I was shaken about, feeling like I was being battered from all directions. Even that summer storm that had caught us in the straits had been a gentle rocking in comparison. I kept my nerve and tried to get my bearings. The light was opalescent and blinded me as soon as I opened my eyes. I cringed but felt my breath coming back to me. In all the excitement I had barely noticed I wasn’t breathing. Luckily, the chaos died down quickly. The shaking stopped and the bright rainbow began growing duller and duller until I could begin to make out shadows and shapes in the distance.
My heart raced at my throat. I wasn’t in pain but it felt like I ought to take a moment to gather my wits. I closed my eyes again and took a deep breath. A nip of brandy would be the perfect thing to steady myself. Yes, my throat was rather parched. I believed that I still had a bottle hidden away in my kit somewhere.
The problem was, of course, my kit was nowhere to be found. In fact, I was nowhere to be found. Best I could recall I had been out for a ride. The memory of hacking on a country trail seemed both fresh but also strangely foreign. Cold stone and the dark of night should not follow from that.
When I finally got around to getting a good look at my surroundings, I found that I lay on a simple wooden table with little more than a large tunic protecting my modesty. I sat up. Moonlight crept in from a nearby window and the smell of perfumed oils and tinctures hung heavily in the air. Save for another small table whereupon a lamp, various flasks and colored stones rested, the room was otherwise barren.
Perhaps I’d had an accident, I reasoned. I had been found and taken in while unconscious. An traveler’s lodge must have been closer than the estate. I had seen plenty of such places in my travels. They often sported quaint rooms and construction made from usually a mixture of wood and stone. I felt satisfied with my conclusion and was glad I did not seem to be injured.
More importantly, I realized that I wasn’t alone. Off in a corner, half-hidden by shadow, a pair of women spoke to one another. One wore a pinafore dress and the other in a long gown reminiscent of the classical style. It followed that maybe I was injured after all – I could just barely make out the movement of lips but nothing was audible. I then cleared my throat and felt the vibrations in my neck but I couldn’t hear it in my ears. That action got the attention of one in the dress. Her lips moved as she seemed to say something else before coming on over to me.
Hair that approached crimson in its hue caught my gaze. Her rounded chin and dark eyes were striking features as well, but I felt that most men would also be transfixed by the intense contrast that the red created with her fair flesh. Though most definitely womanly in appearance, there was an air of girlishness about her best captured by the carefree smile she donned as she approached. She said something which I couldn’t make out. My look of helpless confusion must have been easy to pick up on as she followed up by tapping her hands softly on either ear and then pointing at me.
“I’m afraid I can’t hear you,” I probably said, nodding.
She nodded in turn and mimed for me to lay back down. I watched as she fiddled with the nearby flasks and poured some of their contents into a thin vial. The resulting combination was a clear blue and, amazingly, seemed to emit a soft glow. Understanding that she meant for me to drink it, I took the vial and stared at it for a moment. Perhaps she was some sort of doctor’s apprentice though I would have just as easily taken her for a clerk. The liquid tasted sharply metallic and revolted my humors.
“Can you hear me now?” she asked, her voice soft and carrying a friendly tone.
“Yes, I can!” I exclaimed. To think that such miraculous tonics existed! “I must thank you dearly for attending to me.”
“I’m afraid that I haven’t done much,” the woman said, taking the liberty of examining me from head to toe with her eyes. “I’m afraid that your arrival and condition was quite unexpected.”
“I apologize for the inconvenience,” I said solemnly. “I don’t quite recall the circumstances surrounding my arrival but I must thank you all the same. Perhaps you would grace me with the honor of knowing your name?”
“Ah,” her smile widened into a grin, affected with what I imagined was amusement. “I’m called Chloē, and you, mister-?”
I frowned as I tried to recall the answer. It was the kind of thing that one would normally never forget. Rather vexing not to be able to give a reply, truth be told.
It seemed that she understood the problem almost all at once. She gently placed her hand on my shoulder, wordlessly telling me that it did not matter.
“My apologies, Mlle. Chloé.”
“That’s a lovely take on my name,” she giggled, “your accent is quite exotic. Most people don’t bother with titles when addressing me.”
“Accent?” I asked, bewildered. I was speaking the same way that she was, far as I reckoned. Something had felt off since we had started speaking but I assumed it was due to the sudden restoration of my hearing. My voice felt my own but there was something else, like my words weren’t the ones my mouth was used to making.
“Oh, it’s not so bad,” Chloé said, “it’s just clear you’re not from these parts.”
“Yes,” I scrunched up my brow, recalling a detail that had been missing from my mind until just then, “I do suppose I have been traveling for the better part of a year and a half by now. These grand tours let you meet all sorts of fellows.” With a laugh, I added, “my apologies for misunderstanding, it seems that my mind is still in a slight state of disarray. If you don’t mind my asking, where exactly are we?”
“The Scarlet Estate,” she replied cheerily, “it’s just by the lake.”
“Oh, how dreadfully embarrassing, I thought I knew all of the local estates and households,” I said, recalling that I had made it a point to meet as many people as possible, “I’m afraid I have never heard of this surely esteemed family. And I owe a debt of gratitude to them for rescuing me.”
“No worries,” Chloé reassured me, “there’ll be plenty of time for pleasantries later on. At any rate, any thanks you have should go to my mistress,” she cocked her head to the side, indicating at the women in the gown, “She is the one that has kept you alive.”
“Oh, I didn’t realize,” I said, feeling like a fool, “my apologies for not acknowledging the other lady present.” I sat up, planning to stand up and acknowledge her properly. But my strength had left me.
“If you stand now, you risk a fainting spell,” the woman said calmly from a distance. “You must rest a while before attempting to exert yourself again. I’ll have my assistant escort you to your lodgings soon. I’ll take my leave now, it’s been a long evening.”
“Please wait a moment!” I interjected as she started for the door. She had come out of the shadow and it was then that I realized who she was. I clutched at my chest, grabbing the locket that I was sure had never left my neck for a moment. She stopped dead in her tracks, turning her head towards me but donning a look best described as saturnine. But that faded quickly and was replaced by cold indifference.
“...yes?” she asked quietly.
“If you’ll excuse my boldness, would you please come a little closer?”
She obliged silently. And then there was no doubt about it. Even in the dim light cast by the lamp, I was certain that it was her. Though her hair was longer, a different shade and adorned with ribbons either side as it came down in the front, her face was the same. My heart swelled up with joy.
“Is there anything you need?” she asked coolly after a few moments had passed.
“Don’t you remember me, my love?” I asked. Chloé gasped and quickly covered her mouth.
“I’m afraid not,” she replied flatly. “You have me mistaken for someone else.”
“Darling, please don’t toy with my heart so, you’ll drive me mad,” I said as I reached into my tunic and produced the locket. Fine silver chains joined at an end on a silver mass with golden engravings. Small emeralds were inlaid in a geometric pattern. It all held meaning and it protected a promise. A cameo, inspired by the classical and worked carefully, was held inside. It was my treasure, a memento from the woman who had so thoroughly stolen my heart. I opened the case as I had done countless times before and stared at the portrait within. There, in profile like a goddess of old, was carved the image of my beloved. Of the woman standing before me at arm’s length with a lack of interest in her eyes. “If this is a queer jape, please know it’s borders on cruelty.”
“…” she said nothing.
Chloé leaned in closely and examined the cameo. “What beautiful craftsmanship! Hm, Mistress Patchouli,” she spoke quietly but firmly, “this does look an awful lot like you...”
“A coincidence, that is all,” she was quick to dismiss the evidence. “I can’t possibly know this outsider. It is simply a quirk of the ritual. I will examine why we were unable to be wholly successful later.” She turned her back to us, offering little in ways of a proper goodbye, “I’ll be taking my leave now, I entrust his care to you.”
She closed herself off to any further engagement and exited the room swiftly. Chloé took pity on me, looking like a girl mourning at the end of one of the great tragic poems. “I’m certain there’s an explanation to all of this,” she tried but failed to stifle a sigh. It was contagious.
“She was my Helen...” I allowed myself to indulge in a melancholic sigh.
“Your lover’s name was Helen?” Chloé asked.
“No, no, it’s a reference to… well, it doesn’t matter,” I felt a pang of despair as I realized that I couldn’t recall her name either. To forget oneself was a forgivable sin, but to forget the woman for whom I had been ready to move heavens and earth for… I sighed again, caring little if she thought me glum.
“I’m sorry, but I’m not sure how I can cheer you up,” Chloé frowned. I realized that I was marring her fair appearance by upsetting her. My getting sentimental wasn’t going to solve anything.
“I’m sorry, dear girl, I’m simply tired. Please smile for me and I shall revive as swiftly as is humanly possible. My word as a gentleman and scion of my family.”
“You’re rather charming,” she smiled almost instantly. Though I was putting on an act, it did help to see her be so earnest with her emotions. “I think we should give you a name in the meanwhile, just while you can’t remember your real one.”
“Splendid idea,” I said, forcing a smile. It wouldn’t do for me to mope in public and be uncouth towards her obvious efforts to be helpful. “Have you any suggestions?”
“Yes,” she laughed in a carefree manner, “I already thought one up. How about ‘Pan’?”
“It’s a bit presumptuous to be named after a god...” I started, feeling a bit confused as to why I would be compared that wildly amorous...
“Oh no, nothing like that,” she interrupted my thoughts with a carefree giggle, “I mean it as in bread. You know, because you seem to be so ‘upper crust’, get it?”
I couldn’t help but let out a hearty chuckle. That was something straight out of the peasant sense of logic I had often encountered in the various hamlets I had passed through. “Yes, if it’s because of that, I do suppose it’s as fine a name as any. But please don’t let my aristocratic background affect how you behave with me. No “master” or “lord” when talking to me, please. Even if your mistress was the one who engineered my treatment, I still owe you a debt for helping out.”
“Alright then, Pan. I don’t mind if you keep calling me mademoiselle, though! It has a sweet ring to it. Makes me feel like I could go to one of those fancy dances in a beautiful dress if I wanted to.”
“A lovely sight that would be,” I said, appreciating that her good spirit enhanced her physical beauty, “I’m sure you would have plenty of gentleman callers if you ever did.”
“Perish the thought!” she laughed, “I’m just a lowly servant. Besides, we don’t get many gentlemen around these parts. Things with sharp teeth, claws and even wings,” she paused and pointed at the velvety protrusions coming from the side of her head and her back for emphasis, “keep normal humans away.”
“Ah yes, I had thought it rude to stare at those earlier...” I admitted sheepishly. In the commotion following my waking I chose to ignore the things that seemed out of the normal. That included the mysterious symbols and inscriptions in Greek that adorned the table. Dreadful handwriting, could barely tell the taus from iotas.
“Stare all you like, I’m quite comfortable having them. Some might even find them endearing, don’t you agree?”
“Certainly is distinctive,” I said, wondering how such a thing was possible.
“I won’t feel offended if you ask more about me,” Chloé teased, looking coyly at me in a way only a woman confident in her charms could. “My mistress did say that she entrusted your care to me so it certainly is no bother,” she continued, “I’ll lead you to your chambers now, but that doesn’t mean we can’t talk on the way.”
“Very well then,” I nodded and attempted to stand. My legs threatened to buckle almost immediately but by force of willpower I managed to stay on my feet. Chloé watched patiently and silently, thinking perhaps that to offer help would offend my manly sensibilities. I smiled, signaling that all was well and she grabbed the lamp and began to lead the way. I followed slowly, feeling more alive than ever with my bare feet on the cold floor.
 It would be best to humor her and allow her to be the sole center of attention.  Lovely as she was, I wished to know more about the estate and how I could best express my gratitude to the head of the household.  Perhaps it was more important to learn about the circumstances of my arrival and how her mistress was involved.
As Chloé talked, I found it difficult to pay close attention. The poor girl was affable enough but suffered from a syndrome common to those unused to speaking about themselves. That is to say she babbled and occasionally even blathered. I nodded and and interjected with trifles whenever it was appropriate, as politesse demanded. I learned much and altogether too little as a result.
Sapience was not just limited to humans, it seemed. Despite the fantastical ring to it, the girl insisted on being something apart from man. Not quite Mephistopheles yet not quite common imp either, she proudly claimed a heritage superior than that of most mortals. I supposed I should have been more shocked and reacted with more incredulity at the revelation. Truth was, my beloved’s indifference weighed heavier on the mind. As such, the existence of the supernatural seemed increasingly plausible by comparison.
A question, asked partly in jest, led me to believe that she was not overtly monstrous – my soul was safe for the moment, she assured me with a laugh. Reassuring enough. A feeling not alien to the crew of the Argo, I would wager. I would not dwell too much on the specifics as she offered little in the way of them. The notion that the myths from ages past carried some truth to them was far more amusing to contemplate.
My surroundings were far more interesting than tales from her routine. Creaking floorboards gave way to cool, hard stone and finally polished marble. We navigated corridors verging on dilapidated and through several doors and came upon increasing-luxurious environs. Dark bare walls more befitting a dungeon than estate became smooth plaster and wallpaper rich in decorative pattern. Statuetes and paintings began to appear and the heavy wooden doors transformed into ornate affairs. The only thing in common in all areas was the general lack of windows and, therefore, access to natural light. A few windows did exist but were shuttered with heavy wooden coverings or covered by velvet curtain.
