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Shinji felt lightheaded. Try as he might, it would be unfair to place all the blame on the deliciously bold drink. His host was also at fault; Remilia had not shied away from behaving familiar and her audacious—if not borderline salacious—extended physical contact had him off balance. That said, he was not uneasy. Merely wondering just how much of what he saw and felt was spontaneous and how much a stratagem. His mind would not yield so quickly to the mechanical pleasures of the moment.
Remilia seemed pleased with the situation. Her small body had come to rest ever more firmly against his own side. The wing that had begun to wrap around him had extended further and began to pull him even closer. That pink and black canvas felt as smooth as the material on the loveseat; its tip acted like prehensile limb and gently dug into his back. A glimmer of what could best summed up as pure devilry was found in her eyes. Secondary glints of of more carnal enjoyment also made themselves known.
Were he a mere human, perhaps he would have been wholly overwhelmed. There was no denying that he felt tested and pushed to a limit. And yet, his resistance was more coherent than even he expected. His thoughts were his own. As great as Remilia’s personal charm might have been, he was only swayed by that and not by any preternatural abilities. She may have tried to employ tricks on him but he was having none of it.
That, that, yes, that! That realization was thrilling in and of itself. It completely overrode his previous realizations. There was no reason for temerity, he told himself. The proof was in his own body. Even as he wondered whether or not he could consider himself truly alive or not, he let himself get carried away with the physicality of it all. His heart thumped strongly with otherworldly excitement.
Though they were alone in the room, his voice was quiet, effecting greater intimacy. “I don’t think you’ve treated your guest with all the respect that he is due,” he teased, arrogant if not for the certainty that she would enjoy an assertive response.
“Haven’t I?” she leaned her head close, her small nose brushing up against his cheek provocatively.
“You’ve lavished me with attention, yes,” Shinji began to explain, brushing two fingers on her cheek. He stared into her eyes, feeling that the sharpness found there likely mirrored his own expression. Remilia was happy to roost next to him and let him have his way for the moment. He continued, “Your lack of honesty for the reason, however, is very unfair.”
“Oh, Unfair? How is that?”
“Simply put, you have me at a disadvantage. You know more than I do about things and are taking the lead in everything,” he let out a bitter laugh for effect, “in that sense, it’s as if I’m your plaything.”
“Is that such a terrible thing?” she giggled, her breath tickling the hairs on his jaw.
“It is not,” he admitted, “I’ve enjoyed myself.”
“All is well then,” she said.
“No,” he countered. What he had been told in Eientei was still fresh on his mind. A fine drink, expensive furnishings and other ostentatious displays—none of that really mattered. Despite all the posturing, he gambled that Remilia also understood that. “We both know that it isn’t. It’s not enough to justify all the effort and dissembling. It won’t leave a lasting impression on either of us.”
“Say that you’re correct,” she entertained the thought, “what would you have me do?”
“Be genuine. Let me know what I want and, if not, make things truly worth my while.”
“Worth your while?” she contemplated what he meant for a moment. And laughed once again. “Normally this is where things are made worth my while. A normal human would have felt the pleasurable sting of my teeth against their neck right about now,” she said, with a large degree of self-satisfaction. “They might squirm but would yield quickly and enjoy it as deeply as I would.”
“So this is a well-practiced seduction?” he asked, quickly making sense of all that he experienced. If so, it may have been too excessive for a normal person. Supernatural creatures probably had ways of making their prey submissive that didn’t involve sharing a drink and offering an apparently coy kiss on the cheek.
“A crass way of putting it, but not incorrect,” Remilia’s devilry become stronger as the dark of her pupils seemed to increase in size. There was something almost animal-like about her then. “While the others might have you to do some menial task to convince them of the viability of the plan, I wished to test you in a more direct manner. Observing you, savoring your reaction to my urging is much faster. Not to mention more delightful. Though I would have sent you off with Sakuya to fetch something or the other were you to prove indifferent or utterly plebian.”
“I am honored to exceed your expectations,” he could not help but offer a perfunctory nod for emphasis. Of course, the question, “To what end?” remained unasked as it would not get a meaningful reply.
“Yes and perhaps you are correct that I owe you satisfaction,” she said, before kissing him on the lips. Unlike the other very forward things that Remilia had pushed on that evening—close proximity, linking arms, and the earlier peck—there was some restraint on her part. This, paradoxically, made the act feel more genuine.
Shinji leaned in, trusting that it would be rude not to answer with earnestness. Both tasted remnants of the sharp drink on their lips and then, as tongues began to come into use, of the sweet fruity aftertaste. Perhaps it was because they had had all those libations but droplets of saliva spilled out as they parted, some in the form of beads that formed a temporary bridge between lips before collapsing.
“That wasn’t too proper,” Remilia said with a sigh. She shook her head in disappointment.
“My apologies,” Shinji mumbled, feeling a little self-conscious.
“No,” she whispered softly, “my technique is lacking. And I can’t blame it all on the drink.”
“You can always try again,” he said, happy to keep on teasing her.
