Disclaimer: Thank you for your Disclaimer. -Fouquet of the Sand
Everything and Nothing
The Thief and the King
Drawing a line in the sand
The secret garden and its secret boat, located along the edge of a large lake immediately adjacent to the Vallière estate weren't actually secret, but it was a secluded and beautiful spot for six year old Louise to hide when she wanted to get away from her mother's scolding. It was in the boat that she sat, on the opposite side of a small island in the middle of the pond, up in tears over the latest failure in her magic studies. Her older sisters were exceptional at magic when they were six while she couldn't even do a simple cantrip, but what hurt the most was to hear everyone talk about how poor of a mage she was… as if she couldn't hear them.
She was crying, had been for a while, when she noticed someone standing on the island. It was the Viscount, tilting the brim of his hat up as he smiled to her. "Louise, have you been out here crying?"
"J-Jean-Jacques…" Seeing the person she admired so much chased away her sadness. "What are you doing here?"
With a wave of his wand, Wardes guided the boat close to the island and climbed aboard. He sat down across from his young future bride. "I was invited to speak to your father about the engagement."
Louise's gaze fell downward, and her sadness returned, reinforced with anxiety. Her parents had sounded so upset with her performance in her magic studies, they couldn't be considering… "Is Father going to break off the engagement?"
She was on the verge of tears again, afraid that she'd be punished for being what Eleanor called her, a zero. Seeing this, Wardes just shook his head. "Of course not, Louise."
Louise wiped her eyes. "R-really?"
"Why would you think that?"
She looked downward. "My magic studies are very poor. Mother says I might not be a mage at all. Eleanore keeps picking on me, and even the servants are talking behind my back…"
Wardes let out a kid sigh. "Louise, you're still a child. Simply because your magical talents have not appeared yet, doesn't mean that they aren't there. Ignore what they say."
Louise sniffled. "But what if I don't have magic? I want to be as great a mage as Mother, not a zero! I don't want to be no better than a commoner! I don't want our engagement to be broken because of me!"
The teenaged Viscount smiled as he rubbed the top of her head. "Even if you have no magic, that won't change our engagement."
Louise looked up at Wardes, with awe. "Really, Jean-Jacques?"
He nodded. "You have the potential to become a great woman, mage or not. You shouldn't let those kinds of doubts cloud your mind."
Shimmering ripples began to spread across the surface of the lake, crossing under the boat and illuminating its occupants as Louise smiled up at the man she idolized. "Jean-Jacques…"
"Hey Princess, is this really your most cherished memory of this bland guy?"
Now fifteen years old, Louise looked quickly to the right, to see Ryan walking towards her across the surface of the lake. His hands were in the pockets of his hoodie as he strolled right up to the boat. He looked over at Wardes and rolled his eyes.
"Seriously, this is about as touching as a toothpaste commercial."
"W-what are you doing here?!" Louise gasped as she stood up in the boat, rocking it. Ryan looked at her and shrugged, flashing that infuriating grin of his.
"Here to stop a terrible crime. This guy will bore you to death if you're not careful."
Wardes stood up, now his current age, and drew his sword/wand. "Cheeky as usual, commoner."
Louise looked from Ryan to Wardes, hoping to plead for them to stop from escalating… but Ryan was already standing on the boat, directly behind Wardes, with his back to him.
"This from the guy with the charisma of Wonderbread," Ryan said flatly. "I'd rather be cheeky than as exciting as a bar of soap."
Before Wardes could react, the boy elbowed him in the back, sending him tumbling over the side of the boat and into the water with a splash. Louise looked from the spreading ripples and bubbles on the lake's surface to Ryan. "W-why did you do that?!"
She let out a squeak, and her face flushed entirely when Ryan leaned down and cupped her cheek with one hand. He smiled and shrugged.
"I wanted to play with my kitten," he said as he reached up and played with the black-furred cat ears that were now inexplicably sticking from the top of Louise's head. He scratched behind them, and Louise trembled at the shock of pleasure that shot through her body.
"N-nya…" Louise managed to squeak before Ryan kissed her.
Louise bolted upright in bed, her skin flushed from her cheeks down to her neck, and her whole body warm and shaking. She panted for breath, her fingers clutching at the sheets as she tried to calm down. Great, now that perverted fool was invading her dreams.
She reached up and felt the top of her head, before withdrawing them with a grumble upon finding no cat ears. She was just being foolish, letting his teasing and his cavalier manner get to her like this. Besides, he was probably fooling around with that maid girl.
Louise looked around the room, sure enough there was no sign of him anywhere to be found. Laying back down, she closed her eyes and contacted the Aether. In the days that had gone by since the incident with Count Mott, Ryan had begun teaching her a new trick, the ability to feel others across a link of Aether. As the two of them were the only Aether users on the planet (he checked), it would be easy for Louise to find Ryan at any time.
Unfortunately, it also allowed her to sense what he was doing at that very moment. Or more specifically, whohe was doing at that very moment… vigorously. With a cry of shock, Louise dropped the connection and covered her brightly flushed face.
"That perverted DOG!" She looked around for her clock. "He's doing that this late at…"
She stopped and stared blankly when she realized that it was almost dawn. Looking out the window confirmed this, the sky was growing brighter at the horizon. She lowered her head and sighed, what an awful way to start the morning!
A half hour later, Louise was still cursing Ryan's name as he and Siesta headed to the kitchen to fetch breakfast. Ryan could feel her agitation across the link, and figured bringing her up a nice breakfast would help cool her off. It'd probably help him cool off too, he was a little annoyed that Louise barged into his head at that most inopportune time.
"It happens to everyone, you don't have to be embarrassed." Siesta sounded reassuring, but there was no denying the amusement in her voice at his plight.
"I'm not embarrassed!" he quickly yelped. His face was red as he looked to the side. "I'm annoyed, that's all."
"That you're embarrassed?" Siesta asked.
"More that she can sense everything I do," Ryan said. "I've had enough experience with strangers in my head. It's not fun to have another."
"Stranger nothing! I'm symbiotic, useful, wise, experienced, powerful,"Wulf retorted.
"What use is false modesty?" Wulf returned with a laugh.
"Oh shut up, you!" he yelled aloud in annoyance.
Siesta, having been properly introduced to Ryan's plight involving his inner dialogue, laughed in amusement.
"I still can't imagine having someone in my thoughts like that all the time. It must be very noisy in your thoughts."
"Tell her that it's actually quiet in here most of the time."
Ryan promptly punched himself in the head and looked to Siesta. "If you want, I'll let you hold onto him for a bit."
"N-no, once was enough," she quickly replied.
"Besides, she's already a sheath for another valuable blade of yours."
Ryan punched himself in the head again and received an agitated "ow!"in reply. It was only then that he noticed that the two of them were being watched by an obviously perturbed Miss Longueville.
"Are you all right?" She managed awkwardly.
Both Ryan and Siesta stared back, before the former cleared his throat. "Yes of course, I was just trying to shock myself awake is all. I hardly got any sleep last night."
The awkwardness cleared as Miss Longueville smiled slyly. "Oh? The both of you?"
Siesta flushed slightly. It bloomed fully when Ryan put on a pleased smile and replied, "That's about right, yes."
How scandalous, Miss Longueville thought. Before she could pry further and maybe tease the maid a bit, Ryan swiftly changed the subject.
"So, what has you up so early, Miss Longueville?"
"Me? Oh I was actually on my way to get some sleep. I've been up for much of the night like you."
Ryan's brows rose. "Doing what?"
"Guard duty. The Palace has sent a rare and destructive artifact to the school for us to protect. With the Princess visiting today, everyone is worried that thief might show up."
"Fouquet, right?" Ryan asked.
"The very same."
Ryan hummed. "So what's being stashed here that's worth the risk of stealing while the Princess and her entourage are here?"
"It is called 'The Staff of Destruction', a weapon so powerful that it can kill a dragon with a single casting."
"This I've got to see!"Wulf immediately declared.
Ryan was every bit as skeptical. "Dragons are probably different here than from where I'm from, but that sounds like a bit of a stretch to me."
"I find it just as suspicious, but Old Osmond saw it used himself, and he wouldn't make something like that up."
Longueville's expression darkened. "A bit too honest."
Ah, the proverbial "Perverted Master",Ryan thought.
"Like you're any better, judging her to be a middle C to a lower D."
Ryan began reciting some crappy late 90s Ska in his head and Wulf howled in agony.
"Something like that should definitely not end up in the hands of a thief…especially one with a hate-on for nobles," he said.
"A 'hate-on'?" Miss Longueville and Siesta asked together.
