On the Sixteenth Night the Clock Tick
"Milady, here's your evening tea. I'll put it here as usual, okay?"
"T-then I'll return to the gate for now."
"Please...enjoy your tea."
15 years ago, Gensokyo—
"Aaah, what a peaceful day..."
I yawned and stretched my stiff muscle, closing the gate behind me. Another quiet day had passed, one among the countless I had since the big relocation. Cleaning the mansion, making meals for the mistresses, guarding the gate against the invading youkai; I wondered if this dull daily life would continue forever. No, bad Meiling! It's good if it's peaceful! But still...
I sighed and rest my head at the red wall I'd known for centuries, watching the dark night sky and the hidden moon. Tonight is the sixteenth night; the night of Izayoizuki, the 'hesitating moon'. Did its timid glow affect my mood, I wonder? Another sigh escaped my lip and I switched my gaze away from the sky to the huge clock perching on the mansion's highest tower.
The clock stared back at me in silence; its seconds hand had stopped, its two main hands showed no sign of moving. I had noticed the broken mechanism since years ago and I'd also tried fixing it many times before, but whatever I did, the clock kept stuck at 12 o'clock sharp. It was as if our time froze ever since that fated day. And I think, it really did.
The moment we arrived at Gensokyo, everything changed. I didn't know what happened since I was out cold longer than everyone else, but the moment I realised everything, it was all too late. Milady was tricked into signing a hideous pact and forced to locked her sister down in the basement like prisoner. The young mistress was beyond shocked, her endless love transformed into deep hatred that slowly pulling her into madness. Patchouli-sama too, believing the whole incident happened because of her miscalculation, decided to devote herself in maintaining the seal and shut herself in the library.
Even though I was their servant, even though I said I would take share of their burdens, in the end I was powerless. Now their world had crumbled, and the only thing I could do was smile and cheered them from the sidelines, waiting for a miracle. I clenched my fist, feeling ashamed of myself.
"Just what can I do to help them? What can I do to make you move again?"
The silent clock didn't answer. I sighed and hung my head. Of course, it wouldn't answer me.
"Maybe it just need a little kick?"
A kick? Yeah, I can try that—wait. W-what the hell? I quickly raised my head, searching for the voice. Did the clock really answer me? Really? No, wait. It came from a different direction. I twirled around as fast as I raised my face, meeting the owner of that voice; a little girl blanketed in black, floating right in front of me. Judging from the black blob of darkness she emerged from she can't be human; I narrowed my eyes dangerously and put on my battle stance.
"Leave. This place is off-limit."
She tilted her head. Hm, she didn't look dangerous. I lowered my guard a bit, feeling a bit embarrassed for acting like that.
"Uh, sorry about that, little miss. Do you need something?"
"Ummm...no? Nothing in particular? Rumia just fly wherever she want whenever she want~"
Just as she said that she stretched her both arms to her side, a huge toothy grin formed on her face. A wild and carefree one, huh? Good thing she wasn't hostile like the most I found lurking around, blurting foolish things like taking over this mansion, so I didn't need to drive her away. Then again, it's getting more and more peaceful lately. Maybe the lesser youkai started to behave themselves? Oh well, whatever the case, I could really use a company; it's been a while since I really talk to anyone.
Just when I about to relax, I sensed something strange. There was someone else beside us, a human to be precise. But where? I looked around, but I found nothing. Strange. It felt so near. I closed my eyes and tried to pinpoint the location. That way, huh? I followed flow of their chi slowly, reaching for its owner.
"What are you trying to do with my darkness?"
I opened my eyes in an instant, only to find a pair of red orbs lingering a few inches away from my face; Rumia was pouting, floating up-side down between me and a strange blob of darkness. I see. The human is in there.
"A ha ha, I'm just curious. Say, what's in there, Rumia-chan?"
She closed her eyes tightly, as if in deep thought, before opening them again with a huge smile.
"Dinner? Is it a human from the village?"
"Rumia-chan, you know you can't eat them, right?"
"Eh? Is that so?"
Just as I expected, she was clueless. I put on a playful smile and raised my index finger.
"Yep, it's the second rule of Gensokyo; Humans living in Gensokyo are not a source of food. If you break that rule a scary gap youkai will come to punish you!"
I put on my scariest face to put on emphasis, and she back away in fear, shivering.
"I-is that so..."
"Yes, that is so."
"But-but... I guess every human left on the nameless hill is an okay to eat..."
