Chapter 26: Going Off Script 2

"How is he doing?"

Louise glanced up at Montmorency, who had entered the infirmary without the shorter girl noticing. She then returned to gaze at the form of Nimble Rabbit lying on the bed.

"Valliere?" Montmorency said.

"It shattered." The pinkette didn't continue, but a soft nudge from Montmorency managed to get her to elaborate.

"The physician said he'd never seen anything like it; the skin of Rabbit's back was sha… cracked like tree bark, and peeling at the edges. H-his blood looked more like tree sap than… they had to cut his shirt off because it was sticking to him and the blood seemed to be hardening…"

"That's… interesting, in a way," Montmorency murmured. "Is it bad that that is happening?"

"I don't know!" Louise whispered. "He's not fully human! He's part Wood spirit! What would be good or bad for one of those?"

The blonde sighed, conceding the point. "Either way, he's at least stable, right? The physician is a trained Water healer, and since Nimble Rabbit is not deteriorating he should be fine for a while longer. You need to come; Headmaster Osmond and the teachers need to get your account of the… events."

"But… but what if he…?"

"He'll be fine… most likely. And you can come right back afterward. Perhaps after you've had a chance to change into fresh clothes, though… your current ones… wait, are those the same ones you wore yesterday? They're all dusty and such from everything the golem kicked up, nevermind sleeping in them!"

"… Let me sit in a chair out in the hall while they treated him," Louise mumbled. "Didn't sleep well even they sent me back to my quarters for the night."

"Hmph… Well, between… everything… and not changing into your nightclothes I suppose it's no surprise. Really, you are a mess, aren't you?" Montmorency shook her head, and took the shorter girl's arm. "Come then. Once the interview is done you should get cleaned up, and then you can come back."

"I… all right." Louise took one more look at Rabbit, and then allowed Montmorency to lead her out.

#

"… said he needed to get at the mage controlling the golem, and he seemed so sure so… well, I formed a column to raise him up to its shoulders." Thibault de Antin shrugged sheepishly. "I didn't really see much more of what happened after that, as Miss Montmorency and I then fled to keep from being trampled underfoot."

"I see…" Osmond said. "The others mentioned during that you also attempted to snare the golem in their own descriptions?"

"Oh, yes," the student nodded. "I… er… Well, I figured that the longer it could be delayed, the sooner some of the teaching staff would arrive. Or the school guards."

A muffled snort was shushed down among the teaching staff.

"Indeed." The headmaster shook his head, smiling lightly for a moment. "While I cannot fault your intent, it would have been far better to have continued your escape. Similarly, despite Mr. Rabbit's confidence, aiding him as you did was highly irresponsible by the both of you, and not just because of his current state."

Thibault slumped. "Yes, sir." He stepped back join the line with Louise, Montmorency, and Kirche.

Osmond looked over the four students assembled in front of his desk. "I believe that's everyone's part, short of Mr. Rabbit himself…" Louise flinched slightly. "… which will have to wait until such time as he recovers sufficiently. In the meanwhile, has there been any word about what the whole thing was about?"

Colbert shook his head. "The Tower is more or less intact, even with the golem's attacks on it. There's been some damage to one of the walls, but it should be repairable. As for the attacker, aside from being an earth mage of at least Triangle level…" He shrugged.

"All the students are accounted for, including the ones that had gone into town," another teacher took up. "They've all been instructed to keep indoors for the time being."

"Good, good. At least none of them have gone missing during this." Osmond nodded nodded to himself, reaching into his desk. "Hm? Drat, she's hidden my pipe… Actually, where is Miss Longueville?"

The staff glanced at each other. "I'm not sure, Osmond," Colbert spoke up. "I think I saw her departing the school earlier in the morning, but I'm not sure what for. It's been hours since then, however."

"Where could she have gone when there's been an attack on the school?" None of the others in the room had an answer.

"I suppose we'll have to wait to find out, though I hope nothing else has happened then," Osmond sighed. "Now then, about what further actions we'll take to take? We can't very well just leave this as it stands."

"Higher security, of course," one of the teachers volunteered. "While nothing important was damaged, we can't let this stand, especially with… Is Miss Valliere all right?"

Montmorency was holding Louise's arm tightly, while a tremor ran through the pinkette. "She's just tired, Professor," Montmorency said.

"Of course, of course," Osmond said. "Now, about security, Gamlan, you were saying?"

"It's 'Gregor,' not 'Gamlan,'" replied the teacher. "And I was saying that-"

He was interrupted by the door opening, and Longueville striding in. "I apologize for my tardiness."

"Ah, Miss Longueville!" Osmond said. "We were just wondering where you had gotten off to. If you would be so kind as to tell me where you put my…"

Colbert coughed into one hand.

"I mean, why you departed the school at such a time?" the headmaster finished.

"Of course, headmaster." She walked to the side of his desk. "On hearing of the attack, and how the person departed, I went to investigate who it may have been."

"I see!" Colbert exclaimed. "Were you successful?"

"Possibly." Longueville turned to the students. "I take it you're all here as witnesses? Were any of you able to see what the mage controlling the golem looked like?"

The four looked at each other for a moment. Kirche shook her head, while Louise replied, "I was too far away. I could see that there was someone atop the golem, but not what they looked like."

"I thought I saw a cloaked figure when Nimble Rabbit was being raised up to the golem," Montmorency said. "Not much more than that, however. Dark, possibly dark brown or black fabric, with a hood up."

