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Rousing a sleeping werewolf proved to be as difficult as it sounded. At some point in the night, after some tossing and turning, she had found the ideal position for sleep. With the judicious use of a pillow and a serene expression on her face, she looked well on the path to enlightenment. Getting her to respond and get up felt like a transgression against the cosmic order but it was a necessary evil.
I tried a soft approach first and kept my voice low and words playful. Coaxing her with pleasant good mornings and such didn’t really produce much in the way of results. A soft grunt and a quick nuzzling of her pillow were the only reactions I got out of her. She definitely wasn’t a morning person. So I had to up the ante.
Yelling first thing in the morning was a little too much, even for me. I applied a more gradual approach. Wishing I could physically shake her a little, I kept at it, causing her to grunt louder, her eyebrows to move and, finally, slip her head under the pillow. That might have worked if my voice weren’t inside of her head. There was no escape from my determined nagging.
“Fine, I’ll get up!” she complained at last, rolling onto her back and stretching her arms out in exasperation. Kagerou pulled away the pillow and yawned, displaying a set of teeth that put the vampire to shame. Even though I always knew in the back of my mind that she was a youkai, and a werewolf to boot, it was easy to see a sleepy girl in pajamas and assume she was a normal human.
I felt bad about not letting sleeping dogs lie but there was work to be done. “You should get dressed and go to the kitchen,” I told her, “busy day today.”
“Sure, yes,” she dismissed me, suppressing another yawn and stretching her legs. There was no urgency in her actions but it didn’t seem like she’d fall asleep again so I let her take hers at her own pace. Eventually, she got up and started to get ready. After washing her face, she looked at herself in the mirror and spent some time making sure her hair would cooperate. There was a tendency for it to seem wild and disheveled so she took the time to brush it into submission.
Kagerou got dressed and headed down to the kitchen. There the fairies were already neck-deep in work. The oven was at full blast, making the sizable room uncomfortably sultry. There were at least half a dozen dishes being cooked, ranging from broiled meats to pastries and other sweets. At the middle of the vortex of activity was Sonia, the boss of the kitchen, commanding and assisting some of her less-talented subordinates as necessary.
The werewolf wasn’t really needed to supervise or command. While she wasn’t unwelcome as such, Sonia didn’t really pay much attention to her boss. That left Kagerou free to improvise as she liked, keeping an eye out for any slackers or particularly incompetent assistants. She also tried her hand at assisting directly whenever possible though it did seem that she had little practical experience cooking. Or, at least, cooking the type of rich and complex foods that were favored by the inhabitants of the mansion.
A butter-rich puffed pastry was too much for the struggling werewolf and Kagerou fared poorly at mixing doughs and stretching things out at the right moment. Not to mention, at the right temperature, which was the secret to getting textures and consistency just right in those things. The sweltering, constant, heat from burners, stoves and, not-negligibly, the masses of bodies in the kitchen was almost dizzying in their effect. More than once she had to take a short break to have some water. It was any wonder that the fairies could work for so long without simply melting away. Regular exposure to these conditions had hardened them. I joked at one point to Kagerou that they should be the ones running security—they had the stamina and resistance to repel even the most persistent of attackers.
Things quieted down soon after midday as several of the dishes had been completed. Sonia, with a voice hoarse from yelling at the other staff, had given everyone a short break to get some air and have lunch. She went around with Kagerou tasting the finished dishes, judging the various efforts with withering critique. “The shell isn’t dense enough, it’ll get soggy before too long,” she said of dumplings. The same dumplings that Kagerou had been all too happy to sample. As an overheated, tired and disoriented glutton, the werewolf was relishing the chance to reenergize herself with food.
Everything was good according to Kagerou but the fairy maid thought that there was room for improvement in almost everything. “Miss Sakuya wouldn’t stand for this,” she commented bitterly, sounding about as disappointed in her staff as she was in herself.
“It’s fine,” Kagerou tried to console her, “there’s plenty of time yet to get things just right. Don’t stress out too much. The others will pick up on it and get demoralized.”
“You’re right,” the head chef said, using a fork to pull apart a particularly tender piece of meat. “Can I be honest with you for a moment?”
“Go right ahead,” Kagerou said, eying hungrily the maid’s movements. She watched like a woman transfixed, almost certainly close to drowning in her own saliva. The smell was intense, as it was the only thing she was focusing on, and it translated the scent herbs and suet into an imagined explosion of savory flavor.
“With all due respect, you don’t seem to know what you’re doing in the kitchen. But the calm and dedication is something I can get behind,” Sonia said.
