The Third Magic
Notes: Credit to AlfheimWanderer, who's editing skills turned this into something worth reading and practically co-authored this. Let's have fun making this work, alright?
The soft splatter of her blood upon cold stone echoed only in her mind, as the ichor that tied her to this plane of existence hemorrhaged from her body, her pleas for help dying unspoken on her lips. Her mouth moved very slightly in an attempt to say something pithy or meaningful, yet her attempt at defying the certain end failed, with only a wordless bubble of blood gurgling up from within. So this was it... after a meaninglessness existence where she had endured great pains, only to see everything slip through her fingers, she would die, her soul returning to Akasha to be torn apart and recycled - probably for use in the next generation Justica model.
Even now her consciousness was fast fading, her last tethers to this material world escaping her grasp all too quickly.
She didn't want to die.
But she didn't have a choice, as her… murderer… stood above her, looking down upon her with something akin to a mix of disdain and curiosity. Why did he not strike the killing blow, she wondered? Was it because he wanted to prolong her torment, to make her wish that he would just end her existence? Was it because the King of Heroes wanted to taunt her with the hope that she might still live? Was it because he wanted to use her suffering to torment the adopted son of Kiritsugu?
She didn't know. All she knew was that his cold red eyes shone in the moonlit night, and in her dying moments, reflected that this must have been how her victims had feltasthe light drained from their eyes, as hope faded and defiance sputtered out, till the end came with a whimper, not a bang.
Her last gasps where upon her, her lungs failing as they, ironically, were deprived of oxygen and the prana flow that had kept her stable.
It hurt just to breathe.
And then even the pain stopped, with the man in the golden armor, the oldest of humanity's so-called "heroes", smirking before disappearing into the night, unseen and unheard by her numbed senses.
Why did she still cling to this world? Her heart was gone; her body crumbling, and yet some long-forgotten remnant of self fought to keep on living, even though it was futile. But why?
Her father had left her.
Berserker was gone.
Even her Onii-chan didn't care about her.
She had nothing left to live for, nothing in this world.
…I beg of you…
A presence of some kind, an odd voice echoing deep within the emptiness of her soul, a light that slowed the inevitable approach of the end It felt old... almost immeasurably so, older than even the roots of her family's magecraft, yet it was definitely a spell crafted by something human, or at least close. It probed her, sending tendrils of arcane force through her vessels, nerves and burnt out circuits till it reached her core, as if in a last, desperate attempt to fan the dying embers of her soul into a raging inferno once more.
So much had been repressed. Curiosity, hope, whimsy, faith and more - everything had been dampened, eroded, worn away by long "education" and training. Her role was over but... wasn't there anything she could do?
She wanted to live more.
She wanted to love.
She wanted not to be alone.
She wanted... well, she wanted simply to be able to move!
But right now, even trying to muster up the force of will to twitch a finger cost her soul unbearable pain, hastening its deterioration. She couldn't even summon forth the magic to heal herself or recreate her body-not without her heart or the energy to do such things. There was so much need burning inside her breast, but nowhere for it to go, as desire became regret as the darkness closed in.
…somewhere in the universe!
An odd feeling - the foreign presence again, reaching into her with an unknown intent, a power she could not reject, as her life was nearly gone. It pulsed, seeming to wax and wane, disappearing and reappearing like the signal of an old, broken radio-or a heartbeat. Something odd and alien, affixing itself to her, twining itself with her nerves-which was simple enough, as her body became but a husk. Her last breath was all but done.
Oh sacred, beautiful and strong… spirit!
A sharp, white heat pulsed through her body for a fraction of a second, as her life flashed before her eyes. What was the point of living when she was anything but sacred, when she was a tainted, dark thing, unnatural to humanity? When she was a mere vessel of the Grail to be discarded when her purpose was fulfilled?
Was she beautiful when even her father had shunned her for… him? Was she strong, to have her Servant destroyed without being able to do a thing to stop it - and to be killed herself by some rogue Servant, which by all means should have obeyed her as the Grail?
Her spirit broke, sadness filling her as she released her last breath, surrendering the last vestiges of her life in this world, accepting her fate, wherever it might lead.
…Here I plead… Answer my guidance!
There was no strength left to struggle. Her will was depleted and her body destroyed. What would come would come, for the life of Illyasviel von Einzbern, Master in the Fifth Holy Grail War, was over.
She just hoped that whatever awaited her, perhaps she might be more than just a homunculus, a tool to be made and used and wasted…
A world away, a young girl faced a rite of passage hardly as bad as the precipice between life and death. Some called her Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. Some called her "Miss." Some called her sister or daughter. Most called her Zero, the talentless mage whose temper was as fierce as her magic was unusable.
It shouldn't have been that way, as the strawberry blonde was of the highest ranks of the peerage, with a pedigree eclipsed only by the royals of her land. Her parents were mighty in the ways of magic, the blood of mage-kings (the same as that in the veins of the princess of Tristain) ran through hers, and she had been drilled in the knowledge of the Craft since she was in the cradle-yet none of that mattered now.
Despite her background, she had failed, and quite consistently at that.
Today was her last chance and failure was not an option.
Besides being the most important point in her academic career, the Springtime Familiar Summoning was her once in a lifetime chance to prove herself to her peers, to show that she was not a commoner putting on airs of nobility. At least that had been how she had had started the day, filled to the brim with bravado and bluster, wishing to prove to those of her peers who mocked her that she was just as good as them. But once-twice-three times, she had failed the summoning, and now she suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous taunts and torments, powerless to respond. No one would defend a failure, not even the gentle, bookish professor who normally kept order - he just stood aside and looked at her pityingly as the others did their worst, their words like lashes on her back, forcing her to bow her head.
In response, she tried to reach deep inside of her, to suppress the molten core of anger bubbling and boiling within her heart, fueled by the fears and insecurities she had. This inner darkness was the only thing she could count on, her sole source of strength at the Academy, her only reassurance that she would show them... she would show them all.
Such a thought was half-cried, half-snarled, as unladylike as it seemed.
Blinking back unshed tears and channeling that grief, like so many unspoken others in her many years, deep inside her, Louise raised her wand with all the grace drilled into her by her mother's harsh discipline. Her eyes closed instinctively as they did whenever she was about to cast, a lesson learned years ago after debris from the first great explosion she had conjured nearly blinded her, but she forced them open. She wanted to see the moment of her victory, when at last, her efforts was vindicated and her rivals shamed - when she proved that she wasn't worthless.
The Vallière was quite capable, at least as far as theory was concerned, able to recall knowledge and analyze treatises in a way few others could. She had studied this ritual extensively, taken exhaustive notes, and pestered her professors for tips.
She couldn't fail now, not if she wanted to be more than just a Zero.
"I beg of you," the strawberry blonde began, her voice trembling in anxiety as she uttered the ancient words of rite. As she spoke, she seemed to calm, her words steadying as she let power flow through her. "My slave who lives somewhere in the universe, oh sacred, beautiful and strong familiar spirit, I desire and here I plead with my heart… answer my guidance!"
Once more, silence reigned, as nothing happened.
Not a whisper of magic, not a faint shimmer of light, not even the sound of rushing wind.
Nothing save the snorts and chuckles of her so-called peers beginning anew, a sound that drove her to near berserker rage. She thought she had prepared herself for the worst, but she hadn't expected this, hadn't expected even more jeers from yet another failure that pushed her past her limits.
Enough of this. She was done being a Zero. She would summon something far beyond anything they could possibly imagine! Something that could do the impossible, kick reason to the curb and overwhelm her doubters with power, an unyielding spirit of beauty and strength that would show them all.
She'll show them all.
Rage flowed, molten and untrammeled, from her inner core, pulsing white-hot through her veins and nerves as she called upon every shred of power she had, every scrap of fear, anger, hatred, a river of force that tore from her, howled in an explosion of light and heat that threatened to consume her where she stood, burning her to ashes.
I will not die a failure.
The well of power roared, winds bidding defiance to the binds of logic as a maelstrom erupted from her body and tore through everything in its path. Air, ground, water-the fabric of worlds-time and space itself - the surge ripped through all of these with a shriek of despair, reaching, reaching, and reaching for the familiar that would best suit her.
Around her, the field shook, her peers literally bowled over by the merest leaking of the unexpected display of might, as an eerie song of power hummed in the air, resonating in every nerve, every pore, every bit of skin of those present. It was like watching a legend being forged in that moment, as impossible amounts of energy spiraled from the girl, crashing forth and surrounding everything with her color.