“Yes, you’re right,” the vampire said as she wrapped her arms around her and brought him close. “This, mphf, is the sort of,” she spoke between wet attempts to kiss properly, “thing, mwah, that needs, mmm, practice!”
The eager practice session only became more intense as time passed. Shinji reciprocated the vampire’s eager kisses as best he could, finding himself on switching between defense, offense and mutual stimulation from one moment to another. Remilia drifted in position, coming to straddle his lap even as her wings seemed to try to envelop them both in a private cocoon. The he could now taste something beyond the drink—the scent of rose perfume had somehow transformed into something sweet that permeated both saliva and sweat.
His idle hands found themselves a plaything at Remila’s urging. She let go of him long enough to guide his hand to her body, giving license for him to engage in further wickedness. He groped at her chest gently, finding that there was, indeed, a handful to massage through her loose clothes.
“Let’s have more fun!” she shouted when she next tried to regain her breath, as much an expression of passion as it was an order. She inelegantly loosened the top of her blouse and getting rid of the ribbons and buttons that were covering up her modesty. Without missing a beat, she grabbed the nearby bottle and took in a large amount into her mouth. Then, she forced another kiss onto Shinji, transferring a good portion of the liquid to him. That this inefficient and messy process stained both clothes and the expensive upholstery didn’t seem to matter at all.
Shinji was caught up in the moment. He felt about as alive as he could have ever imagined, something long-forgotten gestating in the depths of his soul. With a laugh, he propped up Remilia higher up against his own body, effectively bringing her chest about to face height. The heat that he felt pouring out from his body was mirrored by Remilia’s pale skin—as he exposed more of her chest by pushing aside fabric and undoing buttons, he saw a scarlet flush of vitality spreading wherever it was he happened to touch. There was nowhere more pink, tantalizing than at the tip of her small fatty mounds.
He put his mouth against one of her nipples, kissing and then teasing their fleshy elasticity with the front of his teeth. There was no need for anything beyond that as Remilia jolted in response to having the erect tips sucked on. When he dedicated his mouth the right breast while his forefinger and thumb lightly pinched Remilia’s left nipple, the vampire could not help but let out a very girlish whimper.
Remilia was not quick to abandon all of her sense of reason. She was conscious of herself and of his advances, even as she enjoyed his careful touches. The vampire reciprocated by groping his crotch roughly while her wings caressed his broad back from behind. “Consider yourself lucky!” she exclaimed, “it’s rare for anyone to see this side of me!”
“Mmpfmm,” Shinji acknowledged the fact the best he could, the vampire’s tit still subjected the careful lashings of his tongue. He groaned as Remilia focused on his lower body, fingers tracing the contours of his very erect manhood. As she was above him, she could not really see what she was doing but all the same she managed to loosen his own clothes up to an impressive degree.
Both vampire and ghost felt like their bodies were on fire. The sucking and groping took a brief pause for Remilia to offer another, far shier kiss. She kissed him as one would a proper lover, lingering as if the distance of years had brought of their hearts to bursting point. The emotional crescendo was difficult to ignore. Her wings retracted momentarily afterwards, as she staggered back to her feet. She silently undid a clasp on the side of her skirt, letting the expensive fabric tumble down.
Remilia left her smallclothes on, the silken garments shiny and damp with saliva and other fluids. She climbed back onto the loveseat, legs on either side of Shinji and stood in front of him. Nearly stumbling, she placed her hands on his shoulders for support. Chancing instability, she reached for the bottle once again, taking a large swig before offering some to her partner. Shinji obliged and drank deep of the intoxicating stuff.
The ghost noted how the vampire seemed even smaller without her clothes—her frame contained little in the way of excess flesh with hints of rib showing around her chest and her stomach being flat and tight. He groped her rear with a hand, enjoying a palmful of kinda-firm-kinda-jiggly goodness. Remilia leaned into him and brought forward her pelvis. While it was not a demand, he knew what to do.
He lowered her silky panties with his teeth, all the while enjoying the feeling of diminute vampire ass with his hand. The undergarment scrunched up and remained hovering along her slender legs. The smell of roses had transformed into a more complex stench, he thought, as he brought his face forward to the fine and wispy strands of blueish pubic hair. Compared to the ones on his beard, these hairs were little more than peach fuzz. They felt soft against his skin as he buried his face in Remilia’s crotch.
Roses, alcoholic wood, warm sweat and the slight smell of ammonia kept him in a state of focused delirium. His tongue probed her moist flower and slurped its way up to the delicate pistil above. Remilia was as putty, arms trembling as he serviced her cunt with well-directed motions of the tongue. Her breathing became heavier and her use of language, baser. “This… mmm… is a great privilege,” she said between pants as Shinji accelerated his ministrations.
“Indecent” didn’t even begin to cover the scene the was unfolding. Remilia’s hair was becoming matted with sweat, her hat long since discarded. Honey dripped from her slit and rolled down her legs. Carpet, couch and whatever else be damned. Both were so caught up in the moment that neither would have noticed if someone had happened to walk in on the lewd exchange. Remilia climaxed after several minutes of the onslaught by his sopping tongue, collapsing like a marionette with cut strings onto Shinji’s lap once again.
