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"Errr... Are you.. Yu- Lady Yuyuko?" Cassandra asked doubtfully, just barely catching her break in protocol. For some reason, she couldn't believe that this person was the one who presided over the entire Netherworld. For one thing, this stranger seemed a little too... ditsy. Only after mere minutes, she had already forgotten what her servant had told her. On top of that, her clothing seemed strangely... well, strange. Everything about them were pale blue and frilly - pale blue frilly hat, pale blue frilly dress. And the white triangle on her hat was weird too. It looked like a piece of paper that adorned the center of her hat and had a red spiral on it. Everything about this person seemed so out of place when compared to the dark and dreary mansion and the quiet foreboding atmosphere around it.
"That's right!" replied Yuyuko ebulliently, "And you are... a talking doll!"
Wow... this is the master of the Netherworld? mused the doll. She wondered why the ghost princess looked so solid. Meanwhile, since Cassandra had remained silent, Yuyuko continued on, saying, "Oh, I remember what your problem is! Since you're a doll, you probably have an eccentric master and you want help on dealing with it, right?"
"Ehhhh~? But I swear I heard Youmu say something about an eccentric master..."
Cassandra rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, "Maybe you caught her complaining about you..."
"What was that?" asked Yuyuko, leaning forward in earnest.
"Uhh, why don't I just tell you what my problem is, Lady Yuyuko?"
"Ah, yes. That would be simplest wouldn't it?" Yuyuko remarked. She beckoned for the doll to enter the room, "Why don't you come in? And please, just call me Yuyuko. 'Lady' isn't necessary."
The doll walked into the room, feeling much less anxious about her meeting now. The sliding door closed by itself behind her, leaving the two of them alone together. Yuyuko waited semi-patiently - her mind seemed to wander a bit - as Cassandra took a little while to get on top of the table so that their heads were approximately at the same level.
It took less than a minute to explain what the problem was. In fact, all she really said was just that she was really a human and that her soul was stuck in this doll. Yuyuko listened surprisingly attentively, completely the opposite of what Cassandra was expecting based on her first impression. Now it seemed that the ghost princess was a bit more serious, though she still seemed a little weird.
"I see. Well, it seems that my little experiment has confirmed what I had suspected from your story."
"What you suspected?" echoed Cassandra, "Wait what little experiment?"
"I tried to separate your soul from that doll already," she replied, "And it didn't work. Which means your soul has been magically attached to this usually inanimate object."
"Tried to separate... wait, you tried to kill me?!" demanded the doll.
Yuyuko just went on, ignoring Cassandra's loud questioning.
"When a soul is attached to an inanimate objecdt, the natural tendencies of a soul is overwritten. And this is usually done by..."
"Hey! You tried to kill me, didn't you?!" insisted the doll. Yuyuko continued to ignore her question, but looked at her, a deep penetrating look completely unlike the look that she had worn a few seconds ago. Cassandra froze and stared back into those piercing eyes, looking like a deer caught in the headlights. It only lasted for a few seconds, but when it ended, the doll was visibly shaken. Yuyuko was, of course, oblivious to what psychological scare she had given and continued to muse on the issue of the attached soul, her usual ditsy look back on her face.
"It's as I thought," she said to herself. Then to the doll she added, "Hey, talking doll thingy, I know how to fix your problem... Huh? What's wrong?"
Yuyuko caught sight of Cassandra just as she had pulled her wits back together. After that look, she just wanted to leave. It seeme that the queen of the Netherworld really was someone to reckon with. So, with these thoughts in mind, the doll put on a shaky smile and said politely, "Uh, nothing's wrong. So how do I get back to my real body?"
"When I looked into your soul," explained Yuyuko, "I saw an imbalance in its elements. You just need someone to restore the balance and your soul will no longer be attached to the doll."
Cassandra took this information in and, just for clarification, asked a few more questions.
"By elements, you mean...?"
"I mean fire, water, wood, metal, and earth. The five elements that make up everything in this world."
"And when the balance is restored, then what?"
"Then you simply have someone separate your soul from the doll and it will automatically seek out its original body."
A short silence followed as the two of them looked at each other with nothing to say before Yuyuko broke the silence, showing her ditsy side yet again.