A spark flared to life before the girl within the heart of the storm, bare meters from her being. Swirls of energy and circles of some unknown magic shot forth like a beacon, with all-even Louise-flinching away from the utter intensity of it.
Then as fast as it had begun, the display of power - light, wind, heat and all - simply ceased to be, leaving in its place a lone figure as naked as any child might be when born into the world, save for some thin scraps of fabric that might have once been a dress.
Rubbing the leakage from her eyes (and telling herself that it wasn't tears - for why should she cry), Louise took a moment to study her newly summoned familiar as disappointment, only for her brow to knit in puzzlement.
What? What is this?
She knew not to expect a griffon, manticore, or dragon, but this…? After tapping into her last reserve, this was what she had summoned? A girl, younger even than her, who couldn't even afford proper clothing - leaving almost nothing to the imagination? Louise did not often judge any person by their outward appearance after more than one lesson on politics from her father, but this was ridiculous!
Only the fair, snow-like hair of this summoned girl stopped Louise from outright stomping in misery, as she had never seen hair that color except on those much older than she. Then, a moment later, Louise had another oddity to focus on, as the familiar opened her eyes, revealing to all a pair of eyes the color of fresh-spilt blood.
I've never seen anyone with those eyes before...
The young mage-in training blinked, turning to her professor to demand yet another chance, but her protests died as she saw how raptly the man was looking at the girl, naked curiosity burning in his eyes. Such a display of emotion disgusted the strawberry blonde - perhaps the professor would want to trade familiars, if he was so keen on staring at her obviously female familiar?
Or maybe it had just been too long since he-
Louise hastily dismissed that train of thought before any awkward mental pictures could form, and looked back to her summon, only to see the other girl eying her almost appraisingly, almost as if judging the skills of an equal?
An equal? Rubbish...
By now, the jeers had started up again, having disregarded the "Zero's" display of power as just a fluke, but Louise simply ignored them, letting the lingering vestiges of the molten fury from before serve as a shield against their hurled insults. It was done now, though perhaps if she had finished on the first attempt, she could have avoided this seemingly ceaseless barrage of unsavory comments calling her pride, heritage and image into question.
Now she was tired, wishing that the idiots would simply pick up their wands and float away, leaving her to her business. She didn't need them now, or their approval.
Ah, there they go now.
Now that she had a familiar, she would never be alone…
At the thought, tiny, pink lips curled upwards ever so slightly as Louise walked forward with deliberate slowness, almost stalking towards her new familiar and cupping the girl's face, making sure the other was real, that this wasn't some fever dream. In a tone honed from many hours of emulating her mother, Louise spoke her incantation. "My name is Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers; grant your blessings upon this humble being, and make her my familiar!"
The white-haired girl had just enough time to display a moment of shock, as Louise closed the distance between them and leaned forward just enough to capture the familiar's lips with her own in the time-honored ritual. Perhaps she allowed her lips to linger a few seconds longer than strictly necessary, but...that was just to be sure it worked. B-b-because it would be embarrassing if she had to repeat that part of the ritual over and over.
The mage in training had just pulled back from the other girl, without even time to congratulate the newly minted familiar on what honor she has been given to taste a noble's lips, when a pale blue light rose from her familiar's forehead, hissing as it built, searing dark runes into the forehead of the snow-haired girl.
Illya hissed in pain as the ancient runes carved into her heretofore immaculate skin, with a pain not unlike the training she had undergone with Berserker in the forest. Her knees shook, her hands clenched, and her teeth grit... but her eyes remained open the entire time, continuing to watch, to observe, to judge. Long seconds later, the glow dimmed as the eldritch powers finished their work, the pain fading, leaving behind the dim, blue glow of the arcane runes. Her eyes clearly asked Louise what the mage had done, yet instead of voicing her query, the homunculus simply crossed her legs and performed what might have been a curtsey.
It was hard to tell, given that she was not exactly wearing a dress.
"I greet you, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière," the red-eyed girl intoned, and for a moment, Louise thought even her familiar's voice glowed; it was not quite angelic, but it seemed oddly close. "My name is Illyasviel von Einzbern."
"…von Einzbern? Are... are you Germanian?" As soon as the words left her lips, Louise regretted them. But as a noble, society demanded that she take pride in her words and never take them back for a commoner... which her familiar had to be, right? Though the "von" seemed to belie that...
"My family has roots in Germany, yes," Illyasviel acknowledged with a slight nod, her halo-like hair fluttering with her every move. "But most recently, I come from Japan. Might I inquire where we are?"
Germany? Is that an archaic way of saying Germania?
"Jaa-pahn?" Louise thought of herself as well-read, but she has never heard of such a place or read of it in any of the books or lore she studied. She quirked an eyebrow at her familiar as if to question further, but decided against it. A noble couldn't afford to look ignorant, and a Tristanian certainly couldn't afford to in front of a Germanian.
It was time to apply the first lesson her mother instilled into her: that she must impress her will upon anyone she commanded to let them know who was in charge. Louise grimaced inwardly, noticing how her familiar seemed about her age, height and size, how it was almost like looking into a mirror.
If the tables were turned-if, Brimir forbid, she had been called by some talentless mage at the Vindobona Magical Academy, would she allow herself be summoned and controlled like this?
But such concerns were not something she could worry about, as she needed to push aside personal desire and worries in favor of the needs of the moment.
"We are at Tristan's esteemed Academy of Magic," the Vallière scion condescended to explain. After a pause, however, she figured that that might not be quite enough information, and so added a bit more a beat later. "I have summoned you today as my familiar."
In response, the snow-haired girl, this Illyasviel simply cocked her head.
"A familiar? Not a Servant?" she inquired, raising an eyebrow. "Well, I suppose I would have made a bad Caster anyway, but I can't really play any other class."
A small smirk, confusing Louise as to what this meant. Servant implied lower class, but Caster...as in a spell-caster?
"No, a familiar," Louise affirmed, looking Illyasviel's body up and down for a moment with a slight frown, as the homunculus blinked at this. "And you need more clothing."
Illyasviel blinked at her 'master's' declaration, more out of curiosity than anything else. Perhaps this would be an interesting experience, she decided, her mind probing her body, which had not so long ago been on the verge of death.
She felt different. A tad weaker, to be sure, less in tune with her magic circuits, almost as if this was a puppet body, though she knew otherwise, given that she had dealt with those before. Still, the strange prana source pressed into her forehead prevented degradation and removed the need to eat - something that she'd have to study later to better understand its limitations-and how it was constructed. Was it perhaps some kind of prana conversion matrix drawing from the greater source to refill her od faster than her circuits could allow? Something that contained power on its own?
Though she was skilled at crafting things of Alchemy, and the memories of the Winter Saint within her indicated how certain rituals might be done, she didn't have as much experience with storing power in any form other than her body.
At least my power seems to flow smoothly enough, and I have good control over my magecraft… albeit with a hint of resistance, as if the world egg I was drawing from is different.
Throughout this time of thought, Illya remained silent, and seeing this, Louise was pleased, thinking that her familiar was at least obedient. The Vallière girl would have to ask the unknown about her background later in her room, though she profoundly hoped she hadn't ripped this girl away from a noble life, even if it had been like hers. It didn't matter that the strawberry blonde enjoyed her life less with each passing day, almost wishing that she could disappear. Louise could not imagine any other kind of life, at least not that she would find acceptable.
"Alright then, follow me. There should be spare uniforms in the Academy for servants. You could use one."
Illyasviel raised a finger to her lips, as if to question cutely, "Why don't you just fly, like your friends?"
Louise twitched. Louise twitched again. She almost exploded, but she quickly reminded herself that this girl did not know her and from the way her forehead glowed, she was not hired by one of the students to taunt her. "I… I am not proficient in that type of magic," she growled out, almost like she was a starving dog being forced to give a bone away.
Inside, Louise reminded herself again that the Rule of Steel was harsh… but fair.
"Ah, lead the way then, Miss Vallière!"
Out of all the things to be impressed by, it was the sheer size of the castle that caught Illyasviel's attention. Louise felt more than a little smug at the delight that shone in the other girl's eyes-or was it a sense of familiarity and comfort? But as they walked past both the older and younger classes her familiar's eyes drooped. When they passed one of the third years concentrating on practicing fire-spells the crimson-eyed girl actually yawned, as if magic was a bore to her, something routine.
