A/N: New story. This particular one deals with a certain Courier, dragged from a place he doesn't really want to be to a place he really doesn't want to be, all by a certain girl with more issues than the Mojave has geckos.
That's quite a few, by the way.
The Mojave desert was not a pleasant place. The sun was blindingly bright and mercilessly hot, the wildlife was territorial and aggressive at best and the locals were ever wary and ever armed. It was thus a continual source of irony to John Smith, courier turned king, that the place thrived. In actual fact, it was the largest and most successful state outside of the NCR homelands, and those bastards didn't have to deal with Cazadors in their backyard.
Of course, 'state' was a somewhat inaccurate word. In theory, all communities in the desert paid allegiance to the leader of Vegas; ie himself, primarily because he had an army of robots, which shut naysayer's up quite easily. In practice, they were a bunch of cutthroats with only the loosest of connections to each other, who gave as little as possible and demanded as much as they thought they could get away with. Which, to be fair, wasn't much. He had the robot army after all. Generally kept people from making demands.
Of course, there were always a few troubles floating around. Cazador nests springing up in the worst possible places, bandits risking their luck against the Securitrons that patrolled the wastes and the NCR were always pushing to drain as much of the wealth of Vegas's wealth as they could… But it was all background noise really. He could deal with that stuff in his sleep. Overall, the Mojave was safer, wealthier and more peaceful than it had been since before the Great War.
Which left John feeling utterly, utterly bored.
There were no more challenges. Nobody was willing to try and take his seat. There weren't any contenders for the Vegas throne. From the rumours that came down the grapevine, that wasn't surprising. Half the wasteland was convinced he was immortal and could conjure up Securitrons at will. The other half didn't even believe he existed. They thought he was a scarecrow the Vegas families had propped up to keep the NCR out of the Mojave. The Courier, slayer of Caesar, heir of House, champion of Vegas… The perfect thing to keep the expansionist nation from moving in and setting up shop again, right?
John snorted. The NCR probably goddamn wished he wasn't real. There was at least one general still lying at the bottom of Hoover dam who had definitely wished he wasn't real.
The point remained that he was running out of things to do. There were only so many days he could spend drunk off his head, stammering something incoherent at Yes Man, who would just smile and nod.
So he'd taken to putting on his travelling gear and ranging out into the wasteland, hunting any wildlife unfortunate enough to cross his path.
And in truth, John had to admit that the wasteland felt more like home than his suite in the Lucky Thirty Eight ever had. His armour and weapons felt good. Right. Despite everything he'd done, despite everything he'd accomplished, he'd always be a Courier before anything else. A wanderer. The city of Vegas was a chain he'd slapped on himself.
He sighed at that thought. He was depressing himself again. Time to work out that these feelings in a healthier manner. He raised the scope of his rifle to his eye.
Of all the creatures of the Mojave, geckos were among the least threatening. They had a nasty bite, but any settler worth their salt could shrug it off. There were a few more dangerous variants, but the common desert gecko wasn't a problem. It was only in groups that they became a threat.
The pack of ten basking on a hillside that he was viewing through his scope would be enough to take down a Securitron if they got close. It was actually somewhat rare for them to gather in such large numbers. Most packs were closer to half-a-dozen. Perhaps it was a reaction to the increased Securitron presence? A consolidation of force in an attempt to ward off what the geckos primitive mind perceived as a new predator?
An interesting idea, John thought. Ultimately irrelevant though.
He squeezed the trigger.
The first gecko's head popped like a grape as a .308 round pierced it's skull instantly and exited the other side. Before it's pack members could react, another was struck down, a bullet slamming right through it's left eye. The remaining geckos stood, their heads whipping around as they searched for the new threat. Which made them even easier targets. Three more fell before they started charging around randomly as their panic overcame whatever limited intelligence they had. John reloaded quickly, slamming a new magazine into the gun and resuming the hunt.
By that point, it wasn't even a challenge. Thirty seconds after he'd fired the first shot, John sighed and stood, staring down at the little charnel field he'd created. A slight rumble in his stomach reminded him that it had been a while since he'd eaten. He examined the corpse of a gecko that had nearly made it to the bottom of the hill where he'd concealed himself. Waste not, want not, he supposed.
