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Perfect Square Ch3: Police Line

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Alice is currently hanging by her wrists from the ceiling of Marisa's house in the Magic Forest. "This is ridiculous," she says.

"Well, ya gotta do what ya gotta do, ze," says Marisa cheerfully. She is sitting at a desk nearby, holding Alice's Grimoire open; her fingers glow as they run over the pages.

Alice peers down at her, giving an incredulous little laugh. "So, uh, how is this 'what you gotta do'?" she says.

"It's so you don't try to beat me up and steal it back, ze!" says Marisa cheerfully. She then frowns as she tries to read the text.

Most grimoires use a sort of magical encryption so that only magic-users will be able to read them. It's generally a fairly low-grade encryption — the magical equivalent of ROT13, or of printing the answers to a quiz in a magazine upside-down and on the next page. Some of them are only slightly more clever: the first sections will use a low-grade encryption, but unlocking the rest of them requires that you master the earlier parts first.

However, this grimoire is different. Alice glances at the cover, which still says "Grimoire of Alice"; she knows that as long as that doesn't change, she has nothing whatsoever to worry about. "Y'know, I don't think I'd have to do that, really."

"Whaddaya talkin' about?" says Marisa, glaring at the book. Alice can practically see the gears turning in Marisa's head as she pounds away uselessly at the grimore using the conventional, low-grade encryption-breakers.

At that moment, Mima phases through the closed front door. "Marisa, I'm ..." The sight of what appears to be a nonchalant Alice in bondage gives her pause. "... not even going to ask what's going on here."

"Oh, hi, boss, I beat her up and took her Grimoire," Marisa says brightly, then growls as she looks back down at the book.

Mima smirks. "Ah, I really am becoming a bad influence on you," she says.

"Do you really have to keep me like this?" says Alice. She squirms, testing the rope, mostly for the look of things.

Mima laughs. "Trying to get away? Well, Marisa enchanted those ropes so that they can't be removed without her permission," she says. Alice thinks she can see an unspoken Or mine in there as well. "If you can get out of them on your on your own, though ..." She shrugs.

Alice shrugs back. "I just need to wait a minute."

Mima arches an eyebrow. "Oh? For what?"

"Stupid book," mutters Marisa, glaring at the grimoire. She tries to force the issue, zapping it with a more powerful "detect and permanently remove encryption" spell. The grimoire reacts by firing a bolt of light into Marisa's face, knocking her across the room and dispelling all magic which she has cast recently.

Including the spell on the ropes.

Alice drops to the floor, and sits up, rubbing her wrists. "For that," she says.

Mima chortles. "Well played," she says. "All right, I'm going to have to give you a rematch at some point."

"A rematch?" says Alice, getting to her feet. She walks over to retrieve her grimoire.

"Oh yes," says Mima. "Just like you got from Marisa and the shrine maiden."

Alice lets out a sigh. "You know, we're trying to reduce the traffic between here and Makai," she says wearily.

Mima shrugs. "It'll just be me," she says, in a tone of voice which indicates that she doesn't think anyone can stop her, so that's all right.

The door abruptly slams open, revealing a tall green-haired youkai carrying a pink parasol. "Hey, what's all the commotion?" says Yuka Kazami in a languid drawl. "I could feel that discharge half a mile away."

"And her," adds Mima without missing a beat, and turns to the newcomer. "So, what were you doing within half a mile of here?"

"Thought I'd see where the witch was carrying the squirt here," says Yuka, gesturing to Alice. "Looks like you got out, huh?"

"Yes, I did," says Alice flatly, retrieving her Grimoire from Marisa's desk.

"Ow," says Marisa, sitting up and rubbing the back of her head. Mima floats over to her, showing perfunctory concern for her protégé.

Yuka nods, smirking. "I hear you've gotten stronger, too," she says, and gives Mima a sidelong glance. "Hopin' for a rematch, huh?"

"Not really, but I guess I'll be able to chase you out of Makai this time," says Alice, trying to push past Yuka out the door.

Yuka grabs her shoulder. She's strong — strong enough to stop Alice in her tracks. "I'm looking forward to it," she says, grinning wickedly.

