Chapter 30:


The Elder Scrolls Series is property of Bethesda. Familiar of Zero is (currently) property of Media Factory (I believe)



"Powerful (Dragon/Daedra/etc.) speech"



Master Johan was able to direct Louise and Siesta to the back room while everyone was still clamoring over each other. The door shut behind them, their shouts just barely muffled by the wooden door.

"Well, well," Derflinger spoke from Master's hip, the talking sword's cross guard clanking. "This is a fine mess you've gotten yourself into, little lady."

Ice ran down Louise's spine. A 'fine mess' was the understatement of the century. The old Louise would have never even dreamed of calling out someone in such a manner, much less entering a duel. But this new Louise, the one who'd shed the curse of 'Zero'…She turned to face Siesta, who was white-faced, blinking dumbly at nothing. No doubt replaying the events of minutes ago—and from weeks ago, at Count Mott's estate.

…Yes. For Siesta, Louise would be willing to do surprising things.

Master Johan directed Louise to a stool, sitting her down. "Now then, in my experience, mages have one very common weakness that a startingly number never alleviate. They lack physical stamina—a solid blow or a prolonged battle will spell the end of them. And given Chelene's girth he's most definitely lacking in stamina. Thankfully"—he reached over, patting her arms—"the exercises you've endured up 'till now have done no small part in eliminating that particular weakness."

"W-Wait a minute!" Siesta leapt up, grabbing both Louise and Master Johan by their shoulders. "This is crazy." Siesta shifted over standing in-between Louise and Master Johan, staring down at Louise. "You can't fight this man!"

Louise blinked. "What?" She shot up to her feet. "After what he said to you? What he wanted to-to do to you?"

"I could've dealt with it!" Siesta shouted back. And maybe she could have.

A beautiful girl like Siesta had no doubt dealt with such harassment for years.

Still, that didn't mean she had to keep dealing with it. Not when Louise was around.

"Unfortunately," Derflinger said, "we're a bit past that. Boss got that whole written contract, so Louise doesn't have much of a choice." He grunted. "Why'd you do that anyway, Boss?"

"So that if Chelene tries something foul after he loses Louise will have legal grounds to punish him for breach of contract…That is a thing in this land, right?"

"It is," Louise nodded. "Typically, not for something with stakes quite like this—I've only heard it with regards to trade agreements and the odd dowry—but I'm sure there's some form of precedent."

"Ha, see!" Master Johan smirked at Siesta. "We've got the law on our side!"

Siesta closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she opened them, she turned to Louise, face shifting into a frown. She reached out, grabbing Louise's hands in her own. "I just…I don't want you to get hurt for my sake."

Louise huffed, holding back just as tight. "And I don't want you to have to deal with oafish pigs leering at you."

Siesta giggled, lifting Louise's heart in an instant. "Heavens, you're stubborn."

"I'm well aware." Louise preened. "It's the one trait of my mother's everyone agrees that I've inherited. Well"—she shrugged—"that and my hair and eye color."

"Based on how you've described her, little lady," Derflinger said, "we're all the more fortunate for it." Louise found it easier to beat down the urge to defend her mother than it should have been.

Master Johan chuckled and stepped forward. Only to pause as the door to the restaurant burst open, a harsh, "You!" blasting out from Scarron.

Scarron surged forward, and Louise pulled back—tugging the still-linked-together Siesta with her—at the dark glare marring the man's normally jovial face. He grabbed Master Johan by his robes, pulling him down to eye-level. "What the hell was that?!" He shook Master Johan. "You put a target on not just your back, but Siesta and Louise's as well!"

Master Johan sighed. "Short of killing the man—which I was tempted to do if only for the swiftness of it—it was the best option available. Or are you saying that I should have let him—"

"Don't you finish that fucking sentence!" Scarron hissed, releasing Master Johan and shoving a finger in his chest. "You don't have to live with the bastard! I mean, did you even think about how much danger you've put those girls in?"

Master Johan slowly pushed the hand down. "You're right, of course. I am not from this city—or even these lands. Had Chelene simply been blustering in drunken revelry, I wouldn't have done anything. Unfortunately"—he voice grew hard as stone—"my students already had a target on their backs—Siesta for the sheer misfortune of being pretty, and Louise for her desire to defend her friend." He drew up to his full height, his face shadowed as he effectively used the five-or-so inches he had on Scarron to dwarf the man. "I understand your worry, but do not presume that I have allowed my students to come under fire through negligence or apathy!"

