Zero no Tsukaima:Volume7 Chapter1
Chapter One: The Temperature Difference between the Two
A young lady with peach-colored hair was lying horizontally on the bed, with only a thin cape wrapped around her bare skin.
She was the one whom they call "Louise of the Void," otherwise known as Louise Françoise; only a few high ranking officers of the royal army knew of this secret.
It was now the end of the year, the second week in the month of Wynn. Going by Halkeginia's climate, it was the equivalent of autumn... still not considered very cold in the tent. Winter would have to wait until the coming of the new year. It was also because of this that she could dress so sexily without the fear of catching a cold.
On a simple bed, consisting of a piece of cloth draped over straw, Louise bit her small finger, and sulked indignantly. This gesture of hers had an unbelievable cuteness to it. On that porcelain doll-like face of hers surfaced a peach color, arising from discontent. Louise sat up, and hugged her knee.
This gesture of hers had a cuteness akin to a goddess'. With her feelings immediately written on her face, Louise could not completely hide the uneasiness in her heart. This unease caused some sort of dramatic change in Louise's girlish air, adding to it a layer of perfume called "sexiness".
Louise's hands nonchalantly touched her long slender legs beneath her cape.
Her fingers touched her toes, and returned to her knees.
Unknowingly, Louise made a seductive move: gently tugging the cape covering her body upwards, exposing her legs and slim yet sexy thighs. All this was done unconsciously.
Beneath the cape was her skin, a young maiden's skin now full of charm, due to her passion.
Which is to say, she was wearing nothing. Why? Because Louise only wore pajamas when she slept; so since she had forgotten to bring her pajamas, she had to replace it with a cape, and if she were wearing her underwear, she would not have been able to fall asleep.
Although the sexy and cute pose from Louise was spreading out an irresistible charm...It was a pity that the other person in the tent took no notice of it.
On the back of the cape covering Louise, was the lily emblem of Tristain. This cape was different from the one worn in the academy. The emblem, a way to distinguish friend from foe, clearly indicated that this area was a battleground.
As a female officer directly under Her Highness's command, Louise was assigned her own personal tent. In the military port of Rosais, buildings resembling hostels were rare, so tents were put at every stop. Such treatment was equal to a general's, but since Louise's legendary magic element ‘Void’ was considered to be a weapon of last resort, it was perfectly normal.
Inside the tent, illuminated by a magical lamp, was a simple bed made up of a piece of cloth covering some straw, a foldable dining table, a small cabinet for clothing and accessories and a bell for ordering the accompanying soldiers. In the battlefield, items like that inside a tent could be considered "luxurious".
In a corner of the tent, Saito was staring blankly in front of him, feeling low.
Louise sat up, and called him again.
"Hey, I'm going to sleep soon. Come here, quickly."
Although Louise was red in the face as she called him, there was still no reaction.
"It's already past 10. We'll have to be up early tomorrow morning to inspect the frontlines. You'd better sleep now."
Even so, there was still no reply from Saito.
This familiar of Louise, who came from another world, was now sitting crossed-legged on the floor, his face full of depression. He was already like this since a week ago. When Louise recalled the battle which caused Saito's depression, she felt a dull pain in her heart.
A week ago, the combined armies of Tristain and Germania successfully occupied this port-town of Albion. As the main force of Albion's armies were lured to the northern port-town of Dartanes, there were only about 500 defenders in Rosais. The landing party, numbering 60,000, effortlessly destroyed the defenders and set up camp in Rosais.
By enticing the enemy, Louise's Void magic showed its power. The Void spell "Illusion", is a spell that can create huge illusions.
Louise used the 'Illusion' spell to create illusions of the combined armies landing in Dartanes, causing the enemy forces en route to Rosais to turn back.
But... in order for Louise and the others to reach Dartanes, some sacrifices had to be made. That was the 2nd Dragon Knight Squadron, attached to "Varsenda", the flagship of the Albion expedition.
It was because of their engagament with enemy forces, that the Zero Fighter carrying Louise and Saito could successfully escape pursuit by the enemy's dragon knights.
