Professor Colbert had mentioned. Fortunately the time spent searching did allow her to catch her breath; she had run all the way up to the mountain range and had almost been ready to collapse upon reaching it. However, despite her breathlessness she had kept pressing forward.

The cave entrance was dark and foreboding, she could feel the first prickles of fear in her stomach and the sweat already running down her back and neck turned cold but she a deep, steadying breath she stepped inside. It got dark quickly, first dimming to the point where she could only make out even her own limbs as vague shapes but soon it grew so dark that she couldn’t see her own hand in front of her face. She had to resort to placing her left hand on the wall and feeling her way forward against the coarse, hard stone, praying that there wouldn’t be any forks or splits. Her other hand despite its shaking, kept a constant grip on the hilt of her sword, not that she had any idea how she was going to be able to fight in the dark. Because they’d had Professor Colbert and Miss Kirche with them they hadn’t brought any torches or lanterns with them, instead she had simply assumed that the fire mages would be able to light their way if needed. Not that she’d known Fouquet would be hiding in a cave.

Alone in the dark every noise seemed so much louder, the shuffling of her boots against the dirt, the creaking her leather armour as she moved, even the sound of her own breathing and her hand brushing against the wall, all of them seemed so loud in the darkness, almost unnatural. She could feel her heart beating heavily against her ribs and even it sounded loud enough to alert the world to her presence, it almost felt like she was being watched. Her legs were trembling, threatening to give out beneath her but she forced them to keep moving, thoughts of Miss Louise in the clutches of that nasty thief urged her on. Of all the terrible things that could befall a lone girl held captive by someone with Fouquet’s reputation. Eventually she felt the path she was walking begin to slope downwards and the air began to taste warm and stale.

After an unknown amount of time that had seemed to Siesta like an eternity, the darkness slowly began to lift and there was a light at the end of the tunnel. It had a soft, flickering quality that reminded her of open flames and as she drew closer she could hear a soft crackling noise that supported her assumption. At first it hurt her eyes a little after the darkness but she blinked a few times and her vision soon adjusted.

She reached the end of the tunnel and found herself in a large, roughly round cave. Around the edges of the area were several lanterns, the flames inside emitting that flickering light. In the centre his wand already drawn was the one who had kidnapped her mistress, Fouquet, with her hood up and her face masked so that only his eyes were visible. She felt her mouth go dry and her stomach clench at the sight and her legs began trembling again but another though overrode all of that; where was Louise. Almost in a panic her eyes shot over the rest of the room searching for her master and found the petite blonde leaning against the wall at the opposite end of the cave, obviously in bad shape her clothes in tatters and covered in blood. And she wasn’t moving.

Siesta felt her stomach clench ever tighter like she was going to be sick and an icy hollowness shot through every part of her. No she couldn’t afford to think like that; she wasn’t too late, she wasn’t! Despite repeatedly stating her denial in her head she could feel the tears building behind her eyes.

Her eyes drifted back to the figure of Fouquet still standing in the middle of the cavern, simply staring at her. Suddenly the sick feeling and her sorrow were replaced with something else. She had been angry in the past when her brothers had played tricks on her, a little when she’d had to leave home because her parents could no longer afford to keep her and secretly when the nobles talked to her so condescendingly; but she had never felt anything like this. Her blood was boiling in her veins, the tears were still coming but now they were being fed by another feeling entirely. For the first time in her life Siesta wanted nothing more than to cause someone pain. The mixture of emotions made her feel quite like she was going to regurgitate her last meal.

That odd anger seemed to move her arm for her as she wrapped her fingers around the hilt of her sword and drew it. The sound of it sliding out of its sheath and the feel of its weight in her hands filled her with a strange sort of satisfaction. It slightly soothed the itch that had started on the back of her hand and the runes engraved there blazed to life.

“What did you do to her?” she managed to get out and was shocked to find her voice was louder and angrier than she’d intended.

Fouquet remained silent, continuing to simply stare at her. Her vision became blurry with tears of fear or rage, Siesta wasn’t sure. She blinked twice to clear them.

“Answer me!” she cried, in a voice that sounded foreign to her own ears.

Again the thief gave no answer and the last of Siesta’s self-control vanished. Without thinking she leapt forward, raised her sword above her head and brought it crashing back down. Fouquet sprung backwards barely avoiding the furious blow and upon landing he pointed his wand in Siesta’s direction. Suddenly the ground beneath the maid’s feet grew soft and she began to sink. With some effort she managed to pull herself out, only to be struck by two chunks of earth travelling at great speed. The first glanced off her side and she barely felt it through the leather. However the second struck her directly in the stomach and even with the armour a direct hit was enough to knock the wind out of her.

With a growl the young woman glared at her enemy and spun out of the way of the next rock. Her sword still tightly clutched in her hand she released another war cry and charged forward again.

- - -

Colbert dodged yet another hammer blow from the golem. The ground beneath the professor’s feet shook but he managed to retain his balance. Despite his extensive experience he was growing both frustrated and anxious but he fought both of them down, giving in to such emotions in the middle of battle could and often did prove fatal. Still he was at a loss as to what they should do next and he worried for Siesta’s safety, even with he current abilities and the golem taking a good amount of their real enemy’s willpower she was still inexperienced.

There were at least two clear problems he thought; the first and most obvious was the construct’s ability to resist magic. It was something he had never heard done before, an ingenious move by Fouquet; in fact it could very well be something the thief had invented himself. The creature had managed to withstand every attack he had thrown at it thus far, seemingly without taking any damage. True all of the spells had been hastily created but as a triangle class mage he was capable of summoning up a good deal of power quickly and without preparation. He had been hoping that they could wear down the creature’s protection over time but that did not seem to be likely. At this point he had no option but to keep probing it for weaknesses. On top of all that its speed was deceptive considering its size, but at least its attack patterns were predictable.

