The Scarlet Devil Mansion is Now Hiring
Disclaimer: I do not own Touhou. Cover image by 3speed with overlaid logo. Enjoy!
Youmu sighed as she stared into the vast emptiness that was the inside of Yuyuko's cabinets. Food was their biggest expense by far, only one problem of many while living with a voracious ghost. Youmu shuddered to think of what Yuyuko would find to eat when she realized they had no food in the house.
It's not as if Youmu forgot to do the shopping, or anything so simple. No, the sad truth is they didn't have the money for it. As far as Youmu knew, the Hakugyokuro didn't actually have any income in the first place, so it was only a matter of time. Worse, it wasn't even a justifiable expense: both of them were ghosts.
With one final sigh, Youmu shut the cabinets. She could make oatmeal, but that was it. It pained her she could not prepare something better for Yuyuko, but such is her life. Or, rather, her afterlife.
"Ehhh..." Yuyuko looked down at her bowl of oatmeal. "...Yo...Youmu, can't I have something better?"
"Sorry Lady Yuyuko, but there is nothing else."
"Ehhhh...? Then can't you go to the store?"
Youmu shook her head. "Sorry Lady Yuyuko, but we don't have the money."
Yuyuko grumbled and began eating her oatmeal. Youmu could sense when she wasn't wanted, and retreated out the back door. It was for the best, Yuyuko often looked at Youmu's ghost part strangely when she wasn't satisfied with her meals.
There was a grand staircase leading up to their home, and Youmu was its de facto guard. When she wasn't gardening or serving Yuyuko, she stood watch there. It was rare for anyone to actually intrude, but Youmu enjoyed standing guard. It was relaxing, and in a way, felt right.
A gust of wind carried Yuyuko's lofty voice. "Youmu~"
Youmu turned around to see Yuyuko floating towards her, bobbing up and down with the wind. A newspaper laid in her hands, one of those terrible editions of Bunbunmaru News.
"Yes, Lady Yuyuko?"
"Youmu, look at this." Yuyuko held up the half-folded over newspaper, displaying an ad. Youmu looked at it closely, but wasn't sure what to make of it.
Scarlet Devil Mansion – Maid Apprenticeship Position
Izayoi Sakuya is offering a 10-week apprenticeship at the Scarlet Devil Mansion. The course will cover everything required to be a proper maid, from cooking and cleaning to maintaining one's presence and elegance at all times. Applicants are recommended to put their affairs in order before applying.
Youmu looked up from the ad. "Lady Yuyuko, is there something I should be seeing here?" The position interested Youmu to be sure, but taking a ten-week hiatus away from Yuyuko was unacceptable.
"Keep reading, keep reading." At Yuyuko's insistence, Youmu turned her gaze back to the ad. At the bottom was a short line in fine print:
Successful graduates will receive a £50,000 stipend.
"Ah...Lady Yuyuko..." Youmu had a bad feeling. "...could you possibly be implying..."
Yuyuko smiled and waved the newspaper back and fourth. "You can do it, Youmu. I believe in you~"
...which is how Konpaku Youmu found herself standing in front of the imposing gates of the Scarlet Devil Mansion, a single suitcase gripped in her hand. Youmu had been against it for all the good that it did, worried that Yuyuko would be unable to care for herself. Yuyuko insisted she would be fine with Yukari to help.
If she was being honest with herself though, Youmu was looking forward to it. She greatly admired Izayoi Sakuya. An apprenticeship with her would be a high honor and Youmu couldn't help but blush at the thought.
"We don't take strays."
Youmu jolted up at the voice. She turned her gaze to see a tall woman with sunset-orange hair. Hong Meiling, the gate guard.
Meiling lazily pointed towards the suitcase. "If you're looking for a place to crash, we don't take strays. Try the Hakurei Shrine."
"Ah, no no," Youmu shook her head back and fourth. "I'm here about the, er, apprenticeship position..."
"Whoops, sorry." Meiling laughed. "I forgot that ad was out there. You're the first person...brave enough, I guess, to actually show up."
Youmu wasn't sure what to make of that, but watched in silence as Meiling unlocked the gate. Once the chains were undone it swung easily on its hinges, inviting Youmu into the house of the devil.
