-  [Settings] [Home
[Show or hide post box]

[Return][Bottom]
Posting mode: Reply
Name
Email
Subject  (Reply to 10052)
Message
Captcha
File
Password (for post and file deletion)
  • First time posting? See our frontpage for site rules and FAQ
  • Further overview of board culture in this thread.
  • Supported file types are: GIF, JPG, PNG, WEBM, WEBP
  • Maximum file size allowed is 4096 KB.
  • Images greater than 200x200 pixels will be thumbnailed.
  • View catalog

File 134298189659.jpg - (334.08KB, 450x600, a-brand-new-day.jpg) [iqdb]
10052No. 10052
“NO!”

My body jolted and tried to spring in the air, but two hands were holding my shoulders down. I struggled and kicked my legs out to try and escape from the restraint.

The sharp pain that exploded in my toes put a stop to that. “Ow…”

“Calm yourself, Alice. Everything is fine.” Pandemonium’s resident maid spoke to me in a stern but calming tone.

Looking around, my surroundings weren’t as I remembered. The field of shattered crystal and open sky had been replaced by the primary colors of my room.

I was lying in my bed, snugly tucked underneath my blanket. I could feel the soft touch of pajamas against my skin and actual bandages wrapped around my injuries. Yumeko was leaning over me, gently preventing me from flying off in a panic. After I ceased my struggling the maid slowly allowed me to sit up.

Why am I- Everything was aching. What happened to- My body felt like lead, but I couldn’t just lie down. Is everybody- I had to get up and go! There’s no time to- A whole chunk of the forest had been destroyed! Please please please don’t be- My new family was-

“Drink.”

A small cup and saucer was positioned in front of my face. Yumeko lifted my hands and had me hold onto the drink. It was a cup of warm milk.

“Drink, Alice.” Yumeko made a refined drinking motion with her own hands to encourage me. I stared at the cup before shaking my head, moving to put it down so I could get up and leave. In my mind, there was no time to waste.

I squeaked in surprise when the maid grabbed my hands. “I said drink.” The cup of milk was firmly shoved towards my mouth.

She was a tyrant. Trying to struggle was useless. If I somehow managed to match Yumeko’s strength I would only end up spilling my beverage, so I did as I was told. Slowly tipping the cup, I enjoyed the soothing refreshment.

Yumeko nodded in satisfaction while I drank. Once I finished the milk, she pulled out a light pink handkerchief and dabbed at the sides of my mouth.

“Good. Now, eat this.” The maid pulled out a plate and pitcher from somewhere behind her. Yumeko set the plate of chocolate chip cookies down on my lap and refilled my cup of milk. I obviously wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

We sat quietly while I munched away, the only sounds in the room the crunching of cookies and rhythmic breathing. I was surprisingly hungry and tore through the plate of baked goods in no time flat. Yumeko chuckled and cleaned my face after I finished. “Feeling better?”

“Mhm.” I was feeling calmer, at least. Thinking about what had happened made my heart race, but it was tough to panic when Yumeko was staring me down and feeding me delicious treats.

“Good. You’ve been out for a few hours. Do you remember what happened?” Her sudden shift in focus was unexpected but didn’t catch me off guard. After all, I had already been thinking about my memories.

“Ko and I were outside when a big swarm of spirits came close. Ko’s grenade thingy didn’t work explode properly, so the spirits passed right through us. Nothing happened to me but…Ko came out different. She wasn’t like herself; it was like watching a painful struggle. Then she tried to k-ki…” My voice hitched as I tried to vocalize the terrifying event.

“Don’t force yourself, Alice.” Yumeko lightly rubbed my back in comforting circles, her fingers barely pressing into the back of my pajamas. “You can skip around.”

After taking a deep breadth, I continued. “Iris was there to save me, though. She was following us because she promised Yuki that she would. She was pretty cool.”

“Iris? Truly?” The way the maid’s eyebrows shot off of her face was hilarious; her usual professional stoicism had broken down completely. I tried to laugh, but it hurt my chest too much. “I thought she was lying. I suppose I must speak with her later.”

I continued after Yumeko finished musing. “I tried to fly back here but then there was a big chase and Iris threw the forest at us. When everything settled down the two of them were still fighting, but it ended quickly. I floated closer to take a look but then Ko, she…” I didn’t finish, but Yumeko’s eyes told me she understood.

I scrunched my nose as I tried to recall what happened next. “That’s all I remember.” It wasn’t like me to forget things – that was for old people.

“As it should be. You fell unconscious after that.”

“I what?”

The maid rubbed my head affectionately. “You fainted. Numerous injuries, blood loss, major stress – the doctors were surprised you stayed conscious as long as you did.”

“Doctors?”

“That’s right. Serra saw Maria carry you in and followed out of concern while Cosette was already here. You made it out with surprisingly few injuries.” Suddenly the affection Yumeko had shown me was withdrawn. Her face took on a stern expression, an omen of terror that all little kids feared. “The worst was probably your feet. Tell me Alice, why are you walking around without shoes on?”

“Uh…” After I lost my boots, there didn’t seem to be a need to replace them since Makai’s dirt was soft and the crystal floors were warm.

“How does a proper lady such as you forget something this basic?”

I twiddled my thumbs and stared up at the ceiling. “…didn’t really notice.”

“You didn’t notice?” Yumeko let out a subdued sigh, the most her professional manner would allow. “I don’t have any shoes your size on hand. You should make sure to find a pair later. I would be happy to assist you.”

“Thank you.” I wiggled my toes. The confinement of footwear didn’t appeal to them.

An image of bloody, severed legs flashed through my mind. I was getting sidetracked. “Uhm. About K-Ko? Is she…?”

“She is fine. I believe the goddess has finished tending to her; she should be resting in one of the guest rooms.”

“The goddess? Not Serra or Cosette?”

“Ko’s situation required a special touch. Did you wish to see her?”

“Maybe.” I wasn’t sure if I could handle it or what I might want to say. Besides, if she was sleeping then it wouldn’t be polite to wake her. “What is Shinki doing?”

“Our goddess should be speaking with Iris and Maria about the situation.” The maid’s eyes narrowed. “Not that it will be helpful. I’m positive the goddess is trying to console them instead of admonishing them as she should. I would be debriefing the pair of them, but I had other duties to attend.”

Oh. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be. Your well-being and comfort is more important. I can always find them later.” The slight coldness to her voice when she said that gave me shivers. I would never want to be on the wrong end of a Yumeko Lecture.

Still, from the way Yumeko was talking, nothing disastrous seemed to have occurred. “Everybody is alright?”

“That’s correct.”

I fell back onto the bed in relief. “Thank goodness.” I relaxed that way until I felt Yumeko pat my on the leg.

“I believe you will be fine on your own. I’ve been told that you should not try anything stressful for a day. All your wounds have been and healed, but there will still be lingering pain and stiffness, as you might have noticed.”

The dull ache throughout my body wasn’t that much of a disability. The areas where my more sensitive wounds were flared with pain when I touched them, but it was manageable as long as I was careful. Flying just off the ground would mitigate most of the problems; I was basically free to wander.

“Unless you need me for something Alice, I have unruly demons to find. If you have any questions about what happened to you or somebody else I advise asking them directly – I’m frustratingly out of the loop, at the moment.”

Yumeko stood up and gave me a questioning glance. She probably wanted to know where I would head off to, just in case. I wanted to…

[ ] Speak with…
-[ ] Shinki
-[ ] Maria
-[ ] Iris
-[ ] Ko
-[ ] Cosette
-[ ] Serra
-[ ] Yumeko
[ ] Rest more. Fainting couldn’t replace decent sleep.
[ ] Relax and think about things while…
-[ ] Free flying outside
-[ ] Sewing up Luminita’s clothes
-[ ] Reading in the library
-[ ] Touching up my cooking
[ ]

---

Welcome to thread two! Feel free to vote for more than one thing. These votes aren’t mutually exclusive.

Also, to be clear, you should clarify your intent if you speak with someone - if you want to ask things, get opinions on something, yell and berate them, etc. You don’t have to, but it would help to make sure you get what you want. After all, can you really trust my decisions?
Expand all images
>>No. 10054
So, finally picked a title. Seems appropriate, even if the ending of the last bit was a fakeout, at least in part.

[x] Speak with…
-[x] Shinki, privately, about this "special touch" that was needed
Then:
-[x] Ko, about what happened
>>No. 10055
[x] Speak with…
-[x] Shinki, privately, about this "special touch" that was needed
Then:
-[x] Ko, about what happened
>>No. 10056
[x] Speak with…
-[x] Shinki, privately, about this "special touch" that was needed
Then:
-[x] Ko, about what happened
>>No. 10062
x] Speak with…
-[x] Shinki,privately,about this "special touch" that was needed
>>No. 10063
[x] Speak with…
-[x] Shinki, privately, about this "special touch" that was needed
Then:
-[x] Ko, about what happened

Do I really have the choice? No, too curious.
>>No. 10134
[x] Speak with...
-[x] Shinki, privately, about this "special touch" that was needed.
Then:
-[x] Ko, about what happened.
[x] Relax and think about things while...
-[x] Sewing up Luminita’s clothes.

Just caught up to this, and it's very good. Keep up the great work!
>>No. 10167
File 134370403896.jpg - (137.79KB, 768x1083, everything-is-sunshine-and-rainbows.jpg) [iqdb]
10167
I wanted to speak with my adopted family. Logic was screaming at me, “Nobody should be alright. You saw them torn to shreds!” As much as I wanted to remain blissfully ignorant as to what truly happened, I couldn’t do it. It would have been flagrantly irresponsible to move on without understanding the situation.

“Can you tell me where Shinki and Ko are?”

“As you wish.” The maid pulled out the paper and pen she kept on her, deftly sketching a map towards the rooms the two were located in. Along with the mental floor plan of Pandemonium provided to me, the chances of getting lost on my way were slim.

“Thank you, Yumeko. Bye!” The maid bowed and walked away.

After the maid left, I took a few minutes to dress. Changing out of the soft pajamas I had on wasn’t appealing, but it was inappropriate to roam around in them. But if Pandemonium is my home now, wouldn’t it be alright? My mind quarreled with itself before giving in to propriety; if there were guests in my new home, it would be disastrous to meet them in pajamas.

Rifling through my wardrobe, I decided to put on a simple white sundress. It was light, proper, and didn’t stress my injuries in any way. After tying back my hair with a ribbon and twirling in front of a mirror, I felt ready to head off. I floated over to where Luminita was sitting and picked her up. The doll nuzzled my hand as I lifted her. “I’m glad you’re okay too, Luminita.”

I paused when my gaze drifted past the item that was lying next to Luminita. The memories of an unsettling image were fresh in my mind. I gulped and hesitantly grabbed the magical hand mirror that had been given to me. If I was going to go visit Ko, I decided I could return the mirror, too.

I floated down Pandemonium’s hallways at an easy pace. It would be best to reach the goddess after she had finished speaking with everybody else; a private conversation would be more comfortable.

The room the goddess was supposed to be in was located at the end of a hallway. The door opened as soon as I laid eyes on it, black hair and bright eyes filling the empty frame. Maria looked directly at me and smiled. The religious demon stepped into the hall and knelt down in front of me. “It heartens me to see you well.” The demon stared at me for a moment before offering a hand to shake.

“I’m glad to see you too, Maria.” The black haired demon’s hand was soft. I could easily imagine those gentle arms cradling me back to Pandemonium. “Thank you for your help.”

“It was no problem. It would be remiss of me to ignore my duties and my word. Aiding members of the flock is my prevailing purpose, one such as you perhaps more so.” The nun-like demon rubbed my head before stepping to the side, making room for Iris, who was exiting the room backwards.

“You have my word, Goddess. I am but your humble servant~” The pale demon spun around when she finished her farewell. Iris’ fae-like beauty had returned; her pure flesh was unmarred by missing skin or tainted scars. She had changed her outfit as well. The sleek black dress had been replaced by a fluffy white coat, the winter clothing out of place but very stylish.

Iris’ grin became cat-like when she caught sight of me. “If it isn’t Alice~. How do you do, Dear?”

“I-I’m well. How are you?”

“Never been better. Today has been so exciting~” I tried not to shake when the demon stalked over to me. My mind couldn’t help but imagine her covered in blood, skin barely clinging to her body as she grinned and laughed.

Iris knelt down and carefully brought her hands up, gently stroking the sides of my face. Her motherly aura reasserted itself over her bloodthirsty one. The smile on her face wasn’t crazed, but soft and understanding. “It must have been rather tough for you~”

“…Everything is okay now.” That was what I told myself, trusting in Yumeko’s words.

“Is it? I wonder. Tell me, Alice, were you scared?”

“Y-Yeah.”

“Can you tell me why, Little One?”

Iris wasn’t joking even if the answer to her question seemed obvious. “I thought I might die.”

After thinking about that simple, selfish answer I realized it wasn’t quite the whole truth. “I was scared of being alone again, of losing my family.”

“You would have liked to intervene, no? You would have stopped us if you could.”

“Of course I would have!” Seeing a friend shaking like a leaf, visibly in shock and pain, was horrible. “I tried to help Ko, but I didn’t even know what was wrong, let alone how to fix her.”

“It’s a terrible thing to rely on others, isn’t it?”

“Huh?” The demon stood up and patted me on the head before starting to walk away. Maria trailed after her, silently waving goodbye. “Wait!” I cried out, “What do you mean?”

“You can’t save others if you can’t save yourself, Little One~” Iris yelled back to me with a wave over her shoulder.

Weak. I stood in front of the open door, staring at the crystal walls in thought. A child can’t do anything. Iris, for all of her creepy inflection and queasy mannerisms, was not malicious in intent. All I can do is ask for help and run. Her words weren’t meant to hurt, even if they did. Useless. It was an accurate criticism of who I was.

“Alice?” Shinki’s voice brought me out of my contemplation. “Come in, come in!”

The goddess was wandering around the room when I stepped in. It was another sitting room, centered on a simple wooden table with four chairs. There was a longer table to the side of the room that had a tray of tea and snacks on it. Shinki was transferring refreshments to the center table.

“I’m glad you’re safe, Alice.” The goddess put down what she was carrying and walked over to me. Her arms swept outward to envelop me in a grand hug.

Crushing, tightening until I couldn’t breathe- Shinki stopped mid-motion and dropped her arms, instead choosing to pat me on the head. I had whimpered as she approached, however involuntary, yet her smile was as radiant as always.

“Me too,” I agreed.

The goddess laughed and continued to rub my head. “Anyway, go ahead and sit. Eat up! You must be hungry, right? Have you rested enough? You probably need to sleep, Alice. Are your injuries okay? Oh my, I hope this doesn’t hurt. I know my children took care of you, but if you’re still feeling un-”

“I’m okay. You can stop fussing.” I set the mirror and Luminita down on the table and tried to swat away the goddess’ hands. Her care was appreciated, but the goddess went overboard more often than not.

“If you insist.” Shinki gave my head one last pat before taking a seat at the table. She poured out tea for the two of us and bit into what must have been Yumeko’s baked snacks. “How are you doing Alice?”

“I’m fine.” I wasn’t exactly hungry for more sweets but I nibbled on a mini-cake all the same. “Are you okay?”

“Me? Of course. I wasn’t the one flying around outside.” The goddess sighed. “I didn’t exactly enjoy seeing my children in such a state, but it wasn’t unexpected.”

“…You expected Iris to come back like that?” I felt the heat rising in my voice, “For Ko to be kil-” Shinki moved to my side from across the table in an instant. The goddess pulled a chair closer and rested a hand on my shoulder.

“No, Dear. Those were the wrong words. If I thought a tragedy would occur I would have acted differently. Ko was confident in her preparations and I believed she was justified; I still do, in fact.” The goddess’ apologetic eyes looked down at me. “It isn’t easy to balance my children’s safety with their freedom. I wish the best for them and only want their lives to be led well.”

The goddess paused before addressing a different concern. “Please don’t hate her, Alice. She had fretted so much over this trip of yours. She asked for my advice on everything, but I was sure her preparations were more than enough. I never would have-”

I laughed.

Shinki’s puppy dog look was tinged with confusion while I gripped my sides. Laughing made my body ache, but I couldn’t stop. I wasn’t even sure why I found Shinki’s concerns funny in the slightest.

My laughter subsided eventually. “I believe you. She had prepared a whole bunch of stuff to keep me safe. Some of it didn’t work, but a lot of things weren’t going her way.”

The goddess rubbed my back slowly. “I’m glad you think that way, Alice. I was worried that this incident might tear you two apart. I wouldn’t be able to handle that happening again.”

I shook off the goddess’ worries. “I mean, I want to talk to Ko about it, but I think it will be all okay.”

“What’s the world coming to?” Shinki rested a hand on her head, throwing on a forlorn expression. “I’m having my cute little daughter console me.”

It was hard to think of the playful woman as a goddess. Her bubbly personality was pervasive. Yet, Shinki prepared for everything, no matter how subtle she tried to make it seem. She had helped Ko get ready and had Maria out and about for some reason. Perhaps she brought Cosette to Pandemonium as well. How much was coincidence and how much was the goddess’ supervision? I didn’t know.

The goddess was more than happy to stay on light topics. Innocent discussion about what I had been learning and what I thought could be better was calming. After I enjoyed chatting with Shinki for a few minutes, I managed to ask about more serious things. “Hey, Shinki?”

“Yes?”

“What was wrong with Ko?” Nobody had given me a concrete answer.

It looked like Shinki was contemplating how much to tell me before she began. “She was possessed. I’m not quite sure how it happened; my children are a part of me, after all. Those unfortunate souls shouldn’t have been able to grab a hold of my daughter.” Shinki surprised me when she clenched her fist in frustration. She didn’t sound overly angry, but any emotion that wasn’t outright happy or comically sad was uncommon.

“They’re a part of you? That’s because you created them, right? Does that mean you can’t be possessed?”

“My, so many questions. Yes. I molded their bodies and brought the spark of life to them, using pieces of myself to help them grow powerful in their own right. Unlike a human who develops from nothing all of my children had a head start, so to speak, and can reach greater heights as well. That is why my children are not easily swayed.” The goddess rubbed my cheek. “This is a bit unrelated, but I can feel each one of my children like I do my own heart; except for you, Dear. That’s why you need to be extra careful, okay?”

Extra careful. The goddess’ warning was playful but ominous. She can’t fix everything…

“What was that?” Shinki asked. I must have been murmuring while I thought.

“Did Ko d-die?” I asked what had been on my mind since awakening. My memories were at odds with what Yumeko told me. I wasn’t sure what was true.

The goddess barely paused before she answered me. “That’s right. Ko’s body was broken beyond repair. At first, my daughters thought they could simply separate the spirit from Ko’s body and patch her back together, but it wasn’t that simple. The injuries that my older daughter inflicted on Ko weren’t life-threatening, but many of her organs had already ceased to function. Her body was already breaking down before she died.”

“W-what? Was Ko sick beforehand?” Even I knew that it took a few hours for a body to start decomposing. If she had been growing weaker even while alive, something must have been seriously wrong.

“We aren’t sure. We don’t generally worry about disease or sickness down here, but it isn’t impossible for us to fall ill. In the end, regenerating multiple organs and trying to reconnect all of them into a functioning system while identifying what was wrong and fixing the problem would take too much time and effort. It was better for me to handle it.”

Serra and Cosette’s medical efforts would have been cost inefficient, but not ineffective. What was the goddess’ ‘special touch’ then? “What did you do?”

“I created a new body and moved Ko’s soul into it.”

My mouth opened slightly as if to speak but it shut before words came out. My brows furrowed while I forced my mind to think for a moment. Eventually, I opened my mouth again. “…Huh?”

“What?”

“You…did what?”

“Alice, Honey, I can’t answer your question if I don’t understand it.”

I don’t even…“Creating an entirely new body is easier than fixing a damaged one?”

“It is for me.” It was a statement of fact, as if Shinki was talking about what she ate for breakfast.

“I…okay.”

“What’s wrong, Alice? You looked confused.”

“No, it’s nothing important.” There was no point in arguing the absurdity of what the goddess said. It was just another quirk of the inhabitants of Makai.

“Does it sound weird to you? Simply moving a person from one body to another? It is strange, I suppose, but I can manage it with my children. It would be much tougher if the person in question didn’t come from me, though.”

”Okay, so Ko was alright after that?”

“I believe so. Her new body is nearly identical to her old one. I don’t think she has had any problems adjusting so far.”

Just as Yumeko said, it seemed that everything was okay. No matter how terrifying or sudden everything was, the demons of Makai seemed to shrug the incident off as something minor. My perspective as a human couldn’t comprehend the thoughts of a demon. “Thank you for talking with me.”

“Of course, Dear.” The goddess smiled at me and stood up. “Is this all you wanted? I can get you something, if you like.”

The thought of asking for a pair of shoes crossed my mind, but I didn’t bring it up. My toes liked their freedom. “No, that’s okay. Is Ko awake?”

“She isn’t supposed to be, but if I know her, then she’ll be up and about. Let’s see,” the goddess closed her eyes and tapped a finger to her chin. She opened them a second later and spoke. “Yes, she’s wandering around in the hall outside the room I left her in.”

I hopped out of my seat and grabbed both my doll and Ko’s mirror. “Thank you.”

“It isn’t a problem, Alice. If you ever need anything…”

“I’ll make sure to ask you.” I fidgeted awkwardly for a second before floating upwards and pecking Shinki on the cheek. “Thanks, M-Mom.”

I could hear the goddess giggle as I quickly fled into the hall, Luminita and the creepy mirror in hand.

The featureless crystal hallways sped by as I flew through the castle. The guest room that Ko had been interred in was relatively close to the sitting room the goddess was using.

I reached it in a minute, arriving just in time to find Ko standing on her hands.

Then she fell over. “Oh fuck!” She crashed into the ground without grace.

“Ko! Are you alright?” I floated over to my friend who was sprawled out on her back.

She looked exactly the same as she did before. The demon was clad in her usual black ensemble, her head wings still prominently flapping.

A quick tug on her hand and Ko was sitting up and scratching her head. “Yeah, yeah, just a little discombobul- Alice!”

“Hi- wah!” The redhead jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around me. My body ached in her grip. A demented grin, the constriction of her arms crushing my- “H-Hey, Ko, that h-hurts.”

The demon recoiled away from me as if I had slapped her. “What? Ah! Sorry! Damn it, I didn’t mean to do that. Holy fuck, I really-”

“Breathe, Ko, breathe.” Although I was talking to Ko, I found myself taking my own advice. Hugs were going to be problematic.

“Ugh, sorry for getting panicky there, Alice.” Ko fidgeted in place and played with her hair. “I didn’t expect to see you so soon.”

I coughed lightly while Ko watched me out of the corner of her eyes. We stood in that hallway silently, the seconds dragging on for what felt like forever. After my mind and body had calmed, I mustered the courage to break the silence.

“So, uhm-”

“Listen I-”

I blushed when the two of spoke at once. “I’m sorry, that was rude.”

Ko waved off the incident. “No, no, go ahead.”

“I interrupted you.”

“No, I cut you off first. You can speak, Alice.”

Stuck with Ko’s full attention, I felt my confidence draining away. As much as I wanted to have a serious discussion, I didn’t have the heart. “W-Well, uh, here’s your mirror back.”

“What?” The redhead took the mirror from me and stared at it. “Oh, that. Right, thanks. I’m surprised to see it in one piece. It’s a good thing this one worked correctly.”

Ko twirled the mirror around, inspecting it for damage. The grinning demon I saw reflected in the glass made my heart race. “It’s a creepy mirror.”

“I know, right? I guess you looked at your dark reflection. A lot of the goddess’ stuff isn’t sunshine and rainbows.”

“That wasn’t my reflection.” What I had seen in the glass was not ordinary; there was some sort of magic at work that I didn’t understand. Whatever image was shown in the glass was most definitely not a reflection.

“It was, Alice, but maybe not how you might expect. The mirror reflects the wielder’s soul and twists it, projecting that darker persona around them like a skintight shroud.”

“So it makes someone look evil?” As far as magic went, the mirror’s power didn’t sound as ridiculous as I might have thought. The absurd was reasonable in Makai, and I was learning to adjust. “I don’t see anything different about you.”

“Normal human eyes don’t look at souls, Alice. However, what a spirit sees is a tad bit different.”

“Keep a tight hold on that and they won’t even notice you.” With Ko’s own warnings, I reasoned out what the magic item actually did. “The mirror hid me from the swarm of evil spirits because they thought I was one of them?”

Ko nodded at my description. “Pretty much; the perfect camouflage, as it goes.”

Doubt plagued my thoughts. I remembered what I saw in that mirror’s reflection and wondered how much of Ko’s explanation was accurate and what was missing.

Mulling over arcane mysterious could wait, though. “Now it’s your turn,” I prompted the demon.

“My turn? No way, you cheated!” Ko’s characteristic outburst brought a smile to my face. “This mirror was totally not what you wanted to talk about!”

“Nyeh,” I stuck my tongue out and waited for Ko to broach the painful subject first.

“Fine, you tricky minx. Okay.” The redhead raised her head and stared into my eyes. She held my gaze for a second before squeezing her eyes shut and shaking her head.

The girl took three deep breaths before looking at me again. Her eyes were steady and her mouth set in a slight frown. “I don’t think sorry covers it, but I’ll apologize anyway. I told you I’d protect you but wound up trying to kill you – there’s nothing I can do that would make it right. I’m so sorry, Alice. I thought I did everything I could to prepare for our trip, but I failed in that. I hadn’t even considered my own weaknesses and how they might harm you. I was stupid and negligent. There’s no reason for you to feel a shred of forgiveness towards me, and I’m not conceited enough to expect any. So much of what I did was unforgivable.”

I interrupted the girl’s apology. “Are you going to make a Magician’s Contract too? I’d like to have two slaves.”

Ko’s eyebrows furrowed. “Say again?”

I raised my hand into the air, parallel to the ground. “Well, I think Erk already set a high bar for the ‘could have killed me’ group. It’ll be tough for you to make-it up to me better than he did.”

“You’re joking about something like this?” Ko’s suddenly even voice was at odds with her despondent or rage-filled tones.

“One of us needs to.”

“This is serious, Alice! Erk and I can’t be compared. Mr. Responsible accidentally caught you in the crossfire; I tried to murder you!” I listened to Ko with my head tilted. After she finished her explosive outburst, I floated forwards and grabbed her hand. “Wha-?”

I had been thinking about my feelings through Ko’s spiel. “No you didn’t. The girl right here didn’t try to kill me. My friend kept me safe from miasma and hellhounds. It was the spirits that tried to hurt me. Not you.”

“If I didn’t let them take over-”

“You couldn’t help that; you gave me the mirror.”

“I went and asked for that thing because of you, Alice.” Ko gently pushed against my shoulder and separated us. “I, we demons, shouldn’t need a magic item like that for those low-powered spirits. It’s usually easy to shrug them off. Ignore the screams, crush the temptations, and you can fly out scot-free.”

Ko found the magic mirror just for me, too? “Then why didn’t you?”

“I don’t know. It…wasn’t like usual. They weren’t whispering in my head or creating weak inclinations. It felt like they were driving a sledgehammer into the back of my skull. I couldn’t ignore them, and once they got in I couldn’t take control back.”

For some reason, Ko laughed. “I don’t suppose you know what it’s like to be possessed? It’s the worst feeling in the world. All of my freedom, my choice, my decisions, usurped by cackling dead guys who couldn’t get their act together. I can fight a mental war with the damn spirits but that would mean fighting a losing battle. They do that psychic stuff naturally; without serious practice, I would never be able to compete with them. The best choice is to retreat, to huddle up in my own brain and to not let the evil fuckers further into my head.”

Once those bastards get inside, they can shove me around like it’s nothing. The greedy ones try and tear up everything that is me, whereas the more sane ones focus on the outside. They fight me for my body. Trying to contest their control just means I would spread myself too thin. If I focus my mind somewhere, it just gives them the opportunity to obliterate me wherever I’m not paying attention. Retreating allows me to keep myself intact, but I lose my body in compensation.”

I can feel the maliciousness oozing out of those spirits. To have that kind of intent violating my body is disgusting. All I can do is curl up and watch through my unresponsive eyes as my body tries to carve you into pieces. Every scream or spurt of blood throws me into a frenzy. I can try to take back control, to do something to help, but it never sticks. I can take control of a single arm for a quarter second before the spirit boots me away and tries to crush me. Then its back to the waiting game if I don’t want completely lose myself.”

I listened to Ko’s explanation quietly. The demon girl spoke with a clenched fist and gritted teeth. For a person who valued freedom so highly, it must be terrifying to lose control of her own body.

Questions bubbled in my head. The thought of being possessed was an alien concept to me. “So, when you’re possessed you can still move your body a little bit. Does that mean when you d-died…?”

“Yeah. That was me. That piece of shit – I just wanted to stop the spirit from hurling more crystal at you. That asshole must have thought ending its fun was the best way to cause more pain.” Ko described something wholly malicious, an entire existence centered around causing pain to others.

With all the description Ko had given me, I could still only focus on one major fact. “You really died, then?”

The redheaded nodded with a grim smile. “Most of our bodies aren’t that strong, Alice. Flesh and blood only gets you so far. It’s a good thing the most important stuff for a demon isn’t reliant on a body.”

“You mean your soul?”

“Yup, or whatever else you want to call it; consciousness, self, awareness. As long as I can stay myself, the goddess can stick me back in a new body. Sometimes we lose a few things in translation and it’s a fucking pain trying to rebuild all of my muscle memory, but I can live with the trade-off.”

“…Just put their souls back into a body?” The goddess spoke as if it was nothing. Ko spoke as if it was common occurrence. I closed my eyes in contemplation. Momma…daddy…

“H-Hold on, Alice. Don’t start jumping to conclusions; I mean sure, a human’s soul also holds on to most of the important stuff, but that doesn’t mean you can just go r-reviving people, or something. W-Wait, that’s not what I mean! Damn, that sounds cruel. What I meant to say is-” She knows. When Ko was in the right mind, she was perceptive. She watched and listened and learnt whatever she could. She dealt in information. Yet, she could let her emotions get the better of her and let a few things slip. I wondered how much of my past she reasoned on her own, how much she found out, and how much was told to her. In the short time I had been in Makai, I hadn’t exactly talked about what had happened on the surface.

“It’s okay Ko, I understand. Shinki worried about that too. The dead have an afterlife to go to, after all. I was just thinking that it would be nice...to have all of my family together.”

“Alice…”

I shoved my memories and hopes to the side. At that moment, they weren’t important. “I forgive you, Ko. You tried very hard for me, and I made it out rather safely.”

“…Thanks Alice, even if I think I don’t deserve it.”

“So! Are you going to make that contract?” I asked with a large grin, banishing the negative thoughts to the recesses of my mind. The heart-pounding flight for my life felt very far away. Looking around, it was easy enough to imagine that nothing had happened. After clearing the air with Ko, I was ready to return to a happier routine.

“No way! I already have your best interest in mind; I don’t need some ancient magic telling me how to do that. I’ll just have to step up my game, is all…”

“Pooh.” I made the best funny face I could to try and stop Ko from sliding back into a pit of melancholy.

Ko chuckled and planted a hand on her hip. “Anyway, shouldn’t you be resting instead of extorting me, Kid? You’ve had a tough day.”

“Hey, I’m not the one that was put in a new body.” I pointed my finger at the girl in question. “You should be the one resting!”

“Resting? There’s no time for that, I have to get all my old skills back together. Besides, this body is fresh.” Ko ignored my rebuttal with a flick of her hair. ”Get back to bed, Kid. You need the sleep, especially if you plan on upholding your honor student status.”

How unfair. It was such a heavy-handed response that I would expect out of an adult. Technically, Ko was some ninety years older than me, but she didn’t seem much older. I didn’t feel the need to obey every one of her orders.

Ultimately, I felt that...

[ ] Ko was right and I needed to rest in bed.
[ ] The little devil needed rest far more than me!
[ ] I should watch Ko’s practice and make sure she didn’t hurt herself.
[ ] A decent compromise was for us to…
-[ ] Read in the library.
-[ ] Calmly wander around.
[ ] I still wanted to talk to about
[ ]

---

Ugh, sorry for the sluggish update speed. I predict that things will remain slow through the Olympics, but I could always be wrong. I would love to throw all my work out the window and stick to my preferred update schedule; I feel like writing bits at a time lowers the coherence of my work.

>>10063
Curiosity killed the cat.

>>10134
Hey, thanks for stopping by. Here at Shitty Writers Inc. we will continue to pump out lumps of words for your enjoyment for the low, easy price of your soul a single vote!
>>No. 10168
[x] Ko was right and I needed to rest in bed.

>>10167
But satisfaction brought it back.
>>No. 10169
[x] Both of you go to sleep.

Because why the fuck not.
>>No. 10170
If
>A demented grin, the constriction of her arms crushing my-
is a hint and not just a random flashback,
[x] I still wanted to talk to about .
Otherwise,
[x] Ko was right and I needed to rest in bed.
-[x] But so did she.

Otherwise,


I also offer proofreading help.

>For some reason, Ko laughed. “I [...] further into my head.”

>Once those bastards get inside, they [...] lose my body in compensation.”

>I can feel the maliciousness [...] want completely lose myself.”

If you have a quote that spans several paragraphs, you put quote marks at the beginning of each paragraph, but only at the end of the entire quote. (You seem to have it reversed here.) Also, you're missing "to" in the third paragraph.
>>No. 10173
File 134373661880.jpg - (305.24KB, 850x577, e490a1be1b46de59fca746fb715b85db.jpg) [iqdb]
10173
[x] Both of you go to sleep.

Because hell yeah.
>>No. 10175
[x] Both of you go to sleep.
>>No. 10176
>is a hint and not just a random flashback,
Why can't it be both, or maybe neither? What if it's a red herring or simply a mistake? Perhaps its the start of an insidious takeover by aliens!

Anyway, thanks for pointing out that bit on grammar. I'll try to remember the rule properly next time.
>>No. 10185
[x] Ko was right and I needed to rest in bed.
Bet Alice's gonna sleep through class period.

>for the low, easy price of your soul
So, gingers can't vote then?
>>No. 10239
File 134439498290.jpg - (142.02KB, 850x637, no-gingers-allowed-club.jpg) [iqdb]
10239
I felt that we both needed our rest. Whether physically or mentally, we were both fatigued from the spirit incident.

“Fine, I’ll go to sleep,” I conceded.

The redhead grinned victoriously, patting me on the head and turning me towards my room. “Great! You’re such a responsible kid, Alice.”

I took a few steps and allowed Ko her minor exultation before whirling around. “But you need your sleep too!”

“What? I already told you I don’t need any sleep. Besides, I have practice to do.”

I crossed my arms. “No way. You’re tired. You need sleep.”

“I think you might need to get your head checked again, Alice,” Ko commented. “I don’t understand how you came to that conclusion.”

“You are tired; it’s just in your mind. That’s why you need to go to bed.”

“Pfh, tired in my mind? Okay, sure, but my mind won’t be doing much while I swing a knife around. Now shoo, off to bed with you.”

“No! I’m not going to bed until you do.”

“Sheesh you’re stubborn. Fine, fine.” Ko sighed and opened the wooden door to the room she had been resting in.

It was a child’s room. That was the only way I could describe the bedroom when I peered in. The walls were covered in pink and blue striped wallpaper, the double bed was made with polka dot sheets, and the wardrobes were decorated with dozens of stuffed animals. I laughed at design; it didn’t match Ko’s personality at all.

“Hey, don’t giggle. I didn’t make this ridiculous room.” Ko grumbled while she crawled underneath her blanket.

I floated over to her bedside and watched as she settled in. While Ko took her sweet time, my gaze drifted to the elegant vase filled with bright and cheery flowers sitting on the nightstand next to her bed. A plain white card was lying next to the vase. I picked it up and examined it.

The front of the card was decorated with a simple smiley face. Inside, a message was scrawled out rather messily, “Get well soon ~M&D.”

“Are you just gonna float there and watch me sleep? I have to admit, that’s kind of creepy, Kid. At least shut the door if you do.” Ko griped at me from underneath her blanket.

I waved the get well card through the air. “Ko, the goddess didn’t give you these, did she?”

“What, the flowers? Nah, apparently my parents left them when they came to visit me. Those dunces; they should’ve just waited a bit until I woke up.”

“Parents?” I vaguely remembered Ko ranting about them once, but after spending more time in Makai I didn’t understand what the term meant. “Isn’t Shinki your mother?”

“Well, yeah, if you believe the whole ‘I created you so call me mother’ shtick the goddess has going on.”

I stared at the demon for a second. She rolled her eyes and started to speak again. “Okay, I see the problem. You see, for most kids, when a man and a woman love each other a whooooooole bunch-”

“No! Ko, stop joking around! You know that’s not what I meant.”

“Hah, maybe you should’ve asked a better question then. Seriously though, some of the people the goddess created got involved with each other and wanted kids. My ‘parents’ were one such pair. They asked, and the goddess provided. You can say I have two mothers.”

Recognizing more than one mother figure was something I could relate to. However, parts of Ko’s explanation didn’t make much sense. “Why did your parents need Shinki, though? Can demons not have their own children?”

“That’s a tough question. I guess the answer is technically yes and no, because- wait,” Ko stopped and narrowed her eyes. “Alice, how much do you know about this kind of thing?”

“What thing?

“Babies.”

I couldn’t keep the blush from my face. “U-Uh…well…uhm…when a man and a woman-”

“H’okay, we’ll stop this conversation right here. Ask again in a few years, Kid. Off to bed with you!”

“Ko, I’m not stupid! I know t-things…l-like, w-well…”

“Enough! I already ended this conversation. Stop trying to revive the dead elephant and go to bed already.”

“Fine!” I stormed out of the room, slamming the door shut on the way. Ko made it sound like I was completely clueless. I might not have known everything, but I definitely knew something; I wasn’t a baby!

I flew several more meters through the hall before remembering what my intuition had told me. Ko had flustered me to the point where I nearly floated all the way back to my room!

I turned around again and headed back towards the guest room. I waited silently in front of the door, idly brushing Luminita’s hair to pass the time.

Sure enough, five minutes later, the door opened.

“Sleep!” I screamed.

Ko jumped and let go of the door handle. “W-Wha- Damn it, Kid! You’re supposed to be in your room. Wasn’t that the bargain?”

I crossed my arms and glared at the girl. “It looks like you’re not sleeping.”

“Hey, don’t ignore my question.”

“Then stop trying to weasel out of our deal.”

The redhead scratched her head. “Aren’t you supposed to be a naïve little kid? I don’t understand why you’re floating out here.”

“It was fishy when you just gave up all of a sudden; I didn’t think you would break a deal like this.”

“Hey, don’t try to ruin my reputation, Kid.” Ko wagged a finger at me, her face looking rather displeased. “I followed our deal to the letter. It’s you who’s breaking it.”

“What? That’s not true.”

“It is. I went to bed; why didn’t you?”

My friend could be utterly frustrating. “You only slipped underneath the covers!”

“Isn’t that the bed?” Ko asked with an eyebrow raised.

“That…” I wasn’t sure how much more I could glare at the girl. “That wasn’t what I meant!”

“Maybe you should have been a bit more specific, hm? Now, go back to your bed, Alice.”

“Not until you do! Go to sleep, I mean!”

“Why are you so stubborn?”

“Why are you?” We bared our teeth at each other and entered into a stare down. Yet, like before, Ko was the first one to capitulate.

“This isn’t worth it. You really do need your sleep, Alice. I’ll go and rest up, so you can go to sleep in your room.” Once more, the redhead padded over to her bed. I floated after her again, shutting the door on the way in.

Ko slipped underneath the covers and closed her eyes.

She kept them close for several minutes and then opened them. “Alice, why are you still floating there?”

I looked down at the demon. “I’m making sure you fall asleep.”

“I can’t exactly sleep with you hovering over me like that. I give you my word that I’ll go to sleep. Head back to your room, Alice, and grab some decent shuteye.”

I paused a moment before answering. “No.”

“No? What do you mean, no?”

“I’m not leaving until you fall asleep.”

“That’s idiotic; I just told you that I intend to go to sleep. Why would you waste time by floating there?”

“Maybe you left something out again.” Luminita nodded in my arms, understanding my concerns.

“Left out? How do you expect me to get out of a promise this blatant?”

“I don’t know, but you’re smart enough to think of a way. I’m staying.”

“Fine.” Ko practically hissed at me out of frustration. “What if I fall asleep and then wake up after you leave, huh? What then, Miss Genius?”

“W-Well…I’ll have to stay here for a few hours!”

The redhead rocketed upwards into a sitting position. “Wait? What? No! That’s not at all what I- damn it. I deserved that one.” Ko flipped over and buried her face in a pillow. “Annoying kid, nobody is going to get any sleep this way.” Ko managed to mix an exasperated groan with a tired sigh in one noise. “Come here, Alice.”

“W-Wait, w-what are you doing?” The redhead lightly tugged on my hand, pulling me towards her. She scooted over and set me down on one-half of the bed.

“Tucking you in, Kiddo. Now go to sleep,” Ko told me, throwing her blanket over my shoulders to highlight the point.

“I c-can’t sleep here.”

“I swear Alice, you’re driving me crazy here. I’m going to go to sleep to satisfy your silly inclination, just so that you can get the decent rest that you actually need. Yet you won’t go back to your room, and you won’t sleep here. What am I supposed to do?”

The guilt crept up on me. Acting like a spoiled brat was never something I wanted. “…I haven’t washed up or anything.”

“It’s fine – you didn’t do much before visiting me anyway, right? I’m sure you have other clothes to change into when you wake up, too. Now go to sleep.” Ko rolled onto her back and closed her eyes while I laid on my side.

I fidgeted in the quiet darkness, constantly rearranging my grip on Luminita. My heart was beating so loudly, it was a wonder that the whole world couldn’t hear it. Lying next to Ko caused all sorts of emotions to grip me; they were confusing feelings, nearly indistinguishable. Trepidation, fear, apprehension, and more assailed me, no matter how illogical they were.

Ten minutes or so later, I realized that Ko had truly fallen asleep. Her chest was rising and falling steadily, and she didn’t respond when I whispered her name. Knowing that the demon was sleeping calmed my beating heart.

“Let’s go, Luminita,” I whispered to my doll companion.

Just before I slipped out from underneath the covers, an arm landed across my chest and a hand gripped the side of my blouse.

Adrenaline shot through my body, riding atop a wave of fear. I bit my lip to stop myself from screaming.

Twisting my neck, I found that Ko had turned over. She was facing me and had sprawled out across the bed. Other than her arm lying on top of my chest, I felt Ko’s knees and toes also brushing against my legs.

When nothing else happened for a few minutes, the tension in my muscles dissipated. She’s just sleeping, nothing else. I slipped an arm out from my side and rubbed my eyes.

Now, how do I get out? It was quite the conundrum. Brushing off Ko’s arm and legs would probably wake her. Other than being just plain rude, I was sure that the demon would also mock me for bowing out on my declaration.

If I couldn’t escape then the only other option was staying put.

The thought of sleeping in the guest room made my heart beat faster. W-Why is this bothering me?

I sighed and wiggled in place, trying to find a comfortable position. If nothing else, it was true that I needed sleep. Talking had been low energy and adrenaline carried me through our argument, but my tired body was shutting down once all the excitement ended. I would have to ignore whatever strange emotions were tugging at my heart.

Well, this isn’t so bad, I thought while I snuggled down into the warmth of the bed.

---

“Alice! Come down, now!”

The girl awoke to the shouts of panic and the call of her own name. She peeled the sweaty sheets off and clambered out of bed, pulling open the drapes of her window.

The world was on fire.

The starry night sky had disappeared amongst the blazing buildings of the village. The bars and sheds on the edge of the village couldn’t be seen. The houses around the girl were in various states of destruction. Roofs were caving in and side walls were completely burnt down. The neighbor’s house was a bonfire, heating the air to unbearable levels.

The girl stumbled away from the window and exited the room, rushing down the stairs of the house in haste.

Boots were immediately shoved into the girl’s arms. “Put your shoes on, Sweetie, we have to leave.”

“What’s happening, Daddy?”

“Something bad. Let’s go find your momma, okay?” The girl held the man’s hand and left the house, entering the insane world.

The pair ran through the village’s plaza, headed straight towards the village’s nominal shrine. The tiny building, no more than a glorified gazebo, had managed to avoid the flames but was still covered in soot and ash.

It was chaos in the village; humans running in every direction, some alone and some with others. Monsters were out and about as well, tearing into the defenseless villagers with tooth and claw. Farmers and wives were torn to ribbons. Children the girl had played with were disemboweled, hewed apart by savage blows.

Smoke filled the girl’s lungs when she tried to scream. A monster had dropped down in front of them, leering at the two humans running directly toward it.

The man raised an arm and shouted. Two ear-splitting cracks caused the girl to flinch. The monster fell to one knee, its face destroyed by two bullets of lead. When the pair ran by the grasping monster, the man delivered unto it a swift kick, sending the monster sprawling to the ground.

The closer to the shrine the pair drew, the more bodies littered the ground. Pieces of human and monster alike mixed in the killing ground around the building. On top of their fallen comrades, iron-clad humans and vicious monsters fought to the bloody death.

The man cleared a way through the crowd of fighters; loud gunshots resounded over the uproar of battle.

Blue light stood contrast to the flickering red haze. The shining orb of clouds was spun through the air, an extension of the dancer whirling amidst the chaos. The woman spun and jumped, blue energy striking out with the sound of thunder at the monsters around her.

“Lorina, we have to go!” The man cried out, even as he turned to smash aside an adversary with his forearm.

The woman’s answer was resolute, surprisingly calm despite the madness surrounding her. “I cannot run – my duty is here.”

“Your duty is to your daughter! Have you seen the rest of the village? There’s no saving it.” The girl watched and listened to the events around her in a daze. Her head was spinning; she couldn’t understand what was going on. The screams and blood all mixed together with the events of the past, conjoining into a surreal experience.

“As long as they struggle, it is my place to bolster them.”

“Trust me; they won’t be struggling for long. The guard was already half-staffed with all the deaths. Do you see who is still standing?” The man waved his arm out at the remaining humans. Only a handful of the iron-clad fighters were still upright, swinging sword and spear to take as many foes down as they could before they succumbed to the horde.

The woman’s dance was interrupted as she looked out at the burning village. She glanced around at the red haze, carefully watching the false sky that was hanging above the village, before nodding. The woman decisively cut a course through the tide towards the edge of the village.

The man tossed his weapon, nailing a monster in the head before following after the woman. The girl trailed alongside him, glancing at the shrinking view of her home. Buildings burned and fellow villagers died. Monsters followed the directions of the false sky. They jumped and killed, some stooping to feast and enjoy while others scampered off. She could see them dragging people and materials out of homes, laughing at the suffering and destruction around them.

The girl, even in her confusion, knew that the village was not long to be. When the false crescent moon angled towards her, when the monsters took off in pursuit, the girl felt her normal life shattering into pieces.


---

“What the fuck?”

My eyes blearily opened at the profanity. It wasn’t as heated or loud as usual; I could hear Ko’s speech tinged with grogginess.

I lifted my head slightly, enough to be able to see Ko’s face. The demon was staring at me with an incredulous look.

Twitching my limbs and craning my neck, I tried to figure out what was going on.

My feet felt trapped underneath warmth. One of my hands was lightly grasping soft strands, while my entire other arm was pinned underneath a weight. I wasn’t holding my cherished doll and there was no blanket covering my back.

I didn’t feel like dealing with it. I dropped my head to go back to sleep.

Muffled outrage tried to make it through my hair. Sighing, I lifted my head again so I could hear Ko speak.

“Get off of me!” The body I was laying atop of shook back and forth.

I yawned. “Why? It’s comfy.”

Ko looked like she had awoken fully. “You sleepy little runt, do you know how heavy you are? Off!”

“It’s not a problem.” I waved away her concerns and tried to go back to sleep.

The demon’s shaking head prevented me from nodding off; a head wing was insolently tickling my nose. “Of course it’s a problem! You should be sleeping to my side, Kid.”

The half of the bed I had departed sometime during my sleep looked cold and unloved. “You don’t like me being on top of you?”

The demon’s face turned a shade of red. “No! I most definitely do not. Now, move!”

I blinked a few times before lazily disentangling myself and rolling off of Ko. It seemed that most of my former injuries weren’t hurting as much. I felt only the dullest of aching throughout my body. The pain in my feet wasn’t unbearable.

Ko sat up next to me, before jumping out of bed and brushing off her clothes. “Sheesh. I’m never sleeping with you again; you move too damn much.” The girl paused before whirling to face me. “Wait, I didn’t me- oh, never mind. You don’t get it anyway.”

“Huh?”

“Yeah. Go ahead and sleep more if you want to, Kid. Catch you later; I have to go practice.” Ko opened the door to the guest room, letting the light from the hallway in to shine on my face.

Hold on… My mind churned as fast as it could in my drowsy state. Sleep…shouldn’t. Ko… I jolted upright and tumbled out of the bed.

I…

[ ] Followed Ko and…
-[ ] Stopped her from practicing.
-[ ] Supervised her practice.
[ ] Let Ko go do what she wanted and went…
-[ ] On a flight through town.
-[ ] To read in the library.
-[ ] Back to sleep.
-[ ] To find to speak with.
[ ]

---

In case anybody cares about my vote counting procedure, giving in to demands would have won the tie-breaker, but I counted >>10170 as one vote for the write-in, so there wasn’t actually a tie to break.

Hopefully I’ll get back to faster updates during the weekend and power through this story until the twenty-fifth. At that point…well, I’ll try to be responsible and update frequently, but no promises.
>>No. 10240
[x] Let Ko go do what she wanted and went…
-[x] Back to sleep.
Considering all that's happened, I wouldn't be surpised if we slept for a week.

Also, time for Anon's random tired-mind induced insane theory.

>“Does it sound weird to you? Simply moving a person from one body to another? It is strange, I suppose, but I can manage it with my children. It would be much tougher if the person in question didn’t come from me, though.”
Notice how Shinki said it wasn't impossible to pull off a body swap with a random person. Considering Alice's sudden growth spurt between MS and PCB, and if we keep ZUN's 'game release date = time the game takes place' thing, I'm thinking that Alice was killed in the MS Extra stage, Shinki tried to move her soul into a new body, but wasn't able to do an exact replica, resulting in Windows Alice.

Or it could just be that my mind is desperate for sleep, and is throwing random theories into my head, feel free to ignore all this.
>>No. 10242
[x] Let Ko go do what she wanted and went…
-[x] Back to sleep.
More sleep is fine too.
>>No. 10252
[x] Let Ko go do what she wanted and went…
-[x] Back to sleep.

I don't really see the point in voting since it's already decided, but apparently some writers are happy when they have more votes, so have my useless vote, and may you be happy.
>>No. 10253
[X] Let Ko go do what she wanted and went…
-[X] On a flight through town.
Tide schmide.

>>10240
But Mystic Square had endings for its Extra Stage, and Alice is alive in all of them.
>>No. 10282
File 134489904082.jpg - (79.64KB, 720x960, sleep-all-day.jpg) [iqdb]
10282
I yawned, grabbed Luminita off of the floor, and floated back onto the bed.

Ko was responsible enough; she didn’t need a human child watching her every move. In my heart, I wasn’t confident in my ability to help her if something went wrong, either.

More instinctively, I was still tired. Once the adrenaline from my momentary panic subsided, I was already curling up underneath the warm blanket.

Waking up in the morning had always been the toughest part of the day. Probably…things…important…do…not…sleep…

---

Men and women worked the fields, sweating under the glaring sun. It was dull, required work they managed to do day in and day out without complaint. The farmers of the village were honest and hard working people, content with a solid day’s work and a warm meal. They held no ambitions other than ensuring a bountiful harvest and watching their children grow old.

The girl watched them while she hung laundry. They were happy with their lot in life, no matter how droll it was. They held on to their traditions and their values like a lifeline, refusing to budge on the tiniest of matters.

It pained her. The girl wanted to learn, to experience life, but the voices always turned against her. She was a woman, expected to find a husband and care for the family. She was at the mercy of the majority’s opinions. Acting in a rash manner only invited scorn and rumor-mongering, toughening the lives of her parents. Bowing her head and carrying out her duties was the surest course for her.

Yet, not all felt that the old ways were best. Her parents were encouraging, often spending the surplus riches they had on helping her grow in ways the village would condemn. Reading, writing, dancing, geography, mathematics – all the knowledge of the world was slowly fed to her. They taught her what they could, and found her the rest.

The wandering troupes of actor and traveling merchants were her saviors in disguise. They brought with them knowledge and skills to expand the girl’s horizons. A handful of coins was more than enough for an impromptu lesson, a cup of sake able to encourage a rousing tale.

In those travelers, the girl saw her future. She did not wish to be bogged down by the customs of the village. She was not prepared for her entire life to be charted out by the whims of mundane farmers.

The girl wanted to grow into something more, to be something different. She had dreams and aspirations far beyond the small plot of life she occupied.

All she needed was an opportunity.


---

“Hey, quiet down, you’ll wake her!”

“Me? You’re the one that’s yelling!”

“I thought you were supposed to be some sort of martial arts master? Why can’t you walk quieter?”

“Aren’t you the self-proclaimed strongest witch in Makai? Don’t you have a silence spell or something that you can use?”

“Hello Alice. Did you have a nice rest?” Shinki asked me with a cheerful smile on her face. The goddess was sitting at the foot of the bed.

“Yup!” I was feeling even better than before. I sat up and stretched, frowning at the sound of Yuki and Sara arguing. Makai’s boisterous witch and dutiful gatekeeper were yelling at each other while standing in the open doorway. “Is something wrong?”

Shinki opened her mouth to speak, but I lost sight of her. Yuki and Sara interposed themselves between us.

“Alice! How you doing?”

“Hey Sis, long time no see!”

The two demons spoke simultaneously and glared at each other when they finished. I tuned out their bickering as background noise. Rising up into the air, I maneuvered around the demons and floated next to Shinki.

“Have you checked the time, Alice?” The goddess asked me.

I frowned and fished the gem clock out of Luminita’s pocket. Despite the number of holes in Luminita’s clothes, the gem was unscathed. After a moment of staring at the hands of the clock, I realized the problem. “I missed class!”

“You sure did,” Yuki was drawn over by my shout. “Mai was in such a big huff that I had to come and check things out for her; we didn’t know your trip had turned into such a big adventure, though. I’m upset I missed it.”

“Are you feeling better, Yuki?” I asked. The witch didn’t sound sick, but I still remembered what Iris had told me.

“Eh? Yeah, yeah; that little cold wasn’t bothering me when I woke up.” The blonde witch laughed and jumped on the bed. “I thought a responsible student like you would’ve dragged yourself to school no matter what.”

“Congratulations Sis!” Sara walked over and patted me on the head, “You’re just like everybody else now.”

“Sara!” Shinki gasped, “Why would you praise my dearest daughter for following you in the path of a delinquent?”

The change in Sara’s demeanor was instantaneous, her smile turned upside down. “M-Mother, I’m not…if I was around, I would go to...uh, if things were more interesting…”

“I didn’t mean to skip class,” I spoke up with my eyes downcast. If I hadn’t gone back to sleep…

“Oh, it’s alright, Alice. I’m just teasing.” The goddess tried to alleviate my shame. “I don’t mind if you miss some classes here or there. Although, I suppose some of my children aren’t so relaxed.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

The goddess scrunched her face and pretended to gag while she held up a folder of papers. “It seems Mai put together a grammar lesson for you; homework, as it goes.”

“Wait?” Yuki floated over to huddle around me. “That’s what I was carrying? Shucks, sorry Alice. If I had known that then I would’ve burned the thing.”

“I think that’s why she told you not to peek,” the goddess pointed out.

“Hmph, that witch. I’ll have to get her back soon. Anyway, Alice, let’s go!” Yuki snapped her fingers and grabbed my hand.

I lurched through the air before putting up some resistance to Yuki’s movement. “Wait, where are we going?”

“To learn some magic, duh?”

“I don’t think that’s what Mai wants.”

“Of course it isn’t, because what Mai wants is boring!” I couldn’t disagree with the blonde witch’s assessment. “Wouldn’t you rather practice magic with me? It’s a shame to have all that talent and never hone it!”

I was set to head off with Yuki to avoid any repetitive language exercises, but Sara spoke up to protest. “Wait a second!”

Yuki’s lips curled in distaste. “What do you want now?”

“My Sis! She doesn’t need your magic.”

“I don’t?” It was news to me.

“No! What you need is some exercise, Sis. Nothing beats being in shape!”

“Physical exercise?” Yuki scoffed. “What a terrible idea; it’s good enough to walk around the city.”

“Not at all! Don’t listen to her, Sis, working your muscles is the best feeling there is.” What Sara claimed was certainly possible; it felt like I had accomplished more with my day whenever I helped tend to the fields or carried something for daddy.

“What a nut, right Alice? Working out a bit wouldn’t get you out of a sticky situation like a well-crafted spell.”

“Don’t mind her; she’s still sore that Yumeko can wipe the floor with her, even without magic.”

“Hey, that maid cheats, okay? Those crazy stunts she pulls might as well be magic.”

“Girls, girls, can’t you two try to get along?” Shinki tried to interrupt the two demons’ bickering before it escalated again.

“O-Of course Mother.”

“Chance! Let’s go, Alice!”

“Hold it!” Yuki stopped dragging me through the air and turned to face Sara again. “Why should Sis even go with you? I think Mother could teach her magic just fine.”

The witch and the goddess looked at each other. “She,” Yuki began, “can’t teach Alice properly.”

How harsh, I thought.

“Hey! Don’t insult Mother right to her-”

“Aw, my sweet daughter leaps right to my defense! I’m touched, absolutely touched.” The goddess practically jumped on Sara, wrapping her arms around the gatekeeper. “However, I’m afraid Yuki is right. I would be a terrible teacher.”

“What? Why? Didn’t you create us and uh, stuff, Mother?”

“She did, but the old lady doesn’t have the formal knowledge to help Alice. Our goddess can use magical items like a pro, pump out magical energy like a geyser, and throw around a few specialized spells that wouldn’t help a beginner.” Yuki counted off on her fingers as she spoke, looking just like a teacher pointing out the flaws in her pupil.

“I thought you would make me sound a bit better…” Shinki looked slightly dejected, her droopy frown reminiscent of a dog denied a tasty treat.

“Didn’t I? Don’t get me wrong you two, the goddess is still ridiculously strong. If she wants to turn you into a chicken, you’ll probably become a chicken in an instant. On the other hand, little ol’ me would need to set up a fancy ritual to pull off any long-term polymorph.”

The witch and the goddess nodded in unison, happily comparing their differences.

I, meanwhile, had been pulled halfway out the door by Sara. I wasn’t even sure how the gatekeeper had slipped away from Shinki’s embrace.

It didn’t take long for Yuki to notice. “Stop! Don’t go with that pink-haired fiend!”

“Come on, Sis!”

I glanced back and forth between the two demons before turning to look at Shinki. The goddess simply shrugged and raised the folder she held in her hands.

With the two demons starting their shouting match anew, vying for my attention, I closed my eyes and considered my options. It was best for me to…

[ ] Learn formal spell casting from Yuki
[ ] Have Shinki teach me as much magic as she could
[ ] Exercise and train my physical abilities with Sara
[ ]

---

>>10240
We need to dig deeper! Obviously, the real twist is that Alice is actually a demon-spawn; her father had wandered into Makai at the age of three and had an illicit affair with a certain lustful succubus, and as such Alice is able to possess her killer at the moment of her death. Shinki, in her distress, asks for aid from the aliens visiting Earth and uses their cloning facilities to…wait, I like the sound of this…

>>10252
You could have been the difference! Oh well; my inner writer appreciates the sentiments.

>>10253
And Reimu blows up in every ending I get. Why is vidya so difficult? I’m partial to meido-Alice myself, but you just can’t rely on a finicky author’s ability to follow what may or may not be canon to try and predict the future…or can you?
>>No. 10283
[x] Go with who ever is closest.
>>No. 10285
[x] Exercise and train my physical abilities with Sara
This way we can hold physical fitness over Patchy's head in the future.
>>No. 10286
[x] Have Shinki teach me as much magic as she could
>>No. 10287
[X] Learn formal spell casting from Yuki

Because they just explained why Shinki would be a bad idea
>>No. 10289
[X] Learn formal spell casting from Yuki
>>No. 10290
>>10287
then why is it a choice? Considering how Alice is using a Shinki made doll, perhaps her lessons are more compatible.
>>No. 10291
Calling the vote here, just in case.

>>10283
This one goes to Sara, and wins the tie as well.

I guess I'll say this every thread; in the event of a tied vote, whichever option was voted for first, wins.
>>No. 10316
File 134517485589.jpg - (40.11KB, 540x600, wax-on-wax-off.jpg) [iqdb]
10316
It was best for me to go with Sara. Magic lessons were tempting, but making sure my body was in top condition took priority. Only old people and babies sat around all day and let their bodies waste away.

“Sorry Yuki. Exercise sounds nice after sleeping so much.” I gave my sincerest apologies to the blonde witch. I heard Sara whoop in victory before hauling me out of the room.

“W-Wait! My lessons would be plenty act-” Sara slammed the door to the guest room shut with a happy grin on her face.

“Good choice, Sis!” The pink-haired gatekeeper applauded me. “You can’t trust that crazy girl anyway; she would probably blow you up during her lessons or something.”

I followed Sara once she started to walk down the halls of Pandemonium. I figured she had a destination in mind. “Do you not like Yuki, Sara?” I asked. The two demons didn’t sound like they hated each other, but they certainly didn’t get along peacefully.

“She’s okay, I guess,” Sara admitted. “She’s a pest, though. She’ll fly all the way up to Makai’s entrances out of the blue and start blasting the walls apart. It’s frustrating for me and the other gatekeepers because we’re the ones that have to haul the rubble away or map out the new tunnels after a cave-in.”

It saddened me that I could easily imagine Yuki doing such a thing. She was an all-or-nothing type of personality. “Is there a reason she does that? Or is it just for fun?”

Sara shrugged. “You would have to ask her. Something about magic at low levels, but I don’t really pay attention to what she screams when I’m beating her.” The way Sara grinned and punched her knuckles together made me leery about the relationship the two demons shared.

“That doesn’t sound pleasant…”

“Oh, don’t worry, Sis. She’s usually okay afterwards; besides, she deserves it for all the times she lights me on fire.”

There was nothing else for me to say on the matter. I already knew that the demons of Makai were crazy. “So Sara, how come you’re back here so soon? I thought you didn’t visit often.”

“Mm, I don’t. I guess I really should…mother would be happier too…” The pink-haired girl lost herself in thought for a few moments before snapping back to attention. “Oh, whoops, your question! Right, right. Let’s see…what am I doing here again? Ah, I remember! I was giving mother my report.”

I didn’t want to call Sara simple-minded, but she could probably try harder to be more attentive. “Report?”

“Yeah, you know, like, how things are at the moment and, uhm, things?” I stared at the girl until she started to make more sense. “Remember, that big thing with the Hakurei girl? We’ve been watching her to make sure everything is okay and stuff. Mother and Yumeko wanted us to make sure Gensokyo was settling down.”

“ I see.” It made sense, that the gatekeepers to Makai would keep track of the events in Gensokyo. They were working at the border between worlds, after all. “Hey, Sara?”

“Yeah?”

“Do you know about…never mind.” I stopped myself from asking the question that was rampaging around in my head. The village wasn’t exactly within eyesight of the entrance to Makai I had entered. Besides, if Sara did know something, I wasn’t sure if could handle the information; I could always ask again later.

I could imagine question marks bouncing around Sara’s head. “Sure Sis, whatever you need, don’t be afraid to ask me!”

We continued walking for another ten minutes before Sara started grumbling quietly to herself. With the way she was constantly looking around, I felt like I knew what the problem was. “Are you lost?”

The gatekeeper fell to her knees and grabbed my hand, holding it under her chin. “You’ve been living here for a bit, right Sis? You know how to get around, don’t you?”

“If you didn’t know where you were going, you could have asked for directions first.”

“I thought I knew! It’s just, all these crystal walls are so confusing. At least with the caves, you can look at the differences in the rock to figure out where you are. All the walls look the same here! And, and, the hallways loop back around and they’re all connected and…”

After consoling Sara for a minute and figuring out where she wanted to go, I took the lead and tracked down a kitchen for our use.

Once we step foot in the kitchen, the gatekeeper attacked the ingredients laying around, working with a fury to produce a ridiculous assortment of food. I was pulled into the whirlwind of cooking by accident and ended up doing my best to assist Sara. The pink-haired girl had been enthusiastic that I was helping her cook; she talked through every step of every dish she made. I felt like I learned a lot by watching and helping to prep.

“Whew, I’m famished! Here, you should have some of this, Sis. Oh, and try this. And this one too.” The girl pulled bits and pieces from several different bowls, filling my plate with a wide variety of noodles, vegetables, and other foodstuffs.

“Sara, I don’t think we can work out after eating all this,” I commented between slurping down clumps of noodles.

“Naw, Sis, it’ll be great. This stuff is pretty healthy. Besides, I wasn’t going to take you through anything strenuous; no cramps, I guarantee it!” Sara threw me a thumbs up before swallowing a whole roll of bread.

“What about you? You’re, um, kind of eating a lot?”

“No problem, no problem. This amount of food is nothing! Every meal time is a battle. You have to grab as much as food as you can and eat it all before somebody else takes it!” Assuming Sara ate with the rest of Makai’s gatekeepers, I wasn’t sure if I would ever visit such a rowdy-sounding bunch.

We polished off the food and cleaned up as best we could. I couldn’t imagine Yuki stopping to wash up all the dishes that we had used, but Sara proved to be much more responsible. After throwing a few bottles into a carrying bag, Sara shouted, “Let’s go!”

I waited by the kitchen table when Sara dashed into the hall. “Where are you going?”

“Wah...” The gatekeeper glanced left and right before walking back over to me. “Can you take us to one of the practice rooms, Sis?”

The walk to one of Pandemonium’s practice rooms was quick. The room itself was large and wide open, the floor covered with packed dirt instead. There was more than enough room to run and fly around in as well; it was a large, empty room.

After leaving our things at the door, we jumped straight to work.

“And streeeeetch…hold it…good! Now back, two, three, four! Alright, let’s go! Keep up if you can, Sis.” Sara directed my stretching, having me bend my legs and arms around in loops. From there she pulled me into a jog, crunches, jumps, and all sorts of other activities. It was never brutally difficult, but the combined exercises whittled away at my stamina.

“Fweh, hah…do you do this everyday, Sara?” I panted and leaned against the wall. I was in reasonable shape, as fit as some of the boys from the village, but Sara was working muscles I didn’t know I had. Lifting bundles and packages for daddy and running around couldn’t prepare me for Sara’s highly specific regime.

“And more! This is usually just a warm up for me.”

“I don’t think I can, hah, run anymore.”

“That’s fine; it’s break time anyway. Don’t you feel great?”

“I feel sore…”

“Shake it off, Sis! Here you go.” The gatekeeper handed me a glass and poured out the water she had brought from the kitchen. I started to guzzle it before Sara grabbed the end of the glass and tilted it downward, moderating my drinking.

“Thank you.” The two of us sat down near the entrance to the training room, sipping water and relaxing.

“So,” Sara began, “you want to tell me about this adventure you had?”

“Okay.” I slowly informed Sara about what had happened since I first saw. After talking about my daily life, I slowly worked up towards the spirit incident. I was surprised to find how easily I could speak of it. I was waxing about the beauty of Makai, the shock and fear I had felt but also the lighter emotions of comfort and protection. I was describing the intricacy of the fights, the smooth motions and slick jumps of Ko and the dazzling magecraft displayed by Iris. The bloody dismemberments and Ko’s death were a footnote in my retelling; glossing over the gory details allowed me to maintain my composure.

“That’s pretty crazy, Sis. You’re one tough girl.” Sara raised her fist in salute.

Sara’s words were nice, but I couldn’t believe them. You can’t save others if you can’t save yourself. “Thanks, but I’m really not…”

“Aw, don’t sell yourself short! No other kid could keep it together like you did.”

“I wish I could have done more.” I knew that without a doubt I would not have been able to escape on my own; in my mind, Sara’s praise was empty.

An awkward silence crept up after I finished speaking. Sara stared at me intensely enough that I had to avert my own gaze.

“Let’s go.” My hands were pulled out of my lap when Sara dragged me up and onto my feet.

“Are we running more?”

“Nah, that isn’t very helpful. I have something else in mind.” The gatekeeper drew a small circle in the dirt with her foot. “Stand here.”
Once I stepped on the marked spot and looked at Sara, she poked me in the chest. It was forceful enough to throw me off balance; I had to take a step back or risk tumbling over. “Hey, what was that for?”

“Balance, Sis. First step for everything is balance.” Two more circles were drawn in the dirt, a shoulder’s width apart. “One foot on each circle, please.”

I placed my feet where she told me to. Then I was instructed to bend my knees and straighten my back. I frowned when Sara poked my chest again and it proved trivial to remain unmoving. When she flattened her palm and gave me a light shove, I still didn’t fall backwards.

Sara laughed. “See, Sis? Balance. It’s all in the legs. Next step!”

The pink-haired demon continued her strange lesson. Sara directed my arms, having me follow a strange motion with a few concrete steps. She had me repeat it again and again, until I was sick of the movement. Still, I endured. I didn’t know what she was teaching me, but it somehow felt important. I committed the steps to memory and did my best to execute them perfectly each repetition.

“Does it feel kind of instinctive?”

The question was random, and I didn’t really understand what Sara was trying to get at. “I guess.”

“Okay! Here I come!” Sara flipped through the air, somersaulting backwards a meter. She landed softly and sprung towards me, arm outstretched.

“W-Wha?” Her hand was clenched around something, an object pointing straight at me. My mind identified the shape immediately. A knife.

I could feel everything slowing down, my thoughts locking up. Bloodthirsty smiles. Memories resurfaced in a roaring cascade. Glinting metal, flashing through the air, blood spraying. My mind completely froze. No. No no non no-

I screamed, and moved.

Pink passed by me in a blur.

I stopped screaming and crouched down, practically curling up into a ball with my hands covering my ears. No, no, no, no pain, no…no pain? The feeling of wellness, of my body not burning in pain from a grievous injury, helped calm me down.

What just happened? I thought, replaying the events in my head. Sara had charged at me suddenly and I screamed. I was confused and panicky, but my body moved how Sara showed me. Deflect, grab, pull, shove; exactly as practiced. The demon had tumbled away from me fell to the ground in a heap.

“Woah, you did it Sis!” The pink-haired girl rolled to her feet and jumped into the air in celebration.

“I…did it? What did I do?”

“You saved yourself from this.” Sara tossed her ‘knife’ in the air. The metal clattered on the floor. When I picked it up, I noticed that the blade didn’t even have a point, let alone an edge. It was barely better than an oval of metal attached to a handle.

“I…saved myself…” I repeated the words quietly to myself.

I couldn’t help but grin. A warm feeling swelled from my toes to my forehead, emboldening me. “I did it!”

Sara laughed with me. I barreled into the pink-haired girl who considered me a sister and grabbed onto her hands. We spun around and around in elation.

“I told you Sis, nobody else can keep it together like you! We barely spent any time working on this move and you used it like a master.” Although Sara didn’t state it, I knew that this small victory she had given me wasn’t nearly enough. The clumsy, half-hearted attack Sara had staged would never occur in real life. I wasn’t strong or fast enough to deal with the ridiculous speed and poise I had seen Ko display. It would take a ton of effort to bring me on par with the little devil, perhaps years more than I had to live, but at least I felt like I had a starting place.

“Uhm, Sara?”

“Yeah?” The demon released my hands.

It wasn’t embarrassing, but I struggled to pull my gaze from the ground. “Can you teach me more?”

Sara grinned. “Sure, Sis, no problem.”

“Has something good happened?” A stoic voice asked from the door to the training room. Yumeko was standing in the doorway, watching my and Sara’s celebration. The maid mustn’t have been standing there for long.

I giggled. “Not particularly…”

“Just helping my sis learn a bit.” Sara slung an arm around my shoulder and rubbed my head.

“So you are busy then?” Pandemonium’s maid asked

Yumeko was being rather inquisitive; it was a curious behavior I hadn’t seen much of. “Did you need something?”

“No, it is definitely of lesser importance than your business, Milday.”

Sara’s loud voice jumped into the conversation. “Don’t be like that Yumeko, tell us!”

The maid smirked, slightly shaking her head. “I was going to ask if you wished to spar with me while you were here.”

Sara’s eyes lit up. However, she curbed her enthusiasm when she looked down at me. It was obvious that as much as she wanted to spend time with her ‘Sis,’ having actual competition from the maid was enticing.

It didn’t look like the gatekeeper was going to come to a decision on her own considering the way she glanced back and forth between me and Yumeko.

I wanted to…

[ ] Continue exercising with Sara
[ ] Ask Yumeko to help Sara train me
[ ] Watch Yumeko and Sara spar
[ ] Leave the practice area and…
-[ ] Do else
[ ]
>>No. 10322
[x] Watch Yumeko and Sara spar
This will be interesting.
>>No. 10323
[x] Watch Yumeko and Sara spar
>>No. 10348
[x] Watch Yumeko and Sara spar.
-[x] Perhaps Yumeko would also have some interesting techniques that I'd like to see, and perhaps she too could teach me?
>>No. 10354
[x] Watch Yumeko and Sara spar
>>No. 10368
File 134558418796.jpg - (65.39KB, 360x600, what-a-letdown.jpg) [iqdb]
10368
I wanted to let Sara enjoy herself with Yumeko. The spunky pink-haired girl probably enjoyed working me to the bone, but there wasn’t any difficulty in running laps at the pace a human child could handle. I was sure that the sword slinging maid would provide Sara with the challenge she wanted.

The chance to watch more of Makai’s demons fight wasn’t a small factor in my decision either. Yuki’s battle royale, Iris’ and Ko’s duel; each were magnificent in their own ways, stunning clashes straight out of the stories that momma and I loved. If Yumeko was as powerful as I believed and Sara as talented as she appeared, then a fight between them would be no alleyway brawl.

“I’m exhausted. I’ll just be sitting over by the door,” I proclaimed, quickly sweeping Luminita up and plopping onto the ground next to the glasses of water.

“Didn’t you want to learn how to defend yourself and stuff, Sis?”

“Yes! We can do that later though, right? It doesn’t have to be now. If you wanted to do something else, then I wouldn’t mind.”

Sara watched me for a moment before beaming. “Okay, Sis. Thanks!” Her simple thoughts and straightforward emotions were childish but sincere.

“Thank you for graciously providing this opportunity,” Yumeko whispered as she passed by me.

The two demons moved to the center of the room. The bright-red maid outfit and sleeved dress the two were wearing did not seem like combat attire, but they didn’t stop to change.

Pandemonium’s maid raised an open hand into the air. I blinked, and a sword had appeared. It was a silver long sword, the same type Yumeko had always materialized. How does she do that? Is it like the goddess’ creation magic?

The maid handed the gleaming blade to Sara and created another one. They stood a meter apart and crossed their swords, each combatant fully extending their sword arm.

“First blood?” Yumeko asked in her usual calm fashion.

“Works for me!”

Despite deciding on the rules of their match, the two demons did not uncross their swords or move in any appreciable way. My anticipation for watching the fight slowly waned to the point where I decided to take a sip from my cup of water.

When I put the glass back on the ground, the demons had vanished.

The shriek of metal meeting metal drew my gaze to my right. A line had been dragged through the dirt, barely a centimeter wide, all the way to the far side of the practice room. There, I could barely see Sara pinned against the wall.

I jumped to my feet to try and get a better view, but all I saw well was Yumeko’s backside. Luminita beat on my arm and stretched out her hands. I took her suggestion and rose up and over to watch the fight.

Silver blades were held perpendicular, scraping and sliding against each other. Sara’s arms were shaking, holding her blade aloft to block Yumeko’s overhead strike.

The aching screech of metal ended when Sara’s foot shot out. The low kick swiped through empty space; the maid had already jumped. Yumeko immediately pressed her advantage, using gravity to drive her sword downwards at Sara, but the gatekeeper was moving too. The pink-haired demon followed her foot out, sliding down and under Yumeko, avoiding the silver sword and escaping her sticky situation.

A flip and twirl brought Sara back to her feet. Her silver blade flashed as she spun, the wide arc of the blade parrying a swing from Yumeko. The maid had wasted no time in following Sara, her attack landing within a fourth of a second of Sara regaining her feet.

The duelists entered into a series of furious exchanges. Their swords spun around and flicked in and out, swinging and stabbing in rapid succession. Metallic clangs merged together into a single, continuous noise that only slightly fluctuated in pitch.

I couldn’t keep track of each individual sword stroke; the paths of the blades were indistinct. Every one of Sara’s spins and flips were discernible, but whatever attack she was trying to avoid was practically invisible.

After watching their exchanges for a minute, the similarity between Sara’s style of combat and Ko’s was noticeable. Acrobatic flourishes and dance-like maneuvers littered their fighting style. Sara never stood in one place; she was always drifting around the practice room, evading blows as much as she parried, and never standing around to go toe-to-toe with her opponent.