The second problem was his allies. During his military days he had become accustomed to working alone and only being concerned with his own safety, and possibly the safety of hostages. Even on the rare occasions he had been part of a team they had been other professionals, people he knew could deal with problems and could trust to watch his back as he watched theirs. His current teammates were little more than children, all of them still in school and with the exception of Miss Tabitha none of them had seen real combat before today. Speaking of Miss Tabitha, her familiar was circling somewhere among the clouds above them, however she seemed reluctant to call on it. He was tempted to order everybody on to the dragon and simply float above the battlefield, however that would allow Fouquet to spend more of his willpower in his battle with Siesta.

A blast of flame struck the stone giant in the side of what might pass for its head courtesy of Miss Zerbst but it didn’t turn its attention away from Colbert. Perhaps it recognised him as the greatest threat? Certainly his opening shot had been the most powerful attack of the battle so far.

Another blow came rushing his way and once more he leapt out of the way. Unfortunately, this attack was powerful enough to send cracks out along the ground from the centre of impact, making the ground beneath him uneven. When Colbert landed his footing was sure enough and he slipped. Even as he hurried back to his feet the beast was already above him, coming in for a finishing blow. Suddenly something grabbed him tightly and hauled him forcefully out of the way before dumping him unceremoniously back on the ground. Looking up he found a bronze figure, vaguely in the shape of an armoured woman standing over him. Looking over he saw Mister Gramount with three more of his bronze “Valkyries” standing before him.

With a motion of his wand all four of his creations charged forwards and struck at their opponent with their fists. Their attacks hit home and stone chips came flying away from the impact; Colbert smirked, apparently that technically didn’t count as magic. Unfortunately the damage was only superficial and the giant lashed out with one of its own enormous arms and tour straight through one of the smaller bronze figures, turning it into a pile of scrap. However for the first time the golem turned its attention away from Colbert and headed towards young Guiche. That was until a large ball of flame struck it in the back, evidently Miss Zerbst had taken the time since her last attack to prepare a more powerful spell.

Once again the creature turned having decided on a new target; it stormed towards her and she attempted to leap out of its way but wasn’t fast enough. The creature managed to grab hold of her cloak and attempted to swing her by it, the fabric tore and the redhead was sent sprawling into the dirt and struggling to get back to her feet. He felt his anxiousness immediately spike.

With a curse Colbert leapt back to his feet and immediately started building up a more powerful spell, even though he knew he wouldn’t be in time, already the golem was bearing down on the Germainian. He should have started his spell as soon as the Valkyrie had released him, instead of gawking like a fool.

The giant fists came hurtling towards its target, two of the remaining Valkyries attempted to catch it but failed, exploding into pieces. They did however delay it a fraction of a second longer, enough for Miss Tabitha to knock her friend clear with a particularly powerful gust of wind.

His preparations finished Colbert unleashed his spell. The air around grew blazing hot, it was a familiar heat but one he hadn’t felt in years and there was a resounding roar as an intensely hot stream of fire speed towards the enemy. A massive explosion rocked the area and Colbert kept his eyes trained on the billowing smoke where the golem had been standing mere seconds before. Slowly the smoke cleared and the creature was still there, it was covered in burn marks and parts of it were glowing red from the heat but it was still whole.

He couldn’t help but sigh as it turned to face him once more. At least its attention was on him again now instead of his students and he thought, a creature like this should be consuming more of Fouquet’s willpower than he had originally anticipated. He hoped that would be enough to give Siesta a chance at victory.

- - -

As she continued to evade her opponents attacks Fouquet was beginning to feel the strain, she had never intended to confront any of the rescue party her plan was to have her golem defeat and drive them off. She had even added the magic resistance in anticipation that Old Osmund would send someone like the former Flame Snake after her but she had not expected the maid to break from the rest of the group and confront her directly.

She dodged two more swings from the girl, barely avoiding the edge of her blade this time. If this kept up it wouldn’t be long before she caught her. She was an earth mage battling underground, normally this would easy but at the moment her willpower was stretched thin, she simply did not have the strength for her more powerful spells. Not if she wanted to keep this cavern intact and avoid being buried alive.

That was another thing, the maid’s unusual violence, the girl had been trembling when she first entered and then had shifted so suddenly from fear to rage. She had been going for lethal blows from the very start, twice the girl would have separated the thief’s head from her shoulders if her timing had been even a little off. Fouquet had seen Siesta around the school since she had started working there and had witnessed nothing to suggest she was capable of such ferocity. She knew the girl had seen her Master lying against the wall and had jumped to the wrong conclusion but this display of aggression was incredibly out of character. Perhaps she should have attempted to give her an answer when she had demanded it? She had remained silent in order to preserve the secret of her true sex. Having been caught off guard and not knowing how the situation would be resolved, she had wanted to play her cards close to her chest; although the young Miss Valliére knew anyway so that had probably been pointless…

The young noble had succumb to the sleep potion hidden in her water just before her retainer had arrived, although with it being diluted and the blonde not having drunk it all she did not know how long it would last; probably not very. She had come up with the rushed plan to leave the young noble somewhere someone would find her, preferably somewhere with a decent healer and disappear.

She truly did not want to do any real harm to either of the girls in the room with her, Siesta had done nothing to deserve it and her Master might very well be one of the few decent nobles there were. However, if this carried on much longer she might have to. Then a sudden thought occurred to her, she knew what the girl’s weakness most likely was.

With a grim expression under her mask she pointed her wand in her opponent’s direction; she had to end this now.