Louise stared at herself in the mirror. Slowly, carefully, she adopted the look of easy confidence and noble dignity she'd so often seen on her mother's face. For a moment she looked serene, confident, everything she had always wanted to be.
Then her eye twitched, and she looked like a teenager trying to ape someone far her superior. She nearly screamed in frustration.
Today was the day she summoned her familiar, her lifelong companion as she advanced down the path of magic. A buzz of emotions gripped all of the students, but theirs was a different sort to hers. They were excited, eager to see what creature answered their call.
Herself? She was terrified that when she called, all that would answer her was the jeers of her classmates. Her skill at magic was abysmal. While her peers were already using their magics to fine effect, crafting beautiful works or displaying great skill in battle, the only thing she could produce were explosions.
"No," she hissed. "Not that. I'm not Louise the Zero. I am Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. This will work. It will work."
But, an insidious voice whispered in her mind, it has never worked before, has it?
Louise purposefully ignored the treacherous voice, and threw on the black cloak that marked her as a student of the Tristain Academy of Magic. She glanced at herself one more time. Her clothes and hair were immaculate. She had washed recently and a faint scent of crushed petals emanated from her. In all respects, she was as prepared as she could be for such an occasion.
Except for the magic part, her doubt murmured.
Shaking her head once more to dismiss the twisted thoughts, Louise swept out the room.
Despite her attempts at confidence, she couldn't help but feel like an prisoner on her way to execution, her own classmates cloaks the executioner's hood and their mocking tongues the axe.
John bit down into a juicy steak, tore a chunk off, swallowed and then grinned. How had he gone so long without a homemade hunk of gecko meat? All that Brahmin steak the White Glove Society sent his way paled in comparison to this. A vision of Phillipe screaming in rage at the thought crossed his mind. John's grin widened.
Sorry, pal, John thought. You've been dead ten years. You don't get to have an opinion.
He poked at the gecko that had been spitted above the fire, turning it over to let the less cooked topside get some heat. Then he leaned back against a rock, using his backpack as a makeshift cushion. A sense of deep relaxation washed over him. A roasting gecko, a nice rock to lean against and a bottle of whisky that was at least half-full in his bag? This was paradise. The only thing that could make it better was-
He tapped the Pip-boy on his wrist and an image of a smiling man gripping a jukebox sprang onto view. In the years since he'd taken Vegas, he'd pumped a fairly hefty amount of resources into upgrading his Pip-boy. This particular feature had cost more than four Securitrons and taken him nearly a week to install without causing the Pip-boy to self destruct. As the smooth tones of the singer came out of the speakers, John couldn't help but consider it completely worth the price. Mr New Vegas had a wide selection of tracks, and being able to play his favourites whenever he wanted was worth it's weight in gold.
Of course, as Yes Man continually reminded him no matter how many times he told the thing that he didn't care, he could simply have the Mr New Vegas program altered so as to play whatever the hell he wanted. But it just wasn't the same. Anyone could listen to the radio. The King of New Vegas listened to exactly the same music that was on the radio, except in any order he wanted, on his own personal speaker,
John smirked. God, the whole thing seemed petty when he thought about it. But still entirely worth it.
The smirk vanished. And there was one of the other features that he constantly questioned the worth of. He sighed. "What is it, Yes Man?"
"Oh boy! It's great to hear your voice! I've got some interesting news and some even more interesting news for you to hear! Which do you want to hear first?"
The robot (Or more accurately, the program) known as Yes Man was his greatest ally. Effectively the hub of the legions of Securitrons that gave John his absolute authority over the Mojave, Yes Man was also his most loyal supporter. The upgrades he'd installed in himself post Hoover dam had also taken a huge weight off of John's shoulders, finally preventing the program from doing anything anyone asked it to do and limiting it's control to him. He wasn't entirely sure why the machine had apparently felt compelled to swear it's undying loyalty to him, but he wasn't complaining.
"Let's start with interesting," John replied pulling himself up into a sitting position.
"Well, a bunch of Securitrons just wiped out a whole gang of raiders! Man, you should have seen the look on their faces when they got turned into little piles of ash. It was pretty short lived, but trust me when I say it was great!"
