Alice's Glorious Homestead Defense
A Touhou Project fanfiction in 4 parts
Featuring art by Fawriel (link below)
One cool summer evening, the Hakurei Miko paid a visit.
The world was pink and orange, smoothed by a breeze from the west that set trees creaking and swaying in haloes of rushing leaves. Alice's modest western-style cottage was buried in the gentle mayhem, crouching in a rough clearing with no roads for miles. She'd been sweeping off the stoop, enjoying her solitude as the cool air darkened and thinking happily about the long night of research ahead of her.
The miko touched down a few meters off and waited politely for her to notice. Alice watched from the corner of her eye, wondering why such a lazy woman would bother to come way out here. Reimu Hakurei cut a soft, unassuming figure in the reddish gloom, all fluttering sleeves and flowing hair and calm brown eyes. So different from Gensokyo's other guardian (well, except for the laziness.)
Alice finally straightened and leaned on her broom. "Miko," she said mildly.
"Magician," Reimu replied, half-smiling. "How are you doing these days?"
Alice couldn't help but feel suspicious. "Why do you want to know?"
"Nobody's heard from you in quite a while." Reimu came forward a few paces and squatted at the base of the stoop. After an awkward pause, Alice sat facing her, setting the broom across her knees. "I guess I'm a little concerned."
"I just prefer to keep to myself," Alice said. Here was an odd situation. Since when was it the border guardian's job to play social worker? "Life is simpler that way. What, do you think I'm plotting something?"
"And do you think I only come calling when it's time to beat people up?" Reimu chuckled, shaking her head. "What a troublesome life that would be."
Alice had no idea what to make of that. "Well?"
"Okay, being honest, I do get a little leery when a powerful magician-type youkai disappears into the wilds and cuts herself off from the world. I don't think you mean to wreak your terrible vengeance against Gensokyo or whatever, but you know how it goes around here; lonely, bored youkai are the stuff Incidents are made of." Reimu slid back onto her rear and folded her legs. "So I'd rather help you now than blast you to kingdom come after you build an army of gigantic war-dolls and march on the human village, you know?"
"An army of what?" Alice's asked flatly. "That's ludicrous."
"It sounds ludicrous now," Reimu agreed. "But what about in thirty years? Fifty? A hundred?"
"I'll manage." It was hard to tell, but the magician might have been a little disturbed. "And I don't see how I could apply the principles of dollmaking to anything you'd call 'gigantic.'"
"Well, from what I've seen, you'd find a way." Reimu shrugged. "Especially here."
They sat in silence for a few seconds as twilight washed the sky green.
"Anyway, I've decided that you need a friend," Reimu said.
"Oh, you have." Alice replied coldly.
"She's going to come by tomorrow, and I hope you at least give her a chance. It should be fine; you have a lot of interests in common."
"And if I decide to fight her off instead?"
"Oh, she'd love that." Reimu threaded her fingers with a cunning look. "She's been getting antsy and unmanageable lately, and it'd really help if she got a chance to blow off some steam. You see, I win either way."
"Hmm…" Alice leaned back, considering. "I could simply leave."
"And leave all of your valuable books and artifacts open to plunder?"
"Plunder?" After a blank moment, realization struck. "You're sending her here?"
"If we're thinking of the same 'her,' yeah," Reimu confirmed. "Marisa Kirisame?"
"Why would you-? What is the meaning of this!?" A harsh clatter sounded from Alice's house, the violent motion of dozens of dolls. "Th-this is extortion!"
Reimu glanced past her, unconcerned. "Marisa won't be coming for a fight, unless that's what you want to do with her. Relax, will you?"
"The mad youkai exterminator…" Alice's voice evened out, but tension quivered in her shoulders. "The Starlight Berserker is coming to my house… and you want me to relax."
"Is that what they're calling her these days?" Reimu asked, smiling. "I like it. Look, me and Marisa have lives outside of fighting youkai. We'd have to. You know this; you remember being human. Marisa isn't coming to level your house any more than I came to seal you just now. We're just pestering you to make sure everything's all right."
