Author's Notes: Hi everyone! Been a while. Took me a bit longer to get this out than I planned because I forgot the release date for Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse. Dat ending man. I was rooting for Yui too. Kinda got weird at the end when things started turning into Zeta Gundam for some reason.
Anyway, this is the first part of the 2nd Albion arc and the home stretch for S2 of the story. I'm planning on doing just one more part but I think that it won't be as long as the finale of S1. In any case, it will likely take a bit for me to write since the summer lineup for games is going to swamp me. Starting with The Last of Us and Deadpool...but the big time sinkers are going to be Dynasty Warriors 8, Dragon's Crown, and Tales of Xillia. Yeah. I'll see what I can do at work until the madness begins.
As always, please enjoy!
Disclaimer: [x] Put the Warmaster Cap on Kyoko and watch the results.
"You seem rather quiet." I commented to the large lump under a blanket on top of a rather ordinary looking single-person bed.
"Last time I was in this kind of situation, I didn't even realize I was being kidnapped." The sentient blanket responded with Louise's voice.
"Well, you volunteered for this if I recall correctly." I pointed out and got a frustrated looking shudder from the blanket.
"I volunteered last time too." It weakly stated, still using my master's voice. I walked up to the bed and, ever so slowly, pulled the blanket back to reveal Louise curled up into herself and trembling.
"It will not end the same way as it did back then." I reminded her while stroking her hair. Indeed, things are far different from the last time we went to Albion.
"I don't know, Yuka. The closer we get, the more this whole situation hits too close to home. What if we really do have to fight Matilda? What if we can't reason with her? What if she really is a traitor and has been playing us for fools?! What if-" Louise said while shaking her head before she started talking in 'What Ifs' in an increasingly frantic pace until I interrupted her.
"What if we all spontaneously turned into a variety of pies? What if you and Kirche suddenly became passionate lovers? What if one of the moons suddenly disappears? What if the cake was indeed actually a lie? What if...what if worrying about things we can't verify or deal with at the moment will not actually help us resolve the issues at hand? What if it would be a better idea to save our energy for when we actually have to deal with whatever this latest problem throws at us?" I stated my own mockery of her 'What Ifs' before reminding her on what we should actually be doing. Louise frowned at me for a while before rolling in her bed to face away from me.
"I hate it when you make sense like that." I heard her mutter in a displeased manner. We settled into a much more comfortable silence afterwards so I decided to walk up to the far wall and take a look out the porthole. Yep. Still in the air and still en route. Ruukoto remained impassively standing next to the door of our private cabin even though we were each provided our own beds. Since it was obvious that neither Ruukoto nor I would be sleeping on said beds, Louise took it upon herself to commandeer the pillows provided for our use. Ruukoto had jokingly asked if she was trying to make a Pillow Fort but Louise didn't understand her at the time so the joke merely flew over my master's head.
We were currently being ferried to Albion by a rather large Tristainian airship called the 'Varsenda'. It was certainly larger than Murasa's Original Palanquin Ship, before it was grounded and later upgraded, but it was also far less stylish. The ship was littered with mage knights and the like and their various mounts on deck and in the interior of the ship. It seemed that the ship was designed to move around Tristain's air cavalry en masse. Odd that I did not seem to recall seeing such a ship at Tarbes. Regardless, considering the number of mounted knights, Louise inquired if her old friends from Tarbes, the Sixty-Sixth, were aboard. She was a bit disappointed when she found out that they were not onboard and were in fact deployed somewhere else in Tristain at the time.
In the end, Louise just opted for us to remain in our cabin to stay out of the way of the hustle and bustle. Thankfully, that also meant that our meals were brought to our cabin directly. It took a while to convince the boy who delivered the meals that Louise was really the only one who actually needed to eat regularly.
"Yes. I've noticed that you and Eleanore tend to dislike my use of blunt logic." I commented with a shrug and a smile. Louise then sat up on her bed and sighed before reaching out for a brush that was placed on a nearby table. Louise then proceeded to start brushing her hair, likely because she didn't really have anything else to do.
"So...is there any reason why everyone seems so...relaxed and festive despite there being a war going on?" I asked after having observed the knights and crew being rather...upbeat. I understood that having good morale in a war was advisable but it was more like they were all going on holiday rather than to a war.
"Huh? Oh right, you don't know about our holidays. Well, to answer your question, the Silver Pentecost is approaching." Louise explained while continuing to brush her hair.
"Silver Pentecost?" I asked with a raised brow. It was true that I knew nothing of the local holidays. I did not even realize that they had regular holidays.
"Yes. It is a day of peace to celebrate the coming of a new year. The Princess says that there was a ceasefire agreement between the coalition and the Albion forces for the holiday." My master explained and I blinked at her words.
"And...they're actually trusting their foe to keep their word? Really?" I asked in full skepticism of the so-called agreement. At my remark, Louise turned to me and gave me a glare that seemed to show that she was personally insulted by my words.
"The Silver Pentecost is a sacred day for all of Halkeginia! It marks the New Year after Founder Brimir's victory over the elves and symbolizes the new era of freedom for our people from the Firstborn. Not even the Albionese armies would dare to stain that day with blood. That would be beyond heretical!" My master declared imperiously with a tone that brooked no arguments. She then proceeded to grumble when her brush got caught by a particularly stubborn tangle in her hair. I walked up to her and gestured for the brush. Louise looked at me like she wasn't sure if it was a good idea but she eventually relented and handed it to me.
"And how is that any less 'heretical' from what they have already been doing?" I asked softly after sitting down next to Louise on her bed and gesturing her to turn around so I could work on her hair.
"That's...true. However, I don't think that they would dare cross any more lines than they have already had." Louise insisted in a voice that seemed like she was trying to convince herself rather than me.
"And why is that?" I asked while gently untangling her hair. There was a time when I had grown my hair out like how I had it when Reimu was young. I was abruptly reintroduced to an old adversary of mine by the name of 'Bed Hair'. I had eventually decided to cut it short again but I was still rather adept at dealing with tangled hair.
"Because the Pope might decide that it was appropriate for Romalia to step in and sort things out. The Pope is likely willing to stay back and let the coalition take care of the situation in Albion for now. After all, Reconquista more or less has all the other Brimiric Nations as foes in Albion. However, if they sully the name of the Founder any more than what they have already tainted then they would end up facing the entire continent itself." Louise reasoned while moving her head along with my brush strokes. It was sound logic, I supposed. Their pope would allow someone else to deal with the problem while he preserves his own resources. If things go out of hand, he can just declare that the country of Romalia was acting to uphold the laws of their Founder if they should ever need to intervene.
"Point. In any case, how do you want to deal with the task that Henrietta and Wales gave us?" I conceded the point for now and moved the conversation to a more relevant topic for our personal interests.
"Finding this Silent Harlequin would be a wonderful start. Between you and Ruukoto, she shouldn't be able to get away as easily as she has been able to against the regular forces." Louise said with a slight nod.
"Alright. Do we know where to start looking?" I asked. Sadly, even though the two royals specifically asked us to deal with the Earth Mage, they were not able to provide any helpful information on how to pin down her location. In the end, Agnes simply gave Louise a letter from Henrietta when the Knight Captain showed up to escort us to the ship that would take us to Albion.
