AN: I want to particularly acknowledge Mazamba for an insightful review. Rexnos too, but his reviews are always awesome. I'll have a longer/more involved AN after the chapter going into the religious stuff some people found objectionable.
Karin Valliere had never heard of Teleportation before that night, and seeing it in action was, in a way, terrifying. The strategic implications alone, much less the potential consequences in regards to assassination attempts, threatened to overturn the political and military balance of all of Halkeginia.
She was heartened that the power lay in the hands of a being at least nominally allied with her family, but what she had seen since Jaeger's full power had been revealed... Something less tenuous than a mutual Familiar Bond with her daughter would have been vastly preferred. Especially given how the bond had affected her daughter.
The Duchess stared at her daughter's altered form with no small amount of worry, though she kept quiet as the healer examined Louise, both her (minor) injuries, and her changes. The first and most obvious of the changes, was that Louise was larger. Much larger. Louise had scarcely topped five feet when she first summoned her Familiar, now she stood just a hair shy of six feet tall. Beyond that, her body had also 'filled out,' both in the sense of gaining muscle mass, and in the sense of gaining the shape and curves befitting a mature woman.
Louise was by no means voluptuous, but a small part of Karin was glad to know that Louise would no longer have reason to complain about her figure.
Simple growth was only the beginning however; what could from a distance be taken as the glinting of oddly-placed jewelry, was in fact a hard, gemlike substance that had apparently grown beneath the pinkette's skin. It was hard enough to shatter iron or un-enchanted steel, and was visible only in places where it had done just that, destroying or damaging deadly weapons that had been wielded against Karin's daughter, failing to do anything more than penetrate Louise's skin and draw a modest amount of blood.
A cold anger burned within Karin at the number of such injuries Louise had sustained, even if none of them had done her daughter serious injury.
Wardes had much to answer for.
Mentally shaking off that course of thought, Karin returned her attention to the final external alteration to her youngest child's body; the nubs of a set of horns protruding from her skull, just above her hairline. If not for that one alteration, Louise, when uninjured, could have passed for a normal (if large) human woman amongst noble society, but the Healer had already ascertained that the horns were growing.
"Why did you do this?" Karin finally asked, turning to face the creature standing beside her, currently in the shadow-wrapped form of what was, more or less, a human.
"Why does this," Jaeger tapped the glowing runes on his forehead as he spoke, "Give me an instinctive and intuitive understanding of enchanted items? Your daughter is the one who initiated the Familiar Bond between us, not myself. That my magic flowed back to affect her as well is hardly surprising, considering just how much of it I have."
"The Familiar Binding ritual is a product of Brimir's Holy work," Karin said flatly, "I find it difficult to believe that so potent a thing could be warped unintentionally by your magic, strange as it may be."
"It is what it is," Jaeger said with a shrug, "I used to have a Familiar of my own; it was lost when I was cursed. Now the curse has been broken, and Louise has been imbued in much the same way a Familiar would be. It is what it is."
"Can you undo the magic?" Karin demanded.
"If we break the Familiar bond," Jaeger said with a shrug, "Something I may be able to do without killing one of us. If it was only my magic, I know I could, but Brimiric magic is something I've had little practical study of, and I am uncertain if I could affect it in the desired way."
"I suggest you begin such studies," Karin said stiffly, "And promptly."
"No," Jaeger refused bluntly, shaking his head as he spoke, before turning to look at Louise once more, "I have other things to do with my time, now that I am recovered. If Louise wishes the bond broken, I will investigate the possibility. I do not answer to you, and I would do such for her because she holds authority over her own body, not because of any authority she may think she holds over me."
"You are her Familiar," Karin said curtly, "By law-"
"By your law," Jaeger interrupted her, turning the full weight of his one-eyed gaze upon her again, "A law which does not account for Familiars being Sapient beings with their own free will. I will not be a Slave."
Karin stilled her tongue, knowing when a battle was wisest left unfought. She turned to study her daughter again, suppressing a scowl; once Louise had had time to recover from her ordeal, the issue would be raised again.
When Louise was awake once more, and had received the full healer's report, she wasn't sure what she should feel more violated by; what Wardes had done to her mind intentionally, or what her Familiar had done to her body unintentionally. She felt detached, disassociated from reality; her Familiar had turned into a Dragon and could cast proper spells now, her Fiance had kidnapped her and tried to mind-control her into betraying her family, nation, and Henrietta, her body had changed into something not quite human any longer, and oh yes, she was a Void Mage.
