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[x] Enthusiastic yes.
[x] Straight to that sorceress’s estate.
You throw your arms around her, pulling her into a hug. “You were great. Thank you so much.”
“O-oh.” She chuckles, audibly embarrassed. She pushes you back.
Blushing, she gives you a firm nod. “You’re… you’re safe with me.” She clears her throat. “A-anyway, where did you want to go?”
You hold your book up, glancing through its binding. ‘Linking Compendium,’ it says.
“The Scarlet Devil Mansion. I need to return this.”
She swallows. “Very well. Let us depart.” She glances left and right, then swerves behind you and shoots forward. You roll, twisting around to follow.
You soar after her, pushing hard and straining to maintain direction through the crushing wind. A sea of trees, interspersed by thin roads, jets backward behind you.
But Youmu just flies further ahead.
You push yourself further, tilting under the air’s overwhelming weight, but only slow the rate at which Youmu gains on you.
She glances back, slowing on her own.
You relax, regaining control as you catch up. A beaming smile twitches on and off her face as she offers you a hand.
She pulls you close and takes off again. Sprawling forests give way to a wide lake coated in a thin fog. The distant sound of giggles and squeals rings through the air as small, scattered lights dance near the water’s surface.
More fairies. You nudge Youmu. She gives you a quick glance before veering off to the side. She keeps near the shoreline as she flies around, banking slowly toward a great red mansion in the distance.
Small lights rip out from the lake surface, hurtling toward you. In a moment of panic, you kick off away from Youmu, wobbling to avoid it as the next barrage fires. Small, muffles giggles and squeals float through the foggy air as you duck under the oncoming bullets.
Youmu grabs your wrist and rockets forward, soon clearing the mist to find a wide gate made of elaborate, flowing shapes in black iron. You see a manicured courtyard through the gate with trimmed rosebushes flanking a flagstone path.
The shots fade off as you descend. With cool grass under your feet, you glance back to the find a dearth of fairy fire. You turn back to the gate, hoping to see what intimidated them.
A tall, busty woman leans against the wall, her stark red mane descending to her knees with neatly-trimmed bangs blowing across her closed eyes.
You glance back, finding no hint of oncoming bullets. But as you return to the guard, you overhear hushed voices somewhere behind you.
Youmu walks close to the guard as you approach the gate. You poke at it, feeling some give. You push, pressing your body in to overcome the metal’s weight. It swings open without further resistance.
The voices creep closer. You spin around, finding only lapping waves and blurry, grey mist.
You step backward toward the gate. Youmu flicks her gaze to you and steps away from the guard.
You step behind the walls. Youmu moves to follow you.
The gatekeeper snatches her arm. Youmu freezes.
“You’re not invited.”
Her legs twitch. “I- I’m with her. I-I’m her guardian.” The sudden timidity in her voice catches you off guard.
The gatekeeper lets go and reaches her arms out, yawning as she stretches. She turns to face you, smiling. “Orders are orders. She can’t just enter the lady’s grounds.”
Youmu twists to face her, fingering her blades as she lowers her stance. “You mean to bar us entry?”
The gatekeeper waves, returning to Youmu. “No, no, no. She,” she points to you, “can enter. You can’t.”
The gatekeeper drops into a ready stance herself, fist readied.
Youmu grips the handle for her longer sword. “Very well.”
She lunges forward, narrowly missing as the guard leaps aside. Rainbow lights pelt into the ground as you take another couple steps back.
More lights appear over the lake as a new fairy, green-haired with a distinctive sideways ponytail, locks eyes with you from the mist.
Youmu and the guard have now moved away from the gate. Which allows her to just float forward.
You take a few more steps backward. She floats through the open gate.
You pause, holding your breath. She stops.
You slide one foot back. She floats forward.
You turn and leap into the air, hurtling yourself through the air, over orange flagstones, toward the front door.
You veer to the right to avoid a grand fountain, tiny droplets of water splashing you. You slow, twisting yourself around to reorient back left toward the mansion door, and launch forward again. As it approaches, you drop back to the ground, skidding across stone as you latch onto one handle.
Gripping tight, you drag the wide, heavy door back and duck inside. You take one last glance outside to the fairy racing forward. Twisting around the door, you shove it closed once more.
Fumbling at the handle, you find a bolt and shove it through its housing to seal the door shut.
You collapse, resting your tired, sweating body against the heavy oak.
Bright light from tall windows shine on the ground of hallways extending out to your right and left, with a semi-circle of wide, curving staircases up ahead. Despite a pair of tall, arched windows flanking the door behind you, little light reaches the plush red rug before you, which extends into a hallway running underneath the stairs.
Another rug graces the floor of each side hallway, atop a wide floor of black and white, marbled tiles. Tiles polished to a brilliant shine.
