Long time, no write everyone! You thought I was gone, didn't you? Come on, you can admit it. After what, six months of no updates, you thought this was a dead story, right? Well you're WRONG! I'm still writing, it's just been a lot slower for me lately. I've had a very busy summer and fall, what with trips to take, a new job, and tons of reading to do. Not to mention my writer's block had a firmer grip on me than usual when I can sit down to write.
This story has always been on my mind though, every day. And when I'm so close to hitting one of my milestones, there would be no way I would outright drop it. And now with some of my favorite stories for Touhou effectively stopping, something that greatly saddens me, I feel obligated to complete this thing! It also amazes me that, when I haven't updated in so long, I'm still seeing new readers following and reviewing my story. I just blows my mind sometimes! I just hope most of you who were already here haven't left me.
With that said, this chapter may be just a little shorter than what you are now used to me writing, especially with the amount of time I had to write it. That is because I had so much planned for this chapter, I just couldn't fit it all into one without making it a whopper of a read. So, I split the sucker into two parts! That's right, you all have another chapter ready for you all after this one, so be prepared!
Now, I know none of you like hearing me ramble, so let's get on with the show!
Touhou belongs to ZUN. If you hadn't heard, he has another game into the works!
Chapter 34 – Dining with the Devil
"As it has been so long, let me reintroduce myself; I am Remilia Scarlet, the Scarlet Devil herself and owner of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. Welcome to my home."
Those were the opening words of my host, as the evening light that Alice and I used to arrive at turns to night just outside the walls of the mansion we find ourselves in. The way in which the minuter vampire portrays herself leaves me fumbling for words, out of nervousness if anything. The whole situation gives me the impression now is the time to be formal, and as such I end up inclining my head formally with haste. "A-Ah! Yeah, thank you for having us, um...Lady Scarlet?"
"Oh my! How long has it been since I have been called that since arriving in Gensokyo?" The lady in question laughs softly into her hand, giving off a surprisingly friendly atmosphere in contrast to her introduction. "As much as I appreciate the effort, such formalities are unnecessary. We are all friends here, don't you think? Just Remilia is fine." She then raises a brow at that, keeping a teasing grin in place. "Or is this a double standard of yours? I distinctly remember you telling me to call you by Dash the last time we met."
I fail to keep the surprise off my face, both at her inquiry and at her general attitude, before thinking back on my first night in Gensokyo, which feels so long ago now. "...That's a good memory you have. It's been nearly half a year since that night. Even I have trouble remembering what has been said exactly, after that amount of time."
"It helps that you practically tell everyone you meet the same thing." Alice heckles from besides me, a smirk of her own showing through.
"And yet you still keep using my given name." I shoot back at my dear friend, who just playfully commands her doll familiar currently on my shoulder to playfully smack my neck.
Undaunted by our banter, Remilia continues on with the conversation. "In the face of five hundred years, a half a year feels like yesterday. I still clearly remember the performance you gave that night." The youthful vampire then deliberately looks me up and down from across the table, placing a finger to her chin in thought. "Thinking back on it, you looked a tad different back then..."
"Huh?" I utter, following her gaze down to my clothes. "...Oh, my outfit! Well, I have been wearing these for a while now. Alice made them for me after my old ones got destroyed in a freak accident."
Yeah, like getting blown up by a pyromaniac's fireball. Still feeling a little salty about that.
"I see." She nods in understanding, never dropping her fanged smile. "Well, I honestly approve of this new look. It fits you better than the worn, drifter clothes you arrived in at least." The bat girl then shifts her gaze over to my companion, who is just standing besides me idly. "My compliments, Alice. Your work never ceases to amaze me."
"Um... Thank you?" Alice replies uncertainly.
"Now then, let's not be standing here as we converse. Knowing Sakuya, dinner should be ready in just a moment. Please take a seat, then we can continue our chat." Remilia waves a refined hand to the seats to her immediately left, clearly intending for us to sit near her at the dining table.
"...Yeah, sure." I nod hesitantly, walking quickly around to Remilia's side of the table to my seat. As I grow closer to her, I allow myself to take in her profile fully. Things like her wings, height, and crimson eyes I am already very familiar with from my first time meeting her, but things like her necklace or wavy, light blue hair I seem to have overlooked. Also, for someone named the Scarlet Devil, she certain wears a lot of pink, from her mob cap to her blouse and skirt. The clothing themselves seem to be made of a fine and comfortable material, as expected of nobility, and she has red ribbons tied to her hat, shoulders, and her waist to compliment the look.
After silently confirming that she really does want me sitting next to her, to which she just simply grins wider, I unstrap my guitar to set beside my chair before nervously taking my seat. Alice, following suit after me, takes the open seat next to me, and silently calls for her favorite doll to float off my shoulder to sit on her own.
