As my adoring fans can see, I've recently discovered Zero no Tsukaima, and gotten hooked. I won't be updating this too often, until I've finished A New Order, but I will post the occasional chapter.
As you will hopefully note, I've gone to great lengths to keep Saito the same character at his base. What's changed is the world he comes from, and his experiences in it. If anyone has any guesses about what it's like, leave a review or PM me (PMs welcome, but a review is preferred).
I don't own Familiar of Zero, or it would be less trite. I also don't own any of the genres Saito references in this or any chapter.
"Louise the Zero is right!" someone teased as the class waved away the smoke. "Way to blow up the summoning ritual!" The short strawberry-blonde looked at the pillar of smoke in dismay. Her greatest failure yet.
"Professor Colbert, please," Louise whined, "I have to try again! I'll get it this time, I promise!"
"I'm afraid not," the teacher coughed, getting a lungful of smoke. "The Springtime Familiar Summoning is an ancient and sacred ceremony," he paused as a figure became slowly apparent from the center of the smoke, "and I don't believe you need to try again. You summoned something, it appears."
"What!" Louise whirled around, eyes sparkling, as the smoke dispersed to show her familiar. Her stomach sank.
"A commoner," someone cried, and several of her classmates began laughing.
Sure enough, the figure appearing from the smoke was unmistakably human, and not too impressive a human at that. He had black hair and eyes, and from his skin and facial features he appeared to be of an ethnicity not normally found on the continent. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of rough cloth pants, with an odd blue color. The only noteworthy thing, had anyone noticed, was the silver bracelet on his left wrist, with several tiny gems hanging from tinier links of chain.
"Of course Louise the Zero would summon a commoner," another noted, "he's about as magical as she is!"
"A commoner? I can't!" Louise wailed, turning back to the professor. The young man's eyes swept across the field and then settled back on her, and his stance relaxed slightly. He appeared to be waiting, watching, judging.
"You have to, Louise," her professor sternly. "The Springtime Familiar Summoning is an ancient and sacred tradition, and I will not have you disrespect it. Now seal the contract."
"But, but," she babbled, but a stern frown from the teacher told her it was useless. The petite sixteen-year-old whirled around and strode toward the commoner in the summoning circle, half glum, half furious, and entirely petulant. His eyes focused on her sharply, and he took half a step back. One arm moved towards his pocket while he stretched his right arm out towards her curiously.
"Nan desuka? Nihongo wa hanashimasuka?" he asked, prompting another burst of laughter.
"Such a stupid commoner—he can't even speak right!" someone choked out through a fit of giggles. Louise snarled, swatted her summon's arm away, and stepped within the commoner's personal space. He leaned back cautiously, but didn't step away. Humiliation colored her cheeks as the intoned the traditional benediction, asking the Founder to bless her familiar bond.
My first kiss, too, she thought miserably, and then arched up on her tiptoes and pulled the commoner's head down to her face. She pressed her lips to his and kept them there for only a second, long enough to seal the bond. Then she jerked back and shoved him away violently.
"What was that about?" he wondered.
"Who are you, commoner?" Louise asked irritably. His head snapped up.
"I understood that," he observed clinically. "Translation spell?"
"Well done, Louise!" exclaimed professor Colbert. "You performed 'Contract Servant' on your first attempt. Congratulations!"
"Contract servant," the young man repeated dumbly. "Servant?"
"I can do some things right," Louise announced. "I'm not a total failure."
"Only because he's more pathetic than you are!" taunted another student, who didn't notice the familiar's eyes flick over to him.
"If he was a powerful magical beast, she'd never have been able to make that contract," laughed another.
"Hey now, Louise is right," shouted a girl with long, blonde ringlets. "Even the Zero doesn't fail at everything." Louise's head snapped up at the new experience of being defended by a classmate. But before she could thank her savoir, the girl continued. "Of course, that's not because she was successful. It's just that she fails at being a failure!"
"Professor Colbert, I've just been mocked by Montmorency the Flood!"
"Flood! I'm Montmorency the Fragrance, Zero!"
"You used to let loose a flood every night, bedwetter!"
"Enough! Nobles ought to show respect to one another," the professor chastised. The young man narrowed his eyes as another piece of the puzzle fell into place. Then he yelped and clutched at his left hand.
"The hell? Someone turn the heat down!"
"That's just the Familiar Runes," Louise snapped. "It will be over in a moment, you big baby."
"Who are you calling a baby, brat?" he snapped and then immediately winced, having made a mistake.
"Who are you, commoner, to use such language in front of a noble?" the tiny girl asked archly. "I asked your name, did I not? Present yourself!"
Explain myself! I should be the one asking for an explanation! But he bit down on the thought. Before he could answer, the bald professor strode over and examined his hand.
"Interesting runes. And that bracelet…" Colbert mused. Then they heard the faint sound of a bell. "Everyone, let's head back to the Academy! Class is over." With barely an incantation, he rose into the air smoothly. When the rest of the class did the same, minus the strawberry-blonde, Saito's eyebrows rose and he whistled quietly. They quickly floated off toward the stone walls of a distant castle, but one of the students called back to Louise.
"Zero! You should take it easy and walk home after such a difficult summoning, you know?"
"Who are you kidding, she can't fly!"
"Can't even manage levitation!"
Louise just stood there grinding her teeth, looking ready to cry. It was just the two of them remaining. She turned to the commoner but he spoke first.
"Hiraga Saito." She paused.
"My name. Hiraga Saito." He looked like he was going to add something, stopped, and then said, "Saito is my given name."
"Then you should have said so first!" Louise snapped. "Honestly, whoever heard of saying your family name first?" He shrugged.
"It's the custom of my homeland."
"It's a stupid custom!"
"Then, my lady, would you do me the honor of demonstrating an introduction, and give me the honor of knowing your name?" Louise missed the sarcasm and his words soothed her ruffled feathers. She inflated with self-importance.
"You have the honor of addressing Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, youngest daughter of the duke of Valliere." Saito raised an eyebrow as the gears in his head began to turn again, processing. He smiled faintly and bowed.
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. Now would you please inform me why I am here, how I came to be here, and where the hell here is?" She slapped him, and Saito just looked at her impassively.
"Do not use such language in front of a noble, commoner!" She drew herself up, her anger spent, and deigned to answer him. "We are currently in a glaive not far from the world-famous Tristain Academy of Magic. You are here because I preformed the Familiar Summoning ritual, and summoned you." She wilted. "Why did I have to get such a lame familiar? I wanted something cool, like a griffin, or a dragon. Or a manticore, like mother."
"Those exist?" Saito asked curiously.
"Of course they do! What kind of backwoods idiot are you, to not know that?" Saito frowned, but the expression was gone in an instant, and he offered her a smile instead.
"Does the name Tokyo sound familiar to you?"
"Never heard of it," she said dismissively as they began trudging back towards.
"It's the capital city of Japan, which is my homeland."
"Doesn't ring a bell."
"Maybe by another name…Nihon? Nippon? Edo?"
