Perfect Square Ch1: To Become a Youkai
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Magic is impossible.
In fact, that is almost the definition of magic. Magic is when you break certain established and rather important laws of reality, laws which aren't written down except by humans after they've worked out what they are. Whether a particular world of magic follows its own idiosyncratic rules, or seems to be completely chaotic and wild no matter what you do; whether anyone can do magic by sneezing properly, or whether you must spend sixty years of hard study just so you can cast a first-level fireball; magic is always always against the rules.
That being said: in our world, magic is believed by most to be completely impossible.
And that's why it exists in Gensokyo, a realm which rests on the opposite side of reality. Gensokyo is a realm where things exist precisely because they are thought rare, nonexistant, or illusory here. Demons, youkai, fairies, magic, and all sorts of strange creatures and fantastic occurances can be found in Gensokyo, protected from the outside world (and vice versa) by the Hakurei Border, which encloses Gensokyo completely, and prevents it from having much in the way of either geographical location or geographical size in our world.
There are a few mountains, and rolling hills and fields. A few rivers flow through it, though it's far from clear where they're flowing to or from. There's a village where humans live; nearby is a rather large forest which, without a trace of irony and with a characteristic lack of any imagination, the villagers have named the Magic Forest.
Many fairies and youkai and traces of wild magic are in the Magic Forest. It's not surprising that very few humans enter. Only a magician with plenty of defensive or destructive magic would want to live there. Fortunately, this applies to both of the two humans who make their home in the Magic Forest, although neither of them have lived there for very long.
With all the dangers in the forest, it's not surprising that the human population of the Magic Forest is about to be halved. This isn't due to an attack by youkai, however. Quite the opposite, in fact.
One of the humans is a witch named Marisa Kirisame, and she's only recently become independent of other concerns, such as parents. The other is named Alice Margatroid. She is a somewhat plain-looking young woman in her mid teens, with golden hair and matching eyes. She's dressed in a pale pink dress with a blue skirt, and there's a blue ribbon in her hair. Right now, she sits at a desk by a window in her small Western-style cottage, surrounded by books, most of them neatly ordered on shelves. On a nearby table lies a half-completed handmade doll.
She is reading from a large, leather-bound book. The words "Grimoire of Alice" are on the cover, and this is no accident. It merely said "Grimoire" until she picked it up and claimed it as her own, all those months ago. Right now, the letters are glowing. So are the bindings, in fact.
Alice herself is surrounded by a ripple in the air, like heat distortion except moving in a spherical pattern instead of straight up. She actually seems to be glowing herself. She stares at the page, unblinking, her expression almost one of desperation, as if she was hanging onto the words for dear life. Her hands shake as she turns the page. The air in the room is one of tense and intense anticipation. A low hum is audible, resembling that of a refrigerator in an assembly hall, although Alice has never personally encountered either. It's getting louder.
"This is it," she whispers softly. She is studying a type of magic called Shashoku. The term literally means "abandoning food." It is used by human magicians who don't want to be human magicians anymore.
She closes her eyes briefly. The glow around her looks like it's about to combust. She opens her eyes, and looks out the window with a human's vision for one last time. Then the glow seems to reach a peak, and spirals down into her body. She drops the book and collapses against the desk in a faint.
Almost immediately, her eyes open again. For a brief moment, they are slitted like those of a cat, and have an almost demonic fire in them. Then she blinks, and they're much more human-like, and green. She blinks again, and they turn orange. A third time, and they become purple.
Alice smiles faintly as she looks out the window. Suddenly, everything looks much clearer and into focus. Actually, that's an understatement: she can plainly make out the shapes of leaves on trees more than fifty feet away. Simultaneously.
The worst has passed, and she's gotten what she wanted out of it. Now all she needs to decide is what to do with it.
She has become a youkai-magician.
Alice woke up.
She was lying in bed in her cottage. It was a Western-style double-bed, just large enough that two people could comfortably sleep in it without any physical contact, while still being small enough to imply that they could still have as much of it as they wanted. It was in the morning — just about time to get up, while still being early enough that you didn't have to if you didn't want to.
