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 what does it mean that her familiar is blind?
In a blink, eyes the color of fresh-spilled blood opened upon a familiar scene: a fight to the death against the only being in the world that Fujino Asagami, the most powerful psychic in the world, truly feared.
The last memory she gained before losing her sight.
Rain, pooling water, violent wind - and a terrible grim reaper clad in a bone-white kimono, bearing ominous eyes that could see the end of all things.
The flashing arc of a knife carved a lingering trace in the darkness, striking without hesitation at her neck, a strike barely avoided with a desperate evasion-no, avoided only because the psychic flinched from her assailant in fear.
From the woman who followed through with her assault after her arm had been mangled beyond recognition, knowing she was overmatched and yet smiling. From the woman whose eyes showed no fear of pain or death, only a crazed thrill at being able to hunt such dangerous prey...
"Why...why doesn't she stop...even when her arm is broken...?"
Her breathing echoed in the air of the cavernous expanse, a rough, ragged sound that betrayed her desperation. For she was fighting not only against the reaper in white, but against the implacable advance of time, the eternal predator against which nothing could last in the end.
Soon enough, if she didn't end it soon, the pain in her abdomen would surpass her ability to bear it, as something inside broke.
And when that happened, the girl who only wanted to know what it was like to live would die.
Her insides were on the verge of breaking down - it was meaningless to fight. And yet, to be human was to do meaningless things, to fight the inevitable even knowing the outcome.
Odd, really, how one kind of meaningless act was called stupidity while another was called bravery or perseverance.
Where did the boundary lie? It was uncertain really, as boundaries were established only by a combination of personal desire and external influences, so that the world was full of empty boundaries, walls of one's own making that separated the normal from the abnormal.
Boundaries only existed when others acknowledged them - otherwise, they did not exist.
And thus, there was nothing standing between Fujino Asagami and her nemesis, who even now, appeared from the shadows, knife gripped tightly in her hand.
Kill or be killed.
There was no other option.
Looking at this foe, Fujino could think only that, as she exerted her power, her vision distorting as the fulcrums created on the foe's head and leg rotated in opposite directions and twisted her adversary apart.
...or rather, it should have twisted her.
But the reaper in white nullified her power just by swinging the knife in her right hand.
"Who...are you?" the psychic could only ask, voice trembling as she looked upon the impossible sight of her implacable foe, who returned her gaze with infinitely deep eyes.
"Everything in existence has an imperfection," the other intoned hauntingly, the voice of death somehow as Fujino had always imagined it - utterly serene. "Living things especially, but even air, will, and time. Anything with a beginning has an end - an end my eyes can see. They're special, like yours."
A terrible smile graced the lips of that beautiful grim reaper, whose ominous black hair, ominous white skin, and ominous, bottomless, empty eyes that could see death itself brought the psychic to a panic.
"That's why..." the figure of death continued. "If it exists, I could even kill God."
The reaper breaks into a run, closing the distance in a handful of steps and slamming the psychic to the ground with a power her thin frame belied, straddling her.
"Are you..." Fujino swallowed, trembling at facing an inevitable end so close. "Are you... going to kill me?"
But the other did not answer.
"Why? Why are you going to kill me?" the psychic asked desperately, every part of her screaming that she did not want to die. That she wanted to live. "I only killed because my wound was hurting."
The reaper laughed - an empty, hollow sound that held no trace of mirth.
"That's a lie," the other said at last, looking down at her defeated foe. "If you were, then why did you laugh? That time before, and even now. Why do you seem so happy?"
Fujino hesitated for a moment, placing her hand over her mouth to trace the contours.
Her lips...they were curved upwards...bent.
She could not feel her expression, so she did not know it at the time, but she had been smiling.
"In the end, you were enjoying it," the voice of the grim reaper rang out. "You liked hurting others. That's why that pain would never go away."
"...because if it did, you would have no reason to kill" goes unsaid.
"No...that...that..." the psychic murmured, shaking her head, trying to deny it. It couldn't be true. She was different from the one who hunted her. She had to be...
"I already told you, we are alike," the other replied, as the knife slammed down, and everything distorted.
A roar like the crash of thunder was heard, as metal twisted, tore apart with shrieks and screams like those of banshees escaping from the underworld. The ground gave way, the ceiling caved in - sheets of rain sliced through yawning gaps in the construction, as if the storm outside had finally battered its way inside.
