Life on the road is harsh. I’m good at a number of things, sure, but improving my stamina was never a real priority, so I tire easily. The fights I’ve been in never lasted long enough to need it. Cooking and finding shelter were never things I even had the chance to learn. Hunting is yet another thing I neglected to take up.
To be honest, being bad at things reminds me of… never mind. I was miserable then, too.
I’ve been travelling for three weeks, now. Beyond the fact that I’ve been headed east, I don’t even know what kingdom I’m in at this point. I hope father is taking my disappearance alright. When I left, things were… complicated.
A sudden downpour of rain interrupts my thoughts. The weather has been like this for a few days, all hot and humid and rainy. I can’t help but shiver as the rain soaks into my clothes. Temperatures stopped bothering me a while ago, but I can still catch something from staying drenched for a while. I need to find some shelter very soon.
Seeing as I’m already pretty far from civilization, heading deeper into the forest couldn’t hurt. The shade of the leafy canopy helps a little, but it isn’t going to keep me anywhere near dry. The forest is quiet as I trudge onward.
A ways off the beaten path, I find an old building of cracked stone, overgrown with vines and trees. I’d guess it’s a shrine of some sort. I have no idea to who or what, but it’s a shelter, at least.
The inside is dark, but I can see clear as daylight. There are traces of magic here, the cracked and broken wards having long ago run out of power. After making sure they aren’t dangerous to me, I renew them with a bit of my own inner light. This way, I don’t have to worry about wolves or anything happening upon me.
The rain continues uninterrupted for a few hours. I remember how, when I was very young, I was afraid of thunder. Mother would hold me and tell me that everything would be fine. Things were simpler back then. I’m sorry, mother. I must be such a disappointment to you.
When I awaken, it isn’t where I went to sleep. I’m on the shore of an ice covered lake. Judging by the falling snow, it now seems to be winter. I feel cold for the first time in months. Cold and weak. I can barely even call upon my light. The air is filled with a magic far different than any I’ve encountered before.
Once again, I have to find shelter. Hypothermia is hardly something I’m looking forward to experiencing. I’m not dressed very warmly, having grown reliant on my light to keep me comfortable. On top of that, the sun is setting, meaning it’s about to get a lot colder.
There looks to be a massive, walled off mansion almost on the lakefront. I don’t see any other options, so I have to go with that. It will take me a while to get there, so I should get walking.
I may have underestimated the size of the mansion. It seems to grow and shift as I get closer. The outer walls, dyed red by the setting sun, would be fit for a castle. The mansion itself, from what I can see of it, could also potentially be a castle. There’s something odd about it, though. It looks like a castle one moment and a mansion the next. There must be some very strange magic at work.
Once I get closer, I notice and am noticed by a woman who I presume to be the gatekeeper. She’s a tall, fiery-haired woman in something akin to a green tabard and white pants. While she seems comfortable in this weather, she’s less warmly dressed that I am. Her cool-blue eyes and relaxed posture make her seem non-threatening. Despite that, I’m sure she’s more dangerous than she looks. Guards are rarely for show and the fact that there’s only one means she must be formidable, indeed. She doesn’t have any visible weapons, but some could easily be concealed.
As I approach, she addresses me in a language I don’t understand. It’s like nothing I’ve ever heard before. Seeing my confusion, she switches to another, different language. At least, I think it’s a different language. There are some similarities. Naturally, it doesn’t help in the slightest. She sighs heavily, shaking her head to indicate that she only speaks those two languages.
I think I can try to do something about this. My instructor went over a magical workaround for just this situation, if only in passing. It was a way to understand intent and meaning without actually breaking the language barrier. Even if it doesn’t actually translate things, it’s better than nothing.
When I try to draw from my inner light, I get almost nothing. Even forcing it as much as I can, I only get a small trickle of energy. It’s like trying to lift a mountain. Apart from the tearing feeling in my side, I can barely tell that I’m managing anything. This tiny amount will have to do.
The enchantment brings some warmth back into my freezing ears. It’s a weird prickly-fuzzy feeling, but anything is fine if it takes my mind off the pain. I just wish I had some sort of incantation to go through, if only silently. My instructor laughed at me when I first started making up words to go with my spells. Sure, it’s childish and unnecessary, but she didn’t need to mock me about it.
In any case, I get it to work. The gatekeeper woman waits for me to speak. She seems to have picked up on what sort of enchantment I’ve just put upon myself. Well, sort of. I can’t speak in a way she’ll understand without either casting the enchantment on her or using another enchantment that I never actually learned. Of course, even then, I’d rather not try talking. I haven’t been able to speak for several weeks.
I gesture to her to speak.
“Are you lost?”
I can tell it’s a question from her tone, but not much else. I think she’s asking if I know where I am. I shake my head, honestly having no idea.
“You can understand me now, right?”
Do I… oh, understand! Yes. Sort of. Not really.
The woman sighs. “Close enough. Seeing as you don’t understand a word of Japanese, you must be an outsider.”
I didn’t understand a word of that.
“In any case, I can’t just leave you out in the cold. Come and follow me! My gatehouse is nice and warm.” The woman beckons me forward.
She’s going to let me come in, then. I’m half-tempted not to follow her. If there’s one thing I’m exceedingly bad at, it’s making a good first impression. When it comes to dealing with nobles, that problem gets multiplied by about ten times. The lord of this manor will likely want me gone within minutes of our meeting.
Alternately, I can freeze to death. That seems much more certain. Following it is.
Crossing the threshold gives me a hollow feeling on the inside. It’s that weird sort of vertigo where things are alright but you’re still afraid of what’s to come. It’s possible that it’s an omen that I’m going to meet my doom here or something. Or it might not be. I don’t actually know anything about divining and I’m too cold to care either way.
The gatekeeper is housed in a small building built partway into the wall, just inside of the gate. If I had to pick one word to describe her residence, it would be… well, warm, obviously. The heat comes from a few metallic box things with weird black tails that go into the walls. I don’t know why the fireboxes would need tails, but maybe they work like chimneys.
Once I have my gloves and boots off, to better warm my extremities, I take a proper look around the room. An entire wall is covered in all manner of weapons, most of which look well used. Most of the room is fairly messy, with a few books and assorted cutlery scattered about. There’s a fireplace tucked into a corner, making the fireboxes seem excessive. For someone who can stand out in the cold and be unaffected, the gatekeeper certainly likes to keep her home hot. I wonder why.
While I wait for the feeling to return to my hands and feet, the gatekeeper checks a pot that’s hanging over the fireplace. The smell of cooking meat is positively mouthwatering. I’m suddenly reminded that I last ate at midday, yesterday.
“Here, this should kick the cold out of your bones. It’s a great help on days like this.” She offers me a bowl of some sort of stew.
The fact that the stew has an even higher concentration of magic than my surroundings gives me pause, but hunger wins out. Despite the fact that my own traumatizing attempts at cooking with magic are stuck fresh in my mind, the stew is wonderful. And spicy. Brutally, painfully spicy. It heats my body like liquid fire. I kind of want more.
“Still hungry? The stew isn’t half as filling as you’d think. Kind of a problem, seeing as eating too much of it will cook you alive. I don’t really have anything else on hand at the moment, seeing as I wasn’t expecting a guest. I guess that, if her workload isn’t too high at the moment, Sakuya should be willing to whip something up.”
All I caught of that was that eating more would be a bad idea. The why wasn’t clear, but I figure that there’s something poisonous in the stew that is helpful in small doses.
“Once you’re properly warmed up, the mistress will want to see you. It’s just after nightfall, so she should be in a welcoming enough mood.”
Now I’m to go and meet her lord, then? I’m really not looking forward to this. Still, I don’t have a choice if I want to continue not freezing to death.
The area contained within the outer walls is much larger than the outside would suggest. I find myself looking around at the buildings built into the walls and at the towers spaced evenly throughout the wall. Anything but the looming mansion I’m walking toward.
“Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” The gatekeeper gives me a reassuring pat on the head.
As I work on calming my nerves, the gatekeeper has me wait outside while she goes in. Fortunately, that stew I had earlier makes the cold feel more like a breeze.
The gatekeeper reappears a minute later with another woman. The woman is tall, though less so than the gatekeeper, and has dark blue eyes and braided silver hair. Her clothes identify her as a maid, no doubt one of many who work here. If I had to guess, I’d say that she’s around four years my senior.
The maid’s gaze is slightly unsettling. Her smile doesn’t quite seem genuine. Then again, it isn’t particularly false, either. I can’t read her at all.
“Seeing as you don’t understand a word of Japanese, how about English?”
I didn’t really understand that, either, but I recognize the language, at least. The invaders spoke this language, so I can’t say I like hearing it. Even so, it’s better than nothing.
“You recognize English, but don’t speak it? Do you, perhaps, speak French?”
I do! Well, at the moment, I can’t really speak at all, but I will be able to when I’m feeling better. It’s a relief to know that at least one person speaks the same language I do. It would get very frustrating if no one did.
“Very interesting. I take it you haven’t spoken for a reason.”
I make a point of massaging my throat. It still hurts, of course.
“I see. We don’t often get travelers around here, but the mistress enjoys getting to entertain guests. There’s just one thing before I bring you to her. That sword. I feel it unwise to let you go before milady armed, even if she herself doesn’t care. I ask that you surrender it, fr now.”
Normally, I’d be happy to comply, if only as a gesture of goodwill. The sword itself is unremarkable and doesn’t hold any particular sentimental value. Right now, the problem is that I can’t access my magic, meaning the sword is my only defense. The fact that my hostess is apparently unconcerned about security breaches must mean she believes she has some way of killing me before I can draw my sword. I very much doubt that, myself.
Maybe I’m being paranoid, but I’ve stared death in the face dozens of times in the last year. Every time, I had something I could do to hold it off, if only just.
 – Surrender the sword.  – I think I’ll keep it.
*** Something familiar, yet different. Hopefully, this will be interesting.
Maybe a minute passes as I mull it over. After much debating, I decide to give up my sword. As it is, I’m probably going to horribly botch my first meeting with the local baroness or countess or whatever she is. I need to minimize the damage and going in unarmed should be a sign of trust. Or something. I don’t remember much in the way of dealing with nobles.
I unclasp the blade from my side and hand it to the maid. She accepts it with the utmost care and a slight smirk. I take a step back when she slowly draws the sword. Is she going to kill me here and now?
The answer is no. She simply examines the sword, looking it over and testing the weight. I can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief.
“Hmm, well balanced and practical. The steel is of fine quality as well. I take it you rely on finesse rather than strength.”
I have to. Every opponent I’ve ever faced has been stronger than me. I’ve stuck to speed and trickery to survive. That and my light. But hurting people with that is…
While I try to shake off my queasiness, the maid hands the sword off to the gatekeeper. They’re speaking that other language and I’m too distracted to process what’s being said.
“Are you alright?” the maid asks me. “You look like you’re going to be sick.”
I’m fine. Just recalling something I really shouldn’t be thinking about. Yeah, I think I’ll manage.
“If you’re certain. Please, come in. Enter freely of your own will.” That’s a rather odd phrasing, but maybe it’s just the custom here.
As I go in, the gatekeeper gives me a parting wave. I return it with the best smile I can muster.
The maid leads me through what feels like it must be half the mansion. She doesn’t say much of anything during the walk, so my attention wanders. Red seems to be the dominant color of the carpets and walls. There are a lot of chandeliers, but most of them are unlit. The shadows that result are eerie, so I make sure to stay close to the maid.
We stop before a door that isn’t noticeably different from the rest. The maid has me wait outside while she goes in, presumably to announce my presence and explain my circumstances as she understands them. About a minute of muffled voices later, I’m let in.
The room is a small office. I don’t really pay much attention to what it looks like, my attention being drawn to the girl seated at a desk. The girl is small, slim, and pale, no doubt a sickly sort. Her eyes glow crimson, her hair the color of morning fog. I can’t really guess an age, but I doubt of age. Even so, the absolute confidence in her expression makes it clear that she is the mistress of the mansion.
“Would you care for a seat?” Her voice is friendly despite her formal tone.
An invitation rather than an order? I certainly wasn’t expecting this. The chair I’m offered is really quite comfortable.
“Sakuya tells me you’ve come from a faraway land.” The girl gestures to the maid. “She also mentioned that you don’t speak and that Meiling told her you were a magician.”
Things are as she says.
“You would greatly appreciate food and shelter, no?”
I really have nowhere else to go, so yes.
“Sakuya, please bring some tea for our guest and myself.”
“Right away, mistress.”
As the maid leaves the room, I hear a strange hissing noise. It’s probably just a weird mansion thing.
“Seeing as you surrendered your weapon to Sakuya, you seem to be a respectful and honorable sort.” She sounds disappointed, somehow. “I invite you to stay until I feel you can safely survive outside of my area of influence. This place is likely much more dangerous than the one you came from and you do not seem to understand the common language here.”
I’m not so sure it’s any more dangerous in this country than my own. I faced some pretty grueling trials back home. But I had my light for most of those.
The part about language I have to concede. That’s a serious problem with no easy workaround.
“Your inability to speak is a problem. I’ll have someone look at your throat and see what’s wrong with you. In the meantime, I presume you can write.”
She goes through a few of the desk drawers, digging out a pen, inkwell, and paper. The paper is covered in some strange symbol language. Is it really okay for me to be writing on this?
“Don’t mind that, it’s just an old trade statement. Feel free to flip it over and write on the back.”
I guess it’s fine then.
(Thank you for your hospitality. I don’t wish to take it for granted and be a drain on your resources.)
“If it eases your heart, you could help some of the members of the mansion with their duties from time to time. In truth, I don’t feel the need to ask anything of you. Things have been rather dull of late, so your presence should at least make for an interesting change of pace.”
(I see, Lady…)
“Scarlet. Remilia Scarlet. No need to address me by a title. You aren’t a servant and a title carries no weight on paper, anyway.”
Lady Scarlet… Remilia, pinches at something in the air about level with my shoulder.
“You’ve broken a whole lot of ties to come here, I see.” She says, idly twirling her finger.
She shouldn’t know anything about my past. This is worrying.
“Your fate is harsh and full of suffering. You will be worn down until you die.” Her expression is deadly serious now.
(E X P L A I N)
“Just a little ability I have. I can change the course of your fate a bit, if you like. It’s up to you whether you see it through.”
(How?) If she means to scare me, she’s very much succeeded.
“You simply discard the remains of your old life. A rebirth, if you will.”
“I’m sorry. I’m really not very good at explaining things, am I?” Remilia fidgets in her seat. “You have three ties that bind you to your old life. Those are your responsibility to release. The other thing is a name. Your birth name must be given up.”
(What does that mean? Must I pick a new name?)
“If you pick the name, it changes nothing. I can give you a suitable name.”
I have been trying to distance myself from my identity of late. It’s only been making me dwell on things more.
(If you insist.)
Remilia thinks for a few minutes, idly twirling an imaginary string.
“Write your birth name on that paper.”
I do so, letting her take the paper afterward. The edges of the paper start to smolder.
“Your new name is…
 – Feminine Name (Default is Ellie)  – Masculine name (Default is Uriel)
*** This is really more of a gender choice than a name choice. I would appreciate name suggestions, though. Surnames are appreciated too. Ideally, the name should be meaningful in some way.
My best guess is that this protagonist is from southern France in the middle ages (~1200), and speaks Occitan as their first language. It's one of the places the English could be considered invaders, as they controlled a large chunk of territory there in that time period.
Alternatives could be Wales or Ireland, but knowing French would be more of a stretch then.
The paper with my old name on it burns away. I feel a bit lighter, if only in the symbolic sense. I kind of doubt that this actually changes anything, but I haven’t discarded so much of my idealism as to dismiss it entirely.
“Welcome Raphaëlle, to the House of Scarlet.” Remilia does a wide, sweeping gesture around her.
It feels a bit silly. That’s not to say it doesn’t have a certain charm to it. I’ve done similar things before. You have to make your own fun sometimes.
“If you’re to live here for any length of time, there are things you need to know. This mansion is not always safe. Sometimes, she can be temperamental or taunting.”
Remilia gives me another paper to write on.
“You could say that the mansion is divided into territories. Meiling, she’s the Gatekeeper if you did not catch her name, watches over most everything between the outer walls and the mansion proper. Sakuya holds sway over all of the upper floors and Patchouli, our magus, controls the library. I oversee all of them as well as hold some power over the surrounding lands.”
(Where does the danger come in?)
