Kagerou crouched near the mermaid, trying to look as non-threatening as possible. Not exactly an easy feat when your nails are as sharp as claws. She brushed away the hair from her face and kept at a quieter, flatter tone in order not to upset the mermaid any further. “There’s no reason we can’t be nice to each other, right?” she started clumsily, not quite getting my advice. I held my tongue, as it were, for a while longer.
“I am nice to everyone,” the blue-haired girl mumbled and avoided eye contact. A more courageous person might have expressed their offense more starkly or, at least, been able to meet Kagerou’s gaze. But she was intimidated and unsure of what to say or do. In other words, she was unlikely to talk much and definitely wouldn’t share her secret.
“Part of being nice is trusting that the other person will also be nice,” the werewolf said, not really making a very logical case. She lacked the charisma and magnetism to get away with improvisation. Still, the way she said it was a marked improvement from earlier. She actually sounded empathetic, if not actually respectful of the mermaid’s mental state. “I’m not really good at making friends,” she confessed, making a little joke at her own expense, “and I think you just saw why. That wasn’t very endearing, was it?”
“It was scary,” the mermaid blurted out. Having said the first thought that crossed her mind, she seemed to get embarrassed by the admission and covered her mouth with her hands. She mumbled a quick apology, “sorry, that was rude of me.”
“No, no, it’s fine,” Kagerou chuckled and was as unsubtle as could be, “honesty is also part of trust. And friendship.”
“Yes, we’re true friends because I freely tell you what I think all the time, wolfy” I said, because… well, I couldn’t really help myself. I knew she couldn’t say anything either or betray her emotions towards me—the mermaid would pick up on something that obvious. “Get to the point,” I told her, “you can keep lying about being an enlightened individual in front of the mirror later.”
I just didn’t want her to trip all over her own words. Without showing that she was serious, I didn’t think that the mermaid would listen to her.
It likely took her a lot of effort not to think something very rude at me. Kagerou continued to sell her pitch, “I’d like to be your friend and have something to give you as proof of that.”
“Really?” she asked, watching Kagerou’s hands carefully. Any skepticism she may have held dissipated as soon as she saw the glimmer of the dark metallic object. “Oh, what’s that?”
“It was something given to me as a sign of friendship,” Kagerou simplified, “and now I want to give it to you for the same reason.”
“I think Remilia would disagree that you’re her friend,” I said, once again being unable to help myself. Mistress and servant, sure. Badminton partners, also okay. Superior vampire and lowly, uncouth werewolf? Probably more along the lines of what she really thought. If Sakuya were around, I somehow doubted that she would tolerate someone like Kagerou so easily.
“It’s pretty cute,” the mermaid said, accepting the brooch without hesitation. She giggled, “look, it’s even got two really shiny red eyes. They’re little stones; I like the way they catch the light.”
“Yes, it is nice,” Kagerou nodded and smiled, “you can pin it to your clothes and wear it whenever you feel like it.”
“Thank you,” she said, looking more at ease. “But, um,” she quickly looked troubled again, “I don’t really have anything I can give you in return.”
“Oh, you don’t have to, it’s fine.”
Thankfully she didn’t lay it on too thick, saying something stupid like “that’s what friends are for”. That said, I felt like there was a good chance that the mermaid, with her puppy dog-like disposition, would have bit hook, line and sinker.
The mermaid reached around to a knocked over pile of flat stones. “Maybe you’d like one of these?” she asked expectently, holding out an otherwise unremarkable rock.
“It’s fine, really,” Kagerou rejected the offer diplomatically. “I’d just like to keep talking to my new friend, if that’s alright.”
“Oh, I’d be happy to,” the mermaid replied, playing with the curled ends of her hair.
Kagerou stood up, dusted off one end of the nearby bench and sat down. The mermaid wagged herself closer, only keeping the end of her tail partially submerged in water. “I’m working as the chief maid at the mansion,” Kagerou explained.
“That sounds like a lot of responsibility!” the mermaid interrupted with happy surprise, looking genuinely impressed. She supported her head on her hands and arms, having leaned forward on the rocky floor.
“It is a lot of work, yes,” the werewolf nodded, “and I have a lot of different duties.”
“So that’s why you’re wearing that cute uniform,” she said, “I almost didn’t recognize you!”
“It was dark last time as well,” Kagerou sighed, troubled by the memory, “and that reminds me—I didn’t really get your name after the… incident.”
“Wa~ka~sa~gi~hi~me” she enunciated every syllable with a lilt, not minding at all that they hadn’t introduced themselves yet.
“Ah, that’s right,” Kagerou frowned, “I’m sorry that I forgot it. You told me last time as well.”
“It’s fine!” Wakasagihime was quick to forgive, “I heard from the others that you felt really bad about everything. It’s normal to want to forgive a bad experience like that.”
“Others? Oh, yes,” the werewolf seemed to recall something, “I didn’t go to many meetings, but I did hear of a mermaid joining the group at some point.”
“I only went once myself,” the bubbly fish woman explained, “I don’t really like leaving the lake for too long. My skin gets all dry if I’m away from water.”
“Hm, I don’t like leaving my home much either,” Kagerou confessed, “though it’s for… other reasons. I’m Kagerou, by the way. Sorry for not introducing myself earlier.”
“I know your name, silly,” she shook her head happily from side to side, her fins wagging, “you told me last time as well.”
“I guess my memory isn’t very good, right?” Kagerou laughed at herself.
“It’s alright. I can do the remembering for the both of us, if you like. I don’t really talk to people that much so I try to remember as much about them as possible.”
“That’s fine with me,” Kagerou said, “but as I was saying… I’m working at the mansion. I just started, actually. And it’s part of my job to see that everything is normal. And, um, well, I was wondering what you were doing here.”
“Oh, you’re new?! That explains it!” Wakasagihime exclaimed like she had had a massive revelation. “Of course you’d be like that! You didn’t know I’d be here. I’m sorry for the misunderstanding.”
“No, I shouldn’t have grabbed you in the first place and-”
“No, no no,” the mermaid sat up and waved her hand, “I thought you were scary and mean… and possibly hungry... but you were just worried about doing your job right. I understand!”
By this point any and all tension that may have been haunting their interaction had been thoroughly exorcised. The mermaid, once shy and reticent, wore her happy heart on her sleeve with a bright smile that, I had to admit, felt infectuous. It was difficult not to look at her earnest gaze and easygoing demeanor and not feel like all was right with the world. I wouldn’t call Kagerou listless by any means but, compared to Wakasagihime, she seemed about as lively as one of the statues in the garden.
Kagerou couldn’t get a word in edgewise. Wakasagihime continued, unprompted, “the previous maid lady once found me by the edge of the lake. She said she was going to make me into a good meal for her mistress and had a cold look in her eyes. I was scared to death! Luckily, the owner of the mansion isn’t as bad. She came out, looking for the maid, and saw that she was bothering me. She told her ‘stop messing around, Sakuya, we need to get going’ and the maid put away her knives right away.
“I was so thankful, that I offered to sing a song to her. She apparently really liked the offer but didn’t have time that day,” she continued to breathlessly explain, “so she came back another night and looked for me at the lake shore. It was the maid that found me, but that’s not that important, anyhow I sang to her. Even though she has those wings and scary eyes, they’re kind of like yours actually, she was nice to me. Said that I had a lovely voice and all, I remember getting all red-cheeked and she laughed and called her scary maid again. Only she wasn’t so scary once you got to know her. Said that I should come back a week later at night.
“I came back the next week and there was this statue of a mermaid, just like me, outside. Remilia, who is actually kind of cute herself when you think about it, made it just for me! She said that it was a sign of good luck to have a mermaid around and that I should feel free to come around whenever. I don’t really think that it’s nice she’s, em, so exposed but Remilia said that was just how art was and that it was beautiful. Also, she said that I could stay in this cave whenever I wanted and she put in the bench you’re on right now so that she could sit and hear me sing more. Isn’t that really nice? I really like her. Oh, and, um, she also asked me to keep an eye out for anything weird that turned up in the lake and let her know. Because we’re friends, though, I don’t mind helping out.”
“I see,” Kagerou struggled to digest the story. It wasn’t easy to follow, give the mermaid’s propensity to digress and let her voice get squeaky as she got more excited. “I suppose it’s fine that you’re here, then,” she at least got that takeaway right.
“Yes! I’m happy to be here!” she wagged her tail, splashing herself lightly with water. Thinking about it, her clothes must have been special as they didn’t seem to absorb any water. The drops simply ran off the fabric. “Would you like me to sing you a song?”
“Some other time, maybe,” Kagerou declined, “I’m just glad that we’ve cleared things up.”
“Me too, friend!”
Light conversation followed for some time afterwards. It was all very normal. Not what I would have expected an exchange between a mermaid and a werewolf to be like. Then again, I didn’t really know what to expect from either given that most people thought that they weren’t real. Putting my own prejudices aside, they talked about the lake, Kagerou’s job and the usual pleasantries that people rely upon during conversation.
Kagerou struggled to keep up with the mermaid’s positive and gushing energy. When she had had enough, she told her that it was late and that she would be turning in soon. It wasn’t that late considering that she worked for a vampire, Wakasagihime agreed that it was time to part ways, “gosh, I didn’t realize how tired I am, too. I’ll see you some other time.”
Flopping herself into the water, the mermaid disappeared quickly. She obviously was faster and more agile in the water than on land.
“I thought you were going to bother me about it,” Kagerou said to me.
“You were thinking about it, I sensed. No need to bring it up,” I told her.
“Yeah, but you’re annoying, Al.”
“Maybe, but I’m not stupid. And I can read the mood,” I said, “if you had told her that you needed one of her scales for a charm, even someone as trusting as her might take it the wrong way.”
“At least now I know where to look,” she said, blowing out the last candle that hadn’t melted down entirely yet and taking her leave.
“Go rest up,” I suggested, explaining,”you’ll probably be busy all day tomorrow. Doesn’t seem like Remilia is going to call on you again tonight.”
She agreed and returned to the mansion, enjoying the last of the cool night air while walking through the garden. Once inside, she climbed up to her room, undressed and flopped into bed. It had been a long day and I understood her desire to go to sleep right away. She was soon fast asleep, occasionally rolling over in her sleep or snoring lightly.
I went off into my own little world for the rest of the night. It was only around mid morning that I cared to check in on her again. A look of peaceful contentment was on her face. It looked like she would be out for some time yet if left to her own devices.
 Wake her up. Remilia would be disappointed if the fairies aren’t cooking already.  Let her sleep in. There are more important things in life than babysitting fairies.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/26(Mon)13:30
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
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/27(Tue)13:30
[x] One of the flowers needed was probably in the garden and someone who spent a lot of time outdoors might know where to find it
The village doesn't seem like a good place for some R&R for Kagerou. And she's in no condition to convince Waggysaggy for her scale. The garden it is. Meiling is the best person to ask for lazing around relaxing advice.
Guiding Kagerou proved to be easy. She was pliant and managed to keep up a good pace despite being fatigued. I had to admit, I missed some of the usual push back, but I was certain that I wouldn’t be bored for too long. We looked around for the fairies in charge of gardening. They were all in the dining hall next to the kitchen, a group of green-kitted girls laughing and joking around. Kagerou identified Mary, the head gardener, and approached her.
“We water and trim, mostly,” the head of gardening said rather unhelpfully in response to the obvious question. She seemed to be a more laid-back kind of fairy. While she wasn’t distracted or rude by any means, it quickly became obvious that we couldn’t expect much from her. “I give the flowers nicknames, because they’re cute, but I didn’t know they had fancy names like that.”
“You really haven’t heard of something as weird as a dragon’s teardrop?” Kagerou asked, not quite buying the fairy’s explanation.
“Nah,” the fairy smile, “I once saw a big book in the library with all these hard words and pretty drawings of flowers but my head hurt after reading it for a while. There's just so many different lil’ flowers that I don’t think anyone could keep all the names straight.”
Patchouli’s list was concise and offered little more than the names of things we were supposed to gather. That meant that we couldn’t offer up a description and see if the fairy knew what we were looking for based on that. I began to wonder if maybe being surrounded by so many books had made her forget how the real world worked. At any rate, I told Kagerou to try to pry any and all information the fairy might have.
“None of the other fairies would know either,” Mary said, puffing up her lips as she thought. “We’re all nice to the plants and they’re nice to us and that’s all we care about.”
“Is there anyone else who might know more about the flowers in the garden?” Kagerou asked.
“Well...” she thought about it carefully, looking around the table at her colleagues. They seemed equally stumped. “The big book in the library might help?”
“...alright, what’s it called?”
“Dunno,” the fairy shrugged. Realizing she hadn’t really solved anything, she apologized, “I wish I could help you, sorry.”
“Hey, whaddabout the other gardener?” another fairy piped up.
“What other gardener?” Kagerou asked, looking around the table.
“Miss Sakuya put us in charge of a lot of the work,” Mary explained, with pride in her voice, “we make sure things are going well. But it wasn’t always like that. And I guess it isn’t kinda really. She said something about making sure the workload didn’t get too big. It was a nice thing for her to do.”
The fairy wasn’t making that much sense. It was to be expected that a fairy might not be the most eloquent of speakers, so I told Kagerou to be patient. The werewolf nodded at the fairy, egging her on.
“Well, she’s in charge of the garden I guess. Choosing what to plant and when. She really likes it. We listen to her talk about the plants sometimes and she’s nice. Explains how much water the cuties need and we try to remember it all. The Mistress likes her work a lot,” Mary nodded happily which, in turn, caused the other fairies to nod in agreement.
“So, who is she? Where can I find her?” Kagerou asked.
“Out by the front,” Mary said, “she’s the tall lady at the gate.”
“Oh, you mean the gate guard,” Kagerou said, holding back from saying the obvious ‘you should have said so from the start’.
“Yes, Miss Meiling!” Mary said excitedly.
“She has really nice hair, too,” another fairy opined unnecessarily.
“Right, thank you for the help, I’ll be on my way now,” Kagerou smiled at them. We had a new lead.
“Bye bye, Miss Kagerou!” the chorus of fairies replied. They immediately went back to their joking and inane conversations.
The next destination, naturally enough, were the front gardens and gate. The sun was beginning to hang low in the sky, with maybe less than an hour before it set behind the mountains. Kagerou looked around at the various flowerbeds quickly, as if looking for something that obviously looked like a dragon’s teardrop. It was difficult to imagine what a mythical creature’s tears were supposed to be like. They could look like just about anything depending on who you asked.
As expected, there was nothing that screamed ‘dragon’ or ‘teardrop’. Kagerou approached the front gate quietly and looked around for the guard. She found her easily, standing by the outside wall with a comic book in her hands. The guard, a reasonably tall girl with red hair, looked up at the approaching werewolf and smiled.
“Sorry to bother you,” Kagerou started, “I was looking for a specific flower in the garden and was told that might be able to help me.”
“Ah, a flower?” the guard smiled, her blue eyes lighting up with delight. “I did not take the new chief maid for a lover of flowers. What a pleasant surprise.”
“It’s not really for me, I need to get one for someone,” Kagerou explained.
“A romantic gift! Most touching.”
“That’s not it either,” the werewolf shook her head, too tired to do much but deny it flat out, “listen, Meiling is it?”
“Yes, Hong Meiling,” she performed a small bow and winked, “I’m sorry, I like to joke around because I get bored while minding the gate. A pleasure to formally meet you, Miss Kagerou.”
“Likewise,” Kagerou showed her the same level of courtesy, bowing her head slightly in greeting. Meiling was happy at the acknowledgement. “Though, just Kagerou is fine. I’m not your boss.”
“I think you’re mistaken,” Meiling explained, “as Lady Remilia’s right hand, the chief maid is responsible for everyone working in the household.”
“Hm, I hadn’t realized,” Kagerou crossed her arms, not entirely amused by the large scope of her duties. I couldn’t blame her. The fresh air had begun to dissipate some of the stupefaction she had been subject to while working all day in the kitchen. She eyed Meiling, dressed in a distinctive green outfit that was something at odds with the very European style of dress of the fairies and Remilia herself. “All the same, I think I prefer less formality.”
“No problem,” Meiling crossed her arms as well just as a breeze moved the material on her skirt. There were no two ways about it—it was something of a traditional Chinese dress which opened on the side and wasn’t as constrictive to its wearer as similarly-long skirts. The blouse, with its frills, and ribbon in front were perhaps a concession to the style of the mansion.
“Anyways, about that flower...”
“Ah, yes, gardening is a hobby of mine,” Meiling explained, “I tended the gardens by myself for a long time, as well. Guarding and patrolling the perimeter can be a little too…”
“Boring?” Kagerou offered.
Meiling laughed, looking really tickled by the interjection, “you didn’t have to be so honest like that! But it can be. Which is why I also train whenever I get the chance.”
“Train for what?”
“Keeping myself fit and ready,” placing her comic book down on the ground, she adopted a stance that definitely looked martial arts-y. She mimed throwing a punch, jabbing without any strength behind the motion. “Miss Sakuya sometimes spars with me, too, but she’s usually busy tending to Lady Remilia.”
“It makes sense that the gate guard knows how to fight,” I said. She looked like a completely normal young woman but appearances could be deceiving. The only hint that she wasn’t human was the fact that she guarded a place as strange as she did. Nothing about the mansion was ordinary. I had no doubt that if things got heated, she could do more than just glower at unwanted visitors.
“Oh, there’s an idea,” Meiling crossed her arms once again and looked at Kagerou, “we could spar a little right now, if you’re up for it. It’s been a while since I fought with someone new.”
“I’m not sure I can right now,” Kagerou tried to decline politely.
“…of course,” the girl looked disappointed, her green cap drooping down on her head. It reminded me of Kagerou’s own drooping ears whenever she was disheartened.
 Let her down gently, explaining that getting the flower takes priority since Patchouli wants it.  She’ll understand if she learns how much Kagerou has been working lately.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/28(Wed)13:30
“My, that sounds troublesome,” Meiling said of Kagerou’s workload. It didn’t seem like she was making fun, her body language neutral if not slightly empathetic, but I still got the distinct impression that she didn’t take it as a particularly convincing explanation. If she had something to add about working at the mansion, she kept it to herself.
“Just being outdoors again feels like a huge change,” Kagerou smiled, looking up at the sky. As the sun and horizon got nearer to each other, the few clouds in the sky shone brightly with reflected light.
“So, about that flower of yours,” the girl in green brought the conversation back around to the original topic, “tell me what you know about it.”
“Oh, just the name,” Kagerou said, shifting her gaze back down from the sky, “it’s called a dragon’s teardrop. Do you know what that is?”
“Yes, I think so,” Meiling nodded, “that’s one of the many names it has. Haven’t heard it in a long time.”
“Are there any in the garden?”
“There might be a small patch left,” Meiling explained, making her way to the gate. She looked out into the garden, off to the distant corners, as if they’d somehow be visible from a different. “They’re picky and only bloom under the right conditions. And die quickly. Useful for certain medicinal drinks, if I remember correctly,” she placed a finger on her cheek as she thought about what else she knew about the flower. “If you’re lucky, they may have come at the right time. They’re gone before summer begins.”
She stayed quiet for a moment, ostensibly thinking of where the flowers could be. With good reason, too. Even if she did spend a lot of time in the garden, it was still a pretty vast place. Just watering everything regularly was likely a large investment of time and the fairies assigned to gardening duty were probably at it every day of the week, rotating through patches.
Kagerou didn’t seem to mind, using the moment of silence to close her eyes and think. Or maybe just rest. She was starting to feel the effects of accumulated fatigue keenly. A refreshing wind blowing in from the direction of the lake and she embraced it, letting her body relax as the gate guard did all the thinking she needed to do. A part of me expected her to fall asleep on her feet but she endured and was sufficiently responsive when Meiling remembered all she needed to.
“Follow me,” Meiling said, taking Kagerou to a far end of the grounds. She followed the perimeter like she was paroling it, keeping an eye out for anything that looked out of place. Past statues, hedges and a number of flowerbeds, she stopped several times to take a closer look at any promising leads. Each time she leaned in close, inspected any would-be candidate carefully before deciding that it wasn’t what she was looking for.
It wasn’t until she reached the absolute edge of the property that she finally found what she was looking for. “This is the dragon’s teardrop,” she pointed out a very small white flower which drooped among a forest of livelier flowers. Moving carefully, so that she might avoid t he thorns from the other plants, she crouched down and reached for it. The flower came loose without the need for any sort of tool, like it was waiting to be plucked.
“Not much to look at,” I said, noting that other than the long white petals, it didn’t really have much going for it. I wasn’t sure which was the pistil and which was the stamen but it seemed to have one of each from what I could tell, each long and droopy as the rest of the flower. The only thing that might have given it its very evocative name may have been the curly nature of these, which at the end almost looked like a droplet, or maybe tear.
“It must have bloomed recently,” Meiling said, “and it probably would have died in a day or two.”
“It’s not what I expected,” Kagerou said as she accepted the flower from Meiling. She brought it close to her nose to smell its fragrance but was interrupted by the gate guard.
“Please don’t do that,” Meiling warned, suddenly much more serious than before. “As with all medicinal plants, it can also be a poison. Raw, it can be quite deadly. You must know how to prepare it ain order to reap its benefits.”
“Oh, I see,” Kagerou recoiled from the flower. She held it in her hand like it would burn a hole through it, eying it cautiously.
“It’s alright if you don’t ingest anything or get enough of its pollen inside you. Just be careful,” she warned with a more easy-going smile, trying to show that Kagerou shouldn’t freak out. “Also, if you’ll forgive my prying but, you’re not with child, are you?”
Neither Kagerou or I really expected the question. The werewolf blinked vacantly, having a hard time processing everything about that. I could almost detect a thought directed at me, one that seemed to ask ‘did she really just say that?’. “No, I’m not,” she answered at last.
“Then there’s no problem at all, your energies are probably normal,” Meiling clapped her hands once, happy that all was well.
“Thank you for your help,” Kagerou had pocketed a napkin at some point when she had helped out in the kitchen. She found it, wrapped it around the fragile flower and put it away carefully.
“Yes, it was no trouble,” the guard nodded, “I’m glad I could save you from more difficult work.”
It was hard to tell if she was being genuine or just a little bit cheeky. Either way, that affable veneer was charmingly disarming. Even if she did feel slighted or was merely having fun at our expense, it’d be hard to fault her. I could see that Kagerou didn’t really mind either, though she probably was glad to have gotten the flower without too much of a hassle. Without Meiling, it was probable that we’d have to waste time poring through dusty tomes first.
“If it’s alright to you, I ought to get back to my own job,” Meiling said, wasting no time at all, “since I’m out here, I may as well complete my routine patrol.”
“Wasn’t she reading a comic book just recently?” I asked, but Kagerou didn’t really seem to care.
“Would you like some company?” she offered, clearly still enjoying the great outdoors.
“It’s quite alright, you go ahead and rest,” Meiling winked, “that way you’ll be able to serve Lady Remilia properly. It’s faster if I go alone, anyhow.”
“I doubt I’ll rest right away,” Kagerou confessed, “being outside again has made me feel less tired.”
“All the same, I’ll be off now,” Meiling offered a quick goodbye, giving a short bow, “I’ll be at the gate if you need me later.” She began to hum softly to herself as she walked away, the light of the setting sun the same color as her long hair.
“Do you-?” I began to ask.
“Maybe I should have,” Kagerou guessed what I was going to ask. “Or maybe that’s just the way she is.”
“Hard to tell,” I said. “On the bright side, we got something else from the list.”
“Let’s go for something else,” she said, “since Remilia won’t be expecting me, we might as well get as much of this over with as possible. Afterwards a hot bath, a nice meal… and a lot of sleep,” Kagerou sighed, looking forward to the night. Just a little more drudgery and she’d be able to sleep like a rock.
 Village  Lake
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/29(Thu)14:20
As Kagerou stood at the edge of the lake, she picked up a small stone and hurled it over the surface, causing it to skip a few times before sinking. With the sun about to set and the prospect of going back to the mansion straight away unappealing, she idled and did no one thing in particular. She walked a few steps along the shoreline and threw another stone, careful to keep her distance from the water as the minute waves lapped up.
When she had checked the grotto, she had found it empty. Without the mermaid around, there really wasn’t much else to do at the lake. I joked about her taking a quick swim to relax but was unequivocally shot down; the lake had deep waters and it was still uncomfortably cold for a casual swim. There were only a few youkai that bothered to bathe there and fewer humans still. That is, until summer arrived. We were simply using our time at the lake to unwind some.
“Sun’s about to disappear,” I noted, keeping an eye on its journey behind the mountains. The sky was a mix of various shades of red, orange and purple as the sun began winking behind the horizon.
Kagerou threw another stone. It skipped three times across the surface of the water, distorting the reflection of the sunset. “The moon’s already out if you haven’t noticed,” she said, finding a large nearby rock and sitting on it. She looked up at the sky, keeping a track of both celestial objects.
“It’s about half-full now,” I said idly, not really caring about the conversation that much.
“Yeah...” Kagerou stifled a yawn, covering her mouth with a hand. The nights would be darker for a the next week, at least, until the moon completely shrunk away and started waxing again.
“As a werewolf, do you get weaker when the moon isn’t full?” I asked, more idle curiosity than anything else.
“It’s more like I get more powerful when it’s full,” she explained, “most of the rest of the time, I feel normal.”
She yawned again and stared out at the landscape. I didn’t much feel like forcing any conversation so we sat quietly for a long time, until after the sun had set and night had begun in earnest. We weren’t really waiting for Wakasagihime but I think we both expected her to show up at some point. The werewolf continued to throw stones every now and again. I wondered if there was anything worth fishing living in the lake. Other than youkai, that is.
The last stone that she threw sank down after only a single bounce. A moment later, it reemerged. Flying back about a meter to our right, it skipped on the rocky ground erratically before coming to a full stop.
“Um, please don’t do that,” Wakasagihime interrupted our peace and quiet, splashing out of the water right in front of us. “It scares the fish if rocks are suddenly sinking everywhere,” she said, “and if the fish are scared, it puts everyone else on edge.”
“Oh, I hadn’t realized, sorry,” Kagerou apologized. Like me, I felt that she didn’t really care about the fish but wanted to avoid upsetting the mermaid again.
The mermaid smiled, flopping up at the water’s edge with her lower body still mostly submerged. “It’s fine this time,” she said, “what brings you to the lake tonight?”
“You,” Kagerou said, “there was something I wanted to ask you to do for me?”
“Is it sing?” the mermaid’s eyes lit up. That joy lasted only a few moments. She added apprehensively, frowning slightly, “I haven’t practiced at all! I need to do my warmups first or I’ll sound terrible.”
“It’s not about that,” Kagerou tampered down expectations, “don’t worry about singing for me.”
“Oh, but I want to!” the girl exclaimed, once again regaining her excitement, “just give me a few minutes to get ready.”
“Like I said, it’s fine, really,” Kagerou emphasized, trying to keep her from getting carried away. “It’s something else that I want.”
“...you’re not going to try to eat me again, are you?” she asked. It almost sounded like she was joking but the fins on the mermaid’s head waggled with uneasy energy.
A strong thought flashed through Kagerou’s mind. I agreed with it. “Yeah, she’s never going to let that go,” I said, “but then again, you’d probably do the same if someone tried to eat you.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not,” Kagerou replied, suppressing the urge to sigh. In order to avoid any more misunderstandings, she just came out and said it, “I need you to give me one of your scales if you’re able. I really need one.”
“A scale?” Wakasagihime looked back towards her tail and then back to Kagerou. The was a look of confusion on her face and she repeated the look in reverse, staring at the werewolf long and hard before returning to her tail. She splashed some water as she brought the lower half of her body forward and sat up on the shore’s edge. “I’m, um, not sure that’s such a good idea!”
“Oh, does it hurt you to shed one?” Kagerou asked, trying to figure out how to convince the mermaid. “If it does, I understand, and I’ll look elsewhere.”
“No, it doesn’t hurt at all,” she said, looking increasingly flustered, “they… shed and grow back every now and again.”
“So you’re not just shedding at the moment?” the werewolf asked, being a little slow on the uptake.
“She’s embarrassed about it, you idiot,” I scolded her, “it’d probably be like asking you about how hairy you’d get on the full moon.” It was something I had thought about but had the common sense of never bringing up during the course of a normal conversation. Well, except as leverage.
Kagerou’s ears twitched, a sure sign that I had touched a nerve. The thought she directed at me was mildly unpleasant. She had called me worse before.
“At the moment? That’s not really it either...” Wakasagihime played with the frilly hem of her dress, tugging at it like a nervous teenager unsure how honest she should be with her parents about something very personal. She was trying to gauge how Kagerou might react before opening up.
“I’m sorry, if it’s really personal for you, forget it,” Kagerou apologized, “I don’t really know much about mermaids.”
“Oh, so you’re not-?” Wakasagihime realized something and her face reddened. She tried to explain, her voice small and her words somewhat stilted, “you see, um, well… mermaids only give their people their scales in special situations, like, um, well, you see, it’s a tradition that...”
She took a deep breath before continuing, “it’s supposed to be something that we give to people important to us, like if they save our lives… or if they’re, um, our lover.”
With the truth laid bare, Kagerou found herself at a loss for words. She wasn’t sure how to handle the mermaid. It wasn’t that she was affected by the implication either—I wasn’t exactly attuned to her blood pressure or heartbeat but from what I could tell she was calm and normal. It seemed much likelier that she was keen not to upset Wakasagihime with a careless remark.
