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40437
The Forest of Magic was full of trees, standing around in suspense. With no way to tell what they might do next, it was easy to go halves on the sentiment. And where people were in suspense, monsters, so to say, were prone to leap out of the tiniest shadows.

If Gensokyo was an illusively beautiful woman, then the Forest of Magic, with its many shaded crevices, was the soft, welcoming, slightly moist part of her you saw before you were swallowed whole. Say, her smile.

Gin plugged away at the trail, dogged to disregard how the shady, wooded path was quieter even than the open fields, despite no trees being in the process of falling down with somebody to hear them. Lady Akyuu might have heartened him with claims of youkai wintering, and the yardman might have corroborated these claims; there was, nevertheless, no suspending the pure, evolutionary dread of a sunless forest. Where every crunch of dirt beneath your strides may mask a toothy smile rocketing at you out of the nearest bush, words were yet another recreant noise.

And then, lest it escaped, was the stark fact that some youkai demonstrably were out hunting… even if their marks had been on man’s distinct components rather than bulk.

That fact had caused barely a ripple on Gin’s sheen of cold sweat; it more or less trickled away together with once the mist and the trees ceded way to the recipient’s withdrawn home.

Or, as it was now proving, a homestead. Inside the glade, monopolising the natural clearing, was a picturesque cottage, attended to by a modest vegetable garden, a stack of firewood and an open-air shed, harbouring a canvas-wrapped suggestion of an outdoor workshop. On the thatched roof, a definite if copper weathercock peeked about for patina seeds to gobble up. As Gin guardedly approached, there was a shimmer behind one of the milk-glass windows; and he’d not come within grabbing distance of the cottage’s iron-braced door when the knob was turned from within.

And then, an antedooruvian custom of things made of wood, it was swept aside to release a waiting youkai.

“A delivery, yes?” was its wholesome greeting.

What wasn’t wholesome was the youkai itself: a blond woman of average height, a clockmaker’s glasses on her nose, a plain headband keeping the shoulder-length hair out of the way and a blue craftsman’s apron with nothing underneath except a white, button-up shirt. A pair of long, graceful legs stuck out below, packaged in black knee-socks and culminating in a pair of somewhat graceless, leather clogs. She pushed the lensy aperture up to her forehead, revealing a distracted, if polite, and intensely blue-eyed stare. She was odd, but not unattractive – if, anyway, you were into clogs and woodchip play.

Also, she had a blooming sharp carving knife in hand. That could be bonus points in some quarters.

It wasn’t in Gin’s, who resorted to the patterned, “Gin Akamatsu. With the Hieda,” to cover up his nervousness. “You, er, are miss Alice—”

“Margatroid,” the youkai craftswoman chimed in. “Yes, yes, I am that. Sorry, I am up to my follicles in… well, no, you could never understand. May I have the bill?”

Snubbed, but not stubbed out, Gin marched up to the roofed doorstep and fished the slip out of his hanten’s hidey-cache. He elected not to note the name on it said “Moorgateroyd.”

Miss Alice thumbed down the contents, the occasional tremble of a lip intimating she had something of a difficulty with the yardman’s shorthand. “… Oh,” she said at the bottom. “There was a change in the rates after all. Phooey. Hover around a moment; I’ll go get my purse.”

So having adjured, the youkai woman swivelled on a clogged heel to return indoors, the present instance of which was shut in Gin’s face. Although, it begged a mention, not ahead an incidental eyeful of miss Alice’s comely backside. The craftswoman hadn’t a skirt to flip, even if her shirt had been long enough to pull double duty; it’d still failed to draw a veil over all of her butt or the navy-blue underwear riding up its middle. How she’d blithely ignored the cold despite the dishabille was a question that’d taken on a recursive quality. It, in fact, more or less sidled back – like a courier who’d in the previous hour witnessed a half-nude youkai having sex outdoors without freezing her nipples off.

