Uploader's note: I take no credit for this story's creation, only its preservation.
I recently learned that TheannaTheWhite's account was apparently compromised and all stories deleted. Since TTW's whereabouts are unknown, I've taken it on myself to restore this work from my offline archive. Unfortunately my copy doesn't incorporate the later refinements to early chapters. Also be warned that the formatting was somewhat mangled in conversion: I fixed what I could find, but I probably missed some.
TheannaTheWhite's original author's notes are reproduced in italics, usually at chapter ends.
Update Dec 8th: TheannaTheWhite has begun working on the story again. See the last chapter for details.
Humble Beginnings I
The marshlands of Zaton had never been the easiest region in the Zone to traverse. In the winter it was merely covered in snow, but in the spring the muck began to thaw, resulting in a consistently muddy terrain where deep bodies of water once stood.
So it wasn't that unusual to see a stalker enter the Skadovsk with their legs brown up to their knees while they grumbled about the 'stupid mud' outside. The Skadovsk had been a cargo ship before the waters in the Zaton River had drained, leaving her to rust in the mud in an eerie graveyard. Even if the water decided to return in full force one day, the Skadovsk would remain where she stood; the hull was peeled open like a tin can.
Considered the only relatively safe place in Zaton, the Skadovsk was usually a hive of activity. Stalkers came and went at all times of the day, dropping in to trade off scavenged equipment, artifacts, or to simply have a drink and relax.
Today, the Skadovsk was unusually vacant. The bartender was the sole occupant. A heavy-set man, who went by the name of Beard, sat on a stool with a swiveling seat. Bored by the lack of activity, he used a foot to idly rotate himself left and right. He had no doubts the upper levels of the ship were occupied. The rat-faced trader Owl almost never left the ship, and the perpetually intoxicated Cardan could usually be found in the same spot upstairs, offering to repair anybody's equipment for a bottle of vodka or a wad of cash.
Beard had no interests in talking to either of the men, so he simply remained alone in the silent bar. It seemed like it was going to stay that way, until the groaning of aged metal told him that the door was being opened. Leaning forward slightly, Beard watched as a lone stalker entered the bowels of the ship and made straight for him, a canvas bag swinging at their side. He smiled, seeing company approaching and money to be made.
The stalker stopped in front of the bar and gently set the bag down. They peeled back their hood and pulled down the cloth covering the lower half of their face, revealing bright blue eyes and matted black hair, greasy from days without a proper wash. The stalker before him was new around Zaton, and was also the only female he had seen in the area, a fact that was made evident by the slight bulge in the chest of her sunrise suit. Beard knew better than to assume she was a novice. If she had made all the way into Zaton she had to have some amount of competency.
She set an old Mosin-Nagant rifle against the bar. The girl placed her elbows down on the bar top, and rested her chin in her hands. A bright smile crossed her face.
Beard decided to speak first with a touch of laughter in his voice. "So, you have something interesting I guess?"
The girl nodded and removed what she had been carrying from the bag. The object looked to have been a steering wheel of sorts at some point. It sat on the bar top emanating a dull blue glow. A portion of the wheel seemed to have developed a growth that twitched and swayed about occasionally, almost as if were living. For all Beard knew the thing could have actually been alive.
Beard eyed the object with a blank face. "What is this?"
"Don't know." The girl shrugged. Beard knew he wouldn't get much of an explanation out of her. As nice as she seemed, she barely spoke any Ukrainian, Russian, or any of the other common languages in the area. What little she managed to speak was heavily accented, leading Beard to believe she was a foreigner.
Beard contemplated. This 'altered wheel' would definitely fetch a good price with his clients outside of the Zone, even if it was merely a curiosity. "I'll give you twenty-five hundred."
The girl shook her head and held up three fingers. Beard laughed at the girl's simple response. "Fine, fine, three thousand it is then, but only because you've been a great artifact hunter so far."
