I stood by the doorway, hesitant to commit fully to disturbing her. The memory of the last time I questioned her instruction was still fresh in my mind. I hoped it would not be like that again, “Mistress, a moment of your time if I may?”
“What is it that you want?” She did not look up from her cup of tea, eyes fixed on the hot vapor rising from the beverage.
“I wish to know of your assessment regarding my performance,” I put it directly, “What you believed happened and why it did.”
“Why?” She asked simply.
“To better myself if possible,” I explained.
“Are you incapable of reaching a conclusion yourself?”
“That is not it. I merely thought that your insight might reveal something I overlooked.”
Alice finally raised her gaze, giving me a hard stare. The warm wisps of steam were a sharp contrast to the coldness of her expression. She rebuked me harshly, “I am your instructor, not someone whom must hold your hand every time you waver. Do not waste my time without attempting to even resolve matters yourself. I have given you all the tools you need to learn and grow in skill. The paucity of result should not be my responsibility as it is not my effort that determines the outcome.”
“...I apologize,” I said weakly, “I did not mean to presume.”
“Your perfidious statements belie your apology,” Alice remarked. Her delicate finger still held the tea cup gently by the handle. She gently placed it on the saucer, adding a few more words to the chastisement, “Whatever conclusions that I have drawn from your failure today are inconsequential. I did not think it an impossible task but did not think it too simple either. If outright hostility and admission of failure is what you expect from me, I fear that I shall leave you wanting.”
“Excuse me for taking up your time then,” I tried to cut my losses.
She wouldn't let me go so easily, “Perhaps I should not betray your expectations. What punitive measures should I undertake?” She smiled to herself, looking somewhat pleased with the idea, “A more brutal teacher would employ the cane or whip to castigate failure. A more insidious one would perhaps mold the mind of the pupil into a more subservient state using words and precise application of physical incentive. I rather fancy the latter a lot more.”
“I'm content as is, I'm more than willing to reflect on my own shortcomings by myself.”
“Of course you would say that,” She shrugged. Alice did not pursue the discussion further, merely adding, “This is something which must be thought out carefully first so there is no point in rushing in. If there is nothing else, I'll allow you to go now.”
“Thank you mistress,” I finally managed to disentangle myself from the dangerous subject matter.
The yellowed pages said nothing. I occasionally flipped through them and stopped at random on a new page. My eyes hovered over the text but did not latch on to words. I was not reading so much as simply rolling over my eyes over the book out of habit. There was no chance for me to go back to my studies, I concluded. Nothing caught my interest and none of my thoughts were even remotely related to the techniques and powers described. That went on for hours, with different books and different subjects. None of it sunk in, it didn't even get a chance to be skimmed through properly.
My thoughts were of Alice. The brief talk we had had in the afternoon made it impossible for me to think about anything else. I sat in the workroom, surrounded by piles of old leather-bound texts and stacks of short pamphlets. The only illumination present was the pale artificial light I had conjured up, something which had long since become second nature to me. The large wooden desk in front of me was completely full of magical odds and ends, including vials of dangerous chemicals. A lot of the things I had to handle could harm me seriously if mishandled, poison me severely or even outright maim and cripple me.
And yet, with all the stimulus and objects I could have been interacting with, I was thinking just of Alice. Her words, while cold, were not cruel nor were they purposefully hurtful. They had been said in order to guide me towards self-sufficiency. I could disagree with the need for me to depend on only myself but that would not change her mind. She was stubborn and her words also had that ring of finality. As far as she was concerned, I was the pupil and she was the teacher – her authority was absolute.
I did not get anything done. Late at night I decided to finally go to bed. As I lay in the cot trying to sleep, I still thought of her.
She sat in the corner of the room, peering over with casual curiosity. Her desire, if any, was scattered by the veil of darkness which divided the room in half. The distance between us was larger than before but it was not insurmountable, I understood. There was hope but only if things changed. Otherwise the veil would deepen and even the corner would be too far away. Her warmth, her touch and her guidance would be lost. Her desire would not be able to penetrate the thicker veil.
The morning proved to be no better. I was not able to concentrate much. There was no word from Alice. She did not come downstairs. I assumed I had to carry on to the best of my abilities. The books told me what I already knew when I forced myself to read them. There was nothing fresh, nothing that could explain the complete collapse of my concentrated effort. The answer was likely not in those books, I concluded.
 The magical aid that helped before could help again  Appeal for help directly to Alice
He's certain there's no more he can learn in books, and introspection hasn't yielded anything so far. I don't see that things have changed since we last asked Alice for help.
[x] The magical aid that helped before could help again
As she said herself she's 'given you all the tools you need to learn and grow in skill' and that should include the Magic Sex Drops. Hopefully it will allow his good vibrations toward Alice to crystallize in his mind that he can use her as a focus in later events.
As it is now, he's going to drop off in ability as his relationship with Alice becomes more distant, and his relationship is going to become more distant the more he flounders.
Arc can't keep relying on the magic sex drops to get shit done. We've already been warned of their addictive qualities. That he would even think of turning to them again could already be a sign of dependency.
If Arc is to ever bridge the gap between him and Alice, he needs to get past the hurdle of a Master and Pupil relationship. He needs to get to a point where Alice's stubborn ass will actually take his opinion into consideration without dismissal. Essentially, he needs to sort out his damn feelings and stop being a girl so he can get back to profitable study.
Normally when it's been 14 hours and there have been only two votes one of two things happen - either I flip a coin and go with whatever or I succumb to frustration and don't write for a few weeks. Though it always is frustrating, the latter would be a bit premature just now so that leaves the former. Except that in waiting so long for votes (and playing games to pass the time) I've become tired so I don't feel up to writing just now. So two dudes who voted, I won't reveal the result of the coinflip just yet. Suspense and showmanship always come first. Expect something several hours from now, after a nap. And no, if I were to reconsider my methods every important choice made would have to be reassessed. There have been several very important choices made in this story by only one or two votes.
Even in broad daylight the magical contents of the phial seemed to glow brightly. It was like the distillate was actively seeking to be as conspicuous as possible. A rainbow of colors that changed every few seconds and every time I changed my angle appeared underneath the murky exterior. I could feel its potent properties even through the glass. It was warm to the touch and the memory of what happened last time sent my heart into a frenzied, if somewhat nostalgic, state. When uncorked a thick and unyielding grey smoke began to lazily pour out like the smoke that was occasionally found near hot springs. Feelings of excitement overtook apprehension as I brought the liquid to my lips.
Perspective and insight were what I sought. I got what I wanted and then some.
I shivered violently because of the cold. My body disobeyed the instructions of my exhausted mind. There was no reason for me to be completely exposed on the floor now that my senses were beginning to return in full but the message was still being ignored. I tilted my head to the side, appreciating the large mess I had made near my cot. My clothes would desperately need washing and the area a thorough cleaning. I groaned, the most I was able to do in my state.
The raw throbbing that was grating against my skull did not put me out of commission entirely. The lessons learned stuck out like the shelter of a building in the middle of a storm. They did not fix the mess of the outside world but at least gave me a place to go and be somewhat protected. I had been like the canals at the farms. My power had flowed along predefined paths, seeking to flood the right rice paddy . Somewhere along the line, it had started to be absorbed and diverted in small quantities. When I had wished to make the most important decision of what path to take, things got worse. A sluice gate opened somewhere and diverted too much elsewhere. I was partially responsible for that. Or so I felt. There had been an opportunity to keep it shut and to overcome the drain in some other fashion.
Gaining some insight did not mean I had a perfect understanding or even a good answer.
I made the mistake of thinking of her. Almost immediately my body seemed quite eager to remind me how sore it was. What I had seen during the hours I had been... beside myself still disturbed me. At the time the pain, the feeling of leather and violence directed against me made me simply wish for it to all to end. I did not want to think about the vivid experience but there I was, recalling every intimate detail. The restraining, the submission and the laughter. I felt like I was about to vomit. The spots on my flesh where my lacerations would have been burned in recollection of the false memory. Spots on my back where hot wax would have been dripped flared up with falsely remembered sensations. I breathed hard as I shivered again, none of the excitement of the imagined experience then present.
I could not forget. All of my energy seemed to have been siphoned off and the more that I recalled the more I felt tired. The incredible high and control of vast amounts of energy. A lot of power that was sucked away wholly in a single moment. It took more than was given to me.
I could focus on other things. I had to.
Slowly and clumsily I was able to sit up. Further effort led me to finally stand up. With meticulous planning and a lot of time I eventually collected myself. The day had been lost and I embraced the fact that the new day would begin in a few short hours. I tried to act like nothing was wrong. I cleaned up the mess and washed myself.
Alice eventually came downstairs for breakfast. I avoided her, keeping to myself as she sat down and ate. I waited for her to finish before talking to her. The troubling thoughts were still there but were being kept in the recesses of my mind.
 “I believe that I may have overcome the failure and want another assessment.”  “I need time off and away to make sure I can continue.”
[x] “I believe that I may have overcome the failure and want another assessment.” If his failure was because of him thinking about Alice, I'm pretty sure he won't make that mistake again. If it wasn't then... we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
[x] “I believe that I may have overcome the failure and want another assessment.”
This was not quite the epiphany he had last time. Piece of shit sex drops aren't doing their intended job. Useless.
Alice may be incredibly stubborn, but Arc is just as, if not more so than her. Arc may feel that he missed some sort of chance to lower this "sluice gate of magical power," or whatever the fuck, but that is nothing in the face of sheer determination. If he thinks he can do it, than I'm going to go with that.
[x] “I believe that I may have overcome the failure and want another assessment.”
Let's not do that again. Pushing through this might be for the best. Arc should be fine this time as long he doesn't think about Alice. The last time he used that substance, he completed the task and then focused on Alice as his reward. We got the vote backwards on that, if we had chosen the reward option and then focused on Alice, things would have been different.
I'm glad you're feeling well enough to write, I hope all is well.
Had something ready hours ago. It did not pass my low standards of quality control and was scrapped. Somewhere along the line I got distracted and here we are with still no update. I'll give it another whirl after sleep and meditation, somewhere in between the next 9-12 hours. If either me or you are out of sync shit like this happens. Ah well, maybe it'll give you time to further consider stuff (hah).
Her reply was casual and betrayed no interest in what I had to say. I could have told her that it was sunny outside or that I had boiled another kettle of tea and gotten the same reaction. She didn't so much as bat an eyelid, much less deign herself to acknowledge me by looking at me.
“The sky is falling,” I added, “Giant metallic carts are zipping back and forth to avoid the crash.”
“I heard you and understand the request,” She did not contest my absurdities but instead got back to what I originally wanted to hear. At least partially.
“Then could you administer another test?”
I was familiar with her ways by then. I expected better but was well aware how obtuse she could be. She did things at her own pace, trusting me to carry on as best I could until the time came when I would need to do something else.
I pushed ahead regardless, asking, “Would you be willing to give me another test as soon as possible?”
“Whatever for?” She asked in return, her calmness an irritating dampener to my spirit.
“To move on, to prove I can do this,” I stated the obvious.
“If you can perform as you say, then what is the point in rushing towards a superfluous confirmation of the fact?” She presented reasoning, “If you are certain what you are capable of, it does not then matter when the rest of the world knows it. Whether right this very instant or five months from now, if you can you can, if you cannot you cannot.”
“It certainly does matter,” I argued, “I'm learning and going about magic on a step by step basis. In order to take the next step I need to make sure I'm on sound footing with the current one.”
“That supposes a linear viewpoint of progression,” Alice attested. As if I had tickled her fancy somehow, she adjusted her headband with a smile. The red contrasted as much as with the golden hairs as it did with her pale skin. She continued to speak while making sure the accessory was centered, “There are no milestones in your study such as being able to cast one spell or another. It is the intimacy of you relationship with the forces that shape our existence that matter. You lose perspective when you focus on but a single task.”
“That's at complete odds with the previous exercise. I could not do anything else but attempt to figure out how to make the flower bloom.”
“A misconception on your part,” She seemed satisfied that her headband was properly in place and removed her hand from up there. It must have come naturally to her to position it correctly as she did not bother to check her work on a reflective surface.
“If I had failed completely I would have continued to carry on with something else?”
“No, I would have refused to continue teaching you.”
“That adds strength to my argument,” I said, “Tests are meant to gauge progression.”
“Don't let yourself get too satisfied with my answer,” She nonchalantly manipulated her dolls as she spoke, a pair clearing the table of dirty crockery, “If you had failed completely, as you put it, that would have meant only the minimal amount of sensitivity to magic and that my previous observations were completely wrong. In such a scenario it would be like trying to teach an insect to speak. No amount of explanation and persuasion could coax it to do something beyond its station. There is a large distinction between potential and actual skill. That you can potentially alleviate pain does not mean that you can do it at the moment. However, it does not mean that it is impossible to do. Nor that it won't get easier as you train yourself. Being fixated on the result does much discredit to the labor and understanding that usually is behind it.”
“Then what's the point in even asking me in the first place?”
“You question my authority too much,” She shook her head. It was the first sign of disapproval I had seen from her regarding my studies. Nonetheless she still patiently gave me a straight answer, “The objective was to make you to begin to understand what was expected of the specialization you chose. What resulted was insubstantial compared to the knowledge you hopefully would have gained.” With a sigh she added, “You inquisitiveness is best directed towards your understanding of the underlying forces rather than nonsense.”
“Is there no meaning to proving I bettered myself, regardless?” With all that she had said it seemed pointless to ask. The desire to obtain validation for my efforts overrode whatever little wisdom I had.
“I do not care. Is it something that you truly require to move on?”
I wanted to answer that no, I didn't. I wanted to show her that I understood what she was talking about. I did, to a certain extent. But I could not bring myself to fully commit to her way of thinking. To understand without showing that you did, to think only of the greater picture without concerning myself with the results. It wasn't something I was capable of doing. It wasn't part of human nature. In order for me to have confidence in myself, in what I was doing, I needed to be able to at least do a few things consistently. Without stopping to occasionally check if I was doing the right thing I could not be sure that I would reach my ultimate goal.
Looking like she had anticipated my lack of answer, Alice got her dolls moving again. She stood up and stared me down. Her slender arm was stretched out and her hand open and waiting for something. A doll came from the kitchen, bearing a small silver knife. Mutely the small girl-like instrument came about to her hand and dropped it flatly on the open palm. The doll then came to rest on the table. Alice lightly grasped the knife and held it up for me to see. It was not an especially sharp knife by the looks of it but its fine craftsmanship matched its flawless material. She stood still for a moment before bringing her other hand up near the knife. She opened it and stretched out her fingers, pointing her palm towards me. Without any hesitation nor emotion she took the blade to her index finger and pressed hard.
The knife did its work. A small gash formed near the tip of the figure. She held both knife and finger up for me to see. The bright silver blade was stained at the edge with a running streak of red. Likewise the finger was also stained by the small stream of blood which poured from the wound. It was not an excessively large wound but one that would have definitely smarted. It needed to be dressed and taken care of before dirt got in it. Alice did not seem to care, silently staring at me. She waited to see what it was that I would do.
[x] Heal her wound A no-brainer. He wanted a new test, here it is. If he fails yet again, then I'm not sure he's cut out for this, to be honest. Like he said, tests are meant to gauge progress. Alice may say all she wants about the absence of milestones, but without a strong base and a morale boost, he's destined to fail.
Alice may get all prissy about our questioning her authority with this, but I don't give a shit. An apprenticeship is much more than doing every single thing the teacher says, with no question or input from the student. It's a give and take relationship, supposed to impart knowledge to the master just as much to the student. If we fail, Alice will gain validation for her thinking. If we succeed, it might shake the foundation of her school of thought, even if by just a little bit. She may even have to reconsider her teaching methods, though I doubt it; she's stubborn as a damn mule.
>>23908 We and Arc were thinking in a straight line, purely thinking of results when Alice expected Arc to take a look at the underlying elements and to gauge how he's handling magic in general, not so much pass or fail.
This might actually be a factor in Arc's mental block and that once he starts considering the big picture as opposed to just what he wants to do with a spell then perhaps he'll start progressing.
It's funny to see a choice I thought would be difficult called a 'no-brainer', makes me wonder if I'm doing something wrong. To think that I seriously considered making it a write-in only. Doesn't seem like it was worth it to wait for more votes. Probably am doing something wrong. No point in delving further in that. Bottom line: I don't feel like writing just now. I hope to feel like it later, though I'll probably force myself regardless.
>>23909 Except you are wrong. Arc already sees the big picture. He wants to stop being useless via magic. He only views learning a particular spell as a milestone because that is human nature. You can't measure progress without an actual test of your current knowledge. It's only natural that he would get disheartened if he never knew the extents of his limits.
I don't see magical healing as any different than medicine: An intensely practical field where reliability and evidence-based decision making is paramount. When you're already capable of providing the standard of care, then there is room to innovate and pursue theory.
I think Alice understands that she might be ill-suited to tutoring Arc in the field, and that's why her response to his specialization was negative, not because she harbors any especial bias. This show that her commitment to his teaching is the same.
>>23910 >It's funny to see a choice I thought would be difficult called a 'no-brainer', makes me wonder if I'm doing something wrong. To think that I seriously considered making it a write-in only.
Arc's train of thought is already to treat the wound. If he expressed horror that she injured herself because of his scruples, or that she was a youkai and so didn't need any help, or if the alternate option was to treat the wound conventionally, you might have had more variation.
>>23911 He really doesn't, he thinks too much on "do this" "Do that" alone and not consider every element that makes the spell work. It's like expecting a plane to fly without understanding of the elements that allow it to do so.
>>23983 Yeah, sorry. I've been feeling too down about the site, the story etc to feel motivated. The little I've managed to get done has been shit as well, so that doesn't help. Wish I had better news.
>>24283 If you read the rest of the thread you might see that it may not be so final. I can't say what will happen in the future, I guess it boils down to if I feel like it's not a giant struggle to move along. Again, see that thread for more details and what might help push me along.
>>24284 I am sitting on something I wrote months ago but I won't be posting it anytime soon, due to previously stated reasons. I don't even know if I'll ever post it, might just do a summary of an ending.
Yeah, sorry, it's all very up in the air at the moment.
A few bold steps forward did nothing to betray my unease. Doing the right thing would always be a top priority, cold logic be damned.
She stood as still as one of her dolls, face showing no reaction to my actions. I manipulated her easily, taking hold of her hand. The warm trickle of blood stained my fingers crimson as I wrapped my fingers around the cut. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. My heartbeat filled my ears as my anxiety to perform threatened to overwhelm me. Another deep breath. I calmed myself down slowly. I was ready to use knowledge.
I felt her.
Through the blood, through the flesh, her presence seeped out and entered me through my fingers. It helped me find focus and a roar of potential seemed to shake me from within. I tried to keep calm, letting what energies I could channel themselves through the proper gates and paths. A flood would ruin my efforts. My control eventually meant that it coalesced how I wanted it, where I wanted it.
Despite my best efforts, I was feeling cocky. I poured myself into my task, strengthening my resolve with the signs of preliminary success. Sweat formed on my brow. I kept my eyes closed and my hands on her. My whole body tensed up, my small toe cramped up. With a final push I let myself let go as I finished up; A lot more left me than I thought would.
I tried to still my frantic heart as I opened my eyes. I smiled at her, despite feeling absolutely drained. I was unable to control myself despite my knowledge but I did not want to let her know that. Instead, I brought her finger up to my face and gave it a quick kiss. The flesh was stained red but the blood had stopped coming out, “All better now.”
I let go, trying not to look too satisfied. The childish bit at the end was best done by Auntie, I thought.
Alice stared at me for a while, as if asking if there was anything more I'd like to add. I answered her question with a bit of impatience, “That was good right?”
It was as difficult to see coming as the first time that it happened. Her intense glare rendered me immobile and dumbstruck. A burning sensation prickled across my cheeks. Her hand slowly lowered itself. It was meant to make me understand what had just happened.
She spoke, “If logic does not work to change you at the very least I should impart discipline.”
Clear and intense feelings seeped through her words, “I have been too lenient in establishing boundaries, but that ends now. To let you learn as you please is one thing but to let you do as you please is quite another. I will not have my lessons denied due to your whim.” She continued to chastise as words failed me, “Henceforth you will do as I ask. I will be the sole judge if you have succeeded or failed. I will not repeat myself on this again: don't you dare to judge learning with irrelevant and fabricated milestones. If you disagree with what I have to teach you either challenge and prove me wrong in a consistent manner or give up and perhaps find another teacher.
“Do you understand?” She asked, not missing a beat.
“...” I could not even manage to nod or shake my head. The suddenness and intensity left me on the verge of tears. I felt like I was a helpless child.
“See that you come to understand, sooner rather than later,” She then added,” Wash up, there's blood on your face.”
I shuffled away listlessly, trying to work out how to react to all of it. Indignation at a betrayal of trust would have been obvious. But I knew that I had done what I wanted in spite of her warnings. To blame her for being heavy-handed without recognizing all the variables was just too childish. I looked at myself in the mirror and cracked a smile, I really did want to blame her for being so unfair. But I wasn't a child. I had decided some time ago that I would move on as best I could without getting too hung up on things.
Easier said than done. I sighed. What sounded cool in my mind was not necessarily so. Much less true. I just wanted to do my best, over-thinking things was not my style. Except with dealing with girls. Some of the time. And Alice was a girl, sometimes. She could be soft and nice and I wanted to... but...
I was getting ahead of myself.
As I washed up I found that I was more tired than I thought I would be. Dangerously so, like if I stopped thinking my brain would shut itself off. Even if I could consider what happened a success in an ability sense, the amount of effort it took would be too much for me to really take pride in it. It wasn't a quick and elegant spell. It was a cumbersome and draining transfer of willpower. It still felt like I was using brute force and flooding everything with energy when it only needed a trickle of will. The worst part was that it was involuntary – I tried to limit myself but things got out of hand without me noticing it.
I needed to process things more. That would take time. For the moment I returned to Alice, playing the role of the dutiful apprentice. I puffed out my chest and stood without any emotions clouding my face, “Mistress, I am ready for whatever lesson you wish to teach me next.”
She looked at me blankly before keeling over. I rushed to her side, propping her up from the floor.
“I... need to rest for a while,” her voice was weak. Beads of sweat ran down her face. A hand to her forehead confirmed the obvious – she was burning up. She uttered a few delirious words, intermixing directives, “It's a nice day today... try to create a regent next... careful of the mercury... ah... you've made a mess of me, now you'll have to hold me tight...”
I carried her up to her room and placed her on her bed. She closed her eyes and fell into a deep slumber almost at once. I feared the worst for a moment but was relieved to see her chest rising and falling peacefully. I touched her forehead again and found that it was much cooler than it was moments ago. Whatever it was it was a some sort of acute episode. The unpleasantness from before all but faded away from mind. I was only concerned about taking care of her, the rest could wait.
 Seek the help of potions and books Only help her health through ordinary means
Two votes. Seriously? No one else wants to continue the story and figure Alice out? I know it may feel like we've been slapped in the face again and again, but I'm still willing to give it a try because I feel the story is worth it. I can scarcely believe there is only two of us.
>>24641 Just the way things are, it seems. To be perfectly honest, this is (yet another) testing of waters. I won't continue if there isn't any more interest in the coming days. My masochism only goes so far.
>>24642 Your post makes very little sense. How does someone coming back and updating despite adversity mean that other stories are ignored? If anything the fact that he's been doing well should indicate that there's still people around. I'd also lose interest if things constantly went wrong, luckily there's plenty of feedback in the story for the challenges and adversities encountered. Who would have thought that a story about a kid coming into his own through arcane arts would not be a walk in the park? And well, without bringing up the same discussion (that's been done to death), I'll sum up how things work: Given reason and impetus to update, this writer will happily be the fastest writer on the site. So don't be a smartass - there's no one here to impress.
It's the logical extension of using her cut finger to experiment on. Success here would be self-evident. Meaning, it would come without needing her seal of approval, as if the last conversation hadn't happened. That'd really rustle her jimmies.
Course, if he took the other option, healing her normally wouldn't be magic, so it also is out of the teacher's domain. But all other things being equal, I'll take the option that leads to Arc learning more magic.
>>24644 People have a nasty habit of now looking down the page from the first story here due to how slow it is. If another more popular story updates, that will push this story down and folks are liable to assume "still hasn't updated"
Very few people make use of the watched threads option or bother to go down 3-4 whole stories.
>>24646 Whoa there pardner. You've proven you're a quick draw (well, relatively speaking anyways) but you still need a bit more to be a real buckaroo. Don't need no fancy analysis if you don't want to but a line or two about the update, the choice or even how I'm full of manure for not updating would make this posse a little bit stronger. Little things go a long way in making everything peachy.
