Chapter 6: Traveling
Cushioned seats were the best, Louise decided as the carriage wound its way down the road. The carriage ride so far had been a far cry better than her last adventure in a horse drawn vehicle; that was for sure. Louise idly pet her familiar as the carriage continued to jostle along, the minor bumps were actually quite soothing. "So Louise, how far away is your estate?" Montmorency asked from across the carriage.
Grabbing her chin in thought, Louise thought for a moment, "Normally about a day and a half, but we will be detouring to meet my sister at an inn for the night, so we should arrive tomorrow afternoon." Montmorency smiled weakly, and went back to prodding her frog, talking to Robin in whispers. Really, Louise was beginning to worry she had pressured her friend into coming if she'd rather converse with her familiar. It wasn't that she needed Montmorency around; it was just that Louise thought the two had grown very close the past week.
Before Louise could worry further, Montmorency spoke up. "Louise I'm worried."
"Ah," Louise interrupted. "It's okay if you are having second thoughts." She mumbled; her eyes downcast. "I can send the carriage back if you want, I can continue myself."
"Oh, Oh! No, not like that." Louise looked up, surprised. "I definitely want to come; it's just that there is something wrong with Robin." Montmorency held up her frog with a worried look. "I can't feel our connection."
Louise raised an eyebrow, what connection? Then she remembered that familiars were supposed to have a mental link to their master, it was just that Louise had failed that particular facet of the ritual. "Oh... Yeah, that! Well, what about her runes?"
Montmorency mouthed an 'oh,' realizing she had not checked the familiar runes for problems. Seriously, that girl missed the most obvious things. Bringing her wand to her frog, Montmorency chanted a small cantrip, channeling magic into her frog. Nothing happened. "OH!" Montmorency cried out. "Her runes are gone!"
The girl was becoming hysterical, retrying the cantrip over and over. Louise acted quickly and grabbed the girl's shoulder. "Relax, runes are magical binds that send and receive magic. Most likely your magic signature changed when you became a magical girl, all we need to do is preform the binding ritual again."
With a sniff, Montmorency stopped her crying. "But how will we draw the circle? I can't bear asking the teachers to help me again, it would be so embarrassing!"
Trying her best to give a comforting smile, Louise patted her friend's head. "I know how to draw one, no worries." The raised eyebrow on her friend's face caused Louise to defend herself. "Really! If it isn't a spell, I can do it better than any student. Heck, I bet I have more water incantations memorized than you!" Louise puffed out her chest, she was proud of her book smarts.
Montmorency's giggling deflated Louise. "Then I'll rely on you, oh master of the academia." Really, to patronize her. Montmorency could be so annoying sometimes.
A jostle in the road caused Louise's petting hand to bump hard against Kyuubey. The creature looked up, wondering if it was needed. While not intentional, it did cause Louise to remember she too had become a magical girl. Picking the small Kyuubey up, she inspected its paw. Sure enough, the faded runes were nowhere to be found. Louise just smiled, no use freaking out, "Looks like you'll be getting a kiss later." The Kyuubey just tilted its head, confused at the oddity of humans.
Louise looked back to her friend, who was looking far less stressed than she was before. Montmorency caught Louise's look and spoke up. "So your sister is healed?"
That small statement made Louise absolutely giddy. "Yup, I wished her healed. She had been sick all her life and now she is better." Just the thought of Cattleya up and healthy filled Louise with joy. Maybe she would attend the academy! Sure she had graduated by her tutor's standards, but a year as a senior wouldn't hurt, right?
Montmorency giggled at her friend's behavior. "You must be really close." A small shred of jealously filled Montmorency, since she wasn't that close to her own siblings.
"She is the best." Louise leaned forward to impress her point. "Super nice, and kind, and great with magic. She always cheered me up when I was failing."
"Sounds great." Montmorency murmured, smiling weakly at her friend.
That evening Louise and Montmorency worked together to draw a binding circle out behind the inn. Louise had wanted to get it done before her older sister Eleanor arrived, saying she might not get any free time after that. Under Louise's instructions, the circle was completed remarkably quickly. "You really do know your stuff." Montmorency conceded, looking at their work.
Louise just smiled triumphantly, "Of course! Even I have my strong points. Now, you first." With a wave of her hand, Louise ushered Montmorency into the center of the circle.
Taking a small breath, Montmorency recited the ancient binding spell. The ground flashed and filled the circle with life. Then, with a kiss, the light was gone; leaving small, glowing runes shining on the back of Robin the frog. "Success!" Montmorency cried.
Crossing her arms, Louise puffed out her chest. "I told you it would work, now my turn." In short order, she had switched places with Montmorency. Carefully, she recited the same incantation, word for word, and focused her magic to her lips. There was fear, in the back of her mind, that she would fail. This was her first time using magic since she fought in the forest, would something go wrong? Her fears proved unfounded, because as the light of the circle faded glowing runes formed on her familiars back. Ah! Not only had she managed to re-brand her familiar, but she branded it properly this time, on the torso rather than the paw. Louise was certain her magic was improving.