"Knock on the front door," Meiling instructed. "Sakuya will greet you, and from there...well, good luck." Meiling gave a thumbs up and a wink. Youmu nodded and walked through the gate as it shut behind her.
The mansion was even more imposing up close, and Youmu had to muster her courage to actually ring the knocker on the wooden door. Only a few seconds went by before she heard the sound of deadbolts shifting.
The door slowly creaked inwards to reveal the form of Izayoi Sakuya, wearing her pristine maid uniform as always. Every detail about her was perfect: her clothes, her hair, her nails, even her stance and how she gripped the doorknob while she opened it. It was a strange realization, that there could be a proper way to open a door. Youmu was in awe.
Sakuya bowed. "Welcome to the Scarlet Devil Mansion, Miss Konpaku. Please come in." She shifted away from the entry and stood to the side, closing her eyes and keeping her head down.
The temperature dropped at least ten degrees as Youmu walked in. Once the door closed behind her there was barely enough light to see by. There were no windows and only a few dim lanterns on the wall.
"Miss Konpaku, may I ask the nature of your visit?" Sakuya stood to Youmu's side, her hands in front of her pressed against her apron. "Mistress Remilia will not be awake for a few hours."
"Ah, well actually I...er, I'm here about the maid apprenticeship..."
Youmu thought she saw an actual look of surprise come across Sakuya's face, although it could have been just a trick of the light. "I'm glad to hear that," she said. "But I must warn you of a few details. First, if you want to work here your time no longer becomes your own. If you have any appointments in the next ten weeks, cancel them. You will not be making them. Do not expect to see any of your friends and family unless they come to the mansion in person, and even then you may not get the chance. To work here means you are a maid of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. It means that Remilia Scarlet owns you, and it means I am your boss. For ten weeks, at least."
The speech was scary, as Youmu was sure it was intended to be. Her heart beat hard in her chest, but if she was going to do this, she had to go all the way. Though there was that feeling she was getting in over her head. She nodded.
"Second," Sakuya continued. "The mansion is dangerous, in many ways. It is large and convoluted, so getting seriously lost is a very real possibility. Miss Patchouli runs magic experiments in her library, many of which have a tendency of exploding. Low level youkai routinely attack the gate. Kirisame Marisa regularly breaks in and usually flings spells around when pursued. Mistress Remilia is sometimes overly sadistic, especially when she's offended. But most of all, one of our residents is mentally unstable and has the power to literally destroy you on a whim."
Sakuya paused, and let Youmu's mind catch up with what she had said. That was quite the list, and that last one was mysterious in its own right. Youmu wasn't sure who that was referring to.
"That being said," Sakuya said with a smile. "I'm still alive, and I've been working here...quite awhile. As a half-ghost, I'm not sure what can harm you, but do what I tell you to do and you'll be perfectly safe."
Youmu nodded again. When Sakuya asked if she had any questions, she lowered her gaze. "Sorry to, er, say this Miss Sakuya, but the only reason Yuyuko let me do this is because of the...well...money..."
"I see." She looked disappointed. "Well, at the end there will be a test of sorts. If you can meet my minimum requirements for passing, you'll be paid. If you don't, you get nothing." Sakuya relaxed her arms. "On the other hand, if you do pass then you'll be qualified to work here part time for payment, at your leisure. We always could use another set of hands."
There was an awkward silence, and Youmu fidgeted. She didn't really have any more actual questions. "So, er, when do I start?" She tried to smile.
Sakuya pulled out her silver pocket watch and took a glance. "In about three hours, when the mistress wakes up. There's a few things we must cover before then, but for now I'll show you to your quarters."
Youmu's suitcase disappeared from out of her hand. She jerked her arm in response, but quickly shook off her surprise. Everyone knew Sakuya's ability—time manipulation—and Youmu tried to regain her composure.
Sakuya led her through a number of doors and hallways, the pattern of which Youmu couldn't keep up with. It was too convoluted. She did notice the hallways grew narrower, although the decoration wasn't any less regal. Scarlet carpets and stone walls with lanterns hung at even intervals.
"I'll need to take your measurements, Youmu." Sakuya said. "For your uniform. Would you like me to do it in real time or in stopped time?"
