A/N: For the longest time, I've been interested in FoZ fanfics and the shenanigans that can result from the crossover-friendly premise, but after a while I couldn't help but think that maybe there could be a rendition that messes with the core story somewhat without simply mashing two worlds together and without drastically changing the basic premise. Essentially, identify a turning point in the narrative that won't interfere with the Louise side of the story initially, exploit the hell out of it, then see if I can't have some fun exploring things from the perspective of a group of people who have no idea what's going on.
Opening post is just a bit of setup, and the next should come sometime soon.
Eleanore sits at her desk at the Tristian Research Academy with a sour look on her face, a rare slouching posture with her having her head supported by one arm, a large number of documents in front of her, and a cup of tea to the side of all that. She takes a swig of tea before sitting upright again, and going back over the documents. There is so much for her, as well as every noble who fancies themselves as researchers, to sort through, yet so little to work with. To say that it frustrates her is something of an understatement.
The ones at the forefront are reports given by scouts, soldiers, and fellow researchers, of whom some are her seniors. The ones written by the first two contain details of what could only be described as a bastard cross between an invading army and a mining operation, but not one of the Brimiric nations had come forward to take responsibility for this. That is only the first of many nonsensical details, as this force is too small to be a proper army, too well armed to be anything else, yet the bulk of it consists purely of humanoid golems speculated to be made of a heat-resistant bronze alloy of an unknown composition.
Brief skirmishes between the Tristian military and these small groups never yield so much as a piece of scrap for an earth mage to examine as the golems either have their remains carted off by other, smaller, spider-esque golems in the middle of the fight, fall into a strange portal (which she notes is reported and speculated on in another set of documents,) or as a couple of mages learned the hard way after a seemingly successful battle, self-destruct when the former two events do not occur.
The eldest Valliere knows that golems can be given a set of commands that enable them to act semi-autonomously, but these have reaction times and decision-making capabilities that would indicate that a mage should be nearby pulling the strings, but if there is one... Eleanor shakes her head and digs up a rather important sketch. It's not a matter of if there's someone pulling the strings, but where the puppetmaster hides. Plus, at the very least, they know what to look for. While details have always been a touch scarce, the overall picture has been refined to the point where everyone can agree on what the offending mage looks like.
Dark brown hair that falls to the shoulders, and is drawn back in a ponytail, blue eyes, a perpetually tired appearance. Average height, possibly below average weight, and male. When sighted, he always wears a distinct style of clothing normally reserved for airship captains, but it's just far enough removed from that that there is no doubt in the Valliere's mind that he's either some kind of posh sky pirate or a complete weirdo who overcomplicates things for fun. She could think of no other way to describe it.
Eleanor sighs as she rolls up the sketch and tosses it to the side. It did nothing but remind her that few people have even seen this mage to begin with, let alone been able to confront him. If he weren't borderline enemy number one, she would at least love nothing more than to sit down with the man and ask him about his... everything. The current agreed-upon theory is that is that he must be some kind of earth mage, and given that Albion was the first to record anything about him, he must originate from there.
Part of the reason she even wants to speak to him is because of the reports given by her peers and seniors. While Tristian's military forces try to keep the golems in check, the more scholarly of nobles busy themselves with trying to figure out why this man is even doing what he's doing to begin with. So far, the running theory is that he's targeting Tristian's wind stone supply. More than that, he's actively succeeding in removing it, or at least reducing the amount present in the earth. Given how her project before all this started is to develop more advanced mining techniques to reach the pockets of wind stones that are too deep in the earth to reach as of current and safely extract them, the concept of someone already knowing how to do so could not have intrigued her more.
...She also has to admit to herself that she is deeply annoyed that her project is effectively meaningless. The fact that Tristian does not have access to the 'pirate's' mining techniques yet is irrelevant. The second they apprehend the man and confiscate his equipment, everyone will work toward reverse-engineering it for their own benefit. It leaves an odd feeling in her heart. One irrational part of her wishes to strangle the man for having the audacity to upstage her, another slightly less than morally sound part wouldn't mind capturing him first and locking him up in a personal dungeon and persuade him to part with his secrets so her work can at least be rendered somewhat valid.
The issue is that apparently this one mage, who no one knows about, no one supports, no one has even heard of before the sacking of Sachen-Gotha, and King Wales of Albion making it abundantly clear that he would not authorize any of his nobility to do this (as well as lacking the capacity to even do so) has a small, private army and... The eldest Valliere reaches for another set of sketches. These ones detail what she assumes to be the elusive pirate's 'pet', for lack of a better word. Unlike the mage, this silvery-blue dragon has appeared routinely and repeatedly, and is always ready to help the golems repel another attack. It's reached the point where not only are there an abundance of sketches of this thing, many are in full color and a few even have exact measurements and dimensions, as well as estimations of durability and offensive firepower.
Roughly six to seven feet tall as the shoulders, approximately thirty-four feet from snout to tail tip and a wingspan that is just as wide. Primarily silver in coloration, fades to blue near the phalanxes on the wings, and has a number of crystalline protrusions along its body, especially along its wings, and a particularly large cluster at its tail tip. Bluish scales around its legs and head appear as well, and are speculated to give it its control over wind. Other notable traits include the apparent ability to use light to attack, as well as shocking levels of aerial mobility and equal aptitude for melee and magic. The thing also straddles the line between looking majestic and mildly gaudy. None the less, it's nearly as much of a threat by itself as the entire golem force combined.
So much so, that Karin herself came out of retirement just to help fight the thing and prove that it can at least be hurt. Given how she's managed to lop off the thing's tail at least once, she's accomplished that much and helped keep morale up.
