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Let’s be honest. Helping myself to the enemy’s wine was a terribly stupid thing to do. I drank with Marisa not because I thought it was a good idea. Not because her explanations appealed to me. Not because I thought it would get us closer to our enemy. I drank because I wanted to drink.
It was not the right thing to do. And if it weren’t for Marisa, I wouldn’t have lived to regret it. True, if not for her, I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. But the circumstances don’t change who I am, and I would have done the same thing in another situation had Marisa been there or not.
I was tired and scared, and that left me vulnerable to temptation. And by temptation, I don’t mean drinking alcohol by itself. I was tempted into acting on my fear and anger. I saw a chance to get a cheap shot against my enemies, give them a metaphorical sucker punch. Hurt them like they’d hurt me. Drink their wine. That was more intoxicating than the drink itself.
Marisa passed out before finishing her second bottle. Her hatlight dimmed and went out, leaving me in perfect dark. I still wanted more after my second bottle, but I was too tipped to break open a third. I made a couple of weak attempts to break it against a shelf, but I lost my grip and dropped the bottle. It shattered on the floor instead, making a big puddle. I laughed at myself, and ended up on the floor soaking in the wine I’d just spilled.
The stone floor felt warm and soft under me. But that was wrong. Stone floors were supposed to be cold and hard. It didn’t seem to matter. My mind was leaving me, and I was glad to see it go. I needed the break.
“Okay. They’re both out. Let’s tie ‘em up.”
“I don’t wanna! They beat Meiling!”
I must have been further gone than I thought. I was hearing whispers. Maybe I was dreaming.
“You’ll get killed if you don’t follow orders.”
“No! I’m scared.”
“Listen to me, you coward. If they’re not tied up when Patchouli gets down here, I’ll make sure she knows it’s because you wouldn’t help me. And she’ll tell Lady Scarlet, and she’ll sick the dog on you. Who’re you more scared of? A couple of drunk girls or her?”
“Okay, okay! Let’s just get it over with.”
Either I wasn’t dreaming, or my dream involved two small, talking youkai fairies wrapping cord around my ankles. They both glowed with bluish white light, and were both dressed like modest maids.
“Wha…” I said, still not sure if I was awake. “What’re you…”
“Oh no!” screeched the more timid of the two fairies. “She’s awake! We’re dead!”
The other fairy proved she was not braver than her friend. She didn’t even waste time on words. She turned wings and flew off, disappearing into a square hole in the ceiling.
“Wait! Wait for meee!” The meek fairy turned and followed, flying over Marisa’s collapsed body on the way.
Marisa’s hand shot up and grabbed the fairy around the middle. The fairy panicked. She screamed and beat her little fists against Marisa’s fingers.
“No, no, no! Let me go!”
Marisa sat up, propping herself up on one arm. She brought her face on level with the fairy’s, looked her eye to eye.
“Foolish of mees,” said Marisa. “Why would a witches come downs when she can send servants insteads?”
The fairy had her hands bunched up against her breast. Her teeth chattered in terror, letting out a tiny mimimimi noise.
“That mistake was mines,” said Marisa. “Your masters made two mistakes. First, letting me nears Scarlet’s wines. Not smarts at alls. Second, thinking Marisa can’t hold her boozes!”
She threw the fairy into the air. The youkai took flight and darted up through the hole in the ceiling, leaving the room dark again. I pushed my self into a sit like Marisa had, but I couldn’t do better. The room did somersaults, back flips, cartwheels and other gymnastics around my head.
I heard unpleasant noises coming from Marisa, coughing, gagging, retching. The smell hit me soon after, the stench of human bile diluted with wine. She was puking all over the floor, and the smell made me feel like joining her.
“Woo.” She spat the last of it from her mouth. “Not as good coming ups as going downs.”
I sat with my back to the wine rack, trying to get a hold on myself. The room lit as Marisa cast her illumination spell again. She found her hat on the floor nearby, put it on and set the white sphere on its brim. Then she turned to me.
“Come on, Reimus.” She crawled over to me, looking slightly better than I felt. “Fun time’s overs. Gotta follow those fairies.”
“I thought…” I shook my head, trying to gather words. “You said you could hold your booze.”
She smiled, tired. “Sure cans. Just my anti-drunkard spells. Cast it on you now, okays?”