Ryan went to explain the term, but stopped. Explaining it crudely to the two was just in poor taste. "It's when you really hate someone, it's to have a hate-on for."
With luck, he created a meme. "So, what are the odds that Fouquet can break in?"
"Next to none," Miss Longueville replied proudly. "The barrier to keep out intruders was cast in layers by Square-Level mages, including Old Osmond."
"…And you?" He asked.
Miss Longueville shook her head. "Oh no, I'm just a Triangle-Level and my ability at barriers is rather weak. Even a commoner would be able to break anything I tried to cast."
Ryan nodded, and something gnawed at the back of his mind.
Wulf agreed with the thought gnawing at his gracious host. "A noble working as a secretary for another noble is a bit odd."
Miss Longueville was caught up with a yawn. "Oh my, I can barely stay awake. I'm going to retire to bed. Enjoy your day, you two."
"Ask if she could use some company."
Maybe when I'm in a more flirtatious mood, Ryan replied to the other soul. Besides, he had all the company he needed right at his side.
"Well, let's go Siesta," Ryan said as he took Siesta's arm and led her off to the kitchen. "Our Princess is waiting for me to show my face so she can tear it off."
Siesta giggled as she merrily went along with him.
She did not answer.
Louise was sitting at a table in the school's courtyard, ignoring Ryan and trying to enjoy a cup of tea as all the other students worked on their final touches for the Familiar Exhibition that would take place tomorrow. Well, not all of them. Aside from Louise, Tabitha was also sitting back and not really caring about the hopeless efforts of her classmates.
"Come on," Ryan whined as he rolled back and forth on the grass next to where she sat.
"Siesta, tell your master that I'm not speaking to him," Louise ordered.
Siesta was not too keen about being in the middle of this.
"You're the one who went into my head, thank you. I should be upset with you," Ryan pointed out.
Still nothing, he didn't really want to pull rank with her.
"Louise, come on." He got an idea. "Oh Louise~?"
She didn't say a word, didn't even look at him.
"Okay, if you don't want me to pick you up and carry you around like a child, say nothing."
The reaction was swift, but surprisingly quiet, as Louise turned and unleashed a glare that'd turn lesser men like Count Mott to ash where they stood. Ryan just felt a mild burning sensation on his face.
"Well?" He grinned, as if ready to pick her up and swing her around at a moment's notice.
Louise's cheeks turned a bright shade of red, before she tensed up and finally acquiesced. "Fine! What is it? What do you want?"
Ryan looked to Siesta. "I told you I'd wear her down."
Siesta clapped quietly in applause. Ryan looked back to his tiny witch familiar.
"I wanted to ask some questions about the staff around here, something's been bugging me all morning and I don't really want to ask around because it might raise suspicions."
"Aren't you plenty familiar with the staff?" Louise asked caustically.
"Adorable. I'm actually curious about Miss Longueville. What's her deal?"
"Why don't you familiarize yourself with her?" Louise looked away from him.
"I don't think Siesta's up for that kind of thing yet, though it's a work in progress."
Louise gave him a flat stare, and then looked at Siesta, who again gestured that she did not want to be in the middle of this. Seeing that Ryan was genuinely bugged by something, Louise sighed. "What do you want to know, exactly?"
"Well, she's a mage, right?"
Louise nodded, and was a bit more curious about this direction.
"And only mages can be nobles, right?"
Ryan's question received another nod.
"So why is she working a secretarial job? It doesn't look like it pays well, and unless she's a masochist I don't think she's doing it for fun."
Louise snorted, of course a person from a world as upside down as his wouldn't know any better. "Only mages can be nobles, but not all mages are nobles. Miss Longueville's probably from nobility, either her family was disgraced or she was disowned for something. That sort of thing happens."
Oh there's no way, that's just too obvious now,Ryan lamented inwardly. "She said she was a Triangle-Level mage, you can just disown that?"
"There are even Square-class mages out there without a house to call their own, she's not a special case," Louise replied.
Ryan hummed. "Or so we think. Hey Louise, what kind of mage is Fouquet?"
Louise knew that one easily. "He's an Earth Mage, Triangle… Level…"
She whirled on him. "That's ridiculous! Don't tell me you honestly think Miss Longueville is Fou-!"
Ryan clamped a hand over her mouth and rolled his eyes. "Hey, don't go shouting that kind of stuff, you never know who's listening in on our conversations."
He glanced over towards Tabitha for emphasis, though she did not appear to give any more of a damn about his and Louise's conversation than she did anything else.
"I have a hunch she might be, but I'm not going to go putting her up for information. It's just a thing that's been bugging me," he explained.
"And if Miss Longueville is Fouquet, what are you going to do?" Louise asked.
"Stop her, of course. She's a Triangle-Level Mage, if that's anything like the last two I fought, I'll walk all over her before she even realizes my boot's on her face."
Louise glared at him. "Just don't make a scene, okay?"
"Cross my heart and hope to die, I'm going to be entirely focused on winning your little exhibition for you anyway. Though, Tabitha's going to be a tough act to beat. She does have a pretty awesome pet dragon, after all," Ryan replied.
"Why couldn't I have summoned a dragon?" Louise lamented.
Ryan cringed. "Oh, if you summoned a dragon from my world you would not have liked it."
"What, do they endlessly annoy, talk back, and womanize too?"
"Enthusiastically," Ryan replied with a grin.
Louise rolled her eyes. "What do you plan on doing for the exhibition, anyway?"
Ryan's grin did not diminish. "Oh, I'm going to give you another lesson, and the other students can stand to learn a thing or two from it as well."
Louise did not like the sound of that. "Just don't do anything to embarrass me in front of the Princess, okay? I'd die if you did anything rude or crude or reckless."
"I am not the reckless sort, my dear kitten."
At Louise's look, he quickly added, "Name one time where I did act recklessly?"
"The entire Count Mott fiasco."
"Nah, I was in control of that situation the entire time. He was the one who got reckless, and funny enough, that ties right into my lesson plan."
Ryan got up and began to stretch. "It's really simple, Louise, and I'll explain it more in depth during the exhibition. But for now mull on this you already know: Count Mott and Wardes would've never treated me the way they did, if they knew what they were up against."
"Of course they wouldn't have, what's the point?" Louise asked.
"The point is, that's their failing and I don't want that to be yours." Ryan unceremoniously picked up Siesta, surprising her. "Give me a holler when the Princess shows up, okay? I'll be ready for any intrusions this time."
Before Louise could protest, both Ryan and Siesta simply vanished into thin air. Staring at the spot he'd been standing, Louise grimaced and went back to her tea.
"Perverted dog," she grumbled.
Tabitha closed her book and got up from her spot, conspicuously enough for Louise to notice. As stoic as ever, Tabitha whistled for her dragon, which swooped in like a mighty eagle and flew off with her. Louise watched the dragon fly off towards the other side of the school in bemusement.
What was that about?
Agnès de Milan, the young commoner captain for her Royal Majesty's Musketeers, was a woman who was rarely pleased with anything. Strict, stern, and notoriously short tempered when it came to mages (especially Fire Mages), it took a lot to put her in a good mood. Luckily, an event occurred recently that put her into one of those rare moods: The palace's Royal Messenger had apparently been driven insane, and burned down his own mansion before resigning himself to a Romalian Monastery.
It was no great loss to the palace. In fact, Her Highness the Princess was rumored to have breathed a quiet sigh of relief to hear of Count Mott's affliction and subsequent fall. The rest of the palace staff, especially the all-female Musketeers unit were much more open about their joy knowing that lecherous womanizer gone and never to be seen again.
So yes, nothing could bring her down, unless a certain Captain of another elite force decided to come up alongside her as she was escorting the Princess to the Academy of Magic and rub his power, prestige and rank all over her face like she were a used harlot. Oh look, there was the Viscount now.
"Captain Wardes, shouldn't you be performing reconnaissance over Albion?" Far, far away from her.
"I apologize for the intrusion, Captain Agnès, my unit was about to deploy in that direction," Wardes replied.
Professionally speaking, Agnès had nothing against Wardes. In fact as a fellow soldier she had the highest respect for him. Personally, however, she loathed the man. While many were taken in by his touching life story of struggle, he was still but another noble with a lot of connections to nobles and a severe disconnect towards the commoners they see as little more than pawns or playthings.
"Then what was it you wanted?" She asked.
"These past few days have been busy preparing for the reconnaissance mission, so I've been missing out on the talk going around. I only now just found out what has become of Mott."
"It is no great loss to the Palace," Agnès growled.
"I agree, Mott was a buffoon and a lout. What I'm curious are the circumstances, why did he go mad?"
