She had seen it all. The look of being betrayed, the magic drawing blood, and the destruction of her library. She had heard her voice as it was twisted to form such cruel platitudes and mock her very existence. The cold sting of guilt had surfaced in her gut and keeled her over with enough force to make her doubt her abilities in such a crucial time. But the worst sensation was knowing that she was for the most part unable to resist and forced to watch as her body acted against her. Patchouli Knowledge was a prisoner in her own mind, and the warden was none other than an old escapee named Malus Umbravi.
The magician looked up from her position and took control of her limbs to stand up. A black and purple void greeted her and removed any landmarks from her sight, including the nondescript floor she had once been sprawled out upon. Patchouli had no choice but to float on through the void that was her corrupted consciousness. Her body was nothing more than an avatar for her soul at that point, but the magician had her own senses and could see small blotches of activity in the void. Colors of all types flittered through the void in some places only to be swallowed up by the swirling blackness without mercy. Compared to this place, at least Makai has its beauty, Patchouli thought to herself.
For such a powerful magician like Patchouli Knowledge, it seemed that magical foes and doomsday plots were a dime a dozen. There had been many incidents in Gensokyo that seemed much worse than this. The hell raven's attempt at unleashing nuclear armageddon, Remilia's shortsighted Scarlet Mist, even the diabolical usage of the moon by Eientei's inhabitants seemed worse! But Patchouli knew that the Malus incident was much worse for her and the mansion's residents because of three startling facts: she was powerless to put a stop to Malus, the knowledge crucial to defeating her was locked away in her mind and in her heavily guarded desk, and most importantly, Patchouli was scared. Malus was in her mind, and if the lich was clever, she would use it to her advantage.
The most that Patchouli could do was try and regain control of her true senses for a moment. She had done it before when she managed to tear Malus away from murdering her familiar, but it was not to last. Against a foe as powerful as a lich, the mage's act of rebellion was akin to tossing pebbles at a tiger. It would have been her last act, but the mage held on long enough to set a personal boundary. By confining her to her library she was providing Malus with the resources to scheme efficiently, but at least she was able to protect the others from the monster in control of her body. At least until the fairy maids became her first kills.
"There you are!" came a cackling voice from above.
Patchouli looked up into the void and gasped as a swirling black mist came barreling down upon her. It smashed into her and flung her down as if she had been hit with a steel girder, and she screamed in pain as she went flying. She thought that since she was in a featureless void there wouldn't be any ground to impact upon, but as her frail body crashed against a raised platform, she cursed herself for pushing her luck. Wheezing, the magician knew that her bones would be broken if she had suffered such a savage attack in reality. Her hair was sprayed out beneath her like a puddle of violet while her robes were torn here and there to give her a ruined appearance.
"You know what the best part of being in your mind is? I can hurt you as much as I want and it won't do a thing to your health," Malus muttered as she appeared next to Patchouli's incapacitated form. The lich's crazed grin appeared through the black mist. "But you can still feel it all. You're welcome, by the way. I can only imagine how much damage it'll do to your psyche..."
The black mist dissipated to reveal a carbon-copy of Patchouli, Malus' chosen form. Despite the similarities between the two, Malus' image of her previous warden was less comforting and a lot more intimidating with those blood red eyes of hers. Horrible, sharp teeth gave her a shark-like grin.
"What do you want?" Patchouli coughed as she looked up at her doppelganger. "R-Revenge?"
"Revenge? Heavens no!" Malus gave a nonchalant shake of her head and paced around Patchouli. "I don't need vengeance. I've transcended above that."
"You haven't transcended at all, Malus. You would destroy your body and sacrifice men, women and children just for power."
"Huh. That's pretty rich coming from someone who threw away their humanity to become a magician, and for what? To rot away in a library?"
"What do you want?" Patchouli asked again with a pained scowl.
Malus moved to Patchouli's side and sank her foot into the magician's ribs. She reveled in the cries of agony and the grimaces she enticed before leaning over and twisting her foot deeper into her victim.
"Oh gods, you're looking at me like I'm the bad guy here. I just want what everybody wants. Power! The power of choice! The power to live, to thrive! No-one will get in my way when I raze this world to the ground..."
"You've... You've lost your mind," Patchouli whimpered, her eyes wide with fear.
"Nope!" Malus pointed her finger at Patchouli and chuckled. "I've got yours to play with! Who knows what kinds of secrets await in there? Spells, incantations, all sorts of good things. All it takes is some... initiative!"
