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Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ
Pontegana, Ticino, Switzerland – 1525 AD
Ezio ran. He ran and ran and ran as fast as he possibly could, hoping his pursuers would lose him.
The chances for that were slim, unluckily. Ezio was not as fast as he used to be in his youth.
"STOP THAT MAN!" someone yelled behind him.
Ezio couldn't help but smile. Some things, however, never really changed.
The elderly Assassin quickly ran into a quiet side street between two buildings, breathing heavily all the while, his limbs and lungs on fire and hoping to get to the main gate of the Pontegana fortress without any trouble. Well, less trouble than he already was in now after killing the Templar Master in charge of the Ticino fortress. The night and his black cloak and armour helped to blend in with the darkness, confusing the castle's guards.
Ezio turned a corner and was suddenly faced the wall of the fortress. He swore violently. A dead end.
He turned around to see his pursuers coming to a slow halt a few steps from him. They were justifiably wary of coming any closer after seeing the easy manner in which he had killed several guards and the Master of the fortress himself.
A wise decision, but ultimately useless.
Ezio used their moment of hesitation, throwing a smoke bomb right at their feet. A cloud of black smog exploded at their feet, sending the armed men reeling and coughing, the acrid smoke burning their eyes into uselessness and clogging their lungs.
In another time, long ago, Ezio would have slaughtered all these men in mere moments before continuing his escape. Now, burdened with old age and lacking speed and strength, he could only flee in what he couldn't help but think was a cowardly manner.
Still, he fled by climbing up the fortress wall. Cowardly or not, Assassins fled with a certain panache.
As he neared the top of the rampart, a helmeted head peeked over its ledge, trying to take a look at the confusion below. One quick grab of the hooked blade in Ezio's gauntlet, and the crossbowman was sent tumbling down the side of the wall, screaming in terror. A sickening crunch ended the scream quite suddenly.
Ezio was already on top of the rampart by then, running along it to the nearest watch tower. Another guard tried to stop him, his throat getting slit with a quick twist of the hidden blade before he could scream out a warning. Ezio was already five steps further when the man collapsed in a bloody heap.
The guards stationed in the watch room of the tower had been playing a card game as the alarm sounded and just stared at Ezio as he suddenly broke into the room with a solid kick to the door. For a mere moment, guards and Assassin were in a silent standoff.
All that Ezio's pursuers saw and heard a moment later was a sudden explosion and flames licking at the stonework of the watch room's apertures from the inside, the bloodcurdling screams of the dying inside making them hesitate for a mere moment.
Hesitation was Ezio's friend. He was already gone when they dared to peek into the destroyed guard chamber and its mangled occupants, continuing to run on top of the wall towards his destination on the tower's other side.
Bells started ringing all over the fortress, adding to the cacophony of trampling boots, yelled curses and oaths, and barked orders. Ezio flitted through the night, grabbing a torch hanging on a wall and throwing it with practiced ease onto the roof of a nearby building below before racing on. The wood easily caught fire. The whinnies of terrified equines echoed piercingly through the night. Panicked screams ensued. "Water!" "Form a bucket line, bastardi, or the whole keep will go up in flames!" "Get the horses out, and then rein them in! They'll bolt!"
Apparently, he'd picked a stable as his target. Excellent.
Ezio kept pushing the confused guards that were milling about out of his way with quick shoves as he continued on the direct route to his goal. A few guards tried to stop him as they recognized him, but were either silenced by a blade to the gut or sent stumbling from the walls by the wicked grab of the hookblade.
Thank you, Yusuf, the Florentine Assassin thought warmly. You keep saving my life after all these years, even here.
Then Ezio saw his salvation and smiled. The fortress's outermost bastion, a large wall of thick stonework perched over a sheer precipice overseeing a river and the outlying forests, presumably where a large cannon had once stood to bombard approaching foes. Ezio kept running towards its very tip, with guards high at his heels, victory close.
"HALT, Assassin!" a loud voice roared.