After we are comfortably seated, our host seats herself again at the head of the table with a smooth grace, before starting up conversation again. "So tell me about yourself Dash. What have you been up to since we last met that fateful night? Anything interesting?"
"You could say that." I reply vaguely, thinking back on all the eventful misadventures I had. "Well, for a majority of my time here I have been working for Mystia Lorelei. Know of her?"
"Mystia?" She parrots, taking on a contemplative face. "Where have I heard of... Oh, you mean that night sparrow youkai with the pink hair? I have ran into her before, but she did not seem very noteworthy, and I went on my way soon afterwords."
I frown slightly at her poor view on one of my good friends, but I continue regardless. "Well, she runs a lamprey grill stand, and she wanted to appeal to the villagers so she could sell more to them. Though you can imagine they wouldn't be so eager, since she is a youkai and all."
"Understandable." The vampire nods, but says nothing more.
"So that's where I come in. She hired me to attract any passing villagers with my music. Long story short, I've managed to gather many customers for her business, and her grill stand is actually pretty popular now."
"I see. That sounds interesting, at least." Remilia concedes, though she seems generally uninterested. "I suppose even a lesser youkai can have a clever idea every now and then. It would be worth to keep that in mind."
"Clever isn't exactly the way I would put it..." I admit reluctantly, though I don't elaborate any more on the matter.
Truthfully, if it wasn't for my ability of persuasion, I wouldn't have been able to gather as many customers as I did. Though we didn't know that at the time, and I would prefer Remilia doesn't know either. It's not as big as a secret as my status as a faux lich, but it's still my only line of defense.
As I am busy mulling internally, the blue haired mistress continues with her inquires, putting her full attention on me. "I would imagine, more than anything, it was your increasing fame that made her plan work. Your music has become rather popular lately, has it not?"
"It has." I confirm, willing to follow her own assumption. "I even competed with the Prismriver Ensemble at one point, at-"
"The festival located in the village, just this last summer." Remilia interrupts with another fanged smirk. "Yes, I know of it. Your competition was well advertised, and I had Sakuya investigate for me."
"Advertised?" I ask in confusion, squinting my eyebrows in thought.
"The tengu's newspaper." She provides simply. "It is often filled with drivel, but I do enjoy reading it nonetheless. It helps to pass a boring day."
At the mere mention of a newspaper, I let my head fall face-first into the table, though softly so as to at least not cause a ruckus. "...Aya. Dammit, I thought I heard the last of her. I officially hate tengus now."
"Join the rest of Gensokyo." Alice snarks beside me, though I catch little Shanghai fake giggling into her hand at the corner of my eye. "Honestly though, it is mostly just Aya, and not tengus in general. We all just learned to deal with her."
"Quite. Even we of the Scarlet Devil Mansion fall victim to her occasionally, much to our embarrassment." Our host agrees, an annoyed look flashing through her eyes briefly. "Thankfully Sakuya does a good job of keeping her out of the mansion. Which is more than to say for our gate guard."
Ouch. That poor gate keeper, having to have to put up with that. It really is unfair to her though, since she can't fight anyone on her level.
"But now I am curious." Remilia continues. "Have you had trouble with Aya before?"
"A couple of times, actually." I raise my head from the table, shaking it in weary. "The last time we met was when she tried to spread some fabricated lies about Alice and I at Reimu's place. Needless to say, my opinion of her plummeted after that."
"Oh? And what were these lies she tried to spread?" She asks curiously, her interest peaked.
It is only then I realize I was saying too much again, though I hold in my wince pretty well. Thankfully, Alice comes to the rescue with a swift assist. "Baseless ones. You know Aya; she is always trying to make a story out of something."
"...That she does." The childlike lady relents reluctantly, but then starts with her questioning again, with Alice this time. "Now that it was brought up though, I must ask. How is it that you know each other Alice? I was surprised when Sakuya told me that you would be accompanying Dash here, though she didn't go into detail."
"If you must know..." The doll maker starts, looking very irritated at our host. "...Tadashi is an important friend of mine. I am just here to make sure that nothing happens to him while he conducts his business."
Remilia, for her part, reacts just by staring between the two of us with a probing gaze, as if searching for something. "An important friend, is it? I wonder..." She utters softly, before producing the iconic fanged smirk that I'm starting to associate her with. "Well fret not Puppet Master, you have nothing to worry about. I have no intention of harming my guest while he is under my roof. It would be poor manners, and it would hurt my reputation."
"Why do I find it hard to believe you?" Alice utters, with Shanghai folding her adorable arms stubbornly on her lap.
"Is there some reason why you shouldn't?" The mistress of the mansion asks rhetorically, before giving a shockingly immature huff. "Oh, fine then. For the sake of a peaceful dinner, I'll make you a promise; As long as young Dash is here, neither I nor my underlings will harm him. Will this satisfy you?"
