Author's Note: OK, so...I meant to post this last week...but shit happened. I got over 8000 emails from FF...from late 2018/early 2019, in my email account linked to this site. No clue where they came from, and I've been scratching my head about it for ages. I've been trying to solve the problem, until I just decided to roll with it. So, that being said, my apologies for the late chapter, and I hope you enjoy it.

Please read, review and check out my other stories! Also, please check my profile for my writing schedule, BEFORE you ask in a review or PM. Seriously people, I do not abandon stories on a whim!

Beta'd by BigCC

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Disclaimer: I do not own Familiar of Zero.

"Saito" -Talking

'Louise' -Thinking/ Human-Human Telepathy

"Explosion!" -Spell

:Master: -Master/Familiar Telepathy

Chapter 28: Calm Before The Storm

Days Later

Courtyard of the Tristain Academy of Magic, Tristainia

"So this is an 'aeroplane' from your world, Professor Saito?" Henrietta asked as she warily traced a hand over the Zero Fighter's metal skin.

"Well, this particular model's at least fifty-odd years out of date but yes, Your Highness." the Onmyōji nodded absently as he continued his inspection of the machine, ensuring that its transport to the Academy hadn't done any damage. "From what little I've managed to gather from the stories Siesta's father shared about the man, Takeo Sasaki, as you would call him here, saved the Lord of Tarbes from an assassination attempt a short time after he arrived in this world. The Lord rewarded Takeo with his farm and by casting a preservation spell on his plane, a very powerful one at that. From what I can tell there's no sign of any degradation in any of the electronics or machinery, despite having been left unattended in a draughty barn for nearly half-a-century. If Professor Colbert and I can manage to brew up some proper fuel to power it, I could be on my way home at long last!"

The burgundy-haired young woman couldn't help but notice the excited gleam in the dark-haired adept's eyes and withheld a sigh. Why did things have to turn out like this? She couldn't hold Saito's excitement against him, the young man had every right to wish to return to his home and deserved a chance at such, but she honestly wished that she had some way of convincing him to do otherwise for several reasons. The least of which was that his leaving would completely devastate Louise.

Oh, her childhood friend may be quite good at concealing her feelings, likely thanks to developing an emotional shell to protect herself from the barbs of her peers, but the Princess of Tristain had known Louise since they'd both been in nappies. She was an open book to Henrietta's watchful eyes and it was blatantly obvious that she had fallen hard for her Familiar/Master. Equally obvious was the respect that she held for the otherworldly mage, just as deep as her affections.

It was also clear that Saito at least cared for her in return. The otherworldly boy might have better self-control than nearly anyone else their age that Henrietta had met, but the small signs of affection and care he regularly offered Louise were proof enough of his sentiments toward her. The ways his gaze would occasionally soften and linger on her when he didn't think anyone else would notice was also proof that his feelings were something more than fraternal affection as well.

"You also mentioned that there was something familiar about the date that Siesta's ancestor arrived in Halkaginia?" Henrietta asked, mostly to distract herself from her maudlin thoughts.

"Indeed. If I remember my history lessons right, the 13th of April in the 20th Year of the Shōwa Period was just under a month into the Battle of Okinawa." Saito nodded, bringing his attention back to the present. "My country was in the midst of a rather…nasty conflict and was being invaded. So, naturally, we had every available fighter, even the by-then-outdated Zero Fighters, being deployed in order to support our naval and ground units. From what I've heard, it looks like Ensign Sasaki and his wingman were on patrol when they flew straight through a portal to Halkaginia that opened up in front of them. From there, the wingman was able to turn around and make it back through the portal in time before it close, but the Ensign was just a hair too slow and was left stranded here. Professor Colbert agrees that it sounds like the most possible outcome."

"That poor man…" Henrietta sighed a bit in sympathy. To suddenly be thrown into a new world so vastly different from his home land, one filled with magic to boot. It much have felt like the man's world had gone utterly mad. "At least he was able to find happiness here in the end."

"That he did." Saito nodded his confirmation, smiling gently and honestly happy that his countryman had managed to carve himself a home in such a strange new land. "He lived a good, long life, was happily married, fathered two strong, healthy children, and left this world with a smile on his face. I can only hope that his descendants will be as fortunate."

