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[x] I should go...
[x] ...to Patchouli's place.
I'll go get help, I decide.
By youself? Hourai asks, frowning.
Somebody has to protect Master, I point out, and we seem to be the only two left that can even fly.
That's... logical, but where will you go? Surely not all the way to the bamboo place?
The mansion across the lake. Someone there is bound to help, or at least pass the message on.
Hourai nods slowly. That sounds reasonable. But be quick, and stay out of trouble.
A few moments later I'm outside, swiftly rising above the treetops. The sky is clear and the moon is almost full so I can see my way easily. That said, it's surprisingly cold outside tonight. I hope Master doesn't get cold... wait, is it getting colder?
"Ahahaha! I see you hidin' there! Hang on, what are you?"
"Ah! It's a cute little dolly!"
Oops. Fairies. Just the two of them though. I wasn't on the lookout for them, since they don't normally come here at night.
"I don't see the creepy doll lady anywhere, so this one's mine!"
"Wait, Cirno! Don't break it!"
The louder of the two sends a hail of ice needles at me. They're as long as I am tall! On one hand, being big makes them easy to dodge, but on the other, if they hit...
The other fairy suddenly appears right in front of me, arms outstretched. I dive straight down, letting gravity speed me to avoid her and the ice at the same time.
"Ouch! Cirno! Watch where you're shooting!"
"I'm shootin' straight ahead! Don't pop up in front o' me!"
The second fairy appears directly ahead of me again and lets off a bright spiral of danmaku. I can't dive this time without landing in the lake, so I pull up. I fire a haphazard shower of bullets in her direction, both to distract her and to push me away from her. It works, but it's draining.
"It knows danmaku! All right, game on!"
...I'm not sure I should have done that. The loud fairy seems to have taken it as an excuse to go all-out. The lake itself is starting to ice over, and some of the shards she's throwing now are bigger than she is. I can't dodge everything and keep an eye on the teleporting one at the same time.
I try shooting at the weaker fairy some more, and she teleports out of the way. But it seems she can't do it too often, so that means I get to decide when she uses it, giving me time to focus on dodging. It also makes a very distinctive noise, which starts a fraction of a second before she disappears.
I stop shooting and put on a burst of speed, making a break for open air. Wait for it... wait for it... now.
There's a loud yelp as the second fairy teleports straight into the strongest laser I can manage. Blinded by the beam, she also fails to dodge the wall of ice the first one sent after me.
"Shut up! It's gettin' away!"
The teleporting fairy gives up on her trick and starts shooting constantly like her friend. I'm too spent to shoot back. Even my flying is slowing down. A quick glance backwards tells me I'm almost over the lake. I just need to shake these two.
I stop. The ice fairy loses me among the bullets and flies right past. The second fairy doesn't notice me until I'm right on top of her.
I spend all my remaining energy on one last laser. It hurts. It sucks the life out of me and turns me inside out. My body goes limp and I start to fall.
Then the fairy explodes. The blast wipes out the bullets and flings me high in the air. I crash headfirst into the grass and roll several times, ending up on my back.
I lie there for a minute or two, silently watching the sky. There's no sign of the loud fairy. Either she chain-reacted with her friend or she gave up and wandered off.
I lift one arm up and flex the fingers. It feels heavy, but it moves. I slowly roll over and get up. I'm exactly where I wanted to be, on the lawn in front of the big red mansion.
I make my way over to the gate. The only sign of life I can see anywhere is the woman leaning against it. She's standing perfectly still and her face is in shadow.
Excuse me, I try. I have an urgent message for Miss Patchouli.
No reaction. Wait, is she asleep? Her eyes are closed. With nothing much else I can do, I cautiously reach out and tug on her skirt.
Her eyes snap open. They flick left, right, up, and finally, down.
"Oh! Hello there!" I take a few steps back as she leans down. "You're one of Miss Margatroid's dolls, aren't you?"
"Do you have some business with Lady Patchouli?"
I nod vigorously. She laughs.
"Don't let me keep you then!" She straightens up and puts a hand on the gate. There's a click, and she swings it open. "In you go. You know your way to the library, right?"
I shake my head. She laughs again.
"Don't worry, Sakuya will show you the way then."
I stand there for a moment, not sure what to do. Then I quickly bow and hurry inside. The gatekeeper laughs yet again as she closes the gate. She's a very cheerful person.
I walk to the front door as quickly as I can without falling over on the gravel. I pause for a moment, not sure how I'm going to open them, but then they open by themselves.
I step inside.
Everything is red. Red carpet. Red walls. Red lamps mounted at regular intervals. The lamps are too dim to light the high ceiling, and the floor on either side of the carpet is black, making the hall look like it's floating in an endless void.
"Oh? Are you by youself today, Miss Shanghai?"
I turn around quickly. Someone is standing between me and the door. She's almost entirely white, a stark contrast against the red.
"Are you here to see the Mistress?"
I don't think she means Patchouli, so I shake my head slowly.
"Then perhaps Lady Patchouli?"
"I see. This way, please."
