I poured through a few documents, trying to maybe find anything relevant buried within the text. A surprisingly common cause for any misfortune was the actions of a rogue magician. A witch, in the bad children-eating sense. Hexes and curses and spells with the power of dominion over others were the more common agents. But their elaboration and execution varied as wildly as the types of casters described. Most significantly, Alice did not seem to have any books that actually explained that sort of magic. It was natural, I felt. She had no interest in that sort of magic or doing others harm. At least not in such indirect ways.
A lot of the text was, well, of dubious quality. Some of it read like hearsay and baseless rumor. Particularly any reference to love potions. They always contained either mythical items, required a strangely unsound ritual or simply could not produce the intended effect. From what I could see, of the last category, you were lucky if you ended up only vomiting violently. Death was certain for the drinker for a lot of other formulas. It was so striking that I thought that it was maybe purposefully hazardous. So as to discourage any would-be fool and punish anyone who actually went through with it. Alice did not care about material luxury nor whimsical folly like using magic to alter someone's feelings. If there was anything to the idea, I wasn't going to find it in those books.
The most consistent cause for memory loss was, sadly enough, a curse. That didn't give me much to go on since curses were not 'hard' magic. They often involved spirits and things that went outside the normal scope of energy and powers. There was usually an external force, besides the caster, that kept the effects continuous. That was the distinction between a more direct spell that drained energy and a curse that sapped vitality. Still, it probably wasn't a curse. Usually marks appeared on the victim's body, quite prominently. One text equivalenced that curious side effect to a way for the hexer to brag and show off.
There was another possibility.
A spell could affect a person for a long time if it somehow kept being recast or some sort of bond was established with the caster. In a sense, a healing spell theoretically operated the same way. The caster poured his energy into the wounded and created a bond that, even after the initial casting, supplied the wounded with extra energy. It was like an almost imperceptible string that lingered between magician and target. It took a conscious decision by the magician to sever the link, or a total completion of the intended spell. Of course, that was a crude simplification and a more detailed explanation would include the types of forces that acted in the scenario and the nature of the medium (the material world).
It also dawned upon me that it wasn't necessarily a spell. A spell could have caused something in Alice's mind to overload a little and then she couldn't remember for some other reason. I recalled the spell I tried on her the other day – it made her forget where and when she was for a short while.
I was grasping at straws, I knew, but I didn't really have any other leads.
The last distinct explanation that I could find in the reference material was elegant but highly unlikely. A seal – the very same stuff that I was supposedly learning more about. Seals worked on minds as well, as well as spirits. The problem was that seals are relatively easy to detect. Somewhat like a curse. I had felt nothing obvious from Alice. I hadn't been looking hard but something as intricate as a seal on her memories would be noticeable at once. Well, likely enough anyways.
Anything else was just mere speculation. Maybe if I had access to books specializing on the subject of the mind and how magic affected it. I thought of that large library. Or maybe I had to consult a more experienced magician. Either way, I wasn't exactly completely lost.
I smirked a little as I put everything away. In a way, I was continuing my study. I was learning on my own and getting to know more about magic and the type of world magicians lived in.
Reimu was sweeping along the front when I came back. I had spent most of the day looking over books and notes in the hope of finding something conclusive. An easy answer eluded me, but at least I wasn't completely lost.
“Hey, how did it go?” She greeted me lazily, like absolutely nothing was amiss.
“I found some leads, still need to decide how to follow things.”
“Oh, look at you!” She giggled, “You sound so dependable now.”
“I'm just trying my best. You're way more dependable than me,” I thought back to all the work I've seen her put into the shrine and her job. But I wasn't about to get stuck in a game of niceties, even if we both meant it, “How's Alice doing?”
“Hm, she's about the same. Walked around the shrine a little, had to show her where everything was again. When I left her a half hour ago, she was taking another nap. She does that a lot. Maybe she's up again.”
“...hopefully she'll improve bit by bit.”
“You're really sweet, you know that right?”
“What makes you say that?” I shrugged, trying to hide my embarrassment.
“Oh, nothing,” She smiled.
 Check in with Alice and check for seals (and curses ) on her  Help Reimu out and discuss the mystical properties of the shrine
[X] Check in with Alice and check for seals (and curses ) on her
I think, for now, this is the best step we can take to curing Alice. While it may not substantiate to anything, it's important to let Alice know what we're trying to do and how we're trying to go about it. Her understanding and cooperation is key in all of this.
I decided to check in with Alice. It was good timing too – she had just woken up and was looking around the room like a lost child.
“It's gotten so dark,” she said like it was unusual.
“It'll be evening soon,” I told her, “the sun is going down at the moment.”
“The day went by so quickly, I thought it would be longer...” She titled her head as if trying to remember something. After a moment of contemplation, she turned to me, “You were gone, right?”
“Yeah, I had something I needed to do, sorry about leaving you by yourself.”
“It's alright, Reimu was nice to me. She gave me crackers and brought me tea. It tasted good.”
I sat down next to her.
“Mind if I look at you for a moment?” I asked.
“Is there something wrong?” She tilted her head further, not understanding.
“There might be something making you feel a little weird and I want to see if I can't maybe fix it.”
“I feel fine though. A little tired, but fine.”
“This will only take a moment,” I gently took her hand. She didn't resist, but there was a curious emotion in her face I couldn't quite understand.
“...ok,” she gave in meekly.
I stared at her and tried to reach out at her with my mind. I felt her warmth through her hands and I tried to look for a seal on her like I had with the shrine. I reached and probed lightly, trying to find some indication of something that wasn't supposed to be there.
I could not feel anything abnormal. I checked again, careful to not miss anything.
Alice looked away, her expression becoming a little troubled.
“What's wrong?” I asked, finishing up my scan.
“You were looking at me... really seriously... and I started to feel weird. My face got kind of hot and my heart started to go a little faster,” she confessed. “I thought that maybe I wasn't supposed to do that so I looked away to make it stop. It's not really working...”
“It's alright, Alice,” I reassured her gently, “it's not a weird to feel like that.”
“Really?”Alice turned her head back towards me sheepishly. Her trusting response was sincere enough to induce guilt in me. She added, “My hand is also kind of numb but it also feels nice somehow.”
I smiled but kept a business-like attitude, “Shall we move on then? Could you tell me if you have some sort of mark on your body?”
“I don't think so. Do you want to look?”
There was a part of me that wanted to say “yes” and act less than nobly. I managed restraint, as a respect to my mistress. I just asked, “You've changed clothes, right? It's good enough if you tell me if you noticed any weird marks while getting changed.”
“Umm... not really.” She put up a finger to her lip, pensively. She told me, “I thought my butt looked a little weird, but I called Reimu over and she said that nothing was wrong. I looked at myself in the mirror after that and my skin was a bit paler than on my face but about the same color.”
“That's good then.” I let go of her hand with a nod.
Satisfied, I spent some time talking to her. She didn't have much to say apart from comments on the shrine and Reimu. It really was like she was seeing everything for the first time, she even was impressed by the torii and the size of the courtyard. I listened to what she had to say patiently. Being nice to her wasn't a bad thing and pleasant in its own strange way. Time passed quickly, too quickly, and we took a break in order to have dinner. There was nothing eventful about the experience. It was almost too idyllic.
Afterward, I excused myself for a while. I went to the room where we had performed magic and found it as dark and desolate as the previous night. The dark didn't really bother me so I sat by myself near the door. I wasn't searching for any new clues or looking for answers – the seclusion just made it easier to process my thoughts. It felt like there was a backlog of things that had been building up since the previous night and I hadn't allowed things to run their course. Of course that was just a convenient way to avoid taking any more action right away.
There was a knock at the door. Reimu slid the door open, letting in a little light.
“She's asleep once again,” she said.
“I wonder if that's also a symptom,” I mused out loud.
“Maybe. I hear magic can be very exhausting.”
“I would say. But then again, I'm just a beginner and can't do much.”
“So you think, but you're doing plenty.”
“You're trying your best to help her, I think that merits mention,” Reimu offered. I guessed that maybe she thought that I was beating myself up.
“Thanks for the thought,” I told her, “but I'm fine.” I was trying to help Alice without worrying too much. Maybe I was lying to myself but I tried to focus on how to improve myself instead of just stopping at blaming my shortcomings. I should have been able to help her and maybe even protect her, as conceited as it sounded even to me. If only because a magician should always be prepared and on his guard. Alice taught me that lesson and I had only managed to get the better of her that one time; I had no doubt that Alice would never again fall for any trick I had.
I couldn't really explain all of that to Reimu with words. It was a gulf born from different experiences. It was more convenient to assume that, in any case. I didn't want to worry her any more.
“You'll manage,” she told me, “I believe you can do it. And I'll help you out if I can.”
“Thanks, that means a lot.”
I left it there. Truth was, I wanted to talk to her some more but I realized that she had been probably pushing herself all day. From what Alice had told me, she was very mindful of her and almost never left her alone for very long. It was admirable how she had behaved. So even though I wanted to have a long talk about the shrine and the spiritual phenomena around it, I simply wished her a good night's rest.
Then I decided to turn in as well. I was going to get up early in the morning, after all.
 Head to the large library next to the mansion for a consultation  Bring Marisa into the mix
[X] Head to the large library next to the mansion for a consultation
Like everyone said, Patchy seems more helpful for immediate consultation. I also don't think she'll ask any weird questions and generally just complicate the situation, which Marisa has the potential of doing.
Sorry for not updating. I have been writing in between the many short updates for the highschool story and I should be done sometime in the next twelve hours. I just kept having to rewrite Patchy since I couldn't get her attitude right.
It was surprising how quickly I arrived. I didn't have a map and it was still a little dark when I left. The forest felt like a familiar shortcut than a maze to navigate. I was still wary of getting lost and doubly so of encountering any hostile creatures. If I ever had the bad luck to run into a feral youkai, I'd probably have to run. I was sure that the standard magician response was anything but that. But I had to work with what little talents I had.
The main gates were unattended, so I just let myself in. I walked past a large front garden. I avoided the front doors, not sure where they led. I followed the route I took with Marisa last time, entering through a door on the side of the building and up a dark stairwell. I passed by a young girl with wings, dressed up in some sort of uniform. She carried a bucket with both hands (even though it was empty) and ignored me as I passed. It suited me just fine.
The library itself was still as strangely quiet and frantic as the last time I had visited. Row upon row of shelf filled the large space while books were replaced and maintained by an army of assistants. I navigated the artificial corridors, certain that I knew where I was going.
“All by yourself this time?” Patchouli asked nonchalantly from behind a thick tome she was reading. She sat behind the same large table as last time with a plethora of books scattered about the surface. She spoke as soon as she had seen me, with enough natural poise to make me believe that I had been expected.
“That's right, I've come to seek your help.” I neared the table with some trepidation. There was something deeply unsettling at how everything had worked out so flawlessly for me.
“Have a seat then,” a chair nearby moved by action of some unseen force, “would you like some tea?”
“I'm good, thanks,” came my laconic reply. I couldn't read her at all.
“And why do you tense up at the prospect of a talk?” she asked. “After all, you've come to me.”
She saw right through me. I wasn't sure how. Last time we talked, her comments had been scathing but were mostly directed at Marisa. Her relaxed speaking style, with the occasional pause, had the opposite effect of disarming me. I was a little combative as a result, “there's no way you can say that this is an enviroment I can relax in.”
“I'm sorry to hear that. Books put my mind at ease. Knowledge is power and being surrounded by knowledge grants me strength.”
“So are you willing to help me?”
“I haven't asked you to leave. If it is within the realm of possibility, I will assist.”
“Well then, this is about Alice.”
“Come to complain about how she holds you back? That's the sign of a competent apprentice – and one who does not yet fully understand the ways of magic. I won't enable you without getting some benefit in return.” Her eyes were as cold and focused as Alice's often were. I could sense that 'will', that drive which set magicians apart from normal people. There was always a price to pay when it came to magic.
“No, that's not my current problem, I don't wish for power as an end result. Perhaps as a means of getting what I want, but that's not fundamental.”
“You lie,” she sneered. It sent a chill down my spine. “It's clear as day why you're here,” her voice gained presence, reverberating off dusty tomes and shelves and echoing throughout the quiet library. She continued, “you desire power, power to do as you please. You lust for it and are driving relentlessly in its pursuit. I could tell even before you entered this sanctuary of mine. A singularity of will like that can be felt even across distances.”
“I've only come to help Alice,” I insisted.
“I smell it on you, that desire to gain more.” She looked straight at me and laughed. It was a genuine reaction that seemed to surprise us both. Patchouli grinned, looking highly amused, “I see – you don't even realize it yourself. There's a stench about you, of one who desires to satiate himself. Surely you must realize it. It's how you've managed to deliver yourself straight to me. You simply followed your instinct and used it to find exactly where I was.”
“I don't know what you're talking about. I just used the same route Marisa took last time.”
“Deny it all you want, it won't do you any good.”
“Alright, alright,” I could see that the conversation wasn't going anywhere. “Let's assume that what you're saying is true and let's assume that I still want to help Alice, what would you have me do?”
“The price for power is always something dear to oneself. Whether it's time, happiness or even life itself. I'll help you realize your ambition if you offer me something suitable as payment.”
“Can't you just tell me about my current problem? Look – we were manipulating an energy flow at the shrine when something went wrong and she ended up losing all her memories.”
“And you wish for retribution?” she smirked, “to set things right and punish whatever it is caused the problem.”
“That's where you're wrong. I simply want to fix things, not punish anyone or anything.”
“Altruistic, or so it would seem, but difficult to verify your sincerity.” She got up from her chair. Patchouli moved around the table with a swiftness that belied her usual meek and almost lethargic mannerisms. Her eyes seemed to glow with a cold, almost cruel light. Standing only a pace away, she smirked down at me. With a snort she spoke again, “you've come a long way since we last met. I see your potential clearly now, it's something best not wasted. It's potent, raw, almost sickening in its intensity. My instincts as a magus is to contain and exploit you for my own purposes. As a woman, I feel a more carnal desire for someone who could add significantly to my ability with his seed.” She leaned over me, staring at me with unnerving levels of concentration. I saw a struggle within her, trying to act calm in the face of an overwhelming impulse. “I cannot let you act independently. Your development must be directed towards non-destructive areas.”
“I haven't changed,” I told her, cowed as I was by her blunt admissions. “I may have improved in my technique but I haven't increased in power at all.”
“Incorrect. You're at least as potent as your master, I feel. To come so far in so little time is almost fantastical. But you don't seem to be conscious of the fact. You need to be... managed and sculpted into an upstanding magic user. To let you go would be an act of ultimate neglect on my part. Your aura is too impressive to ignore.”
“Say, won't you become mine?” she asked demurely, her expression softening and degrading towards a feminine blush. “I'll treat you well and take care of your needs.”
“You can't be serious,” my incredulity couldn't be any greater.
“If you cooperate we can fix whatever is wrong with Alice together. Then I can make you develop in ways you would never think possible.” She whispered softly into my ear, “enticing, right? All you have to do is relax and say yes. I'll take care of the rest.” She grabbed my arm gently and placed to the side of her ample bosom. Underneath the soft sensation I felt quickened thumps come from within her ribcage. “You can feel how excited my heart is, right?”
My gut reaction to this is to scramble away. The offer is tempting, beneficial, and easy. The keyword here is "easy". Arc has taken great lengths to essentially deal with this problem himself. When I voted to go to Voile, I didn't even consider that Patchouli be interested in Arc.
So what to do? The promise of power from Patchy is very real. Arc would become something incredible. However, seeing as we did not take the "true magician" path and take advantage of others, I don't think Arc should accept. His path thus far has been ridiculed and downplayed by Alice several times, but we have stayed true to it, right? Arc didn't force himself on Alice, he didn't "use" Marisa, and he didn't choose to exploit his relationship with Reimu to empower his line. We have been consistent on that.
But in the face of all this, I think if he actually accepted in this scenario, Alice would approve. She always told him to use any tools at his disposal to become stronger and by accepting this offer, he'd be a true magician in her eyes.
This isn't as simple as, "Oh, I have to be faithful to Alice." It's a whole lot more complicated than that. The best I can do is to go with my first reaction and be true to my own nature.
She's really creeping me out... And more importantly, I don't think any part of agreeing to her could be a good idea. Let's stick with what we know and maybe consult someone else on helping Alice.
Patchy did give us some interesting things to think about though. Arc having that much raw power? I wonder if any non-mage has noticed, and how that has possibly affected our relationship with them... Assuming most if not all mages we were in contact with noticed our power.
>>25167 I want to say that that's a great post. A pleasure reading it even if it just comes down to your own personal feeling.
Still, I think you guys are looking at this a bit simplistically. I tried to strike a certain tone with Patchouli which you're overlooking. It's not supposed to be a clear-cut choice of what ideals you follow. I'll be giving it another day to see if further reflection changes your opinion or reinforces it. There's plenty of arguments for either side, some more potent and immediate than others.
Late to the party, but the situation demands heavy thought.
[x] Scramble away
Something totally unexpected ripped Alice's mind wide open during an otherwise mundane, demonstrative lesson. As well as the chronic, unpredictable fevers that cap with delirium in a being that isn't supposed to get sick. What is to say that a force of similar power cannot make Patchouli's normally cool temperament flip in the direction of verbal disinhibition, presumptuous grandiosity, and sexual aggression, without any consideration of the circumstances in what is an apparent crisis?
Sure, Patchouli is likely to be surrounded by layers of wards and seals in her library, but she made a relatively recent excursion outside it into the forest for the Walpurgis bacchanalia, and Alice was taking specific countermeasures and still got brain-fried.
As to why Mima wouldn't just control Arc directly, I'm assuming 1) Alice did more to protect Arc than herself, 2) Alice's seal could be some absolute protection, or 3) Mima's desires require consent on some level.
Now why do this to Patchouli? I'm thinking it's possible forming a new bond with Patchouli would override any constrictive/protective enchantments Alice has on Arc, or remove the seal Alice placed on Mima's brand. Or she's just sewing chaos, hoping Arc does something interesting.
Honestly, now I'm not going to assume anyone but Reimu and--if she holds affection for her (presumed) former disciple--Marisa, to not be vulnerable to Mima's mindfuckery.
I want to see Mima, but if she's the prime mover, then all roads should lead to her in some way or another. Confirming with Marisa that Patch and Alice are acting really weird would be my next move.
>>25688 I imagine Mima's grand plan is to subtly erode Alice's powers through our dreams, leaving her body open to possession. Or perhaps develop us as a warlock and then leech our powers.
Patchouli probably WOULD be able to train us much better, faster, and more effectively than Alice, but the offer she's made makes it seem like we'd be surrendering our will to her. "Relax and say yes, I'll take care of the rest." Uh huh. It's too easy, like others have said. I'm sensing strings attached.
"Sorry Patchy, I like you and all, but would you really accept an apprentice who'd so readily abandon his mistress?"