Gin hefted miss Alice’s bundled parcel and balanced it conscientiously on his head. Good job she’d had any undies on at all. That track record had seen better runs.

Soon returned from the inlets of her cottage, miss Alice spared her purchases’ new perch one sardonic glance, then stirred her fingers about her purse for the dues owed and the owes dued. She poured the coins onto Gin’s offered hand, who then counted them out, judged their worth fair, condemned them to the abyss of his pockets (and interesting company), lastly to go to a knee and ease the youkai woman’s retrieval of her ordered items from the top of his head. There was an overall long-suffering slant to her bespectacled brow, but none which would’ve foretold long suffering in Gin’s imminent future. A spot of pain, maybe, should he not straighten up his game.

“Say, comedian,” said miss Alice, unfortunately, and against consistency, not placing the package on her head. “Care for a spot of tea? There are biscuits, if you would opt.”

For a clink of the hypothetical teacup, Gin stared down the aproned and previously terribly abstracted craftswoman. “… With you-kai?” he supposed.

Miss Alice’s expression changed by not one tiny tremor of muscle. “Amusing. With me-kai, yes, and I shall facilitate further inference by adding: because I sense another you-kai in the vicinity. Somewhere—” she threw her blue-eyed gaze over Gin’s shoulder, “—over yonder? It is faint, but I am seldom mistaken about these things. A magician must not make light of their surveillance. Ambushes are bad for our constitutions. It would be wise, sir courier, to wait it out… is what I insinuate. I can have a kettle on right now,” she assured.

Gin coughed, altogether not because of the cold. “I, er… may have bumped into her already. Well, not literally, but…”

The youkai dollmaker (she was that, had to be if Gin hadn’t mistaken his reading) lifted a brow. Somehow, it didn’t knock her massive spectacles off. “… Is that sooo?” she drawled. “Well, it isn’t one I would have recognised, and I recognise most of the natives on the daily – but all right. You do you, sir courier. Should you heed a word of advice, however, then do take this path, instead.” A slim arm in a grimy, white sleeve pointed to another footpath digressing from the glade. “It’ll circuit you by a place with a jizou you may pray to for safe travels. Have you anything to give in offering? If not… well,” miss Alice shrugged, “I do have the biscuits.”

She left the offer, together with the door, open wide.

Gin checked his nerves. When men were anxious, and the inside of his trousers was already, as it were, lined with anxiety, they were prone to slap the hand that petted them. Or, for Gin’s particular brand of anxiety, cause it to slap them with ungracious words. He’d be hardly the first man to get slapped by Alice Margatroid, too, who – yes, he recalled now – was said to have started fights for wishing her a “good morning” after 9 o’clock. It was also rumoured she harboured men stranded in the Forest at her home with no reimburse and a smile on her face.

The two, it had to be speculated, relating someway to the slapping.


( ) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?
( ) A jizou’s blessing wouldn’t be near as distressing.
(X) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?

Alice time~
(x) A jizou’s blessing wouldn’t be near as distressing.

Narumi time~
Ah, fuck, you had to make me make this choice.

[x] A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?
Even if she does leak poop, I can't say no to Alice.

And even if the booty jizou is extremely tempting.

But Narumi is for butt love, and I know you're a prude who's never going to go for that, so phooey.
(X) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?
(x) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?
Who in the heck is that QT in the OP? Fuckin censors man.

[X] A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?

Did you really have to go with "fancy a spot of tea?". Now the Alice voice in my head is gunna have a British accent.
(X) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?

Yes, yes, yes! Everything's gone perfectly! We've managed to avoid a sparrow's temptation, saving up all this cream for Alice's tea, and now nothing can stand in our way!
(x) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?
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40507
(X) A tea at midday… kept the youkai at bay?

Gin rescanned the dollmaker’s placid face and tuned his brainwaves into Channel Charity. Iffy though he found the institution, at least a hint was included in its name. It told you to be chary.