>>24647 Well stud, setting you off is a great start but I think we may need something more sustainable long-term. Otherwise we'll be riding into the sunset alone.
>>24648 Well Mr. Sunshine instead of excusing every littler thing and doing nothing, why don't you do something? Tell your friends or your 'folks' that there's activity. I reckon that a thread being on top for hours at a time is enough but you apparently know better. Help us out since you've got it all figured out. Then we can all get past all them bumps on the road.
..sorry about the western thing, came out of the blue. Time for the more serious part of my post now: I know it's useless for me to mention it (yet again) but the choices are there for a reason. There's never a 'good' or 'bad' choice just different outcomes. There's nothing that pisses me off more than some of you later complaining about things going wrong or things turning out a certain way when you don't ever seem to weigh the importance of the other options. The protagonists mental state and actions are not random nor born in a vacuum, they are an evolution of the decisions made and attitudes taken. Hell the reason I stopped last time was because you all were bandwagonning often and I knew then there would be some who would be wondering why things happened a certain way despite there being much precedent and hints in the text (sometimes just plain old statements as to what was coming). So either I'm a shitty writer or my readers often just pretend they're dumb - I tend to favor the former explanation because there's a part of me that refuses to believe that half a dozen or more people who often bring up good points and good logic when they try can be so short-sighted so often. Well, real life also factored in but that's always a thing. The story is in YOUR hands, I'm not out to screw you (on the contrary I try to make things as explicit and straightforward as possible). Please don't disregard me again, I really do like writing. Think, don't be afraid to share your opinions/ideas, have a conversation even between updates. Don't hesitate in demanding more from me or calling me out on my failings. There's nothing more maddening than the slow quiet death derived from indifference and lack of energy. I'll always be honest and straightforward - take advantage of that fact.
In the unlikely event of more votes or discussion, I'll update after resting and refreshing.
I originally planned to wait a week to see what happened. Various circumstances have made updates difficult at the present time. The next week doesn't look much better but I'll try regardless. Life can be funny like that sometimes.
Also I really would have thought that you people would know better than to ignore the things I say by now. I'm not annoying (mostly) just because I can be. We're just repeating history at this rate. I, for one, am not too keen on that.
I sat at her desk downstairs, a pile of books on my right and a bag full of ingredients to my left. I prepared a clear surface area. Vials, burners and flasks – some empty, some with a variety of queer fluids. There was a lot that had to be done in preparation. Precautions to be taken and failsafes set up. Working with any sort of ingredient for magic was something that warranted attention and respect. Careless handling could mean disaster very quickly.
What truly slowed me down was the actual reading. Unlike the magical tomes and scrolls that told their arcane secrets to those they deemed worthy, I was working mostly with notes. Notebooks and codices written mainly by Alice herself. Her elegant and flowing script filled page after page with both recipes and observations on their application. I had to find what I needed from the text. That was easier said than done, given the encryption and hidden messages that prevailed throughout.
I could read some things, knowing some of my mistress' ciphers but many pages were complete gibberish. I had to use a mirror for some parts and far more math to make out a formula than all my years of schooling combined. It was not a hassle. Potentially dangerous knowledge had to be protected. That much I understood. It was my responsibility to use information in order to further my abilities. In the hands of someone else it could be used for malefic ends.
I made a mental note of a tome that seemed to be all about summoning and boundaries but declined to read the text. I had no use of it for the moment.
Instead I lit a fire and began preparing what I hoped would be a powerful and useful concoction. I poured and mixed over a fire, watching as bubbles violently burst at the surface of the liquid. A root dissolved itself on contact, emitting a sickish yellow fog from the small cauldron. I tested my abilities, trying to get the timing as well as I could.
I got up to answer the door. Someone had been knocking for some time.
“Oh it's you.”
It wasn't really surprising to see her. Not with how she usually was. What was surprising was how long it had taken for her to show up. It felt like she was months, maybe years overdue. It was a queer feeling, one that I kept to myself.
“That's all ya got?” She pushed her way past me and into the house, unfazed at the reception. About as abruptly as always she asked, “Do you want to hang out for a bit?”
“I have work to do,” I replied as I ignored her fidgeting with one of the dolls. Alice would mind but I didn't care. I had just one thing I wanted to do.
“I brought a bottle,” She cheerfully waved about a large bottle of sake, “You can drink while you work. I'll be good and not bother you too much. I just want to hang out with you a bit.”
I sat at the desk, trying to focus. She was mostly quiet but I couldn't concentrate. The sake cup hovering at my left ear did me no favors. Neither did the whooshing noises she made when she came close to spilling the cup's contents.
A drink or two later and things were no less different.
“I really am trying to work, you know,”
“I know, Auntie told me how you have a bit of an obsession when it comes to doing work.”
“Oh? You're talked to her?” I looked away from the mess of scribbles and sprawl of regents.
“No, I did,” a familiar voice piped in. I hadn't noticed that she was here. Guess they came together and I just didn't see. She sighed, “I've missed having our afternoon tea together. Only people who are a bother show up these days. It's a bit sad to be forgotten.”
“S-sorry,” I offered her tea straight from the kettle. She sat there with a raised eyebrow as I poured.
“Say, you and Suika get along rather well, right?” She asked.
“We sure do!” The oni piped in, the now empty bottle in her hand.
“Yes, we do.”
“How do you get on with me then?” She asked.
“I'd like to think well. I like you.”
“Not as much as you like magic or having magicians fawn over you, though,” She stated sourly. We were sitting outside though the grey clouds threatened rain. “Maybe it's all a game to you. Must be nice to have the freedom to mess up as much as you want.”
“It's not like that,” I defended myself, “I just get along with people. And I've got to find a way to fix things. She's depending on me.”
“Depending?” She scoffed, “You rate your position too highly.”
“This isn't like you.”
“This isn't like you,” She echoed my words dryly. In the distance a flash of lightning heralded the start of the storm.
“This really isn't like you, I thought you had grown out of this kind of obsession,” Auntie chimed in. She looked down at me sternly, the usual laughter in her eyes gone. It was the look of someone who knew they could stare into my naked soul at will.
“You knew all along then?”
“How couldn't I? Even though I'm barely old enough to be your big sister I still raised you. I knew how you felt all along,” She smiled, “And I know how you feel about your new friends as well. Or is it just the one now? Like always.”
Dirt turned into mud in a flash. I sat until I began to sink into it. Rain bombarded the ground like so many apples thrown in a schoolyard fight. My arm really hurt. It was like the water was poisonous. It was going to kill me entirely at this rate.
I opened my eyes to find an expanding pool of liquid nearing my face. I jolted upright by instinct. In a frenzied panic I sought to control the damage. Words of warning filled my mind and I thought twice about simply absorbing the liquid in a rag. If directly exposed to a dose that large, quicksilver would be sure to kill me. I put out the fires under the bubbling vials as a precaution and tried to calm myself down. I tried my hardest to remember what I was taught about safety.
Ultimately I had to scupper the cauldron's contents.
The incident completely ruined my work in progress. Hours of effort gone down the drain. I threw notes all over the desk in frustration, regretting the action almost immediately. Like an upset child I wanted to just smash it all up but, also like a child, I was too sore with myself to do any more damage. I collected the notes feeling irate.
I checked in on Alice instead of simply sulking. She was sound asleep, her expression peaceful. I gently touched her forehead, taking the time to wipe away the sweat afterwards. She was still fevered. I pondered what I should do. I wasn't confident I was doing well in taking care of her. I thought I could go get outside help but there was only one person who lived nearby that I could go to. And I wasn't sure if Alice would appreciate it.
I sighed, figuring I should do something concrete and specific instead of worrying about the general flow of things.
- Here's yet another chance for critical thinking and avoiding bandwagoning. For goodness' sake, please take it.
>>24725 There's a host of reasons behind it, marring a potentially good story with personal life blogging and relatively vindictive/self-righteous attitudes.
That said I'll have to go back a thread or two to make even a token effort for a decent write-in. last I remember we had a focus on the the dynamics between Arc, Suika and Reimu with some shady familial characters and then BAM he's a student for Alice based on the fact that Mima was sort of fucking around with Arc with a light display and the prospects of things to come pursuing that power; all the while Alice seemingly not aware that Mima had a hand in gifting a bit of power to Arc.
That's as far as I've understood before the author's temper tantrums
>>24725 Fair warning: I may not continue if you're the only vote. Sorry, I don't mean to ignore your effort with that. Just kind of pointless to do an interactive experience that depends on different inputs with just one.
>>24727 Either vote or don't bother, being sanctimonious accomplishes nothing.
After telling us multiple times that each choice has merit and should be considered, we get updates like this. It feels like we fail hard on most choices. It feels like nothing ever changes despite our efforts. It feels like you are not connecting with us, your readers. It mentally feels like I am hitting my skull against a brick wall. This story simply does not have the same appeal that it did when it first started. There hasn't really been one satisfying moment that makes me as a reader say: "Wow, that right there is why I'm reading this story". I'm not looking for anything fancy or amazingly elaborate. In fact, the main reason I have kept reading is because it "feels" like something awesome could happen. However, every time we make a choice, it blows up in our faces. That gets old very quickly.
I know you're trying to communicate with us here, but for the most part, it has completely gone over my head. You haven't been getting through to us at all, until now. Now I have an idea of how to go about this, but only because you (auntie) came right out and said it.
[x] Stop obsessing over Alice, but quickly do what you can for her through natural means. Clear your head and take a break, then get back to creating the regent Alice asked you to make. Focus as hard as you can, taking breaks when your body needs rest and sustenance.
This write-in marks a new direction. One where Arc cares about Alice, but doesn't let it eclipse his duties. Let's be true to our original reason for becoming Alice's apprentice. Romance or whatever, can come after. Alice is a youkai, she is durable and stubborn. A fever will not kill her. I posit that her health issues could be linked to the contract she has with Arc. The sooner we master our craft, the sooner we can stop being a burden to Alice and meet her on an equal playing field emotionally.
Is it perfect? No. But it's a start, let's collaborate and choose the best direction to head in. That's right, let's engage with the story and move it along. The three of us out there can do this.
>>24733 >It feels like we fail hard on most choices Arc's development isn't directly tied to any one choice. ie: no +2 magic or -4. Every time something happens there's an explanation or hint as to why. Or at least points of view within the narrative. Read what Alice says about Arc, for instance. It's a way of thinking that no one seems to acknowledge here. Which wouldn't be such a big deal to ignore save for the fact that you're define success and failure in very narrow terms. So yeah, you may be failing by your own standards. Look past that, it's a thing in the story too.
>you came right out and said it. Nope, my sermonizing is done through posts like these. Characters, memories (and delusions) and dreams are all products of the narrative world and their own personalities. They'll only say or do what they think is appropriate.
I hope you realize that this is exactly the kind of thing I excepted to happen and hoped you would talk among yourselves or vote differently in order to try to avoid the 'why do we keep fucking up' deal. More often than not you'll bandwagon (see >>24649 for the latest iteration). More often than not you'll not bother to talk among yourselves and discuss ideas and opinions about events and choices. Even when I step in and outright state things. Don't be afraid to say things even if you feel they are wrong otherwise we're left as we are - polarized and bitter about a completely avoidable thing.
As for your actual vote: That's a bit too specific and far-reaching. There's really only four directions you can take this here. Not that it's not valid but I'm not going to autopilot that far for the moment. If you want to change stuff in the story comment about it and vote the way you want things to go. I do consider reader intent in resolving things like this.
>>There's never a 'good' or 'bad' choice just different outcomes.
I have to disagree with this statement as a reader. There are indeed 'good' and 'bad' choices here, after reading through the last few updates, I felt even more exasperated. That's the typical result of a 'bad choice', is it not? Your readers are thinking in a linear manner while you are writing from a dynamic sense. This seems to be a reoccurring issue with your writing. Something like this always seems to happen at some point in the story.
On to your latest response:
>>24734 >>Which wouldn't be such a big deal to ignore save for the fact that you're define success and failure in very narrow terms.
I'm essentially defining success and failure here by satisfaction. Which is admittedly hard to gauge, especially for a writer. This is why I think you aren't connecting to us. If we aren't enjoying this, I can't imagine how much frustration you've gone through watching us bang our heads against the proverbial brick wall. Don't get me wrong, I can indeed look past it, but only for so long!
On the other hand, what's obvious to you as a writer, is not to your readers. If it was, we wouldn't be in this situation. The story might have more than a handful of readers too. Even now, I have absolutely no idea what direction to head in from here. None. I've reread the past two threads and cannot make heads or tails of the hints, clues, and outright directions you've put into the story.
In the end, I'm just not a literary critic. I can't tell you in technical terms what is wrong, it's just what I feel in my gut. I'm going to reread the entire story again and look harder for the little nuances you're talking about.
Your complex character interactions are what brought me in as a reader. Unfortunately that's also the biggest issue here. With such complications, the way forward is never truly clear. Even with voter collaboration, when the insight that we do have is murky at best, deciding on a way to go is going to be influenced heavily by group-think.
>> As for your actual vote: That's a bit too specific and far-reaching.
Fair enough, I'll give this one a try.
[X] Work on the regent again.
Here are the directions I can see:
-Aide Alice's health through normal means. Alice has scolded Arc before for doing just this. Is it the best approach to take? For consistency sake, no. In a pragmatic sense, yes. Her last order was incoherent, Arc could choose to ignore it and get her back on her feet for clarification. Worst case scenario? Alice scolds Arc again.
-Work on the regent again. This is a follow-up to the previous failed option. The merit of this choice is tenacity and perseverance. If at first we do not succeed, try and try again. Not only will we be potentially helping Alice's health, we'll also be following her directions. Worst case scenario? Arc fails and kills himself with the ingredients.
-Get outside help. Falling asleep at a cauldron might mean that Arc is in over his head and needs outside aid. Alice will most likely not be pleased, but it might be what she and Arc needs. Worst case scenario? Alice scolds Arc again, maybe disowns him as an apprentice.
-Do nothing. This isn't an option, I'm missing the fourth choice.
Working on the regent has the highest risk/reward threshold. It has the appeal of consistency, something that has been strongly lacking in our votes for this entire story. Maybe consistency is what Arc needs. If not, we're back to square one.
>>24736 I understand your frustration because of the seeming lack of payoff. I insist that there's no good or bad, just choices that lead to different paths and character development. Most of the choices have more passive and/or far-reaching consequences rather than immediate results. A big part of the story (the DEFT stories in general) is the theme of different ways of thinking/philosophy. So yeah, there will sometimes be times when a choice will fix an immediate problem but more often than not it'll just give you another perspective as things come to a head. Just keep an open mind as a reader and don't be afraid to take a longer view of things.
Depending on how you look at it there's already some payoff; Alice's feelings, progress in skill and in acquiring knowledge. And maybe networking if you throw in the field trips taken.
>The story might have more than a handful of readers too.
No use crying over spilled milk. As long as there's some that think about things and participate then it's fine. This choice was put here to coax people to not be so complacent. Sorely needs more people with fire in their belly.
While I would really like to write, I'm fine with waiting, days if necessary, to see if anyone else can muster up the drive to chime in and vote. Not holding my breath unfortunately.
>>Read what Alice says about Arc, for instance. It's a way of thinking that no one seems to acknowledge here.
Okay, I went back to the beginning again and took notes on everything that Alice said. From the beginning, she had very similar reoccurring advice for Arc. What I pinpointed was this:
>> “The mind is not as alert if the body is rested and will also exhaust itself in arcane pursuit.”
Arc's trouble with the first task that Alice assigned him seems to be entirely because he was never fully rested.
His failure in Keine's class is due to him not focusing on the task at hand and thinking of Alice instead. This was due to the fact that we mistakenly thought that his success on the first task was due his focusing on Alice. This was not the case, he completed his task first before focusing on Alice in that case.
Arc repeated the same mistake he made in Keine's class the second time he asked for a test. He had not learned his lesson at all.
Arc's most recent failure was due to him falling asleep at the cauldron, not his lack of skill.
The common thread here is his lack of focus, lack of rest, and his obsession with things not related to the task at hand.
I'm changing my vote again.
[x] Rest up as much as possible, attend to your bodily needs. Prepare a hearty meal and make enough portions in case Alice awakens.
Arc has neglected his basic needs throughout the story and it has impeded his learning, emotions, and relationships. Let's change this.
>>24730 You sir, have the right idea. My vote is a more exact version of yours. The mentality here is to take baby steps. Arc will get back to creating the regent, just after he gets his priorities straight.
>>24725 We've relied on Marisa enough. She's told Arc several times that he needs to be at the top of his game physically. He failed and let things get out of control because he was not rested. It wasn't a lack of skill or diligence.
>>24739 >>24730 here. I'll be honest; this was the first update I read of this story, so my idea didn't exactly come from the inner partitions of the writing come before.
However, I've felt like this MC has on ocassion, and the only real way I've found to deal with it is to sleep on it. Hence my vote. I will be taking my time and going through the story once I take my break to fully understand what I do not yet regarding the story.
Alright, ain't nothing to be gained by waiting more so expect an update sooner rather than later.
>>24740 Wow, that's like the equivalent of throwing gasoline onto a fire and then having the gall to say that you expected the fire to have died out long ago. Have a little self-awareness. Either do something about it or accept the correlation.
>>24739 >>24740 >>24745 Wait a second, am I understanding this right? Arc has been screwing up because we didn't explicitly write-in a vote for him to get a normal amount of sleep? And you expected us to keep track of how often Arc was sleeping despite months between updates?
My god, how long has it been since Arc took a bath? Or went to the bathroom? Or remembered to blink? No wonder he's having such a rough time.
Here, I've got an idea:
[x] Make it a priority to take care of yourself like any functioning civilized adult human being would. (Perpetual vote)
Look at my examples. There are two instances where lack of sleep could be the reason Arc failed. Hints were given along to way to indicate that resting would be a good idea. Each time we neglected it. With the way votes tend to work in this story, it's likely that consistently voting to do as much work as possible in an effort to be studious would have this affect. It's a dynamic system that we do not see in other stories on this site.
But do not be mistaken. This isn't the only cause of Arc's failure! Obsession and lack of focus are components that cannot be ignored. But "rest" is something that we can do at this very moment in the story to begin improving. Change does not occur over night, instead we must set Arc upon the right path. We'll do this one step at a time.
Her appearance was what above all made me feel safe in slowing down a little. As much as I hated to admit it, she was right. At least partially, anyways. I had somehow lost focus while driving hard to accomplish my goals. My priorities were a mess, I told myself as I let my shoulders slump a little. Auntie was right. Or at least the scary dream version of her was. If she was anything like that in real life I'd probably be scarred for life.
I missed her a little, I realized. Going at full speed at the magic thing made it hard to notice. As did the normally taciturn mistress who, though she looked as beautiful and passive as one of her dolls at the moment, had driven my mind into a direction to her choosing. I thought of running my fingers affectionately through her golden hair. Somehow I thought she wouldn't really mind. I could picture a quiet and reserved smile on her lips as I did so. “It's not the time or the place for that,” I could hear her say. I smiled to myself instead.
With nothing better to do, I watched over her for a while longer. At one point I decided to fix her something to eat, in case she woke up. Soup was a tradition in my family so I went with what I knew. Easy enough to make my own stock from the food in the kitchen – mostly dried and cured plants and animals. I was fairly confident in my skill since I had had to cook for myself and for someone sick a few times before. The large pot was soon full of ingredients and the water simmering. The aroma reminded my body that I'd also appreciate the meal and as soon as I was done I served myself a generous portion.
Alice was still asleep. I covered up the soup and then lay down in my cot. There was a lot I wanted to do, needed to do, but it was hard to argue with the prospect of a nap after a meal. With the fatigue from a stressful day factoring in, I was all too happy to let myself unwind a little.
There may have been a scene out in a sunny field. A picnic. Under the shade of a great tree, the gentle breeze refreshing us. With a packed lunch and tea. Sleeping with my head on her lap. A really nice, if a little embarrassing, scene. I was not sure if it was a daydream or just a regular dream. I wasn't sure how long I had been lying in my cot. The day was darker, the shadows longer and definitely colder. I decided to check in on Alice.
To my surprise I found her in the drawing room, calmly sipping a cup of tea. Like it was the most natural thing in the world.
“You're awake,” She stated as if I had been the one who had been asleep all day.
“As are you,” I said, a little dumbfounded. “How are you feeling?”
“Well enough,” Her tone dismissed the question as a mere pleasantry. As if she was the very picture of health. “I helped myself to the ready-made food in the pot,” She informed me.
“I made it for you.”
“Thank you, I enjoyed it.”
“I'm glad,” I told her.
“You made quite a mess of the things in my study. I presume you were trying something new out?” She didn't skip a beat in changing subjects. No trace of irritation was to be found on her face. Instead she just continued to speak in a detached manner, as if it didn't concern her, “You may want to be more careful in the future, many of the elements there are toxic. They will release fumes if exposed to air and others are corrosive to the touch. If you wish we can go over proper handling technique tomorrow again if you wish. I'll show you how to use mercury properly as a catalyst in a formula – provided there's any left, that is.”
“I'm sorry mistress, I had an accident while working today.”
“So long as you learn from the experience it is not a major concern of mine. It is important to try new things in the pursuit of knowledge. But it is equally important to properly understand what you are doing, understanding the process and how it works. And why it works.”
There wasn't any room to change the subject back to her health. She wasn't showing any signs of hardship either and if I said or did anything it would mean stonewalling and reprimanding.
“Have you been imbibing the contents of those phials regularly?” Her line of questioning was abrupt.
“Truthfully...” I hesitated. It felt that my successes had, more often than not, depended on them, “I ingested some this very morning.”
“I figured as much. This morning you were focused but as if in a fevered trance and your energy was directed but raw and somewhat shapeless. Perhaps even wild.”
“You could tell?” I felt my ears burning up red for some reason. Her words held a certain suggestive quality to them that, mixed with the memories of her proximity and warmth, made me feel unsteady.
“It is well to use that substance when you need to. But you ought to only use it for another perspective, to liberate your mind from tired and dogmatic thought. By itself it is chaotic and destructive. Powerful but undirected. You must give it focus and mold the sensations and energy to your will. Such is the way with all things magical.”
“I felt you inside me today. And it was not wholly your conscious mind. You need to work to keep yourself in check. Use the subconscious to propel yourself forward but do not think of it as a crutch.”
She put her tea cup down, looking to see if I understood. I did. I had to work on my discipline and focus.
“I'll strive to better myself,” I answered. I took a silent decision,
 Handed over the magical aid back to her  Would use it at times and grow from it  Kept it for emergencies - Sorry, took longer than expected. Let's try to get into a more regular groove from now on.
>>24746 I pray that you're just a facetious troll. The alternative is not good. Hard to tell when people are serious over the internet.
This is quite compelling, going by the list of failures.
It's quizzical that it's caused by something that should be incidental to Arc's life, but the lack of specific recommendation to the contrary is at least coherent. Living in close proximity to a youkai who can probably get away without attending much to sleep, and possibly able to glamor away or otherwise magically handwave hygiene. Moreover her personality isn't the kind of person to pay much attention to Arc's aesthetic appearance.
Besides, Arc's just a kid. Remember summer camp when kids got away without changing their clothes or bathing for days because it was sort of expected and you eventually get desensitized to the smell? I remember I also thought I could go without sleep for days too and often did.
I haven't taken place in the discussion here for some weeks, but regarding what people have said regarding 'good' and 'bad' choices is that I think you have to remember that being this isn't simply an exercise in collaborative fiction; it's a CYOA. That means, unless you employ certain techniques to distance them, your readers are going to emotionally identify with the main character, and his/her repeated failures are going to make your readers unhappy or depressed. That's why there are 'good' and 'bad' choices.
I don't really have anything other to add than that the word is 'reagent' and that elemental mercury ('quicksilver') is pretty much nontoxic unless you're exposed to it for long periods in poorly ventilated environments. You can bathe in it, or hell, even swallow if you really want. It's fun stuff to play around with, which is why ancient alchemists were so fascinated by it.
It's the organic mercury compounds that are the super deadly contact poisons (e.g., diethylmercury).
Still not entirely sure why Alice keeps having these repeated attacks of sickness, but since we haven't really made any headway on it, and she doesn't seem at all concerned, I think we should let it lie and only help her when she definitely needs it, and we're certain it will help. Like making the soup. Otherwise we may only be squandering our time that could be better spent learning. Showing progress may provide emotional support and do more for her constitution than any effort spend at compounding potions. She knows Arc cares greatly for her welfare, and it's not necessary to keep making displays of it.
That Arc is using the phials on his own (i.e., without specific voter input) I think is a sign it has indeed become something of a 'crutch' to him. But I also don't think Alice would have supplied him with it if he weren't capable of learning from it. That's why I'll vote toward greater moderation in the future.