I can't imagine Patchy actually trying to seduce someone, so I'm thinking she's acting this way to appeal to our lusts that she admitted detecting. STAND STRONG ARC!
On the other hand, Patchy'd probably be sexing us up every other day for the power boost, and that's just fine with me.
Patchouli's excitement was not just limited to the enthusiastic palpitations in her chest. Her presence, for lack of a better way of putting it, projected from her person and wrapped me around in an absolute embrace. There was electricity in the air. It felt that at the slightest move a jolt of static discharge would make me comfortably numb. I would accept her. And why not? Circumstances conspired to make it that way. There was safety, of sorts, in giving in - in giving a nod of my head or token verbal assent. She would take care of me and it would be a very agreeable exchange.
And that was the trap that I could not deliver myself unto.
There was no easy way to refuse. Where words failed, actions would have to suffice. There was nothing left but to act on instinct. Quickly, effortlessly, I brushed the rational aside. That would only serve to slow me down. My body knew what to do even if I didn't care to admit it.
With a quick and sudden jerk, I ripped away from her bosom. Her grip slacked enough for me to twist away and stand up. At once my head swam. My vision blurred. It felt like my legs were pudding and my shoes were made of lead. My mind had not expected it but my viscera was in control. With as much grace as my body could muster, I staggered away from the table.
It wasn't a show of dexterity nor fleet-footedness by any stretch. The staggering only got worse as I tried to put more distance between the magician and myself.
“You're not going to leave so easily,” Patchouli informed me quietly, making no effort to give chase. Her confidence may have been due to whatever it was that she had done to me. Or what she was capable of doing.
I ignored her, bolting into a random aisle of books.
“I told you,” her voice permeated the air, coming from nowhere and everwhere at once, “you cannot be allowed to act independently. If you collaborate, we'll be able to avert potential disaster. Else, you are a threat. Not only to yourself but to ever magician and magic being in the land.”
My legs were failing me big time. My already pathetic dash (or stagger) had turned into a even less sightly lurch. I stopped, leaning against a bookshelf, my body entirely disabused of the original plan of a quick escape. My knees felt like they were about to buckle. Loathe as it was to give up its temporary control, my instincts let my brain switch back on.
“I'm not going to abandon Alice so easily!” I yelled out, that being the first coherent thought I was able to muster. Not very inspired but I began to hope to distract her somehow.
“I have never asked you to,” her words were a whisper, coming from behind me. My instinct wished me to turn around, but I knew that there were only books behind me. She spoke quietly, measuredly and calmly, “you may still maintain deference towards someone and do your best to help them while collaborating with another. Obeisance does not mean abandonment of ideals or goals.”
“It doesn't matter,” I said, “I have other priorities. No matter what your offer is or how much it may help, I'm not interested right now.”
“Your interest would certainly be a boon,” she said as she placed a hand on my shoulder, “but it certainly isn't a prerequisite.”
She had appeared from my left somehow. I hadn't seen her coming. It didn't seem like she could be very strong but my body was too dulled to resist her grip. Her fingernails dug through my clothes and into my flesh as I struggled, drawing a little blood from the scratches. Her eyes were distant and unsympathetic, almost all emotion missing from her face. There was no room for negotiation, I saw. Subduing me like she was trying was an act of mercy. I did not doubt for a moment that she would resort to more certain and direct efforts if she needed to.
I wasn't going to give up so easily.
“Relax. Cooperate with me,” she instructed softly. “It will not be unpleasant. I'll get you the help you need.”
“...can't you just accept that I'm not the problem here?”
My answered wearied her. A soft sigh escaped her lips, an unexpected sign of humanity behind a veil of focus and determination. “As I've said, you don't realize it yourself perhaps. But you are like an overfilled bucket. If you are unable to balance and get rid of your excess contents, you will spill and make a mess at the slightest of disturbances. Chances are that you'll hurt not only yourself but anyone else that may be around you... I would temper you, at my own benefit as well, but mostly for your own. There is a price to pay for everything. Everything comes from something and has laws governing its nature.”
Not waiting (or caring) for a reaction from me, she pushed me back onto the large wooden shelf. The shelf's incredible size and the weight of the scores of books kept it from moving in the slightest. Once again she took my hand, bringing it around her slender waist. It was a forced embrace. Her hand eased off my shoulder and instead she began to run her fingers through my hair, gently tracing a path from my forehead to my ears. I was absolutely drained, unable to coax my muscles into coordinated action. Her hand soon traced a path down to my chin, where she held my face towards me.
“You want this,” Patchouli showed an enigmatic smile, “or perhaps it's more accurate to say that you've wanted this. Not just from me, but from the others in your life as well. A would-be lothario has no business acting like he's anything but selfish.” Her determined lips met mine and she held me in place, assertively doing as she pleased. The oral invasion did not end there. “Mmmph,” she let out a soft sound just as she began to sloppily play with my lips. I was like fresh clay, pliable and moist. Her tongue began to invade my mouth, seeking out my counterpart. Wet sounds of the sucking and smacking of lips echoed in my ears. It was not unpleasant.
And she was on course to have her way with me, kissing me deeply and for as long as she desired. My breath began to run out in face of the intense assault. There was a last, almost half-hearted suggestion from my overtaxed mind. I did not resist until I was sure I had an opportunity. The magician's lung capacity was not infinite and she broke away from me, a string of saliva gleaming between our faces. Her face now showed more emotion, the woefully human signs of perverse excitement. A good look. An extremely sensual look. Reason crumbled quickly when battered for sustained moments of exposure.
My body was still weak (despite the stirrings of excitement) so I tried to focus as best as I could. I'd have only one chance. Grabbing her forcefully, pressing her body as close as possible, I tried my last card. Placing my free hand onto her chest, I muttered the words I had to and concentrated my energies into her. My heart skipped a beat. I said a wordless prayer, hoping that the trick that had worked on Alice would work on her.
Patchouli's grip on me slackened and then yielded entirely. Her hands lamely flopped down, powerless. Her eyes glazed over and became unfocused. I let go of her, letting her sit on the floor, staring at the bookshelf. She looked as harmless as a baby.
Wasting no time, I slunk away. I couldn't move very quickly. My legs still felt encumbered and uncooperative. But I managed to get closer to the exit. I retraced my steps as best I could, ignoring the activity around me. Books were still being shelved and the same magical spectacles I had witnessed on my way in were underway.
I ran into trouble at the door.
“That was a creative trick,” Patchouli showed a smile of bemusement between her words, “not something I would have expected you to know. Your creativity is even more reason to keep a close watch on you.”
“I'm leaving,” I announced, more bark than bite behind those words.
“You've played your hand,” she guessed accurately, “your trick won't work twice on me.”
“Maybe I have, maybe I haven't.”
“A bluff will get you nowhere. Now stop acting childish and submit. I really don't wish to harm you in any way.”
“Then let me go.”
“Is that you're capable of saying?” she clicked her tongue, sounding annoyed. “Let's settle this once and for all. If you move closer to this door I'll have to put you in your place.”
I did just that. I moved towards the door, damning the consequences. My forlorn hope was the humblest of spells. Just as it looked like she would react, I preempted her. With an intensity that even surprised me, my ball of light flew from my hand like lightning. It went straight for her head, blinding her for what I hoped was long enough. I scrambled towards the door with a last burst of energy, getting past the stunned magician easily.
The handle wouldn't turn. It was as if the mechanism was completely petrified. I pulled and pushed on the door to no avail. No other obvious exit was around either.
“Are you quite done?” a recovered Patchouli asked.
“You've prepared for all eventualities.”
“I told you, everything has its price,” she smirked, “your own saliva provided an excellent base for the barrier set on the door. You may possess raw power but you do not have the required finesse nor knowhow to undo it easily. You are in my home and I take pride in my preparations.”
“So... unless I defeat you I won't be getting out of here today?”
“You would have to overpower both the barrier and myself. Not exactly a simple proposition. Or you could abandon the silly fantasy and work with me. I will not prioritize your current concerns but we may yet work up to them. The more you resist, the longer it will take to get there.”
“Well then,” she raised an eyebrow, “are we going to do this the easy way or the painful way?”
 Fight her  Give up - Wow, month and a half huh? Didn't even realize it. Not being reminded about it didn't help.
Woah, I drop this story to read ToY and I come back to this... I don't know what to say. No, wait, I do.
For starters, I'm not sure Patchouli has bad intentions. I think that she's being honest in her worry about his influence on others. What if our MC is the reason for the failure of that spell? If she's telling the truth, he's a danger to Alice and to himself. Maybe she is more capable than her to 'correct' that.
Patchouli's lack of concern about his opinion is, too, understandable. She said that he's not only a threat to all magicians (of which she is a member) but also something useful. And since he is, she will, as most magicians do, take it upfront and damn the consequences.
Now, let's step back and ask ourselves why did he go to Voile's library? Because he wanted to solve Alice's problem by himself. This was deemed to us as the right thing to do given that there is no hurry nor danger involved (as far as we know) in Alice's 'issue' and a lot of other reasons that we already discussed. Let me ask yet another rethorical question: what is more important: helping Alice or our pride? I think most of us will agree on the first, but that doesn't mean we have to forcefully renounce the latter. This is not as clear-cut as that.
That's because, despite having good reasons, she is still forcing her will upon him. And why not? Like I said, might makes right in the mind of mages. But Alice is not like that and neither is him. He has already made his choice of a master and it is working just fine: According to Patchouli, we aren't doing so bad in the magical departament. According to the last three threads, we aren't doing so bad in the 'growing up' thing either. And, above all, I trust Alice (like I've been doing since the beginning) I won't change my belief just because the road has gotten harder-I will change it when I believe that I'm going in the wrong road althogheter-and I still don't.
Now, you can say that all of that just now was pointless: she has him trapped; this is a foregone conclusion. She also told him that 'more fighting will only be harmful' Patchouli's probably right so there is no choice, right? Wrong; there always is a choice. It may not be between 'Staying' and 'Escaping' (although I hope it is) but it will be between 'Yielding' and 'Fighting' which will make a difference even if the end result is the same.
I hate making references, but I think it is appropiate for this situation: 'A man chooses, a slave obeys'
I don't care what her justification is. Rape (or sexual assault if you want to be stingy with definitions) is not on my list of things I want done to me. Additionally, all her talk of giving in, obeisance, close watch, etc. all implies that working with Patchouli means sacrificing our freedom.
Frankly, Patchy has proven herself to be untrustworthy and unsafe to be around. She doesn't care about our opinion and will do whatever she feels like to us, including, I'm sure, magical experimentation of the non-sexy kind.
>>25848 I feel being tied to a table and experimented on is an outcome of trying to fight her than giving up. I don't see Arc winning a fight as he's lacking in skill and Patchy seems to be having a good health day, meaning she'll be especially tough to beat.
There's also the fact that Arc is responding immaturely to things and denying that he (or who he interacted with, coughmimacough) is part of the problem.
>>25849 Just because a Magician (she stopped being human long ago) said that he's acting 'childish' doesn't mean he is. There will be time to solve his issue but, since she lacks our same priorities and is keen to force her will on us, I don't see any reason to cooperate with her in any way at this point.
>>25850 I'm not saying this because she alone said it but by how Arc denies outright the fact he might be in the center of it.
It still doesn't change the fact that Arc's badly outgunned and the only way for it to end well is Marisa paying a visit. Another way for it to end badly is whatever thing Arc has acting up again and knocking Patchouli out.
>>25851 Sorry to barge in, but your strongest argument seems to be 'we're fucked anyway'
Like I said in my vote, and I was quoting the author, there aren't meaningless votes in this story. It's important for him to keep having his desire for freedom despite the fact that this is so one-sided that it doesn't qualify as a battle.
>>25854 Yeah, every choice is supposed to be a valid outcome but it also carries its own set of consequences. These can vary and might be offset by results that could take a long time to manifest. So while there's no objectively 'good' nor 'bad' choices it really depends on what the readers hope to accomplish and are willing to stand for. A choice's consequence can be anything from altering a relationship to a beginning of a change of ideals and values. I realize that I couldn't possibly get any more vague but I want to avoid spoiling anything or appearing to be too biased. I will say this of the current choice, however: the options do not necessarily translate into the ideal results. It's not meant to be a kneejerk reaction at any rate.
[x] Fight As much as I like Patchouli, we might have to break some kneecaps to preserve our agency in restoring Alice.
Just out of curiousity, Patchouli mentioned that we are "At least as strong as [Alice]". Did we accidently absorb her power? Did Mima push Alice's mind/soul/power/orwhatever into us for her own ends? Without Alice, Mima's mark would likely be active again.
>>25857 Don't vote more than once. Even if (hopefully) you're being facetious. Since it's hard to tell over the internet I'll cover my bases and say that Arc is a normal guy in most regards not an action star or any such caricature.
On one hand, my gut reaction is to resist to the very end. But let's look at this objectively. Arc seems to have absorbed quite a bit of power from Alice despite his somewhat simple training. Forging a bond with Patchouli could possibly start that process again making Arc even stronger. If being on par with Alice's energy is where Arc is at, then it stands to be reasoned that she has little left to actually teach him. Going with a new and stronger master will help Arc in the long run and possibly allow him to become more to Alice than what he already is since it seems that their master/student relationship has thrown up some barriers between them that Alice does not want to cross. Arc needs only to be subordinate to Patchouli for as long as he can learn from her.
I vote to give up and join forces with her. Her logic is sound, it will be *mostly* for his benefit. Trust has nothing to do with this, it's about seeking greater power. Having access to Voile will allow Arc to progress in any direction he pleases, should he have even marginal freedom.
[x] Give up
Either way, I'm on the edge of seat here. I guess this could be called the climax of the story? Or is there more coming? Some final boss battle against Mima, perhaps?
"They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -Benjamin Franklin
Any safety offered by joining a molesting Patchouli would certainly be both little and temporary. And agreement would certainly be giving up essential liberty, given her talk of obedience.
[x] Fight her.
The groin is a human weak spot. Patchouli is physically nearly human and sickly at that. Furthermore, a physical attack might catch a magician dealing with a magician off guard. -[x] If it is feasible, a knee to the groin might be in order.
I'm looking to update this more regularly but because of the long gap between updates I'm still going to wait a little while longer (a day or so) just so that any readers who haven't checked in get a chance to see this.
...some of this reasoning is divorced from reality as well. Like it's a super robot show and guts and willpower solves everything. It's not an existentialist trap guys.
>>25864 I figured but sometimes the things said by people on the internet are meant seriously. I'd veto a really stupid write in but it doesn't mean that some people wouldn't bandwagon and/or try to derail things. My main objection is making it seem like an actual vote instead of just a comment/joke. Votespam is serious business and I deal with all too often. Sometimes people will reword their choice to make it seem less obvious that they're the same person. Having to deal with moderation would make anyone wary.
If I may provide an additional reason to fight: To prevent Patchouli from earning the wrath of Suika/Marisa/Reimu/EX-Keine dragging Moukou along. I can't imagine any of our friends would be at all happy with our being kidnapped, enslaved, and raped by Patchouli.
Fighting need not be purely physical. We can probably drop these names on her while dodging/whatever the author has planned for this vote.
>>25879 So instead you would rather him fight uselessly against her only to be captured and done with what she will anyways? All in all potentially wiping his chance for helping Alice out in this, and putting him on worse terms with Patchy to boot. We were the ones who came to her for help, to expect help for free with how this story has been is a bit foolish. This is her price, and it seems as though she will take it whether or not we want to give it.
Fuck it. The votes are about even from a glance and there doesn't seem to be much in the way of consensus. So I'll just lead the way and compromise. It won't hurt the story to fuse the majority of the ideas behind either branch. This railroading should get us moving forward. Just think of it being the author casting his own supervote for now. If you violently object to the results once I update do tell and I might retcon if it's too offensive to too many. Update sometime later. Might take a while but I really want to get back to daily updates so I'm going to try not to be lazy/busy.
Finally, have a Yuuka for no real story-related reason.
>>25880 I hardly think the OP would give us a "you can fight, but it's gonna happen" option. So far he hasn't done much railroading, and he's only now doing it to move things along.
We may not win, but just giving up because someone is tougher than us isn't how we should be playing. Otherwise any Touhou would just pin us to the ground and demand whatever they want, and we'd have to give it to them because they're stronger.
Fight, outwit, escape. Don't give up just because you're weaker.
I just hope we don't end up Patchy's mana battery.
>>25886 but you are ignoring the point that she is probably one of the few that can actually help us solve this, and that we ourselves went to her for help. I doubt Marisa could help, and while Eirin might be able to do something this was caused by something magical in nature so Patchy is probably the best bet. She isn't commanding complete slavery, just that she has a hand in guiding our development. Unless I misunderstood, that is how it seemed to me.
“Can't I make one final appeal for reasonableness?” I whined. There was no other way of describing it. I knew I was just wasting time. Patchouli's grave expression told me everything I needed to know about my situation.
“All that needed to be said, has been said. Comply or resist – either way stop wasting time.”
It was like I was a cornered beast. I had no way out but through her. My thoughts were a mess and hopes of simply muddling through were long since dashed. The truth was that I had already played my trump card. I hadn't gotten away in time, meaning that I had overestimated my abilities. It was pointless to try again - Patchouli would not fall for the same trick twice. And even if she did, what then? Violate a barrier, forcing through my way to freedom? Impractical. I didn't have the knowhow or raw power to do that.
Alice's stern lessons came back to me. Not too long ago she had warned me to be prepared. To always have a plan, something to go for. And I had nothing. She was right, my main plan of running away and hoping to regroup really didn't have much of a chance in the real world. Certainly I lacked the critical eye or experience to have observed my opponent and determined her weakness too. Patchouli hadn't shown her hand. She hadn't even cast any obvious spells. I had been weakened and dealt blows without even knowing how or when they came. While I was sure that I was at the end of my rope, Patchouli could just be warming up.
It was enough to make me want to laugh. So I did. I let out a dark, self-mocking laugh. Perhaps it was the first sign that I was losing it. Nothing was as it seemed. I had been spared while Alice was struck with the worst of magic gone awry. An ally and source of knowledge was instead a sultry and controlling force. Even before all that, I could never tell just what was going on with my mistress nor why my magic wouldn't work as well as I wished it to. Perhaps I wasn't cut out to learn magic after all. I was way over my head.
“I want to give up, you know,” I told the dour magician, “I don't really have any further recourse and it's not smart to keep on fighting. But,” and there was the key contradiction in how I felt, “capitulation isn't something that sits well with me. I've been stubborn thus far. It hasn't always worked out for me but I can't give it up so easily.”
“It will be harsher for you if I have to subdue you,” she told me without any emotion in her voice. Like she was merely saying that the sky was blue. “But you are of normal intelligence, there is no need to repeat myself. You will cooperate with me, willingly or not.”
