Echoes of the Void

A Familiar of Zero/Kara no Kyoukai Story

Disclaimer: In this particular universe, I do not own or in any way shape or form hold a claim to elements of the Zero no Tsukaima franchise, Kara no Kyoukai, the Nasuverse as a whole, or any other modern works that I may reference in this story.

Summary: In a society where magic is the proof of nobility, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, has never managed to cast a single spell properly. Scorned by her classmates as "the Zero" for her utter incompetence, the Familiar Summoning Ritual is her last chance to prove herself worthy of a title. But imagine her surprise when she summons someone with a need to prove herself as much as hers.

In the golden warmth of a lazy summer afternoon, footsteps echoed through a brilliantly illuminated hallway, climbing the stairs of a nearly abandoned building as a solitary figure headed towards the office on the fourth floor…the only permanent tenant of the building, though there was an empty workshop of sorts on the third that had apparently been left behind by the previous occupant.

Not that even that former user had found the edifice particularly upfront, as it was but a half-built thing, construction having been halted halfway through from lack of funding or some other external factor. Not particularly large, nor particularly small, it was an average building at best, overlooking the smaller bits of construction that had sprung up around it in swarms, but not even reaching the knees of the taller structures in town—those which had been constructed over the last few years to keep up with demand.

Still, to someone who was a fugitive, living a life in hiding so as not be tracked or hunted down by any inconvenient specters from her mottled past, such a building was ideal for her needs, and so she'd made good use out of it, putting up bounded fields, renovating it, and generally making it fit for human habitation and use, which the building's current occupant was quite grateful for.

A heavy sigh sounded as the pacing came to a halt, with the figure knocking on the office door, and receiving no answer, tested the knob, only to find it unlocked as usual. Sighing, she cracked it open and entered, though she took a moment to look around to make sure the investigator/picture book author who nominally used the office wasn't asleep at his desk. To her disappointment, the man was indeed absent, with the relative tidiness of the office suggesting that he had not come in today.

"Feh, gone again, Mitsuru-san? I sneaked away from my lessons just to come here, too," the intruder pouted, mildly displeasure evident in her severe blue eyes as she found no trace of the man's presence. "I even brought you some work in case you were having money troubles again."

Said "intruder" was about ten, with long black hair that flowed like water, and though she had the sweetness characteristic of youth, her blue eyes held the light of maturity. Dressed in her usual (if dated) ensemble of charcoal-grey blouse and pleated skirt, complete with thigh-high stockings, with some kind of case slung from her back, a small rucksack in her hands, and a tear-shaped amulet about her neck, she seemed surrounded by a sense of nobility that was untouched by something as mundane as the vogue.

All in all, not quite the sort one would expect to find in a private investigator's office—though given that she was technically his boss, as the heiress of the criminal syndicate that he worked for (as well as his benefactor, having saved him from quite possibly swimming with the fishes by getting her mother—the head of the "family"—to make him a member of their group), she had every right to frequent the place.

…except if she came by without permission, or on days when she decided to skip school to indulge her penchant for more philosophical writing, usually making the part-time author grouse that she must be trying to get him killed, wondering if she was trying to see how much trouble he could stand by ditching school to come to his office. Pointless nonsense really, since she'd never try to get him in trouble, as she happened to be very fond of him and the stories he wrote—that was the reason she had saved him in the first place.

That small investment of time to persuade her mother had proven a worthwhile one on days such as today, when one lesson or another had proven more tedious than she was prepared to deal with. She knew the material already, as her private tutors had diligently drilled her in the curriculum, so there wasn't really a point in attendance if she didn't feel like it.

'Too bad Mitsuru-san isn't here…he always has something interesting to say…'

A pity indeed, though at least his office boasted a nice library of reading material she could spend a few hours preoccupied with, on the off chance he would come in later—as he had sometimes done in the past. After all, perhaps her mother had him busy with another errand, or he was out in a café trying to write without her distracting him.

A slight sigh escaped her lips as she walked over to the main bookshelf, setting her rucksack at her feet as she browsed its contents.