"Uh, real time I guess." Youmu scratched the back of her neck. "Stopped seems a little...creepy."
They rounded a corner into a new hallway, which had three doors on either side and one last door that terminated at the end. Sakuya led her to the last door on the right, which Youmu saw her name on. Engraved. Sakuya turned the knob and the door swung inward, gesturing for Youmu to enter.
It was larger than she thought. Definitely larger than her room at the Hakugyokuro. There was a bed in one corner, a couch, and a desk. Youmu spun around looking at it, and then opened a door to see she also had a private bathroom.
"This is amazing," she said.
"I'm glad you think so. If there's one thing we're not in short supply of, it's space." Sakuya entered the room and closed the door behind her. "You may consider this room yours, and I and the fairy maids will respect that. However, there is no lock on the door." Sakuya gestured to the knob. "This is to remind you that this is not truly yours, it and you are owned by Remilia Scarlet. You do not have a right to privacy."
Youmu stared at Sakuya. "Being a maid seems degrading..."
"Perhaps," she responded simply. "To me, pledging oneself wholly and completely to the service of another is more intimate a gesture than marriage. I don't expect you to share my feelings for Remilia, but I don't doubt you would do just as much for Lady Yuyuko. In any case, strip."
A beat later Youmu's face flushed red. "W-What?"
"I need to take your exact measurements. Remove your clothing."
Youmu brought her arms up in front of her chest. "Wait, c-can't you just measure with my clothes on?"
"No, it's not precise enough. Hurry up please."
Youmu waited for Sakuya to leave, or turn around, or do anything but stand there and stare. When it became clear she wasn't leaving, Youmu reluctantly started to disrobe. She took off her top and skirt, folded them neatly and placed them on the bed. When Sakuya gestured for her to continue, she made a squeak and started to undo the hook on her bra.
"I'm illustrating a point, obviously." Sakuya said. "You'll need to get over your embarrassment."
Once Youmu was completely exposed, Sakuya pulled out the measuring tape and got to work. She took a lot of measurements, far more than Youmu realized needed to be taken. Her heart was beating out of her chest the entire time, in stark contrast to Sakuya's controlled demeanor.
There was a brief pause when Sakuya stood back, and then a folded uniform appeared in her arms. Youmu looked at it with surprise. "Wait, did you just..."
Sakuya nodded, and placed the uniform on the bed. "I may have to make some more adjustments, so I'll help you put it on piece by piece and you can tell me how it fits."
Fitting her underwear was hard on Youmu's heart, but once that was done she became much calmer. The maid uniform was a bit difficult to get into, but it was doable just by herself. She would have to practice at it.
The uniform felt amazing. Youmu was never bothered by her clothes, but it was amazing what a difference it made to wear fitted clothes. Her maid uniform was more comfortable than her normal clothing. It became clear why Sakuya always wore it. And the coup de grace was the headdress, which Sakuya fastened to the top of Youmu's head. With that, the procedure was complete, Youmu only narrowly avoiding dying of embarrassment.
"You will find six identical outfits in your closet," Sakuya said. "If you need more, let me know."
"Eh? Miss Sakuya, if I may..." Youmu rubbed her arm. "How long has it been for you since we came in here?"
"Please address me as 'chief.' But to answer your question, ten hours. I get asked that a lot."
Youmu was astonished at how much more time Sakuya took. She couldn't possibly imagine what it would be like to live like that.
Sakuya let Youmu look herself over in the mirror and test out her mobility in her new uniform. After a few minutes of this, Sakuya coughed to interrupt. "Youmu, it will be a few hours until Remilia wakes up. I would like you to explore the mansion and try to get your bearings. It will be hard, and don't expect spacial reasoning to assist you."
"Yes, chief." Youmu saluted. Sakuya smiled.
"Good. Before that though, we need to go over something. We call it Flandre Protocol." Sakuya reached into her uniform and pulled out a very detailed sketch, handing it to Youmu. It showed the image of a young girl. She reminded Youmu of Remilia, but her wings were drawn way differently.
"Who is this?"
"This is Flandre Scarlet, the mistress's younger sister. It is possible you will run into her at some point, and it is critical you do exactly as I say. Miss Flandre has the ability to weave destruction at its most pure, and isn't mentally sound enough to realize the implications."
