She stared into my eyes with naked desire. There was no stopping her.
It had begun with a sigh, world-weary yet empathetic. Just moments earlier we had been happily chatting away to while away the night. Drinks were a matter of course. The intimacy of her boudoir was disarming; the plush cushions threatened to suck one into a state of complacency while the red velvet material offered an almost ticklish kind of stimulation. The evenings we spent together all invariably became casual and relaxed.
Sakuya had joined us that night—a sign of things to come in retrospect. She had happily let both her mistress and I do the lion’s share of the talking and only interjected every now and again mostly to curb the vampire’s rhetorical excesses. For the most part she had spent the evening observing, nodding silently and occasionally smiling. Whenever she did engage in a subject for more than a few sentences it wasn’t the abstract past that Remilia was so fond of talking about but rather about the more recent events of the days and weeks. In other words: largely the time we spent together.
We all sat apart in a circle of chairs and furniture. I was on the narrow sofa while Remilia and Sakuya sat on chairs opposite one another. I had declined the offer of another drink because I already felt that my wits strained. There was no need to try them further and risk a slip of the tongue. I told myself that I took pride in my dependable composure. Sakuya had one of her few drinks of the night, staring at the melting ice cube intently.
“It needs to be now,” Remilia said after sighing. There was no doubt that she was drunker than the rest of us. She had had a few more than everyone else. Still, she seemed to sober up fairly quickly as she became serious.
I nodded, understanding at once what she meant.
Wordlessly, she put down her glass and stood up. Remilia managed to keep her poise as she took the few steps to where I was and sat down next to me. There was limited space on the dainty sofa. Not that it mattered. Remilia overlapped me in places, her arms swinging over my shoulder and a leg straddling my own. It wasn’t just the upholstery that tickled but also soft determined breath on my cheek and neck. Utterly undignified but entirely necessary.
Remilia was small and maneuvered quickly, putting most of her weight on me. My eyes met Sakuya’s for a final time and she looked right past me. The vampire caressed my face tenderly as a lover would, projecting further intimacy for both of our sakes. She nuzzled my neck before rising up to kiss it many times over, leaving a sticky trail of saliva. Using a hand to gently turn my face she rested her forehead against mine and brought our lips close together. My heart beat faster and I could feel that the sensation of dangerous excitement was mutual.
She let out a whimper before drawing a sharp nail over the wet spots on my neck. The look in her intensely crimson eyes was a touch pathetic and showed that she was at her very limit.
“It’s alright,” I whispered and smiled like the lamb I was.
She no longer held back. After giving me that plainly animal look she straddled me like an experienced whore. Her body pressed against mine fully and without a trace of modesty. We both felt stimulated and excited; her unnatural powers were not entirely to blame. Her arms wrapped tightly around my neck and back and, had I not been on bottom, I suspect that her legs would have locked around me as well.
Remilia squirmed wildly as her face moved downwards and panting breaths grew quicker against the skin of my neck. I didn’t know when it happened just that it eventually did: a feeling of blissful acceptance washed over me. I kept my smile—a frozen grimace—as she drew out my essence with rabid intent. I could feel my warmth spreading into her and, indeed, dribbling down my neck and elsewhere. I was limp and a plaything of a vessel. It was difficult to think much or feel much else but a general agreeable sensation.
The entire exchange of fluid only lasted but a minute. Remilia withdrew soon, raising her face back again over my own tilted face. She was intensely stained by my blood. I had marked her as much as she had marked me. A twin trail of red streamed from her mouth down towards her chin and likely ended all over her dress. Flecks of red marred her cheeks and globs even appeared as tears below her eyes. Hers was an expression of ecstasy and love, both thankful to me and entirely selfish.
She groped my chest with a hand, caressing gently. Her eyes met mine once again and it seemed like she was still entranced—though with a reconfigured desire. Her lips met mine and roiling wetness filled my mouth. She kissed me as a lover would, her lust undisguised. The metallic and burning flavors of her tongue were even more intoxicating than a bottleful of drink. Waves of delirious excitement wracked my brain and I felt parts of me begin to become responsive once again. I breathlessly grabbed her shoulders and she accepted the advance by suffocating me with more heart-pounding intensity.
She held onto one of my hands firmly even as the other went on to do what we both thought should come next. Her small body began grind against mine without a whit of self-restraint.
“Milady,” Sakuya interrupted the spectacle. “That is enough for now,” she said loudly but without emotion.
Remilia drew back from me as recognition and sense returned to her eyes. My lungs burned as I realized I could finally breathe again.
“Milady,” Sakuya began again, firmer with her intervention.
“I hear you Sakuya,” Remilia said softly. A loud sigh followed as she rolled off on me, spent, and onto the sofa. My head swam as I struggled to regain my composure. I touched the side of the neck and could feel magic at work—the punctures were nearly closed and only fast-drying blood could be felt.
“It becomes more intense every time it happens,” I said between ragged breaths as my heart and body began to settle down.
“Indeed it does,” Remilia agreed, still looking more like a slattern than the all-powerful mistress. Her hair had become disheveled and her small bosom heaved in synchronicity with my chest. We avoided direct eye contact, each preferring to stare out at the wall. The sultry connection between us remained painfully strong and just below our surface thoughts.
“Would you like me to fetch you a change of clothes?” ever the maid, Sakuya raised a practical question. Remilia had dyed her clothes with dark blotches of my blood.
“No,” Remila frowned, “I’ll go and get changed by myself. I think it would be for the best if I then got some fresh air.”
“Very well,” Sakuya nodded, watching as her mistress made a wobbly attempt to get to her feet. She seemed indifferent to her struggle and did nothing to help her up or to walk out of the room. All the alcohol she had consumed, along with the feeling of satiety, worked in tandem to keep her precariously off balance. Still, she managed to make it to the door and beyond without stumbling. That was perhaps a byproduct of resurgent pride. If she felt anything like me, she may as well lie in bed in quiet contentment and drift off to sleep.
“...sorry about that,” I said sheepishly as I made the gargantuan effort to sit up and pour myself a drink. Fuck the pretense of composure and fuck pride. My hands trembled and felt cold but I managed to lift the bottle and pour. I didn’t hesitate to bring the drink immediately to my lips and it washed away the taste of blood and saliva with astringent efficiency. As an added bonus, its depressive effects were felt almost immediately and made me less self-conscious.
The maid joined me, pouring another drink along with the last of the very melted ice cubes. She glided next to me, sitting down on the sofa. After taking a drink she produced a white handkerchief and dabbed my neck and face. The white cloth quickly became red as more blood had spilled out than I had realized. It didn’t seem like much of it had gotten on my clothes, thankfully. That would at least spare Sakuya another chore.
I laughed. “You shouldn’t have to clean me up,” I complained to the universe.
“I want to,” she said quietly, her gaze solely focused on the task.
“This won’t do!” I growled playfully and grabbed her thin arm. “Come on, I can deal with all of this stuff later. You’ve done enough.”
“Have I?” she laughed bitterly. How unlike her. Ah well, I guess that I was privileged in that way—I got to see all sorts of things about her that others seldom saw. Even Remilia was accustomed to either her dutiful side or her happy-go-lucky and sometimes scatterbrained comments.
“Well, maybe there’s a bit more you can do,” I said and tried to get her closer to me.
“...idiot,” she said, not offering up much in the way of resistance.
“You mean selfish idiot,” I laughed, finishing off my drink. I felt smaller than her at the moment and so leaned into my vulnerabilities. I placed my head on her shoulder and relaxed.
Sakuya moved one of her braids out of the way and let me rest in peace. She sighed and began to stroke my head gently, like the spoiled child that I was. A question that needed no context followed, “Why?”
I thought about it. My brain was barely better than slosh so it took me ages to come up with an answer. When I did think of it, however, I was plainly determined. “It’s because a deal is a deal,” I said, “even when circumstances change.”
I didn’t know if she was satisfied with that answer. She didn’t make her feelings known. Or maybe she did and I just lacking the means to understand. My soused and relatively blood-starved brain had had enough. With her gentle embrace and caresses I drifted off into a very peaceful sleep. She would join me before too long and we stayed together until the break of dawn. Neither of us spared any thoughts for Remilia.
Kagerou was in the bath. She was scrubbing herself clean of grime and dust. I hung around her neck, sudsy. I accidentally learned about some of her anatomical details that were above the waterline.
“Hey, sorry, I just came back from whatever,” I told her, tuning her out, “I may have seen a bit of you just now. Wanted to be honest about that.”
“Al?” she smiled and joked, “it’s fine. You’re like a sister, why would I mind if you saw me naked?”
“I’m not going to dignify that with an answer,” I said. “What happened while I was gone?”
“I didn’t notice you were gone for a while, actually,” Kagerou said as she leaned back in the bath. She wasn’t teasing. “That magician of yours smiled and said something that I didn’t get and then went away. I tried to give her the stuff we got but she said to leave it in the library and she’d find it later. Not really very polite but whatever.”
“She gave me something again,” I told her.
“Was it like before?”
“Yeah,” I said, vividly recalling the sensation on my neck. “Remilia was there as was Sakuya.”
I filled her in briefly on what I experienced. Some of the embarrassing details were withheld for everyone’s sake. The modesty and dignity of a lady were sacrosanct, after all.
“And you’re sure that it happened to you?” she asked the obvious.
“I don’t know. It felt like it did. But there’s no way to be sure it was me. Not like there was a mirror to see myself. Or even then, if the person in the mirror is the really real me.”
“Guess it’s complicated,” she concluded. The naked maid likewise filled me in on what happened since then. She dined with Remilia who was still sulking and not very chatty. Afterwards, she checked in with the fairy staff. There were a few loose ends of work she did and then she decided to take a bath and freshen up.
“Huh,” I got a strange feeling just as she was finishing up with her bath. “Don’t ask me how I know but I think Marisa is looking for you.”
“Where is she?” she accepted my feeling at face value. Recent events made outlandish things like that easier to swallow.
I concentrated. “Second floor, not that far away actually. The fairies are avoiding her so she’s somewhat lost.”
Kagerou dried herself off and put on clean clothes. With my guidance she found the wandering magician in no time flat.
“Oh hey!” Marisa greeted her enthusiastically, “long time no see, eh?”
“Were you looking for me?” Kagerou asked.
“Yeah, I wanted to say that I enjoyed our time together. That means you too, Al!”
“It certainly was interesting,” I said, still not entirely sure what had happened. I had had too many different experiences in one day and was pretty emotionally overwhelmed. Even that encounter with the redhead felt like it happened a week ago.
Kagerou seemed to share my fatigue. “A lot happened and I feel pretty tired. I’m just about ready for sleep I think,” she said with a smile.
“Oh, yeah, I getcha. I want to get home and have a little fun in the bath before bed,” Marisa nodded, not bothering to define what ‘a little fun’ actually meant. Could be anything from adding bath salts to wrestling a fairy into submission judging from her energy.
“We’ll talk some other day about what happened, right?” I asked.
“Hmm, yeah, we should,” Marisa said…blushing? She averted her gaze from us, staring at her own shoes. “Patchy said… well, no that’s not important!” she rallied, trying to force a change of subject, “I also wanted to give you some advice for tomorrow. About Reimu. Bring her a gift and she’ll be more willing to hear you out. Hope that helps!”
She turned as if to scramble away and leave immediately.
“It does, thank you,” Kagerou nodded, “shall I walk you out?”
“I can find my own way!” Marisa waved a frantic goodbye before jumping into the stairwell. What a very odd girl.
“...it’s probably best if you unwind and go to bed early,” I told Kagerou, “it’s been a long day.”
“You’re right,” she agreed.