[x] Kept it for emergencies
>Sorry, took longer than expected. Let's try to get into a more regular groove from now on.
>>24751 >That Arc is using the phials on his own Not exactly true. Two votes for it that have been split both times. I had to look it up because even I forget things at times.
>>24750 >Arc's just a kid Young adult. By village standards anyways. Make of that what you will.
As an aside, I wouldn't worry too much about hygiene or sleep as such. Something as mundane as that doesn't quite factor in to the story. It's more of a thing of mental state and focus.
>That's why there are 'good' and 'bad' choices. It's because that it's a CYOA and not a collaborative fiction that I can state that there are no such choices. The choices are there, more often than not, to drive the plot forward. The various paths taken will all (hopefully) culminate in satisfying endings. I certainly know I'm not the only one that has on occasion enjoyed 'normal' or 'true' endings in VNs where the outcome isn't exactly 'good'. I certainly enjoy my characters for the most part and would like to see them do well but it's important to not get too caught up on the small stuff.
>'reagent' Embarrassing pair of typos that belie many hours spent in labs.
>quicksilver Arc is the narrator. He has a rather meager formal education. And is a definitive newcomer to science/alchemy. It's not the first mistake he's made when talking about things. Nor the last I suspect. I feel stupid for stating this but, because I don't have much better to do, it would be easy to mix up a warning about vapors with a warning on the substance itself.
I can definitely see the merit in holding on to the substance. It would be very useful for emergency situations and as a tool to grow with.
[x] Would use it at times and grow from it
After considering each of the options, this seems to be the option closest to following Alice's advice. She has not explicitly asked for it back and she has not told Arc only to use it in emergencies. Instead she simply said to use it for a different perspective. Going forward, it should be used only in the parameters that Alice gave us, no more, no less.
“I assume that you have already mastered this,” She stated dryly.
“Not at all mistress, it's my first time,” I countered, a bit surprised.
“Well then. Perhaps you should pay a little attention to what I'm saying instead of letting your mind wander.”
“Of course. Sorry.”
I watched as she manipulated the tongs, carefully noting the quantity of material used in the reaction. I hadn't even noticed I wasn't paying attention. There were many things I could blame but I delayed my condemnation for when I was alone. Learning took priority. Having a little more structured environment helped as well. I certainly enjoyed having Alice demonstrate for me.
“When the contents begin to bubble, add the toad liver.”
When it was my turn, I performed as she expected. Some satisfaction came from my accomplishment but I wasn't entirely convinced I was doing anything worthwhile. After all, these potions and experiments required mostly memory and not skill. There was no easy way of judging whether or not I was growing as a magician. Not hat Alice was concerned. She instructed as she pleased, answering questions and correcting when appropriate but otherwise never offering a critical analysis of my performance. I felt a bit impatient.
The fact that my dreams continued to be vivid and explicit did not help matters. It added to the existing tension between my teacher and I. She would not discuss her wellbeing and I could not prod her about it.
“Is that a yes then?”
“Pardon me, 'yes'?” I asked my taciturn instructor.
“I asked you if you would be alright doing the next exercise by yourself. I need take care of business elsewhere for a while.”
“Of course mistress, it'll be no problem,” I replied, covering for my spacing out. “Just the potion on the next page, correct? The one with bark and fire salt.”
“Seems like you'll have a handle on things. I'll be back soon. Be wary and watch yourself - you wouldn't want a runaway reaction.”
Funnily enough it really wasn't a big deal doing it by myself. Follow instructions, keep an eye out for any abnormalities and contamination. What I made was magical in only a passive sense. I imbued no energies of my own but relied on the properties of the materials used. The setup itself and the containers used additionally added to the mystical aspect of things but for the most part was a pragmatic way of handling sometimes volatile creations.
I saw it through with no incident. Even took no longer than expected. It was something. Not something that I could brag about to Alice but it was helpful. Certainly gave past failings a little perspective, so I told myself. The next step would be to create things that actually did require a little more input on my part. Whether it was raw energy or a suitable source for direction like blood or hair. I wasn't sure I was comfortable with the concept. Alice didn't care about that but I had been trying to find ways to help people and I couldn't see how learning hexes might be useful.
That was a gross oversimplification. For a subset of potions and spells that affected humors and energies, accomplishing negative things was just an obvious thing. But it wasn't the only thing possible. Stimulation and restoration were certainly included as well as divination. In truth, I needed to read a lot more to understand the subtleties and wished to receive a lot of instruction on the subject.
I was alone and did not much to do. With no explicit instructions, I had to decide what to do with myself. It crossed my mind that maybe this was yet another exercise, to see how I would choose to spend my time if left to my own devices. In the past that hadn't worked out so well, I thought. I regretted not being able to break through Alice's shell. It felt like if I could know what was going on in her mind, I'd be a much better disciple. Another part of me had a less than noble motive but I tried to ignore that as I worked with her. I hadn't come around for that, I tried to convince myself. I wanted to learn magic. Anything else would happen if it needed to happen. In any case, I wanted to prove myself and impress her.
 Study the theoretical underpinnings  Make a more elaborate potion
>>24767 Generally experiments in chemistry are done after studying the relevant theory - expecially when you are doing it on your own.
[x] Study the theoretical underpinnings
This may seem to be the less impressive option but without it we will be unable to creat that impressive potion. Arc himself admits that he does not understand the subtleties and if we again use chemistry as an example there are numerous variables that can alter the result of an experiment.
Ultimately the only way we can impress anyone is by doing an impressive elaborate potion succesfully. It is unlikely that we can do this without having a theoretical understanding of the underpinnings.
>>24767 While the best way would indeed be the elaborate potion choice, I'm still far too leery of failure here. How is Arc's state of mind? He's impatient. Is he rested? Absolutely. Is he focused? No. With two out of the three gauges that have essentially determined Arc's success rate in the past not lined up, his chances of success are low. Better to study the underpinnings and gather his thoughts on the matter than to dive into a matter like this.
Regardless, the worst case scenario here isn't really that bad. It's more of me wanting something we can call a "success" to build on. That's all.
Learning from instruction manuals was simple enough. Follow steps, memorize order and quantity. And timing. That was all there was to it. A recipe could be memorized in a short period of time, particularly if made more than once. I did not think that just knowing how to do things was going to be that helpful. I probably was going to have access to reference material in the future anyways.
Scan, analyze and memorize. I did that for a few things before I thought of changing track. There wasn't much point to just stopping there.
Instead I began to read some of the older, dustier grimoires. Books that Alice hadn't left out for me but lined her shelves and storage areas. Old leathery volumes that spoke through aged and warbled prose, twisting characters and faded print making a cursory read challenging Tomes that spoke of resonance between elements leading to harmonious or disharmonious encounters of essence. Fundamental principals all revolved about humors, or properties of matter and their innate properties. Words that frankly slid off the mind too easily.
Using the previous knowledge Alice had imparted, I managed to establish a toehold into the subject matter. Understanding that only one or two main aspects were at play in any given interaction was a comfortable way to think when parsing the potential of a substance. Other things like temperature and exposure to other elements coaxed parts of the nature to become more prominent. I saw large sections dedicated to humors and temperaments, as if the seemingly static herb or organ had a personality. This was a concept that seemed less ludicrous as the nature of the complex interactions was explained. The addition of a tiny little modifier, say a fresh picked berry from a common bush, could alter an otherwise predictable transformation. I quickly glanced away from wormwood, seeing that it had a whole book dedicated to it.
As my head swam with thoughts about aether and the proper application of heat, Alice came back. She carried a medium cloth sack, holding it with both arms in front so as to not let it drag. She saw me hard at work and silently moved on upstairs. I began to put away books and was mostly done when she came back down.
“I've finished the potion,” I showed her the results – a milky-yellow substance in a small container. She picked the jar up, bringing the contents level with her eyes. Next, putting it up to her nose and quietly taking a sniff. It seemed to pass muster. An affirming nod was all it took to tell me that I had done well.
“The disposal is also satisfactory,” Alice noted, looking at the way I had cleaned the implements and stored the discarded materials. She added a bit jocosely, “The lack of damage to your hands and face imply proper handling as well.”
“I finished ahead of schedule,” I told her.
“Yes, experience makes these tasks go by faster and smoother.”
“In my downtime I also took the liberty of doing a little research on my own. I wanted to know why things happened the way they did.”
“Good,” She stated.
“Is there anything else that I should do?” I asked.
“Not particularly. Carry on as you please.”
“How about whatever comes next?” I tried to mask my disappointment. She hadn't recognized the effort I made. Or she had, but didn't think it out of the ordinary. I was supposed to want to learn and grasp the opportunities given to me. Independence was a big thing when learning under her.
“Impatient, are we?” She saw right through me. With her usual distant grace she remarked, “If you feel yourself advancing then it is your duty to push yourself towards accomplishing greater feats.”
“And you would guide me?”
“If appropriate, apprentice,” She smiled a little. Like she was amused at my agitated state. As usual, I had no idea what she was really thinking. “You're willing to follow my instructions precisely, correct? Well, except when you take things to the extreme, but let's not dwell on that. The point I'm trying to make is that you'll at the very least listen when I talk. That's important to factor in. No use in getting carried away with your considerable liberty.”
“I follow your instructions carefully, mistress.”
“And you'll have to for the next thing I'll teach you.”
She sat down with a heavy sigh escaping her lips. She looked to be completely exhausted for a moment. I couldn't help but ask, “Are you alright?” even though I knew it was pointless to do so.
“I could use a cup of tea, actually,” She deflected in a slightly different fashion than usual. Her implication drove me to the kitchen and I minded the kettle. A normal enough outcome.
“Warms the very soul,” She said quietly.
“I'm glad you like it,” I helped myself to a cup, noting the absence of any dolls. Normally they would be moving about, carrying trays and plates. Alice controlled them effortlessly most times.
“I am not sure if you are ready yet, however. The potentially pernicious nature makes it quite a different category compared to basic potion-making.”
“I think I can handle it.”
“That's for me to decide,” Alice smiled again. A little smugly, I thought. “I've decided to give you more direction after all, seeing as how previous situations have unraveled. I don't like to repeat my failings.”
“I look forward to whatever it is then,” I tried to continue to seem serious. She didn't need to know that I felt like laughing at seeing her like that. It felt good to see her more involved.
“Well, you're almost ready for your next field trip either way. I just need to decide where. It's important that you appreciate how magic works in the real world and not just in a familiar setting. Then you'll understand how it all interacts and perhaps become a bit more conscious of your role in all of this.
“I'll have you choose, I think. There's no point in spoon-feeding you entirely. Take some of that incentive you've shown today and apply it to the areas in which you're lacking. We'll go to someplace appropriate next so you can appreciate your growth better.”
It was strange to see her relatively excited. Though she did not show agitation in neither voice or face her words were a little less carefully picked than usual. I thought about what she said and made a choice;
 Seals, wards and magic symbols  Manipulating magical tools and items
>While the other option might be useful, they don't really have much to do with helping people, right? It might help Arc to become a more rounded magician like >>24775 says.
Yes, but when these 'people' are youkai, and/or magicians especially, it behooves you to be able to take account of eventualities, including the potential for these people to fuck up their own spells.
Moreover, it would be good to have a better understanding of the seal that binds him to Alice, since it seems to allows some transference that is poorly explored. Moreover, I have suspicions about whether or not Alice's disappearances and magical sickness has something to do with the mark, or Mima's mark that she had supposedly sealed.
>>24780 >>Yes, but when these 'people' are youkai, and/or magicians especially, it behooves you to be able to take account of eventualities, including the potential for these people to fuck up their own spells.
I'm not entirely sure what you're getting at here, care to explain?
As for the second half of your post, I had not considered this before. In fact, this is such a good point that I'll be revoting immediately.
[x] Seals, wards and magic symbols
Understanding the seal that binds Arc to Alice as well as the one that had bound him to Mima is important. I believe too that it has quite a bit to do with Alice's condition. I'd imagine that Alice is aware of this fact and her disappearances might well be her searching for Mima. Clues have been given in context, but nothing concrete has been presented thus far.
Unless there's something in the next 30 or so minutes, I'll be flipping a coin and writing to update. Sorry if it seems a little arbitrary, I want to see if I can get to two per day.
Oh and it should go without saying but you guys are doing fine. I'm saying that because I realize it just seems that when I speak it's to criticize. It's a bit unfair. But when there's nothing wrong there isn't an urge to point it out.
“Yes,” I said without actually being able to stop their shaking. The delicate line I was drawing was in danger of becoming a squiggly mess. Keeping steady was not as easy as it initially seemed to be.
Scowling slightly, she gently but firmly grasped my hand from above. She guided my hand to the end of the line, keeping it straight. There wasn't even the slightest of deviations. She held steady for the line after that and the one that followed, all the way to the last missing side of the complex geometrical figure. My hand was freed when the symbol was completed.
“Slow and deliberate breaths, push other concerns out of your mind, only focus in getting from one point to the next,” she recommended.
“Not quite enough. Your eyes were on me for a lot of the time. If you have something to say to me, just say it. It's better than perpetuating your absentmindedness.”
“I apologize mistress, I was just worried,” I stated a half-truth. We were cramped around her desk in her work room, sitting next to each other on a small bench. Our bodies pressed together in places. It was stupid but I couldn't help but think of past moments and past events. That I could only feel her scent despite the powerful odor of the magic chalk was cause for major distraction. A boiling force within, may as well have been instinct, bid me to get even closer to her. It just felt... nicer near her.
“A harsher teacher would beat you with a rod for your lack of focus,” She raised an eyebrow, “or at the very least, make you do menial tasks like fetching water from a nearby spring.”
“...I really don't mean anything by it.”
I apologized again.
“I wonder if perhaps this is due to my own inexperience,” She mused quietly, “We have spent a lot of time together in close quarters. A situation that I must admit is rather alien to me. All I have readily at my disposal is my own preconceptions and instinct. That may not make me a good teacher. Particularly if I shut out my instinct some of the time for expediency's sake. In the end, I don't know what goes on in your mind nor how to deal with it. You're not a doll to be manipulated on whim, executing my labor by proxy. It's a stupid thought and something that I realize already but I had hoped to find middle ground between the extremes. It doesn't seem like I can reach you like I want to, or you want to for that matter.”
“I haven't been the most stellar student either, so I don't think you should blame yourself,” I told her, “I've been stubborn, reckless and sometimes haven't heeded your instructions.”
“Working around or with your temperament is a teacher's responsibility.”
“Nah, I don't think it's quite like that. At school the older boys used to be a little mean to the teacher because they liked her. It's dumb, I know, and they would never admit it... but you know, she didn't know what was up with them and fretted a lot. In the end they were fine and they paid attention to her. They just needed their time and a little shove from their peers to realize how they ought to behave.”
“You don't have any peers,” She stated the obvious. But at the same time she made it clear that she was actually listening to me.
“Yeah, true. But to be honest I could do without the schoolyard fights like we had back in the day. It wasn't nice to make my point and then get smacked upside the head by Auntie for being so brash.”
“I can't picture that,” She let out a small laugh. It caught me off guard. A lovely little thing no louder than a whisper which added a little fire to the instinct within me.
“To be honest, I couldn't really either,” I felt a little encouraged, “sometimes you just need to do what's right and your mind goes all hazy until you finish doing it. I have a scar on my hand where I hit a rock as I was pushed in an incident like that. I still don't know what I was thinking.”
“I was curious about that,” She admitted a bit sheepishly and, as if she needed to explain herself, added, “I have been looking at your hands for the better part of the day.”
“I don't know what else to say because I'm not really good with words. But I just want to let you know that if anything is wrong, it's probably my fault. You should just keep doing what you're doing and...” I trailed off for an instant, wondering if the joke was a little too telling, “you should feel free to bully me a little so long as you smile like you are now afterwards.”
“We really aren't making much progress,” She sighed a little too loudly. It seemed like she felt a little more confident. The would-be saturnine woman might have been more jovial than given credit for.
With a show of patience, she allowed me to try to draw the magic circle again. It was the base to be built upon in the case of any enchantment or more powerful spells. In very plain terms it was a focus for the energies that were used up in a magical exchange. The various symbols that adorned the circle (if any) were ways of directing the flow of magic and controlling the speed and power. It was, in a sense, like the fire used to mix together ingredients into a potion; the circle itself had power of its own, due to the shapes it represented and the various materials that could be used to draw it, but it was there primarily to facilitate something else from happening.
Alice taught me the several basic types of circles and their general purpose. She glossed over summoning circles, stating that it was not something I was ready to know or particularly needed. She emphasized the role that magic circles and other closely-related symbols could have as amplifiers. A simple illumination spell when used in conjunction with a ready-made circle became several more times brighter and potent.
“It often requires less direct energy from you to use such devices,” She informed me, “A magician who prepares spells and items well in advance using arcane symbols has an advantage over any enemy. You'll find that there are many traps and places of binding anywhere where a magician works or lives.”
In order to make her point on the efficiency, she made me step into an area in her entry hall.
“You may not have noticed, since I've tuned you to most of the wards present in this house, but there are such devices all around you,” She softly murmured some words and the floor lit up. Bright lines of light flowed upwards like an upside-down drizzle of energetic rain. “Look at your feet,” She ordered.
A large magic circle with many symbols of power now filled the floor. It had lain dormant and invisible until that moment. A fine script of flowing crimson letters were words of power for a powerful ward. A set up like that was meant to immobilize and neutralize any unwelcome guests. It was set up to be in harmony with Alice's energies and, by extension, whims. I appreciated the complex geometrical shames that decorated the periphery of the main inscribed pentagram. It took a lot of knowledge and practice to make something as intricate as that circle.
“Spirits, beings of purer energy in general, would be nearly completely paralyzed by this,” She informed me, “These woods have the odd wisp and specter and so this ward and seal repels them. Those bold, or powerful enough to come closer get trapped where you are, apprentice.”
Alice grinned, entirely satisfied with her handiwork. It was a look that I had only seen previously when she finished painting a new doll. Accomplishment and pride, something which she did not show outsiders.
“One day, I hope, you'll be able to create and imbue with your energies a circle like this,” She told me in a detached manner, “It will be a long time from now, however. At this stage you should simply try using small circles and small rituals to amplify the effects of the magic that you already know.
“The look on your face is precious,” She smiled, “Awestruck, I'd describe it. I can see why you were attracted to magic in the first place now. We're not as different as one might initially suspect,” She shrugged as if that didn't mean much to her. The situation apparently changed her plans, “I've got an excellent idea. It is a practical application of what we've learned as well. I'm not sure you'll succeed either way but it's about familiarization above all.”
I had to admit her idea was interesting. It was a challenge and I felt that she proposed it because she had faith in me. Faith that I would at least learn, if not outright succeed.
 Try to undermine or break out of the magic circle  Create a circle of binding to try to hold Alice
[x] Try to undermine or break out of the magic circle.
While I would indeed love to try the second option, the odds of Arc successfully trapping Alice are almost zero. Whereas the first option would demonstrate a full comprehension of what Arc just learned.
You're doing well to make your reader feel that even if Arc fails at a task, there will be compensatory interaction with Alice. Even if you've told them to not think in terms of right or wrong votes, you're pleasing those who continue to think that way. I wouldn't call it pandering because that's how a good teacher should act.
>The would-be saturnine woman might have been more jovial than given credit for.
So it seems the outer planets are correctly aligned.
>I don't know what else to say because I'm not really good with words [...]
Bullshit. Maybe it's because he's familiar with Alice's emotional limits, but slipping in things like this would make a normal girl's heart melt:
>[...] “you should feel free to bully me a little so long as you smile like you are now afterwards.”
[x] Try to undermine or break out of the magic circle
Trying to undo Alice's magic would mean exploring the work of his tutor rather than hammering something together from his own dubious experience and skill. What would you learn more about manufacturing and engineering from? Taking apart a well made appliance? Or trying to mimic one you briefly saw by constructing a copy out of Legos?
Moreover, trying to undo potentially harmful effects of others' magic is more to the point than creating his own. I know Arc's training is likely going to be comprehensive enough to cover the creation of potentially 'malefic' magic, but when given a choice by Alice, all other things being equal, I'd pick the one the best expresses his disposition toward how he wishes to use magic once he is skilled.
I closed my eyes. I tried to focus by taking a few deep breaths. The first step was to feel around, see what I could understand. My prison was a complex edifice of light and energy, cage within cage tethered together by tendrils of elaborately-weaved power. I wasn't permitted to peak from the innermost chamber to any other, much less make my way through them until I got out. There were no cracks and, even if there had been, it would have been like trying to make sense of a labyrinth without having any points of reference or sense of dimension.
The more direct solution was tempting, but I knew that it wouldn't work. Using magic power directly to break free only worked if the power used was sufficiently potent. In other words, it wouldn't work because I could not muster enough raw energy. I was more likely to hurt myself in the process than to break anything down.
“Ah, a realization,” Alice was watching my expression, “There's no way out, is there?”
“Nothing practical,” I answered.
“Will you make your own way out then?”
“I cannot,” I admitted.
“So what plan would you enact if you were caught in a situation like this?”
“Maybe try to use reason or bluff,” I offered half-heartedly.
“That is likely more efficient than any of the other options open to you at the moment. You're just wasting your strength if you try to use brute force. In fact, you'll just be feeding more energy for your prison,” She assessed the other options, “You would have to know more about the type of barrier in order to prepare a disruptive countermeasure beforehand, something which is impossible once you're already ensnared. As is trying to win your freedom like a prisoner fiddling with the tumblers in a lock. These are too small and too variable to be parsed and understood.”
“So what should I do?”
“Simple – don't get trapped,” She told me nonchalantly. “If you do get trapped, hope it's a simple and less powerful barrier, that way you might find a crack in it. If not, save your strength so you can deal with the person who set the enclosure in the first place. That part is usually not very pleasant.”
“I can't help but feel there's something you're not telling me.”
“Perhaps. You were the one who wanted to find a way out, so what's the point if I help you out every step of the way?”
I tried to move. It was as if my whole body was tied down by innumerable chains and ropes. All I could muster was talking and twitching my index finger a little. Dozens of layers of invisible walls were between me and the edge of the magical barrier. I tried a simple spell. A weak little audible pop was all that resulted. I felt as if the barrier had drained me a little just then. If I wasn't careful it would exhaust me.
There really was no way out. I didn't want to harm myself, “Let me out, please,” I asked Alice.
The barrier quickly ceased to be active.
“Well then,” Alice flippantly remarked, “Wouldn't you agree that your charm got you out of that one?”
“There's no other way to interpret it,” I said, “I was totally outclassed. No obvious or hidden way out of it.”
“I hope that underscores the necessity of always being prepared for the worst case scenario.”
“How do you keep yourself prepared, mistress?”
“A combination of things,” She answered, “Backup plans and strategies for every encounter and opponent are a must. But besides that there's quite a few versatile spells I know by rote; I can employ and augment my magic under most conditions. My dolls are sometimes accessories. They can provide reserves of power or act like conduits or as a mobile focus. There is more, but I'm afraid that anything more specific is a secret. A magician who doesn't leave her opponents guessing and wondering is not worthy of the title.
“The day is almost over and I'm going to give you a task to sleep on and do as you see fit,” She explained, “Prepare a few basic plans to be used in the case of a... let's say an encounter with a low-level magic user. Someone at your own skill level. How would you deal with that? That's what I want you to think about. And prepare some sort of special emergency fall back in case it comes to it. I'll review your choices in the morning and have a little fun with contingency plans.”
She bid me a good night soon after, retiring upstairs to give me space to work out things on my own. It was too early to go to bed so she obviously had wanted me to spend time working things out. Strategies could be worked out logically and in detail but what got to me was deciding on what would be an appropriate last-ditch effort. It would be something used in desperation, after everything else was tried. I'd likely be exhausted and potentially cornered. It had to be simple but powerful, giving me a good chance of turning things around. It was a bit of a tall order. Given the type of magic that I had tried to learn, nothing outright destructive would do. I needed something that was a distraction so I could win back initiate and regain my footing.
 Learn an unusual spell from the older books in storage  Practice improvising enchantments
Partially due to fatigue and partially to give more time for votes in face of the drop off, there won't be an update or calling of votes for at least eight or so hours. Sorry if you expected a faster pace.
>>24795 And I was clarifying what the option is about since you interpreted it in a different way than I meant. That's my fault for writing the choices like I did. There's definitely no need to get defensive about it.
>raw nerves Please don't start this crap. We were all having such a wonderful time. It's just the way things are in my stories. By and large the majority of the site does not participate in it but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate the few that choose to read this knowing that just a little extra is asked of them. More than offsets the lack of quantity.