At the last word four shackles came into view and clasped around Patchouli's wrists and ankles. She tried to resist the weight and pull, but when chains held her down to the circular platform she was on she found that she was completely at the mercy of one who was anything but merciful. Malus lifted her foot and smashed it into Patchouli's stomach with a sickening crunch and a yelp of distress from her victim. But she didn't stop there. The lich straddled her warden and placed a hand against her forehead to grip her temple.
"Show me something useful, Patchouli," Malus ordered.
"I'm n-not giving you anything!" Patchouli howled as she struggled against the hand on her forehead. Her touch was too agonizing to bear. "Get off me!"
"Oh, I see! You scattered your knowledge into the void! Making me do all the scavenging, huh?" Malus began to softly caress the mage's cheek before lifting her hand and letting it fly across her face in a slap. She took joy in the smack and look of disgust on Patchouli's face before returning her hand to the forehead. "No matter. I'll find it in due time. But first, let's have some fun! Let's see what you haven't scattered about..."
A subtle tickling flashed through Patchouli's mind and gave her a headache. She could feel Malus' influence pushing through her memory in search of something, anything to use to her advantage. There was no interest in brewing tea or growing flowers, and no care in the world for the old masters and their works of literature. Instead, what Malus searched for went beyond that of a simple synopsis or brew. Patchouli cried out in terror and thrashed about in her shackles when she realized what the lich was going for. A good manipulator wasn't content with one victim; they needed to bring others into their games.
Images of Patchouli's most trusted of friends filtered into Malus' mind. She saw the meek form of a red-haired succubus and frowned when she remembered how she eluded capture. The portrait of a silver-haired elegant maid drifted into view, now marred with cuts and bruises from the recent skirmish. Next came a pleasant memory of a guard sleeping on the job. Malus didn't initially see her as a threat until she saw that the chiseled body wasn't just for show. And finally came the vampire sisters, one dressed in pink, one garbed in white.
A horse cackling came from the back of Malus' throat as she focused on the vampire sisters.
"Found you!" she cried before falling silent. She remained still and glowered at Patchouli for a moment. "Really? Remilia and...? Well, I suppose I can ask her personally."
"Leave them out of this!" Patchouli shouted.
"This? Hoho! This is much bigger than me and you, but I'll let you in on something special." Malus brought her voice to a whisper and cooed into Patchouli's ear. "When I take over this mansion and rip away all that you hold dear... You're going to watch every single moment of it."
"And when you fail, Malus... I'll make you wish you stayed in your prison," the mage growled, stubborn to the end.
"When I fail?"
Malus shook her head and snapped her fingers. The black and purple void around them both swirled into a hurricane of grey and red storms. There were plenty of unidentified shapes and wisps of energy scattered about in the fog around Patchouli's confining platform, and as the mage looked up to the eyes in the sky, she realized that Malus was beginning her search for knowledge. She had scattered her spells and information as best as she could before her mind was taken over and made sure that the most crucial bits were well-hidden in the void. But Malus had quite a lot of time on her hands, and with her storms breaking the void apart in the distance, it was only a matter of time before she found something useful to her.
"I won't fail, Patchouli," Malus purred.
The lich brushed herself off and got up from straddling her warden. With a snap of her heels and a whisk of her robes she turned and vanished off the side of the platform, leaving Patchouli alone in her confinement. The mage coughed and rattled her shackles to no avail and looked up to the swirling void around her with a moan of defeat. Had she control of her mind and resources, she would have broken out of her bindings and retaken her body with her magic. Mind over matter, but when the matter overwhelmed the mind, there was not much to be done but to wait for assistance.
And though it pained her to sit back like some damsel in distress, Patchouli had no choice but to remain where she was. She could only hope that those she cared about would be able to stave off her possessed form.
After getting a night's rest, no matter how fretful it was, the mansion's remaining residents gathered at the library's door to go over what had happened the day before. Patchouli Knowledge, the grand keeper of intellect, had been possessed by a malevolent lich. Her sanctuary had been compromised and now the keys to its secrets were thrust into the wrong hands. Fortunately it was impossible for a creature, no matter how powerful, to learn all that there was to learn from all the books in Voile in one day. Unfortunately, this meant that while Remilia and the others had time to prepare and recover, every hour they spent not engaging Malus was an hour she would devote to growing stronger.