It is here that we shall introduce the most brilliant and capable mind in Gensokyo. Not the most brilliant person, mind you — nor indeed an individual at all. It was, in fact, the product of three minds.

Patchouli Knowledge: the librarian of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, the most knowledgeable inhabitant of Gensokyo.

Eirin Yagokoro: the guardian and doctor of Eientei, the finest medicinist and most intelligent inhabitant of Gensokyo.

Satori Komeiji: the mistress of the subterranean Palace of the Earth Spirits, she could read minds, and could bridge the gap between Patchouli's knowledge and Eirin's genius.

When they put their heads together using a special spell they'd developed, their collective mind was quite powerful. Apart from having Eirin's intelligence on the table, their joint mental processes enhanced each other, becoming greater than the sum of its parts. It was like a computer with a triple-core processor. They'd already helped solve a few mysteries which had completely baffled everyone else — and themselves individually. When people needed a brilliant solution to a given problem, or at least one which required brilliance, they went to Patchouli, or Eirin, or Satori, who would then get in touch with the other two.

They also had help from the local law enforcement.

"No sign of a struggle," said Kotohime, a redheaded woman in the pink and purple kimono that comprised the police uniform of the human village. "At least, no physical struggle, or any scorch marks that might indicate magical combat. Nothing's knocked over like it might be with danmaku, either. We did, however, find traces of leftover magic. If she didn't leave voluntarily, which is extremely doubtful, it's possible she was ... spirited away somehow."

A long black and yellow striped rope had been tied around Alice's house and the surrounding area, hanging from the trees. Small strips of paper hung from it, bearing the words Police Line - Do Not Cross in both Japanese and English. Since this was unlikely to get noticed by people simply flying over to it, a spell had also been put in place: a transparent dome of light enclosed the whole area, with a black and yellow pattern, visible by both night and day without obscuring anyone's vision or blocking their passage.

Eirin Yagokoro peered at Kotohime. "Spirited away?" she said. She'd been in the aristocracy of the Moon for most of her life, and there was still a part of her that looked down on the inhabitants of Earth, though this wasn't the only reason she'd crossed the police line without a moment's hesitation.

A voice from nearby said, "She meant that in the literal sense, Eirin." Satori Komeiji deftly flew over the police line and landed nearby. "Not an outsider who stumbled into Gensokyo."

"Ah," said Eirin, narrowing her eyes. It must be so nice never to misunderstand anyone, she thought.

"You'd be surprised, given how most people feel about it," said Satori with a shrug.

"What?" said Kotohime.

Satori frowned. "Sorry," she said.

Eirin sighed. "Satori, we're going to have to do something about your habit of reacting to peoples' thoughts instead of their speech," she said. "For now, we have a job to do. Where are Marisa and Patchouli?"

"Patchouli's inside, taking magic samples in one of her books, and getting in the way of my forensic girls," said Kotohime without rancor. "I think Marisa's at the shrine." She thoughtfully gazed at the sky. "All the usual suspects have alibis, and no motive for any kind of kidnapping, let alone Alice Margatroid ... well, maybe if they wanted to get back at Marisa, but that'd be stupid because once we find out who it is, you just know Marisa's gonna come down on 'em like a half ton of bricks. Admittedly, if they could subdue Alice to begin with, they might as well just attack Marisa directly, so who knows? Anyway, there was some kind of break-in at the Ess Dee Emm last night by something which had a 'dark presence' as Patchouli put it, and she didn't find any traces like what we found here."

"You think there's some kind of connection?" said Eirin, making a mental note to ask Patchouli for more details. Of course, in a few moments, she wouldn't have to ...

"Let's say I'm slightly open to the possibility that it might be a coincidence," said Kotohime, who often acted like a grizzled male police chief.1

"Noted," said Eirin with a nod. "We'll investigate that as well, if Remilia gives Patchouli permission."

Satori abruplty frowned, looking upward. Eirin followed her gaze; Reimu and Marisa were flying over from the direction of the shrine. Actually, Reimu seemed to be helping Marisa along, since the latter looked like she was in shock.

"Hey, guys," said Marisa, her voice shaking.

"You look terrible," said Eirin, frowning.

"I know, right?" said Marisa, wobbling slightly as she got off her broom.

