Louise gasped for breath as she did her best to keep up with her familiar. Other than her pink hair, Louise's classmates would have trouble identifying her at the moment. She wore a simple outfit more suited to a commoner than a student at the prestigious Academy of Magic-Louise had abandoned her mantle and school uniform after the first day of this hellish training. In addition to the change of clothing, her normally immaculate hair was in disarray, and sweat was pouring freely down her face as she gasped for breath and counted down the steps until the end of their run.

She had learned early on that complaining about the training only earned her more training time. In a way, Sakura reminded Louise of her mother. While her time at the Academy had been in many ways an exercise in public humiliation and frustration, one of the small comforts she had taken from the experience was that she was free of her mother's ridiculous training regime. The fight a few days ago had revealed the danger of her lack of preparation, and Louise was determined to remedy that problem without complaining.

Still, she couldn't hold in her displeasure when they completed their lap of the Academy grounds and Sakura continued to run.

"Aren't we done with running for today?" Louise asked.

"Now, now, the student won't improve unless she increases her workload regularly." Sakura chided, sounding as if she was enjoying a leisurely walk through the countryside rather than the strenuous run she had been putting Louise through.

"This is insane! Nobody improves that fast." Louise complained.

"What was that? That sounded like the same person who told me she was willing to do 'whatever it takes' to become strong, but that must be my ears playing tricks on me." Sakura replied, still cheerful and carefree.

Louise grumbled, but kept running. The truth was that she had practically begged Sakura for this training. After the battle she had been in a state of complete shock for nearly a day. She still had nightmares about those knives, feet away from carving out her heart. She had no doubt in her mind that if not for Sakura's presence she would have been dead before she knew the battle had even started. The morning after the battle she had pleaded with Sakura to train her in her way of doing things. Louise still wanted to learn to control her magic, but it was clear to her that Sakura was skilled enough to at least hold her own in any kind of battle.

Other than her brush with mortality, that had been the other major shock from the battle. It was one thing to know, vaguely, that her familiar was dangerous. It was another thing entirely to see her move too fast for Louise to even follow with her eyes, and kick a grown man hard enough to separate his body from his arms.

Sakura had proven surprisingly willing to take Louise under her wing. Louise supposed that if her familiar really had been training since she was six then Louise was hardly going to be a threat to her any time soon. The first order of business had been to bring her "physical energy" up to par. Louise had always hated physical training, but now at least it had a purpose. It still wasn't something she enjoyed, but she was willing to put up with a lot if it meant she could do something other than make things explode.

Sakura brought the run to a halt after another quarter lap of the Academy. Louise walked around the clearing they had stopped in a couple of times to cool down before she settled down on the ground, unashamedly lying on her back to catch her breath. After a moment Sakura settled down beside her, and master and familiar enjoyed a peaceful moment of cloudwatching together.

"I can't believe they're going through with this Chevalier nonsense." Louise said, breaking the silence.

"Why's that?" Sakura asked, idly plucking blades of grass and letting them drift in the breeze. "Imagine how awful it would have been if Kirche and Tabitha had gotten away clean. Getting a warning out right under their noses, then dueling Kirche to a stand still... sounds pretty heroic to me."

"But it's all a lie!" Louise said with heat in her voice, although she kept her voice low. "Wouldn't it bother you at all, getting an award for leading your friends into a mistake and then betraying them?"

"Lie, truth, it doesn't really matter." Sakura said, still sounding disinterested. "This is politics."

"Of course the truth matters!" Louise exclaimed. "Part of being a noble is being a paragon of honor and honesty."

"Tch, you really have been brought up as the youngest daughter." Sakura said, sitting up to look Louise in the eyes. "Do you really think your family rose to prominence because of that fairy tale nonsense?"

"Whatever," Louise replied, long resigned to her inability to dent her familiar's cynicism. "Even besides the fact that it makes a mockery of everything I believe, it won't really matter. They'll just call me Chevalier Zero now."

Sakura looked surprised to hear Louise say such a thing, and she fixed Louise with a look that made her feel like a student who had just disappointed her teacher. Louise recognized this as a sign that she was about to receive a lecture on human nature, probably related to how awful people were. Still, Sakura's advice had proven useful in getting Guiche off her back, so Louise felt there was no harm in listening to what her familiar had to say.

