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Not even after she realized that she was awake again did Cassandra open her eyes. Just for a little while, she just wanted to believe that she was back in her warm little bed, back in the world where magic didn't exist. It didn't matter that it felt like she was still lying on dirt or that there definitely weren't any blankets on her. It didn't matter if she could hear voices talking that shouldn't be talking because just for a little while, she wanted to believe that she was back home again. As she pretended that she was in her bed, she could still hear the three magical girls talking.
"Did it work?"
"It darn well better have worked. I'm exhausted from using so much energy."
One of them sighed in reply, "Haaaaaa~, so am I."
"Ha! You two are weak! Well anyway, it seems to have worked. The doll's just lying there not moving."
"Did you forget already? If it's not moving, it doesn't mean it succeeded. For all we know, instead of sending her back, we may have destroyed poor Venice's so-"
"My name isn't Venice!!" the doll suddenly shouted, abruptly ending her wishful daydreaming and sitting up, "It's Cassandra!"
The other three were froze in surprise - Alice lying down but with her head raised to see, Marisa standing up with a finger pointed at the doll, and Reimu kneeling down with a cup of tea somehow already in her hands. All three were looking at Cassandra with a blank face. The witch was the first to snap out of it and walked up to her, patting her on the head, smirking as she said to her, "Well it seems that Plan A has failed. Got a Plan B or are we going back to Alice's for more bookwork?"
Cassandra puffed up her cheeks and pouted again before replying in that annoying high-pitched voice that they were all familiar with now, "Geez, you make it sound like it's not a big deal. I'm going to die in a few hours if we can't find another way!"
"Yeah, yeah. Don't worry, we still have a little more than two hours and plenty of other methods to try out."
"Plenty of other methods? Like what?"
"Uhh, w-well we could...," Marisa faltered, resting her chin in a cupped hand as she tried to think of something quickly. Reimu, who was now somehow next to the two of them made a suggestion, "Why not visit Yuyuko for some help?"
"Yuyuko?!?" exclaimed the two magicians.
"Yuyuko?!?" exclaimed Cassandra before realizing that she had no idea who this Yuyuko was, "Uhhh... who's Yuyuko?"
"Allow me to explain," said the shrine maiden before clearing her throat and continuing on, "Yuyuko Saigyouji is the ghostly princess of Hakugyokurou, or the Netherworld if you don't want a mouthful. Being around ghosts and spirits all the time, wouldn't she naturally be an expert on them?"
Cassandra shuddered, "I'm not sure I want to see the ruler of the dead quite yet..."
"Well... we don't really have any other choices at the moment. And she's not really that scary, trust me," consoled Marisa. Alice and Reimu nodded in agreement.
And so went some more precious time, all lost to mindless objections by the doll to seeing this person named Yuyuko. All in all, it took more than ten minutes before the three of them - Reimu stayed back in her shrine - were back in the air, heading toward the place where the magical barrier between the world of the living and the world of the dead was weakest. Cassandra gulped as they passed through the opaque field of energy and on the other side, she saw a scene quite unlike what she, and probably countless others, had expected. With a blank face, she turned to Marisa and asked, "Why does it look like there's a party going on in the Netherworld?"
"Oh, it's always like this."
"You've got to be kidding me... the afterlife is like this?"
Cassandra stared at the scene in front of her. There were red and blue wisps bobbing about in the sky, seeming to decorate a vast courtyard. And despite the fact that it was now winter in the world of the living, cherry blossoms were blooming on every tree. The Netherworld was a world of dancing spirits and beautiful pink flowers that went as far as the eye could see. Amidst the sea of translucent ghosts, the three saw a solid figure tending the trees at a fair distance from them. The person, whoever it was, didn't seem to have noticed them yet. Cassandra squinted and was able to make out that it was yet another girl, this one with silver hair with a black ribbon. She was also wearing some sort of a green dress.
As they approach this person, she noticed them and her already serious expression turned even more severe. Cassandra scrutinized her clothing some more and noticed another black ribbon tied in a bow decorating the front of her dress. The next thing she noticed that this really uptight person was carrying not just one but two swords, making her feel a little less comfortable and a lot more nervous. Marisa and Alice, however, apparently felt perfectly at ease.
"Hey, Youmu," Marisa greeted her while waving her hand.
"You again," replied Youmu coldly, "Come to cause trouble for me and Lady Yuyuko again?"
"What are you talking about? Last time, you two were causing the trouble and Reimu, Sakuya, and I came to reclaim the essence of spring you stole and stop the annoyingly long winter."
"Before this breaks out into a fight," interjected Alice, placing herself between the two, "why don't we just calm down? Youmu, we just came to talk to Yuyuko to see if she can help our little friend with her... condition."
"Lady Yuyuko is busy," Youmu curtly replied.
"Oh, please. What could she possibly be busy with?" asked Marisa as she rolled her eyes, "Eating?"
There was a relatively long and awkward pause before Youmu looked down ashamedly and replied with "Yes."
