disclaimer: Once again, as always, none of this is mine. If you want to take some of my ideas, feel free to do so; just a shout out saying I inspired you is all I ask for.
Also, a lot of this chapter is heavily inspired by Cpl. Facehugger's awesome Prototype crossover with Familiar of Zero: Unfamiliar, to the point where I may have filched more than a few plot threads for my own use. This is partly intentional; as it's less a "ripping off" and more a "homage" (it's also a poorly-disguised plea for the Corporal to update it). Don't worry, I'll be giving it my unique spin – pun unintended – and it will make sense in future chapters.
Anyway, we're just about at the junction where the crazy things start happening, and two universes with little to do with each other will clash… violently.
So without further ado, here we go!
What the hell do you think this story is?
From Zero to Infinity
A Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann and Familiar of Zero crossover fanfic
Seventh Spiral: Bracing For Impact
The week-long festival of the town of Tarbes had long since finished, with the townsfolk rested and refreshed from their seven days of feasting, celebration, and – let's be honest – a bacchanal or several.
And in the wake of their liberation from a corrupt noble and his nefarious schemes, the people of Tarbes were due to return to their daily lives with a renewed vigor, thanks to the face of their patron saint, the Black Doll, looming over them like an obsidian sentinel.
It was while staring into the red eyes of the proverbial Black Doll that Louise found her familiar, perched on the edge of a cliff overlooking the inn owned by Siesta's family.
"Lordgenome," she began as she made her approach towards her familiar. "It's time."
"So soon?" he asked her without peeling his gaze away from the head of what looked like his personal mech – the Lazengann. "With how the town views the Black Doll as some sort of guardian god, I thought you would meet at least a token resistance from the townsfolk."
Louise shrugged. Upon her rescue of the young women of Tarbes from a fate worse than death, the town had deferred to her the way the servants at the manor deferred to her mother Karin.
Karin the Heavy Wind: a powerhouse of a mage, skilled politician, and mother to three beautiful daughters; and thus Louise finally came to a full understanding of what her mother kept on saying about nobility.
Your magic doesn't make you a noble. Your actions do.
She did feel like a heel when she asked the new mayor – a low-ranked noble named Peter the Cloud Fist who happened to be born in Tarbes – to investigate further into the ruins Lord Mott had found as soon as the week-long Coming of Age Ceremony had finished. Given her boon to the town, who was the mayor to say no?
Based on what she'd been seeing from her familiar during the celebration at Tarbes, Lordgenome had been chafing at the bit to check out the ruins which housed the Black Doll. She also surmised that he'd seen it before, in the world where he came from, and after she got the mayor's okay, it was a matter of getting everyone together to investigate the mountain where the Black Doll lay even further.
"So how much time do we have left in our errantry?" Montmorency asked Kirche as they edged into one metal passage after another, gauging their position via compass and trail marking as they slowly but surely made their way from the base of the mountain – where Mott maintained the orc-spawning machinery – up to where the Black Doll's head loomed large over the town of Tarbes.
"Two weeks or so," the Germanian replied. She had her misgivings about Lordgenome, and saw in him a skilled combatant, but she never really put "just how skilled" together. It didn't help that she would always witness him at the close of any decisive moments, either. Still, it was thanks to Louise and Lordgenome getting the town of Tarbes back on its feet that Kirche was able to sample what she termed as the local cuisine, sometimes two at a time, several times over.
And now, with the festivities ended and the town returning to its usual tenor, Matilda and her student mages were navigating their way within the mountain overlooking Tarbes.
"…Protection?" Tabitha asked, eyebrows furrowing with concern when the Germanian regaled her fellow student mages with stories about just how hard she partied along with the young men of Tarbes.
"Obviously," the redhead replied, raising a disbelieving eyebrow at her friend as they turned a corner, only to see an odd set of doors, with an even odder lock on them. "Dead end," she sighed. "Now what do we do?"
"It's not quite a dead end," Lordgenome replied as his hand snaked into the front of his shirt to fish out the small drill-like object that was the former business end of the Staff of Destruction. "I happen to have the key for this." As he held up what he called the Core Drill to the lock, both of them began to pulse with a warm red light.
"Here goes nothing," he said as he inserted and turned the drill inward like a key.
The light that emerged from the newly-opened doors engulfed all of them.
"Glad your kind managed to show up here, Professor," a glad Tristanian knight said as a bald wizard pointed his wand at a pile of orc corpses, sending them up in flames nearly instantaneously.
"I normally would take a pass from these duties, but seeing the harm these orcs have done has spurred me to action," Professor Jean Colbert replied. "Plus, you need all the help you can get, right?"
"That's right," the knight answered. "Guess you and your students have earned the noble title now."
Colbert set another stack of corpses aflame. "Noblesse oblige, [note 1]" he muttered before mentally gauging his willpower, and finding he had enough metaphorical gas left in the metaphorical tank to torch a thousand or more dead orcs.
A small clamor erupted from the soldiers, knocking Colbert out of his thoughts.
"Chief!" a yell came as the officer-in-charge arrived. "Reinforcements from Tristain's Magical Academy made it, and not a moment too soon."
"Ah, yes," the commanding tone of Agnes answered. "I would like a situation report as soon as possible. Professor, how goes your students'… you."
Angry eyes tried to skewer Professor Jean Colbert where he stood, but all the outward reaction he could make from the intensity of her glare was a pained sigh.