The nameless hill? What is that? As if reading my mind, the little youkai continued.
"It's a place where lots and lots of little humans are left by the bigger ones to die in lilies's poison. Many of us eat the leftover corpses, but I like them more fresh. So I take this one alive."
What the heck is that hideous place? I tried to ignore the matter and focused on the current one.
"Uh, well, no. You can't eat them."
"Is that so... T-then, I will get punished?"
Bingo! Here's my chance!
"No, no, that's why Meiling is here to help! Just leave the human here and I'll take care of everything."
"O-okay. Thanks, Meiling!"
With that she floated away and disappeared into the dark wood; the blob of darkness dissipated as she left, revealing a still body of a human child lying on the ground. I inspected the body closer.
It was a small little girl, probably no older than five, her silver hair adorned her pale skin perfectly; for a moment I doubted she was even human, but the faint scars all over her frail body dismissed my suspicion. There was no sign of poisoning so maybe she was only unconscious from shock. Then again, she was tied up with ropes. Maybe they knocked her out before leaving her on the hill and tied her so she couldn't run? I spat in disgust before releasing her bound, letting her head rest on my lap to make her more comfortable.
Wait a minute.
Why did I save her!? Didn't I simply want to have a chat with Rumia? But I drove her away instead. Argh! I held my head in frustration. Maybe I'll use her for milady's dinner. I turned my attention back to the sleeping face on my lap, and quickly dismissed my previous idea. I couldn't, she looked so innocent! Maybe I should return her to the village. But wouldn't they try get rid of her again later? Wait, it didn't even have anything to do with me. But somehow, I just couldn't leave her alone. I hung my head again.
"Boo-hoo... I'm too soft for this, milady..."
As I sniveled to myself, I felt the little girl moved, and slowly, her eyes fluttered open; the calm blue orbs blinked for a few times, before jolting open in shock. I tried to calm her down, but before I could even say anything, she vanished into thin air.
What just happened? I jumped to my feet in an instant, trying to find her; there she was, a good distance away from me, running. I instinctively chased after her.
"Wait, don't run! I won't hurt you!"
She didn't stop and simply looked back at me in horror; at that time I realized a strange disturbance in her chi, and somehow I knew, if I didn't caught her quickly this time, she would vanish again. I gathered my own energy on my feet and kicked off the ground, catching her. I let out the breath I had been holding, feeling the tension dissipated. The little girl grew quiet; I expected her to thrash around, but no. She just stared at me in horror, or rather, at something just beyond me. I blinked and followed her gaze, and once again, my breath was caught in my throat.
"Wha...what is this?"
The wind stopped. The leaves that supposed to fall was floating in mid-air. Nothing was flowing; nothing was moving. Everything but me and her had stopped. The time had stopped. It was a strange sensation, this stagnant feeling, but as soon as I started to adapt to it, everything reverted back. The cry of the nocturne instantly flooded the previous silence and I switched my gaze back to the girl on my grasp; she casted her eyes away, shivering like a child having caught for doing pranks.
I get it now, why she was outcasted, why they were afraid her, and why I couldn't leave her alone. Because she was just like me. Driven out of her home out of fear, I bet she had been called monster for countless times. That's right! Maybe she could stay at the mansion just like me! I should tell the mistress and—
I blinked back to reality, fixing my eyes on the whimpering girl; it seemed like I grabbed her wrist too hard. I quickly release my grip, letting out a small apology, staring at the red mark I left on her wrist. I sighed. No. She's different from me. She's a human; she can't live with us. I approached her slowly and crouched, a small smile on my face.
"Shush, don't be afraid."
I offered my hand, waiting patiently for her to take it. She didn't show any sign of moving, so I changed my tactics.
"Say, that power just now was so cool."
She flinched a bit as she heard that, and I could see her expression changed.
"...really? You're not afraid of me? You won't hit me?"
I nodded and patted her head.
"You should show me again sometimes, but now, let's get you home, okay?"
Finally the girl let out a small 'okay' and took my hand, letting me escort her to the human village.
"Hey, isn't that 'the cursed child'?"
"What, that brat's still alive?"
"My, how scary. Just pretend you didn't see."
"I knew it, she's not human."
"I-I don't know her! Just leave, I'm busy!"
"Oh, okay. But could you at least—"
Another door was slammed shut right in front my face, just like all the others I had knocked before. I sighed for the countless times tonight, glancing at the girl beside me; she looked like she's about to cry, so I tightened my grip on her hand in assurance.