"Such odd names. None of them are familiar." Saito sighed at her response.
"I didn't think so. Do you know of a way for me to return home? Or at least contact home? People might worry."
"I'd assume you would just find it on a map and send a letter, idiot," she grumbled.
"If you've never heard of my homeland, it isn't likely to be on your maps," Saito explained drily. "Since I'm going to be here a while, I don't suppose you could tell me what being a familiar entails?" It was Louise's turn to sigh.
"Alright, as a commoner you couldn't be expected to this stuff. A familiar is-"
"An animal or similar creature into which the mage places a small piece of their essence to bind the two of them together, so that the animal will obey their will and can aid them with certain projects," he rattled off, as though from a textbook. She stared at him.
"Not such an uneducated commoner," she finally allowed. He smiled faintly and asked a question of his own.
"And what is the difference between nobles and commoners?" Louise sniffed haughtily.
"That's obvious. Magic, of course!"
"Is that all, my lady?"
"Well, in some uncivilized places like Germania," she didn't note Saito eyebrow rise at the name, "a commoner can buy land and eventually buy a noble title, but everyone knows they aren't real nobility. They won't be able to use magic unless they buy their way into a marriage with some down-on-their-luck noble family, and even then it'll only be their children, and not them. But magic is the biggest difference, as it is the Founder's sign that our families are chosen to rule."
"And so all I would need to do to prove that I am a noble is cast a spell?" he asked, and she frowned at the calculating note in his voice.
"Yes, but it's obvious that you couldn't, even if you did have a noble ancestor a few generation back. For one thing, you need a wand, which a commoner obviously wouldn't have." There was a moment of silence, and when Saito spoke Louise actually flinched at the ice in his voice.
"Of course I don't have a wand. Maybe it didn't get summoned along with me." The petite girl stopped dead in her tracks, horror written across her face, and furiously looked over her familiar, who kept walking. After a few moments of dread she hurried to catch up, pulling at his elbow.
"Wait, wait! So you are a noble?" she asked, worried. Summoning a noble as a familiar and binding them could have horrific political repercussions. and a noble from a foreign country...worst comes to worst that could mean war.
"Of course not," Saito replied casually, and she stopped again.
"But, but, you just said…"
"I was speaking hypothetically. What a silly idea!" Saito chuckled, rubbing his right wrist awkwardly. "Me, a noble? How ridiculous?"
"But you just said you were!" Louise shrieked and ran to catch up again. Her fingers were twitching for the riding crop she wasn't carrying. "Look, are you a noble?"
"I'm not going to answer that."
"Arrrg!" This finally got Saito to stop, and he turned to look at the girl he had just put through emotional whiplash. She was panting, with a wild look about her. Saito smiled gently, leaned in closer to lock eyes with her, and placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Lady de Valliere—that's your name, right?—I'm afraid you've put me in a rather tricky position. You see, if I were a noble, I wouldn't tell you, because then I could be ransomed back home or pressed for information that could be used against my people. As a noble yourself, you would never allow yourself to put your homeland at risk, correct?" Louise swallowed and nodded uncertainly.
"It would be the greatest betrayal one could commit," she admitted.
"Exactly. So if I were a noble, I would never say so, and would pretend to be a commoner in order to protect my people. On the other hand, if I were a commoner, I would never dare lie and call myself a noble, for fear of being caught and punished. Don't you agree?" He turned and kept walking, and after a moment Louise came back to life and followed. After a few minutes of running the conversation over in her head, she frowned and tugged at Saito's elbow again.
"I am your master, familiar. Surely I can be trusted to know your identity."
"Does a dragon familiar show its master the cave where it once hoarded gold? Does a griffin lead its master to its former nest? No, master, until I can contact my homeland, I ask that you merely consider me your humble familiar Saito, of no importance to anyone other than you."
"But I have to know! How am I supposed to know how to treat you if I don't know what your status is?" If he was a commoner then she should keep him in his proper place, but if he was a noble then he was deserving of a degree of respect, and disciplining him would be completely inappropriate.
"Merely treat me as a human being, master. Or, failing that, treat me as any other mage would treat their familiar, which I assume is with care and respect, but also authority." Seeing she was not satisfied with this, Saito asked, "Surely my master is smart enough to figure things out for herself?" He smiled when she reacted precisely as he had guessed.
"But everything you say is so confusing!" Louise's wail actually frightened a few birds into flight, and she looked as though she were about to cry. Saito smiled gently, placed his hand on her shoulder, and closed in for the kill that would cement her opinion of him.
"There is a saying my homeland, master, that you may find helpful. Actions speak louder than words."
"We have a similar saying here," Louise grumped, "but I fail to see what it has to do with anything."
"Well, what my master must ask herself is this. Does my master think her beloved familiar," Louise snorted in annoyance, "acts more like a noble would, or like a commoner would? For instance, clothing." He gestured at his own clothes, a simple short-sleeved shirt (he would later tell her it was called a t-shirt) and a pair of rough, blue pants (jeans).
"They don't look like what a noble would wear," Louise said thoughtfully, comparing them to her own fine uniform.
"Precisely," said Saito, pleased. "My master must ask herself what characteristics common clothes and noble clothes have. How worn are they? How clean are they? How simple are they? Would you see them worn by a commoner during a day's work, or by a noble out for a walk? And then she must see if her beloved familiar's clothes are more like a commoner's, or like a noble's."
"And that will tell your master whether her beloved familiar is a commoner or a noble?" Louise's voice dripped sarcasm as she pretended to adopt her familiar's patterns of speech, but she was eyeing his clothing closely, examining the hems, the stiches, the sleeves, and searching for any tears or patches that would mark lower quality weaving.
Saito smiled at her preoccupation. Hook…
"The clothes are a way of telling, yes, but they are not the only way." She looked at him curiously. "My master, to be thorough, would have to investigate many things about her familiar. How well fed does he appear? How hard does it look like he works? Does he act with the bearing of a noble or a commoner? Would a commoner," he held out his left wrist for inspection, and her eyes immediately latched onto the silver bracelet, "have something such as this?"
"So you are a noble," she said decisively.
"Of course not, master, there are many reasons I might, as a commoner, have this. It might be a family heirloom, or I might be the child of a wealthy merchant, or it may have been a gift for services rendered from a noble I am close to." He placed a hand on her shoulder and leaned in again, whispering in her ear. "I might even have stolen it." He smirked as a range of emotions crossed her face in quick succession. Line…
"Aaarrrrrgggh! You are so frustrating! Would it kill you to just tell me? In fact, familiar, as your master I order you to give me a straight answer!" He smirked at Louise, who had flushed red in fury, waving her arm at him as though she wanted to hit him, but didn't quite dare. Then, Saito moved in for the kill that would cement his position in her eyes.
"Straight answers are so boring, master," he answered, wincing as she finally punched him in the shoulder. "Still, though, what my master should really wonder is this…would a commoner be smart enough to give my master such a tricky puzzle?" Sinker, he thought as that made its way into her mind. He could see her finally classify him as a noble worthy of respect, since of course no commoner could play her for a fool. He'd have to work on breaking her of that belief when he had the chance.
