[x] Ask Alice about...
---[x] ... nightmares and dream pills.
---[x] ... time magic.
[x] Have a pleasant afternoon chat over tea with Alice.
[x] Ask if you could examine Alice’s workshop.
You feel at the very least obliged to ask Alice about something that has been bothering you for quite some time. But how to broach the subject?
“Alice, may I ask you something?”
“What is it?”
“I have it from a reliable source that you are taking a particular medicine,”
The blank look you receive doesn’t particularly hint at anything unusual, so you continue,
“Recently, I’ve been taking the same medication. I was wondering if... if you would be willing that is, to provide some perspective on their effects?”
Silence whispers through the room, Alice quietly pondering over something as her fingers flex across her lap. The sounds of dolls scurrying around the cottage as they go about their duties trickle into the room as she nods once,
“If this is about the dreams you experience, they are... real, in as far as memories are real. Sweet dreams of gentle times for a restful and calm sleep,” she says, keeping a close eye on you, “But even the most pleasant dream must end, eventually.”
“Such is the nature of time,” you comment, rubbing the bridge of your nose,
“I would suppose. I don’t think very much about how they work myself, but Dr. Yagokoro’s medicine has been undeniably effective in my experience.”
Unfortunately, this doesn’t address that weird... vision? Nightmare?
“Do you ever experience a... pre-dream of sorts, a shorter dream before the main one, if you can differentiate?” you ask, “Something like an omen, or a foreboding?”
“Are you quite sure you have the correct dosage?”
... that hadn’t occurred to you. “Dosage?”
“Yes. Dr. Yagokoro’s medicines are especially potent even in small doses, and it is important that the dosage is correct, lest some... potentially bizarre side-effects occur.”
Uh oh. How bad could it be?
“Typically for Dr. Yagokoro’s medicines,” Alice continues, “The standard dosage for humans is much lower than that given to youkai, mostly due to the biological differences between the two; youkai in general seem to have a higher tolerance for intoxicants compared to humans.”
Riiight, Reisen must have given you a dosage tailored for youkai. This could be somewhat of a bother.
“Are you feeling alright Ambrose?”
“I-I think I should see Reisen about getting a custom tailored dosage.”
She nods solemnly, “Indeed. But the doctor is a professional of very high repute. The drugs shouldn’t be blatantly harmful without some sort of highly beneficial effect. It would put her reputation on the line if she sold defective medicines, or ones that react badly when overdosed upon.”
This line of questioning is becoming increasingly uncomfortable to pursue.
Hourai leads Shanghai into the room, apparently engaged in a desperate argument, whilst the latter is bringing in a tray of tea for you and Alice,
She seems to be gesturing at you most fervently, “Houuuuu~”
Shanghai herself seems to be rather nonplussed, and upon spotting you, floats over, offering you a small cup of tea, which you accept with gratitude.
Alice beams quite happily at the doll, “That was very nice of you Shanghai, thank you.”
Hourai seems to be pouting in her little corner, before storming off into the kitchen once more as Shanghai flies in after her, setting the tray down on the small coffee table for the two of you,
As you take a sip, you quietly chuckle to yourself,
“I wonder if Hourai is approaching her troubled teenage years?”
In the middle of stirring her cup, Alice quite suddenly halts.
“O-oh. I wonder if... has it really been that long?” she muses, “It can’t possibly be... I’ve only had her for... that long?”
The fact that Alice seems to be putting a lot of concerted thought into this line of thinking shows that it must be something that has never quite occurred to her before.
How fascinating a living, sentient doll must be; what would it be like to experience life in quite a different way? Never growing, but certainly experiencing change as time went by. Curious.
“Can dolls mature emotionally, if not physically?” you suggest, setting your cup down on its saucer, “It certainly occurs to me that they should at the very least undergo some cognitive changes after a long time of activation,”
“I certainly suppose they could,” she says, watching the entrance to the kitchen very closely, “She has been acting very temperamental lately. Hmm. T-this could be very difficult.”
“It is at the very least, a challenge of motherhood to deal with a potentially rebellious teenager, right?”