Obviously, Louise's friends immediately wanted to come along. However, they were quickly dressed down by Agnes as the knight quickly pointed out that the orders were given by Princess Henrietta to only include Louise and her followers. Should they violate that and tag along anyway, then the would be breaking Tristanian law. In the end Agnes somehow got Professor Colbert to make sure that Kirche and the rest stay at the academy until our return. The relationship between the knight and her old savior seemed to still be rather tense but Colbert was more than happy to defer to Agnes' judgement on the matter. Although, Agnes did have to pull away the professor for a private talk when he had initially protested about Louise's involvement with the war. In the end, Louise's friends stayed at the academy under the direct supervision of Professor Colbert.
"Well, according to the Princess' letter, we are to report to the person in command of the forces in Saxe-Gotha in order to get the most recent information about that. It seems that the Silent Harlequin simply shows up almost without rhyme or reason before laying waste to our forces. She could show up at the front lines in the middle of battle or in front of soldiers on march well within friendly lines." Louise explained with a sigh and a shake of her head. I was afraid of that. Yet more complications in an already annoying state of affairs.
"Unpredictable and seemingly being used purely to create chaos and fear in the hearts of men." I mused. The fact that she can suddenly appear without warning in both the front lines of combat and behind the coalition's lines means that she may have the means to strike anywhere at any time. Louise responded with another nod before sighing.
"I have no idea how we can even find her if she behaves that way. Let alone capture her if she really is Matilda." My master admitted, suddenly sounding very weary.
"Have you ever dealt with that kind of enemy before?" She suddenly asked me without turning around.
"Yukari, Koishi, and Nue all qualify. However the sudden chaos they usually spread are those meant to surprise and annoy, for fun and jokes really. Certainly none of them would go about it in such a way that would result in dead bodies." I responded and Louise seemed to deflate more and more as I went on.
"We will find her and catch her, Louise. If she really is Matilda, then we will find out the truth about her actions and deal with the situation as needed. If she is not Matilda, we will do the same anyway. It will likely not be easy. Indeed, more headaches will likely be in store for us before this whole mess is done. However, I can promise you that we will see it through. We will keep you safe. I will keep you safe." I stated softly but resolutely. My master finally seemed to relax and she demonstrated it by leaning back until she was resting her back on me.
"Louise, I can't brush your hair like this." I reminded my master who was clearly not going to move from her spot.
"Thank you, Yuka." Louise mumbled. I smiled at her words and shook my head.
"You of all people should know I do not put up with all the things Henrietta asks of you and us in order to be thanked." I said before blinking when Louise did not respond.
"Louise?" I called out softly to my master.
"Fuga." Ruukoto pointed out to me. I adjusted myself and saw that Louise had indeed fallen asleep.
"Fuga." The gynoid said and I gave it a flat look at the comment.
"Yes. I am certain that Louise finds her current position to be comfortable if she could fall asleep so easily while leaning on me." I said with no small amount of sarcasm that just slid off the gynoid without reaction.
"Fuga. Fuga Fuga." Ruukoto let its opinion known.
"I agree. These kinds of things are not issues that she should have to be dealing with." I responded with a chuckle and a nod. It appeared that, barring specific exceptions, Ruukoto's opinion on the overall competence of the armed forces of Tristain just kept getting lower and lower. Especially if the crown had to rely on someone so young to deal with problems that would have had significant consequences for the entire country. It seemed that the gynoid shared my opinion that Louise was not, nor should be treated or expected to be, some sort of hero. A convenient existence that they can turn to in order to deal with their problems.
"I can talk to Louise about that once this is all over. Regardless, all we have to make sure of is to keep her safe and crush all who would have the misguided idea of bringing her harm." I added while looking right at Ruukoto's eyes.
"Fuga." The gynoid agreed wholeheartedly.
"Well, it certainly is rather nippy out today." I commented as we disembarked the Varsenda after it had arrived at Saxe-Gotha's docks. There was a cloudy overcast due to Albion's location and the shifting of the seasons. That also meant that the ambient temperature was dropping as well. I sighed as the weather reminded me that I should already be preparing for my winter hibernation by now. In fact, Yukari was probably already asleep back in Gensokyo.
"Don't tell me that you don't like the cold." Louise commented from behind me as we descended the ship's gangplank. The rest of the occupants of the ship seemed to need more time to prepare to disembark, so we decided to get the ball rolling and meet up with our contact here to be led to the coalition commander in this city.
"Fine, I won't tell you how I don't like the cold." I responded with a shrug and I could almost feel Louise's glaring into my back.
"Fuga." Ruukoto added from behind my master as she carried Louise's travel bag. Thankfully, it was just one large leather bag instead of the small pile of luggage that mysteriously appeared at La Rochelle when we first went to Albion.
"What is it?" Louise asked Ruukoto after turning her head towards the gynoid.
"Well, it seems that Ruukoto has noted that someone has been staring at us rather intently ever since we emerged from the ship." I explained while inclining my head towards a certain uniformed gentleman who was indeed staring at us from the docks.
"Our contact?" Louise asked out loud.
"One way to find out." I answered before we made our way to the man.
"Dame Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere?" The man in question asked while looking right at Louise.
"I am she. May I know who is asking?" My master declared after taking a breath.
"Herr Johann Ludwig von Seckendorf. A knight in the proud service of the Germanian Empire. I was instructed by the kommandant to receive you at the port and escort you to his office." The man in question answered. He seemed to be around the same age as Agnes and her Musketeers. He had short cropped black hair and sharp blue eyes. He was shorter than I was but was still built like he could fight well. He was wearing some sort of red dress uniform bereft of any visible protection aside from a sword strapped to his left hip. Most curious was the fact that I could not feel any hint of magic coming from the man.
"I see, you have my thanks. Let us be on our way, Sir Seckendorf. We don't want to keep your commander waiting." Louise smoothly responded and we quickly found our way out of the docks. The knight Johann was in the lead with Louise following close behind. Ruukoto and I walked alongside one another a few steps behind my master.
"Is there anything you can tell us about the situation here Sir Seckendorf?" Louise asked as we walked down the streets of Saxe-Gotha. The man took a few moments to consider the question before responding.
"Saxe-Gotha's in a pretty peaceful state. Then again, this was the first place we hit and is our foothold to the rest of the country. Making sure it stays secured would be a top priority. The problem is, it gets worse the further out you get from here." Johann answered while continuing to lead us to wherever his commander was located.
"The city seems well intact for one that was assaulted by what I would assume to be a combined army from three nations." Louise pointed out since there was little to no evidence of any structural damage to any of the buildings or roads.
There were soldiers and military equipment here and there but it was still rather obvious that the civilian population was still well intact and seemed to be going about their usual business. It was also notable that the soldiers I could see did not all wear the same colors, likely some were soldiers from Germania and Gallia.
The previous king of Gallia was murdered. The queen was given a poison that caused her mind to break down, poison that was meant for her daughter. Princess Charlotte Helene Orléans de Gallia was sent into exile because she threatened the rule of the current king due to her bloodline. Joseph Gaul is not the rightful king of Gallia.
I had to consciously prevent myself from grumbling out loud after I remembered Tabitha's words in Tarbes when I inquired about the apparently exiled princess of Gallia. I didn't really think much of it until now because we had more pressing issues at that time and new issues kept coming up afterwards. Another possible future headache if the current king of that country really was a madman or something. I just hoped that he had mellowed out since taking the throne from his brother.
"That is because we didn't attack with the full force of the coalition army. An assault team composed of Schwarzer Hase took the city instead. It was a planned attack proposed by the Germanian war council." The knight responded with a hint of pride in his voice.
