Chapter Five: Lessons Begin the Zero Returns

Two days ago life had changed for the vast majority of The Tristain Academy of Magic. Those not able to cope well with change had their lives turned completely upside down. The uproar and general sense of uneasiness can be traced back from several components to a single source. The cause of all this trouble is not some kind of political turmoil or a ferocious monster but a single man who was doing his best to enjoy a quiet nap in the courtyard. Despite his well practiced aloof demeanor and the presence of a hammock, he was well aware that a small group was coming after him with the intention to interrupt his pleasant nap.

:THUD: "Oomph. Why would you do such a terrible thing to your poor familiar Louise I was trying to mind my own business for once." Picking himself up off the ground Therum tried to look hurt and repentant. An act he was failing miserably thanks to the casual way he was dusting himself off. "What have I done this time?"

"You know very well what you have done. Getting Siesta enrolled here as a student has half the students ready to riot."

"As long as they don't try to do anything to her I don't care what they think. She has potential to be a pretty good first generation magician and I intend to see that happen, even if I have to duel every noble brat in this school. "

"You might get that wish idiot, there is a group of students heading this way right now looking for you. Somehow the information got out that you are the one who got her put into the school."

"It's about time if you ask me I was expecting the lynch mob this time yesterday. Why else do you think that I have been here on my hammock all day instead of doing something productive with my time like teaching you a couple spells that you might be able to work with now that I know what to look for? It's a damn shame that book the Headmaster mentioned is unavailable right now. I could have used a direction to go with. I can teach you some low level spells but it will just be shooting blind until I have more data to work with. Oh look here they are."

"There they are!" A black cloaked student with a Doberman familiar was leading the mob.

"Here I am," replied Therum's cheeky response. "What can I do for you on this fine day? Your friends are rather loud and I was trying to take a nap in the shade of this tree. You are being very rude sir. Didn't your parents teach you manners?"

"I am Jean-Claude Francois the son of Barron Francois and I do not appreciate the disrespect you have shown this academy and now myself. I don't know how you fooled the Headmaster into letting that commoner pretend to be a mage but it stops now. You will undo whatever trickery you have done and remove her from the grounds immediately."

"If I refuse to do as you say what will you do? I bested one of your own last week in fair open combat what makes you think that you will fare any better?"

"You bested Gramont because he is barely a line class earth mage I am a triangle class fire mage. Your silly sword will not be able to get anywhere close to me."

Therum stroked his nonexistent beard for a moment. "What problem do you have with Siesta going to school here? I guarantee she can be taught magic."

"She is a mere commoner. This is a school for the sons and daughters of nobility no commoner has ever gone here before. Even if she can cast a couple of simple parlor tricks she does not have the upbringing or the finical backing to belong here. It is for her own good that she be sent back to working in the kitchens and cleaning the castle."

"I come from a land where our people were segregated too. Many people made many of the same excuses you just used. History eventually shows that those opposed to fair integration had misguided their fears. I believe that every man woman and child should be able to make their own way in life using every opportunity given to them. To be fair I would like to make a proposition for a peaceful resolution to this mess will you hear me out?"

Jean turned to council with a few of the other older students in the mob and spoke quite animatedly with them for a few moments. Finally they came to some sort of agreement and he turned back to Therum and Louise. "We will hear your proposition, but if we don't like it we withhold the right to continue running the two of you out of the academy and pin the blame on your summoner."

Louise gulped but really wanted to hear what her insane familiar had to say. "I am not exactly certain on this but if my information is correct there is a Familiar Exhibition in about a week that The Princess of Tristain will be attending. As far as I know she should get here sometime the day before the exhibition. What I propose is that we hold a test the day before with her as a neutral judge so that nobody can be accused of being biased. The test will consist of anything you all believe a proper student of this school should be able to do. If we fail to pass by at least the bare minimum of what you think it means to be a noble Siesta Louise and myself will leave the school. If a maid, a familiar, and a failed mage can pass your test we will be left alone. Do we have a deal?"

Another huddle formed and the arguments were even louder that the previous ones. After nearly 15 minutes of debate the group came to an agreement. "After much deliberation we have come to an agreement that it will be more fun to watch you three make fools of yourselves in front of the princess than to simply throw you out. As a plus we will also be able to get rid of The Zero if we go along with your plan."

"Wonderful I will go meet with the Headmaster to try and get this cleared as soon as your lot drafts up a contract saying what we will be expected to do to make sure that we are all on the same page."

"Therum how could you make that agreement without asking your master's permission? Do you realize what will happen to us if we don't meet whatever demands they make?"

"I imagine that Siesta will be forced to withdraw from the academy and be sent back to her village in shame and you will be sent to your family in shame. Depending on their actions I will either return with you to your family to continue your private tutelage, or will get pissed off and go on a massive killing spree slaying every pompous noble that I can find. Except for you, Tabitha, Henrietta and maybe Kirche."

***BREAK***

"Siesta how are your classes going, are you coping well with the new information?

"It is all so new and fascinating. I am working with Professor Colbert in my free time to try and catch up with the rest of the students. He already taught me four spells to try and figure out which element I have an affinity for. I can move small pebbles around, fill a glass with water, summon a small breeze and light a candle with a wand!" The excitable former maid was bouncing by the end. "I can do all of them but filling the cup was the easiest and lighting the candle took me almost a whole day to learn so the professor thinks that I am probably going to be a water mage."

Louise stalked off to one of the corners of the kitchen while Siesta unknowingly rubbed her lack of magical success in her face. Louise was happy for the girl who was quickly becoming one of her best friends but it still bruised he pride that a mere commoner was a more natural magician than she is.

"I heard that some of the nobles are giving you trouble about being a student here."

Siesta's face drooped a bit from her previous high. "They say some very hurtful things about me when they think I can't hear them and one boy in my courtly proceedings class said that the trash is supposed to be taken out of the school not into the classrooms. I didn't let him see it but I cried for an hour after the class was over down here in the kitchens. That is why I still eat down here and not with the rest of the students. The staff members are still very nice to me and are even more proud of me becoming a student than they were when you beat Guiche. I even sent a letter to my family back in Tarbes with the money left over from buying my school supplies. I hope they will be proud of me too."

