Oookay, guys, its been a while but here's the next chapter of Zero Shock. With work, study and everything else in between I've drastically slowed down my writing output, and put ToyHammer on hiatus until I get the inspiration to churn out a new version, or continue the story. Either way, don't expect anything much from me. If you want to follow Zero's Shock, there's a more complete – if fractured - version of it on SpaceBattles.
Kirche smiled as Tabitha trailed behind her. The pair stepped into the main atrium of the tower, the taller of the two making note of the giant streak of molten stone that smouldered still. As they got closer, it was visible that it wasn't a deep gouge; barely deep enough to fit her palm into, but the grass around it was scorched dry, the steam condensing into a thin layer of water on the footpath and over the wall.
Such power... her hands shook. That man had been able to focus a fire spell that had cut through stone.
And was, if his later actions were to be believed, not that visibly tired from the experience.
Kirche let her head tilt in wonderment as she surveyed the damage; shattered segments of magically reinforced wall were scattered around, some as large as herself and buried halfway into the ground. Just how much magic had been thrown around by Jack of Rapture to create so much havoc? It would have certainly drained a lot of willpower; such reserves was a definite measure of a mage's endurance. The more willpower one had, the more they could cast.
It was plain that that man had incredible reserves of it.
"Amazing." The redhead purred as she ran her hand along the smooth gouge. It wasn't the first time she had seen something like this. Her family, after all, had a long history of producing many fine fire mages. She herself, with effort, could replicate such a spell, but that was it; the effort.
Anyone below a triangle mage would have been exhausted from the sheer control needed for projecting the flames into such small a diameter, let alone the heat of that intensity. It took little magic to create a hot flame; even dot-class mages were capable of melting stone with their fires. However, the splicer had not spared the use of such a powerful spell a second thought, and all to cut a golem in half. He had not even used a chant or spell, formed words or made the flowing gestures that would focus his willpower into the fire. He had simply thrust his arm forward, silent as the stone he would vaporize, and burned earth and stone into ashes.
Kirche tapped her chin thoughtfully. He must have incredible reserves indeed.
Tabitha stepped up, her thin hands reaching up for the handle of the door.
"Hurry." She warned.
"Right, lets go on, then. Do you have your spells ready?"
"Lets see what we can find out about that delicious man..."
"You know... Jack?"
Tabitha cocked her head to one side to see that the dragon behind her had its jaw dropped open, revealing sharklike teeth in the hundreds, though this was somewhat subdued by the bright, almost childish green eyes and excited chuffing noises that it made; almost like a kitten being mesmerized by a string ball.
The bluette swiftly gave the dragon a sharp stare.
= Headmaster's Office =
"Jack of Rapture." Osmond sighed. "Didn't I ask you to stay out of trouble? And, for that matter, to stop hurting our students and damaging our buildings? And didn't I ask you of that... sometime around yesterday afternoon?" Another sigh. "That quickly, really?"
"... sorry?" Jack ventured.
"Nice try." The headmaster chuckled. "You get half a mark for not hurting students, at least. That's something we can be thankful for. But, the fact remains that the Artifact Vault has been gutted, and a courtyard has – for the second time, I might add – been extensively damaged from that duel with the thief."
Osmond's smile soured slightly as he ran over the details of Jack and Foquet's rampage. Brief as it had been, the destruction to the locale had been extensive. "I suppose now we know why we fight wars away from the streets of our cities."
Jack frowned, not understanding. He had known nothing but combat on streets and in cities.
"Colbert and the rest of the research faculty have been sorting through all the debris, trying to recover as many artifacts as they could; with all the damage done, we don't know if any of those artifacts were stolen or simply scattered, and its going to take a while trying to account for all the items that were in the Vault... thankfully, Miss Longueville has recently been cataloguing its contents and we at least have a partial inventory to work through."
"I'm incredibly sorry for my familiar's actions, headmaster!" Louise spoke up, refusing to be ignored anymore. Despite his prominence, Jack was still her familiar! He was her responsibility, just as she was his master. That meant that she had to step up for this and take the blame... then, a small part of her mind grumbled, she'd take it out on him.
