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34422 No. 34422
I am the bone of my update.

Text is my body, and plotholes my blood.

I have written over 30,000 words.

Unknown to endings, nor known to deadlines.

Have withstood sleep deprivation to write many stories...

...yet these hands will never know a hiatus.

So, as I pray,

The Idea of Alice, Act II!

---------------------------------------

“I… talked with Remilia,” you begin. “She made me an offer.”

Patchouli looks patently unimpressed. “I knew it from nearly the moment I met you,” she states. “Remilia has a nasty habit of treating people like novelty toys.”

You grin. “And here I thought she was a good person.”

Patchouli gives you a wistful smile. “Deep down, she is,” she whispers, delicate purple eyes taking on a nostalgic tint. “At any rate, I take it you didn’t accept.”

“Obviously not. Though she did try to bribe me.”
That gets a laugh out of her. “Ah yes, she’d do… excuse me.” Shaking her head, Patchouli stands up, running a hand over her slender throat as she takes a flask of water and a teacup from a stand near the fireplace. Settling back down before the table, she pours from the flask onto the cup, and as the water hits the porcelain, it changes color and temperature. When she’s done, Patchouli holds in her hand a cup of hot tea, from which she takes a sip.

“How did you…” you gesture silently towards the cup.

“Magic.” Taking several more sips, Patchouli sets the cup down. “So sorry, but as I said, my throat gets the better of me if I don’t keep hydrated.”

“Is it… bad? The asthma and everything, I mean.”

“About as bad as the anemia and my dozen other little conditions.”

Patchouli gives you a shrug as you draw back, a hand over your mouth.

“You-“

“Don’t worry, don’t worry,” she waves you off. “Perhaps if I were not a magician my state would be far more critical. Fortunately for me, my study of magecraft allows me to replicate any miracle of modern medicine, perhaps even a bit more. “

She grins. “Rest assured any problems I might have are only but a minor inconvenience. But we’re veering off course.”

“Yes,” you weakly mutter, still a tad disconcerted by her nonchalance. “As I was saying, I refused. It was rather tempting, but….” You frown. “I still have no idea about my memories, and, well, we’d only just met. I mean, I’m grateful for the hospitality, but what could she possibly want to offer me work the first day she’s seen me?”

Patchouli looks thoughtful for a bit. “Remilia Scarlet… she has a different way of thinking from you and I. Her interest in keeping you at her call may be derived from a hidden outlook – she’s attracted to something about you that neither you or I can see. Or it might be just a passing whimsy, as childish and ephemeral as when she pesters Sakuya for dessert.” She pauses to take a long draught from her cup. “Ah. With Remilia, you can never know, and she recognizes this fact as her greatest asset.” A flash of irritation crosses her features. “How typically French, to never be straightforward except when insulting someone.”

“I don’t know…” you idly run a hand across your cheek, lost in thought. “She seemed very irritated when I wouldn’t take the scabbard.”

“Scabbard?” Patchouli perks up.

“For my rapier,” you answer, nodding towards the weapon sitting at your feet. “It was beautiful, all gold and diamonds.”

“Now that’s…” Patchouli looks caught off guard, “…unusual.”

“I get the feeling she knows something we don’t.” You raise an eyebrow, trying to keep your expression cool in spite of the burning curiosity welling up inside your chest.

“Perhaps. I’ll talk with her,” Patchouli reassures you. “At any rate…” She makes a tiny gesture, as if egging you on to move forward with the conversation.

You frown, the blatant attempt to change the topic surprising you. Still, you don’t push the envelope, realizing you’ve little more to add. “Yes, um… you said it would take a couple of weeks to get things sorted out, right? That’s also part of why I said no… I can’t be sure of anything until I have my memories back.”
Doubt creeps through your mind at that last sentence. If I get my memories back…’

“Indeed,” Patchouli nods. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. You see, I’ve already started to pull some books off the shelves regarding your predicament.”

“…and?” you ask, concerned.

Patchouli’s face darkens. “You see, there‘s a myriad different enchantments with the ability to wipe or otherwise modify someone’s memory, and roughly the same number of different counterspells, each evocation crafted by a different mage or mages. And of course all these only apply if the damage is mere modification rather than permanent assault, and only if one is sure that the subject’s problem has magic at its root. And it’s the latter part where my initial assessment of you fills me with fear, in that I cannot be sure of whether it’s truly magic that’s tampered with your memories.”

“I…”

“Please let me go on. You see, Alice, you’re an anomaly. There is literally no way for a physical ailment to cause amnesia as specific as yours, short of a million to one fluke involving blunt force trauma that I would have detected the minute I laid eyes on you. On the other hand, I can’t detect any magic lingering over you that might indicate a faded charm, never mind a latent enchantment.”

“So that means… it’s all gone?” you ask, tensing up.

“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Patchouli says, “nothing is certain yet. The enchantments that once concealed this library were so incredible that generations of people lived nearby without noticing it, but were detected in minutes by a trained magician such as me because she both knew what she was looking for and because the spells were so incredibly large. But a smaller enchantment of approaching, nevermind equal quality, would be almost invisible even for the trained eye. Even so, there is hope – mind magic works through rules that are wildly different than standard spellcraft. And besides…”

She smirks. “There has yet to be an enchantment I’ve come across that I’ve been unable to crack, and I’ve been around since Queen Victoria, bless her great soul.”

You give her a wan smile in return, trying to look cheerful in spite of the doubt suddenly clenching your heart like a vice. “I… thank you. For everything, really. I suppose it was unkind of me to be so harsh this morning, particularly since you’re helping me so much with no obligation to do so…”

“No obligation?” Patchouli repeats, whimsical. “Really? There is such a thing as principle, Alice. If you encountered someone who needed help, and you had the ability to help them, would you not?”

You frown. “Of course I would, it’d be wrong not to.”

“Good answer. Besides, you did save my books from that thief. It would be ungrateful not to repay the favor,” she says, contentedly downing the rest of her teacup. “Ah, I really ought to have asked Sakuya to make me a kettle when I had the chance. Now I’ll have to go and do it myself.”

“Why not just ask a fairy?” you inquire, and instantly regret it.

Patchouli grows stiff. “I’m sorry, but if I encounter another fairy today, bad things will happen. And they might involve murder.” Her tone sounds remarkably serious.

“Ah, sorry, sorry, I shouldn’t have mentioned it…” you say, trying to pacify her.

“Don’t worry, I couldn’t possibly be mad at you,” Patchouli reassures you with a smile that looks more like a grimace. “You didn’t drink a priceless bottle of vintage brandy and then took the drunken decision to cough out the disgusting contents of your stomach over my fireplace, like a filthy pig. If it’s anyone’s fault at the root it is Remilia’s, for being so utterly cheap as to hiring such worthless pests instead of spending money on actual servants. But of course, she won’t listen to my complaints. Infuriating!”

“I… there’s no need to get so angry…” you mutter. Koakuma, it seems, was painfully right about how mad that little incident had made Patchouli.

At your words, the woman grows subdued. “Ah, forgive me;” she mumbles with an embarrassed cough, “I suppose I got carried away. It is, you’ll admit, rather irritating. But I’m veering off course. As I was saying, I’ll be dedicating most of my efforts to researching your predicament. In two weeks’ time we’ll see results… or deal with the consequences. For now, I’ll be going to my lab.” She looks at you with some concern. “And you ought to sleep. I can see you’re not fully recovered.”

“Wait,” you stop her before she stands up. “About that… um… if I’m going to be here for a while, I really don’t think it’s right that I don’t make myself useful.”

Patchouli gives you a tiny smile. “I don’t think you’re in much condition to strain yourself, Alice.”

“I was in good enough condition to fight this morning,” you retort. “And seeing as you’re helping me, I don’t like the idea of doing nothing. I could…”

You blink, suddenly realizing that your narrow set of talents isn’t actually worth that much. What are you going to do, challenge the faeries Patchouli’s angry with to a swordfight?

“I could… um… where does Marisa live?” you blurt out, grabbing the first thing that comes to mind to erase the growing amusement on Patchouli’s face. “I could go get your books back for you. I mean, I’ve already beaten her once, sort of…”

To your dismay, Patchouli lets out a giggle, shaking her head. “Ah… no. From what little I’ve seen, you’re a very good fencer, Alice, but it would take more than that to defeat Marisa in a straight duel.”

You cock your head to the side. “…I don’t get it,” you mutter, “dodge a spell, stab her in the shoulder, take the books while she’s busy bleeding. You get what you want and nobody gets permanently hurt.”

Patchouli grows paler than usual, if that’s even possible. “That’s… harder than it sounds. And it might be best to lay off the stabbing. Killing the opponent is rather against the spellcard rules.”

“Spellcard rules?”

“Ah, you wouldn’t know, would you?” Patchouli mutters. “I’ll explain. As you know, Gensokyo is inhabited by a wide number of powerful beings. Powerful beings who, should they clash seriously, run the risk of causing wide property damage, loss of life, or outright destabilization of the bounded field that holds this place separate from the rest of the world. This is particularly true in cases involving the shrine maiden…”

“She maintains the border, right?” you ask. “I remember that concept, at least.”

“In a way,” Patchouli agrees. “Rather, the border’s continued stability is ensured by the blood of her lineage. Part of the initial ritual that made the thing, I suppose. Still, ‘maintaining’ isn’t really the word… I wouldn’t trust Reimu to maintain her own garden, nevermind a complex bounded field. Still, her survival, among the other previous factors, make it necessary to hold a system for conflict resolution…”

She goes on, and the next half-hour is whiled away as Patchouli explains to you the details and intricacies of Gensokyo’s spellcard system, the conversation speeding up as you filled the gaps with your experience from past battles against Cirno and Marisa. For such a loose system, the entire thing seemed to hold up quite well in practice. One thing caught your eye, however – while most youkai sensibly used whatever natural power they had been born with, such as Cirno’s control of ice, and some people, like the shrine maiden, used spirits; most humans of any note and most upper-tier youkai used magecraft. Thaumaturgy was complicated business, but the sheer variety and command over natural laws it gave the experienced user was unparalleled.

“Magic is, after all, a science,” Patchouli went on in that direction, having noticed that this last part of the conversation caught your interest. “And science is the one weapon humanity has at its disposal. Of course, as with all sciences, any human could potentially learn magecraft, but few ever have the power and the resolve to actually study it. And even fewer, and here I count myself among that rare breed, are born naturally talented. This, of course, means that humans who could realistically engage in a spellcard duel are few and far between, but the ones that can are worth a hundred youkai.”

“So in order to defeat Marisa in a fair duel, without resorting to underhanded tactics or hurting her badly, I’d have to use magic?” you ask, eager. Something tingles in the back of your mind, and it has been doing so since the conversation veered this way. ’Magic, magic, magic, magic. The book? What book?’

“Yes…”

“Teach me.”

Patchouli looks rather taken aback by the sudden request, looking at you with undisguised surprise. “Teach you?”

“Yes, I…” you frown. “I don’t want to be powerless, and…” You stand from your chair, pacing nervously across the room. “Whenever you mention magecraft, something clicks in my head. Not as strong as when you first mentioned Gensokyo, but it’s there. There’s something I feel I need to learn.”

“That was sudden,” Patchouli mutters. “Alice, you must understand, even if you do want to learn, and I say if, for I am of the belief that starting down such a path requires careful deliberation, there is precious little time. If I were to stop to teach you even the basics, my research on your problem would be significantly delayed. And who knows? You might already know magic.”

You blink. “I… suppose that’s possible.” As you say this, your mind flashes back to your fights with Cirno and Marisa. How suddenly you’d seem to go faster, feel stronger than your condition gave you any right to… “Actually,” you begin, “when I fought Marisa, I felt something weird once or twice. As if I were going faster than my legs could carry me. Much faster. Could that be…?”

Patchouli’s eyes widen, and she stands up to get a good look at you. “Organic reinforcement?” she asks. “Subconsciously? Impossible, your magic circuits would have to have been hard-wired by years of training…” Muttering to herself, she grabs your right wrist, her cold fingers massaging your soft skin. “Then again, maybe they were…” Patchouli’s eyes meet yours, and suddenly you know she’s going to do something you won’t like. Raising her right hand, which glows a pale white, she snaps her fingers.

This time, though, you’re prepared. A purple crystal orb that shoots out of thin air towards your shoulder is met with a slashing motion from your left hand… and breaks into pieces, falling to the floor and fading away.

Grimacing, you extricate your wrist from Patchouli’s hand and crack your knuckles. Ouch.

“That orb,” the magician flatly states, “should not have been breakable by a mere hand.”

“You could have proven that false without shooting it at me,” you moan, rubbing your left hand. It’s uninjured, but the impact hurt.

Patchouli ignores you. “This changes everything, then. Alice, you felt it, didn’t you? Your hand went faster than it had any right to.”

“I… suppose…”

“Good,” she nods. “Then, if it’s possible… look Alice, there’s a chance that such a thing might indeed be magecraft, instincts left over from a lifetime of consciously using magic. If that’s so, then, perhaps studying magic might accelerate any process of memory recovery.”

Your eyes widen. “You think so?”

“It’s worth a try… and it’s something for you to do.” Patchouli smiles. “Alright, then. Alice, on the table in the section of the library where we met this morning is a book called ’On the Principles of Wizardry’. It’s a tiny one, with a blue cover and golden letters. I moved it there when organizing some other tomes. Get it, read it, study it. It’s basic enough that I won’t be too distracted. I must warn you though – touch no other spellbook, or I’ll be rather infuriated.”

“You’re serious?”

“I don’t joke, Alice. Much.”

“Very well,” you nod. “Um… does this mean I get to learn, after all?”

“More than likely, you get to remember,” Patchouli corrects you. “Two things might happen. Either you won’t be able to cast the basic spells on the book because you lack fundamental knowledge of magic theory, or you’ll try, succeed, and perhaps catalyze the recovery of at least some memories.”

“Alright, then.”

“So… get to it,” Patchouli orders you, pointing at the door.

“Wait, you mean right now?” you ask, surprised at the sudden turn of developments.

“The less time we waste, the better. If it works, it might just speed up our effort. If it doesn’t, well, then…”

You gasp, finally noticing, as you look down, that a blue pentagram has drawn itself under Patchouli’s feet.

“…you’ll at least gain some knowledge. To the lab, now…”

The pentagram flashes white, and she’s gone.
You frown. “Why do I get the feeling that that last sentence was a really bad pun?”

----------------------------------------------

You pick up the pencil once more. It’s been hours since you first opened the book.

Moonlight filters through the library’s massive windows, night having fallen not too long ago. At first, you’d simply been curious, eager to see if this magic had any sort of connection to you. But now, it’s personal. You know there’s something between this pages that belongs to you. And each time you turn a page you see the image again, flashing by in less than a second, of that ugly leather tome, spattered in blood.

’Concentrate your mind.’

The little book lies in front of you, mocking you with its words and diagrams. The pencil you’d taken to use in the spell rolls to the side, utterly unchanged, and you fumble, annoyed, to stop it from falling off the table. Why is it not working? You know it. You can tell that you know it. Every time you read over the text or look over a diagram, it feels like there ought to be something in your mind, but it refuses to appear.

’Seven steps, Alice, seven steps.’

You stare hard at the stupid pencil, willing it to change.

’The connecting principles of thaumaturgy are few and understandable. Magic is functional. Magic is logical. Magic is. Not. Free. Most wizards need fuel, be it from their own bodies or from objects around them. Highly skilled ones can bypass this through training, drawing energy directly from the World, a limitless supply… but only as long as their body’s endurance can take it. Ultimately, however, nothing may be made out of nothing. All the energy in the world won’t help you make something if you lack the raw components.’

“So…”

’Concentrate your mind. Understand the material composition – wood with a granite core. Draw in your mind the magic circle designed for most efficient energy flow. Worry not, the spell is too simple to require a physical representation. Being basic alchemy, the circle is a tiny ouroborous, a long pattern in the shape of a snake biting its own tail.’

Your breathing grows heavier, ragged. As you hold the pencil, you can feel the tips of your fingers under your gloves start to itch and tingle, and a pale light is cast over your hand.

’Now, twist and coil the circle. Superimpose it over the object in your mind. Then, push your energy forwards across the magic circuits. Feel them in your arms, your chest, and your veins.’

You frown. This is the hardest part. You know they’re there, but you lose feeling of them the moment your mind changes to pour magic into them. Not this time, though. This time, you press onward.

’Fill the circuits with energy. In the outside world, a spark will appear over your subject.’

Your eyes widen, and you almost lose concentration as the very thing in your thoughts happens, a tiny blue spark flickering into existence right over the pencil in your hand.

’Command the spark, will it to draw the diagram in your imagination over the pencil. And then…

You grit your teeth, and slowly but surely the tiny spark starts to move, drawing the twisted pattern over the wood. This…

’…let g-‘

“Miss Alice?”

“Argh!” The sudden interruption breaks your concentration and ends the spell. The wood that makes up the pencil twists and bulges into a misshapen lump before breaking in half, the pieces of debris a far cry from the delicate wooden ring you had in mind. “What!?” you snap, turning around in your chair in a flash of anger you almost instantly regret as Koakuma, who’d been the one to speak, draws back, a hand over her mouth. “I’m sorry, Miss Alice,” she hastens to apologize, “I didn’t think… I’m so sorry!”

You cringe. The poor girl looks utterly mortified. “I… it’s nothing,” you say, “you just surprised me, that’s all. I’m sorry for snapping.”

Standing up, you walk forward, placing a reassuring hand on Koakuma’s shoulder, causing the girl to blush deeply. As you do this, you notice that she’s holding a small book over her bountiful bosom, but you can’t quite make out the title and don’t want to get caught staring while you try. Drawing back, you give Koa a sincere smile. “I suppose I ought to control my temper.”

Koa beams at you. “No worries, Miss Alice. Um… Lady Patchouli ate in her lab and went back to bed about an hour ago, and I was just about to head back myself, so I thought I should go look for you, and…” she fumbles a bit over this last part, as if trying to get a hold of what she wants to say. “…and, would you, would you like to have dinner with me before going to bed?”
You nod. “Um, sure.” Standing up, you grab your rapier and the book you’d been studying, casting one final glance of longing at the ruined pencil. What a waste of energy. Turning to Koa, you smile and motion her to get moving. She does, wagging her tail happily as you follow her back to the chambers. “So,” you start with a happy sigh as you enter the living room, not having noticed before just how much warmer it was than the library, “what have you been doing?”

“Not much,” Koa answers candidly as she closes the door behind you, careful not to get her tail caught in it. “Lady Patchouli wanted me to organize the mess Marisa made, so I did that and spent the rest of the afternoon cataloguing a collection of novels and spacing out with Meiling during my break.”

Turning around, she points at the center table, to a plate featuring at least half a dozen large chicken sandwiches, drooling melted cheese. A jug of chilled water and pair of glasses sits nearby. “Ah, look, there’s our food!” Koa says, skipping happily up to the table and picking up a sandwich as she sets her book down and takes a seat. Taking a bite, she giggles as a bit of cheese escapes her mouth, and catches it deftly before it falls onto her skirt. “Veeeery good!”

You smile at her as you take your own seat, faintly wishing you could show such happiness at such a simple occurrence. Taking a bite out of a sandwich yourself, you discover it to be predictably delicious. “So,” you speak between bites, “just who brings all this food up here, anyway?”

“Miss Sakuya and the fairy kitchen staff cook it all, and then it’s brought here by a magic array Lady Patchouli set,” Koakuma answers, reaching out for another sandwich. This girl sure knows how to eat. “It means that we get the food just as it’s made!”

“Hm, teleportation,” you grumble, not caring to remember how instant-transport spells feel when you’re their target.

For the next hour, the two of you do nothing other than eat and make small chat, until finally the sandwiches are gone and both you and Koa stumble, sleepy, towards your shared room. Walking in, you set your rapier next to a wall and your book on the bed, and Koa does the same. Once you do that, the atmosphere becomes awkward, with the two of you simply standing in the center of the room, the memories of the past night coming back in full force.

“Um…”

“I’ll go change in the bathroom,” Koa mutters with a blush. You don’t get a chance to answer before she’s scurried off, closing the door behind her.

“Ah, it wasn’t that embarrassing,” you murmur to yourself. Not that you’d have liked Koa to molest you before you’d even learned her name, of course. Of course. With a sigh, you help yourself out of your dress and into your white nightgown.

Just as you sit down on the bed, Koa emerges from the bathroom clad in her own black nightgown that frankly leaves little to the imagination, the black lingerie covering the rest of her body only making things even worse. There’s something… but how could you not have noticed?

“Miss Alice-“

“You’re a succubus, aren’t you?” you blurt out, almost on instinct, as the pieces finally click in your mind. You immediately regret it, though, as Koa blanches, stepping back.

“How… how did you know?” she asks in a whisper. “She told you, right? She told you…” Wringing her hands, she refuses to meet your eyes.

“Patchouli didn’t tell me anything,” you reply, inwardly cursing yourself, “it was just… rather obvious.”

“I’m sorry,” Koa murmurs, “it’s a bit of an open secret, but…” She looks up at you, distressed. “I’m one of the lucky ones… Lady Patchouli summoned me by accident when I was very young, so… so I’ve never done that… I’m not like one of those whores that…”

“It’s okay,” you reassure her, trying not to cringe. You and your big mouth. “I… um, shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

“No…” Koa says, walking slowly forward and sitting beside you on the bed, wings and tail drooping. “I suppose I should have been honest from the start, I mean, it’s so obvious I might as well wear a sign around my neck.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Gingerly, you pat Koa on the shoulder, causing her to blush. ’Though it does explain why she thinks nothing of being so affectionate.’

“Really?”

“I figure if you were going to do anything evil, you’d have done it long ago,” you smile. “So, let’s get to bed…”

“Um, wait!” Koa perks up. “I brought you a book.”

“Huh?”

Koa reaches for the tiny volume she’d been carrying around for the past hour and hands it to you. “You took this off the shelves and left it at the table. I figured it might interest you, but if Lady Patchouli is letting you read books on magic, then…”

’Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,’” you read aloud, cutting her off. Something about the title stirs in your memory. “How curious. “

You smile at Koa, who weakly grins in return. “Thank you,” you say, trying to think of something to cheer her up. “Um… it’s a pretty small book. What do you say we read it together?”

Koa blinks. “Right now?”

“We might even finish it,” you grin, handing the book to her and lying back on the bed. “You start.”

Koa beams, nodding as she settles down beside you and opens the little volume. “Alright, then…”

(Cont'd next post)

>> No. 34423
in the twists and turns of a plastic mind,
what do you fear, seven-coloured magician?


It was time. The night could only get so dark, after all.

The girl stood up, the old chair protesting as it was pushed back across the wooden floor. The room was dark, the candles long extinguished, but her green eyes, filled with magic, pierced the penumbra with ease as they gazed at the creation set on the table before her.

A silent miracle in the darkness, every feature flawless, every little rune drawn to perfection. This was it, the product of dozens of tiny victories and thousands of errors.
She reached for her book, caressing the large metal padlock placed over the black leather. For her, no matter how she tried to reject it, the tome was beauty incarnate, every word inside it hers in a way nothing else could be, as if they were etched into her very core.

The girl gave a bitter smile as the moonlight caught upon the lock and chains’ polished metal, giving off a momentary gleam that in the darkness made it look as if the tome were covered in thousands of tiny stars. When that monster had ripped out some of the pages inside it, it had felt as if her own limbs had been torn off.

But she’d get her revenge. That arrogant beast should have killed her. For even though the pages detailing the book’s grandest secret had been removed, the actual power – every single drop of it- was still there. She knew it as clearly as she knew herself, for the book and the magic in it was part of her in a way rivaled only by her own body. The power was there – it had been what had let her keep on living as she lay broken and defeated in that demonic field. The feeling of it lurking just at her hand’s grasp had been what had kept her from quailing before the world’s missing power, what had given her the strength to stare down the imperishable night.

The instructions might be gone, but the magic was there. The magic was there. She could feel it, and she could use it.

So why, then, did she waver? Why did she hold the ornate key in the air, waiting for something that would not come?

Her breathing quickened, her chest rising and falling irregularly as fear and doubt began to creep into her. Could she really do it? But what if she was wrong?

Her grasp tightened over the book and the key, her green eyes narrowing into cold steel. No.

No.

No, she could not fear. Fear had always been her greatest enemy. It made her hesitate, it killed her mind, it held her back.

But tonight nothing could hold her back, she knew as she stared at the masterpiece that lay prone upon her table. What a beautiful dream, what grand ambition…

She steadied herself, casting out into the darkness around herself the wish and the memory that guided her through her coldest moments.

”Show me again your craft, doll maker.”

She could do it. It was time.

And she opened the lock…
------------------------------------------------

You wake up, the faintest shadows of a bad dream still lingering on in your head. Besides you, Koakuma sleeps on, facing towards you to keep her wings, which flap occasionally as she moves, away from your face. It’s still dark, perhaps still an hour away before sunrise, you can’t quite tell. Grumbling, you shift about in the bed, wondering just what caused you to wake up before time. Then, just as you’re about to fall back to sleep, a dull thudding sound reaches your ears and snaps you back into awareness. Tensing up, you rise from the bed, smoothly grabbing your rapier as you do so. But as your feet touch the floor, your mind registers something strange, unnerving. The thudding doesn’t repeat itself, no. Rather, all of a sudden, no sound at all reaches your ears.

“What…” you mutter. But even the sound coming out of your mouth seems weaker than usual.
Just then, the pommel of the door to the room starts to shake, as if somebody were having a hard time opening it – of course, it’s locked. But the shaking itself makes no sound. What’s going on?

Unnerved, you walk towards the door. Could it be… her? But no, she’d have long since started talking, and the lock would have since given way. Patchouli? No, no reason not to call out or knock. Then… who?

Grimacing, you unlock the door and open it with all your might, brandishing your rapier as you… come face to face with a pair of little girls.
The one in front, blue eyes wide, opens her mouth into a wordless scream and stumbles back into her companion, a curly-haired blonde, who is caught off guard and knocked down. The moment she touches the floor, the ambient sound of the night fills your ears as she moans in pain, trying to push her companion off of her in a flurry of limbs and flapping, transparent wings… faeries?

“Who-“

The first fairy stands up, placing a finger to her lips. “Please be quiet!” she says in a hurried whisper, “just let us in, please!”
You frown. This fairy, pale and pretty, isn’t wearing a regular maid uniform, but rather a frilly blue dress that’s a tad too long for her. And on her head of silky black hair is… a blue ribbon.

You resist the urge to groan. These are the faeries who drank Patchouli’s rum, minus one. Whatever could they want?

The two stare at you, pleading.

You grit your teeth. What to do? If Patchouli wakes up, she’ll be so mad these faeries won’t feel their limbs for a week after whatever she does to them. But frankly, you don’t really want the trouble.

“Please,” they repeat in unison, throwing nervous glances at the locked door to Patchouli’s room. The blonde one in particular looks especially mortified. “We’re in big trouble!”

Still, it would feel bad just to leave them out here, no? Ugh…

------------------------------------------------

What do you do?

[] Write-in.

[] Let them in, they look so worried!

[] Fuck it, call Patchouli, watch the fireworks fly.
>> No. 34424
in the twists and turns of a plastic mind,
what do you fear, seven-coloured magician?


It was time. The night could only get so dark, after all.

The girl stood up, the old chair protesting as it was pushed back across the wooden floor. The room was dark, the candles long extinguished, but her green eyes, filled with magic, pierced the penumbra with ease as they gazed at the creation set on the table before her.

A silent miracle in the darkness, every feature flawless, every little rune drawn to perfection. This was it, the product of dozens of tiny victories and thousands of errors.
She reached for her book, caressing the large metal padlock placed over the black leather. For her, no matter how she tried to reject it, the tome was beauty incarnate, every word inside it hers in a way nothing else could be, as if they were etched into her very core.

The girl gave a bitter smile as the moonlight caught upon the lock and chains’ polished metal, giving off a momentary gleam that in the darkness made it look as if the tome were covered in thousands of tiny stars. When that monster had ripped out some of the pages inside it, it had felt as if her own limbs had been torn off.

But she’d get her revenge. That arrogant beast should have killed her. For even though the pages detailing the book’s grandest secret had been removed, the actual power – every single drop of it- was still there. She knew it as clearly as she knew herself, for the book and the magic in it was part of her in a way rivaled only by her own body. The power was there – it had been what had let her keep on living as she lay broken and defeated in that demonic field. The feeling of it lurking just at her hand’s grasp had been what had kept her from quailing before the world’s missing power, what had given her the strength to stare down the imperishable night.

The instructions might be gone, but the magic was there. The magic was there. She could feel it, and she could use it.

So why, then, did she waver? Why did she hold the ornate key in the air, waiting for something that would not come?

Her breathing quickened, her chest rising and falling irregularly as fear and doubt began to creep into her. Could she really do it? But what if she was wrong?

Her grasp tightened over the book and the key, her green eyes narrowing into cold steel. No.

No.

No, she could not fear. Fear had always been her greatest enemy. It made her hesitate, it killed her mind, it held her back.

But tonight nothing could hold her back, she knew as she stared at the masterpiece that lay prone upon her table. What a beautiful dream, what grand ambition…

She steadied herself, casting out into the darkness around herself the wish and the memory that guided her through her coldest moments.

”Show me again your craft, doll maker.”

She could do it. It was time.

And she opened the lock…
------------------------------------------------

You wake up, the faintest shadows of a bad dream still lingering on in your head. Besides you, Koakuma sleeps on, facing towards you to keep her wings, which flap occasionally as she moves, away from your face. It’s still dark, perhaps still an hour away before sunrise, you can’t quite tell. Grumbling, you shift about in the bed, wondering just what caused you to wake up before time. Then, just as you’re about to fall back to sleep, a dull thudding sound reaches your ears and snaps you back into awareness. Tensing up, you rise from the bed, smoothly grabbing your rapier as you do so. But as your feet touch the floor, your mind registers something strange, unnerving. The thudding doesn’t repeat itself, no. Rather, all of a sudden, no sound at all reaches your ears.

“What…” you mutter. But even the sound coming out of your mouth seems weaker than usual.
Just then, the pommel of the door to the room starts to shake, as if somebody were having a hard time opening it – of course, it’s locked. But the shaking itself makes no sound. What’s going on?

Unnerved, you walk towards the door. Could it be… her? But no, she’d have long since started talking, and the lock would have since given way. Patchouli? No, no reason not to call out or knock. Then… who?

Grimacing, you unlock the door and open it with all your might, brandishing your rapier as you… come face to face with a pair of little girls.
The one in front, blue eyes wide, opens her mouth into a wordless scream and stumbles back into her companion, a curly-haired blonde, who is caught off guard and knocked down. The moment she touches the floor, the ambient sound of the night fills your ears as she moans in pain, trying to push her companion off of her in a flurry of limbs and flapping, transparent wings… faeries?

“Who-“

The first fairy stands up, placing a finger to her lips. “Please be quiet!” she says in a hurried whisper, “just let us in, please!”
You frown. This fairy, pale and pretty, isn’t wearing a regular maid uniform, but rather a frilly blue dress that’s a tad too long for her. And on her head of silky black hair is… a blue ribbon.

You resist the urge to groan. These are the faeries who drank Patchouli’s brandy, minus one. Whatever could they want?

The two stare at you, pleading.

You grit your teeth. What to do? If Patchouli wakes up, she’ll be so mad these faeries won’t feel their limbs for a week after whatever she does to them. But frankly, you don’t really want the trouble.

“Please,” they repeat in unison, throwing nervous glances at the locked door to Patchouli’s room. The blonde one in particular looks especially mortified. “We’re in big trouble!”

Still, it would feel bad just to leave them out here, no? Ugh…

------------------------------------------------

What do you do?

[] Write-in.

[] Let them in, they look so worried!

[] Fuck it, call Patchouli, watch the fireworks fly.
>> No. 34426
And so the plot thickens...

Presuming that there's a window in the room...

[X] Let them escape out the window.
-[X] Tell them to stay as quiet as possible to not wake up Koakuma.

Hell hath no fury like an anemic elemental wizard scorned.

On another note...fuck yes, Alice's adventures continue.

>Not that you’d have liked Koa to molest you before you’d even learned her name, of course.

We know her name now, so it's all ok.
>> No. 34427
[x] Fuck it, call Patchouli, watch the fireworks fly.

Some gratuitous violence is just the way to start the day.
>> No. 34430
[X] Let them in, they look so worried!

I like the Three Mischievous Faeries too much to let them get eviscerated. No, they just need... discipline. Like spankings. Lots of them.

Though I am kind of disappointed that we can't just climb back into bed and cuddle with Koakuma until morning proper.
>> No. 34433
[x] Let them in, they look so worried!
We can inform of Pathces all about this later. After all, she hates not knowing things.
>> No. 34434
[X] Let them escape out the window.
-[X] Tell them to stay as quiet as possible to not wake up Koakuma.
>> No. 34437
{Let them in, they look so worried!}
>> No. 34441
[x] Fuck it, call Patchouli, watch the fireworks fly.
Fuck the fairies. With a royal flare.
>> No. 34442
[X] Let them escape out the window.
-[X] Tell them to stay as quiet as possible to not wake up Koakuma.
Fuck yes, glorious update.
>> No. 34443
[x] Fuck it, call Patchouli, watch the fireworks fly.
>> No. 34444
Updates!

[X] Let them escape out the window.
-[X] Tell them to stay as quiet as possible to not wake up Koakuma.

We may not want the trouble, but I don't think we're vindictive enough to sic an angry Patchouli on them either.
>> No. 34450
[x] Let them out the window.
- [x] ...But throw them out.

This is only two, so where's the other one?

>If it doesn’t, well, then…”
>“…you’ll at least gain some knowledge.
>Why do I get the feeling that that last sentence was a really bad pun?
...Oh my. Was that a pick-up line Patchy just used?
Because I am totally down with that.

>Koakuma nervously asking to eat with Alice
However, a little devil is fine too.
>> No. 34459
File 126638488126.png - (82.36KB , 843x263 , flabbergasted.png ) [iqdb]
34459
[x] Lock the door and go back to sleep.

fucking 3 in the morning grumble grumble fairy antics grumble
>> No. 34460
File 126638493427.jpg - (90.94KB , 650x565 , Shanghai08.jpg ) [iqdb]
34460
[x] Let them in, they look so worried!

There seems to be an abundance of awesome updates on the site these last few days, and this is no exception.

Shanghai would like to say 'thank you' for being an awesome writer.
>> No. 34469
>>34450
Why not both? /idort
>> No. 34485
>>34450

...I almost didn't see it like that. Maybe KW would write a H-side story about this...hmmm...
>> No. 34501
Update coming soon. I have to work out, make sure that the cake I've got in the oven doesn't turn out a charred mess, and *then* I'll sit down to write. Knowing my own habits, it'll either be a huge burst at the expense of sleep, in which case you'll probably be seeing the update late this night/early Saturday morning (depending on how you look at it). If you don't, expect it on Sunday.
>> No. 34520
>make sure that the cake I've got in the oven doesn't turn out to be a lie

Fix'd
>> No. 34525
>>34520
Don't worry, it's only got seven minutes left to go on the timer.
>> No. 34564
Oi.
>> No. 34570
Yes, yes, I'm late. I'm sorry. I've been feeling inordinately tired of late, which means I haven't gotten much done.

You see, I've about a 1000 words written (more or less enough for a standard update), but just jamming a choice in there and calling it a day seems... wrong. I've easily got another 2,000 words worth of story I can fit in so that the next choice will actually be important instead of mundane filler, particularly since the plot is finally rearing its head.

So bear with me. It'll be done soon.
>> No. 34573
>>34570
May the bear be with you.
>> No. 34574
>>34570
My sincere thanks for the status report.

No really, I mean it. I believe (though I could be wrong) that I speak for most readers when I say that a delay in updates, while disappointing, doesn't bother me nearly as much as a lack of communication from an author. So take it easy and write warmly, just remember that when time/words/life is holding you back, anon really does appreciate the small updates that let us know such.

After all, how are we supposed to encourage our favorite authors if we're not even sure they're there?


(Note that I'm not pointing a finger at you, KW, you've been excellent at communicating with the audience other than a couple points, like the past few days, and there are authors who need to hear this far more than you. Except, as I said, I'm not even sure they read their own threads, since they don't bother with status updates or responding to discussion, so what would be the point in telling them?)
>> No. 34596
>>34574
I agree with this anon.
>> No. 34603
>After all, how are we supposed to encourage our favorite authors if we're not even sure they're there?
True dat.
>> No. 34607
>>34574
I agree, since some famous old writefags had that as a nasty habit (not communicating); more writers should try to communicate instead of dicking around in IRC.
>> No. 34615
Well said, >>34574. Well said.

I think this speaks for most of the readers on this site. Most readers want the writer to keep them informed of the situation instead of being left to hang waiting for the next update if it ever comes. Communication from the writer to the readers is just as important as the readers' choice votes/responses to the writer.
>> No. 34619
>>34607
I'd like for more writers to write instead of dicking around on IRC, but short of that, communicating would be nice, too.
>> No. 34657
Update coming this Monday afternoon.

It's slightly over 5,000 words, so I hope you can understand why I took longer than usual.
>> No. 34691
File 12676058585.jpg - (74.63KB , 500x640 , alicecreepy.jpg ) [iqdb]
34691
With a sigh and a grimace, you stand aside, letting the faeries shuffle into the room and quickly closing the door behind you and locking it. The two girls sigh in relief, the blonde one smiling weakly at you, her gaze warm. “Thank you,” she mutters, wiping a sweat-slicked strand of hair away from her forehead as she adjusts the strange hat on her head, “um… I’m Luna Child, and-“

“Never mind that,” you whisper. Turning around, you head toward a nearby window and open it, letting cold air from the mansion’s grounds rush in. The seamless interaction of the otherwise sealed-off Magic Library with the outside world is an incredible wonder of science and magic that you’re far too tired to contemplate. “You can fly, right?” you ask. “So escape through here if that’s what you want to do. Just don’t wake up Koa.”

“Wait,” the black haired fairy whispers, stepping forward, “we don’t want to escape... we wouldn’t have come this way if we did!”

“What do you want, then?” you inquire, gruff, as you close the window. These faeries seem smarter and less troublesome than Cirno, but with the way Patchouli got when reminded of their pranks, just being in the same room as them makes you nervous. The last thing you want is to have her angry with you.

“It’s Sunny!” ‘Luna Child’ (what a strange name, that) murmurs hoarsely, “they took Sunny!” She bites on her fingernails, shaking her head.

“…who?”

“The black things!” the dark haired one cuts in. “They took her!”

“No, I meant who’s Sunny…” you mutter, shaking your head. It’s far too early for this.

The faeries exchange a quick, worried glance. “She’s too dumb to listen, Luna!” the black haired one tells her companion to your muffled grunt of indignation. “What do we do?”

Luna looks back and forth between you and her companion, visibly shaking. “I…” she runs a hand over her forehead, tears starting to stream down her cheeks. “I don’t know!” she admits, “Sunny always…”

With something between a whine and a moan, she turns around and begins to tug at the bed covers over Koakuma. “Big sister!” she cries, “wake up! They took Sunny!”

“Wait,” you interject. What is going on? “Don’t-“

Too late. With a start, Koa wakes up, wings spreading out as she tries to sit up. The book you’d fallen asleep while reading, Alice in Wonderland, falls to the floor with a dull clatter. “What is it?” Koa asks, bleary eyed and still not fully aware of her surroundings. Looking around, her gaze widens when it dawns upon the faeries. “Oh, it’s you girls… wait, what!?”

“Big sister!” Luna Child rushes over to Koa, grasping one of her wrists, “Help!”

“Wait, wait, be more quiet!” Koa tells her, frowning. “You’ll wake milady up!” She turns to look at you. “Miss Alice, what’s going on?” she asks, her features softening.

“I wish I knew,” you groan, running a hand over your sleepy face. Could this not have happened two hours later?

“Alright,” Koa says to the faeries, uncharacteristically stern, “tell me why you’re here, then. And it had better be a good reason, because being this close to Lady Patchouli amounts to a deathwish. And…” She pauses, tapping a finger to her lips. “Where’s Sunny Milk?”

“Sunny…~” Luna Child whines, saying nothing else as she tugs on Koa’s arm. Her companion walks forward, placing an arm on her shoulder and gently pulling her back. “Please,” she says, “we’re sorry we bothered you, but please hear us out, it’s terribly important…”

Koa nods, and you stay quiet in the background. Though you find them rather rude, the poor girls seem so desperate it just feels bad to be angry at them.

“Okay,” the faerie agrees. “Um… so, I’m Star Sapphire, and this is Luna Child. We met this morning when you saved our butts after that prank we pulled…”

“Yes,” Koa says, smiling in spite of herself. “You work with us, no?”

“About that part… we sort of lied,” Star Sapphire mutters, looking down, “we were hungry and didn’t have much to eat, so we were pretending to be maids until we could get to some food and sneak out with it… the whole thing with the brandy was really just an accident. But…”

“…but?” Koa eggs her on, gently.

“Well, when your boss got so angry and nearly exploded us into orbit, we decided that it would be best to just leave,” Star Sapphire goes on, wringing her hands, nervous. Behind her, Luna Child blows her nose on a tiny handkerchief, looking utterly miserable. “So we waited until dark and snuck out to the grounds, thinking we could just sneak past the gate guard. But when we were creeping along the fence…”

Star Sapphire shudders visibly. “It was awful, big sister! We were walking along, when two other faeries greeted us from a distance. We were caught off guard because we didn’t expect anybody to detect us, and for some reason I didn’t sense them myself, so we turned around and begged them to be quiet. But when they came close…”

“It was terrible, big sister!” Luna Child interjects, “They were hideous, covered in this black goo that writhed over them, like, like they were possessed! And they said in this horrible screeching voice that they were so glad the faeries they were using had wandered outside, because otherwise they’d never have been able to get in without the gate guard knowing, and then they said they were going to eat us!”

“Sunny stepped in and tried to create a diversion for us by making some fire,” Star Sapphire goes on, “but she’s way less powerful during the night, so all she managed was to scorch them a bit. Enough for Luna and me to run and hide, but…”

“They took Sunny, big sister!” Luna says, tears running freely down her face once more, “They took her, and then they just went away… like, disappeared! What are we going to do? What if they’ve eaten her already? What if they come back to eat us?”

“Calm down…” Koa whispers. “I’m certain she’s… fine.” She doesn’t look very sure of herself.

“Look,” says Star Sapphire, “we thought that even if those things were monsters to us, the people in this mansion are so tough that to them they’re just another pair of faeries, and… and… well, we thought if big sister Koakuma had helped us before, then…”

She stops and looks pleadingly at Koa, gorgeous blue eyes wide and wet as she bites down on her lower lip. Though she’s definitely tougher than Luna Child, the poor girl looks one strong emotion away from crying, and you can’t help but feel a tug at your heartstrings.

“We… we ought to help them,” you cut in, stepping forward.

“Yes, yes, of course.”With a determined look and a graceful motion, Koakuma gets up from the bed, and you look away, trying not to stare as the action grants her best assets a bounce that only makes them more visible through her already flimsy nightgown. The faeries, less accustomed to social proprieties, simply gaze on with undisguised admiration.

“We have to get Lady Patchouli,” Koa tells you.

“Wait, no!” Luna Child interrupts, shaking her head so hard her hat goes askew. “Don’t! She’ll just throw us out!”

“She’s not that bad, you know,” you reassure her, “I mean, yes, she’s angry at you, but… she wouldn’t refuse to help you, not for something like this.”

“Mouuu…”

“We have to tell her,” Koa says, “it’s not like we can just wander out into the forest at night all on our own.”

“But…”

“It’s alright,” Star Sapphire cuts into Luna’s protests, dejected. “But if she says no…”

“She won’t,” you state, slender brows coming together as you recall Patchouli’s mention of ‘principle’ with some interest. “She-“

“She certainly wouldn’t, no.”

A collective gasp runs through the room, and the faeries dash behind Koa, trying to make themselves as invisible as possible behind her curvy legs as the once-locked door to your room swings open, revealing Patchouli standing quietly by the doorway. Koa reacts quickly, moving lightly forward so as to hide the faeries better. Though it doesn’t do much, the gesture is quite touching.

“Big sister…” Luna Child whimpers, grabbing onto the folds of Koa’s black nightgown.

“’tis a strange thing,” Patchouli mutters as she walks inside and calmly closes the door behind her. Clad in nothing but her white nightgown, her long black hair a silk cascade over her chest and shoulders, the filtered moonlight makes her pale features look almost ethereal as her stunning purple eyes cast a severe gaze down on the faeries. “A very strange thing to fancy fooling a wizard twice with the same trick.”

Her lips curve into a little smile. “Particularly if you’re a fairy.”

“Lady Patchouli-“

“No need, Koa, I heard everything,” Patchouli makes a beckoning gesture to Luna Child and Star Sapphire, who don’t budge, frozen in fear. “Come out now,” Patchouli says at this with an almost imperceptible shake of her head, “don’t make me get angry.”

That gets to the faeries, and they scamper out from behind Koa, avoiding Patchouli’s eyes like scared mice before a cat.

“So,” Patchouli begins, “the intruders are beset by a greater threat, and turn tail to ask for help. I’d try for irony, were humor my forte.”

“Miss, we’re sorry-“

“Be silent.” Silence is made. “I must admit,” Patchouli goes on, “that I would generally have a hard time believing you. After all neither your kind nor you two and your friend in specific have any history of being honest.”

The faeries cringe. “Patchouli,” you interject, concern drawing itself across your face, “that’s not necessarily-“

“Let me finish, Alice,” Patchouli orders you, sparing you nondescript glance before looking down at the faeries again. “As I was saying, I would have a hard time believing you, were it not for the fact that I also have a hard time believing that even you two, or indeed any fairy, would be so preposterously stupid as to brave my anger like that for the sake of pulling another prank.”

She pauses, looking off into the distance. “Except maybe that ice fairy. She’s a special case.”

“At any rate, while I don’t make it a habit to go looking for faeries in need, I cannot refuse help when it is asked of me so directly. We will look for your friend in the morning.”

“In the morning!?” Luna Child blurts out, “She won’t last ‘till morning!”

“Could we do anything else?” Patchouli retorts, “The Forest of Magic at night is an incredibly dangerous place. Meiling, Sakuya, or I could brave it, perhaps, but I am in no condition for such an outing, and speaking technically, I’ve no authority to order the other two anywhere. That would mean I would first have to ask Remilia.” She raises an eyebrow. “Would you like to plead your case to the Scarlet Devil?”

’Scarlet Devil.’ You mouth the words as Patchouli speaks them. Having met Remilia and wandered through her dark home, just hearing this resounding, poetic title hints of much history, none of it good. In front of you, Luna Child and Star Sapphire look utterly devastated, robbed of words by Patchouli’s answer. You cringe, and you can see Koakuma fidget beside you. Though Remilia might have her virtues – she has helped you, after all-, being kind to faeries is not one of them.

“We… we’ll talk to her,” Star Sapphire. “She has to listen.”

“Lady Patchouli,” Koa interposes, walking forward. “At least give them that chance, please.”

Patchouli contemplates her for a minute, doubt passing lightly across her fine features as she grapples with the decision.

“No,” she finally says. “Though I have no doubt Remilia would not help you either way, she could just as easily ignore you as she could have Sakuya throw you out. And that would not help anyone.”

“Miss, pleeaaase!”

“No.” Patchouli says, her tone breaching no discussion. “That is enough. Morning is only five hours away. We will look, then.”

“Patchouli,” you can’t help yourself but protest, “this is too cruel. What if we’re too late? What if these… things… do…” You pause, blushing as you realize that the information you have isn’t enough to complete the question.

“Therein lies the answer, Alice,” Patchouli retorts, “we don’t know what these things are, where they are, or what they do. The risk of looking right now as opposed to a few hours is too much to justify otherwise. Not all the denizens of Gensokyo are as harmless as the faeries, Alice. Particularly at night. You should now.”

“But-“

Patchouli turns around, shaking her head. “I’ll be talking with Remilia now, and I’ll return at daybreak. Much as I do like to disparage Meiling, she’d never be so foolish as to let someone with such clear ill intent sneak into the mansion. Most of her incompetence is born of laziness, but her aversion to work does not extend to protecting the mansion from actual threats. The fact that these… black things managed to get past her without a fight brings a new dimension to things. “

She frowns. “I suppose these past few days have been quite interesting…” She lightly raises a hand.