Alice glanced to her left, and smiled. Lying next to her was another young woman who looked lightly older; she was also golden-haired, but it was slightly longer and more wavy, and there was a disheveled-looking braid down the left side of her face. Alice gently reached over to stroke her hair. "Marisa," she murmured.
Marisa shifted her position slightly, sleeping the sleep of someone who is currently thinking, "Ooh, affection! Pretend to be asleep ... pretend to be asleep ... stay completely relaxed, maybe she'll keep this up ..."
If an omniscient third-person observer were to look upon them, they might consider the contrast between the two girls. On the one hand, you had Marisa Kirisame, a pretty young woman who was most definitely a human, an extroverted tomboy, a witch who hunted youkai part-time, and slightly notorious among youkai for a considerable number of petty thefts, and a few not quite so petty ones. On the other hand, you had Alice Margatroid, a somewhat plain girl who gave the impression of being shy and lonely even in a crowd, known for spending her time at home playing with dolls (admittedly by magically animating them and having them help with housework and combat), and ...
And then this observer might notice a sort of strangeness about Alice's appearance. It wasn't just that her eyes were never the same color from one minute to the next, and changed when you weren't looking, or when she blinked, or when you blinked. There was a sort of ... otherness to her features. They were too smooth, too featureless, too flawless. It was as if someone had started airbrushing a photograph of her and gotten too enthusiastic. You just knew that you were looking at someone who wasn't entirely human.
Alice sat back, and sighed as she set her magical dolls to work making breakfast. She'd heard of ... talk. There wasn't really any homophobia in Gensokyo as such, except from the occasional outsider who encountered mutual confusion with the natives about this. At any rate, if Marisa had been going out with, say, Reimu, she would have had to deal with nothing more than vague disapproval from her father that they weren't likely to give him grandchildren.1 Nobody actually minded the presence of youkai anymore, either; the "kidnapping" of humans and "extermination" of youkai was entirely recreational for both sides, unless one side or the other caused serious problems. In fact, the human children in the village were free to play with the more childish youkai. A lot had changed in the past ten years.
Actual romance between a human and a youkai, meanwhile, resulted in raised eyebrows and ... talk. Oh, and at least one newspaper report by that crow-tengu, but since she made highly-opinionated and frankly apocryphal2 news articles about everyone, nobody really noticed them.
Alice personally didn't care much about it, since she seldom socialized much with, er, anyone except Marisa; Marisa herself never seemed to care what anyone said about her at all. But still ...
That wasn't the end of it, either. In the decade or so since she'd first met Marisa, the latter had naturally aged ten years. Alice, meanwhile, had merely shifted her appearance to look older, and that was because she'd wanted to and had made a specialized spell for that purpose. This trend would continue for maybe fifty or sixty years, and then Marisa would get some sort of illness, or have surprisingly bad luck in a battle with a youkai, or there'd be some other accident, or she'd simply grow old, and then Marisa would be heading off with a shinigami and that would be it for their relationship, and they'd be apart for the remainder of Alice's nigh-infinite lifespan, and there generally weren't very good odds that Marisa's ghost would be able to hang around much or for long.
Sometimes, Alice wondered if she should feel some sort of regret for becoming a youkai. The problem was that now that she was a youkai, the idea of regretting it somehow didn't make sense. This was called "youkai pride," even though it had very little to do with actually being proud, and more to do with her mind changing into something that could handle living for centuries without going insane like she would have if, say, she'd used the Hourai Elixir.
She sighed again.
Marisa said, "Mm." It was a somewhat pointed "mm," not any kind of sigh or reflex as a result of waking up, but instead it was meant to indicate that she was in fact now awake. She suddenly leaned over Alice, grinning and gazing down at her with amber-colored eyes. "Hey, Ali-chan," she said, and kissed her on the lips.
