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I had barely begun to offer my usual round of sagacious advice when Kagerou sighed. She raised an eyebrow as if to say “it can’t be helped” and smiled at the magician. In a role reversal, she pat the blonde’s shoulder, much to the latter’s immediate delight. “Let’s go back,” she said.
“It’s always good to get to know more sensible youkai,” Marisa said with an unintentionally patronizing nod. At least that’s how I saw it. She struck me as more earnest than smug. She clasped the werewolf around her shoulder, turning her around and began to walk away from the shrine with a smile on her lips.
Kagerou pulled away gently, clearly at her limit of physical contact with passing acquaintances. “So you’re a magician, huh?” she asked a rather dumb question. Poor girl let her relief over not having to face a scary shrine maiden make her lose focus.
“Yup!” Marisa replied excitedly, adjusting her hat so that it sat perfectly centered on her head. A point of pride, no doubt.
“Who is better at magic, you or Patchouli?” an impudent question followed.
“Hey maybe-” I tried to warn her not to be rude.
Marisa’s reply came instantly, “Me, of course!”
Far from being offended, she seemed to delight in explaining the ways in which she was the better of the two. Kagerou let her talk as we walked away from the shrine, nodding at some of the pretty outlandish things that Marisa was saying. To be truthful, I was too entertained by her spitfire rambling about all things magical to raise any further objections.
“It takes a lot of hard work to be able to do that, dontcha know?” she said with a wink after finishing a somewhat fantastical anecdote about a magical ball and how she ended up acquiring one once for a little while. By then we had left the shrine behind and were well on our way to flatter terrain.
“That’s really something,” Kagerou said with a polite smile.
“What are you up to anyways?” I asked.
“Hm?” Marisa looked over at her. It seemed like she realized just how one-sided the conversation had been. She coyly scratched her chin with a finger and laughed, adding, “well, Patchy isn’t too bad either. It’s really interesting to see her when she starts to get serious.”
“Magicians with magician friends, I know someone who would love to know more about how that sort of relationship works,” Kagerou teased me but otherwise played dumb.
“It’s fairly normal, you know, we see each other. Sometimes work together. Sometimes she gets pissy about me borrowing something she wasn't using. But we have a laugh and it’s okay afterwards.”
“So you know the sort of thing that she’s thinking about most of the time?” Kagerou asked.
“Eh… I guess? She’s weird. But in a good way!” Marisa insisted on the last point, as if that meant anything to us. If she was the model of ordinary then all bets were off for the rest.
“Maybe you could tell me why she’d want a bunch of ingredients for something magical?” Kagerou reeled in the fish. Huh, good girl. While I was delighted by Marisa’s stories she had a rational ulterior motive behind the questions. Obviously, my usual good sense was beginning to rub off on her.
“She’s pretty private about stuff like that,” Marisa said with a shrug, “it could be anything from something to satisfy one of Remilia’s silly whims to a spell to reliably make the kind of yogurt that she really likes.”
“Wait, she likes yogurt?” I asked.
“I forget what it’s called,” Marisa added, “I, uh, found some once and tried it. It tasted a bit sweet but also really sour. Gets very runny when warm. Weird stuff.”
“Right, but you know what kind of things she would be looking for, right?” Kagerou patiently explained the situation. That she’d sent us off to find ingredients without really telling us where we had to go and providing accurate descriptions. She took out the list from a pocket and showed it to Marisa.
The magician scanned the list quickly, an amused expression on her face. “This is… all sort of stuff,” she concluded.
“Know what it’s for?”
“I think I might, knowing her,” she laughed, “but it’s kinda funny she asked you.”
“Why’s that?” Kagerou asked.
“They’re the sort of things she’d ask me to get as ‘compensation’ for borrowing this or that. Or accidentally losing something.”
“So they’re valuable things?” I pondered.
“What’s their use?” Kagerou asked.
“She doesn’t really tell me,” Marisa offered a theory, “but I think it’s all personal stuff. Not magic for the sake of magic. It takes a lot of effort to keep her hair nice and shiny,”
“...” both Kagerou and I didn’t really buy it.
“Eh? Don’t believe me?” Marisa shook her head and giggled softly, “yeah, I’m not sure I believe it either.”
“Could you help me find some of these things?” Kagerou asked, wasting little time. “There should be some of these around here.”
Marisa looked at the list again. “Maybe!” she proclaimed, “I can have a quick look around for, like, two of these.”
“I would be in your debt,” Kagerou said with a polite smile. When I retired, I could open up a finishing school for werewolves I reckoned. She was turning out quite well.
“Ah, don’t be silly!” Marisa shrugged off the formality, “I did say I’d help ya out. Tell you what, it’s faster if I go by myself. Be back in 20… no 10 minutes!”