>>24797 Again, not really a choice about improving/acquiring skills so much as choosing something that will help in a specific scenario. And perhaps impressing the teacher. If you'll excuse the analogy it's like learning a move in pokemon: leer/status changing move can be handy at times but so can metronome or some other attack. To be honest I wanted to make it a write in but I felt that you guys wouldn't know where to go with it. Hence the two rather different choices.
I got to work thinking and planning almost immediately. I did not hesitate to open the small locked library and revisit some of the texts there. The books recognized my presence as I came in, humming softly in reaction to my magical energy. It felt like a gathering of old friends somehow, all of them excited to be reunited once again. But that was a little conceited of me. There was no telling what the dusty old tomes thought – if anything – and it was far likelier that they simply sought a magician's attention.
Some of them contained knowledge that I could not put into use, even if I wanted to. Spells that read like doomsday prophecies, rendering earth barren and vanquishing all who dared oppose the caster. The actual words of incantation were colorful as well, calling for “darkness beyond twilight” and juxtaposing it with a color more crimson than flowing blood. It was the sort of thing that I would have maybe imagined as a child when hearing a bedtime story. It was useless to me, however, since I didn't have to talent or inclination towards that school of magic. I simply smiled at the ancient annotation that accompanied it, that it was a celestial killer.
The problem was also finding something relevant. Knowing how to entrance a frog for a moment was all fair and good but it would not help me out in a confrontation. Unless my opponent was a giant frog. But that seemed ludicrous. Alice had said another magician of my skill level.
Eventually I managed to find a familiar text. One that I had read a while back and even tried one of its spells. The grimoire was a bit useless, as the spell never did quite do anything I found. Still, I turned the pages, looking for something useful.
And there it was. The book seemed to know exactly what I wanted and needed. Just by randomly opening up a page a useful spell came up. I took the time to read it through, memorizing how to cast it. I was fairly confident that I could do it too. Curiously enough, I couldn't find the spell I had tried the last time. I was certain it was the same book – its font and color were the same. It had the same overall aura as well.
It had been hours, I finally realized. It was very late at night and I needed rest. I forgot all about the books and retired to my cot.
She stood behind a divider, her silhouette the only indication that she was there. I needed to see her, to feel her. The lights went out as she stepped out from behind, a towel wrapped tightly around her body. I placed my hands on her hips. She was like a well-mannered courtesan, alluring and discreet. Her body began to rub against my own, the intimate action heard rather than seen. In the darkness of night there was only feeling and sound. The towel gave way, crumpled to the floor like a discarded rag, as the distance between the two hearts lessened.
The silhouette was entirely displaced by shadow and the soft moonlight. Contours that incited more assertive action were mere glimpses in the dark. Her hands moved, pushing against my chest, keeping at a distance that which should have been fine together. She spoke, soft whispers that were both exotic and delightful. There was something unnatural, forced about the scene. I held the girl close, sure of her smile even in the lack of light. Her voice contained promises that I was not sure she could keep. I tried to find a more comfortable solution but ended submitting to her gentle touch and sweet aroma. There was no problem as long as we were both happy. She laughed quietly, dismissing any and all concerns.
I got up sometime in the mid-morning. I had overslept a little. I barely had time to prepare myself breakfast when Alice came downstairs.
“I trust that the sunny disposition is an indicator of both confidence and satisfaction?” Alice remarked after having her morning cup of tea. I may have been smiling to myself for some reason.
“It might just be because it's such a nice day out,” I deflected, a little anxious not to seem too full of myself.
“Oh, it definitely is. An overcast sky and biting wind are sure signs of a nice day.”
“...in any case, would you like to hear what I've thought up?”
“Please indulge me.”
I began with an obvious admission, “I probably could not hold my own in an encounter with anyone who has had years of practice. I'd say that I'd like to avoid conflict when possible. That's not the point of what you were trying to tell me though. Against someone of my own skill level... well, the type of magic that I've been trying to learn isn't really useful in that scenario. I want to help people not really have my abilities as some sort of deterrent. So there really is only two ways to go about it: either protect myself by directly countering whatever is thrown at me or finding a way to dodge that altogether. I think the second is better given my skill set. I'm pretty good at hiding, just ask Suika, so I could use magic to help me be even harder to find.”
“The basic premise then is to hide and hope whoever it may be just loses interest and goes away?”
“If that happens, great. But it's not the only way that could play out,” I expanded on the idea, “Having the other person exhaust themselves also works. Makes any sort of counter strategy more effective. Besides, I'll hopefully learn more about their abilities and limits.”
“A bit hopeful,” She got up and walked towards me. She smiled, “but not entirely meritless. It takes a very critical eye, however, to find weakness and an even sharper mind to exploit it.”
“There really is no way for me to know if I can or not without actually being in that sort of situation,” I admitted.
“Freezing up during an important moment could cost you,” She warned. Her intense stare and calm aura exerted a silent pressure on me.
“As long as my outlook is positive I think things will work out.”
“Well then,” She edged in closer, forcing me to take a step back towards the wall. Alice spoke firmly, “Let's do a little hypothetical then. Let's say your outlook isn't very positive.”
A hand went out towards my left and to the wall. The other hand gripped my right arm, immobilizing it. The grip was firm and was stronger than I thought Alice capable of. I was trapped and had nowhere to go.
“...” I felt a bit uneasy at seeing her like that. Her almost merciless seriousness seemed almost predatory. It somehow felt like I could be in real danger.
Her eyes were turned upwards, staring unflinchingly into my own. She continued, “You are cornered and your opponent has the upper hand. There doesn't seem to be anyplace to fall back to. What, pray tell, would you do apprentice?”
“I...” I felt like making a joke. It usually helped me when I was in an uncomfortable situation in the past. Her piercing gaze commanded otherwise. “There is something I have prepared,” I regained a modicum of composure.
“Well?” Her face edged in closer, like that of a triumphant beast about to make her killing blow. Simultaneously, her nails dug a little into my arm as she squeezed tighter.
“I'm sorry,” I muttered quietly. I mumbled the words that I had burned into memory the night before, recalling with vivid detail the weight of the impression that they had made upon me. With my free arm I reached out to her and placed my hand on her chest. A few final words finished the spell. I waited for a moment, breathless, wondering if it had worked.
“...” Alice said nothing. Yet her grip on my arm loosened. The other arm dropped from the wall and to her side, flopping about lamely. Her eyes were a bit unfocused, as if she couldn't see where I was. I slipped by to the side, assuming that that was part of the intended effect.
Indeed it seemed to have worked. She didn't say anything to me and did not seem to be concerned with me anymore. Instead she sat down, cross-legged like a child, and stared off towards the window. She was mumbling something under her breath, something that I couldn't make out. Having achieved my objective, I proceeded to gently shake her shoulders.
“Oh, Arc, fancy seeing you,” genuine surprise crept into her voice, “Is it morning already? I'll be down in just a moment. Oh, this isn't my room.”
I told her that she had been awake for some time.
“I had a dream about mama just now...” She said softly.
“It was just a spell I used on you,” I told her.
“It was?” She furrowed her brow in confusion, trying to connect the dots by the looks of it.
“Yeah, I simply showed you what I would do if cornered.”
“Ah...” Alice seemed to steadily return to her senses, “How insidious of you then. I have no real recollection of that. It feels like I saw a few events in a dream, as if they didn't really happen.”
“Sorry, I thought you wanted me to show you what I would do.”
“I... did,” She confirmed with a half-certain nod, “You did well. I have no idea how long I've been affected but I assume that it would have given you enough time to strike me down or flee.”
“It seems that way.”
“It won't work again against me, however. Now that I know, I'll keep you from doing that or simply use a more direct countermeasure.” She concluded, “That... is part of what I wished to teach you. The element of surprise only lasts for a short while. If you are well-known it'll be harder for you to pull a trick like that.”
“I hope I've lived up to your expectations in any case.”
“Unless told otherwise, assume as much,” She slowly got up. Her footing seemed a little unsteady as she made her way back to her seat.
“Do you want another cup of tea?” I tried not to seem too worried about her. She wasn't made of glass, I reminded myself.
“May as well. We may go out today, weather permitting.”
“Is it time for another test?” I asked as I went back to the kitchen.
“Always with the tests...” There was a bit of disapproval in her tone. I paid it no mind. “Has it ever occurred to you that I may just want to take you out for a change of atmosphere, say for a meal somewhere?”
“Is that really the case, mistress?” I asked neutrally, minding the boiling water in the kettle.
“...it may very well be, I do not like revealing the tiles in my hand. Your duty is to observe, learn and obey since that is the prudent thing to do.”
“I wouldn't mind,” I told her while pouring her a cupful, “that is, going out just for fun somewhere with you.”
“I'm sure...” She trailed off - a bit mysteriously I thought. “But there's a time and a place for everything.”
I changed the topic, “Is there a good way to avoid or at least mitigate the energy drain? Like, if there's a lot of very intensive spells I need to cast.” My mind was on her hypothetical scenario still. If I was cornered, I would likely be pretty exhausted.
“Several, but we need to first make a distinction,” She explained, “Some of this drain is purely physical. Magical energy is tied in to your soul and its vessel. Your body will need rest or food in order to get over that. I'm afraid there isn't much that can be done about that save for physical acclimatization.”
“Practice and get used to it is what you're saying.”
“In essence,” She nodded. “As for the other part – the purely magical aspect – there are ways of replenishing yourself that do not include physical rest and care. For example, you may store some of your energy in an object for later, and immediate, use. Stones and jewels are the most common items as these geological byproducts have a great natural storage capacity. Another is a more personal item or accessory that you might carry on you at all times. It comes down to a matter of experience and comfort. The basic concept is that you place some of your energy slowly over time into these containers like you would water into a flask. When necessary you pour it back into yourself for an immediate boost. It's a time-intensive task but a well-prepared magician could have an enormous pool of energies as a reserve should she need it.
“There are other methods. I've mentioned this as an offhand comment in the past but the very essence of living beings contains magical energy. Things that are life forces are especially so, particularly in magically-attuned or mature creatures. The most obvious examples of this are blood and sexual secretions,” She paused to check if I was still following her. Satisfied that I was paying attention, she continued, “I am sure that there are stories in your village about witches kidnapping young men and forcing themselves on them or drinking the blood of young maidens. Those likely have some basis in reality as there are many who study regular people to see if they have any potential and, if they do, are often interested in using their potential for their own advantage. Sexual intercourse is definitely an efficient way to transfer energy between magically-sensitive individuals. Under normal circumstances, this sort of regular activity can even yield the benefit of having an active boost to potential and ability. It is somewhat similar to magical concentrates or potions in that regard. Something which you are by now probably aware of.
“It's not worth going into the last category into much detail, as it is one that carries significant risk. For thoroughness' sake I'll mention it,” She reiterated her warning. Ignorance wasn't something she cared for either. Alice explained about familiars and bound spirits, “You may use lesser beings as a thrall or as assistants if there's the need. They may be assigned to tasks or to collect energy for you, as bound by a contract often made in a summoning. These creatures can help you but often have a mind of their own and plans of their own. Which is why, at most, a magician will have a non-sapient as a familiar. There is nothing quite as horrifying as being manipulated by a fiend to do its bidding. I will not teach you this sort of thing, I do not care for that aspect of magic. Using another life force to accomplish things seems like the easy way out. Not to mention that it is burdensome to always worry about potential fallout.
“I hope that answers your question,” She concluded.
“Thank you, it did. I don't know what would be most useful for me at this stage of my training. I'm using up most of my energy every day, so storing it seems counterproductive.”
“I gave you those phials because I trusted your judgment,” She reminded me.
“Ah well, I guess it's just good eating and lots of rest then,” I shrugged.
“You could also likely convince Marisa to do certain favors for you. Help you out as it were. She's a bit gullible regarding the ways of the world. All it would take is a impassioned plea and some supporting logic. A little forcefulness wouldn't hurt either,” Alice smiled suggestively. I couldn't quite tell if she was having fun at my expense or seriously suggesting that as a plan.
“It's not really the kind of thing that I would be comfortable with. I've been brought up to be honest and forthright.”
“You could be both of those and still do as you pleased.”
“Are you sure you just don't want to make life a little more difficult for someone who often annoys you?” I brought up their constant bickering and rivalry.
“Hardly,” she smiled again, it was a rather cold smile, “I usually deal with her in a very direct fashion. This is a question of what benefits you. A young magician must use all the useful tools handed to him, apprentice. Surely you have a better reason for hesitating? One that I could potentially understand and respect?”
 “It's better not to have to depend on anyone for an increase of ability.”  “There are some lines that I just don't want to cross. It's the same as your earlier explanation.”  “Easy. You'd probably be jealous deep down.”
>“Oh, Arc, fancy seeing you,” genuine surprise crept into her voice, “Is it morning already? I'll be down in just a moment. Oh, this isn't my room.”
Well, that is funny.
>“It might just be because it's such a nice day out,” I deflected, a little anxious not to seem too full of myself. >“Oh, it definitely is. An overcast sky and biting wind are sure signs of a nice day.”
>“Always with the tests...” There was a bit of disapproval in her tone. I paid it no mind. “Has it ever occurred to you that I may just want to take you out for a change of atmosphere, say for a meal somewhere?”
I get the feeling from her comments about the weather earlier and her plans today that she just forgot what she was going to do with her time because of Arc's spell and is ad-libbing/confabulating.
The conversation has turned flirty and weird. Not that I mind, I just hope his reaction to her response doesn't spoil his day.
Assuming a write-in is allowed:
[x] "If I could use my charms to connive magical energy out of her, I just could as likely get her to do the needed work for me. 'Please' is a magic word."
Since 'Lemme out' was the correct solution for escaping the magic circle, I'd expect this to go over well. If Arc is to utilize all the tools at his disposal, networking and humility should be included. I'm sure Alice has manipulated Marisa into doing something for her more than once, and between manipulation and asking for help, I'm not sure she makes a distinction.
> “It's better not to have to depend on anyone for an increase of ability.”
This would be easy for her to understand to be sure, but might just come off as mimicking her to gain a pleased response. Arc is not as stoic as Alice.
> “There are some lines that I just don't want to cross. It's the same as your earlier explanation.”
Probably closest to the truth, but she might disapprove saying that their difference in ability leaves much less room in Arc for scruples.
> “Easy. You'd probably be jealous deep down.”
Alice doesn't easily admit that are parts of herself she's unaware of, and overt flirting usually gets her cross as a sign of disrespect. Alice counts herself as a tutor and magician well before being a woman.
>>24812 The logic behind your write-in is sound. However, it is not as direct as I would like it to be. Let me explain. The baseline in my logic here is simple: People are not tools. This is a rare insight into Alice's thought processes. It seems like she treats people like she does her dolls, as useful tools. If Arc does not agree with this, he needs to respond decisively. This is also the first time I find myself disagreeing outright with Alice's logic. She is demonstrating a type of extreme pragmatism that magicians typically display.
>> "There are some lines that I just don't want to cross. It's the same as your earlier explanation."
This is the option I like most. But I think we're missing an opportunity here. Alice's normal inhibitions seem to have indeed been weakened by Arc's spell. If there was ever a time to flirt with her, it'd be now. He already made a little pass about going somewhere with her for fun. I think it's time to take a chance. Could it backfire? Absolutely. But the circumstances feel right.
>>24814 >>24815 >Surely you have a better reason for hesitating? One that I could potentially understand and respect? You take that as a cue to flirt with her? She's hoping for a genuine answer that will impress her, read the goddamn mood, will you?
[x] "If I could use my charms to connive magical energy out of her, I just could as likely get her to do the needed work for me. 'Please' is a magic word."
“Am I supposed to stammer, fidget and otherwise let myself be thrown off balance?” Alice asked with a rather sardonic laugh. She shook her head, “I appreciate the levity you fall back on when uncomfortable, but my intent wasn't to make you feel uncomfortable.” Her lips curled up slyly as if she was allowing her words to amuse her a little, “Not the primary purpose, at least,” she shook her head again. She lectured, “ Whatever you want to do because of emotions or convention you are free to do as a person. As a magician, however, you have to use whatever tools your environment hands to you.”
“I can't allow myself to think like that. Not about something like that. It would be stupid to let convenience get in the way of any relationships I have or could have,” I countered. Alice wasn't a doll, I thought. She had feelings, just like I did. Denying feelings for expediency's sake seemed a little short-sighted. Or maybe just sad. I told her as much.
“I don't think my feelings factor in here,” she argued, “if I told you I absolutely did not mind you using a witch as a surrogate for power and we entered into whatever kind of relationship you imagine we would have you would likely not take advantage of the opportunity.”
“I think it boils down to the fact that I can't be so rational about things.”
“It's no great sin to refine yourself if you do no one else harm.”
“There's no way that's true.”
“Yet it is the truth. You use people and things all the time. Food to provide you with sustenance, family to provide you with shelter and, more importantly, the magical energies of other things when you create potions and use spells.”
“I can't tell you that you're wrong, but I have to hold on to what feels right. Otherwise what's the point of even learning magic if I'm not satisfied?”
“Now there's a start,” Alice nodded, “Assess and expand and you'll get there.”
“It's kind of pointless anyways,” I told her.
“If I could seduce someone and manipulate them, wouldn't I be better off simply having them do whatever it is I need to do?”
“If you end goal is just results, then most times yes.” She brought up a good point, “It won't help you if your goal is the maturation of your abilities, however. That requires input and refinement. At the end of the day sometimes a victory is good enough, regardless of how it was achieved.”
“It sounds like you don't approve much of manipulating others,” I picked up on the slight irritation in her voice.
“Having different ways of doing things is important. As is saving yourself from fighting useless battles,” She expressed. It felt like she was holding back a sigh. Hard to tell with her usual range of expression. Alice continued, “the fact of the matter is, however, that the goals dearest to you are often the ones that you must accomplish yourself using your own skills. Use tools all you like, but recognize that they cannot do much beyond their predetermined role. This is why I don't entrust my dolls to anyone else.”
“Pardon me, your dolls?” I didn't see how that factored in.
“It doesn't matter, apprentice. None of your concern anyways. Something I can only do by myself.”
She chose to move away from the subject altogether, making me think that it maybe was a passing fancy after all. Really could never tell what she was thinking. Instead, I was allowed to take a break from my studies if I so wished..
“I'm not feeling up to task today, I apologize. You've learned much lately so it's only fitting that you have some time to yourself.” She had said before returning back upstairs to her room. Somehow I got the feeling that there was something on her mind, something that was upsetting her. I had no cause to ask directly nor any expectation that I would get a straight answer.
Despite the gift of free time, I dared not leave the house. I wanted to do something nice for Alice. Whenever I was down, Auntie would do something nice for me. Like make me sweets or one of my favorite meals. I smiled stupidly, realizing I was a simpleton for being so pliable when confronted with good food. That carefree smile of hers also helped, no doubt. And the fact that it was cooked by someone who was thinking of me and wishing me well. All those things explained it better than it just being the food. The thought was more important than the act itself (the act just helped in its own way).
I always had trouble thinking of things to get Auntie. She didn't care much for the usual things the girls in the village liked (clothes and fashionable bead bracelets and whatever the latest trend was). Always made the weeks leading to her birthday a rough time of year for me. Doing stuff for her didn't work either – I already helped her keep things tidy and occasionally cooked. In many ways, my situation with Alice was about the same. There wasn't much I could do that was flashy or at least different than the usual.
I would have liked to have seen Alice in more traditional clothes, but that would be a gift for me. Like at a festival. She could have a nice sash to go along with the dress too. Most girls didn't notice as the evening wore on their dresses becoming looser and their cheeks flushing from the alcohol. It was an exciting spectacle for the young men of the village. If Alice were there...
I sighed, thinking that sometimes I really lost direction quickly.
 Try to spend time talking to her about non-magic things  Try to make her a simple gift  Try to impress her by mastering a difficult spell
-- Combining the choices and diluting the outcome of each as an experiment. See if that works. Might mean a little more filler in the short term, though.
[x] Try to spend time talking to her about non-magic things
You know that conversation might have it pretty close to home (concerning Mima's likely objectives)
Having said that, I think a general break from magic would be best for Alice as I doubt she'd be amused about Arc wasting his time off on work. And his general ability wouldn't lend itself too well to gifts to someone like Alice, but that's just my opinion.
This choice really depends on what goal we want to accomplish.
>> Try to spend time talking to her about non-magic things
How much does Arc really know about Alice as a person? Not much. It's a side of her that he doesn't see too often. This option could draw that out.
I feel like the last choice hit home on the jealousy part. That's really the only thing I can think of that would be bothering her. She played it off really well, but I can see it eating away at her. Would this choice take her mind off it? Maybe. It could also bring it to the forefront.
>> Try to make her a simple gift
This option suits Arc. But what will it accomplish? It's a nice little gesture that would show Alice that he cares, however ambiguous that would seem to her. The outcome could be favorable, but I think we could do better.
>> Try to impress her by mastering a difficult spell
This is pretty self-explanatory. Alice herself said that his training was coming along nicely and allowed him to take some time off. I would be okay with choosing this, but it seems to be an effort solely based on directly trying to impress Alice. It's a route we've avoided before. Should Arc be successful, he would indeed impress Alice, but is that really the best outcome here? I don't think so.
[x] Try to spend time talking to her about non-magic things.
After some analysis, I think this option has the most potential.
[x] Try to spend time talking to her about non-magic things
Today is a red letter day for Arc. He impressed Alice, and Alice herself has been chatty enough regarding matters as a person to another person rather than as a master to her apprentice. The dialogue was like something out of a Woody Allen movie.
Moreover, I think choosing to spend his time staying with her even when she made it clear there was nothing left to be taught today should indicate that Arc's motives right now are not toward increasing his magical prowess.
Writing nowish. Took forever to get 4 votes, I'm not sure waiting the extra day was worth it. Any thoughts on what the update schedule should be like? I'm fine with writing at least once a day but it doesn't seem like that's very possible with the turnout speed. It doesn't feel fair to delay for numbers either.
>Woody Allen I don't know how to feel about that. Annie Hall and Manhattan were great but I don't know if that's the vibe I want. Next thing you know the characters will all be talking about their neuroses and switching romantic partners all the time as the protagonist drifts apart. Seriously though, I can see what you mean now. And I hate you for it
I found her on her bed, sitting up against the headboard, book in hand.
“Yes? What do you want?” She asked, looking up at me.
“I was wondering if you minded having a little company,” I said, “If it's alright with you I'd like to spend some of my free time talking.”
“I'm not really in the mood for company,” Alice replied. She looked like she was trying to relax; Her blouse was slightly undone, exposing her collarbone and a bit of her shoulders.
“I won't insist,” I told her, “But I think it would be nice if we talked a bit about something other than magic. It would be like a breath of fresh air.”
“There is a part of me that questions your motives, apprentice,” She raised an eyebrow. Cynical and suspicious as always, she made her case, “There is a direct benefit to being in my good books from your benefit, as you may hope that I hold your hand through your training. Manipulation is good but only if you are the one doing the manipulating. I'm sure that the affection your schoolteacher made your life in that classroom easier.”
“There's no way for me to disprove that claim objectively. All I can say is that I think it would be fun,” I shrugged. There was no point in convincing her otherwise. She was as reluctant to accept things at face value, something I had known since the first time we met. At that party she had been equally distrustful and paranoid.
“And now you sound like Marisa,” She frowned and closed the book. I was glad. At least she showed some emotion.
“Well, I should be easy to manipulate in that case. Nothing to fear from me.”
“Right, before I knew it you'd be rubbing my feet. And it would only be the next day that I notice that my favorite books are gone.” She rolled her eyes, “though perhaps in your case it would be my knickers that would be missing.”
“I've had plenty of opportunity to do untoward things since I started,” I reminded her. She had been defenseless many times before. If I were a scoundrel I could have taken advantage of the situation.
“All part of an act, potentially. Gain trust,exploit it. It's always the unassuming and naïve-looking type that is most dangerous.”
“Sounds like you've had experience with that sort of thing,” I spat out rather coarsely.
“Is that jealousy I detect? Or perhaps another sort of failing. Improper self-importance.”
“Listen now...” I was about to start in earnest.
She interrupted me, “Get over here.”
I was about to protest but she then repeated her command, her tone entirely serious.
“Come closer,” She urged me to lean from her bedside towards her.
In a single swift motion she placed her hands on my collar and yanked me towards her. With singularity of purpose, and no hesitation, she brought my face up to hers. It was hard processing what had happened exactly. All I recalled was a soft feeling on my lips and her reversal of movement, shoving me back to a standing position. A right proper smooch is what I got.
“Had enough fun?” She asked mockingly.
“I wasn't playing around or being disingenuous,” I complained bitterly.
“There can't be anything between us so long as you are my pupil.”
“It's not about that sort of thing. Having a little human connection is never wrong, even if it's just superficial,” I found myself chiding her for a change. Not that she seemed impressed by the fact. She just raised her eyebrows in doubt when I reinforced my argument, “How we get along as people when we're not doing work together is important to define. It's important to improve that whenever possible as well.”