Wider corridors displayed plenty of artificial illumination. At a glance, most lamps and fixtures were either oil or candle-based. A touch of modernity was needed. Perhaps the gas was relegated for exterior lighting, I mused. Curious that an estate as obviously large as it was had not sought to minimize costs. If I had to pass judgment, I would say that the household staff had an unfair burden thrust upon due to the extra maintenance and cleaning that was part of the necessary upkeep.
“These will be your quarters,” Chloé indicated, opening up a large door fashioned in the rococo manner. The room was better than a lot of the disused guest chambers I had stayed in while traveling. The clean lines and light colors of the door extended to the patterns on walls and ceiling and a pleasant frieze pattern united both. “I hope it’s suitable.”
“More than suitable,” I said, taking in a few more details. A large pair of windows dominated one side on the room, presumably overlooking some sort of inner courtyard. Next to the windows was a large desk with a lamp and chair, set perpendicularly to the wall. There was also ottoman at the foot of a regal-looking bed with posters and curtain. Besides that was a nightstand and further away a full-length candelabra next to a similarly tall looking glass. A few chests and an armoire were the final bits to an otherwise fully-equipped bedroom. “Thank you for the accommodations.”
Chloé smiled. “I’ll have some of the staff come by to see about a change of clothes. It’s pretty late but I’m sure that they’ll be able to fetch anything else that you may require,” she said.
“I won’t keep you then,” I said, “you’ve been a great help and I thank you again.”
“I’ll see you in the morning,” she told me before she left, “I’m sure there will be much to discuss in the daylight. Pleasant dreams.”
“And to you, Mlle. Chloé.”
After she closed the door behind her, I let out an impatient sigh. The room was a pleasant surprise. Despite the décor being a little demode, it was a comfortable space to be in. But I felt uneasy because I still had no idea where I really was nor what happened to me. Or my belongings for that matter. Walking barefoot through a manor was, in a word, slovenly. Not to mention that if there were more of those demons or whatever else about it may leave a wrongful impression of how cultured humans really were.
I sat on the ottoman. I was lost in thought though no particular thought was prominent. I almost did not notice the rapping at the door.
“Yes? Come in,” I called out.
“Good evening-” began a young girl.
“’evening, boss!” interrupted the other. Her energetic salutation drew the ire of the other as she scowled and signaled for her to stay quiet.
“My apologies, master,” she said, “we’ve been sent around to see if there was anything you required this evening.”
They both looked almost too young to be servants. The one who interrupted was a cheery little blonde thing with curls, had a permanent grin amid puffy cheeks and dressed in a uniform that looked beat up and poorly filled in. The other was slightly taller but still had a child’s physique, wore spectacles and had straight brown hair. Her uniform was fastidiously worn and not one button was out of place nor one stray hair poked from the wrong place under her cap. Appearances probably said nothing about their true age, however. At their backs, something semi-translucent and very not-human jutted out; each sported a pair of insect-like wings.
“Master? Is something the matter?” The brunette asked.
“Maybe ‘es feelin’ sick,” the other one helpfully added.
“It’s nothing, my apologies,” I smiled, rousing myself from my thoughts. “If it’s not too much trouble, there’s a few things that I would like.”
“Feel free to ask for anything! The Scarlets are the best at having cool stuff!” The blonde interjected with pride in her shimmering green eyes.
“Alright,” I couldn’t help but laugh at the childishness of the winged girl. “Let’s start with your names then, I’m not the sort of fellow that resorts to you and girl when addressing the staff.”
“Ah, innihe nice!?” the bubbly blonde turned to her companion, looking for shared approval. “Wants to know our names ‘n everythin.”
The brunette motioned the other girl to settle down and introduced herself with a practiced curtsy, “I’m Sylvia and my colleague is name Beatrice.”
“Most people call me Bubbles,” the blonde giggled, “easier to say, innit?”
“Alright,” I nodded, “I’m afraid I can’t remember my real name, but for now, I’m going by Pan.”
“I understand, Master P-” Sylvia started.
But was interrupted by Bubbles yet again, who giggled without restraint, “on account of you being all posh and upper crust, right?”
“Yes, I suppose that’s why,” I nodded, wondering how such a spirited girl had become a servant. Feeling that the conversation could quickly lose its focused if I didn’t take the initiative, I detailed the things I needed. Both snapped to attention as soon as I finished and promised to be back soon.
I didn’t have to wait very long. It was difficult to tell time at night without a pocket watch but I estimated that it had been less than a half hour when they returned. Though I was peckish at best, I thought it best to ask for a light meal in order to shore up my constitution. They brought back a broth and some biscuits – likely remnants from the day’s cooking. I hadn’t thought they would be able to accommodate my request for a change of clothes but they produced a silken robe that would suffice as nightwear. Most importantly, they had managed to produce the papers and writing materials I had sought.
“What are you going to write, Master?” Bubbles asked with genuine curiosity in her voice. Since it was a question that sounded more innocent than prying, I told her the truth: to write letters as needed and to collect my own thoughts at the end of the day. “I don’t quite get it, but writing must be a lot of fun if you need that much ink and paper,” she concluded as Sylvia let out an exasperated sigh.
They waited as I took my meal at the desk. Bubbles happily scampered off with the tray while Sylvia remained behind. “Master,” she said, “if you don’t mind, I ought to take your measurements so we can see about clothing you properly in the morning.”
“Ah, yes, of course,” I stood as she took out a seamstress’ measuring tape.
“My apologies if I need to measure twice in places,” she said as she ran her small fingers on the flat tape to get a precise reading of my leg, “we’re not accustomed to tailoring for men and it wouldn’t do if we got it wrong.”
“Quite alright, ‘ I assured her but then inquired at the odd notion that had been bothering me for some time, “are there then no males in the household nor in the staff?” Perhaps the majordomo was occupied elsewhere. Not that I presumed to be an important guest, but it was odd that I had just met simple serving girls and an assistant.
“None, sir,” she said, trying to get the inseam measurement just right. “If you’ll pardon my indiscretion, this is the first time in a very long time indeed that we’ve had a male visitor. And, if you ask me, it’s about time we had a change from all the women who stopped by and caused a ruckus for us.”
I didn’t say much, keeping my thoughts to myself. It was difficult to fathom that an estate that was clearly well-prepared for guests could avoid hosting all sorts. Usually acquaintances, family and even dignitaries would keep a household busy nearly all year round. Even if the family was notable enough to have summer and winter homes. At the very least, I hoped that there were regular social events held about, lest the potential represented by the staff and building be completely squandered.
After she was done, Sylvia informed me that arrangements had been made for breakfast and I was not to worry about being presentable. I would be roused and fetched when appropriate. Afterwards she took her leave, wishing me a good night.
And left me alone with my thoughts.
It was only then that I noticed that they brought something else, something I hadn’t requested. A small book with a plain cover and no title sat on the desk. I lit the portable lamp and opened to a random page. Seemed it was a bestiary of some sort. Not a serious one, but one meant for children. The page I opened had a horned creature drinking ale and shaking a large fist towards the moon. Naturally, the text warned that disobedient children would be eaten by the horrible goblin. I wondered if a similar creature existed in the area. Or if I could find anything about serving girls.
I changed into the sleeping outfit they brought. It was a little tight around the shoulders but otherwise was loose and flowed freely all the way to just above my ankles. Its silver color wasn’t quite to my liking but it would have been rude to complain.
I wasn’t quite ready to turn in. I resolved to write something prior to sleep. It was just a matter of determining how thorough I was to be about it.
 A visit to the privy would be a good excuse to take a discreet look around part of the manor.  The book may have contained some information of value if I took to giving it a proper read.  Organizing as much of my thoughts and recollections as possible onto paper took precedence above all.
That word summed up my impressions of the book. I had sat down at the desk, restless and without clear purpose, my thoughts staccato. The contents mirrored my own condition, varying wildly in subject and specificity. We both lacked the necessary composition to come together as a seamless whole. There was no order to the chapters, nor underlying themes that one could follow from page to page. Crude illustrations punctuated pages without reason and added, too, to the endless imbroglio.
Demons? Creatures that dwelt between the border of reason and insanity? Contemptible. Not one description that was laid out with scientific detachment. Hearsay upon hearsay, with sources cited as “some fishermen have spotted” or “they have been known to appear” without dating encounters. In the age of the printed word, such sins of omission were unforgivable. The book had been written by someone who dearly desired that all described within existed but intent did not often affect reality.
Orges, goblins, crows taken human form. Those things bored me into a stupor. The ambiguity of the entries could have just as easily categorized the serving girls as moths cursed by the moon or as children of the forest who never aged. The more and more I read, the more I believed that I divined the book’s true purpose: as a handbook for the weary matron with which to frighten her rambunctious brood into a cooperative state. After all, who hadn’t heard all those nonsense tales of horrific creatures that lurked everywhere in the night?
I smiled at myself, thinking that there was nothing in there that was truly frightening. Dangerous, if real, perhaps. But to truly frighten, monsters had to represent that which humans struggled with the most – meaning to our actions. A modern Prometheus – a glass, darkly in whence all our thoughts and desires seem so warped and naked. At best, the wretches in the text were objects of pity, dominated by simple compulsions to feed or procreate.
The full moon broke out from behind a cloud. Light flooded into my chamber and I put the book away and ventured to the window. Brick and tile from wall and roof were cast in a preternatural shade of red. It was a momentary effect. Soon, the moon was obscured by its transit behind a clock tower. Clouds engulfed it again soon thereafter.
I drew the curtains close.
I grew weary. Selene had sapped me of my strength with her light, I thought to myself with a chuckle. With the lamplight running low, I decided to get at least a few letters down on paper.
[And thus, dear reader, is how this text came about. Working into the night until the lamp was dim, I chronicled all that I could recall and all of which was of importance into this folio. I would have liked to have included more thoughts and recollections in this first instance but I have become much too weary. My apologies for any omissions, mistakes and carelessness in prose. I shall endeavor to keep on writing whenever I can spare the opportunity.]
Morning arrived with a series of surprises.
First was the arrival of breakfast on a tray. Eggs and bread.
“Something of a tradition for us, sir,” Bubbles said stifling a yawn. Her uniform was in even more distress than the previous evening. Clearly she operated even worse in the early morning. “’sides, the cooks ain’t too used to making food for humans again just yet.”
“Have you a current newspaper I could read or are we too far from the nearest village?” I asked as I tore off a piece of bread.
“S’all rubbish, milord,” Bubbles replied with a giggle, “Lady Scarlet hates it when they write about her ‘cuz they always write mean things so we’re not to accept newspaper deliveries anymore. I like ‘em though because they usually have pretty pictures interesting people.”
“Ah, I see,” I nodded, not really wanting to indulge her too much. It was early and I barely got any rest. I tossed and turned for most of the night and broke out in a cold sweat. I thought it fever or something more serious but by the time that the sun had come up, I was feeling right and proper again.
After she had fixed the sheets and emptied the chamber pot, she returned with useful amenities. A straight razor and shaving mirror for my personal use as well as all the other necessary items for daily upkeep. I was told where I could wash up and invited to do so at any time I wished. Apparently the mistress of the manor had decreed that hot water be available at all hours of the day. A curiously modern and expensive choice for someone who had not likewise bothered to install a complete gas system for lighting.
“Oh, you’d look e’er-so-dashin’ with whiskers,” Bubbles said as I looked at my reflection.
“Father favored a well-groomed upper lip,” I told her, recalling the fact. Mother abhorred facial hair, once comparing a fully-bearded man unfavorably to an ape. I had no preference either way but had kept clean shaven to remind myself of dearest mater. Perhaps she was right, I mused, and it was time for a change. The problem, as always, was determining what was fashionable and what was not. Away from the big cities, it was a roll of the die.
She had brought me clothes as well. I did not inquire as to how she was able to get so many trousers and shirts on such short notice. I discarded a few almost immediately. Green trousers was too political and those sans-culottes were too old-fashioned. A pair of light trousers would have to do. The shirts were good quality linen and fit well. A cravat was a tad conservative, but it was all I had available. Bubbles watched helplessly, having likely never seen a gentleman dress himself and thus was unable to assist effectively. Her sole contribution was handing me a rather informal coat to cover myself with. I would have preferred to have worn a morning coat or something more formal but I supposed that I seemed presentable enough.
A wide-brimmed hat would have been perfect for the rustic look but it appeared that procuring men’s headware was somewhat difficult in the area.
“Is the lady of the house decent yet? I wish to pay my respects,” I asked the serving girl. She seemed to have been struck dumb of the sight of me dressed smartly. Perhaps they hadn’t been exaggerating when they mentioned that no gentlemen routinely visited the manor. “Come now girl,” I waved my hand in front of her face, “I asked you a question.”
“Um… oh, well, uh, no, she isn’t. Not a real mornin’ type,” Bubble said with an uncertain nod. “I am sure that she will call for you sometime in the late afternoon.”
“Very well then.”
“Oh, but uh, sir, Sylvia said that you may entertain yourself as you wish in the common areas or move freely about the grounds. If you wish, I can indicate how to reach any place that you like.”
“I should like to speak with Mlle. Chloé and her mistress if at all possible,” I said, thinking that perhaps it would be proper to extend my gratitude to them more formally as well as talk about other matters.
“Um, well,” Bubbles didn’t seem too enthused to tell me. I stared at her, urging her to just spit it out. “They can usually be found in Voile, which is the library adjacent to the main building. It’s just that Lady Patchouli does not like to be disturbed when she’s reading or working. If I send you to ‘er, she’ll get properly cross at me.”
“Beatrice,” I smiled gently, “I’ll shoulder any blame if there’s any to be handed out.”
