Ooh, where am I now? I really shouldn't have walked into that portal...
When Ayesha regained her senses, she was no longer in the ruins she had been investigating. Instead, she seemed to be on some kind of a grassy open ground, with the bright sun shining over her.
It seems I have been transported somewhere else outside... I really have messed up... That mirror-like portal was a trap after all...
She stood up, noticing that she was surrounded by people in black cloaks. Cloaks were quite the common attire for travellers and treasure hunters but they were all wearing the same attire underneath them. Now that was peculiar.
And one of them was standing right next to her, staring quite intensely, and uncomfortably, at her.
"O-oh dear, please don't stare too much..." she said to the girl somewhat bashfully.
"W-who are you? are you my familiar?" the girl shouted to her.
"Familiar? What do you mean by that?" Ayesha replied, tilting her head. She had never heard of the term before even during all her travels.
I guess it is true. There really is no end to the pursuit of knowledge. I still have so much to learn about this world.
Unknown to Ayesha, it wasn't only the girl that was looking at her intently. The rest of the cloaked people was also staring at her with surprised faces.
"Zero's familiar is a person?"
"And not just that, she's a mage too? Look at that flower staff she holds!"
"Her outfit is really odd! I've never seen anyone looking like that!"
Chatter began to develop in the excited crowd. They had expected the girl to summon either some weak and terrible familiar or nothing at all. But the familiar that came out was this weirdly-dressed young lady who looked like to be a mage. They had never heard of a mage summoning another mage to be a familiar.
"Hah, I bet Zero just messed up her contract spell and accidentally summoned a mage from somewhere!"
The crowd seemed to be split in two, with some people in awe of the familiar the girl had summoned and others mocking the girl for failing her summoning ritual.
"Umm, I'm sorry, but who are you people? And where is this? I don't think I have ever been in this place before."
Instead of answering her however, the girl turned to the crowd and shouted, "S-silence! This is my familiar! And to prove it to you all that I did a proper summoning ritual, I would seal the ritual right here!"
Without warning, the girl put the end of the wooden stick she had been carrying to Ayesha's forehead (having to tiptoe to do it thanks to their height difference), and chanted, "My name is Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière. Pentagon of the Five Elemental Powers; bless this humble being and make her my familiar." Ayesha merely reacted with a confused reaction on her face. She didn't feel threatened at all by this girl, who was apparently named Louise (she wouldn't even bother trying to spell the rest of her name). Instead, she saw her as adorable instead. She reminded her of her good friend Wilbell in fact.
"H-hey you, lower your head."
Ayesha raised her eyebrows. She didn't understand her request. Only after she looked at the expression on the shorter girl's face, who looked like she was about to cry, then she realized what she must do.
She must be quite disturbed that I'm taller than her. I don't know why though. The way she spoke, it makes me think that I'm supposed to be her servant. I guess I could understand why you would be embarrassed when your servant is taller than you. Bell too has issues with her height.
Ayesha didn't see what would come next however. Louise suddenly lurched forward and kissed her right on her lips.
The kiss was thankfully short, and when Louise withdrew her lips, both girls were blushing, with Ayesha having the worse embarrassment fit amongst the two.
"W-what was that for? T-that was my first kiss, you know!"
"S-shut up! That was to seal our contract! The mark should appear anytime now."
"A mark? What mark?"
Ayesha began looking all over her body for any marks. But nothing had appeared. Her skin was the same smooth white.
Looking at the scene, the crowd began throwing insults at Louise once more.
"I knew it! She messed up her summoning spell again! There's no way you could summon a mage to become your familiar!"
"Well, at least this time she actually managed to summon something, instead of just falling down on her butt after her spell exploded on her face," said a girl with a pretty blonde curls on her head.
"S-shut your mouth, Montgomercy! I did not make a mistake this time! She really is my familiar, definitely!"
"Oh, so where's the mark then?" the girl replied with a smug smile on her face.
Louise obviously couldn't respond to that. So instead of replying back, she yanked Ayesha's arms and began looking for the mark herself.
"H-hey, don't be so rough!" Ayesha complained. She could just yank her arms back but when she saw how frustrated and exasperated the expression of Louise's face was, she decided not to.
Poor girl... she must be desperately in need to prove herself...
Suddenly, Ayesha felt a sharp burning sensation all around her body. It lasted only a second however and when it ended, there were now a couple of unfamiliar-looking letters on her forehead, a fact that Louise discovered immediately.
"Look! There they are! The Familiar Runes!" Louise immediately pointed at her head, wanting to show off the letters to the crowd. "See! She really is my familiar!"
Ayesha could only stand there with a confused look on her face. She really had no idea what was going on. She noticed how Louise was pointing at her and naturally she gave her forehead a good rub by her left hand. There was indeed the remains of some warmth on it. But she couldn't tell whether there was really runes written up there.
"So, the summoning really did work. Interesting."
Louise's boasting was interrupted by a middle-aged man who seemed to be the leader of the crowd, seeing how he was the oldest of the group, with the others being around the same age as Louise.
"Miss, are you truly a mage?" he asked Ayesha.
"Hmm? A mage? Oh no, I'm just a simple herbalist. My friend is a witch though..."
Hearing that, Louise immediately looked at Ayesha with a shocked expression. H-her familiar... wasn't a mage? So that meant... she was a commoner?
"B-but you have a staff and anything..." Louise pointed out in disbelief. "You must be a mage!"
"Huh? A staff? Oh, that's right! I was carrying my staff with me!"
Ayesha sighed in relief when she discovered that her staff was there on the ground where she had woke up. She bent over and picked it up before storing it into the sling bag she wore.
"W-what? Did her staff just disappear into her bag?"
"There is no way that it can fit inside that small of a bag!"
"So she must be a mage then!"
"No, that could just be a magical bag or something!"
The crowd was sent into an uproar once more. They couldn't decide just what Ayesha really was, whether or not she was a noble or a commoner, or whether she was even really Louise's familiar.
"Is that a magic bag you have with you, miss?" the middle-aged man continued his questioning, scratching his chin with curiosity. "I don't believe a commoner would be able to afford such a thing. And your clothes are too fancy for a commoner either. However, I can't find any trace of magic in you. Mind explaining who you are?"
The middle-aged man waited for her to answer. He asked these questions more out of his own curiosity over his role as the students' teacher. He had never found someone looking so... outlandish. He couldn't help but blush a little as his gaze rested upon her exposed belly button.
"Hmm... okay!" Ayesha replied with a smile, clasping her hands near her chest. "I'm Ayesha Altugle, a travelling apothecary! Oh, and I suppose you can call me an alchemist too, if you want. And I'm currently going around the world to learn more about the past civilization as well as sharing my alchemy to the world. Glad to make your acquaintance!"
The middle-aged man merely blinked in response. Her introduction just made things even more confusing. So she was also an archeologist of some sort? Although, she did say she was an alchemist. That would mean she had to be a mage since you need to be one to perform transmutation spells.
"An alchemist? So you really are a mage. Apologies for accusing you to be a commoner, Miss Altugle." He bowed slightly.
"Oh, no problem! Though I don't really know what you mean by me being a commoner," she replied, still keeping her bright countenance.
Hearing this, Louise brightened considerably. So it was true. She was a noble after all! She hadn't messed up and summoned a worthless commoner as her familiar!
"S-so, Ayesha..." Louise asked Ayesha, her expression showing that she was clearly trying her hardest to sound all authoritative; quite a hard feat considering Ayesha commanded more of a presence than she was. "My name is Louise de La Vallière. A-and I will be your master from now on, o-okay?"
"Hmm, master? I'm not sure if I understand…" she replied. But looking at how badly Louise hoped for her to accept the girl's proposal, so badly in fact that Ayesha had a hunch that she would cry in anger if she refused, in the end she decided to play along with her.
"Alright then! I'll become your familiar!" she replied with a smile. "Nice to meet with you, Louise!"
The crowd went into a roar once again after hearing her declaration.
"I can't believe this! Zero did get a noble to become her familiar!"
"And she accepted her as her master so readily too!"
All this time they had thought of Louise as a worthless mage. But with this display, want it or not, they had to revise that opinion.
"It's settled then," Colbert spoke up once more. "Miss Ayesha, welcome to the Tristain Magic Academy. Please, make yourself at home. If you need anything, please don't hesitate to ask the servants for their assistance. They would surely be glad to attend to your needs," he said as he bowed a little. Even though she was a familiar, she was still a mage and a noble so she had to be treated with respect.
"Ah, t-thank you," Ayesha replied. She felt somewhat awkward at receiving his attitude. It seemed once again she was being treated as someone important. Lately, as her name became more and more famous, more and more people started to do this to her. To be honest, it just felt uncomfortable. She never thought of herself as someone deserving of such a treatment. Nio said that in their eyes she was doing some extraordinary things but she herself didn't feel like she was doing anything extraordinary.
At least he hadn't started to praise her name and call her a sage like some people did.
The word "Magic Academy" rang some bells inside her head however. Did she mishear that? Magicians were really rare and she questioned if there would be enough to make an academy to teach them. And knowing her friend Wilbell, their education didn't seem to include any academy of some sort. They would just get taught by their parents or relatives, who were also magicians.
But it it were to exist, then that could only mean that this was where Wilbell came from.
She smiled at this realization. It seemed she had been sent to an interesting place. She was always a little bit curious on her little friend's hometown.
"Umm, you are magicians, correct?" Ayesha asked Colbert. "Do you know a girl named Wilbell? She's a good friend of mine, you see."
"Wilbell? I don't believe there's any student with that name here…" Colbert replied.
"Hmm? That's odd… Isn't this the land where magicians hide themselves from the rest of the world?"
"What? Hiding? Yes, we are mages, correct, but we are not hiding from anyone."
Colbert scratched the back of his head. Once again she started to confused him.
"Eh? But Wilbell told me that you want nothing to do with the outside world anymore… something about magic being too dangerous for the public to know about, I think?" Ayesha said, tilting her head to the side, bringing her index finger to the edge of her lips. This was her usual pose when she was thinking about something.
"...It seems there's quite the misunderstanding here, Miss," Colbert responded. "But rather than talking about it here, why don't we head to the headmaster's quarters instead?" He didn't say it of course, but he had decided that this confusion was too much for him and he would just hand it over to the old man to be sorted out by him.
"Alright, that would be fine with me," Ayesha replied. "Lead the way, sir."
Colbert nodded, He then turned back and said to the rest of the group that class was dismissed and that they should return to their dormitories. Only now that Ayesha put two and two together and realized that they were his students. It made sense to her. He said this was an academy after all.
What happened next however caught her off guard. The students, instead of walking back, flew back instead. So they were really magicians after all. But they weren't riding any brooms to fly, though Wilbell had said once that her broom was only one of the many possible catalysts to channel flight so you didn't necessarily need to ride them to fly. But a broom was a beginner's tool to fly, so this meant they were all advanced students of magic?
"Follow me, Miss Altugle," Colbert said before flying himself. It didn't take long for him to realize however that Ayesha wasn't flying behind him. She was still rooted to the ground, looking with a confused expression at him.
"What is the matter, Miss?" Colbert said with a confused look on his face.
"Well… I can't exactly-"
Without warning, the runes on Ayesha's forehead shone. And with it, knowledge rushed into her brain. It froze her in the spot as it was something she had never experienced before. The sensation and the light didn't last for long however, as the runes only shone for a second or two.
And then, Ayesha flew.
At first, she was merely hovering inches away from the ground. But she rose more and more, to the awe of the person herself. Louise and Colbert's reactions were different however, with the former looking like an abandoned puppy and the latter looking more surprised at the runes engraven on her forehead.
Those runes… They look familiar.... No matter… I'll look it up later...
"I-I flew… I flew!" Ayesha exclaimed. "S-so that thought that just crossed my mind… it was really a magic spell! B-but I'm an alchemist, not a witch! So why can I cast a spell like this?"
"F-familiar! Wait!" Louise shouted, making Ayesha turn around to look downwards at the small girl. Once again, she looked like she was about to cry.
"Oh, I forgot to inform you, Miss Altugle," Colbert interrupted. "Miss Valiere here couldn't cast her flight spell, you see."
Louise gave a murderous glare to the middle-aged man. It was clear that she was deeply embarrassed by the fact.
"A-ah, I see… Alright then, I'll just carry you, if that's alright with you of course," Ayesha replied with a warm smile. Unlike what Louise had feared, she didn't look down at her in the slightest for not being able to do said spell.
"F-fine, do as you must," Louise replied, blushing with a huff.
Ayesha giggled before putting her arms over the smaller girl. Carrying her was not hard at all for the familiar as she had quite the light body. Louise continued her blush as she felt Ayesha's warmth on her back as they flew together. It reminded her of Cattleya's warmth, and not just because both females were quite well-endowed in the chest area (s-she wasn't jealous at all!). She could feel her honest and genuine gentleness, something that she secretly yearned, deep down in her lonely heart.
Louise realized just how fortunate she was to have a familiar like her.
It didn't take long for them to reach the headmaster's office. Even though it was located on the topmost floor of a tower, they could just fly towards it instead of taking the stairs. Ayesha mastered her newfound flight capabilities instantly, which impressed herself. She didn't think about it. She just did it, as if it was something that was instinctual to her.
When they arrived, they were greeted by the headmaster and his assistant. The assistant pretty much had your stereotypical secretary look while the headmaster looked like some old man who had lived a really long time. As usual, he was smoking his pipe when Colbert knocked on the door.
Colbert entered the room first, followed by Ayesha and then Louise. When the headmaster saw the alchemist, his curiosity was immediately peaked towards her. Not just because she was unfamiliar to him. But also because of her good looks and striking outfit. Indeed, the headmaster was quite the perverted old man.
"Colby, who is this beautiful young lady?" he asked the teacher, a really serious look on his wrinkled old face.
"I was just getting to that," Colbert replied, sighing. He too knew about the headmaster's "quirks". He just hoped that he wouldn't try any of his antics on a mage he just met.
He then explained everything that had occured. As he did, the headmaster just nodded at his story while playing with his long beard. Once he finished, he turned to Ayesha and asked her to tell her side of the story. Once she finished as well, he gave them his conclusion.
"It seems you have been summoned from another world, Miss Altugle," he said to her, sounding as wise as he could.
"A-another world?" Ayesha replied. "But that's-"
"Too outlandish? Ohoho, but it's the most logical explanation from what I have heard. Your world is totally different from ours. You said you walked through a portal, correct? That was the mean which brought you to this world."
"I...I have never heard of such a thing…"
Ayesha now looked visibly worried. If this was really another world, then she really had messed up big time.
"I-is there a way to go back?" she asked him.
The headmaster continued stroking his beard, giving a tense pause before answering her question.
"There is. But I suggest to look it up by yourself as a lot of it are just mere rumors and hearsayings. Feel free to use the library as you wish."
"Thank you very much!"
Osmond just smiled back at Ayesha's bright smile. Ah, what a beautiful smile she had, he thought to himself. His thoughts then turned to Miss Longueville, his assistant. If only she would smile more, she could be as pretty as she was.
Louise on the other hand wasn't as happy as the apothecary. As she sat on her seat, she grabbed the hem of her skirt, realizing that her familiar, who she had been so happy to receive, was now seeking a way to go home. For the insecure mage, this was pretty much a betrayal in her mind.
"Now that's settled… Colby, make sure Miss Altugle received all the accommodations fitting for her status. Even though she's a familiar, she's still a mage after all."
"Understood," Colbert readily replied.
"W-wait, she's staying in my room! She's my familiar after all!"
Louise suddenly spoke up, rising from her seat with a determined and angry look at her face. "She's my servant and she's going to stay with me, whether she wants it or not!"
"Now, Louise, please-"
"It's alright. I'm fine with sharing a room with her."
Before Colbert could finish his objection, Ayesha had already interrupted him.
"If you're fine sleeping together with me on one bed, that is," she added with a smile.
In the end, Ayesha ended up staying in Louise's room. At first, Louise was going to make her sleep on the floor for her "punishment" to her "betrayal", but she ended up changing her mind. She didn't have the heart to order her to do something like that, especially with how nice she was acting to her. She still ordered her to wash her underwear however. But against her expectation, she accepted her task readily with a smile. Somehow, it made her feel worse as a result.
Those thoughts soon disappeared however when she slumbered into dreamland. Ayesha was sleeping beside her, wearing her own white nightgown. And she soon entered a beautiful dream when Ayesha ended up embracing her in her sleep. Ayesha had her own little sister back home and it seemed her body had inadvertently confused Louise with her.
"Nio…" Ayesha mumbled in her sleep. She had quite the habit of sleep talking; a fact that still embarrassed her even to this day.
Thankfully, Louise had fallen asleep so she didn't hear her saying her sister's name. Or else she would feel even more guilty. Instead, she was dreaming of her younger days with Cattleya, with Ayesha's image at times replacing her older sister.
It had been a long time since Louise slept with a smile.
In case you're wondering, yes, Ayesha's getting Mjöðvitnir instead of Gandálfr. I think being the Mind of God would be more fitting for her since its ability to create and operate any magical artifact syncs well with her skill as an alchemist. Her being able to use magic would also fit well with her image since she already carries a staff around. Unlike Saito, she has the image and appearance of a noble mage. And somewhat similar to Sheffield, she would also be able to use her rune to enhance and control the tools and objects she created. So she would have her own counterparts to the golems Sheffield possess, though the golems would be the slags from her world; artificial creatures created with alchemy.
Speaking of Sheffield, I'm still not sure whether to give her Gandálfr or Lífþrasir, and whether or not to make Ayesha have another rune like Saito does in canon. Tiffania could also summon another person from Ayesha's world. Maybe her sister perhaps.
Oh, and here's the image for Ayesha and Nio for people who haven't played their game. imgur / 5ijg8hA. Ayesha's the one on the right and Nio's the one on the left.
The next morning, the one who woke up first was Ayesha. She had developed a habit to wake up early ever since she lived alone after her sister was taken away. She had to take care of her house by herself after all. Normally, her sister would be the one doing that. It was hard at first but eventually she became used to it.
Opening her eyes, the first thing she saw was Louise's pink hair. She realized that the younger girl had buried herself into her bosom sometime when they slept. She could feel her calm breath on her breasts Louise had put her face in-between her cleavage.
"Wake up, Louise, wake up," she said to the sleeping girl, shaking her small body gently.
Louise stirred before opening her eyes. She looked up towards Ayesha's smiling face, groggily mumbling, "H-hmm? W-what?"
O-oh, that's right… she's my familiar… I have a familiar now…
And then, she realized where she was lying right now.
She quickly got up; her face bright red as the embarrassment seeped into her. Thinking logically, there was no logical reason for her to act like this. It was not an odd thing for a mage to be that close with their familiar. But her pride spoke differently. What was she doing, cuddling to her familiar like that! She was no longer a child!
"Good morning!" Ayesha said. "I hope I didn't wake you up too early."
They soon got dressed up; both females wearing their outfits from yesterday. Louise ordered Ayesha to dress her up and once again, she did it without any complaints. She even helped her style her hair. This, of course, made Louise very happy. For once, she had someone who respected her authority as a mage and a noble.
Unfortunately for her, that happiness was soon soured when she encountered a certain red-headed mage.
"Good morning, Louise," the girl said with a mocking smile.
Kirche von Anhalt Zerbst. Just like her name suggested, she didn't originate from this kingdom. She instead came from Germania, coming here after she was expelled from her former school. It didn't stop her from being one of the more dominant students however. Her beauty made her popular amongst the male mages, and she was not afraid at all of using that fact to her advantage.
"Good morning… Kirche," Louise replied. Just from her facial expression it was enough to see how much Louise despised her.
"So, she's your familiar, huh?" Kirche continued. "A human? And a mage at that? This is certainly surprising for a zero like you."
Louise could feel anger rising in her chest. Once again Kirche just knew how to push her buttons.
"S-shut up! This is the proof that I'm not a zero! I now have obtained a familiar! And it's a human mage at that! It's clearly superior to your familiar that's just a fire lizard!"
"Oh Louise, my familiar is not just a common fire lizard. It's a salamander straight from the Fire Dragon Mountains. It's so rare even collectors wouldn't be able to put a price on it! You may have summoned a human mage but there are many human mages out there. And I'm still not sure if she's really your familiar. A human familiar is quite unheard of after all."
"S-she is! She's definitely is! L-look! There's the familiar rune on her forehead!"
Kirche turned to Ayesha and began examining her closely. Not just her forehead where indeed there was a rune on it, but her face, her skin, her figure, her clothing, and even her bust. She had to admit, she was indeed quite the looker. And her clothes were quite daring too, exposing her middriff like that. But her own bust was still bigger so she still had the advantage.
Naturally, this process made Ayesha feel really quite uncomfortable.
"Umm, please don't stare at me too much…"
"What's your name?" she asked Ayesha, ignoring her previous words.
"I-it's Ayesha. Ayesha Altugle."
"So Altugle is your noble house name? Can't say I ever heard of it."
"W-well, this is a different world, so…"
"...A different world? I have no idea what you're talking about. Hey, Louise, is your familiar a little slow in the head or something?"
"N-no, she's not! And I will not tolerate you insulting her!" Louise quickly replied, her eyes flashing with rage. It wasn't just because she was her master. Without realizing it, Louise had started to form an attachment with the apothecary. Deep down, she was starting to think of her as a friend, or even, a confidant. So hearing her being insulted like this just made her boil with fury.
"Alright, alright, no need to be so angry. It's just a joke, Louise, it's just a joke," Kirche casually replied. "Alright then, I think that's good enough for now. See you later, Louise, Ayesha."
She stroked her flaming red hair and dashed off.
"Who was that?" Ayesha asked.
"She's Kirche. Some Germanian who thought she's a hot-shot, even though she came from a nation of barbarians. Nevermind her. Come. We have a breakfast to catch," Louise answered.
Ayesha could tell that Louise disliked that girl a lot, so she decided not to press the issue.
When she arrived at the Dining Hall, Ayesha was immediately taken aback to how lavish the place was. It reminded her from the times where she got invited for dinner by someone wealthy who wished to thank her for her deeds. But even their dining room wasn't as grand as this.
Ayesha could eat in such a place just fine but she really preferred simplicity over lavishness like this.
"You're sitting near me," Louise signalled to her. Around the other students, she clearly wished to affirm their master-servant relationship. Ayesha just nodded and followed her, while gawking around at the sight.
"Hey, stop doing that. Stop looking around like you're some country bumpkin."
"But I really am one…" Ayesha replied. "I came from the boonies after all…"
Louise didn't know it at that time but those words were quite an understatement. Ayesha literally lived on the mountains alone, with the nearest village being located days away.
The two sat side by side, with Louise ordering Ayesha to pull her chair for her. Once again it was another effort from her to show to the public just who was the master.
"Normally, a familiar wouldn't be sitting here with its master. But since you're a human and a mage, I had asked for a special permission for you to be here. So be grateful."
"Hehe, thank you, Louise! I'm really quite starving!" Ayesha replied, almost salivating at all the delicious food in front of her.
"Oh, Great Founder Brimir, and our lady, the Queen, we thank you for this humble meal that you have graciously provided us this morning," the harmonious sound of a prayer sounded from the people dining in the room, Louise included. Ayesha didn't participate. Instead, she just looked confusedly at her surroundings.
Hmm, a prayer before a meal… So this Brimir must be their worshipped deity...
Ayesha had met a couple of villages that had their own local deities that they worshipped. Most of the time, the deity ended up being something left behind from the past alchemic civilization. Perhaps it was a leftover from the customs of said era. She had found carvings that displayed adoration and near worship towards alchemists in the past. The past era really depended on alchemy for everything.
So this Brimir must have done something incredible to be deified like this…
She noted this in her head. She would make sure to research more about him when she had the chance.
Ayesha ended up following Louise to her class.
She had planned to go visit the library but Louise insisted that she must come with her. Ayesha simply didn't have the heart to refuse. Besides, it might be interesting to see the magic study that would happen there, just to see how the mages in this world differed from back home.
When they entered the room, every head in the class turned towards them. Whispers began to be shared as they examined Ayesha. Louise pretended to not care and just went to her seat right away.
"Oh my, look at all those creatures!"
The mages were all with their familiars and Ayesha was immediately impressed by them. Some of them were somewhat similar to the monsters she had fought in her travels while others were entirely new for her.
"Grrr, stop gawking!"
Louise ended up dragging Ayesha on her hand as she had stopped to admire all the strange creatures in front of her.
"Hahaha, look at that! Zero's familiar is an airhead!"
"Has she never seen a familiar before? Is she even really a mage?"
"I don't care, man. She's hot. I'd love to have a familiar like her."