The girl had just selected a slim volume to peruse, taking it into her hands when a green oval of light flared into existence beneath her feet. She had just enough time to register a flicker of surprise before it absorbed her, clothes, rucksack, case, book and all, and sent her hurtling through an expanse vaster than she had reason to know, a primordial「 」with no light, no air, no color—not even the passage of time—only the sensation of great speed.

A flicker of light.

Something broke the monotony of the darkness—images from the past. Her past? A past she could not know?

Bursting into the office, followed by her mother.

A knife.

Swords flashing through the air.

The taiji in the taiji…


A tunnel appeared, formed of infinite light and knowledge overwhelming her mind.

More of the past.


A collapsing bridge.


A car wreck.

Her father as a young man.

A bamboo grove.

Repetition. Repetition. Repetition.

A voice, empty as a hollow shrine.

The pressure of a knife.

A hunter's moon…

"'I want…to kill you…'"

A sudden, crashing stop, and then all was engulfed in darkness.

'My…don't tell me I accidentally set off one of Touko-san's traps…'

Among other things, Aunt Azaka had warned her that Touko Aozaki, the former tenant of the building the young girl frequented, had been rather paranoid about discovery, and had in her time taken quite a few precautions to keep her office from being discovered. Granted, the puppetmaster was no longer in residence, with the building having been converted into Mitsuru-san's office, but it wasn't beyond the bounds of possibility that a few traps might have been…forgotten, or that whoever Touko-san had been running from had managed to catch the wrong person in their net.

Neither scenario quite appealed to her, as she found herself hoping that whatever had happened was merely a dream, or the byproduct of staying up far too late most nights. But, this idle hope was quashed by her more pragmatic concerns, such as determining what the current situation was—and how much danger she might currently be in. From her Papa's experience, Mother's training—and Mitsuru's grousing—proper knowledge of a situation was vital in determining a response, with the lack of it usually proving rather painful.

'As would make sense for a Demon Hunter…'

She was outside, from what she could tell, senses other than sight informing her dutifully of the feel of the warm sun upon her skin, the rustle of wind through trees, the murmurs and whispers of a large number of people, the heat of someone hovering entirely too close to her supine form—but most importantly of all, that her belongings were with her, and that there was no hostile intent from the crowd.

As it seemed safe enough, Mana Ryougi gingerly opened her eyes, stifling a groan as best she could at the dizziness found in the white of the sun's rays. She flinched backward from the sudden onslaught of the cruel daystar, but composed herself after a few seconds as her vision adapted itself to unsought brightness, with the girl redirecting her gaze to what was in front of her to see reddish-brown eyes looking into hers.

The owner of the eyes pulled back slightly as the Ryougi heiress stirred, with her field of view focusing on a pale, feminine face framed with strawberry blonde…pink…hair—a foreigner, who was kneeling from the look of it, examining Mana with a perplexed, almost troubled look on her face.

The foreigner seemed close to her age, perhaps a little older, and was dressed rather similarly to her in blouse, pleated skirt, even thigh-high stockings, with the exception of a black cloak with a pentagram clasp worn over the ensemble.

'A pentagram? Is the girl a neo-pagan, then?' she wondered to herself, knowing the most commonly used meanings of the symbol. While it was also used in magic circles for thaumaturgical rituals, with the vertices of the pentagram representing the four elements with the addition of Ether (Spirit or Void) as the fifth, Mana doubted that the girl leaning over her could be a mage, since magi tended to be very secretive about their abilities—they had to be, since more people discovered the existence of magecraft, the more it would be degraded in mystery and power.

Peering behind the other girl, she was forced to reassess her situation when she saw that the crowd (all European in features) was dressed similarly to the girl leaning over her, as if the cape was part of a uniform of sorts—and was carrying some kind of stick, like a wand. Was that one of those Mystic Codes Aunt Azaka had mentioned? More interestingly, each was seemingly paired with a different creature – some as mundane as a common housecat, others…was that a dragon? And in the distance, on an endlessly oblivious grassy field, she saw a huge castle with stone walls much like those in the picture books she enjoyed reading.

Clearly, she wasn't in Japan anymore. And given the scenery, it obviously wasn't the infamous Clock Tower that Touko sometimes spoke about, so…

"Who are you?"