“Maybe.” I sighed, feeling incredibly weary. I was just a simple brute, I couldn't even call myself a student of magic. After all, if I had learned anything from the magic users around me it was that logic and ability trumped emotion.
So, as a brute, I took action.
There was nothing elegant or graceful about me. I charged towards her, like a beast frenzied by the hunter's arrows. I didn't know what I wanted to do expect to do it. Patchouli smoothly dodged me, taking flight and moving clear of my single-minded thrust.
“Fire, first, to match the reckless movement,” she said quietly to herself. Light coalesced around her and collapsed into a single shining point held between her open palms. I felt the temperature in the library rise. The light glowed and warped, changing from white to a vivid orange. It wasn't a color I had ever seen before, like a cross between a red agate and the afternoon sky. She pointed at me, silently mumbling the words of power for her spell. In a fraction of seconds the world around me became a true hell. A sweltering rain of fire fell upon me. My body moved on its own, tumbling, running and dodging the newly-appeared balls of hellfire. They danced around in a difficult to decode pattern, coming at me in many waves. As I dodged, they hit objects in the library. Nothing burned but soon everything radiated an extreme heat. I was careless, touching a bookshelf that had been hit by several of the balls and burned myself like I had been scalded with boiling hot water.
The inferno let up after a few more waves. Patchouli stared out at me, keeping her distance by hovering near the top of the bookshelves. I got what that icily cold stare meant. That first wave had been a warning, a demonstration that she was not bluffing. Kindness within relentlessness, I could respect that in a strange and twisted way.
It was hopeless. But I wasn't out of it entirely. I was observing and though I couldn't see any openings at least I was still trying. The problem was that I didn't have any way to strike back. I hadn't learned any offensive or damaging magic, having consciously chosen to try to use it to help mend and help people. It was enough to make me laugh darkly again – I figured that I couldn't even heal myself with my powers. Maybe that had been a wrong choice too.
While I was second-guessing myself Patchouli renewed her assault. It wasn't fire but it was much more aggressive. Bands of energy shot out, moving directly at me. It was slow and sluggish, but the overwhelming barrage kept me pinned to my spot. My arm was zinged and pain shot through my body. It felt like a rock had hit me. I tried to get away but found that everywhere else was saturated with magic. I was bleeding both energy and actual blood. I hurt and could not put up an effective resistance. I couldn't calm myself down enough to even try to make myself feel better.
She wasted no time in intensifying the effort. The burning spheres from earlier came back. They worked in concert with the other magic to harass and torture me. My body felt so hot that I thought I would melt. Sweat poured down my brown and into my eyes. I couldn't even wipe it off with my equally-drenched hand. I fell to my knees. I couldn't feel anything, it was all just pain and fatigue.
Without thinking, I raised my hand at her. I didn't understand why. A space cleared around me. I didn't understand why. Energy, as vicious and directed as the one attacking me hurtled towards her. I really didn't understand why. It was a spatter of omnidirectional light and power. I really, really didn't understand why.
There was a pause. My vision was blurred, Patchouli was out of focus. Light – a barrier – surrounded her. “Three, because two was not enough,” she once again stated quietly and emotionlessly. “What more proof do you require that you are a threat?” she asked even though I could not reply.
Her final assault was a deluge of magic. It was like the sun and earth pounded away like a relentless hailstorm. I collapsed, lying immobile on the library floor. The words that should have come out of my mouth in the first place now came out in the form of a weak cry, “I give up, I'll cooperate with you.”
And with that, I sealed my fate. I wasn't sure if just figuratively speaking or if my actions had changed what would happen to me. All I knew was the cool comfort of the again-normal polished stone floor. At the edge of my senses, I could feel that Patchouli was standing next to me. Her breathing was ragged and she coughed violently. Still she managed to to say something I clearly understood, “I will have to be careful with what you are becoming.”
I would have asked what she meant by that but that was all my body could take. My consciousness leaked out, joining my willpower and energy. At least it didn't hurt all over any longer.
A long dream began...
 ...in which I finally became self-sufficient and independent ... in which I learned that it was not yet my time
It all came easily. A flick of the wrist, a wave of the hand – reality bent to my will. With the proper amount of preparation, the gods themselves didn't stand a chance. Reality as begotten by power.
Independence meant liberty.
Liberty to sow and weave and remake things as I pleased. Staring out at a field of green, I saw nothing but what I desired to see.
And so I built a tower.
It was made from the whitest and purest of stones. It only took a modicum of effort to erect it in the center of the field. It was tall enough to scrape the heavens. A monument to strength. Inside there were scores of tomes and books – source springs befitting the deep lake of knowledge within me. Other amenities abounded but were irrelevant. What mattered most was how I had everything I could ever want to keep myself from depending on anyone else.
The view from the top was breathtaking. After a day spent in studious contemplation, I could peer from over the parapets and see into the infinity beyond what normally would have been the horizon. That, too, was comforting. Seeing the unseeable was a goal well-accomplished and well-deserved. Reds and blues – and every color visible to the eye (and some beyond the spectrum) – appeared and coalesced to the unknowable rhythm of space and time.
There wasn't a goal that I could not accomplish. Working carefully, diligently, I absorbed the wisdom of both book and nature. It was an electrifying rush to solve a mystery, to piece together a puzzle. The sensation alone was enough drive to push forward even more work and even more dedication. Steadily I labored on. No help from anyone meant that I alone set the direction for progress. The burden of decision fell upon me but that wasn't a problem. For anything that I could not do immediately, I created a space within the tower to store the problem. I would revisit when I was ready and solve each room and grow stronger as a result.
That worked for a time.
The more problems I solved, the more appeared. After a while, even postponing problems because a chore just because of the volume of them. Telling myself that there was no point in obsessing, I put them off. I had other things to concern myself with. So the tower grew wider and outcroppings of stone appeared along the exterior to mark the purpose-built chambers.
One day, however, it all came to an end.
Impeccable stone crumbled and walls came apart. With a cackle of glee, an onlooker saw how my reality all fell to rubble. My tower had been large and strong but it could not withstand the weight of my accumulated inaction. A powerful and independent individual like me could rebuild, sure, but could never reclaim what was lost. The onlooker, however, could learn from my mistakes. She could take my effort and build anew, molding the heavens and the earth to something to her own liking. Then it would be something superior, just by virtue of mocking my failure.
At least the burden was gone.
“Lie still and stop squirming,” a steady voice commanded. A wet feeling was the first thing I was conscious of. “Yes, that's good. Let me finish up.” There was a moist sensation that worked its way around my chest, gently rubbing my flesh with steady scrutiny.
Slowly my other senses began to remind me that they were still a part of me. Sounds of soft brushing or scrubbing as well as that of rustling textile. The sweet smell of soap diluted in water. A dull metallic taste that lingered on my tongue. Light – blinding light – as I opened my eyes, followed by shadows as objects began to focus.
“Awake?” The voice asked, “Yes? It's about time.”
“I am,” I replied dully. Shapes began to gain significance. Sponge in one hand, rag in the other, the first figure I identified was that of Patchouli hovering over me. She stopped moving her hand at my reply, removing the moist sponge from my chest.
“You'll be fine to finish by yourself then,” she said unemotionally, placing rag and sponge at my side. “When you are able to, join me in the adjoining room.”
She was gone before I could think to ask her the flood of questions that soon popped into mind.
I felt my head was about to fly away. It pulsed painfully but at the same time I felt weak and unfocused. Ignoring the discomfort, I tried to get my bearings as best I could. The room I was in was large and stately. I lay in a spacious four-post bed with a remarkably comfortable mattress and sheets that felt as smooth as in a dream. There was distinguished wooden desk with carved patterns on the legs and drawers and a large leather chair in front of it. A few books lay along the surface but many more were in the small shelves to one side of the room. A small window was the only source of natural light. It was enough to read by while keeping the view of the outside world limited. Lastly, a mirror was the only other notable feature of the room It was a large full-sized mirror, the kind that allowed a person to see his whole body.
All signs of my clothes were gone. I only realized that I was completely naked when I sat up and felt a chill from a draft. I felt very sore in places, especially along my abdomen and my arms but I could not see any bruises or injuries. The wet sensation from earlier had been a bath. A small bucket next to the bed was where Patchouli had been drawing water from in order to wash my body. The water had flower petals floating about, added likely for their pleasant smell. I used the rag to dry myself off. And noticed that there was a dark, flowing robe left out by the foot of the bed.
I got changed slowly, still feeling my limbs stiff and unresponsive. A quick look in the mirror showed that I looked like some sort of dark specter – bags under my eyes and with robes that made my body seem formless and ill-defined. When I was done sizing myself up, I used the only door in the room to head out.
Patchouli sat at a small table in the corner of the room. At once I knew that it was her sitting room. Though the legion of dolls was missing, there was something about the arrangement and feel of the room that made me draw parallels to that room at Alice's house where she always sat and drank her tea. A large set of double windows ran all along the end where Patchouli was. Light, so limited in the room where I had come to in, was plentiful and came through the limpid windows easily.
“Sit, we should talk,” she commanded, indicating with her head that I should take a place opposite her. I did as she asked. “You did wake, after all. That's most fortunate for you.”
“...how long was I out?” I asked the obvious, feeling her words had an unescapable weight to them.
“About two weeks,” she informed me calmly, like she might have been talking about the weather. I was at a loss for words. Seeing that, she answered the unsaid question, “I have kept you alive and in decent shape since then. You have been in my care.”
My mind wandered, processing the information I was just told. My eye did as well. We were likely on the top floor. The view outside overlooked the large garden in front of the mansion. The concentric patterns of the hedges and walkways were evident. A large water pattern sat at the middle, a statue of a naked figure at the top of the spout. Not a single soul was in sight, the large expanse of greenery was solitary and unattended.
“Why was I out?” came my next question. Exhaustion shouldn't have made me black out for more than a half day, tops. I would have doubted her sincerity but my body told me that she spoke the truth. It somehow felt that I took a vacation from existence.
“You used something you should not have when it was expected you would have,” Patchouli gave a confusing answer. I thought she was mocking me but there was no trace of cruel delight in her face. “If you act beyond your capabilities for control then you must pay the price. You should consider it fortunate that you are not dead.”
“I don't understand,” I said blankly, feeling completely lost.
“You may have power but you lack direction and focus. If you had won you may have ended up consuming yourself in the attempt. Do you understand now why you cannot be left to your own devices?”
“No. I don't have any idea what you're talking about.”
“Such a slow boy,” she shook her head. Helping herself to the tea at the table, she poured herself a cup of hot liquid. “I wonder if maybe she didn't make a mistake in selecting you... you do not seem to be an ideal apprentice. And yet, the power and the potential are undeniable...”
“Well, at any rate,” she directed her words at me again, “this is where you'll stay until I can fully study you.”
“Wait, study me?” I asked, surprised. She hadn't mentioned anything about studying me. “Wasn't I simply to cooperate? What happened to the promises of mutual benefit?”
She paused before giving her reply, drinking of the tea. “You gave up your chance to be a proper peer when you chose to foolishly make a bravado-laden stand,” she said dryly. Her eyes focused squarely on me and I knew then that she really believed what she was saying. There was no room for argument, she was just letting her will be known out of convenience. “You will still benefit as I learn how it is that you've become like this, so quickly, but I cannot enable reckless behavior such as yours. It goes against everything that a proper magician stands for.”
“Then what am I to do?” I asked apprehensively. The fire that I remembered having felt before with her was gone. If I hadn't managed to free myself by active resistence, there was no hope continuing down that path.
“Participate in my experiments. I will tell you what you need to know when you need to know,” she stated. “When you are no longer a threat or proven that you can handle the situation then maybe things will change.”
“So all that about wanting me was a lie, huh?”
That made her laugh, “you almost sound disappointed! I see now that my original assessment of you is still valid. And I wonder if perhaps the others are not jealous of our current intimate situation.” Her voice dropped and her tone changed. Even though we were alone, it underscored that the words were just for me, “What I felt – no, what I feel – is real and perhaps a subject worth further research and exploration. But I cannot take risks until I am certain you are stable. Even in situations of mutual benefit a magician has to be cautious.”
“I'm skeptical now as I was then,” I said.
“Very difficult to trust others when they won't try to trust you. In your case, you have no other choice. I've seen to limiting your magic and I think it prudent to keep you from doing anything reckless.”
“Can't we work on that? I don't want to feel like I'm being used like a tool,” I said, voicing what had been a concern in my mind to begin with. “I'll give up something if you give up something, that way we can move forward.”
“Trying to force things?” She raised an eyebrow. “Let me take a wild guess: you would have me let you come and go as you please and return voluntarily whenever I needed you. I am not nearly as naïve as that. After the mess caused by you to do so would be absolutely foolish.”
“No, nothing like that.” I conceded that she had a point, “from your perspective I understand that that's impossible. That doesn't mean that we can't work with something smaller and easier. Maybe so that we can understand one another better. Something gradual.”
“Fine then, and just what is it that you had in mind. You are bringing it up because you already had something you wanted to suggest, or am I wrong?”
 Spend time in close quarters, including sleeping in the same bed  Offer to help her out with any other projects she's sidling
[x] Offer to help her out with any other projects she's sidling
Because its more likely to succeed than the other choice, she had literally just stated that one must be careful about close quarter contact and that until she was sure of us it would not happen.
TO reference in case anyone asks: “What I felt – no, what I feel – is real and perhaps a subject worth further research and exploration. But I cannot take risks until I am certain you are stable. Even in situations of mutual benefit a magician has to be cautious.”
Admittedly though, this may not include simple contact such as the vote suggests.
She already feels for us, and this Patchy is the type to just go and get what she wants, so we don't need to do much seducing here. Also, she just said she won't move a relationship forward until she feels we're prepared as a mage.
I think she'd appreciate the help more. It'd show our maturity and desire to increase our knowledge and skill, and if we actually turn out to be useful we'd prove our usefulness as well.
This is the superior choice as it gets us both results.
“You would have me suffer your company at almost all hours of the day?” she raised an eyebrow again, looking not too fond of my suggestion.
“I don't think it'd be such a trial. Just let me hang around, so we can get to know each other.” I explained my reasoning as simply as I could, “you plan to have me under quarantine and observation anyways, right? Then being allowed to spend time with you makes it easier to keep track of me and what I'm doing.”
“There is no inconvenience in observing you remotely. Or having a familiar do so by proxy. I am not at all concerned with that.”
“Perhaps it wouldn't be harder for you,” I argued, “but this way we can come to understand each other more directly.”
“Words befitting a demon,” she said with a sly smile on her lips. Patchouli scrutinized my face with her focused, dispassionate eyes like I was some sort of artifact or relic. Or perhaps a curious creature encountered in a bestiary. Her words certainly made me feel like that was the case. She described the exact kind of fiend she had in mind, “there are those who use their cunning and patience to bide their time in order to strike when their victim is most unsuspecting. A magician is a particularly tempting target for those devils, for their essence is intoxicatingly sweet. The more focused and pure energy is, the more alluring it is.”
“I don't see you as a walking fountain of mana,” I told her, fully expecting her not to believe me, “I won't assault or devour you. But, more importantly, I'm sure that you'd be able to stop me even if I did. The way I see it, I'd only have something to lose by being stupid or disingenious. We could even sleep in the same bed at night and I'd do nothing.”
“It may be worth consideration,” she said quietly, as if there were other factors at play she needed to confirm before agreeing. “If you cannot temper your nature then outright neutralization might be preferable,” she added darkly. There was no mischievous double meaning behind those words.
That was all that she had to say on the subject for the moment.
We didn't waste time in getting to what she wanted me to do. Naturally, she didn't really care about how I felt or that I had just woken up from a two week coma. We left the area and walked down a narrow stone corridor, dank from the lack of light and attention and to a secluded windowless chamber. Candelabra flamed into life as Patchouli came in, revealing a mostly featureless room with rough unpolished stone walls. It seemed like an artificial cave. A large flat stone slab in the middle and a chest by the door were the only things there that I could see.
“Lay down,” she commanded. I did as I was asked.
The stone slab was, not surprisingly, hard and cold. Heat bled through my robes quickly. I turned my head to watch Patchouli but found already hovering by my side. “Close your eyes, relax,” she instructed, “focus on the sound of my voice. Take a deep breath, good, now hold. Release. Once more. Let your heart slow and your muscle relax.”
I winced as I felt something smooth and cold on my face. It was sudden and unexpected.
“Keep your eyes closed and relax,” Patchouli reaffirmed her orders. I could hear her mutter almost inaudibly. Her breathless words accompanied the movement of the smooth object down towards my chest. It came to a stop at my breast, just above my heart. “I want you to forget that you are here with me, I want you to try to focus your energy. To center yourself. Like you were preparing for a difficult magic and needed to take stock of what was at your disposal.”
What she asked was easier said than done. But I still tried my best. I stopped worrying about the coldness of the stone or the odd feeling now on my chest. Instead, I turned inwards, looking at what I had been taught was my innate ability to sense the magical. In short, what qualified me as a magician. It felt like it had been ages since I focused myself like that. Not since I was with Alice.
Where I could normally find certainty, I found chaos. It was like staring into a mirror and not being able to recognize the self – what I felt was inside me was not me but something that still vaguely resembled me. But that was only because the 'reflection' shared some of my own characteristics.. Distorted, sure, but still something held in common.
I didn't know what to make of it. My heart began to beat faster. My breathing quickened. My fingertips began to tremble. The uncertainty transformed into denial and then fear. Fear of myself and fear of the unknown. The back of my throat felt dry. The walls of tissue were scratchy and irritated. I tried to open my mouth, to tell her that I wanted to stop, but couldn't. I tried to open my eyes, to see what was happening to me, but couldn't.
“Deep breath,” Patchouli commanded faintly, like she was several leagues away with a violent storm between us. I couldn't really hear her so much as I hoped that I still was. It was no good, of course, I couldn't possibly start breathing calmly again.
Cool, crisp air filled my lungs. I opened my eyes to find that the whole world was dark. My mind was too hazy for me to panic and my body too weary to instinctively thrash about. I felt relief wash over me as my eyes adjusted to the darkness. It was night. I was back in bed. The window was open, letting refreshing breeze come in. I was out of that stone room.
“Sleep, we will start again early tomorrow,” Patchouli said. Like before, she was hovering by the bedside. I hadn't noticed her at all.
“What happened?” I asked weakly.
“What I thought would happen. You require at least as much discipline as I feared you did. Lest you permanently lose control.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Nothing you would understand. Or have to understand at this stage. You are still clearly a threat to all. Things will only have to be more intense from now on.”
“Oh, what a shame,” I said plainly. I was too tired to sound either entirely sarcastic or sincere. I wasn't sure what I meant, myself, “I guess I'm no good after all.”
“You'll get your wish, after all,” she also said plainly. And I wasn't sure what she meant by it.
“I'll be keeping you company tonight, it is why I am still here.”
“Oh, how nice.”
