Chapter One

Hiraga Saito made a mistake, one that would forever haunt him, until his last dying breath. He felt the dirt beneath his palms press against his skin. He smelled the fresh air of the countryside, the cool breeze of spring filled his lungs. Foreigners looked at him with laughing faces, while two others —a girl with pink hair and an old, bald man with a staff in his hands— seemed to be discussing heatedly.

He couldn't hear what they were saying, but the language felt familiar enough. He heard words like 'Sacred ritual' and 'complete it, Miss Valliére'. He didn't understand.

He was afraid. It was a normal reaction. He had been walking along the street, minding his own business, thinking about dinner. Suddenly his vision filled with green. The next moment he was there, in a strange place surrounded by tall white walls and towers.

How had he gotten there?

The girl moved closer, her displeasure clearly etched on her face.

He had made a mistake. There was no other reason. Maybe he had offended some God or something similar, because instead of refusing, instead of demanding answers, he had remained quiet.

That had been his mistake.

"You should count yourself lucky."

From that moment forward, he did not count himself lucky.

He counted himself cursed.

The kiss felt soft, the words she spoke meant nothing to his ears but the kiss, at least, was nice.

The pain that came afterwards wasn't. His entire body heated up, before on the back of his left hand strange letters began to appear, etched on his very skin. The pain passed quickly, but the questions in his mind doubled.

"What is this?" he asked, throat suddenly parched and dry. "What is this!" he exclaimed, holding his left hand with his right by the wrist.

"Shut up, is that the way a commoner should speak to a noble? You should feel grateful," the girl said, before standing up and dusting away the dirt from her knees. The bald man walked forward then, eying his left hand for a moment before nodding.

"Very well, it appears the Contract Servant spell has been done properly."

"What? What is this Contract Servant thing?" Saito asked, but the man ignored him. Completely.

The middle-aged man with the staff turned to his students, and then said, deaf to Saito's pleading voice. "Let us return to class then."

With that, the professor and the students walked into the tower, the strange beasts following them one after the other.

He remained behind, dumbfounded.

"Well?" the girl said, tapping her right foot on the ground with her hands on her hips. "You're going to stand up any time soon, commoner?"

"Where am I?" he asked then, his voice quietly coming out as a whisper. "What is this place?"

"This is Tristain's Academy of Magic, Commoner. A place the likes of which you would never see in a lifetime. You should count yourself lucky to be summoned in my service as a servant!"


The girl huffed, displeasure evident on her face. "Stand up now, commoner! I won't be late for class because of you," she looked at his clothes. "And what's up with those clothes? Really, commoners' tastes must really be horrible from where you come from. I'll talk with the head of the staff at my earliest convenience. He'll have some fit clothing prepared for you then."

"Fit clothing?"

"Stop parroting what I'm saying! Are you brain damaged or something?" she retorted, "Now, don't let me repeat myself a fourth time. Stand up, commoner!"

He slowly stood, the simple action made him feel nauseous as he grabbed on to his knees and breathed in deeply. He didn't know where he was. The skin of these people was fair, so maybe he was in Europe or America? He didn't understand that bit about nobles and servants, but if he could get a phone, then he could call the police. He didn't know if the European police knew Japanese, but…

How did he understand them?

How did he understand the girl?

The grassy plain and the white castle looked much like those he had seen once in an European postcard. The girl was speaking Japanese however, because he understood her.

This was getting stranger and stranger. How had he ended up there?

A random thought struck him then, his feet having already begun to move to follow the girl inside the castle. Maybe he was in a coma. There were many things that didn't make sense, like those strange creatures and the way he understood them while they clearly weren't Japanese. He looked at his sneakers, slightly dirty with the mud and the grass of the courtyard.

Maybe the green light he had seen was from a traffic light. He was crossing the road and then, bam, a truck had struck him down. That made sense.

He was in a coma. His throat really felt dry as he breathed in deeply. This was a coma. He bit down on his lower lip tightly. The pain felt real. How could it be a coma then?

Wasn't he supposed to wake up eventually?

But what if he didn't?

What if this Coma-World became his life?

His heart drummed incessantly in his chest. What of his parents? What of his mother, his father? What of his friends at school? Would they parade in front of his hospital bed, leaving behind flowers and cards? Then, one day, would his old and dying mother finally nod to unplug him?

That thought terrorized him.

He had to wake up.