Louise just huffed as she told Ayesha to take the seat beside hers. She really must have come from the boonies. Some small name nobles ruled over a literal nowhere land that no one cared. She must be one of those kind of nobles.
This couldn't be tolerated. She had to teach her how to act as the familiar of the great noble house of Vallière. She had to learn how to act with pride and not gawk around like a peasant.
Soon after, the teacher finally arrived, a plump middle-aged woman with a jolly expression on her face.
"Well, everyone, it seems that the Springtime Familiar Summoning was a great success. I, Chevreuse, always enjoy seeing the new familiars that are summoned each spring," she announced to the class.
"My, my. You've summoned quite the familiar, Miss Vallière," she remarked as she looked at Ayesha. "A human mage. What is your name, Miss?" she asked as she approached her seat.
"Ayesha Altugle! Pleased to meet you!"
"Umm, I'm not sure what you mean by that."
"I mean are you a line, a triangle, or a square mage? And tell the class what elements you can combine as well."
Ayesha paused. She had no knowledge on what she was asking. But she mentioned something about elements. There were elements in her world as well. Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth. All four were necessarily for nature and life to flourish. And alchemy synthesis also involved them as everything in the world possessed a certain element inside them. So if an alchemist could combine all four elements, that meant…
"Hmm, a square mage, perhaps? I can combine all elements after all. Fire, Water, Wind, and Earth, right?"
Hearing this, the class broke into loud whispers. Ayesha didn't know this of course but mages possessing the skills of a square class were terribly rare, and terribly powerful. Even Chevreuse who was a teacher was only a triangle class.
"Y-you're kidding, right? Y-you're a square mage?" Louise asked, she being in disbelief as the others.
"W-well, I suppose I am?" Ayesha replied. Louise and the others ignored the very obvious dumbfounded look on her face and just accepted her words at face value. It took quite some time until the class calmed down.
The rest of the class went on as usual, though most of the young mages' attention were occupied by Ayesha's presence. Louise quickly expressed her annoyance on why Ayesha hadn't told her about that fact beforehand. Inside however, she was really proud on herself, as she didn't just obtain a mage familiar. She had obtained a really skilled one as well. So once she finished lecturing Ayesha about a familiar's duty to not keep any secrets from its master, she bashfully asked her for a magic lesson. Louise knew very well just how bad she was at magic, even though she herself would never admit it. And when your familiar was pretty much a master at it, it would only be logical for her to ask for her guidance.
"Uhh, I'm sorry, but I can't really be your magic teacher, Louise... " Ayesha replied as kindly as she could. "Like I've said before, I don't think I'm really a mage the way the people in this world are. I'm an alchemist. I can indeed mix the four elements from materials but I don't think I can cast spells like you can."
"B-but you flew the other day!" Louise retorted. "That means you must be able to use magic!"
Before Ayesha could explain her theory, Louise was called upon by Chevreuse to the front of the class.
And here was where Ayesha witnessed why her peers had been calling her Zero all this time.
Instead of transmuting the pebble, Louise instead made it explode. The force threw both Louise and Chevrouse to the blackboard and sent the entire class into chaos. The familiars immediately panicked, including Ayesha who thought Louise had been hurt by the explosion. She quickly headed towards her master, but thankfully, she was merely soot-covered, without any notable wounds on her body. It was still a miserable sight however as she had torn her clothes from it, revealing her slender shoulders and her panties.
"A-are you alright?" Ayesha asked her. "O-oh, your clothes! L-let's get you changed right away!"
"I-I'm fine… I just messed up a little…" Louise replied weakly.
Unfortunately, Chevrouse wasn't so fortunate as she seemed to have been knocked unconscious by the explosion. And with the familiars in a panicked state, it was clear that this class was over.
"That's why I told you not to let her do it!" Kirche announced loudly.
"Jeez, Vallière! Save us some grief and just quit school already!"
"Yeah! That's right! You have zero talent in magic after all, Zero!"
Suddenly, the class went quiet. Ayesha had stood up and were looking at them with anger in her eyes. The normally soft-spoken woman had just shouted, surprising everyone present, including Louise. The only noise came from the remaining familiars who were still panicking.
"Don't you think you're all being too cruel at her?"
Ayesha didn't wait for their answer. Instead, she just lead Louise out of the class and back to her room.
In that moment, Kirche and the others had learned another side of Ayesha.
So how does Louise qualify as an alchemist? Do the familiar bond help her to use alchemy?
Yes. For the old-style alchemy Ayesha practices, you need some natural talent that only a few possesses in the world where Ayesha comes from. The familiar link would share Ayesha's talent with her, allowing her to perform old-style alchemy as well.
Does she can see mana spirit?
No. There are no mana spirits in the Dusk world where Ayesha came from. There are nature spirits that magicians and witches could form a contract with, but Ayesha is an alchemist, not witch.
The lore from the Iris and Mana Khemia series does not apply at all to the Dusk series.
Colbert was a teacher who had dedicated twenty years of his life to Tristain Magic Academy, He had pretty much become a mainstay figure in the place. His Runic name was "Colbert the Flame Snake," and, naturally, he was a mage specializing in fire magic.
Since the Springtime Familiar Summoning a few days ago, he'd been concerned about the mage woman that Louise had summoned. Or more precisely, he'd been concerned with the runes that had appeared on that woman's forehead. They were rare runes indeed, so for the last few nights, he'd confined himself to the library and had been researching various texts.
Tristain Magic Academy's library was located in the same tower as the dining hall. The bookshelves were unbelievably tall, about thirty mails in height, and the way they were lined up against the walls was a spectacle to behold. And rightly so, since this place was crammed with the history of everything following the creation of the new world in Halkeginia by the Founder Brimir.
Colbert was now in a section called "Fenrir's Library" that only teachers were allowed entry to.
The ordinary bookshelves, to which students had free access, didn't hold any answers that could satisfy him.
He levitated up to an out-of-reach shelf and scanned it intently for a particular book. His efforts were rewarded as his gaze fell upon the title of the book. It was a very old text which held descriptions of the familiars that had been used by the Founder Brimir.
His attention was focused on one particular paragraph written in it, and as he read on in fascination, his eyes grew wide. He compared the book with the sketch he'd made of the runes on the woman's forehead.
"Ah!" he gasped in surprise. At that moment, he lost the concentration necessary for maintaining his levitation spell and almost fell to the floor.
Holding the book in his arms, he hurriedly descended to the floor and ran out of the library.
His destination was the Headmaster's Office.
It was just before lunchtime when Ayesha and Louise finished up tidying the classroom where the accident happened. Louise had been punished to do so, and naturally, Ayesha helped her with her work. The normal Louise would've ordered Ayesha to do the work, but the guilt in her heart made her help out as well. She would feel really bad if she just sat while Ayesha did all the work.
Once they finished, they then went to the dining hall to have their lunch. Just like Louise had asked, Ayesha made sure to pull her chair for her before sitting down herself.
As they had their lunch, there were servants handing over food and drinks. One of said servants came over to their table, delivering some desserts which Ayesha received fondly. She was a black-haired freckled girl wearing a maid outfit.
"Oh, this is delicious!" Ayesha said after taking a bite out of the cake given to her, her face flushed with happiness. The maid girl paused and looked at her, somewhat taken aback by her candid reaction. Normally a noble wouldn't be so straightforward in expressing their pleasure about something, especially over a mere cake.
So she was the rumored mage servant… she was indeed as beautiful as they said…
The maid girl, named Siesta, was secretly admiring Ayesha. She looked so different than all the mages she had met. Somehow, she looked really dignified while being approachable at the same time. She gave the aura of someone that would listen to all your troubles without any reservation.
Ah, if only most nobles were like her…
Siesta could just imagine herself serving under someone like her gladly with all her heart. But most nobles preferred to be distant from the commoners they ruled over.
After putting down the cakes, Siesta excused herself and left their table. She had the urge to stay and chat with Ayesha but that would no doubt displease her master. And as a mere servant, she had no right to do so in the first place. She knew her place, and that place was not here, mingling with a mage and her familiar.
They soon finished their meal. As they left the room, Ayesha noticed a bottle dropping down from the pocket of a mage. Quickly, she grabbed the purple bottle and alerted the mage.
"Umm, I think you might have dropped this…"
The mage quickly turned around. And noticing who was standing in front of him, he quickly gave a dashing smile as he took the bottle off Ayesha's hand..
"Ah, thank you, Mademoiselle."
"Wait? That perfume? Isn't it Montmorency's?" one of the friends he had been talking with exclaimed.
The mage looked back at the bottle and only then he realized that he had made a mistake. He had been so taken by Ayesha's beauty that he didn't realize he just exposed himself by taking the dropped perfume back. He should've just pretended that it wasn't his.
But it was too late as soon after, a girl came to him and immediately cried, accusing him of cheating with the Montmorency girl. And then Montmorency herself came over as well. Obviously, this lead to quite the chaos occurring inside the hall.
"Look at what you've done," Louise sighed. "Really, that Guiche. He would never stop being a womanizer."
"E-eh? I was just giving his bottle back. I didn't mean for this to happen," Ayesha replied. She now felt bad at what she had just done.
"Let's just leave him there. His own fault two-timing girls like that."
Ayesha did as Louise suggested. She really had no idea how to handle a situation like this, especially since she herself was not experienced in romance in the slightest.
Guiche looked at Ayesha from the distance as she and Louise left the room. Normally, he would be really angry to her for exposing him like this. But since she was a mage, and a gorgeous one at that, he couldn't really be mad at her. In the end, he just chalked it up to his bad fortune.
When Colbert arrived at the Headmaster's Office, Miss Longueville was not there. There was only Old Osmond, the Headmaster. Colbert quickly told everything he had discovered to him.
"Are you sure about this?"
""Yes! The runes that appeared on that woman's forehead are exactly the same as the runes that were inscribed on the legendary familiar Mjöðvitnir!"
"So, your conclusion?"
"That woman is Mjöðvitnir! This means a Mjöðvitnir had been reborn on this era! If this isn't big news, then what is, Old Osmond?"
Colbert stood up as he wiped his balding head with a handkerchief.
"Hrm... Certainly, the runes are the same. But for a person from another world to become Mjöðvitnir just by having the same runes... I wonder how that could've happened. Did you cast a Detect Magic spell on her?"
"I did. And it indeed picked up something, but it was something different. She was not a mage in a way we are. What should we do? She was a familiar used by the Founder himself! A Mjöðvitnir possessed incredible magical prowess! It could annihilate an entire army of a thousand all by itself!"
"Hmm…" Osmond paused. "How about her master? Miss… Vallière, was it? She must be a really talented mage for sure."
"Not at all. Rather, one might say she's un-talented..."
"So how did she manage to summon her in the first place? What an utter paradox. I just can't see where the ends meet."
"In any case, there is no need for us to hand over Mjöðvitnir and its master to those fools at the palace. Give them a toy like this and they'll just cause another unnecessary war. Court advisors have too much free time on their hands and like fighting far too much. I will take responsibility of this case myself. You will not speak of this to anyone else, Mister Colbert."
"N-not even Miss Altugle herself?"
Osmond paused. He stroked his beard for a moment before answering with a sigh, "Very well. You may tell her and her master. We've already promised her access to our libary after all, so sooner or later, she would find out in the end."
"T-then, I shall inform her at once!"
And with that, Colbert left the room.
The old man took hold of his staff and turned to look out the window. He immersed his thoughts in the far reaches of history.
"The legendary familiar Mjöðvitnir... Just what kind of form had it taken before, I cannot help but wonder."
After the next class, Louise and Ayesha were visited by Colbert. He told them that he had something urgent to tell, and that they should discuss it over in the restricted section of the library where no one else would be able to eavesdrop. Louise agreed, being curious on what he had to say herself.
When they arrived, Ayesha couldn't help but gawk around once more as she was impressed by the amount of books the library possessed.
"These are a lot of books! Still less than the ones on Zweiteturm, but that's to be expected. That place was designed to be the storage of knowledge from the past civilization after all…"
"Sir Colbert? Can you point me to the section with history and geography books? I believe I would like to start from that," she asked him with a smile.
"They're over there behind that row of books. You can check them out later after we finish our talk," he replied, also with a smile. He was happy hearing her curiosity. Too many of the noble kids he was teaching did not utilize the library in the slightest, finding the books inside too dull for their taste. The young woman here certainly appreciated the value of knowledge that these books possessed.
They sat at the table at the corner of the library. Then, Colbert began his speech. He explained everything he knew about Mjöðvitnir and how Ayesha had inherited its runes. He also told her about the familiar's abilities, on how it could master any magic and use and create any magical artifacts. Ayesha listened intently; her facial expression showing her seriousness at accepting the knowledge being given to her. Only after Colbert finished talking that she spoke again.
"I see… So these runes were something special indeed…"
Louise on the other hand was bursting with pride. Colbert just told her that she had summoned the same familiar as the Founder himself! How could she be not proud after hearing that?
"Remember, you two must not speak about this to anyone else. Or else the kingdom would be all over you. They would certainly wish to use your power to their own ends, perhaps even to make war," Colbert continued.
Just when Louise was imagining the shocked and awed faces of her detractors, Colbert came and ruined her dream. She had to keep the true identity of her familiar secret from them. Bragging about her had just turned into an impossibility.
"I-I see…" Ayesha replied. She felt down not because she couldn't show off to people that she was Mjöðvitnir, but because of the revelation that this kingdom's rulers would do such a thing. In her travels, she had encountered people that abused and flaunted their position of authority, and every time she did, she felt bad for the people under them. But she couldn't do much as she was just a wandering herbalist. She could only try to help the people as best as she could. But she never encountered one who wanted to wage wars against other lands. Could it be that this land was ruled by somebody even worse than those people?
"Sir Colbert, I would like to study about the state of this kingdom as well. I would love to use this power of mine for the good of the people as I try to find my way home. But if as you said, they would just use it for wars and other horrible things like that, then I would be fine with hiding myself."
Colbert was taken aback at Ayesha's proclamation. He didn't expect such serious words to come out from her mouth. No offense to her but he thought of her as somewhat ditzy and airheaded.
"R-right. I suppose I can give you some books about that as well. Also, as promised, I would also refer to you some records of objects and people appearing from another world."
"Thank you very much!"
Once again, Louise heard Ayesha mentioning about her going back home, triggering her fear of abandonment once again. She returned back to her sulking mode. And as she returned to class, leaving Ayesha in the library on her own with Colbert, she gave her a short, "I'll allow you to stay here, familiar" before leaving the room. Ayesha could sense the distress coming from her, but she decided not to chase after her. She had books to study after all.
A week went by after Louise received her familiar. Ayesha spent most of her time researching and reading all she could in the library. As a ruin researcher and a traveler, she was already well-versed in investigating new places. Geography, history, culture, climate, agriculture, technology, industries, military affairs, even food; she learned as much as she could. She learned how the world was split into human and elven regions, and how said human region was split even more into various kingdoms that didn't exactly get along that well. She learned how she was in the nation of Tristain, that had borders with Albion, Germania, and Gallia. And speaking of Germania, she found it curious how the names there somewhat resembled some of the names in her world, even though the language between her world and here were different. She imagined her rune gave her the understanding needed to decipher the language of this world.
And speaking of her rune, she had learned about the legend of the Founder Brimir as well. It was no mere folktale however, as it was part of the religion shared by all the human nations. Ayesha had met some localized religious folks before, but never to this extent. Their religion was more like a local superstition, not a widespread organized religion like this. And reading all the books written about him, and after confirming with Colbert, she knew that most people took this religion quite seriously. Ayesha noted that fact in her mind. She wouldn't want to offend anyone after all. The concept of worshipping a concrete deity was quite foreign to her as there was nothing like that in her homeland, so she could not really become Brimir's follower. She couldn't even tell for sure that all the myths about Brimir were the truth. As her teacher once told her, she must not be satisfied by just one source of the truth, as it could all be fabricated.
And regarding Brimir, Ayesha found the attitude this world's humans towards the elves to be somewhat disturbing. It seemed that they were united by their faith to be against the elves, with the justification that they were an evil race that had tried to wipe out humanity many times. That, and they had been occupying their Holy Land for a long time. Back at her world, they didn't have a rival race like that. Other non-human races were all created by humans with alchemy to serve them.
"Hmm, I would like to go there sometime…" Ayesha mumbled to herself. "There" was referring to the Sahara where the elves lived. This whole conflict had piqued her curiosity and she would like to hear what the other side had to say. But from the map she had read, she knew it was terribly far from where she was right now. The main problem for her was not the distance however. She was already used to travel long stretch of lands with just her feet. The main problem was Louise. She knew just how much she was attached to her. She doubted she would be fine with her just leaving her behind. And she certainly didn't look like someone who was used to being a traveler so she couldn't bring her for the ride. Not to mention the dangers in the road, especially if they were going to enter elven territory, which most likely also despised humans in return.
Ayesha sighed. There was no easy way for her to do this.
Speaking of Louise, her treatment of her had somewhat mellowed over the days that went by. At first, she still demanded to her to wash her clothes, which Ayesha did willingly. She was used to the process of washing her own clothes after all, since she had lived alone. But it was only for one morning. After that, Louise changed her mind. Perhaps it was because she felt bad for her, as the girl was peeking from a distance as Ayesha washed her clothes. Or perhaps it was because others had witnessed Ayesha doing such a degrading manual labor (in their eyes, Ayesha saw nothing degrading about washing clothes), and it started a rumor how Louise was being an arrogant master that mistreated her noble familiar. It seemed Ayesha had gained some "fans" among the students. And that included Guiche, who had gallantly announced to Ayesha to come to him if Louise became too much for her, promising to protect her with all his power. Ayesha just responded back awkwardly with a thanks, saying that she was just fine being with Louise.
It wasn't just the noble students that began to admire Ayesha however. The commoner servants started to look up to her also. They had never found a noble who acted like her. One of them was Siesta, who secretly wished she could have a chat with her. From the other servants, she knew how she would visit the library and stay there for hours every day. But she would certainly be stepping out of line if she just walked there and bothered her. So she had to be content with just watching her from afar and serving her at the dining room. Some was more skeptical however, like Marteau who was the head chef of the kitchen. The man wasn't that fond of magic and nobles in general.
One night, after dinner and before they went to sleep, Louise asked Ayesha to tell her about her world. In her mind, she justified her question by her wanting to know if her world was that much better than here that she wanted to go home so badly.
"Alright then, where should I start?" Ayesha said with a smile as she laid down on their bed. The two had changed into their nightgowns at this point and they were lying down side by side on the bed. The bed was quite small so the two had to sleep side by side. Both of them didn't really mind however.
"Start from your home," Louise answered.
"Okay. Well, my home is quite far away from civilization. It's around two days of walking to the nearest village, and from there, it's around a week to the nearest city. It's really up in the mountains."
So she is really from the boonies… Louise thought to herself.
"We pretty much have to live there however since we make a living making and selling herbal medicine. And the ingredients are all from the plants growing around there, especially the ones growing in the ruins nearby."
"Ruins?" Louise asked, her curiosity aroused. There weren't that many ruins in Halkeginia. To be living right near one, it was something totally foreign to her.
"Yes. The people nearby called it the Altugle Herb Gardens, but it wasn't like we owned it or anything. Grandpa used to say that the Altugle Family had been its caretakers for generations, thus the name."
"Caretakers? A-are you sure your family didn't own that ruins and the land near it?" Louise interrupted. "Y-you're a noble, right?"
"I told you, my family and I are only herbalists, nothing more. We're certainly not the lords of the land of anything like that. Although…"
"Hmm, well, I have found some similar ruins all over the world. They had the same design and construction and they served the same purpose as well; to grow all sorts of medicinal herbs. And I think, they were also called Altugle Herb Gardens, at least if my research was correct."
"A-all over the world?"
Louise was flabbergasted. Could it be that the Altugle Family, the noble house that Ayesha belonged to was a really important house?
"Well, it's just a theory for now. Barely any information was left, since they were built in the golden age of alchemy, which was a really, really long time ago, at least a millenium from the present era. Most of the plants grown there had died as the facilities had malfunction over the years. Even the amazing technology of the past had its limits. The function that still survived was the simplest one; the core hidden deep beneath the ruins which gave nutrients to the plants. It was quite amazing really, as it allowed plants to grow straight out from the rocks of the ruins. The other functions, like adjustment of temperature and moisture, had stopped working many years ago, so the more fragile and rare plants had died and went extinct. I guess in a way it's quite poetic, as those plants were originally extinct in the first place, and they were revived using alchemy."
Louise had lost Ayesha at this point. She, who was never educated on this subject, had no idea what she was talking about. She did know that Ayesha had an extensive knowledge on the subject however.
"I-I don't think your family are mere caretakers, Ayesha!" Louise said to her. "They must have been the one who built and maintained those ruins! So you must come from a really important family after all!"
"Hmm, I guess you may be right. Grandpa once said that the technique he taught me was handed down for generations. And he did have quite the extensive knowledge on herbal medicine. It was quite hard, you know, memorizing all the plants growing in the ruins and the mountains around it. There were just so many of them. And I didn't just have to remember their names and properties. I also had to remember their life cycle, growing method, and their relationship with the wild beasts nearby. Grandpa made sure that I must know not to overharvest them. And after that, I still had to learn the ancient language since all his medicinal books were written in that language. I was thankful for that though, as without it, I wouldn't have been able to learn alchemy all on my own, since I need that to decipher the alchemy books I happened to come across. And without that, I wouldn't have been able to save Nio."
Hearing all of that, Louise was reminded of her own education. As a noble, she would have tutors coming in and teach her all sorts of subjects. And Ayesha got all her knowledge from her grandfather. It made her feel somewhat jealous, as that would mean they would have been pretty close. She was never that close to her parents.
Louise then realized that she never heard about Ayesha's parents. Could it be that they're…
"A-Ayesha, your parents… you never mentioned them at all…"
With a warm and reassuring smile, Ayesha replied, "I don't remember much of them at all. They died when I was really young. Something about a disease. Ever since then, Grandpa took me and Nio in."
"I-I see…" Louise replied. So they really are dead… Her thoughts returned to her own mother and father, and how they were still alive and well. She now realized just how fortunate she was.
"O-oh, that's right, who's this Nio you keep talking about?" Louise asked, trying to change the topic of conservation. "Is she your sister? And what did you mean about saving her?"
Ayesha paused, reminiscing for a short while before continuing her story.
"Yes, she is indeed. And she's the best sister you could ever ask for," she said with a smile. "She was kidnapped by a certain ruin guardian years back, back when I didn't even know about alchemy. I managed to get her back though so it's all fine."
"K-kidnapped? By a ruin guardian?"
"His name was Yggdrasil. He was the guardian of the Cradle of Life; a place made by the ancient civilization to store and safeguard various living beings. He awakened recently and he began taking humans from his surroundings, including Nio. It wasn't done out of maliciousness though, or at least, I believed it so. He was simply doing as he was programmed to. This theory of mine hadn't been proven yet, but I believed he sensed an impending apocalypse so he began taking in humans. Not to mention that Nio had a special blood in her that made her capable of becoming a ruin administrator. If I had been late, Nio would've merged with Yggdrasil and she would have lost forever to me."
Once again, Ayesha had lost Louise in their conversation. One thing was clear to the young noble girl however, and that was how happy Ayesha was as she talked about her sister, Louise felt a pang of conscience in her heart. She had taken her from her world without her consent, separating her from her sister once again.
Louise didn't need to say anything more. Ayesha already understood her.
"It's alright. I'm sure Nio can take care of herself just fine," she said with a warm, understanding smile.
"But I have-"
"Shh, you didn't really mean to summon me here, did you? Then you have nothing to blame for."
Ayesha gently combed Louise's hair in an attempt to calm her down. It worked swimmingly for it reminded Louise when her sister used to do the same thing to her. The lonely girl yearned for affection, as much as her tough exterior said otherwise.
And that affection soon brought the mage to slumber.
As the days went by, Ayesha finished her books and began directing her attention towards other activities. She started taking walks around the Academy and its surroundings, investigating the kind of plants and crops that were growing around them. As an alchemist, she must be familiar with any kinds of materials. The ancient books she read often emphasized how an alchemist must always search for the truth of all things, and analyzing and categorizing every sort of material that existed were part of that. Since she was now in an entirely different world, it would be natural for her to be surrounded with materials unfamiliar to her. So she would have to spend time researching them one by one.
To her surprise however, every single plant and rock she found, she was familiar with.
This rune on my head… it's shining again…it really does have special powers...
The Mjöðvitnir rune shone every time she picked up something new, and instantly, she understood everything there was to know about the material. It was so convenient that she almost felt bad having it.