...that's not possible. Commoners are supposed to be overawed by our might, as we are as beyond them as they are beyond such animals as cows.
And commoner she had to be, though the fact that the girl had named herself "von Einzbern" suggested otherwise in a way that made Louise distinctly uncomfortable.
Seeing that she had to take the initiative, Louise tried to start a conversation. She had little practice at it in the castle as she had no one to talk to, yet it had still been one of the things her tutors had tried to instruct her in, so she had to try.
"So tell me about where you are from, Illyasviel. I have never heard of Japan, is it in the far east of Germania?"
Her familiar stilled mid-step, with Illyasviel's eyes growing cold and dimmed, as if thinking of something unpleasant, a moment of tension visible in the younger girl's frame as blue rune upon her forehead glowed brighter. But after a moment, she forced herself to relax, giving a small smile.
"You may call me Illya," she said at last. "And no, Japan is on the other side of the world from Germany. It's almost another world."
"Another...world?" Louise repeated, blinking as she looked at the white-haired girl. "That is hard to believe, familiar. So it is to the East?"
Such was unimportant really. The binds of the ritual had been completed, and could not be taken back, so wherever this familiar was from, she was bound to service the Vallière girl's needs. But Louise would strive to be a good master, even if the other were not a dragon, griffon or manticore. "In the future, please address me as master, familiar."
Illyasviel raised a curious eyebrow for a moment and then nodded her head. "If you say so, master," she replied with a neutral expression. "Might I ask you a question, master?"
Louise nodded; she was glad that at least her familiar was compliant. She had thought that the other might be more resistant to acknowledging her as a master, and that she'd be forced to make the other obey. Yet the other had acknowledged her, so she supposed she could be generous.
"Of course, familiar."
"How did you summon me?"
A serious question on a face with a smile that...was not quite a smile, but something else entirely, as red eyes bore into purplish, as if testing her. Were these words mockery of some sort, or...?
"I… the Springtime Familiar Summoning ritual is a sacred rite," Louise explained imperiously, instructing a lesser in something she obviously knew little about. "It has been a tradition for all mages since the beginning of magic, a rite of passage passed down by the Founder himself!"
"A familiar? I see…" Her familiar giggled and hopped ahead of her. She turned around, now facing Louise with a quirk of her lips, "I suppose I could be a familiar."
"You suppose? You have been given an honor, to chosen as my familiar! A commoner given such an honor is something unheard of!" Louise said, the words flying from her lips in an undignified outburst. It made her angry - both at her familiar, for being so odd, and at herself, as the arrogance she displayed seemed like something Kirche would say to her.
"And what would constitute a commoner?" This... Illya asked, not quite so innocent now, her eyes sharp. "Where I come from, most would consider me nobility."
Louise tripped, nearly falling on her face before she recovered, reeling.
"Y-you're a mage?"
Her voice was oddly weak as she looked at the familiar, blanching as she considered what it would mean to take away the rights of a noble. A commoner was one thing, but... by the holy Founder! What would her parents think? Would they... would they disown her if they found out?
"Well yes, I could perform magecraft if I wished, master." Her familiar said casually, as if such a thing were but a bagatelle. Oddly, the white-haired girl didn't seem smug, nor seemed to show offense at being summoned? But... why? "However, given my odd change of surroundings and the fact that I recently had a near-death experience, I would like to try my powers before exerting myself. I am impressed by your rune though; it is a rather fascinating way to channel prana to your familiar."
Prana? Rune? Magecraft?
Only then did Louise focus on her familiar's forehead and the odd glyphs that had been carved there. "I did not craft it," Louise said, honestly, but wondering what was happening. "If you are a mage, then…"
The Holy Brimir had obviously approved of this but... how could a mage take another mage as a familiar?
"Well, maybe I am of the Caster class after all!" Illyasviel giggled cutely, putting a finger to her lips in thought as a cruel smile stole over her face. "Then I should go grab Berserker!"
An ominous feeling overtook Louise, and suddenly, the strawberry blonde felt that maybe it would have been better had the mage-familiar just thrown a fit and gotten her into trouble.
Illyasviel laughed inwardly as she dragged the pinkette along to her room. The conflicted and confused look on her summoner's face was enough to keep her from killing the other girl and running off to do whatever she wished - though another part of the reason was the rune on her forehead, which had apparently helped to rebuild her from pure prana, stabilizing her soul in a way she thought only the Third Magic was capable of.
Further, the well of knowledge within her could not sense any Greater Grail in her surroundings, and the gate to the Origin seemed distant, almost as if she were worlds away.
...this is Zelretch's fault, isn't it?
The only other alternative was that the Tohsaka heiress had succeeded where only the Wizard Marshal had before, a thought the homunculus did not find quite palatable. Either way, she took stock of her surroundings, particularly of how the constant feed of prana through the rune on her forehead made her feel invincible. Or in her case, perhaps more invincible than she felt before, but Illyasviel knew that the she in the past had believed a falsehood, as she had already been destroyed once.
She would not allow that to happen again, and so she had to call forth her guardian. As a homunculus, she had jaw-dropping amounts of prana, so it should be possible, given that the Throne was universal...
"Come along, master," Illyasviel teased as she drew the circle. In a different world, she would need all the privacy she could garner. If Berserker was seen, she would probably be in trouble. "You want to see a real Servant, right? Well, let me show you what a true summoning is like..."
"I-a true summoning?" Louise was taken aback by this... Germanian's audacious claim. So even a familiar would mock a master, eh? Well, this couldn't-
-the growling of her stomach interrupted any brewing tirade, much to her embarrassment if the blush on her face was any indication. Dinner was in less than two hours, but her growing teenage body needed more food!
"A guardian, a protector to serve as shield and sword," Illya explained patiently, as if to a small child. Or perhaps she was talking to a smaller child. "I am but a magus, and fighting in the melee is below one such as me."
Louise's expression scrunched up once more, as she prepared to protest... but by then, the circle was complete, and the silver-haired girl had begun to chant, a drop or two of her blood falling into the center of the circle.
"Ye first, O silver, O iron
O stone of the foundation, O Archduke of the Contract ..."
He had served her faithfully.
"...Hear me in the name of our great teacher, the Archmagus Lizleihi..."
He yearned for nothing, not anymore. In his haze of black rage, nothing was left standing and everything in ruins. No loved one left, not even the gods truly helped him. Then he met her, his little master. She was so fragile, so… pure, like the snow that she stood in as she took him as hers. After the days and weeks under her service, he found himself wanting to protect her more than out of his contorted sense of duty.
He had come to love her.
"...Let the descending winds be as a wall..."
Like a father protecting a daughter, a brother to a sister, or even a husband to a wife, he never left her side. He could, but would not, influence her decisions. He was tainted, evil, by his own choices and actions, but she had an innocence he had long since forgotten. And he would protect that, even if it meant the destruction of his body and soul in an infinite cycle of pain.
"...Let the gates in all directions be shut, rising above the crown, and let the three-forked roads to the Kingdom revolve ..."
Now he heard the call once more.
"...Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut. Shut.
Five perfections for each repetition.
And now, let the filled sigils be annihilated in my stead!
He would protect her, once more with feeling. He of such titanic might, that even a single errant twitch from him might break her. In a world that was but cardboard to him, she was just a single small scrap of white parchment, so frail that even his breath could destroy her. Yet she kept him so close, against even his judgment.
"Let thy body rest under my dominion, let my fate rest in thy blade.
If thou submittest to my call and if thou wilt obey this mind, this reason, then thou shalt respond.
I make my oath here.
I am that person who is to become the virtue of all Heavens.
I am that person who is covered with the evil of all Hades.
Thou seven heavens, clad in a trinity of words,
come past thy restraining rings, and be thou the hands that protect the balance-!"
Her grasp over his soul and heart was stronger than any binding of prana, even of an amount as near infinite as her own. She had his love. That was a loyalty even his rage could not break. Now the calming song of her power called to him once more, grasping his soul and materializing his might into a physical realm far from her origins. He worried for her, of the pain he would cause her simply by existing, but his will to protect her was infinitely greater.
As his eyes opened once more, he scanned the area. As his senses took in the high-class medieval room, his inner senses knew the changes within his being. Now his master had an even more powerful seal than the Command sigils to dominate of his soul and body, something older to bind his will to hers.