“Thanks kindly, master,” she smiled.
“All the same, perhaps there is wisdom in your words,” I said, “appearing unbidden is uncouth. Doubly so if it is to disturb a lady.”
 A stroll through the gardens would refresh both mind and body.  There was surely no harm in going to the library to merely read.
The serving girl joyfully led me from my room, a bounce to her gait that was endearingly innocent. The corridors were darkened, the shutters closed and curtains drawn. Save for distant rays of light coaxed into precisely contained spots, it was as dark as night. As we descended a staircase just beyond the privy, I noted that the arrangement was not universal. It was only the residential area that was in a constant penumbra. Common areas, parlors and halls we passed all welcomed the natural light.
A few other servants were hard at work wherever we went. Wiping, washing, scouring and dusting in identical uniforms. All were female and all had the same types of wings and general build. The army of young girls was hard at work, occasionally chatting among themselves or humming short melodies. They had quiet deference for me but were quick to offer smiles to my blonde companion. She, in turn, responded with broad smiles of her own.
I was amazed at how vast the manor felt. High ceilings and wide corridors worked in concert to create the illusion of limitless extension in every direction. The army of servants was likely perpetually cleaning some area or another. I felt like it may have been premature to judge, but all the same I began to lament that I had not yet met any other resident. All that work was for their benefit, as well as the benefit of guests. That I should be the only one to behold the results of their labor was indeed a pity.
We finally exited the building through a discrete door at a side towards the front. The great double doors at the main entrance were close by and flanked by a small colonnade. A cobbled path led directly from them to a large wrought iron gate and brick wall a large distance away. To either side and to my front, rows of carefully kept hedges and shrubberies were laid out in an intricate pattern. Fountains as well as patches of flowers were found in spots where various paths between hedges converged. I saw what were likely azaleas in full bloom to the distance.
“There is also the rear garden,” Bubbles informed me, “in addition to an orchard and a small field at the limit of the estate, there are very many statues and trees back by the lakeside.”
I thanked her for her help.
The day was not yet too warm for a stroll. The morning sun and a gentle spring breeze blew through the hedges. I walked around, taking in all the sights. With hedges taller than a man, some areas were completely secluded and contained interesting secrets. I sat on a bench for a good while, appreciating a pair of playful birds splashing about on the edges of a fountain. I left after they darted into the clear sky. A few areas in the front garden also had sculptures cut from the hedge themselves. They were familiar subjects, classics of the pantheon.
When I reached a clearing near the wall, I looked back at the manor. My quarters were towards the rear of the building, I reasoned, as most of the balconies and terraces I saw were unfamiliar to me. Moreover, it the dimensions of the structure seemed at odds with the sense of space I felt inside. By no rational means was the main structure small, but it was clear that tricks of architecture belied how much interior space there actually was.
Adjoining the main structure, was a smaller connected building. It had a vaulted top and descended into the ground and towards the main building. That pavilion was an exterior entrance to the library, I reasoned. A few more odd ends jutted out of the main structure in different places, but I could not begin to divine their purpose.
According to the clock tower, it was very nearly ten. The large hands had seen better days and it appeared that the fastidious maintenance for the interior was not extended to the exterior. In some areas of the roof, tile was missing. Not exactly a surprise, given the inordinate amount of hours that must have been spent in the upkeep of both garden and rooms. Stonework was durable but the elements were merciless.
I moved on towards the rear of the property, circling around the opposite side where I thought the library was. A vast lake extended before me, the far shore hidden by mist. A series of mountains rose to the distance as well, with a particularly large one dominating the horizon somewhere beyond the end of the lake. It was alien terrain to me and I could not recall of hearing of any of the landmarks in recent times.
Between the manor and the lakeshore, extended more gardens like Bubbles had said. It was a different sort of garden, however. There were far more trees and shady areas, dotted with stone sculptures and a large reflecting pool. Without a hat, the sun had begun to tire me out. So I decided to sit in the shade by somewhere near the lakeside, where the terrain sloped into a gentle hillock. If only I had kit, I lamented, I could try my hand at sketching the placid lake and its environs.
[I debated for a long while whether or not to include what followed. Despite my inclination to dismiss it all as a trick of a tired mind, I felt sufficiently lucid and in charge of myself. If it is madness, it is an all-consuming madness that makes fantasy and reality indistinguishable from one another.]
I closed my eyes, resting under the shade of an old sturdy tree. When I opened them next, I was sat next to my traveling companion of the last few weeks. He was gaunt and choleric. In his excitement he often reminded me of a bird by how he seemed to peck forward with his head as he tried to impress a point upon another during conversation.
“Sorry, what was that?” I realized he had been speaking to me. I must have dozed off, I thought. My words sounded strange to me, as if I had forgotten and remembered something about my own voice at the same time.
He looked at me with an arched eyebrow, and repeated the question I had missed the first time around, “I asked whether or not you would grace us with your presence at the symposium later on.”
“Symposium? It’s simply a banquet. No amount of pretend will transform us into Greeks of old,” I told him with a tired sigh. There was good company and food to be had, but our illustrious host tried a trifle too hard to seem urbane. “Besides, I’ve barely recovered from the previous one,” I laughed, “I should think that I’ve not yet replenished all the bile lost.”
“Afraid of drawing jeers if we do readings again?” he laughed.
“A pointed barb from someone who woke in a trough,” I returned the kindness.
“It was a pile of hay by the stables,” he scowled, his lip twitching with irritation. “But very well, enough of this, I’ll convey to the others that you’ve gone off to suckle at your wet nurse's bosom instead.”
A rejoinder wasn’t necessary. His churlish ways would eventually be his undoing.
For a while after he left, I sat there under the shade, watching the clouds, They drifted slowly by. I noted that they were getting denser as time went on. Hopefully they would bring a mere spring shower and not a storm. The far-off mountain was slowly disappearing from sight and peasants in distant fields began to head back to their homes. The bucolic scene changed to something altogether more ominous.
I took it as a sign that I should depart.
My horse waited patiently in the shade, grazing idly on the long grass. A fine creature with a spotted white coat, noble though not hailing from Iberia. It seemed like he had a strong personality and more than once I had to firmly grasp the reins to prevent him from doing as he pleased. I called to him and watched his ears twitch in recognition. He had been loaned to me a few weeks prior and had been my steadfast companion as I spent my days exploring the countryside before carousing with my peers at night.
I loosened him from the nearby fence post and clambered aboard. Encouraging him into action, I drove him slowly away from the area, not in any particular hurry.
It began to rain a short while thereafter. At first infrequent droplets splashed down, a minor annoyance for both horse and rider. A quarter hour later, however, it began to rain in earnest. The clouds above had completely swallowed the sun up. I was nowhere near the estate and, though the trees deflected some of the downpour, the ground was quickly transforming into mud. A far off roar of thunder convinced me of the impossibility of reaching my original objective. As things would likely get worse before they got better, it would be prudent to seek shelter elsewhere.
I recalled that there was an inn nearby and at the next fork in the road, I began to ride towards it. I could not push my horse too hard. I had begun to spot lightning at an ever-increasing rate and the roars of thunder increased in intensity. His ears twitched with each bellow.
My clothes were unsuited for the cold and rain. With little else but a light riding coat to protect me, water soon soaked me to my undershirt. I kept my hands firm on the reigns and my legs entrenched in the stirrups. I dug a little more into the horse’s flanks, urging it to speed up slightly.
At the middle of a hill, there was a bend where a stream cut through the terrain and plants. The waters were rapid but not torrential and fording it required little more than patience and a steady hand. Unfortunately, at the moment finished crossing over, a nearby tree on the hilltop was stuck by lightning. The bright flash and sharp crack caught me completely by surprise. A shower of wooden splinters rained down on the path ahead and pelted me. The combination of elements proved to be disastrous.
My horse reared in shock as my grip on the reins loosened. It was but an instant but it was time enough to see me be thrown clear from the saddle. I reached out in vain, hoping to grab onto any part of the beast, but grasped naught but air between my fingers. I crashed on one side, my right shoulder and arm absorbing most of the shock. One of my feet was still caught in the stirrup and, as the horse began to bolt, caused me to contort and flail about against rocks and mud.
A second strike followed. A tree burst into flames. It was at a distance but it caused the horse to violently change directions. My foot slid out of the stirrup with a bounce and I was thrown clear, back towards the stream.
I felt a warm sensation on my face and arm and realized I was loosing blood. I struggled to right myself but sharp pains in my limbs prevented me from doing little more than turning over to face the sky. Placing my full weight on one leg and one arm, I attempted to drag towards the path but was soon disabused of the idea. My strength was fast fading and I struggled not to close my eyes. I knew as soon as I did, the apparition that hovered by my side would act.
The hooded traveler before me was certain to be death, come to claim my life.
When I next opened my eyes I was once again under the shade of a tree. Birds chirped and a few of the statues in the gardens stared out towards the lake’s shoreline. I gripped my arm and felt my face. Both felt as they usually did. There were no traces of the debilitating pain I had felt so vividly. I was puzzled but not given much time to dwell upon what had transpired.
[That would have to wait for a calmer moment. I have reflected since and encountered even more abnormal situations. But, for the sake of narrative, it is probably best to introduce elements in a way that respects chronology. Perhaps when I have finished relating all the related ordeals, a final analysis might be in order. As of the time of writing, it is clear to me that there will be more things worth relating in the future.]
A girl flew across the sky, landing in a hasty fashion in the rear garden. To be certain, I had met winged creatures in the last day, but I felt surprise that she was capable of flight without any obvious mechanism to sustain it. A large, wide-brimmed hat and a frail-looking broom were the only obvious accessories she carried about her. I could not help but spring up to my feet and call out to her, so great was my curiosity.
She turned and stared at me, this maiden of golden hair, a look of surprise on her face. It seemed that she hadn’t expected anyone to spot her and her words came off unevenly and with nervous intonation, “um, hiya?”
“Hello, I do beg your pardon,” I said almost breathlessly after a short sprint. Up close it was clear that she was younger than I thought and her clothes, though immaculate, betrayed a childish sensibility. Older than the servants, but likely by not much. “I apologize if I startled you, but I had never seen anyone take flight in such a manner.”
“Uh-” she twitched her nose, looking as if she struggled to understand the situation. “I was just flying normally,” she said.
“And by which means do you propel yourself across the air?” Balloons propelled themselves with hot air but I saw nothing that could account for her fluidity of movement and speed.
“You know, it’s just a thing I can do. Because of magic,” she said like I was a fool for asking.
“Magic? I did not take you for a palm reader.”
“Um, mister,” she narrowed her eyes, like she took pity on me, “have you hit your head or something? Flying is easy, ya know. I do it every day. Even the people at the village are used to it.”
“Ah, the village you say…?”
“Oh, I get it,” she smacked a fist into an open hand, “you’re an outsider. Still not used to Gensokyo. Gotcha. Weird that you’re here and not in the woods though.”
“I suppose I am,” I admitted, “pray tell, if you have the time, would you indulge my curiosity further?”
“Uh, do you mean that you wanna talk to me some more?” she cocked her head to a side.
“If you don’t mind, yes,” I nodded my head. Then I realized I had committed a most egregious blunder: I had not introduced myself as was proper! “Please forgive me, I’ve been most uncouth and neglected to give my name. I cannot recall my proper appellation but, temporarily, I am using Pan as an alias. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“Sure,” she smiled broadly, without a hint of hesitation, “I’m Marisa, nice to meetcha.”
“Well met,” I moved to kiss her hand.
She flinched, evidently not expecting the gesture. “Oh um, w-what-” she stuttered, attempting to make sense of why I was bending over.
“My apologies if I presumed to be allowed to kiss your hand,” I said, embarrassment weighing down heavily on my conscience.
“My hand?” Judging by her reaction the concept seemed entirely alien to her. “Why?”
“An act of deference towards a lady, why of course,” I explained, “it is only proper to respond such beauteous feminine grace.”
“Wait a tic,” she looked away, an affected smile on her lips, “are you calling me pretty?”
“I hope you do not take offense to my thoughtless action,” I restrained myself from doing anything else she might regard as foolish.
“No, it’s fine. I, uh, guess,” she said, looking skittish. “Pan, was it? You’re a bit weird, but I think you might be alright. I’m just not used to… well, never mind.”
“Are you a resident of the manor?” I asked, “My apologies for not introducing myself earlier in that case.”
“No, I don’t live here,” she said, “I sometimes come by to borrow things. And sometimes talk. Usually with tea and when she’s in the mood.”
“Ah, I see, a friend of the household,” I nodded. Perhaps, then, things weren’t so dreary in the day to day.
“You could say that, I guess. It’s not like they ever notice the books missing until it’s too late...”
I understood what type she was then. With her carefully-fashioned braid and subdued temperament, I should have deduced it sooner. “You’ve come to read, then?” I asked. “To appreciate literature is to appreciate life, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Oh, I’m not really reading that sort of thing most of the time…”
“Dear Marisa, please don’t try to play down your interests as uninteresting,” I chuckled, “books with star-crossed lovers and romances that echo through the ages are still literature, despite the snobbery of some.”
“Ah, romance?” she looked at me wistfully for but an instant. With a firm shake of her head, she denied my conclusion, “I read mostly magic books, y’know spells and potions and rituals and junk. Whenever I can. Sometimes they’re in weird languages with weird letters.”
“I see, but then do you at least allow yourself to contemplate the beauty of language through poetry?”