Ayesha had learned about the rune and the other Brimir runes from the books in the library. She knew that she had become the so-called Mind of God, and that she now had the ability to use any kind of magical tools. The rune's power wasn't just limited to that, it seemed, as it taught her the language of this world as well as the magic in it. That was how she could cast the Levitation spell back then. And now, it was teaching her the properties of all things as well.
Hmm, I wonder if it would help me in my synthesis as well…
Speaking of synthesis, Ayesha had asked Colbert to be given a personal room where she could perform her alchemy freely. He agreed, but with the condition that he would be allowed to see her at work. He seemed to be quite interested in her alchemy, after knowing that they differed quite greatly from the alchemy he knew. Of course, Ayesha agreed to that. She was never averse at teaching others, although she herself didn't think of herself as that good of a teacher.
But in the end, Colbert just walked out of her demonstrations even more confused than before.
H-how did that even work? Just putting in the ingredients in the boiling cauldron and then stirring it, then the synthesized item would come out? The liquid mixture inside certainly looked out of the ordinary, but she didn't seem to cast any spells to it, not that there are any spells that I know of that can do such a thing.
And her explanation on the materials and the four elements contained in them… it's wildly different from any of the elemental theories we have. Could it be that her theorems are the correct ones and we've been assuming things incorrectly all this time?
It wasn't just Colbert who was troubled. Ayesha herself was troubled as well. The alchemy she performed, the so-called old-style alchemy, relied quite heavily on intuition and natural instinct, something Colbert didn't really have. Colbert would try to explain Ayesha's lecture to himself, and it only ended up confusing him even further. The correct way to learn it would be to feel it for yourself. Even before Ayesha knew about alchemy, she had synthesized medicine without any proper measuring tools. She could just sense necessary balance needed between the ingredients. Old-style alchemy might look like something almost anyone could learn, but when you really looked at it, you would find that only the few people predisposed to performing it could do it; the so-called "natural talent". No one was really sure if such a talent was hereditary, as in it was in the bloodline like the talent of magic was, or it was just brought by the alchemists having a certain mindset in their head. All old-style alchemists seemed to be taught by their parents, with said parents being taught by their own parents, and so on, and so forth. Perhaps a certain nurture and upbringing were necessary for the child to be able to become an old-style alchemist in the future since they were taught the art from when they were little, thus possibly nurturing their brain to grow differently than a normal human brain would.
Like a saying once said, "to explain old-style alchemy was to explain an ambiguous thing with another ambiguous thing"
Ayesha would have taught him the modern style alchemy, which anyone should be able do, but she was not as well-versed in the subject as she was in her old-style alchemy. And besides, you needed certain specialized tools to perform it; tools that Ayesha didn't have in her disposal. Said tools were not exactly reproducible, as they were excavated from the ancient alchemic ruins and facilities. Back in her world, only the Central had possession of it, and they certainly wouldn't just give it to anyone unaffiliated with them, as they were very precious relics.
Even so, Colbert enjoyed their chats very much. Ayesha had proven herself to be a really amicable and intellectual person. Unlike most people, she didn't look down at all at his ideas. Her stories about her world also interested him greatly. When she told him about the ancient alchemy civilization, it was if she was telling him a fairy tale. He couldn't believe such a civilization could exist.
Louise, interestingly enough, shared the same interest as Colbert. Not really as a scholar like Colbert, but more of merely a natural curiosity. She had always been good at the theoretical part of magic. She was only poor at the actual spellcasting part.
And to the mage's own surprise, she actually managed to do it; the very same alchemy Ayesha performed.
Her face shone with awe as she took out her very first item from the cauldron. It was just a simple medicinal salve, but to her, it was as if she was found a sacred treasure from Brimir himself. She still thought of alchemy as another form of magic, thus making this the very first magic she was able to perform.
Ayesha smiled as she watched from the sidelines, happy at Louise's success.
"I-I did it!"
Louise turned to Ayesha, her face just moments away from breaking down into tears of joy.
"I did it, Ayesha!"
She put down the salve as fast as she could before leaping right towards Ayesha, throwing herself at the alchemist for one big intimate hug.
"I-I did it…"
Louise began sobbing on Ayesha's bosom. She felt so, so relieved that she finally managed to do magic. Ayesha, who was taken aback by Louise's sudden action, quickly recovered and gave the girl a pat on her head.
"That's wonderful! And you learned it so quickly too! You may have the natural talent needed to become an alchemist!" she said to her with a bright smile.
And from that day on, Louise decided that she would dedicate her time to learn under Ayesha, to the point that she asked that she could forgo her classes and just spent her time under her tutelage. At first, Ayesha was not sure if that was a good idea to do, but seeing the determination in her eyes, she had to relent. Naturally, she had to bring this up to Colbert and the headmaster. And when she did, Colbert was against it at first, but the headmaster thought otherwise. He argued that all this time Louise had always failed her magic lessons, so for her to actually be able to perform magic under Ayesha, that meant Ayesha would be the best teacher for her. The headmaster was never a stickler for rules, you see, so he didn't mind allowing something like this in his school. He only asked for Ayesha to give examinations to Louise just like a teacher of the academy would do, so that Louise would actually have a proper score like any other students.
"Hmm, I've never really been a teacher before, but alright! I think I can do that!" Ayesha replied. "But I would like Mr. Colbert to help me with this. I have no idea about your scoring system after all," she said as she turned towards the bespectacled man. "Would that be alright with you, Mr. Colbert?" she asked him.
"O-of course!" he quickly responded. The middle-aged man realized that this would mean he got to spend more time with the alchemist. He had been spending quite a lot of time with her lately and to his regret, it seemed he had become somewhat smitten towards her. She was just so pleasant to talk with. Not to mention she certainly didn't look half bad herself. All this time he had been pining towards Longueville but perhaps going after Ayesha would be better…
He quickly shook the thought out of his head. What was he thinking? He was acting as if he was some teenager. And besides, Longueville already accepted his offer for the Ball of Frigg. He can't just cheat on her!
And speaking of Longueville, he noticed how she seemed to have taken an interest on Ayesha as well. She had purposefully come to Ayesha's laboratory a couple of times, though she didn't stay long. She just asked her some questions and watched her perform her alchemy. Oddly enough, her questions seemed to be aimed at explosives and the like. Indeed, Ayesha was certainly capable of creating them. Her alchemy was so much more versatile than the alchemy he knew, which was just about transmuting a matter into something else, like iron to mud for example. Her alchemy took much longer however. A synthesis could take hours to perform. It was like she was combining the science of chemistry with magic. Mixing in things together in a giant cauldron like that, he had never seen anything like that in his entire life.
The Day of Void soon approached, and that meant the students got a day where they could leave the academy. It was basically the equivalent of Sunday in their world. Ayesha had gone around the outskirts nearby, but she hadn't actually gone to the city nearby. Thus, Louise decided it would be fun for them to travel there for the occasion.
"Hmm, so we have to take a horse to go there?" Ayesha said once they arrived at the academy's stables.
"Of course. It's three hours on horseback. Who knows how long it would take if we just walk there," Louise replied as she waited for the stable's caretaker to get their horses.
"But I never rode a horse before…" Ayesha replied. "Can I just walk there?"
Louise looked at her incredulously. "...You're not serious, are you?"
Ayesha smiled back. "I am. My sandals were made by alchemy, you know. They made me able to travel large distances faster and with less energy."
Louise looked down at her familiar's footwear. She was actually wearing high-heeled sandals. That could not possibly be comfortable for a long walk, she thought.
However, she had known from her how alchemy could create all sorts of magical things. So those sandals of her might really make her able to keep up with a horse's speed without tiring.
"Fine. Just don't beg me for a ride on my horse midway through the trip."
Louise soon learnt that her harsh words from before were absolutely unnecessary. Just like Ayesha said, her sandals gave her the power to keep up with Louise's horse. It was amazing, she had to admit. From her leg movements, it was clear that to her, she was just walking normally. But her speed was as fast as Louise's horse's speed. It was as if the air itself was pushing her along.
Alchemy really is amazing…
To Ayesha, who often travelled to places with no smooth roads, riding a horse was not an option. She always walked everywhere on foot, ever since she started out her journey to save her sister. Normally, you would think that it would take a toll on the skin of her feet, turning it rough and dry like a commoner's feet. But with her knowledge and skill, it was easy for her to make a medicine that could keep the condition of her feet and legs pristine.
She was not the kind of woman who was obsessed with her beauty. But she always made sure to take care of herself. Take baths regularly, take good care of her long hair, and all that stuff. Cleanliness was always a big part of her life. She also made sure to eat healthily. As someone who knew a lot about diseases, she knew how many of them manifested just because the person didn't take care of themselves properly.
And thus, when she saw the condition of the back roads in the city of Tristain, she couldn't help but cringe at it, not just from the revolting smell, but from the realization that there were people living around here.
"This is horrible…" she said to herself.
"Well, us nobles rarely ever enter streets like this. That's why it's so dirty. But really, why are we going to this direction in the first place? Hey, let's go somewhere else! This place is not just smelly but it can get pretty dangerous too."
"How can people live in a place like this?" she asked Louise; genuine concern displayed on her face.
"They're commoners. They're used to something like this," her master replied back.
"Whaat? But they're still people! You'll get sick if you live in a place like this! Look at those flies over there, hovering over the garbage! They could make you sick!"
For Louise, who had spent her entire life not really thinking commoners as something worth being concerned about, Ayesha's action really weirded her out. Why would she care that much about them? She was a noble too after all.
Maybe it was how she was raised back at her world. From her story, it seemed her family could be considered a fallen noble family. They didn't seem to have any influence whatsoever on the commoners around them. Ayesha had told her how she was raised as a mere herbalist, selling medicines and the like to the people. It wasn't something a noble family would do as a living. You were supposed to get taxes from the commoners for living in your territory.
"That's more reason why we shouldn't be here!" Louise argued back. "Really, why are you so curious about everything? Ever since we entered the town, you gawk around like a commoner who just arrived from the boonies! A noble is supposed to walk in a dignified way!"
"Hmm, I don't know about that… I saw a couple of nobles walking around and I think their way of walking looked a little arrogant…"
"That's just how you're supposed to walk as a noble!" Louise replied with exasperation.
Really, why must she be so difficult at times? She was so kind to her and she got the looks and beauty to be the perfect noble lady. If only she would just listen to her and stop being so inside her own world!
"Alright then, we should change directions, if you dislike going in there that much…" Ayesha said with a sigh. "But I would love to have a chat with the one in charge of this town though."
"What? Are you crazy? We're not just going to barge in to have a talk with Her Majesty The Queen!" Louise quickly replied.
"Ah, that's right. This is the capital of the kingdom, isn't it? And I guess we can't easily get an audience with her..."
For Ayesha, the concept of a queen was quite alien to her. There were no kings or queens in her world. From the books she had read, they seemed to be really revered by the populace. And she could tell how much Louise respected her. She herself though, she couldn't understand why you would want to put such a far distance between you and the people you rule upon. Wouldn't it be better if you walk hand in hand towards the future you wish?
They just can't help it! You're just that awesome, Sis!
Nio's words echoed in her head. It was what she said when some of the people she had helped started to praise her like she was some really important person. So the queen must be a really amazing person then?
"Hey, Louise, is the queen really that much of an amazing person?"
Louise's eyebrows raised at this question. What in the world was she talking about now?
"Of course she is! She's the Queen after all!"
"I'm not talking about that. I mean, is she a really, really strong magic user? I was under the impression that having magic powers makes you a noble. So that means she must be really up there, right?"
"No, you dummy! You got it backwards! All nobles are mages, but not all mages are nobles! If for whatever reason a noble is disowned from their family, left the family name on his or her own accord, dropped status to be a mercenary or a criminal, and so on and so forth, he or she would stop being a noble!" Louise explained.
"Hmm, okay. But you haven't answered my question yet. The queen got her position from her people because she was an amazing person, right? Or was it just because she inherited the position from the amazing person before her?"
"'Got her position from the people'? What are you talking about? The commoners don't give us the right to rule over them! And we got that right from The Founder Brimir himself! He gave magic to the chosen ones so they could rule over the rest!"
Oh that's right… I remember the books I've read saying something like that… That's certainly something unique to this world. For magic to be given like that…
Ayesha decided to stop pursuing the matter any further for the time being. Louise clearly believed strongly on her position.
Their trip ended without any further incident. Ayesha purchased quite a number of things from the various merchants and shops in the city. She felt bad that she had to use Louise's money to do so, but Louise herself insisted that she didn't mind at all. Of course, she bought them not just out of idle curiosity. With the knowledge given by her rune, she could tell the various properties of the things she saw, and she knew she could use them for her alchemy. This might be a different world, but a lot of the properties she found on her world could also be found here.
In the end, it was quite the fruitful trip indeed.
Fouquet, The Crumbling Dirt.
That name stroke fear in many of the nobles populated Tristain.
He (or she, as no one really knew their gender for sure) was a mage, who was infamous for stealing all sorts of precious and valuable treasures and artifacts. And unlike common burglars, he was never afraid of breaking it in broad daylight with brute force to get what he wanted. He was a terribly capable mage after all, with the ability to create a giant golem that would obey any orders he gave to it. But this didn't mean he couldn't do the thieving with stealth, as he could use his alchemy spell to turn walls and doors into dirt and dust. The nobles had tried to fortify their defenses, but they were simply not strong enough against his magic. It was proof to just how capable he was. And it also explained how he managed to evade capture for so long.
Anything he wanted, he would obtain it for sure.
But now, for his next target, he had come to a pickle.
For once, his spell was not strong enough to break through the protection that guarded his target. A mage who was more skilled than him must have cast the spell personally.
And with the thickness of the wall and door guarding the vault, even his golem's strength would not be enough to break it open. As someone who was an expert at earth magic, he could tell how thick and tough a wall or door was just by touching it.
He had to find another way to break it open.
And just his luck, it seemed he had found that way at last.
She was the familiar that Louise girl had summoned. To think that a failure like her would be able to summon another person as a familiar, and a mage at that. She said that she was from another world, which he himself still could not believe. But after seeing first hand the odd magic she possessed she called alchemy, he became more open to the idea.
Her alchemy… it was nothing like the alchemy I know… or anyone else knows for that matter… she really did come from another world…
So he decided. He would use her to find a way to break open that accursed vault.
And so, using the identity of Miss Longueville, he (or she, rather) began to get close to Ayesha, asking her all sort of things relating to ways of destroying a thick, strong wall. Of course, she masked it as merely natural curiosity. And Ayesha, being always happy to teach anyone about her alchemy, answered readily.
"Hmm, a tool to destroy a thick layer of rocks, you say? Like a mining bomb?" Ayesha said to her.
"Mining… bomb?" Longueville replied. She was unfamiliar with the term,
"It's the bomb you use to blow up rocks in mines. Easier to use it that a traditional pickaxe, especially when the rock layer gets particularly hard" Ayesha explained. She had known a little about mining from her friend Regina who was quite the expert at that kind of work.
"I see… Normally, we would have a mage just blowing up the rocks with their spells so we have no need for something like that. An Earth mage would also be able to detect the mineral veins we wish to mine so it's like killing two birds with one stone."
"Hmm, i think with alchemy, I can create a tool that can do something like that too. A vein detector in form of a radar. It would scan its surroundings for the veins and it would show its location on its display. I've never actually made it though. I've just read about it in one of the old alchemy books I've found."
"R-radar?" Longueville responded. Another unfamiliar term.
"Oh, I guess something like that hasn't been invented here," Ayesha replied. "If you put it in a more magical terms, then you can think of it as a different version of a magician's crystal ball. It could display image and sound through a distance so you could use it as a long range communication tool. Do you have something like that here?"
"N-no, not really."
"Well, that's a shame. The mages back at home has that, you know," Ayesha said with a smile.
Once again, Ayesha talked about something Longueville didn't understand. She often ended up doing this when they talked to each other.
Creating magic tools that even commoners could use… it's like the opposite of the mages in this world where their magic is deeply tied to themselves...
She gave a glance towards the sling bag on the chair at the corner of the room.
Maybe it would be better if I just stole that thing instead of the Staff of Destruction… it probably contains most, if not all, of her magical tools… if I could get my hands on them…
She looked back at Ayesha. Looking at her pure, unsuspecting face, she couldn't help to feel bad in just thinking about doing such a thing. She would no doubt be deeply troubled if she ran off with her bag.
Really, I've never meet a mage like her before… Are all the mages of your world like this, Ayesha?
This was not the first time she became intimate with her potential target. But this was the first time that she just couldn't bring herself to execute the plan because of just how nice her target was.
...Fine. I'll just steal the staff. It's not my style to steal from people like her.
"Miss Ayesha, how about melting a wall of steel? Can you do that with your alchemy? Here, we have an alchemy spell that could transmute both stone and steel into dirt and sand," she asked her, putting on an innocent, purely curious expression.
"Hmm, well, there's the Liquid Solvent. It's an acid that could melt just about anything, even its own, specially made container. You really have to use it right away or else the bottle it's contained in would melt."
Longueville's eyes glinted in response.There it is! That's the item I want! Now, how to coax her to give it without arousing suspicion...
"Can you make that for me? I'd like to compare its dissolving strength with my own spell."
"Eh? You're a mage, Miss Longueville?"
Ayesha had never heard about her being a mage. She only knew her as the headmaster's secretary. She certainly never taught in any classes in the academy.
"Shh, not so loud," Longueville quickly said in response, putting her index finger on her lips. "I might be a commoner but I have a blood of a mage in me. I'm what you would call a fallen noble, though that was all in the past and I'm content with my life as a commoner now. I hide the fact that I could use magic because other nobles don't look too fondly to a fallen noble. That, and I prefer to be known as an ordinary commoner. Less questions that way."
"A-ah, I see…"
Longueville couldn't help but smile internally. She actually bought that. This woman must have lived her life surrounded by good, honest people.
"Alright then! I'll make it!" Ayesha declared with a smile. "Just be really careful with it, alright? It could melt human skin, you know."
"Don't worry. I'll make sure to handle it with the utmost care," Longueville replied. "Oh, could you make it for the evening? I would like to try it out right away and I would be busy with my tasks in the day."
And so Fouquet's plan started off without a hitch. The next day, Ayesha gave her the Liquid Solvent. A full bottle of it, for that matter. Fouquet could see how the transparent bottle containing the green liquid was slowly melting.
"Hmm, perhaps I should go with you after all…" Ayesha said as she looked at the bottle which was now in Fouquet's hands worryingly. "But Louise demanded I taught her more alchemy this evening…"
"Like I've said, you have nothing to worry about, Miss Ayesha," Longueville reassured her. "I already bring my gloves. It's enhanced with some protection spell so it shouldn't just melt instantly the moment this liquid touches it."
"Hmm, alright then… I'll leave it up to you."
"Oh, I would love to hear the result of your research afterwards!"
And thus, Ayesha left, leaving Fouquet to her own devices.
Like she has said, this container should last half a day at the very least. That's more than enough time to bust through the vault and get the staff. I now would just have to wait for the perfect moment.
During her stay here, she had made sure to learn the schedules of the guards patrolling the academy. The security had always been pretty light, except for the vault where there would always be a mage standing on guard. However, she knew that one of the mages that should stand guard loved to shirk her duty. And tonight was her schedule.
Finally, I could leave this dump of a place and that perverted headmaster. Really, what was his problem? He just kept sending his familiar to peek at my panties every single day!
Once she arrived at the vault, she used her spell to open the bottle and levitate the liquid out, using it to dig a hole at the thick wall. Sure enough, the liquid worked, as it turned the wall into mush the moment it made contact with it. All the enhancements that had been applied to the wall meant nothing in front of it.
This is amazing! Its dissolving strength is so much stronger than even my alchemy spell! If only I could create this as well…
Fouquet had tried her hand on Ayesha's alchemy but she quickly found out she had no talent in it. It was just too difficult for her head to wrap around it. Maybe she could do it if she studied longer under Ayesha but she was a wanted thief. She couldn't stay in one place for long.
"Oh no, the liquid… it isn't enough…"
Sure enough, even though Fouquet had made sure to use the liquid carefully, it was still not enough to melt all of the wall.
No matter. If there's this only this much wall left behind, I could just destroy it with my golem.
And so she did. She used her magic to summon the infamous construct that had destroyed many vaults in the past. Once she got the staff, she had no intention to stay here any longer after all.
She transmuted her golem's fist into metal, and with it, she punched straight through the weakened wall.
Quickly, she got through the wall. She didn't have to search for long as the Staff was clearly displayed right in the middle of the treasure room.
It was a majestic looking staff, glimmering silver in its base color. Its size was extraordinary as well, being taller than the height of a normal human being. But the most mysterious thing about it was the six floating silver wings at its tip. They weren't attached at all to the tip of the staff itself, which had a peculiar crimson red crystal, accompanied by a u-shaped red prong . Just below it, there were a triplet of golden rings who also weren't attached to the staff, with them being a little bigger in diameter than the staff.
She picked it up, and its lightness immediately surprised her. It was still quite cumbersome to wield however, thanks to its large size.
Before she left, she burned a message on the wall, leaving her calling card in the scene of the crime.
Smiling with satisfaction, she leaped onto her golem's shoulder and immediately ordered it to leave the academy, jumping through the walls, landing with a loud thud, and then ran towards the grasslands and beyond.
When the rest of the academy was alerted to what just transpired, it had been far too late to make the thief.
It didn't take long until the academy was thrown into an uproar. The sound made by the golem pretty much alerted the entire place that they had been a break-in. But when they arrived at the scene, it was far too late to catch the thief that had done it. The teachers could only stand speechless as they looked at the hole on the vault.
"I have the Staff of Destruction. – Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt" so said the inscription written on the wall.
They knew they had been had.
"What were the guards doing?" one of them said.
"Even if the guards are around, they're useless! They're only commoners! Speaking of which, which noble was supposed to be on duty last night?" another one chirped in.
Mrs. Chevreuse felt terribly guilty. She was supposed to be on duty last night. She had thought that no one would want to steal from the academy. Thus, she took the liberty to sleep in her own room instead of being next to the vault door like all nobles on watch duty must do.
One of the teachers immediately pointed out and said, "Mrs. Chevreuse! You were supposed to be on duty last night! Am I right?"
Mrs. Chevreuse broke into tears, "I'm very sorry… Very sorry…"
"Even if you cried your heart out, would it come back? Or are you going to pay for it?"
"But… but I just finished paying for my house." Mrs. Chevreuse knelt down on the floor and wept.
Just then, Old Osman arrived. "Erm… This is not the best time to be hard on the ladies, right?"
The fellow teacher who reprimanded Mrs. Chevreuse retorted, "But Osman, Mrs. Chevreuse failed in her duty! She was sleeping soundly in her bed when she was supposed to be on watch!"
Old Osman gently stroke his long beard while looking at the very shaken and stirred teacher.
"Erm… What's your name again?"
"It's Gimli! Have you forgotten?"
"Oh, right! Gimli! Well, Mr. Gimli, don't get angry. Honestly speaking, how many of you here can say that you're always vigilant throughout your tour of duty?" Old Osman replied.
The teachers looked at each other and hung their heads in shame. There was silence.
"Well, that's the situation that we're in now. Talking about responsibility, I think all of us, including myself, have to be held accountable for this incident. Why did we think that a thief could never infiltrate the academy? Is it because of the number of mages we have in the academy here that gives us the assurance that we won't be attacked? This type of thinking is wrong from the beginning."
"Umm, if I may interrupt…"
The teachers present stopped their bickering and looked at the person that had interrupted them. It was Ayesha. Along with Louise, she had headed to the vault when she heard the loud crashing noise made by the golem. And once she arrived, she immediately noticed something peculiar on the hole in the wall.
She looked to the rubble and sure enough, she found some of the remnants of the wall in a gooey, viscous liquid state.
Someone had turned the wall into said state. But they couldn't do it all the way through so they had to use the golem.
She had heard about this vault from Colbert. He said it was to keep treasures inside, including the so-called Staff of Destruction, who was described to possess an incredible power. She had expressed her wish to see it but Colbert quickly refused, saying that he wasn't supposed to be talking about it in the first place. It was somewhat of a tightly guarded secret after all and Ayesha was still viewed as an outsider.
She knew about the enhancements put to it. It was purposefully made immune to even the strongest alchemy spells. And it was also enhanced physically so it couldn't be destroyed so easily.
So the only explanation that made sense, was that the thief had used something else entirely to liquify a part of the wall, weakening it to be able to be breached with sheer force.
Something like her Liquid Solvent.
"I think… I think the thief might have used the Liquid Solvent I created to break through the vault," she said to the crowd.
The mages froze for a few seconds before lashing out towards the alchemist.
"What? What do you mean by that?"
"Are you saying you're complicit in this act of thievery?"