Alice eagerly kissed back, smiling up at her weakly. "Good morning ... Marisa ..." Oh gods, she couldn't help thinking about how different Marisa looked now than she did then ...
Marisa frowned. "'Ey, what's up with that melancholy face, Alice!?" she exclaimed, and ruffled Alice's hair. "Don't tell me you aren't glad ta see me!"
Alice blushed. "Well, um. Yeah, I am, but ..." She shrugged. "I was just thinking about how ... well, you're human, and ... I mean ..."
Marisa snorted, and rolled over off the bed. She pointed at herself, and her witch-outfit appeared on her in a puff of smoke; it consisted of a black dress with a pale pink petticoat and a large white bow in black, as well as a matching pointy witch-hat with frills and a bow of its own. "Don't tell me you were thinkin' too hard about what that guy in the village was sayin'. I don't care about idiots like that, da ze.3 And I've ... uh, sorta worked things out with my dad, but ..."
Alice shook her head. "Er, no ... I was more worried about your ... mortality," she said. "I mean ... you're going to keep aging, and ... it ... well, you're more likely to die," she finished, stumbling and almost choking on the words.
Marisa hesitated for a moment. A soft clanging and the smell of eggs and toast filtered in from the kitchen. "Let's talk after breakfast," she said.
After breakfast, Alice got dressed in a long blue dress with a white shawl on her shoulders and a red hairband. There was a moment of difficulty regarding Marisa's hair ("I told you it would work better if you undid your braid before going to bed!"), and then they took to the sky.
The sky didn't actually belong to anyone. Not even any particular part of it did; it would be like trying to stake a claim to a square foot in the middle of a swimming pool. Admittedly, people tended to avoid flying directly over some of the larger buildings and homes belonging to youkai, and those wanting to visit the peak of Youkai Mountain tended to fly up it rather than starting wherever they happened to be at the moment, flying straight up until they were level with the Moriya Shrine, and then flying toward it horizontally, but the point was ...
The point was ...
The point, Alice thought as she sat next to Marisa on the latter's bamboo broomstick, was that she didn't care. She was just going to be with her longtime lover, and gaze at the gorgeous view of Gensokyo. One of her many dolls floated by her head, looking like a particularly small fairy in a red dress, and seemed to have approximately the same demeanor and bearing she had.4 Its name was Shanghai.
Alice wasn't entirely sure why Marisa felt the need to use a broom, when just about every other inhabitant of Gensokyo could fly perfectly well without. Possibly, she thought, it was much the same reason she had a pointy black hat. She was a witch. It was what witches did.
Alice smiled. "This really is beautiful," she said softly.
"Thanks!" said Marisa as if the view had been her work rather than merely her idea, and she flung a skinny arm around Alice's shoulders, pulling her closer. Alice blushed faintly, but smiled, wrapping her arm around Marisa's waist. "Took me, like, hours to find the best spot, ze. Weather's good, too."
"Yeah," said Alice. "Um, Marisa, about earlier ..." Her voice trailed off. The doll drooped slightly and lowered its head.
Marisa shrugged, and said, "Y'know, Alice, I've been thinkin'. There's a bunch of ways fer a human to become immortal, but pretty much all of 'em, you don't stay human, or you ain't actually immortal. Or you're undead or sumthin. And ..." She grinned. "Well, I really love ya a whole lot."
Alice smiled back. "I love you too, Marisa ..." The doll perked up a bit, clapping its hands together.
Marisa nodded. "But anyway," she said, "it's like ... well, I mean, I could say that all day, and it wouldn't help. I mean, I could even say something like ..." She abruptly turned to face Alice and grasped her shoulders, a manic grin on her face. "Alice Margatroid! I love ya more than I love life itself! I love ya more than my own humanity! I love ya enough to go to hell and back for ya, da ze!"
Alice's reason took a momentary vacation, while her heart began clocking in overtime, or at least overspeed, but this didn't quite help as various parts of her insides felt like they were undergoing meltdown. "W-wha!" The doll, meanwhile, hovered with its arms and legs outstretched in a comical posture of astonishment.