And like a doll with strings cut, Fujino Asagami just lay there, her legs unmoving, her mind empty, her breaths slowing, with the only thing left the unbearable agony within.
'I'm going to die...I'm going to...'
A choked, strangled cough, producing blood.
Blood was all she saw, staining the world a crimson hue, as every part of her seemed to burn away, melting in the rain.
"No...I do not... want to die."
A pitiful croak. And yet that was her true desire, the first true wish she'd had: she did not want to die. She did not want to disappear.
For she'd only just begun to live...
On the edge of emptiness, she realized it at last.
'... I want to live more. I want to talk more. I want to love...more...'
A tear escaped as her body shuddered, the blood roiling up her throat a sign of the impending end, as even the crimson-stained world faded away. Only the pain remained, and even that was quickly fading...
This...this suffering was what she had enjoyed inflicting upon others, not truly understanding what it meant. But now...now she understood the weight of the sins she bore, the meaning of the blood she spilled.
"...It hurts. It really hurts... It hurts so much... I might cry... Mother, can I cry?" she whispered, knowing no one will hear her, knowing that in the end, she would die alone, with no one to mark her passing.
"Are you in pain?" a voice asked. It was gentle, like a calming breeze, but in fading thoughts, it seemed... familiar. "You should have said so, if you were hurting."
Nothing more was said, as a knife pierced her chest, and her remaining sense of pain, like everything else, vanished into utter darkness.
Nothing more remained, save endless winter and old night.
After an uncertain amount of time caught in the embrace of the infinite void of dreams, consciousness stirred, and as if awakening from a long and fevered sleep, unseeing eyes the color of blood opened upon a strange new world, where, just as on that fateful night eight months ago, it was raining.
Only this time, there was no vision of death before her, only the loamy scent of rain upon dry earth wafting upon the evening air, mingling with the smell of aged oak and pine as she lay in a bed that was not her own - or at least, not the one she was used to.
'I have not dreamed of that scene for a long time. Why do I see it now, I wonder? Is it because of that void I passed through, which reminded me of...Ryougi Shiki?'
Even now, she was not particularly comfortable with the thought of her...savior (and killer), the one whose eyes, whose very existence seemed empty, defined only in opposition to another. Thus, she focused on her surroundings, and what she remembered of the day before.
'...certainly different from those of Reien Girls Academy...it seems that the odd summoning after I left Ahnenerbe was not simply a dream after all. Curious.'
Well, she hadn't thought herself so imaginative as to create a world from scratch, as despite her attempts to expand her views on the world since the accident, her long period of sensory-deprivation left her lacking the subtle nuances of imagination. Even her essays lacked...expressiveness, so she doubted that could have dreamed up this odd amalgam of medieval and contemporary mores, where magecraft was openly practiced (and endorsed by the Church as a gift from God to the nobility, setting them above common men) and phantasmal beasts were bound in servitude to humans with distinctly modern attire.
'For now, the assumption of others that I am a battle-nun of the Church of this world seems to be working in my favor, granting a certain amount of deference and respect offsets the discomfort my blindness induces. However...'
She needed more information, and so, sensing no one else around, the psychic closed her eyes, tapping into her abilities as a clairvoyant to reacclimatize herself with her surroundings. After all, while she was quite capable of functioning with senses other than sight and had already created a mental map of the space around her, there were certain advantages in information gathering that her abilities conferred...
As expected, she was in a room in the servant quarters, laying on a bed in a rather spartan apartment much like the ones occupied by the maids and cooks who kept the Academy in good working order. Which really was what she was used to, given that the dorms at Reien Academy had been much less opulent than the student rooms in the Tristain Academy of Magic.
For although Reien had also been a school for the wealthy, there was an austere quality to it, as students learned to live within certain limits and boundaries, apart from the rest of the world.
Fujino's lips curved into a wry semblance of a smile as she remembered how her friend Azaka had muttered about the school having something like a natural bounded field by virtue of its isolation from the world. The fire mage of her acquaintance had never held back about her true feelings, as she wasn't someone to pretend to be something she wasn't - much unlike her.