"That brings me to why Louise and I are down here. I think I have a way to get the nobles to leave you, me and Louise alone."

"You won't have to hurt any of them will you Mr. Therum? I know that they are very cruel but I would not want them to get hurt over me I would rather give up this magic than let something like that happen!"

"I assure you it is nothing that crude, 'yet.' I worked out a deal with a number of the unhappy students earlier today when they messed up my nap. In five days Princess Henrietta will be coming to the castle to judge the familiar exhibition. The evening before the exhibition we are going to have to go through a trial of nobility with the princess acting a judge. If we pass the trial they will leave us alone and if we fail we have to leave the castle."

"AH. No Therum you and Louise cannot risk your lives here just because some people are being mean to me it's not worth it."

"It wasn't my idea to risk my honor for yours; this is all his idea so he gets both the blame and praise depending on the outcome. I must sadly admit that it is a good idea though it is the easiest way to end this issue without Therum blowing up half the next generation of nobility."

"I am glad we are on the same page here then girls. Tomorrow we start preparing for our trials after I get the rules from that Francois dolt. I need to get a few things prepared for our training tomorrow if you will excuse me ladies."

"Louise you spend more time with him than I do. Does he ever get less crazy sounding?"

Louise sighed as she watched he familiar disappear, "unfortunately he tends to sound crazier as time goes on but I am learning that there is a method to his madness. I have little choice but to trust him in this matter. What's the worst that could happen?"

***BREAK***

Locked away safely in his room Therum had filled most of the center space with tables covered in all sorts of vials and odd looking pieces of equipment. To most the setup would not look too far out of place in the laboratory of a mad scientist. The only things that they might not recognize are the actual contents of the glasses that he was working with. As a self proclaimed scientist it only stands to reason that Therum would use precision chemistry equipment when making potions instead of the archaic tools that even the magi on earth still use.

"Hey Therum are you in here? Those guys finally finished the contract we need to give the Headmaster."

"I didn't think that they would have it ready until tomorrow. Have you looked at it yet?"

"No I thought it would be best if all of us looked at it together so that we can come up with the best plan of action as a team. Siesta should be here any minute now."

"Ok let me just put this project under stasis and we can take a look at it."

Poking he head into his room Louise couldn't make heads or tails of the equipment spread out over the place. "Where do you keep getting all of this stuff?"

"Each of those five trunks along the wall with my bed on it has a different collection of equipment magically shrunk in it. So as long as I have access to this place I have most of everything I should ever need. This stuff came out of the chemical and reagents chest. It is the smaller one there on the end where I keep things for making potions, poisons, ritual materials, and various other chemical concoctions. I advise keeping open flames away from that one when it is open. The other ones have things like cooking ingredients, adventuring equipment, precious metals and other trade items, and a full wardrobe. About the only thing I never thought to put in here is a bathroom."

"Miss Louise, Mister Therum are you in here?

"Yes Siesta we are through the door in the back of the room over by the window."

"Oh my goodness what is all this stuff?" Siesta has yet to build up the same resistance to the strange familiar's antics that Louise has.

"That is a secret for tomorrow but we can come back to that later. For now let's go to the other room and take a look at what these jackasses want us to do."

'We the students of the Tristain Academy of Magic have become bothered by the drop in quality that has recently befallen this once great school. There are a number of "students" here who do not meet the standards we believe this school to be founded upon. Therefore we have drawn up this document to officially insist that these plebeians be removed from the academy if they cannot meet the required standards. They must pass an act of culture, martial ability, courtly demeanor and a show of successful magic. The three accused Therum Magnus Louise de la Vallière and Siesta Sasaki must successfully complete three of the four given tasks each to be permitted to remain at our fine academy."

At the bottom of the pace were thirty or so signatures most likely the same as those in the lynch mob earlier. Not really thinking about it Therum took out his personal fountain pen and signed it with a flourish, leaving his signature shining on the page for all to see.

Siesta would you run this up to the head master for me and tell him that if he allows it we would like to comply with these student's challenge. Giving an affirmative Siesta took the letter and headed off to see the old man.

"If you need me I will be in my room finishing up my little project."

"Can I watch you work if I don't ask too many questions?"

"Ok but be careful some of the liquids are a little unstable and if you were to knock them around we might be in a little trouble. Like the explode to death kind of trouble"

"Ok I'll just sit over at the desk and watch from there." Neither person notices Louise's cape brushing against one of the smaller vials on her way in moving the bottle just a little closer to an open flame than is advised.

Thirty minutes later Therum let out a satisfied sigh. "It's done all I need to do now is let it simmer on low heat for another hour and my surprise will be ready assuming I didn't miss something."

Louise came over to take a closer look at what her familiar had been working on for the last few hours. In the small glass container was a fairly unassuming light blue liquid. "What is it?"

"That Louise is the closest thing you will ever find to liquid magic. I am going to use it as a teaching assistant with you and Siesta tomorrow. I have some of it already made but it is more potent if it is fresh."

Apparently "fresh" is the codeword that the vial from earlier had been waiting for because it chose that time to explode, causing a chain reaction with the few remaining reagents on the table that Therum hadn't gotten around to putting away yet. Seeing what was happening Therum grabbed Louise and pulled her in to shield her with his body. Fortunately his trusty coat took the brunt of the explosion due to its unique design otherwise the pair may have come away with more than the small cuts they got.

"Are you ok Louise a strikingly feminine voice asked?"

"Yes I think I am ok what happened." A deeper tenor returned, "Wait what's wrong with my voice?" the startled mage puller her hands up to feel her throat only to stop in shock these were not her hands at all. Then she noticed who was on the floor next to her. "Holy Founder Therum, why am I looking at myself right now and why do I sound like you?"