Marisa shrugged and sat back, settling down. "And ... well, that's true," she said. "I mean ... well, I suppose one out of three is good enough."
It took Alice a moment to work through that, especially in light of recent events. Then the "more than humanity" bit clicked. "You mean ... you want to become a youkai ...?" she stammered.
Marisa nodded. "Hey, you've done it," she said. "And I'm pretty damn good at magic myself, as a human." She smirked. "Easy, yeah?"
Alice recovered momentarily. "Uh, no, not easy," she said. "It takes —"
"But easier than watching me grow old and die, right?" said Marisa quietly. Suddenly, the tomboyish brashness was gone from her voice.
Marisa was dead serious. It was that, or at some unspecified time in the future, she'd merely be dead.
"You ... you really mean that?" said Alice softly. "I mean ... you want to ... to change yourself and, and extend your life ... for me? Even if it means you're not human anymore?"
Marisa nodded. "Nobody wants to die too soon," she said, running a hand up and down Alice's back. "And it'll mean more time I can spend with you."
Alice nodded slowly. "But ... what will your family think?"
"My dad'll probably act like the eye of a hurricane," said Marisa, who tended to bounce back more easily. "Then he'll prolly explode and look really funny." She had the grin of someone who'd just started considering a possibility which would soon lead to lots of other, much more fun possibilities.
"Uh ... What about Reimu?" asked Alice. "I think she might be ... more annoyed. And the others ..."
"They'll just hafta get used to the idea," Marisa said cheerfully.
Alice decided to give up on sociological concerns. "Okay, but ... it took lots of study with various books for me to change," she said. "And we know how your attempt to read my grimoire went."
Marisa nodded. "Yeah, but you weren't feelin' all that hot about me at the time, an' I was young then," she said, a cheerful note in her voice. "Besides, we got access to lots of books now." She gestured downward.
Alice followed her gaze to a mansion at the edge of the Misty Lake. Her doll slapped its forehead. "Marisa," she said after a moment, "I don't usually put my foot down about things like this, but you are not going to use stolen books for this."
Marisa nodded. "Oh I wasn't plannin' on that," she said. "In fact, I'd probably take the books I've got back to the library so I can read more of 'em more easy."
"Run that by me again," said Alice. The doll took on an exaggerated posture of thoughtful confusion.
"Uh." Marisa furrowed her brow. "I said I'd take the books back to the library ..."
"Yeah, that's the part I don't understand," said Alice, with a perfectly straight face. The doll looked like it was trying not to laugh.
"'I'd take the books back to the library'," said Alice. "I could understand each individual word there, but —"
Marisa chortled. "Alice, ya goofball," she said, grinning.
Alice giggled. "Mmm ... I love you, Marisa," she said. The ice had broken.
"I love ya too, Alice," said Marisa, patting her shoulder. "Let's head back to your place ..."
They made love in Alice's bedroom. It wasn't exactly "hot sweaty wild Youkai sex," as Marisa put it, because (a) from the description, Alice would have been worried about harming Marisa's less-durable body, and (b) they didn't have anything to prove. They knew they loved each other. It was an act of love, not a demonstration.
But mostly, as far as either of them was concerned, it was closeness, and pleasure, and happiness at being together.
Afterwards, they lay together for several moments, their nude bodies intertwined together.
Marisa nuzzled gently against Alice. "Want another go?" she murmured, grinning.
Alice giggled softly. "No ... I think I'm satisfied," she said, stroking Marisa's hair.
Marisa nodded, settling down. "Works for me."
There were no other words for several more moments; they simply relaxed together, enjoying each other's closenes.
"Hmm ..." Marisa looked at the ceiling for a moment. "Y'know, with all the books I've got, you might wanna call up Medicine ..."
"You know, I'm not sure Patchouli's going to be all that eager to see you," said Alice.
Marisa frowned. "Hm. Yeah, good point. We're gonna hafta ..." Then she broke into a grin. "Wait, I know."
