Recollections of Pain

A Familiar of Zero/Kara no Kyoukai Story

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

In a world where magic is the proof of nobility, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière is an outcast, bearing the stigma of failure, as she has never been able to use the simplest of spells. Scorned by society as "the Zero," a woeful all-but-commoner with pretensions to the high nobility, the Springtime Summoning Rite is her last chance to prove otherwise. To everyone's surprise, she summons something - but when millennia long traditions hold that the summoned being reflects the caster's ability as a mage, what does it mean that her familiar is blind?


Standing before the summoning circle she had painstakingly etched into the ground, as many before her had done that day, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière trembled, but unlike the others, it was not in anticipation or excitement at what was about to happen. For her peers at the Tristain Academy of Magic, the foremost institution of magical learning in Tristain, the Springtime Familiar Summoning was simply a formality, confirming to those around them that yes, they were mages, masters of the elements, nobles in fact, not just in name.

Their concerns revolved around what they would manage to summon, when their magic reached through the world and called to them the familiar most suited to them.

Many, of course, wished fervently for a dragon, griffin, manticore, or some other creature of legend to bind as a servitor, an external validation of internal self-image that would cementing their places in the social pecking order, but it was rare for anyone to summon such things. For as prior summonings had demonstrated, only the most powerful (which very few could be said to be) mages called forth such magical beasts, with the rest forced to content themselves with more mundane creatures like dogs, cats, or frogs, with even something like a giant mole being unusual enough to warrant a second look.

Still, no matter what disappointments they suffered, they were secure in the knowledge that they had summoned something, and so would be recognized as proper mages, their station in society reaffirmed by this success.

Louise had no such certainty, as in sixteen years of life she had never managed to cast even the simplest of spells correctly, with her attempts either doing nothing at all (when she was fortunate) or producing spectacular explosions with varying amounts of force depending on the complexity of the spell and the elements involved.

To her credit, the strawberry blonde was the best at magical theory among the students at the Academy, having pushed herself towards an understanding of the concepts underlying the spells in an attempt to find out what was wrong with her, but she had found that this academic knowledge didn't matter. She had worked tirelessly, hoping to achieve a breakthrough, trying the different elements, different spells, different techniques, trying to discern exactly what might be handicapping her abilities, but nothing had worked.

No matter what she tried in an effort at self-improvement, the outcome was the same: a series of explosions that seemed to rip through her soul as much as the world around her, crushing her self-esteem, shattering her self-image, blasting apart any lingering vestiges of hope she might dare to harbor.

Indeed, had she been anyone else, the talentless girl would have already been dismissed from the Academy years ago, sent home in disgrace, where she would either be disowned or married off at her young age - and she knew it. The only reason she had been allowed to remain this long was because of her pedigree, as Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière was the third daughter of the powerful Duke de la Vallière, the highest ranking noble of Tristain, and it did not do to anger potential patrons.

In other words, she was a failure who could not stand on her own merits, and everyone around her knew it-just as they knew that this "formality" was her very last chance at proving otherwise, with most jeering or placing bets on how spectacularly she would fail, for everyone except the most open-minded teachers were resigned to the fact that she would fail by now.

Even Louise herself, as she shook with tightly coiled fear and trepidation, the manifold consequences of failure marching through her mind as she thought of all the possible ways her spell could go wrong this time.

...though on the bright side, if it all ended in an explosion, maybe the blast would just erase her from existence so she wouldn't have to bear the shame and dishonor of being proven no more than a commoner with pretensions above her stations.

"Proceed, Miss Vallière."

Three words, spoken in a calm, supportive voice, yet to her they were as ominous as the thud of an invisible executioner's axe.

Still, there was no avoiding it now. She had prepared for this as best she could, practiced the wand motions, memorized the ritual chant, double, triple, quadruple-checked the summoning circle to make sure no errors had crept in.

Without regret or hesitation, she cast the spell...and the world exploded.


