AN: Hey, people of all peoples! This is the edited chapter one. You see, I got a review, an EXTREMELY constructive one (it's probably the most helpful review I've ever received, hoorah!), and I looked over my previous first chapter. Normally, if there are problems with first chapters, I would just apply the criticisms to chapters that follow, without editing the first one. However, it is plain that my former chapter one sucked to such a magnitude that I promptly threw it into a well full of gasoline and burned it. Much like a phoenix, my chapter one was reborn into this much better phoenix (I hope lolol). I added a lot more interaction with certain elements of the setting and characters, and more of that foreshadowing stuff. Foreshadowing... tastes like vanilla. Jk. Anywho, after I finished editing my first chapter, I decided to split it up into two chapters. That means that even though there are more words, the people who have read the sucky original still don't get any more until later muahahah. Trollkasteling, that's what that is. I hope you enjoy! Please, constructive criticism made this, so use this as an example and review! :D
Haruhi Fujioka moved a stray strand of hair out of her face as she scrubbed the wood floor as hard as she could. Madam Ayanokoji had hosted a party the night before, and the floor was dirtied with everything from wine to vomit. Haruhi was used to the labour, though, and she tried to work as efficiently as she could before Ayanokoji woke up.
Haruhi finally finished the floor and stood up, wiping her brow and her simple ivory maid's dress. She looked at her work with satisfaction- just in time, too, Ayanokoji came down the stairs and looked at her, scrutinizing her work.
"Hm... I guess it's fine," Madam said as she walked towards Haruhi. "But you can still see the stain."
Haruhi bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Madam, but the wine didn't come out of all the wood."
"I don't care," Ayanokoji said simply, sighing in disappointment. "Haruhi, how long have you worked for me?"
"About eight years, Madam."
"You are well on your way to being a senior servant for my manor. To do that, you must be a good role-model, understand? You keep making stupid mistakes, and eventually, not even Asune will be around to cover for you. When you clean the floor, wench, I expect you to be perfect. I have guests coming over this afternoon, and I expect this floor to be immaculate, do you understand?"
"Y...yes, Madam," Haruhi said shamefully, before bowing and leaving the room to find cleaning supplies that might help get the stain out of the wood. Ayanokoji huffed before leaving the room to torment some of the other maids.
Haruhi thought to herself. What Ayanokoji had said was not an exaggeration. For some reason, Haruhi had always been very clumsy, and she would forget where she put cleaning supplies, or accidentally break dishes while washing them, warranting a well-earned slap from the Madam.
Haruhi looked down at the stain, and decided to go to the market to see if there were any other supplies she could use to get the stain out of the floor. Just as she was about to go out of the room, her friend and fellow maid, Berune, locked arms with her, her golden hair hitting Haruhi in the face and her white cotton dress swishing around her legs.
"Hello, Haru-chan!" Berune said excitedly. "Going to the market too, I see!"
"Didn't you go yesterday, Berune-chan?" Haruhi asked.
"Yeah, but we ran out of squid faster than I thought, with that crazy party last night!" Berune laughed, and for the first time, Haruhi noticed how red she was. Haruhi put her hand to Berune's forehead and frowned.
"You drank, didn't you?" she asked simply, in a condescending tone.
"Uhm..." Berune looked around in case Ayanokoji was around, before turning back and nodding. "Only a little though! Asune caught me and started to scold me for slacking off while the rest of us were working. It's not my fault! The food was wonderful."
"Not surprising. You're too young to drink!"
"Nobody is too young to drink, Haru-chan! Now, let's go! Madam just gave you a pep talk, and here you are, slacking off." Berune giggled and dragged Haruhi out of manor, towards the market.
Ayanokoji's house was the biggest on the block, and only a few blocks away from the docks. They lived near a major port, so it was a bustling, busy place. Haruhi constantly was knocked into stiff businessmen with briefcases, or into women carrying baskets full of vegetables, laundry, or other such commodities.
Berune paid a shopkeeper three silver coins for bread, giving a piece of it to Haruhi, munching on her own slice. "Today's busy!"
"It's always busy," Haruhi reminded her friend, before peering in all directions around her, looking for the familiar, ostentatiously-coloured tent she frequented.
"What are you looking for?"
"Madame Zolta," Haruhi replied, and Berune frowned.