"Fancy meeting you here, Flame Snake," the Princess' right-hand-woman began, triggering a round of murmuring from the gathered knights, and the professor shrugging at the reference to his runic name.
"I've not been known by that name for quite a long time now," he replied wearily, "and I had hoped that whatever I've done wouldn't come back to haunt me. I guess I should have prepared for this moment a little more."
"Prepare all you want, the fact that you already know why I'm here is enough. So," Agnes replied, carefully withdrawing a cavalry saber from its sheath, "time for you to feel my parents' pain and suffering."
Instead of defending, he just dropped his arms. "Go on, then," he said. "You'll be doing me a favor, putting the nightmares to an end."
"Sir!" a chorus of two voices shouted as two mages took up positions in front of their professor.
"Katie… Malicorne…" he said, a bit surprised at how quickly the students of the Academy would rise to the defense of their… slightly eccentric professor. "Thank you, but do not interfere."
"Interfere? Why, that's preposterous!" Katie said, poised to cast a fire spell first chance she got. "She's trying to kill you!"
"With good reason," the professor replied. "I, after all, killed her parents… right in front of her. That was a big mistake, come to think of it… those two were the last I was ordered to… eliminate before I had had it with black ops and tendered my resignation."
He put calm hands on his students' shoulders. "Please. Step aside. Let her do her worst. It would be good for her and for me." What he left unsaid was how he had been reliving it day after day, resorting to all sorts of methods to keep his dreams from plaguing his already frayed conscience.
The empty eyes of the former Flame Snake met the angry, determined ones on Princess Henrietta's bodyguard, and after minutes of the musketeer searching for any malice in the old man's eyes and finding none, Agnes finally relented.
"Live with your nightmares a bit longer, Flame Snake," she gritted out before tossing the saber to a nearby knight and walking off in a frustrated huff.
"That was close," Malicorne mused. "Sir, was what everything you and the Chief Musketeer said true?"
"Yes," Colbert replied. "Yes, it was. I can't tell you any more… otherwise I'd have to kill you."
The other students rolled their eyes. "Professor Colbert, you may have done all that, but your sense of humor is still flatter than a flounder," Malicorne muttered, and everyone else could not help letting out a chuckle.
"So I've been told," he said between the gales of laughter, weighing his options regarding whether to tell Agnes that her parents weren't, really; that they had found her as a newborn sleeping peacefully within a sealed metal box near the outskirts of Tristain itself, and this very fact was why he and his unit were ordered to find and hunt them down…
This… this is impossible.
I had expected the unexpected ever since I figured out I carried the power of the Spiral more than most, but this?
How can this be? It's a near-perfect replica of my palace. The town on the mountain… it's built on top of Teppelin city, or something close to it!
What is going on here? How? Why?
An unbelieving Lordgenome ran his hands through the machinery while looking incredulously at the slumbering black mecha tethered on the floor in the middle of the room. Red lights glowed and pulsed as the generators and storage units stood in silent watch over the ganmen, reserves full and near to brimming from all the Spiral Power freely given by the people of Tarbes over the centuries.
The former Spiral King laughed nervously as he recalled the more… flamboyant… member of the Gurren Brigade – Leeron – and his declaration about how love was the driving force behind Spiral Power.
He laughed off the eccentric mechanic's theories then, took those words of his seriously in the final battle, but the truth – the actual, full-blown entirety of it in action – never really hit him in the face until now.
So that's why the Coming of Age Ceremony is like that, his hindsight told him. Leeron was right all long. Love really does power the Spiral Energy generators.
"Lordgenome, your smile and laugh are quite unnerving to my friends," Louise whispered as she stepped up to him and joined him in examining the central chamber. "Wait, if that's the Black Doll, what's the black face on the mountaintop?"
"An effigy, most likely," the mint-haired young man answered as his eyes met the darkened crimson of the Lazengann's. "Maybe I can key myself into this… but not now, as our time is short. We have to return to Tristain now or miss the Familiar Presentation ceremony."
Meanwhile, everyone else was marveling at the sights. While Mott's chamber turned stomachs, the almost-sterile appearance of the main chamber provided a stark contrast to the generator's muted lights and its centerpiece – the black machine anchored to the middle of the room, its arms folded, looking down upon Matilda's group as a disapproving parent would.
"We'll come back here, right, Professor Matilda?" Montmorency asked.
"We will," the former thief answered, ruffling her hair as she gave Guiche a commending look for having his Valkyries scout ahead. The young Gramont now had an even finer control over his summons than before, and it was said that Verdandi could also help in controlling the bronze warrior maidens. "We will. Come on, let's go back to the town and begin preparations for our return to the Academy from there."
During their departure, Louise could not help but feel as if the Black Doll her familiar kept referring to as the Lazengann was watching them leave, its red eyes glowing a bit more intensely as they left the automaton to its continued slumber…
As the cart carrying Professor Matilda de la Longueville and her students ran through the country road – edging closer and closer to the capital – Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere dozed off, visions of her triumphant walk through the courtyards of the Magical Academy of Tristain filling her head as she daydreamed about how her achievements would be given their just recognition.
A surprised Eleanor would be there, a radiant Cattleya – if she would be well enough to make the trip – and for the first time ever, her Mother would look to her with pride in her eyes.
