Disclaimer: Anything appearing to be continuity isn't. You have Keine's word on that.
Alice was surprised by the figure when she opened the door. "Oh. Hello, Meiling. I thought you would have been getting ready for the party."
Meiling laughed as she readjusted her grip on the packages she was holding. "Actually I have the day off, but I'm doing this as a favor to Sakuya. She wanted me to deliver these presents to you."
"Well thank you," Alice waved the gate guard inside so she could set the presents down. "But I'm planning on coming to the party later. You didn't need to come all the way out here to give them to me."
"Actually these are pretty heavy. The mistress was worried that you might have a hard time with them, even with all your dolls." Shanghai moved to watch as Meiling set the bottom three packages down on the floor, then placed the other two on the table.
Alice looked them over. The three bottom packages seemed fairly long and wide, but not all that high. Yet as she stared at them she realized they all contained some kind of magic. "Did Sakuya alter the space in those boxes?" she asked with interest. She'd never had a good chance to study the maids powers directly. These boxes might be more interesting then their contents!
Meiling shook her head. "It's Patchouli's design apparently. They're just a little bigger on the inside then the outside." She pointed out each package. "That one's from Miss Patchouli, the next one is from Koakuma, and the third large package is from the Mistress." She then motioned towards the ones on the table. "And since I was bringing those already, I brought my gift and Sakuya's as well."
Alice supposed Sakuya was enough of a mage to keep an eye on her spells. "Thank you again Meiling. Should I give you my gifts for the mansion? It'll take me a little while to gather them but I could get you some tea while you wait." She set her dolls to preparing the tea.
"No, but thank you. I'd better make sure Sakuya isn't swamped." The gatekeeper bowed again. "I'll take my leave."
"Very well then. I'll see you later, Meiling." Alice had Shanghai wave to the gatekeeper as the woman left, then used her doll to close the door. Then she turned to the presents.
"Well, we might as well open them up!" Alice said, while Shanghai and Hourai nodded eagerly. "Let's see what Meiling and Sakuya got us first. There's one each, so go right ahead."
The two dolls fluttered to the packages and deftly opened them. Shaghai revealed a very nice looking cake from Sakuya, while Hourai held up a very nice blue Cheongsam with flower embroidery from Meiling. Alice smiled. "Hm... Looks like Meiling appreciated the turret dolls. I'll have to drop by and repair them some time."
Then she turned to the other boxes. She was kind of curious as to why Patchouli and Koakuma were sending her such large things. Remilia she understood. Remilia always bought something far too expensive. But Patchouli and Koakuma knew that she preferred small, useful things.
Well there was only one way to satisfy her curiosity. She untied the ribbon and opened the box from Patchouli.
As she lifted the lid off the backage began to shake and she heard a muffled muttering. She tossed the lid aside to find Marisa stuffed in the box.
Whoever had placed the magician there had obviously been in a festive mood, as Marisa usual outfit had been replaced by a santa hat and a large number of ribbons. There were two bands of nearly paste on red fabric which could, if one was particularly generous, be called a top and a skirt and the whole ensemble was topped off by a bow gag, which is why the brilliantly blushing magician was currently only making muffled protests.
Alice felt her face flush, and she took a step back wards away from the box. Inside she heard Marisa making some sort of protest again, but she needed to regain her composure. Seriously, what was Patchouli thinking!
She took a few breaths so her cheeks didn't feel like molten lava. She had to remain calm. Treating this as anything more then a joke would only make the next month or so awkward. Well, more awkward.
She shook of her feelings and looked up again only to blush furiously again when she saw Shanghai hanging around the box with a pair of scissors. "What are you saying," she hissed quietly as grabbed the doll and put her on the table.
The fact that the dolls were working off her own subconscious was even more embarrassing.
She took a few more breaths until she was fairly certain that her cheeks were merely 'rosy' instead of 'glowing like Rudolph's nose.'
She looked into the box again. The embarrassed glare Marisa was giving her sent her internal temperature up another few degrees, but she kept her calm this time. "So how did you manage to get yourself into this mess Marisa?"
"Mrph," Marisa replied while failing to look innocent.
Alice sighed. "I see. And this was Patchouli's idea? Not one of your cunning plans?"
"Mmmph! Mrph!" Marisa shook her head violently at that. Her movements helped push a piece of paper out from where it was hidden behind her. Alice forced herself to focus on that instead of the other magician's figure. She waved her hand at the paper and one of her dolls swooped down and delivered it to her hands.
Written on it in Patchouli's scrawled script was the a simple note.
I know this may seem a little extravagant, but we had too many of the little book thieves in our library, so Koakuma suggested we send you one, since you're home is better built for it. I hope you can find some use for it.
I also have acquired a set of notes from the doll maker Rozen. If you're interested I'll be happy to give you the works in question. I've already made a copy, and I know you enjoy collecting originals.
Alice rolled her eyes at the note. Why did Patchouli's sense of humor revive itself at the worst possible times? "So you finally annoyed Patchouli enough for her to think up some revenge for you, eh?"