So, it was clearly up to me to navigate the treacherous rapids of the heart. With incredible reserves of sensitivity I could draw upon as well as a keen understanding of a maiden’s heart, mind and soul, I was best positioned to advise Kagerou how to handle the situation. Any response had to be something truthful, without being sappy or, worse, flippant. Something that wouldn’t bite us in the ass later, either.
 Play it cool. Tradition is only as big of a deal as Wakasagihime allows it to be.  Embrace the circumstances. Friends should definitely count as important people, too.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/11/30(Fri)14:30
[x] Jump in already. [x] Play it cool. Tradition is only as big of a deal as Wakasagihime allows it to be. This Kagerou's simple-minded bluntness makes me think that trying to play the "we're friends" card would probably just go badly sometime down the line. Sure, pooh-poohing fish traditions might make Waggysaggy pout, but that's a short-term hurt for a long-term gain. Besides that, Kagerou seems more keen to cut out the bullshit where possible.
in b4 people dogpile the other option because they expect KageWaka shipping
[x] Play it cool. Tradition is only as big of a deal as Wakasagihime allows it to be.
My reasoning is that I simply don't like how the other option feels more manipulative. "We're friends, aren't we...? C'mon... gimme a scale" At least this is straightforwardly trying to say it's not about emotions, it's just about the scale and her task.
“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.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/01(Sat)14:00
[x] It’s a trap! Kagerou should get much-needed rest instead. If working shit jobs has taught me anything, it's to never do more than you're specifically asked. Sticking around would, in some fashion, fall into doing work either way, considering it has to do with Remilia. The whole point of the last outing was to help stave off burn-out, so Kagerou should probably just rest up. If the old bat wants social time, she can order it.
“It’s a good opportunity to turn the tables on her,” I insisted, trying to get Kagerou to listen to me. It may not have been the best of moments for the tired werewolf, but if she didn’t say anything, she’d regret it. I definitely would.
Kagerou failed to make up her mind quickly enough. She lost her opportunity to withdraw without further comment as Remilia noted how she was now staring at her. “Is something the matter?” Remilia asked, a little too pleased with herself, “was all that grownup talk a little too stimulating?”
“See, she’s totally having fun at your expense!” I continued to push, “let’s see how far she goes. Probably not so high and mighty when she’s forced to talk about herself.”
“No, not really,” Kagerou shook her head, trying to sound calm and composed, “I was just thinking how I’d like to hear more about your experiences.”
“Good wolfy,” I praised her, yearning to scratch behind her ears to show her she’s a good and obedient girl. It was unlikely she understand return my pure and most definitely well-intentioned gesture.
“Is that a fact?” Remilia raised an eyebrow, quick to detect the about face in attitude.
“You sound confident about the subject. It got me curious.”
“Yes,” the vampire seemed to be satisfied with the simple reasoning, “I suppose I am confident. Come, let’s sit then and talk somewhere more comfortable.”
The irony of the drawing room being no place to entertain conversation didn’t seem to register with Remilia. She left her models behind and took Kagerou somewhere closer to her bedroom and a fitting place for the conversation, her boudoir. The sitting room was decorated in a familiar style, favoring complex patterns carved into desks and furniture and lively colors for both wallpaper and upholstery. Heavy curtains made from crushed velvet flanked a single window that was strictly decorative—there was nothing beyond it but brick.
A large spinning wheel in a corner of the room suggested that the space may have been used as a sewing room but I really doubted that Remilia would have the patience to do any sewing herself. It felt as functional as the window or the various vases stacked on desks and shelves. The vampire sat down on a long red sofa with a flowery motif on both the upholstery and carved on the high wooden back. She motioned for the werewolf to take a seat on the other end, well within arm’s reach. It was an intimate setting for intimate talk, I supposed.
Kagerou sat down as Remilia stood up again. “We’ll be needing something else,” she said, finding a bottle of a dark something or the other on an ornate shelf. The practical décor didn’t end there as she conjured up a pair of crystal flutes from a hidden compartment on a tall desk. “Not the most appropriate style of glass,” she commented, “but it will do.”
Having filled each flute about halfway, she passed one to Kagerou and then sat back down. Kagerou sniffed at it suspiciously, it smelled of wood and faintly of fruit.
“It’s just calvados, dear,” Remilia said with a laugh, taking a sip from her glass, “it’ll ease your nerves if you’ll let it.”
Kagerou took a wary sip, finding that the liquid was stronger than what she was used to. It vaguely recalled aged fruit and was minutely sweet. She was transparent in her feelings and I could sense that she quickly adapted to its flavor profile when she took a second sip.
“Is there anything in particular you would like to know?” Remilia asked, leaning back in the sofa and looking completely at ease.
“I have no idea where to start,” I said, feeling that perhaps we had been outmaneuvered. Whenever she did stop being so snotty and vain, Remilia did tend to at least look the part of nobility. Her body language almost made me believe that she was as experienced and nonchalant as she said.
“Whatever you think might be most interesting,” Kagerou said, probably having the same doubts that I had.
“Something too technical is perhaps too dull,” the vampire mused aloud, “and perhaps courtly love is too unexciting if you haven’t lived through it.”
Though she said that, her first story was about just about that. It revealed a past that neither Kagerou nor I could really imagine. “He was a gallant youth whose head was full of poetry and idealized love. He liked to hunt and to play at soldier—as was the style at the time—and was most at home in the saddle. As a young girl of certain rank, I was the target of many like him. He only stood out because of his persistence.”
The unnamed lover would spend the better part of two years trying to win Remilia over by her count. He presented flowers, dedicated his victories in manly competition to her, hired troubadour to play for her and even paid nuns from a local cloister to pray for her and the glory of God. All very romantic gestures, Remilia assured us, wearing a nostalgic smile all throughout.
“How did it end?” Kagerou asked at one point.
“A tragedy worthy of a play,” Remilia lamented, “he would talk of marriage and taking my fair hand and that just couldn't be. His kind had no idea mine walked among them and so all I allowed him to do was to relinquish his chastity. He enjoyed that quite a lot, and so did I, but one day I was careless and he discovered I was a vampire. So I did what I had to do to make sure I could continue to live unperturbed.”
“You killed him?” Kagerou jumped to the most obvious conclusion.
“I’ve never killed a lover,” she boasted, quite weirdly, “no, instead I used some of the tools in my disposal to make sure he went on one of those long and foolish wars of his. He never returned, having decided that settling in conquered land was better than to risk the wrath of the church for his unholy transgressions.”
Remilia poured more drink. Kagerou had drank most of her cup and she didn’t really mind having more. I wasn’t sure if it eased her nerves but it did loosen her tongue, “what about that forbidden fruit that you were talking about earlier?” she asked.
“Not everyone is made the same,” Remilia explained, drinking up the liquor as if it were water, “some have types—tall, swarthy, jokers, intellectuals, what have you. Most of these preferences are tolerated, sometimes even celebrated, though it’s seldom that you’ll be able to marry a partner you love. Some other preferences are only whispered about, shared in hushed tones among others with similar proclivities.”
“What are your preferences?” Kagerou asked, inhibitions degraded.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet,” the vampire said with a grin, continuing with another story, “in the more cosmopolitan regions of the world, where coffee houses and sitting rooms are often filled with creative types and those with an open mind, some of those whispers can be easier to pick up.”
A young lady, the lone scion of a wealthy family of merchants had been in Remilia’s social circles once upon a time. “She had been allowed a university education and often comported herself as a man, drinking immodestly and eager to use profanity. Her parents did not know what to do with her as she flouted convention at every turn. In that era, I had a reputation for primness and modesty. The few years I spent establishing myself socially there had kept me well-supplied in other areas and it wasn’t too long before it was suggested that I tutor this girl in proper social etiquette. I obliged, feeling that having that family in my debt would be immensely profitable.”
Remilia laughed at a memory, “I don’t remember who made the first move but it was soon after I had taken her under my wing that we explosively explored a mutual attraction. Let me tell you—“ she gestured strongly with her glass, “only a woman can hope to know another woman’s body as thoroughly. I suppose we were as two bitches in heat, eager as we were to satisfy one another.”
“And you were happy?” Kagerou asked, sounding skeptical.
“For a time, yes,” Remilia replied, sighing, “we consumed each other, body and soul, for the better part of a year. Rumors grew and I had to make a decision. She never forgave me for it. All I have left is a half-empty bottle of her perfume. Several years later I learned that she had married and started a family.”
“Oh,” Kagerou’s ears drooped, “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be, that’s just life,” Remilia said quietly. She pivoted, bringing herself closer to Kagerou. Her free hand came to rest on Kagerou’s. “I don’t really believe in regrets when it comes to love,” she whispered, the tone and look in her eyes clearly implying what she hoped to accomplish.
“Well, fuck,” I blurted out, “she’s coming on to you.” I really hadn’t seen that coming. With all her gibes about werewolves, it seemed like she would definitely be above involving herself with the chief maid.
Kagerou handled the situation gracefully. Or, as gracefully as the calvados would allow either of them to act. “I’m not really interested, sorry,” she said outright, without hesitation.
“That’s fine,” Remilia took the rejection well, patting the werewolf’s hand softly with her own before withdrawing it, “I’m just exploring possibilities. If you ever change your mind, let me know. It doesn’t have to be anything more than a spot of fun if you don’t it to be.”
Part of me was curious about the mechanics of a werewolf and a vampire engaging in a debauched affair but my feelings weren’t really relevant. Kagerou was a big girl and she could make her own decisions when it came to romance. Even if having sex with your boss was usually a bad idea, I wouldn’t judge or interfere.
“Well then!” the vampire imbibed until her glass was empty, “is there anything else you would like to know about my experiences? There’s an ultimate technique that I know that makes every man invariably weak in the knees. If that’s your kind of thing, of course.”
Kagerou drank more from her cup. She was feeling the effects of the alcohol, her body loose and a warm feeling coming from the pit of her stomach. It was interesting to experience where I got to experience insobriety vicariously. Her senses were duller but she was focusing much more on Remilia than she usually did. While not flustered, by any stretch, the idea of an affair with the vampire had excited her on some level. She refused any more to drink, probably feeling that any more might make her outright fall asleep given how tired she felt.
 Is there anyone more recent? Perhaps in Gensokyo?  Let her share her ultimate technique.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2018/12/03(Mon)14:00
--- I'm going to keep trying to run this as close to daily updates as possible. December is a really busy month with a lot of things I got to do so we'll see what happens.
Hey, figure I'd say something about me not updating. Sorry about that but life has been a relentless shitstorm of endless crises for the past few weeks. No signs of it abating anytime soon but, on the plus side, there may be a non-zero chance that I turn to writing in my starkest moments of sleep deprivation as a form of escapism. No promises either way. Just wanted to make clear that this hasn't been forgotten at all. Wait warmly but also bring a magazine or something.
It’s an odd thing to depend on others to feel. As much as I would have wanted to feel the steady warmth provided by the drink and ensuing gentle numbness, I could only guess how Kagerou really felt after spending that much time drinking with the vampire. Sure, I could tell that she wasn’t 100% and that her thoughts weren’t as sharp and focused as she might like. But it was still akin an echo of a true feeling; what I saw, heard and felt lacked sharpness, or clear image of the impulse behind the sensation.
So, as a result, I stayed mostly quiet. Yeah, how she felt was her own prerogative, her own idle fancies her driving force. I didn’t feel it fair to impose on either her feelings or how she thought it best to handle the clearly drunk vampire. As worn as the thought might have been, how I acted at the present was different to how I would have acted if I had a body. I supposed it would forever haunt me how I would deal with a drunk and gabby vampire. Give her a hard time? Try to pry as many indecent details as I could? Accept her offer to fuck? Nah, probably not the latter—she was altogether too bony and small.
A werewolf was clearly a simpler creature: her ears stood half-cocked. showing sufficient interest to keep the vampire talking. What’s more—she seemed to have the vampire’s verbal flow internalize and let Remilia speak freely when there was no reason not to. Kagerou was rather good at letting Remilia blather on, keeping herself good and loose. When she did speak, when she did ask, her words seemed like a natural continuation of whatever it was she was talking about. A part of me suspected that a glass more might have pushed her on the edge, made her loose all composure. What good is a drunken maid?
“No, you see dear girl, it’s just a matter of mechanics to keep them coiled around your finger,” the vampire explained, half-unprompted. Kagerou only had to suggest that she share her secret that she spilled her secrets readily. “Confidence, as always, goes a long way when it comes to ecstasy.”
Some sounds lingered lazily on her tongue, almost adding extra syllables to common words. Kagerou paid that no mind, trying instead to get her boss to focus on what was important. “And you speak from experience?” she asked, curiosity piqued.
“Yes, of course, dear,” Remilia replied, bringing her glass up to her lips. There wasn’t much liquid left and her movements jerked awkwardly—so much so that an errant drop almost flew from the glass and onto her dress—but she managed to keep drinking without spilling any somehow. “It would likely help if you were a chirurgeon but such precise knowledge of anatomy isn’t quite needed.”
As always, though some of the vocabulary likely evaded her understanding, Kagerou played it cool twitching her ears only slightly with any misunderstanding. Context was king.
“What you must do is make good use of your fingers,” Remilia explained, “you see, we’re like dolls in a sense. Pull the right string and you get the body to do things automatically. She mimed a gesture that I really wish I hadn’t seen. There was certainly a boldness to the action and, as I understood it, it probably would provoke a strong reaction from the other party. Whether it was pleasurable or not was up for debate.
Kagerou watched with interest, her eyed following both the literal thrust of her argument and the shape with which digits bent as they explored the imaginary lover’s body. That the ultimate technique was physiological rather than psychological didn’t seem to matter—the vampire assured her that there was nothing else under the sun that would have a man so utterly capitulated when faced with intense ministrations.
That whole exchange provided incontrovertible proof that perversion had neither gender nor social station to bind it. If I ever met any other members of the midnight aristocracy, hell, or just anyone who put on airs, I’d soon remember how depraved they could be. I wouldn’t soon forget the coquettish smile on Remilia’s lips as she carefully demonstrated her technique. It was enough to make a mere mortal—as it were—like myself fall madly in love. Or, yeah, uh, mad with curiosity to how it actually felt to be on the receiving end of her moves.
“That might even feel good to you, thinking about it,” I said, unable to help myself. Didn’t seem like Kagerou agreed. For a moment I thought she was going to mumble an answer under her breath but instead her ears slacked disapprovingly and, if I’m honest, quite capriciously. She wasn’t sold on the power of love.
“Vampires are more interesting that I gave them credit for,” the werewolf said, her tongue loosed by the calvados. It was the closest thing to a proper reaction to the vampire’s ostentatiously lewd miming and innuendo.
“You know...” Remilia started, her red eyes shining with mischievous light, “once upon a time domestic servants...”
“Let’s leave the past where it rightly belongs,” Kagerou interrupted, seeing where the line of conversation was headed. She already had declared herself uninterested earlier.
“Cold,” I said, paradoxically glad that she wasn’t getting too carried away on account of the drink. My heart just wasn’t ready to see much more depravity in a single night. I’d have to be eased into it, perhaps with masks and the casual nudity prevalent with secret societies. Or my conception of what a secret society did, at any rate.
“No need to force it, such things occur naturally under the right circumstances,” Remilia observed, drinking the last of the liquor with a murmur. As with her drink, the truth threatened to spill out with the slightest amount of relaxation. There was enough sense left in her to channel that impulse and she kept from coming on too strong to the increasingly tired werewolf.
Kagerou stuck around until Remilia finished her drink, engaging in small talk about this and that. The subject of relationships came up peripherally, hijacking talk of companionship and the past, but neither really insisted on the central and more carnal points once again. Sexual tension stood to one corner, like a punished child, ever present but letting the adults talk about whatever else with only the slightest of interruptions.
Maybe it was just me. Maybe it was the fuzzy feeling I got from Kagerou’s own sense but I felt like Remilia held back some. There was a lot she could say about sex, relationships and pleasure. Quite obviously, she didn’t bring up the subject of her own kinks and her own pleasure. The jury was still out on whether or not it was deliberate. Same as the loosened collar and buttons that left pale skin underneath exposed at certain angles; were Kagerou to look straight down at her, she would see much of her flesh indecently exposed again.
Before the vampire could drone on about previous torrid love affairs again, Kagerou took her leave. She mentioned the late hour but also that she had enjoyed their talk. Remilia saw right through her but still forced a smile and let her go, telling her to “rest up and clear your head.”
Kagerou thanked her and stood, her feet unsteady at first. The blood seemed to pool down lower in her body, leaving her lightheaded. I felt her concentrate and take a deep breath before she attempted a step, mindful of not letting the vampire see just how messed up she might actually feel. It wasn’t like she would tumble over at the next opportunity or anything—it was just that her movements needed some extra thinking and coordination.
Thinking nothing of the sight, Remilia blew Kagerou a sloppy kiss, one that was too wet to be appropriate. She remained sat and leaned back, content to space out in the comfort of her room for a while longer. Instead of being bound to Kagerou, I wished I could spend some time the vampire’s thoughts. It would be interesting to see just how weird and out there her thought processes were.
The focused energy Kagerou showed led her straight to her bedroom without the possibility of detours. She undressed, got barely got her sleeping clothes on and flopped onto her bed. That her buttons were undone and that a passing pervert could see much of her flesh was inconsequential—she was more worried about getting rest than anything else. I didn’t even register anymore as an other, apparently.
Like a short-nosed hound lying on their side, she snored as she slept. I wasn’t as lucky, not really having a need to sleep. So I did what any disembodied entity would after a night of many truths and free flow of drink—I continued to work. I checked in with another boss.
Drinking and making merry wasn’t restricted to just werewolves and vampires. I couldn’t see anything, feeling just the general atmosphere and hearing a lot of noise, but Sakuya was somewhere where the drinks flowed and people socialized. I couldn’t tell what she was drinking as my vision was limited to rough contour of her face, but it felt room-appropriate. Maybe.
“I’d like to report in, if you don’t mind,” I announced, feeling the link between us stable. There was a huge distance between us, of that much I was sure, but it felt more stable if not outright more personal than earlier. I could almost feel her soft breath against the rim of her glass just before she took a drink. Oddly… nostalgic? Pale eyes looked ahead, communing with me but not losing awareness of the environment around her.
“Can I get you the next one?” A voice asked but was promptly dismissed.
“I’m fine sitting by myself,” Sakuya replied coldly, spurning whoever it was. She turned her attention to me, her voice low. I wasn’t sure if it was strictly due to necessity or the more intimate nature of our talk. “Speak. Any problems with the plan?”
“None yet,” I replied. She smiled to herself. I felt myself smile in return. Or something like that given I didn’t have a face. My non-existent heart pounded harder in its virtual state, glad to be talking to her.
“Carry on,” she instructed, asking the usual status questions quickly and quietly.
I replied as best as I could, filling her in about this and that. She seemed surprised that the fairies maintained the level of competence that they did—the subtext was clearly that she ought to have been as cats set on fire by now. I swelled with pride as no doubt my superior management skills and persuasive words had enabled Kagerou to handle things proficiently.
“Do you know day it will be in a month?” she asked, all at once concerned and more intimate. I had seen enough of Remilia’s heart for the evening to know that Sakuya spoke of something beyond employer and employee.
I drew a blank. “...no, sorry,” I said.
The chief maid was quiet and all I could hear was the background noise of people carousing. She sighed, nearly imperceptibly, and nursed her drink. Her hair was different than usual—the braids conspicuously missing and it all coming down casually at shoulder height. It felt odd though I couldn’t help but feel that I shouldn’t have been able to see that in the first place. Call it intuition. Instinct. Bias.
Whatever it was, I felt sad that I was disappointing her somehow.
“Is there anything else?” she asked, like clockwork, brushing aside any signs of familiarity that may have been there.
I couldn’t think of anything appropriate. Of anything perfunctory. Maybe I was encouraged by the werewolf's shiny stream of drool (that would soon fall form her chin onto her pillow) or had become more stimulated by the earlier conversation than I let on but I ventured into the realm of the personal. Just a tiny bit.
 Remilia was quick to talk about love and lust. Just how much of that was actual flirting?  She had appeared in my dreams. Were we…? Or was that nonsense?
“There is, uh, one more thing,” I said. I was fast becoming unnerved, hesitation and anxiety swelling up from the depths of my mind. I attempted to steady myself and sardonically wished that I also had a drink in hand and perhaps several already in my belly.
“Yes?” Sakuya asked, her expression still murky to me. And yet I was sure that she was cocking her head slightly, wearing a look of someone who knows the question in advance but chooses to play dumb out of consideration for the other person’s feelings. In other words, she was letting myself get as ready as I needed to be. That’s what I hoped, at least.
Acting like an insecure high schooler around their crush just wasn’t me. And yet I found myself being circumspect, explaining and trying not to sound too stupid in equal measures, “We saw Patchouli at the library and she gave something to Kagerou. Meant for me.” I paused. Had we been sat together, I would have used the opportunity to look at her face and attempt to suss out just how much she actually knew. There was nothing like that that could guide me. Frustrated, I continued, “I saw something—a vision I suppose. It was someone who was sick and being nursed.”
The vision retained a burnish that made it feel like it had taken place only moments ago. Trying to recall anything about it conjured up complex feelings that I couldn’t quite define. “You were there,” I said, sheepishly, “and you cared a great deal for the person stuck in bed. I could feel the touch of your hand.”
“And how does that make you feel?” Sakuya asked quietly, not at all caring how awkward my admission was.
“Like I’m missing something, I guess,” I spouted automatically. I didn’t have a better answer and thinking about it got me nowhere. The emotions in the vision were complex and I wasn’t sure if they were even my own or something of a vicarious experience.
“That’s a shame, don’t you think?” I could almost see an impish smile forming on her face as she asked me that.
“It’s certainly something. I’m just not sure what.”
“Hang in there,” she said.
“I’m not even sure if that was me...” I continued to muse aloud.
“There’s one thing that could make you know for sure,” she said quietly.
“What would that be?”
“If I were to hold your hand,” she stated, “not that it would be possible right now.”
“Hm, that might do it,” I conceded, vividly recalling the sensation in the vision. It was the kind of thing that I’d know for sure right away.
Sakuya giggled. At once I realized why—I had taken what was meant to be a playful tease seriously. “I have no doubts that you’re keeping my replacement thoroughly amused now,” she said.
“I try my best,” I said, wishing I could have paired the words with a stupid, self-effacing grin.
I think she understood what I was going for, regardless. She went off on an unexpected tangent, offering an unexpected display of good humor, “Lady Remilia certainly could do with a good voice in her head to keep her in check at times.”
“Once the contract is done, who knows what may happen? I think I’d rather have a body again, though.”
“All the better to hold my hand with, I suppose,” she laughed softly, nursing the drink in her hands, “or maybe do more than just that. Some people, like certain vampires, are shameless with their advances.”
“We’ll see,” I said, trying not to get too carried away. It felt like a privilege to hear her joke around. It certainly was a departure from the usual terse questions and replies. Truth was, I could almost feel her soft hand if I concentrated. And I had a few choice thoughts. But I couldn’t think of a non-creepy way to joke about that. Maybe something about the moisturizer she used…? Erring on the side of caution and shutting up was probably better.
Sakuya also seemed to want to say something else, I could almost see the contours of her lips moving, mouthing soundless words. But she held back, letting the good natured exchange die down naturally and quietly. Turning her attention to the drink in her hand, she then moved to end our exchange, “I’ll be interested in hearing your next report.”
“I’ll be interested in giving it,” I said, maybe sounding more of a puckish rogue than I intended.
“Good night,” she said abruptly. It felt like maybe she would sigh but she hid any such desires well. I was probably projecting too much.
“Yes, good night,” I replied, not being able to think of any other thing to say.
I felt the connection sever after another moment. That left me alone with my thoughts. And intimately aware of just how loud a snoring werewolf could possibly be. I’d keep her from drinking in the future if it helped avoid the unnatural din. I tuned her out as best I could and whiled the rest of the night away.
Kagerou got up late and struggled to pull herself together. Her innards rumbled a in protest to the abuse they suffered the previous night, her eyes were unfocused and she yawned as listlessly as one would expect. Like mistress, like maid. A glass or two more and she might have been the one fouling up her bed instead.
I held back on the moralizing for the moment, letting her at least wash up and put on her clothes before even speaking to her. “You’ve missed a spot,” I said, referring to her hair, “if you brush that side a little more, no one will be the wiser to just how wild your evening was.”
“Yeah, okay,” she said, yawning yet again.
“Head hurt?” I asked.
“Not really,” she replied, “just feels like it takes more effort to think and do things.”
“Let me do the thinking for you then, my cute little wolf,” I said, helpfully.
“I’m not in the mood for your crap yet,” she warned me off, biting down to stifle another yawn.
“I was being genuine and trying to cut you some slack,” I huffed. “If you want to be a jerk and a dumb doggie, be my guest.”
“I don’t get you at all sometimes,” she shook her head, not thinking much of it.
“Way to ruin my good mood,” I complained, not really sure why I was making a big deal of things.
“Alright, whatever, sorry,” she waved at her reflection in the mirror, using her other hand to brush the last unruly strand of her hair.
“Apology accepted. Now go eat something to settle that stomach of yours,” I suggested. Kagerou agreed with that priority.
She had one of the fairy maids whip up something to eat. I noticed that some of the fairies seemed to be more agitated than usual but I couldn’t tell why. Kagerou either didn’t notice or was too engrossed by the prospect of food to care. It was only once after she finished her breakfast in record time that she regained the ability to care about anything else. Her ears perked up and she began to pay attention to her surroundings again.
“Thinking of making drinking with Remilia a regular thing?” I asked, already knowing the answer.
“I’d sooner tie a heavy stone around my neck and jump into the lake,” she grimaced, making clear the physical toll the whole exchange had taken.
“Then you’d just be stuck with the mermaid; doubt she’d give you any peace either.”
“Life is unfair,” she complained with a faint smile.
“Luckily we can rely on each other to get through it all,” I said without figuring out how much I truly meant it. “If I was sick, you’d keep me company and hold my hand, right?”
“You don’t have a hand,” she pointed out correctly and with some confusion on her face.
“Yeah. But if I did, you would. Good intentions, camaraderie and affection are important things in this life is my point.”
“You’re weirder than usual today. Sure, I guess, I’d do that for you,” she nodded, looking certain that I was making a joke that she wasn’t getting.
“Thanks, good to know,” I said, satisfied, “I’d do the same for you. You’re a good person.”
Kagerou looked down at her blouse and then pulled me out. She stared for a moment, eyes stopping to inspect the usual colors, trying to see if I looked any different. I could detect honest concern behind her actions but she tried to make it not so obvious. With a theatrical motion she dropped me back down and shrugged, “I honestly can’t tell if you’re drunk now or not. Or how that’d happen in the first place.”
 Shift things back to the usual banter in order to reassure her that things are as normal as always.  It’s fine if she doesn’t get it. The important thing is for her to know she’s a very good girl.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/16(Sat)15:00
--- I'll be trying to pick up the pace again, I'll be figuring out what sort of schedule works best as I go along. I've put back a timer in order to try to motivate my sorry ass. Hopefully it won't take me so long to write after voting either.
>>64059 Sorry man, votes are tallied at time of calling. Only exception is if I mess up somehow and explicitly ask for more votes or a revote or something. Feel free to go nuts with changing votes or discussing stuff with other readers before that though.
[x] Shift things back to the usual banter in order to reassure her that things are as normal as always. The shields are coming down little-by-little, but they're still up, so let's just back it off a bit for now, hmm?
She didn’t get me. But that was fine. It was hard to explain why I felt the way I did and no way of predicting how long it’d last. Being some sort of entity stuck in a stone probably meant that there would be at least some mysteries about my existence. Given the way things were between us, even honesty would come with prickly edges.
In other words, being too little like myself would make her dismiss what I was saying out of hand. She really would think I was drunk. Hit my head. Whatever. I chose my words carefully, trying to strike a balance, “we should get back to work. But I’m serious enough. You’re a very good girl, and you should get some recognition for that. Doesn’t matter if you believe me right now. I’d scratch you behind the ears and all but, well, you know the rest.”
“Jerk,” she said softly, very little of the usual acidic tinge to her tone.
“Let’s keep it in the cards for the future, who knows? We’ll see how things work out at some point,” I said, not really wanting to dwell on the end state of us either. Those were thoughts best left for someone with less confidence than me.
Not really wanting to keep up the same line of conversation either, Kagerou turned her attention back to her job. She had slept in, her breakfast really being lunchtime for more normal and respectable folk. Fatigue still plagued her and it reflected on her senses—any limitations on her end trickled down to me. And yet, the head maid wore a brave face as she interacted with a few fairies and made her rounds.
A few fairies that were slacking and not cleaning sprung into action as soon as Kagerou came around. Sure, they’d likely stop working soon after she turned the corner, but at least they tried to show respect to Kagerou’s rank and authority. More importantly, none of them seemed to notice just how tired the werewolf was and looked uneager to do anything that would get them chewed out.
From her behalf, and partially thanks to my sage advice, Kagerou was firm but not too bellicose. She reminded the other servants that work needed to get done and occasionally lent a symbolic hand to help—dusting a bust for a few moments or carrying a pail of water—but was happy to leave them to their own devices. The time she had spent in the mansion already had instilled confidence in her abilities to get the job done. The only thing that was still tricky for her was dealing with her own boss. That and her own body.
In between making sure the wheels of the machine were properly greased, she took a few breaks. Kagerou relished the fresh air and opened some of the few windows she encountered on her way. There wasn’t much of an air current but she still took her time to stand by the open window and take deep breaths. While I naturally made fun of her for pushing herself too hard with Remilia, I also made small talk about this and that and played short rounds of “I spy” to make sure she got all the fresh air she needed.