“Poetry? What good is that? Pretty words ain’t as good as a nice spell,” she said with a laugh. My serious expression, however, made her recoil shyly after the fact.
“Please do not be so quick to disparage that which can be the most sublime of human expression,” I told her. “If you’ll allow me, I’ll recite what I know and it is sure to touch your very soul,”
 An classical epic was called for.  A sensitive young girl would respond best to a love poem.  Something more contemporary would be better.
Marisa listened intently, quickly appearing rapt by my oration. It felt good to have a captive audience. As I conjured up the words from poems that I had memorized all so long ago, I felt a calm wash over me. I was used to reciting them, I felt. It was only a matter of picking which poem to start with and which would follow and so on. The obvious choice was to start with the general, to start with Virgil. But seeing her quiet deference towards me, I felt emboldened to carry on. To carry on with those whose carnal descriptions verged on the edge of decency in polite company. Still, I said those stanzas proudly, feeling once more the rush of those timeless words.
I did not want to risk overwhelming her senses. Poems were to be savored, a delectable treat that required a mind willing to think and internalize the meter and wordy construct. I thought of something that had always stuck with me. I hoped it would have a similar effect on her. I concluded the last stanzas with a soft voice, melancholy threatening to strangle my heart,
“O, for some sunny spell To dissipate the shadows of this hell! Say they are gone, — with the new dawning light Steps forth my lady bright! O, let me once more rest My soul upon that dazzling breast! Let once again these aching arms be plac’d, The tender gaolers of thy waist! And let me feel that warm breath here and there To spread a rapture in my very hair, — O, the sweetness of the pain! Give me those lips again! Enough! Enough! it is enough for me To dream of thee!”
I stood, silent, after finishing. The mood was heavy between us and, at least on my behalf, I felt that I had brandished my bare soul. I looked expectantly at her eyes, hoping she would be the first to break the impasse.
But that didn’t turn out to be the case.
“I thought that it was pretty nice,” another voice chimed in.
“How long have you been there?” Marisa asked, frowning at the new arrival. She had the look of someone disappointed with herself for not noticing something that should have been obvious. Her delirium had been as heavy as mine, as I hadn’t noticed the new arrival either.
“Some time,” the woman said, “I thought that it would be rude to interrupt.”
“I’m glad you enjoyed it,” I said, with a slight nod. My composure was returning as was the polite detachment that I tried to always maintain.
The woman met my nod with a cheery smile. By my estimation, she was perhaps the same age as Chloé, or slightly older. She leaned up against a nearby statue, arms folder cross her chest, just below where braided hair fell upon either side of her head. With clear cerulean eyes and carmine-colored hair, hers was a undoubtedly fair complexion. Her clothes at first glance seemed normal enough in design – a blouse and vest with a long skirt that reached to her ankles – but clear signs of oriental influence were present. Both buttons and trimmings had foreign design and a cut ran down the length of her skirt, towards one of her sides, and would no doubt expose the leg underneath when in motion. Putting aside the lubricious impropriety of such exposure, the green of the cloth was likewise not a mainstay of sensible fashion. But perhaps the most gaudy embellishing was the gold star that sat on the front of her cap.
“So, what are you doing here anyways?” Marisa asked, sounding impatient. She looked on edge, like at any moment she might take some sort of impulsive action.
“My duties,” the woman replied. She uncrossed her arms and walked towards us, making Marisa tense up noticeably. “The whole point of doing rounds is to find out if there’s an intruder in the garden. To see one and do nothing: that’d just be neglect on my end.”
“I apologize,” I said, “I was just out for a stroll to pass the time.”
“Not you,” she told me with an apologetic look in her eyes, like she was to blame for a misunderstanding, “you are a valued guest of the mistress. I meant the troublemaker next to you.”
“I’m not a troublemaker,” Marisa said emphatically, clutching her broom tightly. “I’m here to go to the library, leave me alone.”
“Uninvited as always, I’m assuming,” the woman said, shaking her head. Clearly there was some history between them. “Why you don’t just come through the front gate and ask if you can come in is beyond me...”
“I don’t want to waste my time. Besides, if you were to try to stop me, I’d have to blast you again. And that’s annoying to do every time,” Marisa adopted a belligerent tone, grinning like she was sure that the woman would be intimidated into submission.
“I train every day, so I’m not so sure that that would be the outcome,” the woman replied, picking up the figurative gauntlet.
All of a sudden, I felt like I was in some sort of tinderbox. It would take very little to set it alight. I had seen the determination in their eyes once too many times before. In the eyes of every vainglorious toff who wished to prove his superiority by ritual. The risk of dying in their needless duels never entered their minds. It was always the opponent that would taste the sting of defeat, never themselves. An old wound in my chest hurt just thinking about it.
“Please come to your senses,” I interrupted their posturing with a quiet but steady voice. I did not wish to be either witness or second to their foolhardiness. “Marisa,” I chided, “a demoiselle who was so earnest in showing her sensitive side ought not to act so rashly. We may have just met but that does not exculpate your attitude.”
“I-” she began.
But I did not let her get a word in, instead directing myself towards the new arrival, “you, my fair lady, ought also to control your impulses. If minding the security of the estate is your office, no one could hope for a more zealous employee. But let not that zeal blind you to more civilized alternatives. Let us talk and see how to proceed without comporting ourselves like brutes.
“I will stake my honor on the rightful comportment of this girl,’ I said, clasping Marisa around the shoulder. “If her acts should be improper, let the admonishment fall upon me.”
“Hm, I suppose that works for me,” the woman shrugged, “I just don’t want to get yelled at by the mistress for not being thorough, you know.” She winked at Marisa, “got nothing against ya, truth be told.”
“My thanks then,” I said and got to the obvious bit of business we had neglected. I introduced myself, offering a much belated courtesy.
“I’m Hong,” she said succinctly, “I guard the gate and oversee the gardens.”
“Lady Hong, a pleasure then to make your acquaintance.”
It seemed that the formality didn’t sit well with her. Hong scratched her head, looking sheepish. “Being called ‘lady’ is a bit… much I think,” she confessed, “no one does that. I think I’d prefer it if you just called me Hong, or used my given name, Meiling. That might be better. I mean, I can’t use your surname and so… it’s kind of fair that way?”
I laughed, “alright then, Meiling. I did not wish to be too familiar with a new acquaintance but if you insist then I shall not object.”
“I should get back to my post,” she said, “but it has been a pleasure to hear you recite poetry. I know little about the subject since I prefer to focus more on the physical arts.”
“A martial inclination is just as worthwhile,” I told her, thinking of all those who I had met who took pride in leading a column of men into battle or competing to see who had the finest horse. I was never one for drill and discipline and had, at best, reached a slightly above normal level of proficiency with a foil.
If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that she was fairly athletic. There was a grace to her movements that only came to those who understood the limitations of their bodies. Tall and lissome, she carried on like an acrobat. I had observed earlier that she wasted little energy when she walked; and to answer Marisa’s braggadocio she had adopted a stance which made her seem capable of reacting to any situation effortlessly. Perhaps then the skirt was not worn out of exhibitionist desire but to maximize her range of motion. There was something novel about a female brawler to me. Yet that was something that I suspected was not so unusual in the area.
“Worthwhile maybe but maybe not as effective in getting things done,” Meiling said, pointing her chin at Marisa, “I’ve never seen be so quiet for so long before.”
I realized that I still held onto her. She was quiet, seemingly lost in thought. From under her wide-brimmed hat I could see that a red as deep as Meiling’s hair had colored her cheeks. “Are you alright?” I asked her, letting go of her to feel her forehead to see if perhaps the poor girl had developed a fever suddenly.”
That action seemed to snap her out of her daze. She said quietly, “I’m okay, just thinking of Venus and her gift… the pressing of lips and touching of breast.”
“I did not mean to leave such a lurid impression upon you,” I said, chastising myself for having recited Ovid. He always was the most pornographic of the ancient masters. Perhaps I had committed an affront to basic decency without thinking.
“No, it’s alright,” Marisa shook her head, “I just felt a little weird when I got close to you. Like… a spark? Like the aftereffect of a good spell. Eh, that’s really stupid and won’t make sense to you, forget I said anything.”
I couldn’t help but laugh. “I take it you see the value in poetry now?” It was always joyous to enlighten someone else.
“It’s wasn’t quite that I think… but I did appreciate the gesture. I might read something new sometime soon.”
“Cause for celebration,” I said. I looked up at the sky. The sun was still high up in the sky. There were only a few clouds and it would be best to head indoors. I wished yet again that I had a proper hat. Meiling still hadn’t left us, so I included her in the offer, “let us eat together and talk some more. I’m certain that the serving girls will accommodate our party.”
“I can’t,” Meiling said, with a broad smile, “I have to keep watch. But thank you for the offer, it’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me in a while.”
“A shame, but I understand,” I did not insist. It was not my place to tempt her towards dereliction of duty. “Marisa,” I looked at her. She still seemed skittish and avoided making eye contact with me. “Shall we go?”
“Alright,” she said meekly. It was only after we parted ways with Meiling and were standing by the front door that she seemed to recover some of her earlier energy. “Wait a minute,” she said, “I was going to the library.”
“That can wait until after our meal, surely?” I asked. The great double doors had a large metallic knocker shaped like a gargoyle’s face in the middle. It was only proper that we enter through the main entrance instead of the side door if we hoped to get the attention of the manor’s staff, I thought.
“Maybe, but...” she hesitated.
“What’s the matter?”
“I’m just not comfortable having a meal here. They don’t really know how to take care of humans,” she said, “there’s vampires and all sorts of other creatures that would love to eat us. And it’s a crazy not to expect something not weird from them. I don’t know about you but I don’t want to eat another person’s marrow.”
“Is it really like that?” I wondered. They had served me eggs and toast in the morning, so a real meal couldn’t be too fantastical. I told her as much but it didn’t seem to do much to convince her.
Marisa was reluctant to trust them. “You seem like a nice guy, so I’m giving you a fair warning. Don’t trust youkai and other weirdos. They’ll mess you up if they feel like it. I think that it’s probably better if I just go get what I came for.”
‘Youkai’ was a word I felt that I had never heard before. I understood what I meant but the syllables had never been processed by my ears until then. It was clear to me that all those creatures that I read about in that book would fall under the general category. Most were dangerous man eaters and would, indeed as she had suggested, happily suck the marrow from my bones. Marisa was different than those pesky youkai for reasons that I did not fully understand. Unlike some youkai who adopted human form, she was definitely a human. Despite being able to fly and having an interest (or abilities) in magic.
I supposed that to put her mind at ease, I could shamelessly ask for a tour of the kitchen before we ate. That would prove that the youkai were not as malevolent as she made them out to be. Or it would prove me wrong.
 Insist on having a meal together.  Respect her wishes and escort her to the library.
Marisa offered more resistance. Despite my prodding and insistence, she would not yield. As obstinate as an old ass. I worried that she might simply flee were I to look away. The bashful docility that she had shown in her eyes in the garden were replaced by a hard stare that surely weighed as much as her resolve. I suspected that it was whatever consideration she held for me that prevented a more violent, and perhaps physical, response. Honeyed words alone would not sway her. Certainly, only my own confidence and resolve could break the impasse.
“Let us go together,” I said firmly, as one would command a hound. Without hesitation I grabbed her by the wrist and pulled her along. Unseemly? Most definitely. But also necessary.
No doubt resentful, she nonetheless relented. I was certain that if she truly did not wish it, she would not abide my domineering act. Though we had just met, I already felt that I knew with certainty many of her qualities. Willful. Prideful. Talented. Things that could make her seem callous. But always dignified under fire. Her satisfaction and ambition were masked with the guise of an easygoing free spirit. And beyond – there were sensibilities that she shared seldom with anybody and often denied herself. Above all, a virtuous girl with all the baggage that both meanings entailed.
I wondered if perhaps she, reciprocally, had formed so certain an impression of me. A sharp glance from her seemed to penetrate beyond the foggy imbroglio of my memory. Whatever she gleaned, she did not share. “Do you have to be so rough?” she asked, token resistance still expressing itself.
“I must be certain that you will not flee, forgive me,” I gave a most empty explanation. For the moment it would be necessary to set aside my uncouth behavior. I manipulated the knocker with my free hand. It was a satisfying sound to hear. The dull thuds of metal of wood resonated loudly, surely making themselves heard even deep within the manor.
It only took a few moments for there to be a reply. The heavy wooden door swung open quickly and revealed an out of breath maid. She scanned our faces, looking as though it was the queerest thing in the world to see us standing there. Or perhaps it was just the sight of Marisa that caused her consternation. The maid’s expression was uncertain as her eyes lingered on her. If she were capable of making herself invisible, I had no doubt that she would have disappeared instantly.
I cleared my throat. Between symbolic resistance from Marisa and indecisive servants, I would be forced to take the lead. “I wish to take my midday meal with her,” I informed her, “would you be able to accommodate us?”
The maid looked at me. Her expression returned to a more agreeably neutral state and, as if she suddenly realized that her manners were missing, answered, “yes, such a thing would not be a problem. I’ll see to it at once.”
She bowed, though she continued to peer at Marisa out of the corner of her eye. More than that, it seemed that she was puzzled as to why I was holding her wrist and her brow wrinkled slightly as she stared some more. I cleared my throat to reminder her that her duty was not to gawk but to serve.
Before she could turn to leave, I expanded upon my request, “if it is not too much trouble, I would like to see the kitchen before the meal. Perhaps even talk to the head chef if it is not too much trouble.”