Like it was no big deal, she slipped into bed. It wasn't exactly what I expected her to do. I could feel her body almost touching mine under the sheets. I wanted to move closer to the edge of the bed, to give her some space, but found that there was no more space. I couldn't complain about it. Not just because it felt like I was stuck in a weird dream but also because my eyelids were incredibly heavy. All the energy I had left had been used to wake up and talk just then.
I was falling apart. The first day had been hard to handle. If the following days and experiments were any worse, I wasn't sure that I would be able to cope.
 Do the best possible to cooperate  Only pretend to go along and save as much energy as possible
Despite being completely drained of energy, I couldn't sleep very well. Consciousness came and went, There was no way of telling if every time I woke up if it had been minutes or hours since the last time. I was too tired to move around much and instead just lay still with my eyes closed, hoping that morning would come soon. The only constants were the dark and the warm body next to me. There was something comforting about sharing a bed with someone. It felt safe and reassuring, the body heat a reminder that I wasn't alone in the world. I thought that it was funny I felt that way – that at night I'd feel much less isolated than I did during the day.
With the first signs of day things were soon back into full swing. Patchouli began to instruct me as soon as she opened her eyes. A simple breakfast had been laid out for us in advance in the adjoining room. We ate silently with solemn mood in the air. There was no room for small talk, much like mornings with Alice had been. The grave scene might have been mistaken for silent contemplativeness to an outsider. Sleeping poorly had jumbled my concentration.
When we finished eating, we got right to it. Like before, I was taken to the cold stone chamber and asked to lay down. Like before, I was told to close my eyes while she did what she had to do. She did not ask me to repeat everything I had done, however. I remained passive, letting her probe and observe as she pleased.
I wasn't asked to focus and find my center, much to my relief. Although I had wanted to cooperate, part of me dreaded repeating that part of her ritual. The uncertainty I found inside of me scared me. It was a chaotic vortex which shouldn't have been inside of me. The energies were alien and distorted. I didn't recognize it as part of me, it was something very outside my own experience.
“Is something causing you discomfort?” Patchouli asked, laying a finger on my forehead. “Try not to think about unnecessary things, just act like you were trying to relax.”
“I'm fine,” I told her, “I'm sorry. I'm just finding it hard not to think about something.”
With a pensive “hmm” Patchouli stopped her work. A subtle hint of concern rang in her voice. She instructed quietly, “Open your eyes and sit up, there are other things that can be done.”
“What am I to do now?” I asked as I watched her stow away items in the trunk.
“Be silent and let me finish,” she replied humorlessly, adding acerbically, “your previous teacher did not instill a sufficient sense of discipline into you. Speak when spoken to.”
That was a harsh thing to say but there was no use contesting it. She was in charge and I wasn't allowed to ask questions without being prompted. That was just the way things were. Our relationship wasn't between peers, it was between master and subject. Different than mistress and disciple. That was a byproduct of circumstance not desire. The logic behind it was efficient, detached. Like I had been reminded before, there was no reason for her to treat me any differently. Yet.
“Very well,” she turned to me after she was done. “I'll ask you now to demonstrate your skills. Weave a spell,” Patchouli explained to me, “show me what you know what to do. If you wish, you may start with something basic.”
I tried the first thing I learned to do. A small orb bristling with luminescence hovered just above my open palm. The light flickered, as if unstable. Normally I could sustain without even giving it any thought. The light was an extension of my mind and energies. A part of me.
I narrowed my eyes as I tried to focus. My chest felt a little hot but the light stabilized. I suppressed feelings of uncertainty.
“Is that your limit?” she asked, picking up on my strain. A bead of sweat rolled down my brow and around my right eye.
“No, I just felt a momentary difficulty,” I told her.
“Very well then, try something a little more engaging. Fire a projectile at me.”
No use asking her if she was sure. I didn't even know if I could do it. Alice never taught me how and I never bothered to carefully study anything like that. But I knew why she was suggesting it. It was because I had fired back at her. At that time, as I was in pain and desperate. I wasn't sure how I did it.
I gave it a go nonetheless.
I wasn't sure what exactly I was meant to do. In the end I gathered up energy and tried to crudely expel it from my body. In trying to give it direction and focus it felt like I was forcing it, like a hammer tapping an egg. As gentle as I tried to be, something had to give. The burning in my chest returned, followed by an explosion of energy. An unreserved blow against the fragile egg was struck. A sphere of energy lethargically shot out from me towards Patchouli. It was red and barely moved. It took a listless approach, barely going faster than a slow walk.
“I see,” Patchouli said to herself. With a wave of her hand my projectile disintegrated. The effect was like something fragile hitting a hard surface. Smaller particles appeared momentarily as it hit the invisible barrier. Those, in turn, disappeared quickly, as if evaporating. With a disimpassioned expression that belied the satisfaction she must have felt, she said, “Things are working as intended. Your power is being dampened. This will help keep you out of trouble.
“We will now adjourn for a while,” she announced. We went back to the sitting room where she left me alone without ceremony. So much for spending a lot of time in close quarters. There was a novel on the table and the implication was that it was left there for me to read and pass the time. A romance novel. Forbidden love between a peasant and noblewoman in some far off land. It felt like it was a jab at who she thought I was.
Patchouli returned in the late afternoon, as the sky outside began to turn orange, looking pale and weary. “Just what is the matter with you?” she asked, emotion creeping into her voice. “I cannot fathom what it is that you hope to accomplish. Care to share your rationale?”
“I don't know what you're talking about,” I said, confused. “Rationale for what? I've been sitting here, waiting for you.”
“So you say.” Her eyes showed clear disapproval. She gave me a dressing down, “surely you realize by now just how irregular your situation is. If you don't cooperate fully then you'll just obscure the issue until either you or everyone else is affected.”
“I have been cooperating,” I protested, “doing everything you've asked me to do.”
“That's not true.” she accused. Patchouli pointed at me, like I was being condemned for a crime. “There is power, drive, within you. You showed it by coming here and by confronting me. Subsequently you demonstrated that it was no fluke. Yesterday was a clear reminder that there is consistency. The bindings I've placed on have kept you from manifesting the same reckless abilities, surely. But earlier today I sensed a lack of will in you. So I ask again, what is the matter with you? You said you would cooperate, you pleaded me to trust you. Will I have to tighten the chains on you, treat you like an astral being? That will impede my assessment.”
“I've been giving it my all,” I told her. I hadn't been resisting her in any way. “I don't know what to tell you. Whatever it is you think that I'm doing or not doing I don't know anything about it.”
Looking excitable, Patchouli opened her mouth to say something else. Instead of words, however, she coughed. Violently. She placed her hand on her mouth as her body shook from the dry and powerful coughs. It took her a moment to recompose herself. “I am not feeling well,” she changed her tone, “we'll conclude this discussion later.”
She looked almost dead on her feet. The pallid complexion made her seem weak. There was little vitality left in her.
“Are you alright?” I asked, concerned by her transformation.
“It's nothing,” she said, leaning against the wall as if to brace herself for another coughing fit. “From time to time my body doesn't cooperate with me, though it usually gives me warning beforehand.”
“Lay down for a while, rest. I might need to lie down as well, I've been tired all day.”
“No, it will pass,” she said faintly. Her legs looked like they could buckle at any moment and she placed her weight against the wall fully. Very little remained of the dour magician. As she coughed some more she only resembled a normal, if rather frail, girl. “I should go,” she announced weakly, “keep to yourself and sleep when you wish. We'll continue tomorrow. I won't spend the night here again. I have other business to attend to.”
As she was, I didn't think her capable of making it to the door, much less taking care of other pending issues. I walked over to her, offering my shoulder for support. As tired as I might have been, I could still make an effort to help her along. Patchouli didn't say anything – possibly because she couldn't – and shifted her weight onto me in an attempt to move away from the wall. I placed her arm around my shoulder and tried to keep her from sliding away with my other arm around her waist.
 Get her along her way  Divert her to bed for rest
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In her precarious state Patchouli wasn't even able to form a solid objection to my leading her towards the bed. Instead of words of protest came a few dry coughs. Her body almost naturally leaned on mine and accepted that I would do all the work for the both of us. We staggered along slowly to the bedroom like some sort of four-legged creature, her half a little limp and uncoordinated. She glided out of my hold and into the bed effortlessly.
Her normally dour expression was somewhat softened by the shifting focus in her eyes. Patchouli looked at me, as if wanting to say something, then looked upwards and finally relaxed her gaze somewhere else. She coughed, bothering to cover her mouth with a closed fist. It didn't seem like she was getting all the air she needed. While she was still too cool and taciturn to panic (least of all in front of me) I could tell that there was a very human concern inside of her. It was the way the corner of her mouth moved, like a subtly preemptive frown, and how her nose twitched once as if showing just a tiny bit of anxiety.
I took off her cap for her, leaving it on a nearby dresser. Evidently she didn't object or at least found it not worth the effort to chastise me for it. I sought to ease her breathing trouble, reaching at the ribbon and top button near her neck. The capelet came off easily enough and I looked for anything else on her that might constrict her breathing. The base garment was a loose and flowing dress that masked the shape of the body underneath. There was nothing naturally tight nor binding. Satisfied that I had taken off everything that might have made it harder for her to recover, I propped up her head on a stack of pillows and tried to make her feel comfortable in bed.
There was a pitcher with water on a night table next to the bed. I offered her a glass, which she accepted. Patchouli seemed to stabilize after a while, some of the dark and unreadable mystery returning to her face. All in all it took her about an hour to address me again. The sun had ducked beyond the horizon outside and long shadows filled the room. “That was unnecessary,” she said with a wheeze. Not a surprising choice of first words. Gratitude wasn't the only thing she had for me. She ordered me to leave the room with a dry statement, “I feel lightheaded and need to recuperate still. Go elsewhere until I call for you.”
There was a lamp lit in the sitting room. That allowed me to read some more without obsessing too much about being treated coldly. Not that it really mattered how distant and commanding Patchouli seemed at present. I had felt her warmth when our bodies were pressed together earlier. Seeing her frail and helpless offset whatever harsh commands she had for me otherwise.
Even without really trying nor being interested by its contents, I managed to finish the book before too long. An unhappy ending for the lady and her peasant .Star-crossed lovers were always denied their love and wallowed in despair for the rest of their lives and eternity. Sad, in a way, but I didn't identify enough with the characters to care. My frame of mind possibly wasn't the right one to enjoy it fully either.
It was well into the evening by then and I felt tired. Patchouli hadn't called for me and I was tired. A mixture of self-interest and concern for the magician made me brave enough to disregard her explicit order.
I creeped into the dark bedroom, mindful of my steps so as to avoid making too much noise. Patchouli was the dark mass on one side of the bed. I got closer and stayed quiet. Soft, even breathing came from her. She was asleep. Without stirring and without reacting at all to me. It was a deep, relaxed sleep. There was no doubt that she must have been truly exhausted.
Seeing that there was no chance of being given further instruction I followed her lead.
By morning, I was alone in bed. I found Patchouli in the sitting room, calmly sipping tea by the window.
“Come, sit,” she directed. I went for the chair across from her. She stopped me, refining her command, “next to me.” And I instead sat next to her.
“Are you feeling better?” I asked, disregarding the harsh 'speak when spoken to' directive.
“I am coping,” she replied, with seemingly absolute disinterest in the subject. Finishing her tea, she pushed the cup and saucer to the opposite end of the table. “We will do something together now. So that we may have a better idea of how things are,” she said as she produced a deck of cards in her hand. It wasn't very many cards though they were about as long and wide as her hand. There was a design of a cross with each part a different color, save for the bottom which was split between white and a deep blue. A wheel of color sat in the middle of the cross and the whole thing rested upon a field of angled squares of alternating color, like some sort of distorted chessboard. I could make the significance of it all as she handed the deck to me. “Shuffle,” she instructed. And, then adding a warning, “don't think of anything unnecessary while doing so.”
After I shuffled the deck throughly she told me to stop. “With your left hand create three piles towards the left,” she instructed. I did, making three arbitrary piles with the cards in my hand. Patchouli nodded silently, merging the piles in a different order than they had been laid. She flipped over the first card – an image of two humans with the heads of a dog-like animal flanked a central opening of light and smoke - “The Moon,” Patchouli said dryly, translating the script at the bottom of the card. She placed the next card crossed over the first, “The Priestess,” she added, not commenting on the image of the enthralled woman. Next she lay out four more cards one above, below, on the left and finally on the right of the original cross duo. She read the names as she formed this larger cross of cards, “Death, The Magus, The Star and The Lovers.”
She paused, scrutinizing the cards and the positions. With a finger silently tracing a path from each card to the next she then placed another to the right of the cross at the height of the bottom card. “The Tower,” she revealed as she placed the card. That was followed by three more cards which formed a rising column, “Lust, The Aeon and Adjustment.”
The last card seemed to have special meaning and she seemed to contemplate what that was. Her detached persona betrayed nothing of her thoughts. There was no telling of the significance of the cards nor the cross and column pattern they formed. Since I was clearly involved with it, I ventured to ask, “what do the cards mean?”
“They mean many things,” she answered cryptically. Her eyes remained firmly on the cards, her words came out slowly and intermittently, “an overview of the situation... what impedes and what helps... and... an outcome.”
“How? Or maybe the better question is why?” I wasn't sure what sort of magic she was practicing. The cards – some sort of divinatory device – was something that she thought worth doing. For someone cautious and deliberate like her to try it meant that it was the best thing to do.
“There is a relationship between the cards, their symbols and their positions. Their numbers too, if you wish to read into numerology,” she explained without really explaining. “As for the celtic cross itself... a mandala is too cyclical and Peladan's method is too simple for our needs. His school of thought is inappropriate.This is just the right mix between specific judgment and broad overview.”
“I don't quite follow.”
She opened up a book she had next to her chair. Complex diagrams depicting relationships between different powers filled the pages as well as long-winded descriptions of meaning and symbolism. “Obvious, isn't it?” she asked with no sarcasm that I could tell. The meaning of the constructs and the elaborate descriptions went clear over my head.
“Couldn't you just summarize what this means?”
“This is why it's pointless to share knowledge with those that don't truly want it,” she lamented. “In short, it describes where you are, what you are and where you will go. It validates my interpretation that you are a mess faced with changes and choices which must ultimately be balanced. That is about as elementary as I can put it,” there was obvious disdain in her words. “The appearance of so many cards related to magic show that your situation and your problem is quintessentially a magical one. The basis of it all is hidden and requires changes both internal and external to rectify.”
“And I am supposed to take this as further evidence that I should entrust myself to you?” I said, recalling her accusations from the day before. “In case that you forgot, I already agreed to cooperate with you. Lack of trust won't get us anywhere.”
“I am not necessarily the solution,” she stated, eyes cooly meeting mine. “I will, however, attempt to stymy the more dark interpretation present. Corruption and hubris would be the worst of outcomes.”
“So what should I do?” I asked. “If this is divination then there's probably some sort of hint.”
“The will to come out on top,” Patchouli said with finality. A chill ran up my spine. Sinister images of unforgiving conflict came to mind. “The wisdom to temper that willpower is also a must, lest you lose objectivity.”
“And you'll teach me that?”
“I wonder... in my current state I may just suck you dry of your mana. Transfer it to myself,” she said with a sigh.
“...” I understood what she meant. That she said it with a straight face, without being embarrassed at the bold suggestion was a little too much for me. I felt my heart beating a little faster and my face grow hotter. “You're still exploring what to do with me, right?”
“Yes and the time to decide is short, especially if I cannot cope any longer. I see it as my duty to keep you from running amok. If I must bind you as a common familiar then I'll gamble on that.”
“Does it matter what I want, in the least?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
It was a direct and absolute, “no” followed by a brief explanation, “you are too compromised to be rational or know what is best.”
 “What if I told you that I don't believe in divination and fate?”  “I just wish to help you and myself and others however I can.”
>>25967 MC has the potential for phenomenal cosmic power, and is a total beta. Fantastic.
[x]don't believe in fate, etc.
Because the other choice is ridiculous. This is why I voted against sticking with Patchy, because now we've got a good chance of being bound to clean the library with Koakuma for the rest of our lives.
>>25970 I don't think Arc can stay with Patchouli. He's having a serious effect on her health in a way that's similar to the one he was having on Alice. I don't think she can handle it in the long-term and will probably resort to something more drastic if she discovers it. It all traces back to Mima, I think.
Arc is really only a "beta" as you put it, because we voted him in that direction.
“There's a complete lack of understanding on your behalf,” Patchouli responded dryly. “That's not a surprise at this stage. This is why I am doing what I am doing, to keep you from harming others.” With a dark smile of self-satisfaction, she added, “I have friend who would find your ignorance regarding fate a most amusing thing indeed. You have caught a glimpse of what awaits and all you can do is decide how you will face it.”
“All I've seen is you talk about things without bothering to explain and keep things secret. How am I supposed to learn if I'm not taught anything?”
“Listen, observe and analyze. That's how. There are laws governing everything in existence and they can be discerned and tested. Thinking yourself above a system, beyond the paradigm, is wishful fancy.”
“Even if I'm being led along instead of actually doing?” I asked bitterly, well aware that she was the only dynamic force present.
“Is that so reprehensible?” Patchouli asked. “Have you made the most of the situation? Reflected as to why things were happening and how? Or did you think that what we've done together has only been of value to me?” Without bothering to wait for an answer from me, she gave it herself, “You haven't thought critically of your situation. Nor why your are here. Your magic is corrosive, unstable and strangely powerful. Things don't spontaneously change overnight for no reason.
“Have I misspoken or impugned the reality of your situation?” Patchouli asked with finality, like a schoolmistress fed up with the class troublemaker.
There were many different replies I could have given her. Most of them were about her own actions and expectation. But none of them refuted her point. And getting upset wasn't going to solve anything. Not that I wanted to be silent either.
“I'm not going to excuse my own lack of awareness,” I told her, “but I'm going to point out that you've been anything but straightforward with me. You can't expect me to do any better if you won't even treat me like an equal. Or someone capable of understanding. What specifically makes me uncooperative and dangerous? My magic is corrosive? Why is that? As you've said time and time again, I'm not disciplined enough. I'm a threat. You could at least tell me what it is that I can do to fix that. You can't expect me to just sit by and let you do as you want and also have you blame me for messing things up for you.”
“Yes, valid,” she nodded, “but magic is not for the feeble-willed. The drive to excel and the drive to be a master of one's destiny is the most important thing. Your expectations of me should change accordingly. You are an aberration, an oddity, potentially harmful. Handled with caution lest an unwanted scenario come about. If you are self-reflective you would realize that I am not treating you any less than someone like should be treated. Helping you by understanding where you stand and whether or not you can be saved is the first priority. Training you like you were my apprentice is not a concern until that has been sorted.”
“And what happened with joining you and it would benefit me?”