"Rest assured, Louise and I will do our best to look after Miss Siesta, but with the war coming up, I cannot guarantee anything." the Princess of Tristain sighed, before looking around. Seeing that her Musketeer Guard were keeping the students far enough back, she continued. "While you and Louise were gone, we received an ultimatum from the 'Holy Republic of Albion', penned by the 'Holy Emperor' Cromwell himself. We are to 'submit to their divine right to rule' inside of a week, or Tristain will be put to the sword."

"Just how mad is this idiot?" the Onmyōji responded, blinking in shock. "He's just barely managed to conquer Albion. Even with the aid of the Ring of Andvari, he cannot possibly have secured his control over the entire country so quickly. What the bloody hell is he planning now?"

"I don't know." Henrietta answered tiredly. "I've already sent requests for aid to Romania, Germania, and, reluctantly, Gallia, but I'm not expecting any serious responses, at least not yet. For the moment, the Royal Army of Tristain, the remnants of the Loyalist Army of Albion, and the combined naval forces of Tristain and Loyalist Albion are on our own. If we manage to secure a solid victory in our defence, then I expect at least Germania and Gallia will join in for a chance at a piece of the spoils when we retake Albion. We are, thankfully, not short on Écu thanks to the sale of the diamonds, but money can only do so much in such a short amount of time."

"Louise is getting increasingly frustrated." Sato admitted in return. "She's been spending more and more time trying to work out how to unlock the abilities of the Founder's Prayer Book. Given how reluctant the Church was to part with it in the first place, she's extremely reluctant to ask the priesthood for any additional information on it."

The Princess suppressed a scowl at that. Yes, the higher ranks of the clergy had been irritatingly standoffish toward Tristain recently. Bishop Madolene, the highest-ranking member of the Church of Brimir assigned to Tristain throughout the year, was a native-born priest and was well-regarded by both commoner and nobility alike. Cardinal Mazarin of Tristain, on the other hand, was a largely enigmatic figure and spent most his time in the Holy Capital of Romalia, leaving most of his duties in Madolene's capable hands.

That had been cases until her father, the King, had died. Cardinal Mazarin had briefly returned to act as Regent until the Dowager Queen had recovered enough from her grief to take the position before promptly returning to Romalia and had not left the Holy City since.

Given the circumstances, the Bishop had lacked the authority to defy the orders coming from the Holy See, which had seemed directed at keeping Louise from both acquiring the Founder's Prayer Book and from learning that it was anything more than a particularly historic paperweight. Henrietta still couldn't understand this sudden belligerence from Mother Church, but the reasons mattered little in the end. Louise would either figure out the Prayer Book's secrets in the end or she wouldn't. Even if she couldn't, she still had the talisman magic, the mysticism, that Saito was teaching her to fall back on.

Speaking of which…

"Have your own spells been able to divine anything from that blasted book?" she asked.

"None of the diagnostic spells I've tried have been able to reveal anything we didn't already know." the Onmyōji replied, shaking his head in frustration. "Almost every bit of magic enchanting that thing is pure Void Magic, and none of my spells were designed to trace anything to do with that kind of magic. Any spells to do with Void Magic, including tracing and analysing it, have been almost entirely replaced or discarded since it vanished from my world five centuries ago. I've already requested that Emereldas look through her library to see if she can find anything that could help on the subject."

The mere idea of an entire form of magic simply vanishing from the world was still a mind-boggling thought for Henrietta, one that she still caught herself wondering how or why it had happened. Still, the fact that Saito's vaunted mysticism couldn't pierce the Founder's magics gave her a small, strange sense of pride.

"Are the preparations for the war still going well?" Saito asked, changing the subject again.

Henrietta nodded. "The Albionian forces were already on war footing when they arrived, all that we've needed to do was give them a chance to rest, and resupply them with fresh arms and equipment. As for the Tristainian Royal Army, I've already had them shift from peacetime to wartime status, and my generals are all moving with all due alacrity to see that everything is at the ready when it begins. I've also recalled Karin of the Heavy Wind into active service and I'm going to appoint her as Marshal of the Tristainian Army."

That wasn't a thing lightly done. Marshals were often called War Kings for a very good reason, having authority second only to the reigning monarch in times of war. Preparations were already being made for a quick and private coronation ceremony within the next few days, and then she would be Her Majesty Queen Henrietta Stuart de Tristain, second of her name. A more public and open coronation ceremony would be planned for after the war...

if they managed to resist the Reconquista invasion.