The werewolf read a few more pages of her horrid fiction before turning in early. I watched her sleep for some time, envious of just how carefree she seemed. Maybe that reflected well on me as well—I was helping her deal with the stress of the job effectively. Funny how in such a short time I had begun to genuinely care that she was happy. Ah, but that sort of sentimentality was useless. Right?
Still, I wondered… it was a restless night for me as I tried to process everything. I thought about talking to Sakuya but after she had made fun of me last time… no that wasn’t it. It wasn’t because she made fun of me. It was also because of what I saw. There were big blanks that I couldn’t fill yet about our relationship. That is, if we even had a relationship before. Before? It could be visions of the future for all I knew. It was magic and there were no real points of reference, I had to admit. All I knew for sure was that I was anchored to the colorful stone around the werewolf’s neck.
When morning came around I had no new insights into what happened. All that I had really internalized was Marisa’s advice. That is to say, what sort of things a shrine maiden would appreciate most.
 Fancy tea and snacks were a fine choice.  A bottle of something good from the cellar was a more grown up gift.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/09/06(Fri)13:00
Kagerou got up at a decent hour, got dressed, enjoyed a filling breakfast and made sure the rest of the staff was clear on their duties for the day. The routine was becoming second nature to her and I didn’t feel it necessary to give her any particular advice on what to do. Funnily enough, I found myself relaxing more while she did all that than I had all of the previous night. I only really ‘woke up’ again when she was almost all set to leave.
“That’s not a bad idea, are you sure Remilia won’t mind?” Kagerou asked as she slung her bag over a shoulder.
“It’s for her sake that we’re doing this, right?” I explained, “it’s just the cost of getting things done properly. I’m sure she won’t miss a single bottle.”
It wasn’t a very drawn-out discussion. Kagerou agreed with my premise and went down into the storage spaces. A sign at the bottom of the stairs with faded letters warned that the area was for authorized personnel only. As if to make clear that it was no joking matter, a crudely drawn skull and bat were used as punctuation. I supposed that might intimidate a curious fairy.
Past a creaky wooden door lay a vast vaulted space. It was separated into various areas; we stood in something like a vestibule which connected to a larger main space. Beyond that, it was too dark to see much but it seemed like there were side aisles and possibly a transept. Arches and columns separated the spaces as well as the many racks with casks and bottles. Just judging by the limited amount that was visible from the entrance, there were several lifetimes’ worth of drink stored down there. Only someone serious about proper storage would build an underground cathedral of that magnitude.
Kagerou sniffed the air and found it cool and somewhat damp. “She definitely won’t miss a bottle,” she said, venturing into the nave. It was instantly clear that finding what we wanted would be no easy task. There weren’t any signs hung around nor clear logic to the organization scheme.
“Maybe we should call on the fairies who come down here to get things,” I suggested.
“Waste of time,” she said, “besides I don’t want anyone to know what we took. Remilia might not mind if we tell her after solving things but she’s not in the best of moods right now.”
“Oh, that’s a pretty good point,” I agreed. A point I should have probably come up with first.
“I’ll just try getting a few things from wherever and you can tell me if they’re good or not,” she decided, trusting in my impeccable sense of taste. Surely even if I didn’t really know everything there was to know about wine or fine liquors I could muddle through with instinct.
I wasn’t sure what would be best for a shrine maiden. A monsignor would be over the moon with the endless variety of wine on display. Kagerou couldn’t read most of the labels on the bottles but I recognized most of the scripts and plenty of the words—I was sure that the things I couldn’t make out were mostly names of vineyards and estates in places that may or may not exist any longer. Numbers were the easiest thing to make out and it quickly became clear that the real wealth of the mansion was nestled in those alcoves and on wine racks.
Grabbing a random bottle and calling it a day would have likely been fine. We ventured deeper into the area, beyond crates and larger containers, and found that there were all sorts of spirits available as well. Kagerou made a comment about a particularly pungent wooden cask she brushed by and I identified the smell instantly as whiskey. Aged for an inordinate amount of time… it likely tasted incredibly good. My companion seemed bothered by the fragrant aroma, her nose twitching with displeasure when she got too close to something strong.
It was almost too dark to see when we got closer to the apse. Kagerou was right in the middle of suggesting that we just turn around and grab whatever when a solution came into being. A faint ball of light appeared just in front of her. Instead of being something otherworldly like one might expect from a vampire’s sacred cellar it was instead decidedly mundane. It looked like a flashlight, casting regular light that did not flicker nor change in color.
“What is that?” she reached out at the ball and found that her hand passed harmlessly through it, momentarily casting spidery shadows against the floor and far-off walls. She turned and found that the light turned with her, maintaining a constant distant to her body.
“I think I know,” I said, “that’s magic.”
“Magic?” she narrowed her eyes skeptically, “whose?”
“Mine,” I replied. I didn’t understand how nor why but as soon as I had thought about making the place a little brighter the ball had appeared. To prove it to myself, I thought about making the light go away. It did. Kagerou’s vision struggled to adjust to the sudden change of light.
“Since when can you…?” she began to ask.
“Uh, no clue!” I said, flicking the light back to life with a thought. Naturally, I wanted to pretend that I was a powerful being with unknown and possibly unlimited potential. Yet, on the other hand, I didn’t really think it appropriate to lie to her about something that was as much of a surprise to me as it was to her. Not after all the other things I had told her about.
“Marisa?” she brought up the blonde’s name, making the obvious connection.
“Maybe!” I replied. Maybe that crystalline body of mine was like a magical battery. Sure, that made an amount of sense. From a certain perspective. Perhaps. “We can talk on the way to the shrine,” I said, buying some time for me to process things. “For now, let’s get what we came for.”
We were both thinking about my new ability too much to discriminate between choice of drink for much longer. In the end I told Kagerou to grab a bottle with a clear liquid and a label that said ‘plum’ in several languages—I assumed it would be some sort of brandy. That sounded like something a shrine maiden might enjoy. More importantly, it didn’t seem like something priceless nor irreplaceable and thus unlikely to incur Remilia’s wrath.
The werewolf was glad to leave the crypt-like space behind. It didn’t seem like she like damp smells. Unfortunately for her, outside wasn’t much better. There had been light showers sometime in the early morning and everything had a very distinct watery tinge to it. The clouds were somewhat gray but weren’t concentrated enough to threaten any more sudden rain. Still, she kept her cloak on just in case of a sudden downpour.
The roads hadn’t turned to mud so Kagerou chose to walk to give us time to talk.
“What else can you do?” she asked, avoiding a small puddle by hopping over it.
“No clue,” I replied.
“Okay,” she nodded, “how did you do what you did?”
“I just thought about lighting up things and it happened,” I told her, “didn’t need to memorize a series of words to cast a spell if that’s what you’re getting at.”
“Huh, well, do you feel any different? Maybe there’s a clue there?”
“I feel about the same as I always do. Maybe like tugging Marisa’s braid?” I joked.
“I’ll do that for you next time,” she answered, laughing, “I’m sure she won’t mind. I think you left a good impression on her.”
“It’s just my natural way with people.”
“Hm, I’m going to let that one go,” Kagerou rolled her eyes, “more seriously, shouldn’t we try to see what else you’re capable of doing?”
“And how are we going to do that?” I asked.
“Well… thinking about things?” she didn’t sound very sure of herself. But, then again, she may have been onto something. I could try wanting things and seeing what happened. Or… concentrating? Whatever it was, it was basically flailing about and hoping for the best.
While I wanted to know what was up with me, the downside to just trying things was rather obvious. Also possibly very dangerous. It was also something to do while we made our way to the shrine.
 Try a few thought experiments.  It’s probably safer to consult a magician first.
No timer since I'm unsure when I'll be able to commit to writing. Probably soon! I'll keep tracking votes and call it at some point when things are looking clear.
Despite her initial enthusiasm for magic, Kagerou didn’t seem too upset by my more cautious approach. “I don’t want to accidentally blow up a mountain,” I joked by way of explanation.
“Could that really happen?” she asked knowing that neither of us had an answer.
“Think about yesterday: you didn’t really trust Marisa,” I pointed out. She at one moment flinched when the magician was getting ready to cast her spell. “I guess that was about you thinking that she couldn’t keep her power in check. Why risk that?”
“It would attract attention,” she said with unease, looking around with a mild streak of paranoia. “If you stand out, it feels likelier that we’d get into a fight.”
“Hadn’t thought of that. But makes sense,” I agreed. The inhabitants of Gensokyo were strange to say the least.
As we continued to walk among soft earth and wet grass the conversation moved away from actual powers and possible effects and towards the logical conclusion of the decision. “I don’t think we would get much from Patchouli,” Kagerou shared her opinion.
“I think we would,” I disagree.
“I’m not surprised to hear you say that,” she rolled her eyes, thinking the obvious.
“It’s not because I like her,” I told her, trying to frame it as a rational decision. Proper learning needed proper structure. “Does Marisa strike you as the type to sit still for long enough to give a thorough lecture about magic usage? She’d probably keep trying to cast spells on me to see what would happen.”
“But that doesn’t mean that Patchouli will be better. If she doesn’t outright ignore us-”
“She won’t!” I interjected. That elicited another eye roll.
“-as I was saying,” the maid proceeded calmly, “I’m not sure she would take the time to explain. And, if she did, it probably wouldn’t be straightforward. Think books and roundabout explanations about nature or something else. I’m not going to read books that are thicker than my head and full of hard words.”
“...not even if I ask nicely?”
“It’s asking too much,” Kagerou said. And yeah, she was right. I couldn’t force her to sit and read for probably dozens of hours things that she had absolutely no interest in. Never mind the fact that she wasn’t a strong reader.
“We’ll see what happens when it happens,” I brought the discussion to something similar to a close. “Who knows?” I joked, “with our luck we could run into a third magician today who combines Marisa’s approachability with Patchouli’s serious understanding.”
Kagerou’s ears drooped back and her shoulders went slack. It was a joke that sounded all too plausible given recent events. For better or worse, that was it for magic for the moment. It was quiet for a while. When we next talked the subject shifted to something more immediate. With an annoyed huff about the unevenly wet portions of the road, Kagerou decided to pick up the pace and abandon the road altogether. We zoomed to the shrine conspicuously but in record time.
The wooded hillside looked desolate in the light that filtered through the grey clouds. The trees swayed silently, from time to time, as a breeze passed through them. It was quiet and I felt that Kagerou tensed up as soon as she started up the path to the shrine proper. Some of her paranoia had rubbed off on me as well—I could feel that we both thought that someone might be watching us. From where and why I had no idea. The feeling remained unspoken as I didn’t want to add any fuel to the fire.
There was no mistaking that Kagerou was intimidated by the shrine. Her steps slowed and, when consciously noticed, her pace was over-corrected with almost mechanical strides. She fiddled with the clasp on her cloak more than once; it was almost as if she believed that the fabric acted like a protective barrier. By the time that she passed under the wooden gate her eyes darted back and forth suspiciously for any signs of life.
At first glance, the shrine was a fairly mundane location. Paved stone led all the way up to a small wooden structure. Religious structures weren’t an area of expertise for me but I supposed that it looked suitably shrine-like. The slopped roof came to a halt in front at a smaller wooden gate; a thick rope was tied lengthwise on it as well as a few tassel-like ribbons that could well be charms or symbols of purity. A short series of steps led to an altar or box of some sort and beyond that wooden sliding doors obscured the rest of the structure.
There may have been an additional structure further back but it was hard to see clearly from the entrance due to the nearby trees. “I expected something… bigger,” I confessed. The vibe I got from everyone whenever the shrine or its shrine maiden were brought up gave the impression that it was supposed to be an important location. It seemed anticlimactic that it was such a plain place.
“Come on, let’s find the shrine maiden,” I egged the werewolf on, trying to make her forget her anxiety. She could stand dumb beneath the first gate all day if she didn’t get an encouraging push.