What if it isn't a dream? A traitorous part of his mind replied. Killing yourself in a Coma might not wake you up at all, you know? Do you have any proof it's a Coma-Dream? Did anyone who ever woke from a Coma say something like this? Did anyone live something like this?

He didn't know, and that scared him even more.

If it wasn't a dream, if it wasn't a coma, if this was reality…then where was he and how could he get back home?

"Ah, you there, maid," he heard the girl speak, jolting his brain out of his tumultuous activity to find reason and logic. His eyes looked up to the maid in question. Another fair-skinned girl, with blond hair and blue eyes, stopped cleaning the wall and turned towards Louise, before bowing.

"Yes, milady?"

"Take my familiar to the head of the staff. Have him fitted with some commoner's clothes and make sure the symbol of the La Vallière house is visible on them."

The maid looked at him them with a curious expression, before nodding while holding on a pleasant smile. "Of course, milady, I will do so immediately."

"While you're at it," the girl added then, "teach him how to act like a commoner. He must be from some backwater place if he doesn't even know how to properly address a noble."

"I will do so with haste, milady."

The girl then turned to look at him. "Now, listen up commoner. I summoned you, and that makes you my familiar. Whatever a familiar does, the people consider it the master's action. Do not shame the La Vallière name or me. I will not hesitate to punish you, but become a good servant and I will reward you," she then eyed the maid, "Now follow the maid and get changed into some clothes befitting of your status as my familiar."

He swallowed nervously, before quietly taking a step forward to follow the maid. "Ah," the maid said, "You should thank milady for her kind words," the girl added. "She is giving you a great honour of being her personal servant after all."

"Exactly, exactly," Louise nodded. "Really, from what backwater place did you come out from, not to know the basics of courtesy?"

His throat felt drier than ever. It felt drier than the time he had eaten sand as a child. His heart's painful beats were agonizing; sweat fell from his back as his neck air rose slightly. He wasn't angry about this. He was afraid.

"I…thank you, m-milady."

"No stammering," the girl rolled her eyes. "But it's a decent first try," with that the girl strolled off towards her class, leaving him behind with the maid.

"My name is Jacqueline," the maid said then, her voice low. "Did I hear correctly? Are you really Mademoiselle de La Vallière familiar?"

He grimaced. "I…don't know."

"Oh," she blinked, before grimacing back. "You were summoned from your hometown, right? Don't worry, I'm sure if you ask kindly Mademoiselle de La Vallière will let you write back home."

Her blue eyes gazed at him intensively, before smacking her forehead with her right hand. "Sorry, stupid me. If you're from some small village then it might even be difficult for a messenger to find it in the first place…and do you know how to write?"

"Ah, I…"

"Now, calm down," Jacqueline said, "You don't look really well, you know? Listen, let's get you to the head of the staff for the moment. Monsieur Gustaf might be a bit intimidating, but he has a good heart in his chest."

Saito numbly nodded, following the blond haired girl outside and in a rectangular building on the other side of the courtyard, past a bunch of chairs and tables made of white wood —empty at the moment.

Jacqueline knocked politely on a door that had strange markings etched on a plaque in front of it.

"This here reads Monsieur Gustaf," Jacqueline said, pointing to the plaque. "Can you read it?"

"No," he swallowed his nervousness. He couldn't read and he couldn't probably write in that language to begin with. The maid just smiled at him awkwardly, before a gruff male voice spoke from the other side of the door.

"Come in."

Jacqueline opened the door, letting him in before dutifully closing it. The office was small but neat, with a filing cabinet in a corner near the window and a desk with a stack of white papers neatly piled on it. A shelf with some folders stood behind the desk, occupying the wall opposite the door.

Sitting at the desk, a dark grey-haired man in his late forties looked from his small spectacles towards him, his striking grey-blue eyes seemingly piercing Saito's very soul.

"Who's the boy? A new hire from the Headmaster?"

"This is…" Jacqueline's words died in her mouth as she blushed for a moment, "Oh dear," she turned to look at Saito. "I didn't ask you what your name was, I'm sorry! That was so rude of me!"

She brought both hands to her face. "Really, such a terrible mistake."

"Ah, it's…it's all right," Saito said, bringing his right hand up as if to wave away the situation. "I'm Hiraga…"

"Hiraga is a strange name," Gustaf acquiesced, cutting him off from saying his full name. "So, why is Hiraga here, Jacqueline?"