“There are areas outside my will. Most notably, the basement is labyrinthine and has never been properly mapped. Past the entrance to the library, I cannot guarantee your safety.”
(I’ll keep that in mind. Anything else particularly?)
“Generally, you should avoid areas that are unlit. The mansion grows traps and rooms at times. We have patrols to sweep out the problematic ones, but they’re mostly on the fringes.”
At this point, the maid arrives with tea. My throat is feeling pretty dry at the moment, so it’s much appreciated. It has honey in it or something, so it soothes my pain some.
“Will that be all, mistress? Guest?” The maid has another unreadable smile.
“She has a name, Sakuya.”
“It would be strange if she lacked one.”
“She is Raphaëlle.”
“Has she, ah, been Raphaëlle for long?”
“Time is relative, Sakuya.”
“Right.” Sakuya extracts a silver pocket watch from somewhere on her person and studies it intently.
“Would you kindly bring Raphaëlle a writing pad? I have no doubt you have a fair few for keeping track of your duties.”
The pocket watch snaps closed. “Right away, mistress.”
I can’t help but feel like I just missed something in that exchange.
Remilia and I finish our tea in silence. It feels weird to just be sitting still after what feels like years of constant motion. I have a hard time sitting still, but fidgeting too much might be seen as be rude. It really is an alien feeling, as if I’ll be pulled under if I ever stop moving for too long.
Sakuya reappears at just about the perfect time. “Here you are.”
(Thank you, Miss Sakuya.)
“Yes, thank you, Sakuya.” Remilia says.
“Will that be all?”
“Not quite.” Remilia looks back at me. “Apologies if I’m being rude, but might I get you to go with Sakuya? I have some business I need to attend to, so I thought this might be a good time to get you settled with a room.”
(I don’t mind.)
“If you happen to still be awake shortly before sunrise, I invite you to dine with me.”
(It would be an honor.)
“Thank you, Raphaëlle. May your stay here be a pleasant one.”
Once more, it’s off through the halls. It’s a bit too dark for me to actually write out any of my questions for the maid and similarly hard to do so while walking. I just do my best to keep up. The hallways almost seem to stretch as we walk, buy I try not to think about that too much.
After a short walk, we stop in front of a door. It seems like we must have either gone up a floor or down one. I can’t actually tell which.
Opening the door, Sakuya flicks a switch just inside the room. There’s a bright flash for a moment and she sighs heavily. “How inconvenient. I’ll have to fetch some spare lightbulbs along with a set of sheets.”
(I don’t mind waiting if you need me to.) ‘Lightbulb’ is an unfamiliar word, albeit an easy enough one to figure out.
“I’m sorry about this. The lighting in this part of the mansion can be temperamental. But I can’t just leave you here in the dark now, can I? Perhaps you would care for a bath? It looks like the road has not been kind to you”
(That would be wonderful.) I realize she’s probably insinuating I smell and look filthy, but it’s true enough.
The bathroom is near the room I’ll be staying in. The lights work in there, but I’m not really sure what the deal is with all the faucets and handles and such on things. Once Sakuya is satisfied enough in her explanations that she doesn’t think I’ll flood the room or drown myself, I’m left alone in the pristine white-tiled room.
I have to wash myself several times before I start to feel clean. It’s been such a long time since I had a bath. After letting the tub drain and refilling it, I lie back and close my eyes. Letting the heat soak into my skin feels nice. It really has been too long since I had the chance to do this.
A knock at the door rouses me from my brief moment of contentment. “Are you alright in there?” Sakuya calls.
I can’t exactly answer aloud, so I muster the energy to get up. I do my best to quickly dry off and wrap a towel around myself.
“Sorry if I disturbed you,” says a slightly relieved looking Sakuya, “I brought you something to wear until I get the chance to wash and mend your clothes.”
I smile and nod. These look a bit big for me. Maybe they’re her clothes?
Normally, I wouldn’t let anyone help me fix my hair. Of course, normally it wouldn’t have several weeks of knots and neglect to make it an agonizing task. Sakuya is patient and helpful enough to make the process as painless as possible.
“I’m sure you’re wondering why you’ve only seen all of three people in such a large place. The staff has the week of the Winter Solstice off. It’s something of a holy day for them.”
(But not for you?)
“Some of us hail from lands far away.” Sakuya closes her eyes, “We have different customs.”
Things were different back home for me, too. I’m really far from home, aren’t I? But right now isn’t a good time to dwell on that. Things will be different here.
“Do you mind if I call you Ellie? Lady Remilia’s naming sense can be a bit… Well, many of the locals will butcher your proper name. It’s very different from what they’re used to.”
(I don’t mind at all.) Ellie sounds like a good name. I like it. Ellie. Ellie.
“Well, your hair is all done. You should probably think about getting it cut or tying it back at some point, but I suppose the natural look suits you well enough for now.”
The room I’ll be staying in is rather bare at present. It’s just a bed, a wardrobe, and a nightstand. It’s nothing really special, but a proper bed is like a priceless jewel to me after so long without one. I store my meager assortment of possessions in the wardrobe and go back out to see Sakuya again.
(Thank you once again! I really appreciate the hospitality!)
“I am only doing my duty. Is there anything else you happen to need at present?” It seems that she’s gone back to being formal again.
 – Nothing right now, I think I’ll sleep for a bit.  – I’m am feeling a bit hungry.  – Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library.
(Remilia mentioned something about a magus and a library. Could you direct me there?)
“Ah, certainly. Please, follow me.”
Once again, we travel the twisting passages of the mansion. I think I see something moving in one of the shadowy corners, but it’s gone when I squint.
“A few words of advice,” Sakuya says as we start descending a large staircase, “Patchouli is very particular about where things are placed. If you take a book from a stack or a shelf, make sure you put it back when you’re done with it.”
I’ll keep that in mind.
After what feels like an hour of going downward, we come to the bottom of the staircase. It’s very cold down here and other than a pair of those lightbulb things to either side, the hall stretches out into the darkness. Sakuya opens a door on the left and I follow her in.
The library is positively enormous. Surely it must go up to the top floor of the mansion. And all around the perimeter and in countless rows are bookshelves. Most of the shelves seem to be filled, as well. Why, this one room probably holds more stored knowledge than every noble library back home combined!
“Quite the reaction.” Sakuya says, “I take it you like to read?”
I guess I do, sometimes. I mean, I loved studying medicine. It even saved my life a few times. But then I learned about magic and swordsmanship and those took priority. Mortal wounds tend to reshuffle your priorities like that…
No, stop thinking about that! It’s time to read something, not mope around.
Sakuya moves to leave. “If you happen upon a sleeping Patchouli, I suggest you don’t wake her. She’s been sick recently, so she will probably be sleeping off her cold.”
The door clicks shut, leaving me alone in the vast room. Well, I might as well get looking for something to read.
Naturally, a large part of the book titles are in languages I can’t hope to comprehend. Who even writes in symbols, anyway? It’s weird.
Near what I think is the center of the library, I find a section with readable titles. Let’s see… Ley Lines of Eastern Europe, Naval Battles of the Second World War, Makai Metaphysics…
Okay, no. These are about as comprehensible as the symbols. I haven’t got a clue where Europe is or what a Ley Line is. I definitely would have heard about a world war, let alone [u]two[/i]! And that last title probably isn’t even the same language. These books are sorted terribly.
Hmm, how about these? Twelve Principles of Alchemy could be interesting. And this one is WORDS OF POWER. That sounds like it would have some big magic stuff in it.
“I wouldn’t recommend that one.” A voice comes from right above, “You’ll go blind, if you’re lucky.”
Resisting the urge to jump out of my skin, I look up. A woman is stretched across the top shelf of the bookcase, reclining on a few old tomes.
“Evenin’.” She swings herself upside-down, covering me in her mess of cherry colored hair. It’s hard not to sneeze.
(And you are?)
“So, you’re the torch, eh? Kind of scrawny and haunted-looking, but I’ve seen worse.” The woman smiles, parting her hair with the wings on her head why does she have those?
I gesture to my writing pad again. I’m starting to get used to weird people not answering my questions the first time I ask them.
“Me? I’m no one special. Just a stagehand in the mansion’s play.”
The woman smiles, revealing a few too many teeth. “I’ve had many names over the years. Right now, I’m just a little devil. Koakuma, if you prefer, though just Koa is fine.”
This woman is obviously some manner of demon. I’m not really sure what to do. My experience with demons has always involved things like killing sprees and explosions.
“Surprised?” such a smug expression.
(You aren’t going to, you know, eat me, right?)
“Nah. You’re Scarlet’s guest. I’d be a fool to pick a fight with you in her territory. Besides,” she licks her lips, “I haven’t felt like draining someone in decades.”
(That’s good, I guess.)
“So, introductions done. Care for a proposal?” The demoness drops from her perch, flipping in the air and landing gracefully. She’s dressed in a rather wrinkled suit, the shirt mostly unbuttoned. On the ground, she’s only a bit taller than me.
(What sort of proposal?) I don’t think I’m going to like hearing this.
“You being here will shake things up a bit. Probably for the best, considering just how boring the day-to-day gets. So, what I want is for you to socialize a bunch. Change the facts. Come talk to me from time to time, break the monotony.”
This sounds mostly like what I would be doing anyway. I’m not sure what it is she wants, exactly.
“Sound good?” the demoness extends a hand.
(What do I get in return? And what’s your price?) There has to be a price. Nothing is truly free with demons.
“I know a lot about the people here. I’m willing to share a few insights, assuming I get compensated. Maybe I’ll ask for help with some practical joke or a slice of pie, or whatever strikes my fancy at the time. Nothing big. Not like I want your firstborn kid or anything.” She gives her best unconvincing smile.
“The first one is free, you know! No strings attached!”
 – I suppose it won’t hurt. Tell me about (Name).  – I suppose it won’t hurt. Are there any other notable parties here?  – I’m here to read right now, not get pulled into demon contracts.  – I don’t deal with demons.
[x] I'm here to read right now, not get pulled into demon contracts.
As nice as demons are, I'd rather not deal with one. They tend to twist any kind of contract that you don't check and double-check a hundred times. Besides, we can still learn more about people at the SDM with experience, or by asking them about each other.
(If I accept just once, I’m not obligated to do this in the future, right?)
“Hardly. I mean, I could, but it’s cheap and doesn’t exactly foster good working relationships. You catch more flies with honey than with a flyswatter covered in glue, you know? Well, not necessarily, but then the glue dries and what the hell am I supposed to do with a gummed up flyswatter?” The demoness shakes one of her hands, looking at it like it has something gross on it.
That went somewhere weird. But I guess I’m not getting wrapped into any demon contracts right this moment.
(Well, who else is there that I don’t know about? I’m already aware of Remilia, Sakuya, Meiling, and Patchouli.)
“That just leaves Scarlet’s sister. Well, I’ve never really figured that they’re actually sisters sisters. More, ah, how should I put this? Scarlet’s blood flows in her veins, but they were probably born to different parents.”
(Cousins, you mean?)
“Eh. You’ll probably run into her when you least expect it. She’s usually pretty quiet, doesn’t do much socializin’. Most of the big names here don’t, but they at least pay attention to each other.”
(I’m not seeing how any of this is useful.)
“I’m getting to that part. See, the kid’s sort of a non-element within the household. Unless you make a point of asking about her, you’ll never hear anyone mention her. You could live here for a year and never find out she exists at all. Well, maybe you’d bump into her by chance.”
(Why don’t they talk about her?) I never heard of the nobles back home doing this sort of thing. I suppose that not hearing about it is the point, but it doesn’t sit well with me.
“There are a few explanations, but I’ll be nice and just give you the easiest to digest. The kid isn’t officially part of the Scarlets for political reasons. Her magic is unstable and poorly understood, the girl herself much the same. It’s mostly not her fault. Mostly. She usually can’t help it.” The demoness’ tail swishes back and forth as she talks. I can’t help but think she’s trying to distract me with it.
(Have they tried getting the girl help?) I know how dangerous magic can be as an untrained, reactive force.
“That’s quite the loaded question, likely to upset people. They aren’t going to look for help outside the mansion. Around here, that would be like admitting the Scarlet faction is weak. Maybe it’s true or maybe it’s false, but it means land disputes and profiteering. It’s too much of a headache.
Plus, they’d still have to admit the younger Scarlet is their responsibility. It’s easiest on everyone to pretend she doesn’t exist, regardless of what everyone knows off the tables. They also get to be sure that this way they won’t go up against the kid in a fight, unless someone decides to attack the mansion directly. And if someone were dumb enough to do that, no loss if they die.” swish swish
(So people know about her, then. Before, you made it seem like it was just the people living here that knew.)
“There are a few newer groups that haven’t heard, but most know. At the very least, the temple doesn’t. Otherwise, Youkai Jesus would be stickin’ her tits in our business in a naïve attempt to help. The mountain folk probably understand things the best, not that they care. If they did, Miracle-Gro Miko would’ve wound up as a modern art piece by now.” swish
“You know, painted all over the walls. Ugh, my sense of humor is totally wasted on you.” The tail droops.
I wasn’t aware demons were even capable of humor. I still stand by that judgment.
“In any case, try to avoid upsetting the girl if you run across her. If she’s mumbling to herself and barely moving, she’s probably having an episode and you shouldn’t approach her. Other than that, just be nice and don’t show fear. If she wants to play, you should probably comply. Usually it will be something benign like tag. If she wants to play Danmaku, quickly suggest something else. Hide and Seek usually means she’s out for blood, so running like hell is your best bet.”
(I see.) It sounds like the girl is stable enough to interact with, for the most part. I should be able to manage now that I know the warning signs.
“And that’s pretty much it. See, I know things.” She’s a bit too far into my personal space.
(Yes, thank you.)
“Now then, you’re here for a book, hmm? I’ll find whatever subject you’re looking for…”
Sure enough, the demoness knows her way around the library. She even directs me to a circle of comfy chairs and gives me some space once I have my book.
I wind up reading an old book on medicine. It’s hardly what most people would consider an interesting read, but I might as well start with something familiar. I feel like I need familiar right now. The good kind.
I don’t know how much time passes, but I’m roused from my studying by a rumbling stomach. It’s probably still a few hours before sunrise, so a snack shouldn’t hurt my appetite. I just don’t know how to reach the kitchens or find Sakuya. I guess I’ll have to ask the demoness.
“Well, the kitchen is usually on the ground floor, so that should help some. Other than that, just follow the lights. You’re bound to run into the maid eventually.”
(What if I get lost?)
“Scream for the maid. I guess you’re screwed, then. She usually appears when she’s called for, but that only extends to the big names here. Maybe it would extend to you too, but definitely not me.” That and a half-hearted shrug are all the help I get.
I exit the library not feeling especially confident. Immediately, I head left toward the torches and
I distinctly remember that the torches should be on my right. But they’re to my left.
This is somewhat difficult to casually ignore.
 – Left. I know I need to follow the light.  – Right. Even if it’s dark, I’ll follow my intuition.  – Back. Not dealing with this weirdness right now.
Assuming we haven't walked that far yet: [x] Point out the discrepancy to Koakuma otherwise [x] Left. I know I need to follow the light Since we were warned not to go into areas that are unlit, wandering into the darkness doesn't seem like the best idea
You know that dropdown thing when you're scrolled all the way up? The one marked "Styles"? I feel like this story looks best with the one labeled "Darkish". If you don't want to change it to that, that's fine too.
My intuition nudges at me to go right, but the mansion’s residents have given me the impression that darkness is dangerous and trap-filled. Left should be right according to them. I hope.
The hallway seems to be doing that stretching thing again, meaning it takes forever to reach the end. But reach it, I do. I’m slightly surprised that the stairs are actually there.
When I get about halfway up the stairs, I feel a cold wind coming from back down below. Looking over my shoulder, I can see the torches at the bottom sputter out. And then the first set up the stairs. And the next.
The fact that I’ve never been much of a runner stops being a thing for a few seconds.
The door to the basement creaks closed behind me on its own. Once I feel like I’m a safe enough distance away, about halfway down the hall, I collapse against a wall to catch my breath.
Okay, that was awful. I’m very much happy to now be elsewhere.
As for what happened, I’m going to choose to believe that there’s a draft with very bad timing. The direction thing was probably me getting turned around and wandering out a different exit to the library. They can’t just have one, right? I mean, what if someone drops a candle or something and the entire library goes up in flames? Yeah, that has to be what happened.
Once I’m calm and collected, I wander the halls looking for either Sakuya or the kitchen. She might well be in there. That would simplify things quite a bit. Now, if only these halls didn’t all look the same…
Something touches the back of my neck.