"That is Germania's elite is it not? Did they not suffer severe casualties against the Silent Harlequin?" I asked with a raised brow. The mention of the Silent Harlequin made both the knight and my master twitch, though I suspect for different reasons.
"Yes, however the Schwarzer Hase has more than twenty members. That is why the war council wanted to let them have a chance to reclaim their honor. The coalition leaders accepted the plan since it would be the best way to take the city without alerting the entire country of our chosen gambit." He cooly answered as we approached a large building located in the center of the city.
"You seem rather enthused when talking about that group." I mused as I noted the way he talked about the Schwarzer Hase. He smiled before saluting a pair of guards that were guarding the door to the large building and opening the door to let us inside.
"Of course! My older sisters Oktavia and Ophelia are members of the Schwarzer Hase and were part of the assault group that took this city. Oktavia personally secured this very building herself with only two others acting as lookouts. I also wish to someday be worthy of joining their ranks." Johann answered with great pride, even going as far as lifting his chin a bit higher as he spoke. Impressive if his sisters also lacked the ability to cast magic as he did. Louise did not say anything but she smiled at the way the man talked about his sisters. After all, my master knew what it was like to have older sisters that you look up to and want to be like.
We were led up to the second floor and to one of the many doors that lined the hallway. Despite the relative peace outside, the interior of the building was abuzz with people going back and forth like worker bees. Seckendorf gave the door three sharp knocks before a muffled voice from inside bade us to enter.
"Herr Johann Ludwig von Seckendorf reporting in with Dame Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere as ordered, sir." Johann introduced my master with a crisp salute after we had entered the room. For a moment, everything was quiet until Ruukoto closed the door behind us. The commander of the Saxe-Gotha forces was a man with short blonde hair and looks that could pass as handsome. He seemed younger than Colbert but definitely older than Wardes was. His features was oddly familiar though but I couldn't really place it at that moment. The man looked between Louise, me, and Ruukoto in turn before standing up from his seat and making his way towards us.
"Greetings, Dame Valliere. I am Enzo Anselmo de Gramont. Member of the Cavaliere di Gran Croce and commanding officer of the forces stationed in Saxe-Gotha. I do hope that my younger brother has not been giving you any problems at the academy." The man introduced himself to the widening eyes of Louise and my raised brow.
"You are Guiche's older brother?" Louise asked even though it was already obvious that he was. Then again, I could understand her surprise. There were indeed similarities between Enzo and Guiche, but the man before us looked far more confident and competent than Monmon's lover. He seemed like a man who can sweep any woman off their feet while capable enough to back up whatever outlandish claims he might have about himself.
"Second oldest actually. Thank you Sir Seckendorf. You are dismissed, you may return to your unit." Enzo corrected before dismissing Johann. The two military men exchanged salutes before the Germanian turned to us.
"Good day to you and your companions Dame Valliere. It was an honor to speak with a member of the family that the Von Zerbst considers as worthy foes." Johann said with genuine respect for Louise and her family before offering his hand to her. My master was momentarily taken aback by that but was able to recovery almost immediately.
"The honor is mine Sir Seckendorf. I wish you the best in your future endeavours. I hope that you will one day stand alongside your sisters in the Schwarzer Hase." Louise responded in kind before shaking the knights hand. The knight quickly left and closed the door behind him afterwards. We all turned back to Enzo and saw him giving us an amused expression, one that truly resembled on of Guiche's smiles.
"Did you know that Sir Seckendorf and his sisters are commoners?" Enzo finally said, confirming my earlier observation on the Germanian knight as well as my guess regarding her sisters.
"What?" Louise exclaimed, obviously surprised considering that the man certainly did not look like a commoner.
"He cleans up quite well doesn't he? I had also heard that his sisters are quite the beauties as well." Enzo mused with a smirk.
"Is it really a surprise? Agnes and her knights are commoners as well." I pointed out to my oddly surprised master.
"Well yes, but they are the Princess' personal guard that she formed herself." Louise reasoned.
"As you should already know, Germania's system of nobility is rather different from the rest of Halkeginia. Regardless, I cannot exactly deny their effectiveness. While father and the rest of my brothers have reservations with working alongside commoners as peers, I don't really have such issues." Enzo explained with a smile that made him resemble Guiche quite a bit.
"An unusual way to think from one from a prestigious noble military family." I commented and Enzo simply shrugged.
"If they can do the job, why keep them from doing so just because they are commoners? I've no qualms working with them so long as they get the job done. Just don't tell my brothers and my father about that, alright?" Enzo asked rhetorically before winking at Louise and thus making her blush. Well, at least he had more style at dealing with women than Guiche was.
"Of course. Now, I would like to assume that you were already told why we are here?" I spoke out, if only to save Louise any further embarassment at the hands of the elder Gramont brother.
"Quite so. Please have a seat, we have a few things to go over." Enzo gestured to the two wooden chairs in front of his desk before he retrieved some documents from a side table. Louise and I sat down on the offered seats while Ruukoto just stood by the door with Louise's travel bag set down at her feet.
"Where is Guiche anyway? Montmorency has been worrying about him back at the academy." Louise asked as Enzo made his way back to his seat.
"Ah yes, I recall that he is in a rather serious relationship with the Montmorency heiress. Well, he is with father at one of our forward command camps last I heard. The boy has been praised by father and his men after he apparently saved a few soldiers in the front lines." The commander said with a mix of amusement and pride as he informed us of another surprise.
"Guiche saved soldiers?!" Louise deemed it necessary to express her own surprise vocally.
"More specifically, his Bronze Valkyries did." Enzo appended.
"The unit he was with at the time was ambushed and, while by brother did not fight, he assisted nonetheless by using his Valkyries to get the injured to safety. He even got a medal out of it after he continued to pull injured soldiers out of harm's way while being wounded himself." The commander explained with brotherly pride for what Guiche had accomplished. I honestly did not expect the boy to be capable of such things. Then again, Louise's friends did tend to have surprising depths to them.
"And I'm sure we will be hearing all about that for a long time when he comes back to the academy." My master muttered dryly which got her a laugh from Guiche's brother.
"Indeed. Well then, shall we get to business then? To be perfectly honest, I had originally thought that your deployment here was some sort of joke." Enzo started with a shrug before raising his hands up defensively after noticing how my master scowled after hearing his words.
"I meant no disrespect, Dame Valliere. You would understand my surprise when I recieved a letter about your arrival that was co-signed by both Prince Wales and Princess Henrietta. Full cooperation and assistance to be rendered to the Chevalier Louise Francoise Le Blanc de La Valliere and her party in regards to any matters involving the Silent Harlequin. It was quite the shock to know that a second year student at the Tristain Magic Academy held the confidence of two heirs to their respective thrones." The man apologized before telling us why he had thought such. It was a reasonable reaction all things considered really.
"I have no problem sharing what information we have on her at the request of the crown. However, if you would indulge my curiosity, why would you require such information to begin with?" Enzo asked before leaning forward and steepling his hands in front of his face. Louise gave me a meaningful glance but I simply shrugged at her. The gesture conveying that it was her choice to reveal what we know or not to Guiche's brother. Louise scowled at me in response and I just shrugged at her again. After all, Ruukoto and I were mostly there to make sure anyone who tried to harm her would be dealt with accordingly. We both turned our gazes back to Enzo who was looking at us with an expression of great amusement.