The pinkette executed a low bow as she made her apology. The headmaster quirked an eyebrow at her, curious. She took that as a cue to go on.
"We were surprised by Foquet, and... and..." And just what happened after that? Louise shrunk back, and sighed. Admit it, Zero. You were nothing but a damsel in distress. "And then my familiar tried to protect me."
"And why is that?" Asked the old mage.
"I... I accosted the thief." Louise explained. "My familiar... helped me."
"Obviously, he succeeded in that." Osmond chuckled, bowing slightly to the splicer. "Knowing that, I do believe that even though you did get into a dangerous situation in a very silly manner, this was for the right reasons; as for your familiar, protecting his master issomething which I cannot blame him for; Foquet of the Crumbling Dirt would have no doubt made off with many more of the priceless artifacts had she..."
He paused, and them smiled.
"... had you not destroyed them first." The headmaster finished.
The pinkette whipped around fast enough to slap the splicer with her long hair, and Jack briefly sputtered as he sighed. "Ah... wait... what!"
"You destroyed several priceless artifacts." Intoned the greying mage. The shocked girl's surprise was being slowly converted into distilled rage. "Very expensive artifacts..." He repeated, grinning at Jack all the while.
The splicer narrowed his eyes, though his stance showed more resigned acceptance than defiance.
"The thief started it." Jack retorted, raising his hand. Longueville flinched as the splicer's hand passed over her to point out the window, where Foquet had disappeared into the surrounding forests. It was hard to miss, the giant swathe of felled trees and giant footprints, which suddenly stopped as the golem had passed out of sight and the thief had released her hold on them, letting the golem crumble back into their base materials.
"That doesn't matter, you... you..." Finding a word to reprimand her familiar with that would not end with her getting reprimanded herself was... difficult.
"Careless?" Suggested the headmaster. Louise nodded eagerly. Yeah, that worked.
"... careless familiar!" Roared the tiny pinkette. "You can't just go destroying whatever you want! I mean, that thing with Guiche was bad enough already, with you running off and almost killing the stupid fop! How do you explain that!"
"Plasmids." Jack replied, holding up his left arm. Louise – as well as the assembled staff - flinched back, remembering how those bees had simply crawled out from underneath the man's skin. That was seriously disturbing, to say the least.
"Well, Jack of Rapture," The old man interrupted. "I must admit that I had been curious as to what exactly those artifacts would do, I am disappointed at the destruction of the Azure Orb. And everything else. Such as the wall. It had been enchanted by a gathering of nearly two dozen mages, according to our lore, and had stood there for almost three centuries. Then, in two days' time from your arrival, you have destroyed half of it."
"Ah..." The splicer didn't know why, but suddenly the urge to apologize was there. He felt... small. That headmaster's gaze was now weighted by years, he realized, and not only his authority. A very subtle, but significant change from the more feeble looking man that he had first encountered. Jack bowed his head slightly, and sighed.
"And, there is the matter of – of the ward-spells are correct – you throwing the Azure Orb at the Thief."
"It was a weapon." The splicer countered.
"Aye, partner, and a weapon is made to be used." Chuckled the sword on Jack's back. Osmond raised a curious eyebrow at this, and the blade slipped an inch of its steel free of the leather scabbard that held it. "And given the bang that we got out of it, I'd say that your 'Azure Orb' was quite the weapon."
"And what about the wall, Jack of Rapture? How do you explain that? Was that a weapon too?"
"Thief did it." Jack retorted.
"Fortunately." Sighed the Headmaster. "I can put the blame for the damages to the vault on that thief, Foquet." Osmond's voice grew colder, taking on a warning tone. "But – off the record – I'm warning you that I can't... well, more accurately that I won't make excuses for you if you cause another incident such as this one."
Jack's nod showed his understanding of the warning. "Sure."
"Familiar! You will address the headmaster as is proper! Don't just go dismissing him like that!" Roared the pinkette. "You disrespectful, careless..." Rage overtaking caution, she seized his shirt, dragging the man lower t- wait, did he just flinch? A grimace of pain had crossed his features, and Louise felt more than saw the full body twitch that lifted his heels a hair's breadth off the floor.