Meeting Room, Buckingham Castle, Floating Continent of Albion

"You stupid little son of a bitch!" Wardes roared, throwing a punch that sent 'Holy Emperor' Oliver Cromwell flying back a good three feet to land on his fat rump, bleeding from his nose.

"How dare you strike me?!" Cromwell hissed back, gingerly bringing a hand up to cradle his nose. "I'm the Holy Emperor of the Holy Republic!"

Wardes let out a single bark of scornful laughter at that. "Yes, a most 'holy' throne achieved through regicide, assassination, chicanery, trickery, and the stolen magics of a Great Elemental; not to mention my own invaluable services. You've never so much as lifted wand nor blade in this conflict Cromwell, and for all his youth and inexperience, Prince Wales Tudor de Albion never once hesitated to step forward and face his enemies in combat. That makes him a far greater man than you, oh 'emperor.' Now, you will remove whatever spell you've put on Matilda using that bauble you're so enamoured with, or you will find out personally why it is only Karin of the Heavy Wind that I fear locking blades with."

He'd been suspicious of Matilda's rather unhinged obsession with the otherworlder, Saito, during their conflict aboard the airship, and he'd been proven correct shortly after they'd returned. The Ring of Andvari had been used to enspell her, turning her grudge against the boy into an all-consuming hatred. And the only one with access to that accursed ring was the bigoted little fop currently cradling his nose and whining on the floor in front of him.

"She lost the Orb of Elements." Cromwell grumbled back. "I should have her precious stipend confiscated for that…"

"The only reason she lost the Orb was because she'd been driven mad by that damned spell of yours!" the form Tristainian noble snarled back, causing Cromwell to flinch. "You lost it because you couldn't keep from meddling with other people's heads! That damned obsession with twisting people's thoughts and emotions is going to kill us all, you benighted fool! And if you touch the Westwood stipend, you'll be on your own when Matilda and her golems come to have words with you. Remember, oh 'holy one,' that there are lines you cannot cross without grave consequences, and that is Matilda's. You're just damned lucky you didn't try anything else while she was enspelled, or even my talents at persuasion wouldn't be enough to stop her from gelding you."

"Remember your place, former Viscount Wardes!" the usurper snarled back, finally regaining his feet. "I am the only reason that Mother Church's Hounds aren't on your heels night and day, and I can easily replace you and your strumpet with a dozen more loyal men in a trice!"

Resisting the urge to fry the self-absorbed idiot with a lash of lightning for what felt like the thousandth time, Wardes simply smiled coldly in return. "More loyal? Perhaps. But more skilled? Remember exactly who you managed to garner to your cause, 'Your Holiness.' You were only able to gather the greediest and most ambitious, the bottom feeders and no-loads, in the Albionian Navy and Army, such as that idiot Sir Henry Simmerson. I am the strongest mage-knight in your employ by far, and even Matilda can easily manhandle your other 'elites' most of the time. My need for your aegis may be great, but so is your need for my ability to keep your ramshackle army both together and a credible threat. And you are not the only man who could put my skills in good use. Joseph of Gallia, for instance, or even the Papacy itself could use my blade, excusing my crimes for a lifetime of service perhaps. Take your own words to heart, oh Holy Emperor…do not imagine yourself as indispensable to me. Now remove your spell, immediately!"

The final snarl caused the suddenly far paler, despite his bloody nose, Cromwell to step back slightly. After a moment, he frowned but waved his hand toward the table where Matilda's insensate form rested, causing a small flare of light to emerge from the ring he wore.

Adjusting his robes, Cromwell glared back. "There, it is done. Now be off with you, I've got to call a physician to fix this before too long. An Emperor cannot appear injured before his men."

Wardes merely gave the man a mocking bow as he moved to retrieve his partner. "A bit of ice to numb it and relieve the swelling will fix it fast enough. Did you never rough-house growing up? Oh, that's right…mingling with others is beneath your station."

Cromwell merely glowered after Wardes as he departed. Moments after he left, the usurper shook his head. 'Bah, that turncoat mercenary isn't worth the time. Soon, my holy empire will be completed and with all of Halkaginia united beneath my banner, we will retake the elven lands as our own and unite the realm under the Founder's light.'

