Happy Spooktember, everyone. ---------------------------------------- Today was looking to be a busy day for Sakuya. Her mistress made it clear that she wanted the mansion to be extra clean in preperation for a visit from the Hakurei shrine maiden. Normally, this would be an easy task for the maid, but it was complicated by an invasion from a certain witch, as well as the ensuing danmaku party caused by the younger mistress.
And that was saying nothing of the horrendous state the kitchen was in, due to some fairy maids convincing themselves that they could cook.
Sakuya had her work cut out for her, but what else was new. Sometimes, she felt that her constant upkeep of the mansion in frozen time went unappreciated, but she always held her tongue.
The nice thing about working in stopped time was that she never had to worry about working quickly. In fact, if she had to, she could take a nap in frozen time, and no one would ever know. Even Remilia was clueless about what Sakuya did in her own time, not that she'd admit it.
She had already restored about half of the destroyed hallway decor by now, and she continued moving along at a steady pace. Burnt sections of carpet were cut out and replaced, scorched walls were wiped clean, and broken furniture was disposed of. Every so often, there would be a fairy maid right in the way of where she needed to work, but it was incredibly easy to move them. Their confusion once time resumed was of no concern to Sakuya.
Free from observers, Sakuya entertained herself while she worked by whistling. The mistress would likely disapprove of such an "unrefined" action, but what she didn't know wouldn't hurt her.
When one has all the time in the world to themselves, they have to entertain themselves somehow.
After pulling up a particularly large section of rug, Sakuya tossed it aside and took a moment to rest. She was still far stronger than her appearance would suggest, but a pulled muscle was still something she wanted to avoid if she could help it.
She thought up a new tune to whistle, and once again fell into a rhythm with her work. She soon began to zone out, and lost herself in the motions of moving things, putting down new things, cleaning the walls, and so on. She built up even more of a rhythm with the noises she made, between the tearing of carpet, the brushing of wet cloth on walls, distant footsteps, her own whistling-
Sakuya froze in place. The silence of stopped time reigned around her.
She looked back and forth in the hallway, but only saw a couple of fairies mid-flight, still frozen in place where she left them.
Even still, she had a piercing cold fear in her gut, so she reached for her watch and unfroze time.
All at once, the hallway was filled with ambience typical of standard linear time progression, along with a few yelps from disoriented fairies.
Sakuya took a few deep breaths. The fear she felt quickly subsided, but she still didn't know where it came from.
Still... she wasn't hearing things, was she?
After a few more moments of composing herself in normal time, she reached back into her pocket and once again stopped time.
Once more, the familiar ambient sounds of the mansion went silent, and Sakuya was left alone, despite still being in familiar territory and surrounded by familiar faces.
She listened for a while, but there was no sound in this timeless void except her own breathing.
After a moment longer, she shook her head and chuckled. Maybe she was simply spending too long in stopped time? She understood that isolation madness was a real thing, though she never wanted to admit that she could be subject to such a thing...
Either way, there was still work to be done. Sakuya resumed to her task like nothing had happened.
And for a while, nothing did. She made great progress, and managed to make up for the "lost" time from her momentary break.
More fairies were in the way, as usual, and again she simply moved them out of the way before proceeding. Every now and then, she'd glance back at them, just to remind herself that she wasn't truly alone, and if she so craved interaction all she had to do was unfreeze time.
Even this became part of her rhythm. Scrub, glance, tear carpet, glance, pick up shattered lamp, glance-
Sakuya's blood went cold and she drew a handful of knives. She knew she saw something. Something behind the fairy maid she kept looking at.
She cautiously crept around them, but there was nothing there. Just an empty hallway, stretching out for several meters before taking a corner.
She looked behind her, as well, and gasped as she saw the tiniest blur of movement around that distant corner.
Fear gripped her heart, and Sakuya reached for her pocket-watch on sheer reflex. It took her a moment to realize that time was already frozen, so she rectified the issue.
Once more, the sounds of normalcy returned. A fairy maid came flying towards Sakuya, but paused upon seeing her battle stance. "Uh, is everything okay, Miss Sakuya?"
Sakuya blinked, then hastily sheathed all her blades and adopted a proper posture. "E-Everything's fine. Continue as you were."
The fairy raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure, miss? You seem pale... like you saw a ghost."
Sakuya's eyes flicked back to the corner of the hall, but there was nothing there besides the odd fairy flitting to and fro. "Perhaps... I need a short break." She looked back at the fairy in front of her. "Get a few others together and continue cleaning this up, please? I'll return and take back over once I am... recuperated."
The fairy saluted. "Aye aye, miss!"
Even though she smiled at the fairy's positive tone, Sakuya still felt parts of that icy fear inside her.
Once the fairy left to gather her compatriots, Sakuya took flight down the hall towards her quarters. Normally, she'd be making this trip in stopped time, but... that didn't feel safe right now.
Some of the fairies she passed seemed to realize how odd a sight it was to actually see Sakuya travel around the mansion, but they wisely said nothing.
Once she reached her room, Sakuya was quite surprised to see that Remilia was waiting for her. "Ah, Sakuya, I was just looking for you. How goes the cleaning?"
Sakuya bowed. "It goes well, Lady Remilia." She glanced behind her, then back at her mistress. "Though I feel as if I might be overexerting myself."