Switching foot to foot (for clearer signal), the courier thus ventured, “A spot of tea would be indelible, come to reckon it.”

Miss Alice’s expression wouldn’t have looked out of place on a kokeshi doll. It was wooden. “… Meaning?”

It was, miss Alice, what we comedians call a pun, or a play on words, wherein employed is the twofold meaning of “indelible” as referring both to stains and the unforgettableness of an event, Gin pouted inside. Outward, he swiped the crank call away. “Meanin’ I’ll bite,” he deciphered. “Or, well, drink. Hopefully. I made tea once, and you could drat well bite it.”

The dollmaker stared on. “You will bite…?”

“… Please,” Gin complied with a bow.

A much welcome and welcoming smile was perking up the edges of miss Alice’s lips once the courier’d had himself unrolled. “Should have ‘drat’ said so from the beginning,” she advised, quote marks nattily tweezing the perceived expletive. Then, she shrugged her aproned shoulders. “Come right in, in that case, sir courier – and do not overmuch mind the mess. In addition, this here is a western house. No need to take off your shoes. Wipe them on the mat, thank you.”

A wipe, a shake and a jiff subsequently, Gin found his comedian’s rear seated at a bleached, oakwood coffee table in miss Alice’s hearth room, rubbernecking. In the muted daylight, with buffed, unpainted furniture, dusty parquetry and one-and-a-half hand-knitted coverlet per square foot, the cottage seemed borrowed straight from that awkward moment in history just before ubiquitous needlework tried to smother its devotees and finally got the works. It abounded in embroidery. A doublet of doors barred off the backend of the youkai dollmaker’s retreat: one, it had to be guessed, leading into her bedroom, and the other – which, on account of the trail of sawdust, hadn’t – a place where the nitty-gritty of her craft was carried out. A wizened swad of aloe vera sat in a planter on the windowsill, defying anyone bold enough to touch its spines.

Miss Alice, aided by a pair of tongs, unhooked the kettle from the hearth to fill the teapot stationed on the table. She’d peeled the apron down, repurposing it as a makeshift skirt, and rolled up the grubby sleeves of, what at Gin’s temperature-related musings she’d confessed to be, her sleeping shirt. The Winter and its fleeting days, miss Alice had divulged, had made her callous about arranging to dress every morning, and the house was anyway plenty warm if the fire had been left on overnight. Nor was that callousness to be pared by the appearance of a guest. Miss Alice simply hadn’t a care to pare with.

Gin did. And then he grew an even bigger one when the dollmaker leaned across the table to pour his tea. The thin, button-up shirt strained precariously under her decently heavy and ostensibly unrestrained bust. Wrung out by the hearth’s heat, a sheet of sweat had glued the white fabric to her skin, bestowing on the chary courier more than just an outline of her bosom. Miss Alice finished brimming his cup, heedless that somebody close was now poised to win every prospective bet on the colour of her nipples.

Gin mumbled a thanks to his hostess, who drew back into her chair with a carefree bounce, which went to show what you were capable of ignoring if you tried, or at least if you didn’t. She plucked the spectacles from her forehead, set them down on the table, slid the band out of her hair, shook the wavy locks straight, then replaced the band – all in one quaint series of gestures that further confronted and befogged what she was in Gin’s mind. The picture of miss Cook’s pendulous titties still sizzling on his retinae was one thing; this procession of youkai merrily mimicking humanity was another and doing his already un-Gensokyan outlook on the world not the tiniest favour. Or righteously a dis-favour, if you chopped it that way.

Unhappily for lady Akyuu, and against convention, miss Alice inconsiderately hadn’t thrown the courier down a basement bereft of windows, full of blood, rats and the hollowed-out bones of those who’d dared deliver her mail before. Instead, the blond dollmaker sat there, quietly content with the break to her routine, blue-eyed as a mermaid and dressed to kill, if what you aimed to kill was a man’s marriage. Gin swooped in to rescue his (future one) like an avenging angel.