Agnès raised her eyebrows. "Why do you care?"
"I heard a rumor he lost his mind after being trounced by a commoner in a duel, but the rumors are conflicting," Wardes said. "As your unit was especially interested in the news, I figured you'd know the more important details."
Boy was her unit interested in the news, they actually had a party to celebrate. "I don't know anything about the circumstances either. It seems that information is being suppressed by Royal Order."
Wardes took the hint, and tipped his feathered cap. "You're never going to find a husband with that cold attitude of yours, Captain."
"Well, unlike you nobles, it's a little harder because we commoners don't take our spouses straight from the cradle," Agnès shot back.
That one actually hurt, Wardes was impressed. "I'll take my leave of you, Captain."
"Do try to not smear yourself all over Dover's White Cliffs," Agnès called sardonically after him as he and his mount flew off to join the other Knights. She looked over to her Vice Captain, who just shook her head.
Honestly, what was so important that Wardes would swing by here to ask her, mid-mission, about how some worthless fat slob fell from grace? The how or why didn't matter, the world was better off without people like him leeching off the only truly good nobility in this country, the Royal Family.
Oh well, now was not the time to ponder such things, the procession was arriving at the school.
At the destination of the procession, Louise and Ryan watched as the first horses, manned by the musketeers, trotted down the lane, followed by the Princess's royal carriage, pulled by actual unicorns. Ryan decided that he was never going to get tired of this world's completely fantastical fauna.
Louise glanced up at Ryan as he watched the royal procession raptly, and found herself having worrying thoughts. What if he decided to be so uncouth to the Princess? What if he tried to seduce her? What if he succeeded in seducing her?
The scandal would be ruinous! The Princess being wooed by a strange foreigner. The royal family would lose the respect and standing it had with those of other countries, there could even be a war!
Ryan glanced at Louise when he sensed an incredible surge of anxiety from the mini mage. Clearly there was a tempest brewing in that teacup, and he was almost afraid to ask.
Almost. "Louise, are you alright?"
"D-don't you dare try anything untoward with the P-Princess, you hear me?" Louise whispered back harshly, as if she was barely restraining herself from exploding into a spastic rage.
Oh, was that all?
"Oh don't worry about that. I've got my hands full as it were."
I'm sure. Still, he'd better not try to get greedy with Henrietta,Louise thought darkly. She would likely murder him.
Ryan was admittedly surprised by that spike of murderous intent, and decided to back off from her across their connection and physically. Coincidentally this put him right up against Kirche.
"Oh! Hello Ryan," she said cheerfully.
"Hello, Kirche!" Ryan replied with equal cheer. There went that mild burning sensation again, this time on the back of his head.
He peered around her, and sure enough there was Tabitha as well. "Hello Tabby."
Tabitha turned her head towards him and just stared.
"Oh, she's very good at expressing herself," Wulf complemented.
Ryan agreed. Now if only Louise could practice such subtlety. Avoiding Tabitha's stare, he looked back at the procession. "So Kirche, what do you know about the Princess?"
"Oh, about as much as a Germanian girl would know. I've actually never seen her before in person, but I do know she's allegedly 'The most beautiful woman in Tristain' and she's been betrothed to a Prince back home."
"Most beautiful woman in Tristain, huh? I don't think I've seen a physically unattractive one since I've gotten here so this I've got to see."
What was that grinding noise he was suddenly hearing?
"Do tell Louise not to do that, it's bad for her teeth," Wulf advised.
The carriage carrying Princess Henrietta pulled up as the master of ceremonies proudly announced her arrival. "Now arriving is the Princess of Tristain! Her Highness, Henrietta!"
There was a light applause, as one of the Princess's entourage quickly opened the carriage, allowing another to step out and then help out the Princess herself. It was at this crucial moment that Louise opened up her link to Ryan wide to catch anything he might have been thinking at that possible moment.
"That's the Princess?" Kirche wasn't very impressed. "I'm better looking than her."
Ryan was much more impressed. Louise was right to be paranoid, she's pretty good looking.
Wulf then commented, "I wonder what her 'O' face is like."
The thought crossed Ryan's mind, and he idly mulled this… just as Louise came barging into his head again.
Ryan, Kirche, and Tabitha turned to Louise, and each grew alarmed in their own particular style as a red-faced Louise's hair began to rise and the air shimmered around her.
Ryan immediately realized what happened, as he felt an aether surge across their link. "Uh oh."
"YOU CHAUVINIST PIG!"
Louise's yell carried with it a full on blast of force that sent Ryan flying through the air, into and through Henrietta's thankfully empty carriage, and all hell promptly broke loose.
Agnès quickly drew her blade as students began shouting. "An assassin?"
She immediately spotted Ryan sitting up and shaking his head from his brief flight, and quickly drew her other weapon of choice, a primed and ready musket pistol. "There!"
Ryan had managed to gather his bearings, when he noticed not only Agnès but the other musketeers aiming their weapons at him. He immediately put his hands up. "Don't shoot, I surrender!"
Agnès quickly rode up to the young man, keeping her weapon pointed at him as she quickly barked orders. "Make sure the Princess is safe! All students get away from here!"
"I'm not an assassin!" Ryan quickly shouted.
With her orders received by her subordinates, Agnès quickly jumped off her horse, and fell upon Ryan, making very sure to kick him in the head. On impact, everything went black for Ryan.
A sharp slap to the face awoke Ryan with a start. "Barb what the hell-?"
He stopped when he saw that he was tied to a chair, he was without his sword, the Captain of the Royal Musketeers was standing in front of him with her arms folded and a cross look on her face.
"How long have I been out?" He politely asked Agnès.
"Huh. You're pretty strong, you knocked me out for a bit."
"I was trying to crush your skull."
Ryan tilted his head from side to side. "Passing marks for the effort at least."
Agnès narrowed her eyes. "Who are you exactly, you're not a student of this school, you're freakishly tall."
She grabbed him by the hair and roughly tilted his head, eliciting an "ow" from him, as she examined first one ear and then the other. "It's hard to tell, perhaps you transformed them."
Ryan grimaced as his head throbbed. "I'm not an elf, if that's your concern."
Agnès let him go. "We'll find out soon enough who or what you are. What happens after that depends on if there's a reasonable explanation for why you attacked the Princess's carriage."
"Oh, there is. You see my summoner–I'm a familiar you see–read my mind as I was having inappropriate sexual thoughts about your Princess. She was naturally offended and threw me into your Princess's carriage with the aid of a very powerful magical force."
Ryan took stock of Agnès's blank expression. "In her defense, she was angry and wasn't thinking. But I'm sure she'll apologize."
Agnès wasn't sure exactly how to take that, so she just asked the first question that spilled out of her mouth. "Are you an idiot?"
"Not usually, but you did hit me really hard."
Agnès conceded to that, and wished she hit him a bit harder. At that moment the door to the impromptu interrogation room, which was in fact the school's pantry, opened and Old Osmond, Colbert, Louise, and Princess Henrietta herself walked in.
"That will be enough, Captain, he's free to go," Old Osmond said to the orange-haired woman.
Agnès quickly nodded to the headmaster before bowing in salute to Princess Henrietta. "Your Highness? What are you doing here?"
"Old Osmond explained the unusual circumstances. This is Ryan Ingram, a boy from another world Louise-Françoise summoned as her familiar," Princess Henrietta explained.
"See?" Ryan asked, before he looked around. "Where's my sword?"
"Confiscated," Agnès replied.
"Can I have it back?"
Agnès shook her head. "I would rather you not have such handy access to a weapon until after the Princess has left the school."
Ryan shrugged his shoulders. "Reasonable."
He looked to Henrietta. "Give this one a promotion, your Highness. She's pretty sharp compared to some other employees of yours I've met."
"Don't be so cheeky with the Princess!" Agnès growled.
"He's like this with everyone," Louise lamented.
In moments, Ryan was untied and he checked his wrists before unconsciously looking to where his sword would normally be secured. While he was concerned about it, he was certain it'd be safe no matter what they tried to do to it, and it'd get Wulf out of his head for a while.
That reminded him as he stood up. "Word of advice, don't play around with that sword. He tends to get bored and possessive when he's hanging out with other people."
Henrietta let out an "Oh" of surprise as the young man stood. Were all people in his world so tall?
"What does that mean?" Agnès asked.
Ryan smiled. "It means don't play with my sword."
Ryan and Louise soon left the school's kitchen, and were joined by Siesta as they headed back up towards Louise's chambers. Louise was a mix of emotions, still angry at Ryan, embarrassed for creating a scene, and mortified that Henrietta had to suffer this insanity.