After all, until that night in the rain, the psychic had not felt anything at all. It was as if she had been an actress on the grand stage of the world, playing the part of a normal human being to disguise her inability to feel. Watching what other people did, how they expressed themselves, how they responded to stimuli, what they expected in certain situations - these were second nature to her now.
And so, after rising from bed and padding over to a chair at a round table facing the door, she stretched out her senses, reaching through the walls of the servant quarters, through the grey haze of rain towards the main castle to see what information she might gather, as the pitter-patter of plummeting droplets of moisture against grass and stone played an overture of muted dissonance.
Even during the period of time leading up to exams or when major projects were assigned, the library of the Tristain Academy of Magic was a lonely place at night, so it was all the more so at the start of a term, when none had cause to visit it.
None, that was, save Professor Jean Colbert, also called the "Flame Snake", a lonely, broken middle-aged man who had spent the last twenty years of his life as a teacher at the Academy, trying to atone for sins he would never fully be forgiven for, even if he worked his entire life to make amends.
In his past life, before turning to academia, he had led the innocuously named "Magical Research Experimental Group," which was in reality a black operations team of magically talented (but not influential) nobles charged with protecting the kingdom by any means necessary. Unlike the army or the Palace Nobles, his job had not been to prevent incidents, but to limit the damage they caused, arriving on the site of a great disaster and exterminating all present - guilty and innocent alike - in order to protect those unrelated to the incident.
Not bounded by moral values such as good and evil, he had thought himself a protector of the balance, one who did what was necessary to preserve the realm, feeling nothing as he ended lives with the ease that others ended sentences.
...until the day he discovered the truth.
The truth that his unit had simply been pawns in the schemes of foreign powers and the corrupt nobility, used to commit murder after murder, atrocity upon atrocity so that his employers would not have to get their hands dirty.
And so he'd deserted his post, but not using the skills he'd learned through blood and sacrifice to destroy all records of who he had been before. On that day, he swore an oath not to use Fire for destruction ever again, becoming a teacher that he might protect the youth of Tristain from going down that dark road, dissuade those foolish enough to follow in his footsteps, any who might unwittingly become war criminals, guilty of things that most could not even begin to imagine.
...which was why the fact that Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière had summoned an agent of the Church as her familiar - a battlemaiden from the Holy Empire of Romalia itself, it seemed - had him so on edge (and why he'd been relieved when he heard how the nun had requested a change from the standard living arrangements).
For the members of the Church, both as the polity called the Holy Empire of Romalia and as an ecclesiastical entity, were generally not as concerned with the salvation of humanity as with maintaining their temporal power and ruthlessly eliminating any rivals to their influence. And while it was true that they kept the old histories, ran orphanages, acted as arbiters in international disputes and such - Colbert knew that they had ulterior motives behind their "generous" acts.
Keeping the histories meant they could teach whatever lies (or conceal whatever truths) they pleased, running orphanages meant that they always had a loyal pool of talent to draw from for their agents (especially when one high-noble or another was guilty of an indiscretion and needed an illegitimate child taken off their hands), and acting as arbiters meant that the Kings and Emperors of Halkeginia saw the Church as the ultimate source of their authority.
'Although they've never been quite as direct about their intentions as now, when a Cardinal has been installed as Lord Regent of Tristain, and a former prelate leads the rebellion in Albion...' the fire mage thought to himself, rather unsettled by this turn of events.
Taken into conjunction with the summoning of a Church Knight by the youngest daughter of Tristain's most powerful noble family - the only ones directly linked to the royal family by ties of blood and marriage - Colbert suspected that some grand machination by the Pope was afoot.
Of course, as a bumbling professor who spent more time in his laboratory than he did talking to his colleagues, he no longer had access to the intelligence network he was once a part of, but he knew enough from his days as a black operative to be aware of the long reach the Church had.
'And of the fact that the knights of the Church were rumored to have techniques and abilities kept secret from those not of their sacred orders...such as concealing one's status as a mage,' the balding man mused with a frown, recalling how "Sister Fujino" had either had her magic sealed - or simply didn't register on his 'Detect Magic' scan. Thinking back recalling that part of the purpose of the "Magical Research Experimental Group" was to develop new, more deadly tricks to add to the Tristanian arsenal of spells. 'Advanced techniques utilizing one's mastery of an element to create effective force multipliers...'