“Wait, Patchouli-“

If the woman heard you, it didn’t show. As you speak, Patchouli snaps her fingers, and is gone in a blink, drifted away through teleport.

“Sunny…” Star Sapphire mutters, sitting dejectedly on the floor, looking utterly defeated. Luna Child has none of the same composure, and with a high pitched wail stars crying, tears running down her cheeks and snot coming from her nose.”Sunnyyyyyy!”

“Ah, I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Koa exclaims, grabbing a handkerchief and rushing towards the faeries , the wings on her head flapping with agitation. “I’m sorry she didn’t say yes!” Kneeling down, she cleans Luna Child’s face, shaking her head.

“Big sisteeeer…”

You grit your teeth. This spectacle is almost too much to bear. You can understand the logic behind Patchouli’s cautiousness – morning, after all, is a few hours away and it’s not like faeries are in any permanent risk of death. The danger is, from a purely objective standpoint, not worth it.

“Big sister, why did she say no!?”

“I’m sorry…”

However, just looking at the two little girls –and Koa’s own growing distress- is enough to make you doubt. To see this and not help, and to wait instead… as sound as logical as that might be you can feel yourself rejecting it almost instinctively. These may just be faeries, but they don’t deserve this!

Nervously tugging on a lock of blonde hair, you walk towards your dress, which lies neatly arranged over a nearby chair.

“Koa…” you mutter.

Oh, you’re going to regret this.

“Yes, Miss Alice?” Koa asks, rearing her head to look up at you.

“What’s the password to get back into the library?”

“Um, why-“

“Koa, just tell me. Please.”

“Er… Pax Britannica. I think.”

“Good,” you mutter, picking up your gloves and sliding them over your hands and up to your elbows. “I’ll need it.”

Koa’s eyes widen. “Miss Alice, you surely-“

Luna Child and Star Sapphire beat her to the punch, nearly tripping over each other as they rush closer to you. “You… you’re actually going to help us?” Star asks. Luna, long since past her emotional threshold, just gapes in astonishment.

“If no one else will,” you answer.

“Wait, Miss Alice!” Koa stands up. “You can’t disobey Lady Patchouli like this!”

Calmly, you start to undo the straps on your white nightgown. “Please give me some privacy,” you mutter.

“Uuuuu~!”

--------------
You emerge from the room clad in your dress, boots, and gloves, your rapier firm in your left hand, to find Koa and the faeries waiting for you by the fireplace.

“Alright then,” you say, “it’s still dark, and you two can muffle the sound we make, right?”

“Luna Child can remove noise from an area and I can detect people coming near us,” Star Sapphire informs you. “We make a good pair.”

You nod. “Let’s go, then.”

“Wait, Miss Alice!” Koa walks in front of you. “You can’t- ugh.” She pauses, looking dejected. “You’re not going to listen if I tell you not to go, right?”

“I’m afraid it’s a tad late to back down, Koa,” you mutter.

Koa frowns, slender hands clenching into tiny fists. “Then… then if you’re going, I’ll go with you!” she states, and her blue eyes shine with determination. “Just let me get changed-“

“No, Koa.”

”What!?”

“I said no,” you repeat yourself. “Putting you in danger either from this little expedition or simply from Patchouli being angry at you would be rather irresponsible.”

“Then… then I’ll have to tell Lady Patchouli of this,” Koa says, looking angry.

You can’t help it. With a little sigh, you give Koa the happiest smile you can muster, even if you have to force it. This girl, you can’t help but think, really deserves every bit of your gratitude. “Don’t I get at least a small headstart?” you ask, ironic.

“Thirty… thirty minutes, Miss Alice,” Koa answers, pouting. “But it’s still stupid.”

“Possibly,” you admit, inwardly surprised that she took that request seriously. “Luna Child, Star Sapphire, let’s go…”

-------

With little further ado, you allow the faeries to guide you away from the room, and past the hallways of Voilé, taking a myriad of shortcuts to reduce the length of the trip. A shame, perhaps. You couldn’t enjoy the view as you always did.

In little time, you’ve exited the library, and gone past the grand, empty room which hosts the stone sphere, Luna Child’s ability to muffle noise proving effective not only against the sound of your footsteps but also against things such as the swinging of the library’s doors. You’re impressed.

Finally, you reach the familiar domed rotunda that marks the front lobby and pause. “We’re not going out through the front door, are we?” you ask, but nothing comes out. The soundproofing effect also affects you.

Star Sapphire seems to catch on to what you mean, however, and points forward to a tiny, secluded hallway. The faeries guide you there, and navigating the narrow corridor you come out to a small room with a door that leads to another side of the grounds. ’Service entrance,’ you think. ’Clever.’

Opening the doors, you walk out into the grounds, a gust of cold air rushing past you as you do so, making you shiver. You should really have thought about that. Still, in the past day and two nights the weather has grown noticeably warmer. Uncomfortably cold, yes, but no longer the spine-chilling frost of when you first approached the Scarlet Mansion. The snow that used to cover the garden bushes has turned into a half-melted slush, clearing long, winding paths that lead to other areas of the grounds. Closing the door behind you, you let Star Sapphire point you down a narrow twist in the road, and you follow, Luna Child close behind you.

As you wander the grounds, the nervousness you’d felt at so blatantly disobeying Patchouli’s orders starts to give way to adrenaline, the old feeling of exhilaration at doing something dangerous. Suddenly, the air seems fresher, the smell of pine and rose the bushes give off sharper, the stars in the night sky above you brighter. The moon, a giant beacon in the sky, casts its pale light down on you, as if to blanket you from prying eyes.

It is thus, in this cool, inspiring silence, that the three of you make your way through the grounds and to the large, wrought iron gate to the mansion. “The gate guard’s our friend, kind of,” Luna whispers to you in a hoarse voice, her soundproofing now superfluous, “so we know she sleeps in a cottage on the far side of the grounds around this time. One of the few times she’s not at the gate.”

“We’ll still have to get past the gate, though,” you murmur, green eyes wide as you observe the huge iron padlocks wrapped around it.

“We can carry you,” Star Sapphire says, “we’re not that strong, but we can fly, and you’re so thin there’s no way we can’t lift you for the minute it’d take to lift you over the gate.”

You nod, inwardly grimacing as you run a hand over your hip. You’re not that unhealthy. “Alright then, let’s go.”

Luna and Star fly up, each taking hold of you by the shoulders. “Okay then,” Star mutters, “let’s hope this works. One, two, th-“

What are you doing?”

The faeries instantly let go, and you can’t suppress an audible gasp as you swivel around, rapier at the ready.

“China!” the two girls yell in unison.

The gate guard stands with her hands on her curvy hips, the cool breeze ruffling through her silky red hair and the folds of her cheongsam, which slap audibly against the hem of her pants. She seems to be enjoying the dramatic effect, baby blue eyes twinkling as she stares at you from under her green beret, smiling all the while.

“Hong Meiling,” she corrects the faeries matter-of-factly, walking towards you with a hop in her step. You find it strange, that in these hours before twilight, she looks stronger and spryer than when you first found her standing in the snow.

With a broad grin, she stretches out her hand to you. Up close, the Eurasian mix of her well-defined features give her an exotic appeal you’d not seen in anyone else. Still wary, however, you stare at her open hand with caution.

“Oh, come on,” she protests, raising an eyebrow, “I’m not going to pop your joints just because I caught you sneaking around. You’re not an intruder, after all.”

You think that over for a second, then gingerly give her your hand. Her grip is firm, warm even through your white glove, and-

“Chance!” Meiling yells, eyes brightening up as she pulls you toward her by your wrist and then lets go. Caught off guard, you shriek and then proceed to stumble for a bit before finding your balance as the woman dissolves into a fit of giggles so strong it makes her bend over. Drawing back, you glare at her, pale lips pressed into a thin line. “Not funny,” you mutter, bitter.

“Really?” Meiling asks between giggles, “because your face was priceless.”

“Chinaaa!” Luna, who along with Star had up till now been making herself as small as possible, walks forward, sniffling, cheeks red from the cold. “Stop wasting our time!” she yells, stomping on the ground for emphasis.

Meiling draws back, miffed. “Hong Meiling,” she corrects her. “And how am I wasting your time? You snuck in. It’s my job to at least check if you stole something before I let you coerce our guest into sneaking you out.” She nods at you, winking, before noticing something that gives her pause. “Wait a minute,” she frowns, looking the faeries over, “where’s Sunny?”

“That’s what they’re trying to tell you,” you tiredly interject, “the other fairy-“

“Sunny’s going to get eaten, you idiot!” Luna Child interrupts, looking like she’s about to start crying again. “You let those things in! It’s all your fault, you stupid… stupid… China!”

Meiling blinks. “Say what now?”

Star rushes to Luna, pulling her back as she whispers calming words into her ear. The other fairy slumps, seemingly out of energy.

“What’s this?” Meiling asks you, serious.

“It’s… complicated,” you say. Isn’t this little escapade going well?

“I have time.”

Great. You don’t.

“I’ll explain,” Star says demurely. You nod.

As quickly as she can without descending into incoherence, Star Sapphire gets Meiling up to date with the current on-going tragedy.

“Well,” the gate guard mutters when the fairy’s finished. “That changes things.”

Sighing, she walks past you, and pulling a long key from the folds of her clothes, starts unlocking the padlocks chained around the gate.

“What are you doing?” you ask, dumbfounded.

“Opening the gate,” Meiling answers. “We’re going out, no?”

“Oughtn’t you to be trying to stop us, though?”

“Don’t encourage her…”

Meiling turns around, smiling. “Yeah,” she says, “I should. Technically speaking, until Patchouli convinces Boss- um, Lady Remilia, to allow anyone to go look, I at least shouldn’t move a muscle from the gate. Less technically, you three are blatantly ignoring what Patchouli asked of you, which is kinda rude, I guess.”

“So?” you press her, not getting it.

“These faeries,” Meiling makes a gesture at Luna and Star, the first of which gives her a trembling grin, “are one of the few reliefs from boredom I get around here. That makes them my friends, so if one of them is in trouble I’d dishonor my heritage by ignoring it.”

With a strong push of her hands, the iron gates swing open, and she takes a step outside. “’s for the rules, well… I have this policy that drives Sakuya positively mad,” she chuckles mischievously, “You see, even if I know of a rule, until Sakuya or the boss come out and tell me, it’s like I didn’t hear it. It’s helped me get away with lots of stuff. Sure, I get punished for it later, but hey, nothing’s perfect.”

“You’re coming with, then?”

“Or what, stay here and wait ‘till you don’t come back because you got eaten by a grue?” She cracks her knuckles. “Well… Alice, right? Just you watch, nothing in that forest…”

She pauses, moving to the side to catch the maximum amount of dramatic breeze as she crosses her arms over her impressive chest. “…is a match for my Kung Fu,” she finishes, smirking.

You just stare at her, not sure if the added help is worth this kind of insanity.

“Meiling,” Star calmly asks behind you, “what’s a grue?”

The gate guard stays quiet for a long while.

“…I have no idea,” she finally answers, her smirk unfading.

----------------------

The journey down from the Scarlet Devil Mansion and across the Misty Lake was mostly uneventful, a silent trek along the well-trodden path leading from the house to the lake, and then the simple task of crossing the lone stone bridge. Cirno is either sleeping or has left behind her strange desire to possess the bridge for herself, as she is nowhere to be found. This, at least, is something you’re thankful for – the ice fairy’s shenanigans are the last thing you want to be burdened with right now.

All through the journey, only Meiling talks to fill the silence, making idle chat about the moon and the stars and cracking the occasional joke to try and cheer up the faeries. Though neither Luna nor Star seem all that receptive to the humor, they appreciate Meiling’s attempt, their demeanor warming up somewhat.

In little time, you reach the edge of the Forest of Magic.

For you, the sight can’t help but give you pause. At night, the forest, covered by darkness, with its tall, gnarled trees grown so close to each other as if an impassable wall, is perhaps even more foreboding than the first time you saw it, standing lonely in the snow. As you walk by the edge of the trees, your ears are filled with faint, otherworldly howls and whispers carried by the breeze, and you find yourself clenching your hands –one even more tightly over your rapier, the other into a tiny fist- to keep them from trembling. Behind you, the faeries cower, and only Meiling seems unfazed, gazing into the darkness with a smile on her full lips.

“Alright,” she says, almost cheerful as she casually snaps a twig under her heel. “Let’s go. I’ll show these… whatevers… not to take one of my faeries.”

“But go where?” you mutter. “We don’t have a trace to follow.”

“When those things took Sunny,” Luna tells you, “they just… vanished. Went away.”

You grit your teeth. Something’s off, wrong. Horribly wrong. You can almost taste it.

Letting your feet carry you, you creep along the edge of the forest, green eyes open wide. Faintly, you can hear and feel your heartbeat as it speeds up in your breast, your breath hitching as your white boots crush twigs and dried leaves in your wake, the noise mixing with the distant whispers of the magic forest to create a quiet cacophony of sound that fills your ears and threatens to rob you of thought. Resisting the urge to turn back, you push aside the leaves of an overgrown bush, clearing a path deeper into the darkness and revealing the revolting atrocity that drips from the shadows.

“My God,” you mumble, staring at what you’ve uncovered. Glistening under the scarce moonlight that filters under the trees, drooling and moving along the forest floor as it drips in thick drops from the lower branches of the trees is a viscous black substance, alien in its nature to what little you recall ever seeing. And yet there’s something about this scene, you can’t help but think as you stare at the trail the liquid plows into the forest, something vaguely familiar that is at the same time so wrong it makes your stomach churn.
>> No. 34692
“What the hell…” Meiling whispers as she walks up to your side, rubbing the bridge of her nose and poking at the substance with the tip of her shoe. It sticks to it like congealed blood. “Well,” she says sheepishly, “we’ve got our trail.”

“We’re going to need a light.”

Star Sapphire walks forward, hands outstretched. A tiny orb of magical incandescence floats from her palms, growing brighter and brighter until it finally turns into a decently-sized lamp. “Is this enough?” the fairy asks. You agree, and start down the path, Meiling falling into step opposite you, Star and Luna in the middle.

The dark trail winds down the woods like a snake, random and twisting and colliding with nearly every tree and rock in your path. The search is hell, the maddening trail made worse by the fact that you know not what lies at the end of it, nor what danger it will pose. To make things worse, every step you take makes the forest more oppressive, the old branches closing in on you like outstretched hands leaning in to catch their next victim. All of a sudden it starts to down on you just why Patchouli had wanted to wait until morning. Even Meiling seems somewhat spooked, the smile long wiped from her face.

“This place got creepier than the last time I was here,” she mutters, “gotta wonder how Marisa lives here.”

“Marisa lives here?” you asked in a voice hushed, for no reason but your own fear, into a whisper.

“In the parts of the forest opposite here, waaay closer to the village, and much safer,” Meiling tells you. “But still, doesn’t make it less creepy.”

“Yes-“

You gasp, your own sentence cut short. A flash of motion along the darkness, swinging through the branches. The faeries cower behind you as you and Meiling swing around, trying to catch a glimpse.

“What was-“

“I don’t know, I-“
It happens in an instant. As you walk forward you accidentally step on a rock, causing you to lose your balance. While you try to recapture it, your other foot slips, taking you down to the floor with a screech. That would have been the end of it, had you not, in virtue of your bad fortune, been standing near the edge of a steep slope, unnoticed by you and Meiling in the near complete darkness. “Alice!” you barely hear your name before you’re sent tumbling down, rapier flying out of your hand as gravity swings you ‘round like a rag doll, slamming you against the ground and everything it holds –twigs, rocks, the occasional small log- before you finally reach the end of the slope.

Breathing heavily, you push yourself up with a moan. Nothing broken – it’s a miracle. Meiling and the faeries, however, are nowhere to be seen, and without Star Sapphire’s light you find yourself completely blinded by the dark.

“No,” you mutter, desperation creeping into your voice, “no, no, no, no.” This was not how this journey played out in your head. This-

“Ouch!”

You draw back, immediately desisting from your attempt to grope your way up the slope, moaning at a deep cut in your right hand, blood seeping through the white glove and staining it red. A flash of moonlight and a glitter of metal – you’d cut yourself with your own rapier, stuck as it was along the earth. Moaning, you grab it with your left hand, feeling completely miserable. “Meiling!” you call out hoarsely.

No answer.

Cursing, you trudge your way along the undergrowth for a minute, trying to figure out what to do. The only option seems to be to try and climb back up the slope. Even with that cut in your hand, it ought to be manageable.

“Alright then,” you mutter to yourself, trying to keep the panic out of your voice. “I’ll do that.”

Wait.

You stop right as you turn around. Footsteps?

“Meiling,” you mumble, “Meiling and the faeries.” But this quick? The doubt keeps you quiet, and you don’t call out, instead directing your steps towards the noise. A shadow moving close by. The rustling sound of the bushes.

You peek out from behind a tree.
Obligatory OST: Nightmare [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1c1UXyYiTI&fmt=18 ]

You wish you never had.

Your knees shake. Your stomach feels like it’s going to rip its way out of your abdomen. Your heart feels dead; your lungs empty of air.

It’s a girl.

How is it that such a horrid thing could exist

It’s a girl. Another human being.

Blood from your trembling right hand drips down to your dress, staining it.

Her face is beautiful, statuesque. Bright green eyes, framed by silky blonde hair, shine with intelligence as the girl bends down to pick some strange herbs, pale bow lips muttering some unknown judgment.

You’re going to be sick.

Her face is hideous, a twisted, perverted mockery of your own. Everything is out of place. The eyes, lips and nose that are yours but melted and entwined into a mask of hate. The words on her lips are like your words but monstrous, every single one of them an insult to life.

You’re definitely not breathing anymore.

Her body is slender, almost frail, and as exquisitely proportioned as a porcelain doll’s.

How. How is it possible.

Her body is disfigured, loathsome. As if somebody had taken your limbs, bent them the wrong way, and attached them to a walking corpse.

You feel yourself trembling all over, and a sharp pain invades your breast. With a soundless gasp, you bring your bleeding right hand to your chest.

At that moment, the girl does the same, but she still breathes and thus her voice rings out through the forest along with the hideous breath of her contumely of life.

And in her hands…

That book. That old leather tome, spattered with drops of blood.

You feel yourself trembling all over, yes, but suddenly your hand gripping your rapier is stronger than ever.

The girl looks around, clearly frightened, a hand still on her chest from where she shared your pain. Fear and hate and rage invade your mind.

You can feel your judgment clouding up. Everything screams at you to run, and everything screams at you to rage. Because… because…

How can a monster like this be alive!?

…this girl is an eyesore!

-----
[]End her!
[]No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.
[]Write-in.
>> No. 34693
[X] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.

Can't think of anything better at the moment.
>> No. 34694
BIIIIIIIG update! Alice gets even more awesome.

[X]No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.
-[X]"Who...are you? What are you?"
-[X]Keep a solid grip on your rapier. If this...thing is responsible for whatever it is that took Sunny, you don't want to meet the same fate.

[X] If all else fails, try calling for the others.

We shouldn't totally rage just yet until we find out exactly what this girl is, and apparently she has some kind of connection to either us or whatever it was that may have taken Sunny. We should get answers first...THEN rage all over her.
>> No. 34695
[X] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.

We don't know enough to make a real action, though it's clear that something went terribly wrong in the forest, making a black goo, and it seems there's this being with the Real Alice's grimoire. This in itself makes her a threat.

But the real distressing part is how there's some blood on it.
>> No. 34696
[x]No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself. .
A WALL! A WALL!
>> No. 34697
[X] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.

If we kill those black goop fairies, will we get any grist?
>> No. 34704
[X]End her!

There is no way in which this option could possibly backfire.
>> No. 34705
[x] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.
Venom fairies?
>> No. 34709
[x] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.
>> No. 34711
{No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.}
>> No. 34712
[x] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.

She has the grimoire, she's out picking herbs, and she seems startled and frightened after the apparently mutual gut reaction we had to each others' presence. I submit that she is the real Alice Margatroid, and our contradictory perceptions of her are due to some sort of existential paradox tearing at the core of our being. She probably knows something about the black goo, considering we recognized it, and she's certainly known for her ability to multitask, but somehow I doubt she'd be foraging and sending goo monsters to kidnap fairies at the same time.

So yeah, trying to kill her would not be very good.
>> No. 34717
>>34712
I'm not sure if that's the real Alice, just due to how the Grimoire has some blood splatter. But reacting on gut instinct would do more harm than good. But this girl seems to be a sign of the truth behind our Alice's origins. Whatever the case I suspect the Grimoire is something in high demand by anyone akin to Alice and that girl.
>> No. 34718
[x] >>34694

So, we finally meet the Alice everybody else knows?
>> No. 34757
Probably no update until at least Wednesday, more likely Friday or Saturday. Sorry, but I've got exams Monday and Tuesday, so writing this weekend's out of the question.

(This is also a "feel free to keep voting" notice, if you didn't get it)
>> No. 34758
>>34757
Wasn't going to bother since there's a clear winner that I'm happy with, but since you insist:

[x] No, no. Wait. Hide. A part of you, at least, tells you not to lose yourself.
>> No. 35213
File 126932983095.jpg - (71.51KB , 850x850 , ghoulmahboi.jpg ) [iqdb]
35213
You steady yourself, your breathing returning to you in short, cold breaths. The girl, pale and beautiful, hideous and corpse-like, casts her gaze around, eyes trying to make out the darkness. How can she not see you? You wonder this as you stare at her, your murderous glare running over the weak points of her slender body with an intensity that borders on sexual lust. How is it that her gaze, as sharp if not sharper than your own, cannot see you in the shadows? How can that be, when the green of her green eyes is as bright if not even brighter than your own? Could it be that she, as she hastily pockets her herbs, as her breathing quickens, as her chest throbs with a shadow of the pain in your chest that is for her a dull throb and for you a knife viciously twisted within your breast, could it be that she chooses not to see you?

Anger floods your being, amplifies your hate. What right does this monster have to be so cowardly? What right does she have to ignore you, to feel but vague repulsion at a shadow's shadow, when for you the very sight of her is poison, every second of having to bear her blighted existence utter torture?

You can’t stand it, you really can’t. You cannot fathom how such a hideous beast could dare to live in the same universe as you, but every fiber of your being wants nothing more than to correct that notion and kill her.
So why, then, do you still stand motionless behind the tree? Why then do your feet remain glued to the ground? What is it that holds you back? Why can’t you move? The pain? Every second of seeing her alive is infinitely worse. Morality? You would be doing the world a favor by ending this thing’s existence. Then what is it?

“Something’s wrong, Shanghai,” the girl speaks, and her voice is like a thousand knives driven into your skull. At the girl’s words, a hideous creature floats out of the underbrush, and only your lack of breath keeps a scream from tearing through your pale lips as its hideous face comes into view and you realize that its visage is not more than an even more putrid reflection of the girl’s, which is already a mocking disfigurement of your own.
The pain inside you intensifies and you double over, your vision tinted a nightmarish red. Why can’t you move? Why can’t you kill her? Why won’t she just die?

’What did I do to deserve this?

“Something’s terribly wrong,” the monster tells her slave as you raise your head and see her clutching the front of her blue dress with a pained expression while the creature with your face and hers silently looks on. “We have to leave.”

’No…’[/i]

Why can’t you move?

With that, the two beasts turn around and slowly fade behind the trees to the symphony of your ragged breaths. And you can do nothing to stop them.

It is only when the last shadow of their presence fades into the darkness that the chains binding you seem to break, and your pent-up energy released. With a scream akin to something that lies between a roar and a whimper you crash through the bushes and into the clearing, swinging your blade at the empty air, before dropping your arms and standing in abject defeat. The pain in your chest begins to fade and feeling returns to the rest of your limbs. Now you notice the hot tears running down your cheeks and see that the front of your white dress is covered in your own blood. And now you feel as you had never felt before the dawning realization that what held you back was not outside interference but only yourself, your fear, your own stinking terror that took over your mind and soul and left you but a quivering husk, unable to lay a single finger on that horrible monster.

But you can’t stand it. You won’t stand for it. How could you be so weak?

’No, no, no, no, no!’

You feel your heartbeat return, the blood pulsing quick and warm in your veins.

You can still correct this. No matter how much fear might rule you, if even one fiber of your body stands firm, then…

You’re moving now, green eyes wide and alert like a cat. The girl left a trail, you know it, you can almost smell it.

You’re running, tearing through the branches of the dark forest with unbelievable speed. You’ve never moved faster in your life, faster than any human has a right to move.

You can see her footprints. Your eyesight has improved to the point where the darkness around you is nothing. The whispers of the forest intensify around you, but your ears, sharper than ever, filter the noise out, searching, searching…

Where is she? You know you’re getting closer, the feeling of utter revulsion rising once more in your stomach. You force it back down through pure force of will. It can wait. You’re almost there.

You slice through a thick bush with your rapier, and come out into a clearing, your boots splashing on the ground below you.

And you stop.

Splash.

“Guh!”

You bring your hand to your suddenly aching chest as the pain and fear come back in full force, and your resolve vanishes into the fog of your soul. You step back, horrified as you find the black substance you saw at the entrance of the forest stain your white boots.
Around you, the forest is now more like a swamp, the black liquid covering the ground and extending itself over every tree and every leaf in sight.

This was not what you were looking for.

Or was it?

Hanging from the branches of the trees are dark, meaty bags of something like skin, pulsing and throbbing with something akin to life. Protruding from inside the things you can see small arms, or the faint flicker of a gossamer wing.

“Faeries?” you ask hoarsely, feeling your rapier tremble in your hand. You recall what Star Sapphire had mentioned about the black beings that had assaulted them, like faeries who seemed possessed. Could it be...

You take a step forward and swoon, your vision blurring. A feeling of unbearable revulsion invades your entire body, and you feel filthy even inside your own skin. All around you, you can feel the girl’s presence, every inch of the clearing tainted with her stench.

But there is something worse than that. For among every drop of that blighted essence, in every rotten leaf of every broken tree, in every shimmering reflection of the fetid substance splashing beneath your feet, you can see yourself, as twisted and broken and filthy and wrong as the girl herself, as if you and everything to do with you did not belong in the world.

And yet you move forward, the black liquid sticking to your boots as though it were trying to grab you, because you cannot stop. Though every fiber of your being shakes and throbs with pain and horror, you know that the moment you stop moving you’ll fall down unconscious, face first into the writhing substance below.

So you walk forward.

And then...

“Sunny?” you ask, your voice thick. You know it’s her, the fairy you’re looking for – the cocoon around her seems fresher, the flesh-like wrapping translucent instead of black. Inside, the fairy sleeps in ironic peace as she floats within some kind of amniotic fluid, but already black tendrils seem to sprout from the bottom of the cocoon and creep over her pale legs, leaving deep marks in their way along her body. The process, a testament to corruption, makes you if possible sicker than ever before, and once more your vision is tinted red.

‘This is her fault,’ you think, for even now as you witness the poor fairy being devoured you still can’t focus on anything else but the girl, the dark monster whose face you see in each and every one of the black horrors before you. “Her fault!”

With a pained yell you swing your rapier in a wide arc, slicing through the cocoon and the tendrils that hold Sunny Milk in an instant. The girl falls to the tainted ground, unmoving, and her body is showered by a cascade of fluid. All around you, the remaining cocoons pulse and throb as in protest at what you’ve done, and the dark whispering you’d heard from all over the forest rises once more, only this time as a cascade of screams clamoring for both help and vengeance.

“Shut up!” Something within you snaps, and your blade slices through the nearest cocoon, the fairy within falling to the black mud. She’s covered entirely by the black tendrils that were creeping over Sunny, but a pair of slashes frees her. The things fall off, leaving hideous scars along her body, but instantly the natural healing factor of her species, once repressed by her prison, kicks in, removing the blemishes. Emboldened, you slice through another one of the throbbing sacks, freeing another fairy through the same process, then head for a fourth cocoon with your blade held high.

You never reach it.

As you draw back your arm for another slash, the sack of flesh quivers with such strength as to nearly fall off its branch, and a dark, ear piercing wail reverberates across the clearing, unprepared, you meet its intensity with a whimpering scream of your own, nearly caving in to dropping your weapon just so you can bring both your hands over your ears. When the noise stops, you can feel eyes on your body from all around the clearing, and the hideous rasping of breath in the bushes behind you.

You try to recover, steadying yourself and with a forceful push thrusting your blade forward.

And then you scream.

Obligatory OST: Unthinkable Evil [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CZPSv5VHtc&fmt=18 ]

Your blade is batted aside as the cocoon explodes in a shower of gore, a hideous, vaguely feminine looking beast bursting out and lashing at you with claws as long as your hands. You stumble back, barely avoiding getting gored as the thing swings its bony arms, slashing at the air. Behind you, the monstrous breathing you’d heard draws unbearably close as the thing’s companions burst out of the bushes, at least half a dozen, blocking each direction. To your left and right, two more cocoons each rupture, bringing four more beasts, dripping fluid and shaking off bits of flesh, into the fray.

Suddenly, you can feel yourself going numb from the fear, and once more the pain in your chest intensifies to the point where you want to just drop down and die. Only sheer force of will keeps you standing as the demons slowly circle you.

These things, vaguely reminiscent of faeries stripped down to nothing but hair and an ooze covered black skeleton, are horror itself. Their hollow eye sockets stare at you with burning intensity, their gaping mows drooling black saliva as their claws scratch the ground with hateful impatience.

And once more you see it, that sight that makes your stomach twist on itself and your mind wonder how you’re even still sane. For in each of their ghastly faces, you can see yourself.

[b]You can see yourself


“Just die!”

You don’t even know how it happens, but in an instant the battle is joined. You jump forward with power far beyond your size, your white dress a vortex of hail behind you, and land behind one of the beasts just as its companions disperse, regroup, and charge. The demon turns, reaching out to bite you with its knife like teeth, but its wail is cut off as your cold blade meets its neck. The rest of the beasts attempt to mob you, but you roll out of the way of each of their strikes with breakneck speed. One of them lunges forward and finds its hand sliced off in a torrent of blood. Another jumps at you from among its companions – your right fist meets its skull. The strike is reinforced with so much magic the beast’s head caves in, splattering brains over your face. Two more reach from behind, another two from the side. You vault over them, turning gracefully in the air and counterattacking the moment you land, your rapier finding the eye socket of one of the beasts and burying its blade deep into its brain, killing it instantly. You pull your sword out – not quickly enough, another has already lashed out. But you catch the thing’s wrist with your right hand, and coldly rip its arm off, sending it to the ground in fits of agony as its two companions move forward, two more others attacking from behind, another two, despite missing body parts, climbing up the trees and diving at you from above!

You roll down, the ooze tainting your dress a deep black as you do, and avoid the falling ones. Jumping up, you make distance with the two that tried to reach at you from behind, avoid another attacker, and evade-

“ARRGH!”

No you didn’t. The hideous claws manage to rake your ribcage, and though the wound is not deep, the impact sends you stumbling back. The monster follows up with another strike. You twist at the last second and the claws miss you, but the back of the monster’s hand slams into you like a sledgehammer and sends you flying into a tree, right under a cocoon. By some miracle, you’re not only still conscious but you also managed to hold on to your rapier, but just as you try and get up the cocoon in front of you explodes, showering you with fluid as another beast sticks its head out. Your scream matches its wail as you unceremoniously shove your blade down its throat, killing it, but not quickly enough to get up before the rest of the demons charge, one of them leaping at you with blinding speed.

But you’re faster.

Your boot meets its face, and the kick is so strong it snaps the thing’s entire body backwards, the hideous noise of crunching bone filling your ears. You jump up and meet another demon with your rapier, disemboweling it as your blade slices what little flesh lays over its stomach. Two more! You crouch to avoid their awkward slashes before jumping back up and slicing the throat of one with such force its head is almost severed. The other, the one that had first struck you down, actually manages to avoid a strike by dropping down to the ground – and is rewarded by your boot soundly crushing its skull. Three more come, led by the one whose arm you ripped off, and who now you notice appears larger, more mature than its companions. “It’s heeeeeer,” it speaks in that horrible wail that threatens to make your ears bleed. It speaks. “Heeeeer!” The beasts jump, and behind them two more cocoons burst, reinforcing their numbers with more monstrosities. The armless one lunges at you with its remaining limb; you duck and slam your blade into its ribcage, piercing the black heart underneath. Another one attempts to get you from the side as you do this, and your right elbow breaks its neck. The rest all leap forward as one, and… your rapier is stuck.

It’s stuck, snagged between the bones of your downed opponent, and you can’t pull it out from the beasts’ corpse! The monsters jump at you, and you let go of the sword to avoid being thrown down, but it’s too late, you’re surrounded. It’s-

Colourful Sign – Colourful Rain!

’Meiling?’

You’re saved. In a hurricane of wind and magic and multicolor light, the remaining beasts are knocked away from you and shredded by a slicing vortex of energy that seems to clean the entire clearing, burning away the black ooze and slicing open the few remaining cocoons, killing the beasts inside. Two untransformed faeries fall to the ground, safe.

“That’s right, motherfuckers, this is Hong Meiling! You’d best remember that name!”
The spell clears, and you fall to your knees with a shuddering gasp, numb all over.

“Alice? Alice!”

Meiling stands before you, tall and pretty as always. Behind her, sunlight filters through the treetops. When did morning come?

“Alice, speak to me.” Meiling hoists you up by the armpits with ease, forcing you to stand on wobbly feet, her blue eyes shining with consternation. “God, you’re hurt!”

“Just a scratch,” you mutter weakly, lightly trying to push her arms away. “Meiling, it’s fine, it’s just a scratch. I’m still conscious, no?”

“Barely,” Meiling relaxes her hold on you but lowers her arms to hold you lightly by the waist as you find your own footing. “We have to get you to Patchouli.”

“My sword,” you protest, “let me get my sword.” Moving away from her, you wobble towards the corpse of the creature in whose ribcage your rapier had lodged. Now that you’re not under pressure from all sides, it’s much easier – placing your foot on the thing’s chest, you get your rapier out with a strong pull, only to scream in pain as the exertion suddenly returns feeling to the wound in your chest.

“Alice!” Meiling rushes towards you, pulling you up. “That’s it, I’m carrying you back.”

“I can still walk,” you moan, shaking your head, “Meiling, I’m fine, I can still walk, don’t touch me!

You nearly scream out that last part. Meiling lets go of you as if her hands were suddenly scorched. You drop to the ground, gasping in a mix of horror and fury. “I’m sorry,” you tell the gate guard, “I’m sorry…”

“Alice, what happened?” Meiling asks. She kneels down beside you. “These things…”

“I don’t know,” you answer, “I have as little of an idea as you. I’m just… I’m just glad I… we killed them. Thank you.”

“Sunnyyyyyy!” Luna Child. You turn to look behind you to see her and Star Sapphire rush towards their companion, and finally get a good look at Sunny Milk. A cute, blue eyed, pigtailed blonde girl, she reaches out towards her friends with her weak arms even as her eyes barely open. “You two… what?” she mumbles, still half unconscious. “She’s alive,” Star Sapphire mutters, the tears she’d held back rolling down her cheeks. “She’s alive~!” Luna Child turns to look at you and beams. “You saved her, big sister!”

So now they’re calling you that. Joy.

“We’ve got to get the faeries out of here,” you mutter, “and Patchouli and Remilia ought to be informed. This… this is wrong.”

Meiling nods, taking a good long look at the corpses of the beasts around you. “In many more ways than one,” she says. “Can I help you up?” she inquires, almost timid. “Nevermind,” she answers with a frown before you can say anything. “I don’t care what you say, I’m helping.”

She does, pulling you up and letting you fall into her arms for support. Calmly, she extricates your rapier from your left hand – and you find yourself surprised at yourself for letting her do so without any of your usual instinctual resistance to part with the thing. “This thing needs a scabbard,” she mutters, and you can feel her breath on your ear as she covers the thing with a long pouch she pulls from a pocket and attaches it to her belt, forming a makeshift sheath. “Ugh, that’d be very dangerous if it were someone other than me. Now…”

With a heave, she pulls you upward, and your face presses against her bosom as she carries you like a bride. “Ugh,” you mutter, feeling a twinge of injured pride beyond the haze of pain and tiredness of your mind, “this is too much…”

“Oh, you don’t like it?” Meiling mutters. “My father used to carry me like this all the time. What days…”

She turns to Luna Child and Star Sapphire. “You two carry Sunny Milk. I’ll levitate the rest of the faeries using my Qi. I haven’t had much practiced with moving things while I levitate them, so it’ll be a rough ride. Try and make sure they don’t bump into too many rocks.”

“That’s just cruel…”

“Hush, can’t you see big sister is hurt?”

“Oh, big sister!”

“Meiling,” you whisper, ignoring the faeries. “Patchouli is going to be mad at us back at the mansion, right?”

“Furious~.”

“I figured… let’s go… though I ought to have stayed in bed when I had the chance…”

Meiling pauses, then casts a sidelong glance at Luna Child and Star Sapphire. The former is showering Sunny’s head with kisses while the latter giggles uncontrollably. “No, not really,” Meiling mutters. “You can sleep now, though.”

“How embarrassing,” you grumble, but take her up on her offer, closing your eyes with a deep breath.
>> No. 35214
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35214
You awaken to the feeling of a soft, fluffy bed under your back and of the warmth of the sun on your bare skin. Lazily opening your green eyes, you find yourself in the room you share with Koakuma, lying spread on the four-poster bed. All the curtains have been pulled aside from the windows, and the morning sun filters through the glass, bathing the room in pleasant light and warmth. The horrible sights of the forest are now but distant memory. Smiling, you pull back the covers of the bed, and your eyes widen with a gasp as you find yourself naked from the waist up. Well, not quite – most of your torso, from your breasts to right over your navel, is covered in clean white bandages. Of course… you got scratched back there, didn’t you? Strangely enough, though, as you poke at the skin under the cloth, it doesn’t hurt. Harkening back to her words not long ago, you now confirm by yourself that Patchouli must be extremely adept at healing magic to accomplish such a thing. Pulling back the covers further, you find your lower body to be only slightly more decent – you’re in your underwear, legs covered in tight white stockings, as always. But still...

You grimace, looking around the room. Of course, though your rapier rests against a nearby chair, your dress is nowhere to be found. And why would it? It got ripped, trampled, and covered in that hideous black mud. Whoever could clean it would need a miracle to do so. You sigh, running a delicate hand over the bare skin of your flat stomach. “I suppose, as long there’s nobody to see…”

The door opens. You resist the urge to groan.'Me and my big mouth.’

“Miss Alice!” Oh, it’s Koa. That’s good. Wait, no, you’re nearly naked. Not good. “You… oh my.”

The red-haired succubus stands paralyzed by the doorway, eyes roaming all over your body as her face goes tomato red. “I’m… sorry… I…”

You sigh, leaning back on the headboard. “Nevermind. I’m beyond caring at this point. Too tired.”

“Oi, Koa, do you plan to move at some point? ‘cause this is getting uncomfortable…”

Meiling’s voice protests from behind the succubus. Oh, so she came to visit too?

“Er, yes yes yes alright!” Koa nearly jumps before gathering her bearings and stepping aside to allow Meiling to step in and close the door behind her. The woman walks in and instantly fixates her eyes on you.

“My,” she mutters. “That dress hides a lot. You ought to eat more, though.”

“Is this going to turn into a cross examination of my physical appearance?” you interject, starting to feel irritated, “Because going back to sleep sounds like a very good idea right now.”

“Oh, you won’t get much of that,” Meiling smiles, rubbing the back of her head. “Ouch!”

“What?” you ask.

“Sakuya bopped me upside the head the moment she laid eyes on me, “ the woman whines, “and it hurts~!”

“Um…” Koa interrupts, her blush unfading, “Miss Alice…”

“Yes, Koa?” you ask her, trying to smile. You manage it, but it dawns on you that you don’t quite feel any emotion that should go with it. Indeed, now you realize that the feeling of numbness that invaded you after the fight still lingers, and even now you feel slightly… detached. And of course you would. The details of what just happened aren’t something you’d like to revisit, even if you soon probably will.

“Lady Patchouli wants to speak with you,” Koa tells you, looking almost sorry. “She’s… not happy.”

“Oh, and after that, the boss, er, Lady Remilia wants to see you, too,” Meiling cuts in, smiling. “Sucks, huh?”

“You sound almost giddy,” you tell her.

“It’s my moment of calm,” Meiling answers, “Sakuya’s been busy, so I still have about an hour or so of agonizing suspense before she comes along to chew me out for… whatsit? Dereliction of duty. That.”

You frown. “I’ll tell her you saved me back then. She can’t get too mad at you after that, can she?”

“Oh, no, no,” Meiling shakes her head. “Trust me, after hearing the whole story, she’s not that mad. If she were really angry, I’d be looking for somewhere to hide.”

”Ahem.”

You turn to look at Koa, who eyes Meiling with something that looks like vague irritation before instantly looking away. “Miss Alice,” she tells you, wringing her hands as her tail wriggles anxiously, “Lady Patchouli is waiting in the living room. She said she didn’t want to come in and give you a shock, but… er… I wouldn’t keep her waiting much longer.”

You run a pale hand over your face, sighing. “Alright, then…”

--------
Meet Patchu:
[]Write-in
[] Get up off the bed, walk outside, sit in front of her.
-[] “I can explain.” Say it before she speaks. Refuge in audacity.
[] Can’t I get something to wear first?
>> No. 35215
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35215
You steady yourself, your breathing returning to you in short, cold breaths. The girl, pale and beautiful, hideous and corpse-like, casts her gaze around, eyes trying to make out the darkness. How can she not see you? You wonder this as you stare at her, your murderous glare running over the weak points of her slender body with an intensity that borders on sexual lust. How is it that her gaze, as sharp if not sharper than your own, cannot see you in the shadows? How can that be, when the green of her green eyes is as bright if not even brighter than your own? Could it be that she, as she hastily pockets her herbs, as her breathing quickens, as her chest throbs with a shadow of the pain in your chest that is for her a dull throb and for you a knife viciously twisted within your breast, could it be that she chooses not to see you?

Anger floods your being, amplifies your hate. What right does this monster have to be so cowardly? What right does she have to ignore you, to feel but vague repulsion at a shadow's shadow, when for you the very sight of her is poison, every second of having to bear her blighted existence utter torture?

You can’t stand it, you really can’t. You cannot fathom how such a hideous beast could dare to live in the same universe as you, but every fiber of your being wants nothing more than to correct that notion and kill her.
So why, then, do you still stand motionless behind the tree? Why then do your feet remain glued to the ground? What is it that holds you back? Why can’t you move? The pain? Every second of seeing her alive is infinitely worse. Morality? You would be doing the world a favor by ending this thing’s existence. Then what is it?

“Something’s wrong, Shanghai,” the girl speaks, and her voice is like a thousand knives driven into your skull. At the girl’s words, a hideous creature floats out of the underbrush, and only your lack of breath keeps a scream from tearing through your pale lips as its hideous face comes into view and you realize that its visage is not more than an even more putrid reflection of the girl’s, which is already a mocking disfigurement of your own.
The pain inside you intensifies and you double over, your vision tinted a nightmarish red. Why can’t you move? Why can’t you kill her? Why won’t she just die?

’What did I do to deserve this?'

“Something’s terribly wrong,” the monster tells her slave as you raise your head and see her clutching the front of her blue dress with a pained expression while the creature with your face and hers silently looks on. “We have to leave.”

’No…’

Why can’t you move?

With that, the two beasts turn around and slowly fade behind the trees to the symphony of your ragged breaths. And you can do nothing to stop them.

It is only when the last shadow of their presence fades into the darkness that the chains binding you seem to break, and your pent-up energy released. With a scream akin to something that lies between a roar and a whimper you crash through the bushes and into the clearing, swinging your blade at the empty air, before dropping your arms and standing in abject defeat. The pain in your chest begins to fade and feeling returns to the rest of your limbs. Now you notice the hot tears running down your cheeks and see that the front of your white dress is covered in your own blood. And now you feel as you had never felt before the dawning realization that what held you back was not outside interference but only yourself, your fear, your own stinking terror that took over your mind and soul and left you but a quivering husk, unable to lay a single finger on that horrible monster.

But you can’t stand it. You won’t stand for it. How could you be so weak?

’No, no, no, no, no!’

You feel your heartbeat return, the blood pulsing quick and warm in your veins.

You can still correct this. No matter how much fear might rule you, if even one fiber of your body stands firm, then…

You’re moving now, green eyes wide and alert like a cat. The girl left a trail, you know it, you can almost smell it.

You’re running, tearing through the branches of the dark forest with unbelievable speed. You’ve never moved faster in your life, faster than any human has a right to move.

You can see her footprints. Your eyesight has improved to the point where the darkness around you is nothing. The whispers of the forest intensify around you, but your ears, sharper than ever, filter the noise out, searching, searching…

Where is she? You know you’re getting closer, the feeling of utter revulsion rising once more in your stomach. You force it back down through pure force of will. It can wait. You’re almost there.

You slice through a thick bush with your rapier, and come out into a clearing, your boots splashing on the ground below you.

And you stop.

Splash.

“Guh!”

You bring your hand to your suddenly aching chest as the pain and fear come back in full force, and your resolve vanishes into the fog of your soul. You step back, horrified as you find the black substance you saw at the entrance of the forest stain your white boots.
Around you, the forest is now more like a swamp, the black liquid covering the ground and extending itself over every tree and every leaf in sight.

This was not what you were looking for.

Or was it?

Hanging from the branches of the trees are dark, meaty bags of something like skin, pulsing and throbbing with something akin to life. Protruding from inside the things you can see small arms, or the faint flicker of a gossamer wing.

“Faeries?” you ask hoarsely, feeling your rapier tremble in your hand. You recall what Star Sapphire had mentioned about the black beings that had assaulted them, like faeries who seemed possessed. Could it be…
You take a step forward and swoon, your vision blurring. A feeling of unbearable revulsion invades your entire body, and you feel filthy even inside your own skin. All around you, you can feel the girl’s presence, every inch of the clearing tainted with her stench.
But there is something worse than that. For among every drop of that blighted essence, in every rotten leaf of every broken tree, in every shimmering reflection of the fetid substance splashing beneath your feet, you can see yourself, as twisted and broken and filthy and wrong as the girl herself, as if you and everything to do with you did not belong in the world.

And yet you move forward, the black liquid sticking to your boots as though it were trying to grab you, because you cannot stop. Though every fiber of your being shakes and throbs with pain and horror, you know that the moment you stop moving you’ll fall down unconscious, face first into the writhing substance below.

So you walk forward.

And then...

“Sunny?” you ask, your voice thick. You know it’s her, the fairy you’re looking for – the cocoon around her seems fresher, the flesh-like wrapping translucent instead of black. Inside, the fairy sleeps in ironic peace as she floats within some kind of amniotic fluid, but already black tendrils seem to sprout from the bottom of the cocoon and creep over her pale legs, leaving deep marks in their way along her body. The process, a testament to corruption, makes you if possible sicker than ever before, and once more your vision is tinted red.

‘This is her fault,’ you think, for even now as you witness the poor fairy being devoured you still can’t focus on anything else but the girl, the dark monster whose face you see in each and every one of the black horrors before you. “Her fault!”

With a pained yell you swing your rapier in a wide arc, slicing through the cocoon and the tendrils that hold Sunny Milk in an instant. The girl falls to the tainted ground, unmoving, and her body is showered by a cascade of fluid. All around you, the remaining cocoons pulse and throb as in protest at what you’ve done, and the dark whispering you’d heard from all over the forest rises once more, only this time as a cascade of screams clamoring for both help and vengeance.

“Shut up!” Something within you snaps, and your blade slices through the nearest cocoon, the fairy within falling to the black mud. She’s covered entirely by the black tendrils that were creeping over Sunny, but a pair of slashes frees her. The things fall off, leaving hideous scars along her body, but instantly the natural healing factor of her species, once repressed by her prison, kicks in, removing the blemishes. Emboldened, you slice through another one of the throbbing sacks, freeing another fairy through the same process, then head for a fourth cocoon with your blade held high.

You never reach it.