As she smiled, Lordgenome gave a careful look at her and sighed himself. They may have found another Lazengann, but it could have been keyed to a different person than him. The horrors of the Tarbes countryside were another concern, thanks to most of the students' errantries revolving around orc extermination.
Orcs… or better yet, failed beastmen.
If they hadn't taken too long celebrating, they would have carved a bloody swath of orcs from Tarbes back to the Academy. The former Spiral King did not want others to do his own dirty work, and was disappointed that the weeks off at Tarbes removed his chance to do so. Still, thanks to Louise and her friends, they were able to cut off the orc infestation at the root, and Tristain's military would finally earn a respite.
As Louise continued to nap, Lordgenome closed his eyes and entered into a conversation with Derflinger, the spirit currently inhabiting the Core Drill.
Louise's behavior is… disconcerting as of late. Are these the work of the familiar runes?
No, the spirit answered. The Void magic is interacting with you and Louise in an odd manner.
Well, Derflinger said, you have begun efforts in preventing the familiar runes from binding you to Louise, right?
Yes, I have. What does this do with – unless you mean what I think you do? She's beginning to think like me?
Sadly, you are correct,Derflinger replied.Your effort in keeping your will intact is beginning to overwrite Louise's with yours.
It's not such a bad thing, but I do not want her to become another me, Derflinger. I would not wish a lifetime of that on my enemy, let alone my… friend.
So Louise is now a friend to you?
Friends, huh, Lordgenome mused, taking a moment to consider what he first thought was a faux pas. Perhaps that is… too strong a word. Colleagues, perhaps, is a better word to describe my bond with Louise and her friends. What should be done to prevent the binding and the overwriting?
Reach a balance, my friend, Derflinger answered enigmatically. That was how Brimir did it, and I'm sure you can pull it off yourself. You are, after all, someone who can do the impossible just like him.
Row! Row! Fight the power? Lordgenome asked, carefully filing away the knowledge about this world's most powerful arch mage Brimir, who was also apparently a user of the Void, and perhaps knew about Spiral Power just like the Order of the Spiral Knights…
Took the words right out of my mouth, Derf replied with a metaphorical grin, and this time Lordgenome could not hide the surprise in his soul.
Lordgenome wanted to ask the spirit of Derflinger more, but the neighing of the horses signaled the carriage's arrival at the Tristain Magical Academy, and thus would have to be put off for a later time.
Meanwhile, some distance away, two women were having a discussion. The older one – you could barely guess which thanks to how she kept scrupulous care of herself – was currently dissuading the younger one. Again, you could barely guess who was which thanks to the younger woman's feminine – bordering on maternal – build. Both women were not giving an inch of ground in the discussion despite the younger one's occasional coughing, and they were set to resume their verbal bout when a knock on the door had them hold their truce for a moment.
"Come in," they both said nearly instantaneously, and the door opened slightly as one of the senior maidservants peered inside, treading warily around the lady of the house.
"Duchess, the carriage is waiting," the maidservant said, her voice firm despite her fright at having interrupted the lady and her daughter during their discussion.
"Thank you, Gisela," the lady said with the barest of nods and without leaving the cushion where she currently sat. "We shall be downstairs shortly."
"By your leave, Duchess," the maidservant said before leaving and closing the door behind her. As soon as the door clicked, the Duchess' eyes swept to where her daughter was putting the finishing touches of make-up onto her face.
"You do not have to exert yourself any further, Cattleya," Duchess Karin Desiree le Blanc de la Valliere said, lecturing her second daughter Cattleya, who was insistent on joining her mother and older sister Eleanor for the trip to the Tristain Magical Academy.
Troubling developments lay ahead upon their arrival in the school. While the Duchess would appear in the Academy to give her requisite speeches on valor and combat prowess and award those Princess Henrietta deemed worthy of the chevalier rank, there was another, more important reason for her presence. The Duchess had only gotten the message about Tarbes a few days ago, and while the Duchess found Insen Mott's… proclivities… distasteful, he proved to be a good politician and a prime source of information regarding Reconquista – a fool's errand, if she had no tact in describing it.
The opportunity in that crisis proved to be Peter of the Cloud Fist – a simple man who could potentially be another politically savvy informant like Mott – but without the perversions or proclivities the Duchess almost planned a convenient accident for (if not for her daughter taking matters into her own hands).
"And I," Cattleya Yvette La Baume Le Blanc de la Fontaine replied, "am going to make sure you do not – deliberately or accidentally – summon a metaphorical storm all over Louise's victory parade. This is her moment."
The older woman's eyes narrowed. "I find your weakened constitution has not affected the sharpness of your tongue as of late, young lady."
Cattleya curtsied as low as her body could handle, which was not too low. "My apologies, Mother. However, I do not say this for my own sake – Louise has been through a lot, and she will need more than my support for her to continue onward. You yourself said that the steel must not be left in the forge too long, lest it grow brittle."
"I did… yes, I can see how you thought it would apply to Louise, too. Special or not," the Duchess said, standing up to her full and formidable height, "Louise will be strong."
"That's not the question, Mother," Cattleya said. "The question is: what price will Louise pay to be strong?"
An oppressive silence hung over mother and daughter for what seemed like half an eternity before the younger woman coughed.
"…I shall take Mr. Fluffles to the Academy. You can take the carriage with your father and Eleanor," she declared before sweeping out of the room. Had Cattleya not gone into another coughing fit, she would have noticed the fleeting terror in her mother's eyes before she said that.
