Devil Bringer of Zero

Chapter 4: No need for Fashion!

Nearly a month had passed since the theatrical debacle in the Vestry Court, and life at the Academy settled into a comfortable regular rhythm. As slow weeks passed, each fledgling mage learned to adapt to the new pace of their school, a fresh tempo timekept by explosive detonations, the clang of metal, and the ever-suffering sighs of the Earth Mages assigned to repair the castle.

Old Osmond, the Headmaster of the Academy, felt exhausted just by thinking of it.

His voice joined to the litany of sighs once again.

He'd been on edge since the little beast had eaten its way thought at least three hundred years' worth of priceless artefacts, some of which held enchantments which no mage to this day had been able to duplicate. Many of the artefacts were hazards of grave and certain lethality if even approached in the wrong manner much less handled.

His head shook, as if trying to remove the unpleasantness from it. He'd been on edge since the little beast had eaten its way through at least 300 years' worth of priceless artefacts. That Ryo-Ohki creature seemed harmless enough at first glance, but Osmond knew painfully better, it was a priority one menace. Often the creature would be caught hanging about areas of highly magical concentration and mooning about potions labs, mewling like a lost stray and it was voracious. Anything at all magical it ate and drank, enchanted stone, enchanted metal, potions, poisons... it didn't matter, if the hungry little beast got into them they disappeared. Worst yet, both it and its mistress began to demonstrate new abilities as they grew in power. After creating the red gem which rested in her throat, Ryoko began doing more than just her constant floating ability. Now she would randomly poke her head though doors and windows and anything else without a strong magical reinforcement as easily as one would stick a hand in water. On occasion she would teleport as if it were the most normal thing in the world, popping out of angles where nothing had been before. And her little menace also did the same, making it nigh impossible to contain the creature from exerting her ravenous appetites.

To appease the little monster, Osmond found himself often scooping up the cute little menace and summoning mounds of enchanted metals away from any observation. He found the curious little beast to have a profound liking for earth directed enchantments which were laid into any dense, heavy metals and centered around defensive and regenerative spell crafting, the more of it the better. He didn't know where she packed it all, but from what he could gather, she could devour several times the tonnage of the castle, and it would never make a dent in appetite so long as she was still reconstructing her 'true' form.

A square classed earth mage himself; Osmond could practically assemble various types of enchanted items by pure effort of immediate will, and a single cast spell. In the old days of his youth, he'd been Osmond of the Black Steel. Even now some of his best creations still floated around though disconnected from him, Osmond the old headmaster. He was an old hand in the enchanting business and was one of the few who could outright 'read' most enchantments which he came across, a talent which he'd put to good use in his time as a student of applied magic. It was a talent found mostly among earth and water mages, capable of both creating and having an intimate understanding of items with elemental spell pattern's embedded wholesale or creating potions which would coat an item, usually a weapon, with strange but temporary properties. It was one of the main reasons he'd become a true adept or innovative alchemical items. Being able to read the efforts of those who had gone before, though it was only to a limited extent, even if they kept no notes was a useful ability for one of his interests.

It was also one of the reasons why he'd been entrusted with so many over his long career.

Shaking his head the headmaster wondered briefly how he was going to break the loss of his entire magical collection to the various benefactors who'd loaned pieces, and heirlooms to be held by the school for them. Many paid a small stipend for the privilege of storing historically important magical artifacts in what was one of the safest places in Tristan to store anything. Safest that is until the artefact munching ball of fur packed it all away into that undersized stomach of hers. For now he would keep it hushed, and hopefully figure out a solution in the delay... a dim hope but it gave him something to work with. Maybe he could blame it on this Fouquet of the Crumbling Earth whom he'd been warned of this morning alone by the royal messenger. But such a deception did not sit right with him... but it would be considered as an option even if he didn't like it.

With another sigh the headmaster fed one bit of metal to the hungry little horror, and a bit of milk dipped bread to his own familiar. Over and Over both he and Colbert had searched the many books of lore and which inhabited the library about the Runes which ran across its forehead, and again and again they spoke the same tale.

Familiar runes.

Just like those of her mistress.


Not just like them at all. They were different, and yet of the same source. In the script of the founder these runes both were marks of god. Windalfr, and Myoznitnirn. The right hand of God, and the Mind of God. The flute and book... That Ryoko held one of these legendary inscriptions was already a shock, a thing of both awe and excitement. That the little creature here, who to her was as she was to her summoner Louise, did also... It was something outside of the scope of his understanding. Worse yet for all that the books spoke of these two runes, nothing like what had been witnessed the day of the fight was recorded. The fact of the matter was that the Windalfr should not have been able to command any being not clothed in flesh. And yet with its power Ryoko was able command spirits as if they were mere beasts of burden, self-aware and willful spirits at that.

And then there was her familiar.

The creature had undergone no familiar contract yet it bore runes, runes which were intimately connected to the legends of the founder himself. Once could be coincidence... twice though, he doubted an event this big could have a doubled coincidence happen so easily. Runes not seen since the founder himself strode these lands, both upon the familiar and the familiar of the familiar of this one young mage?

A young mage unable to command and evoke the forces of magic as all other mages could. Who could find no element which responded to her call, yet wielded the power of spirit manifest... the conclusion which he gained was almost itself a heresy given wings. For now he would share this conclusion with no-one. Such a thing could spark both religious and social strife more easily than he cared admit, to even himself. Colbert too would need to be reined in.

As it stood the other teacher was too close to the mystery, and held too many pieces to simply be moved away from investigating. Osmond sighed, he would have to tell the poor boy of his own suspicions and get him involved directly in hushing up the connecting dots.

At least though, Osmond though wearily, its Colbert and not one of the other staff members. Though only he would have gone digging for this anyway without a lot more motivation.

Absently Osmond's fingers continued the motion of distributing treats. One of metal, one of bread.

He didn't know how long he could protect his cute little students from this potential fallout without slighting any of them, or those who would demand the rolling of heads, but he would try.

He would try.

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Good ole, comfortable, familiar earth.

The element of greatness, of stability, of growth, and of potential.

Good ole, wonderful earth.

Guiche wondered if he would ever learn to forget what it tasted like.

Since the moment that he'd first accepted her hand, he'd known that life would change, that HE would change. What he didn't realize was just how much that change would include the ever present taste of fresh earth as he was beaten into it.

Ryoko had proven herself more than simply a capable warrior, her skills though unpolished in look stemmed from lifetime's worth of experience and strife, fighting at all levels of combat to secure all manner of objectives. There were as many times as not where she'd been required to hold back her power as she fought her way into places, searching for delicate relics which could be threatened by anything resembling her true powers. As such she'd often fought in close combat, and after 5000 years of it she was a top combatant... one of the many reasons why she held a distinct grudge against the one named Yosho. Where her skills had come in a mountain of effort climbed over the bodies of those who had in the past opposed her, his had been the sharpened deadly grace and finesse of talent. In all-out battle she and he had been matched near equal, only an accident of luck allowed him to guess at her sources of power, the ancient red gems which had been with her for as long as she'd known life.

Guiche knew none of this, but he did know her powerful, ancient, and deadly. And he also knew that she held herself back, restrained to an almost exact match of slightly better than he was in every fight. And he knew that with every battle which they'd fought, he'd been worked to the very bone. Somewhere deep inside, he figured... well hoped really... that maybe she really didn't want to kill him... but on the battlefield she allowed him to take no such chance. Only constant replenishment by his ever more appreciated and beloved Montmorency had given him the ability to get up and do battle with the demonic being whom he'd come to worship in the arena. His hate of self he'd projected at her had long melted in completion; even lingering resentment had managed to burn itself out in the face of constant battle.

More than ever before he felt like a man.

"What Rose-Girl?" the devil taunted. "Looking to live like a worm now? Or are you going to get back up and fight?"

He squared his jaw to the abuse, as always she taunted, teased and tested him. In the month since they'd begun these bouts of dire combat disguised as training, she'd as often as not made him fight her from dusk till dawn, duties of scholarly life notwithstanding, every free moment was spent entertaining her with battle. So much so that it had become a game to many of the water gifted student mages to utilize him as a practice dummy whenever his dear Montmorency was too tired or otherwise unavailable for the task of cleaning up the mess which Ryoko all too often left behind. His days were beginning to look like the training regimen of a Prince's Guard, elite barbarians of Germania.

Few would undertake the rigours which he was throwing himself at daily. Fewer still would have access to such an abundance of water Magi to soothe and force benefit from such training. And ever fewer still among those whose fortunes might align for them to be able would even consider doing so, with the stigma of barbarism which came with it. After all why subject one's body to such foolishness and chance real lasting damage when one could simply summon a golem and let it do the fighting for you.

Less than a month ago Guiche would have agreed. But now he grew harder, better, faster and stronger while ignoring the eyes of social grace. It also helped that he was of earth affinity. For some reason earth mages always seemed to grow more solidly, faster and with less effort than others.

And that had been his physical growth alone.

Spitting soft loam and bright green grass from his mouth, the noble youth pushed himself to his feet. Eye's blazing with a hungry need. Even if he'd conceded his hate, he had only traded it for something of equal fervor. This alone was why the blazing gold in Ryoko's eyes never dimmed when they clashed. For all that the boy was a complete babe in skills; his passion never failed even when it faltered. In a way he reminded her of a certain prissy girl she'd encountered oh so long ago, the passion in her movements enticing the Devil-Caller to indulge play and drag out the fight.