As you draw back your arm for another slash, the sack of flesh quivers with such strength as to nearly fall off its branch, and a dark, ear piercing wail reverberates across the clearing, unprepared, you meet its intensity with a whimpering scream of your own, nearly caving in to dropping your weapon just so you can bring both your hands over your ears. When the noise stops, you can feel eyes on your body from all around the clearing, and the hideous rasping of breath in the bushes behind you.

You try to recover, steadying yourself and with a forceful push thrusting your blade forward.

And then you scream.

Obligatory OST: Unthinkable Evil [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CZPSv5VHtc&fmt=18 ]

Your blade is batted aside as the cocoon explodes in a shower of gore, a hideous, vaguely feminine looking beast bursting out and lashing at you with claws as long as your hands. You stumble back, barely avoiding getting gored as the thing swings its bony arms, slashing at the air. Behind you, the monstrous breathing you’d heard draws unbearably close as the thing’s companions burst out of the bushes, at least half a dozen, blocking each direction. To your left and right, two more cocoons each rupture, bringing four more beasts, dripping fluid and shaking off bits of flesh, into the fray.

Suddenly, you can feel yourself going numb from the fear, and once more the pain in your chest intensifies to the point where you want to just drop down and die. Only sheer force of will keeps you standing as the demons slowly circle you.

These things, vaguely reminiscent of faeries stripped down to nothing but hair and an ooze covered black skeleton, are horror itself. Their hollow eye sockets stare at you with burning intensity, their gaping mows drooling black saliva as their claws scratch the ground with hateful impatience.

And once more you see it, that sight that makes your stomach twist on itself and your mind wonder how you’re even still sane. For in each of their ghastly faces, you can see yourself.
You can see yourself

“Just die!”

You don’t even know how it happens, but in an instant the battle is joined. You jump forward with power far beyond your size, your white dress a vortex of hail behind you, and land behind one of the beasts just as its companions disperse, regroup, and charge. The demon turns, reaching out to bite you with its knife like teeth, but its wail is cut off as your cold blade meets its neck. The rest of the beasts attempt to mob you, but you roll out of the way of each of their strikes with breakneck speed. One of them lunges forward and finds its hand sliced off in a torrent of blood. Another jumps at you from among its companions – your right fist meets its skull. The strike is reinforced with so much magic the beast’s head caves in, splattering brains over your face. Two more reach from behind, another two from the side. You vault over them, turning gracefully in the air and counterattacking the moment you land, your rapier finding the eye socket of one of the beasts and burying its blade deep into its brain, killing it instantly. You pull your sword out – not quickly enough, another has already lashed out. But you catch the thing’s wrist with your right hand, and coldly rip its arm off, sending it to the ground in fits of agony as its two companions move forward, two more others attacking from behind, another two, despite missing body parts, climbing up the trees and diving at you from above!
You roll down, the ooze tainting your dress a deep black as you do, and avoid the falling ones. Jumping up, you make distance with the two that tried to reach at you from behind, avoid another attacker, and evade-

“ARRGH!”

No you didn’t. The hideous claws manage to rake your ribcage, and though the wound is not deep, the impact sends you stumbling back. The monster follows up with another strike. You twist at the last second and the claws miss you, but the back of the monster’s hand slams into you like a sledgehammer and sends you flying into a tree, right under a cocoon. By some miracle, you’re not only still conscious but you also managed to hold on to your rapier, but just as you try and get up the cocoon in front of you explodes, showering you with fluid as another beast sticks its head out. Your scream matches its wail as you unceremoniously shove your blade down its throat, killing it, but not quickly enough to get up before the rest of the demons charge, one of them leaping at you with blinding speed.

But you’re faster.

Your boot meets its face, and the kick is so strong it snaps the thing’s entire body backwards, the hideous noise of crunching bone filling your ears. You jump up and meet another demon with your rapier, disemboweling it as your blade slices what little flesh lays over its stomach. Two more! You crouch to avoid their awkward slashes before jumping back up and slicing the throat of one with such force its head is almost severed. The other, the one that had first struck you down, actually manages to avoid a strike by dropping down to the ground – and is rewarded by your boot soundly crushing its skull. Three more come, led by the one whose arm you ripped off, and who now you notice appears larger, more mature than its companions. “It’s heeeeeer,” it speaks in that horrible wail that threatens to make your ears bleed. It speaks. “Heeeeer!” The beasts jump, and behind them two more cocoons burst, reinforcing their numbers with more monstrosities. The armless one lunges at you with its remaining limb; you duck and slam your blade into its ribcage, piercing the black heart underneath. Another one attempts to get you from the side as you do this, and your right elbow breaks its neck. The rest all leap forward as one, and… your rapier is stuck.

It’s stuck, snagged between the bones of your downed opponent, and you can’t pull it out from the beasts’ corpse! The monsters jump at you, and you let go of the sword to avoid being thrown down, but it’s too late, you’re surrounded. It’s-

Colourful Sign – Colourful Rain!

’Meiling?’

You’re saved. In a hurricane of wind and magic and multicolor light, the remaining beasts are knocked away from you and shredded by a slicing vortex of energy that seems to clean the entire clearing, burning away the black ooze and slicing open the few remaining cocoons, killing the beasts inside. Two untransformed faeries fall to the ground, safe.

“That’s right, motherfuckers, this is Hong Meiling! You’d best remember that name!”

The spell clears, and you fall to your knees with a shuddering gasp, numb all over.

“Alice? Alice!”

Meiling stands before you, tall and pretty as always. Behind her, sunlight filters through the treetops. When did morning come?

“Alice, speak to me.” Meiling hoists you up by the armpits with ease, forcing you to stand on wobbly feet, her blue eyes shining with consternation. “God, you’re hurt!”

“Just a scratch,” you mutter weakly, lightly trying to push her arms away. “Meiling, it’s fine, it’s just a scratch. I’m still conscious, no?”

“Barely,” Meiling relaxes her hold on you but lowers her arms to hold you lightly by the waist as you find your own footing. “We have to get you to Patchouli.”

“My sword,” you protest, “let me get my sword.” Moving away from her, you wobble towards the corpse of the creature in whose ribcage your rapier had lodged. Now that you’re not under pressure from all sides, it’s much easier – placing your foot on the thing’s chest, you get your rapier out with a strong pull, only to scream in pain as the exertion suddenly returns feeling to the wound in your chest.

“Alice!” Meiling rushes towards you, pulling you up. “That’s it, I’m carrying you back.”
“I can still walk,” you moan, shaking your head, “Meiling, I’m fine, I can still walk, don’t touch me!

You nearly scream out that last part. Meiling lets go of you as if her hands were suddenly scorched. You drop to the ground, gasping in a mix of horror and fury. “I’m sorry,” you tell the gate guard, “I’m sorry…”

“Alice, what happened?” Meiling asks. She kneels down beside you. “These things…”

“I don’t know,” you answer, “I have as little of an idea as you. I’m just… I’m just glad I… we killed them. Thank you.”

“Sunnyyyyyy!” Luna Child. You turn to look behind you to see her and Star Sapphire rush towards their companion, and finally get a good look at Sunny Milk. A cute, blue eyed, pigtailed blonde girl, she reaches out towards her friends with her weak arms even as her eyes barely open. “You two… what?” she mumbles, still half unconscious. “She’s alive,” Star Sapphire mutters, the tears she’d held back rolling down her cheeks. “She’s alive~!” Luna Child turns to look at you and beams. “You saved her, big sister!”

So now they’re calling you that. Joy.

“We’ve got to get the faeries out of here,” you mutter, “and Patchouli and Remilia ought to be informed. This… this is wrong.”

Meiling nods, taking a good long look at the corpses of the beasts around you. “In many more ways than one,” she says. “Can I help you up?” she inquires, almost timid. “Nevermind,” she answers with a frown before you can say anything. “I don’t care what you say, I’m helping.”

She does, pulling you up and letting you fall into her arms for support. Calmly, she extricates your rapier from your left hand – and you find yourself surprised at yourself for letting her do so without any of your usual instinctual resistance to part with the thing. “This thing needs a scabbard,” she mutters, and you can feel her breath on your ear as she covers the thing with a long pouch she pulls from a pocket and attaches it to her belt, forming a makeshift sheath. “Ugh, that’d be very dangerous if it were someone other than me. Now…”

With a heave, she pulls you upward, and your face presses against her bosom as she carries you like a bride. “Ugh,” you mutter, feeling a twinge of injured pride beyond the haze of pain and tiredness of your mind, “this is too much…”
“Oh, you don’t like it?” Meiling mutters. “My father used to carry me like this all the time. What days…”

She turns to Luna Child and Star Sapphire. “You two carry Sunny Milk. I’ll levitate the rest of the faeries using my Qi. I haven’t had much practiced with moving things while I levitate them, so it’ll be a rough ride. Try and make sure they don’t bump into too many rocks.”

“That’s just cruel…”

“Hush, can’t you see big sister is hurt?”

“Oh, big sister!”

“Meiling,” you whisper, ignoring the faeries. “Patchouli is going to be mad at us back at the mansion, right?”

“Furious~.”

“I figured… let’s go… though I ought to have stayed in bed when I had the chance…”
Meiling pauses, then casts a sidelong glance at Luna Child and Star Sapphire. The former is showering Sunny’s head with kisses while the latter giggles uncontrollably. “No, not really,” Meiling mutters. “You can sleep now, though.”

“How embarrassing,” you grumble, but take her up on her offer, closing your eyes with a deep breath.
>> No. 35216
File 126933080393.jpg - (376.25KB , 707x1000 , meilingmahgirl.jpg ) [iqdb]
35216
You awaken to the feeling of a soft, fluffy bed under your back and of the warmth of the sun on your bare skin. Lazily opening your green eyes, you find yourself in the room you share with Koakuma, lying spread on the four-poster bed. All the curtains have been pulled aside from the windows, and the morning sun filters through the glass, bathing the room in pleasant light and warmth. The horrible sights of the forest are now but distant memory. Smiling, you pull back the covers of the bed, and your eyes widen with a gasp as you find yourself naked from the waist up. Well, not quite – most of your torso, from your breasts to right over your navel, is covered in clean white bandages. Of course… you got scratched back there, didn’t you? Strangely enough, though, as you poke at the skin under the cloth, it doesn’t hurt. Harkening back to her words not long ago, you now confirm by yourself that Patchouli must be extremely adept at healing magic to accomplish such a thing. Pulling back the covers further, you find your lower body to be only slightly more decent – you’re in your underwear, legs covered in tight white stockings, as always. But still...

You grimace, looking around the room. Of course, though your rapier rests against a nearby chair, your dress is nowhere to be found. And why would it? It got ripped, trampled, and covered in that hideous black mud. Whoever could clean it would need a miracle to do so. You sigh, running a delicate hand over the bare skin of your flat stomach. “I suppose, as long there’s nobody to see…”
The door opens. You resist the urge to groan.

’Me and my big mouth.’

“Miss Alice!” Oh, it’s Koa. That’s good. Wait, no, you’re nearly naked. Not good. “You… oh my.”

The red-haired succubus stands paralyzed by the doorway, eyes roaming all over your body as her face goes tomato red. “I’m… sorry… I…”

You sigh, leaning back on the headboard. “Nevermind. I’m beyond caring at this point. Too tired.”

“Oi, Koa, do you plan to move at some point? ‘cause this is getting uncomfortable…” Meiling’s voice protests from behind the succubus. Oh, so she came to visit too?

“Er, yes yes yes alright!” Koa nearly jumps before gathering her bearings and stepping aside to allow Meiling to step in and close the door behind her. The woman walks in and instantly fixates her eyes on you.

“My,” she mutters. “That dress hides a lot. You ought to eat more, though.”

“Is this going to turn into a cross examination of my physical appearance?” you interject, starting to feel irritated, “Because going back to sleep sounds like a very good idea right now.”

“Oh, you won’t get much of that,” Meiling smiles, rubbing the back of her head. “Ouch!”

“What?” you ask.

“Sakuya bopped me upside the head the moment she laid eyes on me, “ the woman whines, “and it hurts~!”

“Um…” Koa interrupts, her blush unfading, “Miss Alice…”

“Yes, Koa?” you ask her, trying to smile. You manage it, but it dawns on you that you don’t quite feel any emotion that should go with it. Indeed, now you realize that the feeling of numbness that invaded you after the fight still lingers, and even now you feel slightly… detached. And of course you would. The details of what just happened aren’t something you’d like to revisit, even if you soon probably will.

“Lady Patchouli wants to speak with you,” Koa tells you, looking almost sorry. “She’s… not happy.”

“Oh, and after that, the boss, er, Lady Remilia wants to see you, too,” Meiling cuts in, smiling. “Sucks, huh?”

“You sound almost giddy,” you tell her.

“It’s my moment of calm,” Meiling answers, “Sakuya’s been busy, so I still have about an hour or so of agonizing suspense before she comes along to chew me out for… whatsit? Dereliction of duty. That.”

You frown. “I’ll tell her you saved me back then. She can’t get too mad at you after that, can she?”

“Oh, no, no,” Meiling shakes her head. “Trust me, after hearing the whole story, she’s not that mad. If she were really angry, I’d be looking for somewhere to hide.”

”Ahem.”

You turn to look at Koa, who eyes Meiling with something that looks like vague irritation before instantly looking away. “Miss Alice,” she tells you, wringing her hands as her tail wriggles anxiously, “Lady Patchouli is waiting in the living room. She said she didn’t want to come in and give you a shock, but… er… I wouldn’t keep her waiting much longer.”

You run a pale hand over your face, sighing.

“Alright, then…”

--------
Meet Patchu:
[]Write-in

[] Get up off the bed, walk outside in what you're already wearing, sit in front of her.
-[] “I can explain.” Say it before she speaks. Refuge in audacity.

[] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?
>> No. 35217
File 126933088497.jpg - (376.25KB , 707x1000 , meilingmahgirl.jpg ) [iqdb]
35217
You awaken to the feeling of a soft, fluffy bed under your back and of the warmth of the sun on your bare skin. Lazily opening your green eyes, you find yourself in the room you share with Koakuma, lying spread on the four-poster bed. All the curtains have been pulled aside from the windows, and the morning sun filters through the glass, bathing the room in pleasant light and warmth. The horrible sights of the forest are now but distant memory. Smiling, you pull back the covers of the bed, and your eyes widen with a gasp as you find yourself naked from the waist up. Well, not quite – most of your torso, from your breasts to right over your navel, is covered in clean white bandages. Of course… you got scratched back there, didn’t you? Strangely enough, though, as you poke at the skin under the cloth, it doesn’t hurt. Harkening back to her words not long ago, you now confirm by yourself that Patchouli must be extremely adept at healing magic to accomplish such a thing. Pulling back the covers further, you find your lower body to be only slightly more decent – you’re in your underwear, legs covered in tight white stockings, as always. But still...

You grimace, looking around the room. Of course, though your rapier rests against a nearby chair, your dress is nowhere to be found. And why would it? It got ripped, trampled, and covered in that hideous black mud. Whoever could clean it would need a miracle to do so. You sigh, running a delicate hand over the bare skin of your flat stomach. “I suppose, as long there’s nobody to see…”
The door opens. You resist the urge to groan.

’Me and my big mouth.’

“Miss Alice!” Oh, it’s Koa. That’s good. Wait, no, you’re nearly naked. Not good. “You… oh my.”

The red-haired succubus stands paralyzed by the doorway, eyes roaming all over your body as her face goes tomato red. “I’m… sorry… I…”

You sigh, leaning back on the headboard. “Nevermind. I’m beyond caring at this point. Too tired.”

“Oi, Koa, do you plan to move at some point? ‘cause this is getting uncomfortable…” Meiling’s voice protests from behind the succubus. Oh, so she came to visit too?

“Er, yes yes yes alright!” Koa nearly jumps before gathering her bearings and stepping aside to allow Meiling to step in and close the door behind her. The woman walks in and instantly fixates her eyes on you.

“My,” she mutters. “That dress hides a lot. You ought to eat more, though.”

“Is this going to turn into a cross examination of my physical appearance?” you interject, starting to feel irritated, “Because going back to sleep sounds like a very good idea right now.”

“Oh, you won’t get much of that,” Meiling smiles, rubbing the back of her head. “Ouch!”

“What?” you ask.

“Sakuya bopped me upside the head the moment she laid eyes on me, “ the woman whines, “and it hurts~!”

“Um…” Koa interrupts, her blush unfading, “Miss Alice…”

“Yes, Koa?” you ask her, trying to smile. You manage it, but it dawns on you that you don’t quite feel any emotion that should go with it. Indeed, now you realize that the feeling of numbness that invaded you after the fight still lingers, and even now you feel slightly… detached. And of course you would. The details of what just happened aren’t something you’d like to revisit, even if you soon probably will.

“Lady Patchouli wants to speak with you,” Koa tells you, looking almost sorry. “She’s… not happy.”

“Oh, and after that, the boss, er, Lady Remilia wants to see you, too,” Meiling cuts in, smiling. “Sucks, huh?”

“You sound almost giddy,” you tell her.

“It’s my moment of calm,” Meiling answers, “Sakuya’s been busy, so I still have about an hour or so of agonizing suspense before she comes along to chew me out for… whatsit? Dereliction of duty. That.”

You frown. “I’ll tell her you saved me back then. She can’t get too mad at you after that, can she?”

“Oh, no, no,” Meiling shakes her head. “Trust me, after hearing the whole story, she’s not that mad. If she were really angry, I’d be looking for somewhere to hide.”

”Ahem.”

You turn to look at Koa, who eyes Meiling with something that looks like vague irritation before instantly looking away. “Miss Alice,” she tells you, wringing her hands as her tail wriggles anxiously, “Lady Patchouli is waiting in the living room. She said she didn’t want to come in and give you a shock, but… er… I wouldn’t keep her waiting much longer.”

You run a pale hand over your face, sighing.

“Alright, then…”

--------
Meet Patchu:
[]Write-in

[] Get up off the bed, walk outside in what you're already wearing, sit in front of her.
-[] “I can explain.” Say it before she speaks. Refuge in audacity.

[] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?
>> No. 35218
[X] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?

Patchy can wait long enough for Alice to get some clothes.
>> No. 35219
[X] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?

No sense in running around half-naked before we get our ass chewed out royally. Though I am still worried about what the hell that black stuff did to us, or better yet, what was up with the apparently actual Alice back there.
>> No. 35220
[X] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?
>> No. 35221
[ø] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?
>> No. 35222
[~#~] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?
>> No. 35227
[x] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?
>> No. 35228
>>35219
It seems that black goop was making copy alices. But we seem to have a reaction with the real Alice.

[X] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?

Might as well look nice when we're getting chewed out.
>> No. 35235
>>35228
Remember how the first ones were described:

>Star Sapphire shudders visibly. “It was awful, big sister! We were walking along, when two other faeries greeted us from a distance. We were caught off guard because we didn’t expect anybody to detect us, and for some reason I didn’t sense them myself, so we turned around and begged them to be quiet. But when they came close…”

>“It was terrible, big sister!” Luna Child interjects, “They were hideous, covered in this black goo that writhed over them, like, like they were possessed! And they said in this horrible screeching voice that they were so glad the faeries they were using had wandered outside, because otherwise they’d never have been able to get in without the gate guard knowing, and then they said they were going to eat us!”

And the ones we fought:

>These things, vaguely reminiscent of faeries stripped down to nothing but hair and an ooze covered black skeleton, are horror itself. Their hollow eye sockets stare at you with burning intensity, their gaping mows drooling black saliva as their claws scratch the ground with hateful impatience.

Star and Luna would have noticed if we looked like the monsters that just kidnapped their friend, we were probably just hallucinating the resemblance. Although, that could still indicate some sort of deeper connection similar to the one we have with real Alice.
>> No. 35236
[x] Can't I get something more decent to wear first?
[x] While you're at it, take a look in the mirror. Do you really look like the person--or the creatures--you saw last night?

Might as well clear this up before we have to describe them.
>> No. 35238
>>35235
That would make sense beings that took on the appearance of whatever frightens them the most.
>> No. 35239
>>35235
That would make sense beings that took on the appearance of whatever frightens them the most. And I think the goop or just her reaction affected how Alice appeared to her.
>> No. 35248
[] Get up off the bed, walk outside in what you're already wearing, sit in front of her.
-[] “I can explain.” Say it before she speaks. Refuge in audacity.
>> No. 35249
[x] Can’t I get something more decent to wear first?

Well, damn. Shit was intense.

And a hearty welcome back, kW.
>> No. 35250
>>35235
That's a bit reassuring.
>> No. 35252
>>35249

I was never really gone. It's just that exams dragged on for longer than expected, choking off my creativity like you have no idea.

However, the remainder of this week and all of the next two seem to be free of any problems (almost conspicuously so, actually), so chances are updates will speed up, at least for a while.
>> No. 35308
[x] Get up off the bed, walk outside in what you're already wearing, sit in front of her.
-[x] “I can explain.” Say it before she speaks. Refuge in audacity.
Nice update
>> No. 35342
There, there, the monster is gone. As a reward for putting up with my special brand of spontaneous mental retardation, you get an update at some point tonight.

Provided, that is, that I don't fall asleep at my keyboard. Then you'd be getting it tomorrow.
>> No. 35421
>>35342
I think a certain writefag has keyboard imprints on his cheek.
>> No. 35639
File 127045240865.jpg - (127.31KB , 500x870 , misspatchu.jpg ) [iqdb]
35639
Shorter, more frequent thank god updates from now on given that the plot has been greatly moved forward and we're entering yet another transition phase. (Also, because biiiiig updates, while cool, increase my procrastination level like holyshit. I've found I can deck out three 2000 word updates way, waaaaay faster than I can deck out a 6k word update.)

Likewise, when we get to another pivotal situation (such as this time, when, um, Alice met Alice), expect updates to get larger.

Begin.

----------------------------------------

You get up off the bed, the silken sheets sliding off your body with a rustle. “I’ll need something to wear, though,” you tell Koa. “I can’t exactly go out like this…”

“It’d be pretty hilarious, though,” Meiling comments with a smile. “With any luck Patchouli’s sensibilities would be so shocked she won’t have any energy left to tell you off.” She leans back against the doorframe with a dreamy sigh, probably thinking about how it’d be like to do the same thing to Sakuya. What a strange woman.

“I’m… not about to risk that,” you mutter. “Koa, could you lend me a dress, please?”

The girl stares blankly at you for a bit, her wings twitching slightly. After about a second, she snaps out of it, shaking her head and turning around. “Um… sure.”

Koa walks to a nearby dresser and pulls out a white one-piece, the kind she wears under her long black pinafore. You take it with a nod and quickly put it on, but it is only out of politeness that you resist the urge to groan as you eye yourself in Koa’s full-body mirror. Compared to your old dress, this one feels so plain it’s almost alien. It’s not that it’s ugly, mind, but it simply cannot compete with the delicate, painstaking craftsmanship of your previous garment. To top it off, it doesn’t quite fit you. Though it’s not obnoxiously long (Koa being only a bit taller than you) it’s certainly not tailored for your figure, and in the general area of the chest and hips you find yourself hopelessly outmatched, the cloth falling loose. “Er…”

“I tell you, you need to eat more~.” Meiling says, shaking her head as she looks at you. “Then again, at this stage it might be too late…”

“Oh, shut it,” you retort. “Koa?” you look pleadingly at the redhead while gesturing at your dress.

“Maybe some rope could-“

“N-no, how crude!” Koa cuts Meiling off before she can even finish and starts fumbling around inside the dresser, withdrawing a piece of silky red ribbon from a cardboard box. It’s long enough to go around your waist at least once. “Lift your arms please, Miss Alice.”
You do, and Koa walks up to you, tugging down the loose cloth around your chest and pulling up the cloth around your hips before wrapping the ribbon tightly around your waist, finishing the whole thing off by tying it into a stylish knot at your back. The overall effect improves the look of the dress immensely.

“Thank you,” you mutter, eying the handiwork with interest. Koa says nothing, merely giving you a wan smile. “Alright then,” you nod, “I’ll go talk with Patchouli.”

“We’ll take our leave behind you,” Meiling informs you, casually tossing her hair back, “I don’t think she’d appreciate us nosing around and, personally, I still have some time to kill.”

“Yes…” Koa whispers. You’ll have to ask her why she looks so down later.

“No point in delaying the inevitable, then.” Walking forward, you open the door and walk out into the living room. Patchouli is there, sitting by the fireplace, face buried in a book so big that it looks like it could double as a blunt weapon. The flimsy nightgown she wore at night has been replaced by her usual long, loose dress, and the crescent moon on her pink bonnet shines quaintly above her glossy black hair. You can see that she’s finally gotten around to ordering someone to bring her more brandy, as a glass full of it, along with the stopped bottle, are set on the table in front of her. Opposite her is also an empty glass, probably for you. How thoughtful.

Gingerly, you take a seat in front of her, placing your hands on your lap as you wait for her to acknowledge you.

“You took your time,” she mumbles, not taking her eyes off the book.

“Why didn’t you come in?” you ask in response.
“I found you weary, and I myself was having trouble controlling my temper. Given that, I saw no point in holding with you what would have been a pointless conversation, as it would only have troubled your recovery.”
“I see.” Behind you, you can hear a door quietly open and close. Meiling and Koa have left.

At this, Patchouli sets down her book and without turning to look at you, grabs the bottle of brandy and gracefully fills your glass. Setting the bottle down, she then takes a few tasteful sips from her own drink before finally meeting your gaze. You nearly flinch, and daren’t say anything.

“You,” the magician calmly begins, each word a delicately measured breath, “are a complete imbecile.”

You draw back, opening your mouth to respond, but Patchouli calmly raises a hand, cutting you off before you even start.

“Be quiet,” she says. Her cold authority breaches no discussion. With graceful poise she stands and stares you down with those stunning purple eyes, and though you know she is slightly shorter than you, you can’t help but feel as if you were looking up at a giant.
“All I asked,” she goes on, pausing only briefly to catch her breath, “was that you listen to me. That you allow me to solve this problem in the most efficient, civilized manner possible. And yet,you-“

“Sunny was in danger, they all were,” you cut in with a frown, “there was no time for-“

“For what?” Patchouli asks, and try as you might to deny it her tone leaves you cowed. There is no threat behind her words, simply a cold, elegant undertone of fury that throws you off-balance. “For nearly getting yourself and Meiling killed? And of course it would be that woman who’d enable you instead of stopping you…” She takes a deep breath. “I am not an active person, Alice, and it takes quite some pushing to rile me up, but you’ve managed it. In a single action you not only endangered yourself, you endangered Meiling, as stupid as she might have herself been for helping you, and you even endangered those faeries you seem to care so much about, though I can’t quite fathom why. You’ve now seen for yourself the kind of things that hide in the forest. Are you really that ungrateful that you won’t recognize your mistake?”

“I only did what I thought was right!” you exclaim, standing up, your hands on the table. Without your gloves, the smooth texture feels cold, dead. “Just because neither you nor Remilia can think of the faeries as… as…” You bite down hard on your lower lip. Humans? Really? “…living beings, doesn’t mean that you can just sit back and deliberate while they’re being… devoured, or…” You sigh, suddenly finding your current energy insufficient to fuel your anger. Unsurprising, considering. “Didn’t Meiling tell you what was going on there?” you mutter.

Patchouli regards you in silence for a long while before speaking. When she does, her tone is more even, though not yet entirely normal. “I am not refuting your good intentions, Alice,” she states softly. “Neither am I saying that helping the faeries should have been taken into consideration as anything other than an irritating obligation. But I’m asking you, Alice, was rushing in warranted? You knew nothing of what lay there in the forest. Just as things went right, they could just as easily have gone wrong. And think, what did disobeying my orders change? If you had waited for me, the whole operation would have turned out the same, probably with less physical harm to you.”

That gives you pause, but-
--------------------------------------
[]Write-in.

[] “It’s not about what didn’t change, but what could have. Just as you say that nothing would have happened, maybe a second’s delay would have seen Sunny and those other faeries… corrupted, too. I… I can’t condone such a measured attitude in the face of danger!”

-[] “And I’m sure you wouldn’t either, if they weren’t faeries.”

[]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. Maybe I was wrong on being reckless, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”

Update tomorrow or the day after that. For reals.
>> No. 35640
[ø]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. Maybe I was wrong on being reckless, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
>Update tomorrow or the day after that. For reals.
brofist.jpg
>> No. 35641
[x]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. I was wrong on being reckless, in that you're correct, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
-[x] I apologize for endangering Meiling though. I don't make a habit of drawing others to danger due to my own whims and mistakes. I'm sorry.
>> No. 35642
{"You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. Maybe I was wrong on being reckless, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake... I’m glad I did it."}
>> No. 35643
[x]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. I was wrong on being reckless, in that you're correct, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
>> No. 35644
[X]"I'm bad. Real bad. I don't stop for nobody -- not demon blobs, not you. I'm a force'a'nature. If you was from? Where I was from? You'd be cast into a dimension of legendary guro torment. Sorry, Patches, but that's just how I roll."
>> No. 35646
[x]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. I was wrong on being reckless, in that you're correct, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
-[x] I apologize for endangering Meiling though. I don't make a habit of drawing others to danger due to my own whims and mistakes. I'm sorry.
>> No. 35647
[x]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. I was wrong on being reckless, in that you're correct, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
-[x] I apologize for endangering Meiling though. I don't make a habit of drawing others to danger due to my own whims and mistakes. I'm sorry.
>> No. 35648
[x]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. I was wrong on being reckless, in that you're correct, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
-[x] I apologize for endangering Meiling though. I don't make a habit of drawing others to danger due to my own whims and mistakes. I'm sorry.


Sounds good to me. It probably won't get us completely off the hook, but it's enough to convince Patchy that we didn't mean to endanger anyone else. Plus we learned something that could help us find out who or what we are.
>> No. 35675
[x]”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. I was wrong on being reckless, in that you're correct, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.”
-[x] I apologize for endangering Meiling though. I don't make a habit of drawing others to danger due to my own whims and mistakes. I'm sorry.
>> No. 35771
File 127080530266.jpg - (329.71KB , 595x842 , notquitealady.jpg ) [iqdb]
35771
”You weren’t there. You didn’t see… what I saw. Maybe I was wrong on being reckless, but the moment I went to the edge of the forest there was no turning back. There’s no way I could have left anyone there even one minute longer, so even if initially, disobeying you was a mistake… I’m glad I did it.” You pause for a breath. “If anything, my only regret was putting Meiling and the faeries into any danger. That was irresponsible.”

Patchouli’s gaze softens, but as her eyes lock with yours for a few very long seconds, you can tell she still doesn’t quite agree. With a shake of her head, she reaches out for her glass of brandy and downs what little liquid remains in a solid gulp. Once more taking a seat, she relaxes her slender body against the plush share, regarding you calmly. “I’ll admit that I caught you too late for my own good,” she mutters, “Unless the offense is particularly grim, I have a hard time staying angry at someone, and your intentions were clearly good. As for Meiling… well.”

She shrugs. “While I can’t condone your taking her along, knowing that woman she probably did not give you much choice in the matter. Besides, she’s an adult, and supposed to… supposed to, mind, take care of herself.” She reaches out for the bottle of brandy and pours herself another glass. “Did you not like it, Alice?” she gestures to your own untouched glass. Truth be told, you had been too nervous to pay much attention to it. With a sigh, you sit back down in your chair, bringing the liquid to your lips for a taste. As you swallow it, a pleasant warmth spreads down your body, but it clashes with a burning sensation in your throat that makes your eyes water. “Guh,” you shake your head, putting the glass down. “I… like the taste, but…” You gesture helplessly at your neck.

“It does take some getting used to, yes,” Patchouli agrees. “Still, Alice, I trust you realize that so long as I continue to investigate your little… inconvenience, I consider you under my care. Thus, in what concerns you, you answer to me, and I answer to you.” It’s not a question, but even if you were against such reasoning, the facts are such that there’s little room to argue. You nod with a sigh. Patchouli’s pale lips draw a tiny smile on her face.

“So,” she goes on, whimsical, “another stunt like that, and I might just consider kicking you out.” She punctuates this faux threat with an infectious giggle that has you smiling yourself.

“I’m sorry,” you mutter. ‘But even then, I’m right,’ you keep to yourself, ‘they might have been faeries, but you can’t just leave people waiting like that when they need help. Just… no.’

“So, Alice,” Patchouli continues, not quite picking up on your inner mutterings, “on to, perhaps, more urgent matters.” She grows serious. “What is it that you saw in the forest?”

The warmth of the brandy drains out of you, displaced by a cold chill that threatens to take over your chest. Memories of the event flood your mind, and all of a sudden you become painfully aware of having left your rapier in Koa’s room. You grit your teeth, resisting the urge to run and get it, anything to obtain at least an illusion of safety. “Didn’t… didn’t Meiling tell you?” you stammer out, gripping with the armrest of your chair with enough force you think you might snap something.

“You’re assuming she saw much, Alice,” Patchouli apprises you, making a tiny gesture with her forefinger as if pointing out the concept in front of you, “but the truth is, Meiling, at least from what I could get out of her, simply jumped in at the last minute. Oh, she could give me a general idea, of course, but the one who lived through the entire ordeal was you. So…” She picks up her glass, delicately waves at you to start talking, and then takes a small sip.

This gives you pause. She couldn’t be asking you just like that, could she? Did she have no idea…

The girl’s face flashes through your mind, and you feel your legs shiver for a second before you plant your feet firmly on the ground. You try and take a deep breath; gather your thoughts, but all that comes out is a shuddering gasp. “I can’t,” you moan.

“But you can, Alice,” Patchouli tells you, utterly calm, “I’m not about to have a psychological case on top of all of this, so letting you bottle it up is out of the question.”

“I can’t,” you reiterate, shaking your head. You’re starting to feel sick, yet again. Doesn’t this woman understand? How are you supposed to tell her about the girl? About how all those monsters bore your face?

“I do hope you understand this isn’t entirely about you, Alice,” Patchouli mutters, regarding you with severity as she takes a final drag off her glass of brandy and reaches out to stopper the bottle. “Predatory beings with the capacity to mutate faeries into their own kind are something that is altogether unheard of, and poses very tangible danger for the forest’s inhabitants are-“

“There’s nothing I know beyond that, alright!?” you exclaim, running a pale hand over your face. Absentmindedly, you note that the cut on your palm is long gone. “Nothing. They were just… there. I followed the trail of blood or ooze, or whatever, and they were there, wrapping those faeries into sacs of meat. When they came out…” You shudder. “But I know nothing other than that, so please stop questioning me.” You scowl, green eyes cold and hard.

“One wonders,” Patchouli stands up, grabbing the bottle of brandy and carefully placing it in its rightful place over the fireplace, “why this entire event caused you such an impression.” She turns around to regard you under a thoughtful stare. “You’re a girl who faced down Flandre and could candidly if not gracefully talk about it the next day. But after your current escapade, you’re, to put it colloquially,” she pauses, looking for the right words. “A mess.”

“I’m not a mess,” you sulk. As if to establish the point you reach for your glass of brandy, only to withdraw your hands back to your lap when you find them trembling. “I’m just tired, that’s all.”

“I doubt that’s the entirety of it.”

“I don’t,” you retort. “All I saw is what you know, nothing else.” Why are you even doing this? Couldn’t telling her… but what would you tell her? That you saw that monster of a girl? That she and her slave and all those demons bore a face that was yours but not your own? That it felt like their blood was your blood and their stench your stench and that their vileness and the hatred they inspired in you felt like a mirror of the vileness and hatred the living world held for you?

She’ll think you a fool.

She’ll think you mad.

She’ll tell you things you don’t want to know.

You try it. As Patchouli just stares at you in a mixture of irritation and concern, you try saying something, anything, but nothing comes out of your mouth. You can’t bear it, and end up simply meeting her gaze in silence.

Finally, the magician gives a defeated sigh, shaking her head. “This conversation is going nowhere,” she states. “It’s clear questioning you so soon was a horrendous miscalculation on my part.” She pauses for a second, as if holding out hope you’ll correct her. Again you say nothing, merely looking away.

“You’re free to go,” the woman reluctantly mutters. Nodding, you stand up. “Thank you,” you say, feeling the warmth slowly return to your body. “I should go now, Remilia-“

“Look,” Patchouli cuts in, “I understand she wanted to talk to you after I was done, but you’re clearly in no condition.” Her gaze grows warm. “I can tell her you’re too tired, and if you want you can go get some rest. I’ll have Koa bring you your breakfast....”

“I… no thanks,” you shake your head. “I’m fine, I… should go.”

“Alice-“

Before Patchouli can say anything else, you scurry out of the living room, cursing yourself for everything you can think of.
------------------------------------------------

“I attack you for all your life points.”

“What? I can so block that.”

“No you can’t, it flies.”

“No it doesn’t, it’s right there on the table. How could it fly?”

“…you’re… I have no words…”

“Oh, Alice!”

Koa and Meiling are seated on a table not far from the metal staircase leading down from the rooms to the rest of the library. Stacks of books are set aside around them, and the two seem embroiled in what looks to be a rather entertaining card game. When you approach them, Meiling looks up and notices you, waving you over. “How’d it go?” she asks, beaming. “Got chewed out, or what?”

“It was… fine,” you mumble, taking a seat beside Koa, who does a good job looking the other way. With vague interest you survey their playing field – the cards seem old, painfully worn at the edges, but are filled with colourful drawings of different monsters. Koa’s are faeries and wizards, and Meiling’s look like dragons. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?” you ask the latter, smirking just a tiny bit. Meiling shrugs. “Eh, like I said, I’m sort of, kind of not-hiding, if you get what I mean, Koa isn’t that busy either, and we found these old things stacked under some books. They’re fun to pass the time with, actually-“

“N-no!” Beside you, Koa stands up and starts picking up the cards. “She’s right you know, we shouldn’t be slacking, a mansion to keep, and all…” Setting the cards aside, she grabs a pile of books with a heave and starts walking away.

“Wait, Koa-“

If she hears you, she gives no indication of it. You sigh. “What’s wrong with her?” you ask Meiling, exasperation creeping into your voice. The woman shrugs. “Nothing, I guess. She just has the hots for you.”

”Wait, what!?” you stammer out. “I… we haven’t known each other for even a week…”

“Yeah, so?” Meiling shoots back. “I’m not saying she’s in love with you or anything, just… she thinks you’re really hot. And don’t try to act like you don’t know, because I’ll shave my head if she didn’t grope you the moment she saw you.”

“I… Meiling!” you gasp, bringing a hand to your mouth. “This is… er…” you can’t quite find the words. “Unladylike!”

“Yep, she definitely groped you.” With a grin, Meiling leans back on her chair, visibly relaxed. “Look, Alice,” she begins, “it’s nothing to get worked up about. Koa’s a succubus, so it’s entirely natural for her to initially have this kind of reaction to, well… every reasonably attractive woman she meets, and it lasts until she gets used to her.”

“Why?” you shake your head, bewildered.

“Don’t ask me,” Meiling says, “I’m just parroting what she told me. Suffice to say, because Koa was raised by Patchouli nearly from childhood, she didn’t turn into a filthy, soul-eating whore, which is excellent if you ask me. But it also means she never quite got around to learning to control those impulses when it suits her. She still breaks out in shivers every time Sakuya wears black stockings instead of letting her legs bare.” She pauses, and a dreamy smile draws itself on her face. “Then again…”

“Meiling!” you call her out, vaguely horrified. Not that Sakuya doesn’t have nice legs, mind, but… decency, please!

“Alright, alright,” Meiling waves you off, “yeesh, you sound like Patchouli.” Taking a deep breath, the woman puffs up her chest. “Meeeiling,” she begins in what is perhaps the worst imitation of an English accent you’ve ever heard, “your comments are beyond the pale. By Jove, Meiling, can’t you act more like a lady? Meiling, if Queen Victoria, whom I most emphatically do not lust for, were alive and totally not some smelly skeleton…”

You can’t help it, and at that last part you burst out laughing so hard you end up clutching your stomach in pain. “That’s… oh my…”

“Look, Alice,” Meiling says when she stops giggling herself. “What I’m saying is that her involuntary reactions are leaving Koa in a pinch regarding you, and given that she’s already pretty mortified, our fairy-rescuing escapade did nothing but fray her nerves. But don’t worry, she’ll come around. Eventually.”

“I suppose,” you mutter, standing up. Inwardly, you’re surprised at what all that laughter did for you – though Patchouli’s questioning is still fresh on your mind, you find yourself starting to feel a tad better. “Anyways…”

------------------------------------------------
Carry on the conversation.

[x] “I need someone to take me to Remilia.” This will be a given, but…

What else?

[] Write-in.

[]”About our little… sidetrip…”
-[] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[]”…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”

[] “About Remilia.”

[] “You seem to have some history with getting told off by Patchouli…”
>> No. 35772
[x]”About our little… sidetrip…”
-[x] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[x]”…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”

Can't think of a decent write-in for this, and the other choices just seem like small side talk. This is a more important choice I believe.
>> No. 35773
[x]”About our little… sidetrip…”
-[x] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[x]”…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”
>> No. 35775
>"She still breaks out in shivers every time Sakuya wears black stockings instead of letting her legs bare." She pauses, and a dreamy smile draws itself on her face. "Then again…"
Oh, Meiling.

[X] “About our little… sidetrip…”
-[X] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[X] “…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”
[X] “You seem to have some history with getting told off by Patchouli…”
>> No. 35776
[X] “About our little… sidetrip…”
-[X] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[X] “…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”
[X] “You seem to have some history with getting told off by Patchouli…”

Alice's assuming a bit much about Patchouli, isn't she?

Well Meiling's impersonation of Patchouli was just hilarious.
>> No. 35777
[X] “About our little… sidetrip…”
-[X] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[X] “…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”
[X] “You seem to have some history with getting told off by Patchouli…”

Meiling and Koa are just too loveable in this story.
>> No. 35778
[X]"How about we go to my place so we can get to know each other better?"
[X]"Koa can come too."
[X]Porn music.
>> No. 35781
>>35778
wrong story, Mode's story is that way.
>> No. 35786
>>35781

Dohohoho.
>> No. 35798
[x] “About our little… sidetrip…”
-[x] “Thank you for helping me out…”
-[x] “…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”
[x] “You seem to have some history with getting told off by Patchouli…”
>> No. 35803
[x] “About our little… sidetrip…”
-[x] “Thank you for helping me out…”
--[x] “…but I’m sorry for endangering you.”

[x] “You seem to have some history with getting told off by Patchouli…”

>She still breaks out in shivers every time Sakuya wears black stockings instead of letting her legs bare.”
Who doesn't?

...Also, remember that this Alice habitually wears white stockings. We're driving the poor little succubus nutty~

I know we're giving the poor little devil a hard time making her head throb with a frightful pounding mess of confusion, but all we want to do is let her fill us up with love until we're stuffed absolutely tight with that wonderful feeling.
>> No. 35807
>>35803
And to think Alice's still kinda a stick. If that little problem could be solved, I'd suspect Koakuma at least would be leaving puddles all over the place.
>> No. 35944
File 127139816138.png - (172.18KB , 1129x872 , Scarlet Princess.png ) [iqdb]
35944
You hesitate, not quite sure how to put it. Meiling waits patiently, regarding you with an interested look. “About our little… sidetrip…”

The redhead shrugs, shaking her head. “Don’t start on that,” she says, “you did the right thing, and that’s enough. Maybe it wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but it went alright, no? And I’m not the kind of person who likes to worry about what could’ve gone wrong when things went right, so…”

“No,” you cut in, “it’s not that… I agree, if only because I don’t think I could’ve done anything else. But what I wanted to say…” You give her a wan smile. “Thanks for helping me out there, even if coming along put you in danger; things could’ve been pretty grim without you.”

Meiling snorts. “Me? Danger? I was the one who let you out, Alice, so I don’t think that matters. Still,” she stands up, flexing her slender arms with a smug smile, “you’re welcome, young lady. It’s not every day Hong Meiling gets to show off her heroic qualities. Like her bravery.”

Her eyes shine, and she places a hand on her chest, looking inspired. “Or her good heart. Or,” and she punctuates this next sentence by throwing a couple of quick punches at the empty air, “her awesome kung fu.”

You stare, deadpan. “Don’t get too full of yourself, please.”

Insanely awesome,” she retorts with a smirk. “Ah, if only Patches had been there to see, she’d have to recognize my superior fighting style…”

“Patches!?” you repeat far too loudly for your own good. It echoes across the library as you bring a hand to your lips, trying not to laugh.

”What!?” a voice rings out from somewhere among the bookshelves, carrying with it hints of magnificently refined menace. “Weee… ought to be getting out of here,” Meiling mutters with a nervous grin, turning around and walking away so quickly it looks she might start to sprint any minute. “Come on!”

You follow, striding into step beside her in a few seconds, occasionally casting nervous glances behind the towering bookshelves. You and your big mouth.

“So,” you begin as Meiling and you descend from a towering spiral staircase to a gigantic floating platform that connects the library with the mansion’s floor level via an incredible marble bridge. “So…” you pause, looking down to see that several other staircases go down from the platform you’re on to a chasm riddled with bookshelves – how could you not have noticed that the library had underground levels? “So…” you repeat, slack-jawed.

“Alice, you’re spacing out.”

“Totally…” you mumble, before catching yourself with a jolt. “I mean, sorry! Er… what was I saying?” You stumble, feeling your face heat up. Meiling smirks.

“Never stops surprising you, does it?” she asks, making a sweeping gesture around herself.

“Yeah.” You hop off the staircase with a small grin. “It’s… amazing, this place.”

“Just don’t let it happen to you if you’re on top of a bookshelf or anything. Trust me when I say that gets nasty quick.”

You roll your eyes. “I’m not as dumb as you, if you’re speaking from experience.”

Meiling flushes, her face turning beet red. “I… shut up. Let’s go.”

“Wait a second, you mean you actually-“

“I don’t want to talk about it, alright?”

“That must have been quite comical.”

“Shut up.”

You shrug and keep walking. Meiling, looking a bit sullen, follows you silently. “So,” you begin, “it looks like you and Patche… ouli. Patchouli.” You pause. That was hard. “Like you and Patchouli don’t get along that well.”

Meiling shrugs. “Nah,” she shakes her head, “she might complain about me a lot, but she puts up with me when it matters. Myself, I like her, but I think she’s a bit uptight.”
You smile. “I suppose she’s just a tiny bit old-fashioned.”

“If you call being stuck in the nineteenth century a tiny bit old-fashioned,” Meiling says, her tone a tad mocking as the two of you reach the massive doors that mark the exit to the library, “then yeah. Just a bit.” Then she pauses, a hand on the door, suddenly looking confused. “Um… I’m taking you to the boss lady, right?”

“I… supposed that’s what we were doing, yes…” you mutter, looking at her with some concern.
Meiling blinks, taking that in. “Alright then!” she finally asserts with a shrug and a cheery smile. You stare. Had she really started walking all this way for nothing?

“You… are so clueless…” you mumble, a mock frown crossing your features.

“Eh, that’s what everyone says.” With a strong push, Meiling swings the doors of the library wide open, and the two of you pass through to the orb room. No sooner do you turn around that you see the gigantic doors meld into the wall, disappearing into the stone like a rock sinking into water. Incredible.

“But like I said, Alice,” Meiling continues, “we get along in this mansion. I’ll admit I’m not really that close to anyone except Koa and Sakuya and the latter only when she’s in a good enough mood, which isn’t often these days.”

“Why?” you ask, frowning. It’s the truth, really. Though Sakuya has mostly been polite, you can’t recall a single time when she has shown kindness. Even Remilia has a better track record.

“To be honest, I have a little theory that more or less works.” Meiling walks to the center of the room and leans back on the stone sphere’s pedestal, smiling at you. “Sakuya, I’ve noticed, gets progressively less friendly the more the boss starts plotting something she doesn’t agree with. And,” she looks thoughtful for a bit. “You know the lady of this mansion isn’t the most agreeable person to begin with.”

This leaves you doubtful, and you can’t help but express as much. “I know Remilia can be a difficult person, but Sakuya…” You bite your lower lip, not quite sure how to put it. “I mean, I don’t really know her, but she seems so dedicated…”

“Unfailingly,” Meiling agrees, “but Alice, being loyal to someone and carrying out their orders doesn’t mean agreeing with that person. It just means being loyal. I mean, look at me,” she smirks. “Half the time I don’t agree with anything that comes out of Sakuya’s mouth, but because I’m so dedicated, I do my job without question. I’m totally awesome like that, see?”