She felt like reality in its entirety was collapsing around her.
A knock on the door of her bedroom was a welcome distraction from her mental near-fugue.
"Enter," Louise called, wincing slightly at the deeper tone her voice had taken after she had grown. It wasn't a masculine tone, but it was a far cry from the Soprano she used to be.
"Louise?" Cattleya called as she slipped into the room, her voice full of concern, "Mother said-oh my."
Cattleya's voice hitched as she caught sight of Louise's significantly enlarged form, as well as the bandages wrapped around the handful of cuts that the family Healer had elected to let heal naturally, rather than with magic. Louise flinched at Cattleya's reactions, and was glad that none of the crystalline substance beneath her skin was visible any longer, and that her horns (horns!) were as-yet easily concealed beneath her hairline.
"What happened to you Louise?" Cattleya asked softly, rushing across the room fast enough to tax her weak constitution, and wrapping the now-larger girl in a tight hug, "Mother and your Familiar refused to say."
"Did Mother tell you that Wardes turned traitor?" Louise asked half-heartedly.
"He tried to convince me to defect with him," Louise continued, her eyes losing focus as her voice became fainter, "And when I refused, he kidnapped me, then used some sort of artifact to control my mind."
Cattleya shivered, sinking down onto Louise's bed and looking faintly green as she continued to hold her younger sister. Louise simply lay in her sister's arms, uncertain and listless, her eyes occasionally wandering to a bandage on her right forearm, and trying not to pay attention to how much smaller her bedchamber seemed on the whole.
"What happened to your body?" Cattleya pressed gently.
"As Jaeger told me," Louise said emptily, "In binding him as my Familiar, I have also made myself his. Whereas my magic marked him with runes, his has changed my body to make it more suitable to combat. That was a prediction though, when I was simply growing quickly, not..."
Louise trailed off, and tears began to well up in the corners of her eyes again; Cattleya resisted the urge to cringe, and began running her fingers through Louise's hair. Louise flinched when her sister's fingers came into contact with her scalp, and it did not take Cattleya long to discover why.
"Oh, dear Louise," Cattleya said softly, "I know you always wished you had grown more, but that it should happen like this..."
"That's not even the worst," Louise said, hysteria beginning to creep into her voice, "I can feel him, on the edge of my mind. I can feel his emotions, his feeling, and how he guilty he is, how terrified he is, because of what he did, because of how I might react, to what he did accidentally, when he came and rescued me from being taken against my will just yesterday. What do I do?"
Tears flowed freely down her face, as Louise twisted in place and desperately latched onto Cattleya, causing the older girl to gasp as she was half-crushed by the youngest Valliere's newfound strength.
"Louise," Cattleya wheezed out, "Please be careful with me, you are not yet accustomed to your new strength."
Louise went limp, and completely dissolved into tears. For long, long minutes, nearly half an hour in total, Cattleya simply held her, stroking her hair regardless of the small horns emerging from her skill, and whispering small comforting words into her ears. When the tears finally ran down, Louise fell asleep, and after a minute's consideration, Cattleya carefully lay her out on the bed, then lay down and joined her.
The next day, Louise found Jaeger in one of the gardens outside of Cattleya's Menagerie, laying in the shade of a tree in human form, watching Tabitha and her Dragon cuddle.
"Cattleya said you wanted to speak to me," Louise said quietly, still discomfited slightly by the change to her voice "But you were letting me initiate conversation, in case I did not wish to speak with you."
"It would not be surprising if you did not," Jaeger replied equally quietly, "I can feel how upset you are over the Familiar bond. It is going to take time getting used to having someone who can see through our masks readily."
"Masks?" Louise asked as she seated herself beneath the tree.
"Both of us tend to conceal our emotions from others," Jaeger said with a shrug, "Which is an important psychological subject to discuss, but not what I wanted to talk to you about right now."
"What did you wish to speak with me about?" Louise asked.
"I can change your body back to how it was," Jaeger said, nodding towards her, "But to do so, I would need to break the Familiar Bond. Do you want me to?"