"Already being able to have lover's quarrels with only eye contact? The two of you are very lucky to have one another then. Very rarely do couples develop that level of mutual understanding with one another. Treasure that bond." He easily says while nodding to himself sagely. I sighed at how he managed to misread our bond while Louise reacted in her usual manner of blushing bright crimson and looking like she was about to hyperventilate. All the while, Ruukoto simply looked on with apparent disinterest.
"That is-" I started in order to preempt Louise from doing her usual outburst and digging the hole deeper. However, Enzo simply gave us a dismissive wave.
"Incorrect? There is nothing going on between us? We are not in such a relationship? There is no way that you two could ever fall in love with one another? Please, I've heard it all before. Such words only shows that you want to keep your love from becoming public knowledge. I understand." The man asked is with a raised brow and a smirk. I simply sighed at how he completely misread the situation. On any other circumstance, his analysis would have held water. However, the special bond that Louise and I shared was not romantic in nature. Sadly, the way Louise's face lit up at the elder Gramont brother's words was not really helping.
"But it's true! Yuka is not my lo-lo-lo-" Louise tried to deny the silly claims but the fact that she couldn't even say the word 'lovers' was just making things look worse. I placed a gentle hand on her shoulder and just shook my head when she turned to me. Louise's face shifted through a few expressions before settling on a resigned sigh. At least the action let the built up tension from earlier melt away somewhat. Despite my earlier decision to let Louise explain the situation at her leasure, I figured that she wasn't really in any shape to explain anything until she could snap out of her funk.
"Your Princess and Prince Wales has requested us to deal with the threat of the Silent Harlequin." I explained after turning back to Enzo. The mention of the Silent Harlequin made Louise flinch and apparently finally snapped her back to normal.
"Deal with? You cannot possibly mean..." Enzo trailed off while narrowing his eyes at us.
"Yuka is correct. We are here at the behest of the crown to put an end to the threat the Silent Harlequin poses to the coalition and the people of Albion." Louise affirmed with a determined nod, a reflection of her desire to face the mystery mage who may very well be her missing tutor. The commander's expression hardened as his eyes moved from Louise to myself and to Ruukoto in turn several times, obviously contemplating about a few things.
"With only the three of you?" He finally asked and his expression grew grim after Louise nodded.
"You understand the kind of havok that woman has wrought our combined armies, yes? I find it hard to believe that three individuals, regardless if your prestigious lineage, will be able to overcome something our combined might could not. I would rather not have to needlessly risk the health and safety of a promising beatiful young woman such as yourself. I say this as the commanding officer of the coalition forces in this city as well as a man of the Gramont family." Enzo said with a grave seriousness that made my master give pause. There was clear doubt in his words as well as genuine concern for Louise's safety.
"While your concerns are as understandable as they are appreciated, please know that your Princess and the Prince of Albion did not put their faith in us without cause. We are all far more than meets the eye, Commander Gramont." I responded smoothly with a warm smile. Louise gave a determined nod in agreement while Ruukoto simply continued to monitor the proceedings passively.
"Meaning?" Enzo asked with narrowed eyes.
"Unconventional assets to deal with unconventional issues." I stated bitterly with an equally bitter smile in reference to the kinds of trouble we've been involved in. Louise frowned at me after picking up my tone of voice. Enzo's eyes glinted with understanding and gave a reluctant nod.
"I see. I cannot begin to imagine the feeling of being forced to expose your beloved to open danger because of duty and absurd circumstances." The commander said to me with a sympathetic smile. The look in his eyes showed that he probably was going to continue to believe that Louise and I were somehow lovers no matter what we do or say. Oh well, more's the pity.
"Yuka and I are not in that kind of relationship!" My master yelled and just got a smile and a nod from the elder Gramont brother. I had wondered why he did not seem to be offended by the idea of Louise and I in a relationship, he even came up with the whole thing himself. Most people at first glance would have dismissed me as a commoner due to my attire and general attitude, even so...
An oddity as a Gramont and as a noble in general, this Enzo Anselmo de Gramont.
"Now then, since you all understand the level of threat the Silent Harlequin poses to everyone..." Louise scowled at how her protests were ignored as Enzo presented us with several leaves of parchment. I took the offered parchment and gave the topmost one a glance. I then frowned and handed them to the still frowning Louise. Yet another reminder that I still haven't learned the written language of this realm. It was almost as if all these incidents keep happening specifically so I would never get around to learning it.
"These are..." Louise trailed off as she went through what was written. Her eyes widened bit by bit with every page she read.
"A comprehensive report that our best analysts were able to put together on the behavioral patterns of the Silent Harlequin. It was sent out to all commanding officers deployed throughout Albion." Enzo explained while gesturing to the bundle in my master's hands.
"There is a lot to go through..." Louise admitted with a furrow of her eyebrows.
"Indeed. I haven't even been able to sit down and read it all because of everything else that requires my attention. However, that is the most up to date and accurate information we have on the Silent Harlequin." The commander stated before standing up.
"Now, I don't really expect you to be able to go ahead and read all of that so soon after your long trip here. I have arranged a room for you and your party at a nearby Inn so you can rest and prepare." Enzo spoke as he took a smaller sleeve of parchment and writing something on it before handing it to Louise.
"Show that to the innkeeper and it should be enough to get you to your room without any fuss. I'll get someone to escort you to the Inn." He said with a warm smile. Rather considerate of him to arrange that. Then again, Louise was here as an agent of Henrietta and Wales after all. Louise looked at the apparent note and stiffened in her seat. Enzo did not seem to notice it and merely continued talking as he walked to the door.
"The current proprietor of that Inn is a bit eccentric but he and his girls are good people. They have certainly lifted the spirits of the men stationed here at least. Please wait here while I fetch your escort." The commander stated before exiting the room.
"Louise?" I called out to her after she had not moved since she read that note Enzo gave her.
"No...just a coincidence." She muttered to herself. I raised a brow as she shook her head and stood up from her seat with visible effort.
"What are you talking about?" I asked with a raised brow.
"Nothing. Yes, it is just a coincidence." Louise continued to repeat to herself until Enzo returned with another soldier, one wearing a Tristainian uniform this time. We were quickly escorted to the Inn we were supposed to be staying at, only a few blocks away from the building where Enzo was in fact. Only after seeing the name of the Inn and hearing the commotion inside did I understand Louise's oddly irrational behavior earlier.
'The Charming Fairy Inn'
"So..." I muttered uncomfortably while looking up at the sign that held the name of the establishment we were currently in front of.
"So..." Louise repeated lifelessly to my left while looking at the same sign.
"..." Ruukoto remained silent and was just staring at nothing in particular to my right. The soldier who escorted us to the Inn excused himself to return to his regular duties. That left us awkwardly and silently considering what we should do in this current situation.
"Do...do we go inside? I mean, it really could be just a random coincidence you know." My master asked in a voice that seemed like she was trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince me.
"The kind of random coincidence that might actually happen considering our past luck in these kinds of silly situations." I pointed out. Louise groaned since she knew from experience that my words were true.
"Mistress Louise? Mister Yuka? Ruukoto?" We immediately all turned to the source of the clearly unexpected voice. Lo and behold, walking up to us with an empty wicker basket in her hands was none other than Siesta. The maid was dressed modestly in a brown top with long white sleeves with a long beige skirt. She was also shifting her expression constantly between surprise, joy, and nervousness in no particular order.