Standing on the very rampart of the bastion over a drop of a few hundred feet into a river, Ezio nevertheless felt compelled by curiosity to obey. He turned around slowly, knowing that his black eagle-beaked hood would conceal his features from the torches carried by his pursuers. Making him appear even more terrifying and mysterious was just an added bonus.
Ezio came face to face with a large group of guards trying to encircle him on the bastion. The men themselves seemed to be various shades of angry, unsure, terrified and anxious, nervously hefting their swords, pikes, and arquebuses. They were led by a young man wearing rather fine clothes and a sword sheathed at his side, an arrogant expression on his face. A noble, no doubt.
Ezio couldn't help but be interested. This man had called out to him, knowing full well who—or rather what—he was. This should be interesting.
The man looked at him, his face red with fury and his voice quavering angrily. "You killed the Master."
Ezio didn't bother denying it, still standing on the lone rampart and staring, using the opportunity to get his laboured breath back after the lastest exertion of climbing the wall during his flight. An extremely nervous arquebusier hefted his firearm only to have the barrel roughly slapped down by the finely clothed man. The weapon went off with a loud crack of gunpowder, badly startling the guards as a rampart close to Ezio exploded into shards of stone.
"No!" the man hissed angrily at his quivering subordinate as the Assassin watched calmly. "We need him alive! Or at least recover his body!"
Ezio smirked slightly as he realized what the Templar's trouble was. So that is what he's after. How predictable.
The man turned to the robed Assassin. "I honestly don't care whether you killed the old fart or not," the man sneered. "I thought of doing him in myself, but you beat me to the punch. However, you stole something from this castle that is not yours to keep."
He made a wide sweeping motion with one arm, indicating his men. "We have you cornered, and there is no escape except a drop to certain death in the river below, or certain death at the hands of my men!"
A sly smile. "I'm quite willing to let bygones be bygones, though – if you do something for me." He arrogantly held out an open hand, utterly confident in his perceived superiority. "Hand over the Apple now, and I will let you live."
Ezio chuckled, a quiet sound that was yet easily heard by the nervous guards. "'It's not yours to keep', you said?" He spoke in a quiet voice, its tone rough and tired, but nonetheless distinctly amused. "It is mine by right of conquest. I fought your Master for it and I won, taking it from his dead hands as his blood pooled on the floor of his chambers."
A wicked grin became visible under his hood, unnerving the already rattled guards. "If you want it returned, you should be prepared to take the same risks. It's only fair, wouldn't you agree?"
The man drew his sword, a look of murder in his eyes. "I will fight you for it, Assassin. Make no mistake. And then I will hunt down the rest of your ilk, your children, your family, your friends, and destroy them and everything else you hold dear."
"Are you, now? Then what exactly are you waiting for? I could probably find me a woman or two to give me company in the time you've prattled on," Ezio taunted. "The Templars are rather known these days for making asinine speeches instead of fighting, as real men ought to! Or at least that's what your mother said when I visited her last night, cane!"
The crude but simple taunt worked well on the proud young man. Far too well. The Templar roared in anger and stormed towards Ezio at a speed that surprised the old Assassin, expecting the noble to be far slower and out of shape. The man leapt at him with his sword set to stab Ezio through the chest, leaving the Florentine little space to dodge.
The sounds of blades tearing flesh were heard in the sudden silence. Ezio's breath left him in a sudden gasp of pain as he registered the sword stabbed through a gap of his breastplate into his chest – he had only been able to move a few centimetres to the side before metal hit flesh. Not far enough. Age had slowed down his reflexes too much.
Some of them, but not all.
The Templar stared with fury at Ezio, his throat making gargling sounds as he tried to speak. The hidden blade spearing his throat made it impossible, his blood flowing freely over Ezio's gauntleted hand.
Ezio smiled wanly. "Looks like we'll die together, then." He moved the blade sideways, blood spurting forth in a wide arc as the Templar was half decapitated, killing him instantly. "Requiescat en pace."