Once more they entered into the breach, blazing red against vibrating white. A narrow miss to the face, a dire reprisal as red rushes against ribs, sudden force applied in concert as Guiche learned these newest steps in their dance. Faster and faster they danced on, spin parry thrust in their deadly game.

Guiche held back nothing.

Not passion, not hope, not even fear of deadly force. He came at her to kill.

She appreciated the effort.

She reciprocated the effort.

Only a flash of insight kept him whole, for while she did not fight at her full powers she didn't hold back more than a little past what he could handle, and she never held back so much that he felt himself safe. A moment left his guard open; Ryoko closed it with a rock breaking fist. She never respected rules, borders or boundaries. Only the fight mattered.

In final desperation, laid out upon his element, the blond noble whispered words of power to the earth. Recovering himself to his legs with a grand slashing motion, he hid the nature of his evocation using threatening motions of his sword between himself and the Devil he fought. A bit of cleverness he'd picked up in the weeks of being beaten daily.

With a sudden stiffness Guiche stood at attention, sword-wand rising to face as each of the petals strewn about the field during previous stages of their engagement sprung to life as shining Bronze Valkyries, surrounding the enemy. The closest to her and to himself bore shields of bronze, fashioned with a ramming spike in the middle, while those farthest from her bore arrows and were defended by one other with a sword. At least 14 of them stood attention with him, and then those with bows began to fire arrows at his foe. Those with shields defended their sisters from the cross fire.

Ryoko though caught initially off guard by this tactic, began to randomly teleport between the feminine Golems, the bite of her plasma blade respecting no metal as she carved Valkyries apart, shields and all. It did not however distract greatly from Guiche, as more than once as he attempted to prepare longer evocations he would find the need to duck and cover behind which ever group of golems he was with at the time. Slowly his forced were whittled away, but that was fine. With the precision of hours upon hours of practice the mage used the last of his Valkyrie distraction to close distance upon the Devil Bringer, a full frontal assault, to hide his final option.

With a stabbing thrust of his blade, he evoked the transmutation of one last petal upon the ground into a Valkyrie archer, letting fly the arrow directly at Ryoko's back, while forcing a clash with her to the front.

It was a brilliant effort.

But it was not good enough, was not fast enough.

With that infernal noise, the Devil Caller disappeared from before him, leaving arrow in flight towards his front. The world froze in perspective for him... an arrow to the chest during training would ruin his day; he could almost see his life flashing before his eyes. And then behind the arrow, Ryoko reappeared, holding the implement of disaster by its tufted tail. She'd teleported sideways slightly to capture the arrow in flight then with a spin which placed her beside him, was now holding the arrow playfully, as a weapon to his throat. In the process she'd grabbed his blade almost bare handed yanking it to the side and from his grip, a layer of scooped up dirt transmuted into thick metallic skin which gripped the vibrating heat of the Sword-wand comfortably.

"I... I think that this might be enough for now... Ms Ryoko." Guiche gulped carefully, the sharp blade of the arrow resting lightly at his neck but ever so slightly breaking the skin there. "I do have class in a bit, and we can always have another match later on tonight before we turn in."

Ryoko simply smiled her predatory smile then leaned in close enough to almost rest her head upon his shoulder. "You mean before your little healing station over there decides to go on strike from jealousy hmm?" She purred.

Guiche rolled his eyes, the Space Pirate did nothing which didn't antagonize someone in some way he'd found, and his lovely girlfriend had become a target of opportunity on numerous occasions. Often as not Ryoko would get close to him under the vague suggestion of romantic interest just so that she could watch Montmorency foam at the mouth and twist herself in knots over the perceived indiscretion. In this Guiche at least knew to keep his mouth shut during the events as his dear Monmon, an appellation which she'd recently picked up, never seemed to place the blame upon his shoulders. A good thing too that he had given up his other pursuits (for a certain value of give... and up), or Monmon might have taken Ryoko's antagonistic acts as being encouraged by him... though a part of him did not at all mind the idea that Ryoko's advances were real at some level... the same insane part of him, he figured, which drove him to come out here upon the battlefield every chance he could get in order to fight a self-proclaimed destroyer of worlds.

An errant caress of her still metal lined hand surprised the young noble, but not because of its inappropriate nature. Surprise slid across his features, something about that metal hand was... strange. Quickly he caught her hand in his; placing skin to metal in an attempt to learn just what it was that bothered him about the material.

"Getting frisky there now kid?" Ryoko teased, grinning her Cheshire smile.

Guiche simply ignored her words, concentrating upon the metal alloy which she'd conjured up on the fly.

With a sudden jolt, his eyes flew wide. It... It was...amazing.

He'd never seen or felt an alchemical transmutation as complex. It was composed not of a solid sheet of metal, but twisting fibers of gold, platinum, iron and ash constructed into an exacting fabric-like lattice. The composition of it alone was worthy of a Square level master-craft's man, but the precision of placement and regularity in the structure of interwoven and alloyed metal and ash was almost inhuman. Hell, the cloth tabards of his Valkyrie's had been the hardest part of them to design for his golem schema simply because of the interweaving of their various threads, and he'd been told that he had some real talent in that area of intricate design. But the material which now comprised Ryoko's skin was intricate on a level that he'd never seen before. It looped and coiled about itself in patterns which, from what he could tell, leveraged the forces of contact so that they were redistributed to counter other further forces. The humming of his sword wand had been used to quiet itself... It was awe inspiring.

He'd once before had the honour of examining a Damascus blade... it had felt even more beautiful to his earthen senses than the wondrous black sheen which it possessed was to his sight, the twisting feeling of iron wrapped about ash dust was strong, but even the best of the best were hard pressed to reproduce the exact way in which they intertwined, creating the intricate lattice which earth mages of all walks tried desperately to recreate. To be able to work at that intricate scale with the care needed took a square class mage, and one who studied, ate, breathed, and lived alchemy. Such men and women willing to slave themselves to the forge were rare in both needed power and dedication. Most of the best alchemy focused mages simply cheated their way around alchemical manipulations by utilizing fire magic's natural transformative properties to make the materials which were out of their class as mages to create outright.

This…this 'skin' was beyond even that.

"... Ms Ryoko. This may sound a bit strange... but can I have this skin you made for your hand?" he spoke with a slowly, uncertainty colouring his voice.

"Eh? Sure," she said casually and with a yank from her other hand ripped it off in a clean manner, almost like removing a glove. Beneath it was a new layer of fresh skin. Guiche gulped, and decided that it would be best not to ask questions about that. Taking the new 'glove' in hand, the young earth mage touched it tenderly. Even as just a dot class mage, Guiche had been tutored enough to recognize the limits of earth magic. And this simple thing... this exceeded them.

"This was nothing to you wasn't it... you made something amazing here in the middle of a fight, without thinking about it."

The sudden seriousness of the youth almost startled Ryoko. Guiche apart from the details of how she'd met him, was for the most part a carefree young man. There was little that he took seriously, save their sessions of combat which from what she'd heard were a new thing for him.

Looking up from his new prize the young man had a strange thought, "Can you... teach me?"

"Wait what?" Ryoko was taken aback, her eyes quirked quizzically at question. "Teach you Alchemy? No way kid. Not like I want to do something as boring as tutor you... but you don't even do it the same way I do. I probably can't teach you anything about your way."

"What do you mean?" Guiche asked, genuinely puzzled.

"Well in the first place my way works by taking what's there and shifting it around. Kinda like fitting together a puzzle, a lot of it I do without thinking. You guys... you cheat like Jurians."

"We cheat like who now?" a voice from behind the two called out in curiosity. Next to a slightly disgruntled Montmorency was the curvaceous figure of Kirche and her little blue haired friend, having over heard the conversation and deciding that it might be intriguing to intrude.

"Eh? Oh it's you." The curvy redhead had been close at hand for weeks, most often with her blue haired friend. The young lady was friendly as hell and it made Ryoko little uncomfortable because of that. Ryoko found the girl far more bearable when she was teasing Louise, a pastime which they both shared. The space pirate was never one to have much in the way of interpersonal contact, she'd had over 5000 years of life... but much of that existence was moving from one star system to another to raid, pillage and plunder. Kagato had worked actively against the very idea of her taking companionship beyond what was absolutely necessary to gain what he desired. In his own life and by extension hers, he'd sought to eliminate the weakness of emotional influence where ever possible.

"Well, like I was telling Guiche, you guys work like Jurians. It's almost as if you reject the reality of something and replace it with something else," she spoke with an almost misplaced authority. "You dispute the fact that a lump of rock was say… limestone or clay, and tell the world that it should be iron, and just like that, it gets overwritten. Closest I've ever seen to that is the way Jurian ships just do whatever the hell they want under the power of Jurai. Just like if they just tell physics to go cry itself to sleep in a corner while they play. When I transmute, the mass of the object stays the relatively the same give or take some loss due to shaping stress. When you transmute the amount of space occupied by what you're transmuting stays the same..." Ryoko left off, slowing down as she realized what she'd been doing. She looked somewhat abashed at even knowing this much of the subject matter, and squirmed visibly as she seemed to remember herself and the cautious veneer of ignorance which she tried hard to project.

