Author's Notes –
Brr… winter. That was close to a knockout punch this week.
Mismatched moons hung in the sky, an ever present reminder of the fact that the blond squire was in a foreign world. And though he missed his companions who were surely looking for him, Ramza Beoulve could not help but think that this world needed him just as much if not more. After all, who in this world knew of the dangers that the Lucavi posed? He had seen firsthand the death and destruction wrought by the Lucavi and those that they manipulated during the War of the Lions. Thousands had died in the fighting as both sides fought for control of the crown; thousands more had perished as a result of the famine and plagues that had gone unchecked while the fighting raged.
"Something troubles you," Derflinger stated.
Glancing down at the sheathed sword Ramza considered his situation. By his count there were six Lucavi remaining. Even with Thunder and Derflinger he was no match for even one of them. Though he had fought against and bested the Archaedaemons the ones that had fought the Griffin Knights were nothing but fodder meant to occupy the Knights so that they could not pursue the daemons' master.
The sword, though sentient, had spent much of the past three millennia if not more locked in the academy's vault. Even with the occasional visit by the past headmasters it had quickly become clear that Derflinger would offer him little insight on the history of this realm save for his time with Brimir and Sasha.
"I have told you, have I not, that I am of a different realm?" he answered with his own question.
"So," the sagely sword replied, "you long to return to your home?"
"Of course." It was true, but it was not what was on the squire's mind at the moment.
"But you have work here, partner," the sword stated. "So long as you have the brand you cannot leave this world."
"You words do not put me at ease."
"It is an unfortunate truth, partner."
Neither spoke for untold minutes, both unsure what to say.
"So," Ramza finally said, breaking the uneasy tension, "do you know why the students are so excited?"
"They are celebrating Brimir," Derflinger replied solemnly. "Today is the Day of the Void, an annual celebration of my master's master created some five millennia ago after the four kingdoms were officially founded."
"But I thought your master was around six millennia ago."
"He was, but it took centuries for his children to carve out the countries of Albion, Tristan, Germania, and Gallia," the sword explained. "As I understand it the Holy Empire of Romalia is the only nation founded by one of Brimir's followers."
It sounded similar to how Ivalice was founded by the followers of Saint Ajora after his execution. One man, with exceptional power, could change the world even after his death. Saint Ajora's followers had been misled by the Lucavi, but what of Brimir's?
"How did Brimir die?" he asked finally.
"In battle," the sword answered far too quickly.
Could a sword lie? And why would it?
"Ramza?" a gentle voice called out before he could inquire further.
"Siesta," he returned automatically.
"I brought you some food," the maid stated.
"Thank you." The bountiful plate was far more than what he could eat alone. "Please, have some."
"I… I couldn't," she replied bashfully. "I still have to serve the students."
"Is today not a holiday?" he inquired though he knew the truth. Holidays were only celebrated by nobles. Commoners like Siesta were still required to work, often even harder so that the nobles could enjoy their holiday.
"I guess I could take some time to eat a bit of breakfast," the polite maid finally said as she took a seat beside the squire.
It was a pleasant meal, easily the best he'd enjoyed since he'd come to this world.
"Wine?" Siesta asked as she extracted a glass from the basket.
"No thank you," he replied automatically. "Is there any milk?"
"Of course," she replied. "It's curious – I've never seen you drink any alcohol."
"It dulls the senses."
The look on her face as he gave his curt answer said it all. Stiffening as she poured the milk she purposely sat further from him.
"I… I am sorry," he said as he took the glass that she'd set down between them. "I…." he really was unsure of the words needed in such a situation. "I do not mean to be so short with you."
A slight smile graced the maid's lips. "Thank you. I understand – you are a man of action, not a man to speak unnecessarily."
Though her words wrung true, it was not that he preferred to act over thinking, it was that he'd found few who he could honestly converse with. Delita and Alma had been the easiest to talk to, though both had keen minds and sharp tongues to match. The others of his troupe had become accustomed to his short orders and responses, learning to read his physical cues as well as trusting in his decisions as they traveled throughout Ivalice.
Perhaps that was why he got along so well with the beasts in their troupe. Like them, he often acted on instinct, needing few words to understand them or their needs.
He'd barely noticed how much of the cool liquid he'd consumed in a single gulp. "Of course, thank you."