“You've enough distractions as it is. There is little point for me to compromise my integrity for your thinly-veiled desire,” Alice was direct.
“It's not a distraction to get to know you better.” I added, “I just want to learn a few things about you, share a few things about me. You know, normal stuff.”
“There will be time for that at social events and just in everyday routine. I've found out more about you during these days you've been here by simple observation.”
“Watching and interacting in an informal situation is different. You learn different kinds of things,” I told her. I was sure that everyone learned things about others that way but it wasn't necessarily the best way. By limiting yourself and judging from afar, it was hard to learn what other people were really like. So I thought, anyways. It may have been a holdover from my childhood, but I found that that way of thinking was helpful. Getting to know people was always worth it.
“Could you look me straight in the eye and tell me that you desire to do that out of just a pure sense of interest?” She questioned my motives, “Is it possible for you to really want to get to know me better just for the sake of getting to know me better? Because it's fun? Or will you admit that you have your own ulterior motives, likely mired in carnal and emotional want? I may accept that you're not necessarily licentious but I very much doubt the thrust of your argument.”
I looked her into her eyes,
 “I can't deny there are feelings behind it but that's normal for any show of interest.”  “That's not all there is to it but if given the chance I'd like a do-over on the kiss.”
>>“There is a part of me that questions your motives, apprentice,” She raised an eyebrow. Cynical and suspicious as always, she made her case, “There is a direct benefit to being in my good books from your benefit, as you may hope that I hold your hand through your training. Manipulation is good but only if you are the one doing the manipulating. I'm sure that the affection your schoolteacher made your life in that classroom easier.”
This is tacitly false.
“All part of an act, potentially. Gain trust, exploit it. It's always the unassuming and naïve-looking type that is most dangerous.”
This seems to be part sarcasm, part actual experience (with Marisa). She assumes that any attempt at intimacy is stricken with ulterior motives, which is admittedly true in many cases. But for someone who doesn't mind using people like tools, she seems to be incredibly wary of being used herself. Alice is also especially sharp and intuitive when it comes to discerning motives, but she lacks the emotional experience to truly identify and understand Arc's motives.
>>“There can't be anything between us so long as you are my pupil.”
This is the baseline in Alice's logic. She immediately assumes that any initiation by Arc to usurp the master-apprentice relationship is from his own carnal desires and lust.
>>It may have been a holdover from my childhood, but I found that that way of thinking was helpful. Getting to know people was always worth it.
And here is the baseline in Arc's logic. He can't help that his feelings entwine with his logic and reason. Regardless, his motivations are not purely out of self-interest and lust. The key to resolving this conflict is getting it across to Alice. Which leads to the next vote:
[x] “I can't deny there are feelings behind it but that's normal for any show of interest.”
Out of both options, this one flows naturally from the conversation. It illustrates Arc's point of view rather succinctly.
Are these responses too long? I really do enjoy analyzing each part of the update and drawing conclusions to justify a vote. I know I'm not right 100% of the time, but I am trying.
>Are these responses too long? Only if you feel they are. You don't have to do that much if you don't want to. I certainly don't mind, however. And if you enjoy it I don't see the problem. I appreciate the effort either way.
>In a single swift motion she placed her hands on my collar and yanked me towards her. With singularity of purpose, and no hesitation, she brought my face up to hers. It was hard processing what had happened exactly. All I recalled was a soft feeling on my lips and her reversal of movement, shoving me back to a standing position. A right proper smooch is what I got.
>“Had enough fun?” She asked mockingly.
All my thoughts about justifying the next vote into 'fgsfds'.
That is not a complaint.
[x] “That's not all there is to it but if given the chance I'd like a do-over on the kiss.”
It wasn't explicitly stated otherwise, so in my mental image, in spite of her tsun-tsun, she still has a grip on his collar, ready for another yank.
>“All part of an act, potentially. Gain trust, exploit it. It's always the unassuming and naïve-looking type that is most dangerous.”
So don't look and act so unassuming and naive. Press buttons, even if you don't know what they do. Act in earnest even if there's a chance you may look a fool.
She frowned when she said he sounded like Marisa, but if Marisa were just a little more focused on stealing her lips than stealing her spellbooks, someone else would be standing in Arc's boots right now. Pic related.
>>24833 Not sure where the numbers went. This debunks the whole "constant updates = more votes" fallacy yet again. Twice a day as you originally tried was a bit too fast for me to respond adequately. Once a day when we have the votes would be fine, or even every other day if the updates are a bit meatier.
Still, it's incredibly frustrating that we don't have the votes when the story is in a good place. I've been tempted to counter vote from another PC, but thus far I've resisted. Though I can't say the same for others, that one vote we got a total of six somehow.
>>24840 I've just been taking a wait and see approach, hence the two day wait now. Doesn't seem like it's worth it but part of me insists that updating on a 2-1 split is somewhat unfair. Either you're all on board or one guy still loses out for being a dissenter. I've been thinking of diluting the choices and their results as a consequence. So less likely that one or two choices will affect the tone that much. Don't know if that's any good though. And I'm not sure if to wait further to be honest.
>tempted to votespam Don't ever go through with it please. I already vet enough stories and find enough people who do that. It'd just break my heart.
Sorry for not updating. I decided to wait for a while (week to week and a half originally) to see if anything would happen. Unsurprisingly, it didn't. Sadly business as usual. As a result, I'm changing things.
Assuming that there will be 3 votes, 4 perhaps on a good day, I will be diluting the importance of every choice. The reason for that is obvious; Taking important decisions among a small group of people who frequently use gut above all others can lead to very violent deviations and inconsistencies. As for frequency of updates: I am not yet sure if that will change. As stubborn as I may be, it still feels bad to make a daily effort for limited results. So I don't know how that will go. I'm sure that's not good to hear, but it's the truth. I'll try, but this really does get to me after a while.
The next update will likely be today, provided that I stop being lazy and motivate myself.
“What a fine response,” She said quietly. Her immediate elaboration made it seem like she had expected my reasoning word for word, “Modest in its execution, reserved in its message and eloquent in its simplicity. It avoids commitment while alluding to future possibilities. Perhaps an ideal reply under most circumstances. Gambling on a stronger message risks alienation and polarizing the other party.
“I see right through you, however. It doesn't take strength to take a moderate stand in regards to others,” Her eyebrows raised slightly as she put my statement down, “you are simply minimizing your exposure and lessening your chances of getting decisive results. Magic is not a hobby. It is not something that you do in your spare time, every so often,” She evoked the circumstances surrounding my situation effortlessly, “it takes a conscious effort to dedicate yourself to it. It will always be part of your life from that moment onwards. If you delude yourself into believing otherwise, you will never accomplish anything of substance.
“It is likewise the way with anything else worthwhile,” Alice paused for a moment. She seemed to look me over,as if assessing whether or not any of what she was saying was sinking in. Her conclusion was either favorable or that it didn't even matter as she began to speak again, “The selfsame attitude and values useful in magic apply to other pursuits. 'Anything worth doing is worth doing well', is an expression that sums up the sentiment. Being sure of your values and doubly so of your path is what will ultimately yield success. You ultimately only deceive yourself by stating half-truths meant to protect you from failure.”
“I can't agree with that,” I said simply at the end of her speech. There was a lot she said and a lot to take in. I was quick on my feet when improvising but challenging her had to be something done in a meticulous fashion. Otherwise I'd just be convincing myself rather than her.
“It would be convenient not to,” She nodded.
“Is this it then? Is there no way forward from here?” I asked.
“Not in the direction you wanted things to be. And unless you persuade me otherwise or do something bold, I think I would rather return to my own quiet personal time.”
“It sounds like my only options there are to become a masterful orator or to force myself on you. Both outside the realm of possibility.”
“Is that a fact?” She asked with an outright disdainful look on her face. It was rare to see her show contempt or approval so starkly. “At least one of those alternatives would be far more honest than the display put forward here.”
“I can take a hint,” I sighed. There was nothing more to accomplish there. I made my way to the door, “I'm sorry for disturbing you mistress, enjoy yourself.”
“If you wish to continue any time, make sure to come back with more clarity of mind and purpose. I'll give you a genuine response as befits the situation,” She said with finality before returning to her book.
Nothing else important happened that day. Part of me would have liked to spent my time with soul-searching and introspection, but I was no monk. With the absence of any driving force telling me to do work, I simply shut down for a while. Ate, stepped outside for a bit for fresh air and lay down and took a nap. Nothing that consumed any willpower. Even though I wasn't used to doing nothing for extended periods of time, I hardly felt the day pass.
Alice came down in the morning for breakfast. She took one look out the window and remarked, “There will be an excursion today.”
We set out not long afterwards. The day was markedly more agreeable than preceding ones. The sun, while still feeling cold, was at least mostly visible. The clouds were lighter in color and dispersed over a wider area. It seemed like it might still rain, albeit in the evening. The leafy canopy of the forest made everything seem cooler, in any case.
I carried a small satchel handed to me earlier. We walked through the forest and towards familiar territory. I kept quiet, patiently waiting for Alice to instruct and talk as she saw fit.
“Though it should be unnecessary, I should forewarn you that this is very much an exercise for your benefit,” She told me as we climbed familiar steps, “This is not a social visit and you will have time to do as you please after I deem that your training is sufficient.”
“Of course mistress,” I replied even as I felt a little apprehension. It had seemed like an eternity since I last passed under the torii and saw the old shrine. Surprisingly, the sight was a bit alien and I didn't feel anything beyond that initial nervousness.
We stopped at the entrance to the main building. She told me, “Stay put, I need to speak with the shrine maiden.”
When she returned, Reimu was with her. The shrine maiden's expression was clouded. She stood a few steps behind Alice, her arms crossed as I was given my instructions, “The reason you have been brought here is to further develop your practical experience with seals and wards. This structure may look dilapidated and unimportant, but it is host to dozens of both minor and major seals as well as at least one focus of power. You are to catalog these various features in the notebook provided to you and attempt to ascertain their function while you are at it. The nature of the seals should be similar enough to the ones you have read about for you to try to understand them. There are also a few charms in the bag, in case you do something foolish and need to strengthen a seal quickly.”
She asked plainly, “Are there any questions?”
“Are there any parts you recommend I start with?”
“Start from the front, work your way back. Simple. Try not to take all day since I have something else I want you to do here. That doesn't mean that you should rush things, however. It's more important to do a good job.”
I looked at Reimu, feeling like I should say something. Nothing came to mind.
“Go on then,” Alice encouraged me to get a move on. As I looked back towards the entrance, I saw her part ways with Reimu. I didn't know what she planned to do as I worked.
I had no trouble getting a start. The shrine was littered with protective wards and practically embroidered with fields of different sorts. They were mostly simple, meant to keep harmful forces as far away as possible. The central points were often in the structure itself, in the wooden beams or underneath the floor. It was nothing I could hope to replicate with my skill set, but it was something that I definitely could understand.
It was interesting to perceive the familiar space in such a different light. Spaces where parties were held in the past and a lot of my memories involving the people I met were special areas through and through. Without being open towards this sort of thing, I couldn't have known just how special the building really way. The notebook, initially blank, soon had pages upon pages of descriptions and locations filled in.
I almost didn't notice the tea that had been served for me. Or the fact that it had been there for a while. I had started hours earlier. I needed to hurry it up if I didn't want to be at it all day.
 Focus on the more complex examples  Ask for help - Harder getting out of the slump than predicted. Also not entirely sure on the weighting of choices, in general. I don't want to drag things too much. A way around that is shorter updates, but I'm not sure it would work.
The excursion is for his own benefit, so he should try his hardest at it, even if he fails his next try at it will be way easier. Also, if he wants to be a magician in his own right he shouldn't grow too accustomed to asking for help. So:
We are trying to figure out the purpose of all the seals. In my view it is easiest to learn and remember this by working out on our own, rather than asking for help from someone like Reimu, who could just tell us the answers.
We'd know the answer but we won't understand the why and the how.
>>24874 >>24872 The choice is about focus and efficiency, not about potentially avoiding work. You're wrong in assuming that a non-magician could 'give away' the type of answer to begin with.
But, like always, I don't expect the word of god to have any impact here. Regardless I'll wait a few hours before starting to write in case by some miracle you bother to revisit and follow up or there's a fourth vote to consider. Wishful thinking, perhaps, as is assuming that the implications of the last choice sunk in and are a cut above an afterthought.
After much consideration, I'll stick with this option. Alice advised us to use every tool at our disposal. Asking for help will expedite the process and clear up time for the next step that Alice has for Arc. Focusing on the more complex seals will only take up unnecessary time that could be better spent elsewhere.
Look, to be honest I'm still reeling from the last choice and have not fully realized those implications. The results completely disrupted my process of logic and has made me second guess every conclusion drawn. I still have no idea how to proceed.
Unfortunately I won't be able to keep to the update schedule because of a lot of work that needs my attention. A more liberal estimate means at least a 6-7 hour delay, though it's likely going to mean at least half a day. Sorry. Maybe a nice image will be some consolation.
>>24877 It's cool, don't worry about it. Take your time sorting through it though it probably isn't as world-shattering as you might think it is. Alice certainly hasn't suddenly changed entirely. I just get worried whenever something noteworthy happens and there's no reaction. Past events and complaints make me wary of trusting that all is well.
>>24876 If I didn't want people to vote for something, it wouldn't be a choice. There's nothing wrong either in clarifying that the choice means something else. Now sod off, I only care about complaints and input from my actual readers.
I'm really sorry for not updating, I've just been incredibly busy and mentally exhausted otherwise. The little I've written in my free time has sucked as well and isn't worth posting (sorry hooray and other guy, I did try for you) . I've been avoiding saying anything because I don't want to make any more promises I may not be able to keep. All the same, here's another timetable that I may not keep: sometime early on in the weekend, theoretically.
Complexity did not translate into more thorough insight. It just meant that I spent more time on a single problem, the basic patterns of which were both shared and repeated in interwoven lairs. A spiderweb was similar in structure; As a whole it looks like a very elaborate design but it is in fact made of very simple segments interwoven and merged skillfully. Constructing something like it took both patience and skill. It would be likely easy to lose focus or make one tiny mistake that would invalidate all the effort.
Spells tended to work that way. When there's a mistake made, the best scenario is that nothing happens. That's an issue when a spell is cast to protect something, otherwise it's just an inconvenience most of the time. What's dangerous is when a spell fails and has an unintended effect or some sort of backlash against the caster. I had not experienced that sort of failure, likely due to the low power involved in what I knew and had tried.
I tried not to think too hard about it. I tried not to think about much at all, in fact. My task was all too dull. Doing work was hard enough without being distracted by idle thoughts.
“And so we meet again, for the tenth time today,” I mumbled as I got to work on another point. By the time I was done with that, shadows were longer and the outside sky markedly darker. Mercifully, I believed that I covered the bulk of the more intricate ones. It was hard to tell. There was no clear map to the points of interest in the shrine. Finding anything especially noteworthy was like looking through the cases of wine in our storage cellar without having the inventory sheet that made sense of our system. Someone besides Auntie and I would never find anything they wanted.
“Have you done as I asked?” Alice asked unceremoniously as she came in from the porch. She held a small cloth bundle with one hand to her side.
“I have,” I nodded, “I noted down everything relevant I could find.”
“Good,” She nodded in return. She stopped at the doorway. Her stare silently told me that she wanted me to come over to her.
I understood her mannerisms well enough to take the cue. I closed the notebook and made my way to her. I handed her the book and the bag with the charms. “That is for you to consult as a reference,” she refused with an explanation.
“And the charms?”
“You may need them in the future.”
“What should I do now then? You said that there was something else you wanted me to do?”
“Don't get ahead of yourself,” She intoned dispassionately, “You are to take a break first. I've brought you food.”
“Oh, thank you,” I had forgotten just how long it had been since my last meal. My body seemed to remember all too quickly.
“You'll need your strength,” She added as she passed the small bundle on to me.
I sat down out on the porch, Alice sat next to me. She stared out at the dark afternoon sky blankly. I unwrapped the bundle to find a pair of sandwiches and a pair of cookies.
“Would you like some?” I offered.
“I've already had my meal,” She replied plainly, “All of that I made for you.”
“Ah, I see, thank you,” I found myself feeling a bit bashful. Despite it not being the first time I had eaten her homemade food, I couldn't help but attach some sort of meaning to the fact that she had brought something out especially for me. I could hear Auntie's teasing laugh clearly, and her telling me that I got worked up over small things too easily.
I took a few bites out of my food, finding that I had absolutely no complaints about it.
“It's quite good,” I told her.
“I'm glad,” She stated with nonchalance. Her aloofness seemed normal enough. It felt like she was deep in thought, however. I couldn't prove it but that's the impression I got from just watching her do nothing.
Before I knew it, I was done.
I wanted to know what would happen next, “Are we going to do that whatever else right away?”
“No. We need to wait for the sun to go down first,” She said. I joined her in looking at the horizon. An ever-thickening blanket of clouds blocked out a lot of light already. However, the glow of the afternoon sun was still visible in spite of it. It would be perhaps less than a half hour before the sun went down.
“Is there anything I can do in the interim?”
“Relax,” She answered simply. “Nothing to do but to stay a while, soak it in a while.”
“I'll hold on then, in truth there doesn't seem to be a better place to be.”
She cracked an ambiguous smile and turned to me, “Use your time as you see fit, really. I don't mind as long as I have you ready and willing later.”
 Take advantage of her apparent good mood and try to chew the fat  Spend time relaxing elsewhere in the shrine
I left Alice by herself on the porch while I went away to spend time elsewhere in the shrine. Most of the usually-occupied rooms, like the sitting room, were empty and devoid of all signs of people. It was like things were set up in such a way that I would avoid meeting anyone no matter where I went. The time I had spent there in the past made me less bashful and adventurous enough to simply walk into the kitchen and elsewhere in search of people.
It was only in a small laundry room that I finally found who I was looking for. She sat on a stool, staring at a clothesline tucked between a window and a pole on the exterior of the shrine. I was stealthier than I thought – she didn't notice me come in.
Her shoulders shot upwards with almost unnatural tenseness. Her neck swiveled about slowly, as if reluctant to acknowledge me.
'Oh, I didn't expect to see you here,” She mumbled.
“Sorry if I startled you, wasn't my intention.”
“You didn't, really,” She slowly let her shoulders drop, adding, “I was just thinking about you and it was a bit of a surprise, that's all.”
“Hmm, thinking about me?” I smiled, “somehow I'm happy to hear that.”
She had looked a little lost in thought as well. I kidded myself by entertaining the thought that she was completely concentrated on me.
“Aren't you a little more forward than usual?” She laughed, a little bit nervously I thought.
“I've just had a lot of lessons about the importance of being earnest.”
“Is that a fact?” She was staring at me with something like a look of apprehension. I didn't know what exactly was bugging her.
I tried to make her feel a little more comfortable, “Thanks for the tea earlier, I kind of didn't notice it was there until it was cold though. Still tasty.”
“It was the least I could do,” She wore a polite but mysterious smile, “you looked like you were hard at work and so I thought you could use a little tea.”
“Sorry for imposing on you all of a sudden, by the way,” I told her, “I know how much of a hassle it is for you to have uninvited guests. I didn't know we were going to spend so much time here.”
“It's not like you made a mess or anything. And you were quiet, so it's alright,” She nodded, regaining some of her usual composure. I found myself comforted by seeing her behave normally.
“It feels like there's something more that you want to say about that.”
“Not really, I'm not supposed to be talking to you now,” She winked, “The very first thing that teacher of yours said was that you should not be distracted nor disturbed, seemed like she didn't want you thinking about your dear friends,” she stuck out her tongue playfully after teasing me a little.
“Alice is just serious and dedicated, you're reading too much into it,” I scratched my head as if the subject really was no big deal.
“Well, in any case, I see that her warning isn't keeping you from talking to me. And I'm glad for that.”
“How smooth of you,” Reimu chuckled, “I wonder how your Auntie would feel if I told her how you've changed these past few weeks.”
“She'd probably laugh and say something silly, like that it was about time. It's hard to tell what she's thinking most of the time,” I shrugged.
“I get the feeling that she would completely misunderstand as well,” She shook her head. I couldn't help but feel that just then there was another reason for her avoidance of eye contact.
“So, you really don't mind us using your shrine?”
“It's not like I have much choice. And besides,” She told me in a quiet voice, “It'll supposedly help you out. It's the least I can do.”
“Thank you,” I told her from the bottom of my heart.
“Don't look so serious all of a sudden,” Reimu rebuked me gently, “You've always known that this shrine is yours as well. It's the people of the village like you who make running this place possible.”
“What? Cat got your tongue?”
“No, sorry,” I smiled, “ I just forgot how much I missed peaceful moments like these.”
A little gentle ribbing followed, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't handle. Talked for a bit about nothing important, trying to catch up a little on our quota of boring normalcy for a while. A piping-hot cup of tea was a pleasant addition to the formula and, before I knew it, the sun had just about set. I excused myself politely, eliciting encouragement from the shrine maiden. She didn't want to keep me and, mercifully, did not exactly pry into the exact business that I was going to be up to. That wasn't something I knew about anyway. And, even if I did know, explaining it to an outsider was a bit difficult.
I found Alice as I had left her. She sat on the porch in the same position and I thought that perhaps she had been replaced by a life-size doll of herself or a statute. As I approached I found that my initial impression was mistaken and that it was definitely the same old flesh and blood magician.
“I trust you are ready?” She asked quietly. Her gaze was fixed at the last bleeding rays of light in the far-off horizon, tinging the grey clouds with a weak streak of luminosity.
“Of course, mistress.”
“How did you find your friend?” She asked as she got up.
“She was the same as usual, the fact that we haven't seen each other in a while just made it more obvious.”
“You care for her, correct?” She asked without even batting an eyelash.
I answered her as we walked together deeper into the shrine, “She's been nice to me and I admit to liking the time I spend with her.”
“Again with the well-measured reply,” Alice sighed, “I am not asking out of personal curiosity. I could not care any less about how you justify your attachments. She is potentially another means to an end. While I cannot say that the result of interaction with her would be as potent as that with a magician, her abilities come from the divine. That is a worthwhile addition to any magician's repertoire of power or bloodline. Keep that in mind if you want to be treated by your peers with any semblance of legitimacy.”
“Why are we once again talking about this sort of thing?” I felt like sighing myself, “People can be helpful even without worrying about this sort of advantage.”
“Magic is not for the squeamish,” She said sternly. There was no warmth to her words, just cold logical suppositions and argument, “You must maximize your capabilities with your available resources. Settling for less or not having the ambition to improve yourself means that you have already failed. It is my duty to remind you of this fact until such a a time when you are beyond all hope.”
“And then you'll abandon me?” I took that to be her implication.
“If there is no further use in teaching you, yes,” She did not skip a beat in answering.
“That day won't come, I'm finding my own way as best I can.”
“So you say,” She brushed me off with disinterest. We had arrived to a small room towards the back of the small structure. Little in the way of light reached the hallway where we were and something told me that the room had no windows either. Alice stopped herself from opening the door and instead turned to eyeball me, to look me over from head to toe. “And so?” She asked, “As things stand, would you entertain the prospect of improving yourself with the powers of the Hakurei? It shouldn't be a problem for you to ingratiate yourself further, I perceive.”
 It's not something I'd want  Reimu is definitely special enough to me
“I've thought often about her and I'm not sure I'm comfortable discussing her in those terms,” I told her, “But she's definitely special. It's the sort of thing that will happen, if it happens. I'm not making plans or anything.”
She opened the door.
“Augmenting my powers or improving my bloodline is something that would be a bonus, if anything,” I said. I reminded her, “I'm young and I don't think of things solely on long-term benefits. And even if I did want just forget myself in, uh, some sort of heat of the moment type thing then that would really depend on her as well. I mean, I can try all I want but I can't do anything about her heart and how she feels. I'm just saying that you can't be selfish and expect for people to do as you please especially if it's just for your sake. And then there's-”
“Be quiet,” she silenced my babbling. Alice stepped into the dark room without hesitation. I followed her. A large table dominated the space. It was a large slab of wood, dark already even without the lack of light. A large cloth sack sat next to the door and Alice crouched by it. She opened the sack and started to rummage through the contents, groping and locating what she wanted by touch only. The first item she took out was a length of coiled rope. A small box followed and, finally, she closed the sack after grabbing a small bottle.
“Light the lamp in the corner,” She instructed.
I found the lamp easily enough. Soon the atmosphere in the room was radically changed by the warm light. I carried the lamp onto the table, confirming that the room was barren save for for the sack and the table. A fine layer of dust covered everything as well.