The sudden query from the foreign girl drew Mana's attention back to her primary observer, making a note in her mind that the question seemed to be in uninflected Japanese, though a nagging presence said otherwise.

'Odd…MANA thinks that I've been affected by something, since what he's hearing is much more like French …'

She'd file away that bit of knowledge for now, since it was not yet her other personality's turn to be dominant. And now it was the foreigner's turn to flinch as the Ryougi dusted herself off and got to her feet, taking care not to unseat the wrapped bundle on her back as she drew herself up to her full height of 133 cm, introducing herself with a curtsey.

"Mana. Mana Ryougi, ma'am," she replied, minding her manners even in this odd situation. It wouldn't do to cause offense in an unfamiliar situation, especially as it seemed that magecraft might be involved after all. Equivalent exchange was a fundamental rule of magi, after all, so if she answered, the other might be more willing to reciprocate. "And who might you be?"

"An odd name," the foreigner noted, ignoring her question, as she instead rose to her feet with a grunt, eyeing her with a mix of disdain and disappointment. "And where are you from, commoner?"

"Commoner?" Mana echoed, tilting her head quizzically, though her eyes remained fixed on those of the girl before her, almost challengingly. "Are you a noble of some kind, then?"

The young Ryougi knew that the scions of higher society families in Japan sometimes made a habit of calling those not in their social class commoners, but she had certainly never been called such herself, nor had felt the need to address others as such.

"Am I a…why you…I am Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, third daughter of the noble Vallière family!" the pink-haired girl sputtered, seemingly indignant that anyone would question her. "Have you never heard of the name?"

"I can't say that I have," she answered honestly, only for the other girl to go beet red with annoyance, as those around her began to snicker and laugh.

"Louise, what were you thinking, calling a commoner with 'Summon Servant'?" asked someone in the crowd, just before the group burst into raucous laughter. "And a little girl who doesn't know what a noble is, at that? You're a failure, Vallière!"

"I... I just made a little mistake!" the self-named Louise shouted in a refined voice that carried like a bell, now seeming more panicked instead of angry.

"Mistake? What mistake are you talking about? Nothing unusual happened."

Another spoke from within the crowd, a statement innocent enough save for the subtly malicious tone with which it was said.

"Of course! After all, such is to be expected from… Louise the Zero!" someone else said, as the crowd began to laugh once again.

Mana was by no means unintelligent, and the words 'Summon Servant', combined with her earlier observations, gave her all the clues she needed to deduce what must have happened.

'Heh, I know Mitsuru-san often thinks of me as a black cat who brings him bad luck, but I didn't expect to be summoned by a band of teenage magi…' she thought, the realization fairly chilling since she knew what magi were capable of. And if otherworldly power happened to be coupled with the wanton cruelty of teenagers, as seemed to be the case…things might end up badly. 'I can't run…there are too many of them, and I don't know where I am. My best option is playing along until I get more information…'

Still, at that moment, she was quite thankful she wasn't unarmed.

"Mr. Colbert!" Louise shouted, her voice tinged with urgency and desperation.

The crowd parted behind her to reveal a bald, middle-aged man covered in a black robe typical of mages in novels, and carrying a gnarled wooden staff—apparently an authority figure.

"What is it that you want from me, Miss Vallière?" the man inquired, looking between Mana and the strawberry-blonde who had apparently summoned her. "If you wish to try the summoning once more, I'm afraid I cannot allow that, Miss Vallière."

"Why not?"

"It is strictly forbidden. When you are promoted to a second year student, you must summon a familiar, which is what you just did."

If Mana wasn't sure that these people were magi before, as strangely as they were dressed and without any heed to secrecy as they were, the word "familiar" would have been a dead giveaway.


"As you know, your elemental specialty is decided by the familiar that you summon. It enables you to advance to the appropriate courses for that element," the man explained patiently, though with an air of exasperation, as if the one he was addressing was a particularly troublesome student. "Whether you like it or not, you cannot change the familiar once you have summoned it, because the Springtime Familiar Summoning is a sacred rite."

"But... I've never heard of having a commoner as a familiar!" Louise protested, only for the crowd around her to begin howling with hysterical laughter, as if this was the funniest thing they'd seen in a long time.