Her hand felt warm against his as she brushed hers against his while taking the glass to refill. It was not the awkwardness of an inexperienced server but the purposeful move of a flirtatious one. In the past he had often ignored such an advance, even from the most tantalizing of serving wenches. Perhaps it was the fact that he was not just passing through and thus unlikely to encounter the wench until he once again passed through the village or tavern, but he could not help but wish that her hand had lingered a bit longer.
"I should go," she whispered as she set the glass down. "I must prepare for the students' lunch."
"You have yet to touch any of the food save for serving me," he stated.
"I must go," she sighed.
"Not before you have something to eat," he insisted. Taking up the glass he offered it to her, "At the least you should have a nice, refreshing drink."
Again her hands move to take the glass from his. This time she placed her hand over his, before taking the drink from him. He could not help but watch as she put the glass to her lips and took a sip of the cool white liquid.
"Thank you," she said again as she put the glass down. "But I should go now."
The pastries just weren't as light and tasty without Siesta around. Still, the moment had proven that perhaps there was more in this realm for him than just the business with the Lucavi.
"She's quite the looker," Derflinger stated.
How the sentient sword knew what the maid looked like simply baffled the squire's mind.
"She's quite the catch partner," the sword added snidely. "But it seems that you're the one in the crosshairs."
The scene on the ramparts did little to sooth the pinkette's temperament as she gazed down at her familiar. How was it that a common maid could get so close to her familiar when she had yet to get him to say more than ten words to her since he had become her familiar?
Marching out of her room, down the tower, and up the ramparts, she contemplated her options. "Ramza," she called out, disrupting the remains of his breakfast, "is that for me?"
"Do you not get your breakfast in the commons?" he replied as he wiped his face.
"You are my familiar," she replied hotly. "It is your duty to attend to my needs."
"I am your familiar," he ceded. "But I am not your servant. I am to attend to your needs on the battlefield, not your everyday needs."
His words stung like lemon juice on an open wound. "How dare you!? You are nothing but a commoner! How dare you speak to me – your master and a noble – like that?!"
"I may be a commoner here, but what give you the right to speak to me like that?" he countered. "Is your blood not red like mine?"
Even sitting he held his ground better than the young noble did. Despite his status he had clearly accomplished much more than she had in the few weeks that she'd known him. Everyone knew that she was capable of destructive magic, usually when trying to cast other spells, but he had cut down Archaedaemons with ease. Though he minimized his own role in things, the handful of student volunteers knew that it was Ramza who had done the most fighting during the recent encounter. Regardless of their titles and rank, it was he who the Griffin Knights had depended on.
"I am Louise Francoise le Blanc de Valliere!" she hissed.
"If you wish to be treated with respect then you should treat others with respect," Ramza stated as he finally stood up. "Just because you have the title of 'noble' what have you done to deserve my respect? As you well know titles mean nothing to me."
Louise could do little but wilt under his intent gaze.
"That's enough partner," Derflinger said, interrupting them. "The two of you should be fighting together, not against each other. While it is good that you establish your roles in this relationship, you should be working together against your common enemy."
Ramza stood unflinching, his eyes still on the pinkette. Finally he looked away. "She is not ready to face our enemy."
"I… I took down an Archaedaemon with my spell," Louise stammered. "I may not have killed as many as you but I"
"How many times can you cast Ultima?" he interjected. "Twice, thrice? And how many of our allies will you kill with it? You hit me with Ultima, and I don't understand why I managed to survive it, but if it had been a Griffin Knight instead of me? Can you cast your spell without endangering your allies?"
Again Louise backed down, unsure of herself.
"As her familiar it falls on you to help her," Derflinger again interrupted. "Her enemies are your enemies, and yours are now hers so long as you remain here."
A slight smile formed on Louise's lips as the sword took her side.
"And you, as the 'master' must work to earn his loyalty," the sword chided. "Do not let your title and power get to your head. Without Ramza at your side protecting you, you will accomplish nothing. If he does not stand with you then you have already failed."
Properly admonished, both familiar and master stood in silence, neither sure what to say.
"Now that we've settle that, why do we not enjoy this holiday?" Derflinger suggested. "I hear that you have a ball and knighting to prepare for. And since Ramza is to be your familiar he will need proper attire as well."
The sound of enchanting music escaped from the academy's main hall, a sure sign that the holiday ball was underway. With much of the guards' focus on the ball, none remained to guard the academy's vault. Then again, with the numerous square level enchantments on it who would dare break into the vault.