The trip from their manor to the Tristain Magical Academy proved to be unusually quiet for the Duke, the Duchess and their two daughters… even if there was a manticore flapping its wings alongside the carriage.
"My name is Lordgenome," he declared. "I am but a man, and in this presentation of familiars today, I may be but a man, but I can think, fight, negotiate, and reason better than most."
He revealed the familiar runes in his hand as he summoned a bit of Spiral Power for effect. "And these runes are an etching of the promise made – to guard and guide my Master through all her days, not only as her familiar, but as her loyal knight."
The red aura died away gradually as the familiar runes slowly vanished, and he stood in front of the stage and bowed.
It was a Spartan presentation compared to the tricks everyone else before them did, but the crowd of onlookers certainly felt the power that Louise's familiar brought. Not as visually impressive as, say, Tabitha's, but that power with that intelligence and creativity? It was more than enough applause for Louise and her familiar.
"See what I meant?" Lordgenome asked as they were backstage, looking at Kirche and her familiar do some tricks. "If we'd gone and revealed everything, you'd have been in trouble."
"But the runes…"
"…were obscured. The runes turn into a spiral of lines whenever I use my power, do not worry about that."
"…that's impressive," Louise added, seeing Flame conjure up a ring of fire.
"It is," Lordgenome said as the audience applauded the Germanian's stage presence and her familiar's talents. "And take that envious look off your face. I've known girls who didn't hit their growth spurt until a bit later in life."
"I'm seventeen," Louise said as Tabitha took the stage. "If I'm getting a growth spurt, shouldn't it be happening now?"
Lordgenome shrugged. "Well, if it doesn't come around, you won't worry about your back hurting."
His diminutive master pouted. "I can't believe you're so… so… laid-back about my predicament. Shouldn't it be your concern to help me grow from this?"
"It should, but I choose not to bother myself with it," the Spiral Knight replied. "That's the last one. We should be seeing someone take the stage to award you the rank of…"
He trailed off when he saw his Master holding onto his arm with a heavily-shaking hand. "…What's wrong?"
"It's Mother," she said, her voice cracking. "She's here."
"Just play it cool," Lordgenome instructed her. "Do what needs to be done, and get back on the stage. I'll be right behind you if something goes wrong."
She turned back and nodded before facing the stage. "…Okay."
"…and, due to this supreme act of nobility and the thanks bestowed by the people of Tarbes, I, Duchess Karin Desiree le Blanc de la Valliere, as the duly-appointed vassal of Princess Henrietta de Tristain, bestow the rank of Chevalier to Louise Francoise le Blanc de la Valliere."
Louise's first steps were shaky as she emerged from backstage to the applause of everyone gathered. Her eyes swept through the audience – finding her friends Kirche, Tabitha, Montmorency, Guiche, even Siesta was also clapping at her achievement. As her gaze swept towards where her mother – the Duchess – was waiting, she also saw her sisters. Eleanor's countenance was firm, but her eyes were smiling, while Cattleya was clapping her hands and waving whenever she could.
Her two sisters' approval finally got the shaking out of her legs, and she began a confident stride towards the middle of the stage to receive her rank from the Duchess de la Valliere.
After the required two taps of the sword on her shoulder, Louise rose up to shake the Duchess' hand. When she did so, however, the Duchess whispered something that unnerved her utterly.
"The Rule of Steel has finally awakened in you, my daughter," the Duchess quietly said, with the happiest smile on her face she could muster.
Somehow, something in Louise vanished when she heard those words from her mother. She never realized the void in her heart until she was beckoned to smile and wave at the audience once again, which she did almost mechanically.
Lordgenome caught on instantly, and the moment her robotic steps carried her fully through the shadows of the backstage area, Louise unceremoniously collapsed in a heap.
"Has something happened?" he said as he laid his master down and had a look at her and felt for a temperature. "You're clammy. What was that all about on the stage?"
"Mother…" Louise managed to gasp out, her voice a quavering whisper.
"Stay right here, I'm going to find someone. Who should I call?" he asked on his way out the backstage door and into the crowd.
"Call my sister Cattleya… please," was all Louise could let out before she started curling up into a ball and shivered.
"Will do," the mint-haired young man said, his eyes starting to glow red with Spiral Power as he saw his master once more reduced to nothing. After this, he decided, I'm going to give Louise's mother a piece of my mind, Duchess or not.
At the gathering, Cattleya had quickly separated from her parents and sister, and was speaking to one of Princess Henrietta's bodyguards about their respective families while she kept the Duchess within line of sight. She saw her parents playfully chastise Eleanor for some reason or another before something odd caught her attention - a vaguely recognizable head of mint-green hair moving between tables, only to stop abruptly and make a beeline for her after a moment.
"Excuse me, are you Cattleya?" the young man with the odd-colored hair asked as soon as he excused himself past the chatting nobles and serving ladies. "Cattleya Yvette La Baume Le Blanc de la Fontaine?"
"Yes, I am," she said as she stood up slowly, sizing up the young man with a glance as she did so. The light green hair with just a smidgen of blue in it and piercing red eyes was something memorable enough for her to instantly recall. "You are my sister's familiar, are you not? You identified yourself as Lordgenome on stage quite a while ago."
"That's so," the Spiral Knight replied.