"Hey, how dare you accuse my familiar of doing such an act!" Louise quickly interrupted in anger. "She would never do such a thing!" She didn't care that her opponent was a teacher. She believed that Ayesha was not in the wrong with all her heart.
"Oh, it must be that Longueville woman! She must be Fouquet in disguise! She asked for the Liquid after all!" Louise declared.
"That commoner secretary? Come to think about it, she was only employed here recently, wasn't she?"
"Where is she? She's not here with us! Was she not with you, Old Osman?"
"Hmm, unfortunately, we each had our own bedrooms. So she might just be sleeping right now."
"Nonsense! She must be the thief! She used whatever Miss Altugle had made to break into the vault and steal the Staff!"
"But she's a commoner! She couldn't have summoned the golem! And I know very well that she was not that kind of a person!"
This time, it was Colbert who interrupted. Just like Louise, he too had gotten quite angry. His face was red and he looked like he was about to snap at someone.
"Alright, alright, calm down everyone," the headmaster said, trying to defuse the heated situation. "I'm sure Fouquet isn't amongst us. He must have stolen that liquid thing from Miss Longueville and then used it to break into the vault."
"Then that would mean her life could be in danger!" Colbert quickly replied. "Quick! We must go search for her!"
"Calm down, Colbert, I already told the guards to wake her up in her room. No need to panic. They should report back here quite soon."
Sure enough, mere minutes after the headmaster said that, a guard ran towards the crowds; sweat adorning his face. Judging from the expression, he didn't seem to bring good news however.
"Lord Osmond! Miss Longueville! She had disappeared!"
"What? What do you mean by that?" the old man replied with a frown.
"We've searched her room and the surrounding grounds but she was nowhere to be found! And there was a sign of a struggle in her room! There's a high chance the thief might have kidnapped her!"
"That's prosperous! Why would he do that? What would he gain from doing such a thing?" Osmond replied, almost shouting.
"That bastard must intend to use her as a ransom or something! The vault isn't completely empty after all! He couldn't get them all so he only took the most precious thing inside, that being the staff! He must want us to hand over the rest of the valuables inside!" Colbert reasoned. He was even more angry than Osmond at the matter, as he spoke with his knuckles clenched tight to the point that they were turning white.
The two stood silent for a while, having nothing else to say as each of them was buried within their own thoughts. Ayesha's expression was full of worry as well as guilt. Her concoction had made her a target for the thief after all.
"...You, order the rest of the guards to scour the surrounding countryside for any traces of Fouquet. Anything at all that could lead us to his trail," Osmond said to the guard with an uncharastically serious expression. "As for the rest of us, we should retire for the night."
"But Sir!" Colbert protested.
"We can't do anything else now. We should just rest and conserve our strength. If he really intended to use Miss Longueville as a ransom, we should receive his letter very soon. Then, we would have the opportunity to confront him. Do not worry. I do not intend to give him the rest of the treasure. Nor I do intend to let him have the staff either. We would ambush him and arrest him for good."
"Then, we should report this to the Imperial Court right away!" Colbert said. "We could get reinforcements from them!"
"No. If we can't even handle such a problem on our own, we're not fit to be called nobles. Since he stole from us, then it's our responsibility to make him return the goods ourselves and bring him to justice."
"But Miss Longueville…"
"Miss Longueville would be fine. He would not kill her if he didn't really need to. His methods so far didn't really involve taking lives excessively. Fouquet prided himself as a thief, not a murderer."
Colbert couldn't respond back, no matter how much he wanted to.
"Then, if no one else had anything to say, meeting adjourned. We shall return to our quarters."
And with that, the emergency gathering was over. Louise and Ayesha returned to their room as well. And once there, Louise stared Ayesha in the eye and said, "H-hey, you really didn't steal the staff, did you?"
"Hmm? Of course not, Stealing is bad, you know," Ayesha replied. "Though I had to admit, I was quite interested in it. But Colbert wouldn't let me in to take a look at it…"
Louise felt relieved hearing her answer, though she wasn't exactly fond of her added statement. Anything that could implicate her in the act made her nervous. But looking at her expression, there was nothing that suggested that she was hiding anything at all. Louise knew that she was really telling the truth.
"Alright, it's time to sleep now. I have a feeling we would have to wake up early tomorrow," Ayesha continued as she began undressing herself.
Louise nodded in agreement. This incident certainly had tired her. Not to mention her alchemy study with Ayesha that she had been doing since the evening.
It didn't take long for the two to fall asleep afterwards.
Sure enough, just as predicted, the ransom letter arrived the next morning. The sender used a carrier pigeon so there was no courier that they could ask for details on the sender. The demands laid down within however, took everyone by surprise.
"Bring me Ayesha Altugle alone, or else you would never see your dear Miss Longueville back," said the letter. The handwriting was nothing like they had ever seen so that was another lead they couldn't take. Their only lead was naturally the place Fouquet designated to be where Ayesha would be sent.
"No, I would not allow it!"
The teachers had been gathered inside the headmaster's office to discuss their next move. Of course, Ayesha was there as well as after hearing the contents of the letter, she immediately told Osmond that she would be willing to undertake the venture alone, as the letter demanded.
Naturally, this didn't sit right with Louise.
"It's too dangerous! You can't just go there alone!" she said to her familiar.
"Oh, don't worry. I'm quite confident with my fighting prowess, you know," Ayesha replied with a smile. "I had to fight all those slags on my own after all."
"Please, calm down, Miss Vallière," Osmond interjected. "We aren't planning to just leave Miss Altugle on her own devices entirely. We would follow her from a safe distance so then we could interject when the danger becomes too much for her. So, who here volunteers to join in the search and rescue party for Miss Longueville?"
The teachers all looked at each other. But no one raised their hands.
"Really? No one? No one wants to be amongst the heroes that captured the elusive Crumbling Dirt?"
"I would go!" Louise raised her wand. "I can't just let my familiar fight alone after all!"
"Miss Vallière!" Mrs. Chevreuse exclaimed in surprise. "You mustn't do this! You're still a student! Please leave this to the teachers!"
"But none of you are willing to help…" Louise muttered.
"W-well, Miss Altugle is a square mage after all. I-I'm sure she could take care of herself just fine," Mrs. Chevreuse replied sheepishly.
"Y-yes, that's right! She's stronger than all of us!" another teacher chimed in; the one named Gimli from the night before. "We should just let her take care of it!"
"A-and besides, it would be safer for Miss Longueville as well!"
Osmond sighed. It seemed no other teachers would be willing to go.
"Colbert? Would you be willing to go with them?"
"Of course!" he readily answered. "I'll make sure to bring back Miss Longueville safely!"
"Very well then. So the Fouquet search and capture squad would just be you three, it seems. Then, we shall wait for the capture of Fouquet and the rescue of Miss Longueville!"
"I swear upon my wand that I will capture that thief and bring Miss Longueville to safety!" Louise strongly replied as she stood in attention before giving a curtsy, raising the hem of her skirt.
"U-umm, I swear too that I would rescue Miss Longueville and arrest the thief!" Ayesha awkwardly followed. Since she wasn't wearing a short skirt like Louise did, she had to curtsy by raising the sides of her long skirt instead.
"Then, we shall depart right away!" Colbert announced.
The three quickly set off under Colbert's guidance. They took a simple carriage with them, just a cart with wooden planks attached as a seat. It was nothing fancy as if they were attacked, it was designed to allow them to jump out as quickly as possible.
Their destination was a cabin inside a nearby forest; the place where Fouquet designated that the exchange would be held. The forest was quite thick so it darkened their view immediately as they entered. For Louise and Colbert, it was quite the eerie environment, with the dim lighting and the weird smell the forest gave to them. But for Ayesha, it was nothing special. She had gathered so many times in a forest that it almost became second home to her.
Soon, the path the carriage could take disappear. They would have to walk from here on out.
"Alright, so here's the plan," Colbert explained once they got off the carriage. "Miss Altugle would take the lead while Louise and I would stay back behind her. We must take care not to be noticed. And Miss Altugle, please do not hesitate to call for her if at any time you felt overwhelmed," he said as he looked at her.
"Don't worry. I'll make sure to be careful," Ayesha replied with a reassuring smile. "Oh, and I told you before, but you can call me Ayesha if you want. No need to be so formal."
"U-uh, alright then, M-Miss Ayesha…" Colbert stuttered, blushing slightly as he scratched the back of his head. He couldn't help but feel really awkward with her, even though they had interacted many times. There was the matter of her beauty, of course, but she just acted so nice and friendly towards him, which took him off guard. If he didn't know any better, he would start to get uppity and think she was flirting with him. But he knew very well she was just that nice to everyone.
Seeing this little scene, Louise let out an annoyed "Hmph!". Even if Ayesha was too dense to realize that Colbert fancied her, Louise knew very well that he had designs on her familiar. And that to her was something unforgivable. Who was he to try to woo her familiar? Without asking for her permission in that matter?
The group soon reached the promised place; an abandoned house in the middle of a clearing the size of the Vestri Court. The house was built from wood with a corroded stove. Next to it was a completely rundown warehouse.
Ayesha walked towards the building with her staff already drawn while the other two spied on her from the thick trees behind her just at the borders of the clearing. This was as far as they could go. If they stepped out of there, they would be spotted for sure.
What happened next, however, surprised all three of them.
From the warehouse came a certain figure running towards Ayesha's location. It was Longueville and with her, she carried what looked to be a big staff.
"M-Miss Longueville? Why is she- And that's the Staff of Destruction with her!" Colbert exclaimed. "Could it be that she had escaped from Fouquet?"
It didn't take long until their attention was drawn into something else entirely. From the house came out a giant golem, as it broke through its roof with its massive size, nearly collapsing the entire thing. It then walked right towards Ayesha and Longueville's direction. Longueville looked back in horror and hastened her pace.
"Fouquet must be there!" Louise exclaimed. Thanks to their distance however, she couldn't really see if there was someone riding on top of the golem or not.
"We have to get there at once!" Colbert shouted before rushing in as fast as he could out of his hiding place. Louise immediately followed him, not even caring that she had ripped her skirt a little as she forcefully went through the bushes. It was too late however as the golem suddenly did a long jump right towards Ayesha's location, landing right in front of her. It knocked Longueville out of balance, making her fall down to the ground.
"A-Ayesha, use this! Use the staff!" Longueville said as she rolled the staff towards Ayesha's feet. "Using that staff, you should be able to destroy his golem with one shot!"
Ayesha nodded as she took the staff with her left hand. It was clear how much bigger it was compared to her own staff, and how it was meant to be held with both hands.
Before she could finish her sentence, the golem flung a punch towards her direction. She quickly dodged by jumping backwards. You might think it would be hard to jump with her high-soled sandals, but she had been travelling and fighting monsters for years wearing them. She was already completely used to them.
The golem seemed to pay all of its attention towards Ayesha, which she was thankful for. Longueville was in no shape to dodge any attacks after all.
Well, time to take the thing out. But first, she should bring it away from Longueville so that she wouldn't be caught in the blast.
Indeed, she had taken one look to the staff and she immediately knew what it really was.
The golem decided to do a running motion towards her but once again, Ayesha dodged its charge expertly. It was just like the slags she often fought in her world. Its movement patterns were simple. It seemed it only had limited intelligence, just like said slags.
"Ayesha, we come to help!" Colbert shouted from a distance.
"No, stand back! I'll finish this with one blow," Ayesha shouted back. She threw her own staff to the ground, gripped the Staff of Destruction with both hands, and aimed its tip towards the golem. Colbert and Louise halted in their tracks while Longueville, who was back on her feet, watched intensely from the sidelines.
Hmm, I think this is how you activate it…
On the surface of the staff, there were various tiny buttons and knobs engraved into it. Ayesha began fiddling with the buttons and knobs with her left hand. The golem itself seemed to be willing to wait until Ayesha was finished with her work. It didn't take long at all however as around 30 seconds later, the red crystal at the tip of the staff began to shine, with the silver wings around it spinning around it faster and faster. Ayesha held the staff tightly, aimed it at the golem's body, and 5 seconds later, a massive ball of purple energy blasted out from the crystal. The golem tried to block it with its arms but it never stood a chance, as the energy disintegrated its body the moment it made impact. The energy went through the golem, right towards the forests at the far distance. It evaporated a couple of trees before the energy finally dissipated.
Everyone present froze at the sheer power being displayed.
As you might have guessed, the staff came from Ayesha's world. And it was one of the many relics the ancient civilization there left behind. It was a staff to be used by an alchemist. Unlike your ordinary staff, it was equipped with many state-of-the-art functions. The energy blast was merely one of them. Inside the staff was a battery of sorts that stored the ether necessary to fire off the blast. The red crystal acted as a converter that transformed said ether into a far more destructive form.
"A-amazing! That was amazing, Miss Ayesha!" Longueville shouted as she approached the alchemist. "You take it out in one blow indeed!"
"W-well, the golem wasn't that tough… this staff was designed for tougher opponents, you know," Ayesha explained. This was the first time she actually had used a staff like that. She only knew about it from the ancient books and writing she had found in her travels.
"May I take a look at it?" Longueville asked as she pretty much took the staff out of Ayesha's hands.
"A-ah, yes, go on right ahead," Ayesha replied. She then grabbed her own staff who had been dropped down to the ground.
Longueville quickly admired the staff really closely. She was looking at the notches and buttons engraved on its surface. And after being satisfied by what she found, she quickly distanced herself from the rest of the group before aiming the staff towards them.
"Thank you! Thank you so much, Ayesha! Thanks to you, I now know how to use this blasted wand!"
Ayesha looked back at her in a confused manner.
"It was me! I was Fouquet the whole time!" she shouted with a prideful, almost maniacal grin on her face as she took off her glasses. "All of you, don't make a move! Or else I would fire this damn thing at you all!"
"W-what? But that's…" Colbert said in befuddlement.
"I said don't move! And drop down your wands! Of course, that includes your staff as well, my dear Ayesha."
Colbert did as he was told, his face looking like he still couldn't process what was happening in front of him. Louise on the other hand could only glare angrily towards the thief. "That traitor!", she thought to herself.
Ayesha, on the other hand, looked terribly hurt and disappointed.
"B-but why…" she asked her.
"Why?" Fouquet responded. "I told you. I am Fouquet all along. I being employed as that old pervert's secretary? It was all part of my plan. All these months, I've only been pretending to be a good and docile secretary just so I could steal this thing. And it was all worth it as this thing… it's simply amazing!"
"Why? Why did you become a thief in the first place?" Ayesha continued to ask her. "I-I thought you were my friend... "
"You really are naive, Ayesha. The most naive mage I've ever met in fact. But even though you thought of me as a friend, you never really know anything about me, do you? You certainly don't know my family, my past, and everything hidden behind my Longueville persona. But don't worry. I won't blame you for that. I like you better than any other mage I've ever met in my life and I had fun with you all those times. So please, don't make this harder on both of us. Just stand there and let me erase you all from existence with this staff."
Fouquet then began doing the same motions Ayesha did to activate the staff. When the alchemist used it against the golem. Fouquet was using a zoom sight spell to make sure that she caught every single movement that her fingers made. So now, she would just replicate it to make the staff do the same thing.
Only to realize that the staff would not activate, even though she was pressing the same buttons and turning the same knobs Ayesha did.
"W-what? Why is this not working?" the mage said as she in panic retried it over and over again.
"Its battery ran out," Ayesha calmly explained. "That blast I fired off exhausted every single energy it has. So, it wouldn't work until you recharge it again."
"H-hah, you'd think I'd buy that? I have no idea what the mumbo jumbo you're talking about but it's not going to get you out of this situation!"
Suddenly, Fouquet heard echoes on her mind stating, "Out of energy. Please recharge first before usage."
It was the telepathic function the staff had. As long as the owner touched it, it could send information straight to the owner's mind.
"W-what? S-someone's speaking into my mind!"
As Fouquet was taken by her confusion, Ayesha used this chance to grab a certain crimson-colored perfume bottle from her bag. Without hesitating, she ran towards Fouquet and sprayed her right with it. Its effect triggered immediately, delivering spasm and paralyzing her nerves and muscles, making her drop down to the ground.
Passion Perfume. It was quite the flexible item as you could put all sorts of effects in it. It wasn't limited to just negative effects. You could also add healing traits to it, turning it into something you would use for your allies instead. In alchemy, you could transfer certain traits from one item to another. It fell to the alchemist to detect said traits and then transfer them properly.
"Poison, huh… I let me guard down…" Fouquet said in-between her coughs.
"I'm sorry…" Ayesha replied. "But don't worry. It's just paralysis. It would wear off on its own soon enough."
Ayesha then took the Staff of Destruction that had fallen down to the ground before storing it safely in her extradimensional bag.
The journey home was quite the awkward one. After all, they were sitting there with a woman they had thought to be their friend all this time, only to realize she had been playing them all along. Fouquet's hands and legs were naturally tied, and Ayesha and Louise made sure to watch her closely while Colbert took the reins.
"Well, congratulations. You won," Fouquet said with a bitter smile, finally breaking the silence. "So I guess you people would hand me over to the kingdom?"
"Hmm, I don't really want to, to be honest…" Ayesha answered. "But I guess you do have to be punished..."
"What are you talking about? Of course we'll send her to jail! She'll have to pay for her crimes!" Louise exclaimed harshly. Unlike Ayesha, who had interacted with Fouquet much, Louise had no fondness of her at all, especially after she tried to kill Ayesha and her.
Fouquet laughed hearing the two's response. "You really are one silly woman, Ayesha Altugle. You really should take the advice of your master more. But I would tell you this. If they captured me, they would certainly execute me. There was no way they would let me go with all the crimes I had committed.
"Executed? That's a bit harsh, isn't it?" Ayesha replied.
"It's just what she deserves," Louise commented.
"Haha, well, I'm no ordinary thief after all. I've caused so many headaches to the nobles I've robbed from all these years."
"I guess just apologizing wouldn't be enough, would it?"
"Of course not! If you can be forgiven for your crimes so easily, then what's the purpose of having jails in the first place?" Louise quickly interrupted.
Fouquet chuckled hearing their banter. Really, they made quite the good combo.
"Besides, I've sold all the stuff I've stolen. I can't possibly return them even if I want to."
"Sold? What are you using the money for?" Ayesha asked, curiosity adorning her face.
"Well, I have some orphans to feed. Children who no one else would take care."
"Hah, as if I'd buy such a cliched excuse!" Louise interrupted once again, crossing her arms under her chest.
Ayesha paused for a while before replying, "So, I guess you wouldn't be able to see them anymore after this… Then, tell me where they are! I would try to make sure they're taken care of!"
Fouquet was quite taken by surprise by Ayesha's sudden proclamation, though she recovered quite quickly as well. "So, you're going to send them money every month like I do? Or would you actually visit them personally?"
"I would love to go to them!" Ayesha replied almost immediately. "Though I guess if they're really far from here, I wouldn't be able to do so easily…"
Hearing that, Fouquet couldn't help to let out a laugh. Really, she couldn't believe this young woman. She had been trying to kill her just an hour ago yet it was as if she had forgotten that ever happened.
"They're in Albion, on the village of Westwood. So indeed, they're quite far away from here."
Ayesha had read about the nation of Albion. It was one of the neighboring countries of Tristain. Its main unique feature was how its territory consisted of a bunch of floating islands, powered naturally by what the locals called Windstones. You had to take an airship to get to their territory.
It reminded her of the floating islands to the west of her home back at her world. She had to use a hot-air balloon to get around them to the point that she actually purchased one just for her personal use. Unfortunately, she had to leave it behind after she used it to cross the great chasm as it would be faster to just walk on foot. Besides, it was starting to deteriorate in quality after she used it so many times.
She wondered why you needed to take an airship to Albion though, at least if you were a mage. She guessed the Levitation spell just couldn't carry you that far up high. Or there could be wind turbulence that would make flying in a personal manner like that dangerous. It was fortunate that the wind was quite calm back at the floating islands at her home so there could be constant trade between the islands, with the salt desert across supplying the salt for the entire region.
Ah, I wonder how Tanya is doing… She must be all grown up right now...
Tanya was the young saltminer girl she met at the desert. She had tanned skin from all the desert sun she took in as she worked. Ayesha could tell she would become a beauty in the future. She remembered with a smile that one time when the girl tried on a fancy dress for the first time in her life. All this time she had been wearing tanktops and denim shorts that also doubled as her work clothes. So her wearing a dress really gave an entirely different image for the tomboy girl.
She really looked cute in that dress, hehe…
As Ayesha's mind carried her back to her homeland. Fouquet just looked at her weirdly as the alchemist began to smile on her own.
Louise on the other hand was more focused on what Ayesha said beforehand. How could she be all forgiving on her? She almost killed them all yet here she was asking for her past as if it mattered. She was a criminal, and that was all that mattered.
While all this conversation was happening, Colbert stayed quiet. He really didn't know what to say to Fouquet. Obviously, he felt betrayed by her, especially after he realized all this time that she was getting close to him was just her using him to get more information about the vault and the staff. But after hearing the whole thing about the orphanage, even though he very well knew she could just be lying to gain Ayesha's sympathy, he couldn't help but feel a little bad that he was going to deliver her to imprisonment and execution. He also couldn't understand Ayesha's reaction. She was so, for the lack of a better term, pure to the point of unbelievabilty.
In the end, they arrived at the academy in that state, with all of them deep in their own thoughts.
When the group returned, they were greeted with a hero's welcome; Fouquet being the exception, of course. She was immediately handed over to the town guards. Ayesha could only watch with a worried look as she was taken away.
The headmaster then invited them to his office for a debriefing. They told him everything in detail, and in exchange, the headmaster told him how he ended up taking Fouquet at his secretary in the first place. Hearing about how the old man perved on her, leading to him hiring her as his secretary just because she let him touch her body as he pleased, Louise just gave him a "this perverted old man!" glare while Ayesha just smiled awkwardly.
"Yes. Beautiful women are deadly mages."
"I couldn't agree more with you, Colbert."
The two males in the room nodded, agreeing with each other. Colbert took a glance at Ayesha. She definitely fit in the category of beautiful women and judging from her fight with Fouquet, she was indeed quite the deadly mage. And now that Ms. Longueville was gone…
He shook his head. Now's not the time to think about something like that.
"Oh, that reminds me, you did manage to recover the Staff of Destruction, didn't you?" Osman asked. "We're going to return it to the vault."
"Ah, about that…"
Ayesha took out the staff from her handbag. Osman's eyes widened as Ayesha pulled the long staff out of the small bag. He had heard about her magical bag but this still impressed him nonetheless. This was the first time he had ever seen something like this.
"This staff… I think it came from my world," Ayesha said as she put the staff on top of the headmaster's table. "It is a relic of the ancient alchemy era, you see."
Osman's eyes gleamed. "Your world? So that's why it looks so alien,"
"Where did you get it from?" Ayesha asked.
Osman sighed. "That staff belonged to my savior. 30 years ago, I was attacked by a two-headed dragon. He appeared out of nowhere, with his body full of wounds, carrying the staff with him. He used it to kill the dragon, saving me, but unfortunately, he didn't survive for long afterwards. He died with a smile however, with his final words being, 'I am glad. I am so glad! All of our sacrifices, it was all worth it! I finally found the promised land!'. I have no idea what that meant until this very day, so if you have any idea on that matter, I would be really grateful if you would be willing to enlighten me about it."
Ayesha stood silent for quite some time, closing her eyes as she began to think. Unfortunately, nothing really came into mind. She had no idea what the man meant about the promised land.
Until she recalled a certain common myth perpetuated by travellers, especially in places where the Dusk had crept in, causing famine and drought to the lands.
It was the myth of the existence of a lush land full of greenery where water and plant life were abundant. As the world slowly died, naturally people would start to dream and hope of a better land to live in.
Such places still existed but they were usually found on remote and distant regions that weren't exactly easy to travel to. Her home was one of such land and even then, it had seen its declines as it was hit with a famine some years ago and recently, the land's productivity had started to diminish. It was still far better than some regions out there where barely anything could grow and you could only see wastelands. The curious thing was that regions with abundance would usually have a functioning guardian of sorts that protected the land. Her own home was the domain of Yggdrasil and she believed its relatively greenery, especially the closer you got to where said guardian was situated, was thanks to it. On the other land, barren lands would have their guardians dead or terribly malfunctioning, One land she remembered had the guardian driven insane by thirst, turning it into a mere beast of rage.
She had learned just how much the old civilization was fond of manipulating nature. Those guardians were just a small part on the many creatures and facilities they had created to bring prosperity to mankind.
She wouldn't blame them for being unable to see the incoming downfall of their own civilization. Unlike her teacher, she was sure that most of them were kind and well-intentioned people in the end. They too had tried many things to stop the Dusk. And once again, she believed on a different path than her teacher. If he believed that they had failed, she believed that their research was only unfinished, and it would be the duty of the people of this age to continue their work.
