Chapter 9: Following in her Footsteps

The sound of fighting once again filled the castle courtyard. Metal rang upon metal as the last guard put everything he had into slaying the monster before him. All his comrades had fallen before the pink haired witch's blade, but it had tired her. Now all she could do was defend. Here and now he would take revenge for his comrades and slay this girl.

Oblivious to the heroic inner monologue of the guard, the Dragonborn sighed as he watched Louise block strike after strike. "Are you done yet?" He gnawed on another root he dug up, if only to make use of the time.

Louise's short sword intercepted another blow and she briefly glanced to the stars above. "Just a little more. You are the one who said blocking was also important." Really, he was the one who taught her this and she would be damned before she gave in to his impatience.

The guard let out a great cry. "Have at you!" His blade came down and was deflected again. A wand appeared in Louise's hand with a flick of her wrist and she leveled it at him. The following explosion took the guard's consciousness from him before he even hit the ground.

Turning to her familiar, Louise stretched her arms out. "Done. Happy?"

Swallowing the root, the man nodded inn satisfaction despite the green tinge to his face. "Yes. I'm really interested to see where this quest goes." Training was all well and good, but quests were what it was all for after all.

The duo found Sylphid waiting patiently, if a bit confused, by the tower base. The dragon cried in excitement when she spotted them. "You're back! Please save big sis!" Unaware of her size, the dragon tromped over to the two, barreling into the Dragonborn in her excitement. The man barely held his footing and went about calming the excited dragon while Louise continued on to the heavy door at the base of the tower.

Grabbing the knob, Louise pulled at the door futilely. It was locked tight. Making his away around the excitable dragon, the Dragonborn approached Louise. "Locked huh? Well this would be a good time to learn about lockpicking." He dug into his pouch for some lockpicks, deciding that letting Louise use his Skeleton Key would be cheating and he did not want to mess with Louise's difficulty any more than he already had.

Holding up her wand, Louise spoke. "I have my lockpick right here." The Dragonborn tilted his head and gave her a strange look. There was no way her wand could be used as a lockpick. Sure it was long and slender but- The Dragonborn's line of thought was cut off when Louise pointed her wand at the door, chanted, and blew the barrier to pieces in torrent of smoke and power. When the dust settled the door lay in taters, no longer impeding their progress. "By Talos..." The Dragonborn whispered, taking in the sight.

Louise turned proudly. Even if she was learning everything she could from her familiar, she hadn't completely forgotten her talents. "Now that this is out of the way..." Louise trailed off when her familiar nervously put his hand through where the door had been and waved it around. Still hesitant, he daintily put one foot over the threshold.

Wonder crossed his face when he was able to put his foot down within the tower. Turning to Louise with amzed eyes he cried out. "You destroyed a door!" Louise was dumbstruck by his amazement. "A door! A locked door at that! I had no idea that was even possible! Maybe you Halkaginian's can do some amazing things after all!" It was insane, wonderful, and horrifying all at once. Never before had the Dragonborn been able to knock down a door. From the flimsiest rotten planks to the sturdiest iron gates. If they were locked, he needed the key or to pick them. But destroying them... it should have been impossible.

Why a man capable of defeating an army single-handily thought this was amazing, Louise wasn't quite sure. She was however quite pleased such a man found her exciting. Puffing out her chest, she stood proudly. "Well I am amazing after all. Come familiar! We have a maiden to rescue!" She charged off up the spiral staircase full of excitement leading her equally excited familiar. Slamming in the last door, Louise found Tabitha sitting next to a bed staring bewildered at her. "Tabitha! I'm here to rescue you." Louise spoke proudly.

Tabitha wasn't sure how to react. Louise wasn't exactly the first person she expected to come to her rescue; or even the girl's familiar who was currently leaning around the door frame trying to get a good view. Even with those expectations, Tabitha couldn't help but feel hope blossom in her heart. Hope she quickly pushed down and averted her gaze to the gaunt woman sleeping in the bed beside her. "I can't leave my mother." Tabitha's soft voice hid her sadness poorly.

The sound of scratching drew Tabitha's attention back to Louise. The girl was squatting and writing in a journal. Odd. "Right then." Louise stood up with a bounce. "Next stage: Heal Tabitha's Mother." She began digging through her pouch. "What do you think?" She absentmindedly asked her familiar. "Cure disease?"

Hesitant, Tabitha instinctively tried to push down any chance of hope. "It is no disease. She was poisoned." The damage was already done, there was no healing her mother's affliction.

Louise just snapped her fingers in response. "Cure poison then." Withdrawing a bottle, she walked over to Tabitha with stars in her eyes. Handing the potion to Tabitha she said with barely constrained excitement. "Just give her this and she'll be right as rain." Careless, Louise placed the potion in Tabitha's hands as one might pass a snack.

Tabitha's hands trembled. Not wanting to believe but bursting with hope all the same. After so long, Tabitha once more began to truly hope. If this didn't work... She could not take it. Unstopping the bottle, she tipped the contents into her mother's mouth.