"The walls are enchanted beyond anything I can break," the green haired woman admitted. "Even a square mage would not be able to break in easily or quickly. It appears that we will have to forgo our attempts to acquire the Staff of Destruction."
Though the shadows in the corridor provided little light, even the woman knew that she would not see her reflection in the mirror before her.
"So be it," a voice escaped the mirror. "It is but one weapon. Even if there is a Gandalfr in Tristan I doubt anyone will think to allow him to use it."
"Shall I make arrangements to return?" the woman asked, a hint of hope in her voice at her request.
"No," the speaker on the other side of the mirror said firmly. "If a Gandalfr has appeared then it is most fortunate that you are there. Keep an eye on him and his master."
"Yes," she replied, resigned to her assignment.
"Is it true? Did he fell an Archaedaemon with naught but his sword?" a second voice emerged from the mirror.
"Yes master," the spy replied. "Though the student volunteers were reluctant to admit it, the Griffin Knight's second lieutenant confirmed it."
A hushed conversation was evident though the spy failed to make out what her mysterious masters were saying on their end of the mirror.
"Keep an eye on the Gandalfr," the first speaker ordered.
"And his master as well," the second speaker added. "After all, he is useless to us if he does not have a master that he is loyal to."
"I shall do so," the woman replied.
"Is it true," the second speaker dared to say, "that the Gandalfr tamed a dragon?"
"Silence," the first speaker ordered the second.
"But he could also be the Vindalfr," the second protested. "Even without"
"That's enough!" the first shouted the second down. "This is not the time for that."
Even masked in the shadows it was clear to her that the first speaker had moved directly in front of the mirror, blocking out the second speaker. "Report back if anything happens to the Void Mage and her familiar."
Before she could even respond the silver mirror went black, leaving her alone with her thoughts.
Excitement hovered over the hall as the assembled students, faculty, and staff gathered to celebrate the Day of the Void. The annual holiday had already been marked with a speech and fire spells that illuminated the night sky, now all that was left was the evening ball. Yet for all the festivities Louise Valliere could do naught but reflect on the complicated relationship she had with her familiar.
The fact that he was human, even if he was just a commoner, made things all the more difficult for her as he was not only older than her, but he was also very opinionated. It did not help that unlike other commoners he did not wilt when faced with a noble, even a noble of her standing. If not for Derflinger they might still be at odds.
Even their jaunt into town had done little as neither familiar nor master spoke other than to say that the apparel chosen did or did not suit the wearer. Despite her best efforts, Ramza appeared to be little more than a well-dressed guardsman as he ultimately opted to wear his own clothes, though he had at least allowed Siesta to wash a suitable outfit. It did not help that he opted to wear his mismatched swords, even if he managed to keep them out of the way. Still, his light blue blouse and light blue-gray leggings matched even if they did not make him stand out amongst the brighter and bolder colors worn by the students.
"Have you seen Ramza?" The grating voice of her rival seemed to prove the point. Even the keen eyes of the predatory redhead failed to spot the elusive blond.
"I have not," Louise replied honestly.
"I'm saving my first dance for him," Kirche stated in her usual breathlessness. Several male students sighed or otherwise made their displeasure known at the fact that they were being upstaged by the commoner.
"Do you have any firsts left to give?" the strawberry blond taunted. Though her rival had transferred in at the start of the current year it was rumored that she had already slept with a third of the boys in their year.
"A lady never tells," the buxom girl chided playfully, "and a true lady never asks."
Leaning closer to the shorter girl Kirche smiled, "Though it may not be the first, the boys are still lining up for what I have to offer. Where is your line?"
Louise could feel herself blushing, a mixture of anger, frustration, and jealousy tinting her world a slight shade of red.
"May I have this dance?" Ramza's distinct accent made the situation all the worse, prompting Louise to turn away. Yet the feel of a firm, steady hand on hers kept her from fleeing.
It took a moment for her to realize that he had not asked Kirche to dance, but had instead asked her.
"Please," he added quietly.
"Of course," she replied gently as she turned to face him.
The older boy proved to be as graceful on the dance floor as he was on the battlefield. It was an unexpected surprise for Louise.
"Ramza," she found herself saying as he lead her about the floor, "you said that I resembled your sister."