Marisa muttered something again, but Alice noticed Marisa was looking very guilty. Or maybe the other magician was still embarrassed about being seen in such a revealing outfit.
Still Alice had to admit it was amusing revenge, in a very twisted way. Served Marisa right for looting other people's books all the time. She didn't know why she had to be embarrassed as well.
After a few moments Alice smirked. She should get some enjoyment out of this after all, right?
She looked back down on Marisa, who seemed somewhat distressed that she wasn't out of the box yet. Alice waved her hands and a platoon of dolls carefully lifted Marisa up and put her in a seat. Marisa tried to look behind her to where Alice was sitting, but with all the ribbons the other blonde magician couldn't turn around without losing one of the two pieces of 'clothing' she still possessed.
"Now now Marisa, you just sit there politely and I'll give you a change of clothes to go home in." Alice smiled mercilessly. "I might even let you have some cake too. And if you're real good, I promise not to take pictures."
Marisa straightened up considerably at the threat of pictures. Alice grinned then turned to the next box. She figured a bit of cake and a set of clothes (which she'd probably never see again) would make up for letting Marisa stew for a bit. Then they could plot revenge against Patchouli.
As she pulled up the lid on this one there was a thump and a muffled "Mmky!" Alice's hands froze.
It couldn't be. Koakuma wouldn't have...
Alice carefully moved the box lid aside.
The little devil had.
Patchouli was lying at the bottom of this box, also wrapped in ribbons.
Koakuma had apparently decided that Patchouli's pale skin didn't match the red fabric as well so she'd made the 'skirt' and 'top' out of velvet with white fluff at the hem. Of course she 'fixed' the fact that this concealed more flash by using a segment that was too small for the top and using laces to tie it. In the front of course.
Once again Alice had to step back. Her face had to be beet red. It was a good thing Marisa was facing away from her. She did not need people to see that reaction!
Deep breaths. Deep breaths would keep her from focusing on Patchouli's generous cleavage or Marisa's pert... Ah! Deep breaths. Deep breaths.
After a few moments she managed to calm down enough to look back in the box. The other magician usually never showed embarrassment, but right now Patchouli actually looked somewhat flushed. Alice wondered if it was the outfit, or the humiliation of being stuffed in a box by her familiar.
She felt her blush returning a little as she realized a great way to test that theory. She almost discarded it, but then she remembered Patchouli owed her for the stunt with the last package.
Alice sent Shanghai down to hover over the laces holding Patchouli's top on. The purple haired woman looked straight at Alice in shock and blushed deeply, before starting as the doll suddenly moved past her and grabbed the note at the bottom of the box.
Alice ignored Patchouli's "Hmmmm" of annoyance and read the paper.
Miss Patchouli's a little too embarrassed to send this to you, so I thought I'd do it in her stead. I hope the colors match well, but if not I'm sure you've got something that will work.
I encourage you to take this gift to the bath. It should be lots of fun.
PS: Don't worry about showing up late to the party. I'll cover for you.
Alice looked up from the letter at Patchouli. "Well, it looks like I'll need to punish your familiar. After I get through embarrassing you of course. What were you thinking?"
Patchouli had the decency to turn away from Alice's questioning, though Alice had to admit her face was probably more amused then angry.
Again Alice called on her doll army. The little ones flew down, picked up Patchouli and placed her lightly in the seat opposite of Marisa. "There. Now Marisa can enjoy the view as much as you did when you boxed her up."
Both the magicians attempted to protest, but Patchouli's soft muttering sounded more like and excuse then utter mortification, while Marisa's seemed more incensed. That was good. She didn't want to accidentally take this too far. Okay, it had gone way past too far before she'd even gotten the packages, but she didn't want to overdo her revenge.
"Now you two sit there quietly and think about what you've done, while I finish opening up the last box," Alice said heading to the third one.
As she pulled off the lid of this box there was just the jingling of bells. Relieved that this time she wasn't greeted by someone trying to escape she opened the box.
And found Koakuma inside.
Whoever had wrapped the little devil had decided to skip the top and skirt in favor of more ribbons. They'd also added bells to the devil's wings, which jingled as she flapped them helplessly.
This time Alice just stared down into the box. She knew she shouldn't be surprised. After all it had already happened twice. But she was. She hadn't expected Remilia of all people to do something this... blatant. As she stared she wondered if it would be more creepy if Sakuya had helped her, or if the tiny vampire had done it herself.
Koakuma of course looked only mildly embarrassed at her predicament. In fact Alice was almost certain that most of the wing fluttering and eyelash batting were for Alice's entertainment.
After a few more seconds of staring Alice had her dolls sweep the devil up and dropped her into a seat at the table with the other two magicians. The little devil was unfazed by the glares Patchouli and Marisa gave her. She was probably appreciating the more appraising looks she was getting as well.
Alice turned away from that mess for now and grabbed the note that had been in Koakuma's box.