"Louise, at the end of the day most of the students here want the Valliere to be successful. That's just how it is with powerful families." Sakura said. "If you just keep up the humble act and pretend like you're actually growing up, people will change how they look at you. They'll even start making up stories about how you've been causing explosions on purpose, or how the explosions mean you're actually some kind of super-mage struggling to control her powers."

"Just like that?" Louise asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Just like that. Your classmates grew up hearing tales of the Valliere family. Half the reason they pick on you is that you don't live up to the stories." Sakura replied. "Now you're being made a Chevalier, just like you'd expect from a Valliere. If you give them half a chance, they'll think this is the moment when the ugly duckling grew up to become a beautiful swan."

"If I wasn't so tired I'd swat you for being so disrespectful all the time." Louise said.

"You could try." Sakura smiled, before kipping up to her feet. "Just remember, the best lie is the one your audience wants to believe."

Sakura reached down to help Louise up to her feet, then set out at a brisk walk back towards the castle.

"Speaking of controlling your magic powers," Sakura said, glancing back over her shoulder at Louise. "I think it's about time for another experiment."


Louise was intrigued and a little apprehensive as she followed Sakura back to the castle. The last experiment her familiar had designed had been a rather spectacular failure, but there was no denying that she was capable of devising some unique ideas aimed at figuring out what was going wrong with Louise's spells.

This time, rather than take her to a meeting with an instructor, Sakura lead Louise to the stables. She called out for "Inu" and a puppy soon came bounding out to greet her.

Inu was absolutely adorable. He was no more than eight or nine weeks old, and while it was clear that he would eventually grow to be quite large, at the moment he was a mishmash of oversized paws and gangly legs supporting a small body. Inu's coat was made up of thick black fur, with a few spots of dark brown scattered over his body. When Louise caught a glimpse of his eyes she saw that they were a striking ice blue color.

Louise felt herself relax as she watched Sakura fuss over the puppy. She sometimes thought of her familiar as some kind of heartless killer, but at moments like these she was reminded that Sakura was also a young girl like herself. Inu bounded up to the ninja with great enthusiasm, panting with excitement while she scratched the back of his head, before running off across the courtyard to chase a bug or particularly interesting shadow for a moment until he lost interest and returned to Sakura's ministrations.

Once the puppy had tired himself out a bit, Sakura secured a rope around his neck and stood up, turning to address Louise. "One of the hunting dogs just had puppies a couple of months ago, they don't mind me borrowing one for a little while."

Louise followed Sakura as she walked with the dog out towards the forest. Louise was a little irritated that Sakura was expecting her to follow along while she walked her dog instead of just taking her to whatever experiment she wanted to perform, but it was hard to stay irritated in the presence of such a cute puppy. As they walked, Inu kept racing out to the end of the rope, eager to experience all of the sights and smells of the forest. Meanwhile, Sakura begain to explain the idea behind her latest experiment.

"I figure that instead of trying to perform a spell and force your magic to fit a particular element, we should focus on trying to feel what your magic is doing when you create your explosions." She explained. "You remember how I told you that I could sense your power when you perform a spell?"

Louise nodded in response.

"Well, you're the only person like that. Everybody else, all of their power just goes right into the spell. I can feel the effects of the spell, but not the magical power." Sakura continued. "More than that, your magic feels like something's missing. Like it's hungry for something."

"What could that mean?" Louise asked.

"I'm not sure." Sakura replied. "I thought it might be trying to form some kind of lightning magic, and looking for nearby lightning to draw on, but that didn't work out."

"No kidding." Louise shook her head ruefully, remembering the fallout from the last experiment.

"But then we had that fight, and your spell took out one of those wraith things just like that." Sakura said, snapping her fingers. "It could be that you just disrupted the chakra somehow, but it might be something else. Have you ever hit a person with a spell before?"

"No," Louise replied, shaking her head. "With all of the explosions, nobody really wanted me pointing my wand at them. The only time I ever put a spell on somebody was the Contract Servant spell with you, and that one is different."

"Ok, here we are." Sakura said, coming to a stop. Looking around, Louise saw that they were in a small clearing in the forest. Near the middle of the clearing was a post. It looked like somebody had taken a rather thick branch from one of the nearby trees, stripped the bark off, and then spent some time stabbing the wood for some reason. Louise idly wondered what her familiar had been up to as she watched Sakura walk into the middle of the clearing, tying Inu's rope to the post. Sakura returned to stand next to her master.

"All right," Sakura said, watching Louise expectantly. "Do your thing."

"What?" Louise asked, confused.

"Cast a spell at the dog." Sakura instructed.