Though she had begun the exchange as brazenly self-motivated, Remilia proved that there was enough generosity in her heart for the well-being of another. She slobbered her way through another messy kiss with Shinji as the strength returned to her legs. With her wings retracted behind her back, she went to her knees in front of him. Her ever-present aristocratic dignity was nowhere to be found. She loosened his trousers and set free his very-encouraged penis. Remilia smirked at it, one of her fangs popping out of the corner of her mouth before she got to work.
The vampire used one of her delicate hands to rub the shaft up and down as her tongue teased the engorged tip. Her eyes turned upwards, meaning to meet his, as she put the meaty pillar into her small mouth. Remilia left behind wet spots of saliva mixed with precum as she bobbed her head back and forth. At times, she would stop her motion, attack from the side and simply tickle the shaft with the deft movements of her tongue. She seemed to enjoy herself, smiling with her eyes as she maintained steady eye contact throughout the ordeal. Were she capable of speech, Shinji imagined that she might say something like, “this is a fair exchange for your meritorious service earlier.”
As thorough and enthusiastic as Remilia was about blowing him, she was careful not to take things too far. As his excitement became greater and his breathing heavier, she withdrew, leaving back a well-lubricated obelisk. She had needed time to recover as well and, finally, she was in a condition to use the rest of her body.
Remilia once again straddled him. She grabbed onto his back firmly as her wings wrapped around their upper bodies. Slowly, she lowered herself onto his pike, wet squelching noises echoing in the room as she impaled herself. Remilia closed her eyes, concentrating on the task. Shinji found her concentration extremely cute and could not help but to assault her with an aggressive kiss. “Ah, idiot,” she managed to whimper as she took on his full length.
Shinji preempted the vampire’s acclimatization by slowly thrusting his hips upwards. Someone groaned, just as likely either of them, as the pump was repeated. He held her by the lower back, just below where her wings connected, helping her skinny waist bob up and down as he continued to drive into her tight hole. The sheer amount of juices from either of them made everything feel sticky.
After about a minute of the slow and deliberate movement, Remilia was ready to take the initiative. It had seemed, at first glance, that it would be impossible for her to ride him, but she was eager to prove common sense wrong. Putting force into her legs and knees, Remilia lifted herself up and down at a respectable tempo. Shinji helped her rebound up with his hands but she dictated the pace. She held on tight as she sat up and down on him.
“This, this is more than I expected,” she confessed with an erotic laugh, eager to kiss him again as she was fucked. As she tired, Shinji picked up the slack, and he was happy to use both his arms and hips to drill her to ecstasy. In that wild configuration, the vampire became so entranced by what was happening that she dug one of her hands into his back, drawing a drop or two of blood. The sultry passion of the moment made him incapable of feeling beyond a wetness on this back, just as he felt a tight moistness enveloping his cock.
He enjoyed the vampire’s greediness, especially when it came to secondary affections. Even as it felt like the juices and sweat down below were being worked up into a froth, he deigned to oblige her desire for kisses or to fondle lightly the perky mouthfuls of breasts that she had in front of him. She rubbed at her clit, getting off without concern. There was no shame in her frenzied eyes even even as her other hand continued to cause his back to tingle by scratching it up.
As Reimila’s small hips continued to rise and fall onto his lap, he felt a great pressure building up within himself. The vampire had had her own orgasm not too long ago; the strength faded from her legs once again as she sprayed a short stream of love juices onto the couch. “Whenever you want-” she had said between pants earlier as she pressed her body flat against his chest. At the moment, however, her breath was too quick and her thoughts too beyond the clouds to offer something approaching coherence.
He picked up the pace as he came close to climax. Remilia was skewered dumb by his forceful moves, able only to grip ever-tighter onto his back as if in fear of falling off. As the ride came close to a stop, her pants became shallower and faster. He grabbed firmly onto her small rear end as he finally erupted, leaving red impression marks of his hands, filling her with a torrent of essence that felt interminable.
Remilia had collapsed onto his chest, head resting on his shoulder. It took a while for her to be capable of speech once again but, soon as she was able, she let out a sensible complaint, “You should ask for permission before finishing inside someone.”
“Hah...” he sighed, “I couldn’t help myself, sorry.”
“You’re lucky that I have ways with dealing with manly discharge so that it doesn’t result in issue,” she said with a sigh of her own. Slowly but surely the strength returned to her arms and she pulled herself up, uncoupling from his still semi-turgid penis. Moist noises and muffled dripping of fluids followed the action.
The vampire rubbed his face tenderly, running her fingers along his jawline and through his beard. She looked satisfied. Almost no trace could be found of that superior being that had welcomed the party into the audience chamber only a few hours later. It was just a very naked, sweaty woman who had found bliss in the arms of an equally naked, equally sweaty man.
“I enjoyed myself,” she whispered softly, “you were intensely delicious.”
“I’m glad,” he said, “I didn’t expect things would turn out this way.”