- - -

Siesta swung her weapon wildly but accurately as she continued to press her enemy. She was moving without thinking, each attack flowing as though something was guiding her actions. She was covered in small scrapes and cuts and had received several blows that would probably leave nasty bruises but right now she didn’t even feel them. The only thought in her mind was to make the bastard in front of her pay dearly.

She spun to the side as a pillar erupted from the ground beneath her. Then she sprang forward bring her sword down in an overhead swing as she did. Fouquet barely managed to avoid the blow.

Another rock came flying her way and she batted it a aside with the flat of her sword, however she didn’t notice the second directly after the first, it struck her in her stomach and sent her sinking to her knees. She quickly rose back up and got ready to charge forward once more. Suddenly the ground at her feet erupted and she was sent flying; a brief moment of weightlessness and then she came crashing back down. Ignoring the dull pain starting to creep up all over her body she attempted to struggle back to her feet but froze. When she had been sent flying she had lost her grip on her sword and it was now laying in the dirt a couple of feet away from her. The runes on the back of her hands had faded dead.

For a brief moment her fear overwhelmed her anger and she felt like she was going to be sick again; even with her sudden skill with the sword she was no warrior, what on earth was she doing? Then she caught sight of her mistress lying at the other end of the room, only now she looked like she was stirring moving. Louise was alive. Siesta felt relief like she had never known before, if she could win then she could take Louise and the two of them could get out of here.

Having been staring down at the earth beneath her while she was thinking she suddenly noticed something strange about it. Gingerly she touched it with her fingers and they sunk straight in. It was the loose sand with which the thief had tried to ensnare her earlier and it was still soft. She looked up and found Fouquet advancing on her, his wand pointed directly at her. As stealthily as she could she grabbed a handful of the dirt and waited a couple of seconds. As soon as he was in range Siesta lashed out, chucking a handful of dirt directly into his eyes. Fouquet stumbled backwards blinded, his hands coming up to his eyes and Siesta pounced. She charged tackling him around the stomach and sending both of them crashing to the floor. She rolled to the side towards her blade and grabbed it. She quickly got to her feet and turned, spinning as she rose and lashing out with her sword, nicking her opponent’s leg with the tip. The thief’s cry was distinctly feminine but that didn’t register to the maid right now. Another full rotation and she was completely upright, with her blade lying directly against his throat.

Fouquet too, had been attempting to scramble to his feet but the wound on his leg had sent him crashing back to the floor, now he froze, on his knees, with his life suddenly in the hands of someone else. Siesta also froze, unsure of what to do next. She had Fouquet at her mercy and a small voice in her head whisper to her to just push her sword forward, to kill the one responsible for harming her master. Another part of her, her old self screamed vehemently in resistance. She had never killed anyone before and she didn’t want to, the thought only would have made her feel sick if she hadn’t already. At the same time she saw a mental image of Fouquet’s blood running down her blade and felt a sense of impending satisfaction. What was wrong with her?!

She could feel the weight of her sword in her fully extended arm and she realised she had to make a decision. She knew she had to do something but she had no idea what. Panic and fear began to claw at her mind. She couldn’t do anything and soon her sword would get too heavy and Fouquet would be able to do whatever he wanted to her and Louise. The thought of Fouquet Laying his hands on her mistress again made her mind return to the idea of just pushing her blade forward ever so slightly but she couldn’t…

Then a soft, tired voice interrupted:

“Siesta, wait.”

Siesta turned towards the voice and found Louise awake and looking straight at her. Her eyes were slightly glazed over but becoming more and more focused as the seconds wore by. She released a long breath and couldn’t help the smile that began to curl her lips, slowly the tension in her stomach began to ease.

“Siesta, keep you’re sword raised but don’t kill her unless I say so.”

Siesta nodded, even though she knew her mistress was bluffing. Miss Louise would never really order her to kill someone.

“Fouquet, do as I say and you won’t be harmed, understood?” Louise continued. To which the thief nodded in response, although not without a snort of amusement.

“Good,” the blonde said. “Now remove your hood and mask.”

The thief stiffened and seemed to hesitate for a moment before complying. Slowly he hands came up and brought down her hood, then went over to remove her mask. When her face was fully uncovered Siesta could not the help the gasp of shock that came from her lips.

“Miss Loungeville?”

This couldn’t be right. The fact that the infamous Fouquet was actually a woman was immediately deemed unimportant next to the revelation of exactly who she was. Miss Loungeville was the headmaster’s secretary and had been one of, if not the only member of staff at the school who had not been utterly dismissive of her before she had become Miss Louise’s familiar. She couldn’t imagine someone like her garnering a reputation like Fouquet’s.

“Hmph,” Louise snorted. “So that’s why your voice sounded so familiar.”

“Yes it is I,” the older woman said, sounding more amused than hostile. “And I’m assuming there is something you want from me?”

“What would I want from a thief?”

“But I am more than a mere thief Miss Valliére,” Fouquet replied, grinning slyly. “I’ve already proven to you that I am capable of learning information others keep closely guarded.”

“So you’d exchange secrets for your freedom?” Louise scoffed. “Why would agree to that, when they’ll make you talk back at the academy?”

“Because knowledge is power,” the thief replied. “And if I’m free, I can discover more secrets and report them back to you.”

“I don’t need to use such dishonourable – “

“Truly,” the thief cut in. “Don’t you want to know what’s happening outside the academy? Don’t you want to know how your family is faring after that little scandal?”

“I…”

“And who’s going to tell you? Your mother? The Princess?”

There was a long moment of silence and Louise licked her lips before responding.

“And you’ll report only to me?”

“Of course,” the thief replied.