But only if I can't get home first, he corrected himself. They walked the rest of the way back to the castle in a mostly comfortable silence.
Hiraga Saito. Physical age: around the area of seventeen to nineteen. Actual age: uncertain, but not more than thirty.
Athletic ability: slightly below average, but has combat training. Academic ability: average, due to poor memory, but has skills in logic and composition.
Relationship status: non-committed long-term relationship, aka 'friends with benefits'. Comments: can be very charming and charismatic, but there's a certain point that he stops caring, and only goes through the motions. Still, he's good at figuring out what a girl likes.
Overall: Apparently positive, but may simply be good at concealing the negatives. Tentatively average.
Parents' evaluation: "You should study more instead of spending all your time with your friends. You're on the slow side, and you can't turn friends into a steady job."
Teacher's evaluation: "Ah, Hiraga-kun, he refuses to give up, and is willing to work around problems. A strong sense of curiosity, but not the best memory." *Special note—drama teacher's evaluation: "Saito-kun has a bad memory for scripts, but he's so phenomenal at improvisation that it rarely causes problems, and will easily work with any scenario he's given."
Basic training officer's evaluation: "Hiraga-san is a mild and personable person with few special skills outside the social arena. Within the social arena, he has proven himself very good at fitting in with various groups and endearing himself to people of different personalities, quickly earning their trust. This is tempered only by the occasional foot-in-mouth incident, which may or may not be intentional on his part.
"Also, while he lacks the combat skills to ever be much more than a mediocre soldier, he has the personality for it, acting as a mediator between fellow squad mates. He also has what may be termed a 'split-personality killing instinct'. He is either willing to kill his target ruthlessly, or will be completely unwilling to do so and attempt to befriend them instead, with surprising success. He would do very well in Intelligence, but is unsuited for the front lines."
Saito's mind was slow to begin working, so he often would not comprehend a surprise event until a second or two later, but once he began thinking he could do so quickly and creatively. Thus, he did not think too deeply about most things, but thought very deeply about the few exceptions. He was willing to quickly accept and work with any scenario, and unwilling or unable to be thrown by sudden changes and revelations. He could quickly change his entire world-view as need be, but could also quickly change it back should he get new information, or discover he was lied to.
Also, he had a fiercely competitive spirit similar to Louise's, but lacked the ambition to hone his full potential. Instead, he applied himself to the things he enjoyed and worked around those he couldn't, the way a river will flow around a rock instead of trying immediately smash it to pieces. Thus he became a skilled intelligence officer after entering that division, but never particularly bothered to develop the skills that would let him leave for greener pastures.
To be blunt, he did what he enjoyed, and was lazy about what he did not. Also, he did not always think before acting, but often thought very much before reacting, coming off as a very passive person.
A very passive person, who was just given an entire new world to react to. Smiling faintly and rubbing his wrists, Saito recognized that his period of peace and quiet was over when he saw the castle gates, and began once more to plan.
"Master," he asked quietly as he and Louise walked into the main yard of the castle, "is it safe to assume that we will be living here for a while?"
"Yes," she answered bluntly, "students and their familiars stay at the school building for the whole year, except for holidays and vacations."
"Then will you require me to accompany you for the remainder of the day, or may I have permission to familiarize myself with the premises?" Louise blinked, not having been paying attention.
"What?" Saito took this as a sign that she was used to him enough that he could stop being so d***ed formal and polite for the moment.
"Do I stay with you, or can I look around?" he repeated more drily.
"Oh." She paused, eyebrows scrunching as she thought. Did she want to show off that she actually had a familiar, or hide the fact that she had such a pathetic looking familiar? "Yes, you are free to look around. Just don't make any trouble. Come find me in time for dinner," she added, hurrying off to class, and Saito didn't bother to mention that he didn't know where her room was. Instead he just watched her go.
Once Louise had turned a corner and was out of sight, he let the congenial smile slip off his face, slumped to the ground, and groaned.
"This is what I get for walking through strange portals." He sighed and thought back to just how he had gotten himself into this fustercluck, with almost no information or equipment.
He'd been put on a month's leave because they were worried about him burning out, and he was enjoying the peace by making sure that there weren't any people around for him to use his skills on. Since it was forced leave, he didn't have his uniform or most of his equipment—including his talisman—but he'd managed to wheedle two prototypes in need of testing from R&D, arguing that he didn't have anything better to do.
He'd been out hiking when an ellipse appeared in front of him, hanging in the air. While he was no student of sorcery, by any stretch of the term, he guessed it was either a portal or a barrier of some form. When nothing came through it after a few seconds, he eliminated portal. Then, when a tossed pebble disappeared into it while ones thrown around it continued unharmed, he eliminated barrier and went back to portal.
If it's not something for someone to come find me, maybe I'm supposed to go through it, he thought. But then they would have sent him a message, telling him to return, and he hadn't received any. Then a more chilling thought occurred to him.
What if this was an enemy portal, and they were using this as a foothold in an invasion? The Acere Empire had unpleasantly surprised them a few times over the course war, and such portals would be a nasty trick to add to their armory. Saito felt that, on leave or not, he had to find out.
To make sure it was safe, he poked the ellipse with a nearby branch, and then pulled it out unharmed. Touching it wasn't going to kill him.
He pocketed his the prototype handheld he'd 'borrowed,' and stepped into the portal.
He immediately regretted his curiosity, realizing that he should have thought more first. He was assailed by a shock, reminding him of a childhood fiasco where his mother bought a device that claimed to make children smarter by running an electric current through them. All it did was make him smart enough to break the device and pretend it still was shocking him.
He opened his eyes, took a breath, coughed, and immediately froze. D***it. He hadn't considered whether the area on the other side of the portal was habitable, and worried that he got a lungful of toxic gas. He took a step back and discovered that the portal was one-way, but his actions were enough for him to realize that he was just caught in a dispersing pillar of smoke.
Hearing voices but unable to understand what they were saying, he resolved to wait and see. The smoke cleared to reveal several teenagers, all obviously human, but none speaking a language he could understand. One in particular was standing at the edge of a circle he appeared to be in the center of, but had turned around and was arguing with an older man.
His first thought, when she turned back around, was that the crown princess was playing a prank of some kind. They had the same build, and similar hair and eye colors, but he soon realized that it was a different girl of about the same age.
She stalked towards him, but while she appeared angry, it was directed more towards the older man than at him. He noted that they all wore capes of some kind, which were probably part of a uniform, and guessed that they were still in a school of some kind.
"What? Do you speak Japanese?" he asked, extending a hand as the girl approached. She swatted it away, and got too close for comfort, but didn't appear to be armed. Saito edged back, but she stopped a few inches from his face and began chanting something. A spell. He waited, eyeing her flushed cheeks furiously.
And then she kissed him.
Being slow to react to surprises, and thus hard to surprise, he didn't process what had happened until she had already pushed him away.