Remilia was fuming as she paced outside the library doors in the early morning. She had caused an incident in Gensokyo and had been involved with a few others during her stay in the strange realm, but none of them compared to the problem plaguing her mansion at the moment. It was no problem when a monster rampaged indiscriminately or strange scarlet weather targeted everyone, but when an incident struck a chord and became personal, that was when things crossed the line. Had Malus been some physical adversary and wrecked havoc on Gensokyo with earthquakes, Remilia wouldn't think much of it. But Malus had possessed her best friend, and knowing the stubborn girl she once was, Remilia had every right to believe that she would seek to target the Scarlet sisters and their friends.
"Just what the hell is this shrew hoping to gain? Bragging rights? Power? Influence?" Remilia bared her fangs. "A chance at my sister?"
"You said that she's a lich, right Remilia-sama?" Koakuma asked, looking no better than Sakuya was with bandages covering her arms. "What exactly is that?"
"A lich is an undead magician who sacrifices their humanity and life for power and immortality. They also sacrifice their good looks, hence why all of them are either skeletons or partially decomposed cadavers," Remilia explained.
"But mistress, do vampires not go through the same situation?" Sakuya wondered.
"In a sense, but we're different. Vampirism is both hereditary and an irreversible choice, at least to my knowledge. Sunlight weakens us, blood sustains us, and unlike liches we're personable, attractive, and at least somewhat civilized."
Koakuma looked up at Meiling and noticed that the guardswoman had been up all night making sure that nothing escaped the library. From the way her posture sagged to how her eyelids drooped, Koakuma knew that she was tired. Not even a thermos of strong coffee or gaggle of zombie maids snarling behind closed doors could keep someone from feeling exhausted after a night shift. The guard had done her job well and showed an eagerness to assist no matter how she felt. Her determination was much appreciated, as was the stubbornness that kept her awake at her post.
"So uh... What are we gonna do again?" Meiling asked with a yawn.
"What do you mean what are we gonna do? You suggested that we head back in and find the book that Malus popped out of," Remilia muttered. She slapped the back of Meiling's head for good measure. "So, that's what we are going to do. And when I say we, I mean me, Sakuya, and Koakuma. You're going to guard the doors."
"Again?" Meiling whined as she rubbed the back of her head. She caught the angry look of her mistress and raised her hands in defense. "R-roger that! No problems here!"
"We need you. Do you understand?"
Meiling merely nodded and moved away from the doors. The vampire, maid and succubus let a silence fall between them and looked to the library doors for a moment. They listened for anything unusual. The sound of wings flapping past, moaning, the shuffling of feet, even the howl of a draft or perhaps the slow burning of a torch. But nothing could be heard; all was silent in the library. Koakuma felt goosebumps form on her skin just from being unable to hear a thing. The silence of the library used to be so calming before this.
"Why can't Sakuya go in by herself?" Koakuma asked as she lingered by the door handles. "You can manipulate time and space. That should be enough to get you in and out with the book just in time for tea."
"It didn't help me restrain Lady Patchouli," Sakuya replied. She was enticed to leave it at that, but Sakuya kept talking. "Though I could stop time and move about freely, when I was with her I felt as if she was following me with her eyes... It was a feeling I had never felt before. Would relying on my powers a second time accomplish this task, or will it not make a difference as it did before?"
The vampire and succubus looked to each other and discovered that they didn't have a response to that. For as long as they could remember, Sakuya was so gifted in her powers of manipulating time and space that one could hardly notice when she passed by. The maid would literally be there at the snap of the fingers. Her skill with knives and daggers, when combined with her time-manipulation powers, made her a dangerous foe. For her to be overcome by an opponent or at the very least disturbed by one was a startling thing to fathom.
"I have a bad feeling about this," Koakuma muttered.
Remilia nodded at that.
"So do I. Come on, let's not make this any worse by delaying it."
Koakuma pried out a few boards and chair legs from the handles and pushed the doors open. They creaked as they swung out and provided the three with a sign of things to come. Koakuma tensed up even more as she feared that the sound would attract attention, but as she looked out into the library and the destroyed balcony beyond, she found that there weren't any of Malus' new zombie maids lying in wait. Not even the big-bad lich herself was in view. Though Koakuma remembered hearing Malus talk about some kind of restriction imposed upon her, she did not expect for the exit to be unattended. Either the lich was planning something in her inner sanctum or she was indifferent to her options.
The three residents looked to the destroyed staircase leading down into the heart of the library and noticed that while there were enough planks to see them safely down, doing so would make them an easy target should any zombie guards see them there. There were a couple undead maids fluttering about near the ceiling of the grand library. They drifted to and fro and groaned every so often, but they did not have the mental capacity to stop and look down to notice the three intruders. The undead were terrible at seeing things at a distance, but their sense of hearing was very acute. Remilia decided the best course of action would be to slip by them undetected, at least until the right information was in their hands.
