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[X] Invite Patchouli to the village.
Alice isn’t a physical threat to you or your research. You’ve ascertained that much beyond any real doubt. As for whether she’s a threat to your mood and continued mental health, you’re still unsure. Regardless, she’s put you in an inconvenient situation.
Well, you’re willing to forgive her that. It was a long time ago, but you were like her once. At the very least, now you can still understand where she’s coming from.
“You wish for me to accompany you into the village, is that it?”
“Um, that’s right…”
“I refuse. I do not like being around many people, and it seems it’s going to get quite hot today. It’s a good day to be indoors.”
You’re not sure if this is another inane plan to get you to leave the library, or another inane plane to try to befriend you. You’re also not sure which would be worse. Either way, it’s best to cut if off early. If she wanted to spend some time in the library, you wouldn’t begrudge her that, but leaving is another things altogether.
“Since we both don’t like crowds, I was, um, thinking that maybe we could go to a bookstore instead…”
“I highly doubt that it’s selection can compare to this library.”
“Y-you never know. Bookstores can have some real hidden gems in them sometimes. I’ve heard a rumor that the one in the village carries demon books.”
Well that does change things. Even if it’s just an excuse, it’s an intriguing offer. If it’s just this much, then it should be fine. You want to make up for your earlier foolish misassessment of her, but you can’t be the friend she wants. It would be better that she stop trying to force that idea upon you. Rather than a friend, you wouldn’t mind having a fellow magician to talk to discuss magic and your research with. Having a comrade like that would be far more valuable than any friend.
“I see. So this is a scholarly expedition.”
“Well, I suppose that’s one way to put it.”
“Then, I don’t mind joining you for it. Just don’t think that this means anything more.”
“Thanks! I mean, um, glad to have you.” The wide smile she wears tells you that she was far more focused on the first thing you said then the rest. “Let’s get going before it gets really hot.”
You lead her outside the SDM, thankfully evading any encounters with Remilia. Knowing her. she wouldn’t have been able to resist making some comment about it being a date, and that’s the last direction that you want the conversation to go in. As soon as you step outside, you regret this venture. Has the sun always been this hot and bright?
“It’s no good Alice. I’ve been around Remilia too long, I’ll turn to ash out here.”
Unexpectedly, she starts laughing. “So even you can make jokes, Patchouli? That’s reassuring in a way.”
Hmm...You suppose that was a joke, wasn’t it? It just sort of came off your tongue without much thought. It’s not like you are prohibitive of jokes, they just serve no purpose. Odd.
In your silence Alice continues, “Although I don’t much fancy blood, my skin doesn’t much fancy the sun, so I’ve made preparations for us. They should still be with the gate guard.”
You make your way through the grounds and reach the front gate. The gate guard is thumbing through what you recognize as the last in the series of detective novels that she borrowed from the library some time ago. If you remember correctly, the twist of that one was that the young mistress was actually innocent, and the real killer was the maid. Of course, you saw it coming, the maid is always the killer.
“Ms. Meiling.” You get her attention.
“Lady Patchouli! Is everything alright?”
“Are you, perhaps, mocking me Ms. Gate Guard?”
“Oh, no. Sorry. It was just surprising to see you going out. I think it’s a good thing though.”
You’re eager to change the topic. You hear enough about this from everyone else already.
“By the way, that herbal tea you recommended has been quite effective.”
“Really? Glad to be of help then. How’s your supply of it faring? The spring harvest was rich.”
“That’s good to hear, I’ve almost run out. When you drop off the next batch, feel free to ask Koakuma for more book recommendations, I’m sure she’d love to help you with that.”
“Alrighty, I’ll do that. I’m pretty close to figuring out who the real killer is. Personally, I still think it’s the maid, but don’t tell Sakuya that I said that. Anyway, if you’re heading out, I assume you’ll be wanting your parasols back, Ms. Margatroid?”
“Oh, um, yes please.”