The remainder of the Albion's nobility had quickly folded under the power of the Rind of Andvari, while any uppity or disloyal commoners were being properly ground underfoot where they belonged. The constant attacks from what he was certain were the last remnants of the Crown Loyalists were nothing more than a minor annoyance; they'd be found and properly disposed of soon enough without impacting the next step in his conquest.

They'd have been rid of them already if the fools would just stop killing themselves rather than allowing themselves to be captured. While Cromwell could, technically, resurrect people into a false life with his ring, it was quite possibly the most willpower-intensive aspect of the ring and required a fully-intact corpse. Most of the dead rebels they obtained that likely knew anything were either badly damaged from whatever suicide attack they'd performed to take as many of their would-be captors with them as possible, or had taken a caustic poison that had damaged their insides enough that the ring couldn't work its magic.

It was almost like they knew how the Ring of Andvari worked, but that was impossible. Only he had been able to divine the Ring's existence and secrets, no one else could have untangled the mysteries surrounding it. It was just luck that the rebels (yes, they were the rebels now! He was the rightful ruler!) were managing to stay a step ahead of him.

'Che, it doesn't matter. Luck always runs out, and I just need one good capture to unravel the lot of them.' the Emperor reassured himself as he took a seat and quickly conjured some ice for his poor nose. 'Once Tristain is mine and the last of the Tudor/Stuart bloodline is put to the sword, all the fight should leave them anyway. Then, it'll be time to deal with my 'sponsor' once and for all…'

Joseph of Gallia had provided him with the funding and support he'd needed to overthrow the Tudor dynasty, and Cromwell was well aware that the amoral monarch viewed him as little more than a chess piece of limited value. The selfish fool was far too blinded by material gains; Cromwell himself, formerly a high-ranking priest in the Church of Brimir, was working to enforce the Holy Will of Brimir Himself.

'For mankind to survive and thrive, the elves must perish.' he reminded himself as a sneer crossed his lips. Like most of the more fanatical Brimirites, Cromwell despised the elves who had kept the Holy Land from the rightful hands of mankind. The prospect of committing genocide against their entire species only brought a righteous feeling of zeal to his heart.

"Lord Cromwell, you have paperwork to complete." a female voice suddenly spoke up, pulling Cromwell from his fantasies of his impending sainthood once he'd saved mankind.

"Sheffield, kindly do not just barge into a room where I'm holding court without so much as a by-your-leave." he returned frostily, scowling at the speaker.

The woman called Sheffield was, indeed, quite the beauty, with long purple-black hair, smoky amethyst eyes, and a svelte, hourglass figure. Sadly, the fact that she was one of Joseph's attack dogs sent to keep an eye on him made her beauty a moot point. At least the woman was a competent secretary, if nothing else.

His eyes strayed upwards, towards the headband of purple silk that covered her forehead. She'd never once removed in anyone's presence, and he hated dealing with unknowns. Sadly, trying to force the issue would be unwise…for now, at least.

"My apologies." Sheffield responded dully. "But you are beginning to accumulate a stack, and that will simply end up causing more work. Particularly with preparations for the invasion fully underway."

Letting out a huff, but unable to argue with the woman's logic, the 'Holy Emperor' rose from his seat. "Very well then. Keep an eye on that damned Wardes and his pet. I trust the two of them as far as I can throw this castle."

"If you wish." Sheffield agreed as she watched the vainglorious idiot who was unknowingly living on borrowed time as he left the room. "Just as far as you trust anyone else, you insipid fool."

Her mind once again turned to her beloved Master, who'd sent her to act as his hand and sword inside the Reconquista. When Cromwell failed and was taken captive, she was to relieve him of the Ring of Andvari and silence him before he could implicate her master in his scheming. Hopefully the fool would at least be able to serve his purpose and remove the Tudor/Stuart bloodline from existence before he finally fumbled and she could be rid of him.

'I wonder though…' the Void Familiar mused as she gracefully glided across the floor as she left the meeting room and headed to the offices she had claimed in the sprawling castle. 'Cromwell has been particularly sullen since he triggered that security measure and sent the entirety of the Albion Royal Treasury and the Crown Jewels to Tristain. I honestly hadn't expected these backwards mages to be capable of making such a sneaky little device. I can only hope the fool can keep his head long enough to conquer Tristain.'