It soon turned out that she would need it. The afternoon was fast heading towards a close.
A flustered fairy ran up to her, tripping up on her own words, “We’ve been trying but can’t find... she’s not here and… and so Ana said to find you. So I was sent and here I am and um, yeah, you probably know what to do. If not, oh boy, Ana won’t be happy. None of us, I mean.”
She was a slight creature, like most of the other fairies, wearing the uniform of the service specialist. I couldn’t remember seeing her before. Though, if I was honest, all fairies kind of looked alike after a while. They were bubbly creatures that liked to slack off and be loud. I had seen so many brown-haired fairies with straight hair that I couldn’t even use their hair color or style to tell them apart.
Kagerou didn’t seem to know her either. She urged her to calm down, offering a patient smile, “okay, take a deep breath, then take your time and explain what’s going on properly.”
“Ah!” the fairy gulped down air and puffed her cheeks, failing at even taking a proper deep breath.
“Might need to direct this one,” I said.
“I’m going to ask questions, alright?” Kagerou narrowed her eyes, letting her tone become a little more serious. “Short answers, to the point. Understand?”
“Um, yes!” the fairy answered, pushing out the air she gulped forcefully through her mouth, inadvertently blowing a raspberry.
“I take it there’s a problem in one of your usual chores?”
“Yep!” the fairy replied.
“Which chore was it?” the interrogation continued.
“Serving food. We usually have a tray ready which we leave and, um, it’s then taken but there was no one to-”
“Hold up, don’t get ahead of yourself,” Kagerou chided, waving one of those long fingernails in front of the fairy. The fairy watched dumbly at the motion, cowed into silence. “Whose meal were you delivering? Lady Remilia’s?”
I understood at once what was going on. I let the fairy say her piece nonetheless. “No, the mistress’ sister, “ the fairy said, casting her eyes downwards. Clearly not a pleasant duty.
“Another vampire,” I told Kagerou before she asked. “Not sociable according to what I’ve heard.”
“And she’s not in her room? Is that the problem?” Kagerou asked, a little annoyed that she hadn’t known that there was another vampire she had to attend to.
“Nope, she’s not there,” sounding like she was uncomfortable with the subject she continued, unprompted, and not in the other areas she’s allowed to be. She likes to play games so maybe we thought she was hiding but none of the fairies like to play with her because, um, it’s not that fun.”
“So you haven’t really looked for her, then?” Kagerou was more than just a little bit annoyed at the fairy. I had to agree with the sentiment—they had tried nothing and were all out of ideas.
“Um, I guess not? We’re too scared. But she needs to eat too because last time she got out and looked for food...”
“I think I got it,” Kagerou scowled, “you want me to go look for her and give her her meal.”
“If that’s alright with you?” the fairy asked with puppy dog eyes.
The big bad wolf would have none of it, “if you don’t do your jobs, I’ll have to punish you, you know.”
“Ah, please don’t!” the fairy cowered, but didn’t relent. “We’re all very sorry but we’re not good at stuff like this!”
“Go bail them out,” I told her. The dressing down could wait. I reminded her of her duty, “you have to attend to these vampires whether you like to or not. If she is missing, you’ll have to go look for her sooner or later. I think the fairies will end up being more diligent of you if you manage to deal with something that’s scary to them. Show them it’s not a big deal.”
“Let Ana know that I’ll be expecting her to make it up to me later,” Kagerou growled, mostly for show, making the fairy tremble.
A glimmer of gratitude welled up behind the incipient tears, “oh thank you very much, Lady Kagerou! We left the tray at the entrance.”
Without waiting to be dismissed, the maid scuttled off, her legs looking absolutely rubbery. Whether that was because of the vampire or the werewolf was unclear.
“Just when I think I’ve gotten comfortable with the job,” Kagerou sighed. “So, Al, what can you tell me about this other vampire?”
“Not much,” I confessed, “her quarters are below ground, far away from everyone else. Looks like she’s got quite a few rooms to herself, basically living in her own apartments. As for anything else, her name is Flandre. That’s about all I know. There’s a warning that she shouldn’t be let out elsewhere unsupervised but no other details.
“Sounds fun,” Kagerou said with another sigh before asking me to navigate down to the other vampire’s quarters.
We found a covered tray of food by the entrance of the underground wing where Flandre lived. Going with a “find her first, then the food” mentality, we ignored it and instead opened a large door that led to a long corridor. The wallpaper beyond was less garish than usual, trading golden leaves and similar motifs for more child-like stamped teddy bears and horses. There were a lot of primary colors in non-threatening shades that were probably meant to be relaxing.
Kagerou didn’t seem to approve of the décor, her neck hairs standing on end as she cautiously proceeded. It was kind of creepy, so I couldn’t fault her. Seemed like the sort of place where you’d run into a pair of ghostly twins or hear random crying that seemed to come from nowhere. None of that happened, of course, but there really wasn’t much I could say to put her at ease. Kagerou looked around carefully, finding that a few toys like letter blocks had been scattered around.
She opened a few doors, finding storage spaces and a bathroom. They weren’t quite as sparkling clean as the rest of the mansion, maybe out the fairies’ own feelings about the area, but they were clearly active and in use. Someone definitely lived down there.
“Maybe we’re being watched?” I suggested, not so much to startle her but to give her the motivation to call out to the vampire. The fairies were spineless, after all.
“Hullo, Flandre?” Kagerou called out with no reply. The bedroom door was ajar, showing that the fairies had at least made it that far before scrambling away.
The room itself was lit by soft lighting and looked to be a young girl’s room. Large stuffed animals were clustered around the corners and there were toys as far as the eye could see. A four-poster bed with pink sheets and teddy bears the size of a person took up most of the space on one side of the wall. Toys, of every imaginable sort, cluttered the rest of the area save for a small tea table and a couple of chairs around it. Someone could easily be hiding between toys or stuffed animals.
“I wonder how long it takes Sakuya to tidy up this place,” I said, finding that he chaos of the space was at odds with the rest of the mansion. There were many shiny and distracting objects strewn about, making it hard to scan the area carefully.
“Flandre? We’ve brought your food,” Kagerou said, looking around again.
A soft giggle—one that seemed to come from nowhere specifically—made Kagerou’s ears perks up. “I’ll eat if you can find me,” a girly voice said. Seemed likely to me that it was Flandre.
“Is that you, Flandre?” Kagerou asked but got no reply. She looked around carefully and could find no clue as to where the voice had come from.
I wasn’t exactly an expert at psychology. That said, I could infer a few things from our surroundings and first interaction. It was my place to give expert advice and make sure things went as smoothly as possible. No wasting time when it could be avoided, neither could there be unnecessary ruffling of feathers. Vampires were annoying, yes, but we were professionals. And a professional had to decide how to best fight their battles in the name of efficiency. Everything seemed to point that we were dealing with a child. So we had to act accordingly and set a good first impression.
 Go along with her whims for the moment. Even if it’s a waste of time.  Lay down the law. Food first, play comes later.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/18(Mon)13:00
“I guess we’re playing hide and seek,” I said softly as Kagerou looked around. It was a moderately large room with a finite amount of hiding space. If she looked carefully, it wouldn’t take Kagerou very long to find someone who might be hiding.
The werewolf muttered something under her breath, not too keen to debase herself by playing along. She approached a heap of assorted toys and dolls, finding that some of them had been broken or were otherwise missing features—a black button of an eye hanging from a thread here, a slightly ripped arm there. Some books were also strewn ingloriously among the mess, old weathered spines probably meaning that they were from the library’s collection. I half-expected a picture book to be somewhere there but it seemed they were mostly normal novels.
There was a promising lead at one point: a large stuffed panda bear seemed like it could hide someone. It looked large enough and, though it looked steady and sat placidly in a corner, it might have been hollowed out. There were a few dark rips the size of a coin here and there that could even be used as a peephole. The hope that the Flandre was in there was soon dashed; after poking the bear’s white and black gut, it lost all rigidness and crumbled forward, changing the bear’s neutral expression into a sort of melted grimace.
Kagerou turned her attention to the other things nearby. She poked another pile and brushed aside some of the larger stuffed animals in case someone was hiding behind them. “Nice ears,” the voice whispered, sounding so close that she may as well be standing behind the werewolf. Kagerou turned around and found that no one was there. “You look like some sort of dog,” the voice said, giggling, “maybe you should you sniff, sniff, sniff around and find me.”
“Oh, what a class act,” I preempted anything Kagerou might have said in anger with a snippy comment of my own. “Seems the sort that would make a fairy cry just for the fun of it, don’t you think?”
Kagerou smiled knowingly and said nothing. She knocked over one of the taller piles around more out of thoroughness than frustration and then went on to work on the other areas where someone could be hiding. Under the bed was also obvious, so she went there. Something red seemed to glimmer from a moment from the darkness but it was gone in an instant. “Nope, not yet!” the voice said, still having a good time with our search.
After patting down the sheets and moving away pillows and other things, Kagerou seemed satisfied that there was no one there either. The maid was careful to always keep one eye on her surroundings—any telltale signs like a rustle would not escape her notice.
“Maybe you should use your nose,” I suggested. It wasn’t the worst of ideas even if it might give the voice the satisfaction of seeing Kagerou follow instructions.
Tapping softly over her clothes, to where I hung, she sent me a quiet message. She then scratched the tip of her nose with one of her fingernails as if to tell me to pay attention carefully. I tried to concentrate on her senses. Ah, it was obvious when I stopped to smell the roses. Or not smell them as the case was. There was a prevailing scent in the air—between something floral and musky—that made it hard to smell much of anything else. No doubt Kagerou’s senses weren’t all there either yet.
“Well, I guess you could just kick everything around until you find her,” I said, “have the maids clean up after.”
I could feel that she was tempted by the nuclear option. But she wasn’t done yet. She examined the environment carefully one last time, looking for anything that might be out of place. I wasn’t sure what she was looking for but she seemed to have found it at the tea table. Sweeping away a few remaining crumbs, she sat down and crossed her arms.
It didn’t take long for the voice to say something, “giving up already?”
“No, I already found you,” Kagerou said quietly.
“Oh, where am I then?”
“It doesn’t really matter,” the werewolf added, sounding like she was bored of the conversation.
“Of course it does!” the voice replied, sounding more agitated. “You’re lying, you haven’t found me at all!”
“I found you three times already,” Kagerou said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Prove it then!” she yelled, her voice coming at once from both the right and the left.
“Only if you stop cheating.”
“I’m not cheating, you’re cheating! Find me!” went on the high-level discourse.
“You keep moving away,” Kagerou explained calmly, “I don’t know how you but you were behind me, under the bed and probably in a pile of clothes and toys somewhere over there. As soon as I look at you, you disappear. If that’s not cheating, I don’t know what is.”
“I’m not cheating,” the voice grumbled pathetically, straight out of a playground spat. “You just haven’t really found the real me. Those are just other mes. I haven’t moved, I swear.”
“Oh, then I definitely know where you are,” Kagerou said with a look of near-blinding smugness, “if you promise not to use any more of your tricks I’ll walk over to you now. More fair that way, yes?”
“Mmm….” she seemed to stop and think about it before relenting, “okay, but if you’re wrong then anything goes.”
“I’m not wrong,” Kagerou uncrossed her arms and got up. She took slow and deliberate steps, once again showing her flair for the theatrical. It was fun to watch as she seemed to be enjoying the moment. She made her way to one end of the room to something I had overlooked at first—a spare curtain for the bed that hung against the wall. No one could be standing behind it because it was short and didn’t reach down anywhere near the floor.
“Behind that, really?” I asked.
“Hello,” Kagerou said, pulling the curtain back.
“Hello,” the voice replied. It was a blonde young girl with a pleased smile that she had been found. She was sat cross-legged, floating casually in the air. “How did you know?”
I didn’t until just now,” Kagerou said, “I sat down to think about it and then I asked you something important. Then it made sense.”
The girl floated down gently to the floor, standing on her own two feet. She was small and thin, not unlike her sister. There was definitely some resemblance between them—the red eyes being one—but she carried herself different, more at ease and without projecting that almost-indescribable and often overwhelming aura Remilia liked to show off. Maybe it was my very human perspective but I suspected that, as she was also a vampire, she’d might also be as good as her sister when it came to being a huge pain in the ass.
She wasn’t quite properly dressed, looking like she had recently gotten out of bed and hurriedly dressed herself with whatever she found. A white blouse with red embellishments that would have looked sufficiently smart if tucked in and fastened with lace. Instead, it hung loose and droopily over her torso hiding a pair of dark shorts that looked ready to slide off at the slightest of jostling. The only buttons that were done up were the ones strictly necessary to give her closes a pretense of hanging on and, even then, there were a few that were inserted into the wrong buttonholes. A lot of her petite figure poked through the uneven gaps of cloth as a result. She’d need to undo everything to do a proper job of buttoning up the second time around.
Her golden hair was shoulder-length but also a mess, as if it hadn’t been brushed in a while. A ponytail had been clumsily tied with a red ribbon to one side of her head. As she grinned widely and relaxed her body, colorful crystal-like objects shook on the tips of very unusual-looking wings. The crystal themselves varied in color, some being variants of blues and others being pinkish or even orange. There was no obvious pattern to them. The bat-like wings of her sister were nowhere to be seen and hers were more akin to dark petrified wood or some sort of scorched metal. They seemed unnatural for sure but may or may not have been organic, it was hard to tell.
“Oh, so what did I do to give away?” the girl raised her left index finger to her chin and looked up into Kagerou’s eyes.
“You were trying to hard to make me think you were moving around,” Kagerou explained, “I was sure you were really there and you kept disappearing, so I thought maybe you needed to do that to keep an eye on me. In order to keep on teasing me.”
“Yeah, I couldn’t really see anything from behind the curtain, so I had to send other mes to hide in other places for me,” the girl stated matter-o’-factly. “You’re pretty clever!”
“I little bit lucky,” Kagerou shrugged. She crouched slightly, bringing herself to the girl’s eye level, “I’m the new maid that’s filling in for Sakuya while she’s gone. My name is Kagerou.”
“Ah, yep, I know,” she said, “me and other mes have been watching you for a while. It makes things less boring. Hmph, my elder sister didn’t really ask for my opinion before hiring you.”
“Oh, sorry, I didn’t know,” the maid said.
“No, but it’s fine. New faces are fine now and again,” she said, tapping her foot impatiently. “By the way, I’m Flandre. Remilia would want me to call me ‘mistress’ and stuff, but that kind of stuff is boring. Right? I mean you have to get titles for doing important things like going to the moon faster than you can count to ten.”
“The moon?” Kagerou frowned, not following.
“Or the lake. That’s fine, too,” Flandre said, mimicking like she was going to go out for a swim. “But I guess the lake isn’t that cool since if I wanted this room could also be a lake. Kind of.”
“Um… maybe I should bring you your food?” Kagerou asked, hopelessly lost.
“Fine, fine, I did say I’d eat if you found me,” Flandre nodded. She yawned suddenly, barely bothering to cover her mouth and marched on to the tea table.
“Weird girl,” I said as soon as Kagerou made it back to the hallway.
“Pretty different from Remilia, at the very least,” Kagerou said quietly.
“Everyone living here is a weirdo,” I said to myself, “except Patchouli. She’s just lovely. I wish we could spend some quality time together.”
My partner said nothing but the violent rolling of her eyes transmitted her opinion loud and clear. She didn’t dally and picked up the tray, wisely not giving me time to start enumerating all the things that I thought were great about that adorable witch. When she returned, she found Flandre drumming with her fingers on the table, creating noise more than anything.
“Here you are,” Kagerou said as she laid out the meal. It wasn’t the most comfortable of surfaces to sit at, the table being somewhat lower than a dining table, but it would do in a pinch. She lifted up the lid and unveiled some sort of thick soup with chunks of brown something or the other in it. Its oily surface glistened and it was still faintly hot.
“Mm...” Flandre picked up a spoon and sploshed the liquid around some.
“What’s the matter, not hungry?” Kagerou asked the obvious.
“I can eat,” she said, “I was just wondering if I could ask you something. But it’s the kind of thing that I think my elder sis might think is rude to ask, so I’m not sure if I should.”
Kagerou took the liberty of grabbing a nearby chair and joining her at the table. An attempt to engender trust, I supposed. “Just ask away, I’ll try to answer the best I can,” she said softly.
“Well, okay, I guess it’s fine,” Flandre said, taking a spoonful of soup into her mouth. She nodded in approval of the food, more as a gesture to herself, before continuing, “I heard you talking to yourself. I also talk to myself. Other mes, mostly. Do you hear yourself talking back?”
It was Kagerou’s turn to put a finger on her chin as she thought. “Clearly she wants to be reassured,” I said, once again feeling that I would have been better served by studying psychology in my previous life. But maybe she’d find the truth interesting, too.
 It’s common enough to have a dialog with yourself.  Reveal that Kagerou isn’t just talking to herself.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/02/20(Wed)13:30
[X] Reveal that Kagerou isn’t just talking to herself.
If this was a case where she and her clones weren't self-aware enough to realize they are separate entities, and she really thought she was talking to herself I'd pick the reassurance vote. As things stands it's Kagerou who looks like the crazy person.
We really need to come up with some sorta code for situations where it's necessary to communicate with necklacebro in public. Left ear wiggle for "agree", butt sniff for "disagree"...something like that.
>>64087 I'm not sure you can conclude that the clones are self-aware. None of them have appeared for more than an instant in the story and canon (ie spell card comments/Marisa) doesn't really address their existence beyond that they're a 'slave-type' attack. That's my understanding and but I'll admit that I may have missed something. More importantly, there's nothing here that shows that Flan considers them truly separate entities. In fact, she just said that she talks to herself and makes no distinction between her and the others. >“I heard you talking to yourself. I also talk to myself. Other mes, mostly. Do you hear yourself talking back?”
Though this is the kind of thing you should be discussing among yourselves. I feel forced to point this out because it feels like the voters often forget that they're supposed to be interacting with one another, too. Discussing theories, critiquing logic and persuading others to your line of thinking should be happening at times. You're helping me create the story and your comments and choices ought to have a real impact. So that works best when you're sure of what is happening, what you want and how to get it.
>“Clearly she wants to be reassured,” So sayeth our protagonist, but I'm not so sure. That single line is the only indication of this we have. I mean, she could just be making conversation. Or just talking about whatever comes to mind.
In any case, I don't recall exactly how much of a secret the pendant thing is supposed to be, but if we're trying to keep it relatively close to the chest, we don't wanna be telling it to any ol' random basement gremlin you find. I'd rather keep the inner circle as small as possible.
[x] It’s common enough to have a dialog with yourself. If it can be done without directly lying to Flandre it would be better, but that's up to Kagerou's skill.
I'm almost 100% sure how to deal with Flan-flan was somewhere in that pack of ninja-info cards Sakuya gave us in the beginning that everyone including Kagerou forgot about. If end up getting exploded, I'll credit you as the one who saw it coming first.
I meant more like all four dudes in the room all think they are the real Flandre, and the other three Flandres are the clones nightmare scenario. Pretty sure that isn't the case here due to how the three clones were content to disappear when found.
Flandre squirmed her seat, showing a degree of unease after her sudden confession. A self-conscious vampire was a new one to me but, tempting as it was, it wasn’t worth exploring her mental state and hangups at the moment. I wasn’t ready for that and Kagerou seemed more focused on work than anything else. The blonde vampire sipped at her soup but seemed eager for an answer.
Kagerou fiddled with her uniform, loosening the buttons on her collar. She was going along with my suggestion though, judging by the sigh she suppressed, it didn’t seem like she was too enthusiastic. So long as she didn’t go out of her way to be weird about it, it’d be fine. With her ears mostly erect but slightly pointed back in deference she offered an answer, saying, “I’m not working alone.”
“I have a partner,” she continued softly and patiently, managing to hold the vampire’s undivided attention. Flandre’s eyes shifted from the maid’s face and to her bosom, intently watching as more and more of the delicate silver chain emerged from underneath her clothes. “I talk to my partner all the time. He-”
“-or she!” I interrupted pointlessly.
Kagerou frowned before continuing, “or she, gives me advice.”
“You don’t know it’s a boy or a girl?” Flandre let out a surprised laugh, sounding like she didn’t quite believe it. Rich coming from a vampire of all things. If she said she could turn into mist or a bat or spot a virgin from a thousand paces from just the smell that’d also be crazy but plausible considering where we were. A werewolf with a magical invisible friend was positively mundane.
“I hear them with sort of my voice, it’s hard to explain,” Kagerou scrunched her brow, as if realizing she hadn’t really thought about how she heard me in the first place. I sounded like me to me but to her I could sound like anything. “It’s not the same, though. I can tell it’s someone else. He-”
“-or she!” I interrupted again.
“-has his own way of talking and opinions so it feels naturally like another person,” she explained, ignoring my objection. Her fingers gripped me tightly, hiding my appearance from the curious vampire for the moment.
“My elder sis sure likes to have weirdos around,” Flandre’s cutting remark was a serious case of people in glass houses throwing stones. Lost a few cuteness points on the internal index I was keeping track of. Still way ahead of Remilia.
“It’s true,” Kagerou insisted, ears stiffening up with irritation. The thought that little red riding hood was asking for it crossed my mind. Her fingers relaxed and unwound, leaving me hanging in front of her. The swirl of color immediately caught the vampire’s eye. “They live here,” Kagerou said with a polite smile.
“...” Flandre was at a loss for words, dropping her spoon into her bowl in order to better lean in closer. What big eyes she had, saucer-like but focused on my beautiful form. And, my, what big fangs she had—they poked carelessly from her mouth as she looked on, dumbfounded.
“Her-” Kagerou started.
“-Or his!” once again I interrupted, still amused by the premise.
The werewolf had filtered me out completely, however, carrying on calmly, “-name is Al. A sometimes annoying person but occasionally helpful.”
“I’m a good friend.” I said to no one in particular.
“Al, huh?” Flandre mouthed something else but was otherwise entranced by the crystal. Couldn’t blame her. I also liked it when one of the facets suddenly went blood red, then a resplendent green, then finally deep blue in the space of several seconds. “Hulloooo, Al!” she greeted me enthusiastically. She began waving at me, delighted to make my acquaintance.
“Yo! How’s it going, vamps?” I greeted her back with a fun amount of irreverence. She couldn't hear me, anyhow.
“Al says hello back,” Kagerou localized my reply for the audience.
“So. he can hear me?” Flandre squeaked excitedly, looking like a kid on Christmas morn. I was being treated like a brand new toy that was blowing her mind. Her wings waggled up and down and unevenly, looking like they might fall off at any moment. She leaned in across the table, unconcerned that she might splash herself with soup and asked, “why can’t I hear him?!”
“No clue,” Kagerou shrugged, cupping me loosely with the palm of her hand. She wasn’t the type to be interested in magic and had long since accepted me as a thing that existed and made sense in a way. Same kind of way that I had accepted her being a werewolf working at a vampire’s mansion. Life was full of mysteries, if you stopped to think about each and every one you’d never get anything done.
“Might be the contract you signed?” I offered a theory. Then something more facetious,“or maybe it’s vile blood magic? A curse? A limitation of the crystal? Maybe if you put me around her neck she’d be able to hear me. Don’t do that, though. I have a bad feeling about that.”
“I won’t,” she muttered, much to the amusement of Flandre.
The vampire giggled, “Al sounds like a cute name. If I had a friend like that with me all day, we’d never stop having fun!”
She gained a few points in the cuteness index for liking me but I wasn’t sure that I’d want to spend that much time with her. Kagerou seemed to pick up on that in a rare case of synchronicity, stating, “I need him to do my job. Sakuya left her for me. Show me the ropes, let me know about this and that. Keep me company.”
I suspected that last one was said with a certain amount of sarcasm. But I let it slide. The important thing was that she was being more or less truthful and handling the situation well enough. I could remind her just how valuable I was later.
“Hmm, Sakuya did?” the vampire nodded, as if understanding the situation all at once. If she could hear me, I would have happily teased her about it, eagerly poking holes through her satisfied facade. “Can I hold him?” she asked. I supposed I was like a puppy to her, waiting to receive her earnest but likely-too-rough petting.
“It’s probably better if you didn’t,” Kagerou replied, thinking quickly on her feet, “it’s magic and I don’t really understand all the details but I think that Al might be tuned only to my energy. Other energies might make him get weirder than usual.”
“You’re the one that’s weird!” I fired back. Though I had to let her know it was appreciated. I added, “but, yes, thanks. If her toys are anything to go by, she isn’t the most careful person in the world.”
“Energy? I don’t get it.” Flandre shook her head. Though she kept her gaze fixed on me, she seemed somewhat more wary and unsure of what to say next. My patterns continued to change as randomly as ever but I felt it a shame that I couldn’t communicate by choosing their colors.
“There might be a book in the library about me, tell her that,” I said, feeling kind of bad that she was deflated. Vampire or not, there was something earnest about the way she emoted. It was endearing. Just a little.
Kagerou dutifully obliged for once and told her as much, adding, “I can ask Patchouli about it next time I see her if you like.”
“Don’t bother. I think she likes making things sound as complicated as possible all the time,” Flandre said, clearly having more than one bone to pick with the witch.
“...someone else that doesn’t get why Patchouli is just pure unadulterated loveliness.”
“Al really likes her,” Kagerou couldn’t resist having some fun at my expense. She returned me under her clothes again and with a casual shrug belittled my tastes in women, “I don’t get what’s so great about a bookworm like her but he won’t shut up about just how lovely she is.”
“She has a soft butt, maybe it’s that?” Flandre chipped in, looking and sounding like it was the most innocent thing in the world to bring up. Just what was it with her? She got carried away easily. “I grabbed it once and made farting noises. Everyone got really mad,” she giggled.
“I’ll have you know that my love for her isn’t about anything quite so vulgar as that.” I explained, trying not to think about her surely plump-yet-firm derriere, “sure, she’s absolutely stunning and a real woman, unlike you two, but it’s really more about her inner beauty; her personality and her kindness-”
“He’s babbling on about something stupid again,” Kagerou interrupted my monologue with a laugh, “if he had a real body he’d probably be a stalker or something.”
“Hey, why doesn’t he have a real body?” Flandre asked, bringing up the obvious.
“I’m not actually sure,” Kagerou replied.
“Ask him, ask him!” Flandre squeaked again, eyes lighting up with irrepressible energy. “If he does, I can tell her what her boobies are like! I’ve taken a bath with her, too!”
“That’s a generous offer,” Kagerou had an annoying shit-eating grin, knowing full well that I couldn’t resist.
“I don’t want to hear about such vulgar things!” I protested a little too much.
The sharp-tongued maid was all too eager to gang up on me. She insisted, “This little lady raises a good point. I want to hear about what happened to your body, too. It’s weird not to know that about my partner. Tell us, I’m sure it’ll be a good story.”
I got the distinct impression that she was threatening to hand me over to the vampire if I didn’t say anything. Of course, I knew she was just trying to get a rise of me. Going with “I can’t remember” wouldn’t work. Truth or not, I’d make it sound as believable as possible while taking artistic liberties.
 Clearly, it was a tale of tragic romance.  A story of magic, hubris and divine punishment.  Vampire hunting was a most dangerous profession.
---- Life sucks, my time management sucks more and I ended up simplifying and rewriting this update several times over because my planning sucks even worse. But, hey, better late than never. No timer for now since I can't commit to it yet. Will wait at least a day or two and for a couple of votes.
Nothing specific. It's like a facedown trap card. Going down the romance rabbit hole automatically invokes the "requires true love's kiss to return to his/her true form" trope. Which could spell disaster since Kagerou doesn't seem interested in much more than dirty talk maybe the eventual booty call. Thus the conflict.
>>64122 I really wouldn't worry about any of that. This is more of a case of going with whatever is more fun for the reader and interesting for the audience (mainly Flan). I try to word the choices in Al's voice and there's a tendency towards deadpan humor that might not always be obvious.
Whatever Al's true circumstances and his (or her!) ultimate fate, it'll be explored by the choices made but not necessarily defined by them. I know that's vague but it's all I can say without spoiling anything. So, yeah, you're not exactly determining why a stone and how to not be one. On another note, I probably should have worded the last choice with my original thought choice of "monster" instead of "vampire" to make it clearer that it would be directly ribbing both Kagerou and Flan.
Cute image though! Made me smile.
I'm still not sure when I could write but in the spirit of fairness and so it doesn't seem I'm waiting until a certain outcome let's say voting remains open for the rest of today (site time). If anyone else was taking the choice too seriously and wants to change or hasn't voted yet, here's your chance. Sort of wish I had set a timer now.
“Like most of the stories of this type, it all started on a dark and stormy night. I had just put on my wizard robe and hat and was waiting for the others to arrive. I only chanced lighting a candle while I waited—we were technically breaking and entering and I wasn’t too keen on being spotted. Least of all that night of all nights.
“The old mansion had been in disrepair for the better part of fifty years and had last been used as some general’s temporary headquarters during the war. Though I normally took the pain to look into things properly, especially as I loved learning about the history of things, I hadn’t bothered to do more than just perfunctory research on our meeting place. The important part was that it was out of the way, hidden by geography away from major roads and separated from the urban sprawl by forest and hills. That the descendants of the original owners hadn’t bothered to either sell or restore it didn’t really matter to me. Nor to the kids that once or twice a year had debauched parties somewhere on the vast grounds.
