Chapter 3: Demonstration
Miss Longueville crept quietly through the hallways as she made her way to the school treasury. The treasury was, for some odd reason, placed just a single floor below where the headmaster's office was. Normally, such an important room should be placed at the lower levels of a castle, usually underground, but she wasn't complaining, it made the job easier after all.
Finally she reached her target, an enormous set of iron doors. They were kept shut with a thick bolt mechanism, which in turn was secured with an equally large padlock. This place was where artifacts dating from even before the Academy's establishment were contained.
After making sure no one was around, Miss Longueville withdrew a wand from a pocket. It was about the length of a pencil, but with a flick of the wrist, it extended to the length of an conductor's baton, which she whirled expertly.
She casted a spell of Unbinding at the padlock but after waiting for a few moments, she frowned when the padlock didn't open as it should have.
"Well, it's not like I really expected a Spell of Unbinding to work anyway," she sighed before smiling deviously as she began reciting the words to one of her specialty spells a Transmutation spell. Chanting loudly and clearly, she waved her wand at the heavy lock and the magic flew towards it but once again there was no visible change. "Looks like it's been magically reinforced by a Square-class mage."
A Spell of Reinforcement was one that prevented the oxidation and decomposition of matter. Any substance that had this spell cast on it was protected from any chemical reactions, and allowed it to be preserved forever in that state. Even transmutation magic would have no effect against something protected like this.
Only if one's magical skill surpassed that of the mage who cast the spell could it be overcome something that Miss Longueville, an expert in Earth magic and transmutation in particular, was currently unable to do.
Taking off her glasses, she stared at the door once more, as if she could just will for the door to open up before hearing footsteps coming up the staircase. Reacting instantly, she shrunk her wand back to the size of a pencil and slipped it back into her pocket just as a balding man appeared over the steps, Professor Colbert, if she recalled correctly, one of the professors specializing in fire magic.
The man, in Miss Longueville's opinion, looked like he was going to fall over in any second. He was walking as if he was intoxicated, wobbling back and forth as well as left and right with each step he took.
He didn't even seem to notice her as he walked past her. Upon closer observation, the man had bags under his bloodshot eyes, indicating that he probably hasn't slept in days...perfect.
"Mister Colbert?" Miss Longueville asked as she placed a hand on his shoulder to stop him. "Are you all right?"
The man stopped and turned his to look at her before blinking several times before his eyes seemed to refocus themselves.
"Ahh...you are...Miss Longueville correct?" he asked in a slow tired voice. "What are...you doing here?"
"I was going to catalog the contents of the treasury, but..." Miss Longueville turned her head to the locked doors and Colbert seemed to follow her gaze.
"Ahh...yes...you wouldn't be able to get in...without a key so easily...though there's nothing really important in there...junk mostly...things the Headmaster collected..."
But rather than face her while he was explaining the contents, he seemed to be talking to the statue to her left instead. She did not need another Osmond right now. She needed information.
"But surely there must be something important in the treasury, like say...the 'Staff of Destruction'?"
"Ah...yes...that oddly shaped thing...it has a handle at such a strange place...making you hold it so that the staff is at along the edge of your arm."
Colbert seemed to be waking up now. the window for her to get any more information out is closing fast and she still had no clue to get through the doors of the treasury.
"I must say, the treasury is quite amazingly built," She said quickly. "No matter what kind of magic a thief might use, it would be impossible to open, I assume?"
"Yes...yes...quite..." Colbert nodded, his head drooping slightly again. "A group of square mages designed it I believe...resists all spells I believe...but not that strong against physical blows...though you'd need something big..."
"Big like...the golem outside?"
"Yes...big as that magnificent steel golem...never seen anything like it...fire and earth so perfectly intertwined..."
At this point, Colbert's body leaned so far backwards that he started falling before Miss Longueville managed to catch him before he smashed his head into the wall. Not that she had any reason to, but it doesn't hurt to repay help with help.