The woman's throat swallowed. Her eyes fluttered open. "Charlotte?" She reached up in wonder and cupped her daughter's face. "My Charlotte?"

True, honest tears of joy fell from the faces of Mother and daughter as they were reunited once again.

Louise considered that she would probably end up better than her familiar. Why was that? Well she was learning everything he had to offer but still knew better than to shout 'Quest complete' during Tabitha's reunion. She even managed to silence her familiar before he did exactly that. However, as soon as the mother and daughter broke apart and turned to their rescuers, both familiar and master jumped in excitement.

"Quest Complete!"

Oh! Louise realized she was probably going to get a reward if her familiar's logic held true; and she knew it would. Leaning in to listen to Tabitha as the girl regained her composure, Louise pondered what she would want. A sword would be nice, the cheap guard's sword she had taken didn't hold a candle to either of her familiar's. Louise was so deep in wonder she almost didn't listen to Tabitha's thanks. "Louise. You have done so much for me..." Tabitha held steady, not wanting to sob again. "I wish I could repay you... But I have nothing." Tabitha's knightly honor stabbed at her heart. Here Louise had saved her. Been the knight she had wished for. Yet she had no way to repay the girl.

Confused and mildly dissatisfied, Louise turned to her familiar. "What now?" When in doubt, consult the expert after all.

Rubbing his chin, the Dragonborn thought aloud. "Well, main quests can be like this sometimes, but not usually..." He looked to Tabitha in thought, then planted his fist in palm as he realized it. "Oh!" Leaning in to Louise, he whispered into her ear.

Tabitha waited patiently for Louise and her familiar to finish, it was the least she could do. After a few moments Louise's face lit up in excitement. "Oh!" Tabitha noted the repressed smile on Louise's face as the girl spoke. "Tabitha, would you like to join me on my adventures?"

The sounds echoed around and inside Tabitha. Yes, this was how she could repay Louise. This was how she could shake free of the shackles of a damsel in distress. She would become a knight. Louise's knight. Kneeling, Tabitha spoke. "My staff is your staff, my magic your magic, my heart your heart. I am your knight until death claims me." It was hard for Tabitha to speak so much, but she would not skimp on this oath.

"Alright!" Louise cried in excitement. "Follower acquired!"

Odd as her master was, Tabitha felt nothing but happiness for Louise. Turning to her mother, Tabitha found understanding eyes. The woman would need time to recover, and Tabitha knew just where Sylphid could take her.

A hand rested on Tabitha's shoulder. Turning she found the Dragonborn. "Congratulations." His simle held something hidden... What was it? "Now that you are a follower, I should let you know..." Now Tabitha could see it. That sinister glint in his smile. "There is a very scared duty all followers must perform." Tabitha gulped.

Weary and drained, Tabitha plodded on behind Louise and the Dragonborn. The massive sack on her back shouldn't even be called a sack. It was a monstrous pack twice her size supported both by her own strength and the wind magic constantly lifting it just enough for the poor girl to continue. Take my mother to Kirche's estate I said. Protect her until I call for you I said.Right now a dragon would be really, really helpful. Tabitha's flat glare bored into her master's familiar. Follower her ass. She was a pack mule! Had the two really needed to gather up every scrap of armor and weapon from the guards at the castle. For Brimir's sake this all couldn't be worth much!

"Rabbit!" The Dragonborn called out, completely oblivious to the death glares Tabitha was sending him. The white hair ran for it's life, Louise and the Dragonborn hot on its heels, blades at the ready. After a few moments of missed swings an explosion sounded and a white hair flew through the sky. Louise had once again relied on magic to finish the job.

Louise walked after the Dragonborn. "I know it's good practice for my magic, but is it really necessary to kill every rabbit we see?" Poor things.

The Dragonborn nodded sagely. "The rabbits feed the wolves. Cut off the food supply and the enemy dwindles." The Dragonborn's experience with Louise allowed him to translate her confused look. Ah, further explanation was required. These poor Halkeginians. "Wolves attack everything and everyone. From the plainest peasant to the most dangerous warrior. Those murderbeasts are staging a war on humanity and we have a duty to fight back."

Not our wolves you insane idiot. Tabitha foresaw Louise's rebuttal, but her prediction proved false when Louise shrugged.

"Fair enough." The pinkette accepted the madman's ramblings in stride. Tabitha only adjusted her mountain of a pack and sent another death glare at the Dragonborn. How dare he taint her master's mind?

As if to respond, the Dragonborn stopped to look back at Tabitha, though his cheery expression showed no hint of noticing her loathing. "So, a princess huh?" Tabitha nodded hesitantly. She was a knight before that though, not that the man cared. Tabitha stopped before the two and said man turned to Louise. "That's unique, I'll trade you for her. I've got several warrior types."