"Don't worry. I'm sure someone will come to get you."
She nodded, holding back her tear. Really, what's wrong with those humans? Just as I was lost in my thought a voice approached me from behind.
"Excuse me, have you seen...ah! Haku-chan!"
Who? I turned around to meet a woman clad in blue, staring at us, or at the little girl to be precise, in shock.
The little girl muttered quietly under her breath, but I could see the joy in her eyes; she quickly released my hand and tackled the newly arrived figure, burying her face on her long dress, crying. The woman patted her head gently in return. After a few moments of comfort, the young woman turned her attention to me, smiling.
"Thank you. I've been looking for her everywhere."
"No, it's fine. I'm glad I could help."
"Ah, by the way, I've never seen you around the village."
"A ha ha, that's... well actually..."
I took a deep breath.
"I'm a youkai."
As I thought, as soon as she heard that the look on her eyes changed, but to my surprise it wasn't hostility, only a simple shock, and right after she darted her eyes around, she took my hand.
"Quick. Follow me."
What a strange human, but I followed her anyway. Soon enough we reached an old temple school, and I took the liberty to sit around the nearby table as she closed all the windows and doors. After a while, she sighed and sat on the opposite of me. The girl was sitting a good distance away from us, so we decided to have a talk; about the little girl, about how the other humans mistreated her, and about her strange power.
"You see, Haku wasn't born in Gensokyo; she was spirited away from the outside world only a few months ago, but she didn't remember anything from her time outside. I gave her a name and a place to live since then. I thought it will be best for her to be here rather than outside, with her unique power and all, but even then I guess it's hard for her to fit in."
"I see. But Keine-san, aren't you...afraid of her too?"
She stared at me for a while before letting out a chuckle.
"No, you see, I'm not normal too. I'm a were-hakutaku, a hanyou. So I guess I can tolerate with her."
Hanyou? She's a half youkai? So that's why I sensed the strange aura around her.
"But unlike me, Haku is a human, and for a human to have such tremendous power is too much of a burden. It was as if her body was born human, but her soul is that of a youkai. Unlike a hanyou like me who can fit in both sides, she is rejected by both."
I felt a painful pang on my chest, and I turned my eyes to the girl on the other end of the room.
"I thought everything will pass, that it's nothing but a simple period of adaption, but lately the villagers' attitude toward her have worsened. I only took my eyes away from her for a moment and horrible things happened. I don't know what to do anymore..."
The half youkai hung her head; I could hear her voice wavered, as if holding the tears of her own. This is wrong. There must be something I can do.
"I'll take care of her."
Wait? What am I saying? I felt like banging my head to the nearby wall for my sudden and foolish outburst. But there's no turning back now, so I gave her a confident smile instead.
"Yes, just leave it to me!"
She clasped my hand on hers, muttering words of gratitude over and over. Keine let go of my hand after a while, calling the little girl over.
"Haku-chan, listen closely. This kind lady here will take care of you from now on, isn't that great?"
The little girl turned her eyes to me and blinked. I gave her an awkward smile.
"Uh, it's okay if you don't want to."
"...no, it's okay."
She snuggled to me and Keine smiled, before excusing herself out of the room. We stayed like that for a while, thinking of the new future that awaited us.
"Well, are you ready, Haku-chan?"
"Let's get going then! First, I will introduce you to the mistress, the proud owner of this Scarlet Devil Mansion. She may looks scary sometimes but she is actually very kind. I'm sure she will be happy to see you."
"Of course she'll be happy! She'll eat her!"
I shouted loudly in my head, standing in front of the door leading to the mistress' room. What is it with me and my running mouth? Once again, if only I didn't bring a tray of food on my hand, I would've banged my head to the wall. I had told Haku to wait in my room just in case, but this is bad. How should I explain the situation to the mistress? Let's see, I'll just tell her 'milady, I just pick up a human child. Please don't eat her, tee-hee~' Right? No. I slapped my face. There's no way it would work! Aaah, maybe I should just raise her in secret? Well, milady wouldn't come out of her room anymore anyway. Yeah, maybe that's better. I took a deep breath, calming myself, and after I was ready, I knocked the door in front of me.
"Milady, I brought you your dinner."