The strawberry-blonde scowled at them, but the laughter didn't stop.

Mana knew it wouldn't, of course, since bullies loved to see people angry, loved to see them react—and for a mage, the girl before her was far too open with her emotions…worse even than Aunt Azaka.

Maybe it was time to speak up, since they didn't seem violent…for now.

"Excuse me, sir, but what is your definition of a commoner?" the Ryougi asked, wanting to know why they referred to her as a commoner so easily…so dismissively. Save for the cloak, the clothes she wore were not so different from theirs in style, and she thought she had remembered her etiquette lessons well enough not to seem utterly uncouth. "And why are you so sure I am one?"

The girl who called herself Louise de la Vallière just glared at her, as if Mana were the cause of her troubles.

"Can you do magic?" the strawberry blond replied witheringly. When no response was forthcoming except a startled blink, the foreign girl continued. "No? Then you're a commoner! And commoners should stop asking questions of their betters!"

"Heh, by those standards, you should be a commoner too, Louise the Zero!" a heckler shouted from the mob, a blonde with hair in drill-like curls and freckles on her face.

This time, Louise seemed to recognize who it was that had snubbed her.

"Mr. Colbert, Montmorency the Flood just insulted me!" she exclaimed, hoping for some intervention from the professor, but—

"Who are you calling 'the Flood'?" the heckler responded, affronted by the other's choice of title. "I'm Montmorency the Fragrance!"

"I heard that you used to wet the bed like a flood, didn't you?" Louise taunted cruelly, watching as the ever-fickle crowd diverted its attention to a new target. "'The Flood' suits you better!"

The man apparently named Mr. Colbert sighed, pulsing veins at his temples indicating that a headache was impending.

"Quiet down! Nobles ought to show each other the proper respect," the middle-aged mage interjected, giving a stern glare at both Montmorency and Louise. "Miss Vallière, please finish the ceremony. After mistake upon mistake, you have finally managed to summon one, so hurry and form a contract."


The question was equal parts disdain, horror, revulsion, and despair, all mixed into a great cocktail of self-loathing. As if it wasn't bad enough that she had to kiss a commoner, it had to be another girl? On the lips? But that was…what it was happened to be a token protest at best, as Louise just knew that no matter what she did, no matter how she asked, there would be no reprieve.

"Yes, with her."

As the words settled over the unlikely pair like a death sentence, Mana couldn't help but feel slightly offended at the prickly tone of the pinkette, not to mention how she'd been dismissed as a near non-entity throughout these proceedings, after having been summoned to this most strange place. It would have been one thing had her apparent "summoner" not been so dismissive, but…

At that, Louise closed her eyes with an air of resignation, waving her wand about and chanting: "My name is Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers; bless this humble being, and make her my familiar."

The pink-haired mage stepped forward, as if to touch the Ryougi's head with her wand, but Mana took a step back and the wand touched only air. They repeated this sequence of events several times, one drawing back as the other came forward, unconsciously adopting a defensive stance, with the crowd shifting as they moved to keep the two in the center of the mass of people.

"Hey, stay still!" Louise complained, her eyes beginning to twitch in frustration. To think that her summon would be making a fool out of her, just like everyone else. It was…it was…

"What exactly are you trying to do?" Mana asked, a reasonable question, she thought.

Reasonable enough that she didn't expect Louise to suddenly lunge forward and knock her to the ground, pushing her down and straddling her.

"Ah, geez! I told you to stay still!" Louise said bitterly, touching her wand to the younger girl's forehead, even as she leaned down and kissed the other girl on the lips.

The Ryougi heiress froze, stiffening at the moment of contact, though it was over before she could even think to resist.

"It is done," Louise intoned, getting off of her newly minted familiar without caring for the other girl's fallen state, who was contemplating what had just happened when—

Pain. Pain pain painpainpainpainpa—

Body burning as if her nerves had become white hot wires, and molten steel ran through her veins, melting, searing her arms, her hand, her fingers as if dissolving them in acid. Mana clutched at her arm as green marks glowed out from the back of her left hand, body curling up into a fetal position at how much agony she was in, with smoke rising from her.

