Period 16: Doll
As predicted Evangeline and Chachamaru were absent again, to Mero's great frustration. They were probably planning her demise at that very moment. But for some reason her master had forbidden her to confront them. Why? Wasn't it an obvious risk to let them act freely? Furthermore, did they know each other? She was only ordered not to interfere after she mentioned her name. What was really going on here? No! She shook her head. It wasn't her place to question. Only to obey. The Lifemaker's orders were absolute. The most absolute law in this world. Even if she didn't understand it. But it still didn't quell the uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. She knit her eyebrows, ground her teeth tapped her feet, and created an invisible bubble around her, that none of her classmates dare step into.
"Is Evangeline-san out sick again?" Negi frowned.
Of course she isn't sick you fool. Mero thought. She's a vampire
"She's missed two days in a row." Negi continued. "At this rate she'll be in trouble when exams roll around. Does anyone want to volunteer to share their notes with her tonight?" Almost the entire class groaned collectively. "Huh, what's the matter?"
"Why should we have to?" Yuna complained. "It's too much of a hassle!"
"Yeah, give us a break Negi-kun!" Makie said.
"You all should be ashamed of yourselves!" Ayaka shouted. "Even though Negi-sensei asking you a favor!"
"I don't understand. What's so troublesome about sharing notes?" Negi asked.
"Ah, I guess you wouldn't know, Negi-kun." Konoka said. "But Eva-chan doesn't actually live in the dorms."
"Yeah. I don't know the reason behind it, but she actually lives in a little cabin waaaaaay out on the edge of campus."
"In the middle of nowhere." Asuna added. "No one's going to go so far out of their way just to-"
"I'll do it." They turned to see Mero raising her hand.
"A-Are you sure, Mero-san?" Negi asked. She nodded. "Alright, then I'll also make up some worksheets for her."
"What am I doing?" Mero sighed out loud as she walked through the forest. She had been ordered not to confront Evangeline, so why did she volunteer to deliver her schoolwork? What was she going to do when she saw her? She wasn't entirely sure, but she had to at least find out what she was up to. She wasn't disobeying her orders. She wouldn't engage or fight her, just observe. She would report whatever she learned, and then get new orders.
After wandering the forest following the crude map her classmates had drawn her, she eventually came upon a small log cabin. Mero was extremely hesitant to approach. Not because it was heavily defended, in fact Mero couldn't detect any defenses at all. There were no magic barriers, no traps of any kind, not even a single familiar guarding the perimeter. As far as she could tell, it was nothing more than an ordinary house. Even the most arrogant mage would set up some basic protections on their home, much less a high daylight walker. Was she really that foolish, or was this some kind of trap? She approached the cottage slowly and cautiously. She pushed on the door and found it was unlocked. She walked in prepared to fire off a spell at a moment's notice. The interior was furnished plainly, with a table, chairs, and a fireplace in the corner. Almost every available space was filled by a stuffed animal, doll, or puppet.
"OOO, a visitor!" Mero whipped around towards the unfamiliar voice, but she seemed to be alone. Well, alone save for all the toys.
She glanced around the room nervously. It probably made sense for a puppet master to decorate their home with dolls, but it still felt like she was surrounded by enemies.
"Hey, hey, over here!" The voice said. She scanned the room but couldn't identify the speaker. "This way, this way!" It seemed to be coming from a pile of dolls in the corner. Was she walking into a trap? She still couldn't sense anything, so she slowly walked toward it. "Closer, closer, almost there. . ." The voice urged her on, until a dark shape leaped out at her and latched onto her face, blocking her vision.
"Gyaah!" Mero reacted immediately, shooting out jets of water from her hands. Unfortunately, her spells did nothing to dislodge her new friend.
"Ahhhh . . ." The voice said. "Such sweet mana."
"Get off of me!" Mero growled. She grabbed at her opponent and tried to shake them off. She stumbled through the cabin blindly until she tripped over a piece of furniture. The fall seemed to loosen the grip of whatever was holding her, and she was finally able to pull it off her face. It was a small doll. It had short green hair and was dressed in a simple black dress with a blue tie. It was probably meant to resemble a small girl. It might have been convincing if it hadn't been for her large lidless eyes, the metal fins on either side of head, and the pair of bat wings protruding from her back.
"Hey! C'mon don't be stingy!" The doll whined.
"What are you?" Mero asked.