"...I believe that man might have been an explorer of some sort. Probably an archeologist as well since he had the staff with him, which you could only get from ancient ruins. And he was in a travel to search for new green lands. Like I've said before, my world was slowly dying due to the phenomenon called the Dusk. So a lot of the lands were turning less and less habitable. And a lot of people dreamt of an eternally green land where they wouldn't have to fear the Dusk anymore. He must be one of such people. And as he was wounded, he might have been assaulted by monsters before he was transported to this world.
Ayesha knew just how dangerous it could be to go on adventures on uncharted, unhabitable lands. It wasn't just the matter of rations. The monsters there had adapted to the harsh environment, becoming much more ferocious as a result. Only thanks to her alchemy that she could traverse such lands.
"I wonder if he too was an alchemist like me…" Ayesha mumbled to herself.
"I wouldn't know about that, unfortunately," Osman sighed. "But I'm glad to hear your explanation on this matter, Miss Altugle. Now I can really be sure that he died happy," he said with a smile.
"Also, I have decided. I would give the staff to you, Miss Altugle."
"Eh, really? Isn't it a valuable memento for you?"
"I believe it would be more fitting for someone from your world to be the one holding on into it. Originally, I was thinking of burying the staff along with his body, but he said that he would leave me with all his possessions after his death. He only had that staff, of course, along with the strange clothing he wore. If he was really an explorer like you said, Miss Altugle, then he must have lost all his supplies somewhere along the way."
"It must have been terrible for him…" Ayesha commented with a sad expression. She too knew that keeping her bag with her was a matter of life and death every time she departed on a faraway expedition.
"I tried to tinker with it, only to accidentally fire off the beam that killed the dragon. Thankfully, no one was around at the time. After that, I decided not to try tinkering with it any further, treating it as just a rare artifact to be kept in the storage."
"According to your story, it seemed you could actually properly use the thing. So I would like you to have it."
"Hmm, well, I could take it, but it's not like I would be able to use it. It needs to be recharged first and you need a special ancient machine for that," Ayesha answered.
"Re...charged?" the headmaster replied, looking confused.
"It needs energy to function, you see, and the ether battery inside had dried out."
"A-ah, I suppose you wouldn't know about that."
Osman rubbed his forehead with his fingers. It seemed that every time he spoke to this young woman, she would inevitable spout out some words he could not understand.
"Yes, I don't. That's why I would just give the staff to you. Leave the difficult things to the expert, as they said,"
Ayesha paused before giving her answer. She gave a long look at the staff, and then she said with a determined look, "Alright, I'll take it with me. I'll make sure to take care of it so don't worry."
She took the staff and put it inside her bag once again.
"Now that's all settled… there's one more matter I wish to discuss. I have requested the imperial court to confer upon you three the title of Chevalier, I believe that we should have news of it soon."
"C-Chevalier?" Louise shouted as she jumped out of her seat.
"Indeed," Osman said with a smile. "You three have done more than enough to deserve this title. Haven't you?"
Chevalier was the title given for people who had performed extraordinary service to the kingdom. To receive one would be of the utmost honor, so to Louise, who had been seeking a way to prove herself, this was something that really brought joy to her little heart.
Finally! They would give me the respect I deserve! - so she said to herself.
Colbert was quite happy with this development as well. He always felt like he was a tad underappreciated by the students of the academy. Having the title might just help a little with that.
Ayesha on the other hand didn't really care. Things like titles never really meant anything to her. In fact, she preferred that she be viewed by the people as her ordinary apothecary self.
"One more thing," the old man continued, gently clapping his hands together. "Thanks to you solving this case so quickly, the Ball of Frigg could resume as scheduled tonight. So please, you three, ready yourselves. You're going to be the guests of honor for the ball after all."
On top of Alvíss Dining Hall, there was a great hall. That was where the ball was being held.
Students and teachers who were dressed grandly gathered around tables filled with exquisite food and chatted amongst themselves.
They were all waiting for the other two guests of honor, who had not arrived yet. Colbert was already there ahead of Louise and Ayesha, and he was receiving congratulatory messages from the other teachers. Some of the more cheeky students gave him congratulations as well, like Kirche who even flirted a little bit with him in the process, embarrassing the middle-aged man in the process.
Inside his mind however, he was just waiting for Louise and Ayesha to arrive. Well, mostly the latter, as he was readying himself to ask her for a dance once she appeared. He knew that there would be quite some people wanting to ask her for a dance as well and he intended to be her first.
"The daughter of Duke of La Vallière, Louise Françoise Le Blanc de La Vallière, and her familiar, Ayesha Altugle, arrive!"
The doors to the great hall opened as every head in the room turned towards their direction.
Those were the words almost everyone had as they took in the sight. Louise was dressed in a white evening gown with her long, strawberry blonde hair tied up into a ponytail. Her hands were covered by pure white gloves which adorned her grandeur. Her petite face along with her low cut evening gown made her sparkle like a gem. Ayesha on the other hand was dressed in a low-cut sleeveless green dress that showed off her ample breasts nicely. Unlike Louise, her beautiful blonde hair was let down freely, reaching down to her waist. It was clear from her facial expression that she was getting quite uncomfortable from all the attention she was receiving.
Her dress was purchased by Louise without telling her. She wanted the best for her appearance at this ball thus she would force her to wear a fancy dress, whether she wanted to or not. When Louise told her to wear said dress to the ball, the alchemist was quite reluctant to do so as she felt uncomfortable with how the dress showed so much of her cleavage, which she told straight away to Louise, to the girl's chagrin. Ayesha didn't know that the girl had somewhat of a complex for her lacking in the chest department, especially after spending so much time being teased by Kirche. But Louise knew that Ayesha should play into her strengths, just so she could shine even more beautifully as her familiar.
After confirming that the guest had arrived, the musicians started playing music that was extremely soothing to the ears. It didn't take long for the males in the crowd to come over to the pair, asking them for a dance.
"Umm, I'm sorry, but I'm not that good of a dancer so I would have to refuse…" Ayesha said to them awkwardly. Louise on the other hand responded much more forcefully. She merely huffed, took Ayesha's hand, and walked past the crowd as if they weren't even there.
She had no desire to dance with any of them, and she wouldn't let them take her familiar's hand either. She was disgusted by how they suddenly acted all nice with her, even though all this time, they had been either ignoring her or teasing her for being "Zero". And now they suddenly swarmed all over her, just because she had captured Fouquet.
No, they didn't deserve the honor to dance with her.
Colbert stopped them in their paths, his attention all nervously directed towards Ayesha. "I-if you're willing, w-would you please-"
Louise shot him a harsh glare. It silenced the middle aged man immediately.
The two then left the room to head for the balcony.
In the end, the pair only did a single dance. And that was between themselves, under the starry sky outside on the balcony.
Poor Colbert never stood a chance.
Louise was lying on her bed. She was dreaming that she was back in her homeland, a three day ride away from the Tristain Academy, where she was born.
The young Louise in her dream was running around near the house, eventually hiding in the bushes of the labyrinth-like vegetation to hide from her pursuers.
"Louise, where are you? Come out now!" shouted her mother. In her dream, Louise was being reprimanded due to her poor results in magical studies. She was constantly being compared with her sisters, who had much better results than her.
Louise saw a pair of shoes that appeared below the bushes.
"Miss Louise really is hopeless at magic."
"I completely agree. Why can't she be like her two older sisters who are very good with magic?"
Louise, upon hearing those words, felt sad and dejected as she bit her lips. The servants started to look for her in the vegetation. Louise tried her best to escape. She retreated to the place she called the "Secret Garden" – the central lake.
The Secret Garden was the only place where Louise felt at ease. It was tranquil, with no one else around. Flowers bloomed everywhere and birds gathered on the benches near the lake. And in the middle of the lake there was a small island on which a small house made of white marble rested.
Next to the island was a small boat originally used for leisure, but now derelict and forgotten. Her older sisters had grown up, and were busy studying magic. Her father, who had retired from his military duties, now spent his time mingling with the nobles nearby. Her father's only pastime was hunting wild game. Her mother's only interest was to teach her daughters and she couldn't care less about anything else.
Therefore, besides Louise, no one ever came to the forgotten lake anymore, much less remembered that small boat. That is why whenever Louise was reprimanded, she would come to this place.
In Louise's dream, the younger version of her jumped onto the boat and snuggled into a blanket that was prepared earlier.
As she hid inside her blanket, a noble clad in a cloak appeared from the mist-covered island.
The noble was about sixteen years old. In Louise's dream, she was only six years old, a ten year difference lay between them.
"Have you been crying, Louise?" His face could not be seen as it was covered by a large hat.
But Louise knew exactly who he was: he was the Viscount, the noble who had just inherited the lands around her homeland. Louise felt warm and fuzzy inside; the Viscount was the man of her dreams. They had often frequented banquets together and, furthermore, their fathers had already made an engagement.
"I-is that you, Lord Viscount?"
Louise haphazardly covered her face; she did not want the man of her dreams to see her crying. It would be embarrassing.
"I was invited by your father today regarding the engagement."
Hearing this, Louise was even more embarrassed to the point that she did not even dare lift her head up.
"R-really? But that would not be possible, Lord Viscount.."
"Louise, my small and dainty Louise, do you dislike me?" the Viscount said in jest.
Louise gently shook her head and said abashedly, "No, it's not that. It's just that I'm still young and unready ..."
The face hidden underneath the hat revealed a smile and extended a hand out to Louise.
"Little Lady, please take hold of my hand. Quickly, the banquet is about to start."
"Have you been scolded again? Don't worry. I'll talk to your father." the Viscount said gently.
Louise nodded, stood up and reached for the Viscount's hand. What big hands, aren't those the hands that she had always dreamed of holding?
Just as she was about to grasp the Viscount's hand, a sudden gust of wind blew the hat from the Viscount's head.
"Eh?!" Louise looked at his face, perplexed. Because it was a dream, Louise had returned to her sixteen year old self.
Indeed. The person underneath the hat was not the Viscount, but her familiar instead.
"Louise, come here," the alchemist said with a gentle tone.
"W-why are you here?"
"I come here to help you, Louise," replied Ayesha. Only now Louise noticed that Ayesha hadn't been wearing the Viscount's clothes. All this time, she had been wearing her usual clothes instead.
"H-help me? W-what do you mean?"
"I come here to set you free."
"S-set me free?"
Ayesha came closer to Louise, grabbing both of her hands, lifting them close to her chest.
"W-what are you trying to do, you idiot?!"
Ayesha's expression mellowed, almost as if she was pitying Louise as she gazed over her.
Louise hated that expression. She wouldn't receive any worthless pity from her familiar.
"I will teach you the power of alchemy. And with it, you can finally…"
Before Ayesha could finish her sentence, Louise's sight began to blur. Louise could only see Ayesha's lips moving. She couldn't hear the rest of her words at all.
And then, she woke up.
Fouquet was staring idly at the ceiling somewhere far away from the academy in the City of Tristain's Genoa prison. After she was captured, she was brought here immediately. As she was infamous for stealing valuable treasure from various nobles, she was placed in this prison; the maximum security prison located in the City of Tristain.
She would be charged in court the following week. As she had caused a great deal of shame to nobles all over the country, she would most probably either be exiled or be given the death sentence. Either way, she wouldn't be allowed in Tristain anymore. At first, she thought of escaping, but she later gave up that thought.
Inside her cell, there was nothing except for shoddy looking bed and a table that was made of wood. Even the utensils she used were made of wood. Things would be quite different if there was just something made of metal… Like a spoon.
She had wanted to turn the prison walls and iron bars into soil using her alchemy. Without her wand, which was confiscated, that would not be possible. Magicians were helpless without their wands. Furthermore, the prison walls and iron bars were specially enchanted to resist magic. Even with the use of her alchemy, she would not be able to escape.
If only she still had some of that dissolving liquid with her...
"It's really mean of them to lock up a feeble female like myself here." Fouquet grumbled to herself.
Her mind couldn't help to wander to the self-proclaimed alchemist who had apprehended her, What a really odd person she was. Not an unpleasant one though. She said she came from a different world. She would've called her crazy if she didn't know any better. For her to know so much about many different things, she was surely no ordinary person, even in her own world.
Well, it didn't concern her anymore. She just hoped she would be happy with all the praise and acclaim she would get from those foolish nobles for capturing her.
"Time to sleep..." Fouquet closed her eyes and laid down. Just as she had closed her eyes, she quickly opened them again.
Fouquet heard someone walking down to the dungeon where she was held. She heard peculiar noises that sounded like a spur. She deduced it could not be a warden, as they did not wear spurs on their boots. Fouquet quickly sat up.
A person wearing a cloak appeared next to her cell, his face unseen as it was covered by a white mask. Judging from the long wand visible beneath his cloak, he was a mage.
In a rather scornful manner, Fouquet exclaimed "I'm surprised to see a visitor in the middle of the night!"
The man in the white mask did not reply, and instead gave Fouquet a cold stare.
Fouquet instinctively knew that this person was hired to kill her. Some nobles she had stolen from must have thought that sentencing her in court was too much of a hassle and had decided to hire an assassin to kill her. Some of the items she had stolen from the imperial family were likely stolen goods to begin with, and in order not to let such a truth surface the imperials had probably decided to silence her.
"Well, as you can see, this doesn't look like a place to entertain someone. But I think you're not here just for a cup of tea, right?" Fouquet said.
She began to think, Though I'm without my wand, I will not easily give up without a fight. I'm not only well versed in magic; I'm pretty good in close combat too. However, I'm powerless to stop him should he use magic. Therefore, I must somehow lure him inside my cell.
Just then, the man in the cloak spoke, "Are you Fouquet of the Crumbling Earth?"
His voice sounded strong and youthful.
"I'm not sure who gave me this nickname, but yes, I am Fouquet of the Crumbling Earth."
The man in the cloak raised both of his hands, implying that he did not intend hostility.
"I have something that I would like to tell you."
"What is that?" Fouquet replied in a rather surprised tone. "Don't tell me that you're going to speak on my defense. What a weirdo."
"I'd be happy to speak in your defense, my dear Mathilda of Saxe-Gotha."
Fouquet's face became pale. That's a name I had forgotten, or rather, was forced to forget, she thought. There should be no one in this world that knows that name anymore…
"Who exactly are you?"
The cloaked man did not answer her question and instead asked, "Mathilda, do you wish to serve Albion again?"
Fouquet, who had lost her cool, replied, "That's impossible! I will never serve those who had murdered my father and annexed my home!"
"Don't be mistaken, no one is asking you to serve the Albion royal family. They're going to be overthrown soon."
"What do you mean?"
"A revolution is taking place. We're going to overthrow the weak and powerless Imperial family, and succeeding them will be more capable nobles like ourselves."
"But aren't you part of Tristain's nobility? What has Albion's revolution got to do with you?"
"We are a consortium of nobles without borders who are worried about Halkeginia's future. We wish to unify Halkeginia and regain the holy land that founder Brimir had once set foot on."
Fouquet smirked, "Please stop talking nonsense. If that's the case, why does your consortium of nobles without borders need me? I'm just a prisoner."
"We need skilled magicians now more than ever. Will you lend us your help, Fouquet of the Crumbing Earth?"
Fouquet waved her hands and replied, "Please stop dreaming…"
"You wish to unify Halkeginia? The Kingdoms of Tristain, Germania, Albion, Gallia, and a number of smaller kingdoms which are constantly at war with each other? Unifying them would be a dream within a dream."
"Hmm! Getting the holy land back… how would you fight against the all-powerful elves?"
For hundreds of years, the holy land had been in the possession of the elves living east of Halkeginia. Humans had attempted countless crusades to get back the holy land, but failed miserably each time.
The elves, distinguished by their distinctly pointed ears and unique culture, had long life spans and were highly proficient with magic. As such, they were highly effective warriors. Defeating them would be an uphill battle.
"I have no love for nobles and I have no interest in Halkeginia. As for regaining the Holy land, the elves can stay there for all I care!"
The man in the black cloak took out his wand and replied, "I'll give you a choice, Fouquet of the Crumbling Earth."
"Oh? Let's hear it out."
"Either you become our comrade or…"
Fouquet finished the sentence for him, "Or I would immediately perish here? Am I correct?"
"That is correct. Since you already know our secret, I cannot let you live."
Fouquet sighed. Just as she had expected.
"You nobles are really a conceited bunch. You'll never consider other people's feelings," Fouquet said with a chuckle, "To put it nicely, you're inviting me to join you, but in reality there is no other choice, is there?"
The man in the black cloak too replied with a chuckle, "That's correct."
"Let me be a part of your consortium then. I hate people who do not know how to give orders."
"Let's go then."
Fouquet placed both her hands onto her chest and asked, "What's the name of your organization?"
"Do you really wish to join us, or are you just toying with me?"
"I just want to know the name of the organization I will work for from now on."
The man in the black cloak removed a key from his pocket, unlocked Fouquet's cell and answered, "The Reconquista."
Four golden-helmeted stallions led a carriage quietly on the road to the Academy of Tristain. The carriage was exquisitely adorned with gold, silver, and platinum sculptures. Those sculptures were the Royal Seals. On one of those, a unicorn crossed with a crystal staff signaled that the carriage belonged to Her Majesty the Princess.
One could find, upon closer examination, that the stallions drawing the carriage were not normal horses. They were unicorns like the one on the Royal Seal. Unicorns, which, by legend, would only allow the purest girls ride them, were the best for leading the Princess's carriage.
The carriage's windows had ivy borders and coverings, as if to disallow anyone the outside from looking in. Behind the Princess's carriage was Cardinal Mazarin's. His carriage's splendor was not less than Her Majesty the Queen's. In fact, his was even more embellished. The difference of these two carriages on the road clearly showed who currently had the most authority in Tristain.
Around the two carriages was the Imperial Guard, a division of mage guards. Composed of the most prominent noble families, the Magic Imperial Guard was the pride of all nobles in the country. Every noble male dreamed of wearing the black cape of the Magic Imperial Guard, and every noble female dreamed of being their brides. This Imperial Guard was Tristain's symbol of prosperity.
The road was paved with flowers as commoners cheered from the roadside. Every time the carriages passed them, one could hear "Long live Tristain! Long live Princess Henrietta!" and sometimes even "Long live Cardinal Mazarin!" though that paled in comparison to the Princess. As the carriage's curtains opened, and as the crowds saw the young Princess, the cheers got ever more passionate. She also returned a genial smile to the people.
Such was the sight in the streets as the Princess' entourage passed by.
They had just returned home from their visit to Germania and they had decided to pass by the academy before returning to the castle.
The Princess herself was a natural beauty, with a slim figure, light blue eyes, and a high nose. She held considerable popularity amongst the populace. She was still young, only seventeen as of this year, and her youth just enhanced her beauty even more.
The Cardinal, however, was not as well-regarded as her. Not only he was old and ugly-looking, far too old for his actual age of forty, he was also rumored to be of commoner blood. His lack of popularity might also result of the jealousy some people felt towards his position, as he was the one with the utmost power politically in the kingdom. He held all of Tristain's political authority with an iron grip since His Majesty passed away, With the Princess being so young, said power inevitably ended up concentrated in his hands.
Even so, however, the Princess was still in deep distress politically and romantically, as she was fated to be married off to the emperor of Germania.
With the rise of the Reconquista in Albion, who desired to unite all of Halkeginia as one, Tristain had to bolster its military strength. And the way they had chosen to do so was by forming an alliance with Germania. And the only way to make said alliance was by uniting the two countries via the Princess' marriage.
She knew that it had to be done and she was prepared to sacrifice herself to save her country. But it still brought down her mood nonetheless. All the gentle smiles she had been giving to the commoners that day were merely false ones to mask her true feelings.
Not to mention, there were some… rumors that could very well destroy said union, if it were ever proven true.
And it was indeed, quite true. Or at least truthful enough that Germania would certainly annul her marriage if the proof ever came out.
Which was the true reason why she visited the Academy in the first place. She needed the help of a certain someone; a friend that she could trust; to dispose of said evidence before it could reach the public.
Naturally, the Cardinal didn't know about this matter.
As the Princess went through the Academy gates, rows of students raised their staffs in unison, silent and serious. Ayesha was there too, alongside Louise, who just stared in awe at the carriages.
Wow, they're being pulled by unicorns! They had gone extinct back home so seeing them this close, you can really see just how beautiful they are! And look at those carriages! They're so fancy and expensive-looking! And I never knew you could tame griffins!
Louise, noticing that her familiar was gaping, gave her a light nudge in an attempt to stop her mouth from being half-open like that. Ayesha corrected herself, but it didn't take long until she began gaping in awe once again.
After the main gates were the doors to the central tower. Osman stood at attention there to receive the Princess. As the carriages stopped, servants rushed to lay down red carpet to its door. Guards tensely announced her arrival.
"Her Royal Highness of the Kingdom of Tristain, Princess Henrietta has arrived."
The first out the door, however, was Cardinal Mazarin.
The students grunted, but Mazarin paid no attention, standing at the side of the carriage, holding the Princess's hand as she alighted. The students finally applauded. A youthful, flowery smile emerged from the Princess's face as she elegantly waved.
"That's the Princess of Tristain? Heh... I'm better looking than that." Kirche mumbled.
Louise suddenly blushed, which Ayesha noticed. She turned towards whatever she was facing, curiosity taking her mind over. She saw a hat-wearing noble riding on a griffin. She looked back at Louise who seemed to be watching him with a completely enthralled expression.
...Eh? Could it be...
Louise acted that way until the noble walked out of her sight, and she broke out of it with a sigh.
Ayesha smiled. She believed she knew just what Louise was experiencing.
"Do you like him?" she asked her gently, almost whispering in a conspiratorial tone.
Louise jumped as a response.
"W-what? W-what are you talking about?"
"That man, the one you've been staring at. Do you fancy him?"
"T-that… that was Viscount Wardes… I-I guess I never told you about him, do I? In short, he was my fiance."
"F-fiance? Y-you're engaged with him Louise?"
"Yeah. We've been engaged ever since I was a little girl actually. My parents arranged it for me."
"A-a little girl? G-getting engaged?!"
It was as if thunder just struck Ayesha's brain. For her, who came in a world where such a practice was terribly uncommon to the point that she had never heard of it, this was a giant bomb of surprise.
But then she remembered. How in the books she had read that it was somewhat common for noble families to already arrange their sons and daughters into marriages from an early age in this world. And in her world, even though kingdoms and nobles like the ones they had here had gone extinct a long, long time ago around when alchemy began to proliferate around the world, she had read records of arranged marriages between famous alchemy families that used to be quite influential back at the height of alchemy. They attempted to keep their level of talent for alchemy by marrying their genes together, but the culture had been criticized by others as it was nowhere near a resulting guarantee that the child would be as talented in alchemy as the parent. Said talent could pop up in random people not related at all to the current alchemy families, and most of the sons and daughters of famous alchemists ended up leaving alchemy altogether to pursue other callings in life. This fact was why there were always only a few alchemists even in the golden era, with the ones that had a talent for old-style alchemy being even rarer. Ayesha herself wasn't even sure if her grandfather had a talent in alchemy as he never talked about it and all his books were about medicines with no mention of alchemy whatsoever. She had to get her alchemy books from other sources as a result.
She didn't know in what circumstances Louise's engagement was decided, but if she herself was alright with it, then she guessed it would be fine.
"Oh, don't make such a big deal out of it," Louise said while blushing. "He wouldn't marry me anytime soon. So don't think any differently about me, alright?"
"Alright. But it just really surprised me, you know…"
"H-how about you yourself? Aren't you old enough to get married?" Louise asked back, trying to stave off her embarrassment by changing the topic.
"Well… I just never thought about it. Settling down and having children… it might be fun but I also have fun travelling all around and learning about new things…"
"I see... " Louise responded. Looking at Ayesha, she knew that she would have no problem finding a husband if she really wanted too.
Unbeknownst to either of them, both Henrietta and Wardes were sneaking some peeks towards their direction as they were being welcomed by the headmaster. Henrietta was familiar with Louise but who was that woman standing beside her? Wardes had the same reasoning although he kept his eyes even closer towards Ayesha.
That night, someone knocked on Louise's door.
The knocks were very orderly. It started with two long knocks, and then three short ones.
Louise, who for the rest of the day had acted somewhat oddly as if she was worried about something, suddenly broke out from her trance, stood up from her bed, and opened the door as fast as she could. Ayesha would've been the one to open it if not for the fact that she was currently sitting on the study chair in the room, writing something into her notebook.
Standing in front of the door was a girl, covered entirely in a black veil.
She looked around, and then walked in, closing the door behind her.