"I'm sorry for having such impure thoughts about your Princess," he said, drawing her from her mortified state.
"No you're not," she replied.
Ryan sighed. "Louise, tell me what's bothering you."
Louise grimaced as she immediately looked away. Before she could try to make something up, he added:
"And tell the truth."
Louise huffed and simply let it out. "You said that you had a lover back wherever you came from, but you're off doing as you please with Siesta! Don't you have any shame?"
Ryan stopped walking, as did Louise and Siesta, as the heavy accusation hung over him. Louise glared at him as silence reigned, before she looked over at Siesta, who didn't seem to react at all to the revelation. She looked back to Ryan, who just slipped his hands into his pockets and looked aside.
"She won't mind." He was as nonchalant and cavalier as ever.
"What do you mean she won't mind? She's probably worried to death about you, wondering if you're even alive! What if you somehow returned to your world, what would you tell her?" Louise demanded.
For the first time, since he exploded at her in the dining hall, Ryan became visibly uncomfortable. The discomfort passed however, as quickly as it manifested. He waved the question off entirely. "I'd tell her that I met a girl while I was here. She'd understand."
"She'd just understand? Is your lover even a human being?"
"No," Ryan replied with a noticeable edge to his voice as he walked away. "I'm going to go for a walk. Don't follow me."
Louise watched him go as he finally vanished, before she looked to Siesta. "What about you? Do you even care?"
Siesta worried her lower lip. "It's unusual, yes, but trust him. He already explained it to me."
"I'm sure he did," Louise growled. "You can go now, do whatever you like."
Taking every opportunity to do so, Siesta quickly bowed to Louise and fled the awkward situation. It was as Siesta hurried off, that Louise grabbed the edges of her cape and lightly ground her teeth.
"That womanizing… cheating…"
Princess Henrietta hugged Louise from behind. "Do you need to cry on my shoulder?"
Frozen, Louise glanced back at Henrietta, before she sniffled and slowly nodded. "P-Princess…"
Ryan laid down in the grass outside the school's imposingly high wall, his gaze fixed on the clear blue sky and the gargantuan moons that dominated the sky even in the middle of the day.
It didn't take long for Ryan to start missing Wulf and his ability to keep him on the outside of his thoughts looking in. Any distraction from the crushing homesickness he was experiencing would be a godsend.
It came, unexpectedly, with the Earth itself heaving up and opening at his side. Turning to stare at the hole in the ground, he gave a start when Verdandi, Guiche's giant mole familiar, popped out of the ground. The mole was followed by Guiche himself, who looked around quickly.
"Verdandi, I doubt they're holding him outside!" he admonished his familiar, who was now nuzzling Ryan happily.
"Guiche? What are you doing?"
Guiche quickly turned around and brightened. "Ingram, you escaped!"
"Escaped?" What was this about?
Guiche smirked. "Verdandi and I raced to rescue you when the Musketeers took you away, so we could bring you before the Princess and clear your name."
Ryan smiled. "You're a good man, Guiche. I was let out earlier."
Guiche climbed out of the hole and cast a quick spell to remove the filth from his body. "What happened to your sword?"
"They took it from me for until after the familiar exhibition."
"A shame but understandable," Guiche said before he noted that Ryan did not seem as chipper as he normally was.
"Is everything all right?"
Ryan stared at Guiche, before he heaved a sigh and shook his head. "No, not really, and it's not because they took my sword."
"You yearn for your homeland?" Guiche asked.
"Is it that obvious?"
Guiche walked over and laid down alongside Ryan to watch the clouds pass across the sky. "It is, but I understand your situation. Far from home, trying to make due when you would prefer to be where it's safe and familiar."
Ryan nodded. "It's hard for me to consider the possibility that I'll be here for a long time. I know I have to be patient, but when I think about everything that's on my side of the wall, it's hard to not get angry about it."
Guiche hummed. "Your side of the wall? What do you mean?"
"In my world, there is a theory that multiple universe exist overlapping one another, but separated by 'walls'. Like any physical wall, a sufficiently powerful enough force can break through the wall and you can traverse to the other side. But it has to be a tremendous amount of power, usually magic."
Hearing that, Guiche stared intently up at the two moons overhead. "I've heard an old story, that might interest you."
Ryan hummed. "What would that be?"
"Over sixty years ago, a pair of strange dragons appeared when both moons eclipsed the sun."
"Strange dragons?" Ryan raised an eyebrow.
"Yes, they flew faster than normal dragons, and made this constant buzzing noise that could be heard for miles. One flew back through the eclipse, but the other was unable to and circled in the air over the village of Tarbes for almost an hour before it landed nearby."
Faster than dragons? A constant buzzing noise?
Ryan grew wide-eyed when it dawned on him. "An airplane?"
Guiche looked from the sky to the other young man. "An airplane?"
"Yes, an airplane, a machine capable of powered flight." Ryan swelled with hope. "Is there supposed to be another eclipse like that anytime soon?"
"Well, yes actually. In a few weeks the moons are going to eclipse the sun and block it out."
Ryan suddenly propelled himself high, high into the air as he let out a cheer. "YAHOO! I'VE GOT A WAY HOME!"
Cartwheeling through the air, he landed and pulled Guiche onto his feet before giving him an ecstatic hug. "This is great! I really owe you for this, Guiche!"
He pulled away and quickly began pacing. "I'm going to need to prepare. As long as I can give them a signal, my world will be able to find me!"
Still whooping a hollering, Ryan bounded back towards the school, flipping and spinning through the air like some sort of terrestrial dolphin. Watching him go, Guiche looked to Verdandi and man and beast shrugged their shoulders.
When Louise was an even smaller girl than she already was, she and Princess Henrietta de Tristain had been the best of friends, confiding in one another all of their hopes, dreams, and secrets with absolute trust and sincerity. However, tragedy in the form of the death of the King and political upheaval struck and Henrietta was forced into the role of Tristain's ruler, causing the two to go their separate ways.
Since then, Louise had never thought of Henrietta as anything but her closest friend, and secretly hoped that Henrietta still thought of her the same way. So it was of great relief to the tiny, colorful mage that not only did Henrietta feel the same way, but had missed her every bit as much as Louise missed her.
They were in Louise's room, with Louise having told Henrietta of the last few days and the relentless chaos caused by her summoning.
"…And that's why I ended up blasting him. I honestly didn't expect for the Aether to do that to my voice, I was just so angry and he was thinking those perverted things about you…" Louise trailed off and sighed. "I am so sorry, Princess. I just lost my temper."
Henrietta, who sat with Louise on the edge of her bed, simply answered Louise with a sisterly hug.
"There's nothing to be ashamed or upset for. You've always been protective of me, as much as I've been of you, Louise-Françoise," the Princess said with a smile.
"But I made such a scene!" Louise argued.
"No one got hurt, and the damage to the carriage was easy to repair."
Louise bowed her head. "You're too kind, your highness. But you have no clue just how so embarrassing it is to have to deal with–"
Ryan suddenly appeared out of thin-air, tackling Louise onto her bed. "Louise!
"Oh my!" Henrietta gasped.
"Louise, this is great! I think I have a way to contact my world!" Ryan said excitedly as he lay atop Louise.
Louise was frozen in surprise at the unexpected pounce, but quickly recovered and promptly kneed him in the groin. "GET OFF ME! WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!"
As Ryan rolled off her, clutching one of his more preferred body parts, Louise sat up and looked at Henrietta. "Do you see what I have to deal with?!"
Ryan rolled over and stood, that hurt like a bitch. "I was just hugging you!"
"You don't just t-tackle people like that to show your affection!"
"In my world, it is considered an enthusiastic, joyous greeting, particularly among the Trolls."
"Then go hug your trolls like that!" Louise snapped back.
Henrietta grew wide-eyed. "T-Trolls?"
The Princess of Tristain could only think of the barely sentient killing machines that were especially prevalent in the military of neighboring Albion.
Ryan folded his arms. "Soon, I will. As I was saying, I have a way to contact my world, so they can come and get me."
Louise's anger immediately fell away, replaced with surprise. "Huh? How?"
"Guiche told me about the Solar Eclipse and how it opens up a portal to another world," Ryan quickly explained, "If I can create a large enough Aether Burst during it, I can send a signal to my world and they'll be able to find me and come to this world easily."
That downright alarmed Louise. "Wait, they can come here?!"
"It'll just be to get me, relax," Ryan reassured her and the Princess.
He then hummed. "I'm going to need some things though. Like a big open space, like a huge field or plain. I don't want anyone to be in the immediate vicinity when I channel the burst."