"What was that about?" he wondered. It took him another moment to realize that the voices of the students around him had changed.
"Who are you, commoner?" the girl asked imperiously.
"I understood that," he noted, unwilling to give away more information until he knew what the hell was going on. He guessed she was part of whatever upper-class existed, and immediately decided that antagonism and demands would probably get him killed. It would be safer to act deferential, pump her for information by playing stupid, and then figure out what to do. "Translation spell?"
Before anyone could get any answers, the older man interrupted, commenting that the girl had performed the spell properly.
Louise, Saito identified the girl as, had successfully cast 'Contract Servant'. That sounded like bad news to him.
He listened to several of them go off on a tangent of insults until the professor reprimanded them, simultaneously confirming that these people were the nobility of their world. Then heat assailed him as harshly as shock had before.
"The hell? Someone turn down the heat!" He thought it was someone casting a spell on him for fun, or because they were bored, but apparently not.
"That's just the Familiar Runes. It will be over in a moment, you big baby."
"Who are you calling a baby, brat?" he snapped as the heat focused on his left hand. He realized belatedly that he had acted without thinking again, and tensed in case she attacked, but Louise seemed content to yell.
"Who are you, commoner, to use such language in front of a noble?" the tiny girl asked archly. "I asked your name, did I not? Present yourself!"
He swallowed the impulse to demand an explanation of his own. Then the teacher strode over and grabbed his left hand, examining the runes on it. This only confirmed Saito's status in the world—servile like any of the other animals he noticed around the clearing.
After another moment, the professor ordered everyone back to the school, which he presumed was the castle in the distance.
Wands, wizards, and a school in a castle. I wonder what else is like Harry Potter, Saito mused, and checked to make sure that the girl who summoned him didn't have any visible marks or scars. As he watched the other students disappear into the distance, he decided on a course of action.
1) Play the idiot and find out as much as possible about the caste system and the land, as well as what's happened.
2) Raise his "master's" opinion of him, possibly by convincing her that he was a foreign noble, while not specifying a lie that could come back to bite him.
3) Plan more about how to get home.
Cutting her off before she could ask again, he offered his name, "Hiraga Saito."
And now, here he was, in a strange castle in a strange land with no idea of how to get home.
"Alright," he grunted, recollecting himself. "Approach this logically. What do I know? I'm in a world with magic, but apparently a medieval level of technology and caste system. I've been bound to a sorceress as a familiar, which is apparently unheard of for humans. I have no way to return home, and no idea of where home is in relation to here. And if I'm not back within a month I'll probably be declared AWOL and they'll put out a warrant for my arrest." He sighed.
"Alright, pluses. I have…" He trailed off and stared at his left wrist, remembering the bracelet. A flick of his wrist later and he had pulled a white plastic rectangle about the size and shape as a large calculator from the subspace pocket the bracelet maintained. The held held computer he'd agreed to field test it during his vacation. His first action was to try to send a message home.
"This thing can get a signal through Jupiter's atmosphere, but not here on a clear day?" he grumbled. "I guess I'm really not in Kansas anymore." In a few moments he had set up written lists, hoping that even if someone got their hand on this, they would be unable to operate or read it.
*Multi-purpose portable computer (experimental and with no signal) Solar powered
*Bracelet creating a subspace-pocket and equipped with ten pre-stored spells that are non-replenishable.
*Prior experience with Infiltration and Information missions.
*(Potentially) the respect of a 'master' who is a member of the nobility. Will have to check how important a "duke" is.
Saito sighed. It wasn't a lot to work with, but it was more than what he'd had once or twice before, assuming that the experimental gadgets didn't break down. But while they were taught to prepare for the worst case-scenario, he was of the opinion that if the worst case-scenario occurred often enough to be worried about, then they would have already died anyway.
That, and a real worst-case scenario couldn't be prepared for. So he saved and started the next list.
Objective: return home before being declared AWOL. Failing that, live a good life here.
* Find out where here is and how I got here.
* If magic brought me then it can presumably bring me back.
* Here appears to be an earthlike planet with (assumed) humans. Since this is not like any part of the empire I have encountered, it is probably a different reality.
+ If it is merely an alternate timeline then there should still be similarities between our worlds that I can use to my advantage (note: Louise looks similar to the crown princess—look for other lookalikes).
+ If it is a completely alternate universe that only bears similarities by chance, then I can use the differences in our development to earn myself respect and favor, hopefully.
- It might also be that this is some form of complicated illusion or hallucination that has either natural causes or is induced for some reason. If so, then there is no way for me to know so I might as well run with it instead of giving myself a worse mental breakdown.
On that rather depressing note Saito decided to end the list until further notice. Overthinking things was an excellent way to defeat yourself, which was why he never was bothered by his own occasional lack of thought.
You could plan things until your brain fried, but having the ability to put those plans into actions was a very different thing. Furthermore, he had witnessed time and again that the tighter a plan is, the easier it is to knock irreparably off course with one small wrench, which often made his job very easy. He started the last list.
Things to do:
* Find out social norms so I know how not to get myself killed.
* Make contacts who are willing to help me and give me more information.
* Try to attract the attention and interest of a mage powerful and intelligent enough to try sending me home (and moral enough not to experiment on me).
* Find out what ways I can use this new place to help our war effort.
* If I can't get home, make efforts toward a fulfilling life here.
* Work to make the 'master' easier to live with and find out what being a familiar entails. If she hasn't changed by the time there's a solid enough base to strike out alone, run away. Kill her if necessary. Otherwise, befriend and cooperate with her. Find out what she likes, what she wants, and what she expects.
Saito nodded to himself and saved. Louise seemed malleable and gullible enough that he could make her easier to live with, within reason. For that matter, if there wasn't a way to track someone with a familiar bond he could just run away and not kill her.
He put the handheld back in his subspace pocket and rose. Then he took a moment to glance at his bracelet and the ten black gems hanging from it. If someone thought it would be funny to switch around the order of the spells, I'm going to switch around the order of their insides. After all, the stored spells were the closest thing to a trump card he had, and such pranks were not unheard of from R&D.
Saito sighed, enjoying the quiet for a minute more. At the moment the easiest thing to do would be to start making friends. And if there was one thing he knew, it was that servant workers were always invaluable in places like these.
He stood up and began looking for the kitchens.
Flagging down a maid in the halls quickly got him to the kitchens, where he began helping with general work while telling his story. His genial demeanor, combined with the story about how a noble had bound him into magical servitude (cue appropriate gasps of scandalized horror) had earned him a number of friends.
The most important of these was probably Marteau, the head chef, who had commiserated with him over working under the haughty pigs. The man had burst out laughing when Saito told the story about how he'd earned Louise's respect—convincing her that he was a noble by repeatedly telling her he wasn't. "It's just like them," Marteau had chuckled, "to be so certain the sky is green that they never look up." That had gotten a round of laughter.
Saito was snacking on an apple, and had insisted on helping wash and dry dishes in payment while telling his story a bit at a time. Then someone asked an inevitable question.