The price for this battle's success... was the annihilation of the 2nd Dragon Knight Squadron. Although dragon knights were very expensive, compared to the possible losses while landing in enemy territory, this sacrifice could be considered small. The commanding officer was even rewarded as a matter of fact! This too, was also something to be happy about.
The thing is, for those who took part in that battle, and witnessed the destruction of the squadron for themselves, it was an entirely different feeling.
Louise observed Saito, and pouted her lips.
Of course, it was a sad thing that had happened, but…
During the landing battle, there were sacrifices as well. War definitely brings death along with it. If every death was mourned, there would be no end to it.
In Halkeginia, there were wars almost every single year.
For Louise, although death was something sad, it was also something very close to her.
Louise stood up. Under the dim glow of the magic lamp, the room was rather dark. Under such conditions, even if the cape didn't cover certain areas, her body should still remain unseen.
Louise crossed her hands in front of her, as if hugging herself, and held the hems of the cape tightly. She walked up to Saito, who was hugging his knees as he sat, and said, "Cheer up, alright."
"Emm," Saito grunted lifelessly.
"But, I can't help it. After all, it happened right before my eyes. Although it was for the success of the mission, still..."
Saito was really down in the doldrums. It was only then that Louise remembered: those teens were about Saito's age.
Saito… he must have projected himself onto them. This kind-hearted boy from another world, with what was going on in his mind a mystery, must have been hurt by this self-projection.
Just as how Saito had comforted her before, Louise felt that this time, it was her turn to comfort him. But, she didn't know how to go about doing it.
Louise squatted, and sat back-to-back with Saito.
"That... Although you may find me cruel for saying this... Compared to the deaths of the squadron, what makes me sadder is to see you being so depressed. Although I shouldn't be thinking like this, facts are facts. However, maybe because…you are my familiar and were by my side, I really felt very sad."
Saito slowly turned his head, and stared quietly at Louise.
"Death may sadden people... But that was a glorious death on the battlefield... for honor. They died for a great victory. They'd be pitiful if you felt sad about their deaths..."
"Do you mean what you say... regarding this?"
He felt that something was amiss when Louise started talking like this.
”Of course not, but it has to be this way. We're now at war."
Louise's right hand let go of the hem it was holding, and gently patted Saito's forehead, now that he has turned around. Her fingers caressed the streaks of dried tears on his cheeks.
Saito shook his head, and cried.
"I... I didn't even know their names."
Instead of calling it an unbearable pain, it was more of the inability to forgive.
To die for the mission, to die for honor.
He couldn't imagine these feelings at all.
Doesn't Louise understand this?
He recalled Colbert's letter. The teacher wrote: Do not become accustomed to killing each other. Do not become accustomed to death.
He was wondering at the time, "How is it possible that one could get used to such things?"
As Louise looked at Saito's forlorn face, she felt terrible. The things she had just said were not lies. Although she felt sad for those youths who had sacrificed themselves, they had died for the victory of their country.
Louise, who had grown up receiving the education of the nobility, and Saito, who grew up in the peaceful Japan of Earth: there was an obvious rift between them.
Louise felt pain seeing Saito’s crying face. Compared to mourning the dead, she had a greater desire to heal the pain of the living. If Saito's tears were a kind of gentleness, then perhaps this can be said to be another type of gentleness.
What should one do at a moment like this? How does one comfort a boy who had been hurt?
If it was that maid, what would she do? She used just a little bit of her imagination.
She would... use the warmth of her body! It's all that commoner can come up with.
On this train of thought, she suddenly became angry.
That... that sort of thing... I can do that too!
Recalling that time where he pushed her to the floor, and kissed her a few times on the neck, Louise's face became red at once.
Since at that time he had gotten excited all of a sudden (That's how Louise saw it), Louise hadn't forgiven Saito for what he did, definitely not.
He said something about liking her; surely he said it with doing that sort of thing in mind. Once her mind was on this thought, a burst of anger erupted from within her. After that, she couldn't even forgive herself. Although she was affected by the mood at the time, she actually lowered the hand which had risen to slap him.
That means... that is to say...
But, in the back of her mind, Louise shook her head furiously.
That doesn't mean that I've accepted him.