Through the bond, Jaeger could sense the relief and excitement that erupted in Louise at his first statement; it came as no surprise, he had quite expected it. The sudden panic and conflicting emotions that came at his second and the question that followed it, he had not expected, and was confused by; his confusion feeding back through the bond to her, spawning confusion in turn, did nothing to simplify matters.
Jaeger considered himself to have been through a lot in life, to be very broadly experienced; experiencing an emotional feedback loop with a teenage girl was still a new thing for him. He shuddered in a moment of horror, glad that his bond with Rin, brief as it had been, hadn't featured empathy. Louise shivered in sympathy to his horror, staring at him in deepening confusion, and over the next few minutes hitherto unexperienced awkwardness continued.
Eventually Louise broke the loop, largely because she could tell he hated feeling embarrassed as much as she did, and leaving his question unanswered was becoming steadily less appealing than being trapped in the feedback loop.
"No!" Louise burst out, "I'd like it if I didn't have horns growing in, or some sort of crystal under my skin, but I don't want you to break the link!"
"Why?" Jaeger asked steadily, beginning to forcibly reign his emotions in, before shock overwhelmed him for a moment.
A terrified loneliness flared within Louise's heart in response to his question, and Jaeger grimaced, grinding his teeth and squeezing his eyes shut as an aching resonance erupted within his own. Grunting, he reached out and pulled Louise into a hug; she responded in kind.
"Though my power may be formidable, I am not God," Jaeger said softly into his ear, "For as long as it is up to me, and you desire it, I will not let you be Alone as you were ever again."
Louise said nothing, but nodded fiercely into his shoulder. They sat beneath the tree together for a long time.
AN: So, some readers felt that I 'crammed in' religion, in a way that just was jarring and inappropriate to the story. It's kind of strange, considering that 1, Halkeginia is a setting with a ridiculously entrenched religion (one I personally find repulsive), 2, D'n'D has an expansive pantheon of its own, and 3, I've made no bones about the protag being a Christian (as he's an SI) right from the first installement.
I am a Christian. Christian means 'follower of Christ.' It's right there on my profile page, it's right there in the first installment of Dungeon Crawler, I've made no bones about this. To some it may seem like I'm 'forcing' my religion into a story, but as these are, by nature, SI's, it would be a complete destruction of the protagonist to remove any and all Christian elements from the story.
In point of fact, I've actually deliberately underplayed that element of my character a great deal, due to narrative clash. Simply put, the stories that Dungeon Crawler has crossed with since the Chicago installment, are generally written by what I tend to refer to as agnostics/apathetics; people who have no clearly defined Worldview in regards to such existential issues as God, Life, Death, and Morality.
I have such clearly defined views, and as such, so does Jaeger. A lot of people are perfectly content if the hero of a story does the heroic thing 'because it's just the right thing to do,' but I'm a bit more existential than that; I want to know why it is the right thing.
To take the example from ZnT, is it right or wrong for the Nobility to rule over the Common Folk? That's an existential question, because by the creed most of Halkeginia is taught/is implied to by into, magic is literally a direct gift from God, and is what establishes the right of the Nobility to rule over the Commoners. If you want to counter that claim, you need to get existential yourself, and I, as a Christian, have a ready and easy response; 'God created man in His image, male and female He created them.'
That's not an exact quote, but the essence of scripture there, as applied to this issue, is that being created in the image of God gives people an inherent value and worth; we can think, we feel, we can create, we're sentient, sapient, self-aware, whatever you wish to call it, there is a soul in a human being.
Translating this to a fantasy setting with magic and magical species is fairly easy; in this version of reality anything sapient is under the same 'sapient, thinking/feeling/made in the image of God' category, and rather than witchcraft/summoning souls of the dead being outlawed, it's just straight-up necromancy that is.
To sum things up; I do not subscribe to the agnosticism/atheism predominant in modern media. Due to trying to treat the settings I'm writing fanfiction in with a decent amount of respect, as they are often written by agnostics/atheists, I keep my own worldview from completely ovewhelming the story, but especially in a SI series, it will come out sometimes. If you don't want to see a Christian worldview show up in stories, don't read work by a Christian author.
And as a final note/warning, if I continue this branch of Dungeon Crawler beyond this point, religious themes will get a lot heavier. Why? Because Halkeginia is dominated by a corrupt false religion, run by a genocidal maniac of a pope, and that's an issue that will need to be dealt with if this story continues. For now though, this story is done.