It filled Koakuma with a disgusted feeling to see the library looking so unwelcoming and alien. A thick black fog had drifted over certain parts of the library while embers continued to smolder in the remains of destroyed bookcases and ruined texts. The aisles she used to skip through and know like the back of her hand had been torn through and rearranged in odd patterns as if Malus herself had decided to do some decorating. Koakuma wondered if the tome they were looking for was still securely locked away in her mistress's desk, and if it would be of any assistance. Yet her mistress was always quick to point out that information, no matter how benign, had weight.
After descending an adjacent bookcase and managing to avoid disturbing the books resting on the shelves, the three residents touched down in one of the many darkened aisles of the library. Though it was cramped, dark, and eerie, the three felt concealed from any of the zombie maids. They all knew that when they were alive they could make a lot of noise, and being dead didn't change a thing. If they were caught, they would alert their new mistress, Malus, and she wouldn't simply reprimand the trespassers as Remilia once did.
Sakuya took the lead and stalked her way down the aisle with that same cold professionalism and silence as always. They stepped around broken pieces of wood and glass and kept conversations to a minimum as they went. Occasionally they had to distract a guard or even kill one just to keep themselves hidden.
"Tossing a book's not going to do it," Koakuma whispered as she looked on at one zombie maid obstructing the path. The devil shook her head and gingerly dropped her book to the floor. "The desk's not too far away either. I can even see it."
"Then we'll kill her," Remilia replied. She turned to Sakuya. "Do it."
The chief maid nodded and did what needed to be done. In a fraction of a second the zombie maid that had once obstructed their path vanished without a trace. No signs of a struggle could be found, but when Koakuma looked closely as she made her way through the aisle she noticed one of the fairy maid's shoes sticking up from beneath a pile of books. She glanced over her shoulder and watched as Sakuya cleaned a bloody blade with a handkerchief before sliding it back into its holster on her thigh. Without another word uttered between them, the servants continued on their way with the mistress of the mansion following right along.
In time the three reached Patchouli's desk and were fortunate to find it unguarded.
"There it is. Come on, open it up and get that tome," Remilia urged.
Koakuma stepped forward and produced an old iron key from her dress. She moved behind the ancient mahogany desk and nudged her mistress's favorite chair away from the center drawer. Without wasting any time, the little devil piloted the key into the drawer's lock and slid the container out to grab the dreaded tome. Her fingers scraped the bottom of the drawer and came up with nothing but a few bits of dust. Eyes wide from shock, Koakuma looked in and noticed that where the tome should have been there was a faint imprint.
"It's... It's gone!" Koakuma cried. She glanced around and under the desk as she felt panic swelling up inside her. "I know I put it here! I know it!"
"Shh, calm down." Sakuya went to Koakuma's side and gestured to the other drawers. "It's probably in the other drawers."
"No, I put it in this one, the top one."
"What's the problem?" Remilia asked as she looked on.
"The tome's gone!"
The two servants went to look in the other locked drawers when a great and terrible screeching rose up in the distance. Koakuma looked up and noticed that the two fairy maids that were patrolling the air above the library had detected them. They pointed at the intruders and screeched again, and that was all it took to stir up the hornet's nest. Their screams were echoed by the other guards and soon the intruders were surrounded by around two dozen of the undead servants. To Remilia's chagrin, none of them cared that she was the de facto mistress of the mansion and instead treated her like she was prey.
"Great," Remilia muttered as the undead servants formed up. "Leave it to a lich to turn my staff against me."
"Not all of them," Sakuya chipped in. She took a handful of knives and placed them between her fingers as she took a stand next to her mistress. "We have no choice. We must destroy them, mistress."
"And quickly too, or else we're screwed!"
"Wh-what should I do?" Koakuma asked as she clutched her iron key.
"Keep looking devil. Search every nook and cranny in this area until you find that tome," Remilia growled. She turned back to the undead servants and huffed. "I should have brought my spear..."
Though the fairy maids' senses had been dulled by reanimation, their magical abilities were still the same. As was customary in Gensokyo, most fights involved a heaping helping of danmaku, or magical bullets of varying sizes, colors, properties, and velocities. The fairy maids unleashed a few good strings of danmaku upon the three intruders, but they lacked precision and did not travel very fast like a bullet launched from a firearm. This allowed them to be deflected by a magical bullet of equal or greater force, and Remilia, being the pint-sized powerhouse she was, took over as the undead maids' main target. The vampire swung her arms out and formed a web of stationary danmaku to protect Koakuma before flying into the fray.