The pinkette sprang back from her familiar, her hands turning over as she inspected the fair skin over her knuckles, now dabbed with a pattern of blood across her fingers. Her familiar's blood. "Wait... you're hurt?"
Jack shrugged at the sprinkling of blood that had seeped through his shirt, inspecting the unseen wound underneath, and nodded. "Yeah."
The pinkette stepped closer to her familiar. "... you don't act hurt."
"I... I think we'll have to go now, headmaster." She whispered quietly, as if only to herself.
"Ah... I- I too, headmaster." Stammered the secretary. She seemed nervous, but plunged on ahead. "I'll see to it that Miss Valliere and her familiar get to the hospital wing."
"Agreed. Miss Longueville, please ensure that the two arrive safely."
= Sinclair Solutions Lab 4 'Green Room' =
A can of soup clanged off the Big Daddy armor, which housed the rather battered Leeroy inside. Where he had managed to procure the armor, nobody knew, but what they did know was that he was refusing to get out when being tested. Or, after a few more incidents, ever come out at all.
Behind almost half a foot of hand-crafted glass, Sal sipped a cup of coffee, lukewarm now, and then popped a sugar cube into his mouth, chewing on it. He was half-slouched into his chair, a functional but comfortable wooden curly thing that creaked as he shifted his weight on it. He set down the mug on the nearby table, and watched Sinclair carefully as the portly older man stepped into the room and sat down.
The steward – the King of Rapture's right hand man, so to speak – spoke first, breaking the ice off a nearby pipe and flicking it carefully off into a hole in the nearby wall. "So, we can send stuff to him." He observed, nodding towards a pile of research notes, as well as the wall of glued-on paper scraps that now outlined the designs for a new 'anti-Vita-Chamber'.
"There's a time delay, though." Sinclair explained. "For example, we sent that can of soup an hour ago. And not just a delay. We have a few things that arrived before they were sent."
The scientist held up an audio diary from a nearby pile marked 'CAREFUL!', and hit the play button on the stamped metal keys.
"January the ninth, ninety sixty one... eighteen past eleven pm. This is test number eight, we're sending through an audio diary. If you find this, please return to Sinclair So-" Salvatore gawked as Sinclair tapped the stop button and sat there smugly. Both heads turned to the large clock set into one wall. Just below the bloodied crossbow bolt.
"That's... five hours from now." He observed dryly, pulling out a pocket watch to check again. "Well I'll be damned."
"... that's kinda scary, isn't it?" Grinned Sinclair. "That we can send things back in time, rather than have it delayed and re-appear later on in time."
The steward's eyes widened as he digested the implications of such an ability. "Imagine what we could do if we could send someone back." Sal murmured. "Stop Ryan, stop Fontaine... heck, we might even be able to stop Rapture from happening at all."
"Ah, but what are the implications of that?" Sinclair chided. "If we went back in time and made it so that they didn't exist, neither would Jack. And if Jack didn't exist, we wouldn't be where we are today. I'm no scientist, but I do know a little about 'cause and effect' here. Its a damned nuisance, this time travelling thing. We're working to get rid of it. Tweaking it around so that we can be more bang on. Or at least stop sending things into the past. That's a huge problem for us now."
"No. Sinclair, you were hired to bring back Jack Ryan, not send people back in time so that you can go slap Andy Ryan silly, or piss in his tea, or make a quick buck from the whale races or clever investments. That can be a project for another time but until then, until then... we focus on bringing back Jack Ryan."
A shrug. Sal tapped his chin thoughtfully, adding another sugar cube – the fifth – into the coffee in an attempt to get some flavor out of the bland mixture. "We are sinking so much time and effort into finding him again. No distractions. What else have you sent?"
"So far, we've gotten something from a day ahead. This is really helping with our schedule, since we know what to send and when. For example, I do know that we're sending that audio diary through in a few hours' time."
"Then... are we going to try sending something to Jack?"