His specialized "Flame Bomb" transmutation was one of these, a technique that utilized his hidden abilities with alchemy to transmute water into aerosolized droplets of oil, with applications ranging from anti-personnel/anti-army (as a fast-burning fuel-air mix could devour all the oxygen in an area, causing all within to suffocate instantly), to anti-fortress (rendering dampness no obstacle for the destruction of a building...or a village). It had been quite useful for spreading panic through the ranks of enemy forces as he, the Flame Snake, annihilated all those who stood in his way under cover of darkness (as humidity was higher at night anyway).
...but those days were far behind him now, and he had no wish to be a pawn of anyone ever again.
And so Jean Colbert had secluded himself in the library of the Academy, one of the greatest collections of knowledge on the Continent (second only to Romalia's archives), searching its thirty-meter high shelves for any information he could find concerning Church Knights, records of human familiars being summoned (apocryphal or otherwise), or the odd runes that had appeared on "Sister Fujino's" left hand.
'As the Church provided us with the circle and incantation for the holy rite of summoning, they may be able to influence it in their favor...and I need to know if that was done in this case...'
...for Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière , as someone who longed to be successful, who would do almost anything for a chance to gain recognition, would be a perfect target of manipulation, if that was truly the Church's aim.
Already, he had exhausted the tomes of the ordinary bookshelves to which students had free access, and was now in the restricted section called "Fenrir's Library", full of the secrets of the past that only a select few had access to.
'I will find the truth. For the sake of peace...I must.'
In the clear night sky above the storm clouds, a dragon soared, unseen by any on the ground, its translucent blue scales glinted in the light of the twin moons of Halkeginia as it bore a rider upon its back - a powerful mage with the build of a child, whose short, blue hair fluttered in the wind as she calmly read a book, seemingly uncaring of the world.
Were one able to see the dragon-rider, one would be surprised, as one would be unable to discern any emotion from her, as her delicate features betrayed nothing of what lay within her heart, save a fleeting tinge of melancholy and coldness, like that of the winter wind.
"Sylphid," the girl murmured after a fashion, blankly staring at the face of the beast she rode, which, noticing it had its master's attention, snorted pleasantly.
"Hm, what's that, big sister?" came the reply in lovely human speech, as the curious dragon tilted her head in curiosity, seeming larger than ever when she spread her wings, the rhythmic beating keeping them aloft.
Normally, dragons did not talk, for though they were superior mythical beasts in a class of their own, their intelligence did not grant them that ability.
They were powerful creatures of magic, with alignments to one of the four great elements, but were widely known to be mindless - no more intelligent than a horse or a dog. Such was the nature of the elemental drakes remaining in Halkeginia to this day.
"Your name," the girl said quietly. "Sylphid."
"Ah, a name! A superb name!" the dragon exclaimed, as it did a barrel roll in excitement, distracting the mage from her reading and forcing her to hold on tight to avoid falling to her death. "Sylphid! A human name for Irukukuu!"
"Not a human name," the girl named Tabitha corrected, hair only mildly ruffled as the dragon righted itself. "Ancient wind faery."
"An ancient fairy! Is that so?" the dragon asked, eyes widening as its body shook with joy, violently shaking the frail dragon-rider, though Tabitha wasn't concerned, as her sense of balance was excellent. "'Irukukuu" is a name for dragons. It means a gentle breeze! But Sylphid can be a second name for when I'm together with big sister!"
A particularly apt name at that, as 'Sylphid' was not simply an elemental drake, but an ancient wind dragon - one of the legendary rhyme dragons that had once lived in deserted mountains and the depths of the forests where human eyes had not yet reached, but were now said to be extinct.
"Around other people..." the diminutive mage said after a few moments.
"Yes, big sister?"
"Do not speak," came the icy words of command, an absolute order that brooked no disobedience.
...of course, that didn't mean the dragon couldn't whine about it. While rhyme dragons were extremely intelligent and could understand human speech, they required many years to grow to adulthood. This particular one was roughly 200 years old, to go by the annual growth rings of her scales, but her mentality was only equivalent to that of a human of about 10 years of age.
Still, one could not approach such a beast carelessly, even if it was a child.