"So you're saying you take it apart and put it all back together differently... while we just fill in what we want things to be, in where something else was?" Guiche sounded somewhere between amazed and intrigued. He'd never heard alchemy described that way. He was also feeling a bit out of his depth, swimming in concepts which were making foreign what should have been familiar to him.

Kirche looked thoughtful at the idea. This was something she was sure her beloved darling would want to know, and if she could find out a bit more about it later on... she might have some material to at least lure him into a nice romantic dinner. And maybe... something more. Taking a glance next to her, she saw Tabitha staring at the tall golden eye woman, a flare of interest sparking in her eyes.

Guiche looked disappointed for the moment, then glanced back down into the glove which he held, "You don't mind if I keep this Ms Ryoko?"

"Meh, knock yourself out," she said in seeming nonchalance. "I can always make more any time I feel like it," and to prove her point scooped up a fist full of dirt then with a quick blazing glow of her hand reveled another skin glove much the same as the one in Guiche's hand. Guiche smiled lightly, then turned towards his blond lover who began to fuss over him with the same gentle insistence and annoyance which Ryoko had been observing from the time they had first begun these combat sessions.

"Now Ryoko, look at you. You're a mess from playing with Guiche." Kirche spoke as she intercepted the Devil Caller on her way back to Louise's room. It was true that in the course of her little workout with Guiche she picked up a fair layer of grime, mostly due to him trying to distract her with it. "I have a lovely idea. My bath-tub should be big enough for the 3 of us. Let's go relax in my room, a nice hot bath would hit the spot, don't you think?"

Tabitha rolled her eyes from behind the book to which they were glued, then turned and started off in her own direction.

"I guess little Tabitha doesn't want to bathe with us. That's alright, let's go, just you and me. We can talk for a bit right Ryoko?" Kirche babbled cheerfully, her arm quickly hooking itself about the space pirate's own and her step quickening towards her room.

"Hey, I didn't agree to anything!" the space pirate all but shouted, the red head's friendly gesture putting her on her guard. It was seldom in life that Ryoko had ever been offered anything that she wasn't planning already to take, and it was even more seldom still that something was offered her without obligation or hook attached. She couldn't see what the hook might be here, but instincts said that the red head had been too good to her since she'd awakened.

Fortunately for Kirche her kicked puppy impression was impeccable, despite her tall height, and well-practiced too. Begging copper brown orbs shone upon Ryoko in an eager fervor which the unaccustomed Ryoko was unable to deny.

"Geez, stop with that already... gah... I know I'm going to regret this," the Devil Caller threw her hands in the air. "Fine, fine lets go have that bath."

Kirche smiled, "No worries, Ryoko. I knew you wouldn't be too keen on the idea so I bought a few nice bottles of Germanian 'Clear Water' out from my storage closet. The strongest alcohol I could sneak in from home. I wasn't going to tell you about it till after you agreed... you know so you wouldn't feel like I was trying to bribe you with it."

Ryoko perked up, suddenly looking enthused, "You know as long as it's good booze I'm in. I hope you've got more than one bottle, cause I don't do light drinking."

At this, they both grinned.

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Since the day in which she'd been reborn Ryo-Ohki had been roaming about the campus cheerfully getting to know those who resided within. Unlike her very anti-social sister Ryo-Ohki positively loved the company of others, and she never missed out on a chance to get to know the other familiars, and be cuddled by their masters. It also helped that few made the connection mentally between her cute habit of running into, and then though walls like a ghost and that of her Sister's, and fewer still realized that after their petting and preening sessions when she'd left, some random magically reinforced item had gone mysteriously missing.

It was one such day after wheedling a quick meal from the white beard, he gave the best handouts, the cutest little terror of the academy found herself chasing butterflies right out of the castle grounds, though and all too often into several trees and walls. By the time she'd made it out to the forest the poor little thing had had quite the headache. It took her a while to notice, but she'd become quite lost in the circles of butterfly chasing.

Now one might think that what was the most advanced space craft in the known galaxy, crafted by the red headed stepchild of science herself might be a little out of the league of such words as Lost... but to be frankly put, Little Ryo-Ohki suffered from a syndrome known as acute dumbass. Being a child and her neural pathways not yet properly developed, Ryo-Ohki's active organic mind was not only prone to wondering, as the bit of butterfly chasing proved, but also she was somewhat forgetful when stressed and to her child-like mind the state of lost was one which created great stress upon her.

Within the forest, a young woman wandered. Her blue hair nestled against naked thighs as she swept gracefully though the thick underbrush with ease. Her graceful stride and unblemished skin were at odds with the very environment which she traversed. As if even the dirt feared mar her in any way.

Suddenly the sound of soft mewling sobs over took her ear, a slight frown creasing her forehead.

It didn't take her long to find the source. It was a small creature, barely more than a mouthful even in this form, it fur disheveled and its eyes full of tears. A strange little thing that took the attributes of a rabbit (good eating!) and a cat (kinda stringy) and put them together in one slightly undersized morsel... Irukyuwu wondered briefly if it was tasty like the first or stringy like the second... A predatory gleam shone through aqua eyes, it would only take a moment for her to find out. Baring one hand to make a claw like grasp, the little wind would stalk fourth like her namesake, readying herself to seize the unsuspecting mouthful. After all food was food, even if there wasn't a whole lot of it.

As she gathered herself up in preparation to pounce, Irukyuwu unexpectedly felt a powerful presence sweep over her, like the preening gaze of her great-grandfather, vast and strong. The mouthful was looking directly at her, studying her with senses which defied explanation. She'd not bothered at first to look beyond the physical manifestation of the creature, a thing usually unnecessary and it always left her head tired trying, but when she finally did the young dragon paled. This was no mere mouthful, or even a simple beast. This was a person, twice over for the runes which she knew marked the persons of the mages. More than that, its spirit was a titanic thing in the shape of a vast crystalline beast. It was like Irukywu!

Without so much as a pause, all thoughts of the little great one as possible food fled and died.

"Hello!" the predatory blue haired currently human...ish... girl greeted, when dealing with people it was always good to be polite, that's what great-grandfather always said, "This one is Irukyuwu! Who are you?"

"Myaa..." Ryo-Ohki answered slightly less despairingly.

"Yes of course you've been found. Irukyuwu is here isn't she? But you haven't told me your name yet. And that's rather rude not to speak when asked, unless you're hiding that you can, cause then it's ok cause speaking will give you a way to the bad men that want to hurt you so you don't."

"Myaaa, Myaa, Mya Mya!" the little creature dried its tears with a furry paw, eyes and gem sparkling with emotion as she stared up into beautiful Aqua eyes.

"Devil King's Steed? Irukyuwu thinks that a weird name. Even if you're old like great grandfather..."

"Myaa mya?"

"Of course Irukyuwu knows how old you are! You spirit shout it all over the place. You're really, really, really old!"

"Myaaaa mya Myaaa!" the little creature grumbled out in the most indignant pose one could imagine out of a small ball of fuzz.

"You can't say things like that!" replied the horrified girl who wasn't, her startled eyes flying wide. "Great Grandfather said that you shouldn't asssossi... asocial...mingle with people who say those kinds of bad things." She both admonished and lectured.

"Myaow Mya mya..." the little one replied uncertainly.

The girl looked sheepish, "Irukyuwu guesses if it's your sister... But she shouldn't be saying them either!" Firm conviction entered her voice with the last declaration.

"Myaa myaow mya," the cat rabbit thing shrugged, waving a paw in a gesture of nonchalance, then stopped for a moment and again mewled. "Myaa?"

"Of course Irukyuwu knows the way out. Irukyuwu is a great flier, and has to be able to find big sis when she whistles for Irukyuwu. So, are you lost Devil King's Steed?"

The little thing simply rolled its eyes, "Mya… Myaa mya,"

The girl merely giggled, her aqua eyes thinning into reptilian slits, "Big sis tells me that all the time."

"Myaamyaaa, Myaaaow." The little cat rabbit thing folded its paws in a gesture of superiority.

"Sure! So where too Little big sister?" she asked as the Cabbit leapt onto her head.


And with a few bounding steps into a leap, the girl of the wild blue hair and aqua eyes transformed herself into a great beast, reptilian in form with azure scales and a completely unsurprised Cabbit mewling joyously as they both took flight.

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She'd been planning this for a while now, though she'd only seen an opportunity for it today with her own later classes finished and right after a combat session with Guiche. It seemed prudent to get closer to the familiar of Louise, as both a daughter of the Zerbst family and in darling's interest, for her the act of befriending the self-proclaimed Devil Caller was one of necessity. In all honesty the particulars of the process were a bit sneakier than what she would have preferred, but even Kirche recognized that sometimes one needed to keep to a slow gentle burn in order to prepare for the raging flames to come. Still contrived though her attempts at befriending the demon woman were, there was nothing otherwise false about the desire to do so. Kirche found her personally fascinating, almost a dark mirror in a way. Everything the Space Pirate did was dictated by her passion, an inner flame of all consuming need which reached out and tried to make the world FEEL. As if in provoking the world to reaction, she could in turn feel as it felt, that she could know its power and intensity reflecting in her eyes.

Dipping her hand into the formerly cool water of her bath-tub Kirche stirred it about, whispers of flame echoing with the tip tapping of her wand against smooth enamel finish. Soon steam resulted.