“Very well,” Louise said slowly. “Swear to me that you’ll cease your thieving and I’ll let you go.”

Siesta blinked, did Miss Louise really just say that she wanted make a deal with the person who was a thorn in side of nobles all over Helkegenia? Then again she had already learned that her mistress was different from what she expected your average noble to be like.

“I swear,” Miss Loungeville said. “Although, in that case I’ll need some small compensation.”

“Excuse me?!”

“Well, I’ll hardly make and effective spy if I’m starving to death in a gutter.”

“Very well, I’ll pay you a small amount, for every piece of information you give me,” Louise all but growled.

Siesta almost winced; she knew how much her mistress’ purse was strained already.

“…Very well, I accept,” Miss Loungeville answered. “As a parting gift I’ll give you one piece of information for free, what do you want to know.”

Louise barely hesitated.

“Who spiked my wine with love potion?” she asked.

“The Montmorency child.”

Despite the situation Siesta suddenly felt a wave of irritation wash over her. Miss Montmorency. She remembered the young noble girl, she had accused Siesta of seducing Miss Louise and then pushed her into that horrible “duel” with Master Gramount. Now it transpired that it had been her fault all along and she surely must have known that; a dark part of her wished she’d given the young noble more than just the one slap.

“Montmorency? But why?” Louise asked, anger creeping into her voice. She certainly remembered the duel incident too.

“I can’t be sure,” Miss Loungeville replied. “But I believe the potion was originally intended for Guiche de Gramount.”

“De Gramount?” Louise responded, and then after a moment, “Siesta.”

The maid nodded glad to be able to lower her sword, the strain in her arm had suddenly decided to make itself known and was quickly becoming unbearable.

“Before I go, is there anywhere you’d like me to start with this little spying game?” Fouquet asked. Louise took a moment or two to think before replying.

“Start with the people close to me but not my family.” The thief nodded in her direction before limping towards the tunnel and the surface, stopping only to grab one of the lanterns from near the edges of the cave. Siesta and Louise merely watched the tunnel entrance until the woman’s footsteps could no longer be heard. Finally Siesta sheathed her sword and turned to look at her mistress. The blonde was covered in blood and dirt and her clothes were in tatters but she was alive; that fact alone made Siesta feel lighter than she had in a long time.

“Well then miss,” she said. “We had best be getting out of here ourselves.”

“You came for me…” Maybe it was Siesta’s imagination but she thought she heard a little shame in her master’s voice.

“Of course I did,” she replied, there had never been any question about it. “Now let’s leave here,” she continued, she really did not want to stay here longer than necessary.

“Yes, of course however…”

“However…?” Siesta asked feeling tension rise in her again. Had she been wrong to feel so relieved just now?

“…I can not stand,” Louise admitted, turning her face to the side as though she was embarrassed to be confessing such a thing.

“I see…” Siesta replied, as she knelt down to inspect her mistress’s legs. She couldn’t see what was wrong with them but then she was no healer, or even a doctor. Slowly she crouched down and reached out to touch them only for Louise to hiss sharply, Siesta quickly withdrew her hand.

“I’m sorry!”

“It’s okay,” Louise responded.

For a brief moment Siesta didn’t know what to do, she considered going to get Professor Colbert for help but she really didn’t want to leave Louise here alone. After a few moments of agonising she finally came to a decision. She marched over to grab one of the remaining lanterns and upon returning, placed it next to the young noble. Then she drew her sword and stood facing the doorway, there was really no option but to wait until Professor Colbert reached them.

“Please hold on Miss,” she said, as she took her place between her mistress and the tunnel leading to the surface. Her muscles were starting to ach now and she was tempted to rest herself but she remained standing, what if Forquet came back? After all, could you really take a thief at their word?

- - -

The Professor limped slightly as he walked alongside his students, away from the unmoving mound of rock that until mere seconds ago had been there opponent and towards the base of the mountains, musing over just why it had just stopped. He wiped at the fresh cut on his cheek, whatever had happened it could not have been timelier. He took a quick look in the direction of his companions, all of four of them, himself included, were tired, dirty and carrying some kind of injury, although thankfully nothing serious. Everything they had thrown at the creature had done nothing more than superficial damage and they had all been running low on willpower; frankly he had been running out of ideas, he was quite sure that if the battle had continued it would have won. In a way it was quite galling, proof that the Flame Snake had gone soft he supposed, although considering his past that probably wasn’t an entirely bad thing.

Given that it was extremely unlikely that it was anything they had done, he could only conclude that the cause had come from the other end; Siesta must have defeated Fouquet. He grinned a little at that, he’d felt unsure about it at first due to the maid’s obvious timidity but for the moment it seemed that the girl was growing into her new role quite well. Although he was concerned over whether or not she had had to kill the man, he had seen what could happen to a soldier after their first kill. He would have to be sure to talk to her later if she had indeed needed to end the thief’s life.

Their passage through the tunnels went relatively smoothly with himself and miss Zerbst able to light the way. The Germainian was casting the spell with her off hand, the forearm of her other arm was wrapped from elbow to wrist in bandages he had managed to recover from the wreckage of their carriage.

As they continued he found himself growing more and more impressed at the young familiar’s nerve, she would have needed to find her way alone in the pitch black and darkness and solitude could play some interesting tricks on the mind of even the most hardened soldier. Especially when they knew something dangerous was waiting for them. As they proceeded they spotted another flickering light from up ahead, the tunnel opened up in to a proper cave and there was someone waiting for them. He gripped his wand inside his cloak but relaxed when he able to see who it was. Standing there sword drawn, looking very much like she had fought a hard battle and obviously keeping watch was Siesta. He grinned, yes definitely growing into her role. As she drew closer he could see that she looked a lot worse for wear, however it was the blonde laying against the wall behind her that caught his attention, she was covered in blood and dirt and looked quite pale. Concerned he sped up his pace.