"Would you like something to eat before you leave?"
"I'm a doll..."
Cassandra stepped outside of the mansion and was surprised to see the two magicians waiting outside, sitting on the steps to the entrance. Wasn't Youmu supposed to be watching them? As waited, Alice was playing with two of her dolls, a strange sight since she looked much too old to be playing with things like dolls. Marisa was reading something, probably another weird book on magic. They looked up when the independent doll stepped outside. Alice put away her dolls while Marisa continued to sit and read, apparently caught up with something in the text.
"So how'd it go?" inquired Alice, standing up and trying get the witch to stop reading. Marisa nudged her poking finger away with a grunt and continued reading.
"Yuyuko's weird... and scary," Cassandra commented, "But at least she knew a solution. Do you two know someone who can manipulate the elements?"
Marisa chuckled a little bit before answering, "The person I borrowed this book from has the elements practically working for her."
Alice sighed. To Cassandra she said, "Whenever Marisa says 'borrow' she really means 'steal'. She stole that book from someone named Patchouli..."
"So our chances of getting her help is..."
"Not so great."
Alice and the doll turned to Marisa with annoyed frowns. In reply, Marisa looked back from behind her book's front cover with a stupid grin on her face.
Before they left, Cassandra remembered that there were some questions she had wanted to ask earlier. Of course, some of the answers she wanted were probably more intriguing than others so she limited herself to just two of the more pressing questions.
"Say Alice, why was Youmu working for someone in the Netherworld? Isn't she a living person?"
"Oh that?" replied Alice, "She's not really living or dead. Or maybe she is... I don't really know. She's half ghost and half human, which I'm sure you can grasp is strange even in this place."
"Half living and half dead? How's that possible?"
"Huh... and who's this Sakuya who I heard helped that shrine maiden and this crazy witch defeat Yuyuko and Youmu?"
"Oh her? I don't think I need to explain to you since you'll probably meet her soon," said Alice mysteriously. Then to Marisa she added, "You done reading that stupid book yet? We have to get going!"
Soon, the three were back in the world of the living and on their way to their next and hopefully last destination. Most likely, if they failed to do as Yuyuko had instructed, Cassandra would be out of time. As soon as they crossed the border between the two worlds, the two magicians seemed to know exactly where they were going. Naturally, the doll wanted to know the place they were headed to so she decided to shout over the screaming of the passing wind again.
"Where... are... we... going... now?!" she yelled word by word, just barely managing to get them intelligible over the constant roaring in their ears.
One of them replied back, though it was impossible to discern who it was. The voice sounded like it was being filtered through a bad car radio, the wind acting like static, almost completely drowning out whoever was trying to answer her question. Cassandra thought she caught the words "Scarlet Devil" and hoped that she had heard wrong. Going to the Netherworld was bad enough, going to hell to meet the devil was going to be excruciatingly horrible. It wasn't surprising that the doll let out a sigh of relief when they landed in front of another giant mansion rather than a giant fiery pit.
Of course, like everything else in this strange magical world, something about this mansion was irregular. It wasn't something like the atmosphere back at Yuyuko's mansion, it was something more obvious - the whole outside of the mansion was painted a deep blood red. The shingles on the roof, the main double-door entrance, the giant gate that stood a few hundred feet in front of the main entrace, everything about it was a dark shade of scarlet.
Well it seems I heard the word "scarlet" correctly, thought Cassandra, but what about the "devil" part?
As soon as the three alighted on the stone path, several yards from the main gate, the gates opened and another young looking girl, maybe in her twenties, dressed in a blue French maid uniform stepped out. The gates swung back closed, leaving the new stranger to greet the three of them. Except that it didn't seem like she was there to greet them. She closed her eyes and shook her head as she saw who it was that had arrived, the two braids of her short messy silver hair waving in unison as well. When she opened her eyes again, Cassandra noticed that this person's eyes were also vermilion.
"I'm surprised you didn't sneak in through the back this time, Marisa," remarked the maid, slowly stepping closer and closer, "Well whatever, that just makes my job easier."
"Your job?" asked Marisa with a hint of confusion on her face, "What happened to that stupid Chinese doorguard?"