I overheard you asking about a research assistant, so I found you one. I hope she serves you well. I considered sending a few maid outfits with her, but I imagine you have better ones at your disposal, given your skill with a needle.
Have a Merry Christmas. And do make sure to boost your home wards, so we don't have a repeat of last incident.
"Repeat of Last incident? What's she talking about," Alice muttered.
She put the note down. Well now she had to figure out what to do with the three.
Patchouli and Koakuma still owed her for this stunt of course. And Marisa... well she was guilty of something. Probably several somethings.
And somewhere in the back of Alice's brain a small bit of her was admitting that she really enjoyed the current view of her table and it's occupants.
Well, she was a doll master. Perhaps she should have a tea party. She'd keep her promise to Marisa, and hand them some clothes after she was finished ribbing them about the matter.
With that thought she had Shanghai go pull over a pot of tea, as she sat down at the table.
"I'm so glad you could join me for this little tea party," she said as Shanghai poured a cup of tea for each 'guest.' "I also want to say I appreciate you choices in clothing. It's very... festive." Alice waved her hands and removed the gags from Patchouli and Marisa.
"Very funny Alice. I'd like a coat now." Marisa stated.
"Perhaps you could free our hands as well?" Patchouli asked.
"Mph hmm mm hgm hmmyg?" Koakuma mumbled through her bow.
"Oh no, I couldn't let all the work you did go to waste so quickly Patchouli," Alice said with an evil smile. "And Marisa, you remember that little event in our childhood right? It's my turn to return the favor there."
"You had your clothes on then," Marisa protested.
"You have clothes on," Alice replied. For certain definitions of clothing. "And Koakuma you get to keep the gag for a bit more because I just know you'll be making suggestions in poor taste."
"Because keeping us tied up in ribbons and lace is in good taste?" Patchouli asked.
"No..." Alice admitted, "But it was your idea first, and given the looks you're still giving each other everyone is enjoying it to some degree."
The bells on Koakuma's wings jingled again as she tried, and failed, to add what was likely a cheery, 'helpful' and totally inappropriate comment.
"Well if we are having a tea party we'll need our hands free," Marisa said.
"Oh no that won't be necessary," Alice said as a doll carefully sliced the cake and dolled out half the slices. "Say 'ah'"
"Wah!" Marisa's question was cut off by a doll carefully placing a bite of cake in her mouth. She got over her surprise fairly quickly however and ruefully accepted the cake.
"Now your turn, Patchouli," Alice said looking over at the other magician. Patchouli frowned for a few seconds before looking away and opening her mouth. "Ah."
"Very good. Now..." Alice turned to Koakuma, "I'm guess I'll have to remove that gag so you can eat, but do try to be good."
Koakuma's wings jingled in acknowledgment. But the first thing out of her mouth when the gag came off was "If you want, you can remove the rest of the rib~omph," Alice cut her off with a chunk of cake while taking a bite of her own slice. It was very good, a little heavy on the chocolate frosting, but the strawberries inside made up for that.
Patchouli just shook her head. Marisa on the other hand looked down and said, "Um, Alice... I'd like some tea, please."
Alice felt strangely warm again when she looked at Marisa acting so helpless. She quickly covered by sending one of her dolls to bring the teacup to Marisa's lips. Seeing Patchouli giving her a needy glace as well and sent another doll to give the other magician some tea.
And in the back of her head a tiny voice warned Alice that she was enjoying this juuuust a little too much. She'd probably better bring this to a close.
"So, what do you all think?" Alice asked sweetly.
"I think Koakuma's in for a lecture when we get back," Patchouli said.
"I think we should never speak of this in public," Marisa replied.
"I think you're overdressed, Alice," Koakuma said with a grin.
Patchouli turned slightly towards the puppeteer. "Indeed."
Marisa opened her mouth a couple of times then finally said, "Yeah. Overdressed."
Alice shivered as she found herself the focus of three pairs of appreciative eyes. Maybe she'd gone overboard. She could let them get the last word in. "Hm... So what would you suggest I change into?"
Patchouli looked down at the other gift box. "You should wear Meiling's gift."
Marisa coughed, "Um, you should wear the cat outfit."
Alice stared at Marisa. "How do you know that I own that?"
Koakuma smiled widely. "You should wear Sakuya's present."
The three magicians all turned to the devil. Then looked at the cake in the middle of the table. Then all eyes went to Alice.
The puppeteer sat there for a few moments then, very slowly, stood up and picked up the cake. Then she walked back to her room.
After a minute of shocked silence, the three women each felt a doll untie their hands and legs. Alice's voice came out from the bedroom, "I... think I need some help putting it on. If you three would be so kind..."
There was another moment of silence, then Koakuma jumped to her feet with the ringing of bells and fluttered to the door, quickly slipping inside.
Marisa and Patchouli looked at the door. Then at each other. Finally Marisa turned walked into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle, and took a swig off of it. Then she handed it to Patchouli. "Plausible deniability," she said.
Patchouli inspected the bottle. It seemed to be sherry.
She took a pull, coughed a little, then followed Marisa through the bedroom door.