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Despite having only had furniture shifted, and subtracted in some cases, Remilia felt that the former guest room served just fine as a place to settle accounts, though these weren’t tallies of figures that she was absorbed in. She sat scratching out notes in her journal, a fog of distraction and frustration making her push the nib deeper into the paper as she tried to recount everything from the past few days. It didn’t help that her sleep had been poor either. Adding onto that, her chief maid was still absent on errands, most of them related to her current projects: the tarped-over hole in the mansion and the experimental batch of pseudo-beer. And that wasn’t even beginning to account for aggravations like certain pissants named Blümchen, whose entire function was to give every unfortunate soul who encountered her an existential crisis.
A stabbing feeling resonated through Remilia’s head, and she rubbed her temples, setting her pen down to nurse a weak cup of now-lukewarm tea. Things were either happening too much or not enough. Whichever it was, her nerves were growing too frayed to continue. She squinted at one of the covered windows as if trying to spot Sakuya’s distant approach through them. They remained as opaque as ever, and suddenly she felt her ears ringing.
For a minute, she thought tinny jangling in her ears was just the beginnings of a stress headache, but the noise became louder. Then, just as it reached its peak volume, it stopped. There was a knock at the door.
“Mistress! I have news! May I come in?” a voice shouted, immediately followed by the door swinging open anyway.
A faerie with scruffy lilac hair and black, thick-rimmed glasses stood in the doorway saluting, revealing a red armband with a spread-winged bat, the markings of the faerie patrol. It was a fancy title, which the faeries liked, but it really just meant that they meandered atop the mansion and reported on anyone approaching, which tended to be irritating in practice. Living down to Remilia’s expectations, the patrol-fae was still ringing her bell in her non-saluting hand.
“Yes? Report,” Remilia snapped, glaring at the bell with an intense wish that it would just explode.
Noting her mistress’ intense stare, the patrol-fae held her bell hand still. “The chief maid’s almost back, ma’am! And she’s got a couple faeries with her and some… some other somethings! I dunno what they are.”
“Other somethings,” Remilia repeated.
“One of them is very furry, and another one’s wet and scaly. Oh, and there’s a red one, too.”
“Yes, thank you—” Remilia looked at her, trying to remember her name, then seeing she’d given herself a nametag. ‘Sigrid’ was written in loopy, colorful letters. “—Sigrid. Now, bring me Darcy, will you?”
“Roger!” Sigrid saluted with the other hand, smacking herself in the forehead with her bell, then scurried away.
Remilia stood up and stretched her back, working out the kinks in her shoulders as she waited for Darcy, the shrimpy little faerie who could be bullied by her own reflection; being the sort to disappear readily into the backdrop, she was the ideal parasol-carrier. She peeked through the wooden slats of her blinds and felt her eyes tingle, confirming that there was still some twilight sun. After taking a moment to blink away the lingering sting of weak sunlight, she straightened her dress and walked out into the hallway, where Darcy nearly crashed into her.
“Good evening, ma’am! Ready to be eager to serve at your leisure!” Darcy yelped, her glasses askew and her green hair tangling in front of her face, clutching the parasol she’d brought.
“Just the usual, thanks,” Remilia said, already walking towards the great hall.
Darcy scarcely had time to stutter a response before racing to fall behind Remilia, holding her lady’s parasol as gingerly as a relic. Two nearby faeries swooped in and grabbed the door handles as Darcy opened her parasol, floating above Remilia to shield her as the heavy doors swung open.
Remilia let out a long, loud, irritated sigh as she spotted Sakuya ambling through the courtyard. The chief maid’s main task was to fetch brewing supplies, and here she’d returned with three strays and what looked like a wheelbarrow of passed-out faeries. With a second look, Remilia faintly remembered two of the unwelcome guests with Sakuya, the wolf-girl and the sometimes headless redhead she had bumped into a day or two ago. The wolf-girl was pushing a wheelbarrow that the third tagalong sat in. A fish tail splashed up behind the blue-haired girl, kicking up water as she talked excitedly with Sakuya.
“--thirty-seven blue ones, fifteen red ones, and a couple of orange ones too! All just sitting on the bottom of the lake!”
“Fascinating,” Sakuya replied, then hiccuped.
The wolf-girl slowed down as she noticed Remilia glaring at them, then saw nobody else was matching her pace. Remilia looked over to see Sigrid already back at her post.
“Those’re the ones, Lady Remilia! The furry one and the—”
“Get me Toamnă,” Remilia hissed.
Sigrid gasped and reeled back. “Toamnă? But she’s weird and gross and—”
“Toamnă. Here. Now.”
“Yes’m!” Sigrid yelped and disappeared into the mansion.
The entire approaching group was now aware of Remilia glowering at them as they came to a stop in front of her. Although, the chief maid looked to be the least shaken by it.