Alice narrowed her eyes. "What?"
"My idea is, you're gonna be tellin' Patchy the exact literal truth."
"Returning the books? You?" said Patchouli Knowledge, the head librarian of Voile, the magic library in the Scarlet Devil Mansion. She was a purple-haired magician-youkai, though unlike Alice she'd been born that way; she seemed to be constantly dressed in pink striped pajamas, along with a matching poofy hat with a crescent moon pin.
"Uh ..." Marisa shrugged, glancing at Alice with a mildly henpecked look. "More like, we're returning the books."
Alice rolled her eyes in the manner of wives everywhere who are reacting to their husbands' reactions to them putting their foot down. "She wants to study Shashoku magic to become a youkai-magician like I did," she said. "I informed her that she wasn't going to do it with stolen books."
"Borrowed books," corrected Marisa, putting on the impression of being put upon.
"And she won't be able to use the excuse that you can have them back when she died anymore, too," added Alice, without missing a beat, giving the impression that they'd already had that conversation, too.
They were standing at the entrance to the library; behind them was several dozen large sacks, each stuffed with books, which had been collectively brought there by Marisa, Alice, and most of Alice's dolls. They had also been helped, and were currently accompanied, by Medicine Melancholy, a youkai doll. In fact, she was a type of youkai called a tsukumogami, an object which has reached its hundredth birthday and become self-aware. The doll in question, which looked identical to Medicine in design, floated next to her, always within arm's reach. She had short blonde hair, silvery-blue eyes that seemed to be made of glass, and wore a short-sleeved red and black dress. Her wrists and elbows had faint markings that looked suspiciously like doll-joints, and her skin and hair looked artificial in addition to looking merely supernatural. She also had a somewhat worried expression, as she looked from Patchouli to Alice and Marisa and back. "Um ..."
Marisa glanced to Medicine. "Hey, I toldja not to worry, ze," she said, gingerly reaching over to ruffle Medicine's hair. Medicine, who had become a youkai partly as a result of being abandoned in a field of poisonous lily-of-the-valley flowers, very carefully made sure that none of her innate poison touched Marisa.
Patchouli peered at Alice. Everything Alice had said was perfectly accurate. Then she turned to Marisa. "You really wish to become a youkai?"
"Yes," said Marisa earnestly. "I do."
The way she said it seemed to give Patchouli pause. "Well," she said, "there are a number of ways for a human to become a youkai. But ..."
"But not all of 'em will stick, or really extend my life," said Marisa. "I want Shashoku magic. I wanna end up like Alice did."
Patchouli nodded slowly. "I'll definitely, ah, keep my books?" she said after a moment.
Marisa hesitated slightly, and Alice promptly said, "Yes."
"Well, all right then," said Patchouli, more to Alice than Marisa. "Er ... I suppose we'd better, er, get ready ..."
Marisa grinned inwardly. The plan was going flawlessly. All she'd needed to do was make it look like ninety percent of it was Alice's doing; that bit where she'd hesitated was a nice touch. Admittedly, she was going to do exactly what she'd said she came here to do, which was simply use the library's resources for study, but that wasn't the point.5
The fairy-maids brought over a large table, and put several books down onto it. Marisa sat down at it and held out her hand; a blank notebook with a pencil between the pages appeared in her hand in a puff of smoke. She took off her hat and set it aside, opened the notebook, and grabbed the nearest book in one hand and the pencil with the other.
Marisa took a deep breath. "Okay," she said. "Let's go!"
1Except with the use of very strange magic.
2Or at least wildly-inaccurate.
3A masculine way of ending sentences, or at least in this case a tomboyish one.
4One of Alice's goals in life was in magical artificial intelligence — that is, she wanted to create a doll which could think, feel, and act on its own. Unfortunately, at most she could currently only "automate" simple tasks, and controlled everything else about them by remote-control with magic, unless she wanted to implant an existing spirit in an object. She generally had to settle for pretending.
5She liked her reputation as a troublemaker.
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