The two continue to stare at one another, mistrusting jade dueling with annoyed crimson, before finally Alice visibly relaxes. "That will have to do. I can't exactly ask for more in this situation, now can I?"
"There, was that so hard?" Remilia teases, before recomposing herself and then switching her attention back to me. "Now, where were we?"
"I'm sorry I am late Remi." A voice interrupts her from across the room, the tone sounding unusually apathetic for someone who isn't a lazy miko to have.
When all eyes turn to the newcomer, I am surprised to see what seems to be a girl in pink robes, that look oddly like pajamas, with a night cap that only reinforces that image. She also has really long purple hair and eyes to match, and her hair and cap are decorated with red and blue ribbons. Finally she dawns a crescent moon off center of her cap, which only adds to the 'nighttime' visage she has going on.
Surprisingly, the first to call out to the new arrival is my friend besides me, who looks remarkably more polite than earlier. "Well if it isn't Patchouli, outside of her library. It's good to see you."
The girl presumably named Patchouli turns her head to Alice, and the only sign of surprise she shows is in her voice. "Alice? I am amazed to see you here. Are you joining us this evening?"
Remilia, who seems be showing some irritation, decides to be the one to answer the question. "Patche, did I not tell you all of this when I visited you yesterday? This is supposed to be an important evening."
"My apologies Remi, but when you go on one of your tangents, I tend to zone you out to focus on my reading." The pajama clad girl then smirks softly, not at all imposed by the vampire. "All I managed to hear was that you wanted me at dinner tonight, so here I am."
"...Well at least you managed that. I honestly shouldn't be surprised." The lady grumbles, before politely clearing her throat. "Well then, I do believe introductions are in order. Dash, this is my friend and keeper of my library, Patchouli Knowledge. Patche, this is my guest for this evening-"
"Tadashi Rizumu, also known as Dash, musician of remarkable ability and outsider." Patchouli interrupts, listing off my identity like some kind of computer. "I remember who he is. I was at the same party that you went to Remi."
"...A-Ah, so you were. My mistake." Remilia humorously trips over her words, momentarily breaking that charismatic presence she has been holding.
"If I may..." Alice jumps in as our host is recomposing herself. "Patchouli here is also a magician, and has helped me with my own research on occasion by lending me books from the library."
"A magician?" I ask in astonishment, before tilting my head curiously at my companion. "Wait, do you mean a magician like you, or Marisa?"
"I will pretend I didn't hear that." The purple girl huffs, before outright levitating just above the ground from the entryway, floating herself the handful of meters to seat herself opposite of me.
Did she seriously just fly only to travel that short amount of distance?
"In name, I am a youkai magician similar to Alice. So please don't ever compare me to the likes of that black-white." Patchouli states firmly, looking straight into my eyes with an annoyed expression.
"G-Got it. My bad." I wince, sorry I even brought the other blonde up.
"Don't mind her, Tadashi."Alice leans in closer to me in conspiring way, though she doesn't lower her voice much. "It's just Patchouli's pride as a magician to not be compared to a human practitioner like Marisa. Even I'm only just better in her eyes because, unlike me, she was born a youkai magician."
"Ah, I see." I nod in understanding.
She nods in kind at that, before smirking humorously, which is amplified a mock giggling from her favorite doll. "The fact that Marisa has 'borrowed' one too many of her tomes has also irked her. But that's Marisa for you."
"You know, Alice..." Patchouli interjects, looking slightly miffed. "It isn't polite to be talking about others when they are in your presence."
"You're right. I apologize for that." The puppeteer says without much regret in her tone. "I was just filling Tadashi in with a few things, that's all."
"Hmm..." The librarian hums, before speaking up again. "I don't mind, but now I'm curious. Alice, has this outsider been the reason you haven't been coming by the library lately?"
"Huh?" Alice utters, taken aback by the sudden question. "What are you talking about? I've been over not too long ago, haven't I?"
"Your last visit was months ago." Patchouli rebukes calmly.
"Really? It seemed not as long as that..." The doll maker laughs awkwardly, before sighing reluctantly. "...Maybe I have been visiting Tadashi a lot lately, but I don't see how it is any business of yours."
"It isn't." The other magician shakes her head. "Who you keep as company is up to you, or else I would have made a complaint about your odd acquaintance with Marisa..."
"I don't blame you." I laugh involuntarily, which is matched by both Remilia and Alice.
"But if it is taking up your time, perhaps it is better to be without?" Patchouli continues, making my companion's face freeze.
"...What do you mean?" Alice asks neutrally, giving her fellow magic user a baffled look.
"I am just saying this out of concern for you, out of professional courtesy; Don't let things distract you from your research." The purple girl presses, never changing her expressionless visage as she does. "You have a worthwhile ideal to work towards in your autonomous dolls, one that even I would like to be seen through, for knowledge's sake. However, it will take you many more years of experimentation and study to accomplish. Letting distractions in will set you back several more years than necessary, and thus is simply inefficient."
