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“You religious folk fascinate me,” said Remilia, still doing circles around me in the darkness. “You with your spirits and sins, angels and demons. You call that which you hate devil and that which you love god, totally regardless of whether God and Devil are truly as you label them. What if one person’s God is another’s Devil, and vice versa? That’s why holy wars are waged. My God is better than your God. Your Devil is worse than my Devil.”
I gripped my gohei with both hands, but knew it was useless. I trapped in the dark with a vampire. She was faster and stronger than me. I had a lame leg. I was so dead.
“This happened to you too, Reimu Hakurei of the Hakurei Shrine. You needed something to call Devil, and I was the most convenient thing. As you learned more about me, I became Scarlet Devil, since red is just such an evil color. After fighting my greatest servants, and being defeated by the strongest of them, you despaired. You counted yourself lost. But lo and behold! Here comes a wide-eyed little youkai child that you can trust. She offers to help you out of your plight, asking nothing in return. What a glorious salvation this seems to be, until she reveals herself to you. What horror! What bitter, painful disappointment! For your savior turned out to be the embodiment of Scarlet Devil!”
Like her servants, Remilia liked to talk. I had to use that, had to buy time. Maybe I could think of something. I wished Marisa were with me. She could have talked this vampire right into a corner. I wasn’t so clever myself.
“So that’s why you were nice to me,” I said. “If I trust you, even a little bit, then it gives you something to betray. Gives you a way to hurt me.”
“You understand,” she said, now inches from my right ear. I felt her hot breath on my neck. I screeched and turned around, swinging my gohei at her. But my staff only swished through empty air. She laughed, now somewhere behind me.
“Too slow!” she said, laughing again.
She could have bitten me just now. She could have sucked off a pint of my blood and been gone before I realized it. For that, my blood could have been hers any time since opening the cell door on Marisa and me. Especially when carrying me up the stairs. Her mouth had been right next to my neck. There had to be a reason, even now, she was holding off.
Keep talking, I thought. Had to keep her talking.
“You’re wrong about me,” I said. “I’m a miko. I don’t believe in dogmatic gods or devils.”
“Oh, sure you do,” said Remilia. “You may not call them that. You might instead say the world, the universe, people’s hearts, whatever. But it’s the concept that’s flawed, not just the words used to express them.”
This was the same as when I faced Rumia. My enemy wanted me afraid, wanted me to despair. It wasn’t just my blood she was after. My emotions flavored it somehow, made it sweeter. She was letting me ripen.
And if that thought weren’t horrible enough. To a vampire, maybe drinking blood wasn’t just a meal. Not even a very rich, extravagant meal. Maybe it was orgasmic. Taunting me from the darkness was Remilia’s version of foreplay. She would get more and more excited until she couldn’t hold back. Then she would take me.
For her, ecstasy. For me, death.
Keep talking! Think!
“My concept is that natural forces are the source of morality,” I said. “And if you want to call that my understanding of what other people call God, then that’s true. But you’re saying that’s wrong. No matter what we call Him, there is no God.”
“I didn’t say that at all. I said your idea of God was incorrect, not that He doesn’t exist.”
I almost found that funny. “Really? So vampires believe in God?”
“Don’t twist my words,” said Remilia. “Why do you believe in the sun, Reimu?”
“The sun? Because I see it rise every morning.”
“No. You don’t see the sun. You see the effect it has on your environment. You see the bright burst of light it emits over the eastern mountains at dawn. You see the end-spectrum colors over the western mountains at dusk. You see Gensokyo illuminated and warmed when the sun shines on it, and the same country dark and cold when the sun hides. These stimulus give you reason to believe the sun exists, so you believe.”
“Of course,” I said. “I know the world based off my senses. Saying that’s not good enough to believe is semantic.”
“I’m not saying your senses aren’t to be trusted,” said Remilia. “I’m pointing out your double use of the word believe. Acknowledging something’s existence is not the same as trusting in it.”
“You admit that there is a God,” I said. “But you have no faith in Him.”
“Close. I say that God is not worth having faith in. But does He exist? Certainly. He’s so busy making His existence painfully obvious in every particle of matter, every pulse of energy. All I can think is that He must be the most insecure personality in the universe. He’s so desperate to make Himself known. He begs and pleads and yells and screams, believe in Me, believe in Me! It’s so loud no one can ignore it.”
“That’s not true!” I said. “There’s millions of people who think there is no God. I’m one of them!”
Remilia laughed again. “Sure. Keep telling yourself that. It makes you feel nice and safe to think that you’re accountable to no one but yourself. Just try your best to conform to the rules of humility, kindness and love. And if you fail, no one is hurt but you. So what’s the harm if you sin now and again? It’s only your own happiness on the line, right? It’s your business and no one else’s.”
“My sins can hurt others as well as myself.”