“It will, eventually,” she said with a straight face. “You would not grab with your bare hands a stone that glowed red and radiated heat for fear of burning them. You would use a tong or wait for it to cool. This is where experience becomes vital. You are that stone and I am trying to handle you. To embrace you fully without understanding how much heat you posses and whether it will harm me is foolhardy. And that doesn't even account for the damage that you, yourself, might experience.”
“So I'm left to be toyed with at your leisure?” I shook my head, “that's unfair to me and changes how much I am willing to cooperate.”
“You're not in a position to bargain,” she reminded me with a cool stare. “I am not an unreasonable person either and understand that you possess a very human element to you. So what would satisfy you?”
“What do you mean? I want to know what is happening to me and why.”
“I cannot answer that because I am still determining that. It is clear that you possess power but that it is unstable. The questions of how and why still remain,” she stated. There was a clear fascination with my situation that showed in her tone. Almost a certain joy in her words that made it seem like she reveled in the mystery. “Once I figure out those questions I shall share then answer. Together we will then remedy the situation and you will see your benefit. Meanwhile, however, I want to satisfy you so that you will stop focusing on nonsense. The stick isn't always preferable to the carrot. What would satisfy you?” She asked again.
“More honesty about what you're doing, for one,” I told her.
“You'll know what you have to know when you have to know.” she said what I expected her to say.
“How you're doing then?”
“My health is not your concern.”
“...how long we'll be doing this?”
 “Seeing you act more like a normal girl would be nice.”  “Tell me if you're doing this more for enjoyment than for my sake.”
>>25985 You need to take a deep breath and realize that being a sociopath is completely out of tone for this story and all stories I write. Chill. Nothing good will come from getting worked up and continuing to show contempt for your fellow readers.
If there are no more votes, I'll be flipping a coin in about an hour and getting on with it.
“I assume that you're being facetious,” Patchouli said with a raise of her eyebrow. Otherwise she was unflappable, as hard to read as always.
“Only partially,” I said, “what else could I say? You've made it clear that I don't really have much choice. So regardless of how serious I may be, if you are willing to act normal then I'll accept it.”
“I can see how you've come to that conclusion and so I'll indulge you.” Her expression changed to that of a scowl. She ran a finger through a lock on the side of her head, curling it into a makeshift spiral of hair. With uncharacteristic energy, her words became sharp as she began to chew me out, “geez, you're very useless! I can't rely on you for anything. You're horrendously perverted and I'd sooner claw my eyes out than look at you for another moment. Just listening to you makes me feel like I'm getting dumber.”
“What you're not happy that I'm even bothering to speak to the likes of you? You're the lowest of the low!” she continued.
“I said normal girl, not some sort of aggressive girl with a superiority complex who insults me nonstop.”
Patchouli's expression returned to normal almost as suddenly as it had changed in the first place. Her words more lethargically normal, she stated, “I was under the impression that that sort of character was in vogue.”
“In vogue where?!” It felt like she was still making fun of me. “A normal girl, you know, someone who has friends, likes to talk about cute things that sort of deal. Well, not everyone is like that, but it certainly isn't what you were doing there.”
“Cute things?” it seemed that she drew a blank on the subject.
“Mmm, ok, what sort of thing do you like then?”
“I like books,” she replied.
“...alright,” I changed the line of questioning, seeing that it wasn't working, “you mentioned a friend earlier, what do you talk to her about?”
“Tea and books,” she said with a completely straight face. It was easy to assume that she was making fun of me but somehow I believed she really didn't care much about other things. “Sometimes she asks me for advice,” she added.
“Advice on what sort of thing? Love trouble, on account of all the romance novels you've read?”
“Mostly on etiquette. She's very concerned with her image.”
“Hmm, surely you have other hobbies? Maybe you like baking or sewing? Taking walks in the garden?” I asked her what came to mind. I didn't have a very deep bench to draw upon. The only girls I knew that were more than casual acquaintances were anything but normal. Alcohol, parties and magic were what they did best.
“I'm afraid that I'm very dull. I like the world of literature and fantasy, that is what I'll invest myself in.”
That gave me an idea of what to ask next. There was hope for her yet. “Tell me then, what sort of literature do you like best?”
“Fiction, adventure mostly. I like reading about far-off places which I'll never visit.”
“That's nice,” I said, “I'd have thought that you would have liked more dramatic stories.”
“Those are fine too, I'll read just about anything,” she said with a nod.
I smiled. “See? That wasn't so hard,” I told her. “We're having a conversation right now and you're acting a lot more like a normal girl. You don't have to change who you are.”
“Is that all you wanted?” she looked a little confused, her brow scrunching up slightly.
“It's part of it. I'd also like to see you smile a little, cut loose. That too is what a normal girl would do.”
“...interesting,” she said, calmly analyzing the situation, “I've see that sort of request in many a pulp novel regarding lovers but I thought it trite. And yet, without me particularly willing it, my heart started to beat a little faster.”
“I'm not flirting with you,” I chuckled, caught off guard by her reaction. The cool and authoritarian bookworm was full of surprises.
“Hm... I guess not.”
“Don't tell me you're disappointed! I thought I was a hopeless... 'lothario' I believe you called me.”
“He is a character in a great work of fiction from long, long ago,” Patchouli stated, “more specifically – he's a fictional character in a work of fiction. But he seduced women like it was as simple as breathing.”
“I hardly think that you can compare me to someone like that,” I laughed, “I don't have very much luck with the girls in my life. I can never seem to be able to tell them how I feel."
“You may underestimate yourself, most interesting,” her followup made it seem like she was trying to analyze me again. Like I was just a character in a novel and my motivation was unclear.
“Normal girls don't try to get into someone else's head while they're talking, you know. They prefer to chat, even if it's about silly and unimportant stuff.”
“Anything else I might try would likely be as forced as my first attempt to be normal,” Patchouli lamented. It really did seem like she was a little disappointed at not being able to fulfill her role in our would-be little scene.
I threw her a bone, “I think you're doing just fine. I can prove it to you.”
“How would you do that?” she asked, her curiosity palpable. I thought I understood how she thought a little better. She was used to looking at things through the prism of literature and its constructs. The purpose of the scene, the characters and their temperaments as well as the language used – she was likely thinking about that when talking to me. She was to the point and harsh because that was what moved the plot along. Letting me know about what was going on was irrelevant to story progression, as she saw it. Mere filler.
With that in mind, I stopped to think about something that would catch her off balance. Or at least make her show a non-scripted natural response.
 Tell her about my first crush  Kiss her on the forehead (or write-in in the same vein)
Since Patchouli was sitting next to me, it was easy to do whatever I wanted to her quickly. Anything impulsive was liable to catch her by surprise. It didn't seem like she expected me to do what I did. Getting up slightly from my chair and leaning towards her, I swept the hair from her forehead with one hand and kissed her on the forehead. A simple and straightforward action. Part of me wished to dwell on the moment but it was too brief to obsess over.
“Ah, unexpected,” Patchouli remarked. Her eyes bore a softer expression, one which contrasted to her usual hard and directed energy. She didn't lose a chance to analyze the situation, however, adding, “rather patriarchal. Perhaps condescending even. Reassuring all the same.”
“So, it felt nice?” I asked.
“It was agreeable.”
“Affection and intimacy often is,” I told her, “that you can feel that way means that you're plenty normal. Just a little inexperienced.”
“I thought you painted yourself as inexperienced as well,” she observed correctly.
“In some things,” I said, not about to go into specifics about love, “but I've been lucky enough to know what it feels like to be cared for. There is one person in my life who has always been kind to me, always been there for me. Even when others turned their backs on me. She has shown me plenty of affection and I trust her with my life.”
“Curious, isn't that what love is?”
“Yeah, it's love. But it's a different kind of love,” I drew a distinction. I at least told myself that it wasn't like that with Auntie because she really was like an older sister. “At any rate, we're all capable of it, yourself included. We're all capable of feeling good with others,” I stroked the side of her face gently, running my hand along her cheek and hair to her neck. “Doesn't that feel nice?”
“It doesn't feel unpleasant,” she confirmed with a slight nod. “This is not the type of behavior typical to comrades, however,” she stared at the hand which had caressed her as she spoke, “this is a type of touch reserved to lovers and those with familial bonds.”
“Is that what's common in novels?” I asked, assuming that it was the case. She nodded affirmatively. “So what?” I asked again. I proposed another point of view, “it doesn't matter how it is in literature or in fiction. If it feels good and you're comfortable with it, what's wrong with doing whatever? There's no rule that friends have to treat one another in a certain way. Or even if we're not friends, and just two magic users, it surely can't be wrong to decide how we carry on ourselves.”
“I do not mind it,” she confessed, “so long as we keep habit and necessity clear and separate. I hope that this has made you more comfortable and more receptive to what I need you to do. But there cannot be time for unnecessary distractions in the tasks we must set about completing.”
“Alright, I understand,” I said. Not wanting to waste the opportunity present during the moments where she was both pliable and not focused on results, I continued to stroke her face and ran my fingers through her soft hair. My chair drew closer to her, virtually eliminating the gap between us. As if taking that to be a cue, Patchouli relaxed and allowed her body to slacken. Like it was the most natural thing in the world to do she began to lean on me, her head finally coming to a rest on my shoulder. I took her hat off, placing it on the table and proceeded to gently pat her head.
She turned her face upwards, looking up at me with doe-like upturned eyes. A new development for her but not an unbecoming one. Her neck craned her head towards me, bringing that vulnerable face, replete with with moist lips and twinkling eyes, closer. She felt small, unassuming and warm when pressing up against me – displaying traits wholly unlike the erstwhile commanding and callous magician. I could feel my heart beating a little faster at the sight. More importantly, I was sure that hers was also as accelerated.
I forget if I voted, but if I haven't, that's my vote. Patch is only trying to draw out Arc's human nature, and kissing her is more animalian, instinctual. Doing nothing shows that we have more control of ourselves than she gives us credit for.
It was a moment of tenderness wholly unlike the harried and directed exchanges we had had since I arrived. Wholly subdued and wholly compliant, Patchouli let herself draw close and press her body tightly against mine. I kissed her. She did not protest nor resist, her eyes closing and her breath slowing to a steady rhythm. It was our first real kiss, consensual, and like a moment of heady peace.
In my arms she felt small and delicate, soft and warm. An unambiguous smile formed on her lips. With real mirth, for once. She silently pulled me closer again, making me kiss her once more. My mind began to blank and all I could think of was the pleasurable sensation of her touch. Our tongues danced a graceful ballet in our mouthes, joining, twirling, parting and rejoining to an inaudible choreography. She was proactive in the dance, but not more so than I was. As a result the tempest deep within me began to settle, the energies which where frightfully unfocused became more predictable and less chaotic. It was like Patchouli's warmth and her saliva helped to anchor me into a pleasant reality. A terrible analogy but the only one I thought fitting.
Even as my soul found peace, my body reacted in a much more predictable manner. Anyone in my position would be excited and Patchouli's willingness to get caught up in the moment just exacerbated the problem. With our two bodies pressed together so closely it was only a matter of time before she noticed just how excited I was. There was a pause as she stared into my eyes inquisitively, sizing me up in more ways than one. It was hard to recount what happened or remember any particular moment – it all began to blur together into a haze of absolute passionate desire.
Without saying a word, she placed a hand on my belly and slowly slid it down towards my crotch. She brusquely felt around the area, her hand displacing fabric until she found what she was looking for. “This may be a problem,” she voiced quietly. “I'll have to deal with this before it becomes to great a problem.” Again, without bothering to wait for a reaction from me, she pulled me in close. We kissed yet again, a bit more forcefully. Not because one side wanted to get something from the other, but likely because we were finding it hard to control ourselves. I was definitely finding hard to control myself.
Patchouli rubbed the area vigorously over my robes. Her indirect touch was at first uncomfortable, the rough fabric clumsily chaffing slightly. Soon, however, she focused her motions, moving her hand up and down and creating wide circles that avoided irritating my more sensitive parts. It was very basic stimulation. If I were doing it to myself, probably would be outright unfulfilling. Yet because it was her and because we were getting hot and heavy things were very different. A flawed ecstasy but ecstasy nonetheless; Bliss and deliverance were meted out by Patchouli's hand.
She stopped the stimulation. I had to catch my breath and steady my racing heart. Grabbing my hand, she guided and directed my own touch. I reciprocated, being led to touch her legs. I reciprocated gently, enjoying caressing through her clothes, meticulously working my way up her thighs. Her hand firmly kept mine moving, exploring the soft and warm expanse. All the while her eyes stared directly into mine, wild and with a peculiar shine.
Her breathing was about as ragged as mine. The carefully composed girl was all but gone. The only traces remained in her voice. In between pants, she told me, “it would seem that it is difficult to approach recreational matters in a detached manner.”
“Yes, indeed it would,” I said as I kissed her again, letting her hand get under my robe, directly touching my flesh with electrifying intensity. The attraction between us was awesomely galvanizing and I fully expected to see sparks fly where we touched one another. Warm to the point of being numbing, comforting to the point of it being too addictive. Really what was foul was fair and fair was foul. The whole world could have gone upside down and I wouldn't have noticed it. More importantly, I don't think that Patchouli would have either.
I lifted her up onto the table, placing her so that my head way about at the height of her chest. Her legs draped to the side and around me. She placed her hands on the back of my head and pulled me in. My head came to rest on her breasts, a pair of soft pillows. Warm like the rest of her was. I closed my eyes and could hear her heart beting in her chest, its quickened but regular beat encouraging us to carry on. In that same spirit of bold self-confidence I continued to pet her, striking straight into regions which I knew were sensitive. She began to loosen her garb, haphazardly exposing flushed flesh. A second wave of (greater) excitement swept me along – when I realized that everything I had felt until that moment had been through her clothes.
Even if I had been completely oblivious to anatomy I would have still known that I was on the right track based on the sultry look that came to dominate Patchouli's face. She reacted like she was oversensitive, squirming and closing her eyes whenever I danced around the right spots. But that didn't mean that she was passive. On the contrary, she struck back as best she could. Her hands may have been out of range, but her legs and feet were at just the right distance. Once again a rough, but disciplined touch reciprocated my own acts. Her foot moved in a set pattern, holding and rubbing up and down in a slow and teasing manner. It was a delightful hell of unsophisticated pleasure.
No doubt that I had the same look of hopeless abandon on my face as she did. We both were lost in the heat of the moment. I didn't know how far we were going to go but already I was sure that only good could come of the experience. I knew what I wanted.
And that was to...
 tease her until she admitted that she actually liked me for who I was  let her take the lead and see what she came up with next
I want to get this scene done soon, so vote if you haven't already and I'll be calling it in a few hours tops. Mostly so I don't have an excuse to be lazy.
>>26021 >Her whole character is about leading and controlling. If we accept that as the case, isn't role reversal in that case more alluring? Seeing a shy girl being assertive and dominant or a controlling type lose control and break down in the face of desire is invigorating. Maybe that's just me.
>>26025 But letting someone else take the lead is the opposite of acting.
Sorry, I'm hardwired to play the devil's advocate if no one else does. Choices like these make me wish that I was just a reader.
The need for words vanished sometime after our third kiss. A raw, instinctual force drove me and my body was all too happy to oblige it. It seemed to be the same for Patchouli. Her excitement was as big of a driving force as my own.
That did not mean that things happened smoothly. Without my effort, there was delay. Moments of doubt about what to do. Though she was the one who got closer to me to begin with, I had been the first one to act impulsively. A new structure materialized eventually.
Patchouli began to raise my robe with the tip of her foot. I helped her along, lifting like it was some sort of long skirt. She then did what I had done unto her, touching and groping her way up my leg and thigh. With two key differences: she didn't need my guidance and she used her feet and not her hands. The soft and smooth texture of her socks glided over my skin, rubbing me with almost ticklish results. The effect was much more exhilarating than comical, however. My heart raced as she took her time to get to her final destination.
She leaned back a little, stretching her slender legs out towards me. It gave her the reach to do as she pleased with me. Starting with a single slow caress, she ran her foot along the length of my excruciatingly stiff shaft. If her earlier touch had been electrifying then this bold move was like a fearsome bolt of lightning. A rather more intense effect. It made me quiver and twitch. I wasn't prepared for the next stroke which came almost immediately after. And then another followed. And another. The pace quickened.
Soon a single foot wasn't enough for what she had in mind. She brought her other foot around and sandwiched me in a tight grip. Pressure was applied on me, moving up and down along the rod in smooth and sustained strokes. I felt unbearably hot, like I was about to melt. My breathing became labored as I began to give in wholly to the sensation. When I was almost completely lost in the pleasure, she suddenly stopped. She was staring at me, a faint smile on her lips. Patchouli leaned back forward. Slowly, deliberately accentuating how it clung closely to her skin, she took off a sock.
A new sensation was introduced. With a far less smooth texture but its own type of unique softness, she began to rub with her bare foot. Her skin felt good against mine and whenever her small, delicate toes rubbed up, they provided an extra jolt of sensation. Patchouli didn't lose the opportunity to add to the sensuous nature of her stimulation. More than once she outright stopped the rubbing and instead played with the tip of my member with her socket toes. It was a silky sensation of pure pleasure.
She quickened her pace, her bosom achieving a perfect synchronicity with the movement of her feet. I couldn't think anymore, completely lost to the powerful jolts of ecstasy that matched every rub. It was all too much to bear. As she reached new levels of intensity, I finally exploded. I slunk into my chair with the release, feeling that my very essence was abandoning my body. Patchouli's feet were completely tarnished, covered with my sticky secretion. It felt like a sin to soil her beautiful and shapely feet; It was a sin that made me feel extremely satisfied. Proud, almost, in a perverse way. Without missing a beat, she leaned forward again and examined the result of her touch. Patchouli slid a finger over the top of her foot, scooping up some of the milky expulsion on the tip of her finger.
Patchouli stared at her finger and the gooey spunk. She pressed another finger together against it and then separated them, creating a suspended string between fingers which she paused to observe. Without any warning she placed the fingers on her lips sucking off my residue. Promptly, she scooped up some more off her bare foot and gently licked her fingers clean. She looked at me, a gamine smirk forming on her face. She dropped down from the table and onto the chair, straddling me.
I held her, trying to return to the world of the living. It was hard to convince myself that I hadn't died and reached nirvana.
Her breathing was harried. Drawing breath properly seemed to be an actual challenge rather than an impassioned setback. “Are you alright?” I asked, running my fingers through her hair. As she had moved, it had become increasingly disheveled and messy. It gave her a wild, uncontrolled edge to her appearance – completely at odds with her calm and collected usual look. As sublimely erotic as that was it was also worrying, especially as the intensity in her eyes lost some of its focus. I held her close, concerned that maybe she had exerted herself too much. “Do you want want to lie down for a bit?”
“We do not have time for that,” she said and let out a sigh. I felt her warm breath directly on my chest.
“What do you mean?” I asked with a whisper.
“I mean that we can't do any more.”