“What’s wrong?” he asked once they were close enough.

“It’s her legs,” Siesta replied. “She wasn’t able to stand by herself so…”

“I see,” he replied.

“Will she be alright,” Miss Zerbst asked from behind him. He gave the Valliére child a quick glance over (ignoring her grumblings of I’m fine) before responding. She was still conscious and her usual stubbornness was quite apparent but she did appear to be somewhat tired. However he was unable to ascertain the true extent of her injuries.

“She’ll be fine,” he replied, with more confidence that he felt. “I’ll do what I can but we really should return to the last village we came through on the way here and book some rooms at the inn. Then I’ll send word for a healer.” Seeing them all nod their ascent he turned back to Siesta ask his last pressing question.

“And Fouquet?”

The maid opened her mouth to respond and then closed it again, seemingly at a loss for words. He was about to ask what was wrong but Miss Valliére spoke up.

“He escaped.”

“Escaped?”

“Yes,” she replied. “Siesta had him beat but then the coward fled.”

“I see.” It was as reasonable explanation as any he supposed. The only reason for Fouquet to flee would be if he was running out of willpower or if he was otherwise sure he was about to lose. Even if he still had some willpower left he may have deactivated his golem to preserve what he had left for his escape. It wasn’t an entirely satisfactory answer, but it would do for now, a proper debriefing could wait.

“Very well then. Now, if you would all give me your cloaks so I can form a basic stretcher and Miss Tabitha, if you could just prepare to call your dragon.”

- - -

She stood looking out the window beside her mistress’s bed in the old inn where they had managed to find a couple of rooms, just staring at the night sky. Her armour was leaning against the wall beneath the glass They’d been lucky, it had been dusk by the time they had made it limping and exhausted back to the village and there had been almost no vacant rooms left. Siesta had insisted on being the one to share a room with Louise and there had been no real argument. The girl in question was lying in an old, slightly uncomfortable-looking bed a little to her right. She was soundly asleep but Siesta kept her vigil anyway to try and stop her hurting herself in her sleep or in case she awoke or in case she suddenly took a turn for the worst or in case one of a thousand scenarios her mind could conjure up occurred. The young noble had tended to her when she had been bed ridden after the incident in the Vestri Court, not to mention buying her clothes, dealing with Count Mott and giving her a new job, now it was Siesta’s turn to attend to her.

Down in the cave Professor Colbert had sent Miss Kirche and Master Gramount back outside to gather some wood while he with Siesta’s assistance, treated Miss Louise’s wounds, despite not being a water mage. He’d taken his bandages out of his pack and used them and a bit water to clean her wounds, then combining it with some gauze he had bound them. When the other two had returned he had been able to fashion two pairs of improvised splints and with their cloaks a stretcher.

There had been no healer in town but there had been a doctor, although he’d been able to do little beyond what Professor Colbert had already done. He had given her some potions he purchased from the healer in the next town over to ward off infection and fever, then told them he would be lodging in the same room as the Professor, just in case Miss Louise took a turn in the night. Siesta felt sick at the thought.

Miss Tabitha and Miss Kirche had visited a little earlier to check on Miss Louise as well and Siesta had found to her own surprise that she quite liked the both of them. She had already been feeling kindly to Miss Kirche because of her visit in the infirmary at the castle but Miss Tabitha appeared to be a quite girl who she found easy to be around. Miss Kirche had even tried to lighten the mood by telling some lewd jokes, it had reminded Siesta a little of life back in her parent’s village. Still, she had found her mood resistant to being lightened.

Suddenly there came a knock at the door, dragging her from her reverie and Professor Colbert’s voice called softly from the other side.

“May I come in?”

“Enter,” Siesta called in her master’s stead.

The door swung open and the professor strolled into the room and cast a quick glance at the sleeping girl. He was still dressed in the same rags as before as were they all, almost everything they had brought with them had been destroyed by the golem.

“How is she?” he asked, as he went to take a seat at the battered-looking table in the centre of the room.

“Alright, for the moment,” Siesta responded.

“Good. But actually I’m here to talk to you, about your fight with Fouquet,” he replied, “I would like you to describe the events in greater detail.”

Siesta recited the story she had practiced with Miss Louise before her mistress had fallen asleep, it was mostly the truth, although she naturally amended the ending to make it sound like Fouquet had managed to fight her way out and she had left out any mention of the thief’s true sex. The whole time the professor simply stood there looking at her, a strangely expressionless look. When she had finished her story his only response was only to give a curt nod and say:

“Thank you. Oh and yes. I’ve also received word back, there will be a healer arriving from a nearby town early tomorrow morning.”

She nodded in understanding.

“And you did very well today, Siesta,” he added before opening the door and leaving the room.

Merely stared at the doorway for a few moments after hearing those final words, unsure of how to feel. It was not often she received praise from someone who wasn’t family and to receive it from a mage was rarer yet. Although it was odd, she felt pride at the comment but not as proud as she felt when Miss Louise complimented her. Eventually she shrugged and decided to simply let herself temporarily bask in the praise he had given her.

After a few moments of that she turned once more to gaze at her mistress. As silently as she could she crept towards the edge of the bed and gently sat herself down on the edge of it. It was odd, even though she the girl could be stubborn and hot-tempered when awake when she slept she looked so peaceful and pretty, even now when she was so badly injured. Without thinking she reached out a hand to stroke a strand of Louise’s blonde hair and caught herself with it between her fingers. What was she doing?