And then both toppled from the ramparts, Ezio falling backwards into darkness and hoping that his faith would be enough to save him.
Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ
In another world, similar to the one Ezio knew and yet different, a young girl was kneeling in front of an altar in a small chapel, bathed in the light falling through a window whose frame was shaped like a sword, throwing the shadow across her face.
She was praying with her hands folded and her eyes closed. She was considered nobility, chosen amongst her people for her gifts and power, unafraid to rule and fight with the power that God, His Founder, and His Saints had granted her.
But she was still young. And she was afraid.
Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ
Ezio stumbled through the dark woods, water dripping from his soaked robes. He'd done it. He'd actually done it. He had fallen wounded into a river from a sheer drop of several hundred feet, survived, and then dragged himself through the forest, unseen and unhindered by any pursuers. He'd done it.
Behind him, Pontegana burned, the fortress a flaming torch in the otherwise dark night.
Ezio tripped on a low branch in the darkness, his mind going blank with pain for a moment as coughs shook him, loud racking sounds that couldn't possibly be healthy. When Ezio took a look at his gauntleted hand in the moonlight, he saw that the leather and armour had been stained by a dark black liquid, one that Ezio knew would have been dark red if he'd seen it by the light of day.
Well, he may have escaped unhindered, but evidently not uninjured.
Ezio tried to wipe his hand clean on his robes, but it proved futile – the dark robes and armour of the ancient Mentor of the Hashishim were already stained with blood. Lightheaded, Ezio realized that the Templar had managed to drive his sword into a small unprotected gap in the side of the indestructible armour – whether by luck or design, he couldn't tell.
The old Assassin cursed his arrogance as he continued to walk slowly through the dark woods. He'd been a fool to take up the Templar's challenge. Why didn't he just jump off the cliff in the confusion and flee, like he originally planned to? Why didn't he!
Pride, he realized with sudden clarity.
He snorted humourlessly, his every breath hurting. Ezio thought he had lost that a long time ago. How foolish of him.
After a while – Ezio couldn't tell how long, he simply dragged himself through the dark forest, his mind clouded by pain and blood loss – he reached the clearing where he'd tethered his horse to a tree. A quick use of his gifts to scan the environs came up with nothing but the horse's silhouette. He hadn't been followed.
He looked through the trees behind him, and saw the flickering torch in the dark landscape that Pontegana had become. Ezio smirked, finding a little humour where none ought to be. Presumably, the Templars were still busy dousing their fortress. Even the rain that was starting to fall now wouldn't help them to save it from the raging inferno he had engulfed it in.
He continued on his staggering way through the clearing. The horse, borrowed from a friend in Milano and tethered to a tree, whinnied softly in fear as it smelled the blood on his robes. Ezio blacked out for a moment as he approached, managed to catch himself around the horse's neck before he crashed to the ground. He patted the horse's neck slowly as it threatened to bolt in a panic. "Shh, amica, it's alright, we're safe, everything is fine..."
Ezio honestly had no idea why he was trying to talk to a horse. Perhaps he was trying to reassure himself?
...No matter. It worked; the scared animal was calming down. Ezio patted the horse's head weakly once more before taking stock.
He examined his robes and armour. They were soaked with blood, the water of the river and the rain doing nothing to wash out the dark fluid. And most of it still isn't mine, Ezio thought with another touch of dark humour. Mario would have approved.
Another bout of pain from his wound lanced through his side, and Ezio grasped his open wound. His vision went dark, and he collapsed bonelessly against the tree trunk he'd tethered the horse to, his mind nearly blacking out as he crashed into an undignified heap of dark robes and even darker blood. He felt as if a heavy stone had been set into his lung, every breath requiring effort and lancing pain through his entire body.
He tried to think to think of other things, anything to take his mind off the torture he felt. Faces and voices swam through his mind, some alive, some dead, some of them family, others lovers, all friends, all of them offering comfort.
Images of a mansion in long forgotten times. Laughter, smiles, and feathers.