"Let's get you to bed, Professor..." she said with a sigh as she helped the balding professor to his room. The treasury wasn't going anywhere after all, and smashing through the walls right now when the golem was just outside the window was a fools move.
She'd have to wait until it and everyone else was distracted before she made her move.
Steve flipped a small device about over and over between his hands, keeping it in a state imitating gyroscopic motion. This was a rather fun exercise in zero gee, as one had to impart as little force as possible to try and keep it in open air as long as they could. In one gee, Steve discovered it fell rather flat.
The device was a camera, one purple in color, a gift from his sister. It had stenciled on the side a heart of lighter purple, with a small golden facsimile of the Zeonic crest. Colbert had found it in the bottom of the Manual compartment and asked what it was, it took Steve several moments to remember himself. He had been using it not five minutes before launch from his squad's Gwazine at A Baoa Qu.
It was a device the two used to mail each other during his training and once during his active duty for Zeon, a little fun way for the two to talk with one another when video phones were unreliable or simply not as entertaining or portable. Steve had religiously guarded this device from the more crass or clumsy of his comrades in the barracks.
Since his arrival, Steve had not once thought of it. The device that meant so much to him normally, and let him vent his thoughts, or console his sister in her moments of worry, had been sitting unused in the bottom of the compartment, like a piece of trash. Even the strangeness of Steve's scenario didn't warrant that, how could he have forgotten?
Flipping open the side to reveal a screen, which he then turned to face the front, which now pointed at him, he powered the camera on and hit record. "Hey Sandra, sorry for the gap between records here, but things have been really hectic the last couple of days, though really you would probably love it here. I swear it's right out of one of your novels. I apparently got summoned from A Baoa Qu to be some little girls familiar spirit. Crazy I know, but don't you believe those casualty reports, I'm alive and well, though it is still dangerous here." Steve never really got the whole idea around the concept of not worrying your family with details like that, he always felt honesty would usually be more effective, it meant you knew the risks, and prepared for them,
"But hey, I know how you wished I had been deployed to earth so you could see pictures of the wildlife. Here I got something better, check this out, and yes, I remember the Zaku camera doesn't show up great when you port this to your computer, I think you can deal with it considering how cool this thing is." Using his free hand to poke around with the hat on the left control stick, he maneuvered the head into position before adjusting the eye for the last bit of focus on the right hat. gave a clear view of a window midway up the tower. "Alright, so this is the room of one of the other mages, she likes to take evening and early morning rides on her familiar. I'm sure you are thinking, 'so she got a horse, why are you looking at the window?' just watch- yep here she comes."
Catching the blue flying ball of energy on camera perfectly, Steve adjusted the focus perfectly on the dragon just as the bluenette came out of the window and jumped on her back.
"The girl is a mage named Tabitha, don't know much about her, but the dragon certainly likes her, so that's points in her favor as far as I'm concerned. The dragon looks scary, but she's a real sweetheart, I had her practically mewling into my hand yesterday."
Tabitha seemed to adjust herself a moment, before turning to face Steve, and raising her staff in a subtle wave. Steve frowned, before continuing, "Huh, she didn't do that bit yesterday, must be saying hi to my master I guess. Oh yeah, apparently these mages are supposed to be able to see through their familiars if they want, I'm not sure how to handle that. Of course, apparently I'm pretty off as far as familiars go. Judging by what little I saw, I seem to have gotten the short-bus mage, but don't let her know I said that, she will kill me, messily. Which brings us to the serious part of this."
Steve brought the camera back around to face him, his face a bit somber, "As you can tell by my terms for these people, they aren't normal, much in the same way we were hearing newtypes weren't. Now I know better than to just lump without evidence, but at the same time I don't want to just throw myself out in front of them because I don't know for a fact they will kill me."