Because he wanted to do it the hard way; he's doing it unconsciously. That's right! Unconsciously!
Although Louise didn't know what "unconsciously" actually meant, she hugged Saito tightly, her face crimson-red. Hugging a familiar is something which isn't supposed to be done, due to the difference in status between the two. Yes... letting him sit beside the dining table could be said to be a form of pity. But, hugging him like this wasn't pity.
Louise shook her head. She thought, "What am I doing?" The incredible thing was that her heartbeat was quickening. Her racing heartbeat seemed to be dissolving the cruel atmosphere of the battlefield.
Despite all this, Saito was still depressed.
Is it still not enough?
Is simply hugging him tightly not enough?
Hoping that he would pucker up didn't mean that she liked him or anything. However, if a familiar was like this, it would affect missions in the future.
Louise intended to try her best at imitating Siesta. She was trying hard, even putting aside her noblewoman's pride. Although she didn't have any other feelings for this familiar, she didn't want to lose in battle, no matter what. However, there was no movement in Saito's vision.
She remembered what she was wearing now. Underneath the cape was her skin.
Louise took a deep breath. It's only a tiny bit. If doing this could comfort Saito a little, isn't it worth a try?
No way Louise!
How can you show others your body when you're unmarried?
If you treat him like familiar, that's still alright. But what are you doing now?
If he sees it, there will be trouble!
You'll have to marry him, those are the rules.
I want to marry?
No way! Impossible! He's a commoner from another world!
Her brain began to fry, as if it was about to explode. Saito stared at Louise in her current predicament, his eyes emotionless.
Sob...now even Louise was feeling down, she really wanted to heal this wound of Saito's.
Does Saito really like me… To think about it, although he did say that he liked me… but that was to take advantage of me… But does my body have that kind of charm… Aaahhhh! This is frustrating!!
Louise grew more and more confused; her brain was really going to explode soon. Just as she was loosening her grip on her cape...
Just as the gentleness of the mourner, and the gentleness of the comforter for the living, were about to meet...
A sudden gust of wind blew against the tent.
"What... what's going on?"
Saito and Louise shouted at the same time.
Looks like something just landed beside the tent.
On closer inspection, it was a wind dragon.
On its back, one could see the silhouettes of dragon knights.
"Ene... enemies! The enemy is here!"
Saito grabbed his sword hurriedly. At that moment, a man peered out from the dragon's back, and said to Saito in a soft voice, "Oh, you're..."
Upon seeing his face, Saito's eyes nearly popped out of their sockets; he was stunned.
The men sitting on the dragon were the dragon knights that had been thought decimated.
Saito's mouth fell wide open. He asked softly,
"It's... a long story."
That was the reply from a plump dragon knight. The rest of the knights bowed their heads, as if embarrassed.
"We'll talk again later. So… so sorry to have interrupted the two of you…" The plump knight captain said shyly.
Louise, with only a cape covering her, was blankly leaning against Saito.
Louise hurriedly kicked Saito away, and screamed,
"W-w-we didn't do anything!"
Perhaps, it was the miracle caused by the temperature difference between the two types of gentleness.
The dragon knights, thought to be deceased, were standing before them, with not a single man missing.
Besides the dragon which they rode on, the knights lost the rest of their dragon mounts... But no matter, all the men returned safely.
Before Saito's and Louise's relief, they could hardly speak with their mouths now wide open
"You all... How..."
"No... Well... actually, we aren't sure ourselves."
Seeing the sudden return of the knights, the senior officers in the dragon knight's headquarters tent nearly had their eyes popping out of their sockets.
From the day they were annihilated, a week had passed.
Furthermore, this was enemy territory - the land of Albion. Their survival was already written off as hopeless.
Count Kirnumel, the commander of the 2nd Dragon Knight Group, in charge of three dragon knight squadrons, was the first to open his arms and welcome the return of these warriors, who had miraculously survived.
"Never mind! Regardless, returning alive is something worth being happy about! It really is incredible! A miraculous survival, I say!"
Immediately, applause and cheers rang out inside the tent.
Standing beside Saito and Louise, who brought the whole lot here, a young knight with a shy expression said in a loud, clear voice,
"Actually, even I find it hard to believe myself… even the wounds on our bodies were healed completely!"
