Sanae sighed, then stopped her sweeping to take a small amulet from her sleeve and fling it across the yard. It zipped merrily through the air, until it sailed straight into a purple umbrella which had been sticking out from behind a rock. The youkai girl crashed from behind her "cover" at the impact.
"Ah! Ow Ow Ow!" Kogasa Tatara rubbed the impact spot on the 'umbrella' part of her body. "How did you see me?"
Sanae shook her head. "Your umbrella was over the rock the entire time. And it's that horrible eggplant color. It's really hard to miss."
"Urameshiya!" Yelled the youkai, jumping to her feat. After an awkward pause Kogasa asked, "Aren't you surprised at my recovery?"
Sanae shook her head. "No. Not really." Kogasa hung her head. "Listen, the shrine maiden continued, "I really don't have a problem with you, but if you keep messing around here, I'll have to actually exterminate you. This isn't like that run down shrine down below. Yasaka-sama and Moriya-sama have standards to uphold."
Kogasa shook off her despair. "But a youkai who doesn't use their powers is nothing at all. And my power is to surprise humans. So I'm going to surprise you at least once."
Sanae sighed again. "Shouldn't you try the village or something? They've got some new people in. Or maybe you could take lessons form the faeries?"
Kogasa shook her head. "That were-Hakutaku keeps the new arrivals sheltered until they're used to the strangeness, and the fairies all cheat. That's why the best person to surprise is you!"
"I'm a miracle worker who has known two gods since childhood, in a world where almost no one else can see spirits. I'm a terrible person to try to surprise." Sanae pointed out with unconcealed annoyance.
Kogasa stood up tall. "That's okay I'll just..."
Suddenly she felt light headed, and her surroundings spun. Everything turned to a grey blur, and her ears began ringing. She wondered what spellcard had just hit her. It seemed unfair to attack without declaring.
"... are you..."
Ah, good. Her hearing was coming back.
"... can... stand... you hear..."
And her vision too. She saw the blue green shrine maiden right in front of her.
"Can you hear me? Are you all right?" Sanae asked.
"'s not fair using spellcards without announcing them," Kogasa complained.
"I didn't use a spell card. You just collapsed. And your body got really pale." Sanae helped pull her off the ground into a sitting position. "Are you sick or something? You should rest than instead of running about and playing. You really surprised me there! I was worried!"
Kogasa blinked at those words. She'd been a little dizzy before but...
*A youkai who doesn't use their power is nothing at all.*
She burst into tears and fled into the woods, leaving the stunned shrine maiden standing in confusion.
"Oh dear. I always seem to say the wrong thing to her." Sanae muttered. She considered running down to help the youkai, but she had work to do. And every time she'd tried that before, she'd made things worse. She merely prayed briefly for better luck to find the girl, before returning guiltily to her sweeping.
Kogasa fled across the whole breadth of Gensokyo, a despair deep in her heart. Deeper than it had ever pierced before. She flew until she couldn't stand moving any more, and then collapsed to the ground. Her tears took much longer to stop, and when they did her eyes were burning. She lay on the ground, barely noticing the world around her.
Finally a voice broke into her private world of despair. "Hm, you're right Su-san. We do have a visitor. Who are you miss?"
Kogasa sat up and quickly wiped her eyes. Looking for the speaker she found a large doll girl in a red dress looking curiously at her. She sniffed. "I'm just a failure. Not even good enough to be thrown away."
Medicine blinked at the depressed words, then her face twisted into a frown. "What? Did those stupid humans abandon you too!" Kogasa sniffed and nodded. "That's terrible!" Medicine crossed her arms. "Very well. I Medicine Melancholy offer you the aid of the Doll Liberation Front to aid you in your time of crisis. And Su-san will help too."
Kogasa looked up at the determined doll and managed a smile. "Thanks Medicine. I'm Kogasa Tatara." Her face fell again. "But I don't think you can help me. I really am a failure. And that's why I'm going to disappear."
"Hey don't talk like that. It's not your fault the humans abandoned you. And something made you a youkai, just like how Su-san made me into a youkai. So you'll be able to live without them." Kogasa merely smiled sadly and let the tongue of her umbrella twist a bit in the wind. Medicine decided to keep talking. "Um, actually it's kind of nice to meet someone like me. Most of the other youkai don't understand me, and why I'm so annoyed by humans. In fact some youkai are just as careless with things as humans. It's really kind of annoying."
There was a bit more silence.
Medicine sat down next to the youkai. "Um. I was kind of hoping. That, maybe we could become friends."
Kogasa's smile became a little wider. "Uh. Thank you Medicine. But I..." She wiped her eyes briefly. "I really can't ignore humans."
Medicine frowned again. "Why not? They abandoned you. You don't owe them anything."
Kogasa looked at the ground. "My power is to surprise people. Well, that's supposed to be my power. And I'm a normal youkai, at least I think I am. Which means if I don't use my powers, I'll fade away." Medicine looked in confusion as Kogasa began to cry again. "I can't surprise anyone! I'm terrible at it! The only reason I didn't fade away today was because my death surprised the girl nearby!" Her sobs began to make her body shake. "Do you know how pathetic that is!"
The poison doll stared at the crying Youkai for a moment, then awkwardly put her arm around the other girls shoulders. After a while the crying subsided, and Kogasa began to speak again. "I failed as an umbrella, and I failed as a youkai. And I'll fail as a friend. Soon I'll just turn back into a old torn umbrella no one wants."
Medicine couldn't find anything to say.
The two sat in silence for a long while, Kogasa occasionally wiping her tears away. The Sun set and the Moon began it's track through the sky. And over the Forest of Magic a brilliant light show erupted, as two of Gensokyou's residents began their usual festivities. At which point Medicine jumped up.