She honestly wasn't going to hold her breath, and had reported as much to her Master. The 'Holy Emperor' was a fanatic and a fool in equal measure, far too caught up in his own power, just like most of the fool magic users in this world. His unnecessary interference with Matilda was simply the latest and most costly example of his obsession with the power of the ring overriding any sense he possessed. She knew that several noble daughters had found themselves waking up in his bed without realizing that the idea had been implanted in them by his ring.

'At least the fool knows better than to try such tricks with me.' Sheffield thought smugly. The entirety of her body belonged solely to her Master and no one else, particularly not a lowly insect like Cromwell, was permitted to touch it.

Stopping off for a brief moment in her private chamber en-route to her office, she gently removed her headband to briefly gaze at the marks placed there by her contract with her Master, the runic word 'Miodaitnir' glowing a soft purple in the dim light as she willed it into visible sight. She focused on them for a brief instance before frowning as she remembered a portion of the report Wardes had submitted.

The portion regarding a mysterious young mage know as Saito Hiraga.

"For one of the Imperial Ministry's Onmyōji to appear as the Familiar Gandálfr." she mused aloud. "It must be fate that we should come into conflict like this. I shall enjoy crushing you, little mystic."

Sheffield smirked as she gazed at the real reason she constantly wore a headband. Across the centre of her forehead, directly below where the runic tattoo marked her, was a symbol drawn in ink so black that it seemed to draw in all light that touched it.

A single inverted Seiman.

The symbol of the Juxtaposed Black Star.

Two Days Later

Magic Practice and Sparring Room, Louise and Saito's Suite of Rooms, Tristain Academy of Magic

"Aiye!" Louise yelped as her swordwand was smacked from her hand yet again before the tip of the sabre responsible rested itself on the side of her throat.

"And you are dead…again." Gin'yoku stated flatly. "You lasted thirty seconds this time."

"Grr…" the pinkette growled out as she stepped back and wordlessly used her bracelet to recall her blade, catching it with practised ease. "Only thirty seconds? Gah, my sisters are going to laugh when they hear this…"

"You lasted thirty seconds against a Ginki born to one of the greatest weapon masters to have ever been born into the White Oni Clan, a genius among geniuses who was undefeated on the battlefield for a hundred years." the Silver Oni put in casually. "I have been trained by Haha-ue since I was old enough to carry a practice blade, and have inherited a measure of her talents, putting me as an equal to any regular White Oni and you stood against me for thirty seconds. Most humans with your level of training wouldn't have lasted for five seconds."

Louise could only blink at the blunt…praise? "Oh…"

"I recall your sisters. The married one did not seem the type to mock another so easily." Gin'yoku continued with a frown.

"Big Sister Cattleya wouldn't." the youngest of the Vallière sisters agreed, now looking sheepish. "I'm just…I don't want to disappoint her anymore. My magic was sealed and I was an embarrassment to the entirety of my family for over a year. I was an embarrassment to Mother's legacy…I'm just sick and tired of disappointing them."

"So you grow frustrated with your inability to undo the bindings placed on your magic?" the Ginki nodded. "Frustrations like that are normal, I suppose, particularly when you have the answers in hand but cannot unlock them. I recall that there was a poem of some form that outlined what was required to unlock your magic, yes?"

"'Four Rings of Magic across the land, place one in the Master's hand.'" Louise recited. "'Four Relics of Power, left by the Founder. The Guardian's Blade, given Life after 'twas Made. Familiar of the Void, Gandálfr. Solve this riddle lest you suffer.'"

"And the 'living blade' it speaks of is that Derflinger blade that rests across my Aruji's back, yes?" Gin'yoku frowned. "Does it have any idea about how to aid you?"

"None. Derflinger's over five-thousand years old and his memory is as rusty as his blade was when we first found him." the young Void Mage responded with a shake of her head. "At best, he can remember some vague images and scenes, but any solid details are beyond him."

"Hm." Gin'yoku hummed in thought. She still felt no sense of camaraderie or affection for the girl she'd taken as her student. She didn't like the little strumpet that had dared bind her beloved Aruji like a slave, however unwilling she had been to do so. She'd have honestly preferred to have nothing to do with her…but a lot of that was her own jealousy acting up, she could see that now.