"What are you doing back here Louise?" A voice Louise recognized all too well called out.
Whirling, Louise smiled as though she was guilty of some mischief. "N-nothing elder sister, just showing my friend how binding circles work." If Eleanor learned that Louise had failed to maintain her familiar's runes, she wouldn't escape without punishment.
Eleanor strode toward them from the edge of the inn, and passed right by them to kneel over the circle. "Hmmm, well this is a proper binding circle, but you have no summoning circle overlaying it." The academic in Eleanor was awakened it seemed, as she didn't even introduce herself to Montmorency.
Louise knew better than to chastise her sister however, the girl was all too fond of physical... rebuttals was the nice way to call it. "Ah, that's because it's easier to see them both separately before working on a joint circle." Louise racked her brain for all info on summoning and binding circles. Who knew if Eleanor would decide to spring a pop quiz on her?
Apparently satisfied, Eleanor turned back to Louise and Montmorency. "The pursuit of knowledge is an acceptable way to spend time Louise, but try to do it at more acceptable hours in a more acceptable location." Eleanor flicked Louise on the forehead, causing her eyes to bunch up as she rubbed the stinging spot. "Really, out behind an inn at night?" With a shake of her head, she glanced at Montmorency; the poor girl was as stiff as a board. Eleanor really did have an overbearing presence. "You are?"
"Montmorency Margarita la Fere de Montmorency." The girl blurted out, shrinking under Eleanor's measuring gaze. Eleanor just raised an eyebrow, expecting more. "Louise invited me along. We are friends."
Eleanor looked surprised for a moment, and then smiled, "Ah, that is good, you will meet our family at a very happy occasion." Apparently satisfied, Eleanor strode back toward the inn. "Now come along you two, it is supper time."
Dinner was a formal affair. Eleanor's servants commandeered the inn's kitchen and had made a proper meal for the three nobles. Louise herself felt a bit abashed; looking at Eleanor's several servants. She herself was traveling without a handmaiden, but she had not thought to ask for a temporary servant from the school in her excitement to return home to Cattleya.
Luckily, Eleanor did not seem to notice that breach of protocol, and was actually quite sociable. Louise supposed even Eleanor's usual harshness had softened with news of Cattleya's recovery. Still, the conversation during the meal was sparse. Maybe she could tell Eleanor about the medal she and Montmorency would be receiving. Louise had wanted to wait to reveal the news to mother, but she could tell Eleanor first.
Before Louise could speak up, Eleanor cleared her throat, drawing attention to herself. "I hear the church is sending someone to inspect Cattleya. Her recovery might even be ordained a miracle."
Louise raised her eyebrows; she hadn't even thought something like the church getting involved could happen. Then again, only Montmorency and she knew it was her wish to Kyuubey that healed Cattleya. "T-that's quite interesting." Louise began, carefully finishing a bite of her food. "Do you know anything about the priest?"
Eleanor placed her fork down, having finished her meal. Like a well-oiled machine, her place was cleared and wine refilled. She dismissed the servant asking if she's like dessert. "Not a priest actually," she corrected, "I hear it is Cardinal Tomas de Torquemada, head of the Paladins."
It was Montmorency who spoke up this time, "Cardinal Torquemada? I've heard of him. My father used to tell me stories of his campaign against the zombie hordes." The girl thought for a moment, tilting her head and grabbing her chin. "Why would the church send a hero like that, a cardinal no less, on a task like this? Isn't miracle affirmation more the role of high priests?"
Louise and Eleanor shared a look; both confirming each other's thoughts before sighing in unison. "It's probably that." Eleanor spoke.
"Probably." Louise agreed.
Montmorency blankly looked between them, wondering just what 'that' was. "Um..." She spoke up.
Offering an apologetic smile, Louise explained, "Ah, our mother is something of a hero as well. You probably of know her, Karin of the Heavy Wind." Montmorency gasped, everyone had heard of Karin. She doubted there was a girl in the kingdom that was not raised on stories of her adventures. "Mother made sure to keep her identity hidden when she retired. Yet somehow top class warriors find odd reasons to make visits to our estate. I think they just want to see how they measure up." Louise leaned back in her chair. "I remember one time the captain of Albion's Dragon knight division, a hero in his own right, dropped by claiming he got lost and asked to stay the night. Really, the man could not lie to save his life, and he was completely star struck over mother to boot."
A nervous smile was shared between the three girls. "So the cardinal probably asked for the job so he could meet your mother?" Montmorency supplied.