"Siesta? Didn't I tell you to stay with your family until we returned?" Louise asked after recovering from the initial shock.
After Henrietta and Wales' surprise visit, Louise thought it prudent to give Siesta a paid vacation after explaining the situation to the maid. It was a concept that she had apparently picked up from Yukari at one point or another, likely during a story regarding Ran. The maid was flabbergasted at the whole thing and protested that she only be paid for what services she rendered for Louise and the school. The whole thing more or less devolved into an argument between the two until Ruukoto pointed out that Siesta could use the opportunity to check on her family at Tarbes. After that, the discussion went in a more reasonable direction. I had gone outside for some sun during most of the following discussion since haggling always bored me greatly. When I returned, Siesta and Louise were chatting about the latest entry in that silly sordid romance novel series they both seemed to love.
"Wait, no! What are you even doing here?! This is Albion! A war zone!" My master continued to build up momentum and was very nearly cornering the maid even though she was shorter than Siesta.
"But Mistre-" Siesta tried to explain herself but Louise didn't seem to be in a listening mood.
"Are you insane?! You could get hurt!" My master yelled out at the maid. Siesta looked and Ruukoto and I pleadingly for some assistance. While I was curious as to why she was here as well, I knew that Louise was indeed overreacting again. I was about to pull Louise away from the frightened maid when the doors of the Inn suddenly opened up.
"Hey! Who's shouting like an idiot out he-Louise? Yuka? Ruukoto?" I pinched the bridge of my nose after seeing who the new person was. On one hand, considering the name of the Inn, it wasn't really that surprising. On the other hand, that also meant one other thing.
"Jessica too?!" Louise exclaimed and likely came to the same conclusion as I from the way her face paled.
"That must mean..." My master muttered before we heard some approaching footsteps from within the Inn.
"Tres Bien~" Scarron exclaimed after it saw us all standing outside the establishment. I could almost hear Louise's sanity slip and fall down a flight of stairs in the least comfortable way possible.
"Wait! You are related?!" Louise yelled out after it was explained to us that Siesta was the cousin of Jessica, and effectively, the niece of Scarron.
"That's right Mistress Louise! So I'm not really going against your wish of me staying with my family until you return to the academy!" Siesta answered almost victoriously to her official employer, even going as far as lifting her chin up and putting her hands on her hips in a show of superiority. It turned out that Siesta really did go back to Tarbes but was quickly snapped up by Jessica, who was visiting as well. Scarron had the wonderful idea of supporting the coalition troops by moving their operations to Albion and Jessica thought that Siesta would be a potent addition to their lineup.
"Don't get smart with me, maid." Louise deadpanned at the still gloating maid. Despite her tone, it was obvious that they were both happy to see each other again. Louise, Siesta, Ruukoto, and I were all seated at a table in the apparent Saxe-Gotha branch of the Charming Fairy Inn.
"Now the question becomes, what are all of you doing out here and why are you the ones who will use the room that Commander Gramont personally reserved for an important group of people from Tristain?" Jessica asked us after she walked up to our table and put down some drinks for us. The young woman put the tray she used to carry our drinks under her left arm and placed her right hand on her hip as she waited for an answer.
"We could tell you, but I'm not sure if we're supposed to kill you if we do." I mused conversationally before taking a sip of the frothy mug in front of me. I was never really into alcohol, western ones even more so. Some warm sake or fine wine would be perfectly acceptable on occasion, particularly during festivals and parties. However, beer was not really a beverage that I've had a lot of experience with. I did not doubt the quality of what I was drinking considering the establishment I was in as well as the fact that the owner is related to Siesta, who brews the finest tea in Halkegina. I supposed that it was just personal taste really. I did not really find beer distasteful, I just did not like it as much as I liked tea.
"W-what are you talking about?! Are you threatening me?" Jessica suddenly asked in a rather frantic manner after gasping at my words. Siesta simply giggled at her cousin's reaction since she was already privy to our reasons of being in Albion this time. Louise was giving me flat look that said 'Seriously, Yuka? Seriously?' Ruukoto was quietly sipping its own drink without really reacting. I raised a brow at the fact that the gynoid could ingest liquids, alcohol even, without any consequence. Must be those nanomachine things. I silently hoped that the gynoid did not have the capacity to get drunk.
"Yuka is just joking. We're here because we need to take care of something under the direct request of Princess Henrietta. Unfortunately, it is something that we cannot really discuss it out in the open." Louise explained to the frightened young woman after giving me one last glare. Jessica did not seem convinced by my master's words but she seemed to relax at the way Siesta smiled and nodded at her.
"Oh, well okay." Jessica finally relented. I put down the ceramic beer stein after drinking all the contents. Might as well finish the whole thing while it was still cold and be done with it rather than nurse it little by little and end up with warm beer...eugh.
"It is as Louise says. My previous statement was merely meant as a joke, really. I was surprised that someone as sharp as you are could not catch that." I said with a shake of my head and a smirk. I was expecting Jessica to be offended or laugh it off, but she just looked at me curiously before her expression twisted into one holding back laughter.
"Pfft! W-well...okay. Wow, you can really put it away huh? D-do you want another round?" She asked in a trembling voice. Curiously, instead of looking scared, she continued to look like she was trying desperately not to laugh. I raised a brow when I noted that both Louise and Siesta shared her expression. My master even went as far as to put both of her hands over her mouth to stifle what laughter threatened to escape.
"Okay, what is it now? Is there something on my face?" I asked with a sigh as they clearly found something very amusing while looking right at me. That seemed to be the danmaku that broke the spell card as all three of them started laughing out loud. I sighed at them after seeing that asking them will not get anywhere. Instead, I turned to the only one at the table who was not laughing at me. Ruukoto was still working on its own mug of beer but it was still quietly keeping an eye on everything like it normally did. Our eyes met and I raised a brow at the gynoid, expecting it to fill in the blanks on its own.
"Fuga." It stated simply before going back to what it was previously doing. I blinked at the answer and touched my upper lip area with my left hand to confirm the gynoid's observation. The moment I felt the wet frothy texture on my fingers, Louise and the others started laughing even harder. I moved my hand away to get a better look and found that indeed, as Ruukoto stated, I apparently had a beer foam mustache. I must have acquired it after I knocked back my beer as quickly as I could earlier.
"Well, at least we know that a mustache probably wouldn't suit you." Jessica pointed out as she and the others started to wind down their laughter.
"Indeed." I responded after wiping away the foam using the handkerchief I had in my back pocket.
"Non~! Matilda's beloved Yuka would be really really really ridiculously good looking if he had a mustache that was properly styled and maintained~" Scarron suddenly interjected while he closed the distance between entrance to the Inn's kitchen to our table in the span of three pelvic thrusts. A feat that I was fairly certain should be physically impossible for regular humans considering the distance. Then again, this was Scarron I was talking about. Everyone looked at him funny but did not comment on the matter since we were all more or less used to Scarron's displays by then...which was already disconcerting on in of itself.
"Speaking of Big Sis Matilda, has she turned up yet?" Jessica asked with a smile but I could detect a hint of worry in her voice.
"Yes~! I would also like to know if your True Love has returned from her sojourn~" Scarron added with a nod an a hip thrust towards me. The mention of the woman actually got my mind off the rather disturbing way Scarron was behaving at the time, even more so than usual. Louise, Siesta, and I shared a look, considering what we knew, before turning back to the questioning father and daughter.