“Oh, you.” Walking forward, you place a hand on Meiling’s shoulder and give her a firm squeeze. “How about you get your head out of the clouds and we keep going?”

“Hey,” Meiling pouts. “Weren’t you all thankful just a few minutes ago?”

“Sure.” You let go, feeling your cheeks dimple as a wide grin takes over your face. Turning around, you start walking away. “You keep reminding me and I might just bake you a cake.”

“Did anyone agree to pay you by the snark while I wasn’t looking?”

“Oh, but isn’t this mansion’s policy to never pay anyone for anything?”

“I know,” Meiling catches up with you in a few long strides, eyes widening in indignation. “It’s abuse, I tell you. What if I had some sort of grand plan for the future? Taking up a job in this mansion would have ruined that!”

“And do you have a grand plan for the future?” you ask as you step out into the mansion’s vast foyer, honestly curious.

“Me?” Meiling looks a tad surprised. “Nah. Maybe I did at some point, but…” She sighs wistfully. “I’ve sort of fallen in love with this place. And, I mean, I’ve already been here the past fifty years. Another fifty more couldn’t be too terrible…”

You gasp and stumble. Fifty years? You turn around to look at Meiling. She looks young, pretty, lush. But you recall your first conversation with Patchouli. Meiling is a youkai, to go by the local terminology. But how? Demons like Koa are rather obviously non-human, what with the wings and the occasional utterly different response to certain stimuli. But you would never have noticed Meiling to be anything than a normal human woman. Well, as normal as Meiling could possibly be, anyway.

“I… forgot you were…” you mumble. Oh, this is coming out so wrong.

“Oh, that?” Meiling shrugs. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m as human as they come. The rest is just terminology. Just because I happened to get exposed to a wee bit too much magic once upon a time doesn’t change anything. Besides,” a self-sufficient smirk spreads across her face as she places her hands on her curvy hips and leans forward. “To tell you the truth, I got the long end of the stick, here. Patches tells me that most people who get what I got? They end up fried, horribly mutated, or both. Me, I just got stronger. Because-“

“…you’re awesome, I see,” you roll your eyes. “You sound like Cirno.”

“Hey!”

“So,” you cut in before Meiling can start whining. “What did happen? If… um, if it’s not too personal, I mean.”

“Personal?” Meiling laughs you off. “Pfft. Alice, I enjoy telling my harrowing tales of heroic adventure. But this one goes back a long way. You see, some years after the Boxer Rebellion in China, a French soldier, my-“

“Why hello, Meiling. Finally, I find you~!”

”There is no God.”

You strangle a gasp. How did she get here without either of you two noticing?

“Why, Meiling,” Sakuya says, standing behind the woman, her tone sickly sweet. Her blue eyes glint dangerously as a stony smile draws itself on her pale lips. With a slow, deliberate motion, she grabs Meiling by her long red hair and pulls the woman’s head toward herself. “Don’t you let the mistress hear you saying that.”

“Ow, ow, ow,” Meiling moans, but puts up no resistance. “Sakuya, you’re hurting meeee…”

“Sakuya!” you protest, horrified at this treatment, much as Meiling had foreshadowed it. “You can’t-“

“Hello, Alice,” the maid interrupts. “I suggest you keep your pretty mouth shut, because I still have one hand free and that blonde hair of your looks mighty soft…” She pulls harder on Meiling’s hair. “Ow!”

“…and smooth.” She tugs again. “Ow!”

“Run,” Meiling mouths through clenched teeth, “I’ll be fine.”

“No you won’t~.”

“Wait, Sakuya,” you walk towards the maid, stretching out a hand, maybe to pull Meiling away.

You’re never quite sure, because the moment you move, both Sakuya and Meiling disappear.

Literally. You’re left talking to empty air with your arm stupidly outstretched. “How…” you whisper, before something else catches your attention: falling in the air with unnatural slowness, like a feather, is a piece of paper. Frowning, you catch it. A playing card. What is this? On the one side, it’s marked with an ace of spades topped by the letters “M. R.”, and followed on the bottom by “S. I.” On the other side…

“のワの”

“What.”

Looking at the little drawing, you can’t help but feel that you’re being insulted, somehow. That horrible, horrible woman. Crumpling the card and tossing it aside, you let the indignation simmer for a bit before a huff of anger overtakes you, your right arm lashing out at a nearby wall. An audible crunch echoes through the foyer, the plaster cracking under the magical strength that floods your limbs to the tune of your near-unconscious will. But no sooner do you smile in vindicated satisfaction than a blinding, throbbing pain fills your right hand. With a gasp you bend over, cradling it over your stomach. Of course, the magic makes you stronger, but it does nothing to blunt the agony of slamming your fist against solid rock.

“Damn it,” you swear, tears filling your eyes, “damn it.”

-------------------------------------

Once you found yourself able to move again, you also realized that you’d been left alone, without a guide, and with only the vaguest of ideas of how to get to Remilia. In turn, you spent at least half an hour wandering aimlessly around the enormous Scarlet Mansion, often losing yourself as you took the wrong twists and turns. Whenever you did manage to find a fairy maid to ask for directions, all she’d do would be to shy away from you, with the occasional exception of one or two, who before fleeing spent the better part of a minute ignoring your words and just staring at you with dumbstruck, nigh reverential awe. Suffice to say that left you confounded. Even on the unlikely chance that they’d already heard that you helped save some of their kind, for them to act like this feels like exaggeration.

Finally, and after much meandering about, you managed to guide yourself by finding the door to Remilia’s personal chapel, close to your old room. Once more resisting the strange urge that compels you to plumb its secrets, you use it as a landmark to navigate the nearby maze of corridors, finally finding the way.

And now you find yourself outside Remilia’s chambers, staring at the gigantic, polished doors with not little trepidation. Taking a deep breath, you grab hold of a solid gold knocker, the sculpted lion’s face gazing at you with something almost like reproach, and you knock once, twice, thrice.

“Come in, Alice~,” a sing-song voice rings out from within the room.

Gritting your teeth, you open the door.

Entering the scarlet chamber, the same plush chair awaits you. The same polished mahogany table. The same warmth as the coolness of the airy hallways is drained away by the crackling of the fireplace. The same two glasses of absinthe, glistening milky green in the dim light. You shut the door behind you. Remilia, facing away from you, shakes her wings, adjusting them to better fit on her chair. The leathery skin rustles softly, the bony ends briefly touching the carpeted floor.

“Sit please,” the vampire mutters. You obey – it’s not a request. “So, Alice, I hear saving faeries is your new vocation?” As she says this, she swivels her chair around, bringing the full brunt of her scarlet gaze down on you. You flinch. She smiles. “Well?”

Like the first time, her presence is intoxicating, and you find yourself hard pressed to speak. In the end, though, you manage to force the words out. “I did what I had to do, milady. I don’t think anything else would have been right, otherwise.” As you speak, and Remilia listens to your words with interest, you can feel blood rushing to your face. The overbearing warmth fights with the chill you get in your spine whenever you meet her eyes. How can she do this to you? She looks so young, and yet so overwhelming.

“I see, Alice. So-“

You can’t take it anymore. “Please stop it, milady!”

The warmth subsides the moment you speak, not quite gone, but no longer unbearable. The disoriented feeling caused by Remilia’s sheer presence dies down, releasing your will from its failing efforts of resistance. Grimacing, you realize that your suspicions were correct - once more you’d nearly fallen for that horrible vampire trick she’d used the first time you met her. With a smirk Remilia draws back on her chair, relaxing. You open your mouth to speak…

…and gasp as you find Remilia in front of you, unbearably close, her lips almost touching your own. “Don’t interrupt me when I’m talking, Alice,” she says, her warm breath tickling your lips. Her voice is sweetness itself. “It’s rather unbecoming.”

You find yourself stunned into silence, but only for a brief moment. Then you blink, and Remilia is back on her chair, sipping contentedly from her glass of absinthe.

Slowly, you feel your emotions return to you, and as is so often the case, rage is foremost among them. Gripping the edge of your chair with such force you can hear the wood under the leather groan in protest, you glare at Remilia, green eyes like daggers. “I don’t have to stand for this.”

Remilia smiles, flashing her long canines for a split second. “That’s right Alice,” she sets her absinthe back on the table, nodding sagely. Her voice is the epitome of cordiality, and as her eyes meet your own they seem almost warm. “You don’t.”

“What?” you mutter. That threw you off course. You’d expect a justification, not agreement.

“You wonder why I keep toying with you whenever we meet, no?” Remilia asks, then goes on without waiting for a response. “Of course, and I understand. It’s impolite of me. I apologize.”

Your eyes widen. Did she just say what you think she said? “Milady-“

“The truth is, Alice,” Remilia continues, “you interest me. But I can’t let just anyone interest me. Someone who bends down to vampire charm isn’t worthy of having me waste my breath. When I offered you the scabbard I knew I was right about you, which is why I did it. This is just confirmation.”

“What about me could possibly interest you, milady?” you ask with a frown. You sincerely want to know, to learn why Remilia has allowed you to stay, has let you liberties no host would extend to a stranger.

“Don’t play dumb Alice, it grates on my nerves.” Remilia reaches for her absinthe once more, savoring some more of the liquid. “Do you think I allow anyone what I’ve allowed for you? Any other person would have been let to recover and then quickly escorted out. But I’ve let you stay, let you learn from Patchouli, given you room and food. Why? Because you’re… unique.”

“Unique,” you repeat. You’re not quite sure you like where this is going.

Remilia takes a measured breath, then pauses as if considering something. Finally, she smiles and stands up.

“Those monsters in the forest had your face.”

”What!?”

All the heat from the room seems to be gone in an instant. You don’t know how, but now you’re standing, trying to keep your hands from trembling as you stare at Remilia in undisguised shock. “How…”

“I have my ways,” Remilia answers, snapping her fingers. As she does, the shadows beneath her wings seem to stir. Then a low, chitterling sound fills the room, and with a flash of movement and flapping wings, a very real bat flies up from the ground, landing on Remilia’s outstretched hand. It regards you for a moment with blood red eyes, and then dissolves back into dust, slipping from the vampire’s fingers. “Those little things have eyes and ears that are my own, and they can detect magic. From there, I just extrapolated. Thank you for your confirmation.”

“I… you…” She’s left you dumbstruck, your mind feels blank, and you can’t help but stutter.

“Unfortunately, I’ll admit I lost sight of you for a good while before you faced the creatures. The forest canopy is quite thick. But what I saw was enough. Suffice to say, Alice, I know something you don’t.”

You…

-------------
[]Write-in.
[]Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?
[]You don't want to hear this. She's lying, tricking you.
>> No. 35949
{Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?}
>> No. 35951
[X] Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?

The plot thickens~
>> No. 35952
[x]Calm down.
[x]Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?
>> No. 35953
[x]Calm down.
[x]Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?
Rage is a pointless distraction now.
>> No. 35955
[x]Calm down.
[x]Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?
>> No. 35958
[x]Calm down.
[x]Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?
>> No. 35959
[X]"So... uh... How about that footrub?"
>> No. 35984
[x] Calm down.
[x] Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?

Hooray, she's not... as much of a bitch.

>M.R.
S.I., I got, but not this.
>> No. 35985
>>35984
Maria Renard.

[X] Calm down.
[X] Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?
>> No. 36075
[X] Calm down.
[X] Press her. What is it? What could she know? How?

Update?
>> No. 36084
>>36075

Soon. The next pivotal moment came earlier than expected, so long update will be long.
>> No. 36085
>>36084


Anon moving into the plot faster than the writefag thought? We're supposed to de-rail it and go off topic dammit!
>> No. 36086
>>36084

Hooray!
>> No. 36283
Update tomorrow.

Or rather, update later today, given that it's two in the morning. It's around 6k words, which is why it took so long (and why I'm not quite done yet).
>> No. 36338
File 127296663631.png - (1.21MB , 1750x1250 , remi-sama.png ) [iqdb]
36338
“What could you possibly know?” The question is strongly voiced, but the weakness underlying it is readily apparent in your face.

Remilia shrugs with nonchalance, then takes your hands into her own. “I hadn’t seen your hands without your gloves on, Alice.” She smiles. “They’re so soft and pretty~.”

“Stop it!” the indignation at being so blatantly ignored raising your voice to almost a yell, all trace of politeness gone. Contrary to what you might have expected, your outburst leaves Remilia decidedly unfazed, and as she lets go of your hands her gaze contains nothing but undisguised amusement. “I’m sorry Alice,” she says, “but you get so angry so quickly I just can’t help it.”

“So you’re just toying with me,” you sulk, a knot forming in your throat. You can’t stand this, how she abuses the respect you owe her out of gratitude to play around with you.

“On the contrary, Alice,” Remilia tells you, her expression turning completely serious. “I do have something to tell you. Or ask of you, maybe.”

You wait in silence for her to continue. Blatantly ignoring your impatience, Remilia heads over to her fireplace and grabs a tiny, ornate box from the marble board on top of it. Opening it, she draws from it a long, thin cigarette and an even longer holder made of gold-encrusted ivory. Closing the box and heading back, she curls up on her chair, places the two items on the table, then grabs her glass of absinthe with the obvious intent of finishing it off. You try not to grimace – as old as Remilia may be (and you suspect she’s quite a bit older than you), it doesn’t change the fact that she still physically looks like a little girl as she knocks back the alcohol with relish. When she’s done, she sets the glass down and places the cigarette on its holder. “I’ve long since dispensed with lighters, you’ll find,” she mutters with a contented sigh. She raises a forefinger, and to your widening eyes a tiny flame flickers in the air for less than a second, lighting the cigarette. The sickly sweet smell of flavored tobacco follows soon after. “Please sit, Alice,” Remilia tells you after taking a long drag, “you look so dumb just standing there, glaring.”

If anything, your glare turns more venomous, but you take a seat anyways. No matter how angry you can get, you’re not quite sure how much you can push Remilia.

“I’ll admit the coincidences are overwhelming, Alice,” she says, scrutinizing you with her stare, undisturbed by your fury. “I find this beautiful young girl nearly dead in the cold. She suffers from some inexplicable memory loss that according to one of the finest mages of the century is explicable by nothing other than magic. The girl herself seems to have had knowledge of that craft herself, given that only a master wizard could have honed organic reinforcement to the point where it became instinctual.”

“I certainly don’t feel like a master wizard,” you mutter sullenly.

“Who knows, Alice?” Remilia asks, blowing cigarette smoke from her pouty lips. “Maybe you are. Or maybe you’re just a very good one trick pony.” She smiles. “Ooh, those angry green eyes. But quit interrupting me or I might just have to change their expression. Now, Alice, do you know what faeries are? Spare me the whole part where you pretend they’re people, I’m talking literally here. What they’re made of.”

“Made of?” you ask, confused. “What do you mean?”

“Alice,” Remilia says, “faeries are nature come alive. Magic made flesh, if you will. Their blood and bones are sheer magical energy condensed into organic matter. They’re what happens when you put enough loose magical energy in one place – eventually, it reacts with itself, becoming a reflection of its surroundings. It’s why you find faeries in Gensokyo looking almost human-like, and faeries in isolated forests being tiny, much more numerous, and almost insect-like. Of course, this raw shaping of energy by itself, with no other components, brutalizes the law of equivalent exchange. This is why mages like Patchouli have been trying for centuries to reproduce it, to dismal failure.” She pauses, taking a deep drag from her cigarette. “But do you see where I’m going with this?”

You frown, thinking hard. “If faeries are made of magic, then changing the magic inside of them would be almost impossible to do without simply killing them and having them resurrect. And there would be no reason for it to happen naturally. And yet those faeries where turned into undead monsters. Which means…” The answer slowly coaxes itself into your mind, dread filling the pit of your stomach. “Which means that there would have to be some external force at work. Something or someone very powerful.”

‘She did it. She did it, she did it, she did it. It was her, that beast, that monster. Why didn’t I kill her?’

“Good,” Remilia says. “You’re bright, Alice. It would’ve been a disappointment if you’d just been pretty and nothing else. Now, going on, it’s clear there was at least some kind of magical resonance between you and the beasts, as evidenced by how you admitted to nearly hallucinating yourself within their visage. We’ve said that what’s wrong with your memory is magical in nature. Patchouli believes foul play is possible. Now, put two and two together.”

“The same… person… that captured the faeries messed with my memory,” you mutter. It’s obvious. “Which means that there’s someone willing to do evil, and smart enough to cover their tracks. But then…”

You bring up your own hands, staring at them intently, as if trying to see the blood flowing under the skin. “Who am I, then?”

“There is something sinister at work, Alice,” Remilia asserts with an amused smirk that belies the graveness of the situation. “And of course, since you’re under my care, it’s gotten us in this mansion involved… not that we wouldn’t have, eventually. Not if this is actually of any widespread importance. The question is, who is behind it? Why? I doubt anyone of the few people living in the forest could possibly be involved. The witch?” She giggles, moving the cigarette to make tiny circles of smoke. “The very idea that she could do anything of the sort is laughable. And that other girl…”

“Who?” you perk up. Could it be…

“Oh my,” Remilia’s eyes widen in faux surprise, unsettlingly sharp fangs poking out cutely from under her lips as she smiles. “So something interesting did happen when I lost sight of you back there. But that girl…” She pauses, thinking. “I would doubt it… she has neither motive nor resolve, though it’s far easier to imagine her finding a way to do such a thing, should she let go of her scruples… but why?”

“Who… who are we talking about?” you choke out.

“You saw somebody in the forest, didn’t you Alice?” Remilia mutters, gazing off into the distance as she smokes. “Don’t lie. I’m not like Patchouli – I won’t let you rest until you answer.”

You grit your teeth. You don’t want to speak. What you saw feels like a filthy secret, a curse that would come to blight you if you named it aloud. But Remilia fixes her unyielding gaze on you, and you’ve no choice but to speak.

“I saw someone…” you mutter, “for a value of someone.”

“You mean…?” Remilia gestures at you to continue, causing you to scrunch up your nose as the cigarette smoke hits your face.

“I mean she wasn’t human, alright?” you snap before looking away with a shuddering sigh. “At least I don’t want to believe she was human.”

“She?”

“A girl,” the words spill out of your pale lips quickly, as if you couldn’t help but be rid of them as quickly as possible, “disfigured everywhere, wearing ragged clothing stained a deep black. On one hand she had a book, splattered all over with blood. That’s all I saw, alright?”

“Nobody else?” Remilia prods you. Her tone is soft now, almost warm. It’s clear she’s got a talent for getting things out of people.

“There was a beast walking alongside her. Like the ones I killed, but different. It had a name I can’t remember.” That’s the last you’re saying. Suddenly, you find your head throbbing, and with a moan bury your face into your hands. Just talking about this brings to bear the same feeling of rot and filth you felt back then, and it rips you apart inside. You could almost cry.

With a slight flourish, Remilia quashes her cigarette on a nearby ashtray. “Patchouli,” she mutters aloud, all trace of amusement fading from her voice. Lowering your hands for a better look, you find that she has two fingers pressed against her pale throat, a tiny blue rune in the shape of a flower glowing magically on the skin. So is this how she could talk to Sakuya? Long distance communication using magic.

Sure enough, in response, Patchouli’s frankly disinterested tone rings out from every corner of the room. “Yes, Remi? I’m busy, and I told you I’m not interested in poisoning myself with that hashish you found hidden in your wine cellar.”

“It’s important, Patchy,” Remilia says. You flinch, waiting for the outburst.

“Define important,” Patchouli’s voice asks. To your surprise, the magician takes the diminutive in stride, until you realize that she too candidly shortened Remilia’s own name and addressed her without any sort of honorific. And of course this would be. From everything you’ve heard they’re longtime friends. “I’m digging up some information, and I promised the girl I’d have something for her by the end of the week. Rude as she can sometimes be, I don’t want to let her down when she’s clearly in need of help.”

You blush and frown at the same time. Though it’s nice that Patchouli seems to care about you, the way she phrases it makes you sound far more vulnerable than you are. And you’re not rude at all, you think. Is it really your fault that sometimes your anger gets the best of you?

“It’s ‘I’m not joking around’ important, Patchouli,” Remilia insists, “and the girl is here. It has to do with her.”

“Oh my. I suppose I’d best come over.”

Remilia nods, then withdraws her hand from her throat.

“Hello, Alice.”

You shriek, jumping off your seat as you feel an unknown hand squeeze your shoulder. Turning around, you see Patchouli smirking at you.

“Skittish, isn’t she?” Remilia asks the magician. Patchouli nods. “Indeed,” she agrees as she heads to the table to take a seat.

“I’m just not used to people appearing out of nowhere, that’s all,” you harrumph, crossing your arms over your breasts as you sit back down. People should have no right to move this quickly from one place to the other.

“Teleportation is such a convenient art, however…” Patchouli mutters as she sits, scrunching up her nose as she does so. “What a hideous smell! You’ve been smoking again, haven’t you, Remilia?” She glares accusingly at the vampire.

“So what if I have?” the girl retorts. She gestures at the crumpled cigarette in the ashtray with a sneer. “It’s not like it’s going to kill me, is it?”

“It’s still a disgusting habit,” complains Patchouli, “and I see you’ve been drinking, too.” She points rudely at the glasses on the table. “I can’t presume to stop you from imbibing your hideous French concoctions, but you could at least try not to force them on Alice. The girl clearly doesn’t like them.” She gestures at your completely full glass of absinthe. You blush.

“Er, well…”

“Hideous!?” Remilia interrupts you, looking extremely offended as she glares at Patchouli, “I’ll have you know the style and ingredients with which my cocktails are prepared elevate my drinking to high art! And what do you have to criticize French liquor for? Most of the brandy you swill at night comes from my country, I bet!”

“Swill!?” Patchouli’s voice turns shrill. “I’ll have you know; when I drink I do so with the sublime femininity of a proper lady, unlike you, who can knock back a glass in seconds! And the brandy I drink is Swiss!”

“Knock back!? Not feminine? That’s just defamation! It speaks against your character! And anyways, they speak French in Switzerland, so close enough!”

“It’s not close enough, Remi!”

“Is too! And what about the wine we drink at dinner? Are you going to tell me it’s Swiss, too? Well bad news, woman, I know it’s French because I bought most of it myself!”

“Is not! And wines aren’t liquor!”

“Ahem!” The loud clearing of your throat is just enough to get the two to pause and turn to look, but they seem ready to start back up any second. Sighing, you run a hand over your forehead. The headache that started just a few minutes ago is getting unbearable. “Weren’t we in the middle of an important conversation?” you ask, hoarse.

Remilia and Patchouli stare at you, and then at each other, for a long while. Then they each smile before breaking into a fit of girlish giggling.

“I suppose we did get a tad off-track, didn’t we?” Remilia says to Patchouli between short breaths. “You still have bad taste, though.”

“I do not,” Patchouli protests, but sobers up with one look at your pained expression. “But let’s not start that back up. Why did you call me here?”

“Ah, yes,” Remilia grows serious, and as the smile fades from her face so does the damp, disgusting cold return to your body. You hadn’t realized it, but that brief intermission of laughter was bliss, washed away as the monster girl’s hideous face returns to the forefront of your mind. “We had agreed in our previous conversation this morning that Alice’s memory definitely had to have been tampered with by some external force, an obvious, and shall I say rather worrying thing once one extrapolates from the connection my bats detected between her and the beasts in the forest.”

Patchouli shoots a sideways glance at you. You nod at her, making it apparent that you’re up to speed with the conversation. “Indeed,” the woman says, absentmindedly running a hand through her long black hair. “What of it?”

“We may have found the culprit.”

A flash of emotion courses through Patchouli’s features and is quickly suppressed. “Who could it be? To be frank, Remi, with what little we have going anyone who knows magic could be a potential suspect. What could have changed that in less than a few hours?”

“Oh,” Remilia sighs, her massive wings opening as she leans forward on her seat, stretching them briefly as if to work out the kinks. It makes for a rather impressive sight. “So sorry, but it gets positively unbearable if I don’t stretch them out once in a while. As I was saying…” She turns to look at you, and you can’t help but flinch as she flashes you her best smile yet, showing two rows of impossibly sharp, pointed teeth. “…Alice knew something she neglected to tell you, didn’t you dear?”

Patchouli fixes her gaze on you at this, but the look in her purple eyes is anything but surprised. She knew you’d lied to her from the start, no doubt. “Alice?”

You sigh. You knew you’d have to explain things all over again for Patchouli’s benefit, but that doesn’t make it any less pretty. To top it off, Remilia’s smug smile makes you want to snap her neck. You realize with some dread that you’re only a few inches away from losing control of your emotions, and shake your head, trying to focus. In between deep, shallow breaths, you once more recount what you saw.

When you’re done, Patchouli looks vaguely disturbed. “Are you implying what I think you’re implying, Remilia?” she asks.

“Margatroid,” the vampire whispers. Patchouli frowns, uncertain.

“What Alice described was something akin to a half-monster, not a human.”

“Followed by a servant while carrying a locked book under her arm,” Remilia retorts, “Besides, I need not remind you, and Alice doesn’t either, that whatever magical resonance the nest of beasts was generating played fast and loose with her mind. She’s admitted to almost hallucinating at some points during the fight. Could her description of the girl not have been warped thanks to that?”

You perk up. Could it, indeed? But the unease does not leave you. That girl was horrid, her existence such a blatant blight upon reality. You can’t fathom having just dreamed that up. “Who is this Margatroid person we’re talking about?” And could she really be her?

“Alice Margatroid,” Patchouli answers, her tone shifting slightly with just barely contained anticipation as she pronounces the name, “a magician who lives in the forest. She’s quite skilled in her field, but it’s quite a far-fetched scenario where she’d have the power, motivation, and ruthlessness to be behind what happened to those faeries, or to erase a person’s memory.”

You pause to think, realizing that Patchouli, despite what she says, has yet to discard a connection entirely, and one relevant reaction from you might change her theories in a second. But despite the fact that this girl is your namesake, you find nothing within you but the hideous pain of your throbbing head. “You mentioned she’s good at what she does,” you mumble. “What’s that?”

“The creation and animation of magical constructs.”

You shake your head. “It doesn’t ring a bell,” you say.

“Nevertheless, we can’t quite discard the suspicion,” Remilia says, scratching her chin. “I’ll keep an eye on her.”

“Indeed,” Patchouli nods, “though I can hardly-“

You stand up, and she stops talking to look at you. “Can I leave now?” you ask. It’s clear to you that, for the moment, you’re not too relevant to the conversation, and your headache’s grown intolerable. Indeed, you can barely stand your own presence – you feel sick, disgusted.

“Are you alright, Alice?” Patchouli asks, concerned.

’No, of course I’m not.’

“I’m fine,” you answer, “I just need some sleep. A lot of it, in fact.”

Remilia giggles. “Yes, I supposed you’ve been running yourself ragged for quite some time. You may leave~.”

“Thank you, milady,” you whisper hoarsely, turning around and walking out of the room, doing your best to ignore their stares.
When you close the huge doors behind you, you can still hear Patchouli’s voice.

Milady, now?”

“Of course. That’s what I like about her, she addresses me with due respect even when she’s furious. Unlike others I could name.”

“Oh, please…

You can still hear their argument halfway across the hallway.
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>> No. 36339
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36339
With great effort, you make your way across the mansion and back to the grand room with the stone sphere. Muttering the password, you’re unceremoniously teleported back into the library. Once you get up from the floor, rub your bruised ribs, and show remarkable strength of will in not vomiting the past night’s dinner all over the floor, you drag yourself over to your chambers. No sooner are you inside the room that you nearly rip your clothes off as you head straight for the bathroom, turning the gold taps of the shower with a needy sigh. Once you’re under the water, you don’t even have the strength to stand, and you end up sitting on the slick floor, simply running your hands across your body, over your breasts and your bare legs, enjoying the cool liquid on your skin.

You stay like that for a long time, thinking of nothing, the previous conversation a non-descript blur. Only one thing truly stays in your mind. That name – “Alice Margatroid.”

After more than an hour, you stumble out of the shower and hastily dry yourself. Coming out of the bathroom quite naked, you head toward the bed, fully intent to just lie down and sleep, modesty be damned. To be honest, you’re so tired that Koa could come in and rape you and you’d probably let her if she’d just agree to let you sleep through it.

However, as you reach the foot of the bed, you find something on the soft mattress that wasn’t there before; a large, long box, brightly wrapped, patterned and topped with a blue ribbon. It appears someone dropped it off while you were in the shower – not at all unlikely, as you didn’t lock the door to the room.

“Hm.” To the blue ribbon is attached a letter.

“Dear Alice,” it reads in beautiful, loopy handwriting, ”you looked positively horrible in that horrid peasant dress when you came down to see me. Fortunately, I’d already ordered Sakuya to fix this from the moment China dragged you back here. You’d be surprised what she can do with very little time. Kisses, Remilia.

You frown. What could she mean?

Hesitantly, you open the box, and gasp in surprise at what you find. Inside it, neatly arranged, are your dress and your gloves, their condition utterly pristine, as if they had never taken damage. Alongside your usual clothes, you find – to your embarrassment – several sets of lacy white lingerie, as well as a flimsy white nightgown. On top of it all is a tiny calling card with more of Remilia’s handwriting.

”If you ever need anything, ask and you’ll receive.”

“How…” you mutter. You run your hands over the dress, relishing the texture. It’s not a similar gown – it’s exactly the same dress you’ve been wearing, but the ripped gashes and black stains have been completely removed. Just what kind of tricks does Remilia have up her sleeve?

You sigh. Though your extended shower fortunately killed your headache, you’re still too tired to be mulling over trivialities. Better to just sleep and make the best of having gotten your dress back, you think.
With uplifted spirits, you set the box aside, and grab the white nightgown, slipping it over your naked body.

Once that’s done, you righteously collapse on the bed and head off into a dreamless sleep.

-------------------------

When you awaken, you find yourself just as alone as before. It’s clear, however, that a long time has passed. The electric lamps are on (so someone has clearly come in at least once), and as you get up and off the bed, you find that outside the window the skies have turned dark. Night has fallen.

Yawning and stretching your arms, you find your little nap to have been incredibly repairing – you actually feel like yourself, and not like the tired shell you were several hours ago. Indeed, your only complaint is hunger, as you’ve not eaten anything for the entire day. No sooner do you think that, however, that you wheel around to find a little wheeled coffee table placed by the end of the bed. On it are a huge glass of milk, a plate containing a large sandwich stuffed to bursting with bacon, ham, and cheese, and another plate containing what could be best described as a veritable mountain of chocolate chip cookies. Beside the delicious display is a note in Koa’s handwriting, wherein she apologizes for not waking you up for dinner (you looked too tired, apparently), and hopes this food will make it up to you.

You smile. Fragmented (if only to avoid saying nonexistent) though your memories may be, you know this kind of generosity isn’t exactly a dime a dozen. With warmth in your heart, you sit down to eat, and while you can’t quite vouch for the healthiness of eating all those cookies, the meal is delicious.

When you’re done, you grab Patchouli’s book on magic from a nearby nightstand, lie down, and once more begin to read. As you slowly pore over the chapter on magecraft’s basic principles, however, you find yourself growing steadily bored. It’s not, as one might initially assume, from lack of interest – you want to learn, even if it won’t help your memory, then at least for the basic, primal urge of growing stronger. But something is off as you read. You can’t quite focus on the words. It’s as if you’d read these passages a thousand times over, and now find it impossible to pay attention as you read again, as if you were too acquainted with what comes next to truly find a motivation for reading the book in the beginning. The fact of the matter is, though, that despite how you may feel, you actually know next to nothing. This paradox – between the certainty, deep down, that you know everything in the book already and the actual reality of your own ignorance – grows increasingly frustrating, to the point that after nearly half an hour of reading, you’ve at most advanced five pages from where you started.

Groaning, you set the book down and contemplate whether or not to get back to sleep. The answer is of course quite obvious.

You lay your head down on the pillow, sighing softly. Even after your nap, you feel certain you could sleep a few hours more.

No sooner do you close your eyes, though, that an audible click echoes through the room.

Sitting up, you see the handle of the door turn, Koa walking inside in utmost silence. You observe her, curious, as she seems to take no note of you, slowly closing the door behind her and locking it with a sigh.

“Koa?”

The devil-girl turns around and barely stifles a scream, her wings spreading open in tense surprise. “Oh my,” she mumbles, “you’re… you’re awake. I was doing my best not to make noise.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been up, actually,” you say.

The two of you match stares for a long while.

“Koa,” you mutter, breaking the silence as you stand up from the bed, “I’m sorry. I… I got you into trouble with Patchouli last night, and, um… I suppose I just sort of barged into this place,” you make a wide gesture around the room, “without much concern for everyone else, I-“

“Oh, shut up,” Koa sighs, placing a finger to her lips. “Just… shh. Miss Alice, I know you think Lady Patchouli and everyone else are just helping because they have no other choice, but that’s just not true. We’re not that kind of people, despite how Lady Remilia likes to give that impression to others.” She walks up to you. “Look, if it’s about me giving you the cold shoulder this morning, it’s just… I’m sorry!”

Before you know it, the girl has you wrapped in a tight hug. “Koa… what…”

“It’s just… you got me so worried!” she whispers into your neck, “And then when I heard you’d dragged Meiling out too it was just too much! And then you just had to come back injured… I didn’t know what to do with myself, since I was the one who let you go in the first place! I just didn’t know what to say… I mean, with Meiling it was fine, that woman could brush off getting run over by a train, but you…” She looks up at you with a grimace, shaking her head.

“It’s fine,” you mutter weakly, not quite sure how to handle this, “it was my decision, after all. If anything, I sort of strong-armed you into going along with it.” Gathering your courage, you punctuate your words by pulling her deeper into the hug. Predictably, the soft feeling of her body instantly makes you heat up, and you hope to at least ten different deities that she doesn’t notice your blush. “It’s fine, okay? You’re my friend.”

“Thanks…”

You stay silent for nearly half a minute. “Hey, Koa,” you finally mutter.

“Yes?”

“How about we go finish that book?”

She perks up, blue eyes wide. “Yes!” she repeats, enthusiasm creeping into her voice.

You smile. “Alright then. Just one thing, though.”

“What is it~?”

“Could you get your hands off my rear?”

“I’m sorryyyy~!”
>> No. 36340
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36340
The next day, both you and Koa wake up relatively late. Without much hurry, the two of you get up, shower, dress, and eat a hearty breakfast. No sooner are you done, however, that a sleepy-looking Patchouli comes out of her room, shoves a gigantic list of books to be delivered to her lab, then unceremoniously teleports out without a word. At this, Koa scampers off muttering titles and library sections under her breath, and you find yourself alone.

Alone, and, for the first time in quite a while, with nothing to do. Though you initially figure that you’ll try and spend your free time doing something productive, that idea is quickly tossed out the window. Your long sleep has left you feeling energetic, and getting your dress back improved your mood dramatically. Feeling thus chipper than any time before, you decide to head outside, rapier in hand.

Making your way out of the library with little eventuality other than nearly being buried under a pile of geological textbooks (but was it really your fault that you basically tackled that bookshelf? No, of course not. Who puts a bookshelf in the middle of a library?), you pass the sphere room with a little acknowledging pat for the thing, and come out into the mansion’s foyer, your footsteps echoing loudly across the hall as you stride toward the front doors and push them open with a heave.

You take in the sight before you, blinking heavily as you’re bathed in sunlight. The garden at morning is a different beast altogether, a sprawling grove of trees and bushes trimmed and shaped in symmetrical perfection. The slush from the past night has melted entirely despite the enduring chill in the air, leaving only drops of dew, shining like diamonds under the sun. Smiling, you step outside and walk, stopping at nearly every different plant and tree. The tail-end of winter sadly ensures that none of them have flowered, but the greenery is still somehow lush enough to catch your attention and lift your spirits. For nearly half an hour you aimlessly explore the garden, eventually making your way close to the open gates. From a distance, you can see Meiling there, sprawled out on the floor, her back against a wall. Beside her, to your surprise, is Sakuya, smiling down at her. You can hear them talking animatedly as you approach.

“You really ought to have been nicer, you know,” Meiling says, “kicking her in the head was just mean.”

“She froze the painting I left out to dry,” Sakuya protests, hands on her hips, “when it melts even the canvas will be ruined.”

She paints? That’s new.

“But that’s only because she thought you’d like it if it was all shiny, she meant well, really…”

“Calling me an idiot for not getting that her art isn’t for critics really didn’t help her case.”

“She’s just a fairy!”

Sakuya looks doubtful for a while. “I suppose. Though I don’t know, there’s something about that idiot the others don’t have. Even knowing she’ll regenerate, I can’t bring myself to stab her.”

“You sound like you make stabbing people part of your usual routine,” you mutter, smirking as you walk up to them. “Hey, Meiling. Working hard, I see.”

“Hey, Alice,” the woman waves, not bothering to even stand up. “Well, I’m at the gate. That’s like work, right?”

“No, no it’s not,” Sakuya interrupts, glaring at her. “Like, at all, it’s not.” She turns to look at you. “And I’ll have you know that although stabbing people isn’t my priority, I reserve the right to do so if they annoy me enough.”

You throw her a deadpan stare, not very amused. She stares right back. You note that her eyes are a much lighter blue than Meiling and Koa’s, indeed, almost grey.

“Oh, quit glaring at me, okay?” Sakuya finally complains, looking away. “I mean she’s alive, right?” She gestures at Meiling with a half-dismissive wave of her hand.

“The hair-pull still really hurt, though~,” Meiling says mockingly, smiling up at her.

“Ugh, shut up.” She turns to look at you again. “Um, look, Alice… Meiling told me what really happened back there, and… well…” She grimaces. “I still think it’s pretty stupid in principle to go into the forest at night because some faeries were whining at you, but in the end what you ended up doing, well… I suppose it was pretty noble.”

Well, now that was something you weren’t expecting. “I… well, thanks, I suppose,” you mumble, not quite sure how to react.

“Yeah, so…” Sakuya’s cheeks tinge a pinkish tint. “I suppose I’ve… I’ve been… pretty rough with you because I was just taking out my anger on how annoying the mistress has been these past few days, and… um, yeah.”

“Can we…” she extends out her hand, looking for all the world like she’s chewing on rusty spikes. “Can we be friends now?”

“Holy crap!” Meiling exclaims, standing up with a broad grin plastered on her face. “Alice, be nice and take that hand, because after all that pride she just swallowed she won’t be able to eat for a- ow, my head! Why is it always the head!?”

Sakuya withdraws and unclenches her fist, offering her hand to you again. “So…”

“Yes,” you answer with a smile, more than happy to end this little feud. “Yes, of course.” You take her hand and shake it. For someone with such a cold personality, her skin is remarkably warm under your glove. “Um… thanks for patching up my dress,” you say, as you let go, suddenly remembering.

Sakuya lets out a heavy sigh, as if letting a burden fall from her shoulders, then throws you a smug smile. “You’re welcome, of course. It was only a matter of taking a little time.”

“Oh, how cute, you made up!”

The two of you turn and glare at Meiling, who puts her hands up in defeat. “Okay, I’ll shut up.”

“So, Alice,” Sakuya points at your rapier, “do you really know how to use that? Like, in the movies?” A dreamy smile draws itself across her mouth. “Movie swordfights are so cool…”

You blink. “Well…”

“Yeah, you should’ve seen her back there, stabbing things left and right!” Meiling interrupts, stabbing her finger at the air. Is she on a crusade to annoy you? “And then she grabbed that thing’s skull and just sort of cracked it like this!” She clenches and unclenches her fist. “That was pretty awesome.”

Sakuya frowns. “You cracked a beast’s skull with your bare hands?” she asks, folding her arms under her chest.

You sigh. This is about the last thing you wanted to talk about. “I can’t remember how to cast spells,” you say tiredly, “but I can still somehow reinforce my muscles with magic when I need to. Patchouli says it’s likely the result of a lot of practice, to the point where it became instinctual.”

“Organic reinforcement?” Sakuya raises her eyebrows. “But isn’t that supposed to be incredibly difficult without injuring your nerves?”

You shrug, honestly lacking an answer. “I’d show you what happens, but I don’t think I could do it without breaking anything.”

“Oh, that’s easy enough!” Meiling chirps in, digging into her pockets and pulling out a small rock about the size of an egg. Both you and Sakuya just stare at her.

“Why…” the maid begins, “do you have rocks in your pocket?”

“Because once they’ve knocked you down,” Meiling grins, “nobody expects a rock to the face. So, Alice!” She offers you the rock. You take a good look at it, then at Sakuya, and your lips curve into a tiny smile. Well, if you’re going to have to do it, you might as well impress.

“Alright then,” you say, “throw it at my face.”

Meiling frowns. “What?”

“Just do it.”

“Mmkay.”

’Wait, what?’

You expected more hesitation, but perhaps expecting that out of Meiling was your biggest mistake. The rock flies straight toward you…
…and is pulverized by your right hand not an inch away from your noise.

“Ow,” you moan, “ow. I said throw it, not try and kill me with it.”

“I didn’t throw it all that hard!”

Sakuya stares at the little pile of pebbles left behind on the grass. “Impressive.” She smirks, “You might turn out more useful than Meiling here.”

Meiling gasps. “I resent that! I’m a valuable asset!”

“When you’re forced to be,” Sakuya deadpans. “But yeah, that was pretty cool,” she smiles at you, “you must be pretty decent in a fight.”

“I get by,” you shrug, your ears heating up under your hair, “but this is just… something that happens. I really don’t know the kind of magic one would expect from someone who could do what I just did. Not to say I’m not glad for every advantage.”

“As one should be~,” Sakuya raises her index finger, bending it up and down for emphasis.

“Oh, just spit it out already, you want to fight with her,” Meiling interjects, smirking at you as she thrusts her thumb at Sakuya. “Seriously, she’s going to get injured one of these days, she ends up dueling half the people who wander into this mansion…”

“At least it’s better than letting them in after they draw a beard on you while you sleep!” Sakuya wheels around, glaring.

“That… that only happened once! And Marisa was packing sleeping powder!”

You look back and forth at the two of them, contemplating the idea, first as an off-hand remark, then as a serious possibility, then as an actual desire, burning in your chest. You don’t know if you’re suicidal, or proud, or if you just want to forget yesterday at any cost. You don’t know if it’s even because you’re just dreadfully bored. But you want to fight.

Walking forward, you pat Meiling lightly on the shoulder, smirking. “Don’t worry,” you say to her, “I promise I won’t tell anyone about that. Or the bookshelf incident.”

“But one thing,” you go on, ignoring the woman’s stunned gasp as you stare Sakuya down. “I think I’d actually like to do that.”

That gives Sakuya pause, and for a second she looks honestly surprised, as though she can’t quite process your sudden change in mood. Then it clicks, and once more she throws you that infuriatingly smug sneer you’ve gotten used to seeing from her. “Are you sure?” she asks.

“All I know,” you say, “is that if I don’t blow off some steam soon, I’ll go crazy.” You point your rapier at her. Though your exterior is calm, your heart pounds wildly inside your chest, and your tortured common sense screams in your mind, ever weaker, that this isn’t exactly your brightest idea. You ignore it.

“Oh my. You mad?”

“No, just pent up.”

“Yeah, I know how that feels.” Nodding, Sakuya walks deeper inside the garden. Then she turns around, slipping out a knife from the inside of her sleeve.

“You’re going to try and knife me?” you ask, hoping the fear suddenly creeping into you doesn’t make it to your voice.

“Oh no, of course not,” the girl answers, before stabbing at her own hand with the knife. It bounces off without a scratch. “I learned how to seal the edge almost the very day I got these. So…”

“Wait!” Meiling interrupts, sprinting towards you. “You’re actually doing this? Like, in my garden?”

“…as I was saying, Alice, you understand the duel rules?”

“I just pruned the garden!”

“Patchouli told me them. You’ll understand I can’t use spellcards from what I told you.”

“Oh, don’t worry. I’ll take it easy on you.”

“Thank you.”

“Just one thing though,” Sakuya says, extracting from the pocket of her apron a shining silver pocketwatch. It’s a beautiful thing, no bigger than her palm but just large enough that you can appreciate the craftsmanship in it, observing how the snaking patterns embossing the silver as they circle around a large, golden cross in the center. And as you watch, your sense of danger intensifies, clearly warning you that maybe this was all a very, very stupid idea.

“What’s that one thing?” you ask through gritted teeth.

Sakuya smiles.

“I can…”

“Wait, wait, didn’t you two listen… nononono-“

Obligatory BGM: Flowering Night [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-PlaUKSgbRo&fmt=18 ]

“…stop time!”

It happens faster than anything you could have believed. Sakuya presses the button on her watch, and then she’s gone, and your vision is nothing but grey as knives surround you from all sides, too fast to avoid!

And yet, you move.

In what might be the most painful thing you’ve done to yourself yet, your left arm moves with enough speed for the joints to make audible noise, your rapier batting aside the knives in front of you as you dive to the ground, grit your teeth, and stand up. Sakuya…

“I’m behind you!”

You turn, twisting to avoid a knife swung downwards as you throw a kick at your incredible opponent. It misses, Sakuya disappearing in a blur of grey. Your boot connects with a nearby tree instead, denting the wood with an audible crunch.

“Watch it, you could have killed me with that!”

You swivel around to follow the noise, and duck as a flurry of knives passes by your head. Despite the pain in your leg and arm, you don’t waste a second, quickly leaping away from your position to land in the center of the garden path, feet smacking loudly against the flagstones. Sakuya is there, meters in front of you, smirking as she draws back her arms, taking aim.

You don’t wait. Pushing all the energy you can into your legs, you feel your muscles burn with magic as you power yourself down the path, almost faster than the eye can follow, the flagstones crunching audibly under the sheer strength of your sprint!

“Aurgh, why the path!? Why the tree!?”

The knives are thrown, but it’s far too late, you dodge them as if you had known exactly where they would land as you strike at Sakuya, meeting only empty air as the maid disappears once more!

”What!?” you exclaim as your attack connects with nothing, but say nothing else as a crack of sound alerts you to turn and dive, at least a dozen knives wizzing past your head. From the corner of your eyes, you see one of them strike Meiling on the forehead, sending her tumbling into a bush. Ouch.

You scan the area for Sakuya… there, behind that tree! The maid notices you, flicking several more knives before disappearing again. You bat the weapons aside with your rapier. “Don’t you ever run out!?” you yell, desperate.

“No!” Sakuya shouts back, and you turn around to see her standing, with utterly perfect balance, on the high branch of another tree. Before she can better her aim, you rush at her with all your strength, crossing the distance between you and the tree in less than a second. The maid sneers down at you for a fraction of a second before she realizes just what you’re somehow, someway doing, as you slam your feet into the trunk of the tree and run up, magic combining with sheer momentum to pull you up the tree. Panic flashing across her face, Sakuya swings her watch and disappears, but you catch her landing in the corner of your vision. Twisting around, you press your feet against the wood with all your strength, propelling yourself from it to land in front of the stunned maid. For the first time in the fight, you see Sakuya eye to eye.

You strike.

She smiles.

“Perfect.”

Your grabbing hand meets only air, and you growl, avoiding through instinct another knife thrown straight at your face.

And another. And another.

Soon, the knives, once thrown far apart, become a veritable storm of steel thrown at you from all sides, and you find any momentum you’d gained quickly lost as you’re sent on the defensive, forced to dodge and block without any time to so much as glimpse your vanishing opponent.

“Enough of this,” you hear as you fight desperately not to be overwhelmed, “it’s time.”

As she says so, it seems as if every single open space around you turns a sharp metallic grey, a veritable prison of knives surrounding you from all sides. In that single moment, time slows down not just for Sakuya this time but also for you, as you realize that no matter how fast or strong you are, there is simply no way to escape.

Or is there? In every single one of your escapades, you’ve managed at the nick of time to grasp victory at the nick of time, to struggle your way out death’s slimy grasp. But none of that truly came from yourself. Somebody always helped.

The knives draw close. This is it.

And yet…

And yet you can’t…

------------------------------------------------

Say it.

It’s the only way you’re getting out of this. There has to be a way to push the knives back.

Say it.