“Yes, that can be arranged,” the maid said with a polished smile. Whatever sense of professionalism she held snapped her into action. Offering no further comment or resistance, she bid us to come in. “I’ll go ahead and inform the kitchen of these requests, please wait here for a moment.”
She quickly disappeared down the myriad corridors, wasting no time at all.
The main entryway of the manor was an impressive affair. Clearly would-be visitors were meant to be awestruck by the almost-impossibly high ceiling, the large gilded mirrors that flanked the sides of a grand staircase whose railings had wooden trimmings rich with sculpted patterns and ends. Marble was used liberally on both the floors as well as in busts and statuettes that were positioned on the sides of the hall. A few large portraits hung on the second floor, but were half-hidden from our line of sight.
“Can’t be worth all the trouble it takes to keep this place clean,” Marisa offered her opinion with a toothy grin, “it’s no wonder those fairies are always slacking off.”
“I assume you harbor no love for this style?” I asked for some reason, despite feeling that I already knew the answer. Someone who had never learned to appreciate poetry could not be expected to hold sophisticated tastes.
“Naw,” she shook her head, “I don’t like it how voices echo and how cold things can be in here. Gimmie a small cozy room full of good food, drink and plenty of neat stuff to read any day of the week over this. Showing off like this is kinda pointless, don’t you think?”
“It is ostentatious,” I said, “but there is nothing wrong with wanting to exhibit that which you find beautiful to any company you may receive.”
A lot in the manor was not to my taste. But I could recognize that someone definitely had a good eye for quality craftsmanship. Just because a lot of the paneling, wall skirts and friezes were… at times overstated visually did not mean that they had no artistic value to them. The décor was eclectic but expensive and perhaps that was the intention. A statement about the means of those who lived here, I found myself concluding. Or perhaps like most old estates, it was simply a collection built up during generations whose harmony was jeopardized due to its size and diversity.
“You get lost in your thoughts easily, huh?” Marisa said, showing some cheek, poking me on the shoulder with a finger. “If you’re going to grab a young girl’s hand, at least have the decency to pay her the attention she’s due. Especially if you grab her with clammy hands.”
“I am not holding your hand,” I remarked dryly. Her arms were slender and her hands delicate, and so it would have been easy to shift my hold by mistake. That hadn’t been the case. Nor did I suspect that her other allegation held any merit. She felt warmer than I, yes, but my hands hardly felt moist. “You do have a point, however. Excuse my thoughtlessness, I should not ignore you.”
She giggled. Yet, at that moment, I could not conjecture the reason.
The same maid from earlier returned, once again looking out of breath. Marisa rolled her eyes as she bowed to us. She inhaled sharply before speaking, “If you’ll come with me, I shall grant you the access that you requested.”
“After you,” Marisa said with a wink to the maid. She took the lead, bidding me to follow with a sharp tug of her arm. The reversal of spirits was a sudden return to her natural state, I divined. The maiden as the world knew her suffered little in the way of indecision. That truth partly explained the maid’s surprise at seeing her so toothless at my side. I could only begin to guess at how her headstrong behavior generally made an impression on those who got in her way.
The maid said little, guiding us down a corridor to the side of the great hall. There, a few other servants were busy in the daily upkeep of the manor. Most showed only partial dedication to their work; they readily stole glances at us as we passed. Marisa was the clear object of their curiosity. If their eyes came to rest upon me, it was only to acknowledge how I held onto her arm as she urged me along, walking at a half step ahead at all times. Others would perhaps show concern at the optics of the situation, but I held no such vainglorious concern.
Instead, I attempted to etch onto memory more of the floor plan of the estate. With its similar-looking corridors and mottled collection of objets d’art, it was difficult to surmise one’s position via landmarks. Distances were not entirely what I expected, either, and it seemed to me that corridors that should have ended in corners or rooms, projected for longer extensions than predicted. We kept to the first floor and, by my reckoning, were in the western wing of the manor. Natural light was scare as we snaked through succeeding corridors deeper into the structure. The kitchen was towards the rear of this wing, on a lower level than the rest of the floor following a short staircase, at a point where the terrain began to slope subtly towards the shoreline.
The smell of spices prickled the nose as we approached the kitchen. It mixed itself with other, more smoky, scents and lingered like a heavy cloud in the surrounding areas. When the maid guiding us opened the door for us, the intensity of odor multiplied manifold. The temperature increased discernibly as well – the trapped heat enveloped us as it passed on its escape into the cooler corridor. I finally let go of Marisa’s arm, seeing no need to further bind her directly to me.
“Is there anything in particular you would like to know?” the maid asked as we stepped in.
The kitchen was about what one would expect for a large estate: it was a large space with a tall ceiling which gave the hot air plenty room to occupy. Myriad windows occupied the top of one of the walls, allowing both heat and fumes to escape to the outside. These windows were joined by a few brick shafts that connected the larger ovens and stoves cleared to the outside, thereby clearing the thickest of the smoke. Around these, more than a dozen staff toiled, watching pots, mixing things and carting around ingredients. Those who weren’t concerned with the actual cooking process carried about wooden logs to feed the roaring fires that powered all the stations. Almost all faces I could see had either some grime to them or beads of sweat.
“We would like to know what it is you intend to serve us and from whence you’ve procured it,” I said, spotting a larger servant who barked orders at some of the other girls. No doubt she was the head cook and the woman to speak to. As our eyes met, she put down a ladle she had been using to gesticulate tersely at a young girl who had knocked over a vial of spice and came over to speak to us. The maid who had showed us to the kitchen slunk away, evidently not wishing to risk being a target of ire.
“You’re the master we’ve been ordered to please,” the woman remarked. She was larger in stature than the other fairies and had a fuller figure, no doubt from the privilege of having access to the estate’s storeroom. She looked up at us with the eyes of someone who was used to being listened to and not being interrogated.
“Hm, so you’re a ‘master’?” Marisa couldn’t help but grin as she looked at me, “I usually don’t get more respect than ‘hey you there!’, lucky you.” The head of the kitchen ignored her entirely, causing Marisa to silently mouth a ‘told ya so’.
“We aim to please, master, but my time is best spent keeping this place running smoothly,” the fairy said, wiping her hand on her discolored white apron.
“Forgive me if I do not mince words. I do not wish to trouble you more than is necessary. We wished to learn more about your kitchen and your methods,” I told her, “my companion here has her reservations whether your meals are solely for youkai or if they are also apt for human consumption.”
“Most of my food is for youkai. The staff, the Lady and the other residents,” she confirmed. “There is little practical difference between the food I would make for you, as the style favored here is heavily inspired by human food from beyond Gensokyo. Ingredients you may find unsavory will not be used, and well that they shouldn’t be, as they are rare and used only on command of the head maid or the Lady herself.”
“That is reassuring, thank you,” I nodded.
She nodded back, adding, “the satisfaction of our guests is paramount to the Lady, though I do not know if this one is refined enough to appreciate the subtly of flavor in our foods.”
“Wow, that’s pretty rude,” Marisa interjected but didn’t seem to get too worked up. The cook shrugged and made no apology.
“Be that as it may, I would have you ready a meal for us,” I said, “I trust that it will not a be a problem.”
“Of course not, we will work as hard as we can and grab the only the best from pantry and larder,” the cooked smiled, her eyes brimming with professional pride. She tilted her head at a nearby assistance who almost involuntarily twitched, understanding the message. She signaled two other girls to follow and they scampered off, presumably to the various storerooms in the back.
“We gratefully entrust ourselves to your care then,” I said, “and will not waste any more of your time.”
The cook nodded brusquely and returned to work. She approached a counter and gave out a few short instructions to nearby staff, then grabbed a large knife and began to chop up the ingredients that were being brought in. I signaled to Marisa that we should go and closed the door behind us.
“Satisfied?” I asked.
“Not really, but I guess I’m okay with it if you are,” she said, wiping off nascent beads of sweat from her brow.
The maid who had escorted us to the kitchen had been waiting outside patiently. “I shall lead you to the dinning room now,” she said.
We followed up the stairs and into the labyrinth of corridor, arriving to a room that was nearer to the front of the estate. It was sized like a drawing room, intimate and furnished with a large oval table that dominated most of the space. Underneath a pristine white mantle, hints of dark varnished wood that matched the complexion of the chairs showed. The chairs were set around equidistant around the table and two places had already been set near one end of the table. Brightly polished silver sous plats and cutlery were laid out. Vases and candelabra occupied the rest of of the table.
“My apologies,” the maid said, “the main dinning room is not to be used save for important events, but I hope that this room is to your liking.”
“It shall do,” I said, disabusing notions why such a stately manor would have such a diminutive dining room. The relatively subdued look of the decoration on the walls further confirmed the secondary importance of the space. Gone were the leaves of gold and gilded surfaces and instead comparatively austere paneling were the main draw.
She left us with a bow and told us that we would be attended to shortly. I pulled the chair for Marisa to sit. She gave a queer look in response but said nothing, smiled and sat down. Suddenly realizing something, she reached for her head and took off her hat, placing it on the empty chair next to her. Her hair was better-kempt than I supposed it would be, given her energy and apparent disregard for niceties. I sat next to her, at the head of the table by default.
“Nice forks, huh?” Marisa said, eyeing the bright silverware closely, “I can see my reflection in these spoons too. Real fancy stuff. Wonder if the food will be fancy too or that cook was just bragging about her skills.”
“I’m certain that it will be good,” I said. If the kitchen staff were as disciplined as they seemed, they would likely produce pleasing results. My broth had been satisfactory, after all.
“So… now that we’re here...” Marisa tried to fill the silence with aimless prattle. I surmised that she wasn’t comfortable in the somewhat formal setting, with the nearly oppressive silence weighing down the atmosphere.
“You’ve been meaning to ask me something,” I observed, somehow feeling like our close proximity had brought our minds into alignment. Whatever my talents in reading human expressions, I felt that they were amplified when in close proximity to her. It was an odd feeling but parts of Marisa had become as familiar to me as my strongest memories.
“It’s just something that I feel that I already know the answer to, somehow,” she smiled sheepishly. But she hesitated no more, asking, “are you used to all this pomp and fancy stuff? I don’t think I’ve met anyone before who accepted all the craziness in this mansion so easily.”
“I have spent a good portion of my life in rooms such as these,” I replied. “Country retreats, townhouses, estates, cathedrals and more of the sort are no strange things to me. I find that it usually institutions such as government offices or universities that try their hardest to seem the most majestic.” I smiled, and deigned to offer a further opinion, “there is also a correlation between how opprobrious the head of these institutions is and how much supposed grandeur he wishes to flaunt.”
“I guess this place is all about being in your face,” Marisa said quietly, and echoed a previous sentiment again, “I don’t know how anyone could stand spending lots of time here. Give me cozy over this useless expensive crap any day.”
“I am fine with the simple life as well,” I told her, my mind going back to those days spent in our little cabin. There we didn’t have to worry about blithering noblemen competing to demonstrate status in acts of folly. And there we could share as much of ourselves as we wanted. A sudden sharp pain in my chest made me wince. It lasted but a moment.
“Is something wrong?” Marisa frowned, looking at my face with some concern, “you don’t look so good.”
“Ah, it’s nothing,” I forced a smile, “just the weight of memory. My apologies for transporting myself beyond your lovely company.”
“Well-” Marisa began, but was interrupted.
Sylvia entered the room, pushing a small cart with various trays on it. She smiled, adjusted her glasses and offered a curtsy. “Master, I’ve brought the first course,” she said, “and the wine.”
“Splendid,” I nodded and watched her place a pair of plates on our sous plats. She then produced a bottle from the bottom of the cart, an unlabeled dark thing. What was surely nerves made her fumble and almost drop the bottle but she rallied successfully. Grabbing a corkscrew, she uncorked the bottle. I motioned for her to let it breathe some and she nodded, bowing again before leaving.
The Russian-style service was unexpected, but not unwelcome. It seemed that it was not meant to be a hefty luncheon as our cutlery and first dish indicated a more light affair; we were served a jellied fish with a few fresh greens and a tangy red dressing. Marisa seemed to be unsure what to make of the food, examining with an eyebrow raised with a skeptic arch. I took the opportunity to serve the wine, filling our glasses with a respectable amount of the dark liquid.
“Perhaps this is congealed human marrow,” I joked, perversely pleased at seeing her look so revolted at the idea. I did not wait for her to recompose herself and chipped away from the corner of the brick. The fresh taste of fish had not been overwhelmed by the spices used in the gelatinous encasing. I could easily imagine the provenance being the nearby lake with the catching being done just this morning. The sauce was a richer counterpart to the natural flavor, with the consistency of hollandaise but with the color of a tomato and a far more herbal flavor. Marisa had been staring at my face as I ate, waiting to see if I showed any revulsion at the meal.
“It would seem that we are not so lucky to be served other humans yet,” I told her, “it is but fish and a few greens, rockets by the look of it. Eat and you will see that it’s not half bad.”
She looked at me with some disbelief and poked the edge of her jelly with her fork. It’s slight undulation gave her pause. Eventually, after she saw that I took a few more bites without any issue, she mustered up the courage to finally try some. “It’s cold and weird,” she said with all of the sophistication of a child. With a scrunched up nose, she added, “I guess it doesn’t taste horrible… but I’m not sure I like it either. Besides, there’s no rice. Feels weird to eat without rice.”
