The Fearful Void - Part 1

The light rain drizzled down on this soggy spring morning. The grey-painted sky was pale, but the rain did not cease. It was not a proper rainstorm, but merely a melancholy dusting of water which made the lives of the teenagers in their oilskin coats miserable. And on an already tense event, with nerves running high, there was a low level buzz of worried chatter.

"I hope this doesn't throw the elemental alignment out of balance."

"Yes, yes, I heard that it's bad luck if you can't see blue sky."

"Only makes sense, right? The weather's skewed towards water and wind, and... Founder, I'd like a nice warm fire right now. But what if this weather interferes with my summoning?"

"I don't see a problem." That was Montmorency, a blonde water mage who not only had an invisible shell over her which the water ran off, but had nothing to fear from an elemental imbalance towards water. If one was to ask some of the people in her class, she was a cold wet fish already.

"Children." The balding teacher in the hooded cloak raised his voice. "The weather has no effect on the efficiency or effectiveness of the summoning ceremony. Trust me on this, I have looked through all the archives, and there is no increased rate of failure related at all to the weather at the time. You will do fine." He paused. "All of you. I believe all of you are ready for this, and will be able to take this important step in your development as mages."

The one teenager who the others felt this comment was directed more at huddled up deeper into her cloak, and shivered. Her red eyes swept the field, flicking from face to face. Unlike her peers, she was not reassured by the statement that the weather did not affect the rate of summoning successes. For Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, the announcement that she could not even blame the weather, a chill seasonal inclemency drifting in off the Great Northern Sea, was not a good sign.

She was filled with the fear of failure, and it gnawed at her. Within her heart, it grew and grew, as mage-child after mage-child bought forth their chosen companion. Birds and frogs and burning salamanders and even a wind-dragon. Inwardly, she bemoaned the alphabetical order of the surnames which left her last, and tried to suppress a yawn. Her sleep had been even more disrupted for the last week than usual, as the worry about the Spring Summoning Ritual consumed her life.

Around her feet, as she fretted, the green grass withered and died, a deep red glow only visible right at the edge of vision highlighting each doomed strand of grass. The girl glanced down, and screwed her eyes shut. No. She had to keep calm. Deep breaths. Deep slow breaths. Inhale for seven seconds. Hold for seven seconds. Release. Inhale for seven seconds. Hold for seven seconds. Release. Repeat.

After a while, she chanced a peak down at the ground around her. No one had noticed, and the glow was gone. That was good. She had to stay calm. Magic user without a wand or chanting was an incredibly rare, potent skill in theory. Louise had never understood that. She longed for the control that other people seemed to have unconsciously. They didn't have to worry about hurting the things around them in uncontrolled explosions. They didn't get the headaches or the bad dreams. They didn't wreck rooms when they got angry, or hurt people when they miscast magic, or kill their beloved pony when they were trying to get even a single spell to work in the stables at home, or kill...

She gulped down air, and began the breathing exercise again. She could feel the onset of another headache coming, a pulsing pain behind her temples, and she merely prayed to God and Founder and whoever would hear her that this would be a mild one, that she wouldn't be incapacitated by this. Her mother got headaches like this, too, and Cattleya had them even worse, to the extent that she had not even been able to attend the Academy. Some days, when the bullying and loneliness got too bad, she envied her big sister.

"Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière." That was Professor Colbert's voice, the teacher calling out over this rain-sodden field. She opened her red eyes again, and shuffled out of the circle of dead grass, ignoring the mutter of voices around her. It was all right, as long as she couldn't hear them. Especially since when she started getting her headaches, the sound of her heartbeat in her ears sounded like voices, and she had learned years ago not to snap at people whispering on the chance that they might not be real.

She wiped her eyes - it was just the rain, she wasn't crying really - and drew her wand out from under her oilskin cloak. This was it. The circle was prepared, and now all she had to do was cast this spell. This one last spell. This most important spell of her life.

"P-pentacle of the Five Elements," she began, voice shaking as the pain behind her eyes spiked like it had seldom done before.

it's coming clear... yes, look at these anomalous ECG and EEG readings

mummy, please, help. it hurts.

"... bring before... somewhere... bring before my... m-my," she continued, her words tripping over themselves as a red corona filled her blurry vision, and the whispering flooded her ears.

i don't want to be here what's this?

doctor, i... i don't know what this is

"... somewhere in the universe is a beautiful and powerful familiar!" Louise screamed over the pain. "Bring it to me!"

There was shouting in the background, something from Professor Colbert and the others in her class, but she could not hear them. Would not hear them. In front of her, was the familiar portal, although it was... wrong. Where there should have been a smooth elegant green oval, the world itself bent, as if it was seen through invisible water. The portal itself was a jagged tear, a morbid reddish-black that rippled and crinkled, and the air around it swirled in an anti-cyclone, whipping Louise's clothes around and pelting her with suddenly-warm rain.

it's all coming. the earth will tear itself apart and the blood of thousands will be shed and the fields will run red and cities will be laid to waste.
it's their revenge.

sins of the father.

Something emerged, a pale hand - small, delicate - and as the rest of its body followed through Louise's eyes rolled back in her head, and she fainted.


A's Ns: This is to a certain extent an experimental fic, where I play around with much shorter chapter lengths and a faster update cycle which can be carried out in parallel with other fics. Yes, shocking isn't it; chapters which are chapter-length, rather than novellas.