"We most certainly will. A care package, wherever he may be. I do believe that we've found him, and now its only a matter of time before we can reach him. As soon as we've sorted a power supply and finished modifying the Vita-Chamber, we can send something through."
"Good. Make sure these are in whatever package you send." Sal murmured, pulling a small package from the folds of his coat. A bundle of letters, bound in ribbon. Crayon drawings and scraps of paper peeked out from inside. Sinclair picked them up thoughtfully, and placed them carefully inside a small case, already full with an audio diary and several tapes.
"We're not telling everyone that we're sending things out to Jack, just yet. Don't want to get their hopes up in case this attempt fails." He murmured. "We're gonna send a few audio diaries through, see if we can get them t-"
There was a brief clang as an audio diary dropped down from above, hitting the annoyed Leeroy on the head.
"to land less violently. Would be a pity if we sent through something that killed him." He murmured. "I do believe that test was done with a running audio diary, see if it actually experiences any time... in between its destination and the vita chamber. Want to come with? Lets see the results."
Both stood, and made their way through to the next room. The setup was different this time, with a half assembled Vita-Chamber sitting in the middle, with a raised platform on one end of the room. It had an attached slide, which was used to launch items into the glowing sphere of cyan energies.
There was also a rack of weapons nearby, on a wall beside the entranceway. Shotguns (00 buck) and pistols (marked with armor piercing rounds), mostly, with a few of the newly recovered Pilum rocket launchers.
"I notice that you have a large number of weapons in the room."
"We figured that since we're sending things through to wherever Jack is," Sinclair began, "that it can work both ways, and someone on the other side might be able to send stuff back. And if its something nasty, well... we'll be able to handle it rather than... ah, what was it that O'Neill said? 'Get caught with our pants down'?"
At the mention of the subordinate he had sent to safeguard this place, Sal grinned. "Yeah, sounds like something he'd say."
Continuing his inspection Salvatore spotted Leeroy set up on the other end of the room. He waved, weakly, and the steward nodded his head in response. An apple – part of the planned tests for biological materials being sent through – smattered itself on his head. Sal smiled sympathetically as Leeroy scraped the juices off his faceplate.
"This sucks." He muttered.
"You're getting a lot of money for it, though. Cheer up, you got a nice fat pile of cash waiting for you when we're done." Sinclair grinned, trying to be reassuring.
"Screw money, I had dignity. Give me that back and..." A second apple hit him. "Ah, goddammit. I give up."
Sal sighed sympathetically. "... stay strong, Leeroy."
= Tristain Academy Hospital Wing =
As the three of them moved down the stone hallways of the Academy, Louise glanced at her familiar, who was keeping pace with her, as opposed to a more gentle pace of a man with tender ribs. Was he truly injured? Or playing it up for the headmaster? No, the pinkette concluded; he couldn't have. Too much being thrown around by golems for him to be entirely faking it, and she had not seen anything that suggested that he might be so much tougher than the average man that he would be able to simply take those hits and keep going unbruised.
Upon closer inspection, she saw how he seemed less animated, more cautious. His arms weren't resting at his sides, but rather were kept an inch or two away from his hips; to keep him from scraping the bruises underneath.
The pinkette shuddered at the sudden memory, as if someone had simply dropped a chunk of ice into her stomach. Those first, disastrous days. A new wand, shattered. Glass turned to a hundred knives the size of her fingernails. Wood splintering into javelins. Debris that clawed out at her, as if punishing her for her failures as a mage. Louise bit back the sudden tears as she remembered those long, lonely days in her bedroom.
"Stupid familiar." She muttered to her self, at a quietness that only she could hear. "Making me remember..."
They rounded a corner, Louise falling behind slightly as the secretary rushed ahead.