Without waiting to hear anything else, Marisa bolted back towards the shrine, leaving us behind. Kagerou smirked and found a fallen tree trunk to sit on. She looked up at the afternoon sky and waited around.
“When did you get so good at manipulating people?” I asked, begrudgingly impressed. It hadn’t occurred to me at all to use Marisa to help out.
“Twenty-four hours of you with no breaks, mostly,” she said mirthfully, patting the spot over her chest where I was hanging. “That also let me know that you would be too busy drooling over her to offer any helpful suggestions.”
“I was not drooling!” I protested. “I’m not into blondes. Probably!”
“Sure, whatever you say, Al,” she smirked, showing a toxic degree of smugness.
“Magicians are great, sure, but it’s not like just any one will do,” I couldn’t help but add. It was a matter of honor. “Look, I’m not saying that I couldn’t fancy her once I got to know her better but I think that my heart is spoken for.”
“Well, you did say that you were close to Patchouli,” Kagerou recalled our conversation from earlier. “Wonder how she’d feel about you cheating on her?”
“Ouch. That’s a bit much, don’t you think? I told you all that stuff in confidence.”
“…you’re right, sorry,” she apologized, placing her hand on her chest where I was as if to show that she hadn’t really meant it.
“Nah, I’m just messing with you,” I told her. Once I had gotten all that stuff off of my figurative chest it had become less difficult to think about. I couldn’t very well thrust intimacy upon her and then not expect all that came with that in return. Yes, there probably would be a better understanding and sharing of feelings both now and down the line but there would also be more frivolous stuff; in other words, banter.
“You’re not that easy to figure out,” she said, shaking her head.
“It would be boring otherwise,” I replied. “Still, really, you did a good job today. I’d scratch you behind the ears if I could.”
“And I’d bite your hand if you tried,” she stated, a wicked glint in her eyes matching the partial baring of fangs. “Thank you all the same,” she conceded gracefully, turning the toothy grimace into something akin to a smile.
Or friendly exchange was cut short by the return of Marisa. She popped out of nowhere, coming up from behind where Kagerou sat. “Who are ya talking to?” she asked, evidently having overheard some of our exchange.
“Ah, no one, just myself,” the maid replied, standing up and brushing off the dirt off of her rear.
“It sure didn’t sound like no one,” she said but didn’t seem too bothered. In her hands were a pair of things: a large meaty-looking dark brown mushroom and what looked like a tiny round golden ball. “I found some of the things on there,” she said, moving on.
“Oh, thank you!” Kagerou said, taking both items from her. The small ball was slightly sticky and the mushroom quivered upon being touched. Rather unsettling.
“Sap,” Marisa explained, “there’s a tree that makes this kind of sap that dries out after a while. Careful with that mushroom, don’t put it near your face.”
“Ah, okay,” Kagerou minded the advice, putting both into her bag right away. “You’ve been a lot of help, Marisa.”
“No problem at all!” she played with the end of her braid, clearly enjoying the praise.
“Three cheers for the genius magician,” I said, “stroke her ego.”
“It’s amazing how you were able to find both things so quickly,” Kagerou remarked.
“I know a whole lot about mushrooms, so I know where and when to look for them. You’re lucky—a couple of more days and that big guy would have shrunk away into nothing.”
“Mmm, that would explain why Patchouli told me to keep an eye for things when I went to the shrine,” Kagerou stated, “no idea how she expected me to recognize it.”
“She specifically said that?” Marisa grinned, “gotta love how sly she is!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine...” Marisa pat Kagerou on the shoulder, offering no further explanation.
“I definitely think I’m more into Patchouli,” I ventured an opinion.
“You’re into Patchouli? Oh my!” Marisa’s eyes sparkled, “what a bold servant.”
“Um, what? No, I’m not,” Kagerou denied it flatly, looking about as confused as I felt.
“But you just said-” the magician stared into Kagerou’s eyes, furrowing her brow. For a moment things felt tense. Kagerou stared back, red eyes meeting yellow. “Are you just messing with me?” she laughed it off, “I get it. That’s why you had me talk about my abilities. A youkai with a good sense of humor. That’s great!”
Maybe there was a more logical explanation. Taking a deep breath or, well, pausing for a moment for drama’s sake, I tried out my theory, “hey, you can hear me, right?”
“Well, obviously!” Marisa snapped back, “I’m not deaf, ya know.”
“Oh, that’s… different,” Kagerou said.
“I’m not Kagerou,” I told Marisa calmly, “look, her lips aren’t moving.”
“That’s a pretty good trick,” Marisa nodded, impressed at the maid. Did she really think that the maid was trying to pull a fast one over her?
“See? Not all magicians are created equal,” I said to Kagerou, underscoring how wrong she was to make assumptions about my preferences earlier.
“What do you-” Marisa started.
“Shush,” I interrupted, “look, I don’t know why you can hear me but that explains some things. From earlier. I’m not Kagerou. I’m nearby, though. Right in front of you, in fact.”
