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Ch. 6: The Secret
"Ah… My dear Shanghai, it's been really tiring today, hasn't it?" Alice Margatroid said as she proceeded up the garden path towards home, her little, long blonde haired doll floating next to her, sky blue glass eyes wide and attentive.
"I thought I was going to have another peaceful day today, but everything just went wrong at Kourin's, huh?" Alice sighed. Shanghai flew closer to Alice's face and patted her on the back of her head.
"Oh…! Ha ha… Thanks, Shanghai! " Alice smiled to her cutest little doll. "That reminds me…" Alice pulled on the hem of Shanghai's blue, white frilled dress and gave it a quick examination, "I've not yet finished your new outfit… Ah! That's right!" Alice grinned sheepishly, "I didn't tell you I was working on such a thing, did I?" Shanghai shook her head, her glass eyes holding anticipation and excitement at such a revelation.
"Ehehe… Oops! It was supposed to be a surprise! But I'll tell you more about it later ," Alice smiled, then turned her attention to the front door they had reached.
"But firstly… a nice, quiet cup of tea, shall we-" Alice stopped short.
In front of her on her couch were seated a hateful tengu, an annoying witch, a pyjama magician and a torn and tattered vampire.
"-Shall… we…? Shanghai…" Alice had to put up quite the effort to keep her breathing stable, "Would you kindly please go check if Hourai-chan is still sleeping? Fetch her if she is awake, please…"
Shanghai gave a start towards the sudden change in her master's mood and looked at her hesitantly.
Little Shanghai hesitated no more at her master's urging, curtseyed, and immediately flew off to fetch her more fearsome sister.
Alice stood completely still, her face composed, her lips a thin, emotionless line as she turned back to Kirisame Marisa, Shameimaru Aya, Patchouli Knowledge and ravaged Remilia Scarlet seated on the couch like it was any other afternoon.
"Ah… Hi, hi! Good afternoon, Alice-chan!" Aya greeted Alice for the group, her words stinging the ears of Alice as the four idiots before her continued to sit there as if they belonged there.
"… Sigh… Wh-Where do I begin?" Alice gave a smile of disbelief. "I… I… Remilia, that's one of the dresses I was working on, isn't it?" Alice pointed towards Remilia, decked out in rags that just barely managed to preserve her decency.
"Yes," Remilia answered calmly. "Thought I'd alter it a bit. I was going for a different sort of look. I'm feeling a bit more on the rebellious side today."
"… And… And Aya…" Alice turned to Aya.
"You were there when I was at Kourindou, taking peep shots at me, weren't you?"
"Well… To be fair, my original target was Rinnosuke," Aya gave a courteous smile, "You just happened to be in the frame all the time. Not your fault though."
"Sigh… And… And Patchouli…" Alice singled out Patchouli next.
"By the way… What's that behind you?"
"Behind me?" Patchouli turned around to see the hanging Sakuya, still impaled to the wall. "Why… It's a dog in its natural state, of course," she stated indifferently.
"O-Of course… silly me WHAT AM I DOING? !" Alice burst out all of a sudden. The four before her cringed and retreated into the couch. "What. The. HELL! ! ! What is this? ! A CIRCUS? !" Alice was fuming ahead at full steam.
"N-Now now, Alice… I think you ought to relax and listen to us firs-"
"No I will not relax, Aya!" Alice pointed a finger accusingly at the crow tengu. "And I've definitely heard more than I need!" Alice brought her hands to her head in hysteria, "Th-This whole thing is ridiculous! ! !" she then swiftly brought her arms back down and out again, gesturing to the four of them with widespread arms to demonstrate her incredulity.
"What are you so pissed about? Is this the way to speak to a noble lady such as myself-"
"Remilia, another word out of your mouth and I'll make sure to turn you into a Halloween decoration for next year!" Alice rounded on Remilia, who recoiled back, completely taken by surprise. W-Wow… Alice is mad.
"Alice… Look, we're sorry for intruding like this without warning, but-"
"No buts! I-Ahhh… Patchouli, I don't mean to be so mad but I just… I mean! Just look at your mistress!" Alice gestured to Remilia decked out in ribbons, "Look at what she's done to one of my finest dresses in the making! A-And then look behind you at the wall!" Alice was hyperventilating a little. "Look! Just look! Sakuya, hanging like some sort of barbaric trophy! Her blood staining my house!"