The 'Louise' next to Louise picked herself up off the ground and made an effort to brush the glass off her uniform. "I am not a hundred percent certain but I believe that an accidental reaction occurred that somehow magically switched our minds into the other's body." The voice was definitely Louise's but the tone of speech and a hint of Therum's accent shone through.

"You mean to tell me that I am going to be stuck in your body and you are going to be in mine?"

"Take it easy Louise it's not that bad I know how to reverse this fairly easily. The only downside is that I can only do it with a potion that takes four days to brew. We will just have to make the best of this situation until then."

"You mean I am going to be stuck like this for most of the next week? It only took a few seconds to screw us up why can't you just use some of your super magic to switch us back?"

"I can't just switch us back with a spell for two reasons. First reason I don't know exactly what caused the explosion and what reagents reacted with which and which ones just exploded. Second the only body switching spell I know of has to have a potion that takes four days to brew correctly. If I try to speed things up I could very well kill us both, and look at that there are huge burn marks through parts of my coat."

"What does your stupid coat have to do with me being stuck as my own familiar? You do realize that we have your stupid trial of nobility to deal with in the timeframe that your dumb potion will be brewing."

"I am well aware of that but it shouldn't matter too terribly much we will still pass with flying colors. As to why the coat is important, it was magically reinforced to be a piece of light battle armor. If whatever hit us could have burned through it, we would have been melted into goo. That is most of the reason I am upset. Now take off your shirt I need to look you over."

"What do you mean saying things like that to you master you perverted dog?"

Therum face palmed his/her face. "First off that is my body so I assure you that I have seen it naked a great many times already, and second I need to check you for burns. We are going to be living as the other for the next several days so unless you expect to not change clothes or bathe we are going to have very few secrets from the other by the end of this. You might as well get used to the idea because I am not going to live in a dirty body and I will not let you be slothful in mine."

Siesta returned a moment later to find what looked like Louise gently caressing Therum on her bed without his shirt on. 'This is just like one of the scenes from "The Master's Touch" that I read last night.' She was just about to leave when Louise turned and noticed the presence of another person in the room.

"Oh hello Siesta did things go well with the Headmaster?" she asked as if there were nothing unusual with the scene at large. "There was an explosion in the lab and this big oaf thought it would be a good idea to jump in front of the blast so now his master has to make sure his idiocy didn't do any lasting damage. As far as I can tell he just has a few bruises that should clear up in a few days." She punctuated her remark by slapping one noticeably discolored spot.

"Ouch you fool that hurt. You have a lot of nerve to slap me like that I should have you punished."

"You're fine you big baby. For an indestructible battle mage you sure do complain a lot over a little explosion. You didn't just have someone more than twice your size tackle you onto a hard floor. Look at this mess my uniform is ruined, this is coming out of your salary." At some point she had begun waiving her wand at the still shirtless man scolding him as if he were a small child.

"That explains a lot but can Mister Therum put his shirt back on now it is a little distracting having him sitting there randomly flexing."

Realizing what she had been doing Louise (in Therum's body) blushed slightly. "I'm not used to having all these muscles," she stated dumbly.

Tossing his black shirt at his master to shut her up, Therum quickly changed topics, "Did the Headmaster agree to the trial?"

"He thought it was a wonderful way to welcome the princess to the school. He even decided to throw a small dance to count as the courtly procedure trial."

"Excellent these idiots are playing right into my trap."

"What kind of trap Louise? I thought that this whole thing was Therum's idea."

"Eh, the trap where I prove that me and my familiar are the greatest ever!"

"I am a little worried about a couple of parts of this trial. All the serving staff is taught how to blend into a crowd and I am a pretty decent painter and flute player but I am very new at the whole magic thing. I've never dueled either who are they going to pit us against I don't want to fail and be sent away."

"Don't worry Siesta I am sure that Therum has a plan. Don't you familiar?"

Stuttering a bit while still messing with the shirt, "of course I do I did get us into this whole mess." Siesta was so relieved at hearing this that she missed the dirty look Louise gave Therum in her body.

"Get some sleep Siesta things are going to get busy tomorrow after our lessons, or so I am told."

After he walked Siesta out Therum made his way back to his room to take a survey of the damage. "This is why you magically protect all of your belongings Louise. If you will notice the only things that are destroyed in here are the beakers and the tables they were on. Ack and apparent my bed spread. Oh well no use crying about spilt milk I have a lab to put back together and a potion to brew so that we can get back to our proper bodies."

"Would you please bring me my coat from the other room Louise I want my personal wand from the pocket."

"Just because you are in my body does not mean that you can order me around. You are still my familiar and I am your master."

"I know that little master I was just asking you for a favor while I take survey of the damage. That is what friends do after all. Just remember while I am still your technically your familiar as long as you are in my body the runes on my hand will keep you from plotting harm to me. I on the other hand have nothing keeping me from destroying your reputation except out friendship and my naturally forgiving personality."

"You wouldn't dare do anything to my body would you?" asked Louise as she tossed the large coat at her own body.

Tapping a finger to Louise's chin, "I don't know there are some sensations that as a man I have never known. I am sure that I could get Guiche or even Kirche to help me explore a little."

Therum was unaware that his face could get that red whether from embarrassment or rage in uncertain. "You will do no such thing with my body! My first time will be special I will never let such a thing happen when I am not even there to experience it!" Definitely rage…

Removing his metallic wand from the interior pocket of his coat Therum began to clean and repair glassware as he taunted. "Ah, but see there lies the beauty of this situation you would never have to know about it. I know spells to erase ALL evidence of such times from happening except for the guilty parties memories. Hell I could turn Kirche back to an innocent girl if I felt like it."

Therum's body is still blushing most likely not from rage this time. "Still you won't do something like that will you? I wouldn't ever do such a thing while in your body."

Therum let out one of his token dry laughs which sounded strange coming from Louise's mouth. "I promise I will not defile your body in any way without your say so. As for my body if you get curious and find a willing FEMALE partner I don't care what you do with it I've probably done everything you could ever think of and then some. The only rule is no messing with dudes. I you do, when I get my body back I will kill him and then you, familiar runes be damned."