Papa... Mama... Federico... Pettrucchio... Claudia...
Other images. Bonfires over canals, the skyline of an Italian city, the walls of an old fortress.
Christina... Rosa... Caterina...
Vineyards, the sun shining on the hills. A smiling woman picking flowers for the dinner table, an old man teaching his son to climb the side of his pastel-white mansion as both laugh and joke. A girl giggling as her mother puts a spare flower in her hair, both amused by the antics of the men in their life. A student watching from the sidelines, trying to hide her endeared smile and failing, reaching out to help up her mentor as he tumbles to the floor after roughousing too much with his son.
Sofía... Flavia... Marcello... Jun…
The pain subsided slowly, now only a dull ache instead of the lancing suffering that it had been just before. Ezio noticed that his hand was clenched over his wounded side tightly, blood still spilling forth between closed fingers. His body was shaken by spasms, and he took a deep, belaboured, painful breath, forcing himself to relax.
Again, he looked at the blood on his hands. Could he treat this injury? He'd done it before, after all, but only on others... And even then, not all had survived. Could he really treat a wound this deep?
...He'd try, he'd always try, he'd never give up, but what was the point?
Something nudged his cowl and he felt the huff of a warm breath on his face. Ezio looked up weakly. The horse had approached carefully, nudging his own cowled head hesitantly with its soft muzzle.
With a draining effort, Ezio's hidden blade shot out of its bracer, two quick slashes severing the bridle and straps of the saddle, the leathery contraption falling to the ground with a heavy thud. The blade retracted, and the horse shook its head, cantering once or twice, unsure.
Ezio used his now free hand to pat the horse's head affectionately. "Go now, mía amica," the old man whispered. "I am sorry for never learning your name, but you have my thanks. Return to your master in Milano. I have no more need for you, and you no longer have need for me."
No one does, now.
Ezio's weakening hand dropped, and he closed his eyes, trying to collect himself and accept the darkness that would be coming soon. A moment later, he felt something nudging his cowl again, hearing a quiet whinny as warm, damp breath engulfed him, keeping the growing cold at bay.
He smiled warmly. "Not abandoning me, are you? Benedetto really is a genius. I'll have to thank him for breeding such faithful companions..."
Ezio closed his eyes, relaxing and listening to the falling rain.
Just rest for a moment...
His eyes snapped open as he heard a low buzzing sound, repeating itself continuously, quiet but insistent.
I nearly forgot about that thing...
Ezio fumbled inside a pouch on his belt, retrieving the object he'd stormed the Templar fortress for. The object he'd killed and been killed for, a fact he could now resignedly accept.
He hefted the large round object in his hand, its weight heavy and reassuring. Lights played along the veins in its surface, pulsing like a beating heart, changing colour every other moment, the only light in the darkness of the night.
Another Apple of Eden, saved from the clutches of greedy Templars.
As his vision began to swim and darken, Ezio watched the Apple, fascinated as the colours on its surface began to change at even quicker intervals; changing fast, fast, fast–
And then flashing brightly once.
Λ Λ Λ Λ Λ
Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière was very, very worried.
It was bad enough that all the students of her year were assembled in the courtyard of the Academy. Louise hated social gatherings of any kind. She loathed them with an absolute passion that bordered on the fanatical, always seeking excuses when her presence was required at some official function or another.
Unfortunately, as a member of the country's nobility and the third child of a powerful duke and a renowned sorceress, there was always some duty she was required to fulfil. Louise hated to see the looks everyone gave her when she entered the room, whispering behind held hands when they thought she couldn't hear. They didn't realise that Louise had very sharp hearing. For once, that wasn't a good thing.
Yet, for once, she wouldn't have minded being at this particular 'social' event she was attending. Everybody's attention was on the student standing in the middle of the courtyard, five steps in front of a complicated circle containing carefully measured geometric shapes and bordered by beautiful runic symbols carved into the ground at regular intervals. Louise checked them with a critical eye. They were the best that this particular student could muster, which was satisfactory at best. Still, as roughly drawn and simple as they were, they did their intended job well.