The blue runes that glowed on her head called to him…
There is another?
He turned to the other presence in the room. Someone had bound his master, with the same seals? She moved, as if to stop him from hurting that which bound even her soul to this foreign plane. But he knew better, he knew that the tiny pink thing was no threat.
This pink-thing was different, but not an enemy. It was not his instincts about her that told him to stay his hand, but his instincts of his little master. Within his dark, black heart, he felt something warm grow. To see his little girl grow, to have someone to protect and love, to have a friend… his happiness for his master grew exponentially. But all he could do to show his love and happiness was to growl deeply and allow his eye to glow... even though he was no longer bound as a mindless Berserker.
And perhaps, his master might even find happiness…
…though some things still had to be observed.
"Are you my Master?" the greatest hero of Greece asked, bending a knee to the snowy girl, his deep voice felt more than heard, rumbling like distant thunder.
"Who else would suffice?" Illya countered, clapping her hands together.
Perhaps it was not the best action; the little pink thing let out an "eep!" and fainted. If he could, Heracles would have rolled his eyes. Mortals were so damnably fragile sometimes.
Louise looked up at the giant that was summoned into her room, thinking that he looked more powerful than a dragon... and far more terrifying! Immediately, her eyes rolled to the back of her head as she fainted; the hunger for dinner forgotten.
Illyasviel gasped as her Servant caught her fainting master with one hand, smirking to see the other's reaction to the Heroic Spirit which served her.
"Oh my!" she murmured. "Now then… I wonder what exactly you've done to me, you pretty, little witch?" The rune on her head flared as tendrils of arcane powers stretched out, grasping across space and time at the root of all things.
She felt empty.
"Hello again, Berserker," Illyasviel said brightly at her servant, all acts of naïve innocence gone, her eyes immediately going to the great bow on the Servant's back. "I wonder… what a strange world I've landed myself in? And what is that bow?"
"I seem to be an Archer now, actually," the adamantine giant rumbled, looking intently at the homunculus before him as he set the pinkette down on the floor. Illya grimaced...her Servant was now the same class as her killer, and the same as that...strange Servant of Tohsaka's? "I seem to be sane again...though I don't think I received a second chance at life from the Grail."
"Think of it as something similar," Illya noted, looking around. "It is a world like a past, one where magic seems to be a little stronger, for I was able to summon you while so far from Fuyuki. But… it's odd, you came even when not bound by the Grail."
"Of course I did," the massive Archer intoned, straightening to his full height - and just barely fitting inside the room. "You called, and I answered."
"Then, I think this will be rather fun!" She giggled, twirling and dancing joyously within Louise de la Vallière's room. "Won't it... Archer?"
The great hero of Greece simply grunted his assent, wondering what this second chance would grant him, now that he was not robbed of reason. And in the moonlight, one could almost see a soft shimmer in his blood-red eye.
Seeing that her summoner had seen fit to take a well-deserved nap, Illyasviel thought it time for her to take a more thorough tour of her surroundings, since she'd apparently be stuck there for a while. Still, looking down at unconscious body of the young pinkette that had called her forth, the snowy-haired girl only sighed, as she supposed that leaving her on the floor would be somewhat rude.
The mage who had summoned her had probably spent all of her (considerable) reserves to call her through an incalculable gap of time and space, saving her life in the process, and the homunculus felt that that was worth some loyalty. After a lifetime of manipulations and abandonment, she didn't really want to be subject to someone else's whims, but it wasn't as if Louise de la Vallière would really be able to subject her to anything Illya hadn't already experienced, "master" or not.
So she'd give the diminutive strawberry blonde the benefit of the doubt... for now.
"Archer, if you would please help my poor summoner into bed please?" she asked sweetly, though both the homunculus and her Servant knew it to be a command. There was no need to be discourteous or too blunt, since she knew he would obey.
...and it did amuse Illya to see the great Heracles tucking the small girl into bed with great care and tenderness, quite contrary to the image and reputation of the one once known as Berserker.
While he was doing so, the former vessel of the Grail took the opportunity to walk about the room, examining everything in detail, though her survey revealed nothing inherently magical save her summoner's wand, a mystic code of some kind like any number of others she had seen. And like in most ateliers she had seen, there were tomes on magical lore - though these seemed to be of the basic textbook variety, piled haphazardly on a rather messy desk covered with notes.
Curious despite herself, Illya took a step closer to the desk, crimson eyes peering down at the scattered sheets of paper on her summoner's desk, brows furrowing as she regarded the odd writing.
"Strange," she muttered to herself, "I can understand her notes, but it looks like French…perhaps it is another mystery of this curious rune, wouldn't you say, Berser—I mean Archer?"
"It is likely that the rune atop your brow is more complex than previously believed, little Lady," the adamantine giant rumbled in agreement. After living beside Heracles for so long, Illyasviel found it strange that he could respond to her words with something besides a howl of rage or grunt of assent, but such were the quirks of the various classes she supposed.
'Hm, what's this?'
Something scribbled on one of the sheets caught her fancy, and so the homunculus pulled out a seat. She quickly plopped down as she studied the notes before her in more detail, her intelligent mind soaking up everything she read with ease. "My, my summoner must have done quite a bit of reading to have this much detail on the summoning ritual she used. But it's all worthless-none of it mentions how the ritual is supposed to work!" With a cute grunt of frustration, she brushed the stack of paper that she had sped through onto the desk, watching the pages flutter in the air to land where they might.
"It is unlikely that the small pink thing has deep knowledge of such a summoning ritual," Heracles replied, a craggy brow lifting slightly in amusement before his countenance quickly sobered. "If your instincts tell truth, then your presence here is due to something greater."
"Most of her notes are of history or of rumors," Illya noted, her lips twitching downwards at the thought. "But seeing how this familiar summoning has had such a long history, it would be unlikely that Tohsaka had anything to do with it…" She trailed off, eyes narrowing as she fixed on another, more likely possibility. "Maybe Zelretch then? Grandfather did always complain about that branch of things…"
Heracles did not reply. His knowledge of the powers in control of the Second Magic told him little to contribute to Illyasviel's presumptions. Besides which, the snow-haired girl had the memories of the Winter Saint, who had known the Second Magician personally, so she was in far better a position than he to judge such things.
With no answers readily forthcoming, Illya simply pouted, flouncing from the chair to Louise's wardrobe to pick out some garments more fitting for her than the rags in which she was still clad. Somehow, she wasn't surprised that most of what she found was copies of the simple shirt, grey skirt and stockings that Louise wore, almost as if it was a uniform of some kind.
...which it might well be, since the other girls were wearing something like it.
The snowy girl donned these articles, taking a pair of Louise's shoes to complete the ensemble. It would hardly do to walk about a stone castle with merely stockinged feet for longer than she had to. That would be annoying, as Illya didn't care for cold feet-or for the cold at all, really. "Oh, look! Perfect fit! Let's go Archer, I wonder what kinds of summons the other students had?"
"Very well, little Lady."
She hopped around the room, curtseying, walking and dancing experimentally in the new clothing, studying herself critically in front of the mirror. To her surprise, everything seemed to fit well, and so she headed towards the door, casting a glance behind her at her Servant.
"Oh, that's right," she said, putting a finger to her lips inquisitively. "Why do you call me 'little Lady', Archer?"
"All are little to me, Master. And you are my lady above all else," Heracles growled as Illyasviel's forehead glowed once again, as if pulsing in acknowledgement of the Heroic Spirit's words.
"Oh, right, I should have you go invisible, so you don't scare everyone, Archer!" Illya noted, snapping her fingers. "Fade from sight, Heracles."
The hero did as his mistress bade, first becoming transparent, and then altogether invisible.
"...a wise choice." Her Servant's gravelly voice seemed distant when he replied, in words that didn't filter through the air as much as pass directly to her mind. "Hmm, it seems I have the full abilities of a Servant in this world, even shifting into the astral plane is of little inconvenience to one such as me. However, I lack a weapon."
"Oh, we'll fix that soon enough, Archer, but for now, let's explore… there's so much fun to be had!"
With that, Illyasviel skipped out of the bedroom of Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, her invisible, intangible protector following closely behind.
As the door closed with a resounding thud, the eyes of the allegedly sleeping pinkette sprang open in a mix of shock and... fear? as the rest of her body shot out of bed.
Dear Founder, what was that... thing?