Even though she's purposefully walking slowly, I still have to run to keep up with her. It's tiring, but much easier than flying. The halls are long and the lamps only light as we get near, making them seem even longer.
Eventually we come to a large door, the first one I've seen since I came in. On the other side of it are books. Shelves stretch as far as I can see to the left, right and up. In front of us there is a gap, through which I can see row after row just like this one.
The lady in white keeps walking straight ahead. I try to count how many rows we pass, but I lose track at about fifty.
Eventually we come to a... desk. It's mostly a messy pile of books, but there is a desk underneath.
"Lady Patchouli? You have a visitor," the white woman says.
"Oh? How rare," the pile of books replies.
There's a shuffling sound, and a person emerges from the pile. I recognise her right away: Patchouli Knowledge, the very person I'm looking for.
The white woman steps to one side and gestures in my direction. Patchouli stares at the space above me for a few seconds, then finally looks down.
I bow politely. Hello, Miss Patchouli. My name is Shanghai. Please excuse my interruption.
Patchouli tilts her head to one side. "Magical signalling, similar to the impulses used to direct semi-autonomous constructs but broadcast in an omnidirectional fashion." She bows very slightly. "I apologise, Miss Doll, but while I am aware that you are attempting to communicate with me, I cannot interpret what you are saying."
...oh no. Why didn't I think of that sooner!? I cast about for some means of explaining myself. Maybe I could write in the dust...?
Patchouli kneels and places her hand in front of me, palm up. I figure out what she wants in a moment and step onto it. She lifts me up with some effort.
"You're heavier than I was expecting."
She carries me back to her desk, where she puts me down and starts moving a few book out of the way. She finds a blank sheet of parchment and holds a pen out to me.
"I assume you are familiar with the written word?"
I take the pen and, holding it like a broom, scratch out a message on the parchment.
mAsTER coLLAPsED、 HElP
"Miss Alice is unwell?" Patchouli asks shaply.
I shake my head.
"Skin discoloration, rash or swelling?"
"Diffculty breathing, sweating or convulsions?"
"Recent indications of illness? Behavioural abnormalities?"
"Recent contact with unusual magical reagents or environmental anomalies?"
"Recent altercations with Marisa?"
"I see. Koakuma!"
A winged figure appears behind Patchouli. "Eh?"
"I will be going out. Please inform Sakuya that I may not return until tomorrow, and that I may be found either at the Margatroid residence or Eientei."
"Are you currently able to fly?"
I shake my head.
"Do you object to being carried?"
Patchouli picks me up bodily and rockets out the door. The halls pass in a flash and we're high over the lake a moment later. No fairies interrupt us as we return to Master's house in less time than it took me to walk from the library door to Patchouli's desk.
"Excuse me," Patchouli says as she opens the door.
Master is exactly as I left her. Hourai and Amsterdam are slowly cleaning up fallen dolls, broken dishes and spilled food. They stop what they're doing as Patchouli puts me down and kneels beside Master. She mutters some strange words, making glowing circles and symbols appear in the air beneath her hands.
"...I see," she says after a while. "It is not as severe as I had feared."
She pauses, looking around the room for something, then shakes her head, slides her arms under Master and lifts her up.
Hourai follows her upstairs, towards Master's bedroom.
What's going on? Is Shanghai back?
Two more dolls walk in from the kitchen. It takes me a moment to remember their names; the one in red with the black hair is London, and the yellow one is Berlin.
Miss Patchouli is here, she's taking care of Master, I explain.
Oh good. Is she going to be okay? Berlin asks.
I think so. She just carried her up to bed, so it can't be that bad. How many of us are still moving?
Just us, Kyoto and Matryoshka. Kyoto can still fly, so she's on watch outside. The rest of us... Berlin jumps. She floats through the air more slowly than normal, but still falls back down.
I can't fly either for now. I used up all my energy fighting fairies.
Whaat, really!? All by yourself!? London exclaims.
I nod. I only just managed to make it across the lake. Patchouli had to carry me back.
Hauuu, I wish Master would wake up... Amsterdam says.
Hourai returns from upstairs.
Master should be up and about in the morning, she says. Patchouli said she'll stay the night.
We all heave a sigh of relief.
She wants one of us to stay in Master's room tonight, too keep an eye on her.
I'll go, I say. I don't think I can do much else right now.
Nobody objects, so I...
Er, Hourai? Could you...?
Hourai picks me up and carries me up the stairs.
Sorry to be a burden like this... I say.
Just don't let it become a habit, she replies.
I walk quietly to Master's room. Master is lying in bed, and Patchouli is sitting in a chair beside her.
"Your Master is in no danger for the time being," Patchouli says softly. "However, she must not attempt to get up or do anything until I've spoken to her about her condition. I would like you to remain here and ensure she stays in bed. If she needs anything, call me first. Can you do that?"
"Thank you. I will be waiting in the living room downstairs. I do not sleep."
She gets up and moves the chair back to Alice's desk. I grab her attention before she leaves, and motion at Master's bedside table.
"...ah. Of course."
She lifts me up and places me on the table, where I can see Master's face.
[ ] Heart
[ ] Mind
[ ] Body
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