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“Oh, is that it?” Kagerou asked, trying to make it sound like it wasn’t a big deal at all. There was only so much I could say or tell her and I had to trust that she’d be able to resolve things in an appropriate fashion. I found myself wishing that I were a cursed object, able to take control of my unwitting host at times. “I wouldn’t worry too much about it,” the werewolf said, “traditions are nice but it’s up to people to give them as much meaning as they want.”
“I guess you’re right,” Wakasagihime said, shaking her head, “but it’s something that I have known all my life. And since I’ve never, um, had the, uh, chance to do it the right way… it’s disappointing if I never get to do it properly.”
The mermaid said her piece with the look of a hopeless romantic. She pressed her hands against her chest as if in a silent prayer, picturing a dashing young knight who would save her from a most terrible fiend just when she thought all was lost. Starry-eyed, she sighed, no doubt having reconciled the obvious anatomical paradox with her vision of living happily ever after and starting a family with her most distinguished love.
At least some part of Kagerou seemed to empathize. She softened her words while still driving the same basic point home, “there’s no reason you can’t do that with someone else when the time comes. I need it to solve a problem so I don’t think it’d be too terrible if you helped me out.”
“No, it wouldn’t be,” Wakasagihime agreed, “it’s just… well, a big part of who I am. Don’t you have any traditions you follow?”
“Not really,” Kagerou said glumly, “I’m the only werewolf around these parts. I don’t really have any traditions other than just staying alive.”
“Mmm, that’s really sad,” the mermaid pouted and flopped more of her body onto land. She wasn’t good at hiding her feelings at all, showing unvarnished pity clearly directed at Kagerou. The werewolf didn’t really seem used to that and scowled in return. Not at all being cool.
“Well...” Kagerou said, shifting uncomfortably on her rock, “I guess all that means is that I’m free to start my own traditions.”
“Oh?” the mermaid’s fins twitched. She flopped once again, leaving only the very tip of her bifurcated tail in the water.
“Listen, don’t misunderstand or make a big deal out of this,” Kagerou went seriously off-script, “but maybe it can be tradition for a werewolf to ask a mermaid for a scale so that she can fit in better at her job?”
“I’m not sure that’s a good tradition,” Wakasagihime said quietly, still having her doubts. It wasn’t like Kagerou was doing that well either: she looked unsure of what she was saying. I had nothing to tell her since she couldn’t unsay what she had said. It was better to just roll with it.
“If you don’t want to do it, I guess it can’t be helped,” Kagerou sighed, “I’m sorry. I don’t really understand why it’s that important to you.”
“Would you wait for me?” Wakasagihime asked, shuffling her body back towards the water. “I want some time to think by myself. I’ll give you an answer later, if that’s alright.”
“I’ll be right here,” Kagerou said, shrugging.
With a solemn nod, the mermaid disappeared into the dark lake. Kagerou stared out blankly, showing that she wasn’t about to return to the mansion in the meanwhile. “That could have probably gone better,” I said, breaking my silence.
“Maybe,” the werewolf replied, appearing not to be in a very talkative mood. I wanted to joke that it was fast becoming a tradition for us to sit out in the night and enjoy the breeze and the stars but I feared that she might take it the wrong way. I didn’t want to risk being thrown deep into a lake because I annoyed a werewolf at the wrong moment.
There wasn’t much of a breeze that night, with the air staying still. Not much of the stars either, with a cloudy front having swooped in to obscure most of the sky. Kagerou gripped a stone, as if to throw it and make it skip on the water, but then put it down. “Is there even any point to trying so hard to fit in?” she asked no one in particular.
“At the mansion?” I asked.
“Let’s say yes,” she explained, “things seem to be running just fine without my meddling and all I have to show for it is feeling like a tired mess. And I don’t even know why I’m bothering with that stupid list. A magician sounds like the sort of person who should fetch their own weird ingredients.”
I thought about what she was saying. I couldn’t say for sure if she had made a difference. “It’s too soon to tell,” I said, “and, besides, it’s a job. It’s great if you’re happy but you signed a contract. What’s important is living up to its terms.”
“I sometimes forget that you’re with me because of that,” she grumbled, annoyed.
“Regardless, I’m still your friend, I hope,” I stated.
“It’s too soon to tell,” she echoed my words harshly. And yes, there may have been a dark smile on her lips that showed that part of that reply was simple venting but that didn’t mean she was exactly wrong. Likewise, it cut both ways. What I said and what I wanted or felt weren’t always the same thing. I had a job to do, after all.
We spent most of our remaining time alone quietly, each lost in our own thoughts. The mermaid returned some time later, when the night was even darker due to the moon’s total disappearance behind clouds. She emerged from the water sheepishly, looking surprised to find Kagerou still sitting on the same rock.
“Sorry for taking so long,” Wakasagihime said, her usual mirth mostly returned.
“It’s fine, I took a nap,” Kagerou forced a yawn and stretched her arms, stating a little white lie.
“So...” the mermaid began, “I thought about what you asked for and it’s not impossible for me to give you a scale but I need you to promise me something first.”