“Heh,” she laughed, recalling the conversation from either “neither did I. Have I won you over?”
“Indeed you have,” he conceded with a hearty laugh of his own. Tired as he began to felt, he also felt more complete, more vital. He had new thoughts that he wished to piece together but the vampire had other plans.
“Let us go to my chambers,” she said, a knowing smile let him know that he was not yet off the hook, “we can bathe and… well, we’ll see where the rest of the night leads us.”
Shinji stared up at the fresco painted on the ceiling of Remilia’s bedroom. Even in mere candlelight, enough of the scene could be appreciated. It was a complex scene, pastoral yet also depicting society as a whole—peasants happily toiled in the fields before offering tribute to their feudal lord in the autumn. He noted that a winged black creature sat atop a spire made of stone, overlooking the gifts of tribute down below. It seemed harsh and rigid, not at all like the soft girl who lay with her head across his chest.
They were no longer sticky with sweat, having gone into the bath together. As a second wind had given them both more motivation, things had gotten worse before they had gotten better. He had been able to appreciate her small, yet firm, rear as they had crashed into one another. There had been no hangups about status or other sorts of pretensions, only honest and pure enjoyment from two eager beings. In many ways the second round had proven more intense than the first but Shinji tried not to think too much about that, lest his body react once again.
It was sufficient to say that they had cleaned themselves up in the bath after another passionate session. They had helped one another to wash up with no hurry in the world, no taboo nor hangups. Afterwards, after toweling themselves dry, they had tumbled into bed, naked and unashamed. For some time he had lain on his back as she found comfort in placing her head on his broad chest. He stroked her head softly from time to time, enjoying the extended physical contact.
“I hope I’ve helped you,” Remilia said quietly, breaking that long silence that had reigned since they had gone to bed.
He didn’t understand what she meant. “I needed help?” he asked for clarification.
“I’ve known sensitive sorts like you before,” she explained, “deep down you knew that there was, no is, something wrong with you.”
“I couldn’t remember...” he started.
“Intimacy,” she concluded. “You were starved for it. Maybe that’s not fair to say. I’m sure that you could have managed without it. But...” she thought about what she would say. She rolled partially onto to him, pressing her bosom against his chest and draping her arm around him. With a sigh, she added, “No, maybe, you didn’t realize that that was something that you missed.”
“In that case, maybe I could say the same for you,” he stated. It could not be disputed that the advances were mutual. Even now, the fact that she freely held her small body onto his was proof.
Remilia tilted her head up towards his, “No, that’s different. While it’s true that it’s been a while since I was with someone as an equal… it’s not the same as forgetting that such a thing was possible in the first place. The look in your eyes as I tried to get you to lower your guard… it looked almost pitiable. Like someone who was lost in life.”
“I don’t know much about who I am nor where I’ve been,” he confessed, deciding that he could not hide his soul from someone who had taken his whole self without judgment.
“Fate is a strange thing,” she said, “even those who accept it often don’t know why it had to play out in the way that it did. It’s safe to assume that you don’t know where you’re going, either.”
“I do not,” he admitted. “For now, I’m just going forward, as I try to make sense of everything.”
“I agreed to be a part of this because it seemed different to the usual… interest, yes, but that wasn’t just it. Or maybe it was, I’m not so sure right now,” Remilia confessed. “But I did not expect someone like you to show up. That lunarian and that ghost might have no business in asking you to collaborate with them.”
“And you do?”
“No, definitely not,” she said sullenly, “I understand that now. Though I’m happy to have met you and I had more fun than I thought possible it’s not my right to ask for any more.”
“What choice do I have?” he sighed, feeling fatigue begin to overpower him.
“I won’t impugn your dignity by suggesting you can stay here with me, though I would certainly not mind it,” she giggled, drawing a circle across his breast with a finger. For a moment he pictured peaceful days spent with her, talking about no one thing in particularity, just enjoying the companionship. That they would have passionate sex afterwards was secondary.
“You’re such a brat,” he laughed, finding her words oddly comforting. He could not indulge in those fantasies. At least not for now. And not for long.
“Don’t you dare say that outside of this bedroom,” she warned him. “I would have to destroy you if you ever were to assault my character in public.”
“I imagine you would,” he accepted, running his fingers through her messy and still slightly moist hair. “Why is it so hard for people to be honest all of the time?” he asked, not really as a response to her latest statement but as a general query about reality.
“All that matters is that we’re being honest right now,” she said, moving her hand down towards his crotch. Though he had tried keep his thoughts on the immaterial and abstract, he had been stealing glances at the naked vampire’s body from time to time. The happiness that he felt—that they both felt—was to be expressed physically once again. They were under no illusions that it was a temporary relief from every else and so they planned to make the most of it.
“There’s still some time before daybreak,” he said sheepishly. Yes, he knew that she knew that he was contented just cuddling. But that was besides the point.
“I’ll make sure to take care of you until then,” Remilia giggled, fangs poking out of her mouth in a playful manner. As she climbed atop of him, he could not help but feel some sympathy for the tortured face of the peasant who was giving up carefully-cultivated harvest to his omniscient overlord.