"Hospital wing." Longueville (mock?)-declared as she opened the doors to the wards, quickly ushering the battered splicer into the treatment room. Jack unslung the scabbarded sword and his wrench, setting them down on a nearby bench as he stepped into the healers' domain. There were always a pair of water mages operating the clinic, and one of them now gestured for Jack to sit on the table; it was a low bed, heavily stuffed so that the splicer didn't sit so much as sunk into the cool sheets that were offered to him. He brushed his fingers against the sheets; waterpoof, he realized. The green haired secretary stepped back, drawing the curtain closed as she sealed the healer, splicer and master inside of their cubicle with her. Sitting on a borrowed stool, the secretary seemed to fade into the background as the water mage instructed her familiar to show him his wounds.
Louise couldn't help but blush slightly as the man – her familiar, she reminded herself – stripped off his clothes from the waist up. His clothing had been bulky and thick, hiding much of his physique. However, Tristanian fashions tended to leave clues about one's build. Unlike the more rotund and filling nobles, or the thin-armed, sickly-faced commoners, her familiar was well muscled, certainly built like those old and weathered statues of mythical figures. The Founder's Sword, the Hero Ivaldi... she could easily imagine him as one of those transmuted stone figures, standing tall and proud and... Louise snapped herself free of her daze as the crackling of newly formed ice was accompanied by the yelp of the mage trying to treat her familiar. A very cautious looking Jack was gripping what could only be a knife made of ice, snapped off from the newly formed icicle that lead from a jug of medicinal water that the healer had... oh.
"Jack! No! Bad familiar!" Louise shouted, jumping up as the ice knife angled itself away from the healer. Jack backed away, clearly surprised at his own sudden violence. Meanwhile, Longueville had all but fallen off her chair, stumbling back into the healer's desk as her wand centred itself on the splicer's chest. Jack blinked at the wand, which was quickly removed as the secretary flushed red.
"O-oh my..." She quavered, stepping away from the splicer's gaze. "Ice... you aren't just a fire mage? Just how many elements can you stack? What are you?"
"Surprised." The splicer grunted as he released the ice-knife, handing it back to the equally surprised healer.
Testing it, the healer drew the knife across a scrap of parchment. The piece bisected neatly at first, but the melting blade soon simply slid across the parchment.
"Oh. That's fortunate." He muttered to himself.
"Stabbing, not slashing." Jack informed him, miming an action that would send the slender blade slipping between ribs and into internal organs. The healer paled, but nodded anyway as he dumped the blade into a jar of water with a little splash.
"Jack, no teaching the healer how to stab people" Grumbled the Valliere scion as she returned to her seat, allowing the rather nervous healer to step forward and begin his work. "... did I really just say that?"
A sigh, more growl, escaped the pinkette's lips. This familiar... this familiar was really irritating her now. Dozens of punishments ran through the girl's head, even as another (much more vocal) part reminded her shouted that it would be a trivial thing for him to all but snap her frail frame in two, given that he did the same to a golem.
It took about a minute of prodding and poking (something that caused the passive Jack great discomfort at what seemed to be the healer's growing amusement), it was apparent that his injuries... weren't actually that bad. Moving away from the agitated splicer, the doctor began to file through hastily scribbled notes that he had been scratching out as he inspected the man's wounds.
"... you know, Miss Valliere here had me worried." Fussed the water mage. "She was going on like you were a dying man, Jack of Rapture. You've got a lot of bruising, that is certain, and I can heal most of these injuries easily; stitch the bone together, clean up the bruises and seal the scrapes, but its going to take a while; see how tender it is?"
Jack flinched again as a formerly cracked but now healed up to 'bruised' rib was given a gentle yet still painful jab. He nodded sharply, to indicate his understanding, being unable to move his arms or shoulders thanks to the layer of cool water now folded around his torso. The healer continued to work his magic, which felt like an ice-cold hand sweeping over his chest.
"It will be an hour or so." The healer concluded. "So take a seat there, and let the water do the work."
Jack nodded, rising up from his seat and letting the water continue to flow around him as he settled into a bed – one with a similarly waterproofed sheet - and joined in the prodding, testing his organs as the bruises began to fade; the smaller of the cuts were gone completely.
"I have to ask..." The secretary broke the silence no more than a minute after they had lapsed into its embrace. "... are you always that... alert?"