Sakuya flung her knives out in every direction to land a few hits on some undead maids. The sharp metal cut into the decaying flesh and ripped clothing to ribbons as they flew past. When the knives got so far away from their master, they disappeared and reappeared on Sakuya's holsters to be used again. The knives were simple tools, but in the hands of Sakuya, they claimed many targets and reduced them to perforated corpses. Occasionally the chief maid would warp around and slam a knife down into a distracted foe with her time manipulation powers, but for the most part she used them to reclaim her ammunition.
"There seem to be more than just two dozen!" Sakuya cried out.
"Smoke and mirrors!" Remilia replied. She tore through a couple undead maids with a blast of red magic and turned to face the others. "Kill them all and then we'll count them!"
As magic was repelled with magic and steel combated gnashing teeth, Koakuma huddled under her mistress's desk and kept working at various drawers to see which one held the tome. She winced at every danmaku bullet that whizzed past her and sank into the floorboards, and she flinched whenever the desk rumbled above her. Her heart was racing and urging her to find the tome. She glanced over at Remilia and Sakuya fighting the maids and felt relieved that they were there to protect her. At that thought, the little devil's remaining hope and optimism was washed away in a demoralizing wave.
Out of all the residents in the Scarlet Devil Mansion, Koakuma was the weakest. She was more important than one of the fairy maids, but when it came to magical abilities and power the little devil could not last one minute against an overwhelming foe. Even Meiling, who did not rely on danmaku or magical tricks, was ten times as powerful as Koakuma was. In a fight with Malus, the little devil would count herself lucky to get away with some of her limbs intact. She gritted her teeth and shook her head to try and rid herself of her self-loathing, and for the most part she succeeded.
"I wish I could help," Koakuma mumbled under her breath. She looked in another drawer and cursed when she found nothing but a few manuscripts. "For the love of-"
A few shots impacted behind her and flung her and the desk up into the air. She flew over the desk and across the floor before hitting it and rolling uncontrollably. Her wings hit the floor in odd angles and objected to the rolling while Koakuma tried her best to curl up and minimize the pain. The lights and carnage of a danmaku battle were all around her, and she knew that if she stopped moving she would be a prime target for any opportunistic zombie maid. When her back slammed against one of the bookcases, Koakuma figured that it was safe to get up and move away.
She looked up just in time to see her mistress's desk slide towards her and pin her against the bookcase. Koakuma winced and drew her arms over her body as the desk crashed into her. The sounds of battle were drowned out by falling books and creaking wood as well as the echoes of a collision. Koakuma knew she should have had a bone broken or two from having the desk crash into her, but when she opened her eyes to inspect herself, she discovered that she was completely unharmed. The desk had pinned her to the bookcase, yes, but the gap where Patchouli put her legs had encased Koakuma and protected her from harm.
Whether it was by her mistress's influence or fool's luck, Koakuma was still alive. And even better, it seemed that the blasting, sliding and crashing had destroyed a few locks on the desk drawers that Koakuma hadn't looked in yet. Before she could get to them, however, a dark shadow loomed over the little devil and sent a shiver down her spine.
"You came back?"
In an instant Koakuma felt the cold hand of Malus reach down and grab her by the tie of her uniform. She looked up into those corrupted red eyes of her mistress and struggled with the hand on her tie until Malus lifted up and dragged Koakuma with her. The lich paid no attention to the gagging and choking noises coming from her victim and held her up like she was some prize catch from Misty Lake. A disgusting sneer was plastered over a face that was too kind for that, but Malus was in control of Patchouli's body and mind and could do whatever she wanted to her. Just as Koakuma was beginning to lose consciousness from being hung by her tie, Malus gave her a good shake and slammed her to the floor on her back.
"You poor deluded creature. You're such a glutton for punishment, aren't you?" The lich pressed her foot into Koakuma's stomach and delighted in the wheezing and coughing that followed. "You should be honored. I did this to your mistress not too long ago."
"Malus! You get out of her right this instant!"
The lich looked up and noticed Remilia Scarlet before her with her ever dutiful chief maid beside her. Littered around the vampire and servant were the decaying bodies of Malus' two dozen undead servants, all routed by danmaku and throwing knives. There was strength in numbers, but none of them were able to harm the mistress of the mansion. The lich expressed a chuckle at how disheveled Sakuya looked with bandages and blood on her tattered uniform before turning her attention to Remilia. She kicked Koakuma over with a grunt and stepped forward to challenge her old acquaintance.