As I listen on to this other magician giving my friend some advice, I can't help but feel a little guilty internally.
What is being said is true in a way; I have been taking up a lot of Alice's time lately. When it comes to my flight lessons, to looking out for me when searching for Aura Songs, or simply just spending time with me, she has been busy with my own needs. Perhaps it would be better for her if she spent less time with me.
Just the thought that Alice may start avoiding me is painful enough. She has been a constant in my life in Gensokyo, more so than any of my other friends, and it would be very hard to be without her.
Before I can even begin voicing my own opinion on the topic, the doll maker herself starts her own retort, her tone very neutral. "Thank you for the concern Patchouli. Your advice has always been appreciated over the years. But please, don't lecture me on something you don't understand."
"Oh?" Patchouli raises a lazy eyebrow.
"Tadashi has not been a distraction to my research. If anything, he has been a motivation for me to continue working hard toward my goal." The Seven Colored Puppeteer states firmly, though the doll on her shoulder looks to be quite miffed at the other magician. "In fact, I feel as if I have been getting closer to my dream than ever before, something I feel like I have been lacking lately. It's because he believes in what it means to me, and that is more support than what I can say I have been getting from anyone else. So there is no reason why I should be without him!"
Silence falls over the dining table at that. As Alice was addressing her counterpart youkai, it doesn't seem like she realized her voice was increasing in volume as she spoke. And although I am glad to hear how highly she thinks of me once again, and even feel grateful for it, I can't help feeling a little embarrassed that it was said openly to an audience.
Even the doll maker herself, looking back on her words, grows a little pink in the cheeks, though she still holds her gaze firmly on the other magician. Her doll, on the other hand, is currently staring face down shyly at her own little lap, and knowing her master like I do, I can't help smiling a little at the adorable sight.
Remilia, who has fallen back as a bystander for now, seems greatly interested in the interaction between the magicians, though she occasionally rests her gaze on me in curiosity.
And Patchouli, who was the initial instigator for the unexpected conflict of opinions, seems completely comfortable with the development, perhaps even bored. "If that is what you think, then by all means continue with what you are doing. As I said, it's your choice."
"That's all I ask." The blonde nods, before slumping slightly into her seat.
"...Hey, are you doing alright?" I ask her quietly, leaning in closely for the illusion of privacy it gives.
"Yes, I'm fine. It just feels like this will be a long night." She sighs, gripping her grimoire a little more tightly. "I hope the rest of the night isn't like this, or I fear I might get a migraine."
"Don't worry, things will be fine." I say softly. "It seems like most of Remilia's attention is on me anyway, so just let me handle it."
"If I did that, you might accidentally let slip something you shouldn't, just like earlier." The doll user jests with a smirk, to which I just sigh at.
"...Alright then, just make sure I don't do something stupid, and we should be good." I relent, before returning to proper seating posture.
Our host, for what it seems, has been patiently watching us, and although I don't think she has been listening in to our conversation, I feel off put by that fanged smirk that doesn't seem to leave her face. Just before I can inquire her about what she is thinking, I am interrupted by the sudden appearance of a certain silver haired maid in blue and white, who popped up out of nowhere besides her mistress. "Remilia-sama, dinner is ready to be served."
"Excellent timing Sakuya, as always." Remilia nods in approval. "Go ahead and bring it out then. Oh, and Sakuya?" The bat girl halts the maid, who seemed about ready to vanish again, however she does it. "When you are done, I would like for you to be on stand by."
The time hacker simply bows in acceptance at her master's order, and then promptly vanishes again without any indication. Needless to say, I find myself curious of the interaction. "What was that about?"
"Do not mind that. I just would rather not have to wait for the next opportunity to catch her if the need arises. As you can imagine, she is hard to locate at times." The bat winged lady deflects, before continuing on. "Now then, let us talk a little more before the food arrives."
Turns out, we didn't have nearly as much time as our host made it out to be. Shortly after we tried to strike up conversation again, dishes of food started appearing on the table left and right, all steaming hot and freshly cooked. I had some worries about what kind of food that was being served, considering who our host is and what her kind is known for partaking in. Thankfully, everything laid out before us seems quite normal, if not absolutely delicious, so I figured I have been worrying for nothing.
Dinner itself passes by fairly peacefully, surprisingly. There is no serious confrontations like earlier, much to Alice's obvious relief. Just the occasional innocent questions Remilia asks of me in between small bites, mostly asking about my career as a musician, both before and after my time in Gensokyo. The level of interest she has taken into my past does feel odd though, and I can't help that my host is trying to pry into something, even though I have only been giving safe answers.