“Oh, my. It looks like we’re here,” Sakuya said, drawing Remilia’s full-on glare, staring right back at her mistress. She blinked and stifled a belch. “I’m did a… return, Milady.”
“Right, everyone, we’re heading inside,” Remilia said after a pause, waving at everyone for them to follow her. She turned around and spotted Toamnă already standing in the great hall through the open doors.
Toamnă was tall for a faerie, with long, rusty auburn hair cut in short bangs in front of her face, and thick black-rimmed glasses. Her lips were pursed in her usual put-upon expression, as if she was always picking up someone else’s slack, which was often the case. Out of numerous fae, she was a rare specimen with a sense of obligation and fair play, believing that people should follow rules and perform their duties dependably. Such audacious deviations from faerie ‘normalcy’ earned her the title of outcast among the maids. By the same token, she was exactly who Remilia needed to fill in for her inebriated chief maid.
“I need to have a word with Sakuya, and then I’ll be having breakfast with the guests in the private dining room. Take our guests there, get them started, and I’ll be meeting back with them soon. Oh, and have the kitchen bring out some of the Bayonne, I need something good now,” Remilia said, dispensing with the normal formalities as her stomach and head complained in unison.
Toamnă bowed and nodded, then turned to the guests.
“Um, hello,” she said.
“Hi!” the mermaid chirped, waving at Toamnă. The other two shuffled awkwardly on their feet.
“So, erm, follow me.” From Toamnă’s lips, the request came out more like a question.
The group departed for the dining room, and Remilia turned to Darcy, who was looking more nervous than usual, still shielding Remilia even as the doors shut behind her.
“Yes, thank you, Darcy. We’re indoors now. Dismissed.”
“Y-Yes, ma’am. Thank you. You’re welcome! Don’t forget to write!” Darcy babbled, nodding like whatever kept her head in place had broken. She flew over to the umbrella stand and bowed to it before putting the parasol away and thanking it.
All others gone, Remilia now had the chance to give Sakuya another glare. “Follow me. We’re going to get those faeries dropped off, and then you’re going to tell me what the hell has happened.”
“Yes, Milady,” Sakuya said, lifting the faeries out of the wheelbarrow and hoisting them over her shoulder.
Remilia glanced around her, checking that they had some amount of privacy before she started talking.
“So, those people you brought home. Who are they? What do they want? And, most importantly, why in hell are you drunk?”
Sakuya thought for a moment before responding. “While I was taking care of the errands, I hired someone to watch the furniture stand for the evening, a relative of Mr. Masuda’s. Oh, you will be pleased to know that the stand was a success, and the faeries sold a—”
“Save it, Sakuya. I’m more interested in how you’ve gotten snookered right now,” Remilia cut in.
“As it happened, Rokuro — that was the name of the fellow I hired — was part of a local brewing club. He asked if they could meet at the furniture stand, and since milady wishes to obtain dregs for a beer starter, I agreed.”
“And did you actually get any beer starter?”
Sakuya drew to a stop. “Oh.”
“So you didn’t get any beer starter. Though you did, clearly, get drunk.”
“Yes,” Sakuya agreed, walking again.
“And how much did you have?”
There was another brief silence from Sakuya. Her eyes briefly seemed to cross before righting themselves. “There are some gaps in my memory.”
“Dracul,” Remilia muttered under her breath. “Moving along, how did you wind up meeting our guests?”
“Ah, yes. After the end of the brewing club’s meeting, the faeries and I became lost on our way home. The footpaths are hard to follow in the dark, and so—”
“Sakuya,” Remilia interrupted again.
“You can fly.”
“Oh. Yes, I will have to remember that next time,” Sakuya said, blinking. “In any case, I encountered our guests by the Misty Lake. They are the same ones we encountered a few days ago. Does Milady remember them? They were the ones toasting acorns in the forest.”
“Indeed. They got on my nerves that time, too. I’m assuming the mermaid is one of their friends? I had told them— Oh, merde.” The memory of just what Remilia had said felt like a jab to the ribs.
“You had told them someday you would help them to… reclaim their rightful place as creatures of the night, or words to that effect, Milady.”
“I didn’t mean it literally,” Remilia groaned, more to herself than to Sakuya. They reached the faeries’ quarters, and Sakuya tucked the faeries into bed as Remilia took a moment to lament and bemoan.
“Did I make a mistake, Milady?” Sakuya asked as soon as the two maids were tucked away safely.
Remilia took a long sigh. At least Sakuya hadn’t tried any of her time powers, she thought. The last time the chief maid stopped time after getting into the sauce, mysterious stains had appeared on the ceiling.
“Just… take the evening off, okay? Get some sleep, and don’t think of using your watch until you’re stone-cold sober. That’s an order.” Remilia waved her hand. “Dismissed.”