Smiling, the girl accepted her payment. She may not have understood Beard completely but she knew a compliment when she heard one. She hefted her rifle up into her arms and nodded a farewell.
Louise de la Valliére awoke feeling like she had been hit by a ton of bricks. Her eyes shot open, and then just as quickly slammed shut when the sunlight proved too much for her retinas to handle in a singular dose. She placed a hand on her forehead and groaned. Her head felt like it was about to split open.
From what Louise could gather with her eyes closed, she was laying on her back somewhere outside. The sun was bright, shining through her eyelids with a red hue, and there was a breeze blowing over her that carried a piercing chill with it.
The only thing troubling her more than her pounding head was having no recollection of recent memory. She didn't even remember waking up that morning and getting out of bed, but she must have, because she felt fairly certain she was fully dressed.
Tentatively cracking her eyelids apart, she took in the visage of a clear sky with reeds and cattails swinging lazily in the breeze at the edges of her vision. Deciding that she had best stand up instead of lying in the dirt, Louise rose to a sit. This proved to be a grave mistake, because her stomach suddenly started doing nauseating flips. She draped an arm across her stomach and a hand over her mouth, with silent prayers that she wouldn't vomit.
Looking herself over as her churning stomach began to settle, she thankfully discovered that she was indeed fully dressed in her school uniform, a simple black skirt, a white long-sleeved blouse, and a long black cloak that was keeping most of her body from actually touching the ground. Satisfied that she hadn't woken up outdoors wearing only her nightclothes, Louise began to take stock of her surroundings.
She was in a marsh, or perhaps it was a swamp. Not being the outdoors type, Louise wasn't completely sure of the difference. All she knew was that both were wet, both had plants, and both were surely unpleasant places to be. In whatever way she was brought here, she was grateful she hadn't woken up in the small body of water only a few feet away.
Deciding to stand up to try and get a better view over the tall plants, Louise carefully rose to her feet, afraid she might upset her strangely uneasy stomach once more. The pounding in her head didn't seem willing to abate any time soon. Dismay flowed through her when she saw that the area was indeed rather wet, full of plants, and looked very unpleasant. Surely the place was full of dreadful insects that would assault her in force at any moment.
Out of everything that existed in the physical world, Louise hated insects the most.
Remembering Kirche von Zerbst, she took that thought back and decided that insects were probably fifth on the list of things she hated most. Kirche was definitely at the top, and she wasn't really sure on the other three yet, but they were there nonetheless.
The thought of her classmate caused a few memories to come rushing back. She had gotten up that morning, she was sure of it. Today was the day she was supposed to take part in the Springtime Familiar Summoning. Her mouth fell open when she realized that she wasn't going to make it to the ceremony, if it hadn't already happened.
Then a rather horrifying thought struck her. Maybe she had performed the ceremony, and had subsequently failed so badly that the result was her ending up here in the middle of nowhere. If that was actually the case, then it certainly hadn't gone as well as she'd hoped.
But wasn't that impossible? The Springtime Familiar Summoning was designed to bring a creature to her, where it would be bound to dutifully serve her throughout her life as a mage. This wasn't supposed to happen. This was all wrong. It was backwards!
All around her the land sloped upward. Some areas gradually rose, while others were steep embankments. The area she was standing in must have been the bottom of a substantial body of water at some point. In the distance she noticed a hulking structure. It had the vague shape of something that would float on water, but it wasn't like any ship she had ever seen before. It was massive, and seemed to be permanently immobile from the lack of a large enough body of water for it to move on. If the place hadn't been completely abandoned simply because of how dreadful it looked, maybe there were people there. She sincerely doubted that, but at least she may be able to see more from up high on the deck of the ship. She needed to find out where she was, she needed to get back to Tristain, back to the Academy, and then...
And then she'd probably be expelled from the school for failing one of the most important exams in the curriculum.
