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[x] What's Rumia doing here?
I'm feeling better, and sitting around is kind of boring, so I decide to get up and have a look around.
I make sure to keep track of where I'm going. You wouldn't normally think of a room full of books being big enough to get lost in, but Patchouli's library is huge. It's so big it sometimes doesn't feel like I'm indoors at all, and I can almost imagine rivers flowing through it and trees growing out of the floor.
Actually, that sounds like a great way to decorate it! All this red does get boring after a while. It's the sort of thing Miss Remilia would do, too. An indoor river might be a bit over the top, but a fountain like the ones they have outside would be really relaxing. Maybe I should suggest it to Meiling?
I shake myself out of my silly thoughts when I come to a part of the library that isn't completely wrecked. I'm not quite sure if it's already been cleaned up or if it wasn't blown to bits in the first place, but the shelves are bare so I guess it's new. Unless Patchouli decided it would be a good time to reorganize or something.
The whole gently-curving aisle is littered with stacks of books. Some are right out in the middle of the walkway, while others are up against the ends of the shelves, with little notes pinned up above them. I can't figure out what the notes mean - lots of strange words and unfamiliar abbreviations - but I guess they're something to do with where the books are meant to go.
I don't see anyone doing any sorting though, until I spot Rumia standing next to of one of the larger piles. She's dressed as a maid, like everyone else - I think this might be the first time I've seen her without that ribbon of hers. She looks up as I approach.
"Oh. Hello Kogasa," she says, looking at me over the top of the glasses she's wearing. They look strangely cute on her.
"Hello! What are you doing here?", I reply.
"Book sorting, by category." She gestures at the pile of books.
"So I see," I say, "but, um, I kind of meant the Mansion in general. I don't see you here very often."
It's true. I've seen her at parties and stuff, or talking to Meiling or Sakuya outside the Mansion, but she never seemed to be interested in anything here.
"Cirno told me there was going to be a party and they were short-staffed, so I came to help out. Then Flandre happened," Rumia says, shrugging. "Not what I was expecting, but I don't mind."
"She can be a bit enthusiastic sometimes..." I say.
"It's better than the alternative," Rumia cryptically replies. "What brings you here?"
"I came to help out too! With the party or the cleanup. Koa told me about both."
"Did she tell you who caused all this?" Rumia asks, gesturing at the pockmarked walls and ceiling with a frown. "It doesn't look like Flan's doing this time."
"I think Marisa had something to do with it," I say.
We both pause and look up.
"...looks like a Spark or seven, yes," Rumia says, shuddering.
"But she had help," I add. "Koakuma said there was a fairy too."
"What kind of fairy could cause this much damage?"
"...I dunno," I say at last.
Cirno's the strongest fairy I know of - strong enough to beat me if I let my guard down - but I can't picture her causing this kind of damage. Not that she'd want to, since she's good friends with everyone here, including Flandre.
"So!" I say, changing the subject. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
Rumia looks at me over her glasses again. "How's your Latin?"
I do my best to look confused. Rumia grins.
"Patchouli's a bit of an omniglot, so -"
"...Patchouli speaks a lot of languages, so the books aren't sorted by language. They're sorted by topic. If you want to figure out where they go, you have to be able to read them," Rumia explains.
I look at the pile of books and immediately spot a problem.
"I can't read any of these!"
"That's probably because this section is for books on the subject of magic originating from Western Europe and the British Isles," Rumia replies. "Africa and the Middle East are back there," she points back the way I came, "the Indian subcontinent is over there," she points further down the row of shelves, "and so on. China and Japan are right down the far end, where Alice is still cleaning up."
"...I didn't understand any of that," I sheepishly admit.
"Can you tell which books are enchanted?" Rumia asks.
"I, uh, I think so?"
"Well, that's a start."
Rumia points out a few of the piles and gives me some simple directions, and I start doing my best to help sort the thousands of books. I can more or less tell which books are magical, which were written by youkai and which were written by humans just by picking them up. But they're sorted by what they're about, not by who wrote them, so that doesn't really help much.
It does let me spot a few out-of-place books though.
"I found a weird floppy book in this pile!"
Rumia squints at the book I'm holding up. "That would be the original edition of Roget's Thesaurus, which belongs in Linguistics, on the other side of the library. Wrong section pile."
Rumia tries to explain a few of the more common words, particularly in languages called "English", "Latin" and "Greek", and even writes them down on a piece of paper, so I can pick out the books with them in the title and bring them to her. It actually works pretty well. She can't read anywhere near as many languages as Patchy though.
"Cuneiform? Really, Patchouli?"
"What language is that?" I ask.
"One that went extinct before books were invented," Rumia says, flipping the book open. "And it's printed, too! Why would anyone print a book in a dead language!?"
"What's it about? Can you read it?"
"Heck no. Throw it on the too hard pile."
Rumia seems to know a lot about books and languages. Most of the books we're sorting are about magic, which neither of us are any good at, but the way she keeps talking about legends and history makes me wonder if she was actually there. It wouldn't be too surprising if she'd been around back then - I'm centuries old myself, though I don't really remember much - but the stories she's telling are from the other side of the world!