“Perhaps our next course will include rice,” I said, not really caring to humor her any further than that. I held the stem of my wineglass and gently swirled the contents about. It is a mysterious color, beyond red and closer than black. It is only when it sloshes towards the rim of the glass that tones of tasteful burgundy become apparent. I could not help but think that it was a wine made intended to deceive, to hide its true colors as it were. I brought the glass up to my nose and took a whiff and was puzzled by the results; there was a definite wooden quality to the smell but it was stifled and scarce, almost ephemeral, like a faint memory of days long gone.
I pressed the glass against my lip and allowed some of the liquid into my mouth. It rested lightly on my tongue, acting unassuming. Utterly unimpressive at first blush. Only when it began the journey down my throat did it begin to reveal its actual flavor. It was rich in body, but more than that, spirit. With what almost felt like self-importance, it let its flavor be known: though it had an edge which suggested that it would soon be naught but vinegar, it went down smoothly and revealed subtleties aplenty. The more I drank, the more I came to appreciate its intricacies; it was not fruity, but had a more mature and sharp flavor, an amalgam of oak and transubstantiated grape. The warmth it left in my throat and belly was a welcome comrade.
Drank in bigger gulps, the flavor came out with greater vigor, shedding that initial unassuming modesty altogether. It felt like the right wine for an estate such as this – they both were imperious and rich. Without a doubt it was the highlight of the meal and an exquisite selection. Its unlabeled bottle as well as its dark body is proof that things that could seem to be half-forgotten can be pleasing still.
The wine, at least, was something that Marisa didn’t seem to mind. “It’s pretty strong, I think, but nice,” she said. “Almost tastes dusty, kinda. But not in a bad way. Like a good worn book with lots of interesting stuff to read.”
“Something like that, yes,” I nodded, choosing not to share my feelings with her. It seemed doubtful that she could understand anything more subtle than that and so it would be a waste of time to try. Still, it seemed like the wine at least helped her muster the courage to take a few more bites from her plate. By the time Sylvia returned and brought the next course, she had at least made a valiant effort at half of the small jellied brick.
We were not offered soup. It seemed like we would be having three courses only. She quietly withdrew our plates and placed a new one contained what appeared to be a roast of some sort. Much to Marisa’s delight it seemed to come with a portion of rice, though it was truffled and not plain. This was a dish she could dig into earnestly and she shoveled in large chunks of it in her mouth. I was far more measured and preferred to sup slowly on the wine between small mouthfuls.
We did not speak that much during our meal but she did not let up on telling me just how much she was enjoying the simple flavors of the roast. I listened patiently but offered no real comment, simply content with seeing her overcome her reservations about the manor’s food.
It was during the final course that things took an unfortunate turn.
I refilled both our glasses with more wine when a powerful rumble shook everything. Immediately, an intense feeling of dreadful panic began to crystallize in both my gut and mind. Even as Marisa sprang to her feet and began trying to make sense of things, a wave of cold washed over me. The sharp pain I had felt once again invaded my chest and spread rapidly through most of my body. I gasped. It felt like all the heat spurted out of my body as if it were rapid exsanguination from an arterial wound. I just barely managed to gasp again, stunned, as the last vestiges of warmth bled out of my body.
Marisa noticed only too late that something was the matter with me. My vision grew increasingly cloudy. The last thing I saw was Marisa reach out towards me with a few grains of rice stuck to her cheek.
The temporal lost meaning for me.
In a fog that felt both unnatural and familiar, against a backdrop of void-like dark, I struggled to associate strong sensations that were both memory and present. The death that was and the death that would be. Haphazard arrays of images flashed, illuminating the fog for the briefest of instants. The light did little to explain things and I felt as helpless as I had those first few nights after… after…
Our tears, so casually flowing from our eyes…
I smiled bitterly, the cold ouch of old tears chilling my very bones. And things came to focus, the fog lifted. There was darkness, but it was no longer that impenetrable darkness. It was a normal night. And I was back in my quarters, back on the second floor, right where I had started my day. At least several hours had necessarily passed. My body felt heavy and my extremities cold.
I turned, finding that I was propped up on pillows. More importantly, I was not alone. The moon was still bright enough to drape things in the room in a faint light. Sprawled across the bed, her arms serving as a makeshift pillow, Marisa lay near my legs. She was fast asleep, looking completely defenseless. The first thought that came to mind was that her hat was nowhere to be found.
For whatever reason the girl had chosen to stay by my side after my collapse. Had I made so strong an impression upon her? Or was it merely her conscientious nature, normally hidden under her irreverent exterior? The proper conclusion escaped me. But a small voice in the back of my head told me that she did not really know herself. I did not wish to flatter myself without foundation and so pushed aside the question for the moment.
I smiled foolishly, finding that some energy was returning to my body. Wishing for greater warmth, I thought of the excellent wine from our earlier meal. I sat up and Marisa moaned, muttering something indecipherable in her sleep.
 It would be prudent to rest a while longer. Furthermore, she deserved a proper rest as well. Endeavor to move her to a more comfortable position without disturbing her sleep.  By holding on to that distinct feeling of still being alive, I could animate myself past fatigue. It was my top priority to find out what had happened and prevent it from occurring again. Wake her up.
[X] By holding on to that distinct feeling of still being alive, I could animate myself past fatigue. It was my top priority to find out what had happened and prevent it from occurring again. Wake her up.
She'll want to know we're okay. Also, ohmygoditsfinallyback
[x] By holding on to that distinct feeling of still being alive, I could animate myself past fatigue. It was my top priority to find out what had happened and prevent it from occurring again. Wake her up.
I shifted and swayed, uncertainty tightly wound around tendon and ligament, which in turn failed to power muscle and shift bone. The enervation was thorough. Candide, and his fool smile, relented to reality. I cultivated my own garden at the expense of everything else. Given the circumstances, it was as appropriate as it could have been.
The fruits harvested from this labor were not very sweet but were necessary. It was clear that I required more rest but it was a matter of probity that I import my consideration unto her. As if engaging in a razzia, I sailed towards my target, feeling that any less enthusiasm would doom the venture. I would not carry my prize back to the slave markets of Tripoli, but I would carry her to a more dignified position and grant her true respite.
Marisa wore a contented expression, a sharp contrast to her awkward positioning on the bed. She did not stir as I moved about, looking altogether too complacent to bother with anything but her rest. It was a queer display. Simultaneously, it was one that I understood only too well. Unbidden, another smile formed on my lips. A half-forgotten memory pushed its way to the fore of my mind.
On a large bed, a bed that was indeed similar in a multitude of ways. It was there… late in the evenings, after a full day of wandering, of roaming the grounds and keeping busy in the fashion others expected. After romp, study and all the other tasks. It was then and it was there, on my bed. Even before I snuffed the light for the evening, he already staked claim to his portion of the bed. My feelings be damned. When I retired, I would have to accommodate his whims instead of the other way around.
Mother… she found the behavior an amusing proof of our bond. Father, however, felt it was undignified to host him in my bed. If it were up to him, he would not allow him to even enter the house. And though Father tried to instruct the servants to do everything in their power to keep him out, my companion was determined and stubborn. He would snarl and act ill-tempered when confronted with either threat or bribe. To him, all that was important was to share my company. And he did, for most of his days, even when…
I winced, feeling a cold and sharp pain somewhere in the back of my head.
When recalled from the depths of my mind, the name produced a frisson. My heart pounded faster and for a second it seemed that it would explode. Instead, a tired sigh worked its way from the depths of my body, as if it was a forgone conclusion. I looked at Marisa again and relaxed, finding the association with the willful and impertinent hound at once melancholic. Despite it all, I felt like laughing. If I had stopped to reflect earlier, I would have found that our acquainting had followed a pattern familiar to those bygone days. She followed faithfully when coaxed, but was not afraid to project her own strong personality at others. She had come rather short of barking at the staff, like Diogenes sometimes did, but I suspected that was out of deference to myself more than lack of inspiration.
I did not even register the energy expenditure required as I held her in my arms. Being fatigued was an academic concern as hers was a weight I carried gladly. I offered her the same tenderness I would to my childhood companion. Whether she felt my intent in her sleep or simply was too tired to care, she nonetheless barely stirred as I moved her gently around the bed. I let her head rest on a pillow and her body on the correct axis. It was a mild evening, so I covered her gingerly with a single sheet before withdrawing back to my own spot. She became more human than hound as a result. It was then that I allowed myself to surrender.
With the endeavor successfully carried out, I desisted from further strain. Thin beads of sweat had formed on my brow and threatened to roll down the sides of my face. My breath came heavy through my throat to the extent that it gave me pause from thinking about anything extraneous. Letting my body calm itself down was all I cared to do. Any and all ambition was subsumed into the artificial premise I had set for myself – that rest was the most important thing I could do at that moment.
[This focus, this momentary whimsy, approached outright flippancy. So it seemed after possessing an appreciation for how more pieces of the whole come together. A sometime source of regret, I found. Opportunity presented itself twice in a single day and twice I ignored it. Further reflection at those junctures may have led to drastically different outcomes. So I say, so I chastise and so I try to convince myself even now. Because I must. As I set ink to paper now, inserting this message long after the other words on this page, my chest cannot help but tighten at the day’s recollection. Do I write this seeking exculpation for what follows hence and my role in shaping the situation? Or am I as Faust, conceited, and wish to simply to show that despite the alternatives there really was never any other path? I tire myself with these half-thoughts, these ramblings which yield no clarity. In this ornery state, all I wish for is peace and to remove all doubt.]
At some point I must have fallen asleep. The room was darker, the moon hidden behind clouds outside. The ceiling in my room was becoming a familiar sight. As irrational as it seemed to me, even then, it somehow helped convince me that I was still alive. More so than my heartbeat or my breathing. “Constancy comes from faith,” were words that escaped my lips. It was something I had heard before. Though where I had heard it, I could not say.
“So you are awake, good,” observed a nearly muted voice. I turned my head and narrowed my eyes at the dark figure standing beside my bed. She hesitated before speaking, looking for some sort of sign of recognition. I said nothing, figuring circumstances were exceptional if I was needed in the middle of the night. “I thought it best to bring the light in once you were awake. I didn’t wish to startle.”
I watched her retreat to the bedroom door and produce from the other side a lamp. “What do you need?” I asked, stopping before unnecessarily adding, ”that couldn’t wait until morning?”
“My apologies,” Sylvia reflectively touched the bridge of her spectacles with her free hand, fidgeting as it were. “I was told to summon you, posthaste.”
“And who am I to see?” I asked tersely, not appreciating the circuitous answer. It was then that I looked to the other side of the bed. The would-be canid was nowhere to be found. Creases in the mattress and a head-sized depression on a pillow were all the lingering bits of evidence that she had ever been there.
The maid was apologetic and meandered further, “I realize that a summons in the middle of the night is inconvenient and I wouldn’t dream of wanting to inconvenience you-”
“It’s a simple question,” I said, sitting up and getting out of bed, “the only ill-will you’ll find I have is if I’m not told who expects me and why.”
The maid nodded silently. She answered as she laid out my clothes for me, preempting my next move, “the chief maid asked me to rouse you and escort you for an audience.”
Her voice was flat, perhaps as if she were attempting to suppress her own emotions. I realized then that she, too, had been roused in the middle of the night. Her usually fastidiously-worn uniform looked slightly creased in place. This imperfection may have occurred due to haste, nervousness or a combination thereof. But I was not really interested in further speculation. Given the circumstances, her work hours were not an appropriate subject to ruminate upon. “What of my companion?” I asked.
“Companion?” she did not seem to understand the question as she turned away to let me put on trousers.
“You know, the girl I was with during the day,” I said, noting that I once again felt limber enough to move around at a decent pace.
“She remained by your side after...” her voice trailed, surely due to her uncertainty of what words to use. Sensing my impatience, she forwent the rest of the sentence, instead concluding, “no one kept track of her whereabouts once you were put to rest, my apologies.”
“I see,” I nodded, closing the last button and finally becoming presentable. Whatever residual fatigue I may have had was cast aside by inexplicable excitement. I checked myself in the mirror, noting that, superficially, I looked no worse for the wear. “I am ready.”
“I shall lead the way,” the maid nodded again, ushering me through the door. The corridors were brightly lit, with nearly every lamp and fixture hosting a a source of light. I could not help but feel that this display was for my benefit.
I did not wish to engage in idle chitchat, but it dawned upon me that some basic questions had not been answered. With the corridors long and empty, the art grand but of secondary concern, the logical thing would be to talk and prepare myself.
 Could she say what this audience would entail? And the sudden urgency?  Would she share her account on what happened during lunch?  Most importantly, had Chloé or her mistress asked after me?
[x] Could she say what this audience would entail? And the sudden urgency?
Unless I'm forgetting something, this guy was married to Chloe, which was Patchouli back when she was human-or someone who looked like her, considering she doesn't remember him at all.
Having arrived at the mansion in a less than stellar condition, he was allowed to remain as a guest and spent the entire day trying to reconcile Marisa with the inhuman mansion, while using the opportunity to learn about Gensokyo in general, Marisa in particular and do some light flirting on the side
It is with a heavy heart that I must state that writing any more of this story now seems impossible. I waited weeks to see if the situation would change and it's become obvious that nothing will happen. I cannot justify the amount of time and effort it takes me to write if a good portion of the reader base does not seem to know what is happening and does nothing to remedy the condition. Voting when so plainly uninformed seems to me just a recipe for frustration and disaster for both you and I.