"Haru-chan, you can't trust her. She's a gypsy. Don't you know what gypsies do? They steal from you on the street! One moment, you're looking out at the Navy ships coming in, with hundreds of huge holes in the sides from nasty pirates... and then BOOM! Your wallet's gone!"
Haruhi sighed. "Berune-chan, they aren't all like that. And I doubt the Navy would have hundreds of holes in their ships from pirates. They are too good to be hit by pirates. They capture pirates. Besides, even if a Navy ship could be hit that many times, it would probably sink, no doubt."
Berune pouted. "You know what I mean. I wasn't talking about pirates, anyway, Haru-chan, I was talking about gypsies! Some day, this Madame Zolta you keep seeing is going to make you regret ever seeing her."
"I'm not buying anything from her. So there's nothing to regret." Haruhi had finally spotted the loud tent and began walking towards it. Berune looked from her to the tent, and then decided not to follow.
"Haru-chan, meet me at the docks when you're done! I'm gonna get some more squid!" Berune ran off, leaving Haruhi to her own devices.
Haruhi trudged her way through the crowd. She knocked over a stack of colourful woven rugs and helped picked them up, even as the shopkeeper started to yell at her in a foreign language she couldn't place.
Be kind to others and they will regret being unkind to you. Haruhi thought. It seemed like she was thinking a lot that way, lately.
After bumping into a generous amount of people, Haruhi was within seeing distance of Madame Zolta, who was sat in an ornate, colourful chair, smoking from an elegant, long pipe not unlike one Ayanokoji would use.
"Ah, Haruhi-chan, how lovely to see you..." Madame Zolta smiled, and waved Haruhi, who was a few metres away, over. Haruhi smiled and ventured forward, accidentally bumping into somebody again.
"I'm sorry, please excuse me," Haruhi said quickly, looking down, as she bowed and quickly made her way around the hazard to where Madame Zolta was seated.
"Have a seat, Haruhi," Madame Zolta said with a smile. Haruhi gratefully accepted and sat down, her legs tired from dodging (and not dodging) people. She didn't notice that Madame Zolta's gaze was fixed on something other than her, glaring.
"Haruhi-chan, let me give you a piece of advice. For as long as the black sails are aloft, lock the door to your bedroom," Madame Zolta said cryptically.
Haruhi looked at her in question. "What do you mean?"
Zolta smiled. "Oh, nothing, child. I was just talking to myself. So why have you graced me with your presence today?"
"I was wondering if there was any surefire way to get wine out of a hardwood floor. I mean, most of it is out, but the stain is in the unvarnished part of the floor that was left alone by the fireplace... and Madam wants it out before this afternoon."
"Ah, Ayanokoji and her famous parties... I have never been to one, but I have heard about many. Of course, that only emphasizes that you, Haruhi, are one but many, yes?" Madame Zolta inhaled on her pipe with a devious smile.
Haruhi blinked. She was used to Zolta talking in riddles, but today they all seemed to be very specific to Haruhi alone...
"Anywho..." Zolta sighed. "Have you tried the oil of the starfish?"
"Fish oil?" Haruhi asked.
"Oil from a fish, yes. Oil from any fish, no. Oil from the starfish, yes."
Haruhi thought. "I suppose I could try that. Any backup solutions?"
Zolta laughed. "Oh, child, I don't drink wine often, you know. Though... I do know a million ways to clean up vodka. Do I look classy enough to drink wine?"
Haruhi smiled. "You look classier than me, smoking that pipe."
Zolta chuckled again, exhaling a soft pink smoke. "I pull off this pipe quite well. If I were to try anything, try lemon juice mixed with chalk."
Haruhi raised an eyebrow. "That... is a very outrageous solution."
"Aye, and it's a family secret. Now go, child, you have things to do, yes?"
Haruhi nodded and rose to her feet. "Thank you!" She bowed and dove back into the crowd, on her way to the docks to meet Berune.
Zolta leaned back and puffed on her pipe. "That child is protected... do not make rash decisions," she said, seemingly to herself, before standing up, bracing herself on an ornate jeweled cane and going inside the caravan.
A tall man in the crowd smiled.
Haruhi finally made her way through the congested crowd, seeing her friend flirt with one of the sailor boys who worked on the docks. She was twisting her already curly blonde hair with her finger as she stared flirtatiously at him. It surprised Haruhi greatly. She had never seen Berune be interested in anything other than food.