Yumeko’s fighting style was completely different. The maid retained her poise, if that was possible, but in truth the blonde demon wasn’t far off from an implacable berserker. She swung and swung, never letting up on her attack. The few times she left her feet only gave her a stronger position to strike downwards from the air, landing cataclysmic blows that rent small craters in the dirt. I barely saw her arms draw back to form a defense, and she never side stepped an attack. Yet despite the brutish offensive, the maid’s elegance showed through. Her constant advance wasn’t a heavy march, but dainty steps that flowed together. Sword swings did not follow wild, jagged rends through the air but rather perfectly crescent arcs. No wasted movements there; every action brought her closer to victory.

Storytellers that describe a pair of fencers as dancers are not wrong, but could not truly understand that description without having watched the demons of Makai fight. Silver swords flashed everywhere, filling the void between the two with whirling, clashing death.

Yet, the equilibrium the two developed could not last. Even an untrained child could tell that Sara was struggling to keep up. Every hard parry shook the gatekeeper’s frame, throwing her dance off. Evading more than attacking, and then blocking more than evading; Sara was fighting a losing battle against the maid.

Thus, it wasn’t unexpected when Sara broke the code of conduct of their sword duel. A backwards somersault suddenly reversed directions midair, a heavy boot falling towards Yumeko’s head.

The maid blocked the offending with her freehand and jabbed with her sword, but Sara stayed in motion. She twisted in midair, lashing out with her other foot while parrying the maid’s sword with her own. The gatekeeper fought horizontally for a second, attacking with a flurry of kicks and using her free arms to keep Yumeko’s blade in check.

As far as I was concerned, the close quarters combat became more impossible to follow. Sara threw her entire body into the fighting effort, trying to catch Yumeko with knees, elbows, forearms, fingers, and every other part of her body. The gatekeeper’s evasive sword dance changed into an all-out assault. She would swing her right leg out to trip up Yumeko’s footing, strike forward with the opposite knee, jerk her hip, bring around an elbow, initiate a head butt, and parry Yumeko’s sword all in one motion. It was the maid that was put on the back foot, dodging and weaving slightly, warding off Sara’s blows as best she could. One of Sara’s body parts would connect with a solid blow, but the attacks that Yumeko let connect were never strong enough to draw blood; the gatekeeper was fighting a war of attrition, intent on bludgeoning Yumeko’s strength away.

The concept of personal flight changed everything about close quarters combat. The drunken brawls and pitched battles of humans assumed both combatants would need to keep their feet firmly on the ground. Magical demons that could fly on will had no such compulsion. Sara stopped touching the ground as she used every contact against Yumeko to spin around and bring more force to her blows, her magic keeping gravity from bringing her crashing to the ground.

The gatekeeper stuck to the maid like glue, never allowing Yumeko the distance she needed to swing her sword properly. Sara always had some limb in contact with Yumeko, grabbing, smashing, and finding more leverage to continue. Fighting in that extremely close quarter fashion, sword use became impossible.

A smirk. It was the only subtle warning I saw that foretold the end of Sara’s ephemeral upper hand. One minute, Sara was a whirling fury of punches and kicks in the face of her opponent, and the next she was shooting off and away from the maid.

A hail of blades followed her.

Dozens of silver swords were standing tip down in the dirt of the practice room, skewering the ground in a line from the maid on one side of the room to the gatekeeper on the other.

With a single sword, Yumeko had no hope of dislodging the grappling, spidery gatekeeper. Swords appearing in midair and fired as a targeted projectile with painstaking precision? It was more effective of a tactic.

I was surprised when no more silver swords rained down form the sky. The maid had launched enough blades to create distance, but nothing more. I was positive that she could continue to fire them, to put up a rain of swords that would definitely draw blood, but she did not.

Instead, Yumeko raised her sword in hand in a fencer’s salute. Then she disappeared, a crater of dirt left where she stood.

The best way to figure out what was going on was to watch the fighters, I had learned. Snapping my gaze to Sara, I then followed her eyes up towards the ceiling of the room. The maid was crouched against the top of ceiling, upside down. Then she disappeared again.

I heard the crash of steel before I could turn my head to see what had happened. By the time my eyes laid on a staggering Sara, Yumeko was nowhere near.

Far side of the room, ceiling, other side, top far corner, bottom near corner – the maid appeared, disappeared, and reappeared in each of these locations, each time accompanied by the wail of sword kissing sword and a gatekeeper that looked more exhausted and ragged than before.

Watching a single spot, where dirt met crystal wall, allowed me to see it. To see Yumeko shooting around the room, pressing her legs against the point of impact and springing from wall to wall, floor to ceiling and back again.

I could only presume that every screech of metal was Sara managing to parry Yumeko’s attacks. The pink-haired fighter was tracking a speeding maid zipping around the room fast enough that I barely saw her even when I was concentrating.

The tension grew. Without seeing the maid, I felt the attacks grow faster and faster. Larger and larger craters formed in the sand, the sound of hard leather shoes slamming into crystalline walls reverberated throughout the room. With my back to the wall, I could feel the tremors and shaking that Yumeko’s impacts caused.

The tide was massive, flipping the flow of battle on its head. The odds of Sara’s victory were fleeing in terror. Without an answer, the gatekeeper would be blown away by the hurricane.

Sara must have realized this. While she was jerked from side to side by the force of a hurtling maid, her hands began to glow red. Magical energy pooled around Sara, swirling and forming into an amazing- nothing.

“I yield.”

The spar came to an abrupt end. Yumeko was kneeling on the floor next to Sara, her silver swords fading from existence.

Sara was shocked. She stood frozen mid-movement, her glowing red hands raised above her head. “You what?”

“I yield,” Yumeko repeated herself, rising to her feet and dusting off her outfit.

“Y-Yield? How can you yield? I was just about to try something!”

“My apologies,” the maid’s tone was cool as usual, “but I am not in a fit condition to continue. It would be remiss of me to fight as I currently am.”

“Fine.” Sara lowered her hands and shook them, the furnace red glow disappearing. The gatekeeper drowned her disappointment in water.

The maid strode past me without as much as a water break. “Yumeko, are you sure you’re all right?”

She stopped, but didn’t turn to look at me. She keeper her back ramrod straight and eyes dead set ahead of her. “I believe so, but I must investigate this…unexpected and highly improbable condition of mine. Please excuse me, and do not worry. Enjoy your day.”

I shivered when I watched Yumeko leave. Something was off, that was true. The straight-laced maid was less professional in her demeanor, colder than usual. There was a hint of something in her countenance, an emotion that Yumeko was trying to cover up. It was a feeling that I had become intimately aware of after watching Ko and Iris fight. I knew it as bloodlust.

“That was kind of disappointing. Yumeko tries too hard to be perfect, you know? I’m sure she could’ve easily continued. Then I would’ve had her!” Sara complained and then fell over. She wasn’t bothered by the very slight change in her opponent. Perhaps she was too tired to care.

I pointed out how exhausted she looked. Sara protested, but not being able to sit up was a good indication that she didn’t have the energy for more exercise. The pink-haired girl wanted nothing more than to teach me how to defend myself, but I put the lessons off in favor of getting something to eat. Our pre-activity meal had been hours before.

We passed by the kitchen and took off towards the city. When I asked Sara if she wanted to cook something, the girl had walked in and started to stab a steak with a spoon. I was glad that she could at least fly straight.

I led the slightly loopy pink-haired girl through the streets of the city, trying my best to avoid crashing her into any of the other demons.

Eventually, after plenty of apologies and mishaps, we plopped down in a booth in some café. It was a place I had wandered into during my first trip into the city; the owner had gifted me with a delicious chocolate-ish cookie. Luckily for us, they served food other than desserts as well.

“Hey, this is great! Thanks for bringing me here, Sis.” Sara had mostly recovered after she devoured half a dozen sandwiches and downed several cups of iced tea.

“I’m happy this place worked out.” The waitress walked by and purred at my compliment.

With drinks refilled and food consumed our conversation shifted from complimenting the café. “So, what’d you think of the fight, Sis? I’m sorry it didn’t last too long.”

‘Too long’ seemed like an understatement. I snuck a peek at the clock and worked out timing in my head. “You were fighting for over twenty minutes.”

“I wasn’t beat by a long shot. I could’ve kept up with her for another two hours, at least.”

Skepticism tinged my thoughts. I was no fighter, but even I felt like the situation was impossible for Sara to sustain. Besides, the demons of Makai loved to boast. “Really?”

“Well, no. Not really.” I knew it. “Her control is too good; she can turn a lethal attack into something that would barely knick you. Unless I started fighting to kill or something, I could never match her. If she ramped up her efforts too…”

“It was really scary sitting there with all the walls shaking,” I admitted, “but could she do even more? Was that enough to fight with Yuki?”

“More than enough I’d say. That witch might disagree, but she’d be wrong. Once Yumeko gets next to that frilly magician it’d be lights out, pow!” Sara slammed her cup of tea down on the table and punched a fist into the air.

“Could she get close enough?” Barrages of fire and other elements were still fresh in my mind. “Some of the spells Yuki can throw out look like you can’t get around them.”

“I’m not sure if you noticed, but Yumeko is a juggernaut.”

“A what?”

“A brute. A hulking destroyer. An unstoppable moving force of carnage!” When the gatekeeper slammed her hands on to the table again, the waitress came by and scolded her. She quieted down, but not much. “She, uh, isn’t affected by a lot. Her body is tougher than ours, and she’s trained herself to ignore a lot of pain. Walking through a wall of fire wouldn’t exactly slow her down.”

“I…see…” The mental image of Yumeko’s face plastered on a massive ogre my imagination conjured wasn’t realistic in the slightest.

“Do you? I admit, what Yumeko can do doesn’t seem all that impressive to bright explosions, but single-minded dedication is pretty scary on its own; especially if that dedication turns into obsessed aggression.”

I thought I understood what Sara was getting at. “Yeah, everybody would hide from momma if she wasn’t having a nice day, and she couldn’t even fly or poof swords into existence.”

“Nah, you don’t understand, Sis. Trust me; you wouldn’t want to see Yumeko when she gets angry.”

“I’ve seen her angry before.”

“I don’t think you have. Are you talking about the little incident with the shrine maiden? She wasn’t angry then, just a bit annoyed.”

“There was a time when she was yelling at Yuki, too, for creating this dragon made out of fire.”

“If she was yelling then she probably wasn’t angry, just frustrated with that witch’s antics.”

I puffed my cheeks out. People yelled when they got angry, it only made sense. “Hmph, have you seen her angry then?”

“I’ve seen a lot of sides of Yumeko, the entire spectrum of humble and embarrassed. But angry?” Sara suddenly stopped talking. Her eyes wandered away from me, staring off at the wall like she was lost in memories. When she started talking, she had become truly quiet; her voice was soft and uneager. “One time. There was one time when I saw her honestly, truly angry. I’m sure they regretted their ploy immediately; I know we did.”

“Sara, what are you talking about? What happened?”

“Ooops.” Sara’s hands shot up to her mouth. She stared at me wide-eyed for a few seconds and then started to furiously shake her head. “Nothing, nothing. Just some memories, is all. It doesn’t matter!”

“I don’t get-”

“So Alice, I’ve been thinking that I’m probably not the best person to teach you magic to defend yourself with. Sure, I can definitely shoot a few lasers or enhance myself, but that isn’t much to brag about.”

The change in topic was as unsubtle as Sara could make it. If she was that desperate to avoid whatever it was she remembered, then I had zero chance of inquiring further. Sighing, I followed up on the new subject. “Weren’t you the one that said I didn’t need magic? That physical abilities would be all I need?”

“Eh-heh, I did, but, uhm, that was really just to get you away from Yuki. I didn’t want to lose to her.”

I knew it. I was just the prize.

“Considering they keep saying how talented you are, magic is probably your best bet to get on par with the rest of us. I don’t think years of physical training would let you trade punches with me. Magic would, and if you’re better at it than most, then you could definitely fight fair and square.” Sara’s thoughts were reasonable and quite similar to what had already run through my mind.

The fact that it was the physical activity nut suggesting I find someone else was depressing. “Does that mean you won’t work with me?” I had enjoyed exercising with Sara, no matter how tired I was afterwards.

“Oh, no, I wasn’t implying that! I’ll come play with you and show you all the cool stuff I know, no sweat! It’s just, I don’t want to cripple you by throwing the idea magic out the window. I mean, we all use it to some extent around here.”

Sara’s suggestions and words confused me as she seemed to jump back and forth from one opinion to another. “Are you suggesting I go learn from Yuki?”

“What? No! I mean, it’s your choice. Whoever you feel is best for you. Yuki is definitely a strong option for a teacher in some respects, but not others.”

“What do you mean? I think she knows what she’s doing.”

“She does, but maybe not in the ways you expect. She might have the technical knowledge, but a lot of her spells are…flashy. When she’s blowing things up, she goes for style.”

“I don’t get it; you’re mocking her for style when you flip around everywhere?”

“Hey, my flips are- uh, I’m trying to help you here, Sis, don’t turn it around on me!” I laughed at Sara’s indignant outcries; it was cute.

“Seriously though, Sis. Nobody around here knows every single thing about magic. Whoever you ask to teach you the basics would probably stick with what they think is best.”

The pink-haired girl was trying to act mature, I decided. She was trying to be objective with me, instead of biased like when she was arguing before. “Wow, you’re being careful.”

She clutched a hand over her heart. “You’re being so mean to me Sis; I’m just trying to help. Like you pointed out with all my flips, I know that your first teacher leaves a lot of habits with you, good or bad. Obviously, you don’t know exactly how a teacher will work out, but I think you can take a pretty good guess based on what you know. Mother encourages us to be rather open with our personalities.

“So, anybody you have in mind, Alice? I figured we could go ask them once we finish up here; private lessons would probably take up a good chunk of their time, but I’m sure most of the family would love to help you out. Even if they don’t want to, I think I can be pretty persuasive myself!” The gatekeeper was pushing the idea of a magic teacher onto me as much as she could. I was sure she would keep it up until I found somebody to learn form. Something had invigorated the girl; whether it was the story of my time in Makai or her own memories, I wasn’t sure.

Sara said practically anybody in Makai could be a decent enough magic teacher, depending on what I wanted to learn. It made sense that each person I could potentially ask had their pros and cons. Perhaps they were more theoretical instead of practical, or specialized in certain styles of magic over others. It wasn’t like the choice was the end all of everything, either. With all the books in Shinki’s possession, I was sure that I could learn almost whatever I wanted given enough time.

After giving it careful thought, the person most suited to teaching me magic was…

[ ]

---

I didn’t take the time to list out every single demon you’ve met or heard of for obvious reasons; maybe I should have. Either way, every demon could theoretically teach what they know about magic, but you can assume that those without a specific talent for it would turn you down.

If you want to ask for opinions on suggestions on something from Sara Why you would ever want to do this is beyond me, write out a question and it’ll be answered before I count votes. Then I’ll give you a day to change votes or whatever.
>>No. 10369
[x] Mai
If Yuki is flashy, Mai is mostly likely a very practical magician. We can learn flashy magic after we can actually fight.
>>No. 10371
>>10369
Ah damn it.
*most
>>No. 10372
[X] Erk
Doesn't he have a contract with us? Why not use it? He seems more level headed that Yuki at least. (No offense meant to her.)
>>No. 10386
[X] Erk
>>10372
I acutally agree with his idea about him. Plus his magic fits better than Yuki in my opinion.
>>No. 10391
[x] Erk

Because really, why not? Mai's good and all, But I think Erk would be more 'balanced' I guess. Like, A Red Mage.
>>No. 10393
[x] Shinki

It calls out to me no matter how futile it is.
>>No. 10418
File 134603354963.jpg - (35.89KB, 218x274, who-the-fuck-is-this.jpg) [iqdb]
10418
The person most suited to teach me magic was levelheaded and well-rounded. What I needed was a teacher that could help me with the basics; running around wishing for things to happen wasn’t the most consistent way of casting magic. My mind eventually settled on one of the magicians I knew.

“Sara, do you know Erk?”

The gatekeeper frowned and drummed her fingers against the table. “He’s a magic guy, right? Let me think...” I waited patiently. “Oh, I think I remember Yuki whining about him. Does he have purple hair?”

“Yup. I think he would make a good teacher.”

“Really? Okay, whatever you say, Sis. Let’s go ask!” Sara helped me out of my seat, scratching the waitress behind the ears before leading me outside. I asked the café owner how I could repay him, but he waved me off and told me to have fun instead.

The gatekeeper dragged me along before slowing to a halt. When she looked at me, I sighed and took a guess. “You don’t know where he lives either?”

We stumbled around the city for the next hour or so. Unfortunately for us, Erk was the studious type that didn’t seem to let the world know where he lived. Plenty of demons knew him, but none could tell us which house was his. Worse, the vendors he usually met with hadn’t seen him in the past few days, making waiting around for the purple-haired mage to show himself a non-option.

“Wouldn’t it be faster to ask Shinki where Erk is?” The two of us were resting on a bench along one of the streets of the city. It looked like a clothing district; dozens of outfits were on display in the windows of the stores.

“Probably, but mother doesn’t spend all of her time at home. Sometimes she heads out for days at a time; there’s no telling where she is.” We slumped in our seats and deliberated.

Heading back to Pandemonium would have been our surest best if Serra didn’t walk by. The healer was striding along the street, a colorful lunchbox in hand. She had on her pure white gown and was twirling her scepter around.

“Serra!” I shouted, jumping to my feet and waving my arms.

“Yes? Oh, hello Alice!” I shied away from the girl’s hug but let her pat me on the head without a problem. “How are you doing, Cutie? It was too cruel of you to worry us so much.”

“I’m sorry.” The apology was a reflex. “Uhm, I’m doing a lot better. Thank you for helping me.”

“Aw, it’s fine. It is my sworn oath to help any injured soul!” Blue sparkles glittered around Serra’s scepter when she waved it through the air. “One as gifted and talented as I has a divine duty to aid the less fortunate.”

“We’re all grateful for it, especially if you lay off the self-praise,” a cheery voice vocalized from behind me.

“Self-praise? Who would think that I- Sara! What are you doing just sitting there?”

“Hey, hey, it’s been awhile.” Both of the pink-haired girls laughed, jumping forward into a quick embrace.

“I hope you aren’t getting into more scrapes up over on the outskirts.” Serra wagged her finger at the gatekeeper as if speaking to a long-time friend.

“Nah, we’ve been pretty careful recently. By the way, Kojirou’s really grateful you managed to put his arm back together.”

“It wasn’t a problem – anything for our valiant defenders!” Serra tossed her hair and chuckled. “Anyway, not that I wouldn’t love to chat with you two, but did you have something specific you needed me for?”

I nodded and asked, “Do you know where Erk lives?”

“Erky-poo? Of course I do. I’m going to visit him now, but why would you want to go see that grump?” Her words weren’t complimentary in the slightest yet she spoke warmly of the mage.

Sara’s hand rested on my shoulder. “We were hoping he would teach sis some magic to defend herself.”

“Truly?” The healer contemplated our intentions before shrugging. “Well, if we can get to him, I’m sure he would love the chance to help.”

“What do you mean, ‘if we can get to him?’” Sara and I asked at the same time.

“You’ll see.”

It was a relatively fast walk to Erk’s home. Unlike the two witches I knew, his house wasn’t found on the outskirts of the city. The building Serra stopped in front of was small, sandwiched between the larger structures of the city, located off of the main thoroughfares. It was taller than it was wide, but that wasn’t saying much. The home was only two stories tall.

“Erk! Open up, you recluse! I swear, if you aren’t eating my lovely meals again, I’ll shove them down your throat!” Serra’s voice echoed up and down the street. One of the neighbors poked their head out of a window, but then shook their head and disappeared.

The wooden door to the house opened wide. “Hello.”

“Uh…”

“What?”

“Is she…”

A girl was standing in the doorway, looking at us with bright brown eyes. Her long brown hair framed her face and fell down to her lower back. Her skin was brown too, although it looked slick and runny, if that was possible. “How may I be of service, Miss Serra?”

“Who are you? What, are you?” Heavy emphasis was placed on the second question.

“I am a spirit given a composite body to inhabit by Master Erk. You can call me Aht!” The girl had spoken the first sentence in a monotone, professional voice, as if she had practiced the line over and over again. Her voice became giggly and bubbly when she told us her name, like a very young child.

“You weren’t around before. Did Erk actually stop burying himself in books to, uh, c-create you? And he doesn’t have enough time to answer the door himself?” Serra interrogated the girl with a fury.

“Um, Master Erk was a bit mad when you broke down the door so he made- uh, I mean, Master Erk created me to assist him in all aspects of his research. It is within my official capacity to aid him in all matters, magical or mundane.” The child in front of us struggled to maintain her serious and composed speech.

Based on physical looks alone, it was not appropriate to call Aht a child. The girl was womanly, with all the extremely generous curves and proportions that were larger than I would normally expect to see. Further, she was muscular in a female way; her abs were compact and her arms, although slender, were firm with strength.

“That lout! He made something just to keep me away? Erk! Come up here, now! Y-You’re…creation isn’t enough! You have a special guest, and I don’t mean me!” Serra screamed at the top of her lungs.

While Serra focused on making Erk appear, I decided to ask Aht the question that had been bothering all three of us. “Why are you naked?”

The woman-like girl looked down and poked her stomach, dragging a finger along her side. When her skin smeared along the path of her finger, I realized that ‘composite body’ was fancy wording for something involving mud. “Clothes are so restrictive...”

“What is it now, Serra?” Erk’s exasperated voice accompanied the thumping of feet walking up stairs.

“Wah, Master’s coming up? I need to find some clothes!” I giggled at the childish mud girl when she ran off to somewhere in the house.

Sara watched the servant run off and then turned to me. “You sure this is the guy you want to teach you magic, Sis?”

“I think so.”

With Aht no longer blocking the doorway, I could see further inside the home. A single hallway ran straight back, leading to two stairwells up and down. There were a few rooms along the hall, one of which included some manner of clothing if the sound Aht’s struggles were any indication.

“Serra, if you’ve pulled me away from my research for a shopping trip or some other farce, I will not-” the purple-haired magician froze when he crested the top of the stairs. His eyes settled on me immediately and then flicked back and forth between all of us. “Alice. Please, all of you, come in. Aht, where are you? Bring us tea for four.”

We thanked Erk for the invitation and entered the house, following him into one of the side rooms. It was a small dining room, the square table fit for four people to sit. Erk was kind enough to pull out a seat of us three before sitting himself. It gave me a chance to analyze the magician closely since our last meeting. He looked well enough. Even though I was two heads shorter, I saw that his eyes were slightly bloodshot. Other than that, he was immaculately groomed, his blue tunic looking freshly laundered and his purple hair fluffy-clean.

“How may I be of assistance today?” Our host asked us amicably.

It looked like Sara was going to bring up our business but Serra cut in, dropping her bag on the tabletop. “First things first Erky, eat this.”

“I don’t think-”

“Eat it, you frumpy magician. When was your last meal?”

“…I believe Aht brought me a cake twelve hours ago.” Erk sighed and grabbed the box, placing it under the table. “Thank you, Serra, I’ll eat later.”

“No, eat it now! Eating and talking is rude, but I’ll forgive it in favor of your health.” Makai’s magical doctor kept up the pressure in the name of health. However, Erk steadfastly ignored her. Serra grunted in frustrated and then turned to me. “Alice, tell him to eat it. Mr. Grumpy never listens to me when he should.”

I understood the magician’s distaste for constant nagging as only a child could, but Serra had a point. “Erk, can you eat it now? I don’t want you to starve.”

The boy glanced between the two of us before giving in. “Very well.” Inside the lunchbox was a tasty looking bowl of rice with a variety of fruits and vegetables.

“Hmph, now why can’t you be that responsive when I tell you to do something?” After everybody calmed down, Aht walked into the room a few seconds later, setting down a tray of tea on the table. The mud girl had donned a poorly fitting blouse and long green skirt. After pouring our drinks, she stood behind her master quietly, an imitation of a demure servant.

We girls chatted mindlessly while we waited for Erk to finish his meal. Fashion and gossip were at the top of the list. Even Aht took part after it became apparent that her master didn’t care if she kept a professional appearance in front of us.

The magician finished quickly enough, letting us move on to business. “Alice, didn’t you say you wanted Erk for something?” Serra asked.

“That’s right,” I replied. With everybody’s attention on me, I decided to just go ahead and ask point blank. “Erk, would you please teach me magic?”

The magician squinted his eyes. “Me?”

“Mhm.”

“I don’t...” he began, his voice raising slightly before he controlled it. “…are you sure? Perhaps you might consider others? Are you not close to Yuki?”

It was never good if somebody answered your question with a question. “Does this mean you don’t want to?”

Erk rested his elbows on the table and steepled his fingers, closing his eyes as he looked down. “I believe there might be better candidates for such an esteemed position.”

Silence loomed after Erk’s confession. He…doesn’t want to help me. Rejection was always a possibility, but I didn’t expect it. There was a surprising amount of sting involved.

“Hey, you know my Sis chose you specifically. I thought somebody better than me could teach her how to keep safe with magic, and she chose you for a reason. Are you really going to say no?” Sara spoke up from my side. Her voice was passionate, filled with confidence and authority. Her invaluable support made me feel better.

“I-”

“Enough of this hooey!” Serra’s voice bordered on shrill when she screeched from my other side. “Erk, stop moping around. I know that’s what the problem is, so forget it. Our sweet, innocent friend has forgiven you ten times over and thinks you can teach her magic properly. Are you in a position to refuse her just because you’re afraid? Don’t be a wimp; what happened to all that confident bluster from before, huh? I guess a half-rate magician would be too fearful to teach a little girl.”

The prodding words incited a fire in Erk’s eyes. The insults and displays of confidence spurred him into action. “My apologies, Alice, I was being far too hesitant. Yes, I am certainly capable of such a position. I suppose your chances of spontaneously exploding are lower under my tutelage as well, compared to others. If you believe in me, then I would be honored to instruct you in the mystical arts.”

“Sheesh, what an old man.”

“Yay Master Erk!”

“That’s great, Sis!”

The support from my friends, my family, almost brought tears to my eyes again. It was silly, but my expectations from the magician who could have killed me were surprisingly high. Happily for me, the proposal worked out in the end.

After the slightly explosive conversation, the atmosphere calmed down. Erk took to planning immediately, talking with us to outline a proper schedule. My days were going to be busy; Sara wanted to train and exercise with me after I woke up. Then came formal schooling, and after classes ended Erk would whisk me away to cover everything magic related. There might have free time before I went to sleep again, but Erk pointed out that Mai wanted me to learn every other academic subject for my own benefit around then. My day would practically be filled with training in some form or another. I had a little free time, before and after school as well as after Erk finished his magic lessons, but that wasn’t much at all. Serra managed to secure me days-off whenever I felt necessary (although I suspected she just wanted to take me shopping). I was happy with the arrangements, though. Rigorous lessons beat working on chores by a long shot.

Erk took me on a tour of the house next, all the other girls trailing along in interest. Kitchen, dining room, and bathroom – the ground floor wasn’t anything special. The upstairs only held two bedrooms and storage. It was the basement that was incredible.

The stairs leading down were twice as long as one might expect. According to Erk, they stretched down far enough to be a floor underneath the other basements around the house. Magical lights filled the ceiling as we advanced further down.

When we reached the bottom of the stairs we entered into another library. Shelves were tightly packed, leaving barely enough for a single person to walk through the rows. Although there weren’t nearly as many books in Erk’s basement as there were in the single library at Pandemonium I visited, his collection was still impressive.

The basement itself seemed to have as much floor space the rest of the house combined. The bookshelves took up most of the space, but there was empty room at the far back. A desk and chair sat to one side, covered in books and papers. On the floor, an area about three meters squared was completely empty save for a magic circle drawn in chalk, complete with geometric patterns and runic script.

“Aht, would you please try to clean up here? I’ll put away my notes and books.”

“Okay~!”

While Erk quickly directed his assistant, I wandered over to his work table and grabbed the first paper with a title that I could read: ‘Effects of Transmigrational Resistance on Prevailing Animus.’ Serra and Sara both peeked over my shoulder.

“You really have been worrying about this since then, haven’t you, Erk?” The healer asked. I assumed she understood more of what the words meant than I did.

“Between conflicting accounts and the rampant misinformation or concurrent beliefs, I have made little headway in any meaningful research.”

“Let’s go back upstairs, Sis. Standing around in this stuffy basement isn’t good for you.” Sara dragged me out of the basement and back up the stairs; the rest of the demons followed shortly after. Erk said he would clean up even more to prepare for my first lesson, but he was just being vain. Other than the slight disorganization of his work table, the rest of his house had been practically spotless.

With all of our business finished, the group broke up rather quickly. Serra wandered off, having other appointments to keep. Erk bid me farewell and went back inside his home. Sara kissed me on the forehead before taking off back towards the entrances to Makai; she promised she would be around when I woke up again.

“Well Luminita, it’s just me and you.” Left to my own devices, I decided to wander a bit through the city before returning to Pandemonium. I visited stores and talked to their owners, getting to know more of the general populace. A number of the shopkeepers were pleasant, more than willing to pass time with me. People were interesting. Talking with them was the best way to get to known them and understand others. Momma always made sure to check in with the other villagers, even outside of her work.

After another couple of hours passed, I decided to pack up and return to Pandemonium. A few more free gifts came along with me.

As usual, Yumeko found me after I entered the crystal castle. I had arrived with near perfect timing; the residents and visitors to the castle were sitting down for a meal. The maid helped me quickly wash up and then brought me to the kitchen. After putting the finishing touches on the dishes, Yumeko had me help carry them out to the table.

The dining area Yumeko led me to was what I imagined a noble dinning hall to be. A long rectangular table was placed in the center with twenty chairs positioned around it. The crystal walls had been covered, appearing to look like white stone. Tall glass windows were carved into the wall, light pouring out of them, golden chandeliers hanging from above but unlit. It was all smoke and mirrors, but it felt real enough.

Shinki, Yuki, Mai, and a demon I had never seen before were seated at the table, laughing and joking. Yuki started cheering when she saw Yumeko and I bring in the food. I set down the tableware I had been carrying while the maid set down the two trays full of pots and large dishes. We sat down at the table to eat, making six of us in total.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Alice. My name is Ryouko, and I’ll be working with you on some science later. Is that okay?” The green-haired woman was a scientifically minded demon that Mai had recruited. Ryouko was nice, as I expected from all of Makai’s inhabitants. She was wearing glasses and a lab coat, her black undershirt not concealing her ample chest in the slightest.

We all dug into the food. Casseroles, pasta dishes, and other types of food that could be easily doled out to an individual had been prepared. They were all wonderfully tasty, far and away better than the small variety of food that the village could produce.

The dinner talk was rather light as everybody inquired about little things they had done throughout the day. Yuki complained about the goddess’ magical wards and Mai admonished me for ignoring the work she had put together. Eventually, I spoke at length about my own day, opening a can of trouble.

“What? How could you, Alice? I feel betrayed, heartbroken!” Yuki cried out, covering her face with her forearm. She couldn’t keep the act up long; the allure of food was too great. After taking a large bite of lasagna, she turned her attention back to me. “I really shouldn’t have left you with that girl. She poisoned your mind against me!”

“Enough, you. Alice made a fine decision.” Mai came to my defense and whacked Yuki on the head.

“Indeed. Another reckless witch is the last thing we need,” the sharp words were delivered in a mild tone by Yumeko.

Even Ryouko took a jab at Yuki. “I’ll sleep better knowing the chances of my house exploding at night won’t go up.”

The goddess laughed, watching everybody gang up on Yuki with a smile. I felt bad for my friend, but couldn’t think of a way to help her. It was hard to argue when I thought the same way.

The rest of dinner was uneventful, everybody finishing up and going their own ways. Yumeko went off to clean the dishes, Yuki and Mai left Pandemonium together, and the goddess had her own business to attend to. I returned to my room with Ryouko in tow.

My tutor for the day was a smart woman. She figured out how much I knew and started to teach me a variety of things. Ryouko decided to cover a number of basic concepts at once instead of going in depth on a single subject. It was a bit difficult to follow all the terminology I hadn’t heard before, but my parents had prepared me well enough. Cells, elements atoms, taxonomy, theories and everything else I might need in future lesson were introduced to me in a relatable way. After an hour or so of tutoring, my eyes began to droop. Ryouko took notice and stopped to let me sleep on her lesson.

I thanked the green-haired demon and ran around to prepare myself for bed. After I finished changing and cleaning up, I jumped underneath the covers. Life had been hectic, but the day foretold some sort of stability in my life. Sleep came to me easily.

---

“I said no, and that’s final!”

Tears rolling down her face, the girl rushed out of the house in a fit. Neighbors would speak in hushed tones of her display, but she didn’t care anymore.

The last pillars of support collapsed underneath her. She had thought her parents were behind her, were different from the other superstitious villagers.

They weren’t, not in the way she wanted. The little lessons and favors they gave her wouldn’t extend into the public eye; they weren’t willing to risk the stigma attached to the family name for their daughter’s eccentricities. They indulged her dreams of freedom only when it suited them. To the girl, it was the ultimate betrayal. Her mind could consider it in no other way.

After stomping into the plaza, the defeated girl found her escape.

The head of the caravan refused her immediately. The merchant, proud and haughty despite his occupation, scoffed at the dirty farm girl who looked for a ride.

Yet, the girl was not deterred. Through her puffy red eyes and the sting of rejection, she remembered the bits of advice that travelers had given her.

She walked down the caravan line. The youngest driver, groomed for success, wouldn’t lie to the merchant. The hard-looking adult would more be more than willing to sell her out. The oldest, with children of his own? It was a tossup, between empathy and family. The girl banked on the former.

Sidling up to the wagon, the girl lifted the covering and clambered in, between two barrels.

It was far from a perfect solution, but the girl took the opportunity presented her. Delaying would leave her hopeless, stuck in a rut for the rest of her life.

She wouldn’t let others determine her own life.


---

“Are you comfortable?”

“Yes, I am, but you…?” I sat at the dinner table of Erks’s house. The magician had touched up the place after I left, replacing the blocky wooden chairs with curved, cushioned seats.

I headed into my first magic lesson with Erk in a good mood. I woke up easily, cooked delicious food with Yumeko, exercised with Sara, and went to a comedy class with Ko. The redhead insulted her way through the class yet came out as the funniest student in the room. Life was strange that way.

The magician in question nodded. I wondered because although he was seated across from me, Erk also had a mud girl draped over his shoulders. He raised his hand and flicked it backwards, tapping Aht on the forehead. She groaned before sliding off of her master’s shoulders and slinking away.

Erk’s serious demeanor hadn’t wavered when the mud girl first nuzzled up to him. I expected him to be flustered for one reason or another, but he treated it like a daily occurrence at most - not even annoyance, it was just something that happened.

“Very well then, shall we begin?” I bobbed my head, fidgeting in my chair slightly. Erk smiled slightly and continued. “Before I speak at any length, there is something more important you must answer first, Alice.”

How unfair! Starting a lesson with a question was the worst. Little children dreaded an unknown question, fearing the public shame coming from a wrong answer in front of their peers. I didn’t have to worry about that situation, but the apprehension had become natural.

“What is most important in order to use magic?”

What kind of question is that? I had no clue what the right answer would be, so I went with my gut and said…

[ ] Belief
[ ] Words
[ ] Intent
[ ] Action
[ ]

---

Whoa, I actually pulled myself away from leveling to eighty in order to write? It’s a miracle!

Let’s see, what else? While I knew this was an option when I wrote the last update, I was skeptical that it would be suggested, let alone win. Not quite an unexpected outcome…but close.

>>10393
Don’t worry, I feel you. Keep fighting the good fight.
>>No. 10419
[X] intent
>>No. 10423
[x] Belief
>>No. 10424
[x] Intent
>>No. 10425
Damn these questions.

I'd say that IC, it'll be:

[x]Intent

Since Alice's best spells didn't come out how she believed they would, but helped her in doing what she intended to do.

OOC I would say love, at least for humans.
>>No. 10427
[x] Intent.
>>No. 10439
[x] Belief
>>No. 10440
[x] Love!
>>No. 10460
File 134633872657.jpg - (57.09KB, 379x583, no-master-sparks-for-us.jpg) [iqdb]
10460
I went with my gut and said, “Intent. What a person means to happen is most important, isn’t it?” Real magic was mostly unknown to me, but that was the conclusion I drew. Shinki taught me to fly by imagining it occurring; spells shot forth from my fingertips almost unconsciously, fitting to my expectations. Even beyond magic, I felt like a person’s intent was important. Bad people wanted to cause harm, good people wanted to help. It was one of the reasons I found it easy to forgive others.

I watched the magician watch me. His gaze was intense, but not in an uncomfortable way. It was more like he was listening to what I said. Other people fidgeted, looked away, or simply let their attention wander. Erk gave his full attention to me while I spoke. When I finished, he nodded and stood up. “Is that how you see it? Interesting.”

Erk’s response made me uneasy. “Was that the wrong answer?”

“Not at all. There was no right or wrong answer. It’s fair to say every answer would have been correct.” The magician started to slowly walk across the room, his hand held out in front of his chest.

“If there is one thing you must understand about magic, it’s that we don’t understand it; not in any significant way. We know how to manipulate it and can theorize about what it is, coming up with explanations for the effects we experience, but it is all ephemeral. Magic is not a science. When it comes to magic, there are no overarching theories and no rules other than what we ourselves set.

“Your answer was perfectly acceptable. Envisioning an effect is one of the strongest forms of spell casting for a natural magic user. Indeed, countless individuals with a knack for magic manipulate it as such without noticing. An athlete wishing to run faster or a child wishing to reach a higher shelf is enough to unconsciously call forth a talent.” A small glow of light appeared in front of Erk while he spoke. It wasn’t natural in the slightest; the small point of space was simply filled with light. The light didn’t shine. It just existed in the air.

“However, this is not the only way to use magic. There are countless methodologies created throughout the ages to cause anomalous effects. Some styles are what you may see as traditional, ancient stories of above average individuals articulating words of power. The user has worked out a cause and effect, as well as a consistent method to achieve them. Brisingr.” In front of Erk’s finger, a candle light flickered into existence. It floated next to the previous light, swaying with the air as fire should.

“In other cases, a user of magic may have developed a style of somatic movement to manipulate their own energy and the energy around them. They define only a cause, the effect being an unintended consequence. ” Erk’s finger poked the air, pressing into empty space and forming a light that shimmered like crystal.

The purple-haired magician continued to walk, circling the table. All around me, different forms of light were created. Erk read lines from a book, chanted wordless babbles, drew imaginary shapes in the air, broke twigs in half, and did a dozen other things, all ultimately creating a light of some form.

Erk sat back down across from me, the lights creating an eerie but fascinating ring around us. “Magic amazes me, Alice. It is a common factor that affects us all, yet no group works with it in exactly the same way. What one witch doctor practices might be completely useless in the hands of an institutional wizard. As your instructor, I plan on helping you find a method which works for you, as well as broaden your knowledge of other systems. Magic is a personal choice more than anything.”

Looking around, observing all of the lights and not-lights that ringed us, I couldn’t help but feel excited. It was a display of talent that was as impressive as bringing down a rain of fire because I could feel the difference in Erk’s spells. There was a subtle hint of something, a twinge of a feeling from each style of magic used that differentiated each other.

The magician smiled and waved a hand. A circular pulse of purple light spread out from his gesture, the lights disappearing as they made contact. “Perhaps we should start with an exercise then? You seem eager enough.”

“Okay!”

Erk smirked and stood up, stopping next to my chair to hold out a hand.

I wiggled my toes and realized I had jumped to my feet, effectively standing on the cushioned chairs. With a slightly red face, I took Erk’s hand and jumped down, following the magician out the door of the house.

Stepping out into the street, Erk held the door open for Aht, who was carrying a wooden board outside. It was just a few planks of wood stuck together, with two legs jutting out to let it stand at an angle. The mud girl dropped it a few meters away from me further down the road.

Erk stood next to me and pointed at the wooden board. “Your first task is to destroy the target, Alice.”

“D-Destroy it?”

“In whatever manner feels most natural to you.”

I stared at the wooden boards for a second, hesitantly raising my hand.

“Oh, wait,” Erk interrupted me. “I will hold your focus for you.”

“My focus? Oh. Um, okay.” Lifting my other hand, I frowned at Luminita’s cheerful smile and gave the doll to Erk.

Concentrating again, I narrowed my gaze at the target. I calmed my breathing and kept my hand steady, palm open and facing towards the wood.

Just destroy it. The task was simple enough. With the fireballs and other things I had already thrown around, it was a trivial task. Easy. There should not have been a problem.

“Alice, are you okay?” My teacher’s voice broke my focus. After seeing the concern etched across both Erk’s and Aht’s faces, the realization that I had been standing still for a minute dawned on me. “If you do not feel up to it, please do not force yourself. We can start with a different task inst-”

“No!” The scream left my mouth. I blinked and shook my head, tapping my knuckles against my forehead. “I’m sorry, but, I can do this.”

I ignored my surroundings and focused. Just destroy it. It wouldn’t be a problem at all. The task was simple. Even without Luminita, I was sure I could manipulate the magical energies in the air enough to complete the task. Just destroy it. Erk had a reason for the task, which made it my responsibility as his student to try my best.

I imagined the target shattered into pieces. Just destroy it. In my mind’s eye, I envisioned the wooden planks split apart and lying broken on the ground. If what I knew about magic held true, then something would happen to destroy the target as long as I willed it. I pictured walls torn to the ground, the wood ripped to shreds by ridiculous strength, trampled into splinters by the feet of monsters that were dragging the screaming family out of their home!

I fell to my knees when the ground suddenly shook. The earthquake-like event persisted only a second, but made a lasting impression on the ground.

In front of me, a pointed mound of metal jutted into the air. It looked like a small mountain, the sides of the formation slopped upwards at a steep angle. The surface was mostly smooth, the dirt at the base of the metal in much worse shape. The spike-like object stood as tall as me. A single piece of wood was speared by the tip. The rest of the target laid in shattered pieces all over the street, flung away from the point of impact.

Erk helped me rise to my feet and handed back my doll. Then he took off towards the formation with me trailing behind. The magician circled it, occasionally poking the metal or swiping at it with some kind of magic. He spoke to himself quietly, seemingly lost in thought.

“Waaaah~ That was scaaary…” the cry came from next to my feet. Aht’s head popped out of the ground, the mud girl looking only slightly inconvenienced. She slowly rose out of the earth, her arms punching through Makai’s red dirt to pull herself upwards. I averted my eyes when I realized she was naked again, the clothes she was previously wearing nowhere in sight.

If the girl’s body was made of mud and other such materials, I supposed it made sense that she could disappear into the eart quickly. “Why were you in the ground, Aht?”

It took a second for the servant to completely crawl out of the dirt, not a single trace left behind as to where she had emerged from. “The ground started shaking like broom broom so I went to see what was happening like Master said I should. Then a bunch of shinies went flying by me! They would have hurt if they hit me…”

Erk walked up behind the mud girl and scratched her head. “I see. Thank you, Aht. You can head back inside.”

The servant sighed in happiness and jiggled her way back into the house, leaving Erk and I out on the street. I started to feel self-conscious when the residents of the street began to look outside to investigate the source of the disturbance, but Erk didn’t seem to care about the other people staring.

“Excellent work, Alice. You did well.” The magician’s praise warded off the uneasy feeling in my stomach. There was no reason for me to worry. Everything had worked out just fine.

“What is this?” I touched the mound of pointed metal I had apparently created to destroy the target. It felt cool to the touch, prickling at my sense in a way that screamed ‘magic.’ It is a difficult the feeling to describe to others if they are not magically aware. For me, it was like déjà vu; I could tell that something was different with the mound of metal, but not what or how.

“A culmination of your natural usage magic. From what I can tell, the inner portion of this attack was constructed from various metals found in the earth. However, the physical metals comprise less than twenty percent of the mound; you must not have drawn from sources deeper or farther than a meter or so. The rest appears to be a magically produced counterfeit.” After poking at the metal for a minute longer, Erk nodded and raised both of his hands. He chanted a few words under his breadth and then slammed his hands down. The mound of metal disintegrated over a few seconds, smoke wafting up into the air.

With the small exercise over, the two of us also headed back inside. Within a few minutes, we were sitting back at the dining table, cups of tea in hand, Luminita sitting on my side of the table and Aht hovering behind Erk. “Why do you think I had you do that?”

“You wanted to see what kind of magic I would use, right?” It was an easy assumption to make after all the emphasis Erk had put on differing styles of magic

“Correct. More specifically, I wished to see if you held any particularly strong affinities. I dare say that metal of some sort is a logical possibility.”

My cheeks puffed out in annoyance at Erk’s teasing; even if I wasn’t sure what he was referring to, his tone gave it away. “What’s an affinity?”

“An affinity in this case refers to, let’s call it a preference a magic user might have. It’s one of the mysteries of magic I mentioned. For some reason, different individuals have easier or tougher times with certain kinds of magic. The most common affinities have often been described as ‘Elements’ by different societies, such as ‘Fire’ and ‘Water’. In other cases, some have stranger affinities such as ‘Sword,’ ‘Emptiness,’ ‘Avoidance,’ or any other kind of concept. There is no hard rule for what may or may not be an affinity.

“In your case, an affinity of ‘Metal’ is most likely. However, based on this one small test alone, it is also possible you have a different affinity or other, lesser ones. It wouldn’t be prudent to rule out ideas such as ‘Movement’ or ‘Creation’ without further testing.”

“Does that mean I can’t do anything else?”

“Not at all. While magic related to your affinity would naturally be easier and stronger, in most cases it would not preclude your usage of other magic. For instance, I myself have an affinity with ‘Thunder’ but naturally use every type of elemental magic in a combat situation. I tend to perform any other type of magic I research adequately enough as well.”

“Oh, okay. That makes sense; fireballs were tough to make work! Do you know spells that would be easy for me to learn?”

“I do, but first we have a few basics to cover.” Erk drew me into a lesson about the manipulation of magical energy. Whatever it might be called, magical energy can be found within many objects. Individuals with magical capability tend to produce this energy in greater quantities than those without it. Some inanimate objects could also produce magical energy. Animals, stones, trees, clouds, and even dirt were all possible sources of energy. Makai was rich in it, as almost every feature from the crystals to the red dirt released some amount of useable energy into the air, where it remained.

A magic user can sense and use this energy, which is where their talents derive from. Erk helped to refine my feeling of magic and taught me how to consciously manipulate the energy without expending it. After a few short practice exercises it became as natural as moving my arm around. When Erk learned that I could already create little flames, he showed me a few other tricks that were useful. A spell that could instantly clean and straighten your clothes seemed like it should be hideously complex based on how useful it was, but it took no more than a snap of the fingers and a few short phrases.

“Amazing, Alice. You certainly have a talent for this.”

“Thank you! It seems so easy, but I never would have thought of this on my own.” I pushed my teacup back and for between my hands, bouncing it through the air without the tea sloshing around.

The magician chuckled and flicked a handful of magical glitter into the air. “I had planned to teach you these small spells over the course of a few days, but you haven’t had any trouble at all. Genius might not be the correct word, but you are certainly adept at learning. Anything else I might teach you would need a direction.”

“A direction? Like what?”

“I mean a particular style of spell casting. Every system of magic has its own intricacies, it is best to focus on one particular methodology. Did you have any particular goals in mind? A particularly interesting spell your imagination fancies?”

I thought about all the stories I had been told, of wizards and witches performing awesome feats. There were tricksters that could befuddle a man’s mind and mystics that transformed into beasts. When every option was interesting, nothing was particularly appealing. “Not really. Something I would be really good at, I guess?”

“A reasonable proposition. Starting with metal-aligned spells would be best, then. Is there a particular flavor of spells you might favor? Perhaps powerful offensive magic such as your previous display? The manipulation of metal in a more elegant manner could be advantageous, working with wards and enchantments to affect physical materials in a constant way. I suppose expanding upon that, even golem-crafting would be an agreeable starting position as any, and metal is a fitting element for such a task.”

The suggestions Erk gave me were intriguing, three possibilities of what was an innumerable pool of ideas. I felt that…

[ ] No matter how worrisome it was, I felt powerful destroying the target.
[ ] I already had experience working with shields and objects; building on my strengths seemed perfect.
[ ] Creating things that moved on their own could be a lot of fun!
[ ]

---

Even a Red Mage specializes somewhere.
>>No. 10462
[x] Creating things that moved on their own could be a lot of fun!
>>No. 10464
[x] I already had experience working with shields and objects; building on my strengths seemed perfect.

I cant think up a good write in, so I might change this later today.
>>No. 10477
[x]Creating things that move on their own sounds fun!
>>No. 10488
[x] Creating things that moved on their own could be a lot of fun!

The true way!
>>No. 10513
File 134663526899.jpg - (340.82KB, 611x624, kind-of-short-oh-well.jpg) [iqdb]
10513
I felt that creating things that moved on their own could be a lot of fun! Some of the stories involving golems and robots were scary, but there were plenty of cool ones too. “I want to make a golem!”

Erk laughed. “Very well. Luckily enough, I have already refreshed my memory on some such techniques. I can offer you a brief introduction today and then we can continue tomorrow, amongst other topics.”

Upon seeing the mud girl randomly envelop Erk’s head from behind, my curiosity was piqued. “Will I, um, make, some…one, like Aht?”

The magician extracted himself from Aht’s chest and had the mud girl sit down on one of the empty chairs. “Not at first. Although the creation of Aht’s body was similar to what we will be focusing on, her intelligence is a different matter entirely.”

“I’m dead!” Aht chirped helpfully. She smiled as if all was right in the world.

“Don’t let her confuse you, Alice.” Erk pre-empted my question, “What is generally referred to as a golem has no true consciousness. Aht’s life comes from a spirit I contracted to inhabit the artificial body I created.”

“A spirit?” My experience with spirits was not the happiest. “It wasn’t like the evil ones flying around, was it?”

“Nope, I was a good girl!” When Erk scratched Aht’s head after her chipper answers, I couldn’t help but compare the mud girl to an affectionate house cat. She enjoyed simple pleasures, at least.

“Thankfully so. Aht was not of the same variety of spirits you unfortunately encountered. The term spirit itself is rather ambiguous, but Aht was the lingering soul of a deceased human that was subsumed by nature. She was not surrounded by other hateful beings, nor did her personality re-emerge from constant contact with living beings. She became something similar to a nature spirit, but without the power to influence the environment.”

That sounds so sad. I felt my hear tear at the thought of a person becoming nothing, not moving on to the afterlife or living on as a ghost. The evil spirits suffered in their own way, but at least they were active. What Erk described was nothing more than an invisible feature of the landscape, drifting alone and unknown for eternity.

“Mhm~ Master found me and asked if I wanted to help him. I was so happy!”

“Aht’s personality returned surprising quickly after her spirit was transferred. I theorize that she was particularly strong-willed when she was living for her sense of self to survive the length of time she had been a non-entity. She has performed the tasks I set before her admirably.” Erk gave Aht one last pat before standing up. “Shall we begin with your next lesson, Alice?”

“One last question,” I figured the opportunity to ask wouldn’t arrive again. “If you created Aht’s body, then why did you make her a cute girl with big boobs?”

Erk choked.

Aht and I giggled together, the mud girl in the process of helping me out of my seat. We walked past the spluttering magician, the servant leading me toward the basement.

“I- she chose her own form! She started out no more than a lump of mud! She self identified on her… forget it.” The purple-haired demon threw his hands into the air and followed us down the stairs.

The introductory lesson wasn’t extensive. Erk explained the complexity of creating a proper golem alongside the huge variety available. Depending on how much effort the artificer put in and how much magic versus physical components they wanted, a golem could be eerily similar to a fully grown human or a floating lump of rock. Any material could theoretically be thrown together to form a golem, but traditional materials such as various stones, clays, and metals were most common.

After Erk concluded his lesson, the rest of my week passed by in peace. I followed my schedule every day, settling into a comfortable routine. My days were filled with fun and learning and ended with warmly cooked meals in Pandemonium.

I had adjusted to living in the goddess’ strange world quickly. It seemed impossible to be as great as it was. Demons did what they wanted be it farm, research, sing, or explore. Some demons bartered and struck deals, but often enough provided their goods and services for free. The goddess encouraged giving freely within the family, expecting her children to provide for each other.

As I was, I had little to offer others. None of Makai’s demons refused me when I spoke with them, but it was obvious which of them were uncomfortable with my freeloading. I didn’t mind at all because I felt guilty by taking freely from others.

My usual stomping ground kept me at the stores where a child’s delighted smile and well-meaning compliments were the only things the owner wished for.

“Are you okay, Violle? Your hair isn’t very shiny today.” The cat-girl waitress set down our tray of drinks with a smile.

“You noticed? I haven’t been feeling very well, and I guess it shows. I’m delicate, you know? Enjoy your drinks!”

“Thanks!” It was after class on my supposed day off, so I had decided to return to my favorite café for a bit of rest.

Erk had wanted me to relax for a day before attempting to work on a real golem. I had been learning all sorts of things about golem construction such as the materials I might use, transmogrifying spells, and miscellaneous other thing I had been curious about. The magician didn’t me to completely botch my first attempt because my mind had been fried by too much knowledge.

A loud, obnoxious slurp reached my ears. Ko sucked down half of her milkshake in one go. “What a quiet place. I guess it’s more high class than my usual haunts.” My friend had accepted my invitation for a quick snack after class readily enough.

“You should learn from Alice, Ko. It’s not right to spend your time with all those deviants,” Sara commented mid-sip. The gatekeeper had surprised me after our morning exercise when she stuck around to attend class with me; I was sure Shinki’s constant guilt-trips had something to do with it. The pink-haired girl had been delighted to spend more time with me as well as Ko, and ended up following me to the café.

“It’s not like I hang out at those places for the company. Tell me where to find a pretty pink café that has all the latest scoops and I’ll go there.”

“You’re always so difficult, Sis.” It seemed like Sara and Ko knew each other well enough, but it was horribly confusing for me. Sara liked to call both of us ‘Sis,’ and sometimes did so in the same sentence.

“Yeah, yeah, tell me something new.”

“Something new? How about Alice’s fancy new moves? If you want to bully my sis you’re going to have to work for it!”

“Oh really?” Ko turned to me and leered. “You’re training to take care of yourself, huh? I guess I’ll have to check what you’ve learned myself.”

“I’d be happy to, but I haven’t learned much.” Compared to the crazy flips and fighting prowess the demons around me had shown, I was a blind infant. Other than physical conditioning and improving my balance, Sara had been showing me basic martial arts forms which wouldn’t help much in a fight beyond keeping me composed.

“Don’t sell yourself short, Sis! You’ll be great in no time!”

Ko slapped her hand to my back, almost making me choke on my milkshake. She leaned close to me and orated, waving her arm around in grand sweeping gestures. “Listen to our wondrous defender, Kid! Under her amazing tutelage, you’ll grow another meter and run around pummeling the- Ow, damn it!” The red-haired girl’s mocking stopped short when slammed her free hand into the back of the booth seat. When she wrenched it forward and began to shake out the pain, she knocked aside her drink, the glass shattering into pieces on the tabletop.

Sara hooted, “Hah, that’s what you get for poking fun at me, Sis!”

The redhead sat there and scowled. I sighed and reached over, cleaning up Ko’s injury to the best of my abilities. The waitress walked over and cleaned the table up with a strained smile, dropping off a few first aid materials that I could use before she left.

“I swear these little accidents are pissing me off.”

I rolled my eyes at the same time I finished wrapping Ko’s hand up. “Maybe you should try being more careful then.”

“Feh, I’ve never had this problem before. My plans and my actions are all as solid as a rock.”

The gatekeeper leaned across the table and tapped Ko on the forehead. “Solid, Sis? I don’t think wrestling a basilisk is a ‘solid’ plan.”

“You dared me to do it!” I had to duck underneath Ko’s wildly flailing arm. She doesn’t learn. “Besides, I pulled it off, didn’t I?”

“Sure, with half of your body turned to stone. I was proud of you!”

The three of us continued to chat and laugh about meaningless topics for a time. Eventually, our conversation drifted towards more immediate concerns.

“I never would have thought you would stick around down here this long,” Ko mentioned to Sara.

The gatekeeper laughed and nodded. “Yeah, this has been the longest in awhile. I’ll be heading back after this. Did you want to come with me?”

“No way. I’m not ready to deal with all those nuts yet. I’ll be heading off into the forest to work on a few things and relax a bit.”

“What about you Alice? Maybe you want to visit?” Sara propositioned me.

I hadn’t thought out any plans for my day off, but spending time with friends sounded lovely. I…

[ ] Wondered if I could follow Ko into the forest
[ ] Headed off with Sara towards the entrance of Makai
[ ] Felt like finding to bother
[ ]
>>No. 10536
[X] Wondered if I could follow Ko into the forest

It might not have gone so well the last couple times, but third time's the charm, right?
>>No. 10549
[X] Wondered if I could follow Ko into the forest
I like them both, but in the end Ko won out
>>No. 10551
[x] Headed off with Sara towards the entrance of Makai

Something different and I sort of fear that Alice would get in Koa's way again.
>>No. 10557
File 134720553397.jpg - (311.27KB, 500x666, misfortune-is-very-unfortunate.jpg) [iqdb]
10557
I wondered if I could follow Ko into the forest. “Can I go with you, Ko?”

“Eh? Are you sure that’s the best idea? Wouldn’t you rather go see some leafy greens and all those other those other wonderful surface features you’re used to?” Her suggestion was offered nonchalantly while she picked at her nails as if nothing was wrong, but the question provoked an ache in my chest.

Before I could even ponder if I wanted to return to my old home, or at least the surface, Sara stood up and beamed at the two of us. “It’s wonderful that my two sisters want to spend time together; have fun you two!”

Without missing a beat, the gatekeeper took off in a flash.

I blinked and turned back towards my friend. “Ko?”

The little devil scooted out of the booth and helped me stand. “Yeah, fine, let’s go.”

Ko’s liveliness washed away my worries once we began the trek towards the crystal forest. We stopped briefly in front of Ko’s home. The demon flew up through the window to her room and came out with something in her hand.

She refused to show me what it was and instead flew off towards the forest. I sighed and followed after her, our conversation drifting between different topics. “All you’ve been doing in practicing with your knife?”

“Basically. It takes a lot of work to make this body perform like I expect it to.”

“It’s been a week, Ko. I don’t think it’s very healthy to do that all day everyday.”

“I need to get back in fighting shape as soon as possible. I would hate to be cooped up around here just because I couldn’t handle what’s out there.” Calmly spinning through the air, the redhead slowed to the point where she was flying alongside me. “Besides, I take breaks to eat, to sleep, and to spend time with you. Isn’t that enough?”

S-she’s so embarrassing… By constantly revolving between lewd jokes, insults and purely honest statements, Ko always managed to catch me by surprise. My fluster affected my flying, causing me to wobble in the air. I could only respond to the laughing demon by speeding to catch up to her.

We touched down in front of the imposing crystalline forest. Ko stopped before we walked in, holding out an open hand. “This should be plenty far enough. Put this on, Alice.”

I poked at the object Ko was holding out and gingerly picked the gift up by pinching its pretty red ribbon. “It’s a bell.”

Ko rolled her eyes and chastised me in a haughty tone. “It’s a magic bell. Now put it on.”

“Why can’t you tell me what these things do before you give them to me?” I grumbled at the domineering demon who thought she knew better. “How do I put this on anyway?”

“It’s like a necklace. Just tie the ends together.”

“Tie the- this is a collar!”

“What? No way. What gave you that silly idea, Kid?” Ko’s poker face revealed nothing, but I was positive she meant to make fun of me in some way with her gift.

“It is a collar. Like…like a cat bell! Why would I wear this?”

“I told you, it’s a magic item. Why would I ever want to collar you? You aren’t property, and it’s not like you go anywhere special anyway.” Flipping her hair and tapping her foot, Ko waited impatiently for me to do as she said.

“No, Ko, tell me what this does- ah!”

The demon was on me in an instant.

It was a hopeless struggle. I didn’t have the strength to avoid being manhandled, even if my assailant was practically the same height as me.

“There,” Ko wiped her hands with a proud look on her face, “it looks good on you Alice.”

“That wasn’t fair at all…” I whined and poked at the bell hanging around my neck. It didn’t look or sound any different from a small brass bell, but I could sense the magic in it.

“Life isn’t fair. So, what do you see?”

“I see you.”

“Great, you can- no, not with your eyes. Stop being difficult.” I scrunched up my face and stuck my tongue out. The demon shook her head and approached me. “I meant that metaphorically, like…ugh. Here,” she gently grabbed my shoulders and spun me around. “Now, what can you see?”

“I see the city.”

I could hear the silent scowl from the demon. “You really don’t notice anything different? She said this would work. What a flaky goddess.”

Ko paced back and forth in frustration behind me. “Oh, I saw that! Or, um, felt it? Heard it?” The sudden whine in my ears sounded nothing like the tinkling of a bell, but I could understand the message all the same.

“Use your impressive vocabulary, Kid.”

“I could tell you were moving behind me, even though I didn’t hear your feet move. It was, well, I just kind of knew.” As with all other things magic, it didn’t make much sense. The bell was letting me understand my surroundings in some way, relating to me the movement of nearby objects.

“Good enough! That should keep you a bit safer when you venture around out here.”

We marched along the forest path with no real direction in mind. Beautiful crystal surrounded us, the sound of quiet rustling mixing together with the fall of our feet and our relaxed voices. “Ko, did you ask Shinki for this?”

“Pretty much. After that last incident, I don’t really trust the usual junk I use to work if I need it to.”

I pinched the magical bell and rolled it between my fingers. “The goddess has a lot of useful things.”

“Plenty of useless crap too, but you’re right.”

As we entered a circular clearing, a nexus of pathways within the forest, Ko slowed to a halt. The demon trotted in front of me and bent slightly at the hip, jutting her chest out at a beautiful angle. Her hand slid down her side, curving around her thigh and reaching under her long skirt. Her eyelids drooped slightly, the tip of her tongue slowly brushing across her lips. My face heated up slightly; the display was far from appropriate behavior!

“W-Wha- a-are you…?” The demon grinned at me and straightened her back, yanking her knife out from under her clothes. She grabbed the edge of her skirt and hiked it up even higher, letting me see the angled sheathe strapped to her inner thigh.

Ko was amused by the dumbest things. “Something wrong, Alice?”

“No.”

“You know, that’s the problem with the goddess’ stash,” Ko told me while she danced her knife between her fingers, “her items might be high quality, but they’re all unique. If you lose the things she gives you and it might be awhile before you find something to replace it.”

My hand wrapped around the magic bell at my neck instinctively. “I’ll make extra sure I don’t lose this!”

“Good.” Ko smiled at me before she stepped into the center of the clearing. The redhead slid her legs apart, lowering herself to the ground in a near split. She glanced upwards for a second and then jumped, disappearing from the ground in an instant.

I angled my head to follow her as she bounced around in the air. She skipped between the branches surrounding the clearing, her feet tapping against crystal to propel herself into spinning, somersaulting flips. Her knife flowed with her body, carving elegant arcs through the air and decapitating imaginary foes.

Ko vaulted off of a tree trunk and spiraled back down to the ground, sticking her three point landing and sheathing her knife in one smooth motion. I laughed and clapped, Luminita giving her applause along with me.

“Thank you, thank you, I’ll be here all night.” The redhead bowed and looped her arm around mine, leading us off through the forest once more.

The demon would unsheathe her knife almost randomly while we walked, swinging it around in practiced motions. She cursed multiple times when she accidentally nicked herself with her flashing blade, but the cuts were always razor thin, less grievous than even a paper cut.

Whenever I looked at the gleaming metal, I wondered what was special about the knife. There was the smallest hint of magic radiating from it, but there was nothing that hinted at some sort of mighty power. It could have easily been one of the knives daddy owned.

“This knife? It doesn’t lose its edge.” Ko gave me a no nonsense answer when I asked about it.

“Did you get the knife from the goddess, too?”

“Yeah.”

“And all it does is stay sharp?”

“That’s right.”

“Why did you ask for that?” I imagined that there was plenty of other magical knives that Ko could have received if she inquired further.

“Are you kidding me? Do you know how much of a pain it is to re-sharpen a knife all the time?” I stared through Ko’s usual behavior. When she realized that I wasn’t going to accept her lackluster joke of an answer, she continued. “Seriously, knives that can be sharpened to a razor’s edge, and never lose that edge, will cut practically everything that doesn’t cause the metal to snap. Throw in some ultra-tough steel and you’ve got a winning combination.”

“Oh.” I thought a fire spewing, lighting generating knife would be neat, but upon reflection the idea was rather absurd.

“You have to keep your mind open, Alice. All the knowledge in the world might be interesting, but sometimes it’s the simple things that are most helpful.” Swift fingers pinched my nose in play. “Maybe you can help me with your fancy magic, though. Want to practice?”

The demon roped me into her workout schedule willingly; I thought it would be a smart idea to practice what Erk had taught me before my first large project.

I flew alongside Ko as she danced through the forest. Ancient, foreign words left my lips, mingling with the magic around us to form into sheets of metal. I focused my intent, molding into existence a variety of floating body parts from disembodied hands to faceless heads. The cheap aluminum parts I created were what I planned on using to create a golem, although of substantially less quality.

With real targets to focus on, Ko’s practice took on a surprising voracity. The demon tore through the air and along the ground, neatly bisecting the targets I presented. Once the hollow targets had been cut I let the magic holding them together dissipate, the fake metal vanishing into thin air.

Over the course of a couple of hours our practice intensified. I used all the applicable spells I had been learning from Erk by tossing around sparks of lightning, spraying jets of cold, throwing my distorted voice, and laying down pretty yet useless glyphic wards. None of my added efforts distracted Ko in the slightest. The almost useless magical displays were more for my own benefit.

Ko dodged and weaved, elegantly contorting her body in dozens of different ways. She occasionally faltered in her dance, her feet landing awkwardly and throwing off her balance or her hands not rotating quickly enough and feeling the sting of her knife, but she maintained her beautiful movements. She never failed to bounce between trees and destroy the targets presented to her.

Throughout the exercise I felt surprisingly strong. Although I had slowly practiced spells under Erk as to not make a mistake, rapidly throwing magic around was rather simple. Drawing energy from the air around me and through Luminita to fuel my minor incantations was nowhere near as tiring as running laps around a room.

After another couple of hours we finally slowed to a halt. I didn’t even realize how long we had been moving until after I checked my clock. Having real control over my magic was thrilling. Casting magic was as addicting as reading an engrossing story. Erk would probably have been disappointed in my hasty and careless spell casting but the allure of pouring out magic was irresistible; finessed work could be done indoors.

We stopped because of Ko. The redhead looked like a mess. She had been putting in vast amounts of effort as she jumped around the forest pathways and it showed in her injuries. A dozen accidental cuts and collisions with hard crystal wore the demon down.

“Damn it.” Ko collapsed to her knees and slammed her fist into the ground, the frustration evident in her voice.

“Are you hurt badly?” I kneeled next to my friend and checked her over, but she seemed fine. The minor cuts and scrapes covering her limbs weren’t serious.

“No, I’m fine,” the redhead assured me while I helped her to her feet. “I’m annoyed with myself more than anything. I haven’t done anything different from past times when I had to work a new body into shape, but I can’t seem to get through any set without a slip-up.”

The disappointment Ko had in herself troubled me more than anything. “Is it because I’m here right now?” Perhaps it was because I had been watching her that she couldn’t perform as she expected; Ko didn’t seem like she used her abilities in front of others often.

“Don’t worry about it Alice, the problem lies with me. Something’s off and I’m not compensating properly.” Putting the frustration behind her, Ko slid down with her back to a tree. Flying around, chanting, and swinging my arms for hours on end were tiring enough to make me long for a bath, but I could settle for a quick rest on the ground.

“I’m surprised that you’re already able to do so much, Alice,” Ko praised me with a smile. “All those little tricks of yours are way beyond me.”

“Huh? But aren’t you really old?”

Ko’s eyebrow twitched. “I hate being called a kid, but for some reason being called old by you ticks me off just as much.” The demon shook her head and took a breath, answering me calmly when she spoke again. “Age doesn’t really have much to do with it, Alice. I’m just not very good at the whole magic biz.”

For me, using magic was uncomplicated, practically intuitive. I couldn’t understand how someone nearly a hundred years old might have any difficulties with it. Still, I didn’t push the subject. If Ko couldn’t work with magic then she couldn’t work with magic – it wasn’t a hard fact to accept.

“Do you think that-” I stopped mid-sentence when I felt something. A twinge prickled at my senses, pulling my attention towards whatever was moving; not moving, but falling.

I craned my neck to look upwards, to try and find whatever the bell had alerted me to. When the glint of crystal caught me eye, I screamed, “Look out!”

My friend reacted immediately, eyes snapping upwards before I even finished my warning. Her head hadn’t even stopped turning before the demon dived to the side, reflexes responding inhumanely fast.

Ko was rewarded herself for her efforts with a pained scream. A splintered branch of crystal, half a meter long, had impaled the girl’s leg. It stuck straight out of her calf, the blueness of the crystal becoming stained by scarlet.

I was a human, a slow and imperfect human, the flaw in the chain. My warning was too slow to have helped Ko.

“Geh, what in the goddess’ name is this shitty thing?” Agitated hands prodded the crystal branch. Every time Ko touched the foreign object imbedded in her leg she grunted, stifling a scream whenever she moved it substantially.

“Ko, stop that!” I grabbed her hands and prevented her from disturbing the branch.

“Really, what the fuck is this thing? Some sort of ninja crystal? It didn’t make a single bit of noise as it fell.” The demon sighed and half-heartedly smiled at me. “This is one huge screw-up on my part. Thanks for the warning, Alice. I would’ve hated to be standing upright when this thing hit.”

Don’t thank me, I wanted to yell, I’m the reason you were hurt at all. If Ko had held on to her magic bell, she would have been absolutely fine.

Before I opened my mouth, I thought about it and realized that blaming myself was the last thing I needed to be doing. Instead, I carefully examined Ko’s injury, trying to figure out how serious it was.

“What do you think, Doctor? Do we operate?”

I scowled at the joking demon. Even though her smile was tinged with a pained grimace, Ko’s personality hadn’t changed.

“I don’t know,” I admitted. The situation was beyond me. Cosette’s teaching raced through my mind, but a single cursory lesson was not nearly enough training.

“That’s great, because I don’t either. Should we flip a coin to figure things out?”

“I thought you adventured out in Makai all the time. Don’t you know how to treat injuries like this?”

“Nope, not a clue. If I can’t walk it off, I usually don’t have long to worry about it.”

Ignoring the worrying implications, I considered what we could do. “Can’t you just fly with me back to the city?”

“Seems like a smart plan.” It was a plan that wouldn’t work. Ko unsteadily floated into the air but quickly dropped back to the ground when it became apparent that the branch would sway around and worsen her injury.

I tried to figure what else could be done. I did not have the physical strength to do much of anything, but a bit of magic was most assuredly enough to compensate for my age. Pulling the branch out and wrapping up Ko’s injury seemed practical, but I remembered how that could be an equally terrible idea. Leaving Ko undefended in the supposedly safe forest to find help was always an option. My imagination provided me with a dozen other possible actions I could take. In the end, I…

[ ] Flew back to the city in order to find some help
[ ] Tried to pull the branch out of her leg and treat the injury
[ ] Picked Ko up and carried her with me back to the city
[ ] Used my magic to…
-[ ] Fix my friend
-[ ] Remove the crystal
-[ ] Signal for help
-[ ] Create some help
[ ]

---

Sorry for the late-ish-ness. I wasn’t enthusiastic about starting an update after only one vote, but then I waited too long and got caught up in life. If it’s not one thing then it’s another.

As far as this vote goes, remember that there’s nothing saying you can’t try many different things or even write-in something like “Attempt surgery” if you want to.
>>No. 10558
[ ] Used my magic to…
-[ ] create golem hands to carry her back to the city.

We are a magical little girl, no problem.
>>No. 10559
[ ] Used my magic to…
-[ ] create a HUGE golem hand to carry her back to the city.
>>No. 10561
[X] Used my magic to…
-[X] create a HUGE golem hand to carry her back to the city.

Don't have a stretcher? Make one. And whatever you do, don't remove the crystal before you get her to help. It's keeping her from bleeding out even faster.
>>No. 10562
[x] Used my magic to…
-[x] Create an improvised stretcher (which might be a huge golem hand, if it's efficient) to carry her back to the city.
-[x] Maybe try putting magically-created material (like that stuff you first used, the wave that solidified) around the wound to prevent it from bleeding and to stop the spike from coming loose.
>>No. 10563
>>10562
[x] The above

My phone's not letting me copy text, for some reason.
>>No. 10577
File 134773457453.jpg - (191.08KB, 376x800, too-many-blondes-in-this-story.jpg) [iqdb]
10577
I determined that bringing Ko back to the city was the surest option. I knew enough that trying to treat her injury on my own could only make things worse.

The question then became, how could I bring her back? Maybe I can help her fly? Is it like helping someone walk? I mulled the problem over in my head, throwing out any number of different ideas.

My friend wasn’t suffering much. In between her grunts of pain, the redhead shut down my suggestions. “Just give it up and go find someone. You can’t carry me back with those tiny, girlish hands and I’m not letting you try to yank this crap out of me.”

“Hmph, your hands are just as childish as mine!” Inspiration struck me after the words left my mouth. “That’s it!”

The little brass bell jingled when I knelt down onto the ground. I carried Luminita in one hand and pointed at the ground with the other, shuffling around on my knees. Next to the fallen demon I moved the earth with my intent, drawing two circles in the dirt. They were not fancifully designed or magical in any way; the circles were meant to be visual foci.

“What are you doing, Alice?”

By the time the demon asked I was already concentrating. My brain barely registered her question. I blocked out my physical senses as best as I could, disregarding sound and touch – even the feeling of sitting on the ground was unnoticeable.

Focus of intent was vital. Erk didn’t want me to create a golem for the first time without his supervision because of all the problems that could occur. Ill formed parts might explode or breakdown, falling off at critical times and endangering the well-being of anyone nearby. The automation of the construct was the scariest part, where poorly worded commands or half-baked instructions could create a monstrosity. Maintaining perfect concentration and working out all the intricacies before hand was the surest method of success. Slap dashing a dumb golem together on the spot could be done, perhaps perfectly so by an experienced artificer, but was still a risky procedure.

However, I didn’t need a full golem to help. I didn’t even need most of the parts associated with a moving being. All I needed was a more impressive set of hands.

I followed my training to the letter, working in a two-step process. With the circles as a reference point, I used my magical senses to explore the ground.

Magic was a finicky force that often reacted to more magic. That ambiguous concept was the basis for simple searching spells. A pulse of magical energy propelled outward could be observed and analyzed if something anomalous happened to it.

Presumably because of my magical affinity, I had no trouble identifying metals with my magic as well. Sending energy into the ground, I could feel out all the slivers and veins of ore spread throughout the dirt of Makai. It took more than a mental tug to loosen the metal. The process was more akin to a fisherman hauling at a stubborn line. Erk was planning on teaching me earth manipulation spells to facilitate my attempts, but they weren’t a high priority.

My mind tried to distract itself, throwing out imagined scenarios where everything went wrong. However, at that time I didn’t care much if a small section of the forest collapsed after I left. Driving with my intent, my unconscious worked through Luminita and hauled the metal to the surface. The ground dipped and shook, but the trees around us remained stably rooted. The rocky, unrefined ore wasn’t pretty to look at but was solid enough for my purposes.

Arcane words left my lips, ancient gestures and formulaic phrases stringing together into a beautiful, mysterious ritual. I modified the phrasing myself, tweaking the spells Erk had taught me to better fit my current purpose. A permanent golem was not what I needed.

The small mounds of metal resting in the center of each circle lifted into the air and slammed together, loose rocks falling away or getting trapped inside the ground formations. Ugly hands took form. The palms were roughly the size of my own body, the fingers deformed and far shorter than a human’s, and the wrists non-existent. Yet no matter how inelegant they were, they responded to my mental prodding well enough, floating through the air on my command.

“I don’t like this idea.” Ko tried to veto my plan almost immediately, but she didn’t have any substantial objections to combat me with.

Waving my hand around like a drum major directing her band, the stony hands responded to my will and shifted position, meeting together to form a flat surface. I rubbed my hands across my creations, imagining the rock and metal smoothening flat. Some of the material flowed, creating a thin sheen across parts of the palms. Still not satisfied with the coarse looking platform, I piled soft red dirt of Makai onto the palms of the large hands to form a more comfortable surface to rest on.

With a look of sullen reluctance, Ko grit her teeth and momentarily lifted herself into the air, plopping down onto my creation with barely a sound. The demon glanced down at the pool of blood she had left on the ground and then at her new mode of conveyance.

The hands moved with a slow, experimental start, drifting lazily through the air a few centimeters above the ground. “This isn’t horrible,” Ko murmured.

I did it! I pumped my hands in the air in celebration.

Control was a beautiful thing. Caught up in the formulaic effort of my spell, the dark shadows of my imagination had been completely ignored. All of the doubts that plagued my mind were drowned by the complete success.

“Instead of prancing around like a one-legged baboon, how about you get this lump moving. The sting in my leg isn’t becoming less painful.” I blushed after Ko’s chastisement and willed the rocky hands forward through the forest.