Alice stared down at her. "Is it so hard to believe that I'm content with being left alone?"
"I don't know. Maybe I made the wrong decision." Reimu stood. "But, look, you have hundreds of years ahead of you. In the interest of preserving Gensokyo's peace, can you indulge a couple of silly humans for one day?"
The breeze returned, filling the silence that stretched between them. "Fine."
"Good. She'll be by around noon. I hope you guys have fun." Reimu had started to walk away, but paused. "Oh, and Alice?"
The miko didn't turn. "Even without that book of yours, you're one of the toughest danmaku opponents I've ever faced. I'd love to have a friendly sparring match with you sometime."
The offer struck a nerve Alice often tried to forget she had. "I… I'll think about it."
"All I can ask," Reimu said, and took flight.
Alice's planned night of research was shot. She just couldn't focus on her formulas and the dolls seemed to be staring at her accusingly. Her eyes slid uselessly over page after page, absorbing nothing. She was coming to realize that the place was a wreck, and with nobody around to care, she'd let her clothes grow tattered and grubby. Reimu could have given her more warning…
The walk she took to clear her head didn't help much, but she came across a lost traveler, so at least it was fortunate for someone. She decided to put him up for the night because he didn't look like he could handle a run-in with the Night Sparrow, let alone anything actually dangerous. His torrent of gratitude crashed against her back, ignored.
On the way home, Alice decided that there was only one way to work out her next course of action. She left her guest on the stoop with a pair of 3-foot guardian dolls and spent a half-hour tearing the ground floor apart and hurling it into some semblance of order. She didn't especially care what this guy would think of it, but it'd be hard to work with him getting underfoot.
Finally, Alice stood back and looked her handiwork over, half-noticing her dolls ushering the traveler in. The main floor was all one room, divided between a carpeted sitting area, a kitchen floored with polished stone and a small hardwood stage across one wall, between one set of stairs going up to her bedroom and another going down to the water closet and her secret workshop. Colorful hangings and pictures from all over Gensokyo covered every wall, three thick in some places, and mountains of dolls of every description were heaped on every free surface, though she'd at least managed to clear a decent space between them. Fragrant candles burned, tended by vigilant metal figures.
Now that the ground floor was in order, she could get down to sorting herself out. Not being skilled at introspection, Alice had created a game called "Rainbow Council" to help externalize things a bit. Hidden among the porcelain and plastic multitudes were seven special shanghai dolls in varicolored dresses. Ignoring the traveler, she fished them out and arrayed them on the stage in an inward-facing circle. It wasn't long before they stirred, straightening and struggling to their little ceramic feet.
The dolls weren't alive, of course. They were bound to her mind by sorcerous strings and completely under her control. However, with practice, Alice had figured out how to delegate control of particular dolls to smaller portions of her mind and eventually even her subconscious. Her skills eventually improved to the point where exercises like this became not only practical, but fun.
"Hear, hear," the yellow doll announced in a clear, high-pitched voice. The colors weren't always consistent, but Yellow often gave voice to her superego. "The Council of Alice convenes this night to discuss our response to the deplorable violation of our privacy and the imposition of an unwelcome guest: namely, one Marisa Kirisame!"
Unnoticed, the traveler heaved a sigh of relief when he realized it wasn't talking about him.
"Clearly, there can be but one response!" Green announced, striding to center-stage. Its voice was deeper. "We must drive this affront to our dignity and sovereignty away! We must prepare our strongest spells, arm our doughtiest dolls and lay the most cunning traps our sterling mind can devise! And if that should fail, why, we always have the grimo-!"
"Absolutely not," Red snapped. The words came thinly, like shaved ice.
"…well, even without the grimore, we can…"
"I feel that this is just another challenge," Blue said, enunciating carefully. "We should welcome this Marisa. We have accepted the task of receiving her, and this, like every pursuit, demands excellence."
"That's all it is with you," Purple observed in a soft voice. "Excellence. Never mind if the thing we're doing excellently is necessary or even good. Nevertheless, I agree. I, too, am eager to learn more about Marisa."
"And what bad can come of this, pray tell?" Blue asked.