Trying to ignore the thoughts racing through the back of her mind, Siesta all but sprung to her feet stood and resumed her place by the window, looking out at the night sky.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Author's Note: So, here is chapter seven.

I discovered while writing this chapter that I dislike writing battles involving earth mages. Fire, wind, water are all fine ut earth... So yeah, I decided to keep it short and sweet. I also kept the golem battle short because there is only so many time you can say "he hit but it did nothing" before it gets boring.

On the gandalfr runes. I've decided that for the purposes of this fix, the item needs to be a weapon and the gandalfr has to recognise it as such for the runes to work. So Siesta won't be killing anyone with a teacup but a machine gun would be equally useless if Siesta doesn't recognise it as a weapon. The Staff of Destruction may have worked because it's known to be a weapon even if no one knows how to operate it.

Anyway, enjoy.

PhoenixAct
April 18th, 2014, 08:44 AM
Disclaimer: I do not own ZnT.

Chapter VIII - A Brief Rest




“So Fouquet is still alive,” said the headmaster, propping his elbows up on his desk and resting his chin on his joined hands.

“Yes,” Professor Colbert confirmed, from his seat in front of the headmasters desk. He had returned to the castle barely an hour ago but the headmaster had summoned him immediately in order to hear his report. “But we have no idea where he is now.”

“Yes,” Osmund sighed, looking weary. “Still, you managed to retrieve the staff and young lady Valliére. Also, it’s not true to say that we have no leads; I don’t know if you’ve noticed but the desk outside my office is woefully empty.”

“I noticed. You believe Miss Loungueville to be involved?”

“If not, then the timing of her disappearance is entirely too coincidental.”

“I see,” he sighed. Personally he agreed; it was both galling and unnerving that there had been a spy under their noses the whole time and none of them had noticed. What if she had belonged to someone other than a thief, like the self-proclaimed revolutionaries currently plaguing Albion? He would need to be more alert from now on.

“Now, on to other matters,” the headmaster continued. “About Miss Valliére and her familiar, you reported that Siesta had already defeated Fouquet by the time you arrived?”

“According to her and her Master,” Colbert responded, “She was able to force the thief to flee.”

“Quite a step up from defeating an academy student,” the old man mused, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “Even with his attention being divided, defeating a mage capable of creating such powerful golems in no mean feat. It certainly lends further credence to what you discovered after the summoning ceremony.”

“Are you suggesting we tell them now?” Colbert asked.

The headmaster merely shrugged and smiled.

“I think it would be better, perhaps, to give them the clues and see if they can’t work it out for themselves.”

“Another test?”

“I was thinking it would be more along the lines of a lesson. I am a teacher after all.”


- - -

Siesta walked briskly through the halls of the Tristain Academy of Magic, feeling lighter than she had at any time in the last two weeks. In fact, it might very well have been the best she had felt since before the night Miss Louise had taken that love potion.

She was dressed in a borrowed academy uniform; the clothes Miss Louise had bought for her had been damaged during “Fouquet’s” initial attack on the academy and were irreparable. At her side hung her sword, which garnered some curious but guarded looks from both the students and the members of the serving staff she passed in the hall; the teachers pointedly avoided looking. Normally no one would be permitted to walk through the school armed, especially not a mere commoner; but the headmaster had made an exception for her since it was part of her duty to protect her mistress. Not to mention that most of the other familiars could do serious harm to a person without much warning (although she doubted she would be of very much use against Miss Tabitha’s dragon). It had helped that Professor Colbert had made sure that she was properly credited for her role against Fouquet, something which she had not expected.

Many of the other servants she passed nodded respectfully at her as she passed, and she nodded uncertainly back. That was one of the effects of having “victory” over Fouquet be acknowledged. If she were honest she would admit that the attention had been novel and a little exciting at first; but it soon became wearisome when people kept asking her for the story days later.

She was on her to her mistress’s chambers, carrying a tray with her breakfast and three letters; which had arrived via private courier during the night. It was the routine she had been following every morning since their return to the castle less than a week ago. At first it was because Miss Louise, whilst not precisely confined to her bed, had been instructed to minimise how much she exerted herself. Thus Siesta had taken to going directly down to the kitchens of a morning and carrying her breakfast directly up to her mistress’s bedchamber. It had been surprisingly easy to convince the young noble to acquiesce to this arrangement; Siesta suspected that it was partly because the healer’s orders meant she couldn’t practice no matter how early she woke up anyway … and partly because of the newest gossip amongst the students.

Siesta sighed; she would have thought it would have all died down by now. Well, the whispers weren’t all new precisely but rather a resurgence of the rumours about the immoral affair she and Miss Louise were supposedly having. The recent mess had not done any favours for her mistress’s reputation; many had taken her capture by a “mere thief” to be further proof of her failure as a mage. Some believed that the fact that the thief had then been defeated by a commoner proved their claim.

She felt some annoyance at that; Fouquet had managed to bypass magical wards that were second only to those at the royal palace, not to mention avoiding capture by the chevaliers for so long. It should be obvious to anyone that the mage was more than just a “mere thief”.

As she left the main hall in the direction of the student’s chambers, she saw the last person she ever wanted to see again heading straight towards her; Montmorency with several of her friends in tow. As they neared each other the noble child caught sight of her and whispered something to her friends, who all broke in to giggles, which they feebly attempted to hide behind their hands. Siesta felt her blood begin to boil and she forced herself to keep her gaze fixed straight ahead and ignore the other girls. It was galling to know what she had done and be unable to do anything about it. She wouldn’t even be able to tell anyone how she knew.

As the two drew closer, Montmorency stared at her again and Siesta was momentarily taken aback – but nothing happened as they passed each other. Siesta continued on her way, determinedly resisting the urge to glance back over her shoulder.