"...you are?" A shocked Louise barely managed to voice.
The veiled girl made a 'shh' gesture with a finger on her mouth, and took out a staff from her black cape, lightly waving it while chanting a short spell. Glowing powder filled the room.
"A silencing spell?" Louise asked. The veiled girl nodded.
"There might be extra ears and eyes around."
After making sure the room had no magical ears and no peeping holes, she slowly removed her veil.
In front of Louise stood Princess Henrietta.
Louise frantically went down on her knees.
Henrietta coolly, and gently spoke. "It has been a while, Vallière."
Only then Ayesha noticed that a royalty had entered the room.
Ayesha just stood there dumbfounded as the two girls passionately hugged and shared stories with each other. She felt like she was being the third wheel and she couldn't find any good spot to interrupt and ask for why the princess was there. She wasn't even sure that she should be hearing all of this. The princess began blurting out what seemed to be all the feelings she had been holding in her day to day lives. Whether she wanted to or not, now Ayesha knew how the princess used to be quite the tomboy when she was little.
Eventually, the princess stopped her tale with a deep sigh as she sat down on the bed.
"Oh, how I envy you. Freedom is such a wonderful thing, Louise Françoise."
"What are you saying? You're the royal princess, are you not?" Louise responded.
"A princess born in her kingdom is like a bird being raised in a cage. You go here and there on your master's every whim..."
Henrietta said, looking lonely as she gazed at the moon outside the window. She then held Louise's hands and gave a sweet smile before speaking.
"I... I'm getting married."
"...You have my congratulations."
Louise, who somehow felt the sadness in that tone, spoke in a subdued voice.
Ayesha too understood what was going on.
"Ït's an arranged marriage, isn't it?" she asked the princess; a serious expression on her face.
It was at that moment that Henrietta noticed the presence of Ayesha.
"Oh, forgive me, I just noticed you standing there. You are Ayesha Altugle, Louise's familiar, correct?" Henrietta said as she began eyeing the alchemist. "I've heard about you from Osman. You and Louise participated in the capture of Fouquet, right? I have to thank you for keeping Louise safe," she said with a smile.
"And yes, you are correct. It's an arranged marriage with the Emperor of Germania."
"Germania, you say?!"
Louise, who hated Germania, spoke out in astonishment.
"That country of barbaric upstarts?!"
"Yes. But it can't be helped. It must be done to solidify our alliance."
Henrietta explained the current political climate to Louise and Ayesha.
"So that's why..." Louise said with a depressed voice. It was clear from Henrietta's tone that she did not desire this wedding.
"It is alright. Louise, I have long since abandoned the notion of marrying the one whom I love."
"But that's not fair!"
Louise and Henrietta were startled by Ayesha's sudden shouting.
"No one should be burdened by something like that!"
Hearing something like that coming out from the princess' mouth made Ayesha felt really bad for her. To her, the notion of someone being stuck in doing things they didn't want was something that really saddened her.
"Is there no other way?" Ayesha asked, her face full of worry.
Henrietta replied with a bitter smile. "There is no other way, I'm afraid. Tristain is simply not strong enough to handle Albion's air force on its own. This kingdom will surely fall if I fail to secure an alliance with Germania."
"Air force?" Ayesha replied. "Oh, that's right. I remember reading about it. Albion has quite the dominant air force, doesn't they, what with their kingdom being on a floating archipelago after all?"
"Indeed," Henrietta replied. "And we simply just don't have enough of our own airships to contest theirs."
Ayesha paused, closing her eyes and pressing her index finger to her chin as she was deep in though.
"It's alright. Like I've said, I've readied myself for something like this ever since I was little. A ruler should always sacrifice herself for her kingdom after all."
Ayesha finally opened her eyes. She looked down at Henrietta, looking uncharasterically serious, and said, "There is a way to defend this country without relying on Germania."
Henrietta's eyes widened.
"W-what are you talking about?" Louise protested. "Don't give false hopes to the princess!"
"Buf if we use it, then there would be no going back. This world would know what alchemy was really capable of."
Ayesha walked towards Henrietta, closing their distance before she looked her deeply in her eyes..
"I've been wondering all this time ever since I learned about the state of this world. Should I interfere, I wondered to myself. Unlike this world, my world is not in a state of conflict like this. So I do not know what path I should take. But I know one thing. I will not let alchemy to be used for destruction. I will only use it for the happiness of the people."
"Now, I ask you this, would the people of this land be happier if Tristain stays as it is or would they not care if the rebels at Albion would invade and occupy Tristain?"
Louise, who was quite the patriotic noble, immediately leashed out towards Ayesha.
"How could you say that? Of course they're going to-"
"Wait, Louise, let me answer," Henrietta interrupted, raising her hand to signal Louise to stop while still maintaining eye contact with Ayesha. "I would not say that the rule of Tristain's nobility has been perfect. Sometimes we could become too conceited and forget the reason why Brimir granted us this authority in the first place. But if the Reconquista captured Tristain, they would only use its resources and its people to fuel more war; against the other nations, and eventually, against the elves. But if Tristain won, I promise you that we would not use your so-called alchemy to wage more war. We would end Reconquista before it could do more damage and we could have our peace back."
Henrietta didn't flinch at all as she spoke. She would show that she was indeed telling the truth.
Ayesha didn't give her answer immediately. Instead, she continued staring at Henrietta for a couple more seconds before breaking out into a smile.
"Very well then. I would be willing to help," she answered. "Oh, I almost forgot." She then turned towards Louise. "You're alright with this, aren't you, Louise?"
"W-well, as long as it can help the princess, then sure!" Louise replied, still taken aback by Ayesha's sudden personality change.
"Like I've said, this would make us be known to the whole world. Would you be alright with that?"
"Known...to the whole world? Just what are you going to do?" Louise replied, her expression turning into one of worry.
"I would show those rebels what the ultimate peak of alchemy could do," Ayesha replied with a smile.
It was said that the alchemists of the past researched even causality itself.
Ayesha only knew about this after she managed to obtain a certain book detailing their attempts in doing so, and even for her, it was a difficult subject to process. However, she managed to get some alchemy recipes out of it nonetheless.
The first was the Magic Square. The tool was shaped like a magic circle, only it was not ethereal and you could actually grab it, with it having a disk-like shape. When activated, it would fly up to the skies before firing off massive beams of light. To put it simply, it was like the alchemic version of orbital bombardment.
Unlike the dragon slags in her world, the airships of Halkeginia could never move fast enough to dodge said beams.
You could see how she could use it to completely obliterate the fleet of Albion if she wished to.
The second one was the Black Eclipse. This one was even more destructive than the former.
With it, Ayesha could summon an eclipse that would turn the sky black. And said eclipse would explode, releasing a wave of black energy that would burn everything into ash. It wasn't like the flames of an ordinary bomb. It wouldn't leave burning objects behind after it exploded. It was as if it was a miniature supernova.
Suffice to say if Ayesha used it against those airships, they would go down for sure.
She didn't want to do that of course. She wouldn't want to take the lives of other people needlessly.
Her plan would just be to scare the rebel forces so badly that they would stop fighting.
Ayesha explained this matter to both Louise and Henrietta, which, naturally, surprised, amazed, and frightened them both at the same time.
"And that's why I think they would stop fighting when I used any of those two items. Well, I intend to only use the Magic Square though. A couple of those light beams should scare them well enough," Ayesha closed her story with a smile, clapping her hands together near her chest.
"T-that's amazing! Can you really do something like that?" Henrietta replied. "With that power, you're almost like the Founder himself, with all those tales about how he and his familiars could defeat entire armies by themselves!"
Suddenly, Henrietta paused, realizing what she just said.
"A-ah, I shouldn't have said that. That's quite… heretical, isn't it? O-of course no one would be able to match the Founder!" she quickly corrected herself.
"Oh, the Founder?" Ayesha replied, "Ah, that reminds me. I don't think I've told you how I'm Mjöðvitnir, the Mind of God. And Louise here is a Void Mage. So I guess you could see us as having some of the Founder's power within us."
She said it all so nonchalantly as if it was nothing special at all.
"A-A Void Mage?" Henrietta jumped out of her seat. "Louise, is this true?"
Louise nodded in agreement, though her nod wasn't that assertive. She remembered when she was first told about this fact from Ayesha a while ago. All this time, she thought Void was just an element relegated to legends. But then Louise dropped them bomb, metaphorically speaking, want it or not, she started believing in it herself. Sure, she said it was just her theory, as the Founder himself was also a Void Mage. But she backed that theory by saying how the explosions she had been producing all this time could be an expression of her Void Magic, not just because she was a failure at magic.
"If that's true, then we are even more blessed than I thought!" Henrietta said as she clasped her hands over Louise's. "Oh Louise! Please! Please use your power for Tristain!"
"I-I told you already, I will! So please, calm down!" Louise replied, looking quite flustered.
"A-ah, it seems I'm getting too excited once again. A-apologies," Henrietta said as she calmed herself. "But it was just that the enemy also had a Void Mage on their side. The leader of the Reconquista, Cromwell, apparently had control of the Void, which was why our union with Germania became even more important. A man like him having that kind of power on his side, he would not just look down at Halkeginia from the skies obediently for certain."
"I see," Ayesha interrupted. "So the enemy also had that kind of power with them. Now I wonder if he also had a familiar from my world…"
"If he did, then-"
"Yes. He could've also had an alchemist in his side."
Henrietta immediately turned pale at this revelation.
"S-so that means they could also possess those two magical weapons you had as well?"
Ayesha paused for a moment before replying, "Hmm, I can't say for sure. Not all alchemists in my world are like me, you know. I use a cauldron as my main method of synthesize, but there were others that used various specialized equipments instead. And I don't know if the alchemists with that style could also create those two items. I do know that creating them would not be an easy feat at all though. Even reading and deciphering the recipes themselves is a difficult matter to do."
"Ayesha, if you were to compare yourself with the other alchemists in your world, how would you rate yourself? Are you amongst the top tier ones or are you still below that level?" Louise asked.
Ayesha paused even longer. She really didn't know how to answer Louise's question. It wasn't like there were many other alchemists around, only Keithgriff who was her teacher. And she never actually visited Central where there were many alchemists around.
"If I would to compare myself to my teacher, I still have much more to learn, which was another reason why I left my homeland in the first place. I wish to develop myself and my knowledge even more, to realize my utmost potential for alchemy."
Then she remembered something she heard from Nio, just before Keith was departing to resume his journey. Apparently she overheard it from the conversation Keith was having with Odelia.
"She was the most precious treasure I have obtained in this land, more than any knowledge I have obtained in this library. Perhaps one day she would be able to create her own alchemy, different from those used in the past."
"Are you assuming that one day she would be able to save this world from the Dusk, Master?" Odelia asked.
"Hah, I wouldn't put such a lofty burden on her. But alchemy would be better to be resurrected by her than those fools on Central."
The library he referred to was the ancient library Zweiteturm. Referred to as the Cradle of Knowledge by its creator, it stored thousands of books for nearly a millennium. It was constructed right when the fall of the ancient alchemy era happened, in an effort by its creator to store knowledge for future generations. The person Keith was speaking to, Odelia, was its administrator. She was an automaton, the so-called living doll; another remains of the wonders of the ancient era. She had stayed there obediently for almost a thousand years until Keith, in an attempt to have access to a certain forbidden information she possessed, ended up becoming her new master, replacing her old one who had banned her from telling said information to any unauthorized person. In the end, she ended up leaving the library to travel the world with Keith. A thousand years of boredom was simply too much even for a machine like her.
For Keith to say that Ayesha was a bigger find was a testament to how highly he thought of her alchemy skill, even if he wouldn't say that to the person herself.
Nio, being quite the mischievous little sister, teased Ayesha with this little fact, knowing that her big sis quite cared what Keith thought of her. Naturally, Ayesha was embarrassed when she brought it up. She never thought of herself as someone especially talented in alchemy. She still thought of herself more as a herbalist. But she was glad as well to hear that Keith thought so highly of herself. It was just a natural reaction as she was his student (although Ayesha learnt most of her alchemy on her own through books).
"But if I were to bring up what my teacher once said about me, well, perhaps I'm quite up there on top of the crop?" Ayesha continued, her words accompanied by light blush on her cheeks.
Henrietta sighed. "I just hope they don't have another alchemist as skilled as you, Ayesha. Or else it would be over for our side. But seeing how the remaining loyalists still held on to this day, I believe they shouldn't have the same kind of firepower you possessed."
"Loyalists?" Ayesha asked.
"Prince Wales and the remaining remnants of the Albion Royal Army were holed up somewhere at Newcastle. And they were being sieged by the Reconquista rebels. The latest report said they were still holding on however. If they had someone with your abilities, Ayesha, there's no doubt they would have wiped them off the map already," Henrietta explained. "Originally, I came here to give you a mission to go there and make sure a certain letter the Prince held to be destroyed. But now, with your power, Ayesha, then perhaps, we could actually go there to rescue them!"
Henrietta looked at Ayesha with her bright, hopeful eyes once more.
"Hmm, this letter, what could be so important about it?" Ayesha asked, tilting her head.
Henrietta paused, before suddenly blushing for no reason at all.
"I-I suppose I could tell you about this... But please, don't tell this to anyone else!" Henrietta replied.
Louise raised her eyebrows. Why did the Princess suddenly become this flustered?
"It's… it's a love letter..."
"A-a love letter?" Louise shouted. "Y-your love letter, Your Highness? To who?"
This took Louise by surprise. Even she knew nothing about this. And she was pretty much her best friend and confidant. When did he even meet her in the first place?
And then she remembered. There was a party at the Ragdorian Lake three years ago. It was done to celebrate Queen Marianne's birthday, and Tristain invited guests from each nation and held a garden party there. And sure enough, both Henrietta and Wales were there.
Could it be that she met him there? But she never heard about it. Not even from the Princess herself.
"We have made an oath," Henrietta continued. "An oath that we would stay together, in front of the water spirits there. And those spirits are said to be spirits of oath, and oaths made before them are said to be unbreakable."
Henrietta's gaze turned forlorn as she smiled bitterly to herself. She was recounting her sweet memories with the Prince.
"Only us both ever knew that we were meeting each other. We had to hide it, or else we would probably not be allowed to meet each other anymore even in formal events. It was part of being a prince and a princess."
"And then, this whole thing happened. And I had to abandon that oath to save my country. My love, his kind words, it all meant nothing to me anymore…"
Henrietta ended her story with her looking down to the ground. A sliver of tear soon dropped down to the ground.
Louise wasn't sure how she should react. For the princess to be having an affair with a prince from another country like this, she wouldn't have imagined it even in her wildest dreams.
Ayesha, on the other hand, knew perfectly what she should do.
She embraced Henrietta, hugging her closely and warmly to her own body, burying the princess' face in her bosom, causing the princess to let out a gasp of surprise.
"Shh, it's alright…" Ayesha whispered gently as she patted Henrietta's head . "I understand. You might be a princess but you are a girl as well. It's perfectly normal for a girl to fall in love."
Ayesha released her hug, putting both of her hands on Henrietta's shoulders. The princess looked up, straight staring towards Ayesha's brown eyes.
"If you have the will and conviction, then I would be perfectly happy to help," Ayesha said with a smile. "Demonstrating the power to alchemy to the world might change a lot of things, but as long as we're responsible with it, I think it would be alright."
Henrietta's eyes began to water once again.
"Oh, Ayesha, my dear Ayesha, thank you so much!"
The princess hugged the familiar once more, burying her face into her bosom once again as she sobbed freely.
"First, we will save Prince Wales. Then, we'll think on how to make your relationship with him be approved, alright?" Ayesha said kindly, patting the princess' head once again.
Witnessing this, Louise couldn't help to let out a relieved smile. Somehow, she felt that everything was going to be alright, just like Ayesha said.
I guess she just has that effect on people, Louise thought proudly. She won over the princess so easily, just like she did with me. That's probably why some people back at her world couldn't help to see her as some sort of a sage worthy of praise and adoration. I feel the same way as well. You really shine brightly like a star, Ayesha.
There was a saying that opposites attract. For both Louise and Henrietta, who had lived all their life bound by rules and expectations from the people around them, Ayesha was the light of freedom that granted them hope of a better life, whether Ayesha herself realized it or not.
The next morning, Ayesha, Louise, and Henrietta held a secret meeting with Cardinal Mazarin. Wardes was also there, acting as the princess' guard.
As you would expect, said meeting was to lay out Henrietta's plan involving Ayesha and convince him to approve of it. He was currently the most influential person in Tristain and before they took any serious action against the rebels, it would only make sense to at least inform the man beforehand.
Henrietta did all the talking, and anyone could tell how the Cardinal was clearly unbelieving of her claims. She didn't tell him about her whole affair with Wales, of course, and she instead focused on the promise how Ayesha's power would definitely scare off the Reconquista to act against Tristain. Wardes on the other hand just stood on the corner of the room, though his eagle eyes seemed to be focused mostly towards the alchemist. Louise kept stealing glances towards his direction, but to her disappointment, he seemed to pay more attention to her familiar than to her own fiancee.
When the princess finished, the Cardinal turned around to have a good look at Ayesha. He eyed her from head to toe, making the young woman feel somewhat uncomfortable.
"So, you claim to be Mjöðvitnir," the Cardinal started. "And you are capable of all the feats Your Majesty had described, correct?"
"Forgive me for saying this, but I could scarcely believe your claims. The spells Your Majesty had described, it was unlike anything I have ever heard before."
"Then, should I show it to you?" Ayesha replied confidently. "I don't have that many of the items but I could spare one for sure."
The Cardinal paused for a moment before answering her offer.
"No. With a magic as flashy as that, other people would no doubt see. And if your claims are true, then I would prefer said magic to be hidden from the world for as long as possible. With your power, I believe we can launch a surprise attack to Albion and end the Reconquista in one swift motion."
"Then, how would Ayesha prove herself?" Louse interrupted, somewhat angrily. She didn't like her familiar to be doubted like this. She wasn't a liar for the Founder's sake!
"Hmm, how about this? She would have a fight with Wardes here. If she wins, then I would trust her outrageous claims. For a legendary Mjöðvitnir, it should be easy, no?"
"W-what?" Louise protested. "But Lord Wardes is-"
"The best mage Tristain has to offer," the Cardinal replied with a light grin. It seemed he was somewhat enjoying this. "But a legendary familiar that used to belong to the Founder himself should be above that level, won't you agree?"
Louise couldn't retort back.
Ayesha stepped forward, putting her right hand at her master's shoulder. "It's alright, Louise. I'll be fine."
Louise looked up to see Ayesha's calming smile. Immediately she felt silly for worrying so much.
Ayesha would win. She would win for sure.
Even against her dear Lord Wardes.
The group then left the academy to the secluded woods nearby. It didn't take long until they found a clearing that they could use for Ayesha and Wardes' combat.
"Alright, here should be good enough," the Cardinal exclaimed. "Please, take your positions across the field."
Ayesha and Wardes did as they were told. Ayesha opened her bag and took out her staff. Wardes, who was still closely eyeing Ayesha, let out an expression of surprise as she did, though he quickly suppressed it afterwards.
The Cardinal stood from the sidelines with an amused look on his face, while Louise and Ayesha clearly looked worried on what was about to transpire.
"Oh, I should've known Mazarin wouldn't be so easily convinced," Henrietta thought to herself. "But to solve it with a duel like this, I didn't see this coming at all."
Louise grabbed the hem of her skirt as she watched. She didn't know who she should be rooting for. Ayesha was her precious familiar but Wardes was her love and fiancee. She wanted Ayesha to win just so she wouldn't be viewed as a liar, But she didn't want to see Wardes being beaten down as well.
Suddenly, Wardes, who had stayed silent all this time, spoke.
"Before we begin, I like to apologize to you first, Lady Ayesha,"
"Eh? What for?" Ayesha replied.
"I would not hold back in our duel, even if you're a woman. If you're truly a Mjöðvitnir like you claimed to be, then I must use all my strength to defeat you," he said with a smile.
"A-ah, I see," Ayesha replied, "I would like to apologize as well then. I would use my alchemy tools in this duel, so it might not seem fair to you."
"It's alright, Milady," Wardes replied, still with his charming smile. "They're part of your ability, no? So using them in combat is just like using a sword or a spear. Nothing wrong with that."
"If both parties are ready," the Cardinal interrupted, "then I shall start the duel. And I will nominate myself and the princess as the unbiased witnesses of this honorable duel between nobles."
"Hmm? Witnesses?" Ayesha commented. "Oh, you're talking about the traditional noble duels, right?"
"That is correct, Milady," Wardes replied. "We shall do this duel in a most honorable fashion that befits two noble mages."
"I-I see. Alright then…"
"Well, this has gotten quite serious..." Ayesha thought to herself, "I don't know how you're supposed to duel honorably like a noble I certainly won't lose! I couldn't use my bombs against him though. I'll just have to hit him with my staff."
Ayesha took the initiative, launching herself towards Wardes with her staff on her side. She swung it right at him, only to be blocked by his wand. To her surprise, even though his wand was small, he managed to block her staff with ease.
"That's quite the good blow, Milady! To attack straight away with your staff like that, you're bolder than I thought! I must apologize once again for underestimating you!"
Wardes flicked his wand, and with what felt like a sudden burst of wind, Ayesha's staff was pushed back. He didn't wait for her to recover, and hit her stomach with his wand, the force enhanced by another burst of wind. It sent Ayesha flying backwards, but thankfully, she managed to stabilize herself before losing her balance. However, she coughed up some blood from the impact.
"Ayesha!" Louise shouted.
Ayesha herself wasn't as worried as Louise. To be hit and sent flying by a strong enemy like this, it had happened many times before in her journey.
This was where her special items would come in.
The handbag she wore suddenly opened on its own, and from it, a vial of liquid jumped out. Its cap popped right out on its own before the vial itself flew right towards her mouth. She drank a gulp of it, before it sealed itself and returned back to the bag.
Wardes just stood there dumbfounded, wondering what in the world just happened.
Auto-activation medicine. The vial could detect when Ayesha was sufficiently injured and it would immediately move on its own to her to administer its healing liquid into her.
It was just one of the many miracles of alchemy.
He's strong! I guess I'll have to use that to level up the playing field!
She opened her handbag and took out what looked like to be a small bottle of red-white pills. She opened the cap and swallowed one before putting it back inside her bag.
Immediately she could feel the drug's effect all over her body. Her blood burned and her nerves flared with pain, making her grit her teeth in response.
Forbidden Medicine. It was a medicine with an effect so strong that its usage was banned to the general public in the ancient era.
What effect, you may ask?
Steroid. It was, in its most basic core, a steroid.
Only it had a far greater effect than your ordinary steroid.
Ayesha could feel her body overflowing with strength as the drug worked its miracle in her. If she had to put an amount to its effect, she estimated it had tripled her strength, speed, and endurance.
With such a strong effect however, it would only be natural for a strong side-effect to accompany it as well.
Originally, the drug would cause internal bleedings in all the organs in your body, so swallowing one would mean an almost guaranteed death after a short period of super strength. But she had carefully modified and improved on the recipe, with a really specific method of synthesis that only a master alchemist could perform, that she could minimize said side effect into merely burning pain all over her body.
She needed to use this drug every time she fought a strong monster beyond her capability. For her who had never really trained her body like a warrior, it was the only way she could keep up.
Ayesha launched herself once again. Wardes' eyes widened with shock as her speed had drastically increased. At first, he could keep up with her blows, but he slowly but surely found himself overwhelmed, as his stamina decreased while Ayesha kept going on and on with her ferocious attacks. The young woman was no slouch in her staff-fighting skills. It was as if she had been fighting melee with her staff all this time, just like himself and his training as a Magic Knight. Magic Knights weren't like your ordinary mages who relied mostly on their immobile, slow magic. The way they chanted, the way they held their wands, the motion they used to charge, it was all fully specialized for battle. They used their wands as swords, combining them with spellcraft.
She really must be one of the familiar of legends.
...She would surely be dangerous in the future for their cause.
He had to dispatch of her right then and there.
Wardes suddenly jumped back away from Ayesha's reach. He began chanting, "Ubiquitous Dell Wind…" and when he finished, he had created four copies of himself along with his real body.
This was a spell he used only when he got serious. His clones all had the strength of the original body, as wind was unevenly distributed.
Ayesha paused in her tracks as she saw that her opponent had created doubles of himself.
...Hmmm, I can't tell them apart! In that case, I'll just use that!
Ayesha reached inside her handbag once again but this time Wardes had no intention to let her just pull out whatever magic item she wanted to use. He and his clones immediately lunged towards her.
But it wasn't like Ayesha had never dealt with a situation like this before. Sometimes enemies would go after her and even surround her, and that would normally prevent an alchemist to reach for her items inside her bag safely.
