Disclaimer: Zero no Tsukaima / Familiar of Zero (Light Novel) was written by Noboru Yamaguchi, illustrated by Eiji Usatsuka, and published by Media Factory (Seven Seas Entertainment in the US and Canada.) The first anime was directed by Yoshiaki Iwasaki with the studio J, and licensed by Geneon in the US and Canada... but as bluntly as possible in order to save time going through all other installments in the series – this author is none of these people and has no legitimate claim to the series. Thus this work is strictly non-profit. Any use otherwise is not this author's doing.
No Tears for Hollow Men
Chapter III: A Punishment
The crowd parted after Guiche's departure, leaving Esele alone with her mistress and the maid.
"Y-you – you stupid familiar!" Louise exclaimed, face the brightest red Esele had seen it yet. "You're going to die, you know that? Apologize to Guiche – if we hurry he might still forgive you." She muttered, pulling on her familiar's arm. Esele did not move.
"This one cannot." Esele replied simply.
"You can and you will!" Louise responded immediately, still trying in vain to move Esele. "There's-"
"This one cannot die. Even if you willed it so."
Louise could only blink as, suddenly, Esele's arm was free of her grip and the familiar herself was at the edge of the courtyard. Did she... she just ignored her entirely. Brushed her off like... like a... "Can't die?!" Louise exclaimed after her, "That's... that's nonsense!"
Esele did not reply – her back was already fading around the corner of the academy's main tower.
Furious, Louise stormed after her, the maid fidgeting nervously in place for several moments before following after them.
Osmond looked up, raising an eyebrow as Professor Colbert rushed into his room, throwing the door open with such force that several papers on his desk scattered about.
"There's a fight in the courtyard!"
The aged professor leaned back, "Oh? Younglings these days with all this time on their hands... So who's involved?"
"The Gramont boy and Miss Valliere's familiar, sir – please, we have to stop it!" Colbert responded quickly, speaking with such a rapid pace that Osmond had trouble keeping up with him.
"Hm..." The headmaster intoned, stroking his beard as he pulled out a scrying ball. "Perhaps. But it could be interesting, I thin-"
"Headmaster! She's not fighting back!"
That got the headmaster's attention. Instantly, he was on his feet with a serious expression on his face.
Another thud echoed across the courtyard as the fist of Guiche's Valkyrie impacted against Esele's bruised chin... and she continued to stand perfectly still, face an impassive mask despite the many wounds visible on her arms and face.
By now, the crowd had stopped its cheers and grown quiet, some even turning away in shame. All the while, Louise stood at the fore, frantic pleas falling on deaf ears.
"Can you feel it yet...?" Esele intoned, even as the Valkyrie rebounded and kicked her in the side of the head, knocking her to the side. Her eyes remained locked on Guiche's angry, trembling form. The rose in his hand twirled, and the Valkyrie struck again – a straight punch to Esele's face that ground it into the dirt. "...the pain of causing suffering?"
Guiche couldn't understand this. How did she do this? How? It made no sense! His Valkyrie struck her again and again, each blow worse than the last, but she had yet to so much as flinch, let alone whimper or cry or ask forgiveness. And those eyes! They never broke gaze with him. They never blinked. Didn't shed any tears. They only stared at him, accusing...
Another wave of the rose, the Valkyrie pressed harder against its master's foe. No reaction. Another command and the Valkyrie released Esele and lifted its foot –
"Guiche! Please-" The foot was brought down, "No! No... oh – Esele, fight back already!"
The response was immediate. The golem's descending foot was caught in Esele's sole hand as the familiar stood up, dragging the Valkyrie's foot with her until she held it suspended in the air, eyes glowing a menacing, vibrant pink. Everyone present froze in disbelief... and then Esele spun on her heel, flinging the Valkyrie like a ragdoll into the Academy's far walls. A moment after it struck, form crumpling against the reinforced stone, Esele was on top of it with her foot digging into its warped torso and piercing through it. Her arm snaked out, blurring nearly into invisibility as it grabbed the Valkyrie's own arm at the shoulder before, with a terrible screeching sound, ripping the appendage off by the join and tossing it aside. The head came next, followed by various pieces of its torso armor.
The crowd stood, terrified, as Esele stood, kicking sharply upwards with her foot and brushing the Valkyrie's remains into the sky. Blood leaked from her hands and legs where striking the hard metal had scraped and torn the skin, and Louise couldn't help but recall Esele's earlier words – "Destroying... So far as this one can remember, it has only destroyed..."