To the White Oni, and their half-breed children to a lesser extent, teaching another to wield a weapon was more than simply passing on knowledge and training. It was an interaction that could teach them much about their student's true character and grant a deeper understanding of their nature. Louise was far from perfect, she was a bit childish, could be needy, lacked self-confidence, was truly lonely, determined to prove herself, kind-hearted, deeply committed to her sense of honour…

…and completely and utterly in love with their mutual master.

'At the very least, the girl has good taste in men.' the young Ginki let out a breath. Having been badly burned by her arranged fiancé, and crush, the man having turned out to be a traitor, it was not surprising that she'd fallen so hard for Saito. Her Aruji was at his very core a kind and gentle person, one whose desire to protect and code of honour was truer than sword steel. His future potential as both a great mage and a noble man were both obvious to anyone with the eyes to see it, so it had always amazed Gin'yoku that some lucky little so-and-so of a strumpet from his class hadn't tried to snap him up while he was still within the Imperial Academy.

Their loss, she supposed.

"Stand ready, we've rested long enough." Ginki stated seriously after a moment of silence, raising her sabre again.

Louise let out a light groan, but nevertheless assumed a fencing position and made herself ready for another round.

The girl was not one to give up, Gin'yoku would give the little mage that much.

"Let us begin." the Oni stated simply and slashed forward with her sabre. Louise quickly moved to parry it with her own blade before disengaging and stepping forward with a thrust to her armpit, aiming for a quick win with a single strike to a fatal point.

Unfortunately for Louise, the reflexes of an Oni, particularly those of a combat-oriented species like the Silver Oni, were more than enough to let her dodge the strike at Louise current level. The Ginki easily stepped back out of reach of the thrust and moved to use her opponent's extension to quickly disarm her.

Only, instead of following through with the thrust, Louise managed to quickly shift the stab into a sharp horizontal slash aimed at Gin'yoku's torso, forcing the Oni girl to dodge back even further and drop her counterattack.

A small smile crossed the Silver Oni's lips at that little trick before she threw herself into the attack again, blade darting forward in a quick series of thrusts that nearly overwhelmed Louise's defences.

They were sadly, just a distraction, allowing the Ginki to pull in close enough to drop down and sweep Louise's legs out from under her, dropping her onto her back and driving the breath from her lungs.

Slightly dazed from her sudden fall, the young mage tried to rise to her feet, but was quickly halted by the tip of a blade hovering over her nose.

"Forty seconds this time. A marked improvement." Gin'yoku offered clearly, a hint of respect in her voice as she withdrew her weapon. "You are not a terrible student. That's enough training for today, little girl."

Glowering at the reference to her less-than-developed figure, Louise pushed herself to her feet, momentarily using her swordwand as a crutch to lean on when she regained her feet and wincing slightly at the minor jarring her tail bone had just gone through.

"Remember that I am my Aruji's Familiar, girl." Gin'yoku spoke up abruptly before Louise could move to leave, her eyes locked onto Louise's. "I am his in every sense of the world. Should he order me to his bed, I would gladly accept. Should I need to die so that he could live, I would do so wholeheartedly. My first and only concern in this, or any other world, is his well-being and safety."

Louise frowned, but nodded. That was a given from what she knew about how the bonds between master and familiar were supposed to work, her own being the exception rather than the rule.

"I do not know for certain why your magic is refusing to unlock, but I suspect it is because the Familiar Bond between you and my Aruji is not complete. Because his desire to return to his own world is keeping it from being cemented." the Ginki stated firmly. "So long as he desires to part ways with you, as long as he does not accept his place is by your side, then the bond will not complete and you may never unlock your Void Magic."

"I…I had suspected that that might be the case as well…" the pinkette admitted, shoulders slumping in defeat.

"From my position, you seem to have two choices, girl." Gin'yoku continued, crossing her arms and looking emotionlessly at her Master's Master/Student. "One, is to accept the severing of your bond and allow my Aruji to return home. Then you can take the opportunity to once more cast your Summon Servant spell and call forth another Familiar."

Something inside Louise rebelled violently against the very idea. It was almost physically painful to consider having anyone but Saito as her Familiar.