Louise gulped, holding Siesta close. Her master was defending them, but Louise couldn't help the deep, instinctive chill running down her spine. He could put her mother to shame.

Scarron paled considerably but managed to stay on his feet. He stepped back with a gulp. "Er…no, I'm not. I just…" he trailed off, leaning against the table with a sigh. "…He's ruined so many people, you know? Not just women that catch his eye."

Master Johan relaxed, a sympathetic frown on his face. "I understand where you're coming from Scarron. I care for Louise and Sietsa as well—but please trust that I have this well in hand. Once that boy I sent returns with a receipt from the post office, not even Chelene will be able do anything about tomorrow—out of fear of reprisal if nothing else."

Scarron glared up at Johan before turning to Louise with sad eyes. "My dear, are you absolutely sure about this? I can help you out of this. I can…" he faltered scrambling to finish his well-meaning sentiments

Louise carefully unlinked from Siesta, placing her hands on her chest. "Scarron, I trust that Master Johan would not have allowed me to enter a duel with Chelene if he wasn't confident I could succeed."

Scarron's face fell in defeat. "That's the best I can hope for, I guess." He stood up straight, running a hand through his hair. "Alright, it's best if you all stay inside the inn for the rest of the day. I'll ask around, either get a carriage or figure out a safe route for you to get to and from Chelene's estate."

"Thank you," Louise said, bowing her head lightly.

"You don't have to do that, Uncle," Siesta said.

Scarron cooed, moving forward and wrapping Siesta in a tight hug. He kissed the crown of her head. "My sweet Siesta…I'm sorry you had to get wrapped up in this. Especially considering…"

Siesta sniffled, eagerly reciprocating the embrace.

Jessica came barreling through the door. "Whoo," she huffed. "I think I've got everyone calmed down, but—" she stopped in her tracks in front of Scarron and Siesta's embrace. She waited barely one second before she rushed forward and joined them, tears forming in her eyes.

A part of Louise rankled at the familial display. Only Cattleya would even think of comforting her like that—and even then, in the privacy of their own rooms. As much as she adored Siesta and their friendship, it spat her in the face with the fact that her own family was much less warm and inviting, despite their far superior status. That she didn't have the knowledge and experience necessary to comfort her friend like that.

But she wouldn't dwell on those thoughts. She had other means of assisting Siesta. Less sentimental, perhaps, but far more cathartic.

She turned to Master Johan, gesturing for the stairs. "Let's leave them alone," she whispered. He nodded, leading the way up.

He gave her the bed to sit on, opting lean against the opposite wall. He sent her a soft frown. "…I'm coming to the realization that you don't have much practice against live opponents."

Louise frowned back. That was true. The only things living things she'd ever fired spells at were those wolves months ago, and the Daedric Titan in Tarbes. "No use beating ourselves up about it. What can you tell me about fighting another person?"

Her master sighed, stroking his beard. "Well, this isn't to the death, so obviously anything fatal is out."

"I'd avoid using fire or earth spells," Derflinger spoke from Johan's hip. "Whether by immolation or bludgeoning, it's way too easy to accidentally kill someone."

Louise nodded. "But if I wanted to trap Chelene a cage of earth or a wall of fire would be very effective."

"No fire," Master Johan shook his head. "Like Derflinger said, far too easy to accidentally kill him…If you're clever, though, you may be able to threaten him to submit with enough earthen spikes."

Derflinger hummed. "I'd suggest one strong move, personally. End the match before it can truly begin. Louise doesn't have the experience or the stamina for a drawn-out match."

"What if I trap him in a ball of water?" Louise spoke up.

"Water spells can be redirected," her master replied. "Even if you're in the middle of drowning inside one.

"And if I threaten to electrocute him while he's stuck inside?"

Master Johan hummed. "That could work, but you haven't practiced any lightning magic—with a wand, at least. And while I won't forbid you from using any and every skill at your disposal, I do believe we should hold onto that trump card for as long as possible."

Louise sighed. That was true. Unveiling all the metaphysical implications of Tamriel's magic wasn't something she wanted to do while tearing down some pig. And she didn't have the time to practice a relatively easy lightning-spell. Then, an idea struck like, well, lightning. "I can just fake it," she said. To demonstrate, she took out her wand and held it tightly in her right hand, her lift hand hovering just over the tip. "Do you mind, Derflinger?"

"Oh, by all means." He popped halfway out of his sheath. "Lay it on me, little lady."