“… So,” he opened up. “Wherever have the dolls gone? I’ve been told in no fancy terms Alice Margatroid would quicker go on a starvation diet than prepare her meals bare-handed.”

He at once wanted to murder himself for that one, but miss Alice wasn’t to bristle at so weak a prod. “Is that so?” she returned, eyeing him above her upraised cup. “Me, I have been told mongering rumours was the job of children and fishermen’s wives. Imagine that.”

“Imagining, ma’am,” assured Gin. “Is it true, though?”

That earned him a condoling smile. “It is true, though,” admitted miss Alice, following a steaming sip. “I would sooner not do housework with my hands if I mustn’t, and I have been on a starvation diet since… hmm, since I last forgot about it. Make no error, however, sir courier—”

“Gin is fine,” offered sir courier.

Miss Alice gave him a sardonic look. “… Make no error, however, Gin-is-fine – I am not without my dolls. Look above you.”

The newly renamed Gin did. Up on the rafters, within the shadowy space unfrequented by human attention, rows and rows of uniform-outfitted dolls perched in silent repose. Not one had been left without a sword, axe, spear, miniature lance, hook, toothpick or another otherwise choppy or jabby implement wired to their hands. And while these dolls were stationary now, Gin could see them in his mind’s eye: swarming down in a flash to pick the heck out of his teeth at the first sign of unsanitariness.

He put forth the most succinct rundown of his feelings on the matter. It was, “… Huh.

Miss Alice set her cup down with a tink. “Obviously,” she added. “Those are my combat dolls; they are joined to me always via subdermal… oh, apologies, via sigils inked on the underside of my skin. I may not sever the link I have to them, even if I should want to, unless the soul-engines in their bodies… phooey, how do I illustrate this…? Ka-blooey?” The youkai artisan didn’t wait a replied confirmation that he’d understood the complex onomatopoeia. “They are so by design; magicians are not of the same durability as your garden variety youkai, so en-garde is by imperative our default state. These children are also what alerts me whenever somebody or some-thing enters my bounded ocular field. Which stands to mean, approximately, that—”

“The trees have eyes,” figured Gin. “I know what an ocular is; I’ve read books.”

“Oh?” said miss Alice, though it was a surprisingly pleased instance for a change. “Then you are higher-educated than my last visitor, who could not have told me what a brassiere was, let alone an ophthalmic thaumatite. To skip ahead then,” she indulged him, “the dolls whose absence you have noted so acutely are my household chore dolls. They differ structurally, to begin with – incorporating more articulacy for… gripping things.” She’d inflected the phrase the same Gin would inflect “working Sunday.” “They differ, furthermore,” continued miss Alice, “in their theurgical anchoring, wherein they link to meteorite rings I may, gratefully, take off at my leisure, rather than my body outright. Thaumic feedback of that density hour-in, hour-out could drive even a womb-born magician, pardon me, mad as a hatter.”

“Makes your noodle go ka-blooey,” recapped Gin. “Sad days.”

The surface of miss Alice’s tea bubbled dangerously when she blew a cackle straight into it. “Yes—ahem!” she swallowed it back. “… Yes, mm, rather. Goodness, please don’t do that,” she pleaded half-seriously. “My noodle might go ka-blooey in earnest.”

“Never knew laughter to split a man literally,” supposed Gin. “Youkai, though…”

“There are more humane methods to do that than with hot tea!” lamented miss Alice. “I am nearly glad my oral senses are atrophied. That could have made me a mute.”

Gin’s answering look could have made miss Keine of the history school forfeit the homework, but he was in truth very chuffed with having made the dollmaker laugh, even if in the process she’d let slip something less than cheerful. Then again, “atrophy” was a word that could have confused even the most lettered village yokel. Objectively, it sounded like something you ought to receive after spectacularly losing a sports match. In extreme cases, it probably was.

Ooh, that’s dark, Gin reproved himself. Let’s try that avengeance again, why don’t we?