Alice actually looks fairly nervous by now, and is clutching her cup with far more pressure than you think is necessary.
“I’ve... I’ve got a rebellious teenager?”
“Scary, isn’t it?” you joke, “And to think that once, we were teenagers. Must have given our parents a real scare in our time, huh?”
Shanghai has flown in again, this time laden with a small pot of sugar and a pair of teaspoons. She hesitates quite briefly when she sees Alice deep in thought, letting out a small “haaaa?” as she watches her creator set down her untouched cup.
“Shanghai, I think I’ll need some milk.”
After quietly chatting about Marisa and Reimu’s antics over the past week, Alice seems to have calmed down a great deal. The topic has soon shifted over to the nature of Marisa’s experiments:
“So tell me, how often does she end up with a viable potion mixture?” you ask, allowing Shanghai to give you a third refill, “Lots of failures? Or does she just experiment randomly with whatever she finds?”
“It tends to be just raw experimentation. I’ve never really seen Marisa try to aim for a specific potion, aside from her exploding solutions-“
Alice smiles nostalgically, “Mmm, she tends to consistently create a variety of these potions which explode on encountering a strong shock. I’ve never quite figured out how she does it. Stabilising the solutions I mean; they react with such ferocity when thrown, and yet she always seems to have those vials all over the cottage floor.”
“I’m surprised,” you admit, stirring some more sugar in, “I would have thought that Marisa would keep a magic workshop of sorts. It would certainly help her keep tidy. And safe.”
“You’d be surprised. She does have a workshop, much like my own, but she apparently prefers to work on her research alone, and even then, she doesn’t particularly put any priority on where she sets up her experiments,” she allows Shanghai to fly into her lap, “Still, sometimes I worry about Marisa’s recklessness. She’s not quite at the level where she can simply ignore anything hissing on the pot.”
Marisa really does sound like every absent-minded student back at the academy, given your precursory examination of her house and the consistent worry that her friends seem to have over her health. Alice on the other hand seems to have things well under control, despite the apparent age difference. What does her workshop look like, you wonder. Unable to contain your curiosity, you turn to her,
“If I may ask permission Alice, could I take a quick peek at your workshop?”
You await a response for the next half a minute, watching as Alice gently brushes Shanghai’s hair.
In retrospect, asking to see a magician’s workshop not two days after a formal introduction seems moderately questionable. Despite the constant claims otherwise, magicians are still vaguely territorial. You can see it in the way the various unions behave, constantly trying to assert their ‘control’ over parts of Britain.
If it weren’t for the council, you hardly think anything would ever get done there.
“I think I’d prefer that you come with me,” she starts, allowing Shanghai to float off with your cups, “My little hidey-hole is just downstairs,”
“Mmm, safer underground than anywhere else; you don’t have to worry too much about blowing the walls off, or curious eyes peeking through the window.”
As Alice leads you over to the basement stairs, she makes sure to keep you out of the way of her various dolls, all fussing and milling about the kitchen and stairs as they diligently work away at their chores.
“Tight ship you run here,” you quip, watching as a doll easily lugs around a broom twice her size,
“I’d very much hope so,” Alice says, unlatching the door to the stairs, just in the hallway between the kitchen and bath, “To be fair though, this is the primary workshop, where I do most of my alchemical work. Upstairs is where I work on my dolls and such,”
“Don’t like mixing the two?”
“No. All those chemicals are not quite good for the dolls, not to mention the smell of ash.”
The stairs are mercifully short, but they lead into a rightfully imposing little room. As she lights up some of the sealed lanterns in place down here, you can see a well maintained and organised series of shelves, desks and equipment. The smell of ash and phosphorous is very faint, but you can tell that Alice is indeed, very serious about her explosive alchemy.
The main workbench on the far side of the dark, grey room seems to be occupied by a series of sealed clay containers, tucked neatly away as Alice sets one of the lanterns alight, bringing the area into clear contrast.
She stands just by the bench, dragging a hand fondly over the wooden surface,
“This is where I make many of my black powder mixtures. Have to be very careful with the lamps and the lighting, so I have to keep the place very clean.”