"What!" Louise shouted. "Are you crazy?"

The dog in question was watching them eagerly, panting slightly and wagging his tail in anticipation of the new game they were playing.

"Look," Sakura explained, "we don't know what will happen when your spells hit a living creature. This way we can find out. Plus your magic might behave differently if it absorbs life force or something."

"Absolutely not!" Louise said, appalled. "I am not blowing up the puppy, and that's final."


Sakura looked at her student and suppressed a sigh, realizing that she had attempted to push Louise too far. For some reason she kept slipping into thinking of Louise as a trusted friend and respected colleague, and lost sight of what a sheltered young girl she truly was. Rather than a professionally conducted experiment regarding the girl's magic, it looked like this was going to turn into a lesson of a different sort.

"Remember when I agreed to teach you, when I said that you would learn to kill your heart and do what was necessary?" Sakura asked.

Louise nodded, but her body language did not soften at all.

"I wasn't just saying that to sound cool, you know." Sakura walked over to the dog, and the stupid thing walked right up to her for attention. It really made her nostalgic for Konoha-the Inuzaka dogs were far too smart to just wander off into the woods with some strange ninja. "Do you think all of your enemies are going to come in super-evil looking packages? When the time comes you need to be able to act without hesitation."

"If I need to defend myself I will," Louise replied, "but I'm not going to kill some innocent dog just to practice being a psychopath!"

"Fine," Sakura said, shrugging her shoulders as she drew a kunai. She savored the horrified expression that appeared on Louise's face for a moment before she sliced the rope free from the training log. Picking up the severed end of rope, she handed it to Louise. "You might as well spend the rest of the afternoon playing with the dog, then, if you're just going to waste my time."

Sakura turned and strode back towards the castle, not entirely displeased with this turn of events. Giving Louise time to bond with the dog would make the lesson all the more effective in the end. It had certainly proved effective in the Academy after she had spent a month taking care of her very own little rabbit.

"Maybe I will," Louise said as she followed along behind Sakura. The two walked back to the castle in silence. Sakura kept her expression carefully schooled to keep from showing her amusement as Louise repeatedly maneuvered to keep herself between her familiar and the puppy while they walked.

Before they reached the Academy they were ambushed by yet another pink-haired girl. Sakura reached for a kunai but relaxed when she saw Louise's face light up with recognition. Louise greeted the girl, who turned out to be her sister Cattleya, and cheerfully introduced her to the dog. She did not include Sakura in her introductions, which suited Sakura fine. She wasn't looking to make any new friends here, and she did have her own meeting to get to.


Sakura paused in front of the door to the headmaster's office and took a moment to compose herself. Although the fight with the ninja from her world had forced her to change her plans, her goal remained the same. Basically, she didn't want anybody to hassle her while she worked with Louise and waited for a chance to get back home. She didn't want them to fear her-there was a reason she didn't mention her training in infiltration and assassination-since that might lead them to try to separate her from Louise and the Academy, which would be annoying. Better for her if they thought of chakra techniques as somewhat useful parlor tricks, and of Sakura herself as a moderately talented and war-weary soldier whose abilities were enhanced by the runes on her hand.

Proper mindset in place, Sakura knocked on the door. She was a little surprised when Professor Colbert opened the door and ushered her inside. Apparently this meeting would involve only herself, the headmaster, and Colbert.

"Ah, Miss Haruno," the headmaster said, smiling at her, "how kind of you to indulge an old man's curiosity about this 'chakra' energy."

"Oh, it's no trouble," Sakura replied, before beginning her standard explanation of chakra. After she had finished explaining the basic idea that some people were able to use excess chakra to perform special techniques, she skipped the part where she usually demonstrated the basic three techniques taught in the academy. She hadn't seen anything in Halkeginia like the clone, transformation, or replacement technique, and she firmly believed that the best way to keep her trump cards a secret was not to tell anybody about them. Instead, she jumped straight to an explanation of elemental techniques.

"The five types of elemental chakra are earth, water, wind, fire, and lightning. Every person has one element that they are naturally aligned with. Some shinobi are fortunate enough to have two. Mine is earth." Sakura explained, then began forming a series of hand seals at a deliberate pace. "These hand seals are used to perform the technique, much like a spell invocation."

Finishing, Sakura spat a ball of mud onto the floor. She didn't mention that with practice a ninja could learn to perform simple techniques like this one without seals.