“Yeah, it was a little sad that the gilded friezes and and multiple frescoes were all but erased. God knows that it would have been nice if the chipped stone and worn wood that made up stairwells and banisters weren’t so prone to crumbling. Might seem like a minor thing to you but I once took a tumble from the first floor to the basement because the railing snapped. If the fellow magician with me hadn’t also been a registered nurse, I might have suffered permanent damage.
“On that particular night, things were really quiet. The steady pitter-patter of rain on stone and the occasional creaking of wood thanks to the wind barely drowned out my beating heart. As you can probably tell, I was excited. We’d been meeting in secret every other week or so for the better part of a year, getting ever bolder and confident in our abilities. It’s not easy being interested in real magic out there, you know. People thing you’re a new-age hippy or just a plain weirdo. There’s so much snake oil as well that it’s hard to get started unless you happen to be lucky enough to meet someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.
“I’d managed to find this book, an old medieval grimoire by the looks of it, that seemed to have actual power. The spells within weren’t anything flashy like levitation but it slowly taught me and others how to control our thoughts and bend the elements increasingly to our will. That candle I mentioned? The spark was lit by a prepared spell, almost indistinguishable from an actual match. It’s not much compared to the stuff you’ve got going on here but where I come from… it was everything. I know how corny it sounds but it was like a sort of rebellion, spitting in the face of the laws we were raised to think were inviolable.
“That night we had gathered to push things farther than before. There were really unnerving things in the book that required blood and lifeforce but we had all agreed to hold back on that for the moment. Instead, we had spent the last few weeks perfecting wards and protective spells. We were summoning a spirit. Which kind? We didn’t really know. The book just said ‘guardian’ and that it would be faithful so long as we were faithful to it. To a group of hotshot magic users that sounded like the coolest thing ever.
“Paulette was the first to arrive, her cowl heavy with rainwater. I didn’t think much of her, she was quiet and looked kind of goth always wearing dark eyeliner and dark clothes. She was one of the voices of our circle most eager to test our limits. Also, she was the registered nurse so I tended to give her words weight. I owed her one, after all, ya know?
“We made a little polite conversation and debated whether or not it was worth trying to see if the dust-filled samovar stored nearby would be any good for making a hot drink. In the meantime Robert arrived. He was the one I liked the least of our group. A self-absorbed muscly-type who was more interested in learning how to cast fist than about all the proper preparations that it took to protect a true magic user. His robes were always a little too tight, on purpose I thought, and he seemed like the type that would wear jewelry proudly spelling out “wizard”, perhaps with an extra letter for the street cred. It wasn’t that I hated him but he tried too hard. The few times we were by ourselves we could have a civilized conversation. But those times were few and far in between.
“Nikolaus was the last to arrive. Jacob had other commitments that night, he said, so it was just the four of us. That should have been enough. We talked little before getting to it; I was sure that all of us were excited about the potential success of our actions.
“The thing about magic is that you have to put in the work. Learn your spells, symbols and sometimes other languages. Double and triple-checking that you’ve taken the right precautions is only a matter of course. Even though we weren’t all taking it as seriously as I was, we still managed to get things done to a satisfactory extent. Or so I thought.
“When it was time for the ritual, we said the words in a hushed tone, as if afraid to hear ourselves speak. Standing at each corner of the circle we each did our part and the results were almost immediate. Now, like I said before, we were only really yeomen. Starting on our magical careers. The most impressive thing we had ever done was to hold something in stasis for an hour after preparing for a whole week prior. The incredible light show we got was something unexpected. It felt like the foundations were shaking for a moment as well.
“It was all over in a moment. We each had felt a presence standing in front of us but then it was gone. Nikolaus tried to make sense of things, thinking himself the leader of the group. He thumbed through the worn pages of the grimoire but found that the answers eluded him. Robert meanwhile bullshited about how he felt stronger and better and how the spirit must have chosen him out of all of us. Paulette murmured to herself for the most part while I examined the circle carefully.
“No obvious answer came to us and eventually, as dawn threatened to break the tedium of the storm, we disbanded. We had promised to meet up in another fortnight, exchange thoughts again with fresh minds.
“Well?” Kagerou asked, irritated that I had stopped all of a sudden. She had been relaying my words to the positively enthralled Flandre, who had abandoned any pretense of eating and was leaning in with both elbows on the table.
“It’s hard for me to say...” I sighed. And it wasn’t just because Kagerou had been doing a mediocre job of telling my story. She paraphrased, cut content and dumbed down my story and flair at every opportunity.
“Al is trying to act like it’s too painful for him to go on,” Kagerou said with a frown.
“Ohhhhhhhhhhh,” Flandre frowned as well, “poor guy.”
“Or gal!” I ‘corrected’ her, knowing that she couldn’t hear me.
“Don’t believe him for a second,” Kagerou dismissed my genuine tragic tale.
“Dunno, I could picture all that he was talking about it, like it was happening to me. That Paulette was pretty but needed to lighten up. I think she secretly liked Al and didn’t know how to express herself,” Flan interpreted the events to her liking.
“She might have not been wrong,” I said, hoping Kagerou would continue to play the interpreter. “I always thought she was a bit on the selfish side but maybe she did like me? I had heard rumors that she was insatiable in the bedroom but maybe that was just Robert being icky.”
“Oh, oh, that guy sounds like a real piece of work,” Flan chirped up again after Kagerou begrudgingly relayed my response.
“Listen,” I started again, trying to center myself, “I honestly can’t remember much of what happened after. But things got out of hand quickly and… I can remember the smell of iron and piss. It wasn’t nice. Out of nowhere, as I thought that things couldn’t get any worse I then remember another light. An angel. Patchouli. Maybe.”
“Oh you’re just making stuff up now!” Kagerou fumed, refusing to explain bottomless sorrow. She even skipped the parts about Paulette bleeding out in my arms. Cruel, heartless werewolf.
The little that the vampire got from the relay or from Kagerou’s objections positively galvanized her. She swung back and forth excitedly, eating up everything about my experience.
“I figured you for an honest and good girl, Flan,” I said, forcing Kagerou to state as much under the thread of acting like a truly annoying twat.
The vampire reddened, pale skin getting (un)naturally flush, “I like it when people call me Flan, I think it’s really cute.”
“What a sensitive soul!” I exclaimed, knowing that Kagerou wouldn’t express my depth of feeling any more.
“It doesn’t seem like he’s going to share anything else today, it’s all very painful for him,” Kagerou explained, clearly holding back a sigh of exasperation. It would have been meant for the both of us, I wagered. “Let’s pick things up some other time, is that okay?”
“Sure it is!” The blonde vampire nodded happily, “it’s not every day that I get to hear about this sort of stuff, normally it’s boring books about people I can’t really understand. But I get this!”
“Will you be finishing off your meal? The ever-dutiful maid asked.
“Nuh-huh, I think I’ve had my fill.”
And with those harmless words, we took our leave. Kagerou seemed a little touchy about how things had gone down.
“Did you really have to exaggerate so much?” she asked, “just how much of that was real?”
“Emm, dunno really,” I replied, “some of it feels right but it could be the plot of something I read once. Or watched on the television. Does it really matter?”
“Of course it does!” she huffed, grabbing the last of the trays as we left the special underground area.
“Nah. Not really. What matters is that I’m here and now and how I act when I’m with you. All those things like the past and regrets… well those things don’t have any bearing on the here and now,” I said, meaning it but perhaps sounding a little too high-minded for her to swallow.
“Oh, whatever,” she said, letting sleeping wolves lie for the moment.
“Would you like to hear about my erotic journey to Shangri-la?” I joked, unable to resist prodding the pouting wolf.
“I’m going to crush the necklace if you do,” she answered, prompting side-splitting laughter on my end.
It was amusing to watch the fairies greet Kagerou again. They were skittish, almost ashamed of their recent behavior. Still, there was something new about their attitude; each and every one of them eyed Kagerou with newfound respect for the wolf-cum-maid. Flan sure was something. Scaring scatterbrained fairies and eliciting hushed whispers whenever someone had to go deliver food.
Well, so long as it made Kagerou’s life easier it was okay.
The rest of the day went by without incident or major excitement. Remilia was yo-yoing mood-wise and was quiet at dinner. She stabbed at her food listlessly and interjected laconically about the meal here and then.
It wasn’t just a matter of being hungover or whatever else. Remilia seemed like a woman obsessing about a setback, about something that completely changed her perspective. Bringing it up directly, however, would be akin to twisting in a knife. Tact would be necessary at the very least. Perhaps an emotional warmup lap or two as well. Ease into things, as it were.
My inquisitive werewolf could use some schooling in the finer arts of conversation and persuasion as well. She was liable to just blurt out something if I didn’t guide her. Gods, without me, everyone was so helpless.
 Bring up Flandre and the nice time we had together.  Try to reignite her spirit with talk of a sport-y rematch in the morning.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/04/15(Mon)13:00
Kagerou seemed reluctant to talk about Flandre. It wasn’t exactly a case of strong feelings or anything—nothing I could pick up on clearly—but more of a general apprehension to being too forthright. It took a lot of prodding and nagging to even get her to broach the subject.
As Remilia languidly spooned a tawny bit of stew into her mouth, the maid made her move. “I met your sister today,” Kagerou said, “the fairies were reluctant to bring her food to her room.”
“Yes, they’re quick to slack off if you let them,” Remilia replied, wholly uninterested in the subject. She wrinkled her brow as she stared at her meal, her thoughts having long since left the known universe. If I didn’t know any better, I would have wagered that her distant and somewhat distraught expression was one of a woman dumped by the love of her life. Even the arrogant little twinkle that so pervasively found its way into her eyes was nowhere to be seen .
“Keep at it,” I insisted.
“No,” Kagerou muttered just under her breath, escaping the notice of the self-absorbed vampire.
“It’s either this or getting up and giving her a hug. Werewolves don’t embrace vampires where I’m from. Mortal enemies and all that.”
“This is a bad idea,” she insisted.
“Just be yourself,” I indicated helpfully, “unless you want her to wake you up at four in the morning, crying her heart out.”
“I hate you,” she growled softly, covering the sound up as if she were clearing her throat.
“I have nothing but love for you,” I said, feigning hurt, but never losing sight of the goal, “all the same, keep at it.”
Kagerou’s ear twitched, clearly annoyed that she had to deal with all of this. For a moment, a clear image of her predecessor flashed through her mind. No doubt she wondered if the previous maid also had to manage Remilia when she was lackadaisical. Being sat at the table with her mistress made for awkward silence. Silence that unsettled the werewolf enough to say something else.
“You’re very different than her,” she said with a forced chuckle, “I wouldn’t have guessed you were sisters.”
“Huh?” Remilia looked up from her food with eyes glazed over. She blinked twice, slowly making sense of what she heard. “Yes, I suppose we’re not that similar. Most of the time.”
“Most of the time?”
“Blood is thicker than pudding,” Remilia said, not quite hitting the mark. “Sooner or later we say similar things or behave in similar ways. We’ve lived together for such a long time, after all.”
“Why doesn’t she have dinner with you?” Kagerou asked, going past the original mandate of sharing her experience.
Remilia looked at her wine glass, now empty, prompting Kagerou to pour some more. The vampire answered as if by rote, quietly stating, “We have our separate lives. It’s better this way.”
“She seemed bored,” Kagerou said with a shrug.
“Maybe she is,” our mistress conceded, “maybe I am as well.”
Before Kagerou could follow up on that point, though, Remilia smiled, showing off her sharp little fangs coyly. “Did she try to nibble on your ears?” she asked, regaining some of her usual humor. “Or did she try pulling your tail?”
Involuntarily, the maid’s ears and tail stiffened and acquired wire-like properties. “No, she didn’t,” she replied.
“Disappointing,” Remilia said before taking a tiny sip of wine. With a sigh, she added, “she always said that she would love to get a pet.”
“I think she’s insulting you again,” I stated the obvious.
“I don’t think she’ll be messing with me anytime soon,” Kagerou replied, sounding a little too pleased.
“Shown her a firm hand, eh?” Remilia shrugged, “good, so long as she doesn’t get too frustrated. Even I can’t control her if she gets too excited for one reason or another.”
“You should invite her for dinner,” Kagerou repeated with a lack of politesse.
Remilia’s reply was predictably blunt, “When I want advice regarding my family, I”ll ask for it.”
“Apologize and offer to fetch dessert,” I instructed. To no avail.
Hot under the collar, the werewolf couldn’t help but to add, “It affects my duties so I think I’m entitled to know more. The fairies don’t seem to like dealing with her but she was nice enough with me.”
Remilia tapped her plate with the cutlery sharply, emitting distorted but loud rings. Her expression darkened, the smile was wholly withdrawn and her eyes locked onto the impertinent werewolf. As she stared she was deciding how to react and from where I was, it looked like it she was ready to be swept away by her own internally complex emotions. Had I any skin, it would most likely crawl in fear.
The pig-headed maid wasn’t about to back down. I was certain that her own survival instinct told her that she had maybe gone too far but she stared down her employer with a moody look of her own. It was a stupid battle of wills, vampire and werewolf clashing over absolutely nothing. Yet the stakes remained high as something primordial threatened to break through on either side, easily tempting an actual life-or-death struggle. My loud cursing had no effect on Kagerou.
The vampire’s already pale skin grew even whiter around her fingers and knuckles as she gripped her spoon ever tighter. I wished I had a better physical presence, I’d make an off-color remark that they should kiss and make up and we’d all have a laugh and carry on. “I ought to...” the vampire strained, words pouring out unsteadily, “know your place.”
“My place is to make sure affairs in this household proceed smoothly,” Kagerou said, all of a sudden donning the persona of the dutiful maid. She may have chosen this hill to die on but everyone involved knew that it wasn’t out of a strong sense of responsibility. Why was I anchored to someone so stubborn? I must have really pissed off the universe in a past life.
Remilia let go of her spoon, letting it splat into the last bits of stew unceremoniously. She winced, looking sullen again all of a sudden, “I don’t have the patience to deal with a werewolf being dumb right now. You’re dismissed for the evening. Go check yourself for fleas.”
“I’ll be singing at the top of my lungs all night if you don’t get the hint and leave,” I threatened Kagerou, hoping to deescalate things some.
Kagerou grumbled, muttering something incomprehensible even to me but ultimately relented. Nodding with less-than-perfect decorum, she stuck around to clear the table but avoided even looking at Remilia again. If their eyes ah met, anything imaginable might have happened. I, for one, wasn’t in the mood for a fight and/or angry makeup sex. Gods, I wished I could joke about that last bit. But Kagerou wasn’t ready for that yet.
The maid remained prickly for the rest of the evening. A fairy sidled up and asked a typically stupid but otherwise harmless question and Kagerou nearly bit her head off. Even I stayed quiet, not in the mood to be barked at. By the time she had gone to bed, she seemed calmer. Not by much but progress was progress. If everyone just listened to me to begin with, all that unpleasantness could have been avoided. No testy vampire, irritated werewolf or fairy holding back tears.
I knew that the snoring beauty of a maid wasn’t about to soften up or let things go. So it was incumbent on me to figure out why the vampire was so irascible. It wasn’t just about her sister, that much was clear, but I wasn’t sure if that hadn’t had the effect of piling on for the worse.
I was letting my mind wander. The obvious starting point was friends and family. And then the others that worked at the mansion. However, there was more than enough reason to take another approach: casting a wider net that included reading. Especially if it meant spending more time around her.
 Interview staff, kin and friends thoroughly to see if they have any insight.  Visit the library to do more general research on vampires.
Try a more reasonable amount of time
-- This time the delay wasn't due to lack of time, but good ol' fashioned writer's block. Hooray for progress. Writing 500 extra words and editing things took longer than anticipated.
[x] Interview staff, kin and friends thoroughly to see if they have any insight. General research wouldn't be helpful. That said Patchouli would be, so hopefully this option still includes a possible visit to her.
[x] Visit the library to do more general research on vampires.
Remilia getting upset seems like it's more of her own personal problems rather than vampire problems. It seems like we have to get to know her better first before we talk to her again.
However, I'm gonna go with this option because it seems to me that none of the staff, or anyone else in the mansion for that matter, actually knows Remilia personally. With the exception of Sakuya, who isn't here at the moment, and Patchouli who is at the library where we're going. Oh right, we can also read some books if it turned out that yes, Remilia just has some vampire problems.
The next morning saw a break in the streak of good weather. The day was damp and partially overcast; mist rolled in from the lake shore from time to time, ebbing and flowing much like the tide. By late morning, when Kagerou rolled out of bed, visibility was better and the soon was more confident about poking out through the clouds.
The maid was mostly in her element, having made a routine of inspections and chipping in to work wherever she was needed. Interactions with the fairies were blunter than normal, much to my delight. The staff, if given too much slack, was prone to inefficiency and outright shirking of work. A sullen fairy working was better than a carefree one breaking a vase. I couldn’t give myself too much credit, that said. Kagerou was simply in a crabbier mood than usual.
I held off from bringing the topic of Remilia up until early afternoon. For obvious reasons. Dogs were less fussy after a meal. That was just proven science. Acting on that empirical insight, I waited until Kagerou had finished her meal and was leaning back in her chair before engaging her. With peerless tact, I began, “Let’s do something a little different today.”
The tip of her ear twitched in a half-hearted way then flopped down in disinterest. I didn’t have to read her mind to know she could think of little but to laze around for a while. “Mrmm,” she groaned a belayed acknowledgement
“We’re often caught with our trousers down when it comes with these vampires, right?” my pitch continued.
“I’m wearing a skirt,” she interjected. It was difficult to tell whether that was meant to be a joke, a rejection of the premise or both. Maybe hostility tamped down by the weight of good food. That was likely the extent of her resistance in her current state.
“A cute one, sure,” I conceded, trying to keep on track, “point is, we’re at a disadvantage and they do whatever they want with us. Playing, lashing out, plying with drinks… doesn’t feel like we’re much in control, right?”
“Mrrrrrrmm,” that acknowledgement was more of a growl, her tongue rolling the ‘r’ sound hard.
“Yeah, I hear you. So I think you’d agree that we need to do something about it.”
“...” Kagerou folded her arms as if to say ‘you have my attention’.
My genius knew no bounds, I realized. “Knowing what you’re up against is the best way to end up victorious,” I thought back to maxims that were cliché but relevant. “Knowledge is power,” I said, “and we have a lot of it at our fingertips. Let’s take advantage of that.”
A wolf sedated by food still had sharp claws. “That sounds like it might work. But this better not be about your girlfriend,” she observed.
“It would be blissful if she were my lover,” I conceded. “But, no, that’s just a bonus. I really do think we’d do well to check out books.”
“If you say so,” she strained to raise an eyebrow, not too keen to fight about it. Then she confessed something that should have been more obvious to my enlightened mind, “I’m not too good at reading, though. Might take a while.”
A werewolf that lived by her lonesome outdoors probably hadn’t had the best access to education. There probably wasn’t anything beyond a simple school in Gensokyo and I doubted that most youkai bothered to learn to read and write. I’d keep that in mind when we encountered new people.
“Not a problem,” I said, “I’ll read for you. Open a book, flip pages every so often and I’ll take care of it. A little inefficient but it’ll work.
“If you say so,” she stifled a yawn, “might wash my face before going. Otherwise I’ll just fall asleep.”
She was slow get moving but I didn’t rush her. I didn’t want to jeopardize her mood or willingness to go along with my whim. We met a few fairies on our way to the library but Kagerou dismissed them with a quick glare, not wishing to get caught up with whatever petty thing they were worried about. Having arrived at the library, she made her way towards the center and the tables.
“If you see someone here, you should ask them for help,” I told her, knowing that the library’s catalog was too large for us to just be stumbling about. Even assuming a standard way of organizing most books, just getting our bearings around each section would eat up a silly amount of time.
“I’ll just find her and get this over with.”
“Going to sniff her out?” I couldn’t resist.
The reaction was thankfully muted, limited to a quick scowl. I didn’t plan on pushing my luck any farther so I just let her do whatever she wanted. Which, turned out, was pretty efficient. Call it a sixth sense or whatever but she was good at tracking people down. She found Patchouli near the center of the library, scanning a bookshelf with quick movements of her eyes.
“Did that book just say something?” Kagerou asked by way of greeting, meaning a dull brown tome that was in front of us that might have squeaked.
“It probably enjoys new faces,” Patchouli replied, unfazed. She continued to look at the bookshelf, only turning when she saw that what she was looking for wasn’t there. Without so much as giving a nod in our direction, she moved on to the adjacent series of books.
“Ask her for help,” I told Kagerou, “she probably doesn’t want to do small talk.”
“I was hoping you’d be kind enough to do me a favor,” Kagerou defaulted to formal politeness so mechanical it bordered on insincerity. “There is probably no one more knowledgeable about the library and its contents than you.”
“That seems likely,” Patchouli agreed.
“I’m looking for books about a specific subject.”
“Come to broaden your horizons? Commendable,” the magician said about as flatly as she normally spoke, making it debatable whether she was being sarcastic.
“Get to the point. Vampires.” I wanted to hurry things along in case the maid’s patience wore thin.
“So yes, I wish to learn more about the mistress and her sister. Her and her kind,” the last word rolled out slowly off of Kagerou’s mouth.
“I see,” Patchouli said, showing no signs that she cared why we wanted to read up on them.
“If I could just be shown a few books then...”
“She understands,” I said, “be patient.”
Kagerou shut up. It wasn’t too long before Patchouli found what she was looking for. The magician ran her index finger up a book’s spine almost whimsically before plucking it out from the bookshelf with a confident motion. From what I caught from the title it seemed to be something about astronomy. The moon or something. She started to walk away and Kagerou followed a few paces behind.
Patchouli placed the book down on a table and then gestured to a nearby trolley. The meaning was obvious and Kagerou began to push it after the magician once again started to take off. We navigated the aisles with purpose and went exactly to the right places right away. Patchouli would scarcely turn to face a shelf before plucking out a book or tome, handing it over to Kagerou who then put it on the trolley.
Even though we moved at a very relaxed pace, the magician’s knowledge of the library made short work of the task and gave us a large stack of books to read through.
“I think that’s enough,” I said, feeling that we’d be at it most of the rest of the day at this rate.
“I’ll read these ones first if you don’t mind,” Kagerou broke the silence.
“Enjoy,” Patchouli said and started to return to where she had left her own book.
We followed and Kagerou sat at a table and pulled a random book from the pile out. Patchouli sat nearby in a comfortable-looking armchair and opened her book, as if telling us that should we need help, she would be nearby.
“Do you want to try reading yourself?” I asked.
“I’ll read only if it seems interesting,” she whispered, “I’ll just turn the pages every once in a while unless you tell me to stop.”
“Alright, that works.”
The first text was a book of myths and legends. Kagerou wasn’t expecting me to be a fast reader and I had to tell her to pick up the pace when it came to turning the pages. Other than that, our arrangement went far smoother than I anticipated. Not having a body might have been an advantage as I felt… less restricted by not having eyes that needed to move around. I told her to skip a couple of chapters, only dwelling on a few illustrations that depicted the kind of folkloric creature that I was well acquainted with. Running water, garlic, sleeps in a coffin with the soil of their native land… all that stuff.
We went on to the next book soon enough. Esoteric lore. Vampires were only tangentially related. Most of the text regarded metaphysical concepts and its relevance seemed to be theories as to how something more than man, something preternatural, might with regard to their souls and place in the cosmos. I was intrigued by the implications. Kagerou, on the other hand, was incredibly bored by the text, flipping pages absentmindedly. Surely Patchouli must have expected something so dense and indirect to put her off?
I moved on after maybe a half hour, wishing I could read more but trying to keep my partner’s goodwill in place. We trudged on with this and that for some time more.
There was one book that caught Kagerou’s imagination. For all the wrong reasons. It was a love story featuring both vampires and werewolves and a love triangle with a human. The educational value was nil but my objections were drowned out by her insistence that she “just wanted to get to the end of the chapter.”
It took her too long to get away from the waste of time. She wasn’t lying about not being a strong reader either—she worked slowly down the page, stopping at unexpected characters to read then carefully, mouthing some of the more tricky words silently. She set aside the book even after all my nagging, intending to read it on her own time later. When she looked around again, Patchouli had been staring at her quietly with a slight smile on her lips. It wasn’t a look of happiness for showing something that they would enjoy. No, it was a mischievous apparition meant for someone else.
I coaxed the werewolf into reading one last thing before she called it quits. That was a stroke of good luck. While the book was clearly transcribed oral history, it featured a few “facts” that weren’t really common knowledge. It was told through a series of clearly autobigoraphical short stories. The very personal, often pornographic level of detail during these encounters convinced me that it was a book, in fact, written by a vampire. It wasn’t all just about blood lust. Seduction, manipulation and more seemed hardwired into their makeup. Getting others to fall for them was an orgasmic release. That would explain a lot about our employer. Though less about her sibling.
Kagerou wasn’t too amused, though the explicit descriptions of feelings when it came to feeding were titillating. If I had to extrapolate, I’d say that Remilia was bored. She lacked that feeling of satisfaction that came from conquest. Perhaps she had been spurned recently. Not by Kagerou, mind, but from someone she cared about.
The almost innocent cruelty described in once chapter reminded me of someone else. Fairies would be right to avoid all of that. Maybe it had been a mistake to reveal myself as I probably was a target of interest now. If only I had a body—it’d be easier to repel her. I was sure she’d come calling on Kagerou sometime soon. It was instinct.
Or maybe not. It was just one book. We hadn’t even made it halfway through the stack.
“Let’s take a break, Al,” Kagerou mumbled, tired of turning pages for me.
“Fine. We’ve learned enough for now.”
Patchouli had poured herself a cup of tea while we were reading. She savored her long sips, turning her attention to the book she was reading every now and again. I felt calm watching her, like just reading and sitting around was something that I loved to do in the past.
“Hey, wolfy,” I started, unable to help myself.
“Yes?” Kagerou frowned in a display of prescience.
“...ugh,” her displeasure wasn’t a ‘no’. I’d run with that.
 Have a discussion about the books read and how they tied in to events here.  Try to get a more personalized opinion regarding these vampires from her.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/04/25(Thu)12:00
I don't mean to be so quiet after the timer ends as it's usually my intention to update within the day. When that doesn't pan out I don't usually have a solid ETA and I'm unsure of what, if anything, to say here. Don't want to over or underestimate or get hopes up.
I'm striving for "soon" though, as in probably less than 24 hours, for whatever that's worth. So wait warmly.
Kagerou approached Patchouli warily, making sure her every step was silent and swift. It wasn’t clear if she fancied herself prey or predator, the ambiguity of her body language came off as overall awkward. The magician didn’t react to the werewolf’s presence at all, looking utterly absorbed by whatever it was she was reading.
“Ahem,” Kagerou cleared her throat as one would expect. She still had ways to go on mastering the subtleties of the job.
“...yes?” Patchouli asked, not bothering to look away from her text.
“I’d like to ask you something,” the werewolf said, after some prodding from me.
“Don’t ask to ask, just ask.”
“Ah, yes,” Kagerou frowned, not taking kindly to being talked down to, “it’s about Lady Remilia.”
“Learned something interesting in the books I gave you?” Patchouli said, casually flipping a page. I strained to make out the words on the spine of the book. Something about ‘love through the ages’? That didn’t sound right. I wasn’t sure what language the words were in, only that I could sort of understand them if I made an effort.
“Behave,” I warned the maid, “she’s just going to have fun at your expense if you don’t stay on topic.”
The unsolicited advice didn’t jive well with her. Behind the polite smile that she showed the magician were the beginnings of a toothy scowl. “I actually wanted to know what you thought about her.”
“She’s been my friend for a long time,” Patchouli said, putting down the book and resting it against her chest. She looked up at Kagerou with clear, unwavering eyes, showing off a quiet sort of sincerity. It was for the best that I wasn’t the one doing the talking as I’d had found myself entranced by her dignified aura.
“I’m trying to figure out why she does some of the things she does,” Kagerou said cautiously but firmly. She wasn’t intimidated by the beautiful witch but she also had no reason to be more forceful.
“Then you should ask her,” Patchouli replied flatly.
“She can be difficult. It’s hard to know what she’s really feeling sometimes.”
“Then what do you expect from me?”
“I don’t know… insight?” Kagerou sighed. Without asking she pulled up a nearby chair and sat next to her, meeting the steady purple gaze with a firm one of her own. “I want to make sure that while I’m working here, I do things as efficiently as possible, without misunderstandings.”
“Misunderstandings are inevitable,” she offered, verging on the philosophical, “souls are not things that tend to mix freely.”
“Um, sure,” Kagerou shrugged, not caring to contest the point, “still, there’s things you’ve probably observed that can be helpful.”
“Yes, I have,” Patchouli nodded and took a final sip from her cup. She then offered a few observations of her own. “You do not seem to trust in your instincts much. A profound lack of self-confidence. Tempered by a desire for self-improvement. A curious youkai in that sense. It is why I’ve asked you to gather those ingredients for me.”
“...as a vehicle for self-improvement?” I asked. I got no answer.
“I’d still like to know about her, not me,” Kagerou strained to be polite. Though she wouldn’t admit it, I knew it was out of respect for me. What a good girl.
“I could say things but it would mean nothing unless you’re capable of understanding,” she said. Though it was a harsh statement at face value, I didn’t think it was meant to be condescending. “Keep true and one way or another you will have your answer,” she continued.
“Mmm, I don’t get what you’re saying,” Kagerou sighed, deciding it was a bad idea to ever talk to her.
“I think I might,” I told her.
“What about Flandre, then?” the maid brought up, unprompted.