Steve chuckled grimly for a moment before continuing once more "When we got briefed about the Federation newtype, we mostly were told about how the guy is apparently a murderous psychopath. You don't get the title 'White Devil' for petting kittens after all."
"I'm starting to get the impression these people are markedly more sane, but my masters temper tantrum yesterday makes it hard to be sure. She gibbed the hell out of a bear with a spell that wasn't even supposed to be harmful. I'm not letting myself get revealed until I'm damn sure I won't end up a smear on the ground, just let the locals think I'm a golem, which is apparently just a moving mass of some sort of mineral." Steve shrugged in a manner that said 'I don't know I just work here', "So I'm a fancy golem, but still something normal to them. Anyway, I better be letting you go, my master is coming out for what apparently is going to be a field trip to get to know me better, before she shows me off to a crowd, here's a shot of her for you."
Quickly flashing the camera back towards the screen which he brought to bear on Louise, he got as best a high resolution shot as he could for the camera, before flicking it off and closing it. Carefully setting it back in the side compartment, Steve resolved that he would continue to use this camera like a diary, and if he ever got back, it would be a hell of a gift for his sister.
Flicking the audio sensors back on, having turned them off for ease of sleep, Steve met the girl partway into the main courtyard, where mages worked to survey the damage from his little episode the day before. He wondered briefly before kneeling if that would have to be paid for by his 'master', she certainly wouldn't be getting her deposit back.
"Ah good familiar, you're here. It's time we tested your abilities, pick me up and we will find somewhere suitable in the forest. Once that is done, we will return for the Princess's arrival. I am unsure where they will place us, given your... stature."
Steve tilted the Zaku's head to get across the sense of confusion. In reality, he just wondered if she was bright enough to put the pieces together and figure out royalty coming to a talent show was an absolutely retarded concept. There had to be some other reason, that this was just a pretext for. If he found out she was here to warn, no, scratch that, foreshadow a neighboring nations political troubles, he was going to strangle someone.
"I said pick me up, familiar!" Louise repeated. "I'll explain everything as we search for a good place to practice! Really...why would someone make a golem that would get confused about its orders?"
Steve left his computer in combat mode so he could make use of what were apparently his familiar abilities. Colbert said he would be studying to figure out the significance of this ability, since by the time they remembered the runes daylight was breaking. In the meantime they afforded him control so fine he was able to place his hand against the ground, palm up, and let Louise crawl onto it, before standing and turning in place, to head out into the forest.
In actuality it took quite some time for them to find 'somewhere suitable' as the girl had wished for some large clearing for her to be at one end of and him to demonstrate at the other. Fun fact: trees tend to spread wherever the hell they want, and don't tend to leave large clearings.
They eventually settled for a large fairly shallow riverbed that the width of offered some flexibility in positioning. Setting Louise down on the riverbank in a sort of rivet between the shore-side trees, Steve took a few steps back and waited patiently in the middle of the river. Steve focused the eye, and fiddled with the resolution to make the eye clear the image, the tone emitted signaling to Louise he was ready for commands. Steve didn't mind given an impression of some modicum of intelligence, but he wasn't going to speak unless someone made it quite clear it was needed and expected him to.
"Familiar, your musket, it doesn't look like it loads normally, is it done magically? Can it fire forever? And what are those drums?" She had to raise her voice significantly to be heard clearly between the range and the sound of the water moving over the rocks and the feet of the steel titan.
Steve had foreseen this question, and had his demonstration all planned out. First he ejected a round from the weapon into the Zaku's free hand, and showed it to Louise. once she had a good look he shoved the round back in a port on the drum, and cycled the chamber to put another round in. He then turned to the side, careful to keep her opposite the side the shells would be coming out of, he shouldered the weapon, and picked a particularly large and tall tree downrange. He then fired two rounds about a second apart, wanting to not waste them, but at the same time look impressive. The first round hit the base of the tree, right at the ground, and exploded. The trunk was blown apart and wood shrapnel made quite a display as it splashed over a wide area in the moving water. The tree quickly began to fall into the river, but was intercepted in the middle by the second round, which blew the tree into pieces and left large pieces of driftwood floating back down the stream towards the two.