Maybe Kagerou felt comforted that she had me along for the ride. I continued to make a few, mostly flippant, remarks as she approached the shrine. The wooden steps at the end were conquered with ease and barely hesitated before knocking on one of the wooden doors. I was about to crack a joke about maybe making a donation first to ensure a good reception but the answer from inside was immediate.
“Just a moment!” a girl’s voice cried out from inside. The pitter-patter of feet on wood followed.
The door slid open to reveal a young girl with dark hair and a large red ribbon on her head. The shrine maiden, evidently. Her outfit didn’t seem entirely conventional. Oh, sure, the red and white scheme was much the same. Her unusual choice in apparel included a red knee-high skirt, a matching vest on top with a white collar that shared the style of her large white sleeves. Accents of red and white as well as bits of pattern were prevalent on edges and often frilly. Even if she hadn’t been the shrine maiden it would have been fair to say that she was inspired by the look.
“...Yes?” she frowned upon seeing her visitor. It wasn’t quite disdain nor hostility but it expressed clear disappointment that it wasn’t someone she knew and liked.
Kagerou’s heart sunk. She managed to keep from stuttering but only just, “I have something that I would like to discuss with you,” she said quietly. “May I have a moment of your time?”
“Fine,” the shrine maiden crossed her arms, “I don’t have any snacks to offer.”
The subtext there was obvious. I encouraged Kagerou to stay on point.
“Shall we sit and talk?” the werewolf strained a smile. It betrayed how she felt quite clearly. Lucky for her, the shrine maiden wasn’t too interested in reading her and just wanted to get things over with.
They sat by the front steps. “Miss Reimu,” Kagerou started.
“I don’t really have time for all that nonsense,” the shrine maiden huffed, expecting the werewolf to trip over herself in pleasantries.
“Ah, alright,” Kagerou nodded, trying to build her courage up. I told her to just explain things as plainly as possible. “I’m working at the mansion at the lake,” she started necessarily from the top, “I’m temporarily chief maid.”
“Ah, is that so?” Reimu raised an eyebrow with a scintilla of interest. It was then that she seemed to realize that the uniform under the cloak wasn’t just a fashion choice. “I’m not surprised that she quit after having to deal for so long with all of that.”
“Sakuya didn’t quit,” Kagerou corrected her, “she’s taken personal leave for some time.”
“Sure, whatever,” Reimu shrugged, “I suppose they chose you because you can frighten the fairies into obedience.” She cocked her head towards Kagerou’s long nails. Enough said.
“That’s not really important,” Kagerou brushed aside the comment, “what I mean to say is that I’m on official business from the mistress.”
“...” Reimu stared ahead blankly, offering no reaction to mention of Remila. Were they friends and had a fight? That would explain Remilia’s distraught state but not the shrine maiden’s indifference. Unless that was meant to show that she was giving her the cold shoulder or something. I couldn’t get a definite read.
“Before we get to that,” Kagerou offered a helpful smile and reached into her bag, “I’ve brought a show of goodwill.”
That seemed to capture the shrine maiden’s undivided attention. She stared greedily as Kagerou produced the bottle. It didn’t seem that she knew what it was exactly.
“It’s something from milady’s private collection,” Kagerou explained, “a fine and rare spirit.”
“I see!” Reimu nodded happily, “so she stopped being quite so stingy.”
It would be unwise to reveal that it was our own initiative, clearly. Reimu grabbed the bottle with a slight smile and put it next to her. “I’ll make sure to try it later. I hope it’s good.”
Maybe it was just my imagination but things seemed less tense all of a sudden. It wasn’t that Reimu’s body language or even tone had changed much. Or anything else that obvious. Maybe it had all been in Kagerou’s mind but it seemed like the tension in the air had dissolved away. If it had been, then Marisa’s magical counsel had been useful.
“I hope you’ll enjoy it,” Kagerou said politely.
“I’ll have to hide it for the meanwhile...” Reimu mumbled to herself, taking a look around. Though she didn’t sport anyone else, she still moved the bottle and hid it behind where she sat.
“We can probably bring up Remilia now,” I told Kagerou. Though I wasn’t sure which approach was best. The shrine maiden’s patience did not seem like it would be infinite.
 Try to get a feel for the relationship between the vampire and the shrine maiden.  Confess that Remilia was out of sorts and had dispatched Kagerou to the shrine for some reason.
Time remaining: :: Timer ended at: 2019/09/17(Tue)12:00
I may write before the timer ends if there’s time and votes on Monday. Will let you know if that’s the case.
[x] Try to get a feel for the relationship between the vampire and the shrine maiden. If there's any time to not hit the "get on with it" button, it's here.
Reimu went from bitchy to almost willing as soon as the booze came out -- and I'll admit here that it ended up being a good idea, even if I thought it was a middling one at best before. This would be a perfect time to stick a feeler out and hopefully get some advantageous information as regards Al and Kagewoo's mistress and her relationships. Reimu's remark about Sakuya 'dealing with all of that' is particularly tantalising, though I doubt we'd get anything too direct on that.
Besides that, Reimu's distinct lack of reaction before that is too big of a signal flare to be ignored. This many hints in a row is practically a big red button asking to be pushed.
[x] Try to get a feel for the relationship between the vampire and the shrine maiden. We bothered to bribe her, so I feel like it'd be a waste to just go straight to the point. Gensokyo just seems like that kind of place, you know? Unless there's a serious incident, you talk around the point and socialize and drink tea and whatnot. Go with the vibe, man.
Kagerou understood what I meant and tried to act a little circumspective if not outright aloof. Her heart was in the right place but she still had a ways to go when it came to sniffing out the truth subtly. A particularly clumsy statement about Remilia’s personality would have been interpreted as most as something of a transparent probing attempt. Luckily for us, it didn’t seem like the shrine maiden picked up on that. Or, if she did, she didn’t appear to really care.
“Oh, so milady has come here before?” the werewolf continued with the same lack of tact.
“All sorts of people show up here, eager to bother me about this or that,” Reimu replied with some disinterest, relaxing her shoulders backwards. She grumbled, making it clear that she included my cute maid friend as part of that group, “More often than not it’s out of the blue and at the worst possible time.”
“Ah, I hope I’m not interrupting anything too important then,” Kagerou got the bludgeoning hint right away.
Reimu laughed, a flicker of mischievous energy lighting up her dark eyes. She shook her head as if to say, “no, I guess I didn’t really mean you after all,” before offering a pithy reason why it wasn’t the case. “You brought me something nice, that makes you way better than most of the people I see,” she explained.
“Glad to hear it,” Kagerou said, her ears drooping as the tension melted away. She was certain that she was a good girl. Yes she was. “I hope milady remembered to present something adequate on previous occasions.”
“Remilia is most troublesome when she’s convinced everyone loves her as much as she loves herself.” With a hearty chuckle, she added, “That happens to be most of the time. I’m sure you’ve noticed.”
“Ah, well, um,” Kagerou thought about what to say. I knew how she felt but I had to hand it to her she was being very mindful of her position and who she represented.
“Eh, guess the maid won’t badmouth her mistress,” Reimu observed with continuing humor. “That’s fine, this is all stuff that I’d tell her to her face anyhow. I’m sure she knows how annoying she can be.”
“Don’t get tongue-tied,” I piped up to rally Kagerou, “you’re doing fine talking to her otherwise. Let’s find out a bit more. Maybe be a bit more ‘honest’. Tell her that you’re trying to get a better feel for her.”
“Oh, yes, right,” Kagerou tried to act casual. She wasn’t exactly a natural card player. The words spilled out of her mouth much like a certain vampire’s food after she had had too much wine. “I don’t know milady that well and I was curious what other people thought of her. I didn’t know that she came around and I wonder if that’s a regular thing that happens...”
“I don’t really keep track of that. People come and go,” Reimu said with a shrug. “I guess I see her more often at that mansion of hers. Marisa usually has to drag me along but that’s not really something I want to get into. I could spend all day talking about the trouble that damn girl gets me into.”
Reimu sighed. The shrine maiden stared out at the front gate as if expecting someone to climb to the top of the steps at any moment. She bit her lip lightly and then shook her head. “I guess you said something about Remilia? Shouldn’t you be asking the other people that live over there?”
“It’s probably better if I get all sorts of opinions, right?” Kagerou fired back.
“Sure, I guess,” Reimu said, “I just don’t have much more that I feel like saying. There’s worse than her out there. And so I guess there’s also better?”
“Hm, I’m not sure that’s a very good answer,” Kagerou said without thinking.
“It isn’t,” Reimu conceded, “I don’t really think about that sort of stuff a lot. People come, talk to me, I deal with them and then go. No need to think more unless they’re really annoying and messing up things for everyone.”
I got the feeling that Kagerou was thinking about how Remilia could easily mess up things for everyone. And by everyone she meant herself. Vampires were weird creatures, we both knew. “Don’t get lost in thought now,” I told her, “we can bitch about Remilia being Remilia later.”
“Say, how did you get the job babysitting her anyways?” Reimu asked, curiosity belying the point she had just made a moment before.
“Sakuya found me one day and offered it,” Kagerou replied, tightlipped about the details.
“They certainly have their own weird way of thinking about things,” Reimu said of the mistress’ household, “they’re the type that enjoy their weirdness a lot. Know what I mean? You probably do.”
“Some of the things that they do or care about aren’t things that I would have thought much about before,” Kagerou managed a diplomatic reply. It was ambiguous enough to get the shrine maiden nodding like she was preaching to the choir.
“Right, and all that extra furniture that’s unused most of the time? It’s a bit much, don’t you think? I don’t know how you get those fairies to handle cleaning all that. I feel like I have my hands full with just my room and the rest of this shrine.”
The conversation seemed to gravitate towards things that the shrine maiden could relate to. Mainly things like sweeping the leaves, making sure the laundry was pulled in before it rained and how a nice cup of tea can make the difference between a bad day and a good one. Kagerou didn’t do much of the talking and it wasn’t due to a lack of trying—she just couldn’t think fast enough to try to steer things back to something that she wanted. And neither could I for that matter.
There was something really magnetic about Reimu. Though she obviously wasn’t as interesting as your average magician, there was a lack of pretension to her that was charmingly disarming. There was more to her than was obvious—the various names she occasionally referenced or random things beyond shrine life were like breadcrumbs that hinted at a more exciting whole. She felt at ease jumping from topic to topic and seemed familiar with all sorts of youkai.
“Gah, I really wish I could drink this right now!” Reimu gasped with exasperation after making a belabored point about a ‘kooky monk’. She took the bottle into her hands and stared at it intensely. “She always makes me wait just to annoy me, I’m sure...”
“If you’re expecting someone else, maybe we should move onto the actual reason for my visit,” Kagerou sensed that things were close to going off the rails. She did her best. But her best just wasn’t good enough.
“What is this stuff anyhow?” Reimu shifted the topic quickly. She looked the bottle up and down and then sniffed it but probably came away with nothing but the smell of dusty glass. `
“Uh,” Kagerou stared at the bottle blankly. Neither of them had any idea how to read the words printed on the label.
“It’s something plum-flavored,” I said.
“It has plums…?” Kagerou repeated with an unnecessary inflection.
“Oh, I like plum wine,” Reimu nodded and approved.
“It may be on the stronger end of the drink scale,” I warned. Maybe best matched for the non-Japanese palate, actually.
“It’s not quite that,” Kagerou struggled to explain. She came up with something accurate but simplistic, “It’s something fancy and probably strong.”
“...” Reimu stared at the bottle with ravenous intensity, caught up in a struggle as old as time: to drink, or not to drink, that was the question. There may have been little that was noble about a morning sip but it did make the mortal coil often much more bearable. It also was useful for eroding inhibitions. I know I would have loved to drink that if I had a body. And not just because I missed feeling things. The problem, of course, was feeling a little too much and then too little again as you passed out with dribble coming out of your mouth.