“Yes, I try to keep my cool,” the hungry wolf said, most definitely not keeping her cool. The thought of trying the last dish, the one that Sonia was slowly picking at without actually tasting it, had awakened the animal side in her. Her ears were standing on full alert, directed like a pair of satellite dishes eager to receive any and all transmissions of flavor from the meat. It was a good thing that she had lost her headdress already, otherwise that it may have popped off in an almost certainly cartoonish fashion.
“I’m really tired of acting so tough and in charge all the time,” the fairy lamented, “Miss Sakuya took care of so much of the cooking and always did it so gracefully that I don’t know if I can ever be like her.”
“You’ll be like her, yes,” the zombified werewolf offered a half-hearted endorsement. She watched as the fairy took a piece of the tender meat and dunked it in the thick brown sauce—a mix of spices, fat and all-natural juices—and really let it absorb the flavor.
“I hope she’s doing well,” the fairy sighed and dropped her fork down onto the plate. I could feel the anxiety just bubbling through Kagerou. She was of one mind and that mind was juicy, delicious meat. “Miss Kagerou?”
“Excuse me, Miss Kagerou?” the maid spoke up again, looking at the hopeless head maid with confusion in her eyes.
“Hey, she’s talking to you, wolfy,” I said quite loudly, “you may want to snap out of it.”
She did, though I could tell that it almost physically hurt her to do so. I could feel that an enormous amount of willpower was needed to tear her away from the food and pay attention to the maid. “Sorry, what were you saying?” Kagerou smiled politely, trying not to show the wistful maid just how far gone she had been.
“I was just wondering about Miss Sakuya… but I guess I shouldn’t dwell on it,” Sonia turned the subject away from the previous chief maid right after, “we should get back to work to do her proud.” With fire in her belly and determination in her eyes, she called back the tired kitchen staff and set things into motion again.
Kagerou lost out on trying the succulent meat because the returning fairies cleared the dishes to make room to work. That was a loss that she took very personally. She sulked for the better part of the afternoon, so much so that the fairies that she worked with started whispering something about an evil spirit and possession. The real miracle was that she managed to keep on working without hurting herself, her languid movements were just asking for trouble. All it would have taken would have been careless chopping or sauteing and things could have turned out nasty. For my part, I tried to keep her sharp and focused, but she would have none of it, grumbling something about this or some other thing.
She never did get to try the meat. By the time the kitchen staff had finished everything they had set out to do, it was evening and most of the food was parceled out to the hungry fairies that had been working elsewhere in the mansion. Sonia had gone around tasting things sporadically, preemptive any excuse Kagerou might have thought up to take the initiative herself. She got to savor a few nice things, sure. But it just wasn’t the same. I could feel that a deep sorrow had taken root in her soul, one that wouldn’t disappear until the next proper mealtime came around.
Sonia whittled down the numbers in the kitchen as she got ready to cook Remilia’s evening meal. She thanked Kagerou for her help, told her to come back the next day, and firmly, but politely, suggested that she should see to her duties elsewhere. There wasn’t much time to do much save to freshen up before attending to Remilia. The fluffy werewolf had sweated a lot in the hot kitchen, same as many of the fairies, and stunk as bad as a wild animal.
At my incessant urging, she returned to her room and took a bath. I exhorted her to be thorough but it was unneeded advice. She felt the cumulative fatigue almost as soon as she drew the hot water and happily scrubbed herself clean and then soaked leisurely for a good while. Smelling of flowery soap and shampoo, she dried herself off carefully before fetching another identical uniform from her footlocker. The uniform she had been wearing had to go to the mansion’s laundry as it was unfit for purpose.
After she had dropped off her dirty clothes, she had to hasten back upstairs and wait on Remilia. The vampire didn’t really seem to care about her chief maid’s day and blathered on about bloodlines, taking hunting trips when she was younger and vague details about where she lived before Gensokyo. Somewhere near mountains, where the woods were dark and looked sinister. Full of superstitious locals. She’d gotten tired of it and decided it was time for a change was the gist for the reason she decided to move.
Although Kagerou ate at the table with her, she didn’t really get the chance to ask questions. Not that there was probably much she would be capable of asking—working all day in the kitchen had taken a lot more out of her than she had realized. For a moment I thought she would nod off right there and then but she managed to endure like an exhausted soldier on sentry duty. Her life may have very well depended on it. If there was one thing that the vampire didn’t enjoy, it was being ignored.
The meal took longer than other days. Apparently, once Remilia got started up on her stuck-up-neighbors-who-were-really-just-minor-nobility-but-acted-like-the-Bourbons she couldn’t really stop herself. Pointing out slights, faux pas, lack of taste and a complete lack of business acumen and estate managed turned out to be an expert subject of hers. “Of course, by using those inferior seals, the vintage from that year ended up tasting like vinegar!” she laughed, too amused by the memory, “that Cornelia lost so much face at her daughter’s engagement party!”