"Most likely." The Valliere's agreed nervously laughing off the oddity of their life. Sometimes it was strange having a legend for a mother.
Montmorency and Louise's carriage rode steadily behind Eleanor's the following morning. The even had gone surprisingly well, though Louise had not brought up her soon to be awarded medal, Eleanor could wait to hear along with mother.
The ride itself had been much better than the previous day's travel. With Montmorency no longer fretting over Robin, she was much more pleasant conversation. "So Louise, where does your family's land start anyway?"
Louise almost laughed before she realized her friend was serious. Blushing in embarrassment, Louise muttered. "The inn was on our land..." Maybe what Fouquet said about the Valliere's being in another league was truer than Louise realized, she had never thought of her family's wealth before.
Montmorency let out a low whistle. "Wow Louise, I knew your father was a Duke, but I guess that's the difference between nobles at the top and nobles at the bottom."
There was an awkward silence as Louise remembered what she knew of Montmorency's family. A relatively minor household who had only declined in the last war with Germania. Before her friend could stew on it, Louise cheerfully filled in. "Not like it makes a difference. I'm the youngest so I won't be inheriting anything other than my dowry." Montmorency's concerned look mad Louise realize that sounded much more depressing than she meant it. "Not that it matters!" She quickly added. Puffing out her chest, Louise boasted, "I'll become a great mage myself. Probably captain of the dragon knights."
Louise was deflated at Montmorency's giggles. "S-sorry." She choked out between giggles. "You are just so cute when you get like that."
With a humph, Louise closed her eyes and looked away, pouting. "Don't patronize me." She mumbled.
"Sorry." Montmorency held up her hands to placate her irate friend. "Forgive me?"
Opening one eye, Louise was unable to stay mad at her friend. "Forgiven, it wouldn't do for me to be mad at you now that we are here."
"Oh?" Montmorency exclaimed, excited to see her friend's home. Looking out the carriage window, Montmorency was awestruck. She had seen several mansions before, but Louise's home as closer to a palace. "It's so pretty!" She gazed at the great mansion with envy.
Mesmerized as she was, Montmorency continued to watch the Mansion as the carriage drew to a stop before it. The carriage doors were opened and a servant help Louise down, and Montmorency after her. Eleanor greeted the two girls and the three entered the mansion. "Welcome home Mistress Eleanor, Mistress Louise." A formation of servants greeted them.
"Welcome home Eleanor, Louise." A happily, calming voice spoke from the end of the hallway where a tall girl stood waiting. There was no doubt in Montmorency's mind that this was Louise's sister Cattleya. She looked like one would imagine Louise looking in five or so years; flowing pink hair, the same round face, even the same eyes. But even without the resemblance, the warmth of the elder girl's smile could only come from the kind woman that Louise idolized.
"Cattleya!" Louise cried with joy, running forward and grabbing her sister in a great hug. The two joined into a blob of pink for a moment, before breaking apart to hold each other at arm's length. "How is your health?" Louise asked with a hint of giddiness.
"I feel good Louise. I feel very good."
There was a pause as the two hugged each other tightly. Montmorency remained silent, not wanting to break up the happy moment. Glancing to her right, Montmorency looked to the eldest Valliere sister. In such a moment of happiness, even the constant stern cowl of Eleanor Valliere had softened to a warm smile. "Eleanor, come here." Cattleya called to her elder sister.
With false reluctance that fooled no one, the eldest Valliere walked toward Cattleya. "It is good that you are feeling well sister." Eleanor began, keeping her dignity about her; only for it to be forfeit as Cattleya lunged and pulled her into the hug, surprising Eleanor with her strength.
"I'll have none of that formality Eleanor!" Cattleya cried excitedly, keeping her elder sister in a tight hug and trapping Louise between them.
Eleanor's efforts to push her sister off were proving fruitless. "Cattleya, this is most improper." Eleanor jabbered out with embarrassment.
"Nope! I think you meant to say, I love you!" Cattleya giggled as she continued to trap Eleanor.
It didn't take long before Eleanor stopped struggling, unable to break her sister's grip. "Such strength... You are really better, aren't you?" Montmorency barely heard Eleanor whisper. All it took was a small nod from Cattleya for Eleanor to return the grand hug with her own. "I'm glad Cattleya, I'm so glad."
"I love you too, Eleanor."
The two elder Valliere's broke apart after a moment, releasing their unintentional hostage. Slightly worse for the wear, Louise caught herself from falling and ran a hand over her hair, making sure nothing was too out of place. Grabbing her elder sister's dress, she gave a tug. "Cattleya, I want you to meet my friend Montmorency."
Smiling at Louise's childish exuberance, Cattleya turned to the sheepishly waiting Montmorency and offered a warm smile. "It's nice to meet you. Louise spoke very highly of you in her letter."