[]Frost Sign ~ Perfect Freeze!
[] Colourful Sign ~ Colourful Rain!
[] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

>> No. 36345
[x] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
Achieve victory through SUPERIOR FIREPOWER
>> No. 36346
[x] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
>> No. 36350
[x] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

Somehow get the feeling the other two choices wouldn't clear it up. That and if this choice is for more relationship points, can't go wrong with Patchy!
>> No. 36351
>>36350
Or her assistant; who seems to make a nice wife for this Alice.

And are we going with the actual spell card or how it is in fanon?
>> No. 36353
>>36351
>>36350

Or...we could go beyond the impossible and achieve the highly elusive next to impossible harem route. We seem to be on fairly decent terms with everyone right now. But we'll have to find out just exactly what is our connection to the real Alice first, I think.

That said, Time to wipe the floor with this maid. when all else fails, bomb like your life depends on it.

[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

Let's see if Za Warudo can outhax the sun.
>> No. 36355
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

Poor garden...
>> No. 36360
>>36353
A patchy route already qualifies as 'beyond the impossible' All CYOAs that tried that are dead... or in hell hiatus.
>> No. 36361
>>36360

Don't forget the Sakuya route stories, as well. And not /sdm/ related, but let's not even get started on the dreaded fates of the Reisen routes ;_;
>> No. 36362
File 127299332332.jpg - (15.36KB , 474x474 , sunny-REF6678D_54.jpg ) [iqdb]
36362
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

Unleash the power of the sun!

Pic related.
>> No. 36363
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

When in doubt, use superior firepower.
>> No. 36365
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!

You can never have enuff dakka. You must always have moar.

Yelling out 'WARGH!!!' is optional.
>> No. 36366
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
When in doubt, blow shit up!
>> No. 36367
>>36360
>>36361
Fear not folks, for there is hope. Eldest Scarlet isn't as Hiatus as initially thought and Luna Ars Memorativa (in /eientei) seems very set on a Reisen route.
>> No. 36392
>>36361
I can't really argue with that. I'd prefer to go for Patchy but I have to admit that a Sakuya route would be fair too.
>> No. 36394
[x] Colourful Sign ~ Colourful Rain!

Just to be different.

This update made me very giddy and happy. Thank you very, very, very much, KW. You, Fallout Writefag, Princess Tepes, and Lion have helped make this week begin great.
>> No. 36399
[x] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
YES.
>> No. 36406
[ø]Frost Sign ~ Perfect Freeze!
>> No. 36408
[X] Hax Sign ~ Burn Everything [X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare
>> No. 36454
File 127314719728.jpg - (809.86KB , 1000x1000 , c4462d979ef9b969e204d46d6b066718.jpg ) [iqdb]
36454
>>36360
>>36361
aren't you forgetting someone?
>> No. 36456
>>36454

Isn't it sad, Meiling? ;_;
>> No. 36458
>>36456
Every board needs its martyr of love. If Meiling finally became a love interest, she'd cease to be special, and return back to the faceless guard she once was while everyone else has exciting adventures in a building just fifty meters away.

At least this way we pay attention to her. At least until she snaps and starts punching out everyone's blood.
>> No. 36486
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
>> No. 36490
File 127318580055.jpg - (17.25KB , 102x178 , meilingbaw.jpg ) [iqdb]
36490
>>36458
Now look what you did.
>> No. 36583
I don't know why I haven't been reading this.

[x] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
>> No. 36594
[X] Sun Sign ~ Royal Flare!
>> No. 36746
[X]Stabby Sign - Run up and stab them with my stabby stick![/i]
>> No. 36762
I think our writefag dissapeared :(
>> No. 36763
>>36762
He disappeared when the MC was gonna use her first spellcard? That's like forgetting the 1st birthday of your son.
>> No. 36764
For starters

>>36762

>:(

Stop that.

Secondly, after the last epically huge update, I wouldn't be surprised if he's building something up. He wouldn't just leave such a pivotal moment to die, would he? Besides, it's only been a week. He took a pretty long hiatus earlier in this story as well and he came back to it. Have faith in our good writefag.
>> No. 36766
...le gasp.

I hiatus nothing, mofos. The last time the story stalled was because I had a like three different papers to turn in, and the only reason this is taking so long now is because I'm in the middle of my finals.

But hey, screw that. It's five days to my next exam, so update Thursday night. Like, for real.
>> No. 36767
...le gasp.

I hiatus nothing, mofos. The last time the story stalled was because I had like three different papers to turn in, and the only reason this is taking so long now is because I'm in the middle of my finals.

But hey, screw that. It's five days to my next exam, so update Thursday night. Like, for real.
>> No. 36772
>update Thursday night. Like, for real.
's coo' dog, you're still fly. 'aight, catch ya later.
In other words: Awesome, looking forward to it.
>> No. 36782
>>36772
This, pretty much.
>> No. 36855
>>36767

>...yet these hands will never know a hiatus.

Oho~
>> No. 37179
I know for a fact KW is hooked on Umineko. We may get another update next decade.
>> No. 37272
>>37139
Only if KW is trying to find out whodunit. It's a long read, but it becomes five times as long when you keep stopping to analyze every little detail of every closed room.

People who don't trust spoiler bars on a post about Umineko don't know that there's actually no spoilers here.
>> No. 38000
Remilia, vampira crudele, di belleza senza pare! Remilia! Oh, di dolceza capriciosa...

Anyways, finals are fucking over, and despite what the faggot a few posts above me might say, those where the main reason for the delay. Now, though, I can now write whenever I want, and it feels glorious.

Update is the usual, around 6,500 words. Would've made it longer, but I wanted to post now, after all the wait, and the end of it all provided an interesting set of choices I wanted to use.

You'll note it's split into several posts instead of the usual two. This is for two reasons - frequent POV changes, and the fact that formatting after copy pasting the update from Word to the text box (where it loses all spacing between paragraphs, forcing me to add it again) is easier with smaller segments.

Hope you enjoy it.
>> No. 38001
File 127491833144.jpg - (208.24KB , 1100x950 , Alice.jpg ) [iqdb]
38001
The night before, the girl sat at her work desk, a needle in one hand, the other prying open her latest creation. It was a simple experiment – the doll was but a skeleton to test a newer, stronger clockwork mechanism. Once successful, it could be applied to her larger creations, making them less fragile. She looked down, her eyes so accustomed to the darkness of her home that the light from the single badly-lit lamp near her desk was more than enough to discern every tiny detail of the miniature mechanism. It was done – any more changes would just compromise the structure.

Nodding, the girl closed her eyes in brief concentration. Then, as she opened them, a tiny spark of blue magic just strong enough to set off the mechanism but weak enough not to break it wormed its way from the end of her index finger up to the tip of the needle.

No point in waiting, now.

“Show me again your craft,” the girl whispered, “dollmaker.”

The needle struck the mechanism, and the miniature doll’s eyes flashed blue as it stood up on the table and performed the tiny dance coded into her by the clockwork, her movements as smooth and realistic as some of the girl’s greater creations’ but with an interior that might, upon further research, prove twice as resilient.

A beautiful thing, no doubt.

But pathetically worthless compared to what could have been.

With a cruel frown, the girl’s arm lashed forward, the needle striking the clockwork with a spark of red. The doll went limp on the table at the same time the girl did so on her chair, green eyes glassy as she stared at the dark ceiling. Her old friend, that triple mixture of disgust, fear, and disgust at her own fear; that feeling bloomed in her chest and threatened to make its way up her throat. The girl closed her eyes, breathing deeply. She never lost control. Not ever.

“Angry, are we?” a voice rang out through the darkness. The girl’s eyes snapped open, but save for a slight flash of surprise her face did not reflect the chill in her spine.

“What are you doing here?” she muttered. There was no point in asking anything else; the girl already knew who her impromptu guest was.

“You could at least turn to look at me, you know.”

The girl stood up and turned around. The woman sat at the table in front of her, her pale dress ethereal in the absence of light. Her hair was so long it reached her feet, and her black leathery wings, each as wide when extended as the girl was tall, lightly clacked the claws that tipped them against the wooden floor.

“You look different,” the girl muttered.

“Oh, this?” the woman gestured at herself before finally placing her hand over her heaving bosom. “Tonight’s the full moon. I’d think now would be the last time to ask why I look however I want to look. Not that it’s hard for me to look like this on any other day, of course.”

The girl remained silent for a minute. She had nothing to say, except for a screaming desire for the beast in front of her to leave her house. Futile, for no threat from her could cause the woman to budge.

“Why are you here?” the girl finally choked out after a moment of indecision.

“Of course,” the woman went on, staring off into the distance, “I do like how I usually look. It brings out the dark urges in people like nothing else, and I find the fight against temptation to be so unbelievably exciting…”

”Why are you here, Remilia?” the girl asked, more forcefully this time. “We have absolutely nothing to do with each other.”

“Is that any way to treat your guests, Alice?” Remilia asked back. “In fact, I haven’t even been offered anything to drink. That’s just rude.”

With an overdramatic sigh, the vampire reached into the folds of her dress, producing from them, no doubt by art of magic, a jewel-studded chalice. Then, she placed her palm against the edge of the cup and blood splashed out, first a drip, then a steady flow that came from nowhere to fill the glass to brimming. The girl just stared, trying hard to keep from trembling.

Once the chalice was full, the vampire brought her palm to her lips and licked, removing every single drop of the crimson liquid from her hand before starting on the glass, draining it in three long gulps. “Ah,” she murmured, “it had been a while.”

“You horrify me.”

“I have that effect on some people, yes,” said Remilia. “Oh," she pointed casually at the girl’s work desk. “I see you’ve been busy.”

She flashed the girl a smile full of sharp fangs, and with a tiny gesture of her finger, the doll on the table sprung to life, its eyes burning bright red as it danced a little jig before the girl’s revolted gaze. “Why,” a monstrous, mocking voice echoed from its sculpted lips, “won’t you give me a heart, Alice?”

“Enough.” With a sweep of her hand a long, almost invisibly thin thread flew from the girl’s fingers and attached itself to the doll. The light in the construct’s eyes shifted back to blue upon contact, before fading as the doll fell limp once more.

“How rude,” Remilia deadpanned, scarlet eyes boring into the girl with unreadable intensity. “And to think, I’m here to help you.”

“Help me?” the girl asked, voice thick. “How could you…”

“You think nobody noticed, Alice?”

The girl froze. “Noticed what?” she asked, biting her lower lip. She knew, of course, that there was no point in playing fool. Oh, if only she hadn’t failed

“I’m only here to warn you, that your little display of magic echoed for miles,” the vampire calmly retorted, rubbing the bridge of her nose as she smirked at the girl. “It was a different kind of vibration, yes, almost subtle. But I certainly felt it.”

She paused, pensive. “Which means that gap whore definitely felt it too…” she sneered. “How entertaining.”

“Whatever it is that I did,” the girl said stiffly, “has nothing to do with you. Or with anyone.”

The vampire shrugged. “If it did not concern me, I would not speak to you of it,” she smiled at the girl. “I care nothing for you, after all.”

“Then why…”

“Actions,” Remilia began, “have far-reaching consequences. This place reeks of failure… not in the literal sense, of course, how silly… but the moment one steps inside her nose is filled with the scent of magic gone afoul. A lingering wrongness that chokes the soul…”

She threw her head back and laughed, a musical sound at odds with the sheer cruelty locked in her eyes. “Well, it would choke mine if I had one.”

“I…” the girl whispered, pacing around the vampire, one hand tugging hard on a stray lock of blonde hair – a horrible nervous habit she’d never quite managed to stamp out. “I don’t understand. Just what do you know, and just what are you warning me of?” She pointed accusingly at the woman. “Why do you even care!?”

With a lazy sigh, Remilia stood from her chair spreading her wings just slightly enough for her frame to grow even more menacing. “All I’m saying, little girl,” she began, “is that you dabbled into something with a very large amount of risk. You failed… mostly. What I’m here to tell you is that to pretend that failure would have no consequences, with the kind of magic you used, is a laughable prospect.”

She spread her arms magnanimously, a grin full of malice warping her features. “Why, you should be thanking me! If it weren’t for me, you’d definitely spend the following days still in denial. But at least now you’ll be forced to move.”

The girl clenched her fists. This was enough. Swallowing her fear, she walked forward and looked the vampire straight in the eye. “You still haven’t answered my question. What do you know?”

“Would I relinquish such an advantage? Would you?” Remilia asked back. “The only reason I’m here is to make certain that you make a move, if only to make things more interesting.”

“More interesting?” the girl shook her head.

Remilia shrugged, walking up to a window and opening the curtains. A shower of moonlight filtered in, bathing them both in the pale radiance of the full moon. “For the past two weeks, dark clouds have been gathering, to your inaction. Finally, however, the storm is taking form… and it just so happens that I hold a broken shard of its lightning.”

She paused. “I wonder if that whore will come visit you too…”

“Wait-“

It was useless. In a dramatic spread of her wings, Remilia’s entire form dissolved into a black dust as an unearthly breeze swept the room, carrying it out of a window that suddenly snapped open and into the night.

“You…”

The window closed shut by itself, moved by an unseen hand. The girl was alone. Turning around, she surveyed the table. The blood chalice was gone, replaced by a small leaf of scented paper bearing a single sentence.

‘Don’t bother coming to the mansion.’

For a long while, the girl said nothing, standing in perfect motionlessness as she tried to take in everything that had just transpired. Every possible feeling raged through her – anger, impotence, bewilderment, fear, doubt. But though her fists clenched and her body trembled, she did not lose control.

Finally, she exhaled a long, quivering breath, as if letting all unnecessary emotion flow out of her. Looking down at the paper, she frowned. For all the good that little warning did Remilia might have as well invited her. But not now. Other things demanded doing.

“Shanghai,” the girl murmured into the darkness. Within the pitch-black shadows, a glow of blue flared up, then faded. The tiny doll floated up to her, eying the girl with emotionless eyes from her painted face. The girl frowned. “No,” she said, “I do not need you like this.”

She snapped her fingers, and the tiny crystal within the doll’s heart flared to life, releasing the material that had up to then been compressed into energy. For less than half a minute, the doll’s figure was hidden by a torrent of blue light.

When it gave way, the Shanghai in front of the girl was completely different. Blue eyed and beautiful, with long blonde hair made by artificially lengthening separate strands of the girl’s hair, she was nearly as tall as her creator. Clad in a long, frilly black dress the girl had tailor-made for her; a wickedly sharp rapier hanging on a scabbard by her side, Shanghai looked almost human, if not for the tell-tale artificial joints, showing metal and the occasional spark of magic, that were visible on her exposed wrists and neck.

“What a work of art,” the girl said with a tiny smile. Shanghai answered nothing. She could only stand still, empty eyes gazing at her master as she awaited her next order.

“Fetch me,” the girl said, quite slowly, for without the aid of the girl’s magic wire the doll could only process simple commands, “my gauntlets, my dagger, and my cape. We’ve got business to do.”

The doll nodded mechanically and walked away, leaving the girl to head to her work desk.

The book was there.

Of course she’d take it. She could no less leave it behind than she could tear out her own eyes.

She took it into her hands. It was the same as always. The rusty padlock over the ornate, beautiful cover, the leather marred only by the splatter of blood that stained the sigil on the cover, blood that would never come off.

Sighing, the girl chained the book to her belt. As she did so, Shanghai arrived with her things. Fast indeed, for she always left them easily accessible. Without a word, the girl took the cold steel gauntlets –an invention of hers that allowed for greater precision during delicate maneuvers with the dolls- and attached them to the other side of her belt. Then she lifted the hem of her dress and strapped the dagger to her curvy thigh. Both things only precautions, but necessary ones.

Finally, she threw the long blue cloak of silk over her shoulders, for what meager warmth it could provide.

“Let’s go, Shanghai,” she muttered, “the forest won’t search itself.”
>> No. 38002
File 127491835677.jpg - (218.69KB , 1000x800 , MiladyFlandre.jpg ) [iqdb]
38002
“I see where she gets that temper from…”

The lady vampire of the Scarlet Mansion stood atop the roof of the clock tower, eying the world below in calm contemplation. Behind her, the clock piece marked three in the morning, a silent vigil to the woman’s pondering.

”Temper, temper~…”

Remilia Scarlet did not even bat an eyelash. “Flandre.”

“Hello, my friend~.”

She turned, eyes widening slightly. Flandre usually came to her a child, dressed in rags and stained in blood, but this time was different. As Flandre sat on the edge of the tower’s balustrade Remilia could see that this time her sister was just as tall as her, clad in an elaborate red dress that bared her slim shoulders and sloped down into an intricate frilled skirt that covered her legs. Her long blonde hair hung loose, single strands occasionally picked up by a weak breeze. Seeing her like this, it unsettled Remilia just how alike they looked, the most outstanding difference being the wings, massive jagged rods of bent and rusted iron protruding from her back like spears from a corpse, the crystal-like formations that hung off them like feathers catching and reflecting the light of the full moon. It occurred to Remilia that if ever a person set out to capture the most vile, twisted mockery of an angel, they’d just have to look for Flandre.

“I know you’ve been following me.”

Her sister shrugged. “Maybe. Was it that obvious?” she asked, looking honestly curious.

“I’m merely used to your manifestations,” Remilia answered, her expression neutral. “What do you want, monster?”

Flandre sneered, pupils turning to catlike slits as her red eyes widened. “Four hundred and ninety-five years, with interest.”

“Be serious,” Remilia admonished her, “or when I banish you I’ll make it hurt. You don’t often appear to me like this. What do you want?”

Flandre regarded her for a second, her scarlet gaze boring into Remilia as if trying to pry out her thoughts. The woman, more than used to commanding that same overwhelming presence herself, remained entirely unfazed.

“Would I want anything other than to talk to my darling sister, the jewel of my heart?” Flandre finally asked, leering, “And maybe…”

She giggled, birdsong that hid poison. “And maybe to stretch my legs a bit. Walking in this shadow body just can’t compare, but at least it’s a respite from the pain of eternally broken legs, blood flowing like water over a young girl’s virgin thighs…”

“Ha!” finally, Remilia’s mask broke, and she glared at her sister with sheer derision. “Pain?” she asked, her mocking sneer growing by the second, “Blood? Spare me talk of your torment, little sister. You deserve everything and more.”

“Now,” she went on, raising a hand, “if you have nothing more to say-“

”I want you to look at me, Remilia!” Flandre screamed, jumping from the battlements and landing not three meters away from her sister. As they glared at each other, anyone who could have seen them would have sworn they’d stumbled upon the frozen statues of two devils locked in combat. “Tell me,” Flandre continued, running her hands over her own slender neck and shoulders, “don’t I look so lush, and pretty and full of life, like a cruel angel given beauty to burn the eyes of demons? Don’t I?”

“That’s why I wanted you to see me like this, Remilia!” she grinned, “Because when I finally free myself from your wretched claws this is the form I’ll take!” For every word she spoke Flandre seemed to gain intensity, and the look in her eyes growing more and more fanatically convinced. “Isn’t it just beautiful, big sister? Isn’t it just beautiful that the last thing your eyes will see before you turn a broken corpse will be something so precious? Isn’t it just beautiful that the day is just at hand?”

Remilia simply stared, impassive, at the display. “How pathetic.”

”What!?”

“You’re nothing more than a wretch, so thoroughly broken that the only way you can interact with the world is with shadows less than a tenth of your power. When you do manage to gather just enough energy to become even a bit of a threat, you are stamped out before you can even properly terrorize my guests!” Remilia let out a taunting cackle. “Of course,” she said, “that is to be expected, all things considered.”

“Terrorize?” Flandre asked with a light frown, as if the rest of the insults had not even reached her. “Oh, you mean that worm. Truth be told, I was saving up that energy for later… but sometimes I can’t resist my urges.” She grimaced. “A shame, because the new seals that whore you call a witch placed on my prison make it almost impossible to gather even that kind of pathetic strength. Ah… if only I had been quicker.” She smiled at Remilia a wide smirk full of razor-sharp teeth. “I would have raped her and eaten that sweet-smelling flesh, so full of magic.”

“Then again,” she mused, “she might not even have been tasty. That worm is even more of a shadow than this body of mine.”

“A wretch, a wretch,” Remilia sneered. “Don’t get off track, ignore my truths all you want, but you admitted it yourself – the deplorable shadow you manifested when you attacked that girl is the best you can do. And now not even that. Beautiful though your illusions may be now, how do you expect to defeat me, little sister, when you can no more influence the world outside your prison than pull the moon from the ocean?”

“Oh yes,” Flandre nodded, “for four-hundred-and-ninety-five years my strength has been imprisoned along with my body. But I still have a voice, even if only a whisper, and a mind. And mine is a power that will not be caged. A nudge here, a push there, and now the day of my release is near.”

“You’ve been saying that for so many centuries, it’s lost all effect.” Remilia said, “The truth is…”

She walked forward, so close to her sister they were almost touching. “The truth is that Flandre Scarlet lies buried in the last room of the deepest dungeon of this mansion, skewered to a wall by a silver blade. And she will never, ever…” she smiled, “…come out.”

To Remilia’s surprise, her sister said nothing, did not break out into the cackling laughter such a statement would usually provoke from her. Indeed, Flandre merely glared, a slow-burning stare that seemed less hate than careful meditation.

Remilia shrugged. Turning around, she made to head back into the mansion. She had, after all, nothing to fear from this shadow.

“Wait, Remilia.”

The vampire paused at the door to the stairs, turning to look at Flandre. “Yes, sister?”
“How does it feel?” Flandre asked. Her face registered no emotion. “How do you sleep at night, jewel of my heart, knowing that every second for you is an eternity of pain for the sister you once loved?”

Remilia gave her a bitter grin. “You misjudge the depths of my compassion,” she stated. “Flandre…” Her smile widened, baring her fangs. “…I sleep peacefully every night, dreaming of your torment."

"But enough of that. Begone!" Before Flandre could answer, Remilia swung her arm, and the air filled with a pulse of magic as a lance of red energy sliced through the air and struck Flandre in the chest, punching through her torso.

The woman did not as much as flinch, simply looking down at the massive wound gushing blood down her dress with vague interest. “I see…”

Then, the illusion broke, and Flandre’s body dissolved into a thousand specks of dust, carried away by the cool breeze of the night.
>> No. 38003
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38003
“This is terrible, Shanghai.”

The trees were dead, now giant columns of dripping rot. The air smelled foul, a stench of decomposition mixed with an acrid scent of poison. Even the grass seemed corrupted, a sticky foundation of decay which spewed forth a black, tar-like substance (the same substance that seemed to cover the rest of the clearing) with each of the girl’s steps.

The hollow cocoons, long burst out of by whatever had lain inside them, swayed slightly in the breeze.

“Could it have been…” the girl’s hands tightened into fists. “No, no, no, I refuse to believe it was…”

She had lost her willpower halfway through the ritual, a testament perhaps to her own cowardice. But even if the consequences of that failure had been harsher than what had occurred, the backlash should definitely have fallen on her shoulders; that was what definitely would have happened…

At her command, Shanghai prodded one of the larger cocoons with the tip of her rapier. The desiccated, horribly disfigured corpse of a fairy stumbled out and fell to the ground with a wet splash of the black tar.

Obligatory BGM: Golden Slaughter [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6BPgGQhSHk&fmt=18 ]

The girl stared, an uncontrollable shivering running down her body. Whatever process the cocoons induced had failed on this one, but among everything, that was the least horrifying thing.

What truly mattered was that this fairy was dead. A broken corpse lying at her feet.
But nothing could permanently end a fairy’s life. It was simply impossible. Nothing. Faeries were magic made flesh, after all. One could stab them or disintegrate them or dispel the bonds that the magical energy used to form their bodies, but eventually they’d regenerate. And yet, this one…

What kind of atrocious power could kill magic itself?

“No,” the girl mumbled to herself, “no, no, even if it failed… it couldn’t have been me… I refuse to believe it, with all my soul I refuse…”

Nothing so hideous could come from her. From her, or her book, which was in essence also herself, whose pages bled when she bled. The very idea…

A loud screech pierced through the forest, a high-pitched call to dread. The girl turned around, seeing half a dozen shadows move through the underbrush, claws glinting in the pale moonlight.

“Shanghai!”

A twist of the arm and a word of command was all it took for the doll’s blade to intercept the swinging claws, catching the beast’s strike in one deft move.

The girl took a moment to observe the monster from behind the servant. It was a horrific, skeletal thing, its entire body covered in that black tar and barely congealed blood. It possessed no eyes, but it snapped its jaws in Shanghai’s direction with clearly directed hatred.

The girl twisted a wire, and Shanghai’s hand flew out, grabbing the beast by the skull. Before it could resist, the doll clenched her palm with strength reinforced by magic, brutally crushing the head under her grasp. The monster fell, dead, to the ground.

From within the shadows of the forest, the wails and cries intensified, and out of the bushes slinked one, two, three more of the beasts, circling the girl as drool dripped from the mouths.

The girl grit her teeth, clenching her fists as her heart began to speed up in her chest. Regardless of what had created these necrotic monstrosities, it was clear they were here to kill her. Behind her, she could already hear more rattling breaths, as yet another pair of creatures slowly positioned themselves to encircle her.

“Shanghai…” the girl gasped, her breath coming up short as she realized how lethal the situation had become in mere seconds. “Shanghai, run!”

She turned around, and the beasts leapt. Magic, raw unprocessed energy, blasted from her right hand, slicing one of her opponents in half, and blood and gore splashed everywhere like rain. The girl took the opportunity, pushing magic into her muscles and running past the corpse with all the considerable speed her legs could muster. Shanghai, commanded by the wires, took the rearguard, her rapier flashing in the darkness as she followed her master.

The beasts screamed and took off after them, tearing through the underbrush, running up the ancient oaks of the forest and leaping from branch to branch to chase their prey.

“Quickly, quickly! Keep running!” the girl panted. The command was essential – without stopping, the girl let go of the wires, reaching for her gauntlets and forcefully shoving them over her hands. The locks along the wrists closed themselves the moment the metal touched her skin, molding the cold steel to her hands as the magic wires reattached themselves to her armored fingers.

“Hold on, Shanghai!” The beasts, impossibly quick, had caught up, and the girl turned to see two of them jumping down from a tree, claws outstretched for the kill. The wires tensed. The girl let out an angry cry, and Shanghai turned, her blade flashing down on the first of the beasts, stabbing deeply into its neck. In unison, a dozen wires from the girl’s left hand wrapped around the second assailant. With a tug, the razor sharp metal filament cut straight to the bone, killing it instantly.

“Not enough,” the girl mumbled, gazing in horror as three more beasts smashed their way out of the bushes and attacked, forcing Shanghai to retreat towards her. “Not enough… Russia! Hourai! London!”

Triple bursts of light issued forth from the ends of the wires, and behind Shanghai materialized her sisters, their blonde hair and glittering dresses sudden splashes of color among the encroaching dark. With a screech of metal, they each unsheathed their blades, charging forward to engage the beasts – a battalion of iridescence and silk against one of blood and bone.

The girl just managed to form a smile before doubling over with a dry heave, her vision blurring momentarily. She’d not had the dolls with her, and summoning them even from this distance took much energy. But now was no time for weakness. Recovering, she returned to commanding her warriors, who were by now embroiled in a large brawl with at least seven different beasts. “Pathetic,” she murmured, “pathetic that I could be ambushed like this!”

With a barked command, yellow-clad Russia charged forward, burying her rapier into a beast’s eye socket while using her free hand to grab another opponent by the head and twist its neck, the snapping sound of breaking bone filling the forest as the doll ripped the monstrosity’s head off with undeniable brutality. Behind her, Hourai, red dress fluttering around her like a fiery aura, slammed her foot into the back of another one of the brutes. It went down, squealing and struggling; its spine broke and then, with another slam of the doll’s boot, so did its skull. Shanghai charged forward, a twist of the wire translating into a fist reinforced with so much magic it punched through her opponent’s skull, allowing her to reach out and pull another of the beasts into range of her blade. It clawed and scratched, but could do nothing as Shanghai’s rapier, faster than a gale, sliced into its throat. Three beasts remained, and began to step back as if to retreat, finding themselves outnumbered.

But they were too late. With a triumphant shout from the girl, green-clad London emerged from the waiting shadows, magical energy glowing from her legs as she ran up the trunk of an oak, and began leaping from branch to branch and tree to tree before landing in front of the monsters. Her rapier flashed, glittering death in the gloom, and two beasts fell without warning. The third, seeing its downed companions, let out a final screech and valiantly charged forward. It was met with an upward kick that crushed its neck.

The forest grew quiet. They were safe.

“Thank you,” she muttered, “thank you, friends.”

As always, the dolls gave no answer, merely gazing at their master with empty eyes, awaiting only their next instruction.

The girl sighed, and a slight shiver ran through her body as she walked forward to inspect the corpses. The beasts, broken and destroyed, oozed pools of black blood so viscous it was reflective to the point where the girl could see her own face, delicate, pale and tired, in the liquid. Bright green eyes gazed sternly at her as she frowned, framed by long, wavy blonde hair.

“What have you gotten yourself into,” she murmured, “Alice?”

”What indeed?” a voice rung out from among the trees.

The girl shrieked, turning around as her dolls assumed combat stances and formed a protective circle around her. But the words, and the question they carried, were blown away by the wind – even as the girl looked around, she could detect no presence other than her own.

“What is this?” she asked, “what-“

She never finished that sentence, for when she turned around to gaze once more upon the corpses she was struck speechless by what she saw.

Each of the dead beasts was now covered in a light, sparse blanket of yellow sunflower petals.
>> No. 38004
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38004
It is the miracle of recognition, the sudden flash of insight.

Time stops – but it is not Sakuya’s doing, no. It is a relative thing. The knives still fly, but your mind is working at such impossible speeds they may as well stand still.

You can see it now.

It is not a sudden influx of knowledge, no triggering of dead memories. You do not suddenly know the theory of magic, of runic circles and pumping energy out of your nerves and into a magical circuit to create the precise base from which most spells are derived. It is, instead, something as innate to you as reinforcing your legs and arms. You want to break out of this prison of knives, but the only methods you can think of are miracles.

And among the miracles, one stands out. A moment that was as dangerous as it was impossibly magical, hanging off of Marisa’s broom as a gigantic wall of flame, taller than a house, sped towards you.

But it is not just fire. You think, and as you think the blaze seems to simplify itself to its smallest structure, and you can see as you have never seen every tiny spark of magic that forms it, how they pull at one place and tug at another, how they make the flare turn harmless when it touches the bookcases and how they gather oxygen to make the flames fan out. And inside the entire structure lies the complicated runic array that Patchouli used. It is not, you realize, an incantation, not a set rule that makes the flame whenever invoked, but rather a way for the mage to focus her mind, and latch it onto a single objective – fire.

You see this, and you can feel your mind and your nerves and your magic start to reproduce it. Step by step, you can see the law of equivalent exchange taking form: your own energy, the lifeblood of your magic, to act as spark and fuel, the oxygen in the air to keep the fire going, the structure of the array – a phoenix wreathed in fire that loses form to mold itself as a skeleton for the wall of flame, and then…

“Sun Sign…” you mutter, breathless. The declaration is meaningless to the objective process, but by channeling your emotion it becomes the true key that gives it its fearsome power. ”Royal Flare!”

There is a sound like a tiny spark, and then like crackling thunder, and your ears are deafened by a gigantic roar the likes you could only imagine from a dragon. Around you, the knives and the trees and the garden, Sakuya and Meiling, all of them are gone, replaced only by fire and heat, a storm of fire that warms you but burns everything you oppose to ashes. You feel yourself falling, falling and then kneeling within the center of the vortex, and beyond your arms and the glittering edge of your sword you see only reds and blacks, a torrent of flame and embers fueled by a strange, overwhelming passion you both knew and ignored. Part of it is obvious – the need to survive and the hateful rage that overruns your normally stoic temperament whenever your anger is sparked, feelings you know all too well. But another part of the spell runs through stranger currents, shades of fervor and joy and misery and the occasional flash of desire. Suddenly, you understand why Patchouli cracks a smile whenever she talks of magic and why Marisa’s excitement was so unshakeable even as you fought her. How could anyone remain untouched by this incredible rush of emotion?

How could you?

You could not fathom what this torrent of feeling represents for them, but you don’t care. All you can think of is what it means to you.

Unshakeable, terrible power.

“Alice! Alice!

How incredible. You’ve won.

A single swing of your rapier dispels the fire, the flames dying out in a sudden breeze, as if dust carried away by wind.

Before your eyes, the garden remains intact, the only damage - a broken tree trunk, a few cracked and crushed flagstones along the path, Meiling extricating herself from a torn up bush – minimal, most of the flowers untouched.

And why wouldn’t it be intact? The fire of your soul could only burn that which your soul wanted it to burn, after all.

“Alice!”

Ah, Meiling is running towards you.

The moment you realize that is the moment the last shreds of the spell leave you to feel the price of casting it. With a sudden gasp, you feel all your breath leave your lungs, and as you bend over all strength leaves your shoulders. Your whole body shivers, from head to toe.

“Alice!” Meiling arrives beside you, looking utterly bewildered as she stares down at you. You notice her hat’s fallen off, and her red hair sways gently in the breeze created by the aftershock of your spell. Her eyes hold a strange mixture of concern and irritation. “What the hell?

You give her a weak smirk. “That was… intense, wasn’t it?” you gasp, reaching up to push several strands of blonde hair away from your slick forehead. “I’m sorry… I’ll help you clean up, alright?”

“Clean up?” Meiling repeats, confused. “Clean up? That’s the first thing on your mind? Do you realize… look at what you did!” She gestures broadly at the garden.

“What did I do?” you ask weakly, straightening up and running a slender hand over your sword arm. It hurts, as do your legs. “I mean, the garden’s intact. Mostly.”

“I’m not talking about that!” Meiling retorts, before pausing and placing a finger on her lower lip, looking thoughtful. “Well, maybe just a bit. I mean it’s a lot of work to keep it that pretty, and…”

She shakes her head. “Nevermind that!” she points at you. “Look at what you did!”

“Oh, you mean…” you mutter, grimacing. The sudden outpour of energy did leave you a bit out of it for a second, you have to admit. “I wasn’t exactly expecting I would do that.”

“Neither was I,” Sakuya’s voice, tempered and smooth, rings out from behind you.

“Ah, Sakuya!” Meiling says, “Where’d you go?”

“I stopped time at the last second and walked around you two,” she answers, “not that it matters much… the fire was harmless.”

You turn around as she says this and your green eyes meet her steel blue gaze. For the first time, you see no strong emotion register in Sakuya’s expression, no frown, no sneer, and no smile. She simply stares at you with a calculating respect, as if trying to dissect you with her eyes to find the answer to the sudden surprise of the Royal Flare.

“Well,” she says, not taking her eyes off you, “mostly harmless.” With a quick gesture, she pulls an amorphous piece of melted metal, covered entirely in soot, out of the pocket of her apron.

“Is that…” Meiling’s eyes widen in awe.

“One of my knives, yes,” Sakuya nods. “I didn’t know you could do that, Alice.”

“Truth be told,” you answer frankly, “neither did I.”

“Really now?”

The three of you turn around, and you gasp in surprise as you see just who is walking down the path toward you.

It is Remilia in her usual white dress, wings folded behind her back. A white bonnet with a crimson ribbon adorns her head, and a gigantic parasol covers the entirety of her body in the shade.

’How could she…’

“Milady,” Sakuya walks over to her, shoving her broken knife back into her pocket. Suddenly, she looks rather embarrassed, “this isn’t what it looks like.” She gives Remilia a forced smile. “We...”

“Sakuya,” Remilia interrupts her, “be a dear and go to the kitchen. Fetch cake, chocolate pudding, scones, tea, more chocolates, lemonade and some more chocolates, and set the snack table in my room.” She smiles sweetly at the maid, and for a brief moment, if only before you noticed the wings and the mocking red eyes, she looks like an angel. “But be quick, or I’ll stab something.”

A cruel angel, then.

Remilia turns to Meiling. “China…”

“Hong Meiling,” the woman answers with a smile, not looking the least bit fazed, “orders, boss?”

To your surprise, Remilia doesn’t seem the least bit irritated by Meiling talking back to her. Indeed, she smirks at the woman with vague approval. “Go call a team of fairy maids, get them to help you fix the damage to garden. Make it a point to say that if they don’t work, I’ll whip them raw myself, okay?”

“Sure thing, boss, er… milady.”

“Alright then,” Remilia says, “what are you waiting for? Go on, Sakuya, Meiling, leave us be!”

Sakuya nods and walks away without complaint, but Meiling stops, looking at you with some concern.

“I’ll be fine,” you mutter, waving her off.

“Oh yes you will,” Remilia agrees. “After all,” she says to Meiling with a smile, “who isn’t fine when they get to eat cake? Get moving!”

Meiling looks hesitant for a bit, but finally nods and walks away, probably to head inside the mansion.

Finally, you and Remilia are left alone, staring each other down amongst the flowers.

“That was impressive, Alice,” the vampire finally says, and as she speaks her eyes run over you with something like hunger. “What a surprise.”

“We can make it a twin surprise, then, milady,” you say with a tired smirk, “I didn’t know vampires could go out in the sun.”

“Oh, the Sun…” Remilia whispers with a tinge of nostalgia. “I can’t look at it directly, no. But besides that, all daylight does is merely suppress a sizable chunk of my power.”

“You don’t look very suppressed.”

“Then just imagine,” says Remilia, walking closer to you until the shade of the parasol covers you both. With an elegant gesture, she extends her hand and hooks a long finger under the collar of your dress, lifting you effortlessly from the floor until your legs are kicking at empty air. You gasp, but don’t struggle – as you gaze down at Remilia’s smiling face you can’t see even a hint of hostility. Suddenly it dawns on you that this sort of insanity must be Remilia’s idea of an innocent joke. That’s… actually quite scary. “Just imagine how powerful I must be, Alice.”

She giggles, and then sets you down, blithely ignoring your scowl. “Come inside. I want to talk to you about this surprise you just gave me.”

“Do I have a choice?”

“No.”
>> No. 38005
File 12749186184.jpg - (1.14MB , 3507x2480 , studyofpuppets.jpg ) [iqdb]
38005
In the shifting shadows of her dimly lit home, Alice opens her eyes, frowning briefly as a ray sunlight filtered through a nearby window shines on her face, temporarily blinding her. Groaning, she rubs her sleepy face with her palms and straightens up in her chair. As she does, a lance of pain shoots down her back – she’d fallen asleep while working again, and her body was dutifully exacting the price.

She sighs. Much as she loves to dream, sleep is a superfluous thing when compared to her current dilemma. She could not have bothered going to bed.

“Not like I got much done…” she grumbles as she stands up. In the desk in front of her, the sunflower petals lie undisturbed in a closed jar, and a piece of flesh, taken with much disgust from one of the beasts’ corpses, lies under a microscope beside a pile of notes that all amount to the same thing – ’Nothing, nothing.’

And along the end of the desk is her book. Locked and waiting, as always.

Moaning, Alice walks away, rubbing her stomach as a pang of hunger assaults her. That can wait, too. She’ll be leaving the house today, most likely, and the thought of doing this covered in the filth and sweat of the past night is absolutely repulsive. Thus, she stumbles up the stairs to her spartan, barely used room, and then to the bathroom. Silently, she strips off her clothes, takes one moment to be utterly unimpressed by her figure on the mirror, then heads to the shower. The water’s cold, almost unbearable – her own choice. Cold water is better for waking up, no matter how it leaves her shivering.

Coming out of the bathroom, she takes her time changing into her usual clothes: the black stockings, the blue dress, the red sash. Once done, she combs her slick locks and places her usual red headband over her blonde hair.

Heading down to the kitchen, she makes herself a breakfast consisting of dry cookies and a glass of milk that tastes just slightly too sour for comfort. It doesn’t matter. As long as it fills her stomach, even hardtack will do. More important things are afoot, after all.

Done eating, she moves back to her desk, grabbing her book.

Time to leave, then?
------------------------------------------------
[] Write-in.

[] “I’m not quite sure about all this… but this situation isn’t right at all. I should warn Marisa, seeing as she’s the only other person as exposed to the forest as I am.”

[] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”

[] “Then again, didn’t Remilia said something about… that woman visiting me? I don’t want to place much faith in that beast’s words, but…”

[] “I don’t have time to waste dawdling with others. I was caught off guard last night, and settled nothing. This time I’m prepared. I should investigate the forest once more. All this… it couldn’t have been me. It couldn’t have.”
>> No. 38008
[x] “I’m not quite sure about all this… but this situation isn’t right at all. I should warn Marisa, seeing as she’s the only other person as exposed to the forest as I am.”

I think we should warn Marisa.

I think the MC Alice is actually a doll brought to full life.
>> No. 38015
[x] “I’m not quite sure about all this… but this situation isn’t right at all. I should warn Marisa, seeing as she’s the only other person as exposed to the forest as I am.”

Makes sense to let the other forest dweller know.

This update was glorious, quite a lot of suspicious stuff going on.
>> No. 38016
[x] “I’m not quite sure about all this… but this situation isn’t right at all. I should warn Marisa, seeing as she’s the only other person as exposed to the forest as I am.”
>> No. 38027
[x] “I’m not quite sure about all this… but this situation isn’t right at all. I should warn Marisa, seeing as she’s the only other person as exposed to the forest as I am.”
>> No. 38037
[x] “Then again, didn’t Remilia said something about… that woman visiting me? I don’t want to place much faith in that beast’s words, but…”

So much "Oh shit!"

So much.

Don't stop being awesome, KW.
>> No. 38045
[] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”

If 'that woman' is who I think she is, chances are she'll probably be at the shrine too.
>> No. 38050
[x] “Then again, didn’t Remilia said something about… that woman visiting me? I don’t want to place much faith in that beast’s words, but…”
Don't blame me for tring to connect both sides of the story.

Also? I've forgotten how much I liked this story. Thanks for the update KW.
>> No. 38057
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38057
[x] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”

Reimu's probably going to find out about this anyway, and if Alice accidentally caused it, she'd better be on her side when the danmaku starts flying. Also, if Yukari wants to find Alice, she'll find her, and she'll probably be as coy and cryptic as Remi was.
>> No. 38069
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38069
[] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”


This update? Mind - Blown. Single-handedly the greatest update yet.

>yellow sunflower petals

That's never a good sign. If Alice got even Yuuka's attention now...then this is really all over Gensokyo.
>> No. 38075
[X] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”

It's always nice to see an aloof Alice. Too many people make her tsundere.
>> No. 38084
[x] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”
The writefag is becoming a god damn standard setter, I shat bricks three times in an update. Only the palingenesia writer has managed better, and that's saying quite a bit.
>> No. 38090
[X] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”
>> No. 38099
[ø] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”
Glorious, indeed.
>> No. 38141
[] “I… do not want to ask for help. However, only a fool would expect this problem to go away by itself. I suppose if I have friends… of a sort, anyway… I should make use of that advantage. It might be better to inform Reimu of this. After all, it’s not like I have to tell her anything I don’t want to. Besides, considering the time of day, Marisa’s probably with her too.”

I love this story.
>> No. 39486
Its been quite a wile.

You still out there?
>> No. 39529
>>39486

Don't worry. The longer he takes, the more epic the update will be.
>> No. 39616
>>39486

Soon. I swear it. My free time ended up being an illusion for quite a few weeks (and when it wasn't, Umineko wasn't going to play itself. Feel free to get mad at me for that). The fact that this update's been harder to write than carving out a statue with a plastic spoon hasn't been much help.

But it will get done. Whatever the 10k word monstrosity I'm planning to deliver turns out to be, the one thing you can be sure of is that you'll get to read it and vote.

>>39529

...th-thank you. ;_;
>> No. 40008
We're still here. Just wanted you to know that. We still have faith!
>> No. 40084
>>40008
Mountains of it, even.
>> No. 40285
This week, I promise. I'm half-tempted to just cut it somewhere, slap on a choice, and post it tomorrow, but that's just no good. After this much waiting, the update has to end on a high note.
>> No. 40524
...and, here. It probably ought to have been bigger, it definitely ought to have been better, but Jesus Christ do I want to get on with the story. I'm never writing an update this fucking big ever again, at least not until we get to the finale.

So. This was hard, writing it was a pain, nearly every scene but the last was a "muscle through" one in every sense of the word, but finally, finally, we've ended the introductory arc of this thing. From here on forward, it's plot, plot, plot.

Expect the next update soon.
>> No. 40525
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40525
The forest in the early morning appears as a completely different place, at least along the well-trodden path that leads to civilization. The dark whispering of the night’s breeze is gone, replaced by the playful contrast of color and shadow created by the warm sunlight cast over the forest canopy.

Alice, however, pays little attention. The display of natural beauty before her is observed for only an instant, maybe two, as she leaves her home. After that, there is only the path before her, to be traversed as quickly as possible, and herself, a quiet ghost wrapped in blue. The forest, after all, is not safe. She should know.

So she moves on, wrapped by a strange kind of silence, a serene quiet that nevertheless contains a myriad different sounds – her slow, delicate breathing, the soft rustling of her cloak, the sweet birdsong ringing along the treetops, and, should one concentrate all of their will on listening; the soft tinkle of magic and clockwork as Shanghai and Hourai float behind her, wide-eyed miniature versions of themselves that with a quiet word of command from their master would transform into the warrior damsels that had fought the beasts the night before. Truly, they and their sisters were Alice’s greatest creations.

’But,’ she ponders darkly, ‘will they be enough?’ Remilia, that cold, treacherous monster, had claimed that Alice was unequivocally linked to the origins of last night’s terrible battle. And though she does not trust the vampire, whom she despises on principle for what she is and twice over for her evil, mocking cruelty, there is something about her words that rings true in Alice’s ears.
But the very notion of that being possible makes her heart race with fear, sending cold shivers down her pale flesh. It could not be. Not from her.

What she had attempted that cold winter night was, indeed, something best left forgotten – a failure unbefitting her, like so many others before it. But it was no sin. Nothing she had done that night could have spawned the corruption that might even now still be lurking in the forest.

Remilia was lying. That cruel monster had simply chosen to toy with her, as she probably did with anyone whom she saw fit to subject to her sick amusement. There is no reason to suspect otherwise, no motive for her to trust the vampire.

But if so, then why does that reasoning ring hollow in her heart? If so, then what had possessed her, after facing down the vampire, to head out into the forest to investigate?

And what about what had occurred a few nights before? That presence she’d felt, however fleeting, while she was out picking herbs. At that moment, she could have sworn her heart was crossed by a flare-up of magic that seemed almost identical to her own – and yet different enough to cause her pain, like shards of a broken mirror slicing through her flesh with their twisted reflections. And yet, for a brief second within the pain, she’d felt within herself hope, hope that maybe she had been wrong, that maybe she had succeeded.

But what a foolish notion! No sooner had she walked a few meters away that the presence had faded, clearly an illusion of the forest’s hostile darkness. As for success, she knows that for such a thing to have somehow miraculously occurred beyond her knowledge is impossible.

She burned the doll’s blasted remains, after all. A pity she had broken. She had been so beautiful…

“What a waste,” she absentmindedly mutters to herself, “what a waste of your craft, dollmaker…”

But then, everything had been a waste.

Failure after failure after failure, she could not save her father, she could not achieve her dream, she could not hold back her fear, and she had not –and here her hands clench tightly over her bloodstained book- she had not been able to set herself free of that demon’s grasp, and this she knew was her greatest shame. Not a day went by where her thoughts didn’t wander for at least a second to unfulfilled revenge.

Though she no longer held Alice in her clutches, not a day went bay when the girl did not feel the sting of the scars left by that woman’s claws. She was free, but she knew her freedom was fake. If only she hadn’t lost…

For even now, that beast’s shadow loomed over her. She’d lied, back then – all her words were inevitably lies-, when she left Alice behind in the field of flowers, abandoning her as a bleeding, broken half-corpse among the petals.

She’d claimed after tearing out the pages that contained her book’s… no, her Grimoire’s grandest secret, after ripping out a piece of the girl’s soul from what was left after she’d shattered it, that the girl was worthless, finally unworthy of her attention. In that sense, Alice’s battle with her had seen her free, in spite of her defeat. A freedom through the mockery of her enemy who now considered her worthless, but freedom from her torture nonetheless.