Ko’s chatter continued unabated, her injury not serious enough to impede the flapping of her lips. “Who would’ve thought you could whip something like this together, eh? I give you a ‘B’ for effectiveness but a ‘D’ in aesthetics.”

“This wasn’t that easy. Did you want to wait while I tried something harder?”

“It’s not like I’m traveling in style here. If you could’ve made a carriage fit for a king, I would have been more than willing to wait around.”

“A carriage? How am I supposed to do that when there aren’t any real trees nearby?”

“I’m not the magical girl here; I’m just the poor injured patient.”

Our banter died down by the time we emerged from the forest. My injured friend’s chattiness had diminished with time, until the only noise I heard from her was quickened breathing.

I was having some difficulties speaking as well.

The pressure of the floating hands was bearing down on me. Unlike the multitude of effortless spells I had used before, my attempt to carry Ko to safety was surprisingly taxing. More than the buzzing in my brain coming from intense concentration, my body itself ached. It wasn’t a muscular ache, but a constant prickling throughout every portion of my body.

I considered the possibility that my success wasn’t as complete as I thought it was. Warnings about spell methodology and over-exertion crossed my mind, but only temporarily. I wasn’t going to drop Ko to the dirt after I had brought her as far as I did.

Walking all the way to the city with the heavy stone hands was a slow affair. I had been spoiled by the speed that flight brought about.

Luckily, my handiwork attracted attention from the demons flittering around at the edge of the city. A pair of demons, two clownish-looking fellows, flew out to investigate the curiosity approaching them.

Their words were indistinguishable from the buzzing of a gnat, even when they drew closer. One of them flew off to find medical help and one of them lifted Ko off of my construct and onto the ground, but I barely registered it.

“What happened?” The deep voice washed over me, probably spoken from the hazy white face in front of me. I couldn’t quite tell. He looks funny…

The world spun in place for a moment. Teetering back and forth on wobbly legs, my focus finally snapped. There was no dramatic rumbling or flashy displays; the metal ores and clumped dirt that comprised my make-shift stretcher fell apart, dropping to the ground in an unglamorous fashion. The rocks thumped against each other and tumbled on the ground, free from their magical bindings.

I blinked, and my surroundings had changed. I was sitting upright in a chair, surrounded by all the trappings of a clean, modest bedroom. Ko slept peacefully underneath the white covers of the bed.

“Welcome back,” the cheerful voice greeted me from over my shoulder. Cosette offered me a glass of sweet orange juice which I promptly sucked down. The blonde medical demon smiled and walked past me, idly brushing Ko’s forehead with her hand. “You two gave us another scare. You’re definitely keeping us on our toes!”

“I’m sorry. It was my fault.”

“Now, don’t go and blame yourself all of a sudden. How about you tell me what happened first, okay?” The blonde pulled up a chair and listened to me with a smile while I related the events of the afternoon to her.

Once I finished my story, Cosette rubbed my head affectionately. “You can’t blame yourself for this, Alice. Accidents, even improbable ones, do happen.”

“But if I hadn’t taken the bell-”

“Then Ko would have chucked it to the side. This prideful girl wouldn’t have used it for herself.”

“I guess. I didn’t hurt her more, did I?” I knew that my method of transport was far from a luxurious ride.

Cosette stood up and lifted the blanked covering Ko’s leg, showing me the cleaned and bandaged limb. “Not at all. You did a great job, Alice. It took a bit of work, but my quick examination didn’t show any problems.”

“Thank goodness. Not knowing what to do was so scary…”

“You should be more worried for yourself.” Cosette turned her concern to me, wielding it like a sledgehammer of guilt. “Magical ailments aren’t my area of expertise, but even I can recognize the signs of exhaustion. Collapsing from drawing too much energy out of your body is highly dangerous.”

“I did what?” Collapsing I understood perfectly enough, but the idea of magical exhaustion was more unfamiliar.

“From what I understand, Erk is the one teaching you? I’ll have to have a word with him later about safety.”

Overusing magic…my own energy… I rolled the words around in my mind, trying to remember what Erk might have said. His lessons had definitely included safety concern about moderating my magic usage and not going overboard. There might have been a vague lesson on the differences in magic sources as well. I probably should have paid more attention to his lectures instead of becoming fixated on flicking colored sparks from my fingertips.

“…Alice? Hello?”

My back straightened immediately. “Yes?”

“Don’t worry so much about it. As your goddess-assigned doctor, I advise you rest up. Do you feel well enough to-” Cosette closed her mouth mid-sentence and turned around to hover over Ko. Just before I began to wonder what the demon was doing, the sleeping girl began to stir.

My injured friend turned her head to look around the room, her eyes coming to rest on me. We stared at each other until Ko broke eye contact by rolling onto her side away from me. “Go to sleep, Kid.” I could hear her smirk.

Amusement dances across Cosette’s face while she continued from before the interruption. “Do you feel well enough to fly back to Pandemonium, or do you want to stay here? I only have the one bed, but I believe you two can fit comfortably. It seems like your friend has already made room for you.” Sure enough, whether Ko had done it consciously or not, she was sleeping on the edge of the bed instead of the center.

After another long day, resting was certainly an appealing choice. I chose to…

[ ] Accept Cosette’s hospitality
[ ] Leave for Pandemonium
[ ]

---

Vidya is the bane of all productivity.

>Using a type of gallium as a liquid-metal Band-Aid
Seemed like an interesting plan; I would have loved to use this. Unfortunately, I didn’t write it because almost all forms of treating the injury were basically mutually exclusive with magical medevac.

>Giant hands
This, too, would have been so amazingly wonderful but alas, I took Mr. Corollary’s vote to be less on the huge side and more on the normal size; the overall tone of the vote was unfortunately cautious.
>>No. 10578
[x] Accept Cosette’s hospitality

Better safe than sorry.
>>No. 10579
[X] Accept Cosette’s hospitality

Going home is not worth the risk of collapsing again.
>>No. 10599
[x] Accept Cosette’s hospitality
>>No. 10617
File 134837857070.jpg - (71.77KB, 400x640, is-this-a-series-of-unfortunate-events-or.jpg) [iqdb]
10617
I chose to accept Cosette’s hospitality and stay for the night. After a full day of strenuous activity, I was not excited about the prospect of a long flight home. Magical flight might have seemed trivial, but I wasn’t sure about how my state of ‘exhaustion’ would change matters.

My kindly host cheered at my decision. “That’s great. Is there anything I can get you?”

“I’m hungry!” My mouth had answered without my brain’s consent. I clapped my hands over my mouth, trying to contain any more rude exclamations. After making sure my words and thought would alight, I asked, “Is a bath too much to ask for?”

“Not at all. I’ll see what I can do about food while you’re taking your bath.” The blonde demon led me through her modest home. Glancing in the rooms we passed by, most of Cosette’s house was ordinary. The anomaly was a room, towards the middle of the hallway, capped by steel doors. We stopped momentarily so that I could peer through the circular windows in the doors. “That’s my operating room,” Cosette explained.

“Operating room? What’s that?”

“It’s similar to the workshops and labs that other people have; I work on all of my research and serious cases in there. I’m afraid that it isn’t on par with other such facilities technology wise, but I’m proud of the innovations I’m creating.” The inside of the room was foreign to me, more so than the alien landscape of Makai. Graphs, charts, screens, glowing boxes, tools, machines of all sizes – I had no idea what to make of the objects. Thanks to my parents’ fanciful tales, I could wrap my mind around the oddities of Makai, but the barely-magical tools Cosette kept were an anomaly.

Luckily, Cosette’s bathtub was similar enough to others found elsewhere in Makai. I took my time cleaning myself, enjoying the warm water and fragrant soaps that were on hand. After leaving me alone for several minutes, Cosette returned with a cute set of flowery clothes for me to wear. The food my host later provided was completely unmemorable, but it filled my stomach all the same.

With all my basic needs fulfilled, we crept back into the bedroom where Ko was sleeping. Cosette tucked me in quietly, my friend not even murmuring from the sudden bouncing of the bed. Snuggling into the soft covers, a worrying thought struck me. “Wait. You said this is your only bed. Won’t you need it?”

“Not at all. I haven’t been awake for too long, yet. If I need a little nap, I can take one on my couch or somewhere else. Sweet dreams, okay?”

“‘Kay. Thank you.”

The dimmed lighting disappeared completely once Cosette left the room and closed the door.

I shifted slightly, but avoided making any drastic movements. Ko seemed to be sleeping peacefully and I didn’t want to wake her. There wasn’t any sign of movement from the bed’s other occupant; the redhead lay perfectly still on her side.

Despite the unfamiliar house, the situation was similar enough that I felt comfortable. I had no trouble drifting off to sleep.

---

“Get out of here!” The girl tumbled out of the shop, crouching low to the ground while she scurried away, stolen scraps clutched against her chest. She ran fast and disappeared into the alleyways of the city, not worth pursuing by any soldier.

Footfalls slowed until the girl stopped against the wall, falling to her knees in exhaustion. The muddy ground chilled her bare skin; the pants the girl wore were falling apart. The clothes she had made herself were not durable enough to withstand the constant scrapes from the narrow escapes the girl made. A combination of luck and cautious planning always left the girl an unappealing thief to chase, but stumbles took their toll on her garments. Sleeping on the rough ground and becoming drenched by the rain only accelerated the decomposition of her clothes. She would need to find more cloth at some point.

The girl took a second longer to catch her breath before tearing into her meal. She had no reservations about devouring the food she had managed to steal. Moral correctness was thrown out the window once she had begun to starve. The gnawing hunger twisting in her gut was worse than any snide comments from back home.

Living in the streets was horrid. The girl, so confident in her capabilities, was truly a child. She had no concept of what living in the city truly meant. A farm girl without money or support had no hope of survival. She did not have the manners or history to work as a servant, nor the connections to approach the well-off merchants or prideful samurai. Smaller businesses would not employ her, and families had no need for a runaway girl off the street.

With no possibility of finding a job that took advantage of her intelligence, the girl scraped by on the streets. It was not the worst living. Although her life at home was positively cushy, the girl adapted well. The tales of brave samurai surviving through the hell of battle inspired her. In her mind, the streets should be positively cushy compared to the crucible of war. She learned to live her new life, of what areas were safe from harassment or authorities. She found overhangs to sleep under and cracks to slip through. Avoiding those that would do her harm was the scariest, yet easiest effort she had to maintain. The roving bands of men looking for cast-offs like her were ridiculously loud.

The thought of what those men wanted terrified the girl. In truth, there was another opportunity she could take to escape the life of a street rat. Certain sections of the city never slept and were always active. Men and women alike poured into the guarded areas, whether drunkenly stumbling in during midday or furtively sneaking in at night. The girl had no doubt that those unscrupulous men would have loved to take her there, to use her for profit.

That was one path she was not yet willing to tread. She wasn’t desperate enough to throw away her personal dignity. Resorting to common thievery gave her a sense of achievement, of determining her worth in the world that selling her body would not.

In that manner, the girl lived. Days turned into weeks and the girl grew more confident. She might have been timid and afraid when she was first unceremoniously dumped into the worst parts of the city by the incensed caravan she had stowed away on, but she endured admirably. She learned to use her words to amazing effect. Pretty theft sustained her for a time, but the girl realized communicating could earn her even more. Sweet, saccharine words might yield a pittance from the many peddlers hawking their wares – a forceful threat dissuaded the cowards skulking in the shadow. The girl charmed, stole, and coerced her way into a poor but sustainable living.

Yet, despite her increasing success, the girl was nowhere near all-powerful. Her honeyed words could not save her from the environment she lived in; the pallid stink of the streets eventually overcame her defenses.

It was a miserable, terror inducing day when the girl finally succumbed to illness. She had ignored the signs, disbelieving the truth until it slammed into her face. Weeks of life were jeopardized in a single day.

The girl’s chest ached and lungs rasped, eyes watered and head throbbed. She was barely able to walk; manipulating any of the city’s residents in her state was out of the question.

Tears threatened to fall, but the girl forced them back. Even lying in the dirt, too exhausted to rise from her hole in the alley, the girl would not give in. She did not need hope, or luck to carry her. The world could conspire against her and she would struggle against it under her own merit. She would not regret her decisions when confronted by the terrifying uncertainty of illness.


---

The sticky feeling of clothes flattened against my skin greeted me when I awoke. I peeled the garments off of my body and kicked the billowing blanket away. It had become uncomfortably warm while I slept, the sheets around me creating a fluffy toaster.

Groggy from awakening, I fumbled around in the darkness and tried to gain some semblance of awareness. After a minute of fruitless groping for my doll, I grunted in annoyance and swished my finger through the air; a trail of glittery sparks appeared and floated downwards, forming a wavy line that glowed on top of the bed. The mage lights illuminated Luminita’s body lying at the foot of the bed.

I crawled over on my knees and grabbed my inanimate companion by the leg. She came to life in my hand, expressing her rage at being kicked to the foot of the bed while I slept. “Sorry, sorry,” I apologized quietly, wondering how to free Luminita. Her lower body was trapped to the bed, stuck underneath Ko’s foot. Moving as stealthily as possible, I grabbed my friend’s limb and pushed it away.

The low moan that responded to my touch sent a chill down my spine. The sound awakened the worst kind of feeling in my gut.

I rolled off the bed and ran over to the door, flinging it open in order to illuminate the room.

The light fell onto Ko and the demon reacted, but what should have been an aggravated grunt sounded more like a labored pant. “Turn off the-” my friend’s raspy voice was cut short by a wet cough.

“Ko! What happened?” I hurried back over to the bed, any sign of my former sleepiness gone.

The redheaded demon lay in bed, drenched in sweat. Worse, Ko looked ridiculously ill. Her eyes were bloodshot with dark bags sagging underneath them. When tshe shakily propped herself up against the headboard to try and answer me, wheezy coughs interrupted after a few barely audible words.

Laying the back of my hand against her forehead, I was shocked at the fire that was burning inside my friend. If my side of the bed felt like a cloudy summer day, Ko must have been laying in a sauna.

The girl was grasping at the edges of the fluffy blanket, but couldn’t even manage to maintain a grip on it. I carefully peeled the blanket away from Ko to try and make her more comfortable. I tossed the covers to the unoccupied portion of the bed and then screamed when I looked down.

Ko glanced down at her body after my shocked display. “That-” the girl spoke between hacking coughs, “doesn’t…look too good.”

The demon’s leg screamed for attention. The bandage wrapped around her injury was still firmly in place, slightly bloody but looking as expected. The blackish skin underneath the bandages was the disturbing part. It looked somewhat similar to a bruise, but spread completely around her calf and stretched almost up to her knee, reddish lines and welts randomly interspersed throughout the blackened skin.

I staggered away from the bed, stepping backwards thrice before turning on my heel and sprinting out the door. I couldn’t bear to look at Ko longer, and even if I could there was no reason to. If treating puncture wound was beyond me, than whatever had happened to Ko while we slept couldn’t even be considered.

The fact that Ko was at coherent enough to comment on her state was only a small mercy for my peace of mind. I rushed out of the bedroom and began to scream louder.

The house wasn’t large; my shouts easily carried throughout the building. “Cosette, help! Cosette!” I imagined the man’s leg disintegrating into a slurry of flesh while his family watched that the medical demon was somewhere in the house, probably her operating room or the bath since I did not see her in any of the other rooms close to the bedroom.

Just as I was pushing the metal doors open, Cosette came hurrying out. “Cosette! Cosette! You said Ko would be okay but she isn’t because her leg is bruised likes it bloody and its just like when they got really really sick and they died afterwards and I don’t want her to die again because that’s actually a bad bad thing and you need to help her because I don’t know-”

The blonde woman cupped my face with her hands, silencing my panicked ramblings. “There’s a problem with Ko, then? Let me go take a look.”

I squeezed the non-existent life out of my doll while I followed the demon. The entire situation bothered me greatly.

When we arrived back at the bedroom, we were greeted by Ko vomiting over the side of the bed. Pinkish vomit mixed with more sanguine colors and decorated the floor.

I stood by the doorway while Cosette rushed towards her ailing patient. The doctor cleaned Ko’s face with the discarded blanket beginning examining her.

Cosette brushed her fingers against Ko’s injury, peered into her eyes, and asked spitfire questions about my friend’s state of health. The usually-lively demon rasped out slow and unfocused answers, complaining about everything she was feeling. During the cursory examination, Cosette pulled out a pen-like object from her shirt pocket and poked Ko with it, waving the magical device around.

The doctor held her pen in the air, staring up at it. “What the…” Cosette’s questions slowed to a painful halt while she stared at her tool. Blue eyes widened, transforming from a calm, professional gaze into worry-inspiring one. “Isn’t that impossible?”

Something must have clicked in Cosette’s mind. The doctor suddenly burst into a frenzy of action, chucking the pen across the room and sweeping Ko up into her arms. My friend looked weightless with how easily Cosette carried her. The doctor rushed past me and down the hall, kicking in the doors to her operating room and setting Ko down on the bluish chair in the center.

Before I could step in after them, Cosette yelled at me, “Stop!”

I froze in place, my hand holding the metal door slightly ajar. The blonde medical demon was running around within the operating room, rolling over different instruments while she spoke to me. “Alice, I need you to do something for me, okay? There’s a…signaler, sitting in the cupboard by the doorway. It looks like a sword handle with colors on it. Can you take that outside, point it upwards, and press the colored buttons in this order: Green, Orange, White, Pink?”

The request took me by surprise, but the directions seemed simple enough. “I-I can. W-why? And is Ko going to be okay?”

“I’ll do my best to make sure she is,” Cosette assured me, her voice slightly muffled from the mask she had put on. “It’s to call some help over. Whoever shows up first, ask them to check you for…for the ever-lingering past. Can you do that?”

“Y-yes…b-but, what does-”

“Please, go now, Alice. I’ll tell you about it later, okay?” Cosette nodded once to me before gently closing the doors to the operating room, leaving me alone with her directions.

What’s going on? Speculation was rampant in my mind, but I tried to keep my imagination in check in order to accomplish what Cosette asked me to do.

I found the ‘signaler’ easily enough. True to Cosette’s description, the device looked like the base of a sword, from pommel to four-pronged hilt. Rectangular buttons in a rainbow of colors were built into the signaler, leaving enough room to hold the device without accidentally pressing one.

Stepping outside, I briefly wondered which end of the device I was supposed to point. Assuming the hilt side, I held it in one hand and raised it above my head, pressing the buttons Cosette had pointed out.

The haunting melody that rang out from the device overcame every other sound from the street. It was a subtle, disturbing sound that overpowered everything else without being obnoxiously loud. It was indescribable, a strange mix of the low tolling of church bells, haunted voices, trumpeting horns and static noise.

More than just the sound, the pillars of light the device launched into the air were distinctive. One second after pressing a button, a laser of the same color stretched high into the air. Any person who bothered to look up would be able to see the pillars of color emitted from the device in my hands.

When I looked around, I noticed that all the activity along the street, perhaps in the entire city, ceased. Unlike the witches who lived on the outskirts or Erk who lived on a less crowded street, Cosette’s house was practically in the center of activity. All around her house were various shops and services. Countless demons had been walking the street or arguing inside the stores.

They all looked up once they heard the sound. The demons so fixated on the pillars of light, not even the return of the Dragon descending from the heavens would attract such attention. None of the demons I could see looked anywhere but the light signal; none of their business was more important.

The otherworldly sounds ended unceremoniously, cutting off mid-tone when the laser show dimmed and disappeared.

It was like somebody had set off a bomb. A hundred voices spoke up at once. Some of the demons standing in the street began to yell at each other, pointing at me and Cosette’s house. A few rushed into their homes and stores while others flew off somewhere else, but nobody returned to what they had been doing.

I stood around awkwardly, watching the burst of activity in confusion. It didn’t take much longer than a minute for familiar faces to come flying into view. The magical healer Serra was the first I recognized, with my science teacher Ryouko flying behind her some distance away. From other directions, different demons sped over. I had seen a few of the apothecaries and alchemists form their stores before, but most of the demons were unknown to me.

Serra dropped to a jarring halt in front of me, the first demon to arrive from far away. Even in the tense situation, her clothing made me blush. She was clad in lacy pink and black lingerie, with her usual white robes wrapped around her hips loosely. She might have been trying on the underwear and didn’t even stop to dress before hurrying over. In her hands were her scepter and a bag of other clothes.

The pink-haired demon glanced down at my hands with a frown before smiling at me in a forced way. “What’s going on, Alice? The whole city is in a fuss, now.”

I gulped, swallowing my anxiousness to try and speak sensibly. “Ko is sick, I think. Cosette was really worried. She asked me to use this.”

“Is that it? Thank you, Alice. I’ll go talk with her.”

“Wait!” Serra stopped and turned on a heel to face me. “She also told me to, um, ask you to check me for the ‘ever-lingering past.’” I didn’t know what the words meant, but everybody else did, apparently.

“She-” The confident demon’s personality crumbled in an instant.

Normally, Serra could strut around in her undergarments and still maintain a sense of dignity. Whenever I saw her, either on the street or in Erk’s home, the healer was a dominating personality.

She stood on two feet, but looked like she had been slugged in the face. Her countenance became etched with fear, much like when I was hurt. “O-Okay. Right, that makes sense…” Serra took a deep breath before scrunching up her face. The pink-haired girl stamped her foot once, trying to clear away any signs of doubt.

Serrs turned her head and yelled at my science teacher who was just landing in front of the house. “Ryouko! Spread the word and then go in and help Cosette; we might be dealing with,” Serra paused and quickly glanced at me before continuing, “a strain of Fabius’ longest.”

The green-haired scientist adjusted her glasses and swore, “Damn it, you’re kidding me. I got it.” She flew back into the air, lab coat billowing behind her.

This isn’t right. Everybody was panicky in one way or another yet I had no idea as to why. “Serra…what’s happening?”

“It’s hopefully nothing, Alice. A fluke, or a misjudgment; we’ll have to check. We’re just here to make sure you and Ko and everybody else stays nice and healthy. So, how about a little check-up?” The cheer in Serra’s voice was forced. It was stupid to think that I couldn’t figure out something was wrong, but perhaps the false happiness was more for her benefit than mine.

With all the commotion rampaging around us, Serra had me sit down in the middle of the street. The pink-haired demon circled her scepter in the air, a blue bubble forming around us. The translucent magical dome did little to block out sound or sight, but it did present an easily seen obstacle for others to avoid.

What followed was a tense wait. Being examined by a normal doctor was never fun; sit still, breathe in, twist that way, feel this, breathe out. Magical doctors used all the boring tests and more. Serra would mutter a few words, wrap her fingers in blue energy, and then rub all around my temples and jaw. She would poke me in the stomach with her scepter and clamp a lump of blue magic around my arm. It was neat to see the healer fill my skin with magical pigments, but achingly boring to wait around for what felt like forever. Eventually the healer got off her knees and sat down, leaning back and propping herself up with her arms.

“Ah, thank the goddess…” Sitting inside the enclosed dome, the two of us had calmed considerably. Serra’s single-minded focus on my examination distracted her from whatever else had been bothering her, and my own anxiousness dissipated with time. “You seem to be in great shape, Alice! I’m amazed at how healthy you are. It looks like your daily exercise is paying off.”

Serra’s compliment sparked a thought in my head. “Oh, that’s right. Sara must be waiting for me right now…” According to my clock, the time was still a bit before I usually awakened, but flying back to Pandemonium at a normal pace would leave me late for my usual wake-up routine.

“Really now? You better get flying then if you don’t want to disappoint our valiant gatekeeper!” The magical dome around us dissipated at Serra’s command. The pink-haired demon helped me to my feet and spun me around in the direction of Pandemonium. “Have fun, Alice!”

The healer gave me a slight nudge forward, but I stopped myself from going anywhere. Her attempt at getting rid of me was beyond blatant. I didn’t like the feeling of being gotten rid off, no matter the reason.

Before I could whirl on Serra and speak my mind, demons interrupted us. They began to approach as soon as Serra had dropped the shield dome.

On one side stood Ryouko and a group of the medical demons, and on the other side stood Yumeko. I didn’t seem Pandemonium’s maid fly in, but I wasn’t exactly watching for all the new arrivals either. The number of demons milling around the street, both on the ground and in the air, had grown far beyond the number of people there when I first used the signaler. The crowds chattered excitedly, but nobody looked happy.

“Serra, report.” Yumeko was the first one to speak. The maid was lacking the usual warmth that she greeted me with. She exuded cold seriousness.

“Don’t snap at me like one of your toy soldiers!” Serra screamed. The sudden ferocity took everyone aback. The pink-haired demon apologized after she rubbed her eyes, “Sorry. My emotions are getting to me. I’m not quite sure. Can someone tell me what has happened?”

“Well…” the other demons shuffled around on their feet, not answering Serra’s inquiry and none too subtlety glancing at me.

Adults of all kinds were the worst. I wanted to scream at them for trying to hide what was happening to my friend from me.

Yumeko walked over to me and rested a hand on my head. “Alice, I believe Sara and the goddess are waiting for you back in Pandemonim.”

I glared at all of the demons who were looking at me. No matter what they thought or didn’t say, I…

[ ] Headed inside and checked on Ko myself
[ ] Returned to Pandemonium and…
-[ ] Let them tell me what went on whenever they were ready
-[ ] Asked Shinki about what was happening
-[ ] Pestered Sara about what might have been occurring
[ ] Listened to what the demons had to say…
-[ ] From right where I was standing
-[ ] Stealthily
[ ] Sought out to tell me what was happening
[ ]

---

Well, I plan events out and tell myself to write shorter updates so I can update during the week…and then this happens. Nothing annoys me more than my own writing style.

What else is there to say? Just remember, every effect has a cause.
>>No. 10618
[X] Told them that I'll go, but only after they told me what exactly was wrong, or I'd march right in there and check on Ko myself.

Assuming it's some kind of magic disease, which means checking in on Ko would probably be bad, but Alice doesn't know that, and it should hopefully work as a threat.
>>No. 10620
Wait, did I write hilt instead of guard? Well I can just delete it and rep- damn it.

This has no real bearing on the story, and I probably shouldn't have mentioned it so the mistake would go unnoticed, but this annoys me. Greatly. I'm a disgrace to fencers everywhere.

Carry on.
>>No. 10623
[X] Told them that I'll go, but only after they told me what exactly was wrong, or I'd march right in there and check on Ko myself.

Surprisingly effective.
>>No. 10624
[X] Told them that I'll go, but only after they told me what exactly was wrong, or I'd march right in there and check on Ko myself.

Looks like a nice write-in.

Side note: We were sleeping with Ko, so we'd already have whatever she had if it was a contagious disease.
>>No. 10625
[X] Told them that I'll go, but only after they told me what exactly was wrong, or I'd march right in there and check on Ko myself.

Koakuma's got it really rough, eh?
>>No. 10626
[X] Returned to Pandemonium and…
-[X] Asked Shinki about what was happening

I think Alice is smart enough to read the atmosphere.
>>No. 10627
[X] Told them that I'll go, but only after they told me what exactly was wrong, or I'd march right in there and check on Ko myself.

Maybe the illness affects magical creatures buut not humans?
>>No. 10628
>>10627
or perhaps it has something to do with the lightly referenced resistance to Erks spell? Or her appearance in the mirror. Just some small possibilities.
>>No. 10629
[X] Told them that I'll go, but only after they told me what exactly was wrong, or I'd march right in there and check on Ko myself.
>>10624
You've got a good point there.
>>No. 10639
File 13488046692.jpg - (13.53KB, 193x246, how-many-people-read-the-filename-anyway.jpg) [iqdb]
10639
I stomped my foot on the ground in annoyance. It was blatantly obvious all of the medical demons were uncomfortable with me standing around. “What’s happening to Ko? I’ll check on her myself if I need to!”

It felt like the demons were displaying every nervous tic they had. My science teacher polished her glasses impassively while other demons shuffled around and rubbed their noses, scratched their elbows and coughed into shirts.

“Well?” I frowned when I realized the utterance wasn’t mine, but Yumeko’s. The maid was still resting a hand on my head, but she had directed her inquiry towards the doctors and healers.

The demons continued to avert their gazes. One of them, the green-haired Ryouko, eventually sighed and spoke up. “Cosette and Fran have already begun to operate. They and several others were in agreement that our youngest has become infected by a lingering strain of Fabius’ masterpiece.” Although the scientist maintained a somewhat bored demeanor, she spoke the last words with a surprising amount of disgust. I watched as all of the medical demons, to some degree or another, flinched at the words.

“How vexing. I’ll begin preparing cleansing sorties immediately. Where did-”

“What do you mean, operate? And what is a Fay-bee-us?” I shouted, rudely interrupting Yumeko. Don’t ignore me! The demons made me want to tear my hair out in frustration.

All of the demons’ attention shifted from the maid back to me.

Ryouko adjusted her glasses again and addressed me in a soft voice. “They are working very hard to preserve Ko’s body; I am positive she will be fine in the end.”

The scientist’s reassurance did little to alleviate my fears – her words were too specific. Ryouko did not offer the standard, empty words that an adult trying to comfort a child usually did. Rationally thinking, I knew that Shinki was available to help Ko, but that kind of solution did not sit well with me. “And what’s a Fabius?”

After I asked again, not even Ryouko answered me. The demons returned to their evasive behavior. What was so hard about looking a child in the eyes? Why are they so uncomfortable? Just before I began to throw a fit, Yumeko tapped my head and drew my attention upwards.

“Ko was infected by a disease we have dealt with in the past. The first epidemic caught us by surprise. The disease is malicious, spreading from the infection point throughout the host’s body. It causes veins and capillaries to rupture as it moves throughout the body and also breaks down tissues, consuming them. The disease was highly fatal, showing symptoms within twelve hours and typically killing the host in a day. What was particularly heinous was the staying power of the disease; magically-enhanced as it was, there were few simple ways to kill it.

“Worse, we discovered that the bacteria causing the disease could survive indefinitely outside of a host, lying dormant until it could begin to multiply once more. After the epidemic ended we thoroughly swept through Makai and scorched the earth to destroy it, but it seems as though we missed some. Where was Ko injured?” Yumeko spoke quickly and clearly.

I had not expected an answer in the slightest. Whatever reticence the medical demons shared seemed not to apply to the maid. With her being so forthright with me, I answered her question without a fuss. “O-out in the forest. A sharp branch landed in her leg.”

“A falling crystal branch? That...is unlikely.”

“What’s unlikely? The branch falling? Ko was jumping between the trees; maybe she loosened a weak one?”

The maid shook her head. “Not that, Alice. At the time of the epidemic, the forest was not in existence. The goddess created it afterwards. If a falling branch had caused the infection, then it would have needed to carry the bacteria from the ground into the air after we missed it during our sweeps. Not impossible, but preposterously improbable.”

One of the doctors nervously rebuffed Yumeko’s assessment. “We didn’t find any other possible source of infection.”

“Ridiculous,” Yumeko’s demeanor did not dip from her professional stoicism. “I’m reluctant to simply level the forest, but…” The maid muttered to herself quietly, mentioning something about preparations, presumably about how to deal with more possible dangers lurking in the forest.

I scratched my neck, feeling rather silly for acting so rudely and demanding. Yet, my stubbornness might have had a place. Despite what I expected, the array of medical demons loitering around us did not calm down after Yumeko explained the situation to me. Rather, they had only grown more uncomfortable. A few of the demons were visibly leaning on each other for support, their nervous tics accompanied by scowling and horrified faces.

Serra was one of the more collected demons, but even she looked upset. She jumped, startled, when I poked her arm to grab her attention. “Ah, sorry.”

“No, that’s okay, Alice. What did you need? Are you not feeling well?”

“I’m fine, but what about you? You still look really sad. You all do.” My voice took on accusatory tone by accident. I only wanted to help the demons who had been impossibly kind to me, but my annoyance at not understanding what was wrong kicked at my mind.

The shuffling game began anew for the umpteenth time. Once more, it was Yumeko who responded for the group. “The past weighs heavily on them, Alice. Their memories make them uncomfortable.”

“Uncomfortable,” Serra repeated the word, staring Yumeko in the eyes. “We’re uncomfortable, then?”

“Of course you are. It’s plain to see. You were not created to remain calm and in control your emotions, after all.”

“Oh, so we’re inferior, now?”

“I did not mean to imply that-”

“Don’t lie to me!” Serra screeched at the top of her lungs, the ear-grating pitch making all the times she yelled at Erk sound like a joke. I flinched and staggered backwards, backing away from the suddenly furious healer. “That is exactly what you mean! Because we can’t act like a psychopath when surrounded by all of the ones we love dying, we’re inferior! Because we’d rather help than kill, we’re less than you! Well, boo-hoo Miss Maid, I’m sorry we can’t be good-little crazed soldiers for you!”

Steam rising from her head, the pink-haired healer stomped away from the group and headed inside Cosette’s house. Almost all of the medical demons follow her; some of their faces were downright murderous when they followed Serra, while others hesitantly look back at Yumeko before moving inside.

Of the twelve or so medical demons that had been with us, only Ryouko stayed behind after Serra’s outburst.

“That escalated far beyond what I expected,” Yumeko gripped the bridge of her nose, the cold professionalism in her voice slipping away and transforming into a weary quietness.

The maid glanced down at me and chuckled. “Perhaps you see why I defer to the goddess in matters of negotiation.”

I didn’t know what to say; my state of mind was only more confused than before. “Why was Serra mad?” I didn’t truly want to ask – I could tell the subject was a can of worms, but there was nothing to lose from inquiring further. I was almost one-hundred percent positive the maid would not storm off in an unreasonable fit.

“Other than my own insensibility? As I tried to mention, the past haunts her. She and the others might have thought they came to terms with it, but being reminded of times of struggle never sits well with anybody.” Yumeko’s words were sound; I knew full well of what she meant.

“Alice,” Ryouko caught my attention. The green-haired, lab coat wearing demon walked over to me and knelt down, pulling a handful of clothes out from somewhere inside her coat. She quickly folded my laundered garments, and then placed the motion-sensing magic bell on top. “Cosette wished for me to hand this to you. She is, naturally, too busy to do so herself.”

“Ah, thank you.” I snatched the bell up and dropped it into the pocket of Luminita’s dress, next to the gem clock. Then I grabbed my cleaned blouse and skirt, holding the clothes in my free arm.

Glancing around, I saw that there was nothing else for me to do. Checking on Ko myself would only make me a hindrance for the fifteen or so doctors scrambling around inside Cosette’s house. It was time for me to stick to my own obligations and head back.

Yumeko and Ryouko began to confer with each after I bid them farewell. The pair of demons was two of many individuals crowding the street when I flew away from the hottest spot in the city.

I made good time back to Pandemonium, feeling fresh despite the early morning panic. Before I even made it inside the crystal castle, Sara intercepted me. The pink-haired gatekeeper wrapped me up in a flying bear hug.

“Sis! Glad you’re back! You’re late, you know? Mother was worried sick, too! What’s going on? Do you know? I wanted to check the signal out immediately but Yumeko ordered me to stick around here, so I sat on my butt, waiting. Nothing happened to you, right?” Sara chattered on in her extroverted fashion. I did my best to keep up with her, telling the gatekeeper what I knew about the situation. We made out way through the castle while we talked, making it to my room so I could change into more appropriate clothes and then on to one of the training rooms.

Sara and I fell into our usual routine of stretching and exercise, but it was lighter than I had become accustomed to. The gatekeeper seemed to be too distracted with talking to work me harder. “…And the guys keep messing with all my stuff whenever I’m visiting you so it gets pretty annoying tracking…” She did not seem much different than usual, but there was a strange undercurrent to our exercise. Usually when Sara guided me through the different martial arts stances she was as solid as a mountain, calm and unflinching. However, even after stopping her chatter in order to focus, she did not feel as stable as normal. I wondered…

[ ] If Sara was bothered by Ko’s ordeal
[ ] What Sara knew about the disease
[ ] About how well Sara got along with Yumeko
[ ] When Sara was going to teach me to fight properly
[ ] If Sara was feeling in top shape
[ ]

---

Vote for whatever you want, excess questions will be pruned; blah blah I probably don’t need to rehash voting procedures all the time.
>>No. 10642
[X] If Sara was bothered by Ko's ordeal
-[X] What Sara knew about the disease

I don't see that the first two are mutually exclusive. The train of thought could be as simple as: Wow, Sara must be pretty worried about Ko if she's this distracted, huh? Could Ko be in more trouble than they let on earlier? I wonder if Sara could tell me anything more?

That said, at this stage in the story, Alice seems more inclined towards feeling rather than reasoning, so emphasis would be on the first of the two. The second would likely come up in the conversation, if only incidentally, but if we can only pick one, I'd go with the first.

The other three options seem irrelevant or just out of character to me.
>>No. 10643
[X] If Sara was bothered by Ko's ordeal
-[X] What Sara knew about the disease


>>10642
sums it up pretty well.
>>No. 10644
[X] If Sara was bothered by Ko's ordeal
-[X] What Sara knew about the disease
>>No. 10646
[x] bandwagon.
>>No. 10647
File 134902894833.jpg - (117.98KB, 400x500, if-only-there-was-a-human-therapist-around.jpg) [iqdb]
10647
I wondered if Sara was bothered by Ko’s ordeal. The gatekeeper had seemed slightly droopy ever since I had informed her about the biggest news in the city. On a regular day, the excitable girl managed to remain hyper-focused whenever she walked me through different martial arts movements; she would adjust the position of my arms and legs by fractions of a centimeter if she noticed they were off. I thought that maybe the fate of her other ‘Sis’ was distracting her more than she let on.

“The doctors said Ko would be okay.”

Sara stopped mid-movement, her arms taut and extended away from her body. “What was that, Sis?”

“Cosette was busy helping Ko, and Ryouko said they would fix her right up! So you don’t need to worry, okay?” I ignored the nagging of my conscious that rudely asserted I was twisting the truth and completed the flourish we were practicing.

“Thanks, Sis. I guess the news has been bugging me. My mind has been making me imagine all sorts of distracting things. Being more tired than usual doesn’t help either.” The pink-haired fighter shook her head quickly and crouched low, throwing out a dozen punches with a scream. “Hah! I gotta stay focused. Alright! Hey Alice, not like that – you should’ve stepped this way.” As if not to lose face in front of me, Sara threw all of her energy into my training.

We finished the rest of our exercises with a fury, the gatekeeper fueling the atmosphere with vigor. Afterwards, the two of us grabbed drinks from a kitchen and then headed off to a washroom together, cleansing our bodies of sweat and relaxing in a warm tub.

With our physical activity over for the day, my mind wandered back towards our conversations during training. “Hey Sara, what were you imagining?” I hadn’t asked my question before in fear of derailing the gatekeeper from our exercises.

“I did what now?”

I couldn’t tell if the smiling gatekeeper was genuinely forgetful or trying to avoid the subject. “You said your mind was imaging things that could distract you. About Ko?”

Sara tilted her head to the side. “My mind was what now?”

“You said the news bugged you!”

“Who said what bugg-”

Sara fell backwards into the tub after my doll connected directly with her face. The gatekeeper emerged from the depths of the water spluttering. I quickly glided over to extract Luminita from her clutches and began to dry my doll off with fire-tipped fingers. The doll shook her fist at me the entire time.

“Sheesh, Sis, you sure are violent sometimes.” The pink-haired demon splashed a bit of water in my direction, the drops of liquid evaporating when I blocked them with my hand.

“If you don’t want to answer my question why can’t you just say so?”

“It’s fun to tease you, Sis! Let me think,” Sara’s eyes rolled around in all directions while she searched her memory. “Oh, right. It wasn’t anything too important; just some worst case scenarios and stuff.”

“Worst case? Is it really that bad?” Despite the history that Yumeko had told me, none of the demons had seemed pessimistic about Ko’s condition. They barely talked about her…

“Maybe, maybe not. I didn’t see her, but,” the pink-haired cheer floundered, her words taking on an air of wistfulness, “I can’t say I have many good memories of that poison.”

Trepidation plagued my thoughts. “Then…Ko isn’t going to get better?”

“We don’t need to let it bother us, Sis. Mother will take care of everything, no matter what.”

That isn’t right… Sara’s answer was spoken with conviction, but it only made me doubt the situation even more. The events that led to Shinki taking care of everything last time were not enjoyable, to say the least. “Do…don’t you all care?”

“What was that, Sis?”

“Isn’t it painful? Doesn’t it worry you?”

“Alice?” Small waves rippled against my body when Sara moved closer. The older demon slid right up to me, lightly tapping her shoulder against mine.

“Highly fatal…” I murmured. Yumeko had answered me in such objective, distant fashion that it was all too easy for me to slip into a state of willful ignorance, to blithely gloss over information and pretend everything was fine.

“Hey, Sis? Can you hear me? ”

Sweating on the ground, bile pustules spreading over the arms and- “Is it that unimportant here? Does nobody care because a bit of magic can give you as many chances as you want?”

“Alice, what are you-”

“Isn’t it awful?” -body wracked with convulsions, limbs pounding against- “Doesn’t it hurt? Doesn’t it pain you to watch it, to see your family and friends suffering? W-why…w-why don’t you all care?”

“Hey, hey, just calm down, Sis.”

I would have crushed Luminita in my arms if I was stronger. “No! It doesn’t mean anything here! Somebody dies and the goddess fixes it, so you all don’t think anything of it! You don’t lose anybody forever and ever and have to miss them! You can just look away from their pain and wait for everything to get better!”

“Sis, isn’t that a bit unfair?”

“It’s not!” I screamed, the fire wreathing my fingertips flaring hotly. “They don’t care at all! Ko makes light of it! The others ignore it! They fight and quibble about everything that isn’t my friend!” Why don’t they understand the pain of family leaving? Yelling at each other, arguing, finding any reason to-

Arms clamped around me in a reassuring hug.

I lost it.

My eyes bulged, vision blurred. I felt my limbs thrash, beat against the body that was holding me. My body ran off of instincts -the sensation of being crushed became more and- while it convulsed, the air around me alighting with flame and wind. The water churned, metallic spikes forming and spinning wildly.

Gone and gone and pain and hurt- I couldn’t think. Emotions and memories fed each other, driving the craze higher and higher. Lightning arced across my skin, rainbow lights exploded, and bath tiles launched into the air. Energy rushed into my body, filling my limbs with vivacity.

“Relax, Sis. I care. We care,” Sara spoke to me. The fear that gripped my heart tried to strangle my thoughts and my mind, but Sara’s words reached me. The gatekeeper did not tighten her embrace, but she refused to let go of me. “We all have our own problems and memories, but we care, Sis.”

Swirls of color began to cloud my vision, splotching out what my eyes thought they saw and twisting my perceptions. The smells of death and ocean breezes, of sterile rooms and farm fertilizer drifted out of nowhere. My ears began to ring and twinkle, the pops of explosions dimming from hearing. Headaches blossomed throughout my brain and my gut was plagued with dizziness and nausea, but the ill effects were unnoticeable while my mind was high with exhilaration. My head pounded to an arcane beat, the pain forming a rhythm with the sights and sounds around me, playing to the conductor in my emotions.

As suddenly as it began, it ended. The waves of energy coursing through my body were cut-off with a jolt. The storm of chaotic magic ended abruptly, my will suddenly unable to manipulate the energy saturating the air. The effects died off quickly, the bathroom returning to its normal state, slightly damaged.

The sudden removal of spell-casting induced euphoria left my body in shock. My limbs hung like a doll cut from its strings. When my ability to move slowly returned, my self-control was in complete command. Sara’s arms wrapped around my back still caused my body to tingle, but I repressed the panic that sprung from the feeling.

After a minute of remaining calm, Sara let go of me. I immediately dipped below the surface of the water, tears becoming indistinguishable from the bath, and remerged a short distance away from the gatekeeper. Remaining in such close proximity made me queasy.

“You back with me, Sis?” The pink-haired demon asked me with a smile.

I hesitated before nodding. “Mhm…I’m sorry. I…that was horrible of me.”

“Don’t beat yourself up over it, Sis.” Sara waded closer to me again and I did my best not to shrink away. The gatekeeper outstretched her hand but didn’t touch me, her voice quiet and unthreatening. “I think I might understand you better than the others. Helplessness, guilt, death? We have to learn to cope, you know?”

I nodded again, shame and regret preventing me from saying more.

The two of us sat quietly in the bath, allowing the intensity of the situation to fade. I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, regulating my body in the manner Sara taught me. The gatekeeper did not chastise me, or rush away to tell someone else what had occurred. She waited next to me, letting her presence soothe my beating heart.

When I heard Sara rise from the bath I waited a minute before following after her. I nearly lost my calm once more when I saw the gatekeeper sitting on the floor, her skin red all over.

“Hey, Sis, help me spread some of this cream on my back, would you?” Sara asked jovially, squirting a pinkish concoction onto her hands from a bottle she pulled from the racks on the walls.

“I-” The burn marks and abrasions littering Sara’s skin were easily distinguishable, with only one cause for the appearance coming to mind.

Before I could profusely apologize or lose control of my emotions, Sara laughed. “You need to practice more, Sis. Your magic barely did anything to me, you know? How do you expect to show everyone else how strong you are with skills on that level?”

With an uneasy smile on my face, I glumly trotted over to the gatekeeper and dropped to my knees. Sara didn’t complain about any stinging pain when I rubbed the lotion-like material over her back.

“Seriously though, Alice, don’t punish yourself over the past. Terrible memories are a part of you, after all. We have to learn to live with them and continue on; don’t let them control how you want to lead your life.” With her slightly melancholic words of advice delivered, Sara giggled and started to chatter away once more, relating to me a funny story about one of the other gatekeeper’s fears of pillows.

Sara’s attempts to brighten the mood worked. I stayed mostly silent while I thought about myself and the words Sara had given me, but the good cheer the pink-haired demon exuded kept my contemplation positive.

After we had dried off and redressed ourselves, Sara asked, “Whatcha want to do now, Sis?”

I quickly met the gatekeeper’s shining eyes before lowering my gaze and shrugging.

“Don’t be like that; tell your sister what you want!” The pink-haired girl pestered me incessantly. With my mind still fatigued from my panic attack, it was easiest to latch onto the routine. Sara and I flew away from Pandemonium and towards the city.

Since we started our workout late, I didn’t have the time to visit all of my usual haunts before class. However, that fact didn’t bother me; considering Ko was not around to hang out with me, there was no great loss. Besides, I thought I had seen a number of the store owners loitering around Cosette’s house.

“You’re so responsible, Sis, a role model for demons everywhere!” Sara teased me while we flew.

The gatekeeper had decided to accompany me to school, citing that “With all the craziness happening, I can’t just leave you alone, Sis!” I appreciated her company. The prospect of wandering around alone was not appealing.

“I’m just going to school. It isn’t a big deal.”

“It is for me,” Sara pouted. “Besides, I think you’ll be the only one.”

My mouth quirked upwards. “Not everybody skips class like you do.”

“Sis, you know I don’t mean to!” It was a blatantly false, but Sara could believe what she wanted to.

However, when we landed at Makai’s schoolhouse, it turned out that Sara’s prediction proved true. After loitering around outside until a minute before classes should have begun, we did not see a single soul enter or exit the building. A few demons had flown by overhead, but they didn’t even slow down near the school.

Even though the area seemed deserted, I thought I heard sounds coming from inside the school building. With classes set to start, I walked over to the doors of the school and slowly opened one. It sounded like two people were standing in the lobby, chatting away.

“Come on, let’s go play or something. I’ll show you my new moves!”

“Not all of us are as care free as you; I have duties to attend here.”

“Duties? Nobody’s coming to school today with all the commotion. There’s no reason to stick around here!”

“Even so, my place is here. Perhaps someone would mean to find me? They know to check the school, first.”

“I wonder what that says about you, huh?”

“Quiet.”

“Hey, don’t whack me with that!”

“You deserved it. Go enjoy yourself if you want, but the goddess and others expect to find me here.”

“Stop being so dedicated. I want us to enjoy ourselves together! They aren’t going to need you for anything.”

“Do you know that for a fact? We hardly know all the details.”

“Everybody is saying it’s just a fluke. The medical-nuts are agreeing with that.”

“They stick with the ridiculous explanation as the truth? We were thorough in our scourge – I can’t believe that we missed any.”

“It’s still possible. If we use your pessimistic line of thinking, Miss Ice Queen, where does that leave us? You can’t believe that one of our holier-than-thou doctors would mess around with that stuff, or that someone crossed over without alerting anybody? All of those ideas are even more absurd!”

“I’m not convinced.”

“Enlighten me then. What do you think happened?”

The school’s door slammed against the stopper. I stumbled forward, the wood I was leaning slightly against whisked away from me.

“Hey Yuki, Mai! How are you two doing?” Sara barged passed me, shaking hands and exchanging hugs with the two witches. I glared at the gatekeeper for ruining my eavesdropping; nothing stung worse than when your partner-in-crime turned out to be a double agent, the fact that Sara hadn’t stopped chatting while I skulked near the door notwithstanding.

The two witches greeted me happily when I stepped forward; Yuki’s exuberant shouts contrasted sharply with Mai’s reserved salutations. The three of us quickly caught up, talking about all the silly little things that had happened in our lives. Although I regularly ran into Mai around class time, and by extension Yuki, we never stopped to spend much time together.

“I can’t believe you would come to school, Alice, it’s practically a day off!” Yuki cried.

Mai shook her head. “She’s the best student Makai has; her sense of responsibility is much greater than yours.”

“That hurts; you’re always putting me down.”

“Perhaps you deserve it?”

“Whatever, you ice witch. Let’s go, Alice!” In her usual style, Yuki grabbed my hand and tried to walk off.

I smiled at how predictable the fiery witch was. “Where did you want to take me, Yuki?”

“Somewhere fun that isn’t here! I’m sure you agree with me, Sara?”

The pink-haired demon snatched Yuki’s other hand and raised it in the air. “Right, let’s scramble!” It was odd, watching the two boisterous demons get along. The two didn’t hate each other, but loved to compete over the tiniest of matters. Finding something they agreed on was rare.

When I glanced over my shoulder, Mai’s eyes met mine. The blue-haired witch sighed. “Delinquents and irresponsible miscreants everywhere, corrupting the youth.”

With Yuki and Sara urging me out the door, I…

[ ] Stopped them…
-[ ] So I could ask Mai to join us!
-[ ] Because there was class to attend!
--[ ]
[ ] Suggested we go
[ ] Let the duo drag me off to wherever their whims took them
[ ]

---

>Irrelevance
Certainly not my best batch of options last time. I’m a bit dissatisfied after re-reading them, but they still work with what I had in mind, if unclearly. I think one could see how they were all touching upon different aspects of the same situation (or ignoring it completely).

Slight changes in phrasing and intentions can cause highly divergent events to take place. Clarifying your thoughts is beautiful (I thank you for that) and always makes things better! Better, of course, being highly subjective...
>>No. 10648
[x] Stopped them…
-[x] So I could ask Mai to join us!

She needs to loosen up some.
>>No. 10650
[x] Stopped them…
-[x] So I could ask Mai to join us!

Is it wrong that I want to Burn the forest to slag?
>>No. 10730
[X] Stopped them...
-[X] So I could ask Mai to join us!

This choice is acceptable.
>>No. 10731
[x] Stopped them…
-[x] So I could ask Mai to join us!

This is awesome I don't know why I didnt pay attention to it before. I also have a great idea or stupid idea depending how the GM runs with it once we get traumatized by something again and have time to ourselves afterwords.
>>No. 10736
File 134959229722.jpg - (451.63KB, 1000x800, choose-your-weapon-brave-hero.jpg) [iqdb]
10736
I stopped walking. Surprisingly, both demons stopped pulling.

Sara looked at me over her shoulder. “What’s wrong, Sis?”

Yuki let go of my hand and turned to face me as well. With both of the demons staring curiously at me, my urge to speak up fled.

“A-ah…u-uhm…”

“Don’t be so timid, Alice! Shyness doesn’t suit you.” The flashy witch’s advice was punctuated with obnoxiously loud laughs as always.

I nodded and steeled myself. Moping around wasn’t going to help anybody. After spinning on a heel, I propositioned the stoic blue-haired witch. “Don’t you want to join us, Mai?”

“I’m sorry, Alice, but my duties-”

Yuki appeared behind Mai in a purple flash. The blonde wrapped her arms around Mai’s shoulders and leaned forward to whisper in her friend’s ear. “Are you really going to say no to our dear Alice’s request? How...cold.”

Mai grunted and shook her shoulders, trying to dislodge the dead weight hanging off of her back. “I already told you Yuki, my place is here.”

“But that was me. How can you deny little Alice? She just wants to spend time with you!”

A bust of magic energy was followed by a sudden chill that radiated against my face. Yuki screamed, “Cold!” and leapt away from Mai.

“As I was saying, Alice, I’m sorry. I have a responsibility to remain here. Despite their faults, Yuki and Sara are excellent company.” The blue witch turned my offer down without a shred of hesitance.

The rejection was softened by calm words and reasoning, but it still hurt. I thought Mai would enjoy spending time with us.

Sara stepped past me with a smile. “I didn’t think the calm and analytical Mai would be afraid of hanging out with a few friends.”

“Do you not have your own duties to attend to, Gatekeeper?”

“If a stuffy soldier like me can find time for sis, why can’t you?” The witch and gatekeeper stared each other down, pitting their gazes in a battle of will.

The tense atmosphere continued unabated for a full. Neither demon appeared angry, but both refused to budge on their opinion.

I brushed my doll’s hair out of worry. The last thing I wanted was for my silly desires to become a source of contention. Before I found the courage to speak up and break the deadlock between gatekeeper and witch, Yuki did it for me.

“Can I say, Mai, you’re being pretty frigid over this. Why don’t you want to chill out with us?”

Everybody paused and turned towards Yuki. “What? Don’t look at me with such gelid stares.”

Nobody said anything, disbelieving what the blonde witch was spouting. We waited until Yuki opened her mouth again. “Oh man, the algidity from you guys is too much. Pow! Ahahaha!”

I lowered my head to hide my blush behind Luminita. I could see Sara cradle her face in her palms. Mai seemed must unaffected, still able to speak after the horrid jokes. “Yuki, did you look those words up just to use in a situation such as this?”

“You bet! I guess I’m too crisp for you, huh? Am I leaving you numb and shivering in awe?”

Yuki managed to stop Sara and Mai’s conflict by redirecting everybody’s ire to herself. It was a rather amazing feat, all told. She was rewarded for her efforts with a spray of water, like the chastisement of a cat.

Between Yuki’s annoyed yelling and Mai’s un-amused lecturing, I almost missed the sound of the school’s door opening.

Long black hair contrasted against the whites of the visitor’s clothing. The calmly pious aura that surrounded the woman was instantly recognizable to me. “Hello Maria,” I greeted the demon who had so graciously hosted me in her tower before.

“Greetings, Alice. Do you fare well this day?” Maria asked me in her solemn tone.

“I…I’m doing better, now.” I leaned slightly to my right, resting against the side of Sara’s body.

The gatekeeper used my head as a convenient arm rest. “Hey, Maria, what do you need?”

The black-haired demon looked past us towards the squabbling witches and raised an arm. The shadows along the ground around Maria’s feet distorted, her snake-like familiars slithering forth. Then the black-haired woman re-focused on us. “Can I not enjoy the company of others amongst the flock?”

“Well, no,” Sara admitted, “but you aren’t the type to pal around in your free time, you know? Shucks, you barely mingle at all if it isn’t work related.”

While Sara and Maria spoke, I watched the magical snake-beasts travel along the floor and then jump into the air, landing on the heads of the two witches. Mai simply grabbed the creature and threw it back to the ground, while Yuki was less composed in her reaction. I winced when the light from her exploding fireball reached my eyes. The wall of the school looked slightly blackened, but at least there we no holes in the structure.

“Sic your familiars on us, eh Maria? You’re lucky I missed the slippery monster!” The fiery witch shouted her displeasure. One of the familiars snapped at her and the girl snarled in return.

“It garnered your attention, did it not?” The snake familiars hurried back to their master, slipping back into the shadows around her. “Our gatekeeper’s astute observations are accurate, as always. I have come seeking magical power to use in the goddess’ endeavors.”

The dispute over my suggested plan of action was put on hold. The four of us instead listened to the religious woman quietly. “Upon the recent events that we have been made aware of, the goddess’ hand has summoned all of those who previously assisted in the cleansing of our most sacred ground to assemble at her side in order to safeguard the land once more. From my understanding, as per the general success of the previous endeavor, no methods shall be changed, individual innovations notwithstanding.”

Maria’s loquacious speech went over my head, just as it had before. Luckily, the message wasn’t directed at me. Mai walked over and stood in front of Maria, her gaze frosty. “Very well. My other given duties are not currently pressing and most likely will not be for some time.”

Yuki leapt forward, the blonde grabbing onto Mai’s shoulder before the blue-haired witch could leave. “Hold on, Mai. Were you expecting this?”

“The possibility of this happening crossed my mind; we cannot leave alone such a threat, no matter how miniscule of a risk it might present. Besides, as you have said, it’s obvious no one will be coming in for lessons today.” Mai brushed Yuki’s hand off of her shoulder.

It was a strange sight to see Yuki genuinely frowning. “Well…I’ll come too, then!”

“Denied.”

“What? No way! I’ve already been pretty useless, letting you shoulder all of our burdens. I need to help now to try and make up for it.”

“Hardly. We’ve gone over this before. Stop trying to overcompensate.” Before Yuki could raise her voice in argument, Mai stopped her dead in her tracks. The blue-haired girl reached forward and rested her hand against the side of Yuki’s face.

My face started to burn in embarrassment, but I couldn’t tell why. The gesture wasn’t special – Mai’s fingers were barely touching Yuki, and plenty of other people did things with much more contact. Perhaps it was Mai’s tiny smile and Yuki’s forlorn gaze that made the moment intimate. The two held their pose for only a second.

“Besides, have you not already obligated yourself to an activity?” Mai glanced at me and I couldn’t help but feel important.

“I guess. You sure you don’t want to trade positions or something then?”

Mai scoffed and turned around. “I’m sure. I know that you’re more enjoyable to be around. Enjoy yourselves.”

Maria and mai left after the rest of us said our quick goodbyes. It felt like a smash and grab; the business-like demons had organized themselves and marched away in an instant.

The three of us, Yuki, Sara, and I stood around lamely. Eventually, by mutual, unspoken consensus, we left the school building and began to walk the streets.

Despite the bravado they had first tried to drag me out with, the two demons did not have a plan in mind. Perhaps it was their failed attempt to recruit Mai, or it was their natural exuberances canceling each other out, but the two demons were listless.

“How strange,” I muttered.

“What was that Sis?”

I made random motions with my hand, trying to grasp at the right ideas. “You two aren’t as…excitable, as you usually are.”

“Excitable?” Yuki forcefully inserted herself between Sara and I. “Hah, I’m trying to be considerate of the dumb gatekeeper by letting her lead.”

“Dumb? That’s what I get for letting this wimpy witch speak her mind.” A minor struggle blossomed between the two demons as they jockeyed for the position of walking to my left.

“I’ll show you wimpy,” the fighting words were accompanied by swift movement. Yuki jinked around her counterpart and grasped my wrist. “Let’s go Alice, we can leave this demon in the dust!” Yuki pulled me along, accelerating rapidly and leaving the ground. We soared through the air, faster and faster.

Sara followed right behind us, red dress flapping like a tail. “What? Just because I can’t chant in a dozen languages mean I fly slower than you!”

Taunting her opponent, Yuki flew backwards and stuck her tongue out at Sara. “We’ll see about that. Keep up with me Alice. Show the superiority of magicians everywhere!”

We began to accelerate even more, our pace increasing rapidly. We began to hit the upper edge of my limit as well as Sara’s; the speedy witch in front of me drew away from us. “Yuki, I don’t think I can-”

“Of course you can! The trick is not in making yourself move faster, but getting everything else to move out of your way!” Yuki shouted her advice without slowing down.

Her statement, what might sound like stupid advice to most people, made a good amount of sense. Even with only a week or so of magic use, I understood what Yuki meant.

Sticking my arms out like a bird to help me focus, I willed myself to move faster. I imagined not just my body rocketing through the air, but the air itself yielding to my passage. Nothing, from gravity to wind resistance, would slow me down.

“Whoa, good for you, Sis!” Sara’s shout came from several meters behind me, the distance only growing as I picked up speed. When my flight finally leveled out again it was nowhere near the ridiculous, controlled flight Yuki employed, but it was one step closer.

The three of us messed around in the air for an hour, flying and shouting at each other in play. It turned out that even if I figured out techniques to increase my speed, maintaining control at the same time was impossible for me. Sara always managed to bounce me from above, looping dizzying vertical circles around me, no matter how fast I tried to get away.

Naturally, Sara and Yuki turned the playful flying into a full-blown competition. Before I knew it, the two were dog fighting, spraying mostly harmless magical bullets at each other. The two demons looped and spun, maintaining their high velocity maneuvers far above the city.

I floated slightly lower, lying back to watch the action. Their competition was beautiful and hilarious; I found myself consistently dodging globs of water and gooey slime.

In the fast paced action it seemed like Sara could not compete. Tight turns and sudden horizontal shifting was not enough to avoid Yuki’s fast-paced dives and massed firepower. A critical slime-ball impacted against her legs, sending the gatekeeper into a wild tailspin downwards. Yuki’s cheers of success sounded the dirge of Sara’s defeat.

Sara fell further and further towards the ground, not slowing down in the slightest. “Sara? Hey, hey!” I started to scream and race downwards myself – the gatekeeper had done nothing to stall her fall or stop her spin. Sara landed face first on the street, shooting up a plume of red dirt.

I threw myself into a dive back towards the ground. Yuki caught up to me quickly, the two of us landing at the same time.

Not again not again not…again? The horrible sense of déjà vu, of anxiety gripping my heart, disappeared. I knelt next to Sara and touched her neck, feeling life flow through her.

The gatekeeper was, against all odds, sleeping.

“What...?” I tried to wrap my head around the drop Sara had suffered.

“Whew, I didn’t see that coming. How does soldier girl here wake up in the morning?” A black-shoed foot inched into my vision and nudge Sara’s body, rolling the gatekeeper over onto her back. Her arms stayed in position, lying across her chest without care. I didn’t see any blood or damage to the girl’s body; she seemed to be breathing perfectly, without pain or difficulty.

“Yuki!” My eyes pleaded toward the witch, “What happened to Sara? Is she really okay?”

“She’s fine. This thick-headed muscle-bound idiot is made of sterner stuff than the rest of us, you know?” As if to emphasize her point, Yuki kicked Sara in the side again. The gatekeeper let out a pleasant sounding sigh and rolled onto her side.

“Sterner stuff? Her body is like Yumeko’s, then?”

“Oh? Exactly; where’d you hear about that Alice?”

“Sara mentioned it to me once when she was explaining how Yumeko would wipe the floor with you.”

“All of the crazies are built like that. Feh, cheaters, the lot of them.”

“Why doesn’t Shinki make everybody stronger? Wouldn’t that prevent accidents?”

“I make sure all of my spells are at one-hundred percent so they don’t explode in my face. Just imagine if I didn’t have to worry about it!” The roaring laughter that accompanied Yuki’s statement was almost maniacal.

I guess it’s a good thing. If demons like Yuki became more resilient than they should, I could easily imagine the chaos that would pervade everyday life. It was probably better for everyone that the majority of demons had human-like bodies.

“I didn’t think the stuff you were launching could put people to sleep, though. That’s a bit tricky, coming from you.”

The witch raised her hands in the air. “Hey, don’t blame me, Alice. You’re right, spells in spells like that aren’t my style. I stuck her with an honest adhesive sludge ball.”

Poking Sara in the face, the gatekeeper unconsciously batted my hand away before nestling back into the ground. Did she really fall asleep midair?

Yuki and I pondered over the strange occurrence before coming to the conclusion that we had no idea what happened. The situation didn’t bother me; unlike other times, I didn’t feel a horrible sense of foreboding. It was possible that the gatekeeper was just dreadfully tired.

“Well, I’ll haul our butch princess off to get checked, just in case. Don’t worry your cute head so much, Alice.” My magic senses alerted me to the slight red haze that Yuki’s arms became covered in. With amplified strength, Yuki tossed Sara over her shoulders in a fireman’s carry.

I stepped forward with the intent of traveling with Yuki, but a tiny doll hand beat on my arm. Luminita foraged around in her pockets and yanked out my clock, pushing it into my other hand. I stared at it for a moment before frowning and trying to put the clock back, but the doll fought me. “Luminita, just let me put it- come on, what’s so important about the…time?”

The never-changing smile of the silver-haired doll looked smug when I turned back to Yuki. “Sorry, I can’t go with you and Sara. My magic lessons are soon, and this is an important lesson, I think.” To tell the truth, I was rather excited, but it wouldn’t be proper to care about a friend less than an experiment.

“Sure, sure, don’t let us stop you. We’ll be fine! But man, you pink-haired menace, why couldn’t you have fallen asleep later? I wanted to go see Alice’s first big spell- damn, where are you grabbing girl? You better be asleep…” I waved goodbye to Yuki, the witch’s voice quickly fading into the distance.

I nodded to myself and patted Luminita on the head. The doll saluted me, after which I rose into the air and flew off towards Erk’s home.

The thought that the magician would not be home crossed my mind. Even if he was more of a shut-in, I imagined that he would be as interested in the commotion as every other demon seemed to be.

When I knocked on the door to my magic teacher’s home, a cheerful voice rang out. “Heeeeeeellooooooo!” The door opened mid-shout, revealing Erk’s assistant mud girl, thankfully clad in plain working clothes.

“Hi Aht, how are you? Is Erk home?”

“I’m good! There was a scaaaary noise earlier, but it went away. Uhm, Master said he would be back soon; please, come in.” Interacting with the mud-encased spirit had become part of my enjoyable routine. The mud girl was sweet and good-natured, always trying her best to make me comfortable.

Aht and I spoke over a cup of tea while we waited for Erk. The mud girl was not particularly knowledgeable about Makai and reacted with squeaks and squeals when I told her about what had been happening. Aht’s reactions were simple-minded, but endearing. “Wah, she should get it rubbed better by someone nice,” and other well-intentioned suggestions made me giggle.

A knock on the door brought our conversation to an end. Erk hung up his cloak by the door and walked into the dining room.

“Alice, I’m glad to see you. Pardon my lateness.”

“No, that’s okay. Today’s been pretty busy.”

Erk snorted. “Indeed. From what I have been told, I understand that you have had it particularly rough. Are you feeling well now?”

“I guess.” There had been more than enough time for my mind to relax and push away the panic-stricken feelings affecting me before. Even when I thought about what could happen or had happened to me and my friends, I didn’t feel much. “Have you been meeting with everybody else?”

“Among other things.” The magician took a seat at the table, his servant pouring out tea for him. “Procuring materials for your project was my primary concern, but I also checked on the commotion.”

“Do you know if Ko is doing better?”

“Serra told me that spirited girl has been complaining about the itchiness is her leg from the regenerative treatments; I wouldn’t be surprised to find her running around in a day. Perhaps she will learn to take more care?”

Even if Ko herself felt that she should take greater care, it seemed impossible for the redhead to prepare for the strange and ridiculous accidents she suffered.

Erk’s tone shifted slightly, the barest hints of accusation slipping in. “More importantly, I also hear you were rather reckless yourself.”

The magician’s stare was not filled with the same portents of doom that mama’s was, but it still heaped guilt onto me. “M-maybe…”

“I am positive I warned you about over-exerting your magical talents, especially your own energies.”

“…Yes?”

The chastising silence kept the pressure on me until Aht began to snicker.

Erk sighed and motioned for me to stand. The magician faced me towards the empty wall and had me hold out a hand. “Some of the fault lies with me, of course. I should not have taught you such an intensive telekinetic spell without checking your reserves first.”

I struggled to remember the boring technical information Erk had tried to relate to me during his lectures. “Didn’t you say a ‘talented young witch’ didn’t need to worry about how much magic I had in me?”

“I did, but I fear I was too assuming. I did not expect you to maintain such a self-intensive spell for extended periods of time. Shall we begin?”

“What are we doing?”

“Checking the amount of magical energy your body stores and produces, albeit in a rough and inaccurate manner. I will cast a spell which is akin to chopping down a tree to get at the apples. For the amount of magical energy the spell uses, the effects are no more than a gust of wind.” Erk demonstrated the simple steps needed to test my reserves of magical energy. After sketching a rune midair, it became a matter of humming pleasantly to evoke it. “Begin when you will, Alice, and stop when you begin to feel faint.”

It took a moment to steady myself, but the spell was simple to maintain. It was as if I held a tiny fan in my hand; the wind generated was barely enough to tickle someone’s nose. Yet, I could feel the powerful draw of the spell. My body tingled as the energy was drained from every limb, until I nearly tripped over.

“Caught you~.” Aht giggled in success, her generous chest bouncing in my face.

“Alice, are you okay? Did you feel something go wrong? Certainly, if you had become weakened by-”

“No, no, nothing’s wrong with me,” I waved away Erk’s worried tittering and separated myself from Aht’s supporting arms. “I was kind of surprised when I started to feel so tired – isn’t that what was supposed to happen, though?”

“Yes, but not nearly in such a quick manner.” My teacher walked over to the wall and began to draw on it, glowing lines forming a chart. He filled the space with charts full of numbers. “Magic is not nearly as standardized as it should be, but I estimate that a human child of your obvious talent should usually be able to maintain the spell for a minute, at minimum. If you could only maintain it for thirty seconds, then…” The magician muttered quietly while he furiously drew formulas and equations across the wall.

It wasn’t the first time Erk had zoned out while calculating. The purple-haired demon could focus eerily well, ignoring everything less than a tornado (or perhaps, a screaming pink-haired associate) while he worked. As far as what he was doing, I knew it was some sort of magical calculation. Magic might be an abstract force, but Erk had related to me that stronger theories could often be unified by mathematics; once I had learned enough math, he would teach me that too.

After a short few minutes Erk stepped away from the wall and clapped, the glowing numbers disappearing in a puff of glitter. “Can you try the spell for me again, Alice? I should be able to draw a well-founded conclusion after it.”

Complying with the simple demand, I repeated the runic drawing. I was prepared for sudden feeling of tiredness the second time and stopped the spell while remaining standing. I had been able to hold it for around the same time as the first.

Erk nodded curtly once. “Very well, then. Shall we move on to the real focus of today’s work?”

“Wait, aren’t you going to tell me what you thought about?”

“Oh,” the magician blinked, as if the thought had not occurred to him, “of course, my apologies. I believe that although your body appears to produce energy at an above average rate, the overall amount of magical energy your body stores is incredibly low. If you were to use it all to create an explosion, for example, you wouldn’t be able to completely destroy this house.”

“Huh?” It took a second for the words to process in my mind, but when they did I stomped the ground. “But I can do a whole bunch of stuff correctly! I’m good at this, aren’t I?”

“Indeed you are. Your control over magical energy itself is at a masterful level. You intuitively grasp the concept of manipulating magic, which I theorize is why you are successful. Put in another way, you unconsciously use the magic that your body has to its fullest effect.” It was the difference between a battery and a power outlet. Sustaining spells from my personal pool of energy would never end well, but drawing energy from outside sources was as easy as pie.

The explanation placated my sense of pride somewhat. “That’s a good thing, then?”

“It is. Your effective source of magic is more limited by your environment than yourself. If you stay in Makai, you might never run out of energy to sling around. In a less magical environment, you would likely need to expend more of your own personal energy in order to catalyze effects.”

“Neat. I’ll become the best witch in Makai and show everybody how grown-up I can be!”

“Hahaha, I certainly expect it from you. Let us take the next step on your path to greatness, then.” Warnings and explanations given, the purple-haired magician led us downstairs.

A large cauldron had been placed in the center of the workshop area of the library. It was almost as tall as I was, my eyes barely reaching above the lip of the container. Grabbing onto the edge of the iron cauldron, I lifted myself up and peered inside to find even more iron. Solid metal filled every cranny of the container’s inside.

“Is this all for me? How’d you even get this down here? It should be really heavy.”

“It is, and it is. I had one of the mining-enthusiasts fill it, and then I teleported the entire unit here.” Erk cleared space on the floor and desk, making enough room for me to work.

“Wow, that’s cool! Can I learn to teleport myself? Nobody would ever be able to lock me out of their hideouts again or keep me from the deserts.”

“One spell at a time, Alice. Today is for what we’ve been preparing you for. Do you remember the processes?”

“Yup, and I’ve practiced a bunch of the spells over and over, too. I’m ready!”

“Excellent. If you are so prepared, then I see no reason to begin immediately. Have you decided on what type of creation you would like to start with?”

A mechanical man that stomped around was only one type of golem. Any magically-automated construct counted as golem under the magical system I had been taught. Erk had me practice creating arms and legs as much as wheels and plates. His suggestion was to keep my first golem rather simple, either in physical form or magical components. The rest of the design was up to me.

Over the week, I had imagined a…

[ ] Happy, slightly bubbly gelatinous form
[ ] Large and imposing humanoid form
[ ] Tough, wheeled, and blocky form
[ ] Smooth and floating spheroid form

---

Imagine two quick scenes, become three sprawling scenes. I think I might be doing this whole ‘planning’ thing wrong. Having a bunch of other essays and shorts to write hasn’t helped the process quicken any either.

>>10731
Welcome to the lands of a horribly slow, lengthy, and shitty writer. I thank you for your compliments and hope you enjoy your-

>GM
What the fuck? Don’t compare me to those inconsiderate assholes that try and wipe your party at every encounter and make the lives of your characters as miserable as possible.

Wait a second…uh…

Ahem. Thank you for your compliments and please enjoy your stay. Check back every two days or so if you can (although the instances where I’ve hit my ideal turnaround time have been disappointingly low). Cheers!
>>No. 10739
[ ] Shoggoth
Wait, that will only end badly. And I assume write-ins aren't allowed this time. Let's go with...

[X] Smooth and floating spheroid form
Ruminations time! At least with regard to her magic, Alice has probably been considering things with some degree of efficiency and purpose in mind, which the smooth sphere option strikes me as. I was tempted to choose the happy, bubbly option in accordance with Alice's own demeanour, but thought that Alice should see some development magic-wise, particularly with the new revelations on her magic reserves, even if it might only be because she thinks it looks cool.

Though I must confess I might be tempted to change my vote to something out-of-character depending on how the votes swing purely to see Alice riding around Makai in Berser-car.
>>No. 10740
[X] Smooth and floating spheroid form
I might change this later
>>No. 10741
[x] Happy, slightly bubbly gelatinous form
>>No. 10743
[x] Happy, slightly bubbly gelatinous form
Soooo, our first golem is a step up from a Slime?
>>No. 10744
Dropping in to give someone time to break the tie, if they so choose. I’ll call the vote and begin writing once I wake up or something.

>Berser-car
Who are you? You aren’t my clone, are you?

>Slime
Well you see…

>Write-in
I was considering it since this choice isn’t as important as say, choosing a magical affinity, and I could still derive any of the less obvious characteristics I needed to from a write-in. If anyone had a specific idea in mind you wanted to suggest, go ahead - I might be able to work it in. It’s not like I forgot to include the option and I’m trying to save face or something…
>>No. 10745
>>10739
...I talk too much, don't I?

Reading back, the whole hand-golem thing was more spur-of-the-moment than I remembered, and that was only a short while ago, so Alice obviously hasn't developed as much as I'd hoped. This being the case, I'll change my vote to:

[X] Happy, slightly bubb-

Wait, this option wins by at least 2-to-1 no matter what I vote for. That means it doesn't matter what I change to! I could vote for anything! Anything at all! AHAHAHA!

[X] A constantly shifting form, ever-ready and adapting to what purpose I might need it for, amorphous, bubbly, almost cheerful - yet firm and steady to lend me whatever support I may need.

On a side note, having replied for some strange reason to that specific comment, OP is now required to write a Berser-car omake.
>>No. 10746
>>10740
Changing my vote to this write-in.
>>10745
>>No. 10747
File 134973180044.jpg - (627.70KB, 1200x1200, 67f8039f00cfac0c1bebb2b4ef747d7d.jpg) [iqdb]
10747
>>10746
NO WAIT SCRATCH THAT I JUST GOT AN IDEA CAN WE MAKE SOMETHING LIKE THIS
>>No. 10763
Tie's broken, OP. You can start writing the next update or that omake at your leisure.
>>No. 10777
File 135010414233.jpg - (238.91KB, 1300x1300, except-ours-is-metal-and-liquid-and-stuff.jpg) [iqdb]
10777
I had imagined a simple golem, at least physically. After practicing under Erk’s tutelage and on my own time, I knew I could not create intricate shapes. My boxes were lopsided, my spheres lumpy, and my false limbs looked freakish. It was an experience problem; no two metals reacted the same way to my spells and my control over the new magic Erk was teaching me was tenuous at best.

We began reviewing after I informed Erk of my intentions. We went over everything I had learned in order to ensure nothing went wrong. A week’s worth of lessons compacted into a couple hours of study.

Once we had hashed over the critical knowledge to Erk’s satisfaction, I was allowed to begin working. The purple-haired magician brought me a few different tomes for reference but otherwise observed passively. It was my project to succeed in.

The process of creating the golem was a strange anachronistic mix of arcane rituals and modern metallurgy. In between forming the necessary magical circles with chalk, I bounced magical pulses through the iron cauldron to figure out what type of metal was sitting within.

My work plodded along slowly yet carefully. Ensure the circles’ concentricity. Double-check the translation of block script. Dribble my blood along the four major axes. Record the ratios of materials to be maintained. De-energize the source of disrupting influences. Dozens of steps needed to be prepared methodically and in exacting detail.