The blond student continued chanting, perspiration on the bare, hairless chest showing through his unbuttoned shirt, his lips moving frantically to pronounce the ancient tongue. He was moving his rose wand in complicated loops and whirls, releasing waves of power into the air, some of them nearly visible to the naked eye as flashes of multicoloured light.
He finished the incantation with a dramatic flourish of his wand, crying out the last syllable with gusto as he pointed at his summoning circle. Louise rolled her eyes. Guiche de Gramont was a first-rate actor, if anyone appreciated completely over-the-top theatrics. She sure didn't. But try as she might, she found no fault in his performance of the summoning ritual.
There was a flash of light and a creature appeared in the centre of the circle. Louise just goggled at it, dumbfounded.
...What kind of person summoned a mole as their companion for life, for goodness's sake?
Guiche himself seemed delighted, however. "A mole!" he called out with melodramatic tears of joy in his eyes, blinking quickly. Louise honestly couldn't tell whether they were genuine or part of his extravagant act, and she had long ago given up trying to find out. "Oh, you beautiful beast, called forth from the bosom of the gracious Earth to accompany me! The greatest and most loyal friend an Earth mage of my talent could have! Come to me, proud beast! I shall name you a name most worthy of your beauty and strength!"
Louise dropped behind a thick gaggle of enthralled schoolgirls so they wouldn't see her snickering. She surfaced a few moments later (after her face had stopped twitching rampantly from repressed snorts of laughter) to see the newly christened mole 'Verdandi' and its inordinately proud master returning to the mass of assembled students, Guiche preening all the while and enjoying the attentions of his both male and female admirers.
As more students were called forward to draw their circles and perform their own summonings, Louise felt dread creep up her spine. She saw Kirche von Anhalt-Zerbst summon a red salamander with flames dancing along its rough hide, the busty redhead throwing her rival a victorious look out of the corner of her eyes. Louise scowled in response.
She watched as Tabitha, ever the silent bookworm, drew a picture-perfect summoning circle and called forth an honest-to-God dragon to her side, the winged lizard dwarfing the small girl as it nuzzled its new master's head affectionately with its elongated head. The girl patted its head, her eyes stuck to the book that she had immediately returned to reading after she had accepted her familiar.
Studious Reynald, as tall and thin as always in his student uniform and stoically dignified, contracted a silvery wolf. Loud, boisterous Gimli made a hawk appear in a bright flash of light, the bird settling on his arm and shrieking piercingly. Malicorne called forth a large bear that resembled him eerily in stature – stocky with lots of padding – the two hitting it off immediately as the youth offered the large beast a treat.
With each summoning, the knot of dread in Louise's stomach became heavier and heavier. She watched the newly minted masters with their familiars dutifully at their side, the young girl fearing and dreading the moment when Professor Colbert would work his way down the list he held in his hands–
"Louise Françoise le Blanc de la Vallière!"
Speak of the Devil and he appears, laughing and dancing in mockery of the fools who dare summon him...
The balding teacher looked up from the class list, peering over the top of his spectacles at Louise, who had frozen in place with fear. The whole courtyard had suddenly fallen silent.
"Mademoiselle de la Vallière?" Colbert repeated gently.
Louise snapped out it. "Y-yes?" she said – no, squeaked, her voice sounding far higher than she ever thought possible. How undignified.
"It's your turn, mademoiselle," Professor Colbert said once more, smiling reassuringly at her. "You can do it, young lady, I'm sure of it."
Louise took a moment to compose herself, then nodded once and stepped forward. She dimly noted as she walked to the centre of the courtyard that the students were arranged in a half-circle around the summoner, facing the tested student's back. According to the teachers, this was to ensure that the summoner wouldn't be distracted by their peers during the ceremony. A simple, logical reason that everyone accepted without further doubt.