"My apologies for not recognizing you immediately," the de la Valliere's second daughter began, "what with the Familiar exhibition being as... entertaining as it was."
"I pay it no heed, ma'am," Lordgenome replied, "but that is not what I am here for; it is a matter concerning my Master, she has need of you; immediately, if possible."
Her eyes widened considerably. "Is she hurt?"
"No, but something happened during the knighting. Something to make my Master's emotional state… volatile."
"I see," Cattleya answered, eyes growing resolute. "Take me to her, then."
"Yes, ma'am, right this way," Lordgenome answered, and took the lead in the walk towards the rear of the stage where Louise was waiting for them.
Upon their arrival backstage, Louise had already managed to compose herself somewhat, but upon seeing her older sister, something gave way in her yet again, and she broke down in sobs as she clutched her sister tightly, losing herself in the tightest embrace she could give.
"It's not… it's not… it wasn't worth anything after all!" Louise said between her sobs, and a small noise that was the telltale sound of glass cracking had Lordgenome's head turning to see that a nearby mirror had several fractured lines on it, proof of Louise's control over her power starting to slip slightly.
"I… I know now. What it means… to be noble," Louise continued, "but is this all what Mother wants from me… you… us?"
"Hush now, Louise," Cattleya said, her heart going to pieces at just how thoroughly her sister was broken. "I'm here now. Just let yourself go."
"I can't, Big Sis, I can't…" Louise cried. "I… I thought I was strong, but… I don't want to hurt anyone with my power… especially you… I wouldn't know what to do if the Void harmed you…"
"You're… a Void mage?"
Louise turned tear-filled eyes up to her sister as she nodded her assent, and she broke even further as she could see the fear in her sister's eyes. Big Sis Cattleya did a very good job of hiding it, but Louise found it all the same.
Sometimes the Void cuts through the heart of the matter, even in things unprepared for those who wield it.
"It was terrible," Louise continued, unmindful of Derflinger's voice echoing in her head, "we were adventuring, and took some time off at one of the maids' home town… what I saw… what I saw…"
She broke down in sobs as she could not bear to keep talking to her sister.
"But… but…" she said after getting over her crying fit, "we – Lordgenome and I – we made it right. That is being noble. That is what the Rule of Steel is to me. Mother, though…"
After that, she was quiet, and Cattleya did not know what to tell her sister.
"Louise," she said, "I won't tell you what to do from here on out. You're your own woman now, and that means you have to walk your own road in life. But don't forget this. I, Eleanor, and yes, even Mother – we all love you very much. That won't ever change."
"Really?" Louise, swinging a gaze on eyes already rimmed red, asked her sister with the same desperation a drowning man would have for someone about to throw him a floating aid.
"Absolutely," Cattleya replied, putting away her sadness towards her sister's state, and pulled Louise in closer for an embrace that she knew made her little sister feel safe, even if for a moment.
Some distance away, Lordgenome was watching the scene with fascination out of the corner of his eye even as he stood close to the stage and waiting for the two sisters to finish their moment.
She stabilizes our Master, the former Spiral Knight observed. Pity though, her body's frail.
Could we try it, buddy? Derflinger asked. That last spell you used on those girls in Tarbes?
We could… Lordgenome replied. Yes, I think we should – we owe Louise at least that much.
"…I really can't believe you could do all those things, being as you are a commoner," a young woman's voice concluded, and Lordgenome swung his gaze towards her, so deep he was in conversing with Derf with his thoughts that he had not noticed her arrival.
"Whether you believe it to be true or not is irrelevant," Lordgenome thought aloud. "What's important is that Louise is about to stand on her own. The process is fraught with its own aches and pains, but we shall all be standing with her, as we have walked the same path before her."
"Indeed, that is most correct. Eleonore Albertine le Blanc de la Blois de la Valliere… but you can call me Eleanor."
"I am Lordgenome… Louise's familiar."
"So I've heard," Eleanor said with a smile. "My sister… you do not have many problems with her? You are a commoner, after all… no offense meant."
"None taken," Lordgenome replied as he turned amused eyes at her, "so you are… Louise's older sister, along with Cattleya?"
"Yes," the blonde replied with a nod. "I can see it in her eyes. Louise – she has grown up so much. Why, if you had met her six months previous, you would think Louise was a different person. Now I wonder… what have you done for her to rise to the challenge of being a de la Valliere?"
"Just some motivation and the right directions for her training," the Spiral Knight replied enigmatically. "Not to mention, someone who actually believes in her and what she can do."
"That is something she needs…"
"…but cannot be provided, lest she be made weak?" Lordgenome asked in a probing tone as he completed the young noble's sentence, and mentally acknowledging his point as he saw her flinch and nod in quick succession. "Louise is trying her hardest to be strong for your sake."
"Cattleya… she's not in the best shape. Mother… she can be… a bit overly enthusiastic. I turned out fine, Cattleya, too… but Louise…"
"You fear she will grow… brittle and shatter someday?"
A solemn nod was all the answer he needed.
"Ah, there you are, my daughter," a voice said in the distance. Eleanor turned and bowed to the new arrivals, and made their way towards them. A blond man wearing royal finery was beaming at Lordgenome.
"Father, I do believe you've seen him at the exhibition earlier – he is Louise's familiar."
"Ah, yes, yes, of course. Duke de la Valliere."
Lordgenome goggled. "Your name is Duke, Your Grace?"