"I like it in here, Remilia. It's comfy; much better than that frigid body of mine."
"Being a cold-hearted bitch tends to do that to you," Remilia shot back.
"Nice to see you too."
Remilia growled and produced a splendid array of danmaku behind her, all poised to launch at Malus. The lich wagged her finger at the display.
"Careful there. Imagine I don't dodge a shot and you tear off a limb. Do you think your little friend could survive a barrage from you?" Malus glared down at Koakuma's form. "If this body is destroyed, I'll just find another."
"You wouldn't," Remilia replied.
"And why do you think that?"
"You think you can fool me, Malus? You and I both know how powerful Patchouli is. When we sealed you away you were barely a wisp of your former self. You need her to survive, else we'd obliterate you in a heartbeat."
Malus huffed and shook her head.
"Which begs the question of how you're going to tear me away from your beloved friend. I assume you were here looking for this?"
The lich reached into her robes and pulled out the dark leather-bound tome that she came from. Koakuma propped herself up from her position on the floor and looked up with a gasp when she realized that it was Malus who had the tome. The one book that could shed some light on the situation and it was in the wrong hands.
"I admire your determination, but this doesn't belong to any of you. This is mine, as are all the resources in this library," Malus muttered. She tucked the dark tome back into her robes and held it securely as if it was a priceless artifact. "Now then, back to business."
"Business? What business is there to discuss?" Remilia asked.
"Ha! Don't play dumb with me, Remilia. You know what I want."
"No, actually. I don't. You wanted to be immortal, but when you couldn't become a vampire you became a lich instead. Wasn't that enough?"
"It would have been if you hadn't destroyed my body and trapped my soul in a prison. I am not yet sated, Remilia. I drank from the maker's cup and I want more!" Malus extended her hand and cooed. "Your sister should suffice. Bring me her and I will release myself from this magician."
"So you can possess her instead? Never!" Remilia shouted. "You simple-minded, power-hungry cretin... You don't even know what to do with all that power!"
"Does anyone really know what they want to do with their power?" Malus retorted. She patted her chest. "Patchouli, despite all her knowledge and power, had little idea of what to do with it. She was held back by her illnesses and philosophies. She distracted herself with literature, alchemy, and useless research."
"What do you mean, 'was'?" Koakuma interjected.
Malus looked back over at the little devil and smirked.
"Oh, right. My mistake, Koakuma. She's still alive, but only until she ceases to be useful. Her knowledge and memories takes time to go through, but rest assured little devil, your lover is still alive." The lich gave a soft chuckle as she approached Koakuma. "How intriguing it is that a being as powerful as Patchouli Knowledge chose to take a succubus as her lover, and a servant no less. Why, even by Gensokyo standards, that's a poor choice. I wonder if she just wanted to know what it felt like to be violated by a beast."
The little devil felt anger swell up within her at that remark. She already had her own personal incident some time ago, and she resolved it as best as she could with her mistress's help. If her mistress was here, she would defend the little devil and be quick to offer a kind word of encouragement, but all that Koakuma had to work off of at the moment was anger. She clenched her fists and glowered at the lich.
"I'm not going to negotiate with you, Malus. I'm not handing my sister over," Remilia spat.
"Of course you wouldn't. I just wanted to know how things were going between you two," Malus replied. She cocked her head to the side and propped her chin under her hand. "Patchouli has many... fond memories of you involving your sister. Quite a few hints of incestual love; most astounding..."
"That's none of your business."
"I think it is. So tell me, Remilia, how did that work out for you? The memory is quite clouded."
Remilia hesitated for a moment before turning away and folding her arms like she had just been scolded.
"Come again dearie?" Malus mocked. "You're going to have to speak up."
Sakuya leaned into her mistress and whispered a few words into her ear. She had little to add to the exchange of venomous words and banter and wisely chose to stay out of it. But when it came to her mistress, the chief maid knew what was best for her. She could tell that Malus was trying to demoralize them and rouse them to blinding anger; an underhanded tactic but an effective one. Sakuya encouraged her mistress to calm down and collect her thoughts, but when the vampire gave her a sour look, the maid had no choice but to remain silent and obey. Talking was getting the charismatic vampire nowhere. She snapped her fingers and gave her loyal hound permission to attack.