And so she reacted by leaping backwards over and over again, her special slippers helping by generating bursts of wind to push her, as her right hand reached into her bag. An alchemist of her level didn't even need to look inside her bag to take a specific item from it. Before Wardes and his clones could reach her, she already took out the item she wanted. Her Mirage Mirror.
She brought up the hand mirror to her face, making sure that it caught her reflection.
And then, the tool activated its effect.
She turned the mirror away from her, but her reflection stayed for a few moments, before said reflection leaped out of the mirror, giving Ayesha her own clone.
"What? She could do that too?" Wardes thought in anger. "No matter. She only created one, while I have four on my side! I can still overwhelm her in sheer number!"
One of the Wardes clones aimed the tip of his wand towards one of the Ayesha clones. With his spell, his wand acted as a spear, so Wardes really intended to do real bodily harm to her. He wouldn't kill her of course. Not in front of all of this people. But he had to at the very least make her surrender, so that the Cardinal wouldn't go along with her plan. If he could wound her, even better. He would just assassinate her later on while she was still weakened.
All for the sake of Reconquista!
The Ayesha clone blocked the blow perfectly with her staff however, and the magic failed to pierce through. Ayesha's staff was made by the blend of metal and the alchemically created Yggdrasil wood after all. And the mirages were just as solid as the real thing.
Another Wardes clone went behind her however and stabbed her from the back with the same spell. The clone didn't let out any scream of pain or blood, but it clearly had a surprised expression on its face as it vanished.
The other two Wardes clones and the real one went after the real Ayesha. But her catching him off guard with her clone was enough time for her to grab another tool from her bag.
A book? It must be some sort of magic book! I must prevent her from casting whatever spell it has in it!
Ayesha at this moment had already abandoned her staff as she needed both of her hands to wield both the mirror and the book. She used the mirror once again to create another one of her clones, producing another distraction for Wardes before he could reach her. The clone leapt forward, taking Ayesha's staff from the ground, and used it aggressively against one of the of the Wardes clones. It forced another clone to turn back and help its brother, leaving Ayesha facing off only against the real Wardes.
"Stop running and face me!" Wardes shouted in anger. Gone was his former gentlemanly persona.
He began firing off wind blades haphazardly towards her. But even as Ayesha continuously leaped backwards, she managed to dodge all of his attacks with just one blade grazing her arm. Said blade slowed her down just enough for Wardes to catch up however.
"I got you, Mjöðvitnir!"
It was too late for him however, as Ayesha finished reading the incantations contained in her book. Light surged out of it, forming what looked like runic words that headed straight towards Wardes. Said words circled around him, forming a magic circle around him.
And then, Wardes felt all his strength leaving him.
"W-w-what is this?!"
He fell down to his knees, panting. He felt weak. So terribly weak.
"J-just what is this magic?"
Book of Heaven. It was the third tool detailed by the Causality of Dusk.
This variant of the book weakened and drained all strength from the target, giving it to the user. Ayesha could feel the effect of the book healing the gash she had gotten from one of his wind blades.
Another variant of the book could inflict either a terrible burning sensation, a terrible cold, or a terrible shock without actually burning, freezing, or shocking them with electricity.
Suffice to say, Ayesha preferred the former against human enemies.
Wardes eventually fell down to the ground, unconscious. Ayesha had won.
Ayesha's victory took both Mazarin and Louise by surprise.
When Wardes landed a hard-hitting blow towards Ayesha's stomach, making her cough some blood, Mazarin though that was it for the familiar. He could see that Wardes' combat capabilities outclassed hers significantly. Sure, she tried to perform a close range attack, which an ordinary mage certainly wouldn't do, but Wardes was simply far too skilled to be caught off-guard by such a surprise attack.
But then, something really peculiar happened.
The familiar took something out from her bag and swallowed it. And suddenly, she could fight in par with Wardes, even overpowering him a little.
A magic drug? He never heard anything like that existing. Was it something she created with her power as a Mjöðvitnir?
The fight then went to the second phase, with Wardes utilizing his wind magic to create illusions of himself. To his surprise once more, she could perform something similar, using a hand mirror. It was another magical item he had never heard about.
And then, her book landed the finishing blow. It seemed to have the capability of sucking the strength out of the enemy.
Those three unheard items were enough to convince him that she was the real deal. He knew the legends, about how Mjöðvitnir was capable of using all sorts of magical items.
He smiled. They could certainly use her for the war against Reconquista.
Louise, on the other hand, reacted in a less scheming way than Mazarin. When Ayesha received the hard hit to her stomach, Louise almost jumped into the battlefield to stop the whole thing. She had to ball her fists to stop herself. She would trust Ayesha. She would have faith in her familiar.
And when she brought out all those wonderful items, Louise couldn't help but to be awed by them. Just how many magic items did she have in that bag of hers?
Louise remembered how Ayesha once said that the ancient civilization in her world used to rely on all sorts of tools created by alchemy, how alchemy was present in all aspects of their life. She knew Ayesha was not part of that era, but even if she could only replicate a small fraction of that civilization, it wouldn't be an odd thing for her to have all sorts of magical items that allowed her a lot of versatility in combat.
And for a civilization who somehow was able to go to the moon, it wouldn't be odd for it to possess weapons that could easily bring down airships.
Louise wondered if they should tell this fact to the Cardinal or not, just so he would believe them even more.
But judging from the satisfied expression on his face, it seemed that wouldn't be necessary.
"Bravo! Bravo! That was wonderful, Lady Ayesha!"
The Cardinal gave a hearty clap after Ayesha landed the final blow to Wardes.
"To think that you would be able to defeat Wardes, one of our best mages, like that! Truly, I have to believe that you are indeed Mjöðvitnir, especially after you used all those magical artifacts in your combat!"
"Ah...ahahaha…" Ayesha only smiled awkwardly in response.
Whew, he's strong. So this is how strong a skilled mage can be in this world…
She heard Wardes' groan, which made her immediately rush to the man's position.
Wardes was originally slumped down face first on the dirt after he fell from his kneeling position, due to Ayesha's energy drain. Only now he managed to recover somewhat. He returned back to his kneeling position as he was still too weak to stand.
"A-are you alright, Sir Wardes? Ooh, I may have gone overboard again…" Ayesha said with a worried look as she stood in front of him, bending over slightly.
Louise rushed to his side as well, once she recovered from being stunned by Ayesha's victory.
"Here, drink this," Ayesha said to Wardes as she offered a small vial of liquid to the exhausted man. Wardes looked up, and, just for a split second, Ayesha saw him giving her a scornful stare, before he took her potion and drink it all in one gulp.
And as if a water mage had cast a healing spell on him, his stamina suddenly returned to him. It didn't take long at all until he stood up, fully recovered.
"T-thank you, milady," Wardes said to Ayesha with his usual gentle expression. It was as if his previous scary expression was just Ayesha's illusion. "I… certainly didn't expect to be defeated like this. You indeed beat me fair and square, and I have to thank you for that as well. I now realize I still have much to go in honing my skills as a mage if I want to protect Your Majesty properly."
"A-ah, y-you're welcome…" Ayesha replied. Just like before, his overly knightly and formal attitude made her somewhat uncomfortable.
"And I also have to praise the Founder for granting Tristain such a beautiful and capable mage to be on her side," Wardes continued. "I have no doubt that with Milady on our side, Tristain would never suffer defeat to anyone, be it the Reconquista or any other country that dared to bring her harm."
"B-beautiful?" Ayesha replied, blushing. She was also weak to people praising her looks.
On the other hand, Louise scowled a little, as she felt a pang of jealousy hitting her heart.
H-hmph! I-I suppose it's true that Ayesha is pretty!
Truthfully, she always had an inferiority complex towards her own figure. Even before Ayesha came, she had already envied girls like Kirche for having more bountiful bosoms and wider hips than her. She had an idea of asking Ayesha to make a medicine that could help her in that department, but she was too embarrassed to actually ask.
"So, Wardes, I trust you approve of her capabilities as well?" the Cardinal asked as he walked over towards them.
"Indeed," Wardes replied. "She would certainly be a great asset to Tristain. Good job, Louise. You've summoned a powerful familiar indeed," he said with a gentle smile.
"T-thank you for your praise, Milord!" Louise replied quickly, curtsying while being flustered at the same time.
"Now, why don't we return to the academy?" the Cardinal suggested. "We will take a short rest then we shall head to the castle at once. There, we shall discuss the next steps that we should take, now that we have Lady Altugle in our side."
And so it was that Louise and Ayesha left the Academy with the princess' entourage. They didn't get a fancy carriage like the ones the Cardinal and Henrietta rode on however. They instead had a perfectly ordinary wooden carriage, complete with veiled windows. The Cardinal apologized for the meager accommodation, saying that it was necessary to not attract any attention to Louise and Ayesha. They could not afford any spies of the Reconquista to find out about Ayesha. Or any other spies from the other countries for that matter. Until the very moment that Ayesha displayed her power to the world, he wanted to keep her presence under wraps. He even wished to hide her from most of the castle and the other Tristain nobles. That was why when they disembarked from their carriage, they had to wear the hooded cloaks that they were given. Then, they would head straight to the strategy room for a secret meeting with all the higherups of the kingdom.
Ayesha felt uncomfortable with the whole process. She never really had to hide herself from the public like this. Louise, on the other hand, actually felt a little disappointed from this. She had wanted to show off Ayesha to the other nobles, showing her accomplishment as one of the Vallieres.
As they crossed through the capital city to head to the castle, Ayesha could hear all the excitement the people had for their princess.
"Wow, Henrietta is sure loved by her people…" she said in awe. Ayesha herself had experienced something like this before. People she had helped with her alchemy started to call her "Lady Ayesha". Some even started calling her as "The Sage of Alchemy". It was quite awkward for her who didn't see herself as anyone special although her sister Nio seemed just fine with it.
"Of course she is," Louise replied proudly. "She's been working hard to be the ideal princess ever since she was little, even though it wasn't easy at all for her. She had to study from morning to night almost every day, from etiquette to court politics."
"Oh, that's right. You are childhood friends with her," Ayesha replied. "You must be really close."
"Yep!" Louise puffed her chest. "We were so close with each other that we were practically siblings."
Ayesha smiled hearing those words from Louise's mouth. She had thought the little mage as the lonely type who never made any friends. So she could open up to another, even if it was only one or two people. Ayesha always believed that people should always show their true, honest side to the world instead of hiding behind a mask. And she knew that Louise's domineering attitude was never really her true self. It was just her hiding behind the mask created by her pride as a noble. Living that way would increase stress, and having too much stress could lead to the decline of your health. Not to mention, she also believed that if someone lived like that for far too long, they would either snap or lose who they really were underneath.
As long as she was here, she hoped she could make Louise be more true to herself.
When they arrived at the strategy room, there were already people there. No doubt the Cardinal had already sent word to the castle beforehand.
First, there was Queen Marianne, Henrietta's mother. Even though she was never that active in leading the country, choosing to give the reins to Henrietta and the Cardinal, she would still be present occasionally in meetings with the kingdom's higher-ups, especially when it concerned something really important like this. She had received the word on how Henrietta had found a major boon to Tristain's war effort, in the form of a familiar, which apparently was one of the legendary familiars of the Founder himself. To add even more to her surprise, the mage who was responsible on summoning her was Louise, Henrietta's close childhood friend. Naturally, she had to see just how this familiar really was.
Other participants in the secret meeting included the leaders of the various military corps the kingdom possessed. They were all called Knights, and they were separated by what type of mount they would ride into battle. They were the Dragon Knights, Griffin Knights, and the Manticore Knights. Coincidentally, the leader of the Griffin Knights was Wardes himself.
Before Ayesha could enter the room however, the Cardinal stopped her.
"A few moments before we enter please," he said to her.
"Hmm, what's the matter?" Ayesha asked.
"Please, take off your cloak first."
"A-ah, oh right,"
Ayesha took off her black hooded cloak, putting it on the hands of a servant nearby. Her hands then went to the other cloak she wore until the Cardinal stopped her.
"No, not that one! That one is fine!"
"Then, please take out your staff."
Ayesha didn't understand where he was going with this. Nonetheless, she did as he said. Now, she held her flower staff on her right hand.
"Hmm, very good. Now, make sure when you enter the room, you walk high and proud with confidence. First impressions are quite important after all and I want you to look convincing as the legendary familiar Mjöðvitnir. You too, Miss Valiere. You would walk proudly beside her."
"O-of course!" Louise quickly replied, as she straightened up her uniform.
"If you two are ready, then I shall announce your arrival to the room."
Ayesha nodded, although she felt quite nervous herself. She had never done something like this before.
"And now, announcing the arrival of Lady Louise de La Valiere and her familiar Lady Ayesha Altugle!"
Hearing the cue, the pair entered the room.
The attention of the room was immediately focused towards the pair, especially towards Ayesha. The first thing that drew their attention was the peculiar outfit the familiar was wearing, particularly the flowers and hat on her head and the exposed midriff. No mage they knew had ever dressed like this. Even so, the way she carried herself made the normally slightly indecent outfit feel just right on her. The coat and the staff certainly helped with that impression.
"She really looks like somebody special…"
"Or an eccentric. But I have to admit, she clearly distinguishes herself well over your run-of-the-mill mages."
Umm, why is the atmosphere here so heavy…?
Ayesha took a seat beside Louise, who seemed to be just as tense as her.
"Well, now that the guest of honors are here…" the Cardinal was the first one to speak. "Let us just cut through the formalities and get to the point. Lady Altugle, please show them your runes," he said as he looked towards the alchemist.
Ayesha lifted her bangs away from her forehead, revealing the symbols etched on it.
"Ooh, that certainly looked like the runes of Mjöðvitnir!"
"And now, Lady Altugle shall explain her proposal on how to deal with the Reconquista," the Cardinal continued with a self-satisfied smile.
"W-well, you see, with my special magic, I am capable of taking down their airships with ease. And I thought if I use it to scare them off, then surely they would want to stop fighting," Ayesha explained. She didn't get into the nitty-gritty details as she didn't want
Whispers echoed all over the room in response to Ayesha's explanation.
"Taking down airships with ease?"
"Just what kind of power she has…"
"There's no way she could actually do that, could she?"
"But she's a Mjöðvitnir! It's not out of the realm of possibility that she really is capable of doing such a thing!"
"True. There are myths that said how the Founder could take entire armies by himself. Thus, it isn't that much of a stretch for her to be able to do the same as his familiar."
"So, have she shown this capability of hers yet, Mazarin?" the Queen asked the Cardinal.
"No, she has not," he replied calmly. "The spell would apparently be quite of the flashy kind, Your Highness, thus I wish for it to be only used right at the very moment it needs to be used, just so it would take the enemies by surprise. If we use it now, there's a chance their spies would see it as well."
"I see…" the Queen replied. "Then how can you trust that she is really capable of what she's saying she can do? I see the runes on her forehead and sure enough, it seems to be of the Mjöðvitnir, but that does not necessarily mean she's telling the truth."
"Do not worry, Your Majesty," the Cardinal replied, still as calm as before. "I had her duel Wardes and she managed to win."
Another round of whispers echoed across the room. For Wardes, one of the best mages Tristania has, to be defeated by some no-name mage, it certainly took them for surprise.
"...Very well," the Queen acquiesced. "Then, what is your plan to utilize her to tip the war to our favor?"
"It's simple, Your Highness. We would give her one of our civilian ships to ride on and from there, she could take down all of the Reconquista fleet on her own," the Cardinal said with a grin.
"Wait, civilian ship? A-aren't we going to send our military fleets with her?" Henrietta interrupted.
"There would be no need for that. After all, she said it herself. She could take down their ships on her own with ease. If she's lying, then we would only use a civilian airship which wouldn't be that big of a deal."
It finally dawned in Henrietta. The Cardinal had intended to use Ayesha from the very beginning. Without an actual military fleet support, it would make the Reconquista less compelled to surrender. Those fanatics would probably try to bombard Ayesha's ship before she could down more of their ships, thus forcing Ayesha to really wipe out their fleet instead of just making them surrender, killing many in the process.
"I will not agree to this!" Henrietta shouted, rising up from her seat and slamming her hands on the table. "You're just sending her on a suicide mission!"
"I apologize, Your Majesty, but this is the only way. We cannot afford to send our full military might against the Reconquista just because some no-name mage wants to play hero," the Cardinal argued back with a smirk on his face. "If she's truly one of the Founder's legendary familiar, then there should be no problem with her bringing down divine judgment on those traitors."
"But Ayesha doesn't want to kill people with her power! She just wants to end the war!"
"Henrietta, sit down!" the Queen sternly replied back, giving her an angry glare.
"Y-yes, mother…" Henrietta reluctantly did as she was told.
"I object to this as well!" Louise rose up as well, her expression visibly furious. "I will not let my familiar be sent alone like that!"
"It's fine, Louise," Ayesha stood up, putting her hand on Louise's shoulder. "I'll do it. I'll do as you say."
"But Ayesha, you can't-"
"I'll be fine, Louise," she gave her a warm smile. She then turned to face the Queen. "In exchange, if I succeed, I would wish for the arranged marriage of Henrietta to Germania be annulled."
Once again, the room was filled with whispers.
The Queen paused for a few seconds, eyeing Ayesha in the meantime, before replying with, "I see. So this is what it's all about."
And then, a small smile formed in the Queen's lips.
"Very well. I agree with said term. And I assume you would be too, Mazarin?"
"With Lady Altugle on our side, we would have no need to form an alliance with those Germanians. So it would be even better for us. So yes, I agree as well," he replied.
"Then, arrange the preparations. The earlier she goes, the better."
"Right away, Your Highness."
And that was how the meeting ended. The other corps leaders gave their approval as well, glad that they didn't have to involve themselves in a questionable operation like this. Let Ayesha took care of everything. That was the consensus reached that day.
Naturally, Louise insisted that she would tag along. But oddly enough, Wardes as well. He stated how he wished to look after his fiance and how he had his trust in Ayesha. He would protect the ship to the utmost of his ability as Ayesha took care of the offence.
Henrietta wanted to join in as well but she was forbidden to do so by the Cardinal and her mother. And so she apologized to Ayesha, for not only forcing her to do something like this on her own but also for not being able to be there to help.
Of course, Ayesha told her that she didn't mind it at all.
And so the plan was laid out. They would use one of the airships docked on La Rochelle. It was a small town but it was a major gateway for travelers to go to Albion. The Cardinal's agents would go on ahead and arrange everything beforehand.
The group would travel on a carriage there, taking about three days in travel. Wardes would be the one sitting on the front with the horses while Ayesha and Louise would be sitting inside on the back. Louise spent most of her time in the carriage sleeping, with her small body slowly but surely slumping towards Ayesha, until she ended up sleeping on her lap. Ayesha couldn't resist playing with her hair and patting her head. She just reminded her of her own sister.
Ayesha herself actually didn't like sitting in the back of a carriage like this for long. The carriage had a door and a curtain so it got stuffy really fast. It didn't take long until she began to sweat all over her body.
And the ride itself was making her nauseous. Thankfully, there was a medicine for that in her bag.
This was why she preferred walking over riding carriages.
And then, there was one other thing that was in her mind.
Henrietta's words back at the meeting.
She believed that the Reconquista wouldn't surrender if I only come aboard one civilian ship. But I don't believe that. I believe they would understand. When I first created and tested that magic tool, I was terrified by its power. It is true what Keith said. Alchemy can be used for pure destructive purposes.
They would surrender. I'm sure of it. Or at least, I could make them enter negotiations with Tristain.
With those optimistic thoughts, Ayesha drifted off to sleep as well, as the soft bumps of the road lulled her to her slumber.
Wardes was, to put it in a short term, in a pickle.
As a double agent whose true allegiance belonged to the Reconquista, he knew what they were going to do was going to become a huge detriment for their movement. But if he were to act, there's a good chance his cover would be blown.
He also didn't like how Ayesha seemed to have stolen the heart of Louise. He had offered her to ride with him on his griffon instead of riding the carriage but she refused, saying she wanted to be with her instead, even though Ayesha herself said that she would be just fine on her own walking with what he assumed was her magic sandals. Apparently it allowed her to rival the speed of a horse with just doing a normal walk.
Just another strange tool she had in her disposal.
In the end, they settled on the carriage, with his griffon flying nearby on its own. They would've ridden on horseback but Ayesha said she couldn't ride a horse.
He gave constant glances to the back of the carriage as he drove it, and he saw his fiancee being all cuddly with her familiar.
Since when she's that open with others?
From what he knew of Louise, she had always been an introvert that only got close to a handful of people, mainly her family. The only non-family member he knew that got quite close to her was Her Majesty Henrietta, and that was because they were already close friends since childhood. To think that this young woman who just appeared some months ago could be this close to her…
It must be their familiar bond. It just compels them to be that close.
He had wished he could be that close to her as well, just so he could better control her, but there was always this barrier between them. He could sense that Louise was not that comfortable being around him.
That Ayesha woman… she might look like an airhead but her power is the real deal... to be able to defeat me like that…
I have a good reason to believe that what she was saying was true… Then, I have to end her before she could arrive at Albion…
But how? Should I just dispose of her while she's asleep in this carriage? Or should I wait until the ambush?
There's only that failure of a Valiere with her. She would pose no threat whatsoever. Should I kill her as well? But that would no doubt cast suspicion on myself. With that mother of hers, she would no doubt demand a full investigation on the death of her daughter.
Or should I frame Valiere for her murder? No, that wouldn't work. Her mother would defend her to the death.
I have no choice. I have to wait until the ambush. I would then blame their deaths to the Reconquista.
He had sent a copy of himself ahead to La Rochelle for that very purpose. He knew they would have chosen that port city for their mission as it was the most logical choice. He also knew the city was full of mercenaries and they held no love for the royal family of Albion. It shouldn't be that hard to recruit them to their cause.
The port city was situated on a deep and narrow gorge and because of this, it had a small population of three hundred. As La Rochelle was the gateway to Albion, the number of travelers was ten times more than the local population.
Boulders could be seen on both sides of the narrow mountain pathway. People had carved holes in the boulders, turning them into taverns and shops. Although the buildings looked ordinary, upon closer inspection one could realize that all of them were carved out of a single rock, a feat done by Square ranked earth mages. It was far easier to do so than using mining tools and the like; another example of the superiority of magic over the non-magical folks.
On the narrow street, it appeared to be dark even though it was afternoon due to the gorges blocking the sunlight. If one made a turn on the street, they could see an even narrower street leading to a bar.
On the signboard resembling a keg of wine, the shop's name was written – "Golden Wine Barrel Bar". However, nothing in the shop resembled its name; the shop was dilapidated like an abandoned house. Piles of ruined chairs could be seen piling next to the door.
Most of the patrons were gangsters and mercenaries. When drunk, they would often fight over the smallest of things like staring incidents or minor squabbles.
And this was where Fouquet recruited the people that would participate in the ambush.
She had received the news earlier that Ayesha's entourage would soon arrive at the city. Her order was simple; kill the familiar before she could reach the port city.
Fouquet sighed when she received the order. Just when she thought she wouldn't be involved with her again.
She liked the woman, so it would be a shame for her to kill her.
She knew she was special however, so it didn't really surprise her that much that she could become such a thorn in the Reconquista's side. What surprised her however was how she was choosing the side of Tristain's royal family in the conflict. She had expected her to stay neutral. What could possibly make her do that, she wondered?
Maybe it was that Louise girl. She was her noble master after all. She either persuaded or forced her to take her side in this conflict.
It really is a shame. If only she had not been summoned as a familiar… if only I had met her earlier… maybe I could've recruited her as my partner in crime.
...Nah, she's not cut out for a life like that. She'll most likely end up trying to persuade me to stop being a criminal.
...And I might just have taken her on her offer.
...No sense in thinking that kind of stuff. The fact is, she's now the enemy of the Reconquista, the group that I belong to now. That means she's my enemy as well.
The chosen site for the ambush was the gorge leading to La Rochelle. It was practically made for ambushes, as you could hide yourself easily amongst the rocks to the left and right of the road. And it was so easy to block off any escape path as well.
Fouquet stood amongst those rocks with her hired mercenaries. All it took for her to convince them to join her side was some gold. However, it came with a caveat. She would kill anyone who tried to retreat in combat without her permission. She had that term because these mercenaries had been hired by Albion loyalists before and they ran away, abandoning their master once the tide of war favored the Reconquista. She wouldn't have that going on with her.
They should arrive here soon…
Sure enough, a carriage could soon be seen traversing the road below. She had been informed on how their carriage would look like so she knew exactly that it was indeed Ayesha's carriage.