She reached her mistress’s room not long after, and entered to find her already sitting at the small table, fully dressed. A walking cane rested against the table nearby; Louise would eventually make a full recovery, but it would take longer due to the amount of time that had passed between her incurring the injury and receiving treatment. Most of the students seemed to consider it yet another thing to make fun of her for, and she had seen her mistress glaring at it occasionally, when she thought she wasn’t looking.

Siesta placed the tray down and set the plate in front of Louise.

“Thank you, Siesta,” Louise said.

“You’re welcome, Miss.”

There was a comfortable silence where the only noise was that of the young noble’s knife and fork clacking against her plate as she ate.

“So, Miss,” said Siesta. “You will be returning to classes today.”

“…Yes,” Louise replied, her voice devoid of enthusiasm.

Siesta frowned.

“Are you okay, Miss?”

“Yes,” her mistress replied distractedly, before blinking and seemingly refocusing her eyes on her. “Oh, yes. Yes, Siesta, I’m fine.”

Siesta didn’t believe her, but refrained from saying anything; at a guess she would say that, although she would never admit it, her Master was reluctant to return to classes. Instead, she reached in to the pockets of her apron and produced three envelopes and a leather pouch, each of which had arrived that morning. The pouch rattled as she set the items down on the table, it was easy to guess what was inside.

“These arrived for you today, Miss,” she said.

Her master picked up the first envelope and used her finger to break the red wax seal on the back. She read the letter in silence for what felt like several minutes before speaking up.

“It’s from my mother,” she said.

Siesta felt her heart increase its pace slightly; she found even the memory of the Valliére matriarch to be somewhat intimidating. In her minds eye she could see the strawberry blonde woman distinctly, her very presence radiating authority and power.

“Nothing different than usual,” Louise continued. “She asks about how my schoolwork is going and says that the pouch contains my allowance for the next month. She hasn’t mentioned my … kidnapping, at all.”

Siesta couldn’t help the frown that pulled at her lips; surely any mother would be concerned if a notorious thief had kidnapped their youngest daughter? Yet Lady Valliére had not enquired after Louise’s wellbeing. As far as Siesta knew, no correspondence had come from house Valliére at all while her mistress had been recuperating either.

“Perhaps it’s for the best,” the young noble said. “After all, it would only make things more difficult if mother were to organise a manhunt for her.”

Laying her mother’s letter on the table and picked up the next one, grimacing as she caught sight of her name written in a severe yet elegant script on the front. Obviously, Siesta thought, her mistress recognised the handwriting.

“My eldest sister, Eleanor,” she grumbled. Her eyes briefly scanned over the page before she screwed the parchment up and tossed it in to the fireplace.

Siesta frowned; she wondered just how bad her mistress’s relationship with her family was. She had siblings of her own and although they could often be annoying, she couldn’t imagine simply discarding their letters in such a manner.

Louise reached for the third letter, and this time she smiled at the sight of her name written on the front. The hand it was written in was elegant like Lady Eleanor’s, but it was also softer and more rounded and, for lack of a better word, pretty. It seemed thicker than the other two, and when she opened up several pages fell out. She took her time and read the whole letter carefully. The tension Siesta didn’t know she had been carrying eased a little bit; it seemed there was at least one person in Louise’s family that she had a good relationship with.

While her mistress was reading, Siesta took the liberty of brewing the two of them a cup of tea. She returned to the table just as Louise raised her head from the pieces of parchment, placing the tea on the table and standing to the side.

“My second sister, Catlleya,” she explained, “She writes that she is glad I am safe, asks after my health and mentions a couple of new pets she has acquired.”

“Oh, does your sister like animals, Miss?” Siesta asked.

“…She has a fondness for them, yes,” Louise replied, giggling almost nervously.

Siesta’s brow furrowed, as she pondered the meaning behind her Master’s tone, but pushed it to the side. It didn’t seem all that important; in fact it seemed positively normal for a member of the nobility.

The two drifted into a comfortable silence, the only sounds being the clinking of eating utensil against china and the singing of birds outside the bedroom window. After a short while however the smile and enthusiasm that had appeared with her sister’s letter disappeared; instead she was frowning and chewing at her food with a grim determination.

“Are you not enjoying your meal, Miss?” she asked, despite knowing that that wasn’t the problem at all.

“Hm?” Louise responded. “No, no it’s quiet delicious.”

Siesta wondered if she should press harder, and was about to speak - when there came a light rapping from the bedroom door. Louise nodded to her, and she rose to open it. Her eyes widened when she saw just who was on the other side, and she glanced over her shoulder at her mistress.

“Hello!” their visitor said, brightly.

“Zerbst!” Louise barked, bolting out of her seat.

“Why hello, Valliére,” Kirche replied with a smile as she sauntered into the room. “I’m glad to see you’re looking yourself again.”

“Just what are you doing here?!” Louise demanded.

“Why, I came to check on you, of course,” she replied sweetly. “I wanted to see if you were well. I’ve been keeping an eye out for you all week, but you’ve been moping up here.”

“Fine, you’ve seen me. Now you can leave,” Louise growled.

“Oh, Valliére, you wound me. And after I took an injury for you too,” Kirche replied, tapping her left cheek; Siesta could see there was indeed a faint scar just beneath her eye. The maid also noticed her Master grimace at her rival’s words.

“I never asked you to come for me,” she grumbled. “And I’m surprised you’d risk your pretty face for my sake; it is the only thing you have going for you.”