It burned, it burned. It burned so much she wanted to roll around in pain like a worm on damp soil, but she didn't, instead choking back any sound of pain in her throat and simply waiting. The pain was just about unbearable, but after a few more seconds, it faded, with even the memory of it receding.

When it stopped, the Ryougi heiress allowed herself to breathe once more, pulling herself to her knees and then to her feet, wincing uncomfortably as she checked the back of her left hand. There, inscribed like a brand or a tattoo, were the runes of contract.

'Well…at least the requirements for making a human into a familiar don't involve…more intimate acts,' she mused, remembering what Touko had said about familiar contracts the one time she had asked. Still, from what she knew, one normally needed someone's consent to make them into a familiar so…what had just happened? Whatever it was, it was clear that the rules that these students operated under were not the rules of magecraft that she knew.

A different society, where mages, beyond not bothering to conceal their status, were nobles. A world where the rules of magecraft worked differently. Architecture reminiscent of the Europe during the Middle Ages. Clothing that made no sense on a typical timeline of fashion. An impossible summoning.

Either she had fallen asleep while reading one of Mitsuru-san's stories and this was all part of a very strange dream or…she'd been sent to another world, as he mother had been many years ago, tossed around between universes seemingly at random, but always to fulfill one particular role or another, with Touko suspecting that a certain "Zelretch" was involved.

'On the bright side, I won't have to kill a hundred heroic spirits, or fight against the White Princess of the True Ancestors to return home…I hope,' Mana thought wryly, shaking her head as old memories of her mother's more unusual trials passed through her mind. 'That would be pointless, since I don't have Mother's eyes. What will I have to do, and what is the significance of the runes I've been marked with?'

If the "meddlesome old man" (as Touko-san called him sometimes) was really involved, then she'd have to do her best to adapt and figure out what her task was without fearing the worst, since a terrible premonition could bring forth a terrible reality.

She came out of her reverie as a sudden pulse of energy washed over her senses, with her gaze snapping up to see the middle-aged mage and all of the younger magi—except her summoner—turning and rising into the air, with some of the departing students(?) jeering about Louise not even managing levitation. Mana turned to see the pink-haired girl quivering, with rage or just about to cry, she didn't know. She sighed. "Well, if I'm to be here, I might as well figure things out," she murmured.

As soon as the others were out of earshot, Louise took a deep breath, turned towards Mana and growled out "Who are you?"

"But I already told you, Miss Vallière…my name is Mana Ryougi," the apparent familiar said, her smile blooming like a flower without a trace of shyness or ill intent. "More importantly, where are we?"

"You are in Tristain, and this is the renowned Tristain Academy of Magic!" Louise uttered emphatically, almost disbelieving that someone might not have heard of it. After all, was the Academy not the most prestigious institution of its kind on the continent of Halkeginia? "I'm a second year student, and your master from now on. Remember that!"

"The Tristain Academy of Magic?" Mana echoed, curious about her surroundings. "The only Academy I know of that teaches thaumaturgy is Atlas, but they specialize in Alchemy."

"I've never heard of… " Louise began, prepared to dismiss what the familiar said as utter nonsense, though as the word 'alchemy' sunk in, her gaze snapped back to the one she had summoned. Definitely a foreigner with foreign customs, no doubt, and so it was possible that this Atlas existed. "Fine, you say your name is Mana…but what are you, exactly?"

Mana's lips quirked up at the corners.

"A human," the raven-haired girl volunteered cheekily, not giving any more information than her summoner already had, though to be fair, she could have been a half-demon hybrid for all Louise knew.

But this answer only served to further aggravate Louise, who was hoping that despite her summon's rather unintimidating shape and stature, she was anything but a normal commoner, as evidenced by the young girl's posture, confidence, and unconscious dignity with which she spoke. Certainly she wasn't from Halkeginia, or she'd be bending over backwards to accede to a noble's demands…but then, she was being more or less polite too—wary, as one might expect of someone summoned into a strange situation.

"Yes, well... what sort of human?" the mage probed, trying to find out more about the familiar. "What can you do? Do you have any special powers?"

"Well, I'm not bad with a sword…" Mana admitted, not wanting to seem completely useless, though not wanting to reveal the full extent of her abilities yet.

