The moment of silence stretches on just a second too long; Yumemi still doesn't answer. Deep in her shadowy recess, Alice's benevolent smile fades just a fraction into soft, feminine confusion. You speak up before her face falls further, afraid to see what might happen.
'Yumemi would be our mage,' honesty, best policy. 'But I'm in charge.' You add. Yumemi gulps loud enough to hear over the crackle of the fire, and glances to Mary for support.
'Ahhh, yes, Yumemi.' Alice's smile brightens again, and she looks at Yumemi. At least you think she looks at Yumemi. It's hard to tell where she's directing her gaze with those all-black eyeballs. 'You're quite the sweet little button, aren't you?'
' ... ' Yumemi just stares at the mother-thing, eyes wide. ' ... sorry?' She manages after a moment.
'Had a rough time all alone as well, didn't you?' Alice continues, her voice lowering down to a soft, feathery purr. 'You're lucky you were found by such nice young women.'
' ... yeah.' Yumemi gulps again, looking at you for help.
'Certainly lucky, yeah.' You nod in agreement, beginning to feel awkward.
Only one thing for it; your instincts kick in, and you keep talking.
'She just happened to bump into us, you know? Poor little thing all on her lonesome, nowhere to sleep. Couldn't just leave her outside in the city on her own!' You explain to Alice, appealing to her motherly instincts, to her sense of ... whatever inhuman values she holds.
'Of course, of course!' Alice suddenly becomes more animated, taking a deep, slow breath and nodding at you. 'You understand how I feel, then, Renko. Yes.'
'Is that why you wanted to see her?' You ask directly, staring back into those blank black eyes, reflected firelight flickering on their surfaces.
Amsterdam's jaw tightens as you ask that question. Orleans and London slip further away, into the shadows.
Yoshika doesn't move a muscle yet.
'Yes, yes.' Alice nods slower than before. 'And that we seek the ... same ... thing.' For the first time since she started speaking, Alice almost stumbles on her words. Your heart catches in your mouth, expecting a change any second, until you realise she's trying to decide who to talk to: you or Yumemi.
'We do?' You lean forward, directing her attention your way. Her huge black eyeballs swivel to look at you again.
'Yes, yes ... one must protect one's family. Yes.' Alice strokes her belly with one hand, and with the other reaches out toward Amsterdam. The redhead sister takes her mother's hand gently between both of her own, eyelids fluttering with adoration. 'I'm sure you understand, Renko.'
'Sure, yeah. It's important, isn't it.' You play along, a sinking feeling settling into the pit of your stomach: she's stalling. Trying to feel you out before revealing anything. Behind her exterior of honey-soft voice and glowing skin there are only those ancient, staring eyes, cold calculation running beneath their glassy surfaces.
'Amsterdam, love, where has Shanghai got to with that tea?' Alice ignores you suddenly, craning her neck up toward her daughter. The only one left here with you now, except Hourai, and she's fast asleep.
'I don't know mother, she'll-'
'Go help her, Amsterdam, sweet. Our guests need a drink.' Alice speaks with a soft purr.
Amsterdam's eyes flicker to your group, worry crossing her face before she carefully smooths it over and assumes a neutral expression. Her eyes linger on Yoshika for several moments longer.
'But, mother dearest, I should stay-' she starts.
'Amsterdam, please, do as your mother asks?' Alice interrupts her with infinite softness.
'Of course, mother dearest, of course.' Amsterdam stops her protest instantly, bowing her head with apology. 'I shall be right back, mother.'
Alice does not speak again until Amsterdam's footsteps vanish off into the dark, through the door at the back, following the same route as Shanghai. You glance around, but London and Orleans have run off somewhere too.
'Now,' Alice speaks, her voice the faintest shade rougher, but still on the side of benevolent warmth. 'Quickly, girls, quickly, while delicate ears are not here to hear the dark details.' She claps her hands together with a soft pat.
'You are finding an old magician by the name of Rika, who came to this old city many years ago. And so am I.' She speaks, her voice slowly loosing all its happiness. Her lips turn downward, and you get that impression again; you're facing a mother bear, huge and powerful and easily enraged. 'I intend to kill her, or whatever is left of her, or whatever she has become. You understand, of course, Renko? I must look after my daughters, and sometimes that means looking after the world.'
' ... right.' You answer when you realise she's waiting. You've no idea how to react to that.
'Have you found her?' Alice asks.
You shake your head.
[ ] 'We have no idea where she is. Only an abandoned office.' Bluff away as much as you can, pretend you know nothing.
[ ] 'We're on her trail, sort of. We're just trying to figure out what she left behind.' As close to the truth as you can make it.
[ ] 'Why do you want to kill her?' Well, Alice did say let's get the horrible details out of the way.