Things were rather more peaceful a world away, where two young women were having tea at the rustic Café Ahnenerbe, enjoying a welcome escape from the oppressive atmosphere of Reien Girls' Academy and the rumors that had trailed after both of them for the majority of the year, building up instead of diminishing as time passed. Such was only inevitable when one left a strictly guarded campus for prolonged periods of time (without permission or explanation), with these disappearances coinciding with the mysterious collapse of a bridge one's family had been building for the city, a serial murder incident that remained unsolved to this day, the death of two teachers, and the destruction of a classroom, resulting in a student being burned to death.

The fact that the two who were named in the whispers were the highest-ranked students in the school, in addition to being generally helpful and kind (not to mention two very attractive young women who spent an inordinate amount of time together), only added fuel to the fire. People loved to cast aspersions on those thought of as too perfect, after all, and so the thought of these two "saints" engaging in forbidden activities together, being partners in more than simply crime, was...tantalizing.

Of course, being the good students they were, neither paid much heed to these frivolous pieces of gossip, knowing that confirming or denying anything would only make things worse-something of special given the unusual perspicacity of these rumors.

For Fujino Asagami had been more than simply involved in both the destruction of Broad Bridge and the serial murder incident, and Azaka Kokutou had played her part in the death of Satsuki Kurogiri and the destruction of the Academy's chapel.

Neither was innocent of the crimes they were said to have committed, though the only ones who knew the truth were they themselves, fallen angels with bloody hands. Indeed, neither had much innocence left at all, given the horrors they had seen, experienced, inflicted-or those they had met, as both knew the bearer of the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception uncomfortably well.

With ominous black hair, ominous white skin, and ominous, bottomless, empty eyes that could see the end of things, that beautiful grim reaper reminded them uncomfortably of what they themselves were: murderesses who knew blood and pain more intimately than most humans knew themselves, who were as capable of ending lives as others ended sentences-and had done so for a variety of motives, including survival, revenge...or pleasure.

That was their wont, as mysterious beauties of the moonlit world, whose true talents were known only to others with business in the shadows of society, eerily alike to those who did not know them. And as those of a world apart, they occasionally needed time away from those of normal society, interludes where each could simply spend time in the company of the only one who truly understood them: the other

Ahnenerbe was their preferred haunt for such things, an antique cafe untouched by the sensibilities of the vogue, with ostentatious signage, plate glass windows, or a colorful menu of specials announcing its presence to the world. Save for the fact that its two storied timber-framed building with a base of brick was reminiscent of a shop in one of those rustic "European" villages one might find dotted and there, nothing about its exterior stood out.

Thus, it wasn't frequented by many, serving instead as a haven from reality to those who knew of it and sought a moment's respite in the aged establishment. For that it was well designed, given the comforting dimness inside, with only the tables near the door illuminated by the four-square windows cut into the walls, the starkness of the contrast drawing a sharp divide between the worlds of sun and moon.

At the very back, two girls in western-style dresses were seated across from one another, with the fiery Azaka speaking to Fujino in the very last of several outings-cum-mutual therapy sessions that they had shared through the many years they had known each other, both before and after each learned of what the other was capable of.

One impulsive, one thoughtful; one fiery, one calm; but both striking in their own way, they were as yin and yang, and together, found some measure of contentment that they could not when apart. They were old companions, after all, people who had been isolated from those they knew by choice or by circumstance and had discovered an "alike" in one another, despite their many differences.

Indeed, they were close enough that most picked out more than a trace of mutual admiration between them, whether it existed or not. Simply put, in some ways, they were all the other had after everything they had lost...but now, even that was coming to an end.

"I'm leaving, Fujino..." the apprentice fire mage was saying even now, shaking her head, her voice tinged with regret. "By the time the school year starts, I'll be gone from Mifune."

"I already know, Azaka," her companion replied, eyes closed as she allowed senses other than sight to take in every bit of this last bit of time they would share. "You want to go after Aozaki-san so she can teach you more as her apprentice, right?" A wan smile at a wincing girl. "You've been feeling guilty about it for a while."

"I'm sorry..." Azaka whispered, looking away, though it wouldn't do any good. It wasn't as if Fujino could see how much she regretted things from her posture, nor would it be polite to ask, as the other girl had lost her sight eight months ago, during a dark and stormy night in which two killers met and the world distorted. "I wish things were different, but-"

"You've done enough, Azaka," Fujino murmured gently. It was without the bitterness others might expect at the end of things, a simple reply at the close of a not so simple relationship, but their interactions had always been odd, compared to most people. And in truth, Azaka had done much for Fujino, helping the gravely injured psychic through her intensive physical therapy regimen after a long hospitalization and helping her learn to get around without the benefit of sight. "You've done enough."