That was most definitely not okay, but I couldn’t stop her. She held her finger to my forehead. My neck snapped back and a bright flash filled my eyes. I closed them tight, trying to keep my head from exploding.
In ten seconds, my stomach started gurgling.
Everyone has thrown up before, so I’ll spare you the description. I’ll only say that Marisa’s spell worked very well. I was stone cold sober in minutes. Sadly, half the food I’d eaten that day ended up on the floor of Lady Scarlet’s cellar.
Loosing the nutrition left me weak and trembling. I couldn’t have eaten more if I wanted to, but I was thirsty. Marisa and I both drank some water from our packs, and that made us feel a better. Not much, but enough.
“Let’s go,” she said, once we were both able to stand. “Time to gets out of underground palaces of nasty smells.”
I couldn’t have agreed more, but I didn’t know where we were going.
“Why did you let that fairy go?” I said. “We could have made her lead us to her master.”
“She dids.” Marisa walked past the wine rack and stood under the hole the fairies had escaped through. I hadn’t seen it before, but now Marisa’s hatlight showed a metal ladder. It started at the floor and led up through the ceiling hole.
“Was that there the whole time?” I said. “I can’t believe I didn’t notice it.”
“Wouldn’t have mattereds. There’s a hatches, closed until the fairies came down for us. Too panicky to close its behind thems.”
“So we go up.”
The ladder led into a cramped vertical shaft just big enough for a person to squeeze through. It went straight up further than Marisa’s hatlight showed. She went up first, as always. This meant I would get a great view of her bloomers for the entire climb. The shaft was too dark for me to see much of anything, but I kept my eyes on the ladder.
Marisa’s dress brushed the walls as she climbed, dropping grains of dirt on me. The feel of it was irritating, but I was already in need of a bath. Getting some dust in my hair was no worse that having my best traveling clothes saturated with wine. And certainly didn’t smell as bad.
The ladder rungs under my bare hands were icy cold. After a while of climbing, my fingers went numb and my palms tingled. I was achy and exhausted. After throwing up, my body wanted nothing better than to sleep. Having to lift my own weight up this endless ladder was physical torture. Marisa must have felt the same way, but she didn’t complain. So I kept climbing.
“Killing the lights,” Marisa whispered down to me. “Something’s up aheads.”
She let her hatlight go out, but it didn’t leave us in total darkness. There was another light from above, warm and orange. Like the light from a fireplace.
“They’ll expect us,” I whispered back. The fairies had come up ahead of us, and would have alerted their master to our coming.
“Yups. Better go say hellos.”
The light above was getting stronger. We could soon see the top of the shaft. It ended in a hatch that opened into the floor of another room. Marisa climbed out first, then took my hand and helped pull me up. The hatch closed under its own weight once I was out. We looked around this new place.
“Tolds you there’s be a libraries.” said Marisa.
So she had. The hatch had opened in the hardwood floor between two massive bookshelves. The shelves stood at least three times my height, and were stuffed with books, books and more books. Among the titles were heavy volumes like the Encyclopedia of Animal Life in Gensokyo. A Listing and Botanical Study of Gensokyo-Native Flora. Geological and Mineral Phenomena of the Gensokyo Valley and Mountains. A Historical Account of the Gensokyo Boundary.
My eyes watered, just thinking of the subject matter these books covered. This seemed to be the reference section, specifically local natural sciences. I glanced at Marisa, who was thumbing through one of the books. Accounts of the Naturally Occurring Magical Energies in Gensokyo, Potential Uses and Conjecture of Their Origin and Purpose.
I stepped beside her and looked over her shoulder, reading a bit of the page she was on.
Being that the country we label Gensokyo and its environs, as discussed in prior chapters, appears to be “separated” from the surrounding lands by the Boundary (see Chapter XVI, p32), and that it has been assumed with reasonable evidence that the lands outside the Boundary are not naturally saturated with powers of similar nature or account (see Chapter XVII, p17), certain theories arise regarding the relationship between said Boundary and the magical energies within the country it surrounds. The two major theories we will cover in the below text are, first, that the Boundary exists as a simple large-scale, broad-scope manifestation of the already existing magical energies, and what possible stimuli or happenstance may have caused such energies to form the Boundary and, second, that the Boundary is a entity unto itself not dependant upon the ambient magical energies and may, in fact, be the very source of magical energies, and certain explanations regarding the Boundary’s origins if not generated by those energies.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, rubbing my eyes. “Do you actually understand any of this?”