Koakuma had risen to her feet and was prepared to tackle Malus when she noticed Sakuya disappear off to the side. In the blink of an eye the enigmatic maid then reappeared behind Malus and tried to put her in a hold with a dagger pressed against her throat, but the lich somehow saw it coming. She whirled around just as quickly as Sakuya could manage, perhaps even more, and grappled with her. A knife was pressed to her throat, but so was one against Sakuya's. The two struggled about in each other's grasp before Malus got the upper hand and slammed the maid back with a powerful magical force that sent ripples through the air.
The maid tumbled over herself and landed right next to her mistress with incredulity written all over her face.
"W-what is this?" she uttered, aghast.
"What kind of trick was that, Malus?" Remilia asked.
With a gleeful laugh and a dramatic spreading of her arms, the lich answered back.
"Trick? Not at all! This is my realm now, and she's not pulling the wool over my eyes on my watch." Malus directed her next question to the maid. "Tell me lapdog, how can you manipulate time and space that isn't yours?"
"Sakuya, try it again," Remilia ordered.
Once again, the maid went for Malus to try and restrain her. The attempt was dodged and redirected a few times before the lich grabbed Sakuya and pinned her to the floor. Though it was hard to figure out what the normally cold and elegant maid was thinking half the time, there was without a doubt a thread of unease dancing in her mind. Her powers of manipulating time and space had yet to fail her, and yet here was a foe who knew what she was doing. Sakuya scrambled for one of her knives and jabbed it through Malus' robes to sever a few crucial threads.
The tome that Malus originated from slid out from the lich's robes and onto the floor. Both Remilia and Koakuma made a dash for the book, but it was Koakuma who would reach it. Malus growled and flung Sakuya over to crash headfirst into her mistress, knocking the two of them out of the fight for the time being before turning to the red-headed devil. It was likely that the lich was expecting a few more minutes of mindless banter or dominating her enemies with a hopeless situation. She had gotten careless in her superiority and vowed to not let it happen again. As Koakuma scooped up the dark tome in her arms and prepared to take flight she felt Malus' cold hand wring around her ankle and hold her still.
It didn't take long before Koakuma felt herself being pulled back. Knowing what was to come, she wrapped her wings around her body and curled up to protect herself as she was flailed around by the lich. Her ankle was released only when Koakuma crashed into her mistress's desk and broke it under her weight. She arched her back and unfurled her wings with a cry of pain. Though there were no splinters cutting into her skin, the little devil was certain that she broke a bone or threw out her back. And while that would have been alarming enough for her, Koakuma discovered that crashing into her mistress's desk had dislodged the tome from her embrace.
She looked amongst the remains of the desk and found not one but two tomes before her. Disorientated by the pain and by being flung about, again, Koakuma couldn't tell which tome was the one she wanted. She reached forward and swiped the one closest to her and ignored how heavy it felt in her arms. Her body was threatening to give out on her, and with Malus hovering nearby without a scratch, it was high time to get out of the library. The little devil scrambled back to her feet and scurried away with the tome in her arms and an agonizing pain in her back.
"Not so fast, devil," Malus cried. She reached into her robes and pulled out a slip of paper with sigils written upon it, a spellcard. "Wood Sign, Green Storm!"
The card in Malus' hand vanished in a plume of green flames and took effect immediately. Sharp green leaves billowed out from nearby bookcases and containers and whirled around the inner sanctum like a school of ravenous piranhas. One leaf even sliced off Koakuma's red tie as it flew past. Patchouli, being a master magician, made sure that her spellcards were powerful and efficient. Koakuma looked up for a way to fly out of the green storm, but the leaves had formed a perfect container around the inner sanctum and would not bend to brute force.
A deep rumbling came from beneath the floorboards and directed Koakuma's attention back to Malus.
"Earth Sign, Rage Trilithon High Level!"
Koakuma figured that the landslide of tumbling rocks would come from above, but with Malus corrupting the cards with her terrible magic, the rocks would come from elsewhere. The ground shook and sent Koakuma tumbling before the floorboards creaked and broke as boulders rose up from below. Remilia and Sakuya dove for cover as a few rocks erupted next to them and smashed into the spot they once occupied. It was armageddon in earthquake form, and with the green storm keeping the three confined in the inner sanctum, it was only a matter of time before one rock struck home.
"I have it! I have the tome!" Koakuma cried as she made her way to the mistress of the mansion.
"Come on! We need to get out of here!" Remilia searched for Sakuya through the chaos. "Sakuya! Where are you?"
