>[x] That certainly sounds interesting--I'd love to.
"I've always got time for you," I reply. She waves vaguely to the chair and table in the corner. After a moment's hesitation, she stands up, taking her pewter tray with her. She comes over and gently sets it down on the table with hardly a sound as I take a seat.
...And then she crosses the room, to a similar table on the other side. With neither warning nor ceremony she grabs the chair there with one hand and drags it back behind her. I wince at the unholy screech of the wood across the marble tiles, echoes chasing each other round the room. Finally, with a careless half-whirl she spins the thing forward on one leg, and heavily drops herself upon it.
"So, my father," she continues calmly, as if nothing had happened. "I'm rather fond of telling newcomers that he was Vlad Tepes--Dracula. But that, like most of... this--" She waves her hand vaguely around the room. "--is simply an affectation."
"Er, I know." She pierces me with those red eyes. "Ahh--When we met for dinner the first time. Something about being born again." She just keeps. Staring. I am deeply, deeply sorry I mentioned that. Before I can manage to mumble anything she leans back in her chair.
"Oh. That's right." And after a moment's pause, she adds, "It's true, though. Vlad turning me. Supposedly he died before I was born--but that's the thing about vampires, isn't it? I was fairly young when we met and he disappeared not long after, but it was him, and his head was most certainly still on his shoulders."
"Who... is Vlad?"
"Oh." Almost dumbly, she looks at me. After a moment, her expression changes, the corners of her lips turn upward, and before I know it, she's laughing. And then I realize--this is only the second time I've ever heard her laugh. She continues, as I sit there watching her, growing more and more ill at ease. Finally, she catches herself, and instantly all the mirth vanishes like a warm fire chased out by a cold draft. "No one important."
It's right about then that I remember that Remilia Scarlet is a centuries-old vampire, and I'm--well, a centuries old fairy. But there's a discrepancy there. A terrifying one. She's my friend, but I barely know the first thing about her.
And here I am, sitting three feet away from her across a maid's serving table. ...And then it hits me. I've never seen her this close before.
I knew she was beautiful, but even with whatever's got her acting this way... Perfectly smooth, porcelain skin, practically luminous even in the dim light of her throne room. Long, graceful fingers with perfectly smooth nails gently wrapped around the end of her teaspoon. Her silky hair is loose, and strangely, left almost windswept. Despite the rest of her dress being painstakingly neat and orderly, the messy look somehow compliments it perfectly. Her eyes are alight with a cherry-red glow, framed behind long, slender eyelashes. Resting her hand on her cheek again, eyes distant, she looks perpetually unhappy, everything coming together to give her this... sadness. I don't understand the first thing about her or it, but I want to make it better.
Abruptly she speaks, startling me. "I'm sorry, Kazuki. You must think I'm mad." She doesn't give me a chance to say anything before she goes on. Maybe she's worried about the answer. "I understand you spent the day with Meiling."
"I'm certain I never told you how I met her." Looking up at me intently, I nod for her to continue. "It was not long after I had become head of the family. I had taken Flandre to China with me, if only to get us out of the manor..." She notices my incredulous look. "There were some bad memories at home, and the two of us... needed some time."
"You took Flandre?"
"Ah. Yes. I'm sorry. She was... better, then." She looks away for a moment, and I can't help but feel a pang of guilt for reminding her. Then again, having brought her sister up, maybe she feels the same about me. "Nonetheless. We were out by carriage one day, and heard a great commotion nearby. We stopped the cart and went to see. Over a few hills, we saw a great army on the attack. But all of them... they were attacking one person."
"That person was Meiling. I found out later she had been fighting them for ten days continuously, and intermittently for months without rest."
I knew Meiling was a capable fighter, but... "Why?"
Remilia narrows her eyes. "The world was changing, Kazuki. Dragons in the East were always seen as a symbol of luck and fortune. But men had decided they didn't need their monsters any more." I--dragons?
"That's right." Once again, she goes on before I can say anything. "She was clearly wounded, exhausted. She had torn through entire armies, but there were always more, drawn together by strong warlords and the 'threat' her existence represented."
"Threat? But they were attacking her."
"Yes, but if they merely said she had destroyed armies, no one would think to ask. And more than that... she represented something else. Something more than any despot warlord or his lackeys could be." Her voice has taken on an intensity I've only ever heard from her once before--when Reimu brought her crashing down. "Like the rest of the world, the times were different. So they rose up and struck at their benevolent protectors.
"...It was Flandre who asked me to intervene. She had taken a liking to Meiling. So I had Patchouli keep her safe and hidden behind the ridge, and went to see the Commander."
"You did what?"