Remembering her manners, Montmorency gave a tiny bow and replied. "It's good to meet you as well." The blush of embarrassment still hadn't left her cheeks.
With a clap, Cattleya spoke up. "Let's retire to the garden for tea. I want to hear all about my sisters and Louise's new friend."
With no objection's Cattleya turned and started toward a side door of the lobby, followed by Eleanor, who was taking pains walk steady and maintain what little dignity she had left. Louise hurried toward Montmorency and grabbed her hand. "Come on!" With a big smile, she pulled her friend behind her toward the garden. Montmorency could only smile and follow.
Tea and conversation was exchanged warmly in the garden. Eleanor talked about her marriage proposal with an Earl. Montmorency ended up on the wrong side of a quiz when Eleanor learned she had a talent for potions; luckily she managed to fulfill the eldest sister's expectations. Louise even introduced her familiar, much to her sister's interests. Though neither could see the small beast, Cattleya immediately congratulated Louise on such a fine familiar. Eleanor on the other hand was skeptical until she touched the Kyuubey, then she was very, very interested in it. With a quick snatch, the hoisted the familiar into her lap where she proceeded to poke and prod it mercilessly.
"Sister Eleanor! Leave Kyuubey alone!" Louise whined and was ignored by the intrigued academic.
Eleanor felt the head of the beast, and could make out two sets of ears. "Light refraction? No, then no one could see it." She mumbled to herself. The small Kyuubey wriggled, but Eleanor just flipped it on its back resumed her prodding. "Maybe mental suggestion? Similar to a charm spell?"
The academics studies came to halt when Louise managed to snatch her familiar away. "You can't treat Kyuubey like one of your experiments. He's my familiar! He even helped Montmorency rescue me!"
Both of Louise's sister's froze. Each passed a curious and worried look to each other, confirming the others confusion. It was Cattleya who spoke up, "Rescued you from what Louise?"
"Yes, Louise. Maybe you can explain to us why you would have need of rescue." A new, slightly deeper voice sounded from the house. There, what could only be Louise's mother Karin stood, looking at her youngest with a piercing gaze. The matron of the Valliere's walked over and handed Louise a wand, the small seal of the Vallieres could be seen on the bottom.
Louise looked the wand over, recognizing it as her own. It was the wand Fouquet had taken several nights ago; she must have used it in her ransom note as proof. Despite her mother's piercing gaze, Louise did not wilt, she smiled. Her mother would be angry she had let herself be kidnapped, but would surely be prideful when Louise spoke of how she and Montmorency had brought the criminal to justice. They were even to receive medals, legend or no, her mother would be impressed by that, right? "Wel-"
"Cattleya! Is it true? You are healthy?" A booming voice spoke from above. A blonde man floated down, his fall slowed by a levitation spell. A griffon and could be seen circling with a dragon and rider close by. After a moment, both descended toward the stables of the house.
Louise's mother gave Louise a serious look, "We'll discuss this later. This should be a happy occasion." Though Louise wanted to speak of her exploits, she could only remain silent. This was Cattleya's celebration after all. Karin then pinched the bridge of her nose and scolded her husband. "Dear, you spook that griffon of yours too often. I thought you said you would refrain from jumping off mid-flight?"
The man waved off his wife's worries. "A man cannot contain himself when he receives news his daughter has made a miraculous recovery, so tell me Cattleya, your health has improved?" The man gripped his daughter's shoulders, excitement palpable.
Smiling at her father's exuberance, Cattleya embraced her father and confirmed his hopes. "I'm all better Papa. I feel healthier than ever."
The man could only pick his daughter up and twirl her around. "Thank Brimir!" He shouted, still whirling his adult daughter around like she weighed as much as a child.
Eleanor and Karin could only sigh at the sight before them. Montmorency once again froze up, feeling like she was intruding. However, her embarrassment faded when she caught sight of Louise smiling weakly. It was obvious the girl wanted to impress her family, but didn't want to steal Cattleya's time of celebration. Placing a hand on her friends shoulder, Montmorency smiled when her friend turned to her. In return, Louise's face brightened and she silently thanked Montmorency.
Back on her own feet, Cattleya straightened out her frazzled hair. "I'm glad you are still in good health father. But may I ask, who was the rider you were flying with?"
"Ah, that was the cardinal. We met on the way."
All those assembled froze in shock for a moment. Eleanor was the first to recover, "You were flying with the Cardinal and you just jumped off your mount mid-flight?" To leave someone of such status as a Cardinal without seeing him to the stables, even for a Duke like Louise's father could result in quite a bit of social backlash.