Ah well, such was life.
 Encourage Reimu to go for it  Try to keep things more grounded
This took longer than projected. Didn't like how the wall I had turned out in the end I dumped about 3.5k words and decided to go with a shorter and more focused update. No timer but maybe some time Friday if the votes are there and I'm not crazy busy?
The staring went on for a while. The shrine kept her eyes fixed on the bottle, a mix of resentment and desire translating into a scowl and pursed lips. The werewolf, in turn, looked on with discomfort at her and was unsure of what she should say or do. At times a flicker of good humor appeared as a faint smile as she built up the courage to intervene; this quickly was snuffed out by an rumbling apprehension that made her ears slick back.
The power dynamics at play were pretty obvious. As amusing as it might have been to watch and wait, perhaps hope that things would come to a head by themselves, I felt that I had to do something. So I did. “Do you think you can get her talking about something else again?” I asked, knowing the answer already.
Kagerou shook her head gently, preferring not to risk disturbing the shrine maiden.
“Alright, fine, I guess you know what you should suggest then,” I told her.
The maid’s shoulders slumped—she also knew that it was difficult to try anything else.
“Big smiles,” I encouraged her but also didn’t envy her.
Taking a deep breath, Kagerou broke the silence, “So, if you want, I don’t see the harm in having a little taste.”
The interjection made Reimu look away from the bottle and squarely at Kagerou. Her expression softened. “Is that so?” she asked, more or less instantly convincing herself that was the case.
“Yes, gifts are meant to be enjoyed and if you’re enjoying it, then it’s a good gift,” Kagerou presented an inscrutable argument. “It would make my visit worthwhile if I knew that you made the most of the gesture.”
I wondered how Sakuya was doing all of a sudden. Strange. I stayed quiet as things continued to unfold at a fast pace.
“You’re right, of course,” Reimu nodded and accepted the questionable wisdom. Her expression lightened up and a carefree twinkle appeared in her brown eyes. With a dismissive gesture with one hand towards the empty sky above, she added, “She can just deal with being late. It’s not my fault. I have my own life to live. Annoying people don’t ever change.”
She grabbed the top of the bottle and twisted the cap. The aged metal yielded easily and the seal broke open with a click. She brought the bottle up to her lips. And hesitated. She lowered the bottle again and asked, “Should I get us cups?”
“Us?” Kagerou was confused about something that should have been plainly obvious.
“Yeah, us,” Reimu narrowed her eyes, “you’re joining me, right? I mean it’s rude to drink alone.”
“...just like it is to refuse a nice gift,” I finished the unspoken thought for Kagerou.
Though I knew it didn’t sit right with her, she was committed to seeing things through. “Yes, a cup would be lovely,” she said, ever the mindful maid. The list of creatures that could push around a werewolf grew longer by the day.
“Just a moment then,” Reimu clumsily put the top back onto the bottle and got up. She then disappeared into the shrine.
“...sorry,” I felt compelled to apologize.
“You’re not sorry,” Kagerou rightly pointed out with a toothy and somewhat bitter smile.
“For what it’s worth, I wish it were me drinking with her,” I said, “I miss that.”
“I’d change places with you in an instant for this,” she grumbled, “I’m not used to drinking that much. I thought Remilia was bad, I hope she isn’t pushy...”
“It’ll be fine!” I said without any backing for my confidence. “Worse comes to worst, nurse your drink and let her drink herself silly. Make sure to keep her hair from her face if she hurls!”
“Very funny! Ha ha,” Kagerou said and then sighed.
I wanted to tell her that I was only half-joking but then Reimu came back with a small tray. There were pair of worn cups that had clearly been in daily use for countless years on top. The enamel was worn and looked ready to chip. “A pity I don’t have any snacks ready. It’s not as fun to drink without something to eat handy,” the shrine maiden lamented.
“I don’t mind it so much,” Kagerou said politely as she watched Reimu pour the clear liquid into the cups. She picked up her up and sniffed at the cup, finding the smell mostly mild and vaguely fruity save for a sharp kick at the end that was almost as if the scent remembered it was supposed to be coming from a liquor.
“Hm… interesting,” Reimu concluded, having taken a quick sniff of her own. I noticed that the liquid had become turbid when poured. “Cheers!” she motioned towards Kagerou before taking a fearless gulp.
“Cheers,” Kagerou echoed and took a far less committed sip. I concentraed on what she felt… neutral…vaguely sweet...and clear proof that it was a strong drink as the liquid rolled down her throat. An immediate feeling of warmth swelled up in the pit of her stomach. The werewolf grimaced a little, not really knowing how to react to the drink.
“Say, this isn’t half bad!” Reimu approved. She quickly finished up her glass and encouraged Kagerou to do the same. “I think that a certain someone that I know would love this, actually.”
“I’m not that good of a drinker, I’m going to try to take my time,” Kagerou said with an undercurrent of embarrassment. She took another small sip as she watched the shrine maiden pour herself another cupful. “It’s nice to see you enjoying yourself,” the maid offered mild commentary.
“I can’t really taste the plum,” Reimu said, sniffing at the liquid carefully before putting away some more from the cup. She closed her eyes and let the liquid rest in her mouth for a moment. A single drop glistened on the corner of her mouth as it slowly dribbled down to her chin. The shrine maiden swallowed with a noisy gulp and smacked her lips. “All the same, I could have this stuff all day.”
Having passed the shrine maiden’s standard for quality, she wasn’t shy about drinking to her heart’s content with a relative stranger. Kagerou seemed inspired by the laid-back aura and enjoyed her tipple. And then another. While she didn’t match Reimu’s zest for drink by a long shot, nonetheless about half of the bottle had evaporated soon enough.
Conversation flowed haltingly at first: Reimu interspaced comments about drink with the odd moan about this person or that person. A certain someone, always unnamed, was recurring but never properly described. Kagerou allowed her to vent, not really knowing what to make of the complaints but otherwise offered generic commentary on people and things. By the time that half of bottle began to be truly felt, the topics became somewhat less fleeting.
“So they just had your clothes ready before you even arrived?” Reimu asked, having spent a few minutes talking about the ‘strange people’ at the mansion. She pinched some of Kagerou’s uniform with her forefinger and thumb as if she were an old seamstress checking for quality. “Yeah, I guess she got your measurements while you didn’t realize.”
“Who do you mean?” Kagerou asked, her thoughts preoccupied with the accumulation of flavor on her tongue. Her obsession was such that I picked up on it easily; she thought that the liquor was indeed nice and plum-y.
“Just a trick the old maid could do,” Reimu said, closing her eyes for a moment, “very annoying stuff.”
“Oh, I see?”
“Well, I’m sure you’re capable of all sorts of stuff, too. You youkai are good at surprising people. Most of the time. And by people,” she sighed, as if recalling a something tedious, “I mean everyone except me. I can handle just about everything that’s thrown up, I mean thrown at me.”
I had to admit, she was pretty good at holding her liquor. Or at least pretending that she was fine. Reimu took increasingly longer pauses between sips, not to mention cups, but she kept at it steadily. Kagerou followed hesitantly but did not slow down. In fact, Kagerou was the first one to show the first overt signs of massive inebriation; her replies became looser and increasingly nonsensical as she slumped back into an overly-comfortable position. Not to disparage her too much but I thought that if someone rubbed her belly she would be in heaven. I couldn’t have been more envious.
Things quieted down again as Reimu eventually began to stare off into the distance more and more. I couldn’t tell if she was still thinking about whoever it was she was waiting for or if she was having trouble forming too many coherent thoughts.
“Lady Remilia...” Kagerou grumbled weakly, not really capable of much more coherence.
“Mmm, maybe I should look for snacks after all,” Reimu said quietly, “I’m sure I have something somewhere.”
Without much respect for the supine husk of a werewolf, she patted her on the head like a pet before staggering up to her feet. Kagerou didn’t seem to mind, just staring blankly ahead with a dumb smile. Once again alcohol had won against the limitations of the flesh. More annoyingly, I found that it was hard for me to focus on the surroundings much. My senses were diminished as a direct result of her own difficulties in perceiving space and time properly.
It might have been a good moment to have a heart to heart with Reimu were the sublimely relaxed werewolf capable of much in the way of speech. Were I a powerful magician, I was certain that I could cast a spell and move her body around effortlessly as if she were a marionette. I wasn’t an evil spirit either, as far as I knew, so I couldn’t quite possess her in the more traditional sense either. The best I could manage would be to accept her muddled feelings and be kind-of-sort-of-maybe inebriated by proxy. A rather shit consolation prize by any metric.
The shrine maiden was taking her sweet time, no doubt hobbled by rubbery legs and a less-than-optimal thought process. So that gave me time to think about what to do next. I could cast a spell of light? Nah, that wouldn’t do much. Try something new? Probably unsafe. We decided against it earlier. Accidentally burning down a shrine due to my awesome abilities would probably be more trouble that it was worth. Even completely sozzled, I don’t think Reimu would be very understanding.
Then it hit me. I could call Sakuya. She was probably busy with something but was a lifeline. She knew Reimu, she could offer some insight. What’s more, I missed talking to her. Had I a beating heart it would have skipped a beat at the thought of her. Then again… was there someone else I could reach? It almost felt like I could if I just put my mind into it…
 Contact Sakuya.  Try… Marisa?
Maybe Wednesday? Can’t commit but will make an effort depending on factors. We’ll see how it goes.
>>64348 >I don't think there's a single bad Marisa-focused update on this site. given how a lot of writers love to portray Marisa as an irritating little shit who pops in for SHENANIGANS, hard disagree
Ahh but you remember those instances right? Even when cast as a fool, Marisa still draws a reader's attention to what the author feels is important in that particular scene, thus the paradoxical nature of her 'bad' scenes still being good.
Sakuya brings exactly zero of that energy and focus. Too often I see her get shifted to the background when more noticeable characters are present.
“Careful, you’re getting slobber all over yourself,” I cautioned my very carefree companion. She lay with her arms splayed at either side, staring upwards at the ceiling, looking more like a soft stick of butter than a person. An attempt was made to raise an arm, presumably to wipe her face with a sleeve, but gravity proved an unconquerable foe. She grunted dismissively, unconcerned with her defeat.
Seeing as Kagerou had regressed into a non-verbal stage of existence for the time being, I tried to shut out her very imperfect senses for a moment. That didn’t prove too difficult and I found myself in my own little world before too long. It was comforting and private. In a sense, I copied the maid’s soft state of collapse with my mind and allowed my feelings and thoughts to just spread out as readily as her limbs.
Before getting too carried away, however, I began to focus. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for exactly but I went through a mental directory carefully. Useless information like Remilia’s three sizes were apparently there for some reason. In case I ever had to advise on purchasing her a dress, I supposed. Floor plans? Also accounted for. What to do in case of fire? Conspicuously absent.
Beyond the sense of fascination over miscellanea there was something else. Something that was connected as if by a string to other unseen clusters of information. A cursory tug at one of them gave a familiar sensation, one which led directly to the melting werewolf who now sported a somewhat stupid toothy smile. Surely her tongue would flop out the corner of her mouth at any moment. As amusing as that might be to see, I had other priorities.
I groped and pulled every which way possible, finding some of the strings taut and others loose and possibly connected to nothing else on the other end. I was glad to know that Sakuya was easy to reach though I didn’t dare hold onto that line for too long—she didn’t need to know of every little thing that went on with us. I noticed something else beyond that, something tenuous as if frayed to the point of invisibility. I concentrated more.