Guiche stumbled, his rose losing all its petals as he desperately summoned every golem he could. Before they could even move, Esele blurred out of sight and pieces of bronze began to fly once more. The boy's eyes widened with fright. Impossible... this was... this was simply... That was no commoner! It couldn't even be human...
"M-Monster!" He cried, backing away and summoning a sword to his side, fully expecting to die in the next moment...
But, instead, Esele froze at his words. Her eyes, still lit with ethereal fire, twitched and widened as her arm fell limp to her side. Her lips quivered, speaking silent words, and her hand shot forward to grasp at her chest as if she was choking. For a moment, her very form twisted into a pose of incredible grief... but her expression did not mirror it. No tears fell. The lips froze in place and the eyes narrowed again.
Then she gave an unearthly scream and charged again, hand reaching forward to rip Guiche's quivering sword arm from its socket-
Only to freeze, and fall to Esele's side as she fell to her knees, staring blankly ahead. Guiche fainted on spot, and Louise let out a sigh of relief before herself resting upon the ground, shaking. That was... that was just too much. If she hadn't stepped in... Guiche would be dead right now. Deader than dead – he'd be in... in pieces across the courtyard! And... and terrible as he could be... as much as he might deserve something... this was too much.
That was too horrible away for anyone to die...
And Louise couldn't help but think to herself; 'That's never stopped her before... she's done it before...'
Founder... what did she summon?!
It was a cold, forgotten place. A ruined city blackened by fire, surrounded by endless fields of snow and ice. In its center, the high walls of a ravaged fortress rose, their ebony bricks a stark contrast to the winter around them – the scene of a tragedy ages old, yet still in progress. The city streets were filled with charred bones, if one were to take away the snow, and the walls of the fort were lined with fallen soldiers – centuries of decay reducing them to little more than arms and armor reaching out from the piles of snow.
It was a dead place – a scene of hell frozen in time.
It was also a hiding place. A sanctuary.
Within the fortress' depths, in a crumbling hall, something was stirring. It was a dim, dark place with only the faintest streams of light drifting in through broken walls and piles of rubble. There was no proper entrance, or exit – all possible paths were buried in stone. Lines of benches lay broken from one end to the other, where the floor rose to an altar – rendered unidentifiable by whatever force ruined this place.
It was behind this altar that the body rested.
She lay in a glass coffin, placed vertical on the wall with her hands clasped over her navel. Clad battered armor, chipped and scarred in many places, she nevertheless looked the part of an angel asleep with light streaming in behind her, obscuring her features... and she was crying. Though her eyes remained closed and her face remained still, tears still gathered in her eyes, so thoroughly entombed in glass they were unable to fall, and so they merely glistened.
Something shifted – the pages of a book beneath the altar rustled slightly. Then it shot into the air, wreathed in brilliant, spectral light. The light coalesced into a figure, cloaked in tattered robes. "She... cries?" A voice whispered tentatively, coming from all corners of the room. The figure drifted toward the woman's body, raising a hand toward her face – as if to wipe away the tears – before recoiling. "She... is... crying!"
The whisper turned into a roar of primal rage as the fortress shook, stones falling away and clearing all its halls as the roar turned into an unintelligible shriek, joined by a chorus of the damned. A beam of incandescent light rose from the specter's form, breaking through the stone ceiling and soaring into the sky. Like a ripple in a pool, a wave of phantasmal energy rushed away from the beam... and the dead began to rise.
The discarded armor and weapons in the fortress rose of their own accord, gaps filled by eery light as the bones of the fallen across the city re-assembled and stood, shaking off the snow which buried them. For miles around the city, wraiths coalesced into being as skeletal hands reached forward.
Even thousands of miles away, on a scarcely populated garrison, the beam was visible, and the chorus was heard. The troops recoiled, covering their ears, and the commanders too turned away... save one, who stood upon the wall and stared into the light.
"And it was deemed impossible... yet he walks again..."
Esele was paralyzed. It had happened again. Again.
Would it never end? Would the red never cease to stain her vision?
She began to wish she saw in black and white...
Could she never... never simply... sleep?
Sleep and dreams were a luxury for other beings; one so wretched and cursed as herself surely didn't deserve them...
Her eyes burned, but nothing came to soothe them.
What... what did she do to be punished so...?
Without relief, the loyal fane stood to assist its shaken mistress, no sign of the torment of its soul written upon its face.
Author's Notes: And after a fairly long wait.. you get a chapter shorter than others... But, well... I hope it's not disappointing, eh? Guiche isn't dead, right...? Well, now we get to see why Esele had all those weapons embedded in her, eh? Probably.