Meanwhile, Alice and Patchouli have been holding their own conversations, separate from my own with the vampire. The pajama clad magician in particular, unlike the blonde next to me, doesn't seem to be eating much, which leaves more time for her to converse. Or rather, it feels like she seems to have nothing else better to do but talk. In fact, she seems like the type to read at the table if she could, but in this setting that would be quite rude.
If there is one thing that surprises me, it's that no one else has popped in for dinner, like Patchouli. Considering the size of the mansion, and the dining table for that matter, I would have expected at least a few more to join us. Not even that redhead from before, Meiling, has shown herself in, although she is probably still doing her job as a gate guard. Only Sakuya has appeared after she finished making food materialize out of thin air, and she only remains standing besides her mistress awaiting further orders, not partaking any of the food that she has prepared.
That may be because she is a servant though, following some kind of rule. Perfect maid or not, she's still a servant, I suppose. She must have eaten before hand or something.
All things considering, everyone has finished eating at a relatively decent time, leaving a surprisingly amount of food still cooling on the table. It seems like a waste of good food, but most likely the rest of it will be served to the servants or used for leftovers, if that's even a thing for the mistress.
Regardless, everyone seems quite content with their meal, a fact that Remilia decides to voice to the vigilant maid. "Once again, you have outdone yourself Sakuya. The food was excellent, as always."
"Thank you, Remilia-sama." The maid bows calmly to the extravagant praise.
"Now then..." The master of the mansion starts, catching my attention. "With dinner out of the way, let us move on to the real reason I asked you here."
"Real reason?" I ask warily, but not exactly surprised.
"Of course. Did you honestly think I called you here just for a meal?" She asks rhetorically, leaning her chin on her folded hands. "I have more in mind for this evening."
"Involving Tadashi, I would guess." Alice states as a fact, rather than a question.
"That would be obvious." The vampire concedes, before giving me her full attention. "I have been entertaining the idea ever since that night last spring. Now that I have you here, I can finally sate my curiosity."
The way she expresses her thoughts makes me nervous, yet I can't help feeling slightly curious about what she could be planning for so long that has to involve me. "What do you have in mind?"
"Well that is quite simple." Remilia grins. "I would like for you to do what you do best; play those songs of yours. They are called Aura Songs, correct?"
To be frank, what her request is catches me by surprise. Not from being unexpected or unreasonable, but rather from being rather mundane. "...That's it?"
"Of course. Specifically, I want you to use my aura to fuel your ability." She adds, before going on to explain herself. "Ever since I first witnessed your ability, and seen the effects on those you play for, I have wondered what would happen if a song was made from my more potent aura. Surely the result would be magnificent, wouldn't you think?"
Well someone is a little full of themselves. Though in her case I suppose she has a reason to be. Being a vampire and a master of an entire mansion must do wonders to inflate one's ego.
Remilia, blissfully unaware of my thoughts, continues her speech. "When I heard of the events that took place at the human's festival, I finally decided to arrange this meeting. Unfortunately, I have been rather busy lately, so I couldn't call for you until now."
"And when she says busy, she means lazing about the mansion until she remembered that you existed." Patchouli quips in, prompting her friend to break her composure in shock, waving her hands in a shushing motion.
"Yeah, that sounds like something she would do." Alice concurs.
"A-a-anyway!" Remilia interjects, politely coughing to recompose herself. "So that is my request. So would you please?"
"...Alright." I shrug.
"Are you sure? I'm certain I can...wait, really?" The vampire cuts herself off, showing genuine surprise at my acceptance.
"Well, yeah. It's what I do after all." I point out, standing from my seat and grabbing my guitar.. "To be honest, this is exactly why I came here in the first place; to have the chance to play the Aura Songs of the residents of this mansion."
"I see... That is surprisingly convenient." She notes, looking a little off put.
"You know Remilia, not everyone will say no to you when you make a request."Alice adds in, earning a flustered scowl from our host.
Ah, so that's it. She's just not used to getting what she wants from other people. That's kinda funny, considering she's probably spoiled.
"You be quiet, Doll Master." Remilia snipes, before shooting me an impatient glare. "Now get on with it, would you? I do actually have other things planned after this."
"Yeah, yeah..." I wave her off, before starting the process of my ability as I take a couple of steps away from the table. Instantly I can see the crimson aura rolling of the petite mistress, and without a moments waste I pull the leaked aura to me and begin playing the song. Right off the bat, the intro starts out ominous, the notes kept short and repetitive with slight variations. Things then kick off with a signature chorus, sounding refined and dignified, with a hint of remorse if I'm hearing things right. That then winds down to a dark riff with a simple pattern, which plays out for a moment only to link back up to the main tune.