"She might want to come again," Orange said. "And again, and again."
"That is why we must drive her off!" Green boomed.
"But she will come again even if we attack, Green!" Orange snarled. "She'd just be coming to fight, instead! Don't you understand? We don't want a youkai-hunting lunatic coming here at all! We don't want anyone coming here! Basic kindness to lost humans is one thing, but there is no reason under heaven that we should be required to… to grovel to this beast!"
"Oh, we're groveling now," Yellow said mildly. "I must have missed that memo."
"That's what will happen," Red said quietly. It had remained sitting, hugging its knees. "We'll end up groveling. Again. We're too weak to stop her. Even with the book, we're too weak. They can do anything they want to us and we're powerless to stop them."
The dolls shuffled uncomfortably for a moment.
"Are we really so desperate for company, anyway?" Orange finally asked.
"I'm kind of lonely," Purple admitted.
"Me too," Red added.
The others murmured their assent.
"You know, I think that building that army of dolls is a great idea!" Indigo suddenly announced. "I think we should do that! Why don't we make nice with Marisa tomorrow, learn her weaknesses and maybe Reimu's, and then conquer the human village? Doesn't that sound great? We could rule Gensokyo with an iron fist!"
"Don't be ridiculous," Blue countered. "We don't know the first thing about rulership."
"We could learn," Purple suggested, "But I feel that it would take time from more interesting subjects. And why waste the time marshalling an army when we could be studying?"
"What a doddering shut-in! Why waste the time slogging through dusty tomes when we could be locked in battle!?" Green demanded. "There is no other thrill like it!"
"You're both fools!" Orange cut in. "You're focusing on your own little pet agendas and ignoring the real problem!"
"Oh, and you're not, Ms. I-Just-Want-To-Be-Left-Alone?" Yellow asked, rubbing the bridge of its glazed nose. "Enough with the personal attacks, guys; we're all the same person, remember?"
Indigo had missed the whole conversation. "And then, once Gensokyo is under our control, we can gather our forces and attack the moon! And from there we can reach the human world! Gye-ha! Gye-ha-ha-haaaaa!"
Green pushed Indigo over. "As much as my heart thrills at the idea of such a battle, you know that it cannot be!"
"It cannot. We are too weak," Red said mournfully. "Always and forever, even after we became a monster. How could we fight all of Gensokyo?"
"You have no desire to rule, anyway," Yellow added. "Merely to take and own. You're hard to deal with sometimes, honestly."
"I'll show you 'hard to deal with!'" Indigo spat, flailing to its feet.
Yellow took a measured step back and the other dolls brawled. Watching it, Alice was almost frightened by how easily her attention split and how ferociously her various facets struggled against one another. This was all happening in her mind, beneath her awareness. A part of her really did want to lay waste to the land that had hurt her. A part of her really did love the force and pain of magical combat. A part of her was always cringing from her defeat by Reimu, terrified that the next one to beat her might not be so merciful.
"The winner," Yellow announced, holding Blue's hand in the air. The two of them stood atop a colorful pile of twitching dolls; it seemed that a few others from around the house had joined in, for some reason. "So it is decided. We shall be the best host we can be. Thoughts, council?"
"Marisa might enjoy a friendly match," Green suggested.
"We should see if she has any thoughts on our research," Purple added.
"Just don't be too nice; we don't know anything about her, after all," Orange said.
"But don't make her mad, though," Red cautioned.
"I'm sure we'll amaze her!" Blue said confidently.
With that, the dolls collapsed. Alice sat back and breathed a long sigh, collecting herself and getting used to the fact that, yes, she was a single person. Well, now what? She hadn't been planning on sleeping that week, but a few hours would do her some good after this exertion. If she rose with the sun, there would still be plenty of time to get ready for her visitor.
The traveler clapped hesitantly. He had no idea what was going on.
Alice jolted in surprise. Normally she would have been on to the next thing, leaving the human to his own devices, but since she had just spent the last twenty minutes thinking intensely about being a good host… "Are you doing alright?" she asked over her shoulder. "Any injuries?"