"That is actually partly the reason why we are here." Louise said smoothly enough.
"We have a possible lead that implies that Matilda is currently in Albion as we speak. We are trying to see if we could find and aid her as necessary while dealing with some other business here." I continued after seeing the slight confusion Jessica and Scarron showed.
"Big Sis is here?! Isn't that dangerous?!" Jessica exclaimed in surprise.
"Indeed. While we all think that she can take care of herself well enough..." I trailed off after remembering how long she had been gone and the whole 'Silent Harlequin' thing.
"Wait...is that why you were so keen on coming with us here?" Jessica asked Siesta. The maid gave out a rather demure 'eep' before trivially trying to hide behind the mug she was holding.
"Tres Bien~! And thus, the call of True Love can no longer be denied~! I will leave the safe return of our dear Matilda in your capable hands, Yuka~! It is the least I can expect from the husband of my good friend~" Scarron declared while performing a series of poses. I opened my mouth to clarify that Matilda and I did not have such a relationship, but the horrid specimen of humanity cut me off.
"Remember, Yuka~! True Love will triumph over all~! Now, if you will excuse me, I have patrons to attend to~" And with that, Scarron disappeared from view via another burst of rapid pelvic gyrations.
"He will never let me live that down, will he?" I mused idly while looking in the direction where Scarron shimmied off to.
"Oh, just marry Big Sis Matilda for real already and be done with it. It isn't like you don't like her." Jessica dismissively commented with a wave of her hand. I blinked at her sudden flippancy on the matter, though it was not I who had a vocal reaction to her words.
"Bwah?!" Louise let out suddenly like a surprised chicken. She and Siesta were looking at Jessica like she had just renounced their Founder and Faith to worship Shinki instead.
"What?" Jessica asked the two as if there was clearly nothing wrong with what she had suggested.
"Jessica!" Siesta suddenly yelled out at her cousin. The young woman in question flinched away from the maid's voice. The two of them stared at each other for a few moments before they both glanced at me.
"You mean..." Jessica trailed off with an expression of dawning realization on her face. She turned back to her cousin, who was giving her a very serious look.
"Oh, geez." Jessica muttered before laughing out awkwardly.
"What is it now?" Louise asked irritably, once again showing that she did not appreciate getting locked out of the loop.
"Nothing!" Both Jessica and Siesta exclaimed. Obviously, it just made Louise even more suspicious but she thankfully let the matter drop for now.
"Three beds. I suppose that you will be commandeering all the pillows once again?" I mused as we entered our room in the Inn. Louise had wanted to talk with Jessica and Siesta more but things were getting busy and they needed to get back to work. It also reminded Louise that she was still rather tired from the trip and needed some rest as well.
"Why do you make it sound like I'm some sort child trying to get all the pillows for myself?" Louise asked back with an offended expression...although, it did not stop her from gathering all the pillows and settling down on the middle bed. I opened my mouth to respond but Louise interrupted me by way of a thrown pillow to my face.
"Don't answer that." My master flatly stated. I picked up the ballistic pillow on the ground and walked up to my apparently offended master. Ruukoto deposited Louise's travel bag on the wooden round table that was in the room before going back to its usual sentry duty beside the door.
"Should we go over the compiled information about the Silent Harlequin that Guiche's brother gave us?" I asked as I placed the pillow in my hands squarely on my master's head. She pulled it off her head before hitting me on the side of my head with it and tossing it on the pile of pillows she now had on her bed.
"Normally, I'd love to read all of it so we can get started on this." Louise said before sighing.
"But..." I trailed off while nodding at Louise.
"...but, I doubt my ability to stay awake if I get started now. Despite my desire to get this over with, I'm tired." My master said with a sigh as her shoulders slumped.
"I'm tired and it irritates me, Yuka. Matilda is here. She's right here and she needs help and I'm too tired to do anything just because we were cooped up in a ship for too long." Louise continued and I could feel the anger and emotion build up in her voice until suddenly...it disappeared in an instant.
"I hate feeling so helpless." She admitted while hugging and burying her face in a few pillows. Although, I did note something interesting in what she said.
"You seem rather convinced that our target truly is Matilda." I pointed out as I sat down on the edge of Louise's bed. I felt the bed shift around and a soft weight suddenly settled on my back. I was fairly certain that it was my master leaning on me with her pillows in between us.
"Honestly, I would be shocked and terrified if Matilda does not turn out to be the Silent Harlequin." Louise stated after taking a breath.
"How so?" I asked with a raised brow. My head was then assaulted by Louise who was dual-wielding pillows.
"Because that would mean that Matilda really IS missing and we don't know where she is or what her condition is!" Louise yelled at me while hitting me a few more times for good measure.
"Point..." I muttered as I felt Louise's head rest on my back.
"I just want her back with us again but..." My master started and I was very obvious that she was starting to fall asleep.
"Tell me..." I trailed off in order to get Louise's attention.
"...what would Matilda likely suggest you do considering your current state and what we are about to deal with in the immediate future?" I asked and waited for Louise to consider the question. I then felt her move away from me and I turned around to look at her. She was covering her lower body with pillows and was using one to cover the lower half of her face.
"She would tell me to use my head and rest as much as I can while I can. She would tell me that I can't deal with problems properly if I'm tired. She would tell me to go to bed so we can have an early start tomorrow." Louise mumbled at me and I gave an approving nod and a knowing smile.
"Fine! Ruukoto, please fetch my evening wear so I can sleep properly." My master finally relented. Ruukoto was already getting what was requested the moment its name was called. The gynoid was no fool and was likely able to anticipate what its mistress needed after following the flow of our conversation.
"You didn't bring your transparent negligee, did you?" I asked Louise with a curious blink. Her face immediately went red before quickly hitting me again with a pillow. Why she kept doing so even though she knew well that it would not harm me, I had no idea.
"Of course not! I just brought one of my spare nightgowns with me! Do you honestly think I would wear such a thing in a public Inn?" Louise yelled at me indignantly while hitting me with her pillows some more. She stopped after Ruukoto presented her nightgown to Louise. My master hit me one more time before getting out of bed and undressing.
"Why do you even have such an article of clothing anyway? For that matter, why do you always wear it whenever you can? None of your other clothes seem to be anywhere near as revealing." I asked as the thought suddenly occurred to me while watching Louise take off her skirt. My master blinked at me before blushing and covering herself with her arms in a silly attempt to guard her modesty from me.
"Come off it, Louise. I've already seen you naked and you don't have anything I haven't seen before...or had before." I reminded her while rolling my eyes at the gesture. Louise seemed to get it and began to undress normally again.
"F-fine! It was a gift from Chii-nee-sama for my birthday after I started studying at the academy. Wearing it makes me think of her and it just sort of became natural for me to do so." Louise explained. Cattleya? Well, that certainly explained some things. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the middle sister was the reason why Louise started reading those silly romance novels that she and Siesta loved to talk about.
I also made a mental note to ask Cattleya or Eleanore when Louise's birthday was.
"Good night Yuka. Good night Ruukoto." Louise said after a yawn before clambering into her bed.
"Sleep well Louise." I said with a smile.
"Fuga." Ruukoto stated with a bow. Louise gave us a smile before depositing herself into her pillow fort and quickly falling asleep.