"You done over there yet?" Ryoko asked, lounging upon the opulent bedding of her red haired host. A smile in her direction was the only answer which she received as the Seniwan dark girl begun to strip away layers of cloth. She was as tall as Ryoko was and the size of her bust certainly eye catching. Silently Ryoko wondered if this was supposed to be something more than a bath session in her host's mind. She hoped not. Ryoko was not exactly the romantic type and sexual advances made no real difference to her from either gender. Thanks to Kagato there wasn't anything in the processes which could excite her.

"My, my do you like looking?" Kirche teased, catching Ryoko's sideward glance.

"Yeah sure, the bath tub looks great, you should get the over-sized butt out of the way of my view," Ryoko bantered back. Kirche simply rolled her eyes at the implication. Her rear end, she knew from the experienced hands of many a lover, was feminine perfection in itself.

"Clearly the old hag should watch it, might give her some clues as how to make her own wrinkly behind firm," Kirche stuck her tongue out in the most mature fashion with which she could muster. Ryoko was clearly sensitive about the subject, as fire and light began to dance about her while an eye twitched. She gave, but she wasn't particularly good at receiving.

With a shake of her head Kirche scooted over to the bed where she sat down next to Ryoko attempting to defuse the humanoid bomb. "Oh don't be so sensitive. You can't play hard if you can't take a blow," she said, draping one arm about the golden eyed woman.

Beneath her breath the space pirate grumbled in acceptance, canceling the floating lights from their haunting places.

"So, you just want to stay here watching or are you actually planning to take those clothes off and get in the bath with me?" Kirche asked, casting a sly glance over her shoulder then stretching gratuitously.

Ryoko simply shook her head then floated off the bed and disappeared from sight, the distinctive noise of her teleportation ringing out behind the Red head. Kirche turned to be greeted by a sly grin from Ryoko as she sat naked in the tub lounging.

"What a useful skill."Kirche commented in as innocent a tone as she could manage.

Ryoko rolled her eyes and wrinkled her nose. "From what I've heard, you'd give it quite the workout."

Wearing but a smile in response, Kirche slid her wand unto the tub's nearby table then slipped in beside the lovely Space Pirate.

"Here let me wash your back for you. You can do mine once I'm done, alright?" Kirche smiled, enjoying the gentle warmth of the water as it surrounded her. Goodness knows that she treasured both her bath tub and the words spoken in flame which allowed her this luxury.

Quietly Ryoko accepted, turning her back to the young red head Ryoko drew herself up into a ball and hugged her knees while Kirche proceeded to scrub away at her back with a soft sponge.

"Hehehe, I haven't done anything like this since I was a little girl," Kirche spoke absently as she scrubbed away. "I used to do this with... our family's benefactor... a lot. She always loved a good soak in a hot spring or a warm bath. I haven't seen her in years but she never changes when she comes by," Kirche reminisced.

"Why," Ryoko spoke, genuine wonder laced in with wary tension, "What is it that you want?"

"... Ryoko I... I shouldn't lie to you," she said while continuing to stroke her sponge across the space pirates back, "I do want to become your friend, but I'm also doing my duty here. You are the familiar of the daughter of the house sworn to feud with my own. You are something I've never seen before, and you have displayed a frightening strength that, from what you swear, is but a fraction of your true ability. You could probably rip me apart physically from right where you are without so much as breaking a real sweat." Even as they traveled along the sensuous curves of the Space Pirate's back, Kirche's hand's trembled where once they'd been bold.

But she stopped and held herself firm.

"All of this informed my choice to bring you here, to do with you this activity which has all my life been the most intimate thing I've ever shared with another person... that wasn't sex, that is. Maybe I'm fooling myself, but maybe there's a chance that the two of us could become close like sisters, or at least good friends. But I'm not going to lie to you about this; it is as much a political thing as it is anything else. I want to learn about you, and hopefully how I can ensure that you are not used against anyone whom I love."

For a few long moments the two sat silently and still within the confines of the enamel tub. "... I see," Ryoko responded.

Silently Kirche bit her lip, hoping she hadn't screwed this up with the direct approach, knowing after her weeks of observation that it was the only approach likely to work in the long term dealing with this monster of a woman who sat between her legs in the cooling waters. Though funnily enough not one bit of fear ran though her, only worry of acceptance spurned.

"... Scrub if you're scrubbing," came Ryoko's gruff response. "Alright, if you want to know more about me, give me something. I shouldn't really care but I'm assuming there's politics coming Louise's way because of me... I should probably know a little bit about it."

Kirche smiled gently, "Well you might know that my house and Louise's are on opposite sides of the Tristain Germania border. Because of that any conflicts between our two countries, our houses are the first to war against each other. But unlike Tristain Germania doesn't actually have any single absolute monarchy. The entire territory is too big and the people too independent minded for any single monarch to rule absolutely. The other countries call us barbarians because we don't think that magic is the end all of a person's ability, because we have nobility who are not mages. They call us stuck up, because we hold our governance away from the purview of the Church. But nowhere else in Helkeginia does rule of law take precedence over rule of the church. We have found a certain amount of freedom in segregating the functions of church from those of state."

"Yeah, yeah I've heard the same story a million times. Its GXP and Juria all over the place," Ryoko snubbed.

"I'll take your word on that..." Kirche said, skipping over her ignorance of the actual factions spoken of and by passing it into the obvious comparisons being made, "But Tristain, it has a reputation for bowing to the whims of the church. This is important because it becomes the church's business as to what you do. You represent the most dangerous force which has walked the lands since the days of the founder. You will represent also both opportunity and potential instability. Even if Louise never grows more dangerous than a hang nail, YOU are the sort of unknown quality which can make or break a play for power. Gaulia as always is armed and dangerous, whereas recent civil wars are making Albion a particularly juicy target, but it flies close between Tristain, Gualia and Germainia."

"Flies?" Ryoko asked.

"Yes, Albion has a massive deposit of active Windstone that keeps the entire country aloft. It's quite the sight to see." Kirche smirked. Most who first saw Albion tended to be amazed at the very concept of it even if they knew intellectually that it existed.

"Ah more magic stuff," Ryoko replied completely unfazed by the concept. She'd merely been confused as to the method by which they'd achieved such an engineering feat, mainly because of her continued image of them as backwater natives with a few inborn tricks. Thus far nothing had managed to disabuse her of this notion.

"Any way like I was saying Romalia, the seat of both the empire and the church is probably the smallest territory, but it holds the biggest political sway. The emperor is both the absolute secular and religious authority and they have had a history of jealously guarding this authority. More than that, you represent a few things which may make Louise a convenient political target or scapegoat," Kirche spoke, a sigh in her voice.

"What kinds of things are we talking about here?" Ryoko asked, slightly perturbed by the idea of her presence itself bringing harm to Louise.

Kirche rubbed her sponge across the space pirate's sides, marveling internally at the strange porcelain quality of her skin, "Well, in the first place, some of the oldest Brimic laws concern making deals with demons and inhuman intellects that wear human skins. If the church decided that you were of demonic origin that would give them a lot of both religious and political capital in making a presence here in Tristain if they so desired. Or one of the house Valliere's internal rivals could look to force such a point as a way of either disgracing the house or forcing it into a disadvantageous position relative to its relationship with the crown. Little Louise may not say it often, but her house is known to be very friendly with Tristain's royal family. You'd think with all her problems she'd brag about that a bit more often. But as far as I know she'd never out right stated her family's relations with the crown... for all the boastfulness and hauteur which she usually approaches everything. And the fact that you look at least a little like an elf, one of the ancient enemies of mankind... that's not a point in your favour should everything go south."

"... I could cost her, her home... or I could cost her country the political capital it might need to get help in repelling anyone who gets too ambitious is what you're saying." At Ryoko's summary Kirche merely kept in accentual silence.

"Fine... It's always me against the world anyway. Let anybody try it. If they want to strike her, they have to get though me first. They want her home; they got me to show them the door. Kick her out and I'll just take her with me back to the stars... after I break everyone responsible." Palpable anger at these thoughts leaked almost visibly from her, etching themselves upon Ryoko's face.

"You really do care about her, don't you," Kirche spoke wistfully.

" wouldn't understand." The devil caller blurted, then after a moment more of silent thought spoke again, "I suppose telling you can't be that much of a problem, you've been pretty upfront with me," Ryoko sighed, "Where's the booze you promised? This isn't a story I want to be telling sober."

Kirche smiled then reached over to the table that her wand rested upon. With but a murmured spell and a flick of her wrists, she set in motion the flight of a bottle of north Germanian 'water'. Whatever she'd intended with the bottle, Ryoko caught it the instant it got close enough.

"I'm taking this one," she said simply, then settled back comfortably against her bath time companion. Rolling her eyes at that, Kirche prepared herself another bottle this time pouring it into a small shot glass and leaving it upon the table with her wand.

"Flame, Flame darling!" she called out, prompting the large Salamander to waddle its way over from its windowed corner, "Be a dear and heat the tub a bit more for me, it's starting to get a bit tepid," the reptilian complied with a light jet of flames to the bottom of the tub where the scorch marks wouldn't show.

Then in silence the two women sat in the tub soaking up the warmth and drinking; Ryoko in large swigs of the bottle, and Kirche in much smaller portions of poured shots.