"S-Sorry… Alice-san," Sakuya weakly apologised from the wall.
"Yeah, you had better be sorry!" Alice huffed. "When you do extract yourself from there, make sure you clean up every drop of you blood! I don't want any stains!"
"Don't worry, Alice-san, I'll make sure my Sakuya does as you have request-"
"Shut up, Remilia!"
Remilia once again backed down humbly, which was something she had never done before, let alone several times in a row. Maybe it was the guilt she was literally wearing.
"And Marisa!" Alice directed her anger at the black-white witch who had yet to say a word. "Explain yourself! I know it was you that brought them here! I-" Alice was suddenly cut short when she noticed that Marisa was staring at her with nothing but curiosity, tinged with… nostalgia?
"Hey! Hey, Marisa! I'm talking to you!" Alice nosed up to Marisa, seated on the rightmost side of the couch. "Hey! Do you know how much trouble you are in-"
"Alice…" Marisa suddenly reached out and gently caressed Alice's face with the back of her hand.
"…! Hyah!" Alice instantly stepped back, surprised. "M-Marisa! What are you doing? !" she demanded, although her anger in her voice was gone, replaced by a sudden emergence of fear and wonder at Marisa's act.
"Hah… It really is you…!" Marisa grinned. "How could I not have noticed?" she stood up and hugged Alice.
"Ah- Huh? ! Wh-What are you…!" Alice froze in place and looked around panicky for an answer as Marisa maintained the embrace. "Wh-What's going on? ! H-Hey… Hey! Hey Marisa! What are you- S-Stop it already! The others are here-"
"Hee… I totally couldn't recognize you!" Marisa held Alice at arm's length to take a good look at the furiously blushing puppeteer, her demeanour now tame and shy before the grinning witch. "Look! You're even taller than me now, no fair!" Marisa pulled herself in and up on her toes to match Alice's height, her bright face merely millimetres from Alice's tomato red one.
"Hah…! M-Marisa…!" Alice sounded like a little girl. "P-Patchouli… Wh-What's going on? !" she begged Patchouli for an answer.
"Hmmm? Well… I guess this should explain it, right?" Patchouli held out a photo frame featuring a much younger and rather different version of Alice in it. "We found this," she said simply.
"…! Th-Then…!" Alice turned back to the beaming Marisa.
"Heehee!" Marisa giggled, "I really can't believe it's you!" she hugged the crimson and paralyzed puppeteer once more.
"But wow! This really brings back memories, huh!" Marisa smiled at the still blushing Alice.
The five of them, Alice, Marisa, Patchouli, Remilia and Aya were seated around the dining table, tea and snacks served before them. Behind Alice floated the now awake Hourai, attentive and ready to serve the guests, while little Shanghai stared at her master with wonder as she was being clutched by tightly to the loudly beating heart of her maiden mistress.
Hourai had inconspicuously hidden her blade within her dress; there was no need for it now. Sakuya was busy cleaning the wall of blood.
"Y-Yeah… It does…" Alice looked away shyly, piquing the interest of the others with her odd behaviour.
"That was back then in Makai, wasn't it?" Marisa continued cheerfully.
"Y-Yeah…" Alice was pulling down on the hem of her blue skirt, stretching the material above her knees.
"But wow…" Aya took the photo as it was passed around to her and squinted at it. "Well… there are some common features, like the blonde hair and some parts of the face, but you wouldn't really be able to tell this kiddo is actually you," she remarked.
"I guess it's only natural, given the child in the photo is, well, a child, and the Alice before us is an adult," Remilia observed, her outfit now her usual frilly pink dress… "But Alice-chan," Remilia directed at Alice in a sweet manner, "Your face is all red, sweety," Remilia sneered a gentle smile.
"Mmm hmmm! Mmm hmmm!" Aya leaned forward to study Alice's face, and Alice leaned back, averting eye contact. "Why so shy, Alice?" Aya grinned. "Come on! Tell us! " Aya's eyes turned to Marisa. "There's obviously been some untold history behind you and Marisa! " But Alice just looked down and shook her head.