You turn around and lean forward, peeking out of the left window. The fairy floats away, wings drooping, as more lights burst and pop outside the walls. You’re safe.
Then small, squeaky whispers float on the air from behind you. You whip around, catching a flutter from the hallway above.
You extend one hand out, your chest warming and thrumming.
A hint of dark purple flashes through the very edge of your vision.
You flick your gaze from the side halls, to the passage under the stairs, to the horizontal hall above them.
A muffled whimper to your left. You lurch around, warming up a shot.
You step backward, flicking your gaze back to the upper hall.
You glance back at the window, now angled too severely to see the fight through.
It’s fine. She’ll win and have your back again. In the meantime, you need to…
“You’re the familiar, aren’t you?”
Air wheezes through your throat as force your body to move. Turning around, you find an aqua bowl-cut staring back at you, bangs too long and thick to see her eyes through. She seems rather tall for a fairy, but she’s got the usual gossamer wings.
She tugs at the rumpled sleeves of her French maid outfit. French maids. Was it a fairy that introduced you to that idea, or a youkai in the village?
At the light din of a thousand shuffles, you scan the room again to find numerous heads and wings poking out from the railing and nearby doors. All wearing the same sort of dress.
Not as neatly as the girl before you, though.
You take a deep breath, holding the book close to your chest. “I need to speak with Ms. Patchouli. Do you know where she is?”
A chorus of ‘ooh’s ripples through the crowding fairies.
“She’s in the library!”
“It’s up here and to the left!”
“No. under the stairs and to the right!”
“No, it’s down this hall and through the kitchen!”
“That’s not where the kitchen is!”
That last two came from behind the stairs.
The fairy in front of you flicks her head to the peanut gallery above. “Shouldn’t we let, uh, Remi know first?”
“Shh! She’ll punish you if she hears you called her that.” A fairy with a black bun leans over the railing. “Besides, she’ll interrupt our fun.”
Fairies crowd the stairs and the side halls, but you don’t see any under the stairs. Quietly, you shift your feet and warm your core, readying yourself to sprint. If needed.
You clear your throat and put on the heaviest tone you have. “I’m only here for the library.”
Another chorus of ‘ooh’s follow, accompanied by scattered ‘ah’s.
A small body thuds into your back, dropping you to your knees. Then the stampede follows.
You hurl yourself to the side, sprinting for the door. A wall of fairies drops from the stairs, blocking your path. You spin around, finding yourself surrounded. Mixed clusters even hover in the air above you.
Someone pokes your thigh. You whip around, lighting up your hand and aiming it out. Small giggles erupt behind you as the fairies in front exchange glances. A year ago, you knew how to deal with these creatures. They were pushy, obnoxious, and everywhere. But they were also predictable. Kind of.
A fairy always liked sweets and wanted to make mischief. Horny fairies could be stunningly erratic.
A puff of air brushes your neck. You whirl back around.
Someone slaps your ass. You spin around again, firing a heart into the crowd. They dodge, a wave of eagerness rolling through them.
They’re just short of shooting at you now. Normally, that would be fine. Even you dealt with fairy bullets once or twice. But you have nowhere to dodge and no way to take them all out fast enough to clear a path.
There’s a yank on your dress and you feel the back of its skirt fluttering up, then back down over your ass.
There’s a high-pitched, squeaky wolf-whistle, accompanied by what sounds like stunned silence.
Your arms shake.
“That’s enough!” The bowl-cut shouts.
There’s a poke on your wrist. You twist to see the bowl cut pointing under the stairs. “Um, let’s go this-”
You feel a tug on the book. You grip it tight, but a second pair of hands joins in and together they rip it away from you.
“Hey! Give that back!” You turn and run after the offending fairies, only to get cut off by more crowding in front of you.
“What kind of panties are those?”
“Can I get some?”
“Are they weird like that in the front, too?”
The culprits disappear into a front hallway.
“Hey! What did you guys see?”
“Was it funny?”
“Was it hot?”
“It’s just a butth-”
The fairies freeze. Then scatter. Bowl-cut waits a moment, rubbing her arm across her lips, then chases after them.
You turn to see a stern look on a lithe frame. A French maid dress, like the fairies, but no wings, a shorter skirt, and an almost oppressive air of no nonsense. Choppy, silver hair frames clear blue eyes with a pair of slender braids draped before each ear.
The woman blinks out of existence, reappearing right in front of you. She looks you up and down.
“Naoko Honda, welcome to the Scarlet Devil Mansion.” She offers a curt, shallow bow.
You bow back, a bit deeper.
“This way.” She gestures to the left flight of stairs. You step toward them.
She guides you around and up them, her hand gliding along the banister. “You have business with Lady Patchouli, I believe.”
You sigh. “I did.”
She does not respond to that as you reach the top. Instead, she turns and guides around the wall and down the hall.