"Berune!" Haruhi called, and her friend immediately turned around and waved her over, completely dismissing the sailor boy, who walked off in discouragement. "Have you got any starfish?" she asked her friend, looking into the basket.
Berune made a face. "Haruhi, I am a purist when it comes to food. And starfish is not a good food. I saw a diagram of one in a book, and it was really creepy! Why would you want one?"
Haruhi sighed, going to the salesman and giving him five gold pieces for a little purple starfish.
"I have to get the oil out of it to clean that wine stain," Haruhi said as she put the starfish in the basket.
Berune shuddered. "That thing is too creepy to be food... and now you want to juice it."
"Disgusting! I'm not going to eat him!" Haruhi said, kicking her friend lightly.
"Don't say it's a him! Haru-chan, that makes it more personal, and then you won't want to juice it, because you think it's gonna die!"
"It's already dead!" Haruhi shuddered. "Let's just get back. Do you have all you needed?"
"Wait! I want a seashell!"
Haruhi sighed. "Why pay money for a seashell when you can go down to the beach on your free day and pick one up for free?" She took hold of the basket and dragged Berune away from the dock. However, she only walked a few steps before she stopped in her tracks, causing Berune to bump into her.
"Hey, Haru-chan, what is it?" Berune asked, rubbing her shoulder.
Haruhi didn't answer. She was staring out by the cliffside.
"Wow... I didn't think I'd ever see one!" Berune said excitedly, grabbing Haruhi's arm and jumping up and down. Haruhi seemed to not hear her. The only thing she could think of was Madame Zolta's warning: "For as long as the black sails are aloft, lock the door to your bedroom."
Haruhi had been relatively unresponsive as she entered the kitchen, helping Berune put away the groceries she had gotten, as well as trying to figure out how to get the oil from a starfish.
"Just hit it with a hammer a bunch of times," Asune, the head maid, said as she entered the kitchen. Haruhi jumped at the unexpected voice, before she got indignant.
"I really am having trouble here, Asune-san, the least you could do is give me good advice."
Asune rolled her eyes. "I am. Trust me, I've done it before. Do you think you're the only one who goes and asks Madame Zolta for cleaning tips? Lemme guess, stubborn wine stain?" Asune went to a drawer and withdrew a meat tenderizer, going back over to where Haruhi was standing before the purple starfish.
"Aww... he's kinda cute, isn't he?" Asune asked, before swinging the implement down, causing Haruhi to flinch.
"Y...you go to Madame Zolta too? Um... can I ask you something about her, then?"
"As long as it has nothing to do with her dealings in the black market," Asune responded, bringing the tenderizer down again, making Haruhi turn away.
"Uhm,.. yeah, so... has she ever said anything creepy to you?"
"Everything she says is creepy, Haruhi-chan. You're gonna have to be a little more specific."
"Okay... well has what she said ever been about you personally? Like a sort of prophecy or something?"
Asune stopped assaulting the dead starfish and turned to Haruhi, a strange look in her eyes. "You don't seriously believe in that sort of thing, do you?"
"I... Well, it depends... She's only started doing that today."
Asune sighed and put the meat tenderizer down, turning her attention to the starfish, squeezing the juice out in such a way that Haruhi began to feel slightly nauseous. "Well... there was one time," Asune finally said, not looking at Haruhi.
"What was it?"
"It's none of your business, Haruhi," Asune said in a clipped tone. "I'm just telling you that it's happened. Here."
She handed a bowl full of starfish juice to Haruhi. "Put about the same amount of hot water and a little soap in that bowl, and you're set."
Haruhi took the bowl, looking into it even though it disgusted her. "Uhm... thank you, Asune-san."
Asune smiled and patted Haruhi's head. "Good girl. And, after you're done, come help me set up the decorations Madam wants for tonight's soiree."
As it were, Madame Zolta's starfish tip worked perfectly, and Haruhi had on a smile of satisfaction as she stood up and inspected her work. A hand on her shoulder made her jump.
"Wow... impressive, Haruhi," Ayanokoji complimented. "Never thought you, of all people, could do it. Anywho, I still have a lot of decorations and arranging for you to do, so I don't think you'll be bored today." Haruhi looked down, knowing that her Madam was referring to the other day, when Haruhi had shamelessly said she was bored when caught reading a book in the library.