Louise sat on Therum's bed while she watched herself wordlessly turn scattered shards of glass turn back into their original shapes. "I really like having access to your magical reserves Louise but I think I can understand why you cause so many explosions. You really do seem to only be well suited for spells with no elemental affiliation. Near as I can tell your Void magic is a catch all category for strictly non-elemental spells I think you will do particularly well with spatial distortion and pure magic."

"What kind of spells are those? I have never heard of those kinds of magic."

"Here maybe a practical demonstration would be better. You know how you can levitate objects using a mix of wind and earth magic right." Louise nods. "Well using spatial distortion it is possible to move from one location to the next instantly. It's called teleporting. "

"That's impossible no spell is capable of doing that!" Louise's face took on Therum's predatory look number 3 and then disappeared with a small pop, then walked through the door on the opposite side of the room.

"Very little is impossible with magic, remember that Louise. As I was saying that was a lot easier with your body than it is in mine because I do not have an affinity for this kind of magic. It is theoretically possible for any mage to cast magic in any branch with the correct knowledge and instruction it is just a lot harder. It's a lot like trying to do a portrait with nothing but a pen. It can be done if you are a skilled artist but if you make any mistakes your efforts are wasted because there is so little room for error. That is most likely why you make explosions when trying to work with other branches."

"I've been meaning to ask, what is your affinity Therum I have seen you cast spells that could fit into all five elements?"

"I will make a deal with you Louise; if you can figure out my affinity by the end of your stay in my body I will teach you to teleport and give you one irrefutable order. If you can't figure it out by the time you are back in your own body you have to kiss Kirche on the mouth. What do you say?"

Louise grimaced at the thought of having to kiss her rival but accepted none the less. Having an absolute order over the cocky familiar was too tantalizing an offer to pass on.

"Good now go get ready for bed young man." Therum put on the best mothering act he could with a straight face. "The sooner I get this stupid potion brewed the sooner we can get back to our normal selves. Pajamas are in the chest closest to the bed just think what you want and the closest thing I have will filter to the top. If you want I will close my eyes while you change." The girly voice had switched from motherly to mirthful.

"I would rather close my own eyes," said Louise as she made her way to the chest he mentioned. 'I have never seen him wear anything but his black outfits and those clothes he wore on our trip into the city. I wonder if he has anything in blue silk.' Suddenly at the top of the chest was a complete pajama set consisting of boxers, pants and a long sleeve shirt in royal blue. 'Maybe he has some taste after all. I don't want to do this but I guess I have no choice. I have never even seen a nude male before. The only details I know are from the stories I hear from Kirche and those stupid books the maid, er Siesta, seems to like.'

Louise was completely oblivious to the fact that Therum was watching her turmoil in the reflective surface of a small mirror he had transfigured out of a test tube. 'Things like this are how I live without an internet connection. I only wish I could be there when it comes time to use a men's restroom.'

Eventually Louise managed to get changed into the silk pajamas and decided to try to get some sleep. The problem with this line of action is that while she is mentally exhausted the body she is in is not used to going to sleep so early so she was forced to lie awake for over an hour until she heard Therum come out of his room and open her closet. "What are you doing in there aren't you supposed to be working on that potion to fix us?"

"I already finished the prep work for the potion but it needs to simmer for four days now before it can be drunk. As to why I am in your closet, I need something other than this dirtied uniform to wear to bed. Nothing in my trunk will fit you so I chose to utilize the full wardrobe in your sizes. I'll be back in a bit I am going to shower the smell of chemical out of your hair."

Nearly another hour passed before Louise heard Therum return from the shower. "What took you so long to take a simple shower? You didn't do something shameful did you?"

"You are officially paranoid Louise it took me a while to find the women's showers first of all, then it took another long while to properly wash all this hair properly. The rest of the time was spent between some basic maintenance that you have either ignored or simply never heard of and being distracted by several of your classmate's bodies."

"You shameless dog, how dare you peep like that using my eyes! What if someone had caught you leering at them?" Then she realized the other part of what he said, "What maintenance do you speak of I am a model of hygiene."

"First off I am a master at looking at women without them knowing about it so nobody saw me. Second, let's just say that the only hair you have left on your body now is on your head. I was quite amused to find that the carpet does indeed match the drapes."

"What does that mean? What have you done to my body you pervert?"

"I have made it more comfortable and thoroughly cleaned it nothing else. I will see you in the morning." He then closed his door and locked it from the inside before his master could throttle him with his own hands.

***BREAK***

"Wake up Louise we have things to do today."

"I've been awake for an hour now this stupid body of yours won't let me sleep any longer."

"Oh I'm sorry but when a person has to wake up an hour before dawn every morning so that he can get himself washed and dressed before taking care of another, you get used to waking early. Put this on it will make our lives a little less difficult," he said tossing an amulet at the girl in his body. "That is a disguise amulet. It will make you look like the person wearing its partner which I am already wearing. You will still be in my body for a few days but everyone else will think you are yourself. Just be careful you should be able to do most of the spells they are teaching you now that you are casting with my affinities instead of yours."

"You mean that I won't have to deal with actually looking like I am in your body, but I will be able to use your magic?"

"What I am saying is that you will look and sound like your normal self, but this is only an illusion. If someone bumps into you or otherwise makes contact they will feel my body not yours. I would advise reporting yourself as being sick for the next several days."

"I think that that may be the best idea. We can use the time I would normally be in class to teach you and Siesta what it means to be a decent noble."

"Nope, Siesta still has to go to her normal classes and I don't want to start teaching you much magic until you are back to normal so we are going to be learning basic swordplay until she can join us later. I already know a good amount of how to behave regally I just choose not to, plus the princess loves us she would never let us fail. Now get dressed. We have a lot of work to do."

***BREAK***

Several hours later if anyone would have walked by they would have seen a scene that looked a lot like Louise beating the tar out of her familiar with a wooden sword. Therum insisted that they not wear the amulets due to the disorientation they tend to cause.