"H-huh? Oh, no. Thank you."
Now that she looked more closely, she realized that her visitor was little more than a child. He was tall and delicate, with short, wavy hair and big brown eyes, struggling to make himself as small as possible. He wore a drab hemp tunic and tattered cloak, which made him look amazingly out of place in the house's colorful plush landscape. That alone gave Alice an idea of how he must feel. She tried giving him a smile, but he only flinched; sometimes she forgot what becoming a youkai had done to her dental battery.
"So where were you going, young man?" Alice asked.
"Oh, um…" If anything, he looked even more uncomfortable now that she was paying attention to him. "Well, my family's farm was having trouble this season, so I was gonna get work in the new village and send some money back."
"There's a new village?"
"Uh, yeah. I guess the Youkai of Gaps brought in a whole town from some scary place she visited, and now they're tryin' to get used to things here. They want young people to come and learn to work their machines, so that's what I'm doing." The boy's words came quickly, nervously. He'd probably never sat down and had a conversation with a youkai before (that he knew, anyway.) "I hear they're really nice, though."
"That's… interesting. I guess we can't call your home 'the human village' anymore, can we?"
"They're calling it Mugawa these days, and the new place is Thunderdome."
"What a brash name." Alice spent a few seconds thinking, but couldn't find anything else to talk about. The conversation seemed to be setting her guest on edge anyway, so why not bow out gracefully? "Listen, I'm going to sleep upstairs, but you'll be safe here. Watch." She moved to the door and took hold of the tiny deadbolt in both hands. Straining, she threw it to the side with a distant, echoing boom.
The boy yelped in surprise, then laughed.
"This cottage is my fortress, and these dolls are my army," Alice said gravely. It almost felt like she was realizing this for the first time. Why did she need a fortress so badly, anyway? What, exactly, was she hiding from? "You are under my protection tonight, young man, so rest well."
"Um, thank you, Ma'am."
Almost the moment the words left her mouth, the traveler curled up on his lounge chair and went out like a light. That hadn't been so painful, had it? Alice started up the stairs and decided that she felt pretty good about her odds of dealing with Marisa tomorrow.
Her feeling of well-being had dissolved by morning. Alice spent the first hour of the day bustling around the second floor in a futile bid to find presentable clothes, finally settling for a frilly pink-and-white dress that would have looked more at home on one of her dolls. She sat down to clean her teeth, mentally directing a doll in the delicate task of brushing her hair for the first time in months. The face in the mirror looked a lot healthier than she was used to seeing, though; maybe she should sleep more than an hour or two every other week?
The morning was bright and cool, with cottony clouds marching steadily across the deep blue sky. The magician found herself distracted, watching their shadows race over the forest's shimmying emerald expanse. Birds warbled and trilled from waving branches and little furry things darted through the brush. In the distance, an ominous globe of darkness drifted through the air until Rumia went clonk on a stately pine and plunged through the canopy with a cry.
What a lovely day for an invasion.
Alice shook her head.
Downstairs, the traveler was still asleep, snoring to shake the rafters. Either he'd picked the red shanghai doll up or it had nestled in his arms at some point; she wasn't sure which would be odder. Alice hesitated over waking him, drumming her fingers on the loveseat's back. What were you supposed to do with guests in the morning? She was tempted by her old method; humans tended to just sort of disappear when they were ready, and that was much easier on everyone.
Anyway, the smell of bacon would wake him up right quick. She was getting kind of hungry herself, anyway. When was the last time she'd eaten? There were some things she'd just never bothered to figure out concerning her new body, trusting in Gensokyo's bounty to keep her from starving if she misjudged. (Though with her luck, the next Incident would probably involve a famine or maybe mass poisoning.)
Fortunately, she had a sealing spell for her larder, so nothing went to waste even with her inhumanly light appetite. Bang! went the spell as she dismissed it, hurling the boy from his rest and halfway across the room. Right, she'd forgotten about that. Their conversation over breakfast amounted to a few awkward smiles and maybe half a sentence.