"Well, that's good," John replied. He frowned. "And the even more interesting news?"
"Well, the Think Tank have maybe sort of kind of finished with upgrading the new Securitron models."
"You sound less than happy about this."
"I'm coded to always be happy! The fact that there's a dozen rogue robots charging around the Mojave with eight Gatling lasers strapped to them just makes my life interesting. So very… interesting."
"Any spotted near me?" John couldn't keep the hope out of his voice.
"Absolutely none! At last sighting, they were headed for Hoover dam."
Pretty much the opposite side of the Mojave then. "Fine. Anything else?"
"That's all for now! I was just checking up on you to make sure that you're aware of all the latest going on's!"
John froze. Directly in front of him, right between himself and the campfire, a bright light was hovering. That was impossible. He'd been relaxed, but there was no way a bloody ball of light could have snuck up on him. Had his Optics Enhancer implant acted up? Could it even do that?
He threw himself to his feet, hand reaching for his sidearm, just as the light expanded and swallowed him whole.
Louise stared at the figure sprawled on the floor. It was unmistakeably human. Pale yet weathered skin and short brown hair on top of his head, the man lying on the ground wore bizarre clothing that seemed to be an armour of some sort. The oddest part, however, was the song. There was gentle, melodious voice coming from him, but his mouth wasn't moving. Even if it had been, how did he make the instrument noises?
This… hadn't been what she'd been expecting. She'd expected either some mystical beast, or nothing at all. Not some stranger.
Around her, other murmurs of confusion were spreading around her classmates, along with more a little laughter. That was enough to snap her out of her shock. She whirled on Professor Colbert.
"I want to try again."
The teacher gave her a surprised look, then glanced back at the prone figure. "Ah… I don't think that's an option, Miss Vallière. This ritual is-"
"I want to try again."" Louise repeated, her voice grating out from beneath her teeth in harsh breaths. Around her, more and more people were starting to laugh and she heard a handful of whispered comments among the pupils closest to her.
"A commoner! She called a commoner!" Montmorency crowed. The beautiful blonde seemed barely able to contain her amusement.
"Founder! I don't think anyone's ever messed up something this badly!"
"Shut up!" Louise snarled, fighting to keep tears from springing from her eyes. She wouldn't give the students around her the pleasure of seeing her cry. Professor Colbert gave her a sympathetic look.
"Before we talk about that, perhaps we should check on the man you summoned?"
Louise opened her mouth to retort, when a gasp rang out from the girls near the edge of the crowd. She spun on her feet, just as the man stirred.
John opened his eyes. The first thing he noticed was how green everything was. He hadn't seen this much green since Vault 22. And judging by how there were no twisted monstrosities trying to chew through his leg, he wasn't in Vault 22.
The second thing was the people surrounding him. They looked young, no more than fifteen or sixteen years old. Well, apart from a single rather older looking man. Their clothing looked foreign too, or at least nothing like most people in the Mojave wore. On the bright side, they didn't look particularly dangerous. Not a single one of them was carrying any weapon that he could see for one thing.
The third thing he noticed was the plethora of strange creatures surrounding them. These definitely did look dangerous. One of them, a huge winged lizard with cobalt scales, looked particularly threatening. Some of the others were actually vaguely stupid looking, but he knew better than to discount them out of hand because of that.
The fourth thing he noticed that he had a Light Shining in Darkness in his hand. Good if he wanted to come up shooting, bad if he wanted to make a good first impression on whoever these people were. Right now, he was a little torn on that. After a moment, he gave a mental sigh and let the weapon slip from his hand. Not like he needed it if push came to shove. Most of the people around him looked fragile enough that he could probably snap them in two with one hand.
Slowly John rose to his feet. A few gasps rose from girls standing nearest to him and they back away. Despite their caution, he noticed a certain look of curiosity on their faces. Looked like he was the most interesting thing they'd seen in a while. He tapped his Pip-boy, ending the song abruptly. As he did so, he glanced at the screen. No signal from the radio, or from Yes Man. He sighed. That would just be too easy.