For over a decade, since her father had begun thinking of her as a monster for her abilities, forcing a horrific regimen of drugs upon her to seal away her senses and block her powers, Fujino had felt like a ghost, a specter wandering the world as something that didn't quite belong. She was the perpetual observer, watching what other people did, how they expressed themselves, how they responded to stimuli - and had learned from them how to act, how to fake her reactions so that people would think of her as one of them. Before the events of eight months ago, she could not feel what she touched, had no sense of reality, as if her true self was simply sitting behind her eyes and watching a movie play out in perpetua.

When she walked, she only moved her body, not feeling the ground at all, having to confirm that her feet had moved by looking at her feet. When she was praised, she did not truly know pleasure - when she hurt herself, she did not know to cry, as if nothing had really happened to her, as if she did not exist. For her, everyday life was more an exercise of the mind than the body, something dreamed rather than something experienced, and so she was uncertain about reality.

No one truly wanted her around either, not her father, who thought of her as a demon or a monster; her mother who had sent her away to boarding school; her peers, who seemed disconcerted by her now more so than ever; or others in the world, who sought only to break her, to glean some kind of reaction from her emotionless facade.

It had only been when she discovered what pain felt like, when she had torn apart her tormentors, that she truly felt alive. A hateful sensation, but at last an anchor to the reality of this ludicrous world - one that had not completely disappeared after she fought a demon hunter...and lost. She had lost her sight in that battle where the old Fujino had died, having lost the ability to perceive the world around her. Yet the sense of touch remained, and so Fujino was thrust into a strange new world without light, an alien environment that she was learning about through hearing, touch and smell, with the strange sensations difficult to adapt to when she had spent a lifetime without them.

It was like relearning how to move, how to think, how to act-how to live all over again, and every step of the way, Azaka had been there. Patiently helping her, serving as a familiar anchor to reality so she was not overwhelmed, holding her hand as she rediscovered what it meant to be alive.

And now, like everyone else, the fire mage was going to leave her behind.

"At least you seem to be doing better now, Fujino," the pushy Azaka rambled, her bright and beautiful voice one of the few constants in the psychic's world. "You can get around without help now, moving around Mifune on your own, and..." She paused for a moment, glancing at her friend with a faint expression of warmth. "...you're smiling again."

"So I am," Fujino allowed, bringing a delicate teacup to her lips to hide the affection they betrayed. "Mostly thanks to you."

"Mm. I'm glad," the other girl murmured, though the corners of her lips curved with interest as she considered the psychic's more voluptuous form. "Though while I'm here, I have to ask..."

A moment's hesitation, as she considered how to best pose the question.

"...yes?" the blind one answered, the barest hint of a smirk gracing her normally solemn visage.

"...do you have something against bridges?"

"Mou...why would you think such a thing?" she countered, her expression a classically innocent mask that would only fool those who had not seen her more malevolent side. "Have I seemed unhappy about them?"

"Well, no..." Azaka allowed slowly, though she didn't lose her focus. "But a month ago another bridge was ah...twisted beyond repair, so..."

"Do you have something against chapels, Azaka?" came the pointed response, as the mask faded. "The chapel at the Academy was destroyed by an explosion, after all...during the winter break."

The fire mage grimaced, her cheeks coloring at the reminder of how she had fought against the brainwashed upperclassman Misaya Ouji and her fairy familiars in that very chapel, and how the fight had gotten out of hand when the fairies had slipped Ouji's control, forming a construct that threatened to destroy both of them outright.

"I-I had no choice in the matter," she replied, flustered. "I needed to stop Ouji from being killed...and keep her from burning Kaori's classmates alive as vengeance for their crimes."

A moment of silence passed between the two as they remembered Kaori Tachibana, a first year student who had been repeatedly raped and impregnated by Hayama Hideo, her homeroom teacher, because she would not agree to participate in Enjo Kosai, holding out due to her Christian convictions. In her shame, she immolated herself, leading to Misaya Ouji killing Hideo in an act of revenge, with the older girl fully prepared to burn the members of Kaori's class alive in retaliation for them pushing Kaori to kill herself.