Alice closed the door. She sat down at the table, bringing the items she got with her. A glance from her indicated that I should also sit. I sat opposite her. The lamplight flickered occasionally, distorting her shadow on the rear wall.
She moved the lamp to one side of the table and placed the rope in the center. Then she opened the bottle and soaked the rope with its contents. There was no odor from the liquid. I couldn't tell what it was.
“I will need you to focus completely for this,” She cautioned me, “You mustn't let yourself be distracted.”
“What will I have to do?”
“Create a temporary barrier and hold it for a period of time.”
“I'm not sure that I can do anything very elaborate yet,” I told her.
“This is why I've had you study all day to do, to learn the basics. You will have assistance from some prepared items, as well as those seals you've kept on hand.”
I clutched at the satchel, feeling that perhaps it wouldn't be enough.
“Do you know what this place is?” She asked.
“No idea, I haven't been to this part of the shrine before. It doesn't seem like it's used very often.”
“It is a node, where vertices of power and control stem. If you concentrate, I'm sure that even you will feel the murmur of energy that's constantly flowing about.”
“I can't feel much,” I told her as I closed my eyes, “just a... well it's like something that's there is not there. Or that something that should be there... I don't know. There's like a hole and I'm not sure if it's full or empty, it's hard to tell.”
“Yes, perhaps it's not as clear as it normally should be,” She stated cryptically.
“Perhaps I am not ready to deal with this then.”
Alice did not try to address my obvious apprehension, instead she merely explained what was to happen, “I will channel some of the energy towards another direction for a while after perforating the canal a little. It'll be as if the system has suffered a small cut and part of the energy, like blood, will flow elsewhere for a while. You will keep things from rupturing further and halt any potential contamination that tries to get in. I just need a little time to do a little inspection.”
“What if something goes wrong?” There was no point in trying to excuse myself further, it was clear that she meant for me to do it no matter what.
“If anything goes catastrophically wrong, I will stop and close up.”
Alice grabbed the rope and made used it to make a circle on the table. She opened the small box and took a piece of chalk from inside and handed it to me. I was to draw a magic circle for the base of the barrier. I was watched carefully as I worked, her unflinching stare underscored just how precise my work needed to be. I did the best I could. The results was a convincing specimen, just like the many examples I had seen in books and active barriers.
“Feel this,” Alice pointed at me and a small tendril of ephemeral, wispy light reached out towards me. I could feel a vibration in my chest, Alice's touch. “I need you to account for my energies and add me as an exception to the barrier. I need to get in and work inside of it.”
I wasn't sure exactly how to do that.
“It's like a spectrum,” Alice explained, “I work at a certain wavelength. All you need to do is to block everything but that. It should be something almost instinctual to you. Think of me and what I am, how I am and you'll manage.”
When I protested, she got up and walked on over to me. She crouched to my level, grabbed my hand and placed it on her chest.
“Feel my energy, remember what it feels like and give it free reign,” She said.
I tried to focus, feeling a bit of a sensory overload. Her warmth, her scent and the electrifying feeling coming from where I was touching her all confused me. I thought I identified a buzz, a vibration that I felt underneath it all. I lost track of it easily, my heartbeat drowning out my senses. Still, I thought I had what I needed.
“Are you ready?” She returned to her spot across the table. Her calmness gave me confidence. If she trusted me to do things properly, then surely I was able to.
I nodded, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. I concentrated, pulling knowledge from my mind and pooling energy towards the circle in front of me. It felt like making a barrier was doable. No, more than that, it was something that I was certain to accomplish. I gave the container shape, carving its dimensions with my mind and delimiting the area where my energies could go. It was a pattern that repeated itself, reinforced itself and helped me give it a more or less comprehensible form. Along the sides I left a gap large enough only for Alice to get in. I tried to make it so that only the shape of her energy could fit through.
“It should be ready,” I mumbled while giving the barrier permanence.
“Keep it up,” She said, “be ready to apply the charms if you feel overwhelmed.”
I opened my eyes and watched her get to work. She cast a spell that was unknown to me and a brilliant pillar of energy appeared within the barrier. I felt that the energy wanted to get out, and it pushed in every direction. The pillar pulsed violently as she worked with it, changing both intensity and shifting color from a bright blue to a sanguine red. I had no idea what she was doing or if she was having a hard time. She kept her gaze firmly on the energy and quietly mouthed another spell.
Sweat began to flow from my temples and brow and onto the rest of my face. My breathing began to get heavier. It was draining to just keep doing what I was doing. It felt like a powerful force kept trying to burst out and I was the only thing keeping it confined to its spot. I moved a hand towards the satchel, ready to grab some help if it became too overwhelming.
All of a sudden, the energy seemed to disappear. Instead of pushing outwards, it felt like everything was being sucked in. The lamp went out and the room became absolutely dark. Alice let out a gasp and almost simultaneously, the barrier simply eroded into nothingness. I tried to grab a charm but found myself entirely paralyzed. My heart pounded loudly in my ears and I tried to keep myself from panicking.
I felt a new presence where the barrier used to be. I couldn't see anything but shifting and formless darkness. Alice said something. Shortly after I felt her energy output decrease dramatically. The third presence came closer to me, standing behind me like it was studying. I felt like I could do something about it, if only I could turn around.
As quickly as it appeared, the presence simply disappeared. I could suddenly move and found myself trying to use a spell to illuminate the room again to no avail. I groped around in the dark for the lamp. It felt cold to the touch, like it hadn't been lit in eternity. A lot of effort was required to light it up again, least not because my hands were trembling so much.
“Alice?” I asked the surreal sight of her figure slumped on the table. Alarm wormed its way into my brain and I rushed to her side. She was out cold, her expression pained. I scooped her into my arms, ignoring my muscles' protestations. I realized that I wasn't doing too good, myself, but I couldn't just give in and collapse. I walked as fast as I could through the shrine, not stopping until I found a very surprised Reimu. She may have said something, I wasn't too sure.
I deposited Alice gently on the floor before sitting down. At least I thought I sat down. In truth, I probably just collapsed since the entire world seemed to entirely fade to black.
 I should have been able to protect Alice  The barrier needed a real magician to keep it together
This is another difficult choice as I can see how both choices can be interpreted in multiple ways.
I am hoping that this choice is one, that while desiring to have saved Alice, recognises that Arc was not in a position to take control of the situation. I also hope that this will increase his determination to succeed rather than to wallow in self pity.
[x] The barrier needed a real magician to keep it together
No update now because I really want to avoid updating the story more often than not with just two votes. I'll wait something like a half day, even though we all know there's little point in that. Sorry, I don't mean it as a punishment for the two of you. I'm otherwise trying my best to be timely and enthusiastic.
>>24923 Neither of the choices are meant to alter Arc's emotional state. It's more supposed to be how to move from here. There's also a sprinkling of what ifs in there. Putting that out there because it's a problem when reader intention doesn't match up my intent to a certain degree. It's meant to be ambiguous but not overly so.
He (and I) have been trusting Alice so far. She is a capable and able magician. I don't think she can misjudge his ability so much. This was his fault.
The alternative would be (as someone else said) that she didn't and something else caused this. That sounds sweet and convenient but, considering his past performances, I somehow doubt it. He isn't even skilled enough to ascertain why did this happened in the first place, after all.
[x] I should have been able to protect Alice
And, If I'm wrong, maybe this will put him in the right mindset for once.
[x] The barrier needed a real magician to keep it together
I hope this shows him taking his training more seriously, rather than white knight someone who can protect herself. I'm pretty certain the fevers and this now are because of Alice having to do things related Arc--not proof of any intrinsic vulnerability.
>>24932 Cool, that's the counterpoint I really hoped someone would make. There's more to be said about responsibility and coming to grips with how much any one person can really do. I also thought someone might mention another point, but I can die a happy man now nonetheless. It's because of you that I'll keep the vote open another day just in case someone changes their mind (won't likely happen given that no one really checks this story ever, but it should be clear that I want to believe otherwise desperately). Good luck persuading the four other voters who mysteriously appeared.It also gives me time to play video games
>>24933 >white knight I'm not sure that's an appropriate term to use here. And, if you'll allow me to play the devil's advocate for a moment if we accept your premise; Isn't wanting to protect something or someone a powerful driving force? Usually you can't get any more serious than that.
>>24936 I disagree, as the master, Alice decided to concede control entirely to Arc concerning the barrier. She had no doubt whatsoever that he could fulfill this task. Under normal circumstances, he would have. However, a third entity was introduced to the situation. I imagine it was like hanging onto the front of a moving car, gripping the hood where it meets the window-wipers. While the car is moving, you can easily hang onto the hood. But if the car slams on its brakes suddenly without warning, you'll lose grip very quickly no matter how strong you are. Substitute the car with the barrier and the sudden change with the direction of the flowing energy and you have a very similar situation. It isn't entirely Arc's fault that he couldn't control the barrier, he couldn't even reach for the prepared aid. But it could be construed that he failed to protect Alice. We're missing the forest for the trees here.
>>24937 I see no evidence that Arc could turn into a wangsty jrpg protagonist. He lacks all the outrageous accessories.
I apologize that this is so late, PAX East devoured my entire weekend from Thursday to Monday.
>>24940 This vote is directly relevant to Arc's thought process. I guess it's pretty subjective in that either vote works here. This is about results and setting the tone of the next few updates. Don't you think the better path would be for Arc to increase his desire for power and learning so he isn't powerless the next time something like this happens? I feel that the first vote conveys this plan of action better than the second one. That second one smacks of detached emotion typical of magicians.
Aren't we moving Arc away from that exclusively pragmatic line of thought? After all, why not use the people Arc knows as the means unto an end? Because Arc doesn't fully identify with that logic and is not comfortable taking advantage of others without their express knowledge and approval.
>>24942 You have a valid point, but I srill agree with the one you quoted.
See, this option isn't really meaningful as an explanation of this event. If you take them as face value, he's juar wildly speculating. So why did he ask himself that? A pragmatic magician would have immediatly realized that, at his skill level, there isn't enough information to go now, unless he actually starts looking for it. Well, simple, he isn't one. He's a normal human-and a young one at that- He's filled with contradicting emotions and impulses (for the record, trying to treat a Magician as a regular Human isn't helping matters along)
So, if he's such a slave to his emotions, he should use them to move forward. I believe he already tried to supress them and failed: why don't we try something else?
Well, I was going to kick myself to update, but it seems we have a tie. I don't want to flip a coin, if possible, because you guys have put a lot of effort into discussion. I'm glad. So, another day (for real this time) to see if someone defects to either side. I'll make up for being lazy with a beefier update as well.
Just throwing a few things out there that'll maybe let you be more flexible: I have no plans whatsoever to make Arc angsty. He's had plenty of chances to fall into that trap in his past (and due to stuff in the stories) and he's just not the kind of guy who takes it out on life. Secondly, while I meant the choices to set the mood it's important to have a sense of priorities or general imperatives. And thirdly, the choices are not a 'gut v reason' sort of thing - I mean you can easily argue that blaming the barrier and the apparent lack of skill is just a cop out while saying that being always prepared (and intervening with Alice) is what a magician should do. And vice-versa, as some of you have argued. So yeah, there's some food for thought. Hopefully that helps.
[v] The barrier needed a real magician to keep it together
My thoughts are along this wavelength. Which is more important in Alice's eyes, concern, or determination? Protection, or focus? Trying, or recognizing limits? It is this back and forth nature that I feel the choices emulate, and I feel that having a set goal, as well as the determination to get there, is what allows a true scholar to get to the next step.
I don't know; it feels to me as if Arc is limited by something. I'm of the opinion that it is his concern. If you're going to aggressively pursue Magic, pursue it. If you're going to aggressively pursue Alice, pursue her. Don't dabble in a bit of both just to qualm the situations.
>>24957 Are you saying that he lacks a spine (which I disagree) or that he should choose between Magic and Love? If it's the latter, you raised a good point: he might lack focus (he who chases two birds, etc etc) Marisa's magic is based on love... but what does Alice's magic stands on? I think we might have made a bad choice three threads back.
Addendum: Magic is not easy. I think we should keep this in mind regarding our -his- failures and shortcomings.
I've kind of dug a hole for myself update-wise. Since two days passed without anything, I wrote about 1000 words last night before the most recent vote. I really don't feel like dumping that effort. I'll be free to write again in about two or so hours. What I'll do then is just try to incorporate what you posted/thought into the update. Look forward to it sometime soon.
A vast expanse stretched out ahead. A landscape of gentle rolling hills and plains carpeted by a color similar to dried blood. The carmine was, in fact, neatly emblazoned on the terrain through the countless flowers that quilted every visible spot. Those flowers had long, thin and oblong petals. A dark trim adorned the edges as the whole flower seemed to droop ever so slightly towards the ground, as if burdened by existence itself. They were in full bloom and possessed a quiet, dignified beauty. In the distance, subtle patterns emerged and changed as my eyes wandered over them; the optical effect made it seem as if a gentle breeze raked across the endless field.
To the sides and rear, more of the same everywhere. Above, the sky was locked in a moonless twilight. It was not as bright as day but yet somehow things were not as dark as they would have been at night.
I walked. There was no obvious place to go to and no reference points anywhere. The more I walked, the less distance I seemed to cover. I looked down at myself. I wasn't walking at all, actually. I hovered above the ground. It would explain how I had managed to avoid disturbing the flowers. I could not feel my legs. Or any other part of my body, for that matter. It was a strange sensation, like that I should feel something missing but find that nothing is at the same time. It wasn't natural but it wasn't unnatural either, it just was. The state I was in and what I could do was just a fact. There was no need to attach feelings to it. With that understood, I wove my own path through the boundless world finding that there was no break or change in the view.
There was, however, an underlying feeling that I could not escape no matter how far I went. It wasn't something I understood entirely at first. It whispered quietly at my mind and, if I concentrated my thoughts on something else, I could forget about for a while. A steady and unerringly constant tug meant that I could not forget it entirely, however. When I tried to think about it, melancholy wormed its way into my heart. It was a reminder that I was the only person around.
I expected, hoped, that something would change presently. Nothing did. It was a formless existence, without anything to define boundaries. The lack of sun, the lack of warmth and the lack of shelter added to the isolation. Absolute stillness reigned. If air existed in this world, it was scant and homogenous in nature – not even the slightest of winds blew ever. The one thing that brought any definition to the world were those somber flowers. They were like a large wreath laid upon the lid of the world's casket. They kept me confined and constrained while reminding me of all that there was just beyond.
Exhausted from the lack of exhaustion, I drifted aimlessly. I avoided looking at the flowers, instead floating with the best effort I could make at being absentminded. It seemed like a cruel and unusual place to be and I couldn't understand why I was where I was. If I had any idea of what I could do, I would do it. Instead, the vexing cluelessness forced me to simply coast along without rhyme or reason.
Then I remembered that there were things that I wanted to do. I did not know exactly what it was nor why but it was something to go on. It resonated with the feeling of loneliness and created a harmonic effect. In the timeless place, eons could have passed just as easily as mere minutes. I couldn't tell how long I had been there or how long it had been since my discovery. That desire to do, to finish my business, centered me. If everything else in the world was formless, I suddenly had form, shaped by desire and ambition. I was the person who shouted “I” at the heart of the world, the heart being given purpose and the trappings of form by my imposition.
I concentrated. It would surely become clearer as I worked harder to accomplish what I wanted. While it couldn't be flung open all at once, the lid could be gradually opened and I could squeeze out in time. What would follow then would be a more stable foundation. It was necessary to frame my purpose in no uncertain terms. I needed to do what I set out to do, it was perfectly sound. What I could control, if only a little at first, I could master.
And so the never-ending twilight would be sure to break into a dazzling dawn . The drab field would be the next to metamorphize and would be replaced by a more vibrant reality, one that I had sculpted.
>>24975 s'cool. It's just the first part of the update that was done, mostly to show that I was alive and writing (albeit slowly and infrequently due to stuff out of my control). Plus, it's food for thought I guess.
>>24974 It's not a reference to that. Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking about it but it's mainly something else. Where Eva got it from. Not the only reference either.
Hey, just wanted to let you guys know that the probability of me posting an update in the next day is really high. If all goes well, within 6 hours. I'm nearly done and have some free time. Sorry about the delays!
>>24979 Close enough. Ellison and his shorts in general. I've been tempted to throw in Eva stuff in for a while, in addition, but it wouldn't fit this story very well.
“Ah-” I bolted upwards. My timing could scarcely had been any worse. I recoiled back towards the pillow, clutching my forehead.
“I'm sorry,” She seemed to be as surprised as I was. I could hardly blame her. I didn't expect to bump my forehead against hers first thing when I woke up.
“It's my fault, I must have startled you as well, waking up all of a sudden,” I tried to get my bearings. It was still dark and I couldn't quite tell where I was. A small, discrete room with a single door and plain tatami. I was in a futon so I had probably been there for a while.
“Are you okay?” She asked, sitting beside me. I got the impression that she had been there for a while.
“Never better,” I tried to chuckle like it was a joke but probably fell a little flat. The concern in her voice made me feel a little uneasy.
She spoke softly, “You had a very troubled look on your face just now, I was worried that you were in pain.”
“It was... just a weird dream I had,” The vivid images from earlier were still fresh on my mind. It felt like I had actually lived through it all... or at least remembered living through it. I found myself frowning a little but caught myself before she noticed. I reassured her, “I'm sorry for making you worry, but everything is alright.”
“You passed out in front of me, so I'm not sure I agree.”
“I probably wouldn't agree either if we swapped places...” I mumbled to myself. As my eyes became accustomed to the dark I could make out that she was still in her day garbs. I felt a little guilty, “I'm sorry for making you worry about me.”
“You're just lucky that Suika stopped me from overreacting. I'd have taken you to a doctor or told your family but she insisted that all you needed was time. I hope she was right.”
“I just felt a little weak, that's all... I'll be fine,” I sighed. I thanked the little troublemaker silently. Last thing I needed were rumors surfacing in the village about what I did in my spare time. Or Auntie worrying about my health. She'd worry herself sick. “Where's Suika anyways?”
“She went off to look for medicine she buried somewhere, legendary something or the other, just in case. I didn't ask much but she took off towards the mountains. I don't know when she'll be back.”
“Thanks Reimu, I owe you one,” I smiled but wasn't sure if she could tell.
I sat up. Slowly, that time.
“Are you sure you feel well? You were out cold. It was hard to tell if you were breathing at first.”
“Like I said, it was just a momentary thing. I can't remember what exactly I felt except that it was sudden and intense. Before I knew it I was floating over a weird flower field and feeling lonely.”
“Eh?” Her confusion was palpable.
“Nevermind. It's just the dream I was having. I just need a moment to sort through it.”
“Are you thirsty? I've some water here. Or, if you want, I can make tea,” The shrine maiden was still evidently concerned.
“A little water would be nice.”
I took a few sips of cool water as I gathered my thoughts. I wasn't sure what I could have done differently – if I could have done anything at all. Shifting the blame onto my lack of skill was too convenient and not satisfying at all. Heaping blame on myself for not having been able to react or do anything despite of what went down wasn't entirely it either. I felt like I wanted to direct my energies on fixing things, somehow, but didn't know where to start. A first impression wasn't enough to decide on anything.
“How is Alice doing?” I asked, my heart at my throat.
“She's still sleeping. Hasn't even stirred about in the last few hours.”
“...you don't think that she might be in serious trouble, right?”
“I know a little something about first aid, it didn't seem like she was hurt or anything. Just, really tired and needed to sleep. She didn't wake up despite all of the commotion.”
“It could be a curse,” I said out of the blue. I wasn't sure how the idea popped into my mind.
“I'd probably be able to tell if that was the case,” Reimu said.
“We had a little trouble doing our ritual earlier,” I told her, “I think something must have interfered, since we lost control pretty quickly and unexpectedly. Before I knew it, Alice had fainted and I was at a complete loss as to what happened.”
“Don't you know what you were doing?”
“Well, my part, sure. But I think Alice wanted to accomplish something there that wasn't related to my training. It's hard to tell if that's what caused trouble.”
“Geez, you're a complete idiot, you know,” Reimu sighed.
“You should be,” She chided, “You keep going along with whatever someone tells you to do without even bothering to ask why you're doing it. She clearly doesn't have your best interests at heart and yet that doesn't seem to concern you. In fact, I can tell that you're trying your best not to rush over and see how she's doing yourself.”
A certain weariness had creeped into Reimu's voice. She hadn't let the hours of alert nursing take their toll until I had convinced her that I really was fine.
“It's not quite like that, Reimu. My relationship with Alice is a bit complex, but I think that she is serious about teaching me the best I can. So much so that she pushes any other concerns away when I try,” I may have said the last bit with a little bitterness in my voice. That was only natural, of course, I couldn't divide my feelings and life up into neat little compartments like Alice seemed capable of doing.
“I'd tell you not to push yourself, but I feel that that advice would fall on deaf ears. Marisa would have suited you better... she's more predictable.”
“I... listen, thank you for helping me. I really appreciate it.” I couldn't help but act humble. It was hard not to empathize with Reimu, especially when I thought I detected just a little wistfulness in her words.
“Whatever,” She brought out her disinterested persona, the one she used when others were making a big ruckus.
“Please get some sleep, I'll be fine,” I was conscious of the fact that she'd been up all night. “I'll probably sleep more until sunrise, anyhow.”
A few more words and assurances and I was able to get her to turn in for what was left of the night. I was still plenty tired, myself. Usually, something big like that incident would have kept me awake. At least for a while. My mind was strangely subdued. It may have been the nice clean sheets or the comfortable futon that I was able to focus on getting a little more sleep.
The next time that I opened my eyes, the sun had come up again.
Even though Reimu's words still were fresh in my mind, I couldn't deny that I really did want to check up on Alice. The first thing I did was to get up and look for her.
I found her in the next room, sleeping on a futon much like mine. Unlike me, she had been changed and was wearing an old-looking pair of pajamas. I sat next to her and watched her for a while, taking comfort on her regular breathing. Definitely an odd thing to be happy about.
I went to the kitchen after a while and prepared myself a cup of tea. The shrine seemed to be completely lifeless in the morning and I was the only one moving about. Reimu must have been more tired from the previous night than she had let on, I realized. I would have to show my appreciation properly one of these days, once I was done with the training. It would only be proper. I didn't have much to go on or do, so I returned to the room where Alice was after a while.
“Oh, good morning,” I found her awake when I returned. Her eyes quickly darted towards me, inquisitive and uncertain. It seemed like she was struggling to piece together the scenario. I explained, “Something went wrong last night with the ritual and you ended up passing out, we're still at the shrine.”
“...ritual?” She asked with a puzzled look on her face.
“You know the thing with the magic circle that you wanted me to practice on, I'm not sure if there's a more technical term I should be using.”
“No,” She frowned, “I don't know what you're talking about.”
“Are you still sleepy mistress? You were asleep for a while.”
“Who are you anyways?”
A sinking feeling worked its way to the pit of my stomach. I then realized that all was not well. I tried to maintain my cool, trying not to look too worried. I didn't want her to panic.
“Do you remember your name?” I asked, hoping to confirm just how bad the situation was.
“Name?” She scrunched her eyebrows, as if it was a difficult request.
“Can you remember anything else about yourself? Or what happened?”
“...no,” She said simply.
“I was afraid of that...” I mumbled. I wasn't too sure of the particulars myself, but I did what I thought was the right thing, given the circumstances. I told her who she was, “Your name is Alice and you're a magician.”
“Alice,” She smiled, like she particularly enjoyed the revelation. “Magician? Magic isn't real,” She said with a shake of her head.
“It is, but that's not important right now. We need to figure out exactly what happened to you first.”
“Are you my lover, mister?” She asked with a straight face.
“No, well not quite,” I wanted to get more specific with my answer. Explaining the complexities of a relationship like ours to someone who had forgotten would have been too bizarre to do right away.
“But you were here when I woke up,” She frowned, as if frustrated by her inability to connect the dots. “A sibling perhaps?”
“No, that's not it either,” I tried to think of a way to describe myself, “I'm more like a friend right now. Someone who is in your debt. You've been helping me with something. My name is Arc.”
“That sounds like a fake name.”
“Well, it is just a nickname. But everyone calls me that so it's okay.”
“Maybe I should give you a new name?”
“It's alright,” I smiled at her. “So tell me, how are you feeling? Does anything hurt?”
“I just feel really, really tired, Arc. I kind of want to go back to sleep. But I'm afraid of what might happen.”
“Don't worry about it, nothing bad will happen to you. I'm here.”
“So it's not a problem if I close my eyes a little?”
“Not at all.”
“...okay. Promise me that you'll be here when I wake up?”
