Let me make this perfectly clear: I hate magic. I despise it. I loathe it. Its very existence is a blight upon the laws of science that govern our universe. Yes, I am quite aware that I am saying this in spite of magic saving my life more than once at this point. That does not change the fact that magic was responsible for removing me from my dear, beloved Onee-sama (oh, the horror!), as well as making my life a good deal more complicated in a number of other ways, first among which being that I am in another universe with no idea how to get home.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I shall start from the beginning...
You would think, given that I am a fairly experienced and powerful esper whose abilities directly involve 12-dimensional spacetime and the manipulation thereof, that I would not be stupid enough to walk right into a glowing green portal that randomly appears in front of my face.
You would, of course, be wrong.
To be fair, it appeared while I was rather distracted: I was, at that moment, reading through a list of girls' high schools in Academy City and deciding which to search next. Onee-sama, having recently graduated from Tokiwadai Middle School, had attempted to elude my companionship by misinforming me as to which high school she would be attending. I would have none of that, naturally. Though I sadly had another year before I could join my beloved Onee-sama in the highest echelon of mandatory education, I could nonetheless endeavor to enjoy her company to the greatest extent possible until then—and, perhaps, make it clear to whatever lucky girl was now sharing a room with her that she should expect a relocation at the beginning of the next school year.
Well. So much for that idea.
By the time I looked up from my phone and saw the glowing ellipse of nothingness floating in front of me, it was far too late. I tried to step back, but some force dragged me inexorably forward, until I passed through the portal, and was plunged into total darkness.
When I next opened my eyes, I was lying face down in the dirt. That is not a position I generally enjoy spending much time in, and so I rolled over, spat out a mouthful of grass, and stood up. As I opened my eyes, I tugged on my green armband, making sure whoever I was facing could see the shield emblem adorning it. "I'll have you know that assaulting an officer of Judgment, especially using esper powers, is...is..."
I faltered as I suddenly became aware of several things. First, the words that had just come out of my mouth were not Japanese. I wasn't sure what they were. French, perhaps? Second, I was surrounded by a very large number of people, most of whom looked about my age, perhaps a year or two older. Third, they were all wearing the most ridiculous uniforms I had ever seen, some kind of wizard cosplay outfits. Fourth, I was out in a large grassy field of a sort that was very hard to find in Academy City, and behind the crowd, off in the distance, was what appeared to be a very large stone castle.
Fifth, one of the cosplayers—a girl—was pointing some kind of stick straight at me.
I stared her down for a moment, and she stared back. She looked a bit younger than most of the apparent teenagers surrounding us, and had beautiful long pinkish-blonde hair with matching pink eyes. Light skin, too—she looked vaguely European, though I couldn't pin it down. She was wearing the same cloak with a pentagram clasp as everyone else, over a white blouse and a pleated gray skirt, and looked just as shocked as I felt.
"And who exactly are you supposed to be?" she asked. She was definitely speaking the same language I had heard coming out of my own mouth, and I understood her perfectly.
Now, regardless of situation, most people—especially in Academy City—would burst into laughter if they saw someone in a wizard cosplay outfit pointing a wand at them. But then, most people hadn't seen what I had the past couple years, and I had done my utmost as an officer of Judgment to keep it that way. So instead of answering her, I took quick stock of my surroundings and focused on an empty spot about seventy meters away, behind most of the crowd.
My esper ability—teleportation—allows me to "feel" the curves of 12-dimensional spacetime around my immediate area like ordinary people can feel the wind, and sort of tunnel through them to another location instantaneously. It's a bit difficult to describe if you can't do it yourself. So it's also difficult to describe exactly what I felt when I tried to teleport away from this bizarre situation, except that it was wrong, and it hurt. The spacetime curvature was all...screwy, with flat spaces where there should've been curves and walls where there should've been holes, and I felt like I was being stabbed in the head when I tried to focus on it. I tried to endure it, but was unable to stop myself from collapsing to my knees, clutching my forehead.
"I asked you who you are, commoner." I opened my eyes and looked up at the pink-haired girl, who was now standing directly over me.
"I'm...Shirai Kuroko, from Academy City's Judgment division." The headache was already fading, and I suddenly remembered to take offense. "And exactly who are you calling a commoner?"
"Well, you certainly don't look like a noble, 'Shiraikuroko', even if you sound like one." She mangled the pronunciation of my name horribly. "What kind of name is that, anyway? Where are you from?"