"Come on you girly man I know you can move faster than that. Hell I'm beat and I am still dancing circles around you."

"What are you talking about you have not given me any instruction all you did was bring me out here and started swinging a wooden sword at me. How am I supposed to do anything against that?"

"I've only mastered two types of swordplay, fencing and broadswords. Since Derflinger is going to be your primary sword I figured that broadswords with a splash of kendo would be the best thing to teach you. I learned through the hands on method and so will you. Nothing motivates a student like the threat of pain. Besides I taught you how to properly hold the sword and you have my muscle, that's more than I had at first."

"This is stupid I am never going to learn anything like this." Her statement was well punctuated by another blow to the stomach.

"You say that but you are lasting much longer than you did at the beginning of the session. The first few rounds were over before I could even get your soft little body sweating hard. That reminds me, I am starting you on an exercise regiment starting today, you are definitely not fat but you aren't fit either."

"What are you talking about I am a model of good health!"

"Health and fitness are related but they are not the same thing. We have been practicing all day only taking small breaks, do you feel tired?

"Not really, but it's hard to tell with so many bruises forming."

"That is because I am both healthy and physically fit. Your body is only standing right now because I am feeding it a trickle of magic to overcome exhaustion. Expect to feel very sore when you get your body back. If we hurry we might be able to catch dinner, but before we go come over here and let me patch you up a little."

All the pain Louise had been feeling faded away as Therum waved his wand over her. "That was amazing! Will I be able to do that too when I get my body back?"

"Not without a lot of control training. Like I said earlier, any mage should be able to cast any type of spell regardless of what they are naturally suited for it is just a matter of practice. You will never be able to have the proficiency with such magic as a high class water mage but you should be able to heal bruises like I just did. Then again that is about the extent of my own healing abilities. Alexander focused mainly on offensive magic so that is what I know the most about."

***BREAK***

The pair decided to have lunch in the kitchens with Siesta and the staff to minimize their interaction with the rest of the castle for the next few days. Louise insisted on being able to wear the disguise amulets so that she could talk to the people they passed in the hallways without having to try and sound like Therum. More importantly it kept her familiar from saying stupid things with her mouth that would make life even harder for her.

"Siesta after we finish here, would you be willing to come prepare for the trial with us for a few hours? I want to be sure that you will not have any trouble with the events."

"That would be most wonderful Therum."

"I have a few ideas that I would like to bounce off you lovely ladies that should definitely give us an advantage in a couple of the trial areas."

"What kind of advantage?" they both asked.

"The kind of advantage that will make the dueling phase of the contest nothing but a big joke. If you want to know more you will have to wait until we are in a more private location. It's not that I don't trust the staff but one can never be too careful." Enter predatory smirk variant three.

The promise of a secret advantage was all the two girls needed to finish their meals in a hurry and race to the tower housing Louise's room. Therum was already in the room sifting through what looked like a jewelry box when they arrived. "How did you beat us back here? There is only one way to get to this tower from the kitchens and you were doing the dishes when we left."

"Now Louise, a magician never reveals all of his secrets."
"AHHH, you are such a bothersome familiar! Why couldn't I have gotten something obedient like a gryphon or even a cat?"

"Tirade aside, I want to give you two ladies something that should help see you through anything a simple duel will throw at you. These rings are enchanted to take a set amount of physical or magical damage before they will need to be recharged by an enchanter. They are extremely valuable so please take care of them." He handed each girl a simple gold ring.

"Oh Therum how bold of you, inviting two young beauties to your room to offer them rings. I never knew you thought of me in that way." Siesta blushed furiously at Louise's implications.

The poor familiar was forced to face palm himself. "You have been hanging around me far too much little lady. I assure you both that I am not asking for your hands in marriage at this time. If you would prefer, you can always go into the duel without the ring."

"No," the girls shouted in unison.

"I thought as much, now on to the other matters of contest. I can help you with dueling and magic but you two are on your own for the arts and courtly manner parts. I know enough to skirt by but I am not going to try ant teach what I know incase it is completely wrong. "

"As a noble I have already been taught everything I need to know about those topics so I don't care if you skip them. I will help Siesta with whatever she doesn't already know from working here for the last few years."

"Thank you Louise that is very kind of you even though it is my fault that you two have to go through with this whole trial."

"Nonsense, you are my friend and I would shame my family if I backed down from this. The whole thing is Therum's idea anyway; if anyone should apologize it's him."

"Enough idle chatter girls! I have three nights to teach you two enough magic and combat to deal with whatever these louts throw at you. I know a handful of very simple but effective spells in all five elements I want to teach you and you two have to work hard to learn as many of them as you can."

Siesta gave Louise a look that plainly said 'maybe getting kicked out isn't such a bad option.'

***BREAK***

At the end of the time the trio had for preparation both girls had at least gotten a basic grasp on all the spells Therum had for them to learn. Louise even got to learn her first couple of void like spells that she should be able to cast with her own body. The princess was due to arrive within the hour so training was skipped that afternoon so that the participants could get ready for the welcoming dance that would double as their exhibition.

"Louise come in here quickly!"

"What are you yelling at Therum I am trying to get this body of yours presentable for the dance?"

"Don't bother the potion is ready. You will be able to participate as yourself. I look better a little scruffy anyway."

"You mean it! I don't have to deal with this bulky smelly excuse for a body anymore?"

"Yes that is exactly what I am saying you get your tiny frail exterior back and I can finally stop having to use a step stool to reach my books." Realizing something, "I am not that smelly."

"Oh yes you are. I have had to have your bowel movements for the last several days. I am so glad I do not have to share a restroom with you."

Smiling, "Think of it as a learning experience, you will appreciate your own physique more now that you have literally walked a few miles in a man's shoes. I am just glad that I didn't have to deal with you during your monthly cycle. There are some secretes that men should never experience."

"Stop saying such embarrassing things and tell me what I have to do to get back to normal!"