The two stumbled into each other when a boulder burst in mid-air behind them. Pebbles scattered around them and dotted the area with dents like hail to crops. Remilia whirled around and blasted a few pieces of rock that would have crushed them had she not interfered. As the rocks rained down upon them, Koakuma looked up and realized that there were far too many to dodge properly. Malus was cornering them and would soon crush them, yet what she wasn't planning on was for the chief maid to prove her worth in spite.
Sakuya burst through a shower of shrapnel and sharp stones and clasped a hand on both Remilia and Koakuma. And then, before Malus knew what was happening, the three disappeared from the killzone.
Meiling was just about ready to take a nap at her post when Remilia, Sakuya, and Koakuma appeared in front of her and collapsed to the hallway floor in an exhausted heap. The maid stood off to the side and keeled over to pant and try to collect herself while Remilia whined and rubbed her head. They were alive, and other than a few fresh bruises and cuts, they were mostly unharmed. Koakuma was the exception. She writhed on the floor and cursed Malus for throwing out her back.
"Did we learn anything useful?" Remilia wheezed as she stood up to dust off her dress.
"Malus is... She does not care for diplomacy, reason, or pleasantries," Sakuya commented.
"That, and she's a simple-minded shrew. Her desire for power is so absurd it's frightening. We now know that she wants my sister most of all, and she's prepared to do whatever it takes to get to her, even if Patchy has to pay the price." Remilia crushed a fist into an open hand and scowled. "Of all the despicable scum in the world, it has to be this one..."
The vampire shook her head and managed to compose herself. She turned to Koakuma and loomed over her as Meiling gingerly helped her to her feet.
"Well little devil? Still amongst the living?"
"I think one of my wings are broken," Koakuma whimpered with a grimace.
"If youkai can fly without wings, so can you. Buck up and be thankful it was just a wing. Now, do you have the tome?"
Koakuma nodded and handed over the dark tome. With her senses coming back to her along with the fact that she had time to properly inspect things Koakuma couldn't help but notice that the tome looked different from the one Malus held. This one looked bulky and felt heftier than the hollow shell that Malus came out of. Remilia blinked twice and narrowed her eyes in scrutiny. Her fingers ran over the leather edges, spine, and eventually tried to open the tome only to find that it wouldn't open. There was no lock keeping it sealed this time.
"What the... It won't open?" Remilia muttered. She turned the book over in her hands and scoffed in disgust. "Great. This is the wrong tome. Good going, devil."
The vampire dropped the book on a nearby table and ran her fingers through her hair. Koakuma gasped at the revelation and turned away in despair. She had been near-useless in the brief struggle against the undead maids and even Malus. In her heart she knew that she did all that she could, but she cursed herself for being unable to do more. If only she knew better magic or was stronger, she wouldn't make so many mistakes. She would be more useful, and she mess up something as simple as picking one tome from two.
Remilia, Meiling, and Sakuya bowed their heads and remained silent, unsympathetic to the shortcomings of the succubus behind them. As far as they knew, the tome that Malus came out of was very important if the lich herself coveted it and kept it on her person for safekeeping. They had gotten one chance to retrieve it and they blew it by grabbing something completely different, something completely irrelevant to their struggle. Remilia, the manipulator of fate, felt that she had nothing to add, nor any plans to work off of. There was one that she knew could work, but she shuddered at the thought.
If only Patchouli were here, the four thought. She would know what to do.
"I'm... I'm sorry, mistress," Koakuma whispered. She turned to the useless tome on the table and reached for the spine. "I failed... B-but I won't give up. I just can't. I have to do som-"
The tome reacted to Koakuma's touch in a way that Remilia was unable to produce. The little devil recoiled from it and watched as purple runes appeared on the spine and lit up with a mysterious glow. The runes spread up and down the spine and eventually to the front and back of the hefty tome to form intricate patterns, strange symbols, and foreign letters that were undecipherable to any who was not skilled in the arcane. Slowly, the tome lifted itself off from the table and hovered before Koakuma. When a yellow crescent appeared on the front cover and bathed the area in a calm, warm light, the little devil realized what she had in her hands.
Remilia and the others looked up from their sulking and could hardly believe their eyes.
"But how did she get it to..."
"Well... She is her familiar..."
Koakuma held the tome in her hands and reached for the cover as the others crowded around her. It wasn't the tome of Malus, but it just might prove more useful to them all than the book of origin. When the little devil managed to open the grimoire, she was struck breathless at what she found within. Nevermind the treasure trove of useful information written in the pages by a steady hand. What mattered at the moment was the hope that emanated from it all. Perhaps... Just perhaps... There was a chance at saving Patchouli Knowledge after all...