Louise made a very lazy loop with her wand, followed by a sharp slash downward. Seconds later, she summoned Sparks with her free-hand, and purple lightning shot out at Derflinger. She ended the spell soon after, smiling at her master.

He smiled back. "Well, I think we just might pull this off." He leaned closer. "Okay, to start, you're going to want to open with a wind spell—it doesn't have to be anything fancy, but…"


Louise wasn't sure how long she, Johan, and Derflinger had been strategizing, but by the time they were done the sun had started to set, and Scarron walked up with a tray of bread and stew.

He set it down in front of them, nodding at Johan. "That boy—Gerald—you sent to the post office came back." He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket. "Got some sort of receipt. Would have been back sooner, but he saw some of Chelene's thugs roaming around, took the long way to the inn."

Johan held a hand up. "Keep it. It will do you far more good than I. Ah, before I forget." He grabbed some Ecu out of his coin purse. "Give this to Gerald, for services rendered."

Scarron nodded, pocketing the money. He sighed after a moment. "I'm…I'm sorry that this happened," he said in a frighteningly small voice.

Louise shook her head. "I'm sorry that you have to deal with…him…on a regular basis." And she was. Chelene was among the worst kind of Noble—abusing Commoners like that, for no reason whatsoever! She pointedly ignored the tiny voice in her head—the sounded like Master Johan, Siesta, and Derflinger all at once—that reminded her of the practices in her own home and that she'd witnessed at the Academy. She couldn't dwell on those terrible thoughts, not while Siesta needed her.

Scarron chuckled, sitting down on the floor. "Chelene's better than his father, at least."

"Really?" Master Johan asked, handing a bowl to Louise before starting on his own.

Scarron snorted. "He never keeps anyone longer than a day." The haunted look on his face sent shivers down Louise's spine—it was so anathema to the boisterous man she'd gotten to know.

Thankfully, the look faded away. He turned to Louise with a sad resignation. "My dear, are you sure you're up for this? I promise, the Inn will be fine. I can get you all out of the capital safely."

Louise stopped eating, smiling sadly. She appreciated the sentiment—truly she did—but if there was one thing Louise de la Vallière had never been, it was a coward. "Thank you, Scarron, but I will be fine. Rather than worry about me, you should focus on Siesta."

"Oh," Scarron dragged a hand through his hair. "The poor girl—she's lying-in bed with Jessica, holding her close." A part of Louise felt jealous, but the rest of her reasoned that, for all that they were friends, Jessica was family. They had a history that Louise just couldn't replicate. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but she swallowed it all the same.

"This land had a real problem with authority figures, doesn't it?" Master Johan asked.

Scarron scoffed. "That's putting it lightly…Didn't used to be like this, you know."

"Really?" Louise asked, leaning forward. She knew her own history was heavily colored from the viewpoint of Nobles. As far as her people were concerned, everything was great, and everyone knew their place.

"Oh yeah." Scarron smiled mirthlessly. "Used to be, all those Nobles would just ignore us like pebbles on the road. Now they feel the urge to squash us like insects!" He paled, and rapidly flicked a horrified gaze towards Louise. Why would—ah, right.

Louise blushed, "It's…It's fine. While my own family holds itself to higher standards, I'm well aware that our peers do not." Again, she forced herself to ignore the voices in her head. The ones that looked back on her memories and pointed out how similar a lot of her family's servants looked to Siesta when they first found her.

Scarron lost the terrified stare, but still looked uncomfortable. He shot to his feet. "Right well…I'll see you in the morning." He scampered down the stairs, fast as lightning.

Derflinger sighed. "You realize, if we're not careful, he's going to be in a lot of trouble once we leave?"

Master Johan sighed, setting down his bowl. "I'm well aware. It's why I sent that boy to the post office to deliver a copy of the hastily written contract to the palace. And I plan on sending another contract stating the winner of the duel—Louise, obviously—and that the loser will fulfill their end of the bargain."

Louise tapped her legs. "Will…Will that work?" She wasn't privy to all the political minutiae of the Capital of Tristain and its relation to the Palace, but she doubted anyone up there would really care all that much about one inn.

Her master shrugged. "If there was a problem with it, Chelene would have said something." Fair enough.

"We'll burn that bridge when we get to it," Derflinger said. "We have something more important to do."

"Yes." Johan nodded. "You need rest, Louise."

"Not that."

Johan blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"She can rest after she meditates."