The great leaden monster that her familiar had somehow summoned, with a ritual wholly alien to Louise, referencing an "Archduke of the Contract", and both the virtue of the heavens and the evil of all Hades-what in the name of the Founder was it? As someone used to being around beings of great power, she knew that the giant was more than just a brute, that even his massive frame failed to show the true depths of what the hulk was capable of... and she knew that he certainly couldn't just be human. So what was it? A hybrid of orc and human? But that kind of interbreeding was impossible! And even if it weren't, the mere existence of a being of that sort would be borderline heretical, to say nothing of the more than vaguely sacrilegious summoning.
She did not want her first accomplishment in magic to make her seem like some kind of... deviant.
That... that thing had to crouch to fit in my room!
As Illyasviel and the giant chattered on about strange things—who was Zelretch?—Louise kept one eye ever so slightly open, just enough to see what was going on without the others catching on (she hoped), and her ears perked for any names or information they dropped. All the while, she tried to puzzle out what the creature was, thinking that it was perhaps a golem as the best of the best Earth mages were said to be able to make, a life-like being of metal and earth that could nearly pass as a giant person.
Was this little girl she summoned a square-class Earth Mage? Frankly, the thought of having to confront the white-haired girl in a court of law and politics almost caused Louise to faint again.
A golem maybe? No, but those can't talk...can they?
But as she looked at the giant, seeing how the beast faded from view as it followed her familiar from the room, another possibility came to mind, one that nearly froze her spine and the marrow in her bones. For golems were merely human imitations of the elemental spirits themselves, beings far older and more primal than any mage that possessed arcane powers unknown to man even to this day. And if this being her familiar called "Archer" was truly an elemental spirit, then Louise didn't know what to think, as to be able to not only speak with, but bind one of those creatures would be magic beyond her comprehension.
So then, what was it that she had summoned? ...and could a familiar more powerful than its master truly be called a familiar anymore?
At first Louise had thought that Illyasviel von Einzbern was a commoner, though she had been quickly enough proven wrong. Now though, she was beginning to think that the snow-haired girl might not even be human, especially if she were able to command an elemental spirit about with ease. In fact, she was beginning to worry that her very first thought - that Illya looked as ethereal as a faery (or an elf, as the most powerful of that terrible race was called) - might well be true, though the young girl's ears weren't pointed as those of the fey were said to be.
But surely, the familiar was just a powerful mage... right? The alternative didn't bear thinking about.
What would her father say? What would her mother say?
Mother would find a way to make it bow to the rule of steel, like everything else in her life. A dirty, little voice whispered bitterly in the back of her mind, one that pointed out how powerful her mother was... and how weak she was in comparison. Louise shook her head and firmed her resolve. She might not be her mother, but she would control her familiar…for a servant to just leave a master's room without permission was simply unacceptable!
And summoning a... whatever the monster was...was out of bounds as well!
It didn't matter if her familiar was a square-class mage or... something else.
She would rein the familiar in, as a mage was supposed to!
Thus, as stealthily as she could, Louise crept out of her room, following her familiar as the odd summon explored the castle. The pinkette would find out what secrets her familiar held and she ride herd on her with a firm hand so the other didn't get into trouble. After all, the "snow fairy" was the only evidence Louise had of any success in magic, and she couldn't let anything odd befall her. A-and that was the only reason, without any special motive behind it.
The girl in question was currently walking down the corridor of the Academy's main keep, a slight frown on her face as she compared it to the ones she was used to. Although grand in scale, it was dimmer and somewhat less elegant than the Einzbern castles, both the numerous estates in Germany and the one in Japan, with torches for lighting... and she didn't even want to think about the possibilities of medieval plumbing. All she had to say about that was that it was probably a good thing that as a homunculus she didn't technically need to eat if she had an adequate source of prana... though like anyone else she enjoyed good food.
Hunger was the enemy, after all.
Still, she reasoned that such a castle would need servants to maintain it, and she soon found herself proven right, as while walking through halls so filled with history, she saw a person mopping the stone floors.
And not just any person... a maid.
A rather cute maid too, and not quite as stern as Sella or Leysritt could be at times. So as sneakily as only a child-in-mind could, Illyasviel snuck up behind the maid, who was humming some country tune while doing her work, creeping closer, closer, closer, until...
"Hallo!" she called out, leaning close to the other, her mouth just inches away from the maid's ear.
"Eep!" The maid cried out, jumping back in fright, dropping her mop and falling on her pert rear in the process.
Illyasviel's crimson eyes leaned forward, interest written all over her face. Sella and Leysritt had never reacted like that when shehad tried to scare them in the past. This one could be rather entertaining... besides which, the raven-haired maid wore the outfit rather fittingly!
"I agree, little Lady."
"Oh, hush you," Illyasviel muttered good-naturedly under her breath, as she started to slink towards the maid, almost like a hungry predator stalking prey. "My, my… what are you called?"
The poor maid, for her part, just looked at the Academy student with wide eyes and swallowed, clearly debating whether or not to flee. "I-I am Siesta, Miss…?"
"Call me, Illya, Siesta-chan…" Illya all but purred, and somehow, without the maid noticing, Illyasviel had gone down on all fours, crawling over the maid's legs so as lean over her buxom form, with their faces just inches apart.
'Am I... am I about to be taken... by a girl?'All Siesta could see and think of were how the snowy-haired girl's ruby eyes almost seemed to glow in the candle light, how moist her li…
"No harassing the help, familiar!"
Brandishing that phrase as a battle cry, Louise de La Vallière jumped out of her hiding place with a horrified expression, pointing a trembling wand at Illyasviel.
Illyasviel pouted as she looked over at the mage that had interrupted her sigh.
"Ah, but Master…I told you to call me Illya, remember?" she reminded the pinkette unrepentantly, making no move to back away from her comfortable position atop the silently squirming maid.
A twitch of the eyebrow was all the warning Illya had before Louise hurled herself bodily at her familiar with a growl, forgetting the use of her wand at all (and why not, for it had never truly worked for her before). Instead, the pinkette just grabbed Illyasviel by the waist and flipped her off of Siesta in a surprising demonstration of strength from the Vallière girl - all the more so since she had never truly exercised in her life.
"Familiar, familiar, familiar! I can call you what I want to!" Louise roared like a manticore. Well, a manticore in her mind, perhaps, but a cute plushy of one in everyone else's.
"Ah-I… May I be excused, Misses?" Siesta looked more than a little frightened at the situation. One moment she had been mopping, the next a white-haired girl she thought was a noble was on top of her, and after that, a second noble had tackled the first off of her... this was just confusing. Really, the maid didn't want much from life except for things to be peaceful- and at the moment, that meant getting far, far away from these two crazy noble girls with very strange ideas of propriety.
"Yes!" "No!" Louise and Illya shouted simultaneously, with the pinkette turning back to Illya with a glare, though the snow-haired girl just shrugged and smiled at Louise with a dangerous false innocence.
"Why, master, if you wanted her for yourself, you only had to ask," the homunculus Illyasviel smirked slyly, standing up and dusting off her borrowed skirt as she leaned in, letting her breath brush against Louise's nape, causing the pinkette to shiver despite herself. "After all, I'm more than willing to share~!"
Louise blinked once.
Louise blinked twice.
Louise blinked yet a third time, as the strange words the familiar had spoken sunk in, and a blush with the redness and intensity of a terrible sunburn rose from her exposed neckline and crawled up her face, until her whole body matched her hair in color.
"I-I-I… that's sick, you perverted familiar!" She shouted the first response that came to mind, the words escaping her lips without conscious thought. It was an ingrained response, one that came all too easily after with dealing with Kirche Augusta Frederica von Anhalt Zerbst the Ardent far too many times for her liking.
Speak of the devil…
"Oh, did someone just call my name?" The red-headed... libertine slunk into view, with the sensual grace a mink. "Ah, the Zero and her little-girl familiar… in an interesting position, at that. Have you had your sexual awakening at last, Louise?"
"Zeeeeerbst! Ooooh, you!" Louise's flushed face contorted from embarrassment to anger in a flash, forgetting about Illya in an instant as she scrabbled for her dropped wand, wanting something in her hand to... hurt the taller, more curvaceous girl. She couldn't help it, really. Seeing her bully of the last two years poking fun at her for this was... was just too much.
Off to the side, Siesta felt a little safer, though still quite uncomfortable.