"For five thousand years, all my life, I've served a man that I knew all others call wicked. At first I think I loved him, like a father or a brother, I did as I was told and I asked nothing. Then as I got older, and learned more about the things which he wanted me to do for him... I started asking. Why should I hurt these people? Why is this thing they own so important?" Ryoko leaned back, head pressed against the red head's naked chest. It was comfortable there, "In the first few centuries I tried to be everything he wanted. Cold. Deadly. Ruthless. Efficient. Emotionless. Interested only academically in the mysteries of life. But I found it unfulfilling. An existence like that crushed me more and more until one day I couldn't take anymore. I stopped being his perfect little weapon and became the Space Pirate Ryoko. Turns out beyond a bit of disappointment he didn't really care one way or another so long as I continued to obey. Even attacking him was useless, he could just hijack my will at any time he pleased set me on autopilot and point me at the things he wanted... Less efficient than me doing it of my own volition... but if I wasn't going to do what he wanted anyway then it would be used. So I learned to love what I did, to love the act even if I couldn't ever stop to think about the outcome. I learned to be a Monster. Not the kind of monster that Kagato wanted, I could at least rebel that far... but a monster none the less."

Kirche kept silent, listening intently to her every word. Her stomach churned in thought of this dread master, this Kagato whom Ryoko had once served. She'd been warned of men like him, quiet, dispassionate, like settling frost... until that moment when they found what they were looking for, and in their desperation to have it set fire to the entire world so that whatever it was that they wanted could be theirs. They represented the true dark side of passion, the intimate corruption of the quality which she so valued.


"The rest is history... He used me for his biggest heist ever and it failed. I was beaten, and then... and then..." she simply trailed off, even thinking of the horror of her time in the hole was too much. Kirche's hands circled her as a horrified shudder worked its way through her frame, "Louise saved me, she pulled me out of hell itself," between the red head's legs Ryoko shifted, golden eyes meeting amber brown. "Anything that wants to harm her has me to go through first. I don't know how to be much. But I do know how to be the boogieman."

Kirche's breath caught itself in her throat. Not for the first time she found herself mesmerized by the deadly creature who sat before her, feeling like a maiden cornered by something wild and fierce. Rhythmically her pulse pounded as the deadly fanged grin radiated both desire and menace. But this was not desire as she was accustomed; this was the lust of predatory beasts, for blood and flesh, for the struggle of conflict burning gold. Fear never touched the flame haired girl, though she knew it should have, no it was not fear at all. So locked in the gaze of this feral woman Kirche could think not of anything save the passion which drove her. This was the intensity of the battlefield distilled into orbs and set to a human face.

Kirche could think of little more than to reach out and touch... wondered about nothing more than what it would be like to taste from this fruit both forbidden and wild.

But before she could reach, Ryoko withdrew, pulling herself to the opposite end of the tub, almost unaware of the effect she'd left upon her host... or at least, uncaring.

For long moments Kirche simply at there, breathing, soaking in the heat, and doing what was most unnatural to her... pushing down her desire. Right now was time to be a friend.

And nothing else.

The beast which lay within the Caller of Devils was a wounded creature, it need time to heal, to be nurtured... and as appealing as it seemed to her right now, she could hardly imagine how beautiful it could be freed from the chains with which it was burdened. Anything too... close... might leave her too dependent to properly heal, if it hadn't already happened.

A gentle dark hand rested upon one porcelain and a tender smile followed.

"You know, it's been a while since I've gone to town shopping. And I think a new hat would suit you perfectly," Kirche spoke, smile transforming into ever widening grin with every word.

With a raised eyebrow and an expression of incredulity Ryoko replied, "... a hat. Why the hell would I want a hat?"

"So that you can go out in public more easily my dear. Of course I'll loan you something so we can go choose a good one for, but you know we can just go have our time on the town," her face became serious, amber eyes fixing themselves against golden stare. "Will you come with me? Louise can come too if she wants."

"... I'll have to see. But I guess we can do it tomorrow." Maybe it was the alcohol making her hear things that weren't there, but for a moment Kirche though that Ryoko's reply had been tinged with a bashful lit.

With shot glass lifted Kirche spoke in agreement, "Tomorrow."

The bath's heat simmered gently on.

"Oh right. Ryoko-dear before I forget. I find myself wanting a nice, new, interesting pair of gloves."

**************xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx***************

Louise struggled with herself, constantly it was a battle to become better, become more competent, become someone who was not a failure in the eyes of her peers, herself, her sisters, and most importantly in the eyes of the woman who gave her life. In the past few weeks that struggle had been revitalized within her, given an unexpected push as if the very forces of destiny decided to exalt her. Thus Louise studied.

The pinkette pored for hours over Tomes of Lore, devouring her way through a library's worth of study on vain vague hopes. Study was her one way out; it was the only gateway available to her at the moment until she could figure out what it was that was going wrong with her magic. Maybe locked away in the words of men, thousands of years of knowledge and wisdom, maybe somewhere within lay the key to her problems. It was of course also a matter of pride that she could run circles academically around the greater whole of those even in years above her, that in every form of theoretical discourse she was leagues beyond the common student and almost the equal of those who could be called scholar when it came to the subject matter of magic... only the bitterness of practical failure, complete and utter, kept her from being called prodigy... of this she was convinced.

But she was weary of it all, not a scholar by natural aptitude, she found her way through long twisting sessions of uncompromising words written by old men with dry unyielding tongues by the one attribute which women of her family held in spades. Shear unrelenting, undying, uncompromising stubbornness guided her weary eyes from tome to tome, pushing her ever forward towards an answer which she was sure could be found if only she searched hard enough, long enough... It was the only reason for which she'd managed to stay the course. But in the last year she'd come to despair. Between the constant social stigmas which utterly alienated her from her peers, and the constant failure no matter what magic she tried, no matter how perfectly she tried it... Louise's spirit had been growing weary indeed. It would be safe to say that if the familiar ceremony had not been an unequivocal success, Louise would have given up completely on the scholastic path, ignoring it with the same fervor with which she'd pursued it in the first place.

But then Ryoko happened.

A familiar of other worldly might, and knowledge the likes of which she'd never known, a being of light and death dancing upon the rough edges of perfection. In her, Louise found once more her own inspiration, to persevere, to become great, and now to walk amoung the stars themselves. For after all, such a brilliant familiar could not have come to someone who was completely unworthy of it, could it? Such power and wealth of untapped knowledge was for one willing to push onward and herself to become its equal at least. In the face of her familiar, Louise could do no less to honour this call to greatness than become the most brilliant mage to have walked the lands since the founder himself.

No small amount of pride informed this train of thought.

As a consequence the young mage decided that it was not enough to simply excel at the classical aspects of academia as she had been thus far, but that maybe the essence of her issue's had fallen in the purview of knowledge which was no longer of the common bend. And thus her long days within the School Library begun, as she secluded herself from all but those who would seek her first, digging though ancient scholarly tomes for even a hint at where she should next steer her path. Unfortunately, a good many of the eldest texts were written in languages which she'd never even heard of, much less knew. And also another matter pressed upon her time.

"Louise! You promised," a voice whined lightly, causing Louise to sigh. In the last few weeks, since that fateful day of summoning, Montmorency was slowly becoming a fixture in her life. The blonde who once had nothing but antagonistic words for her, had mellowed in the face of near tragedy. Having without a second though placed her own safety at risk to defend Louise against what all at the time believed a threat, Monmon placed herself squarely not only in Louise's good graces, but also placed Louise in her debt.

"Fine fine... but only for a little while," she spoke in exasperation. Monmon was quite insistent when she decided that there was something which she desired, much like her paramour she didn't like to take no for an answer.

"Good," the golden tressed girl spoke in a pleased tone, "Tabitha doesn't like to talk enough to make study sessions work for me, and besides her, you've got the best theory craft scores in the class. Hell you actually bother to remember all those names and dates."

"For all the good it does me..." Louise spoke. It was a testament to the rapid growth of the friendship between the two that these words had ever been vocalized, mere weeks ago such an admission would have would have never happened between the proud youth of house Valliere and the scion of Montmorency.

They'd both been at each other's throats since the first day of meeting. The boastful Valliere, powerful and cocksure in her ways, it had always felt good to bring her down a peg or two from that high horse of hers. Louise, always with her nose in the air at everyone else made her mad beyond comprehension, Montmorency always hated to be snubbed and it never sat well with her when face to face with noble families who flaunted their higher status in court. The delightful surprise that this arrogant little bitch, was in truth nothing without her family connections had given Montmorency a jolt of savage joy. That girl herself was unpleasant, and whatever sympathy or friendship that might have formed out of feelings of pity for her situation were ruthlessly crushed under the heel of her unfailing arrogance which kept her separated from all of her peers. From there the antagonism had escalated, Montmorency saying things which were viciously true, and Louise attacking in kind as her only defense.

It had taken a shared brush with near death to shake them both from what had become an exercise of habit more so than will. But true character shone though that day, and Louise could no more deny the bravery and nobility of the girl than she could make the sun rise from the west. The same for Montmorency, who'd believed for the longest time that there was a core of nothing but rot beneath the haughty pink exterior only to see her charge in that day, headlong into the maw of the unknown, to subdue or die. For them both a moment's decision provided insight into the enemy beyond anything a year's interaction could have.