That string recalled memories of vanilla, of something recent and new. I felt myself thinking of Patchouli momentarily—a feeling of undefinable guilt vaguely stirred unease. That passed quickly. Either letting go or continuing to follow seemed like it could snap the string. With both nothing and everything to lose either way, I kept on trying to follow it to its end. It got thicker in places, conjuring memories of gold amidst darkness. Whenever I lost a fraction of my concentration, visions of colorful energy seemed to threaten to push me away entirely.
I was too mesmerized by curiosity to give up.
There was no way of telling how long I was caught up in the pursuit of the other end. At some point the string disappeared entirely without snapping. If I had stopped to think about it, I would have been flummoxed and lost the way entirely. It was still there in a way, perhaps, though more as a path of energy and thoughts. Stars—or maybe just distant points of hued light—seemed to decorate the space off to the distance. With increasing boldness I persisted, a drunk werewolf and sauced up shrine maiden feeling like something from a lifetime ago.
“I suppose I should start with hello,” I said to no one in particular. I forced a sound like a cough, afterwards adding, “hello.”
The endlessness of the string gave way to an uncertain location and an uncertain face. Or, more accurately, the back of a head. That didn’t seem right at all. I tried to adjust my view. Or wished I could. The distinction wasn’t very clear. The smell of damp…something. Still water, something earthen or perhaps nutty were mixed. Not so still, though that was only maybe a small part of it. Something rustled and someone jolted up to a standing position, nearly losing their balance in the process.
“…!?” there was a yip of confusion.
“...it’s Marisa, right?” I felt like I knew at once. I couldn’t say much about what I saw, as it was blurry and undefined, but my guess felt like it would be right on the money.
“Who-?” she scrambled to make sense of things. Her features came more into focus and I could almost taste her surprise—vaguely metallic—and felt something like a vicarious rush. Without missing a beat she both attempted to adjust her clothes and threaten retribution. She fumbled for something in her pocket, voicing something between a complaint and growl, “it’s not nice to sneak up on people, ya know.”
“I- well, look, it’s Al,” I said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t meant to startle you.”
“Al?” she asked as some of the anger simmered away instantly. It was replaced by confusion. I could make out more of her by the moment. Her eyes darted around at the woods around her, looking for someone who wasn’t there.
“I think I’m in your head,” I said, “I can only sort of see where you are.”
“In my head?” she repeated, sounding incredulous. “How?”
“Not sure!” I replied honestly. “I just... followed a string.”
“String?” she asked another half-formed question. “I have no clue what you're talking about. But you’re not here? And the maid?”
“Kagerou isn’t around, only I am,” I said.
“Fine, okay, give me a second to think. Could you leave me alone for a moment?”
“...if I do I’m not sure I can find my way back to you,” I told her.
“Ugh, whatever!” she blurted out, moving at lightning speed. I couldn’t be too sure about what I was seeing since things were fuzzy and nearly cutting out, like a call with poor signal, but… at any rate, she tended to this and that. After making sure that everything else was where it was supposed to be, she put on her hat. Finally she took a few hurried steps away from where she had been. “Whaddya want!?” she asked breathlessly.
“I think I want advice,” I said after thinking about it.
“Wait, no, maybe we should figure out how you’re talking to me first,” Marisa composed herself, determination returning to her face and pushing away any remaining distress.
I shared my recent experience as clearly as I could. I told her about Reimu, the drinking and my very personal journey towards her very intimate moment. I did my best. There were plenty of things that were simply too difficult to put into words.
“You’re pretty incredible, Al,” Marisa nodded with a happy smile. “I wish… ah, I think I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to have to borrow some books because I think I’m not going to get the truth otherwise.”
“The truth about me?” I made the obvious connection.
“Yeah, kinda, not just that,” she said, “you know, you really scared me just now.” With a hearty guffaw, she exclaimed, “You better take responsibility!”
“Sorry but my heart and body belong to another already,” I joked.
“Don’t worry, I’ll just steal you away if I need to!” she said something incredibly bold without hesitation. Though she laughed playfully as if it were just a followup to my line, it felt like there may have been more to it than just that. Still smiling, she changed subjects yet again, “So, you need me to bail you out?”
“Maybe? I mean, you’re probably busy and all...”
“I was just picking mushrooms, it rained last night so there’s probably a whole new bunch just lying around,” she explained, “I got a few, enough really, so it’s no problem if I stop for now.”
“Wait, didn’t you say something about Reimu getting upset with you?” I asked.
“Did I?” she played dumb.
“We haven’t settled our business with her yet,” I explained, “probably not a good idea to get sidetracked.”
“A little too late for that, don’t you think? If they’ve drank as much as you say, I doubt you’ll be able to have a good talk,” she winked. Which was strange because it was directed right at me. Somehow my view focused on her face for that one moment.
“Hey, can you feel where I am?” I asked.
“In my heart,” she answered unhelpfully, placing both hands over her chest, “it’s going all thump-thump over you.”
 Get a full magical bailout.  Press her on what she’s dodging.
“You’re not very good at lying, you know,” I said, not really buying into her act. “It takes more than a cute girl to get me to drop my guard, you know.”
“...you think I’m cute?” Marisa beamed… earnestly enough as far as I could tell.
“It’s… a figure of speech? I’m not saying no but also… ugh, it doesn’t really matter!” I tried to remain focused and stop her from hijacking the subject. With a huff, I added, “You’re trying to keep me in the dark about things. I get that. I can even respect that to an extent. But I think that I’m entitled to a little respect too. So don’t lie to me.”
“You’re right,” she nodded, “you deserve respect. I don’t want to lie to you so I won’t.”
Marisa went quiet. She ignored me entirely and picked up a small basket she had nearby that held a variety of mushrooms. Then, she began to hum to herself and walk away.
“...” I watched silently for a while, wondering if she really was just going to pretend I wasn’t there. She stopped by a fallen tree and examined its trunk. Finding another mushroom she plucked it carefully and set it in the basket with the rest. I wasn’t too amused. “Ignoring me is just as bad,” I complained, breaking the silence.
Marisa laughed. “Took you long enough!” she exclaimed. With an impish wink right at me she added, “pretty good gag, right?”
“...terribly amusing. But not very cute.”
“Aw.. don’t be like that!” she stopped in her tracks. “I like you for real, Al. Like, a lot. I can’t really explain why myself. There’s just some things that I can’t share right now.”
“...can you at least tell me why?”
“Hm...” she paused to think. An answer came to her soon enough. “It’s nothing as silly as ‘it’s for your own good’, because I’d hate hearing that too. It’s just that I promised someone that I wouldn’t share the things that I was told. Sorry.”
“Was this ‘someone’ Patchouli?” I asked on a hunch.
“She’s the only one aside from your wolf friend that knows anything about you, so you figure it out,” she confirmed it in so many words.
“That’s somewhat frustrating,” I explained, “it’s not like I get to talk to her whenever I want. I know that she knows something. Maybe everything? But I feel she has her reasons for not sharing directly.”
Marisa sighed. “Some girls just have all the luck,” she said wistfully.
“Hm?” I was a bit slow on the uptake, having obviously been instantly preoccupied with Patchouli and her possible reasons for keeping me in the dark.
“Ah, yeah, doesn’t matter. You think I’m cute so that made my day!” Marisa deflected somewhat.
“...yeah, I’ll admit it,” I said, throwing her a bone.
“How about sexy?” she asked, bouncing back quickly. Clearly trying to inspire titillation in me, she undid a button on her blouse, showing off a little of the flesh underneath.
“I see things a lot more daring than that on a daily basis around the mansion.” I thought of the fairies and how often they failed to do up their buttons properly. Or just how easily Remilia found herself in a state of undress and wasn’t too concerned about flaunting it. All in all pretty normal things in our little scarlet corner of the world. I couldn’t help but to tease her a little, saying with a laugh, “maybe a kid would find that sort of, kind of exciting.”
“For now, it’s enough,” she said, making a bold declaration, “if you get a real body again some day you’re welcome to try uncovering more with your own fingers.”
“Wow.” There was nothing else to say about that.
“I guess it’s something for you to look forward to. Seeing if I’m being serious or not!” Marisa said with a wink. It was hard to tell if she was messing with me or being serious. Maybe the truth lay somewhere in between. She confessed something else, “I’m hardworking and have a lot of guts. And I’m curious about you. Can’t stop thinking about you, actually. So I’ll make sure that you get the chance soon enough.”
“I’m not going to lie, having a magician care about me feels good,” I told her. But we were veering away from the original topic, weren’t we? “More importantly, why is Reimu mad at you?”
“She isn’t mad at me,” she said, “just upset about some other stuff. She’ll get over it.” In a quieter voice she added, “I think Patchy might get mad at me if I steal you away...”
“...” I pretended I didn’t hear that.
So she continued to talk about the shrine maiden,”listen, it’s probably best if I just show up and tell her to go to the mansion. Talk to the vampire. I’m willing to get that done for you.”
“Because you like me, right?” I asked, knowing full well that it wasn’t going to be as straightforward a transaction as that.
“That’s part of it, yeah, “ Marisa said. “It’s why I’m cutting short my mushroom gathering for you. I had the whoooole day planned out.”
“It’s not very of you cute to keep rubbing it in,” I complained, amused.
“Come on, you can do better than that,” Marisa shook her head, “offer me something a little better than cute this and sexy that.”
“I never said sexy!” I countered with a chuckle.
“My mistake then,” she shrugged and once again picked up her basket of mushrooms. “Maybe I should go make soup today. It’s damp out and I always feel like soup and staying in after it rains.”
“Oof, not too subtle,” I said as I thought about what to do. For better or worse, I was going to have to rely on her. Sure, I hadn’t gotten much from her save that Patchouli cared about me. Which, actually, was a pretty big deal to find out. I knew, or at least hoped, as much in my heart of hearts but it was lovely to hear. Why she didn’t want Marisa butting in too much or sharing what little she knew was a mystery.
More pressingly, I had to appease my fun-sized and cute magician pal. Present disembodiment and confusion relating to that notwithstanding, I had to admit it was fun to talk directly to someone other than Kagerou privately. For all the affinity I had for the maid, we were still expected to work together and so there were some kind of things I wasn’t able to say to her on account of my being a consummate professional. The sort of thing that I could get away with now that we were separated. Things that Marisa might like to hear.
 Everyone we ran into seemed to be in awe of her magical abilities.  Maybe she was sexy after all? A better look would settle that.
>>64364 This story is too full of details and things I have to watch out for now for me to force myself to write an update every day. Plus, I don't want voters to feel overwhelmed or otherwise not vote for whatever reason. I will be trying to write more often, that said. I'll also likely have another story for nanowrimo.
>“I think Patchy might get mad at me if I steal you away...”
Fuck the phantom thieves, Marisa is the true thief of hearts
[x] Maybe she was sexy after all? A better look would settle that.
Also, it's interesting to see the backstory being developed. Is Marisa's sudden interest academic? Doesn't seem like it, but she's the type to mix business with pleasure. Maybe she knew the real MC, if there's such a thing?
Marisa carried on home as I continued to talk to her. She didn’t seem too enthused about my cause anymore, humming a little song to herself while looking that she had no worries in life. Even mentions of how she left a strong impression on others did little to register emotion. In short, she was toying with me. Going to the shrine was a definite low priority for her.
“Yes, fairies aren’t as dumb as they look,” she stated in response to the incident the other day, “they know to keep clear if I have my eye on them.”
“It’s more than that. Kagerou, too, she was scared of your magic,” I said.
“Didn’t stop her from jumping me that one time,” she continued flippantly while rotating her shoulders as if to relieve tense muscles.
“Still, you’re clearly confident in yourself,” I noted.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” she played it up, affectedly yawning. Any more of that and she’d be liable to lie down in a clearing to take a nap “in order to freshen up.”