Youmu stood in silence as Sakuya listed exactly what she was supposed to do if she encountered this person. If she asks to play, Youmu must make an excuse why she can't, and blame either Sakuya or Remilia. If she mentions making things go "squish" or "kyuu," Youmu is to flee immediately and assume she's about to die. Then Sakuya moved on to discussing the best way to deal with her in conversation to keep her calm and happy.
The amount of fear that these rules were crafted from astounded Youmu. Sakuya claimed that even Yukari herself had a fear of Flandre. Youmu wasn't sure she believed that, but it was clear Sakuya wasn't intentionally lying. It would be best to play it safe, Youmu thought.
After that, Sakuya left.
Youmu sat down on the edge of her bed and took a deep breath. She felt nervous. Like a schoolgirl on her first day as the teachers try to scare her. She felt vulnerable. Exposed.
It took a few minutes for her to regain some semblance of calmness, but once she did she did as instructed. Sakuya hadn't given her any real direction, so Youmu figured she'd just...get lost. She had a feeling that's what Sakuya wanted to happen, anyways.
Sakuya sure hadn't been lying though. It was obvious something was very wrong with the mansion less than thirty seconds into Youmu's excursion. Her room was on the corner of two hallways. However, when she left her room and turned the corner, there was another door that should have also led to her room. When she opened it, there was instead another hallway. That cut through her room.
But it didn't.
The appropriate response seemed to be to roll her eyes and walk through it. Physically, it felt absolutely normal despite Youmu knowing some sort of spacial shenanigans were occurring. She tried to stay close to her room and use it as a sort of "base," keeping track of the turns she made and what doors she went through.
It took about half an hour before she made a mistake and could not get back. Instead of the hallway she thought led to her room, there was a dark passage. Even more dark than usual. The lanterns all seemed to be off, except for a single one held up by a small fairy in a maid uniform. There were two others, hovering near the wall.
"Ah, look, look, it's the new person~" The lantern-fairy turned towards Youmu as she entered.
The other fairies turned to see. "Ooh, new maid!"
Youmu walked over towards the fairies and into the light. It looked like they were replacing one of the lanterns on the wall. There was a cracked one laying on the ground, and a newer-looking one being cradled in the arms of one of the fairies.
The maid holding the lit lantern hovered around Youmu, and followed her ghost part around in the air. "New maid, what's this thing? It's weeeeird." She pointed towards the white apparition around Youmu.
"Huh? That's, uh, me. I'm half-ghost, so..."
"That's weird. I can't touch it..." The fairy followed Youmu's ghost part around in the air until the others complained they needed the light. She apologized and stayed still.
Youmu watched the fairy maids as they carefully screwed the new lamp into place on the wall. "Corporal, release the valves!" One of the fairies suddenly demanded, pointing to her partner.
The other fairy saluted, flew down to the ground and opened a small hatch in the wall. Youmu hadn't seen it before until the fairy actually opened it—it blended in that well. "Roger, releasing valves captain. Maximum power!" The fairy reached into the small alcove behind the hatch and twisted a tiny yellow valve.
Youmu heard the hissing of gas, and about twenty seconds later, all the lamps in the hallway suddenly shone. It was amazingly bright, almost like daylight. Youmu had to shield her eyes.
The fairies cheered. "All systems operational, captain!"
"Reduce power and let's return to base!"
To Youmu's disappointment, the valve-fairy spun it back again and the light level in the room dimmed to how the rest of the mansion was. Then they ran off, racing to see who could get back first. They certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.
Youmu couldn't help but notice they left the broken lamp lying in the middle of the hallway. She shrugged, and decided to take it with her.
She continued her excursion through the mansion, occasionally running into another group of fairy maids. It took her awhile to discern any way to navigate. She felt like she was wandering through a labyrinth.
Initially, Youmu suspected that it was intentionally convoluted. It would make a twisted sort of sense if Remilia wanted to induce some sort of artificial mystery into her home. Remilia struck Youmu as the sort of person who would like that. Still, there had to be some trick to navigate quickly. Shortcuts, or something like that.