"That's the carriage. Ready yourselves," she ordered to her underlings. They immediately readied themselves, getting into their predetermined positions.
The plan was simple. Fouquet would cause a landslide with her magic, blocking the carriage's path forward. Then, while they were still confused, they would attack from the sides and the back, preventing any chance of escape. They would kill Ayesha and kidnap Louise to be used as a future ransom for the Reconquista.
As for Wardes, they would rough him up a bit and then release him, pretending that he was the only one who had managed to escape. That way, no one would suspect that he was in cahoots with them. The worst thing that could happen was him being viewed less by the nobles for his failure, which was an acceptable risk for him.
Fouquet eyed the carriage as it got closer and closer. And then, she began her chant. For a skilled Earth Mage like her, it was child's play to cause a landslide or two.
The carriage abruptly stopped as the landslide blocked their path.
"Now, attack!" she shouted.
Her mercenaries all descended from the rocky cliffs, their faces filled with the expression of those of mad men lusting for battle. They wield all sorts of weapons; swords, axes, lances, even bows. The bowmen among them fired off arrows towards the carriage. But before their arrows could reach, a sphere of wind appeared around the carriage, blocking any of their arrows from hitting their mark.
"We're under attack!" Wardes announced before jumping off his seat.
"W-what? W-we are?" Ayesha replied, a hint of panic showing in her voice. She quickly opened the carriage door and exited the vehicle, only to see that they were already surrounded by a group of armed people.
"U-uhh? W-what's going on?" Louise said groggily. She had been sleeping and only now that she awakened from her slumber.
"Ooh, look what we got here... "
"She's a pretty one."
"Nice outfit, lady mage."
Suffice to say, the mercenaries weren't exactly the shining example of gentlemenhood. Their favorite pastime was teasing barmaidens and any other pretty females they could find in their hangout place. Fouquet herself had to resist their advances when she went to recruit them.
"Hey, long blonde hair… green clothing that shows off her bellybutton… ample breasts… She must be the one named Ayesha!"
"Then, we must get her right away! She's a dangerous mage, remember?"
Ayesha herself had no idea what was going on. But seeing how the men was running towards her direction, she had to defend herself. She took out a vial from her bag and threw it towards their direction. It shattered on impact, exuding a sweet musk to the air. The mercenaries took a whiff of it and immediately their muscles locked up, making them trip and fall down to the ground.
"W-wha-what's going on?"
"I-I can't move my body!"
Passion Perfume. A single whiff could induce all sorts of negative effects to the victim, depending on how you made it. And the effect this time around was paralysis.
Not all of them were hit with it however, so Ayesha still had to defend herself with her staff. And they soon learned that as dainty as Ayesha might look, she was not to be underestimated even in a close range fight. One by one Ayesha took them out, knocking them out with the steel part of said staff.
On the other side of the carriage, Wardes was fending off the mercenaries as well. The mercenaries weren't told that he was secretly on their side after all. And just like Ayesha, he had an easy time as well.
"If this is the best these people can do, there's no chance for them to take down Ayesha. Fouquet, where are you, Fouquet?" he thought to himself as he landed a finishing blow to one of the mercenaries.
And then, as if on cue, a massive earth golem suddenly fell down from the cliffs above. Its landing was enough to send a shockwave that threw everyone present off-balance, and it also caused the horses that had been pulling the carriage to panic and run away, carrying the wagon and all. Luckily, Louise had exited the carriage before it happened.
The mage-thief finally made her entrance, landing on the road with her perched on top of her golem.
"Hello, Miss Altugle. We meet again," she said with a mocking smile.
"M-Miss Fouquet?" Ayesha said, her expression failed to hide her surprise. "I-is that really you?"
With how tall the golem was, Ayesha had some difficulty identifying the figure standing on top of it.
"Indeed. Now, before you ask the reason why am I not in jail, I shall answer it to you. Simple. I was recruited by a certain person to do their dirty works, and one of said works is stopping you from going to Albion. So, if you would kindly return, I would let you go. How about it?"
Ayesha looked uncomfortably back towards the mage.
"N-no, I can't," she replied. "I have promised to stop the Reconquista and I couldn't just back down out of that. The person who asked you to do this… they belong to them, don't they?" she asked back. "They were the ones to free you, didn't you? A-and you're just doing this to repay the favor, don't you?"
It was clear from the expression on her face that she still believed she could talk Fouquet out of attacking her.
"So please, Miss Fouquet! I really have to do this!"
Fouquet replied with a look of disbelief, followed by a snide laugh.
"As naive as ever, I see. I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm doing this perfectly out of my own free will. I'm a fully fledged member of the Reconquista now."
It wasn't really true, of course. Ayesha guessed correctly. She never really cared for the cause and goals the Reconquista had.
She was only saying it to make Ayesha upset.
It really was quite odd. She couldn't help but admire her before but now, meeting her again, she also couldn't help feeling annoyed at her.
That purity, that innocence, it aggravated her.
Perhaps it was her tainted soul, unable to stand such a perfectly good person after living so long in the darkness.
"So, if you're not going to give up, then I'll just have to-"
"You! You're Longueville, aren't you? How dare you show off your face again? Your Reconquista friends have bailed you out from jail, haven't they?"
The mage was interrupted by Louise, who was clearly fuming at her presence.
"See, Ayesha? She really can't be trusted!" she said to her familiar. Louise knew how Ayesha had some sympathy towards her, which she found very foolish indeed. And on top of that, though she wouldn't admit it of course, she was feeling a pang of jealousy towards her as well.
"Ah, of course the spoiled little master is here too," Fouquet replied with a grin. "So, was you the one who convinced her to become yet another weapon of war for the nobility of Tristain? If so, great job! I didn't know you had it in you, deceiving her like that."
'Shut up, you criminal!" Louise shouted back. "I'm not deceiving her or anything like that! She's doing this out of her kindness towards Her Majesty! Indeed, she has personally asked me and her to deal with your bunch! And that's what we're going to do, after we're done with you! Ayesha, blow her up with your bombs! I give you permission to go all out!" She ended by pointing towards the golem with her wand.
Fouquet sighed. She couldn't help but feel bad for Ayesha for being stuck as a familiar for such a selfish master.
If it had been me, I would've treated her better for sure…
"Alright, that's enough of the chit chat," she declared. "It's time for me to take care of you both."
"Well, mostly taking care of your familiar," she added while grinning maliciously at Louise. "Against a zero like you, I have nothing to fear."
Once again, a remark she made just to make her opponent mad.
She didn't wait until Louise gave her response. Instead, she took the first strike, commanding her golem to land its fist right above Ayesha.
The alchemist dodged in time, of course, just as she had expected. Thus she followed with another punch, and another, and another.
Her plan was simple. She would never give her the time to use any of her magic tools.
"Ayesha!" Louise shouted. She quickly drew her wand, chanted an offensive spell…
Only for it to blow up on her face.
"Grrr, not now!" She screamed in desperation, even punching her left fist to the ground. Ayesha needed her yet she couldn't do anything!
Oh, that's right! She still had those!
And by those, she meant the bombs she had synthesized through alchemy, after Ayesha taught her how to. They were just the most basic of bombs though.
Oh, thank the Founder they didn't blow up when I failed my spell!, she thought as she reached into the sling bag she had been carrying. It was an ordinary leather bag, unlike Ayesha's, so it couldn't carry many bombs.
She took out one as fast as she could. She had been taught by Ayesha on how to use it. She just had to pull out the pin and threw it towards the thing she wanted to blow up. She had to have the timing right though as if she was too late in throwing it, she would blow herself up.
Calm down, Louise, calm down! Remember what she said! "Remain calm and don't rush. Assess the situation and wait for the opportunity to strike."
As Louise waited for an opening to throw the grenade in her hand however, so too was Wardes waiting for the opportunity to strike at the alchemist.
He had managed to lose the attention of the pair thanks to the arrival of the thief mage. He had expected for Louise to go ask for his help right away, but surprisingly, the little girl was now entirely focused on her own efforts to help her familiar.
Hmph, I guess the little lady has grew up a little.
It was all the better for him though so he wouldn't complain about it.
He watched as Ayesha kept dodging the golem's blows. He knew perfectly well that she hadn't really been seriously fighting. And it seemed it was thanks to her having some sort of kinship towards Fouquet.
Oh, how lucky he was. This was another development he had not expected at all.
"What's the matter, Ayesha? Why aren't you fighting back?" Fouquet said with a gleeful smile on her face.
Ayesha didn't answer her taunt right away. Instead, she dodged yet another ferocious blow from the golem, using the levitation spell in the process.
"I think I know why you're working for them," she finally spoke. "Your orphanage… They're in Albion, right? You must be afraid that they would do something bad of them if you didn't do as they asked."
Fouquet couldn't help but be taken aback by her response.
Her expression had changed. From her usual naive one to a discerning, determined look.
And her guess… she was right. They knew who she was and where she had sent the money she got from her thieving acts.
"Well done," she replied, still keeping her grin. "You guessed right. But that's not just my reason why I would work for them."
Her golem threw another punch. This time however, thanks to her being in mid-air, she couldn't dodge in time. She had to block the blow with her staff, and the force threw her to the cliff wall behind her.
"Ayesha!" Louise shouted. "Grr, take this you dumb rock!"
She finally threw the grenade, and Fouquet, being too preoccupied with Ayesha, didn't notice until it was too late.
The bomb exploded right under the golem. It was just the most basic bomb so it wasn't enough to destroy the golem, but it was enough to turn it unbalanced as it destroyed part of its left leg.
"W-what?" Fouquet said, taken aback by the surprise attack.
She wasn't the only one doing a surprise attack however.
Wardes rushed in, sensing weakness in Ayesha. At range, he fired off his magic; a spear made of wind flying right towards the alchemist from behind.
Ayesha's eyes widened in shock. Blood spurted out of her mouth.
She looked down. She saw her own blood trickling down from her stomach.
Wardes smiled. He hadn't stopped his run. He would finish her, before he could use any of her healing item.
Ayesha turned around. With a dumbfounded look, she looked at Wardes. Immediately she knew who had attacked her.
Sure enough, as he had predicted, the familiar vial of liquid popped out from her bag. But he had readied another wind spell. And with it, he launched another attack at her, aiming straight towards her head this time.
It landed right before she could take a drink off the vial.
The vial shattered as it hit the ground.
And Ayesha… Ayesha was sent flying away, crashing to the nearby cliff once more.
And now, there was a new fresh wound straight on her forehead. Blood trickled out of it as well, to her nose, cheeks, and even her lips and chin.
And she was not standing back up.
Wardes couldn't help but to flash a grin.
He did it. He had killed the Mjöðvitnir.
He turned around, staring right towards Louise.
It was unfortunate, but she too had to be taken care of.
Louise couldn't believe her eyes.
She could only freeze as she witnessed Wardes assaulting Ayesha from behind.
She wanted to shout. She wanted to run to stop her fiancee.
However, her legs refused to move. And her voice refused to come out.
It was as if she was in a nightmare.
Only when Wardes finished and turned towards her, that she could utter her words.
But instead of a scream of rage and anger, it instead was a simple, "W-why?"
She should be angry. But instead, she could feel tears streaming down her face.
"It's simple, my dear," Wardes replied with a smile. "I too am a part of Reconquista. And you and your familiar… you both pose a threat towards us. A threat that I have to eliminate. Originally, I thought I could've controlled you by marrying you, but that plan went out of the window thanks to that familiar of yours. So, I have to reveal my cards early, as I can't let her threaten our forces with her strange magic."
He started walking towards Louise. The little mage slowly backed off with difficulty, as her legs felt like jelly, all wobbly and unsteady.
"And now, I have to put you to sleep as well. Good night, my sweet little Louise."
He started chanting a spell. He aimed his wand straight towards her.
But then, he noticed something peculiar. A shadow covering the ground he was walking on. And it was growing bigger by the second.
And before he could even look up, all turned black for him.
When the second spell connected, Ayesha really was not ready for it in the slightest.
Wardes' sudden betrayal and the following ambush took her by surprise completely. Her being so focused at Fouquet certainly didn't help matters either.
And so she was sent flying by it, with her head being pierced by the wind spear.
She should've died right then and there, with a hole on her head and the brain inside scrambled horribly.
However, she didn't die. She didn't even lose her consciousness.
All thanks to Oblivion Power.
It was one of the alchemic properties attached to her outfit. It allowed her to miraculously survive any fatal blow just barely without losing consciousness. This made Wardes' blow to swerve just enough so that it didn't land a fatal blow on her brain.
It wouldn't always trigger however so she couldn't really rely on it.
So today, her luck was quite good indeed.
It was a property obtained from the remnants of an artificially created life by the alchemists of the past. It was an example of just how advanced alchemy used to be. It was said that the best alchemists could manipulate causality itself. And this was a fine example of that ability.
Wardes thought that he had killed her. She was indeed not moving, and there was indeed a hole on her forehead bleeding out blood. But she was actually pretending to be dead, waiting until he turned his back on her before calling one of her self-administering elixirs with her mind. Even if she wanted to, she couldn't move an inch of her body. She was barely keeping herself conscious, as if she went under, the living elixir wouldn't be able to move and she would really be dead.
The elixir went out flying from her bag and splashed its content on her wounds.
And they all immediately healed themselves, even the wounds that her brain had received.
It was another miracle from the golden era of alchemy. A medicine that could instantly heal any wounds, no matter how fatal.
No wonder people lived such long and blessed lives back then. It was truly the golden age of humanity.
Fouquet of course, saw this all happening.
And yet, she said and did nothing. She didn't warn Wardes or try to stop Ayesha from healing herself.
Why, you may ask? She too did not know exactly why.
But when she watched as Ayesha had Wardes' wind spear piercing through her head, her blood run cold. And when she found that somehow, Ayesha had survived that, she couldn't help but feel a sense of relief from it.
It seemed that without the person herself knowing it, she had grown attached to the alchemist.
After Ayesha healed herself, she looked across the field. And she noticed how Wardes was approaching Louise.
No doubt he was intending to attack her next.
She had to stop it. And knowing how dangerous Wardes could be, she couldn't pull her punches anymore.
In the back of her mind, she knew that she might just end up killing him by doing this. But she didn't care. She had to save Louise at all costs!
And so she took out a Himmel Schenk from her bag. She raised it up to the skies, and said, "O stars from the skies, come flying down!"
Of course, what came down was not actual stars themselves.
But it was a giant heavy rock in shape of a slag from her world.
When Wardes realized it, it was already too late for him.
It crashed into him head on, shattering his head before crushing the rest of his body.
Ayesha was right. The tool really ended up killing him.
Louise fell down to her knees. Her entire body shook; a mixture of relief, fear, and horror expressed on her face.
She had no idea what just happened, how she was saved from her apparently evil fiancee.
And now, her eyes were drawn to his mangled, bloodied body as the giant statue that had crushed him had shattered into a million pieces.
The poor girl was clearly in shock.
Which was why Ayesha immediately came over to her and embraced her from behind.
"Shh, it's alright… It's all over now…"
When she did, Louise immediately turned her face and cried onto her bosom.
They stayed like that for a while, with Ayesha gently patting Louise's head and back.
She gave a glance towards Fouquet. By how she was just sitting up there on her golem, looking at both of them with a surprised expression on her face, she had a hunch that she didn't want to continue fighting anymore.
So she let her be. Taking care of Louise was more important now after all.
"S-stupid familiar...I-I thought you were dead…" Louise said between her sobs.
"Hee hee, I guess I lucked out…" Ayesha replied with a smile.
"Stop with that stupid grin of yours!" Louise replied with anger. "You almost died, for the Founder's sake! Act more distraught like a normal person!"
Ayesha knew that Louise was just expressing how worried she was for her in her usual manner. Perhaps their familiar bond helped, but after spending quite some time with her, Ayesha felt she knew how Louise operated pretty well. Not to mention that she wasn't that hard to figure out in the first place. She was just an angry child that couldn't be honest with herself.
"Well, you killed him. You actually killed him."
Ayesha looked up to see Fouquet standing nearby, watching Wardes' lifeless corpse. She then turned towards her, and with a sigh, said, "This would complicate things for sure. But really, I'm surprised. I didn't think you were the murdering kind."
With a somber expression on her face, Ayesha replied, "I had to do it. I couldn't let Louise be harmed. And I couldn't hold back after what he almost did to me."
Fouquet grinned. She walked towards Ayesha and gave her a tap on her shoulder.
"Don't feel bad. He deserved it. I might work under him but I never really liked him."
With her magic, she then created a makeshift dirt mound that covered his corpse.
"There. You shouldn't bother digging a fancy grave for someone like him." she said proudly. "I know you would do it. No need to deny it. It's just who you are."
Ayesha didn't respond. She indeed was going to bury him. It would be terribly disrespectful for her to just leave his corpse lying there. He might be her enemy but it didn't mean she was cruel enough to do such a thing.
She then walked away from the two, climbing back on top of her golem.
"W-wait!" Ayesha shouted. "W-what would you do now?" Ayesha couldn't help but ask. "The orphanage you mentioned…"
Fouquet stopped. She didn't answer until a few seconds later.
"...I'll go back and protect them," she answered. "...You should continue your journey. No other agents of Reconquista are here to stop you."
"And I hope, whatever you have in mind, it would work to end this war."
And with that, she left with her golem, leaving her still immobilized subordinates behind. And Ayesha stayed like that with Louise until her tears dried.
And then, they resumed their journey, with Ayesha replacing Wardes as the carriage driver. Thankfully, it didn't sustain any notable damage and the panicked horses didn't carry it away that far so they could find and use it right away.
The two remained in silence for most of the remaining trip. Louise was still thinking about Wardes' betrayal while Ayesha was still distressed by the fact that she had killed a man. And using alchemy nonetheless. She remembered her teacher's words, about how the people of the past would use alchemy for evil. Did she just fall to the same path as her predecessors?
Louise on the other hand was still trying to rationalize in her head how and why Wardes would betray her and join the Reconquista. She still could hardly believe it, even after she calmed down.
She had suggested for them to turn back and cancel their plan, but Ayesha insisted, saying that with Wardes and Fouquet gone, it should be all smooth sailing towards their destination.
"You trusted what that traitor said?" Louise responded with disbelief, referring to Fouquet.
"Well, she didn't seem to lie," Ayesha replied with a smile. "And she let us go. I don't feel she's lying about both of it."
"And besides…" she said with an uncharacteristically serious expression that surprised Louise, "I have to end this conflict now. So that no more people fell victim to it."
That expression of hers left so much of an impression that it shut Louise down without another argument.
Around nighttime, they arrived at their destination; La Rochelle, the port town. They were promised a ship there to head to Albion and confront the Reconquista fleet. It would not be some fancy military ship however. It would be a civilian one. And it would be just a single ship.
Suffice to say, they were banking entirely on whatever power Ayesha claimed to possess.
They parked their carriage at the fanciest hotel in the city, the Goddess' Temple. It was a very fancy place even for a noble. The dining tables and floor were both made from the same marble and the floor was so clean that one could see their own face on it. Ayesha remembered Wardes saying that they would already have reservations there.
Thankfully, he didn't lie about it, though naturally one of the rooms remained unused. When asked about it, Ayesha just responded with a calm smile, saying how their companion couldn't make the trip.
Ah, sometimes she felt she had gotten a little too good with giving out white lies. Well, she learned it from her little sister, who was always the more tomboyish and mischievous of the two.
She then told Louise to go ahead to their room, as she wanted to go to the port to check whether or not their ship was ready.
The two of course shared one room. And they received the best room in the entire establishment. A welcome wine was given to them.
Maybe just a sip…
Ayesha couldn't help eyeing the bottle of wine. She was actually quite the lover of alcoholic beverage, ever since she was first introduced to it at her 21st birthday. But the problem was, she was terribly lightweight. Just a couple of sips could make her drunk. She actually fainted when she drank her first. Luckily, her friend was there to carry her to the bed safely.
In the end, the temptation won, and she poured herself a cup.
"Louise, you want a drink, too?" she offered her companion.
Only to find that she had thrown herself onto the large queen-sized bed, not even bothering to change out of her traveling clothes.
She must be tired, Ayesha smiled. Guess I'll have to be the one that undresses her.
She drank the cup in its entirety first before heading over to said bed. She sat beside Louise who was just staring at the ceiling as she laid down on the bed.
"Hey, Ayesha, why do you think Wardes… did what he did?"
Ayesha didn't answer right away. Instead, she started unbuttoning Louise's shirt, an act that younger girl was not averse to.
"I'm sure he had his reasons…" She finally spoke up. "But we might never learn about it now..."
Because I had ended his life.
Ayesha then helped Louise with taking off her shirt. The smaller girl didn't resist, raising her arms upwards so that Ayesha would be able to do it without a fuss.
Noticing Ayesha's sad expression, Louise quickly added, "I-it's not your fault! He almost got me there if you hadn't interfered! A-and a traitor like that totally deserved it!"
Ayesha smiled in return, albeit still a little forlornly. She knew that she was trying to comfort her.
"It's alright. It's what I have decided. And I still stand by that decision. I don't regret it in the slightest."
She then started unzipping Louise's skirt before pulling it down. Once again, Louise helped her with the act, wiggling her legs to make the fabric go through easier.
Louise fell silent. Once again, she examined her familiar's facial expressions.
"I wish I was as strong as you, Ayesha."
Out of the blue, she uttered those words.
It took Ayesha off guard. It was certainly an out-of-character thing for her to say.
"I… have been relying on other people all my life." Louise continued, still with a regretful expression. "It's not just Wardes. My sister and Henrietta too as well. And now, I rely on you, Ayesha." She looked up to her. "I wish I could be as strong as you. You could stand on your own two feet without anyone's help."
Hearing that, Ayesha paused. Louise was showing her vulnerability; something she would never show to another person. She knew she had to handle this correctly or else Louise would never open up to her again.
And so she decided that she had to receive her feelings in earnest. She sat beside her on the bed and laid down her right hand on her head, patting it, while her left gave a gentle grip on Louise's right.
"That's not true. I also had a lot of help from all kinds of people during my travels," she said with a calming smile. "You should not refuse help from others, Louise. Friendship isn't a sign of weakness. Strength isn't isolating yourself from others. Strength comes from your convictions."
"Convictions?" Louise replied.
"You live the way you want to, for something you believe in, no matter what. Even if others disagree with you for it," the alchemist explained gently.
"I see… I'll… try to do that…" Louise answered, still with an unsure tone.
"I'm sure you'll be able to do it," Ayesha smiled. She then brought out Louise's nightgown before helping her wear it. Just like before, Louise didn't resist in the slightest.
"Now that's over with… Haaaah, I suddenly felt sleepy and warm all of a sudden…" Ayesha said as she stretched and yawned. "Mmm, this bed looks so warm and comfortable…"
And then, she plopped her body right on said bed beside Louise, taking the younger girl by surprise.
"A-Ayesha?" Louise said in a worried tone.
"O-oh, I think… the wine might be getting to me…" Ayesha mumbled with a flushed face and an absent smile. "Even a sip like that is no good, huh? I-I guess I'm not getting any stronger with age.."
"T-the wine?" Louise replied. "Y-you're drunk?"
"I-I think so… B-but it's fine… J-just a little sleep a-and…."
And with those words, Ayesha fell into a deep slumber, all the while with a smile on her face.
"Oh, seriously?!" Louise exclaimed in disbelief. She was about to shake her to wake her up when a thought came up to her head.
She deserved a good rest.
They both did, after all that they had been through.
But Ayesha needed it the most, after fighting so hard to protect me. And after she… did what she had to do, she must be taxed mentally as well. Not to mention she had to drive the carriage for the rest of the road.
She stopped herself from doing so. Instead, with a honest and genuine smile so rare on her lips, she covered up her body with the bed's blanket all nice and cozy. Thankfully, she had taken off her sandals beforehand.
And then, she joined her, sleeping right beside her under the same blanket.
She only had pleasant dreams that night.
So you really trusted me that much… Once again, I don't know whether to call you naive or stupid.
Unbeknownst to the two, Fouquet was spying on them through the window. They had neglected to close the curtains, so she could peek in using her little telescope from the branches of a tree quite far away from their location.
She, of course, already knew where they would stay. She got the information from Wardes himself (his wind clone had arrived earlier). She also knew the ship they would board in.
There was, of course, a backup plan. The Reconquista would already be prepared for their ship if Wardes were to fail. He had sent a message to them describing the ship they would board on in detail.
Fouquet knew she could warn Ayesha of that fact, but she chose not to. She still needed a secure passage back home after all. For now, she couldn't blatantly betray her masters.
Show me your miracle, Ayesha Altugle!
With a smile on her face, she watched over the two all night.
She shared the same sentiment as Louise.
Ayesha deserved a long, deep rest.