“Understood, milady. Thank you.” Sakuya bowed. Obediently following orders, she walked to an unoccupied bed, flopped down on top of it, and immediately began to snore.
Remilia saw herself out. She needed to deal with her guests, and more than that, she needed some damned food. And some more caffeine. She passed by the kitchen, down several halls, and to the entrance to the private dining room, forcing herself not to wonder how the kitchen was connected to two dining rooms on opposite ends of the mansion.
Inside, Remilia’s guests were already seated. Even the mermaid girl was somehow sitting on her fish-parts, her tail not entirely dry, letting droplets of water run onto the floor. Toamnă had started them off with some tea and breakfast rolls and was now standing off to the side, fidgeting and looking entirely lost as to what she should be doing next. At the table, Sekibanki was the only one eating with any sense of table manners, while Kagerou sank her teeth into her roll and took great big chomps, and the mermaid seemed more interested in amusing herself by squishing hers than eating it. Toamnă pulled Remilia’s chair out for her, bidding her to join them.
“Thank you, Toamnă. Is breakfast ready?”
“I hope so.” Toamnă wasted no time retreating into the kitchen as soon as Remilia was seated.
Remilia helped herself to some tea as she waited. Moments later, the kitchen doors burst open as faeries streamed out, each one carrying a tray and hurrying towards the dining table.
“Watch the elbows!”
The sound of shouting faeries mixed with the clatter of silverware, creating a focused chaos as the table filled with dishes. It was a normal breakfast for Remilia, but it seemed to terrify her guests. Kagerou’s wolf-ears went flat and submissive as her tail bristled and perked up. The fish-girl raised her arms, balling her fists as if getting ready to block a punch. Sekibanki shrank away to hide her face behind her cowl.
The cacophony ended as suddenly as it started, leaving the room silent except for the kitchen door swinging on its hinges. Toamnă blinked. Her hair had been tousled and her glasses knocked off-center from the ruckus, and she took a moment to smooth herself over as her wings buzzed nervously.
“Breakfast is, uh, served,” she said with a curtsy.
The fish-girl slowly lowered her defenses. Her mouth hung open as she took in the spread before her — jams, pastries, eggs, vegetables, meat, and sausages. Kagerou drooled as she spotted the plate stacked high with Bayonne ham. She picked up a thick slice with her bare hands and sank her teeth into it, showing her animal side as she ripped a chunk off of it and stuffed her mouth, chewing loudly. Only Sekibanki, the red-head, didn’t eat like an animal, helping herself to some jam and toast. Remilia took some for herself and took a minute to satisfy her hunger before speaking.
“Now then, you had some business here, correct?”
The redhead daubed her mouth with her napkin after a quick bite of sausage. “Oh, that’s right, sorry. I’m Sekibanki, and this is Kagerou. I wasn’t sure if you’d remembered us. The new girl here is Wakasagihime.”
“Hi, that’s me! I’m Wakasagihime!” said Wakasagihime, waving to Remilia.
Remilia smirked at the thought of the mermaid having a royal title; what nobility stooped over a plate, slurping down scrambled eggs covered in strawberry jam?
“Charmed.” Remilia turned back to Sekibanki. “But that doesn’t answer my question. Just what is it that brought you here today?”
“Oh, um, I’m not— I’m their friend, but I’m not ‘with them,’ they’ve got a…” Sekibanki tilted her head and showed an embarrassed smile.
“I don’t want them getting bullied,” Sekibanki said. Her face was steeled, but it was hard for her to sound dramatic as she spoke over her friends’ loud chomping and slurping noises.
“My dear, I can’t help you if I don’t know who’s in your way,” Remilia said, running out of diplomatic ways to ask her to get to the damned point already.
Sekibanki hung her head. “It’s… these three faeries,” she mumbled.
“Faeries,” Remilia repeated derisively.
“Faeries!” Wakasagihime cut in, thumping her fists on the table, suddenly forgetting her food.
Faeries, Remilia thought. All this buildup for a few whelps driven to desperation by some stray pranksters.
“They’re the nastiest, most wicked little beasties! They steal my clothes when I’m skinny-dipping and call me a beached tuna!”
“Princess,” Kagerou said softly, finally drawn out of her ham-induced stupor to look at Wakasagihime with concern.
“They shave Kagerou’s ears when she’s napping!”
“Oh, how tragic. How utterly terrible,” Remilia bemoaned, rolling her eyes.
“D-Don’t make fun of me!” Wakasagihime whimpered, her cheeks rounding out in a full-faced pout.
Remilia threw her napkin down next to her plate. “Do you have any idea what I am capable of? Even the faintest inkling?”
“You said you’d help us,” Sekibanki interjected, glaring at her.
“I weave the threads of fate around my fingers! Coming to me weeping about your little pest problem is like asking a queen to weed your garden.”