"Or two, you can find some way to persuade my Aruji to remain here and live his life in this world with you." the Ginki finished calmly, causing Louise's eyes to widen and her jaw to slacken. "At the moment, my Aruji is a man divided. His heart and mind war between staying and going. His heart calls for him to stay thanks to the bonds he's formed here, with you, the maid, the princess and the others, after being alone for most of his life in his own world. But his mind reminds him of his sense of duty, of the oaths he's sworn to his homeland. Heart and mind, bonds and duty, he is conflicted on which carries more weight to him.

"Wha…Why are you telling me this?" the duke's youngest daughter asked hoarsely.

"As I said, my sole concern is my Aruji's well-being, safety and happiness. Nothing more and nothing less. I care nothing for this country, nor for my Master's homeland on Earth." Gin'yoku stated with a frown. "In this world, my Aruji is already becoming a great and important man. His skill and unique mysticism make him more powerful than most other mages, he has gained several high-ranking connections with people of great import and he could easily earn himself a Grant of Nobility with the deeds he's managed to accomplish so far. Here he will be safe, successful, and likely quite happy. In his own world, my Aruji was considered a mildly talented mage at best for the longest time and will likely remain such for a long, long time to come, and he will be a soldier in an ongoing conflict once he grows strong enough. That places him at risk, risk that I do not wish him to face given how weak Earth's magical field has become."

Louise gulped as she took in the raw emotion evident in the Silver Oni's agate eyes and recognized what was there. Gin'yoku, the surly protective woman she knew as Kaede, was afraid, truly afraid of what might befall her Master should he return to his own world.

"But…Saito's only a low-ranking member of his organization, right?" she offered nervously, trying to quell the fear that the Oni's words were churning in her own stomach. "That's what he said, that those Juxtaposed Black Star people specifically don't target Junior Adepts like him."

"True, but should he return to his birth realm, his status will quickly change. His time in these lands has greatly accelerated my Aruji's growth, both in terms of magical power from the magically rich world and skill from the battles he's fought so far. I would give him less than a year, maybe as little as six months, until he reaches the point where he will be advanced to Senior Adept, and will become fair game to those beasts." the Ginki stated frankly.

"But…but Saito is only sixteen? I remember him saying that soldiers had to be of a certain age in his world." Louise tried again, panic starting to bubble through into her voice.

"In the mundane world, that is true, but things in the magical circles are far different. Within the realm of mages, skill, ability and power mean far more than mere age." Gin'yoku answered sullenly, disliking the fact as much as Louise. "With his sudden growth, and his contract with two powerful, humanoid familiars like Emereldas and myself, he will doubtlessly be thrown into the deep end to test his worth by those who know nothing of his potential or spirit. He will not see it as such but…"

The Oni trailed off, teeth clenching in frustration.

"I…I will see what I can do." Louise offered uncomfortably, unsure of what else she could say. Taking a deep breath, she decided to ask a question that had been bothering her since shortly after she'd met the Silver Oni. "Um, why is it that I can still see you when you use your racial gift?"

"You can see me when I Fade!?" the Ginki asked sharply. Frowning, she activated her blood gift and Faded from sight, sound, scent, and magical detection. She stepped to the side and was shocked when Louise's eyes followed her "Even now?"

Louise nodded. "Yes, you look as if you're made of tinted glass and your voice is a bit echoey, but I can still perceive you."

"What odd magic…the only one should be able to see me liked this is my Aruji due to the wording of our contract." Gin'yoku frowned in thought, releasing her gift and fading back into existence. Her expression soured darkly when an answer came to her. "Gah, it must be due your own contracts with my Aruji, girl. Some part of the Enforced Familiar Contract or your Master/Apprentice Contract, or perhaps even some strange mix of the two, must be, for lack of a better term, piggybacking on my own Familiar Contract and allowing you to see through my Fading. Urgh, what an irritating thing."

Thoroughly irritated by this new development, the Ginki stalked out of the room after sheathing her sword, leaving a stunned Louise blinking in surprise.

"I didn't know contracts could overlap like that." she murmured faintly to herself.

The Next Day

Jean Colbert's Workshop

"Ugh…well it certainly smells foul enough to pass for aviation-grade gasoline." Saito muttered as he wrinkled his nose in disgust at the beaker of pale brown liquid that Professor Colbert had shoved beneath his nose. The two had managed to extract a small sample of gas from the Zero Fighter's tanks, and the older man had eagerly used his own alchemic research with similar materials to brew up the liquid in the beaker.