But that was a lie. She knows. Even now, she can feel that monster’s long shadow over her, her cruel gaze just waiting for her to slip, to fall straight back into her murderous hands.
The sunflower petals of the past night were proof enough. She was watched, she was mocked, and all she could do was deny, deny, deny, pretend that she had not heard that voice in the forest, pretend that Remilia was lying, pretend that the beasts that roamed the night were not the expected consequence of her failed ritual.

But it couldn’t be! She tells herself this, and indeed it could not have been for anyone else, for such a backlash would violate every law of magic.

But not her magic.

She stops walking, feeling something inside her tense up and nearly snap as she looks down at the book chained to her waist, at the ornate sigils splattered with her blood.

The ability to subvert the laws of equivalence.

The power to create miracles.

“This is…” Alice croaks out in a quivering voice, the words nearly getting stuck in her throat, “…a miracle?”

Her hands clench into fists, and she can hear a low sound escape her lips, something between a broken giggle and a desperate moan. This was her miracle?

For a long time, she stands alone in the forest, silence her only companion as her mind ponders the implications of that notion, and her soul, forever weak from the constant strain of being, begs her to relent.

“…no,” she finally whispers.

It could not be. She could accept (not that she’d tell Reimu any of it) that the failed ritual, her unsuccessful attempt to achieve her dream, might be the reason for the disease spreading within the forest. She could accept herself, much as she despised it, as the source of the error. What she could not accept, what she refused and would refuse until she met her demise, was that the evil lay in her magic, and thus in herself.

She took a deep breath. Yes. This would help her fight.

She could become, or perhaps she already was, nothing more than a bundle of fictions sealed within a human body. In other words, a doll. But so long as she did not forsake the notion that she was innately different from the devils that tortured her, she could soldier on.

And so she did.
>> No. 40526
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40526
Today was an uncharacteristically warm day for the tail end of winter. Therefore, the once-roaring fire, which had seemed to you an unmoving fixture of Remilia’s study, had been extinguished, the flames giving way to cold and unfeeling coals. It is, you think, a perfect reflection of your mood – from intoxicating power to… fear? You really don’t want to accept such a thing. Trepidation, then. A prettier word.

Remilia has that effect on you, it seems.
You sigh. The vampire has left the chamber for her bedroom, citing the need to retrieve something essential for a proper snack. Left alone, you find yourself with nothing to do but stand and wait.

This provides an interesting opportunity, at least. As you find yourself still slightly too stoked by the rush of adrenaline to simply sit in silence, you dedicate your time to exploring the room; something you’d not had the chance to do before, pressed into a seat under interrogation every other time you’d been here.

Beyond the usual arrangement of plush seats and a fancy table, the rest of Remilia’s antechamber is ornately decorated. Under the electric light of the ceiling chandelier, switched on in lieu of the fire, the shadows melt away, revealing paintings hanging from every wall, each following the same motif as the ones in the rest of the mansion, each riddled with religious iconography. Glittering knights and shining angels, glaring down at you as though passing judgment on your sins. Though incredibly well-conserved, now that you can inspect them closely you note that even the newest looking painting must be centuries old – the bottom corner is marked “April, 1788”, and right below that “pour Mademoiselle Rémilia, du le Chevalier de Seingalt.”

That gives you pause. Remilia is a vampire who has lived for over five hundred years. Somehow, you’d never doubted that, her sheer presence banishing all questions about it from your mind. However, this painting before you is hard proof, and it sends your mind wandering. How much could she have seen in five hundred years? How many places could she have visited? How many adventures had, how much knowledge gained? A tiny grin tugs on your lips, and you realize that you find the idea rather romantic.

After a second, you tear your gaze away from the painting with some difficulty and turn to inspect another prominent fixture of the chamber – Remilia’s books. To your right, at least four bookshelves are lined up beside each other, and an additional two more on the opposite side of the room, each stocked to bursting with dozens of ornate tomes. If not just for show, then you figure that these must be books Remilia keeps especially close, the kind one takes to reading over and over again, not only out of necessity but also out of love. The kind which, for the sake of sentiment and convenience, could not possibly have been left at Patchouli’s magic archive.

You freeze at that thought, fingers lingering a hair’s breadth over the spine of one of the leather-bound tomes, a cold trembling running down your arm. This is, then, one of those times, like you’d been experiencing since Meiling and Sakuya rescued you from the cold, not too long ago. The feeling of recognizing a concept and understanding its meaning, but, when looking to your mind for a comparison, drawing a blank wall. You’ve no such thing as a favorite book; no loved stories to go back to. Indeed, with a tinge of dread you realize that the book you read along with Koa is for all intents and purposes the only one you’ve ever finished. The knowledge that you’re a being without memory, a blank slate of a girl, that sickening realization which you’d tried your best to push to the back of your mind; it comes forth, washing over you like cold water, leaving you feeling sick, ignorant, empty.

A strange dizziness overcomes you, blurring your sight and making the room spin. With great difficulty, you stumble away from the bookcase and plop yourself down onto one of Remilia’s plush chairs with a moan, burying your face into your delicate hands. Suddenly you feel tired – like a karmic exaction of balance, the rush of impossible power you’d felt during the fight now replaced by a depleted emptiness. The sudden change in mood leaves you disoriented, and you lack the will to move.

But then, don’t you lack everything? Even the triumph of your magic back in the garden had to be punctuated by a dark question – ”how?” And the answer is, as always, ”I don’t know.”

’My name is Alice.’

This is all you understand about yourself.

You are Alice. This you know. You have nothing else. Your memories begin less than a week ago, waking up in the cold snow.

Your name is Alice. That is all you have, and that fact is the source of your revulsion.
You are empty, yes, but what truly unsettles you is how natural it feels to be empty, as if you had never possessed anything to begin with. As if your awakening in the snow had been your moment of birth. But no, not only is that impossible, but something about the idea itself fills you with an irrational, stomach-churning disgust, almost the same as when you met that girl, that monster.

At that last thought, a flash of anger swells up in your chest, slicing through the haze of your confusion before turning into that emotion you try to never outwardly reveal but which you know all too well – a seething hatred for everything not going your way.

To hell with your turmoil – hadn’t Patchouli pieced it all together already? Magic had erased your memories, leaving you what you are, a being with no knowledge of who she is, with no past or care, with power that seems to come from a hollow void, an empty girl.

That monstrous thing in the forest obviously had to be behind it, yet another sin to add to the list of reasons why that aberration needed to die.

But somehow, that accusation rings hollow in your soul. Having some unseen enemy slice your memories away is the first thing one would think, given your condition. But no matter how much you want another reason to hate that beast, it is too easy, too simple, and it pales in comparison to the fear that had been festering in your heart and which now blossoms out – that you have been an empty girl forever, that there are no memories to recover because they never existed in the first place. It is an irrational thought, to be sure, but it has a strange ring of certainty that leaves you scared, confused, and more frustrated than you’ve ever felt, and all of a sudden you feel alone, more alone than you’ve ever felt, and a cold desperation invades your every thought, and in your desperation you do the one thing you know how to do well.

You lash out.

Your right hand flies out, reinforced with the same kind of power that helped you crush the beasts’ skulls in the forest with cruel ease. Surely, when it slams against the table nothing will be left, and you will be given the satisfaction of having taken something, anything, from this stupid, cruel situation.

Except your hand never gets there.

Obligatory BGM: Golden Sneer[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R0yYXgnSwmE&fmt=18 ]

Your senses slowly return to you, the haze of frustration and hatred giving way, and you find yourself standing on your own two feet, your arm still set in that downwards motion, your gloved fist still clenched, but unmoving.

Remilia Scarlet smiles at you, baring her tiny fangs as her eyes glint with mischief. You feel her grip on your wrist tighten ever so slightly, bright green eyes going wide at the sight. You’d poured every single drop of anger you had into that blow, enough to crush bone and reduce muscle and skin to a fine red paste. And yet Remilia stopped you, is stopping you. Your blind rage was no match for even this slight effort from her, and her movements were so quick you did not even notice her until her hand wrapped around your wrist with a soft, almost loose grip that nevertheless feels as strong as a vise.

“…milady?” you mutter, dazed.

“You were crying,” Remilia notes. The smirk on her face leaves no question as to her grand amusement, but for once it doesn’t seem like she’s mocking you. Indeed, her tone is soft, almost soothing. “What a silly, moody girl,” she whispers, not taking her eyes off yours, once again enthralling you with that unnatural ruby red. “I swear, I take my eyes off of you for a bit and when I turn to look, you’re always worse for the wear.”

Shaking her head, she reaches out, a dainty finger brushing the cold tears off your cheeks. Her touch is surprisingly warm on your soft skin.

“Oh,” she giggles, looking at the wet tip of her finger with a strange eagerness, “I wonder what your sorrow tastes like.”

Then she does something that nearly makes your heart stop. Slowly, deliberately, she brings her finger to her ruby red lips, her tongue darting out to slowly lick your tears off her skin. Then, just when you think you couldn’t blush any harder, her finger disappears between her lips as she sucks on it for a few agonizing seconds before releasing it with a delighted smile. “Delicious, of course. But then what else to expect from a girl so pretty?”

“I… you… milady…” you mumble. Caught weaker than ever, you realize that you’ve fallen completely for Remilia’s vampiric wiles… or have you? Gazing upon her, so beautiful it seems as though she was sculpted by a higher power, the influence she exerts is not the oppressive temptation that she has exuded all those other times she’s played tricks on you, so alien and obviously fueled by magic. Rather, it is her own charisma; the smile on her soft, perfect lips, the spark of mischief and deadly intellect in her gaze, the sweet smell of carnations on her pale flesh. It is a charm you don’t want to resist, for it comes not from a dark, coercive power, but rather from Remilia’s own beauty.

“Oh my,” she says, pouncing on your weakness, “did that just warm your blood a bit, Alice? Even though I look so young…”

“Please stop this,” you manage to mumble out, throwing Remilia a half-hearted glare. “I’m not in the mood to play with you… milady.”

That last phrase is said in a harsh, almost insulting tone, and you grimace, not for the first time wondering if you aren’t pushing the line a bit too much.

But Remilia sighs, letting go of your wrist. Your arm falls limp to your side. “Heh, you’re no fun,” she mutters, looking vaguely displeased, “though at least you don’t get all snippy about it, like Patchouli does.”

You barely hear her, letting yourself collapse back on your seat with a groan. Not for the first time, you feel utterly drained, and your frustration is reflected in your gaze as you look up at Remilia, who stares down at you with a calm, vaguely inquisitive look.

“Why were you crying?” she finally asks, softly, after a few seconds of silence. She seems to sense your distress, for her smile is quite uncharacteristically gentle.

At that question, you tear your gaze away from Remilia, looking down at your knees. The mess of feelings inside your chest is hard to put into words. Indeed, you’re not even sure if you even want to do so.

For a long time, there is silence as you try to formulate a response. Remilia waits, patient.
“I,” you finally speak in a weak voice that is almost a whisper, “don’t know who I am, I don’t know why I’m here, and I don’t know what am I’m doing. But… moreover… I can’t shake this feeling that I never really was anything or anyone in the first place. And… I try and think back to what my memories might contain, but when I do so, all I dredge up is the same kind of fear and disgust and anger I feel when I think of that girl… whoever she is. And… and I can’t stand it! I can’t stand it and I can’t stand myself!”

Once more, you bury your face in your hands. You’d been bottling that up for a long time, and while you’re not quite sure why the dam had to burst at such an inopportune time, you’re almost glad you’re finally able to say all these things aloud. “I don’t know what to do…”

“Eat some cake,” Remilia’s voice softly commands you.

You look up. “What?”

“Eat some cake,” Remilia reiterates, stretching her great wings as she settles herself on her ornate high-backed chair. With a smooth movement, she pushes a fork and a plate topped with a gigantic slice of chocolate cake towards you from the giant pile of snacks Sakuya laid out on the table. “It’ll do you worlds of good, since you clearly overstrained yourself from that last fight.”

You stare at her, a sharp eyebrow raised as a look of incredulity settles on your face. Is this a joke?

Remilia stares right back. “I’m not talking until you eat. You need help, but I’m not about to deal with someone who’s so exhausted they can barely even string their thoughts together.” She looks dead serious.

You throw her a suspicious look, but Remilia does not budge. Finally, with a tired sigh, you pick up your fork and start eating, eyes widening in surprise as you bring the cake to your mouth. It’s fluffy and sweet, but the frosting is made almost entirely out of dark chocolate, giving it also a rich, bitter taste that clashes wonderfully with the sugary sweetness of the bread. Before you notice, you’ve devoured half the slice, and the rush of sugar has replaced at least some of your energy.

Feeling invigorated, if only very slightly, you look up from your food and smile at Remilia.

“I want to kill her,” you state faintly.

Remilia cocks her head to the side, a tiny smile forming on her lips. “Oh?”

“I want to kill her,” you repeat, “that girl.” Unthinkingly, you reach out, your hand clasping around a crystal glass and bringing it to your parched mouth. It is absinthe, that horrible drink Remilia loves. You don’t care. In three gulps, the glass is empty, and the burning in your throat is ignored for the sake of the warmth spreading throughout your chest. “I don’t know who I am or why I am like this, but I know it’s her fault. I want to kill her. Just for daring to exist in the same world as me, I want to kill her.”

“But you don’t know where she is or who she might be,” Remilia says, “the state of your mind back in the forest was far too warped.”

“Yes,” you agree, “yes. There’s nothing I can do.” Grimacing, you clench your fists so tightly you think your hands might break. “Over and over, there’s nothing I can do…”

Thoughtlessly, you reach out for the absinthe decanter, only to have Remilia’s hand reach out and stop you, softly poking at your palm with the tip of her index finger. “No, Alice, I don’t think so,” she smirks. “Drinking out of desperation is a terrible habit, fitting for peasants and commoners and the lower dredges of society, but not for us ladies. Leave that be, or I’ll get mad~.” Her smirk widens into a grin that is as lovely as it is mocking, and is if to drive her point home, she softly intertwines her fingers with your own. It is a warm, caring touch, which nevertheless prevents you from moving your hand without struggle.

You stay like that for a moment glaring sulkily at Remilia for a while before losing strength and melting back into your seat as she lets your fingers slip away. “How did I do it, milady?”

“Do what?” Remilia asks in fake innocence as she uses her fork to take a minuscule bite out of her own slice of cake. Her gaze never leaves your face.

“The magic,” you mumble, “back in the gardens, with Sakuya.”

“Would I know, Alice?” Remilia smiles wanly before bringing another piece of cake to her lips. “My… delicious. But as I was saying, I was actually hoping you could tell me that, Alice. That’s why I called you here, after all~.”

“But I don’t know…” you whisper, “I don’t know anything. I couldn’t even kill that girl… that thing, back in the forest. I saw her. She was right in front of me, but I froze up. I was afraid.”

“You would be,” Remilia asserts, taking a sip of absinthe from her own glass as she scrutinizes you with her eyes, her scarlet gaze roaming over your body as though she were trying to capture every detail about you in her memory, “considering how you tell me you saw her in the forest, fear would be a natural reaction. What matters, of course, is that you forced yourself past that fear and went to rescue those faeries… a worthless waste of energy, of course, considering that faeries barely class as living beings, but…”

She nods solemnly. “To be able to master your fear like that is still quite commendable.”

“…thank you,” you whisper. Though you’ve learned Remilia is a sweet, compelling talker, you have a feeling that she rarely hands out real praise like this. “But I still couldn’t kill her, and still, nothing’s changed…”

Remilia pushes aside her half-finished slice of cake as she regards you with a strangely satisfied smirk. “Anybody else would say you talk about killing too lightly, Alice.”

“I’m being serious, milady!” You perk up, biting your lower lip. “I know it doesn’t sound… right… but when I think of that thing…”

“Oh?” Remilia smiles. “Your resolve is admirable, but let’s assume for a moment you really were hallucinating her appearance. The magic resonance we’ve established between you and the beasts definitely raises the possibility.”

“I wasn’t-“

“Let’s assume, Alice,” Remilia cuts you off, raising a finger. “And please, don’t interrupt me. It makes me want to rip your throat out.”

You grow silent. That last threat, though spoken softly, sounds unsettlingly serious.

“As I was saying, dear,“ Remilia goes on, “let’s assume this. Remove the monster from your sight. Imagine, instead, a beautiful face, with skin soft and pale, imagine blonde hair as soft and wavy as your own, imagine beautiful lips that form a smile that stops your heart, and imagine bright green eyes as wide and expressive as your own.”

“Now, Alice,” Remilia stands up, stretching her wings to their fullest extent. The sudden action startles you, causing you to draw back in surprise. In her right hand she holds a long, thin cigarette, which she lights in a practiced motion with a spark of magic, sending smoke billowing around her. “Now, imagine the cold steel of your rapier, imagine its reflection in her eyes, imagine the blade as it pierces her soft breast, imagine the sweet virgin blood gushing from her chest, and imagine yourself taking everything, absolutely everything, not from a monster but from another human being. Can you do that, Alice? Can you imagine it? Can you carry it out?”

“Milady-“

There is a blur of motion, and Remilia is standing not a step in front of you, and her scarlet eyes seem to fill the whole world as she casts down her terrible judgment. “Can you do that? Can you?” Her smile turns positively demonic, baring the entirety of her razor sharp fangs. “You can’t do it, right, Alice~? You can’t do it, how saaaad~…”

You look down, grimacing. How can your resolve last against such overbearing might? And yet…
Fists clenched and trembling, you force yourself to look back up and again meet those incredible crimson eyes.

“I…” you choke out… “I can.”

Remilia draws back. “What?” she asks mockingly, eyebrows raised in disbelief. “It’s not just a matter of words, Alice!”

“I can!” you repeat, standing up yourself, your willpower returning to you with each syllable you speak, your previous sadness forgotten. You’re not going to give in to the vampire. “I can!” You look Remilia in the face, green eyes blazing, “Even if she isn’t as monstrous as I might have seen her in the forest, even if she is as human as I am, if her actions are clearly evil, if her soul is as rotten and disgusting as what her presence made me feel… I can! And she would deserve it!”

Once you say that, Remilia stares at you in silent disbelief for a few seconds. Then, she takes a long, deep drag from her cigarette, exhales, and starts to giggle uncontrollably, clutching a hand to her stomach as she bends down from the effort. Eventually, her giggle turns into a laugh, and then she arcs her back, wings and arms spreading as she stares at the ceiling and descends into full blown cackling.

“Really, Alice?” she chokes out between bouts of laughter, “Really? How… how splendid!”

At first, the derisiveness is such that you can’t help but react with anger, fists clenching and unclenching as your face grows red from the embarrassment. But as Remilia continues to laugh, it seems more and more like she’s not just laughing at you, but at something else, something too subtle for you to grasp. Just what is going through her mind?

After some time, Remilia’s laughter finally winds down, and as she recovers her breath she looks at you with a mixture of pride and amusement. Then, before you can quite process what is happening, she walks up to you, stands on her tiptoes, and plants a soft kiss on your cheek.

“Milady!” you draw back, half angry and half flustered, “What are you doing?”

“Splendid,” Remilia repeats softly, smiling at you in satisfaction, “and you really meant it, too… Alice!”

Remilia reaches out, a soft hand caressing your cheek as she giggles contentedly. “To be honest, dear, I don’t think you quite know what you’re talking about.”

That sets you off, but as you open your mouth for an angry reply, Remilia raises a hand to stop you. “However, seeing that kind of resolve in a girl like you is truly pleasing. Alice,” Remilia once more locks her gaze with yours, and her expression turns solemn, “I can guarantee you one thing, if nothing else. After what I’ve seen…” Her smile widens. “When you face that girl again, Alice, you will hold no fear of her anymore. Your fear will be gone, and in its place will be your bravery, and your rage, focused and solemn if you believe your cause is righteous. And your hatred, too, if your enemy’s soul is as rotten as you believe. And you will fight, and your strength shall be like lightning. And then, then we will see if you can make good of your claims. I guarantee this, Alice. This is the word of the Scarlet Devil!
>> No. 40527
File 127961391483.jpg - (409.99KB , 600x557 , 4b05e7437156b07092bf9a74263bb60b.jpg ) [iqdb]
40527
The empty courtyard of the shrine is much the same as it ever was, identical this visit to the other times the girl had come to the building. Alice’s steps echo on the cold flagstones, but for where weeds have taken over in the space between the rock, cracking it as the grey of the stone is replaced with green, the plants bearing silent witness to the fact that the shrine’s primary inhabitant could not quite maintain the building by herself. That the courtyard was cleanly swept spoke of at least an attempt to do so, however, though the fact that the dry leaves and twigs had been arranged into a messy pile in the far corner and were already being blown back showed evidence that the effort wasn’t quite whole-hearted.

A tiny smile crosses Alice’s lips. Reimu’s laid back and often even lazy nature clashed routinely with a grudging sense of duty she felt as the shrine’s keeper and which no doubt left her feeling a little guilty about neglecting her chores. The results were often rather schizophrenic, such as sweeping all the leaves littering the courtyard into a pile but not bothering to keep them away from the blowing wind, or cleaning the inside of the shrine and leaving it seemingly spotless, while all the while the rug that adorned the kitchen grew increasingly bloated from all the dirt shoved underneath it, or using magic to fly to the roof of the shrine with a pail of water for cleaning, but forgetting the bucket, leaving it there until a stiff breeze toppled it, giving Suika a week-old, brown, and profoundly stagnant shower.

’Just where are those two, anyway?’

Walking up the wooden steps that mark the entrance to the main building, there are few signs of life in the shrine, and silence reigns supreme.

The girl pauses, unsettled. It had taken her quite a bit of effort to force herself to come here, to confide in Reimu, even if only barely. For the shrine maiden not to be here left her feeling somewhat betrayed and more than a bit irritated.

At any rate, if the shrine maiden had left, it had to have been recently - placed on the floor, by Alice’s feet, lies a dish stacked with at least a dozen puffed rice cakes alongside a paper note. “For visitors”, it reads in an untidy scrawl. Bending down, the girl picks up a cake to find it faintly warm and somewhat irregularly shaped – Reimu must have made them herself, she deduces. It’s also, to her surprise, covered in a brown, sweet smelling substance that causes Alice to draw back in astonishment even as she smiles broadly in spite of herself. Chocolate? Impossible…

“Hm!”

A crunchy, delicious bite confirms it, however, and for a brief second the girl’s troubles fade away at the taste of the unexpected treat. Chocolate was a rarity in Gensokyo – she’d be surprised if the villagers of the main human settlement even knew what a cocoa bean was. The sweet had to have been brought from the outside world, a rare thing in and of itself. Must have been that shopkeeper…

“Enjoying yourself?” a soft voice rings out.

Alice turns around, somewhat startled. “You snuck up on me, Reimu,” she answers sullenly.
The girl with whom Alice talks looks at least a pair of years younger than her but is nearly just as tall and, though slender, somewhat more curvy – she, unlike the magus, would never skip a meal. Her demeanor, too, is different, more relaxed and in this case, playful. Her bright blue eyes sparkle with mischief as she smiles, a pale hand toying with a long lock of silky black hair.

“That I did,” she admits, “I’m not the kind of person you’d expect to be sneaky, so it’s fun when I get to startle someone~.”

Alice sighs in disapproval, before looking down at the puffed rice cake in her hand. “Did you make these?”

“Yes,” Reimu nods, before her smile turns into a frown, “and you had better like them, because they took a lot of effort. Suika kept overdoing the fire and burning them.”

“I do like them,” Alice assures her with a tiny smile, “the chocolate is good.”

“Thank you.”

Once that is said, silence is made as the two girls calmly regard each other, neither quite sure what to say. Though time has brought them closer, their relationship had started as one of distrust, born out of Reimu’s initial inability to see Alice as truly human once she’d realized how innately close the girl was to magic. And the nature of humanity was the last thing Alice ever wanted to discuss.

The issue was an emotionally close one, after all.

At least it had been so ever since she bled on the book.

Therefore, though after many fights and one harrowing incident on top of another, they’d finally crossed the ill-defined threshold of friendship, awkward moments like this, where each one couldn’t help but thread lightly around the other, were quite common.

“You didn’t visit for a long time,” Reimu finally breaks the silence, a worried frown drawing itself across her face, “Marisa told me you more or less just disappeared inside your house for the past week. We were worried, and-“

“I’ll be honest here,” Alice cuts in, biting her lower lip. Her bright green eyes look mournful, dull. “I have a serious problem. We… I need to talk.”

A pause.

“I’ll bring the tea,” Reimu states softly.
Alice nods, and the shrine maiden withdraws into the inside of her home, leaving her to sit on the wooden floor and finish her rice cake with a couple of tiny bites.

After a space of several minutes, Reimu returns with a tray bearing two cups of sweet-smelling tea and a steaming porcelain kettle. Placing it all on the floor with care, she sits beside Alice and hands her her drink before taking a slow, deliberate sip from her own cup.

“Suika?” Alice half-asks, half-whispers as she takes the cup from Reimu’s soft hands.

The shrine maiden looks off into the distance, eyebrows knitting together into a frown.

“Drunk,” she states, her voice flat as she lightly taps her nose with the tip of her index finger before taking another sip from her cup and sighing in a mixture of pleasure and disapproval. “Drunk,” she repeats, “but not here, this time. She left for the mountain this morning.”

“I see,” Alice nods, stretching out a pale hand to grab another puffed rice cake from the plate, running her fingers over the rough texture before taking a nibble, “and the chocolate?”

“Rinnosuke got some,” Reimu answers off-handedly as she observes Alice with growing concern in her dark blue eyes, full lips curving down in dissatisfaction.

“Look, Alice,” she says. Her voice is soft, calming. “If it’s serious…”

She pauses, carefully picking her next words as Alice’s green eyes meet her own and she sees that her gaze is as sad and tired as the pale, statuesque features of her face.

“I won’t… I won’t judge you, Alice,” Reimu finally asserts with a tiny, tentative smile. “I… I may have done that before, but we’re friends now, right? You can trust me.”

“Trust you,” Alice repeats in a whisper, looking away, “yes, that’s why I came here, I suppose…”

Taking a deep breath, she places her rice cake back on the plate, then smoothes out the folds of her blue dress over her knees, only for her delicate hands to tense and grasp the fabric in a nervous pull as she tries to speak.

“I made…” she begins. Wording it is difficult, she can’t tell the shrine maiden all of the truth, she can’t reveal what she was trying to do that night, so she must be careful. “There’s something terribly-“

She doesn’t finish. At that moment, a strong breeze sweeps through the shrine’s courtyard and buffets the two girls, causing them to draw back with a flinch as a shadow blurs past their eyes and a figure clothed in ominous flowing black descends from the heavens, her feet echoing loudly against the flagstones as she lands with extravagant style.

“Is that…”

The girl says nothing as she sweeps her long bamboo broomstick from under her legs, twirling it with a grandiose motion that ends with it nearly breaking as she slams its head on the ground, causing a gust of wind that pushes back the long brim of her massive, conical witch’s hat to reveal a pair of wide, mischievous eyes, colored an unnatural shade of gold.

“You all see me rollin’,” she states, a broad grin taking over her cute lips and revealing her pearly white teeth to the world. Slowly, she brings a dainty hand up, first to push away a few stray strands of blonde hair from her face, then to deliberately push her hat down, covering her eyes to give herself an aura of mystery.

The girl maintains that pose, broom on one hand, the other hand on her hat, for about half a minute. Then, as if heeding a cue known only to her, she lets go of her hat and snaps her right arm forward, pointing at her two friends as her grin widens.

“You hatin’.”

There is silence.

“’risa,” Reimu mutters, recovering from the stunt in a few seconds and punctuating her words with a long sip of tea. “Hi.”

“Marisa,” Alice mumbles, not really looking at her.

“Long time no see, Reimu, Alice!” Marisa states and discards her broom without a thought. Boldly, she walks up to the other two girls and grabs a puffed rice cake from the plate set beside Alice. “But first, feed me. I knew it was you who bought the other box of chocolate from Kourin, Reimu…”

“’risa, no.”

“Huh?” Marisa looks up from the rice cake she is about to bite to find Reimu staring at her impassively before looking down at Alice, who shakes her head, then looks back at Marisa with a sadness and concern the witch was not at all prepare for.

“Oh shit,” Marisa swears and pulls down her hat, wringing it in her hands as her mane of long blonde hair is blown back by the action, “I just… something’s bad here, isn’t it?” She grimaces; situations like these are not something she is quite ready to deal with. They dredge up bad memories.

“’risa, now’s not really the best time…”

“Wait, no,” Alice cuts in and some of her energy seems to return to her as her back straightens and she fixes Marisa a determined stare. “Sit down, Marisa. Please, this concerns you too.”

“Oh, yeesh,” Marisa obeys and sits down gingerly beside Alice. “And here I thought you’d finally come out to visit because you were…”

She takes one good look at Alice. Though the girl is usually subdued, she seems colder, paler, more stoic than usual, her lips set in a thin, grim line. Shanghai and Hourai, her perpetual escorts often made lively and playful by the magic she controls them with, now lie stiff by her knees, staring unmoving into the distance.

“…happy…” Marisa trails off with a scowl, suddenly feeling quite stupid, and looks to Reimu for guidance. The shrine maiden looks equally concerned, but says nothing.
“Marisa,” Alice begins after what feels like an eternity. That old fear invades her chest once more, and for half a second she pauses, not sure if she can trust the two girls sitting beside her. “Marisa, have you noticed anything strange going on in the forest? Anything at all?”

The witch girl looks off into the distance, thinking. “The night-ghasts,” she answers after a moment’s pondering. “They’ve gotten more aggressive.”

“Night-ghasts?” Reimu asks, curious. “What are those?”

“Wisps,” says Alice with a wan smile “think of how faeries are made. It’s the same process, wild magic clashing together until it forms a living being, even if that defies every law. I hate them.”

“They’re a lot more primitive than faeries,” Marisa cuts in as she notices Reimu’s bemused expression, “not animals, and not quite wild youkai either. They’re annoying little fuckers… they don’t think, not like you or me or even an animal would. They’re like… representations, ya know? They take on the nature of the magic that formed them, and they’re usually born in the darker, uglier parts of the forest, so they’re pure aggression. The whispering you hear deep in the forest at night is the sound they make when they fly.”

“Anyways,” she goes on, putting her hands behind her head and bending backwards to stretch her back with a sigh, “they’ve been getting nastier, bunching up together to make big wisps that I’ve actually had to fight off once or twice, when I stay out late nabbing mushrooms. A pack of them even tried to lead me off a slope and into a hole in the ground not too long ago.” Marisa makes a face, as though recalling the event fills her with distaste. “I could’ve broken something, yeesh.”

“But you haven’t seen any faeries in the forest recently, have you?” Alice asks softly, looking off into the distant sky. She can feel her heart pounding in her chest, hoping against hope that maybe the answer won’t be what she knows she will hear.

“No, actually,” Marisa frowns, tapping her chin with a finger as she thinks back, “I haven’t. Not even the really tiny ones that like to flutter by the roof of my house. How did you know that?” She shoots Alice a questioning look, almost suspicious in spite of herself. The dollmaker notices it just long enough to feel a tinge of fear. She should never have come here, she knows. Why is she even telling them all this? It’s not like she could not deal with the beasts herself; Shanghai, Hourai, Russia and London had been more than a match for pack that outnumbered them three to one. It’s not logical, Alice realizes, to warn Reimu of something she’s capable enough to keep quiet, not logical of having both her and Marisa suspect her. At most, she should have just told Marisa to be more careful around the forest and then quietly solved the problem herself. So why is she here, then, to tell half-truths (for even if she is the cause of what lurks in the forest she could not admit it to these people) to Reimu, who has never trusted her, and to Marisa, whom she has never understood? It must be, she knows, her own weakness, the same cowardice that led her to fail that night now bringing her to seek pity from people she is not even certain will not turn on her at the drop of a hat. She could still leave now, she knows. But…

She looks at Marisa, frowning but concerned, and then at Reimu, whose bright blue eyes shine with undisguised worry.

“I know that because I know that those faeries are all dead,” she mumbles.

“What!?” Marisa draws back, and confusion and surprise flash through her features. Out of view, Alice can hear Reimu gasp. “…the hell do you mean?”

“The faeries,” Alice repeats, “they’re dead. Something in the forest is killing them.”

Marisa shakes her head. “…I’d think I’d have noticed that going on. What are you…”

“’risa,” Reimu speaks up, putting a finger to her lips, “shhh. You’re so excitable sometimes… and, Alice…”

“What do you mean by all of this?” she asks the girl, sharp eyebrows knitting together, “And… no, why are you like this?”

Alice perks up, glaring back at her. “Like what?”

“Well, the whole barricading yourself in your house and then-“

“Marisa!” Reimu sighs, exasperated, then shakes her head and looks back at Alice with worry. “We haven’t seen you for weeks, okay? And then, you come here and… well, we might not know each other that closely, but I have known you for long enough to know that you’re a lot better at reigning in your feelings than I am, so seeing you look so worried is making me more than a little nervous. Something… something bad happened, right? If there’s something wrong in the forest that you’ve been having to deal with without saying anything…”

Timidly, Reimu places a small hand on Alice’s shoulder. The girl stiffens at the touch, but does not move away. “You know I’m your friend, right?” she whispers, more to herself than to Alice, “I thought I’d at least… “

In a smooth movement, Alice stands up, and Shanghai and Hourai, ever obedient, float up behind her. “This is getting nowhere.”

“Alice…” Reimu withdraws her hand forcefully, as though burnt. She sounds more than a bit hurt.

“Hey now,” Marisa stands up as well, adjusting her hat with one hand to keep it from falling off from the sudden movement. “There’s no need to be such a b-“

“I don’t mean it that way,” Alice cuts in, turning around. It is not an excuse, but a statement. She looks resolute, tired but unwavering. “I… I need you to come with me back to the forest. This is something you have to see for yourselves.”

Reimu stands up herself and meets her eyes. The shrine maiden’s growing alarm and warm concern meet and clash with Alice’s inscrutable pride, a cold dignity that nevertheless still bears within it a tiny plea for trust.

“I’ll go,” she whispers. Behind her, Marisa sighs, then starts stuffing the remaining puffed rice cakes into the pockets of her apron.

“What?” she asks, miffed at the questioning looks the two other girls shoot her, “They’re for the road. I'm hungry~!”
>> No. 40528
File 127961394419.jpg - (334.44KB , 450x600 , 5d2574d9112057e0c4139d0fd7eeaef2.jpg ) [iqdb]
40528
Many hours later, the mahogany door to Alice’s home slams shut, the sound soon followed by the click of three locks set in quick succession. Shanghai and Hourai, ever obedient, float down from beside the girl’s shoulders and place themselves on a dirty coffee table, losing all motion once they do.

Evening has fallen, and Alice is alone, resting her back against the front door, her gaze set firmly on her feet.

She’d lied, she knew.

She could have told Reimu and Marisa everything, told them how she had opened the book, told them about the spell she had cast two weeks ago.

…about her dream? Her ambitions? Her weaknesses?

Alice clenches her fists. She could never tell anybody of that. It was, after all, her fight and hers alone. One she might win, one she might lose… one she had long since felt she was losing, since she’d freed herself from that demon’s grasp only to find herself beaten once more when she’d attempted to finish things once and for all.

But this game isn’t over yet. Reimu and Marisa had been informed of the ongoing incident in the forest and would know to watch themselves.
As for her…

She is thankful for the fact that their little expedition found no more of the beasts in the forest, only the blasted trees and cocoons. That, at least, ensured that neither Reimu nor Marisa was put in danger for her sake. But she also knows the reason for that, and what she has to do.

They must be following her orders, she thinks to herself, and thus that demon must have taken them elsewhere.

She curses to herself, withdrawing from the door as she viciously rips her blue silk cloak from her shoulders and throws it over a nearby chair. This is her fault, and her fault only. She had known for a fact that the demon wandered Gensokyo, she had heard the rumors of the murders in the field of sunflowers.
So why had she ignored them? Why had she preferred not to listen, to fool herself into thinking that the demon would stay in her hidden realm, far from this world or the next, untouchable and distant?

‘A coward, a fool. You will never live up to him, you will never defeat her, you will never achieve your dream. Why don’t you just give up and die?’

“I’m not a coward,” she whispers hoarsely. The darkness of her home predictably gives back no answer.

But someone does.

“No,” the soft voice of a woman rings out throw the shadows, “no, you’re not.”

Obligatory BGM: Haze[ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9TjulOCiJw ]

Alice stumbles forward, angered and surprised by the intrusion, a hand reaching for the magic wires in the pocket of her dress. But then she stops.

“You need not fear me,” the interloper mutters, and her voice is so soft and sure and soothing that it gives Alice pause. “I’m not like the vampire.”

“Then who are you?”

Several meters in front of her, the darkness – no, the room itself – seems to shimmer, like a heat wave. Then, there is a sound, a hiss of displaced air, and a spark of magic as every candle in the house is suddenly lit by an unseen hand, bathing the area in a warm light.

“This is where I should question who you are, or ask you what’s in a name,” the woman whispers as she steps out from the shimmering portal, which closes behind her with no sound other than the soft rustle of her long dress, “but you don’t deserve such arrogance. I know perfectly well who you are, Alice Margatroid, and my name is Yukari.”

“Yukari…”

She has never seen her before, only heard of her, and the words cannot compare with the sight of her. She stands in the center of the room, tall and beautiful, her slender, statuesque body covered by a long violet dress, a masterwork of scintillating silk. Her pale face is fair, delicate but sad, and she gazes at Alice with unearthly golden eyes framed by a cascade of wavy blonde hair that reaches all the way down to her ankles.

“What are you doing here?” the girl asks after pausing to take a breath. The question is said in a low voice, almost hesitant, but still straightforward. Even at a sight like this, she refuses to be overwhelmed.

“I’m here to help,” the woman whispers, taking a seat in a nearby chair, a velvet-gloved hand reaching out to softly touch Shanghai’s hair by the coffee table as she gives the dolls, and then Alice herself, a look of deep regret tinged by… familiarity? “I owe you quite a bit, after all.”

Alice frowns, and suspicion etches itself on her features as her heart begins to race. “Help?” she asks, “owe me? What are you talking about?”

“Tell me,” the woman answers, “tell me who I am.” At a glare from Alice, she smiles wanly and shakes her head. “Please, humor me,” she pleads, golden eyes wide, “I’m not toying with you, if that’s what you think… I would never toy with you.”

“You are the youkai of boundaries who created the barrier that separates Gensokyo from the outside world,” Alice states curtly, “That is all I know. I still don’t understand what you’re getting at, here.”

Yukari sighs, but nods at Alice, as if her answer were everything she’d been expecting. “You really don’t remember, then… of course not, considering…”

“Considering what, exactly?”

Yukari’s golden eyes bore into Alice’s green, and in her gaze is reflected a deep compassion. “Come now,” she says without answering the girl’s question, for Alice realizes –somehow, someway- that Yukari is not talking to her, but to herself. “Come now, try and remember, what form did I use to have?”

A cold breeze sweeps throughout the house. The candles flicker, are extinguished, then are ignited once more.

And in that brief space of darkness, Alice knows.

It’s an old woman, a travelling Jewish refugee, her back bent and crooked, her face completely obscured by a long woolen cloak. Her oddly youthful hands hold a book, a leather-bound tome patterned with intricate seals resembling flowers.

“It’s a family heirloom, but there is no way I can keep it. Here, take it, girl, take it…”

’…and good luck. You’ll need it, Alice!’


“You…” the girl gasps as the seconds-long memory fades and she is left staring at the woman in awe. “…you? That’s…”

“You’re lying,” she finally declares, frowning, “you’re lying, playing with my head. I’ve heard about you from Reimu, and what she told me about you was nothing like this. You simply learned something about me and have come to torture me, just like everyone else. “ Her tone turns vicious, and the hold of her hand on the wires in her pocket tightens. “Get out.”

“Please listen,” Yukari asks of her, and once more her soothing tone is like a balm that neutralizes the venom rising to the surface in Alice’s soul. “Please.”

Alice shakes her head. “I don’t understand. What you’re trying to tell me is…”

“…impossible?” Yukari cuts in with a sad smile. “I have lived for more than a thousand years. Having been there back then is not at all impossible for me.”

“But…”

“Half a century ago I gave a very special little girl a very special book, one perhaps far more potent than I could have possibly understood. I thought I was doing something good, helping someone unique in the harsh times that surrounded her. But that book led you on a journey, and that journey led to…”

“Kazami.” The name is spoken with a hatred so fresh and thorough Alice feels like it will burn her tongue.

“…yes,” Yukari agrees. “…and I was a fool. I forgot about the girl, and she suffered. Only recently did I learn this. And now…”
She pauses, thinking on her next words. “I’ve observed the forest. I felt the magic of your ritual. And that woman is involved, I can assure you.”

“…and I’m going to go after her,” Alice says after a second’s pause. “This… this has gone on long enough.”

Yukari nods. “I cannot defeat her head-on. And I cannot presume to remove the suffering she might have caused you. But I can help you. Please let me help you.”

------------------------

So...

[]"Very well. I shall tell you of the game I share with that demon..."

[]"I don't trust you."

[]Write-in
>> No. 40530
[x]"I don't trust you."
-[x] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[x] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.

YES. Finally, the story of the most adorable doll since Shanghai is back! Although this update was much more Alice than Alice, if you know what I mean.
>> No. 40531
Huzzah! The epicness of this update did not disappoint. The BGM was very effective, too.

There was rather a lot more Alice than Alice, but I love the multiple perspectives.

...I have no idea what to vote for though. Mulling it over for a while.
>> No. 40532
It's back! Hooray!

[c] >>40530

This should do for now, unless people come up with something else.
>> No. 40537
>>40530
Is that a 'yes' with a but after or a 'no' with a but at the end?

[x]"I don't trust you- but I'll let you 'help' me anyway. Here's what I know: (...)"
-[x] "By the way, I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
>> No. 40543
[x]"I don't trust you."
-[x] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[x] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.

Also
'They see me rollin''
I died.
>> No. 40544
[x]>>40537

Glad for you to be back. Keep writing.
>> No. 40546
[x]"I don't trust you."
-[x] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[x] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.

Suspicious.
>> No. 40551
File 127967916248.jpg - (222.92KB , 1000x750 , 7e6b44b59cdb16efe2a215d0f06a6788.jpg ) [iqdb]
40551
Best entrance ever.


[x]"I don't trust you."
-[x] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[x] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.
>> No. 40553
[X]"I don't trust you."
-[X] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[X] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.

So Yuka's the Big Bad of this story? We had better get our Alice to see that.
>> No. 40555
[X]"I don't trust you."
-[X] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[X] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.

no point tide pissing now.
>> No. 40558
[x]"Very well. I shall tell you of the game I share with that demon..."
I normally wouldn't trust Yukari at all, but like it or not, she did try and help Alice by giving her that book. Presuming, of course, that that is how it actually went.
On the other hand... Someone Yukari cant beat? Yuuka must be god-like in this setting. Maybe its the ultimate magic she took from the Grimoire?
>> No. 40559
Awesome.

[X]"I don't trust you."
-[X] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[X] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.
>> No. 40561
[x]"I don't trust you- but I'll let you 'help' me anyway. Here's what I know: (...)"
-[x] "By the way, I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
>> No. 40568
>>40558
in canon, Yuuka and Yukari along with Flandre and the 2 onis to be top of the bunch. Flan and Yuuka would prove most troublesome just due to their high raw power. I think Yukari's weakness is that she can't easily handle equal strength foes due to holding back so much of the time.
>> No. 40574
>>40568
>she can't easily handle equal strength foes due to holding back so much of the time
like Yuuka's been going around attacking people at full power all the time? this logic makes no sense
>> No. 40577
>>40574
Yuuka doesn't go about picking things, but I'd imagine she ended a great number of them. She isn't one to chronically hold back. I believe Yuuka to be of the school of thought that the weak are to be crush underheel, not really to be toyed with.
>> No. 40604
>>40577

I agree with you. However, on the note that Yukari would have a hard time handling equal strength foes due to holding back - could this be because if she went all out in combat, that would be the end of Gensokyo? If we went all out, we'd go out with nukes blazing and then some. And to hell with the Earth and humanity.
>> No. 40609
>>40604
Possibly. I don't think even duel borders would be enough to contain an all out battle between S Ranks, more so if one of them is Yuuka or Flandre.
>> No. 40620
Power levels in this setting are defined both by the plot and by the utter lack of shame I possess when it comes to selectively ignoring canon, so they may or may not reflect what is seen in the games. From what you've read (if for whatever reason you are masochistic enough to read the utter tripe I write while paying actual attention), look back upon the power levels displayed.

From seeing that, do you believe any battle in this setting seems likely to include enough power being swung around to break Gensokyo, or are you starting to think that maybe you should try a different approach? For now, either answer is valid.

Then again, this is all assuming Yukari isn't lying. Or evil. Or both. She could be. She could also be the only boss-tier individual Alice can have as a trustworthy ally. Who knows? You certainly don't, and since most of the time I'm writing this story under the influence of severe sleep deprivation, I only have the vaguest idea, myself.

Update on Sunday at the latest.

...don't laugh, I'm being serious. This one's going to be shorter, so I should be done with it sooner.
>> No. 40622
>>40620
Try to catch up on your sleep please.
>> No. 40711
[x]"I don't trust you."
-[x] "I've heard that you're the most powerful being in Gensokyo, I didn't think there was anything you couldn't defeat head on"
-[x] If she gives a good enough argument, listen to her anyway.

Epic update is epic.
>> No. 40712
>>40620

> Yukari is evil

Oh god it's AoD all over again.
>> No. 40717
>>40712
Hard to say... there isn't much purely good, even on the protagonists' PoV.
>> No. 40840
>>40525
>but finally, finally, we've ended the introductory arc of this thing
what

are you fucking kidding me





This is awesome news.

Also, NEW THEORY and thank god for more plot-revealan.
Alice tried creating an automatic doll with the Grimoire and/or the Ultimate Magic and/or the remnants of the Ultimate Magic.
Something went wrong and she toasted it.
That doll is Alice II.

Also, loved Marisa's entrance, and I don't usually like the witch.
>> No. 40845
>>40840
I sure hoe this CYOA lasts 'till the end.

And I like your route, but I think that Alice bis is just a side effect, even if it was the original purpose of Vainilla Alice's experiment.
>> No. 40893
File 128071993731.jpg - (0.99MB , 1050x1400 , 11960789.jpg ) [iqdb]
40893
>>40840
>NEW THEORY
...was anyone not thinking that?
>> No. 40979
>>40893
I'd started typing that near the beginning of this update, before it became painfully clear.

...I was still kind of hoping she was the Ultimate Magic itself, though. But I guess in a way, she is, which is what my original theory was way back when, so I'm right enough to make me happy.
>> No. 41017
>>40893
Not everyone, not quite.

I've been entertaining the notion that Alice II is the real Alice. In trying to create an autonomous doll with a sense of self, she accidentally (possibly due to the grimore's incomplete nature) gave it her sense of self.

Her body still acts under the enhancement magic she's placed on it throughout her lifetime, which a newly created doll probably wouldn't have time to work up. Also, there's the whole uncanny-valley-up-to-eleven thing going on when Alice II looks at Alice. It's not an entirely unreasonable reaction to looking at something that's more you than you currently are, but less you than you were (before you stopped being you, mostly).

I don't remember if this possibility was brought up before, so contingency sage.
>> No. 41021
>>41017
Hard to tell seeing how Alice II seems on the Malnurished side the last we saw her.
>> No. 41185
File 128132786446.jpg - (258.85KB , 850x1235 , sample_27977af0a6a498bbafa797e0377c20b6cd9370ea[1].jpg ) [iqdb]
41185
How goes the next update?
>> No. 41186
>>41185

...um... holy shit. I uh, lost track of time. Bad. I could have sworn I put this update up not two weeks ago, but it's marked as July 20th. Holy shit. My little delay turned out massive. Fuck.

Fuck. Gah... mark my words, you'll get it, if not tonight, by tomorrow, doesn't matter if I have to stay up all night. Fuck.
>> No. 41188
>>41186
Stay up all night to do an update isn't a good idea.
>> No. 41227
>>41186

Neither is rushing it.
>> No. 41393
>>40893

Good. I'm glad to know the deeper meaning remains inscrutable.