Louise knew better: the Springtime Summoning Ritual was dangerous. Incorrectly drawn or smudged lines of chalk, a faulty sequence or syntax of the runes bordering the circle, the sloppy drawing of the summoning circle or the other necessary geometric shapes in the summoning array – there were a myriad of ways in which the ritual could go horribly wrong, and Louise was confident she knew nearly all of them because of the ludicrous amount of time she had spent in the library, hoping that it would help her improve her chances of succeeding.
Of course, the descriptions of possible mistakes to make only served to rattle her already frayed nerves even more.
If the summoning backfired, the least that would happen was that a far less powerful creature would be summoned. In the worst case scenario, the summoning circle would explode, releasing large amounts of stray magic and killing everyone in the blast radius.
Louise could accept a weaker summons, as long as she summoned anything at all. She needed proof that she was a real mage, that she deserved the title of nobility that her birth had granted her. She needed that first and final bit of confirmation, desperately so.
Finally, she reached the centre of the courtyard, groping with shivering fingers for the chalk in the pocket of her school uniform. When her clammy fingers found it, she took a deep breath and began to draw slowly and carefully.
"Why does she even bother?" she heard a voice mutter in annoyance. Whispers started up, and Louise heard them all.
"It's Louise the Zero, isn't it?" a drawling voice that she remembered hearing in one of her classes. "The one that always blows stuff up no matter what she tries to do? By the Founder, why is she even here, then?"
"A failure... Honestly, you'd have expected her to have inherited some of her mother's talent, there's enough of it to go around..."
"Why did they allow her to take part in the Ritual in the first place?" a girl whispered worriedly. "What if she blows up the school?"
Louise grit her teeth, the chalk nearly snapping in her fingers.
"SILENCE!" Colbert roared.
Louise stilled and cautiously lifted her head to peer over her shoulder. She'd rarely heard her teacher so furious before. His glare could have lit candles at twenty paces, and he seemed to seriously consider setting someone on fire simply to underline his point.
"This colleague of yours had the decency to show respect during your ceremonies! Don't make me force you to behave like adults during hers, instead of the bickering children I see now! Act with the nobility that your station demands!"
The whole courtyard had fallen uncomfortably silent, and Louise quietly thanked the Professor with all her heart as she resumed drawing. He'd always been supportive of her, even when the other teachers despaired or gave up in frustration after her nth attempt to conjure, transfigure, or manipulate matter and the elements ended in abject failure. He'd spent hours in the library with her, patiently pointing out mistakes, loaning her books from his personal library that she devoured in record time, always showing support even as she doubted herself.
If Louise hadn't already been so determined to succeed during the summoning ritual, she would have been after Colbert's constant encouragement. She wouldn't want to disappoint him.
She knelt down, smelling fresh earth and grass, burning ash from the previously destroyed summoning circles adding a sharp smell that stung her nose.
Louise's hand steadied as she carefully drew a perfect circle, two interlocking pentagrams in its middle following a mere moment later. In her best calligraphy, she added runes and smaller circles around the central array, slowly and methodically drawing out the most complex summoning circle drawn so far.
That was what distinguished her from the other students of magic at the Academy. Pure knowledge. Her practical ability in the arts of magic, be it conjuration, construction, transfiguration or elemental manipulation was nil. Everything just exploded whenever she attempted to use her power. Louise had managed to pass her schooling at the Academy thanks to the fact that she knew every single bit of magical theory a student her age could conceivably know, outstripping her peers in knowledge and theory of magic.
However, you couldn't progress through the Academy on force of knowledge alone – otherwise any commoner would be able to get in and pass the exams. And that would certainly not do. No, this was the true purpose of the Springtime Summoning Ritual: to see if the students were worthy and capable of performing magic. Even with minimal preparation and mediocre talent, a student with magical ability could pass the test, being accepted into the ranks of Tristain's nobility.
But Louise wouldn't simply need minimal preparation. Oh no. If she failed this exam, Colbert's disappointment would be the least of her problems. Expulsion from the Academy, losing her noble rank, and exile from her family and ancestral home were far more than likely. Louise's mother was a strict matriarch.