"Indeed," the man said before laughing heartily. "You are not the first to ask me that, and certainly not the last. Why, look at you! I am sure my daughter is in very good hands with you as her familiar."
"Thank you, Your Grace," Lordgenome answered with a smile of his own.
"My word, no wonder my wife was so – oh, pardon me, there she is," the duke said, waving to the same woman who awarded Louise the rank of chevalier, her mother, the Duchess Karin de la Valliere.
As she approached, the hairs on the back of the Spiral Knight's neck began to slowly stand on end. This one is dangerous… perhaps even more than the Headmaster or Professor Colbert… and Matilda, too.
And she knows just how dangerous I can be. This is bad.
Last time I saw eyes on those was on Brimir's first familiar – Sasha…
Tell me later, Derf. I'm going to need all my wits about me here.
Louise did not know how long she was wrapped in her sister's embrace and crying off the emotions she had been bottling up over the past few weeks. By the time Louise had gone over her fit of anxiety, she looked up only to see her sister's concerned expression.
"Big Sis Cattleya?" she asked. "What's happening?"
"Mother… Mother is discussing something with someone," Cattleya said, and her eyes rose up when she saw a familiar shock of mint green hair. "Your familiar… he is getting very agitated."
"What's he saying?" Louise asked as she helped her sister out of the backstage area.
"Let's find out," and when they had emerged from the staging area of the Familiar Presentation ceremony, they were caught in the middle of a heated discussion-slash-argument between Lordgenome and the Duchess.
"Well, point taken that you've seen the horrors of war – I have, too, in a way. Where our difference lies is that in war, some people choose to take part in it… or run from it. The women of Tarbes could not resort to either of them," Lordgenome declared, his tone dropping to an angry baritone, making him sound several decades older than his slight build and feminine features implied. None of his power leaked out except for his red eyes beginning to glow, the spiral motif pulsing as he continued to make his point to Louise's mother, the Duchess de la Valliere. "Besides, war has its own horrors, but I'm pretty sure you'd be a little horrified yourself, seeing what my Master and I did. If you're still not convinced, there's Professor Matilda's word."
"Do you really think the word of a brigand like her has any value to me?" Karin asked.
"A mere brigand; is that how you perceive her as?" Louise's familiar asked with dark amusement, the glow of the spirals in his eyes becoming brighter in his mirth as he let out a chuckle before continuing. "Her heart is in the right place, though; which is more than I can say for you, presumably. Mott didn't get to where he was without people like you looking the other way."
"You… dare?" the Duchess asked quietly, the indignant undertone as sharp as the razor winds she was famous for casting.
"Yes, I presume – no, I dare – if only to stop you from insinuating that your daughter didn't take anything but the right action involving that… thing," he gritted out. "Very few people manage to stay afloat when thrown into the deep end and asked to swim."
"You would, if you would see the world they grew up in."
"You're not giving them the chance to be children."
Surprisingly, Lordgenome laughed, the Spiral Power building up in him gradually receding as he found himself at an impasse with his pink-haired master's role model. "I suppose we'll just have to agree to disagree, then. You also assume that Louise asked me to do my duty as her familiar, to deliver justice to Lord Insen Mott… however, your assumptions are erroneous, Duchess."
"Louise did it?"
He followed up his nod with a knowing smile. "She even asked me if she could take on that task herself."
Well, the Duchess thought; that changes everything. Her look of concern towards Louise and indignation towards her familiar quickly changed to a self-satisfied little grin as she heard the details from a different point of view.
Sometimes throwing someone out the window and seeing if they swim works… but then again, one must be careful of what he or she wishes for… lest they get it.
"It appears I have been mistaken," the Duchess finally said after a while. "She has the same steel as I do."
No, she doesn't, Lordgenome wished to shout back. She's trying too hard for your sake. You've pushed her to this, now if she becomes something you can't handle, it's your funeral.
"Continue to support my daughter. She will need a strong familiar when she carries on her role in the family."
And with that last imperious declaration, the duchess turned and swept down the halls of the Academy's courtyard, her husband and eldest daughter following suit after giving Louise and her familiar a small nod.
Okay, this party suddenly took a turn for the worse, Derflinger grumbled as he felt Lordgenome's state of mind.
Lordgenome turned a glance at to where Louise and her older sister Cattleya were watching and listening to the last few bits of the conversation, and he just shook his head sadly. Derflinger quickly picked up on their condition and shrugged.
Scratch that, this party just up and died.
The former Spiral Knight quickly walked back into the castle at this display, barely catching the introduction to a man named Wardes.
Sparing a look, he just shook his head, muttered something about brown-nosing noblemen, and stalked back to the Academy interior in a huff. A huge ping of fear from Matilda at the new arrival was also given little heed, as he knew that Matilda did steal from a lot of nobles as her alter ego Fouquet.
He would end up paying for his rage-fueled negligence the next morning.
Lordgenome strode with purpose through the halls of the Academy. The nerve – the sheer nerve of that Duchess! Lordgenome thought furiously. She would put the loss of her political capital ahead of the fact that her daughter did what she didn't have the guts to do?
Partner, Derflinger replied, you're leaking what you call Spiral Power.
Because I'm angry, the aqua-haired young man gritted out. That… woman has been so fixated on her idea of strength that she's forgotten where she started from. Nobody begins where she is now, so why is she pushing her children to start off where she took her formative years to achieve?