She closed her eyes with a defenseless little smile still fresh on her face. Just like that she was sleeping again, looking like she hadn't a care in the world. I didn't know what to do. Whatever happened to her was more serious than I anticipated. I wanted to go out and do something. But I couldn't bring myself to leave her alone. There probably wasn't much that was scarier than not knowing where you were and who you were and being all alone. I kept put, trying my best to come up with a plan.
She woke up about an hour after she closed her eyes, just as I had come up with something to test her memory.
“Hey Alice, how are you feeling?”
“Feeling tired,” She answered with a yawn. Her hair was all ruffled up from her extended sleep session.
“Think you can talk for a minute?”
“Good, does this look familiar to you?” I showed her something that should have been closely tied in with her persona.
“That's cute,” She remarked as she grabbed the doll from me.
“Do you know what she's called?”
“Nope. What's with the string coming from her back?” She examined it carefully. “I mean, her clothes and face are cute but she also looks a bit lonely, like she needs more friends to be happy.”
“It's so you can control her like a puppet. It's really neat to see.”
“Is she yours?” She asked.
“No, it's yours Alice. You have a lot of these dolls back home.”
“Oh, I see,” Her expression clouded over. It was understandable, of course. Learning about who you were supposed to be couldn't have been easy.
As she was, she looked completely hopeless. I wanted to tell her that everything was going to be all right and that I was there for her, but was afraid of scaring her by acting too worried. So long as she was calm it would be easier to try to get to the bottom of things. She wasn't awake for long before she told me that she wanted to go back to sleep. I took the chance to tell her that I might not be in the same room when she woke up because I would probably be making lunch. It was a convenient white lie that let me move around without feeling too guilty. The fact that she simply nodded without doubting my words or intention hurt a little.
Reimu got up not much later and I wasted no time in filling her in on what happened. There was disbelief in her face at first and she asked me several times if I was sure that Alice had lost her memories.
“There's no doubt about it, she doesn't remember who she was.”
“What are we going to do about it?”
“I'm not sure. I'm sure it has to do with what happened last night. She trusted me to do something and I failed her. Whether it was my fault for not being good enough or her fault for expecting too much, doesn't matter. All that's important is fixing this mess.”
“A doctor might be able to help.”
“She's got no physical symptoms. This is definitely magic-related. I'm sure of it,” I told her. A doctor would do us no good. They could only treat real sickness. Besides, I wanted ot help Alice myself. It was a selfish desire, but there was no one better suited to the task. She was my teacher and so I owed it to her to try my best. The unexpected development was just another test I had to pass.
“So you're just going to let her be while you find answers?”
“No. If you don't mind, I'd like you to help me. Just help me take care of her for a day or two. I'm sure I can figure this out by then. If not, we can try doctors.”
“...I'd like to point out how obsessive and insane that is. But I get the feeling it's the exact kind of thing that she would propose herself.”
“So you'll help me out then?”
“Of course,” She sighed, “I just hope that this isn't permanent. I get the feeling that you're the kind of guy that would watch over her for the rest of your life out of a sense of duty.”
“Let's not worry too much about that,” I changed the subject. There was no need to dwell on negative outcomes.
The next time that Alice was awake, Reimu introduced herself. The first thing Alice asked was whether or not Reimu was my lover. I didn't know what she was thinking but it seemed to be that anyone who appeared together was liable to earn the “lovers” label from her. I wasn't sure if that was just due to her muddled memory or if it was some sort of usually well-hidden thought mechanism she had always had. Reimu tried her best to be nice and soon Alice was trusting her as much as she seemed to trust me.
We had a light meal together, mostly as a covert excuse to get Alice up and moving. She seemed able to walk just fine, thankfully. It was clear that any and all problems were just limited to her memories and personality. She acted meek and slightly inquisitive, asking discretely about us and our lives between bites. She seemed more eager to know more about us than she was about herself. Once or twice I thought I saw the old Alice shining through with a stare, but it was just her being absentminded. She was a different person altogether, and in many ways just a normal girl. She seemed extra keen to remark on Reimu's shrine maiden outfit and her own clothes. Apparently she had a thing for ribbons.
Alice took another nap around midday. I entrusted her to Reimu.
I returned to the room where we had been the previous night. It was still a dark little room with no obvious purpose in the daylight. I sat where I had sat and closed my eyes. I couldn't feel anything, no lingering power or signs of disharmony in the atmosphere. It was the same when I sat in Alice's position. In fact the only strange thing was that there was nothing strange at all. Usually when something like ley lines are disturbed there's some residual evidence. At least temporarily before things return back to normal. It was like nothing at all happened in the room.
There was nothing abnormal in the rest of the shrine either. At least from what I could tell at a glance. So I left. I went back towards the forest, certain that I could get answers if I knew what to look for.
 Search for any notes or hints on what was supposed to happen amongst Alice's things  Turn to Marisa for help
The more people we have on this the better, and Marisa has known Alice longer than us, so it's possible there could be some sort of precedent. Plus, if Mima was the one causing the interference, then Marisa obviously would have more leverage then we.
Probably no update today. But, by all means vote, comment and discuss away. A lot went down so there's plenty of places to go. And a devil's advocate never hurt either.
There will probably be something other than an update today if things don't fall through. Been planned for a while.
>>24999 I hate repeating myself but you realize that I don't count silent votes like that, right? Surely there's bound to be something worth mentioning after reading thousands of words. The fact that people still do this makes me suspect they're not really reading to begin with anyways.
[y] Search for any notes or hints on what was supposed to happen amongst Alice's things
My main point for voting this way is two things. I mentioned earlier that we should truly focus on one thing or the other. Arc's relationship with Alice is now a clean slate, no more muddled by inconsistencies. He's free to write his own pages into this update, if I may use that terminology.
Now, the question that we have to answer is what kind of sense is he feeling right now? I vote for this one, as I want Arc to be feeling a bit of regret, a sense of "this was something he could have prevented", a wake-up call, if you will. If he can come to the same conclusion as I posted above (aka, choose magic or the relationship, and pursue it wholeheartedly), then he can make that choice for himself.
[x] Search for any notes or hints on what was supposed to happen amongst Alice's things If he wants to figure out by himself, isn't asking for Marisa's help cheating? This is insane and obsessive, but that's how he is.
Besides, Alice isn't in mortal danger or running out of time or anything.
The uncertainties of timeAnonymous2012/05/06 (Sun) 19:15No. 25019▼
A real whirlwind of steps made its way up the stairs and down the hall. Without pausing to knock, she flung my door open with a powerful gust of energy.
“Come to shoot the breeze?” I barely looked up from my book.
“Nah, I'm here to extend an invitation to you,” She stated casually. It didn’t even bother her that I paid the book more attention.
“You realize it's late, right? I'm surprised Auntie let you barge in just like that.”
“I just told her that I was your girlfriend and it was really important that I see you immediately,” She smiled, “She's a nice lady, kind of like a big sis, I thought. She rolled her eyes and said 'and here's another one'.”
“I worry she has the wrong impression of me sometimes,” I added, “She gave me a lecture about... well, it's not really important what it was about. It just a bit awkward.”
There was no point in recalling the one-sided discussion we had had. Nor the many props she had brought out to teach me and test my retention with. I shook my head, she liked to act like she was experienced and full of wisdom only for those sorts of things. Truth was, she wasn't much older than I was and kept mostly to herself as well.
“Well, she liked my hair, so that's a plus. Said my braid was cool. Maybe I should become your girlfriend.”
“Just because she praised your hair?”
“Also because you've got a nice room. Real clean too,” She took an exaggerated look around, as if inspecting the scene carefully.
“Your family probably wouldn't like me. I have a complicated family history in the village.”
“I don't really care what papa thinks,” There was a devilish twinkle in her eye. She might have been more serious than she let on.
“Yeah, well, I'd only go out with someone if they were serious about it. If I got suckered by someone like you I wouldn't know where I stood most of the time.”
“How cruel~” She chuckled, “Well, I can't blame you for feeling that way. I'm usually to busy living life to the fullest to worry about the small things.”
I kept my mouth shut, not bothering to point out that her statement had little to do with anything.
“You've seen sides to me that most people haven't though,” She added, “That's got to count for something.”
“Well, that goes both ways. And yet here we are.” I put down the book, finally bothering to face her, “So before we're here all night talking nonsense, what is it that you wanted to tell me, Marisa?”
“Right, right, it seems that I can't even cut loose with my friends these days...”
I gave her a look that said 'oh please spare me'. The message got across nicely. Further proof of shared history.
She explained the reason for her sudden appearance, “Basically we're having a gathering tonight like we do every year. And you're invited since you're, like, basically one of us.”
“You'll need to be more specific than that. Who is this 'us'?” I asked.
“You know, magicians. It's a special night for us.”
“I'm not really one of you guys to begin with...”
“Oh don't sweat it. Didn't you learn anything? Experience isn't everything, it's all about the heart and passion!”
“I'm not sure that was one of the lessons I learned while training...”
“I never know what you learned. You keep strangely quiet about some things,” She shrugged.
“Just who I am,” I replied. I wasn't about to dwell upon the recent past anytime soon. I needed more time to process all that had happened in the past weeks.
“Fine, fine, I won't pry,” She smirked, “You know, Alice will be there.”
“Well, you said magicians, so I assumed she would be.”
“It's like you enjoy being an ass to me, or am I wrong?”
“Who knows?” I gave her a wink that said all that she needed to know.
“Anyways, you've been invited. It'll be fun. You're the first guy to come in forever too, so it'll be a nice change of pace.”
“Hm, I need to get up early in the morning though...” I offered a weak excuse.
“No you don't, it's a holiday in the village tomorrow. All businesses are closed.”
“Then maybe I'm not feeling well?”
“Oh, just give up,” She came on over and tugged at my arm, “They sent me knowing that I'd have to drag you out there.”
There really wasn't much point to resisting further. In the end I decided to cooperate with Marisa and went out with her. I told Auntie not to worry about my staying out late while Marisa undermined the effort by telling her that she would take care of me all night long.
“Have fun,” She raised an eyebrow, “And try not to do too much at once. I know you're young but...”
“Right, we're off then!” I really did not want to know how that sentence ended.
“W-wait! I wanted to know what she was going to say.” Marisa protested as I dragged her out by the arm. I didn't need her having any more dirt on me either.
“Forget my family, let's just focus on where we're going.”
“Alright, alright, you can let go of me anytime you know. I'm not a little kid.”
I let go of her.
She was incorrigible. As soon as she was free, she added, “I don't mind if we hold hands, though.”
I ignored her. It made for a smoother trip. And, as I predicted, she didn't dwell on it too long. We traveled for a while, our pace relaxed. Our destination was somewhere up in the mountain. It would have been easy to have gotten lost, the trees and landscape was unchanging for the most part. Marisa seemed confident about her pathfinding skills and led on without hesitation.
It was a clear night. A westerly wind blew in from the lake and towards our position. In the distance, a nocturnal bird sang a lonely song. That was the only obvious sign of life to be found. I kept quiet, knowing that whatever questions I had would be answered by our eventual arrival. We were far away from any of the obvious spots to visit. Only beasts and plants lived so far from anything of interest.
A flickering glow just beyond a copse hinted that we would arrive presently.
We arrived to clearing with a commanding view over most of the lake and its surroundings. A great bonfire roared in the middle of the space, exuding warmth and light to an otherwise immutable night.
“We're here~!” Marisa announced as she stepped into the clearing.
“Hiya,” I waved sheepishly. Two familiar faces sat around the fire. One nodded silently and the other just stared cooly, neither smiled at us.
“Hey, I thought whats-her-face was supposed to be here as well,” Marisa observed while approaching the fire. She extended her hands towards the flame, as if to warm up a little.
“There were things that she had to do in the village. She is dedicated to her own projects and you should know that she doesn't readily acknowledge her magical heritage,” Alice stated unemotionally. Her gaze drifted towards me. I took that for a greeting.
“Oh bother, I thought that all of us had to be here tonight,” Marisa clicked her tongue.
“It's not necessary. We're not performing a ritual.”
I sat on a large rock by the fire. It was nice and warm there. I asked the remaining magician what was up, “Marisa didn't quite explain what this was about. What are we doing here?”
“That,” She began lethargically, “would be nothing special.”
“A gathering in the middle of the night, somewhere remote doesn't seem like an everyday occurrence,” I fired back.
“You've got to let Patches finish,” Marisa butt in, 'She's just getting warmed up.”
“-We do this every year,” She ignored the interruption. It was strange to see her outside of her usual environment – it felt that, even now, she should have a book in her hand and a stack of more by her side. “I take it that you want to know why we do this every year?” She asked the obvious.
“If you would be so kind.”
“Yes, yes. Well, you realize what day it is today, right?”
“It's just a normal day, as far as I know. The day before a minor festival in the village, “ I added to cover my bases.
“People forget, but in the old days people used to revere the gods during important moments of the seasons. This is one such moment.”
“So this is some sort of religious ceremony?”
“No, not at all,” A sly smile formed on her lips. I got the feeling that she enjoyed being a repository of knowledge. More importantly, she enjoyed reminding herself that she knew a lot more than the average person.
“Don't draw it out,” Alice chimed in, “I know where you're going with this.”
“Fine, fine,” Patchouli rolled her eyes, “For us magicians, today takes a different meaning than for the majority of people. The village may celebrate old traditions, but we actively reveled in the bonds which allowed us to use magic. In the old days, far in lands far away, magicians and witches celebrated by gathering their covens and partaking in debauchery.”
“Those ignorant of our ways would see magic as something profane, something dark and evil. So witches would flock around one powerful warlock and he would take care of his flock.” Alice explained dryly, “On this very night, the coven would gather and engage in an orgy, far away from the eyes of the uninitiated.”
“Good heavens,” Marisa stared at me, “You're the only guy here too. I've always wanted to have a nice and strong warlock take care of me.”
“This isn't why we've gathered,” Patchouli ignored the salacious insinuation. She explained how the tradition had evolved to the present day, “Times have changed and the nature of our association, by extension, has as well. Besides, those are the ways of the old occident.”
“You say that, but all of us here have chosen to base a lot of our study on that tradition,” Alice weighed in.
“In my everyday life I mostly read and analyze works from that tradition as well,” Patchouli nodded, but offered dissent, “We are not solely defined by that baggage. The land around us is also rich in tradition, often tradition that is not obviously complementary and often seems diametrically opposed.”
“No orgy, gotcha,” Marisa smirked.
“So this is just a holdover?” I asked, “A reminder of our roots?”
“It's an excuse to take a break from our usual reality,” The bookish magician smiled. She really meant it, it seemed.
“In other words, tonight is a party,” The lively Marisa put it in much less ambiguous terms.
“We have food and drink, and I personally hope to forget the usual drudgery of life,” Alice surprised me with her unusual statement.
I had heard enough. I smiled and changed the subject. Marisa still complained about the people who were missing but a few drinks later she had already gotten over it.
“Ah, the moon sure is bright tonight,” I stretched lazily, enjoying the feeling of a satisfied stomach.
“Careful you don't get moonstruck,” Alice teased.
“If he did, I know the cure,” Patchouli smiled. I felt like she, too, was being a little whimsical.
“Let me guess: it involves some herbal concoction and round-the-clock supervision by a trained magician. A lot of physical intercession to boot. Preferably in the bedchamber. I've read that novel too,” The third magician chuckled.
“How scandalous, right?” Alice smiled, winking at me.
“No, seems about normal for us,” I laughed.
“Hm, so the boy gets it. Maybe I should supplement your learning with a few private lessons at the library.”
“If I find the time, I wouldn't mind,” I told her. “But not anytime soon. Had a lot to deal with and I'm not sure I want to jump back in just yet.”
“You've trained him well,” The bookworm directed at Alice, “He can see past what's on the surface and take advantage of opportunities.”
“Let's not talk about that,” Alice shrugged, “This is supposed to be a night without that kind of talk.”
That kind of talk inevitably cropped up again and again as the night wore on. But it was blunted by both the pleasurable intoxication granted by drink and our own uncharacteristic focus on the mundane. At the end of it all, when the sun was about to peer over the crest of the mountain and the once-impressive fire had been reduced to a few isolated embers, I found myself still awake. The others had collapsed earlier, forming a small pile of defenseless-looking girls. If a beast or hungry youkai came along, they'd probably pounce without hesitation. I had to admit even I was tempted to exploit the situation a little.
But that just wasn't me. I knew better than to disturb some of the wiliest and powerful magicians around. Once before, when half-asleep, Marisa had almost killed me with a 'casual' spell. She claimed that it was because of a dream she was having, but since then I had known than to bother her. Still, the evening hadn't been too bad. I enjoyed it. I could get used to it if it was a yearly tradition. Real fast too. It was proof that I was accepted by them.
I laid back near the pile of unconscious magicians. The sun began to emerge from the other side of the mountain. I smiled as I closed my eyes, happy to have been accepted after everything that had happened.
Y'all are missing the point a little here. This was the thing I mentioned a while ago that I wanted to post. Had it planned for a while. It's not an update so much as it is a whimsical short. It's ambiguous on purpose and (hopefully) a bit humorous. Admittedly it's a week later than the date it's celebrating but I thought someone would make the connection anyways.
>Byakuren Pretty obvious, yes. Unless you include the PC-98 cast which I haven't save for a single exception.
>>25026 No point creating a thread for a single story-related short. And well, see the previous posts. I stated that there would be something other than an update, twice. Besides, I wrote it to fit in with the story's canon anyways.
>>25031 I personally have my own approach when writing updates after a tie vote, but that's neither here nor there. I better stop posting here and just lie down and recover; my story might be marked as dead if I spend too long recovering.
Believe you me, I'd vote again, but: 1) You're an admin 2) I respect you too much to do that.
>>25027 You still didn't make it stand out well and it causes confusion as to certain things. Some people still think to this day based on that Suika bit you posted in ADEFT that you've railroaded them on Suika route.
And you do have a habit of jerky timeskips out of the blue.
>>25035 You're making a bigger deal out of this than it is.
>Some people still think to this day based on that Suika bit you posted in ADEFT that you've railroaded them on Suika route. Perhaps they should deign themselves to read the actual thread. Can we move on now please and return to the topic of magicians? I'd rather do a back and forth with you elsewhere, like IRC, if at all.
The crisp weather kept my head from overheating. Walking from the shrine and into the forest by myself was novel enough, but I trusted my sense of direction enough not to worry about getting lost. I had to be dependable. I wasn't about to let myself make stupid mistakes. Thoughts like those at least kept me from dwelling too much on what had happened and what it could mean. It was the same reason I tried not to worry Reimu. Sure-footedness amongst copse and under dark canopy stemmed from a sense of purpose, perhaps alacrity.
I wasn't sure where to start. It would have been too convenient to see a pamphlet stuck to the door or a message written in the clouds. There were no visible threads to tug, neither in the form of a person to ask nor a book to consult. “What to do when your teacher loses her memory after a magical ritual” wasn't on any of Alice's bookshelves, I wagered. I would have remembered something like that. A self-mocking smile formed on my lips when I reached her home. I didn't have the luxury to wonder whether or not I should have expected something this bad would happen during my training. The truth was, I didn't know what my expectations were. I was like a bug attracted to the open flame that was magic.
I started with whatever was in plain sight. Books on barriers and seals which I had been reading in preparation the past few days came first. Then followed other reference books I found in her studio. Followed by the musky tomes locked in that small, dark room. Naturally, none of them had an obvious answer. The old tomes gave me a hard time about it too – they offered their knowledge gladly, their pages speaking to me about anything and everything except what I was looking for. Instead of finding it frustrating, I found it comical, farcical even. Maybe it was because I had a greater appreciation for what those tomes really were, more so than when I had started out. They were, in a very real sense, magic manifest. I could feel them as almost separate entities. Just being around Alice, for what seemed like an eternity since I first started, made me more sensitive to those kinds of things.
Part of me felt like I was just trying too hard. Again, I didn't bother qualifying and analyzing the thought. I had better things to do.
Next came her more personal belongings. Though it required an invasion of her privacy, I knew Alice would understand. In fact, she might have pithily said something like I needed to never hesitate when it came to something that I wanted. All the same, it was not easy to go through her bedroom chests and drawers. I tried to look at the up side: at least there was no one around to see me ransack the room. I would never hear the end of it. The last thing I needed was another angle from which I could be teased.
For a moment I thought my effort had paid off. I found a small notebook wrapped carefully in a white cloth in the back of a drawer full of otherwise provocative items. There was no title on it and the cover was plain and rose-colored. I opened up the first page, finding rich cursive writing that filled the page from margin to margin. It certainly was beautiful penmanship - deliberate enough that it must have taken some time to bother writing things out. I read a few words. Then I turned the page. And read a few more words. Turned another page. Turned to a random page in the middle. Invariably, the notebook contained intricate and careful annotations and paragraphs of thoughts and description. But it wasn't the kind of thing I was looking for. I found out just how much of a storyteller Alice was; Her puppet shows were plain by comparison. I learned something new about her, something I wasn't sure I should have seen to begin with.
I put the book back, aware that my cheeks were likely flushed.
After putting everything back into place, I took a break. It was both to have something to eat and to gather my thoughts a little. There probably wasn't anything blatantly obvious that would explain what exactly had happened or how to fix it. Alice was reserved and, more importantly, secretive. Her squabbles with Marisa were proof enough of how utterly unreadable she could be. She held plans and ideas that she shared with no one else. All I really could do was simply try to understand more about the general subject matter. A proper deduction could arise from a combination of what I remembered seeing and the descriptions in the texts. Earlier I had been searching for something I had missed. It was something I hadn't learned, I decided, and something that wasn't obvious from a cursory glance.
I decided to look for any information about the shrine. Finding out quickly that none of the books covered local history, I settled for a more general summation. I knew well enough that temples and shrines were built on high ground for a reason. The reason as to why was always given as something vague as that it's just lucky or good spirits gathered there. At least when I once asked as a kid. From what I saw with the different streams of power and the barriers, there was definitely more to it. After some time, I stumbled onto a book explaining the concept of ley lines. Commentary about spiritual power went right over my head, but I understood a little of the magically-relevant aspects. Simply put: places were streams of energy converged were prime spots for anyone interested in the metaphysical.
Alice was tapping into that convergence. Or the streams that yielded it. Either way, she was interacting with something of potentially great power. “To what end?” Was the question. I really wasn't sure. It wasn't to use the energy for a spell, otherwise she wouldn't have needed me. I seemed to have been isolating her from the full brunt of the energy. She was inspecting, analyzing something. Or so I thought. I didn't have proof of what she was doing, just of what she wasn't doing. I decided that I would ask Reimu a little about of the nature of the energy at the shrine. She was its keeper so she might know something. I doubted it, since she didn't offer any hints earlier.
It was a start.
I sat for a while in contemplative silence in the sitting room. Tea refreshed me a little. Alice's dolls looked somehow less special without her around. They failed to look distinctive or keep my attention for more than a few seconds. I wondered if they all had names or if it was just her favorite ones. It was a lot to keep track of. I allowed my thoughts to wander towards a more idle direction.
 The contents of the notebook were beyond surprising  Living with Alice at the moment as she is would be completely different
-- This is a completely plot-irrelevant choice. It lets me try to get into the groove for writing again. The combination of things leading to the update taking forever makes me want to ease into things gradually. This is just fanservice. Choose carefully, all the same. They're different directions of (hopefully) fun.
Shut up. Leave me alone. Don't shake a sleeping person.
“I'm going to count to three and then I'm going to hit you.”
“Hm... you leave me no choice...”
That's right, go away. Good grief.
Wait, she might actually do it!
That really hurt. I opened my eyes and beheld the harsh world.
“What's wrong with you? !” Her angry face was the first thing I saw. She gripped her forehead where our heads had met as her eyes shot daggers at me.
“Good morning, Alice,” I said dryly.
“Thanks to you my head now hurts,” She whinged.
“Hey, your thick skull also did some damage to me, you know,” I shook my head with exaggerated disapproval, “What were you doing hovering over my face anyways? Ugh! You better not have tried to kiss me. You're the worst!”
“What are you, stupid? Trying to wake you up. I can't believe you keep oversleeping every day. Go to bed early, I bet you were doing something idiotic late last night too.”
“Well, I was just reading this book I borrowed and I just couldn't put it down,” Even though it took a bit of effort to hold with one had.
“Your lecherous smile is disgusting,” She scowled.
“Hehe, you just don't get it.”
“What I don't get is how you can keep giving me trouble every day, even though I go out of my way to help you out. Most guys would be honored to walk to school with me. And just because I'm you're childhood friend...”
“Maybe you should change your route then, I'll be happy to sleep in a little.”
A slap and a few ballistic expletives later, I managed to get her out of my hair long enough to get dressed and sneak in some of the borrowed material into my bookbag. Last thing I needed was Ms. Nosy to see that I really wasn't kidding about the books. I went downstairs and found her chatting with Auntie. Polite with her as she was with most people. It really seemed like I was the unfortunate exception. She was almost kind of cute when she wasn't being violent or crude, not that I would ever tell her that. She'd get too cocky and I'd never hear the end of it.