"I'm Chacha-zero. You can just call me Zero." She chirped. "Can I have some more mana please? I'm starving over here."
"A magic doll? Are you Evangeline's familiar?" As she examined the doll, it pulled free from her grasp and flew and flew toward her again. Mero instinctively jumped back and swatted it out of the air. It hit the wall on the opposite end of the room and crumpled to the ground.
"Hey, what was that for?" The puppet complained. She expected it to fly back up and try again, but it remained face down on the floor with its limbs awkwardly folded under it. Was it damaged? She walked over to it, and as soon as her magic barrier touched her, the mana flowed into her body and she sprang back to life.
"I see", Mero said. "You aren't damaged, you're mana deprived."
"Master's powers are sealed, so I'm always starving." She complained. "But just being inside your barrier is giving me enough energy to move around, see?" She made a show of waving he arms and tapping her feet.
"If this was meant to be a trap, it's not a very effective one." Mero said poking her in the head.
"How rude." The doll said. If she had cheeks, she would've puffed them out.
"Master, are you awake? I've made you some porridge." A voice called out, and Chachamaru walked into carrying a steaming bowl. Mero turned towards her, and while she was distracted the doll flew up and landed on top of her head.
"Get off of me!" She shouted and pulled on her wings, but Chacha-zero held tightly to her hair.
"Ah, please excuse my older sister." Chachamaru said bowing. Then she looked to Chacha-zero. "Zero behave yourself. You're making trouble for our guest."
"Oh, come on!" She whined. "It's not like she'll lose anything." Mero seemed to completely forget about the doll sitting on her head and ran up to Chachamaru.
"Welcome." She said bowing again. Her tone disarmed her slightly.
"Whatever you're plotting it won't work." Mero spat. You may have gotten the upper hand the other night, but I won't make the same mistake again!" Chachamaru stared at her blankly.
"I think you're misunderstanding something." She said. "We aren't plotting anything. Master is ill." Mero scoffed.
"Don't lie to me. I'm sure you're already-"
"Oh, is that the schoolwork from today?" Chachamaru said noticing the papers that were now laying on the floor. Mero looked down and suddenly remembered what she came here for in the first place.
"Uh, no this isn't what it looks-"
"Supplementary make up lesson for Evangeline-san.'" Chachamaru said reading off the worksheet. "Thank you very much. I will be sure she gets it."
"Don't ignore me!" Mero shouted. "We are enemies. I didn't come here to-"
"Please have a seat." Chachamaru said tying an apron around her waist. "I'll prepare some tea and cake." Mero flushed pink, and she turned to face the other way.
"V-Very well. If you insist, then I can indulge you, just this once. After all, I haven't been ordered to eliminate you just yet."
"Wow," Chachazero said from on top her head. "You're not very honest, are you?"
"Shut up!" She cried. "And get off my head already!"
"Quit being so stingy!" The doll complained. "You won't lose anything. I'm only sucking on the excess mana coming off your barrier." She was right. Since Chacha-zero attached herself to her, Mero had lost less than one percent of her active mana supply. She dropped onto the sofa.
"For your sake, this had better not be an elaborate trap." A few minutes later, Chachamaru returned with the tea and cake. After taking a sip, Mero had to stifle her reaction. "This . . . is actually quite good."
"Please take your time and enjoy it. Onee-sama please get off of Mero-san's head once your magic is restored."
"Okay!" She said happily.
"Onee-sama?" Mero repeated. "Are you saying you two are sisters?"
"Yes," Chachamaru answered. "My sister and I are magic dolls created to assist and support master.
"You . . . are?" For Chachazero that was obvious, but she couldn't sense any magic from Chachamaru.
"Then how are you able to move? I thought Evangeline wasn't able to supply you with magic."
"That is correct." She explained. "I am a special case. I only require a minimal amount of magic. My movement is powered by electrical servos."
"Electrical . . . what?"
"Servos. I am what you would call a robot." That was a term Mero had never heard before, but she wasn't about to admit that to Chachamaru.
"A 'robot' huh?" Mero chided. "So you aren't even a proper familiar. Your master must be a third rate mage If she can't even manage that."
"On the contrary, I am the most advanced humanoid construct, that magic and science is capable of producing. My body is a combination of mechanical engineering and modern mage craft. My chassis is fully customizable with capacity for upgrades, and my systems are fully equipped with anything and everything my master could need."