"Do you think I finally have it? This recipe for 'Dragon Blood?'" the older man was practically shaking in excitement.

"I do believe so, but we may need to make a few adjustments; this stuff has…oh what were they called again. Terra-something-lead…no, not that…tetra? Yes, tetraethyllead! That's it." The onmyōji nodded, recalling his own lessons in chemistry and alchemy. "The fumes it produces when it burns are poisonous, and particularly dangerous for children due to the amount of lead it can carry. It hasn't been used in my world for almost fifty years because of that."

"Indeed? Well, a simple Air and Earth Spell or three on the exhaust ports should be able to alchemically convert any such fumes into something a bit more harmless. Shouldn't be that hard at all with a bit of work, especially since we know what we're trying to counter." Colbert responded, his face setting to a determined frown as he moved back to his work station. Something as simply as a mere neurotoxin wasn't going to get in the way of the most complex alchemic achievement he'd ever been involved in!

"That…that could actually work." Saito offered after a moment's thought. "Most cars and planes use mechanical converters to cut down on their pollution output, but with magic we can cut the middleman out completely and get rid of them entirely!"

"Precisely!" the Professor returned excitedly, falling back into his previous fervour "Oh, the possible applications for this are positively myriad! I am so glad that I chose to persevere with this line of enquiry!"

"So am I!" the Onmyōji agreed with a laugh of his own. "Now I can finally go home, provided we can produce enough fuel in time for the eclipse."

"Hmm…" Colbert paused briefly to run the maths through his head, before nodding and returning to his work. "We should have more than enough time to create enough Dragon Blood to completely refill the Dragon Raiment's belly before the eclipse of the twin moons." he paused again and shot a look over his shoulder to Saito. "I will miss your company, Professor Saito, and given your homeland's current circumstances, you'll likely be made into a soldier soon than you'd like. Are you certain that you wish to return?"

"I…" Saito hesitated a moment, before shaking his head. "I took an oath, Jean. I swore to protect and serve my country as best as I could. I have to at least try to return. Regardless of the dangers, I knew exactly what I was signing up for."

"You were a child then, Saito." Colbert shook his head. "You could not have possibly understood the ramifications of such an oath at such a young age."

"We are first offered the choice to discontinue our studies when we're ten, a turning point in the maturation of our soul and body." Saito explained with a sigh. "We have the same offer to step back and leave repeated to us each and every year after that, with no dishonour or ill-will if we choose to leave. Each time, the details of exactly what will be expected of us are brought up in greater and greater detail. We are asked a final time immediately before we swear our official oaths if we know and understand what is expected of us by the Imperial Ministry and our country as Onmyōji. Each time it was offered, I affirmed my understanding and willingness without a single doubt."

"I simply cannot understand that outlook." the Alchemy Professor sighed as he shook his head. "I never want to see my students become soldiers if I can help it. I…I served in the military for a time, when I was a far younger and brasher man. I could only bear it for a few years before I resigned from my position. Trust me on this Saito, even if you truly believe you understand what you've agreed to, until you stand on a battlefield and face a foe seeking to end your life, you can never truly understand the horror of war. I have long forsworn combat save for in the defence of others and when there is no true threat to life, like our duel when you first arrived."

Jean Colbert looked up and stared seriously at Saito's obviously conflicted form. "From what you've told me of your life before you arrived, my young friend, you never had any close companions, anyone you truly cared for as friends and companions. Before you came here, you had never thought about what would bring you happiness, what was best for you rather than for your country. You are a bright young man, Saito, one I can see having a bright future ahead of you wherever you end up, whether in this world or your own. I merely ask that you consider that you have a right to your own desires, a right to be a person rather than simply an Onmyōji. I know you will be sorely missed should you choose to leave by many people, myself, Princess Henrietta, Miss Siesta and young Miss Vallière included, should you choose to depart. None of us will try to stop you from taking your own path. Just…please promise to think on what you want rather than what your duty demands of you."

With that, the alchemist went back to his work, leaving Saito to walk off in a daze. The Onmyōji walked back to his and Louise's suite of rooms, let himself in, and lay back on his bed, gazing up and the canopy with a pained look of thought on his face.

"Why is it that every time I steel my resolve, someone has to remind me of what I'm leaving behind here?!" he growled, slamming a fist into the mattress.


Next Chapter: Flight of the Dragon Raiment