"Oh, don't worry about me. A man cannot contain himself when he hears such good new, right Duke Valliere?" A deep, rumbling voice spoke from the house. There, a servant was leading a man into the garden. Though to call him a man would be an understatement. Montmorency half wondered if he was part giant. Standing a good head and shoulders above even Louise's father, and half again as wide, stood a man dressed in white and red robes. If not for the greyed hair and wrinkled face, Montmorency would not have believed the man to be old. He simply stood too straight and looked too fit to be an old man. The ornate steel staff he held marked him as a cardinal, and the large gold amulet shaped like a shield marked him as the leader of the Paladins. This man was only a step below the pope himself. All assembled except for the Duke immediately took a knee, bowing in respect. "Raise your heads; formalities like this don't suit me." Montmorency looked up surprised. Upon closer inspection, the man wore nothing to show his wealth, not even a ring. In fact, the only jewels on him were the five jewels arranged in a pentagram on his shield amulet. Each the color of their corresponding element.
The Duke walked over and clasped hand with the Cardinal. "Tomas my good man, let me introduce you to my wife Karin."
Karin, already up from her kneel, locked eyes with the Cardinal for a moment. The air stilled for a moment and Montmorency could feel Robin's fear pass through their mental link. Even from with Montmorency's pocket, Robin's animal instincts could sense the meeting of two dominant predators. The moment was over as quickly as it began, and Karin offered her hand to the cardinal, forsaking the customary curtsy. Only smiling at the breach of social protocol, the Cardinal took Karin's hand; his hand easily enveloping hers and shook it. "An honor to meet you Cardinal Torquemada." Karin spoke like a proper lady.
"The honor is mine. I assure you." The cardinal released Karin's hand and allowed himself to be led to Eleanor. In a much less frightening fashion, the cardinal offered a bow and received a curtsy. Montmorency let out a breath of relief, if that intense aura earlier had been directed at her, she was sure she would faint.
When the cardinal came before Louise and Montmorency, Louise was quick to introduce her friend. "Ah, then Miss Montmorency, Miss Louise, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance." The cardinal spoke with warmth, and a hint of that tone one uses when you are speaking to children. However, neither girl could be too angry in the face of such a gentle giant. Reaching out his hands, he grabbed each girl's offered hand, enveloping them in his massive digits. For a moment he froze mid-bow. The look of surprise on his face drew an odd look from each girl. "Ah, my back." With a pop, he finished his bow and kissed their hands.
There was another pop as he stood back up. The duke led him toward Cattleya, "And this is the one you are here for, my daughter Cattleya."
Taking Cattleya's hand, the Cardinal only dipped his head. "Pardon me, but I think I will refrain from bowing." He spoke jokingly.
Cattleya smiled and suppressed a giggle at his humor. "You are pardoned." She replied.
Straightening up, the Cardinal spoke in a more serious tone. "From what I've been told, you were afflicted with blood corruption." The smile on Cattleya's face faded at the mention of the disease, if it could even be called that. Numerous square class water healers had been called to help her in her youth, yet all had been unable to do anything more than ease her pain. What was worse, her disease was very rare, so there was little to no precedence on dealing with it. At the time she was cured, Cattleya had been the oldest person ever with blood corruption.
A hand placed on her shoulder shook Cattleya from her dark thoughts. "Calm yourself child." His warm smile eased the pit in Cattleya's stomach. "I am a square class water mage, and if you'll permit me I would like to check your health, alright?"
Cattleya nodded, preparing herself for the possibility of bad news. The cardinal's short spell incantation was the only sound as all assembled held their breath. The familiar feel of anther's magic coursing through her veins filled Cattleya. It was something she had never gotten quite used to, but she made no protest.
As quickly as it came, the feeling left. "Amazing." The cardinal whispered. "When I heard you had been healed, I assumed it the disease had stopped producing symptoms, or your constitution had been greatly bolstered. But this, it's like your body never even had the disease." Seeing Cattleya's hopeful face, the Cardinal gave his best smile, "You are cured, beyond a shadow of a doubt this is a miracle from the Founder. Take heart good child, for Brimir has chosen to smile upon you."
The Cardinal was nearly knocked over by the great hug he received from Cattleya. All assembled, even the serious Eleanor and Karin, cheered in merriment, and a knowing smile was shared between two friends.
That evening, the Cardinal and Montmorency joined the family to feast in celebration. It was the most fun Louise had the pleasure of having in quite some time. What was better, her wish had been the cause of such happiness. There was slight guilt at it being mistaken for an act of the founder, but she was a servant of the founder, so it was technically true, so there was no need to feel bad.
When the feast was over Louise retired to her room, intent on sleeping off that ham. Yet before she even began to change, there was a knock on her door. "Little Louise?" Cattleya's voice whispered in.
With a smile, Louise rushed over and opened her door. "Cattleya!" She chirped, hugging her sister.
When the elder Valliere lifted a finger to her lips, Louise eeped, covering her mouth. "Can I ask a favor Louise?"
Without a thought, Louise replied, "Anything." She owed the world to Cattleya and was more than willing to help her sister in any way.