"Meditate?" Louise and Johan said in unison.

"Yeah, you know, get her head in the right space for fighting another human? A fight that you know is going to happen, at least." Derflinger hummed. "I can get why Louise never heard of it, but you, Johan?"

The elderly man pursed his lips. "…In Tamriel, it's almost a given that you're going to kill another mortal being, especially when you walk the paths I've walked. We're not flippant about the loss of life, but it's expected. We're raised with it." He frowned apologetically at Louise. "Yet, that belief is not held in here, in Halkeginia, is it?"

Louise gulped. "No…Only knights are expected to take a life." But that did explain a few things about her master and his, frankly, callous regard for others. "But I'm not trying to kill Chelene!"

"Maybe not," Derflinger said. "But anything can happen in battle. I'd rather you acknowledge that than not."

"Okay." Louise sat back with a sigh. "What should I do?" She asked to both Johan and Derflinger.

Her master held his hands up. "I've never done quite what Derflinger is talking about, so I can offer nothing but my support."

Derflinger's crossguard clanked. "That's more than enough, Boss, trust me. As for you, Louise, I want you to sit on the floor, and rest your back against the bed…A little straighter…Okay, close your eyes." She did so. "Now, who are you fighting tomorrow?"

Louise's face scrunched. "You know who."

"Just answer the question," her friend said, his voice low and soothing.

She huffed. "Chelene."

"Who is he?"

"A pig."

Derflinger and Johan chuckled. "What's his job?" Derflinger asked.

"He's a tax collector."

"And why are you getting into a fight with a tax collector."

"Because he's a pig!"

Another round of laughter. "What makes him a pig?"

Louise grit her teeth. "He's a lech! Uses his position and power to harass women."

"Women? Or one specific woman?" Louise paused. "This is important, little lady. Did you want to fight Chelene because of what he did, or who he did it to?"

Louise sagged. "…Does it make me a bad person if I say it's the latter?"

"Of course not." Derflinger's voice was full of nothing but understanding. "But it's important that you recognize that. Don't shoulder the world if you don't have to. Now, this one person…why did you come to their defense?"

"Because…" Louise gulped, ruminating on her answer. "Because Siesta shouldn't have to ever be put in a situation where some disgusting man can lord his power over her ever again. Because she deserves better than that!"

"Why does she?"

"Why shouldn't she!" Louise spat, opening her eyes, glaring at Derflinger.

"Keep your eyes closed," he said gently. "It's not an admonishment. I want you to really think about why Siesta 'deserves better'."

Louise huffed, closing her eyes once more. "Siesta deserves better because…because…" Louise forced back her indignation, truly focusing on the question. Why did Siesta deserve better? Because she was kind, pretty, fun? Objectively speaking, so were a great many people, Nobles and Commoners alike. What made Siesta special in that regard? Nothing, except…

"…She's my friend," Louise said slowly. "I…I care for her. I want her to be safe and happy."

"Do you feel that, Louise? That warmth in your heart?" She nodded. "Hold onto that. Hold it tight. That warmth—friendship, kindness, love, whatever you want to call it—is why we fight. It should be the only reason we fight, but that's a discussion for another day." Derflinger sighed. "When you enter battle tomorrow, you're not doing it to beat down a pig, or save the world or anything else. You're doing it to defend your friend. To give them safety and security. Do you understand?" Louise nodded with a sniffle.

"Good. Now I want you to take a deep breath, hold it in for as long as you can, and focus on the warmth you hold for Siesta."

Louise took a giant gulp of air and did as instructed. She thought of Siesta: her strength, her determination, her eyes, her laugh. The way she rolled her left shoulder whenever she pulled on her backpack. They way her nose twitched when she smelled something pleasant.

She released her breath, her lips curling into a soft smile.

"…Well, I've done all I can." Derflinger clanked his crossguard twice. "All that's left for you to do is get a good night's rest and trust in Johan's training."

"Very good training, if I may say," her master teased.

Louise nodded, wiping her eyes. "Thank you. Both of you." She climbed into her bed. "I going to try and sleep, now."

"Of course." Master Johan bowed his head. "Rest well, mah lahzey. I shall wake you in the morning."

"Don't worry, little lady!" Derflinger said with cheer. "You're gonna do great!"

Louise closed her eyes with a smile, keeping a tight grip on the warmth surrounding her heart.


A/N: I'll be perfectly honest; I did not go into this story expecting Louise and Siesta's relationship to turn out this way.