“So, the chore-dolls,” he went on to, indeed, try. “Are they on doll-leave? In the neck of the woods, hallooing? What?”

Miss Alice relinquished the almost-disfiguring teacup to pick the top button of her dress shirt and fan her throat. “No. They are home. Suspended.”

“Suspended, yeah,” said Gin, peeking up and feeling a little suspended himself. “… Er?”

“Inactive for a time. On ice while I run some trials and—” her previous entertainment jellied into a silken frown, “—and, were I to be just on myself, errors. I am experimenting with mass-reproduction of instructions via theurgic link, you see. To wit, to make repetitive chores less… well, that. Shovelling snow from the roof, for a relevant example. There are essentially two ways I may complete such or a similar a task.” The youkai dollmaker faithfully stuck up two work-stained fingers. “I may take one doll and make as many passes as needed to push the snow or whatever else down. Or I may take five – a full hand, if you will – and do with that many fewer passes. It is busywork at the end of it either way; and if I can have my hand in something else worthier of my skills, then I shall not be shovelling snow. And so, I started to theorise…”

There was a compact pause as miss Alice reattempted the more civilised method of getting tea inside her body. It was wide enough for Gin to fit a certain reassessment.

It wasn’t because miss Alice was attractive… although, beyond the artisanal soot and smut, she blasted well was. The hair colour alone was unorthodox enough in town to turn heads, superseded only by the live genetic singularities that were redheads, and her remaining features exuded an occidental charm that’d belike been the main effector of aforesaid slaps. Foreigners weren’t unwonted in Gensokyo; there’d been a few Chinese, and western dandelions had already caused concern. A blond-haired, blue-eyed magician youkai with a name from the other side of the globe caused worse. It caused comments.

Not from Gin, whose concerns delved beyond the colour of her hair, eyes or other body parts. It went to her conviction. The same, open and unrepressed fixation on esoterica that’d captivated him in lady Akyuu the moment they’d met. Alice Margatroid, Gin had now gleaned, would have shared her findings with anyone possessed of an interest and an ear and done so with honest satisfaction… even if she was plainly used to adding water to her vocabulary. It was all very innocent when one discounted the stabby appliances.

“And you theorised out…?” prompted Gin.

“… And I recognised,” continued miss Alice, cup prudently rested on its saucer, “that those were all identical commands. Arise, lower arm, hold arm, forward, turn around, shift, arise, hold arm, forward, turn around… ad completum. After the maiden cycle, I am repeating myself. There is no longer a requirement for my input. Well, there is, but… what if there wasn’t? That idea had its run-around until it brought me this: a concept for another type of doll. Not an automotive one! A sort of reciprocating doll; a doll that would take my directives and relay them to a number of others down the link. It could never do in combat, where tactics and placement drift impulse-to-impulse – but for static, repeating motions? Imagine what a ‘drat’ face I made, then—” she cracked a deprecatory smile, “—when I got it keyed in and twelve of my best-attuned ‘chore-dolls’ all received the same, duplicate instruction to move into the same space at the same time. Just you guess what happened.”

“Dollecular fusion?”

“Close!” Miss Alice cuffed the tabletop. “I have them in the back, still, should you desire a doll with about twenty gosh-darned, pardon me, arms. The mechanics had been sound; it’d all worked. My mindset was what had been underinformed. I should have accounted for it, split my reciprocating doll’s thaumic pathways so that instructions could be passed at different timings, speeds…”

“… A kind of magick differential?” Gin chimed in.

The dollmaker blinked. “A… excuse me, a differ-what?”

“Oh,” the courier darted on to explain, “it’s the gear assembly on a car’s axle that—” And then the dart embedded itself in miss Alice’s blank look. Gin clicked his tongue like a lady and cussed like a courier. “… Uh, right, you probably wouldn’t—”

“—know a horse-car if it ran me over?” guessed the old-fangled, and moreover youkai, craftswoman. “… Or some other type, I suppose. What is it?”