This is not meant to shift away any blame away from my own irregularity when writing. For that, I apologize sincerely. I really don't wish to invest so much time thinking of so many details and subtleties when even the broad strokes are lost upon the audience. This experience had been an investment for me and I had hoped it would have been the same for you. I soldiered on even when it was clear that most attachment, judged from comments and whatever little reasoning was made, was superficial. I wish you well regardless. And, again, apologies.
Seriously now, it is unfortunate that you decided to quit, considering this is one of the best written stories in the site-if not THE best, but I guess it doesn't make sense to write if you don't get what you wanted from it.
To be honest, I thought that you weren't getting the attention such a good story deserved (just like other stories in the site) but I don't want to shift away attention from your irregular updates, as you yourself said. I suppose it is better than this happened sooner rather than later though.
If I may add something: maybe, next time, you should wait to speak about investment until after you manage to get more than two updates in without people thinking you're dead; and, maybe, wait to talk about non-superficial attachments until you finish a single thread too.
>>63370 Stories that update at a glacial pace don't get paid much attention. There are too many others that update all the time for anon to bother with thinking out a slow-moving puzzle. Is it dumb that they won't just re-read the fucking story? Yes, but that's life on THP. You're not in everybody's face every week? You're not getting attention. It's a simple formula that's easy to disregard because of how stupid and unfair it sounds sometimes; it's a lot fairer than trying to make it in the print industry, of course.
I say this as somebody who's ragequit a story too.
>>63373 >I thought that you weren't getting the attention such a good story deserved And what did you do about it? Not once did I see mention of this story in the recommendation thread, on IRC, in other threads or elsewhere. I say this as a more or less regular user of many years: this culture of apathy is toxic and has done much to harm this website.
> maybe, next time, you should wait to speak about investment until after you manage to get more than two updates in without people thinking you're dead; and, maybe, wait to talk about non-superficial attachments until you finish a single thread too.
Oh, you mean like the first several updates? There was never even the acknowledgement of anything set up in the narrative. If I wished to write a simple story without an audience, I would do so, and I wouldn't make it a CYOA. Regardless, I would have soldiered on if even one person had actually reread and changed their opinion accordingly. Or pointed out the inaccuracies in a post like >>63365 . Saying you don't know what you're doing and what's happening and voting regardless is insulting, at best.
>>63374 One would think that the sole story with any activity on what was once the most popular board on the site would at least merit something more than this unfortunate showing. At any rate, I am not complaining about the attention I didn't get but the attention I did get. Not just now but with the previous updates, too. It was clear that no one would ever speculate about anything or look beyond the end of their noses. I remind you: though few in absolute number of posts, we were already reaching novella length when you look at how large each update was. Surely that deserves some acknowledgement and reward by the reader.
I will not shirk away from my own failings but I will not pretend that this environment has been nurturing either. These things must be said because others will just continue to find an unengaged and distant public otherwise. It's fair to tell me that I expected too much and underperformed. But I'm not getting paid and this is not the publishing industry. Toiling to write thousands upon thousands of words replete with detail and a well thought out plot and characterizations is not an easy labor and so the payment must be made in effort if you enjoy the story. Otherwise, if nothing is to change in your actions or engagement, then you must admit to yourselves that this is why you will never be able to have nice things and why most stories will forever remain incomplete.
> I cannot justify the amount of time and effort it takes me to write if a good portion of the reader base does not seem to know what is happening and does nothing to remedy the condition.
There is nothing I can do to rememdy the situation. If it was a simple matter of re-reading you bet your ass I would have done it in a heartbeat. Either I'm too stupid to understand you (which is entirely possible, for I am not a smart man) or you've been too subtle for your own good.
> Not once did I see mention of this story in the recommendation thread, on IRC, in other threads or elsewhere.
The recommendation thread only sees activity when someone asks for something. The IRC has never once talked about writing any time I've been on it. You want attention, there's only one thing you can do: update.
> There was never even the acknowledgement of anything set up in the narrative. > It was clear that no one would ever speculate about anything or look beyond the end of their noses.
You haven't given us much to speculate on. Everything I see is either so obvious it goes without saying, or flies right over my thick-skulled head. So I vote, and wait until I have enough pieces of the puzzle to make out a picture.
> Surely that deserves some acknowledgement and reward by the reader.
Yes. It does. And I'm genuinely sorry that you haven't had more feedback.
But I'm not a good writer. You can tell by this poorly-though-out rambling wall of text. I read an update, post a vote, and if I can, think up some witty comment or words of encouragement. I don't have the eloquence to write an essay about someone else's story. Believe me, if I could contribute anything of the kind to, say, Fell's story right now, I would.
> Otherwise, if nothing is to change in your actions or engagement, then you must admit to yourselves that this is why you will never be able to have nice things and why most stories will forever remain incomplete.
I don't know if you've noticed, but THP was, is, and probably always will be, toxic and sarcastic as fuck. We bitch about everything, all of the time. If you were expecting anything else when you started here, that's on you.
The fact that we're an ungrateful bunch of pricks is most definitely on us, but that's unfortunately not likely to change any time soon.
>>63376 I thought about I, but then decided I was being stupid because you got the average amount of voters per update. Perhaps even more.
>IRC Give up on this. There is no story discussion in there and there never will be. The regulars make sure of that. It isn't a bad place to read about Mobas though. Focus on "Read"
The rest of your post is a token admission to shortcomings followed by blaming everyone but you. Are you really the only writer in history that complains about this, while the rest feels just like you but abandon without a word? Is that honestly what you believe?
Perhaps it is best to stop chasing this particular windmill and realize that the number of voters, not the votes, is the only problem you were right about.
Take it easy, guys. I won't be replying beyond this post any longer unless it's about the actual story or writing. If you have anything you're curious about, ask away. Plot points, inspirations, stylistic choices, what some of the choices did, etc are all fair game. It may not be much, but perhaps whatever answers I can give you may serve to provide some closure. There was a lot of planning and time invested in this story so there's quite a few notes and rough drafts I can consult or share, if there's any interest in that too. A partial version of what would otherwise have been the next update also exists.
>>63377 >You haven't given us much to speculate on Without even going into the subtle, was there truly nothing to be said about things like (in no particular order): the relationship to Patchouli, the reason for being in the mansion in the first place, the various characterizations, the narrative asides, the protagonist's goals and how to best achieve them? With 18000 words it wasn't worth the effort to even bring up any of that? If you tell me that those things are obvious and most people understood them intrinsically then, fine, I'll accept it. And I'll even admit, if it's the case, that I underestimated people. But even now my perception is that it's not quite so clear cut.
>If you were expecting anything else when you started here, that's on you. Expect and hope are different things. I hoped that among the voters at least some people would go a little farther than the norm. Especially seeing that they heaped such honeyed praise here and there. Even now, I hoped that there would be a more reasonable reaction instead of something unhelpfully glib like >>63378. Rest assured, that I fully expected both this and these answers. Doesn't mean I can't keep hoping for something better.
>a token admission to shortcomings followed by blaming everyone but you Really now, instead of acknowledging a problem people choose to poison the well further? Shame on you. I do not claim to speak for everyone else, just what I have observed, feel and predict. My not updating may be shit but casually dismissing the nuance that I argue does not invalidate it. It's incredible that even now, when there's nothing left to lose you're incapable of even meeting me part of the way. I do not dwell my own failings because there is no way or reason to defend them. Nor is there any point in wasting time in pointless self-flagellation when everyone already agrees on that point. So, naturally, I've spoken about other factors. Thus I once again put forward the question: It so impossible to admit that maybe, just maybe, expecting people to give you a little more than "I am so fucking lost" and voting anyways isn't so much to ask for? Or that when reading thousands upon thousands of words that presumably are enjoyed there tends to be something worth talking about?
But I've said my piece and I expect that nothing further will come from the effort. If you wish to be spiteful, so be it, but I hope that at least something positive can come from this. Even if it's only a bit more awareness at the power readers have to make or break a story. And how apathy and empty cynicism does no one any favors.
Maybe, just maybe, the voters being "uninformed" has nothing to do with the voters. Maybe, just maybe, it has something to do with how you write and unreasonably expect people to draw conclusions the same way you do.
"If you wish to be spiteful, so be it"
Wew lad, you started this shit and people genuinly replied. You were spiteful since the first ending post, blamed it on the few voters you did have and then doubled down on it. I dont what you are expecting when you come back from stasis with an attitude like that. Also I like that you ask people why they havent advertised this story anywhere else, why the fuck havent you then. Plainly, you seen to be a bit of an asshole. Good riddance.
>>63373 >Teruyo, is that you? I'd like to believe Teruyo is a little more reasonable than this. This guy made no attempt to engage with us when he had a problem. How about a post going "ok guys I'm not satisfied with how this is going. Can you give me something to work with here? This is supposed to be interactive" before dropping the story completely with no warning? I'd have been happy to re-read and think a little harder about stuff if the author signaled that was something he was really looking for. You know, communication between writer and readers? You can't expect us to read your mind.
If you want to drop the story, that's fine, but don't try to pass the buck like that.
>>63376 (premise - I am not that amazing at english so expect some weird phrasing, and maybe some errors, And sorry for the wall, but I had to say this).
We've had this discussion many, many times here already. And, while I agree on the point that we can in fact be a lot more active than this, I believe that the truth here is in the middle.
>If I wished to write a simple story without an audience, I would do so, and I wouldn't make it a CYOA. Regardless, I would have soldiered on if even one person had actually reread and changed their opinion accordingly. Or pointed out the inaccuracies in a post like >>63365 . Saying you don't know what you're doing and what's happening and voting regardless is insulting, at best. >>63377 has a point. Lots of people here losts interest in a story - and in speculating/talking about it too - if it takes a lot to update, because if you follow more stories (like me) you have to reread the whole thing everytime since you forget things. Also the fear of the author disappearing forever is high, blame all the past cases of great tales being left forever, mostly with no explanation or warning at all. People is reclutant to speak a lot about a story, and to affectionate to it, because they don't wanna be deluded anymore. Demonstrate some continuity and people will talk more. >There was never even the acknowledgement of anything set up in the narrative. >It was clear that no one would ever speculate about anything or look beyond the end of their noses. Now I'm speaking for myself - first of all, I agree with >>63377 - there's nothing much to speculate here, or to be more precise it's still too vague to try and put something together. Also, there are lots of people here that - like me - are not that good at writing english (I can understand almost everything fine, but when it comes to writing it's a pain) and so even if I want to, it's hard to write a reasonment. >IRC Never gone there, but apparently they never talk about it according to others. I wanted to join, but now I've doubts. What's the point of that if they talk about other stuff? >Suggestion thread That discussion is basically a request thread. Or a 'I have these tastes, what do you suggest me to read?' thread. It should be used differently indeed. >Surely that deserves some acknowledgement and reward by the reader. >Otherwise, if nothing is to change in your actions or engagement, then you must admit to yourselves that this is why you will never be able to have nice things and why most stories will forever remain incomplete. This is the point where I agree totally. The community here is really lazy in general, expecially when it comes to things like this. And I'm in the fault too, don't misjudge me. Readers should post more, share thoughts more and vote more, expecially outside of /th/. But - I have to say it - it's not totally lost. I've seen nice conversations/speculations going on recently. We are still an active community: we could do a lot more, yes, and we're slow, yes. But we are active.
tl;dr audience should be more active, and authors should try to be more regular. And try to avoid drama, from both parts.
In conclusion, I hope you'll reconsider your decision. I enjoy this story, and I'll miss it if it stops here. Maybe you could split your updates into smaller ones, to let them come out more often. That's the formula that was used here originally, and it worked. Going with smaller updates lets you build the lore more carefully too, and to be regular. Go with constant updates and people will show more interest.
Cheers, and take it easy. We are making fictional story about fancy-wearing girls, afterall.
>>63382 Ah just noticed this. Yep, this is indeed right. You should've tried to communicate this lack of interactivity, before dropping the story. This comes like a total surprise, and it makes you look like you didn't care to try saving your story before dropping it. At least that's what I get by that
>>63376 >Regardless, I would have soldiered on if even one person had actually reread and changed their opinion accordingly. Or pointed out the inaccuracies in a post like >>63365
Your right, no one pointed out the inaccuracies in that post. You know why they didn't point out the inaccuracies in that post? Its because anon as a collective was completely lost, and that was our best attempt at figuring out what was going on. That post was our best attempt to get ourselves not lost.
You know who should have pointed out the inaccuracies in that post? YOU! If you noticed that anon was completely lost and barking up the wrong tree, why didn't you do something to fix it? Why didn't you try actually talking to us about these problems? You could have easily said, "Hey guys, you all look pretty lost and confused about things. Want me to write up a summary of whats happened so far and answer questions about what you're confused about?" Its not like this would have been some unthinkable unprecedented act. Writefags on this site post summaries and clarifications on their stories all the time.
Even though I said I wouldn't reply any more, it feels fundamentally unfair not to at least say something about the honest attempts at communication.
>I'd have been happy to re-read and think a little harder about stuff if the author signaled that was something he was really looking for. It is not my place to tell you what to do. Either you do so spontaneously because you are happy to or the story doesn't deserve such effort. Telling you how you should behave when interacting with art (for lack of a better word) seems so thoroughly absurd.
>there's nothing much to speculate here Like I said, I will accept that. With disappointment and a bruised ego as I thought that the things I pointed out in >>63380 were valid and enticing points of discussion. It does make me question all the time I spent trying to make those things interesting, honestly. But that's not your problem.
> Maybe you could split your updates into smaller ones, to let them come out more often. Would not do that. The point was to offer choices when they actually mattered and not just make it busywork. The exception is the last update because I deliberately made the choice give a chance for people to catch up and remember what they were doing. We all see how that turned out.