Thibault shrugged and nodded at the brief description. "I was at a bit of a different angle, but that was pretty much it."

Nodding, Longueville turned to address the teachers: "While sparse as the description is, between it and the element of the attacker's magic, I have reason to believe that it may have been the thief Fouquet!"

The rest of the room responded with a number of shocked gasps and disturbed murmurs.

"Fouquet, the Crumbling Earth?" Chevreuse asked. "The same one who has targeted multiple nobles?"

"Indeed," nodded Longueville. "From the reports of where Fouquet has struck in the past, it seems he has been travelling gradually in the direction of this school! While there have been no confirmations of his identity, what few other witnesses there are also described a hooded figure wielding earth magic with great skill."

Colbert nodded, half to himself. "The initial strikes from the golem… they were against the outer wall of the vault. The items within would most certainly make it a target, for their use alone, if not any mere coin that could be found from their sale on the black market."

"Not a large amount of evidence, but perhaps you have something there," Professor Gregor said in a solemn tone. "Certainly, if the tales of Fouquet's previous thefts are to be taken as truth, he would be audacious enough to attempt to rob the Academy's vault. The attempt failed, of course, but still…"

"So, it comes to what to what we shall do now," Osmond said. "Tighten security, of course, but with the knowledge that the criminal Fouquet is means we should search for him and bring him to justice. All willing to take part in the search, please raise your wands."

"Wha- search for him ourselves? Shouldn't we contact the Imperial Court? Get them to send a detachment from the army?" Chevreause asked.

"And just how long would that take?" Osmond replied. "More than enough time to escape the immediate area if he hasn't already. No, if we are to catch Fouquet, we must make the effort immediately! So, who will go?"

The teachers glanced at each other, shuffling slightly. Osmond looked at them, and shook his head. "No one? Not one of you is willing to become the hero that caught the thief Fouquet?"

"I… I'll do it!" Thibault said, raising his wand.

"What?"

"You're just a student, Mr. Antin!" Colbert said. "You may have-"

"You can't be serious!" Montmorency shouted, cutting off the teacher. "I told you that 'potion' was just a fake."

"Well, yes… but…" Thibault slumped down for a moment, before straightening and raising his head to look at her. "But the teachers aren't willing to go, and if the potion was a fake doesn't that mean that it was my own courage when I tried to help before? Besides, it's retribution for Nimble Rabbit! He tried to fight Fouquet and give us time to escape! How could I call myself a noble if I let this pass? Right, Valliere? You think so too, don't you?"

"M-me…? I… it…" Louise looked at the faces staring questioningly at her, before gulping. "Y-Yes!" Louise stammered. She raised her wand as Thibault had. "I… I'll also join the search!"

"Well, I can't very well lose to a Valliere in something like this," Kirche said, wand raised. "The Zerbst name wouldn't be able to live it down."

"You're mad, the lot of you," Montmorency said. "But I'll go as well, if only to patch you all up if things turn for the worse."

Looking the group over, Osmond only smiled. "Well, it seems that I have to leave this task to the four of you."

"You cannot be serious, Old Osmond!" Chevreause said. "They're only students!"

"Miss Zerbst is descended from a line of Germanian war heroes, and has exceptional control over her element of Fire." The dark-skinned student grinned.

"Miss Montmorency is of one of the few noble families that can claim a connection with one of the spirits of the land, the Water Spirit of Lake Ragdorian." Montmorency bowed at the recognition.

"Mister de Antin, despite his… overzealousness… in his first encounter, did manage to hamper the golem of a presumably Triangle-rank mage without any time to plan ahead, and as such his similar element would be invaluable for overcoming another Earth mage." The sole male of the group grimaced slightly at the initial subtle scolding, but still stood proud as the recommendation continued.

"And as for Miss Valliere…" Osmond trailed off for a moment. "She does come from the highly-esteemed Valliere family, well known for its mages. And, one might suppose, she has a personal stake in the matter beyond bringing a thief to justice.

"So, if any of you have doubts about their capabilities, bring them up now, or go with them."

None of the assembled adults spoke up at that, so Osmond nodded his head and turned to the group of volunteers. "We eagerly look forward to hearing word of your success!"

The four of them nodded. "We swear upon our wands to capture Fouquet!"

"Miss Longueville, if you found any further information in the course of your investigation that could lead to Fouquet's location it would be much appreciated."

The secretary nodded, bowing to the headmaster. "Fortunately, I do have some. With your permission, I will accompany them as well."

"Ah, very good. I was actually going to ask you to do so, but you seem to have beaten me to it! I'll leave it to you, then."

As the rest of the teaching staff left the room, Montmorency leaned in towards Louise. "Are you really sure about this? Don't think that no one noticed you hesitate."

"I…" Louise closed her eyes for a moment. "Even so, I've sworn to it now. I can't back out. I just… I'm still not sure how Rabbit is going to be."

"If it makes you feel any better, I'll ask Tabitha to keep an eye on Nimble," Kirche said. "She can let us know if there's been any change when we return with Fouquet. I'm sure if anything she'll appreciate the quiet in the infirmary."

Louise blinked. "That will be fine. Th-thank you, Zerbst."

"Aha? My, to get thanks from-"

"Not now, Zerbst. Please…"

Kirche pouted slightly, but refrained.

With a light cough, Longueville caught their attention. "Now, while I was asking around, some of the commoners I'd spoken to mentioned an abandoned hut in the nearby forest…"


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