"I'd better get going soon," he said, carrying their dishes into the kitchenette. He paused, half-turning back, then shrugged and started washing them. He didn't seem to find the faucet strange; had the Kappa water company already reached the human village, then? "Thanks so much for giving me a place to stay."
"Of course." Alice turned away and wove her hands in the air, conducting the dolls in cleaning up and arranging themselves neatly. A few of them seemed to be fidgeting or looking around nervously, but it was probably her imagination.
Finally, they stepped out onto the stoop together and the boy started off, slinging a light pack over his shoulder. It seemed he understood she wasn't much of a conversationalist, because all he did to say farewell was throw a wave over his shoulder, then screech like a little girl and hit the dirt as an out-of-control broomstick divebombed him.
"YAHOOOO!" The dark figure whipped past Alice before she could react and crashed through the treetops behind her, narrowly avoiding taking a chunk out of the house. It swept in a broad circle around them, invisible but impossible to miss with all the yelling and splintering, then burst free from the canopy for a shining moment before the broomstick shot free and its jockey tumbled out of sight like a rag doll.
"Wha… what… what in the hell…?" the traveler quavered.
"She's early," Alice explained flatly.
"Hello, world!" a cheerful voice called from overhead, straining slightly as its owner climbed awkwardly towards them. Marisa didn't sound at all like youkai exterminator, let alone one already legendary for her mendacity, greed and brutality. "This is the right place, right? Yeah, you look like an Alice!"
Far away, the broomstick plunged into Rumia's sphere of darkness and carried her out the other side, folded around its haft. A shrill cry of "…gotta be kidding…!" reached them faintly on the wind, but nobody paid it any mind.
Marisa hopped down and landed neatly on her heels, unfazed by the thirty foot drop. She was about Alice's height, with long, wavy blonde hair and huge golden eyes lifting in a grin that threatened to split her head in half. She wore a black tunic and knee-length shorts, with a longer waist cape to keep the image of a proper witch's dress. Her high-peaked witch's hat wasn't nearly as extravagant as the stories claimed, but it was still awesome enough to make Alice a little jealous.
"I'm all right, I'm okay!" the boy called, clambering to his feet. "Nothing's broken! …uh, I'm going now!"
Alice gave him a nod.
"Bye, Alice's friend!" Marisa yelled, waving broadly. "Have a good trip, wherever you're going!"
He mumbled indistinctly and beat a hasty retreat. Friendly as she was, it was plain to see that this was a dangerous person to be around.
"So, how's it goin'?" Marisa asked, turning back. "Wait, first of all, how'd Reimu put you up to this? I thought for sure you'd say 'no sale' and we'd end up fightin'. Or is that still gonna happen? Are you one a' those polite duelist type youkai, where we bow and say nice things and then blast the shit out of each other?"
"What? No!" Alice shook her head. "I mean, I prefer to observe the old forms, yes, but I thought that we… that is, I didn't think that there was any reason to… er…"
"I getcha," Marisa said easily. "So let's give it a go! Uh, ahem, pray, my good Alice, would you do me the honor of allowing me into your abode?" She bowed, smirking up at her host.
"Yes, I, of course." Alice sputtered. They were going to make small talk, weren't they? They were going to try and get to know each other. This was expected to be a… a pleasant evening. Of all the absurd, alien notions! Apart from her experiment last night, when was the last time she'd even tried to have a friendly conversation? As they started up the steps, the magician found herself wishing that she'd listened to Green. Or even Indigo, come to think of it. "I didn't, er, have much time to prepare."
"Nope, Reimu totally just dropped me on your head out of the blue," Marisa agreed, stepping in and turning towards the wall to kick off her boots and mess with the outer tunic and cape. She wore a light gray blouse beneath, perfect for the warm weather. "Hey, by the way, you think this is a good look for me? I wasn't sure about the ass-cape."
Alice blinked. "Er, I can't compare it to your normal manner of dress." It took her a long moment to think of something constructive to say. "I suppose it's a serviceable outfit, if you don't mind the fact that your fair complexion makes your legs stand out against it."