The first tentative motions towards friendship had been on Montmorency's part, a loose comment on Louise defended in earshot. Louise was many things, a failure maybe even one of them, but to have someone who had never faced the beast laugh at Louise's lack of control, a third year who felt himself justified in his scorn, disparage her courage in the face of her own familiar, something snapped. Montmorency ranted, she ranted and she raved and her tongue grew sharp. And when she'd realized, shame faced at the spectacle, what she'd done, she crept off into a corner and hid her face in a book. She could barely believe what she'd done. And Louise, she too could hardly believe her own ears. To her Montmorency was the enemy, the one who along with Kirche had actively sought to tease and ridicule her... though they had always done it straight up and too her face were many others simply snickered behind hands and doors. But... in the time of fire Montmorency tried to save her, and now the girl stood up for her honour and bravery.

It was there and then that Louise decided to try, even a little, to reach out to the other girl. It was there when Montmorency decided that if the other girl was worth standing up for, she was also worth reaching out to.

She spoke to her in the time when their others were intertwined upon the field of combat, both dancing their ever evolving routine which left those on the sidelines behind in completion. There were small words at first; shared interests, of gems and manners and balls, of favored clothings and prided little knickknacks which meant more than they let on. Eventually as they found each other's measure the speech too changed. From the inane prattling of those making the first steps towards common ground, towards that strange place where things of deeper interests lay but the hearts of true matters were avoided. For Montmorency it was her passion at perfuming and magical engineering of potions which excited and interested her. For Louise the ideas for applying magic, things which she could never do on her own, but wished to in order to someday show the world her own brilliance. The renewed passion for magical learning's sparked a revolution in her that seemed to snowball in its wake.

It was in this strange common ground that Montmorency discovered something which she should have already realized. Louise was the hardest working student she'd ever known... as strange as that sounded in her own ears it was truth. There was no social life for Louise, the very concept of mingling with others was all but foreign to her. Instead after the end of classes and the times she needed to show her face in public, the pinkette would find herself in a library, a secluded room, or some other place of peace in which she could study, and study, and study.

Never in the eyes of her peers, never in places where others could easily see.

Years' worth of ridicule and derision from others shaped her habits into solitary things, and her desires into a razor edge of purpose. In the quiet she sought solace in study, learning and prying from the ugly grasp of books whose contents gave her everything and yet taught her nothing of what she truly desired, the understandings of men about magic. Every inch of magical theory and innovation she'd read, every book of every class she poured herself into. On theoretical academics alone she'd pulled herself from first to second year.

Montmorency came to learn that Louise was just something short of being a true scholar, and for all that she failed in one aspect, she had been getting the best theoretical grades in their year across the board. Sheer bloody mindedness seemed to motivate it, but it turned out to be an asset which Montmorency could share in. It didn't take long for her to begin asking Louise to study with her, so that she too could come to be ahead of the theoretical curve. This was offered in return for the use of someone who could get the spells which seemed interesting done. A guinea-pig for her activities who could serve to test rules of magic as was known in the books and the stark reality which Louise faced in her own malfunctioning magic every day.

"Well don't forget, the familiar exhibition is soon. You might want to make that wild woman of yours at least a little bit presentable," Montmorency spoke, her doll like face quirking into a grin, "My dear little Robin shall be the darling of the event."

"Monmon, you're the ONLY person here who thinks that slimy little thing is cute. She may be deadly enough to kill a full grown man, but she still just a frog. She loses points just for that."

"You're just jealous of my little baby," Monmon spoke making cooing noises to the small frog which leapt from its place of honour amoung her tresses, into Montmorency's hand where the gentle touches and occasional treats tended to await.

Louise rolled her eyes as Monmon guided the deadly little critter back into the hair which had before sheltered it.

"Uggg… We need to study Annabella's theory of transference for Potion's tomorrow, and I don't get her Multi-Elemental Alchemic," Monmon groaned, while she was practically a prodigy in mixing potions and figuring out the right combinations of items to gain magical effects, there was still a lot of the more academic aspects which she simply did not know.

"It nothing difficult," Louise spoke, anyone who knew her family would recognize the scholarly intonations and mannerisms of her elder sister shining though, "Her idea was that if a mage of sufficient skill or power existed and they were both trained in high potion making, and alchemy, they would be able to forge magical materials with potion like properties. The trick to it being that they would utilize Water's assimilative properties to 'leech' a potion into the material being enchanted and use alchemy to build the material in question around the potion as it normalizes between its spell burden and the material's structure. That way you can add attributes of concept and spirit to things like weapons and walls. She's just horribly longwinded and bad at saying what she actually means."

"Oh... but the kind of skill that you would need to pull that off. Even square class mages don't have that kind of control," Montmorency folded her arms in annoyance.

"Which is one of the reasons why Annabella's theory has always remained just a theory. Though there are always rumors that someone or the other has figured out how to increase the coherence of the spell structures without needing higher than square class control though preparatory substances, but those reports usually turn out to be fakes or mistakes," or at least that's what Louise heard of it from her sister when she'd asked.

"Still can you imagine it? Being able to make attributive items like the elves do..." Monmon trailed off in a moment of reverie. Like any good hopeful magical engineer, whether potion or alchemical, the idea of making items which could enhance attributes in a stable fashion was a longtime dream.

"... Umm... Pardon me. Ms Valliere, Ms Montmorency..." a hesitant voice spoke from near the corner of the bookshelves across from the table where Louise sat and Montmorency stood. As one the two girls swung around to see the source of the voice.

"Siesta," she spoke, nodding towards her former caretaker with a small smile then schooling herself into a serious expression, "Ah right, Monmon this is . She took good care of me in the week that I was ill."

Montmorency looked upon the nervous maid with a dubious gaze, "And what does she want now?" In her experience, commoner's never interacted with Nobles if they could help it, unless they stood to gain something or were sent by someone.

A silence settled between the three. Louise mentally debated if to call out her friend on her rudeness infront of a commoner, or if it would be inappropriate to do so.

Siesta was startled, she'd not expected such a reception and momentarily her will faulted. She would not look for solace here, and make think less of her. As she begun to open her mouth to this effect she was surprised by the next words spoken.

"Monmon, that was rude. Even a servant deserves common courtesy," Louise chided. And to Siesta's amazement the golden tressed girl turned her head away with pink cheeks in admonishment.

This shored up the confidence which Siesta had left, emboldening her to speak, "Ms Valliere... I have a problem. And I have no idea where else to turn..."

Louise's head tilted, as an annoyed look passed Montmorency's face, "What kind of problem is this? One you wish for me to help you solve using my money, good will, or family name?"

Siesta paled at the insinuated accusation, "No no... not at all Milady. It's about Count Mott," she spoke, lip trembling as she struggled with herself to even say the name, "I... I..." tears leaked from her eyes even as she desperately tried to hold them back, her hands gripping tightly unto apron, the desperation of one drowning, clutching anything they could to keep afloat and head clear. One hope played itself in her head, with fever pitch.

Over and over and over again...

"Please..." she spoke lifting hands to face in sullen prayer, "Help me. Help me get away from him..."

Louise's eyebrows quirked their way down into a frown, "What has the Count done to you? Doesn't he know better than to be accosting the private servants?"

Siesta shook her head, and tried to will her tears dry... failing that she used the sleeve of her shirt to do the job, "He has done nothing so overt, Ms Valliere, and it would be unseemly for me to make such claims even if he did..."

Annoyance painted the Pinkette's face. "Then what has he done that's so bad?"

Siesta lowered her eyes, "He has made a formal request for me to work directly for him, as his personal servant in his house. And I have been made to know that declining this... 'honour' will result in him leveling charges at me that would remove me from the university, or at least I was given this knowledge without so many direct and incriminating words."

"And what's so bad about being invited to be his head servant? I must confess that I'm failing to see the issue here..." Louise spoke, somewhat confused. As far as she was concerned Siesta was crying herself silly over being given what was one of the highest honours a Noble could award to a commoner short of the queen herself bestowing some kind of lesser title. It made so little sense that she was tempted to dismiss the concern out of hand.

Still, the servant girl looked utterly dejected. So silently Louise put together in her mind a list of the various things that could possibly be wrong with the picture being painted there.

Strangely, it was Montmorency who seemed to understand her concern and spoke up too it, "He wants her for his Mistress Louise. So that he might have her on hand for his... pleasures... as he feels them necessary."

Louise paled then began to glow a bright crimson which long outshone her hair. That never even began to surface in her thoughts.

"I'm sure that he wishes for me to surrender up my maiden head to him. And worse I've heard rumors of those to whom he has done this in the past, and the long string of mistresses who were abandoned by the wayside on becoming... useless to him," her voice sounded as fragile as she looked, standing there shaking like a tattered leaf at the nauseating idea of that man and his unclean hands touching her, caressing her... the very thoughts made her desire a cold river in which to scrub herself down.

Louise gaped, mouth moving like a fish trying to work water over gills, unable to form a thing to say. To offer a home and pay for someone whom you considered lovely was one thing, after all even a noble woman or man was required to sometimes join in marriage with those less than agreeable to themselves. And for a commoner such protections as would come with being the mistress of someone powerful, though a distasteful thought, was not in itself so horrible a fate... But a man who would abuse the power of the nobility so horribly as to take advantage and never give back when his advantage is spent... only the worst of the worst could be called to this category. This was a crime for which Louise knew no other names but shame and dishonor. For a noble to act so ignobly, there was something broken here something which needed to be fixed immediately.