Sure, at the moment she was being ignored, but the number of insane mages trapping her to her little corner of the hall just increased by one, with one of them being Kirche the Ardent, a noble known for her... depravity was the polite way most of the servants put it. She prayed that they would continue to focus on one another, and not her, which was just how she liked it when it came to insane mages, but she was still surrounded, unable to truly escape without either breaking etiquette or gaining their attention again!
She wanted to cry, life could be so unfair sometimes.
Seeing another student, one that was her master's equal, Illyasviel felt a proper greeting was in order, as this girl reminded her of the blonde with drill-like curls who kept the Tohsaka heiress delightfully distracted at times. Such goings-on had been a source of great amusement to Illyasviel, and the interaction between her Master and this Kirche might prove to be just as fun.
"Greetings," she murmured in a low, demure tone. It was a quiet voice, seemingly innocuous... though each word was intricately laced with prana as something of a suggestion. If these girls were accomplished mages, perhaps they would notice it? "I am Servant Caster, familiar to Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. My name is Illyasviel von Einzbern, and who might you be?" She punctuated her sentence with a curtsy.
"Oh, someone with proper greetings... how unlike the Zero," Kirche managed to get out before the snowy girl's family name caught her mind, a odd look on her face in recognition. "And a Germanian, Vallière? You might not be too much of a failure after all." She turned her attention to Illyasviel, looking the homunculus her up and down. "Well, young Illya, I am called Kirche Augusta Frederica von Anhalt Zerbst, with the runic name of 'the Ardent', for my smoldering passion consumes all that it touches. Thus, I am Kirche the Ardent."
The redhead circled Illyasviel like a prowling huntress, attempting to make her uncomfortable-but unlike Louise, who simply stood still in impotent fury, Illyasviel mirrored Kirche's movements, much to the redhead's surprise... and interest.
"I hope the Zero did not rough you up too much, my dear countrywoman," Kirche smirked at Illya, who grinned innocently back at her.
"Oh, if you mean Master Vallière, she has been nothing but helpful," Illyasviel mentioned, a spark of mischief flashing in her eyes as she raised a forefinger to her lips in thought. "Though why is she called 'the Zero'? It does not seem like a common runic name."
To Louise's surprise, Kirche did not start with the taunts and teases that had Louise had become so accustomed to hearing. Instead, the buxom redhead looked almost sheepish, scratching the back of her head as she stopped in her tracks.
"Ah... that. It's a joke made by friends, that's all." The normally proud Germanian noble said, looking down at the snow girl warily. "It is because Louise here is not exactly proficient with any of her spells. I… I had some small part in starting this joke."
"Ah, so you are friends then?" Illyasviel inquired, the perfect picture of innocence. Then her smirk turned cruel. "I suppose that means I won't have to kill you for a slight against my master."
She said it so sweetly that it almost went over Kirche's head.
Almost, being the operative word.
Kirche glanced over at her pink-haired peer to chide her for her familiar's joke, but realized from the suddenly fearful look on Louise's face that the girl was serious. Whatever else she might be, Illyasviel von Einzbern apparently had enough power to frighten the daughter of the Vallière family, one who was intimately acquainted with high nobles and even royalty. And while Louise was not particularly proficient in the magical arts herself, the pinkette had been around powerful individuals long enough that she wasn't intimidated by pretensions of strength.
No, if the Zero were afraid then the familiar was truly a dangerous individual.
Louise recovered far quicker than Kirche. She might not like Kirche teasing her, but she certainly did not want Kirche going around spreading rumors about her newly summoned familiar. It would do her no good if her only evidence of magic were to be taken away. She knew she was being selfish, but she needed to keep this conversation casual.
"Ha-ha-ha," Louise laughed nervously, almost mechanically. "Don't joke about that, Illya." Suddenly, it did not seem that big of a deal to call her familiar by name. Hopefully, that damned Germanian slut would get the hint. "Kirche and I are the best of friends, right Kirche?" Louise elbowed Kirche with a forced smile.
"Of cour—ow! Of course. Right. I'll just… go the other way now." Kirche muttered, looking back and forth between Louise and Illya while backing away from the pinkette slowly, rubbing her ribs where the pinkette had hit them. "I'll see you tomorrow in class. And it was nice meeting a fellow Germanian, Illyasviel, so have a good night."
She quickly escaped, going straight to Tabitha's room with some rather interesting news.
After a moment of silence between Illyasviel and Louise, Siesta squeaked and tried to speak up, rather skittish now from the tension in the air. "M-m-may I take leave, please, Miss Vallière?" The corners of her eyes were leaking tears, but Siesta just wanted to get away from all this madness. Perhaps the kitchens would do… if she could find enough work to barricade herself in there until these mages have graduated.
"Yes, yes, go…" Louise muttered dismissively. Her mind was racing, thinking about how to best confront her familiar… no, perhaps it would be best to not think of Illyasviel that way. Yes, call her Illya. If she could so easily threaten to kill, so innocently, she would have to have some power. Perhaps it was not Illya who was powerful, but her family. She might not have heard of the von Einzbern family, but Germania is a large place. Louise nodded her head silently, not really hearing or caring that the maid left.
Illyasviel on the other hand watched the mousy maid scamper away. "Mou... and the fun was just beginning…" She muttered.
"What?" Louise snapped, jarred from her thoughts by the odd statement.
"Nothing, Master," Illyasviel said with a blank expression, changing the topic. "Now, how about we get some hot dinner? It shouldn't be too late, correct?"
In the Alviss dining hall, the great dining chambers used by the students of the prestigious Tristain Academy of Magic, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière did not have much of an appetite. One would think that after expending so much of her stockpiled reserves to summon a familiar, the pinkette would be ravenous, devouring the smorgasbord of delicacies before her, but the opposite was true, with her barely picking at her food.
...much like her so-called familiar, in fact.
Though why isn't she eating?
As the best student in the Academy, it was beyond trivial that all living things, magical or mundane, human or inhuman, needed to eat. And yet, despite Louise asking for a special exemption to the usual rules where familiars had to eat outside, allowing Illyasviel von Einzbern the honor of eating with other nobles instead of with the common animals in the courtyard, the snow-haired girl had not so much as touched her food, as if it was as beneath her as peasant fare would be to a noble.
Why? It is typical noble fare and close enough to what I would eat at home that even I can't complain.
Was Illya of such a high social echelon that she would not demean herself by eating the same food as a common noble then? Or... is she a fairy after all, and can't eat human food?
That was a possibility Louise was carefully trying to avoid considering, since summoning one of the age-old enemies of humanity would probably not do her any favors in terms of gaining respect as a mage. Particularly if the young girl she'd called forth decided to go on a murderous rampage, where she unleashed the elemental spirit she'd summoned upon those in the Academy, laughing prettily as the giant howled in rage, the shockwaves of supersonic swings tearing through armor and flesh like thin gauze...
No... ha... haha... no, t-that won't happen.
At least she hoped it wouldn't, though if it did, she supposed she wouldn't have to worry about living it down, since she wouldn't be living anyway.
Looking around to get her mind off this uncomfortable line of thought, Louise was not reassured by the way many of her classmates staring at her familiar in silent disgust and loathing, much in the same way they had stared at her in the past. Under normal circumstances, she would have pitched a fit, raging against all those who dare cast doubt on her name or abilities. But right now, she was really too nervous and tired to care. Tired from performing the first bit of successful magic in her life... nervous about the implications of the white-haired girl's "minor revelations," and how she probably had to tread lightly around the one she was nominally the master of.
"Yoo-hoo! Hello there, Zero!"
The sounds of an all-too-familiar voice, speaking her hated nickname, made Louise want to just crawl under the table and disappear. Kirche was the last person she wanted to deal with at the moment. Still, she resigned herself to the fact that the Germanian was at least a known quantity, unlike certain others she could name.
As the pinkette spun about to confront her usual tormenter, she noticed that something was amiss, as Kirche had both hands held before her as if to say that she meant no harm. For a wonder, the rest of the redhead's body language was in accord with that gesture of goodwill—which only made Louise more suspicious of whatever her enemy had in mind…
"And good evening to you, Illyasviel," Kirche nodded at the white-haired girl as she slipped into the seat across from Louise. As she moved to sit, she revealed the presence of a diminutive blue-haired girl that had been following in her wake – the odd girl known only as "Tabitha". "And this is my friend Tabitha from Gallia. Since it is so rare for her to see another non-Tristanian at this school, I told her all about you!"
