A blinding flash and a cloud of smoke engulfed the summoning circle. The young mage responsible, Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière, found herself squinting to see through the crowd, as did her instructor and classmates. Had it worked? Had Louise the Zero, the eternal failure mage, managed to actually summon a familiar, or was it just another explosion?
Then, out of the cloud emerged a strange sight. A single golden butterfly. Or at least it seemed to be a butterfly, though none of the gathered knew of an insect that glowed and trailed sparkling dust, or appeared to be just a weaving.
Well it's not much, but it's something. Louise thought to herself, sighing and walking towards the golden insect. But, rather than simply staying put as a summoned familiar would normally do, the creature began to fly away! Louise began to despair, when suddenly another emerged from the smoke! And then another. And then two more. Suddenly, vast swarms of the golden insects burst forth, blowing the smoke and dust away, scattering in every direction. What the strange, almost ephemeral insects revealed with the veil lifted however, drove them completely from the minds of the gathered:
It was a woman. Her hair took the form of long, golden tresses, was tied in a tight bun on the back of her head, save for two locks that hung freely on either side of her face. She wore a long black dress covered in golden threads which seemed to form the shape of wings. Gold, gold, and more gold. Even her pipe was gold! This was not just any woman, she was clearly one of high class, a merchant's daughter, if not a noble!
"AHAHAHA! Well, I was having trouble coming up with ideas for the fourth game anyway! Normally I'd await the proper offerings before answering a summon, but maybe it'll give me some nice ideas." The strange woman said, her face contorting into an almost predatory smirk, while her eyes scanned the crowd around her. "Still though, quite impressive, calling me, a territory master, to another fragment. Voyager magic perhaps? No, I sense nothing of that power..." The woman continued, now speaking more quietly, musing aloud.
The bald instructor stepped forward, the assembled students still summoned. "Ah, excuse me miss, but it would seem you've been summoned as Miss Valiere's familiar. Although you are clearly a noble of some sort, the ritual is quite clear..."
The woman made note of his words, and then promptly dismissed the man entirely, instead choosing to look at the tiny pink mage in front of her. "Ah, you must be my summoner..."
Louise managed to shake off her shock at last and nodded frantically, "Ah, yes! I summoned you, thus you're my familiar!" To think that she, Louise the Zero, had summoned a noble!
"I see. Rejected." The woman stated simply.
Silence. Complete and utter silence. That was the only response from the gathered. For about 3 seconds that is. Then came the laughter. Nearly all the nearby students burst into uncontrolled guffaws. A redhead stepped out of the crowd, "How like you Zero, you actually succeed in a summon only to have your familiar turn you down!"
The summoned woman spared only a glance at the crowd, then cleared her throat and continued in a raised voice, "AS I WAS SAYING-" the laughter stopped, all eyes on the stranger once again. "I reject the PROPOSED contract. It would be unbecoming of me as a territory master. However," she leaned close grasping the pink haired one's cheeks. "I, Beatrice the Golden, have an alternative offer. You have much power little one... power enough to summon a master from her land in a distant fragment, and without senate intervention no less! Thus, I shall take you in as my new apprentice." A barrier of red appeared around the two, separating them from any possible interlopers.
"MISS VALIERE!" The instructor cried, rushing towards the newly formed wall.
A golden pen and parchment appeared in Louise's hands. On it were a few simple words:
I, the undersigned, place myself under the apprenticeship of the Endless Witch, Beatrice the Golden. I shall heed her teachings, respect her predecessors, obey her alliances, and work alongside her furniture. In exchange, I shall receive her instruction, and with it, great power.
Louise hesitated. This was no standard ritual, that was blatantly obvious. Possibly even heretical! And yet... this woman, this Beatrice, was clearly one of great magical power, bearing a runic name as fantastic as "the Golden!" If Louise had her teaching perhaps... perhaps even the Zero could grow strong. Certainly, Beatrice claimed she had potential. And the contract didn't ask for anything one wouldn't do under a normal apprenticeship (although the bit about "furniture" was confusing)...
The choice was already made. The chance at attaining REAL magic wouldn't appear again.
The moment Louise finished her signature, the red barrier keeping her and Beatrice separate from the rest of the group dropped, allowing Professor Colbert to rush to the young noble's side, reaching for the contract. His dim hope that he might be able to intervene on his student's behalf faded when it bursts into a cloud of the mysterious golden butterflies, which he now assumed were the woman's familiars.