Reimu patted Marisa's shoulder. "She was getting antsy at the shrine, and wouldn't even drink her tea," she said. "I thought we'd better check up on how you were doing here."

"We're waiting on that," said Kotohime. "Patchouli's checking inside the house."

"So I guess I'll be antsy here, then," said Marisa, leaning heavily against a tree. "Damn, it's like, I almost feel physically sick ..."

"It's fear," Eirin said promptly. All the signs were there: Marisa had a loved one missing, and she had never experienced this particular set of emotions before, so they were hitting her (a) harder, and (b) physically. "Your emotions can sometimes have psychophysiologic effects ..."

Marisa blinked. "She means it can make you feel physically sick," said Satori.

"Right," said Eirin, frowning, feeling annoyed at both Satori and herself.

Patchouli stepped out of the house. "Oh — hello, Marisa, Reimu," she said, bowing slightly. "I seem to have gathered all magic-traces that were inside your house."

"Yeah? Do they mean anything?" Marisa almost snapped. Eirin wondered if Marisa had eaten anything since she'd discovered Alice was missing.

"We'll have a hint in a few moments," said Satori coolly, turning to Eirin and Patchouli. "Are we ready?"

"I am," said Eirin. "Kotohime-san, would you please clear us a space inside?"

Kotohime wrinkled her nose. "I suppose," she says. "In the complete absence of any physical evidence for anything in particular, we've probably done everything we're going to, so ... Marisa?"

"Y-yeah, go ahead," said Marisa, waving her hand vaguely.

The three of them sat around a table and held hands. They'd gotten this down to a science, and could set the spell up quickly and easily.

Each of them concentrated. A glow briefly surrounded them, and their minds felt blurry for a moment ... and then without any kind of fanfare, they were suddenly Connected.

Satori was used to being able to see into everyone else's mind. Eirin and Patchouli weren't, but neither of them minded that much, because every aspect of it was as weird as every other aspect. They were all sharing each other's thoughts and feelings, thinking with each other's minds, and there wasn't a whole lot of distinction.

This wasn't to say that none of them had any thoughts they could distinctly call their own, however.

"A dark presence invaded the Mansion while Alice was there," said Patchouli.

"Sakuya detected it near Alice, and actually attacked it," said Eirin.

The next morning, Alice went missing, thought Satori, who felt that it was simpler to think things since they could all understand it

"There is a connection," said Patchouli firmly. "The question remains, however: were they friend or foe? Were they the same person?"

"We should examine the spell-fragments for any kind of clue as to who or what might be responsible," said Eirin.

I believe the actual task should be performed by Patchouli, since she is the most familiar with the procedures, thought Satori.

"Yes, though you can still examine them from your own perspectives," said Patchouli, opening her spell book. She got out a piece of magical paper, which would record their observations, and set up a spell which would aid them in searching for patterns.

All three leaned forward, looking at the spell fragments in the book from different angles. They knew, of course, that it was too much to hope that each individual piece was part of a single puzzle, which would then spell out a coherent whole when put together. In fact, the odds were slim that the various pieces were parts of different puzzles depicting the same image. However, if they had enough pieces, and with a little luck, they might find enough to recognize a particular artist's style, or even find their signature ...

Eirin briefly wished she'd brought Tewi Inaba, who could manipulate their luck, but decided that she wasn't reliable enough.

"They appear to be nearly all leftovers from magic circles," said Patchouli, peering at the paper.

Magic circles, thought Satori, digesting the information which they currently all knew. Magic circles were a sort of side-effect of the basic ways in which magic worked; they consisted of a glowing ring of light that surrounded either the source of a given spell or the destination, usually with some other pattern inside it as well. Their exact appearance depended on the magic cast, but even if you didn't have a whole lot of magical know-how, you could perhaps influence its appearance. Usually, inside the circle, there were other shapes: a pentagram, an octagram, a hexagram, even a few septagrams, as well as idiosyncratic shapes and sigils unique to that particular spell or caster.

"Yes," said Eirin. "It looks like most of them were from some sort of obfuscation magic."

"Somebody didn't want somebody else to know what they were up to," murmured Patchouli.

Us? Or someone else? The intruder at the Mansion? thought Satori.