For even in the childhood of a rhyme dragon, its species boasted intelligence superior to that of a human being, both in terms of language abilities, in manipulation of the ancient "Magic of the Firstborn", and in spatial and kinesthetic awareness, besides also being a strong mythical beast which could fly at nearly the speed of sound while launching powerful breath attacks.
Thus, "Troublesome," was the answer, delivered in a flat monotone.
And it would certainly be so if other people were to find out that Sylphid was a rhyme dragon, given that her species was said to be extinct. Knowing the pragmatism of mages, Tabitha worried that the Tristain Academy of Magic or the Gallian Royal Family would wish to take the dragon away to conduct research or experiments on her - which would at the least be highly inconvenient.
"...but that's so boring! It's boring unless I can speak!" the dragon protested, not wanting to have to hide its ability.
With a detached expression and a sense of finality, the blunette looked out into the distance.
"Bear with it," the ice mage said in a near whisper, as Sylphid became silent.
Against the utter impassivity of her tiny master, the dragon knew she could not win, for that was the constant expression on her summoner's face. A blank mask - when moody, when normal, when eating, when angry, when thinking - her expression was unreadable.
"...you win, big sister," the rhyme dragon replied dejectedly, falling silent. For several long minutes there was no sound to be heard save the flapping of her great, leathery wings, and the turning of a page. And then... "Oh...yes! When big sister summoned me, there was that girl with pink hair! She summoned a human woman. It was funny, but her eyes... " Once again the dragon trailed off, seeming to swallow. "...they were scary..."
Unseeing eyes and a regal aura, with an impassive gaze that surpassed even that of the chevalier who held the Seventh seat of the Knights of the North Parterre, the duchess who had been stripped of her birthright and the her royal family name, wearing the moniker of a doll.
Such was the nature of the one the Vallière had summoned, a being that deeply unsettled Sylphid for one reason or another.
"Big sister..." she asked hesitantly. "Who was the pink-haired girl, to summon someone so scary?"
Footsteps echoed through the halls of the Academy as a restless Kirche Augusta Frederica von Anhalt Zerbst wandered, her salamander at her side as they walked, ruminating on the events of the day.
As to why she was not outside, well, Kirche had never been fond of the rain. Not that this was a surprise to most who knew her, given that she was a triangle-class fire mage whose runic name was "Ardent", and was thus at a severe disadvantage in such conditions. Granted, she didn't expect to be attacked at the Academy, since she was careful not to put her life on the line for trivial matters, and her reputation as a "barbaric Germanian" extended to matters of war as well as "love" - not that she'd ever truly been in love.
The dark-skinned redhead was indeed someone whose passions were simple and uncomplicated, going after what she wanted and doing as she pleased without a care for the thoughts of others - but that was precisely why she avoided falling in love. Feelings of love, after all, were simply a temporary lapse in judgment, almost a form of madness or mental illness that clouded one's ability to perceive and deal with the world around them. Attraction and physical desire was one thing, and the Germanian did enjoy drowning in lust when she felt the need, but anything more than that?
For all that she was "Ardent", she was not about to lose control of herself and form unwanted attachments that could end up leading to irrational thoughts and illogical actions, which in turn led to needless worries, jealousy, insecurity, and needlessly risking one's life over trivial affairs.
Case in point: Montmorency Margarita la Fère de Montmorency and "Katie", the girls who had gotten into an altercation that morning over Guiche of all people. The water mage Montmorency had even attacked a battlemaiden of the Church in the process, and had Kirche not intervened...
'...I don't even want to know what would have happened. Especially as this one has admitted to having fought against what I can only think was an elf, and served as the direct charge of a Mother Superior, the head of an Order, even after her blindness. I wonder now if those first guesses about Sister Fujino once being a prioress, second only to the Mother Superior, were correct after all...'
But if so, what did it mean that the Zero had summoned her, and what's more, was frightened out of her mind at the mere sight of the familiar?
It was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. Still, perhaps there was a key to this - the fact that while Sister Fujino was blind (something that was most unsettling to most, given Halkeginian attitudes towards the disabled), her disability did not define the essence of her being, or mean that her other talents were meaningless.
'... given that familiars are supposed to reflect their masters...'
She wondered if that meant that Louise herself had a great deal of hidden potential in one of the elements, given that she would have to in order to summon someone of such.