"Fascinating," Colbert commented, looking at the mud on the ground. "But you say these 'shinobi' are only able to use one or two elements-so everybody is either a dot or line class?"

"Not exactly," Sakura replied. Colbert's experience with the recent battle would put the lie to any claim that ninja were no threat to a trained mage. "Talented shinobi can learn to use other elements, but it's a long and tedious process. Generally you can create bigger techniques by using more chakra, rather than by combining elements. Some are able to use the technique I just showed you to create giant walls of mud. I'm more of a control type than a power type, though."

Forming another series of unnecessary hand seals, Sakura knelt down and touched her hand to the ball of mud. The mud flowed up onto her hand, forming into a reasonably detailed sculpture depicting Colbert in the process of casting a spell. After a moment the mud hardened, taking on the consistency of stone, and Sakura set it down on the headmaster's desk.

"Impressive." The headmaster commented, examining the statue for a moment before handing it to Colbert. The professor tapped the statue with his fingernail, listening thoughtfully.

"Interesting, this seems similar to the hardening spell that Earth mages use to reinforce buildings." Colbert commented.

"Oh, yes," Sakura replied, "usually I would use existing earth for my techniques, since it's less chakra intensive, but I could tell that everything in here has been hardened to the point that I can't use it."

The two older mages nodded in response to her comment, and spent a moment thinking over the apparent similarity between Halkeginian magic and this new school of 'chakra' techniques. After a moment Colbert frowned as a thought occurred to him.

"I thought you said you were trained as a healer? But how could that be if you can't use water techniques?" Colbert asked.

"For shinobi, elemental techniques and healing techniques are totally separate." Sakura replied. "Water users can create concealing mists, or water prisons, or various different water attacks. But healing is different."

Sakura took out one of the Raikiri and very carefully drew it across her upper arm, leaving a thin line of blood visible. She wiped off the blade on her pants leg before returning it to her waist, and then focused on her right hand. A green glow of healing chakra became visible, and she drew it across the wound on her arm. When she wiped the blood away with her thumb, only unbroken skin was left behind.

"Fascinating." Colbert commented. "Does it use the same energy as our magic?"

"I don't know," Sakura replied, shrugging. "I'm trying to train Louise up on using chakra, but she has a long way to go in physical fitness before I can even tell whether she can use chakra."

"Hmmm..." Old Osmond interjected, "I believe there is another way that we could test that idea."

The headmaster made his intentions clear by holding out a wand to Sakura. She took it from him, along with a phonetic translation of the simple earth spell "Transmutation." She had not yet had a chance to perform this test on her own, as the translation magic involved in the familiar bond allowed her to read normal Tristainian writing, but not the runic language used to record spell chants.

Sakura recited the spell, focusing internally to see if she could feel a pull on her mental or physical energies. She didn't feel anything in particular, and certainly nothing like the internal buildup that was supposed to accompany a successful spell. She thought she might have experienced a slight depletion of her mental energies, but small fluctuations in mental energies happened all the time, even without the use of any techniques.

When Sakura finished, she pointed her wand at the small statue she had made, not expecting anything to happen. And indeed, nothing happened. Both Osmond and Colbert sat back slightly in disappointment.

"Well, I suppose that was too much to hope for." Osmond commented. "Still, that does leave us with the question of what to do with you, Miss Haruno."

"What do you mean?" Sakura asked, mentally reviewing the exits to the room and her distance from the professors.

"If you could use magic, you would definitely be a noble. As it is, even though these 'chakra' spells are different from ours, you could still make a pretty strong argument for nobility." Osmond explained. "You could petition the Crown to be freed from the familiar bond and possibly earn your own place in society."

"Why would I want to do that?" Sakura asked. "I'm comfortable here, you're working to find a way back to my home world... I don't want to get involved in court politics or anything."

"Well, if you're happy, you're of course welcome to remain Miss Valliere's familiar." Osmond said.

"One thing I don't understand," Colbert said, "if the place you came from is so dangerous, why do you want to go back?"

"No matter how bad it is, it's still home, yo uknow? I don't want to just abandon my village and my friends." Sakura replied. "Also, my friends don't know where I am, I don't want them to get hurt trying to rescue me if they think I've been captured by one of our enemies. Even if I eventually decide not to go back, I want to at least be able to send them a message."

That pretty much ended the interview.

Sakura stopped by the kitchens for a midday meal and some conversation with Siesta. The maid had remained friendly to Sakura throughout her time at the Academy, and for some reason Sakura just felt comfortable around her.