"Fuga. Fuga." Ruukoto said to me before opening the door. The gynoid wanted to help out downstairs but told me that it can still monitor Louise's condition through the nanomachines inside my master's blood and to contact it via the 'Hey-Listen' I had in my left ear if I needed anything. I gave a nod of acknowledgement and Ruukoto gave me one more bow before exiting and making its way downstairs. I glanced at Louise's sleeping form to make sure that she was comfortable before walking up to the window. I gazed out into the night and saw signs of activity in the streets but it was still rather peaceful. We still had a lot of things to do but at least we're making some progress and-
'Hail and well met Sanctuary.' -I immediately palmed my face after hearing The Voice from my 'Hey-Listen' once again.
'You seem distressed Sanctuary.' The Voice observed but did not seem to understand that it was the reason for my current irritation.
I groaned in response. The last time I heard that chorus of unidentifiable voices in my head we lost Derflinger and Tarbes was nearly flattened to the ground.
'What do you want now?' I hissed at the Voice as I responded through my 'Hey-Listen', making sure that it was not loud enough to wake Louise.
'We do not comprehend your hostility Sanctuary. We provided you information on how to achieve the best outcome in the crisis at the village of Tarbes.' The Voice stated in a perfectly calm tone that betrayed none of the confusion it seemed to imply.
'Because problems started happening in rapid succession the last time you spoke to me. What are you really and what is your involvement in this particular mess?' I pointed out before asking the obvious questions. There was a long pause on the other end of the line and I had almost thought that the conversation was already over.
'The situation has already degraded to something that can no longer be avoided long before we now speak to you. All that can be done now is to see it through for the sake of closure. We simply 'are' and we only desire the best outcome for this situation just like the last.' The Voice answered in a clear and concise manner despite the cryptic nature of the answer itself. The message was clear on what its objective was though. It even reminded me of the one incident that I honestly truly regretted. The one unforgivable thing that I had done in the past.
"There was a point where this needed to stop and we've clearly already passed it~! But let's keep going and see what happens~!"
Those were the words I said as I faced the ones who tried to stop me at the time. Who would have thought it possible? Satori and her two pets trying to be heroes. I shook my head free of the unnecessary thoughts and focused on what was at hand.
'You kept speaking about the best outcome. You said the same back at Tarbes. Let me ask then...the best outcome for whom exactly?' I asked with narrowed eyes. Another long pause before the Voice decided to finally speak again.
'Return to the place where you first met the Prince of the White Isle. The way to achieve the best outcome can be found here. Go tonight. Go alone.' I raised a brow at the response since it not only deflected my question, it also asked me to go back to the church compound where we rescued Wales from a few months ago. By myself.
'Can you make it sound any less like a trap? You also did not answer my question.' I pointed out with a shake of my head. Another pause.
'Your questions are irrelevant. We wish you luck Sanctuary. May you make the right choice.' The Voice brushed my questions off before ending the conversation. Well, that was abrupt. A thought then struck me and I tapped on my 'Hey-Listen' one more time.
'Ruukoto. Can you review and track any communications I've had through this device in the past hour?' I asked the gynoid. Since it was its own communications system the Voice was using to talk to me, it may be possible for Ruukoto to pinpoint where it was coming from. I wasn't able to ask that of it the last time because we were all busy back then, but now...
'Fuga. Fuga.' I blinked at the response from the gynoid. It confirmed that it keeps a log of all communications made through the Hey-Listens and track signals that pass through them with ease. The problem was that the only communication that I've had with anyone using the device in the past hour was the one I was having with Ruukoto at that exact moment.
'Are you certain? Can you double-check?' I asked since the implications of what Ruukoto just said were not pleasant.
'Fuga Fuga. Fuga?' It confirmed and triple-checked. It even did a diagnostics and found nothing wrong with my own 'Hey-Listen' and the system it was using to log and track communications via the aforementioned devices. It then asked me what was wrong and if there was something to be worried about.
'I just had a conversation with the mystery voice that was talked to me back at Tarbes. It seemed that my personal involvement in the situation in Albion was needed to achieve what it called 'the best outcome'. It asked me to go to the compound where Louise and I first met Prince Wales. Alone.' I explained and the response was immediate and expected.
'Fuga. Fuga Fuga? Fuga.' The gynoid immediately called it as a trap, a very poorly planned on at that. It also asked if we were to tell Louise about it or simply ignore it. It then pointed out that it was rarely wise to trust random voices that only I could hear. Valid points all. I glanced at Louise one more time and wondered if her dream self was in Mugenkan...as well as Eleanore and Cattleya for that manner.
'No. I think I will give it a look and poke around for a bit.' I decided after another moment.
'Fuga. Fuga Fuga.' Ruukoto was quick to say that the choice was unwise. There was no reason for me to go alone and it was likely better if we all went there in the morning instead.
'There is no reason to be alarmed. That voice would not have bothered to give specific requirements for no reason. Best case is I find and subdue the Silent Harlequin and the mastermind behind this. Worst case is I find nothing of interest there. Either way, I should be back by sunrise.' I reasoned. True, there was a possibility of a trap but that would just mean that I would be able to deal with something connected to this whole mess without having to track them down. There was no harm in taking a look at least.
'Fuga.' Ruukoto reminded me that it was still a bad idea to go alone under someone else's terms.
'Just make sure Louise is safe until I return.' I stated before opening a door to Mugenkan. I entered my dream realm and-
"You're late!" Louise immediately berated me even before I closed the newly made door that led to our room back at the Inn. As I expected, she was there along with Eleanore and Cattleya. Strangely, the middle sister was serving tea even though I was certain that I did not leave a set on our usual table here when we left the last time.
"I hope you don't mind. You were taking a while to arrive so we simply decided to take care of ourselves in the meantime." Cattleya explained. I turned to where my mansion was and saw that the door was slightly ajar. At least that explains where they got the tea and the tea set.
"Not a problem. I did give you all permission to come here at your pleasure whenever you wanted." I waved away the middle sister's concern before taking a seat across her with Louise to my right and Eleanore to my left.
"So, how bad do you think it is?" Eleanore asked Cattleya and I blinked at how the middle sister suddenly gave out a tired sigh and how Louise looked rather worried. It appeared that I had arrived in the middle of a discussion between the sisters. Cattleya noticed my confusion and gave me a tired smile.
"Mother caught me coming out of Mugenkan and into my room. We had a...talk." Cattleya explained. Oh...
"Please don't tell me that Karin now wants to come in here and beat me up for whatever justification she could come up with." I deadpanned while rubbing my eyes with my left hand. An angry mother was not something I wanted to deal with at that moment. I looked back at the three sisters and noted that both Eleanore and Louise had visibly paled while Cattleya simply took a sip of her tea.
"Don't worry about mother trying to pick a fight. She told me that there would be no point to it and would just waste everyone's time. She did, however, ask me to tell you that she and father would like to have a long conversation with you about my recovery." Cattleya calmly explained, much to the relief of her sisters.
"Tell them to get in line. I have a few things I have to deal with right now." I muttered before pouring myself a cup of tea. Might as well have some before I headed back out.
"Why is it that things always happen whenever I leave?" Louise complained after it was clear that she had no idea what I was talking about.
"Now you know how I feel sometimes." I said before taking a sip of my tea. Not bad. I wonder which one of them prepared it?
"What is it? How bad is it? And how much of a problem is it going to be for us?" Louise asked me in a tired voice. I quickly explained to them what transpired after my master went to sleep and Ruukoto went back down to help Siesta and the other girls.