Such a thing reminded Fujino all too well of what happened to herself, and the orgy of violence she had indulged in after awakening at last to pain. In some ways, she regretted not being able to complete her revenge, as the ringleader had escaped; in others, she regretted lashing out, leaving blood on her hands - but it was too late to pretend it had never happened.

The most she could do was keep others from burdening themselves with the same.

"I had no choice either," Fujino answered in kind, a wan expression flashing across delicate features. "If I had not acted, Miyazuki would have followed Yuuko Andou in taking her life."

Yuuko Andou being one of the eight girls who had taken her life by jumping from the Fujou building, leaping from the precipice to kill her own future, as the Andou family had collapsed from the strain of enormous debts-the girl named Miyazuki had been her best friend, who had agreed to commit suicide together with her to escape a future filled with nothing but filth.

But Miyazuki had not gone through with the suicide pact, leaving Yuuko to die alone. Overwhelmed by remorse, guilt and despair, she had gone to a lonely bridge at night, intending to slit her wrists and plunge into the cold waters of the bay below.

...she had not intended to meet a killer with demonic eyes, a terrible avatar of death who had so terrified her that she realized she did not truly want to die.

"Fujino...you..."

"She doesn't need to end up broken...like me," the murderess whispered sadly, sighing as she bowed her head.

"Fujino, you aren't..." Azaka began, but the fire mage just bit her lip, unable to continue. Instead, she simply placed a comforting hand on the other's wrist, since sometimes the touch of another could be far more reassuring than any words.

"Eight months, I was killed by...that Ryougi. But at the same time, I was saved. Something was lost, something was found, but it doesn't change the fact that I am broken. I always have been, though not as much now because of you."

"I'm broken too, you know..." the fire mage answered, smiling softly. "I like...special things, after all."

"I know."

It was a familiar dialogue between the two, a variation on a theme they had participated in many times in the last few months. They were much alike, after all, two raven-haired beauties whose features could entrance most passerbys, with inner natures and truths similar enough that they understood each other intimately. True, their auras were quite different, with one being more of the Magician to the other's High Priestess, if one were to use a tarot deck as a comparison, but at the same, like those two cards, they complemented each other perfectly.

They settled into a companionable silence for a time, just enjoying each other's company, but in the end, such a thing could not last. Already, the sun hung low in the sky, and it was time to say their goodbyes.

"Fujino, I..." Azaka murmured, searching for words as she began to pull away, but her companion beat her to the punch.

"I say," the psychic said, taking hold of the fire mage's fingers before they could move too far away, repeating words that had been said to her some time ago. Words that had been a gift from one now passed, to one who yet lived. "I want you to believe that this world is beautiful, no matter how cruel it is..."

Red eyes, the color of fresh-spilled blood, looked in the direction where Fujino knew her friend to be, though what they saw or did not, only she knew.

"...I'll remember, Fujino. Thank you...and goodbye."

With that, she slipped free of the other's hold, and with a last unseen smile, departed for an uncertain future, with the Asagami heiress listening to the sound of footsteps fading at last to nothing.

"Goodbye, Azaka," Fujino murmured with a note of finality, wishing the apprentice mage well. Somehow though, she had a feeling that she would not see her friend ever again.

Sometime later, the psychic stood, using her white cane to assist her, feeling the last lingering traces of the fading sun on her pale skin. Aside from the owner of the cafe, a grizzled old man dressed in silver and black, there was no one else left, as all others had already gone.

"Do you know where you're going?" an odd voice asked, one she didn't quite recognize.

"I will...eventually," was all she said by way of reply as she headed towards one of the cafe's dual exits, her cane tap-tap-tapping the way before her to ensure it was clear of obstacles.

"Then may you find what you are looking for."

These words drifted out to her as she passed through the open door, and out into the street, just as she stepped onto an oval of green light, and disappeared into a timeless void.


KABOOM!

It was a blast like nothing Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière had ever before experienced, with an indescribable sense of light and heat sweeping everything away, leaving nothing behind but a featureless plain of white, hanging in the air for a moment in time.