After that it was time to track down her master for their afternoon exercises. She eventually found Louise outside in a clearing, cycling through the basic spells for air, earth, fire, and water. The repeated explosions and broad assortment of craters dotting the clearing testified to her lack of success.

"The dog is gone and now you're blasting the ground? At least you could have let me watch and see what happened." Sakura asked, cheerfully.

Louise glared at her in response. "That's not funny. Cattleya is taking care of Inu, she's good with animals."

Louise took Sakura's silence as interest in her sister, and launched into a description of Cattleya's kind and supportive nature and her way with animals. After Louise finished describing the veritable menagerie that Cattleya took care of at home she finally wound down and Sakura was able to ask a question.

"Ne, Louise, did Cattleya's magic take a while to settle down? Maybe she could help us figure out what's going on with your magic." Sakura asked.

"No." Louise glared at Sakura. "Don't you think I would have thought of that? Cattleya's a brilliant mage. The only reason she isn't at least a triangle class by now is that she has a wasting disease that prevents her from doing very much magic at all. She couldn't even perform the familiar summoning ritual."

"I see," Sakura said, nodding. "She's too weak to summon a proper familiar, so she befriends a bunch of animals to try to fill the void in her life left by her failure. That's kind of sad actually."

"It's not like that!" Louise shouted. "She takes care of animals because she's a good person. Some people are just nice, you know."

"Tsch, people only seem nice when you haven't figured out their angle." Sakura replied. "Those are the people you have to be most careful about."


Sakura usually occupied her time between finishing her morning chores and waking Louise by reviewing her master's school books. She intended to return to Konoha with a few wands, some basic spells, and a thorough understanding of the theory of Halkeginian magic.

Konoha, like all of the hidden villages, was constantly working to increase the percentage of its citizens who could be effective ninja. Unfortunately, most people were not born with the ability to manipulate chakra, and of those who were, few were able to develop the mental and physical energy required to be useful in combat. Sakura knew that she had been pretty close to the cutoff point, but thanks to her excellent chakra control she was able to graduate from the Academy.

If even a small percentage of the Academy washouts could be taught enough magic to be useful, Konoha could significantly increase its yield rate. Over time, that would shift the balance of power in the leaf's favor. Of course, real power among the hidden villages usually came down to contests between the very best ninja, as the gulf between an S-class nin and an A-class nin could be as broad as the gap between a jounin and a genin.

Even there, Sakura felt that magic could help, if anybody in Konoha was able to master both magic and chakra use. A B-rank shinobi who was also a triangle class mage was not somebody that Sakura would ever want to face in a fight.

The morning after the unfortunate incident with the puppy, she was reading about the principles of elemental combination for line class spells when she felt a buzzing sensation in her hand that indicated that it was time to wake Louise. Ninja out in the field couldn't use alarm clocks, for obvious reasons, but still needed to wake up on time. Some clever seal master had produced a wrist mounted contraption powered by the user's chakra that would deliver a small jolt of raiton energy at a pre-set time. Sakura actually didn't really need it to wake up on time, as she had trained herself to sleep for a pre-determined number of hours, but she found it useful to keep her from getting lost in her reading and losing track of time.

Waking Louise proved as challenging as always, but Sakura was used to her master's ways by now and soon had her up and about. Despite the awkwardness occasioned by the previous day's aborted experiment, they still had their morning training to do.

Sakura set a pace for their jog that was slightly faster than they had run the day before. She hadn't said anything to Louise, but she was pleasantly surprised by the girl's progress so far. She suspected that mages were able to use their magic to speed healing somehow, as Louise was improving faster than anybody without access to chakra should be able to.

They were a quarter of the way through their run, and Sakura was enjoying the beauty of the forest in the light of the rising sun, when Louise went pelting past her at a dead sprint. Sakura easily increased her pace to maintain her position a few feet behind her master, and was about to glance back to see what had caused such a fuss when a mournful howl from behind her rendered it unnecessary.

Sakura had read about the dire wolves that lurked in the forest of Tristain, fierce predators made all the more dangerous by their habit of hunting in packs. Of course, they were supposed to be nocturnal predators. Apparently she and Louise had run into the wolf equivalent of night owls, staying up into the daylight.