Thankfully, I could tune out the vampire and escape into my own world. I only really started paying attention again when she got bored of the sound of her own voice and decided to retire to her study to do work. Kagerou had been saddled with a heavy burden in the interim—being recruited to practice badminton the next day with her.
It turned out that being a maid was incredibly physically demanding. Kagerou lasted the evening just barely. Ana preempted any rest and relaxation by asking the chief maid to weigh in on a couple of decisions for the household. The distribution of supplies in the stores, which wines to bring into rotation, managing the laundry’s backlog… the list of inane things just went on and on. I tried to help her as best as I could but the constant moving about and inspections of rooms and supplies personally took their toll.
By the time that she was off the hook, Kagerou was running on fumes. Hell, I was tired. And I didn’t even have a body that could feel sore muscles or a head that could hurt. The werewolf collapsed into her bed the first chance she could. Grunting, groaning and snoring like a buzzsaw at some points, she spent the rest of the evening trying to regain her energy. That made the wake up call the next day even harder.
With a look that would have made me fearful for my life, had I been standing before her, she woke up extremely cranky. She took less time to brush her hair down and stomped off to the kitchen with all the energy of a condemned criminal heading to the scaffold. The grind was much the same, with the din of the kitchen, combined with the withering heat, overwhelming much of her senses. She barked orders at fairies and was less tolerant of their inevitable mistakes. All the while, she made some pretty stupid ones of her own. Things creaked along with only a short break around midday before resuming work.
To compound on her frustration, most of the things worked on were stock and consomme, used then in jellies or stored away to for use as a base to other dishes. In short, they weren’t things she could chow down on and chew; the dream of a leg of mutton or smoked pig jowl was cruelly crushed. The only real positive was that she was getting a little more into the rhythm of cooking and her timing was slightly better. Nothing to write home about yet, by any means.
I had to pull her out of the kitchen a little earlier than the previous day, so she could keep her commitment to Remilia. She changed into something more sporty, but there was no mistaking that she was glum and not very excited about having to work out. She found a skirt that looked about just right for a game with rackets and donned a short-sleeved top that matched. Remilia was clad in similar garb, though her clothes were pink as opposed to Kagerou’s white.
The vampire wasn’t very competitive, thankfully, opting for practice games and trying for specific swings and plays. Regardless, she dominated. Kagerou just couldn’t keep up, reacting too slowly or swinging too wildly. Virtually none of the pep and focus from their first match made a showing. I could tell that she was trying, as her thoughts did focus on the ball and her movements, but there was a disconnect between thought and movement. Her clumsiness did not go unnoticed by Remilia, who was disappointed in her lackluster opponent.
“Come on now,” she complained after slamming the shuttlecock sloppily onto Kagerou’s side of the court, “you should have been able to return that. I even took it easy on you.”
“Sorry, I’m just not feeling very fired up today,” Kagerou admitted, holding back another yawn.
“How am I supposed to show you my top form if you don’t at least try to keep up?” the vampire said with unambiguous irritation in her voice. She was keen to show off what she could do when she wasn’t hung over and kept expecting Kagerou to be a worthy foe. If she had thought her opponent was saving her energy to lull her into overexerting herself first, she was sorely mistaken. Kagerou really couldn’t manage much more.
There were some attempts. Not valiant, but attempts nonetheless. A nice swing, a well-deserved point here and there, a timely interception. Few and far in between. Neither of them felt very satisfied at the end of the session, with Remilia getting worked up at the dispirited opposition she faced. “I’ll expect you to shape up before the next time we play,” she warned, “I can’t be expected to be motivated to improve myself if I don’t have a fair challenge.”
“I think she admitted that she thought you were pretty good. At least before,” I told Kagerou, hoping to get a reaction from her.
“I apologize,” Kagerou bowed her head, “I’ll try to do better next time.”
“Yes, yes, we’ll try again in a day or two,” the vampire huffed, “I’ll be doing a few more practice swings by myself now. You may leave me. Make sure supper is ready at the right time.”
The both of them were unsatisfied with how that went. They had barely worked up a sweat and Kagerou slunk away without being able to say much. A nap might have helped her out but she had more work that needed to be done. Ana was waiting for her in her room, once again needing input on this and that. Pointless things, things that fairies might be able to manage if not for their chronic indecision and predisposition towards slacking off. After changing, she saw to all of that and then once again submitted herself to the gauntlet that was dinner with Remilia.
The subject was still sports. Her grudge against would-be rivals extended into aristocratic competition and she regaled us with tales of lawn games like croquet and tennis. Whenever she didn’t win, it wasn’t due to a lack of skill, but due to misdirection by a perfidious socialite or substandard equipment. I wondered if Sakuya had had to endure all these stories about past glories and frustrations. Remilia drank several glasses of wine, enough to loosen her tongue more, but not enough to go overboard. The session didn’t end until she described in detail how she got back at one of her boorish frenemies by stealing away her fiance, the duke of something or another.