Mid-dive forward, I realize that the sword I’m gripping for isn’t there and hasn’t been since I got to the mansion. Not good. If I’m being attacked by one of those suits of armor I’ve seen in a few places, I’m doomed.
Lucky for me, my assailant is…
a giggling Sakuya?
Despite the crushing, room-darkening weight of my resentment, it takes Sakuya a bit to stop laughing.
“Sorry,” she says, not looking nearly sorry enough, “I couldn’t resist.”
(WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT!)
“Just making a bit of fun for myself. I didn’t expect you could move so quickly or that you were so high-strung.”
I just stare at her.
“Don’t worry, I won’t make a habit of startling you like that. Often.” She says with a smirk.
Okay, that’s it. I will get you for this, Sakuya. You will rue the day that you messed with Ellie of House… Ellie. RUE IT!
“You’re trying to do the Charisma Thing, aren’t you.” Sakuya says, stifling a laugh. “It won’t work on me or anyone who lives here. You see, Remilia loves doing the Charisma Thing. She’s really good at it, too. Years and years of practice. Yours is alright, but it kind of loses its effect when you’re breathing heavily and red in the face.”
Hey! I worked hard to learn that!
“In any case, I assume you got lost. The halls do look pretty similar, but you’ve passed this spot three times now.”
(You were watching me?)
“You’re managing pretty well, all things considered. You would’ve probably found your way out of the loop in another two trips around. What exactly were you looking for?”
(You. Or the Kitchen. I’m hungry.)
“Ah.” Sure, now you look guilty. “Right this way.”
Naturally, she leads me to a spot I’ve already passed several times. I’d swear that door wasn’t there before, but I just don’t have it in me to deal with this right now.
The kitchen is huge and well stocked, befitting the mansion. The scent of fragrant herbs is in the air and something is baking in one of the ovens. There are a fair few things different from the kitchens back home, but it has that same sort of wonderful smell.
“So, what can I get for you?”
(What is there?)
“Well, we had an especially good harvest of apples this year. We have an abundance of preserved apples. The honeyed apples make for a good treat.”
(That sounds good.) That was always a favorite treat of mine as a child.
“Just a moment,” Sakuya says, making her way into an adjoining pantry. “Here they are.”
Ooh! How I’ve missed you, messy childhood snack.
“It’s funny,” Sakuya says, closing her eyes and smiling, “you have the instincts of a warrior yet you’re still such a child.”
I can’t exactly write a response with my fingers covered in honey. I’m still going to get you back for earlier, Sakuya.
“Ah, don’t mind me. I’m just drawing a few parallels.”
After I’ve eaten and washed up, Sakuya helps me find my way back to my room. I really could do with a nap.
I wind up tossing and turning a lot. It’s not nightmares this time, just that I’m not used to the bed yet.
The room does have a window, so I can kind of see it getting lighter out. I’m supposed to go have breakfast or something with Remilia, I think.
Once I’ve made myself fairly presentable, I go looking for Sakuya. She’s a lot easier to find when she isn’t actively hiding. She leads me to the dining hall.
The dining hall is the biggest room I’ve seen in the mansion so far, excepting the absurdly large library. I think it could comfortably fit two, maybe three hundred people. Right now though, it’s terribly empty. It’s just Remilia, seated at the lords’ table, Sakuya, and myself.
“Good morning, Raphaëlle.” Remilia says as I take a seat across from her. Sakuya departs to get our meals, leaving the two of us alone.
“I trust that your accommodations are adequate? Please, do not hesitate to tell me if there is something you are unsatisfied with.”
(The mansion is unnerving.) If things keep up at their current rate, I’ll be jumping at shadows within the week.
“That is,” Remilia looks downcast, “I don’t know what I can do about that. How can I make it up to you?”
(You don’t need to do anything. I’ll find some way to adapt.)
“Hopefully, things will improve after the solstice, at least. The mansion isn’t so eerie when there are people around.”
That would be a relief.
Sakuya soon brings out our food. I have an odd breakfast of eggs with sausage and cheese cooked into them. It’s really quite good. Remilia, by contrast, is having dinner. I’d guess that’s venison and some sort of vegetable with wine.
As we eat and talk, our conversation drifts to the topic of…
 – the surrounding country. I’m curious what it’s like here.  – regional politics. It would be good to know the big names.  – the other Scarlet. I shouldn’t be asking about this, but…  – (Write in topic.)
(What is it like around here? I imagine the country is very different from home.)
Remilia sips her wine. “This land is called Gensokyo. It’s a sealed land, one of the many border worlds. You might think of it as something of a nature preserve for creatures of legend. We keep the old ways alive, the ones the world has largely forgotten.”
Nature preserve? I’m not familiar with the concept, but it sounds like the land is a haven for monsters. In my weakened state, I doubt I have the strength to…
Maybe it’s better to not think about that right now.
(How does humanity survive with monsters breathing down our necks?)
“Dogged persistence and cutting deals helps them along. The fact that many of the natives can trace their ancestry to old youkai hunters means that they can defend from the lower order ones.”
“The catchall term for the supernatural. Ultimately, the humans’ survival comes down to the fact that their fear sustains a large portion of the youkai.”
(We’re cattle.) My stomach churns from fury and disgust.
“It’s not as though people are being snatched from their bed and devoured. The last decade has seen a great reduction in hostilities. The temple on the village outskirts is even pushing for integration. They’re succeeding, albeit very slowly and far from perfectly. She doesn’t really have enough public support to push for full integration.”
(Why would people integrate with monsters?)
Remilia stares into her wine for a moment before downing the remainder of the glass. “What do you picture monsters to look like?”
(Wolves that stand as tall as men prowled the mountains. The forest shamblers, whose touch brought death within minutes. The hookmaws which dwelled beneath the lake of glass and their dozen-faced master who dwelled in the sunken palace.) Those stand out among the horde.
“You are used to nightmares given flesh?” Remilia seems surprised by my answer.
(Flesh can be killed.)
“Sometimes. Around here, only the most animalistic of youkai wear the shapes of nightmares. They look very similar to humans. Many can shift their forms to a degree. Only a particularly observant or blessed individual would be able to tell at a glance.”
(They infiltrate rather than terrorize from the shadows?)
“Some do. In some cases it’s that running into what looks like a girl of eight eating an arm is more upsetting than if it’s a creature made of coal.
The important thing is that youkai are in no small part shaped by belief. Creatures that look like humans start to behave like humans, if not necessarily think like them. They can have hopes and dreams and aspirations, just like anyone else.”
I don’t think I buy into that. It’s hard to sort through my thoughts without recalling those weeks of fighting. Maybe it would be better to change the topic to something I won’t lose sleep over.
(What groups around here hold power?)
Remilia stretches, shifting her postore to be more leaned back. “Well, I suppose there are a fair number. Supposedly, Gensokyo’s land was granted in a dragon pact, but that has no measurable basis in reality. The dragons do not see fit to deal in the affairs of earthly creatures. Even if a dragon is the de facto ruler of Gensokyo, it has had no actual presence since the sealing.
In practice, the forces that sustain the Borders might be said to be the rulers, but they usually administer with a light touch. The House of Yakumo predates the Border’s creation and is very powerful. The Border Witch is one of the oldest and mightiest youkai in Gensokyo, as well as the most frustratingly unpredictable.”
It sounds as if Remilia has a particular dislike for this House Yakumo.
“The other leading party is the Hakurei Shrine. The Hakurei are a line of youkai hunters, either born or selected for potential, who keep the peace. Reimu, the current Hakurei, is a much more laid back sort than her predecessor. She’s an almost peerless warrior when she wants to be, but rarely has the motivation to deal with anything less than a serious calamity. She treats everyone, human or otherwise, roughly equally. Most find her likable enough, if rather strange and shameless.”
(What of the other groups?)
“We, the Scarlets, mostly trade in apple products and less common alcohols, as well as a bit of fish from our arrangement with the lake dwellers. Most of our influence comes from our knowledge and, to a lesser extent, outsider technology.
To the north is the Youkai Mountain. While we trade some with the human settlement at the base and some of the more liberal kappa, the mountain is largely territorial and isolationist.
Near the top of the mountain is the Moriya Shrine. They advocate rapid technological advancement and are rather invasive and expansionist. Kanako Yasaka is the head of the faith and often butts heads with other leaders. She has probably changed Gensokyo more through her failed power grabs than anyone else has, even Reimu. She has power and commands respect, if nothing else.”
That sounds like the sort of person who led the invasion of my homeland. I know I shouldn’t make judgments about the character of a person I haven’t met, but some things are hard to let go.
Remilia blinks and leans forward. “Are you alright? You just had such a dark expression.”
(Sorry, I’m fine. Please, feel free to continue.)
“You’ve made a few particularly uncomfortable expressions now.”
“If you’re sure.” Remilia looks like she doesn’t believe me very much, but drops the issue. “The most important area is probably the main human settlement near the center of Gensokyo. It’s a ways on the opposite side of the lake. There are other human settlements, but that one is the real center of trade. The village itself only has a few notably powerful people, but some of the newer factions have set up nearby.
The Myouren Temple is the group that preaches coexistence and a modified sort of the Buddhist faith. They have a lot of powerful people as members and are well liked by some of the more moderate and liberal youkai. Like us, they produce most of what they need. They have a fondness for public outreach programs that don’t always work out.
The Taoist faction is something of an oddity. They are few in number do not treat with youkai if they can help it. Their leader is flashy and usually overt, but out of touch with the times. So far as anyone can tell, she seems sincere in her motives, but she surrounds herself with treacherous advisors.
And last among the organized factions within Gensokyo proper, Eientei. The Moon Sage lives there, far to the northeast. They produce all manner of medicine, from hangover cures to madness or nightmare suppressors. Their sprawling manor is hard to find, meaning they rarely have visitors and don’t often accept medical patients. I’d call them paranoid, but they have enough issues to make their precautions seem reasonable.”
A center of medical knowledge? That would be worth visiting. I really do like learning the arts that actually help people. Maybe I could take a trip sometime in the future. Spring might be a good time.
“Well now, your expression is lighter. I take it you’re thinking about something more pleasant?”
(Just a few idle thoughts. Thank you again for your hospitality.)
Remilia rests her cheek against her knuckles, softly smiling. “It really is no trouble. Sakuya is the one you should be thanking.”
(Where did she disappear to, anyway? Does she not take her meals with you?) I suppose that she wouldn’t, seeing as Sakuya is a servant, but eating alone is a dreary prospect.
“We eat together sometimes, when she can spare the time.” Remilia stifles a laugh. “She had food to deliver to the library and to the gate guard. I imagine she ate with one of the others today, if she even remembered to at all. She can be very distracted at times.”
Keeping the entire mansion running on your own would get pretty distracting, yeah.
Remilia yawns, showing off noticeably pointed teeth. “I’m sorry for seeming like such an unsociable hostess, but I really ought to get some sleep.”
(I’m not offended. There’s no need to go without rest on my account.) She really does have that tired, drooping posture. With her paleness and somewhat sickly look, I wonder if she doesn’t have some sleep related condition.
Remilia excuses herself, saying not to worry about the dishes.
I’m not sure what to do now. I suppose I’m pretty much free to go where I please.
 – (Write-in.)
*** I thought I'd give you guys a fair bit of freedom with this one. Spending time getting to know someone and exploring are the big things, as interactions are important and you'll find interesting areas mostly by looking. Of course, there are other things you could do as well.
>pale >sickly >goes to bed at dawn >all this speak of monsters that look human >particularly, like young girls >there's a friendly demon in the library Uh. Are we sure that was wine that Remilia was drinking?
File 139748131929.jpg - (776.79KB, 850x1169, where do you think she`s from anyway.jpg)
Maybe I’ll be able to see that magus now that it’s day. Patchouli, I think her name was.
The mansion doesn’t have many windows, so the lighting hasn’t really changed much from night. Still, the atmosphere feels different somehow. It’s not so creepy now. If anything, it feels lonely. Just a barely inhabited manor, filled with dust and memories.
Huh, that was almost poetic. I bet I could’ve pulled off the whole cultured knight thing.
The halls don’t do anything weird like looping this time, so I manage to find my way back down to the library. Going down the stairs, I watch the torches closely. They don’t go out this time.
The library is still disorienting on a second visit. I hope I get used to it soon. The vertigo I get just from looking up is awful.
After a bit of searching, I happen upon the demoness. She’s got a stack of books balanced on one palm that she seems to be in the process of shelving. She twists her neck impossibly far to glance over at me.
“It’s awfully early for a kid like you to be up. Do you rise with Apollo or something?” she says, flashing a toothy smile.
(I’m here to see the magus. Is she awake?)
“Aye, that she be, lass. Scarlet is the only one what sleeps daily, you know.”
Why does she speak so strangely? She changes speech patterns on a whim. Additionally, I’m beginning to suspect she’s speaking a different language than I’m hearing.
Whatever, at least I got my answer. (Could you point me toward her?)
“Over yonder, towards the center. You’ll know it by the way the ceiling slopes upward.”
Ah. Nodding to the demoness, I make my way toward the middle of the room. I really hate having to look up to find my way. The ceiling seems to recede if I stare at it for too long and it’s giving me a headache.
When I find the magus, I’m a bit surprised. She doesn’t look terribly impressive. She’s no taller than I am and looks to be just a bit on the heavy side. Her dark purple hair goes to just below her waist, her bangs tied with differently colored ribbons to keep them out of her eyes. Her eyes are a bit lighter than her hair and her face would likely be quite pretty, were she not busy concentrating on an incantation.
At the moment, she’s levitating several tiny globes of some liquid and one larger one. The smaller globes are being merged with the large one. She also has a book floating at eye level that she glances at occasionally.
I think I’ll wait until she’s done. Interrupting a delicate spell could have hideous consequences.
When all the smaller orbs are integrated, a crystal starts to grow upward from the floor, gradually enveloping the sphere. Once it is completely enclosed in the crystal pedestal, the magus slumps back into her chair, breathing heavily. The book falls onto a desk with a clap that echoes throughout the room.
“Koa,” she wheezes out, “note the test results.”
Suddenly, the demoness is there beside me. She flashes me a grin before she begins speaking. “Time is eight hundred three seconds to completion. Efficiency holding steady at eighty-six percent. Your energy levels are relatively low, just below half your maximum.”
The magus doesn’t even look our way when she responds. “I’m not getting worse any faster than usual this year. Might you get me a drink, Koa?”
“Certainly. One more thing. Your peripheral awareness seems to be slipping. You have a visitor.” With that, the demoness departs.
Turning to face me, the magus briefly looks surprised. She quickly assumes a more serious expression, studying me intently. It’s hard not to fidget under her gaze.
I feel briefly sick and then she says, “You are Remi’s guest, then?”
“Swordswoman, mute, with an interest in the medical arts. And quite possibly a very strange magician.”
(I am all of those things.)
“Why have you sought me out? If you sought formal permission to browse most of the library as you please, you have it, so long as you return things to their proper places.”
(I wanted to meet everyone here, as I’ll be here for some time.)
“And?” Her stare is unnerving, but I can deal with it.
(My light doesn’t work here. I don’t understand why.)
“I see.” She passes a hand in front of me and, for a moment, I can taste poisonous death on my lips once more.
(What did you just do?) I shudder, recalling the memory with that taste.
“Koa,” she calls out again, “bring something a bit stronger for our guest, if you please.”
I do need something to get this half-remembered taste out of my mouth.
“You are not a magician like those of Gensokyo, including myself. We take in the ambient energy of the elements and transmute it to change nature.” She starts noting something down as she talks.
I’ve never heard of that. (And me?)
“You seem to produce your own energy, independent of your surroundings. It seems to work more like a youkai’s power than a magician’s.”
What? That doesn’t… (Why can’t I use my light?)
“The ambient energy is trying to flow into you, but you already have your own power source. It is suffocating your innate magic, or light, as you call it. From the name, I suspect you have something akin to a Sun affinity or perhaps Moon.”
(Can you do something about it?) I can barely force magical effects and most of my abilities don’t work.
“Tell me,” she says suddenly, “what happened to your throat? If my hypothesis is correct, your inherent abilities include some form of regeneration.”
(I don’t remember.) I wish.
She looks guilty for a moment, probably almost as much as I do. “I won’t try to make you give me the details. All I ask is how long ago it was and how magically active you were in the preceding months.”