The tune repeats itself a couple times, feeling a little more upbeat and loud compared to the first time it's played, up until a sudden transition. The transition's notes go back and forth in tone, the speed picking up a bit as well, giving the song a hint of excitement and change. That change is fully realized in the theme's finale, which feels like the crowning moment of the song. The dignified feeling from earlier returns, but without the somberness from earlier. It feels resolved, filled with emotion that I can't seem to describe, and filled with energy while still keeping the pace smooth. This continues for a few more repeats, building itself up until everything finishes with a high note.
Looking back on it, this Aura Song might be one of the most iconic and telling pieces I have had the pleasure of playing, sitting up there with some of my favorites. Also, the song's refined and dignified tone reminds me of the likes of royalty, such as a princess or queen. Or perhaps more like a dead princess, considering this is a vampire's theme.
Speaking of the young looking mistress, she seems absolutely pleased with what she is hearing. Not only her, but her servant and friend each seem to be filled with emotion, as if they can tell that this is a song from someone close to them. Alice, on the other hand, seems to appreciate the tune for what it is, but seems tolerant at the least.
The moment I stop playing, I earn a polite applause from the bat winged girl, which is followed suit by the remainder of the room. "Well done. Your apparent fame is not overstated in the least." Remilia praises, continuing with her soft clapping.
Feeling like following the mood, and deciding to show off a little, I give a gracious bow to my audience. "Thank you. It was actually my pleasure to play such a beautiful song. The trip here was well worth it."
"It was, wasn't it?" She outright giggles, as if I were praising her rather than her song. In a sense though, that would be correct, considering the song is supposed to represent her. "Yes, this just cements my thoughts on the matter. You will be absolutely perfect."
Her choice in words gives me pause, bringing me down from my post-performance high I enjoy reveling in. "...Perfect for what?"
"Oh, my apologies. I seem to be getting ahead of myself." Remilia then proceeds to stand from her seat, so as to speak to me face to face. "There is no point in delaying it, I suppose. Truthfully, there is another matter that I wish to discuss with you, one that should be of great benefit to the both of us."
"I'm listening." I say, feeling a sense of anticipation.
The vampire smirks at that, before gracefully extending a small hand to me, as if in offering. "The thought occurred to me while we were discussing over dinner, but this confirms it. I would like to offer you, Dash, a position as my exclusive bard here in the Scarlet Devil Mansion."
Needless to say, I am absolutely shocked at her proposition. So much so, I can't help asking for confirmation. "What did you say?"
"I'm offering you a job." She asserts, lowering her hand. "You will get to play your music daily, for me, the other residents, and any guests I were to have in the future, adding your atmosphere to my mansion. In exchange, you will get room and board in my mansion, meals graciously prepared like you had just earlier, and other various benefits that come with coming under my employ."
"I...wow..." I utter, feeling a little floored by the offer. To be honest, it's a very tempting offer. Living in a mansion and having all my necessities taken care of, all in exchange for doing what I love, would almost be like a dream job for me way back when.
Unfortunately, every tempting offer has drawbacks, which I slowly realize when Alice asks a simple question, a troubled expression hinting on her face. "Would he be able to go out when he wants to?"
"He would not, unless I have given him permission." Remilia denies, before turning to me. "Of course, this would mean you would have to leave your current job with the night sparrow. I can't have you employed to someone else while you are working for me."
Well, that isn't so much an issue. I enjoy working for Mystia, but at this point I think she can run things by herself. The problem is I can't go sightseeing Gensokyo anymore, which means less opportunity to discover Aura Songs. Not to mention I can't visit my friends as easily, like Reimu, Keine, Mystia, and Alice...
The last thought is the overall deciding factor for me to make a decision. With that in mind, I try to let the vampire down gently, to try to not cause any offense. "That sounds great and all, but I have to decline."
Looking unperturbed, Remilia only smirks. "Oh really?"
"Yes. I need to be able to have freedom of movement to accomplish my goals, so limiting that doesn't work well for me." I explain my issue apologetically. "So I'm sorry, but I will have to decline."
"It's not like you would never be able to go out. You will just need to check with me before hand." She counters calmly, hoping to change my mind. "I would also send you out on errands occasionally. I do so with Sakuya, whenever I need something."
Alice, apparently under the same frame of mind as me, proceeds to argue for my side. "I would like to point out the fact that it would not do well for his image in the village if he were to live here. A human working for the Scarlet Devil would only have the villagers look down on him. No offense Sakuya."
"None taken. I am well aware of how I am seen in the eyes of humans." Sakuya brushes off, not seeming bothered in the least.
"He already has some wariness aimed at him from skeptics for working for Mystia, not to mention the other youkai he associates with. If he start living here he would be outright alienated." My friend adds, which actually surprises me.
I didn't know that. So what that weird hermit told me is true, to an extent. And here I thought I was in everyone's good graces so far. Nobody seemed like they were bothered by me or anything.
"There shouldn't be a problem, should there?" Remilia asks, her smirk growing even wider. "Even if he should care how humans view him when he is living here, it shouldn't be odd for him to live with other youkai, don't you think?"