When he next came to, Sakuya’s grey eyes were staring down at him. She had a small candle holder in hand and had been shaking his shoulder softly for quite some time. It did not seem to matter that he was still wholly nude. Neither averting her eyes nor staring right at his exposed genitals, the maid was a consummate professional. She rouse the sleeping guest from her mistress bed as if it were yet another dull duty.
“!” she placed a finger on her lips while scowling, meaning for him to be quiet. He had been too quick to open his mouth and she assumed he would speak. A nod was offered instead, showing that he understood to keep quiet.
Remilia still slept next to him, as naked as he was. He could not recall when they had finally decided to call it quits but he had slept a deep sleep afterwards, free of any care or worry. For a while he held the small vampire in his arms but at some point she must have rolled away from him. The soft scent of rose perfume wafted to his nose, a melancholic reminder that all things come to an end. He would have risked a kiss on her defenseless forehead if the maid weren’t around. There was no telling how she might react in order to protect her mistress’ happiness. So he got up slowly, shifting his weight deliberately as to not wake up the sleeping vampire.
Sakuya ushered him outside of the room. There, she handed him a robe. After closing the door she finally spoke up, “It’s past noon already, the others are waiting for you.”
“Past noon?” Shinji looked around, stifling a yawn, finding the hallways as pitch-black as Remilia’s room had been. It only then dawned on him that the reason for that was a lack of windows.
“I can see that it was a long night for you,” she said without emotion nor judgment, “I’ll have a meal ready for you after you freshen up. I’ve taken the liberty of cleaning your possessions and laying them out for you nearby. Please follow me.”
Shinji did as asked, his mind still too tired to engage in meaningful conversation. As he began to woke up, he began to feel refreshed. Reaching his destination, he stopped by an attached bathroom to clean himself up a little. The maid offered to help him get dressed but he declined, choosing to put his pants on like the majority of people—one leg at a time. Once done, the maid was eager to keep him moving.
“Let’s get you fed,” she said.
“Sakuya,” he called out as she zipped on ahead of him. The maid stopped, her short skirt fluttering as she twirled to face him.
 He wished to keep what happened with Remilia private from the others.  It was nothing. He wished to thank her for helping him out.
Hey, I won’t be able to write for another day at least, maybe two.
With that out of the way I wanted to ask a few things because it’s sometimes hard to tell what readers are thinking and the latest update was purposefully bold departure from the usual. Feel free to answer some or none of these things, I’m mostly just curious. I figure that not asking and second-guessing myself is probably worse than being slightly annoying and asking point blank.
What do you make of Shinji? Is he too much or too little of a blank state and has the development from the first post onward made sense to you?
How welcome (or unwelcome) are shifts in character relationships that don’t follow an explicit choice? I’ve been trying to keep a naturalistic approach to how characters interact instead of “+1 Youmu points” or whatever and attempting to go by what people say in comments along with the actual outcomes.
Just how clear are the choices? I spend a lot of time thinking about the wording but I’m never sure if they’re the right questions I should be asking.
Did the previous scene work out well? I haven’t written anything overtly erotic in a while and so I was wondering if it flowed properly and if it was, subjectively put, “hot”.
Lastly, are things more or less interesting? This was my nanowrimo entry and originally meant to be at a faster pace (original design document had SDM stuff like halfway into the month). I like slower paced stories with plenty of opportunities for character interaction but I realize that’s not for everyone nor it doesn’t have to be for every story. I plan to pick things up a bit more in the near future but I still wonder if the pacing is alright.
Also interested if the character development came through how I imagined it would but I’m not expecting critique that detailed, so just reply with whatever you feel like. Thanks, I appreciate your input in advance as this is the sort of stuff I think about way more than I probably should. The last 5kish words were a departure from the usual and so I couldn’t help but ask.
I like Shinji, he was kinda blank and boring at first but he's grown on me. His interactions with pretty much everyone have been entertaining and seemed natural.
I don't mind shifts in a character's personality that aren't an explicit choice, especially if the shift results from something that would be beyond the character's control anyway. The choices themselves aren't particularly opaque, I'm a dumb motherfucker and I've managed to parse them pretty well.
Remi sex was great, I am probably biased towards Remi but your particular characterization of her is great. Scene was definitely hot. You should absolutely do more porn.
I am hooked on this story. I am interested in learning wtf is up with this weird ghost, and I'm also curious as to who else he's going to get shuffled around to.
Shinji feels like generic anime blank slate, which is much better than a normal blank slate.
I'd prefer if romance, romance flags, and lewd times happened independent of reader choice. All Touhous deserve a chance.
Choices are pretty straightforward. Normally I'd troll you by claiming otherwise since that's usually a sticking point for you, but there's no grounds for it here.
Sex was pretty hot. In the future, try to have climaxes accompanied by noticeably stronger actions/visuals/auditory stimuli than what's baseline in the narrative.
Story is interesting.