He faced the crowd and spread his arms wide, the universal symbol of peace. "Who are you?" he asked.
A few of the oddly dressed people stared at him, while others started laughing. Others looked shocked. One in particular, a small girl with vivid pink hair looked like she was about to collapse.
He caught a few words of hurried conversation and frowned. He didn't recognise a word of what they were saying. Great. A language barrier, right off the bat. He coughed into his fist and then spoke again, this time in Latin. It was a dead language, but that hadn't stopped the Legion. He might as well try it on this bunch of oddly dressed kooks.
"Who are you?"
This time, a few of them looked confused, but most of them just burst into even further gales of laughter. The pink-haired girl looked livid. He could sympathise. The constant laughter was starting to get on his nerves too. He hid that particular feeling with the ease of a practiced dissembler.
The older man turned to the pink haired girl next to him and a rapid bout of conversation shot between them. The man gestured at him and the girl looked like she was about to burst into tears. He couldn't understand what they were saying, but the gist was clear. The girl had to do something that involved him. She clearly didn't want to. Which meant it was probably either something unpleasant for her, unpleasant for him or unpleasant for both of them. Any which way, he couldn't say he was particularly eager to find out what.
Slowly she approached him, prompting a fresh round of laughter. This time, there was a definite mocking edge to it. As she got closer, a few students started to clap, but a frown from the older man stopped them quickly enough. After a moment, she stood before him.
He looked down at her, waiting for her to say or do something. Despite everything, he was tense. A knife to the gut wouldn't kill him, but it wouldn't be fun either. The girl didn't appear to have a concealed weapon of course, but then neither had he when he'd waltzed into the Vegas casinos ten years ago, armed to the teeth.
The pink-haired girl made a rapid gesture, pointing at his head, then to the ground. She wanted him to lower himself down a little. Slowly, he sunk down until he was not quite kneeling. He focuses slightly, focusing the implant in the left side of his skull, primed to release a cocktail of combat drugs into his body. Worst came to worst, he was quite sure he could snap her arm like a twig before she managed to get anything near him, knife or explosive collar.
What he didn't expect was to for her to lean forward and kiss him squarely on the lips. No, he could honestly say that was unexpected. As their lips pressed together, he couldn't help but notice how soft hers were. How soft she was in general, actually. It was quite pleasant. Much nicer than a knife in his gut, if nothing else.
Then the girl pulled back, staring at him. At that exact moment, a burning pain blossomed in his hand. It was a bizarre, foreign pain, like knives of ice were being dragged across his skin, burning through it to the very bone. His gaze shot downwards, just as strange glyphs burned themselves onto his skin, shining with white light.
He stared at his hand, then up at the girl. "What is this?"
"That," The girl said, her voice high and arrogant. "is the mark that proves you as my familiar."
He could understand her now. In fact, she was speaking perfect English. He opened his mouth to reply when a series of catcalls cut across him.
"Yeah, the familiar of Zero!"
"Zero and a commoner! Brimir, it's just too perfect!"
It appeared that the whole crowd had suddenly decided to start speaking English now. John glanced at the girl next to him She said nothing in response to the jeers, instead merely clenching her hands tightly. Despite himself, John began to feel sorry for her. He still wasn't entirely sure of what was going on, but this girl obviously wasn't well favoured by the crowd. He smiled at her gently, carefully shifting his pose to be as open as possible. Half of speech was in body language after all. "What is your name?"
The girl stared at him, then rallied. "I am Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. And I am your new master! So do not speak to me in such an informal tone!"
Abruptly, he stopped feeling sorry for her.
"My… master?" He asked. His tone was open and friendly, neatly concealing the venom behind his words. "I'm afraid I don't quite understand."
"I summoned you as my familiar," Louise said, speaking purposefully slowly as if to a child. "Thus, I am your master."
There were two important things in that sentence. First, that this girl was responsible for summoning him. How exactly was still in question. The second was that she seemed to think that she owned him now, as her 'familiar'. And that just wouldn't do. If you wanted to control someone, you used an exploding collar or careful words. You didn't draw a pretty picture on their hand.
"Pardon me, sir." The older man approached him, his eyes transfixed on John's hands. "Would you let me look at your rune?"