(About six weeks ago. I think that the longest I went without using my light during the last half a year was three days.)
“And you used it heavily during that time? How long have you been a magician?” She’s grabbed another paper and is scratching something down.
(Near constantly. I’ve had the power for half a year.)
Her eyes narrow. I instinctively cringe, reminded of one of mother’s lectures. “This is you.” She holds up a rough sketch of a person. A large diamond shaped crystal occupies most of the person’s torso. “Or rather, this is how you ought to be normally.”
(What do you mean?) I’m not going to like this…
Marking the paper some more, she continues, “This is you as you are now.” The crystal has a number of cracks in it and several smaller pieces have broken off of the main one. She drew cracks on the body as well.
The demoness returns. “Tea for Patchouli and hot spiced cider for Ellie.” She nudges me with her tail a few times until I take the drink. Afterward, she wanders off once more.
I spend the next few minutes slowly sipping the cider, staring at it as if I could see my reflection. I think it’s better that I can’t.
When I’m about halfway done, Patchouli speaks up again. “I would very much like to study your magic. It could help my research along greatly.” She sighs, looking slightly cross. “Enough beating around the bush. Your light is damaged from being continuously overtaxed. You may have already caused some permanent harm to your abilities, though I can’t tell for sure with just a quick scan.”
No. No way. I threw myself into my training, sure, but I had to. It can’t have done that. Even most battles I’ve been in were too short to wear me out, so…
“I could probably make you something to disperse the ambient energy and allow you to use your powers again, but I will not.”
“If you continue to force magic through your system, you will permanently damage your being to the point you can no longer cast anything. That is the best case scenario.”
(There must be something you can do!) Anything.
“The safest thing would be for you to give your powers a rest and pray to whatever god or gods you follow that you haven’t already crippled yourself. Less safe, and what I expect you will pick,” she sighs again, “there are a handful of people who could attempt to fix you. The Moon Witch is the best doctor Gensokyo has ever seen and could certainly do it, but I trust her as far as I can throw her. Since your light is an actual semi-material crystal, I could theoretically repair it. Lastly, a colleague of mine lives near the village across the lake. Her magic is likely a bit like yours and she knows more about youkai than almost anyone else, so she ought to be able to do something for you.”
The best option is probably…  – trying to recover naturally.  – getting Patchouli to do it.  – the Moon Witch.  – Patchouli’s colleague.
*** Ellie is kind of a mess, isn't she? Still, she could be doing worse, all things considered.
Patchouli implies that this is very much not her specialty. This suggests that having her do it is the most likely option for complications - or for something to go catastrophically wrong. Also, Ellie has no pressing concerns at the moment, so there's no reason to try and force anything.
[x]- what about Koakuma? Just curious. Demons can do crazy stuff with contracts, and with Patchouli there to keep things under control, we probably won't end up selling much of our soul. Your Koa is just so much fun oh my gosh.
But really, [x] – getting Patchouli to do it. would be best. She can study us all she wants, and maybe create some kind of limiter to prevent this sort of thing happening again.
>The Moon Witch is the best doctor Gensokyo has ever seen and could certainly do it, but I trust her as far as I can throw her. Success all but guaranteed; unforeseen costs as well. >Since your light is an actual semi-material crystal, I could theoretically repair it. With study and research this will presumably cease being theoretical and move into practical. >Lastly, a colleague of mine lives near the village across the lake. Her magic is likely a bit like yours and she knows more about youkai than almost anyone else, so she ought to be able to do something for you. 'Likely', 'a bit', 'ought to' and 'something'. Not particularly confidence-inspiring.
>>60472 >The Moon Witch is the best doctor Gensokyo has ever seen and could certainly do it[...]
Patchy believes Eirin would be able to fix the problem. That she doesn't trust her is a different issue entirely. No ambiguity here.
>Her magic is likely a bit like yours and she knows more about youkai than almost anyone else, so she ought to be able to do something for you.
This says that the associate's specialty is closer to the issue, and therefore more likely to have relevant experience.
>With study and research this will presumably cease being theoretical and move into practical.
Researching something new and then going off that is not the same as working with that same thing on a day-to-day basis. E.g., an oncologist is going to have much more experience dealing with cancer then a general practitioner, despite both being medical doctors.
Or, and this is an absolutely shocking idea here, we can try just resting as Patchouli herself very heavily recommended, rather than going for the various options that, other than Eiren, have no guarantee of working.
>>60473 I'm not sure why you're even arguing about this. From a narrative standpoint, all the options are equally likely to succeed; that is, no matter what we choose, it WILL succeed. The actual choice is just for who we get to see do it.
File 139999418517.jpg - (454.56KB, 1024x816, there are references in here somewhere.jpg)
(If you can fix me, please do so.)
Patchouli stares silently. I can’t tell what she’s thinking, beyond the fact that she expected me to take this option. It did seem to be the quickest.
Finally, she speaks. “It may be very painful. Prepare yourself for that.”
(But you’ll do it?) Pain is something I can handle.
“I need at least two days to prepare everything necessary. Longer would be ideal.”
(Why not now?)
Patchouli sighs heavily. “Truly, you are an impatient child. I have no energy at present. I need time to rest and prepare.”
“For the moment, I need a blood sample from you, for testing purposes.”
(A what?) This is hardly a standard medical practice.
She coughs a few times before she calls out, “Koa, come here a moment.”
The demoness almost seems to materialize beside Patchouli. “Yes?”
“I need you to draw a sample of the girl’s blood.”
“Right away.” She advances toward me, pulling from somewhere a needle attached to a sort of hollow tube.
(What’s this about taking blood, now?)
“It is a normal practice in modern medicine.” Patchouli says. “In this case, I need it to test how your body reacts to my magic so I may determine how to counteract any negative reactions. I expect to learn other helpful things as well.”
“Hold still, now.” The demoness says, brandishing her needle tube.
I hate needles. They hurt and seeing my blood come out is scary.
“It was just a prick and less than half a minute of drawing,” the demoness says. “You’re making a face like I smacked you.”
I wasn’t scared or anything! I took an arrow once and this wasn’t nearly as painful. I didn’t freak out or anything then.
She flicks her tail. “Well, I guess most kids are afraid of needles. At least you can hold still.”
(I’m not a child!) That ever present voice in the back of my mind says I’m not wise enough to be an adult. I try to ignore it, like usual.
“Right, right. Candy?” She holds out something small in a bright wrapper.
I’m not in the habit of accepting candies from people I don’t trust, but I probably won’t get away with saying that to her face. She wouldn’t get away with poisoning me or anything and doesn’t seem the type to try to anyway. Still, it’s the principle of the matter! I pocket the candy, determined to not forget who I got it from.
“Hey, no hard feelings, right?” The demoness stretches her hands back behind her head. “Just doing as asked.”
(You say that as if you didn’t enjoy taking my blood.)
Not interested in dealing with her right now, I find somewhere to read. If medicine is different here, I need to know how.
No one bothers me during my reading, but I don’t make much headway before I feel stiff and frustrated. I need to go do something other than try to puzzle out funny words and wish more books were in a language I understand. It’s driving me up a wall.
 – Wander the mansion. (any particular area?)  – Have I been here long enough to miss lunch? I’m sure Sakuya would get me something if I asked.  – Maybe some sword practice will help clear my head. My blade must still be with the gatekeeper.
*** Not half as long as I'm used to writing, but this update felt uncooperative to the extreme. I guess it's just that part of my update cycle.
Fun is to come, as well as hopefully much more frequent updates.
Practicing my swordsmanship ought to help some. I usually feel a bit better after I do that. Standing up, I’m once again made aware that I don’t actually have my sword with me. It’s only been gone for about a day, so I expect that the gatekeeper is still holding onto it.
I should be dressed warmly enough to go out, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Now, if I could just find where the entrance was, I’d be good.
About five minutes more walking than reasonable, I reach the mansion’s front door. My boots are here and have been cleaned and even fixed up a bit. I wonder if that means my clothes got the same treatment. Regardless, I should thank Sakuya when I next see her.
I switch from my wonderfully comfy but sadly impractical slippers to my boots and head outside. The glare of sunlight off of snow assaults my eyes. Blinking until my eyes adjust, I can make out the gatekeeper leaning against inside wall. She’s talking to Sakuya, actually. Sakuya should be able to translate between us, so that’s nice.
It looks like they’re taking a break from their duties. Both have steaming hot drinks. The gatekeeper gives a sort of half wave as I approach, prompting Sakuya to notice me as well.
“Hello Ellie, what brings you outside at this hour?” the maid asks.
At this hour? I guess she’s used to people being active at night. (I wanted to practice my swordsmanship a bit.)
Sakuya frowns and says something in gibberish to the gatekeeper. “Is that okay? Patchouli said she ought to rest.”
The gatekeeper grins at Sakuya. “I don’t think she’s the type to rest when she can still move. Much like a certain someone else I know.”
There’s that strange hissing noise again before Sakuya returns her attention to me. She doesn’t quite look happy with whatever the gatekeeper said.
“Meiling seems to think you’re fine to practice.” The maid says.
Ah right, that’s her name. Meiling. Meiling.
Meiling sighs. “Needing Sakuya as a translator is kind of inconvenient.”
“Maybe you should’ve learned French or at least English before it became a problem.” The maid snaps something in response.
“I’ll get to work on it soon. Does the girl usually practice alone?”
Sakuya acts as a translator between the two of us. (I haven’t had anyone to practice with for quite a while. Are you offering?)
“I’m honestly pretty rusty. It’s all Danmaku around here, rarely any real fighting. I’d be happy to spar any time.”
She’ll train with me? Great! (Practice weapons to start? I’m fine with real ones as well.)
Meiling grins. “Whatever you like is fine. I doubt you’ll beat me either way.”
Sakuya just shakes her head as she relays what was said.
She’s the competitive type, is she? This is going to be fun. (And if I win?)
“For one, I’ll give you your sword back. It’s pointless to give it to you if you can’t beat one of the strong people here in a practice match.”
(That’s mine! You can’t just keep it from me.)
“If you want it, come and take it.”
I don’t need a translation for that. A smile creeps over my face, matching her own.
After we stretch and warm up a bit, we’re ready to begin. We stand across from each other, both holding practice swords. She has a clear reach advantage.
Sakuya counts down to the start, having chosen to extend her break to referee. I have to quickly decide how to do this.
 – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.  – I’m at a disadvantage here. There’s no such thing as playing fair in battle.  – My light would be a great help here. No, that’s guaranteed to hurt me at this point. Qgt si tiy ewauar?
[x] – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.
I'm fairly certain we won't win this, but playing dirty in what's supposed to be a friendly spar is anything but friendly. I'd rather have fun and possibly lose than be a jerk and possibly win. Plus, if we start playing dirty, Meiling probably will too, and then we'll really get our asses kicked.
>Qgt si tiy ewauar? I just checked and this doesn't appear to be a Caesar cipher. Unless it's keyed, but I have no idea what the key might be.
>>60527 >>60528 Great work on figuring it out so quickly. I thought it was kind of clever, at least for something I came up with while sick and not entirely thinking straight. The fact that it actually produced something sort of like words was nice.
Vote called for:
[X] – Stay mobile, strike any openings with blinding speed.
Update possibly today. Apparently, I write this story most productively while sick and miserable.
Stay focused. I’m light on my feet and faster than I seem. She’s pretty tall, so I bet she’s used to fighting shorter opponents like me. Still, she must have some openings I can exploit.
With a clap, Sakuya signals the start of the fight. Meiling and I don’t move further than taking our stances, though I see her muscles tense. Her stance and no doubt her fighting style are completely alien to me. She seems to be right handed, so at least I should hold an advantage there.
Several seconds pass as I wait for her to make the first move. Rushing in would be stupid.
Meiling closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. I think she’s going to-
She’s fast! And strong. I barely deflected that!
Her follow-up swing hits snow as I dive aside. I barely have the chance to regain my footing before she’s pressing the attack.
From the right. Down. Left. Right. Lunge!
I sidestep her attack and swing at her open back. Somehow, I my sword hits only air.
Then I hit the ground. Meiling steps on my sword and lightly pokes me in the stomach with her own. The bruise to my pride hurts worse than the one soon to be growing on the back of my knee.
“Nice reflexes, kid. Your footwork could use a little improvement, but you’re young and have plenty of time to learn. What you really need to work on is reading the tides of battle. You let me get too much momentum.”
I didn’t understand a word of that, but I take her hand when she offers to help me up. She doesn’t gloat or anything, but it doesn’t soften the blow of losing any. I haven’t lost a fight since that big tournament. That was before I figured out how to blend swordsmanship and light, though. Have I really relied on it that much?
“You fight well,” Sakuya says. “I didn’t have half that finesse as a child.”
I’m not a child, but I’ll take that as a compliment regardless.
Sakuya smiles that unreadable smile and checks her pocket watch. “In any case, I need to get back to my duties. Try not to catch a chill while you practice.”
Meiling offers me the training sword again. I’ll get her this time for sure.
I don’t win the next spar or the one that follows. We switch to regular practice after that.
Meiling is perfectly happy to adjust my form where she finds it lacking, even when it contradicts what I was taught. Afterward, I think I learned something. Maybe, if I keep fighting Meiling, I’ll be able to take her on.
I also need to work around the language barrier. I’m not sure how to go about learning an unfamiliar language. I’m sure I can get someone to help with that, but it will take time.
Only after I’m done training with Meiling do I realize how tired I am. How long were we training? It’s getting pretty late in the day. Eventually I find the room I’m staying in. From there I have a bath and go to bed. I can eat something when I get up.
I wake clutching my pillow and in pain. Ugh, those sort of dreams are hardly the way I want to start my day. Now I’ll be jumping at shadows all day.
There was something off about the dream this time, but I can’t really remember much of it. That’s definitely healthier than remembering.
The first order of business today is breakfast. Well, it actually might be the middle of the night, but the first meal after I wake up is always breakfast, right?
Through the halls I go, darting from light to light and trying not to trip on the carpet any time I hear something move. If it’s Sakuya messing with me, I will be very upset. I hope she realizes that.
As it turns out, I find Sakuya in the dining hall cleaning up. I guess that means it was just spooky mansion noises.
It takes a minute for Sakuya to notice me. I’m tempted to sneak up on her before she does. “Good morning, Ellie. I’m afraid the mistress has already retired for the day.”
So much for that plan. (Good morning, Sakuya.)
Sakuya briefly studies me. “You didn’t eat much yesterday, did you? You must be hungry.”
(Yes, very.) I can’t remember whether I had lunch yesterday or only had breakfast.
“If you want to eat breakfast somewhere else, I can bring something for you.”
 – Is it alright to eat in the library?  – I imagine Meiling would appreciate the company.  – Can’t I eat with you?
*** "Today" the writefag says. Yeah. Right. Sure.
>>60581 >>60583 I'm not dead so much as I've been drowning in misery and crippling doubt in my ability to write. I've trashed and rewritten this update half a dozen times and I still don't think it's adequate. It's posted now because I've finally hit boiling point in my rage over how awful everything is. This story has been here for over six months goddamn.
Next update within a week, probably not before Sunday.
That update was fine. You are way above average for this site, let alone the badness threshold required for people to actually level harsh criticism upon you. If you have doubts again, just repeat this post to yourself and then click that reply button.
I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a subtle “go away” or if she’s actually offering to do me a kindness? Sakuya’s carefully neutral expression makes it hard to guess at what she’s thinking. Well, one way to find out.
(Can’t I eat with you?)
A look of mild confusion passes over her features. “Why would you want to do that? I’m just a servant. It wouldn’t be proper.”
I’ve heard that excuse before and none of the usual reasons apply for Sakuya. Does she dislike me?
(Please, Sakuya.) I give her a sad, lonely look, the kind you can’t fake.
Sakuya stares at me.
I stare at Sakuya.
“Alright, I’ll eat with you. Just-just stop looking at me like that!”
We eat in the kitchen. I can’t really think of any small talk, waste of paper as it might be. Sakuya doesn’t seem to mind, though. She’s busy with making “pancakes”.
“Plain or chocolate?” Sakuya asks, deftly flipping a pancake in the air. “If you like, you can put fruit over them when they’re done.”
(Plain.) I don’t trust chocolate.
“Alright then,” she says, turning back around. “Strange, I was under the impression kids loved chocolate.”
Don’t mock me, I had a bad experience.
Okay, pancakes? Fluffy and delicious slathered in syrup, oh wow this is so good!
“Slow down there! It’s like you’ve never eaten pancakes before.”