Character development is proceeding as appropriate for a good harem MC. I especially like how Shinji maintains a consistent give-and-take in how he interacts with others. Like..it feels like the characters are facing each other when they talk, instead of talking at each other from vague positions. Kinda reminiscent of the wordplay skills you developed in CAaW.
“No thanks is necessary, this is my job,” the maid replied, expression inscrutable.
“All the same,” Shinji said, “I wish to thank you. It doesn’t matter if it is part of your duties or not.”
Sakuya said nothing, her blue eyes scanning Shinji for a moment. Some sort of conclusion was reached in her mind, though Shinji could not guess what it was, and she gave him a silent nod of acknowledge. She then turned in place and began to lead him away once more. He followed quietly, deciding not to overthink the situation too much.
The mansion continued to impress. Though he was certain that he was in the more private sections of the building, the decorations were no less ostentatious; sconces plated with precious metals, fine vases atop stands of stone or dark wood as well as any number of portraits and gilding on all sorts of objects were constant reminders of the remarkable luxury. Even the few windows he began to spot here and there had thick drapes made of material that shimmered subtly as he moved past them.
At one point, they ran into a pair of uniformed young girls. They had been chatting carefree to one another, feather dusters in hand but idle. As soon as they noticed Sakuya approach they fell dead silent, each looking apoplectic before uttering a pathetic and mumbled greeting. Shinji smiled at the winged underlings, pitying them. Clearly the expected a chewing out later. The fact that Sakuya barely acknowledged them seemed to worsen things and they made themselves very small indeed and hung their heads while performing a curtsy.
They reached their destination soon after.
Compared to the other rooms he had seen, he was somewhere comparatively cozy in size. It was a small chamber with a four or perhaps five person table on one end, next to a large rounded window that looked out at the mansion’s garden and the lake beyond. As for the rest of the room—there was a cabinet with a glass front filled with china, a chest of drawer, and a pair of paintings depicting something pastoral and a wooded area. A place had been set on the table and the maid pulled out the chair for him to take a seat.
He thanked Sakuya once again as he sat down. For a moment, he thought that he saw her raise her eyebrow but, if she had, it lasted only for a fraction of a second. The maid said that she would be back in a moment with food and exited the room via a second door to the side.
Shinji was left to appreciate the daylight in its full glory. There was none of the fog of the previous evening. This allowed him to get an instant appreciation for just how large the mansion really was. The rear gardens seemed about as large as the front and extended down towards the lake’s shoreline in a gentle slope. A few other uniformed figures moved there under the sunlight, tending to the shrubbery and flowerbeds. A smile formed on his face as he thought of a quiet nighttime stroll in the garden with Remilia.
Before he could get too lost in his thoughts, Sakuya returned. She brought a small tray with covered dishes. “It’s somewhat late for breakfast, so I had the kitchen prepare lunch instead,” she announced, setting down the tray gently. She transferred one of the dishes in front of him, uncovering it with practiced perfection.
“That’s quite alright,” he said, finding that his first course was a soup of some sort. It smelled rich and dense, offering light resistance to his spoon as he stirred it slightly. Although he found it odd that Sakuya had taken a few steps back and stood silently, he figured that making a comment would be as fruitless as thanking her. So he instead he simply ate, finding that the red soup was actually cool instead of hot. He was unaccustomed to its taste, finding that there were a number of varied vegetables in there as well as some sort of fruity oil and the distinct acidity of vinegar. It wasn’t bad my any means but he found himself lacking the vocabulary to describe what he was eating.
Even if Shinji had recollections of his past, his ability to recognize western cuisine it would likely be contingent on whether or not he was once an outsider to Gensokyo. The “when” was also rather important: the average someone in modern Japan might well recognize tomatoes, olive oil and other staples from beyond their culture. But someone from before the great barrier would be another matter entirely. At any rate, Shinji was open-minded enough to appreciate the new experience.
When he was done with his first course, Sakuya wordlessly withdrew the plate and placed the next one in front of him. She revealed a small piece of poached fish with a thin glaze that might have been applied with a brush. He had no complaints about that part of the meal either. It could have well been that he didn’t even need food to continue existing but, for whatever reason, Shinji felt like the meal was truly reviving him. By the time that he was done and Sakuya presented a small flan as desert, he felt like he had been reborn.
“Was everything to your liking?” the maid asked as he finished up.
“No complaints, I enjoyed everything,” he replied.
“That’s good to hear,” she said, “If you’re ready, I’ll take you to meet with the others.”
Sakuya took him down to the first floor and then outside. They went to the rear garden, past a few statues and hedges and to a spot by a large fountain. Shinji spotted Reisen first: the rabbit was sitting contentedly on a bench, eyes closed as she enjoyed both the shade from a nearby tree and the gurgling of the fountain.
It was only a moment later that he caught a glimpse of Youmu. She was brimming with energy and had taken to practicing her swordplay. Diligent, yes, but also a little reckless. She had enlisted one of the other servants to help her spar—another one of those young winged girls—and the maid was barely managing to keep up. She flinched every time Youmu swung and tried desperately to keep hopping backwards in time to avoid a hit. They had gotten wooden swords from somewhere but it looked like Youmu was still using a considerable amount of force for her swings.