She grins wide, giving me a flash of ivory fang. "Nothing untoward, I swear. I couldn't risk it with Flandre, and this was a great host, sure to overwhelm this redheaded girl, and possibly me. But by now his men were worn out from the long fighting."
I find myself leaning in now, incredibly curious. "What did you do?"
"I introduced myself, and told him that coming over that ridge I had assembled a warband of youkai to rescue our sister in arms."
"...And he believed you?"
"I can be very persuasive, particularly if Patchouli uses her considerable sorcery to summon a great clamor and plumes of smoke." Ah! Clever. "Cursing, he gave the order to fall back, promising me he'd return with fresh troops, with tenfold more men and arms."
She laughs, genuinely, and I can't help but smile. "How should I know? I was out of the country less than a week later. But, I'm getting ahead of myself. As soon as the last man had disengaged, she collapsed. It...was terrible. She was nearly spent. And do you know what she said? 'What can a warband of youkai do against countless numbers?' She asked." Grinning even more now, she finishes, "And I said, 'not as many as two youkai and a lie."
Her smile fades. "Meiling is a very proud woman. It was that pride that kept her from leaving even in the face of certain death--pride and love for the people who had not forsaken her. But it was her pride that demanded she repay me for saving her that finally got me to persuade her to leave. I...strongarmed the matter somewhat, but I think she's forgiven me. I hope she has, because when she's healed, she'll be quite a force."
"I'm sorry," I interrupt, "'when' she's healed?"
"Meiling is still injured, Kazuki. Her body was... practically destroyed, from the years of fighting, and then weeks without rest. All that kept her going was her spirit, far past the end of her reserves and more." Four hundred years I've known her... and she's so strong I never even noticed she was getting stronger in the first place. That puts a little shiver down my back.
"Flandre, as I said, took a shine to her, and it wasn't long before she was playing at being our tianlong."
She waves it off. "I'm very fond of Meiling--and Meiling is very fond of Flandre. It's been... a point of contention, since she fell ill." We fall into another glum silence. Remi's tea has long gone cold. "Bah, enough of this," she says suddenly, slapping her palms on the table and bolting upright (scaring the hell out of me again), "We did say we would speak over a meal, did we not?" I manage to nod while I will my heart to slow down. "Then let us go get one!"
If I'm surprised, I don't know how to describe what the fairy maids must think. They stare at us (mostly her) as she stalks through the hallways like a woman on a mission. The girls hop to one side or another as she passes, then look on us in our wake, utterly bewildered. Remi clearly never is seen in the halls of her own mansion--and certainly, not with me making a beeline for the larder.
I've never been here before. The kitchen is as large as any of the rooms I've seen, though cluttered and full, with little mazelike passages between sacks of flour, casks and barrels, all sorts of things. Fairies with long, white aprons and matching hats bustle to and fro... or they do until they see us. Remilia strides right on by like she owns the--oh, right.
"You'll spoil your dinner, you know," says Sakuya, abruptly appearing in that way only she does. Remi seems nonplussed, waving her off.
"Yes, yes." She walks over to a wooden chopping block of some kind, on which rests the largest roast turkey I have ever seen in my life--Admittedly, out of three, but--continuing to surprise me, Remilia unceremoniously grabs hold of a leg and pulls. She easily tears it off with her vampire strength, ignoring the trimming knives put out... and then she holds it out to me before repeating the process with the other. Licking her fingers on one hand clean (really? Her?), she takes her prize and makes for an out-of-the-way corner. She hops up onto a crate. Still vaguely shocked by this whole thing, I follow dumbly and find a place to sit against a bag of grain. It's apparently only the fairies (myself included) that find this situation bizarre, giving us a wide berth. Sakuya, on the other hand, seems completely at ease. She calmly picks up the implements Remi eschewed, clucking her tongue with disappointment even as she flips them between her fingers in a vaguely threatening display of legerdemain.
"You massacred this, Lady. Trimming it is going to be a challenge."
"Bah." Remi takes a bite of her snack. "I have every faith in your turkey-murdering skills." ...I do have to say, it's quite good. Sakuya begins her work on the remaining bird, tsking here and there as she mends the savaged bird. Looking around the larder as I eat, I'm amazed by the sheer volume of food--then again, with a staff of what must be a hundred or more fairies, I guess it would have to be. Swallowing my first bite, I have to ask.
"Remi, how do you pay for all of this?" I know she said she's aristocracy, but if she's been here hundreds of years...
"She invested in the human village centuries ago," Sakuya explains. "She actually holds something like fifty percent share of the entire market. Normally we don't worry about the actual expenses, and simply accept food and goods by trade. Occasionally we send maids along to assist them. On the whole, quite beneficial for everyone. There was of course a great deal of turmoil when a vampire's mansion appeared on the horizon one day, but over time they've come to trust us."