Beatrice, for her part, twirled around in a circle, laughing loudly as the parchment reappeared in her hand. "Ah, what a cute new apprentice I've gotten!" the witch said, cackling madly as more of the butterflies formed around her. She fixed her gaze on the professor. "You are her former instructor I suppose? Your services are no longer needed, as you can see."
Colbert responded only by leveling his staff at the witch. Keeping an eye on her, he asked Louise, "What did you sign off to this woman, Miss Valliere?"
The pink haired mage grabbed at Colbert's arm, trying to get him to lower his staff, "Please Professor Colbert, don't fight! It was nothing you wouldn't normally expect on a contract of apprenticeship!" She chose not to mention the "furniture" part, deciding that it wouldn't help calm the situation down at all.
Beatrice fixed a predatory gaze on the teacher, noting the flames starting to form around his staff. "While your dedication to your students is touching, Monsieur Colbert, it's quite pointless in this situation. I'd not harm my own student, and you simply CAN'T harm me. Why don't you put your little toy staff down before a real magic user shows you how a battle is conducted?"
Despite Beatrice's less than amazing diplomatic skills, Colbert did at least gather the mysterious mage's claim at not wishing Louise harm was true. All the same... "Though your intentions regarding Miss Valiere's teaching may be honorable, to ignore the rite of familiar summoning is sacrilege against the Founder Brimir..." Colbert wasn't a terribly religious man, too many years in the military had made clear to him that the Church wasn't the most trustworthy organization, but he still respected the rituals of the Founder like any good magus.
Beatrice raised an eyebrow, her confrontational atmosphere replaced with one of curiosity. "Founder Brimir? Who in the world is that? Is that what you people call God around here? What an odd fragment I've landed in..."
Whatever the rest of the gathered mages expected, it certainly wasn't that. Even Colbert, once one of the deadliest soldiers on the continent, dropped his guard completely. Anyone with eyes could tell this woman, this Beatrice the Golden, was a ludicrously powerful magic user, so how could she be ignorant of Founder Brimir, the progenitor of magic itself? "...Where are you from, Lady Beatrice?" Colbert questioned.
The witch smirked, pleased to be called a proper title at last. "I am the Lady of Rokkenjiima, an island off the... obviously quite distant country of Japan."
"Japan?" A blond young man in the crowd of students spoke up. "Is that beyond the desert? Or perhaps across the sea?"
Beatrice considered this for a moment. "Hm... I don't think it'd really be possible to explain to you, especially since I'm not entirely sure what this country is called. Your speech resembles that of a country called 'France' in my homeland but I rather doubt that's the case."
Colbert shook his head, and finally dropped his guard. If this woman posed any threat, she didn't seem interested in acting on it. "No, this country is called 'Tristain.' I've never heard of anywhere called 'Japan' or 'France.'"
Beatrice processed this information. Whatever the specifics of this fragment, the part of it she found herself in clearly wasn't Earth. She'd have to investigate later. "Getting back to your original point: your religion's rites do not concern me. I will not bind myself as a familiar of any sort. If you wish to press this matter..." The witch trailed off, but the rest of the statement was obvious, especially to a trained soldier like Colbert.
"...Very well. I shall inform the headmaster of these... unusual circumstances. For now," he turned to Louise. "Ms. Valliere, you have succeeded in 'Summon Servant' even though it took two tries. 'Contract Servant' seems beyond your reach at the moment, but that is not in any way your fault and I personally assure you I shall not allow you to be expelled for the moment."
Louise let out a sigh of relief. Despite her summoning this strange and powerful new sorceress from a distant land, she still wished to remain at the academy, if only because formal completion was tradition for any good noble of the land. That, and while Beatrice was obviously quite powerful, her ignorance of Brimir indicated that her magic probably worked on a different system, meaning she couldn't teach much about how to recognize say, an enemy mage about to cast "wind ward."
"For now, I suggest you return to your room in the dormitori-" Colbert began, before a haughty laugh from Beatrice interrupted him.
"Dormitories! HA! No Apprentice of mine shall live amongst the rabble like that." The witch stated, causing a slight stirring amongst the rest of the students. Under most circumstances, all of them (save for one quiet blue haired girl) would have been thrown into a frenzy at the idea of them being a rabble compared to Louise the Zero. On the other hand, they were being described as such by a mysterious mage of obviously high power who may very well use magic of a completely foreign nature to their own. Thus, a slight tittering of disapproval was about as much as any dared make.
"...And WHERE, Lady Beatrice, would you suggest Miss Valiere stay INSTEAD?" Colbert replied irritably.