>That post was our best attempt to get ourselves not lost. It's funny to be accused of expecting the audience to be a mind reader when the post in question got no acknowledgement from other readers either. It's impossible to know if only the person who posted it believed that, if others had read and agreed or it was otherwise ignored. The only fact we can say with certainty is that no one replied to it either to agree or disagree.
>You know who should have pointed out the inaccuracies in that post? YOU! It isn't my place to hold the hands of the audience. There is enough guidance and 4th-wall breaking things in the text of the updates themselves. The asides, the thoughts and (in the case of the last update) explicit warnings are all the information one would need from me.
>Why didn't you try actually talking to us about these problems? Simple: I have seen how it goes on the rest of the site. Endless bitching on /blue/, people throwing tantrums in other story threads or these requests are simply ignored. I've observed that more often than not you get people who will be dismissive assholes who don't counter arguments and ignore what you're actually saying. You can see at least two posts of that nature here. And before you accuse me of doing that too, I've already conceded on the points of updates and simply disagree about how much management I need to do as a writer. And I mean no disrespect to anyone but those who are too set in their toxic ways to have a reasoned debate. It's not that I think that there is no wisdom in being more open in communications but that experiences all over the site show that you'll be ignored, at best, and told to just write and forget about the other stuff even if you're persistent. At times, it doesn't seem like people even realize how nonsensical some attitudes on this site are. For example: I've been told here that the recommendation thread is for people asking for specific types of stories. Yet that's not what the first post says nor does it correspond to the reality of many of the posts in that thread. And even now, you're saging posts on the only thread with any activity on this section of the site for no reason other than "tradition" I'm guessing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with promoting activity and, in the stories I do read, I never sage. Why should you unless there hasn't been activity there in years?
>it makes you look like you didn't care to try saving your story before dropping it >If you want to drop the story, that's fine, but don't try to pass the buck like that. I did try to save the story, which is why I kept updating even though it had become clear that I wasn't going to get the type of attention that I wanted. As judged by things (not) said in the previous updates. The last update was supposed to jog the memory of people, as well. Writing this story does mean a lot to me, given the ungodly amount of notes and time I've invested into it.
>I hope you'll reconsider your decision. I enjoy this story, and I'll miss it if it stops here. You do get my heartfelt thanks. Not only for reading, but for making the effort to post. The same goes for anyone else with good intentions. I may disagree with some of what you're saying, but I will always wish you all the best. I'm not against reconsidering and writing more at all, but it would definitely crush my spirits if I spend dozens of hours writing and polishing thousands more words just to have the same thing happen again. The way I see it this likely boils down to a question of trust.
I want to end on a conciliatory note. be honest and act upon the sunken cost fallacy because it stings to let go entirely: If you do reread and then vote again the last choice, I promise that I will offer up at least up one more update. Do whatever you feel is right. If you feel there's nothing to say and I've done a terrible job at being interesting, then there's nothing to say. And I'll attempt to improve my delivery. But if you have something to say, the effort will not go unnoticed. With this promise, I'll wholly ignore previous results. Water under the bridge. We'll see how things progress after this and the next update. Another dose of honesty and a caveat: it's just two guys after that, it's not really worth it for me to keep on writing after that, either.
> The point was to offer choices when they actually mattered and not just make it busywork.
You don't have to offer choices at the end of every post. Well, I know some people whine about it, but I sure don't mind.
>> Why didn't you try actually talking to us about these problems?
> wall o' text
A lot of authors (read: everyone but Teruyo) honestly don't mind if their readers just vote and nothing else. Suddenly learning that you think I'm not getting involved enough came way the heck out of left field.
But I'm not one of the old guard, and a simple request for comments would have gone down fine with me. And now you've said that, I'll do my best to lift my game.
Bumping a thread puts it front and center on the homepage, not just the individual boards. Doing that to a story that's been declared dropped gets people's hopes up and then promptly dashes them. But...
> If you do reread and then vote again the last choice, I promise that I will offer up at least up one more update.
My schedule is packed to the rafters this week, but I'll be re-reading this as soon as I have enough free time to sit down and give it my full attention.
I hope others do too, because this story is more than worth it.
>>63390 >everyone but Teruyo I've done, like, a dozen stories and only two of them have demanded something besides just a vote. Unfair to bring me up. Especially when no similar demand has been made here.
>>63389 >Simple: I have seen how it goes on the rest of the site. Endless bitching on /blue/, people throwing tantrums in other story threads or these requests are simply ignored. I've observed that more often than not you get people who will be dismissive assholes who don't counter arguments and ignore what you're actually saying. Assholes are everywhere. You can't expect none of them will end up here. Also, from experience on lots of chans usually the assholes are the one posting more often - since they have to say things even when it's not needed. So they seem to be a lot, but in fact they are probably just a few, but they post a lot. Also: that is not a good reason to give up. Yes, because if you reason like this you have given up for me. If the userbase does not answer back immediately, poke at us. And if it doesn't work, do it again. Important: I'm not saying you haven't tried, you did. It's this phase that bugged me. >It isn't my place to hold the hands of the audience. True, but not entirely. Anon is notorius for being totally obvious to the most evident things in the planet, lots of stories ended bad because of that. If subtle hints don't work, go for evident hints. Once or twice in a story is not that terrible, and if it helps the story from collapsing it's a great thing to do honestly.
All that aside, ok then. I will reread all this as soon as I have a bit of free time (probably on sunday) and I'll vote again. Too many stories have stopped before, I wanna see the end of this one. Also, seconding what >>63390 says: you can do updates without choices, look at Yamame Has No Gods. It's all up to you, but it'll be nice I think.
Ok. After spending some time re-reading all this, time for some summary/theories. And the vote, of course. Again sorry for the wall, it's needed.
Basically, our MC is a guy that came into Gensokyo after losing his way on his horse under a thunderstorm (dream sequence - he also saw a hodeed figure before collapsing - ideas on identity?) and that Patchouli healed as Remilia granted him hospitality as a guest.
He has lost his memory, but he remembers some stuff. First of all, he is sure that Patchouli is his wife - although with slightly different looks - but she doesn't remember him at all. Then he remebers he had a hound, which used to sleep in bed with him. And having one suggests to me that his family was fairly rich, thing also confirmed by how big his bed - so probably his house - was, and by the fact that he owned a personal horse.
He is old-mannered, and very polite with girls - he kisses their hand, and calls them 'miss'. He has probably already assisted - or even performed - a duel before, seeing his behaviour when Meiling was gonna kick Marisa out. From the dream sequence it's clear that horses were the main form of transportation back in his time too.
>“I have spent a good portion of my life in rooms such as these,” I replied. “Country retreats, townhouses, estates, cathedrals and more of the sort are no strange things to me. I find that it usually institutions such as government offices or universities that try their hardest to seem the most majestic.” He is familiar with very 'rich' looking mansions/places, he also hints that he has visited many important people during his life - so he has probably traveled a lot. He is also fine in places that has different manners than his, as he spends his time with Marisa trying to make her feel comfortable with the mansion (plus he almost doesn't wince when he sees Marisa fly or Chloe's and the fairies wings!). He thinks that wearing a hat is important for a man, another hint of him coming from a not recent timezone. He has a lot of knowledge with wine too, seeing how much he says about the one he drinks with Marisa.
Another proof that he has traveled a lot is the usage of this way of saying: >I would not carry my prize back to the slave markets of Tripoli
And the hint that I liked the most: he mentions that the SDM lacks a gas illumination, but he doesn't mention electricity at all. This says a lot from the time this guy comes, since gas illumination (without electic one being common) period of time goes from 1815 to 1880, plus or minus. Also, the fact that he claims Patchouli as his wife could mean that he comes from a time where Patchy was still out of Gensokyo, and married with him. No proofs until now, but still an option.
Another thing - he is probably not aware that he is in Japan, and that he is speaking japanese, seeing his lack of communication problems and how he doesn't say a thing when Marisa points out the lack of rice in the meal they eat together - and how it's 'weird' for her eating without rice. Or he is Japanese. But I don't think so, seeing how he is used to western-style furniture.
Finally: >The death that was and the death that would be. Haphazard arrays of images flashed, illuminating the fog for the briefest of instants. The light did little to explain things and I felt as helpless as I had those first few nights after… after… >Our tears, so casually flowing from our eyes… Thoughts on this? It's probably something related to someone really important to him - maybe Patchouli in his time? Something happened that made her 'disappear' and come to Gensokyo leaving him alone? Don't know, just throwing some ideas out.
Ok, without further ado, I'll vote:
[X] Would she share her account on what happened during lunch?
Wanna hear what she thinks of this. Also I have to say that there are indeed things to think about here. But I also have to point out that - at least for me - your writing is complicated, thus hard to read. Not your fault, it's me not being great at English. But it's still a reason right?
Hope to see this revived, it has a lot of potential.
First thoughts: I don't got half the vocabulary for this thing. The prose is excellent, and perfectly fits the story, but short of looking up every eighth word in a dictionary there's going to be shit flying over my head left right and center no matter what I do. This has nothing to do with the author and everything to do with me being a highschool dropout, but I hope it explains my lack of insight.
Nonetheless, there are two things I noticed here, that also caught my attention the first time around but I didn't comment on. Because seriously, if someone as thick as me can see them they must stick out like sore thumbs. The first is this:
> I refilled both our glasses with more wine when a powerful rumble shook everything. Immediately, an intense feeling of dreadful panic began to crystallize in both my gut and mind. Even as Marisa sprang to her feet and began trying to make sense of things, a wave of cold washed over me. The sharp pain I had felt once again invaded my chest and spread rapidly through most of my body.
Obviously something just blew, and since Marisa noticed it's not just something in Pan's head. Given the location, the only culprit I can think of is Patchouli. We still don't know what she was up to that resulted in Pan getting the Time Warp treatment, but I'd be willing to bet this has something to do with both of them.
Shortly after this, Sakuya demands Pan's presence. In the middle of the night. Whatever Patchy was up to, I have a sinking feeling it didn't go well.
The second is this:
> [This focus, this momentary whimsy, approached outright flippancy. So it seemed after possessing an appreciation for how more pieces of the whole come together. A sometime source of regret, I found. Opportunity presented itself twice in a single day and twice I ignored it. Further reflection at those junctures may have led to drastically different outcomes. So I say, so I chastise and so I try to convince myself even now. Because I must. As I set ink to paper now, inserting this message long after the other words on this page, my chest cannot help but tighten at the day’s recollection. Do I write this seeking exculpation for what follows hence and my role in shaping the situation? Or am I as Faust, conceited, and wish to simply to show that despite the alternatives there really was never any other path? I tire myself with these half-thoughts, these ramblings which yield no clarity. In this ornery state, all I wish for is peace and to remove all doubt.]
Subtle as a wad of C4. Whatever shit's about to go down, Marisa is involved. We know she came here to steal borrow some reading material, and we know she recently vanished. Logic suggests she went to get what she came for and got in over her head.
Beyond that, the only thing I've got is that we're in for a helluva ride if this thing gets rolling again.
I'm nitpicking, but since I have nothing else to offer, this is not quite true:
> He had been loaned to me a few weeks prior and had been my steadfast companion as I spent my days exploring the countryside before carousing with my peers at night.
> This says a lot from the time this guy comes, since gas illumination (without electic one being common) period of time goes from 1815 to 1880, plus or minus.
See, this is the sort of shit I don't have the education for. I'd never have even thought of that.
> Another thing - he is probably not aware that he is in Japan, and that he is speaking japanese, seeing his lack of communication problems and how he doesn't say a thing when Marisa points out the lack of rice in the meal they eat together - and how it's 'weird' for her eating without rice. Or he is Japanese. But I don't think so, seeing how he is used to western-style furniture.
If the Mansion came from somewhere in the British Isles, and Marisa is used to raiding visiting them and reading books "in weird languages with weird letters", he may very well still be speaking English. I can't name names, but I've seen other authors do this, so it's a possibility.
On the other hand, scratch that theory:
> My voice felt my own but there was something else, like my words weren’t the ones my mouth was used to making.
>  Could she say what this audience would entail? And the sudden urgency?
I have a hunch we're not going to get a straight answer, for one reason or another.
>  Most importantly, had Chloé or her mistress asked after me?
Probably not going to tell us much, if my theory is accurate, and feels a bit egotistical.
[x] Would she share her account on what happened during lunch?
Most likely to hit paydirt, even if she's out of the loop, or worse, been ordered not to talk.
As promised, I'll put up at least the next part at some point. I'll wait until the end of the week before attempting to write in case there are any others who have yet to reread and vote and wish to do so. As I said before: what happens after the next update will ultimately depend on how many people turn out then. I wish to make sure expectations are clear from now on.
>>63398 >>63399 I wanted to address a shared sentiment in your posts and state that I am grateful for your effort despite the difficulty of language and the prose. I haven't tried to make it purposefully difficult, it's just something that is the way it is because of the protagonist and his surroundings. There is a certain difficulty to the text and if ever something is unclear or hard to decipher: there is no shame in asking for a clarification from me. And no matter how silly or inadequate you believe your thoughts might be, know that I appreciate them all the same. So there's never any need for holding back. As for the other things commented upon? That's more for the benefit of your peers right now.
Sorry for taking so long but it's been a rough month or so. It takes me a long time to write and I haven't had the time to concentrate on writing. I haven't forgotten about this and will try to finish up soon.