It helped also that Louise had come, over the short time they had been together while she was awake, to know Siesta as more than just another commoner, but instead as someone she'd learned to like and respect... especially considering the rapport which she seemed to have formed with Ryoko.

"No," Louise spoke, red marks visible upon a bitten lip.

"A real noble would not behave that way," she spoke. The surprising Steel of authority gleaming within her words, "And if the rules let him get away with this then I can use the rules to keep him from it as well."

For the first time Siesta's dewed eyes cast towards Louise's own in something akin to hope. Beside them both Monmon swallowed heavily, caught upon the moment just as they were even as an outsider looking in.

"Siesta, would it be possible for you to come into my service? I won't be able to pay you quite as much as the university, at least initially, but all of your woes with Mott will be at an end, as I won't release you for whatever nonsense that he could come to dream up," Louise spoke, her voice imitating the power and authority of another with whom she's spent her whole life, "Is this acceptable to you Siesta?"

Louise, whatever the response she had been expecting, found herself entangled in a hearty hug from almost nowhere. So grateful were the great racking sobs from her new servant, that Louise was not herself sure of how long the poor girl might last. With slow careful strokes, Louise ran her hand though her new servant's hair, though she wondered briefly at the total impropriety of the gesture, on both sides of the bargain.

After a short while, the sobbing ended, and Siesta looked down to her shorter mistress with red rimmed eyes and a smile. More than anything else, it had been the utter lack of control, which had brought her low. The share helplessness, which drove her headlong to seek shelter beneath the skirts of a noble who had only known her for a short time, it was a feeling which she never wanted again, and would never forget for as long as she lived.

"Oh, bother," Monmon pouted, having turned her face as not to witness the embarrassing display. "We can study together another day Louise. Just go make sure that you get all of the necessary legalities out of the way. It would be horribly embarrassing to have just gone through all of that drama only for the whole thing to fall though some legal loop whole which lets him drag her off from you."

A small smile greeted Louise's newest friend at the sensible suggestion.

"Yes, I suppose we should. Siesta, are you feeling better now?" Louise asked, as best as she could she tried to be kind.

A tentative smile lit up a face now freed of burdens. "Yes, Milady... Yes. I believe that I am."

And she was.

*******************xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx********************

paced restlessly across the well-worn floor. Months and month of this cover, months of playing nice, for small token quantities of nice, with the old perv Osmond and what did she have to show for it? Nothing of worth that was what. Only the 'cabbit' eaten bits and pieces which were left strewn about like so much refuse, all that was left of a fortune in mystical items, some of which no one had even an inkling on how to replicate. Worse, with this hit it was quite likely that credible sources, namely Osmond and his favored crony Colbert, would likely pin the blame on her to cover it all up. She'd have to either grab the remaining items and get them back to base, or go home empty handed and somehow convince him that she was still completely trustworthy and didn't actually take everything and sell it. She really hated when her own reputation came back to bite her in the ass.

Ok so she wasn't being so very generous in her thoughts, tough. She was sick of this job, hell she'd only taken it because his brilliance decided to be a pain in the foot about it. Or at least that's what she preferred to tell herself... truth was she would do anything for him. Nobles, Royalty... hate boiled in her blood at those who took the names and titles without possessing any of the virtues. It was as if being declared Nobility drained everything good and human from a person, leeched it out over a portion of years and years. If that was the case she was glad she'd gotten out, though not at all for the manner in which she had, she'd rather be a complete nobody and rise with the light than have stayed a noble even if it would have made everything easier.

She was almost tempted to steal the little beast itself, but thought better of that idea. Who knew what evils the cute little creature was hiding under its fuzzy exterior, especially with what she'd already heard of its capabilities. Lord knows with what she'd been hearing of disappearing magical equipment and of a small furry thing walking through walls like a ghost. In addition, aside from that, from what she'd gathered its mistress could follow it anywhere, and distressingly, move from one place to another without moving though the intervening spaces... all without even the slightest hint of Magic... it was eerie just to contemplate. Both beast and mistress seemed to be things almost like spirits given flesh, and far be it for her a simple thief to go mixing herself up in the business of spirits.

No she had come here for far more solid targets.

Targets which apparently had managed to survive the onslaught of the little artifact devouring terror. Oh as Osmond's secretary, she knew exactly where he was keeping everything, in his secondary vault, one that rested within the enchanted stone of his office space. Not nearly as secure as the artifact vault but filled with much more generally useful goodies, not that she would stoop to being a common thief and stealing money, but if there were any particularly interesting gems in there amoung the mundane coinage...

Not that an elite earth mage such as herself couldn't make the beauties that shone and sparkled, but it did take an incredible effort to get certain types of gem to form alchemically. Diamonds were hard. As any decent mage worth his salt could tell you, Diamonds were unreasonably difficult, and anything difficult was a thing valuable indeed.

"Ahh, Ms Longueville!" a cheerful voice interrupted her train of larcenous thought. "How are you?"

"Mr. Colbert," she demurred, lowering her head in a small bow of greeting, in the process hiding the grimace of slight annoyance which crossed her pretty face. "I am quite well sir."

"I was wondering if I could have a word with you, being that you are the head master's secretary and all," he smiled with an almost charming ease, if he were a younger man with a full set of hair she might well have even looked at him twice.

"About what?" she was genuinely puzzled.

"I've been reassigning guards though out the academy, at the Headmaster's request, for the Princess' arrival on the day of the festival. And I wanted to know if you might want to keep a contingent of guards near by the Headmaster's office," he offered her a small sad smile. "The princess' personal guard will be helping to fill in the numbers but the sad truth of the matter is that we just don't have enough personnel to make proper coverage for the princess herself without gutting the castle guard. But as the Headmaster's secretary I do wish to ask if you would mind the temporary leave of the guard, or if you want to hold on to your usual door and hall contingent. A courtesy of course, considering the recent incident."

"Wait what? The princess is coming here? When did that message come in?" she did not at all like being out of the loop, especially when the first link in the loop should have been her.

"Message came by Far-song, no less than an hour or so ago," Colbert spoke of the military use network of wind magics which passed messages countrywide. Mainly it was a spell that encased a segment of speech in a capsule of wind, replayed constantly within until the spell sustaining it wore down. A mage would create said capsule then attach it to a breeze in the direction of the next mage interceptor a few miles away, who would take the message, repeat its contents to a new capsule spell and send it to the next interceptor, and so on and so forth.

The real trick to it was that one didn't need a much more than a dot classed wind mage to cast the spell, or send it, only the occasional dedicated line class Wind mage at strategic spots though out the country to provide signal boosting though amplification spells and cryptographic backup spells which ensured that information wasn't lost due to weak sendings. Militarily important messages, as well as missives from the crown when it wished to move quickly were often sent in that manner.

Of course because others had a chance of intercepting these packets, spell encryptions were utilized to keep the messages safe, some of Old Osmond's finest work in truth. A basic encryption spell which was taught to everyone across the board, the end result needed a secondary spell key available only to select mages within the network, while a trail of false keys were integral to the main encryption spell as it was taught, and worse the unsuccessful attempts at opening the message caused the entire spell structure to collapse upon itself, reducing the captured missive to a single unpleasantly intense scream. Such encryptions were one of a few ways in which Tristain had managed to keep a small edge over the other nations.

"Ah, I was busy for the morning so I haven't been with the Headmaster for the day," in her head the spectre of opportunity loomed and grinned wide, "No I don't think I'll require the guards. Feel free to assign them as you need. I wouldn't want to pull back even a single man who could help keep the princess safe. Besides, I can always stay in the office and get some work done. Not like the headmaster needs me for stamp duty while the exhibitions are on."

Colbert let out a sigh of relief. "I'm glad to hear at least someone is being reasonable. I've had demands from Professors Eldsbury and Johan both to keep guards on hand to watch over their studies when the procession begins," both he and rolled their eyes at the silliness of the two old codgers, both of whom were middling talents at best, Line mages, who believed themselves close to the next big advancement in magical theory. A claim they'd apparently both been making for the last 20 years.

Aside from those two old jokes, was suddenly delirious with mirth. Not only had the perfect opportunity for getting the items fallen directly into her lap, but all in one fell swoop she'd managed to redirect attention and give herself an excuse to be alone in the office for an extended period of time before she needed to leave. It was like Winter Solstice had come early this year.

"Thank you, . But I must be on my way, there are still others who need to be prepared." Colbert smiled, and then took his leave.

The green haired thief in secretary's clothing all but jumped for joy, in a most unprofessional manner. Still she needed to be careful. For all that she had been handed the keys to the castle, it wasn't as if she was dealing with fools here. She needed to cover herself in case they managed to cure their ignorance earlier than expected.

But for all the caution which would be needed she was happy to have had the objects of her attentions moved to this much lower secured and lesser warded area. Unlike the Arcane Vault wards which were creations of generations of warped minds having spent years in convolution and innovation, the wards of this lesser vault were for the most part of the more standard affair, with only a few of the headmaster's special overlays making things more difficult with them. Thankfully she'd had months of studying the bloody things in advance but even with these lesser creations she had to admit to the old perv's genius when it came to matters of warding and alchemically based enchantment.