No response. I opened the door to find my one and only employer in the same position as I just left her earlier, curled up on her bed, her tea that I brought her before had turned cold and left untouched. Seeing her like that was enough to make me forget my previous outburst; I approached her and put the tray away on the end table, opening it to reveal her dinner of potatoes mashed with some meat and blood. I helped her up to a sitting position.
"Okay, now open wide."
I took the spoon and scooped a little bit of her food, putting it in her mouth, and she swallowed it slowly. Ever since she signed that pact, Lady Remilia wouldn't respond to anything anymore, let alone leaving her room. It was as if she had died back then, leaving nothing but a hollow shell; her bright scarlet eyes that used to hold so many wonders had now grown dull. Yet, I put on a smile to her, continuing my playful charade.
"Today was peaceful just like yesterday, nobody tried to invade the mansion. It's getting a little boring though. Oh and please drink your tea later, I've put your favorite blood type inside."
And that's how it went every day; I would tell her of the daily occurrences while feeding her, hoping that some day she would laugh again like she used too. Oh well, I guess I failed again today. Just as I thought of that, the only door on the room creaked open, showing the figure I had almost forgotten.
"...Meiling-san...toilet...where is it?"
The little human girl stood there on the door, an innocent look on her face. I could swear my heart felt just like leaping out of my mouth when I saw her; I quickly turned my face to the mistress, my hands flailing all over to distract her.
"No, no, milady! She's—there's an explanation to this! You see, I—"
It's no use, she had seen the girl. I could only stare as her red eyes turned into slit, showing her vampiric heritage, but instead of sinking her fangs on her supposed prey, I heard a voice escaped from her mouth for the first time in this 85 years.
"So you've returned."
Her voice echoed around the small room, as mesmerizing as I had always remembered, and it rendered me frozen; I saw Haku did the same from the corner of my eyes. I watched silently as she climbed down the bed, walking slowly toward the speechless girl on the door, stopping only a few feet away from her.
"Welcome back, Sakuya."
Sakuya? What is she talking about? But before I could ask her, she suddenly collapsed; I quickly rushed on my feet and caught her before she hit the ground, still hardly believing the miracle in front of me. The mistress, she's back. She's really back! I couldn't help but laughed softly.
"Why are you laughing, gate guard? Ugh, I don't feel well..."
"That's because you haven't been moving and eating well this past 85 years, milady."
She look dumbfounded, switching her gaze from me back to the little girl, before sighing.
"I see. That much time has passed."
The mistress snapped her fingers and I brought her back to her bed, standing guard beside her; I noticed her eyes was still fixed on the one and only human in the room, watching her intently. Did she just sleep talk when she spoke to the girl before? I concluded that way and decided to introduce the little girl properly.
"Milady, let me introduce the newest maid in the house, Haku—"
Eh? I turned to the source of the voice that was Haku, and she repeated it in a much clear voice.
"My name...is Sakuya."
The mistress laughed as soon as she heard that, and I stared, mouth agape.
"Perfect. And Meiling, stop putting that silly face. What night is it tonight?"
I clamped my mouth back shut.
"Umm, the sixteenth night?"
My diabolic master raised her finger, a mischievous smile on her face, pointing at the little girl proudly.
"From now on, your name is Izayoi Sakuya. Treasure that name well, human, and wear it proudly, because from now on you will be my servant."
'Sakuya' replied her in a perfect pace, bowing in grace.
"Wonderful. Now make me a new tea. And Meiling, get back to the gate."
Suddenly I felt like I was the only one at a loss, watching the two figures talking in perfect coordination as if they had known each other for long; I left the room still in confusion, tailing after the little girl and closing the door behind me. I took the moment to talk to her.
"Haku—I mean, Sakuya-chan. You've known the mistress?"
"...n-no. My body just moved by its own. I've never met her before, and yet something tell me...that I'm finally home..."
I stared at her in silence, and out of the blue, tears fell down her eyes.
"Huh? I? Why am I crying?"
I smiled and ruffled her hair, cheering her up.
"Maybe because you're happy?"
Then, she smiled.
So many things happened at the same times that I could hardly register everything, but at least I knew that the mistress was well now, and Sakuya would be living with us from now on. I bet she would become a great maid. I chuckled to myself and took the girl's hand.
"Come on, I'll show you the kitchen. Milady just told you to make her tea, right? Just to let you know, she doesn't like waiting, so we better be hurry!"
"O-okay! I'll do my best!"
I grinned, and as we ran down the mansion corridor in zeal, hand in hand, I heard the clock started to tick back alive.