"Enough to get rich and prosperous, at least," Remi injects cynically.
"Oh, hush. They're quite friendly with me, and I've been visiting for decades." Didn't you say Sakuya was human?
"Pfhah!" Remi snorts. "They're friendly because you look like one of them. Most humans are selfish, greedy, and hostile to anyone outside them and theirs. They're just like any other animal, but they--we, if you like--are just dressed up and made to walk upright. Vindictive, and virulently so at that. And that's coming from a former member." She takes a great bite and continues. "You can't trust them. Most aren't worth so much as their words." She swallows hard before continuing, a little more subdued. "That's why you have to protect the ones that are."
I feel like I should say something. Sakuya is unreadable, as she works her magic on the turkey. Remi herself seems to finally acknowledge the awkwardness that I've been feeling since this evening began. We eat in a more sullen silence for a little while. Remilia swings her legs from the crate as Sakuya begins loading up a plate with neatly cut turkey. I don't know what she was talking about, I can't tell that we tore chunks from the bird at all. "I'll be off to lay this out for the girls," she says, before vanishing, platter and all.
"Hnn. I apologize again, Kazuki. It's this weather. Or lack thereof. I haven't been able to leave the mansion in weeks. I keep hoping spring will turn, and the rains will come, but..." Oh!
"Hey, Remi, I can tell you some about it."
"Is that so?" She sits more upright, eyeing me intently.
"Well, you know my power--I'm starting to get the hang of it. And the atmosphere feels all... stiff and oppressive." To say nothing of the atmosphere right now... "It took me some thinking, but I realized it's because I'm not feeling any change in the air. Nothing at all."
She looks intrigued. "Is that so?"
I nod. "I've been thinking about it--I need to let Reimu and Marisa know. I'm sure they'll want to go check it out."
"The busybodies," she says with a smile.
"I was thinking of going with them."
And right back, like she never left--aside from the lack of platter. "Here, my lady."
"Kazuki will be going out some time soon to investigate this weather."
"Indeed?" Gah, do you all say that?
"And you'll be going with him." Wait, what?
"Of course." I look at Remi for an explanation. Or anything. She grins.
"I simply can't leave you unprotected." But but but shrine maiden and witch! "And besides, I was thinking of sending Sakuya out on the same errand anyway."
"It will be good to have a day or two out," the maid agrees.
"Then it's decided." What?! None of this is decided! "Perhaps a week's time?"
"That should be ample time to finish my sewing and appoint a temporary replacement," Sakuya says, before winking out. I'm left fumbling and trying without success to voice protest.
"Then," Remilia finishes, seeming much more herself again, "I think I will see to some preparations of my own. Thank you, Kazuki, I feel much better now." With that, she walks out, calmly crunching the turkey bone (completely cleaned bare) to meal in her hand.
...but what was wrong in the first place?
The heavy door creaked open, casting a narrow band of light across the cold cellar floor.
Flandre sat on her bed, arms around her knees, not looking up at the intrusion.
Remilia stepped in, closing the door smoothly behind her. "Hello, Flandre."
"Remi," the younger Scarlet mumbled. Remilia's guard relaxed somewhat. She rarely lashed out when she was morose.
The night was not a coincidence. Over the years, Remilia had noticed a great deal more aggression and activity from her sister during the week of the full moon--fortunately when she was best able to address it. Now was a New moon, and likewise, the mad girl was at her most sedate. Remi sat beside her sister on the bed, gently moving a doll aside. Gingerly she draped an arm over Flandre's squared shoulders. "Are you well?"
"I've just been... thinking." Flandre kicked her legs over the edge of the bed, a habit Remilia recognized in herself. "About... this."
She let her head fall to Remi's shoulder, who gently stroked her hair and hugged her a little closer. "About what, Flan?"
"You know, this. Me." Though she didn't betray a sign of emotion, Remi winced internally. "...You've been with that fairy boy," she suddenly said.
"Kazuki? Yes, I have." After centuries in her lonely little basement, Remi supposed it only made sense that her sharpened senses picked up the slightest difference in the cool, stale air.
"That fairy boy..." she said again. "...Did I hurt him?"
Remi closed her eyes and pulled her sister into a full hug. "Yes, Flandre," she replied, rubbing her back, "You hurt him." There was one other advantage to seeing her on the new moon--she was much more lucid. Sometimes, painfully so.
"I'm sorry," Flandre murmured.
"Sorry for what, Flan?"
"I'm sorry I'm broken."
[ ] Go see Reimu.
[ ] Go see Marisa.
[ ] Let's get this over with--go see Sakuya about the new clothes.
[ ] Write-in