After an hour of preparation I took a quick snack break and then continued on to the final stages of execution.

I stood off to the side from my work, in the center of a scrambled array of geometric shapes. Quickly glancing over to where Erk stood next to Aht, the mud girl holding on to my doll, I breathed out and began.

My mind emptied of extraneous thoughts. Gently gripping my magical energy, I fed it into the chalk shapes along the ground. I funneled it around the loops and zigzags until my magic had permeated the ritual area. With the magical instructions primed, I began to chant.

“What mortal dares, upon the earth
To desecrate the holy bounds
To force their will upon the birth
What sacrilege, to honest grounds

What power is there, enforce mine will
To crash against the laws of fate
To transform the source and fulfill
What intentions, I seek to create

What strength I seek, my heart provides
To enforce the bonds I do devise
To flow forever as waters’ tides
What protection I hope, may arise

What support is there, for mortal fear
To try and bind the earth in bond
To find a friend of countenance cheer
What creation, would choose to respond.”

My throat rasped the last line, the magic runes around me glowing brightly and reacting. The words were mostly a formality, meant to drive my intentions forward clearly. The ritual was, in effect, a delusion meant to fool my sensibilities. Schooling and rational thought was a hindrance towards casting magic; the ritual wrapped the effects I wanted in logical mysticism.

The air sizzled with energy. After activating the ritual, my part was finished. The directions I spelled out within the circles and my aria took control.

Heat without fire. Form without shape. Movement without locomotion. The metal inside the cauldron melted and spilled over the sides. Faint multicolored lights reflected off of the glistening metal, highlighting the tumultuous process.

Next to the empty cauldron, the blob of metal sloshed back and forth. It hardened to the point of immobility before melting again, liquefying and congealing over and over. The sound of my quiet breathing nearly obscured the plopping noise generated by the metal.

After a short few minutes the reaction calmed. The blob of metal maintained its semi-solid state without serious fluctuation. Without eyes, my creation stared up at me.

Sitting still, the blob only came up to my shins, its puddle-like form stretched out in a rough circle. It swayed back and forth but did not expand or contract, maintaining its position in front of me.

I took a breath and stepped forward. Using my senses, I could feel the large concentration of magic in my creation. Kneeling down next to the metal blob, I slowly reached a finger forward.

The metal tide surged forwards at me. “Wah!” I cried.

The blob-like golem enveloped my finger and then my arm, looking similar to a large, lopsided flan. My creation continued onward, knocking me off balance and onto my butt. The golem pooled around my body. I became trapped in a strange cocoon of metal, my head the only free part.

Surprising as it was, I didn’t panic. Before the construct had attacked me I had already been probing it with pulses of magic to understand what it was like. The sensations that returned to me, those of nondescript happiness and safety, were nothing to worry about.

Cocooned inside the golem, I realized how hot it could become. The heating enchantments I had worked into the golem did their job admirably, leeching magical energy from the air to regulate the temperature of the golem to a point where the metal could run freely. The inner portions of the golem were consequently blazing hot.

Yet, the other functions I had inscribed seemed to work well. Exposed portions of the golem were subject to cooling enchantments, making the golem rigid enough to maintain a non-puddle form and also safe to touch. If they weren’t working, I supposed that I would have melted instead of being mildly hot.

“This appears to be a success. Excellent work, Alice.”

“Congratulations~!”

The two others in the room stood over me. I giggled in delight, vibrations from my chest reverberating through to the liquid-metal golem around me. The construct giggled along with me, air bubbles popping on the surface of its metal ‘skin’. The sloshing sound from the golem swaying back and forth was reminiscent of a cat’s purring.

“Fascinating,” Erk glanced over my work, “these are not independent behaviors, correct?”

My eyes shifted down and around at the metal golem surrounding me. “I didn’t put anything like that in the spell.” While the golem would be able accomplish simple orders, instilling independent action was beyond a week’s worth of study. At most, the golem was meant to follow me around while waiting for instructions.

“Truly amazing. Your unconscious control over magic is remarkable, Alice, if that is indeed what causes this behavior.” The metal golem snapped out at Erk’s dangled finger, metallic tendrils flailing into the air in play.

“Is it that strange? I just thought it would act this way.” Googly eyes and a bright smile - that was how I imagined the metal golem to look. The featureless metal gave the impression of bubbly cheer, sturdy if needed but otherwise flowing and free.

I brushed my fingers against the inside of the golem and flicked a magically-transmitted mental command to it. The metal flowed away from me with reluctance, the golem pooling back together towards my side. I stood up and dusted myself off, no traces of metal left behind on my clothes.

Hours of near-continuous concentration tolled my energy, but the work wasn’t over. Before I could call the day successful, I needed to test my creation.

“Metabble, spread out.” On my command the golem’s magical compression slackened. The grey puddle flattened to the floor and expanded, spreading outwards like a proper liquid. It almost could reach across the entire workspace at its maximum expansion.

“Squeeze yourself together. Move over there. Sit right here. Bring that table to me.” Speaking commands was for my own benefit. As long as I could send pulses of magic laced with orders to the golem, any voice or semantic command was unnecessary.

Among the simple test orders, my golem performed admirably, but the last command was iffier. “Touch the ceiling!”

The golem tried its best, limbs flailing upwards in an ineffectual attempt to execute my commands. The tendrils of liquid metal could not support themselves. In the end, I needed to imagine a specific way for the golem to touch the ceiling, such as by solidifying itself into a pillar of metal. Actively controlling the golem’s actions like a puppet, similar to wearing the liquid-metal construct like a glove, was the most assured way of achieving my desired goals.

The golem pitifully undulated around my feet after I released it from its task.

“That’s okay. I’m happy with you, Metabble. You’re perfect!” I combed my fingers through the golem’s form to console the unfeeling construct. The liquid metal bubbled in joy and tugged at my hand.

I heard Erk clap behind me, a conclusive tone in the sound. “Metabble? Is that your name for it?”

“Uh-huh. Do you like it? I think it’s silly; perfect for my golem!”

Before Erk answered me, a singsong voice drew our attention. “Babbly babbly waaah~.” On the other side of the metal puddle, Aht was rolling around on top of my creation. The moving puddle of metal obliged the mud girl, the two artificial beings playing together on the floor.

The purple-haired magician was pointedly not looking at the display. He handed me back my silver-haired doll and turned away from his servant. “I believe we are done here.”

We tromped back up the stairs, my metal golem sitting atop Aht’s shoulders. The mud girl walked normally even with Metabble surrounding her like armor. She’s…strong. The alloy Metabble was created with, alongside the levitation enchantments I had applied, helped to reduce the golem’s weight significantly but it was still weighed hundreds of kilograms.

The three of us took a seat at Erk’s dinner table. I sported a fancy, heated metal seat; my golem’s versatility was great.

We munched on more yummy snacks in the umpteenth break of the day. There was always sweet bread or mini cakes sitting around for me to eat whenever I visited Erk’s home.

Erk and I discussed my golem creation spell in detail, covering what he thought I did well and what could be improved. It was a quick summary of the day’s achievements that took no time at all. “This was good work, Alice. We’ll continue your lessons tomorrow. You can learn to work with your golem in the meantime.” My purple-haired teacher dismissed me for the day, his attention refocusing towards the esoteric equations he began to write out on the table.

“Okay. Bye Aht, bye Erk. See you tomorrow!” I waved to the two and ran out the door, my creation sliding along after me. The slick metal golem easily kept pace with me, magically-assisted propulsion able to move faster than I could run.

Metabble followed me as closely as it could, literally moving underneath my feet. Sometimes metal splashed when I ran through its puddle-like form and other times the golem clung slightly to my legs.

“Hey, quit it! Haha, don’t do that, it tickles.” The sensations from metal cooling from hot to cold while wrapped around my ankles were terribly distracting. Of course, even if I tripped slightly there was no problem. The golem would shift and solidify, the artificial surface I stood on changing to keep me upright. I lost my balance the first dozen times Metabble shifted around my feet, but I eventually grew used to the way the golem would disrupt and correct my steps.

We continued through the mostly empty streets of the city. The numbers of demons out and about were greater than before, but nowhere near the levels of activity in a usual day.

A tiny hand beat on my arm. My doll, after obtaining my attention, pointed off to the side. Red haze permeated the air in the direction Luminita pointed. Curious, I floated into the air for a better view.

It was fire. Against the blackness of Makai’s ‘sky,’ the flickering haze of fire was easily distinguishable. Although I was closer to the crystal lake, the great blazes off in the forest on the other side of the city were highly visible. Roaring fires curled around the crystal trees, unnaturally focused. Dozens of gouts of flame danced in the distance, methodically rising up trees and scorching everything they touched. No two fires were alike. Some yellow blazes engulfed an entire tree at once while other blue torches spiraled around a pillar of crystal in deliberate fashion.

“Is that what Mai’s doing?” Luminita had no answers for me and I wasn’t about to fly over to investigate. Shrugging it off as a mystery, I turned back towards home.

I flew several meters towards Pandemonium unconsciously before remembering what I left on the ground. “Whoops! Metabble, are you- huh.”

Dropping lower to the ground, I found my metal golem obediently following me, my creation sliding around underneath me even when I was dozens of meters higher. “I guess I should’ve made it so you could fly.” A small wave of metal rose into the air and splashed back down. I supposed it was a way of telling me that everything was fine.

Flying high enough so I could look down without worry, I watched Metabble keep pace with me. The metal golem stayed underneath me when it could. The urban sprawl obstructed its movement slightly, but it had no problems crawling over small barriers or sliding around other obstructions.

When Metabble crashed through a window I drew my experiment to a halt. “Ah! No, no, no! Bad golem!”

I plummeted back to the ground and guided my golem back onto a street. I decided to walk with Metabble as much as I could, to make sure it didn’t break anything in its dumb attempts to keep pace with me. Luckily, slinking away from the scene of the crime was simple enough when there were no witnesses to be had.

We reached the edge of the lake soon enough. I wondered what to do for a moment. Lifting the entire golem into the air with me wasn’t impossible, but achieving the feat was a different story. Maintaining the focus necessary to keep the golem in the would have limited us to a snail’s pace.

“This is too tough! I’ll find a way to get you flying later, okay?” The droopy splash of liquid metal in response to my question broke my heart. Like a small pet warbling in punishment, Metabble began the long trek towards Pandemonium by ground, the lake thankfully made of crystal instead of water.

My flight across was the lake was quick. It forced me to sit and wait on one Pandemonium’s landing pads. Once I saw my golem approach the castle, I plucked it into the air and slowly lifted it upwards, depositing my creation next to me with a thump. Liquid metal surrounded my body, air bubbles popping noisily. “Hahaha, okay, okay, I’m glad you made it up here, too.”

With a moving puddle of metal at my feet I worked my way through the halls of Pandemonium. I waited around in my room before realizing that I might have to fend for myself. “I guess Yumeko is out there, huh?”

Tummy grumbling, I decisively took off towards one of Pandemonium’s kitchens. Deserts and other snacks, while delicious, were not a proper meal.

After turning a corner, I nearly collided with a body clothed in red.

“Shinki!”

“Hello Alice, how are you?” The pale-haired goddess knelt down to talk with me but became distracted by the pool of liquid-metal swaying around my feet. “Is this a new friend?”

“That’s right, I made it. Say hi to Shinki, Metabble.” The golem expanded and lapped around Shinki, clinging to her sides in greetings.

“Hello to you too. I see my daughter is hard at work.” Goddess and golem mingled for a moment, Shinki scooping up my golem in her hands. The powerful demon stared at my creation, the golem holding mostly still while Shinki examined it. “My,” the goddess declared, “this is such beautiful work, Alice! There’s so much life-likeness to it already.”

I scratched my head in embarrassment. “Well, that part kinda sorta just happened…”

“Truly? That’s doesn’t matter; this is still wonderful work for a first attempt.”

“Thank you!” I beamed at the goddess’ praise of my work.

The pleasant scene was disrupted by my stomach’s rumbling. It hungered for real food.

Shinki giggled. “Let’s get you something to eat.”

We continued in the direction of the nearest kitchen. Even though Metabble flowed underneath both of our feet, the golem didn’t trip Shinki up. The goddess walked with confidence, her steps surefooted.

Entering the kitchen, an ominous feeling tugged at my mind. “You can go sit down Alice. I’ll whip you something up in no time!” Shinki pulled a wand from within her robes, the stick of wood perfectly straight. The magical item glinted dangerously.

“Shinki, what is that? Is it safe?”

“Of course, Alice. I can’t let my dear daughter starve. Two five-star meals coming up!” Currents developed in the magical energy of the room. The goddess’ wand charged up by absorbing energy from the air. Whatever the magical item was supposed to do, I did not trust it in the slightest.

“Um, Shinki? M-Mom? I don’t think this-”

The world exploded in white.

Later, the goddess sat at the dinner table in tears. I walked over and sighed, depositing a bowl of noodles in front of her. My burgeoning culinary schools taught to me by Pandemonium’s maid would have to suffice for dinner.

Shinki sniffled one more time before grinning. “Ah, my kind daughter cooked this delicious meal for me. Thank you, Alice!”

“It was easy. I’m more worried about the kitchen…”

“Don’t worry about that, Silly! Yumeko will clean it up when she gets back!” The thought of the sword-swinging maid staring down the batter-covered, garlic-smelling kitchen frightened me more than it should of. The maid’s ire might not be drawn to me, but I didn’t want to be anywhere near the danger zone if someone was going to be scolded.

Tossing aside future concerns, I dug into my plain self-cooked meal. Shinki and I chatted lightly while we ate, my most recent feat the topic of much of our conversation. “I froze a dozen test pieces trying to get the enchantments to balance out properly, but I finally figured it out! And then there was…” Shinki listened with amused attention while I babbled on and on about everything I had been doing.

After speaking a great deal about my accomplishments and new understanding, we laughed and giggled together, the antics of the other demons in Makai amusing the both of us. Our chat remained light-hearted, the goddess delighted in hearing about her other children and my interactions with them.

The time for our meal rapidly flew away because of all the chatting. “Metabble, place these on the kitchen table, please.” My golem slid away from the table, bowls and utensils floating atop the blob. I hoped nothing would break; the golem’s ability to handle fine operations was questionable.

Shinki clapped her hands together. “What wonderful work, Alice. You’ll be able to take over for me in no time at all!”

Despite the goddess’ cheery tone, her words struck a slight fear into my heart. “You’re not going away, are you?”

The goddess blinked. “Not at all. I don’t plan on leaving or retiring anytime soon. It wouldn’t be simple to fill my position, no matter how much someone thought they could.” Fingers reached across the table to pinch my cheek. “You’ll have to study much harder if you want to become a goddess and replace me.”

“I wood nevah-” my cheek tingled after being released, “I’d never think about replacing you.”

“That’s why you’re such a dear and well-loved girl, Alice,” Shinki said in a voice filled with affection. The goddess walked over to where I sat and rested her arms on my shoulders, leaving my personal bubble intact but expressing her intent.

Cautiously, I stood and scooted forward slightly, bringing my arms up to loosely embrace my mom. Her arms wrapped around me to enclose the hug, spreading warmth throughout my body. I breathed in and out, memories and emotions kept at bay. In mom’s arms, I felt at peace.

“Oh,” Shinki tapped me lightly on the head to draw my attention upwards. “It seems like someone is here to see you, Alice. I hope you learn a lot in your lesson.”

I grunted and swiped Luminita from the table.

“Ah, don’t pout Alice. Enjoy yourself; I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Acknowledging the de facto order for what it was, I said my farewells to the goddess and turned to leave the room. Nearly tripping on my golem which had returned at some point did not make it a dignified exit.

Yet, before I completely left the dining room behind, I paused. My time spent with the goddess was certainly enjoyable, but we did not cover everything there was to talk about. Did she know if Sara was doing well? Was Ko going to be up and about soon? What was happening over at the crystal forest? The activities of the day came to mind, but other questions I held for much longer also flashed through my mind. The doubts and concerns that decided to swarm my mind left me unsure of what to do.

Was there something I wanted to ask?

[ ] Nope. It wouldn’t do to keep my tutor waiting, either.
[ ]

---

>>10763
Indeed, I can and do.

In an on-going effort to stop making baseless claims about writing faster (which I will continue to make every other week or so), I’ll try to put myself on a more defined schedule. I believe that updating every Friday and Sunday (which is more like the next day at 04:00 board time) is feasible, on the assumption that I receive a vote so I can begin writing. One day, after setting these deadlines for myself, I’ll actually follow through!

My problem is mostly stylistic – I tend to over-write, which can drag out my update speed (and length). Having work and other things to write doesn’t help in this regard.

>>/gensokyo/10247
On that note, if you for some reason only ever visit my tiny corner of the board, you should check this out. I encourage everybody to write something if they are so inclined, and to vote once all the stories are in.
>>No. 10778
Will probably hop on whatever bandwagon rolls by, but I'm throwing out some preliminary thoughts into the ring first to get people thinking:

Given how many things she'd like to ask right now, Alice isn't likely to ask a question like one about Ko, to which she knows she'll only receive empty platitudes. Asking about the forest is possible, but she could just as easily ask someone else later - perhaps one of those who were there to witness it firsthand.
No, Alice is talking to the immensely powerful, hilariously-inept-at-cooking, Koakuma-teasing, ever-supportive goddess who is like a mother to her, and she's likely to ask something that only a mother figure could answer.

Ever since Alice arrived, she's been running around, making friends, but in my opinion, she's been lacking any sort of direction. She's always finding herself out of her depth, whether failing to block stray danmaku shots or being attacked by malevolent spirits. And she constantly witnesses the gap between her own abilities and those of those around her, whether in the spars she's been a spectator to or in somewhat more lethal circumstances. She's been trying to better her abilities, and has succeeded to a degree, but even in this, she has to rely on the help of others. They don't mind helping her, of course, but despite this she hasn't yet been able to solve a problem fully on her own - even while carrying Ko back from the forest, she collapsed on the last stretch.

She understands that if she wants to live here, she has to learn to fend for herself. She also has the how, now that she's taking training from Sara and Erk. But she doesn't have the why. She stays here... then what? What does she do? Makai's people don't need her, they've existed for centuries without her; it's only out of their kindness that she's even living here right now. So what should she do now? And why? Surely her trusted mother should, in her age and infinite wisdom, have an answer for her? Perhaps not the right one, perhaps not even close, but something, something more than "everything will be alright, let the grown-ups take care of everything"?

Far though Alice is from a complete breakdown, she's had more than enough trauma, I think, to have some degree of that existentialist depression that is ordinarily only the purview of teenagers. She's been distracted from truly considering all that has happened to her thus far, but now that she's actually thinking about it...

...it's likely to be the foremost question on her mind, beyond ephemeral issues that will only draw useless reassurances. The question is whether she's deep enough to run off her mouth about it right now even though she has someone waifing on her, or if she's just has that small niggling worry that makes her hesitate leaving the comforting presence of her mother just long enough to ask, hoping for understanding, for guidance, for a meaningful reply to question as vague yet as significant as, "What... what should I do?"
inb4 tl;dr

However, voting for more info on the situation in Makai to feed our nefarious plots is fine too~

>Indeed, I can, and do.
I'm not going to get my hopes up by contemplating the remote possibility that you were talking about the spoiler text.
>>No. 10779
Metabble must become the Mud-girls suit of valkyrie armor.
>>No. 10780
>>10779
Or we could ask her now to do that instead. Are we limited to only one question?

Yep, our very own Volumen Hydragyrum! What could possibly go wrong?
>>No. 10781
Speculation is great, but does not a vote make. If nobody settles on something concrete to ask, I'll be forging ahead with the default option (asking nothing). You've got 'till the end of the week now, no rush.

>Questions
Well sure, you can always try to ask more than one thing. It might even work, too. Or maybe you'll be shooed away after a few. Or maybe somebody will go off on a roaring rampage of destruction after your first question. Who's to say?
>>No. 10782
[X] Nope. It wouldn’t do to keep my tutor waiting, either.

All those concerns Alice has would be answered better by the people actually involved with them. Shinki may know everything going on, but not the details.

And Alice already knows what she should be doing: learn. Makai isn't some primitive agrarian society where even the children need to work for its continued survival. It was functioning quite well before she even arrived, so she has the chance to develop her talents and determine for herself what she wants to do with her life.
>>No. 10783
>>10778
>Will probably hop on whatever bandwagon rolls by
>Checks back in
>No wagons to band
Goddammit.

>>10782
>Holy shit you actually read that long ass thing I wrote.
Well, I acknowledge that Alice knows she has to learn and so on. But I suppose where we differ is that I feel she might not be entirely content to slowly determine what she wants to do with her life. Thus, given the opportunity to speak in seriousness to a mother figure, guidance in that regard would be the first thing she would ask for.

>>10781
>Speculation
More of a train of thought that I can't summarize into a write-in I find acceptable. I guess unless someone can come up with something better, for the sake of expedience, I'll go with:
[X] "What- what should I do now?"

>roaring rampage of destruction after first question
inb4 Reimiya 'Kureitsugu busts in and tries to kill Lady Al-Margatroi
>>No. 10784
[X] "What- what should I do now?"
>>No. 10785
[X] "What- what should I do now?"

>>10778
While I am hesitant to actually vote for this, I honestly feel it is better than running along. I also cannot think of anything better so I will be joining this bandwagon.
>>No. 10787
File 135062056936.jpg - (172.30KB, 600x600, life-cant-be-this-easy-can-it.jpg) [iqdb]
10787
I turned back around and tiptoed into the dining room.

“Oh? Did you forget something, Alice?”

“W-Well…” I brushed my bangs back and forth to delay as long as possible. When it became clear that Shinki would patiently wait for me to speak, I stumbled over my question. “What- what should I do now?”

The goddess blinked at me. “What do you mean?”

I looked away, unsure of where the question came from. I hadn’t thought it out. The words had simply come to me.

I certainly felt nervous, but I didn’t understand why. I might not have had years of experience living in Makai like I did in my village, but I had already adjusted to the goddess’ domain. In my short, active time in Makai I learned to recognize the idiosyncrasies of the environment. The benevolent demons were human-like, but held different beliefs than the villagers I had grown up with. The structures were varied, the utilities and activities strange. Even the dirt was different, redder and softer than anything else. Yet, the crystal hallways and sunless sky had become my new home in no-time flat. The beautiful ambient glow of Makai warmed me in ways the sun could not. The massive castle was insane, but far more exciting than the simple two-story house I grew up in.

Shinki and her family had done everything to ensure I felt welcomed, loved, and I held no doubt to the truth of it. Whether they were crazy or not, the demons living in Makai were genuine with their feelings.

Yet, something still bothered me. I couldn’t understand. Everything was provided for me, easily available with a bit of effort. Magic I could never dream of was going to become mine to wield, artifacts and techniques from generators past mine to grasp and learn.

“Alice, Sweetie, why are you crying?”

Shinki knelt down in front of me and brushed my face with her hand.

“I…I’m n-not d-doing anything…”

“Why do you think that? Aren’t you enjoying yourself?”

“Y-Yes, b-but…” My enjoyment? That meant nothing. Doctors healed people, guards defended them. Farmers provided for others, and teachers imparted their knowledge. Daddy introduced Outsider technologies and momma kept the village spiritually pure. Everybody contributed to the running of the village, somehow managing to work around my childish clumsiness and constant distraction. Yet they didn’t get what they worked hard for, what they deserved.

The demons of Makai didn’t need me to drag them down, either. I worried others and forced people to change their schedules because of my silly desires for what reason? My personal enjoyment?

It was worthless. Utterly worthless. I took and took and never gave back. What were the chances I could ever be useful? What would I ever offer to the demons that had been alive for ten times my possible lifespan?

“That’s not true at all, Honey.” Shinki hugged me. My spine tingled in memory, but I didn’t bolt. “You should know that isn’t true.”

I had been babbling, lost in thought and unable to control my voice. “W-What do I d-do, then? Huh? What?”

“You want a goal then, right? You can work towards helping me, then!” The goddess laughed and nuzzled my face with hers.

A sound halfway between sob and giggle left my mouth when the goddess’ silver man tickled my face. “What…do you mean?”

“I can’t do everything and you’re a talented child. I’ll be relying on your knowledge to help me out. All of my children will, too. Another mind to think problems through and another hand to fix them is always welcome.”

She made it sound simple. “I…can’t do that. Everybody has an amazing skill already.”

“That’s right Alice, everybody has a skill to offer, even you. My children keep telling me your magical skills will become top-notch in no time, far better than whatever control I have.”

Stories and personal experiences prevented me from protesting the goddess’ claim. Shinki’s power was certainly strong and controlled in some aspects, but definitely not others. “I guess.”

Shinki smiled and continued on. “If that goal is too far away, you should still be happy now. Don’t you know that it’s a child’s place to be spoiled? Doting on cute people like you is what we enjoy. You’re spreading happiness through the family, Alice. Don’t you think that’s important?”

“I spread happiness?” Making others feel content by acting selfish? It was ridiculous. It was…more likely than not. Taking care of others felt right.

“Still not convinced? Then how about this one – you’re human. Whenever we look at a problem in Makai, we look at it from a demon’s perspective, because that’s what we are. In a land full of demons, isn’t a human’s perspective unique?”

“That’s…true.” The silver-haired goddess cheered in success at my acquiescence.

“There you go, Alice. Live and enjoy yourself in the now and work towards the future. We’ll be with you every step of the way.” Shinki gazed into my eyes with a serious demeanor. “If you ever feel lost or worried, talk with us. We want to avoid any more grave mistakes. If anything ever bothers you, communicate the problem so we can listen, okay? And make sure to be happy, that’s the most important part!”

Shinki’s pep talk snapped me out of my funk, leaving me with a warm and focused mind. “I can do that!” I felt lighter after airing my concerns.

“Good. Now run along to your lesson.”

The goddess’ words beat back the concerns gripping my heart. They were still there, lurking in the shadows of my mind with other dark thoughts, but I could ignore them. If mom expected me to help her keep the family happy and problem free, I would try my best.

The run to my room was quick enough. There, I sat through an hour-long lesson on confusing decimals before saying goodbye to my eccentric teacher. Afterwards, it was a matter of changing clothes and crawling into bed. Metabble managed to crawl into bed with me, where I kept Luminita snugly tucked in my aems. I thought about kicking the slop of metal off but decided against it, instead tossing my blankets to the edge of the bed and curling up against the heated metal.

I fell asleep without guilt or worry.

---

“D-Damn it…” the girl cursed in between hacking coughs. She lay in the shadows of a bar, the alley filled with detritus and crawling with rats. It was far from her ideal choice of resting place, but her decision was forced; if she ran into any thugs or guards, she wouldn’t be able to handle them while sick.

Her body was aflame. Sweat seeped into every one of her ratty garments. Illness had laid her low, chained her to the gutters like the street rat she had become. The sickened days were worse than even her initial days living the streets, when the environmental shock was still in full effect. Then, at least, she had stumbled around, free to choose which obstacle she might blunder into.

In her disabled position, the girl had no such luck. Whatever fate decided to hand her she would have to accept.

The girl didn’t cry when she thought of her helpless situation. The slightly-educated farm girl she left behind might have, but the vagrant in her calmly dissected her chances. She was definitely running a fever that would kill her if it kept increasing. Yet, she had no way to alleviate it – only chance would save her from the sickness. Her position was just as bad. It amazed the girl that no raging drunkard had beat her to death in the alley, or that a roving press-gang hadn’t whisked her away. The girl was sure that if she wasn’t lying in the dank trash of society she could recover.

She wouldn’t beg for the divine to save her, though. It was not the gods, but her efforts that had provided any kind of life in the city. Any all-powerful forces had been absent in her new life.

Yet, to the girl it seemed as if the gods were finally out to get her. When she dared to defy the prison of a village they had placed her in, they saw fit to throw her to the gutters. When the filth of the city did not break her, they cosigned her to wasting illness. When the fever did not take her spirit, the gods sent in their divine messenger of punishment.

The balding man standing over the girl was the epitome of a pig: Disgusting, slobbering, and lecherous beyond comprehension. The girl had learned to recognize the self-important merchants on sight. The man in front of her was not a well-off trader, raking in the funds to reinvest and gain further capital, nor was he the honest kind of peddler putting in the miles to barely turn a profit. No, he was the worse sort, the merchant that marked up cheap knock-offs and swindled any customer he could. He was the man that scraped together every stolen and illicit coin to enhance his own appearance, aping the high class members of society. He saw himself important even while lauding his tales of finance to the disgruntled off-duty workers who were glad to have the man if only because he paid their drinks.


On any other day, the girl would have spat in his face and ran. His type had no spry guards to chase her, and whatever grudge he might develop could not be acted upon.

Unfortunately, the girl was in no such condition. The most she could do was struggle to her knees and cough in his direction.

“Feh, what a miserable wretch are you, eh?” The man nudged her face with the tip of his shoe. “Bad, bad, but a face you’ve got, don’tcha?”

His pudgy fingers cupped the girl’s chin. Sweaty palms caused her skin to shiver. “Not bad body. Not bad. I’ll pay yah girl. More’n a wretch like you’ll ever get.”

The girl coughed and then grinned. “I’m worth more then you can afford, fat man. Get the hell away from me.”

Drunken rage alighted in this pig’s eyes. “Fucking bitch, yah think yah have a choice?” The man lashed out with his foot, connecting with the girl’s chin and knocking her to the ground.

Overpowering strength pressed against the girl. She thrashed with as much energy as she could muster, dangling like a fish on the line once the man held both her wrists above her head. The girl was kept on her back, legs crushed underneath the man’s weight.

Despite the man grasping at her ragged clothing, the girl felt no fear. Only anger, rage at the indignity and her own inferiority. She hated, more than anything else. Her resentment for losing control, for being forced to suffer a fate she could not affect, incited her and drove her to madness. The girl’s mind lost itself in a spiral of emotion, bitterness increasing until it caused her to explode.

The disgusting feel of the man’s sweaty fingers crawling across her skin brought the girl back to reality with the fury of a dragon.

“STOP IT!”

Her voice took on a life of its own, the force of the shout far beyond what a sickly human could accomplish unaided.

Seconds ticked by before the girl realized that the hand grasping her thigh had indeed stopped.

The two figures in the alley froze in time, the tension of the situation dissipating. The man made no moves, and the girl grew uncomfortable waiting.

Narrowing her eyes at the man holding her down, staring at her body like a piece of meat, the girl spoke again. “Get off me, Creep.”

With unhurried movements, the drunken man rose to his feet and stood impassively over her.

Shakily sitting up, the girl picked up the torn fragments of her clothes before tossing them aside in disgust. Doing her best to cover her modesty, the girl glared at the man. “Step away-” she coughed, struggling to put the power back into her voice, “-from me you freak.”

The man accomplished her orders without fail. Suspicion was rife in the girl’s mind. “What kind of game are you playing? Give me your clothes.”

The girl’s vision darkened as a fine ramie kimono landed atop her head. Slipping the too large garment on, the girl’s mind raced with speculation about what was occurring.

In the end, her practical mind decided to work out the details later. “Help me out of this damn alley.” Surviving took priority above all else. She would capitalize on whatever strange occurrences she could, self-caused or not.


---

Despite the hubbub caused by the re-emergence of a long-thought eradicated disease, Makai quickly returned to regular activity. It surprised me, when I wandered the city in the following days, how the event seemed to such a non-issue for the demons.

“Oh, that incident? Bit of bad luck, I hear. How’s the girl doing, anyway?”

“It was tough using so much of my magic after a long while, but it was good practice I guess.”

“Don’t be scared, Kid, an accident with chances like that isn’t much of a problem to worry about.”

Even the individual who had arguably suffered the most had rebounded without fail. I made a point of visiting Ko as soon as possible, flying over to her house the day after her medical operation. Her parents, two arguably normal demons that looked nothing like the little devil, were delighted to let me in.

“Whoa Alice, pretty cool blobby-slime thing you’ve got here. Aw man, this is so warm; I would’ve killed for a blanket like this when the goddess decided to stir up a snow storm a while back.” My golem decided the best place to wait while I talked with Ko was right next to the girl lying in bed.

“Ko, that’s not important. What about you? Did everything go correctly?”

“Hey, I think the spell you’ve been preparing all week for is pretty important. As for me? Yeah, everything is fine. My leg has been itching like crazy after they cut it off, but I’ll be out of here in a few hours.”

“They cu-cut off your leg?”

“Well, yeah. Not just my leg, but a good section of my hip, too. And they apparently burned large amounts of my skin and flesh to get the rest of the disease out of me.”

Ko’s nonchalant descriptions made me shake my head in disbelief. “How does that even work?”

“Beats me, I’m not a doctor, but something they did was effective. As our resident magical prodigy, you should have a better idea than me.” The redheaded demon chuckled and joked around. Any of my fears for my friend were allayed with the visit, and I left with the both of us in good spirits.

Other than Ko, my other friends were in good condition as well. Sara showed up to our daily exercises and training as her usual chipper self. When I asked her what had happened during her aerial duel with Yuki, the pink-haired gatekeeper laughed it off. “Sorry if I worried you. I guess I’m a lot more tired than I used to be? Maybe flying back and forth from the surface in the morning is taking a lot more out of me than I thought.”

“That’s my fault, then? I don’t want to-”

“No, no! Stop that thinking, Alice. I’m the one that wants to help you out. I enjoy spending time with you, and it’s nice to see mother and everybody else more often.”

“Okay,” I sighed in acceptance, knowing that I was being rather silly by blaming myself so often. “Did you really not wake up when you hit the ground like htat?”

“Nope! The only thing that can wake me up is the smell of food!” The gatekeeper suddenly blushed and looked down. “Well, and some other stuff, but you don’t need to know about that.”

Why do they always do that? “No fair! Now I really want to know.”

“Too bad! I’ll tell you another day!”

As simply as that, my life returned to its new routine. A week after the disease incident I wondered about how seamless it was to bounce back after shocking events. Was it a demon thing or an adult thing? Was I already doing it, too?

Despite Ko’s hopeful prediction, she was not allowed out of her home immediately. Magicians erected a magical barrier around her house in order to ensure Ko couldn’t sneak out for a third time. There were cautionary tests that the doctors wanted to run to make sure Ko had healed back into perfect condition and analyze the disease.

With my buddy under extended house-arrest, that left me alone for the time before and after school. I ended up spending more time at my usual haunts as opposed to running around. Luckily, the clothiers, artificers, and other store owners I frequented were delighted with my prolonged visits. All manners of pretty new dresses, silly wind-up toys, and other shiny baubles that the demons thought I would enjoy came into my possession. On some days I needed to return to my room to drop off the goods before continuing my travel. When I told one of the carpenter demons about the problem, he decided to make me a new chest to store the items in my room. It was a nice sentiment, but completely missing the point. At least I found out that Metabble made transporting large items a breeze.

Since I hung out around all my favorite shops throughout the week, it was a complete shock when I showed up at my favorite café one day. The freestanding building, small and unassuming on the side of the busy street, was a wreck. The majority of the structure was intact but the roof had burned away. Looking at the insides through the glass windows, much of the furnishings had been reduced to char.

The proprietor and his daughter were standing around outside the husk of a building talking with a number of other demons.

The purple-haired daughter greeted me when I approached, cat-ears flat against her head and tail wrapped around her body. “Hello there Alice. Sorry we can’t serve you anything today, we ran into a bit of trouble.”

“What happened? You didn’t get hurt, did you?”

“No, thank goodness, the old man and I are okay. It was my fault, really. I’ve been feeling pretty sick, headaches and dizziness and the like, especially around closing. I forgot to turn off one of the fires, and well, this happened.”

“Around closing? But you don’t seem sick when you talk with me.”

“Excellent, my waitressing is still at one-hundred percent!” The cat-girl chuckled before grasping at her forehead. “Ow. It isn’t so difficult to entertain one little girl, right? I think if it were busier I would just keel over right there.”

“You should take some medicine then, it’ll make you feel better. Or maybe some nice tea? Candy makes me feel better!”

“Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.” The cat-girl unfurled her tail and used it tickle my nose. “We should be back up and running if you come by tomorrow, okay?”

My reply to the waitress was overwhelmed by a loud pair of shouting.

“It only goes to show how much of a brute you are to resort to such a low tactic!”

“Low tactic? You’re the one who ambushed me! Besides, shouldn’t your vaunted magic save you from some dirt?” Turning my head down the street, I saw Sara and Yuki going at it in their usual fashion while they walked.

“You blended in with the ground, you dirty cheater!”

“And you disguised yourself in the air, what’s the problem? And stop it with the terrible puns!”

“I’m not doing it on purpose! Stop trying to change the subject because you know you’re wrong!”

“I’m wrong? As if! You can ask anybody and they’ll agree with me.”

“That can’t happen because they will agree with me. Look it, there’s Alice. We’ll ask her.”

The arguing duo of demons swiveled from their walk down the street and headed towards me.

“Have fun with those friends of yours.” The waitress quickly tapped me on the back and retreated away from the oncoming storm.

“Alice!” Sara and Yuki shouted in sync.

“Red is better than black, isn’t it?”

“Black is better than red, right?”

The gatekeeper and the witch alternated between staring at each other and glancing towards me to hear my decision.

What? Why me? What in their minds labeled me as the arbitrator of truth? Nonetheless, I doubted I could ignore the problem away. It was a childish argument that I was apparently required to resolve. If I had to choose a color, the better option was…

[ ] Black
[ ] Red
[ ]

---

Never a useless vote around here, no siree. Still, this update…blaraghagh. It’s no fun to write in bits and pieces – feels like everything loses cohesion.

>No wagons to band
Well, ain’t that unfortunate? If I had any money to spend on advertising…probably nothing would change, but still. You are the chosen one, take up your mantle with pride.
>>No. 10788
>>10787
I honestly hoped that a better write-in would show up, as I was rather unsatisfied with mine. Well, at least my overly-long rambling seems to have helped a little in the writing, and the update went well enough. As for this one, would it be possible to dodge the question if we

[X] Break down into incoherent laughter at how silly they're being?

Otherwise, we're either going to have to make some diplomatic statement that both are just as good (which is boring and would totally ruin everyone's moods) or turn it into a joke by going for something completely different and unexpected. I'd make a reference to whatever colour Alice is normally associated with, but then I recall that she's the Seven-coloured Puppeteer. So for now, until I see what everyone else comes up with, I'll just suggest the obligatory default "suggest a colour" standby (which isn't actually a colour):

[I prefer] Plaid.

noofcourseI'mnotshippingAliceYuukawhateverwouldmakeyouthinkthat
If I actually manage to think of a colour I want to vote for, I'll make another post.
>>No. 10789
[X]Blue because its our color.
>>No. 10790
[x] Obviously they are both wrong, blue is better than black or red.

Because it is.
>>No. 10791
[x] White is better than either of those.

White is just as much current PC-98 Alice's color as blue is. (Her outfit is half white; plus, her title in Mystic Square was "Witch of Death" and white is associated with death.)
And also Yuki and Sara both have white parts of their outfits.

Thankfully Mai isn't here, so white doesn't have to be her.
>>No. 10792
[X] Break down into incoherent laughter at how silly they're being.
[X] Then kindly explain that they are both wrong, blue is much better than black or red.
>>No. 10793
[x] There's no color better then the other, they're all great.

More colors = better magic, c'mon read the wiki page.
>>No. 10794
[x] Rainbow is the best color.

Yes, rainbow is now a color
>>No. 10795
>>10793
[x] More colors the better!
>>No. 10796
[x] Do rainbows count? I like rainbows.
>>No. 10797
File 135087913948.jpg - (194.70KB, 600x500, time-to-catch-someone-fapping.jpg) [iqdb]
10797
The better option was obviously blue.

“Wha-hahaha-” I tried to restrain myself, to maintain some form of decorum. It didn’t work.

“Ahahaha- wha-what- hah- k-ki-ahahaha-” My laughing fit subsided after a minute. “What kind of question is that? Blue is obviously the best color.”

The two demons stared at me like I had fallen into madness. Eventually, Sara was the first one to ask, “Why, Alice? That doesn’t help us here, either!”

I tapped the tips of my fingers together and bobbed up and down on my tiptoes. “Well, all the colors are rather nice. That’s why rainbows are so pretty. But of all-”

“What’s a rainbow?”

My explanation was stopped in its track by Yuki’s question. “You…you don’t know what a rainbow is? It’s all the colors together, uhm, like this.” Clenching my hand, I tossed a lump of magic through the air, a beautiful miniature rainbow arcing behind it.

Yuki watched the artificial rainbow like a hawk before turning back to me. “Huh. That’s neat.”

“Uh-huh, rainbows are the nicest. After the rain stops they appear in the sky and make everybody happy. All the colors of the rainbow are wonderful, but blue is the best one. The blue water of the river running between your toes, the blue sky way up above you…they’re the best.” I reminisced, the happy memories of frolicking around in nature characteristic of my childhood. Shaking my head to clear my mind, I thought about my current situation. “The blue crystals of Makai are very pretty, too. Blue is nice and peaceful. I guess some people think its cold, but blue is a whole lot more than that.”

Yuki and Sara looked at each other, surprisingly calm. My words seemed to have a strange effect on the demons, pacifying them in an unexpected way.

The illusion of peace was shattered within a second. “Hah, she talked about the sky, I win!”

Sara stomped her foot, a tiny crater forming in the ground. “What? I thought you were supposed to be smart – she was talking about the surface’s sky, not ours!”

“Sky is sky, isn’t it? Color doesn’t matter. Get out of here dirt-eater, you lose!” Yuki zipped into the air and flew circles around Sara, eventually shoving the gatekeeper with a gust of wind.

“I…argh! This isn’t worth it. See you tomorrow Alice, enjoy yourself.” My pink-haired friend turned smartly on her heel and walked off.

“Um, bye Sara,” I called out to the girl. She waved a hand through the air but didn’t stop. I hope she isn’t mad at me. “Hey Yuki, why were you fighting with Sara?”

“Huh?” The speedy witch dropped back to the ground next to me. “Oh, that girl was leaving the city and trotted right through my magic circle! I scraped it in the dirt and she just plowed over it so I threw some lightning at her head.”

“And then?”

“Let’s see. She ate it, went down, and ran off. I thought she left like she should have but she actually doubled back and snuck up on me! She threw a huge clump of dirt at me, the muscular freak.”

I giggled, imagining Yuki covered in a fine second-skin of red dirt. “You didn’t stop her?”

“I didn’t see that tricky soldier girl crawling along the ground. After I hit the ground we rolled around a bit yelling at each other before heading back into the city.”

“So you two were fighting, stopped, and then started to argue?”

“That’s right. That gatekeeper wouldn’t agree that she cheated! We went over to the old lady’s place to ask her to settle it, but she wasn’t there.”

“Okay…” I dropped the subject. If the two demons wanted to bicker and compete over absolutely nothing, I hoped the best for them. “So, what are you doing now? Are you going to retry whatever ritual you wanted to do?”

“Nah, I’m not very motivated about it anymore. What’re you doing, Alice?”

“Well,” I stopped to consider the time. I had planned to sit around and snack, but with the café temporarily closed for business I decided to speed up my timetable. “I was going to go to Erk’s house a bit early.”

“For your lesson, right? Great, I’ll tag along! Maybe that prissy magician will have something new to show me.” Yuki grabbed my hand and pulled me along. She nearly landed face first in the dirt when she sneezed and tripped over the metal golem sloshing around her feet. Eventually, the witch settled for floating slightly off the ground to avoid any future entanglements. “Do you know what you’re doing? Maybe improving this guy some?”

“I don’t think so.” I stooped low to run my fingers through the metal undulating around my feet. Metabble’s form reminded me of gooey cheese when I lifted some into the air.
“There isn’t much I can add right now with what I know. I guess we’ll cover something new.” Erk and I were rapidly covering many different spells and basics in order to broaden my knowledge, but none of the new material I learned was applicable to improving my golem. Magical stitching of skin would almost never help the liquid blob, for example.

“That’s a bit boring. I could never be like you studious types that need to read all day.”

“Do you not study, Yuki?”

“Of course I study! Well, it’s practical study.”

I considered the blonde witch’s words in context of her personality. “That means you…just try your spell and see if it works? Over and over again?”

“That’s right! Well, I think a lot about it first, but there’s no better way to figure things out then trying, right?”

So reckless. Yuki’s method had merit, but I much preferred Erk’s tendency to plan and prepare. Spontaneity wasn’t bad, but I would leave it up to the more hyperactive individuals.

With easy talk distracting us, the walk over to Erk’s house felt quick. In addition, having avoided becoming embroiled in a petty argument, I arrived at Erk’s home earlier than expected. I hoped it wouldn’t be a problem for the magician and moved to knock on the door, but Yuki stepped in front of me.

Without a care, the blonde witch turned the handle and opened the door.

“Was…that locked, Yuki?”

“The door? Yeah, why?”

“I…you shouldn’t enter people’s houses without permission.”

“It’s fine. I’m sure he’ll let it slide once he sees you. Let’s go find that recluse!” The witch brazenly entered Erk’s home. I sighed and followed in her wake, making sure to gently close the front door and relock it.

Neither Erk nor Aht could be found in the ground floor rooms along the hallway. I cupped my hands around my mouth and tried to call out for my teacher, but my voice did not travel. I recognized Yuki’s magic surrounding my mouth, forming a spell of silence of some sort.

“Relax, Alice, you’ll ruin the surprise if you do that.” The witch chastised me made but did not remove the spell.

I glared at the demon and did my best to dispel the silence on my own. Without a formal spell to use, I brute-forced my way through the silence and slowly picked it apart, unraveling the magic layer by layer. It wasn’t much different from peeling an apple, if the apple had multiple layers of skin and I was using a blowtorch to peel it. Eventually, I managed to speak, “Yay!”

Yuki grinned and rubbed my head. “Wow, good going. That definitely wasn’t pretty to watch, but you did i-a-a-achoo!” The witch covered her mouth as she sneezed. “Sorry ‘bout that. I guess Sara is cursing me out right now, huh?”

“I don’t think she would do that.” Though, it was true that Sara’s vocabulary tended to include more insults when Yuki was around.

“Yeah, I’m sure the airhead has forgotten all about it. It’s probably just the cold that has been bothering me.” Turning back towards the stairs, Yuki waved her hand through the air. “So, up or down, Alice?”

The stairs leading up to the second floor bedrooms and down to the library basement awaited us. Listening to the silence, I thought I heard a thumping noise, like somebody stomping their foot.

If Erk couldn’t be found on the ground floor, then…

[ ] He was possibly in the basement
[ ] Maybe he was upstairs
[ ] I could just call out again, no matter what Yuki thought
[ ]

---

Partying hard is non-conducive towards writing updates.
>>No. 10800
[X] Alright gang, it's time to split up and search for clues!
[X] Yuki heads upstairs while you and Metabble search downstairs.
>>No. 10802
[x] Head upstairs.

>Partying hard is non-conducive towards writing updates.

Don't you mean 'conductive'?
>>No. 10803
[x] Try to follow the stomping sound.
[x] Stay together. It might not be Erk.

>>10802
Actually, they're two different words.
Something conducive encourages something.
Something conductive carries electricity.
>>No. 10805
[x] Head upstairs.
>>No. 10806
[X] Alright gang, it's time to split up and search for clues!
[X] Yuki heads upstairs while you and Metabble search downstairs.

God dammit dont let Alice go upstairs, she doesnt need to see Erk fucking his mudgirl.
>>No. 10807
[X] Alright gang, it's time to split up and search for clues!
[X] Yuki heads upstairs while you and Metabble search downstairs.

because down is always better.
>>No. 10808
>>10806
What if it's with Sierra instead?
>>No. 10810
>>10803
Huh... You learn something new everyday.
[X] Try to follow the stomping sound.
>>No. 10811
Calling the vote here. Time to stick all the votes in a blender and see what comes out of it. Exercising authorial power for maximum carnage!

>Learning vocabulary
Congratulations! That’s one more useful thing than what I learn in my classes.
>>No. 10818
File 135131380918.jpg - (284.66KB, 600x848, why-is-everybody-so-lewd.jpg) [iqdb]
10818
I looked upwards, staring at the ceiling in a futile attempt to identify the noise I heard. “I think I’ll go check upstairs, Yuki.”

“Upstairs? Let’s go!”

“Wait!” I grabbed onto the witch’s skirt and pulled her back. “Someone should check downstairs, too. We’ll find Erk faster that way.”

“Ahaha, is that what you think, Alice? Sure, sure, you can go explore the…noise, upstairs. In the bedrooms. Alone. Have fun!” The witch waved goodbye and jumped, flying down the stairs to the basement.

“She’s really weird, don’t you think, Luminita?” My doll nodded her head, twirling her fingers around to call the witch loopy. Metabble gurgled from around my feet. “I’m glad you two agree.”

I climbed the steps and listened. It became obvious that some commotion in the storage room at the end of the hall was the source of the noise. Making my way over, I stopped next to the pair of bedroom doors. While one was close, the other was half-open. A wet cough had attracted my attention, more noticeable than the thumping and crashing from further away.

Curious, I poked my head in.

The bedroom door swung open silently, the hinges kept clean and greased. The sound of my footsteps was muffled as well, an accidental side effect of mixing bare feet with a metal golem that stuck to me like glue.

My near-noiseless movement gave me a second to see. My eyes worked quickly to take in the unusual sight.

The blood-red splotches contrasted sharply with the rest of the white sheets. The slight odor of blood mixed with sweat and vomit. My teacher’s naked form, lying on the bed with glowing arms held tightly at his sides, with throbbing red flesh twisting back together around the stomach. I didn’t blush in the slightest; I barely looked at his body. Erk’s face, contorted in agony, had my full attention.

In the same moment I saw him, he saw me. His mouth moved rapidly, a dozen non-words spoken in an instant. Then he disappeared.

A second later the demon reappeared, standing at the side of his bed geared in his regular blue tunic and red robe. “Alice,” Erk greeted me, “you’re early today; I’m glad to see how eager you are to learn.”

The purple-haired demon standing in front of me was the picture of calm, of normality. If I had met him on the street, I wouldn’t have thought anything the matter. But that isn’t…

I didn’t respond to my teacher. I paid no attention to pleasantries, no matter how rude it might have been. I ignored my five senses entirely, instead focusing towards my sixth.

It was easiest to describe the magic I felt as colors. Having worked closely with Erk for hours at a time, I was able to recognize his unique blend of purple. It pervaded his spells and grew darker when in greater concentration.

Gazing at the light purple cloud swirling in front of me, I dismissed it from my mind. The magical apparition, the deception, was quick and dirty. The wisps of purple that floated around me were meaningless, the message carried they carried true but the source of sound false. The spells meant to deceive were ignored. Instead, I spun slowly and tracked the purple haze wafting through the room; excess energy, spent energy, from an inefficient spell.

The effects of his hastily cast spell were on par with what I could achieved after an hour to prepare. Thanks to Erk’s constant drilling of the fundamentals, I could see through his own rushed attempts at illusion. Using the concepts that Erk had employed to foil my own beginning attempts at invisibility and phantasms was effective enough.

Stopping my spin, I gazed at the darkened blob waiting by the open door. It might have made a move to leave, but instead shook and weaved in the doorway. “Erk, you…”

Frowning, I carefully edged past my invisible teacher and sat down in the hall. What would confronting the man so obviously hiding from me do? Bringing my knees up to my chest, I idly fussed over Luminita and played with Metabble.

Ten seconds later, Aht came thumping down the hallway with a crystal vial in hand. The mud girl slowed momentarily when she passed by me but didn’t stop, instead rushing into the bedroom.

The door closed with a slam, and I waited.

Ten minutes later, the real Erk came striding out of his room, Aht cheerfully following in tow. The pair stopped before me. “I’m sorry about that, Alice. I was…”

Words trailed off into oblivion. Erk lost his voice when he looked at me. I stared up at the demon, resting my head sideways atop my knees.

Blinking twice, I sighed and stood up. Shaking my body once, I smiled at my teacher. “Hi Erk! I hope you’re not mad, but Yuki did something to your door and is downstairs doing-”

“Look what I found, Alice!” The witch jettisoned upwards from the stairs, bouncing against the ceiling before landing gracefully. She had an amulet in hand, a copper skull encircled by twisting snakes.

Yuki quickly lost possession of the magical jewelry when Erk took it from here, a hand covered in flame causing the witch to yelp. “This is not for you to play with. I have not even begun the initial tests of this.”

“It’s just supposed to redirect energy to your core or something, right? What’s there to test?”

“As expected, your inelegant observations missed the mark. Other than the dozens of inaccuracies with your statement, you managed to get something as simple as the direction of energy flow wrong. I’m amazed.”

“It’s not like I need trinkets like that, right?” Shrugging off the insults Yuki bent over and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “So Alice, did you catch Erk in the act? I never took him for such a perv.”

When her comments incited no response, no reaction, the witch frowned and glanced between us. Erk’s serious demeanor and my own forced-happy face gave the witch pause. “Ooookay, I’ll leave you two to it.” Yuki made an expeditious retreat down the stairs.

Despite her declaration, I knew there was nothing to work out. I followed after the blonde cannonball, Erk and Aht falling into step behind me. “Alice,” the magician paused, unsure of what to say.

With Metabble supporting my legs and essentially carrying me down the stairs, I turned around to face my teacher even as we descended. “Yes?”

“I…”

“Don’t want to tell me anything? Or maybe everything is okay and there isn’t a problem? I shouldn’t worry? It’s not like what I think really matters.” I spat the words out.

Useless, useless, useless. I was frustrated at everything. Even after my talk with the goddess and after listening to the support from all my friends, I was frustrated. I understood Ko’s pain of being treated as a child far too well. I had developed my impressive skills in eavesdropping for a reason.

Slapping my cheeks lightly, I took a deep breath and regained control of my tone. “Sorry. I don’t mind. If it was important you would tell me, right?”

“I…” The demon looked disgusted. I could have punched him in the gut and he would have appeared less conflicted.

No answer was forthcoming until the magician’s hand began to glow red. The light pulsed, the magician wincing with every wave. After five steady beats it stopped and the purple-haired demon answered me. “Yes, of course I would. Secrecy hurts, doesn’t it?”

When we reached the ground floor, Yuki yelled at us from one of the rooms in the house. “Erk, where do you keep the good stuff?”

“Nowhere! Get out of my house! We’ll be leaving momentarily, and I don’t want you rummaging around.”

“What? That’s no way to treat a guest, sheesh.” The witch grumbled and appeared in the hallway, stalking out through the front door.

Once the front door closed, Erk spoke to me. “Now then, Alice, shall I explain?”

“You’ll…explain?” I couldn’t keep the disbelief out of my voice. I was positive that Erk planned to brush the incident off.

“If you wish to hear it.” After I nodded in skeptical confirmation, Erk continued. “Very well. To be frank, then. My body appears to be consistently failing at semi-periodic time intervals. I believe it was my liver that, for a lack of better terminology, exploded. My diagnosis spells were not precise enough to give me a better understanding before I was forced to heal my injury.”

“N-No way!” Erk winced at my shout. “Why aren’t you seeing a doctor? I’ll go find Serra or Cosette or someone right now! You go sit back down!”

The magician raised both of his hands to placate me. “Calm yourself, Alice. Informing one of them is the last option I seek to employ at the moment. I have already imbibed a rather potent elixir that seems to have completely cured the problem.”

My shrill voice made my own ears ring. Even if the demon was looking as healthy as ever, I still remembered the shocking condition I had found him in. “That’s not right at all! You shouldn’t be risky like that. And if this has been happening all the time, why don’t you see someone about it? It’s dumb to wait!”

“Indeed, my health suffers for this. However, these strange medical occurrences are symptoms of a larger problem that I need to understand.”

“A larger problem? Do you know why this is happening to you?”

“Not exactly. I have reason to believe it is related to my current research in some way. Suffering these minor accidents is necessary until I understand the problem.”

I puffed my cheeks out and blew a raspberry and the dumb male. “That’s stupid. Why can’t you ask someone else to help you?”

“If I were to inform others, would they not have the same opinion as you? If they stopped my research, I would be no closer to understanding what is wrong with the procedures I thought safe.”

All the tools in my arsenal would not persuade the magician, I could tell. The demons of Makai were far too resistant to my childish wiles. I hugged Luminita closer to my chest and sighed. “Promise you’ll ask for real help if it gets worse?”

Erk ruffled my hair. “You have my word.”

I nodded in contentment and then sent Metabble surging into Erk’s knee, knocking the magician over. Quickly scrambling out the door, I called back, “That’s for worrying me and acting so sketchy!”

Yuki greeted me when I barged outside. “Get everything sorted out?”

“I guess.”

The purple-haired magician came hobbling out of his home a few seconds later, gingerly supporting himself on Aht’s shoulder. Doing his best to look composed, Erk addressed me in his teacher voice. “I hope you do not mind a bit of travel for today’s lesson, Alice.”

“We’re going somewhere? Cool!” Everybody ignored the excitable witch standing off to the side.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“A field trip, if you wish to call it that. I’ve arranged a visit in order to help you understand the more physical aspects of your magic.”

“Okay. Is it far?”

“It is not a long flight, out past the forest and into Makai. If you don’t feel comfortable traveling that far yet, then we can-”

“I’ll do it.” I interrupted Erk and hopped into the air. Magic power brimming at my fingertips, I wanted nothing more than to test what I had learnt from weeks of tutelage specifically tailored towards helping me cope with the dangers of Makai.

“That’s the spirit, Alice!” Yuki cheered me on. Whether Erk wanted her there or not, the witch would join us for the trip. In the corner of my mind, I was glad to have another person looking out for us.

“Very well. Aht, if you would please guide Alice’s golem if it veers off course?” Our small group took to the air and followed Erk’s lead. The artificial members of the group were land-bound but managed to follow along well enough, able to run as fast as our leisurely flight took us.

We made quick time flying over the top of the crystal forest. Even after the numerous incidents that occurred in it, the crystalline trees were pristine. Any evidence of magical fires scorching the earth was non-existent.

On the far side of the forest, all damage had also been repaired. The gouge in the trees torn away by Iris was non-existent, having been filled with replacements. The clean, red dirt in front of the forest held no remembrance to the graveyard of blue crystal that had fallen upon it.

Our flight took us past the tall stone tower that Maria had been praying in. I asked about the dozens of strange sights I saw in the distant, from the marsh-like terrain to the giant turtle shell. Eventually, we lowered to the ground near a building, centered on a crater in the ground.

The structure was large enough. Industrial looking with two floors and numerous windows, a single smoke stack stood attached to the building, inert. Tracks led from a steel door and looped around the building and sloped down through a hole in the crater. It was a factory of some sort.

We stood in front of a wide double door for half a second before it slammed open.

A demon stepped outside to greet us. Another blonde…have I seen her before?

“Welcome to Ironside Solutions! We are grateful for your visit today, Ladies and Gentleman.” The demon, dressed primly in a suit, gave us a deep bow.

I stared at her features, working backwards through my memories. The lively, attentive demon standing before us was a stranger, but I could see some similarities in her features. “Thank you…Luize?”

“You’re welcome, Miss Margatroid. It brightens my day to know that you remember me.”

“I do, but it was kind of difficult to figure it out. You aren’t, exactly, um…”

“Luize knows when to maintain the façade of a businesswoman and when she can slack. I presume you have met her when she was in the latter state?” Erk asked me with a smirk.

“I make sure to remain professional when dealing with clients.” Luize almost glared at Erk. “May I ask if you have decided on a course of action for today’s events?”

“Not yet. I was planning on allowing Alice the choice.”

“Choose what?”

Luize used my question to launch into a speech. “Ironside Solutions is Makai’s premier company dealing in metallurgy. Out here at on of our operation centers, we both extract ores from the mines below us with innovative technology and then process the metals in our very own foundry, a facility modeled to the most modern standards availble.”

The sales pitch put Luize’s business in the utmost light, although I wondered how many other demons had wanted to set up mining operations in the first place. “What am I choosing?”

“My most recent and highly valued client contacted me in regards to a tour of the facility. The processes we use in every stage of production are what set us apart from the competition. Informing clientele about our methodology in order to foster greater understanding is a service we are willing to provide.

“As this facility is distinctly separated into mining and refining operations, each with its own intricacies, the choice of which area to explore lies with you. While reviewing the entire facility is not out of the question, I believe that with the addition of the practice your instructor would like to include, an entire tour might turn into a grueling all-day affair, an exercise you may wish to avoid.”

“I see.” With metal as my element, it made sense to try and understand more about it before learning more complex spells.

Given the choice, I thought that it was better to explore the…

[ ] Mines and get a feel for the raw materials and their extraction
[ ] Factory in order to see how metals could be refined and shaped
[ ]

---

I hope I don't lose power. Writing these updates by hand would break me.

To be clear on the votes, four for heading upstairs was a minority majority (two for actually going upstairs and two for following the noise, upstairs).

Then came the Scooby-Doo split, which I used because it held the majority in regards to party management.
>>No. 10819
I don't see much room for write-ins here, so

[X] Factory

We need to make her constructs more efficient, or she'll never be able to keep them up.
>>No. 10820
[x] Mines

We need to get a firm hold over the basics before we can move onwards.
>>No. 10821
[X]Factory/Refinery.
Better understanding of how to make metals metals will be the most helpful, we can investigate mining itself later. Perhaps even make an appointment to receive the tour at a later date and time.
>>No. 10822
[x] Mines
>>No. 10823
Blah blah vote now I’ll call it sometime later if there isn’t an insurmountable lead. I’ll try to get the next update out before my house floods or something.
>>No. 10824
[x] Factory and refining metals
>>No. 10825
Called. I doubt there would be many more votes than this, but better safe than sorry.
>>No. 10826
File 135148628072.jpg - (132.71KB, 850x637, lack-of-appropriate-midboss-pictures-so-sad.jpg) [iqdb]
10826
It was better to explore the factory. Learning how metals could be extracted from the earth sounded important, but ultimately unnecessary for me. I didn’t need to pull metal from the ground myself; magically produced substitutes or the blob of metal following me around would work in a pinch.

“Can we see inside this place?”

“An excellent decision, Miss. If you all would follow me then we can begin immediately.” Luize held the door open for our entire group as we entered the building.

The inside of the large structure was entirely unexpected. Compared to the relatively clean and empty exterior, the inside was a mechanical mess. Tracks and rails covered all of the floors, walls, ceilings, and even airspace as lengths were suspended midair. Mining carts were the smallest pieces moving around; large cauldrons and cranes were constantly repositioning themselves. Giant rollers and thumpers spun and clanged, conveyor belts moving all manners of raw material and finished goods to and fro. Jets of flame bellowed next to bath furnaces, yet the heat was surprisingly manageable. The noise of large metal drivers slamming down and high-powered torches welding metal was distinctive but not ear-splitting. The uncomfortable elements of the factory were dampened by magic.

Luize led us around the machines, walking up and down the metal walkways crisscrossing the interior. All of us were quiet, even Yuki, while we listened to our guide talk. “As you can see, the operations we conduct here are extensive. As an all-in-one facility we offer goods from raw materials to finished products or any step in between.”

Our demon guide stopped and raised her hand outward. The professional tour ran like clockwork as a dozen goods rose into the air in front of us. It was a spectrum of products, starting with unidentifiable rocks and ending with a mechanical typewriter.

What was strange was how the items were floating in the air. They were held aloft by Luizes; ethereal, translucent Luizes in sundresses. Their faces ranged from bored to aggravated, their blue hair styled in a dozen different ways.

The obviously magical beings drew the attention of the group more than the mundane products ever could. “Clones? No, not quite,” Yuki reached out and poked one of the floating not-Luizes holding an iron bar. The not-Luize scowled and nearly slapped the witch’s hand, but was stopped mid-movement by the real Luize.

The two Luizes whispered furiously before breaking apart. The doppelganger looked suitably chastised and floated with a frown.

Yuki nodded and rubbed her chin. “Independent reaction, huh? With these levels of energy…semi-corporealized phantasms linked to your unconscious?”

“Similar to my own conclusions, but with the variance in demeanor I would be more inclined to point towards personality fragments.” Erk chimed in with his own opinion, the two sorcerers comparing their thoughts.

The fact that I wasn’t completely lost by their words delighted me.

“Master, I don’t get it~” Some members of our group, however, were not so lucky.

Erk rubbed his servant’s head in pity, the mud girl as content as a cat. “Luize here seems to have split her psyche, her personality, into separate magically-produces bodies. Although for what reason and how it affects her I cannot definitively say.”

“The customer is always right, as they say; although I do not believe they meant it this manner.” The blonde businesswoman waved away her copies, each of the ghost-like figures disappearing in a glare of white, the objects they held plummeting out of sight. With the lack of clattering, I assumed the falling goods had been caught in some way or another.

We started to walk again while Luize explained. “This facility is modeled stringently upon the most modern processes available, specifically upon what we were able to discover of the outside world. Granted, the facility is more compacted than what is possible for most and there were other factors that have been compensated for with magic, but we have remained as faithful as reasonably possible. As such, a workforce to run the machinery became a necessity.”

“And nobody other than you wants to do this kind of stuff. Makes sense.” Yuki’s comment struck Luize in the heart, the businesswoman wincing at the blunt truth.

Erk quested after knowledge, perhaps not tactfully but at least less confrontationally. “Does splitting yourself not weaken you? I cannot imagine how you keep this facility in one piece with such measures.”

“There is no problem with our security. Should a pack of rust monsters or some such decide to bear down upon us then the workers are able to repel any assault. Every loss only increases the strength of our defense.”

“But then everything grinds to a halt until you come out and replace everybody, right?” At the rate Yuki was pounding into Luize, I was afraid our guide would topple over the side of the railing.

Luckily, the words were not enough to defeat Luize. Her strained smile was on the edge of breaking, but the blonde demon continued our tour and brought us down to ground level in order to examine the machinery in depth. I studiously paid attention while the demon explained to me how she went about creating alloyed metals and forming working products. Erk made sure to interject occasionally, drawing comparisons that I could easily follow and jot down for notes. The time flew by as we visited station after station, the miniscule variations in heating and elemental compositions being explained. Even if I couldn’t understand the material at that moment, it would be excellent information to have written down at a later date. Instead of perusing dozens of books in a library, all the pertinent material I might need would be stowed away in a single volume.

“And this concludes the end our tour. Thank you for joining us today. If you would like, we have prepared a complimentary meal for all.”

“Yeah! Food beats boring lectures any day.” The rest of the group followed the speedy witch at our own pace, arriving in the cordoned off area in good time. A cafeteria table had been laden with food and parked in the corner of the facility. The world became quieter and cooler once I crossed over the caution lines painted onto the ground.

The four living members of the group attacked the food. Walking and talking in the heated room had been taxing.

“As nice as this was,” Yuki commented between bites of her sandwich, “if you’re going to talk shop again for another hour I’ll be heading out.”

Fears were allayed with a shake of Erk’s head. “I was planning on magical exercises. I believe this would interest you?”

The witch’s head swayed back and forth like an upside-down pendulum. “What kind? Something boring I bet.”

“Being able to increase the effectiveness of Alice’s golems and magical control at once is hardly boring. Considering the nature of our visit, a lesson in explosions as you would like is hardly pertaining. Creating strengthened articulated parts would be an excellent step towards a more advanced construct.” My purple-haired teacher emphasized his point with a small illusion, a metallic doll appearing and walking stiltedly across the table like a clockwork toy.

“You’re crazy, Erk. I can think of plenty of interesting spells Alice could learn from this trip. That laser thing over there is particularly inspiring.”

Luize broke into the conversation, her professional demeanor strained with every one of Yuki’s comments. “Our carbon dioxide laser is hardly meant for your destructive tendencies.”

“No? I think it’d be pretty neat to super-charge that thing! It looks right up our little Genius’ alley, too. Or she could make her own. Actually, that’s even better!”

“I am unsure if my opinion would hold sway, but I believe Miss Margatroid would be well-off in manufacturing what can be found on these blueprints.” Luize pulled a roll of paper out of her jacket and spread it across the table, a strange device I hadn’t seen before drawn across it. “It would be a safer alternative to whatever destruction you seek to create.”

“How terrible, Luize, trying to force your work on a kid.”

“If this were an order we could easily fulfill it!” The blonde demon took a deep breath and spoke with her eyes closed. “I am sorry if my opinion is unnecessary, but I feel that focusing wholly on mechanical constructs would bolster Alice’s understanding of the material she wishes to work with.”

“Or maybe it will just-”

Erk cleared his throat and interrupted the two other girls. “This is hardly a point of contention. We will not force any unwanted plans.” The magician waited until I finished the croissant in my hand to address me. “What do you think, Alice? How do you wish to use your practice time?”

My learning, my decision; Erk was an excellent mentor in that regard. I thought that…

[ ] Improving my golems in any way possible was important
[ ] Having a few self-made tools on hand would help out in unexpected situations
[ ] Crafting outsider machines would teach me greatly
[ ]

---

Speed, short, fast, goooooo!

Ahem. Hopefully I’ll be working towards the next update in a timely manner instead of sitting in the darkness.
>>No. 10831
[x] Crafting outsider machines would teach me greatly

I'd like to do the laser beams, But I wanna stay on this path then stray.

Also, something I thought up, Metabble is a part of Alice, right? What if its a representation of her childlike innocence, And it gets lost/dies in Makai later, forming the Alice we know today? Just a random thought.
>>No. 10832
Hmm, write-in? Alright then - assuming Luize actually knows a thing or two about what she's making rather than just copying wholesale, then perhaps...

[X] Incorporating the architectural theories from the Outsider machines into the designs of my constructs could help reinforce their structures while cutting down on the required material and strain on my magical reserves. (Then, I could cast my spells more quickly, or otherwise put more facets into their designs.)
-[X] However, I'd find some spare time to practice with the blueprints, and possibly return at a later date to seek advice to improve on whatever results I'd have. Assuming Luize didn't mind me taking the blueprints from the premises, of course.

>>10831
Well, regarding that thought, I would think that while Metabble could well be a representation of Alice's innocence, its destruction wouldn't likely be the (direct) cause of her transformation to Windows Alice. After all, a representation is just that; while Metabble may channel Alice's childishness, it probably isn't an actual container for that part of her psyche. Alice demonstrates that she retains plenty of that even past Metabble's creation.

Not to say that she can't modify her constructs some time in the future, of course...

>>No. 10836
[X] Incorporating the architectural theories from the Outsider machines into the designs of my constructs could help reinforce their structures while cutting down on the required material and strain on my magical reserves. (Then, I could cast my spells more quickly, or otherwise put more facets into their designs.)
-[X] However, I'd find some spare time to practice with the blueprints, and possibly return at a later date to seek advice to improve on whatever results I'd have. Assuming Luize didn't mind me taking the blueprints from the premises, of course.
>>10832
This anon appears to know their stuff. Have a vote.
>>No. 10842
>>10836
Not really. The idea basically boils down to:
Making physical components to produce energy makes no sense since there'd be energy lost in the process (goddamn laws of thermodynamics); Alice might as well just directly cast a spell to create a beam.
If there are blueprints, working on them now would be a waste since Alice could, with Luize's permission, just keep them and work on them any time.
But while Alice is here, perhaps Luize could give her advice on her constructs?
Then, I just thought their structures would be the most useful and obvious thing to work on.


And we have 3 different people helping, so we could potentially get a hilarious scene boiling down to
>Luize: Triangles! You need triangles and circles everywhere!
>Alice: What.
>Yuki: Hmm, looking at that, those triangles form a regular hexagram, don't they? You could hollow out this profile lengthwise to make runes for a magic circle to strengthen it via ambient magic-
>Erk: No, if you modified the runes like so, you could have each side double up for the edges of two separate hexagrams , forming continuous interlocking circles...
>Alice: Whoa, slow your roll guys, I can only copy so fast.
>>No. 10847
[X] Incorporating the architectural theories from the Outsider machines into the designs of my constructs could help reinforce their structures while cutting down on the required material and strain on my magical reserves. (Then, I could cast my spells more quickly, or otherwise put more facets into their designs.)
-[X] However, I'd find some spare time to practice with the blueprints, and possibly return at a later date to seek advice to improve on whatever results I'd have. Assuming Luize didn't mind me taking the blueprints from the premises, of course.

A little complex for my tastes but I can deal.
>>No. 10849
[x] Having a few self-made tools on hand would help out in unexpected situations

wasted vote in the fact of whatever bandwagon is going on.
>>No. 10857
File 135197578227.jpg - (372.43KB, 573x763, surely-nothing-bad-will-happen-here.jpg) [iqdb]
10857
I thought improving my creations, working on what I excelled at, was the best idea. Luckily, there were new and exciting ideas outside of Erk’s books right in front of me.

Looking at the large blue scroll Luize had provided, I stared intently at the white lines that happened to form shapes and characters. The general design made sense; the idea of a horseless carriage, a car, was not unknown to me. I could understand the concept as a whole, but the specifics were another matter entirely.

“Luize, what’s a…crumple zone?”

“It is a portion of the car that is specifically designed to deform in a controlled manner upon impact in order to reduce the energy of collision and protect the driver inside.”

I rotated the blueprints around in a circle. “So it’s a part that breaks because it’s supposed to?”

The blonde businesswoman nodded. “That’s correct. I suppose that this isn’t exactly helpful to you, is it?”

“But it can be! What if I put this on a really big golem, instead of trying to put on a barrier spell? It might be easy to fix this kind of damage! Oh! Is there a metal that can crumple really easily and straighten out again?”

I saw the endless possibilities of what Luize suggested to me. The discolored fragments of Luize cleared the table for us to plan and work. Erk provided magical expertise, Luize material expertise, and Yuki inane yet inspirational ideas with occasional tidbits of solid magical advice. My hands recorded all of the theories that were explained to me into my diary-notebook. In the air around me and directly on top of the table, magical lights traced into existence the dozens of mental images I held.

“So if I use a really large strengthened spring like this, then the golem could strike like this and then pow! Off with their head!”

“You could do much better than a spring-powered punch, Alice. If I recall correctly, a rocket-powered fist is not unknown to Outsiders.”

“Rocket-powered? Like, explosions and fire? That’s cool! It could fly around and I could guide it with a spell!”

“Perhaps not even guide it, Alice. Providing a target and return point and imbuing those two locations in such a projectile would not be complicated; such a feature could be inscribed into your golem without worry.”

“Why would you even need for it to return? Just have it explode on impact! If it doesn’t take out what you want it to, you can easily throw in a few secondary explosions. Nobody would expect it!”

Our theory crafting took much more time than any actual work. Eventually we reigned in the loony ideas once they grew too wild for my tastes. Causing the entire world to explode via a chain reaction of fiery metallic hands punching towards the center of the Earth was a bit much.

Once I began to practice improving my control, the less interested members of our party wandered off. Yuki, Aht, and the dozen copies of Luize who had finished their work all went outside to mess around.

Without the clanking of machinery the interior of the factory was almost tranquil, causing every one of my slip-ups to take center stage.

Hot liquid metal slopped onto the ground. I squeaked and yanked my feet into the air; manipulating molten material with bare feet wasn’t the smartest idea.

Luize reached down with a pair of tongs and picked up the burned-through metal I had conjured. “Your conjuration was too weak, I suppose. It looks like carving a mold out of real metal is what you’ll have to work with.”

“Perhaps if you try a purely magical mold as opposed to a substitute?” Erk waved his hand and created a rainbow-light vase. “Force walls have a longevity that would not require intense concentration and also should withstand the necessary heat.”

“Oh, that’s pretty! I can do that!” Trial and error work progressed as I experimented with a variety of techniques.

Problems abounded when creating more and more advanced golems. The major problem I ran into was a rather simple one, the shaping of materials. It was not as simple as imagining a hand and creating one; more often than not, the minute details were incorrect and ruined the image of the work. Taking a metallic hand for example, fingers were too pudgy, or the palm was not smooth. Once I began to focus on the mistakes, I would accidentally cause other parts of my golem to run and create an unsightly slur down the side of the wrist.

The solution, as Luize proposed, was mimicking traditional processes of metalworking: casting. In physical terms, that would be preparing a mold and then pouring the desired material into it.

After working out the kinks, I could form relatively blemish-free products all on my own. Metals conjured out of the magic in the air, heated into a liquid, poured into a magic-force mold and then rapidly cooled for a final product. Even with all the additional steps, I still achieved the end result faster than if I levitated an every-morphing hunk of metal in the air.

“And…done.” I sighed and slumped back onto the ground, the constant concentration required to hold all of the components in place mentally exhausting, if not magically. My work completed, I twisted the key to my creation and placed it on the ground.

The tiny automobile trundled rolled forward, the brass key sticking out of the back turning innocently in place.

Applause resounded from my two mentors. “Excellent job.”

“This is high quality work; the detail is astoundingly close to the image I had shown you.”

“Thanks! Your methods really helped me a lot, Luize. It’s a lot easier to worry about the metal and the shape separately.”

“Think nothing of it. We seek to provide only the highest quality services, be it consulting or otherwise,” the blonde demon winked at me, “it helps that you’re adorable.”

“I appreciate your help in this matter as well. I’m afraid knowledge of mundane processes is out of my area of expertise.” Erk shut his own notebook while he thanked Luize.

“It is no problem. Will you be looking for further guidance later?”

“Yes, I believe so. What do you think, Alice?”

“Uh-huh. I’ve learned a whole lot today! There’s still so much more to learn, though. And…learning more about the Outside is nice.”