“A big, wheeled hunk of metal?” Gin tried. “Gasoline instead of equine?”

Miss Alice’s brows wrinkled, and not with age. “An automobile… is it? I have read on automobiles; the principle is… How have you, though…?”

The brows climbed up. Gin’s humour was kicked arse-first to the metaphorical curb, bounced, flew over the windowsill and drove a coach and horses through Gin’s genealogical tree. The youkai dollmaker twinkled at him and showed altogether too much of her pearly teeth.

“Might it be?” she marvelled. “Might it actually be that you are an Outsider?

Gin raised a hand in the universal sign for you stop that speeding car right now, good sir. “Naturalised, I’ll have you know,” he cautioned. “And I am, and have been, with the Hieda for on to a decade, so don’t get ideas.”

The sound of miss Alice’s palm smacking her forehead rippled the tea in Gin’s cup. The laugh that followed nigh on made it crawl up the sides in embarrassment. “And to think,” scoffed the dollmaker, “that I was burning prana here…!” There was a break in the merriment as miss Alice thumbed the corners of her eyes and then noted the fixture of the courier’s jaw. “… I am sorry,” she promised, not sounding it, “but is this a sore subject?”

Gin’s expression could have been strained for kefir. “… No, no,” he groaned his surrender in the end. “It isn’t; I am what I am and nothing else. I just don’t like it when it seeps out after the effort I’ve poured into assimilating.”

“That does do you credit,” consoled him miss Alice. “What is more, it signals to me that I can after all take it easier – which does you further credit. Glory, sir courier; do turn that scowl upside-down.”

“… Yes, yes, all right, whatever miss client wishes,” he sighed. The scowl didn’t quite flip, but did flatten meekly under miss Alice’s blue-eyed enticement. “So,” he determined to at least find out, “may I know why my being an Outsider is so heartening?”

The youkai dollmaker dallied with the answer, realigning the band in her hair and giving a nice demonstration of how thin her shirt stretched over her bust when her arms were up. “… How do I word this without snubbing you?” she wondered at length. “Outsiders tend, innately, not to believe. That makes you all but innocuous to youkai… in isolation, anyway.”

“The deal with youkai feeding on the zeitgeist,” remembered Gin. “All right. I do believe, though; I know that youkai do exist. I’m looking at one.”

Or discrete features of her, at least, revised his ethics. Miss Alice disagreed, her blond head twirling left and right.

“To know, sir courier,” she explained, “is to observe and thereon acknowledge. To believe is to acknowledge prior to observing. Only one of these expedites the actuality of Gensokyo’s youkai; only one feeds into its tenuous, supernatural fauna. You may believe, yes, and yet your belief is empirical rather than spiritual. It is anathema of true faith and of no use. I have, as you will doubtless have heard, sheltered a number of stranded Outsiders in my home over the years. They, too, never did believe—”

“—right until they knew,” filled in Gin, trying not to dwell on it too long. “And my own unbelief,” he pushed on, “is reassuring, because…?”

“It is to me,” miss Alice gracefully replied, “because it means to me nothing you can do may do me lasting harm. I am youkai; and while my physical sheath may be frailer than most, even I survive wounds that would have laid low the strongest of men. It is my essence that stands the highest risk, and you Outsiders… you do never truly believe you can touch such things. Actually—” she perked up all of a sudden, “—why do we not confirm? Hover around, please.”

Gin didn’t. Albeit he did twist around in his chair to watch the dollmaker’s aproned hips vanish in the sawdust-littered doorway. The scantily-clad magician emerged soon, rearmed now with the same, hook-edged knife she’d brandished at the porch. She handed it to the courier in the pass, herself moving on to retake her seat. Gin held it up to examine the craftsmanship – coming out overall a shade disenchanted. The knife was old, even battered; its blade – whetted down to two-thirds of its original width. It was more a tool than a weapon and infinitely more of one than the common knife enthusiast’s “everyday carrier.”