"Yes, ma'am," she said quickly as she went to find Asune.
Soon, the party was underway, and the maids were forced to endure yet another one of Ayanokoji's dramatic speeches complimenting the Navy for their hard work and diligence, because, why, her husband died from pirates making him look like Swiss cheese...
It wasn't that Haruhi was apathetic to the pain Ayanokoji had went through, it was just that she had heard the story so many times in the exact same fashion that she couldn't draw any of the necessary empathy from it anymore. Why did Asune call it a soiree, anyway? It didn't look like a high-class party; it looked like a bunch of crazy people getting drunk and sleeping with each other in the guest rooms.
Haruhi sighed. She had been standing in the same place for what had seemed like hours, just in case one of the guests needed something. She never got it. Berune and Asune, and even short little Manon were called to do something, while Haruhi just stood there. She was sure it was an elaborate prank in order to punish her for slacking off. Or, maybe it was just because the guests knew she slacked off anyway.
Haruhi closed her eyes, but then they shot open just as quickly as the image of the imposing wharf invaded her minds-eye like a sort of virus. It wasn't that she was scared of the dock or the cliffs (though there were plenty of sailor who would be glad to make it a scary place- many a maid had their personal ghost stories centered around rape, assault and murder), rather it was what she had seen just beyond them. Berune had been fascinated. Haruhi had been horrified.
Haruhi had never particularly been afraid of pirates before, of course. She had lived for eight years in Ayanokoji's house, and whenever pirates came up, she consoled herself by telling herself two things:
One, if pirates had wanted to pillage Ayanokoji's house in the first place, they probably would have done it a long time ago, especially when she used to be richer than she was now,
and Two, if they did decide to pillage Ayanokoji's house, it wouldn't be some lowly maid held up for ransom, anyway.
So, if Haruhi wasn't bothered with pirates, then why did the very glance at that boat chill her bones as if she was sinking into the depths of the ocean?
For as long as the black sails are aloft... for as long as the black sails are aloft...
"Haruhi!" Haruhi jumped as she looked straight into the face of a livid Ayanokoji.
"I have called your name for the last time, girl," she said, stepping forward. "Is the peaceful entertainment of my guests too boring for you? Are you tired? How would you like to stay up all night, standing there? For goodness' sake, girl, what the hell were you dreaming about this time?"
"P-pirates," Haruhi stammered, without her consent.
Her response made the whole room go quiet momentarily, before the guests began to whisper to each other.
"crushed by the Navy-"
"raided twelve homes, Akira said..."
Haruhi felt a sharp pain in her cheek, wondering what had happened, before she realized that Ayanokoji had slapped her out of frustration. Ayanokoji sighed, and stepped forward so only Haruhi could hear what she was saying.
"Okay, girl, listen. You have been impossibly out of it today, and I want to know why. You daydream and stare off into space. I want to know your side of the story. Maybe then, I won't have to punish you. Explain."
Ayanokoji's eyes were completely serious as they stared into Haruhi's. Haruhi considered evading the question and taking a punishment, but she sighed, just wanting someone to talk to.
"Well... I visited Madame Zolta today... and she warned me, sort of, about black sails... and I saw a ship with black sails later, undoubtedly a pirate ship... I'm sorry Madam, I can't help but worry about it-" Haruhi stopped as Ayanokoji took her chin.
"Is that all you've been worried about? Some stupid warning from a gypsy, and you think it's true because there is, coincidentally, a ship of that vague description at the dock today? So what if it's pirates? They aren't gonna get you. You aren't pretty enough to take hostage, little girl. Now, me? Yeah, I'm locking my doors. But seriously, girl, get a grip on yourself and think logically, okay?"
Her words were firm, but Haruhi knew that her Madam cared, because she had been firm rather than laughing at her and giving her a harsh punishment.
"I'll let you off this time, but don't think you can make the same excuse again, Haruhi. Now, that lady over there wants a refill of wine. You can't mess that up, can you? Go."
Ayanokoji let Haruhi go. Haruhi went to the woman who smiled kindly at her, holding up her wine glass.
"Don't worry, little lady. Everybody spaces out once in a while," the woman said while smiling warmly. Her words only made Haruhi blush more in embarrassment, as she went to the wine table to refill the cup, trying to occupy herself. Luckily, she didn't space off again the rest of the night, helping the guests either leave or occupy the guest rooms in the house.