Henrietta grew curious. "Why, is it that dangerous?"
"Louise knows why," Ryan said as he looked to his summoner slash familiar.
Louise immediately blushed. "Oh founder, you don't mean…"
"Yep, it's that but a million times more powerful."
Louise's face burned a bright red.
Henrietta looked between the two. After recalling the briefing she received on this magic from Old Osmond and its particular properties, she blushed herself. "That must be such an awkward magic to deal with."
Ryan grinned. "You have no idea."
Henrietta smiled. "Still, it's impressive. You were able to do away with Count Mott so easily."
Louise went absolutely pale. "P-Princess, you know about that?"
Henrietta nodded. "Yes, but neither of you are in trouble for it. I even went as far as to suppress the information, so very few people know of it at all outside of those who witnessed it."
At Louise's completely puzzled look, Henrietta just laughed. "Louise, I did say I would look out for you, as you do for me. Besides, Count Mott was an unpopular man back at the palace, his departure was welcomed."
"Would you look at that, everything worked out in the end," Ryan said happily.
"You still didn't have to do all of that."
Ryan looked to Henrietta. "Would you like to know what Count Mott would've done to that poor Maid if I'd let him?"
Louise tackled Ryan this time. "NO! NO! NO!"
As Louise struggled to cover up his mouth to silence him, Henrietta let out a somewhat envious sigh. "Ah, to be so carefree."
The next day festivities were in full swing. To Ryan's eyes, it was like a mix between a renaissance festival, a carnival and a school fair. Jugglers juggled, there were singers and dancers in between the stands, fresh food served up everywhere. The atmosphere was happy and jubilant and infectious.
"Huh, is it like this every Familiar Exhibition?" He asked Guiche, who was going over with Verdandi the details of their performance once more.
"Yes. Last year, the Princess did not come, however," Guiche replied. "Still, it was enjoyable and now I will get the chance to show off to the students below me."
"So, what are you going to have Verdandi do?" Ryan asked, studying the large mole with interest.
Guiche let out a bit of a sly laugh. "Well, as you have seen, Verdandi is an incredible tracker. I intend to have him find some jewels I had Katie hide around the grounds."
"Yes, Verdandi is especially partial to them."
Ryan smiled. "It should be interesting, too bad we're all going to lose."
Guiche hummed. "To whom?"
"Tabby." Ryan pointed over at the girl in question, sitting against the wall and reading a book. She hadn't lifted a finger to do a bit of practicing or shown even the slightest interest in the competition.
Tabitha turned her head towards Ryan and stared.
Guiche found himself experiencing true fear. "D-does she hate you?"
"Only when I call her that." Ryan smiled. "I think it's cute, personally."
Tabitha's stare lessened considerably, and she went back to reading.
"You have a strange definition of what is cute," Guiche admitted.
"Trust me, my friend, you have no idea,"Ryan said with a little grin. He did some stretches and warm ups, or what appeared to be stretches and warm ups. To Guiche, they looked more like a series of silly dances.
"Hey! What are you doing?" Here came Louise, as Colbert began announcing for everyone to gather for the competition.
"Warming up of course," Ryan said, rolling his shoulders, before he bent over to touch his toes. He then got onto his hands and began to walk around on them with a grin up at her. "You wouldn't want your familiar to beef it at a crucial moment, would you?"
Louise folded her arms. "No I wouldn't. But it's about to start and I want you to remember. Don't do anything reckless or stupid!"
"And by your definition, that would be...?" Ryan asked, now standing upside down on one finger.
Louise hesitated a bit as she observed the feat of strength, but quickly reasserted herself. "Just don't do anything that might embarrass or offend the Princess!"
"Ah, you're still being so vague Vallière," Guiche noted.
"Come on Kitten, give me some specifics. You're not running for Congress here, tell me what I should and shouldn't do," Ryan quipped, now doing push-ups on his single finger.
Louise flushed. "Don't call me that!"
"Would you prefer Princess? That might get a bit confusing," Ryan continued with a grin.
"You'll call me your Master!"
"Yes, your master."
Louise kicked Ryan in the back, knocking him onto his stomach.
Louise grabbed him by his sweater's hood and pulled him along behind her. "Just don't be an idiot, impress the crowd with what you can do, and don't try to be fancy or funny!"
"Ah, so, you want me to emulate your dear viscount? Can do," Ryan said, pulling away from Louise and getting to his feet. He cleared his throat, adopted a stiff posture, and schooled his face into a look of utmost seriousness. He adopted a low, calm, deep voice as though he was deeply bored.
"Louise, on our wedding night we won't bother to actually do anything to each other–I'll just assume you will be impregnated by my sexual charisma while I go eat some porridge by the fire. Plain, bland porridge." Ryan tilted his head. "Do you feel with child yet?"
A great and malicious aura enveloped Louise. She slowly looked back at him. "You…!"
Ryan just smiled innocently and held his hands out. "Come on, Princess. You really were asking for that."
Louise prepared to throw herself at Ryan and pummel him for talking smack about Wardes, when Guiche mercifully placed himself between them. "Louise, calm down."
"Now, now Guiche, she's gotta get her nervousness out some way," Ryan said. He stuck his tongue out at Louise.
"You do recall what happened the last time you angered her?" Guiche asked.
"I'm doing it intentionally now. Totally different," Ryan assured him. Guiche gulped, and moved back out of the way.
Louise let out an inarticulate yell and threw herself at Ryan with every intention to beat him into submission. Ryan was already behind her, and clapped his hand against the small of her back.
In an instant, Louise's eyes flew wide, and she let out a loud but helpless gasp as she fell forward and onto the ground, her entire body shaking.
Guiche stared wide-eyed as Louise curled up into a ball and let out a long, blissful moan. "D-did you just…?"
"Aether magic," Ryan said with a little smile. "She's totally relaxed now."
Louise slowly got up, and ended up falling back down onto her backside as her legs had all the consistency of jam. Reaching down, Ryan took her by her wrists and lifted her up to eye level, her feet dangling off the ground. "Feel better, now?"
"You're the worst, utterly shameless," she replied. Her anger was a bit displaced however.
Ryan sighed. "Yeah I'm a flirt and I'm a bit lax in terms of shame, but what I have going on with Siesta my girlfriend would be fine with."
Louise pouted. "Why didn't you just jump into bed with Zerbst, then?"
"Because I'd be dead to you if I did." Ryan's smile returned.
Louise's already flushed face darkened a bit more, and she looked away. "You can put me down, now."
"Sure? I could just carry you onto the stage," Ryan said with a wink.
Louise kicked him in the stomach, a bit feebly though. "Just put me down!"
Ryan rolled his eyes good naturedly, and set her back down on the floor. "Come on, give me a good introduction," he said, gesturing for the stage.
"When it's our turn, everyone goes in alphabetical order," Louise said as she stood up and tested her weak knees.
Great, they were going to be waiting all day. Before he could complain about it, Ryan immediately noticed, of all people, Agnès walking over to him, carrying his sword in her hands. "Huh?"
Agnès quickly handed him the sword. "Here, take it back now."
Both Louise and Guiche were surprised. Ryan reached out and grasped the sword by the hilt, raising an eyebrow as he studied her expression. She looked a bit weary, as if she'd just awoken or had been out all night. He then grinned.
"He didn't cause you toomuch trouble, did he?"
Agnès just shook her head. "Keep it sheathed, and there won't be any trouble."
"Good advice I live by every day," Ryan replied. "Thank you."
"In more ways than one,"Wulf added.
Agnès just let out a hum, and left to rejoin the Princess's guard detail. She was more than ready to wash her hands of last night and pretend it never happened.
It was good to hear his voice again. Welcome back, my friend,Ryan replied.
"Hello, my student," Wulf replied.
What did you do to her? He asked.
"Nothing terrible! I just possessed her, went into town, had some food and drink, and made friends with a charming girl named Jessica. Apparently she's Siesta's cousin."
A cousin, huh?
"There's more, and this will interest you. She and Siesta are descendants of a man from another world, given the story Jessica told me."
Ryan blinked. A man who rode atop a strange dragon?
"Aye, how'd you know?"
Leaf through it, we'll discuss later when I'm less distracted, he decided.
For now it was time to sit back and enjoy the show. He looked over to Louise, whose blush had cleared up. He smiled at her and leaned back, putting his arms behind his head. "Don't be so nervous, Louise. We'll do fine and get an easy second place."
Louise sighed and grumbled, "Because Tabitha has an actual dragon."
"Right. Still! Second place isn't bad," Ryan observed. "Certainly a step up from before."