'I see. So I've finally killed myself,' thoughtsome small part of Louise's mind, seeing how her spell had apparently failed once again. 'I guess I wasn't good enough...'

...but such self-defeatist thoughts were banished by a mighty shockwave that sent her reeling like a leaf in a hurricane, going literally head over heels to do a faceplant in the sod. She lay there for several long seconds, feeling every bit of her body seeming to cry out in muddy humiliation, but forced herself to her feet despite how much she wanted to just crawl into the ground and die.

She was a Vallière, after all, and would not, could not, admit to failure.

Thus, as the afternoon sun blew away the dust and smoke of the earlier explosion, the strawberry blonde turned towards where the summoning circle had been to see if anything at all had appeared.

And indeed, something had.

The parting of the veil revealed an unconscious woman with refined, exotic features, long raven hair flowing down to the small of her back, and a figure was the envy of any at the Academy, but such things were not what Louise noticed first. What she-and everyone else-took note of was what the figure was wearing: the black and white habit of a nun, with what looked like a short white staff draped across her stomach.

In the background, Professor Colbert narrowed his eyes, muttering the incantation of a spell of detection under his breath to check for magical potential, wanting to see if Louise had somehow summoned a fellow noble. He frowned as he finished, not finding anything out of the ordinary, yet that in itself was something odd.

Louise's classmates were less charitable, when they recovered the urge to speak.

"Louise...you..." someone asked in a horrified gasp, whispers beginning to fly as the onlookers took in the sight of what Louise had summoned. "...what have you done?"

"A member of the church...with a pure white rod of office?" another asked. "That means...a prioress? Or a high ranking priestess?"

They had expected her to fail and summon nothing at all, or maybe to call an ant or butterfly by fluke or chance, not to have her spell bring forth a representative of the Church, whose teachings had shaped society for the last six thousand years.

Was it a sign of something?

All the same, they knew that Louise was simply the "Zero", a failed mage with a zero-percent success rate at using magic at all, so if they were bothered, they didn't let it bother them for long.

"Heh...are you really going to try and bind such a person as your familiar, you Zero?"a particularly vicious voice jeered from the crowd, one that the strawberry blonde thought she recognized as the water mage Montmorency, who having summoned a lowly frog, had no room to be casting aspersions on her ability. "You know that those who serve God cannot be bound to two masters, and that God will surely strike you down if you try."

"Yeah, give up you failure, just as God intended," another voice rang out, enjoying how Louise flinched at those words. "You've never succeeded before - what makes you think you stand a chance now. Like for the rest of us, the outcome was already determined. God is just sending you a message by letting you summon someone you can't bind, trapping you from trying again - you have no more tries. You are nothing but a Zero."

"You...you...you..." Louise began to chant, a red flush of anger washing over her features as she muttered the word, rocking back and forth on the heels of her feet.

"So go join the church," the heckler continued. "Like all the other crippled children who can't use magic and can't find anyone to marry them, just as you won't, you flat-chested shrew. In the end all you can do it-"

Something snapped at that moment in Louise's mind.

She had summoned something, and now these, these others still dared to make light of her? Would they never be satisfied with anything she did? Well, she'd show them...she'd show them all!

"My name is Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière," she chanted icily, trembling in place as she waved her wand as if slashing with a knife, daring anyone to challenge her claim or title. "Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers; bless this...humble being, and make her my familiar."

Before anyone could stop her, the third daughter of the Vallière family knelt beside the raven-haired girl and leaned down, capturing the other girl's lips with hers.

"It is done," Louise intoned, turning to glare at all those who had said she couldn't do it, or would be struck down. She was still alive, wasn't she, even after presuming as she did?

"It seems you have succeeded with 'Contract Servant' in only one try," Professor Colbert said, though the bald middle-aged man was notably subdued compared to his usual demeanor. "Well done, Miss Vallière."

Hiss!

Light erupted on pale skin, and the scent of burning human flesh filled the nostrils for a second as glowing green runes were etched into the back of the "priestess'" left hand. Yet she made no sound, no movement at all, until the branding was completed.