“Honesty is always easier to deal with,” Patchouli ventured, “if she likes you, she will make it plain.”
“Man, I like her,” I sighed, wishing that Patchouli knew how I felt.
“...the bottom line here is that I should treat people like I always do, isn’t it?” It was Kagerou’s turn to sigh yet again. Her ears drooped down as she internalized that there would be no quick answers.
“May I tug at your tail?” the magician asked out of the blue.
“What? No!” Kagerou yipped, taking a indignant step back away from her.
“A fairly common response to being asked something uncomfortable,” Patchouli nodded, showing no interest on actually going through with the act. She picked up her book again, looked at the page and then closed it for good, choosing to place it on a small nearby table. Looking directly at her without flinching, Patchouli made another brazen claim, “if I were to comfort you and embrace you, I would not even need to ask. You would trust me enough to handle your sensitive areas with deftness.”
“Would you like me to embrace you?” she asked as her eyes narrowed. It took a few seconds but a smirk formed on her lips, one that unambiguously showed she was taking the piss out of the werewolf.
“...I don’t know why he likes you so much,” Kagerou muttered barely audibly, resentful of being the target of teasing.
“A kiss, then?” Patchouli did one better, offering with the same inscrutable gaze.
“...I’d die for that offer,” I said.
“You know, she offered more than that,” Kagerou said, revealing something that maybe she had been better off keeping to herself.
“There is nothing shameful about seeking companionship,” Patchouli divined the circumstances. “A werewolf may be more unusual than normal but that is a matter for adults to decide.”
“So am I your type?” Kagerou asked, making an odd attempt to force Patchouli to be on the back foot.
The magician was far too stoic to let herself be tripped up by something so banal. “No,” she countered, “and don’t think it is because of your particular affliction. Rubbing a hand over the hair of a lover is a good feeling. I simply prefer… ah, perhaps, this is the type of thing best said over drinks late at night.”
“How unexpectedly girlish of you,” Kagerou shrugged.
“Absolutely lovely, you mean,” I proffered the correct opinion.
Patchouli offered a silent and ambiguous smile in response. A perfect Mona Lisa. We weren’t going to get a clearer answer on Remilia from her anytime soon. Somehow that felt fine. I wondered if I could indulge myself just a little more.
 Persuade Kagerou to use the rare opportunity to get to know her better.  She had gotten enough. Let the maid do as she pleased.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/05/03(Fri)12:20
Hey guys, I wanted to take the opportunity to ask something about the story. Mainly, how you feel about the pace. I’ve been slowing down things a bit partly because of lack of time to execute the plot as well as I’d like and partly because my approach to stories is generally laid back and I prefer to soak in the characters, locations and dynamics more. This does mean that things may drag and, while I’m not really doing filler, getting towards a conclusion takes longer.
So I’d like to know how you feel about all this and if you’d rather I’d skew more towards one thing or the other. It wouldn’t affect update frequency either end, I think, so don’t worry about that. If you have any other thoughts about the story and my writing, I’d also like to hear them. Doesn’t matter if it’s criticism, praise or just an observation (ie about how choices are worded). I’d like the feedback as it gives me more to work with going forward.
[X] Persuade Kagerou to use the rare opportunity to get to know her better.
I'd prefer if you kept the pace slower. I like to take my time thinking about character motivations and stuff before voting. I also enjoy playing devil's advocate against bandwagons, and slower updates kinda helps facilitate that.
[x] Persuade Kagerou to use the rare opportunity to get to know her better. I only see one choice, etc.
I don't think there's a lot I could say that the other anons haven't. Character dynamics and setting are both my jam, and they do take time to get lined up. You'll get no complaints from me on that end.
If there was any criticism to offer, I guess it'd be that sometimes it feels like the perspective character could just as well have been Kagerou. Mind, I'm not saying I dislike Al. He/she/they/Al plays his (just gonna stick with male pronouns) role by offering insight that'd be harder for the woofer to glean. Still, sometimes it feels like he's there to do little more than make the odd joke while Kagerou deals with somebody. It's hard to put my finger on, honestly. Maybe knowing more about Al's specific circumstances would put some of it in perspective.
[x] She had gotten enough. Let the maid do as she pleased.
Really liking the story so far. Great interactions between the characters, has a lighthearted atmosphere and still maintains a sense of mystery regarding the nature of Al.
I wouldn't mind you keeping a slower pace as long as there is at least some progression in an update. While I understand that following an overall plot may not be the point of this story, it would still be nice to see Kagerou and Al focus on a particular goal for the day/week. It feels as though Kagerou is just bounced all over the place with everything thrown at them. We've checked two items off the list for Patchouli's request and haven't gone back to it for a while, for instance.
Also, man Kagerou is a punching bag for every other character. It feels like whatever choice we make, she won't be happy with it. Not a complaint, just a comment.
[X] She had gotten enough. Let the maid do as she pleased. Our bond with her is strained enough as is, no reason to push her when there's no real benefit. Well, no, more Patches is a strong benefit, but not an obligation.
As for the pacing, I read it for the interaction, so I don't mind slow and deliberate, but seeing things change is when I have the most fun so either way is fine.
Thank you for the feedback so far. It's always great to hear from the readers and to try to understand what they're thinking and feeling. I'm glad that I haven't cocked things up thus far going from the general comments. I'm always worried that I might messing up because things that might be obvious to me might not be obvious to you and vice versa.
For future reference: feel free to say whatever is on your mind at any time. I do read every post and every comment. Not to mention, that the main thing that's kept me around THP over the years is the relationship between reader and writer in stories.
I'm going to answer a few more specific points while trying not to blather on too much. Don't take it personally if I don't answer each and every thing you guys have said otherwise this post would be a wall of text.
>>64165 >My only worry is that the story will die before it ends. Don't worry about that. So long as there's a healthy amount of voters and activity, I'll keep on writing. It's not a hard number and I'm not too hung up on a slow week or two.
>>64166 I love playing devil's advocate as well. Don't worry about the update rate increasing or slowing too much though—I'll always try to give people time to vote and I'll write whenever I can.
>>64167 >sometimes it feels like the perspective character could just as well have been Kagerou I hear you and agree to an extent. It certainly is weird and sometimes incongruous. There's both good story and meta reasons why you're not just in control of Kagerou directly. I hope to make that clearer as the story goes on.
>>64168 I haven't done as good of a job on execution as I would have liked when I was planning this story. Not to excuse it but there have been a lot of balls and story threads that I've had to juggle and introduce without overwhelming the reader. The SDM residents (Flan only just showed up and that required a few other things to happen first), some of Al's connections to things outside of being a stone, what the day-to-day work of being head maid was like and some of Kagerou's own motivations. Among a few other things. With a lot of things established, it probably won't be as ping-pong-y in the (immediate) future.
>It feels like whatever choice we make, she won't be happy with it There's so much I want to say here that it's probably best that I keep back for now. Some of it directly ties in with what the other poster was saying about Al. But, well, werewolves are mysterious creatures and understanding their nature and harnessing their potential is well worth it.
“She’s being playful,” I told my hairy companion. Fairly obvious assessment if you were a magician connoisseur like myself. Kagerou, with her often impulsive judgments, could easily have mistaken the previous exchange for aloofness or, worse, condescension. I was already stretching her patience thin so it was important that I put in the work to keep her from turning fluffy tail and bolting.
Kagerou wavered. The tip of her ears twitched nearly imperceptibly, a sign that I had learned to keep an eye out for. She would rather go back to work and deal with fairies.
“It’s a chance to know more about your work environment and those in it,” I explained and immediately regretted. Appealing to her work ethic wasn’t the right call to make. No, I had to be more personal. “More importantly, it’s not every day you find a witch in a good mood. What’s the harm in getting to know her? Ask her a few things, I promise she won’t bite.”
“...” the maid wasn’t entirely convinced.
Patchouli was the master of silent pauses. She didn’t seem the least bit uncomfortable with the fact that Kagerou was seemingly spacing out nearby. Another type of person might have cleared her lovely throat or whiled away the time by picking up her book again. The magician seemed to be waiting to see what the werewolf would do without being too obvious or putting on the pressure.
“Do it for me? Please?” I had gone from persuasion to begging. And then to the usual bargaining, adding, “I promise to leave you alone any one time in the future if you do this. No preconditions or anything. I swear it.”
It wasn’t the most sound offer but I didn’t really have much else to offer without being able to interact with the rest of the world. Imaginary fingers crossed.
There was a developing answer from the maid. She curled her lips into a cheeky smile, one that knew full well how much grief she could cause me. It was a look commonly found in pets that knew how to wrangle treats from their owners. Little respect, full indulgence. At her mercy.
“How have you slept?” Patchouli proved the existence of a benevolent supreme deity with her timely intervention.
The sudden question took Kagerou aback. She blurted the first thing that came to mind, “Um, fine I guess?
“The people of this land are more used to straw than down, as is favored here,” she stated. I didn’t know where she was going with the conversation or what brought it on.
“I can sleep just about anywhere,” Kagerou admitted, “but I guess those beds are pretty soft.”
It took a whole lot of willpower not to make a comment about her snoring. Or that she was often splayed out indecently over the whole bed, taking up way more space than was proper. It was for the sake of conversation. For the sake of keeping her happy.
“Adaptable, eh?” Patchouli nodded, looking like a schoolmarm pleased with one of her students.
“Ask about her, ask about her,” I tried not to be too annoying.
“Oh, um, yes. How about you? Do you sleep well?” she asked. Not exactly what I meant. It didn’t matter if the magician had started it—it was still a weird followup question.
“Some nights better than others,” Patchouli said. “there are restless periods but the proper tea can go a long way in mollifying the worst of it.”
“Come to think of it, where is your room?” Kagerou asked. “I haven’t been around to clean nor have any of the fairies said anything.”
“I prefer it remain that way,” the magician stated flatly. She raised a hand to her mouth and coughed lightly before offering more of an explanation, “it is not a safe place for anyone who doesn’t know the first thing about magic.”
“I bet there’s all sorts of defensive wards and magical traps. Ooh, I know, maybe there’s cursed items. The sort of stuff that if you pick up you turn to stone because you’re not wearing a red carnation on your sleeve.” I just sort of vomited out what first came to mind. Probably smelled like magical poultices and exotic materials.
“I have a small workshop where I do the more hazardous work,” Patchouli said, as if reading my mind, “I suppose that the real danger is reading one of my special books I’ve left open. Trouble finds those who are eager to skip all the proper steps.”
Now that definitely sounded like something that was directed towards me. At least to the me in the story I told Flan about.
Kagerou seemed to buy the explanation. “I’ll make sure never to barge in,” she said, “but I have to admit that I am more curious about seeing your room now.”
“The brash wolf seeks new thrills?” she asked, clearly tickled by that line of thinking. A light smile formed on her lips, the sort one would get from imaging a clever scene in a novel.
“No, nothing like that,” Kagerou said, “I’m just wondering about your personal items. If you spend time in front of a mirror brushing your hair, perfuming yourself so as to not stink of weird magic stuff, or even if you have cute pajamas that you wear when you’re alone.”
Bless her lupine heart! Someone deserved a head pat and a treat. At minimum, a scratch behind the ears. Hell, I would kiss her if I could. She was asking all that for my benefit and my insatiable curiosity about Patchouli. I waited with bated breath for the answer.
“Perhaps I do,” Patchouli acted coy, “though I am not a particularly vain person. So I think. It is much more important to me to find something interesting to ponder about or a good book to read. I do not reject the types of things you have mentioned but they are secondary to my existence.”
“I guess I can see that,” Kagerou shrugged, “I bet you take care of most of the basics with magic, right? Only makes sense.”
“Magic is not something used on the slightest of whims. It is a tool with characteristics, limitations and a nature that can be understood. There is a lot of hard work and preparation that is required,” she gave a quick, stinging lesson to Kagerou.
The maid didn’t seem to mind. She didn’t really care about magic much in the first place. “Probably out of the question for me to learn anything, huh?”
“Yes,” Patchouli said with conviction.
“Just checking!” Kagerou laughed, “I know someone who would kill to learn just the tiniest of bits about your magic, so it’s funny to imagine them being jealous of me learning even just a tiny bit of it.”
“Even just shining a light or providing an infusion of life to a plant is no easy task,” she commented, looking at an empty seat at a nearby table, like someone else was supposed to be there.
“Oh yes, I should offer to make you tea, shouldn’t I?” Kagerou remembered she was a maid all of a sudden. Her more casual attitude contrasted to her earlier wary state. In her mind it was possible that she decided that Patchouli wasn’t a bad person, after all, just eccentric. Whether she would ever come to fully appreciate her marvelous nature was harder to tell. All I could say was that it maybe wouldn’t be such a struggle to get her to see her in the future. That was a solid win for me.
“No need,” Patchouli gripped her book tightly and stood up, “I’ll be taking a brief rest and will retire to my private apartments for the time being.”
“Alright then, thank you for your time,” the dutiful maid bowed politely but not formally in a spontaneous act.
“Do feel free to read more,” the magician pointed her chin at the pile we had left behind, “take them to your room if you like.”
“I might do that,” Kagerou said, clearly thinking only of the trashy book she was reading earlier. I’d have to remind her to take the others.
Patchouli looked up at the far-off ceiling, as if expecting something to be up there. Then she turned again to Kagerou and said, “Be on the lookout for what I’ve asked you to collect during your next excursion. There should be two of the items in the vicinity.”
“Huh?” Kagerou was dumbfounded. “I’m going somewhere?”
It seemed like she wasn’t done teasing. Looking over her shoulder, a self-assured smile was cast over her face. “Use your instincts and be a brave wolf. Ask your patron or her sister outright about the disturbance in the aether. The rest will be made clear to you immediately.”
Kagerou was struck even dumber. Patchouli used the opportunity to wish a polite farewell and then walked away as if all were right in the world. The maid returned to the books and picked up part of the pile. When her silence was finally broken, she asked incredulously, “do you really like women like that?”
“She is incredibly cool and cute, so, um, yeah?” I answered. She still had a ways to go; her heart and third eye needed to be open to the beauty and truth before her. “Thanks, by the way,” I said, “for everything.”
“We’re partners, right?” she shrugged, downplaying her actions, “only normal for me to spoil you a bit.”
“Hah, true enough.”
“Besides, you owe me one now,” she winked and laughed. No such thing as a free lunch, huh. Service with a smile wasn’t too bad, I had to admit.
“Yeah, I hear you. Want me to spell out what she meant just now?” I asked.
“Don’t even think this is the favor. ‘No preconditions’, remember? I get to choose.”
“Wouldn’t dream of cheating you of that,” I grumbled, secretly in a good mood. “This is just part of the job, helping you do your duties as well as you can.”
“Okay, good, so long as we’re in agreement,” she nodded triumphantly before heading back to her room.
There was no doubt that she’d be reading on her own time later that night, turning page after page of insipid slop and enjoying it all the same. I looked forward to spacing out and having some ‘me’ time.
It was my choice to make how to approach my sweet little vampiric mistress’ foul mood. Ask her directly, peek into her heart a bit and (probably) have to deal with some misplaced emotions. Fast, clean and bearable if one is prepared beforehand. Would still take some bravery. The alternative was to ask Flan, who probably didn’t know specifics but would know her sister well enough to hazard a guess. The downside of that was that I got the feeling that she’d want to get involved more directly. Which could be a whole different category of unpredictability. Either way, we’d have our answer and would apparently know where to go for our upcoming and inevitable trip.
 Go directly to the turbulent source to obtain a clear answer.  Risk entanglements, a less accurate answer and the unknown to avoid moodiness.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/05/04(Sat)22:50
[x] Go directly to the turbulent source to obtain a clear answer.
On one hand I want to see more Flan, but on the other hand she's a bit of a wild card. Even the mere idea of inviting her to dinner was enough to enrage Remilia. I'd say we take it up to her directly rather than rely on a third party.
[X] Risk entanglements, a less accurate answer and the unknown to avoid moodiness.
One one hand I want to see more Remi, but on the other hand she's a bit of a closed book. Evidently she's keen on playing some kind of game to amuse herself rather than discuss her concerns directly. Getting some proverbial "ammo" from Flan can help us defuse the situation by allowing us to dance along to whatever tune Remi is trying to sing.
[x] Go directly to the turbulent source to obtain a clear answer. As much as I want to go for the gambling option, ripping the band-aid off seems like the better course. Just take the sting and get it over with.
There was still some before Remilia would be up and about. Kagerou evidently felt refreshed after our study break and tended to her duties with more zeal than usual. The fairy maids had less of a chance to slack off as my partner cracked the proverbial whip more than once. Weeds in the garden? Thoroughly eradicated. Fancy vampire attire stained with (hopefully) wine? Scrubbed clean. Fairies arguing over who nicked the last slice of cake? Foreheads flicked. In short, more work got done than was usual.
I harbored no illusions that the boost in efficiency would only last as long as Kagerou was around to bully the flighty fairies. I was supportive of the chief maid’s actions and praised her for doing a good job. It wasn’t that often that we were of the same mind so I enjoyed it while it lasted. Plus, if I were to be brutally honest, I had ulterior motives for making sure she was in a good mood and felt at the top of her game. She wasn’t going to like what I had to say later.
Once the sun was down and she took her next break, I made my move. “We sure got a whole lot done today, don’t you think?”
“Somehow,” she agreed.
“Ready for what comes next?” I felt that dancing around the subject would just annoy her.
“You mean what your crush said?” she guessed correctly, “yeah, I’ve been thinking about that all afternoon.”
“Any thoughts?” I asked, just in case I didn’t have to sell her on it.
“Not really, other than it probably means that I have to go do something annoying again.”
“You’re taking this much better than I expected.”
Kagerou sighed and looked out a nearby window—from our vantage point in a corridor we could just barely make out the lake as a dark mass beyond the rear of the mansion. The mist had disappeared for good. She caught a partial reflection of herself in the glass, stared at her uniform and said, “It’s part of the job. Ignoring it would maybe make it worse later. I guess I never figured I’d be a babysitter when Sakuya explained things.”
“We’ve got to go see Remilia again,” I told her. “Quickest way to get a straight answer.”
“I know it is,” she shrugged, “I’m not the type to get answers from a book.”
“Think you can behave this time around? I know it’s hard...”
“I’ll do my best,” she said.
“That’s all I ask.”
We had agreed to wait until after Remilia ate to bring the subject up, figuring that a vampire on a full stomach was bound to be less cranky. There was no mention of the unpleasantness from either us or Remilia. Still, she looked sullen and ate quietly, only bothering to speak to give out orders. Not the most promising start.
After clearing the table and retiring to the drawing room, we followed and made our move. “Excuse me, Remilia?” Kagerou started meekly, “may we talk for a moment?”
“Save your apologies,” she said dismissively, waving her hand at us. She squatted down at one of her tables to look at her miniatures at eye level, adding, “I’ll call for you if I need your services later.”
“I wish to discuss something else,” Kagerou insisted, maintaining a dignified politeness for the moment. Good job, wolfy.
“I’m not in the mood for conversation,” Remilia said, not bothering to even look at Kagerou while she spoke.
“Be sensitive but direct,” I advised.
“Well, milady,” Kagerou tried hard to sell herself as the perfect elegant maid, “I am concerned about just that. Your mood isn’t what it usually is.”
“Yes and what of it?” Remilia was in a snit. She attempted to keep her composure by turning at another one of her models and hiding her face but I could see that we had touched a nerve as predicted.
“Aether,” I said, immediately clarifying, “it’s in the air. Coloring everything she does. She needs to clear it.”
“I want to clear the air, help you feel better if I can,” Kagerou summarized clumsily.
“I’m not in the mood for a shag,” Remilia surprised us by saying something informal and vulgar. Kagerou was amused by her choice of word and I could tell she was having a hard time trying not to smirk.
“Focus,” I cautioned.
Kagerou took a deep breath and took a few steps closer to the vampire, standing to the edge of her field of view. “There is something that has been upsetting you and I wish to do something about it. I can’t do anything if you’re not honest with me.”
“I believe I’ve already told you not to stick your nose where it doesn’t belong, wolf.”
“Milady”, she repeated the term again, still deferential but sharper rolling off her tongue, “I don’t want to overstep my boundaries if I can avoid it. I won’t insist on other subjects. But I see you as distressed and if there’s anything at all I can do, then I need to do it. It’s my duty.”
“Duty is it?” Remilia bolted up, nearly knocking over a figurine in her haste. She spun around to face Kagerou, her red eyes glowing with dangerous excitement. A chill went down my imaginary spine. “You’re a stand-in, someone with no ties to this place, hired to do the bare minimum until things return to order. A distraction!” she harangued, “a curiosity that’s meant to satisfy my whims! Your only duty is to amuse me. And you are not amusing me.”
Those last few words were like heated daggers with malicious intent behind them. To her credit, Kagerou did not flinch. Even though the vampire was worked up enough to spray spittle all over her uniform. It wasn’t that she was stoic or anything like it—I could feel emotions welling up inside of Kagerou—but she really was trying to keep herself together.
“We knew she might be like this, hang in there.” I cheered her on.
“I have a contract that says something different,” Kagerou countered, “but that doesn’t matter right now. What matters is that milady addresses the root of her problem. If I am really just here to amuse you, then let me amuse you by trying. Failure is probably what you would expect from a werewolf, anyhow, so there’s nothing to lose.”
Her anger still at a boil, Remilia only half-listened to reason, snapping, “trying at something you don’t understand will only make things worse. I’ve told that to Sakuya a million times and still she ventures out and tries. For what?”
“Is this about Sakuya then?”
“No!” Remilia shook her fist at Kagerou. It would have been funny if the murderous intent in her eyes didn’t feel so overwhelming. She chided, “Werewolves must really be a thick lot. You don’t understand at all.”
“Help me understand.”
“Enough of this!” Remilia swept her hand in a dramatic fashion and most of the light in the room was extinguished. Her eyes smoldered, glowing with with a most unnatural light. Though she was far shorter than Kagerou she seemed to loom large, a presence made intense by the energy she gave off and how the shadows mixed with her form. Even if I had a body, I didn’t think I could have run. I would have been anchored to the spot, overcome with fear.
“Trust your instincts,” I echoed Patchouli’s words, “be brave.”
I don’t think any of us expected what came next. The werewolf never broke eye contact and took a step closer. She grabbed the vampire by the collar and her other hand snapped faster than the blink of an eye.
“You hit me!” Remilia cried out, staggering back onto the table behind. She scrambled back on her feet in shock.
“Maybe if I gave something you something else to complain about you might feel better,” Kagerou said. She was angry as well but she channeled her feelings into purpose.
“You bitch! D-do you think I’m that petty?!” Remilia stuttered and rubbed her stung cheek with a mix of outrage and surprise.
Kagerou was relentless and did the unimaginable again. Another slap followed her mistress’ words.
“You hit me twice!” Remilia just couldn’t believe it, “even my father has never hit me before!”
“Milady needed to be reminded that she’s not always without fault,” Kagerou explained with a calm voice. Her heart was a jumbled mess of emotion barely kept in check by perhaps only because the reality of what she just did had not sunk in yet. The hand she had used to strike Remilia was hidden behind her back and shook uncontrollably.
“...” Remilia was at a loss for words. That made two of us. Even Kagerou didn’t seem to know what to do next. Oddly enough, the intense rage the vampire had felt didn’t immediately follow in retaliation. The corner of the eye on the side of her face that was struck watered—though I was unsure if out of pain, emotion or both. We may have well been incredibly close to death.
I struggled to think of what to tell Kagerou she should do. I was also shook.
 Deescalate with a hug and apology for the extreme methods. Hopefully she better understands Kagerou’s caring feelings and sense of duty.  Refrain from anything that her pride may interpret as patronizing. Show her the firmness and cool necessary that would see her whims executed faithfully.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/05/06(Mon)13:30
[X] Refrain from anything that her pride may interpret as patronizing. Show her the firmness and cool necessary that would see her whims executed faithfully. Definitely. A hug would definitely be patronizing here.
[x] Deescalate with a hug and apology for the extreme methods. Hopefully she better understands Kagerou’s caring feelings and sense of duty.
I think a simple show of affection would be better. Sure, she expects complete professionalism and elegance from her workers but that likely means that no one is able to give her any sort of comfort or care. This will catch her completely off guard.
>>64187 >Calm, cool, and collected is Sakuya's thing. Hmm, mmmrrmm
I think that's about true, sure enough. Fuck it, I'll go with the risk >>64182 here, changing vote to [x] Deescalate with a hug and apology for the extreme methods. Hopefully she better understands Kagerou’s caring feelings and sense of duty.
The nature of my bond with Kagerou remained a mystery. We joked, sparred, and commiserated among other things regularly. I couldn’t begin to explain why we understood one another at certain times and at other times we were completely at odds. One thing was clear, however: no words were needed at the moment.
Uncertainty and reprehension transformed into something cautious, something optimistic and gentler. There was no time for debate or, really, for anything that approached rationality. The monstrous vampire was intimidating, certainly. Her eyes continued to bare down with unflinching intensity at us.
There was also something else there; disguised by outrage and other explosive emotions. Remilia wasn’t so tough. She lashed out because she was uncertain, because she was in pain. It was a gut feeling. One that my fluffy companion and I shared. This belief was hope and a counterpoint to the feeling that our lives might come to a gruesome end that night.
So she moved, determined but gently, towards the vampire. It was a motion made so as to avoid provoking a skittish wild animal to bolt. By the time the distance between them had vanished, it was too late for Remilia to step back or to attack—she was firmly embraced by the werewolf.
“I’m sorry,” Kagerou said, her voice a barely audible whisper. She held the vampire tight, coupling the latter’s small frame close as if she were an upset child. Whatever differences in status between master and servant may have previously existed were entirely erased in the heartfelt moment.
“...guh!” Remilia made an unintelligible noise, muffled by the fact that her face was buried in Kagerou’s shoulder and chest. She didn’t struggle against the hug but still seemed surprised by the turn of events. Her own shoulders trembled for a moment and something warm could be felt staining the maid’s uniform.
“I didn’t mean to overstep my bounds...” Kagerou tried to explain before checking herself. She realized that it wasn’t really a moment for words as she continued to hold the deflated vampire close. After a few more wordless moments she let go and offered Remilia a smile, adding, “would you like me to prepare milady some tea to help her calm her nerves?”
Remilia looked back up at her, her face red and eyes moist. “I-I am calm!” she exclaimed pathetically, convincing no one. “I’m simply out of breath!” she said, wiping her eyes and adding with childish stubbornness, “yes, you must be mistaken. I’m as calm as a person can be.”
“I must be imagining things,” Kagerou agreed, sparing her the agony of putting her mistress on the spot some more. She tilted her face slightly to the side, a symbolic way of letting the emotional vampire regain her composure. “All the same, I think I’ll go make some tea for myself. I’ll bring it up and milady can decide if she’s thirsty when I do.”
“...” Remilia said nothing. There was a mutual shame that had been shared. But that wasn’t all bad, since there was a good chance that it was underscored by greater understanding by both of them.
As soon as Kagerou left the room, I let out a sigh. We had come close to dying, so it was only natural to take a moment to decompress. “We’re not dead,” I said idly, noting that my companion’s shoulders were impossibly stiff as she moved.
“We aren’t,” she said, not in the mood to talk. I could respect that. We both got why certain things were done and why other things were left unsaid. That we were on the same page was all that mattered.
The fairies sure could read the mood. They quieted down as soon as Kagerou came into the kitchen area, intimidated by the fey aura the werewolf projected. No one got in our way or even offered to help as she made the tea, apparently deciding that the risks of ticking Kagerou off outweighed any punishment stemming from dereliction of duty. I avoided any deeper reflection by wishing I had a means of startling them just for the fun of it. Telekinesis would have been the sure ticket.
Kagerou carried the tray back to Remilia quietly, lost in her own thoughts. When she arrived, she found that her mistress was slumped in one of the more comfortable chairs, staring out into space. She didn’t bother to turn to acknowledge our presence, looking almost doll-like in her pose. Kagerou poured out a cup of tea for herself and sat down nearby.
“I’ll have the tea,” Remilia broke the silence soon after Kagerou’s first sip. The maid got up and performed her duty, setting down the cup on a small table nearby. It was only after she had sat back down quietly that Remilia reached for it. She held it close to her face for a few moments, taking in the aroma of the brew before tasting it. “It’s a little bitter for my tastes,” she said.
“My apologies, the water must have been too hot.”
Things didn’t feel tense as such. It was more akin to a pair of children being told to go stand in the naughty corner after a fight; afterwards they both felt stupid and mostly deflated. It was far more probable that neither Kagerou nor Remilia knew what to say next to break the awkward impasse. Somehow, it felt unlikely that someone would come in with ice cream and make them forget all about their troubles.
This continued for some time. Tea was drunk and cups silently refilled.
Remilia cracked first. “I’m a vampire!” she shouted all of a sudden before heaving and letting out a world-weary sigh. The reminder was mostly for herself, it felt like. Kagerou’s ear’s perked cautiously. “You’re my servant and have no right to know the troubles of either my mind or heart!” she exploded again. But unlike earlier, where she stared us down, she remained seated and her intended audience seemed to be herself again. “Things are complicated! The things that need to be said will be said… I suppose… when it’s time or when I feel like it. That said...”
“That said...” Remilia repeated, her voice quietening, “I suppose that my charisma inspires devotion. Yes, that’s certainly always been true. And I cannot fault well-intentioned caring. As annoying as it might be… at times.”
Remilia cleared her throat and paused. She was sounding more like her old self again.
Kagerou regained the confidence to say something, only adding after a gentle sigh of her own, “Remilia...”