As the competition began and students one by one stepped off to show their Familiars and their various talents, a solitary cloaked figure reached the imposing, barricaded wooden doors that contained not only the school's rarest artifacts but the Staff of Destruction itself. Stepping up to the doors, the woman rested her hand atop it and tested it.
Almost immediately she felt an impenetrable wall, a complex, deep and dense magic that offered no give and reinforced not only the wood but the air itself.
Fouquet of the Sand let out a sigh. It was far beyond her ability as a Triangle Mage to break something so skillfully crafted; she had to hand it to the royalty and to the Square-class mages of this school. She wasn't dealing with the average arrogant mages with long outdated spells.
It just meant she would require a far more direct approach.
Outside, Ryan was watching as a student with some sort of Beholder monster familiar demonstrated the creature's abilities with a bit of amusement. It could cast various magics, including cast a strange light that caused unseen things to appear. Louise and the other students marveled at the mysterious light, even as Ryan tried not to blurt out and explain it.
It reminded him, and he reached into one of his belt pockets to pull out the notebook he'd been copying things into from the Time Travel Cheat-Sheet. "Clarke's Third Law strikes again..."
Louise looked over. "What are you on about now?"
"It's what you might call an eponymous law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," Ryan recited. He thought about it. "Or it might be the other way around in this case. Your magic is using ultraviolet rays to reveal hidden things. We can do the same thing with technology, you do it with magic."
Louise blinked. "So your world has a lot of technology?"
"It's a lot more advanced than yours, but you haven't had an industrial revolution yet."
"Probably never will, with how nobility sits on everything," Wulf remarked.
Ryan agreed. "With the way things are, it'll be a long time before your world comes along that far."
Louise grew slightly offended. "What do you mean by that?"
"Well," Ryan thought of a way to explain it diplomatically. "It's no fault of your own, or any individual person. These kinds of things just take time to advance, it's not just a technological change, society has to change too before it moves forward. It's different for every society. My world? We didn't even know magic was real until recently so it's no easy feat."
Louise nodded. "I see. So what needs to change in my world for things to progress faster?"
Ryan smiled. "A lot of things."
"Next up is Louise de la Vallière!" Colbert called from the stage.
Together, Louise and Ryan walked onto the stage as the audience politely applauded. At the front of the crowd, Guiche and Montmorency were noticeably more enthusiastic.
"Show them the spirit of a true man, Ryan!" Guiche cheered.
"Good luck, Louise!" Montmorency added.
Kirche was especially vociferous. "Ryan~! Show them how great you are!"
Tabitha, sitting atop her dragon familiar, had pulled out her book and started reading. Ryan couldn't help but smirk at that, and then turned his attention to the Princess, who sat under a tent next to Old Osmond while surrounded by her musketeers, Agnès among them.
Louise cleared her throat. "Let me introduce, my familiar spirit, Ryan Ingram!"
She looked back at him, and he nodded.
With his consent, she continued, "Ryan is a human from another world, and not only is he a skilled swordsman, but he's also a powerful mage! He even defeated a Triangle-Class mage effortlessly, and would've defeated another but he held back so… so that other mage wouldn't be embarrassed in front of everyone!"
She looked back at Ryan. "So, go ahead and show them what you can do… f-familiar."
Ryan let his hands drop at his sides, and smiled a bit. "Yes, master."
He walked past Louise and to the edge of the stage. The other students turned their attention from Louise to him, as he rested one hand on the hilt of his sword.
"Everything that my master says is true, I was the 'commoner' who defeated Count Mott last week. The Crashing Wave didn't even touch me with so much as a drop of water."
While many students had already suspected it and some, particularly the circle that surrounded Kirche, Tabitha, and Montmorency, knew full well this was true, the boast was a surprise. Much more surprised, however, were the Musketeers and their captain.
"He defeated Mott?" Agnès looked at the sword. "It's possible, perhaps it was Wulf."
"In fact, barring Old Osmond and my Master, I could easily defeat every mage here, all at once or one at a time."
He sat down on the stage and folded his legs. "Aside from those two. There's nothing stopping me from doing whatever I like to you, this school, and your Princess."
Agnès grew tense and quickly motioned to her musketeers to be on guard, but the crowd's surprise drew her attention back to the stage. Ryan was gone.
"Where-?" She looked back and froze when she saw him standing behind Henrietta's chair, his hands on her shoulders.
Henrietta jumped and looked up at him with wide eyes, as even Old Osmond jumped from his chair like a man twenty years younger. Before he could even hold up his staff, Ryan was gone, and so was Henrietta.
Whirling around, Agnès was struck speechless again when she saw he was back on the stage with Henrietta, who appeared a bit disoriented but otherwise, intact. The audience was in complete shock.
Not everyone, though. Guiche had possibly the biggest grin on his face, as he nodded his approval of Ryan's daring act.
Kirche had a hand over her mouth, partly to hide her own smile. "Oh my!"
Tabitha appeared to be annoyed, but it was hard to tell. Her book had been plucked from her hands, abruptly vanishing before her eyes. When she looked up at the stage, sure enough Ryan was sitting there, holding it in his hands as he wore that grin that infuriated Louise so easily.
"Now that I have everyone's attention, Tabitha." He looked at her as he emphasized her name, and then returned his attention the crowd. "There's nothing stopping me, except for my own strength of character, and while you're all young mages still learning your craft… you still have devastating and destructive abilities that you all need the strength of character to use it responsibly."
He looked to Henrietta. "Thank you, your Highness, for serving as my example."
Henrietta smiled, taking it in stride. "Of course. Ah, could you perhaps return me to my seat?"
The moment she finished speaking she realized she was sitting back in it. "Oh!"
She called out to Ryan. "Thank you!"
Ryan held Tabitha's book in hand, and spun it on the end of his finger. "Power comes in many ways, magic, physical ability, money, and anything else that gives you the advantage over the man or woman next to you. What you do and don't do with that power is dependant on you and what consequences you're willing to face for using it. Take Count Mott for my next example."
He tossed the book to himself and before it fell into his hands it was gone, back neatly in Tabitha's lap. Even as they realized the book was gone, they were noticing Siesta standing on the stage, her hands folded in front of her.
"Count Mott, the former palace messenger and enemy to all women everywhere, was a lecherous man who used his status of nobility to lord himself over commoner women like Siesta here, with no one really able to protest this simply because of his power in status, connection, and if that failed, magic."
Ryan smirked some. "He felt, that since none had opposed him with any difficulty before that it was his unalienable right to do as he saw fit with those below him. Who did he have to fear? Higher nobility who could not care less for what he did with the dirt that was even further below than him? The Royal Family who didn't want to cause a scene or were blind to his corruption?"
The Musketeers all looked to one another, sharing bitter nods about Count Mott and his attitude towards them. Agnès relaxed somewhat, but still had her pistol and rapier secured in her grip, ready to draw.
"That is arrogance, and it is something that all of you should well and truly fear." Ryan looked back at Louise, briefly. "Thinking that because you're powerful or that you have power that you're unstoppable causes you to miss the big picture and the gravity of your situation. Count Mott, had he known what he was against that day, would've never chosen to bait me into a fight for Siesta. However, none of you should ever put yourselves into that kind of situation."
He stood up. "Abusing your powers, though it has its appeal I won't lie…" Ryan smiled briefly, before frowning. "…Comes with a very high price."
On the other side of the school, Fouquet of the Sand drifted down from a window and set down into a kneel. Concentrating, she unleashed a spell into the grassy ground below.
"You can use your magic to be the likes of Count Mott, ruthlessly abusing your power and title to get what you want, or you can be the likes of your Princess, or your teachers, using their power not for their own personal gain but for the sake of others!"
Many of the students nodded assent.
"Let me assure you, if you use your great powers like the latter, you'll never have to fear the likes of me appearing in your doorstep…"
Ryan closed his eyes, and everyone in the audience felt a phantom weight pushing them down. Opening his eyes, Ryan unleashed a visible shockwave that blew hair back and pushed against them as it washed over. He grinned.
"…A much more powerful force than you, that you don't realize until it's far too late."
With that Ryan bowed and the students immediately broke into applause.
On the sidelines, Old Osmond couldn't help a merry laugh. "Well! I guess he's made things a little more difficult politically."
Henrietta looked over to Old Osmond. "Just a little, but I don't believe there's too much to be worried for. He's a good person… if a bit eccentric."
Ryan hugged Siesta as they and Louise descended from the stage. They were immediately met by Guiche and Montmorency, with Kirche and Tabitha standing back a few paces.
"Splendid performance, Ingram!" Guiche congratulated, before he noticed Ryan seemed a bit off. "Are you all right?"