Handing Louise a coat, Cattleya motioned for Louise to follow. "Then come along."
Wondering as to what Cattleya wanted, Louise followed her sister through the house and out one of the side doors. The sun had already set and the premises were dark, yet Cattleya did not light the lantern she held. After a brief look confirming that no one was around, Cattleya took hold of Louise's hand and pulled her toward the trees out beyond the garden. The two girls entered the forest and dashed through the darkness like a pair of shadows. The further they got from the house, the more Louise worried. What was so important Cattleya had to bring her out here?
The two girls broke into a clearing and Cattleya stopped, letting Louise catch her breath. "Here should be good." The elder Valliere lit the lantern she brought with her and hung it from a small branch at the edge of the clearing.
Louise didn't move from her spot in the clearing. "What is this all about, Cattleya?" She spoke, worry leaking into her voice.
With a weak smile, Cattleya tried to calm Louise. "Well, it's something I was hoping I could ask you for help with. Mother has been very stressed lately so I did not want to bother her." Something only she could help with, Louise had no idea what that could be. "Ever since I healed, my magic has been acting odd. I think it's better if I just show you." Still confused, Louise watched as Cattleya drew her wand and pointed it down the clearing. An incantation flowed from her lips, "Earth Rend!" she finished, calling out her spell.
Yet, there was no great crack and upheaval of earth, instead smoke billowed out as an explosion shook the clearing. Birds across the forest took to the skies, flying from the perceived threat. Louise was stunned, the one with failing magic was supposed to jest be her. Had her wish somehow infect Eleanor with her own problem? That... that was impossible. Tears began to flow down her face. "I'm sorry, Cattleya... I'm so sorry." Louise's knees hit the ground as her legs gave out.
A confused Cattleya rushed to her crying sister's side. "Louise it's not your fault! Don't cry."
"But it is!" Louise choked out between sobs, "I used my wish to heal you and I just messed up your magic!"
Cattleya rubbed her younger sister's back, trying to ease her sorrow. "Louise, we were all wishing for me to get better, but it was Brimir who healed me."
Louise looked up and grabbed her elder sister. "No! I'm serious! My familiar can grant one wish for someone, and I wished for you to be healed!"
In shock, Cattleya could only stare at her crying younger sister. "You had an actual wish, and you wished for me to be healed?" There was awe in Cattleya's voice. Louise's sniffles subsided and she met Cattleya's eyes, only to look down and away, unable to bear the guilt of breaking her sister's magic. "Even though you could have wished to fix your own magic?" Louise nodded, still guilt ridden.
Louise's eyes went wide as her sister embraced her with such ferocity that the air was forced from her lungs. "Louise... thank you."
Louise tried to push her sister off, but had no luck. "Sister, don't thank me, I messed up your magic!"
"I don't care about that!" Cattleya cried tears of joy. "Do you know how many times I wished to be healed, even at the expense of my magic, my nobility? I would have given anything for this body! So don't be shamed Louise, never be ashamed of this gift you have given me."
Looking down, Louise could only smile at the love of her sister. She didn't know when she moved to return the hug, but Louise found herself sharing an embrace with her sister. The two stayed there and embraced each other for a time before finally breaking apart, each rubbing tears from their eyes.
"Hey, now that we both have the same problem, that doubles our chances of figuring out a solution." Cattleya spoke, trying to lighten the mood. Louise could only enthusiastically nod, still choked up. "How about you show me your magic, and we'll compare? It's why I brought you out here after all."
Louise could only agree with the idea. Maybe together they could figure out the problem with exploding spells? "I'll try, stay behind me." Louise turned to where Cattleya had cast her spell. "I haven't used my magic in a couple days," since the kidnapping, but Cattleya didn't need to hear about that just yet, "so let's be careful." When Cattleya was safely behind her, Louise began her incantation, "Rin EX Cal! Fireball!"
It was tiny, it was weak, but it was there. A tiny ball of flame, no bigger than her fist, wafted across the clearing. The ball was so weak it fizzled out before even touching the ground. Yet, it was so magnificent that Louise wanted to cry. Her whole life, Louise had been waiting for this. Her magic. Working correctly. Yet, why now? When she needed her explosions most. Guild and happiness swirled within Louise, how could she help Cattleya now? Two hands fell on Louise's shoulders. "Congratulations, little Louise, I am very proud of you."
Tears began to form once again in Louise's eyes as she turned to Cattleya. Only to stop in surprise when Cattleya flicked her forehead. "Don't cry, I know exactly what you are thinking. I hate to take a page from Eleanor's playbook, but think rationally for a moment. If you have been making explosions up until now, and your magic is fixed..." Cattleya trailed off, waiting for Louise to pick up.