"We simply don't know enough," mused Eirin.

"Our picture of the Magic Circle itself is far from complete," said Patchouli.

They looked at the pattern as it appeared so far, then did a double-take2 as they realized that Patchouli's comment had been wrong in every respect.

They stared for several seconds.

"Let's try looking at the pieces with that in mind," said Eirin.

They rearranged some of the pieces they'd recorded. It was much easier now that they knew the answer.

Two minutes later, they had the exact shape of the magic circle and the shape inside it.

"So, she's the one responsible," said Patchouli. "Well, well, well ..."

Reimu practically had to forcefeed Marisa to get her to eat lunch. "Look, starving yourself won't do you any good," she said as they sat in the dining room in Marisa and Alice's house.

"I'm not hungry," said Marisa.

Kotohime sighed. "Look, kiddo ... I have no idea what you must be going through, but ..."

Marisa snapped, "Then maybe you shouldn't ..." She trailed off into grumbling. "Y'know what, forget it." She began eating the plate of noodles anyway — slowly at first, but then she started eating them more quickly and hungrily. Her hands were shaking slightly as she held her chopsticks.

"There you go," said Reimu, who wasn't properly mentally equipped to deal with situations like this.

Eirin, Patchouli, and Satori walked into the room. "Marisa," said Patchouli, "I believe we have determined the identity of someone who was at least partially involved." She held out a piece of paper with a magic circle drawn on it.

Marisa and Reimu took one look, and then Marisa burst out laughing, dropping her chopsticks. "Hot damn," she said. "It just figures she'd be involved."

"Wow," said Reimu. "It's been ten whole years ..."

"You know her?" said Eirin.

"They've fought her," said Satori.

"Who?" said Kotohime, frowning.

"If she's the villain, I guess we'll have to go beat her up," said Reimu, standing up.

"Hmph," said Patchouli. "Don't be too hasty. She's unlikely to harm her own —"

"Well, if she's not the villain, we'll just go and beat them up," said Marisa. "And then I'll have a bone to pick with her fer scoopin' up Alice without tellin' us anythin'." She'd bounced back rather quickly.

"Could somebody explain to me what the hell you're talking about?" said Kotohime loudly.

Marisa turned, grinning ear to ear. "Well, see, Kotohime, I've been from one end o' Gensokyo to the other, and even been to the moon, the Underground, and a couple of other worlds, and I've seen some ker-razy business, but there's only one person I've seen anywhere whose magic circle was a Mystic Square." She gestured at the magic circle in Patchouli's hand — instead of a pentagram or octagram inside it, it contained a single square. "Okay, Reimu, let's get ready to go to Makai. It's time to pay ol' Shinki a visit ..."

This happened several years previously.

"Well, so much for that, Chief. At least you can't say either of us is directly to blame."

"Dammit. Why did she suddenly kick us out?"

"Well, she said it's because the kappa were starting to get suspicious and the stuff we were doing was coming dangerously close to interfering with what they'd been up to lately, but I dunno."


"I mean, y'know, this is Yukari Yakumo we're talking about. We only have her word for —"

"Stop that."


"Okay. So, Gensokyo is inaccessible to us from now on. Now what?"

"Well, I suppose there's a possibility we could set our sights elsewhere. I mean, there's plenty of magical realms dotted around the world. A few of them are even right here in Japan. But, y'know, if you really want to give up ..."

"How do you manage to be so ... venomously encouraging?"

"Because I am an optimist. A relentlessly obnoxious and cynical optimist."

"Hah. You know, Chiyuri, a part of me liked you better as an assistant when you were just an awkward schoolgirl."

"Heh, c'mon, Yumemi, if I was like that again, I'd lose all my wonderful qualities as a good assistant."

"Yeah, yeah ..."

1Kotohime had founded the Gensokyo's police force a little while after an Incident in which two humans from the outside world had flamboyantly invaded Gensokyo in search of how magic worked. It was felt by some that there needed to be a way for humans to regulate themselves, instead of having to rely on the Hakurei shrine maiden, whose job was to deal with youkai. It generally worked, provided that Kotohime didn't try to make things as interesting as they were in stories.

2Or perhaps a sextuple-take.

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