". . ." Mero could barely understand her. Instead of answering she looked away and sipped her tea.
"Isn't the same true for you?" Mero nearly choked on her tea after hearing Chachamaru's question.
"My biometric scan of you from the other night confirms it." A beam of light shot out of one of Chachamaru's eyes, projecting a 3D image of Mero's naked body. Alongside it were various sets of measurements indicating her height, weight, bust, and various other details. "You are not a normal human." She continued. "Although the exact process is unknown, my data suggests you are a type of high performance homunculus, created through some form of alchemy. Effectively, an autonomous magical drone. Even if the methods differ, you and I are distinctly similar existences."
"Enough!" Mero jumped up from the couch shouting. "We are nothing alike!" Chacha-zero slid off of Mero's head and landed on the floor.
"Hey what was that for?" Chachamaru tilted her head.
"How are we dissimilar? According to the data-"
"Shut up!" She cried. "We just are!" The two girls started at each other in silence.
"Ha, ha, what's this? Two dolls arguing about being dolls? What kind of bad joke is this?" Mero looked up, and found Evangeline sitting on the banister looking down at them. She was wearing a set of pink pajamas, and her face was flushed, but she was still sporting the same confident grin she had the other night. "You sure have some guts girl, walking into the lair of a high class mage all by yourself."
"Master, you should be in bed." Chachamaru said. Evangeline ignored her.
"So you want to settle things here and now?" She pulled out a potion. "I don't mind going at it one more time. But don't expect . . . me to . . . hold . . . b-" Her eyes glazed over and she slipped off the banister, landing right into Mero's arms.
"What are you playing at?" Mero stared dumbfounded at the unconscious Evangeline. Her breathing was labored, and her face was beaded with sweat. She felt her forehead, and she was burning up. "This is an intense fever."
"Yes." Chachamaru said. "Master has the flu. She is also allergic to pollen."
"I thought she was a high daylight walker. Isn't she the dark evangel?"
"Without magic, Master is just an ordinary girl." Chachamaru explained. "Please, let her rest in the bedroom upstairs."
"A-Alright." Replied a very confused Mero. She followed the robot, and carried her master upstairs. She laid Evangeline onto her bed, while Chachamaru wiped her sweat and put a cool cloth on her forehead.
"I'm going to meet a colleague at a university hospital to obtain some effective medicine." Chachamaru said. "Would you please look after her until I return?"
"Me?!" Mero gasped.
"Listen, I am not your ally. I came here to-" Wait what did she come there? She couldn't attack them, so what was she doing?
"What is the matter with you?" She cried. "I'm practically a stranger to you. Are you telling me you actually trust me to watch over your sick master?"
"Yes." She answered. "I have judged you to be dependable." Mero's cheeks flushed, and she turned away.
"Fine." She relented. "Do what you want. It's not like I have anything else to do anyway, so I guess I'll stick around."
"I shall return as soon as I can." Chachamaru said with a bow as she left the room.
"What are these people thinking?" She looked down at Evangeline, wheezing and trembling like a leaf. Even with her current power it would be easy to crush her throat. Mero raised her hand, gathering magic in her palm.
You needn't concern yourself with Evangelina. Just let her be for now. Her master's words echoed in her head.
"Damn it!" She flung her hand to the side, and a chair across the room blew apart.
"Urgh!" Mero flinched. Did that wake her up? No Evangeline was still sleeping, but now she was tossing and turning and mumbling under her breath.
"Is she dreaming?" She wondered. She shook her head. No, it didn't matter. She wasn't allowed to interfere anyway. She turned to leave. There was no point in her being there. This whole thing had been a waste of time.
"N-No. . . Stop. . . Don't. . ." Evangeline muttered. Mero turned back around. You needn't concern yourself with Evangelina. But that didn't mean she couldn't investigate a little, right? Whatever she was dreaming about could prove vital to their operation. Just let her be for now. Alright. She wouldn't physically do anything to her. If everything went as it should, Evangeline shouldn't even be aware of her presence, but it would be foolish not to seize this chance. She took a deep breath, hoping she wouldn't regret what she was about to do.
"Visju Tal Li Sjutal Vangeit. Nympha somni regina Maeve, portam aperiens ad se me allieiat." [Maeve, queen of the dream spirits, open the door unto her dream.] Light gathered in her hands as she chanted, and then her world was bathed in white.