After about a few hours, Youmu had to rethink that position. The complexity didn't seem to support it. If Youmu was designing it to confuse intruders, she would include more loops, dead ends, and overly long hallways. But there was none of that. It seemed to Youmu that every hallway did lead somewhere, just not the somewhere she intended.
It wasn't until near the end of Sakuya's little time limit did Youmu realize what was truly happening. She had walked from a parlor to a billiards room, then to a hallway on the other side. About twenty minutes later of walking definitely away from the two rooms, she ended up again at the same parlor.
The room and hallway configuration wasn't complex for the sake of complexity. It was optimized. If she knew exactly where she was going, Youmu was confident she would be able to reach any room within a minute. The issue, of course, is she didn't know exactly where she was going. Nothing was marked, and there were quite a lot of rooms.
Youmu was a bit concerned, however, that despite wandering around the mansion for so long, she hadn't been able to find a lot of things she thought she would. She knew there was a great library, but never came across it. Nor did she come across Remilia's room, or Flandre's for that matter. She did find the main entrance hall, at least.
Sakuya appeared before her suddenly, no doubt from out of time itself. Her eyes darted to what was in Youmu's hands. "What do you have, there?"
"Oh, uh, I ran into some fairies fixing a lamp," Youmu said. "They left this old one on the floor, so..."
Sakuya nodded and took the lamp from Youmu. Then it disappeared. "Thank you. The fairy maids tend to technically get the job done, but don't go far beyond that." Sakuya wiped her hands on her apron. "The mistress is awake and will see you now."
As predicted, it didn't take long for them to reach a lounge. Youmu was eager to announce her deduction about the mansion, but before she could bring it up they had arrived. Sakuya opened the door, and gestured for Youmu to enter.
Mistress Remilia Scarlet was sitting on a couch, sipping a cup of coffee. In front of her was a crackling fire, reminding Youmu that it must be night already. Without any windows it was difficult to keep track of such things.
Remilia gestured for Youmu to come over, so she walked up slowly and gave a quick bow. Sakuya hadn't told to do it, but it felt proper. Remilia smiled.
"Forgive me, I am not really a morning person," she said. Youmu restrained herself from mentioning it was far from morning. Remilia sipped her mug. "You're the Hakugyokuro gate guard, correct?"
"Might I ask why you're doing this?"
"Er, to be honest, uh, m'lady, I can only be here because Lady Yuyuko needs the money..."
Remilia chuckled. "Oh my, the things the promise of money nets me." A shifting piece of wood caught both their eyes in the fire. "My dear Sakuya is funding this one though, Youmu. This project is entirely hers. She's the expert, after all."
Youmu nodded again, and Remilia held out her hand.
"Konpaku Youmu, for the subsequent ten weeks you will be mine and mine alone, a maid of Remilia Scarlet, the Scarlet Devil. Any other allegiances you hold are suspended for this duration. Kneel and kiss the back of my hand and your vigil will begin."
Youmu sucked in a breath, but did what Remilia asked. It felt clumsy as she got down on her knees. She had witnessed Sakuya do such things countless times with amazing grace, but Youmu couldn't emulate that. At the very least she tried to control her trembling and bring her lips to Remilia's hand.
Once Youmu kissed her hand and stepped back, Remilia patted the seat next to her. "Sit," she said. Youmu did, not exactly sure what was coming. Remilia held out her hand, palm up this time. "Sakuya," she said simply.
A knife appeared in Remilia's hand, and Youmu stared at it wearily. Remilia gave her a smirk.
"I'm going to taste your blood. I'm curious what half-ghost blood tastes like." Remilia gripped the knife in one hand, and grabbed Youmu's arm with the other before she could react. "Try to hold still so I can keep the cut shallow. I won't bite you, so don't worry about contracting vampirism."
Youmu's heart suddenly beat very quickly. "Wait, I...what?" She couldn't utter a coherent sentence, but kept her arm still out of fear. Remilia was deceptively swift with the knife, and gave Youmu a light slice on her arm. It stung, red blood dripping from the wound down her arm.
Remilia brought Youmu's arm up to her mouth and ran her tongue along the line of blood. A shiver ran up Youmu's spine and her arm trembled when Remilia started to suck at the wound. Youmu closed her eyes and waited for it to be over.