Sakura considered her options for a moment as she ran. On the one hand, she could take to the trees and let Louise deal with the situation. It would be good training, and she could probably prevent anything unfortunate from happening. Unfortunately the trust between them had recently been strained by the argument the previous day, and she didn't want to add to that strain by apparently abandoning Louise in the middle of the woods. She could also attack the wolves, but that risked having one slip around her to reach her relatively fragile master. Sakura instead settled in close behind Louise, ready to snatch her up and leap away from danger should it prove necessary.

They had been rushing away from the wolves for almost a minute when Louise led them into a large clearing. Reaching the middle of the clearing, Sakura grabbed her master's arm and brought them to a halt, turning to face the oncoming wolves. She reached for a kunai with a smile. Out here in the open the wolves would have no chance.

Sakura's plan of attack was interrupted when a bolt of destruction descended upon the wolves with a terrifying war cry. The blur resolved itself into a gryphon as it crashed into the pack, striking down two wolves with its claws and setting upon another with its beak. Each wolf was one hundred pounds of angry canine, but they may as well have been little lap dogs for all the challenge they presented to the gryphon.

As the gryphon struck, the man who had been riding on its back leapt off, planting his feet into the chest of another wolf with a sickening crack to halt his momentum before rebounding to land lightly on his feet. He gestured with the sword in his hand and the last two wolves were blown away, crashing into the trees on the edge of the clearing and falling limply to the ground. The whole battle lasted no more than a handful of seconds.

The man looked over at Sakura and as their eyes met she felt a slight spark of recognition, of one predator acknowledging another. After a brief moment the man relaxed, and Sakura fell out of battle evaluation mode into personal evaluation mode. Their savior certainly cut a fine figure with his cloak flapping in the breeze. His wizard's hat and goatee framed his face and accentuated his lean, hawklike features. His build was similarly long and lean, and as he walked across the clearing to introduce himself he moved with the grace of a natural athlete. Sakura fought down the urge to lick her lips in anticipation.

One of the many differences Sakura had noticed between the society of Tristain and her home was the prevailing attitude towards physical intimacy. In Konoha it was understood that an active duty ninja had no guarantee of reaching the age of twenty-one, or eighteen, or really of living past tomorrow. Accordingly, it was understood that ninja would try to squeeze as much enjoyment out of life as they could. The nobility of Tristain, on the other hand, were much closer in attitude to the civilians of Konoha. Marriages were commonly used to build political alliance, and sexual purity was part of the bargain.

So while the students at the Academy were around Sakura's own age, and some of them were very easy on the eyes, she never seriously considered pursuing any of them. It would be too much like a fling with a civilian-she'd have to do all the work, and their tears would really ruin the mood.

This man, though, was a little older and looked a little wiser in the ways of the world. Sakura quickly decided that she could spare some time from training for a little rest and relaxation while she waited for a way back home to open up. She made sure that her body language indicated her interest, shifting her stance slightly, tilting her head as if listening attentively, and favoring him with a slight smile. She was pleased when the man stopped in front of her, swept off his hat and sketched a bow, though she was nonplussed when he looked right past her to address her master.

"Louise, please forgive me from dropping in so suddenly," he said, "but I could not simply fly by when I saw you were being attacked."

"I- er- ack," Louise stammered, before seeming to become aware of her dishevelled state and hurriedly trying to arrange her hair into some kind of order. "You shouldn't be seeing me like this! You are supposed to send word ahead, so I can prepare-"

"Please, don't worry," he interrupted, favoring her with a warm smile, "I'm happy to see that you're taking your training seriously, even after achieving such a prestigious position."

Louise blushed, but did not have anything to say in reply. The silence lingered for a moment before Sakura cleared her throat. The man seemed to start in surprise, before turning to address her.

"My apologies, I do not believe we have been introduced." He said. "I thought you were Louise's sister, but I see now that you don't appear to be related."

"This is my familiar, Sakura." Louise said, before Sakura could say anything.

"A human familiar?" He replied, looking Sakura over with surprise. "I never would have guessed."

With that, he seemed to dismiss her and turned back to Louise. Sakura kept her face schooled into an expression of polite interest, but she was surprised. It was rare for a man to completely ignore her interest-of course, in Konoha, it was general known to be unwise to ignore a kunoichi's advances. Here, though, she would be apparently be starting from scratch, considering that he had barely acknowledged her at all. She could hardly keep from breaking into an honest grin-it would be nice to have a worthwhile challenge.

Louise spoke before he could say anything, completing the introduction as she had been trained in countless etiquette lessons. "Sakura, Jean-Jacques Francis de Wardes, captain of the Royal Griffin Knights, and my fiancee."