"Alright little master I will stop teasing you for now. All you have to do is drink half the potion and kiss the person who drinks the other half." He said with an intentional dismissive shoulder shrug.

"That's not so bad. Wait did you say KISS, as in on the mouth?"

"Yes, and there has to be saliva exchange so a little tongue is the most effective way to do things."

"If it will get me back to normal I guess there is no choice," Louise said quietly. "You better not think anything of this I am only kissing you to get myself back to my proper body."

"Technically you are kissing yourself but I get the point." Not waiting for another comeback Therum handed one of the vials to Louise and drank his own. As soon as she finished the smoking liquid he pulled his own face into a passionate kiss that lasted about ten seconds.

"Did it work?"

"Well seeing as I am back to looking down on you I would probably hazard a guess that It worked. Now if you will excuse me I have something I need to do." Sprinting to the hallway he did a series of back flips down the hall and back to his semi shared living quarters. "Damn it feels good to be able to do that again."

"If you are done fooling around now, we still have to finish getting ready."

"If you haven't noticed I already have you washed and your makeup has been applied. All you need to do is pick a dress and do your hair. I'll be out in twenty."

"Wait, how do you know how to apply makeup to a girl?"

"I spent a few a few years as a thespian. You tend to pick these things up."

True to his word Therum reemerged form his room twenty minutes later. He was wearing a simple but elegant black three piece Armani suit complete with his magically repaired overcoat. Louise had also chosen to go simple wearing an ankle length blue gown with her hair in a single elegant braid.

Giving the girl a once over Therum let out a low whistle. "We are going to make the rest of these people look so bad it isn't funny." This elicited a small giggle and a blush from the girl.

"I might but you still look like a foreigner in that outfit. We need to get you some clothes that actually blend into a crowd."

"That's hurtful Louise I even wore my sword so that I would look like nobility. I could have worn my boots and spurs if I wanted to really stand out."

:Sigh: "Let's just go get Siesta and make our way to the dance."

***BREAK***

"My, don't you look lovely my dear, is that a new dress?" The poor girl turned redder than the gown she was wearing.

"I made it myself when I learned that I would be going to my first ball I couldn't afford a really nice dress."

"Are you kidding? I think your dress has better stitch work than mine does. Just look at how well the embroidery flows with the rest of it."

"It's really nothing. My mother taught me to sew before I moved to the academy. I sometimes do alterations and repairs for some of the students here to make a little extra money. Oddly enough Sir Guiche has always been my best customer."

"Miss Sasaki would you do Miss Vallière and myself the honor of gracing us with your presence for this evening's festivities?" He bowed slightly and placed a kiss on her knuckles. Fighting back a swoon she accepted and the three made their way to the academy's small ballroom.

The dance was unsurprisingly dull for the first hour before the princess arrived. Both Louise and Siesta had accepted dance offers from a couple of men because they knew their performance was being judged by someone. Therum even got dragged into a dance with each girl, surprising both with his remarkably refined dancing ability. Just as he was finishing his waltz with Louise a set of trumpets announced the arrival of Her Majesty Henrietta de Tristain crown princess of the realm. Upon her entrance along with a cleverly disguised Agnes in a dress the whole audience took a knee except for one. The lone rebel actually had the gall to walk directly up to the princess and kiss her had in front of everyone. Agnes was half way to unsheathing her sword when she recognized the impudent young man in the strange suit.

"Greetings your highness and welcome to our little soirée. It makes my heart soar that you have graced us with your radiant beauty this evening. If I might be so bold might I ask you for the first dance?"

"Sir Magnus you flatter me too much. I will gladly accept your offer to dance. I hope you have been taking good care of my dear friend Louise." Therum lead Henrietta out into the middle of the dance floor where the crowd had opened up a spot for the pair.

"I can happily announce we have gotten to know each other better than most will ever know another person." Noticing that his partner had missed a step he realized what he had just said. "I did not mean to imply that we have entered a physical relationship, merely that we are very close." Therum took a little pride in his self. It isn't every man who can make a princess turn red. "I must say Henrietta you dance divinely"

"It is I that must commend you on your skills I am simply following your lead. I can almost understand why you accepted such a ridiculous challenge of character tonight. It takes a truly noble individual to risk their own status for that of another. What were you thinking when the issue was brought against you?"

"It was not brought against me I was the challenger. I am not sure if you have heard but the black haired girl over there in red was a common maid the last time we met. Since then I pulled a few strings to get her admitted into this academy and some of the students did not like that. I taunted them into this ordeal to prove that nobility is more than a birth right."

"You truly are an interesting familiar for my Louise. I assure you that you have all passed the first trial with flying colors and I hope you do as well the rest of the night."

"Thank you for your favor your majesty. I have greatly enjoyed our dance together but I must go have a talk with the band for a moment." Leaving a small kiss on her cheek he disappeared into the crowd heading over to the orchestra.

As she watched the mad disappear she raised a gloved hand to her cheek, "an interesting familiar indeed."

Suddenly all the music stopped and the audience turned to see a man in excited conversation with the band. They talked for a minute or so until the director and the man shook hands and a stack of papers was passed around to the players. The stranger shouldered a violin and turned to address everyone else.

"Good evening ladies and gentlemen I am Therum Venenatus Magnus familiar to Louise Francois le Blanch de la Vallière. As many of you know this dance was thrown as a precursor to a trial three of us are to face tonight in order to stay at this fine academy. I am not sure what the results are going to be but if I do have to leave tomorrow I wish to have fun tonight. That said I am now going to help lead the band in some more lively musical choices. There is no set dance to this music so please have fun with it."

Finishing his little speech the familiar started playing a lively piece that would not have been too far out of place in the American old west. It took the orchestra am moment to get a feel for the new kind of music but they shortly joined in to create a much livelier atmosphere. Louise was half way to throttling her servant before she got swept up into the dance by a boy she had seen around the school but didn't know his name.

Fifteen minutes into his performance Therum noticed a crime happening to a pretty young lady that he simply couldn't allow. Leaving the band to fend for themselves in what was rapidly becoming an improve performance he made his way over to the lady in question. "Lady Agnes may I have this dance with you?"