Maybe she doesn't want her children to walk down the same bumpy road as she did? Derflinger answered.
Maybe… maybe you're right, the Spiral Knight answered, his anger subsiding somewhat. Though her solution brings with it its own set of problems, problems this Duchess apparently overlooked…
Well, the talking sword explained, given that the only thing that matters to her is the concept of power, maybe admitting weakness is not in her vocabulary?
There is that, but as it is, it will not be the Duchess who pays for it, Lordgenome confirmed. It's her children who will.
Indeed, the talking sword replied, and so engrossed were Lordgenome and Derflinger in their thoughts that they failed to notice the interloper in the shadows…
That night, Louise went to bed feeling conflicted. Her mother had praised her… but what she appeared to praise and acknowledge was Louise's newfound strength, resolve… power. Somehow, it didn't seem enough for her. Big Sis Eleanor did not even pinch her cheeks and call her "Little Louise" after the Princess – through her mother – had given her the chevalier rank.
Big Sis Cattleya… while she had always been the kind and gentle big sister, something changed in her the moment Louise told her about what she found under Mott's manor.
Then came the conversation between her familiar and her mother, and while Louise had been surprised at the way Lordgenome stood up for her, the way her mother ended the conversation unnerved her utterly.
Still, she was given the rank of chevalier for her achievements, Mother had acknowledged her in her own way; all in all, today had been a very strange – day.
It only got stranger the moment she fell asleep and dreamed. Deep in her slumber, she found herself in the middle of a battle already won, plumes of smoke decorating the starry skies.
"The world is yours, your Majesty," the man in the dream told Louise. "What are your plans?"
"Drive them all underground. Leave no one on the surface."
"It is the worst of choices I have to make if I have to keep our kind alive. Bring out the mass-produced units. If anyone objects to their… forced relocation…" Louise said with a chuckle so dark she could not imagine it coming from her. "You may use any amount of force as necessary."
"Even lethal force, sir?" the aide asked Louise, who smirked as she caught something that looked a lot like her familiar's necklace before twisting her hand.
Her grin was that of a death's-head as she ground out her reply: "…ESPECIALLY lethal force."
Louise shot up from her bed with the silk sheets and her peignoir drenched with her sweat, and quickly headed to the mirror, the words still resounding in her head.
It was an inconceivable scenario.
She would never have made that order.
A sweaty face framed by pink hair met its reflection in the looking glass, and she peered intently at her own mirror image.
Spirals weren't in her eyes… yet.
She would never make that order… would she?
The Rule of Steel has awakened in you, my daughter.
A sudden glow from the tattered grimoire nearby aroused her attention, and upon opening its pages, awe and maybe a little dread immediately filled the young Void mage as she read its first glowing letters.
"This is the story of a young girl who defies her destiny."
Early the next day, Princess Henrietta de Tristain was taking care of both official and unofficial business. There were tasks to delegate, letters to answer, operations to begin and maintain via Agnes and her squadron of guards, soldiers and informants known as the "Black Hand", and many other details to sift through.
While she did relent in allowing the Academy's students to perform errantries to rebuild the school, she still had a few other worries in her mind, namely the kingdom of Albion and the movement called "Reconquista".
The latter had grown from a worry to a full-blown threat to regional security by a large margin, thanks to Agnes' latest report from her network of Black Hand informants.
King Albrecht Wales had just been assassinated by agents of the Reconquista, and judging by the fallout over in Albion, the rebels were planning to take the country over, either by installing Prince Wales as a puppet ruler, or… or…
Henrietta cut her train of thoughts off. This was why she was here.
A knock on the door came, and in entered Louise with her Familiar.
"You called, Princess?" she asked.
"Good timing, Chevalier Louise," Henrietta said, smiling widely upon seeing her childhood friend. "I have a favor to ask of you. It is… admittedly difficult, but given your skill and that of your familiar's, I have no doubt you will accomplish it."
"What would you ask of me, Princess?" Louise asked, excited at the prospect of finally being useful not only to her childhood friend, but also the Princess of Tristain.
"I am charging you on a diplomatic task, Chevalier de la Valliere," the princess announced as she withdrew a letter embossed with the seal of the Kingdom of Tristain. "You shall personally deliver this letter to Prince Wales of Albion. Accompanying you on your duty to Tristain is the Viscount Wardes of the Lightning."
The newly-inaugurated Chevalier's eyes beamed at the task appointed to her, not knowing how predatory the glances to her were from the viscount behind her…
As soon as the briefing had ended and both Louise and Lordgenome were back in their room, a knock on their door broke the silence.
Opening it, Lordgenome saw the maid Siesta.
"Mr. Lordgenome," she began, "something's wrong…"
"About…?" he asked.
"It's Miss Matilda. She's… well… it's better you come see for yourself."
The Spiral Knight was well out of the door in a few moments and racing towards the faculty residences.
This can't be…
Partner, you've been getting the habit of saying something like that every now and then. Whatever happened to "go beyond the impossible and kick reason to the curb"?
Derf, the only reason this happened is because we've been infiltrated. An agent of Reconquista is among us.
That word again, Derf said as Lordgenome spread his Spiral Power, trying to find the reason why his first subordinate under the Great Gurren Brigade of Tristain was currently propped up in her bed, completely unresponsive, her blank eyes staring forward at nowhere in particular. What IS Reconquista, anyway?