In silence, she walks down the hall, passing dozens of doors before she reaches the corner, with the hall continuing to the right. She opens a door, ushering you into a small room with an elegant but slender table framed in silver and surrounded by a deep sofa, curving almost all the way around it.
She gestures toward it and you sit down at the left end. She disappears again, reappearing in the middle of the sofa, sitting to your left.
“We’ll recover the book soon.”
“But what if the thieves run away?”
Her eyes narrow, a thin smile creeping across her chin. “They won’t. Even Evette knows not to interfere with the mistress’s friend.”
She giggles, warm and almost dainty. “I’m afraid not.” She pauses. “The book will be recovered long before it leaves the grounds.”
She smiles a soft, kind smile. “That’s it.”
You rub your shoulder. The silk of your gloves feels odd on your bare skin.
“What sort of a person is she, anyway? Patchouli, I mean.”
“She’s a magician. She has a tendency toward tunnel vision and all but obsesses over knowledge. She spends too much of her time reading. Personally,” she leans toward you, lowering her voice, “I suspect she assigned herself that surname.”
The woman blinks. “Knowledge.”
“I suggest you visit her soon. We may have the book, but she’s the sort to want things done as soon as possible.”
And just like that, she vanishes again.
You sigh, staring down at your cup of warm tea.
You pause, staring into the liquid’s surface. This… wasn’t here before, was it?
You raise it to your lips, taking a light sip before you set it back down.
Its bitterness reminds you of the tea your father liked to brew. Only Youta ever liked it.
Your breath shakes for a moment.
You lean back, taking in the room. No fairies jostle in or outside, as far as you can tell, and warm sunlight bathes the whole room.
You take another sip, savoring the memory, if not the taste.
You glance outside. No lights flash around the gate or the lake beyond anymore. Either the fight ended, or it moved further away.
“Your companion will arrive soon.”
You startle, spinning back to find the maid standing in the doorway.
She vanishes again.
You’re left gaping and wondering what the hell was going on.
She reappears. “I would suggest you see the mistress soon, as well. She prefers to meddle with the visitors before anything else.”
She disappears. Again.
Bullets go off, echoing through the hallway. Bursts and pops follow. A very distinctive kind of pop.
Fairies are ‘dying.’ Idly, you wonder if they’ll reappear with the aprons still on, or if those need to be replaced each time they return.
Does this place even use the same fairies, or just grab whichever ones wander in or spawn nearby?
Footsteps pound down the hallway toward you until, with a click, the door swings open. Youmu pants, sweating, as she steps inside.
When did the door even close?
You smile. “Welcome back.”
Youmu straightens back up, almost standing at attention before she slides into the sofa in front of you.
She drops her head back, letting out a frustrated groan before looking down at the table. She picks up her own cup of tea.
You have no idea when that one appeared, either.
She takes a long slurp, gulping as she sets it back down.
“I’ve never fought such ill-mannered fairies before.” She sighs, glaring at the cup. “Such tasteless, perverse cretins.”
You chuckle, a moment of genuine mirth and empathy warming your chest. “They’re just the worst, aren’t they?”
“Yea, yea.” Youmu raises her cup. You raise your own and she clinks them together.
You take a sip. A purple glow fills the room. Youmu tilts her head as you squint to keep your eyes from burning.
Then it all turns red. Sharp, stabbing pains race up your arms and down your spine. Your cup flies from your hands as your vision goes dark. Muscles twist and spasm, then freeze.
For a short, black moment, your throat seizes and you find yourself choking.
Then your vision returns and your collapse onto the table, muscles worn out. You blink, looking up into Youmu’s worried eyes. She sits straight up, each arm out and holding a cup. A light stain dirties her vest.
Tea, most likely. Probably from your cup.
“Are you alright?”
You groan, pulling yourself back up. “I’m fine, I’m…”
You look down, glowing red letters run up your arm, under the glove and your dress. Worried, you lean around the table and pull at the slit of your dress. More glowing letters adorn your thigh.
You don’t recognize the script, let alone the language. Something about all of this feels eerily familiar, though you struggle to remember why.
You look to Youmu. She sets the cups down.
There’s a knock on the door. Youmu twists around and stands. She opens the door, revealing the bowl-cut fairy from before.
The tall fairy bows. “Excuse me, but I…”
She stops, staring at your arms. “I can come back later, if this is a bad time.”
Youmu halts her. “What did you come for?”
She rubs her sides. “I talked to the troublemakers and I could get them to give you your book back, if you came with me.”
Youmu glances back.
“But you’d have to come alone!” She turns to Youmu. “You’d just scare them off. Sorry.”
[ ] Seek out the lord of the estate.
[ ] Seek out the magician.
[ ] Follow the fairy.
[ ] Write-in.
Time remaining: ::
Timer ended at: 2019/04/09(Tue)20:00