"Mr. Hiraga," a slightly timid girl asked.
"Saito," he corrected with an easy smile. "We're all in the same boat here, right?" She flushed and nodded.
"Mr. Saito, what was your homeland like?" Everyone paused, listening for the answer.
"Well, what do you want to know?" There was a beat, and then several people blurted questions at once.
"Do the nobles rule there too?"
"What was your job back there?"
"Did you leave family behind?"
"What was your life like?"
"Easy, easy," he cried, waving his dishtowel in mock surrender. "One at a time, okay? To start, yes, there's nobility in my homeland, but not all of them are mages. And not all mages are nobles, either."
"Yes," Saito confirmed. "In fact, magic has almost nothing to do with leadership there, and until a few years ago there were almost no mages in the government."
"What happened?" someone asked, latching onto the, 'until a few years ago.'
"War happened," Saito said darkly. "A war happened and mages got a lot of power because they were the only ones who could act effectively against the enemy. Most of our government got gutted, so the ones who could lead, protect, and fight did."
"Sounds right," Marteau said gruffly. "They took advantage of the fighting to seize power, and you either obeyed or died. They don't sound so different from our nobles." There was a chorus of agreements, but a handful of the servants noticed Saito go very still, and his face blanked.
"Marteau, I'd like for us to be friends, but if you ever insult my queen like that again I'll beat you senseless," Saito said coldly. The room went quiet. "My Queen and her court ran themselves ragged the entire war, fighting enemies and healing the wounded. The didn't take power, they were given it because they were the only people who everyone trusted to have it. Her Majesty is one of the kindest, most compassionate people I have ever known and I will not listen to her be insulted by people who've never even heard her name."
"I'm…sorry," the man admitted. "I guess I was out of line. I know I wouldn't like to hear people talk about princess Henrietta like that."
"It's not just that," Saito said, defrosting slightly, "it's that she wasn't a noble before the war began." That got a reaction.
"Not a noble! What do you mean?"
"She was raised a commoner like us, the daughter of an artist and a housewife. According to her close friends, all she wanted growing up was a happy marriage and children. She took the throne because without her leadership we would have been wiped out during the war, and she was the only person everyone would be willing to follow." There was a pause as people considered this. Then someone latched onto another tidbit he had dropped.
"You said you knew what her friends said about her," a woman noted. "What did you do back in your homeland. Did you ever actually meet her?"
"Several times, though rarely for very long" Saito admitted with a smile. "I wasn't a noble, in the sense of governing, or of magic, but before the war I was friends with the prince—her majesty's younger brother. Later I signed up to serve in the army after my father died. I didn't fight on the front lines, but I climbed through the ranks and was important enough that I would occasionally get jobs from her majesty herself, and spoke with her on a few occasions, as well as several members of her court."
"You were a soldier?"
"I was a spy," Saito corrected, telling the truth for the sake of his reputation. He wouldn't realize until later exactly how stupid he was being. "I'd sneak into the enemy's castle, steal their treasures, listen in on their plans," and slit their throats, he added silently. "I was good enough that my queen could trust me with high priority jobs."
"That's so cool," a maid squealed, blushing.
"Thank you," Saito said with a flirtatious smile, making her blush even harder. "Anyway, on to the next question. Yes, I left family behind. My father died in the war, but my mother is still alive, and my little sister is married. I might have a new niece or nephew by the time I get home." People cooed appropriately. "All in all, I'd say I had a good life back home, but there's potential for just as good a life here. Especially with such close friends." He mockingly raised a soapy glass in toast, and everyone started chuckling.
"You've got a friend in me," Marteau laughed, slapping him on the back. Saito smirked back.
"So, since I'm going to be here a while, I was wondering if anyone could fill me in on all the gossip. Which students are nice, which should I avoid, what are the teachers like, etc." He paused. "Actually, it occurs to me that I know almost nothing about my new master. Anyone care to fill me in?"
The gossip session had been fruitful, Saito reflected as he paced the halls of the castle. He paused in a nook and pulled out the i-com to list what he had learned. He had the names of several students who might be promising leads toward getting home, through either their own ability or family connections. He also had a list of a few teachers whose interest he could probably catch.
Most importantly, he had valuable information on his master. "Louise the Zero," he mused, and chuckled at the irony. Admittedly this world's magic seemed different from his own, but if there were any similarities at all, then her continuous explosions were a good thing. And a hook to get in her good graces, Saito considered.
If her problem was power, then she had too much of it, because too little would just cause nothing to happen. In that case, he could tell her about a few of the higher-level spells he'd heard of, termed 'mana dumps' because they relied almost solely on power with very little control, and help her try to recreate them.
If, instead, she had some lack of control that caused everything in her magic to go haywire, he could run her through some control exercises he'd seen people perform, hopefully with good results.
And if, due to some curiosity of birth or nature, she simply tended towards explosions instead of other abilities, then he could d*** well teach her to use explosions as best as possible. Regardless, giving her help that had any results at all would have her eating out his palm, and would be a chance to reshape her into someone easier to get along with. According to rumor, she was a rather rude—but not cruel or abusive—spitfire who came from one of the more powerful families in Tristain (the name of the country). No doubt she felt she had some rather large shoes to fill.
The bell rang four times, and students began filling the halls. Saito began looking for his new master.
Apparently, Louise had been badly teased during several of her classes, as she was in a foul mood when he found her. He stayed by her side as she grumbled, letting her simply become accustomed to his presence. She berated him several times, which he accepted with his bland smile, and at dinner banished him to the courtyard with the other animals.
Saito snuck away and spent an enjoyable meal in the kitchens again, before returning quickly enough that Louise didn't miss him. He also used the opportunity to scope out the other familiars. Some appeared to be normal animals: cats, dogs, birds, and a snake. Some were more impressive: a small blue dragon, an octopus-like creature, a floating eyeball, and a fiery lizard. All of them seemed friendly, and didn't attempt to reenact the food chain.
Probably a side effect of being a familiar, he mused. They wouldn't work very well if they were completely wild still, so the spell domesticates them as well. He idly worried what the magic was doing to him, but decided not to care too much, since he couldn't change it.
Dinner ended, and Louise grumpily ordered him to follow her to her room, while several people ribbed her about her odd familiar. Common consensus was that she was paying him to act as a familiar and hide her failure, it seemed. He waited around idly as she worked on an essay, and eventually asked if he could explore the grounds again. She barely paid attention, waving him away with an unintelligible grunt.
Saito scanned the corridors as he walked, looking for one particular student. The description would make her easily recognizable, but her personality would make her hard to find. Luck was with him, and he saw the girl sitting under a tree. Then he got a better look at her and his eyebrows rose.
Dear lord, she's like Lady Urawa in miniature. Tabitha, rumored to be the genius of the school, had more in common with the head of Research and Development than just intelligence. Glasses, check. Head buried in a book, check. Her hair is a lighter shade of blue, but check. All alone, check. And apparently they're both geniuses. Though I don't think Lady Urawa ever used a dragon as a cushion, he added, noting her familiar. That she had called and bound such a powerful animal was probably another sign of genius, and she would almost certainly be of some help in his quest to return home.