"You…a sword?" Louise echoed haltingly, looking at the younger girl askance. Her familiar was a good 20cm shorter than her, and wanted her to believe she could use a sword? Could she even hold a sword? The mage hesitated before coming out with her next question, as if she wasn't sure she really wanted to know. "For that matter, how old are you?"

"Oh, I'm ten years old…" came the reply, with Louise freezing in place, looking almost like she'd been petrified by the stare of a cockatrice.

"…why…why is this happening to me?" the pinkette muttered, rubbing her temples with her fingers. "Why does my familiar have to be so uncool? A commoner girl who's younger than me, who probably doesn't even know what being a familiar means. Why? I wanted to have something wicked like a dragon or a griffin or a manticore. Or at least an eagle or an owl. Why does my familiar have to be so useless?"

Mana censured her self-proclaimed master with a serious look, the intensity of it jolting Louise from her pity parade.

"That's not true at all," the Ryougi said after a moment, leaving the mage confused as what the young girl meant by this. "I know what it means to be a familiar. A familiar serves as the eyes and hands of a magus, helping to retrieve reagents, surveying areas, meet with others on a magus' behalf, or most importantly, to protect a magus."

"You…that's right, but…" Louise fumbled for words, wondering how a mere commoner could know all of this, when only magi had access to this knowledge, but could only manage a lame "…how?"

"Oh, my aunt was a magus," Mana revealed, causing the Vallière to blink, confused at first…then flabbergasted. That wasn't possible, was it? Someone couldn't just become a mage – a family was either noble or it wasn't. There was no way that magic should just die out or spring up in a line, unless…

Louise carefully did not think about what would happen if a nearly talentless mage married another and the magical line thinned over the years, and thus resorted to her usual tactic when faced with inconvenient or confounding information.

"B-but that's impossible, isn't it?" the mage scoffed, looking incredulously at the one she had summoned. "And…" She sighed, disgruntled, not wanting to deal with the logic bomb in her head. "You say you know the duties of a familiar, but how do you expect to carry them out? Especially protecting me from any and all enemies...a powerful magical beast would almost always defeat its enemies, but I don't think you could even beat a raven."

The problem was that her familiar looked so…young, small and helpless, so for Louise to put her life in the other's hands was entirely out of the question.

"Do you have that many enemies to contend with, Miss Vallière?" Mana asked sharply, recalling the spectacle surrounding her summoning, with the vast mob heckling and jeering at her. "Do you have some special power, perhaps, that might draw others to you?"

"N-no, bu—that's not the point!" Louise stammered, rather flustered, as the innocent question had unknowingly struck a sore spot. Once more, she grasped for a safer topic, one that wouldn't wound her pride so much as assuage her curiosity. "Let me ask you this instead: aren't you at all concerned about being summoned?"

"I would be, except that I was warned about the possibility ahead of time," Mana answered, smiling like she was enjoying the conversation from the bottom of her heart. "And I know of someone who was summoned to stranger places and times, yet returned to tell the tale."

"…you do?" Louise asked, blinking as she tried to make sense of this information and reconcile it with the fact that human summons were unheard of. "I've never heard of anyone else summoning a commoner as a familiar. Animal familiars get special abilities or add to the talent of their masters, but you don't even have any magic! How's that supposed to help me?"

"Mages are a threat to the world's common sense, it's true," was all Mana said by way of reply, her words perfectly calm, but all the more disturbing for it. "But there are more things in this world than are dreamt of in your philosophy. The Springtime Familiar Summoning is a sacred rite, yes?"

A hesitant nod.

"Then trust that there was a purpose to it…"

'Just as I have to trust that there is a reason I am here…'

Louise sighed heavily, not really in the mood to continue this discussion.

"Well, I suppose you're not trying to be impolite, so I guess I can tolerate this situation for a while," the pinkette mage said quietly. "Follow me."

That said, Louise turned around sharply and began walking towards the castle, with Mana picking up her bag and following a few steps behind, taking in her surroundings.