Luize graced me with a real smile, lazy and emotional instead of proper and business-like. “Then I can easily find more time in my schedule. We have, of course, barely scratched the surface of all the knowledge available to us. I’ll make sure to re-familiarize myself with a variety of topics. Until such a time, would you like to keep these?”

I gathered up all of the written materials Luize had provided, from the construction blueprints to charts relating the properties of metals and alloys. “Is that okay?”

“Cetainly. I can always have more copies-”

The rest of Luize’s statement couldn’t be heard over the ear-throbbing explosion. My vision became tinged with blue as a magic circle sprung into existence around our feet and cast a glow on the rest of the factory.

“What was that?” I jumped to my feet, any trace of exhaustion flushed out by adrenaline.

Luize glanced about warily. “I don’t know, but one of my aspects would be reporting to me if they could.”

“An attack, then?” Erk drew his conclusion while he stood. The magician had been touching up the magic circle he inscribed on the ground. “I imagine the explosion was Yuki; that girl would certainly respond with overwhelming force in any situation. I shall investigate.”

“I’ll go with you. This is my property somebody is destroying after all.”

“Wait,” I spoke, “what about me?”

“You should stay here, Alice. I am unsure of what awaits us outside but there is a chance of danger. Waiting for us to return would be the safest bet; this circle should repel any and all creatures with hostile intent.” Erk delivered his opinion and turned away, striding towards the door outside.

Luize stripped off her suit jacket and laid it on the table. “If you’re worried, Alice, don’t be. Whatever has decided to visit this facility should pose no serious threat – we deal with all of the common wildlife in these parts on a regular basis.”

The businesswoman turned to follow Erk, leaving me behind. Throwing my toy car into a pocket, I watched the two demons pull further away from me. With Luminita held tightly to my chest and Metabble sloshing around my feet, I…

[ ] Stayed inside and…
-[ ] Waited within Erk’s circle
-[ ] Wandered around the factory
-[ ]
[ ] Hurried to join Erk and Luize
[ ] Snuck outside on my own
[ ]

---

>Energy loss
While creating a magic laser gun to shoot lasers is certainly less efficient than doing it yourself, there are other factors to consider, mainly ease of use. No need to strike a match if you have a lighter (or something like that). Everything is situational.

>Metabble
I thought it was obvious? Your lovely metal slime begins to evolve due to the constant flinging of chaotic magic around, eventually growing to the point where the spells maintaining its liquid form can no longer work and it thusly solidifies permanently, forming Windows Alice’s home in Gensokyo.

Finally, blame the hurricane for the shorter/slightly slower update, whether or not that is actually true.
>>No. 10862
Making some assumptions of Alice's capabilities here:
[X] Stayed inside and...
-[X] Waited within Erk's circle.
--[X] As a human child, I would probably be a liability in combat. It wouldn't do to leave the security of the circle Erk made specifically for me only to get hurt.
---[X] However, waiting here and doing nothing didn't sit well with me either. Clearly, this was a great opportunity to put one of my golems through a field test! There was no way this could possibly go wrong!

That assumption is that Alice can ASSUME DIRECT CONTROL of her constructs; that is, she can remotely control them and perceive through whatever senses she builds into them.

The golem build would be focused primarily on scouting (and self-repair, if possible) with only the weapons she can quickly construct. So no rocket drill punches, sadly.

>Everything is situational
Is Alice's metal affinity so strong that it would be easier for her to take such a circuitous method, that requires the conjuration of many more components, to create a laser rather than directly conjure something of equivalent strength?

>Alice's house is a semi-sentient construct
There are so many ways I can see this going wrong.
>>No. 10875
>>10862
At teh rate things are going, Alice'd have better luck just manifesting metal spears than messing with lasers, though things are threatening to make a technology gap between now and this story as Alice doesn't get fancy with her dolls, with the most being gunpowder filling.

[X] Stayed inside and...
-[X] Waited within Erk's circle.
>>No. 10882
File 135260566454.jpg - (204.71KB, 850x1073, great-success-but-can-it-last.jpg) [iqdb]
10882
I stayed inside and waited within Erk’s circle. What was I supposed to do? If there was a real threat out there, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with Yuki and Erk’s spell flinging. Perhaps after I had more time to practice, but I was only a liability until then.

More explosions could be heard from the outside. If it was only Yuki, she was certainly mixing it up; large, ground shaking explosions were interspaced with tiny ones that crackled like sparklers.

I sat in the center of the warding circle and complained. “This is boring.” My curiosity gnawed at me while I sat around knowing something was happening. “Don’t you think we should do something?” I asked Luminita.

My doll nodded and swung her arms around, gesticulating a dozen different motions. “Freak out?” A tiny doll hand smacked my wrist and then went back to miming. “Hit? Build? Construct? Oh, great idea!”

Scrambling to my feet, I put the adrenaline coursing through my body to use. Erk might not have wanted me to leave his warding circle, but I could easily send things outside of it.

Shape, create, form, fill, finish. A golem made on the fly, with conjured materials and quickly scrawled enchantments would never be high quality. Yet, it would perform well enough in the situation.

The butterfly I created was a wire mesh, light as a feather but large enough to contain the magic I needed to put into it. The intricate manipulation needed to create its physical form was a product of the practice I had put in.

Forming a tablet of metal in front of me, I linked the metal plate with the butterfly and sent my creation on its merry way. The butterfly flapped through the air, slipping outside through an open vent.

Multi-colored lights began to glow on the rectangular metal sheet I held in my hands. I fiddled with the spell until the tablet’s lights dimmed to where I could distinguish between the colors. Cascades of red swept across the tablet, liberally filling the space in waves. Other colors sometimes appeared; quick circles of purple and lances of pink shot across the space on the tablet, sometimes disappearing at random.

The magic sensor I created was ridiculously simple, but was the most I could accomplish quickly. The butterfly I created drew in ambient magic, mixed some of my own in, launched the combination through the air in a sphere, tracking the changes to the pulse and then relating the information back to the sheet of metal in my hands in the form of colored lights.

Whatever the three demons were throwing magic at, there had to be a bunch of them. The more I imagined, the more I wanted to go out and see. “Don’t you think it would be fine to go out and peek? I think it would- Huh?”

Faint hissing gave way to a crash. One of the factory’s walls exploded, a large hole rent in the structure. Stones scattered around the impact point while the metal layering bent inward.

“What is that?” A large, nasty orange bug crawled into the factory. Four spindly legs supported a bulbous and arched back. The creature had two antennae and a tail as long as the rest of its body. The orange-red creature’s head was as lumpy as the rest of its shelled body.

The insect seemed to wander around the factory at random, scampering along the floor from machine to machine. Two more of the creatures crawled through the hole in the wall, acting in the same manner as the first.

“Wait,” I watched more closely, and saw what the three insects weren’t leaving behind. “They’re eating all the metal?”

I watched as the three large insects swarmed over one of the cauldrons lying on the ground. The metal container changed color, from black to orange, whereupon it was consumed in short order. Within two minutes nearly the entire cauldron had been eaten, only the very bottom left alone as the insects moved on to other fixtures.

“Hey, stop that!” I shouted at the monstrous insects to no avail. They continued to scamper around and consume the machinery of the factory.

“I said stop!” Six cannonballs formed in the air and flew at the insects. The projectiles struck the monsters, two of them being knocked off their feet. The insects rose without a problem and turned on my projectiles. My conjured weapons were partially eaten before disappearing in short order, the magic I used to create them light and insubstantial.

My attack served little more than to draw attention to myself. “Whoops…Waaah!”

One of the insects charged at me, putting on a completely unexpected burst of speed. The monster slammed into the invisible barrier around me with a loud thud. It pushed its face up against the barrier, vainly trying to reach me. The other insects likewise approached, surrounding me on all sides.

“Thanks, Erk,” I muttered while turning in place, trying to figure out what to do. The magical barrier felt stable enough, repelling even the physical approach of the insects without a problem.

I was surrounded and needed a solution. I supposed that waiting for the others to return was possible, but hated the idea of relying on them when I could do something. My attackers were, by all accounts, giant bugs. What does one do to bugs? A simple answer presented itself, and I decided to try it.

Metal creaked and groan when I turned my attention upward, forcefully separating part of the walkway above me in order to use the metal as fuel for my plan. I strung my magic around the metal, crumpling it like paper. Making sure to breathe steadily, I maneuvered the material around in the air and placed it in position.

It was, without a doubt, the most inelegant solution I could think of. Yet, without proper planning, I doubted that any golem I could whip up in short time would be effective against the metal-eating insects.

With everything perfectly aligned, I let the heavy mass of steel drop from the air.

The former walkway landed with a crash, driving downward onto the back of one of the insects. The bug crumpled, its shell splitting apart under the force. It exploded in a mess of green ooze, the bug matter splattering everywhere, including past Erk’s barrier and onto me.

“Yuck!”

Crushing the bug sent the other two into a frenzy. The insects thrashed against the magical barrier, screeching in a horrid, deafening tone. I yelled out the words for a noise-canceling spell, throwing on magical earplugs that rendered everything silent.

That hurt. Ugh, this is so icky. Sorry buggies, I kind of feel bad, but you really shouldn’t be eating Luize’s things. Or me. I moved to repeat my prior attack, lining up events to crush another bug.

The falling tangle of metal walkway clattered against the floor, but did not squish any insect. The large rust-colored bug I targeted had scuttled out of the way of the falling metal. The occurrence wasn’t a fluke; the third set of walkways I dropped was also deftly avoided and quickly consumed in short order.

Hmph. Now I’m the one messing up the factory. With the insects chomping at the bit to reach me, there wasn’t much of a threat of them consuming the rest of the factory, but the small battle had become a point of honor. I couldn’t let dumb bugs beat me!

Then one of the monsters lunged at me, drawing terribly close to my face, and I screamed.

I fell to the ground, scrambling on my hands and knees back to my feet. Metabble had knocked me over and moved, carrying me away from my previous situation. “H-Hey! What are you doing? This is dangerous!”

My construct, naturally, did not answer. No matter what had occurred, I had a new problem to deal with in the form of two jumping, lunging monstrous insects.

“Stay away!” I cried out and swiftly cast my spells, throwing up walls of pure magical force to block the insects from reaching me. The bugs collided head on with slightly-visible barriers and then tried to get around them, forcing me to move and recreate the invisible shields around me.

When one insect attacked from the front and one behind I squeaked and shot upwards, flying into the air to try and avoid getting sandwiched. To my dismay, I learned the overly large insects had wings.

Maneuvering around in the air was even worse than on the ground, the two bugs suddenly obtaining a dozen new vectors of attack against me. The first ten seconds of flight were filled with close calls as the bugs whizzed by me. Concentrating on flying worsened my defenses to the point where I was battered around by the insects slamming into my barriers. Every close call only sent me tumbling through the air. As soon as I could, I lashed out with a whip of metal and dived back towards the ground.

Standing amongst Metabble, I threw out my hand and launched a cloud of metal bullets into the air, the projectiles liberally taken from Metabble’s body. It was akin to throwing super-heated sand into the air, straight out towards my attackers.

The bugs screeched with rage when the pellets of metal connected with them and seared their bodies. They broke off from their constant charges to avoid the storm I threw upwards.

The momentary respite provided all the time I needed. Putting in the effort, I intensified my magic usage. Two large iron bars swirled into existence. I threaded wires around the two bars with my magic, levitating my makeshift weapon in front of me.

When the two insects decided to charge me again, I waited for them to close the distance. One bug closed faster than its friend, drawing close enough for my attack. I smirked and snapped my fingers. Lightning arced, the odor of crispy-fried insect filling my nostrils. It was actually disgusting, worst than burnt food, but it smelled like success. The electrified rod I created slammed into the bug and pinned it to the ground, condemning the insect to the shock of its life.

The third and final insect decided it had enough. With a screech the bug zipped off, its legs swiftly taking it back out through the hole in the wall.

It came flying back into the factory, thrown off its legs and into the far wall. On fire. With parts of its body vaporized.

The demons that had been outside poked their heads through the hole in the wall and reentered the factory. Yuki’s arm was still smoking from where she blasted the insect with the force of a cannon.

I waved to the group and walked over to them. On the way, I stopped by Erk’s magical circle and checked it. It had been smudged, mostly by Metabble running across it but there was also a smaller smudge on the other side. Oops. That was probably caused by my foot brushing against it accidentally, voiding the circle’s protective power.

Yuki was the first one to greet me, her mouth moving animatedly while she gestured around with wild arms. I blinked, wondering why I couldn’t hear Yuki, before remembering. A quick mental tug and the magic around my ears dissipated. “-had to be a hundred of the critters crawling around!”

Two of the Luize clones scampered around, grabbing assortments of tools and documents and throwing them into bags and carts. The true Luize stood fixing her hair. “It’s a shame that we’ll have to abandon the facility for a time. The carcasses will likely draw rather unpleasant attention until they are completely consumed.”

“Could you not clean the remains away yourself?”

“It’s a possibility…”

Yuki laughed and slapped the businesswoman on the back. “But Luize is far too lazy for that! She only does work when it’s conveniently easy, after all.”

“Please, do not besmirch my name with such flagrant generalizations.”

I watched my friends laugh and joke with each other, none of them worse for wear. Other than the property damage and the mysterious disappearance of several of Luize’s clones, the attack didn’t harm us.

“What were those things?” I asked aloud. “They were disgusting.”

“Rust monsters, as we call them. A rather large colony was migrating and saw my factory as a good pit stop.” Luize inspected the half-eaten remains of a mechanical thumper and sighed. “They aren’t the most dangerous beasts out here, but they are certainly annoying to my operation here.”

“Are there a lot of things worse than giant bugs that eat metal?”

“Definitely, more than enough to hassle my enterprises. Mandrakes tend to sneak into my fields and disguise themselves. Mammoth worms ambush my free-ranging chattel and drag them away. Dretch roam closer to the border and pick off my seismic equipment for sport. The occasional balor completely dismantles my construction projects more often than not. Of course, those are only the major incidents. Dozens of minor beasts interfere in some way or another.”

“Aren’t…those dangerous?” The fauna of Makai was not on my academic schedule, but a few of the names rang bells from the fantastic and grim stories that Momma would tell.

“They are, which is why they are annoying. I generally have to work around the losses. It’s a necessary risk I take to operate this far out. Excuse me.” Luize was drawn away by one of her facsimiles to help pack up the movable parts of the factory.

Erk gave me a once over. “Are you well, Alice? You appear as if you had a rough time.”

“I’m great! A couple of those bugs got inside but I smushed them; I couldn’t save all of Luize’s things, though.”

“You did an admirable job. I’m impressed you dispatched these foes yourself, given their special conditions.” Erk stepped over to the rust monsters I had taken out and nudged their bodies with his boot. “I see one obviously crushed, but what happened to this one?”

“I zapped it!”

“Yeah! That’s how you do it, Alice!” Yuki cheered me on, pumping her arms with joy.

“It is unfortunate that our trip ended in such a fashion, but it all seemed to work out for the best. Your learning has been effective for this situation, at least. I’m proud of your progress.” Erk’s praise was delivered with a pat on the head, the words making my heart soar.

“Yup! But…”

“Is something wrong?”

I stuck out my tongue and poked the bug-guts covering me. A quick spell removed the offending material, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of dirtiness. “Can we go home and find a bath? This is disgusting.”

We laughed and rounded up the others, all of us heading back to the city. The flight back was calm and relaxing, the refreshing feeling of accomplishment accompanying us.

The Luizes pushed several carts filled with machinery and headed off to a storehouse, while Erk and Aht returned to his home. Yuki waved goodbye and split-off, leaving me to return to Pandemonium on my own.

Yumeko greeted me with a wrinkle of her nose, stripping me quickly of my repugnant clothes and tossing me into the washroom. The maid helped me wash up and brought me over to a dining room where the goddess was waiting.

Just as we did after every day, I excitedly told Shinki about the highlights of my activities.

“That’s great, Alice. I’m glad you could handle yourself out there. Still, I’ll have to have a talk with those children of mine, taking you out so far.”

“They’re not in trouble, are they?”

“No, no, not trouble. I’m just concerned, is all. You’ve seen for yourself how dangerous it can be, Alice, and I just don’t want you to come to any harm.”

“Then why even have such dangerous monsters in the first place? You created them, right?”

“Indeed I did. Nobody wants to get hurt, so they help my children remember to be safe if they want to head out that far.”

“Huh…” The idea didn’t make much sense to me, but I supposed that the goddess knew better than me.

“But enough of that. Did you want to show me some of what you’ve learned before you go to bed?”

“Okay!”

I pulled the goddess along, finding a large empty room to show off what I could create and evoke. Shinki clapped after my displays, sometimes matching me spell for spell with her own spectacular magic. I laughed at the dancing pumpkins and singing brooms, Shinki and I entertaining ourselves with silly fun.

Eventually, Shinki rushed me off to my room for my daily tutoring session and a good night’s rest.

I laid in the darkness of my room, thinking about all that had happened to me. Unlike when I was completely reliant on others to save me from evil spirits, I was able to take my well-being into my own hands. Magic was the great equalizer, and I relished every second my power could help.

Even with the potential for problems, for disastrous accidents to occur, everything ended well. Nobody was grievously injured or seriously inconvenienced. I could fall to sleep imagining a bright future.

---

The girl rested comfortably in the center of the room, lounging about on wonderful pillows. She laid in a swaddle of clothes, snacking away on delicious sweets.

The door slid open, the fat merchant entering the room diligently. He placed a bowl of rice and fish on the floor, generously heaped to the brim and smattered with various vegetables and bits of meat.

“Ah, that’s great. You can go now.” The girl commanded the bald man with her voice, willing him to leave her in peace.

He left without comment.

The girl ate her meal in luxurious silence. Her accommodations were far above her days in the streets and even her own childhood farm. Even if she had worked her entire life she doubted she would ever experience such comfort.

The power available to her was glorious; a reward, perhaps, for her indomitable attitude. In truth, the girl did not understand the influence she could wield. Whatever magic gave her voice domineering power was unknown to her, but she would use it for all it was worth.

She wasn’t stupid about it, though. Dreams of marching into the castle and charming the lord with the sound of her voice were dangerous delusions – she had no such capability. Ignoring the peculiar servant she had acquired herself, the only power the girl found was that her honeyed words had become more appealing.

Still, it was enough. It was enough to give her a chance to not just exist but become something greater. The girl would experiment and learn what she could, and then exploit her newfound ability for all it was worth. It only took a few deals, a few bargains and contracts, to elevate herself far and above her previous stations.

The girl took her time, slowly learning and experimenting. She wasn’t content to stay in a home not her own and leech off of money she didn’t earn. She would expand on everything she could: her power, her knowledge, her influence – and she would become as strong and as important as she could. Nothing would stop her progress.

---

After the events at Luize’s factory, life continued on.

They finally released Ko from her house arrest, allowing the antsy red-head the freedom she desired. My friend quickly settled back into our routine, laughing and joking with me on a daily basis.

Although the date continued to change in my diary, the days all blurred together. Every waking hour was filled with exciting new magic, new knowledge, and new experience. There was never a single moment for me to be bored. I could always practice my spells or my arithmetic, find Ko to wander the city with or Yuki to show me dazzling feats.

There were occasional bumps in the road, but it was similar to everything one might expect from life. Ko might cut herself with her knife or land improperly, injuring her ankle. Yuki would sneeze at an inopportune moment and accidentally tear a chunk out of the rocky ceiling. Erk occasionally wasn’t up to delivering a full lecture, or a store I wanted to visit would be closed because the owner was indisposed, but everything always smoothed out again. It was life, similar to the one I led before, if but with different surroundings.

It was a couple of weeks pass the factory trip. I finished learning about some magical healing techniques and left the school in good spirits.

“I hope you can use that stuff on me, Alice, ‘cause I know I can’t.” Ko stretched and yawned. Despite her demeanor, I knew she had been paying close attention.

“Magic isn’t that hard. You should try asking for lessons.”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll go tell that crazy witch I want to explode a house. That’ll get me quality help.”

“…I never said you should ask Yuki. Although, I think it might be a good option.”

“It’s a shame she’s out, then, huh?”

“Yup, I hope she feels better. Is Mai the one that always takes care of her?”

“Didn’t you notice? The two lovebirds always look out for each other. Yuki was the one taking care of Mai last week, you know?”

“I guess.” I never paid much attention to details like that, but it was interesting to note. It made sense – in my mind, I imagined that the two were simply trading off the sickness.

Ko and I walked away from the school and enjoyed ourselves for a bit. Finding a number of the stores I would have liked to visit closed was frustrating; at least there were plenty of other shops to visit. The red-head demon enjoyed dressing me up and laughing at the ridiculous outfits I consented to wear. I rather liked them, but Ko didn’t need to know that.

When the time came for my daily magic lessons with Erk, Ko decided to tag along. “I don’t want to go practice again today. Raiding a library and reading sounds like a nice change of pace.”

Yet, it was not to be. When I knocked on the door to my teacher’s home, it was neither the purple-haired demon nor his servant that answered. “Hi Serra, what are you doing here?”

The pink-haired healer looked down at me and smiled. It wasn’t spirited; she looked grim and defeated. “Hey there, Alice. Erk can’t teach you today, he’s bedridden.”

“Bedridden? Is he okay?”

The white-robed demon paused before answering me, as if she was debating whether or not to tell me. “Honestly? Not really. Do you know what happened to him?”

“No, he was fine during my lesson yesterday. What’s wrong?”

Serra bit her lip and sighed. “The dumbo broke his legs, but I have no idea how. I started to take a look but he just sent me away.”

Ko scoffed from behind. “Only his legs? Maybe he should exercise some more and put on some muscle.”

“I guess.” The pink-haired girl didn’t retort at all, instead turning to walk back into the house. “You girls can come in if you want, I’m sure Erk wouldn’t mind.”

I…

[ ] Entered the home and…
-[ ] Asked Serra for a magic lesson
-[ ] Tried to visit Erk in his room
[ ] Left the house and…
-[ ] Went to find Luize for some tutoring
-[ ] Checked up on Yuki
-[ ] Returned to Pandemonium to study
[ ]

---

>Situational
Oh no, it will almost always be easier to fire a laser yourself than create a magic laser gun. Distribution of magical abilities to non-magical users would probably be the most useful application of this specific type of magical equipment. Maybe if you want to focus all of you attention on one spell and shoot lasers at no cost greater than twitching a finger, creating such a device in advance could be worth it too.

>Technology Gap
Not necessarily. Just because we know that Alice stuffs her dolls with gunpowder doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of doing more; half-assing things for convenience’s sake is rather common, especially if you can achieve the same effect for less.
You can also consider that any of the canon action we see is Spell Card duels, where dolls seem to be an appropriate level of power – shouldn’t bring that Death Machine into a non-lethal battle, after all.
I can point to some other canon facts and the like for more rationale, but this is the basic gist of what I have thought about.
>>No. 10883
[X] Entered the home and...
-[X] Tried to check up on Erk in his room.

As if Alice wouldn't want to check how her teacher's doing when both his legs spontaneously decided to break. Presumably, this is related to his periodic organ failures? He did promise us to get help if it got worse, though I can't really say if broken legs are objectively worse than coughing blood.

>achieving effects non-magically
Ah, this is a good point, and one I should probably have considered. I can easily see Alice taking a leaf out of BatmanKo's book and bringing miscellaneous tools along with her whenever she goes out on an adventure, particularly with her limited magical reserves.
>>No. 10884
We need to learn more electric based magic so we can have a rail-gun with a though.
>>No. 10885
[x] Entered the home and...
-[x] Tried to visit Erk in his room.

>>10883
Well, that depends on /how/ they're broken. If a bone is just snapped in two in one place, that's not serious at all. What if all the bones have crumbled or melted away, or something like that?
>>No. 10887
[X] Entered the home and...
-[X] Tried to check up on Erk in his room.

What has Erk been doing?
>>No. 10888
>>10052
>railgun with a thought
>not going off the rails
>not forging an unlimited number of blades and becoming the bone of her sword
Please.

Seriously though, as we've discussed, generating energy with magic only to change it to another form is horribly ineffective - the railgun would lose power as heat and light and so on - and it's far more efficient to directly propel the with magic. However, as our OP has pointed out, having gadgets on hand is far more useful for arming other less magically-inclined individuals or our own use if we haven't the time or energy to conjure something properly. The railgun would presumably be miniaturized via magical means, of course.

Come to think of it, are there magical foci that Alice can simply blindly channel into which automatically help her in forming most or all of a particular type of spell? Sort of like a Wand of Fireball or some such, except that it uses her spell slots rather than its own charges?
>>No. 10889
[X] Entered the home and...
-[X] Tried to check up on Erk in his room.
>>No. 10890
File 135291846118.jpg - (540.37KB, 988x1522, plaguemarine.jpg) [iqdb]
10890
>implying y'all punks still haven't figured it out

Congratulations roleplaying Plaguebearer-chan here. A++ non-symptomatic-carrier sneaking action, bet you got a highscore on infected.

>your village gets struck by a horrible curse-magic-sickness that brings bad luck (those two kids in the abandoned house), conflict (everyone raging at each other) and disgusting flesh-decay of various ways (obvious)
>you are the only survivor, although a child AND constantly in contact with the deceased not infected/dead although weak immune system is a given
>as soon as you are in a different environment itkeepshappening.jpg, only slower because now everyone is a tough-as-nails demon
>slight sneezes and coughs everywhere, weird behaviour (falling asleep midflight wtf), conflict, the weakest of the demons exhibits largest-scale symptoms, bad luck rampant and health-related (see catgirl waitress)
>healer chick scans us for infection, sure as hell nothing turns up, we're just fucking cursed after all

Use your brains, people.
>>No. 10891
>>10890
I dont think it dates that far back. Remember, Alice got hit with something when Koa suddenly went grimdark, or some time beforehand, I can't remember.
>>No. 10892
>>10891
Doesn't need to date that far back, she could have gotten infected in the village downfall but turned out a perfect genetic/thaumaturgic match for the curse-virus so she turned carrier.
>>No. 10893
>>10892
could also have gotten worse from when Erk hit her with that spell.
>>No. 10894
>>10893
or this infection (if that is indeed what's wrong with Erk now) could be the same ancient terror of Makai that nearly killed Koa which I'm willing to bet was dug up by Alice when making the giant hands to help Koa.

1.The last time this virus struck they cleansed it by "scorching the earth" which implies they only removed it from the surface.

2.This virus doesn't need a host to survive making it perfectly capable of remaining dormant deep below Makai's surface
>>No. 10895
File 135315099931.gif - (1.81MB, 400x226, wait a second what.gif) [iqdb]
10895
>>10894
>story is called Girl of Death
>doubts that the Girl causes Death
>>No. 10896
>>10895
>death follows girl around
>cum hoc ergo propter hoc
>not just wrong place wrong time and tremendously unlucky like most protagonists
>girl of death
>of means causes
While I do not deny the merit of your viewpoint, I must point out how circumstantial most of the evidence is, and question your dismissal of the contrary opinion.
>>No. 10897
I think he's also mixing up the 2-3 storylines

As we have Alice, girl who lose her parents to demons

We have a girl whose village was affected by disease. Not sure if this is the same as the next.

And we have another that wound up hard on her luck and found herself to have the power to compel people and is actively gathering power
>>No. 10898
File 135319384660.jpg - (42.78KB, 400x403, pic-1.jpg) [iqdb]
10898
>>10896
Dude, I'm operating on standard storyline logic mixed with trope analysis here, not rational, real-world thinking. Pic related. If x was in spot y when z occured then x was definately affected, most likely involved and many times even the cause or reason for z as long as we are inside of a story (except if we're in a Raymond Chandler book or equivalent and I don't think we are). I mean, what are the odds that our MC's childhood trauma and therefore setup for character development are just a plot hook thown out to cast the story in DARKNESS and make it look DEEP? I trust our writefag more than using it in such a shallow one-purpose way.

On the opposite side, what are the odds that the massive impact this ocurence had on our MC's life will come back around later in the story, when we meet the whatever who caused it and get to deal with it/him/her? Figure out the culprit behind all the things going wrong right now? Have an interesting way to continue? See where I'm going?

If you can see my point then you'll see why I'm cooking with gas now. If I was writing this story, this is what I would use it for, is all I'm saying.

>>10897
There's only two storylines I can see, one is Alice with cruel flashbacks interspersed which show the horrible last days of her village and another of a girl with a much hardier life out on the streets and some random mind control powers thrown in for shiggles.
>>No. 10899
File 135321894321.jpg - (37.00KB, 350x556, its-not-like-I-was-being-subtle.jpg) [iqdb]
10899
I stepped inside the house and followed after the pink-haired healer. “Can I check on Erk? I really hope he isn’t really hurting…”

“That’s fine. Let’s go see that stupid guy.”

We tromped up the stairs towards the bedrooms. Ko cursed when she slipped on Metabble and started to tumble back down the stairs – it was a good thing that she could fly.

“Yo, Alice, you should watch that puddle when there isn’t much room to walk.”

“Ah, sorry. I think I can try to enhance the compression spells later on…” I trailed off as we approached the bedroom door. Aht was standing outside of it, the mud girl not as bright and cheery as she usually was.

Serra made to open the door, but the servant stopped her. “Sorry, master doesn’t want any visitors right now.”

“Wow, he really set you out here to keep us out? Let us in, Aht. I can tell that even you don’t like whatever the idiot is doing in there.”

Progress was blocked by the buxom servant once more. “Sorry. Master said nobody enters.”

“This isn’t funny, Aht. Whatever happened, I don’t particularly care. I’m going in to treat that stupid magician.” Serra’s determined words weren’t enough. I winced when the pink-haired demon was manhandled by the muddy servant, forcefully push away from the door and slammed into the wall.

“Sorry.”

“You daft girl!” The healer broke away from the mud girl’s grip and whirled her scepter around, blue light enveloping her arms. Then Serra swung her scepter like a baseball bat, aiming straight at Aht’s stomach. The mud girl stepped into the attack and unhurriedly reached out with her hand.

Ko jerked me backwards, out of the way of the shattering gemstone. Blue shards sprayed everywhere, the head of Serra’s scepter crushed against an immovable object.

Aht’s raised arm wasn’t the same brownish substance as the rest of her body. I described Erk’s servant as a mud girl because of the general runniness of her body, but in the end she wasn’t just made out of mud. Erk had explained Aht’s creation to me in order to help me understand my own potential golems. Fragments of tougher metals and stones were laced throughout Aht’s body. The hundreds of tiny diamond fragments were of particular note. With Aht in full control of her own body, it was a simple matter to adjust her composition and place the magically-enhanced material to the top of her ‘skin’, forming an impenetrable carapace.

“N-No way…Let me in this instant!” With her magical focus rendered irrelevant, Serra resorted to her usual tactic of screaming at the tops of her lungs.

Aht only frowned and shook her head. “Sorry, but master said- Hey, wait!”

“Go, go, go!” I waved back at the other two, not even managing an apology before Ko had fully dragged me inside the room and shut the door. The red-head held a hammer-like object to the doorknob and tapped it once before turning back towards me. “Success! They should put better locks on these- What the fuck?”

I followed Ko’s line of sight to the bed where Erk was sitting hunched over, his legs stretched out across the bed.

Stretched in a literal sense. The white bed sheets were stained with blood once more, Erk’s brown pants cut off at the thighs and thrown to the ground. The magician’s legs were in pieces. His right leg was completely unrecognizable, simply strings of muscle and layers of flesh neatly arranged on the bed. His left leg was still recognizable, but not for very long. The magician was picking it apart with his magic, using his hyper-precise focus to achieve results a scalpel wielding human never could.

Ko closed her eyes and counted to three before looking again. “Damn that’s messed up.”

I knew that I should have been repulsed by the sight. Seeing anybody peel their body apart slice by slice was hardly normal, yet compared to everything else, the almost-clinical procedure before me was hardly traumatizing. “Why are you doing that, Erk?”

The purple-haired magician glanced up at us. “Examination. Figuring out what’s wrong.” His answer was terse, his attention quickly returned to his work.

“What is this nonsense? How can you even watch that, Alice?” Ko shook my shoulder, but I didn’t look back at her.

I couldn’t help but watch Erk tear apart his own leg. It was interesting. My mind raced, running through all the information I had been learning about how I could potentially fix the magician’s leg myself. Different healers had their own methods. The spells I picked up during school could only regenerate single parts at a time; they wouldn’t be enough for the leg unless carefully worked together in tandem. More than physical healing, the analysis spells Erk was using were an entirely different matter. He had layered spells over his eyes and his ears, different enchantments to increase his physical vision as well as filter minute details. Relying only on my remote senses I couldn’t exactly figure out what else the spells were meant to achieve, but-

“I see.” My frenetic thoughts refocused themselves when Erk began to dismiss his enchantments.

“I hope you figured out what you wanted to because this whole scene smells a bit like unhealthy obsession from over here.” My red-headed friend was twirling her knife between her fingers while she waited in a corner of the room.

“What was wrong in the first place? What happened?” I asked, trying to understand the situation.

My magic teacher grabbed a book from the side of his bed and began to write in it, talking to us at the same time. “I have been trying to find evidence of why my body has been deteriorating. Past incidents have been too minor or too drastic for me to accurately study, but this proved to be a fortuitous case.”

“Fortuitous? Damn, Alice, you sure have a crazy one for a teacher. I’ll take the hyper girl with the explosions, please.”

I quickly surveyed the mess Erk had made of his limbs, reconfirming what I had already noticed. “Serra said you broke your legs, but I don’t see…”

“Any bones? Indeed. I can’t say it was fun having my bones shatter into pieces as I walked up the stairs, but this injury was enough for me to work with. I incinerated the majority of the bone fragments in order to analyze their composition and structure – you can still see some of the bone shards right there, if you wanted.”

“Seriously, this is not a healthy work ethic.”

I ignored Ko’s commentary. “Oh. So what did you find out?”

“More inexplicable events, but I believe this lends credence to my theory. Physically speaking, I should be having no problems whatsoever. Even magically, every spell I have at my disposal indicates nothing should be wrong. Yet, some force is causing my body to weaken until it breaks”

“And you don’t know what that is?”

“I have an idea. From what my research has found so far-” Erk’s explanations were interrupted by the door banging into the wall. I jumped out of the way to avoid hurtling projectile. Aht came crashing into the room, coming to a rough halt when she slammed into the bottom of the bed.

Serra came striding into the room, her body aglow with light. The normal blue from her scepter had suffused into her skin. It was some sort of regenerative spell, but it apparently gave Serra enough strength to toss around the heavy mud servant. “I swear Erk, if you set her out there to- In the name of the goddess what are you doing?”

The pink-haired healer rushed the bed even as she screeched. She struck at a blinding speed, her hand snapping into Erk’s forehead like a whip. The magician slumped immediately, his book and pen falling from his hands.

“When you wake up I’m going to beat you senseless you dumb oaf. By all that is right in the world I have absolutely no idea what goes on in your head…” Serra muttered to herself as she climbed onto the bed and straddled Erk’s body. She picked at the carefully sliced flesh and prodded the stumps of Erk’s thighs. With both the magician and his servant out cold, there was nobody to oppose her.

“Idiot. Stupid, dumb, reckless…how were you planning on fixing this?” The healer grunted and began to reposition the scraps of flesh. “Hey Alice, can you help me heal this blockhead?”

“Uhm, sure.” I handed Luminita off to Ko and left Metabble at the side of the room before walking over to the edge of the bed. “What should I do?”

“I just need you to hold any changes I make in place, maybe help fuse a few parts together. First, can you hold these scaffolds right here…”

In a strange turnabout, the hour proceeded with a lesson, of sorts. Aiding Serra in the reconstruction of Erk’s legs was my first hands-on experience with serious medical aid. The few school lessons, pointers from Serra, and bits of anatomy I had learned were barely enough for me to keep pace with the demon’s expertise. My role as an assistant was mostly filled with maintaining a number of different spells at the same time, holding Serra’s previous work together while she focused on something else. The healing process wasn’t as simple and creating new bones, than flesh, than skin. Nerves, veins, arteries, muscles – every part of the body was intertwined and had to be reintroduced together. Simply watching the healer work was more informative than a dozen lectures from a book.

The results of the impromptu procedure were stunning. Two healthy looking legs laid on the bed, attached to the rest of Erk’s body. They looked perfectly natural.

“Whew. Thanks for the help, Alice.” The pink-haired demon cleaned up, liberally applying magic to clean out the stains from working.

“You’re welcome! I think I learned a bunch. But, shouldn’t this hurt Erk a lot?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” Glowing blue fingers reached over and tapped Erk’s forehead twice.

The magician awoke with a scream. He violently trashed upright, curling up into a ball as he wrapped his arms around his legs. The magician began to chant between expletives, but his magical gestures were interrupted by a whack of Serra’s hand. “No you don’t! This is punishment for being ridiculous!”

I backed away from the pair of demons, suddenly conflicted about how much I actually helped. I sat down against the wall next to Ko, waiting for the pained cries of my teacher to end. It took awhile; without an anesthetic, the aftereffects of having your legs reconstructed cell by cell was as painful as tearing them apart.

Nothing was scarier than a doctor.

Once Erk had managed to reassert enough control to reduce his screams to agitated grunts, Serra allowed him to re-numb his legs.

With everybody somewhat calm, Ko and I ended our round of word chain and stood up. We jumped over Aht’s sleeping form on the ground and took a seat at the foot of the bed; Ko perched on the baseboard while I laid out on the mattress.

“So, now that you lovers are done with your little spat, does somebody want to enlighten me as to what is going on here?” Ko didn’t waste any time or courtesy.

“I’d like to know too, Erky-poo. Why would you ever possibly decide to force the lovely little me away, hm?”

“Weren’t you saying something before, Erk?”

The magician paled at the display of female solidarity. With no support forthcoming, Erk took a deep breath and began to explain himself.

“My recent injuries have been caused by something – I refuse to believe that random coincidence has left me in such a state. What has caused the incidents, however, is not readily apparent. As per some rather persistent instructions, I have maintained regular meals, sleep, and exercise. The tests I have run have concluded that something is wrong, but have not identified a cause. As such, I began to think about what has changed about my life recently. The only thought I had was of my most recent research.”

“You mean that purplish crap you threw at us that one time?”

Erk winced before continuing. “That’s right. It is the only source of change in my life that I can see affecting me so. In a way, it makes sense. The more I have read and experimented with this style of magic, the more I questioned what could be done with it. The accounts of those losing their souls, dying in the pursuit of knowledge, are vague. If they died, I wondered how. From other accounts that I know of, the separation of body and soul were distinct – a spirit would be formed while the body lay lifeless, much in the manner of a human who reaches the end of their natural life.

“Yet, this type of occurrence is not what I am experiencing, so I wonder if this is even the correct line of thought to pursue. It is, in the end, only a theory.”

Ko nodded in sage understanding. “So you’re just flailing around in the dark and hoping to find the right ladder out of the hole you’ve dug for yourself?”

“…Yes.”

“Well then, the answer is obvious, Good Sir! Is your soul losing it because of your unsafe and highly incomprehensible magical practices? Just check it, then.”

“…What?”

The red-headed demon leapt from her seat and landed on the floor. “Check it. Compare your soul to a bunch of other ones and see how it looks. Or maybe you can just peek at it and see if it’s being destroyed? I don’t do magic, but isn’t that possible?”

“Perhaps not as simple as you make it seem, but yes. Directly analyzing our intangible souls without causing harm is unlikely, but by forming a communion between mind and soul I would be able to tell how different my soul is from others.”

“Hold it right there,” Serra broke into the conversation. “What’s with this assumption? Your soul is somehow being destroyed by your magic? You’ve told me that your safety precautions are flawless when you experiment.”

“Not flawless, but probably enough to protect me. There’s a chance I was mistaken in my calculations.”

“Or you’re barking up the wrong tree. As much as I hate doing it, I can imagine a number of problems you might not be checking for, considering how we are these days.” There was an inflection in Serra’s voice, some sort of message she was trying to convey.

Erk’s eyes darted between Ko and I before closing. “Improbable. I have included a large majority of known possibilities in my tests. Any obscure problem that might affect me so should have garnered more attention. To think of, perhaps, a new danger is flat out impossible.”

“I’m just saying, maybe there was something insidious left around that we didn’t catch.”

“For hundreds of years, only now to take effect? Even for us, that type of long-term planning is absurd.”

“With what happened the other week? Others are still suspicious.”

The magician sighed and reached for his notebook. “Fine, it is a possibility to consider. Where to begin, then? What do you think, Alice?”

What was wrong with my magic teacher? I thought that…

[ ] Testing for some sort of disease seemed right
[ ] Linking our souls to compare to his sounded good
[ ] Asking others for their opinion might be better
-[ ]
[ ]

---

>Trusting the write-fag
>Implying I have any idea of what I’m doing
Hahaha, you guys are hilarious. Isn’t it obvious that I just like to cause suffering? Man, I’d make a horrible parent. How can I make things worse? Let’s hit ‘em with the lightning! Not enough depression? Sending in the dancing, maniacal clowns!

>Magical foci
It’s possible, yes. Automating the spell-casting process and choosing the source of magic to be from the wielder’s reservoir is something you can enchant into an object. You can do a lot better than this if you give up your rationality.

Of course, in poor little Alice’s case, such an item is likely to suck her dry in no time flat. As long as you’re in a magic-rich environment, there aren’t many reasons to avoid powering your tools with all the ambient magical energy.
>>No. 10900
Did Erk ever mention when the symptoms started manifesting themselves, relative to the time he started his research? If not,
[X] Ask him this
and if the two events seem strongly correlated, test for soul damage, otherwise go for disease. We might have Shinki transplant his soul to a new body to see if the problem still sticks sometime in the future.

>powering tools from ambient magic
Wait, then shouldn't it be possible to cast from ambient magic as well, rather than having Alice deplete her reserves?
>>No. 10901
>>10900
What he said, I give him +1.

>magical foci
I thought they operate like an airsoft gun, you might be pointing and firing them but the force is exerted by stuff from all around you, in airoft case, well, air, in magic case ambient magic.
>>No. 10903
>>10900
How close is ‘strongly correlated’ in your mind? A few hours? A few days? A few weeks?

>Magic
I suppose I haven’t made this clear enough, which is my bad. Hopefully this explanation helps...

Most spell casters can only manipulate their own magical energy, much like a third limb. They use this third limb to affect change, whether it’s creating a fireball or flying. More often than not, magic users will use their own energy as a catalyst – they light the ambient energy around them on fire and then throw that. It doesn’t use up as much of their own energy, but they still have to expend some to get the process going.

Let’s say Yuuka is a prime example of not caring about this – her personal reservoir of magical energy is massive. When she casts spells, she can use her personal magic to fuel them completely. If she were to wander around in a magic-less environment, she would still be able to throw around master sparks and obliterate everybody. Not the perfect example, because Yuuka cheats and stocks up on magic thanks to her dream world and flower fields, but that’s a different matter; the energy is still unique to her.

Then we look at Marisa. She was at one time the average of humanity. Her original reservoir of magical energy was ridiculously low, almost non-existent. That is how most humans are. That is why they do not develop magical talent – they don’t have enough energy to manipulate anything. Sometimes, humans can use the little magic they have unconsciously. In the modern world, the best of the best might do this. Top athletes might slightly alter the wind when they shoot a target or befuddle a judge’s mind to give them a higher score. Unlike in ages past, there is not much ambient magic in the ‘real word,’ hence the lack of obvious magical usage.

So how is Alice, with a human-like reservoir of magical energy (above average but still below basically every other magical being), different? The amount of ambient energy she can affect with the amount she has is absurd. If you take the airsoft analogy, she points and pulls the trigger, then a tank gun fires. Giving her a magical focus turns the gun into a naval cannon.

Relating this all back to the question, now. Alice’s understanding and control over her own abilities is imperfect. Taking the incident with the rock hands, she was using a spell that liberally draws on her own energy. She was following a formula, and the formula did not take into account her talent. If you look at incidents where Alice does not consciously control how she uses her magic, the amount of drain on her reserves is unnoticeable – her body is doing what comes naturally to it in regards to efficiency. Unfortunately, learning how to accomplish complicated magic in a rational and time-efficient way necessitates following other peoples’ examples, people who ultimately had different abilities.

Whew. I don't think I gave away anything important in there. If you're still confused...well, I guess I'm pretty bad at this.
>>No. 10904
>correlation
Well, that would depend on the severity of the symptoms. Obviously, if they started manifesting an hour after the initial procedure, we'd assume a strong correlation regardless of whether, for instance, his fingernails started dropping off or he started having spontaneous compound fractures. On the other hand, if he started having fractures a month or two after his experiment, we might still consider the possibility that there is a relation between the two, and that any smaller symptoms were mitigated by other factors (such as, perhaps, the body's natural resistance to such things) or simply outright ignored as trivial unrelated illness in the fervor of work. However, if it took months for even the smallest symptoms to appear, we'd probably think another source to be the cause of the problem. Another possible point of note is whether the symptoms continually worsened, or spiked after every time Erk conducted another experiment, though I doubt that he was conducting them with sufficient intervals to adequately distinguish between the two. And obviously, if symptoms started manifesting before the first experiment, there's something else going on.

Perhaps you might write a short update where Erk tells us his relevant observations in this regard, and leave it up to the anons to decide if the correlation is strong enough?

>it's magic, but shit was still explained!
Alright, so if I understand correctly, a focus that crafts most (but not all) of the spell won't directly help Alice improve the potency of her spells as the default method is inefficient for her, but might give her a basic framework to tweak around in order to create her own modified method of casting. On the other hand, if we want to improve her direct firepower, we could give her a focus that better enables her to affect the ambient magic (Luminita?), but this won't help improve her efficiency.
Why am I even bringing this up? It's basically OOC contemplation, and it's not like we're prepping Alice for any big boss fights. Yet.
>>No. 10905
[X] Ask Erk when the symptoms started manifesting themselves, relative to the time he started his research.

>>10903
Technically, Yuuka didn't use anything called "magic" until after Mystic Square's main game.
Everything she did until then (including the original wide lasers now known as Master Spark) is some sort of nebulously defined "youkai power" which seems to be tied to her status as Youkai of Flowers. (Such as petal and leaf bullets in Mystic Square.)
>>No. 10906
>>10905
I think it was in regards to normal magic compared to magic inborn to various types of youkai. I mean how else can most low-ranking youkai be able to toss around danmaku while the only known humans require some sort of skill to do that.

It's like comparing characters and monsters in a RPG. Characters usually have to train or use some sort of mcguffin to learn magic while monsters seem able to use it naturally.
>>No. 10907
File 135373373357.jpg - (158.64KB, 708x816, never-make-vague-magically-enforced-contracts.jpg) [iqdb]
10907
I thought that it should be easy to tell which option was better. “When did you start having problems? Was it really close to when you started experimenting?”

“I am…unsure. It is difficult to say, if only because the severity of possible symptoms in inconsistent. Am I to assume that every scratch that appears on my body is due to this problem?” The magician slowly places his legs on the ground and rises off the bed, already recovered enough to stand. “I only dabbled in my research until our first meeting. Once I began to seriously experiment and further my understanding…perhaps within the week the first possible symptoms began to arise. Any major problems have occurred intermittently in the past few weeks, starting before any concerns of sickness developed.”

A week was awfully close in time no matter how you looked at it. If he was having problems before the big scare in the city, there wasn’t much room for doubt. “Then it’s best to check your soul, right?”

“A logical deduction, similar to my own. We can begin with the communions, then.”

Others protested immediately. “Don’t you think that’s jumping the gun?”

“Enough, Serra. Your tests might take hours, perhaps a day’s worth of time if you search for more and more improbable cases, correct?” The healer pouted, Erk’s question hitting right on the mark. “If I do not find any evidence to support my theory then I am willing to submit myself to your care.”

“Hmph. Fine, you dummy.” The pink-haired demon rolled her eyes. “So, what do I need to do?” Even if her idea was rejected, she was prepared to help however she could.

“Nothing strenuous. Contact between our minds and souls might feel alien, but please do not throw me out. I should only need a few seconds to compare our souls.”

“‘Should?’ That isn’t confidence inspiring.”

“This isn’t a form of magic I am well practiced with, but the process is uncomplicated.”

“Hurry up, then.”

Just as Erk said, the process was not difficult. There weren’t any fancy circles to draw or long arias to chant. Erk simply held Serra’s hand and closed his eyes. Some sort of magic was at work, but it was subtle and barely visible to me. The magic was focused inwards between the two demons, creating some sort of connection that was not easy to analyze.

Both demons sat still for about ten seconds before separating. No explosions or fanfare and nothing to indicate that something significant happened. As an outside viewer, the entire spell was anticlimactic.

“What, is that it? Nothing happened!” Ko shared my sentiments, even without the benefit of strong magical talent. At most, Serra was quieter than before. If I looked closely, I thought the healer might have been blushing the tiniest amount.

“Yes, that is it. As I said, the process is quick. Once two souls are connected, it takes no time at all to compare them.” The purple-haired magician shrugged his shoulders. “As far as results goes, there is a disparity between our souls. However, with no other cases to compare, I cannot say whether the small differences are natural or not.

Ko walked over next to Erk. “Need my help then? I don’t mind, but you better not sleeze around in my body.”

“I would never think of it. My thanks, Ko.”

“Sure, sure.”

“Come to think of it, why are you here in the first place? Not that I am opposed to your presence, but I am hardly someone you visit often.”

“What can I say? I followed Alice around – I was thinking of raiding your library too.”

“Is that how it is? I suppose drawing a book from my collection for a birthday present is out of the question, then.”

“Present? Is it your birthday soon, Ko?” Birthdays were always special occasions in the village. We couldn’t always celebrate the day of, but sometimes we would lump a few different parties into one giant, day-long festival.

“Huh? Not even close. I don’t think it is, anyway. I don’t really keep track of the date.” The red-head glanced in the air and started to counter on her fingers. “Damn, I’ll have to look into this. Last thing I want is to be around for the grand festivities.”

Sighing, Ko refocused on the present. Just as before, the two participants held hands for a moment. I tried to focus and gain a greater understanding, but I still couldn’t tell what was occurring.

My red-headed friend blinked and tossed her hair. “Well? What’d you see? Did it look like pink rainbows?”

“Not at all. Your soul is, for a lack of better terms, smaller than ours. However, you also have lived significantly less time than us. It would be expected under such conditions.”

“So, in other words, it didn’t help you at all.”

Erk chuckled while he nodded. “It is good to have the information, at the very least.”

I moaned in disappointment. “I guess I won’t be able to help, then?” If Ko’s soul was incomparable because of its age, a human like me would never help. Hundreds of years of difference would be too much.

“Not particularly.” It was upsetting, in a way. I wanted to be helpful, and experiencing a strange type of magic would always be interesting. It was a letdown, to say the least.

Perhaps dissatisfaction showed on my face as Erk continued. “Ah, but perhaps it would be best to continue? The information may prove useful at a later date.”

“Okay!”

I crawled over and sat in front of Erk, letting him lightly grasp my hand.

The sensations started as a tingle in my hand that flowed up my arm. With my eyes closed, I probed the sensation with my magical senses, watching the soft purple aura stream into my body.

Foreign thoughts brushed against my own, calculating and impersonal. A wave of warmth followed it, comfort meant to set one at ease readily felt. Other emotions infiltrated my mind as well, snippets of memories and experiences becoming known to me. If I wanted, I could have blocked them, surged forth with my own mind and magic to capture and destroy.

But I didn’t. I remained impassive in my own mind and watched the foreign elements intertwine with my own thoughts. Without blocking them, I accidentally began to remember memories not my own and experience feelings I never had. Curiosity piqued, I couldn’t help but dig deeper. Just as I hadn’t erected any mental barriers, neither had the one visiting in my mind. Scenes of a city filled, massive and populated with life, scenes of fire and screaming, of anguish and unexpected joy, of halcyon days curled up next to the hearth, tender affection after nights of-

How lewd. I stopped myself from looking further. That was a bit too private.

I could feel a tug at my metaphorical heart, somewhere in the corner of my mind and at the core of my body. Is that my soul? I tried to relax further, to release the natural barriers that were being slowly unraveled. As I did so, I felt the connection. Something touched. Electric sparks danced along my skin, gales and fiery lava running inside me. Strangely filling in away, I expected more reciprocity such as before. It was-

-abruptly cut away, all of the foreign presence inside of me disappearing in a single instant.

“W-W-w-W-w…” I was still seated in place, but Erk was not. The magician tumbled off the bed and shakily rose to his feet.

“Erk? Erk! What’s wrong?” Serra jumped over to Erk and grabbed his shoulder, trying to steady him.

Even with help, the magician still swayed on his feet. “No, no, no…”

“Hey, Mr. Crazy? Helloooo?”

“Ah-ahaha…haaaaah…” His laugh was off, deep gasping breaths taken at random.

“Are you okay, Erk?” The magician looked at me. Then he screamed.

“N-no, impos-ahaha, no, no…that doesn’t…no, it can’t…there’s no rea-yes, p-perhaps…perhaps…yes, I see, t-that makes p-perfect- NO!” The magician threw off Serra’s grasp and spun around, wildly thrashing about. He slammed his fist into the wall, the red glow radiating from his arm only adding to the surreal action. I recognized the familiar sensation of magic swirling, of spells preparing to be cast.

Then he bolted, sprinting out the door.

All three of us stared at the sudden departure of the magician. “Wait, Erk! Come back here!” We rushed after the purple-haired demon, exiting the room just in time to see him jump down the stairs. We followed closely, pounding down the steps to catch up.

Our chase came to a halt when we reached the bottom of the stairs. Erk stood in the center of the hallway, face raised to the air while he pinched the bridge of his nose.

“What the hell was that, Erk?” Serra emphasized her demands with a clenched fist.

The magician blinked and looked at us, appearing as calm as he usually was. “My apologies. I believe I miscast the spell or some such occurrence. Separating our minds caused an adverse reaction in my own; a temporary insanity, if you will.”

Ko narrowed her eyes at Erk. “Pretty sloppy work if you mess up on the third try.”

“I have no excuse. I warned you that I have not extensively practiced this type of magic.”

With no good retort or explanations of their own, Serra and Ko gave up on their interrogation. “What’s the next step, then? You gonna go around and test every other person in Makai?”

“I see no reason for it. I doubt the results will differ much from what I have seen here. Soul studies are not extensive, but we know that age is the strongest correlation in such affairs. It is best to avoid excessively bothering others.”

Erk gave his final conclusion and shut down that avenue of attack. Nobody else was as remotely as experienced or knowledgeable on the subject as him, so we couldn’t offer any helpful thoughts of our own.

“Well then, time for my tests!” Serra declared.

“W-What?”

“You didn’t find anything useful, so now it’s my turn. Let’s go Mister!”

The healer reached out to drag Erk away, but the magician took a few steps back. “H-Hold on Serra. Wouldn’t you rather eat, first? Are you not famished after exhausting yourself fixing my legs?”

“You couldn’t be more obvious about delaying,” Serra clicked her tongue, “but I guess a bit of food wouldn’t hurt. Can I use your kitchen?”

“Of course.”

Excitement grew in Ko’s eyes. “We’re eating? Nice!” The two other girls wandered over to Erk’s kitchen, ready for a snack break.

“I am going to go wake up Aht. I will be back momentarily.” The magician nodded and stepped around me, walking backup the stairs.

Observing Erk head up the stairs, my suspicion intensified. If I wasn’t familiar with my teacher, I might have readily gone off to wait for food as well, but instead I stood in the center of the hall.

Glancing around with my magical sight, I isolated the flows of purplish magic and tried to track them. Unable to find what I expected, I instead decided to try logic. Serra and Ko were directed to eat. If that involved the kitchen and the dining room, then that meant there was only one room left.

Entering the bathroom, I tried my magical senses again. It was much easier to identify the source of purple magic huddled in the corner.

I tiptoed over and kneeled down, reaching out to hug the empty space. Instead of grasping myself, my arms stopped midair, wrapped around a real object. This time perfectly executed, it was a shame I had already seen Erk’s trick before.

Applying a bit of my own magic, I forcefully removed the invisibility spell Erk had thrown over himself. Curled up in a ball, the magician had his head tucked into his knees. “What’s wrong, Erk?”

“n-N-no-nothing is wr-wrong.”

“What did you find out? Is it something about your problem?”

“If only- aaaah…hah- no, no, never. C-Can’t s-s…no, no, I s- I- ne- I SAID NEVER AGAIN!” Erk’s scream was dampened by magic, no louder than a whisper despite the way his entire body shook. Incessant red light glowed even brighter, enough to force me to close my eyes. Unsure of what else to do, I simply gripped the magician tighter and tried to give him as much comfort as I could. “No, it can’t- more harm than…that isn’t- y-yes, I s-see…wai- N- n-n-n- yeeeees…t-that’s…right…right…that…works…”

“Erk?”

Slowly, my teacher settled down. The red light faded alongside the purple wisps of barely restrained magic. The distraught creases that lined his face disappeared; Erk’s breathing returning to normal as well.

Unfurling from his position in the corner, Erk stood up and helped me to my feet. “My apologies Alice. It took longer than I expected to resolve those issues. I believe I am of right mind now.”

“What…was that?”

“Nothing of import-” Erk stopped himself and started again. “I found a few surprising issues. Thinking upon it, I realized what my error in precautions was. Given a few days, I believe I can find appropriate countermeasures. Shall we go eat?”

It was wrong. He had tried to set my heart at ease, but it didn’t work. He was being vague again; recognizing when others were trying to keep me out of the loop became easier and easier after every occurrence. Still, if Erk didn’t voluntarily give up the information, perhaps it was best to go over his head and find help elsewhere. I…

[ ] Went to talk about the problem with…
-[ ] Shinki
-[ ] Serra
-[ ] Yuki
-[ ]
[ ] Forced the issue myself
[ ]

---

>More decision time
Nope, you reap what you sow! I’ll take your conditional votes and twist them to the dark side! Or, you know, advance the story. That’s a possibility too.

Honestly, asking for more clarification isn’t a bad thing, but in this case there isn’t much more clarification to be had. Mr. Not Scientist hasn’t been recording every detail of his life for the past month; what a loser. If you’re still unhappy with my decision, we can always go back in time…

>Explaining magic
To be fair, rational magic is well-defined. There is an entire history of spells and rituals worked out by the human race that can achieve proscribed effects. Much like science, there are plenty of theories attempting to explain why such and such might occur.

Then you have the crazy instances of someone that just turns you inside out by poking their elbows. Good luck explaining that crap.

>Youkai power
Yeah, that’s natural magic. Fuck them and their supernatural bullshit.

As far as I’m concerned, almost all supernatural abilities are powered by magical energy and can thusly be coined as magic. Suwako’s faith-derived power, Satori’s mind-reading, Remi’s fate-hax; none of them might consider what they do as magic, but the effects are achieved through the usage of magical energy. About the whole Yuuka bit, when she wanted to pick up magic, I assume she meant more formal spell-casting (which is what most people think of when someone says ‘magic’.)

In the end, magic is a big fat question mark. I use it as a catch-all description for supernatural effects, just as how ‘Youkai’ is a catch-all term for supernatural creatures.

And yes, I realize other writers think differently. This is my own loony-little universe and how it works for me.
>>No. 10908
Either he's still suffering temporary insanity and drawing weird conclusions, or he's bullshitting terribly. I'm guessing the latter.

[X] Forced the issue myself.
-[X] "Erk. You said you miscast the spell. Then why aren't you casting it again, properly this time? What did you see when you looked at my soul, Erk?"

As a backup,
-[X] If Erk clams up, go ask Mom Shinki go have a look at our soul later.

>crazy instances of poking elbows to turn people inside out
Unconscious sorcerer-style spontaneous casting on a conditioned reflex? For instance, because you think "da red 'uns go fasta", you subconsciously speed the red ones up, magically, and because you sped them up, you're reinforced in the belief that "da red 'uns go fasta"?

>we can always go back in time
Well, it's just a jump to the left...
No, wait, isn't this story technically already in the past, being told by Alice in present day?
>>No. 10909
>>10908
[X] This.
>>No. 10910
>>10908
[x] What this guy said

I think if looking at our soul causes someone to go insane 'temporarily' thats something we should look into.
>>No. 10911
[X] Forced the issue myself.
-[X] "Erk. You said you miscast the spell. Then why aren't you casting it again, properly this time? What did you see when you looked at my soul, Erk?"

As a backup,
-[X] If Erk clams up, go ask Mom Shinki go have a look at our soul later.
>>No. 10912
>>10908
[x]This

I wonder what's wrong with our soul.
>>No. 10913
>>10908
[x]Well-thought write-in

You guys put more planning in this than I put in an average day of mine.
>>No. 10929
File 135503857274.jpg - (126.16KB, 450x600, the-same-day-again-and-again.jpg) [iqdb]
10929
I thought it was absurd. The dumb magician was doing a terrible job at pretending. “Erk, you said you miscast the spell. Why aren't you casting it again? Shouldn’t it be easy to make it work?”

The purple-haired magician didn’t even look at me when he answered. “I do not see the need to. What I was able to glean was more than enough information to work with.”

What kind of game did he think he was playing? Did he honestly think his act would work? That kind of evasive answer would never work. “What did you see when you looked at my soul, Erk?" I asked the magician point-blank.

Purple eyes twitched. Erk cringed slightly before he responded. “To be honest, I saw very little of your soul. I only kept in contact for the briefest of moments.”

“Why?”

The magician looked defeated before he even answered me. “It was a waste of time to maintain contact any longer.”

Why? Why wouldn’t he tell me? I felt mature, almost like an adult despite my age. I was learning all sorts of magic, able to do things just as well as any other human, if not better. Cooking for myself, fixing my own clothes, even patching up my own injuries – I could do more than some of the adults back in the village.

Yet, Erk didn’t think I could handle whatever he was hiding. I thought my teacher would be one of the few adults to tell me anything, but I was wrong.

“Alice, I don’t think this is something to cry about…”

“Who’s crying?” I snapped at the magician, the golem around my feet rolling like a sea storm. “I don’t even care anymore. Keep your secrets. You’re just like all the others, trying to hide things from me.”

The magician looked uncomfortable, glancing down at his hand to avoid my glare. “I only have the best in mind-”

“That’s why they always say! Don’t you think it’d be best to let me make my own decisions? I’m not dumb.”

“I never thought you were.”

“Then why won’t you tell me? This is important, isn’t it? You’re just…you’re just a big liar!” I should have been screaming, but I couldn’t. My voice choked up on me, the words forced out between swallowed sobs. “A big fat liar that doesn’t mean what he promises and doesn’t care about how I feel at all!”

“Never, Alice, I don’t-”

I turned away from the magician, rubbing my eyes with my arm. “Am I just like a pet? A little human child for all of the demons to play with? Nobody ever thinks I can do something on my own, right?”

Erk took a step towards me, but no more. “Alice, that isn’t fair-”

“Life isn’t fair.” I whirled on the magician, Metabble and Luminita flaring in anger along with me. “Nothing is ever fair. Don’t adults always say that? Why don’t you all ever stick with what you say?”

“I try to-”

“Then tell me!” It was so simple. He was complicating the issue. “Tell me the thing that is so important but you aren’t telling me like you said you would.”

“I can’t-”

My foot stamped ground as I turned my face away. It was pointless. Erk was usually open-minded, but his stubbornness could be implacable. “Of course you can’t, because no matter how much this hurts me you don’t care.”

“No. No, no, Alice you can’t mean that, say that, it doesn’t…no.”

My patience with the situation was set to explode. It took all of my control to force the exasperation back, to keep my emotions and my magic suppressed instead of lashing out at Erk. “What? What can’t I say? Are you going to boss me around now?”

“Never. It’s just that those thoughts are not appropriate-”

“Not appropriate? What’s not appropriate? I didn’t even say anything. I’m not allowed to even talk about myself? How I feel?”

“I’m not saying that!”

“Then what are you saying?” I was sick of it. Trying to understand was impossibly difficult. A sheen of silver rose in front of me, a physical wall to block off the pain. I sniffed and swiped at the metal, the obstruction formed by Metabble falling back to the ground. “I’m confused, I’m angry, and I’m hurt. I don’t get it!”

“N-No, you’re…this is f-fine, you aren’t hu- hurt…”

I couldn’t see Erk and could barely hear his faltering voice. My sight blurred, hearing clogged, and voice became wracked by convulsions. My liquid metal golem wrapped around my feet and crawled up to my knees, trying to comfort me with a warm embrace. My doll reached up to stroke my hair from where I hugged her against my chest. Before I knew it I was kneeling on the ground, any strength to stay standing lost. I become lost in my own thoughts, concentrated on my emotions.

“Hah, I’m not w-wrong…t-this is f-for the be-ahhaha…”

I didn’t want to hear him, to be near him. My magical energy swirled, the silver hue blending in with purple clouds and red glow. My teacher disgusted me; they all disgusted me. Would any of the demons, the adults, be better? Would Shinki be able to figure out what was wrong and help? Or would she do ‘what she thought best’ and refuse to tell me?

“I’m…correct, t-this is- this- this- is- best!”

I couldn’t see mom in my state, though. Erk’s secrecy shouldn’t have been surprising. Why did I let myself breakdown over it? That was unsightly behavior, no matter how you looked at it.

“Safe…that’s all that…n-no, a bit of p-pain is…n-no, no, no, safe, she’s s-safe t-this w-way s-she’s hurting –buaaaah…hu-hurting but she’s s-s-s-safe…”

Breathe in, breathe out. Rub my eyes, wipe my nose. Control my magic, control my emotions, control everything. Look presentable, act presentable. A proper lady could always look respectable, just like momma.

“H-harm, this isn’t…n-no, j-just because I- ahaha- n-never is never but I- never is n-not w-what I never is never is never is- ngh…”

I blinked, and looked at the purple-haired magician with clear eyes. Without the haze of tears, I could see the overpowering red light tingeing the entire room. Unlike my silver energy or Erk’s purple energy, the red glow truly existed. It emanated from Erk’s hand, almost as bright as a flame.

My teacher, despite the apparent calmness he had obtained from before, lost it. He was backed against the wall, desperately clawing at the structure in a struggle to stay standing. As I calmed down, he drifted further into panic. “E-Erk?”

My teacher looked at me, panicky movements frozen. “You…Alice…you’re…fine, r-right?”

“Fine? NO!” Pain spiked in my senses. I bit my tongue, hard, to avoid continuing the outburst. The repetition in the conversation threatened to drive away my self-control. He wasn’t listening to me at all. “I’m not! You big dummy, I just want to know what happened!”

The hopeful expression that temporarily graced Erk’s features withered away. The twitch in his eyes and the jittering of his limbs returned. “Not fine…no, no, she’s not fine she wants to she not know fine I hurt never I said never she I hurt her never safety is the most but I said never and she’s never hurt pain I caused never I said never she just wants to know and never hurt her it will it will it hurt more and that is not never safety never never now she’s hurt now and I in the future she hurt never-”

Madness. A temporary insanity, he had called it.

Even that was a lie. My proud and intelligent teacher sat crumpled on the ground, muttering and clawing at his feet, with his hand aglow with ominous red light. Erk’s gibberish annoyed me, seemingly incomprehensible.

Until I bothered to listen to what he was actually saying. The anger drained away when realization finally hit me. This wasn’t caused by the soul-communion spell, but something else.

I took his hand in my own. There was zero resistance to my grip as Erk warred with himself.

I glanced down at his wrist and lightly traced the glowing tattoo with my finger. “I shall never harm you again. In our interactions, your safety shall be paramount in my thoughts.” Even with my heart beating and distracting my thoughts, it made a twisted sort of sense.

“I can’t I can’tIcan’tInevernevercan’tInevercan’twillnever-”

“You can probably guilt Erk into doing whatever you want now!” Nobody ever really explained it to me; another bit of information I failed to understand. Despite my assertions of being mature and smart, all the important facts never even crossed my mind.

I didn’t want to burden others, to cause my family any problems. Yet, everybody had problems they had to deal with. Nobody knew everything all the time, but they still had to make decisions. Someone like Erk knew much more than I ever could. To find something he couldn’t understand would be difficult.

So, he was struggling between two well-defined ideas. Two things that were diametrically opposed. Two things that conflicted with his solemn, magical oath.

To help my mentor, my friend, my family, I had to act more selfish.

“Hey, Erk? Don’t you think it’s more dangerous to hide whatever you found from me? If I don’t know, I might have an accident or…?”

“…no, no, nononono- You can’t- that isn’t…”

I sniffed and drew Erk’s hand closer to my face, staring at the tattoo and ignoring the glow. A physical reminder only, I couldn’t sense any magic emanating from the design besides the light. “There’s something wrong with me? Right now, that’s really scary. Right now it hurts, it’s painful, it’s like…torture. Agony. It, uhm, dis- distresses me, a whole lot!”

My words weren’t insincere, no matter how much I was stretching my vocabulary. Even if I wasn’t being genuine, I doubted that it would matter.

Erk was a mess.

The purple-haired demon writhed, furiously shaking his head where he sat. I held onto his hands to prevent him from scratching his face. The anger I had held only minutes before was nowhere to be felt. Watching Erk squirm, clenching his eyes and babbling strings of meaningless noise, was the worst.

He was tearing himself apart, but I could only push him further after going so far. I hoped it was the right choice. “I don’t think I can…handle, not knowing. It’ll be a lot worse if I don’t learn now. I might go crazy or do something a lot worse. Maybe I might…die?”

Erk froze, all of his shaking ceasing in an instant.

Nothing happened as he watched me for a second, completely silent.

Then he screamed, purple energy exploding towards me. “You should be dead!”

The force of Erk’s voice sent me staggering back, empowered by all of the loose magical energy Erk had accidentally released. The sound dampening magic Erk had been using shattered.

Metabble caught me, rising upwards to act as a brace and keep me standing. “W-What?”

“Your soul is black, covered in smog as dark as night, shredding apart! Our souls melded and I felt it tearing me to pieces, desperate to be whole!”

That couldn’t be true. There was no way that was true. That didn’t make sense. What kind of conclusion was that?

“But you aren’t dead! You can stay perfectly healthy and that’s all I care about! When you’re with us you’re fine and telling you is only going to make this worse but I can’t not do it because of these damn compulsions!”

I giggled.

Erk was being silly, throwing a fit like this. His magically enforced contract was wrapped around his own thoughts; if he thought there was a no-win situation then he trapped himself.

I laughed and laughed. It was all so silly.

“Alice, you…” I tried to restrain myself so I could properly converse with Erk. The magician looked well already, none of the seizure-like behavior affecting him any longer. The room looked proper, too. All of the excess magical energy had been expended, and the red glow dissipated rapidly once Erk blurted out his worries.

Everybody was calm an in control of their thoughts when Ko and Serra burst into the room.

“Who’s screaming? What’s wrong?” The pink-haired healer questioned, rapidly looking between Erk and I.

Ko frowned as she drew closer to me. “Whoa, Alice, you look terrible. Are you hurt or something?”

I placed a hand on the red-head’s shoulder and shook my head. “I’m fine.”

The two other girls stared at the scene before them, unable to figure out what to make of it. “Erk, what happened?” The magician said nothing, seemingly wrapped up in his own thoughts.

Serra turned to me, but I just shrugged.

After another few seconds of silence, Serra decided to move on. “Well, I’ll be finished cooking in a few minutes, so you two should come eat.”

“Serra ain’t bad. I had some and it’s pretty tasty.” The redhead showed her approval with two thumbs-up and a cheeky grin.

“No thank you. I need to head back early.” I declined their invitation and stepped past the demons. “Thank you for having me.” After a quick bow, I was off, walking down the hall and out the door.

“Wha? Well, alright Alice, cya!”

The routine flight back to Pandemonium took minimal effort. Given that the maze of streets became a non-factor once in the air, drifting towards the large crystalline castle required almost no attention.

There was plenty I needed to do. It was getting to the point where I could potentially improve Metabble more, or even make a bunch of new golems. Sara was starting to incorporate simple weapon skills in our workout by having me swing around wooden poles. I needed to practice a lot with them. There were some interesting medical manuals that I wanted to read and I was ready to start on an elaborate multicolored dress for Luminita.

My life was pretty busy. With all the activity, it was tough finding time where I was doing nothing. Every minute from waking to sleep was busy, busy, busy.

I touched down in Pandemonium and began to weave my way through the halls.

To my surprise, it wasn’t Yumeko that found me first.

“Oh my, if it isn’t Alice!” The goddess set the large box she was carrying on the ground. “What are you doing back so soon, Sweetie?”

“We finished early and I was feeling a bit tired, so I came back.” The answer rolled off my tongue.

“Hm?” Shinki knelt down in front of me and leaned forward, pressing her forehead against mine. “Are you feeling well, Alice? You don’t seem to have a fever.”

“I’m fine, just tired,” I told the goddess, stepping away from her and recreating my personal space.

“Okay then, Dear. Don’t push yourself too hard. I know you’re trying to accomplish a whole lot, but you still have plenty of time to grow.”

“Thanks.” I picked up Shinki’s box and handed it to her before continuing down the hallway. I reached my room in no time flat and hopped into bed.

It wasn’t simple to take it easy. Everything was important, from my physical fitness to my magical lessons. My family lovingly agreed to help me; I couldn’t disrespect their help and forgo my obligations. It would be rude to ignore their generosity. It would be worse to hurt them.

I buried my face in a mess of blankets, pillows, and shifting liquid-metal. I should have changed out of my clothes and washed up, but that would have taken too much effort. Instead, I hugged Luminita to my chest and clenched my eyes shut.

I could catch a few extra hours of sleep without bothering anyone. Maybe more. I heard that sleep was supposed to be important for growing children. Skipping morning exercise for a day might be rude to Sara after she traveled all the way down from Makai’s entrance to meet me, but I was kind of sore. Besides, the gatekeeper could always use the time to spar with Yumeko or meet more of her friends. That way, I could take it easy and not be completely rude.

That sounded great. Maybe staying in bed longer wouldn’t hurt, either. Missing out on a school lesson from the ocean of topics that was covered wasn’t a travesty. The teachers usually gave me special attention when I showed up, anyway. Without me there, the rest of the class could continue on with the review it was meant to be.

Erk would be tired, too. Giving him a day to recuperate after the ordeal I forced him through would only be fair. Interacting with me on a daily basis couldn’t have been easy. Answering my questions, fixing my mistakes, planning out everything I would learn – it was dumb of me to ask that of anybody day in and day out.

A knock on the door interrupted my thoughts. I poked my head out of the mound of bedding I had gathered and saw Yumeko step inside my room.

“Alice? The goddess surprised me when she told me of your return. We didn’t expect you so soon.”

I wondered what I looked like; perhaps a silver-backed turtle peeking out of its shell. “I’m sorry. I’m just tired.”

“That’s all right. I’ll go prepare a bath and-”

“No thank you,” I interrupted the maid. “I’m just going to sleep.”

“Truly?” It looked like Yumeko was debating whether or not to interrogate me further before giving up. “Well, if you insist. Sleep well.”

With the grace and propriety expected of her, Yumeko curtsied and left the room.

There wasn’t a need to take up Yumeko’s time for me. She was probably busy with something before coming to check up on me, just like mom was when I bumped into her in the hall.

I nestled back into my bed.

I reasoned that I didn’t need to get out of bed for awhile.

I had been blessed with unbelievably nice family members. The village was supportive of me, providing everything I needed. Momma and daddy only thought the world of me, pushing me to pursue whatever I wanted to do. The demons of Makai changed their daily lives to accommodate me. Shinki took me in without complaint, adopting me in order to give me everything I lost.

Ms. Inoue. It wasn’t fair to them. Mr. Mizushima.

Sora. They sacrificed too much for their family. Lily.

Morgana. Too much for me. Mr. Moreau.

Maki. I barely returned anything to them, mom’s encouraging words unable to hide the truth of the matter. Jezebel.

Violle.I didn’t deserve them. Miho..

Maki. They didn’t deserve what I brought them, took from them. Aoyama.

They all gave me the world, and I demanded more.

Momma.

It was cruel.

Daddy.

Deep down, I knew it. The comforting words of others tried to mask the truth, but I always knew it.

Ko.

Sobs reverberated within my chest, my lullaby of guilt and anguish carrying me to sleep.
>>No. 10931
File 135503878098.jpg - (50.72KB, 600x381, a-time-long-past.jpg) [iqdb]
10931
Life was good. Great, even. “What? No, don’t buy that pottery. That trash will never sell well. Here, check with this man – his work is supposedly excellent, despite the hard times he’s fallen on. You can get there before he closes for the night.”

“Of course, Lady.” The merchantman bowed and left the room, leaving the girl with her records and her servants.

“I swear, if he ever had to rely on legitimate business, that man would never have stayed afloat.” The girl shook her head and scratched out words in her record book.

The youngster sitting next to the girl was tiny, a slip of a child. The girl had found the tiny child digging through the trash and immediately took the tiny girl in as a servant. “Yes, Lady. More tea?”

“Yeah, thanks.” The girl leaned back and rubbed her eyes, tired of managing affairs. The girl hadn’t found as much success with dominating others as she did with the disgusting, crooked merchant – the most she could do was influence and intimidate. With the man himself being hilariously inept at the legitimate portion of his trade, the girl quickly applied her knowledge and intuition to salvage his business.

Over the few months, the girl was able to expand. She read every book she obtained and spoke with every other professional she came across. With a charmed smile and soothing words, she extracted every useful bit of information she could.