'But what? She can't use fire, water, wind, or earth, so clearly she is...wait...'
The redhead froze in place, her footsteps stilling before one of the windows to the outside as an odd thought crossed her mind, remembering that in the holy texts of which they learned, there were five elements, not four - even if the last - the Holy Power of Void possessed by the Founder himself, had long disappeared from history, existing only in the records of...
For Louise to successfully summon and bind to her service a woman who had fought against the elves as a high-ranking member of the Church, one whose service should be sworn only to God and the Prophet through who His Will was known...did that mean...?
...that was something even a lover of taboos did not yet dare to think.
"Pyaaauuooau?" the great, dark-red lizard that had been keeping pace with her croaked, tilting its head inquisitively as it looked at its master. Roughly translated, it meant something like "is something the matter?"
"You know, Flame...have you ever thought about how insignificant our existence in this world is?" the redhead asked quietly, looking upon the curtain of grey that enveloped everything outside.
"We who are wise, who reign over other creations of the Lord, we who are more outstanding than demi-humans and mythical beasts - no offense meant to you of course," Kirche said, adding the hasty qualification as an afterthought so that her salamander would not become offended. "There are so many of us, so complacent and accepting of our place that we don't move forward, that we never look at the world around us."
An impatient huff, as if the reptilian beast was telling her to get to the point.
"Oh, you're not the most patient one either, huh? Even for a reptile, which should be good at sitting around and doing nothing," the Germanian noted wryly, earning a somewhat irate look from the flame salamander. "I used to think that I was different, but it turned out I was like everyone else in wanting to be a better mage. There was nothing special about me - about Germanians - about anyone at all. So what if we could use magic? So could people all over the continent, mages all looking down on one another, competing with one another, doing the same things and thinking they were special."
A quiet, mirthless chuckle fell from her lips.
"When I realized that, it felt like the world around me began to fade into a dull gray void," the flame mage related, thinking about the memories of the past. "Everything became less enjoyable, and I wondered if there was meaning in the everyday things. I looked for something to fill me, something beyond the ordinary in every sense of the word, but there was nothing, no one, really."
She'd been to Academies all over the continent, seen the things they did, experienced the lives of the students there, and for what? To experience more of the same, to see each place more or less like another, subtle variations on a common theme?
Her lips curved up ever so slightly as she contemplated the day and the oddities of it, which was enough to lift her melancholy by just a hint.
"It's a mystery, right?" she asked to no one in particular, before nodding to herself and looking away from the drab grey of the world outside. With that, she resumed her walk, forcing her familiar to scramble to follow. "...right."
She sat motionless at her desk, seemingly a pink-haired doll posed to look out into the gloom of evening, as a curtain of rain blanketed the landscape, obscuring everything. The grounds, the moon, the stars - all were hidden, as if they'd never existed in the first place.
Just like her hopes.
Over the last sixteen years of her life, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière had worked harder than anyone else, pushing herself past any reasonable limits, exhausting herself in an attempt to break through her handicap and finally cast a spell successfully. She'd dedicated herself to her studies, shunning the company of others as she read every book she could find on magical theory, experimented with every concentration exercise and every odd technique she'd heard of, desperately trying to carve out a place for herself in this world of magic.
...and for what?
So she could summon a blind woman and prove to everyone that she was a failure? It didn't matter that the woman might have once been a battlemaiden - for what use was someone who was so...crippled?
As everyone knew, a familiar was supposed to allow its master to see through its eyes, retrieve items that the master might desire, or to protect its master from any and all enemies, but she couldn't expect to have any of these from the woman she'd summoned.
Most obviously, one could not see through the eyes of a familiar if the familiar itself could not see, but worse than that, such a being would be incapable of finding items or protecting her.
The very notion of a crippled familiar was laughable, and had it happened to anyone else, Louise would have joined in laughing at the person's misfortune.
But it had happened to her, and in its way was far worse than having summoned nothing at all.
If she hadn't managed to call forth a familiar, she would have been expelled from the Academy and presumably disowned by her parents, forced to live as a commoner - a thought she couldn't begin to fathom.
She'd rather die than be stripped of her noble status, for was it not better to beg in heaven than reign in hell, than to be cast into the teeming masses of the sea of humanity?