"Oh, yes, I'm sorry sir," Jacqueline turned to look at Gustaf, a light tinge of red rushing to her cheeks. "Mademoiselle de La Vallière summoned him as a familiar and…"

"Sacre bleu!" Gustaf exclaimed, wide-eyed. "To summon a commoner? Really? My god…you're not from around here, are you?" he sharply looked at Saito, who dumbfounded could only nod. "You poor boy," Gustaf exhaled.

"W-Why?" Saito croaked out.

"Really you do not understand? You're not from around here are you?"

"No," Jacqueline said for him, "He's probably from a small village. He doesn't know how to write or read and didn't know how to treat nobles to begin with."

"Must be a farming area then, maybe in the mountain ranges," Gustaf exhaled. "Listen…do the words Gallia, Romalia, Albion or Germania mean anything to you?"

Saito shook his head.

"He's probably a farm boy then," Gustaf muttered. "Jacqueline? Can you go and call Siesta? I'll take things from here for the moment," with that the blonde maid made a small curtsy before leaving the room.

"Don't worry," she said while passing next to Saito, "It's going to be all right, got it?"

Then she left him there.

Saito numbly sat on the offered chair, before Gustaf slowly cleared his voice and began to talk.

"Now, I know you're probably scared. I was too when I began working at the Academy. Nobles can be scary, but if you know how to deal with them, you can live a long life. Just…listen to my words," kindly, the man took one of the paper sheets from his desk and brought up an inkpot and a feather.

He scribbled down a few lines, and then turned the paper.

"This here reads: Hiraga, servant of Mademoiselle Louise Françoise le Blanc de La Vallière," he said pointing with the tip of the feather to each of the words in question.

So that was how he wrote his surname in this strange alphabet?

"Now, take the feather delicately," Gustaf remarked before gently pushing it in the palm of his right hand, as if he was dealing with a child, "And write that line below a few times until you get it perfectly, all right?"

It felt strange. It was as if they were coddling him, afraid he might snap. He didn't feel like snapping. He felt tired, saddened, with a heavy weight on his shoulders and body but…he didn't feel angry. Couldn't he just phone home?

There are no phones. That's why nobody is offering you one. His traitorous mind shot him back that reason, as he numbly wrote line after line of strange symbols until he got it at the very least similar to the first one.

It was sloppy work, but compared to Hiragana or other more complicated symbols of the Japanese alphabet, it was doable.

"Good," Gustaf said after a few moments. "The Academy is a place that teaches nobles how to use magic," he added, "But there are rules in place. Nobles can't just throw spells at the servants, and they can't sexually abuse or physically harm them too," that was when he looked at Saito with a sad expression. "You do not fall under these rules however, as you are the familiar of a noble. A familiar's actions are the actions of their noble, but at the same time, a noble is free to do as he pleases with his familiar. The two are one and the same."

"What does that mean?" Saito asked in a low murmur.

"Mind you, it's extremely rare, but sometimes a wizard isn't happy with what they summoned. While the ritual is sacred and the noble cannot repeat it, nothing prohibits casting the summoning spell again… as long as the first familiar is dead."

The spit stilled in Saito's throat, as he coughed out with tears prickling his eyes. "W-What! N-No! You can't be…"

"Thankfully I am sure this doesn't appear to be the case. I do not know Mademoiselle de La Vallière, and a commoner summoned is unheard of, but I'm sure if you work hard this will never come to pass. However this is basically what it is: as a familiar, the noble that summoned you has free reign over what you eat, how you dress, everything down to the punishments you receive…"

"That's slavery!" Saito finally found the courage to yell. "That's just plain slavery!"

"It's…unfortunate, but there's nothing you can do. Nobles make the laws and a familiar is the direct responsibility of the mage. I'm sure if you keep your head low you won't ever feel a whip on your skin."

"A whip?" Saito's voice was but a whisper.

"I'm sorry, kid," Gustaf's lips twitched downwards in a light grimace, "If it were any other noble, maybe you could come up with a deal. Many nobles simply dislike the idea of having a familiar to take care of, and some are down to earth. I know of a few students who have but small plots of land to their family names and who'd be more than willing to hire one more farmhand…but the La Vallière family is a really important one. Everyone knows they're tightly tied with the Crown."

"The crown?"

"Tristain's royal family: everyone knows the Duke de La Vallière is a descendant of a royal bastard, and his lands are second only to the crown's own," Gustaf looked at him kindly. "This isn't as bad as it sounds though. Working for the La Vallière's youngest daughter isn't a bad deal at all."