Meiling walks over to the little guard house and retrieves two colorful parasols, which despite each containing no less than seven different colors of fabric woven in a spiral image, manage to not look in the least bit gaudy, and you can immediately tell that there was a great deal of skill involved in their creation.
Alice hands one to each of the two dolls who were floating a few paces behind her. One stays to cover her with its umbrella, and the other does the same for you.
“That one is Hourai, and mine is Shanghai.”
“I see.” So these are the two dolls that are closest to the autonomous doll that Alice is working towards. Interesting. It’s a bit odd to so casually have them out and about like this, but you suppose that being this trusting is just part of who she is.
“Well then, shall we be off?”
“Lead the way.”
And so the two of you set off in the direction of the human village. The two of you don’t make much small talk, which is fine by you, since it’s generally a waste of time anyway. You do regret not bringing a book to read as you walk however.
In one of your short conversations, you ask her about the wicker basket she’s been carrying, and find out that she bought the makings of picnic with her, since, as she put it, it might be nicer to eat lunch outside of the village. Makes sense, it’d be bothersome to have a meal ruined by noisy and nosey humans. The two of you decide on a hill overlooking the village. You don’t have much of an interest in scenery, but the view seems suitably picturesque.
While food, like sleep, is no longer something you absolutely need to sustain yourself, you can still process it and get energy that way rather than relying all the time on your mana stream to keep yourself moving. Usually you just can’t be bothered to interrupt your work by trying to adhere to standard schedules of eating and sleeping, but if she’s offering, there’s no reason to refuse.
You sit down as Alice begins to unpack the picnic basket. Inside is a good assortment of various sandwiches, and though it’s a plain concept, the food is undeniably delicious. The two of you sit in a comfortable silence as you eat. From her fidgeting, it seems that Alice has something she wants to say though.
“Is there something wrong, Alice?”
“Oh, no. It’s nothing.” Then after a pause, she continues, “Um, about what we talked about during the moon incident...I’m sorry, I got caught up in the moment and said too much.”
Hmm. This kind of conversation is as difficult as always. “It’s okay. I think I’ve come to understand where you were coming from, although I still disagree with you on most parts. The library is where I belong.” This next part is going to be even harder, but you feel you have to say it. “I, well...I also had my own share of misunderstandings about you, sorry. But now that we both understand each other, I think that, as Magicians, we should be able to get along and work together now.”
...Why did you feel compelled to say all that?
Perhaps you were just resigned to the fact that you would be haunted no matter what. Perhaps it was the only route you could see to gaining her help for your research. Perhaps it was pity for the shards of your past self that you see in her. Perhaps, if it were on your own terms, having someone else around from time to time wouldn’t be so bad. Perhaps.
She stays silent. You suppose that’s not exactly an easy thing to respond to. Well, you’ve got an idea of something else to say to make it simpler. Normally you dislike physical contact, but you can bear with it for a moment. With that in mind, you extend a hand towards her, saying “I’m looking forward to working with you.”
She takes your hand, and you both wince a bit at the contact, but it’s easier than words. “Yeah….um, likewise.”
You stay like that for a moment, not really sure what to do next, but not wanting to release her hand too soon. That would be rude, after all.
After some short amount of time, the two of you break contact, and the two of you sit in silence again, each a bit red-faced from the embarassment of the situation. You’d like to imagine that you are above getting flustered by such things, but even you have limits, and this is certainly outside of your comfort zone.
This would be a good time for small-talk, but you’ve never been very good at that. Or more accurately, you’re woefully bad at carrying a conversation. Normally, Remilia takes all of that burden, but it seems that in this case it has fallen onto you.
[ ] It sure is unseasonably warm and sunny...It is Autumn right now, isn’t it?
[ ] These sandwiches are delicious
- [ ] When you come to the library to do research, can you bring more?
- [ ] Koakuma has an interest in cooking, but Sakuya is too busy to teach her….
[ ] So, what kind of books do you like to read?
[ ] Have you made any progress on your research recently?