In answer to her prayers, something had appeared in her summoning circle, granting her hope - an emotion which she hated with a vengeance, for it always betrayed her, yet could not help but cling to, prolonging her suffering.
Every noble was required to summon a familiar, to prove their ability by binding their first vassal to their side - every noble except for members of the royal families, those who could trace their line of descent to the Founder himself, and who by proof of blood were already set apart from their peers. They did not need to summon, and indeed, for them to call a familiar was frowned upon, as their first loyalty should be to their kingdoms and their subjects, not a beast of burden.
For the first time, she wondered if it was the bit of royal blood in her - and her familiarity with the Princess Henrietta - had poisoned her ability in magecraft, as God frowned on those who became too close to the descendants of the Prophet, and threatened to impinge upon the roles of the royals.
Was it the hint of royal blood she carried that had twisted her family - that had made her older sisters sick in the body (Cattleya ) or the mind (Eleanor ) - while poisoning her soul? Was this her punishment for being born?
Since she had managed to call forth a familiar, she thought that maybe the Lord had at last granted her mercy, and would at least allow her access to the spells everyone else could use, even if she could not use any of the elemental magics. Spells like levitation, silence, summoning - the basics of the basics that any mage had to learn to call him or herself worthy of the name.
But she should have remembered that God was not merciful, that He was a wrathful and jealous God who only blessed proper nobles, that he had set the strong over the weak, without exception.
In forgetting that...she'd failed once again, with an attempted spell of silence resulting in an explosion.
The time of danger was not yet over, and she might still be cast out into the world of commoners, to live among them without magic, without the blessings she so longed for, which everyone else seemed to enjoy without so much as a thought.
As silent tears traced their way down her cheeks, the storm without seeming to mirror the storm within, the doll-like Vallière sat immobile, her eyes unfocused, only one thought in her mind.
'I'd rather die...'
At the sound of a knock on the door, Fujino Asagami returned to herself, disabling her far-seeing abilities as the runes on her left hand ceased to shine. She had seen much in her remote viewing of the campus, observing those in their rooms, walking around, or such - although unlike in the scrying of mages, she was limited to being to see (clairvoyance), without sound (clairaudience) or much in the way of sensation (clairsentience).
...which was why the fact that she'd seemed to step into the mind and body of the girl who had summoned her, as she approached the room where her summoner dwelt, was so jarring.
'Curious. I was able to see through another's eyes, hearing thoughts and feeling sensations, though that is not the nature of my remote sensing ability. Perhaps it is related to the new channel that became available...'
As a psychic, she was aware of the three "abnormal" channels she possessed - two given over to her telekinetic powers (as opposed to the fraction of one that all others who had such an ability could claim), and one entirely dedicated to her clairvoyance, so to find a new channel open to her after waking up in this world for the first time was...odd.
A rather malleable channel, at that, as it seemed to add its power to whatever ability she was already using (be it telekinesis or clairvoyance so far), though when not being used for some other purpose, it seemed the channel served as a link to the summoner, allowing her to use the other's senses.
Rather the opposite of what a familiar bond was supposed to allow, from what Azaka had told her.
'Though perhaps it is related to the matter of the runes...'
She would have to test out whether it applied to enhancing other senses or physical abilities, as she supposed that such a thing would be expected of a "battlemaiden", even one who might have lost some of her prowess due to being unable to see.
For now though, a different matter awaited, as the tentative knocking continued.
"Ah...Sister Fujino, are you awake?" the hesitant voice of the maid named Siesta called softly, sounding muffled through the solid oak door and the white noise of the rain.
"I am," the psychic acknowledged, pitching her voice just high enough to hear. "Come in Siesta."
"Then excuse my intrusion," came the nervous reply, as Siesta came through the door in a heavy cloak, carrying a tray with a bowl full of hot stew, a small loaf of bread, and a pot of tea, which she placed in front of the "nun." "Um, I've brought you something to eat. It's only the staff meal, I'm afraid - made from the leftovers of the nobles' meals. But if you don't mind..."
"I do not," Fujino Asagami intoned, cutting off further protest as she smelled the fragrant aromas of beef-stock, rosemary and a hint of basil wafting out into the enclosed room. "I would presume it is a stew of some sort?"