John raised his hand, allowing the man to get a good look at it. It wasn't like he had any reason not to.
The man leaned in, a curious expression on his face. "How fascinating. I don't think I've ever seen such a set of runes before."
John fought back a sigh. Of course. Everyone around here was insane, no doubt part of some mad cult. Which still begged the question of how they'd kidnapped him. He was sure that he hadn't blacked out, which meant that they'd somehow transported him from the middle of the Mojave to a grass field next to a castle in few seconds. Tops. There was maybe one group of people capable of doing that, and he was pretty sure the Think Tank hadn't been running any teleportation experiments recently. The last bunch had resulted in the rear half of a Brahmin materialising in the sky above Vegas, before it had landed quite messily in the middle of the street. It had taken hours for the Securitrons to properly clean it up. He'd vetoed any further experiments.
Time to find out exactly what was going on, and more importantly, how he could get back to the Mojave.
"Excuse me, sir," he asked. "I don't suppose you could send me back soon? I was out hunting, so my wife will be worried if I don't return soon."
Both Louise and the older man shot him a look of horror.
"You're married?" Louise said, her voice deathly quiet.
From a certain point of view, John thought. Vegas took up more of his money and time than any wife ever could. Why, they'd even had a big event to celebrate him taking over, just like a wedding. All the notables of the Mojave had been there. Lanius, Oliver, even the president of NCR had shown up briefly, although he'd left before the event really got started and John crashed the whole thing with a few thousand Securitrons.
"Indeed I am, miss." John nodded in response.
"Oh dear." The older man said. He glanced around. A few members of the crowd were looking at them with some interest, but it appeared that their conversation had gone unnoticed apart from the three of them. "Would you mind keeping it to yourself for now? There are a few… difficulties with sending you back, and we don't need rumours flying around."
"Of course, sir." John nodded again.
"Very good," the man said. "Ah, yes. My name is Professor Jean Colbert. While I can understand this is a troubled time for you, I am pleased to make your acquaintance. Welcome to the Tristain Academy of Magic."
John stared at him. The Tristain Academy of… Magic? A feeling of dread sunk into his gut. Either these people were even crazier than he'd feared, or he really wasn't in Nevada anymore. After a moment's pause, he smiled.
"Pleased to meet you too." He shook the man's hand warmly. "My name is John Smith." He turned and gave Louise a quick nod. "And it's a pleasure to meet you too, miss."
He half-expected her to snap back at him, but instead she merely stared at him, her face still twisted in horror. Apparently his cover story had really touched a nerve with her. Good. Maybe now he could prise some answers out of her without her biting his head off.
Colbert turned to Louise. "Louise, if you could take your familiar to your quarters for now, that would be very helpful. I will have to discuss this matter with the Principal."
Louise didn't respond, instead marching away through the crowd. The expression of her face was nearly unreadable, a terrible mix of guilt, grief, disappointment and fear. Few of the students bothered saying anything to her as she passed. Only a tall, well-developed redhead moved towards her, but the petite girl simply ignored her.
Colbert sighed. "Oh dear. Could you please follow her, John?"
The former courier gave him a nod, pausing only briefly to pick up the gun he'd put down earlier and stow it away in his pack. As he moved to catch up with the retreating girl, it occurred to him that he'd been protesting about how boring it was being tied down to Vegas only a short time ago. And now he was in a strange land, with a people he knew nothing about, with no way to contact his allies in the Mojave.
On the bright side, he could now answer a question that had plagued the Think Tank for the last few years. The universe almost certainly had a sense of humour.
Louise slammed the door behind her as she entered her room, her body shaking with barely contained emotion. She'd failed again! Worse than failed!
Not only had she bound a commoner as her familiar, but she'd summoned one that had loved ones waiting for him. And Professor Colbert knew, as would the Principal soon. Would they take him away from her? Try and return him to his home? Leave her without a familiar? Leave her even less than Louise the Zero? She wanted to scream in frustration as the questions spun round in her mind. What he she ever done to deserve this? That not only would her achievements turn to dust in her hand, but that they'd hurt people she didn't even know?