All around the group, conversation in the hall dropped to a hush as the gathered students focused their attentions on the pink-haired Vallière girl, hoping for a show to go with dinner. But all they saw was the familiar and the blue-haired Gallian nodding politely at one another, before Illya turned back to Kirche.
"Oh? I hope that 'all' doesn't include anything bad, Miss von Zerbst," Illya quipped, smiling brightly at the redhead in a way that brought a sense of unease to the triangle-class fire mage… and to the pinkette, who wondered why was her familiar was being so tolerant of Kirche's presence? Certainly, Louise didn't want to see Kirche dead, but she didn't want to deal with the redhead's inane efforts at conversation during dinner all the same.
Meal-times were for eating, after all, not for a witless, perverted harridan to encroach on her personal space and destroy the appetites of those who could ill afford a skipped meal. Kirche had enough fat in her luscious figure to go without for weeks; Louise certainly did not.
And Illya can't either. She looks too thin…
"Dinner," Tabitha interjected with a note of warning, apparently sharing the general guidelines of Louise's thought, if not the specifics.
Not that Louise really felt like eating, having simply clutched on the division of time for a reason why Kirche wasn't welcome, but she supposed she might as well consume something. At least, if she put on a show of focusing on her dinner, she could ignore Kirche without offending any of the rules of politeness. The Germanian may have approached with what were basically open arms, but she had no reason to simply accept the truce so easily. She had only claimed a bond of friendship to prevent Illya from doing rash, not because she derived any enjoyment from the redhead's presence, as curvaceous and successful as the other was.
Her bully (and traditional rival) was still her bully.
And although Tabitha was much nicer than Kirche when she talked at all, Louise didn't feel comfortable around that girl either. It was always the quiet ones that eventually snapped, taking their frustrations on the world around them. Tabitha was always around Kirche. Therefore Louise surmised that she soaked up plenty of resentment, and that it was only matter of time before she lost control.
…given her own lack of power, Louise didn't want to be anywhere near the girl when the inevitable explosion happened.
But like it or not, here she found herself, and the blue-haired girl was saying something.
"Rune," Tabitha said monotonously, ignoring the silently fuming Louise in front of her. Instead, she was looking at the odd rune on the forehead of Louise's familiar, studying it intently.
Louise felt a pang of annoyance at this.
While she was happy that someone was curious about her familiar, she didn't want Tabitha to call undue attention to it, lest uncomfortable questions be asked, resulting in Illya being probed, prodded, and experimented on by the Academy's staff—or just taken away, if it was ruled that she was a noble.
Naturally, Louise wasn't about to let that happen.
"Oh? You mean this?" Illyasviel inquired, her eyebrows lifting towards the inscription on her forehead. She muttered something under her breath, with the rune etched into her skin dimming till it could scarcely be seen—even by Louise, who was actively looking for it. "My apologies for disturbing your dinners; perhaps that is why so many of your peers were rude enough to stare openly."
A blink, as the Vallière just stared at her familiar.
"How did you do that?" she asked after a moment, trying to keep her voice and expression steady, but not quite succeeding at either endeavor.
If my familiar can make the rune fade, does that mean she can make it disappear? And if the proof of the Contract fades, does that mean I won't have a familiar anymore?
"Hm? Do what, Master?" Illyasviel asked, looking at her master with the expression of feigned innocence that Louise was coming to fear.
"You… you made your rune disappear!"
It was a voice laced with accusation and hostility, which only served to provoke the homunculus.
"Did I?" Illyasviel inquired, her voice low and dangerously calm. She was not amused by the rise in hostility in her master's voice, as she only played along with the pinkette's charade because it was convenient to her. "But its still there."
"Calm now, my little Lady," a gentle thunder rumbled in her mind, "there is a reason why the ignorant pink thing fears you so."
"Don't lie to me, familiar!" Louise nearly shouted, her body beginning to tremble with rage as she glared daggers at her familiar. She thought she imagined it, but the noise of the hall seemed to dull, as everyone's attention focused on her – exactly what she had wished wouldn't happen. All she cared about was that her familiar seemed to be wearing its subservience lightly, practicing rank insubordination towards its Master. "The rune on your head. How did you hide it?"
"And why do you wish to know, Master?" came the counter, with the homunculus' voice icy cold, as if channeling the wrath of the spirit of winter itself. While Illya acknowledged that her summoner was rather ignorant of the ways of magecraft and shouldn't be faulted for her lack of knowledge, she had little tolerance for those who simply screamed—especially when it was in a shrill voice that hurt her ears.
"I—" Louise began, but was cut off by Kirche.
"Because she wants your help, obviously," the Germanian interjected with a small smirk, the comment causing Louise to flush in nigh-unbridled rage.
"I-I don't want help! I-I don't need help," Louise sputtered, but her protestations were ignored by the others involved, as it was just another groundless rant from the one who had proven herself a "Zero."
"Your lady doth protest too much," Kirche said sardonically. She glanced over at Louise but otherwise ignoring the pink-haired girl in favor of the snow-haired familiar. "You recall our earlier conversation about Louise's… proficiency in magic, or lack thereof? She's tried every known method of finding her affinity and casting a basic spell – but nothing has ever worked, hence why she is the Zero. Why, it would probably be her dream to cast magic on the level of a dot-mage, much like some of the commoners no doubt have wished?"
Louise continued to rant in the background, but Tabitha, who did not like too much noise during her meals, simply waved her staff for a spell of silence, so that while the pinkette's mouth continued to move, no words came forth. This of course, just further angered the pinkette, but there was nothing she could do about it except impotently rage… Seeing this, presumably the end of the nightly show, conversation picked up again as the other students returned to their own meals and gossip.
"Hard-working," was all Tabitha said in reply to the silent tirade before turning back to her book—something that made Louise stop in her tracks, as such an acknowledgement was as close to a compliment as any had ever received from the blue-haired girl.
"My, how strange," Illyasviel noted with a smile, though the blue headed girl simply nodded without turning from her tome. Then the familiar looked at Louise, regarding her, as if considering a momentous decision. "But anyway, Master, if it's just magecraft you want to learn, I could teach you… but…"
Louise perked up, pantomiming a tableau of shock and surprise as she tried to convey her meaning without words. Her crazy, powerful noble-familiar would teach her?
Seeing that the rant was over for now, Tabitha waved her wand again, releasing the spell of silence.
"But what?" Louise asked in a hushed voice. "What do you want? If you can help me use magic, I'll…I'll do anything!"
Hardly a vow to be given lightly, especially by a high-ranking noble, but for Louise, who had been forced to watch powerlessly as all those around her did wonders with magic, while she herself could not perform a single spell, it was reasonable enough.
A quiet laugh, almost as soundless as snowflakes dancing through the air.
"Alright then, but you'll have to call me Goshujin-sama!" Illya countered, her red eyes boring into the pinkette's brown.
"Gou-shuu-jeen-shama?" Louise sounded out, testing the way the word tasted in her mouth. It seemed that this was impossible to translate, even by the translation spell, "What does it mean?" If it was nothing too embarrassing, Louise would agree to it in a heartbeat. Heck, even if it was embarrassing, it wasn't as if anyone else could understand it.
Really, if she could learn magic, anything was worth the price!
"Well…" the snowy-haired girl began, then stopped, smirking. "That's… a secret."
With that, the odd familiar left her seat and skipped out of the hall, nodding to the others. Her food was still untouched, and she did not heed her master's repeated calls to "wait" or "stop," much to the pinkette's despair.
"Well, that was boring, Archer." Illyasviel groused mentally, shaking her head. Nothing interesting had happened in that exchange, and since she had an adequate prana supply, she wasn't about to eat anything until she could examine the lavatory facilities in the castle. "Come! Let's go find that maid!"
"Hehehe…" Heracles answered, somewhat amused. "You will have no complaints from me, little Lady."
Illya frowned mid-step. That sounded strange, as if her Servant was… "Hush you!"
Illyasviel von Einzbern had expected a great deal of difficulty in finding the kitchens, forgetting that they had to be close to the dining hall, since meals had to be delivered hot to hundreds of students who had little tolerance for delay. But wisely, she had chosen to follow the stream of man and maidservants who flitted about with platters of drinks and foodstuffs in hand back to their point of origin, passing through an unadorned door to enter the grand rooms where the magic of cooking was done.