I feel everything freeze around me at her words, both Alice and I holding our breath out of sheer shock. The miniature mistress didn't outright say it, and we didn't give her any indication otherwise, but the implication is heavy and deliberate. Not to mention the way she is knowingly staring at me makes my blood run cold.
My friend, ever protective of me as always, tries to dissuade her in some way, keeping her panic in as hard as she can. "...What do you mean by that, Remilia? Sure, he is around youkai constantly, but it's not like he belongs with them."
"Doesn't he?" The vampire simply asks, amusement in her tone.
"He doesn't!" Alice retorts heatedly, her nervousness being let loose. "Either way you look at it, he's-"
"Alice." I interrupt her, my voice gravely serious. "That's enough. I don't know how or why, but she knows. You know, don't you Remilia?"
"Know what?" She chuckles mischievously, causing some irritation to rise within me. Thankfully she decides then to drop her charade, spreading her hands wide as she speaks. "All teasing aside, I am aware. Aware of the fact that young Dash here is not human, but in fact a youkai."
"But how!?" The blonde puppeteer exclaims. "We didn't give you any reason to believe otherwise! How could you have known!?"
"That would be because of me." Sakuya steps foreword, which earns our stares of disbelief. "After your performance with the Prismrivers, at the night of the festival, I happened to overhear Saigyouji Yuyuko-san make such a statement. Unfortunately, you all left in Yukari's gap afterwords, so I could not hear anymore than that."
Internally, I sigh in relief at the maid's explanation. The fact that I am a faux lich is still secret, it seems. To my side, I can also see some of the tension leave my best friend, though she is still very alert of the situation, and rightfully so.
"She then promptly reported everything to me." Remilia finishes. "Now then, I do not know why you would pretend to be a human, but based on your mannerisms from earlier, it is clear that you go to great lengths to do so."
"How observant of you..." Alice coldly states.
The bat girl continues, ignoring the puppeteer. "It is a secret that you must not let out, yes? With that being said, I will make my offer again; Become my personal musician, and I will...assist you in keeping your secret just that. No one else will have to know."
"Why would you..." I start, before realization dawns on me in horror. "You... Are you blackmailing me?"
"Not at all." She says, but her intentions are all over her expression, like a cat who got the canary. "After all, if we managed to learn about your situation, who knows who else could. Now wouldn't that be a shame?"
"...You are quite the devil, aren't you." I growl out, desperately trying to hold myself back from doing something stupid.
I have not been so pissed at someone in so long. Not since Mokou, and that ended poorly for me.
"Thank you." Remilia grins, as if I gave her a compliment. "Now what will it be? I strongly urge you to take me up on my offer, for your own good."
"Enough!" Alice shouts, standing straight from her seat while knocking her chair back. Shanghai, who was on her master's shoulder at the time, has launched herself to float in between our scheming host and I, spreading her little arms in a protective manner. "I will not allow you to do as you please due to your selfishness!"
"Oh?" The vampire glances at the puppeteer with disinterest. "And why should I listen to you, puppeteer? This is business between Dash and I."
"Because when you mess with a dear friend of mine, you mess with me." The jade eyed magician then reaches into her skirt pocket, pulling out a rectangular piece of paper that I recognize as a spell card. "I challenge you, Remilia. Right here, right now."
"A-Alice?!" I utter in astonishment, though it pretty much goes unheard by the blonde.
"How interesting~!" Remilia grins widely, her red eyes gleaming brightly. "Very well. Name your terms."
"Should I win, you will leave Tadashi alone, and never tell anyone or anything about his secret." Alice presses, her determination rolling off of her. "This also includes Sakuya and Patchouli as well. You can't have them tell someone in your place either."
"Why must I be included in this?" The other magician complains tiredly. "I don't even care about any of this, let alone tell anyone about it."
"Hmm... Alright." The little devil nods, all but ignoring her friend's plight. She then narrows her glowing eyes, making them look like crimson slits. "However, when I win, he will be forced to come under my employ, no questions asked. Also, you are to never contact him again unless I say so."
"What?!" I cry in alarm at her last condition, drawing attention back to me. "Why would you make a condition like that?"
"Because I can." Remilia retorts, her tone dripping with false sweetness. "If you don't like it, you can always join me willingly. So what will it be?"
Dread runs up my spine at her reasoning, and I immediately turn to address my would-be defender. "Alice, don't do it. If you were to lose, then..." I trail off, before shaking my head to reject the thought. "It's just not worth it."
"I'm sorry, but I can't do that." The blonde refuses stubbornly. "If you surrender to her whims, she will hang what she has over you for an eternity. You would never be able to leave her services, unless she somehow grew bored of you, which would be unlikely. Also..." Her voice drops in volume, leaning her head close to me to keep the subject private. "The longer you stay with them, the more likely they will find out what you are. Once she finds your weakness, that's it; she will have your life in her hands, literally. I can't stand the thought of that."