After what feels like hours of staring at books I can't read - and one that I can, not that it helps since the subject matter is waaaaay beyond me - we're finally interrupted by the arrival of Alice and her dolls.
"Whew," Alice sighs, wiping her face with a small cloth. She's dressed as a maid like the rest of us; her leggings are the same blue as her usual dress.
Hourai is beside and slightly behind her, human size and dressed the same way, and the two of them are followed by a small army of dolls. Four or five of them stand out as unique, looking around and moving independantly like their leader, Shanghai, but the rest are all marching in perfect step and staring blankly ahead.
And, of course, they're all wearing maid outfits.
"Hello Alice! Hello Hourai!" I say, waving.
"Hello Kogasa," Alice replies with a smile. Hourai just bows slightly.
"You look really tired," I say. "What have you been doing? Sorting books like us?"
"No, we've been repairing the shelves. We just finished this row," Alice says, gesturing to her left.
I look up and down the aisle. It extends as far as I can see in either direction.
"Wow," Rumia summarizes.
"I'm not used to doing so much work by hand," Alice says. "I think I might be a little out of shape."
"You did it all by hand!?" I exclaim.
"With a lot of help, of course," Alice says, stepping to one side and gesturing proudly at the dolls, who all wave. The identical ones all perfectly imitate Shanghai.
"So cuuute!" Rumia gushes.
"So you're taking a break now?" I ask.
"Yes. I think it's about lunch time anyway," Alice says.
Rumia's stomach growls loudly at just the right moment. Alice laughs, and Rumia looks embarassed.
"Come on then, let's find the others and see if we can get something to eat," Alice says.
We all make our way back to where Patchouli's desk is, but there's nobody there when we arrive. Alice simply takes a right turn and keeps walking, leading the way towards the middle of the library.
It's not long before we find someone.
"Yo, Alice! Been workin' up a sweat I see!" Marisa calls. She's currently busy filling a shelf with books, taking them from a worryingly large pile stacked on top of Sekibanki.
...that looks really uncomfortable.
"Says the person responsible for this mess in the first place," Alice huffs.
"Hey, hey, I'm here ain't I? Feels kinda weird puttin' 'em back instead of takin' 'em out, but I'm doin' my bit!" Marisa replies, still grinning from ear to ear.
"Are you okay under all that?" I ask Sekibanki.
"Hmm? Oh, these? Yeah, I do this all the time," Sekibanki replies, without sarcasm. "Glad I can be of some help, really."
"I suppose you are," Alice concedes. "We're taking a lunch break; I imagine you'll be joining us?"
"Heck yeah!" Marisa replies, hopping off the pile of books she was using to reach the higher shelves.
"Uh, hey, a little help here?" Sekibanki calls after her.
"Whoopsie-daisy!" Marisa backpedals and hefts the rest of the stack of books off Sekibanki, dropping it rather carelessly on the floor with a loud thud.
Alice sighs. "Do you know where everyone else is?"
"Hang on a sec, lemme check," Marisa says. Then she takes a deep breath and bellows at the top of her lungs.
"YO FLAN, WHERE ARE YA!?"
Alice winces and scowls.
"Over heeee~re!" Flandre's voice calls back faintly.
"Hey, c'mon, it works!", Marisa says, elbowing Alice.
Then she sets off in the opposite direction to where Flan's voice came from.
Alice facepalms. "Marisa, where are you going?"
"Takin' a shorcut!"
Sekibanki stops when she notices we're not following too. "Her shortcuts work, by the way."
I shrug, and set off after Marisa. Rumia follows me like a shadow. Alice throws her arms up in defeat and starts after us, dolls falling into step behind her.
I have to run a bit to catch up with Marisa. She takes a series of nonsensical turns, opens a hidden door through one of the bookshelves, and emerges near the big pile of books at the entrance. Flandre is right in front of us, sitting on Koishi's shoulders to reach some of the higher shelves. She's plucking books off one by one and dropping them down to Koishi, who tosses them across the aisle to another Flandre, who lobs them up to a third, who adds them to the pile.
The fourth Flandre is pulling the books off the lower shelves, and stacking them on top of another Sekibanki. I'm pretty sure I just glimpsed a third Sekibanki floating out of sight around the corner with a full stack, too.
"How many of you are there right now?" I ask Sekibanki quietly.
"Four, one for each Flandre," she replies. "It's a long story."
"We're stoppin' for some chow," Marisa tells the others.
"Yay, food!" Koishi cheers. The Flandre on her shoulders hops down.
"Kogasa! Are you feeling better yet?"
"Yup! I've been helping Rumia sort books!" I reply.
Hourai runs a finger along an empty shelf, and makes a face at the thick layer of dust.
"Really? I didn't know you could read English too!" Flandre says excitedly. One of the other Flandres drops off the bookshelf and lands in the same space as her, moving to match her posture exactly and vanishing as a result.
"She can't," Rumia answers for me. "But she was a big help anyway."
"Oh. Well, that's good too!" Flandre says.