As she tossed and turned on her bed, trying to get to sleep that night, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière found herself dizzy with tumultuous mix of emotions, looking over the ornate room that served as her quarters at the Academy. Opulent surroundings, what she was used to for most of her life—and yet, had she not succeeded in summoning a familiar, there was an even chance she might have been disowned, with all the wealth and power of her family mattering not one iota. In a world where nobility was defined as the capacity to perform magic, being so weak was terrifying, though she'd never admit it to herself, much less to anyone else, and if she had failed here…. She shivered, not wanting to think about it.

In spite of the mistakes that she'd made, in spite of everything, Founder Brimir had apparently smiled upon her, allowing her to perform real, uncontestable magic after years of failure after failure. She'd dreamt for years of getting her own familiar, finding out just what her area of talent was in magic (because Brimir knew she had no idea what it could possibly be – she'd tried all four major elements, but everything had resulted in failure), bringing honor to her family—and if she was honest, to herself. But reality was starkly different from her dreams.

Instead of a dragon, manticore, griffin, or other noble beast, she had summoned a human…a commoner at that, who freely admitted that she had no magic, though her aunt had been a magus, an innocent statement that chilled the third daughter of the Vallière family to the bone. Was that why the familiar acted so much like a noble might, unbowed to anyone? Because her family, too, had been nobility before someone had ended up as…a "Zero", born into a noble house but was cast out for an inability to perform magecraft?

She didn't know if that was the case, but either way, it terrified her because it hit too close to home.

Other things that the familiar had shown her were equally odd, from books with pictures more lifelike than anything she'd known in the past, the knife she carried under her skirt at all times—of exquisite craftsmanship, or the wooden sword in her bag, which gave some credence to the young girl's statement that she was not bad with blades. There were other things as well, such as the "pens" and other such that seemed odd to her, but she knew better than to press after the familiar had turned her words back on her.

The familiar had had the nerve to say that while the floor may have been an adequate place for a dog or a cat to sleep, a human deserved otherwise.

'Especially someone you want to protect you…' the young girl's gaze had seemed to imply, with Louise not wanting to question, lest the familiar embarrass her by knowing more what a familiar relationship was supposed to be than she did. Louise could not countenance that, and so had allowed Mana to explore the grounds, freely, without telling her to wash her clothes for her…the maids took care of laundry in any case, and…she'd think about it more tomorrow. Maybe things would be less confusing when she woke up.

It was nearly midnight when Mana finished her wanderings about the halls of the magical academy, having come at last to the roof of a high tower to conduct the daily exercises that her mother demanded of her, with the elder Ryougi mentioning that it was important to keep one's skills sharp in case they were needed—and this was now truer than ever before.

Thus, swishes and whirrs rent the silence of the night, as twin moons shone down from above, verdant and crimson light mingling to cast eerie shadows upon the ground below.

While wandering, she had run into a maid by the name of Siesta, who was shocked that someone so young would have become a mage's familiar, clearly wondering if it was ok. Mana supposed she had awakened Siesta's maternal side, since the maid had been willing to show her around and answer questions happily—including a few about her, with the Ryougi learning that the maid was the oldest child of nine…a curious thing, considering that she herself was an only child.

As she went through an intricate kata, a sword dance of sorts, movements speeding up to nearly a blur as she took hold of her shinai, the demon hunter thought about nobles and commoners, magi and different worlds. About her mother and papa, who no doubt were wondering where she was…well, if time flowed the same here as elsewhere; about her mother's previous journeys into other lands, about the images she had seen as she fell through the endless void, about what her purpose might be.

Aristocracy, magic, technology—fantasy become real, writ upon the world, secrets, intentionally kept or otherwise.

Down the rabbit hole, through the looking glass…

Her apparent master, who seemed to lack confidence—she was defensive and quick to anger, to be sure, quick to voice an opinion, but could not deal with contradictory information.

The runes on her hands, which glowed if she took hold of a knife.

The basic rules to being tossed into another world (which she fondly called "Mother's Guide to Crossing Dimensions" - 1. Don't Panic, 2. Curse Zelretch and/or the Counter Force since one or both are probably involved, somehow, 3. Figure out where you are and what you have to do, 4. Complete your mission).

And complete it she would, because if her mother could do it…then so could she.

She was a Kokutou, after all, as well as a Ryougi, and it seemed she'd need both as things continued to get curiouser and curiouser.