She turned the fat merchant’s business around, growing it to the point where she could cut off the sordid deals that used to sustain his superfluous

His previous dealings were repulsive. Trafficking humans was deplorable. Having waited in the shadows of alleys in fear of such a fate, the girl refused to continue the merchant’s lucrative business. As a result, she found herself housing and employing dozens of people, mostly young girls. At first stealing and tricking others for all the necessary provisions, the business eventually managed to provide for the children. From household servants and couriers to unassuming ears on the street, the girl managed to keep all of the orphaned and kidnapped children safe, fed, and working.

She honestly liked the children. Almost all of them were good-mannered, ecstatic to have a house to live in. For them, the learning the girl forced upon them was the toughest work of all. The girl would not budge on educating them, no matter how little worth they saw in it.

“I’ve had enough of this for one day. Let’s go bathe and-”

A skinny boy burst into the room, panting and falling to his knees. “L-Lady! T-They, t-they…”

“Breathe, Kazuya, breathe.” The girl used her voice, urging the boy to quiet. The familiar feeling of power, the thing she could only describe as magic, flowed with her words.

The former street rat took a deep breath, calming himself before rising to his feet. “They took her, Lady. Nanami was watching the back entrance for me but then they came and took her away!”

All of the servants ceased their shuffling. The terror of being snatched was familiar to them all.

The girl took the news in stride. “Do you remember who they were, Kazuya? An emblem on their clothes, perhaps?”

“Y-Yeah. It was a white circle with some red and a triangle and, uhm…”

The skinny boy quieted when the girl rubbed his head. “That’s enough. Thank you for telling me this Kazuya. You rushed right back here, correct? I’ll be back in a moment. Everybody, please lock up for the night.”

Fury alight in her breast, the girl stormed out of the building, leaving the children behind. She paused next to the two men standing guard next to the entrance. “One of you come with me. Now.” She didn’t need the power of her voice to motivate the guards; the pay she provided was more than enough.

The armed man marched at the girl’s shoulder as she made her way through the streets of the city. All around her, shopkeepers and merchants, artisans and travelers packed up for the day. She cared for none of it, her destination set.

She stopped in front of the entrance to the district of the city that never slept. She had long hated this portion of the city, avoiding it with vehemence. Yet, it was no longer an option. Besides, she entered on business her own, not as a desperate waif looking for money.

It took only a few minutes to find what she was searching for, the emblem described to her emblazoned boldly on the door down an alley. “Nobody touches me.” After her guard’s affirmative grunt, the girl entered the den.

For a moment, she could have been fooled that the building was a proper, sanctioned establishment. Perhaps a bar, considering the number of men drinking merrily. Yet the illusion would not have held for longer than it took to hear the screams and whimpers of pain of a recent catch.

The overly-muscled, gruff man sitting in the center of the room was no doubt the head of the criminal group. The girl cared not for the silent atmosphere, the dozens of stares that followed her as she approached.

“Return her to me immediately.” The girl wasted no time, throwing all of the power she could into the order. She would not let the criminals hold her servant, her employee, one of her children, a moment longer.

She smirked when the thug’s eyes slackened. She found that weak-willed criminals caved to a few commands easily enough.

But, it was wrong. The man didn’t comply.

To the girl’s mounting horror, he smiled. He shook his head. He leered at her. “Why would I do that, Missy? Might be I just take you instead?”

The girl had miscalculated, horribly blundered into the situation due to her emotions. She couldn’t stop herself from glancing around the room, observing the men who could no doubt overpower her single protector.

All of the thugs were watching her, some with rough faces and others grinning wildly.

She crushed her panic with her force of will. She supplanted her fear with all-encompassing rage, refusing to let herself be intimidated. “The girl you kidnapped was my servant, my family! You hold on to that child at your own peril.”

“My own peril? Ahahahaha!” Like a wave, the boss’ mirth spread to his underlings, all of them taking up the mocking laughter. “I’ll give you once chance to leave, Girl, just because you aren’t worth the hassle of the authorities.” The man’s expression turned grim, the raw feeling of death apparent in his features. “Nobody cares enough about a low-class merchant group and their orphan workers.”

“Y-You…” The girl stumbled, backing away from the killers and murderers.

She could hear her little servant in the back rooms, screaming in protest to some sort of beating, no doubt defiant to whatever rules the criminals wanted to place on her.

Helplessness. That damned feeling returned to the girl, for the first time in months.

She hated it.

She couldn’t do anything about it.

The girl staggered to the doorway, her guard keeping a careful eye on the criminals behind them. Pushing open the door, the girl turned her head. She wanted to scream her farewell, to project all of her mounting fury and anguish. She wanted to curse out the criminals, to threaten them with death and retribution.

But she couldn’t. Her nerve was broken. The crime lord laughed at her, daring her with his eyes to make a mistake. Holding onto her vehemence as long as she could, the girl stomped out of the building and fled into the night.

She ran through the empty streets and barreled into her home, disregarding everybody who thought to question her. The girl threw herself into bed and cried out her frustration, her failure.

A child had been condemned to some horrid life because of her weakness. The girl fell to sleep with her mind still whirling with hatred.

The next day, the girl awakened with a start. A child, one of her servants, was shaking her vigorously. “N-N-Nanami is back!”

“What?” The girl rushed from her room, a trail of just waking children forming behind her.

Bursting into the common room of the complex, the girl found a child huddled underneath a heap of blankets, a steaming cup of tea in her hands. Everybody crowded around her, from the child servants the girl employed to the adults working for the business.

The girl, in shock, walked over to the child. The clammor of the crowd died down, letting the girl and the child meet in silent peace.

The girl fell to her knees and hugged the child, eyes tearing with joy. She was lost for words. The child did not have such difficulties. “Thank you for saving me, Lady.”

“S-Save you?” The girl choked the question out. “I couldn’t do anything.”

“H-Huh? You came after me and stopped the bad men so I could get away, right?”

“I…did what?”

A door clacked open. “Hey, did you hear?” The fat merchant strode into the room and interrupted the conversation, unable to read the atmosphere. “A large portion of the red-light district caught on fire last night. We can use this chance to invest!”

The girl ignored the merchant and turned back to the child. “Is that how you got away?”

“Uh-huh. All of the smoke and the hot and the shouting made it really scary, but I made it to the door! Then one of them was gonna chase me but the building fell on him! I got lost in the night; I never been that far away before.” The child took her adventure in stride, excited despite the obvious pain she had suffered.

The girl thought while she let the child enrapture the audience with her tale. The girl wondered, was it a coincidence or something more? She could feel the power within her, ever present as it usually was. Was it an accident? A miracle from the divine she thought that had abandoned her so long ago?

“Hey,” she quietly caught the attention of the fat merchant, “what else did they say about the fire?”

“Some sort of building burned down completely. A dozen or so guys were caught inside and kicked it. The owner was in there, too, so the property is up for sale now!”

If it was a coincidence, it was stretch.

Shrugging away the thoughts, the girl hugged the child closer. Some sort of unconscious power or not, the girl could not let anything slow her down. Fortune favored her once, but there were no second guarantees.

She had failed those that depended on her once. She would make sure that it wouldn’t happen again.


---

Girl of Death, Part Two: Twisted Soul – End

---
>>No. 10932
File 135503891665.jpg - (807.20KB, 700x988, what-now.jpg) [iqdb]
10932
My eyes flickered open, the darkness greeting me like a well-known friend.

Struggling against the mess, I threw off blankets and pillows, liquid metal shifting out of the way to let me sit up.

I stared at the wall for several minutes before lazily searching for the time.

According to my gem clock, it was only an hour earlier from when I usually woke up.

I didn’t want to rise, to get out of bed. It was tempting to fall back into the mess of covers and lose myself in the warm comfort. My brain worked slowly, contemplating what to do, how to react.

The events of the previous day meandered back to the forefront of my thoughts.

My emotions barely reacted. I recalled what occurred in dull monochrome.

I…

[ ] Adhered to my schedule. Everything was fine.
[ ] Stayed in my room and…
-[ ] Fell back asleep
-[ ] Practiced and studied what I could
[ ] Went to speak with…
-[ ] Yuki
-[ ] Sara
-[ ] Ko
-[ ] Erk
-[ ] Shinki
-[ ]
[ ]

---

Sorry for the overly long wait. The words were pretty uppity; they wouldn’t form rank in a timely fashion. I beat them as hard as I could but they never wanted to line up and when they did, they half-assed it. How frustrating. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back on track for timely updates.

>Conditioned magical reflexes
That’s basically how I would sum the elbow thing up, but then you have to wonder what is wrong with the caster that they managed to get that linkage between action and effect in the first place. Then the question becomes what other crazy things have their brain cooked up?

>>10913
Hell, I just do whatever I want; they put more planning into these write-ins than I do my stories.
>>No. 10935
Did somebody call for a write-in? But seriously, I don't put much planning into mine at all. I think for ten, maybe twenty, minutes before posting and never looking back.

[X] Felt I should adhere to my schedule. So as long as there were no major changes, I could be able to resolve that problem at my own pace. After all, Erk did say that even with whatever was going on with my soul, I was perfectly healthy. My body wasn't suddenly going to-
-[X] WAIT.
-[X] ERK.
--[X] If he didn't get anything new from looking at my soul, and he didn't have any idea what was wrong with himself from looking at Serra's and Ko's, then he doesn't know what's wrong with himself! And he really needs to get that fixed!
--[X] With that in mind, I went to speak with him, to make sure he wasn't doing something less urgent right now, like trying to think of a way to fix my soul or something.

---[X] I also wondered what I could do about my own problem, though. I didn't want to make a big deal over it, so I couldn't just go telling everyone I knew. Well, I knew that Shinki had some experience with souls; perhaps I could go speak with her later when I saw her?

I'm sure I mixed up the tenses somewhere in there as well.
>>No. 10937
[x] Went to speak with…
-[x] Erk


Both to apologize for the tantrum and trying to get him to see Shinki
>>No. 10938
>>10937
The problem is that, while getting him to see Shinki would probably help if it indeed was a problem with his soul, we still don't know what the cause actually is yet.
>>No. 10939
>>10938
I'm pretty sure we know exactly what the problem is, Anon.
>>No. 10941
>>10939
Care to enlighten us? It doesn't seem certain
>>No. 10942
>>10941
also the plan was to see Shinki if the soul link uncovers nothing and while something did happen, it was more Alice-related than not.
>>No. 10964
File 135598199614.jpg - (146.28KB, 850x1001, moving-the-plot-along.jpg) [iqdb]
10964
I rolled off the bed, landing in a puddle of soft metal. I looked down at my clothes, messed from sleeping in them, and sighed.

After washing my face and changing into a fresh set of clothes I was off. I navigated the halls of Pandemonium and took to the air without meeting a soul. I must have awoken too early for Yumeko to anticipate it.

That was fine. It was easier to slip away when there was nobody I needed to get away from.

I set course for Erk’s home. I needed to talk with the purple-haired magician, no matter what. There was too much that needed to be covered.

My stomach ached when I thought about it. Erk’s words might not have been specific, but they gave me the most awful feelings and thoughts. Memories thrashed at their cages, desperate to be released. Emotions stirred and danced, attempting to wrest control of my mind and react to the situation on their own. I stamped them all down as best as I could. Approaching the situation with logical thought was the best choice to avoid any unpleasantness.

The city of Makai was bustling with life as usual. No matter what time of the ‘day’, demons could always be found going about their business. Several of the city’s inhabitants greeted me in passing, always friendly. Inside the city was practically a utopia, a place where everybody could pursue whatever they wanted and still live a normal life. They didn’t need to worry about bad crops, extreme weather, or even serious crime. Personal arguments and petty theft (and even then, the thieving demons often returned what they took after the challenge was over) were the worst that occurred in the city. Shinki’s family was lucky, enjoying peace and security that any human could never experience.

Yet, there I was, causing problems for them all.

Throwing the melancholic thoughts out of my head, I stopped in front of Erk’s home. “Do I look okay Luminita?”

The doll tilted her head and tapped my cheeks, using her fingers to brush my hair around. Then she jabbed my forehead. “Ow, what are you-” Her tiny fingers attacked, poking and prodding at my skin. I shook her, but she didn’t stop until I lowered her. Once Luminita was at waist height, the doll struggled forward in my hands, lunging towards my waist.

“No, don’t do-ahahah!” The tickle attack took me off guard. I jerked Luminita away but the sudden motion threw off my balance. I dropped the doll and yanked my arms backwards to break my fall. Landing on my rump, Luminita fell on top of me and continued her assault.

I bucked and kicked, laughing and struggling to stop the assault. Eventually, I managed to land a blow and launch the doll away. Whoops.

“Sorry about that,” I apologized to my companion after picking her up off the ground.

Luminita traced the shape of a smile with her fingers and pointed at me. A quick thumbs up and a reassuring pat on the wrist was everything the doll had for me. “Thanks, Luminita.”

Semblance of confidence and well-being restored, I knocked on the door to Erk’s house and waited. When nobody answered, I tried it again. “Is he not home?” Before turning to leave, I jiggled on the handle and found it to be open.

Quietly pushing the door open, I peeked inside the house. “Erk?” I called out.

The layout of Erk’s moderate home was intimately familiar to me. If everybody was upstairs or downstairs, nobody would be able to hear the door.

I closed the front door quietly and walked inside, looking into each of the rooms as I passed by. When I drew closer to the stairs, I began to notice a strange sensation. After pondering the feeling, I realized that all of the magical energy in the house was moving. A subtle drift was in place, dragging all of the magic upstairs.

I tiptoed up the steps and down the hall, following the magic and stopping next to Erk’s bedroom. I brushed against the door, opening it only a sliver, enough to let me look into the room.

Shinki? I thought, the long silver-hair and red robes I saw distinctive to Makai’s goddess. She was standing next to the bed, her arms spread out to her sides. One hand held a glittering, multi-colored jewel, around which all of the magical energy was pulled into it. From the gem, streams of rainbow light flowed outwards, lazily wrapping around the room and back down to the bed.

I watched the obviously magical ritual with rapt attention. Even if I couldn’t see everything with my eyes, I could still follow the important parts with my magical senses. At least, I could try. Shinki’s magic was accomplishing dozens of tasks at once, each strand of colored energy working on something different in tandem with the rest. Creation, the trait I most associated with Mom, was easily recognizable. Complicated to the extreme, the goddess of Makai accomplished what I did but on a much larger scale. She wouldn’t create a single metal arm. She would create a biological arm, perfectly suited to its role down to the very DNA.

The magic was doing something else as well, an effect I hadn’t associated with the goddess before. I had to see.

I pushed the door open further and further until I could properly view inside the room. I smacked a hand over my mouth in reflex at the sight, more to avoid making any noise than because of shock or surprise. Strange and gruesome surprises were becoming unpleasantly expected in my life.

Shinki’s magic was not creating, but also destroying. Rather, it was recycling, or reconstructing. After having seen Erk pick apart his own legs, I could identify the mess of body parts that was my magic teacher.

His body had been cut to pieces, surgical precision separating limbs into manageable chunks. They were lying in a mess on the floor by Shinki’s feet. One by one, thighs and biceps rose into the air. The parts floated around the bed and then disintegrated under the power of the colored streams. Magic picked apart Erk’s body and brought it back together again. On the bed, a new form was slowly being created, layer by layer.

After a minute, Shinki completed her creation. By all appearances, Erk was sleeping on his bed, clothed and in pristine condition.

I opened my mouth to speak, but stopped when I noticed that Shinki wasn’t finished. She reached into a pocket and pulled out a pure purple gem. She placed the new stone on Erk’s chest and chanted a few short words in an incomprehensible language.

The purple gem exploded in magical energy. The wisps of purple whirled around, attempting to rush away and escape the building, but the goddess reigned them back in. The haze swirled like a tornado, slowly closing in on the bed.

I reached out and touched some of the energy, the cloudy substance wrapping around my fingers and disappearing. I yanked my hand away immediately. My mind identified the substance on contact based purely on intuition. I was sure I was correct, though.

The last thing I wanted was to prevent Erk’s soul from claiming its new body.

The tornado of spirit drained into Erk’s body completely, the gem on his clear and transparent once everything settled.

Shinki sat down on the bed and placed her hands on the magician’s shoulders. Erk coughed as his eyes opened. His body jerked for several seconds, violently and uncontrollably, only held in check by the goddess.

The violent revival ended in a few seconds. After the purple-haired magician calmed down, Shinki let Erk sit up. “Welcome back, Dear.”

“Thank you, my Goddess. I apologize for inconveniencing you.”

“It isn’t a problem, Erk.” Shinki sighed and rubbed the magician’s cheek. “I wish you came to me sooner. You gave Serra and Ko quite a fit after your accident.”

“I’ll…apologize to them as well.” Erk’s contrite tone almost dragged a snort of laughter out of me. He seemed immature, just like a little child, when interacting with the goddess. “I wasn’t expecting for this to happen.”

“Then what were you expecting? Serra and Ko told me everything they knew, but it wasn’t much. You don’t have to be so secretive with family, do you?”

“My apologies. I’ll keep it in mind.”

Shinki shook her head and drew her child into a light hug. “That’s no good, Erk. What’s wrong? You can tell me.”

Voice slightly muffled, Erk’s reply was no less understandable. He was being more taciturn than usual, his evasive answers something I had received much of in the previous days. “There’s no problem. Everything is fine.”

“Then what happened? Care to explain it to me?”

“An accident.” Compared to when he was dodging my queries, Erk sounded like a petulant child upset that he was caught when confronted by Shinki.

“An accident where your body completely shuts down? Erk, I know you realized what was happening. Even with one of our most talented healers eating right next to you, you hid it. Why?”

“I didn’t think it would be a problem.”

“Erk.” Despite her frustration, Shinki’s voice barely rose. She controlled her annoyance with remarkable skill, remaining a comforting and inviting figure. “If something is really wrong, you should tell me. You know, everybody is still on edge after that incident. If you know about any possible incursion or…?”

The magician’s answer was immediate and stern. “No. No, that isn’t it. The panic over an attack is, as far as I’m concerned, unfounded. My problem lies elsewhere.”

“Well?”

Yet, he petered off when Shinki tried to understand the real issue. Erk sat in Shinki’s embrace without speaking.

I jumped when Erk’s eyes met mine. The goddess was facing away from the door while she held Erk, but the magician could easily see me in the doorway. He made no sounds of acknowledgment, though.

With a morose look in his eyes, Erk finally responded to the goddess. “…My soul. I believe a decline in my soul is the cause.”

“How would that work, Dear? I know you’ve been researching this. Can you tell me?”

“Mhm. I believe you remember what occurs when you remove a soul from its body all at once.”

I couldn’t help but feel like the goddess’ loving tone felt incredibly strained when she answered. “Yes, I do.”

“Have you considered a human’s natural death?”

“Natural death? I’ve given it little thought outside of the fact that it occurs, eventually.”

“From what I understand, a human’s soul will stop growing and begin to decay. It slowly slips away from them until, when they finally die, the last fragments of their soul depart. A natural death, versus an unnatural one. How the human dies varies, but it is an inevitability while the soul leaves its shell.”

“I see. And since you all are, essentially, glorified humans, you think this is the root of your accident?”

“That’s right. I do not wish to label it something as uncouth as ‘old age’, but I hypothesize that my soul is disappearing at a rate noticeable enough for adverse symptoms to appear.” Half-truths and illusory misdirection. That was how my magic teacher operated when covering uncomfortable topics.

“Is that how it is?” Shinki’s question is full of curiosity, not suspicious but perhaps skeptical. “Protecting your soul, hm? I don’t recall having anything for that, but I can think of a few work arounds-”

Erk interrupts Shinki’s thoughts. “I don’t think it necessary, my Goddess. I am on track for finding a solution soon. You do not need to squander your time with such an effort.”

“Oh Erk, it’s not as if there is much else of importance I should be doing. How does the saying go? ‘Two heads are better than one?’”

“I…I can handle this on my own. You don’t need to-”

“Oh, Alice!” I twisted when I heard the exclamation, hopping to the side and out of sight of the doorway. Ko was walking down the hall towards me, a tome and a pair of glasses held in her hands. “When did you get here?”

“Alice?” Alerted to my presence, the goddess opened the door completely and stepped into the hallway. Erk followed behind her silently. “How are you, Sweetie? Are you feeling better?”

“A bit, yes.” I answered reflexively. I had been feeling better before entering the house, but the positive feeling in my gut drifted away the more I eavesdropped.

I…

[ ] Excused myself and left for Pandemonium; I shouldn’t have been listening
[ ] Spoke privately with…
-[ ] Erk
-[ ] Shinki
-[ ] Ko
[ ] Addressed the group about…
-[ ] My suspicions about myself
-[ ] Erk’s deceptions towards the goddess
-[ ]
[ ]

---

Tests over, time to sit all alone and write updates over the break. Let’s go!
>>No. 10972
[X] Spoke privately with…
-[X] Erk
Can't think of any good write-ins right now, but of the options, doing this promptly seems most in-character to me.
>>No. 10990
[X] Spoke privately with…
-[X] Erk

I'm tempted to go with Shinki but maybe we can speak with her at another time. For now, I want answers.
>>No. 10991
I don't know what to vote for. I'm gonna wait for a write in.
>>No. 10996
>>10991
Well, keep waiting, because I'll have the update posted soon(tm).
>>No. 11002
File 135641108919.jpg - (132.88KB, 981x1600, is-the-world-as-it-seems.jpg) [iqdb]
11002
I needed to finish my business, no matter what. “Can I speak with you, Erk?”

“Of course.” The magician didn’t sound particularly enthusiastic, but at least he was not vehemently opposed.

Picking up on the unspoken cue, Shinki brushed my hair as she walked past. “Did you find something, Ko?”

“Huh?” The red-head looked at me before turning to walk with the goddess. “Oh, yeah, Serra thought this was pretty interesting too, so we thought you might want to see it.”

“Let’s go downstairs then, Dear, so you can show me.” Shinki and Ko walked away from the room and down the stairs, leaving Erk and me alone.

I stepped into the magician’s room and sat down on the surprisingly clean bed. Erk faced the closed door and began to draw runes on the wall, the magical enchantments growing and expanding until they covered every centimeter of the floor, walls, and ceiling. It was a silence spell combined with other protective measures, meant to prevent much more than my simple, childish eavesdropping.

“How can I help you, Alice?” My magic teacher asked plainly, sitting down on the bed next to me.

I drew Metabble around my hand, splashing the golem around as I thought about what I wanted to say. “What was that just now? What happened to you?”

“You wish to know all of the details, yes?” The magician didn’t wait for my answer. “Several of my muscles tore apart, my throat closed off, and I don’t really remember much after, supposedly, several of the veins in my brain burst. According to Serra, my body continued to break down from there into an unusable mess. I assume she was speaking the truth.”

The image of body parts floating around, like organic doll limbs, flashed in my mind. “And that happened after I left yesterday?”

“Yes. Serra did her best, but it wasn’t enough. Once my sudden demise was confirmed, they waited until the goddess returned from her trip to the surface and could aid me. You’ve just seen the results of that.”

Give him a functioning body. Transfer his soul. Restore his life. The feat of magic that seemed impossible, but provided a safety net for all of the demons in Makai, thanks to their goddess.

“And you lied to the goddess, right? About yourself?” It was strange to ask bluntly and without tact, but it was only natural when dealing with my magic teacher. Politeness was all well and good, but would never get me far.

“Not lied, I don’t think. Not outright. She drew her own conclusions and I,” the magician sighed and petered off. “Yes, I lied. There’s no need to beautify it. I didn’t tell the goddess the truth, as she expects of us.”

Erk confirmed my suspicions. His evasive behavior was unmistakable, but his reasons less so. “Then, was the thing about your soul a lie?”

“No. I do believe that the degradation of my soul is causing a reaction in my physical form. The theory is sound; it aligns closely with other accounts of those affected but not outright killed by attacks on their souls.”

“Then, the lie was letting the goddess think it’s natural?”

“I certainly hope she drew that conclusion.”

“So it’s true.” I curled my legs up to my chest and sat Luminita on my knees, watching the doll kick her legs idly and without care. “I’m the real problem.”

“Alice, don’t be alarmed. It’s-”

“I’m not going to explode,” I assured the magician. “I just want to know, for sure. Please, tell me. I want to hear you say it.”

My teacher looked away and stared up at the ceiling, avoiding my desire for as long as possible. When the red light of his contract started to glow, he turned back to me. “Although we haven’t conducted any tests, it is what I consider the theory that fits the best. Without a doubt, when I connected our souls, a large portion of my own soul was taken from me, cast away from my body and destroyed. That incident is what I believe led to my abrupt demise; my body’s adjustments to the fluctuation in my soul were decidedly fatal.

“For all intents and purposes, our souls could have been considered as one when they were connected. I felt the abnormality in ‘my’ soul, which is to say, yours. There was a spell, I think, grafted onto it. Something unnatural, something harmful that has twisted itself into every crevasse of your being. That type of cancer attached to your soul should, if I suppose correctly, kill you by tearing your soul from your body. These are assumptions from less than a second’s worth of contact, but even if they are slightly incorrect, I do not think they are far off.

“Thus, as you are nothing but an energetic, healthy, child, I see two possibilities. Either your own soul is completely unaffected by this taint or you are, as I believe, finding replacements for your soul even as it is torn apart.”

My logical mind went to war with the cold facts and opinions. “I don’t understand. I can’t do that. Isn’t that impossible? A human can’t do that.”

“A normal human cannot, most assuredly. Yet you are, ultimately, far from a ‘normal’ human, Alice.”

“I haven’t been anything more than a little girl all my life. How could I do anything like that?”

“A little girl, talented at magic, whether she knew it or not.” The difficulties of my life in the village had been next to none. My parents and my neighbors had cared for me, allowing me to do almost whatever I wanted. I thought it was because of their encouragement that I could blast ahead with my academic lessons, maintain perfect stitching, and haul almost as much as the boys my age, exceeding all of the expectations placed upon me.

“A little girl that, against all odds, has only grown more powerful and intelligent during her stay with us.” Metabble pulled its form up onto the bed, dribbling around me. Luminita looked at me with unchanging eyes and comforting gestures. Clichéd fireballs and unique storms of metal were mine to wield, artificial insects and unbreakable pots only the beginning of what I could achieve. In the open air of Makai, I felt unreasonably powerful when magic danced around the tips of my fingers.

“A little girl, suffering under the effects of a malicious curse that rooted itself to her soul.” My personal demons assailed me less and less as time went on, but the memories could still catch up to me. ‘Biting off flesh and tearing apart joints’ and ‘Blood bubbling at her throat’ lost their effects in all but my most vulnerable moments. No matter what, I always avoided thinking about the past. Unlucky could have been one word to describe it, but that description was shallow.

It was a preposterous idea to any rational mind. A person’s soul should not be replaceable. Yet in the end, it proved no different from blood or any other body part. “It shouldn’t be that easy, should it? Can I do something like that without even noticing?”

“That is my concern, the most unknown factor to my theory. Unfortunately, I think you can. The concept of soul stealing is not unknown to history.” Erk raised a hand and chanted a few words, a dark orb spinning into existence. “As it happens, destroying a soul or protecting a soul from such attacks is well-researched. Blunt applications of soul manipulation are, arguably, what humans should be best at. Ghosts, for instance, are quite capable when attempting to possess another by forcibly merging their souls and warring with their minds.”

The magician banished his dark magic. “Your doll and your golem have always acted ‘naturally,’ a sure indicator of your unconscious skill. With your talents, something like siphoning nearby souls should be trivial.”

“I see.”

It only took a second for me to come to terms with Erk’s words. A scream that could wake the dead if only I was strong enough encompassed all of my feelings; all of the hate and terror, the constant frustrations and depression that plagued me. Magic frenzied, completely unrestrained for a second, the empty air exploding with jets of metal, furnace-like heat, and bellows of howling wind.

Then I stopped. Control was what I strove for. I had to control myself. Momma always acted with grace and expected me to do so as well. It was a task I had been failing miserably at over and over again, but was slowly improving. By my own measure, I was doing much better than the first breakdowns I had.

Assessing the room, I saw no damage, nothing beyond a few misplaced papers. “I should just leave. Go back up to my village and-”

I swallowed the rest of my thoughts when a pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders. Is Erk…hugging me? “Anywhere in the world, this is most assuredly the perfect place for you, Alice. You can continue living without interruption or worry.”

Despite the unexpected display of affection, I pushed the magician away. “And make everybody else suffer?”

“Yes. That’s exactly what you should do.” Erk’s answer was immediate. “Anything you do to us is, at most, a minor inconvenience. A dozen of our ‘lives’ are incomparable to the single one you hold. You shouldn’t worry for others when your safety is paramount.”

“But it’s wrong. I’m taking something important from everybody, something they need, without them knowing. That’s wrong!”

“It’s necessary. Nobody should complain if they have to sacrifice a little for you.”

“I can tell them, though. Ask them if it’s okay.”

“No, it’s best to wait. I’ve already begun seriously investigating this matter. If somebody placed this affliction upon you, then there must be a way to remove it. Until I find a way to help you, it’s safest to keep things quiet and wait.”

“That isn’t right at all.”

“Perhaps, but I’m not willing to risk your safety over a matter as trivial as consent.”

I knew that Erk would not budge on his beliefs if he could help it, so I tried a different approach. “It’ll be difficult for you on your own though, right? Shouldn’t you find some help to research?”

“Help might find a solution sooner, that is true, but finding those that could be trusted with such a task is problematic.”

“Can’t you just tell the goddess or-”

“No!” I scooted away from Erk when he shouted. The purple-haired magician took a breath to calm himself and then continued. “Whatever happens, the goddess is the one that should never know.”

“W-Why?”

“Because she’s the goddess. Our creator. Our mother.” Erk’s voice quieted to a whisper. His eyes stared past me, into the distance of his memory. “You…don’t know much of her, do you?”

“She’s nice and kind and caring and-”

“That’s right. She’s a loving mother, is she not? A demon, acting the part of a guardian angel. It should be laughable.” The vitriol in the magician’s voice was surprising. When I peeked in before he had looked, if not happy, content in Shinki’s arms. Yet there he was, almost insulting her. “Even considering what you know of her, what do you think she would do? She has thousands of children to think about. How would should act if she had to decide between you and the others?”

“What? She wouldn’t have to decide.”

“Of course she would. Equality and fair treatment, traits that the goddess expects us to live by. Should she show favoritism to you because of your condition when it risks her other children?”

“No, because that wouldn’t be…fair…” I couldn’t imagine the goddess acting with ill-intent. She was practically the embodiment of care.

“I can’t say how she would act, but even if there was a ninety-nine percent chance she would agree with me, it wouldn’t be enough. The goddess, the demon known as Shinki, is far from infallible, Alice. No matter how she might appear on a daily basis, I cannot put my faith in her in this situation, not when you’re the one at risk.”

Erk stood up and walked to the center of his room, reaching out with magic to deconstruct the enchantment he had worked into the structure.

“I suppose the decision lies with you on how you wish to proceed. You know my stance and what I plan on doing. I can’t force you into anything you don’t agree with, Alice.”

The magician opened the door and looked back at me. “I’ll support you as best as I am able, no matter what occurs.”

What was I to do? Erk wanted me to simply live my new life as usual, learning and growing as if nothing was wrong. He was going to find a solution, no matter how long it took and no matter how many of his siblings suffered for it. Even his suffering was inconsequential, it seemed.

That plan didn’t sit well with me. It was throwing everybody else I interacted with to the wolves. I could always tell somebody what Erk thought, tell somebody what I felt. There were many, many capable demons in Makai. I trusted all of them. Surely, they would all help me find a workable solution, no matter what Erk said. I should not let the niggling doubt in my mind influence my decision.

I…

[ ] Said nothing and continued with my life
[ ] Confessed what was happening to…
-[ ] Shinki
-[ ] Yumeko
-[ ] Ko
-[ ] Sara
-[ ] Yuki
-[ ] Mai
-[ ] Luize
-[ ]
[ ]

---

If you do decide on a write-in for this one, I suggest it be rather specific or you make your intent very clear. This warning might serve to inform you that this vote is mildly important as we continue on.
>>No. 11003
[X] Confessed what was happening to…
-[X] Ko
-[X] Sara

I don't know how to go about this, personally I would go with both Ko and Sara. I was considering Yumeko, but I don't think she can hide something like this from her goddess.
>>No. 11004
[ ] Left Makai on my own.
CHOO CHOO RIGHT OFF THE RAILS.


[X] Confessed what was happening to…
-[X] Ko.
The more people there are in on it, the less easy it will be to keep. We can ask Ko her opinion on telling other people, but I think Ko would be the most trustworthy in this situation.
>>No. 11018
File 135673227939.jpg - (405.06KB, 1250x850, the-simplest-method-is-the-best-method.jpg) [iqdb]
11018
I couldn’t agree with Erk’s reasoning. At least, not completely. Keeping a secret from the people I cared for was painful. Still, I understood his concern. I liked my life in Makai. Jeopardizing it by seeding panic in my adopted family was not something I could afford to do. I couldn’t ignore Erk’s advice when the magician had known his family for hundreds of years.

Yet, there was one other person besides Erk who deserved to know.

I walked down both flight of stairs and into the basement of the house, Erk following closely behind me. Shinki, Serra, and Ko were talking loudly, the three demons huddled around the work desk at the back of Erk’s library.

Their giggling and laughing subsided when they noticed me approach. “Did you finish everything you needed to, Sweetie?” Shinki asked.

“Yes. I just needed to talk with Erk about yesterday’s lesson.”

“What are you all looking at?” The owner of the house walked over and lifted up the opened book on the table.

“Welcome back Erk. You and I are going to be talking, later.” Erk’s pink-haired friend glared at him for a second before smiling innocently. “We were looking at your research notes when Ko found something rather nostalgic. We became a bit distracted, you see?”

Erk slammed closed the book in his hands and stalked off into the library, all while muttering rather rude words under his breath.

The demon women all laughed together, leaving me feeling rather left out. “What was that?”

“My little Erk’s first grimoire! It’s adorably sweet. I still remember the spell he created to grow flowers so he could give them to me.” Shinki reminisces with a wistful smile on her face, Ko and Serra both laughing their brains out.

I tried to imagine the stoic purple-haired demon offering a gift like that in such an affectionate manner.

It was impossible. Even after seeing Erk break down or grow angry, something as sweet as what the goddess described couldn’t be imagined.

“Enough of that.” Erk growled as he returned from wherever he stashed the book.

Ko leaned over and spoke in a stage whisper. “Don’t worry Alice, I’ll help you find it again later.”

“You’ll be lucky if I don’t burn that book.”

Serra went on the attack after Erk’s threat. “Oh Erky-poo, you need to embrace who you are. Underneath that gruff and fashion-blind exterior, I know there’s a little kid inside.”

Everybody joked around for a few minutes longer, teasing and laughing in play. Despite whatever nasty feelings had been left by Erk’s ‘accident,’ the demons recovered in no time at all. It was a constant reminder about how different they were from me.

Eventually, Ko stood up and stretched. “Well, I think I’ll head out now that everything looks like it’s settled down.”

“Thanks for keeping me company.” The pink-haired healer got up and hugged my friend farewell.

Erk groused from where he was sitting, already pouring over texts on matters related to souls despite the presence of distractions. “I expect my books to be returned in pristine condition.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t worry about it. Catch you later.”

“Hold on, Ko, I’ll go with you.” I called out to the redhead. The little devil stopped at the door of the basement and leaned against the frame, waiting for me. “Thank you for having me.”

The goddess pouted from where she sat. “Aw, so soon? Enjoy yourselves you two.”

I waved goodbye to my family in the basement and hurried after Ko. The redhead and I walked up the stairs and out the door in silence. After taking a few steps into the street, Ko confronted me. “So, whatcha need, Alice?

“D-Do I have to need something? Maybe I just want to spend time with you.”

“Man, that’s sweet. I’m touched, Kid,” Ko grinned at me, “but I know something’s up. Whatever happened yesterday, and why you came back again so soon. What’s going on, Alice?”

I found myself lost for words, unable to answer my friend’s direct question.

It felt dangerous, talking openly in the middle of the street. Although I thought my adopted family would be nothing but understanding, Erk’s words placed the seeds of doubt in my mind. There was no need to take chances when the only one I wanted to confide in was my friend. “Can we talk in a private place?”

“Private? Sure, let’s just fly up a bit higher.”

“Ah, no.” I glanced up at the sky and shook my head. It was like mentioning to someone that they were breathing; after Erk’s explanation, I couldn’t help but notice how many people were around me at any single time. I wasn’t quite sure how my body worked, but I didn’t think being alone with Ko for any length of time was safe for her. “There needs to be others around. A bunch of others.”

“What? You sure you know what the word ‘private’ means?”

“I do! It’s just that-”

Ko laughed and grabbed my hand. “Hah, don’t get so riled up, Alice. I know what you mean. Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

“You should know where.”

I didn’t like Ko’s cryptic answer. My mind instantly started to think about the possibilities. The list of places I had visited with Ko and that fit my request was short. It was so short that it was basically narrowed down to one, dark, bar. “Wait, you don’t mean t-that place, d-do you?”

“Where else? All the people in there that won’t care what we talk about.”

“B-But t-that’s…”

“Here we are!” Ko exclaimed and highlighted the place I didn’t want to go anywhere near. I hadn’t entered Sebastian’s bar in weeks. The suspicious building full of darkness and inappropriate demons was a place I avoided. When Ko and I hung out on a normal day, we always stuck with the nice, upright stores and places in plain view of the street.

Regardless of my inclinations, Ko pushed open the door and stepped inside. Yet, instead of leading me towards the lit section of the building where the bartender waited, Ko made a beeline for the depravity-filled darkness. “We can’t go back there!”

The redhead disappeared from sight, her voice only slightly louder than the screams and grunts from further in. “Better hurry up, Alice, or you’ll be left behind.”

“N-No! K-Ko! Don’t…argh!”

I rushed forward into the darkness and collided with Ko. I grabbed the demon’s hand and squeezed my eyes shut. It was impossible to shut out the embarrassing noises all around us. I was sorely tempted to apply my magic, but not being able to hear would mean I couldn’t talk with Ko.

After what felt like forever, Ko motioned for me sit down. A quick peek showed me two booth seats and a table between them. The noises wouldn’t stop, but I was relieved that the high backs of the booths prevented me from accidentally seeing something I shouldn’t.

Ko sat across from me and leaned over the table. “So, what did you want to talk about, Alice?”

I fidgeted in my seat and stammered. Although it was true that we were in a place where nobody would be listening to what we would say, I couldn’t concentrate at all.

My friend sighed and got up, quickly sliding over to my seat. Ko brushed Metabble onto the floor and wrapped an arm around my shoulder. “What’s on your mind? C’mon, no need to be shy, Big Sister Ko is here to keep you safe from the lewd darkness.”

Despite her attempts at comfort, I couldn’t help but feel even more awkward. The room was too hot and the noises were distracting and I couldn’t quite think straight with my imagination going. Adjusting was all the more difficult with Ko pressed up against my side, making me hyperaware with every warm breath against the side of my neck.

“Well.” I stopped and took several deep breaths, trying to calm my drumming heart. The words I wanted to say were stirring up their own set of emotions. If I couldn’t get the words out immediately I never would.

I shook my head and blurted, “I think I’m the one that killed you.”

Ko shot me a nasty look and gripped my shoulders even tighter. “Nothing has been your fault, Alice. We’ve covered this shit before, and if you think I’m going to let you blame yourself then you better screw your head on straight.”

“I’m not kidding, Ko.”

“Neither am I. My clumsiness and stupidity aren’t your fault.”

“But it is! It is because I’m the one stealing from you! Just like with Erk, it’s all my fault.” Although hesitant at first, once I began the words rushed out. I told Ko everything that happened from my perspective. I told her what Erk had told me, what he believed to be occurring. I told her about my own feelings, about the terrible lump of apprehension that was in my stomach that agreed with Erk’s assessment. I told her about all my fears for my family and for myself, for the past and the future.

Ko’s aggressive stance faded away once I started speaking. My friend listened to me without comment, not looking away or shifting in her seat. I had her full attention.

After at least twenty minutes of uninterrupted confession, I closed my trap and waited to see what Ko would say.

My friend raised an eyebrow. “So you’re telling me that you’re unconsciously munching on everybody’s souls because a curse is eating yours?”

“That isn’t…” I really didn’t like her phrasing. She made it sound gruesome, to some extent. ”I guess that’s close enough.”

“Huh.” Was her first reaction, a simple utterance without any weight.

Then Ko slammed her fist on the table, the loud thump of flesh meeting wood accompanied by the slightest cracking in the tabletop. I imagined that the redhead could spit fire with the pure vehemence in her voice. “That fucking pisses me off.”

A spike of fear wedged itself in my mind, but I couldn’t move with Ko’s arm tightened around my shoulders. “K-Ko, I’m s-so sorry-”

“Not you!” The redhead shouted at me before going back to yelling at the air. “Who the hell is this bastard that put this shit on you? I’ll throttle the fucker the first chance I get!”

“Ko…” I felt little tears growing in the corners of my eyes. I quickly brushed them away and returned Ko’s half-hug, ignoring the slight trepidation I felt in the action.

The little devil refused to embrace me fully and instead settled for running a hand through my hair. “Don’t worry, Alice. We’ll work your little problem out, one-hundred percent guarantee.”

“Little problem? Ko, this isn’t little at all. You shouldn’t even stay around me.”

“That’s a load of crap. This is the worst time to be leaving you alone.”

“But if you don’t go, you might-”

Ko interrupted me with a laugh. “Cut myself? Catch a disease? Die? Big whoop, not like it hasn’t happened before. We have to make you’re fine, first.”

“That…”I petered off, unable to describe the butterflies inside me. In that moment, the noises from the darkness were non-existent. I felt perfectly cool except for the slight tingle in my chest. “Thank you.”

“Nothing to thank me for. Now, lemme think.”

I blinked in confusion when Ko stopped. The girl rested her arms on the table and cradled her forehead with her hands.

After a minute of non-action, my friend grabbed my hand and started to pull me through the darkness. “Ah-hah! I got it! Let’s go, Alice.”

We burst out of the highly inappropriate bar and into the street. Ko set a fast running pace that I struggled to keep up with. “Where are we going now?”

“My place, I need to grab some stuff.” When we reached Ko’s home, the little devil flew upwards and dived through the open window to her room as she normally did. Unexpectedly, she poked her head back out. “This might take a while. You should come up.”

Accepting the invitation, I left Metabble sitting outside the house and floated upwards, carefully entering through the window.

Ko’s room was unique. The bed, wardrobe, and drawers were completely expected. The shelves that ran along the walls were a bit different, but nothing special.

The amount of junk littering every square inch of her room was ridiculous!

Granted, none of the objects were ‘junk,’ but that didn’t excuse the chaotic nature of her room. Countless items, both magical and non-magical in nature, were carelessly left on the shelves and floors. On top of her wardrobe I saw a sturdy looking shield leaning again a tiki totem. What looked like a toy elephant was covered in bullets, a bug net accidentally propped against it all. Skirts and shirts were mixed in with helmets and metal gloves. Perhaps the only organized bits of her room were her books, the texts occupying their own section of the shelves in neat standing order.

I pushed aside clothes, bags, and a gnarled staff in order to clear room for me to sit on the bed. From my seat, I fiddled with my doll’s hair while watching Ko rampage around, haphazardly sifting through all her items.

“Here we go! So, this and this…I should probably grab some of this…one of these…” Objects of all sorts were tossed into a messenger bag draped over her shoulder. I gave up on keeping track of what the girl grabbed after she started to reconsider her choices and toss things out of the bag at the same rate things went in.

Ko pulled a simple green mask over her eyes and bent down to grab one last item, some sort of magical jar. Then my friend grabbed my hand once more and yanked me through her window. “Okay, I’m ready. Off we go!”

I sighed and let myself get pulled through the air. “Ko, can you tell me what we’re doing for once?”

“We’re going hunting!”

“Hunting?” I let go of Ko’s hand and flew alongside my friend.

“That’s right. I don’t know the first thing about how to cure you, but I figured this can help you out. It’ll help deal with the pests, too.”

“But, hunting? What do you mean?”

“People hunt for food, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, we’re doing that.”

“What? Ko, why do you always- Hey, slow down!”

“Nyah~! Better fly faster, Kid!”

I grunted and sped up, flying after my friend who tried to jet away from me. We laughed as we spiraled through the air, playing around during the flight. The city faded away as the two of us quickly passed over the crystal forest. Then we were out in Makai, Ko leading me through the vast open space seemingly at random. We were mostly messing around, my friend occasionally turning off in some direction for me to follow. Ko occasionally slowed down to look around the air, searching for something, before speeding up again and resuming our game.

“There’s one!” Ko suddenly shouted.

“One what?”

I slowed to a hover, expecting Ko to explain, but the redhead launched herself away from me. “Come here you delicious morsel! My friend’s hungry!”

I couldn’t tell what Ko was doing. We were high in the air over some non-descript hills. Ko shouted and zigzagged, flying in pursuit of something. The jar she had grabbed was in one hand, the lid in her other. Ko rapidly swung the open jar around like a knife into the air in front of her.

“Got you!” With a cry Ko slammed the cap back on the jar. My friend quickly returned to my side and slid her mask onto her forehead. “Here you go Alice.”

I grabbed the jar she offered me and looked down at it. “Huh?”

“Don’t ‘huh’ me after I worked so hard for this.”

“I don’t understand.” I tried to look inside, but the jar was opaque. It was like a mason jar, but instead of clear glass it was made of some sort of black, plastic-like material.

Ko palmed her face and grabbed the jar from me. “Sheesh, for a talented kid you sure can be a bit slow. I’ll spell it out for you, then. You’ve got a problem with your soul, correct?”

“Yeah.”

“And because your soul is disappearing, you’re taking bits from the people around you, right?”

I nodded. “It fits with all the problems I’m causing…”

“Get off that melancholic bus and pay attention.” Ko poked me in the chest. “So, until we find a way to fix your soul completely, you need to keep your soul in a healthy condition.”

“Which is why everybody else is suffering.”

Ko shushed me with a finger to my lips. “C’mon, Alice, I know you’re pretty smart. Can you not tell what’s in here?” The black jar was waved in front of my face.

I squinted at the container and thought about it. Obviously, Ko had just caught whatever was inside, but I couldn’t think of what might be flying through Makai’s airspace. I should have been able to see any birds, and there weren’t many bugs in Makai. What did that leave?

Inspiration coming to me, I took another careful look at the jar. I probed it with my magic, trying to figure out what made the jar special. Feeling out the enchantments the jar was imbued with, similar to the sturdy feeling wards that Erk had shown me a few times before, I made my guess. “You captured a spirit in this jar?”

“Give the girl a prize!”

That explained the mask she was wearing. A spirit’s form wasn’t always visible to the naked eye – the magical mask could probably make them clearer for the mostly magic-less demon. “Why would you go through all the trouble?”

Ko didn’t answer me, instead choosing to smile playfully and stare. It was annoying working things out for myself when she could just tell me.

I thought about spirits first and worked from there. “Not all spirits come from humans, but most do. So usually, a spirit is basically a ghost of a human. It’s a human without a body. They are the former humans. Oh, it’s better to say that spirits are humans’…souls.”

Ko tossed the jar up and down in one hand. “I figure if our hundreds-of-years old souls are good enough for you, why not these guys? It’s not like they’re doing much, considering they’re dead and all. If anything, they’re a nuisance, right?”

My run in with evil spirits in the past might have left horrible memories, but Ko’s words still made me uneasy. “I don’t think I can just ‘eat’ this. That doesn’t even sound right.”

“Oh, stop stalling, Alice. What’s the harm in trying?”

“What’s the harm? Isn’t this an evil spirit? What if it tries to possess me, or you, or something bad? Does it even des- Aah!” I didn’t have a choice in the matter when Ko suddenly lunged at me, the jar opened with demonic reflexes and thrust towards me.

With my magical senses, I could easily see the spirit fly out of the jar. It was a weak one. Whoever’s soul it was, their lingering attachment to the world was not great.

The spirit flew straight at me. I barely had time to recognize it before the spirit shot through my chest, its incorporeal form unobstructed by my physical body.

I spun in place, expecting to see the spirit shooting off into the distance.

It didn’t. There was no sign of the weak evil spirit.

“Well?” Ko asked, somewhat impatiently.

“I…” My expectations weren’t met. I thought there would be more to it. As far as I could tell, the spirit had flown towards me and vanished, as if it never existed in the first place. Did I ‘eat’ it? Did I unconsciously break it down into soul matter and use it for myself? Did it try to possess me and suffer the fate that Erk’s soul did when he connected to me?

I simply couldn’t tell if anything changed. “I can’t say I feel much different.”

“That’s a good thing!” Ko made to pat me on the back but hesitated. “Uh, maybe. Hm, I hope it’s a good thing. I mean, you usually feel normal, right? Huh, we need a way to verify that this is working. Oh, I got it! We’ll just gather more spirits and feed them to you until they stop disappearing. Then we’ll know you’re all topped off, yeah?”

There was some sickening logic at play with Ko’s idea. Certainly, it might be effective, but the idea was a bit off kilter. Other than sounding somewhat savage and barbaric, I wasn’t sure if it was a good use of our time. Of course, I didn’t have any knowledge to say it wasn’t a good use of our time, either. It was an option to be proactive. Instead of pushing the entire burden onto Erk, there was a possibility of doing something for myself.

I felt that we needed to…

[ ] Continue hunting for more spirits and…
-[ ] Experiment to figure out more about myself
-[ ] Bring Erk’s attention to the possible stop-gap measure
-[ ] Ask about spirits
--[ ] And my condition as well
[ ] Not hunt spirits like that; the dead didn’t deserve it
-[ ] We kept searching for other measures
-[ ] I waited for Erk’s research to bear fruit
[ ]

---

>OFF THE RAILS
THERE AIN’T NO GETTING OFF THESE TRACKS! TOLEDO OR BUST!

Actually, that could have been fun to write. For me, anyway. Oh well.
>>No. 11020
[X] Not hunt spirits like that; the dead didn’t deserve it
-[X] I waited for Erk’s research to bear fruit

Ko's efforts are appreciated, but I'd rather find out first what happens to those spirits than to keep going at this.
>>No. 11021
[x] Continue hunting for more spirits and…
-[x] Experiment to figure out more about myself

While Erk is researching we can do our own legwork.
>>No. 11025
[x] Continue hunting for more spirits and…
-[x] Experiment to figure out more about myself

action is always better than inaction
>>No. 11026
[x] Not hunt spirits like that; the dead didn’t deserve it
-[x] We kept searching for other measures

Even if they are dead, they are still humans' souls and eating them is wrong. Furthermore, we have no idea how this would affect the cycle of rebirth.
>>No. 11028
>>11018
Factorial Zalsa, you are a fantastic writefag.
I feel really bad about having given this up after the opening post, but I guess I needed to read 'Animating Gensokyo' first.
So I apologize. I'll be quiet now.
>>No. 11032
>>11028
Thanks for the compliment! And naw, no need to apologize. Read what you like, drop what you don't. Can I ask what turned you off from the first post? I have a few guesses, but I'm curious.

I try to vary my writing between all my stories because I'm looking to improve, to see what works and what doesn't. This story has had a lot of ups and downs, especially since it's my first story for the site. I see plenty of things here that would've driven me away if I were a reader. I'm thankful to anybody who reads any of my work, whether you've stuck with me from the beginning or not.

Alright, enough of that shit. Currently writing while not marathoning anime (all while not studying for tests). Update...eventually.

Oh, and >>8620 is the first thread, for anybody that wants it. Late link better than never, I guess.
>>No. 11033
>>11032
I had voted for 'a grinning blaze' and had been REALLY disappointed that it didn't mean Okuu. At that point, I didn't know anything about the pc-98 era, and wasn't exactly falling all over myself in eagerness to learn.
10 months of unremitting suffering can change a person, I guess
So a fairly petty thing, to be honest.
>>No. 11043
File 135752608569.jpg - (564.02KB, 1920x1200, finally-no-more-depressing-sadness.jpg) [iqdb]
11043
I felt that we needed to keep trying. Ko’s idea was plausible. Sitting around and acting helpless was the worst. If there was anything I could do to improve the situation, I would take the chance.

“I think this can work. It really sounds like it can work!”

“Huh?” Ko coughed and stood up straighter. “I mean, of course. I might not know a whole lot of magic, but I definitely know what I know, so it should be obvious that…”

I rummaged around in Ko’s messenger bag, looking through the items she brought while she went on with her grandstanding. The bag was stuffed to the brim with magical items. Some of them, like the filter mask, were familiar to me. I could vaguely ascertain what the other items were supposed to do, as well. Ko had light grenades, magic reflectors, auto-correcting maps, and all sorts of other potentially useful gear on her.

Two strong hands jerked me upright. “What do you think you’re doing, Kid?”

“I was looking at what you brought.”

“Geez, aren’t you the sort to ask politely first?”

“I’m learning from you!”

“Little brat!” I rolled away from the scary demon and jumped my feet. Ko lunged again but lost her balance when the liquid metal golem under her feet began to ripple. I laughed and made sure to keep my distance from the red-haired demon whose eyes promised painful retribution.

Ko gave up her chase soon enough. “Seriously though, what were you looking for?”

I poked at the now empty spirit container. “Did you bring any more of these jars?”

“Nope, I only have the one. Why?”

“We need more if we’re figuring things out.”

“Figuring things out?”

“Experiments!” I waved my arms outwards, showing Ko just how much I planned to do. “We need a whole bunch at once so we don’t run around all day.”

“Oh, I getcha.” My friend crossed her arms in thought. She shrugged after a few seconds and offered her solution. “Well, I assume mother has more, so we can always ask her.”

“No!”

Ko blinked at my shout. “You okay there?”

I had to calm down. Ko’s suggestion had thrown me for a loop, but it wasn’t something to get worked up over. “Yes. I mean, no, we don’t need to bother the goddess about any of this.”

My friend peered at me, one eye widened with suspicion. “You sure? Telling everybody else might not be too smart, but she’s pretty powerful herself. At the very least, I know she has more of these jars.”

“No. Shinki doesn’t need to know right now.” The resolve in my voice surprised me. It was only a short while ago I was debating with myself whether or not to tell the goddess.

Perhaps it was because I didn’t feel helpless. Ko had given me a way out, a method of taking the initiative. Running back to Shinki after finding out I might be able to solve the issue myself was distasteful. Why be a kid running to mom for help when I could be a grown-up for once?

My friend shrugged in acceptance. “Okay, fine, your call. If that’s the case, though, I don’t know anybody who has spirit-catching gear off the top of my head.”

Examining the black jar again, my mind began to draw out designs. “Well, I can just make my own, right?”

“Can you?”

“I think so.” The container didn’t seem complicated. The material probably didn’t matter too much, and the enchantments were similar enough to what I was learning. Making them in bulk probably wouldn’t be much more difficult. There wasn’t much precision work to be had in a jar.

I concentrated on my senses and probed through the earth, carefully drawing metals out of the ground. With an abundance of mostly aluminum on hand, there wasn’t a problem forming a dozen rough jars and shoddy lids. An invisible glow accompanied my craftsmanship as I etched enchantments into the jars. Preventing a spirit from escaping was relatively simple; it was a matter of adding another layer to the jar, one which could interact with an incorporeal spirit.

“There!” I flourished my finger on the last line of the last enchantment. My creations were neatly lined up in the order I created them, the jars perfectly serviceable.

“Huh.” Ko picked a jar up and tossed it around. A pang of worry accompanied every catch. The jars were thinly made, and the metal wasn’t exactly hardened to any significant degree. Any demon could probably crumple my creations with their fingertips. Luckily, Ko was careful with her strength after getting a feel for the jars. “Only one way to find out if they work, right?”

The two of us rose into the air and began to fly around. I had my strong magical sense and Ko had her mask to identify any free-flying spirits.

Thus began my first great spirit hunt.

“There’s one!”

“Wait Ko! Be careful of the-”

“Bwarraaagh! Yuck, when did this crap get here?”

“-web. Can you see normal things through that mask?”

“Nope. Why? What’s there to see- Spider! Kill it! Kill it kill it kill it!”

“S-Stop m-moving Ko! I can’t blast it!”

“Die monster!”

“Nooo! Don’t hit it with my jar!”

The world had seen more elegant hunts, I was sure. Our attempt was actually rather pathetic. Nevertheless, all the jars (after some restoration work) were filled within a few hours of effort.

Ko fell onto her back and spread out on the soft Makai dirt. “Whew, I’m beat. Why did I have to do all the chasing? Couldn’t you have pulled a spirit out of your hat or something?”

“I got half of them!” It was much simpler grabbing spirits with magic than trying to catch them in a jar. If anything, I was surprised at how many spirits Ko could snatch before me.

Ko waved me away from where she was laying. “Fine, fine. Go on with whatever tests you’re going to do. I’ll just lie down right here, out of the way.”

I sat down in the dirt far away from my resting friend, but still within eyeshot. I set out the jars around me and thought about what to do. “Hm. Well, the first thing in experiments is safety! Right Luminita?”

My doll nodded in agreement and cupped her eyes with her fingers.

“Um, actually, I think I’m fine. It’s only one little spirit.” The doll smacked me and crossed her arms. “But I don’t have any glasses!” Last time I had tried to make glass had ended rather spectacularly – in the explosive kind of way. It was safer not trying to make safety glasses or anything of the sort.

Luminita smacked her forehead and flicked her hand. Disappointed, but willing to let me continue.

“Then I guess we start, right?” After unscrewing the lid of the nearest jar, the spirit trapped inside rushed into the sky.

“Hey, you can’t go!” I lashed out with my mind, roping my magic around like a lasso and catching the spirit by its wispy tail. I dragged the head-sized cloud back down and grabbed it. “Sorry, but I need you. You don’t mind, do you? I mean, you’re already kind of dead.”

The spirit wiggled in my magic-coated grip. Was that an okay? Maybe not. But, I thought, if I left him alone he would just float around or do bad things. This way he can do something good, so I’m helping him! Sort of…

“Okay, so next I need data!” It was an excellent idea, befitting of the scientific method my parents had taught me. Yet, there was a problem. “Uh…Luminita, do you know how to measure a spirit?”

My doll shook her head and gesticulated as best she could. “Well, I guess we could try that.”

What followed was the highly scientific measuring of the spirit. Without a notebook, I created thin sheets of metal and carved my observations into the metal. My findings, from ‘Kind of big’ to ‘Not much magic to hold’ were recorded in meticulous detail. Then there were the mix of colors I saw in it and flow of the energy inside the cloud-like form. After finishing, I was comfortable in my ability to identify the spirit amongst a host of others.

“Then we experiment!” Despite my exclamation, I noticed an anomaly which put the trials on hold. “Oh, wait. Does it look smaller to you?”

While I re-measured the spirit to my stringent standards, I wondered. The ‘soul stealing’ was something I did, according to Erk’s theory. It was unconscious and natural, no different than breathing if the magician was to be believed. My body regulated its health on its own, which included the maintenance of my soul. After all, changes in the soul resulted in changes in the body. I was never sick like Yuki or Erk, and luck was always on my side compared to Ko. That meant, among other things, that my soul was always in good condition. Always.

Yet, Erk’s theory about me still wasn’t fact, even if we were treating it as such. There wasn’t proof of anything. There was, at best, circumstantial evidence based on what we knew of souls.

“But, if it’s like breathing, then I should be able to stop it,” I whispered to myself.

A simple test. Was Erk correct? Was the spirit in my hand ever so slowly disappearing because of me?

I closed my eyes and imagined it. I imagined my soul, my body, my magic. I imagined the subtle flow of energy, wrapping around those near me and tugging.

If it was my magic, then I should be able to control it.

Everyone, from Yuki and Erk to Sara, stressed control. Control over my magic. Control over my emotions. Control over my body. Control was necessary for anything skillful.

I ground my teeth in frustration when I couldn’t feel anything. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing that I could manipulate. Was it because there was truly nothing, or was I too weak? Why couldn’t I understand?

Understand. Why did I care about understanding? Understanding could come after. Understanding wasn’t important when I was just trying to get something to happen.

The possibility of Erk’s theory being true, that I could suffer if I stopped myself, was terrifying. It was scary to imagine I was the one causing others difficulty.

But letting that fear stop me would be stupid. It would be dumb and horrible and not help anybody.

How simple. If I was going to get anywhere, I needed to be serious.

All I wanted was for the soul stealing to-

-stop.

Shock. Rolling pain in my stomach, throbbing aches in my head. My arms tingled, my legs shook, and my back groaned in weariness. I was drowning ever so slowly, slipping underneath the surface and into the darkness. A slow suffocation. My chest tightened. The world was dipping, threatening. It was scary, terrifying, absolutely-

I gasped for breath and squeezed my eyes shut. Metabble was hugging my legs in a warm embrace and Luminita was rubbing my arm in comfort.

The mild panic attack passed after a few minutes and left me feeling distinctly empty.

Was it supposed to be that simple?

I gazed down at the spirit in my hand and held it up. It looked different. It was the same as before, but changed in my eyes. I draped Luminita over my arm temporarily and reached up with my hand.

It felt like I could just pinch it.

I flinched when a piece of the spirit came away with my fingers.

The cloud-like spirit part rested easily in my palm, unanimated after being separated from the main body.

It looked like a fluff of cotton candy, no larger than my pinky.

Slowly, I raised my hand with the part of soul. The shake to my hand was barely noticeable, but it was there. Why? I shouldn’t have been nervous.

I didn’t know how it was supposed to work, but I thought I knew how it should. It was all magic, in the end, something I could accomplish without any training whatsoever. I needed to think about it less, to act more.

I popped the torn off part of the spirit into my mouth and swallowed.

It was warm and satisfying, like a hot cup of cocoa after spending all day in the freezing darkness of winter. It was a handful of cool oasis water in the middle of the desert, a heavenly treat that could satisfy my body’s craving.

It was so simple. The wriggling spirit in my hand could easily fill me up if I just used it.

“No!” I cried and stumbled backwards, accidentally letting go of the spirit. I watched the soul fly away with a pang of not-quite-hunger.

“I can’t just…I can’t just…eat, them. I- I need to, uh, run tests. Yeah.” I ignored the subtle feeling of wrongness and moved on. The mental slap was just what I needed to stay focused. I opened the next jar and kept the spirit more than an arm’s length away.

I worked against the temptation and moderated myself, slowly figuring out the extent of my capabilities. I spent hours rearranging the jars and spirits in dozens of exhaustive tests.

Although physical movements made it easier, drawing the spirits into me from a distance was doable. I couldn’t figure out a hard limit on my effective range, although it was easier if I could see the spirit in question. Consciously affecting multiple spirits at a time was difficult but unconsciously, I found that the spirits closest to me changed the most over the course of an hour.

Over time, I grew distracted. I thought it was just a feeling at first, the hunger-like desire to use up the spirits. The urge grew stronger and stronger, forcing me to regularly stop and breathe in order to calm myself.

After a few of hours of experiments, of denying my urges, I was floundering. My arms were heavy weights when I tried to move them and my eyes were watering. Sweat dribbled down my forehead and my throat itched. I sneezed and coughed and felt miserable, as sluggish as when I broke out in fevers and had to rest in bed while Momma fed me soup. It wasn’t anything as serious as sickness, but the beginnings of the symptoms were still distracting.

My productivity ground to a halt. I was staring at the spirits more than I was experimenting. I couldn’t move my eyes from the alluring clouds of purple and grey. They wiggled and teased me while I coughed and tried to work.

Before I could stop myself, I reached out to the nearest spirit and shoved it into my mouth. The rush of pleasure enveloped my body. It was a wholesome feeling, like all was right with the world, similar to the gentle euphoria I felt when Yuki first picked me up at Makai’s entrance.

Then I vomited.

Drained, filled, stuffy-nosed, sick, getting better, and splattered with little bits of vomit. Overall, the experiments went swell, ignoring a few minor issues.

“Yuck,” I complained, and cleaned myself up with magic. “Now I’m hungry…”

All too aware of my actual hunger-pangs, I tried to remember the last time I had eaten. Sighing, I sluggishly corralled the spirits back into the containers. Any further experimenting would be useless if I couldn’t concentrate.

“Where’d Ko go?” I couldn’t see my friend where she had been laying. Did she run away? Was she attacked? Did she get bored and wander off?

I tried to muster the energy to fly up and look for her, but the symptoms of sickness and lingering nausea kept me down. I waited around for half an hour, over which my maladies dissipated.

Just as I was getting ready to search for Ko, my friend came flying back. “Yahoo, Alice! How’s it going? Hold on, don’t answer that. Why do you look so pale? Did something happen?”

“Not really. Just experiments.”

“Uh-huh. So that vomit on the ground over there is just another experiment?”

“Well, uh, that’s just…learning.”

“Learning? What in the goddess’ name would you learn from that?”

I gave Ko a quick summary of what I found out about myself. I came to believe that any large change in my soul could be a problem. Losing parts of my soul left me sick, but a sudden increase didn’t help keep me stable, either. Small increments, positive or negative, were probably safest.

I kept my report strictly objective in regards to my abilities and condition. I didn’t give Ko any hint about the feelings, the emotions, involved. Every time I thought of the joy that eating the spirits gave me, I started to blush and stammer. I didn’t know whether to feel embarrassed or disgusted on that.

“At least you learned something from all that nonsense. Still, you have to be more careful Alice. Don’t risk yourself too much, you hear?”

“I didn’t! I was-”

Ko messed up my hair and laughed. “Very responsible. Yeah, you did good Alice. Now take a break so we can eat.”

I grumbled and fixed my ribbon. “What is that?”

My friend raised her hands. She held a jug in one hand and a cloth-wrapped bundle in another. “Water from a spring over there and some digester meat.”

The red-head dropped what she was carrying onto the ground. The cloth bundle flapped open, revealing a bloody mess of raw meat. “A ‘digester’ is…this?”

“Yeah, it’s kind of like a chicken, with a long tail. Except it doesn’t have feathers. And it sprays acid. I guess it’s actually more like a velociraptor, if velociraptors didn’t have arms. And sprayed acid.” Ko’s explanation slowed as she went on until she paused completely. She kicked the meat with the toe of her shoe. “Was the goddess drunk when she made these things? This is actually pretty stupid. Anyway, as long as you take the meat from the flanks and cook it well enough, there isn’t any danger. Can you make a grill or something?”

“A grill?”

“Well, yeah. I don’t have any camping supplies with me to cook the sucker, but you’re magic. Should be better than any multi-tool.”

“Thanks?” It was sort of compliment. I didn’t really like being a human matchstick, but it was nice being useful, if nothing else.

I worked on creating a cooking device next to my jars of spirits. It didn’t deserve to be compared to a grill. It was a metal grate suspended over a dug-out pit, with a fireball placed inside for heat.

Ko cooked the meats in short order, stabbing the hunks with a what looked like a fire iron to flip them. Once the demon was finished cooking I dispelled the fire. Ko sliced the digester steaks into thin strips with her knife and popped the food into her mouth.

It looked normal enough, I supposed. With a bit of hesitance, I lifted a strip of meat with my magic and chewed it slowly.

The rich flavor surprised me. “Wow, this is good!”

“Of course it is,” Ko agreed between mouthfuls of food. “All the things a digester hunts and dissolves end up giving it a wonderful flavor.”

“Hunts? It’s a predator?”

“Yeah, but it’s pretty dumb. It just lies around, so if you come at it from above, there isn’t a problem. One of the others managed to spit a little on my shoes, but once I hauled the body high enough I was fine.”

“There were others? Like, three others?”

“Well, yeah. Some of them are solitary, but it’s easier to find the packs. Why?” I pointed behind Ko at the two-legged, spindly chicken-dinosaur-monster things stalking towards us. They were huge; taller than me by a few heads and as long as if Ko and I laid down head to foot.

Ko turned her head and looked. “Oh. I see. Let’s go!”

We were up in an instant. Ko dragged me into the air, just in time to avoid a jet of green acid splattering all over our half-finished food.

I shouted at my friend in protest. “Wait, Ko, my things are still down there! What if they step on my notes or the spirit jars? I worked hard on those!” I watched the digesters below us stomp around their fallen and cooked friend. They looked like they were slurping up their acid and presumably our meal, but in the process their tails swatted aside my stack of jars.

Their clawed feet looked sharp! One step would be all they needed to crush my notes into illegibility or crack open a jar. I threw off Ko’s hand and dived back downwards.

“Whoa, Alice, come back here!” I ignored the demon and focused.

With a quick mental flick, I moved Metabble into action. The liquid metal golem surged from where it was innocuously waiting. My golem exploded and rained back down, falling onto one of the digesters like a tidal wave. The creature was swept away and completely covered, entrapped in crushing metal.

The two other digesters reacted, spewing acid at Metabble. My anti-corrosion warding proved effective enough, causing the green acid jets to flow harmlessly on top of Metabble and fail to help the monster underneath the suffocating metal blanket.

I shouted at the monsters and threw my hand forward, Luminita copying my action. Around us, a dozen metal poles sharpened to a point shimmered into existence. I launched them at the digesters, the make-shift spears plunging into the ground and lodging into skin.

The pincushioned creatures gurgled in raged and turned their heads upwards. I squeaked, threw up a force shield, and changed direction to protect myself from the gouts of acid.

My retaliation was quick, a splash of elemental energies raining down on the digesters. Fireballs, lightning bolts, icy shards, and sharp winds exploded from my hand like dazzling fireworks. The elemental display dissuaded any more acid attacks and let me land on the ground without contest. I drew the attention of the creatures away from my precious work with another spray of magic bullets.

Acid attacks were easily thwarted by my shields. The razor sharp claws of the digesters were another matter.

“Waah, get away!” I rolled to the side, dodging the first digester that had leapt at me. I quickly rose to my feet, completely on balance and ready to meet the charge of the second digester. The monster towered over me, but I pulled a pillar of rock and metal out of the ground and launched the digester into the air. I threw a few molten metal orbs at the creature for good measure and scurried away from the landing zone.

The last digester gurgled at me and lunged a second time. I brought a metal shield into my hands and hunkered down, ready to deflect the digester over my head.

The impact never came. I peeked over the shield in time to see the digester slammed into the earth by a speeding demon. Ko crushed the monster underneath her heel and thrust her knife into the monster’s head. The always sharp blade slid through the skull like butter.

I dismissed my shield and ran over to where my supplies were gathered. Although a bit dented, my spirit jars and sheet notes were safe. “Thank goodness.”

“Good show, Alice. You’ve really gotten a lot stronger since we first met.” Ko slapped my shoulder and laughed.

“Eheheh. I know a whole lot more, too!” I basked in my friend’s praise.

Metabble slid over to me, its grisly work finished. I shook my head at the golem and manipulated it with magic, cleaning it out and making it look immaculate. I glanced over at the digesters, from our now dissolved meal to the others that lay crushed on the ground. I felt kind of bad for them, but it was hard to pity the dumb animals if they would eat their own pack members and me, too.

Ko hopped from foot to foot next to me. She tossed her knife into the air, then caught and sheathed it in one smooth motion. “Man, now I’m all fired up. Let’s fly around some, Alice, and work off all that fat.”

“What fat? I’m not fat!”

“Yeah you are. It shows in how slow you are!”

“No way! I’m not!”

“If you weren’t, then you could catch me, right?”

After a quick order to Metabble to not let anything touch my stuff, I flew after my teasing friend. We sped around Makai for another few hours and simply had fun. We chased each other around and stopped at all the interesting sights, like the lake of pudding in the upside down forest. We also decided to refill my empty spirit jars after stopping back for a drink.

Despite everything, I was feeling better than ever. The symptoms of sickness from my experimentation had disappeared in the hours since they appeared. The excitement of the day, of the fighting and exploring, was driving me forward and keeping me alert.

Eventually, the abundance of energy wore off. Ko and I were resting after poking around a ditch filled with explosive slimes when I yawned.

“Feeling tired? Let’s head home then.” Ko offered me a sheet of cloth and some rope to help pack up my things. We carried the unwieldy bundle between the two of us and floated back towards the city. “We’ve been out here awhile. Sorry about that, Alice.”

“It’s okay. I had a lot of fun! I hope Sara won’t be mad at me for ditching her. Or the school. Or Erk. Uh, is it dinner time already?”

“Almost, I guess. Where we headed, Alice?”

“I think my room. I need to put this all somewhere.”

“Fair enough.”

Our flight back to Pandemonium was relaxing. With my control over magic, the bits of Makai that used to be deadly to me were minor annoyances. There weren’t any problems. I wasn’t getting sick, and Ko didn’t suffer any surprising accidents. It was wonderfully peaceful.

As soon as we landed at Pandemonium, I rushed forward and dragged Ko along with me.

“Whoa, what’s the rush, Alice?”

“We got to get all this to my room!” Luckily, we did not run into any of Pandemonium’s inhabitants in the short trek. I was able to carefully stash my notes and all but one of the spirit jars away for safekeeping.

I held the last jar in my hand and stared at it. If I could force my body to use up the soul in the jar as opposed to those of my family, I would make that trade in a heartbeat.

The question was, where could I keep it? If I held onto it myself, I would never have any free hands. In the end, I dumped the jar onto the ground and let Metabble carry it. I hoped that nobody would step on it until I could figure out a better solution.

“Oh, ‘sup Miss Maid. How’s it going?”

When I turned to look at the doorway, I found Yumeko standing in the hallway and Ko leaning against the doorframe.

“Ko, Alice, welcome back. I have already begun dinner preparations, if you care to join us.”

“Great, more food!” Ko cheered and stepped past the maid.

I smiled and went with the two of them. Yumeko led us to a dining hall, where I was surprised to see Sara seated at the table alongside the goddess.

“Hey Sis! How you doing?” Sara jumped out of her chair and bounded over to me.

“I’m good.”

“That’s great! You were having fun with Sis, right?”

“You know it!” Ko slung an arm around my shoulder. “Alice was showing me her new skills. You’re doing a good job training her.”

The gatekeeper turned to me and wagged her finger. “Well, I can’t do that if she doesn’t show up in the morning.”

I frowned, even if Sara was just teasing me. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine, don’t worry about it. Are you joining me tomorrow, though?”

“Aren’t we heading back out again tomorrow, Alice?”

I looked between Ko and Sara. I was so caught up in the day that I had given little thought about what I wanted to do later.

I planned on…

[ ] Relaxing more. Things were looking up, and I could enjoy myself without endangering anybody else.
[ ] Heading out with Ko more often. Experimenting on my own and learning about my condition was most important.
[ ] Meeting with Makai’s magicians and witches more. Learning more magic from others would help me the most.
[ ] Reading in the libraries more often. I needed all the knowledge, mundane and magical, that I could get.
[ ] Training myself into peak condition. Neglecting my body was the worst decision I could make.
[ ]

---

To be clear, this is a ‘where to focus for possibly the next few months’ vote, not a ‘next day shenanigans’ one.

>>11033
I hope you’re doing better man, and that my silly stories can provide you with a bit of stress relief- well, maybe not that. Enjoyment? Unless you like to read about suffering…hmm…waste your time? Yeah, that sounds about right. Live well and waste your time by voting in my stories!
>>No. 11044
[ ] Leaving Makai to hunt down an immortal so I could get
No. Bad Anon. CHOO CHOO Dammit, brain!

[X] Heading out with Ko more often. Experimenting on my own and learning about my condition was most important.
This is clearly important. However, as a note, we should be sure to do more theoretical research on the subject in the libraries, as well as get peer reviews on our work from Erk.
>>No. 11045
>>11044
I second this.
[X] Heading out with Ko more often. Experimenting on my own and learning about my condition was most important.

Overall, taking control of the situation and not reaction to things will be the best way to handle it.
>>No. 11046
[x] Reading in the libraries more often. I needed all the knowledge, mundane and magical, that I could get.
>>No. 11048
>>11044
Thirding this.

[x] Heading out with Ko more often. Experimenting on my own and learning about my condition was most important.
-[x] Though I should also remember my lessons with Erk and at school, they're both very important, too.
-[x] Perhaps I should also check out the library for some books about soul stealing.
>>No. 11055
File 135811655769.jpg - (56.58KB, 500x430, skipping-along.jpg) [iqdb]
11055
I planned on heading out with Ko more often. That didn’t mean ignoring the other parts of my life, but learning about myself was most important.

“Not tomorrow, but definitely after that!” I answered Sara.

“Aw, fine. I hope you have fun, Sis.”

“You two are heading outside?” Shinki asked.

“Yeah. We’re exploring and stuff. Is that a problem?” Ko took a seat and propped her legs up onto the table.

The goddess smiled and tapped Ko’s shoes. “Not at all. I’m just worried for your safety.”

The little devil grumbled but sat in her chair properly like a good child. “We’re fine. I go out there all the time and Alice has gotten really strong in such a short time. It’ll be great, not like the first few times. No need to give yourself worry lines.”

“Truly? I’m glad to hear that, then. My youngest children grow so quickly.” Shinki dabbed her eyes with her sleeve.

I say down next to Ko, just as she slammed her fist into the table. “I’ve been around for ninety-nine years already. You call that quickly?”

“And you’re still a kid, Sis!”

“Who’re you calling a kid!”

I watched my family with amusement, occasionally entering into the conversation myself. Yumeko brought out dinner and sat at the table with us. Eating, laughing, joking – it was a relaxing meal.