Cassandra could not have been more confused as this conversation was going on. From what she could gather, this Youmu and her master, Yuyuko, had stolen a season and delayed its coming sometime ago? Who was this Sakuya that helped them get it back? And on top of that, why was Youmu, apparently a living being, working as a servant in the realm of the dead? However much she wanted to ask these questions, she didn't because she didn't want this to take longer than was needed. She could ask Marisa or Alice later anyway so instead of trying to satiate some of that curiosity, she stepped up and sort of begged to the servant of the dead.
"Please, I need Yuyuko's knowledge to help me. If I can't find a way to get my soul out of this doll safely and back into my real body in less than two hours, I'll never be able to go back. Please. Let me see your master."
Youmu raised an eyebrow at the talking doll. She had her suspicions that it was just another one of Alice's dolls that was being controlled remotely, but she'd never seen one of them talk before. So, she quickly came up with an arrangement that would prevent the two magicians from being able to cause trouble to her master and allow the doll, if it were really inhabited by a soul, to talk to her.
"Fine. But only under one condition. Alice and Marisa must stay behind," said Youmu.
"Fine, by me."
"Whaaaaat~? I have to face the queen of the Netherworld by myself?" whined Cassandra, "Ugh, fine."
"Excellent. Then if you will, please follow me..."
"Right, please follow me, Cassandra."
The person named Youmu marched off in the direction of some sort of large structure in the far distance. This was going to be a loooooong walk. Or run in Cassandra's case. The servant of the ghost princess led on at a quick pace, much quicker than what the doll had to deal with when she traveled with Marisa and Alice. Her little legs could only take her so far per step so that now, with this impatient guide speedwalking the whole time, she was actually running. For the second time, Cassandra was thankful that this body felt no fatigue.
Youmu was silent and the atmosphere around her seemed to discourage any attempt for conversation. Several times, Cassandra looked up at the countenance of this person and saw nothing but a learned passiveness. The only features of her face that showed anything were her eyes. They burned with the intensity of the sun, but the doll was unable to pinpoint exactly what it was they burned with. Determination? Hatred? Loyalty? It was impossible to tell - she didn't know this person enough.
Finally, after a twenty-five minute walk, the two arrived at the huge wooden doors of the structure. It appeared to be a mansion of some sort, which Cassandra sort of expected since she was meeting the queen of the Netherworld after all. Before she opened the doors, Youmu turned to look at the doll for the first time since the beginning of their walk. In the same cold voice that she had addressed Marisa with, she said to Cassandra, "We have arrived. Before I can allow you to see Lady Yuyuko, however, you must know and follow the protocols. First, always address her as Lady Yuyuko, not just plain Yuyuko. Second, be sure to speak properly and politely. Third-"
Cassandra started to tune out after the first rule. She saw the mouth of the servant moving and heard the sounds it was making, but they just sort of blended together when she stopped paying attention. Her mind wandered to other things such as what the ghost princess would look like, or how she would behave. I bet she acts all high and mighty. Like a snob, she thought to herself as Youmu's words continued to go in one ear and out the other. However, she snapped out of her little daze in time to hear Youmu speak the last rule, "No matter what happens, do not offend her in any way. To make sure you do not, I will tell you this right now: she has the power to invoke death on anybody."
The doll's blood froze at those words, figuratively of course as a doll doesn't have blood. Slowly, she turned her head to her left and upwards to look at Youmu's face.
Youmu nodded in reply before walking up to the doors to open them.
"Wait here for me," she said to the doll, "I will go find the lady and inform her of your presence."
She walked off down a dark corridor quickly and disappeared in the insufficient lighting. Soon after the soft thumping of her footsteps also disappeared. The area around the mansion was deathly quiet as opposed to the ever-present chattering of the ghosts farther from it. Cassandra looked around and realized that there were, in fact, no bobbing spirits to be seen nearby. She shuddered.
This place gives me the creeps...
A minute later, some more footsteps announced the return of Youmu. The shadows melted away from her features as she walked back into the light. She stopped just short of the entrance and beckoned for the doll to enter. Hesitantly, Cassandra obeyed and stepped over the threshold. Youmu then said in a hushed voice, "Go down this corridor until you reach the end. There will be a door to your right that has light coming from behind it. Just knock on it. I will be going back to the courtyard to finish my gardening duties."
The servant marched off in the same quick pace as before and left the doll all by herself. Cassandra took a deep breath before making her way down the indicated hallway as instructed. As she was told, there was a room to the right at the end that seemed to be lit up. With her tiny hands, the best she could manage was a light tapping, but apparently it was good enough. The door slid open automatically, revealing a well-lit room. The only things of interest were in the center of this room where a small table with a tea set was placed with several red cushions surrounding it. At the table sat a person.
"Ah, welcome. I heard that you wanted to ask me about something," said the stranger, "Errr, what was it... Youmu told me just a few minutes ago..."
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