"But if you lose, that will happen anyway!" I plead. "At least if I accept willingly, you could come to see me here."
"I won't lose." Alice states firmly as a fact, her jade eyes looking deep into my own, giving me pause. "I refuse to lose anyone important to me again. Especially you."
I feel my breath hitch slightly at her words, looking deeper into her eyes for some other meaning. "Alice, what...?"
"Excuse me." The miniature vampire interrupts us, looking mildly impatient. "Are you two done having your little chat? I would like to start this match tonight, if possible."
"Ever the impatient one..." The doll maker sighs, tearing her gaze from mine to bore into the pale skinned mistress. "Sorry for the wait. I accept your terms Remilia."
"Good. Now then, let's move this to somewhere a little more spacious. We can hardly have our duel here." Remilia then proceeds to walk past Alice and I, towards the curtains hanging behind us. "Sakuya, if you would."
"Of course, my mistress." The maid responds, before promptly rushing to the curtains' sides to draw on an ornate rope, drawing the curtains back. As they slow move to the sides, they reveal what they have been hiding from sight the whole time. To my surprise, what lay behind isn't just a tall window, like I first thought, but large set of balcony doors.
Upon looking through the glass to the outside, I notice that the earlier evening light that I have arrived with has completely vanished, leaving everything under the soft light of a full moon hanging in a dark, night sky.
When the curtains stop moving, the elegant maid then proceeds to the large doors, unlocking them and then finally opening them both wide, letting in a cold, fall breeze that only feels chillier without the warm light of the sun. Just feeling it makes me tighten the scarf around my neck on reflex, ever thankful that I received such a thoughtful gift.
Without any hesitation from the cold, the vampire steps through the doorway leading to the balcony, with Alice following close behind, trailed by the other magician and I with much less enthusiasm. Once through, Sakuya then closes the balcony doors shut, leaving us out in the brisk night.
Before doing anything else, Remilia takes a moment to walk up to the balcony railing, looking up at the night sky with an almost serene expression. "Such a lovely night tonight. The moon is as beautiful and captivating as always..." She then turns to the doll maker, a challenging smirk back in place. "The perfect setting for our duel, don't you think? Under the light of a full moon?"
"Whatever you say." My friend dismisses stiffly, not at all in the mood for her opponent's theatrics.
"Hmph. No appreciation for the mood at all." The lady huffs, before taking to the air. "Fine then. Let's get this over with."
"That I can agree with." Alice grudgingly agrees, before briefly looking at me. "I'll try to make this quick. Please look after Shanghai for me if you would, Tadashi."
"Shanghai?" I utter, before feeling a familiar weight land on my shoulder. I don't even need to look to know that the doll in mention has taken perch on her favorite spot, causing me to smile despite the situation. "Yeah, sure Alice. You just make sure you win, alright? No matter what it takes, you have to win."
Alice gives me a peculiar look at my request, before staring down at her arms with a troubled expression, gripping that ever present bound book tightly. After a moment though, she gives me a firm nod, and as she stares at me with unwavering certainty, I could have sworn I saw a flash of something in her jade eyes. "...Of course. Whatever it takes."
With our exchange said, the blonde magician flies off into the air after the shorter girl, her silhouette briefly overlapping with the light of the moon. As she does, I can't help feeling a sense of foreboding about this coming battle. Whither this feeling is good or bad, I won't know until things are all over.
I know, I know. Another freaking cliffhanger. I won't leave you all in suspense for long, I promise! Remember, this is a part one of two. There is more to come soon!
What did you think about Remilia's Aura Song? To be fair, her theme is probably one of my favorites from the whole series. Heck, Septette for the Dead Princess is one of the few songs I learned how to play, on both a flute and a guitar. There are some great guitar pieces for it out there too, among other covers, so frankly I felt describing it to be rather easy.
Speaking of Remilia, how many of you were seeing this twist coming? Trust me, there is more to this than simple aristocratic selfishness. You will just have to wait and see. The bigger twists are to come!
This upcoming danmaku battle, while also planned, does have me a little nervous. There has only been one other battle in this whole story, surprisingly, and even though I had good remarks about it, I can't help wondering how the reactions will be for this one. I feel like I transitioned the mechanics for danmaku from the game fairly well, so I don't know. I already have it pretty much written out, so here's hoping!
Also, if you can't seem to wait for the next chapter, I would recommend checking out my other story. It's a one shot, and it will help explain Alice's past in more detail, shedding some more light on some things. It's not required, since I did give a summary of her past in this story, but it would be something more to read.
Anyway, that's all for now. Drop a review if you can, and you will hear from me really soon! ...A couple of weeks tops. Until then!