To her surprise, no one stopped her, but she surmised that such was probably due to her clothing, the uniform found in her master's cabinet. Apparently, all of the students at the Academy were nobles, and as such the commoner serving staff was subservient to them…
This was fortunate, as it meant the huntress could simply ask the others where her quarry might be…and they were obligated to tell her. With the help of the others, Illyasviel found Siesta without too much delay. The maid was in the far end of the kitchens washing dishes, having asked for that duty to avoid being seen by some of the "odder" nobles, and was currently humming as she worked, oblivious to her surroundings.
Fufufu, let's fix that, shall we?
With that mischievous thought in mind, Illya snuck up behind the unsuspecting maid, slipped her hands under the maid's arms… and groped.
Luckily for Siesta (and her paycheck), there had been nothing breakable in her hands, as the metallic serving platters slipped her fingers and clattered violently to the sink. Instinctively, she jumped back, trying to turn around, but this only made both she and the young Miss von Einzbern lose their balance, with the maid toppling on top of the white-haired girl.
For the second time that day, Siesta found herself sweating, quite nervous at the presence of another girl as she stared into a set of blood red eyes.
"My… how bold you are today, Siesta-chan," Illya teased, as Siesta stiffened, realizing the position she was in. To her credit, she tried valiantly to squirm of the white-haired girl's grasp. But it seemed that Illya was stronger than she looked, so she'd have to beg.
"M-miss von Einzbern," she said, shuddering as cool fingers traced the curve of her spine. "Could you please, erm, release me so that I may perform my duties?"
"Why no," Illya replied, her cheeks puffing into a cute pout. "You're doing your… duties… quite fine, as far as I can see, right?"
"And don't call me that, Siesta-chan," the homunculus whispered saucily, as if daring the maid to do otherwise. "Call me… Mistress Illya."
"P-please, mistress?" Siesta whimpered, shivering despite herself as warm breath brushed against the hollow of her neck, making her feel things she'd never quite felt before.
Illyasviel thought for a moment as her fingers wiggled of their own accord, touching whatever they felt like. Her maid felt so warm and soft, so unlike Sella and her stern attitude. She should get more maids like this, she thought, as it was just so comfortable to just cuddle up against a maid and…
"M-m-mistress?" Siesta pleaded again, terror and anticipation easily seen in her gaze now. "Could you… could you please let me go?"
Illya sighed, but let her fingers slip free with a pout, as the maid nearly sprang to her feet as if stung. "Alright, Siesta-chan, but you are not getting away next time." With that, Illya took a small vial out of her pockets, a container filled with a purple prana-laced perfume, if somewhat crudely made.
Looking at Siesta, Illyasviel thought the maid might like to have it.
"You can have this," the homunculus whispered, leaning to speak into Siesta's ear as she slipped the vial into one of the poor maid's pockets.
Siesta blinked, suddenly afraid once more.
Was this some strange noble courting ritual she did not know about? She dared not question the girl. What if Mistre—Miss Einzbern wanted to take her here in the kitchens? No one would be able to stop her! Siesta bit back a whimper. She was stronger than this and her family counted on her for the income she could provide.
Plus, there were worse nobles to lose her purity to. Especially if it were a male, since then she would be ruined for marriage.
"Bye, bye!" Illya said teasingly, turning away from Siesta. "You should speak more, my pretty. But even then, it's still fun to play with you. I'll see you real soon."
Cooping a last feel, Illyasviel waved goodbye to a red-faced and distraught Siesta.
Beside Siesta, the chef shook his head in pity. Too bad it was one of the young and pretty female nobles. If it had been a male, like that playboy Guiche, he would have suffered an "accident", which was all too common around knives and hot liquids.
"Still," the chef muttered, "there are worse nobles to lose her purity to."
A field of white…
Louise tried hard not to dream of snow. Not to think of the absolute purity of it, the coldness… the absence of life it implied. She tried not to think of how before the winter's advance, everything died, and even mages were rendered helpless, forced to huddle in front of fires in their castles for warmth, unable to face the wrath of the elements outside.
…lines and runes crisscrossing barren stone in whorls and spirals and incantations…
She tried not to think of failure on a day that was the pinnacle of her career as a mage so far, yet profoundly disturbing, making her wonder about herself even more than usual. And yet she saw the darkness and the ever encroaching end, as time ticked by fatalistically, and each passing hour meant that the reaper's bony feet drew close and closer to where she stood.
…a Winter Saint in a dress of gold and red and white…
The images that bombarded her only grew more and more terrible…
...Rivers of blood flowing... icy cold laughter...
She knew from whence these dreams came - these dreams of slaughter, blood, a forest of wolves and red eyes.
Red eyes like her familiar.
No one else she knew had that color, like a bloodstained winter, a faery in power and skill.
Louise tried to forget that she had ever dreamed, had ever seen these visions, to repress them into the deepest, darkest parts of her mind where she could simply pretend they didn't exist.
But she couldn't.
Thousands of years of toil, the achievement of a lost Magic beyond anything those in Halkeginia could dream of. Experiment upon experiment, trial upon trial, battle and death always surrounded by those of the snow.
She tried to shut her eyes, to block her ears and tune out the terrors creeping at the end of perception, but it was useless. The images were seared into her mind, like a curse beyond her ability to remove or dispel, as if deep inside she wished for them.
In some dreams, she tried to end herself, to rip out her eyes and claw out her heart-but even that was futile.
In those dreams she was a woman, tormented by shadows and whispers of the dark, a colorless one corrupted by unseen winds of plague.
It hurt, so badly her mind couldn't properly remember all of it, lest it drive her insane from the mere memory of what had been experienced.
Wishes flitting about in the mind, unvoiced, unasked, unanswered. Corruptions and fears coming to life, as ruby-red eyes grew dark, and all was stained by ebon night.
Louise tried to wake, yet could not, as she was locked into this sea of memories till it ended. She tried to scream, but all that emerged was silence.
The Winter Saint, so much like her familiar, fell time and time again, consumed by wishes terrible to behold.
A hundred, no a thousand incarnations…
Each with their own individuality, each with their own lives…
Louise watched them all.
She watched each one struggle, clawing for life in endless battle, far stronger than she could ever be, yet in the end, their resistance was futile, as snow was tainted by the red of blood. They died, one after another, the mechanical metronome of the reaper's blade slicing time and time again as they knew infinite loss without gain.
Each time they died, Louise felt their pain as her own.
Her heart bled for them.
Her skin boiled for them.
Yet she could not look away, as each of their deaths was more creative and painful than the last, more agonizing.
The images grew in intensity and clarity.
At first, they were blurry, vague… as if lost in time. But with each incarnation that passed her eyes, the images grew clearer. Louise could not understand the full breadth of what she saw - or even a fraction of what she was shown, yet despite that she knew.
She knew that it was not all for done yet.
Somewhere along the line, her mind slowly began to shut down, to close in on itself in a futile attempt to block out the images that assaulted and raped her mind..
It was all just too much.
Then the very last images showed themselves, playing out the events of a terrible battle of titans, of creatures far beyond any in Halkeginia. Her mind focused, as icy-cold pain stabbed into her, showing her every detail, every sound of battle, every unspoken word.
She was shown the abyss.
The mage saw the black-grey form of her familiar's familiar growl and roar, as if it were the incarnation of demonic wrath. She saw it charge, unimaginably fast, its destructive powers paved way for the tiny girl to follow in its wake. Louise saw carnage she never thought possible in her life. That beast must be something greater that she had ever imagined something powerful beyond mere words.
Yet it died.
Just as each of the incarnations of the tainted woman, who kept on appearing her mind, crawled in futility, so did this beast—no, spirit—of power, at the whim of a man in gold.
A prideful, arrogant King who had slain him without lifting a finger!
The protector was vanquished, and with a cruel smile, the Golden King tore out the little girl's heart, watching her die, watching the light fade from her eyes.
And then the vision faded, and all was still, with Louise left in a void where nothing existed, an expanse of white stretching as far as she could see, like pristine snow.
"So you saw that, magus?"
It was a call from a cold, imperious voice - the consciousness of one long ago. It whispered in Louise's ears, yet not matter where she turned, she saw nothing. All was white.
"I-I…" Louise tried to answer, but words would not form in her shock.
"You do not belong here. Sleep, young one. And forget."
All faded to darkness, until the morning when she woke screaming.
Notes: AlfheimWanderer is credit to the team.