Miss Alice chiselled in with a droll question of her own. “Might you know what this is?”

“… No?” hazarded the courier.

There was a pithy and pitying nod. “No. You probably wouldn’t, would you? This, sir Outsider, is an athamé. A witch’s ritual knife, in brief. We use it to… oh, phooey, to redirect and reflow the prana of beings living and unliving. Suppose, for a moment,” she went on with rising fervour, “that I came upon a scrap of wood from a possessed tree. With an athamé, I may repurpose its residual energies to my own needs. And as for animate objects… it is possible to incise, or outright sever, aspects of their being. To enfeeble the sacrificial lamb, to strip it of all guise of control, make it cry out to places of magick it had never seen… The potentials boggle the laic mind. Touch the cutting edge, would you kindly?”

Gin’s jaw dropped then clacked back close. “… What?”

“Touch the edge, please,” restated miss Alice. “Worry not; you are an Outsider. These tools wield no power in your hands. I am not telling you to cut yourself, mind; simply touch the edge.”

“Is this safe?”

“As long as you do not press too hard.”

And so, the kinky dollmaker looked on, chin shored up on her hands, how the overcurious courier daintily took the knife to the reverse of his palm.

And even if the sensation of a razor-edged blade on his bare skin was a cause for goose bumps, nothing elsewise adverse seemed to come of the dare. Gin, exhaling, checked his all-important companion appendage for damage, glad to find none.

“Can you feel it?” whispered the youkai magician. “Can you feel your spirit bleeding away?”

Gin glanced over to find the dollmaker grinning. “… Yeah, no cigar.”

She snickered. “Me neither! And that is the prosaic core of it, sir Outsider; you distrust the veracity of my athamé, and so it denies you its power. To your sceptical senses, this is but a length of metal. Oh, I warrant you might still give me a nasty et tu impression, but I would heal – and you would not live to see the break of light. If you’ll, however, return it to me…”

Gingerly, Gin held the knife out over the table. Miss Alice reached out to take it—

—and then rocked back in her chair. There was a yelp and a sharp, pained hiss. The athamé clattered to the tabletop.

“Ah, fu—” the courier caught himself. “Crud. I mean, crud, I’m sorry. Are you OK?”

Cradling her hand, the dollmaker gave her head a weak shake. “No. I mean, yes. I am… fine,” she murmured. “No blood was drawn. Just…”

A clumsy silence pursued the clumsy pass.

Grin groped around his skull for something to say. And then he did, his experience with lady Akyuu speaking up.

“Show me, maybe I’ll see—” he began.

And then rocked back himself as miss Alice near bowled over their teas to thrust the wounded hand in front of his face.

There was a startled, mutual stare.

“Er…” said Gin, feeling a little derailed.

The dollmaker’s blue eyes flew wide. “Wait!” she cried. “Wait, wait, wait. Shush. Say… nothing.”

A lesson already learned in the morning, Gin countermanded that order – and said not a nothing. The hand, at least, appeared to be unharmed and, in a challenge to the circumstance, smooth and kissable for a woodcarver’s. Miss Alice lurched. Then lurched again. And then once more. The lurches latched onto one another, so that her body lurched from lurch to lurch without ever, in fact, lurching from the spot.

After a few more lurchless moments, she appealed for outside aid. “… Sir Outsider?”

Sir Outsider, still dumbfounded, replied by rote, “Gin. Call me Gin.”

“Gin! Gin!” was the dollmaker’s instant and plaintive response. “Gin, please, tell me, Gin, that I can move again!”

“You—” he wavered. “… You can move again?”

Miss Alice rattled. Or, closer, her throat did over a curse. “Not like that! Command! Say it as a command!

Gin breathed in. And then, yardman-like, barked, “… Y’ can move freely, bellhop!”