Despite their different temperaments, Marisa was proving to be every bit set in her own ways and attitude as Patchouli was. Was it something in the water? Something inherent in the nature of a magician? Perhaps only in the more powerful ones. I didn’t exactly have many other points of comparison. Harping on about just how wonderful she was didn’t seem to do much.
“...are you pouting?” she asked all of a sudden. That was a real head-scratcher of a question for a very obvious reason: I didn’t have something that could be recognized as a face.
Banking that it was no doubt a magical stratagem to keep me frustrated, I made a forceful and mature repudiation. “N-no, I’m not pouting,” I managed to state with undiminished dignity. “Maybe you’re projecting. Ever thought of that, huh?!”
Somehow, like Kagerou before her, she seemed to suss out quickly that I wasn’t always the cool-headed genius that I believed I was. She smirked but said nothing about my frustration, thankfully remarking about the obvious magical mystery instead, “I suppose that it was just a feeling. Interesting how that happened all of a sudden.”
“I guess it’s normal to get that sort of impression from someone you’re close to,” I said.
“Aw, that’s pretty sweet of ya to say, Al,” she smiled, nodding quickly to herself in satisfaction.
“...I meant physically. Or magically. You know, whatever you would call what’s happening just now,” I clarified. She wasn’t about to push me onto the back foot.
“Sure, okay then. What am I thinking of right now…?” she tried to put the theory to the test.
“That you’re pretty cute and that your dress looks nice,” I said.
“...that’s pretty much it,” she sounded actually surprised that I got it. With a more serious tone she added, “maybe there is something going on here that’s worth checking out.”
I hadn’t the heart to tell her that it was just an educated guess. It wasn’t like I had felt anything specific from her—it was just a followup to our earlier conversation and a result of bringing that line of discussion to its logical conclusion. I had struck out with both the flattery and discussion of her own abilities, so it was logical to move on. It didn’t take a mind reader to realize that.
“Hm, interesting,” I hatched a nefarious plot. How would I behave if it were Kagerou? That was my guiding thought. She could tease me if she liked but she would, in turn, have to suffer retribution. “I didn’t realize you were that kind of person, Marisa.”
“Oh, nah, it’s nothing,” I continued, “just a passing thought, is all.”
She didn’t swallow the bait entirely; her eyes showed some skepticism. Still, she was war and somewhat open to the possibility that I could read her thoughts. I knew that I would be doing my best to guard my thoughts. Realizing that, I also knew that the most important things she wanted to keep secret were also the first things she would try to push out of her mind.
“...you really did that to her?” I asked, feigned disappointment in my voice, “I thought she’s your friend.”
“It’s rude to peep at someone, you know!” she piped up, picking up the pace. The magician continued through the forest at a breezier speed, clearing obstacles such as roots and rocks with almost rabbit-like agility. “You’re just being creepy now,” she huffed.
“Sure, sorry, it’s just that it’s such a strong thought in your head that I can’t help but think about it. It’s not just, you know the obvious. But the betrayal of trust! I just really didn’t expect it. But I’ll shut up now. You’re still a good magician as far as I’m concerned.”
“Her name wasn’t on it and...” Marisa paused, bringing herself to a complete stop. She sighed. Took a breath. Shook her head. She looked right at me. Well, at where my perspective happened to be. “I don’t have anything to apologize for,” she pronounced rather defiantly. In fact, she stuck out her tongue while pulling down on an eyelid. “Stick to your own business, yeesh!”
“Not very cute,” I said.
“Nah, you think it’s adorable,” she taunted, immediately regaining some of her swagger. She winked and once again took up her merry old pace.
...maybe she was right about that. I didn’t really know how I felt about her. Somewhere along the way I had become so used to seeing the world from Kagerou’s perspective that dealing with another sort of person directly was throwing me in for a loop.
As I was thinking about this and that, Marisa seemed to have finally reached her destination: a house location in the middle of the forest. A small sign by a window had sloppy handwriting on it, indicating that it was a magical shop of some sorts. The magician smiled to herself and opened the door. It was obvious that she had arrived back at her home.
“Wow,” I couldn’t help but react at what I saw. From floor to wall, as far as I could see, there were all sorts of… things. Books, jars with strange fluids, some sort of stuffed bird, potted plants, rods of various lengths and materials, boxes, chests and more filled every space. There was an earthy, almost damp smell that didn’t seem to be coming from any one area in particular. How Marisa ever found anything in her home was an intense mystery.
“It’s not just anyone that gets to see all this cool stuff, you know,” Marisa announced proudly, closing the door behind her. She wasted no time to make it pass the very messy entryway and to another room beyond that was similarly filled with, well, magical things. In the literal sense. There were a few glowing stones, a plant with wavy leaves that undulated every time she took a step, and a veritable mountain of mushrooms all chucked together in a corner. Marisa emptied the basket directly onto the pile before showing me her rock collection. “They’re not as pretty as you, but nice, right?”
“...yeah, they’re not as pretty as me,” I agreed, finding that the smooth stones were nice but their monocolor glow and lack of personality made them comparatively dull.
“I’d offer you tea but, yeah, you can’t really drink anything,” she said cheerily.
“That’s fine,” I said, thinking that I wasn’t sure I would have accepted a cup of tea even if I had a body. The possibility of it getting contaminated with something else seemed unacceptably high.
“Would you like to come to bed, then?” she asked. “I was thinking of taking a nap. I woke up really early today.”
“What about the shrine?” I tried to steer her back towards more pressing matters.
“If we fly, it’ll take all of a few minutes to get there,” Marisa said. She cleared a space on a worktable by simply brushing aside the exotic items on top. Working swiftly, she grabbed a nearby pouch, a small flask and began combining a few powders and liquids that just happened to be within arms’ reach.
“...do I need to ask what you’re doing?”
“I’ve got a theory,” she laughed at my question and began to explain, carefully taking a pinch of this, a drop of that all the while, “something about how I felt you made me think about something that happened a long time ago. Some really fun but that involved some fighting. Anyhow, that got me thinking about a book I borrowed about projecting forces over a distance. I’m not really sure about your range but I reckon that if I bring us to a similar orientation then maybe we can have a more proper conversation.”
“I’m not sure that I follow,” I was lost.
“Eh, I’ve never really been good at explainin’,” she shrugged, putting a stopped on the vial before shaking it vigorously. Whatever was inside was a viscous grey sludge. “I got this idea from another friend who likes to have nice dreams. It’ll work, I’m sure. You want to find out more about yourself, right? Well this is your chance.”
“...what do I have to do?” I asked.
“Nothing, just come to bed with me. I’ll take this and if all goes well...” Marisa grinned, “well, you’ll see.”
“Why do I get the feeling that I don’t have much of a choice here?”
“Oh, you do!” Marisa reassured me, “you can always go back to your friend. But then you won’t know if my magic is really as great as you say that it is!”
She had me there. The tables were turned. I couldn’t out myself as a hypocrite if I expected her help. Seemed like there was always a price to pay when it came to dealing with magicians. Maybe a different approach at the beginning would have been better.
“Fine, let’s do it,” I decided to brush away those doubts. No point in getting hung up on that. I was going to bed with a magician. Just not really in the way I might have expected.
Marisa withdrew to her bedroom which was slightly less cluttered than the rest of her home. For starters, there was more than enough room on her bed for her to lay sprawled out without a care in the world.
“Stay with me,” the magician said, taking off most of her clothes. Apparently she liked to sleep in her underwear. I would have said something snide about her choice of undergarments but I was too busy wondering about what was going to happen next. She uncorked the vial and it began to fizzle before turning blue. Without any hesitation, she quaffed its contents and jumped into bed. She closed her eyes and would soon drift off into sleep.
I concentrated on Marisa. Her breathing was regular and uneventful. Unlike Kagerou, she didn’t snore. That was comforting. Almost enough to make me believe that I could join her. Yes, I thought, sleep would be nice. I couldn’t remember the last time I slept any. Probably when I last had a body.
Ah, how embarrassing. Marisa was going to see that, wasn’t she? It had been spontaneous. Not really anyone’s fault. The sessions had gotten ever closer to the point of no return. In the aftermath, both of them awaited.
Thankfully, Kagerou would not see what we saw.
 It would have been cruel to let worry so. Reassurance became vital.  There had never been comment—just acceptance—when elsewhere.
Some dreams could be vivid—they would make such an impression on the mind that one could recall them in detail for some time after. Some were more subtle and oftentimes came in like the tide; those were observable at the time but then receded from memory when they were over. Some others only offered memorable bits and pieces which often had no real logical explanation for their prominence.
However else the mind might process these experiences, it barely processed the time just before and after dreaming. Still, it was fairly obvious if you could stop to think about it. Which, obviously, would go against the concept of sleep and letting the brain do its own thing. I appreciated the opportunity for this new experience even as I was baffled by so much of it.
Why should it be so warm? The darkness I got—being asleep and all. It didn’t make sense that I could feel something… smooth and slight against my skin. There was likewise no need for me to be aware of the sweet aroma of a girly shampoo. That could well be an effect of magic. After all, I wasn’t alone.
“Hm, so that’s what you’re like!” Marisa exclaimed and nodded, looking up at me with cat-like curiosity. Her eyes swept from top to bottom, pausing at choice parts of my anatomy. It may not have been quite so suggestive if not for the fact that I was completely nude. As was she, for that matter.
Unlike with Kagerou, I couldn’t really close my eyes and give her some privacy. The space we were in—that odd black that felt like velvet on the skin—seemed to be both infinite in dimension and inexplicably intimate. I could not step back, turn around or even look at anything else: Marisa was the only thing other than myself in this universe and so she was the only thing that I could ever perceive.
Those were the quick conclusions I reached.
“You look different,” I said, unfazed by her nudity. I could have thought or said a lot about her small body. What was going on and why was a more pressing issue, however. “Your hair is different, for one.”
“Yeah, that’s because these are not our physical bodies,” she tutted as if taking strange drugs with a magician was a self-explanatory experience. Hands on her hips, she also didn’t seem to mind that I had to look at her. “It can’t be helped,” would be the reply if I asked her about it.
It was entirely possible that it was a front and if I stared to closely, at a small chest and… all that other stuff, she would be overcome by modestly. Part of me secretly hoped for a bashful “don’t stare at me so much!” but it was neither the time or the place for that sort of thing. My puerile fantasies involving magicians could wait for when I was on my own.
“Souls, then?” I ventured.
“Sorta. I don’t really feel like talking about all those difficult things that Patchy would love to bore you about,” she laughed, “read a book later.”
I wanted to ask “which book?” but concluded that I’d get brushed off if I did. Instead, I went back to the feeling I got before we drifted away and asked, “We’re going to see one of my memories, right?”
“Something that’s connected to you,” she grinned, “you tell me if it’s a memory.”
“It feels like that could be embarrassing,” I said, weakly.
“I can handle it,” the magician crossed her arms, not understanding that it might be embarrassing for me, “besides, it’s too late to back out. We’re in here until you feel you’ve shown what you want to show.”
“I guess I don’t have a choice in the matter. What do I do?”
“Nothing, it’ll just happen. Any moment now. Probably. Possibly,” she sounded more unsure the more she spoke. She uncrossed her arms to play with the beautifully puffy braid on her idealized head of hair. Sensing that I was obviously picking up on that, she added, “It’s my first time, alright? Don’t even think of teasing a pure-hearted maiden like me about it!”
“Alright, let’s take it easy, then,” I sighed, at least partially contented that I could perceive my own mouth and body again. After a moment or two of silence, I felt too self-conscious. “Do you always wash your hair with that sort of thing? I didn’t expect you to go for flowers...” I forced a subject.
“What, my hair can’t smell nice?” she pouted.