"Of course! I bet she'll know how to fix this!"
Alice's home was, as always, in almost perfect order. However right now it was also in a state of chaos. Dozens of dolls floated about, each carrying out some small task at high speed, and weaving among the vases, pictures and other dolls.
Shanghai floated by Alice staring at the doll that always floated by Medicine, while Medicine's larger body stared with irritation at Marisa, who was trying to join the Doll Liberation Front for some reason. Alice steadfastly ignored them both while having her dolls set out tea. She spoke softly to her final guest. "So, Kogasa. Are you sure you want my help? You know what that means, even if the young doll doesn't."
Kogasa nodded. "Yes." She made a quick glance back at Medicine to make sure the doll wasn't paying attention. "The truth is, I really didn't care about the details. I just wanted to do my job."
Alice kept her bland expression and nodded. "Very well. It goes against the grain of my research, but maybe it will give me some ideas for future products. So I'll help." She turned towards the other two guests. "Alright. I agree to help in exchange for you not flooding my dolls with poison anymore. Marisa, give me a hand."
Marisa looked up with surprise. "I don't even know what you're doing. And what makes you think I'll work for free?"
Alice smiled. "You don't need to know what I'm doing, you just need to be there. And you'll get to hear one of the spells in my grimoire as reward."
The human magician's eyes opened wide. "You're using the grimoire?"
Alice nodded. "Yeah I need raw power for this one. And it's not a battle, so there's no reason to hold back." She nodded to where her dolls had started drawing a mystic circle on the ground. "Just stand opposite me and think about your meetings with Kogasa."
Marisa moved off to the other side quickly, her eyes closely inspecting every line of the circle trying to add as much as she could to her knowledge. Kogasa moved to the center of the circle at a wave from Alice's hand, while Medicine looked confused. "Hey. What exactly are you doing?"
Alice shrugged nonchalantly. "I'm going to make sure Kogasa Tatara doesn't disappear from existence." She carefully unlocked the bindings on her grimoire as the last chalk line was completed, and the power of the mystic book flowed through her and into the symbol, causing it to glow brightly. Alice closed her eyes, it had been some time since she had accessed her full power, and the last time most of it had become quickly tied up stopping the night.
Kogasa looked out past the glowing runes to the doll that had cared enough to escort her here. Who had sacrificed one of her goals for someone who she had just met. "I'm sorry I wasn't a good friend Medicine. But, I hope afterwards I can be useful to you."
Medicine looked even more confused. "What are you talking about? What's going on?"
Alice raised her hand. "Now Marisa! Think of the girl, not the spell!" Power flowed into the magician youkai and the circle twisted, expanding and reforming until it shattered in a burst of light.
As the light cleared Medicine looked into the circle. "Kogasa? Hey, Kogasa." She blinked a few more times. "Kogasa!" She ran forward and fell to her knees, her trembling hands picking up the purple umbrella that was all that remained in the circle. Her eyes turned to Alice. "What did you do to her?" the doll youkai shrieked.
Alice smiled gently. "I can't recreate a youkai, but I could return one to it's original form." She softly closed the book in her hands. "And this time she'll be with someone who won't abandon her. Someone who cares. So she'll never be in danger again. Right Medicine?"
Medicine nodded as she held the umbrella close, not trusting her voice.
In the silence she almost imagined she could hear a "Thank you."
Medicine stood, bowed to the two magicians, and left with unsteady flight, her new treasured possession carefully held in both hands.
Marisa watched the two leave before turning to Alice. "So why did you need me? And wasn't the spirit in that umbrella unusually awake?"
Alice carefully locked her grimoire. "That's why I needed you. The easiest way of making a Youkai is through human faith or belief. I could do the reversion, but I wanted the girl to have a choice to become a youkai again when she regained her confidence. So I needed a human who believed in her to focus on her existence."
Marisa blinked. "But you already know all of that. That would mean this whole thing was worthless for your research." Marisa smiled. "Which means you did this all out of the goodness of your heart then. That's kind of cute there Alice."
Alice flushed. "I don't want to hear that from you of all people. You're supposed to make some comment about 'trying to raise your karma meter' or something."
Marisa smiled wider. "Wait, I know. I'm supposed to say 'You're acting like a Mother, Alice,' aren't I?"
"Well I guess that makes you the father," Alice snapped back.
Marisa flushed in return "H, hey! Wait a minute now you..."
The two looked away for a moment.
"Let's drop it."
Sanae looked out onto the rain and sighed. There was little chance the Tengu would show up, but she had to be ready in case any Kappa decided to take advantage of the weather to pray.
She sighed again when she heard the bells above the donation box ring. "I guess I'll have to go see who it is," she said to herself. Then she quickly got to her feet and made her way to the shrine front. There was no way she was going to end up as lazy as the Hakurei maiden.
The youkai praying however wasn't a kappa at all. In fact it looked like a large doll, carrying an umbrella to shield it and a smaller doll from the rain. She was pretty certain she hadn't seen that youkai before, but the umbrella looked familiar for some reason. Maybe it was the horrible eggplant color scheme.
"Can I help you?" Sanae asked the youkai when it opened it's eyes.
"Oh, you already have," said the youkai with a cheerful grin. Then Sanae shrieked as a massive tongue slid out from beneath the umbrella's brim and licked her. She tumbled back and rapidly pulled out her ofuda to counter attack, but the youkai was gone leaving two sets of laughter on the wind.
"What was that about?" yelled the confused shrine maiden.
There was a chuckling from behind her. Turning she found the elder of the two gods had been watching the scene. "You should be more careful with your power Sanae," Suwako said with a grin.