“You don’t gotta rub it in,” Wakasagihime mumbled, glancing away, looking suddenly exhausted with disappointment.
“Are you going back on your word, then?” Sakibanki snapped, staring harder at Remilia as she issued a challenge.
Remilia spluttered. “Pah! Between the three of you, I’d have expected enough of a brain to make your first plan something other than making weepy-eyes at the nearest vampress. What you have is a pest control problem. I had a lesser daemon stumble into my library yesterday. Frankly, I can’t spare any precious time for your every inconvenience.”
“They’re not just ‘an inconvenience’! They’re really mean, and they make all of us miserable, not just me!” Wakasagihime shouted, shaking her fists, tears forming in her eyes.
Remilia made another dismissive noise. “Go on, tell me more of these faeries’ horrible crimes against nature and decency. Name-calling? Rudeness? Littering?”
Wakasagihime’s face took on a look of determination, as if she was sure her next tale would make Remilia weep. “Just wait ‘til you hear! Just a couple of days ago, they took—”
“Princess, please,” Kagerou said, her cheeks still stuffed with ham as she frowned.
“—they took Banki’s head, and—”
“Wakasagihime, don’t,” Sekibanki squeezed her eyes shut and bit her lip.
“—and played monkey-in-the-middle with it!”
Sekibanki buried her face in her hands. Wakasagihime gave Remilia a pleading look. Remilia’s scowl turned upwards. She let out a confused, slightly stunned snicker, and then, as she imagined the act, the snickers became hoots of laughter. Wakasagihime slumped in her chair, defeated again, and started to cry. Remilia had only a few moments to enjoy her laughter before Sekibanki’s fists slammed against the table hard enough to knock a few spoons out of their bowls.
“You, out in the hall, now. We need to have a word,” she snarled at Remilia, her face as red as her hair.
Remilia stopped laughing as her expression whipped right back to indignant and patronized.
“As a matter of fact,” I think we do!” Remilia huffed as she stood up from her chair and shoved it aside. She noted Toamnă had made herself scarce and scowled harder to herself. Hopefully, not many faeries heard all those comments about their species being pests and weeds and ruffians.
Sekibanki shoved the door open and stomped into the hallway. Remilia followed after with a nasty curiosity about what this little nobody would dare try to do to her. As soon as the door closed behind them, leaving them alone in the hallways, Sekibanki raised her hand and jabbed a finger at her.
“You wanna know why we came to you first? I wish my friends didn’t have to come to see your high-and-mighty butt to beg for help. Right now, though? We don’t have anyone else. We’ve been stuck on the bottom, and you’re the first person in a long, long time to offer my friends any hope of some help. I knew we might have to walk away empty-handed, but there’s no way I’m walking out of here with my friends crying. You might be a million times stronger than me, but if you think that means you can just walk over me and my friends, I… I’ll fight you myself!” She pushed through her tears, shouting at Remilia until she had said her piece.
“Is that a threat, whelp?” Remilia countered.
Sekibanki drew her hand back and slapped Remilia across the cheek, with all the might her scrawny body could muster. The blow sent her reeling back, as if she had hit herself even harder. Remilia showed her fangs and raised her hand. As she felt a bright red spear begin to take shape in her hand, Sekibanki charged at her, thumping her fists against Remilia’s chest and shoulders to no effect.
As easy as turning the dullahan into a smear would have been, Remilia’s arm stayed still. She stood there for what could well have been several eternities, eyes narrowed at Sekibanki. At length, her grip on her weapon loosened.
“Oh, hell. What am I doing,” Remilia mumbled to herself, closing her eyes and letting the spear dissipate into the air. She felt something, not quite anger or disappointment or frustration, but a draining mix of all three.
Sekibanki pulled herself away from Remilia and crossed her arms, blinking away tears and trying not to show any fear for her life she had just felt.
“S-So, are you g-going to apologize and help us?” she sniffed.
Remilia sighed. Her sense of pride stung and ached, but it couldn’t bring her to even think of striking back at Sekibanki. She turned away from Sekibanki and stared at the wall.
Here she had gone and made bold promises to some down-on-their-luck strangers, and they had the gall to believe her. She couldn’t even wrap them around her finger like she had hoped before she went and threw a tantrum. Every foolish new promise she made only seemed to tangle and break right in front of her. Some ‘mistress of fate’ she turned out to be; if fate was such a trivial thing, her chief maid would never have returned wobbly-legged. She turned back around to face Sekibanki, who was still glaring at her, not willing to leave until she had an answer.
“Alright, you,” Remilia said with a sad smile.
[ ] “Noblesse oblige — a woman of my standing has an obligation to help the weak.”
[ ] “Despite how it may seem, I’m… not unfamiliar with feeling weak and powerless.”
[ ] “I can see a little of myself in you. I think that’s a compliment, though it might not seem it.”