Ryan's face was flushed and he was panting noticeably as he held Siesta tight to his side. Montmorency immediately recognized the restless expression as being almost identical to Guiche's when he was feeling amorous.
Louise didn't need to recognize it, she could feel it across their link plain as day. "You overexerted yourself!"
Ryan smiled gamely. "I did, but it was worth it to teach you."
Siesta squeaked and blushed. Louise narrowed her eyes. Ryan shrugged.
"Would you prefer I squeeze your bottom?"
Louise's face reddened, before she looked away. Ryan grinned and squeezed Siesta's bottom again. The maid flushed and giggled softly.
Colbert, himself a bit shaken by the show, stepped up to the stage. "The judging portion of the exhibition shall now commence!"
Ryan then looked around, he heard something, like a slight rumble. "Hey, did you hear that?"
Louise looked back at him. "Hear what?"
Kirche hummed. "I hear it too, what is that?"
Montmorency and Guiche looked around the sky, and the latter shook his head. "Not a cloud in the sky, so it isn't thunder."
It wasn't a good idea, given how much he'd already exerted himself, but Ryan honed his senses like a blade and listened. He heard it much clearer this time, thunderous, heavy footsteps by something very, very large. It still sounded heavily muffled, like it was far away or muffled… magically…
Ryan looked around. "Where's Miss Longueville?"
Louise blinked in confusion. "What about her?"
She paused and then frowned. "Oh no, not this again, you think 'Fouquet' is up to something, don't you?"
Ryan generated a burst of aether. "I don't think Fouquet is up to something…"
Atop her golem, Fouquet watched as her construct of Earth, rock, grass, and trees drew back its fist and lunged, punching the side of the school and striking a powerful barrier that warped and rippled from the force of the impact.
"I didn't think the barrier would be this strong!" she gasped in surprise. "Old pervert, you've outdone yourself."
"…I knew you were up to something."
Fouquet looked down at Ryan in surprise, finding him standing not too far from the Golem. He was standing there with a smile and hands hanging by his sides.
Replacing her surprise with a cool smirk, Fouquet laughed. "Well, this is awkward. I expected to be long gone by now."
Ryan nodded. "Well, any competent master cat burglar should have a backup plan in case things go south, am I right?"
"Luckily, I have several," Fouquet said as the Golem lifted its fist and swung it down on Ryan.
Ryan dove and rolled out of the way of the fist, the impacting hand of rock and earth creating a shockwave that nearly knocked him over. With catlike agility, he flipped onto his hands and feet, and lunged clear as the golem dragged its hand across the ground to swat at him.
Coming to a stop, Ryan lifted one hand from the ground to the hilt of his sword, as he remained crouched low to the ground. "So, this is backup plan number one, huh?"
"Inelegant and brutish, yes, but it works better than you think!" Fouquet replied, before the Golem swung down at Ryan again.
Ryan unsheathed his sword and slashed the air in front of him in a crescent arc. The golem promptly lost half its hand, which landed behind Ryan while the rest of the hand crashed to the ground in front of him. Before he could produce a witty comment, the golem's hand regenerated as it swung at him again, gouging a trench as it tried to hit him.
He dove and rolled clear, and then jumped again to avoid the other hand, which clapped down with an open palm much faster than the other hand. Atop her mount, Fouquet couldn't help but laugh.
"How interesting! You're more agile than most!" she complimented.
"I don't know, I've done faster," Ryan replied.
Fouquet waved her hand, and the golem obeyed the unspoken command. "Come on then, show me!"
The golem raised its hands above its head, and then slammed them into the ground with great force. A split second later, razor-sharp iron spikes shot up from the ground directly under and around Ryan. Watching the spikes tear apart the field, Fouquet saw the boy wasn't among them.
"Impressive," she said before her golem suddenly slumped towards its left side. "What?!"
She looked to the right, and found that the arm of the golem had been cut clean away.
"Plan A's not looking so good, is it?"
Ryan was standing on one of the spikes, right where he had been before she used the area spell.
Drawing her wand, Fouquet waved it. "We've only started, Aether boy."
With a rapid incantation, she quickly turned the ground beneath the iron spikes into sand, which began to swirl around rapidly. Waving her wand again once more, she finished it with a sword-like cut, and arcs of sand suddenly lashed out, hoping to impale or slice Ryan to pieces.
Ryan quickly began to hop from spike to spike, narrowly avoiding the streams of sand, one of which was enough to tear a sizeable patch out of the sleeve of his hoodie. "Whoa!"
"Ah! Now this is starting to feel like home!" Wulf cheered as Ryan dodged another sand stream.
I'm not that homesick anymore! Ryan thought back, kicking off the ground. He swung his blade again, this time aiming his strike at the chest of Fouquet's mount.
Fouquet smirked. "I've got you now, boy!"
The golem suddenly lashed out with its regenerating right arm, its hand becoming covered in spikes as it hurtled towards Ryan. Fouquet watched as the spikes all but touched Ryan, but then suddenly he vanished from sight.
Fouquet's smirk turned into a grin. "You're still showing off?!"
Rather than stop, the golem continued it swing, turning around and driving its hand straight towards the ground behind it just beyond the spikes, where Ryan had reappeared.
Ryan finished sheathing his sword. "Nah, I'm just done with fighting your slow pet rock."
The golem's right arm crashed into the ground behind him, detached from its body. Fouquet lost her footing as the golem's right leg and left arm similarly detached, sending her and the entire construct plummeting right into the sandy spike pit she created.
On impact, a wave of sand and dust shot from every direction, quickly washing over Ryan and sending a plume hurtling skyward and capturing the attention of the crowd on the other side of the school.
"Was that an explosion?" Kirche asked as the dirt cloud rose.
Louise grew alarmed. "He's fighting her!"
Kirche looked. "Who?"
Louise only needed to glean their link to know. "Fouquet!"
Back in the center of the dust cloud, Ryan shielded his eyes as he reached into one of his belt pockets and produced a pair of goggles. Quickly slipping them on, he looked around in the swirling sand, which refused to dissipate.
"So, Fouquet, how do you know about my Aether ability?" He asked into the sandstorm.
He quickly moved, avoiding the spikes that shot up from the ground underneath him. Dodging several more that attempted to impale him from odd angles and directions, he thrust his hand forward as he clenched it into a fist, sending a concussive force straight in front of him and shattering the iron spikes that attempted to tear him apart from head on.
Fouquet laughed. "A master thief never reveals her secrets."
Ryan followed her voice and was there in an instant, one hand resting on the cloaked figure's chest as he drew the other back. In that same instant, he realized his error, and jumped away as numerous iron spikes tore apart the cloak and revealed nothing more than a mound of dirt in the rough shape of a woman.
"Okay, I think it's time to reassess my earlier boast," Ryan admitted before a stream of sand bigger than he was struck and enveloped him, lifting him high into the swirling storm and taking the shape of a tornado.
On the ground, Fouquet waved her wand, and the stream of sand solidified into a pillar, with Ryan trapped at its very top in a large dense ball. Keeping her wand pointed at it she waved it again, and streams of sand lifted off and snaked away, before turning around and solidifying into long spears at their ends.
"It's such a shame it has to end like this," she lamented.
A large shadowy figure descended upon her from above, and Fouquet had only a second's worth of time to leap out of the way of the large blue dragon that dropped from the sky above. As she recovered, she was struck by a powerful and cold blast of wind that sent her flying out of her sand storm, causing it and Ryan's prison to collapse into harmless dirt and sand.
Fouquet, coughing, got up and found Tabitha, now wearing a tiny gold crown denoting her as winner of the Familiar Exhibition, seated atop her dragon, with her staff pointed squarely at her. "The Gallian…?"
"Pfft!" Ryan spat out some sand and shook his head. "Okay, I got careless."
"Are you ready to actually end this then, boy?" Wulf demanded.
Fouquet looked from Tabitha to Ryan, and then towards the tower. It looked like there was just no helping it. "It looks like my perfect record ends here, but it was fun, Aether boy."
Ryan suddenly appeared in front of Fouquet his profile low as he stared up at her. "Yeah, it was."
Fouquet's eyes shot wide. "W-what?!"
He slammed his palm against her stomach, knocking the wind out of her. An explosive force then shot out of Fouquet's back, shredding her cloak and blasting her hood from atop her head as it tore apart the ground behind her all the way up to the wall, which received a deep, circular impression.
Everything went still then, as Tabitha's eyes widened slightly when she recognized the woman underneath Fouquet's cloak.