“Werewolves are troublesome creatures!” Remilia exclaimed, making sure her face was completely turned away from the maid. She was fooling no one with what she was trying to hide with the bluster. “Yes, that hound-like desire to do your duty can be a blessing. So I’ll entrust you with one thing… on the off chance that… at any rate, pay a visit to the Hakurei shrine! Consider it a t-test, yes that’s what it’ll be! A trial to prove your sincerity.”
“What’s at the shrine?” Kagerou asked.
“The shrine maiden of course!”
“And do you want to prove yourself capable or have me micromanage every little thing that you do? Hell’s bells, woman!” the vampire protested a little too much.
Having regained belief in her own magnanimity, Remilia didn’t want to be called out on her behavior again.
“Of course...” Kagerou held back a sigh, “I’ll take care of it.”
“Good, good. You may have the rest of the evening off, I wish to spend some time alone,” the vampire waved a hand dismissively, trying to pretend that her pride hadn’t been wounded by the perforating emotional exposure.
“If you’ll excuse me then,” Kagerou left Remilia to her own thoughts. Just as she left, the vampire turned to look at her, watching her leave with the tea tray in tow. The moist eyes were gone, replaced with something like self-doubt. But it only lasted a moment and she quickly restored her guard.
“I guess that’s our trip then?” I said after Kagerou closed the door and began walking down the corridor.
“Seems so,” Kagerou said flatly, not sounding too enthused.
“Vampires, am I right? Weirdos the lot of them,” I tried to lighten the mood.
“They sure are.”
“Probably best to just relax for tonight. It’s been a long day,” I suggested.
“Definitely,” she said, lost in her own thoughts.
I didn’t want to push her any harder, it had been a long day. If she needed some time to herself, to collect her thoughts, then that was fine by me. I stayed quiet as she handed off the tray to a random fairy and then returned to her room. She took her sweet time in the bath, enjoying the hot soak while I thought about this and that. Afterwards, she went straight to bed and skipped reading any more of that dreadful book.
It was as good of a time as any to make a report. I’d cover the obvious, sure, but there was something like a nagging thought that I felt compelled to address. I knew that Sakuya would know what I was getting at. She would give me another piece to the puzzle.
 The choice of books at the library, the topic of magic and Patchouli’s attitude wasn’t just a coincidence.  A normally cocksure vampire had to be troubled by much more than just a shrine maiden, right?
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/05/17(Fri)13:10
[x] The choice of books at the library, the topic of magic and Patchouli’s attitude wasn’t just a coincidence. Since we'll likely be going Reimu-ways regardless of the outcome of this vote, we might as well get some context spoon-fed to us.
Unlike the last few times I spoke with her, I found Sakuya to be completely alone. I could feel the warmth of a fire nearby and the occasional cracking of logs of wood perforated the otherwise absolute background silence.
It was odd how I never really seemed to catch her off guard. As soon as I tried to make contact, she replied, almost as if she had been waiting for me. I reported the usual, providing ample details on how the household was fairing. Whether she really cared or not about the fairy’s performance was secondary—I felt compelled to be as thorough as possible.
“Is that all?” she asked, not out of impatience but to make sure. I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. Least of all what she made of how I presented myself. Did that even matter? I felt that it did. Somehow.
“I was curious about something. Maybe you’d be able to help,” I said, feeling awfully self-conscious.
“Oh?” I could feel an eyebrow arching inquisitively on her end. I couldn’t quite see it, but it felt as real as the fact that she was staring out a window at a snow-filled landscape. The moon was new in the sky and her gaze gravitated towards the sliver of light.
I described our encounter with Patchouli, “There was an obvious purpose to her choice of books. It wasn’t for Kagerou’s sake. It couldn’t have been for my sake either...”
“People misunderstand her often, can you imagine?” Sakuya approached the topic somewhat obliquely. “It’s easy to forget that people are complicated, especially those who don’t make a habit of saying everything that they feel. Like me… well, how I feel isn’t that important right now.”
“I think it might be important,” I interrupted. Sure, I didn’t know her that well. To me she was just a voice on the other side of a spotty telephone line. Yeah, I know she had braided hair, that she often smiled when talking to me and that… well, I guess I knew nothing. All supposition.
“Maybe if I had a drink, I might be more willing to talk about my innermost thoughts,” she laughed softly, sounding darkly angelic. The road to perdition began right there. “Let’s stick to the topic, alright? Patchouli is not a very subtle person. Sure, she might present things in a delicate way but her lessons are always blunt. Just ask Lady Remilia or that guard.”
“So, I am right in trying to overthink things?”
“If I said, ‘I love you’, would you overthink that?” she asking something daring.
“I’d like to know why, at the very least,” I countered.
“Would you?” she asked, shaking her head. She swirled the end of one of her braids with her index finger, unbundling some of her hair. “It’s the kind of things that people just accept.”
“I don’t get it. So I should just accept that she’s interested in me?”
“I’m interested in you,” Sakuya said.
“Is it professional? Is it something else? This isn’t really the time or the way to talk about it,” Sakuya said, offering a lazy shrug. I could just barely make out her expression… it was something… playful? Or was that just what I wanted to imagine. All I knew for certain was that her hand was awfully soft. And that I’d give just about anything to hold it again.
“I don’t get it at all,” I said.
“If she shared books with you, there’s a purpose in that. If I tell you that I love you, you better believe there’s a purpose in that,” she ‘explained’.
“...I just think that I’m being made fun of. Both you and Patchy. Your way of torturing me.”
“Maybe,” she admitted, “but maybe that’s a form of justice?”
“Justice for what?” I asked, feeling that the point of the conversation was like water escaping between my closed fist.
“Life,” she answered helpfully, “light? Love? Crimes and punishment?”
“All I know is that I wish I could see you,” I said, “I think I’d understand better if I could see your face.”
“That makes two of us,” she said, slumping into her chair.
“When will you be back?” I asked all of a sudden. I knew that I wouldn’t get a clearer answer unless she had nowhere to run to. If she were just within arm’s reach, if only I could hold her hand and tell her..!
“Tell me what?” she read my thoughts. I must have said more than I thought I did.
“...I don't know,” I said, “something. Something important.”
“Sounds like you’re full of yourself,” she said.
“Yeah, I know.”
“Sleep well,” she said, sighing.
“I don’t sleep,” I replied.
“I know,” she said grimly, before cutting off our dialog. Though I felt I could reach out and talk to her if I really wanted to, I knew better than to force it. I hadn’t really learned anything. Well, not the obvious thing that I had asked about. I knew that I’d spend the next few hours trying to make heads or tails of what just happened.
The problem with being a know-it-all was that when you didn’t know-it-quite-all, you went around in circles, trying to convince yourself that you’re still atop of things. Yes, there were obvious answers. None of them meshed well with my conception of how things should be, though. I tried to not overthink things for the rest of the night, mostly unsuccessfully. All I could really determine for sure was that I’d be better off in a proper body.
Kagerou slept like a wolf untroubled by the realities of the world. When conciseness reared its inevitable head, she was slow to wake. She lied to herself and lay in bed for a half hour after her eyes first opened, fighting a battle with her pillow to see if she could sleep once again. I was quiet all the while, strangely contented to watch her twitch and spasm, cover her head and even grumble as she went through the motions. Once she let out an exaggerated yawn and sat up, the game was truly over.
“Looking forward to our trip?” I asked.
“I guess,” she caught her breath in her hand and gave it the sniff test. Not too fresh, judging by the scowl. She was in no rush to get ready. It was only after she took her sweet time freshening up and getting dressed that she showed some semblance of excitement. “Let’s get going,” she said mostly to herself in front of the mirror.
I sort of felt like talking about Sakuya with her, but I got the feeling that she wouldn’t quite understand. It was lonely being a disembodied hunk of rock, pretty colors notwithstanding. Talking about Remilia or Patchouli didn’t seem like good ideas either, so I was quiet for the most part.
The werewolf took a small bag with her, swinging by the kitchen to take foodstuffs for the trip. It was more than enough for a small picnic. I thought that the shrine was close by but clearly Kagerou thought that it might turn into something of an extended leave of absence. The fairies were nosy, asking her where she’d go. They all wanted sweets from the human village and barely covered up the fact with questions about her well-being. Kagerou remained professional, telling them to keep to their duties and that she would be back soon.
The gate guard was happy to see her and greeted her warmly. “Out on business, eh?” she asked, working off of Kagerou’s determined look.
“Yes, I’ll be back soon,” Kagerou replied absentmindedly, offering only a cursory smile.
“Have a good one!” the guard said, beaming brightly at the maid. She crossed her arms and nodded with satisfaction, looking on at the road ahead that Kagerou would have to cover. It was a bright and sunny day. A little warm but not too bad for an extended walk.
It was almost a shame to spend a day like that hard at work.
 Find out if Kagerou has a plan. Not that we have any idea what we’re supposed to do.  Plans are for losers. Encourage her to make the most of her time away from the mansion.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/05/19(Sun)14:00
I wasn’t quite sure where the shrine was supposed to be. There was something vague in the back of my mind, something about it being somewhat out of the way. As someone who was supposed to be relied upon to know about the Scarlet household, knowing about their dealings with outsiders also seemed like something I should know. I’d have asked Patchouli if I got the chance but then again, if I was honest, I’d probably find almost any excuse to have a chat with her.
“Following the road for now?” I asked the maid, passing off lingering feelings of inadequacy as idle chat. She certainly seemed to know where she was going.
“Sure, easier to walk down a path than through the brush,” she said. The werewolf was enjoying her time out in her own way. She devoted several glances and tilts of the head to patches of wildflowers that bloomed alongside the dirt road. The occasional warble of a bird in a nearby tree caused her ears to twitch and flop ever-so-slightly towards the source, a tiny smile invariably forming on her lips.
“Wouldn’t it be easier to fly?” I asked.
“Maybe? In a rush, Al?” she asked, throwing her arms over her heads in a stretching motion. The message was: I don’t feel like making more of an effort.
“You know me, physically hurts to be away from my beloved,” I joked, even though… no, that was too embarrassing to admit. “But I don’t meant to rush you,” I continued, “in fact, I was going to suggest the opposite.”
“’The opposite’?” Kagerou scratched herself lightly on the cheek with one of her long fingernails. The bag she had taken along had a single strap that had been slung on one shoulder and was crossed over her chest. It bobbed along with her pace and shook as she took a small playful leap over an uneven part of the road.
“We don’t really have any fairies along in tow this time around. It’s just the two of us,” I said, “and it’s not like we have a timetable. Plus it’s a nice day. Ample opportunity for fun.”
“Fun?!” she tried to act shocked but was a poor actress. Being tied to a single person had its advantages, as it were. I had plenty of time to observe her every move, her every mannerism. The rigid tips of her ears were betraying mischievous excitement, not concern. And, as if that weren’t enough to convince, she overextended herself and added, “We’re on an important mission. You of all people would be the first to say that usually.”
“Fun isn’t mutually exclusive with work,” I told her. “We can do both. Plus, I just mean you’re usually working with fairies—which let’s be honest aren’t the best and brightest of workers—or otherwise dealing with a pretty fussy employer.”
“Ooo, if only Remilia could hear you now,” she joked, “you’d be transformed into a fine powder.” She mimed the motion of a pestle grinding into an invisible bowl in her hand. Then, cocking up an eyebrow, she said with some inspiration, “Though I bet a special stone like yours would be a great magical ingredient. So maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if your one-sided crush then used you to a really good bunion balm.”
Though I had a pretty good rejoinder about a certain thing of hers making a good hemorrhoid cream, I let her have the win. “My point,” I continued, “is that you deserve to have some time to yourself. Raise morale and all of that. A happy worker is a productive worker.”
“I suppose I’m happier being outdoors,” she said, stopping to close her eyes and take in a lungful of fresh air. Kagerou smiled as she felt the sunlight on her face.
“Yeah, so think of it as stopping to smell the flowers. Though maybe it’s probably best if we don’t smell any poisonous ones if that makes sense?”
“We’re nowhere near the bells, don’t worry,” she said, looking off in a different direction. There was nothing there except countryside as far as the eye could see.
“Bells? No, never mind,” I avoided straying off-topic, “let’s get things done but enjoy ourselves, eh? If we have the chance to get any more of those ingredients, like, that’d be a good thing as well.”
“You’re so predictable,” Kagerou giggled, resuming our walk. “You should relax, you know, women don’t like men that are overeager.”
“I’m not a guy, though. Maybe.”
“And I’m not a werewolf,” she giggled again, “men are all the same.”
“I guess in your world a few sniffs, some piss on a tree and you’re all set to rut. I’ll thank you to keep your advice about love to yourself in the future,” I huffed.
“I see your point and I think you've convinced me. Just not sure what there is to do for fun on the way to the shrine.”
“We could stop by the village, have a drink, take in the atmosphere? With all the drinking Remilia’s made you do, I’ve wondered if there’s a drink of choice you’d rather be having,” I sort of just blurted out something that had been on my mind.
“I don’t really feel like it right now,” she said, “but you might be on to something.”
“I always am,” I boasted quite unnecessarily.
She stopped once again and opened up the bag. Reaching in she took out a thin grey cloak, something best suited for keeping dust off than keeping warm. She closed the bag up, slung it over her shoulder and placed it on the ground in order to cover herself.
“When did you grab that?” I asked as she made sure the cloak was securely fastened. I must have tuned out when when was dealing with food and fairies.
“Right at the beginning. Figured it might be handy to disguise myself a little,” she said.
“Embarrassed by the maid uniform, huh? Can’t say that I blame you. Even if it isn’t that sexy, you’re bound to get a few unwelcome stares from people,” I said, once again lacking a filter on my thoughts.
“That’s not it!” she snapped, picking up the bag again and carelessly slinging it cross-shoulder again. I think I hit a nerve? But I wasn’t sure which one it was or why. At any rate, she didn’t deign to explain. Kagerou moved on, “There are a few things we can pick up at the village that would make our lives easier. Let’s focus on that.”
“Got any money? They’re not just going to give you things because you’ve got such an adorable face, you know.”
“In the bag,” she said, “it’s stupid how they just keep the stuff lying around pretty much everywhere.”
“Vampires are weird,” I mumbled mostly to myself as the werewolf picked up the pace.
It didn’t take us long to get to the village. The roads were empty and Kagerou kept a brisk pace as she didn’t need to mind neither cart nor fairy this time around. Being a modest but still worldly person, I didn’t mind the village that much. It was a cozy place with enough people and businesses to add variety to what was otherwise a pretty dull rural life for the average villager. I still preferred the Scarlet estate despite all of its gaudy excesses because I was just better used to the western trappings. And well, there was also another good reason that was better left unsaid.
Kagerou made a beeline for the market. Specifically, the food stalls. Why someone with a pack full of food would do that, I could not rightly guess. And it wasn’t like there were many that were open yet, the lunchtime bustle still being a while away. Still, she picked up a small box of candy and a rice ball, putting away the former and chomping into the later. I didn’t say anything but it seemed that she read my mind, mumbling that “the food at the mansion is completely different.”
Fair enough. I let her enjoy her meal in peace.
Gorged and happy, she then turned to other pressing matters. A little window shopping came next. Without the burden of having to follow a list she let herself take her sweet time seeing what was on sale. It didn’t seem like she was used to navigating shops or what she could expect in each one. Her gaze was constantly caught by the sight of something new, something shiny or even the very mundane. She smiled at knickknacks and seemed especially pleased at anything vibrant and colorful. If that was fun for her, then who was I to get in the way?
Much to her credit, Kagerou was restrained when it actually came to spending. She probably had more money in that bag than most merchants would see during a few months’ worth of business. It would have been easy for her to take a tiny portion of that and splurge on personal effects. I sure wouldn’t have blamed her. Somehow I got the feeling that Remilia wouldn’t either, likely amused by the types of things that a werewolf would be drawn towards. Yeah, no way she would pass up to lord over her ill-defined superior taste and compare it to Kagerou’s invariably plebeian sensibilities.
There was one thing she bought with my blessing. A woman was sitting by the side of the street, wearing a hood and cloak and napping placidly with a small tray full of stones propped up in front of her. The display of color caught Kagerou’s eye as she passed. She mumbled a question asking if I could tell what kind they were. I replied that I was a genius but not a geologist. So she asked instead, rousing the sleeping vendor as politely as she could.
A half-asleep reply came from the woman, her head continuing to slump forward, “all sales are final.”
“I don’t think she’s too interested in explaining,” I stated the obvious. “Just pick something you like.”
“It’s for Flandre,” Kagerou said, deciding that the fast-asleep woman wasn’t going to wake up again without some more effort, “I think she might like something simple and shiny.”
“Canny,” I told her, “can’t hurt to be on her good side.”
“Something like that,” she said, picking up a white mineral-type-looking-or-whatever-thing. I was serious about not knowing about geology. Anyhow, though it felt smooth to her touch, it was slightly translucent and layers upon layers of white bands compacted together. There were a few hints of other colors deep within but the milky opaqueness made it difficult to make sure. Though she looked at the more vibrant blue and greens on display, she settled on her first choice.
The seller seemed to wake up again just long enough to cite a price. She hadn’t even bothered to look up, instead putting out one of her hands to receive payment. A strand of long blond hair peeked from under her hood, revealed by the motion. Kagerou shrugged and gave her a coin. “Is that enough?” she asked.
The response was a lethargic closing of hands and retraction. Apparently, it was.
A good chunk of the morning went by while Kagerou looked around and explored the village center. She seemed to sense that I was getting restless and towards midday and turned her attention to something more productive. “Is there anything here you think we could get?” she asked quietly, ducking into a narrow alley between shops and producing Patchouli’s list from a secret pocket in the front of her outfit. There always was more to a maid than met the eye.
“A straw doll sounds a little out of place for a list of magical items,” I mused, “think it’s to curse someone?”
“If it was, I’d say you’re the prime target,” Kagerou joked, “if you had a body, you’d be stalking her all day long.”
“You just don’t understand deep love,” I figuratively shrugged.
“These other things… root of something or the other. I just don’t know where to look for them.”
“There’s incense on there,” I pointed out, “can’t be too hard to find some of that. Let’s worry about the other things later.”
“She doesn’t strike me as the devout type,” the werewolf commented, “wonder why she’d need the stuff. Maybe she just likes the smell?”
“I’m sure she has a good and logical reason for wanting some,” I said, urging her to action, “we can ask her all about it once we’re back.”
With a most disinterested shrug, Kagerou acquiesced and set off to look around for some of the items on the list. She tried some of the nearby sellers first, asking about a few of the more unusual botanical items on the list. We got redirected to perfume sellers and herb specialists. With limited success. A kind old lady who ran a hole-in-the-wall type shop specializing in all things pickled and dry goods took the time to explain just what it was we were trying to buy. Kagerou fidgeted now and again, trying to make sure her cloak was properly fastened and hid her features. Ironically, it was her preoccupation with not being scrutinized that probably drew more attention to her than she would have otherwise gotten. A fleeting glance from the grandmotherly shopkeeper that I just happened to catch made me suspect that she knew she was dealing with a youkai alright.
We ended up getting one of the ingredients we needed from that shop: a root vegetable that had been milled into flour. It probably wasn’t Patchouli’s preferred form for a magical ingredient but it was better than nothing we supposed. More usefully, we had a better idea of what some of the other things looked and smelled like. There was a clear opening for a good series of jokes at Kagerou’s expense but I didn’t want to risk putting her on edge—she was having a hard enough time trying to look inconspicuous.
As it was getting close to the lunch hour, we started gravitating away from the market center and towards the smaller side streets. People were beginning to flood in from the rest of town and the surrounding countryside. Kagerou became ever more uneasy. She almost snarled at someone who brushed against her shoulder trying to pass her by. It was just thereafter that we stumbled into another item that was on our shopping list.
“Careful there,” I said, happy with the stroke of good luck, “you almost knocked over that pile of incense. Sandalwood judging by the smell.”
The cloaked maid apologized to the seller, a young girl who was clearly not human. Were those…? Ears, a long, thin tail… a couple of mice that were perched on her shoulders. Yeah, she was clearly some sort of rat queen. Or, probably more accurately put, a mousey merchant. She smiled and told Kagerou that it was no problem. “I expected this sort of thing to happen when I was told to help move our stock today.”
Kagerou took a look at what she had on offer: trinkets, mostly vaguely religious-looking stuff but there were also a few baubles and things with no particular theme to them, of course, the incense. The humans that passed by took no heed of the small youkai with gray hair. She tried to strike up a conversation with Kagerou, talking about a place where youkai and humans mingled all the time. The wolfy maid was too worked up about the constant hustle and bustle to care much about her pitch. Thus the encounter was strictly transactional. I told Kagerou to pick this and that type of incense and was quick to pay the mouse and leave.
I wondered if it would be wise to try to pry a little into her state of mind. I was curious as to why she was getting so flustered. But, then again, bringing it up in a very public space was probably a dumb idea. At best, she’d snap at me. I didn’t think that she would freakout and runaway or whatever else but, then again, she did have another side to her. As much as I made fun of her, comparing her to a dog or wolf, there was a kernel of truth to there being something not-quite-civilized deep within her.
Something else took precedence. A heart-to-heart would have to wait. Though I could tell that her thoughts were beginning to get messy, her eyes were sharp enough to spot another one of the things that we needed. She weaved through the crowd deftly and with singular purpose. She made it to the basket just outside another small store in record time. Just to witness another hand grabbing the very thing that we needed.
“Hey, how much for this doll?” the girl asked the shopkeeper, holding up a tiny straw doll in her hand. Hm, I felt like I had seen her somewhere before. She had short red hair and wore a high-collared outfit that matched it and almost covered up to her cheeks. Definitely weird to wear with a skirt. While racking my brain for more clues, a weird thought came to mind: the outfit was kind of cape-like and seemed like something a fashionable vampire might wear. Were day walkers a thing in Gensokyo?
Kagerou stared impatiently at the girl, unsure of what to say or do. A crease of irritation formed on her forehead and grew into a complex array of lines before too long. She listened to the shopkeeper answer something and the girl asnwer that she would take the doll. After waiting for her to leave, she asked if there were any more like them in the store. An apologetic gummy smile didn’t smooth things over; “Last one, I’m afraid.”
She dashed after the girl, fighting the natural flow of people down the street. It was an upstream struggle and I had half a mind to tell her to just forget it—we could always look for another doll elsewhere. Worst came to worst we could even make our own. Not too hard. But I got the feeling that she wouldn’t listen to me as all of her previous frustrations and apprehensions were being channeled into strenuous activity. She was serious about the chase and clutched her bag close, making sure it didn’t bump into people and slow her down.
The chase took us from the village center to the outlying areas and the crowds thinned out. Still, she couldn’t quite catch up with the girl and more than once it seemed that we had lost her. Whether through instinct or luck, however, she was able to pick up the trail quickly and managed to stick with her. We ended up at a spot where there were only a few modestly-sized houses about. They looked like they were made from simpler materials and used wood that was less polished and sturdy-looking than the bigger homes elsewhere in the village. The girl was opening the door one one of the doors when Kagerou finally intercepted her.
“Excuse me,” the wolf stopped her, “could I talk to you for a moment?”
The girl seemed surprised that there was someone there. She eyed the cloaked figure warily, putting a hand under her cape as if to reach for something hidden. “What do you want?” she asked curtly.
“It’s about that doll you just bought—“ Kagerou paused and showed that she hadn’t thought very far ahead.
“Offer to buy it from her,” I piped up.
“I’d like to buy it from you,” she continued with a nod.
“Huh? Why?” she girl blinked, looking even more suspicious of the cloaked stranger’s motivation.
“I wanted to give it to someone else,” Kagerou explained with a version of the truth, “there aren’t any more for sale so I figured I could buy yours from you.”
“It’s not for sale,” the girl said, “leave me alone.”
“Prickly, isn’t she?” I was trying to figure out why she was being so gruff. Maybe she was just the type of person that hated other people.
“I’ll give you more than what you paid for it,” Kagerou said, being insistent but remaining civilized for the time being. She tried to be conciliatory without giving away too much which was kind of impressive, actually. “Listen, I know it’s weird for me to come out of the blue and ask you this but it’d really help me out if you gave it to me. It has to be made from straw, you see, and I haven’t really seen others in the marketplace. So I’ll definitely make it worth your while.”
Ah, to be able to be generous with other people’s money was such a blessing.
“My answer is the same. It’s mine now. Save your coin,” the girl huffed, taking a step towards the door. “Leave and don’t come back.”
Kagerou’s lips pursed with displeasure . She scrambled to think of what to do next and I could feel a few rapid and strong thoughts and emotions surfacing. Something along the lines of frustration having been converted to purpose in order to keep herself from straying. It didn’t feel like she wanted to make this a bigger deal than it needed to be but after all that effort she probably wanted to save face. If only to make herself feel like her efforts didn’t just result in a damp squib.
The problem was the other girl whose suspicion grew by the moment. She seemed to want to go inside the house but didn’t want Kagerou to see her doing so for whatever reason. So it was a strange standoff in a quiet part of town, with an atmosphere that was difficult to read. Not that there were any overt signs of threats by either party or anything but we definitely hadn’t gotten off on the right foot. I didn’t think that inviting her out for a cup of tea would smooth things over.
Kagerou’s left hand was clenched under her cloak, a sign that she was making up her mind quickly.
 Let her try her best to find a solution.  Dissuade her from wasting more time and head to the shrine.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/05/28(Tue)13:10
I too would like to avoid another Boring Banki scenario. However I really get the feeling she's doing something visibly and obviously illegal in her house, hence her reluctance to open the door. I think investigating this could prove fun in the long term.
The finer points of persuasion eluded Kagerou. Not that it was exactly her fault, poor girl. Faced with unreasonable creatures like vampires, mermaids and fairies, she had a decent track record. When she listened to me, the outcome tended to be even better. If she kept it up, she could one day be at least as half as good as I was. Watching her talk to the caped redhead, however, it was clear that she was making little headway.
There wasn’t even really time for me to interject or find a clever turn of phrase for her to make up the girl’s mind—the werewolf desperately ran the gamut between polite explanation to frenzied pleading in the space of a few minutes. Nothing seemed to stick and her target leered with increasing restlessness in her eyes. It didn’t take an expert on body language to see that she was agitated and felt cornered.
The overly earnest wolf picked up on that, thankfully. She backed off a little, appealing once again with a cooler head, “listen, I know I’m being annoying and I’m sorry. I’m sure we can reach a deal and, if we can’t, that’s fine too. But it’d be at least nice to know why you’re not open to it.”
“I don’t really have to tell you anything, it’s mine and that’s the way it’s going to remain” the girl replied, an eerie lilt creeping into her voice. Definitely not the voice of a normal, frustrated villager.
I felt like I should say something. But there was no need. It seemed that Kagerou picked up on the same cue as well. She was very conscious of the hairs on the back of her neck stiffening and that very direct sensation made me almost feel like I had a body again. That made a very simple thought stream into my mind and echo on to her, “she knows you’re a youkai.
“Don’t ask me how, she just does,” I added. Yes, it was true that Kagerou’s outfit was hardly a masterwork of disguise. A tail and ears were tricky to accommodate even if you had a lot of room within a hooded cloak. It shielded her from casual scrutiny, protected during extended interaction, but ultimately did nothing to hide the truth from someone intent on finding it. Perhaps the hint of a smirk behind the tall collared clasp of the girl’s cape was enough evidence.
“If it’s not money you want, maybe I can do something else for you?” Kagerou squared her shoulders, trying to pretend she wasn’t worried about being outed as a youkai.
“I’m not that kind of girl,” the redhead laughed darkly, her body posture becoming more direct and aggressive. She puffed up her chest and looked Kagerou in the eye. “Go away,” she insisted, pushing Kagerou’s shoulder with a sharp jab of her hand.”
“Is there really nothing…?” Kagerou sounded increasingly defeated and did not react to the push.
“I said no!” the girl shoved harder, this time forcing Kagerou to take a step back. “Now beat it before I get serious.”
“I-” Kagerou started but was unable to verbalize her thought to completion.
The redhead came at her with forceful intent, in an instant summoning up force into her upper body and arms. Another shove; one done with little restraint and even less concern for the target. The infinitesimally-longer buildup telegraphed her intention. Even in my wonderful real body, I doubt I would have been able to react in time. A werewolf, however, seemed to have quicker reflexes than average. Kagerou pivoted to her left, pulling one shoulder away to avoid the now two-handed assault and inadvertently striking at her assailant with the other pivoting shoulder. It was all one could be expected to do in close quarters and at that speed.
I doubted that Kagerou had meant to retaliate but the result of her dodge was that a lot of force from her shoulder was transferred perpendicularly to the girl. Naturally enough, the girl stumbled. With the force of the counter, she went farther and outright lost her balance. She twisted up her legs, and fell at an angle towards her home. An indecently loud thwack sounded from where flesh met wooden wall and was followed very shortly by a duller thump courtesy of the hard ground.
Kagerou froze in place and looked at the girl in disbelief. Her body lay splayed on the ground like a rag doll. More worryingly, the girl’s head was propped up at a gruesomely unnatural angle, neck likely twisted, with eyes open and blank. “Ah, so you’ve killed her,” I surprised myself by stating what we were both thinking as calmly as if I were talking about the weather.
I was used to feeling her irritation or frustration as I was often the cause or target of it. Hotheaded and unusual extremes as with Remilia also were familiar. The very complex burst of emotion and thought that was coming from her as my words sunk in, however, were something altogether new. These were intense to the point of exhaustion—it felt as if I were liable to be dragged down by the merciless current and drowned at any moment. Words failed me, as they did her. She trembled, stretched out an arm as if to reach out to the collapsed girl but quickly retracted it.