Behind her the door opened quietly, and Louise spun. If that was Kirche or Montmorency come to gloat at her then she'd-
John walked into her room, a sheepish expression on his face.
Louise blushed embarrassedly. She was supposed to have been escorting him. In her rush to leave the crowd behind, she'd forgotten. Or perhaps she simply hadn't cared.
"Um, excuse me," John asked a moment. "Would you mind if I dropped my bag somewhere?"
"Do what you want!" Louise snapped back at him. She felt guilty the moment the words had left her lips. This man wasn't to blame for her own failures and trying to use him as a scapegoat for her own tumultuous emotions was beneath a noble. He wasn't to blame. He was the victim here, whisked away from those he cared about to serve as the familiar of a failure. Of a Zero.
John simple nodded in response to her tone, depositing his rucksack in the corner. Then he turned to face her.
"What is it?"
"I'm sorry if I've caused you any trouble."
Louise laughed bitterly. He was apologising. To her. The irony made her sick. "It's fine. I'm going to bed now."
Just like that she stripped off her outer clothes and slipped under the covers. John blinked at her in surprise.
"It's still early, isn't it?"
The man stared at her. "I don't suppose you could explain what happened before you got to sleep? I'm still a little confused."
Louise sat up and gave a great sigh. She didn't want to talk about it, but she supposed he deserved to know. Needed to know even, if he was going to be her familiar. Still, it was hard to get the words out.
"I performed a ritual to summon a familiar," she said quietly. "I got you. The end."
John blinked. "I take it that was a surprise?"
Louise nodded. "The ritual isn't supposed to summon a human. Or, at least, it never has before. I was supposed to get a magical animal of some kind, like a dragon or the like."
A dragon? As if I'm capable of that, Louise thought bitterly, even as the words left her mouth.
"I see." John nodded thoughtfully. "With… magic?"
"That's right," Louise said. "Haven't you heard of magic before?"
"It's not very common in my homeland," John admitted. "I thought it was a myth."
Louise winced at the mention of the word 'homeland'. "Is it nice there? Where you come from, I mean?"
John smiled. "It's a hard life, but I wouldn't change it for the world."
"I… see." Louise wasn't sure what to say next. You're never going home? Even if there was a way to release him from the familiar contract, there was no feasible way that they could return him. And she still wasn't sure she wanted to release him. For better or for worse, he was her familiar. The one that she summoned. Commoner or not, he was proof that she was a mage. She didn't want to give that up.
She sunk back beneath the covers. "I'm going to sleep now. Guard my door, will you? Don't let anyone in."
John murmured an affirmative and slowly, ever so slowly, Louise sank into a restless slumber.
John watched the sleeping girl for a moment. Their brief conversation earlier had given him a somewhat clearer picture of the situation he was in.
These people seemed to have magic. Actual magic. There were a dozen scientific textbooks in his brain telling him why that could only be bullshit, but he ignored them. Science didn't ignore the facts. It took them into the equation and made a new one. So for now, he'd assume that magic was real. Maybe it wasn't actually magic, but instead some hyper-advanced pre-war tech. He couldn't know for sure. Not now.
And he was far away from Vegas. Far enough that neither Yes Man not the radio could reach him. Which meant at least two hundred miles. He'd paid a fortune for the communicator to be installed into his Pip-boy, and the gear was as cutting edge as he could get without going to the Big MT.
And then there was the girl, Louise.
She was actually surprisingly moral. At the very least, she obviously felt quite terrible about effectively kidnapping someone who supposedly had a wife waiting for him. He was actually feeling a little guilty about playing the 'honest and dutiful ' act up in the face of that. It was useful to keep these people from suspecting him of anything, but the girl clearly had enough issues of her own without him adding to them.
After a moment, he shook his head. No. This girl was the one who'd dragged him away with her magic. From what he'd gathered, she hadn't done so intentionally, but still. He didn't owe her anything.
Despite that thought, the nagging guilt remained. He sighed and reached into his backpack, pulling out the bottle of whisky.
"Come on, alcohol," he said calmly, pouring himself a glass. "Sooth my conscience like you always do."
He downed the glass in one and smiled as it burned on the way down. Some things didn't change no matter where you were. It appeared that whisky was one of them.