The eldest Valliere curses under her breath. The knowledge that her mother is out there fighting seriously and being, well... cool in a manner other than her general attitude is something she can't help but be annoyed with being unable to see. She would love nothing more than to see her mother fighting for real when there's no reason to be scared of her. Alas, the mother and daughter each have their own roles to play. The mother throws herself at the threat head-on, while the daughter tries to find some way to pin down the mastermind.
The biggest problem being that apparently said 'mastermind' can just show up wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and can vanish as quickly as he arrives. The reports and documents centering around the portals used by the mage, his dragon, and the golems alike all boil down to the same thing: 'We don't know what it is, how it works, or how to stop it.' The only way to learn more about this would be to somehow secure a golem, somehow apprehend the mage, or somehow capture the dragon. Out of all the available options, only the last is even remotely feasible, and even then it can just escape whenever.
The young Valliere finishes her tea and scoots the pile of documents aside. So much hearsay, so much extrapolation, so many assumptions. The only reason Tristian reacted violently in the first place is because the mage just set up shop and started mining as if he owned the country, which admittedly stonewalled any progress toward learning the mage's secrets, techniques, or motivations. Given that he has, so far as anyone can tell, only reduced the amount of a valuable but unreachable and therefore effectively worthless resource and has not focused any of his effort toward conquest or actually striking at population centers, farms, or places of industry, it makes his motivations hard to discern.
All in all, this will be a long, difficult process.
Many months later...
Eleanor picks up a letter addressed to the Valliere family that she had neglected thus far. Her normally somewhat sour expression softens, and her face becomes unreadable. "Louise..." While Eleanore may regard her youngest sibling as a failure as a mage, she still made a point of reading the letters she sends to her family. Or rather, more specifically, to Cattleya, who then shares said letters with her. There is nearly always a small pang of guilt in her mind when she reads these, as her little sister was essentially ruined by nothing more than the misfortune of being born wrong, and as bratty as she is, Louise is merely emulating the people she looks up to most. In a way, Eleanor knows full well that her youngest sister's troubles are partially her own fault. She flicks open the letter, and notes that the overall tone is much more excited than normal. She sounds happy at least, which is a nice change of pace from the norm.
"So the whelp managed to summon a familiar? Maybe she's not completely hopeless." Eleanor's eyes take in every word and she couldn't help but snicker at part of it. Her youngest sister summoned a human. Any other mage might have summoned something more spectacular, but... "Wait, what?" Her laughter dies in her throat when she reads further. Uses wind and light, seems to have slain that dragon that's been plaguing the land, since he wears an outfit that looks like it's made out of its hide and scales...
She can feel her heart sink. No one had ever succeeded in actually slaying the dragon. Not even when the golems had retreated from Tristian proper. The thing had just vanished into thin air just as they did, and had not appeared since. There were rumors that it has reappeared around the Tristian Magic Academy, but they were discounted shortly afterward as it started appearing in Germania and harassing that barbaric nation in the same way it harassed Tristian. Then suddenly it vanished again, but the golem attacks persisted.
Still, this has to be handled calmly and without panic. She tells herself this as she starts walking toward her mother's library. There was never any evidence that a dangerous dragon with no actual classification could transform into a human form. Her pace quickens, and her stern expression starts to crack. There's no way that her youngest sister may have inadvertently summoned said dangerous dragon while in said human form, and would have no way of knowing what it is she really summoned. Her brisk pace intensifies, and her expression turns to clear worry.
She passes Cattleya, who had never been properly informed of what had been going on in the past. There's no way that the one mastermind system she, and nearly everyone else in Tristian, put stock into could have been wrong as a result of this newfound theory. She breaks into a full, uncharacteristic run as she closes in on the right set of doors. She doesn't even knock as she unceremoniously throws them open, and comes to a stop just in front of her mother with said letter held out for the Dutchess to read.
"What is the matter, Eleanor?" Karin's voice is the same cool, stern tone it nearly always is, and the woman is unperturbed by the way her eldest daughter has just barged into the room. She shifts her sitting position to better read said letter, and focuses on the part her daughter is pointing at. "...I see." Karin rises up from her seat, having come to a similar conclusion as her daughter. "It is too much of a stretch to assume that Louise has indeed summoned that dragon with just this as evidence." She watches her daughter's expression as she takes the letter and re-reads it just to be sure. "Yet it is too great a coincidence to ignore. I will head out and ascertain the true nature of Louise's summon."
"Wait, mother!" Eleanor's voice catches in her throat as her mother looks at her. "If it really is that, wouldn't it be dangerous to Louise for you to approach it?" They both know that Karin had fought the dragon far too often for either to mistake the other.
"...Perhaps. However, I shall make myself clear." Karin closes her eyes and nods her head in acknowledgement. "If the dragon turns out to be hostile, I would sooner place myself in harms way rather than ever risk my daughters. Neither you nor Cattleya possess the combat experience required to face it, and should it attack me I can at the very least assure Louise's safety."
Eleanor bit her lower lip in response, but nods afterward. "I understand, mother."
Karin steps past her, then stops in place. "That being said, if this summon is indeed the dragon from before... Hm." She turns around to face her daughter again. "I do recall you mentioning that apprehending it would go a long way toward reaching that elusive mage." She crosses her arms under her chest as she continues her train of thought. "It's too early in the school year to simply request that Louise be allowed to return early. That would draw suspicion." She turns around and continues walking out of the library as the gears in her mind continue to turn. If the dragon turns out to be hostile, then the cycle would only start back up. If it doesn't recognize her, perhaps there would be a way to protect her youngest daughter and turn an eight month long aggravation into a net positive.