Steve immediately followed up by turning and kneeling down to pick up the discarded shells and shoving one into the empty magazine on his left waist, before rolling the other into his hand to show Louise. As he turned he realized it might have been a good idea to show her to plug her ears. Currently she was sitting on the ground with her palms covering her ears and wincing slightly.
"Oops." Steve said to himself, remembering the first time he heard the 120mm blazing away. The ringing seemed to take hours to go away. Continuing with his demonstration, Steve showed Louise the ejected casing he had kept, the water steaming off its hot surface. He waited a moment to make sure she realized it was part of the round she saw earlier, and that it was now spent. Sliding this one into the empty magazine on his side, he contemplated what to do with the shell casings. Since this was a swords and sorcery setting, maybe brass was valuable, though with the sorcery shenanigans, most likely they could just magic the stuff up.
If he ever was going to go into combat though, maybe he should look into that, maybe with some careful analysis of a round, they could magic up or forge him new rounds. It likely wasn't necessary though. He knew in books like this, the main character always wound up involved in some kind of war for their kingdom, but things here looked pretty peaceful, unless there was a sudden invasion of demons he was pretty sure his master would lead a peaceful and boring life.
Steve had two hundred rounds in reserve, and about seventy in his current magazine, he highly doubted anything that could come up would warrant even a third of that. Even then, he had the heat hawk, and the grenades, it's not like anything here could even hurt the Zaku. HE on the other hand, he was squishy. Very squishy. Which was why he didn't plan on leaving the Zaku except when he was absolutely sure it was safe.
After Louise was certain she wasn't deaf, she nodded in understanding, and a bit of wonder, as she realized that it seemed the golem's musket was apparently very complex. It fired faster than any musketeer she had ever hear of. She wondered about what her mother would think of this familiar. Would it reflect enough upon her that she would gain her approval, or at least Eleanor's?
If she wouldn't now, she would have to be ready to gain approval when the time came. "Familiar, how good are you with that axe?" she asked, crossing her arms, anticipating a demonstration.
After clasping the musket to its back. the golem reached over with its right arm, and drew the axe with a smooth motion that was accompanied by a tone not unlike the one its eye emitted occasionally, before the edge began to glow a molten red. Turning completely around, the Golem picked a mid size tree, an old maple, and seemed to survey it a moment before deciding it suitable. It then reared back, and pushed forward slamming the blade down into the tree with all its strength. The tree reacted much as if it had been struck by lightning, and gave a screaming protest of shredding wood as the axe drove all the way to the ground, where the tree began to catch FIRE! The entirety of the innards of the tree were scorched, the burnt sap inside giving off a pungent smell of caramel left in the pan too long.
The golem wiped its blade on the bank, before letting the axe cool, and finishing it off by dipping the blade into the river, and then clasping it back on its waist. Turning once again, the golem faced Louise, and let its eye 'blink' once more. That eye, what did it see.
"Now just stay there and relax familiar, since you are a golem, I'm not sure this will work, but even if you aren't alive you still see." Louise had been told this process wasn't so much an actual spell as just a manifestation of ones willpower. Even for all the failures she had endured, this ability shouldn't be denied to her. Louise looked inside herself for the bond to her familiar, and envisioned the familiar in her mind, and pushed her willpower into its eye.
Steve grew very worried with where this was heading. If she didn't go all short-bus on him again, she was going to see what he saw, namely his hands on the controls in front of him. Steve closed his eyes in hopes that if she just saw nothing, she would say it didn't work and never try again. Needless to say he was quite surprised when he heard her say, "Familiar we must clean your eye, wait, why are the strange spots moving? Are they mites?"
Spots? Moving? That sounded like static.