I shake my head. I guess I have eaten four in the time it took Sakuya to have about one, even with my insisting that she finish cooking them all before I started eating.
“So,” Sakuya says between bites, “where do you come from? You don’t seem terribly familiar with modern conveniences.”
(The Kingdom of Elath.)
“Can’t say I’ve heard of it.”
(Maybe the old empire didn’t stretch this far east then. I think I was going east. I’m not really sure how I got here.)
“Well, you usually can’t just walk into Gensokyo. You don’t know how you got here?”
(I went to sleep in an old shrine somewhere rainy and hot and woke up in winter by a lake.)
Sakuya studies my face for a minute. “And that doesn’t bother you?”
(Is it supposed to?) Beyond the loss of my powers and immediate danger of freezing to death, things haven’t really been worse. It’s not as if I was headed to any particular place.
Sakuya sighs. “You’re a strange one. That’s probably why you slipped through the cracks and wound up here.”
Hmm… (Where are you from, Sakuya?)
“I’m… ah.” There’s a sharp hiss of air and Sakuya checks her pocket watch. “I have work I need to do if I’m to keep my schedule. Terribly sorry, Ellie.”
Sakuya politely gives me the boot so she can clean up. I guess I can’t really fault her for it. She has to go do Sakuya things, whatever those might be.
As for me, I have today to do whatever. Patchouli should hopefully be able to fix my magic tomorrow.
 – Visit the library. I can read or maybe help with preparations.  – Go out and train. Yesterday’s defeats mean I need to work much harder to be strong.  – Explore. I haven’t really looked around all that much. (Feel free to suggest a particular area if you like.)
*** Slow updates, short update, self-flagellation. Also other words starting with S. Like Sakuya.
I think I’ll look around some. I haven’t done any exploring yet. I think I’ll start-
A loud groan interrupts my thoughts, nearly causing me to jump. It’s probably the house settling. Probably.
I’ll explore outside. Yes, that sounds wise.
The halls don’t do that weird shifting thing, so I get winter clothes and get to the front door easily enough.
It must have snowed some time during the night, as the paths are covered in a thin layer of mostly unbroken snow. It’s overcast and windy today. Suppressing a shiver, I step outside.
A set of footprints leads to and from the door already, meaning Sakuya must have come out at some point before I got up. I wave to Meiling over by the gate, though she doesn’t see me. I can see that her path outside today has taken her to a few of the other buildings against the walls.
The snow is piled in places, suggesting where the path is. I walk over near the outer wall, enjoying the crunch of snow beneath my boots. Most of the buildings along the walls are probably storehouses, but there are several taller ones that I take to be barracks. There’s a smithy here as well, open to the winter air. A stable serves to remind me that I never learned to ride a horse. It has an unpleasant air about it and doesn’t look to have been used in who knows how many years, so I won’t soon have the chance to learn.
Walking around behind the mansion takes me through the darker shadow of the clock tower. It’s a lot more spacious back here. A loose circle of pines adds some color to the otherwise snowy landscape. Other trees are grouped about in no clear pattern, skeletal limbs laden with ice and snow. I try peering into one of several frosted-over glass buildings, but I can’t see much beyond that they’re lit and mostly green inside.
A ways back, there’s a wall of something brownish-grey that looks shorter than the outer wall. Once I get near it, I can see that it’s made of brambles. I can hear a faint howling coming from within. Slowly making my way around, I find an entrance. It looks to be a rectangular hedge maze. The cold and the howling make me reluctant to explore inside. Maybe another time, when I’m feeling more confident.
Something else catches my eye as I finish my circuit around the maze. There’s an old stone building back by one of the corners. A heavy door seals the building and a half circle of cracked and faded stone slabs surrounds it. Whatever words were engraved on the stones have long faded, but I don’t need to read them to tell their purpose.
I know a gravestone when I see one.
Only now does it hit me that Remilia’s parents must have died. It can’t have been very recently. She’s too composed for that. On the other hand, she looks tired and sickly, a clear sign of stress. Perhaps a year?
I ought to ask, but I don’t want to upset her by opening a slowly healing wound. Even so, maybe I would’ve handled things better if I had someone to talk to when mother…
No, no, stop thinking about it. Gods Ellie, get it together! You always do this.
I whisper a quiet thanks to the dead who once lived here and walk away. My mood tangibly improves once I get back to the front of the house. Part of that is seeing how carefree Meiling seems, stretching and yawning as she is. Must be nice.
 – See if Meiling is up for some sword practice.  – Go to the kitchen. I could do with a hot drink.  – Go to the library and… -See how Patchouli’s preparations are going. -Try asking the demon about Remilia’s family. She’s bound to know. *** Things are improving. For me, anyway.
[x] – Go to the library and… -Try asking the demon about Remilia’s family. She’s bound to know.
Whenever I see a conspicuous drop in number of votes, part of my mind tells me that I've screwed something up and alienated half my readers. Then the mostly sane part tells that first part to chill out.
>>60882 People are usually more willing to vote for things if they know what they're in for. They also like the main character to be proactive, having a definite effect on the progression of the plot. If you throw a bunch of characters at us asking 'Help me with [thing] right now!' you'll have a hundred million samefags scrambling all over each other to win the vote, whereas 'Door A, Door B, or Door C?' isn't really engaging.
The trick is finding a balance between 'pick a waifu' and 'pick a condiment'.
>>60882 I know the feeling as well, and I think it's what the above anon said about engaging choices in combination with a disinterest in voting if what they would vote for has already clearly won or lost.
Other anons I know won't vote if the post has been up for quite a while even if the votes haven't been called, since they know the author might have already started writing, and if they change the winner, the author will have to change gears and rewrite.
I think that the anons that don't write might not realize how much power their vote has not only on the story but on the motivation of the writer, because it really is the only way we have to gauge interest in our stories.
It's also entirely possible that some anons didn't see the update because of other sdm stories updating just after yours.
>>60885 >not bookmarking every story you follow and checking all of them three times daily Kinda depressing when days stretch to weeks stretch to months stretch to years, though. I'm still wanting more Planescape and Kokoro, by the way.
Better to get this figured out now. The demon ought to be able to tell me about Remilia’s family. Of course, that means seeking her out. Asking a demon’s help feels like a betrayal of who I am.
Well, it’s not like we’ll be conspiring to sow chaos and destruction, just talking. I’ll do it.
I head in and down, leaving my boots by the door. After a time, the library doors stand before me. With a deep breath, I go in.
The library is different from last time. The shelves aren’t as long, but they’re much taller. They look more like columns than rows. The feeling of vertigo I get from the room is hardly lessened by the change.
I find the demon easily enough. She’s emptied a row of books to make herself a throne, three yellow ones floating at eye level. She doesn’t so much as glance in my direction.
“Heard the gatekeeper put the moves on you,” she says, flicking back a page.
(I lost, but that’s not why I’m here.)
She glances up, then nods. “I figured. She’s tougher than you’d think, else she wouldn’t have any business being gatekeeper. Bet she could beat a hydra.”
(I saw the graves out back. I wanted to ask about Remilia’s family.)
The demon massages the bridge of her nose. “That was before Patchouli and I came to live with Scarlet. I can’t give you a firsthand account like the girl herself could, but I’ll tell you what I can.”
I stand there, waiting for her to continue.
“Right, you’ll be trading a favor for the info. I can’t be bothered to shelve these books I’m sitting on. You’re going to shelve them when I’m done telling you what you want to know.”
(That sounds fair. Is there a particular order they need to go in?) This feels like a harmless enough request.
“That can wait until after.”
I sit on the floor, waiting for the demon to start telling her tale.
“You know, Scarlet might not even be her family name. I don’t know if she’s French, though she’s probably spoken the language more than most others. Some sort of European, no doubt. In any case, her parents were some lesser or middling nobility.
Lord and Lady Scarlet doted on their daughter, beautiful, sickly thing that she was. The girl never quite grew into a woman, even when she came of age.” At this, she gives me a devilish smile. “To hear her tell it, she had suitors from all classes, commoner to emperor.”
Remilia is older than she looks, then. I suppose she does act mature for her apparent age. As I understand it, one suitor took rejection rather poorly. He was from an old and powerful lineage, one that followed a shadowy path to power. The Scarlets and their servants didn’t survive the night. The suitor was repaid in kind, but that’s a story for another time.”
The demon reaches out a hand toward my head, but slowly withdraws it. “”That’s pretty much ancient history now. Only Scarlet could really tell you how much she still thinks about it. Does that satisfy your curiosity?”
I give the demon a shaky nod. I almost wish I hadn’t asked.
The demon gets up, her three books snapping closed and dropping into her hands. “I need to get back to Patchouli. Don’t worry about what specific order the books go in, long as they’re with their own colors and the colors are sorted right. Accounting for subject matter, they shouldn’t be right by certain other colors or on the wrong side.
Yellow fancies itself the center of the universe and dislikes being told otherwise. Green holds no love for a braggart. White ever pursues his opposite. Red is always hungry. Black will slay red if the two should meet.
The arrangement wraps around. Oh, and the language these books are written in goes opposite the way you know. I’m sure you can figure it out.” With a poorly concealed smirk, she departs to see Patchouli.
Puzzles? Really? She’s having a laugh at my expense, maybe even intending to watch from where I can’t see her.
It’s not as though I can’t figure this out. It’s just annoying to have sprung on me out of nowhere.
 - SOLUTION.
*** Koa's gotta make her own fun sometimes. You guys don't really have to try and solve the (probably not very good) puzzle if you don't feel like it. You just get a little something extra if you do. Otherwise, next post in a couple days christ how has it been more than two weeks?
So we're matching colors to subject, is it? This ought to be fun.
Here's my guesses so far: Yellow is autobiographies. Following that Green is biographies I guess?
White has a connection with its opposite. If we're talking opposite color wise, then there's a connection with black, and the only thing we know about black is it's relation to red.
Maybe Red is Fiction, Black is Nonfiction, perhaps?
This is a toughie, but I'm also total shit at riddles. I enjoy them, but total shit at figuring them out. As I was writing it out I got the feeling that all my guesses are totally off and that's not even the right type of sorting type, but I figured I'd post em anyway as a starting point for someone better with word games.
The other option would be that they're subjects like History, Mathematics, Magic stuff, but in that case I don't have guesses yet for what they could be.
>>60936 The specific colors used were chosen for a reason. >>60937 >or on the wrong side is supposed to mean the pattern isn't reversible. >the language these books are written in goes opposite the way you know Normally, you'd expect to read left to right.
>>60938 Okay, knowing that it's directional and right-to-left is certainly helpful, but I'm stumped on the colors. Are they subjects? Are they essential to solving the puzzle? Does the riddle relate to the subjects, the correct order, or both?
Couldn't our hero just look at them to see what subject they are? It doesn't seem like just telling us would ruin the puzzle, since we still need to figure out the order.
>White ever pursues his opposite. That is, White comes after Black.
If White must come immediately after Black, then there are two possibilities: G R Y B W (>>60937's answer) B W Y R G
If it doesn't mean that, then it could also be either of: G B Y W R G B Y R W
The apparently unnoticed statement "the pattern wraps around" doesn't seem to help: presumably it means 1 and 5 count as "next to" each other, but the Yellow-Green restriction pair means that this cannot come into play.
My best guess for the Red clue (and I don't like it at all) is that >Red is always hungry. ... means that G-R-Y is a sequence in the ordering. If that's true, the only possible answer is G R Y B W -- or, rather, W B Y R G, since it's right-to-left. If you did mean this, then "always hungry, always angry" would have been much better.
>>60938 Just slightly, yes. If Black was replaced Brown it would obviously be magical elements, not mundane subjects, but as it is there's no indication for what the subject matter of the books might be. We'll only be able to determine that by reading them, and opening books at random in a mage's library reeks of BAD IDEA.
For reference, the magical elements would be Yellow: Sun Green: Wood White: Moon Red: Fire Black: Earth and the order would be Green, Red, Yellow, White, Black. Unless the reversed text direction applies to the logic of the Moon chasing the Sun as well. And of course, this assumes our brave hero is familiar with the elemental system in use here.
No vote, because I haven't got a clue what the right answer actually is.
>>60942 If it's elements, then it's probably either Earth Fire Air Water (Void/Aether) or Earth Fire Metal Water Wood.
In the first case... well, there is no consistent labeling of the Aristotelian elements with colors anywhere. Most people go with Fire = Red; lots of people (but not everyone) go with Water = Blue; beyond that, well, go throw darts at a dartboard. The ancient Greeks simply didn't divide up color-space in the way we do today, and it doesn't seem anyone ever assigned canonical colors to the Buddhist elements.
In the second case, it's probably a reference to the five Chinese elements (the Wu Xing): . Byakko (White Tiger) = Metal . Seiryuu (Blue Dragon) = Wood . Genbu (Black Tortoise) = Water . Suzaku (Red Bird) = Fire . Huang Long (Yellow Dragon) = Earth (no real Japanese equivalent)
Note that green (midori) was considered a shade of blue (ao) up until the Meiji Restoration; some English translations in the context of feng shui tend to refer to the "Green Dragon" instead.
This matches the proposed Red "-gry" rule and the Yellow-Green conditions, and White is at least adjacent to Black. (Under the Five Elements, no element has an "opposite", so this would have to refer to White/Black as opposite colors instead.) Still, sorting out how White's rule properly applies and which order (LTR or RTL) the whole shebang is supposed to go in is beyond me.
As additional support for Wu Xing, the hints are practically taken straight from it. Earth (Yellow) is associated with the direction "center", and is destroyed by Wood (Green). Water (Black) destroys Fire (Red), exactly as described.
If it is the Generating Cycle, and I suppose it pretty much has to be, the order (looked at left-to-right) is either B W Y R G or G R Y W B.
Unfortunately, we have "White follows Black" -> "BW", "gry" -> "GRY" (with weak circumstantial support, even if it's wrong), and "do it backwards"... when _exactly one_ of "BW" and "GRY" must be backwards, and not the other. Given that she said the language is backwards, I'm going to guess "GRY" -> "YRG"; in which case...
>>60946 There's no actual vote in there for you to second... so I assume you mean this one, since I'm also >>60945. If you (or anyone else, for that matter) can address the last inconsistency more convincingly, I'll switch my vote.
>>60948 >Based on what? Based on the assumption that it must match the Generating Cycle. (Which I did say.) It is an assumption, but it's not exactly one without support.
>I would trust the hunts given (which would clearly make it WB) over what the riddle is based on. It could have just been a mistake. I think accidentally mixing up the hints (or rather, accidentally making the hints ambiguous) is far more likely than accidentally reversing two elements in the sequence. (Doing so purposefully... that I couldn't say.)
(... the part I don't like is that I'm operating under OOC knowledge, though. IC, assuming no retcons, you're absolutely right; even if I'm also right about the generating cycle being the intended answer, we'd just be doing what Koa asked rather than what she wanted.)
>>60950 Disregarding brainstorming for the time being, it wouldn't be difficult to shift some blame onto Koa if we screw this up. She's the one who issued the riddle to begin with in an effort to shirk her duties. It's not (technically) our fault it was poorly worded (no offense to the writer).
You guys figured it out and got that it was the generating cycle. It seems a lot of confusion was due to my poor skills at conveying information. I should probably find someone to proofread and to help make sure things make sense.
Regardless, I enjoyed watching you all puzzle things out. You're all perceptive and clever people and should feel great.
It takes me longer than I would like to make sense of the demon’s puzzle. Or was frustrating me the point? Either way, it gets done.
Afterward, I spend my time trying to get an idea of what Patchouli will be doing to heal me. Trying and failing. It’s not like she can just put a splint on my soul. Or if she could, that wouldn’t make things much different than her suggestion that I just wait to get my power back. Her magic and my light must be very different if she can use hers for healing.
“Deep in thought, eh?” the demon says from right behind me.
I whip around, a hissing shriek burning in my throat.
“Great job with those books,” she says. “I was wondering whether you would figure it out and you did not disappoint.”
There’s a pause as I try to regain my composure. The demon looks me up and down, slowly rocking on her heels.
(Your clues were bad and confusing.)
Her tail droops a little. “Sorry about that. It wasn’t on purpose.”
(What was the point of having me do that in the first place?)
“Just testing you to see how clever you are.” She brushes a bit of hair from her eyes with her head wings. “Brute force isn’t always the solution to life’s little problems, you know. It would really sting to learn that when you’re stuck in a deathtrap or somesuch.”
That’s not the sort of answer I was hoping for. It never is with her.