And in the horror-struck silence, crimson eyes opened onto a strange new world.


What...happened?

Fuijno Asagami remembered stepping through the door of Café Ahnenerbe out into the street, but there her memory failed, as she remembered a sensation of great speed and plunging into darkness, but nothing more.

But now where was she?

She was outside from what she could tell, senses other than sight informing her dutifully of the feel of the warm sun upon her skin and the presence of a large number of people, but at the same time, it wasn't Mifune, as the rustle of wind through trees, the feel of soft grass under her back and even the smell of the air betrayed the differences.

Those others seemed to be watching her warily, as if seeing what she would do, speaking with unfamiliar voices and even more unfamiliar topics of conversation, which she normally only heard from Azaka.

Familiars. Summonings. Runes. Spells.

A quickly fading pain in her left hand.

How odd.

Yet the intent of those around her merely felt curious, if somewhat disturbed, and she did not detect any feelings of hostility directed at her, so she felt for her white cane and used it to rise to her feet, straightening to her full height, miming the action of looking about in a rather well-mannered fashion.

An odd murmur, as a hush overtook the crowd, all eyes upon her.

"Where am I?" she asked in the general direction of the mass of people, her face impassive as she rested both palms on the pommel of her cane.

"You are at the Tristain Academy of Magic, the most prestigious institution of its kind in Halkeginia," a masculine voice answered from behind her, prompting Fujino to activate her clairvoyance for a moment to get a feel for her surroundings - but only for a moment, as she did not wish to call attention to her Mystic Eyes of Distortion. "Where are you from? And under whose authority do you fall, Sister...?"

The crowd (all European in features) was apparently dressed in some kind of uniform with white shirt, pleated black trousers or skirt with stockings, and black cloaks, all of which carried a wand. More interestingly, each was seemingly paired with a different creature – housecats, dogs, ravens...oh, and a dragon seemingly out of a storybook.

How odd - just as she had recovered some sense of who she was, truly stepping into her body instead of experiencing events in a way like reading a book, she was tossed into a realm of fantasy. And yet she could understand them, and they her - some sort of magic was no doubt afoot.

"Fuijno. Asagami Fujino," the psychic replied simply, turning slowly to the one who had spoken. "I am a charge of Mother Superior Riesbyfe Stridberg of the Vastel Bow-Buckler Knights."

"Vastel Bow Buckler...then are you one of the Church's battle-nuns?" another voice chimed in, from a speaker much younger than the man, a girl whose presence reminded her of a much younger Misaya Ouji, down to the imperious nature and sense of hidden despair. "Fighting in great battles against elves and other heretics?"

"I have come face to face with death and lived, yes," Fujino answered, while the other girl's eyes apparently widened, drawing conclusions as she would - she had said nothing untruthful, after all. "And you are?"

"I am Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, and your master from now on," the other girl said, her voice indicating great happiness. "I called you in my summoning and bound you as a familiar."

A raised eyebrow.

"I was unaware that humans could be bound as familiars, Miss Vallière," the raven-haired girl noted, as none of the stories she had read in an attempt to improve her "expressiveness", nor the ones that Azaka had shared, had indicated anything about human familiars.

"W-well, apparently they can be," this "Louise" sputtered, seemingly flustered by the mild reproach she sensed in Fujino's tone. "Why, do you know much about magic? Is that what your staff means?"

"No, Miss Vallière, it means I am blind."

"B-b-bli-"

Contrary to all the particulars of etiquette that her family and tutors had drilled her on since she was in the cradle, Louise de La Vallière's mouth dropped open in a poleaxed expression, freezing in place as the word "blind" raced through her mind. A blind familiar. A familiar reflected the nature of the master's magic. Her familiar was crippled, which meant...

A rictus of horror crossed her face, but mercifully, she was freed from thinking about such things for too long, as her mind shut down to prevent further damage, her body fainting dead away from the shock.

Professor Jean Colbert suppressed a sigh, palm cradling his forehead as he felt the beginnings of a headache begin to settle in.

This...was truly a complicated situation, given everything that had transpired, and he had a feeling special accommodations would be necessary, since a human familiar had different needs from other sorts of beast...especially one which apparently could not see.