Saito knew from experience that the worst way to approach the stereotypical genius-loner was directly. It was best to just be in the area and do something that caught their interest, letting them approach first. His eye fell on a group of three noble girls giggling on the far side of the courtyard, and he walked over with a polite smile.
"I beg your pardon, ladies, but I was wondering if I could beg a boon of thee." He bowed low. The blonde in the middle looked up and opened her mouth to dismiss him, but paused. She recognized him.
"You're that commoner Louise is calling a familiar, aren't you?" She asked, ringlets bouncing.
"Guilty as charged, ma'am," he said with a bow. "I was wondering if you could give me a little charity."
"Go look elsewhere for money, or tell Zero to pay you more for this charade," sniffed the brunette.
"Not money, milady," he corrected with a polite smile, "information."
"My master wanted me out of her hair while she worked on an essay, so she told me to go find some things out for her. I doubt she'll really care whether I do or not, but I'd rather obey if I can."
"What did the Zero want to know?"
"I was wondering if you had any stories to tell about the lady over there," he said, pointing to Tabitha. The girls shared a few looks, and Saito prompted them a bit. "I've heard that she is considered a genius, but also a loner. I just don't know much of anything else."
"Well," said a brunette, shivering slightly, "she really is a genius. Her and Kirche both are already triangle mages." That got murmurs of surprise from the other two girls as well.
"Really? Are you sure, Thonet?" asked the third girl, whose blonde hair was tied in a bun.
"Yes, I saw them in action," Thonet whispered. "It's the reason her and Kirche became friends."
"I always wondered about that," the blonde with ringlets wondered, stroking her frog familiar. "Didn't they fight a duel last year?"
"A duel? Over what?" Saito asked, smelling an in and smiling charmingly. He may have been a commoner, but Thonet blushed under his look.
"It was sort of a set-up," she confessed. "A bunch of us were angry at Kirche for poaching boys, and at Tabitha for being so smart. It didn't help that she almost killed De Lorraine in a duel."
"So you set them up to fight each other?" the blonde-with-ringlets asked.
"We tried, Montmorency, but it failed pretty badly." Montmorecy frowned and petted her frog.
"Wait, is that when you got hung naked from the bell tower?"
"Yes, but never tell anyone I said that," Thonet admitted, eyeing Tabitha worriedly. "Kirche threatened to do worse if we told."
"What could she do?" asked the bun-haired girl, petting a mouse that was probably her familiar.
"Aletta, I'd rather not find out," Thonet said worriedly.
"If my lady doesn't mind, I would dearly love to hear this story," Saito said gently. Over the next half hour, with coaxing from him and her two friends, the tale emerged. Saito latched onto several important details.
Tabitha was a skilled wind user, (whatever 'triangle mage' meant) and had been even before coming to the school. She was a loner who loved books. She had one friend, which she had made over fighting and revenge. And most importantly, she reacted very badly to insults against her mother.
"Now that we've told you a story," Montmorency said, "why don't you tell us how you came to work for Louise. How much is she paying you to pretend to be her familiar?" Saito raised an eyebrow.
"As disappointed as you may be to hear this, my master really did summon me with the familiar ritual. I was walking in the country in my homeland when a portal appeared in front of me, and when I stepped through I found myself in the clearing."
"Really. And where is your homeland?" asked Thonet. "I remember you spoke gibberish when you first arrived, and people with your looks aren't very common."
"Have you ever heard of Japan? No? Well to be honest, I've never seen Tristain or Halgenkia on a map at home, either. Perhaps if I could see one of your maps I would recognize something?" Aletta produced a wand with a smile and bent over, her mouse familiar scurrying onto her shoulder.
"I am Aletta the Loam," she announced proudly. "Such a creation is well within my abilities." She touched her wand to the ground and chanted, finishing with the command, "Mold." The dirt rippled for a moment and rearranged itself into a rough map that vaguely resembled Europe.
Well, if you tilted your head and squinted.
"This peninsula, the one shaped like a boot. What is its name?" Saito inquired.
"Romalia, which is Halgenkia's spiritual capital," Montmorency answered. He smiled.
Romalia and Germania. Yes, this is definitely similar to Europe. Which means… "I recognize a little of this. I believe my homeland lies farther to the east."
"The East! You come from the Holy Lands?"
Holy lands in their version of the middle eastern area, probably showing similarities to Judeo-Christianity, or maybe Islam. "Even further east, I believe." Saito quickly used his finger to trace out the Asian continent, and then added Japan in. "In ancient times we called our home the land of the rising sun," he explained. "Thank you very much for your assistance, ladies," he added, standing. "I believe I should probably return to my master now, but I will no doubt encounter you again. Good evening." With another bow, he walked off.
A bed of straw? Really? Saito was walking the halls late at night, examining the castle in the moonlight. Well, I guess I won't change her opinion in day. It's like building Rome. He sighed, and then something caught his eye. Up on a balcony several floors above him a short figure had curled up and was reading a book in the moonlight. With a little searching he caught a glimpse of a dragon flying in the night.
Well, today may be even more productive than I hoped, if I can get an in with Tabitha, he thought to himself, and headed towards the kitchens. First, I need a little dragon bait to keep from being menaced.
A few minutes later Saito, carrying a basket in one hand, walked onto the balcony Tabitha inhabited. She didn't react to his presence and he didn't announce himself, simply walking over to the edge. He laid the basket on the ground, sat down next to it, and leaned his back against the railing. Without a word he pulled out his handheld and began playing a game of chess with the stylus.
For almost half an hour there was not a word spoken between the two of them, neither acknowledging the other's existence. Finally, Tabitha marked her page, closed her book, and turned to look at him. There was a whoosh of displaced air as the dragon landed on the railing between them. Without missing a beat or looking up from the game Saito reached into the basket and produced a cold drumstick left over from the nobles' dinner.
The blue dragon immediately perked up and snatched it out of the air when he tossed it. It mewled happily, swallowed, and looked down at Saito with large, doleful eyes. He tossed it a chunk of bread while continuing to play chess. Tabitha blinked at him.
"Thank you," she said quietly. He looked up at her and raised an eyebrow questioningly. "For Sylphiel."
"My pleasure," Saito answered with a smile. Tabitha turned to look at the rectangle in his hands.
"Something from my homeland," Saito answered. "I'm using it to play a game. Would you like to play?"
"Chess." Apparently the game was known here, because Tabitha scooted slightly closer. Saito reset the game for two humans and chose black, letting her move first. For a time the only sound was the clicking as they moved their pieces in miniature war. Then Tabitha finally won, and jolted in surprise when the computer let out a trill of congratulatory music.
"It's enchanted to do a lot of things," Saito answered. "It can play music, it can store books to read, it can even scan and observe things in the real world."