Here, have some plot.
>> No. 41394
File 128171104189.jpg - (1.05MB , 877x1239 , putrid carnations.jpg ) [iqdb]
41394
The magpie fluttered down, navigating the raking canopy of the forest until it finally reached the waiting hand of its master.
“That’s the last one,” Marisa muttered as her familiar dissolved the moment it came into contact with her skin. “There was a fourth, but it got eaten by a hawk. Fucker. I hope he chokes when the magic wears off and it vanishes from his intestines.” Sighing in frustration, she closed her eyes, reviewing the construct’s memories.

“Nothing,” she finally spoke. “This is the last clearing.”

“But we’ve found nothing but corpses!” Reimu protested, tapping the mangled, broken body of a mutated black fairy with her right foot, gorgeous blue eyes wet with tears of disgust at the sight. “There’s got to be something else… things that can build nests like this and do these things to the faeries… they won’t just vanish in a night, ‘risa!”

“I don’t know, okay?” Marisa snapped. “I didn’t have any idea these things had even happened until today. Alice, do you have any idea how these things could have just abandoned their nests and moved away this quickly? I mean, you fought them, right?”

The blonde girl heard the witch, but said nothing, eyes closed as she tried her very best to keep her emotions in check even as her chest burned with a murderous hatred.
She knew the answer.

’Kazami.’

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

She still remembers those days, the memories crisp and clear as a mirror’s reflection, and vividly recalls how she thought, back then, that they would last forever.

Back then she was both twelve and sixty-one years younger than she is now, depending on whether she measures her age as how much time had passed for the world, or how much time had passed for her. She still recalls how she’d looked back then, a tiny ball of energy in the shape of a blonde, green eyed little girl with a smile that shone like the sun. A child who would walk up to a mirror so she could arrogantly gaze at her own pretty reflection, only to be distracted seconds later by the thought of meeting that reflection in the flesh, and who would then pace around and tap away at the looking glass, wondering if one day her story books would come true and she’d be able to step inside and wander an opposite world, one whose sights and sounds were fed not by the drudgery of reality but by a spark of innocence and wonder she has now long since lost.

She recalls how every night she would dream illusions of gold and adventure, and in the morning awaken on her soft bed, the warmth of the sun kissing her skin as her eyes opened to marvel at the shapes she saw around her. Her dolls, each one different from the last; the bright wizard, the intrepid hero, the untouchable princess.

She remembers their carved and painted faces with painful clarity. Unlike the dolls she would later create, born from ruthless calculation and miracles of magic, these ones did not possess a true human likeness, could not ever me mistaken as real when seen from a distance. They were toys, as unlike her warrior battalion of silk and steel as a cloud from a tree. But what they did have was bright life within their eyes, life perhaps born only of her wishful imagination, but life nonetheless. They possessed that spark she now dearly misses, for they were not hollow embodiments of her will, but companions, friends in each and every one of her adventures. Unlike with Shanghai or Hourai, she never questioned, not even once, the fact that to her they were living beings. She would come awake and smile, and because their smile was hers, they would smile back.

And of course, these dolls had a maker.

She remembers leaving her room each morning, following the scent of breakfast served with a kind smile, she remembers the thin, calloused hands and how often they would stop to pat her head or ruffle her hair. She remembers the brushes and the carving knife, the calculating brown eyes that would nevertheless soften whenever their gaze fell upon her. She remembers the whispered stories to put her to sleep and the long hours of talking about anything and nothing while she waited for him to finish his next masterpiece.

In short, she remembers her father.

She had no mother. He did not like to talk about her, so she never asked. To her, he was enough.

Her father was a grand artist, a master painter who used his tools to craft wonder. Indeed, some of his more appreciative customers and admirers had taken to calling him a wizard, and the girl herself was always just one step away from truly believing he held a strange power. His skill was so prodigious, he often found himself in high demand all throughout Europe, his talents sought after by the rich and the cultured, who beckoned him to travel to their stately homes. And since he would sooner die than leave his daughter alone, he would take her with him, showing her a world vaster than she had ever imagined. In this way, the girl saw the great cities of the world – Paris, London, Berlin, Rome. And even during their journeys, her father doted upon her like a princess, and so she was without nothing. For her, there was no place that could not be visited, no story that could not be heard.

And, most importantly, no lesson that could not be learned.

Regardless of where they were or what he had to do, her father would always take the time to teach her what he knew. Little things, at first – “cut the cloth here,” “place the carving knife there”, but soon enough the hidden twists and grander details. “You’re truly gifted, Alice. When you grow up I’ll tell you that secret, Alice. You’ll definitely succeed me, won’t you, Alice?”

“Thank you, father,” she would answer. “I promise you I will, father!” she would swear. She loved him. He was her teacher, the only one she would ever have. Indeed, even today, when she fears her knowledge is insufficient, when her skill and courage come up short, when she simply feels her talent is just not bright enough, she still quietly pleads for his aid.

”Show me again your craft, dollmaker.”

But those days had to end, at some point.

It was the spring of the year 1939, and Romania, much like the rest of Europe, was in deep turmoil. Political instability had become a fact of life, and clashes between rival factions a common occurrence on the streets of Bucharest. Rumours of a potential coup against the King by the fascist members of the Iron Guard had gone from unfounded fear-mongering to a frightening possibility that had more than once threatened to become reality. Alice herself had not been allowed out of the house in weeks. It mattered little to her, at first, for the only reason for her to leave would be to play with other children her age, most of whom she already considered of less importance and intelligence than diseased vermin. However, this rule had also started to apply to outings where her father would have gone somewhere and taken her with him, albeit occasionally subverted by the fact that he seemed just as worried about leaving her alone in their home with every door bolted as he did keeping her right beside him in the streets.

It worried her. Her father was usually a straightforward man, not one to worry much about anything he could rather face with a smile. Though she’d heard enough to know that there was trouble around the country, the fact that something could scare her father even just a bit left her baffled.

But then, she really should not have been surprised. Ever since he had taken up writing for those magazines – not the kind sold in newsstands, but a strange kind that seemed to be pieced together by her father and his shady acquaintances and distributed over channels Alice didn’t really know about, he’d grown progressively more skittish, often acting as though someone else was watching him. When the King had dissolved the government on February of the previous year, he’d even boldly declared they were heading to Switzerland by the next sunrise, but a flurry of phone calls from different associates had ended with him deciding to stay put. The usual journeys they would make to other countries had come to a halt, and he was heavily relying on old friends and favors to make sure his pieces were delivered without his having to personally travel.

Today had been more of the same. Her father had acquiesced to meet with a friend of a friend, a young woman with a proposal for him, and had calmly ordered Alice to stay in her room without coming out. She’d obeyed –she was a good girl, after all-, but that hadn’t stopped her from opening her door just a crack to make sure she could eavesdrop the entire conversation, which was only now reaching its end:

“I can’t believe it.” Her father.

“Is that so?” retorted a soft voice, tinged with a slight undertone of mockery. “But isn’t that what you hear every day? Kill them all? Don’t even let their corpses rest?”

“There is a difference,” her father shot back, gruff, “that is a hideous, dangerous intolerance, indeed sometimes even further, God preserve us. But what you’re talking about is systematic murder.”

“It’s the truth,” the voice answered curtly. “Now, I’m tasked with saving at least some of those people. Will you help? There’s no obligation for you, of course… I hear you’ve done quite a bit, even staying here when you could have fled the past year. However…”

“I’ll help,” her father cut in, his tone denoting finality.

“Good!” the voice exclaimed. “Now, shall you make the phone call, or should I?”

“Wait here,” her father said, “I’ll make the call, but the phone’s in the next room. It shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.”

“Oh, waiting is no problem.” A girlish giggle. “After all, this tea is quite delicious…”

There was the sound of a door closing and of footsteps fading away. Her father had left!

Alice stood beside her door, feeling somewhat conflicted. On the one hand, her father had ordered her to stay put. On the other hand… this was a guest she wanted to meet. This was a woman, and Alice could not remember the last time a woman had set foot in this house to talk to her father without being accompanied by her respective husband. Who was this strange lady that had so calmly waltzed into here and boldly talked to Alice’s father, a complete stranger, as though they had known each other for years? That alone piqued her interest far more than the badly-dressed men her father would have come over some times and with whom he’d while away long hours discussing politics. This was different. The whole situation smelled of novelty and suspicion, two things Alice thrived on. She had to at least see the woman’s face!

She weighed her options. Her room connected directly to the living room, so perhaps a direct approach would be best. She nodded to herself. Yes, best to show her just who was in charge here lest there be any misunderstandings.

Boldly, she opened the door and walked out into the living room, taking good care not to say a word or even glance at her guest as she moved to place herself on the seat opposite to the woman. Only when she had made herself comfortable, sitting like a tiny queen on the plush recliner, did she deign to gaze upon her opponent.

She nearly gasped. The woman was beautiful beyond any expectation. Indeed, Alice could have declared then and there that she was the prettiest woman she had ever met.

“I… uh…”

Her beauty was dark and full of contrast, her features fine and fragile and her skin pale as snow, but all of it wrapped in black, the black of the silken hair that cascaded down her shoulders, of the long, elaborate dress that hugged her body, of her sharp, calculating eyes, which looked at Alice with a strange mixture of compassionate patience and cruel intelligence…

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Wait!” the girl interjects, shaking her head. With a small groan, she massages her temples before pointing at the woman before her. In return she receives a warm, knowing stare from eyes much softer than those she recalls, and not black, but gold, like pools of honey. “No,” she states sharply, “you’re lying. No.”

“I’m not lying,” the woman whispers. “To think that I could come here and show you that I know this, and still… is this what people see in me?” She frowns. “I’m not lying, Alice,” she declares. “That really was…”
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“Hello,” the woman said. The tone of her voice was even, but there was something subtle about it that made Alice feel mocked. “I was not privy to the fact that Aloysius had a daughter. What’s your name, little girl?”

That snapped her out of it. Puffing herself up, Alice met the woman’s eyes, and spoke, “To start, miss, I’m not a little girl. I’m eleven. My name is Alice, Alice Margatroid. I’m here to ask you what you’re doing inside my house, if it’s not too much trouble to answer.”

The woman blinked a few times, and then her lips tugged upwards in a satisfied smirk, as if she were a teacher who’d just witnessed a student pass his test. “Eleven?” she asked, handily ignoring Alice’s demand. “And that’s quite old to you?”

“Not old!” Alice retorted. “Grown up. There’s a difference, miss, everyone knows that.” She made a face, green eyes narrowing as she pouted. “But it definitely means I’m not a little girl. Most of the heroes in my stories were eleven or younger, anyways, that’s good enough for me.”

“Hoh?” A look of surprise, half-fake, half-sincere, spread across the woman’s face, and as she casually tossed back her long locks of black hair, she smiled at the girl with great interest. “Are you certain of this? I’d say they were a bit older, and even then not quite grown…”

“That’s not true!” Alice sharply disagreed, growing irritated. “They did things most adults wouldn’t do! Um… Alice traveled to Wonderland when she was nine, and she managed to interrupt the Queen’s game and the King’s trial without getting her head cut off!”

“I dare say that first part was mostly the work of the Cheshire cat,” the woman retaliated, “and it doesn’t even count that much, because she never dropped the flamingo and ended up going back to the game after talking with the Duchess. And the thing with the King is just a poor argument – the shrinking potion wore off through no action of her own!”

Alice ground her teeth. She didn’t quite know why this debate had started, but she was determined not to lose. “Jim Hawkins, then! He faced down Long-John Silver, and he was… well, he was fifteen, I think, but everyone knows boys are dumb brutes, so of course they’d need a head start!”

“Oh my, perhaps,” the woman nodded. “I do hope you won’t use Oliver Twist after this, though, because if boys need a four year head start, then …”

“No, I’m not implying you can be grown up when you’re six or seven!” Alice interrupted, shaking her little head in annoyance. “I… um… let me think…”

“Peter Pan?” the woman suggested helpfully.

“Yes- no! No!” Alice declared, “No, because there’s definitely magic involved in his age, since he never grows up, and that’s the first thing you’ll point out, I know it. And anyway, I don’t like him and the way he forgets everything, that’s just horrible…”

“Ah, yes,” said the woman. “Memories make identity and without identity one is little more than a shell for others to mold to their whims, a blank slate, so to speak. I should know - of the people I have met who have sought to escape the cycle of life and death; all of them agreed that memory was one thing they would be most unwilling to sacrifice to achieve their goal…”

“The cycle of life and death?” Alice asked, having held on to that phrase from all the woman had said. “What do you mean, miss?”

For the first time, the woman looked nervous, even if it was only for less than a second. Then she smirked and fanned herself with a delicate hand. “Ah, nothing, that was just a digression from a woman with too chaotic a mind. Let’s go back to our previous discussion…”

Alice grew suspicious, and was about to keep pressing her until she recalled something she wanted. “Hey,” she said as it dawned on her, “you never answered my first question! What are you doing here?”

The woman shrugged. “You want me to tell you what your own father would not?”
Alice frowned. “Well, I suppose if I can’t get it out of him and he says I shouldn’t know, then asking you would be cheating, but…”

“…but?”

“I don’t like it. I don’t like being told I can’t learn about something, that’s like being told, ‘here Alice, why don’t you take a seat and grow more stupid? Trust me, getting more stupid is better for you at this time…’”

“Ignorant,” the woman cut in.

“Huh?”

“Ignorant,” she repeated. “The word you’re looking for is ignorant, not stupid. In this case, you’re being kept ignorant of an event because your father does not feel it is best or even safe for you to be involved in it, but you’re not stupid. To the contrary, you’re smart enough to realize the connection between ignorance and misery, and to argue against it, even if not all too eloquently. I like that, Alice.”

“…but you’re not going to tell me, are you?”

The woman threw her a mischievous grin. “No. It would be a disservice to your father, really, to reveal it, considering he saw fit to not even inform me of your existence.”

“…I suppose,” Alice murmured, sheepish. “I mean, I’m not even supposed to be here right now.”

“And yet you are,” the woman pointed out. “Why?”

“Because I can’t remember the last time a woman came over,” Alice answered bluntly. “So I figured it had to be something important.”

“I suppose it is, yes.” The woman shrugged, then clapped her pale hands together, a spark of amusement shining in her eyes. “But don’t worry. I can’t tell you, but you’ll learn about it soon enough.”

Alice perked up. “Will I?”

“Oh, yes, you will. It would be quite the feat on your father’s part to be able to hide it from you when it occurs, considering you live in this house.”
“Hmph.”

There was a short and somewhat uncomfortable silence after that, with Alice crossing her arms over her chest and losing herself in thought, and the woman simply leaning back on her seat, her generous chest accentuated greatly as she inhaled deeply and exhaled with a relaxed sigh that nevertheless sounds out of place, for nothing in her demeanor could have suggested tiredness.

“I like you, Alice,” the woman finally declared after about a minute of quiet. “Tell me a story.”

Slowly, Alice looked up. She appeared vaguely surprised, but the corners of her lips tugged upwards as she mouthed the words. “…a story?”

“Of course,” the woman nodded. “Or are you going to tell me that a girl with as many opinions as yourself has no good stories to tell?”

“I… of course I have good stories! I know lots of interesting things, and the stuff I can make up is even better!”

“Then go ahead.”

Alice knit her brows. “But there’s no time, I mean, my father will be coming back soon, and he’ll get angry if he sees me here…”

“Oh, don’t worry; he’ll still be a while. Trust me; we’ve as much time as we’ll need.”

“Alright, then…”

The girl did not much trust the woman, at first, so most of what she started with was quite simple, little anecdotes of her daily life that she’d found amusing. But soon enough, that changed. No matter what Alice said, the woman seemed to never lose interest. Indeed, she was quite willing to argue back on things Alice stated with certainty, and to fill in blanks when Alice couldn’t think of something. Soon enough, they’d progressed – first she’d told her simple things; about how her father taught her his craft, about the dolls she had in her room. But then, as the woman’s eyes grew warmer, and her laughter lost its cruel edge to gain a strange, compelling sweetness, Alice began to open up. She told the woman about how she wished to one day be as good as her father, told her about how she daydreamed about stepping into the mirror just to see what it was like inside, told her a story she’d imagined the other day, about a princess crafted in untouchable perfection by a lonely witch. She told her of her great dislike at being cooped up at home, of how surprised she was at meeting a woman like her, tall and beautiful, when previously she’d only entertained the fat wives of her father’s friends and their children, whom she coldly claimed, to the woman’s laughter, were as different from her as a worm is from a dove, forming only a single thought in the time it took her to form six.

She told her about how her dreams disappointed her, not because they were uninteresting but because in their enchanted workings they were cruel reminders, once she awoke, that magic did not exist in this world.

“Oh, and you’re certain of this?” the woman asked, deep black eyes widening in fake surprise.

“I can’t see it, miss, and I can’t feel it. So even if it did, it might as well not exist for me.”

“Oh, but you can see it. In your dreams, maybe, but you see it there, and you feel it there,” the woman declared, “and even in the real world, if you think it holds more validity than the world of dreams; when you watch your father work, or stare deep into the mirror imagining what might be on the other side, you can see it, and you can feel it.”

“…that’s magic?” Alice asked, looking profoundly skeptical. “That’s just my imagination. It can inspire you, like my father says, but… I know it can’t change the world around it, no matter how much I want to.”

The woman shook her head, then parted her lips as if to say something, only for a flash of hesitation to cross her features, silencing her. For a long time she stayed quiet, thinking deeply on her next words.

“Maybe... you just need a spark to light the fire.”

“Huh?”

“Darkness… is the absence of light. Several factors join together, preventing light from reaching into a place… maybe it’s the action of someone else, or the rarity of light itself, or even simply closing your eyes to the fact that light could exist in that place… but whatever those factors are, they throw a shroud of black over the place, hiding everything else. But let’s say you light a match. Once it is lit, the warmth of it in your hand is impossible to ignore, as is the tiny flame that tries its best to push back the darkness. And once you see the flame, you can use it to light the candles the darkness obscured, driving away the black…”

“I’m… not sure I understand…” Alice muttered. In truth, she could make sense of what the woman was saying, but did not know at all what she meant.

The woman shook her head. “I’m rambling, Alice,” she says, but the tone of her voice sounds almost choked. “I get carried away with my own words…”

She paused, and seemed to recover, a self-confident smirk spreading through her face. “Pay it no heed, Alice, all I’m saying is that you’re a tad cynical for your age. Lighten up.”
Alice harrumphed and crossed her arms over her chest. “I told you, I’m grown up. I like being realistic.”

“No, Alice, you’re not, and you don’t. What you are is extremely smart, which is a different thing entirely.” The woman looked off into the distance with an amused expression, as if remembering a pleasant memory. “If you really liked to be ‘realistic’, as you say, would you dream as you do, and love your dreams as you do? I think not.”

Alice didn’t answer that question, and looked away as her eyes grew sad. “I still don’t get why you won’t admit I’m grown up,” she mumbled half-heartedly.

“There’s nothing much fun about being grown up, Alice,” the woman said wistfully. “The growing is wonderful, but there’s little that can be said for all the other annoying details. At any rate… your father will be back soon. I suggest you get back to your room.”

“But-“

“You really don’t want him to know you disobeyed him, do you?”

“…no, not really,” Alice mumbled, standing up from her seat. “I’ll leave, then… but…”
She threw the woman a purposeful stare, as though trying to peer into her thoughts with her eyes. “You’re annoying,” she stated, “but…”

“…but?” the woman smirked.

“I think I like you. Um… will I see you again?”

For one last time, the woman’s deep black eyes locked with Alice’s bright green, and a long silence was made. “Yes,” the woman finally said, smiling, “I’m certain we will… maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough.”

“Okay,” Alice nodded. “One thing though…”

“Yes?”

“What’s your name, miss?”

“…Maribella.”

The girl smiled, mischievous. “Okay, Maribella. Let’s argue again another day. Maybe then you’ll accept that I always win!”

Giggling and humming to herself, she turned around and left the room.

Once Alice had left, the woman sighed, melancholy. Then, she cast out her gaze towards the old grandfather clock on the other side of the room. Even though she and Alice had talked for over an hour, perhaps even more, the handles hadn’t moved an inch.
>> No. 41395
File 128171108178.jpg - (460.48KB , 822x1200 , 1271202713784.jpg ) [iqdb]
41395
“You’d sealed the room,” the girl mutters. She’s taken a seat now, on the chair opposite Yukari, like so many years ago. One of her hands lies limp on the armrest, fingers occasionally tapping it nervously. Her other hand cups her pale cheek, as if she were trying to resist the urge to hide her face behind it. “Why?”

“I just wanted to keep us outside of time for a bit,” Yukari admits. “I…”

She sighs, running a hand along her long blonde hair before giving Alice a tiny smile. “…I wanted to keep talking to you, then. Do forgive me if this sounds too familiar, but… you were the brightest little girl I’d met in a long time. I’ll admit – for most of my life, including back then, I have been a fickle monster. But you… hearing about your dreams… it made me feel regret for the first time in a long while.”

“Regret?”

“It was I, on a whim, who involved myself as a mediator in that affair. And it was I who convinced your father to help.”

“It couldn’t have been a hard thing to do,” Alice mutters bitterly, “he was always going on about doing what was right, but he couldn’t spare a minute in that burst of idealism to think about his daughte-“

She stops, a tinge of red coloring her cheeks as she grimaces. “...what a selfish statement,” she mutters, more to herself than to Yukari. “I should never have…”

“I won’t say whether it was a morally correct choice, given the context,” Yukari states. “But the end result is as you say – a young girl had been inadvertently put in danger and involved in a situation that, though it may have been important for me or her father, had nothing to do with her.”

Alice looks up, staring straight at Yukari. Her glare has become not only bitter, but accusatory. “So… if that really was you, and you knew what might have happened, and you regretted that my father had walked into this danger and taken me along, then why… why…”

“…why didn’t I save you?” Yukari asks, her voice a pained whisper as her golden eyes widen. “Please understand, Alice… I was a different person back then. My idea of empathy at that point in time would seem to you like a cruel mockery. I disliked the fact that a girl like you would be endangered through no action of her own, but in the end I surmised it was your father’s choice-“

“What do I care if it was his choice?” Alice’s voice turns into a poisonous whisper as she stands up, breathing heavily. “…do you… do you even understand what it does to me… I can’t hate him for it. He saved all those people… but it cost him his life. I saw him die. And then… then I…” She shakes her head, uncomprehending. “You’re telling me you knew, and with all your vaunted power… you couldn’t…”

“I could not have known the reprisal would be so severe,” Yukari cuts in, no longer meeting Alice’s gaze. “Indeed, the actual pogrom we feared occurred two years after all of this. What happened at your home simply didn’t match up with what either I or your father knew…”

“But it did match up,” Alice presses her. “My father had been antagonizing the Legionnaires for far too long before this… so even if the overall climate wasn’t as rancid as it would later become when the war was in full swing… for him in specific, an action like this would always have been the last straw.”

“…I won’t argue that.” Yukari frowns. “Alice, I’m not here to justify myself. I’m here to make amends. Could I have prevented what happened next? Yes, certainly. But the truth is…”
“…you just didn’t care enough to contemplate the possibility,” Alice finishes for her. “But if so… if so…”

She unhooks the chain that fastens her book, her greatest mistery, to her belt. Then, she walks forward and places it on the coffee table. “Why?” she asks, running a hand over the bloodstained flower carved into the cover. “Why did you give this to me?”

“That book,” Yukari mutters, “is perhaps the greatest testament to my ignorance. I could not read it, then… I did not know or understand the secret that now binds it to your blood. I thought it merely a trinket, a little thing I would not miss that could perhaps bring hope to a girl who wanted to believe in magic…”

“Ah, yes, that secret.” A cruel smile draws itself upon Alice’s lips. “It is my only consolation… knowing that even if she ripped those three pages out… even if she manages to break the code of the writing… she’ll never reach the true miracle…” Her expression turns sullen. “Then again, that might be a better fate than mine… I who lost hope in it.”

“Alice…” Yukari’s expression turns pitying, and for a second it appears as though she’ll reach out and touch the girl, only to think better of it.

“I don’t need your compassion,” Alice states, cold. “I may have lost my resolve when I opened the book weeks ago. Perhaps I never re-encountered it after losing to her. But I don’t care. I’ll reach it. I’ll definitely reach it. Even with those pages gone…”
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The refugees would arrive two days later, under the cover of night.
The day before that, Alice talked with her father for the last time. Oh, of course she’d still speak to him for several days to come, but this was to be the last meaningful conversation they’d have.

She still regrets it.

After spending all that time agonizing about what the secret the woman and her father had kept from her, learning the truth made her furious. What was her father thinking, letting that many people into their house, the one bastion of peace they had in the world? She didn’t care about any plight they might have, all she knew was that they were ugly, poor, and probably smelled, and she categorically refused the entirety of this plan, the purpose of which she could for the life of her not understand and which her father would not explain for the ostensible reason of keeping her safe. It didn’t matter to her what those people were running from, the point was that they would be in her house, and Alice didn’t want them there. It was here that she’d learned to read, to write, to think. Did her father not consider the place as sacred as she did?

In the end, it didn’t matter how much she complained, they were let in – women, children, and old men, a dozen total, snuck inside the house and into the basement while Alice was ordered to remain out of sight, hidden in her room, seething.

It hurts her even now to think about it. Some of the last things she’d said to her father had been angry complaints. Ah… but if only she’d known! Had she known what would happen not a week later, she’d have warned him, helped him, cried for him. And if in the end she could not change the future, then at least she would have said goodbye.

The people, not quite fugitives but just as despised in the streets of Bucharest, would stay with them for an entire night and most of a day, while Maribella and the others presumably made the proper arrangements to extract them from the capital. When it was finally time to leave, it happened at night – Alice hid behind a recliner in the dark living room and observed how her father led them down the entrance corridor, where a man in a brown coat waited patiently, quietly counting them as they approached.

Then it happened. When the counting was over, and it was announced that they would leave, one of them spoke up.

It was an old woman, bent over with age and hooded with a long woolen cloak. Alice did not remember seeing her with the other refugees before, not at all. However, she could not bring herself to feel suspicious – it was as if the woman had, somehow, always been there. Indeed, neither her father nor the man in the brown coat questioned her existence.

“Wait,” she spoke, her voice a crystal clear command. “Before I go, I want to leave something.” She turned towards Alice’s father. “To your daughter.”

The man gaped at that statement, taken completely unaware. “My daughter? How-“
“Do be quiet,” the old woman mumbled, and silence was made. “You can come out now, girl.”

It wasn’t a suggestion. But then that didn’t matter – Alice felt no need to remain hidden behind the recliner. Slowly, timidly, she stepped out into the entrance corridor.

Nobody else spoke. Indeed, as she met the old woman’s incredible golden eyes, it was as if only the two of them existed.

“Who are you?” she asked, her voice a hushed whisper.

The woman’s right hand reached into her cloak and extracted a beautiful leather-bound tome, its lustrous black cover decorated with gold paint and carved seals that joined together to form the shape of an amaranth flower.

“Does it matter?”
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The reckoning came quick, like a sudden storm. Six tense days passed after Alice received the book. After some wrangling, her father had let her keep it without conditions. She’d sensed the man’s heart wasn’t in the discussion, either way – a veritable flurry of phone calls had followed the past events, and every day he seemed to grow more distant.
As for Alice, she’d spent most of her time trying to decipher the gift she’d received. The old woman had claimed it was a heirloom that would quite probably not survive the trip she would be making, so if she had to leave it behind, it was perhaps best to place it in the house of a grand artist. How this translated into leaving the book in the hands of the artist’s daughter, Alice did not know, but she never paid much attention to that particular incongruence – she was far more interested in the contents of the book itself.
Cracking it open, the book’s pages were made of the finest paper, almost silky at the touch. There was no title page, no foreword, no indication about who its author might have been. Moreover, the actual contents were written in a strange language Alice could not understand. The alphabet used was Latin, to be sure, but the words formed resembled nothing Alice had ever seen. Reading words aloud at random, some of the passages sounded harsh and guttural, others, almost lyrical. There was just no structure to it, no sense. Of even greater concern were the illustrations, which were drawn in black ink and often took up several pages at a time. Alice could tell at a glance that they were incredibly detailed, but if she tried to examine them with any degree of interest the pictures seemed to blur, and her vision lost focus, as though she were staring not at a diagram, but at a formless blot of ink on the paper. At first she’d attributed it to simply being tired, but as time passed the anomaly persisted, leaving her dumbfounded. She contemplated telling her father, but thought better of it, as for the past days the man had been glued to his typewriter and had had little time for her.

All that was left, then, was for her to keep trying, reading the book from top to bottom. Alice wasn’t stupid. She knew that the language being so nonsensical meant it had to be code for something. The strange illustrations only supported the theory.
But she persevered, carrying the book wherever she went, taking to opening and reading passages at random whenever she had the time, as though she could break the code through sheer force of will.

When the end came, that was exactly what she was doing. Sitting on the living room, she’d opened the book around the halfway point and had been trying her hardest to focus on a diagram that spanned the length of two full pages, to no avail. Turning it upside down, flipping it sideways, squinting harder… nothing seemed to work. But she knew something was there. It had to be – whenever she withdrew her gaze from the drawing, she could catch a glimpse of it, but no sooner did she try and look closer that all the detail seemed to drain from the picture, turning it into a blurry mess. What kind of trick was this?

As she pondered this, she was startled out of her thoughts by a loud, aggressive knock on the front door.

“Who could be coming here at this hour?” she grumbled, standing up from her plush seat on the recliner. “It’s even raining… are they stupid?”

The knocking persisted. With a sigh, she headed over to open the door.

“Alice, wait!” Her father emerged from a different room. “Don’t answer that, I’ll do it, princess.” He smiled, patting the girl on the shoulder. “It’s probably just a delivery for me; Nicolas follows a strange schedule…”

“Alright, father.”

Chuckling to himself, the man headed over to the door. “Before I let you in,” he said loudly, “do tell, friend, how are dragons like mornings?”

There was a long pause.

“They fight knights,” a gruff voice murmured from behind the door.
Her father laughed. “That took longer than you usually do! Made you sweat, didn’t I, Nicolas?”

Still laughing, he opened the door.

There were four armed men standing at the entrance.

Alice saw it all from the living room. The men wasted no time on introductions, merely squeezing the trigger on their pistols the moment her father’s face came into view.
The shots were deafening, like the roar of a dragon, bursts of sound and fire that ended in wild sprays of blood. By the time her father’s corpse finally fell to the floor, more than a dozen had been fired.

Then there was silence.

“…father?”

There was a scream, a horrible, pained shriek of tormented loss, and a mad sprint forward, trying to reach that which would never be reached again.

One of the men swore, took aim, and fired.

The girl fell over and dropped the book she was carrying, falling on top of it as she hit the floor. The wound on her head spilled blood over the tome like a crimson fountain, staining the cover a bright red.

“Nobody said the bastard had a daughter,” muttered one of the murderers.

Another one began swearing copiously.

“Don’t start getting sentimental on me now, you brutes,” a third cut in. “What we’re in is war – the Germans will make it official soon enough. This is just a casualty, right? All wars have casualties.”

The blood ran down from the wound and over the black leather, tracing the seals on the book one drop at a time, coloring the petals as it gave life to the magic inside it, pouring, pouring until the amaranth carved on the cover was once more a brilliant red, fueled by the life still remaining in that warm, liquid sweetness.

That was the golden rule, after all.

What is dead is gone, but if there remains even half a breath of life inside the corpse, then…

A miracle could occur.

“Alright then, clean up this mess, then let’s-“

The seal glowed brightly, the ritual complete.

The murderers had no time to react, only to scream. Before they knew it, their bodies had been stripped of flesh, charred skeletons before the brilliant light of magic.

Then there was a horrible sound, as though something had broken in the fabric of the universe.

And the world exploded in fire.

It was the night of the twelfth of February of the year 1939.

No matter how much the rubble of her home would be searched in the future, Alice Margatroid would never be found.
------------------------------------------------

“…and then… that’s when she took me, that monster.” Alice sighs. “You’ve told me about the history we share together. I’ve told you of what happened, that night. I still don’t understand why you’re here.”

“I’m here to help you, Alice. To repay you for the part I played in your pain. And if victory over that demon is an outcome of it…” Yukari smiles weakly. “…all the better.”

“I don’t trust you,” says Alice, “everything I’ve heard about you is different from how I’ve heard you act. How do I know you’re not just using me? How do I know you won’t bind me to half-truths and refuse your aid when it matters the most?”

“Because I’m making a promise to you, Alice. A promise that if you accept my help, I’ll grant you the extent of my power. A promise to fight in your stead, even, should the time come. That demon is ancient and powerful, a force of nature. But together, we can defeat her. I cannot grant you the happiness you lost, Alice… but I can help your quest of shaping the present.” Yukari stood up, a slender hand reaching out and stopping just short of Alice’s shoulder. “So then…”

“Do I even have a choice?”

“You always have a choice, Alice.”
------------------------------------------------

[] Accept.

[]Deny.

[] Write-in.
------------------------------------------------
>> No. 41403
[x] Accept.
>> No. 41405
"I accept your aid. Not your patronage. This is your repayment but <b>my</b> victory. We have planing to do.."
(eeh still feels too masculine but..)
>> No. 41407
[x] Accept.
>> No. 41408
[x] Accept.
Can't completely trust her but I'm more inclined to now that I've seen how they knew each other in the past.
>> No. 41409
[x]>>41405
>> No. 41441
[x] Accept.

Argh just something about how I imagined Yukari when I was reading this just makes me wanna trust her. Maybe even warm up to her a bit.
>> No. 41446
[x] You want to repay me? I didn't know someone like you could feel guilt, even one so well-earned as this. Maybe is it pity? Or just a whim? Whatever the reason I believe you said something about repaying myself? Well, there's a much more simple way: you just have togive me back my father Simple enough, no?
>> No. 41447
[x] You want to repay me? I didn't know someone like you could feel guilt, as well-earned as it might be. Maybe is it pity? Or just a whim? Whatever the reason, I believe you said something about repaying myself? Well, there's a much more simple way: you just have to give me back my father
-[x]... that's what I'd like to say. But taking this demon down is much more important than my pride, my self respect or than justice.
>> No. 41455
[x]Deny.
Getting revenge on Yuuka wont be half as sweet if Yukari does all the leg-work for us.
>> No. 41460
[x]Accept
>> No. 41545
[x] Accept.
-[x] ...Mostly.

...Huh.

Loli Alice with absolutely zero PC-98 involved, let alone Shinki.

I'm not sure if this is amazing or enraging.
>> No. 41554
>>41545
shouldn't be too surprised, since many folks due to not reading the back story of EoSD think PC-98 got retconned.
>> No. 41699
I don't know about "many folks" thinking that, and I'm not sure what you're even basing that statement on.

I'm saying that it's unusual as hell to see no only loli Alice, but an Alice origin story where she is neither youkai, nor demon, nor from Makai, and Shinki is not involved in any visible way.

And yet, Yuuka's theft of the Ultimate Magic is has still happened, and ZUN said that happened after she defeated Loli/EX Alice at the end of Mystic Square, so... yeah.

Interesting. And somehow, angering. But keep writing.
>> No. 41706
fffff what's Yukari and Yuuka doing in Bucharest in 1939.

[ø] Accept.
>> No. 41708
File 128231760655.jpg - (56.01KB , 387x291 , Alice margerine.jpg ) [iqdb]
41708
>>41706
One of Alice Margatroid's themes is called the dollmaker of...

1-Tsundere.
2-Bhava-agra
3-Bucharest
4-Bucuresti, a horrible misspelling of 3
5-Suika.
>> No. 41767
File 128256187198.jpg - (56.01KB , 387x291 , Alice margerine.jpg ) [iqdb]
41767
Waiting warmly for an update.
>> No. 42364
Update, where? At least a status update, please?
>> No. 42454
>Update, where?

Update here.
>> No. 42455
File 128454386690.jpg - (394.05KB , 797x618 , The Vampire Lady at the End of the World.jpg ) [iqdb]
42455
“So I see you were examining my literature, hm?”

Your previous discussion over, Remilia had decided that the best course of action to take regarding the events in the garden would be to have Patchouli examine you, seeing as how you could not provide any information yourself. You agreed to that, not that you ever have much choice as to what Remilia decides in regards to you, seeing as you’re taking advantage of her hospitality. On the inside, however, you felt suspicious. Your first instinct after the dissipation of the Royal Flare, once the mind-numbing exhilaration had subsided to leave you a tired shell, was one of fear. You were smart enough to put the pieces together – you’d displayed a power you’d claimed not to have, using abilities derived from memories you supposedly do not have. Anybody could see the simplest explanation for such a quandary – that you’d been lying all along. Even more than Remilia, the thought of Patchouli and Koa reaching that conclusion made you nearly physically ill. If they didn’t trust you, and Remilia didn’t back you, then you would truly be alone in the world.

You tried to hint your concern about this to Remilia, only to be rewarded with her usual penetrating stare, her blood-red eyes boring straight into you, as if they could look inside you. It was then that you realized how silly the entire notion was; not because it wasn’t a plausible scenario, but simply because plausible scenarios were worthless constructs here. The finest, most beautifully crafted lie in the world would crumble the second it came into contact with that scarlet gaze. There was nothing to fear.

Sighing in relief, you tried to take your leave, only for Remilia to stop you.

“You’re not taking a step out of this room until I see you’ve eaten,” she’d firmly declared. “I did not order all these snacks to have them wasted, and besides, you need the energy.” Then she’d flashed you a grin full of sharp, pointed teeth, eyes glittering with mischief. “Besides, you owe me a conversation or three, Alice! It seems everytime I talk to you, you’re either ill, tired, or we simply have much more pressing matters to attend to. But that just can’t go on, can it? We have to get to know each other~.”
She giggled, picking up a tiny piece of cake with her fork and bringing it to her mouth with a pleasured hum, slowly running the tip of her tongue across her lips as she savored the taste. “Stay now, I promise I won’t bite~.”

And so you stay, and now you find yourself sitting in front of Remilia, absentmindedly poking at your very much gigantic slice of cake as the lady vampire rummages through one of her bookcases with a strange glee, withdrawing a few tomes from the shelves and placing them on the table as she takes her seat once more. “So?” she asks, “were you impressed? Isn’t my collection simply excellent in its taste?”

“I wouldn’t know, milady,” you answer, pretty green eyes darkening as you recall what set you off mere minutes ago, “I don’t think I’ve seen a single one of those books.”

“That’s just no good.” Remilia smirks. “I’ll get Patchouli to lend you some of her copies, then, and instruct her to have you read them.”

“Really, milady?” you ask, your voice neutral. While you’re perfectly fine with learning more, there’s still a part of you that doesn’t quite agree with Remilia making you do anything, even something as innocuous as reading a book.

“Really, Alice,” Remilia answers, and her expression softens as she speaks. “You know,” she leans forward, closer to you, “I’m not out to get you, Alice.”

“I never said that, milady.” You try to keep your delicate features impassive as you match Remilia’s gaze, even as you feel as though you might fall into that scarlet glow and lose yourself forever.

“No, but you think it.” Remilia draws back, pensive, and then brings another piece of cake to her mouth, savoring it slowly before speaking again. “I won’t apologize for what I just said to you, Alice. I stand firm by the notion that you’re letting your anger do the talking. Killing someone is no light matter.” Her smile turns dark. “I should know.”

You frown, taking a deep breath as you gather your courage, and then speak. “I never asked for your apologies, milady.” You manage to force a bitter smile, casually toying with your fork. “That would just have been rude. However…”
You clench your hands into tiny fists, taking comfort in the familiar sensation of your white gloves stretching as you do so. “…I’ll prove it,” you say, resolute. “I’ll definitely prove it, milady, even if you think I’m-“

“-weak?” Remilia accurately finishes your sentence, and for a brief moment you wonder if she read your mind. “I don’t think you’re weak, Alice,” she says, dropping her fork and casually intertwining her fingers, “in fact, that was the misconception I wanted to clear up, before you oh so rudely interrupted me. As I said, I won’t apologize for what I just said to you… but it does seem as we started off on the wrong foot.”

“Milady?”

“Don’t play dumb, Alice, it doesn’t become you,” Remilia waves you off, grinning softly. “Now, I’ll admit that when we met you bore the full brunt of my fight against boredom, that old killer. Now that we know each other a little better that would not be a concern, but back then I can see how it might have unsettled you. I didn’t give your feelings much priority at that point.”

Then, as she says this, her grin turns predatory, and in a flash of movement you find yourself going stiff on your seat as Remilia, now once more unbearably close, runs her index finger along your soft, moist lips. “And of course, ignoring the feelings of a girl this cute is just an unacceptable breach of etiquette, is it not?”

You say nothing, feeling your face heat up and your heart skip several beats. The sensible part of your mind tells you that you should probably be protesting this sudden advance that seems unsettlingly natural for Remilia, but a wilder, traitorous part –the one that tests your will every time Koa cuddles you in her sleep– keeps you quiet.

Then Remilia withdraws, leaving you half-gasping, half-glaring as you wipe your sweaty forehead with a frown, too embarrassed by your own silence to say anything more.

“What are you getting at, milady?” you finally ask after about a minute’s silence, your voice hoarse.
“Forgive me if I sound impertinent, but which point are you trying to make, milady Remilia?” Remilia corrects you, raising her index finger as though her sentence were formed above her. “You’re obviously doing your best to be polite, Alice, so there’s some proper etiquette.”

Then she smiles at you, and you have to stifle a gasp. For the first time, there is no subtle undercurrent of mockery in her eyes, no cruelty in her expression. Just a pure, sincere serenity that you could never have seen coming from Remilia, but which looks perfectly natural on her beautiful face, as though a mask had been removed. “Ah, I suppose I must be terribly confusing to you, no? Calm one moment, and mercilessly teasing you the next? But I assure you, that’s just who I am. I forget that it’s actually not been long since Meiling brought you in from the snow, so you’re still a tad delicate. I suppose I can see how you’d be annoyed.”

“Not… not annoyed, milady,” you lie blatantly. “Just…”

“Annoyed,” Remilia says, her smile turning devious. “And also sometimes confused, I imagine. But that last part I understand, considering we never even formally introduced ourselves…”

You frown. “We… what? Like, shaking hands, or something? I’d say we’re a bit beyond that, no?”

“Not just shaking hands,” says Remilia with a shake of her head. “That’s too simple. I meant-“

She stops talking and grins broadly, standing up. “C’mon, get up!” she urges you, looking almost giddy. You obey, not quite sure were this is going but intrigued enough to play along.

“Good morning, miss.” She sounds happier than you’ve ever heard her as she reaches out and takes your hands in her own, her soft fingers delicately brushing your palms. “My name is Remilia Scarlet, granddaughter of Nicholas Scarlet, whom you’d know from his deeds in service to the Church, honored to this day. Listing my titles would be a burden to keep us here all morning. Suffice to say I am lady of Christabelle, of Styria and Karnstein, and of many other quaint places I’m certain you’d love. Now, I understand you’ll be my guest for the coming days, miss, so won’t you introduce yourself as more than the owner of a pretty face?”

You blush, looking away. “Milady, I… don’t really think I’ve a lot to say.”

’And you should know that,’ you think, sullen.

“Just your name will suffice,” whispers Remilia, drawing just a bit closer. “Trust me, the rest is just for fun.”

You nod, hesitant. You think you understand what she’s trying to tell you. “Alice,” you say, “my name is Alice.”

“Then we are well met, Alice.”

You smile in spite of yourself. “I suppose we never did something like this, didn’t we, milady? I just… sort of collapsed in front the house and forced you to take care of me. I guess that was a bit rude.”

“But are you grateful for being here, Alice?”

You blink. Remilia’s question catches you off-guard. You might have expected the words, perhaps, but certainly not the tone nor her expression, sincerely curious and yet strangely vulnerable.

“Yes,” you finally answer, overcoming your surprise. “For what it’s worth, I’m quite thankful for how much you’ve helped me, milady.”

Remilia nods, her eyes turning distant. “Yes,” she mutters. “Patchouli was right, I suppose. Helping someone… and being thanked for it… it does feel good, doesn’t it? You’re quite welcome, Alice.”

She shakes her head, then turns to look at you once more, the bright aura of mischief returning to her face. “But enough of that. Say, Alice, how good are you at chess?”
>> No. 42456
File 128454389491.png - (206.62KB , 600x600 , koacake oh my gohnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng.png ) [iqdb]
42456
“Gah!” With a grunt of exertion and a push of her shapely legs, Koa jumps off an elevator platform without bothering to lower it fully, the books under her arm wobbling precariously as she lands. She sighs with relief as she approaches the table where you sit and sets down the stack of dusty tomes, wiping the sweat off her forehead with a free hand, dainty fingers pushing back wet strands of red hair.

“You look quite tired,” you point out from where you sit, one hand pressed against your cheek, the other randomly leafing through the pages of a book on arithmancy. You’re reading it less because you’re interested in the subject and more because of the occasional notes on the margins in handwriting that has to be Patchouli’s, criticizing the author for his mistakes and for actually believing in such ‘nonsense’.

“Just a bit,” Koa says, sitting in front of you and casually unbuttoning her black vest to cool herself down. You do your best not be mesmerized by the resulting bounce of her breasts. “So…” she mutters, softly biting on her lower lip. “...I heard what happened in the garden.”

“What?” you exclaim, taken aback. “How? It was just…”

“…over an hour ago, Miss Alice,” Koa finishes your sentence for you. “You spent a long time talking to Lady Remilia back there. Anyways, how did you do that?”

You look back on what happened. The massive torrent of flame; the incredible feeling of power. How you didn’t know the spell, but it didn’t matter, as long as you still willed it to be.

“…I don’t know,” you finally answer, glum. “Koa,” you look up, brows furrowed nervously as you meet her gaze, “I really don’t know, okay? I… I know I copied Patchouli’s spell, but I’ve no idea how. I don’t want you to think I haven’t been telling Patchouli something, or that I’ve lied to you, or…”

“You’re rambling, Miss Alice,” Koa cuts in. With a soft giggle, she leans closer, placing her elbows on the table and cupping her chin with both hands. “And being a bit dumb, to boot.”

“Dumb!?” you exclaim, stung by her words. “What do you mean?”

“Silly, then. The point is, Miss Alice, I never suspected you. I mean, it might have crossed my head for a second there when Meiling told me, but what am I supposed to believe? Should I think that you’re some sort of evil spy? A mage trying to infiltrate us so you can steal Lady Patchouli’s spells?” She laughs.

“…um, yes?”

“Why would I ever think that?” Koa asks, and though certainly amused by your outburst, is honestly curious. “I mean, even if I were that suspicious a person, and I know I wouldn’t like to be; if you were such a thing Lady Patchouli would have seen right through you in the blink of an eye, before I could even think about it. She’s good at seeing the truth in people, you know. It’s why she can get along so well with Lady Remilia, who I’ve always just found really scary… like she could just swallow me up into her eyes, you know? But anyways,” she shakes her head, as though to stop herself from digressing further, “if you were such a thing, Lady Patchouli would have known, and she’d have probably set fire to your butt or something and run you off the mansion.”

The image of a comically cartoonish Patchouli throwing fireballs at you while you run from her crosses your mind. You chuckle in spite of yourself. “I suppose so, yes.”

“So the only thing that I’d think of is that maybe you weren’t saying something,” Koa goes on, “something personal you didn’t want her to hear. But-“ She raises her hand, silencing you before you protest. “But, if you say you didn’t, Miss Alice, then I’m willing to believe you. I mean, I know we haven’t known each other long, but in the past few days you’ve really done nothing but good things… when you’ve been conscious, that is.” She smirks, turning mischievous.

“Hey,” you complain good-naturedly, “it’s not like I pick when to fall unconscious…”

Koa snorts somewhat derisively, but says nothing more on the subject. Instead, she pats the stack of books beside her with satisfaction, then smiles warmly at you. “Well, Miss Alice. I’m done for the day, and you don’t look like you’ve much to do, either, so shall we go off somewhere? Meiling’s always good for a chat, though from what she told me she’ll be busy managing the faeries in the garden… I don’t know. Or maybe we could go upstairs and read a book?”

“Done for the day?” you ask, surprised. “But it’s not even noon… I was actually going to ask if you wanted me to do anything…”

Koa shrugs. “When I’m done, I’m done,” she says. “Work varies, but most days Lady Patchouli just gives me something to do and if she doesn’t need me for anything afterwards, I’m free once it’s done. It’s not like cataloguing the section on Numerology and Arithmancy has been urgent for anybody in, oh, five centuries or so.”