"Students, you are dismissed for now," the teacher enjoined his charges. "Please head back to the castle and inform Mrs. Chevreuse that she is to take over instruction for the day. I will be along shortly."

The students looked at Colbert, then to the fallen Louise and the odd woman who had been summoned as if wanting to see what would happen, but seeing the professor give them a stern look, floated into the air, taking off towards the castle in the distance.

"Come with me then, if you would, Sister Fujino," the man sighed, shaking his head. "It appears we have much to discuss due to the unusual circumstances of your arrival. Given your situation, I suppose you would prefer an escort to the castle?"

"I am not entirely helpless, Mr..."

She trailed off meaningfully, leaving the other an opening to give his name.

"Ah, heh heh, how silly of me to forget. I am Professor Colbert."

"...Mr. Colbert, but yes, that would be much appreciated," she answered, her posture looking firm and graceful, though there was no real emotion in her gaze. "I am not as familiar with this area as you are, assuredly."

Nodding, the much-put upon professor used his wand to levitate Louise's body so that she could be more easily brought back to the castle, beginning to beckon for her to follow, but stopping in mid-gesture, thinking better of it.

"Come along then," he said at last, heading off to the grand Academy in the distance, with the mysterious young woman who had been summoned falling into step beside him, sweeping the area around her with her cane, and the unconscious form of Louise de la Vallière trailing along behind.


Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière shuddered as she woke from her sleep, hyperventilating, eyes wide with terror and trepidation as she looked over her surroundings, frantically trying to confirm where she was, while looking for anything out of the ordinary, though she relaxed when she saw that she was in the ornate room that served as her quarters at the Academy, not outside, and that it was nighttime. Obviously then, she had simply had a terrible nightmare in which she had summoned a familiar who was blind, a girl who, for all her beauty and apparent power, was as crippled as Louise's magic.

"Haa…aaah…hhaa…ahh…haaa…"

It took quite a few minutes for her breathing to calm and to suppress her involuntary shaking, her eyes flittering across her surroundings to make sure there was nothing suspicious about. Nothing at all, except-

A shadowy figure stood at the window, with hair of night and ominous eyes the color of blood, a staff of pure white in her hands, causing her to shrink back and reach for her wand, only to find to her horror that it had been left on her dresser and was quite out of reach.

"W-who are you?" Louise whimpered, her expression fearful as she trailed off into a pitiful mumble.

"Shouldn't you know, as the one who summoned me earlier?" Fujino asked quietly, words that evoked unwelcome flashes of memory that chilled the Vallière girl to the bone.

What she had seen wasn't a dream.

She had summoned a familiar. A battle-maiden of the Church.

A women who was blind.

No.

"No...it can't be...you..."

In spite of all the effort she had put into magecraft, Founder Brimir had apparently spurned her offerings, making a mockery of her summoning rite - one that the prophet himself had invented to call forth the most suitable familiar for a mage. After year upon year of failure upon failure, after dreaming and hoping and praying each and every night for a miracle...this was what she was given?

Instead of a dragon, manticore, griffin, or some other noble beast that would make her family proud, she had summoned a blind woman whose assets put her to shame, a servant of the Church who could never be truly loyal to her - it was no doubt a message from God.

'A sign from Brimir and God that I am nothing but a Zero...'

The strawberry blonde swallowed, feeling hot, heavy tears welling up in her eyes as the realization struck her. God hated her, despised her pretensions of nobility enough to send a very personal message to her. For in a world where nobility was defined as the capacity to perform magic, she who had no magic was thought of as nothing but a trumped up commoner who was looked down upon by everyone, no matter her title or the wealth of her family.

With this...with this...

"Get out..." Louise whimpered raggedly, trying to resist the sobs and hics threatening to overcome her. She wouldn't...she wouldn't show weakness in front of someone from the Church. "Get out."

"Miss Vallière? Is something-"

"GET OUT!"

A hysterical half-scream half-snarl issued from the young mage's throat as she hurled pillows at the shadowed figure she had summoned, though oddly, none of them seemed to hit, simply twisting out of the raven-haired beauty's way as the "nun" obeyed her command and left, her cane tapping along the floor before her to give her warning of potential obstacles on the ground.