"Scan?" Saito obligingly turned the handheld so that the scanner was facing him and clicked for it to begin. There was a hum and a flicker of red light, and after a few moments he handed it back to her to read what it said about him. She stared at his image on the screen for a moment and then glanced at the characters next to it. "Language." He laughed nervously.
"Sorry about that. I forgot it wouldn't display your language." Saito scooted closer to her and pointed out the paragraphs and what they said. "This one describes my body. Height, weight, approximate age, blood type, general health, scars, not a mage, etc. This talks about my clothes: what they're made of, how worn they are, whether or not they're enchanted, and how clean they are."
"Thorough," Tabitha said simply.
"Yes," Saito agreed. He paused, and then decided to get a bit more aggressive. "I had a reason for approaching you. Several, actually. Would you like to hear them, or should I go away?"
"Hear," Tabitha answered dully, not even shrugging.
"The first was that everyone said you were a genius and a skilled mage, so I thought you might be my best chance of getting home. Then, when I saw you, I realized you were almost exactly like someone I knew back home, and wanted to gather some more information. And now that we've talked a little, I genuinely want to get to know you better."
"Talked?" Tabitha deadpanned, and he couldn't tell if she were smiling or not.
"The way someone plays chess can say a lot about them. For instance, I can tell that you love your mother very much." Saito had to steel himself to keep from flinching when Tabitha's staff was instantly at his throat, and he could almost feel the spell she was on the verge of releasing.
She really is a soldier, he thought to himself smugly. I barely saw her move, and she went from curious to combat-ready almost instantly. And her eyes are like ice…she's seen far too much fighting for someone her age. There was a long stretch of silence between them, and then Tabitha, her voice like frost, spoke.
"Back home I was a member of the army," Saito said calmly. "Not the front-line fighters, but the intelligence services. It was my job to find things out quickly. Would you like to know what I know?" Tabitha just narrowed her eyes. "Very well, then.
"You had a relatively happy childhood when you were very young, but when you got older politics caught your family in its web and things began to turn sour. Your father is gone, and your mother may as well be for all that you see of her. You were always smart and powerful, but from a young age you were put in dangerous, life-threatening situations, and you had to grow up quickly.
"Moreover, you had to get better quickly. Stronger, faster, more skilled. I'd even go so far as to say that you had to be the best. You come from wealth but there have been periods in your life when you've gone with little or no food, as well as little or no sleep. Similarly, you've fought against people and things that want you dead for a long time, and you've been winning, because you can't afford what will happen if you lose.
"Because of this, and because of all you've been through, you generally feel that you can't trust people, or even be bothered to try, but you have one or two confidants who will guard your back should you need it." He broke off as Tabitha looked at him for a long moment. Then she spoke again, her voice like creeping frost.
"If you've hurt Kirche, I will kill you." Saito blinked. He had not been expecting that.
"I'm sorry, but who is Kirche and why would I have hurt her?" A small flicker of confusion passed through the bluenette's icy eyes, and she leaned back slightly.
"You were only summoned today, and you were from no land known to us, as evidenced by your language and your need for magical assistance to return home, rather than simple travel," Tabitha began. It was probably more words than she spoke to most people in a year. Her voice sounded scratchy from disuse.
"Quite true," Saito told her.
"Therefore you can have had no prior information on myself or my life, and must have received knowledge from other people. Kirche is my friend, and the only one who knows anywhere near as much of my life, except possibly for Headmaster Osmond. She also would never have willingly betrayed my trust and given that information to you, so you either read her mind or took it from her by force. Since you clearly cannot read minds…" Tabitha trailed off, and her staff nudged his throat. "Now I want to know what you did to her."
"Absolutely nothing," Saito swore, calmly. "I've never even met her. I figured out everything I just said through observing you and hearing a story from your classmates. As a sign of trust, I am willing to tell you how." She just nodded coldly.
"First, I figured out that you were a genius simply by asking people about any exceptional students in the school. Then I observed you earlier when you were reading in the courtyard, and asked other student if they had any interesting stories, which resulted in the story of your duel with…oh, so that's who Kirche was. I knew the name sounded familiar." Tabitha nodded slightly and relaxed, letting her staff slightly drift away from his throat. the feeling of ice in the air, however, persisted.
"Of course. Finding out which insult you reacted to, combined with observing your actions, was enough for me to guess that your parents were no longer with you. I guessed that something had happened to your mother after your father had died, but that you still—obviously—loved her dearly. You would not have reacted as you did in most other cases. Since you are a noble, it was simple to guess that it had to do with politics. Then I moved onto the fact that you were skilled." Saito paused for breath, and then raised a hand and pushed her staff away. Tabitha let him, but he could tell that there was a spell ready to flash-freeze him if she chose.
"Skill like you showed in your duel doesn't show up without practice," he continued "no matter how great a genius you may be. Not only that, but you had the discipline not to show off or react to less important insults. From prior experiences in my life, I concluded that you had some form of military training, and likely had seen live combat. But no matter how genius you may be, the only reason that would be at your age is if your commander were trying to get you killed. Given how withdrawn you are, I judged that it was not an isolated incident. And lastly, you're tiny."
"…Tiny?" Saito noted that Tabitha kept her eyes on him, instead of examining her body the way most teenage girls would when the subject was brought up.
"You're fifteen, maybe sixteen, but you look twelve or thirteen. Even if shortness runs in your family, the most likely way to get to that extreme was if you weren't always fed well—malnourishment. Another sign that someone was trying to get you killed. Lastly, you are awake and reading right now, despite it being late and a school night. That is evidence that you might suffer insomnia, possibly from bad memory-induced nightmares, and are used to functioning without much rest." He simply watched for Tabitha's reaction, and idly tossed a rind of cheese to Sylphiel, who happily gulped it down. She cocked her head, thinking.
"Wrong," she said finally. Saito blinked.
"Really? What about?"
"Sleep. No class tomorrow. Bond with familiars."
"Oh, there's no class tomorrow so you can stay up late safely." He sighed and yawned. "Well, there go my plans to sleep all day tomorrow. It was afternoon where I was summoned, and morning when I got here, so I've been awake for about twenty-two hours or more."
"Summoned from?" Tabitha asked.
"My homeland is called Japan, but you won't find it on any map. I haven't told anyone else, but I'm from a completely different world. That's why I need to go back magically, instead of ordinary travel."
"Yes. I was pretty sure before, but after the sun set I was certain. My world only has one moon." Tabitha just looked on silently, her eyes not flicking up to the two orbs in the night sky. She's definitely a veteran. "My world has had some experience with alternate realms and planes, but this is the first time I know of that anyone has encountered an entire other universe. Which makes me wonder if there isn't some connection, considering the similarities."
"The first thing I thought when I was summoned was that Louise was a dead ringer for our crown princess. Not so much our queen, but I guess there could be some twisted reflection aspect, considering that you and she are the same age." Tabitha looked at him for a long time, and then tilted her head slightly to signal that he should continue. "If you want more answers, you're going to have to ask a question, Miss Tabitha."
"Tabitha," she corrected quietly. "I look like someone?"