Finally, Remilia lifted her face away and Sakuya held out a bandage wrap. Remilia took it, gave Youmu's arm one last lick to remove the rest of the blood and quickly pressed the bandage against her arm. She wrapped it around a few times until the wound was covered.
"Mmmm..." Remilia licked her lips. "A sweet, but fleeting taste. Not bad."
"I, uh, gah..." Youmu stared at her bandaged arm. "I don't-"
"Youmu," Sakuya interrupted. "The proper response is, 'I am glad it is to your pleasing, mistress.' Don't forget your training has started."
Youmu bit her lip. "I..I am glad it is to your pleasing...mistress."
Remilia smiled, and returned to her cup of coffee. A grimace came over her face at the difference in taste. Youmu stood up, bowed, and returned to Sakuya's side until they left the room.
"Forgive me," Sakuya said once they were in the hallway. "I was not sure if I should have warned you. We'll go over etiquette and manners in due time, but above all else you must hold yourself with pride. You mentioned before that being a maid sounded degrading. If you get embarrassed and act defensive, it will be. That sort of reaction just makes people want to poke you harder."
Youmu looked down at her feet, rubbing her bandaged arm. "What do I do, then?"
"Be above it and don't react. We'll go over this in detail later, but as I said, do what you do with pride. Whether it's cleaning the carpets or acting as the mistress's footstool. They are your duties, and you should hold no reservations about carrying them out."
Sakuya's lecture ended as they reached the kitchen. The kitchen was large, far larger than Youmu had access to at home. She was able to identify some of the machines as ovens, and there was a large range, but beyond that Youmu had no clue.
"We may as well start with cooking, since the mistress will be wanting her breakfast soon. Today she'll be having a blood omelet."
Youmu hesitated. "A...blood...omelet?"
Sakuya nodded, and walked over to a modern-looking refrigerator. Instead of a handle, there was a dial-like device with a red rune in the center. "The mistress takes blood with all her meals. You'll have to learn how to cook every dish both with and without it." Sakuya spun the dial until the rune turned green, and opened the fridge. "For all intents and purposes, you can just treat it as another spice."
"Sorry to pester you, chief, but what is that dial you just used for?"
"Don't be sorry," Sakuya said. "You're here to learn, and the more questions you ask the better." Sakuya pulled out a few ingredients—eggs, cheese, milk, and a few other things—before closing the fridge and pointing to the dial. "This is of Miss Patchouli and my invention, a time lock. I use it to preserve food so our ingredients are literally as fresh as the day they were harvested. Green means real time is passing inside the fridge." Sakuya spun the dial until the rune turned red. "Red means time is stopped."
There wasn't time for Youmu to appreciate the ingenuity before Sakuya begun making the omelet. She considered cooking to be one of her more impressive skills, but watching Sakuya work put things in perspective. All the basics of making an omelet were the same, but there were so many small details Youmu never would have thought of. A dash of salt here, a splash of water there, some spice Youmu didn't know the name of around the edge.
Contrary to expectations, Sakuya did not actually teach Youmu what she was doing. Instead, she talked more generally about cooking and didn't even mention the omelet. Choosing what meal to serve was, according to Sakuya, even more important than cooking it properly.
The meal schedule had to be very carefully crafted so every meal seemed like a treat. The difficult part was that it couldn't be a simple routine—when a routine sets in for meals, the flavor goes from "delicious" to "expected." Sakuya admitted this wasn't entirely a bad thing: sometimes it is fun to have a "Taco Tuesday" or a "Pizza Friday," but even then it's best to mix it up with different types tacos or pizza.
As a maid, it was their duty to know how much the master likes each meal they serve. And although it's counter-intuitive, the master's favorite meal should be served rarely. In fact, it should only be served on days where the master needs a little boost of happiness. The effect of a good meal was, as Sakuya put it, stunning.
Youmu couldn't keep up when Sakuya started to discuss how choosing meals depended on how the master's day was going. It seemed like something incredibly difficult to keep track of, and Youmu was amazed Sakuya talked as if it was the most natural thing in the world. It also apparently depended on the weather, what time of day it was, whether there were any guests, how it smelled, the texture, and a long list of other things Youmu couldn't even comprehend.
She was overwhelmed before she learned a single dish, and had a feeling she was barely even getting her feet wet.