A few minutes after double- and triple-checking the central array of her summoning circle and all the additional circles, safeguards and runes she'd added to the original design , Louise stood up, brushing grass off her uniform and knees. Her summoning circle was easily the largest and most intricately detailed of those drawn so far.
Five steps backwards, close eyes, deep breath.
And with a flourish of her wand, she started chanting.
"Toi, créature de pouvoir et de magie... À travers le temps et l'espace je t'appelle vers moi."
Immediately, she felt soothed, her worries slowly slipping away. There was something about mouthing the ancient language – whenever Louise spoke it, she felt safer, her worries disappearing.
In a way, her troubles felt... ephemeral. Unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Speaking the Founder's Tongue felt liberating, in a way, as if she was part of something greater than herself. It made her feel part of a greater whole, something that she had always been denied by her peers.
Magic, its power, simply felt exhilarating. How could anybody claim she was a Zero when she felt this power stir within her?
"Toi, créature qui cherche le sens de ton existence, je t'appelle vers moi."
It was ironic. Channelling magic, letting it flow through her veins and expelling it, was absolutely no trouble at all. This was the main reason that Professor Colbert was still convinced that Louise was capable of using magic, and had continued to enourage her.
Making the magic do what she wanted, though—now that was a different matter altogether. Everything she attempted resulted in explosions of varying sizes, frustrating her to no end.
But Louise didn't let that bother her, not right now. Now, she was concentrating on nothing but moving her wand in the required patterns, enunciating the ancient language as clearly as she could. Flickers of colour were at the edge of her vision.
"Toi, créature qui me protégera, je t'appelle vers moi."
Yes. A protector; that was what she was looking for. Familiars were their master's guards, protecting them from harm. She wanted something to protect her, just this once, just this. A beast that was proud, strong, and powerful. That would be nice.
She continued chanting rapidly, her breath turning gasping, nearing the end of her incantation. She felt the power building up within herself, straining to be released, singing to her. Louise was happy to oblige.
"Viens vers moi, belle et féroce créature! Je te donnerais force, je te donnerais pouvoir, je te donnerais une cause. Je t'appelle vers moi, au nom du Fondateur et de ses Apôtres, à travers le temps et l'espace!"
She slashed her wand through the air in a final gesture, pointing it square at the summoning circle.
A streak of magic, probably the most powerful she had ever cast, flowed from the tip of her wand to the summoning circle. Louise watched with bated breath as the magic sunk into the circle's central array, blood-red colour flooding the runes, spreading out and seeping into every line she'd drawn, growing ever brighter and brighter—
And then fading until they returned to their original chalky red. No creature appeared.
Louise's raised hand dropped limply to her side. "No..." she whispered.
The courtyard was silent for a moment before cloaks rustled, the students looking at each other awkwardly, perhaps even a little relieved at the lack of the expected explosion. Some looked inordinately smug, mouthing "I told you so" to their friends. Some discreetly exchanged coins. Kirche frowned heavily, while Tabitha peered up from her book for a moment. Both said nothing.
Professor Colbert himself stepped forward, putting a hand on Louise's shoulder. "Mademoiselle de la Vallière..."
"No, no, no…" Louise was still looking at the unresponsive circle, still disbelieving, her voice getting frantic. "Please, not like this..."
"Mademoiselle de la Vallière, you've had your turn," Colbert said heavily. "I'm afraid you've failed the Springtime Summoning Ritual."
Louise's eyes snapped to stare at him in undisguised horror as the students started muttering even louder. "Please, Professor!" she begged. "Let me try it one more time! Please, Professor, I beg of you!"
Colbert shook his head, becoming grave. "That's impossible, Mademoiselle. The Ritual is exactly that, a rite of passage. I cannot in good conscience allow you to attempt it again. It would be a dishonour to Our Founder, His Name, and His Saints."