Louise sighed heavily. Her mother would be angry with her, that was for sure, but all the same she knew that she wouldn't be yelled at or scolded. Her mother didn't do that sort of thing. Instead, she would just be fixed with a silent stare that would make her feel as significant as a water flea. She had seen that stare before, and she knew that this time it would be much worse. This was the final confirmation anybody needed to prove that she was an absolute failure.
Her eldest sister Éléonore would be the one to do the yelling. That was how Éléonore worked. Louise would be scolded by her sister for hours while her cheeks were reddened by constant and annoying pinches. The middle sister of the family, Cattleya, wouldn't stare silently or yell. Instead, she would smile softly with sadness in her eyes while she told Louise that she still had a chance and everything would be fine.
Louise put all of those thoughts aside. Right now she had to properly take charge of her situation like a Noble should.
About to take a step, Louise froze when she heard the reeds rustle off to her side. Her confidence and pride seemed to drop right out from underneath her as a nervous pit formed in her stomach. Slowly turning her head, her eyes went wide.
Whatever was standing only a dozen meters away was shaped like a human, except for its face. Large, black eyes with an elongated face greeted her vision. She quickly came to realize that the long face was actually some sort of horrendous mask sticking out from underneath a hood. She slowly scanned over the strangest assortment of clothing she had ever seen, before her eyes settled on something even more disturbing than the mask.
A gun. A big and ugly gun.
The combination of wood and steel was unmistakable, although it didn't look like any musket she had seen before. Louise's hand went to her side, searching desperately for her wand.
Louise paled, realizing she no longer had possession of said wand.
The masked individual had seen Louise's motion and had quickly brought their weapon up to bear, leveling it straight at the frightened girl. Louise's stomach twisted, not in nausea, but in cold fear. This was the first time she had ever been presented with the barrel of a loaded firearm, and she wasn't enjoying the experience one bit. Staring into the maw of the metal tube was staring straight into the face of death itself.
Louise immediately brought her hands up to show that she meant no harm. She began to take small steps backwards as her eyes darted about desperately for an escape from this situation. Her heel caught on an inconveniently placed rock, bringing her back down onto her bottom and into a murky puddle of water.
"N-no, please!" Louise sputtered, throwing her hands out in front of herself like they could stop bullets. The person advanced on her, lowering their weapon as they came within a few feet. "I-I-I'm just lost! D-don't hurt me please! I..."
Louise trailed off as she heard the muffled sound of what was unmistakably laughter. The person suddenly crouched down, and rested the butt of their weapon on the ground. The laughter sounded light, feminine even. Taking note of the bulge in the chest area, Louise quickly determined that there must have been a woman behind the mask.
Her thoughts were proven to be true when the mask came off to reveal a rather pretty face, with shining blue eyes and black hair. The smile playing at the woman's lips indicated that she had indeed been laughing.
The woman spoke, laughter still in her voice. "You're sitting in a puddle."
"I..." Louise looked down, at a loss for words. "...What?"
"I said, you're sitting in a puddle," the woman repeated.
"You're..." Louise began, her mouth hanging slightly agape. "Laughing at me?"
The woman smiled a cat-like grin, biting at her lip before ignoring Louise's question. "I honestly didn't think I'd ever see one of you people again. It feels good to finally be able to speak Tristainian to somebody."
"Who... are you?" Louise asked, studying the woman's face.
Her smile widened. "You can call me, Siesta."
Hey guys! I hope you enjoyed. I've been lurking around the Familiar of Zero archives for some time now, and I've finally decided to publish something. I always thought that the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. universe would be an interesting one to combine with FoZ, but if it were a Louise summons X story then it wouldn't be much different than any other Louise summons X story where X happens to have a gun and a troubling past.
Besides, I wanted to write a story which centered on Louise and her loss of innocence. S.T.A.L.K.E.R. seems like a good medium to me. If any of you have played the games then you know how dangerous and unforgiving the Zone can be.
Anyways, updates will be random because of work and other things, so drop a review and I'll get back to you with chapter two as soon as I can.