The coin dropped. I couldn't help but laugh at that. “We don't have to if you're tired,” I told her. The spirit was willing but the flesh still needed more time, in any case. Patchouli had seen that I was temporarily put out of commission. “I just meant that you looked like you might need to reast a little,” I clarified with a smile.
A more usual look of distance was in her eyes. She looked up at me and corrected me, “no, irrespective of my condition. Our time draws to an end.”
“What's the matter?” Something about the way she phrased her statement made me forget about the state of relaxed bliss I was in and unsettled me. The chaotic swirling inside of me returned, stronger than before. My unease made me hold her even closer,hoping that I could return to how I felt just a moment ago.
“Nothing, I seem to have lost my opportunity,” she stated calmly. Breaking apart from me, she stood up and began to fix her dress back to normal. She simply ignored the mess I had made on her feet, the glimmering stains standing out on her socks. I pulled my robe back down and got up as well. She turned to the door, looking like she expected something. She sighed. “Don't you at least want to make sure that you can stand on your own two feet before moving on?”
“I'm not sure I understand what you mean.”
“Staying here with me,” she explained without actually explaining anything. That was a skill that came easily to magicians. “If you just go out leaving our business unfinished, things will likely go poorly.”
“Aren't I here to learn how to... prevent disaster?” I asked, summing up her arguments with my own doubtful interpretation.”
She looked at me with a very distinct emotion written all over her face; Melancholy tinged with regret. Patchouli was as unassuming and delicate as she had been in my arms, perhaps even more. Like she would collapse at any moment and melt away if touched. “I thought you had accepted your role...” she murmured wistfully. “That you perhaps even genuinely liked me...”
I had no idea what she was talking about. It didn't seem like she was listening to me. I needed to do something, I decided.
 Hold her tightly and show her how much I liked her.  Tell her that she is right and I've accepted my position - Yeah, 'cuz obviously the bolder actions leading to this backfired. Just had to say that because it's a specious argument and I didn't want to bring it up before because I don't want to make it seem like I'm influencing votes too much. Have some sense of context, guys. Especially since soon the votes will be really important and you might not want to dismiss things so easily when voting.
We spend a good deal of time telling Patchy about how she should be more "human," not to be so cold, chafing under her control, etc. Basically asserting ourselves and making demands instead of obeying.
Then we sit back and let Patchy take the lead when the action happens.
So we built up one way, then switched horses mid-stream and the mixed signals ruined the mood for Patchy.
“What are you doing?” she asked as I wrapped my arms around her. If her mind had been elsewhere before then, it had returned to our location. The vulnerability she had shown in her eyes earlier was missing, instead replaced by mild bewilderment. Unlike the analytical curiosity which so characterized her, however, there was room for a more complex gamut of emotion. Tenderness creeped into the look, of ease and comfort in my actions. Even if they weren't expected nor exactly called for, they were still accepted.
“More behavior that I am sure you don't mind,” I answered.
“You shouldn't be doing this, I'm sure you mind,” she said.
“Don't act shy now,” I laughed, “I'm perfectly happy doing this. It feels... agreeable as you might put it. It's nothing compared to what we were just doing it.”
Her arms wrapped across my back, making the hug mutual. A satisfying triumph. “This is indeed agreeable,” she said, “it feels pleasurable to hold and be held. You may regret not being able to separate interpersonal doings and the necessities of reality.”
“I can't see how I could regret feeling good like this with you.” I kissed her on the forehead, whispering my words, “there's nothing wrong with me feeling good when I'm with you. There's definitely nothing wrong with you feeling good either. I'm sure you understand what I mean. It'd be best if we both admit that we are perfectly fine with the present.”
“It's the future you should worry about,” she sighed, “if you don't understand what's coming or how you got there then you are incapable of acting.”
“You're going to help me with all of that, aren't you?” I asked as I stroked her cheek with my hand. Her flesh was a little colder than I expected. That was, perhaps, only in comparison to how hot our bodies had been just earlier. “You're making sure that I can handle things so that nothing bad happens. We're cooperating so that the future goes well.”
“It's out of my hands,” she said weakly, gripping me tightly. “This, too, seems to be something beyond what I had anticipated.”
“It'll be fine,” I reassured her, “you've bested me easily and are always prepared. Like I said before, I'll cooperate as best I can, so we'll manage.”
“I can't do much in my current condition. Even if I wanted to isolate you from everything, it's not an option currently. It'll be best if I just try to recuperate as much as I can.”
“...I don't understand, are you really feeling that sick?” I began to worry. The coldness of her skin might have been a symptom rather than just my imagination. “Let me put you to bed,” I started, “you should rest.”
“It's difficult to explain,” she said, “I am used to a lot of things, but now I don't know if I've ever experienced this. I feel faint, but not in a way I have before.” She shook her head, mumbling, “perhaps I wasted too much energy allowing myself to indulge in pleasure.”
“I'll take care of you, it's okay to get some rest.”
“No, I have no reason to believe that it's my body simply being uncooperative,” she said. Almost immediately she stared at me, almost like she was dazed. She kissed me, leaning up towards my face. “As before,” she vocalized in between noisy smooches, “mmm... I feel the desire to have you... use you to replenish my energy and enhance myself.” The sound of smacking lips was all that could be heard as she collected her thoughts. “It should follow that... we should have been more connected with every... kiss... and transfer of fluids... and...” she paused, breaking away so that we could both catch our breathes. A welcome initiative since the air was entirely gone from my lungs. “...we are,” she continued, before kissing me again, “it is not as I expected, however... there is something missing... not... enough benefits... just a link and unnecessary emotions.”
I gently pushed her back towards the table. Partially because I wanted her to have more support and partially because she was driving me mad. Her being close to me was enough to get my blood pumping and flowing as furiously as it had been before.
“We can't go any further,” she protested, a frown on her face.
“Because you don't want to or because you're not being honest with yourself? I like you and would prefer it if you felt comfortable than push you into something. I still think you should rest first, anyhow.”
“All of that is irrelevant,” she said, indicating towards the door behind me. “It's time for fate to resume its motion.”
While I still wanted to contest what she said and remind her that I didn't believe in that, I understood what she had been getting at. A familiar figure stood at the doorway. I recognized her immediately. The outside world suddenly regained prominence in my thoughts. “Reimu!” I exclaimed, surprised and delighted. It seemed like a lifetime ago that I last saw her.
“You've come for him, yes?” Patchouli let go of me and took a few steps towards the shrine maiden. “You didn't have to force your way in, I would have told my familiar to allow you to come.”
“Suspicious circumstances,” Reimu said cooly, “when a human goes missing and turns up in the company of youkai then there's reason to not trust anyone who doesn't cooperate right away.”
“Pragmatic as ever, if still lacking finesse,” Patchouli scoffed.
“I don't know what you're up to but he's coming with me.”
“He's free to do so,” Patchouli didn't put up a fight. “Take him already, I need to rest a little.”
“Will you be alright?” I asked Patchouli. She didn't look very steady on her feet. Reimu was under the assumption that I would spring out and abandon the weak magician without second thought. My concern was too genuine for it to play out like that.
“That remains to be seen,” Patchouli said dourly, a scowl forming on her face even as she began to cough a little. Patchouli made her way to the door joining the bedroom, taking her leave. Reimu had raised an eyebrow, as if skeptical of the whole scene.
“...let's go,” I told Reimu, all too aware of the futility of trying to get anything else out of Patchouli. If there was one thing I had learned about magicians, it was that they were stubborn and set in their ways. The shrine maiden led the way out. We walked down dark hallways and stairwells before finally reaching the outside. Clearly those were side passages and were almost completely devoid of furnishing or personality.
There was a heavy silence between us. The midday sun shone brightly down on the gardens, completely at odds with the season. No doubt Reimu had seen me embrace Patchouli, perhaps even kiss her. It was possible she had even overheard some of what we said. Also there was no way of knowing how long she had stood there before Patchouli noticed her. If she had any thoughts on the subject, she kept them to herself. There was a detachment to her expression which I hadn't really ever seen before – it was almost as cool and collected as Alice's or Patchouli's often were.
I thought that maybe waiting two days instead of one would allow for more votes. That doesn't seem to be the case. It's a bit of a heartbreak to proceed towards the climax and ending with not much to show for it. Still, I guess I'll force an update in a few hours if there's nothing else. Waiting even longer seems kind of pointless.
Update sometime in the next day, after sleep. Guess we limp on with one update per day, regardless. In light of the lack of numbers or activity, I'll ask again that you at least be more critical. Or at the very least more verbose. Please? It sucks to see things as they are.
>>26064 Yeah, as evidenced by the cascade of comments, theories and votes. Sure is a lot of conflict and second guessing. Don't talk for others as if you represent them, wiseman, it's annoying and pointless.
Had rather less time than I thought I would to write. Got the bulk done, so most likely will have an update in the next half day or so. It's probably better than splitting up posts and having filler. Sorry.
The silence was unnerving. We walked back at a normal pace in what would otherwise be a nice stroll on an unseasonably warm day. Ignoring, of course, the fact that we weren't really walking together. She didn't occasionally steal a glance in my direction nor say anything. It felt like we were just two people that just happened to be going in the same direction.
“How are things at the shine?” I ask, trying to dispell the stillness. It was if the question didn't even register to her. Reimu kept on walking, not even pausing or turning her head towards me. My heart sunk. I wasn't prepared to be ignored by her. “...how are things with Alice? Is she doing well?”
“She is fine,” Reimu replied brusquely, without pausing or looking at me.
Since she didn't follow up I didn't have much leeway to push further. I lagged a few steps behind Reimu, feeling uneasy. There had been times when I had seen her annoyed or put off but I had never seen her act so aloof and cold. Usually there was at least some semblence of affability.
“I'm sorry that you've had to look after her for all this time. It couldn't have been easy,” I started again as we entered the forest. The temperature was noticeably lower away from the direct sunlight. The earth was more moist as well, making each of our steps feel a little heavier. It was a reminder of what season we really were in. “I'm afraid that I haven't really found a way to help her yet.”
“...” She said nothing.
“We'll get there though, I'm not giving up,” I told her. “There's still things to try and things I want to do. If it's too much of a bother then we will get out of your hair. I'm sure that I can find an answer in her books somewhere...”
“Taking care of her isn't really your job, sorry. It's my responsibility.”
Silent as a graveyard, Reimu led on. She didn't have anything to say to me, it seemed. Not so much as a peep from her. I wasn't sure what it meant exactly, save that it was frustrating for me. It kept me quiet for a while longer, lost in my thoughts. A lot had happened in the past weeks and much of it had an almost ephemeral, dream-like quality to it. We walked on as I tried to reset my sense of time. I honestly couldn't tell how long moments or days were. My own feelings made our trip seem to last both a long time and the briefest of moments.
Before I knew it we were already at the shrine again. “What happens now?” I asked her as we climbed the old and weathered steps. The sun had returned, emerging from the wooden canopy, but was surrounded by clouds which passed and darkened the ground.
“You do what you must,” she said simply, pausing at the last step and right under the torii. I caught up to her and stared into her face for the first time since we started walking. It was a blank expression, her eyes looking beyond me at the distance.
“Are you alright?” I couldn't help but ask.
“I'm fine,” she replied. There was none of her usual candidness in her voice. She turned to look at the shrine, “Go on, don't let me keep you.”
“Keep me from what?”
“Getting things done,” she stated evasively. After a moment of pause, she added, “Did you not say that there were things that you wanted to do?”
 Check in on Alice  Stick around Reimu
- Split up after all, but in a different way. An attempt at better pacing given our energies.
Update hopefully at the same time as before (roughly 12-15 hours from now) but it'll be open until then. Partially because of my schedule and partially because I really hope you'll start being more critical. Muddling towards the end is no way to go.
>>26073 Please tell me you can't remember past this last thread rather than you haven't read this whole story.
I've been putting this off but, since nothing happens when I ask or plead, I'll state bluntly once again: We cannot continue like this. At least I can't. This story has run too long and enough has happened to make it unconscionable to carry on like this. I'm giving it my best but coasting towards the ending is not only disappointing but hurtful. I'd rather not finish the story than finish it poorly. Maybe I don't deserve a captive and enthused audience participating in my stories and, if so, it's best that I simply stop. I hope I'm not the only one who cares but, if I am, I will understand.
That the plot sucks, the characters aren't compelling and the prose poor is all on me if true. If it isn't like that, however, it's on you. I can only work with what I have and if there are no votes, slow votes, uncritical votes and no discussion or otherwise any sort of audience interaction then it's either because of you or me. I've tried to foster activity of any type in many different ways many different times. I've exhausted my options, hence this post. Let me know how this will play out for both our sakes.
You're writing a fanfiction CYOA on an anonymous imageboard, not holding a creative writing workshop. You're not going to get a paragraph of "this is what I like, here's how you could improve it" from any of us, no matter how much you cajole. We hop in, read the post, tick our vote, then leave. We refresh the page once every few days to see if there's an update.
The story is on you. You came here and decided to write for us. If you don't want to continue, then just call it off here and let it join the ranks of dead stories.
I like the story. I like the characterizations. I've posted arguments in favor of my points and so have others. It's not going to happen after every post. If you're done with it, then be done with it.
But considering the number of times you've made this statement in the past and then continued, I think you'll be back.
>>26117 I'm not asking for critique or analysis of my literary form. I don't really care that much about that.
>The story is on you After years of writing, updating and waiting for votes I'd say no. CYOAs are symbiotic relationships. Like a tabletop RPG. I'm trying to do my part but there's only so much I can do to make it work by myself. I want to continue. I really do. It's because I am heavily invested and care that I'm even bothering to try to make things better. Otherwise I'd just stop writing and go play videogames or whatever.
>It's not going to happen after every post. It doesn't seem to happen after any post. There is a horrendous lack of critical thinking or evaluation of options. Not just this update but going back for a while. Not-so-subtly I've forced it at some junctions but that's short lived. I don't think it's too much to occasionally get people to react to what happened in an update or go back and force about the benefits of a course of action. As it is the impression I get is that we are coasting along as if none of it really makes a difference. I can deal with few or slow votes but not with mechanical ones. It may be my fault that I haven't made things interesting enough to warrant more, I really thought I had, but I can't work with that either way.
>I think you'll be back. Unlikely. It hurts and it sucks to drop this but this is pretty much the only card I have left to play since nothing else has had effect. Either a story is finished properly, with support, or not at all. Just look at the other stuff I've done and then tell me I'll come back. DIM, DoaLF and Violet Sky say hello. I was clear about those and I'm being clear now. What I needed to go forward in each one, that is. Full transparency and full discloser.
I'm out of alternatives and am asking for help one last time.
I hear ya. I haven't really been voting lately, the whole Voile mini-arc got me down about the story. I've been reading, but I've also been relatively silent about the story. I'll give it another go, maybe we can move past the malaise.
[x] Check up on Alice
I want stick around Reimu, but I can't think of why. However, I can think of how she'll see it. And no it isn't good. A simple 'sorry you had to see that' would have sufficed I think. It'd be best to give her space and then talk about it on a later date. I know Arc and her were close, but I'm having trouble remembering how close. Either way, check up on Alice.
>>26072 You can't take this at face value. Think about what she just walked in on. This is an emotionally muted response to something pretty jarring.
>>26073 Yes this is weird. It's also not exactly how Reimu usually acts. This affected her immensely. Imagine, the girl you had a bit of a crush on disappeared for a few weeks. You go and bail her out and find her in bed with someone she barely knows. Switch the genders if it makes it more relevant, you'd be affected emotionally. Everything is not ok here. Reimu is a close friend, don't just brush her off!
>>26078 You're right, so let's not abandon her. Alice has been fine for these few weeks, I'm sure that Reimu has taken great care of her. The issue is with Reimu right now. Arc didn't even bother thanking her back there.
>>26079 You sir, have it right. Let's hope our fellow readers come around and see the value in Arc's friendship with Reimu.
Just think about it objectively. Based on what's happened, some important choices are coming up. If we can't even see that something is wrong with Reimu, how the heck are we going to get this story to a proper conclusion?
>>26127 >>26134 Thanks for trying so hard but there comes a point where it's simple as people either care enough or they don't. You can't force it any more because there are no appreciable returns. So either people respond and we carry on to the end or they don't - in which case we'll let go of the story and try to move on. Sucks, perhaps, but it's the hard truth. As arbitrary as it might sound, I had decided to wait a week (from Wed.) after this last appeal before deciding the fate of this so there's still hope someone else like you will respond. If not, well, at least we gave it one last try.
>>26135 If you don't find a story interesting, don't vote in it. People voting 'just because' is the exact opposite of what I'm asking for. It is, indeed, part of the problem.
>>26134 One of the deciding factors in "just walking away" is that the author makes this plea/complain once or twice every thread. At this point, I think he's Bi-polar and is going through his "down" stage. Give him a month and he'll be writing again.
Frankly, I just don't believe him. And in any case, I made my vote and contributed a bit of discussion. So unless he wants me to samefag for his ego's sake, then there's nothing more I can do.
>>26139 If you have nothing constructive to add, don't say anything at all. I've made the situation abundantly clear and if you want to act like a dick do it elsewhere please. You've added nothing - only stating that you can't be bothered to remember major things about the story and taking cheap shots at my person. If you actually want to do something useful make an actual effort instead of ignoring everything that's been said. Otherwise sod off already and just let the story die quietly. At the very least you were told upfront what to expect.
>>26135 Forgot to say in my last post: Don't vote more than once.
[X] Stick around Reimu Its clear she saw something that has upset her and leaving her like that doesn't sit well with me at all. Even if she doesn't believe our explanation we should at least try. >>26116 I've only just caught up with the story today after a couple of months of disinterest with Touhou in general and i've been here since the beginning of the story on the old site on /shrine/. If it makes you feel any better, this story and /at/ are literally the only reason I came here again. Not trying to come off as selfish or anything, but i'd be seriously disappointed if you quit. Also the story is great, the part were Arc was basically imprisoned by Patchouli really made for difficult reading because of the true feeling of helplessness I could really feel I could emphasised with, I was genuinely concerned at one point. Not many stories illicit such a feeling from me. Also I really like how you write Reimu
I should have said this a week ago at the self-imposed deadline but I've been busy; Given the limited, but not wholly absent, showing there's some reason to try to carry on for now. I've written a lot of what I wanted to and plan to finish the rest shortly. However, be aware that I'm asking more than the usual from the readers on this one. If I can't get more than just the one or two people making a real effort this time then the story will be dropped after the next post.
>>26161 I'm a bit confused about what you actually want at this point. Do you just want more votes or votes with a paragraph long explanation regarding its reasoning? Is something like >>26142 adequate or what?