The witch said nothing in return, instead taking a long drag from her gold pipe and blowing a puff of strange smoke (which, like everything else about the odd woman, was gold). The smoke twisted and warped, then flew into the nearby outer stone wall of the castle, dissolving a large section of it as it passed through. The smoke continued on, now accompanied by a cloud of the odd golden butterflies, which spread out over a large area, multiplying as they went. Eventually, there was an enormous flock of them, completely obscuring a large chuck of the nearby field and the woods beyond, until they suddenly all burst into gold dust particles. What they left behind left the onlookers stunned more than anything else since the witch first appeared.
It was an entire goddamn MANSION, the grounds and building having replaced the land and forest that was there before. The witch smirked at the bald mage teacher, who was now shaking in fear, despite all he'd seen in his life, at the display of power the woman had made, and with no apparent effort. "Why, she and I shall reside in my hall of Kuwadorian of course."
The Golden Mansion of Kuwadorian, Outside Tristain Academy of Magic
Louise was led onto the grounds of the magical mansion, her eyes wide with wonder. The entire thing had been carved out of nothing in an instant, and was constructed out of steel, glass, marble, some strange substance resembling stone (Beatrice called it "concrete"), and gold. Among Halkengian mages, gold was considered to be the very hardest substance to transmute, and only Square class mages could make it in even small amounts, and then only with considerable effort. Yet with a single wave, her new teacher had summoned such a gorgeous building.
As the steel gates of the mansion grounds closed behind her and her teacher, Beatrice gave a happy sigh and began to speak, "Ah what a beautiful little fragment this is, not a drop of magic resistance anywhere." She hadn't been addressing Louise in particular, but she hadn't cared if the younger magic user heard.
"Um... Miss Beatrice, what does you mean by 'fragment?' I've heard you say it a couple times, but it's never made sense by the definition of the word I know." Louise asked hesitantly, afraid she might anger the woman if she asked the wrong question.
"Oh don't worry about that Louise, it's not something you could understand at your level anyway," the which replied dismissively as they reached the doors of the mansion, "in fact, don't worry about anything scholarly today, let us simply relax within Kuwadorian." The moment she finished speaking, the great doors opened, revealing a splendid entrance hall containing a single man in a butler's uniform, replete with a charming mustache and quite dapper monocle. Beatrice brightened at the site of the man, "Ah, Ronove, you're already here! I was worried you'd lose track of me in the summoning."
The man, apparently called Ronove, smiled and replied, "Of course not Lady Beatrice, I, the great Ronove, would never shirk my duty as head furniture in such a disgraceful manner. Where you go, I follow, as is proper." He then turned to Louise, "And this young lady is...?"
"Ah, this is Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Valliere, my new apprentice. Louise, this is Ronove, the 27th Pillar of Hell and head of my furniture, or familiars, whichever you like, they're both the same thing." The witch thrust her ample chest out with pride, "among witches, employment of him is a symbol of great status, as there's no finer butler in all of heaven and hell. Aren't you amazed at your teacher?" The witch gazed as Louise expectantly.
Louise, doing her best to ignore the fact that her teacher had just claimed the man before her was from Hell, nodded quickly, knowing it'd probably be a poor idea to damage Beatrice's ego in any way.
Beatrice smiled with satisfaction at her apprentice's excellent brown nosing and then turned to Ronove. "Well then, who else made it?"
"Well my lady, the goats are present, albeit I've left them inactive and dematerialized for the moment, and the Stakes should be finished transferring before the evening is finished. The Palace Guards are currently refusing to move until they've received orders regarding the situation from Pendragon. As for Lady Virgillia and Lady Gaap, as they are not furniture I am of course not privy to their full reasoning, but they have decided to remain on Rokkenjiima for the moment." Ronove reported, the conversation having moved away from anything Louise could remotely understand.
"Hm, that's fine for the moment I suppose. And what of the other players?" The golden which inquired.
"Battler is currently sulking right where we left him following the... incident at the end of the 3rd game," Louise noticed a look of displeasure flashed across Ronove's face at the mention of this mysterious event, "as for the Great Voyager witches, I left them with enough pre-prepared black tea and sweets to distract them for several thousand year cycles. I do not believe we should hear complaints from the 3 of them regarding the next stage of the game until our business here is complete," the demon concluded.
"Excellent!" the witch cried happily. "Then we're free to play around in this fragment for quite awhile. Have a meal prepared for myself and Louise-"
Louise gathered enough courage to interrupt for once, "A-actually teacher, I'm somewhat exhausted from the summoning ritual and was wondering if I couldn't simply be shown to my room for the evening?"