“Right then,” the demon continues, pulling out a folded piece of paper. “This is for you. I figured you might appreciate some excerpts from Patchouli’s notes on your case. I even translated it for you. Aren’t I nice?”
I accept the paper, curious to see what it says.
Cursory scan results indicate a crystalline organ with a strong magical signature. Organ appears significantly damaged, likely due to overexertion.
Blood sample results: Mostly within normal levels. Blood sugar looks slightly low, remember to eat. A footnote from the demon states she added that bit. Blood potency level: approx. 2200
Genetically, the girl is human so far as my limited instruments can tell, though the scan results would indicate otherwise. Her blood potency is improbably high, though that may be related to her current condition. Also notable is the blood’s ability to resist most magic that would actively alter it in some way. My current hypothesis is that she is of an incredibly strong sorcerous bloodline.
Further analysis by Eientei would prove more conclusive, but circumstances make the option unfavorable. Koa will have to help with the procedure, to ensure the girl’s safety.
I’m not really sure what to make of this. (Blood potency?)
“That’s a measure of how delicious you are,” she says, licking her lips.
(Excuse me?) Please be joking.
“It’s your magical potential. Having a potency of one means you have just the faintest spark of magic. I don’t exactly know how linear the scaling is, but a person’s level can fluctuate with their health. Patchouli’s varies quite a bit from day to day.”
(But what does that mean for me?) I’m clearly not in the best of health.
“Even Patchouli doesn’t know for sure. You’ll sleep better without my input.”
That doesn’t bode well. I’ll lose sleep if left to guess at awful things on my own. I’m sure she knows it, too.
“Speaking of sleep, it’s getting kinda late for you to wander the mansion. I think you missed like two meals while you were studying.”
Wait, really? I know I tend to get really focused, but that’s a bit much.
“If you hurry, the maid might still be around to feed you.”
Mouthing a quick thanks, I head off to find Sakuya. The halls feel awfully chilly and oppressive after my time in the library. Not being able to see in the dimly lit stretches of hallway makes me nervous.
To my surprise, I run into Sakuya on my way to find the kitchen. Or rather, she runs into me. Physically. She looks a bit dazed, but I was the one who got knocked back. I have to wave a hand in front of her face to get her attention.
“Eh?” It takes her a moment to recognize me. “Oh, Ellie.”
(You seem distracted. Something on your mind?)
“It’s nothing, sorry. Today was a long day, so I’m a little tired.” She gives me one of those guarded Sakuya smiles. “You still haven’t eaten, right? I’ll make you something before I go to bed.”
(That would be nice.) Well, I guess she’s not completely out of it.
Despite being droopy and tired, Sakuya can still cook fine. Seeing her tired is almost surreal. She seems to do a lot to build up an image of perfection. I think she would be a lot less approachable if she could keep it up all of the time.
Only once I’m good and fed do I realize how tired I am. Unfortunately, sleep doesn’t come easy. What will tomorrow bring? Can Patchouli really help me? Worst case scenarios whirl through my head, much as I try to ignore them.
I wake to a crushing weight. Immobile, my arms pinned at my sides, barely able to choke out a breath.
“Such a shame you couldn’t stay asleep for this.”
The demon looms heavy in my sight. She’s sitting on my chest and pressing out the air.
What are you doing? Get off.
“Truth be told, Patchouli can’t do anything for you. You’re dying, see?” She slides a cold talon down from my chin to my sternum.
No. No! You lie!
“In a year’s time, you’ll be forgotten. Well, Patchouli will study your crystal and learn what she can. Scarlet doesn’t care. She’s the one that let me have you.” A great smile splits her face as she produces a blade.
“Don’t worry, Ellie. I’ll remember you just fine.”
She brings down the knife. ---
I jolt back to reality. I’m on the floor, tangled up in sheets. My chest burns with cold fire and I’m drenched in sweat. Only once I free myself and can cling to a pillow do I give into the shaking terror.
Why? Why is this happening to me? Am I going mad?
It’s not me. I’m alright I’m not-I’m not the problem. It’s this place’s fault. The darkness and creepy halls are setting me on edge. Yeah, that’s it.
Alright, get it together. That wasn’t one of my normal nightmares. I don’t know how to divine signs of the future, but it’s clearly a bad omen. I don’t trust the demon for what she is, but that shouldn’t be enough to cause a nightmare.
Right, what can I do about it? Maybe I can ask to postpone or cancel Patchouli’s treatment, at least until I figure things out. Gods, is my resolve really so flimsy that a nightmare can break it?
What should I do? I’ve never put much stock in portents of the future, but that’s probably played a role in my misfortunes. I need to come to a decision sooner rather than later.
 – Proceed with Patchouli’s treatment. Just brush off the nightmare and keep moving forward.  – Hold off on it. Even if I have to recover naturally, I can’t just go blundering into the unknown. Reyar bi ibw.
*** Third time's the charm of formatting. I hope. It's enough of a mess as is. God I'm so out of practice.
I also had to sit and think about this one a bit...
Patchy seems to be working diligently at this for our sakes, but it's also likely true that she'll care about a chance to continue to research us (or our corpse) over a chance to save us if she has to choose one over the other.
[X] – Hold off on it. Even if I have to recover naturally, I can’t just go blundering into the unknown.
After thinking about it some, I recalled that Patchouli didn't actually want to treat us as it wasn't her specialty, so I agree with the above poster. Let's see some other opinions by people more well versed in this matter.
>give up on story returning, stop checking thread >it comes back a couple days later Of course.
>being mean to Koa because players called your puzzle out on being kinda poorly designed Man c'mon. That ain't cool.
>Trust no one. Nah fuck you I trust Koa. She's great. I mean, maybe that dream was caused by some hostile entity that wants us to avoid treatment. And you can't go your whole life without trusting anyone.
[X] – Proceed with Patchouli’s treatment. Just brush off the nightmare and keep moving forward. - [X] - Tell Koakuma about the dream beforehand, though.
For once, I decide to err on the side of caution. There isn’t any urgent need to have my magic back, at least as far as I’m aware. I lived most of my life without it, so it should be possible for me to go back to that for a month or two.
Seeing as I’m not getting back to sleep, I ought to do something. Stewing in my thoughts for a few hours will just make things worse at the moment. A hot bath might help some. Yes, that would be nice.
Some time later, the sky begins to lighten outside my window. I should be able to eat breakfast with Remilia today.
Sure enough, I find Remilia seated at the head of the table. She doesn’t have a plate of food yet, so I’m not late or anything. Remilia beckons me over with a friendly smile, indicating to the seat beside her.
“Good morning, Raphaëlle.” Remilia studies my face for a moment. I find it hard to hold her gaze. “Or better than your night, I hope. You look awfully tired.”
(I didn’t sleep well, sorry.)
“Patchouli is going to fix your magic problem today, is she not? It would be far stranger if you were perfectly collected.”
Ah. She seems to be expecting a response. How should I say that I’ve changed my mind? I’m stuck fidgeting under her gaze for a moment before Sakuya conveniently interrupts with food. Thanks, Sakuya. Oh, and she brought food for me as well.
Remilia and Sakuya exchange a wordless glance and then I get one of those signature Sakuya smiles. She bows and hurries off before I have the chance to respond. At least I’m left with the excuse of eating for now.
“You know,” Remilia says, idly picking at her dinner, “Patchouli is perhaps the most capable magician I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. You’re in good hands with her. There’s not a problem in all the world she can’t solve when she sets her mind to it.”
(I’m not going through with Patchouli’s procedure.) There, now it’s said and out there. Now she can’t unwittingly undermine my resolve any further.
There’s the briefest flicker of confusion before Remilia’s expression settles on neutral. “Oh. Might I ask what caused this change of heart?”
 – Be honest. Maybe Remilia can help somehow. I mean, she has some sort of fate powers, doesn’t she?  – Deflect. Something about all of this doesn’t add up.
*** Day 1: Thus begins my attempt at daily updates throughout the month. They should at least mostly be updates to this, but there may be other things or even shorts getting posted too.
[X] – Be honest. Maybe Remilia can help somehow. I mean, she has some sort of fate powers, doesn’t she?
If we back out now and deflect her question, then we're making our distrust known.
Either she's involved in some conspiracy against us, and she'll become secure in the idea that we've been fooled/that we trust her, or she's not involved, in which case she can help us, and at the very least, if we're straightforward here, she'll know that we trust her.
[x] Six of one, half a dozen of the other. The truth... if perhaps not all of it.
Start off by saying that, in large part, our reason is Patchouli's own advice. (This is, of course, absolutely true; Patchouli did say she thought it best to let it heal naturally.)
The reason we've reconsidered our initial decision is that we've realized we were being foolish and hasty. (This, again, is true. Or at least I think it's true; and if enough people vote for this, it actually will be true.)
Finally, we came to that realization because of a nightmare -- we should tense up a bit at this point and look away, as though remembering something unpleasant and distressing, which is of course exactly the case -- and Lady Scarlet Remilia will perhaps understand if we'd prefer not to go into too much detail on that last matter. (Again, no lies to be had, even implicitly.)
And if she asks... no, the nightmare wasn't about her.
(Patchouli said I would be better off recovering on my own or seeing someone more specialized.)
Remilia blinks. “So after thinking on it for a few days you came around to her viewpoint?”
I nod. It’s not really a lie, but I feel like telling her the whole truth could be bad.
“Hmm… Well, it is your body. You really should make a point of apologizing to Patchouli. Rarely does she take an interest in someone or something to the point of making a proper effort like this.”
The meal goes quickly after that. After we finish eating, Remilia bids me a good day. Left alone, I somehow find myself wondering if someone purposely induced the nightmare. It’s not a pleasant thought at all. It invites more questions with likely sinister answers. Remilia, Patchouli, and the demon are the only real suspects. I don’t think Sakuya and Meiling have that sort of ability.
The why of it isn’t something I can craft an answer for yet. It would be better to investigate the mansion and its inhabitants more before I jump to any conclusions. Better to just be cautious than too trusting or outright paranoid.
I quickly make my way down to the library, only stopping to thank Sakuya for the meal. People like being appreciated. Soon I reach the heavy doors. A sign hung on the door handle states Delicate procedure in progress today. Urgent business only. It’s written in both flowing script and foreign symbol-words. Or so I assume.
Inside, the shelves have rearranged themselves again, now in some sort of odd patterns circled around the center of the room. Patchouli is near the center, inscribing a chalk circle around a low table. Hearing my approach, she looks over to me.
“Just a moment. I’m all but done,” she calls.
“Well well well, look who’s on time,” the demon says from beside me.
There’s an awful moment where the nightmare flashes at the front of my mine. In the end, my irritation at her tendency to surprise me wins out, if only just.
(I’m not going through with the procedure.)
The demon’s face shifts to a pout. “Aw, and I was so looking forward to it, too.” She flashes me a smile.
Not exactly making me more inclined to reconsider again, are you?
“Hey Patchy, don’t bother finishing. The kid got cold feet.”
There’s a loud wheeze from Patchouli as she stands up. It doesn’t quite hide a brief episode of swearing. “You realize, you’ve caused me a lot of meaningless work then?” She stalks over to me.
(Sorry.) I hang my head. She’s only about my height, but at the same time, she’s easily six feet worth of mad.
“I rearranged the library for this. I just spent the last hour and a half drawing that pentacle by hand. It had to be one continuous stroke for maximum effectiveness.”
(You were right the first time. I shouldn’t rush my recovery.)
“You couldn’t figure that out two days ago, when it was sensible?” Patchouli stalks off to find a seat, grumbling something about not helping people all the while. “Koa, get me a drink.”
A dark look comes over the demon’s features. “Ain’t your damn servant,” she says under her breath, quickly taking a deep breath and returning to normal. “Don’t worry about her. She just needs a little time to cool down is all.”
I notice that she does, in fact, head off to get the tea. I should probably be off too.
The doors bang open, causing me to freeze mid step. “Patchouli! I’mma callin’ you out!” a girl’s voice booms.
She’s rather odd looking, with a sagging, pointed hat and dressed in largely dark blues save for a white apron around her waist. A single golden braid hangs free from her tangled hair. Her bright eyes are a match to her hair and her smile could almost outshine the sun. Judging from the rosy tinge of her cheeks and nose, she just came in from outside.
“But seriously, how’s things?” the girl says. “Seems like you’ve started redecoratin’ this musty old place.”
“Kirisame, you illiterate mongoloid,” Patchouli barks, “there was a sign saying no entry.”
“If I was illiterate, I wouldn’t be coming to your library now, would I?” the girl, Kirisame, retorts.
“Oh, there’s a thought. How rare, coming from you.” Patchouli’s glare is such that I’m surprised the witch doesn’t burst into flames.
“Hah. Not as rare as you getting off your ass.”
The girl buries her hand in her pocket as Patchouli abruptly stands up. This could get ugly.
 – Try to intercede somehow. Can’t have them burning down the library.  – Take cover somewhere reasonably safe. Assuming they don’t kill each other, this will be interesting to witness.  – Just leave. I really don’t feel like dealing with this crap right now.
*** Day 2: This one ended on a rather different note than I initially intended, but hopefully a more entertaining one.
This is hardly the first time a hostile sort of situation has come up in my life. I’m not unused to dealing with these things. The key thing is to keep them from escalating further. Rather difficult when I lack the ability to talk.
I stride evenly between Patchouli and Kirisame, more in the direction of the latter. I have to make a point of looking as calm and unassailable as possible. In reality, I’m relying as much on Patchouli being unwilling to blast me as I am my ability to dodge. I hold up a hand at each of them and shake my head.
“Eh?” Kirisame does a double take, seemingly noticing me for the first time. “Who’s this kid?”
She’s one to talk, being only about as tall as Remilia. (Civilian. Please no fighting.)
She squints at the paper in my hand for a few seconds, idly scratching her cheek. “Hey Patchy, this girl’s weird. Looks foreign and is writin’ French. She one of them deaf-mutes?”
Patchouli doesn’t respond. Looking back over, it seems the demon took this opportunity to arrive with her drink.
(Not deaf. I’m Ellie, Remilia’s guest.) I offer her my hand.
“Marisa Kirisame, Ordinary Magician.” She shakes my hand and nods vigorously, almost losing her hat in the process.
Truth be told, playing mediator has never actually worked out for me before. Thinking on it, I at least partly have the demon to thank. Now that Patchouli has her drink, she looks much more relaxed in her tiredness. I have to assume it’s more than just good tea.
Soon enough, I’m taking tea with two magicians and a demon. Surreal as it may be, it still goes a long ways to lightening my mood. It’s nice to be around people who I can socialize with.
“So Marisa,” Patchouli says, “why are you here?”
“I’ve known you for ten years, Patch. Can’t I just stop in for a social visit from time to time?” Marisa says with a look of practiced innocence.
Patchouli isn’t buying it. “You’re two days out by foot and the better part of one by air. It’s an exceptionally cold winter.”
“Well, I’ve been hearin’ some interesting stuff lately. One of the big rumors going around the solstice festival is some weird beasts prowling the far side of the forest. You know the fairies are gonna be all abuzz over it when they get back here.”
“Fairies love to talk. Most likely it’s another non-incident like the time they thought they saw the Daidarabotchi.”
“Well, just in case, I’d appreciate the help if it turns out to be somethin’ big.”
Patchouli is quiet for a moment before closing her eyes. “Very well.”
“Knew I could count on you to have my back, Patch.” Marisa’s smile is positively infectious as she turns to me. “With that out of the way, guess I should get to know the new face. How’d ya end up at the mansion, kid?”
(I went to sleep in an unfamiliar shrine and woke up on the lake’s shore here. I was lucky enough to make it to here before I froze.)
“Just slipped through the cracks then, huh? Gensokyo’s kind of like a safety net like that. Forgotten or discarded folks and stuff winds up here sometimes.”
(I wasn’t forgotten.) The implication that I was unwanted stings, but I don’t think she really meant it as such.
“Wrong place at the right time, then.” Marisa presses on, oblivious to my thoughts. “Guess you’ll want to try and get back at some point.”
“Then she’d never find her way back here,” the demon cuts in.
 – I still think of it as home. I don’t know if this creepy mansion could ever feel the same.  – I haven’t been here very long. Certainly not long enough to decide something like that.  – It’s better for everyone that I don’t return. I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for, but I feel as if I’ll find it here. Ewryeb.
*** Day 3: Future goals and motivations help with getting out of a rut. Like updating daily for a month.
I hate noticing errors in previous updates when I reread.