"Ah… You're no fun…" Aya crossed her arms and huffed. "Ah! But Marisa can tell us something, right? What was she like back then? What was she like?"
"…! Eh? ! M-Me? !" Marisa pointed at herself. It was now her turn to blush. "Eh heh… Erm…" Marisa scratched her head sheepishly.
"Well… she was very cute…" Alice's face turned redder as Aya and Remilia crooned.
"And she tried so hard to impress me with that grimoire back then…" Alice sunk lower into her seat as the bat and crow snickered.
"Sounds like someone had a crush, eh Patchouli?" Remilia nudged an unamused Patchouli.
"Oh! And she used to call me, but ahhh…! " Marisa put up both hands to her crimson cheeks and shook her head. "I'm not so sure if I should tell you this…" she began, "But she used to call me-"
Immediately, Alice perked up, her eyes wide with terror while Aya and Remilia leaned in, impatient for more.
"No… No Marisa!" was all Alice could manage.
"What! What is it Marisa? ! Hurry up and tell us!" demanded the bat and crow.
"Onee-chan- Hyaaah ! " Marisa was hugging her body and rocking it from side to side in a most girly fashion.
"Hyaaah! " Aya and Remilia imitated Marisa.
"Hyaaah!" Alice went too, but for completely different reasons and in a completely different tone.
"Humph…" went Patchouli.
"Aliiice…? " Aya and Remilia nosed up to a now cringing Alice.
"O-Okay… Okay FINE!" the cornered Alice finally found the courage to stand up and slammed her hands on the table. "Fine! So I had a stupid childhood crush on Marisa! So what? !" Alice huffed, her face a mess of embarrassment and shyness.
"Awww…" Aya and Remilia were purposely fangirl-ing to flame the heat.
"And just so you know!" Alice jabbed a finger in Marisa's direction with enough force to break the air, "It was a childhood crush!" she looked at Marisa fiercely.
"O-Okay, okay ze…" Marisa sweat dropped and put her hands up in front of her in surrender.
"And I mean strictly a childhood crush!" Alice's emphasized.
Marisa chuckled. "I get it! I get it!" she tried to appease the cutely hostile Alice.
"I have absolutely no such feelings for you anymore, do you understand? !" Alice made the mistake of trying to intimidate Marisa by locking eyes with her.
Marisa had her face propped up on one arm, grinning in an amused manner at Alice.
"Do you… under…stand…?" Alice found herself looking away hurriedly.
Marisa smiled. "I understand," she replied simply.
Alice sat back down immediately without a word, her head bowed and her eyes thankfully (for Alice) hidden behind her fringe.
Aya and Remilia looked from Alice to Marisa and back again. "Ah well," Remilia had a most smug look on her face, "I do occasionally enjoy the commoner's drama, don't you agree, Aya-san?" she turned to her buddy for the moment.
"Enjoy? Remilia-san, I live it for it!" Aya was grinning widely. "How about you, Patchouli-san?"
"… Is this the reason for the lack of mirrors?" Patchouli started on a different note curtly, her facial expression blank indifference to what had just transpired save for a slight displeased pursing of her lips.
"…E-Eh?" Alice suddenly forgot about all the awkwardness behind her. "M-Mirrors…?"
"Didn't anyone tell you?" Patchouli continued, "This whole escapade is about you not having mirrors in your house."
"I think…" Patchouli pointed to the photo of the younger Alice sitting in its frame, "That you have no mirrors because it discloses the enchantment you have cast on yourself to make yourself look older," she explained.
"Mirrors?" Suddenly, a silly conversation from a few days ago came back to Alice. "Marisa…" she turned coldly to the black-white. "So… So it is your fault after all!" she walked up suddenly to Marisa's side irritably.
"Aiieee!" Marisa backed into her seat, "C-Calm down Alice!" she laughed.
"And why should I? !" Alice bent down and jabbed a finger at Marisa's nose.
"We just wanted to know why you don't have any mirrors, that's all," Marisa shrugged. "I mean… if hiding your appearance is that important to you…"
"My… My appearance? Wh-Why would I want to hide my appearance?" Alice asked, confused.
"Indeed. Why should she?" Remilia looked over to Aya, a smirk on her face.