The cogs in Louise's head began turning. "Since my magic has recently been fixed, then something I did in the last few days did it!" The solution to Cattleya's explosion magic was even closer than if they both still had the problem.
Cattleya smiled as realization flooded into Louise. "So tell me Louise, what have you done in the past few days that you haven't before?"
Well, she had gotten into a duel, broke into a school vault, been taken hostage, made a wish, become a magical girl, and fought a giant earth golem. Louise smiled weakly, realizing how much excitement she had been put through the past few days. Putting a hand to her chin, Louise began thinking. Her last explosion was used on the school vault, and that was the biggest she'd used ever. So really it was either that, the fight with Fouquet, or becoming a magical girl by wishing her sister healed that did it. "Well, I obviously made the wish with Kyuubey, but I also used a lot more magic recently than I usually do. A huge amount more really."
Hand on her chin, Cattleya mimicked her sister. "So either wish, or use a lot of magic... I can't try either of those right now, unless your invisible friend is about." Sheepishly, Louise realized she'd left the familiar in her room, sleeping on the bed. "Well, we can't do anything about it now, since trying to empty my willpower at night in the middle of the forest might not be wise." She smiled at her own joke. "You talk to your familiar and see if the wish had anything to do with it, and see if I can make a wish even if I can't see him. I'll try using up my willpower tomorrow and we'll go from there, okay?" Louise smiled and nodded. It was really nice to have Cattleya relying on her for once.
"Now, let's get to bed."
Louise was feeling great when she left her sister at the hallway split. Cattleya's room was in another section of the house that had a better view of the garden, a small pleasure for when she was bedridden. Louise made for her own room, but stopped as she neared her parents' room. As confident as she was and as happy as they were, maybe now was the time to tell them about capturing Fouquet. It wasn't like Louise would be stealing attention from Cattleya now anyways. Plus, she could show them her working magic, Mother would be so proud!
Getting closer to the room, Louise noticed the door was ajar. With a peek, she realized both her father and mother were not inside. Odd, where could they be? Curios as she was, Louise wandered the halls, moving toward her father's office. Maybe he was going over some documents? Light coming from beneath the door to her father's office confirmed Louise's suspicions and she quickened her pace. She was almost to the door when she stopped dead in her tracks.
"You can't be serious!"
Her mother's hiss was absolutely venomous. Never before had Louise heard her mother so angry, it was chilling. Animal instincts within Louise kicked into gear and she shrunk to the wall, hiding in the shadows. Carefully, she crept closer to the door. "I wish I were madam, but I do not jest about such things." The second voice was most assuredly the cardinal's. It was a testament to the man's courage that he was unshaken despite knowing full well who he was angering.
"Yet you could be wrong. Correct?" Louise's father spoke, his voice even, yet stern.
Louise dared not look though the crack in the door, lest she be noticed. "I have not spent a lifetime in combat of the undead to be unable to notice one when I touch one." One of Louise's parents must have been about to step in, because the cardinal continued hastily. "But, in respect for each of you, I will admit a slight possibility of error. A simple phylactery test is all that is required; Louise and her friend don't even need to know its purpose."
They were talking about Montmorency and her! Louise nearly gasped, but caught herself, what could she possibly have done? "It is absurd to even think it." Louise's father spoke, "My Louise, a lich."
Her hands shot to her mouth to muffles the gasp she could not suppress. They thought she had become a lich? It was absurd! Such an accusation, she would never live it down! And if the cardinal flubbed the test, she would be burned at the stake! "Relax husband, the cardinal is mistaken." Steel filled her mother's voice. "You can have your test. I assume you only need a moment to determine what the phylactery is?" There was a pause; Louise could only guess the man was nodding. "Then you get one chance, tell my daughter you seek to bless the jewel you claim is her phylactery, and when you find you were in error, you will leave and never return. If I catch even a whiff of your inquisition in my territory, I will rend them apart before they can so much as blink. Am I clear?"
Louise stayed no longer. She could not listen to another moment of the horrible accusations. She needed to leave. Nearly stumbling over her own feet, she darted through the hallways as fast as she could manage while keeping her steps soft. It wasn't long before she reached Montmorency's room. Without a knock, she slipped into the room. "Wha?" A sleepy Montmorency sat up, awakened by the intrusion.
"Montmorency, wake up!" Louise hissed, pressing her ear to the door to make sure she was not followed.
Confused, Montmorency was awake enough to understand something serious was going on, so she rubbed her face and tried to shake herself awake. "Louise, what is wrong." She asked worriedly,
Unable to contain it, Louise nearly ranted, "I was going to talk to my parents but they were talking to the cardinal who said we were liches but that's not true and so I ran down here and found you so I could warn you-"
Montmorency grabbed Louise's shoulders, stopping the girl who was starting to break into hysterical tears. "Calm down Louise, that's absurd. We both know we aren't right?" Louise nodded hesitantly. "And obviously they'd have to test us right?" Again, Louise nodded, this time more coherent. "So we'll just go along with the test, there is nothing to worry about." Louise sighed, realizing she was just overreacting. Her mother's anger had scared her so much, she hadn't thought rationally. The test was even going to be done discreetly; there would be absolutely zero social embarrassment.
