“I'll take responsibility, Marisa.” I looked her in the eye. I held her hand, trying to be reassuring, “I may not remember much, but that's no excuse.”
“Oh Arc, you're wonderful,” Marisa smiled, looking like a young girl in love I thought. She smiled sweetly.
“I'm sorry if I hurt you.”
“I was going to make fun of you but I can't if you look at me like that,” She said.
“Why would you make fun of me?”
“Because you don't remember sleeping next to me the whole night. You were completely naked you know. So was I. We were soaking wet and you wouldn't let go of me.”
“Ah, I'm sorry.”
“All that was hurt was my sense of decency as a girl. I'm fine otherwise. I wasn't before, but I am now. You were my first, uh, real kiss that is.”
“I remember it feeling good. I think that was... my first real kiss too. You know, with tongue.”
“Ah, I see...” She said quietly.
“I'm flattered,” I said. I noticed that she was blushing. It was very unlike her usual self. She seemed almost vulnerable.
We walked silently for several good minutes, hands held tightly. Her palm was unexpectedly sweaty.
“I guess I can't compare you to papa anymore...” She muttered, “That would just be weird after what happened last night...”
I tried to change the subject, “Where are we going anyways? You said something about a friend that could help us?”
“That's right!” She forgot all about the awkwardness in an instant. She let go of my hand and began to explain with her hands, “She lives at a library and is really knowledgeable. She's bound to know what's going on and maybe where Alice is.”
Her friend not only lived in a library, but that library was part of a huge mansion. I saw it at first in the distance. It was a huge red building, with ornate window frames and spectacular gardens. It sat by the lake and I recalled that we had a customer we occasionally dispatched orders of wine and a few pricier spirits to. They weren't part of the village and a strange-looking woman in some sort of uniform came by every month or so to pick up the order. Her manners were as impeccable as her clothes.
Marisa avoided the front gate entirely, insisting that we were only interested in going to the library. To that end we snuck through an opening in the perimeter fence.
We went through a vast garden, walking past rows of hedges and statues. Marisa seemed to know where she was going. I gawked in silence at the impressive display. The weathered walls had vines reaching up towards the roof several flights above. Marisa forced open a small door towards the end of the garden, urging me to go quickly.
We were in a small corridor with little light. We used a stairwell to go up and then appeared in a much larger, better illuminated hallway. It was decorated with paintings and the occasional urn or piece of art every few windows. Marisa was fleet of foot and expertly took us down to a great door on one end. She opened the heavy door and showed me in.
The library was gigantic. Looking down a corridor of bookshelves, I could just barely see the opposite end of the room. The ceiling soared quite a distance above my head. More impressively, the bookshelves towered upwards, each almost touching the ceiling. I had never seen so many books in one place before. Until then, the most books I had seen in one place was Alice's storage room. In just one of the large wooden bookshelves, there were liable to be tenfold as many books as that tiny little storage closet. And there were at least a few dozens of bookshelves I estimated.
“Don't get distracted,” Marisa warned me as she began to move again, “We're almost there.”
Large windows on the walls provided much natural light to the great library. I tried to follow Marisa as closely as I could, but the many wonders of the place occasionally distracted me. Such as the appearance of flying girls. They carried books and went to and fro without paying much notice to us on the ground. It looked like they were reorganizing or maybe just adding new books to the collection. They flew too quickly and too far away for me to even get a good look at them. The funny thing was that some of them seemed to glow a little and others appeared to have wings. I could tell that they all wore some sort of uniform, perhaps indicating that they were staff.
I walked with Marisa someways to a tiny little alcove in the one of the library's corner. It was a tiny little space, almost entirely boxed in by bookshelves and piles of books. Little natural light reached the area and a light, magical in origin, keep the space reasonably illuminated. A large sturdy-looking wooden table took almost all the rest of the space and several large cushioned chairs were cramped around it. The smell of mold and paper was strong there, stronger than the rest of the library.
Marisa walked in between piles of books and towards the chair furthest away from the opening to the alcove. She casually greeted the chair's occupant, like there was no problem with appearing out of the blue, “Hey there.”