>>26162 Length-wise that's fine. So is longer or shorter, it doesn't really matter. Neither does just raw numbers. What I want in votes is energy and vitality. Readers engaging one another over votes or stuff that's happened in the story. Not just seemingly voting because it's what's expected. Piping in for a comment about anything, saying how they feel about something or what they want to do. The idea is that we're making a story together and real interested is needed. It doesn't mean writing an essay or overanalyzing every single update but it does mean not glossing over major plot or character developments. It's felt particularly stagnant since about halfway through the thread. I'm trying to get the ball rolling again. This, of course, assumes that the story is enjoyable and worth investing time into. In short, especially for the next make or break update, what I'm looking for is enthusiasm, critical thinking and engagement. Just do what feels right without feeling too self-conscious and it should be fine. Hope that clarifies it somewhat.
“Let's have a cup of tea,” I suggested. However she might have been feeling, it couldn't have been good. That was reason enough to push her. If only for old times' sake.
Reimu frowned. Her expression was difficult at best – a polite smile but a blank and distant stare. Mixed messages every which way. “I don't really have time to sit around,” she said without blinking. I had no idea what she was thinking.
I felt awkward. Past events seeming had transformed our carefree and easygoing rapport into something else that I wasn't comfortable with. It was enough to make me want to take charge of the situation. “Come on,” I insisted with a smile, “it won't be so bad to talk for a bit. I'll help you out with your chores if you like as well.”
She said nothing. Her emotions were hidden behind a veil of mild disinterest. Without notice she simply turned away and walked towards the main building. I followed, feeling uneasy. A sensation which I had become familiar with in the preceding weeks washed over me. It was a mix of anxiety with forboding. Something deeply irrational within me sent that message. As in the library and with Alice before that. I tried to think about Reimu instead, running different scenarios in my head.
Was she upset with me? I found myself entertaining the thought as I followed her into the building. I hadn't done anything to upset her in the past so I had never been the target of her displeasure before. Suika often got her to frown but it was a reflex, an almost modest display given her position as a shrine maiden. She couldn't suffer whimsey and disorder – at least superficially. At the end of the day she was accommodating enough, allowing parties and enjoying the company of guests. She was quick to protest, I concluded, so it couldn't be something as simple as her being a little annoyed with me.
Honestly, I didn't want to think about any other possibility. She would come around if she was just mildly upset with me. We were friendly enough to get over minor setbacks. I had tried hard to make a good impression on her. It may have caused a sleepless night or two as I planned to take her to a festival or looked for an excuse to show up at the shrine.
“I'll make the tea,” I cut off my train of thoughts before it went somewhere I didn't want it to go. Reimu stopped to tend to basket of laundry. I made it to the kitchen by myself and got started on the tea. When it was done I found her sitting in front of a large cabinet with a pile of folded clothes next to her. She seemed to be spaced out, her hand resting on the handle of a closed drawer. “It's ready,” I announced. “Where do you want to drink it?”
She turned her head towards me, as if to acknowledge my presence, but stopped short. Blinking twice in quick succession, she simply said, “I don't want tea.”
“I insist,” I told her. She clearly wasn't very talkative but I was more than willing to press my luck. I had done so on the walk back and I had cause to try it again. Since it was unlikely that she would spontaneously decide to get up and come along I reached down and grabbed her hand, to nudge her up. “Are you feeling alright?” I asked as soon as I touched her. Her skin was ice cold. “I'll go get some medicine if you're feeling sick.”
“I'm... fine...” Reimu voiced levelly, “Just leave me to my thoughts... please.”
“You should be resting at least, I'll take care of things around the shrine.” I said, thinking she was pushing herself in order to get the chores done. Hardworking to a fault, that Reimu. “Come on now, it's ok to let others step in sometimes.”
She bolted up, her body appearing to be as startled by the sudden movement as I was. Her eyes focused on me as she shook my hand off, producing an alien but intense stare. A shiver ran down my spine as the unease raged in force. With an empty but meaningful expression she completely rejected me. “You've been as useful as you can be to me. Don't worry about this body, this mind and this heart. They don't belong to you, they belong to me. Go along, go play house for a little while longer. When I have need of you I'll summon you.”
“What are you talking about, Reimu?” I asked, confused. Her unpolished words and almost cruel tone were just entirely unlike her. It was like all the person in front of me had in common with the real Reimu was the exterior shell. The unsettling stare and coldness was a stark contrast with the usual. “I'm just trying to help you.”
“As you've helped every magician you've encountered?” she snickered with unambiguous scorn. “Perhaps you'd then like to confess your love for me too, hold me in your arms and fill my head with romantic nonsense? A truly revolting prospect.”
“I- you're talking about Patchouli.” Reimu had seen more than enough, I thought. Even if there was no excuse, no real explanation, the vituperance she spewed was too harsh. “There's nothing I can say about that, I just acted with what I thought was best at the time,” I said, pathetically enough. “There were specific circumstances regarding that and it's certainly not as straightforward as I'd like it to be. I'm not sure if I was justified or if I messed up. It is what it is and I can't just conveniently explain it away.”
“And the road to hell is paved with good intentions, I suppose?” she laughed mechanically. “Neither ashamed nor remorseful. But neither proud nor confident. What a pathetic position to be in. The middle is weak, where one is carried by events instead of shaping them and where reaction and reflection is non-existent. You wish to affect the world but have none of the willpower for it. No,” she shook her head with a twisted and mocking smile, “you don't have the stomach for it. No intrinsic value except as a tool for others.”
She took an unsteady step forward and pushed me backwards. I caught myself against the wall, holding myself up. “You're sick, you're fatigued and you're upset...”
“And you still try to rationalize in order to live in your comfortable little bubble,” she laughed dryly again, none of the usual human emotion there. “What needs to happen before you realize that there is a greater thread to all of this?”
My eyes caught a glimmer of silver from her other hand. She had produced a small blade from her clothes. She pointed the knife at me, bringing it up to chest height.
“A large shock may be necessary,” she eyed me with malign intent. “I'm sure you know what I'm talking about deep down. Your instincts, while reshaped and suppressed, have not abandoned you. The obvious answer is the right answer. I may have moved up the timetable but the truth is still there.”
“You plan to hurt me while pretending to be Reimu!” I blurted out, feeling anger and a torrent of hot emotion rise to me chest. “You can't be Reimu, she'd never do this, no matter how much I might have screwed up!”
“Wrong,” she retracted her arm, bringing the knife closer to her bosom. “Even now you deny what you know is true... delusional, hopelessly so. I don't plan to hurt you while you have a use.” She raised her hand, bringing the knife tip to her neck. “I very much am Reimu. A large part of her. And she does have a lot of very legitimate grievances addressed to you. She has, after all, witnessed some very poor judgment on your part.”
I took a deep breath. My heart raced but my mind was eerily stable. It filtered a constant message from the wellspring of emotion. My instinct told me that I was dealing with magic. Magic that was familiar. Painfully familiar.
“Looks like you've finally realized it!” 'Reimu' laughed at me, “I told you that you knew the answer. It was just a matter of forgetting what your basic senses told you. Very good, apprentice, I hope the first lesson you've had in a while has proven to be enlightening.”
“How!?” I reached out to try to grab her. I needed to check. The string, while hard to see with the naked eye, was not supposed to be invisible. “I thought you needed a physical medium.” The various dolls all had their strings which were used to send energy and instructions to them.
“Tsk, tsk,” 'Reimu' stopped me from touching her by pressing the knife just a little bit harder against her neck. The pressure caused slight discoloration to the area. Any more and the blade would pierce the skin. “You wouldn't want this doll to become permanently inactive, now would you? Keep your distance until I'm ready.”
“What do you want from me?” I tried to sense if someone else was nearby. I may have been too worked up for it to work because I couldn't even feel my own magical signature.
“I want you to continue your training, of course. There are still a few more lessons you must learn today.”
“Why involve Reimu in this? I've already agreed to learn magic, for crying out loud!”
“She is mine to do as I see fit. Everything in this shrine is likewise mine. This is simply the most expedient and straightforward way to accomplish things. As we accelerate towards the end we must take care of finishing all preparations properly.”
“Preparations for what? Why can't we just talk and reach an understanding like normal people?”
“That, my dear apprentice, is because I know your heart and I see the resistance you have to the unsavory tasks ahead. As I said, it's a matter of expedience. I'm sure you've been told that the life of a magician is all about taking advantage of people and tools at their disposal. Do we have an understanding?”
“I'll see about helping you,” I tried to bargain, “if you let Reimu go. She doesn't deserve to be used like this.”
“She's central to my plans, I'm afraid that she cannot be released at this time. If you cooperate no physical harm will come to her.” 'Reimu' winked with an unnaturally-forced smile on her lips. It was a crude display of puppeteering. “Perhaps our lucky hero Arc will even get a kiss from the shrine maiden to encourage him to do his best.”
I glared at her.
“Oh, that's a fine look!” she laughed, “some backbone yet remains! But the question is: is there any lasting hope for his willpower?”
“This isn't something that a teacher would do to her student,” I shook my head, redirecting my hostility elsewhere for the moment.
“Your mistress hasn't changed at all. Your naive outlook in face of plain reality is your own fault.'” 'Reimu' walked around me, keeping the knife steady at her throat. She stood at the doorway, “for your next task, apprentice, I need you to bring the other magician back to the shrine. That noisome brat in the forest. I don't care how you do it, subdue her if you must. Once that is done we'll finally be able to proceed. You need to do this before the sun begins to set. Otherwise we will have very severe consequences to contend with,” she smiled, like I knew exactly what she was hinting at. “Don't dally and don't waste time.”
'Reimu' left the room, her laughter echoing down the hallway. She wanted me to go fetch Marisa. By force if necessary. I tried to concentrate again, feeling for any magical energies in the area. I could feel myself but I could feel nothing else at all – not even the normal wards and streams associated with the shrine. What's more, my own presence was unexpectedly clear and radiant. I didn't feel any different but it felt like those concentrations of energy were only natural for me.
 Waste no time in finding Marisa  Confront Alice
>>26165 I'm sorry, I'm really confused about your vote. What exactly do you mean?
Now this is a twist. So either Alice actually inserted herself into the leyline somehow, or she's been playing the innocent girl card something fierce. I believe it's the former since Arc didn't feel a presence in the shrine. If so, she's essentially intangible for the time being, so any action against her without further information might be pointless.
We're presented with two options: Obey and confront later or confront now. Let's look at the merits these choices.
 Waste no time in finding Marisa Pros: Buys some time for Arc develop a plan Possibly brings an ally into the mix Saves Reimu's life for now It would mollify Alice and possibly cause her to reveal more of her plan
Cons: This would be playing directly into Alice's hands Bringing someone else into the mix would give Alice more control over Arc Backing out later would involve more collateral than just Reimu
 Confront Alice Pros: It proves that Arc has a backbone It would force Alice to show more of her hand It wouldn't involve anyone else for the time being It'd save Arc from experiencing the upcoming unsavory parts of Alice's plan
Cons: It would potentially endanger Reimu's life It would potentially endanger Arc's autonomy This option does not allow for much planning She might simply kill Arc if she no longer has any use for him
Both options have merits. I like the idea of Arc putting his foot down and confronting Alice right now, but that option wouldn't take much thought or consideration. It'd be primal and impulsive, something Arc has been accused of several times. The direct approach isn't always best when the stakes are this high. But what has got me is this: What unsavory tasks does Alice have for Arc that would make her go to this measure to force him to comply with? I see this as either "resist now and forfeit one life" or "resist later and forfeit two lives."
[x] Waste no time in finding Marisa.
We simply do not have enough to make an informed decision, nor do we have enough experience to half-ass a last stand here.
If I were Arc, I'd be wracking my brain and trying to come up with a plan. Informing Marisa of the current situation is important. If she understands, I'm sure she'll come. But we need a plan of action. We have little time.
Well, regardless, I hope this puts it in perspective for my fellow voters.
I'm glad to see that you've taken this to heart. I think it's more than enough to go on from. I think that's the majority of people as well so I might as well get to writing. You certainly don't have to go for walls of speculation (whatever you feel comfortable with really), just to make that clear, and hopefully you can see the value to being a bit more communicative and expressive. Helps put things in perspective, donnit?
I left the shrine with my nerves strangely steady. There was no logical reason to feel that way. Feelings of helplessness, if not outright despair, probably would have been more rational. The paradoxical disparity between intellect and emotion was the least of my concerns, however. There were plenty of other unanswered questions that needed my attention.
Quiet confidence began to replace the undefined but potent unease. It was wholly unjustified. With every step I took away from the shrine and into the forest the feeling grew. Nothing irreversible had happened and there was bound to be a solution. It was just a matter of being patient and playing the right card at the right moment. That optimistic sentiment prevailed even as I tried to assess the realistic obstacles in my way. The truth was that I had no idea of what I would do, just that I would do something. That something would be right and justify my faith. Circular as the reasoning may have been, it was all I had. Doing nothing was not an option.
“Marisa, we need to talk,” I knocked on her door. The curtains were drawn and there were no obvious external signs of activity. I knew she was in. I could feel her presence. More than that I could smell her scent...the taste of the air was saturated with her flavor. Even with the door in the way it felt like I could just reach out and touch her just by putting my hand out. There was no doubt that she was somewhere inside her home. “If you're asleep then it's time to wake up,” I said as I knocked again, louder. I got the feeling that she wasn't asleep instead that she was just carefully observing me. “I'm not joking around. This is important.”
Just as I was about to threaten to break in if I had to, the door's bolt slid back. I opened the door. There was no one on the other side. There wasn't much of anything. The mess I had seen last time I had been over was missing. Piles of books, dusty bottles and filthy nicknacks were all gone. The room was clear of even the furniture, leaving an open and dark space connected to closed doors. “Marisa? Where are you?” I called out, taking a few steps inside.
I reached the middle of the room when the door shut behind me. “That's far enough,” Marisa voiced dryly. She had somehow appeared behind me. I turned to find her with a humorless scowl instead of her usual happy-go-lucky smile. “What do you want?” she asked gruffly, like she had no time to suffer my presence.
“I need you to come to the shrine. Reimu is in trouble. Alice... might be as well.”
“Not going to happen.”
“You're the only one I can turn to. I was told to fetch you for whatever reason but I think that together we have the ability to get to the bottom of all of the crazy stuff that's been happening.”
“Crazy stuff?” she raised an eyebrow, “this here is crazy. I have no reason to think that you're acting in my best interests.”
“Reimu is being controlled by someone else. Alice lost her memories a while ago and now might be responsible for something bad. This isn't about your best interests,” I exclaimed sharply, “it's about helping our friends! You're the last person I expected this self-interested magician crap from!”
Her stance didn't soften. Instead she hurled accusations at me, “you come here with an overwhelming presence demanding that I go along with you. I can feel that nothing good come from this and I'm almost sure that you aren't the Arc that I know. He wouldn't have such a powerful signature and demand anything from anyone. I have to conclude that you've been taken in by a youkai or become one yourself! There's no other explanation.”
“I told Patchouli and I'll tell you – I'm not a threat to anyone. I'm just trying to help my friends. Why the hell is that so hard to understand?!”
“What are you going to do if I don't go with you?” she asked cooly. I knew the answer she expected.
“It's just important that you come... something bad will happen at the shrine if you don't. I don't want there to be any more misunderstandings.”
“That determination I feel coming from around you tells me that you're prepared to do anything... something foolish...” she sighed, like she regretted something.
I realized only too late what it was. She pointed a hand at me and silently mumbled a few words. Magical energy concentrated quickly and manifested itself using the blonde girl as a conduit. It was directed in my direction.
A field of energy sprung to life around me. Bright lights and colors were shot upwards from sigils marked on the floor. A barrier. Specifically placed to hold me in place and keep me from doing anything.
“Now then, that should keep you occupied until I figure out what's really going on,” Marisa smirked. Her brash confidence wasn't entirely gone, just hidden until the right moment came up. “I'm sorry if you feel any discomfort but I had to make it extra resistent because of how different you feel now.”
“We can work together, there's no need for this,” I said, trying to move a little. It was no good. I was stuck in place like my feet were weighed down by mountains. It was definitely more powerful than the barrier Alice had put me in for practice. This had the clear intent of holding me rather than just anyone.
“No can do!” Marisa grinned. Her spirits lifted, she allowed herself to get chatty. “I don't think you'll be doing much of anything for a while. It was worth it to put in the extra effort, even if I feel a little lightheaded because of it. My, I might even need to lie down at this rate!” she laughed at her own unfunny joke.
“I'm not going to give up,” I stated. My words were surprisingly calm, coming from a part of me that refused to feel panic. “You need to go to the shrine with me before sunset. Reimu can't be hurt over this petty shit.”
“Don't worry about Reimu, I'm sure she'll be fine. I'll make sure to help her if I get the chance,” she waved goodbye as she walked towards the door, like she had more important things to attend to. It was annoyingly flippant. “I'll show up at the shrine, alright, but on my own terms. Later!”
While annoyed, I didn't feel any anger. I was above her pettiness. A voice in my head told me that results were the only thing that mattered. I could do as I pleased and still come out on top. The only one who didn't know that was Marisa. She underestimated me. I probably would have underestimated myself if I didn't feel for some reason that I had the advantage.
 I would stop her from leaving  I could let her go for the moment
>>26179 While this could be the case, I don't know that we have enough evidence for that. There is that voice to think about, but that's all I see.
Arc is extraordinarily focused right now, think back to the dream in Voile and every other time he's succeeded in using his magic. I could be wrong though. How are things similar? How are they different?
I love the dynamic of this choice! Do we keep our power in check and let her go? Or do we subdue her for her own good? There's a lot to consider here.
>>26180 I know one thing for sure, she isn't going to be of any help to Arc. He only has himself left to rely on. If Arc stops her from leaving, she will immediately be unreachable with reason. If Arc lets her go, she will think that her spell was enough to hold him. It's a lose-lose situation. She might show up later at sundown, or she might not. And when she finally does, what will she do? Use her Master Spark on the shrine? The enemy is intangible for right now, a purely straightforward attack won't work. If the enemy is Mima, she'll likely shut Marisa down easily, possibly hurting her in the process. Our sole intent here needs to be that we want to protect our friends. That should override whatever the voice wants Arc to do.
Marisa has no idea what's going on and she has no way of finding out. She'll probably be a liability and we won't be able to guarantee Reimu's safety.
I agree with this guy right here. We can't just let Marisa go without any information on who or what the threat is. It's reckless, and with the life of one of our closest friends on the line,I don't think we have the luxury of being reckless.
Marisa stopped before reaching the door, turning to look at me with a smile. Humoring me, she asked, “and why that be? Doesn't look like you have much choice.”
“I'm not going to let you leave me behind, that's why.” I replied, none too fussed. “It's true that I don't have much choice but not because of you. I'm not going to play games with the lives of the people I care about. Therefore, I'm getting out of this trap and taking you with me.”
“Wow, did you hit your head or something?” Marisa asked with something approaching legitimate concern in her tone. Surprise at how confident I seemed to be. Not that I could blame her. I wasn't sure where my confidence was coming from either. It wasn't like I had a rational reason for backing my words up.