Beatrice considered this for a moment, then nodded, "Understandable I suppose, I mean, you DID summon me, the Golden Witch who has lived for 1000 years and commands the Endless Magic. Ronove, show her off!" Her order given, Beatrice turned around and walked out of Kuwadorian again, leaving Louise to be herded off to her room by the demon butler.
Tristain Academy of Magic, Headmaster's Office.
"And that, as you can see by the ENORMOUS MANSION out the window, is what happened Headmaster Osmond." Colbert concluded, addressing the aging headmaster in front of him.
Osmond, for this part, simply stroked his beard, watching outside the window. "And you say she really didn't seem to have heard of Brimir? Well I guess it's not that surprising: after all, it's not like any earth magic I've ever heard of can make something that large and complicated, certainly not by blowing smoke out of a pipe. Perhaps it's some variation of Elven magic? Firstborn magic is the only kind I've ever seen warp space in such a fashion, but even then it was never to such a scale, certainly not to create a building..."
"Sir, we can puzzle out her abilities later, the problem at hand is how do we DEAL with her?"
"Well... for the moment I'd say we avoid antagonizing her directly, I have no doubt she's a dangerous one in a fight. What we SHOULD do however, is contain knowledge of her. We must intercept letters from the students to their families that mention her to avoid causing a panic, and keep her out of any reports to the palace." The old magus answered, watching a number of the odd golden butterflies flitted by the window. "Knowing them, they'd actually try to weaponize her somehow and that can't POSSIBLY end well."
Colbert was scandalized, "That's ALL? You want us to just sit and wait with that demon in our midst? We should at least alert Miss Valiere's family, the Duke deserves to know about his daughter being locked into some mad apprenticeship with the strongest mage I've ever seen!"
Osmond leaned back in his chair, and took a small drag from pipe, "...I suppose you're right Colbert. However, I must insist that you inform ONLY the Duke. Everyone else is to remain in the dark until we can observe further."
Colbert hesitated for a moment, and then bowed, "Very well headmaster, I shall spread the order to the rest of the staff."
That Night, Atop Tristain Academy
Foquet the Crumbling Dirt, master thief and Square Class Earth Mage, was conflicted. On the one hand, her current cover as a secretary was fine, with none suspecting her identity as far as she could tell. On the other, in all her time undercover she'd yet to figure a way into the academy vault. It seemed she'd never be able to pierce the defenses and spirit off the Staff of Destruction from under the noses of these snooty nobles. But now something troublesome had reared its head, and summoned by an infamous failure mage no less! The mysterious witch, calling herself Beatrice the Golden, was obviously more powerful than anyway in the academy save perhaps old Osmond himself, an incredible dangerous foe.
But she was RICH. A single glance at the mansion she'd summoned, Kuwadorian, revealed that. Forget the Staff and the money those fools in Reconquista were paying her to get it, steal from this woman and she could run 1000 orphanages for decades to come!
Thus the dilemma: the staff currently seemed a lost cause, with no hope of reward. Stealing from the witch on the other hand seemed nearly suicidal, but the temptation was unbelievable. She'd certainly need to avoid her normal methods, using something like a giant golem wouldn't exactly be stealthy, and would probably just paint a bullseye on her for whatever terrible magic the witch used to attack with. But she'd need more time in order to use the stealthy method, time to figure out the mansion's layout and the schedule of its occupants. Getting caught would mean death, that much was certain. But the time needed to do that was time she wouldn't be sending money to the orphanage...
Perhaps a less dangerous heist in the meantime. The capital wasn't far, maybe she could simply pull a few raids on the wealthier merchants, or even on the palace! But that would alert everyone to her being in the area, put them all on guard...
No. It would have to be done, there was no other option at this point, risk be damned. Osmond had mentioned that the princess would be here on the next Day of the Void, which meant that the security at the palace would be lax. Perfect time for a powerful mage to empty the treasury...
The Next Morning, The Dining Hall of Kuwadorian
Louise sat down at the end of the long dining table, nervously glancing around her. Not at the ridiculous splendor of the hall itself mind you, she had by this point simply accepted the fact that Beatrice's mansion was probably more extravagant than any building on the continent save the Pope's own cathedral. No, this time she was looking at the strange newcomers that had apparently joined her, Beatrice, and Ronove in the hall in the night. Firstly, there were seven girls seated at the table, each wearing a matching uniform that exposed their thighs in an absolutely scandalous manner. They were loudly arguing with one another (the exact subject was difficult to discern in the din), heedless of Louise's presence, and the argument looked like it was about to turn into a full scale cat fight when Beatrice appeared at the opposite end of the table from Louise in a cloud of golden butterflies.