And she did move, did the blond dollmaker: falling back, with a bounce and a squeal, onto her chair again. A look of wonder and relief raced across her face… only to be chased by the stirrings of unrelieved wondering. Miss Alice spared her afflicted hand a glance and a thought and then knitted her brows above her nose. “… No, no, no,” she was then muttering under her breath. “Could I have…? Something cut, no two ways about… Me, though? It was my action; I moved, but… All right, Alice, no. This should be advantageous. No weakness unresearched. Help. Gin!”

The exclamation of his name brought the courier to bear. A species of bear, anyway. “Er. Yeah?”

Hunger – hopefully, for knowledge – set the dollmaker’s sky-blue eyes a-dawn. “Command me,” she requested, “to say something… indelicate. Something I would not. A faux pas or… something a scholar would never say.”

The bears in Gin’s head whirred. “… Is, uh,” he stumbled, “is there someone who—”

“Command!” reminded miss Alice.

“Tell me which of your colleagues you secretly admire and why!”

The dollmaker’s facial muscles seized. “I—” she seemed to force out. “I admire… and envy the wisdom and resources of master Patchouli of the Voile. She is a natural, older and far cleverer than I. I re-read our correspondence weekly. You have not heard this,” she spat.

Gin Akamatsu was bright enough to spot that miss Alice’s blush was as pink as the spiders that skittered after drunken couriers and stamped all over their moral spines. “I have not heard this,” he agreed. Then ventured, “May I inquire as to what the drat?

The youkai magician flashed one of those sour, fleeting smiles women had to reaffirm that the blame, whosoever’s it happened to be, hadn’t been fully washed away but, bother it, this was more exciting anyway. “In my preliminary and incomplete surmise, Gin,” she obliged him and herself both, “the athamé, self-evidently, severed something of mine right then. Something like… will? Volition? No, I absolutely hesitated there, did I not…? At any rate, it is an opportunity to explore. Give me another command. Something… sillier? Give me cause to resist.”

A certain question reoccurred to Gin’s mind. It was never a safe one to have reoccurring and even less so within the same five minutes. “… Is this safe, are you sure, miss Alice?”

The dollmaker couldn’t be surer, keener or unconcerned about the problems of too-frequent reoccurrence. “This is a controlled environment,” she argued with a toss of her blond head. “Nothing you may do, we have established, can do me harm in the long term. This—” she motioned at the discarded athamé, “—was but an accident on my part and, pardon me, sir courrgghGin,” she obeyed, “but I give no faith to anyone who listens to you and mongers this sort of rumour. This is a new development; I must see whether resistance is an option now – for the eventuality I am attacked down this avenue in the future. Come, now, other men would be walking on air to make me dance and caper! Have some fun. Command me.

And she’d not been far wrong because, in her translucent shirt and not-even-a-real skirt, the youkai magician would have danced a particularly oriented dance pretty well. And if you believed that youkai couldn’t dance horizontally, then you hadn’t been out on the town’s rice paddies in Winter.

To add to that, Gin had a leg down in his trousers which, while crooked as a dog’s hind, certainly had no bone in it. Something, it was due no doubt, had to give.


( ) “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”
( ) “Go take a bath, you dirty thing. I’ll keep… watch.”
( ) “Open the window. I’ll jump, and you can forget I was ever here. Ginronimo!”
( ) Write me in, baby.
[x] "Pin me down and ride my bologna pony."
Might as well not fuck around and get right to, well, fucking around.
(X) “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”

Let’s not go too crazy here...
(x) “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”
[x] “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”

It's time to drop some H-bombs. Mayhap Alice is the sort to secretly enjoy being demeaned.
(x) “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”

As far as hypnotism setups go, I have to say this one takes the cake.
[X] Tell me what naughty things you do with your dolls you weirdo.
(x) “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”
(x) “Open that shirt. You might have as well, you hussy.”
oh boy
Christ sakes, Et Tu, Alice? At this point it would be better to ask which of the playable characters isn't a cock mongoling turboslut.
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