Marisa stared hard at Kagerou, trying to figure out if a trick was being played on her.
“Down here,” Kagerou added helpfully, groping in front of her chest where I was.
“Your boobs talk?” the magician’s conclusion was far off the mark.
“Come on, you were just talking about how great of a magician you are,” I told her, “it’s clearly something she has on her. Come on, Kagerou, show her. It’s okay.”
The maid complied reaching into her dress to pull the chain and whip me out. Marisa was fascinated by me. I could not blame her. I was awesome, after all. She stared long and hard at my crystalline body, a very peculiar look washing over her face. She reached out hesitantly at me, ultimately rubbing a pair of fingers across my surface.
“This is pretty awesome,” she said to no one in particular.
“Yeah, I know I am,” I said proudly, “I have no idea why you can hear me. The other people I’ve meet don’t seem capable of that.”
Kagerou put me away, frowning a little at the eagerness of the magician to just grope around. The magpie-like look in her eyes wasn’t exactly comforting either.
“No clue,” she said, “I have no friggin’ clue what you are! But I want to find out! I’d love to have a friend I could carry around all the time. So, who made you? Was it Patchy? Alice? Nah, she would have bragged about artificial life.”
“I’m not artificial,” I said, “I’m a person. My name is Al.”
“You’re pretty cute, Al. I want to cuddle you lots.”
“Stop, you’ll make me blush,” I joked.
“So, what are you doing with Kagerou?” she asked, completely ignoring the werewolf maid. It was a little rude.
“I’m helping her deal with work. Part of the contract she has,” I explained. There was no need to get into more details than that.
“Hohoho, I see,” Marisa nodded like she was connecting the dots to a mystery in her head. “I’m going to have to have a long talk with Patchy about you later.”
“Did you feel anything strange the last time we met? Or, well, last time you saw Kagerou?” I asked, my mind thinking back to what happened when I realized I could sort of feel her senses. When I focused… well, that’s when I saw that memory. Maybe she felt something odd, too.
“Not really, why?” she asked, staring at Kagerou’s chest with a fixed gaze. A passerby might confuse her with a lech.
“Now that I think about it, nothing about right now feels weird,” I said mostly to myself, realizing that I couldn’t really feel her senses or anything weird. It was just me and Kagerou.
Kagerou shuffled around, fed up of having her chest leered at. “We should go back to the mansion,” she said.
“Oh, yeah, okay, sure,” Marisa conceded. “I was just wondering what Al meant.”
The cat was out of the bag. She could understand me and, plus, she wasn’t the first person to know of my existence. So there was no harm in letting her know some more of the truth. As Kagerou walked, partly in an attempt not to be gawked at, Marisa kept up and we had a brief conversation about last time. I didn’t tell her what I saw but I told her that I had a strange experience triggered by focusing on her.
“But you can’t feel anything like that now, right?” Marisa checked, trying to make sense of what she was told. It was kind of funny: with all the praise and attention I lavished upon Patchouli and magicians in general I never really expected for the interest to be reciprocated. Yet here we were, with every fiber of Marisa’s being shaking with ill-concealed excitement. Having a magician fawning over me sure was nice.
“Nope. I’m just limited to Kagerou’s wolfy senses,” I said.
“Maybe if I held you?”
“Nothing happened when you touched me,” I said.
Our party fell into silence as we each thought about the issue.
Kagerou was the first to suggest something, speaking up confidently, “last time it followed after I beat you up.”
“Okay, that’s rewriting history a little, but sure,” Marisa rolled her eyes, forgetting that she was the one pinned down.
“Point is, maybe the fact that we were both worked up and focused on each other had something to do with it?”
“Does magic work like that?” I asked, wanting to dismiss Kagerou’s theory but finding that I couldn’t.
“Um, maybe?” Marisa was unsure, “but there may be something to the fact that we were close together. We touched earlier, so that can’t be it. Or that might be part of the formula.”
“You probably ended up scratching each other. Magic and blood go hand in hand, right?” I suggested helpfully.
“Mmm, sorta. It’s more of a symbolic thing usually. It’s not the blood as such but the relationship between subject and object… I’m sure that’s what Patchouli would say anyhow!”
“And you?” I asked Marisa.
“I’d say we need an experiment!” she clapped her hands excitedly. She put her hand on Kagerou’s shoulder. “What about now?”
“We’ll fight if we have to!” she giggled like that was a perfectly rational response to the unknown.
I thought of applying the scientific method but the way things were going, we were liable to escalate into something far more unpredictable unless we got it soon. Time for boldness.
 It’s about fluids! They were sweaty when fighting. Have Kagerou lick her.
 Adrenaline, maybe? Have them run around while close to one another.
Time remaining: ::Timer ended at: 2019/08/31(Sat)22:00