“It’s not that. You can smell nice, sure. It’s just that when I first, uh, made contact with you today... I just thought you smelled a little like ammonia. Maybe I caught you before bath time.”
“Wow, that’s pretty rude. You just had the worst timing…”
She was right. I did stick my foot firmly in my mouth. Just nerves. I apologize, “Sorry, it’s just weird to be able to sense things for myself again. Even if this just my soul or whatever.”
“Being a pebble is rough, huh?” the magician shook her head, looking like she accepted that I didn’t mean any offense. Incapable of not adding some cheek, she said, “I’m glad you’re thinking about me either way.”
I let that one slide.
“I can’t even make sense which way is up,” I complained, looking at the darkness beyond and frowning.
“I know you’re nervous, but try to relax,” the magician said, holding onto my hand. “I’m here, it’ll be fine.”
“That’s the problem,” I sighed, recollection suddenly forcing itself fully onto me, “this doesn’t feel like it’s appropriate to share.
Her hand had always felt so soft...
Sakuya clutched the silver tray close to her chest, exiting the room in a hurry. She nearly tripped over herself, clumsily crashing out into the hallway. A rare emotion had overtaken her—anger. Her normally clear eyes smouldered with a mix of hurt and resentment, her lips taut and contributed to a rapidly-forming scowl.
She cursed loudly, damning the rug that had caught her foot. It no longer seemed to matter that it was so late at night or that she was still on duty. If any of the other staff had heard her howl, they laid low, confused and frightened of anyone who would dare to raise a ruckus in the mansion. Though the truth was that she had barely hurt herself, she felt weak and hurt and her heart pounded with primal intensity.
“Sakuya! Don’t!” a voice called after her from the room. It was raspy and weak though it carried much of the same intensity of emotion that could be found on the maid’s face. Short of breath, the caller stood at the door, resting their body on the gilded frame. Eye contact was attempted but Sakuya sharply turned away.
Her urge to simply turn away, to run and not have to deal with anything else felt overwhelming. What would characteristically be a wave of cold from her had superheated and displayed an abundance of raw feeling. She was so upset that her cheeks were flush, lips quivered and eyes vicious; instead of incisive and clear, as usual, they were blunt and unfocused.
Sakuya caught a glimpse of her face in the polished silver and was shocked not to recognize herself. There were tears darkly streaming down her cheek. The dark eyeliner that had been a gift from Remilia was smeared. “Shut up, just leave me alone!” she cried, her voice quickly pathetic.
“Please don’t do this to me. Not now.”
“Don’t do this to me?!” the maid spat the words back out with sorrowful venom. She found herself dumbstruck, unable to even begin to explain just how raw her wounds felt. Rage hardened her expression and she held the tray tight, unwittingly warping part of the noble metal under intense pressure. Something had gone past a point she hadn’t felt possible and all of a sudden she was quiet. Her gaze would have made herself flinch in intimidated surprise had she been subject to it.
The maid tugged at the ends of her uniform as she did every morning when she was getting ready for work. Every crease, every loose lace or ribbon was tightened and fastened as appropriate. These automatic motions kept her mind from dissolving into a wholly chaotic state. After she was sure her dress was immaculate, she reached for something in her pocket—a silken handkerchief. She dabbed it under her eyes and on her face quietly. The white square became wet and blotched with black as she transferred her sorrow onto it.
Suddenly, she was a perfect creature once more, worth of holding the mistress’ parasol or pouring her tea. Unlike with her regular duties, no cheer was present on her face nor no playful barb ready on her tongue. The forced transformation made the both of them take a moment of silence.
“I no longer care,” the maid said, the sharpness returning to her eyes. It formed a dagger of ice, vindictive in nature. “You do as you wish. I won’t say anything else. But don’t expect me to be by your side anymore.”
“So that’s it?” came the incredulous question. “All this meant nothing? Back to us being strangers, you cold and aloof?”
Sakuya felt her breath drain from her lungs as she barely managed to whisper, “yes.”
“That’s too selfish, I can’t accept that!”
“Please don’t speak of selfishness,” somehow she was able to find the words. No trace of the sometimes impish, sometimes gentle girl could be found. It was all business. “Let us… end this with some dignity.”
Hand balled into fists, the response was heated, “Fuck that!”
Through sheer willpower, one foot was dragged in front of the other. Unstable, usually propped up by Sakuya but now spurned—her lover concentrated to keep from falling over. The maid watched impassively. Whatever else she may had said scant minutes earlier in the privacy of the room, she had quickly repressed all feeling and emotion. To have done otherwise may have broken her, she seemed to tell herself.
“I’ve known for a long time…” ragged yet unbowed, more words were forced out, “I was the first… you opened up and that’s worth keeping. Remilia… forget about her! Forget about all that other stuff!”
The maid was firm in her rejection, watching the mass before her collapse to its knees. A hand was thrust out, seeking her support. It was ignored. The figure finally ran out of energy and fell to the ground, soft, stilted weeping punctuating the capitulation
It is possible that the vestiges of very human pity led her to crouch down. More likely, it was an unbroken sense of duty that kept her stiffly going through the motions. Sakuya looked down at the collapsed body and said softly, evenly and with no trace of lingering affection, “I shall call another maid to help you to your chambers. Please wait.”
That indifference stirred something in the sobbing husk. In an instant—too fast to measure even for someone who was accustomed to playing around with time—desperate action was taken. The unflappable maid found herself flat on her behind. Had it been Remilia who tackled her so unexpectedly, she might have laughed. Instead, she found herself at a loss for words, as a pair of arms wrapped around her thin torso and crumpled her uniform.
It would have been easy for her to shake off the pathetic mass on her. For her to use her abilities to put half the mansion between her and her lover. Or even entertaining a fleeting and dark thought and reaching for one of the thin daggers she always kept hidden on her person. She did none of that, instead brushing aside one of the braids that ran along either side of her face from her eyes. Her resolve was tested yet again and the reason for her earlier posturing shattered under the merest of pressure.
The truth of the matter was that she had forced herself to act tough. Allowing herself to be sentimental would risk crippling effects. Staring too long into soft, familiar eyes would invite second-guessing. Listening to sweet words would cause her to stumble, perhaps even lose composure. And being touched—feeling the gentle warmth from someone that loved her—would cause her to completely break down.
She breathed shallow, in a panic. Her arms shook as she thought about returning the embrace. Indecisive, she made one last attempt to run away.
The other body held on tightly, drawing on strength that the both of them thought impossible. “You idiot,” her lover whispered, “I forgive you.”
“But I don’t forgive you!” she snapped, barely coherent, her fingers homing in on the discolored flesh on her lover’s neck. That there was slight scarring there seemed to upset her all the more and she bit her lower lip bitterly.
“Shut up,” came the reply with a soft but forced chuckle. In better times, away from prying eyes, they might have shared a good natured back and forth, wholesome though occasionally sharp-tongued. Things were moving too fast for anything but the most basic, most direct exchanges to be reliably understood. It suddenly didn’t matter that they were out in the open, sprawled in the hallway. What was to come concerned them only, others be damned.
Sakuya reacted to the first kiss with some delight. As if time had turned back and there was no need to think of the future. She gasped, “This is unfair…”
“Very,” the response followed. With well-learned precision, a series of kisses were unleashed on the maid, each more frantic than the previous. This had the effect of mussing up hair, loosening buttons and generally making a mess of the chief maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Her neck was soon marked with lively red where suction had been applied. Freed from the need to stay hidden, both were freed from reason itself to an extent.
The maid stroked her partner’s hair as she gave herself up into the depths of passion. All the dread that had been a regular fixture in her thoughts was tidied up and stored in far-off recesses of her mind. No longer caring anything about her position nor the consequences, she helped her lover undress her. Fine undergarments, lacy things that cost as much as the monthly wage of a typical village, had also been given to her by Remilia. Likewise the silk stockings held up by garters, which felt as smooth as a material could possibly be.
It was unclear to them whether the vampire would approve of her gifts being put to such use. It hardly mattered. They were both delighted with the gliding of textile and effects the material had on accentuating the body’s curves.
No longer needing to put on airs, Sakuya delighted in having her body lovingly explored. The oral fixation that had amused her the first times they had been together now provided reassuming comfort. Likewise, the fondling of breast, of pink nipples teased and head placed near her heart made her feel warm and loved. She moaned freely as fingers prodded and massaged the area around her labia and welcomed devout ministrations performed by tongue.
This gentle lovemaking, where she felt safe and as relaxed as she ever had renewed the tears in her eyes. Her slender fingers ran across her opposite’s body, as if to engrave every physical detail into tactile memory. Conscious that sweet things came in tandem with the bitter, she pushed for greater stimulus. Vivacious stares, hungry to capture every moment of their intimacy in as much detail as possible was reinforced by mutual desire. Their hands clasped together at around waist height, with both breathing and gyration entering synchronicity.
They felt good and, possibly naively, both shared a desire that the moment never end. Suffused heat, physical in nature, yet seemingly spiritual in comfort, increased intensity until at last it was difficult to say that either entity was truly separate. In reaching climax, both partners gave it their all, crying out for a love they knew would cruelly come to an end.
Even in the low lighting of that lonely corridor, it seemed that they could breathlessly see one another in complete detail. Both knew, for instance, that Sakuya’s backside had become temporarily red due to the friction from the carpet. That would just be one more private detail that they would share for the rest of their lives.
Sticky with sweat and other fluids that had been freely exchanged, the pair of lovers held hands and lay mostly naked in the middle of the hall, heads pointed upwards but also keeping sight of the other’s face. In those sorts of moments, it was traditional to whisper sweet nothings, of love eternal, of promises of the future. Neither could quite bring themselves to follow through on that part of the ritual.
Relative silence reigned as their breathing came back down towards a quiet normal. The maid spoke first, “I’ll remember this.”
“So will I,” the lover assured her. “We put on a good show, don’t you think?”
“We were a good team,” she laughed softly, like she would whenever she thought her mistress was getting fired up over something inconsequential.
“I’ve been talking to her lately…”
“Oh, please don’t bring her up and ruin the moment,” the maid pouted, instantly infantile. That was good, her lover thought, as it kept her from being overcome by more unpleasant emotions.
“It’s… not what you think. There’s a small hope for me yet,” a cautious explanation followed, “I didn’t want to get your hopes up but I think that there’s something that can be done. But it has to be done carefully and it’ll require some effort. Soon, before… well, I’m not sure there’s much of a chance. It better than no chance.”
“I don’t forgive you,” the maid echoed words first said in anger, now repeated with the barest hint of hope.
Marisa stared at me. Her face was beet-red.
She had seen the same as me—very explicit sexual intercourse shown from an intimate lens. I felt many of the sensations in the memory acutely. Caresses, insertions, wet and sloppy things… it was best not to linger on them. Especially as there was no doubt in my mind that Marisa also partook in the tender sex in much the same way. The only question left unanswered was whether she shared the lover’s point of view or the maid’s. That was the sort of thing that I didn’t dare to ask outright. Not at the moment.
The magician was incapable of doing much other than squeak sharply like a rusty door before letting her mouth droop dumbly agape. Some of that sultry pressure had made it to where we were. Dream or soul space or whatever, both our bodies had reacted to the carnal exchange as was only natural. I tried not to stare. But I did. So did she. Her confused expression of longing likely mirrored my own. Try as we might, there was no other place to place our stare other than the other’s very naked, very aroused bodies.
It took us a while to realize that those intense feelings continued to be shared. Our fingers were fused together, melted into a sweaty clasp where she had offered to reassure me. While we realized that fact simultaneously, and tried to subtle pry ourselves apart, we couldn’t quite manage. We had been so close together, so in tune that it felt like we might be ripping apart a shared heart if we tried to separate. It was very much the case that we seemed to be in sync.