“Nopes,” said Marisa. “But still wouldn’t mind having this books in my own little libraries. Wonder if the master of the houses would let me borrow its.”
A new voice answered her. It sounded far away, as if on the other side of the library, however big this place was. It was a woman’s voice, but not at all girlish. Strong, deep and confident.
“Your inconsiderate rudeness astonishes me,” said the new voice. “Immediately after breaking and entering, vandalizing our food storage area and drinking some of our priceless spirits, you have the sheer audacity ask if you can borrow a book. I have no doubt any prearranged lending period would be stretched far beyond that which the original book’s owner had intended. The borrower would likely hope that if she had it in her keeping for long enough, both she and the original owner would forget whom the book belonged to initially. It would then become the borrower’s book, as it is no longer known to be borrowed. Possession is nine tenths of the law, correct?”
As she spoke, Marisa and I headed towards her voice. We walked into an isle and past uncounted rows of bookshelves. I have never seen so many books as were in this library. I never knew this many books existed, or could exist. We passed a few fairy maids as we went. They were dusting the books, straightening them, arranging them. Those that noticed us gave us sad looks, as if we were convicts going to our death penalty.
“But I do not forget,” said the voice, louder as we closed in on it. “Especially not when it comes to my books. I am youkai. I am an exceptionally old and powerful youkai. I am the librarian of the Scarlet Mansion, and chief advisor to Lady Scarlet herself.”
We came to the library’s heart. The wooden floor gave way to polished marble. Here the floor was like a mirror, and I could see my and Marisa’s reflections in it. It was disorienting, seeing copy of myself looking up at me. Standing on the soles of my twin’s feet. I looked ragged and dirty.
Carved into the marble was a huge symbol of two inverted triangles on each other, making a six-pointed star. I remembered seeing this symbol somewhere, maybe reading about it years ago. It was called the Solemn Star, and represented the strength of balanced powers. At the center of the star stood the youkai woman who had called herself old and powerful, though she looked like neither.
She was short and slim. Her eyes were royal purple and her hair the same shade, hanging down her back in two huge ponytails. Under one arm, she held a thick book that had no title on the cover. She wore puffy pajamas that covered all but her hands and face. Upon her head was a nightcap with a crescent moon-shaped brooch pinned on front. Her outfit looked silly, but I couldn’t blame her for dressing warmly. This library wasn’t much warmer than the cellar. We might have still been underground. We could only see because of lamps hanging from the ceiling, burning with red-orange magic sparks.
“I am Patchouli Knowledge,” said the youkai woman before us.
Marisa curtsied. “Marisa Kirisame’s at your service heres. And this wino bum is Reimu Hakureis. Nice to meetchas, Patchey.”
“Patchouli. Lady Scarlet’s advisor will not be referred to with diminutives, thank you.”
“If you’re her advisor, maybe you can advise her to stop killing my homeland,” I said.
“My advice to you is not to pry in matters that do not concern you,” said Patchouli.
“It concerns everyone in Gensokyo.” I held up my gohei. “I’m here to stop Scarlet, whatever she’s doing. You can either point me to her, or stand aside so I can find her myself.”
“I will do neither.” Patchouli opened her book, flipped through the pages. “Let me see. How to deal with intruders. Ah. Here we are.” She looked up. “I will have you both bound and taken before Lady Scarlet. She will decide how you are to be dealt with. If you are lucky, I will be the one to carry out your sentence. I have no particular liking for pain or carnage, so I will make your ends brief. But if you are unlucky, Lady Scarlet will have her chief maid deal will you instead. Unlike me, she is quite the sadist.”
Marisa had a spellcard between her fingers. “Best not uses threaty words, Patchey dears. We beat up China-girl door guards. Can do same heres.”
Patchouli laughed without opening her mouth. Hmm-hm-hm-hm!
“China-girl, you say? Hong was no threat. If the level of threat presented in combat could be calculated mathematically, Hong would appear in the negative integers.”
“Whereas your bullcrap needs exponents to express mathematically.” I whipped out my own spellcard, eager to use it. “I’m done talking. Stand aside or get killed.”
Patchouli produced her own spellcard from the pages of her book. It was made from nicer paper than Marisa’s cards, but looked the same otherwise. It was covered in the old language’s characters. I couldn’t read it from ten paces away.