His stern gaze softened when he saw Louise's eyes brim with tears. "I cannot change the rules set down by Brimir himself all those centuries ago, child," he spoke quietly. "Even if I wanted to, I just can't."
Louise hung her head. She was already small of stature, so it was impossible for the taller teacher to see her eyes. She was shaking uncontrollably, and Colbert feared she was going to break down right in front of her classmates, all of whom were throwing her growing looks of pity. They may have mocked her talent, but exile from their family and the nobility... They were still young and innocent. Most of them wouldn't wish such a cruel fate on their worst enemy. But there were exceptions, those who were watching her breakdown with cold disdain and contempt, muttering quietly about the dishonour the youngest Vallière had brought upon her family. Colbert remembered their faces for later.
After a moment, though, he realized that Louise wasn't crying. She was laughing. A bitter, dark laugh that made his hair stand on end, a laugh that grew in volume until it was clearly hysterical and perhaps even demented, unnerving everyone around her. The nearest students nervously shuffled away, keeping their distance. Colbert quickly stepped forward, and Louise stumbled against his chest and gripped the front of his robes, her hands shaking all the while.
The chuckles died down to something that resembled sobs, Louise gripping Colbert's robes as if she would drown otherwise, until they slowly stopped. He kept his hand on her shoulder, not really knowing what else to do. They soon died off into total silence, and Louise seemed to catch herself, releasing Colbert hurriedly, her head low.
"That's it, then?" Louise asked quietly a moment later, her voice hollow. She still refused to look up. "Is this it?"
Colbert sighed dejectedly. "I guess s–"
"Hey!" a student called out suddenly. The student pointed at the summoning circle frantically, eyes wide. "What in the Founder's name is happening? Look at the circle!"
Colbert's head snapped around, intently taking in the summoning circle Louise had drawn. His eyes widened as he saw the symbols suddenly emitting colour, the runes and lines glowing increasingly bright. Energy crackled in the air of the courtyard like St. Elmo's Fire, bright snaps of magic dancing in the corner of his eye.
Our Founder and His Saints, the old teacher thought, that can't be good.
"STEP BACK!" he called out as old instincts and training took over, throwing Louise behind him and brandishing his staff. "TAKE COVER! It's a delayed reaction!"
The absolute terror in their teacher's voice made the semi-circle break apart, the students falling over themselves in their desperate efforts to get away. Colbert waved his staff in complicated patterns for a shielding spell while Louise stared dumbly as the chalk lines she'd drawn began to glow golden and flickered with colours that changed fast, fast, fast—
And then lightning, bright and searing, hit the courtyard right at the centre of Louise's summoning circle.
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Originally published on the 12th of May 2012.
Extensively revised and re-uploaded on the 15th of March 2016.
With many thanks to my kind readers and editors. This story still lives thanks to you.
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The original light novels of Familiar of Zero (Zero no Tsukaima) were written by Noboru Yamaguchi, originally published by Media Factory in 2004. It includes twenty volumes, a four-season anime adaptation by J.C. Staff that premiered in 2006, a manga published by Media Factory published between 2010 and 2013, and a single-season anime adaptation by J.C. Staff that premiered in 2012.
Noboru Yamaguchi succumbed to cancer on the 4th April 2013 after a brave two-year struggle against cancer. Rest in peace, sensei. You will be remembered fondly.
The original video game Assassin's Creed was originally released in 2007 by Ubisoft, followed by its sequels Assassin's Creed II (2009), Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood (2010), and Assassin's Creed: Revelations (2011), Assassin's Creed III (2012), Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag (2013), Assassin's Creed Rogue (2014), Assassin's Creed Unity (2014), and Assassin's Creed Syndicate (2015). Not included, but acknowledged, is published side material like comics and mobile games.
The copyright is held by the aforementioned copyright holders. Profit is neither made, demanded, nor desired from this fanfiction project, and it is intended as a transformative engagement with the original works. The content therein does not represent the views of the copyright holders, and will be voluntarily removed on their demand.
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