“Oh, I see, then.” You pause, briefly. “One thing, Koa, I’ve been meaning to ask… just what do you do? I mean, I see you and Patchouli speaking of making new sections and writing down catalogues, but…”

“Isn’t it obvious, Miss Alice?” Koa asks. “We’re working on cataloguing the entire library! It’s part of milady’s big project. For the longest time since she arrived here, she just searched for the books she wanted without a real method of finding them, but since about five years ago, when I hit fourteen, she’s been designing a plan to make an inventory of every book here. I help her with that, most days. It goes really slowly, but then it’s just a secondary project. She likes to do that, milady, grab a huge plan and then finish it without much effort, completing it step by step by step.”
She gives you an uneasy grin. “To be honest, though I get where she’s coming from, that impossibly long term view she takes on some things freaks me out sometimes. It’s like she’s just assuming she’s got all the time in the world… and, I mean, she might have lived for quite a bit, but... that sort of assumption makes me nervous.” She throws up her hands in defeat. “I’m the one rambling now, aren’t I?”

“A bit,” you admit with a grin, “but I get where you’re coming from.” You can only imagine the sort of time it’d take to make an inventory of this library, twice as large as the ancient mansion at the very least, not as a concerted effort but as a slow, day-by-day process, one section this week, another the next. You can’t really picture how long it would take, and it seems like an eccentricity even beyond Patchouli’s patience.

“But it’s a bit more than that, you know?” Koa goes on, looking pensive. “Somedays she’ll mention how she’s read about some ancient history or something and say how she looks forward to see what people will think of the present in some fifty, sixty years! And it’s weird for me. Most…” She stops for a second, her cheeks tingeing pink. Her bright blue eyes run over you, as though looking for something. Her face is unreadable, but the wings on her head droop cutely. “Most… people like me,” she finally says, though it comes out almost choked, “they’re lucky to make it past thirty.”

“You’re going to die at thirty!?” you gasp and then bring a hand to your mouth, shocked at your own outburst. “Um…”
Koa shakes her head, smiling. “Don’t be silly, Miss Alice. No… considering Lady Patchouli pulled me out of there when I was a child, and since the contract she ended up making when she botched my summoning was binding, I’ll probably live as long as her. But anyways…”

It’s clear she wants to say nothing more of the matter, so you quickly change the subject. “So, um… should we go upstairs, or do you think Meiling won’t be mad at me over the garden?”

At this, Koa snaps back to her usual cheer, grinning widely. “Oh, I don’t think she’d be mad, Miss Alice, that woman’s brushed off worse. But didn’t Lady Patchouli tell you to finish studying that one book, though?” She taps her chin with a finger, pouting indecisively. The result is utterly adorable. “I don’t know… you pick! Either way, it gives me something new to do with my free time.”

“So what do you usually do with your free time?” you ask. Now that you think of it, this is actually your first relatively normal day at the mansion. You’ve no idea how Koa’s day is like, mostly because for most of the week you’ve been in some state of torpor or another.

“Well,” she answers. “I um… read books that I like, or goof off with Meiling, or try out things milady suggested I learn. And I…” She hesitates, but quickly makes up her mind. When she speaks, though, her voice has been lowered into a whisper. “Sometimes I practice…”

“…practice…? Koa, if you don’t want to tell me I won’t mind, it was just an innocent question.”

“N-no!” Koa shakes her head, little wings flapping in agitation. The other pair tenses up just a bit. “Actually… no. It’s not like it’s a secret, or anything, everyone knows. It’s just that sometimes I get silly like this… um…” She stands around and paces for a bit under your bemused stare. Then, she turns to you and says, “you know, Miss Alice, the magic Lady Patchouli uses, the one you’re trying to remember?”

“…yeah?” You do your best not to linger on those last few words.

“Well, I’ve never been able to understand it, really. I mean, I get the principle, and if I try hard enough I can use it, but… it feels so needlessly complicated, you know? It’s impressive to see how Lady Patchouli can just snap her fingers and get the world around her to do her bidding. But for anything I’ve wanted magic for, I’ve always wondered, why fight so hard and take things so coldly, when I could just use what’s inside me?”

“Inside?”

“Yeah,” says Koa. “Inside.” Slowly, she extends her hand, showing her empty palm to you. “It used to be pretty hard for me, because I’ve been raised away from all those ugly things... they do to enhance it, but I think I’ve got it down pretty well now.”

She closes her eyes, and takes a deep breath. You can feel it, then, the moving energy. But for the first time, it’s not a pull, not a disturbance manifest in the air around you, like a rush of air or the peal of bell. It’s more as though something were being gently coaxed out.

There is no circle drawn. And the spark appears not on Koa’s skin, but almost under it, slowly making its way along her wrist before it surfaces on her hand, glitters brightly, then bursts into a tiny pink flame which gives off no heat but a low, almost imperceptible warmth as it flickers and changes, forming strange patterns, dancing like a flower before the wind.
“It’s lovely,” you whisper, genuinely awed. “But how? You didn’t even…”

“It’s different from what you do, and the result isn’t always quite the same. It’s hard to affect things that aren’t part of me, for one. But… it feels right.”

“Ours isn’t the only way to perform magic.” You look up, and Koa’s little flame is smothered as she closes her palm and turns toward the source of the voice. Today, Patchouli has declined to wear her bonnet, merely combing back her locks away from her face. The golden crescent moon remains, however; pinned to her hair and glittering as it catches the light as though to crown with its beauty the veritable rainbow of colored ribbons that adorn her long black mane. Her long dress is perhaps less pretty, spotted here and there with soot, which she occasionally tries to pat away with a low frown. She’s clearly been working in her laboratory. “I can categorically claim that it is the most potent, but there are several other methods. Koa’s is unique because it derives from the ability of devils and such, or youkai as you’ll find them often called here, to maximize their use of their own internal energy, as opposed to you or I, who have to draw most of what we use from the world, to fulfill the law of equivalent exchange.”

She walks closer, and in an uncharacteristic show of affection squeezes Koa’s shoulder with a soft hand. “That was quite pretty,” she says with a smile, “but you need to work on your concentration. I saw you waver when Alice leaned in for a closer look, and again when you heard me coming.”

Koa blushes a cute pink. “Yes, milady! I’ll try harder next time, it’s just that sometimes I forget about to keep focus. I do my best, though~.”

“Good. As for you…” Patchouli’s stunning purple eyes meet your own, and not for the first time you feel like you’ve been placed under a looking glass. After a moment, she chuckles lightly. “…spell thief.”
You gasp. “Wait, hang on, Patchouli I didn’t-“

Patchouli cuts you off with a wave of her hand. “What are the four steps of the Great Work?”

You blink, dumbfounded. “I… don’t know?”

“Then you cannot cast the Royal Flare, nevermind understand the concept from seeing it cast once. Ergo, you cannot ‘steal’ it.”

“So you don’t think I’m some sort of undercover wizard or anything?”

“Honestly, Alice,” she smirks. “If anyone thought that, either Remilia or I would have dealt with you very thoroughly a long time ago. I believe you, and so does she, as I’m sure she’s told you. In fact, I dare say it’s you who’s having trouble believing we’d want to help you.”

“But I am thankful!” you protest. “For everything, I mean. If you want me to do something to prove it, then-“

“Shhh. You can start helping by not being so high strung. I wasn’t accusing you of anything, Alice.”

“I’m sorry.”

“At any rate, you could not have cast the Royal Flare… and yet you did.” Patchouli taps a finger against her full lips, musing. “I could speculate about that for days, Alice, but it makes little sense to do so when a way to make certain seems so obvious.”

You sigh. “I just want it to end, you know… if it’s all gone, then… I don’t know. But if I can do things, like the reinforcement magic, or what happened in the garden, even if I can’t do some of them consciously, there’s clearly something left, right?”

Patchouli nods. “I am willing to hold hope that this is an enchantment and not complete erasure, yes, Alice. We’ll see. But you have to be patient.” Her eyes narrow and her voice turns authoritative. “I’ll want you in my lab this Saturday for tests, but I will not rush this. Rummaging through memories like we plan to do is a delicate process, and if you are actually subject to a memory enchantment, there’s the matter of cracking it open without losing the connection. That I can do, but not without preparation. You’ll have to wait another week.”

“I understand,” you mumble. “Thank you, okay?” You give Patchouli a weak but sincere smile. “I know I must seem like a very strange person… the way I showed up… the things I do… and sometimes my temper gets the better of me. But you’re helping me either way, so… thank you.”

“I do it because it’s the right thing to do, Alice. And I daresay that if you asked Remilia, directly, mind, without giving her room to muddle things, I daresay she’d tell you the same.” She grins. “It doesn’t hurt that you’re a likable person. Admittedly, if you were like, say, Marisa, helping you would be… harder.” She makes a face, recalling the thieving witch with distaste.

Koa chuckles. “I don’t think Marisa’s that terrible, milady. I mean, she does have some pretty unforgivable aspects, but… I’d help her.”

“Then you’re a saint, Koa,” Patchouli deadpans. Then, her eyes narrow and she taps a pale finger against the table. “Speaking about such things, Alice, just because I’ll take my time doesn’t mean you get to laze around. I can’t have you doing nothing for over a week, after all, that’s just bad form.”

That declaration actually makes you brighten up a bit. “Of course!” you declare. “I’ve said it before, if I’m going to stick around, I might as well make myself useful, right? I can help with anything, even if it’s just helping Koa carry books around when she makes inventories. Right, Koa?”

The redheaded girl nods with a grin, the tiny wings on her head flapping with contentment. “Right, Miss Alice!”

“Good,” Patchouli smirks, “I don’t like slackers… just ask Meiling.”

That draws a giggle from all of you, though you can’t help but think it a bit unfair. It might take some prodding to get Meiling to do things, but from what you’ve seen she does them well.

“All this aside,” says Patchouli, “would any of you girls care to accompany me to the living room? After a morning at the lab my throat is just horribly dry, but a spot of tea ought to fix that, no?”

Both you and Koa agree, following her back to the warm living room. After that, your fears seem to fade, cast aside by the happiness brought by pleasant company.

And yet, in the back of your mind remains an incessant question.

‘But what if there is nothing left?’
>> No. 42457
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A week and a half passes without much event, a strangely peaceful lull after days that had felt, to you, like a torrent of constant conflict. You do little in this time, spending your days helping Koa with her books and chatting with Meiling under the trees. You try to study the books on magic Patchouli’s given you, but once more you find yourself confronted with the same quandary – the knowledge won’t seem to stick, as though you had long since absorbed the material and stripped it down to only its necessary details. And yet, though you feel as though you know, you’ve nothing to show for it, and over the days are unable to produce even a tenth of the miracle of the Royal Flare.

As for Patchouli herself, you see almost nothing of her during the week. She seems to be continually locked up in her lab, researching. The same thing happens with Remilia, who does not once call you to talk as she’s done before, and also does not show herself anywhere in the mansion. Quite sad, really – she’d promised you another chess game. When you ask Sakuya about this, the maid gives you a shrug and a grimace, claiming Remilia to be in “…one of her moods, yet again.”

These days of peace could not last, however, and you knew this well yourself. Patchouli had told you she’d soon be ready to analyze your mind, and this was something you spent most of the week dreading.

Sure enough, the Saturday exactly two weeks after Cirno first led you up to the mansion’s gate, Patchouli comes to you late in the afternoon and orders you to follow her. Not without trepidation, you do so and walk after her, out of the pleasantly warm tea room, down the spiral staircase, past dozens of enormous bookshelves, past the rows of tables littered with glass beakers in her laboratory, and into a cold, empty room.

“It’s a bit dark here, isn’t it?” you gesture weakly around you.

Compared to the bright, sanitized laboratory, the room seems almost like another world, dark and warm and lit only by the ever-dimming light of the setting sun, which you can see through a single large window as it bathes the lake in the distant horizon with a brilliant sparkle.

Patchouli shakes her head. “I need this. I’d rather have proper lighting in most situations, but the magic will generate its own light here, and that will be enough. Any more and the glare would be blinding, and you do not want that when dealing with a delicate spell.”

You give her a feeble nod, and then concentrate on examining your surroundings. The room itself is bare of any furniture or decorations, save for a single exception – on the floor, drawn with extreme precision in colored chalk, is a magic circle, its lines thickly detailed so as to resemble vines loaded with intricately designed leaves. Going further in, a series of simple geometric figures meld together, each one on top of the other, finally forming the outline of a strange flower you’ve never seen before.

“Acanthus,” says Patchouli, as though she’d read your mind. “As you should well know if you’ve been reading the book I gave you, the circle isn’t drawn physically. It is simply the path you make the magic travel through while amassing focus for the spell. Often, however, one finds that having the circle drawn beforehand as a guideline greatly facilitates the flow of the spell, even if it has no bearing on the actual magic.”

“I see,” you mumble, not really paying attention. With a trembling hand, you reach up to wipe cold sweat away from your brow. Why are you even wasting time talking?

“Alice,” Patchouli’s voice close to your ear nearly makes you jump. Sensing your agitation, she places a warm hand on your shoulder. She speaks in a low, soothing voice. “Even if… even if we don’t find anything, I think it’s important for you to know that you aren’t alone. We’ll still be here, Koa and I, Remilia, Meiling, even Sakuya.” She chuckles weakly in spite of herself. “I hear you’ve been finally getting along, no? I’m not… regardless of what we find, we won’t leave you alone.”

“But why!?” you snap, turning around. What fragile control you possess disappearing under the strain. “Why are you helping me? Even now, I still don’t understand!” You pause to catch your breath, eyes wide with distress. “Both you and Remilia say that it’s because it’s the right thing to do, but I know that just doesn’t happen, alright? Please don’t misunderstand me, Patchouli, you’ve been wonderful to me, but I know that good just isn’t handed out like that, alright?”

Patchouli stays silent, looking vaguely disappointed. “How terrible that you can take such a dim view of the world, Alice.” She sighs, and for a brief second – so quickly you’re not even quite sure if you saw it – she looks incredibly sad. “A sick chain of favors, but never a helping hand. But that makes no sense… if you could help yourself, could you not help someone else? Do you really think that’s wrong, Alice?”

Though you should have been prepared for that rebuke, you are not, and you stutter, doubting yourself. “I… I don’t… I’m scared, alright?” you moan, covering your face with your hands. “I’m scared.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know who I am and I barely know where I am, and it seems like everywhere I turn to I find something terrifying. And now this… what if I find nothing? What will I do, then?” You realize with a sickening disgust that all the fear and confusion that you’d felt when you first woke up in the snow had never gone anywhere; it had been merely repressed by the promise of Patchouli’s help. Now that that climactic moment had finally arrived, the dam burst, leaving you dazed and afraid.

Patchouli takes a good look at your trembling form, her gaze growing stern. She appears to reach a decision, hesitate for a second, then finally settle on it anyway. With a deft movement, she takes you firmly by the hand. “Sit,” she orders you, pointing at the center of the magic circle.

“What?”

“Sit,” she repeats. “Neither you nor I will gain anything from seeing you wallow in your own fear. If there is anything to find, I promise you on my honor, you will find it. And if, as I theorized earlier, your memories have truly been shattered, then…” She halts, as though unsure of her authority to say what comes next, but after a second’s thought she shakes her head and then her gaze meets your own with that cold power so characteristic of her. “Then I can assure you that the mystery will not go unsolved, Alice!”

You hesitate. “Wait,” you whisper, “I’ve still got one last question.”

“What is it?” asks the witch.

“Do you know anything about me, Patchouli?”

Though the woman’s deep lavender eyes shine with compassion, she answers with the quiet truth. “No, Alice.” She gives you a sad smile. “I do not.”

You nod, and letting go of her hand, step into the circle.
>> No. 42458
There is first a blur of motion, Patchouli stepping forward, her warm hands pressed against your forehead, her soft voice whispering something to herself, over and over again.

Then there is a flash of light, and everything changes.

There is a lush garden and a large tree, and at its base a young girl dressed in blue passes the pages of a strangely decorated tome.

You walk towards her to ask her a question, but she’s gone.

There’s a pair of pale hands holding up a polished rapier with a hilt inlaid with gold. For a second they tremble, as if in fear, but a cold discipline strengthens them, washing the emotion away. You wonder if those hands are your own, but they fade away.

“And you…”

You hear a voice in the darkness, so far away you can barely even make out the words.

”…you do not exist!”

What nonsense. You swipe the declaration away with a wave of your hand.

There is a forest, and a path paved with white flagstones. You walk down it, and with each step you take trepidation grows in your heart. This is the path of memory, of knowledge, the path to lead you to recover everything that has been hidden. You follow the path, seek that shining truth…

…and find absolutely nothing at all.

There is a sound like breaking glass, and Patchouli is stroking your head with a heavy sigh as you hold on to her waist for dear life, sobbing uncontrollably.
>> No. 42459
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“Liquor or tea?”

A pause. The vampire taps her chin with a pale finger, the decision one of certain importance. “Tea,” she finally declares with a childish grin. “Lots of milk and sugar; I want something sweet before heading off to sleep.”

“This early?” asks her personal maid, cold blue eyes firmly concentrated on her task as she produces a set of cutlery and a porcelain cup from a cupboard near the roaring fireplace, delicate hands neatly arranging the objects on the table in front of her mistress. “It’s only four in the morning.”

“Late enough,” Remilia retorts, “I only need a couple of hours, unlike you, so it’s not like time is much of an inconvenience.”

“But then it’s not much of an inconvenience for me either, milady.” With a clap of Sakuya’s hands, the cup fills to the brim with steaming milk tea, two tiny cubes of sugar appearing on a nearby plate. “I suppose it might be for the faeries forced to make you tea at this hour, however.”

Remilia shrugs. “What’s a sleepy fairy scorching herself on a stove to me? We’ve got dozens of them.” With a smooth movement, she drops both cubes of sugar into her cup and stirs it with her spoon; solid gold of course. Silver she considers more elegant, but it’s just not healthy. “You, however,” she looks up at Sakuya with some amusement, “I trust you don’t find me too bothersome, asking you to cater to me this late at night.”

Her servant gives her an honest smile, but her eyes are dead. “It’s of no consequence. I assure you, milady, there is little you can do to make me despise the thought of your very existence any more than I already do.”

“When, I wonder, will you realize I’m not your enemy?” Remilia sighs, setting down her spoon. “What have I not given you?”
“Nothing, milady. Everything I have asked you’ve given me, and that is why I hate you. More sugar?”

“That’s fine, thank you.” The cup is brought to her pale lips, the warm tea savored with a pleasured hum. “And yet here we are, master and servant, eternal friends eternally bound. Who ever heard of friends with so much hate between them?”

“I suppose we’re two of a kind, then,” Sakuya retorts. “Do you require anything else?”

“No, but keep me company.”

“Of course, milady.” The maid stands at attention, waiting for her master to speak. Remilia takes her time, however, pondering her next words as she drinks her tea in tiny sips.

“It’s been so long, and yet you still puzzle me, Sakuya,” she finally whispers, “Years and years and we still keep coming back to this conversation. I’ll admit I do not understand you.”

“That’s perfectly fine, milady,” Sakuya nods. “I don’t understand myself, either. But it should suffice for us both to know that I am your loyal servant, friend and advisor, and that you can trust me, no matter how much I am sickened by all you represent.”

“Good to know,” Remilia mutters with a smirk. “I should-“

She stops, setting her cup on the table and raising her head, as though she’d heard something. Noticing her mistress’ sudden change, Sakuya casually drops her hand to her thigh, pale fingers softly brushing against the handle of a knife.

After a second, however, Remilia relaxes, long wings spreading in contentment as she bares an inhuman smile, showing each and every one of her murderous, razor-sharp teeth. “Oh my. Looks like someone wants to join us, Sakuya~.”

“Little mistress?” Sakuya asks softly, her hand still on her knife.

“Ha!” Remilia barks, shaking her head. “That brute? No, no, she’s still nursing her wounds; it’ll take her quite a bit of time to materialize an illusion strong enough to face me. Patchouli’s new seals are truly splendid. Come out now…” She giggles, staring up at the ceiling. “You’ve been trying to get in all week; but honestly, you could have just asked. I have no problem meeting you in this room, and it’s not like you’ll manage to go anywhere else while I’m watching. Let’s have tea? Yes? Good!

The moment Remilia finishes talking, a low, faint sound fills the room, the tinkling of a tiny bell, sweet but almost imperceptible. The air in front of the table is distorted in a shimmering haze, and out of the portal steps a tall, pale-haired woman, dressed proud and elegant in a gown of violet silk that glimmers in the firelight. Saying nothing, she waves her hand, and the portal closes behind her as she takes a seat.

“Remilia,” she mutters as a greeting.

“Whor- oh, sorry, where are my manners?” Remilia chuckles. “Yukari. Sakuya, bring out another cup.”

“That will not be necessary,” Yukari cuts in without taking her eyes off the vampire. The disgust in her voice is palpable. “I’m not thirsty.”

“Not thirsty?” Remilia places a hand over her mouth, eyes widening in fake surprise. “Then why are you here, then, if not to drink tea? I have the very best, you know, my personal magician preserved a batch from 1890, Indian. Marvelous.”

“I won’t waste time on platitudes, vampire.” Yukari’s voice is as soft as ever, but as her golden eyes narrow it carries a hint of steel. “I know you have the girl.”

“Girl?” Remilia repeats, looking bemused. “Which girl? Sakuya, do we have any girls?”

“That depends on the viewpoint,” Sakuya answers, her lips curving in just the barest hint of a smile. “But to be broad, milady and everyone on her staff are girls.”

“Ridiculous, I am a mature woman~.” Remilia waves her off, then sneers at Yukari. “Sakuya looks at most nineteen, though. Patchouli’s assistant is that age or even a bit younger, she’s just… very developed. And Patchouli and Meiling certainly act like little girls when they don’t get their way. What do you want one of them for, anyways? I know they’re all very pretty, but if you want to take one home I’m afraid I’d want her back before nightfall~.”

Until that point Yukari had simply been buffing her nails without even the barest hint of interest. But as Remilia finishes, she looks straight at her while placing a delicate hand on the table, like a player moving a piece across a board.
“I meant Alice.”

For a second, that wipes the smirk off Remilia’s face, the tension in the room growing as the vampire’s gaze bores into Yukari, as if trying to peer into her thoughts.

Then she sneers. “That girl does not exist to you. I won’t let you make her part of your schemes for even a second.”
It’s now Yukari’s turn to smile. “Because she’s already part of yours, monster?”

“Who knows?” says Remilia with a shrug. “Not long ago, I found a beautiful young girl dressed in white, dying in the snow. There are more secrets behind her origin than you or I know, and I am determined to help her uncover them, for that is what she wants even if she can’t quite say it yet. What is it to you if I benefit from what happens while she does?”

“Benefit,” Yukari spits out, “yes, using people like toys to amuse yourself does tend to let you reap the spoils of their suffering. But what else? You could do that with any other person. Why this girl, in particular? What interest could you have not only in her, but also in the one she mirrors?”

“You truly do not understand me, do you, woman?” Remilia clicks her tongue, looking disappointed. “We could say the answer is exactly like how you believe it is and how you paint me to be; I picked her because she’s special, and that makes toying with her all the more satisfying. Or we could say that in my long history I learned first-hand what her suffering is and will be like and wish to prevent it, that I am the Scarlet Devil, and that such a thing alone lets me foresee the magnificent twist of events that will be brought about by my little shard of lightning.” She grins, cruelly. “What do you think?”

“I think,” Yukari’s answer is slow, deliberate, and final. “I think that you are gravely underestimating the other forces at work here. And I think, that if you force the coming confrontation to your own ends, the outcome will be one you’ll regret, no matter who you defeat. And I promise you, if you cross me, I will spare no effort in defeating you. This includes taking the girl.”

Remilia nods sagely. “Yes, of course, of course. How could I doubt you~?” Closing her eyes, she takes a deep breath, as if in resignation. She stays this way for a spell, saying nothing.

Then, she opens her eyes, and a tiny grin tugs at her lips. “Wait,” she says, her gaze brightening up, “wait. You… I thought you were…” She cocks her head, openly staring at Yukari as though she were some sort of alien creature. “…you’re being serious. Good Lord in Heaven, you’re being serious!” She turns to her maid, eyes wide with feigned innocence. “Sakuya, am I wrong? Is this a joke? Is she truly, really, honestly threatening me?”

“Why, I wouldn’t know, milady,” says she, a cruel smile broad on her face as she turns to stare at Yukari with undisguised glee shining in her steel blue eyes. “I’d suppose so, but her claims are just so outrageous it’s no wonder you might think it a joke.”

“Yukari,” mutters Remilia, her voice musical and dangerously soft. Then all pretense of amiability fades from her as a psychotic smile to rival any of her sister’s takes over her features, knife-like teeth bared as if to kill. “Yukariiiii!”

A loud thud echoes across the room as Remilia stands and slams her palms on the table, her face so close to Yukari’s their noses almost touch, their gazes meeting in a contest of will, furious scarlet red clashing against impassive gold. “Are you dumb?” she asks, her tone dripping with mockery. “Are you stupid, or something? Really? Reeeeeally~? Come oooon! Go on, go ahead, just you try it! Make good on your threats for once in your miserable existence! I’d love to see it! Go on, give me an excuse! The moment you lay a single finger on that girl, I will end you. I will love to rip your flesh apart myself, inch by inch! Why, I might even let my good Sakuya join in; you know what she thinks of filthy demons like you! I’d say I’d feed you to my familiars, but that’d just be a lie, because when I’m done with you there won’t even be enough left of your rotting meat to make hamburgers!”

She punctuates this last sentence with a loud cackle, utterly overjoyed with herself.

“You never cease to surprise me,” Yukari finally states as Remilia’s laughter starts to die down. “You truly are an abomination hiding behind a child’s face.”

“My face?” Remilia asks, her attempt to look mortified failing when she can’t keep herself from laughing. “You don’t like my face? Sakuya, she doesn’t like my face~!”

“Nonsense, milady,” says the maid, barely stifling her own giggles. “Your face is beautiful.”

“Enough,” Yukari cuts in, and her voice is like cold steel. She stands up, glaring at Remilia with a subdued anger that borders on hatred. “I’ve warned you, devil. If you choose to ignore it, then that is up to you, but know that I am not a forgiving opponent, and that I never suffer leaving evil to act with impunity.”

“You never suffer leaving evil to act with impunity,” Remilia repeats, deadly calm. Then her face contorts into a mask of rage. “Filthy hypocrite.”

Yukari doesn’t answer, but instead slashes at the air with a deft movement of her fingers. The shimmering portal reopens, and she starts to step inside.

“Wait,” says Remilia, a mocking smirk playing on her lips, “a week trying to force your way past my wards, and when I finally let you in, all you can muster are vague threats? Really? Is that it, whore?”

Yukari grits her teeth and draws a deep breath. “Trust me, monster,” she says as she disappears into the gap, “I learnt all I needed to know.”

And then she is gone, leaving the vampire and her servant alone once more.

“I do believe you might have offended her, milady,” Sakuya states, grinning as she retrieves Remilia’s now empty teacup.
The lady vampire gives her a dry chuckle in return, red eyes widening in undisguised amusement. “Oh, dear. Then what comes next will certainly do nothing to improve her mood.”

“…Milady?”

“You’ll see.”
>> No. 42460
File 128454398869.jpg - (271.30KB , 1000x1000 , The Dark Corridor.jpg ) [iqdb]
42460
The night is cold. Koa has chosen to latch on to one of your arms (she does move quite often in her sleep), but the shared heat is nothing compared to the chill that has taken over your blood, your skin, the very marrow of your bones.

You stare at the dark ceiling, thinking of nothing in particular aside from how cold you’re feeling. Even though Koa turned off the lights already quite some time ago, you’ve not slept for even a second. How could you, after what has just happened?
But then, at the same time, you feel no inner turmoil, none of the anger, or fear, that you’ve grown so accustomed to.
Just a dull apathy. Just the cold.

’An empty girl.’

You flash back to Patchouli, her perpetually calm stare meeting your green eyes, dull with dismay. From what little you actually know of her (and much as you would sometimes like to say otherwise, you do know very little), she would sympathize with your situation. After all, that was partly why she had lent you her help, even when you’d not asked for it and when you had been… less than amicable the first time you met. But when the spell was done, and you were left on your knees in utter shock, she’d not looked surprised, or defeated. Rather, she’d looked as though she had been expecting this result all along.

From the start, she’d had no faith at all. She’d helped you to put your mind at ease, and she’d hid the horrible truth from you in an attempt to keep you from hurting. Remilia, too, had done so. But in the end it was clear as day to both of them, even as they tried not to take your hope – your memories were shattered, irrecoverable. The slate was wiped and the records burnt. Whoever Alice had been before she woke up in the snow… that person was dead.

And you were what was left. What had that monster, Flandre, called you? A shadow? Though you can’t presume she meant anything in her insane ramblings, she was fundamentally correct.

That’s what you are. A blank slate. An empty girl. Whoever you might have been was gone, leaving only a name.
“Alice,” you whisper, so quietly you can barely even hear yourself.

You are Alice. But you are not Alice, the girl who was before she fell asleep in the cold. The collection of memories and experiences that made up whoever you were before is gone, and that person is gone with them, leaving only you. Alice. An entirely different individual with her own thoughts and dreams. You’d had a vague inkling of this dichotomy before, mostly in idle thoughts, but this time you can keenly feel it. Someone died, and you took their place, just like that.

You, Alice, can never be the Alice who once was. The very act of your existence precludes that notion. Indeed, had the memories not been destroyed, but merely locked in the back of your mind, wouldn’t the act of bringing the old Alice back end your existence? You could not co-exist. The Alice with memory is a person fundamentally different from you, and her return would have wiped you away, so that the girl who woke up in the snow… so that you… would never have lived for more than two weeks.

For the first time in what feels like an eternity, a flash of emotion crosses your heart.

It feels vaguely like hatred.

Obligatory BGM: Prison [ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=--vdeq-zTgA&fmt=18 ]

“I don’t want to die.” You sit up on the bed and extricate your arm from Koa’s grasp, your hand boldly sneaking under her nightgown to touch the soft skin of her back. She feels warm, whereas you are stone cold.

Suddenly, you understand.

Quick as an arrow, you get out of the bed in absolute silence.

Remilia knew. From the very start, she knew. That’s why she offered you the scabbard. She saw that there was nothing left of the you from before, and didn’t want this strange girl who so amused her to destroy herself in a futile quest to bring back someone who no longer existed.

You don’t want to die. You are Alice. The other Alice was herself, but since your body was the same, her return would spell your disappearance. However…

Even though you do not want her back, even though you are now a different person…

…the least you could do is put her to rest. The least you could do is solve the riddle of who killed her.

And you know how.

Nodding to yourself, you eye your white dress and the rest of your clothes, resting on a nearby chair. With a soft rustle, your nightgown falls to the floor, leaving you naked in the darkness. Then, though they’re on the other side of the room, you raise your arm as though grasping for your clothes.

Manipulation of matter. Sakuya’s done it, ripping the deadly edge from her knives during your little play duel. She’s done it, you’ve seen it, so why would you not have the power to do it yourself?

You know neither the incantation nor the runic array, but it escapes your lips and the circle draws itself over the dress, as though the world itself were trying to please your whims. Your clothes disappear into specks of violet light, which fly over to you, enveloping you with their glittering warmth and reforming. Within seconds you’re fully attired.

Purposefully, you head towards the door, but pause, your eyes catching the luster of your rapier in the gloom. Smiling in spite of yourself, you raise your left hand.

You’ve seen this before. Patchouli casually calling to herself books hundreds of meters away. The enchantments on Marisa’s broom, which grant it the power of flight. You want to do it now, so why shouldn’t it happen?.

There is an imperceptible spark, and the blade jumps up and flies towards you, presenting its handle to its gloved master. Your hand grasps it with confident strength.

Then, slowly, you open the door and slither out.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The majestic library poses no obstacle to you, the massive bookcases merely grim witnesses to your resolve. You make your way down the spiral staircase that separates the living quarters from the rest of the complex, and then from floating platform to floating platform, moving ever more quickly between the shelves, crossing the wrought-iron bridges with nary a look downward, going past the plaque that bears the names of the monks who originally founded the site, standing in front of the carved oaken doors and swinging them open…

You walk past them, feeling the breeze on your back as they close behind you, the magic melding them into the concrete wall and hiding them from sight. In front of you lies the stone sphere. You move past it, expecting it to stay inactive. But for the second time ever, something stirs within it, causing you to stop and stare.

What is changed only to arise the same?

“Not me.”

Good!

You nod and keep moving, past the domed rotunda of the foyer, up the magnificent stairs, along the dark, twisted corridors.
Then, where the hallways branch into a cross, where you first met Flandre, you stop. Once more you are glared at by the paintings distributed along the walls, the angels sitting on their holy perches eying you like you’re some kind of demon.
Something clicks inside you, and for the first time, you understand. Raising your head, you glare right back.

“I’ve been ignoring you,” you say to one of the angels. This one, unlike every other one in the paintings, is female, and her stare seems particularly fierce. “Pretending it didn’t happen, that you didn’t exist. I imagined that’s how the rest of the mansion lives. But I understand now. Patchouli lied a bit back there when she told me about you, didn’t she? She probably didn’t want me to be scared, thinking you had the power to come out anytime. But Remilia clued me in, even if she didn’t intend to. You’re just an illusion. You draw power from your surroundings by using what little magic you have left, and form an image. That’s why I could never quite shake your presence – dreams go wherever they wish to! But the real you…” You crack a vicious smile. “I bet the real you is as locked up now as she was centuries before! And the people of this mansion… they don’t pretend you don’t exist… they simply don’t fear you. You’re no match for them at all as an illusion. Maybe you were for me… but that was then!”

You raise your right fist and clench it tight, feeling the reinforcement magic sparkle in the cracks between your fingers. “I was weak back then. But now… I’m not dumb; I know there’s something in me, something that was there for the me from before and is still around now. I’m not afraid of you, not in the least! Come on, show yourself! You knew what I was, didn’t you? You knew from the start! Come oooon, you little monster!”

At your words, there is a sound akin to a tinkling crystal, and the shadows along the walls shift shape and move from under the dim moonlight, followed by your gaze, gathering themselves in one large column that begins to take shape.
And finally, a scarlet glare full of malevolence meets your beautiful green eyes.

She’s back, this time, but different. The little girl is no longer dressed in rags, but in a scarlet gown of pure silk, covered in frills and decorated with gold thread. Her hair which was once grimy and unkempt under a dirty bonnet now falls loose down her shoulders, richly adorned with dozens of red ribbons.

“You’ve got guts to call out for me like that,” she says, and her voice is delicate and soft. The aura of revulsion you once felt before is gone, hidden by a mask of utter composure. “But I must thank you for your belief in my ability to appear before you. Those little sparks of magic you let out from your hand right now were just enough to help me finish forming the image. Gathering the energy is hard, you know, and it’s a one-time thing, my friend~.”

“You look different,” you say. “Less… murderous.”

“I’m not trying to scare you into non-existence tonight, worm.” She grins, flashing her fangs as she steps towards you. You don’t step back.

“You change your mind quickly.”

A flash of an emotion you can’t quite identify briefly crosses Flandre’s eyes, but it’s gone before you know it. “I do.” She spreads her arms, her smile wide and taunting as she gives you an exaggerated shrug. “Don’t I, my friends~?”
“So why were you calling for me anyways?” she asks, eyes widening as though she were trying to absorb you through her stare. “Just to tell me you realized how worthless and empty you are? To tell me you knew this body you see is but a product of illusions? Is that all, worm!?

“No,” you say, and your rapier flashes white death as you move faster than sight. “I just wanted to see if I could kill a monster.”

Flandre looks down, her fake blood spraying out of the massive wound in her stomach. “Clever,” she mumbles, not even bothering to turn around to look at you where you now stand behind her. “Something Remilia would do…”

She giggles softly, and you turn around to find her melting back into the shadows.

You look down at your rapier. It was an illusion, so the blade is as clean as ever.

It won’t be when you kill that girl.

’I’ll get you. I can do it. I can definitely reach that goal. Remilia’s wrong. I can do it. I can end you, rip the secret of what’s happening from your corpse, and leave the world with one less source of filth. Wait for meeeeeee!’

Grinning fiercely, you make your way down the center corridor, past the ticking grandfather clock and the locked door to the chapel, all the way up to the polished doors, which you push open without bothering to knock.

Remilia is expecting you, relaxed on her chair, a knowing smirk playing on her exquisite lips as she softly exhales the smoke from a flavored cigarette. Sakuya is there as well, but she clearly wasn’t anticipating this, eyes wide with surprise at the passion in your countenance.

“Where is she?” you ask imperiously.

Remilia looks downright proud. “Why ask something you already know, I wonder?”

“Good!” You fiercely declare. “Then I won’t have to go looking for her elsewhere.”
Nodding in thanks, you turn to leave, but stop and turn as Remilia calls out your name.

“Alice!” In her left hand she holds up the golden belt and bejeweled scabbard. “It’s not good to go running around with that unsheathed!” She points at your rapier, eyes wide with mock concern. “You’ll poke out your eye~!”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’d probably do that.” Smirking right back at her, you extend your right hand, and catch the scabbard in the air as Remilia throws it to you with a mad cackle.
>> No. 42461
File 128454402333.jpg - (716.14KB , 804x1100 , Whisper My Name.jpg ) [iqdb]
42461
You blaze through the corridors, past the massive entrance door, jumping the steps that lead down to the garden in a single leap before barreling down the path, guided by the moonlight.

All around you, the very first flowers of the year are starting to bloom.

You reach the gate. It’s locked – Meiling naps at this hour. It doesn’t matter; with a wave of your hand the padlock snaps in half and the portal swings open. You sprint past it, leaving the mansion behind.

Within minutes, your legs, powered by magic, have carried you to the stone bridge, then across the misty lake. You’re so much faster on your own! Before long, you’ve reached the edge of the forest, panting heavily but far from tired.

The trail of black blood has long dried up, but even in the darkness you can make out which trees have been eaten through by the taint. You follow them, and make your way to the blasted clearing.

The girl’s scent is overpowering. You realize that had you not been attacked that night, you’d have easily managed to track her down.

She won’t hide from you this time. You won’t let her; you’re not afraid anymore. Though the feeling of evil and rot is just as strong now as before, this time it’s nothing compared to the murderous cold that’s taken over you, shielding you from its influence. No hallucinations grip your mind.

You move past the clearing, and as you do, the forest regenerates, the black influence fading away until you find yourself on a winding dirt path peppered with flower beds. You follow it without hesitation.

The path leads up over a small slope. As you go up, you can see a house, painted a dull white. And a garden covered in flowers that have not yet quite bloomed.

She’s there, kneeling amongst the petals.

You draw your blade. The polished metal has never looked more beautiful than tonight, its baleful gleam contrasting with the polished jewels of the scabbard, shining under the moon.

The girl hears you. She turns around, and your green eyes meet.

You strike.

“So it was you, wasn’t it?”
--------------------------------------------------------------------

----End of Act II----

[] Rose (Pick a color)
-[]Blue
-[]Black

[] Witch-hazel

[] Love lies bleeding.

[] I hold another flower. (Write-in)

>> No. 42462
File 12845441244.jpg - (1.06MB , 1000x750 , Lotus Bloom.jpg ) [iqdb]
42462
The ancient garden is overgrown. Nature has long since reclaimed most traces of civilization, and now trees, surrounded by creeping, flowering vines, share the cracked flagstones with weeds and sunflowers.

Amid the wilderness, however, one spot remains free of the sprouting vegetation. A white pavilion, rising out of the loam like a shining vision. Inside it, sitting at a magnificently adorned wrought-iron table, a woman reads a book and quietly sips on a cup of black tea. She is quite beautiful, her skin pale as snow but flush with life, her features fine as porcelain, almond-shaped eyes black as coals. Her hair, long enough to reach her shoulders, is soft and wavy and as she lifts an exquisite hand to push back a few stray locks, it catches in the sun, and when the morning light kisses it its color ripples from a dark brown to an impossible shade of scintillating green.

“It’s getting a tad warmer at last, no?” she speaks softly to herself. “I do hate winters…”

She looks away from her book as she says this, off into the distance. In the direction of her gaze, a path opens across the wild garden, leading away from the pavilion and towards her stately home, that ancient manor built from the architecture of her will. Briefly, she ponders whether to return, but dismisses the idea just as quickly, leaning back on her chair.

“I am, however, quite hungry,” she whispers to the empty air. “I would desire a snack.”

With a small grin, she snaps her fingers, and the sound of magic rings through the pavilion, a vibrating hum that ends with the air shimmering as a new figure manifests itself.

The woman’s servant looks quite young, fourteen, perhaps, at most. She is dressed in a loose red dress, frilled and adorned with flowers, and in her hands she carries a porcelain plate bearing three ripe peaches. Slight and delicate, with long blonde hair in princess curls and gorgeous grey eyes, she would be stunningly beautiful if not for the cadaverous pallor of her skin, the unchanging, statue-like expression of her face, and the creeping black scars making their way up her tender neck and wrists, as though vines from a poisonous plant.

“You can just set them on the table here, yes. How tasty… I don’t suppose you’d want one yourself, would you? You look hungry as well.” The woman gives the girl a warm smile, holding up a peach up to her.

The girl’s eyes run over the peach, examining it intensely. However, she says nothing.

The woman’s eyes narrow dangerously. “You’re not going to start putting up resistance again, are you, dear? I order you to eat it.”

Slowly, laboriously, the girl’s arm rises, and she takes the peach, bringing it up to her mouth and taking a small bite. “Thank you,” she whispers in a hoarse, spiritless voice.

“You’re welcome.” The woman grabs a peach of her own and with a girlish giggle bites into it, savoring the taste. “You know, she’s taking her time,” she murmurs afterwards. “This whole thing won’t ever come into motion if she doesn’t play out her turn. Should I have sent more signs to her? Or maybe… I wonder if that woman… no, certainly. It’d just be dumb to think otherwise. I’d have liked it if she’d not taken notice until it was too late, but that’s just wishful thinking, isn’t it? Particularly with such a sentimental person.”

The woman nods to herself, taking another bite of her peach. “I’ll wait, then. It’ll be worth seeing how she can even this game.”

She looks up at her servant, smiling. “What do you think, Elly?”

The girl stays quiet.
>> No. 42463
Whoa, the ???? was kind of scary... against the Flower Youkai herself? I should've known.
>> No. 42471
Is a post a fifth this size is a wall, what the heck is this?
Other than beautiful.

[X] Witch-hazel
Because Love lies bleeding is a silly looking plant and roses are asking for trouble.
>> No. 42473
Hell yeah. Well worth the wait.

[X] Witch-hazel
>> No. 42474
>over 11,000 words
mother of god.

Reading commences now.
>> No. 42479
[X] Witch-hazel
>> No. 42481
File 128458125239.jpg - (41.88KB , 640x480 , 20080419-RueAnemone.jpg ) [iqdb]
42481
[x]Rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
A beatiful and ephemeral spring flower. It's transitory nature and white color makes it good for Alice. Why white? Well, if she's going against the seven-colored puppeter, it's only fitting that she is represented by the sum of all colors.
>> No. 42483
[X] White Morning Glory.
>> No. 42490
[x]>>42481
>> No. 42494
[x] Love lies bleeding.
Goddamn, I cannot wait until someone smacks the gleeful smirks off of Remilia's face. Fucking unlikeable bitch.
>> No. 42495
[X] >>42481
>> No. 42496
[beautiful]>>42481

That was a perfect choice of music for that scene and HOLY SHIT WALL.
>> No. 42499
File 128460422323.jpg - (216.99KB , 569x800 , f579906a4a488bc45af3d3cb464c8eca.jpg ) [iqdb]
42499
[X] >>42481

Awesome update.

Also, Koa is delicious and Alice needs to give in and realize this.
>> No. 42501
That update jesus christ.
That (evil?) Remilia is something else. She has good intentions for Alice, even if it's just to entertain herself, so she's all right in my book.
That (EDITED?) Sakuya is ice cold. Hot damn.
That (good?) Yukari is really unique. Is all of this to appease her guilt? Or there's something else?
That music and ending jesus fuck. And Alice's skill... being a copycat in a land full of powerful beings is something so fucking useful I'm frankly shocked that it isn't used more often in CYOAs.

[x]>>42481
>A beatiful and ephemeral spring flower. It's transitory nature and white color makes it good for Alice.
>It's transitory nature and white colormakes it good for Alice.
>transitory nature
So, I'm not the only one who thinks that she is not going to have a 'happily ever after' end. I'd love to be wrong tho.
>> No. 42502
>>42501
Who to say but one can't say Alice II isn't frail looking.
>> No. 42504
[X] Witch-hazel

Also known as "Winterbloom" because of its unusual characteristic of flowering during winter. Its twigs were used as dowsing rods.
>> No. 42507
[X] >>42481
>> No. 42511
[x] I hold another flower.
-[x] Rafflesia!

IT IS THE BIGGEST SO IT MUST BE THE BEST

>Mugenkan
>Elly
Holy moly, she got messed up. But hooray, more PC-98 acknowledgment!

Also, I'm not sure Alice's ability is simply being able to mimic magic, but rather being able to do anything she wants purely by will.

I want to say that this itself is The Ultimate Magic, but who knows.

Newer new newer theory:
Alice was not trying to create a sentient doll at all, but rather, was trying to somehow reclaim the Ultimate Magic from Yuuka, but without directly confronting her. More like she was attempting to restore the Grimoire.

...Or she was trying to build a sentient doll, and tried to use the Ultimate Magic that she didn't have as a power source, or was in some way trying to access/utilize the UM from a distance.

I don't know anymore. Again.

Also also:
It's interesting to see how this Gensokyo is different from the usual fare. Lots of people are bitter, spiteful, or downright vicious with each other, rather than the fun happy snarky pack of tea-drinking girls we think of them as.

>>42499
This, already. Please?
>> No. 42512
[X] Witch-hazel
>> No. 42513
>>42511
Yay corpse flower!

But you couldn't physically hold one of those anyway.
>> No. 42518
Called for >>42481. Writing.

Expect the next update (and new thread) to come soon(ish) because I am fucking giddy at having finally finished the introductory acts and because Alice on Alice action (GET IT? *ahem*) is fun as hell to write.

On another note, thanks to you all for the enthusiastic response. I half expected that the previous update would end up alienating half the readers, but it looks like it didn't. Good!

I promise, if you like this enough to stick to it until the end, you'll see that every question (even the ones not yet raised) has an answer, and they're not all as obvious as they might seem.

Again, thanks, and I hope you guys enjoy what comes next.
>> No. 42519
Called for >>42481. Writing.

Expect the next update (and new thread) to come soon(ish) because I am fucking giddy at having finally finished the introductory acts and because Alice on Alice action (GET IT? *ahem*) is fun as hell to write.

On another note, thanks to you all for the enthusiastic response. I half expected that the previous update would end up alienating half the readers, but it looks like it didn't. Good!

I promise, if you like this enough to stick with it until the end, you'll see that every question (even the ones not yet raised) has an answer, and they're not all as obvious as they might seem.

Again, thanks, and I hope you guys enjoy what comes next.
>> No. 42562
Perhaps the Ultimate Magic is to BECOME Magic itself? Perhaps that's what Alice finally achieved, and it somehow created a reflection of herself because she couldn't control it?
>> No. 42567
>>42519
Oh wow, this update was magnificient. I don't know how you do it but the characters feel so... alive for the lack of a better word.
>> No. 42575
You sir, are a gentleman and a scholar. I am definitely looking forward to more....As for questions I want to see answered
Alice & Koa, otp? *hides*
>> No. 42588
File 128498716541.jpg - (209.68KB , 600x600 , 75d8ff582f6fe724d852a64f9cc1bb6b.jpg ) [iqdb]
42588
My God. Those walls. I was overwhelmed. And it doesn't help that that picture in >>42461 made me hard. Two thumbs up for you, mate.

>>42499
This. Totally this.
>> No. 42592
>>42575
I want to know about it, since Koa's willing to give Alice II plenty of love.
>> No. 42594
[X] Witch-hazel
>> No. 42604
[X] Witch-hazel