“Let it be a magic duel, then.” She slammed the book closed. “If you win, I will tell you how to find Lady Scarlet. If I win, you will go before her as prisoners. Agreed?” She held up her card. “Metal sign!”
“Love sign!” said Marisa.
“Spirit sign!” I said.
All three spellcards gathered energy to their owners. The air thrummed with power. Light rippled around us like the heat rising over a fire. Patchouli smiled.
“This will be interesting,” she said. “Metal Fatigue!”
Patchouli’s spell launched first, a split second before ours. A thick whirlwind of golden metallic coins, each bigger than my head, appeared in a protective cylinder around her. The metal-based spell didn’t grow up out of the floor or come down from the heavens. It was simply there, where it hadn’t been a moment before. It surrounded Patchouli, hiding her from sight, not a moment too soon. Marisa’s spell hit, and mine a second after.
The Master Spark laser slammed into the golden shield, doing visible damage. Each coin touched by the beam fell away from the spell, crumpled up and evaporated. The coins were constantly whirling around Patchouli, moving fresh constructs into place as the old ones failed. My Fantasy Orb attack did similar damage, each colored sphere destroying a handful of the coins. But Patchouli managed her spell well. She was unharmed by the time our spells died out.
Marisa and I stood, watching her let the few remaining coins of her spellcard fade away. She smiled at us. Her fist spellcard had no offensive value. She only wanted to beat our spells, not us. Just to let us know how much better she was.
Marisa and I were breathing hard. Patchouli wasn’t.
“I will be honest,” she said. “That was more than I had expected from either of you. But, as I have hopefully made obvious, you are both sorely out of your league here. I urge you to forfeit the match before you get hurt.”
“Not out of spellcards yet,” said Marisa, pulling out another. “Love sign!”
“Nor am I,” said Patchouli, taking another from her book. “Earth sign!”
Well. Unlike some people, I was completely out of spellcards. Did that mean I had to stand here and watch those two kill each other?
A wall of earth appeared before Patchouli, sending a spray of dirt and gravel around the marble floor. The earthen barrier was taller than her, which wasn’t saying much. But it was enough to guard her from another Master Spark. Again, she was being defensive. She knew Marisa couldn’t have an unlimited number of spellcards. She could keep casting protective spells until her enemy ran out. She would win by attrition.
And that really made me angry.
Marisa’s spell was dying out again. It eroded the earth shield, but didn’t penetrate it. Instead of waiting for them to go another round, I gripped my gohei and ran forward. I jumped the dirt wall and came down in front of Patchouli. I towered over her.
“What are you—OW!” she said. I swung my gohei at her head. She raised her arm in reflex, so I hit that instead.
The youkai witch was not used to physical combat. She melted under the hit. She dropped her book and fell to the floor, holding her battered arm. I brought my gohei down on her, again aiming for the head. She rolled away from me, holding her head in reflexive defense. I hit her other arm this time. She yelled in pain.
“Stop it! Stop it!” She crawled away from me, dragging her book along. “No physical attacks in a mage’s duel! You are breaking the rules!”
“Not as much as I’ll break you,” I said. I went after her, ready to pummel her some more. It felt good to hurt someone. Patchouli pulled another spellcard from her book and cast it. I dashed at her, trying to land another blow before her spell launched. I wasn’t fast enough.
“Wind sign! Slypheed Breath!”
This spell didn’t have the same control as her last two. She was hurt and panicked, casting in a hurry. But it was enough to get attackers away from her, as it did me. A huge gust of air from nowhere slammed into me. I tumbled back, loosing my gohei. I slid back on the marble floor and slammed into a bookcase. Marisa was holding her hat against the wind spell, even though it had been directed at me.
“How dare you!” Patchouli stood, holding her book. “You broke the code of the mage’s duel. Never mind taking you before Lady Scarlet. I will eliminate you myself.”
I didn’t doubt that she could. The spells she’d shown so far weren’t the extent of her power. She was an elementalist, which meant she had at least three elements she hadn’t yet used. She had best not to use any fire-based spells, though. Not in a library. Her precious books—
I looked up at the shelf I lay against.
“Marisa!” I said, pointing to the bookshelf nearest her. “Shoot that!”
She looked at me. “Shoot whats? The books?”
A look of horror came over Patchouli’s face. Then it twisted into bitter, ugly rage. She pulled another spellcard out. She ran at me.