The truth, of course, is that we've just retreated from making one hasty decision and really shouldn't leap into another. Our fate is to be "worn down until [we] die"... but ultimately, that's the fate of all mortals. It describes dying of exhaustion and wounds after a hundred battles, but it also describes dying of old age surrounded by family.
So much depends on those three ties that still bind us: will we reject them and stay, or accept them and leave? >Return. Well, yeah, I kind of figured that would be your opinion on the matter.
Anyway, if it were Remilia or Patchouli asking, I'd say something like the above (although in a more Ellieish voice); but Marisa isn't really interested in us, and more to the point, is more interested in talking than listening. We might as well pretend to agree with her and let her hear what she wants to hear.
But if she's more perceptive that I'm giving her credit for being... - [x] If pushed: "Well. I've already caused enough trouble by jumping into a hasty decision. No need to continue with it."
Marisa laughs as I explain the situation. "Ha! No wonder Patchy here's so much of a grump today!"
I've already started writing my response. (I think it was for the best, though. After all, if you'd come in here and interrupted Patchouli during the ritual, I would probably be dead!)
I sip my tea casually. Ahahaha, no, that's probably not a good idea.
>Day 3: Future goals and motivations help with getting out of a rut. Like updating daily for a month. Good luck. Even /sdm/'s a bit of a slow board nowadays. (Although if you keep up that update speed, you'll probably get more people coming in to vote.)
For a moment, I almost agree with her by default. But thinking about it, I’m not really certain. (I haven’t been here long enough to say for sure.)
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Maybe you’ll come to like it here. Home is where you keep your stuff and all.” Marisa claps me on the back a bit too hard.
“That’s not how the saying goes at all.” The demon’s smile actually has the right amount of teeth this time.
Marisa sticks her tongue out. “Maybe not for you.”
After maybe an hour spent idly chatting, the demon breaks out the alcohol. I briefly consider having some, but in the end I decide against it. I can recall one of my master’s lessons being about the affects of foreign substances on the body. Alcohol was one of the few things that could actually increase magical ability, but it wouldn’t be good to tamper with my system right now. Plus I don’t really like the taste.
“Guess yer a lightweight, huh?” Marisa has already thrown back two drinks.
(Can’t drink now. Bad idea until I’m healthy.) And maybe then, too.
“Get well soon, then. Yer missin’ out on Gensokyo’s biggest way of socializin’.”
I politely excuse myself before the others get too inebriated. I’d feel awkward and out of place staying.
“In a hurry to get somewhere?” Naturally, the demon took this chance to follow and spook me again. She seems to still have a bottle of liquor.
I flinch, but don’t really jump this time. (Just not great at dealing with drunk people.)
She takes a swig from the bottle. “Figured I might ask why you backed out earlier while I have the chance.”
(I already said I wound up rethinking things.) What does she know?
“I mean the real reason. You can tell me.” She flashes what is technically a smile.
(That’s all there is to it.)
Her look changes to one of resignation and her voice lowers to a whisper. “Look Ellie, your blatant distaste toward me is irrelevant right now. You’re headstrong enough to challenge the gatekeeper, so two days thought wouldn’t change your thinking much. Less, even, since you still seemed pretty sure last night.”
(I don’t want to talk about it.) From the way she’s acting, she probably isn’t the culprit. Still, I have a hard time believing she’s asking because she’s concerned about me.
She sighs. “Tell you what, I’ll offer you some helpful info for telling me. Not right now, though. Better to talk this evening, so Patchouli and the witch don’t somehow overhear. I don’t really expect you to show up, but at least consider it.”
 – I might be there. She already has her suspicions, so it’s best to clarify things.  – Not a chance. There’s bound to be some angle to this that will do me more harm than good.
*** Day 4: Time is slipping, probably because I'm overtired.
“See you tonight~” She takes a low, dramatic bow before departing.
In spite of myself, I smile at the display.
I make my way out of the library, intent on getting lunch. Unfortunately, Sakuya doesn’t appear to be around when I finally reach the kitchen. Hopefully, she won’t mind if I find something and feed myself. I wish I knew how to cook. My attempts while travelling could generously be described as edible.
One meal of bread and preserved fruit later, I set off again. Walking more to stretch my legs than with any real destination in mind, I somehow end up by the front door. Figuring I may as well get some air, I slip on my boots and head out.
It’s overcast today, giving the grounds a sort of forlorn, oppressed look. Sakuya is by Meiling at the gate. Does she spend all of her breaks out here? I guess Meiling must get bored and lonely having no one to talk to. At the very least, they would have to have a decent enough working relationship.
As Sakuya stretches in a rather inelegant manner, Meiling gives me a wave. I wave back, not really wanting to interrupt their bonding time. Sakuya notices me and beckons me over, so I reluctantly make my way to the pair.
“Good afternoon, Ellie. I wasn’t expecting to see you again today.” Indeed, Sakuya does look a bit surprised. I assume Remilia didn’t say anything to her about our talk and she didn’t overhear.
(Backed out of the procedure. Patchouli was rather cross.)
“Did she throw you out of the library or something?” She doesn’t really seem surprised by my answer. I suppose it’s only logical.
(No and she’s mostly calmed down. When I left, she was having a drink with a friend.) Well, at least Marisa seemed to consider them friends.
Sakuya and Meiling exchange a few rapid bursts of foreignspeak. Meiling seems apologetic while Sakuya seems slightly annoyed. Finally, she turns back to me.
“That would be Marisa then, right? Blonde girl with a big smile and no tact?”
I nod. I take it they don’t get along.
“In any case, that’s neither here nor there. Did you come out to spar with Meiling?”
At the mention of her name, the gatekeeper perks up. Sakuya presumably translates to her.
Meiling says something back. “You should try facing her at some point, Sakuya. I think your style makes for a good matchup.”
Sakuya looks reluctantly between the two of us before speaking. “She says you might like to try sparring with me some.”
I hadn’t really pictured Sakuya as a fighter. Well, it’s more that I can’t picture her willingly dirtying herself with blood or the like. She certainly carries herself with enough confidence and poise.
 – I’m not out here to fight anyone. Maybe another time.  – Nah, I’ll stick to fighting Meiling. Even if she outclasses me, that’s how I learn.  – Sure, a match with Sakuya will be interesting. I might even learn something about her from it.
*** Day 5: Tomorrow will be difficult. If I can handle that, I can handle the month.
(That sounds interesting.) I wonder how Sakuya fights.
There’s an odd hiss of air, then Sakuya sighs. “Alright. First to three?”
(That sounds fair.) I know I’d lose in a contest of endurance, but this shouldn’t turn into that.
We soon fetch our chosen weapons. I have the practice sword from before, while Sakuya takes a strange, small one with a hilt almost as long as the blade. It’s interesting to watch her get a feel for the balance. She tosses it from hand to hand, flipping it between her fingers. Finally, she settles on an odd reversed grip.
In theory, I have the reach advantage. Since her height gives her more leverage, maybe this will be fairly even. Meiling quickly signals the start of the match, so I don’t have much time to analyze things.
Sakuya is the first to make a move, immediately rushing me with a flurry of swings. Her technique leaves brief openings after almost every swing. Is she testing me or taunting me? Either way, her expression is that unreadable Sakuya smile.
Finally, she missteps and swipes at me across her body. Two steps past and I get a strike in at her exposed side. Her body twists and her weapon meets my temple.
“One to one,” Sakuya pants once we part.
It takes me a moment to make sense of what happened. She switched hands mid-swing for a follow-through. Ah, that’s what the long handle is for. What a tricky, unpredictable move. How very Sakuya.
Once we both verify that we’re alright to continue, the battle is resumed. Sakuya keeps switching hands mid-swing, but I’m more prepared for it now. She leaves fewer openings now, but I think she’s started to tire. There’s only so much motion a body can take at a time.
By now, I’ve noticed that she never tries overpowering my swings, merely misdirecting them. It takes her completely by surprise when I aim a strike at her hands. There’s a pained grunt and her weapon hits the ground behind her.
Sakuya actually backflips away to retrieve it, leaving my follow-up swing to hit air. She rubs her fingers protectively, watching and circling me. That makes two to one, but that hardly means this is over.
Once more she changes tactics, now moving to rapid, one-handed jabs. Her right hand is held close to her chest and I wonder if I didn’t break one of her fingers. Considering the very real danger of losing an eye here, that thought can wait. There aren’t many openings at all now.
I really can’t keep this up much longer. From the way she’s breathing, neither can Sakuya. After another half a minute, we wind up trading hits. I freeze, Sakuya’s weapon lightly pressing against my throat, while my own digs into her thigh.
“Aah, it looks like this win is yours.” Sakuya lowers her weapon and starts rubbing her knuckles. Only now that the fight’s over does she change her expression.
Right, paper. Where did I put tha-oh here it is. (Thank you for the match. I feel like I learned something from it.)
“I’m horribly out of practice. Close combat really isn’t for me.” She scratches her head and blinks a few times.
I can sort of understand that, but I rather enjoy it. When I fight, it’s as if nothing else is real. Just two people dancing the dance of death. My mind feels clear and focused, with a clear goal I can find a path to. Does that make me a bad person? I suppose to some extent it does.
Maybe it’s immature, but I don’t really feel good about winning the way I did. Sakuya’s hits were both killing blows, while mine only might be with time. Even worse, I have to try and force out the thought that she may have gone easy on me. Ugh. I’d rather be crushed than have a meaningless victory handed to me.
“Hello? Earth to Ellie!” Sakuya waves a hand in my face, disrupting my thoughts. She lets out a sigh as I acknowledge her. “Oh good, you really zoned out for a moment there. I almost thought that I might have hit you too hard earlier.” (Sorry. I guess we both need more practice, huh?) I wouldn’t mind doing this again sometime, painful as it can get.
She thinks for a long moment. “I suppose that would be alright from time to time.”
I briefly consider asking if she went easy on me, but instead I just smile. I don’t want to discourage Sakuya from spending time with me. I still don’t get her, but I don’t exactly dislike interacting with her. Sakuya seems like an interesting person.
Hmm, what to do now… I’ve already had a fair amount of excitement today.
 – Explore the mansion some. I still only know where like five rooms are.  – Look for Remilia. I’ve talked to her at breakfast, but I don’t feel as if I know her in the slightest.  – Take a nap for a while. I hardly slept last night.
*** Day 6: Surprisingly long. I've never been confident about my fight scenes, but I can only learn by doing and having my mistakes pointed out. Tomorrow's update may prove difficult as well, but surely I'll be over the hump afterward.
Bidding Sakuya and Meiling farewell, I head back inside. Meiling gazes at me with something approaching pride, but stays silent. Not that she could really communicate anything to me on her own.
Dropping my boots by the door, I set off deeper into the mansion. So far, I’ve been mostly just stumbling my way between what few rooms I recognize, so some exploring is in order. It’s not very polite to just go barging into rooms unannounced, but no one has exactly given me the tour. Not that it would necessarily help me keep my bearings when the halls are so wonky. Well, I guess it’s fine if I just knock before entering, right?
The halls seem to stretch out endlessly before me as I wander about trying doors. Guestroom, guestroom, storeroom, wall, linen closet, pitfall… Wait, pitfall? One near miss later, I decide to just try the doors that look a bit different from the others. That narrows things down immensely.
Eventually, I come upon a grand set of double doors not much smaller than the ones out front. This particular hallway is largely devoid of other doors on this side for a ways, so I doubt this is Remilia’s room or anything. Still, it can’t hurt to knock. When there’s no answer, I pull it open.
The room beyond is only marginally smaller than the dining hall. Perhaps a dozen rows of seats curve around this side, descending out of view from the hall’s lights. Stepping in, a cool blue light pervades the room, not really coming from anywhere. Above and behind me hangs a balcony, while going from the middle to the far end is a raised wooden stage. A theatre?
The floorboards faintly protest as I descend toward the stage. Paying them no heed, I ascend the steps and gaze out at my audience of none.
This sure takes me back. When I was young, I recall learning a great deal about music. I’d like to think I was a pretty good singer and musician, sometimes even at the same time. I could usually even hit those difficult high notes. Unfortunately, I was a very timid child. I couldn’t perform in front of an audience, just my parents and teacher. It hurt to disappoint mother, to not be able to be strong like she was. I think that’s why I stopped.
I’m not the child I once was. I’ve grown and matured some. Somewhere along the way, I managed to lock my fear away. It’s not truly gone, but that doesn’t matter if I can keep it from affecting things. That’s what growing up is, right? Finding your voice? I’d say I have. Well, in a sense. Maybe I should ask someone where the mansion keeps its instruments.
I’m not sure how long I stay there, but when I leave, I’m feeling lighter than I have in a while.
*** Day 7: Sorry about the lack of choice point on this one. Today has been oh so tiring.
“Instruments?” Remilia’s face lights up. “You’ve an interest in the arts, then. I would be happy to show you to the music room.”
Now that dinner’s over, I’m being led by Remilia to the music room. Well, dinner for me. I guess it was breakfast to Remilia. The day seems like it’s dragged on and been too short at the same time.
I only half listen to Remilia’s animated talking as I follow her. I think the lack of sleep is wearing on my focus. I think this is the first time Remilia has shown much enthusiasm for anything since I got here. She’s been all carefully measured smiles around me and I can’t figure out why. Strange how politeness and social grace can build up a wall around someone. Sakuya is that way too, but at least she can’t seem to keep it up quite as perfectly.
Lost in thought as I am, I nearly collide with Remilia. Oh, she’s stopped. I guess we’re here, then. Not really paying attention to our close call, Remilia opens the door with a flourish.
The room is a respectable size, certainly larger than my bedroom. Instrument cases of various shapes lean against the walls, the more flat ones carefully stacked together. A grand piano rests in the corner, beside it a long shelf that looks to be full of sheet music.
“You’re welcome to come here anytime you want.” Remilia says.
(Thank you for your generosity.)
“I’m one of the few people who use this room, so all the better not to have it go to waste.” She pauses, as if unsure about saying anything more. Only after she notices I’m waiting on her to continue does she do so. “If it’s not any trouble, might I listen to you play?”
(That could be alright sometime. Tonight, I just wanted to know where the room was while I was thinking about it. I need to get to sleep soon.)
“Oh.” She looks a bit disheartened. “Can you find your way back to your room from here?”
Assuring her I can find my way both there and back here, I part company with Remilia. I’m most of the way back to my room before I remember that I have a demon to meet with tonight. I won’t risk showing her up if there’s a chance of her coming up to my room to fetch me.
It probably isn’t half as late as it feels, but the library is silent. It’s more of a sleepy silence than the heavy kind that hangs over it during the day. With the shelves still not rearranged back to what passes for normal, it’s easy to spot the demon. She’s awkwardly draped over two shelves, barely paying any attention to her book.
She doesn’t look up from it before speaking. “I’m surprised you wound up coming. You didn’t fully commit.”
I just shrug, feeling too tired to give her much more of a reaction. She closes her book and hops down to almost eye level.
She idly taps her chin with her tail. “Hmm, here’s no good. Let’s go for a walk, Ellie.”
She beckons me to follow her out the door and into the darker depths of the basement. With a trio of snaps, three fires hang in the air over her head, illuminating the way. She turns back when she notices I’m not following.
“Scared? Maybe you should be, but I can at least make sure to catch you if you fall.” I can’t tell if her smile is genuine.
 – Leap of faith.  – Don’t push your luck. Swlrg lqlura.
*** Day 8: Still today in my timezone. Or yesterday. You know what I mean
Between having to pixel edit my duplicate image and the bout of site lag, I guess I forgot to put my name back on the fourth time I tried posting. >>61619 It hasn't changed, the cipher just hasn't needed a left end letter before.
There’s a moment where I honestly consider turning back, but it passes as quickly as it came. The demon really would have done something by now if she meant me harm. I feel as if I can trust her on this or at least trust her motives.
I take a step forward, shortening the distance between us. She opens her mouth as if to say something, but only lets out a breath. Then she turns away and we descend into the dark.
Pretty soon, I can see my breath hang in the air. At several points, the demon makes to step on specific stones or ducks an eye-level tripwire. I ever so carefully follow suit. There are a great deal of traps down here.
The demon abruptly turns and leads me into is an old wine cellar, thick with cobwebs and dust. There doesn’t seem to be anything special about this room, but a number of candles are placed haphazardly about. Rather, it’s as if she decided this room was as good as any.
“So then, what caused you to back out of Patchouli’s offer at the last minute?”
