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> Eat with Shou
>> Tell her
As Shou walked out of the room to get food, I laid down on the bedding again and gave my room another glance. I let out a deep sigh and shook my head, giving myself a moment to prepare for something really stupid. Once I was finished preparing, I began to hold a breath till my lungs burned, trying to focus on the burning in my chest and not the dull burning of my wounds. Once my lungs burned enough to dull everything else, I pushed off the mattress and pulled my feet under me, shifting into a crouch. The effort was enough to force me to grit my teeth and work to correct my balance.
“Just like back then...” I mumbled to myself as I let go and take in a new breath, thinking back to the mansion. I shook the thoughts out of my head, and slowly straightened up, using my arms and legs together to offset some of the pain. I was favoring my smoke arm; a little odd since it was my off hand, but I shrugged it off once I straightened up. Feeling my bandages, I sighed in relief, all of them still fairly fresh. Well, fresh enough that I could tell I hadn't opened any wounds that had already healed shut. With that sense of relief, I walked to a small box in the corner of the room, atop which laid my now cut up clothing.
Another sigh escaped my lips, quickly cut off by a wince, as I bent over slightly to gather a few things from the top of the pile. Cigarettes and a Zippo knock off, both made by the Kappa, both with the quality of the original. Gotta love those crazy bastards, they know how to make the comforts of the outside world work in a land without common sense.
With my two items in hand, I slowly shifted my way to the other door to the room, which led out to a large open air courtyard. Probably some kinda parade ground for the temple, a place to gather and do whatever activities needed to be done for the day. Suited my needs just fine, at least.
Gingerly walking down to the ground, I took small notes of the sounds and sights of the temple in the slowly descending sun. Judging from the grounds, and the grass that grew on it, this was a lesser used courtyard, maintained but left alone for the most part. Also judging from the number of doors in the walls around me, I'd have hazarded a guess that this was one of the living quarters, likely for the Yokai or guests who stayed at the temple.
Which meant it was more than empty enough for me to sit down and enjoy something I hadn't done in... had to be a few days, not even counting the days I had been asleep.
The click of the lighter is a familiar comfort, as is the simple weight of the stick between my lips. Something about it felt... right, really, like it was something to I could always rely on to be the same. Same as the smell of the water grown tobacco that the Kappa used in these cigarettes. Light hints of the sea, mixed with some kind of mint from their crazy cross-breeding and something that was too hidden to smell under the smoke.
Overall a relaxing aroma, and one I hadn't understood how much I was missing until I had it again. I took a deep breath and smiled, letting the smoke collect in my lungs for a few moments before letting it go, feeling my arm grow denser. The shackle may keep my arm there, but it didn't do much for when the smoke that made it up started to dissipate more than I could replace it. The feeling of it rebuilding itself from the outside in was a perverse one, an almost unnatural pleasure.
I always chalked it up to me being a very strange individual.
Strange enough to walk out of bed after being beaten to hell just to smoke a cigarette. When did my life get so insane? Unfortunately, I didn't really get time to ponder it before I heard the door to my room opening again, followed by a sigh.
“Out here,” I called out, not looking back, simply for the sake of saving myself from the pain of turning. There was only really one person I would think would be coming to see me.
“Oh, oh!” Shou mumbled, walking out the door and setting down the tray of food next to me, then sitting down herself. “I'll admit, I thought you ran off after we told you that you'd be working here.”
“You kidding me? I've been here nearly five years at this point, that's been my life for most of it, working for someone...” I trailed off and looked down to the cigarette in my hand, gently rolling it between my fingers. “Sorry, you want me to put this out? Probably something wrong with smoking in a temple.”
Shou waved a hand in negation before taking the bowl of food and mixing it with some sauce. “With all the incense we burn? I'd be surprised if anyone would actually notice something like someone smoking.” She paused, looking at my arm before quickly turning her attention to making sure the food was easy to eat. “Besides, it's probably a good thing, judging from your arm.”
And that was the last thing that was said between us for a while. I finished my cigarette, Shou and I ate, and we let the sun go down into the horizon. A few people came, walking to their rooms for the night. A black haired wolf, a green haired Yamabiko, even a few monks and that pair of tricksters who had gained a reputation for spooking the mansion fairies.
That memory brought the tide of emotions and thoughts I had been holding back to the forefront of my mind. Things I didn't want to think about, didn't want to remember, even if the reminders stared me in the face. I turned my head to look to Shou, who was fidgeting with a pair of chopsticks that she had brought with the tray, looking like she was trying not to have a question on her mind.
“Shou... I'm going to sound kinda like an idiot here, but... go ahead,” I said, giving myself a moment to mentally prepare before her curiosity got the better of her. “You deserve to know since you almost got wrapped up in it at the party.”
“What happened? I mean... I heard things from some people talking after everything essentially exploded, but no one had a clue what really happened. All we knew was you were on the ground bleeding, and something went down nearly in the blink of an eye.” She looked a little guilty bringing it up, but I waved her off. Maybe it was time for me to talk about it as well.
“To start with last night, I...” I paused and took a breath, running my real hand through my hair. Where even to start with this story? “I got into a fight with the maid of the Scarlet Mansion. Time manipulation happened, which led to it all happening in a moment to the rest of you. Wasn't much longer than that before I got my ass handed to me, so don't feel like you missed out on much.” My poor attempt at a joke fell flat and I looked to the side, away from Shou. “That was pretty bad, sorry.”
“Why though? It's rather against the idea of a 'perfectly elegant maid' to be beating people up at a party.”
“She had a pretty good reason, considering I attacked Remilia Scarlet,” I mumbled, looking down to my hands like they had blood on them. They technically did, if you were looking at it metaphorically. “I haven't heard anything to say that she survived it.”