I was about to respond, but was interrupted by a girl in the crowd who clearly found this whole situation highly amusing. "A...heh...a commoner! All that bragging, and you summon...hahah...a commoner! You really are Louise the Zero!" With that, she burst out laughing, and much of the crowd followed suit, with occasional calls of "Louise the Zero!", or simply "Zero!"
"All of you shut up! It's just...it was just a little mistake, that's all! Mr. Colbert!" The pink-haired girl—Louise, presumably—turned to another member of the crowd, a middle-aged, balding man with pince-nez and some kind of staff. "Let me try it again!"
Mr. Colbert shook his head. "I'm afraid that's not possible, Louise. This is a sacred ritual that defines the path of a mage's life. It would be blasphemous not to acknowledge your familiar, let alone to try summoning another one." He frowned thoughtfully. "Though this is highly irregular. I don't believe a human familiar has ever been summoned before, not since..." He trailed off.
Oh. So that's what's going on. I was aware of the basics of magic theory—many members of Judgment were, these days—and I knew what a familiar was. Which meant that...wait, what? "Er, excuse me," I said, raising my hand without rising from the spot where I was sitting. The crowd turned towards me. "But are you saying that she-" I pointed at Louise "-summoned me here? To make me her familiar?"
"Shut up, commoner," Louise responded, but Mr. Colbert nodded.
"That seems to be the case. Well, Louise, you know what you have to do. Complete the ritual."
Louise's face turned an impressive shade of scarlet. "With...her?"
"Fine. Just have to...get this over with." She abruptly turned back towards me and knelt directly in front of me. "I am Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers; bless this humble being, and make her my familiar." She leaned toward me, eyes closed, and I realized what was about to happen.
I will admit, I panicked at this moment. I probably could have gotten up and run away, but like a complete imbecile I attempted to teleport once again. And once again, a spike of pain was driven into my head, and I involuntarily jerked forward.
And my lips met Louise's.
I froze for an instant. There goes my first kiss. My deepest apologies, Onee-sama. Well, might as well go all out. I leaned into the kiss and attempted a maneuver I had read about on the Internet, and originally intended to save for Onee-sama's lips. Louise flushed an even brighter shade of crimson, and I heard several distinctively male cheers from the crowd. She held on for a second longer, and then abruptly broke off and shuffled backwards a few steps, still blushing. She really was quite cute, though of course there was no way she could measure up to Onee-sama. "What—what was-"
No doubt digging myself an even deeper hole, I gave her my best "take me now, Onee-sama" eyes and said, "Oh, so that's what being a familiar means. Very well, I accept."
I wasn't aware that it was even possible for human skin to turn the shade of red Louise's did as she covered her mouth with both hands and turned away. I've seen fire engines of that color.
Colbert cleared his throat loudly. "Erm, very good, Louise. Let us see if 'Contract Servant' was successful."
"Wait, contract?" I knew enough about magic to know that magic plus contract usually equaled bad news. And no sooner did I realize that then I suddenly felt very, very hot. (No, hot as in "Help me, I'm burning alive!", not the other kind of hot.) The focus of the searing heat seemed to be on the back of my left hand; I held it up in front of me and watched in agonized awe (and no small amount of horror) as bizarre, ancient-looking letters traced themselves out in light on my skin. "What is this? What are you doing to me?"
"It's just the runes of the familiar burning themselves into your skin," Colbert responded, as Louise continued to face away from me, twitching slightly. "The pain is only momentary." He took my hand and examined the runes. "Hmm...interesting..."
"What's interesting? And it's not the pain I'm worried about! What is this? Am I bound to serve her forever or something?"
"Yes!" Louise appeared to have dispelled the majority of the blush, though cute little spots of red still showed on her cheeks. "You are bound to obey my every desire, from now till the moment of your death! So obey me, familiar. Follow."
I did not move. And, to my relief, I felt no invisible force compelling me to move. This emboldened me a little. "Say 'please'."
A muscle under Louise's eye twitched, as everyone in the crowd burst out laughing again. "You...you insolent little..."
"Er...well, everyone, I think it's time you returned to class, wouldn't you say?" Colbert spoke up loudly, attempting to prevent Louise from unleashing the torrent of very unladylike language she had no doubt prepared for me. And without another word, he turned towards the castle in the distance and floated up into the air. Most of the crowd followed, leaving only me and Louise there. One shouted something about how Louise should probably stay on the ground. I sighed. Mages. Can't be bothered to just walk when they can fly.