"No." Jack shook his head a little, still splashing around the cool waters as they attempted to heal his skin.
"Ah... I see. I am guessing this is the pain, then?"
"... maybe." Jack spoke in what Louise was rapidly realizing was a sheepish tone. "Sorry."
"Well, don't let anyone get hurt, I suppose." Squeezed out the green-haired secretary. "Are you often so hurt? I notice that you were acting like those injuries weren't even there, before Miss Valliere... ah, uncovered them."
"Accidents? I take it that you are very active, then? What do you do for a living, Jack of Rapture?"
"Salvage." Jack supplied.
"And what exactly do you salvage? That... is not exactly the role of a noble." The secretary observed. Certainly, there were stories and sometimes news of nobles and knights that would undertake quests, or wander the earth in their travels for treasure, and it was a popular – if dangerous – 'sport' among the more martial families to bring back artifacts to prove their worth. However... that was called 'adventure' rather than 'salvage'. In fact, 'salvage' had implications of looting... which, of course, carried connotations of 'criminal'.
"Anything. Steel, wood and food..." Jack paused as the list stretched out before him. He frowned, thoughtfully. Anything even partially intact was salvaged by his team. As Sal had once put it; 'if it isn't nailed down, take it. If it is nailed down, use a crowbar or something other than that wrench of yours'. Essentially anything that could aid in the rebuilding of Rapture – whether as building materials or as food to feed the builders – would be taken and processed at one of the old soup kitchens set up around Rapture. Then it was distributed as needed across the city.
"Ah, I see. What happened to your Rapture, that they needed someone like you to work a job like that?"
That answer, more than any other, chilled the green-haired secretary
"S-still... was everything getting better back there?" Spoke up Louise, arching an eyebrow as Jack returned to poking a bruise on his shoulder blade. "When you... when you left?"
Or, more accurately, when I took you. Louise, at times, hated that voice in her head.
"Yes." Jack nodded, speaking with a conviction that belied his own doubts. Sometimes, Sal had wondered; were they truly helping, or simply prolonging the suffering of the broken city before it finally fell to the depths of the sea?
Never mind that, Tenenbaum had said. There were people that need help.
"And what of your Rapture now?" Queried the green-haired secretary beside him.
"... I don't know."
A pitying look entered Longueville's eyes, even as she daintily placed a hand to her collarbone a sympathetic breath filling her lungs. "It must be painful. To be separated from your home, I mean."
Jack remained silent, for a moment, then nodded quietly. "... yes."
"And... I also presume that it would be the same for family, too."
Louise wordlessly growled, grinding her teeth.
The green haired secretary quirked a head to the side; "... tell me about them?"
"Are you sure this is appropriate?" Snapped the pinkette.
Longueville paused, as if unsure. "I'm sorry... I was merely curious..."
"Its fine." Jack finalized, also poking at a disappeared wound on his arm; it had been a gash, sliced open by stray debris when he had been punched out of the tower by a golem. Now it was all but gone; including some of the scarring on his forearm, too. Jack idly traced where the scarring would have been, and now he chose to sigh.
Louise frowned. Her familiar didn't sound it.
Then again, he was recovering from several injuries that – thankfully – required only the attentions of a water mage, and none of the more expensive reagents used for healing.
"And... I believe this would be my queue to leave." Smiled Longueville, if a little awkwardly.
= The Headmaster's Office =
As Longueville left the view of the ball that he was scrying from, Osmond gave a short hum while he stayed deep in thought. This Jack was becoming an ever more interesting part of his worries. To be fair, the interesting part was what kept the man from simply bumping the matter up a few ranks and letting Henrietta solve the problem for him. Instead, he turned to face the balding Jean Colbert, who was tapping the crystal ball with some worry.
"You have this locked on to Miss Longueville?" He asked incredulously, sputtering as his analytical mind crunched through the spellwork that was wrapped around the orb of crystal and glass. It was not as ornate as crystal balls usually were, a simple brass cup holding up, padded from scratching the ball by a simple circle of velvety fabric. "Isn't that..."