Seemingly shaken out of a deep thought the turned to decline the latest offer, but felt herself being dragged onto the dance floor. "I really don't dance sir," she tried weakly.

"I am sorry but I cannot allow a woman as lovely as you to stand on the sidelines while everyone else has a good time." Agnes finally recognized the person she was now dancing with.

"I am not here to dance Mister Magnus. My sole purpose here tonight is to make sure that the princess is safe."

"You can do a much better job of protecting her if you are closer can't you? Therefore not only are you now doing your job better now, but you look a lot less conspicuous too."

She was about to object when her partner seamlessly switched with another couple leaving her dancing with another smiling noble boy.

"Oh Mister Therum it's you! I love this new music you introduced where did you learn it?"

"It is the equivalent of old peasant music where I come from Siesta; just don't tell any of the other nobility here they might be insulted that they actually had fun dancing like a normal person." They danced for a few minutes longer before Therum saw a very specific braid swaying by and he preformed another switch. "Enjoying the Dance Louise?"

"Oh yes it has been great fun. I was going to be mad at you when you started talking with the musicians but now I can't be angry at you for it if I try."

"I am glad to hear you are having fun. Now if you will excuse, me I need to get the ball rolling on the rest of the trial before it gets too late." One final switch left Therum back in the arms of the princess.

She was laughing like she probably hadn't in years. "Oh you truly are a man of many surprises Mister Magnus I truly look forward to what you will do next."

"I hate to ruin your evening Henrietta but it is about time to start the rest of the trials before it gets too late. We do still have the familiar exhibition tomorrow."

"Very well sir, but only on one condition."

"Anything for you milady."

"One slower dance with me, I need to regain my composure." Therum signaled the band at the end of the song and they switched back to a slow waltz. At the end of the final dance Henrietta curtsied to her partner and went to the stage to address the audience.

"Welcome everyone this evening to what has already proven to be a fantastic evening. As was stated earlier this ball has another purpose, to test the nobility of three of the attendees here tonight. I ask at this time that these three step forward to begin the tests. Therum Louise and Siesta stepped out in front of the rest of the audience who were slowly making their way to the back of the hall. "You three have been challenged by your peers to perform four acts of nobility with me as your judge. I declare that you all have already passed the trial of courtly conduct and shall now move on to the test of culture. I have heard that all three of you possess some musical talent so your test of culture will be to play one final waltz so that the musicians who played so finely may also enjoy a dance this evening.

"I didn't know that either of you played an instrument. "

"You aren't the only one full of surprises familiar. I learned to play the harpsichord at a very young age and Siesta has shown me that she is a lovely flautist."

"In that case let's not disappoint our audience. I'll lead in on the fiddle and you two jump in at any time."

The mixture of the three instruments was a bit odd and a little hard to hear until someone cast an amplification spell on the stage so that the music could be heard by all. In the end the dance went smoothly and another task was written off as another success.

"Marvelously done all three of you next shall be the test of martial prowess to be decided by a duel. Each contestant will face off against one of their peers from their school year."

What about the familiar?" someone shouted. "He isn't a student and he is supposed to be an expert swords man"

"Sir Magnus will face off against my Knight Captain Agnes as his opponent. That should keep the contest fair for all. First to go will be Siesta Sasaki do we have a challenger?" A girl raised her hand just barely visible over the crowd. When she finally made it to the front Therum recognized her as the poor first year girl Guiche had been two timing.

"I will face off against the commoner Your Majesty." Her face did not match the bravery in her voice.

"Excellent," Henrietta clapped her hands together. "The rules are simple, no deadly attacks and the first one to either be knocked out or admit defeat loses. Begin!"

At the princesses demand the two girls began circling each other. Katie opened first with a strong gust of wind that barely missed Siesta and sent the music sheets flying all over the room. Siesta countered with a jet of icy water that hit her opponent directly in the face. Not something that wins a duel but it sure is funny to watch. Katie cast a drying spell on herself and then sent a levitation spell at Siesta that took her about ten feet in the air and then dropped her. The shield ring wasn't designed to stop non attack spells but it did absorb the force of Siesta's fall much to the surprise of Katie. After regaining her footing the former maid decided to use one of the spell she learned from Therum that week. "DORMIO," she cast. The poor girl didn't know what hit her before she was quietly slumped on the floor sleeping soundly.

"We have a winner showing both the ability to act under pressure and an acceptable array of spells. I say that this girl has passed all four tests with flying colors and will remain a student at this school." The princess shook Siesta's hand and congratulated her once again. "Next up will be Louise de la Vallière who will be her opponent?" There was literally a thunder of offers to contest Louise before Guiche stumbled to the front of the crowd.

"Seeing as I have already faced off against her familiar, it would make the most sense that I be allowed to spar with Louise as her opponent."

"It is decided then Louise de la Vallière will face off against Guiche de Gramont. The rules are the same no lethal force and the first to give up is the looser. Begin!"

"Therum didn't beat you bad enough the first time you had to face me too Guiche?"

"The difference this time is that you don't have a big fancy sword to fight off my Valkyrie with," the haughty boy said as he summoned his trademark golem.

"That is where you are wrong Guiche I do have a sword and Therum has been teaching me how to use it recently."

"If you have such a sword where is it Zero there is no way that you could be hiding it in that dress."

"It is in my room right now I didn't need to bring it with me to the dance."

"Whole lot of good it is going to do you there Louise my Valkyrie will beat you senseless before your familiar can retrieve it for you."

"He won't need to I have been practicing a very handy spell." Therum almost had to wipe a tear from his eye when she used his predatory smirk number three. She then chanted the one spatial distortion spell he had managed to teach her. "Ad me mea potens socium."

There was a bright flash when she finished casting. In her previously empty hand was a rather large sword. She untied the bottom ruffle on her dress and unsheathed the blade. "Next time you call partner try to be a little gentler about it would you? I am a very old artifact of war not some common rock."