“I want you to come and save me if I’m ever in trouble. I think that’s a fair trade and is in the spirit of the tradition,” she said plainly, forcing herself not to stutter while looking at Kagerou straight in the face.
“I can try my best, but no more,” Kagerou warned, not waiting for me to weigh in. I really wished I were a cursed object with magical powers.
“That will have to do,” Wakasagihime giggled sweetly, no doubt having another mental digression. Kagerou would make for a poor knight, unable to fit comfortably in plate mail without getting hair caught in a hinge somewhere. She presented her with a small object from her pocket, shiny and very much a scale.
Kagerou stood up and gratefully took the scale; it was the size of a (normal) fingernail, colored light blue and, oddly enough, dry as a bone. She put it away in her pocket and thanked the mermaid, “you’ve really helped me out of a difficult situation.”
“I hope you’ll do the same for me one day,” Wakasagihime said bashfully, covering her mouth modestly with a hand.
“That means no more trying to eat her,” I warned, adding helpful input as always. If she wished to snarl at me, she hid it well, keeping up a pleasant facade for the mermaid to feel at ease.
Whether out of guilt or a new sense of duty, Kagerou stayed with the mermaid for a while longer. They talked of other things besides the scale, making small talk about the lake and the youkai who could be seen there. I didn’t really care and so tuned them out as they gabbed. Calling them friends, close or not, was something of a stretch for a would-be neutral observer, but there was something beyond very casual acquaintanceship brewing there. It was unlikely to bloom into something far more intimate unless Kagerou allowed herself to open up.
Not that I would judge her for keeping to herself.
The talking and pleasantries came to an end eventually. Wakasagihime said that she had something that she had to do before the night was over and excused herself, disappearing back into the depths of the lake. Kagerou looked back at the mansion up above, trying to make out where her room was. The temperature had gotten lower and her maid’s uniform did little to protect her from the cool humidity of the lakeside. She started to climb back up the steps and through the garden.
Things carried on as normal back in the mansion. Remilia had already had her meal, the table had been cleared and there wasn’t much work left for the head maid. Kagerou swung by to see Remilia, finding her tending to a table full of models in drawing room. The vampire was carefully moving around minute objects with tweezers, making sure that everything was just the way she wanted it to be.
“Excuse me,” Kagerou said, looking around the room carefully. Nearly all the chairs were gone, likely cleared so the table could be extended. “I was wondering if you needed me for anything else tonight.”
“Unless you’re handy with a brush, not really,” Remilia replied, not bothering to look at the maid. The models mostly furniture—tables, chairs, grandfather clocks—though there were some miniature people as well, all dressed smartly. They were arrayed in various large diorama-like scenes, with spaces that clearly corresponded to locations in the mansion. Not quite a dollhouse, it was more of a slice of interesting areas and situations. As far as I knew, there wasn’t an indoor swimming pool, and yet there was a diorama with people lounging around in swimwear.
“I hope that it was alright for me to tend to other affairs earlier,” Kagerou sounded slightly apologetic, much like a proper maid might.
“I didn’t die of loneliness if that’s what you’re getting at,” the vampire joked, placing a bearded priest next to what was probably meant to be a taller version of herself in a chapel. She squatted, bringing her eyes on the same level as the pair of figures and gave them a slight nudge so they ended askew but more or less facing each other. With a satisfied grunt, she stood up and said, “so long as you tend to what’s important and are there when I really need you, I don’t mind whatever indulgences you may fancy. Out meeting a boyfriend, I take it?”
“No, nothing like that,” Kagerou answered, unfazed.
It may have been too flat and normal a denial, as the vampire persisted with a smirk, “a woman, then? I won’t judge, mind, I’ve tasted many a forbidden fruit in my time.”
“I’m not involved with anyone currently,” the werewolf kept her cool, “not that it’s any of your business.”
“Oh, don’t be so difficult,” the vampire wagged her index finger, “love and pleasure is something to be indulged in whenever there’s an opportunity. I would have happily shared a bottle of good Blanquette to toast your fortune. I concern myself of the welfare of all my employees. They’re akin to family, after all.”
“I’m thankful for your warm sentiments,” the werewolf replied, “but, if it’s all the same, I’d rather not discuss my love life.”
“Yes, yes,” Remilia waved her hand at her, miffed at what she saw as a hopeless prude.
“You’re not going to ask about the models?” I asked Kagerou, not really expecting an answer. I wasn’t quite sure what Remilia hoped to show with all those meticulously-arranged figures and scenes. But maybe that was a little too boring. “Or, know what? If love is on her mind, maybe you should ask her about her relationships. I bet she’d give you some amusing bullshit about why she isn’t seeing anyone right now.”
Kagerou’s ears twitched and I was uncertain if she would listen to me. But, hey, it was worth a try. Something to cap a day full of ups and downs.
 The models seemed like more than a simple hobby.
 If Remilia is so open when it comes to love, she should share some of her own experiences first.
 It’s a trap! Kagerou should get much-needed rest instead.
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Timer ended at: 2018/12/01(Sat)14:00