"If you want to have a turn, you are more than welcome to have a peek." Ribbed the headmaster, knowing full well that the mage-teacher before him would refuse. Especially should he discover that Longueville had put up wards somewhere; she was invisible past a certain point. This worried him, though less so than the fact that she had lain down mousetraps around underneath her desk.
Jean flushed red. Osmond chuckled: the man always did have a dampening streak of caution the width of Tristania, completely at odds with the popular myth of fire users and their personalities, though doubtless that would have not been true a handful of decades ago. "And don't worry about me being obsessed, Jean, she is not the only one it is locked on to."
"... you know, this should worry me even more." Deadpanned Colbert, even as he settled back down into a seat. "We are in a school here, full of students of all ages."
"None of which have been at the attentions of my crystal ball, I'd wager my beard on that."
"That doesn't reassure me." Sighed Jean.
And so the teasing would continue: "And so it shouldn't coming from an old man like me~!" Singsonged the headmaster as he walked over to a tray, and poured out a pair of cups for the two of them.
"We do have more concerning matters." The teacher quickly returned. He accepted the poffered cup of tea. He breathed its aroma for a moment, before returning to the conversation.
Osmond made a face more commonly suited to having tasted gutter swill than the frankly excellent tea he had served himself. "Yes, indeed we do." The crystal ball alighted again to the man's touch, showing Jack speaking with his pink haired master. Some argument or another about his recklessness, or her loss of face in light of his actions. The familiar reflects the mage, or something such as that. He had seen overzealous students make that speech again and again to countless familiars, some of which were to never truly understand those words. Knowing what was coming long before it reached Jack's ears, he gave the crystal ball a tap and closed it. "Again our mysterious man proves ever the more puzzling." Chuckled the headmaster.
A nod was the only reply Jean Colbert gave in return. "Yes, yes he does... grow on you, doesn't he?"
The headmaster cackled as he turned to his window, now neatly bisected by a narrow beam of fire. "Impressed, or jealous?"
"To be fair, a little of both. I envy his control." The fire mage admitted, briefly reminding the headmaster of the scorching the man had given the castle walls. "I would certainly fear to see what his homeland was like, to produce someone such as he, though I had gotten to thinking that maybe miss Valliere has done their world a favor by removing a monster from it."
"Calling people names now, are we? I recall you cracking down hard on such things a year back, Jean the Flame Snake."
A frown crossed his features. "Old Man Osmond..." Was his vague plea and crude attempt at verbal riposte.
In answer, the headmaster laughed briefly, then returned to scanning the inventory of missing items. His frown creased as he neared the bottom of the list. "Though I must admit that she may have also removed a leader of some kind. You saw how he walked, and talked."
Both nodded, remembering their first meeting with the lean, sharp-eyed man.
"If so, I believe Henrietta would like to meet him."
"She will have to, eventually, but do not think they will meet so soon. For now, the hunt for Foquet is causing quite a stir, and should be our focus."
"Especially given the items stolen." Jean intoned gravely.
A sigh. "Them?"
"Them." The teacher confirmed.
A wince. "Three."
"Well, we'll have to get word out in the morning, then."
= Hospital Wing =
The pinkette had turned suddenly when the water had suddenly began to flow from his body, leaving his unmarked torso bare to the air around him. Jack had shivered, and was now reaching out for his clothes, tugging his ragged sweater over his neck, moving with a fluidity that had been missing while he had been hurt. Silently, Louise cursed herself. The familiar reflected the mage, certainly, but the treatment of one's familiar also reflected the mage. Mother had never let anyone else groom her manticores, a task she reserved for herself. While Louise thought doing the same was grossly inappropriate, the fact still remained that she had been neglectful of this man... no, her familiar.
Ugh. This again? Louise's face curled up, as if forcing the words from her lips. "Jack."
"Yes?" A small twitch at the corner of his mouth. Louise's cheeks burned a she realized how much her familiar was enjoying her... her humiliation. That was it! Humiliation!
"You..." She frowned, and fell silent as Jack rose, drawing aside curtains and stepping out into the corridor, as it were.