“I'm sorry for my stubborn burden inconveniencing you every day like this, Alice dear. You should find yourself a nicer boy than him.”
“I'm right here, you know,” I wasn't particularly hurt by her comments. I heard them every day. I didn't quite get why Alice would always brush those comments aside instead of just agreeing.
“Finally, you should just eat while walking, otherwise we'll be late.”
“I can't eat while I walk, I like taking my time.”
“Not an option!” Alice grabbed my hand forcefully and escorted me out of the kitchen. I barely had time to grab a piece of toast before we were out the door.
“Take care now!” Auntie saw us off with a knowing grin.
Despite my protests, we observed a brisk pace towards the school. The sun was already bright and everything seemed to be so full of life. Birds chirped in trees and, off in the distance, people worked the fields in quiet harmony.
“Ah, if only I were in my bed right now~” It did seem like the ideal time to be sleeping.
“You're still on about that? You're beyond hope.” She chided me like she usually did.
“Eh, I like doing nice things. Sleeping is nice.” Perfect logic. Sadly someone as tightly wound up as her wouldn't understand. I decided to rattle her a little, “In any case, how long are you going to hold my hand, I'm not going to run away you know. And people might see us and get the wrong impression.”
“If I let go you'll just start walking slowly,” She shot back, “It's not like I'm doing this because I want to.”
“You really think so little of me, huh?”
“Definitely. I'm honestly surprised that you manage to dress yourself. That said, your hair is all messy.”
“Don't worry! It's fashionable. The ladies love it.”
“I wonder about that...”
She was true to her word. Until we reached the school gates she kept a tight hold on me. I tried to pretend that it was no big deal. Luckily most of our classmates had already arrived and weren't around to make fun of me like usual. One reason I avoided getting up earlier was to avoid running into people while walking to school.
“Looks like we just made it,” Alice smiled as the first bell rang.
We went up to our classroom, finding pretty much the same morning scene as always. Chitchat among the same usual groups. No one really noticed us coming in. A lone girl stood by my desk, waiting for us.
“Yo class rep!” I greeted her enthusiastically, “You're looking as lovely as ever this morning. I love what you've done with your hair. Nice accessory.”
“I haven't down anything to it, This is the same ribbon as always.” She retorted as she always did.
“Still, you really are a vision of beauty. What brings you to my little corner of the classroom?”
“I just wanted to remind you that you'll be on duty this next week, so you shouldn't try to run away when classes are through.”
“As expected from the daughter of the shrine's priest, so diligent. Say, could I stop by your place later? I've been wanting to chat to your old man about our future.”
“But I want to make you happy, Reimu.”
“Then do your chores after school,” She smiled bewitchingly. The wink really sank the message in. Women are such vixens.
“Ms. Margatroid, I return him to you,” She said ceremoniously. Alice just rolled her eyes. I didn't get why those two didn't really get along.
We sat down at our separate desks and she greeted her friends in the class.
“Smooth moves there, buddy,” A hearty guffaw came from behind me.
“Yeah, yeah, cram a sock in it bro,” I shot back.
“Is that any way to treat your best friend and confidant?”
“Sure it is, Suika,” I turned around with a smirk.
“You wound me bro. But I know that under that tough-guy persona there's a kind and sensitive young man.”
“As if!” I chortled.
“Yeah, yeah, I'll let it slide for now.” Suika did a little hand gesture bidding me closer. The next few words were a private whisper, “Say did you take a look at the books I lent you?”
“Yeah, I've been spending quality time with them at night. I've brought them with me if you want them back.”
“That can wait, So wasn't I right?”
“Yeah, they're real hardcore. You can see everything, and yeah it really does look like her.”
“Look like who?” A cheerful voice turned my veins to ice.
“M-Ms. Mima!?” I nearly had a heart attack.
“Good heavens, me?” She smiled brilliantly, “Your face is all red too, I'm not sure if I should be flattered or not. Whatever were you two talking about, I wonder?”
It had taken me too long to realize that the deathly silence in the classroom had meant that homeroom had begun. But to be overheard by our teacher in the middle of that sort of conversation.... it was too much. Especially since the images from the book were still a clear and vivid memory and had more than just simply stirred my loins.
“We were just discussing how beautiful and talented our homeroom teacher is and how lucky we are to have such a compassionate soul guiding us,” Suika tried to save face.
“I'm not sure that I buy that, Ibuki. But you get credit for trying. I think I'm just going to let this go, your friend here looks like he might explode if I tease you any further.”
I tried to avoid bringing any more attention to myself. I felt myself shrinking into my seat to avoid the scrutiny of the rest of the class. I accidentally met Alice's gaze. I could feel the disgust in her eyes.
“Well class, now that we're all paying attention,” Ms. Mima stood up in front, “I'd like to announce that we're getting a new transfer student today.” A murmur of excitement shot through the class. We almost never got transfer students. “I'd like you all to treat her well and help her out as much as you can. You can come in now.”
The class door opened. It was like a concentration of energy just burst into the room. A girl with long blonde hair made her way next to the teacher and cheerfully introduced herself, “Heya! I'm Marisa Kirisame. I like magic, animals and sweets. I hope to become friends with all of you,” She bowed. All the guys in the class were a little awestruck. The girls in the class usually weren't so extroverted. And that braid of hers... it really suited her. She had good fashion sense, I think.
“Right, right, lovely to have you here,” Ms. Mima moved things along, “She used to live in this town but moved away due to her family so I'm sure she knows just exactly what kind of scoundrels you lot are. Still, you better not be mean to her or you'll be punished.”
Weird as always.
“Well then, Marisa, now to pick your seat... let's see,” She scanned around the classroom, “Oh, I know, there's an empty seat by that scruffy-looking guy. Ignore him and settle in.”
It really hurt when a beauty like her said such cruel things about me. Ms. Mima, where has your kindness gone? And I liked her so much too.
She switched gears and read the morning announcements. I tuned out. I was (along with most of the boys in the class) checking out how the new girl was doing.
“Hey there,” To my surprise she spoke to me first. “I'm Marisa, pleased to see ya!” It was an earnest greeting. I felt like putty before her. She moved her chair closer with a friendly disposition.
“I know who you are, Arc,” She grinned from ear to ear. I was caught off balance. How did she know me?
“Aw, jeez, you really have forgotten, haven't you? It's ok though! You were always a bit of a scatterbrain.”
She grabbed my arm and leaned her head on my shoulder. I could feel the odious stares of all the men in the class just drilling into my back. They would be straining to hear what we were saying.
“You shouldn't behave like that in class, people will talk.”
“Let them! I don't care. I'm just happy to be with you again.”
“You're being a nuisance! Can't you see?” A cold and sharp reprimand came from the other side of the classroom. The entire class was now focused on us.
“A-Alice, you're being too loud!” I protested weakly. She had actually gotten up and stood next to my desk, arms crossed.
“Alice?” Marisa turned her eyes upwards at me, silently asking for an explanation.
“She's my neighbor,” I whispered, “A bit of a busybody.”
“Who are you calling a busybody?!” She pulled my ear.
“Ow! Sorry! You're disrupting the class, Alice.”
“Oh no, it's cool, this looks interesting,” Ms. Mima was sitting in her chair, smiling at us.
“Are you lovers?” Marisa asked me innocently enough.
“Who'd want to be this idiot's lover!?” Alice answered. The class laughed. My stock was plummeting fast.
“Oh, thank goodness!” Marisa exclaimed, “I was worried there for a moment that you were jealous and I had started a lover's quarrel.”
“They're always fighting like a married couple!” Someone shouted from the peanut gallery. More laughter erupted in the ranks.
“Anyways!” Alice took the lead again, “Who do you think you are anyways, coming into our class and acting overly familiar with someone you just met.”
“Oh, but we haven't just met. We have a history together.”
Speculative chattering among the students resulted from the casual remark.
“Nonsense, I've known him for half my life now, I'd know if someone disruptive like you was in his life.” No one bothered to point out the potentially embarrassing revelation admitted by Alice there. I couldn't blame them, they were probably afraid of what might happen. It was a moment of tension.
“Oh, that would be why. I knew him before that. We were really close in elementary school. He isn't just someone, he's my fiancée.”
A stunned silence permeated in the room. It felt like time had stopped.
“What?!” Both Alice and I asked simultaneously. There was chaos in the class as everyone checked if they really had heard things correctly.
“Geez, you really did forget me! After you promised me you'd keep waiting for me! You said I would be your bride when we grew up.”
“...Mari?” A sensation of endless nostalgia came at the recollection of summers spent mucking about in the forest and streams. A girl who was always there, always looking up to me. A bit of a crybaby too.
“Yup! That's right! You couldn't say my name properly at the time. You do remember after all Arc!” She latched on to me tightly, hugging me in front of everyone. She smelled real nice, I was losing myself in the moment. Hoots of approval of the seemingly-salacious conduct came from the already excited class.
I vaguely recalled those days. I couldn't recall a promise.
“I don't care if you don't remember right now, I love you anyways. You're my fiancée, so I'll forgive you even if you cheated on me a little with that dour-looking girl. I'll make you forget all about her.”
The bell signaling the end of homeroom rang. The class let out a collective 'aww' of disappointment as Ms. Mima reminded us to get ready for our first class of the day. She walked by my desk, reminding us to keep the displays of affection at a minimum during school hours. “Lucky dog,” She winked at me.
Alice simply walked away. The act seemed to say. “Isn't it lucky that you have such a cute girl that likes you now”. I felt like she was absolutely livid at me but I didn't know what to do about it. I couldn't talk to her while the bubbly and radiant Marisa hovered around me. I felt miserable, not sure how my life how gotten so complicated so quickly. She was, at least, someone who did help me out with a lot of things. Suika gave me a hard slap of congratulation on the back as I sighed. I couldn't even process any real feelings towards Marisa without first remembering just exactly what our relationship had been like.
First period began. I ignored the lesson, I was too busy with my thoughts to care.
Little did I know I had just witnessed the first skirmish of what would be a long and bloody war.
>>25093 No, it's a result of the vote. Writing 2500+ words in two hours seemed like enough. I feel it takes away a little from the impact if there's too much going on in a post. Plus, it's nice to see how people react. I enjoy it when readers enjoy themselves, it provides drive.
Without the book in hand, I had ended up filling the narrative blanks as best as my imagination allowed. The real notes and beautiful writing were individually only disparate pieces that I assembled mostly from feeling alone. There was no linear structure that meshed together the scenes and ideas. However, it felt like I had seen and understood enough already. There was no need to dwell on the specifics to get the big picture.
But it was all, in the end, just idle pointless thinking.
I wanted to sigh. I drank my fill of tea and sat for a while longer, reluctant to get a move on. I knew what I wanted to do but I still was apprehensive about doing it. Maybe because I wasn't sure where it would lead. Alice's house also had a peculiar effect on me, I found. It wasn't my home – not by a long shot – but it still possessed a certain quality that let me relax and forget myself a little. The wooden building had character. I felt that I could accept it at least as well as it seemed to accept me.
As I let myself sink a little further into the chair, my back sliding in (what was probably) a display of poor table manners. A thought occurred to me. I wondered if I had been instrumental in causing things to turn out the way they had. Not in an immediate sense, but as a more general catalyst. I did not know if Alice's interests were wholly connected to my instruction or if her acts were caused by ulterior motives. She didn't speak about her plans and thoughts freely. Getting anything out of her that wasn't just the most basic and necessary of informations was difficult at best. She was as stubborn as could be and forever apart in her own mental space.
Case in point: She had been clearly feeling unwell and shown signs of sickness for a while. Yet she left me completely out of the loop. All the care I had given her was ignored at her discretion and she continued to do as she pleased. It was entirely possible that she was getting up to trouble on her own and the outcome of the magical lesson was already decided from the start. I did not have much to go on, all I could do was speculate; It did me little good to try to see how plausible these scenarios were.
Regardless of whatever it may have been that precipitated the situation, I knew I wouldn't be made privy to it unless there was something I could do about it. It was the way she operated, for better or worse.
I let myself slouch a little more. It was easier to think with my body doing as it pleased.
 Return to the shrine right away  Take a little time first to read up about [subject]
- Just a chance for little infodump about anything, within Arc's access, if wanted. Entirely optional. Could be more of highschool love triangle/polyhedrons even if you guys want as well. I don't mind.
>>25097 I meant something more specific than 'look for clues'. Like, how summoning magic works, the hazards of not being able to control your spells, the delicacies of magician cuisine etc. It's an in-story chance to learn more about anything (within reason and related to magic) in the setting. Mostly fluff, but you might find it useful. Or you could revisit the previous highschool stuff as well. It's entirely an optional choice and the shrine is the next destination.
>>25102 I've always wanted to do a story like that, albeit not necessarily in a highschool setting. I've had an idea involving the moon and another with a more assorted cast in a big city for quite some time, in fact. The problem is, as much as I'd like to do any of those, that they would be fast-paced and not plot-heavy. To do something with fast, short updates I need to have more than four voters. It's a shame and I'm sorry about it. Hijinks and cheesy romance are my bread and butter, after all. Tell you what though: if you (or anyone else) manage to drum up interest somehow, I'll do it in a heartbeat. In the meanwhile, there's always that new story in /th/.
“I'm going to open my eyes now~” I threatened whimsically. I was tired of sitting like an idiot with my eyes closed.
“Don't you dare!” Alice barked back. “I'll beat you to a bloody pulp if you do.”
“Then hurry up~ I'm bored~”
I pricked my ears up. The rustling got faster. At least she was being somewhat considerate. Still, I had no idea what she was thinking or doing. Changing clothes, by the sounds of it. But I wasn't sure why.
“Need help, Alice dear?”
“I'd sooner die than need your help,” Came the heartless retort. She was lucky that I was such an easy-going guy. I'd have broken off our association otherwise. Well, tried anyways. I was sure that I couldn’t get rid of her even if I died. What a troublesome person.
“Fine, ok, I'm ready,” She announced after a few more minutes of frantic rustling, “You can open your eyes now.”
“Finally!” I was exasperated.
“...well?” She asked.
“I'm not dead, am I?”
“What are you, stupid?”
Oh, I ticked her off. It wasn't on purpose that time. Just about anyone would have asked the same thing. After all, I could hardly recognize her as my childhood friend and bothersome neighbor. What elegant frills. The delicate white apron attached to her outfit wrapped nicely around her and tied up across her lower back in a elaborate decorative bow. The cut of the dress was a bit suggestive too, familiar and servile but hinted of more salacious applications. Well, so my brain said. I couldn't really trust my brain: it had a strict pro-cute and pro-sexy bias. Sometimes it saw things that weren't really that big of a deal and blew them out of proportion.
I was sure that my brain wasn't entirely wrong about this one, though. Yeah, sure, the frills and bows and all other small details to her outfit were absolutely delicious. But there was one part that was outright obscene in how alluring it was. The dress finished rather pithily somewhere above her knee. Below the hem a creamy wonderland of leg spanned, bound on the lower end by thigh-high stockings. This perfect territory was a real danger to any healthy male. My heart skipped a few beats. I think I had to remember how to breathe too.
“Stop staring so much and say something,” She commanded with less spunk in her voice than usual.
“Wow, you really are a girl, aren't you?”
“Geez! What's that supposed to mean?” Her frown managed to snap me back to reality.
“Ahahah, nothing,” I had forgotten myself a little. I forgot it was Alice I was thinking about. “You look cute enough, I guess, what's the outfit for?”
“You don't sound very convincing,” She pouted.
“I call them as I see them.”
“Ugh, whatever, you're hopeless,” Her shoulders slumped in resignation. “It's for the school festival, remember we're doing a maid cafe this year?”
“Oh yeah.” I had probably fallen asleep in class.
“...you probably were asleep when we were talking about it,” She got it right again, as usual.
“No way! I'm gung-ho for the idea.”
“Yeah, sure. Anyways, I made the dress myself, I wanted to ask for your opinion if anything looks wrong with it.”
“Nope, all looking fine. Gee, come to think about it, Reimu is also going to be dressed up as a maid right? I can't wait for the festival! Man... Reimu as a maid... teehee... I can picture it now...”
She could come on over and serve me just right. She'd be clumsy and make a few mistakes at first and would maybe cry because she thinks she'd get scolded. Heheh, I'd be patient at first and just call her to my bedchamber at night to instruct her better. Now there's a dream worth having.
“Who, me? What did I do?”
“I can tell what kind of thoughts you're having. It's written on your face,” She shook her head. “Now close your eyes again, I'm going to change back. No peeping.”
“As if I would!” I snorted, A man is nothing without his honor. Or something.
I was too caught up in my own runaway imagination anyways to care about what Alice was up to. That is until she bugged me again.
“Hey, I think there's something wrong with the buttons on this thing.”
“Not my problem, I'm having a nice time here with my eyes closed.”
“Stop being a tool and come help me.”
“I thought you'd sooner die than need my help.”
“You choose to remember the most inconvenient things, you know. Just get over here.”
I sighed theatrically, “Fine, fine, I'll come help.”
I got up. She had only managed to get her shoes off. Women – always turning things into a hassle. She turned her back at me and pointed to the area just below her neck. Using her other hand, she held the hair covering her nape, “Can you see what's wrong?”
“Hmmmmmmmm,” I found the problem right away. The just a matter of the cloth getting all wound up around itself. Probably.
“Yeah, I think I can fix it.”
“Alright. Just be careful, don't rip or break anything.”
I held one side of the dress along the buttons with one hand. With the other I grabbed ahold of the other side. The only way to fix this sort of situation was to give it a good, hard tug. Things would slip back into place and it'd be a cinch to unbutton her.
I gave it a try.
I may have miscalculated.
“You idiot!” She turned around, trying to hold her dress up with with hands. Without the buttons on the back to hold it in dress, it was slipping a little.
“Lime green, huh? Interesting choice.” Not what I would have expected. I thought she would be wearing something a bit more dull, like tan.
That set her off. Comparisons of my intelligence to that of a rock and frantic, random flailing about as she tried to hit me ensued. I, naturally, took a few steps back in order to minimize any damage. That just made it worse. She got a bit more peeved when I simply smiled dumbly at her and she started chasing me with little half-hops since her mobility was constricted.
“Calm down already, you're going to trip.”
Usually when I uttered words of caution, something bad happened. This time was no exception. Losing her balance as she tried to pound me right in the face, Alice dove straight into me. I tried to catch her but we both ended up tumbling. I hit my head pretty bad.
“You're heavy as hell,” I complained. Alice had been spared the brunt of the impact thanks to me. My head wanted to shut me off for maintenance but I resisted the urge for the moment. “Satisfied now?” I asked, “That really hurt.”
“You deserve it,” She mumbled, all the same her eyes scanning me to see if there was something seriously wrong with me. One of a kind, truly. Maybe she'd feel guilty in front of Auntie if she didn't at least keep me somewhat in ok shape.
“Hah, well, maybe. I'm sorry about ruining your dress, I really didn't mean it.”
“It's alright, I'll just make a few alterations and it'll be good as new.”
“Really now? That's nice.” I wanted to shut my eyes a little. I was sleepy.
“Oy, are you ok?” I heard her ask. I couldn't really give her an answer. Too sleepy.
“Hehehe, if someone came in right now, they'd think we were doing something dirty... you're looking pretty lewd now, straddling me while half-dressed like that...”
I couldn't hear her response. I'm sure it was an insult or something. It must have been. Well, it didn't matter. I wanted to rest for a short while. She could wake me up later...
--- I kind of really wanted to put a choice up there. But I fear that I would only be enabled further. I'm weak for this sort of stuff and I can't trust you guys.
So the thing that happens to all writers has happened again. The more I think about this sort of setting, the more I feel I just have to do it. It'd be a shame not to put my years of VN/romantic comedy manga experience into something fun and lighthearted. I even had a dream that involved all of this last night.
So I ask: Do an alternate universe story with short fast updates in this setting?
 Hell yes!  Nah, Eastern High has got it covered.  Wait, didn't you say something about other stories with the same style but not in a highschool setting? I'm more interested in those. Hey, aren't you just ripping off Angelic Days?
There you have it. Use the rest of the thread to vote on this/discuss.
And for the record: No, this isn't the worst idea I've ever had. The short where every touhou was Aussie/Kiwi and peppered their dialog with stuff like "she'll be right", "sweet as" and "chunder" probably is. This really kind of was a thing, I'm sorry but I live there. Jandals and barbies ahoy.
It's weird, even after being out of school for years, I still eat this stuff up. You could alternate between this and the new story. That new story in /th is great and all, but I think you could also do a similar scenario with great success. Who knows, the new readers you attract might latch on to your other stories and our numbers could be replenished and bolstered. Though, new readers bring new issues. Would the new one follow your strict "vote and written response" format? I'm down either way.
>>25116 >>25115 I understand how it's a turn-off to have to say something at times. I'm not 100% on what I want to do either. I'm leaning more towards keeping it, however. For the following reasons:
1) It's a deterrent from just reading the latest post, or just the choices and voting without thinking.
2) If there's a contentious vote, it usually presents why people are going for one or the other. This helps people to understand one another or even to change their minds.
3) It can let me know what the voters are thinking and adjust the story accordingly. This is positive because I can explain how they might be mistaken in their assumptions and see if they don't change their mind. It at least lets me combine ideas and intent of things that people want to do. I do it all the time in this story, for example. Even if you don't win a vote.
4) It's not hard to do. You can just say something about the scene, the choice, a character or even that you just really like bloomers. It's valid and can be done in a single sentence. If you want to do more, you do. Hell, even the 'works for me' guy technically passes muster. I've never demanded critique.
Do the cons of a throwaway line really outweigh all of that? People who don't like me still probably won't like me either way. I'd be writing this for the fans anyways, not detractors.
I'll make the next thread for this story in a few hours hopefully, after I get to writing. I know there's not a lot of you, but the vote/discussion is still open if there are any further opinions.
>>25119 I'm entirely honest with my readers and accommodate their intent and desire as best as possible. If anyone ever voices a concern or wants to know something about status or the story, I'll answer gladly and do whatever is possible. I've given my reasons for doing things the way I do and am always open to suggestions or ways for improvement. No one usually makes any other argument than "I don't like you" or "you suck". I don't believe I'm arrogant in any way that affects the development of the story or the eye to eye relationship with my readers. That's all that really matters in interactive fanfiction. Anything but unreasonable, I'd say. But, hey, you've clearly made up your mind about things. I just ask that you keep it out of my threads because it in no way makes the experience better for the readers. Start a thread in /blue/ or something if you want to bitch, I really wouldn't mind. I'm fine with you saying what you like as long as it is constructive - otherwise please refrain from disrupting things.
>>25120 I'd wager that it's posts like this one here that people misinterpret like a personal attack or a sign of stubbornness. It's not meant to be that, but I definitely see where they're coming from. But I prefer being forward even if it hurts peoples' sensibilities. Hard to tell on the internet if someone isn't just being an ass for the sake of being an ass but it really isn't my intent when I post in my stories. Clarity is. This site in particular has an unfortunate legacy of damaged expectations and insularity which makes things more volatile.
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I guess that's most of my readers voting there. It looks like I'll do it, after all. After the next update for this. Not sure where to put it, thinking either /th/ or /others/. The former has the other story and the latter doesn't feel wholly appropriate.
>>25124 You don't have to ever really think up anything interesting. You automatically get an 'A' for minimum effort in my book. You know, maybe someday you'll feel inspired and hold the key to a story in your hand, but I'm a realist. I appreciate people just trying even if it's in their own way.
>what happened to Violet Sky? You'll hate me for this. The short answer is that it's still on. The longer answer is as follows: I kept expecting/hoping that someone would say something further in the last vote or someone else would vote. I think it may have been a tie and/or I was explaining the meaning of the vote to people who were making assumptions that were due to me not being clear enough. Waiting for potential revotes as well. It seemed like at least one person was on the verge of coming to some sort of useful conclusion. In the end, no one else bothered to follow up. So I waited, saw that nothing was forthcoming... was a bit let down by that and then real life kicked in; A couple of long trips, things going the wrong way in different ways and a period of intense work. So it was forgotten/de-prioritized. And since no one brought it up either on the boards or irc (generally the talk there is anything but my stories), I haven't said anything about it. Yeah, not cool, I know. Sorry. I would resume it but I want the wait to have at least not been a total waste. So a revote or something else to jolt it into life would be nice. If not I'll probably eventually drink a lot and cry enough to just bear it and move on. I wouldn't bet on that being that soon, though. Yeah that was kind of a joke. Not very funny, sorry. But I really am lacking a bit of drive in that department.