Mercifully, we had enough sense not to say a word. Even as we stared at each other with… less than stoic intent and enjoyed the warm feeling of togetherness, we left that can of worms mostly unopened. Who knew where the hell it could lead? Pretending that nothing was amiss, to the point of repressing memories, seemed like the way to go.
Time seemed suspended. Then, without warning, things went wholly dark. Soon thereafter, we awoke.
There was a lot I wanted to say but it was not the time to say it. It was surely the same with her. I immediately closed off my senses as soon as possible and attempted to meditate. Marisa would doubtlessly attempt to regulate her body and reconcile her experience. There was no need for me to be witness to that.
Even so, I felt like I had an itch I left unscratched. Perhaps better described as an urge to stretch around or simply cool off some of that excess heat that seemed to have followed me into abstraction. Not having a body and having physical urges lingering in one’s mind was sheer torture. A waterfall with icy cold mountain water might have been the only way to save my soul.
It have well been a few hours since the whole business with the witch began when a soft voice finally called out, “Hey Al, still there?”
“Oh, good. Good. I’ve just been- Have you-”
“No! I’ve just been thinking. By myself. Eyes closed. Some weather we’re having, right?”
“Um, yeah, real weird weather,” she agreed. Relief crept into her voice, “We should maybe not stay here all day. I’m… done. I mean? Ready, I think.”
What I wouldn’t give for a return to form. I finally opened up my senses again. Marisa seemed small and, though dressed, it seemed like her floppy hat had grown several sizes. Or perhaps she shrank. Her clothes did seem to hang a little loose, but that may have well been due to her slumped shoulders. The witch’s expression was… maidenly, eyes averted from the invisible spot where she thought I would be. At any given moment, it felt like she could redden to a deep scarlet.
“Thank you for waiting and, um-”
“Not a problem,” I cut her off, “it’s not like I was going anywhere.”
“Well,” Marisa forced a laugh, “maybe back to Kagerou? There’s always that.”
“Ah, yeah, you’re right. I almost, uh, forgot about that.”
“Maybe I did a little too,” the witch cleared her throat. She pressed her fingers together glumly before remembering that there were other topics to turn to. “Do you want to…”
“I mean, yeah, we should, shouldn’t we?”
“O-oh, you mean…”
“Are you talking about-” I got ahead of myself.
“If you’re okay with me-”
“I am! That is if you’re okay with me!”
“Ah, good. Good, good, good,” she said in quick succession.
“Good, good, good,” I echoed.
The magician took a deep breath and then squared her shoulders. She forced a grin, which ended up more a grimace. Then she clapped her hands together and pumped herself up, “Let’s get going! Reimu is going to end up exterminating your friend otherwise.”
And just like that we were on our way. Marisa didn’t bother to even lock her door, dashing into the woods as if she was escaping her home forever. Her plan seemed to to be rush in at full speed, not even bothering to fly. She was a remarkably fast sprinter, despite being short and could handle the terrain impressively well. To the extent that I wanted to compliment her about her skills.
That would mean getting distracted. And not addressing the elephant in the room. Otherwise the trip would have been pointless.
 The Sakuya that we had seen... was it?  Patchouli knew…?
“You should stop staring so much, it’s weird!” Marisa complained as she cleared a hurdle of knotted roots. Never mind that shrubbery caught against the side of her apron, staining it with leafy streaks. She still took the time to frown at where she perceived me to be before she jumped onto a dirt path in the woods.
“I’m not staring!” I fired back with all the gravitas of a teen accidentally bumping shoulders with the crush they spent half of the morning classes fantasizing about. “I don’t even have eyes,” I blurted out.
“You’re still looking,” she puffed as she continued to spring, more out of breath due to the interaction than anything else. Marisa tugged the brim of her hat down on her face, wishing to hide the look of plain dumbness. That she managed to keep going without tripping was impressive.
“We can’t just, uh, ignore all that,” I said, heart figuratively in my non-throat, “I mean, not really…”
“Who’s ignoring anything!” the witch strained a dry laugh. “We’re talking, aren’t we?” You’re staring rudely and making me feel—well that doesn’t matter! Stop staring!”
There was a lot that I was beginning to notice. Despite the awkwardness, I felt closer to Marisa. She knew that. It wasn’t entirely like that. It was also… a matter of perspective. Of abilities. Of many other things that wouldn’t cause the short girl to look like a tomato wrapped in black if we talked about it like adults. Sadly, I wasn’t articulate enough to express those things at the moment. She most definitely wasn’t open to listening to anything but her own raging heart.
Yes, that was something I could feel. Though I couldn’t really say why. An echo of a shared intimate experience, I could tell just how flustered she felt. Just how quickly her heart beat and delivered hot blood to her face and propelled her legs to move quickly. Remnants of… other things, of lingering desire smouldered beneath it all. I was certain that she knew that I knew.
We were stuck in a supremely adolescent cycle of awkwardness. As sure as I was of her feelings, it would be natural to assume that she felt mine as well. That was why she felt that my “gaze” peeled away her clothes and bluster and exposed the sublimely maidenly girl for what she truly was. Had I a body… like before or more real, I would have embraced her. Perhaps to simply pat her head and feel her warmth, perhaps for much more. That thought seemed to bleed out towards her and her skin was prickled with ticklish electricity.
She breathed heavily, attempting to bury the intoxicating mix of emotion and hormones deep within her. Like someone who had had one too many drinks earlier, Marisa seemed on the verge of keeling over, emptying her stomach into the bushes and swearing to her maker that “never again!” for as long as she lived. Whether or not that low point would make for lasting policy was up for debate.
While she didn’t collapse, she forced herself to stop. She was short of breath. “Crap!” she complained, rubbing her stomach as if her gut were cramped. I knew that that was a compulsive gesture, something to do with her hands other than the obvious.
“The worst part-!” she glowered directly ‘at’ me.
“The worst part is that I’m a stupid fucking stone,” I said quietly, non-judgmentally.
Marisa gulped but said nothing.
We were of one mind on too many things to need words. Of the many thoughts that we had in common, one repeated itself time and time again.
“Yes!” Marisa screamed like a madwoman, frustration erupting. The woods offered no reaction.
“She probably thought that it would be funny!” Marisa’s emotions were untethered and her fists shook due to a mix of rage and impotence.
“Is that really?”
“She tried to act like I wouldn’t be interested,” Marisa recounted, “drinking tea, boring me about magical theory. ‘Oh, don’t you know that these types of crystallizations are…’ it just wouldn’t stop!”
“And all you wanted to know was what was going on,” I said. She had been curious about me, yes, it had been the principle of the thing. A magical mystery. The sort of thing that got her out of bed in the morning. It wasn’t just for show. All the careful choice of dress. The using of reagents and ingredients. That… the elemental furnace that she carried around and guarded fiercely. Marisa Kirisame, the hard-working witch was deadly serious when it came to magic.
There were tears in her eyes. They streamed down her face without an effort to hide them. We both knew that it would her no good. I had, after all, seen her as naked as she could ever expect to be. No, scratch that, she had also seen me proudly bare. This was an understanding that could be confused for love, though it may well be called something pretentious like harmonious empathy. Something the hell like that.
“She used me,” Marisa muttered. “Without me, you…”
“I know,” I said. “Patchouli is a massive bitch.”
The girl in black and white and emotional all over laughed. “I bet that it won’t make you stop loving her, huh?”
“Not in the least,” I did not hesitate. She had seen how I felt and perhaps understood the reason for my emotions better than I even did.
“Serves me right for being too eager,” Marisa lamented, allowing her fists to unclench.
“She knew that you would want to investigate things for yourself. ‘Shoot and I’ll move!’ or something like that?”
“Something like that,” the magician sighed and began to calm herself. “I’m not sure that it really mattered if I saw all that…”
“How does it, uh, not?”
“There’s more to this story, ya know,” she nodded. “It… it was shocking but it’s probably about you.”
“Getting you to…”
“I don’t have to ask, right?” she looked at me with a fierce blush, poking the tips of her index fingers together.
“Adorable,” she finished my sentence. The witch went one step further than before, leaning up against a tree, taking off the floppy hat and pressing it over the whole of her face. Muffled words were said, “I can tell what you’re thinking as well. I know that if you had a body we would have...”
“Don’t apologize, you idiot. That’s the rudest thing that you could ever do to a-”
“Good, good, good,” she said as she breathed through the thick black fabric.
Marisa slowly regained her composure over the course of the next several minutes. We also grew apart, lees keenly aware of every thought, feeling and sensation. My non-heart was still aflutter for a long time. I tried to look away from the suddenly dainty girl to keep from reverting into certain trains of thought.
“This might be strange-” the magician laughed dryly, taking the time to fix her buttons into place and wipe the dirt from her clothes. “It feels like your hands are on my shoulder. Like you’re hugging me or maybe just telling me that things are going to be alright.”
“I’ll make a deal,” I chanced a joke, “you stop being cute and I’ll cut it out.”
“Hm, at least you can admit it openly now,” she regained some of her old fire with that, shaking her head. “I’ll try not to let it go to my head. If I did, I might just steal you away from Patchouli!”
“I know, sorry,” the magician said softly. “You don’t even know if it’s like that. I’m not sure either. Doubt she’ll tell me if I confront her.”
“She might just mess with you again,” I said. “Might be better to pretend that all this never happened.”
“Yeah, I agree.” Marisa rubbed her lower legs with a hand, massaging her warmed-up muscles to make sure that they didn’t cramp up. “If,” she began.
“If, but we don’t know,” I interrupted.
“That maid wouldn’t tell us either,” she sighed.
“I’ll just have to be patient.”
“Look at the bright side,” she smiled, attempting to reassure, “Patchouli knows what you are. And she cares enough to have me do her dirty work for her. I mean, I feel you inside of me.”
“I didn’t mean it like that!” the maiden went stratospheric in but an instant, her cooled off skin glowing red with heat. I swore to myself that I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I had no way of knowing for sure. I would be lying if I said that I hadn’t been still thinking of her in those terms. At least as much as she had been thinking of me. “M-magic,” she stuttered, shaking her head and threatening to cover her face once again with her hat. “I just meant the magic!”
“No, I know,” I tried to play it cool, “I understand more. I understand how you do it.”
“Sorry. But, yes.”
“I hate you,” she whimpered a very untrue statement.
“Magic. Focus,” I said, glad I had no face. My stone had been glowing wildly all this while, reflecting my tempestuous state. There was heightened potential in me thanks to the direct infusion of Marisa’s rich magical essence. I had just told her to focus and yet… I was distracted by how if I tried to concentrate on that new part of me Marisa’s scent began to bleed into my senses. Warm, soft, sticky…?
“Y-you too! Keep it together, Al!” she snapped, proving that our bond was still awkwardly strong. “I mean, you also smell nice but you don’t see me…”
“I’m making your blush, aren’t I?” she asked without thinking, still flustered herself. “Even though you don’t have a face…”
“This isn’t helpful!” I blurted out. I enforced a five minute break for us to cool down again. Thinking about a cold bath wasn’t helpful. Naturally, being as entwined with the witch as I was meant that even a n icy bath became a steamy… I pulled the emergency breaks when I realized that she could probably tell what I was thinking too.
Five minutes became ten. It was safer that way.
“Yep,” I said.
“Yep,” the magician echoed.
Just standing around wasn’t getting us anywhere.
 If we focused on Kagerou and other things, these feelings would cool off and eventually pass.  We could try a, um, more hands approach and confront certain, uh, issues together…
I'm honestly not into fooling around this much on a pure love story, but if your souls communicate on a deep soul level, Maggot Baits style and on the nude, there's just not helping it, right? [x] We could try a, um, more hands approach and confront certain, uh, issues together…
Not fully conviced about the extent of what can be done without a body though