“I've gone through a lot since I started learning about magic,” I answered, “but no, I haven't hit my head.”
“Maybe you're trying to act cool and detached?” she proffered, head tilted in contemplation, “going for a bad boy heartthrob mystique?”
I didn't understand half of what she said. It didn't really matter. “I'm just telling you the facts,” I said flatly, “it'd probably be easier if you just accepted it and we went to the shrine quietly.”
“Talk about denial,” she shook her head, “I'll make sure to get a doctor on my way back, something obviously happened to your head.”
Just as she began to turn to leave again I made my move. I pointed the palm of one hand ahead of me, to the edge of the barrier. “We can still do this the civilized way, Marisa.”
“Go ahead, just try it,” she dismissed me, “that would probably hold someone like me for a good while. Brute force won't get you anywhere.”
“I don't need force...” I took a deep breath, my body moving by itself as if by reflex. It was like checking my pockets in order to lock up the store after a day of work or opening my window in the mornings. Without thinking I directly affected my surroundings seamlessly. Color swirled around my hand, growing and moving to encapsulate my whole body. For the briefest of moments I was in the middle of a vortex of swirling energies. Those energies, however, were clearly directed and shaped for a very specific purpose. Like a key hitting all of the right tumblers as it turned in a lock, the energy melded with the barrier and resonated in just the right way.
The barrier dissolved around me. It dropped off towards the sigils inscribed on the ground like a cloak being cast off by a weary traveler at the end of a journey. I stood free and unencumbered. An “eh?” was all a very nonplussed Marisa was able to manage.
“I seem to have had the key,” I told her, explaining it to her as much as to myself. We were both probably skeptical of that explanation. But the results spoke for themselves. It was the convenient thing to believe.
“...crap,” Marisa tensed up. Her good humor vanished. The seriousness from earlier returned in force, making her eye me with open hostility. It was clear that I wasn't registering as the inoffensive Arc who was in way over his head. “I'll just have to be more forceful,” she told herself. Giving herself a small nod first, she then yelled at me, “get out of my way!”
That was only a split second before a scattering of massive pellets of energy came hurtling in my direction. One of them hit me square in the chest. Rays of pain shot up from the spot to my extremities. My body temperature shot up to an uncomfortable level, instantly causing me to sweat. The wind was knocked out of me, making me crumple to my knees. It was like getting hit by a large rock with the added bonus of making me feel like I was in an oven.
Marisa wasn't liable to let up just because I had been hit, I knew that. Without pausing to overthink my situation, I rolled to my left, still trying to catch my breath all of the while. Another pellet grazed me, missing my head by a few hairs' breadth. When the next near miss came, however, I was back on my feet and did something a little different. Energy shot out from me, directed in much more concentrated beam of fire. Although it felt like it would connect instantaneously with the target, Marisa somehow managed to avoid it. A renewed assault was what I got for my efforts but it was easier to avoid getting hit again. Glancing hits seemed to deflect harmlessly while I was able to see when the more direct shots where coming. My own efforts weren't any more successful.
Escalation was inevitable.
Fast shafts of light saturated the area. The air seemed to crackle and distort, pregnant with the aftereffects of all the energy that was being exchanged. An acrid smell filled the room. In the wake of every passing beam and pellet the temperature seemed to go up. I wasn't going down or being overwhelmed and neither was Marisa. I wasn't really thinking as I moved along and I certainly didn't have a plan.
I saw something which I hadn't seen in weeks. Hellfire rained down on Marisa, the unforgettable orange-red balls of energy swarming her relentlessly. The unbearable heat surrounded her and gave her no quarter. My own punishment was a light show as vivid and varied as the clear night sky. I was cut and assaulted by spells that all hurtled towards me without mercy. Behind me, I felt one of the walls buckle and give way to the ceaseless barrage of magic. A powerful gust of wind filled the room as a result, cold and hot air crashing against each other and making it harder to concentrate.
The advantage was mine, ultimately. Along with the fire and energy I added whirlwinds. The vortexes were too much to handle along with the rest of what was going on. One, then two, three and more projectiles hit her. Followed by a beam. It caught her directly and unambiguously.
I spat out a mouthful of blood. My body hurt in places but I'd live. Nothing too bad had happened to me. The room itself was a mess. There had been no furniture or items to ruin but some spots on the wall were warped and looked liable to buckle at any moment. The hole from the middle of the exchange was sizable too, as large as a window. The floorboards were scuffed up beyond all reckoning and were probably better replaced outright than buffed and polished. It’d be a waste of time not to simply overhaul them.
Marisa was lying still on the floor. The only sign of life she showed was the relatively peaceful rising and falling of her chest. The rest of her was a mess. At some point her braid had become undone and her hair messily spilled on both her face and the floor. Its appearance was filthy, turning the color from a bright and standard blond to a darker dirty blond. Each strang drapped over a surface as heavy as lead. Her clothes were torn and tarnished in multiple spots and both skin and undergarments could be distinguished through some of the larger gashes. Her face was moist and her clothes were stuck on to her from all of the heat she experienced. There was no blood and her facial expression was peaceful all things considered. The energetic girl appeared to be perfectly muted for once.
I might have been worse for the wear than her judging by looks alone. I wasn't sure how much pep was left in her or would be left in her when she came around again.
 Take her to the shrine  Wait for her to wake up first
[x] Take her to the shrine I'd usually find this (carrying an unconscious girl to a dangerous situation) ridiculous but there's no time to waste. Besides what will be the difference between her waking up on the house and her waking up in the shrine? If she truly acknowledges Arc as an ally (and waking up unharmed may help in that) I'm sure her first words will be 'why are we still here?!'
Marisa didn't weigh me down in the least. It may have been that I was eager to get back to the shrine or I was stronger than I gave myself credit for. In the end all that mattered was that I was able to carry her through the woods without feeling encumbered. She was out for the duration and didn't even stir when I picked her up or set her down.
“I see that power trumped reason,” I was greeted by 'Reimu'. “Someone like her who started on this path by herself it's only natural to fail to understand the importance of reason and subtlety.”
“I've done as asked, leave Reimu out of this,” I wasn't in the mood to hear barbed assessments of other people's lives.
“She's an integral part of everything,” 'Reimu' said, “I can't leave her out of this. No harm will come to her or anyone else if you're a good little boy.”
“What are you going to do with Marisa?” I asked. I had placed her gently down on the tatami. Though I brought her along I wasn't about to just stand by and have something bad happen to her.
“Nothing too unpleasant for her,” 'Reimu' said with a toothy grin, “you've already done most of the legwork. It's just a matter of making sure everything is alright.”
She approached the unconscious blonde, kneeling down next to her. I watched as she ran her hand over Marisa's dress, as if inspecting all of the damage I had caused. She worked her way to her face and stopped, holding her by the chin and swiveling her head both ways. She took out something small from one of her pockets and placed it in her own mouth. Parting Marisa's lips slightly by fiddling pulling on her chin, she bent over her and locked lips with her.
Even though she was passed out, Marisa still reacted a little to the oral intrusion. She squirmed as 'Reimu' kissed her. The would-be shrine maiden kept at it for a short while before breaking away. She turned and smiled at me, as if to ask whether or not I was comfortable with what happened. Seeing me continue to eye her with distrust she simply laughed a little and stroked Marisa's head as if trying to reassure her. Of course it was clear that she was mocking the both of us. “That's all I needed her for,” she declared. “The next step comes after sunset.”
“I'm going to figure out some way to return all my friends back to normal.”
“You do that,” she said with obvious disinterest. If she was the adult with all the power in the relationship I was just a mere child, talking big but incapable of doing anything. She confirmed my impression by waving me off, “bark bark, if it makes you happy, but don't forget that you can't bite.”
“Why are you doing this? Surely you can stop playing with me and just tell me what you have planned.”
“All in due time, apprentice.” she smirked, distorting Reimu's face into a callous spectacle of her former self. It sickened me to see her perverted like that. “You've no use to me for the moment so you may do as you please until an hour after sunset. I'm sure that you'll enjoy it more if you stick around your blonde little friend here rather than keep on trying to tell yourself that you'll find something to stop all of this.”
“So there is something I can do that you don't want me to find out. You're trying to keep me here,” I played the only card I had, trying to call her bluff.
“No, not especially,” she shrugged easily and smoothly, betraying nothing of her thoughts. “I've seen what kind of person you are and merely am telling you about something you'll enjoy. It's a reward, apprentice, if you wish to think of it like that. For being timely in bringing this child over. By all means, however, leave her alone and do what you feel you must. Just another missed opportunity of many.”
And with that last thought she left me once again, disappearing somewhere into the shrine. Her mind games were horrible. There was no tell and nothing to build logical suppositions from. She could have been honest and she could have been lying and there was nothing but my gut to tell me which it was. I already didn't trust her and I expected that was precisely what she assumed about how I felt. Truly maddening.
We dun goofed? Things could go either way right now. For one, we missed out on a chance to think, plan, and prepare. On the other hand, we avoided angering the person controlling Reimu and possibly fighting her unprepared without any foreknowledge.
Right now atleast, I think the best choice would be to wait with Marisa and observe and investigate around the shrine. Arc used to clean the odd shrine piece that most likely held Mima, correct? Maybe it'd be worth investigating.
The other thought is, aren't magicians bound by the letter of the law, but not the spirit? If so, we never agreed to keeping Marisa at the shrine, or leaving her unconscious there, just that we'd bring her to the shrine. We also never agreed to not leaving with her in tow to get help. Patchy, or even Byakuren if this is after TH12, might know what "Reimu" slipped down Marisa's throat.
I won't vote yet. Not sure what to go with as both options have consequences. Leave for help and risk leaving Marisa to harm, or stay with Marisa but be stuck at the shrine, alone, without back up. And I'm not sure if we can make a plan C as a "Fuck you" to Reimu's controller. There aren't many things more defiant that rejecting the options the antagonist gave and making your own.
>>26199 Moving Marisa somewhere would count as sticking with her. Practically speaking it would have the same effect. Which you will see why if you vote to stay with her. I'd rather reduce the choices into their simplest branches rather than create a mess with permutations that feed back into one or two results in the end.
Tough call. I'm really annoyed at Marisa, but I can't really justify leaving until after sunset.
>>26207 I honestly don't think we're dealing with Alice here. Reimu might very well be possessed by Mima somehow. I don't know though, it's been left ambiguous on purpose here. What I do know is that this person is not acting like the Alice we know.
>>26209 That is the issue isn't it? Here's the thing, we had a bond with Mima first, hence the original mark. The bond with Alice didn't eliminate that mark, but simply covered it up, as far as I remember. It stands to reason that Mima could be using that connection. If so, Arc isn't relying on his own power here at all. Mima could possibly be using it to siphon power.
But I don't know for sure. What I do know is that Arc was having an effect on Alice first, then Patchouli. There's more to this than meets the eye, I'm just having trouble remembering the exact details and hints left by the writer.
After thinking on it for a while, I think Arc should leave. Marisa is going to be pretty pissed at Arc when she wakes up, considering that she probably felt that kiss. She won't be any help at all. I think leaving might the potential to give Arc a new perspective. He needs to clear his head and refresh. I also do not want to follow what the voice "instructs" us to do any longer.
The supine Marisa looked absolutely defenseless. Softly breathing, her chest rising and falling almost imperceptibly, she was anything but the brash and chipper girl I had come to know. That was my fault. I had knocked her out and allowed for her to be used. That I was more or less forced into it didn't matter, shirking responsibility was not something I was going to do. I made choices and it wouldn't do to deny their outcomes.
I felt uneasy at the prospect of leaving her alone.
Instead of staring at her and getting lost in my thoughts I decided to do what little I could. I fetched a brush, a pail of water and a pair of towels. Marisa was, for all of her excess and bravado, one of the most well-groomed and fastidious people I knew. Her clothes, while a little garish, were always clean and tidily worn. Her hair was normally neat and her braid lovingly tied with a single ribbon (that matched her outfit). As she was she was the complete opposite of her usual self; Her hair was wild and her clothes in a state of excessive disarray.
It fell upon me to take care of her as a sign of respect. I brushed her hair slowly, mindful of not pulling too hard and hurting her. I moistened a towel too and used it to wipe the dirt and scratches that she had gotten as a result of our scuffle. Marisa stirred a little at the wet sensation but was otherwise completely pliable. In a sense, it was like I was playing with a human-sized doll, doing her up as I liked. There wasn't much I could do about her clothes, however. I couldn't darn and mend on the spot so instead I removed a few awkwardly-hanging ribbons and retied the bow around her neck.
She looked considerably better when I was done. I didn't know how much vanity was important to her but it felt like the right thing to do. As I tried to gently reposition her so that she lay her head on a pillow, she finally began to come to. Her eyebrows scrunched and her lips pursed momentarily as she let out a small groan. “Ugh,” she complained as she struggled to open her eyes. Her nose twitched and her hands began to move sluggishly around. With another groan she finally opened her eyes, taking more than a few moments to regain focus and try to make sense of her surroundings.
“Hey there,” I greeted her quietly, giving her some space to work things out.
“...” she stared at me blankly. I feared I had seen that look before and my heart sank. My brain told me that I should have seen it coming.
I had to be absolutely sure. My voice almost quivering with anxiety, I asked, “Marisa, do you know who I am?”
“...I...” her voice was subdued and her pause uncomfortably long. She was looking at me curiously, like she was searching for the right answer.
“Do you know who you are?”
“...Marisa, of course,” she regained some of her composure as she gave her answer. “You're Arc and these are stupid questions. Why are you treating me like an idiot?”
“I wasn't sure if you were alright,” I said with a lot of relief.
“I'm not – my head hurts like hell and I feel really tired,” she complained. “I don't know what happened but I probably messed up somehow.”
“Sorry if I hurt you, I didn't mean to.” Marisa had trouble doing anything else but speaking. She tried to sit up but found her strength lacking and her limbs uncooperative. I helped her to sit up. “A lot has happened but maybe we can help each other out now,” I told her.
“I can't really trust you,” she stated. Marisa winced and placed a palm on her face to steady her head. Pain was apparently coming and going, shooting at times viciously up to her head. Her willpower was probably the only thing that was keeping her going and even that seemed to be strained to the limit. “You're... being forceful and acting suspiciously. I don't know what's going on yet.”
“I'll tell you then,” I sat down across from her. I didn't know how persuasive I could be but I still gave the truth a try. I gave her a rundown of what had been happening lately, starting with Alice losing her memory. A lot of details were omitted (there was no point in telling her about my personal relationship with Patchouli) but there was still a lot to say. For her part she looked about as attentive as she was capable of and she tried to keep eye contact in between fits of discomfort. “That's why I needed to bring you over here right away,” I explained, “I was playing it safe. It would have been better if you had come along willingly.”
“Did anything happen while I was out?” She asked, uneasy undertones evident in her words.
“You were made to swallow something. I don't know what it was.”
“I need to get out of here,” she mumbled. Marisa tried to stand up but couldn't get her legs to coordinate with the rest of her body. She tried several times and frustrated herself every time. “Dammit,” she cursed, her breath ragged. I tried to talk to her some more but she shut me out, refusing to allow me to help her either way. “This is ridiculous.”
At length, Marisa seemed to give up, quietly resigning herself to a curled up ball against a wall.
“Let's figure this one out together,” I extended the olive branch once again.
“...I feel sick. I feel like throwing up.” It seemed like she had more pressing matters on her mind. She wasn't snubbing me so much as being preoccupied with how things were for her. Nauseous and confused, she wasn't in the mood for doing anything too strenuous. I brought her a glass of water from the kitchen and she drank it gladly. Growing quieter, she closed her eyes and stopped complaining about how she felt.
“Marisa?” I shook her gently. Seeing her act so passive was disquieting.
“Oh, hey,” she said groggily, once again opening her eyes. “I feel really, really hot, like I'm going to burn up.”
“Do you want more water?”
“Mmm... no,” Marisa said after a pause. She began to slur a little as she spoke, “I waant to feeel, mm, cooler.” It was almost like she was drunk. She tugged at the bow around her neck, trying to loosen it. I got it for her, undoing the top of her blouse for her. “Mmm, still no good...”
“What are you doing?” I asked. She had grabbed my hand and had moved it towards her skirt.
“Help me down here, it's really, really hot. Take it off before I burn up.” I touched her on the forehead – her temperature seemed about normal. I offered her a moist towel to cool herself off but she refused. “I need your help,” she insisted, “I can't seem to do anything by myself.”
Reluctantly, I helped her out. I stripped her to her undergarments and asked if she felt any better.
“A little,” she replied. “Feels better when you're touching me.”
The coin dropped about what was going on. “Don't you see what's going on?” I explained, “this is probably an effect of whatever it is you swallowed. This is... something sexual.”
“Oh no,” Marisa lamented weakly, “I'm sorry for being so lewd. I feel an itch everywhere that's hot and uncomfortable. It feels better the less clothes I have on and the more you help me...”
“You should try to get some rest. This is probably just temporary. If you sleep you'll feel better when you wake up.” I had no idea if that was true or not. I just didn't know how to handle the situation. A vulnerable and confused Marisa was not something that I could have handled well even if circumstances had been different. The last time she had been so defenseless was when I kissed her and that had very mixed results.
“I can't,” she started, a solitary tear rolling down her cheek. All she was was a scared girl who didn't know what to do. “Stay close to me please, I don't want to be alone.”
“Don't worry,” I comforted her, “I'm not going to leave you alone.” Only a heartless monster would abandon her. I sat by her side, wrapping my arm around her shoulder. She moaned at the contact.
“You can...” she started, pausing with traces of hesitation, “um, help me feel better if you want.”
“This isn't really what you want, it's just whatever you were given speaking. Just hold out, it'll pass,” I told her.
“I'm alright with it if it's you,” she admitted rather nonchalantly. “I don't want to feel sick anymore. Please, I know it's selfish of me, but you're the only thing that's making me feel better. Your touch is cool and relaxing. I... wouldn't ask otherwise.”
I recalled what she had said last time we had shared an intimate moment. Out in the rain and sharing that bed. And the morning after. I realized that I was holding her just like she would have wanted and smiled. That encounter seemed like a lifetime ago when things were significantly simpler than there were at present.
She weakly took a hand and lethargically drew it across her body. “It feels... a little better when I do it myself but I think I need help.”
 Help her feel better  She's on her own
- I'm really sorry for dropping off yet again. I wasn't sure about a status post since I kept trying to do something and never could get something concrete going. There's been a lot going on and I haven't been able to focus on this (or much of anything else). You may have also noticed other stories being sporadic as well for similar reasons. I've forced this out but split it so hopefully I can feel motivated enough to get back into it full force. This isn't a critical choice and no serious consequences for either outcome so there's no need to overthink it. There's some stuff in there to help fill in some blanks I guess. tl;dr life sucks and pulls no punches.