Nodding, Louise thanked her friend. "Your right Mon, thanks for that." Montmorency just smiled and squeezed her friend's shoulder reassuringly. "I mean, it's silly," Louise joked off her earlier stress, "I certainly don't remember moving my soul to an amulet or gem, do yo-"
The two girls froze as the color rushed from their faces. Not even breathing, they stared at each other as fear rushed through minds. Slowly, they each looked down to the humble ring upon their hand.
Their Soul Gem.
It couldn't be literal right? Liches were skeletons. They were flesh and blood! They could not be liches. "This can't be my soul." Montmorency brought the ring to her face, grasping her hand to keep it from shaking. "We need to get Kyuubey!" Montmorency's voice cracked under the pressure. "Obviously he'd know right?"
"Know what?" Louise had never expected the high pitched voice of her familiar could inspire such terror. Two beady red eyes gleamed from the open window where the small creature sat upon the sill.
Not knowing why, Louise nearly laughed. "This can't be my soul. Right Kyuubey? It can't!" She stumbled toward her familiar. This was all a mistake, right?
"Of course it's your soul. It's a soul gem."
Louise's legs gave out, and her knees hit the floor. That couldn't be true. It couldn't. Next to her, tears hit the ground. Montmorency stood stock still, tears flowing down her face. The blonde broke, speaking though her tears. "Why would you do this! Why would you trick us like this!"
The Kyuubey simply flicked its tail and continued with that cold, impassive stare. "I didn't trick you. I said you would summon a soul gem. I don't see why you are so upset. Fouquet would have crushed you if I left your soul inside your body. You think a normal person could endure the pain of being flung across the forest by that golem? You blocked out the worst of the pain during your fight. You think you could do this while your consciousness is not separate from your body? You could not."
"I hate you." Louise, full of hatred, cursed from the floor.
With a tilt of its head, the Kyuubey asked, "Why are you so upset, what is the difference between the you now and the you before?"
"I'm a LICH now!" Louise hissed, rearing up and glaring at the Kyuubey. "If the church finds out, we'll be burned at the stake! Our families will fall into dishonor, and we will forever be remembered as foul demons that strayed from Brimir!" It took everything Louise had to keep from screaming.
Again, the Kyuubey responded with that same, slightly curious tone, "That's not my fault. The people who would kill you are ignorant."
Louise was ready to throttle the little devil. A scream started to rumble in her throat, only for it to catch when Montmorency grabbed her shoulder. "This is useless. Trying to talk religion and souls with an animal... We... we need to think of a plan." Though she hated to admit it, raging at the ignorant familiar before her solved nothing. "If the cardinal inspects our soul gems it's all over." Montmorency tried to harden her resolve, but only managed a weak smile.
Trying to ignore her boiling emotions, Louise thought furiously. "Even if we hide them, the cardinal probably can find them. If we return to school, he'll simple follow." Montmorency's face started to show worry, realizing what Louise meant. "We need to run away."
Montmorency's breath hitched. "Louise, you can't be serious. Let's go to my family, they'll bar the Cardinal entrance to our land."
With a solemn shake of her head, Louise spoke with resignation, "If either of our families shelter us, an inquisition will be called. They'd kill your entire family." Montmorency covered her mouth; the church wouldn't do that, right? "If we run away, neither of our families can be implicated, and we can delay a full investigation." Louise rubbed the tears from her eyes. Now was not the time to break down. She needed to be strong. "The question is where we go."
"Romalia." Montmorency replied without hesitation, wiping her own tears away.
Louise's eyes went wide, not expecting that idea. But... it could work. "That's brilliant Mon. If any place has knowledge of restoring liches to humans, it would be the paladin library; they've dealt with undead for generations. Plus, we can speak to the pope! Surely he would hear our plea!"
The blonde girl smiled, embarrassed, "I just figured no one would look for a pair of liches in Romalia."
Ignoring her friend's embarrassment, Louise grabbed her tightly. "Pack some clothing; we ride for Romalia within the hour." Turning, Louise gave a hard look at her familiar. "You are coming too."
That surprised Montmorency. "You sure Louise?"
Without taking her eyes off the impassively staring creature, Louise nodded. "If we leave him alone, there is not telling what he'll do. Plus, we might need him to restore us." However much she loathed the beast, he was her familiar, her responsibility.
Under the cover of night, two girls walked a pair of horses out and away from the Valliere mansion. Leaving behind only a false message, they stole away toward an unknown future.