That would explain the fastidious cleaning habits of her dolls to some extent. You highly suspect the other is due to a deeply ingrained need to clean and organise on her part. Not a bad trait to have, to be blatantly honest, but at times could prove frustrating to deal with.
Glancing up, you notice a series of burn marks on the ceiling, oddly flared, as if their fires burnt in a certain direction. You mentally trace their start point to where Alice is currently standing, sifting through her storage shelves.
You can almost see how she would combine the reagents diligently over the workbench, placing them aside and using a small sample to test their efficacy. How interesting. Must be a terror on her clothing; from the looks of it, she doesn’t seem to keep any sort of lab coat or apron in her workshop. How does she do it?
“I hardly suppose you work with chemicals in your good clothes,” you comment, backing away from the shelf, “Would be a terrible waste of a fine dress, no?”
“Ye-es... it would be quite a waste, if I actually worked in this dress. I do have a few rough clothes tucked away in my room though.”
“Alchemy, enchantment and craftwork. You really are an all-rounder, aren’t you?”
Flattery to be sure, but she accepts it with a small, self-assured grin,
“And you would happen to have an eye for talent, how?” she asks,
“I knew a man quite skilled with craftwork, and I’d say your work is easily as intricate as his own pieces. An alchemist of any repute has to have some skill in creating explosives, part and parcel of their work. And I myself have some experience with enchantment. I think I’m at the very least, qualified to talk on these matters.”
Alice’s head tilts minutely to the side, that tiny smile slowly turning into a smirk, “You do enjoy your intrigue, don’t you Ambrose?”
“To be honest, I’d prefer to keep clear of cloak and dagger. A fair bit too complicated for me. I’ll stick to my shields and time magic any day.”
“Time magic... do you remember me telling you about Ms Izayoi?”
Your thoughts turn to the girl in the village, disappearing in a time that stood still.
“Yes... I met her yesterday, on the way to Reisen’s stall.”
“Do you recognise her by any chance?”
You shake your head, not quite sure at the moment whether a passing resemblance is enoguh to count. She breathes out a small sigh of disappointment,
“Pity, I was hoping you would have been able to tell me more about her style of magic,”
“Oh, that I am quite sure about; she is most definitely a time magician, a chronomancer, to use the technical term,” you say, “She’s quite capable, given that she is using a high level, localised time stoppage technique. In any case, I didn’t quite see where she went after she stopped time so that would sugg-”
“You saw her stop time?”
“Yes. Of course I did, it was fairly obvious, what with the grayed out world, the lack of movement besides her-“
Her head snaps to as you say that, “Tell me again. You saw her performing a time stop?”
“She was the only one moving around during the time stop. I could tell.”
“Ambrose, no one ever sees her moving during a time stop. She just disappears and reappears.”
Hmm. That would make a certain level of sense; time stops are generally localised fractures in time, allowing someone to remove themselves from normal space... given that their movement is not correlated with the progression of time during the effect, they should disappear and reappear wherever they stand at the start and end of the time stop respectively.
Seems to make sense so far.
Damn. She must be a really powerful chronomancer to be able to stop time on such short notice. Plus the local magic conditions are ideal for spell work. This is much more complicated than you would have thought. Alice watches the way you think in silence with a curious stare.
You take a quick glance at your pocket watch, lit up by the dim lighting of the lanterns perched on the walls. It is now around 2.40.
Alice seems to be urging you to come back upstairs by the way she seems to be milling around the entrance. You suppose that she’d rather much entertain you in a more hospitable location than this dank, dark environment.
Making your way back up, you are briefly accosted by Hourai in the hallway as Alice attends to one of the groups of dolls; she seems to be shadowing you and Alice very closely, making very sure to stay just out of Alice’s line of sight. She’s close enough to you that you could probably pet her on the head without too much effort. Her sister is nowhere to be seen though...
 Ask Alice more about her books.
 See if you can play a bit with Hourai.
 Excuse yourself and head off to...
--- the Hakurei Shrine.
--- the village.