"Not someone I knew very well, but yes. Lady Urawa is a member of Her Majesty's court, and the head of our research and development bureau. Like you, she's a rather withdrawn genius who specializes in ice magic. You even have the same eye and hair color, though her hair is darker than yours. The fact that you act like she was said to at that age was what clued me in to the fact that your parents weren't with you, and that you had seen combat before." He let the silence hang in the air for a moment, and Tabitha spoke again.
"What happened to her?" Saito flashed another friendly and triumphant smile.
"When she was very young her parents separated. She lived with her mother while her father moved far away, and she rarely saw him. Her mother was a prominent healer and thus was busy for most of her childhood, so she had to take care of herself most of the time. She rarely made any friends, because she was smart and because she was shy. And then she met our queen when she was fourteen."
"And?" Tabitha asked, enthralled.
"Well first, you need a little backstory. My world had almost no mages in it for a long time. They died during a war and the art of magic was lost for a long time. Then someone rediscovered it and tried to take over the world. Her Majesty also rediscovered her magic, and worked to stop them, because non-magical people couldn't fight magical threats very well. But she needed help. So she looked for others with magic."
"She found them?"
"Mostly. The main ones she found were her own age. Then these teenagers, still children in a sense, had to go to war against the evil sorcerers trying to take over. It was naturally a traumatic experience, but they persevered. And in doing so, they eventually brought magic back into the mainstream. But I've heard several of them lament their own lack of a childhood. In a way, you almost have it easy." There was a long pause as Saito waited for Tabitha to rebuke him. Instead, she nodded in understanding.
"If I fail, my mother and I die. If they failed, the country would fall and hundreds would die."
"Thousands," Saito agreed. "I've seen what that does to people, and no one deserves that. So if I can, I want to help you, and you can help me return home."
"I'm not sure I can," Tabitha admitted.
"Then you can be my friend and help me live a good life here," Saito said, smiling warmly. "I'm flexible, and there are worse fates. And in exchange I can help you, but I have to know what's wrong first." There was a long pause as she mulled this over. Saito stood. "I don't expect you to trust me right away, considering everything you must have been through, but if I can help I will be happy to. You can talk to me any time." He turned and began walking away, silently counting to himself. Three…Two…
"Wait," Tabitha said quietly. Bingo. Saito turned back and made a questioning noise. Tabitha took a deep breath. "What do you know about potions?" Sensing her distress, Sylphiel nudged her master and crooned comfortingly. Tabitha stroked the dragon's head.
"Enough," Saito replied. "I'm no expert, but I suspect our worlds' approaches to potions are different as well. That being said, I know quite a bit about medicine, and part of my scanner is designed for medical use. Even if I don't know how to do it, I could probably find out what needs to be done. What type of potion?"
"Madness," Tabitha said darkly, and Saito could see her face twist with hate and regret. "My mother was given a potion that drove her insane. She doesn't even recognize me anymore." A single tear slid down her cheek.
"It was meant for you, wasn't it?" Tabitha stared at him, shocked and horrified by the casual observation. "You feel guilty for some reason, and it's written all over her face." Saito moved closer, kneelt down next to Tabitha, and placed a hand on her shoulder. "I don't know exactly what happened, but unless you brewed the potion and poured it down her throat with your own two hands, it is not your fault. The fact that you feel so horrible about it is evidence enough, because I can guarantee that whoever did it does not."
Tabitha pulled in a strangled breath. "A party. Someone handed me a drink. My mother recognized it...drank it before I could."
And I can easily think of a dozen ways that idiot could have handled it better, Saito very carefully did not say. "Do you know how the potion drove her mad? What it was, specifically?"
"No," see whispered, "but I think it was elf-made. There may not be a cure."
"Do you know how it worked?" Tabitha looked at him.
"She drank it, and it drove her insane." the girl answered bluntly, and pushed his hand off her shoulder.
"Yes, but do you know how it drove her insane? Even magic has to do something to cause insanity. Did it target her brain? Her nerves? Was it only one dose or has she been given more since?"
"I…don't know," Tabitha admitted. "It was just the one dose. She's in care at my family's home now, and our servants would never betray her."
"Assuming it really was only the one dose, instead of her being slipped other doses when you aren't looking, then you don't need an antidote. This was several years ago, right?"
"Don't need an antidote?"
"If it was the magic of the potion driving her insane, then you would need an antidote to counter-act the magic. But then she would need to be dosed again, because the magic would fade over time and she'd recover on her own. Since she hasn't that means that the potion did something to her that lasted even after the effects were gone, such as hurt her brain. You need a healing potion that will fix what ever it did."
"How? Which? Too many healing potions."
"Simple," Saito answered, standing again and holding out his hand, the other gesturing with the computer. "I scan her with this and tell you what's wrong, and you find the potion you need. Or if she is being dosed again, I'll find that out, tell you, and you can make whoever is doing it stop." There was a long stretch of silence, and Saito was pleased to see something in the girl's eyes: hope.
"I owe you one," Tabitha declared. She took his hand, and Saito pulled her to her feet.
"Don't thank me before I've helped," he said. "It may be that I'm wrong about something. But any plan is better than none." He yawned. "Goodnight, Lady Tabitha. I'm going to go rejoin my master." He left the balcony.
Closing the door to Louise's room behind him, Saito considered the events of the day. I might not get home on time after all, he mused, but this is big enough that'll I'll probably be forgiven. He paused, thinking of a blonde woman garbed in gold, with brilliant blue eyes. Well, forgiven by the queen, at least. Maybe not by taicho, if she goes nookie-less too long. Still, I've learned a lot about this new world. There are almost infinite opportunities. I already have Tabitha eating out of my hand, and my master may hopefully be next. The familiar chuckled. If I'm not careful, I might even take over the world. Saito sighed one final time, and fell onto his bed of straw. He was asleep in seconds.
Author's Note: Saito's manipulative, but not heartless. He really does feel sorry for Tabitha, and will help her if he can. Louise...not so much. He'd want to make her a better person before he does anything for her, but his familiar runes may change that.
Saito can't use magic, in the sense of casting, but his bracelet is obviously enchanted, and will be useful later on. But while he doesn't know magic, he does know mages and some magical theory because of his job in his home world. That being said, he still doesn't know much about the world he's in, and is stuck having to make a name for himself and get home without giving away what could be considered 'sensitive' information. He also, obviously, doesn't know about gandalfr yet.
One last thing: I'm officially sinking the SaitoLouise ship. They will have a close relationship, but it will strictly be platonic and/or familial (unless I'm trolling you). That being said, he will teach her to stand on her own two feet, so expect training sessions in the not-so-distant future. I haven't yet plotted out far enough to know who Saito will be with so I'll open it to the characters I like: Tabitha, Siesta, Henrietta, Agnes, and Cattleya. I might not listen to your votes, but if you give me ideas I might give you an omake. I also accept suggestions for who Louise ends up with.
Review, even if it's anonymous, or just to say you liked it. I need encouragement in this genre.