Haruhi was ready to promptly fall asleep after the maids were dismissed to the servant's quarters. She barely had enough strength to change into her nightgown and put up her hair so it wouldn't get tangled. Berune, unsurprisingly, had snuck in a few glasses of wine and was sharing it with the other maids. She held out a glass to Haruhi, who declined, too tired to even argue that they were all, with the exception of Asune, too young to drink alcohol. She fell into the soft bed, covering herself up, ready to sleep the night away. Not even Berune could take this joy away from her.
However, every time she closed her eyes, she saw the frightening, black-sailed ship floating by the wharf. Haruhi, who had been so excited to get a full night's worth of sleep, was plagued too deeply by Madame Zolta's mysterious words to go to sleep. Oh, the irony.
Haruhi sat up in her bed and groaned in impatience. Berune came into the room and smiled.
Haruhi glared at her friend and flopped back down on the bed, covering her face with a pillow.
"I can't get to sleep."
"That's why you should drink wine, Haru-chan. Boyyy it made me sleepy!" To emphasize this, Berune lifted her hands and yawned into them.
"Don't try sensationalizing the wine. Oh, Berune, did you lock the bedroom door?"
Berune blinked. "No, I didn't. Why would we lock the door? Are you afraid any of the male guests will sneak in and rape you or something?"
"Uhm..." Haruhi contemplated her response. She decided that she didn't need chiding from her friend about her irrational fear of pirate ships, and she merely nodded. She felt ridiculous. What was she scared of, really? A pirate ship coming in through the window and talking to her?
"Well, Haru-chan, you're in luck! None of the guests who slept over are male! So you are in the clear! Besides, your bestie will be in here with you, and we all know I am fierce!"
Haruhi laughed. "Only when somebody threatens to eat your cheese."
Berune giggled and pinched Haruhi's cheeks. "And you are my cheese today, Haru-chan. Don't worry, I won't cut you up and eat you with bread!"
Haruhi shuddered. "Be quiet. Let's... let's get to sleep."
"Ah... yes, I'm so tired!" Berune laid down, facing Haruhi, and fell asleep. Haruhi closed her, telling herself repeatedly that her fears were pointless. Saying the mantra over and over again, Haruhi eventually let her eyes fall closed, and she finally fell asleep.
It could only be expected that when Haruhi was awoken by a piercing scream, the only feeling she had was not fear, but irritation. She picked up her pillow and threw it across the room to vent the frustration she was feeling from being awoken. It had only been an hour at the most, and Haruhi was so tired that she felt her eyes falling shut even as she sat up in bed.
Berune, however, had an entirely different reaction. When the scream sounded, she jumped awake so violently that she fell off of the bed.
"Haruhi?" she asked, snapping Haruhi from her doze. "What was that? Who was that?"
Haruhi became to come to her senses, feeling fear course through her body as she got up. "I... I think it was Madam."
Haruhi wrenched open the door, which she was glad was left unlocked, as Berune struggled to get up in her lethargic state.
"Haru-chan, wait for me!" she said as she finally rose and began running after Haruhi, who was running towards Ayanokoji's bedroom upstairs. Berune grabbed onto her arm, catching up.
"Why would she scream like that?" Berune asked while running, the adrenaline making the two maids go faster, yet also become more panicked.
Haruhi and Berune almost fell over as Asune suddenly appeared in front of them. She must have come around the corner.
"Let us pass, Asune!" Haruhi said indignantly.
"Don't! Hide!" Asune grabbed the both of them and began steering them back into the depths of the basement.
"Why?" Berune asked, fear making tears appear at the edges of her eyes. "Why is everyone yelling?"
"Madam is being helped by Manon and Shannon, they were able to distract the intruders enough to get Madam to relative safety. As long as we hide, they won't bother looking too closely for us, okay?"
"Who is 'they'?" Haruhi asked, growing impatient at Asune's vague responses. Asune stopped forcing them to run, turning them so she could look at them.
"Haruhi, I know why you were so spacey tonight; I overheard you tell Madam why. Are you sure you want to know who 'they' are?"
Haruhi felt a foreboding feeling well up in her chest as she realized who exactly had invaded their home. She nodded anyway. Maybe her suspicions weren't correct... maybe this is another prank to make fun of her...
R.I.P Purple Starfish (cries)