"So you hear voices in your head? They gave you counsel? They say they understand? They talk to you? What did you eat and did you give any to the runt?" Eleanore asked me while looking at me like I was an idiot again. On the other hand Cattleya looked curious while Louise currently had her face buried in her hands.
"It's not as bad as it sounds. Really." I said and got all three sisters looking at me like I was an idiot.
"Even assuming that the information given to you by your imaginary friend is legitimate, blindly jumping face first into something alone is the height of idiocy." Eleanore pointed out while gesturing to me with her cup.
"I must agree with Big Sister here. There is no reason to risk exposing yourself abruptly like this, especially if you and Louise were able to get more information about the Silent Harlequin." Cattleya reasoned with a slightly worried expression. I turned to Louise when she did not speak and saw her idly tracing the edge of her own cup with her index finger.
"Let me guess. You're going to say that there is no downside to following that voice's plan either. That you will either run into the Silent Harlequin or even the one in charge of her or you won't find anything and just come back." My master drawled while looking at me with a lazy expression.
"Yes...how did you..." I managed to get out. I was caught off balance for a moment since Louise can rarely read between the lines well. Even her older sisters seemed surprised at her sudden insight.
"I guess we've been together for so long I can sort of tell what some of your lines of thought are." Louise admitted with a shrug.
"And you won't try to stop me?" I asked with a raised brow.
"Would you listen if I asked you not to go?" She asked back with her own raised brow.
"Point." I conceded. The table was silent for a while after that.
"Louise..." I called out to her but she was able to cut me off edgewise before I could continue.
"If you're not back by the time I wake up, I will find you. I will hunt you down and cast explosion on your face over and over again until I pass out from willpower exhaustion." Louise calmly stated while glowering at me in a way that made her look strikingly like her mother. Her words were neither a threat nor a promise. They were simply stated facts.
"You better do what the runt says." Eleanore said with a sneer before snickering at me, obviously knowing that I would not be able to argue against her youngest sister.
"Indeed. Be sure not to keep a lady waiting." Cattleya chimed in with an amused smile. Okay, now they were just ganging up on me. About as much as what I would expect from sisters.
"Very well. Rest assured that I will be fine. I don't think that there's anything in this realm that could take me on toe-to-toe, much less keep me from coming back by morning." I waved away their concerns after acknowledging the sword made of explosions that Louise just hung metaphorically over my head.
"Must you tempt fate so?" Eleanore asked as she rolled her eyes at me.
"I've poked fate with a stick a few times before and things have worked out rather well despite that." I shot back with a smile. I meant that figuratively and literally as I did poke Remilia with a stick once after she got knocked out by Meling when they had a fight. Who would have thought that China could trump Remilia if it was a pure physical match without any magic? Sure, China was a martial artist but Remilia was a rather impressive specimen of her species. Still, it was Meiling's win and thus earning her a paid month long vacation. Good for her.
"Yuka..." Louise called out to me in a warning tone.
"Alright. Alright. I promise that I will be back by sunrise." I assured my master before drinking the rest of my tea and standing up.
"Who prepared the tea anyway? It is rather exquisite." I asked the three of them since they were the only ones who could have possibly done so, especially with Yukari likely being asleep until spring arrives.
"Did you hear that, Big Sister? Yuka seemed to be taken by your skills. Aren't you happy?" Cattleya suddenly said as she beamed at her older sister with both hands clasped happily above her chest.
"W-w-well of course..." Eleanore muttered while pointedly avoiding eye contact with me.
"So you're happy that Yuka likes your tea?" Cattleya asked as her smile grew even wider.
"W-what?! No! You know what I mean!" Eleanore protested hotly much to her younger sister's amusement.
"Regardless on how you feel about it. It is still a pleasant surprise to know that you are skilled in making tea." I complimented the eldest sister. Cattleya started giggling after she saw Eleanore blush and look away while Louise just shook her head in disbelief.
"W-w-well, this level of tea brewing is possible for Eleanore De La Valliere." The eldest sister declared imperiously before casually and stylishly flicking her hair behind her.
"What do you think Yuka?" Cattleya asked with a big smile on her face.
"Very impressive. I'm certain that Eleanore will make a lucky man very happy one day." I deadpanned at the middle sister. Cattleya pouted at me before folding her arms under her breasts.
"Such a half-hearted response. You should work on properly complimenting a woman when you come back." The middle sister scolded lightly but still had a smile on her face. Louise was back to smiling at her sister's antics while Eleanore was finding her cup of tea to be absolutely fascinating.
"No promises." I stated before materializing the door that led to the back of the church where we met Prince Wales.
"Yuka." Louise called out my name as I placed my hand on the door handle.
"I'll be back." I said while smiling at Louise and her sisters. None of them said anything but my master gave me a solemn nod, Cattleya waved at me, and Eleanore adjusted her glasses while staring intently at me. I opened the door and stepped into the light.
The first thing I noticed after I closed the door to Mugenkan was that there was magic in the air. Well, of course there was magic in the air in Halkeginia but that was not what I meant. No. As I walked around the compound, I confirmed that the magic in the air was tinged with two other kinds that I was familiar with. Two kinds of magic that shouldn't exist in this realm. One was definitely from Gensokyo. There was no way I would mistake that feeling for anything else. The other one was a complete surprise though, especially considering where I was at the moment. It was faint, but it was there all the same. A tingling sensation I have not felt in a long time that could only have come from one place.
"Makai..." I muttered as I looked around the area at the front of the church itself. It was strange. There was no visible evidence that any magical rituals were done in the vicinity. If that was the case...then why am I sensing-
Incomprehensibility ~ Hakurei Sealing Circle
"Guh!" The whispered words were followed by an instantaneous casting of a magic circle at my feet. My eyes widened at the fact that I did not even notice it in the first place. More to my surprise was the fact that the sealing circle was rendering me completely immobile despite my efforts to break free.
"Your first question is 'why didn't I notice this seal at my feet?' Followed up by 'why can't I move?' and 'why can't I name her voice?'" A female voice suddenly said from behind me. The voice was familiar to me as well. It should have been a voice I could place a name to but...for some reason, I couldn't!
"The answer to your first question is that the signature was faint enough so you couldn't pick it out from the thing film of Makai's magic signature I put up beforehand." I heard the voice moving around me and I saw who it belonged to...the very person Louise and I were sent here to find and stop. The Silent Harlequin.
"The answer to your second question is-" The impromptu exposition was suddenly interrupted when a very familiar sword suddenly partially popped up from behind the masked woman.
"Partner! You have to break out of there! There's this crazy ghost lady possessin-grughrk!" Derflinger frantically said before the woman forced the sword back down into its scabbard and locking it in place with a simple spell.
"As I was saying...the answer to questions two and three is well...just between you and me Yuka..." The woman trailed off before placing her left hand on her mask and slowly removing it.
"Well, let's just say that I've learned a thing or two while I was stuck in Makai!" Matilda's face twisted into a sinister smile. It was an unmistakable smile that only one being I knew could make.
"How are you Yuka? You look different. Did you get a haircut?" Matilda said with the same smile. Despite having another person's face and voice, it was unmistakable who the one before me was.
"Mi...ma..." I managed to somehow get out despite the pressure Mima's seal was giving me.
"Bingo~" The Evil Spirit of the Hakurei Shrine said triumphantly while twirling her chained crescent staff in her hands and pointing the tip at me.
That was when the magic circle started shining bright enough to blind me.