"Are you certain?"
"Yeah. You shouldn't be surprised. It was an untested spell after all."
"That's pretty cold there lady."
"It's all my fault. I should have-"
Shanghai's eye's fluttered open. What had happened? They'd just won and...
Hourai appeared floating over her with concern in her eyes. "Are you awake?"
"Kinda..." Shanghai slowly pulled herself up to a sitting position. She was lying on the living room couch at Alice's house. Patchouli and Medicine were standing around the table with Yumemi, Marisa and Chiyuri and next to them was... "Mother!"
Shanghai hopped to her feet and jumped towards Alice. Her vision blurred as she threw her arms around the woman who had created her. "You're awake, mother!"
Alice's arms slowly wrapped around her. "Shanghai..." The doll maker swayed, then dropped to her knees. Shanghai froze as Alice's sobs echoed through the room. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry..."
Shanghai shuddered as ice seemed to run through her veins. "Why? What's wrong?" She looked around the room trying to figure out what had happened. Everyone else looked away, shuffling their feet when Shanghai's gaze fell upon them.
Finally Hourai broke the silence. "Mother's spell was... incomplete. You're losing your magical power."
Shanghai froze. She knew what that meant. "How... how much longer?"
Alice froced down her dears and took a ragged breath. "Six months."
Patchouli opened up a book to hide her face. "Ms Okazaki helped me install a magical buffer to help keep you animated, so you have four months before you start having serious side effects. So long as you don't strain yourself or leave the house that is."
"I see." Shanghai sighed. "Then everything is fine! Mother will be able to fix it. I'm sure of it." She smiled up at Alice. "Right?"
Shanghai's smile slowly faded away as Alice's head fell. "I can't. The reagents for the spell took years to gather and prepare. It's... it's just not possible."
Medicine stood up. "Maybe I could help! Su-san's poison made all the other dolls keep working so maybe I can help you keep working too?"
Shanghai and Hourai shook their heads at the same time. "That won't work," Alice said. "Your poison would drive out Shanghai's spirit to create a new doll youkai."
"Oh." Medicine slumped back into her chair. The doll youkai rubbed her hands together as she averted her eyes.
"Damn it! This sucks!" Shanghai started as Marisa kicked the table. "There's gotta be a way around this!"
Alice gritted her teeth. Shanghai saw her mother's muscles twitch. "I... know someone who can help. If that fails I can go to Eirin. That would work as-"
Shanghai's heart was racing but she forced a smile as she put her finger to Alice's lips. "No mother. I don't want you doing that. I'm your doll, no matter how long that lasts."
"Shanghai." Alice's arms squeezed tighter. "My Shanghai..."
Shanghai heard shuffling behind her. She reached out and caught the hem of a dress.
"There's a place for you too, Hourai."
Alice smiled weakly as she looked up and opened her arms. "That's right Hourai. I would never abandon one of my children, even if she was adopted. How could I look my mother in the face if I did that?"
Hourai hesitated for a brief moment. Then threw herself into the group embrace.
"That's right. You can always call me mother little Hourai." Alice patted Shanghai's head. "And you're a good sister Shanghai, for being able to think about others even now."
There was a cough from behind them. "Uh, hate to break up the family gathering, but maybe it's possible to use suspended animation or something?" Chiyuri asked.
"Ah!" Patchouli looked up. "Indeed. Setting the spell into a fixed matrix would give us plenty of time to alter it at leisure without damaging the power flow. I'd need some more materials though."
Yumemi smiled. "That'll cost you another grimoire."
"Done," Alice snapped. She looked down at Shanghai. "I'll start researching the spell to fix you immediately.
"Actually, mother, isn't there another important thing you have to do?"
Despite what Patchouli said Shanghai was already starting to feel the strain on her magic four days later. It wasn't crippling, but she found it easier to walk then fly. Fortunately walking around the house was considered polite. Hourai had been tailing her every move, and Alice had been outright hovering, but she was pretty sure the two still hadn't seen through her ruse.
Which was good because she didn't want to look so weak at her sister's reunion.
She wished she could be in the workshop itself, but the whole room was covered in runes. Even Medicine wasn't allowed in, though it was mostly her power that would revive Shanghai's sisters. The doll youkai stood at the edge of the room, ready to unleash her poison onto the magical circles.
Inside floated the eight souls that had been released as each had been slain. Orin had been good to her word. None of the spirits had even a nibble. Each once bobbed over their new body. On opposite sides of the eight were Shanghai's gun and Hourai's saber, each ready to give up the powers held within.
Above them all Alice hovered, Grimoire floating before her for extra power. Her hands were occupied with her strings. The magical bonds of affection between her and her dolls. Her children.