A knight took a closer look at the survivors, and exclaimed,
"Was it the enemy who treated you guys?"
"I... don't know. Regardless, I shall first narrate my personal experience of the battle."
As the leader, the young knight began narrating his report to those in the tent.
The 2nd Dragon Knight Squadron was surrounded by more than a hundred enemy riders... One by one, the riders fell to the enemy's magic attacks.
Almost every knight and dragon mount was severely wounded, and lost consciousness as they plummeted to the ground.
"So, what happened after you guys regained consciousness?"
"At the time, I was already riding on the dragon's back, along with the rest, all the way to Rosais. It's only upon reaching here did I realise that a week had already passed."
"You're saying that you guys have no memory of what happened from the moment you guys were shot down till today?"
The knights looked at each other sheepishly.
"Yes, sir. Absolutely nothing."
"Hey... Don't tell me you guys lost an entire week's memories?"
"That's exactly what happened."
The knights nodded in shame.
"That one remaining dragon mount... Who did it belong to?" Enquired one of the officers.
A knight raised his hand, saying, "It's my Beyael." He was one of the twins. Kirnumel focused his attention on the youth.
"What was the situation like at the time?"
"When we got surrounded, I was injured before my mount; my shoulder was hit by a magic missile. Beyael probably wanted to help me escape. So, it pretended to be hit, and flew to a lower altitude."
There was a tinge of shame in his voice, due to the fact that the other knights continued to fight on despite the injuries they and their dragon mounts suffered.
"Since you could no longer fight, it's only logical to leave the battlefield. There's nothing to be ashamed of."
Upon hearing those words from his commander, the lad brightened up immediately.
Kirnumel touched his moustache. Of course, it's a joyous thing to have the knights back safe and sound... But, there were too many anomalies, and they were bound to raise suspicions.
Who was it that saved these gravely-wounded dragon knights, healed them, and allowed them to ride on the sole surviving wind dragon to Rosais?
The enemy would surely carry out a search to identify the riders who had been shot down. But, they escaped the search, and returned in one piece.
It could very well be a trap.
Kirnumel ordered the knights to stand in a line, and allowed his subordinates to use magic for a detailed check on these young survivors. He felt that the enemy could be using magic to manipulate them.
But, there were no problems with the results. The youths showed no traces of manipulation on them, and since there was nothing else to ask of them, Kirnumel urged them to retire.
"Since your dragon survived, you shall go under the command of the 1st Group. As for the rest, since you all are without dragons; that cannot be helped."
Kirnumel focused his attention on Louise, whom until now stood by the side blankly, as if she was an outsider. Although her true identity was unknown, his superiors had mentioned that this female officer was sent by the Princess, and knows how to use some unknown but special magic.
Treat her with all due respect - that decree had already been sent from the highest HQ to the rest of the forces.
"Until the replacement dragons arrive, you all shall be Miss Vallière's guards. Dismissed!"
After leaving the Battalion HQ tent, the plump captain of the 2nd Dragon Knight Squadron immediatly bowed to Saito.
"Now that we are under your command, please guide us along the way."
Saito used his hand to wipe his eyelids, as he hugged the captain.
"I thought you guys were dead."
"No... Come to think about it, I forgot something, so I can't possibly die that easily."
Saito asked, a stunned expression on his face.
The plump knight smiled,
"I haven't introduced myself. I'm Rene Vonke, a dragon knight of Tristain. Nice to meet you."
Saito also introduced himself.
"I'm Hiraga Saito."
"That's a strange name you have there," Rene said, while laughing.
Saito, who looked as if he was about to cry, laughed and said, "Then, let us drink our fill tonight, to celebrate all of you returning safely!"
Saito and company went into Louise's tent, and the party began in there. Perhaps, the survivors were just glad to be alive, and drank and drank. And before long, they were drunk.
Before anyone knew it, the only two sober souls around were Saito and Rene.
Due to the wind dragon blowing against the tent a while back, the top had a gash on it. From the crack, one could see the stars and the moon. The cool night wind entered the tent. Saito shivered.