It felt like a small eternity before the battle-maiden disappeared from her sight and exited the room, with the resounding boom of the closing door the death knell of her hopes and dreams.

Nothing made sense anymore.

The walls seemed to close in, with her once opulent room seemingly like a prison, as sobs and cries ripped through her small frame, nearly inhuman wails clawing their way from her throat and lungs as she mourned and screamed and shook, thrashing about, clawing, curling into a ball, until her voice was hoarse and she collapsed in a haze of pain and exhaustion.

'What do I do...Mother...Sister...God...why? What do I do?'


About the grounds of the Tristain Academy of Magic, a solitary figure cloaked in shadow walked in silence, quiet footsteps preceded by the tapping of her long white cane, helping her to get her bearings in this brave new world she had been cast into. It was a strange place that reminded her somewhat of Reien, where most attending were of the upper class, and yet it was quite different in the way strange powers like magic were handled.

In this society, magic was paramount, and ability in the arcane arts was the mark of nobility, not wealth or political power (though those surely helped), a doctrine passed on by the Church since the time of the Founder many years ago. It was for that reason, Colbert had explained, that Louise, a daughter of the powerful Duke de la Vallière, was mocked and tormented by her peers - and the fact that she had summoned an odd familiar had not helped.

Unprecedented, to be sure, even if Colbert thought he recognized the runes, though he had concentrated his questions more on her blindness and limitations, as well as probing at the extent of her knowledge and abilities.

Blindness and other disabilities were not usually talked about in general Halkeginian culture, for if one had the resources, magic could cure most things short of death, and if one did not, one could make...other arrangements, such as selling oneself into indentured servitude for an extra stipend, as some peasants did to advance their lot in life. Those who were...damaged, however, who magic could not heal, were ostracized as an example of society's secret shames, not spoken of, let alone allowed to walk the streets - and in the case of the lower classes, couldn't normally survive.

If one had wealth and magical ability, such issues could be somewhat mitigated, but the stigma still existed, even for those of the wealthiest or most powerful families. Most of the time, nobles suffering from incurable ailments or crippled in some way were just kept at home and not spoken of much outside their lands. They could travel and had access to things according to their station, but were certainly not considered marriageable, or considered for most positions in greater society, as in the case of Louise's sister, Cattleya Yvette La Baume Le Blanc De La Fontaine.

Commoners for whom there was no cure, on the other hand, had even more limited options. In their case, their only real choice was to give care and custody of the disabled individual (especially if it was a child) to a representative of the Church, who would find them some means of meaningful work at one of their monasteries or convents.

In both cases, it was preferred that such individuals were kept out of sight and out of mind, and those in Albion, Germanina, Gallia, or Tristain almost never saw the commoner variant out in public, nor many members of the Church in general, as many of the lower ranking ones remained in the Holy Empire of Romalia, cloistered away in one of the facilities designed for their use.

So the status quo was maintained, and society not forced to face its failings.

Until now, of course, when an odd summoning had called forth one of them - a sightless maiden of battle, with the broken girl binding her as a familiar - a strange situation for everyone involved, though he had assured her that the Academy would make sure she was treated well, and Fujino had assured the man she had no ill feelings on the matter.

One served in different ways, after all, and she had certainly encountered worst.

After all, nothing could unsettle her as badly as the bearer of Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, and Shiki Ryougi was nowhere to be found in this particular world.

So she explored, quietly wandering as best she could with senses other than sight - away from the girl who had summoned her and now seemed gravely troubled by her presence, who reminded her too much of Kaori Tachibana and Tsuyuha Miyazuki.

But though she was sightless, Fujino was all too aware of eyes gazing upon her from the distance, as if trying to take her measure.

The eyes of a maid, troubled by the presence of a member of the Church and how someone her age could seem so dignified and assured...even when unable to see.

The eyes of a lustful blond, distracted from a rendezvous with a first year by the exotic beauty's lovely figure and delicate features, struck by the grace of her movements...and smirking at the thought she could not see him watching.

The eyes of a watchful Jean Colbert, trying to decipher her motives and intentions, as he knew better than anyone else how corrupt the Church could be after certain experiences in his past.

And the eyes of a winged shadow, passing in the sky.