Alice spoke a single word and there was a brilliant flash. Shanghai shielded her eyes as white light poured out of the runes within the room.
Then the light started to dim as Medicines purple mist flowed out onto the floor. It roiled along the ground, slowly dying the runes violet and swirling around the dolls like miniature waterspouts. Shanghai felt Hourai fidgeting next to her as the poison level rose to Alice's feet, so she reached out and gave her sister a squeeze on the shoulder. Medicine wouldn't hurt Alice. At least not now.
Suddenly the spell broke. As the runes cracked and shattered the poison was sucked into the dolls. Each purple whirlwind pulling down a different soul with it. And then it was silent. The light and the poison were all gone.
All of the watchers started when the little doll bodies on the floor began to groan and stir. Tombstone was the first to pull herself into the air. "Well. It seems we got real lucky. Everyone's back from boot hill okay?"
Shambala forced herself upright next with a whine. "We're small again!"
Alice finally snapped out of her shock to land and smile at the girls. "We couldn't make you big dolls quickly. And, well, you little girls were very naughty the last time you were out and about."
The eight doll youkai showed varying amounts of remorse at that, though even Shambala had the grace to be embarrassed. "We're very sorry, mother." Paititi said quietly.
"You're all back!"
Medicine barreled into the room and swept all of the small girls into her arms. "I'm so sorry! I told you to do bad things and I didn't even stay around to help you. I was a bad doll. Can you forgive me?"
"That's not true ma'am," Pompei said returning the hug. "We should apologize for not being able to complete our duties and help you."
"And for being useless," Atlantis muttered.
Medicine freed one hand to rub the mermaid dolls head. "You weren't useless, Atlantis. Your power was the one that helped me escape the bad guy's control."
Atlantis blinked in surprise. "Really?"
"Really," Shanghai said, stepping forward. She froze as the eyes of the girls she'd defeated turned to her. "Um... I'm not sure how to put this but..."
Hourai stepped forward. "You all helped us out, in the end. Next time I hope you can use your powers for good on your own."
"Yeah! Next time let's play all together!" Germelschausen laughed and dashed over to latch on to Hourai's arm. Shanghai couldn't help but giggle at Hourai's sudden sputtering blush.
All the revived dolls broke off into groups. Some clinging to Medicine, others heading to Alice. Germel sticking to Hourai like Shanghai used to stick to Alice... and Dis and Damascus floated to her.
Shanghai forced herself to stand tall as Dis' eyes fell upon her. The fire doll still seemed to smolder inside. Even Damascus seemed to be giving the Dis some distance. But Shanghai wasn't going to back down. Even when Dis pierced her with her fiery gaze.
They gazed at each other for some time. Then Dis nodded her head. "You're a worthy sister. I'm glad you gained my power, if only for a little while. I hoped it served you well."
Shanghai smiled brightly at her sister's acknowledgement. "Thank you Dis. And it did. Yours too Damascus."
"But of course," the combat doll. "Anyways, I want a rematch! Er when Alice teaches me how to shoot non lethal danmaku that is."
Shanghai nodded, but she couldn't keep her smile from melting a bit. "I'll be glad to do that. But it might have to wait a while."
Damascus blinked. "Eh? Why?"
Shanghai sighed. This was going to be hard to explain.
The explanation of her condition muted the joy of her sister's revivals. Shanghai wished she could make everyone realize how it wasn't a big deal, but, she was apparently bad at lying. She'd done her best to keep the pretense up though. She might not actually be the eldest sister, but she was going to act the part!
Still she was a little nervous about the whole thing. She trusted mother but... it was weird to know she'd be put to sleep like a princess in a storybook.
After two days of worry she resolved to face her fears by going down into the basement where her support system was being built. She snuck down after dark, when she knew Chiyuri and Yumemi would be asleep.
When she reached the basement she breathed a sigh of relief. The pod seemed, well, normal for lack of a better term. Maybe even properly futuristic. It seemed like a deep sleep pod should. As a doll she liked things that looked like they were supposed to look.
Then she noticed the identical pod beside it.
She rushed up to inspect them closer. They were still in disarray, but there were two name tags already installed. They read, "Shanghai X" and "Hourai 0."
"So you found out early."
Shanghai spun around to face her sister. "What is this? You're fine right? Why are you abandoning mother like this!"
"I'm not abandoning her!" Hourai shouted back. The other doll took a deep breath. "I'm not like our other sisters. I'm not going to hang around in the poison fields with Medicine most of the time. I want to be here with Alice."