Before Tabitha could respond aghast Louise's arms wrapped around her head and pulled the blue haired girl to her chest. "No, she's mine." Tabitha blushed, liking that for once her skills were desired. This was a service she had given herself to; it was different from her uncle's blackmail. It was nice her new master valued her so highly.

The Dragonborn sighed and walked on. He hadn't really expected Louise to accept, but one must try everything to see if it uncovers any quests. Releasing her follower, Louise trotted forward once more after sparing Tabitha a smile. "So why aren't we taking a carriage or 'zoning out' as you put it." Their pace was a bit slow after all.

Shaking his head, the Dragonborn went into instructor mode. "Louise, you can't simply fast-travel anywhere." He gestured to the lush woodlands around the road they walked on. "You have to explore for new locations, take the time to enjoy the little things, and give quests a chance to reveal themselves. Why, right now a quest could just drop right out of the sky."

As the world is wont to do, logic was twisted to obey the Dragonborn. With a grand crunch, a massive manitcore landed right behind the Dragonborn, kicking up a cloud of dirt with the sheer force of the landing. The beast let loose a blood curdling roar that pushed the mans hair about in it's wrath. "See?" He said, drawing his swords.

However, before he could turn to face the beast, Louise called out. "Wait!" The urgency in her voice stopped her familiar and after a moment's thought, her sheathed his blades. "That's my..." Louise gulped. "Mother." On cue an armored woman dismounted from the top of the beast. Swordwand drawn, she evaluated her daughter and the familiar with ice in her veins. Then she silently turned the manticore and helped another dismount. "Princess Henrietta!" Louise exclaimed as she recognized the other rider.

Hesitation, hurt, and hope were mixed in the Princess' expression. The monarch took a step forward. Louise forgot her mother for a moment and moved forward as well, but stopped when the Princess shied away. A moment's silence was enough for Princess Henrietta to find her courage. "Prince Wales sent word that he has found a connection between Gallia and the Reconquista..." Though she tried to keep her voice steady, she still remembered what Louise had done that landed the girl in the dungeon. "It's not enough that we can truly prove it, but there was also a chance Gallia planed to help them move against Tristain. That could have meant the end for our nation." She swallowed, building momentum. "When you were there, you and your familiar stopped the Reconquista. You found something too didn't you? You learned of Gallia's intent." Tears began to fall and Henrrietta cast her face down, gripping her hands tight. "Tristain needs more time to prepare itself against Gallia. Now that Princess Charlotte is on the run, Gallia's attention will be drawn. The one who took her from them had already been condemned by Tristain so no war will come of it." Losing herself to her emotion, Henrietta let her tears flow and charged to Louise, embracing the surprised girl in an embrace. "You would cast aside everything to protect us? Louise... I... It hurts so much... Thank you so, so much..."

Bewildered, Louise looked to the Dragonborn only to receive a shrug of equal bewilderment. Carefully, Louise wrapped her arms around Henrietta and soothed her first friend's sobs. If nothing else, she was glad Henrietta was no longer hurting from that thing she did that would not be mentioned.

When Henrietta broke away, Louise found her mother just behind the Princess. An armored hand came to rest on Louise's shoulder. "Daughter. That level of sacrifice for the crown. I could never be more proud of you than I am now." Any thought to correct the minor misconception left Louise's heart forever. If the more impulsive and selfish reasons for her actions were ever reveled. She would definitely be killed. Luckily the one who knew the reasons was was considered insane by any else's standards, so she was probably safe.

Offering a slight bow of respect and thanks, Henrietta spoke. "You have done so much for Tristain, but I am afraid I must ask more." Two notebooks appeared, quills at the ready. Hesitating only slightly, Henrietta spoke. "You can infiltrate Gallia without risk of war. We need to know what King Joseph is planning. We know he retrieved the Founder's Music Box from Albion, so it can't be good." It was a lot to ask, but the Princess knew it was necessary.

Completely ignoring the gravity and danger of the task, Louise closed her journal with a snap. "Right. Quest: Infiltrate Gallia's Capital received." Looking to her familiar, the two nodded in unison. "Mother, Princess, please leave everything to me." With a smile, Louise turned and walked back the way she came. Back to Gallia it was then."

When Tabitha's master and the familiar passed her she made to turn, only to stop when a hand grabbed her shoulder. Tabitha's eyes looked to find Karin studying the massive pack. "Wind magic to support it hmm?" The older mage spoke with interest. "You know, I used the same exercise when I was inventing the Heavy Wind. I feel better knowing a diligent and creative wind mage such as yourself is with my daughter." Tabitha's eyes widened. The Heavy Wind? As in Karin of the Heavy Wind? Suddenly Tabitha wondered if there was more to the odd familiar's plan than just tormenting her. Had he been teaching her secretly all along? Such wisdom! "Please," Karin spoke, "Keep my daughter safe."

With an enthusiastic nod Tabitha accepted, "Yes Ma'am." With new found energy Tabitha turned and hurried off after her master.

Ahead the Dragnoborn thought to himself how useful it was to have a pack mule, er, follower around again.