A slight misstep greeted her statement as Ramza appeared to lose his cool. "I did make such a remark," he stated. "My younger sister, Alma, she could be your double. Save for your slightly pinker hair the two of you could be twins. I believe the both of you have seen the same number of summers if not close to the same."
"Is that all we have in common?" she dared to ask.
For a second he glanced away from her as he contemplated his answer. "The both of you are stubborn."
His answer brought a smile to her face. "Any other siblings?"
Though he usually appeared aloft or carefree, a dark look crossed Ramza's face. "I had two older brothers."
She knew she should have asked yet her curiosity got the better of her, "What happened to them?"
Ramza tensed just as the song ended. "I killed them."
It was Louise's turn to freeze as his regret filled words hit her. Yet she found her mouth opening again.
"Ramza darling!" Kirche interrupted both physically and vocally. "Time to dance with me."
The cool night air was a refreshing change of pace to the seemingly stifling air of the ball. The sound of merriment though could not be contained by the reinforced stone walls as the young assistant walked along the second floor balcony. With the party less than an hour in the vast majority of students were still milling around the dance floor, each vying for a chance to dance with the boy or girl that currently caught their fancy.
A lone exception stood outside much to the green-haired woman's surprise.
"You are an odd one, partner," a voice proclaimed, startling the young assistant.
"What makes you say that Derflinger?" the squire replied.
Scanning the area the woman tried to find the source of the hidden speaker as she hid in the shadows. "Fratricide?"
Ramza shrugged though otherwise did little to deny the charge.
"Were you at least defending yourself?" the mysterious speaker asked.
"I was protecting my comrades and myself," Ramza stated. Though he stood firm, it was clear that the young warrior felt some guilt. "It is not something that I would care to speak of lightly, especially when we are not alone."
The greenette purposefully stepped out of the shadows, "I apologize. I had not meant to overhear anything, it's just that I was about to call out to you when I heard an unfamiliar voice."
Keen blue eyes took her measure, a sign that he had obviously dealt with others of dubious intentions. A slight nod told her that he believed her.
"I see that it was not the music that drove you out of the ball."
Turning to the side he gazed at the mismatched moons. "There is a time and place to speak of various matters – the ball was not the place to speak of my family."
Unsure what to say as he closed the door on the previous subject, the young assistant eyed the squire. His foreign attire was different, and without the flashy and bolder colors worn by the students the light blues and matching grays made him stand out against the darkness. The fact that he was wearing full ceremonial dress armor had gone unnoticed until now.
"For a sell-sword your armor is quiet exquisite," she stated as she moved close enough to touch him, stopping short when she noticed the crests on his scabbard. "I've never seen such fine armor – did Louise procure this for you?"
"It is mine," he stated gruffly, turning so that the mismatched emblems were no longer visible to her. The second scabbard was just as simple save for the missing emblems.
"And the family emblem? Most nobles wear theirs on their armor, but a few mark their swords as well." He stiffened, guarding himself as he took her measure again. "I was once a noble, so I know the telltale signs of one, even one in disguise such as yourself.
"Knights stand at the ready, but you hold yourself as though you have an unspoken purpose that guides you. The words you speak are guarded to all, even a sentient sword or your mistress."
Bright blue eyes darkened as he turned his gaze onto her.
"It is common for the noble families of the four nations to hide the fact that they had children who lacked any magical ability," she added. "The Valliere's name was thought to be the only reason why Louise was admitted here. Everyone who knew of her believed that she had no talent.
"You know what they call her, don't you?"
"Louise the Zero," he replied. "Because of her chances of successfully casting a spell is Zero."
The assistant nodded; a slight smile on her lips as she noted the ever so slight softening of his eyes. "So, what is your story? Is it that different from Louise's?"
"Is there any reason for Louise to kill her sisters?"
"You should ask her that," Miss Longueville suggested. "After all, you are her familiar. But she is a conversation for another night. You are the one that I want to know more about.
"I'm right, aren't I – you are from a noble family, are you not?"
He cast a quick glance about the balcony, making sure that no one else was within earshot. "It matters not – I am who I was back there. If it is my duty to protect Louise then I shall do it."
I think I'll leave things here for now.
I had a great time at Anime Milwaukee and enjoyed Distant Worlds – Music from Final Fantasy. AMKE has grown, and I'm excited to see how much it'll grow next year. It's no Gen Con, but if it were then it'd probably have to leave Milwaukee just like Gen Con did.
Now I'm off to do taxes. Don't expect much from me until April.