"We can talk about this later Derflinger right now I need you to help me beat this golem."

"Got it partner let him have it I have a couple of tricks up my scabbard for magical constructs."

Louise rushed at the Valkyrie that seemed to move a lot slower than Therum had in her body during their sparing sessions. Nobody would mistake the girl's wild swings for masterful strokes but they were more than a match for the poor golem. Finally shocked out of his stupor Guiche summoned three more Valkyries to send after Louise. She dispatched the first two without too much difficulty but the third had managed to sneak behind her and land a blow with the shaft of its spear. The force was enough to knock her off her feet even with the protection of her ring. The Valkyrie was about to finish its job when the princess called for a halt of action.

"There will be no bloodshed tonight. Louise has demonstrated a basic proficiency in combat skill seeing as she dispatched three opponents before being taken down. She may have been able to recover from her fall but I am unwilling to risk that. Coupled with the unknown spell she cast to summoned her sword from thin air I announce Louise as having passed all her trials. The last match will be Sir Therum and Lady Agnes."

"Your Majesty, I did not bring my sword tonight all I have with me is a dagger and a set of pistols it will not be a fair fight."

"If it would please your majesty I have several spare swords I would happily lend one to Agnes for our match. What type of sword do you prefer to fight with milady?"

"I can fight with any blade but I prefer long hand and a half or two handed blades."

Therum unbelted the sword he had been wearing throughout the evening and handed it to Agnes. "Will this one work for your taste?"

"This is your sword I cannot take an unfair advantage from your using an unfamiliar blade."

"That is just the one that I wore on my belt tonight because it is plain and unimposing." He pulled the shrunken Aurora from his pocket and enlarged it the same way he did for the duel with Guiche. "This is my favorite sword. It is more or less the same as the one in your hand only it has a few more enchantments. None of which should affect the outcome of our match"

Feeling a little more at ease Agnes ties the sword around her waist and unsheathed it to take a few practice swings. "This sword is nearly four feet in length but is remarkably light and agile. I don't recognize the sheen of the metal what is it made of?"

"It is made of a metal called Titanium and it's spelled to never break or go dull. If you give me a good match you can keep it. I'll even get it engraved for you too."

"Are you two done talking about your swords yet? We really should get on with the match." It was hard to tell who was more shocked by the princesses playful jibe the combatants or the audience. "As this is a match between two expert combatants, this will be decided by first blood drawn from the torso. Begin!"

If the other two matches had been exciting this one put them both to shame when combined. Therum was definitely the stronger of the two but what she lacks in strength, Agnes makes up for in speed and skill. To the two combatants nobody else in the room existed. Neither has faced an opponent of the other's skill in a very long time. The victor quickly became unimportant all that mattered right then was the fight. Of the hundred or so people watching the fight only a small handful could even follow what was happening as the duel stretched past the twenty minute mark. Louise came to realize just how easy her familiar had gone on her while training even if he had been in her body. Guiche on the other hand now truly understood how close to death he came when he challenged this man to a fight. As the contest was closing in on thirty minutes both combatants made a mad lunge at each other and wound up behind the other. It looked like they were going to start up again when Therum raised his hands and admitted defeat pointing to a small tear in his suit's vest. Touching the tear he held up a faintly red finger tip.

"She got me fair and square. I went in for an attack and missed by a hair."

"No," everyone turned to look at Agnes this time noticing that she was fiddling with one of the straps on her dress that had been cut clean through. "You got me a little on the collar bone, which counts as torso too."

"We have a tie then. I think that this man has more than proved his martial abilities, unless someone else would like to test him." There was a surprising lack of volunteers coming forward. "That makes three trials down Sir Therum you don't happen to have any hidden magical talents that you would like to show tonight do you?"

"Sadly Your Majesty I do not have any other talents to show off tonight, at least not in polite company." 'Magnus two blushing princess zero.'

"That is a shame but seeing as you only needed to pass three trials, you will be allowed to remain at the academy with the others. Congratulations on your success everyone, I declare this trial of nobility over goodnight to you all." She leaned in to whisper so that only Therum could hear her, "If I weren't engaged already I might have taken you up on those other talents." 'Magnus two princess one.

Still a little thrown off and what Henrietta had implied, he failed to notice Agnes approaching him. "Here is your sword back it is most definitely a fine blade."

"It's not my sword, I told you it's yours if you gave me a good match and I can't remember a better one in recent history."

"A pen is one thing but an enchanted sword made of an unknown metal is too great a gift to accept. I looked at the blade there isn't a single chip anywhere on it."

"I have plenty of swords Agnes, you earned that one. You will insult my honor if you do not take it. Besides I already had it engraved."

"Nonsense I just looked at it not two minutes ago." Sure enough when she unsheathed it again the side of the blade now read 'Agnes, a girl worth fighting with.' "How did you do that? Do you have a mage working with you just to get on my nerves?"

"Dear lady you wound me I would never do such a terrible thing to such a fine beauty."

"I'll make you think wounded." She took the blade in hand and appeared to have every intention of bludgeoning the man with it. Seeing this Therum did the smartest thing he had done all night and ran for his life.

"Louise it would appear as if your familiar has done something to earn the ire of my Captain would you like to bet on what he did this time?"

"I can honestly say your majesty that with him I can't even begin to guess. I can guarantee, however, that he deserves whatever she does to him." The princess let out a very non-regal laugh.

"I think that he is a fine man and any lady would be lucky to have him. I know it is late but would you care to have tea with me in your room in about twenty minutes? That should give me enough time to escape my retainers and meet up with you."

"Nothing would make me happier princess I will see you shortly." A very happy Louise skipped off to her room completely careless of what foul torture was becoming her familiar.

A/N There you have it folks, another chapter done with. I know that I said that this would cover the familiar exhibition but it was already getting lengthy so I decided to cut it a little short. The next chapter should be up within a week or so and it will for sure cover the staff of destruction and the exhibition. As usual if you love it or hate it let me know. I'll even take flames to heat my morning tea with.