Remilia frowned. "That's... not like you, Sakuya. I've never heard you complain about being tired or needing a break. I figured it was because you take naps while freezing time..."
Normally, Sakuya would deny such an accusation, but... "Normally, yes, but something doesn't... feel right. When I stop time, I mean."
Remilia looked around them. "Let's talk more in your room, so no one listens in."
They went into Sakuya's room, and the maid took a seat on the bed while the vampire sat at the bedside desk. Remilia was the first to speak. "Now, what do you mean it 'doesn't feel right'?"
Sakuya fidgeted. Part of her didn't want to admit what she had seen, but she also knew that if anyone in this mansion would be even a little sympathetic to her, it would be her mistress. "I... felt like I wasn't alone."
Remilia tilted her head. "In frozen time?"
Sakuya nodded. "Normally, the only thing there is me, and the frozen bodies of anyone nearby. But lately, I... thought I heard, or saw, someone- or something- in there with me."
"And that was in the hallway, yes?"
"Um... yes, mistress."
Remilia put a hand to her chin in thought. "Sakuya... would you be willing to stop time in here?"
Sakuya sat upright, that icy fear slowly crawling back up. "Mistress-!"
"Listen, I'll be right here," Remilia said, a genuine soft look on her face. "Anything happens, come right back, okay?"
Sakuya sighed and stood up. "Yes, Mistress."
She reached for her watch, hesitated, then took the plunge and stopped time.
Being confined to her room rather than in the middle of an open hallway did alleviate some of the fear, but it was still present. Sakuya took a few paces around the room, using the frozen Remilia as her mental anchor.
After a long while of waiting for something, anything, Sakuya was pleased by the complete lack of stimuli. As it should be.
Just as she was reaching for her watch again, there was a single knock on the door.
Sakuya screamed, which unfortunately carried over into unfrozen time, making Remilia leap out of her seat from both the noise and Sakuya's new position. "What happened?! What's wrong?!"
Sakuya pointed a knife at the door. "There was a knock! Just before I unfroze, I swear I heard it!"
The two of them stared, waiting for something to come through. After a brief moment, Remilia cautiously walked to the door and slowly opened it. She took a peek outside, and sighed.
"There's nothing out here, Sakuya."
The maid sighed with relief and re-holstered her knife, but Remilia caught her wrist before it fully left her side. "I think you've been working yourself too hard," she said. "Why not take the day off? Get some rest."
Although the words were genuine, Sakuya couldn't help but notice the implication. "You think I'm hallucinating?"
"I don't know. Either way, you definitely seem like some R&R will do you good."
Sakuya fought down the fear in her heart to protest. "But Mistress-!"
"That's an order, Sakuya," Remilia said firmly, though she had a faint smile. "If it's still an issue after you rest, then we'll look into it more, okay?"
Sakuya stayed silent and nodded.
Remilia smiled. "Good. I'll pass along word that the fairies need to actually get some work done in the meantime. You just focus on resting up."
With that, the mistress of the mansion left, and Sakuya collapsed into bed.
She didn't even have time to undress before sleep took her.
Like usual, Sakuya had a dreamless sleep. Even still, the nap did seem to help a lot. She felt much better, and there wasn't a trace of the fear that she had before.
Steeling herself, she dipped into frozen time just to be sure.
One minute "passed".
When she lasted three minutes in stopped time with nothing happening, Sakuya unfroze time and smiled to herself. Maybe she was just imagining things. With a new pep in her step, Sakuya left her room.
It was now morning, and the early sunlight pierced through the windows. Thankfully, the hall she had been working on was an interior one, so she didn't have to worry about the glare of sunlight annoying her.
The fairies didn't make nearly as much progress as she was hoping, but that was okay. Sakuya dismissed them to handle other tasks, and resumed her work.
Once more, she dipped into stopped time to get things done. Memories of the last time she was here tried to sieze her heart, but she shrugged them off. She was the only one who could move in stopped time. Just Sakuya, and Sakuya alone.
She began to hum while she worked, her high spirits keeping bad thoughts at bay. This went on for a while, and Sakuya was approaching the home stretch.
She paused her humming to lift a particularly large piece of a couch, then froze.
The humming continued without her, far down the hall.
Sakuya whirled in that direction just in time to see a blur of movement disappear around the far corner.
She was about to unfreeze time and beeline for the mistress, or perhaps Lady Patchouli, but she stopped. Whatever was going on, she wanted answers.
The mimicry of her humming continued, and Sakuya flew towards it, knife at the ready. The more she listened, the more she realized that it sounded exactly like her own voice... as if it was an echo.
As she got closer to the corner of the hall, she slowed down, and eventually landed. The humming was a bit more distant now, so she slowly leaned around the corner.
There was a group of fairy maids stuck in time preventing her from having a clear line of sight, but even then, she could see enough.
Past the fairies, in the middle of the hallway, was a figure with its back turned to her. In fact, it almost looked like it had a maid headdress on top of gray hair, almost like her own...
Sakuya unfroze time, and watched as the fairies continued with their business. The hallway behind them was empty.
Once it was cleared out for a moment, she took a deep breath and froze time again.
Her scream was lost underneath the passage of time.