She was seeing out of the damn Zaku's main camera?
"Why is the area you can see so small, I mean I can see me just fine, but really how can you fight like that? And what were all those words that I couldn't hear when I tried to use your senses. What is an 'administrator account'?"
"You're shitting me." Steve said to himself, "Her magic senses, not only didn't pick me to see out of, but logged into the Zaku's very limited networking capabilities, made her an account, and linked her with the camera." Steve paused several moments with a perturbed look on his face.
"I call bullshit. I will not accept a wizard did it as an answer. No. No, no, no, this didn't happen." Steve leaned forward and brought up the networking console before bringing up the list of users, figuring he never networked somebody with the name [ null ], he quickly put in the commands to boot the user. "Denied." Steve said monotonously as Louise staggered in place before shaking her head and glaring at him.
"Familiar! Don't be so rude to your master. I was only using your eye."
"No, no you weren't, this didn't happen." Steve thought angrily, before their strange pseudo argument was interrupted by a blue form swooping down and landing, the mage on top just turning to say, "Late." to Louise, before taking back off.
Louise looked at Steve, who just shrugged in his cockpit, until it dawned on him, and when he pointed in the academy's direction, on Louise.
Steve would later deny laughing at Louise's face, for a solid minute, before picking her up and starting towards the academy.
Steve ran full tilt down the gap in the trees that had been their path. Unfortunately it was far from straight, and turned upon itself, as natural forest paths are wont to do. Louise was held close to the Zaku's center of gravity, only a few feet of armor and technology separating her from Steve in fact. As they came closer to spotting the academy though, it was clear something was wrong. there was a huge plume of dust, as if someone had ground up a pile of dust and mortar and blew it into the air. As they rounded the top of another hill, the cause became clear.
Steve was at a loss as he saw what looked like a massive stone and dirt and tree abomination slamming away at the central tower, impotently for the moment, but one could tell when viewing with the full zoom on the Zaku's camera that it wasn't going to hold forever.
Steve debated for a moment how many shits he gave about this scenario, when Louise exclaimed something about worrying for the princess, it was mostly garbled out since she was right next to a audio sensor cranked all the way up. It was also very very loud.
Steve slowed to a stop next to an outcropping of rocks on the ridge, before kneeling and putting Louise down, and pointing at the ground in a manner that clearly said 'sit, stay, good girl'.
Steve then ran a short ways to make sure Louise was clear of the backblast, before pushing off into a hard jump, and unslinging his MMP-78. This thrust of jet propulsion was loud enough that it made the golem pause and slowly turn around to investigate the strange noise. It finished turning just fast enough to catch a 120mm burst to the torso as Steve let loose with the machine gun. He started to feather his thrusters on decent to slow himself down, and both make the landing easier and give him more time with the trigger on target.
The golem wasn't just taking this, and was trying to shield its face with its arms while starting to retreat back towards the forest to Steve's left. Steve responded with a burst of fire to the elbow of the golem on that side, displaying clearly that he wasn't going to let it just run away after attacking the academy. The arm responded by politely coming off in a shower of mortar and clay, the first thing to really go Steve's way today.
Steve then slammed down in the courtyard, steadying himself when he halted his forward momentum with a three point stance. His gun held high, he looked up, fulling expecting the golem to be crumbing apart. He wasn't expecting to see the tail end of the golem flinging its remaining arm from its body as a projectile, bowling over the Zaku, and knocking the gun from its fingers. Climbing out of the now loose earth and gravel, he caught a glimpse of the golem, which seemed to have fared the worse of the two in the recent exchange. While it seemed to be pulling more mass from below to repair itself and replace its limbs, it wasn't doing it very well. It wouldn't survive another volley like before. Trouble was Steve didn't think it would just nicely let him dig his gun out of the rubble. Well that suited him just fine, he needed to vent, and the Heat Hawk was nothing if not a nice way to vent your anger on something. Reaching over, he took a firm hold and drew the weapon, letting the blade heat up nice and evenly before charging the massive enemy golem.