I couldn’t imagine a reason to be afraid of Shinki, Yumeko, or Sara. Surely, the smiling women could be trusted with anything. Sure, they could be a bit scary sometimes, but they were kind people. Yet, even if I thought that, I deftly avoided speaking about my condition. Neither Ko or I let slip even the tiniest hint of what was wrong with me or what we were doing besides adventuring.

After dinner finished, we all went our separate ways. I had a tutoring session to attend and, afterwards, sleep to catch up on.

“Things are looking up, aren’t they, Luminita?” My small, silver-haired companion nodded as I pulled the blankets over us.

---

“I’m sorry you feel that way Mr. Wakahisa. I hope your trade caravan does not meet any trouble on the road.” The girl bowed lightly and stood. Her child servant fell in step behind her as she made to leave the room.

“You…”

The girl stopped and turned around to face the still seated merchantman. “Excuse me, Sir? I thought our business concluded?”

The man glared at the girl. “Don’t think I haven’t heard the rumors, Witch.”

“Oh? What rumors would those be?”

“They speak about how you cannot be rejected. That if your offer is turned down, our ventures are doomed to fail. Ships sinking, investments failing, food spoiling.”

“Those sound like very unfortunate accidents, Sir.”

“Let me tell you, Girl. Your curses mean nothing to me. I will prove to these superstitious fools that you are nothing, that a runt of a woman like you has no business working amongst us.”

“Goodbye, Mr. Wakahisa.”

The girl and her child servant strode out of the building. Only a block away, the scrawny boy was lightly pulling on the girl’s sleeve. “Lady, ist right?”

“Hmm, I wonder.”

The girl stopped and turned back to face the merchant’s office. She stared at the building, recalled in her mind the image of its interior. She ignored the servants, the guards and the pets, and narrowed her mental image onto the smug weapons merchant. She grabbed him with her mind and marked him.

Satisfied, the girl walked the street to her home. She was greeted by the guards and the servants, with reports and recommendations. The low key meeting with the weapons merchant over his shipment was soon forgotten. The girl had business to conduct, a life to live. She didn’t have the time to worry over a single business deal when she had dozens of livelihoods counting on her.

The next day, the city’s mercantile quarter was abuzz with news. Wakahisa Armamanets’ shipment of goods had been ambushed by bandits just outside the city. The brazen thieves had made off with half the goods before soldiers drove them off. Supposedly, the head of the business himself had been the only one killed, knifed while he wrestled with one of the thieves.

The girl smiled and calmly walked through town, off to make a deal with the new head of Wakahisa Armaments.

Life was grand.


---

A nice peaceful lull entered my life. I still kept to my routine, just in lesser amounts compared to the time I spent with Ko. Sara continued to help me train my body, the school was always a resource for new ideas, and my teachers made sure I kept on track with my studies. The demons in the city were as friendly as ever and, more importantly, healthier than ever.

Everybody around me lived their lives without worry. There weren’t any disastrous accidents or unusual sicknesses. Nobody was strangely gloomy or disheartened, lacking in energy or in spirit. I could sip tea or try on clothes for as long as I liked without concern for the store owners who devoted a personal touch to their customers.

Of course, the issue wasn’t resolved. The day after my own experiments, I sought out Erk to hear his opinion. I told the magician what I had tried and showed him my notes. He analyzed it all in a professional manner and then slapped a hand over his forehead.

“I-Is something wrong, Erk?”

“Not at all. In fact, things are better than ever. This was a good suggestion on Ko’s part. I’m more upset with myself that I did not think of this.”

“It works then?”

“I don’t see why not. The theory is sound, and you have observations to support it. This discovery is excellent.”

Despite Erk’s enthusiasm, one thought was still bothering me. “Erk, what happens to the spirits?”

“It is difficult to say. Without a doubt, the souls are consumed. What that means for the dead is less clear. It might be that they simply cease existing. Perhaps they live on within you, awaiting their chance to move on. I’m no judge of the dead.”

“They should be happy! They get to be part of you and help you like I can help Master!” Aht chirped from where she stood. Her opinion was simple, but convincing. The mud girl was a spirit, after all; perhaps she understood what it would be like far more than any living being could.

The comment soothed my soul of any lingering guilt. I looked towards the jar floating innocently in Metabble’s body and muttered a quiet thanks to the being inside.

Immediately after our talk, Erk had tried something in regards to his research. “Please hold still, Alice.”

I observed the spell the magician held in front of me, a magical equivalent to a recording camera attached to a fishing rod. “Will this work?”

“I hope so.” He chanted and gestured, commanding the spell to worm its way into my body. It was a tad unpleasant, but the feeling went away soon after the spell made contact with me. “Tch. No good.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“The spell dissipated. Simple manipulation or observation of a soul is a trifling matter, but anything more complicated eludes me. I had thought that by surrounding part of my soul with protective magic I would be able to study yours effectively. Yet, the curse on your soul is far too powerful. It tore through the magic barriers and destroyed the core of the spell.”

The idea was still about linking his soul to mine; Erk wouldn’t be risking himself, but would still be able to analyze my soul. However, I didn’t see a need for the complexity. “Do you need to attach a soul to it? Can’t you just look at mine with magic?”

“Not when it’s in your body. Tell me, Alice, how did you obtain measurements on the spirits?”

“I held them in place and poked them!”

Erk chuckled and shook his head. “Yes, you directly applied your magic to the spirit’s form. How could I do that to you? Your physical body protects your soul. I can hardly stick a magical knife into you to get at your soul.”

“Oh.”

“We need a non-damaging solution. Connecting your soul to another is the method I know best, but it does not seem it will work, which leaves me searching in the dark for another method.”

“I can help you look, then!”

“There’s no need, Alice, especially since you have come to this discovery to offset your issue. There is no shortage of evil spirits roaming Makai – even if you were to require an entire spirit per day and then went on to live a hundred years, there would be no shortage. Enjoy your life without worry.”

In truth, Erk was simply suggesting the same plan he originally had. Only now, I wouldn’t cause problems for those around me. I couldn’t detect any dishonesty or questionable circumstances Erk might be hiding. “I guess. Thank you for your help.”

“It isn’t a problem.” After Erk’s failed test, the magician helped me to find a few books for my personal study, a variety of tomes on different spells, from soul-based magic to useful elemental ones. They were helpful study tools to keep me on top of new magic even while I was flying around all day with Ko.

Nothing particularly exciting happened for a time. I learned and I practiced everything. I was particularly proud of my growing craftsmanship. From metal shaping to other domestic works, I was becoming more capable at producing functional and pretty items.

“Then I draw this line here and make this rune like this and then…hah! Here, put this on Luminita.” I stood up and helped the sitting doll slip my creation over her shoulders.

The doll took to the air and spun, showing off the metallic backpack I made her. I had shaped the thin metal into a lovely teardrop shape, etching intricate geometric designs into it. The magically hardened backpack would be as strong as any safe. It was a stylish and hands free way of carrying around spirit – the backpack itself was enchanted to carry a spirit.

Releasing a spirit from its jar, I watched Luminita quickly scoop the creature into her backpack. The doll flew through the air to do so, another effect from her new bag.

“Yay, it works!” I jumped up to hug Luminita to my chest. I laughed when the doll zipped away from me, leading me on a playful chase through the halls of Pandemonium.

My personal study into magical crafting was my pride. Understanding material components was just as important as magical enchantments. More than trinkets, the golems I could create only improved. Although I could theoretically make a dozen different, permanent golems to help me, I always returned to my original.

I often conducted any larger work on the hills outside the city. The area was free from the dangers beyond the crystal forest, yet wouldn’t bother any of the other demons if I miscalculated.

“Up you go!” I released my grip on the blob of liquid metal, which quickly coalesced. The droopy metals converged midair and wound themselves into a tight sphere.

Claps greeted my successful improvements to Metabble. Yuki approached the golem and scrutinized it, her voice filled with curiosity. “Wow, Alice, that’s pretty impressive! Weren’t you saying something about how this guy was too heavy for flight?”

“It was, but I’ve been working on Metabble a whole lot. I had to change the metal I used and figure out better flight enchantments, but they work!”

“Did this make it weaker?”

“Nope! Well, I don’t think so. Metabble weighs a lot less, but my enchantments have gotten a lot better, too! Fire resistance, corrosion resistance, force manipulators…” I counted the layers of magic off on my fingers. It was tough work figuring out what would and wouldn’t explode when combined in one golem.

“Hyah!”

“Wah!” I screamed and ducked, reacting to the sudden fireball launched at me. My reflexes had improved thanks to Sara’s efforts, but the movement proved to be unneeded. The fireball disappeared from view, blocked by a wall of silver metal. I could see the fire flicker and dissipate around the edges of my shield. I moved Metabble out of the way, the silver wall of metal floating back into a spherical form. “Yuki!”

The witch laughed and waved a hand. “Sorry, sorry!”

“That wasn’t funny!” I stomped over to the demon and let her have a piece of my mind. Metabble and Luminita floated dangerously behind me, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. “That would’ve hurt!”

Yuki patted me on the head. “No harm done, don’t you think? Besides, you’re right Alice. Your golem is looking much better if it could block that. Who would’ve thought the little girl I found could learn so much in such a short time?”

The compliment soothed my annoyance. The blonde demon’s praise of my magical growth meant more to me than anybody else’s. “Yup! I’ve still got a whole bunch of ideas, too!”

With the blossoming of my magical ability, Ko felt more comfortable taking me farther into Makai.

The goddess’ realm was vast, filled with nonsensical and awe-inspiring dangers. The beautiful rainbow-firefly groves that were filled with poisonous air to the dangerously acidic ponds of sludge that massive acid-spewing frogs called home were only the tip of the iceberg. The redhead was in her element while we were adventuring. Time after time, Ko would talk at length on the dozens of new creatures and formations I saw. She could point out the minute differences between a crystal rose and the much more dangerous ice flowers. She was able to explain how the life cycle of a green-death beetle was similar to that of a Japanese beetle’s. Ko combined her personal experience with the knowledge she gained from reading seamlessly.

One day, some three weeks after finding the temporary remedy to my soul problem, I was very rudely awakened. A red-haired delinquent crouched next to my bed had decided to yank off my blankets and shake me awake.

“Alice!”

“What?” I groaned, the grogginess of awakening affecting me harshly.

It all went away the instant Ko hauled me off of my bed. “Let’s go!”

The rush of adrenaline jolted my system, allowing me to stop myself from being dragged along by the demon. “Ko, no!”

“Hey, what gives Alice?” Ko tried to tug me out of my room, but I help my position at the door to my room firmly.

“Tell me what’s happening!” I shouted at her.

The redhead quickly glanced over her shoulder before answering me. “We have to get away, now, out beyond the forest!”

“Why? Ko!” It was morning, I was grumpy, and my friend was being her usual self. I was more than my share of annoyed.

“They’re coming for me! I can’t waste any time. I have to go, now!”

The urgency in Ko’s voice struck a chord in my emotions. “Who? What? Ko if something is dangerous, you should go get the goddess or-”

“No way! She’s the one I’m running from.” Ko looked ready to explain but was stopped by a beeping noise. She reached into her vest pocket and yanked out a tiny handheld mirror. “Crap, the sensor. That’s Yumeko. Whether you’re with me or not Alice, I’m out!”

My friend split. “Ko!” She didn’t stop when I shouted. The redhead ran off and turned a corner out of sight.

I was left standing in my pajamas at the door to my room, baffled. What had just happened? I couldn’t say.

Sighing, I shuffled about and prepared myself for the day. I finished dressing in my blue and white outfit and stepped out into the hall. Yumeko was there, the head maid taking quick strides down the hall. “Alice, has Ko come to see you?”

It was a surprise to hear the maid talking in such a direct manner. “Are you looking for her? Why?”

“I need to make sure that girl is around for the celebration. She always runs, yet this year more so. Honestly, it’s beyond me – she wants to be recognized as mature while pulling stunts like this.” Her feet were shifting slightly while she spoke. It was only a tiny movement, but for the normally controlled maid, the gesture made her frustration evident.

My curiosity of the situation was piqued. If Ko wouldn’t answer me, then I had to find another source of information. “Celebration? What celebration?”

“Her birthday. It’s her one-hundredth.”

“What?” I stared at the maid stupidly. I didn’t know about the event in advance at all. Nobody had told me, not even the birthday girl herself. I…

[ ] Told Yumeko I saw Ko and…
-[ ] Went to retrieve her myself
-[ ] Where Ko was planning on going
[ ] Didn’t tell Yumeko about Ko…
-[ ] But went to find my friend on my own
-[ ] And went to investigate the festivities in the works
-[ ] Tried to stick to my routine
[ ]

---
>>No. 11056
[x] Didn’t tell Yumeko about Ko…
-[x] But went to find my friend on my own

I wonder why she hates her birthday celebrations.
>>No. 11057
[X] Didn’t tell Yumeko about Ko…
-[X] But said I would go look for her...
--[X] And told Yumeko specifically not to follow me, because if Ko was running from her, it'd probably only make things worse if she showed up halfway.
--[X] And asked when they would need Ko back by, to get an idea of how long I had.
-[X] Asked Yumeko what they were planning to do for the celebration.
--[X] Should I have gotten Ko a present?

What does a birthday even mean for a being whose soul is transferred from body to body on a semi-regular basis?
>>No. 11062
[X] Didn’t tell Yumeko about Ko…
-[X] But said I would go look for her...
--[X] And told Yumeko specifically not to follow me, because if Ko was running from her, it'd probably only make things worse if she showed up halfway.
--[X] And asked when they would need Ko back by, to get an idea of how long I had.
-[X] Asked Yumeko what they were planning to do for the celebration.
--[X] Should I have gotten Ko a present?

Works for me.
>>No. 11066
File 135873749587.jpg - (493.96KB, 768x1024, are-you-a-bad-enough-dude.jpg) [iqdb]
11066
I tapped my fingers together and frowned. “Ko? I don’t know where she is.”

The maid curtseyed and turned to leave. “I see. Thank you for your help.”

“Wait!” Luckily, Yumeko heeded my cry and stopped, looking at me with an inquisitive eye. “Is it actually her birthday?”

“Almost. The centennial of her creation is in a few scant hours.”

“Oh, wow.” A hundred years since the goddess first created her. Whenever I spent time with Ko, the fact that she was so many years older than me rarely crossed my mind. “Nobody told me about this. I need to get her a present!”

“Certainly, if you wish. However, one missing present is not likely to be noticed.”

“Not noticed? I don’t think she hates me that much.”

“She loves you greatly, Alice, I don’t doubt that. What I mean is,” the maid paused and tapped a finger to her forehead. She smiled mysteriously at me when she continued. “Perhaps you should see for yourself. You can’t miss it if you leave Pandemonium. If you will excuse me, I need to find somebody for the search.”

“To look for Ko? I’ll do it!”

Yumeko smiled at me while I waved my hand in the air. “Thank you for your assistance, but there is no need. You should enjoy yourself. Good day”

I wanted to protest, but Yumeko walked off before I could. The dismissal was more annoying than anything. The maid was probably off to recruit searchers. I sighed and poked my floating doll’s cheek. “Let’s go find her, Luminita.”

I made the short trek through Pandemonium’s hallway and took to the air. Despite Yumeko’s forewarning, I couldn’t help but exclaim when I saw the city. “Whoa!”

Bright, beautiful lights. A magnificent display that was completely unexpected was before me. Hundreds if not thousands of colored lights floated in the air above the city. There were massive spherical orbs high above the city and strings of lamps scattered all around. It was a display I could never see in the village. There were firework-like patterns that rotated in the sky, jets and plumes of sparkles, and entire flowing rivers of wispy, cloud-like glitter. The decorations couldn’t scream ‘festival’ louder if they tried.

“Look at all this!” I sped up and zipped to the city, flying through the decorations and down into the streets.

It was busier than ever. Demons filled the streets, with precious little room to walk or fly. I had to slow down to make sure I didn’t collide with anybody. I even grabbed Luminita and had Metabble cling around me to make sure.

Demons of all stripes were laughing and preparing. Magicians flittered around, throwing out magical decorations and enhancing clothes to sparkle like the sun. The stall owners and other restaurateurs were out in full force, uniformed demons meandering the streets and handing out samples. Large hoofed demons had signs hanging from their horns, while tentacled blobs wrapped ribbons around doors and overhangs. There were demons playing music from roof tops and others dancing to the tunes in the streets. Sword jugglers mixed with fire breathers, the demons all showing off and competing with each other to the applause of their peers. The stores and houses all kept their doors open, a constant flux of people keeping every place lively.

It was one giant party, a festival far larger and grandiose than what the villages in Gensokyo could pull together.

“Ah, that looks good. Maybe he’ll let me try- No! I need to find Ko, first.” I shook off the allure of the festivities and flew away from the city. I could always come back later after I finished my self-appointed duty.

Ko had given me the barest hint of she went. I crossed over the top of the crystal forest and landed on the far side. The vast hills of odd features of Makai laid out before me.

That was no way I could search the entirety of Makai for my friend with my own two eyes. Luckily, I didn’t need to.

I swept my hands through the air, letting familiar magic wash over me. Simple creations for simple problems. Fly and search, and somehow report findings back to me.

“Whoops.” I took in the multi-colored discs swirling around me. I was expecting more normal grey-metal colors, but the decorations from the city must have slipped into my deisgns.

Colors were nice, too. My creations were flying discs, simple plates with four trapezoidal fins along the outsides. They spun around and around in air, the motion helping to keep them relatively stable while they flew. They dipped slightly and swiveled in place, but were good enough for my purposes. All the colors of the rainbow surrounded me like a swarm of buzzing fireflies, eager to follow my bidding.

It took me a few minutes longer to slap together a makeshift enchantment, implanting the discs with my instructions.

I sent my creations away with a flourish. The discs shot outwards, wildly splitting up and scattering throughout Makai. “I hope she isn’t too far.”

All I could do then was wait. Metabble formed into a nice chair for me to sit down on. The discs would search for Ko based on her magical signature. My friend’s less-than-magical capability was a great boon considering how much magic was suffused in the rest of Makai. I hoped the discs wouldn’t find a rabbit or something similar and signal me over that.

Much to my surprise, a beam of light appeared in the sky after only a few minutes. The pillar disappeared after three seconds, but I knew exactly where it had been. “Oh, got her!”

I got up and flew towards the source of the light, my doll and metal golem obediently flying behind me.

My searching disc was floating just above the stone tower on the hill, the one Ko and I had investigated soon after entering Makai. I did all that work for nothing, I thought, only a bit annoyed. The tower was so laughably close to the forest that I could have checked there on my own instead of pouring my magic into the effort.

That’s what I got for not putting in the legwork myself.

I left the disc alone and entered the tower. My creation would disappear in around an hour if I left it alone.

I climbed the interior of the tower quickly. The simple stonework looked different than when I first visited. The lack of shadowy snake familiars huddled around the edges of the circular rooms made the tower less foreboding and more empty. It was boring, compared to the rest of Makai.

“Ko!” My friend was in front of the altar of the church-like room at the top of the tower. She wasn’t praying or anything, though. She was standing in the center of a mess of items.

The red-head looked up at the sound of her name. “Alice! What’re you doing here? You aren’t leading them to me, are you?”

“No! I wanted to see what you are doing.” I walked down the aisle between the pews and stood at the edge of Ko’s pile. “What are you doing?”

“Preparing,” my friend answered. Ko flew up and over to the trapdoor in the ceiling. She reached up and dragged down another box of items. “Ever since that religious nut vacated this tower, I’ve been storing some stuff here. Looks like it all will come in handy.”

Was she some sort of squirrel, hiding away her things for winter? There had to be a limit to how much planning a person could do. “You’re still going to run away?”

“Not running away, just exploring. If I happen to miss the big party then that’s just coincidence.”

“Why do you want to get away so badly, Ko? I saw everybody on the way out here. It all looks like fun!”

“It probably is, but I don’t want the attention. You’ve seen all that nonsense everybody puts up – I can’t even walk down the street without being stopped!” Ko stomped her foot and balled a fist in frustration. “Everybody in the whole damn city is up and ready to bother me. Happy birthday I hope we have another peaceful year together, oh you need a new hat, congratulations and here’s a sweater, oh wow you’re growing up into a fine young woman that needs this scarf, congratulations here’s a new hat, here’s hoping we have another year of harmony, and on and on and raaagh!”

“Uh,” I was at a loss for words. I could only let the red-head rant and calm down over time.

Ko stopped screaming after a bit and sighed. “Sorry about that. It gets so tiring, year after year. The goddess remembers everybody’s birthday, you know? But I’m the only one that gets these huge ass parties. It’s even worse this year.”

“It’s only one day though, right? Isn’t it fun?”

“Honestly, it could be, if it didn’t make me feel so shitty. It’s all too forced. As far as I can tell, every demon in this city gives me a gift. Can you imagine that? Thousands of demons, all making an effort to see me in person. Yet when we talk, they aren’t even looking at me. It’s like they’re thinking of something else...”

Ko shook her head and stooped down. “Sorry, I’m sounding way too moody about this.” She sorted through the items she had laid out and chose a few. She took them and placed them in her messenger bag or found a place on her person. “Let’s see, I guess this does about it.”

I appraised my friend worriedly. She was decked out in equipment. There was a pair of goggles resting on her forehead and a cross talisman around her neck. She had a belt on, with wands and flasks held securely at her sides. Magical armguards and shin guards offered her limbs added protection. Of course, there was also whatever else she decided to hide underneath her clothes, like the knife I knew was strapped to her thigh. “That’s a lot of weapons. You don’t usually bring this many with you when we go out.”

“Anything dangerous this close to the city can be dealt with by my knife or a few grenades, so I don’t have to worry about armaments. Things further out need some more specialized equipment.”

“Further out? Where did you say you were going?”

“I’m going all the way back to the edge.”

“The edge? Of Makai?”

“That’s right. That huge wall of fire out there really interested me, but I wasn’t in any condition to examine it last time. Of course, after Makai’s super maid came out to rescue me, I got scolded for a few hours, told not to go near it and all that.”

I understood how enticing a secret could be, but I at least knew when to not seek it out. “It is dangerous! Really, really dangerous. I can’t you let go out there!”

“I’ll be fine, Alice. That last time was a few years ago. That nargacuga got the jump on me before, but it won’t happen again. I’ve dealt with all the chump monsters out there before.”

“But-”

“Nag, nag, nag, you’re just like an old woman. If you’re that worried, why not come with me? If we’re watching each other’s backs then there won’t be any problems.”

“I don’t know about that. What about the goddess and everybody? Won’t they miss you?”

“Bah. They’ll all enjoy the party just fine. Sure, the goddess might be somewhat upset, but she always finds me the day after anyway. It’s no big deal. Besides, since everybody is in the city, this is the perfect time for me to head out without someone stopping me!”

Ko quickly packed up her unneeded equipment, throwing the items into boxes and storing them back in the tower’s ceiling room. Once she finished, she dropped down in front of me. “Well?”

My friend wanted to go out somewhere dangerous on her birthday. Of course, she didn’t think it would be, but it was a possibility. What was most important? Help her? Don’t let her go? Make her do something she didn’t want to? Go see this giant wall of fire myself?

I…

[ ] Decided to travel with Ko
[ ] Disagreed with Ko…
-[ ] And dragged her back to the party
-[ ] Yet let her go on her own…
--[ ] But went and told Yumeko where Ko was going
--[ ] And checked out the festivities
--[ ] And concentrated on my own studies
[ ]

---

So many animu’s and vidya’s. I need to whip some discipline into my schedule…
>>No. 11067
[x] Disagreed with Ko…
-[x] And dragged her back to the party

Ko's the only one? I wonder why. The way I see things is if we let Ko go off, Yumeko will find out sooner or later and it'd be better to get her to the party under her own power than leaving her to Yumeko.
>>No. 11068
[X] Decided to travel with Ko

The call to adventure!
>>No. 11069
[x] Decided to travel with Ko

To adventure!
>>No. 11070
[X] Asked Ko if she couldn't just return for a bit and then slip off later. This was the first time I'd seen a party like this, I wanted to see it with her. Not to mention that I felt people would surely be unhappy that they didn't get to wish her a happy birthday.
-[X] If she was still determined on ditching the party, there was nothing for it. I would go with her.
>>No. 11071
[X] Asked Ko if she couldn't just return for a bit and then slip off later. This was the first time I'd seen a party like this, I wanted to see it with her. Not to mention that I felt people would surely be unhappy that they didn't get to wish her a happy birthday.
-[X] If she was still determined on ditching the party, there was nothing for it. I would go with her.

this sounds best.
>>No. 11072
[X] Asked Ko if she couldn't just return for a bit and then slip off later. This was the first time I'd seen a party like this, I wanted to see it with her. Not to mention that I felt people would surely be unhappy that they didn't get to wish her a happy birthday.
-[X] If she was still determined on ditching the party, there was nothing for it. I would go with her.
I third this.
>>No. 11075
File 135926327537.jpg - (412.41KB, 1394x1000, monster-huning-is-a-good-life.jpg) [iqdb]
11075
“Please, won’t you come back to the city with me? Just for a bit?” I asked my friend.

“No can do, Alice. If Yumeko or one of her lackeys gets ahold of me, there’s no escaping them. I’m surprised I got away after meeting you; they were only watching my haunts from previous years, I guess.”

“I’ve never seen a party like this before. I wanted to have fun there, with you.”

“Sorry, Alice. Besides, if you hung around with me, all you’d get to see would be crowds of demons.”

“But wouldn’t everybody be unhappy if they can’t wish you a happy birthday?”

“I doubt it. If it really bothers them that much then I’ll apologize, but if anybody loses sleep over something like this then I’d be astounded.”

“But-” I stopped and tried to think of what else I could say.

Ko was not lost for words like me. “If you want to enjoy the party, you should go find Yuki or Sara or somebody. I’m sure they’ll show you a good time. Have fun.” The little devil readjusted her belt and waved goodbye to me. She jogged down the stairs and left me standing by the altar.

I was utterly defeated. I couldn’t think of a way to convince Ko to return. My friend either didn’t care or thought she knew her peers better than I did. I thought guilting her into accompanying me would work just like in the past, but she was surprisingly resilient.

I shook my head and hurried down the stairs. Bursting out of the tower’s door, I shot into the air and slammed into my friend. “Wait!”

“Whoa!” Ko and I spun in circles just above the tower. “Are you trying to pull us out of the air or something?”

I let go of my friend and clasped my hands together. “I’ll go with you.”

“Huh?”

“I can’t let you go somewhere all alone! This can be fun too, right? There’ll be another party next year, so this is okay…”

“Thanks.” I shivered slightly when Ko wrapped an arm around my shoulder. I got over the feeling and pulled my friend into a light hug. The red-head gingerly patted me on the back and then broke away.

She led me through the air of Makai, heading straight in one direction. I had been out with Ko over the previous month enough for the strange terrain to become familiar. Caves, rivers, hills, lakes, gardens – crystal imitations and organic creations littered Makai’s landscape. I had been through most of them, delving deeper underground and watching the blind thunder rats scurry around or swimming with the spined whales.

We passed over all of the familiar features, passed over the terrain I had seen in the distance, and continued on into unknown territory. We kept on flying, letting the ever-stranger terrain pass us by.

“How long does it take to get there?” I asked.

“A few hours, I’d say. If we could just fly straight there it’d be quick, but it isn’t so simple. We’ll need to walk some of the way.”

‘Why? The miasma can’t hurt me if I filter it with my magic.”

“Nah, the miasma isn’t why we would walk.” Right after Ko finished speaking, a loud screech assaulted my ears. I responded almost instantly, throwing a dampening spell over my ears to help soften the grating noise.

Ko responded similarly, putting in a pair of ear plugs from her bag. Then she grabbed a gun with a large barrel from her bag and pointed it at the darkness. She fired the flare, the entire area illuminating for several seconds.

The screaming monster that was diving toward us became visible. It looked like a giant, pink and green lizard. The creature had a massive head filled with sharp teeth, two large wings spread out at its side, and two legs tucked against its sides. The monster’s tail dragged straight behind, wickedly pointed. It was large, too; we would be tiny snacks for the monster.

My friend grabbed my shoulder and shouted, gesturing at the monster and then towards the ground. “There’s one of the reasons. See the trench-like thing? Let’s head down there.”

After another shaking screech from the monster, I followed Ko down. We weren’t nearly as fast as the monster, but we still made it to the hole in the ground more quickly than the monster could close the distance.

The trench was several meters deep, and narrow too. There was barely enough room for the two of us to stand side by side. Luminita and Metabble had to float behind and above me.

The monster circled in the air above us, far too large to fit into the trench. “Is that a dragon?”

“Not quite. It’s a wyvern. Giant nasty birds more than anything. You can’t outfly them, but they’re useless on the ground.” Ko looked up and raised her voice even louder. “Shut up you damn lizard!”

Eventually, the wyvern quieted. Presumably, it flew away after we escaped it; I couldn’t see anything above us once the flare’s light disappeared.

Taking out her earplugs, Ko exchanged them for a bottle. She removed the lid from the bottle, revealing a dozen tiny holes in it. She flicked the bottle, spraying tiny amounts of the pungent liquid ahead of us. “Try not to breathe too much of this stuff in. It won’t kill you, but I don’t want you barfing while we’re in here.”

We trudged forward, Ko leading and sprinkling the liquid, but I couldn’t see a thing. The ambient light in Makai, produced mainly by the numerous crystals, didn’t reach into the trench. I could barely make out the outline of Ko and the rocky walls to our sides.

What’s that? I thought. A crunching sound echoed off the walls, along with an incessant chattering. I could feel that we were stepping on something that wasn’t dirt or plain rock.

A mental flick was enough to create a fire over our heads, lighting up the trench around us.

Spides. Hundreds, thousands of arachnids. Moving, chattering drapes and carpeting for the trench. The eight-legged, hairy pests swarmed in front of us, moving in one giant, living tide.

The ones that scuttled closest to us weren’t moving. The walls next to us were clear of spiders, all of the creatures having fallen to the ground, dead.

“That’s right you nasty little freaks. Don’t like this so much, eh?” Even with the small, multi-eyed pests in sight, my friend didn’t freak out. She looked ecstatic, in fact. Ko shook her bottle at the spiders. Wherever the pungent liquid landed, spiders died.

Our progress through the horde of spiders was slow but steady.

Then, Ko shook her bottle, and nothing came out. “Oh. Fuck.” The red-head tried it again, and again. She turned the bottle upside down and shook it furiously. It was empty, without a doubt.

Ko was calm for a moment. Then she tossed the bottle further down the trench and screamed. “Get away from me you multi-legged monsters!”

My friend screamed and screamed. She pushed me to the side and stood behind me, pointing over my shoulder and screaming in my ear. I giggled and patted her on the head. “Aw, it’s okay. Let Little Sister Alice squish the scary spiders.”

“Kill them, kill them, kill them!”

I focused my magic and swiped outwards with my hand. A wave of metal rushed down from above me, sweeping through the trench ahead of us. The conjured liquid solidified where I wanted it to, paving the trench in metal. Spiders, dead and alive, were completely covered.

Ko pushed me through the trench, desperate to get away from the not-quite-entombed spiders. I continued converting Makai’s energy into metal while we ran. We rushed along my make-shift pathway until the mass of spiders was far behind us,.

We flew out of the trench when we reached the end and took a quick break. “Was that why you’re afraid of spiders?”

“N-No…I’m n-not…” My friend refused to look at me while her chest heaved up and down.

I could imagine a younger and more foolish demon trying to reach the edge of Makai. That demon wouldn’t know about the wyvern, and would dive for the trench in desperation. She might walk for a bit and then remember to light a fire for light. Innumerable spiders would swarm towards her, yet she wouldn’t have a way to remove them. They would crawl up her legs and arms as she screamed and rushed through the trench, alone and terrified.

“Sure,” I told Ko, allowing her to save whatever pride she thought important.

“L-Let’s keep going.” The red-head rose to her feet and led me away from the trench.

I had no clue where we were, but it was hot. The terrain had transitioned into a desert-like environment, with red sand finer than the normal dirt of Makai. We trudged through the dry area quickly. Ko tossed a few sound-bombs around to knock the sand-sharks out from where they were circling us, and quickly gutted the not-fish with her knife. She went about it with brutal efficiency.

It continued on like that for another hour or so. We left the desert only to enter a glacier-like area, the ground frozen with pillars of ice jutting from it. The snowmen and ice monkeys stood no chance against the miniature flamethrower Ko held at her waist.

In the following swamp, I crafted bridges of metal for us to walk across while Ko hurled handfuls of metal beads at the monstrously large mosquitos that flew around us. Back in the air for a short jaunt, Ko threw pairs of chakram at the flock of multi-headed vultures, slicing wings from the avian threats. Back on the ground and crawling through a tunnel, Ko had at two-handed drill ready to pierce through the rock golems threatening to throttle us.

Again and again, Ko had no issues with the potential threats whatsoever. I wasn’t needed at all. “Wow Ko, nothing surprises you.”

“We’re lucky nothing has changed along this path. I didn’t think my plans would work out this smoothly.” We spoke while Ko swung her knife around, cutting through crystal branches.

We were in a crystal forest, eerily similar to the one close to the city. Almost exactly the same, if Ko’s knowledge of the types of trees was to be believed. The sole difference, other than the less-than-welcoming atmosphere, was the lack of paths. We had to cut our own way through the thick crystal brush. Although Ko led the way, I made sure Metabble would whip around and widen the path Ko set.

“So you just prepared everything based on your last try?”

“Yeah, which means there’s a huge winged cat somewhere in this forest. Stay on the lookout Alice.”

“Can anything even move through this crystal sneakily?” It seemed impossible for anything but an insect to move without shattering crystal foliage.

“Not as far as I can tell.”

“Then, how would the knartacooka sneak up on you?”

“Nargacuga. And it kind of just-” Ko turned and dived towards me, pushing me to the ground. Only a second later, I heard the crashing of crystal.

A second after I heard it, I saw it. The trees to our right exploded, a massive form speeding over us and through the trees to our left. Crystal shattered, and the dark mass stopped a few meters away.

It was a black panther that could swallow me whole. It had bladed wings growing out of its front limbs, and black scales all over that blended in with its fur. The creature’s tail was much longer than it should be. There were streaks of red fur around its eyes that reached up to its elongated ears.

The nargacuga spun in place, quick to face us directly. It placed its hind legs on the trees behind it and jumped.

“Keep moving Alice!” Ko hauled me to my feet only to dive again, barely avoiding the nargacuga’s second charge.

We rose to our feet as fast as we could. The nargacuga barreled into the thick crystal trees, using them to stop and spring off of. We split apart on its next leap, using the path we had been cutting to evade. The nargacuga’s head swiveled between Ko and I, as if deciding whom to eat first.

“You oversized half-breed! Fuck you!” Ko shouted at the monster and threw something at it.

The brownish projectile exploded on contact with the nargacuga. It smelled horrible, even from several meters away.

The monster roared and turned to towards Ko, choosing to leap at her instead of me. The red-head smoothly dodge the leap and kept on the move.

I ran after the pair. “Don’t ignore me!” I threw dozens of arrowheads at the back of the nargacuga, but to no avail. The hastily conjured projectiles bounced off the monster’s scales and dissipated. It turned to me afterwards, none too happy with my annoyance.

Metabble slammed into my side, the golem moving me out of the way of the nargacuga’s retaliatory pounce.

“Watch the tail, Alice!”

“Huh?” I brought my arms up, instinctively drawing Metabble around me like a shield. I flew into a nearby tree, smacked aside by the nargacuga’s weighty tail.

I struggled back to my feet, my side throbbing in pain from colliding with a tree. The monster was not so slow. I screamed in panic and drew a pillar of metal from the ground, the desperate defense enough to deflect the sharp claw of nargacuga for one strike.

A peppering of explosions erupted on the monster’s back. It roared and turned, ignoring me in order to meet the threat behind it. Ko was hanging from a tree branch, tossing acorn-like grenades from above. The red-head easily swung herself away when the nargacuga crashed into her tree. She jumped from tree branch to tree branch, holding on to the monster’s attention.

I used the time Ko gave me to prepare something better. I twisted in place, pulling magical energy from the air and metals from the ground. I mixed real with fake, physical with magical. My creation grew in place, metal parts formed and attached as fast as I could make them. Stocky legs and a thick torso, with mismatched arms – none of the metal pieces were elegant. Yet, they were strong. The various alloyed metal limbs were half a meter in diameter, as tough as I could make in the situation.

The last part I created was just as rushed, but no less important. Three times as tall as I was, I forged the floating sword with all the skill I had. I folded the metal and sharpened the edge, rapidly heating and cooling the sword with magic.

“Gah!” I glanced up at Ko’s scream. My friend fell to the ground from her crystal perch, accidentally caught by the tip of the monster’s tail. The predator stayed roughly in place, taking swipes at my rolling friend.

“Stop it!” I shouted, willing my creation forward.

The stocky facsimile of a man lurched into motion. My hastily constructed metal golem ran forward with jerky motion. It reached into the air and dragged its ridiculously large sword behind it.

My metal golem reached the rear of the nargacuga within a few strides. It planted one leg behind it swung the massive sword over its head. The sharpened sword landed with a thud, rending a channel in the earth and throwing dirt into the air.

The nargacuga screamed and fell to the ground, its tail cleanly severed in two.

My golem swiveled on its forward foot and spun its sword in a circular swing. The blade crashed into the side of the nargacuga, cutting along its flank and causing the monster to tumble to the side. It rolled back into a standing position and pounced on my golem.

My creation was too slow to dodge, despite my direct commands. The monster landed on it heavily and tore it to pieces with tooth and claw. The nargacuga was relentless, spending an entire minute separating the metal limbs from metal body.

I watched stupidly until the nargacuga raised its head, red eyes staring directly at me. I should have been preparing while my golem was destroyed.

I screamed and threw up my arms, fireballs and ice spikes sent flying at the monster. It shrugged off my basic assault and roared at me. Dangerous – my mind froze up when faced directly with the giant monster before me. Animalistic fear rooted me in place.

Then it suddenly shut up, its mouth snapped shut by something slamming into its head.

It was Ko. My friend landed on the monster’s head after jumping from a tree. She wrapped her legs around its neck and grabbed onto an ear, the nargacuga bucking to throw her off.

She held on and brought her knife down. She jammed it into the monster’s right eye, down to the hilt of the knife. Then she switched and stabbed through the monster’s other eye.

The nargacuga didn’t have time to roar before it collapsed dead, its brain turned to mush by an ever-sharp knife.

Ko slid from the monster’s head and quickly sprawled out on the ground. “Oh man, I’m beat. Everything okay, Alice?””

“I’m fine,” I breathed. I fell to the ground myself, my legs too shaky to stand on.

Neither of us spoke for several minutes, too exhausted to move.

When I was ready, I pulled Metabble down to me and had the golem carry me over to Ko. “Are you,” I panted, “okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” Ko told me as she sat up, “just some scratches. Its damn tail barely caught my foot.”

Slowly, the two of us rose to our feet together. We laughed and congratulated each other on a job well done as we hacked our way through the final stretch of the forest.

“It was so fast. How did you get away from it before?”

“Slowly. It was a whole lot of dodging and close scraps. The nargacuga didn’t chase me outside of the forest, though. I guess it doesn’t like being outside of its home.”

“And…we just killed it.” I felt kind of bad for it. The nargacuga might have tried to eat us, but we were the ones that walked into its home.

Luminita floated down next to me and rubbed my cheek in a comforting manner.

“He deserved it for being so aggressive. Don’t fret over it, Alice. I’m more interested in that awesome golem you made.”

“It wasn’t very good. I never could have made it if you hadn’t distracted it.”

“Hah, distract it. I was trying to kill the monster. I thought I could jump on its head on my own, but it was faster than I remembered. I still need to train more.”

“No way, you did- Whoa!” I fell face first, sliding down the hill on my belly, right behind Ko.

The two of us landed in a dirty heap at the base of the sudden decline. “Ouch, I forgot that was here,” the redhead moaned.

I was set to complain to Ko, but my words became lodged in my throat.

The wall of fire was before us, only three meters tall. The flames waved back and forth, but did not narrow at any point. The yellows and reds formed a solid sheet. The wall truly appeared to be the edge of Makai. It stretched straight to the left and right for hundreds of meters, until my eyes couldn’t make out the distance.

The wall was in a ditch. The ground steeply sloped downwards from the edge of the forest, to the point where the top of the fire wall was level with the floor of the forest. The ceiling, however, sloped downwards to meet with the wall of fire.

“Back here again. Finally.” Ko stood and walked over to the wall of fire. Standing right next to the heat was uncomfortable; it was too hot and too bright.

It wasn’t as spectacular as I thought it would be. When Ko mentioned a wall of fire, I imagined something that reached high into the air, a mystical marvel that dwarfed everybody and everything. I expected something grand, befitting the ‘edge of Makai.’ The actual wall, while taller than me, felt more like a fire fence.

Still, the journey was far more interesting than I expected, so I supposed they canceled out. Even by traveling to the fiery wall, I hadn’t seen half of what Makai had to offer.

Once we finally made it to the edge, I thought that we should…

[ ] Rest and eat; it was a tiring journey
[ ] Investigate the wall; why was it even there?
[ ] Explore the edge; was it all the same in each direction?
[ ]

---

I applaud any human who can swing a sword larger than and wider than they are multiple times while wearing heavy armor and staring down a wyvern that should be able to crush them with one claw.
>>No. 11076
>apprenticing in magic
>encounters perpetual wall of fire
There is only one option.

[X] Investigate the wall; why was it even there? How does it work? Where does it get its energy from?
>>No. 11077
[X] Investigate the wall; why was it even there? How does it work? Where does it get its energy from?
[X] Explore the edge; was it all the same in each direction?
>>No. 11079
[x] Rest and eat; it was a tiring journey

Welp so much for that mystery, yet more life threatening journeys.
>>No. 11098
File 135977595935.jpg - (115.98KB, 850x623, hey-look-its-a-new-friend.jpg) [iqdb]
11098
We had to investigate. There was no reason to waste a perfectly good trip.

“Is it interesting?” I walked over next to my friend, applying my magic to block the uncomfortable heat for the two of us.

“I guess. It’s a lot more mysterious when you’re bleeding out on the ground.”

I cringed at the mental image that I could easily picture. “Why is it here?”

“I can’t say. Nobody ever seriously talked to me about this thing when I got back from that first time. It was always ‘You shouldn’t be out that far,’ or ‘Try not to be so reckless.’ When I asked about what this wall is for, I got everything from ‘It’s the boundary of the goddess’ realm,’ to ‘It’s a big symbol of peace!’”

“That isn’t very helpful.”

“I know, right? The goddess herself gave me the best answer. She put it up when she finished expanding the size of Makai to mark the edge of her realm. It was still a pretty unsatisfying answer.”

“Oh. Okay.”

The two of us stood next to the wall of fire for a moment longer before Ko clapped her hands. “Well, I guess that’s about it.”

“Eh?”

“Now we have to make it back in one piece. Maybe we can try a different route…”

I stared at my friend. How could she already be thinking about going back? “Don’t you want to look at it more?”

“Look at it? I like fire as much as the next girl, Alice, but I don’t think there’s much more to see.”

“Maybe for you.” I grunted and gave my friend a little shove to the side to clear space. I took a few steps closer, only a handbreadth away from the wall. I couldn’t have been more thankful for my magic. “What kind of spell makes the wall work? How thick is it? Is the rock on the other side melting? How can I do this, too?”

I closed my mouth and concentrated. The wall was simple, in a magical sense. Enchantments carved into the ground and ceiling constantly used magical energy drawn from Makai to power the fire.

It was too simple.

I frowned and tried a more intensive analysis, but nothing changed from my initial read. Other than the fact that it was stretched over a long area, there was nothing special about the wall. If I had the time to set-up, it felt like the kind of spell I could easily pull off. I couldn’t sense any extra danger or other properties from the fire.

“Something about this is weird.”

Ko scoffed. “How can a wall of fire be weird compared to other-“

I stuck my arm into the fire.

“Don’t do that!” My friend rushed forward and grabbed my shoulder but I shrugged her off. I had thrown a stronger fire resistance spell over my arm, leaving me unaffected. “I’m fine! See? The wall is like normal fire, so I can use my magic.”

“Why would you want to stick your arm in that, fire resistance or not?” She had a point. It was impulsive of me, and highly stupid. There could have easily been some sort of hidden danger that I wasn’t trained to recognize inside the wall of fire.

I was just fed up with how ‘normal’ it seemed. “This is too strange.” I extended the fire resistance spell and reached further, letting the fire engulf my arm up to the shoulder.

Where was the rock wall? All of Makai was underground – the wall of fire had to stop at some point, didn’t it? Whether the rock was heat-proof or slightly melted, it should have been there. “I don’t think I can reach the wall…”

“Wahaha, you’re too short, huh?”

“You aren’t much taller than me!”

“Details, details. Why not just walk through it?”

“That seems kind of dangerous.”

“Your arm is okay but your body isn’t?” Ko sighed flicked my forehead for my hypocrisy. “Put a spell on me, then. I’ll walk through the fire for you.”

It wouldn’t be a problem. Any normal resistance spell could shield either of us, both of us, from regular fire. I was hesitant, though. The feeling of purposefully walking into the wall of fire was ominous.

No matter what I thought, I couldn’t act on my decision. Ko dragged me back from the wall and hugged me tight to her chest with one arm. She had her knife out and was pointing it up the incline, towards the forest. “Who’s there? Come out, now!”

“Ko, what’s happening?” I whispered, nervously staring towards the crystal tree line above us.

“Something crunched just now.”

“Maybe it was just an animal.”

“Trust me, Alice, the only animals out here would want to eat us too.”

We stood in place tensely, but nothing happened. No monsters jumped out at us. There weren’t any apparent threats at all.

Until I felt the magic. Yellow energy, gathering into the shape of stars in the tree branches above us. It wasn’t concentrated enough to be visible to non-magical senses, but that energy could still be used in a dangerous attack.

I could be sneaky too. While keeping careful track of the foreign magic buildup, I started to gather my own pool of energy from the air. I used my magic to push the energy towards the forest where it could lie in wait, under my control.

Once I thought I had enough magical energy built up, I slipped out of Ko’s grasp and slapped my hand down on the ground. I shot a spike of magic through the earth and up the incline.

It exploded from the ground just inside the tree line. The magic coalesced in the form of a razor thin wire. My magical wire split apart and rapidly grew, surging between the pockets of energy I had carefully spread out. Once the net finished expanding amidst the crystal trees, I yanked it back.

The metal net sliced through crystal easily. Trunks and branches were severed as the wires I created rushed back towards my grasping hands. It wasn’t quite the same as what I had seen before, nor on as large a scale, but it was effective nonetheless.

A small section of the crystal forest shattered noisily. The shards and chunks of crystal tumbled down the incline in a messy fall. More importantly, the unknown magic that was gathering dissipated after my disruption.

Someone fell alongside the shattered trees. The person was dragged along with the falling crystals until they spread their wings and flew away from the mess. They glided down, away from the falling crystals, and landed only a few meters away from us.

“Hey, hey, watch it! Whattaya think you’re doing?” The other girl shouted at us angrily, waving a wand around in the air.

“Who the hell are you?” Ko shouted back in kind. She had a more threatening weapon to wave around, too.

I wondered the same thing. Before us stood another blonde demon, with long hair and red eyes. She wore a basic shirt-vest combination and a long red skirt. She had large, purple wings like a bat, but nothing of her appearance was particularly special. Although there weren’t too many winged-demons in the city, there were still plenty that enjoyed the aesthetic. My friend was included in that group.

“Same to ya, Girlie. I haven’t seen you two ‘round before.” The blonde slurred angrily. She tucked her star-wand into her waistband in order to use both her hands to brush off blue crystal dust from her clothes.

“You…don’t know who I am?”

“W-What?” My friend crumpled before my eyes, letting her shoulders droop and back slouch. For all her complaining, she cared about her reputation far too much. “Y-You’re still famous in my heart, Ko.”

“Oh, you’re…dangit, I messed up…” The blonde demon slapped the side of her head and took a few steps toward us. “M’sorry ‘bout that. I do know ya. Though, I don’t know your blondie friend here.”

“I could’ve sworn the goddess told everybody about Alice.” The other demon’s approach revitalized Ko. My friend stood back up and let her knife dance between her fingers in a vaguely threatening manner.

The blonde leaned to the side to get a better look at me. “So your name is Alice? Nice to meetcha. And if our good goddess did that, I didn’t hear it.”

Ko shifted over to block me from the other demon’s view. “So, who are you, anyway? I thought I knew every demon.”

“The name’s Elis. I live out around here, so maybe that’s why ya don’t know me.”

I stepped around my overprotective friend in order to talk with Elis properly. “Nice to meet you, Elis. Isn’t it lonely living so far away from everybody?”

“Nah, nah, I’ve got it good. My own place, my own work, it’s all grand stuff.”

Ko’s sharp voice cut into the conversation. “You’ve got a house, then? Where is it?”

“Ko!”

“Fiery little thing, arentcha?”

“Who’re you calling little?”

“Ko!”

Elis snickered and waved me off. “Some fight in your blood is great! It’d be a better world if I all I had to worry about is little spats like this. I’ve got a house dug under the forest thataway. You two wanting to rest there a bit?” Elis jabbed a thumb behind her, down the trench.

“No. We need to be heading back.” Ko tried to pull me along without my consent again, but I stood firm.

I glared at the frustrating girl and whispered furiously. “Ko, what are you doing?”

“I don’t like this woman.”

“Why? Why can’t you just get along? It’s not hard to be polite!”

“She’s a weird one. Who in the goddess’ name would live all the way out here? Even the crazy blood lusting berserkers like Iris live in the city with the rest of us.”

“Does it matter? Maybe she likes it out here? Don’t some other demons live out in Makai, too?”

“Yeah, but nobody I know is out this far.”

“You just met someone living out this far!” Ko clammed up after my comment, refusing to argue further. She just insistently tugged on my hand.

I sighed and tried a different approach. “It was such a long journey here, and we haven’t eaten or anything. Did you even bring food?”

“…I can forage for some if you’re hungry.”

“Ko!”

“What? We have water. That’s enough to get back the way we came. Didn’t you say you wanted to go to the party?”

She was so insufferable, acting more like a child than I did on occasion. Yet, no matter her dislike of the situation, I knew that Ko would stick by my side and protect me. She was a good friend like that.

I wanted to…

[ ] Accept Elis’ hospitality…
-[ ] And talk about
[ ] Hurry back to the city before the festivities ended
[ ] Keep investigating the wall of fire
[ ]

---

>life threatening journeys
Hah, unlikely. How deadly can a starter area be? It’s not like there’s crazy shrine maidens or, Lord save us, fairies around these parts.
>>No. 11100
[x] Accept Elis’ hospitality…
-[x] Talk about the area and if she wants, happenings in the city.

Living around here would mean she'd know about things and who knows, she might have something to say about Ko and the mystery of her birthday.
>>No. 11103
[X] Accept Elis’ hospitality…
-[X] And ask why she stays so far out, away from everyone else.

>life threatening journeys
>Hah, unlikely. How deadly can a starter area be? It’s not like there’s crazy shrine maidens or, Lord save us, fairies around these parts.
Interesting facts and figures #23:
The word "threatening" appears on five occasions in story posts throughout this thread (discounting a single "unthreatening"); the first time was in the second story update of the thread; the second was five updates ago; the third was the previous story post before this; and the word "threatening" appeared twice in the above update alone. Make of this what you will.
>>No. 11104
>[ ] Keep investigating the wall of fire

The only sane choice. I mean, come on! It's a mystery. It calls to us.
>>No. 11105
[X] Keep investigating the wall of fire.
it calls to me.
>>No. 11107
[x] Ask Elis about the wall of fire. Maybe she knows more about it than we can learn by examining it quickly, since she's lived next to it for a long while.
-[x] Investigate the wall of fire once more.
[x] Accept Elis’ hospitality…
-[x] Talk about the area and if she wants, happenings in the city.
-[X] Ask why she stays so far out, away from everyone else.
>>No. 11108
[x] Ask Elis about the wall of fire. Maybe she knows more about it than we can learn by examining it quickly, since she's lived next to it for a long while.
-[x] Investigate the wall of fire once more.
[x] Accept Elis’ hospitality…
-[x] Talk about the area and if she wants, happenings in the city.
-[X] Ask why she stays so far out, away from everyone else.

Sounds about right.

>>11098
>Hah, unlikely. How deadly can a starter area be? It’s not like there’s crazy shrine maidens or, Lord save us, fairies around these parts.
...But Elis is a stage 15 boss. Logic dictates that there are tiles arranged in the shape of monsters and turrets with synchronized wide-shot attacks nearby.

Not to mention eyeball monsters and angels of death.
>>No. 11109
[x] Ask Elis about the wall of fire. Maybe she knows more about it than we can learn by examining it quickly, since she's lived next to it for a long while.
-[x] Investigate the wall of fire once more.
[x] Accept Elis’ hospitality…
-[x] Talk about the area and if she wants, happenings in the city.
-[X] Ask why she stays so far out, away from everyone else.
>>No. 11125
Stage 15!?
>>No. 11127
>>11125
the first touhou game did things very differently, such as having 20 stages per route. You've got to keep in mind that TH1 was an odd variation of a "break the blocks with a ball" game.
>>No. 11133
File 13611662941.jpg - (181.79KB, 631x892, a-whole-new-world.jpg) [iqdb]
11133
I wanted to stick around. Faced with the mystery before me, I couldn’t tear myself away.

“Alice…” Ko tugged on my arm without strength. When I stepped back up to the wall, she sullenly followed me.

“Elis, is it okay if we stay here for a bit? We’d be really happy to eat with you, too.” I asked over my shoulder, trying my best to polite enough for both Ko and myself.

The blonde demon nodded and walked closer. “No problems by me. Though, if this tyke plans on stick’n me with her poker there I’m not sure how safe I’d feel.”

“You better trust I won’t stab you, then.” Ko made no effort to disguise her hostility.

“Kids. What’d I ever do to make ya so angry?”

“You dressed in that awful vest.”

“And that one on you is a whole lot better, ya think?”

“At least I match, unlike that horrid com-”
“I think you both look prettier than me,” I squeaked. My efforts to defuse the situation were partially successful, drawing chuckles from the two demons. Ko kept glaring and Elis kept smirking, but they stopped fighting temporarily. “Um, can you tell me about this wall, Elis?”

“Sure I can. Whatcha wanna know?”

“Is there anything special about it? Dangerous, maybe?”

“It’s fire. It’ll burn ya – fire tends to do that, ya know?”

“Alice already knew that, you daft bat. She’s asking about anything hidden her magic might not find.”

“Whew, so testy. Just trying to help here. Anysuch, there ain’t nothing else about this wall. It’s just your basic fire spell.”

“Oh.” I sighed and backed away from the fire. “I thought the edge would be more interesting.”

I kept hoping that there would be some sort of big secret involved, like maybe the wall had a dragon or something slithering inside of it. It really was boringly normal, by Makai’s standards.

Elis sounded confused when she spoke up again. “Edge? Edge of what?”

“Of Makai,” I answered. “Isn’t that what this wall represents?”

“Is it now? Where’d you hear some tale like that?”

“Ko told me that.”

Put on the spot, the redhead raised her palms in innocence. “That’s what everybody else kept telling me. Hard to go against the goddess’ word and all that”

“Ahahahahahaha!” Elis’ hysterical laughter surprised me and put Ko back on edge. My friend looked ready to bolt and drag me with her. “Whew, just think- she actually didn’t- not even a lick- ahaha!”

“Hey, crazy Bitch, you better explain the laughing if you don’t want me to stick you.”

“Violence ain’t the answer, Kid. Not right now, anyway.” Elis giggled for a few seconds longer. “You’s tried seeing the other side of this wall?”

“I was getting to it…”

“Might be that’ll explain things faster. See ya on the other side.” Without a beat of hesitation, the bat-winged demon stepped into the wall of fire.

She made it seem so easy. Confidence soaring, I threw the fire-protection enchantments back up and stepped forward. My foot was in the fire when Ko grabbed my wrist. “Hold on, Alice. Are you sure about this?”

“I think so. I’m not really that scared of it. Why are you so worried? Didn’t you volunteer to walk through?”

“I just…I don’t know. Maybe I’m a bit more scared of the unknown than I thought, huh? Yumeko must’ve wanted me to keep away for a reason.”

For all that Ko disliked Shinki’s maid, she must have respected the woman greatly.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t restrained like her. “Well, she never told me anything like that.”

Ko stared at me and then shook her head. “Heh, I suppose she didn’t. Throw that spell on me so I can go through first, okay?”

My friend took a second to prepare and then walked forward, disappearing in the flames. I followed her with only the slightest trepidation.

Bright. Staring into the fire from inside the fire made me see spots. I had to close my eyes as I took one step after another.

After two steps, I coughed and spluttered. I couldn’t feel the heat, the burn, but my lungs were on fire nonetheless. I stopped and gasped and tried to breather but I couldn’t. I tried and failed and thought that I really needed to move. Five, six, seven.

Then I was through. I stumbled out of the fire and inhaled wondrous oxygen. I straightened out after catching my breath and was caught by surprise by the sight.

“What…” I stared out at the land before me. The Makai I was familiar with was red, colored by blue crystal.

There was purple, with green glow everywhere. The ground was a shade of blackish-purple, the cavern walls nearby covered in luminescent moss. We stood at the top of a hill, the wall of fire stretched out behind us. The ceiling climbed high again, making the entire area feel reminiscent to the rest of Makai in size.

Below us, the ground sloped further and further down, boulders and ledges littering the path along the way. The floor eventually leveled off and stretched into the distance, completely barren of anything but dirt.

There, the single distinctive feature of the area made itself known. Where the dirt ended, city began. Buildings upon buildings sprawled across the land, skyscrapers soaring up into the darkness above us. Out to the sides and backwards away from us was nothing but buildings. Dilapidated shacks were hemmed in next to blocky apartments. Grandiose mansions could be seen on well-landscaped hills, gated communities distinct from slum-like conditions. Overpasses were everywhere, connecting floors and roofs far above the ground where the streets curved wildly between buildings. Some bridges floated while other structures were held in place by chains.

The Makai I was familiar with felt like an empty plain compared to the massive metropolis before us. The city full of the kind demons I knew would only have taken up a few blocks of the urban sprawl before me.

I couldn’t guess how many kilometers the metropolis spanned in any direction. There were no crystal forests, shimmering solid lakes, beautiful oases, or rolling hills in sight. There was dirt, and there was city. Much more city than dirt.

“Welcome to Makai, Girls. Impressed?”

Elis was standing off to the side and stretching. Ko stomped over to her and crossed her arms. “You. Start talking.”

“Always with the demanding. How do they put up with ya in that city of theirs? How about we talk over some food, huh? I’ve got a house on this side, too.” Elis quickly hopped down, magic formed at her feet to let her slide down the decline towards the city.

Ko flew after her immediately, apparently eager to find out more about the strange metropolis before us. “Now who’s the one not being careful?” I grumbled. I decided to take Elis’ example and had Metabble form a sled for me to slide down the hill.

As we traveled down and closer to the metropolis, I felt smaller and smaller. When one was standing at the edge of the construction, you could crane your neck upwards and still fail to see most of the skyscraper next to you.

Elis led us along the edge of the metropolis, on a road that skirted the boundary of the metropolis. Considering the number of buildings, I expected to see far more than the one or two demons walking with their heads bowed.

“Most don’t like living on the edges. You’ll get a few watchers or travelers like me, but that’s about it. Just go straight in another block or two and you’ll see the packed slums or what not.”

The bat-winged demon stopped at a well-kept two story house, painted in white. It had a meter separation from the houses around it, an iron fence marking the territory. Elis hopped the gate and waved her wand at the front door, a magical lock springing open. “Come on in. This place is me and mine alone.”

The inside of the home was quaint. Wood floors and white wallpaper were everywhere. The furniture was simple one-colored pieces with the occasional vase of flowers sitting on a table or floral painting hung up on the wall.

“Home sweet home. Sit yourself and I’ll go grab some stuff.” Elis left us in a room with a couch, table, and several loveseats, all positioned around a fireplace.

Ko and I glanced around before quietly sitting ourselves on the couch. We didn’t speak. Neither of us really knew what to say at the quick turn of events. I couldn’t speak for Ko, but my head was spinning. Just like when Yuki first carried me into Makai, there was too much to take in at once.

Our host returned a minute later, a pitcher of water and a tray of sandwiches in hand. “’Ere we go! Delicious grub by yours truly. Don’t be shy now.”

I thanked Elis for the food and dug in. Ko was slightly slower in accepting the gift, but helped herself after Elis ate some. “So, Girls, what’s on your minds?”

“What is all this?” Ko was quick with her question.

“Makai. Our home, ya know?”

“I’ve never been out here before. I’ve never hear about this…extended part of Makai. Ever. Nothing in any book or conversation.”

“Really now? That hurts some. Gone and gone from all the records, scrubbed clean of history. It’d make some of us real sad to hear that.”

“You wouldn’t be?” I asked.

“Nope. I see the other side enough, and I never cared much for how others went and thought of me.”

“So, how many of you are here?” Ko’s next question was simple, objective.

“Numbers? That’s tricky right there. Our population changes here, see? I can’t say. Way more than those in the goddess’ city, I betcha. Way, way more.”

After the short string of questions, the conversation died down. We quietly ate and drink without a word. Eventually, Elis herself spoke up. “I thought you two’d be more chatty after seeing this.”

Ko and I looked at each other again. We both felt something was wrong with the situation. Elis acted coolly, like nothing was wrong, but the entire metropolis went against what Ko and I knew. It was impossible for us to spend our time living in what we thought to be Makai’s only city, with the goddess and her kind family, only to find Elis’ metropolis area.

A place that, by all accounts, was not something the goddess felt important enough to tell us about. A place full of demons that the goddess had, most likely, created herself.

“Why?”

“What’s that?”

I started again. “Why are you all living here? Separate? What happened?”

“’Ey now, that’s a big question. You two don’t know anything, do ya?”

Ko took offense immediately. “I know plenty, you shitty-”

“Don’t take it out on me that you’re confused, Kid. Tell me, what’s it like living in the goddess’ city?”

“What’s it like? Now who’s the one who doesn’t know anything?”

“Feisty. I know plenty well, but I’m trying to help ya come to terms.”

Ko slammed her cup down and crossed her legs. “Hmph. It’s nice, I guess. People too friendly, too nice. Too many preachers for my liking. Crazies know their place. Plenty of books to read, items to tinker with, places to explore.”

“It’s perfect,” I summarized. “Nobody needs to worry about a bad harvest or dangerous weather, wild youkai attacks or the crimes from a neighboring village. They can do what they want and enjoy their lives without being scared.”

“Yeah, yeah, the goddess keeps a nice and tidy shift over there. Ya see, we don’t get that. I guess you might say we aren’t her favorites. We deal with everything ourselves over here. We might not be as troubled as a human town, but our magic only gets us so far. Gotta work on tricky spells and machines all the time to keep our stuff running.” Elis sighed and sat back in her chair. “As to what happened. Well, that’s some long history right there. Know much about when the goddess created Makai?”

“Her old home got trounced and she ran away to here.”

“Not her past. Whaddya know about how Makai was first created?”

I did my best to recall the various history lessons and books I had read. “She…made Makai just how it is. She used her transmutation gems and other items and made the whole realm…right?”

“Yeah, that’s the most I’ve heard of it,” Ko agreed, her voice filled with cautious uncertainty.

“Ah, you two are seeing the problem, yeah? What about afterwards? Got a good grasp your history, Kids?”

Ko scoffed. “What’s there to know about Makai’s history? It’s pretty boring. A daily life is daily life. I could tell you about all the inventions and spells people have come up with, some of the results of the tri-annual wrestling tournaments, and a bunch of other stuff.”

“So everybody’s been living happy lives for the past hundreds of years. What about yourself, Kid?”

“What about me?”

“Who’s the one closest to you in age?”

“Uh, lemme think. There’s this annoying girl that likes to be a mermaid. She’s about a year older than me, I think.”

“Younger siblings?”

“Well, Alice, I guess.”

“Did you ever ask the goddess why she hasn’t made any more siblings for ya?”

“Of course I have,” Ko snapped. “Mother is happy with her current family. There’s no need to keep creating when everything is fine as it is.”

“Another hundred years of peace, huh? Living forever in the status quo…how picturesque…”

“What are you mumbling about?”

“Nothing you need to worry your pretty head about. I guess you don’t see any problems with your life, then.” Elis looked upset. She seemed to be leading somewhere with her questions, but Ko didn’t follow. Elis’ point was left unmade.

I didn’t understand what she was trying to get at, either. What was wrong with enjoying life? I would have loved to live without worry every day.

Instead, I brought up something else. “Does the goddess ever come out this far?”

“Nope. Our lovely goddess never goes out past that wall of fire there. That marks the boundary between us and them, ya see?”

“I still don’t get it. Why isn’t everybody living together?”

Elis sighed. “I don’t think it’s my place to say. I can’t say how much you’d believe me, after thinking about how you’s been raised. Might be you wanna ask the goddess, huh?”

For all that she was willing to answer our questions, Elis wasn’t doing a very good job. I decided to try one more time, with something that had a clear answer. “What were you going to do with the energy you were gathering before?”

“Huh? What energy, now?”

“When you were watching us from the trees.”

“Oh, that. I was just gathering some, for whatever I needed it for. If I had to jump around to save someone, it’s better to have the power on hand.”

Ko went on the attack, eager to expose our host for the evil, vile, malicious being that she thought she was. “Then why didn’t you show yourself immediately? Why’d you need Alice to pull you out of your hiding spot, kicking and screaming?”

“You know Kid, you really aren’t a people person, are you? At least you aren’t waving that knife around inside my house.”

“Hmph.”

“Anysuch, ya can’t be too careful. I didn’t recognize ya right away, so maybe you were hunting or the like? Better safe than sorry and all that.”

Another silence descended on our group. Ko and I shared another look. It was too strange. Why would Elis need to worry about something like that? It just didn’t make sense.

However, without the distraction of conversation, I was able to notice a growing problem.

I leaned closer to Ko and whispered in her ear. “Ko, uhm, the spirit I brought with me is running out.”

The redhead eyed Luminita, who was floating in lazy circles above us, cute backpack concealing my problem’s temporary solution. “Running out? Don’t tell me you ate a whole person in half a day.”

“Can you not make it sound so…bad? And I didn’t. I was using this soul yesterday, too. It was a lot larger than the rest so I thought it would be okay.”

“Sheesh, that’s some sloppy planning. You really need to bring extras with you. Get another doll or something to carry more.”

“Maybe…”

“How much time you’ve got before you start eating me?”

“Eugh, why do you have to say it like that? And um, a few hours I think.”

Elis cleared her throat. “Leaving your host out of the secrets is pretty rude.”

“I’m sorry,” I responded reflexively.

Ko stood up and shrugged. “I’m not. We need to get going.”

“Huh? What’s the rush? Don’t you wanna see more of the metropolis? It’ll be your first time, won’t it? Don’t tell me it doesn’t interest you.”

“It does, but we’ve got a time limit. Thanks for the food, I guess. Let’s go, Alice.”

“Hold right there. Time limit? What’s the problem? I’m sure I can getcha whatever you need in the metropolis. We’ve got everything here, you just gotta name it.”

Although I brought the concern over my condition, it probably wasn’t a big deal. It took a few days of uninhibited contact for Ko to be affected by my problem. Even if I couldn’t get my hands on another non-important soul in a few hours, walking through a crowded metropolis would be perfect in taking only slivers of soul from everybody. Unconsented donations, to be sure, but nobody would be adversely affected.

My condition would be an excuse to leave, in the end. My problem was the perfect reason to return, to gather our wits and our thoughts and maybe find out what was wrong with what we knew.

I thought that we had to…

[ ] Return to the city, our city, and…
-[ ] Enjoy the remnants of Ko’s birthday party
-[ ] Find to talk with
--[ ] About
[ ] Stick around in this strange section of Makai and…
-[ ] Explore on our own
-[ ] Accept Elis’ tour
--[ ] Ask her for/about
[ ]

---

Sorry for the late update. I’ve been unashamedly putting everything else in life on hold to play through FE:A (and breaks to do actual work, I guess). I do not regret the decision.

I guess I was a bit lazy with the structured choices this time around. You lot don’t usually need it, but I can write up more specific options if they’re wanted.

>Words, words, words
A comprehensive text analysis of my writing is always something I’ve wanted to do but have been too lazy to actually work on. I know there are words, phrases, and structures that I over use; this is only worsened by the episodic nature of my writing.

Eh. I’ll get around to it one day.
>>No. 11134
[x] Stick around in this strange section of Makai and…
-[x] Accept Elis’ tour

I get the feeling that Koa's the "baby" of Shinki's favored, hence the special treatement.
>>No. 11135
[x] Stick around in this strange section of Makai and…
-[x] Accept Elis’ tour
>>No. 11138
[x] Stick around in this strange section of Makai and…
-[x] Accept Elis’ tour

I can get behind this.
>>No. 11166
File 136234365233.jpg - (124.71KB, 800x800, calling-all-actors.jpg) [iqdb]
11166
We had to stick around. How could we even consider returning home with an entire unexplored metropolis right before us?

“Could you show us around, Elis? It would be really great!”

“Not a worry! I’d be glad to. Your problem ain’t gonna be something to worry ya, is it?”

It was only a long-term concern; a quick trip wouldn’t cause problems. “No, it will be fine, I think.”

“Great. Let’s get going now, if that works? Times a waste’n.” Elis swished her wand through the air, sweeping away the plates and other trash out of sight. The demon stretched for a second, her wings splaying out like a peacock, before she led us out of her home.

I fell instep with Ko and whispered to my friend. “Will you be okay, Ko? I don’t mind leaving if this really, really bothers you.”

“Nah, I’ll be good. Deep down, I’m just as curious as you are. Don’t know why this place gives me the creeps, but I’ll adjust.”

“Hurry up Girlies! Don’t go getting lost.”

Ko and I quickened our pace to keep right on Elis’ heels. We followed the blonde into the warren of buildings.

The metropolis was a jungle of urban sprawl. After a minute of walking, I felt lost. You could spin in a full circle and see nothing but buildings, above and below. Skyscrapers, spires, and other massive constructions formed the horizon, melding with the darkness of the cavern above. The pseudo-stars were simply city lights, far in the distance. Smaller buildings pocketed the urban sprawl, apartments extruding out like warts.

There was obviously no plan when they went about construction. Buildings were erected wherever the builder wanted, sometimes on top of others, sometimes extending through and above already completed construction. Windows could open to see a brick wall. Doors were covered where the streets rose and opened to empty air where the streets dipped. Even the streets were nonsensical. One asphalt road we walked on would lead straight into a metal wall. A dirt road would jut off from there, and an adjacent cobblestone path would zag off onto a ramp that was laid across a half-crushed apartment.

Whereas the city around Pandemonium was messy, it was navigable. The metropolis was a gargantuan junkyard of haphazard urban sprawl. It would be impossible for any normal map to show the overpasses, underpasses, half-tunnels, ditches, arched buildings, and half-constructed messes.

Elis didn’t even know where she was going. She had her wand out and was using some sort of beacon spell, flashes of light pointing her in the general direction she wanted to go. Then, it was up to us to figure out how to scramble through the buildings to make it there. Half the time, Elis was go up a ladder or through a tunnel only to turn us around because it was a dead-end.

Flying, unfortunately, wouldn’t help in the slightest. The buildings rose up to the top of the cavern, and their ridiculous construction practices continued up. Some structures were shaped like T’s, others X’s. Some were cones with the tip pointed down, and some buildings didn’t even seem like buildings – a few small walls would fill in space between buildings completely at random until you realized you had entered one massive building formed from dozens of others. Metal walkways were intersected by small suspension bridges, both connectors being torn up by large enclosed overpasses. Whether on foot or in the air, it was a maze to navigate. Elis kept us on the ground simply because there was less of a chance of retracing out steps.

“Yuck, these streets are terrible,” Ko complained while we walked. It was a fair point. I had started to use my magic to brush debris out of our path. Simple jets of water would end up black and disgusting. It was a good thing that I added flight to Metabble’s abilities – I would never have let the metal golem slop up the filth on the ground. “Do people just dump all their garbage and filth out of their windows?”

The disgust in Elis’ voice matched Ko’s tone perfectly. “Yeah, they do. The Prophets of Abandonment lord over this area and they do a shite job. Don’t even dig proper sewers or have incinerators, oh no. Can’t be assed to clean or enforce a sensible floor structure. Most of the edge groups are like that.”

“Prophets of Abandonment? They sound like a bunch of nut jobs.”

“They are. Bunch o’laughing stocks if anything, but they’ve got cheap housing if nothing else, though you better have your own security.” Elis nodded towards one building above us, where a fire was visibly burning through the mid-level floors. The fire skipped around – some of the rooms were magically warded, while others weren’t, if I had to guess.

“So it’s a group, a faction? Is it like a gang marking their territory? Or is it some sort of group inside this place’s government?”

“Whoa, look at ya with all those fancy ideas. I didn’t expect someone coming from the goddess’ happy city to understand.”

Ko glared at Elis, which was about normal. “I’ve read about human governments. I know the goddess’ way of doing things is pretty much impossible anywhere else because of her ability to create what she wants.”

“Well, you’re right on the spot with that first one, Missy. The Prophets are just a run of the mill gang. Hopeless thugs with nothing better to do.”

“Hopeless thugs, are we? Little Lady, you might want to rethink that.” We drew to a halt. A giant blue pig demon, a boar with tusks standing upright on two legs, blocked off the narrow alley we were walking in.

It was the first demon of the metropolis that had talked to us. Plenty of demons were crawling their way through the sprawl like us, but nobody stopped to chat. Nobody waved or smiled in friendly manner – it was all suspicious glares and guarded passing.

Given the giant spear the two meter tall boar was carrying, I was doubtful it would be a friendly meeting, either. There were tall and long buildings on either side of us, the anti-damage wards sloppily painted on the structures. The only way through was where the pig stood.

“What’s it to ya? I don’t think I need to be rethinking nothing,” Elis snapped at the blue demon.

The giant boar laughed. His vibrations caused the less stable shacks around us to shake. “If you’re looking to keep walking you do. A high class lady such as yourself should know.”

“High class? If you can tell that, then why don’t ya stay outta my way?”

“Because no matter how strong you are, those pretty newborns of yours are still a weakness!”

Ko grabbed me and dragged me back down the way we had come as soon as the boar lunged. We didn’t have to worry about the big blue pig, though. Elis danced with him for us.

Our problem was the other monsters jumping towards us. Bloody, misshaped humanoids fell from above, out of opened windows, bellowing in coarse, wordless tones. They were ugly things, grey skin with no noses, pointed eras, and beady eyes. They weren’t proportioned, either – some had long arms, short arms, mismatched arms. More of the monsters ran at us from the other end of the alley.

Ko left me behind and leapt into the air. I watched her rocket into one of the greyish, sword-wielding monsters falling from above. Her magical knife went through him like paper. Ko summersaulted midair, bisecting the monster from the waist through his skull. She kicked the corpse into the building, to where it wouldn’t fall on me, before leaping after the next demon. She worked fast, removing three monsters from above before they were remotely close to where I was.

Shouts drew my attention back to the ground. The sword waving monsters loping down the floor of the alley promised a quick end on the tips of their swords.

“No!” I screamed, refusing to let the monsters and their fanged mouths intimidate me. They couldn’t hurt me, even if they tried.

Never again! The mental shout was all I needed to focus my magic. Metabble surged forward, the liquid metal blob twisting into a spear that shot into the closest monster. My golem pierced straight through and then expanded, snapping the monster’s bones and leaving it in a heap on the ground.

The other four monsters jumped around their fallen companion to try and skewer me. I took a few steps backwards and planted my feet steadily, grounding my form to stabilize my thoughts and my magic. I circled my arms just as Sara taught me and pushed, forming and throwing a hail steel coins at the monsters. The discs of metal pounded against their flesh, forcing the monsters to use their arms to protect their faces, the armor on their arms left dented. One was not so quick, a conjured coin finding its way straight through his eye and into his head.

Another step back, then my next spell was ready. I had been chanting in my head non-stop, enough preparation to conjure three copper bars and shove them into the ground.

“Protect me!”

The lead monster jumped, his sword point speeding towards me. I didn’t budge, and watched the lethal weapon draw close to my face. Twenty centimeters away, the sword disappeared in a fist of gravel.

The arm, formed from the dirt in front of me, rose. Another hand extended from the ground, grabbing the monster by the foot. The crushing of the monster’s limb couldn’t be heard over the upheaval of the ground. My dirt golem formed from the earth, stepping out of is birth creator. It slammed the lead monster into the ground and in one motion intercepted the other two, grabbing them before they could turn and run.

The golem, twice the height of the monsters and much, much wider, smashed the monsters into the side of the building headfirst.

A giant dirt and gravel man, held together by the copper bars sticking out of its back. Once the magic I had imbued into the bars ran out, the golem collapsed, neatly refilling the hole its creation had made.

“Are you okay, Alice?” Ko dropped back down next to me shortly after I finished protecting myself.

“Yeah. Are you?”

“Just fine. I don’t think these things can fly; not a contest when you can’t maneuver.” Ko’s ever-sharp knife pointed to the bodies and pieces littering the sides of the alley.