"If you're looking for food, there may be a small problem," Patchouli says from behind us, making us all jump. "Sakuya is still quite busy cleaning up after yesterday's... guest." Her eyes flick toward Flandre for the briefest moment. "It is doubtful she will be available to prepare meals."
"So?" Marisa says. "Not like we gotta be waited on hand an' foot. We can just whip up somethin' ourselves!"
"We're gonna cook something?" Flandre asks, voice and wings rising in excitement.
"Will Sakuya object to us using her kitchen?" Alice asks.
"I see no reason why she would," Patchouli says, frowning. "Provided we leave it in the same condition we find it."
"Ya hear that Flan? No blowin' stuff up!" Marisa says. Alice facepalms again.
"Okay!" Flandre says, giving Marisa a thumbs-up.
"If we're going to be making something ourselves, we'd better get started," Rumia says.
"Let's go!" Koishi cheers, grabbing Marisa and Flandre and dragging them toward the library entrance. Rumia isn't far behind.
Patchouli shakes her head and sighs before hurrying after them.
"Who is that girl, anyway?" Alice asks me as we follow.
"Hm? You mean Koishi?" I reply.
"Is that her name? I've never seen her before, but everyone else is acting like she's always been here."
Koakuma, another Flandre and three Sekibankis fly past us. The Sekibanki beside me lets out a loud whistle, and her other selves turn around.
"She does that," I say "She's a satori, I think, but instead of reading minds she makes people... forget about her."
"Forget about her?" Alice asks, frowning. "But that does't explain why everyone else seems to recognise her."
"Flandre's known her for a while now, and I guess Marisa has too. I only met her a few days ago. But most people never notice her at all, unless they already know her."
"So why can I see her now?" Alice asks.
"Hey, uh, sanity check," Sekibanki interrupts, shaking herself after having merged back into one, well, head. "Who are we talking about?"
Alice looks at her strangely. "Koishi, of course. Why?"
"She just left," Sekibanki says, nodding at the door. We're lagging behind the others, who have already disappeared out of sight around the corner.
"...so?" Alice asks, looking even more confused.
"We're still talking about her."
"Your point being?" Alice asks, starting to look annoyed.
"We should have forgotten about her already!" Sekibanki replies.
"It works that quickly?" Alice asks.
"I guess so?" I say. "I have a reason to remember her, but Sekibanki normally forgets about her as soon as she looks away. Well, mostly anyway."
Alice frowns. "I clearly remember seeing her while I was repairing the shelves. She was watching the dolls, and poking them with a feather duster. You remember, her, don't you?"
She looks down at the doll army. The generals confer with one another for a moment before answering. Three of them nod, including Shanghai. The other three shake their heads.
"Hourai?" Alice asks.
"I was not there," Hourai rasps.
"Hey, um, does anybody have any idea where we're going?" I ask.
There's a moment of silence as we all look around at one of the Scarlet Devil Mansion's many endless halls.
"The kitchen is that way," Alice says, pointing.
We walk the rest of the way in silence. It turns out Alice does actually know her way around, at least somewhat, as we reach the grand dining hall very quickly. Patchouli, Koakuma, Marisa, Rumia, Koishi and Flandre are already in the kitchen, and arguing over what to make.
"But that's not sweet!" Flandre complains.
"You can't make meat sweet. The flavours just don't go together," Rumia replies.
"Who says we gotta have meat? Mushrooms are where it's at!" Marisa butts in.
"I wanna make pizza!" Koishi declares, practically jumping on the table.
Patchouli buries her face in her hands and Koakuma shakes with silent laughter. Three very confused fairy maids hover around nervously. It occurs to me that they're the first fairies I've seen since coming inside, which is really odd. The mansion is usually swarming with maids.
"Aha!" Marisa jabs a finger at Alice. "Back me up here, Alice! We're gonna have mushrooms, right?"
Alice gives her a flat look. "I think sandwiches would be the best option. They're easy to prepare and we can all choose our own ingredients."
"But mushroom sandwiches taste lame!" Marisa whines.
"I highly doubt Sakuya keeps many mushrooms in her larder anyway, Marisa," Alice replies tiredly.
"Actually, she does!" one of the fairies pipes up. "Miss Sakuya keeps all kind of ingredients well stocked!"
"Not helping! We need less options, not more!" Marisa declares, moving her pointing arm over to Hourai.
"Not you, you don't eat." Hourai ignores her. Over to me.
"Right then, you choose! What are we going to make?" Marisa says.
Wait what? Why me!?
[ ] I haven't had mushrooms in a while, so, yeah, let's go with that! Please don't spark me!
[ ] I'm actually pretty hungry, so something with meat in it sounds like a good idea.
[ ] I don't really know what sandwiches are, but Alice sounds the most sensible.
[ ] ...what's pizza?
[ ] Sweets aren't really a full meal, but there's always room for dessert.
[ ] Ask Patchouli! She'd know more than me, right?
[ ] All of the above! If we make more than we can eat, I'm sure the fairies won't mind having some too!
This would probably have been better as two smaller updates instead of one.
Blame Thank >>39345's flantastic pic for the latest sidetrack.
Yeah, but I don't want to write this sort of story forever.