The golem seeing his approach rapidly pushed mass out into its new arms, but if the previous arms could have been described as thick and meaty, these ones would only be described as little girly-boy arms. He simply turned and brought his shoulder shield to bear when the golem reared back to strike him when he got in range, and let the attack smash uselessly into the barrier with a loud clang, compacting the golems arm into a stub about half as long as before, before spinning in place and swinging the heat hawk from up below with both hands, to slash into the side of the Golem, and try and sever the golem from its right side to its other shoulder. If it could survive being cut it half, Steve was going to use the extra time to shove a grenade in the regenerating mass and see if it recovered from THAT.
Surprisingly enough, magically dense gravel and earth managed to stop the heat hawk just before it fully embedded itself in faux flesh. Steve grimaced, placing right hand on the golem, trying to push it free. The golem was having none it, and tried to flow even more dirt over the axe to try and wedge it more firmly in place. Such was a mistake, as the torso was still savaged from the assault of the explosive 120mm rounds. As the changes in density reached a critical point in their fight against the tension of the Zaku's servos the whole shoulder instead tore away as the axe came free.
The golem couldn't take much more of this, it was losing mass and integrity far FAR faster than it could replace it or adapt it shape to compensate. Steve finally saw the mage on the other shoulder, their face hidden, but their posture suggesting one who was not in control. While Steve was looking at the mage however, he didn't see the boiling earth in the center of the golem's chest until it was too late. The moment he did see it, an ultra dense spike of mortar and stone from the foundation of the academy was streaking towards the mono-camera.
If that got taken out, Steve was doomed. He turned away from the blow and tried to sever it with the heat hawk as he turned, hoping it would disperse if severed.
Then he heard the explosion and the sound of rubble hitting steel plate as the spike detonated for no apparent reason other than some of it deciding to be anti matter today. His master had apparently arrived by dragon-back with Tabitha, if his limited peripheral vision was to be believed.
However, not all was joy and roses, as Steve had all the Zaku's weight going into shoving its heat hawks blade through the air. The Zaku continued to turn and Sliced along the edge of the tower with the end of his heat hawk, the blade likely going in twenty feet, though at an oblique angle. It apparently didn't hit any rooms of residence, though a storeroom was demolished and its contents poured out the gap left behind by the heat hawk as it came to a stop, wedged in more of the tower.
He had screwed up. He was now defenseless against the golem. Focusing his mono eye as he tried to pull his axe free again, he watched the golem, waiting for the blow from its remaining arm. It never came, instead the rider saw something in particular fall from the storeroom and let their golem crumble to the ground, falling towards it. Steve managed to get his Heat Hawk free, just as the mage grabbed a strange case and began sinking into the ground. He tried to strike down on the mage with the hot blade, but was too late, the blade slamming uselessly into the armoire that survived the fall just behind the mage. Interestingly, though irrelevant, Steve could have sworn he saw the furniture being driven into the dirt, rather than shattering and burning.
Silence reigned with the exception of the sounds emitted by the active heat hawk, and the Zaku's reactor. A moment later, Steve allowed himself to breath for the first time since he saw the spike headed for the eye, before pulling the blade from the ground, deactivating it, and latching it to his side. His master was amongst the stunned bystanders who apparently had taken cover in the shelter offered by the outer wall. Steve retrieved his MMP-78 from the rubble and dirt from when the golem shot its arm at him, and brushed some debris from it, before holding it akimbo, turning to his master and the crowd, and giving a thumbs up with the Zaku's free hand.
So he was a ham, deal with it. The crowd loved it, and began cheering. Steve opted to just zoom his camera on Louise, who had a proud smile on her face. Steve wasn't quite sure if said pride was with herself, or with him, but he also wasn't quite sure he cared.