"So," I said to the cute little pink-haired girl in front of me, "it seems that we're at a bit of an impasse. You need a familiar, and yet I do not seem to be required to obey you. I would say that you'd better be very polite to me from now on."
"And why should I be polite to you, commoner?"
"Because I'll...leave...and...and..." I trailed off, suddenly realizing that I had no idea where I was, and this girl was probably my best hope of figuring that out. I switched to a different tactic. "And what's all this commoner nonsense? I am one of Academy City's elite, a Level 4, a student at Tokiwadai! Do you know how hard it is to get into Tokiwadai? How much money it takes even if you do have the ability?"
Louise just looked confused now. "Academy...City? To-kee-wa-dye?"
"Yes, Tokiwadai! The greatest middle school in Academy City!"
"I have never heard of this 'Academy City'."
I frowned. Academy City was world-famous. "The City of Students? Outside Tokyo?"
Uh-oh. "Yes, Tokyo. The capital of Japan?"
"Jap-an? There is no such country."
"You've never heard of Japan? What kind of backwoods is this, anyway?"
"This is no backwoods! This is the world-renowned Tristain Academy of Magic! And you are talking nonsense, commoner. I shall hear no more of it."
I was starting to suspect something, and I very much hoped I was wrong. "And...where exactly is Tristain? Somewhere in Europe?"
"I know nothing of this 'Europe' either, commoner. Tristain is one of the great nations of Halkeginia, and it is you who is from the backwoods if you have never heard of it."
Oh. Oh, no. If I was right, and I was pretty sure I was, Louise had summoned me from much, much farther away than she realized. Either in time or in space, I wasn't sure which yet, but either way, it looked like I was a very, very long way from home.
While Louise apparently had class after the conclusion of the summoning ritual, it seemed she was in no mood to attend it. Instead, she returned to her room, with me reluctantly following. I had decided that my best course of action for the time being was to stay with her until I knew more about the situation I had landed in, as it seemed she was at least willing to tolerate my presence—and judging by the way I had been referred to as a "commoner", it seems there were few others around here who would do so. (Not to mention that, as I had discovered, the face she made when embarrassed was hilarious, and I intended to see as much of it as possible until it got boring.)
Now, I've seen plenty of dorms in my time. The Tokiwadai dorm rooms were huge by the standards of Japanese student housing, so I want you to understand what I mean when I say that Louise's room—and it was her room alone—dwarfed the one Onee-sama and I had previously shared. Candlelit, beautifully furnished, with a four-poster bed of truly epic proportions...ah, it warms my heart merely to think about it. It would be any lady's dream room, to be sure. And in all honesty, I was starting to think this was some kind of dream, though at the moment it seemed to be more of a nightmare.
"So, if I am understanding you correctly," Louise said, glaring at me, "I somehow summoned you from another world entirely?"
"That seems to be the case. Either that, or from very, very far in the past or future. I'd need to see a map of your world to be sure."
She seemed to think about it for a second, but then closed her eyes. "I don't believe you."
I sighed. "Why not?"
"It's simply not possible," she said, pacing around the room. "'Summon Familiar' calls a familiar from within Halkeginia. That's the way it's always been!" She turned around to face me again. "Show me proof!"
"Yes! Proof that you're from another world."
"Er..." I thought for a second. The Tokiwadai uniform I was wearing was unlike anything I had seen so far here...but then, Louise and everyone else had apparently already filed it under 'commoner's clothes', so probably no luck there. Wait...of course. I hadn't seen anything resembling advanced technology since I had arrived, so perhaps..."Here," I said, pulling out my cellphone. "Have a look at this."
As soon as Louise took hold of the tiny, palm-sized device, the screen lit up, and an imposing male voice spoke up in blessedly familiar Japanese: "UNAUTHORIZED USER DETECTED. ENTER VOICEPRINT AND JUDGMENT AUTHORIZATION OR THIS UNIT WILL DEPLOY SECURITY MEASURES." Louise dropped it with a shriek (the fact that it started vibrating no doubt helped), and rapidly backed away from it, pressing her back against the wall. I winced. Oops. The cellphone was Judgment standard, which meant that it had all sorts of security features meant to discourage potential thieves. The message repeated in English and Mandarin, and had just started on Korean when I picked it up, tapped the Home key, and spoke "Shirai Kuroko, authorization 8-5, password 'Beloved Onee-sama'." The words came out in Japanese. Good. I'd hate to have lost my native tongue forever.
It took a minute for Louise to calm down, to the point where I was starting to feel bad about frightening her like that. Finally, she slid to the floor and pointed in my general direction. "Wh-what is that thing?"