"That's quite enough stakes. You sisters shouldn't cause such a ruckus." The golden witch commanded simply, taking a quick puff from her pipe. At her command, the argument was forgotten, and the seven stood next to their chairs in salute.
"Seven Stakes of Purgatory, reporting for duty Lady Beatrice!" The apparently leader, one with long black hair, declared.
"Yes, yes, sit down Lucifer," the witch replied dismissively, "the rest of you sit as well. This is a break from the ongoing game and a welcoming party for my new apprentice. There's no need for excessive formality..." she paused for thought before adding, "which does not excuse excessive infighting, mind you."
The girls nodded before sitting back in their seats and looking towards Louise. One of them, her blonde hair tied up into two long ponytails, reached out and grabbed the pinkette's hand, "so you're the lady's new apprentice huh? Nice to meet you, I'm Asmodeus, stake of lust!" Louise noted something oddly... predatory about the smile Admodeus wore.
"Er.. L-lust?" The pinkette stammered, trying unsuccessfully to remove her hand.
The blonde girl nodded and was about to continue, when one of her sisters interrupted, this time the speaker was the sister with blond, drill hair that reminded Louise of Montmorency. "Aw come on people, there'll be time for introductions later!" the sister whined, "surly it must be time to eat by now!"
"Shut up Beelzebub, the food will get here when it gets here," another sister interjected, this one with curly white hair. "Just because you're the stake of Gluttony doesn't mean you have to have your fat mouth stuffed all the time."
"...Satan, that's EXACTLY what that means," the leader that Beatrice had called Lucifer said. The other three remained quiet.
It was at this point that Ronove entered the room, leading a strange group of people in goat masks, all of whom were laden with trays of food. "Now, now, let's not fight ladies. I have prepared a most excellent meal to welcome Lady Beatrice's new student." He snapped his fingers, prompting the goats to place the food on the table and exit, before he himself took a seat at one of the empty seats at the table, 5 to be exact, all of them near Beatrice.
As the meal progressed, Ronove guided the conversation, questioning Louise on various subjects regarding the fragment he and the rest of Beatrice's party now found themselves in. "So Louise, as we are foreigners to this land, why don't you start by giving us a brief lesson in the history and geography?"
"Y-yes, of course. Well, right now we're in the Kingdom of Tristain of course. The other human nations nearby are the Kingdom of Albion seated on a flying continent, the Kingdom of Galia, the Empire of Germania, and the Holy Empire of Romalia where the church rules directly. All these nations except for Germania trace their royal lines back to Founder Brimir, who used the power of Void to grant the noble houses magic and protect us from the elves. Oh yes, and the elves live in the desert past Galia."
"Hm... not very helpful geographically, but we can always get a map later," the butler noted, "how does Germania justify its rule, if not through relation to this "Brimir" character? And what of these elves?"
"The Germanian barbarians justify their power through pure military force and wealth. The Pope does not officially recognize them due to the Emperor's lack of holy blood and their open defiance of many church decrees, though the other nations do. As for the elves... we don't know much about them, save that they command the powerful and mysterious Firstborn magic which makes even Square mages look weak, and that they block both human access to the holy land and passage to the near mythical land of Rub' al Khali across the desert, which is supposedly inhabited by more advanced humans. Only a few mad traders actually manage to go there though, so nobody is certain," the pinkette concluded, sounding very much like a textbook as she did so.
When Louise finished, Beatrice stopped eating and stood up, stretching her arms, "well that's enough lecturing for now, let's go out and have a look around! I did a bit of poking around last night, playing with the maids, cackling at young love, that kind of thing, but I'd like to see what this academy looks like in full swing!" the witch dismissed the seven sisters the hall of Kuwadorian was once again unoccupied save for the three. She then pointed her pipe at Louse, "Now then apprentice, consider this my first official command as your master: Give us a tour!" the witch demanded playfully.
AN: I am aware this is crap. Please, critique this crap. Tell me what you feel I'm doing wrong, and I'll do what I can to fix it. Also if you've got a request for something later, I'll see if I can't handle those too. In any case, if you can be bothered to read it, you can be bothered to leave a brief (or detailed, I like detailed) review either here or on the relevant spacebattles thread (.?t=209845).