"She's being disciplined right now for her incompetence," explained the stranger, "Too many people have gone through her this past week so while the mistress is... correcting her, I've been assigned to watch the gate. Now, leave at once or I'll force you to leave."
Geez, what is with this place? Does everyone here have superpowers or something? I mean, how does one maid hope to stop two magicians? wondered Cassandra. Luckily, Alice with her even-mindedness prevented yet another fight from breaking out.
"Sakuya, there's a reason why we arrived at the front instead of sneaking in through the back."
Oh, that's Sakuya? It makes a bit more sense now, I guess. If she helped, she must be pretty powerful too. But what kind of powers does she have?
"Oh? And that would be...?"
"To show you that we had nothing to hide. We have some urgent business with Patchouli and need to talk to her."
"Really now? I don't think Miss Knowledge would want anything to do with you two, especially since you two includes Marisa."
"What if I promise to watch Marisa carefully? And to be fair, if anything is found missing after our visit, I'll pay for it either with money or work. How's that?"
Marisa's ears perked when she heard that Alice would pay for any missing items. That would mean that she could take whatever she wanted and not face any consequences. She grinned evilly in spite of herself, drawing the attention of the doll. In a low voice, so that Sakuya couldn't hear, she said to Marisa, "What are you smiling about? I'm going to be watching you too, you know. I don't want us getting kicked out before I'm cured because of you."
"Ah, what a jip."
Meanwhile, Sakuya was considering Alice's offer. She seemed ambivalent about it as either way, there would be consequences. If she said no, there would most likely be a fight and she was outnumbered. And if she lost the fight, they would enter the mansion anyway and if anything were stolen, there was no guarantee for recompense. On the other hand, she didn't really have the authority to say yes. There could be severe punishments waiting for her if she let these people in. Actually, when she thought about it, the mistress would probably be angry either way so it was just a matter of which choice would incur less wrath.
"I suppose I can let you in under those conditions... but be sure to take extra care in watching her. She has an eye for expensive objects and you may end up severely in debt if you stick to your promise," warned Sakuya as she turned to open the gates and to lead the two magicians to the library where Patchouli Knowledge, the elemental master, resided.
"Thank you," said Alice as she grabbed Marisa's arm with the intention of not letting go until they left the mansion again.
Marisa rolled her eyes and said less enthusiastically, "Yeah, thanks..."
"Thanks a lot!"
Sakuya hesitated, turned around, and looked for the source of the third voice. She saw nothing until she tilted her head down where she saw what looked like a very small human smiling back at her. She tilted her head questioningly and said, "Alice, your doll..."
"Huh? Oh, that's the urgent business I was talking about. It takes too long to explain and we're short on time so please just ask Patchouli afterwards. That doll is harmless so just ignore it."
"O...kay," Sakuya said hesitantly before swinging open the gates and leading the three to the library.
"Wow, this place is huuuuuuge!" exclaimed Cassandra as they followed the maid, "It didn't look this big from the outside."
After entering the mansion, they had gone through two giant rooms and were now walking down a seemingly endless hallway. Already they had passed at least ten doors that led to ten different rooms. The inside of the mansion was decorated very much like the outside, all red. To be fair, they were different shades of red - the floor was carpeted with a dark vermilion, the walls were painted a pale pink, and the ceiling was an almost brownish burgandy. Another irregularity that Cassandra hadn't noticed before was that this mansion had no windows whatsoever. In every room they had been in, the only light came from overhead gas lamps and table candles.
"It doesn't look this big from the outside because it isn't this big from the outside," explained Marisa, "It confused me too the first time I was here, but it made more sense when I found out what the head maid's specialty was."
"What's the head maid's specialty?"
"Sakuya can manipulate space and time," Alice replied, "Which I guess makes her the most efficient maid in the world."
"Wait, how does a someone with that kind of an ability end up working as a maid?"
"Well... the mistress of this particular mansion has an ability that transcends time. She can manipulate fate. I guess you can say that Sakuya is fated to work here forever."
"Hey!" Sakuya called out from the front, "Don't talk about me like I'm not even here!"
"Uhhh... hahaha," Cassandra laughed nervously, "Sorry."
"Whatever," replied the head maid, waving off the apology, "We've arrived."
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