"I don't know…?" Aya, who was on the same page as Remilia, pretended to give the matter some thought, "Maybe… It would disallow perhaps some individual from recognizing her?" she suggested suggestively.
"…!" Alice's face lit up scarlet again, and one could literally see the steam building up in her head. "I… I told you!" Alice pouted furiously, "I told you people it has nothing to do with Marisa!"
"We didn't mention Marisa! " Aya and Remilia immediately pounced on the opportunity to torment Alice with glee.
Alice's eyes popped and involuntarily found herself to turning to Marisa. Marisa startled a little at being turned to, and tried to give support by shrugging and giving a friendly smile, which had the effect of making Alice clutch her arms and look away meekly.
"Well," Patchouli steadily steered the conversation back on track, eager to get it off the current one, "If Marisa's not the reason, then what is?"
"O-Oh? But I didn't use an enchantment to change my looks," Alice was glad at the change in topic to a more… normal conversation. "I mean," she gazed around the table, "I literally aged myself with magic," she explained. "This is no illusion. The girl you see before you is really older, well at least physically."
"Hmmm? Why did you do that?" Marisa asked.
"Well… You are a magician, aren't you?" Patchouli brought up rhetorically, to which Alice nodded her head.
"Right," Alice said, "Since I'm long lived and I age really slowly like Patchouli, I had to do something about it or I'll remain a loli like Remilia," she gestured to the loli matter-of-factly.
"H-Hey!" Remilia said in protest while Aya sniggered. "Hey!" Remilia turned to Aya, "What are you laughing at? !"
"Hehe… She is right, you know?" Aya referenced Alice. "Loli… hehe…"
"Grrr… And I thought we were hitting off so well too. Guess you're nothing but a useless crow after all..."
"Awww… The loli's mad! "
"Sh-Shut it, Aya!"
"Here, here, don't be mad! Come here into my arms and into my adult bosom! " Aya trolled.
Remilia crossed her arms and stared at Aya really angrily, in a cute manner only a loli could, but otherwise did nothing to her buddy of the last fifteen minutes. Maybe she really has warmed up to her…
"W-Well…" Alice sweat-dropped at the interaction between Aya and Remilia. "Aside from that," she continued, "I was experimenting with a different sort of magic at the time. One that needed greater control over a wider range of ever finer movements."
"You mean… your legion of dolls magic!" Marisa caught on quickly.
"Exactly," Alice nodded. "And the solution was simple…"
"You needed an adult's body," Patchouli explained on Alice's behalf.
"That's right," Alice pulled out a compact from her pocket and flipped it open to reveal its mirror. "Here. You can see my reflection is perfectly normal. "
The group leaned in for a closer look. It was true. Alice's fine, youthful face, soft eye lashes and slender jaw were faithfully reflected by the mirror. There were no discrepancies between Alice's features in reality and in the mirror.
"But… But then why the lack of mirrors, Alice?" Marisa asked, still not having an answer.
"Wh-Why are you still asking up till now?" Alice said a little irritably at Marisa. "Don't you remember? That purple toxic stain on your apron? How you got it?"
"Er… Not really-"
"You nearly broke everything in my house after that failed experiment, thanks to the contamination of our potion by your mushrooms!" Alice crossed her arms angrily. "I can't believe you still won't take responsibility for that! Did that explosion really mess with your memory?"
"W-Wait…" A guilty memory was beginning to come back to Marisa. "Was it the day that I… broke every single glassware you had?"
"Yes!" Alice exclaimed crossly, "Yes, it was!"
"I-Including the mirrors?"
"Including the mirrors!"
"S-So it was… my fault all along?"
"Yes, it is your fault all along!"
At this point, Alice was standing over a Marisa who had slumped back down into her seat, Alice's nose pressed straight up against Marisa's with an annoyed glare. Marisa sheepishly scratched the back of her head as she meekly declared, "W-Well… I guess that's mystery solved?" she cautiously informed the group.
"… Marisa …!" The whole group resignedly cried out.
"Eh hehe… Eh hehe… S-Sorry…"
But wait… If Alice's purpose was not to hide herself from Marisa, then how come Marisa's always been kept in the dark, hmmm?
Hehe… Anyways, another fruitful day (or two) has been concluded in Gensokyo. Thanks for reading!