"Ah..." Siesta said, blushing with embarrassment as she remembered that the other could not see. "Yes, there is stew as well as bread. The stew is in a bowl just in front of you, while the bread is to the left of it, and a teapot and cup to the right."
"...if it is not too much trouble, could you pour the tea for me?" the blind woman inquired, her blood-red eyes seeming to look right at the maid, though Siesta knew that wasn't possible. "You may pour yourself a cup as well."
"But that would be..."
"I insist," the psychic said quietly, gesturing to the chair facing her. "And sit, if you will."
"...but tea is a delicacy imported from Elven lands, and to sit in the presence of a noble would be..."
"You were assigned to be my assistant, correct?" Fujino asked mildly, her hands moving on the tray as she located a spoon for the stew and the bread.
A timid nod from the raven-haired maid, who, realizing her mistake, said: "Yes...I was, Sister Fujino."
"Then please, do as I ask."
Siesta swallowed, knowing that any noble who saw this would likely think she was being presumptuous and overstepping the bounds of her position, but did as she was asked, unable to refuse a direct request of the woman who was now her superior.
She poured the tea and then sat, watching how the Church woman ate quietly, not seeming to be impaired at such simple tasks. Which was a puzzle to her, as she didn't know how one would keep track of one's body without sight...
Of course, the Asagami heiress felt the pressure of such stares all too well, even without being able to see. One could call it an instinct in how one recognized one was being watched...
"If you are curious, then close your eyes and touch your finger to your nose," the psychic instructed the maid, who started at the sound of the other's voice, but carried out the strange request, frowning as she was able to do it. "It is simply a matter of being aware of your body and where it is in relation to the world around you."
"I...see..." the maid noted, troubled by something on her mind.
"...you have a question?"
"Ah...well..." the maid fumbled with words, trying to voice her thought in an inoffensive way.
"...Pardon my impropriety, but...what is it like to be blind?" she blurted out. "And...ah...were you always...?"
For Siesta had never seen a blind person before, much less one who apparently still managed to have a certain dignity and sense of nobility she didn't find even in those who were sighted. Magic, if one had the resources, was able to cure most ailments, after all, and who it could not were not normally thought of as eligible for positions in society.
"That was two questions, not one," Fujino remarked with a touch of reproof, causing Siesta to cringe for a moment, only to relax when the demon hunter continued. "But nevertheless, I will answer, if not in the order you desire. I was not born blind, so I remember what it is to see, to perceive the world in its color...
"...but you can't read, can you?" the maid asked suddenly. "Or..."
"Now that I am sightless, I depend on my other senses, perceiving the world through textures, sounds, smells," the psychic reflected, a touch of a frown touching her lips. "One comes to realize how potent the others are...the things that having sight blinds us to. But yes, reading is one pleasure I have not been able to enjoy since I lost my sight..."
...or in this world, it seemed, since the script used was so very different from what she was used to, even if it bore some resemblance to the runes her friend once drew. It appeared some kind of translation spell was at work to help her communicate verbally, but finding information would be difficult, as this world made no accommodations for the blind. On the other hand, given what others assumed her to be, her blindness did make for a useful excuse in why she might not be familiar with a text.
"I...I'm sorry for-"
"Rather than apologize, simply answer a question."
"Since you asked, can you read?" the psychic questioned, her voice growing intent as she seemed to focus on the maid.
"I can, Sister Fujino," the maid answered, a sudden flash of insight filling her mind. "Um...did you want me to read to you?"
"That would be...appreciated," the demon hunter responded gravely.
"Is there anything in particular you would like to have read?" Siesta asked timidly, knowing that the "nun" would probably not be interested in her collection of raunchy romance novels. "There are many books in the library, but as a member of the staff, I am normally not allowed to..."
"...perhaps if I went with you, then?" Fujino inquired, making a note of how deferential people seemed to be towards her persona as a maiden of the Church.
"Ah, yes, that could work..." the maid said, blinking at the thought of actually being able to visit that treasure trove of books... "But right now it's raining, and..."
"I understand," Fujino intoned, nodding. "For now, as we will be working together, tell me of yourself. And of why it is that your hair is an unusual color..."
"Ah, how did you...?"
"The headmaster commented on it," the demon hunter remarked, her lips curving upwards ever so slightly. "So, if you are willing..."