“Take a deep breath,” I commanded, my voice so firm that it sounded unrecognizable. My thoughts were a mess as well. I could debate later if it was providence or ironclad willpower that allowed me to hew clear intent from that chaotic whole. “Listen to me,” I kept on, “listen to me and take a deep breath.”
I knew that her first instinct was to ignore, let out a frustrated yelp at best. That’s why I was insisted and repeated my instructions clearly and sternly until she finally complied. A deep breath. Followed by another. An exhortation to keep it together was more effective if she started listening to me on the basics. I built up towards the rational, slowly reviving her from the terrified catatonia she experienced.
Eventually, I was able to get to the very real problem in front of us. “It’s not your fault,” I said, interjecting preemptively, “this is not the moment to argue about it.”
“I’ll...” Kagerou choked out the words, “be exterminated regardless.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” I told her. I wasn’t sure I could save her at all but if there was any chance to avoid death then it was contingent on what happened next. That there were no witnesses was both a blessing and a curse, depending on how we played our cards.
“I-” she couldn’t bring herself to argue.
“Stay with me. Take another deep breath,” I told her, trying to keep her from curling up into a helpless ball of tears. “Trust me. I’m not just a person of sublime taste and peerless intellect right now,” I tried to crack a joke but my voice sounded too robotic for it to have any impact, “I’m also your best ally. Do as I say and it’ll be fine.”
I wasn’t sure just how far I’d be willing to go. I would cross those moral bridges if we came to them. For the moment, I started with something simpler, “make sure she’s really dead.”
“-?!” Kagerou wordlessly objected.
“If she’s just really hurt and not dead that changes things,” I condescended with a tone that made it clear that I wasn’t asking for feedback just obedience. “Get over yourself and do what needs to be done.”
Kagerou took a half step over the body and crouched down. “I can’t hear any breathing,” she reported.
“Check for a pulse.”
It dawned upon me that a werewolf might not have any basic medical knowledge. “Take two fingers and press them against the side of her neck. I’ll tell you if you’ve got the wrong spot. You’ll feel her heart beat if she’s still alive.”
The werewolf’s hand trembled as she drew it closer to the girl’s head. She brushed aside a crumpled bit of ribbon that had come loose during during the altercation breathlessly. She tried not to look at the blank stare on the face as ice filled her veins. A muffled whine came as a result of an even darker revelation. Under a different context, I may have compared her to a dog, but it was no laughing matter: the girl’s neck was at least partially detached from her body.
“Checking for a pulse is not necessary,” I said grimly.
Kagerou stood up and took a couple of steps back, looking ready to bolt. “Even if we hid the body-!” she gasped desperately.
“Keep it together!” I scolded. “Take another deep breath.”
She did as asked, her ears drooping entirely. We could talk about getting rid of evidence later. I just needed to think for a moment. Maybe it would be better to at least drag it into the house so as to not be standing around in the relative open around a dead body. Sure, this part of the village was quiet and deserted but banking on luck didn’t sit right with me.
We were of the same mind, it seemed. Her rational mind was just barely working, as she suggested, “let’s stop just standing around. My head feels like it’s going to explode. Someone might see this mess.”
“Mess?” I laughed. I was so caught up in the moment that I didn’t think of an improbable scenario. “No, this isn’t enough of a mess,” I told an incredibly-confused Kagerou. “You should kick the body.”
“Are you crazy? What for?” Kagerou’s eyes widened.
“Trust me. If I’m right, you’ll be fine. Give her a good hard kick. If she’s dead, she won’t feel it. If not...”
“Just do it,” I commanded firmly, “you’ll see what I mean.”
I got away with persuading her to kick an apparent corpse because she still wasn’t thinking clearly enough to truly oppose me. With a lot of hesitation she did as I asked, delivering a sharp blow to the girl’s side. The body squirmed. Convulsed, more like.
“It’s over!” I declared triumphantly, “this crazy bitch had me going for a moment. Threaten to kick her again. Out loud!”
“Oh, whatever!” Kagerou huffed and exclaimed, “I’m going to keep kicking you!”
“Crap!” the dead girl exclaimed, “cut it out!”
Kagerou seemed shocked. To be fair, who wouldn’t be? It wasn’t every day that you met a being with a stupid ability like that. Even in a village full of humans there was bound to be one or two that tried to blend in.
“She’s a youkai,” I told Kagerou, “her head appears to be able to come off.”
“You’re kidding, right?” she said in disbelief to both me and the body as the latter moved to grab its unnaturally positioned head off from the ground. The former dead body came very much to life and the eyes on the head became animated once again.
“You couldn’t have just run off, could you?” the girl fumed, acting like she hadn’t just faked her own death. “I thought I could outsmart a dumb wolf easily.”
Kagerou bared her teeth, all the very complex emotions of panic and guilt morphing into righteous anger. “Easy there,” I told her, “we have the upper hand. She’ll give you the doll if you ask her now.”
“So I guess we’ll just have to fight now, huh.” the girl smiled, “spell cards and all that. Probably best we do it elsewhere, wouldn’t want to attract unwanted attention.”
“Tell her you won’t fight her,” I said, “tell her to hand over the doll. Offer her a couple of coins though. Trust me on this one.”
The masterstroke of figuring out that the girl was not really dead had Kagerou willing to believe just about anything I said. I’d be making full use of that awe for as long as possible. With perked up ears, she crossed her arms, stood definitely and echoed with confidence, “no, I don’t think we’re going to fight anymore.”
“I don’t think you get to decide that,” the girl replied haughtily, “this is definitely happening.”
I explained my cunning plan quickly to Kagerou. She smirked in response, doing me proud. “I can fight and probably beat you,” she told the redhead, “but I could also let your neighbors know that you’re one of us. With how evasive you’ve been all along, I take it you’re a very private person. The kind that doesn’t want people to know anything about them. Why is your business, of course, I just want to buy that doll from you at fair market value.”
That was a deep and surgical stab that the girl couldn’t recover from. She didn’t want to lose face but knew she was cornered. “Throw in an apology for being an ass and I’ll negotiate.”
“Don’t you think it’s a bit much for her to expect an apology from you?” I asked. “Double down, ask her to invite you in for tea while you negotiate.”
Kagerou laughed, enjoying being on the winning side. “We can talk about who is at fault over tea,” she said.
I thought that maybe the girl would balk at the brazen request. Instead she sighed, revealing just how weak her negotiating position really was. “Fine, better than making a scene out in the open,” she shrugged, trying to pretend we hadn’t gotten to her.
The girl entered her home and left the door ajar for us to follow. In that brief instant Kagerou couldn’t help but ask me something that was weighing on her mind. “How did you know?”
“Easy,” I replied, “no blood. Someone who really lost their head would make a grand old mess. You probably wouldn’t be able to ignore the smell of blood with that nose of yours.”
Kagerou offered a half-shrug, looking very pleased. Finding out you weren’t culpable of manslaughter would be a load off of anyone’s mind.
We stepped into the girl’s home triumphantly, finding that her host was busy minding a small fire in the corner of the small home. It was a small building, typical of the more modest villagers with a bigger main room and another smaller room that was likely dedicated mostly to storage. A faint smell of sour cabbage filled the air and the space itself was full of clutter that you’d find in the average home. Seemed that this youkai fancied herself something of a seamstress, having bolts of cloth and half-finished clothes draped on a small table at the center of the room.
“Sit. Or don’t. I don’t care,” the girl said as she watched the kettle boil.
Kagerou removed her hood and sat down. She looked impressively smug. A radical transformation from just a few minutes earlier. “So, what’s your name?” she asked, “feels strange to have tea with someone whose name I don’t know.”
“Does it matter?” the girl shrugged back.
“Somewhat,” Kagerou offered a shrug of her own, “I’m Kagerou, by the way.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” the girl said. Hard to say whether she was being sarcastic or would actually add it to something like an enemies list.
“What’s your name?”
“...ugh. Sekibanki,” she at last replied. “And I warn you now—if you expose me I’ll make your life miserable.”
“My, how scary,” Kagerou laughed, long since inured to threats by a certain vampire.
Sekibanki remained quiet until the water was just right. She brought over the tea, haphazardly clearing a space at the table with a sweep of her hand. There was only a single cup. “Drink your tea, pay me for the doll and get the hell out of here.”
Woe to the vanquished. All that remained was claiming the spoils and enjoying them.
 Ask about why she was willing to go through all that trouble just for a doll  Try to suss out why a youkai like her would be living among humans
-- >>64222 >>64223 You know, you can always just ask me what's up in these threads, on IRC or Discord. I don't mind people asking me about updates and writing in general. So long as you aren't asking every five minutes I'll give you an honest answer of what's going on. A saged post isn't that liable to catch my eye to be honest.
[x] Ask about why she was willing to go through all that trouble just for a doll
Actually I'd choose to let Kagerou lead the conversation here, for good or bad, but if not then I'd like to at least steer her away from immediately prodding at a possibly sensitive subject. We're total strangers after all
[X] Ask about why she was willing to go through all that trouble just for a doll
How the heck did she boil the water before Wolfy even sat down? I mean...she had to have left the pot over the fire before leaving the house. which means she was probably eager to end the conversation quick so her house didn't burn down, not because she was doing interesting stuff.
I wonder how far we can bully Hikikobanki with our newfound knowledge? Maybe we can pressure her into upgrading our maid outfit to it's level 2 form.
Showing absolutely no hurry to claim her prize, Kagerou took her time to enjoy the tea. She waited for it to cool some, watching the steam wisps rise up and disappear into the aether. After a while, without saying anything, she held the cup, took the time to enjoy the warm feeling in her hand and took in the mellow fragrance of the admittedly-not-that-great tea. It was longer still before she took her first small sip, letting the liquid really take its time resting on her tongue before she swallowed.
“This is nice,” she concluded with an especially pompous smile. The techniques of the rich and self-important had rubbed off on her.
As anyone could imagine, all that mindfulness and deliberate ritual had driven Sekibanki up the wall. Though the girl said nothing, she watched the whole spectacle with a mix of anger and befuddlement, alternating between outright staring to pretending she had housework to do. A furtive and frustrated peek in our direction gave away just she wanted to appear busy.
“Won’t you join me?” Kagerou rubbed salt into the wound, though I didn’t think that was her intention. She understood just how awkward things were and was defaulting to a more conciliatory rhetoric.
“I’ll pass,” the girl huffed. She had taken off her cape, revealing that dark blouse also had a raised neckline. It looked like she was checking for any rips with an eye of darning any with nearby thread and needle.
“Maybe switch topics?” I suggested, “doesn’t seem like you’ll get much else from her otherwise.”
Kagerou took my advice after another luxuriously slow sip of tea. She put the cup down and then said, “I’ll give you twice what you paid for for the doll. Sounds fair?”
“Whatever,” came the contemptuously disinterested reply. As far as she likely saw it there was no fairness to any possible deal. The sooner her guest up and left, the better.
Kagerou’s left eyebrow arched, caught between a desire to continue gloating and a sense of actually reaching a proportionate settlement. If only to make sure her conscience was sated. Me? I would have just given her the price of the doll plus, say, a ten percent for her trouble and have long since walked away. Since I didn’t want my lovely companion to have any regrets later, I didn’t force my particular point of view upon her.
“Maybe if you tell me why you wanted the doll then I can offer you a better deal. I mean, it seemed important enough for you to go through all that trouble,” the maid shrugged, convinced that this was a matter of reason.
Sekibanki crossed her arms and rolled her eyes. Absolutely nothing unsubtle about that. “I wanted it and that’s all that matters. There is no better deal unless you leave my home without the doll and apologize.”
“You still won’t tell me why…?” Kagerou was confused as to why she’d keep offering such resistance.
The answer was forthcoming and delivered with derision, “Don’t you have any dignity? Pride?! No, I suppose not,” she eyed Kagerou sternly, not too pleased with what she saw, “dressed as you are, you seem more like a trained pet than a person. All that’s missing is the pretty little collar where they can attach the lead.”
“Do you always make so many assumptions about the people you meet?” Kagerou fired back, bothered but not defeated. I felt a strange sense of pride. The werewolf I first met not too long ago had thinner skin.
“Tell me I’m wrong then, that you’re not just caught up in someone else’s bullshit. Tell me,” the girl said with dramatic flair, “why do you want this doll?”
“She’s got you there!” I laughed.
To my surprise, Kagerou reacted well to the intended putdown. She laughed too. This placed Sekibanki on the back foot as she looked on with confusion. The werewolf explained without sounding too bothered, “I’m doing it as part of my job. It was asked of me. But know what? It’s not just that. I also wanted to get that doll. For a friend who has a crush on the girl who wants it.”
“Aw~!” there was no better reaction to her sweet words. I was absolutely chuffed.
“That sounds stupid,” Sekibanki muttered, caught off guard by the maid’s frankness. She had wanted to turn the tables around, make the smug wolf feel less than and unimportant. She proceed to harden her stare again but the earlier zealousness just wasn’t there.
“There’s nothing wrong with doing stupid things for stupid reasons,” Kagerou doubled down, “bet you couldn’t even guess why I agreed to take this job in the first place! It wasn’t about money or having fancy food to eat, though those are great too.”
Sekibanki sighed and said, “no, I guess not. I can’t understand idiots who get involved in other people’s business.”
As abruptly as the exchange had started it likewise died down. Kagerou finished her cup of tea calmly while the other girl stewed quietly. At times, it seemed that conversation would spark up again—both mimed soundless words at times that could have been the start of something. With quiet little sigh the werewolf fetched a few coins from her bag and placed them on the table. It was a more than generous amount, one that would probably get most merchants tripping over themselves to procure a simple straw doll.
The exchange proceeded in a similarly muted fashion. Sekibanki placed the doll on the table and didn’t bother to pick up the coins. Kagerou put it in her bag and got up. She adjusted her cloak, making sure her ears and much of her uniform were hidden away.
“Take care,” the werewolf said with a smile. “If you ever want to talk to someone about anything, I think you know where to find me. I can try to make you understand idiots like me if you’re open to it.”
That elicited a smirk from Sekibanki. “I’d have to be really bored. Perhaps drunk.”
“Even if you are, it might be nice. Who knows?”
“Yes, who knows?” the redhead paid lip service to the idea and ushered us to the door. She seemed relieved to have us out of her hair and no doubt looked forward to getting back to whatever it was she had planned. For her sake, I hoped that meant tidying up some.
“That went… okay?” I opined as soon as we were clear of the area.
“We got the doll, that’s the most important thing,” Kagerou replied.
“We should probably go to the shrine now.”
“Yeah,” she agreed but couldn’t help but add, “the sooner we get all the things your girlfriend needs, the better.” A series of mocking kissing noises followed.
“You can’t really embarrass me, y’know,” I told her, “I’m open about my admiration for her.”
“Hmm, I wonder if you’d be so direct if you had to actually look her in the eyes?” she teased, picking a path between a row of homes that seemed to lead out of the village. “You seem all cool and confident now but I bet you’d be a stammering, sweaty and red mess.”
“Who knows? I don’t think I would because...” I thought back to the greenhouse. It seemed real enough. But there was no way of knowing for sure. Even if I really wanted it to be real.
“...see? You’re embarrassed already!” she laughed, mistaking my pensiveness for something else entirely.
“Ah, who cares!” I laughed it off. “More importantly, that was really sweet of you! I didn’t know you had it in you~!”
“Always have,” she nodded, still looking quite pleased with herself, “you just never notice because you’re thinking about magicians all the time!”
And so went the thrust of the conversation for a while. Before long the buildings became sparser before yielding entirely to countryside. We walked towards the shrine in no particular rush. It was still a perfectly lovely day and I had to admit that I was enjoying myself much more than I thought I would. Werewolves could be rather decent company.
Kagerou hummed a cheery little tune to herself. I thought it might be a good moment to bring a certain topic up. I wouldn’t have dared just a week or two earlier but I thought we were well on our way to better mutual understanding and true trust. I hesitated a little to risk the relaxed mood but knew that the potential for shared honesty was there. For whatever reason, those tended to be too rare in life and seldom could be forced.
 In the end she hadn’t told Sekibanki why she took the job. I was curious, sure, but also could help her get what she wanted if she opened up.  Confide about the visions and how my strong feelings weren’t just about magicians. I possibly knew the inhabitants of the mansion before I was just a stone.
-- Fuck me if I can get the wording of the choices just right but I hope that the generally intimate intent is clear. Neither is meant to be "better" nor right or wrong.
I had to admit that I hadn’t the faintest clue as to how things were going to turn out. When things weighed heavily on the mind, it could feel like an immense burden—its crushing heft making sharing with others all the more difficult. That was a rationalization of my paralysis. Truth was, there were a million ways I could think my way around in circles and avoid getting anything done.
If I didn’t really know how I felt about things nor where I was heading, what hope was there for another to understand? Yeah, that was the pithy little summary. Even though I had made up my mind I still found myself procrastinating, as if the sounds of birds chirping in the distance or the intermittent breeze on Kagerou’s skin might provide the ideal answer I was looking for.
In other words, the perfect way to explain. Not just to her but to myself. Ah, yes, I was going around in circles. Again. My companion was oblivious to the ninth round of withering indecision I was going through. She wasn’t thinking about me at all. Not that I could quite read her mind. Just that I could tell that she was being as carefree as a werewolf out on a nice day ought to be.
As the twelfth round approached quickly, I decided to try to impose some order to it all. Patchouli, yes, great. Sakuya, also great. Remilia… not bad. We were together more than once. It felt real. I wanted it to feel real. Pretty pathetic but true. If I could have, I would have cringed. I missed having a face. Focus. Deep breath. Or the non-corporeal equivalent. In my thoughts I could see them, different, unguarded, and all talking to me. Or someone, not necessarily me. But, yes, I really wanted it to be me. Because that’d mean…
That conclusion didn’t really matter. At least for the moment. If I were a vessel adrift on a stormy sea then the important thing was finding the lighthouse and not dashing myself against the rocks. The supposition that I had special insight was enough. Kagerou wouldn’t understand just how close to drowning I felt at all times. Not right away. Yes, it had to be incremental. Slow. Enough to have her help me and not overwhelm her like it overwhelmed me.
Somehow I couldn’t recall how I began the conversation. It was around the nineteenth logical loop that I realized that I had been actually voicing some of my thoughts. Kagerou was quiet, immediately sensing that I wasn’t being my usual less-than-truthful self. I still massaged the words, yeah, but it was solidly grounded on reality.
She listened while walking, as the terrain sloped up into hill and mountain. I told her about Marisa. About the memory. Not all the details, of course. That intimate moment with Patchouli was just that and I’d be doing her a disservice by being too specific. It was the same with Sakuya though there I repeated the same story I told Sakuya in my fevered state. About the Zarqa. There were other details and I shared what I was able to.
“...I think it was me. I hope it was,” I said, voicing my uncertainty and fear. Maybe I needed a drink. Loosen up a little. Give into escapism to dull anxiety. Ah, I was such a coward. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, confused by the change in tone.
“I’m just thinking I’m an idiot. Engaging in self-pity, sorry,” I replied. The crucial bit was to make her understand that things were not as they seemed. After rambling on for a while longer, I concluded, “I don’t really know why I’m telling you all of this, honestly.”
“I think you’re lonelier than you want to admit,” she said. She wasn’t entirely wrong. But that wasn’t quite all of it.
“It’s not easy not having a body,” I sighed, “I feel like it would be easier to make sense of if I could go where I wanted, when I wanted. Look into someone’s eyes. Make fun of Remilia’s cockamamie stories myself. Embrace...”
“I’m sure you’ll figure something out,” she said, “I’ll help you out however I can. If you know the others then they must know what happened to you as well.”
“...don’t talk to them about it,” I told her, scared of the possibility.
“Just don’t,” I said, “please. Not yet.”
“...fine,” she nodded after a moment of silence. I probably sounded either more pathetic or serious than I realized.
I comforted myself with the fact that it was only logical. If they hadn’t said anything then it was for a reason. I wasn’t ready to accept that reason, whatever it was.
“Aren’t you supposed to be a magician?” she tried to lighten the mood, “the ones I’ve met are annoyingly decisive.”
“If you mean what I told Flan-Flan, then I was maybe lying? So mysterious!” I made it sound like I was making a joke but my voice was gravestone cold.
“’Flan-Flan’?” she frowned.
“Vampires, magicians, maids, talking stones and werewolves sure are a troublesome bunch, don’t you think?”
“That we are,” Kagerou agreed.
“Hey, by the way, we’re close, aren’t we?” I felt relieved to be able to change subjects. The path had gotten rougher and less obvious, with shrubbery and the occasional tree root breaking through the dirt.
“Just a minute or two more,” she replied.
“Oh, so maybe those wildflowers over there are one of the things that Patchouli asked us to gather?” I was back to business, burying away all disquieting feelings.
“Hm, maybe,” Kagerou saw the ones that I meant right away. A bunch of scraggy-looking white flowers, with petals that appeared close to wilting. She picked one up and added put it in the bag, not really bothering to look too closely. I got that. Our instructions were vague so there was little point thinking too much about it.
“There was something else...”
“That can wait until later,” she said, not really in the mood to go hunting for the rest of the ingredients. I had a good joke about her following her nose but I held onto it for later. “Feels like I’m being watched,” she confessed.
“I don’t see anyone around,” I said, admittedly dependent on her senses, “just a lot of trees. The beginning of a cobblestone path. Oh, that connected to a different path than the one we took.
“It’s strange to be here, I don’t want to lower my guard because… well, I’m a youkai.”
“...it’s fine,” she said, much in the same tone that I used earlier to get out of explaining more. I reciprocated and respected her boundaries.
A large red gate sat up some steps and marked the entrance of the shrine. It came out of nowhere amidst the trees. Something abuot the tall wooden structure felt familiar. Then again, it was a pretty generic feature of a Japanese shrine. Kagerou hesitated to start up the steps.
I was about to encourage as only I could when a familiar face appeared below the gate. She grinned broadly as she recognized Kagerou right away despite her getup.
“Hiya!” Marisa waved her hand cheerily, dressed in a familiar-but-slightly-different black and white outfit. She bounced down the stairs, looking like she was genuinely happy to see Kagerou.
“Ah, hello!” Kagerou replied with a nervous laugh. She hadn’t expected to run into anyone familiar just as she was psyching herself up.
“Fancy seeing ya here,” Marisa pat her on the shoulder, “I was just about to go pay you a visit.”
“Well… I’d be lyin’ if I said I was going out of my way to meet the legendary werewolf maid of the west. But I was thinking of going to your place to talk to Patchy,” she explained.
“Please don’t give me any more weird titles like that,” Kagerou frowned.
“More importantly, what are you doing all the way here? I didn’t know you were friends with Reimu.”
“I’m not,” Kagerou said, “I’m here on behalf of my boss.”
Marisa’s smile faded. She crossed her arms and said, “maybe you might want to hold off on that.”
“Huh, why?” Kagerou narrowed her eyes.
“Well… she’s not really in a very good mood right now. Felt like she was about to chew my head off, actually,” Marisa laughed. “I don’t think she would be patient enough to hear anything you had to say. At best, she’d shoo you off.”
“...” Kagerou was thinking about the unspoken ‘at worst’ and frowned. Her ears drooped completely.
“Ah, yep, sorry about that! I’m partly to blame!” she gave Kagerou another pat on the shoulder, a more sympathetic one.
“Tell you what though, maybe I can stick around to help you out if you’re scared of her. I know a lot of youkai are,” Marisa beamed a genuine smile. “I know her, she’s my friend. She’ll bitch and moan but won’t get violent. Probably!”
“Probably?” Kagerou whimpered.
“There are no guarantees in life! You just have to try your best sometimes and it’ll work out. Maybe!”
“...” the werewolf was not very convinced by the carefree logic.
Marisa shook her head, tut-tutting. “Listen, I’m going to be back here tomorrow. She probably won’t like what I have to say then either. That is if the thing I think is going to happen will happen. Actually, I’m pretty sure it’ll annoy her all over again.”
The magician laughed like pissing off her supposed friend wasn’t a big deal at all.
“But you can try showing up before I do tomorrow so she won’t be as crabby. In that case, let’s go back to the mansion together. We can discuss strategy on the way. Maybe I can see if I can’t help you out with something else as compensation. You know, on account of making you waste your time today because of me. Pretty fair, dontcha think? So what do you think?”
Another wide grin formed on the effervescent magician’s face. Seemed like she was curious to find out what Kagerou would decide.
“Want my advice?” I asked knowing the answer.
“...maybe.” Kagerou replied quietly.
“Huh, I didn’t catch that,” Marisa looked at the maid and tilted her head inquisitively.
 Take the magician’s fair deal.  Get it over with now with her protection.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/08/29(Thu)14:00
--- Our friend the timer returns with promises of a more regular update schedule. Delusion or destiny? We'll see soon enough.
I had barely begun to offer my usual round of sagacious advice when Kagerou sighed. She raised an eyebrow as if to say “it can’t be helped” and smiled at the magician. In a role reversal, she pat the blonde’s shoulder, much to the latter’s immediate delight. “Let’s go back,” she said.
“It’s always good to get to know more sensible youkai,” Marisa said with an unintentionally patronizing nod. At least that’s how I saw it. She struck me as more earnest than smug. She clasped the werewolf around her shoulder, turning her around and began to walk away from the shrine with a smile on her lips.
Kagerou pulled away gently, clearly at her limit of physical contact with passing acquaintances. “So you’re a magician, huh?” she asked a rather dumb question. Poor girl let her relief over not having to face a scary shrine maiden make her lose focus.
“Yup!” Marisa replied excitedly, adjusting her hat so that it sat perfectly centered on her head. A point of pride, no doubt.
“Who is better at magic, you or Patchouli?” an impudent question followed.
“Hey maybe-” I tried to warn her not to be rude.
Marisa’s reply came instantly, “Me, of course!”
Far from being offended, she seemed to delight in explaining the ways in which she was the better of the two. Kagerou let her talk as we walked away from the shrine, nodding at some of the pretty outlandish things that Marisa was saying. To be truthful, I was too entertained by her spitfire rambling about all things magical to raise any further objections.
“It takes a lot of hard work to be able to do that, dontcha know?” she said with a wink after finishing a somewhat fantastical anecdote about a magical ball and how she ended up acquiring one once for a little while. By then we had left the shrine behind and were well on our way to flatter terrain.
“That’s really something,” Kagerou said with a polite smile.
“What are you up to anyways?” I asked.
“Hm?” Marisa looked over at her. It seemed like she realized just how one-sided the conversation had been. She coyly scratched her chin with a finger and laughed, adding, “well, Patchy isn’t too bad either. It’s really interesting to see her when she starts to get serious.”
“Magicians with magician friends, I know someone who would love to know more about how that sort of relationship works,” Kagerou teased me but otherwise played dumb.
“It’s fairly normal, you know, we see each other. Sometimes work together. Sometimes she gets pissy about me borrowing something she wasn't using. But we have a laugh and it’s okay afterwards.”
“So you know the sort of thing that she’s thinking about most of the time?” Kagerou asked.
“Eh… I guess? She’s weird. But in a good way!” Marisa insisted on the last point, as if that meant anything to us. If she was the model of ordinary then all bets were off for the rest.
“Maybe you could tell me why she’d want a bunch of ingredients for something magical?” Kagerou reeled in the fish. Huh, good girl. While I was delighted by Marisa’s stories she had a rational ulterior motive behind the questions. Obviously, my usual good sense was beginning to rub off on her.
“She’s pretty private about stuff like that,” Marisa said with a shrug, “it could be anything from something to satisfy one of Remilia’s silly whims to a spell to reliably make the kind of yogurt that she really likes.”
“Wait, she likes yogurt?” I asked.
“I forget what it’s called,” Marisa added, “I, uh, found some once and tried it. It tasted a bit sweet but also really sour. Gets very runny when warm. Weird stuff.”
“Right, but you know what kind of things she would be looking for, right?” Kagerou patiently explained the situation. That she’d sent us off to find ingredients without really telling us where we had to go and providing accurate descriptions. She took out the list from a pocket and showed it to Marisa.
The magician scanned the list quickly, an amused expression on her face. “This is… all sort of stuff,” she concluded.
“Know what it’s for?”
“I think I might, knowing her,” she laughed, “but it’s kinda funny she asked you.”
“Why’s that?” Kagerou asked.
“They’re the sort of things she’d ask me to get as ‘compensation’ for borrowing this or that. Or accidentally losing something.”
“So they’re valuable things?” I pondered.
“What’s their use?” Kagerou asked.
“She doesn’t really tell me,” Marisa offered a theory, “but I think it’s all personal stuff. Not magic for the sake of magic. It takes a lot of effort to keep her hair nice and shiny,”
“...” both Kagerou and I didn’t really buy it.
“Eh? Don’t believe me?” Marisa shook her head and giggled softly, “yeah, I’m not sure I believe it either.”
“Could you help me find some of these things?” Kagerou asked, wasting little time. “There should be some of these around here.”
Marisa looked at the list again. “Maybe!” she proclaimed, “I can have a quick look around for, like, two of these.”
“I would be in your debt,” Kagerou said with a polite smile. When I retired, I could open up a finishing school for werewolves I reckoned. She was turning out quite well.
“Ah, don’t be silly!” Marisa shrugged off the formality, “I did say I’d help ya out. Tell you what, it’s faster if I go by myself. Be back in 20… no 10 minutes!”