“Oh!” Kirche exclaimed. “You really think I’m pretty? I’m flattered. But should you really be flirting with other women in front of your lover? “

Louise’s face turned red, and Siesta felt her own cheeks grow warm, too, although not as much as they once would have. By this point she had almost grown used to all the innuendo flying around about her and her mistress.

“Or is it that the two of you have that kind of relationship?” Kirche continued, with a grin. “Perhaps you’re looking for additional partners to spice things up? My, I didn’t know the two of you were so adventurous, you both look so very … Tristanian.”

Against her will, the image of herself, Louise and Miss Kirche forced its way in to Siesta’s head; the three of them beneath the sheets… She shook her head violently. Her face had grown so hot she feared it might catch fire and Louise had turned a magnificent shade of scarlet.

“I keep telling you, we’re not–,” Louise began, only for Kirche to interrupt her and keep talking.

“Although I must say, Siesta cut quite the dashing figure as she rushed to save her lovely lady from the dastardly bandit, don’t you think? And to defeat a powerful mage in single combat with only a length of steel … why, the bards might make a song of it, if they weren’t all so repressed.”

There was a moment of silence save for the low growl emanating from the back of Louise’s throat. Siesta herself was beginning to feel quite light-headed; if this kept up she might very well faint.

“Actually, now that I think about it,” Kirche said, her roguish grin still firmly in place. “To wield a sword with such skill would require strong and nimble fingers; no wonder you’re so attached to the girl.”

A long stream of words spewed from Louise’s lips, and Siesta was sure that they would have been very unladylike, had they been intelligible. Still, Miss von Zerbst seemed to understand what was being said, for she replied:

“You flatter me, Valliére. Now, time is getting on, and, as much as I enjoy discussing your sexual awakening, we have lessons to attend. Shall we?”

“Yes!” Siesta exclaimed, perhaps a little too loudly, latching on to the chance to end this conversation. “If we don’t leave now, Miss, you’ll be late for your lessons.”

“Fine!” Louise barked. Grabbing her cane, she lay the letters from her mother and her sister on the table next to her bed, then hobbled as fast as she could out of the room. Miss von Zerbst followed behind, her chuckling softly to herself, although Siesta thought she saw a strangely sad look in her eyes as she watched her mistress. The maid herself left last, making sure to close the door securely behind her.

- - -

Later, during lunch, Kirche returned to her own chambers for a new blouse, the one she was wearing had gotten dirty during one of Valliére’s regular accidents.

Instead of just quickly exchanging her clothing as she had intended, she found herself standing in front of her mirror, examining her left forearm. There was a nasty-looking scar stretching almost the entire distance between her elbow and wrist; it was jagged and darker than the skin around it. Professor Colbert had treated it as best he could in the field and the doctor had taken a look at it when they had reached the village; however, by the time a healer had actually been able to look at it, it had been too late to prevent scarring. She wouldn’t be able to show off her arms any more; still, she supposed it was a small price to pay for having Valliére returned safely.

She grinned as she recalled the meeting between them that morning; that girl was just too easy. She wasn’t quite sure why, but she was becoming fond of the young blonde, perhaps-because she had a fire in her, unlike so many of her countrymen?

Her eyes fell on the pieces of parchment laying on her desk. It was something she had taken from one of the boys this morning, shortly before calling on Valliére. The boy, it seemed, had quite the way with words; unfortunately he had used this talent to write an incredibly lewd piece. Normally she wouldn’t have a problem with that but this author seemed to have drawn inspiration from the rumours currently flying around the castle about Valliére and her maid. He had changed the names, certainly, but it was still entirely too easy to tell who the characters were supposed to be. She didn’t think the two of them needed to deal with this right now; there were limits to this sort of thing.

She opened her window, touched her wand to the paper and cast the now burning sheaves into the warm spring air. As she watched the pages reduce to ash as they fell, she briefly mused on how the nobles of Tristain preached about honour, but never seemed to miss the chance to kick someone while they were down.

Someone knocked on her door; it was rhythmic in a way that was instantly recognisable.

“Coming, Tabitha!” she called, as she quickly grabbed a new blouse and pulled it on before heading for the door.

- - -

At the same time as Kirche was examining herself in her mirror, Louise, with Siesta by her side, was returning to her chambers for lunch. Louise’s cane impacted against the stone floor perhaps a little more heavily than was entirely necessary, every strike echoing her displeasure.

Louise’s mood was as dark as the sky before a thunderstorm and she was determined to have her lunch apart from the rest of the student body, away from the idiots who thought she didn’t know what they were whispering about. It had been a month, why wouldn’t those stupid rumours die already!?

However, when she opened her chamber door, she froze in shock. All thoughts of how badly the morning had gone fled from her mind, as she saw two hooded figures standing by the window, both of whom turned to face her, having heard the door creak open. She felt ice form in the pit of her stomach. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Siesta reach uncertainly for the hilt of her sword.

“Who are you?” she demanded, barely managing to keep her tone firm.

One of the figures slowly reached up and began to remove their hood.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Author's Note: So, I've resurrected (again) this abomination, that gives me endless headaches, if anyone still cares.

I also went back and did some edits to previous chapters, nothing major, just changed some things I didn't like and tried to make them fit with the rest of the story better.

Erlkonig
April 18th, 2014, 07:03 PM
I wonder who could those two be. I was almost immediately going to say Henrietta but then I saw it was actually two people and Henrietta might not have wanted to approach Louise just yet, after getting all that spaghetti dropped on her.

Kieran
April 19th, 2014, 04:07 PM
Admittedly, I'm a bigger fan of "Bundle of Joy" (and eagerly awaiting the next installment), but since I've been reminded that this is here, and am somewhat familiar with the source material, I will now engage in a blitzkrieg read to see what it's like - opinion to follow later. :)