"But how can I do that if every day I'm reminding her that she couldn't make you correct the first time!" Hourai's fists clenched. "Better if we both fade away. Become a goal for her to reach instead of a splinter in her heart reminding her of past mistakes."
"That's-!" Shanghai's protest faded. She knew Alice was obsessive about her responsibilities occasionally. And Alice really hated losing, even to herself. Hourai might be right. And Alice was barely twenty two. Not the best age for full time custody of kids. Even magical doll ones.
Shanghai sighed. "It's your choice sister."
"And I've already made it." Hourai sighed. "Though explaining it to Germel's going to be hard."
"Consider it penance for doubting mother."
Shanghai gave mother her best smile as the lid of the chamber came down. "Good night, mother" she said. Alice gave a weak smile and nod. Shanghai turned to Hourai. "Good night, Hourai."
"Night sisters. Night mother." Hourai replied.
Then the door closed.
Shanghai sighed, trying to force the butterflies in her stomach down. She heard the process would be quick but-
Her vision seemed to fade suddenly. The colors of the world slowly started streaming towards a white dot in the center of her vision. Her body felt heavy, but Shanghai strangely didn't feel worried. It was like the fading light was everything gently turning off...
Alice turned away as the magic seal enacted. Her other children were with Medicine. The older doll youkai could console them for now. She started walking. Up the stairs then towards her laboratory.
She stiffened as a hand lightly caught her arm. "Alice. Do you want to talk about it."
She bit back her first response, forcing politeness. "No, Marisa."
"Let her go." A voice said softly. "She's moving with purpose. Wait for her to finish."
"But Patchouli..." Marisa's grip faltered, then the other magician let go. "Sorry Alice. I'll be in the living room."
"As will I."
"Thank you," Alice said before walking away.
When she entered her room she threw open her Grimoire. She knew the page she was searching for well, despite almost never casting the spell. It was a simple trick. A small portal that replaced her vanity mirror. Sound and light only.
As she finished the spell a surprised face appeared. "A mortal calling upon me? Wait. Alice, dear? Whatever is wrong?"
The dam broke. Tears dimmed her vision and she collapsed against the vanity table "Oh mother... I... I... failed my children."
Shinki's eyes misted over as well as she sighed. "Oh my poor Alice. Let me come over there, and we'll talk."
Several years/moments later
The light was beautiful.
It didn't just shine down on her, it suffused her, filling her with warmth and power. She began to feel other things, happiness, curiosity, and a strange sense of purpose. All these things rose within her, buoyed by the light. A light that felt so familiar. She tried to think of where she knew this light from. Who was the source of this power?
Shanghai opened her eyes. "Good morning, mother," she said as she looked up into her creator's shining blue eyes.
Consciousness returned to it.
The cursed being had woken again. The stage was set for their play once more.
This time he had to win! This time luck wouldn't betray him!
Yukari paused in her wanderings when she felt a familiar fluctuation in her border. Deeming it more important then the bit of spying she was planning on doing, she opened a gap and headed to the source. After all, this particular disturbance was of certain status within the youkai community "Yuuka. You've awakened early."
The sunflower youkai looked up at Yukari with surprise. "You... Ah yes, the person behind the strings. Are you still acting openly these days? I thought you'd be trying to get people to forget you."
"They have forgotten me mostly. But I had a feeling I should see to this personally. Just a whim." The youkai of boundaries looked at the portal to dreaming. "So what roused you this time?"
"That stupid skull palace appeared again. This time it didn't take over my mansion, but it vexes me nonetheless." Yuuka idly tapped her parasol on her shoulder. "It reminds me of something that you said a while ago. Something to do with that Alice girl."
Yukari frowned as she thought back on the incident. It was hard for youkai to remember certain things past 60 years. Events that didn't have a strong connection to others faded away so quickly. But after a bit of thinking she smiled. "Ah. The rules of Gensoukyo."
"Yes. That was it." Yuuka nodded. "What was that other rule?"
"Gensoukyo accepts everything," Yukari said. "But to accept Gensoukyo is to change."
Yukari smiled at the vision of the skull castle. "I wonder what that good doctor will do when his plan goes off script. Because I'm certain Medicine and those other little dolls will join the 'heroes' in opposing him."
Yuuka thought for a moment, then smiled. "That does sound like a pleasant sight. I always thought that girl would go far. Let's see how much they've all improved."
The two ancient youkai unfolded their parasols and waited to see a new story unfold. A story that, while perhaps familiar, had never been told before.
And thus ends this little side adventure. I hope it served both franchises well, despite my rather rushed writing of it. Thank you for reading and for your thoughts, now and in the future.
And for those wondering whether the apparition was Wiley or Weil, the answer is "Yes."