“It might be for the best if you train by yourself,” Shinji called out in greeting, choosing to end the unequal matchup.
“Oh, Master Shinji!” Youmu was happy to see him, flashing an earnest smile even as she made one final swing at her opponent. She let the maid go before running up to him like an eager puppy. “This place is fun, there’s all sorts of environments where I can train!”
“Good to see that you’ve managed to keep busy,” Shinji said, offering a smile of his own in return.
“It’s important to keep myself in top condition,” she nodded like that was a self-evident truth, the phantom around her moving as if to echo that nod. “So, did you manage to figure things out with Lady Remilia? Sakuya told us you two were busy discussing important matters last night.”
“Ah,” he took a moment to think his answer through. “Yes, we reached an understanding.”
“A very thorough one,” Sakuya added with a pointedly wicked smirk. The innuendo was lost on Youmu. Perhaps not so much on Reisen, who had roused herself from her seat and eyed the maid with some suspicion.
“Master Shinji,” Reisen asked softly, “what are we going to do next?”
It was a fair question. But Shinji did not have an answer. Sakuya took the liberty of speaking out of turn, to the perceptible annoyance of the rabbit, “As the intense negotiations took longer than expected, it may be for the best if you stay here until evening. I know some of what my mistress had planned but it’s not my place to say without her permission.”
“Ah, I guess vampires sleep during the day,” Youmu said with an understanding nod. “But why didn’t she just tell you what she was thinking last night?”
“We were seeing how much we could trust one another,” Shinji told the truth, but omitted any detail of how that was achieved. “We ran out of time before the sun came up.”
“Master...” Reisen sounded suspicious. She seemed ready to pry, albeit indirectly, “You smile at every mention of the mistress of this place, I take it you trust her judgment?”
“It would be safe to say that Lady Remilia feels the same way after their meeting last night,” Sakuya once again intervened, sounding deadpan but also a little too eager to intervene. Reisen frowned in response, wondering why it was that the maid was getting between her and the man she was to treat as if he were Eirin.
Youmu picked up that her companion was getting upset but seemed confused as to why. She was more concerned about other things, at any rate. “If we’re staying here for a few more hours, then let’s train together, master!” she said, seeing an opportunity to hone her skill instead.
“That poor maid wasn’t enough for you?” Shinji asked.
“Fairies are no good when it comes to training, they try to run away all of the time. I wanted to try the girl at the gate but Reisen said I shouldn’t bother people who are busy working.”
“She would be happy to fight with you,” Sakuya said, “in fact, you’d probably make her day.”
After hearing that, the phantom began to wobble up and down excitedly, brimming with energy. Shinji was concerned about Reisen, however, and asked her what she thought.
“I’m bored of just sitting around. I might go for a walk. But whatever you say goes,” she said.
“I’ve my duties but my priority is to see to your needs,” Sakuya said, once again unprompted. “If you wish, I could help you prepare for what may come next.”
Youmu had already started making her way towards the front garden. As soon as she had heard that there was someone who would be happy to fight her, she had set her mind to it.
 A fight would be interesting to observe and assess.  He would join the rabbit for a walk and lend an ear to her misgivings.  The seemingly taciturn maid had more to her than she let on.
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Shinji dismissed Sakuya, thanking her for the offer of assistance. As the maid nodded politely, he could not tell what it was she might be thinking. There was more to her, he was sure, but her personality had only come through in fit and starts so far.
It didn’t seem like Reisen minded the company at all. A “would you mind if we took that walk together” was met by a “sure” that seemed honest enough. They walked shoulder to shoulder, slowly meandering towards the lake. There were a lot of secluded spaces in the gardens, spaces between hedges or behind walls that offered privacy from most angles. Shinji once again thought of his petite partner and thought it would be fun to explore every nook under the silent moonlight.
“Master,” Reisen broke the silence, “are you alright?”
“Yes, I’m fine. Why do you ask?”
“You seem distracted,” she said, “you keep looking at something far away.”
“I’m a little lost in my own thoughts, sorry,” he admitted. With a laugh, he added, “It seems that I’m making it a little too obvious, however.”
“I don’t want to pry but it’s about the vampire, isn’t it?” she asked.
Shinji did not feel like lying to the rabbit. “Yes, I’ve been thinking about her,” he said.
They stopped at a short flight of stairs that separated the rest of the garden from the rough, stone-filed shoreline below. The mansion loomed large behind them, its few windows dark and opaque from the outside. No maids were around and the few that they had passed were too busy fooling around ever since Sakuya disappeared from sight.
“You can speak your mind if you like,” Shinji said, picking up on the girl’s body language; her long ears looked stiffer than usual and barely moved as she walked. He suspected what her concerns might be but it would be best if they were out in the open.
“I’m not used to questioning orders, sorry,” she sighed, bringing a hand up to one of her very long strands of hair and pulling it behind her head.