Without waiting to hear anything else, Marisa bolted back towards the shrine, leaving us behind. Kagerou smirked and found a fallen tree trunk to sit on. She looked up at the afternoon sky and waited around.
“When did you get so good at manipulating people?” I asked, begrudgingly impressed. It hadn’t occurred to me at all to use Marisa to help out.
“Twenty-four hours of you with no breaks, mostly,” she said mirthfully, patting the spot over her chest where I was hanging. “That also let me know that you would be too busy drooling over her to offer any helpful suggestions.”
“I was not drooling!” I protested. “I’m not into blondes. Probably!”
“Sure, whatever you say, Al,” she smirked, showing a toxic degree of smugness.
“Magicians are great, sure, but it’s not like just any one will do,” I couldn’t help but add. It was a matter of honor. “Look, I’m not saying that I couldn’t fancy her once I got to know her better but I think that my heart is spoken for.”
“Well, you did say that you were close to Patchouli,” Kagerou recalled our conversation from earlier. “Wonder how she’d feel about you cheating on her?”
“Ouch. That’s a bit much, don’t you think? I told you all that stuff in confidence.”
“…you’re right, sorry,” she apologized, placing her hand on her chest where I was as if to show that she hadn’t really meant it.
“Nah, I’m just messing with you,” I told her. Once I had gotten all that stuff off of my figurative chest it had become less difficult to think about. I couldn’t very well thrust intimacy upon her and then not expect all that came with that in return. Yes, there probably would be a better understanding and sharing of feelings both now and down the line but there would also be more frivolous stuff; in other words, banter.
“You’re not that easy to figure out,” she said, shaking her head.
“It would be boring otherwise,” I replied. “Still, really, you did a good job today. I’d scratch you behind the ears if I could.”
“And I’d bite your hand if you tried,” she stated, a wicked glint in her eyes matching the partial baring of fangs. “Thank you all the same,” she conceded gracefully, turning the toothy grimace into something akin to a smile.
Or friendly exchange was cut short by the return of Marisa. She popped out of nowhere, coming up from behind where Kagerou sat. “Who are ya talking to?” she asked, evidently having overheard some of our exchange.
“Ah, no one, just myself,” the maid replied, standing up and brushing off the dirt off of her rear.
“It sure didn’t sound like no one,” she said but didn’t seem too bothered. In her hands were a pair of things: a large meaty-looking dark brown mushroom and what looked like a tiny round golden ball. “I found some of the things on there,” she said, moving on.
“Oh, thank you!” Kagerou said, taking both items from her. The small ball was slightly sticky and the mushroom quivered upon being touched. Rather unsettling.
“Sap,” Marisa explained, “there’s a tree that makes this kind of sap that dries out after a while. Careful with that mushroom, don’t put it near your face.”
“Ah, okay,” Kagerou minded the advice, putting both into her bag right away. “You’ve been a lot of help, Marisa.”
“No problem at all!” she played with the end of her braid, clearly enjoying the praise.
“Three cheers for the genius magician,” I said, “stroke her ego.”
“It’s amazing how you were able to find both things so quickly,” Kagerou remarked.
“I know a whole lot about mushrooms, so I know where and when to look for them. You’re lucky—a couple of more days and that big guy would have shrunk away into nothing.”
“Mmm, that would explain why Patchouli told me to keep an eye for things when I went to the shrine,” Kagerou stated, “no idea how she expected me to recognize it.”
“She specifically said that?” Marisa grinned, “gotta love how sly she is!”
“It’s fine, it’s fine...” Marisa pat Kagerou on the shoulder, offering no further explanation.
“I definitely think I’m more into Patchouli,” I ventured an opinion.
“You’re into Patchouli? Oh my!” Marisa’s eyes sparkled, “what a bold servant.”
“Um, what? No, I’m not,” Kagerou denied it flatly, looking about as confused as I felt.
“But you just said-” the magician stared into Kagerou’s eyes, furrowing her brow. For a moment things felt tense. Kagerou stared back, red eyes meeting yellow. “Are you just messing with me?” she laughed it off, “I get it. That’s why you had me talk about my abilities. A youkai with a good sense of humor. That’s great!”
Maybe there was a more logical explanation. Taking a deep breath or, well, pausing for a moment for drama’s sake, I tried out my theory, “hey, you can hear me, right?”
“Well, obviously!” Marisa snapped back, “I’m not deaf, ya know.”
“Oh, that’s… different,” Kagerou said.
“I’m not Kagerou,” I told Marisa calmly, “look, her lips aren’t moving.”
“That’s a pretty good trick,” Marisa nodded, impressed at the maid. Did she really think that the maid was trying to pull a fast one over her?
“See? Not all magicians are created equal,” I said to Kagerou, underscoring how wrong she was to make assumptions about my preferences earlier.
“What do you-” Marisa started.
“Shush,” I interrupted, “look, I don’t know why you can hear me but that explains some things. From earlier. I’m not Kagerou. I’m nearby, though. Right in front of you, in fact.”
Marisa stared hard at Kagerou, trying to figure out if a trick was being played on her.
“Down here,” Kagerou added helpfully, groping in front of her chest where I was.
“Your boobs talk?” the magician’s conclusion was far off the mark.
“Come on, you were just talking about how great of a magician you are,” I told her, “it’s clearly something she has on her. Come on, Kagerou, show her. It’s okay.”
The maid complied reaching into her dress to pull the chain and whip me out. Marisa was fascinated by me. I could not blame her. I was awesome, after all. She stared long and hard at my crystalline body, a very peculiar look washing over her face. She reached out hesitantly at me, ultimately rubbing a pair of fingers across my surface.
“This is pretty awesome,” she said to no one in particular.
“Yeah, I know I am,” I said proudly, “I have no idea why you can hear me. The other people I’ve meet don’t seem capable of that.”
Kagerou put me away, frowning a little at the eagerness of the magician to just grope around. The magpie-like look in her eyes wasn’t exactly comforting either.
“No clue,” she said, “I have no friggin’ clue what you are! But I want to find out! I’d love to have a friend I could carry around all the time. So, who made you? Was it Patchy? Alice? Nah, she would have bragged about artificial life.”
“I’m not artificial,” I said, “I’m a person. My name is Al.”
“You’re pretty cute, Al. I want to cuddle you lots.”
“Stop, you’ll make me blush,” I joked.
“So, what are you doing with Kagerou?” she asked, completely ignoring the werewolf maid. It was a little rude.
“I’m helping her deal with work. Part of the contract she has,” I explained. There was no need to get into more details than that.
“Hohoho, I see,” Marisa nodded like she was connecting the dots to a mystery in her head. “I’m going to have to have a long talk with Patchy about you later.”
“Did you feel anything strange the last time we met? Or, well, last time you saw Kagerou?” I asked, my mind thinking back to what happened when I realized I could sort of feel her senses. When I focused… well, that’s when I saw that memory. Maybe she felt something odd, too.
“Not really, why?” she asked, staring at Kagerou’s chest with a fixed gaze. A passerby might confuse her with a lech.
“Now that I think about it, nothing about right now feels weird,” I said mostly to myself, realizing that I couldn’t really feel her senses or anything weird. It was just me and Kagerou.
Kagerou shuffled around, fed up of having her chest leered at. “We should go back to the mansion,” she said.
“Oh, yeah, okay, sure,” Marisa conceded. “I was just wondering what Al meant.”
The cat was out of the bag. She could understand me and, plus, she wasn’t the first person to know of my existence. So there was no harm in letting her know some more of the truth. As Kagerou walked, partly in an attempt not to be gawked at, Marisa kept up and we had a brief conversation about last time. I didn’t tell her what I saw but I told her that I had a strange experience triggered by focusing on her.
“But you can’t feel anything like that now, right?” Marisa checked, trying to make sense of what she was told. It was kind of funny: with all the praise and attention I lavished upon Patchouli and magicians in general I never really expected for the interest to be reciprocated. Yet here we were, with every fiber of Marisa’s being shaking with ill-concealed excitement. Having a magician fawning over me sure was nice.
“Nope. I’m just limited to Kagerou’s wolfy senses,” I said.
“Maybe if I held you?”
“Nothing happened when you touched me,” I said.
Our party fell into silence as we each thought about the issue.
Kagerou was the first to suggest something, speaking up confidently, “last time it followed after I beat you up.”
“Okay, that’s rewriting history a little, but sure,” Marisa rolled her eyes, forgetting that she was the one pinned down.
“Point is, maybe the fact that we were both worked up and focused on each other had something to do with it?”
“Does magic work like that?” I asked, wanting to dismiss Kagerou’s theory but finding that I couldn’t.
“Um, maybe?” Marisa was unsure, “but there may be something to the fact that we were close together. We touched earlier, so that can’t be it. Or that might be part of the formula.”
“You probably ended up scratching each other. Magic and blood go hand in hand, right?” I suggested helpfully.
“Mmm, sorta. It’s more of a symbolic thing usually. It’s not the blood as such but the relationship between subject and object… I’m sure that’s what Patchouli would say anyhow!”
“And you?” I asked Marisa.
“I’d say we need an experiment!” she clapped her hands excitedly. She put her hand on Kagerou’s shoulder. “What about now?”
“We’ll fight if we have to!” she giggled like that was a perfectly rational response to the unknown.
I thought of applying the scientific method but the way things were going, we were liable to escalate into something far more unpredictable unless we got it soon. Time for boldness.
 It’s about fluids! They were sweaty when fighting. Have Kagerou lick her.  Adrenaline, maybe? Have them run around while close to one another.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/08/31(Sat)22:00
[x] Adrenaline, maybe? Have them run around while close to one another. Bouncing wolf boobs.
>“I, uh, found some once and tried it. It tasted a bit sweet but also really sour. Gets very runny when warm. Weird stuff.” >“I know a whole lot about mushrooms >that big guy would have shrunk away into nothing.” She doesn't even make an effort to hide it, does she?
“That’s… certainly a theory,” Marisa said, not entirely convinced of my insight.
“I don’t want to get dirty running around,” Kagerou didn’t seem too keen on advancing the cause of magical understanding. Marisa’s explosive enthusiasm would have been hard for most people to resist but she was giving us little to work with.
“It’s either that or fighting,” Marisa added, “there’s few things more exciting than a spellcard duel, dontcha think?”
The magician continued, “it’s not about winning or losing either. Just getting all pumped up.”
“Come on, please?” I yearned to show her my best puppy dog eyes. “It’s not every day that we meet someone who can understand me. In fact, this is the first time!”
“Come on, Al seems like a pretty nice guy, let’s help him out,” Marisa continued to pile on the peer pressure.
“Actually!” I interjected, “I’m not necessarily a man.”
“Oh, not this again,” Kagerou frowned. She turned to Marisa, looking displeased but adopting the tone of someone secretly happy to be able to vent about something no one else had to deal with, “He doesn’t know who he is and makes a big show of keeping all options open. Don’t egg him on.”
“Or her!” I grumbled.
Giving Marisa the universal sign of “see what I mean?” she rolled her eyes and loosened the clasp on her coat. “I’m not going to fight but I guess we can run for a little bit. I can just take a bath when we get back.”
“That’s the spirit!”
Marisa pointed to a lone tree in the distance. It was away from the path, on a hillock. To get there Kagerou would have to run both down the slope and then back up. “On three. Ready?”
“Just a moment,” Kagerou put down her bag and rotated her shoulders to loosen up. A maid’s uniform wasn’t the most comfortable thing to run in, I imagined. Then again, Marisa’s outfit also looked like it was a slight touch too prim and heavy to be ideal for a sprint. What’s more, it looked like she was planning to run with that boom of hers in her hand. What an odd thing to do.
“Stick close to her,” I told my maid companion, “it’s not about winning or losing but getting that adrenaline rush together.”
“I’m still going to win, I’m warning ya!” Marisa smirked. Things were starting to heat up. “Okay, on three,” she began to count down, “one… hey! Move and I’ll shoot!!”
Marisa interrupted her countdown to point at something. “You better not be trying to cheat!” Kagerou barked, apparently more into the friendly non-competition than she had let on.
Instead of running towards the tree, she bolted towards us and then past us, back towards the path. Kagerou turned around and immediately sprang into action as well—a pair of small winged troublemakers were making off with her bag. These were obviously fairies as they laughed even as they ran for their lives, hopping over shrubbery, stones and tree roots alike.
True to her word, Marisa shot a stream brightly-colored stars towards the thieves but they all missed the mark. A spray of bullets came back from one of the fairies. Things were heating up. Kagerou would have won the sprint to the tree, hands down; the werewolf was faster than the magician and about as nimble as the fairies, clearing most of the obstacles with graceful leaps. I shouted some sort of encouragement to them both, probably laced with profanity. I could feel my lupine companion’s heart beating fast and her senses sharp and focused.
This sure was one hell of a fix of adrenaline.
The chase ended soon thereafter. The fairies tried to split up, one of them trying to disappear into thicker woodland and the other staying near the path. Marisa nailed the one on the path with a well-placed bullet. Kagerou took care of the one who tried to shield herself with nature by pouncing on her from behind. The tackle made the fairy lose her balance and she flipped over and rolled around a couple of times before coming to a somewhat painful-looking stop against a tree.
“Ow!” she complained but was otherwise all smiles, like she had just been playing a particularly physical game of tag. The fairy was small like all the others we had met, with light brown hair and far less refinement to both clothes and style than the fairies from the mansion. She was the one who had taken off with the bag and was still holding onto it tightly in her arms.
“That doesn’t belong to you,” Kagerou said, looming over her. She snatched the bag back with only token resistance.
“Sorry!” the fairy laughed, “we thought it’d be fun to play a prank on you. You looked like you were having fun so we wanted to have fun too.”
“Yeah, we would have given it back later probably!” the other fairy piped up, having been escorted by a very bemused Marisa. Like the fallen fairy, she also wore her dark hair in a simple fashion, in line with the plain blue dress she had on.
“You guys never learn your lesson,” Marisa chided, “go on, get lost before we really get mad.”
“We were just hungry and looking for something to eat,” the second fairy offered a second explanation for the theft, “your bag looked like it might have something tasty in it.
“If you’d eaten the mushroom in there, you’d probably feel really sick afterwards,” Marisa laughed, “maybe that would have been for the best. Teach you fairies not to bother ordinary people.”
“Well, if you guys really are hungry, I guess you can have some of these leftovers,” Kagerou reached into her bag, taking some of the food she had kept in there all day.
“What’s with the random kindness? They just tried to rip you off,” I said.
The two fairies’ eyes lit up. The light-haired one that had been knocked to the ground sprang to her feet as if nothing had happened. “Do you really mean it?” she asked.
“Sure,” Kagerou nodded, “on the condition that you promise not to bother me or Marisa again. If you’re hungry and want food you have to work for it, not steal it.”
“Hmmmm, okay,” they both replied the same way, eyes transfixed on the morsel before them.
“I’m serious, if this happens again we won’t have mercy,” Kagerou warned them, showing the barest hint of tooth. They seemed to get the message, nodding. Or, at the very least, the promise of food had bludgeoned them into utter submission.
“Thank you very much!” they squealed with gratitude as Kagerou handed over the food. I had to admit, even though they had just tried to steal our stuff, they were still pretty cute because of their earnestness. They reminded me of a pair of dogs getting a treat, metaphorical tails wagging hard in hungry anticipation.
“Alright then, you got what you wanted, now leave us alone,” Kagerou said as they worked hard to unwrap and stuff their small faces with food.
They hopped away gaily, thanking their “big sis” for the kindness between mouthfuls of food. Once they were out of sight, Marisa sighed, commenting, “I’m not sure why you did that. Chances are that they’ll go out of their way to find you and pester you for more food in the future.”
“Maybe it’s because I’m surrounded by fairies all day now but they’re not so bad. Easy to motivate if you know what you’re doing,” she said, echoing one of the lessons I had imparted when she started managing the Scarlet household.
“More importantly, I think that we just tried the whole adrenaline idea,” I said, concluding, “other than getting a few scratches and scuffing I don’t think anything happened. I couldn’t really feel anything different.”
“Hey, mind whipping it out? Marisa asked.
“Eh?” Kagerou didn’t get what she meant.
“Al, I mean. I want to look at her,” the magician said.
“Uh, sure,” the werewolf obliged, drawing me out from under her clothes and the cool feeling of incipient perspiration.
“He looks the same,” Marisa said, leaning forward and bringing her witchy face to a few centimeters’ distance. I wasn’t sure if I was imaging it but I could swear that I felt her soft breath against… my skin?
“I wish I could flick your forehead,” I confessed.
“I know right! Perfect position for that!” Marisa giggled in agreement. Great minds thought alike. “No chance I could wear him, right?”
“Nope, breach of contract,” I said. That may not have been the case, actually. I just didn’t feel comfortable with Kagerou thinking she could leave me behind whenever she wanted.
“Aw.. shame,” she pressed her forehead against me. It felt nice. In an abstract way, not a physical one. I guess I did like to be the object of interest where a magician was concerned. Not that I’d vocalize that lest I give Kagerou opportunity to mock me.
Her hair smelled nice, incidentally. I could tell from Kagerou’s sharp sense of smell. It was something like vanilla. Almost fruity, too. Her clothes weren’t as nice-smelling, however. She really needed to do her laundry as she smelled pretty… earthy, almost dank.
Marisa pulled away. “We should get going, I wanted to see Patchy before it got dark,” she said, casting a quick glance at the sky. Not that much daylight was left. “One more thing before that though, I’d like to cast a spell.”
“A spell?” Kagerou asked.
“Yeah, on Al.”
“What sort of spell?” I wanted to know more.
“Oh, something basic, I just want to see if you’ll react to magic. We haven’t tried that,” she explained her reasoning, “might tell us something.”
“Couldn’t we just ask Patchouli first? In case something goes wrong?” I wasn’t too enthused about random magic. Or maybe that wasn’t fair. No, I was enthused by random magic. Just not performed on me.
“I was just thinking of something small like a light spell or something to make you float a bit. The kind of thing that wouldn’t harm anyone,” she said. “Patchy is probably too stuffy to try that sort of stuff. She’d sooner put you in a warded cupboard under the pretext of wanting to study you later ‘when she has some peace and quiet’— like she isn’t boringly quiet all day, most days!”
I wasn’t too happy about the cupboard part but the part about spending time quiet time just with Patchouli sounded absolutely lovely. I could picture it now… tea, the occasional word of conversation and maybe some…
“I think he’s daydreaming now,” Kagerou was right on the mark, “it’s best not ot mention Patchouli around him. He has a thing for her.”
Marisa seemed like she wanted to say something about that, perhaps join Kagerou in teasing me but held back, instead offering an agreeable smile. “How about it? Let’s try something quick and easy. I promise that we’ll both enjoy it.”
For some reason, I felt like she wasn’t lying. Still…
 Try a spell  Get going
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/09/03(Tue)13:00
– If there’s 5 or 6 votes before the time ends, I might call it beforehand.
“Fine, let’s get it over with,” I said, against my better judgment. As cliché as it may have been—what was the worst that could happen? I’d die, I supposed. Or lose the ability to think. Still, unlikely! The nice magician would make sure nothing bad happened.
“Just what I hoped to hear!” Marisa said with clear glee in her voice. She took a step back, urging Kagerou to take me off and lay me down somewhere.
The werewolf refused to comply. She shook her head and looked down at me with concern plain on her face. Kagerou used a hand to cup me gently, pressing me against her bosom. Marisa shrugged to herself and seemed to accept the maid’s reluctance.
“Thanks for the concern,” I said to my wolfy friend. To my new magician pal, I added, “If she feels it’s better to keep me close, then I’m all for it. That’s not a problem, right?”
“Nah, it should be fine for something simple,” Marisa said. Whatever else she might have thought about our relationship she kept to herself. She scratched the side of her head just under the brim of her hat, thinking about what she would do next. Shortly after, she nodded to herself. Marisa waved a finger towards herself and urged Kagerou to stretch out her hand towards her.
“Nothing is going to happen to me either, right?” Kagerou asked, skeptical of everything that was happening. Her hand clenched over me, seemingly protecting not only me but herself. With a bit of an impotent twinge to her words, she added, “You better not hurt him.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful” the magician reassured her, brushing her fingers over her hand to coax it open. Kagerou’s long and sharp fingernails lightly grazed her in return as she unclenched me.
Marisa dug into her pocket and produced a small wooden box. The sight of it was enough to make Kagerou recoil. “That’s not being careful!” she howled, pivoting away like she was ready to run.
“I’m not going to use it,” Marisa laughed, “relax! There’s something else in the pocket I want.”
Kagerou turned back around slowly, her ears rigid and alert. She trusted the magician less and it felt like she was having second thoughts about being a part of this. With a wary gaze she watched as Marisa put the hexagonal box into a pocket on the opposite side of her outfit and dug into the first pocket again. The nervousness didn’t go away as the magician produced what looked like a tiny vial of something opaque. She removed the stopper and drank the few drops of the also-viscous liquid without qualm.
Marisa’s eyes brightened. Though it was no doubt Kagerou’s skittishness that affected my perception, I could have sworn that I saw something akin to an aura flicker momentarily at the edges of the magician’s body. “I needed a little pick-me-up,” the blonde confessed with a coy smile. “I’m ready to try that spell now.”
“Here goes nothing...” I said, hoping for the best.
Kagerou stretched out her hand as far as the chain would go as Marisa muttered some words under her breath. I tried to watch closely, hoping to absorb any details about the spell for my own knowledge. Whatever happened proved incomprehensible, however. In an instant there may have been a flash? I heard a loud rumbling and keenly felt Kagerou’s worry as it became my own. Then, for a moment, nothing.
I felt the prickling of needles against the skin, wholly and powerfully as if my whole body had fallen asleep and was suddenly urged back into motion. It hurt but only just. A great shudder overcame me, originating from depths unknown. Another sensation followed, explosive and all-encompassing. It was one of trembling release: ecstasy and relaxation mixed with relief. It was the forgotten sensation of physicality and one of the most intimate pleasures of corporeal existence. With a single happy thought all possibilities appeared open; I could just as easily wiggle my toes as I could embrace a loved one and cry and laugh with my own vocal cords.
It was a fleeting sensation and when it passed I didn’t feel melancholic—rather I was pleased that it happened at all. I felt spent and unfocused with very little of the world filtering in to my senses. The first thing I really became aware aware was Kagerou, her expression dark and uneasy. She said something softly but I couldn’t hear. I felt her warmth all around me. I could feel the softness of her hand, then the beating of her heart as she held me close to her chest again.
“You’re a good girl,” I said, not intending to sound patronizing but failing to think of any other way to express the affection I felt for her. I saw her sigh and her ears droop from their high state of alert. “Sorry, I can’t really hear you,” I said as she mouthed something else. Anything beyond those most basic of sensations were elusive and filtered back slowly over the course of perhaps a minute or two.
“...you’re an idiot,” she said with a pout, coming through at last.
“Oh hey, I guess I didn’t die after all,” I laughed, happy to hear her again. I was sensitive to her emotions and my own mix of relief and joy matched her own. “Guess we’re stuck with each other a while longer.”
“No more magic!” she shook her head, “that was too strange.”
It was then that I noticed that I hadn’t been the only one affected by the spell. Marisa had crumpled to her knees, not having collapsed entirely by virtue of holding onto her broom firmly. None of the pep from earlier could be detected on her face—she seemed about as unfocused as I had been and slower to recover. Her breathing was accelerated and shallow and her face reddened by what might be interpreted as a result of great exertion.
“Are you alright?” Kagerou asked for me, trying Marisa next. She approached the magician. When no reply came, she touched her shoulder. That caused Marisa to shake and almost loosen her grip on her support. The werewolf intervened and tried to hold her upright. “What just happened?” she asked no one in particular.
“...fine, I’m fine,” Marisa slurred, trying to force an impression that she had collected herself. That had the opposite effect as her head was clearly swimming in the clouds. Awareness returned to her golden eyes slowly. Kagerou crouched down and made as if she planned to prop her up with her shoulder. The magician objected with the slightest of shaking of her head. The werewolf backed off, unsure of what to do and looked down at me as if to ask what to do next. That wasn’t necessary. By then, a benign smile was firmly had been etched onto the blonde’s lips. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes, “I just need another moment please.”
“You can tell me what you saw,” I told Kagerou, “I’m not sure I understood what happened.”
“There was a light, you began to float and then that stopped,” she put it succinctly. “Both you and Marisa stopped talking for a few minutes. She looked like she was intensely thinking or feeling something. Then you talked to me. That’s about it.”
“You didn’t hear or feel anything?”
“No. What happened to you?”
“Um...” I tried to explain what I felt but couldn’t find the words. “I felt… feelings. It felt good and I couldn’t really think. Sorry, that’s a shit explanation.”
“Yeah,” she agreed with a sigh. “Somehow I believe that’s the best you can do.”
She looked over to Marisa again who looked as relaxed as I felt. We watched as she slowly got up to her feet and by piecemeal remembered how to live. She dusted herself off lethargically and tried to walk, finding that her knees were weak and her steps unsure. She kept that smile all the while and I was unsure if it was meant to reassure us or was simply a reflection of how she truly felt.
“I’ll be right back,” she said, trying to make her tone more normal and serious. She groped her way towards a tree, using her broom as a walking stick.
“I think she’ll be gone for a while,” I guessed and told Kagerou to find a spot where she could sit.
The werewolf was perplexed by everything and I couldn’t blame her. I had no words to describe what had gone down and so I stayed quiet as she snacked on the last of the snacks she was carrying around. I wanted to tell her that trying the spell was a worthwhile experience but I couldn’t articulate why. Then again, if she could feel my emotions like I felt hers she probably already knew. A little quiet time was in order.
Marisa returned after about ten minutes. Her gait was sure and her body language more like her usual self. Still she carried the air of someone who had been for a long soak in a hot spring or had received a particularly vigorous massage—worry and tension were instantly repelled by her unburdened state of mind. Her hat was in her hand, exposing tussled and wily strands. Some of her golden hair was matte and stuck to the her head, clearly the result of perspiration adhering to skin and then time drying locks. She didn’t seem to mind the look and looked pleased to feel the air directly with her head.
“Are you well?” Kagerou asked after her well being again.
“Yes, yes I am,” Marisa said with a happy nod. Though her face was no longer flush she still had the placidly slack look of a person who had recently enjoyed several drinks.
“So, what happened?” Kagerou asked her the same thing she asked me.
“Magic!” Marisa giggled, bliss barely contained, “it’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to me in a long time. And, nah, I don’t really know. I’m going to have to think about this long and hard later.”
“I believe her,” I told Kagerou, “it felt like I was knocked off of my feet. It must have been the same for her.”
“Oh, yes, something like that,” Marisa agreed, giving me a wink. Or, rather, Kagerou’s chest where I was now again hanging freely from her neck.
The sky was beginning to turn red and orange on the edges. Marisa suggested we go back by flying. She sat on her broom, which hovered off the ground like that was the most natural thing that a broom could do. She swayed on the broom but didn’t fall—showing that she was still not entirely her old certain self. I would have made a humorous observation about flying werewolves but truth be told, my wits still weren’t completely back. Instead I stayed quiet as they zipped up and towards the mansion.
We arrived in record time. No further words were exchanged.
The gate guard looked stiff and tense when welcoming us and the reason was immediately obvious—Patchouli was standing by the gate as well, having obviously been expecting us.
“You do have sharp eyes,” Patchouli said to Meiling. The guard took the compliment gladly, the tension dissolving from her shoulders.
“Oh, heya, Patchy,” Marisa greeted her fellow magician, “you knew I was coming?”
“Yes,” she replied simply, a needle-thin smile on her lips.
“We got some of what you asked for,” Kagerou said, taking the time to wave a greeting to Meiling. The gate guard smiled broadly and pressed pair of fingers to her temple, motioning at her in an impromptu salute.
“Go wait at the usual spot,” Patchouli instructed Marisa, directing the latter’s still-scatterbrained energy towards a purpose. The black and white magician shrugged and complacently did as told. The cool magician shot a brief glance at the gate guard who got the hint that she wanted some privacy and slunk off somewhere else.
The maid dug up some of the day’s haul and presented them to Patchouli. She didn’t seem too interested. “Didn’t you want these ingredients?” Kagerou asked.
“That may wait a while,” Patchouli said, looking Kagerou over with a scrutinizing gaze. Then, all of a sudden, she smiled genuinely, melting away all of her usual ice. It almost felt like I had a heart that could skip a beat. Patchouli added softly, “You’ve done well today and have my thanks.”
“Oh, it was no problem at all,” Kagerou replied, taken aback in a good way by the magician’s praise. “Unfortunately I wasn’t able to do anything for Lady Remilia.”
“She will manage for a few days yet,” Patchouli said. “It is easier to go farther when the destination becomes clearer.”
“Um...” Kagerou was lost. But I got it.
Time seemed to slow as Patchouli started right at us. At me. In both hands held something for me, something that I had to see and feel for myself. I tried to focus, keep myself being drawn into one accidentally. That she wasn’t stretching out and presenting them openly didn’t mean that they weren’t for me to take.
“Well then?” she asked, adding to the maid’s confusion.
 There had been a very human warmth during those long nights. Even if some of that came from bloody tears.  The cold seemed to penetrate down to our souls. Still we kept to the outside and moved our bodies in tandem because it was a fun distraction.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/09/05(Thu)13:00
May start to write before if the conditions are right. Will call it clearly if that’s the case.
[X] There had been a very human warmth during those long nights. Even if some of that came from bloody tears. What the fuck Marisa. We know the Kama Sutra states that sex is magic, but that doesn't mean you should be engaging in a threesome with our amulet!