“Yes!” I yelled at Marisa. “For heaven’s sake, shoot it!”
Two spellcards were pulled out. Two incantations were yelled.
So here we were. Marisa held a charging Master Spark towards a shelf full of books, ready to fire. Patchouli held a water-based attack towards me, a long spear of glowing ice extending from the card in her hand. If she let the spell go, the crystal spike would nail my head to the shelf behind me. Not wanting my brains spattered all over her books was the only thing keeping Patchouli from killing me. She wasn’t that desperate.
“Do not launch that spell,” she said to Marisa, keeping the ice spell aimed at me. “I will kill her.”
“Don’t really wants to hurt your books,” said Marisa. “Books lover toos, you sees. But wants my lives more than so much dusty old papers.”
“Your life?” said Patchouli. “You mean the life of your friend.”
Marisa shrugged her free shoulder. “Eh. Reimu’s good for camp songs, but kinda useless on important trips. Not a mages like us. Saw how badlies she used that spellcard I gave hers? Pretty sloppies.”
Patchouli said nothing.
“On other hands, Patchey is an uber-strong mages,” said Marisa. “Explode Reimu’s head with that icey spells, and won’t take any longers to shoot one at mees. Except, might have just enough times to blow away half your libraries with good old Master Sparks. Lot’s of precious books here, rights? Irreplaceable books.”
“We have a classic dual hostage situation,” said Patchouli. “I hold your lives, and you hold my material possessions.”
“Yups,” said Marisa. “Gotta admit, Patchey’s smarter than mees, but pretty sures this ends one of two ways. Either I dies and take your books with mees, or nots.”
“You are correct,” said Patchouli. “We both loose, or we both win.”
Marisa grinned. “No brainers, rights?”
“I wish it were so,” said Patchouli. “If I could send you both out of here without any harm to my library, I would gladly do it. But that would be a failure in my duty to Lady Scarlet.”
“Not reallies. Why does Scarlets keep Patchey arounds?”
“I already told you. I am her librarian and advisor—”
“No, no, noes.” Marisa waved her off. “Not the titles. The words mean nothings. What makes you usefuls? What value do you haves?”
Again, Patchouli was quiet.
“You’re smarts,” said Marisa. “A thinkers, not a fighters. So when two bad guys came stomping into the libraries, you did all you could doos. Challenged them to a magic duel. But big, ugly, stupid Reimu broke rules and beat puddings out of yous.”
“It seems you are not that fond of your companion here,” said Patchouli.
“Taking cares of her is duties, not pleasures. But those two are sames for some lucky mages, like Patchey heres. Her duty and pleasures is taking care of her libraries. And if she lets two bad guys go, to protect her books, she’s not to blames. She was doing her jobs.”
“I am afraid the mistress might not see things that way.”
“You’re her advisors,” said Marisa. “Show hers what she needs to sees.”
Silence. Patchouli stood, keeping her ice spell aimed at me. She glanced at me, then back at Marisa. Everything was still.
A minute passed.
“Lower your spellcard,” she said. “And I will lower mine.”
Marisa hesitated. She didn’t want give up her hostage first, but she didn’t have a choice. She couldn’t beat Patchouli with brute force. The negotiating was done. She could only hope she had played Patchouli well.
Marisa let the gathered energy at her hand gradually dissipate. The spellcard had long since burned off, and not fully activating the spell meant it was wasted. She turned to face Patchouli.
“Your turns,” she said.
The crystal spear at Patchouli’s hand ran through with cracks, like suddenly heated ice. The spear creaked under its own mass, shattered into thousands of pieces. Ice fragments scattered all over the marble floor and quickly evaporated.
I stood and walked over to Marisa. She picked up my gohei and handed it to me.
“The library’s main entrance is that way,” said Patchouli, pointing off through the bookshelves. “I make no guarantees of your safety once you leave.”
“Will you tell us how to find Scarlet?” I said.
“Yes,” said Patchouli. “Go down the hall, and take the fourth door on the right. That is the main stairwell. Go up to the top floor, out into the hall, and take the first set of double doors on the left. There you will find the observatory. Lady Scarlet was there stargazing, last I heard.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“No. I will not take your thanks. I tell you where she is only because I know you pose no threat to her. Look for the mistress, and her chief maid will find you first. In that, I am not helping you, but sending you to your deaths.”
Forward to Chapter Seven
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