"But, I didn't expect you to get so depressed. No... sorry for letting you worry…” said Rene gravely.
"It's because of you guys that my familiar was feeling down the entire day. It was really, really bad!"
A while back, Louise chided them. Upon hearing Louise's words, they said, "What a strange fellow!" Then, everyone roared with laughter. Saito couldn't understand at all why they laughed.
Louise, after hollering for a good while, was now sleeping on Saito's knee, probably tired out from her shouting.
"Is it so weird for me to be depressed?"
Hearing Saito's words, Rene grinned,
"Wouldn't there be no end to it?"
"No end to it? What do you mean?"
Saito retorted with his own question. Rene drank a mouthful of grape wine straight from the bottle, his plump cheeks now red from the wine. He said solemnly,
"Are we not at war now? If you're going to grieve over every single stranger, wouldn't there be no end to it?"
"We're not strangers; I talked with you guys before. If someone died while protecting you, you would definitely feel sad! You guys are the ones with strange ideas!"
Saito downed a mouthful of wine. Rene, with a somewhat serious look, said,
"We didn't serve as bait in order to protect you two. We were protecting the battle plan, and our own honor."
"What do you mean?"
"Back then, the orders we received were to escort you guys to Dartanes at all cost. Ensuring the success of this battle would mean the protection of the entire royal army, equivalent to a blood oath of loyalty to Her Highness. As long as our loyalty to Her Highness is recognized, the prestige of our clans will increase. Even if I die, the glory will continue on."
"This is crazy."
"Hey, don't spout nonsense like that! Maybe you're a commoner. That's why you're not aware of this, but to nobility, the so-called "honor" is something which is more important than life itself."
"Geez. Thankfully, I'm not some nobleman."
"Exactly. Compared to being born into petty nobility, it's much more comfortable being a commoner!"
"That's right. Unlike those counts and earls, for each generation we have to survive on a pitifully small salary. No wealth means no fancy decor, and no pride. If we want to escape that, the only way is to work hard in the battlefield, and gain the recognition of our superiors. If one's achievements in the war are recognized, he'll be granted a fiefdom as a reward. So, everyone rabidly puts his life on the line. They have no time to worry about the danger of death. Huu..."
Saito closed his eyes and thought for a while.
"But, if you die, wouldn't it be all over? Why do you noblemen drop terms like 'death' and 'honor' so casually? Are you guys idiots?"
No answer. After a closer look, it turns out that Rene had already fallen asleep.
"What the... He fell asleep after saying his piece."
Really, these so-called "nobility" are a bunch of stubborn fellows. Louise is also like that. She said herself that "I'll definitely help you find a way to get home." But, once the war began, her attention became entirely focused on it.
He actually followed Louise all the way to this; was he out of his mind?
...For what am I fighting like this, even putting my life on the line?
A few reasons popped up in his mind.
He wanted to lend a hand to the pitiful Henrietta.
He wanted to protect Siesta's hometown, for the girl had always cared for him.
But, the most important reason of all... is that he was worried about Louise.
That's probably it... he thought, as he looked at this young lady with peach-coloured hair, who was sleeping on his knee. To put it plainly, it was because he loved her. That was why he always worried.
Louise is really cute, and he really wanted to feel her. But, he would have to hold back for now, as everyone was here.
Ah, but would his feelings be reciprocated?
Whether this relationship would have an outcome, perhaps only God himself knows. The God of Earth... or the gods of this different world... who should he ask for the answer?
Thinking about this, Saito immediately shook his head.
Am I an idiot... Why am I thinking about such silly questions?
It was then that he recalled what Louise had said just now.
Death may sadden people.... But that was a glorious death in the battlefield... for honor. They died for a great victory. They'd be pitiful if you felt sad about their deaths...
He had a very strong distaste for this. It felt unnatural.
At the same time, he felt that Louise, who was sleeping on his lap, was getting further and further away from him. She's just in front of me...why do I have this feeling?! He couldn’t fathom the reason for it at all.
Huu... Let's sleep... thought Saito, allowing Louise to continue using his leg as a pillow as he lay down to sleep.
All the while, the bright moonlight from the two moons beamed down upon him, as if to comfort him and his many troubles...
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