I quickly glanced away from them mess and looked back up the alley. “What about Elis?”

The two of us turned around, but there was nothing to worry about. The boar demon was lying flat on the ground, a large pool of blood welling underneath him. Several of the grey monsters laid burnt around him.

“W-What t-the…” The pig croaked, every rumble of his voice causing more of his blood to gush out.

Elis set her foot on his shoulder and bent low to talk with him. “Ya goofed, simple as that. These ain’t helpless newborns.”

“But, y-you…”

“This ambush wasn’t bad. Been watching me much? Ya should’ve looked more. Just because it’s a demon ya haven’t seen don’t mean it’s a newborn.”

“Y-You followed- same pattern, f-for years-”

The pig’s demon face crumpled, Elis’ foot stamping out the last of his life. “Oh well, not long enough. Things change.”

The adrenaline simmered and dissipated with all the obvious threats dead or dying. The smile on my face, the joy of well executed spell casting, gave way to reality. I looked around, saw the hunched, grey humanoids clad in brown leathers and steel scraps that couldn’t protect them, and shuddered. “W-What was that?”

Elis combed her hair out while she answered. “Bunch of halfwits thinking you were easy picks. I thought they’d be a bit tougher than that, but I expected too much outta the low class scum.”

“What the fuck?” Ko exploded. All of her bias and adrenaline worked together to create one pissed off demon. “You expected this? And you’re still bringing Alice through this place? You didn’t even think to tell us!”

“After how she fished me outta the trees? I wasn’t too worried. Looks like I was right, too. You girlies held on just fine.”

“That’s not the point! This is dangerous-”

“More dangerous than your trek through Makai?” Elis’ one question stopped Ko’s rampage flat. “If ya asked me, all the beasties the goddess created are stronger than these mutts. Ya brought your friend through that lot, what’s wrong with these chumps?”

Ko fumed silently, beaten in the argument but not cowed in the slightest. I was sure she would find some other way to attack soon enough.

With my friend temporarily muzzled, I decided to ask the important questions. “What are these, anyway?” The dead monsters reminded me of goblins from momma’s tales.

Elis looked at me funnily. “They’re demons. Can’t you tell that, Kiddo?”

“Demons? But, they don’t look anything like you or Ko or the others…”

“Ya mean the goddess isn’t still shifting bodies when people ask?”

The few non-human demons that inhabited the goddess’ city, like the tentacle monsters or the talking dogs, flashed in my mind. I barely interacted with any of the nonhuman-shaped demons. I felt my stomach start to churn slightly. “Oh.”

“Difference here is, these mutts don’t get the choice. They were made the way they are, real low births. Dinky groups like this one force ‘em out so they can keep their numbers up.”

Born into shriveled, hunched bodies that weren’t pretty at all. I felt so sorry for them. Maybe their lives weren’t so bad, but I couldn’t imagine them having happy lives when they looked like that.

Ko apparently found the idea unacceptable. “Why not just switch their bodies? There’s no reason to-”

“Kid, the goddess don’t come around these parts.” Elis looked exhausted with Ko’s constant back-talk. “Anybody who can create a body and move souls around with a flick are a dime a dozen. If you’re unlucky enough to be a low birth instead something better, well, can’t help ya.”

“What does that even mean? What’s this low birth high birth nonsense you people keep spewing?”

“How much effort was put into your creation, pretty much. The way the goddess does things? That’s a high birth. Going down the scale, you’ve got all manners of natural and artificial births that have various failures to ‘em. Low births are your dumpy demons that have no place being alive.”

“That has got to be the dumbest thing I’ve heard yet, right Alice?” Ko turned to me for support, but I couldn’t back her up. “Alice? What’s wrong?”

My eyes were fixated on the corpses. The bodies of the people we had sliced and crushed with ease. “K-Ko…w-we….w-we j-just…I, I-”

The redhead rested her hands on my shoulders and stroked my cheek. “Calm down there, Alice. Nothing’s wrong here. No need to freak-”

“We killed them! Real, living, people!” They weren’t animals or monsters. They weren’t mindless beasts or yucky insects. Actual people, one that had their own lives to live. People, unlucky more than anything. People – that was murder!

“We just-”

“Without a second thought! I crushed that one! It didn’t take more than a thought! You sliced them apart! We murdered them! We ripped them up like a bad test!”

“We…did, huh?”

We weren’t any better. We were just as monstrous as anybody. What was I doing? A little human girl? It didn’t matter at all! I killed five people like I was swatting flies! It wouldn’t have been more difficult to burn down their homes, to skewer their fathers or entomb their mothers!

A splash of cold water shut me up, stray magical energy I had been gathering wafting away unused. Elis waved her wand a second time, throwing another chilly ball of water at us. “Cool down, Kiddos. That was self-defense if anything, ya know?”

“But-”

“Nobody’ll fault ya for it. Some of might even thank ya. The less trash out on the streets the better, I say. Mongrels like these don’t get good lives. Putting them outta their misery early, before their souls develop too much is the best ya can do.” Elis sighed and quick dried us with magic. Then, she grabbed both Ko and my hands to drag us out of the alley. “Oy, what a drag. The two of ya might not be brainless newborns, but ya sure are kids. C’mon, keep moving, let’s split this place.”

Caught up in my thoughts as I was, I barely noticed the buildings that passed us by. We walked through various constructions, entering into different large walled off areas. We rose higher and higher into the air as we climbed steps and winding ramps.

We took a break on one building’s rooftop. While seated at the edge, we could see a different rooftop with a small garden growing, little birds happily chirping from their only refuge in sight.

“They’ll be okay, won’t they?” I kicked my legs back and forth from where they dangled and stared at my feet. Had they become tough after all this time, or was this part of Makai’s ground softer than it looked?

“Alice…” Ko sat next to me, staring off at the little features of the metropolis.

I rested my head against my friend’s shoulder. “Shinki will just scoop them right back up again. Just like she did for you, won’t she? Right? We didn’t do anything wrong. They’ll be okay.”

Ko grunted noncommittally.

A pair of shoes signaled Elis’ return. Our demonic tour guide passed us two bottles of water. “Yeah, you kids did nothing wrong. Trust me, would ya?”

“But we-”

“Protected yourselves like ya should have. Honestly, how does this bother ya so much? This ain’t even half as bad as some demons would do. Like I said, death is practically a mercy.”

“Alright you crazy bitch, we get it, so would you just lay off for a moment?”

“Moping around ain’t gonna get ya two anywhere. Surely you’ve killed some manner of beasties before. A few low classes ain’t much different.”

“Why you-”

I gave Ko a little shove to stop her from beginning another argument. “What would they do? The other demons?”

Elis sat down next to me and sipped her water. “Well, depends on which bunch. There’s always a shortage of live test subjects. Plenty of low class newborns are kept around for maybe five years, less with some acceleration, than off they go to get hacked or burned or injected or whatever. Plenty more become thug fodder like those lot from before. Everybody needs a few disposable bodies. Some might just be tortured for amusement, ya know? Squandering some low classes that way ain’t much of a cost for any well-off demon.”

“…Tortured?” The world tumbled around in Ko’s mouth, coming out in a garbled mess. “You’re kidding me. Nobody’s that sick.”

Elis leaned forward and stared at the redhead on the other side of me. She stared and stared until something dawned on her. “Oh. Oooooh. I get it. I keep forgetting, the goddess keeps everything squeaky clean, right? Nobody gets stabbed in the dark corners of your tidy city, right? The blood don’t run because someone wants to see it.”

“Of course not. That’s ridiculous. Sure, we’ve got our own crazies, but they’re kept on a stringent leash. You all are insane!”

“Demons, kid. We’re demons. Not even proper demons, so I guess you might not get it.” Elis got up and dropped over the edge, flying back up to hover in front of us. “What’s a demon?”

Ko answered immediately. “It’s us. The goddess’ cre-

“Bzzt, wrong answer. A real demon is a bundle of emotions given form. A real demon is all the hate and fear that humans hold, cast into the darkness and given a mind to act on them. A real demon is a creature of evil belief. Ya think a real demon would hesitate to chop you into bits?”

“But nobody acts that way!” My friend shouted.

“A real demon is not us.” Elis placed a hand over her heart. “We’re sort-of demons. We’re partly demonic – all of us high classes have got a bit of the goddess as our base. She’s the real demon part of us. Every other bit of our soul has developed through experience. We’re more like humans, the nastiest kind of humans, ya could say. After all, if ya got the heart of a demon, growing up into anything else is a bit tough.”

“Nobody just kills others for fun.” There was a sense of truth in Ko’s statement. The redhead’s belief was a deep-seated conviction, gained from years of life.

Elis shrugged. “Well, some of us are more demonic than others. Some can hide it better than others. The goddess probably has the best mask of everybody, after all.”

She just doesn’t know the others, I thought. Elis admitted that none of them usually saw the goddess. There was some sort of bad blood, but all that talk was probably just bitter statements. Shinki was so kind and caring; Elis had no idea what she was talking about.

I didn’t contest it, though, and neither did Ko. We just wanted to get on with the tour or, maybe, we didn’t want to hear more of Elis’ own heartfelt opinion.

As we climbed higher, our surroundings rose in standing. The filth was left with the actual cave floor far below and behind us. We would fly up a set of stairs and come out on an artificial landing as large as a football stadium, enclosed by a generous roof overhead. One such plaza looked like a fish market, while another further up looked like a clothing fair. Hundreds of demons milled about, hawking their wares or haggling prices.

“Things don’t look half-bad around here.” Ko grabbed a frilly pink dress off of rack and held it up, but quickly put it back when the owner started yelling.

“It better look good. Our people have this entire area locked down tight.”

“Your people? What, the Pretty Rainbow Warriors or something?”

“Cute, Kid. And close, too.” Elis swept her arms out to the side to frame the entire plaza in one gesture. “We call ourselves the Ninth Condemned.”

Ko laughed. The redhead was bending at the waist, doubled-over with hysterics. I wasn’t sure what she found funny about it. I thought she might have just been trying to get a rise out of Elis, because the blonde demon did look peeved. “Fancier than any upside-down prophets, dontcha think?”

“What is it with you people and these names? You’re all wackjobs.”

“Harsh, but I think you’re plenty weird myself. We’re just playing to our heritage. Haven’t been to the West ourselves, but it makes us think about how we should be, ya know?”

“Uh-huh.” Ko didn’t sound convinced. She reached out and grabbed another outfit. “These clothes light on fire or something, don’t they? Self-immolation is crazy enough for you all. Or they’re just scandalous. Look at this thing! It’s made of ribbons!”

“Nah, don’t let our silly names or the deviants fool ya, most people are pretty normal. That wrinkly looking shrew in the corner knits the best scarves. Nice ‘an warm when an ice-head gets fired up.”

We forced our way through the crowds of shoppers, doing our best not to be distracted by cute dresses or pretty charms.
>>No. 11167
File 13623437221.jpg - (388.10KB, 515x600, whos-the-missing-character.jpg) [iqdb]
11167
After a simple walk up a spiraling hallway, we emerged in a large room, similar to an empty hangar or a massively oversized workshop. The ceiling was three stories above us. There was only one outstanding feature of the place.

It was a large white cylinder, seemingly made out of marble. The sides were glossy, sloped, and immaculate. It formed a half-circle, running from floor to ceiling. An iron gate was placed at the base of the white stone, directly in front of us.

“Here we are, home away from home.” There was a skip in Elis’ step as she walked forward.

“Where is here? That white building?”

“Yes. See,” the blonde demon flicked her wand. A wavy pool of energy appeared above us, the yellowish vapors quickly coalescing into a picture. In the magic image, we saw what looked like a portion of the metropolis; a mess of buildings rising into the air. The image, however, soon changed. Buildings disappeared, one at a time, until we began to see white.

A pure white spire ran from the ground up into the darkness, upon which hundreds of smaller buildings were anchored. After looking at the half-circle construction in real life, it was easy to guess what it was.

“So this white tower thing is your home?”

“It’s the base of our operations and the seat of our power. It’s not exactly in the center of the metropolis, but its close enough to everything important. Any Ninth is free to pop in and rest up here.”

Elis led us right up to the gate. She balled a fist and pounded on the door. “Hey, Yu!”

Immediately, an eyeball appeared above the gate. It turned to look down at us and then disappeared. The gate opened right after, drawn upwards into the stone. Standing there was another blonde woman.

All of the blondes made me feel insignificant. It was my special thing back in the village, but it felt like every other demon in Makai was blonde. And they usually had longer, prettier hair, too.

The woman was dressed in shrine-maiden like clothing, with a number of free flowing tassels. Her hair was drawn up in a short, wild ponytail. She looked beautiful but scary as she stood there, staring at us impassively with her red eyes. “Magical wonder-girl is back. What is it?”

“Just looking to head up. I’ve got a pair of special guests to show around.”

“Fine. Go ahead. Boss will be informed.” The emotionless gate guard stepped to the side, allowing us to enter the white tower.

“Thanks, Yu!”

Inside the tower was nothing.

What a letdown.

It was a small, empty room, completely unbefitting the grand nature of the tower and other construction we had seen. Unpainted masonry formed a room just large enough for five people to stand in.

The gate slammed back down, leaving us all staring at each other in the magically lit closet.

“Oh, this is Yu, our gatekeeper. She keeps out the riffraff and the like,” Elis introduced us.

The demon known as Yu barely commented. “Do more than that. Ready?”

“Beam us up!”

Ko narrowed her eyes at Elis. “What are you-”

Our surroundings changed in a surge of magic. I felt a little tingly, but Ko was much worse off. My friend dropped to her knees and covered her mouth with her hands.

“Fucking damn magical shitty-” The tirade ended abruptly. Ko couldn’t keep her mouth open without barfing.

“Can’t take a ‘lil tele, can ya?”

“Screw you demon monster-” Ew. I made sure to look away from my friend kneeling on the ground.

With Ko temporarily incapacitated, I took the chance to look around. We looked like we were in a warzone. Half destroyed walls and crumbling buildings were the norm. The horizon appeared to be hills and mountains, tinged with purple and red. There was no trace of the ridiculous urban sprawl. It almost felt like we were back out in the wilds of Makai.

It was an illusion, woven into the wall. I was positive we were inside the tower, on a floor that was luckily much larger than the tiny room we had entered in. Teleportation magic, if Elis was to be believed, worked wonders. “Where are we?”

“Up the spire, pretty far. Ya wouldn’t wanna climb those steps.”

“Why is it so…broken?”

“They’re ruins. Only a recreation, mind. Place called Vina, real lovely. My old home was there. Outside of the city, a whole bunch of us loved it there.”

“What happened to it?”

“Caught in the crossfire a long time ago. I always warded my house against all sorts of nasty magic after that.”

After Ko managed to get back her feet we were off. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to see as we headed towards the center of the area.

All of the half torn-up roads led towards a grand stone fountain. No water ran from it, and the barely standing sculptured lady was missing half her body. It had once been a beautiful centerpiece for the town to gather around.

Sitting on the edge of the fountain was a person of some sort. All of their features other than their blue dress were obscured by a magical screen. From our position, it looked like a large purplish tablet floating in front of the person.

“Heya Boss! Who ya calling?” Elis shouted and ran forward.

The person sitting on the fountain swiped their hand over the magic, the floating rectangle disappearing.

She was pretty. Her long, white hair complimented her navy blue dress wonderfully. Her light-blue eyes glimmered beautifully and…

…she looked a lot like Shinki.

There were differences between the lady sitting on the fountain and Shiki, of course. The fountain lady’s hair was a bit bluer, like ice. Her eyes were a bit darker, bordering on a pale purplish-red. Her chest wasn’t nearly as large as Shinki’s, and she kept her hair straight down instead of in a partial ponytail like Shinki. Their demeanor was different as well. Where Shinki was childish in a way, the lady sitting at the fountain felt like the perfectly poised woman momma wanted me to be.

“Just one of our surface collectors.” The lady’s voice was warm, but not like the goddess’. If Shinki’s voice felt motherly, the fountain lady’s voice was passionate. She didn’t yell her statement, but she spoke just like a person who was secretly excited about something.

Elis flapped her wings as she jumped up onto the ledge of the fountain. “Oh, your favorite apprentice, huh?”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve called her that. How are you, Elis?”

“Pretty good. I’ve got a few things to report to you later.”

“I see. Your friends?” The demon sitting at the fountain turned her head to look at us.

“Ko and Alice from the other side. Ya know red-head, but not blondie I take it?”

“Indeed not.” It felt like her eyes froze me in place while they scrutinized me. There was surprise in her eyes when she examined me. The moment passed quickly enough, but it left me feeling awkward. “Pleasured to meet your acquaintance, Alice. My name is Sariel. I’m disappointed that nobody told me about you.”

I stammered out something vaguely polite sounding and bowed to the demon.

Sariel laughed and stood up, walking over to pat me on the head. “How are you finding our home?”

“Weird as fuck.” Ko yanked me away from Sariel, her over-protective nature showing once again. “You all are crazy and trust me, I know wire swinging, butchering, crazies.”

“Ko!”

The white-haired demon chuckled and paced slowly in front of us. “We’ve been called that before. I’m fond of thinking that a little unpredictability gives us personality, vitality, life. Don’t you feel that way?”

“No way.”

Why was she so childish? Disagreeing just to be difficult made it harder on everyone. I escaped from my friend’s personal space and scratched my cheek. “How did we meet, Ko? Stealing for fun or something?”

“That’s not the same at all! Well, it sort of is. Kind of.”

Sariel nodded to me and sat back down on the edge of the fountain. “We’re all similar in the end. Acting against our personalities is unnatural. You are you, be proud of that.”

The strange conversation came to an abrupt pause. “Visitors. Prophets of Abandonment seek reparations. Commotion at the industrial district.”

I blinked, confused by the voice. Where did she come from? I wondered. Yu had simply appeared next to Sariel. Did she teleport? I thought I would have noticed any such magical emission.

“Oh, do they? What for?”

“We gave their welcoming party a blooding.” Elis pointed to us during her explanation to Sariel. “They didn’t expect the girlies to have claws. The miserable lot didn’t stand a chance.”

“I’m impressed. Are you so strong that thugs like those are no trouble, Alice?”

“N-No…” I said, but I wasn’t sure what I meant. The more I dwelt on the topic, the more I recalled the blood I glanced over, the organs and entrails spilling out of the wounds I had caused in a casual display of magic.

A gentle hand wrapped around my shoulders. “Alice is way stronger than any half-assed demons, that’s for sure. She’s a shining star that can’t be stopped.”

“S-Stop it, I’m not that special.”

“Everybody else gets to praise your talent, why can’t I?”

“Yeah Blondie, you’re great!” Elis’ endorsement made me blush. “With how you dragged me out of those trees and all? How long have ya been working at it, twenty years?”

“Try two months.” My red-headed friend held out two proud fingers before drawing her hands back and using those fingers to count. “Less, if I remember correctly.”

So much had happened, but it didn’t feel like much time had passed. “Has it been that long already?”

Ko raised an eyebrow at my question. “Long? Whew, you really are a human, haha. Better slow your growth down Alice or you’ll give the rest of us a bad rap!”

The other two demons weren’t paying attention any longer. Sariel and Elis were leaning closely together, whispering about something.

“Leaving your guests out of the secret? Sounds pretty rude to me, Elis.”

There was only one rude person in the group, yet I doubted that Ko cared. The little devil’s snipe stopped Sariel and Elis’ whispering, but neither of the two demons looked particularly happy with Ko’s interruption.

“Boss?” Yu asked. I had completely forgotten the blonde gatekeeper was standing right next to the fountain.

Sariel waved a hand. “Remove them. They’re an annoyance for everybody.”

“Understood.” The gatekeeper disappeared right before my eyes, no obvious explosion of magic indicating some powerful spell. Perhaps it was just a really good illusion?

“Back to our original topic, then. How do you find our home, Alice?” There was a renewed sense of insistence in Sariel’s voice, although I couldn’t tell why. If she was in charge of the tower and its surroundings, perhaps she cared about how her group presented itself? Or maybe she was interested in an outsider’s perspective? Something else? I couldn’t tell.

It was…

[ ] Wonderful; there were some areas of concern, but Sariel’s part of the metropolis seemed nice
[ ] Strange; I didn’t understand how the residents of the metropolis lived the way they did
[ ] Violent; the fighting between the metropolis demons was too much for me
[ ] Terrifying; I couldn’t stand the atmosphere pervading most of the metropolis
[ ]

---

Yeah yeah late updates, sickness, interviews, excuses excuses. Everything should be cleared up for some amount of time. If I don’t get weekly updates out (at minimum) I’m going to kick myself.

In regards to some other board-related concerns, I won’t be abandoning anything while I can still write and there’s at least one person out there to read it. People learn by doing – even a train wreck is a useful writing exercise.

Interestingly, the one-year anniversary has come and gone. By my (much revised) plans, we’re about five-eighths of the way there. Four parts, currently around half-way through part three. Finishing up sometime in summer, perhaps? All predictions ignore any (almost guaranteed) further revisions to the plan, and revisions are likely to shorten things.
>>No. 11169
[X] Strange; I didn’t understand how the residents of the metropolis lived the way they did

I think this is the best summary of what Alice feels about this place.
>>No. 11172
>“Nobody just kills others for fun.”

If only they saw some of humans in the outside world.

[x] Strange; I didn’t understand how the residents of the metropolis lived the way they did
>>No. 11173
[X] Strange; I didn’t understand how the residents of the metropolis lived the way they did

I'd have to agree
>>No. 11174
[X] Strange; I didn’t understand how the residents of the metropolis lived the way they did.

Oh Ko, so young and innocent.
>>No. 11175
>>11172

Humans aren't the only ones that kill for fun.
>>No. 11176
File 136305657198.jpg - (259.48KB, 850x1440, no-surprises-at-all.jpg) [iqdb]
11176
It was strange. The entirety of Makai was strange compared to my life in the village, but within Makai the differences between the metropolis and the goddess’ city were too great. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

“I don’t get it.”

Sariel must not have been expecting my simplistic answer. “You don’t get what?”

“Everything. Why are some parts so dirty and some parts aren’t? Don’t you feel bad for everybody living down there?” There were more things I didn’t understand, but it was easier to focus on the visible, mostly benign, differences.

“Their daily lives are unfortunate, that is true. If we could help them we would.”

“Why can’t you? You have enough for everybody, right?” The large plazas we had passed by were teeming with goods. Other than food and clothes, there had been hardware, tool, and furniture on the various market floors. There had to have been enough to fix up many parts of the metropolis below.

Sariel spoke to me calmly. “It is not so simple, Alice. There are actions we can and cannot take due to our position.”

“But why? Everybody could help! It’s even easier with magic. You don’t need everybody to work the fields or forage in the forest. With everybody here, things could be a lot nicer if you tried!” It only took a few adults to fix a house’s roof. Hundreds of super-strong demons could fix up plenty of buildings. A little magic could clean every street in a flash. I didn’t see why people needed to live poorly, to fight over having new friends when if they just worked together things would be much better.

“They do not want our help, Alice. Those living elsewhere see us as a threat. They imagine that taking our aid would give us leverage over them.”

“But that’s dumb! If you can help them then you should help them!”

“You would have us force our standards on the others? We must command the others how they should live, act, and think?” There was an edge in Sariel’s voice, a tone of conviction.

“Well…kind of?” She made it sound like helping someone was a bad thing. “Fighting isn’t right! Being afraid of your neighbors isn’t right. Everybody should be happy and do what they want. They shouldn’t be worried about how they were born or if they’ll be okay at night.”

“What if they wish to worry? What if it is in their nature to remain paranoid? They look at us and see a frightful spectre. They do not wish for our help, so we do not give it.”

I sighed and gave up. Sometimes I wouldn’t want help so I could show momma and daddy, Sara and Erk that I could do it on my own. I understood that. But why would someone not want to live nicely? Have clean streets and rooms that wouldn’t burn up and friends that wouldn’t attack them? “I just don’t get it. It’s strange here.”

“Thinking we can make everybody happy is idealistic, a childish thought. It makes a nice dream, for some, but does not take into account the truth of our world.”

“Hey!” Ko shouted, obviously angry at the dismissive way Sariel answered me. “Don’t be an ass. Alice is right. Why shouldn’t we do everything we can for the people around us?”

“Forgive me. I should take care with my words. I should not let my emotions possess me while we talk, but this must be made clear to you.

“Life does not work that way, Children. It cannot. When resources are limited, when factions form, when people prefer one person to another, when we live as individuals with our own thoughts and feelings, conflict occurs. When we interact with others and move according to our natures, conflict becomes unavoidable. To stifle what naturally occurs in these meetings is the closest to evil we can partake in.”

She was intense. The heat in her voice was persuasive, frightening yet inspiring at the same time. Sariel was standing when she finished, her fist clenched to her heart. After a second, she coughed in embarrassment and sat back down on the edge of the fountain.

“Uh-huh. Sure.”

Ko didn’t sound convinced, but I sort of understood Sariel’s opinion more clearly. “It’s okay. You just care a lot!”

“Yeah, boss is great like that. She’s got her principles and she cares for us. It’s hard to beat that combo.” Elis endorsed her boss whole-heartedly.

Sariel moved the conversation onto safer ground. “Have you two eaten yet? Perhaps you wish to browse what our territory has to offer? A few souvenirs are not out of the question, either.”

“Well, I think-” I stopped midsentence, a chilly sensation sweeping through my body. It was the kind of feeling I knew intimately. My soul and its peculiar condition were like breathing. When something reminded me about it, I couldn’t help but notice it.

I had been careful about my strange affliction. I took quick snatches of soul from the masses on the market platforms, the demons unaware of my little borrowing, but I made sure to leave Ko and Elis alone.

The tingle in my skin made me notice the fullness of my soul.

A gurgle drew my attention to the side. I turned to Ko and found me friend doubled over, hands wrapped tightly around her throat. Before I could even begin to raise my hand to help, she screamed.

“GET OUT!”

I stumbled, nearly falling over due to the powerful shockwave. Ko’s bellow wasn’t normal at all - it rung with magic, blasting outwards in one explosive utterance.

A haze of soul was spread and dispersed by Ko’s magical shout. I watched it begin to condense, but then it zipped away and disappeared from my sight.

My red-haired fried vomited, a sickly blue and purple substance spewing out of her mouth. “Ko! Are you okay?”

I moved over to help her, but she waved me off. Ko grabbed a towel from her bag and wiped her mouth, spitting the excess substance onto the ground.

While Ko cleaned herself up, I looked around. Elis was standing, her eyes wide with surprise. Sariel was standing too, but she looked incredibly angry. She held a metal staff in her hand, the strange tool having a blue gem embedded on the tip.

“Be gone, spirits!” She cried, a pulse of magic flying out from her staff’s gem. It passed through me without interaction, racing off towards the circular wall of the floor.

The magic didn’t feel like it could do anything at first impression, but I didn’t have much time to analyze Sariel’s magic. Ko straightened back up and flicked her towel, trying to get the disgusting stuff off of it.

I reached over and cleaned it for her with my magic. She smiled at me and put the towel away. “Fuck. I’m fine. That shit was horrible. Remind me to find a better anti-possession tonic.”

“That was a what?”

“Anti-possession tonic. Weird magical medicine junk I took. I searched for some after the last time I let those evil spirits get to me. Didn’t want a repeat of all that for you. It tastes as bad coming up as it did going down.” Ko shook her head and yanked her knife out. “Are you okay, Alice? Are you, well, you?”

“Mhm.” If something tried to possess Ko and I, then that explained quite a bit about Sariel’s actions and what I felt. “Whatever entered me, uhm, didn’t do so well, I think.”

“They didn’t waste any time messing with our minds. Went straight for the soul. I’ve never met a spirit that would do that.” As usual whenever anything strange occurred, Ko chose to glare at our hosts.

However, Elis was still shocked with surprise, and Sariel ignored us. “YuugenMagan!”

“Yes?” The gatekeeper appeared, fully formed, in an instant. Seeing her again, I was almost sure it was an illusion of some sort. Magically, it felt the same as the demon who had greeted us at the entrance to the tower, but there was less of a physical presence to the standing image.

“What is the meaning of this?” Sariel waved at the two of us and tapped her staff on the ground. “How were spirits able to enter the tower?”

The gatekeeper’s image stared blankly at Sariel for a second before responding. “Apologies. There appears to be a hole in-”

Another pause, and then Yu continued, the gatekeeper’s voice slightly rushed compared to her usual monotone. “There’s a hole in the tower’s security. The wards have been-”

The room glowed red. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, at first wondering if there was something wrong with me. From the ruined buildings nearby to the illusory horizon, a red light overtook the room.

“Security compromised,” Yu intoned. “Invasive magic detected, foreign scrying spell, personal-area long-distance teleportation. Countermeasures ineffective. Spectral formation in two-”

A flash of blue heralded a spectral figure. Immaterial and hazy like a cloud, I could still recognize the image of the demon standing near the fountain. “Mai!”

The ghostly form of Makai’s icy witch pointed at Ko and I. Her head turned and lips moved, as if talking to someone we couldn’t see. Then, her image disappeared.

The surge of magical energy pressed against me. A little thrill ran through me when the excess energy from the teleportation spell flooded outwards and through us. It wasn’t as refined as Yu’s teleportation, but it had much more power.

“Hello all~”

“Iris!” Another face I knew, accompanied by two I didn’t. The silver-haired, wire wielding demon stood before us in the flesh. Her two companions also had wires trailing from their fingertips. One was a black-haired man, dressed in a fancy looking vest and dress shirt. The other male wore an aviator’s jacket, as well as aviator goggles on his head. The two men were smiling just as much as Iris, yet none of them were pleasant smiles.

“What are you doing here?” Ko demanded, trying to understand the situation.

“I’m here to pick you two up~” Déjà vu came and went. The silver-haired demon licked her lips. “There are a few too many snakes here for it to be safe for you two.”

Elis brandished her wand at the wire wielding group. My eyes picked up on the yellow energy slowly gathering around the demon. “Ya bitch, whaddya think you’re doing?”

“Perhaps I should ask you that, hm? I am simply worrying over these two lovely children~”

“Worrying, huh? Keeping the kids all nice and safe from us scary monsters? Even when butchers like ya are running around with ‘em?”

“Such harsh words coming from a lost kitten~ I believe I remember you. Tell me, do you still ache from when I-”

“I’ll kill you!” Elis spun low, launching a dozen magical lances at Iris and her friends.

The demons moved, hands whirling and wires twirling. The yellow energy spears were ripped apart, crisscrossed by silver wires and cleanly separated into unsustainable pieces.

“My, it’s like you want to die. If you truly wish to begin hostilities, I’d be happy to oblige you~”

Before Elis could unleash any stronger magic, Sariel spoke up. “Hold, Elis. Do not let her get the better of you.”

The blue-clad demon’s words proved to be a powerful restraint. Elis stopped in her tracks and growled. “Tch. Boss, hurry up and throw ‘em out, would ya?”

Sariel took a step towards Iris and shifted her staff from left hand to right. “I hope you three realize the danger you are in. Intruding upon my domain? I know none of you are capable of defeating me.”

“Perhaps we are not, but there are those who can~” Spoken in a singsong manner, Iris’ threat couldn’t be more obvious. “Others await the call, should the situation go awry. Go ahead, dare to harm us. I will delight in watching you bleed on a sword’s end~”

Nothing followed. No retorts, backtalk, or other inflammatory remarks. Sariel, Elis, and Yu’s image stood side to side and glared at Iris and her companions. Rage and hatred consumed the residents of the metropolis. If they could have done anything, I was sure they would have.

But nothing happened.

After a minute of taunting smiles and resentful glares, Iris and her companions walked over to where Ko and I stood.

“Well then, shall we go, Alice? Ko?”

“Uhm, okay…”

Iris laid a comforting hand on my shoulder, and then we were off. One explosion of magic later and our surroundings had changed completely.

Gone was the alien scenery of the metropolis. We were back in comfortable territory, in the hills just outside the city. The decorations and festivities were still in full force, even though we had been gone for over half a day.

A magic circle was scribbled into the ground underneath us, the many geometric shapes outlined by chalk. It was only a few meters in diameter, enough for Iris, her companions, Ko and I to fit inside.

Standing on the perimeter of the circle were thirteen demons, magicians all. I recognized Erk slumped on the ground and Mai gasping for breath. Yuki stretched in place while other demons lazed about, clearly exhausted.

Armed and armored demons stood behind the magicians. The demons’ armor ranged from studded leathers to full plate mail, their weapons from dual daggers to swords three times larger than them. Sara stood with the perimeter of armored demons, the pink-haired fighter sporting metal shoulder guards and gloves. Yumeko was also standing there, dressed from head to toe in dark, spiked plate mail that I had seen once before.

“Sis!” Sara was the first of the armored demons to move, rushing forward and dropping to her knees to hug me. “You’re okay, right? Nothing hurting?

I swallowed nervously when the gatekeeper wrapped her arms around me, but returned her hug nonetheless. “Uhm, you’re squeezing me a bit tightly.”

“Sorry!” She drew back immediately, her metal gloves clicking slightly. Having affirmed my safety, Sara turned to Ko. “What about you? Nothing broken? Everything good”

“I’m still feeling nauseous from all this magic teleportation shit and magical vomiting shit and I want to know what in the goddess’ name is going on!”

Despite Ko’s whining, no explanations were forthcoming because the medical demons rushed forward form behind the armored demons. I recognized Serra and the other demons that had gathered together before when the threat of disease had scared the populace.

For a time, the only talking was between the medical demons, or short responses from Ko and I while the doctors examined us. They gave us a comprehensive examination, physical and magical in nature, long and boring.

After what felt like forever, the medical demons finished and declared us to be perfectly healthy, Ko’s slight magical nausea the only problem.

Once the medical demons withdrew, Yumeko stomped towards us.

The maid looked completely different in her armor. She was terrifying. Her eyes were hard and her stature intimidating. When she spoke, it wasn’t in the polite and deferential tones of a maid but in the harsh barks of a commander. “We also would like to know what is going on.”

Ko was just as surprised at the maid’s appearance as I was. She didn’t immediately snap back at Yumeko, allowing the blonde demon to continue. “I had hoped you would act responsibly on your birthday, for once, but I was mistaken. Instead, you would go so far as to carelessly drag Alice with you and expose yourself to them!”

My friend’s stupefaction didn’t last. “Hold the fuck up right there, Ms. Maid. I didn’t know what the fuck was out there! Nobody told me jack shit! And you’re going to yell at me for that?”

“I’ve told you to stay away from that area of Makai!”

“And you never explained why! Like I’m going to accept that kind of crap? Tell me! Who are they? Why do you not want us to meet with those demons?”

“They’re dangerous. Vagrants that are more likely to burn down their homes than clean them, idiotic children that cannot act in a responsible manner, and dissidents that cannot be trusted to care for others or listen to simple commands!” Yumeko looked prepared to yell further, but she stopped herself. When she started speaking again, her voice was noticeably, forcibly, calmer. “I am glad you two are unharmed. Do not venture out there again.”

With her ultimatum given, Yumeko turned around and stormed off towards the city. The armored demons that formed the perimeter slowly followed her. Even Sara went with her. The gatekeeper gave us a smile and reassuring pats on the shoulder, but got up and ran after Yumeko and her peers.

“Would anybody else like to explain to us, or is everybody just going to walk away?” Ko’s question was the wrong one, apparently.

Demons left. The medical demons bent down and helped the magicians who couldn’t fly on their own, everybody eventually taking off and leaving us behind. Most of the demons kept their heads down, the few that looked at us quickly glancing away. Mai and Erk held my gaze, but were too exhausted to speak and were quickly ferried off by the others.

One demon did not leave.

“Yuki?”

The fiery witch laughed. “You two are pros at giving us frights. I was afraid Yumeko was going to explode the way she was rounding us up for this party.”

“Did we cause that many problems?”

“You bet! Didn’t you see how exhausted everybody was? Getting through the wards on that tower without any serious preparation was no joke. If only everybody here was half the witch I am, they wouldn’t be so tired!”

Ko sighed and sat down on the soft dirt. “You just didn’t try as hard or something.”

“It’s not my fault they decided to split the work equally. I tried to get more of a part but nope! No trust amongst peers. I really suck, letting Mai handle most of the work again.”

I shrugged and sat down next to Ko, grabbing Luminita and Metabble out of the air to make sure the doll and golem were safe despite all the travel.

Yuki kneeled down across form us and handed out a few pieces of bread for a snack.

After thirty minutes of lounging around, Ko began her inquiries again. “Are you going to give us any answers? Or are you just going to talk around us like everybody else, as usual?”

Yuki shrugged and spread out on the ground. “Don’t get so antsy, Kiddo. I’m not sure how much I’ll be saying.”

“Of course. Why would anybody ever tell us anything? We’re just a bunch of kids, aren’t we?”

“Well, yeah, you two are.” Ko bristled at Yuki’s comment, but the witch ignored her. “Talking about the past is tough for some people. It can be embarrassing or humiliating, right? I think everybody would get pretty mad at me for talking about them behind their backs.”

“So you aren’t going to explain anything. This blows.”

“Hey, don’t make me sound so unreliable. I don’t mind talking about myself at all!” Yuki grinned and jumped to her feet, dragging us with her up into the air.

“Who would want to hear a cocky witch boasting about herself? That’s all you plan on saying, isn’t it?”

“I could, but you don’t sound too enthused with the idea.”

“So, are you going to talk about what we want to hear, or are we going to have to play twenty questions where you don’t answer half of them?”

“Okay, okay, let me think where I should start.” Despite her posturing, it took no time at all for Yuki to start rambling. “I guess the main thing you want to know about is them, right? All those other demons nobody told you about? Well, I wouldn’t call them a big secret, or anything. The goddess made them, just like us. We all used to live together, when the city here was a lot bigger. Not everybody has the same opinion, but they aren’t all bad. I used to be friends with quite a few of the demons living over there. Some of them have problems, sure, but most don’t. They’re still family, in a way.

“Why are they over there, and not here? That’s…a difficult question. The most direct answer would be that they didn’t trust the goddess. I don’t blame them. When the old lady made her declaration, I was way too afraid to fly over to Pandemonium. I would’ve been hunkered down in my home if Mai hadn’t dragged me with her. She was always clear about her sense of duty.

“Way back then, we were having problems. You could call it a war, I guess, but that makes it sound too clean. Everybody was fighting, as simple as that. Who and why, well, that’s something you need to ask other people. But it was a bloodbath, everywhere. During it all, I was hiding, pretty much. I threw up some magic around my home and kept myself separated from it all, big coward that I was. I just wanted to work on my magic.

“Mai didn’t have that problem. She wanted to help others, so she went out and fought. Those days Mai stumbled through my door, bleeding and battered, made me feel terrible. Mai doesn’t hold anything against me, but I should’ve done more. If I had thrown my power around from the beginning…well, haha, nothing probably would’ve changed too much. Can’t have too high of an opinion of myself. I would’ve just made things worse, thrown more energy into the fire.

“I’m not making much sense to you, huh? I guess I really am afraid of talking about this.” Yuki brought her stumbling ramblings to a close. She was still cheery at the end of it, but her voice had begun to hitch, if only slightly. “Listen, can you two give me a day? You should go enjoy your birthday for once, Ko, before it ends.”

“You think I want to fly into that mess of a celebration?”

“Not really, but I need some time to think about how to explain this better. Maybe draw a picture or something. You can go ask somebody else, if you want, but I’m not sure if anybody will do much better than me. Sorry girls.”

We floated outside of the city and watched Yuki fee towards her home.

“Sheesh. All these dramatics make me want to punch someone.” Ko’s griping brought a smile to my face. “Well Alice, what do you think? Want to go corner someone until they spill it?”

I…

[ ] Was tired, of everything, and just wanted to go to sleep
[ ] Wanted to waste time at the giant party
[ ] Thought we should question…
-[ ]
--[ ] About
[ ]

---

Aaaaaaaah what’s going on?
>>No. 11177
[x] Wanted to waste time at the giant party

Let's relax some.
>>No. 11178
[x] Wanted to waste time at the giant party
I agree, at the very least it will waste time.
>>No. 11179
[X] Wanted to waste time at the giant party
>>No. 11180
[x] Thought we should question...
-Shinki
--About Sariel and Elis
>>No. 11181
[x] Thought we should question...
-Shinki
--About Sariel and Elis
>>No. 11182
[o] Thought we should question...
-Shinki
--About Sariel and Elis
>>No. 11183
[X] Wanted to waste time at the giant party

There's no reason not to enjoy the big event. The questions can be asked later.
>>No. 11185
File 136366641284.jpg - (102.76KB, 850x715, dissatisfaction-breeds-success.jpg) [iqdb]
11185
I looked at the festivities below us and sighed. “Can we just…go to your party, Ko?”

“Yeah, that sounds good. I’m sure the goddess is kicking around down there somewhere. She has to know something that we can squeeze out. Alright!” Ko made to fly down towards the city but stopped. She gently tried to pull me along, but I wouldn’t budge. “Alice?”

“No.” I shook my head. “I mean, can we just have fun?”

“What?” Ko let go of my hand and floated back up to eye level.

“Your birthday. It’d be sad not to enjoy it.”

The redhead laughed and batted a hand through the air. “I get a birthday every year, Alice, don’t worry about it. If we start asking while people are tired, they might slip up.”

I didn’t want to. In some place deep inside, I was as curious as my friend, but the desire wasn’t strong enough. A lot had happened throughout the day, from the initial surprise at seeing Ko in my room to all of our exploration and the gathering of demons.

It was too much for a single day. I just wanted to relax some, to enjoy time with my family celebrating a wonderful event. I didn’t want to have to worry about strange behaviors or hidden information or trying to manipulate others into talking. I just wanted to have some fun with those close to me. “Please?”

“You really…” Ko stared into my eyes, gauging how serious I was. Once she broke eye contact, she did her best to give me a bright smile. “Sure, Alice. Whatever you say.”

I took ahold of Ko’s hand and gave it a light squeeze as we flew down into the city. We were quiet as we entered, but the festivities quickly overtook us.

Despite having been gone for half a day’s worth of time, the city was still as vibrant as when I left. Demons in all forms and costumes were still partying, ducking in and out of buildings or partying along the side of the streets.

It only took a few steps worth of time for others to notice Ko and me. “Hey there ladies, try some of this cotton candy! Have fun!”

Everywhere we walked, the cheers and well-wishes of some demons drew the attention of others. Soon enough, we were swamped by the demons on the street, everybody temporarily halting their fun to throw a greeting our way. “Oh Ko, you showed up this time! Here’s to another great year!”

“Pretty late to the party. Enjoy yourself, Ko.” When we entered a restaurant or a shop to look around, everybody inside would greet us. As some demons left the shop, they would push a small gift or other present into Ko’s hands.

It took little time for Ko to become overburdened with gifts. I laughed and helped my stumbling friend as much as I could, passing items off to be enveloped and carried by Metabble. I did my own fair share of lifting as well, using paper gifts bags to help carry smaller items. “There she is, our own little angel of peace! Happy birthday!”

“Alice and Ko! Here, put these on, you’ll make everybody jealous!” Other demons swooped in with backpacks and purses, waist pouches and fancy hats. A feathered demon gave both of us a beautiful writing quill while a jelly-like demon handed Ko a sparkling cerulean gemstone.

“Ko! Happy birthday!” My friend huffed and puffed the entire way, sometimes thanking others and sometimes lashing out with vicious insults. Nevertheless, demons kept laughing and piling on the well-meaning words and material gifts.

We had to stop a few times and put everything down, figuring out the best way to carry the ever-increasing mound of stuff. “Ko, I think I can make this float on its own.”

“Thanks. Try and wrap this around that if you can.”

“You don’t want to wear it? I think this pink looks really nice!”

“You like it so much? Then you wear it. It’s got too many hearts for me.”

I smiled and giggled my way through it all, enjoying every step of the way. Everybody was as nice as I expected. Even the most aloof or disinterested demons would wave at us as we passed by.

And yet, as fun as it all was, I couldn’t let myself fully enjoy the party. Although my mind was distracted, I could never completely disregard the events of the day.

It was mostly Ko’s fault. Despite her appearance at her celebration, my friend was still obviously bothered by our encounter with the entire other section of Makai. She was trying to hide it from me, probably because she didn’t want to ruin the good time I was having, but it was easy to notice. If any demons engaged only me in conversation, Ko would turn and speak with another demon.

When she thought I wasn’t listening, she asked them about the gathering of armed demons. “What happened now?”

She mentioned the murderously violent demons. “Whoa, sounds kind of serious. Can’t be as bad as you make it out, you’re still here after all!”

She mentioned Sariel’s name. “Now girls, try not to cause problems for Yumeko, she tries so hard.”

She asked about the founding of the massive metropolis. “Who’s to say? Now, how about some candy?”

She discreetly inquired about everything that had happened to us. Few of the answers even acknowledged Ko’s question. None of the conversations lasted longer than half a minute. Either we or the ones Ko talked with were pulled away by the flow of the celebration.

“Don’t worry so much on your birthday! You girls actually want to try your hand at this, right? Knock them all down without your magic and that bear is yours!”

The party continued on and on. After a couple of hours, I felt my eye lids droop. All of the adventuring and magic use, the huge amounts of walking, had taken much from me. Before entering Makai and learning from my new family, I never would have been able to do it all. Sara’s training made me capable of all the activity, but not too much.

My attentive friend noticed my fatigue and whisked me away from the party. After a quick, furtive stop at Ko’s home to drop off some of the baggage, we were off through the air towards Pandemonium.

Perhaps half of the items Ko had been given were passed off to me. The redhead didn’t care much for most of the non-magical, non-useful gifts and would have thrown them away if I didn’t take them.

“Wow Ko, you’re so good at everything.” I rolled the teddy bear that was as large as I was around on my back. Flying with the teddy on my back, fluffy arms held over my shoulders, was a bit cumbersome, but manageable.

“Not really. I just do what I can.”

“Thanks for all this stuff, Ko. Are you sure you don’t want any of it?” From the stuffed animals won at game booths to the gifts received, there were more items that I ever had owned back at the village.

“It’s all yours.”

“I can’t believe how big that party is! And everybody is still going.”

“It’ll end soon enough. Once people start wanting their sleep, they’ll all quiet down. Being considerate of your neighbors is something the goddess likes to stress.”

Once we were away from the party, my friend’s mood was more noticeable. Perhaps she was fatigued herself, but her façade wasn’t as effective.

“Ko, are you okay?” It was question that was asked again and again. I couldn’t help it.

“What do you mean?”

“You’re still upset, aren’t you?”

“No, I wouldn’t say that. Just frustrated, I guess. I hate not knowing things.”

“Well we can still go find someone and-”

The red-headed demon flew over and nudged me with her shoulder. “No way, Alice. A little girl needs her sleep before she falls out of the air midflight.”

“Nobody could do that!” I paused and thought for a second before admitting, “Well, maybe, but you still don’t look very happy, though.”

“I’ll be fine. Let’s just get you tucked in.”

“Okay…” I sighed and flew on. With Ko’s stubbornness, I could only ever influence her decisions when she wanted me to. “It worries me a little. But if it were really, really important, someone would tell us, right?”

“I wonder…”

Nobody greeted us when we entered Pandemonium. I assumed Yumeko was off resting, and Shinki might still have been in the city. I had my suspicions that Ko had been guiding us away from meeting the goddess in order to avoid any unpleasant birthday congratulations and to keep her emotions in check.

After spending a few minutes trying to organize my new stuff, we gave up and just left everything dumped on the floor. I quickly cleaned up and crawled into bed. Ko stuck with me until I was snug underneath my covers.

There was so much to think about that my brain petered out and gave in to sleep.

---

“No, no, you need to add it here, like this.” The girl flicked the beads of the abacus held in the young boy’s hands.

The child set the device down and fell backwards into the girl’s lap. “This is tough!”

The girl stroked the boy’s hair lovingly before propping him back up. “It isn’t easy, but it’s important so you can help everybody out.”

“I’ll try really hard! I’ll be just like you when I grow up!” With childish fervor, the young boy dived back into his exercises, eager to work.

“I look forward to it.” The girl stood up and looked around the room. The large building, her home and business center, bustled with children. From toddlers to young adults, every child the girl had decided to employ was engaged in activity. The poor and destitute, the unwanted and unloved, given the chances they sorely needed to find their place in the world. It was unusual to see them all inside at once, but it was a precaution the girl was willing to live with.

“I did it~! Look, look, I did it!” The cries of excitement from the girl’s star pupil drew her over.

The older child looked remarkably like the girl as she stood in front of the small pot on the ground, jumping up in the air for joy.

“Amazing. I’m proud of you.”

The pupil grinned at the praise. “Eh-heh, thanks! But it’s still nothing compared to what you can do.”

“On the contrary, this is almost as much as what I can do.” The small blade of grass that had sprouted in the pot looked hardy and resilient. The girl rubbed it between her fingers, feeling the vitality and reality of the vegetation.

“No way! You made our entire garden grow like poof! I could only get this little bit to sprout.”

Sighing, the girl let a small fire form in her hands. Magic, a gift she discovered only in crisis. It wasn’t until she had found her pupil had she considered that her gift could be used in other ways. More than control and curses, it could create the wildest effects. “It took me weeks before I had so much as a spark from my finger. You are much more talented than I.”

“Nu-uh. I can’t make all the bad men and soldiers leave us alone!” Little fires puffed out of the pupil’s mouth as she shouted, the lack of control over her gift obvious. “Oops.”

“Ahem.” The girl and her pupil turned towards the armed man who had entered the room. “I’m sorry for interrupting, my Lady, but the soldiers have returned.”

“Already?” With the pupil left to her own devices, the girl walked briskly out of the room and down the hall, towards the entrance to her compound. The guard followed after her, just a step behind. “They’ve already cut deeply into our savings with this nonsense. The taxes were manageable for us, but this mobilization has been something not even I can account for. There are precious few supplies left, in any form. Do not tell me they want more.”

“They’ve been knocking on every door down the street, my Lady. One of our runners claims that they’ve taken the castle.”

“Have they? About time. What good are the soldiers or these foreigners if they can’t handle a few rebellious peasants?”

“My Lady, with weapons merchants and master-less samurai, this was no small matter.”

“Yes, I know the tough times have not been limited to the farmers, but the belligerence of these people is ridiculous.” Although the girl could empathize with the disgruntled rebels, their actions threatened every worker in the province and beyond. The soldiers flooding into the area and the peasants leaving their farms in droves was more a curse than a blessing, and the girl knew her curses. It would take a while to restore any sense of normality. “It’s a miracle we haven’t had to put any of the children back out onto the streets.”

“That is no miracle, my Lady, only your work.”

She scoffed at the guard’s suggestion. “More like my witchcraft.”

“Work nonetheless. You have done us all a great fortune, my Lady.” The girl did not respond as she pulled open the door to the building and walked outside.

The procession was already stomping down the street. Armored soldiers, men carrying the banners of their lords, walked closest to the edges. Between them shuffled restrained men and women, dirty, bloody, and soulless forms. “They’ve triumphed, then. These people…”

“Rebels, my Lady, as you have just said.” The procession continued on and on, hundreds of people long. The contingent marching down the street was one of many, the captured rebels paraded before the people to display the might of the government.

“Right.” The girl was about ready to turn back inside, to prepare for the recovery of the business, when a passing glimpse stopped her cold. “That isn’t…”

“My Lady?”

The girl began to walk down the street, pushing her way past any bystanders as she followed the procession. “No. There is no way.”

“My Lady! Please, wait!”

The cries of annoyed bystanders did nothing to deter her. She was almost running by the time she caught up to the part of the procession she sought. “No…”

The two figures lashed together and stumbling down the street were a mess, both cut up and bruised. Even after a few years, they still looked exactly the same to the girl.

The hapless guard reached the girl only for her to snap out commands. “Summon my guards, immediately. Also send word to Kimimaro to take control of the business. There are opportunities to be had as the economy recovers, but our own are priority. He should understand how to take advantage.” Orders given, the girl took off, walking down the street as fast as possible.

“Of course, my Lady, but where are you going to be?”

“At the execution ground. Hurry!”

The girl reached the city’s center soon enough. It was already packed, filled to the brim with curious onlookers, some of whom were forced to attend.

The mass of prisoners were gathered together by the soldiers at the far end. The beheadings had already begun. The executioners went about their work efficiently. Even at their pace, it would take all day if they wished to behead all the prisoners.

Catching sight of the couple, the girl began to force her way through the crowd, any disgruntled onlooker insignificant or quickly silenced. “Those dumb idiots. What have they done?”

“Traitors are to be put to death! Those who endanger the people and their lords are the worst of criminals!” The armored soldier stood on a small pedestal as he shouted. He looked the intimidating part in full arms, with the various banners of the regional lords arrayed behind him.

The girl ignored the proclamation and continued towards the prisoners. “Damn it, where are my men?”

Soon enough the girl was through the edge of the on looking crowd and reaching the loose array of soldiers. One of the faceless men raised his spear. "M’am, what do you think you’re doing?”

She nudged power into her voice. “Take me to the prisoners.”

His will crumpled immediately to her power. She wouldn’t have been surprised if he was a chronic drinker. “At once.”

Of course, she stood out like a wolf amongst sheep in the soldiers’ line. Another armed man quickly stepped over. “‘Oy, Kazumoto, what are you doing?”

“Return to your position.” The girl exercised her power again, crashing her will into the soldier’s and subverting his mind.

“Sure.”

Another soldier, a higher ranked man carrying a katana, moved to stop her. “Kazumoto, you can’t bring people back here!”

“Leave us be.”

“Wha- Who the hell are you, woman?” The soldier was undeterred by her compulsion. He fingered the grip of his blade as he walked closer.

“Tch. Fall ill. You’ll be very sick, and soon. You’ll feel your stomach rolling like storm waves.” The power, the magic, flowed out from her and struck towards the soldier. The curse was nowhere near her strongest, but it was enough.

“Are you crazy? Hey! We’ve got a- Hgurk!”

Spontaneous vomiting, while incapacitating the soldier, did little for discrete action. More and more soldiers took notice of her movement and made to stop her.

The girl warily watched the soldiers and kept walking, speaking to the one soldier she had enthralled. “No. I won’t stop here. Head your friends off.”

“Yes M’am.”

The shlucking of sharp iron digging into a body barely registered in the girl’s ears as she approached the prisoners. She zeroed in on a specific pair. “You stupid, stupid people. What kind of madness took you that you joined a bunch of rebels?”

She swiped out with her hand, shearing through the restraints like they were nothing. Man and woman looked down at their freed limbs in disbelief.

“Whoa!”

“What the-“

“Did she just-?”

Cries of disbelief resounded from the other prisoners, but the girl ignored them. She grabbed a hand from both the man and woman. “You stupid old geezers. Hurry up.”

The two freed prisoners didn’t move at first, instead staring at their savior. “Are you…”

“My little girl?”

The girl didn’t spare a second glance backwards as she began to walk back towards the mass of onlookers. “Yeah it is, Mom. Now let’s go.”

“We-We thought you d-died, or t-taken and s-sold by-”

“I wasn’t. I’m fine. Now walk faster already!” Her distraction lay dying on the ground, several other beheaded soldiers lying with him. He might have had a weak mind, but he certainly was a capable of fighter.

“Wait! Free us too!”

“Hey! Don’t leave us!”

“Come back!”

The girl whirled on the prisoners, extending her power across all of them. “All of you, be silent!”

But it was too late. Without the distraction of a spear wielding foe, the shouts drew the soldiers’ attention. “Hey! Some of the prisoners are escaping!”

“No, no, no!” The girl yanked on her parents’ arms, but the weakened couple could barely walk, let alone run. Desperate, the girl pushed the two ahead of her and turned back around. “Fall over and die!”

She threw her heart into the task, summoning every wisp of power she had. Even so, her wide area curse was not enough. Only the few closest soldiers stumbled to the ground, the others quickly overtaking them.

“She’s a witch!”

“Kill her! Slaughter them!”

The girl flared her magic again, already feeling faint. Dazzling fires were enough to deter the first of her attackers, her curses enough to murder a few more, but her battle was a lost cause. Soldiers, confidence bolstered by their peers, lunged with spear and sword.

The crunches of weapons imbedding into flesh not her own startled the girl. Behind her, she saw the soldiers that had cut off the path of the two freed prisoners. “NO! Mother! Father!”

The girl’s parents died with a look of contentedness on their faces, as if years of trouble had finally been lifted from them.

“My Lady!” Armed men bullied their way through the crowd and attacked the soldiers, killing the ones that tried to take advantage of the girl’s inattention.

“You all…” The guards dragged their employer with them and retreated into the crowd.

“We need to leave now, my Lady. This is chaos.”

Any sense of order in the public execution was lost once the soldiers advanced on the crowd. Terrified observers of the execution turned and attempted to flee in every direction, the soldiers stationed at the edges ordered to stop them. The crowd grew unmanageable, and the soldiers responded with force.

The first accidental death whipped the crowd into a fury. The display of magic and sudden violence was a cocktail for rioting. Soldiers waded forward in their attempts to restore peace.

“Yes…right…we need to-” The girl stopped short when she recognized a dainty hand that grabbed her own. The girl’s pupil smiled at her amidst the roaring crowd. “What are you doing here?”

“I came to help you! I can do a whole lot!”

“No…no, you dumb girl! It’s dangerous here!”

“B-But I just wanted to-”

“Save it! We’re getting out!” Strong guards pushed their way through the madness, forming a bubble for the two females. The girl took down the occasional soldier that somehow reached them, the entire group managing to move unmolested.

The girl and her group were close to freedom, but not close enough. The crowd thinned at the edge to reveal a line of grim-faced, well-armored soldiers. Their leader stood at the forefront, his more ornate armor spelling disaster. “Enough of this. Men, kill the rebels and their witches.”

“Get out of my way!” A flick of power meant to turn aside the officer proved useless.

“Witch, your paltry abilities might work on drunkards and conniving merchants, but do not entertain the idea that you can defeat one chosen by Lord Matsudaira himself.”

“DIE!” The girl felt tired, but capable. She threw herself into her attack, intent on ripping the officer’s very soul to pieces. Magic coalesced so strongly she thought she could see it surge into the man.

She would not be stopped here!

The man dropped to a knee, but no further. To the girl’s horror, as she fell onto her guards for support to stand, the officer returned to his feet. “A-hah, a…v-valiant e-effort, but my spirit is protected by Bishamonten.” With a wave of his hand, the officer ordered his soldiers on the group. The hired guards were no matched for the armored soldiers bloodied by combat.

“Leave her alone!” A little shout heralded a wave of fire, the cone of flames setting one man ablaze.

The young pupil stood in front of her mentor and master, spewing magical fire for all her worth. Lesser men retreated in the face of the magical prowess. Stronger men stepped forward.

“You damn witches! Be gone!”

The forged sword cleanly cut into the girl’s shoulder and cleaved through her chest. The full strength of the officer was enough to destroy the growing pupil’s body.

The girl was lost for words. She had screamed her way through her brash actions and found her voice hoarse. The guard she had clung to had collapsed after taking a spear to the gut, leaving her without the support to stand.

“You have caused quite the trouble. We’ll be here for days restoring order.” The officer stepped up to the girl as she lay on the ground. She was too exhausted to throw anything at the man.

The girl looked up at her soon-to-be killer’s face and grimaced.

She promised herself, she would kill them. Without a doubt, they would all die. The girl, lying on the ground, watching men slaughter men, would see them all die. They were pests, ruining the lives of others, always. They took and took and never stopped. So she would kill them. For destroying lives, she would take theirs.

She promised herself, as a line of shadow covered her face. She promised to extract revenge on all of the people who would ruin others’ lives. Anybody that would kick a beggar, murder a young student, rape a homeless girl, burn down a home with family inside – they all deserved punishment. All those contemptible humans that would walk down the street and ignore the sick man on the side of the road or those men who would drink their fill and return to their houses and beat their families, all deserved death.

She promised herself, as a bloody edge swung down at her, that she would find revenge. For all those who found themselves trodden upon, bound by society into a life they hated. No death was too good for those that would look away from the atrocities committed next door.

For the crime of killing her family, old and new, there would be no absolution.

The girl hated. She hated, and she died.

---
>>No. 11186
File 136366655512.jpg - (338.77KB, 500x695, distortions-of-time.jpg) [iqdb]
11186
The next morning, after slowing meandering down to breakfast at the guidance of the goddess’ maid, I was surprised to find Shinki carrying the dishes over to the table.

“Good morning, Alice!”

“Morn-uwaaah.” I stifled my yawn and sat down at the table. There wasn’t a wide spread of food per usual, but the omelet in front of me still looked delicious.

Shinki poured me a glass of juice and sat down. “Still tired, Dear? Eat your breakfast and you’ll perk right up!”

Murmuring my thanks, I dug into the food. I paused and carefully chewed a mouthful. “This tastes kind of… different. Are you sick, Yumeko?”

The maid behind us shook her head. “Not at all. Today, breakfast was made by our goddess.”

Oh. I woke up immediately, realizing my faux pass. It was too late, however. Shinki was already sniffling and rubbing her eyes with her sleeves.

“A-Ah! It’s still really good! Really, reaaaaally-!” I picked up my plate and shoveled the food into my mouth.

“Please, enjoy your breakfast.” The maid curtsied and left, off to whatever other duties she had.

I sneaked another peak at Yumeko’s face as she walked out of the dining hall. She didn’t seem different at all. The maid acted with the same amount of courteous, professional respect I had come to know her by. Any hint of the black-armored demon was gone.

It was hard to imagine Yumeko as anything else other than the helpful maid I knew. Even having seen her in a completely different light, having seen her exercise her scary authority on two separate occasions, I couldn’t reconcile the different images. The occasional sternness Yumeko showed me was the most I considered normal.

The food disappeared once I returned my attention to it.. “It was really good, Mother. I promise!”

“It’s okay. I know my cooking isn’t nearly as good as Yumeko’s. I don’t have that careful touch that she does.”

“Uhm.”

“Yes?”

“Well, uh, why are you here? I don’t mind! It’s just, well, you don’t usually eat breakfast with me.”

“I thought you might like to talk. Come here?” The goddess patted her leg and invited me over. Leaving my empty plate where is lay, I jumped over to the goddess’ seat.

It was soft and warm sitting with mother. She rested one arm atop my head and hugged me loosely. I could close my eyes and enjoy the silken texture of her dress against the back of my neck and the edges of my cheek. Who needed talking? I was happy just sitting there.

“Are you feeling well, Alice?”

I fell to the side, letting the goddess cradle my neck while I looked up at her. “Yup!”

“Even after yesterday’s events?”

“Well,” I hesitated slightly, unpleasant memories briefly passing through my mind before I stamped them out. “Yes.”

“I’m sorry I wasn’t there to greet you when you returned. I was retrieving a few items, but Yumeko finished before I made it back. Once I was told you flew into the city, I thought to let you have your fun. Did you enjoy the party?”

“Yeah! There was lots of everything! I got to eat a lot of weird things and won a lot of stuff! Well, I didn’t win it, but Ko…uhm, Ko did it for me.” Remembering my friend’s face stalled the conversation. She hadn’t been smiling. Her lips had been turned upwards when she bade me goodnight, but she hadn’t been smiling. While I was able to lose myself in the simple pleasures of the party, Ko was a worry-wart that had been loaded down by her thoughts the entire time.

“Are you worried about her?”

“Yes. She wasn’t very happy. She felt like everybody was hiding things from her.”

“And do you feel this way, too?”

The goddess’ question made me think. I hated when adults hid things from me, but were they? “…Kinda?”

“I’m sorry, Alice. I didn’t mean to worry you two over this. It just never crossed my mind that you two might meet all my other children.”

“But why? Why are they all so far away?”

“They chose to live there. I love my children, but our family was large. Disagreements were quite a problem.” The goddess kept stroking my hair, but her attention wasn’t on me. She was staring at the wall, into her memories. “Once things got out of hand, I gave all my children the choice of staying with me or leaving. For those that did not choose me, I created a new section of Makai for them to live in as they pleased.”

“I don’t get it. What was everybody arguing about?” Whenever family fought, they had to make up. Momma and daddy and yelled at each other and scared me, but they would always apologize and kiss sometime later, especially when they thought I wasn’t looking.

“That’s complicated, Dear. Sometimes, a fight might start over something silly like a rule but then it gets worse and worse until nobody understands what they’re fighting about.”

“So, they didn’t like you helping them? They didn’t like how you made sure everybody was happy?”

I heard Shinki take a short breath. She looked down at me and scratched a little behind my ear. “That’s a rather accurate guess, Alice.”

The attention brought a delighted grin to my face while I answered. “That’s what Sariel was saying. She didn’t make much sense to me.”

“Sariel? You met her, then?”

“Yup! She was really pretty. She reminded me of you.”

“Did she? I should have expected that. Did she seem well?”

“She was kind of scary, but she seemed like she cared a whole lot, too.”

“I see. That’s good.” I thought our chat would end there as Shinki zoned out again, but the goddess kept speaking. “Did you know? Sariel was my first child. In Makai, she is the one closest to my being. You saw how they were living, then? Do you mind telling me about it, Alice?”

“Okay! Well, it was kind of scary at first…” I recounted my trip to the metropolis on the other end of Makai to the goddess. I hesitated when I neared subjects like the fights that happened and decided to skip them. Shinki wanted to know about her children, and it was easier for me to just not remember the other demons that she might not have created. Leaving out details like that solved a bunch of problems – it made understand adults and their decisions a bit more.

Shinki’s face lit up when I talked about Elis, Sariel, Yu, and the other few demons we had talked to while passing by the shops. The goddess looked at peace while she listened to me tell my story. She asked the occasional question, mostly about what the other demons looked like or acted like, but ultimately let me speak as I pleased. I stopped short of the strange incidents at the end of our trip, finishing my story on a positive note.

“Thank you for telling me all this, Alice. It has been so long since I’ve seen them.”

“I think they miss you, too.” They had to. Didn’t every child miss their parent? They might not have parted on the best of terms, but I was sure they still loved each other in one way or another.

“Perhaps. Now, I believe you have things to do.”

“Oh, right.” I jumped to my feet and took off. My morning lessons awaited me.

Before I turned the corner, Shinki gave me some parting words. “Please don’t worry, Alice. Everybody here loves you and would do anything to keep you happy and safe.”

“Uh-huh. Bye Mother!”

The previous day had been an anomaly. After a single night’s rest, it was back to business as usual for me. Routine was easy to follow and helped me recover from the excitement.

Sara was already stretching when I arrived in the training room, the gatekeeper dressed in her usual outfit sans any armor. “I’m glad you decided to join me today.”

“You aren’t mad at me, are you, Sara?” I shuffled into the room and started my warm-ups, already sure that the gatekeeper could never hate her family.

“Huh? Not at all, Sis! How could I be mad at you?”

“Well, yesterday everybody looked so tired or serious.”

“Nah, don’t worry about that, Alice. It’s good practice for everybody to go on alert every now and again.”

“Did everybody need all those weapons?” I thought it had been ridiculous, excessive even. The gathering of armored demons at the teleportation circle had been the largest show of force I had seen since entering Makai. Nobody had actually been fighting, but the entire ensemble seemed vastly more serious than any of Yuki’s displays of magic.

“I think it is better we were over prepared than under.”

“I don’t get it. Was it really that dangerous? Was everybody afraid of Sariel and the others?”

Even though we were jogging around the room, it was light exercise. Sara had no trouble keeping pace with me even while talking and running backwards. “Yeah, I suppose we are. Not afraid, maybe, but definitely cautious. You know Sis, the duty of us gatekeepers is to keep everybody in Makai safe, and Yumeko is serious about protecting what the goddess has created as well.”

They thought Sariel was a threat? Perhaps not directly her, but some of the other demons? I could understand being careful of the violent ones. “Some of them were scary, but a bunch of the other demons seemed really nice and happy.”

“Well, we fought a lot, so some of us are still on edge. You’re right, though. I don’t think they deserve as much caution as Yumeko gives them. Still, I don’t think she’s wrong, either. We’re all just doing what we think is best.” The gatekeeper laughed and fell in line behind me. “C’mon, I think you’re just trying to distract me so we can’t run as much!”

After the tough workout was finished, I lazily floated towards the city, occasionally hanging off of Metabble to make things easier for me. The liquid metal golem’s flight enchantment was strong enough to support my weight and more.

Drifting over the streets, I found Ko sitting on the bench where we usually met. Instead of scanning the air for me, though, she was staring at the ground.

“Ko!” I shouted.

The redhead didn’t jump in surprise, nor did she respond with demonic reflexes. Instead, her head craned upwards at a very sluggish rate. “Huh? Oh, there you are, Alice. I was wondering if you were going to show up or not.”

“Sorry. We worked a lot harder because I missed Sara’s practice yesterday.” I dropped down next to my friend and sat on the bench with her.

“I guess that’s my fault. I didn’t mean to cause you trouble.”

“Huh? No way! You didn’t do anything wrong.” When my friend didn’t respond, I started to grow worried. She was staring at the ground again. “Are you all right, Ko?”

“What do you mean?”

“You don’t feel like yourself. You’re kind of…sad?”

“Am I?” Ko slowly straightened up and lightly slapped her cheeks several times. She livened up after the first few hits. “Whew, I guess I’m just tired, eh? Hah! Which place should we hit up today? I was thinking of looking for a good pair of gloves.”

I sighed in relief once the redhead started to drag me around again. That was how it should have been. Unlike her appearance during her party, she emotions felt more sincere as we wandered from store to store.

“I think this pair looks really good on you.”

“Why do I even need gloves, Ko?”

“Why not? They can be useful. Besides, with all that physical conditioning with Sara and the metal working you do everywhere else, I’m surprised you haven’t burned your hands or something.”

“I’m really careful! And these aren’t what you wear for things like that!” I flailed the long white gloves at Ko. They were far too lady-like for me, no matter how much I fancied wearing them.

I handed the garments back to the ever-patient store owner and sneaked a peak back at my friend. I still wasn’t sure about her although her mood was definitely improved. “Are you…okay, Ko?”

“What? Why’re you asking again, Alice? Something wrong with your ears?”

“No, but, well, are you still upset? From yesterday?”

“Upset? Was I upset?”

“Yes! You were! You really wanted to find out more about Sariel and the others and stuff!”

“Find out more? Did I want to-”

“Ko!”

My annoying friend laughed and slapped me on the shoulder. “Ahaha, I suppose I was. You don’t need to worry about that though, Alice. I talked with the goddess and our lovely super maid after you went to sleep, then I did some thinking for myself. I figured out everything I needed.”

“Then you’re happy with everything?”

“I’m always happy around you. Now, try this one on.”

Just like that, the incident with the stranger section of Makai passed me by. I quickly found other things to fill my mind. The array of skills I was working on made me forget any insignificant worries I might have held. Simply keeping up with the present was enough to occupy almost all of my thoughts.

Morning exercises with Sara, hanging out with Ko, midday schooling with all sorts of interesting demons, magic lessons with Erk and then tutoring on everything and anything was my life. It couldn’t have been called monotonous at all. Even if I grew bored of the routine, which I never did because there was always something to learn, there were plenty of other special excursions I could undertake.

Yuki would often steal me away to show off her latest dazzling spell, but Mai would counter-steal me from Yuki and give me a private lesson on more practical magic. I would meet up with Luize several times during the week and talk all about my home village and the stories my parents had left me with of the outside world. In turn, the blonde business demon was happy to share other incredible facts about the world of my parents, sometimes even helping me with whatever I was working on.

Time passed by, barely recognizable. With no sun and moon overhead, no lengthening of day or night, no seasonal weather and harvest time festivals, every day could only be marked by experience. Days, weeks, and months blurred together. I soon lost track of time. We discovered that cave after we trekked through the swamp but before we ate the hot chili peppers, but I couldn’t say if that happened one month or three ago.

Meeting Elis and all the other demons of Makai was an important memory, but for some time after that there were no large incidents. I was able to learn and grow in peace. Every day, similar yet distinct.

The progress of my craftsmanship was the easiest way for me to put some structure on my time. My skills at creation were steadily improving, marked by the transformations of my creations. From metal sludge sliding along the ground to floating sphere of metal, Metabble grew until I couldn’t think what else to do with it. The liquid metal golem was imbued with every general purpose enchantment I could ever think of needing. Its intelligence was upgraded time and time again, until the golem could protect me without any manual control. Unless I needed it for something specific, controlling the golem manually was slower than however it might act autonomously.

Of course, what Erk called my subconscious, sympathetic link with my creation only grew. The purple-haired demon said I was tricking myself into thinking the golem would warble in pleasure or ungulate in satisfaction, but I didn’t mind. It was nice having more friends.

Even better, the metal golem was not the only companion I had. Luminita, the original engineer-like doll Shinki had given to me, wasn’t alone anymore. Once I ran out of ideas for Metabble, I had moved on to other creations. What was better than more friends for Luminita? I tried my hand at creating all sorts of dolls, from rudimentary straw figures to metal-casted hulks. Luize was beyond helpful in that regard, providing me with dozens of ideas from the outside world.

Much of it was too confusing or unnecessary. Every excerpt on those weird electronic devices flew over my head and any designs for a jet engine were far beyond me, not to mention completely unnecessary. In the end, it was mostly the materials I adopted for my own use. Some of the materials she suggested were not mentioned in books anywhere else in Makai, but a quick trip to the goddess remedied any problems and provided me with fun new components to work with.

They weren’t the most elegant of dolls, but they were a start. Standard cloth shirts and silk dresses were what I spent most of my time with, but I liked trying to create stranger things. Wetsuits, military fatigues, gas masks, ski masks, and anything else that showed up in the books I obtained from Makai’s libraries and Luize’s gatherings.

Covered in an assortment of costumes, it wasn’t even noticeable that the dolls weren’t perfectly crafted. With more of my creations enchanted to follow me, I also had more mobile containers to hold onto stray spirits. They weren’t just soul-containers, though. It would have been strange to have a few dolls floating around me just for that.

I thought long and hard about the best way to put my creations to good use. Metabble was the embodiment of adaptable brute force, a wave of metal used to attack or defend. For my dolls, I imagined something more fantastic.

The main theme I worked with for my dolls was…

[ ] Explosions
[ ] Ice
[ ] Outsider Weapons
[ ] Strength
[ ] Swords
[ ] Wires
[ ]

---

Well, this is pretty much the end of the thread. The next story post will be starting the third thread!

As always at the end of thread, if you have any specific comments or questions, I’d love to hear them. I’m consistently self-evaluating, so I have an idea of what I’ve failed at and what I’ve done well, but hearing other opinions is always nice. Questions about anything, from writing to the story to whatever, are cool too.

No comments? That’s fine. Just cast a vote if you care to and relax.
>>No. 11187
[x] Swords
>>No. 11188
[X]Ice
>>No. 11189
[x] Wires
>>No. 11190
[x] Swords
It looks like the typical case of Lucifer and God except that it was a choice. Or was it? Maybe Sariel is more like Eve or Cain rather than Lucifer.
Either way, I feel like the local goddess isn't as good as she seems (at least to our standards, not hers) and we'll find out sooner or later (interference with free will is my choice but it doesn't seem that likely now)

Anyway, good story!
>>No. 11191
File 136374103965.png - (561.60KB, 700x800, moar dakka.png) [iqdb]
11191
[x] Outsider Weapons
Never enough dakka.
>>No. 11192
[X] Swords

I couldn't figure out if the wires choice was referring to Shinki or Iris.
>>No. 11193
[x] Ice
>>No. 11194
[x] Ice
>>No. 11195
Honestly, I'd find Sword a strange choice for Alice. After all, a sword has only one express purpose in being forged - to kill. It's not a tool like a knife; it's a weapon. And though Alice may have numerous spells for self-defense, I feel like she isn't the type to purposefully steer her research towards killing, even in thematic design. I think she's more likely to be finding ways to help or heal rather than harm. As such, I'll choose:

[X] Shield; or, if possible
-[X] Guardian
>>No. 11196
>>11195
ooh, I like this one.

[X] Shield; or, if possible
-[X] Guardian
>>No. 11197
>>11195
part of self-defensive is semi-offensive moves. I doubt a beastie is going to stop just because Alice has a shield up. Now a well placed stab in a couple of places, different story.
>>No. 11198
The potential Mai option is tempting but,
[X] Shield; or, if possible
-[X] Guardian
>>No. 11199
Breaking the three-way tie

[o] Ice
>>No. 11200
>>11198
you and that other guy are assuming a bit much about the choices.
>>No. 11202
>Choices
These choices (rather obviously, I hope) are derived from some of the skill sets Alice has seen, specifically from her fellow demons.

However, the choice still has some less obvious connotations, which some of you are theorizing about - that's neat. Whether your vote is for a theme or a cool idea, it's all valid.

>Shinki
Yeah, there's no explicit Shinki option, mainly because Alice is already creating things.
>>No. 11203
[X] Shield; or, if possible
-[X] Guardian
>>No. 11204
[x] Swords

Ties are fun
>>No. 11205
Okay, calling the vote here (feels so strange doing this). I’m going to keep up the self-delusion that this story has become wildly popular and assume all these votes are legitimate, mainly because as far as story-changing votes go, this isn’t one of them.

If you’re voting more than once, please reflect on your actions and consider your role in a pseudo-democratic community. See you with a new update soon™.
[Return][Top]


[Delete or report post]
Delete post []
Password  
Report post
Reason  


[Switch to Mobile Page]
Thread Watcher x