Damn it, Lordgenome said. I was so close to finding out the truth of the matter from Matilda when… when… when…
What's wrong, Partner? Derf asked.
This mind magic, Lordgenome thought, it's the same kind of mind magic I broke on Matilda that night on the road.
Are you saying what I think you're saying, Lordgenome?
It seems so, Derf, it seems so, Lordgenome answered. The agent is someone in the castle… someone we've already met. With the mission given to us… he trailed off.
We'd best tread extra carefully now, eh?
We must. Louise going on what by all rights should be called a suicide mission… she'll need us to watch her back.
The ship that would bring Louise, her familiar, and Viscount Wardes of the Lightning over to Albion would be arriving in an hour, and as they waited, Lordgenome could not help but pass the time looking over the man known as Viscount Wardes. He had been wary of the man ever since meeting him, the viscount being all charm, grace, and maybe a bit of smarmy hobnobbing towards the Duchess, but as soon as he pegged Louise's familiar as a commoner, his demeanor quickly changed when he thought that he was alone with the Duchess' daughter.
Lordgenome and Derflinger looked disbelievingly at Wardes' eyes roaming all over Louise's petite frame, and he just had to hide his annoyance.
Does this noble think we're idiots, Derf? Lordgenome asked. Look at how he's disrobing my Master with his eyes. It's just a hair worse than that Mott fellow.
Well, you have embraced the identity of being some commoner Louise summoned to hide your powers, the talking sword explained. Also, some people enjoy the taste of unripe fruit…
…not me, Lordgenome replied rather indignantly. And look at his little grin and his body language. Sucker bet he's the one who did this to Matilda.
Not even betting, Derflinger replied. You felt her fear when you saw the Viscount enter.
It seems I miscalculated, the former Spiral Knight grumbled. I thought Matilda once stole from the Viscount. Never thought that Wardes was the one we're looking for. If we play our cards right, though, we'll have this little gryphon rider singing all about Reconquista – in soprano, too – when we're through with him.
Looking forward to it, partner, Derf replied, grinning savagely in a way only a spirit enchanted to a Core Drill can.
"Welcome to Albion," the viscount announced as their ship reached their destination. "We'll be here for at least a day or two while you handle diplomatic business."
He reached for his coat, and Louise asked, confused, "if I'll be taking care of this matter, what will you be doing?"
"A bit of cloak-and-dagger on the Princess' behalf," the viscount replied. "Besides, you have that familiar of yours, right?"
"Yes… be careful, Viscount."
"Call me Jean-Jacques."
With a flair of his cloak, he was off and running on a tangent, leaving Louise and Lordgenome in his wake.
Lordgenome's eyes narrowed as he saw the leaving viscount. He had been a consummate gentleman the whole trip, but there was no disguising the desire in his eyes for Louise.
It's a sucker bet as to who was behind the disappearance of one of Louise's peignoirs, Derf thought wryly. Even more of a sucker bet as to why. That one was slept in.
Lordgenome made a face. That was a bit too much information, Derf.
The spirit in the Core Drill only chuckled in reply.
"Come on, Lordgenome," Louise said. "We'd best get the letter to Prince Wales posthaste."
Seeing the determination in his master's eyes, Lordgenome nodded. "Let's get to it, then."
After the nod back, both of them quickly walked away from the port and to where a few rented carriages were waiting.
Their arrival at the palace of Albion would spark something that would alter the fate of not just one world, but of many. Lordgenome knew that something was coming, but he never realized just how big this would be.
The Lifdrassil walked home with a jaunty step and a song in his heart. He had successfully taken several bounties – lucrative ones – and cashed them in. All that was left was to bring home the bacon, and then… and then…
A resounding scream shattered the silence in the dark of Westwood Village, and the beast-man given the Lifdrassil designate sprang into action, the voice being that of his master, the half-elf Tiffania.
Fearing the worst, he put on his best speed and made his way quickly through the shadow-filled woods, his link to the young woman who had summoned him as his guide.
When he rammed the door open and dashed inside, the sight within froze his heart utterly…
…as cold as the dead blood of Tiffania's would-be attackers as they lay pinned on the ground and walls, conical holes drilled into their heads and bodies.
But that wasn't what gave the man called Viral the biggest fright of his life.
It was the black miasma subsiding from the half-elf maiden, studded with red angular lines as she raised bloody hands to her face, aghast at the sheer amount of violence enacted.
This was when Viral realized that being the Lifdrassil was now more than just a glorified bodyguard job… that Tiffania Westwood was a lot more now than a young half-elf girl with bountiful tracts of land… and that his charge had fallen into a dead faint from the harrowing ordeal she had been through.
Chapter 7 – END
Note 1: Noblesse oblige means "nobility obliges". It is a common sense term where those who have more should help out those with less. In medieval times, the nobility were the ones given this task.
Author's Note: I plan to contact the person here who wrote a "Louise summons Lordgenome" story and erased it after being overwhelmed by the SIXTEEN HOURS OF B.O. BLOCKING POWER "From Zero to Infinity" had. Not to gloat, but rather to take what he had planned for the story and see if it can be seamlessly added to mine. After all, "the wishes of the defeated, the hope of those who follow; when spun into a spiral, they will carve a path to tomorrow".
Also, to the reviewer who took a note about how I spelled Kirche as Kircheis, it's a stylistic choice. It also may or may not be relevant in the near future of the story.