“Naturally,” she ended the anecdote, “I had no interest in the portly man and spurned him after he proposed to elope with me, but the public humiliation drove her straight to a sanitarium. A fact that her mother dearest played down for years afterwards.”
Highly satisfied with herself, she withdrew once again for the evening. Kagerou cleared the table on autopilot. She tidied up and then saw to a few other pending matters that Ana had brought up earlier. There was no way that Sakuya could have dealt with all of this day in and day out without cracking. There simply wasn’t enough time in a single day to deal with everything.
Kagerou collapsed in bed like a puppet whose strings had been cut. She slept deeply. The next night it was the same. And so was the night after. Her hair got wilder as she stopped spending so much time grooming herself. The heat in the kitchen and the physical demands of the job messed her look up, anyhow. She had stopped cursing at me or even looking at me with murderous intent when I woke her up, instead resigning herself to quiet acceptance that she had to get up early. Early to rise and late to bed transformed her into a pitiful creature. One day she managed to sneak in a thirty minute nap but that was just about the limit of luxury she could afford.
It was unclear just how much cooking was needed to whip the fairies into shape. Sonia took it seriously, perhaps too seriously, and didn’t seem at risk of running out of dishes or ideas. Kagerou worked quietly now, keeping to herself and only correcting the few (and more egregious) mistakes that still cropped up. Her own technique seemed to improve as well, though it was offset by her general poor condition. It would be fair to say that she could be trusted to sear something without overdoing it for the most part. Or to chop a leek into the correct thickness for a given dish. I didn’t think she could do complex multi-stage cooking by herself yet, but progress was progress.
“Come on, that’s enough,” I told her one day in the late afternoon. She blinked, apparently having forgotten that I was there with her. “Stop helping with the prep work, get out of here.”
“...what?’ she mumbled, not understanding. Everyone was too busy to notice the tired chief maid talking to herself.
“It’s time you took a break. You’re killing yourself here,” I said. “Things are running smoothly enough here and there’s other things you should be doing.”
“Just tell me later and I’ll get Ana to help out,” she said, not getting my meaning.
“I meant that you should rest a while, go get some fresh air. Play a game, do something fun. Anything that’s not work,” I explained.
“Oh, no time for that,” she murmured, mechanically chopping up a radish.
“Fine, let’s just say that it’s work as well. Just outdoors work. Not in here. You need a change. I’ve never seen anyone completely degrade so quickly,” I told her, “this kitchen work and dealing with Remilia’s whims is killing you. Something has to give.”
“Isn’t it your job to keep me working?” she asked, sounding incredibly annoyed. Tragically, she seemed more far gone than I had initially thought. She was actually so beat up that she welcomed the endless drudgery: the sleep-inducing prattle by a self-centered vampire, the endless miscellanea and the debilitating cooking.
“Yeah, so shut up, I know what I’m saying,” I took a firmer stand, “you’ll be no good to anyone dead. Or, you know, collapsed in bed because your body needs rest. Let go of that knife, tell Sonia that you’re leaving things to her and walk away. Do it or I’ll get really nasty.”
Kagerou gripped the knife tightly. I got the distinct impression that her repressed resentment would have been translated into a most cruel stab if I had happened to exist beyond pendant form. Her knuckles whitened. Ultimately, she sighed. She relaxed her hand and left the knife on the chopping board and did exactly what I asked. Sonia didn’t seem to mind at all. She was still fired up to do her best.
“Tell her to inform Remilia that you might not be there for dinner,” I said. And nipped any concerns that I was being too radical in the bud, stating, “she’ll understand. She knows you have work to do and it’s only out of a kindness of her black undead heart that she’s obliged you a place at the table. She’d want her whims carried out, or those of her friend, before having you listen to her endless stories.”
The werewolf didn’t put up a fight, having long since lost the battle over control of her own spirit. I planned to fix that. All in due course. I was half-tempted to tell her to take a long soak and then go to bed earlier but I knew that that level of hedonistic self-indulgence was too much for her right then. She was still thinking about work and still thinking about duties. The deprogramming would have to be gradual.
So it came down to the list. There were many things that were still missing and that Patchouli expected us to gather. I tried to recall the things that didn’t sound too difficult and could also conveniently give her a change of atmosphere and pace.
 See a certain mermaid about her scale
 One of the flowers needed was probably in the garden and someone who spent a lot of time outdoors might now where to find it
 The only place to find something like that bitter powder was in the human village
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Timer ended at: 2018/11/27(Tue)13:30