Something yelped, jumping back. There was a curse, and someone tripped over the long black robes traditional for the students here, and soon enough a busty redhead and her shorter, blue-haired companion tumbled across the floor, the latter of which ahead of the former. From where they landed, the bluette was then put through a series of pressures and movements that men would have paid to experience, even as the tanned Germanian girl righted herself again.
She giggled unashamedly as stood, her face framed with a tenderly placed hand, her other arm moving to cup her elbow, pushing up her bounties as her hips twisted to pull the rest of her figure into profile.
It was something almost practised, given how many times she had used it. There were few if any men that could cme through the experience unscathed.
Two seconds later, it failed completely as Jack turned away, and picked up – although given her state the man actually had to peel her – the dazed Tabitha off the floor.
"Alright?" He asked.
"Yes." She answered.
"Stunned." Jack observed.
"Yes." She nodded.
"Chair?" He offered.
"Please." Tabitha accepted.
She stood, dusting her robe and then producing a book from within them. The bluette sat down neatly on the chair by the window, and fell silent once more. Jack returned to his bed, and glanced at the two.
Kirche huffed like an extinguished candle.
"Well, pooh. If little girls interested you more than these." She shifted her arms slightly, allowing the material of her shirt to pull tighter against her chest. "Then you could have just said."
Louise flushed cherry red. "Zerbst, just what are you sayi-"
"Mind you, that was the longest conversation I'd ever heard from Tabitha." The Germanian continued, completely ignoring the Valliere scion. "She really must be taken to you."
"Really?" Jack queried.
"Really." Echoed the grinning redhead.
The splicer nodded. "Ah."
"Yes." Tabitha added, flipping a page. She stared at it briefly, then flipped the page again, continuing. Something seemed to strike her, and she glanced briefly at Jack. "Talk, I mean."
"See? She likes you; she's even in denial about it!" Gushed the Zerbst redhead. "She's even in denial about it! To be honest, its about time she got herself a good man underneath her... And what. A. Man! Much more impressive than those Tristanian boys I've been leading on these past two years."
"Zerbst..." Louise growled, tone full of warning. "Just what are you saying about my countrymen?"
"Oh really, darling, all that I'm saying is that your men are so soft." She mimed cupping a ball in one hand. "Like putty, the lot of them." The Germanian pretended to squeeze, then giggled. "No endurance, no creativity... a disappointing lot, it seems."
From behind a curtain, there was an offended, shrill "Hey!"
Jack nodded. "Guiche."
Louise drew back the curtain, revealing a mass of bandages and blonde hair.
"Mind your own business!" She shouted, then ripped them back closed to vague protests.
"Right." Kirche chuckled, keeping her 'seduce men' pose, she waggled a finger back and forth. "Where was I..."
The pinkette continued fuming.
"Soft." Jack prompted.
"Good boy, paying attention." She purred, all but flowing like molten lava across the room to meet him, curling her arms around his waist as she planted herself onto his lap. "Now what would you like for a reward?"
The pinkette all but exploded through the force of her sheer indignity. "Zerbst, you go too far! Get off him!"
"Valliere, you don't go far enough!" Laughed the Germanian girl. "The world is boring enough as it is without you panties-in-a-twist Tristanians, you don't have to ruin the fun of others as well as yourselves!"
Beet red now, Louise screeched in horror. "Have you no sense of shame?"
"Have you no sense of fun?" Kirche returned.
"Have you no sense of 'let the patients rest'? Whined Guiche from behind the curtain.
"... outside." Jack sighed, grabbing both girls by the collar and marching them outside. He set them both down outside the entrance to the hospital wing, and then simply shut the door in their faces.
"'ello, partner." Chirped the sword.
"Derf." Jack murmured in response.
"Just you wait: Two... one..." Sang the blade.
The arguing began a new. Jack buried his face in his hand, and sunk back into his bed.
He glanced briefly at the bluette still reading at his bedside.
"Always?" He asked.
"Always." She sighed.
Jack winced as a scream shook the windows. "My sympathy."
A brief nod, as a book was produced and flipped open.