Ryan, panting, bit his lower lip and shuddered. "It's been hell of a run, but this is the climax!"
He drew his hand back and slammed his other palm into the same spot, firing off a second burst of pure Aether through Miss Longueville and into the wall behind her, successfully blowing a hole completely through it.
Ryan fell to his knees, panting. "T-too much… oh God…"
Miss Longueville was still standing, her face was deeply flushed, her eyes partially rolled back, and her mouth hanging open. Letting out several soft gasps as her body shook and spasmed involuntarily, she fell onto her back, and moaned deeply and happily.
"You actually lasted a bit longer than normal," Wulf noted.
"It doesn't change a thing," Ryan replied aloud. "I was seriously redlining through the whole thing."
His mentors back home would be telling him the same thing.
Tabitha walked over, her staff pointed at Miss Longueville, before she realized that the woman was not getting up again any time soon, but still very much alive. She looked down at Ryan, who managed to fall back on his ass, before flopping onto his back.
He closed his eyes. "Thanks, Tabby."
Tabitha stared down at him, and then poked him in the face with the end of her staff. "Do not call me that."
"Come on, it's cute," Ryan pleaded with a smile.
Tabitha's expression didn't change, though her cheeks became slightly warmer as she poked him again. "Charlotte."
Ryan opened one eye. "Eh?"
"Call me Charlotte, but only to my face. Tabitha, in front of everyone else."
Ryan closed his eyes and chuckled. "Okay, Charlotte."
"Ryan!" Louise's worried cry was punctuated by her landing atop him and hugging him tightly. "You idiot! You're all but going to explode!"
"I'll be fine, don't worry." Ryan patted Louise on the back, and hummed softly as he began to rub her back.
"I can't believe you'd do something like this after using the Aether so much, what kind of teacher are you?" Even as Louise chastised him, she was checking for any serious injuries, and when she did not find any, she hugged him. "You idiot!"
Ryan let out a laugh. "It'll take more than a bit of sand to put me out," he said as he groped her backside, causing her to squeak loudly.
She looked up at him, with wide eyes and a flushed face. "…Y-you!"
Tabitha tilted her head as Louise jumped up and began to stomp him like he was on fire. "HOW DARE YOU FEEL ME UP?! I'M AN ENGAGED WOMAN! DON'T YOU HAVE A MAID YOU CAN DO THOSE THINGS TO?! YOU PIG! YOU DOG! YOU PERVERT!"
"Ow! Ow! Hey! Ow!"
"Louise, stop you might break him!" Kirche called as she, Montmorency, and Guiche finally caught up, ahead of the musketeers and a few of the school's staff.
"He can take it!" Louise kicked him again.
"OW! Thanks for the vote of confidence, ow!"
Kirche looked over and grew surprised when she found Miss Longueville, in her tattered clothes, sound asleep, and looked to Tabitha. "What happened?"
Tabitha pointed at Miss Longueville. "Fouquet."
Louise stopped and looked over at Miss Longueville. Blinking a few times as her face cycled rapidly from surprise, to disbelief, and then to indignation, she kicked Ryan again. "Don't you dare say 'I told you so', you lecher!"
"Ow! Quit that or you're getting a spanking!" Ryan growled, and received a reprieve from Louise. "As for Miss Longueville…"
"She'll be taken into custody," Agnès interrupted as she and the other musketeers reached the group. "Thank you, but we shall take it from here."
Ryan sat up, as two of the female soldiers picked up the sleeping woman. "Do what you have to. I'm just happy to have done my part."
As Miss Longueville was carried off, Agnès looked down at Ryan. "You had some trouble against a single Triangle Mage after boasting like you did."
Ryan smiled weakly. "The irony is killing me, I know."
"Still…" Agnès nodded. "You acquitted yourself well."
"I had help, but thank you."
"You're welcome." The Captain of the Royal Musketeers turned and followed her soldiers. "Don't be so reckless again."
Ryan watched her go, and hummed. Agnès, what kind of woman is she?
"A female Yuuzes, but with a much more accessible soft side," Wulf replied.
Ryan sighed and finally stood up. Maybe she's a Dragon, too.
"Are you done undressing her with your eyes?" Louise asked.
Ryan looked over to her. "Would you prefer I undress you with my eyes?"
Louise jumped up and kicked him in the head. "Die!"
"Nice kick," Montmorency said, and Guiche and Kirche nodded in agreement.
Later that evening, Louise sat on her bed, holding the tiny silver crown she received for second place in the familiar exhibition. Ryan was not in the room, he was with Siesta and even with her link clamped shut she could all but hear what the two of them were doing to each other, and it aggravated her to no end.
There was so much to think about, so many conflicting feelings, and it just did not help that even as she tried to reason with herself, she could almost imagine the clouds of Aether around her every thought.
The door opened, and Louise looked to see Henrietta enter, pulling the hood of her cloak from atop her head. "Princess…"
"Good evening, Louise-Françoise," Henrietta said as she sat down next to her.
"What are you doing here so late; shouldn't you be back at the palace?"
Henrietta just smiled. "I'll leave in the morning; I wanted to spend the night with my best friend."
Louise gasped, and then smiled herself. "Ah, you're too kind, Princess."
"You can call me Henrietta, let's not be formal for once."
Louise nodded, and looked back at her crown. Henrietta walked over and sat down next to her slightly smaller friend. Louise looked weary, it wasn't a surprise given how hectic today was, but Henrietta was already keen on the cause of her tiredness.
She hugged Louise. "That boy, he takes a lot out of you, doesn't he?"
Louise sighed and resigned into her embrace. "He's absolutely infuriating!"
The spike of indignation cooled as quickly as it erupted. "I don't understand him at all."
Not for any lack of trying. There were some aspects about him, from what she learned about him, that she could grasp and understand. She understood that he wasn't a bad person, and that he honestly meant well for mostly everything. She realized that the Aether was as much of a burden on him as it was on her, maybe even more. But there were the facets to his personality and behavior that just struck her dumb and caused her nothing but frustration. His shameless perversions and his nonchalance rubbed her raw, but not as badly as his habit of getting into fights with powerful mages.
But that was really only the tip of it.
She looked up at Henrietta. "Are you really fine with him, and what he's doing…? I summoned him, and he's caused so much chaos. Now he's gone and told everyone how powerful he is, and he beat Fouquet, and when his world comes looking for him they're going to come here and…"
She sighed and paused, before simply asking, "Are you afraid of him? Of me?"
Henrietta tightened her hug. "I have no reason to ever be afraid of you. I know you'd never do anything to hurt me, and wouldn't let anyone hurt me."
The Princess didn't mince words. "He terrifies me."
Louise grew wide-eyed. "Henrietta!"
"He does, but he's no more frightening than the others that I work with day to day. In fact, he's much more pleasant than any diplomatic meeting." Henrietta sighed at that.
"I'm sorry for bringing him into our world," Louise lamented.
"Don't be. As frightening as he is, I won't lose sight of the fact that he's done nothing but good for others, most importantly protecting and helping you with this." She nuzzled Louise affectionately as she took her asterisk-marked hand and held it up.
Louise stared at the black rune, and a soft glow began to emit from its edges. The aether seeping through it aided Henrietta's efforts to calm her, and began to turn her ragged fatigue into a comfortable drowsiness.
"Are you afraid of him, Louise-Françoise?"
Louise immediately thought of her recent dream, and tensed. She shook her head.
"No, I'm not afraid of him," she quietly replied before quickly adding, "I can handle him just fine! It's everyone else, like you, that I'm afraid for."
Henrietta smiled, while wondering about her hesitation. "Then no one has anything to worry about. Everything will be fine, Louise, I trust that boy to use his powers as a good person, and I trust you to protect us if he doesn't."
Louise grew relieved, and hugged Henrietta back tightly. "Thank you."
She still felt horrible, lying to her best friend about what really bothered her. But she wasn't ready to accept the truth yet, either.
With Siesta curled up alongside him, asleep, Ryan stared at the screen of a smart phone, his thumb swiping across the screen as he looked at a gallery of photos saved onto it. The picture he was on featured him with his arm wrapped around a modestly dressed woman with a surprising resemblance to Kirche, the bangs of her long black hair even concealing one of her eyes, as the two of them smiled to the camera Ryan held above them.
He sighed, and brought the phone to his lips.
"I miss you so much."
Turning off the screen, he set the phone aside and cuddled Siesta.
"Just a few weeks and you'll be home."
Ryan nodded in agreement with Wulf, and looked at Siesta, sleeping peacefully with a content expression on her face. "Yeah, home."
A/N: What a pain to edit this, why does the text bunch up when I use different formats, guys?