I followed her and came closer. A girl in a lavender gown sat reading a book. She ignored Marisa entirely. She ignored the whole world, for that matter. She sat perfectly still, only her eyes moving quickly back and forth, reading quickly the contents of the book. It appeared that nothing in the world could disturb her.
“I've got something interesting for you,” Marisa said gaily.
“Unless you've come to return the books you took last time, I'm not interested,” The girl spoke. It was a quiet voice, one which betrayed no agitation on the part of the girl. Her eyes didn't leave the book.
“You'll want to hear me out on this, trust me.”
“Will you leave me be if you say what you want to say?”
“Sure, why not?” Marisa winked at me, like she had won some sort of victory. The girl put the book down, her dark eyes turning their attention to Marisa. I was ignored outright.
Marisa explained the situation. Who I was and all about Alice. She added what had happened to me the night before and... all of the details. It felt like I was watching the scenes unfold again. I could taste the rain and Marisa's soft lips again. “That's all that happened Patchouli,” Marisa concluded, “I came here to see if you knew what could be up.”
The girl with the violet hair stared long and hard at Marisa. Briefly, her eyes passed over me, taking me in like some sort of afterthought.
“There may be something relevant in the library,” She spoke after a moment of deliberation. She got up from her comfortable-looking seat and passed the maze of books with little effort. She began to lead on and we followed.
Walking beside her, I was able to take a good look at Marisa's friend. Her hair was long and her skin pale. It didn't look like she got much sun and I imagined her spending her days reading just like earlier. Her expression was dour and her eyes serious, similar yet different to Alice. Unlike Alice, her gaze had more feeling to it, like something like disdain or contempt could show up at any moment. Yet all the same, I could not picture her smile like Alice sometimes did when with her dolls. Her sobriety and intensity clashed with her very comfortable-looking gown and informal cap.
After several twists and turns we stopped by a bookshelf that was smaller than its neighbors. Patchouli, as Marisa had called her, scanned the shelf and reached for a book. She couldn't quite reach. She tiptoed and tried in vain to grab it, even venturing as far as doing a small hop. Marisa and I watched in silence, exchanging looks of amusement. She stopped trying to reach for the book, wheezing a little. She brought her hand to her face and coughed. The book came down easily when she muttered a few words and flicked her wrist. It came flying out and hovered just above the spell caster's hand.
With a motion she bode us to follow further, back to her little den. The book followed, hovering just about shoulder height like some sort of faithful pet. She sat down back in her oversized chair and, with a flick of the wrist, the book came gently into her hands. Marisa's nod told me that we had to wait for her to read the relevant part.
We did not have to wait long. Her eyes scanned the pages quickly and her fingers deftly turned pages. After only a few minutes she set the book down on the table and got back up. She walked off. Marisa motioned for me to stay so we didn't follow.
She came back nearly a half hour later, when I had counted how many red and blue colored books there were on the shelf beside me. She came with a small wooden case, made of polished dark wood. She set the box down on the table and opened the latch on front, popping the lid off. A dull pinkish crystal and two smaller opaque stones were removed. Patchouli held up the crystal in the palm of her hand and explained, “I need you to recreate last night's event.”
“How?” Marisa asked.
“The moment of intimacy, it all hinges on that,” She said dryly. She muttered a word and a small cloud appeared and floated above our heads. Short but loud thunder ensued. “Do what you did last night,” She insisted.
Marisa looked at me, “You mean, he has to kiss me?”
“If that is what happened. Replicate it as closely as you can. I cannot help you otherwise.”
“Uh, Arc, you alright with that?” Marisa asked. She looked a bit flighty. Jumpy even.
“If you're alright with it, so am I. If there's no other way I mean,” I looked at Patchouli with inquiring eyes.
She shook her head. “There is no other way, you must do it exactly as you did last night” She said.
“Alright,” Marisa took a deep breath. She came closer and looked up at me expectantly, “I'm ready when you are... I'm sorry if my breath isn't perfect but...”
“It's alright,” I smiled.
I held her by the shoulder, easing my face awkwardly towards hers. She looked a little frightened, more than she had the night before. She closed her eyes and puckered her lips to a comical extent. I came in close, feeling my heartbeat ringing in my ears. I closed my eyes and my lips met hers with ease. The peck was short.
“There,” I said to myself, pulling back. We looked at our spectator expectantly.