"Take it easy. It's just a cellphone."
I sighed helplessly. "It's a thing that lets you talk to people that are far away."
"So that voice...that was just someone talking to me?"
"No, that's just an automated security system that comes on if it detects that someone other than me is holding it. It can do other things, too."
Like introduce you to the wonders of pepper spray, if you hadn't dropped it fast enough. "Like take pictures."
"It steals paintings?"
"No, it...here, face me." I picked up the cellphone and hit the camera button, then pointed it at Louise and snapped a photo.
She shrieked again at the sudden flash. "ARGH! YOU TRICKED ME! YOU TRICKED ME AND BLINDED ME!" She got up and started flailing in my general direction.
"Calm down," I said, as she aimed a clumsy sort of half-slap, half-punch about three feet away from my face. "It'll fade in a moment."
After Louise had blinked away the worst of the flash, I showed her the picture it had taken. "It's...it's a portrait of me!" she said. "It makes instant portraits! It looks so real...is this some sort of enchanted artifact?"
"Not quite. It uses...um..." Having gotten a general idea of this world's (era's?) level of technology from what I had seen of the academy, I realized that I had no way to explain electronics that would make any kind of sense. "Actually, yes, let's go with that. It is basically magic."
"Then it is wonderful magic indeed! Tell me more of the magic of your world."
I held up a hand. "Let's make a deal. I tell you everything you want to hear about my world, and then you answer some questions about this world. After all, if I'm going to be your familiar, I have to know what I'm getting into."
"Deal," she said excitedly.
After a few hours of talking, Louise was utterly enraptured. I don't think she believed it all, of course. Many of her questions seemed like they were intended to catch me in a lie. She was smarter than she looked, this little girl.
But still, even if she didn't believe it, she must have thought me an excellent storyteller. She listened with an awestruck expression as I told her of cities that stretched farther than the eye could see, of buildings ten times higher than this castle, of steel machines that could carry people across a nation in minutes, or even to the moon. I told her of Academy City, an entire metropolis dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, where technologies the rest of the world could only dream of were part of everyday life, where scientists had unlocked the human mind's potential to alter reality itself.
"Wait. What do you mean, altering reality with your mind?"
"Oh. Some people in my world are what we call 'espers'. They have the ability to break the laws of physics with their minds."
"Laws...of...physics?" Oh, right. This world focused so exclusively on magic that I would not be surprised if they didn't have 'science' at all in the sense I understood it.
"What I mean is that espers can do the impossible with their minds."
"Ah! More magic, then."
"No! Well...yes...sort of." Loathe as I was to admit a similarity between magic and esper powers, it was probably the closest comparison Louise would understand. "It's like magic, but where most of the...magic things I've been describing are just...enchanted things that anyone can use, espers are the ones who can actually do this magic." It was woefully inadequate as an explanation, but I couldn't think of anything better.
"So espers are like your worlds' nobles..." Louise frowned thoughtfully. "Wait...you said you were a 'level 4 esper' earlier. So you can do this magic?" She looked overjoyed by the prospect.
Oh, no. I had completely forgotten that I had said that. I tried frantically to think of a lie that could avert the storm I saw brewing. Nothing came to mind. "Ummm...Well, normally, yes..."
"Ooh! Show me!"
"Er...I can't right now."
"What do you mean you can't right now? Either you can or you can't!"
"Well, see, normally, I can teleport—move instantaneously from place to place..."
"So stop talking about it and do it!"
"But since you summoned me, I've been unable to. I don't know if it's something to do with the summoning spell, or just the way your world works, but I just can't teleport right now.
Her face fell. "So...you can't do magic."
"No. Not right n—"
"I KNEW IT!" Louise leaped to her feet and pointed an accusatory finger right in my face. "You were making all of that up! You really are useless! Useless, useless, USELESS excuse for a familiar!"
"No! I'm not useless! I can teleport! Just—just not right now..."
Louise wasn't even listening. "Filthy little commoner, getting my hopes up...you're just making fun of me...just like Kirche and all the others...Well, I might have to put up with it from them, but I will most certainly not be hearing it from you, familiar." She aimed a slap at my face; I reflexively dodged, and she tripped and fell over. She lay face down on the floor for a moment, unmoving.
"Er...Louise...are you all right?"
"Go...just...go!" She pointed at the door, her voice muffled.
Sighing, I walked out of the room. It was dark out, now, and I didn't see Louise letting me back into her room anytime soon. I needed to figure out someplace else to sleep...