 – Tell her everything that happened.  – Just the essentials. She doesn’t need to know it was her in the dream.
Writing everything out feels impossible, but eventually I manage. The details haven’t faded in my mind any, still pressed like a sharp edge against my thoughts. I hate this. It’s like I’m uncomfortable even being in the same room as her despite knowing she hasn’t wronged me.
For her part, the demon keeps her distance and I’m grateful for the space. She reads what I wrote from more than an arm’s reach away, just shaking her head when I offer it to her. Her lack of a reaction as she reads is strange. She doesn’t look surprised or bothered or say anything reassuring. Finally, she looks up at me.
“I’m sure you gathered that this isn’t normal.”
(What’s causing it?)
She’s silent for a moment. “Do you like chess, Ellie?”
I can almost feel my brain grinding to a halt at her inane question. What the heck does that have to do with anything?
She shrugs. “Personally, I don’t care for it. The better you and your opponent get, the more predictable it becomes. A game is only enjoyable if the outcome comes down to something besides processing power.”
(I don’t follow.)
“There’s this game I really like. I call it the red game. I’m always playing it, as is my opponent.”
I don’t think I like where this is going…
“It’s a very long game. Still the same one, even. We’re both terribly keen on winning, because we can only play it once.”
(Who is your opponent?)
The demon smiles. “I can’t tell you that. That’s against the rules~. I’m not supposed to ever bring it up, but you’re a loophole. Outsiders can’t know and residents can’t know, but you’re somewhere in between. You’re not exactly a player or a piece, either.”
Now we come to what I’m here for. (Did your opponent cause that nightmare?)
“Yes. My opponent wants you gone, but can’t move overtly. We don’t move the pieces, but we try to influence where they move themselves.”
(Why target me?) The knowledge that someone’s out to get me feels remarkably mundane, somehow.
“Because I’m losing.” She says it as if she were talking about the weather. Just a statement to fill space.
(And I can change that somehow?)
The demon looks right through me, as if her eyes could bore a hole in the wall. “Nothing ever changes here. Not beyond the surface. You can force things to move some just by being, by interacting with others. Maybe a little, maybe a lot, but it’s a chance.”
So I have an enemy who wants me dead or gone just for existing. My best chance is to simply run and never look back. I’ve been trying to do that a lot lately. I think I’m getting better at it.
And yet, this time I can do something. Maybe this isn’t something I can solve with light and steel, but I can act all the same. At long last, I have a chance to act against a hidden opponent.
The demon shrugs again. “Maybe I shouldn’t really ask if you’ll stand with me. Enemy of my enemy doesn’t work if you still hate my guts. You don’t really look at me like I’m a person, but it’s not necessarily wrong. Still, I’m pretty screwed on my own.
If there’s something you want to ask, here’s your chance. I’ll tell you if I can.”
I’m not entirely sure what to make of all this.
 – There’s something I need to know… (write-in)  – Strange bedfellows.  – The only winning move is not to play.
*** Day 10: Sort of reluctant to post this this early after the last update, but I'm not really holding my breath for any more/different votes. I'm not really sure I like how this has turned out, but I can't honestly say I hate it.
[x] – There’s something I need to know… - [x] - No matter what else happens, can you at least promise that my soul will remain, well, mine?
Hmm. Probable opponents: Yuuka, Shinki, Sariel. Doubt Yukari would bother with something so hands-off and would be quite disappointed if she were involved, but the possibility’s there. Violence fits Flandre but dreams, not so much. Anyone else?
>>61660 > I guess now is as good a time as any to ask what I seem to be doing right and what I'm doing wrong. Daily updates are not good for voter turnout. I'm glad that my faith in Koa was justified. You write her well. Please don't let the plot get too crazy or dark. I hate it when that happens.
Four days have come and gone since I agreed to ally myself with Koa. My sleep hasn’t been the best in that time. The nightmares make it hard to get any rest. At least these ones are mostly from my own head. They aren’t night terrors like the one that night was.
Koa, for her part, has been especially aloof. I suppose she has her role to play. Acting as if nothing is wrong keeps suspicion off of her and she seems to have had plenty time to practice that. Still, it leaves me a bit lost on what to do.
Entering the dining hall wakes me up in short order. Even just opening the door hits me with a wave of sound, the incoherent din of some dozens of conversations. The hall is all but packed with very loud, short people with wings. Judging from their most common garb, I assume these are the servants. Whatever it is they are.
A good number point me out to their fellows as I cross the room. I can’t make out individual comments from all the noise. When Remilia flags me over, the attention only intensifies.
Remilia stands up to address the masses. She clears her throat and the noise dies down. “As you have all so clearly noted, we have a guest. This is Raphaëlle, a traveler from a far away land. Due to various circumstances, she is currently unable to speak. I trust that you will treat her with kindness and respect.”
I feel like there’s an unsaid “or else” there, but no one comments on it. Instead, I’m met with a great deal of applause. I’m not really sure if I’m expected to do anything in response, so I just take my seat. It’s honestly rather embarrassing.
Over breakfast, I pay more attention to the servants than my food. Maybe half are garbed in similar uniforms to Sakuya or a male equivalent. The remainder are dressed in a wide assortment of often mismatched clothes.
They have a good variety to their physical appearances as well. I’d guess the height range to go from a head shorter than Remilia to the tallest being about even with me. Dragonfly and silvery transparent butterfly wings seem to dominate, but there are some with colored wings or planty growths. The majority of hair colors are blue-green or darker sorts of brown. Skin tones run the spectrum, but are at least mostly skin-colored.
“You look like this is your first time seeing a fairy,” Remilia says. She taps her chin. “Well, I suppose it might well be.”
(Fairies? That’s what they’re called?)
“They’re a type of minor nature spirit. I could have one assigned to guide and assist you if you like. They’re certainly pleasant enough to have around.”
That might be nice. As is, I’m spending a great deal of time wandering through the halls all but blind. Some friendly company would help with my mostly solitary hours if the fairy isn’t too uptight about stations.
On the other hand, I’m not really sure how much I can manage to help Koa if I have someone whose job is to always stick around me.
 – Accept Remilia’s offer.  – Decline.
*** Day 12: I'll probably post/update something else tomorrow and alternate. Less often than every other day or so and I'll start to lose a lot of my momentum.
“Very good. Sakuya, would you come here a moment?”
There’s a sharp hissing noise and then Sakuya speaks up. “Yes, mistress?”
What is it with people always appearing behind me? I’m almost getting used to it by now.
“Raphaëlle is in need of a fairy to assist her, Sakuya. Might you fetch one suitable as a guide or translator?”
“Certainly, mistress.” Sakuya looks out over the room, obviously deep in thought. She heads off to fetch her choice after maybe a minute. She returns a few minutes later, flanked by a very different looking pair of girls.
The first is one of the taller ones. She has a long mess of blonde hair and sleepy grey eyes. From that and the fact that she’s still in her bedclothes, I can easily infer she isn’t a morning person. Her nice figure is accented with a calm, slightly mischievous smile. I can’t help but marvel at her enormous wings, a bright orange and black butterfly sort.
“Calla Mayblossom… at your service.” The girl says the last part almost as an afterthought.
“Ah, one of the girls who do such wonderful work in the garden. Being that it is winter, you should be free, yes?” Remilia smiles at the fairy.
“If milady requires it.” Calla gives me a curious glance.
The other fairy is much shorter and slighter. Fuzzy, cotton-like wings provide an interesting contrast with her dark skin. The girl’s black hair is cut short and her gold eyes dart around restlessly, taking in every detail. She looks a little nervous, though it’s obvious she’s doing her best to hide it.
“And you? If I recall, you are fairly new.” Remilia looks the girl over, probably trying to puzzle out her name.
“I’m new, yes. My name is Haru, mistress.”
“From what I understand, she took to understanding French remarkably quickly,” Sakuya adds.
The girl nods, looking a bit proud of herself.
“Do either of these girls seem suitable to you, Raphaëlle?” Remilia asks.
(Calla sounds like the more familiar guide.) That, and she seems like she’s pretty laid back and will be easy to get along with.
“A sensible enough choice. Haru, you can go ahead back to your friends now.” Remilia stares at the smaller fairy, no doubt trying to tie together her face and name for the future.
Haru bows and then nods to Calla before she goes. She doesn’t seem terribly surprised to be passed over for this, but nor does she seem relieved.
“Do be on your best behavior,” Sakuya tells Calla. Then she departs to do whatever it is Sakuyas do. Maid stuff. If I could talk, I’d be resisting the urge to tell her to follow her own advice.
“Well, I should be getting some rest,” Remilia says, excusing herself.
Wow, they all just left at once, leaving me alone with the fairy girl that’s supposed to be my helper. I have to assume Remilia and Sakuya coordinated their departures like that. I can’t shake the thought that they did it to watch me squirm. Not that I can really fault them for it or anything. You have to make your own fun sometimes.
Calla’s wings flutter as she stifles a yawn. She looks at me expectantly. I guess she’s waiting for me to ask her about something.
“Do you need anything, Miss Rala-um… Refe-” She frowns as she fails to get my name right.
(Just Ellie is fine. No miss.)
“It’s a pretty name either way. Is it foreign?”
(I guess. Sakuya gave me the nickname, but Remilia picked my new name when I came here.)
“That makes sense. I heard the mistress does that with the… interesting people she collects.”
(You mean like Sakuya?)
“Both the head maid and Meiling. Maybe others?” She looks up and presses a finger to her chin, as if she could find the answer on the ceiling.
I didn’t know Sakuya was head maid. I suppose it makes sense. Leadership is stressful, so maybe that’s why she’s all silver haired. I guess it could be natural or dyed, too.
“Was there anything you wanted to know? I’m probably supposed to ask that, right?”
I can tell she’s probably trying her best to be energetic. Really she just looks tired.
 – Ask her about fairies.  – Ask about her specifically.  – Can you lead me somewhere? (Where?)  – Something else.
*** Day 16: Not terribly satisfied with this one, but I've just been having an off day in general.
(Well, I don’t know much about you. Or fairies in general, really.)
“Eh? Do you not… have fairies where you come from?”
Calla physically reels back from the somehow shocking revelation. It takes maybe half a minute for her to compose herself back to smiling. “We’re nature’s children. I think I heard it’s only people who believe in us can see and interact with us.”
(But what does that mean?) “Nature’s children” is such an esoteric answer.
“It’s like…” Calla rubs her brow as she tries to come up with an explanation. “I’m a flower fairy. If I get poofed by something, I come back in the nearest bunch of flowers. I’m naturally good at taking care of things that have flowers and I’m a lot like one. People usually like me and I smell nice, that kind of thing.”
(Poofed?) I mostly get what she means. She’s very soft looking and smells of lavender.
“When something hurts us really bad, our bodies poof and eventually come back healed. I usually stay out of the way, so it doesn’t happen to me much. It’s really confusing. I always have to ask someone what month it is afterward.”
Fairies don’t die, then? Or if they do, it doesn’t stick.
Calla yawns again and this time I find myself yawning as well. She fixes me with a half-lidded stare. “I think you asked something else, but I can’t remember.”
(I wanted to get to know you as an individual.)
“Oh, right. I’m not exciting or anything. In the warmer seasons, I help Miss Meiling in the garden… along with a group of others. With the greenhouses being plenty staffed and me being… not so good at most other chores, I don’t often do much after late autumn comes around. I don’t mind the break, but some of the others get a little jealous.
I think I worked here before a good part of the others did. I don’t remember how long that is, but probably a while. Lots of fairies look up to me like a big sister, maybe because I’m taller. I like when people pet my hair… if they ask first. Oh, and I think coffee smells really nice, but it tastes gross.” She makes a face to emphasize that last point.
That might just be more than what I know about everyone else here combined. That’s rather depressing to consider, so I won’t. I feel like I have a fairly good idea of who Calla is now.
Looking around at the now somewhat quieter dining hall, Calla says, “I think breakfast is just about over. The cleanup people will get mad if we’re in the way.”
Ah, we should go somewhere else, then.
 – Calla is pretty well acquainted with Meiling. Why not see her?  – Slightly unfriendly Patchouli aside, the library is probably where I’m most at home here.  – See if Calla knows any good places to relax.
Well if it was loud it wouldn't be very relaxing. So yes.
Once more, Calla seems to search for an answer on the ceiling. I look up too, this time, but there's nothing up there. "That means the common rooms are no good. It's too cold and snowy to really go out, but that still leaves a few spots. Come on, I'll show you!"
Calla takes hold of my sleeve and takes flight. Or at least she tries to. The actual outcome is her almost overbalancing me before crashing to the ground. A few of the remaining fairies try to mask their giggling.
"Ow..." Calla rubs her face as I help her to her feet.
(Are you alright?)
She blushes a bit. "Sorry, I keep forgetting that not everyone can fly."
(No one where I come from can fly. Is that normal here?)
"Eh, not really. We fairies can, but other than that it's mostly just magicians and youkai with wings. I guess you're probably just a human. It's sometimes hard to tell."
I'm a little offended at being called "just" a human, but I don't let it show.
"Right, let's go before I mess up anything else."
I follow Calla up four floors and a wide spiral staircase. On the way, she pauses a handful of times and twice we have to double back some. Calla seems to be more comfortable flying than walking, something shared by a good portion of the fairies we pass. It would be nice to have that option when faced with all the stairs.
Finally, we reach our apparent destination. It seems like we're at the top of an odd tower. Calla crosses the dark to a table and lights the lamp, shedding some light. The room is a dome maybe twice as wide as it is tall. The floor is a soft red carpet and the dome itself is almost pitch black. The entire room is pretty cold, but scattered about are comfy looking couches and chairs with blankets draped over them.
Calla pulls one of those fireboxes out from under a chair and starts unwinding the tail toward the wall. "At this time of year and with the snow, hardly anyone comes up to the observatory. It doesn't get much use outside of early spring and late autumn, when it's only too cold to be outside."
(A lot of this mansion seems to go empty and unused.)
"It never felt like that to me. You can usually find someone in most places that aren't sort of off limits. We usually travel in groups, anyway."
Was it just the timing of my arrival, then? I can't fully believe that.
Calla finishes her setup and slowly warming air starts to flow from the firebox. Her wings disappear as she grabs a few blankets. Seemingly satisfied with her haul, she takes a seat right beside me and wraps us both in one blanket.
Eh? This is not something I'm used to. Only mother and occasionally father ever shared any measure of closeness with me. For anyone else, it's always seemed impossible.
Calla certainly doesn't share in my awkwardness. She doesn't even notice it, simply leaning her head on my shoulder and sighing contentedly. I can't help but admire such a straightforward, unguarded person.
 - Open up a bit to Calla. I owe her that much.  - Just enjoy the moment. No need to taint it with my past.
*** Day 21: So my computer seems like it may have died for good today. I probably shouldn't be surprised, all things considered. Ah well, I have a terrible, but somewhat functional backup computer.
"I bet your life is pretty exciting. A boring person would hardly travel all the way here."
Exciting isn't the word I would use, but my life could never really be called boring. (I come from a country called Elath, once a part of a great empire. Several months ago, our neighbor to the north was set on reforming that empire and invaded us. We won in the end and were rebuilding when I left.)
Calla turns to look me in the eye. "That must have been scary. I don't like fighting."
(It wasn't the worst thing that I went through. My mother died at the beginning of the year.)
"How horrble!" Calla gives me a soft hug.
(She was a strong, loving person and I miss her. I found out the hard way just how much she had sheltered me. The other nobles all knew how weak I was by comparison. Most of them saw me as a pawn or an obstacle.)
"Is that why you left? Because they banished you?"
I can't tell her that part yet. (It's complicated. A lot of things happened that I regret.)
"Oh..." She pauses to decide how to continue, but thankfully doesn't pursue it. "If it means anything, I think you seem like a strong, trustworthy person."
I'm really not, but I don't want her to think less of me. (Do you mind if I pet your hair?)
"Oh my, how forward~. Most people have known me for a long time before they ask that."
What a strange reaction. (You said you liked it.)
Calla giggles. "I do! So sure, you can."
She rests her head in my lap and I start to run my hand through her messy locks. It's really soothing for me to do this. This is nice. Evidently, Calla thinks so too, sighing and almost purring before finally falling asleep. My arm starts to get tired after a while, but I don't want to move or anything. Better to just enjoy this while it lasts...
*** Day 23: Fairies make for good de-stressers. For me as well.
>>61777 Haven't had the chance yet, but I absolutely will.