"Ha! Well, that's kind of the point, right?" Marisa stepped up on the shoe rack and waved a hand over her leg. "I mean, who wouldn't want to frame these?"
"I wouldn't know about that."
"Huh, I guess you wouldn't, would ya?" Marisa asked, eyeing her speculatively, then let the matter drop. She turned, taking the house in with an expansive gesture. "So, this is the mysterious domain of Alice, huh? Not bad! You make all these yourself?"
"Perhaps half of them," Alice said, then corrected herself. "Er, two-thirds, rather. The others I traded for."
"Oh, sweet! You have action figures, too?"
"Yeah, you do!" Giggling, Marisa snatched up the green-clad shanghai doll and held it out. "This one's totally not a doll. She's way too badass! I bet she beats the others up when you're not looking."
Of all the dolls to make that claim for. Alice stared uncertainly for a few seconds, then finally ventured, "Are you being silly?"
"Well, of course!"
"Of course," Alice echoed. Old habits returned. "Have a seat. I'll prepare some tea."
"That sounds great." Marisa flopped back onto the couch, kicking her legs out. "Gotta say, I wish me an' Reimu could do this more often. Skippin' right to the tea, instead of havin' a great big danmaku war first, I mean."
"Given your reputation, I would have imagined that you enjoy the fights."
"Sure!" Marisa stood Green up in her lap and started directing it through a little dance. "Danmaku's fun, but since that whole thing with the half-ghost chick and the huge zombie tree, I just want to kick back a while, you know? Huh… is this one 'a the ones you made?"
"Yes." Blue flame leapt beneath the teapot and Alice carefully tuned it to the perfect temperature. Though it didn't last as long, her tea was just as much a work of art as her dolls. "One of my earliest, in fact."
"This is really weird… when I move her, it feels like she's holding the poses on her own."
"Oh, yes. My dolls are very cooperative." Alice smiled proudly. Here was a subject she could discuss easily. "And that's not all she can do. Watch!"
Snapping her fingers for effect, Alice directed Green in hopping up onto the table to give her guest a curtsy. Marisa jolted back and kicked her chair away, hands flying through the preliminary motions of a deadly spell. Her eyes were wide and hard; before Green's feet even hit the table, she was primed to bolt and raze the place on her way out. The legendary Mini-Hakkero, a wooden disk throbbing with eldritch power, had appeared in her hand and ravened for release.
Alice panicked and lashed out for the mental strings of her whole workshop. Dozens of unassuming little plush and porcelain figures stiffened and rose, hiding lethal armored forms in their midst. Invisible webs snapped between their little bodies, forming arrays of magic circles Alice could choose from and activate at a moment's notice.
Marisa's eyes darted around, reading the circles of spells that could turn her blood to acid or grind her bones to toothpicks in an instant, but she held her ground. Magic roared through her frail body, far too much for a mere human to wield, her very being straining like a balloon stretched over the mouth of a firehose. The Mini-Hakkero crackled softly, holding no power to protect her but plenty to incinerate everything around her.
They were at an impasse.
"A curtsy," the witch finally said. Her voice was thin and harsh.
"That's all," Alice replied, trying for nonchalance.
"Well." Marisa slowly straightened, lowering her weapon. The spells coiled in her body loosened one after another, fading into the Magic Forest's background
As one, a houseful of dolls slumped lifelessly to the floor. The circles between them broke harmlessly, giving off soft little disturbances that the Magicians felt like shifts in air pressure. Green slid from the table and Marisa caught it, almost starting the standoff anew with her sudden motion.
For a few seconds, all was silent.
Finally, Marisa threw back her head and laughed, hugging Green to her chest. "Of all the damn fool things! We were all set to blow each other to hell just 'cause you wanted to show this cute little doll off? Oh, wow!"
Alice didn't think it was funny at all, but she smiled a little out of reflex as her guest continued to laugh. Without looking, she picked the teapot up at exactly the right moment and poured two cups, only splashing a little. Her hands had stopped shaking by the time she offered her guest a cup of the finest tea her science and art could produce.
The witch took a sip and smacked her lips loudly. "Not bad," she said. "Little sharp, though, huh?"