“There is no reaction,” She looked to the stone, “It must be something else then.”
“Maybe it's because the kiss last night was... different?” Marisa asked quietly.
“Different? How so?”
“He used his tongue.”
“Ah, it's vital you do exactly like you did last night.”
“Ah, I see...” I said to myself, feeling a bit embarrassed by the conversation.
“Give it another go,” Patchouli encouraged.
I felt my face get a little flush. I looked at Marisa again and she stared right back at me, silently telling me to go ahead. She closed her eyes again. I brought my face in close, all the while feeling a pair of eyes watching my every move intensely. Our lips met again and this time I thrust my tongue into her mouth, seeking hers. She seemed reluctant at first but seemed to get into it as our tongues intertwined, caressing and exchanging fluids.
“Ahn...” Marisa panted. It wasn't a very long kiss but it felt very intense. Like my soul had been sucked out of my mouth. I wasn't able to pull away before she kissed me. The attack was vicious and saw her tongue invade my mouth instead. I was taken aback and let her half her way until I was nearly out of breath.
“What... was that all about?” I asked, feeling like I had come close to death.
“Just making sure that it was as authentic as last night,” Marisa looked away, fidgeting with the hem of her robe.
“That was a very intense spectacle,” Patchouli remarked, the stone in her hand glowing vibrantly.
“So how is that stone going to help us?” She asked.
“It won't,” She replied.
“It won't? Then why was it glowing?”
“It is a special crystal that reacts to amorous displays in a way you've just witnessed. The more intense the event, the stronger the glow. I would say it glowed very brightly indeed.”
“Alright, I'm pissed off at you!” Marisa yelled. “Why would you make us do that?!”
The brooding girl smiled. It was a smile of joy mixed with satisfaction. She said, “It was just a little payback for causing me so much trouble over the years.”
“Why I oughta-”
“I do plan on helping you,” She interrupted, “If only to do a favor for a friend with good tea.”
Marisa shouted a string of vulgarities but Patchouli ignored her. She looked to me and called me closer. It was the first time she had addressed me, “You. As an apprentice you must have learned to understand some basics by now. Read this and tell me what you can understand.”
I took a look at the book in front of her. It was a moldy old tome, contributing to the overall smell of mold of the library. I squinted and tried to make sense of the letters, but found that I could not read any of it.
“I can't read it,” I confessed.
“Interesting then. It is not this type of magic you have been exposed to then,” The girl smiled again, pleased with herself, “I best hide this tome before your companion read its contents. The last thing I need is a lovestruck little girl like her mucking about.”
“Oh I'll show you 'lovestruck little girl'!” Marisa clicked her tongue.
“If you don't mind, would you tell me what sort of exercises she's had you do? It may be some sort of magical contamination that is making you behave oddly.”
I explained the basics of my training.
“Nothing there would do this,” She concluded. “You say you've had dreams like these before? About your master? What's intriguing about that is that she did not take any steps to stop it.”
“She might have liked it,” Marisa said, “She's very wound up you know.”
“I don't imagine that would be the case. A master-apprentice relationship is special. It is more likely that she was not aware.”
“Could it also have anything to do with her being ill?” I asked.
“We cannot rule it out. Looking at you however,” She stared for an uncomfortable amount of time at my chest, “there is nothing abnormal about you. I cannot feel anything wicked at work. A devil's power is easily felt. You do smell of an unfamiliar scent, but that very well could be your own. You do not seem skilled enough to have your own signature yet, but all it takes is willpower.”
“Huh, I couldn't smell anything,” Marisa said.
“That's because you are not as well-versed as I am. You don't even properly understand the subtleties of the elements.”
“Fine, excuse me for not being as old as you are. I focus on the here and now. Nobody talks about elements these days.”
“The only good deed she's done lately is bring you here,” Patchouli sighed. “I think I'll have to ask you a few questions. Answer truthfully. No matter how bizarre it may seem.”
“How does magic make you feel?”
 At peace
“What sort of magic do you prefer?”
 Something shiny
 Something subtle
“What are your thoughts about your instructor?”
 She is fair
 She is distant
“Would you like to kiss Marisa again?”
 Not sure
“How do I make you feel?”
 Arm tingles
 Want to kiss too