“I don’t know how Eirin expects you to behave but I appreciate hearing your thoughts. It might not be best if you did so when we’re dealing with a third party but… well, I think you probably understand the sort of thing that I mean.”
“Yes, of course,” Reisen said. She let her voice drop a decibel as she began to voice her concern. “I’m certain that she’s to be trusted if we were sent here. It’s just that the people in Gensokyo like to say things that aren’t totally true to get their way. And I was worried that you might not see that.”
“Ah,” he took a moment to think. Had the vampire been honest with him? In at least a limited sense, he would stake his life that she had been as forthright as she could be. She likely had reasons of her own for playing along to whatever his, well, quest was shaping up to be but he felt like he could trust her when it really mattered. She had awoken something in him that had been forgotten. No, more than that, that aspect of his soul, his passion, had been outright dead and buried.
Perhaps he was being foolish but he could not conceive that someone would willingly look into that part of him that had been so raw, so exposed and wish him ill. Then again, it was also possible that his other senses and drives were equally as dead and he simply was not processing information and feelings and he might if he were whole.
“I’m sorry if I’ve troubled you,” Reisen mumbled, a look of concern on her face as she watched him get lost in his thoughts. “If you don’t want to say anything, I’ll understand.”
Shinji sighed. He sat down on the broad stone step and stared out at the tranquil waters. A breeze brushed past his face, cold and indifferent. “No, it’s not that I don’t want to answer you, it’s just that it’s complicated. If I were to stop and really think about it, there’s not much reason to trust anyone other than their word. I don’t really have any memories so I simply stumble forwards, ever the fool.”
Reisen sat down next to him, tucking in her skirt to protect her legs from touching the stone directly. “I suppose that there’s nothing wrong with you being happy,” she said.
He smiled at nothing in particular. “I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t think myself naive but a fool never thinks of himself as a fool.”
“Youmu seems to think that you’re full of wisdom,” she said, as if trying to reassure him, “she’s got something of a loose tongue but I don’t think she gives away her respect so easily. Pretty much everyone else we’ve run into she’s other things to say. Not mean but not exactly nice either.”
“So you’re saying that there’s something to her opinion?” he asked, “and you? Do I have your respect?”
“That’s unfair to ask after only a single day, don’t you think?” she gave her response with a soft laugh, somehow dispelling the tension that had hung over their heads.
“Fair point,” he said, adding some self-deprecation into the mix, “typical fool question to ask.”
A moment of silence passed. Both seemed to retreat into their thoughts briefly. And then Reisen changed the subject all of a sudden. “You know, I heard that there’s supposed to be a mermaid living in the lake. You know, a half fish, half person.”
“Just like you’re half rabbit and half person?” he teased. “The fact your frowning makes me believe that no one likes being called half of a person.”
“So this is the wisdom Youmu respects,” she didn’t miss a beat, shaking her head. “You’re right, of course.”
“So what about this mermaid?”
“Not much,” Reisen shrugged, “I was just thinking that there’s me, there’s you and Youmu. Would be interesting if we also got her to join us.”
“We don’t know what we’re doing next. Maybe she would be useful if we’re going to do a lot of swimming.”
“More useful than that maid,” Reisen said, finally revealing the other concern she had.
“You don’t like Sakuya?” Shinji asked.
“She was nice to us last night but she kept avoiding any questions I asked about herself or what you were up to with Remilia.” Reisen fiddled with her holster, drawing her gun out and pointing it towards the lake. Shinji did not rightly know what object was but the way she held it made towards an invisible enemy it clear that it was a weapon. “I’m supposed to follow your orders but also defend you, so I was worried that something odd might have been happening to you. I didn’t tell Youmu, of course, or she would have charged in with her sword drawn.”
“That would have been bad,” he nodded, scarcely being able to imagine his student’s face when she saw him and Remilia in the throes of ecstasy. He did not care for his modesty much and he suspected that the vampire would have been equally nonchalant. The problem would have lain elsewhere. It was possible that Youmu would never be able to make eye contact with him again afterwards.
“Yes, anyhow, I think that she’s hiding something. I’ve met her before and she normally acts carefree. It’s strange that she was so serious with you,” she said, putting her weapon down and into her lap.
“And how she interrupted us,” he stroked the hairs on his chin, recalling that the maid had insinuated things and at the same time changed the subject several times.
“So, you noticed too?” Reisen seemed to feel validated that she wasn’t the only one to see it. She smiled at Shinji, eyes as determined as those of an ace detective.
“It might be too soon to judge her,” he said, trying to keep things grounded. “But it might be worth keeping an eye on her in case there’s something else to her, as you say.”
“I’ll take care of that,” Reisen nodded her head happily. In that moment she appeared to decide that that was one of the reasons why she had been asked to accompany him. She determined to help with her wits instead of with force.
Shinji thought it prudent to allow her to feel useful. However, he also wished to avoid unnecessary trouble. He thought how he could best ensure that there were no premature judgments.
 He would encourage Youmu to make friends as well, to get a sense of the kind of person Sakuya was.  Remilia would not lie to his face. He would make sure to get a better feel of what he was in for before he left.