“W-What?” Shou blinked, trying to process what I just said. I didn't have to look at her to get a sense of preparation in case anything happened.
“It happened a few weeks ago...” I began.
Taking a deep breath, I slowly adjusted the table cloth so I had set everything up, just the way Remilia liked it, and just how Sakuya taught me to do. Had to get it right, and had to do to before it was time to wake her. They finally trusted me to do this one myself, and I'd be damned if I screw it up. Smoothing out one last fold in the cloth, I stood and took a few steps back to examine the work I had done with a sense of pride in my chest. If this had gone well, I may have been able to serve the guests directly at the next party.
All that was left to do was to go inform the mistress that her dinner was prepared. Straightening my vest and pants, I walked out of the dining room and through the hall, passing by excited fairy maids who all gave me waves and thumbs up, causing the pride to swell in my chest.
I opened the door to the large bedchambers in which Remilia had been relaxing inside. “Good morning mistress. If you'll come with me, your food is prepared.” I gave her my best bow and placed my hand in front of my chest, looking almost like a proper butler.
Remilia was looking wonderful this day, using the dress that she used for actual parties.In the growing light of the approaching dawn, it gave her an ethereal quality, enhancing the charisma she had naturally. A slim cut dress that greatly contrasted her everyday outfit by not only being a deep purple but hugging her body in ways that brought flattering attention to her figure. In a dress like this, it was easy to tell that she was the master of the house, and a powerful, if small, woman.
“Good evening,” she greeted me with a smile. “What is for dinner today?”
“Sakuya prepared a dish called Papas de sarrabulho with a blood pudding on the side,” I mentioned, leading her to the dining room.
“An interesting combination,” she said, a slight hint of anticipation in her voice.
As we walked my hands fumbled inside my pockets, sliding one of my cigarettes out as I opened the door. I hadn't even noticed that I was holding it while I set Remilia up at the dining table, pulling her chair out for her, sliding it back in once she took her seat, and then serving the food Sakuya and I had prepared. I was about to light it when I noticed the gaze of my mistress go from the food to me.
“What are you doing?” she asked, looking about ready to kill me. It was a look I knew all too well, having been treated like a personal mule for the last three years.
“What do you mean, Mistress?” I said, my body moving on its own, doing something that had simply become second nature at this point. Honestly, it wasn't until I lit the cig that I even noticed it. I regarded it quizzically and walked to the open air balcony that stood at the other end of the table.
Remillia frowned, giving me a look of disappointment and subtle anger. “You know what I mean. Stop that disgusting habit this instant,” she said, almost as casually as if she was talking about the weather or a color of paint on the wall.
I raised a hand and shook my head, trying to wave her off. Why was she making such a big deal of this? “It's nothing to worry about, mistress. I will simply stand over here.”
Apparently, my smile and moving had done nothing to pacify her. “Anthony. I am your mistress, and I am ordering you to stop.” She commanded, her voice betraying some hint of annoyance, which undoubtedly meant she was starting to grow incredibly frustrated with me.
My frustrations got the better of me. “You may employ me, Mistress, but you can't control everything I do,” I growled back, taking a deep puff of the cigarette. It turns out that that was a mistake, as the next thing I knew I was thrown against a wall, coughing as I try to keep some semblance of oxygen in my lungs.
“You forget who you speak to," Remilia said, floating above me with her spear in hand, wings fully spread out one side covering her arm and spear with ease, and making her look about a quarter the size of her ego. “I am mistress of this household, and I will NOT stand idle while a whelp, alive only by my good graces, speaks to me so.”
Seeing her backed by the high vaulted ceilings and stained glass only served to push my blood to the boiling point.
“Well, what does my whelp of a butler have to say for him-ERK!” Her words died off when I exploded into smoke and ash, surrounding the vampire and reforming in front of her, my left hand closing tightly around her throat. More smoke, more ash flew up from my body, swirling around me. If I was in a better frame of mind, this would scare me senseless.
“I am no one's whelp! Least of all a half grown vampire who fancies herself a queen of NOTHING!” I growled, my voice harsh filtered through the thick cloud of ashen miasma.
“And that's the last thing I remember. Next thing I knew, I was waking up in a random bed underground, with Yuugi telling me I did something wicked, and a basket of tacos waiting for me.”
Shou opened her mouth a few times before closing her eyes and putting her hand to her head. “W-Wow. That's...That is a story. Hold here. I have something that you need, badly.”
I blinked at the thought as she left and waited for her to return, busying myself by examining the food bowl in great detail. When Shou returned, I was balancing it on my leg and watching it shift atop the cloth.
“Here,” she said, handing me a cup full of something strong. “Drink up.”
“I thought it was against your beliefs to drink?”
“I thought listening to confessions was a Christian thing.”
“Fair enough,” I mumbled, pulling the cup to my lips and draining it in a second.
“Not too much,” she poured herself a drink as she spoke. “Tomorrow we introduce you to the temple.”
“You... have surprisingly little reaction for what I just told you.”
She looked at me for a moment as sat down again. “I'm trying to keep from making any snap judgment,” she said and took a sip of her drink, then set it down on her leg, holding it gingerly.
With that, she flashed me a smile and finished her cup, taking the bottle and putting it on the serving tray she had brought before. She collected my cup and bowls and stood with it all in hand. “Try and get some rest. I've got a lot to think about before your work starts.”
I don't argue, simply getting up and turning to walk back into the room that was prepared for me.
“And don't forget to apply that medicine we gave you.” She called out as she left.
Dreams are funny things, aren't they? Some say they can let you see...
[ ] The past
[ ] The present
[ ] What's yet to come
Morning at the temple is never dull
[ ] GOOD MORNING!
[ ] COLD!