"I'm a slave," Saito said plainly, his voice cracked.

"A familiar," Gustaf corrected him kindly, "and you're taking this the wrong way. Listen, just keep your head low and obey and you'll find out it's not that bad of a life. You'll have a roof on your head and food in your stomach. I'm sure…" there was a knock at the door. "Oh, that must be Siesta. Come in," Gustaf said the last part towards the door.

An olive skinned girl with dark hair and eyes —she looked Japanese— entered the room with a small curtsy. "You called, Mister Gustaf?"

"Siesta, this is Hiraga. Hiraga, this is Siesta," Gustaf said. "Siesta, can you show Hiraga around and give him one of the free cots? He'll be Mademoiselle de La Vallière's personal servant from now on, so if you can grab a clean set of clothes from the warehouse and sew on them their symbol, it would be appreciated."

Gustaf stood up once more, pulling a drawer of the filing cabinet and taking out a small bundle of cloth. "Here is the design."

It was a half-red and half-gold background with a half-white and half-black lion, or at least what looked like a lion —if not for the wings it had on its back and a scorpion-like tail.

Siesta curtsied once more, taking the cloth.

"Please follow me," she said then to Saito, who hastily stood up from the chair.

"Kid, one last bit of advice," Gustaf called, pulling up his right hand to get his attention. Saito turned, and Gustaf finished his sentence. "Nobles are always right. If you have any pride, for all that is sacred and loved by Brimir, swallow it and never let it emerge. Nobles have magic, we commoners don't. Don't risk your neck when a 'I'm wrong' might solve the issue."

"T-Thank you;" Saito muttered, before following Siesta after making a light bow of his head towards the head of the staff.

The clothes he changed on were itchy, but he didn't have much of a choice. The more he looked around, the less he saw signs of civilization. He didn't know whether this place was a refuge for madmen who enjoyed playing 'magic' or if it actually was a Coma-dream.

He just…he didn't know anything at all.

"Are you done?" he nearly jumped when Siesta's voice came from the other side of the door of the male servants' room.

"Ah, yes! Yes, I'm coming out right now."

He wore plain brown clothes now. Long trousers, stiff and hurtful shoes and —well, he actually kept his own underwear because there was no way he'd put on something that simply screamed 'I'm going to make you itch down there, whether you like it or not'.

His right hand touched with the tip of his fingers the emblem sewn on the fabric. It had been a quick work, but it looked as if a professional had done it.

"You look nice," Siesta offered as a compliment, before making a light curtsy. "Does the stitching itch somewhere?"

"No," Saito said, shaking his head.

"Very well then," the maid took a step forward to set his clothes firmly, before giving a nod of acceptance. "Good. Now you look like the proper servant," she smiled lightly. "Well then, Hiraga, right?"

Saito nodded —better to leave it at that than try and correct them. He didn't know how to write 'Saito' in their language to begin with.

"Let's go," Siesta said kindly, "The lessons are just about to end and your master is probably waiting to look at you fully dressed."

Saito followed quietly.

He didn't know if these people actually believed magic existed or not, but if there was one thing he swore on doing was to find a way back home as soon as possible.

His brain was conveniently forgetting about the strange creatures, but then again he wasn't an expert on foreign lands…so maybe they were just creatures that lived in Europe?

'Françoise' sounded a lot like France actually. Therefore, he was in France. In a Dream-Coma-like France, so maybe this was just as he believed France to be in his subconscious?

If so…he really had to wake up soon.

He didn't want to remain in this place. He wanted to go back home.

He didn't want to play the little slave, the servant or whatnot. He just wanted his mother, his father, and the lovely hamburgers he'd sometime have for dinner.

He wanted that…and nothing more.

Author's notes

Removed the For Laughs from Zero No Tsukaima.

I also realized that there was no better way to end An Acolyte of Zero than leaving it at the last chapter it currently is and writing an epilogue of sorts. Maybe I'll get back to it with a Sequel, maybe not, but it started as a 'humorous' thing which became Grimdark.

This time, I'm removing the For Laughs from ZNT while giving the characters a bit of a brain. (No, this isn't about Nobility Bashing, Louise Bashing, or whatnot. This is literally giving every character a brain, not just Saito.)

The REAL reason I'm writing this is because I'm actually writing this chapter in Garamond Font, point 12, and I wanted to see how it 'flows'.

The second, actual reason is that my Muse should be shot. Unless I wrote this, it actually refused to do anything else.

Hope you enjoy…