But she was no slouch when it came to the opposite end of the spectrum of earth, for all that has form, as they say, can and must eventually falter and crumble to dust. The Crumbling Earth was the runic name bestowed upon her in her escapades and it was a title well deserved. She'd found from an early age that while earth was indeed the element of Sustenance and Stability, one could make parts of a thing so stable unto itself that it no longer fit together and supported the rest of that thing, and that sustenance could be provided to that which caused corrosion and destruction, pushing the reactions to the point of near flame. Just as earth could build up, it could tear down, and scour. One couldn't always depend on being able to directly transmute the door, or lock... but transmuting physical elements to interact with them was always doable.

Indeed the Headmaster's genius might come in matters of building up items and defenses... But hers, hers flaunted itself in the act of bringing it all right back down.

*************************xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxx***********************

The dread space-pirate, known as Ryo-Ohki, stretched herself out atop big little sister's bright blue scales, resisting the urge to take a nibble of their heavily magic infused edges. It would be a bad example if she was to go eating people, even just a little nibble. It was in its own way relaxing, the rush of air flowing over her small form as she nestled between the bright blue scales and the small outcropping of spikes at the top of big little sister's head. For Ryo-Ohki flight was an old hat, and though her current mental processes were still vastly simplified from what her full interface consciousness would eventually become, there was still the element of long experience which snuck its way into her mind when it came to certain matters. Flight was definitely one of them. Though that didn't stop her large blue ride from Kuuing and Kyuuing about how great it was non-stop.

With them flew Ryoko, Kirche and Tabitha, the blue dragons summoning contractor. Kirche chattered away at the two far less talkative members of the group, making up for the silence between the two, a spell shield preserving both pressure and shielding from the wind covered them making her chatter audible. For Tabitha it was of small consequence to put up with the slight annoyance which her best friend's speech represented. Ryoko on the other hand seemed caught between being pressed about the constant social chatter, and the strange fact that it didn't seem as if she were required to do anything but listen to Kirche fill up the void of silence with her own personal noise.

The trip's end saw the trio dismounting just outside of town. Irukyuwu or Sylphied, as Tabitha called he, Kuued in longing. The very idea of the town fascinated her. So many people, so many sights and smells... The dragon's plaintive pleas drew the attention of her summoner.

"Don't be seen." Was the terse order, Tabitha's slight frown punctuating the order.

"Myaa!" Ryo-Ohki sounded.

At this Ryoko momentarily paused. "Really? You want to stay with the lizard? Well that's a first, I thought you'd be begging to go off into town."

Another mewl of confirmation sounded, but Ryoko felt something within the link being badly hidden.


Her little sister was planning something. Well that was new... Ryoko thought. Briefly she considered giving orders to stay... but decided against it. There was only so much trouble the two could get into, and most of it wouldn't be her problem anyway. Thus not caring came swiftly to the agenda.

As the small group strode off into the distance Irukyuwu sighed. She never got to go the interesting places, because Big sis spent so much time worrying about her safety. However Ryo-Ohki begged to differ.

"Myow Mya myaow myaow myaow!" she said leaping down from her perch and setting off towards the town.

"But... But... Big sis said not to..." The great beast spoke, her girlish voice at odds with the mighty body of a dragon.

Ryo-Ohki took on a cutting expression and mewled her rational.

"... true... Irukyuwu guesses that wouldn't be being seen..." The dragon drawled unsure, "But Irukyuwu can't Rhyme with you... so Irukyuwu can't be like you."

An exasperated sigh puffed its way from the little creature's mouth, the in a single bounding leap she slammed her forehead jewel first right between the dragon's eyes. In an instant there was connection, communion almost as pure as the link she shared between her sister, herself, and their now welcome interloper.

One slightly dizzy dragon later.

"Kyuuu... what hit Irukyuwu?" The azure dragon then stopped for a moment almost as if savouring some strange flavour. Then slowly the look melted from her dissolving into pure unrestrained shock. "You can Rhyme!?"

The cabbit yawned looking particularly pleased with herself. "Myaow!"

Then with a great big grin began to shrink down, until where once was a massive reptilian beast now stood a slightly larger blue female cabbit. Where on her counterpart was a crystal shard, the azure cabbit had but a single simple runic inscription.

After a brief round of fur rubbing and frolicking the two bounded off into the city.

The two cabbits gambled their way through the city, twin bundles of curiosity as they made their way from scene to scene, chasing each other and playing all the way though. The two creatures drank in their fill of the city, moving like ghosts amoung the populace and upon occasion utilizing the institution of charm to ingrate themselves to the inhabitants of the city. Ryo-Ohki in particular found it useful for her companion to do the charming, while she slipped through walls and stalls and carriages towards brilliantly illuminated prizes. There were enchantments aplenty for her to pillage, and plunder she did. Everywhere they went, Irukyuwu distracted while Ryo-Ohki indulged herself, enchanted items abounded within the town; a wall here, a knife there, a potion in another place, and a sometimes even an enchanted coin-purse or two, made so that cutpurses would not be able to simply cut them away from the owner.

They were delicious!

This continued for a few hours as they moved about, all the while keeping tabs on the movements of their respective partners. It had been a telling thing that at some point during the entire trip, Kirche had managed to finally break the barrier of silence and had gotten Ryoko involved with her in telling funny stories from their respective pasts. And though more than a few of Ryoko's took to a grim turn as they ended, the Germanian noble woman simply smiled and took them then in turn offered some of her own, usually embarrassingly racy stories of past... exploits. More than once the word 'slut' was passed about from Space pirate to Noble, only for both of them to grin in vicious playfulness and rounds of creative name calling. Ryoko could barely remember having such a good time with anyone. In particular with anyone whom she knew for certain that she would not need to kill once the banter was over. The floppy blue hat which the red headed Germanian had given her hung loosely over her ears as if it were some kind of cold weather head gear. Gingerly Ryoko played with the tassels of it, apparently it had been a gift from Kirche's old caretaker who'd doted upon the young girl and encouraged her finally to leave when she was being offered to that elder noble for the sake of the house. Kirche hadn't worn it since she'd left home, strands of her care taker's curly golden hair still caught against some of its fibres. Ryoko couldn't help but think that the hat had a strangely familiar look to it.

On their way through town they eventually passed by a small weapons shop. Briefly Kirche stopped the group, asking Ryoko if there was anything she might like from the place. Ryoko simply laughed. What use were metal arms to her? She'd asked. When she could create swords of gleaming light with a thought and cut metal like hot butter. Kirche just smiled and they all walked on, the dark skinned youth then pointing out a very high class establishment, a book store, for her best friend's perusal.

Ryo-Ohki and Irukyuwu though, they made the stop, walking, after a few bumping tries, into the shop completely undetected by any.

Ryo-Ohki was flush with excitement.

In this slightly run down establishment she'd caught the scent of something, something powerful and intense. Something which made her tremble in terrible anticipation of mouthwatering delight. Within the shop was the tantalizing scent of light and power... such great potential power, embedded in metal, enchanted for strength... enchanted to devour.

"OY!" cried out a thing which sounded like an old man's voice, if that voice were encrusted with rust and grime.

The two cabbits stared at the barrel from which the noise came; Ryo-Ohki could almost taste the heavy scent of magic which it gave off. She mewed; wonder to that effect thick in her voice.

"Hmm... now that's something strange. You are Myoznitnirn… but you're some kinda animal... the mind of God in with the brains of a beast?" The ancient thing spoke clear.

Ryo-Ohki mewled plaintively, wonder and annoyance at war within her voice.

"Oh yes, yes. Book of God I recognize you. For both you and Gandalfr I fall under your jurisdiction... or at least that's what I remember. It has been a bit of a while since those days, and the time in-between hasn't been kind to an old sword like me." The voice in the barrel mused.

This time it was Irukyuwu who spoke up, her own meows cheerfully polite.

"Ah, Yes. You may call me Lord Derflinger!" it said, slight dramatic flair in its voice. "Now pull me out, let me see you."

With a shrug and two head-butting attempts Ryo-Ohki complied with the delicious talking metal stick.

"Cute little things you are. A transformed dragon, and something else... my, my you are definitely nothing I've ever seen before."

Ryo-Ohki's plaintive string of meows sang out in rapid succession.

"Well I already told you. I'm Lord Deflinger, I'm the ancient companion of the Gandalfr and those who are Of God. My memory for isn't that great on its own... but I'm sure once I've gotten some magic flowing though me properly again I'll be able to do all sorts of things," the sword urged.

Ryo-Ohki's meowed a sound which sounded, not at all amused.

"Say, you're the Book of God, you should be able to tell me about myself if you use the sight." The sword prodded.

The bejeweled cabbit was about to answer back, only to remember reading the light which suffused magical things before. Closing her eye's she looked deep into the sword's body, fishing her way through the interwoven enchantments of both element and spirit. What she saw redoubled her hunger; this was not just any artefact... This sword was a master work of intricate forms woven into a single sentient spell fabric. She told Irukyuwu of what she saw.

"So. Now that that's settled, I can see that there is a potential partner for me here, so what's the deal? Do I continue to rust here on display or do you take me with you?" one could almost hear the grin in its lipless voice.

Ryo-Ohki shook her head in assent.

"Well then, how are we going to get me out of here?"

Ryo-Ohki this time said nothing... expressing only the feral gleam of hunger which shone in her eye. Only the unnatural grin of one about to be fed.

And all too late...

Derflinger feared.

Ryo-Ohki ate.

...Irukyuwu fainted.