“Sure they can. And they do. But why should you care? Only your own happiness matters to you. And if being kind to others is a requirement for your own happiness, then you’re nice only to make yourself feel good. The moral philosophy starts to sound very selfish, until you ask an important question. What is meant by the word sin? Define it, Reimu!”
“Simple,” I said. “A sinful act is one that knocks you out of harmony with nature, with other people, and yourself. Sins hurt your ability to be happy.”
“Very true. But when you think about it, the standards of sinful behavior and moral behavior are pretty arbitrary. You said that miko believe nature is the source of morality. But that doesn’t make any sense. If mother nature had her way, there wouldn’t be any humans around. No two-legged beasts to tear up her soil, rob its nutrients for their food. No hunters to kill her animals. No lumberjacks to chop her trees.”
“Nature does all that to itself and worse,” I said. “Earthquakes tear the ground apart. Animals eat each other. Lighting strikes burn down millions more trees than humans could ever chop. Besides, that wasn’t what I meant—”
“I know what you meant. You weren’t talking about ecological nature, but some kind of meaningless, esoteric spiritual nature. Not that it maters. Nature is indifferent to humanity’s moral problems. It couldn’t care less if people are nice to each other. If every human being on this planet suddenly winked out of existence tomorrow, the sun would keep shining, and the Earth would keep rotating on its axis. The galaxy would keep spinning. All the other galaxies in the universe would keep on their endless, silent flight to nowhere. But here, on this vastly important little blue-green world of ours, lives a race of people who think they have to be good. They think it makes a difference!”
“You seem to have all the answers,” I said. “So tell me. Does it matter or not?”
“Of course it matters. Humans think they have to live by a set of moral laws. They’re happy when they follow those laws, and miserable when they don’t. Those laws have to come from somewhere. It’s not from nature. And it’s ludicrous to think at every individual came up with the same moral framework on his own. It’s not much better to think that these rules were passed down from father to son, mother to daughter, keeping a generational adherence to the same morals that their ancestors followed, and thus stating that the father and mother of all humans were the origin of morality. People’s values change over time, and they change from one family to another, and from one culture to another.”
Remilia had stopped darting around me. Her voice was holding still now, a few feet in front of me. She was putting some feeling into her speech. I imagined she might be waving her hands around as she spoke, trying to emphasize her words, even though I couldn’t see her.
“But more interesting than moral differences are the similarities. No people on this planet ever thought that cowardice was a good thing. Murder and rape are not bragged about widely or for very long. But kindness, on the other hand, is smiled upon. And that crazy emotion called love is the most sought-after thing in humanity’s history. People write songs about it, die for it, build and destroy nations because of it. And so it’s always been! How can this be? How can every single person ever born feel like he needs to live by the same general set of morals? It’s ridiculous! The law of mathematical averages is being defied on an insane scale! There’s no explanation!”
“But there is,” I said. “It’s the point you’ve been building up to.”
“Yes!” said Remilia, now standing close to me. “It’s because of that emotionally desperate God of yours. He’s enforcing his rules of fair play on you. No other answer makes even the least bit of sense.”
“Maybe people are just good by design,” I said. “Maybe that’s how we got to be the dominant race of this planet. Survival of the fittest.”
She laughed again, but it wasn’t a sound of mirth. It was exasperation.
“Oh, you fool!” she said. “Good by design? You think morals are an evolutionary trait? Hardly! The only moral evolution encourages is kill or be killed. Steal your opponent’s food. Become the alpha male. If it were evolution alone that ruled this word, the youkai and animals would have killed you all long ago. Humanity became the top species by nothing short of Devine ordinance. Saying good by design means that something had to design you. The moral law you humans feel is far too strange to be dreamt up by anything other than a thinking mind. That mind, by definition, is God!”
“This is a sore spot for you,” I said. “Must be tough being a vampire who can’t deny God’s existence.”
I must have hit a nerve. Remilia jumped me. A sudden weight hit me in the chest, knocking me onto my back. I gasped, struggling for air. A pair of strong hands were holding my arms down, keeping me from grabbing my attacker. I could see, a few inches from my face, a pair of scarlet red eyes. They glowed gently in the dark.
“That isn’t the half of it!” said Remilia. Her knees were on my stomach. It was hard to breathe. “I haven’t gotten to the punchline yet. A fact that makes my mere existence a paradox. I’ve been talking about your God as if He were only that. Yours. But the word God means omnipotence and omniscience. The absolute of everything! Do you know what that means? Do you know what that means?”
She was yelling at me, little bits of vampire spit landing on my face. My skin when numb wherever her saliva touched me. Her hands were on my shoulders now, shaking me hard, hurting me.
“It means,” I said, fighting for breath, “He’s your God too.”
I had never before heard a vampire scream, and I hope never to hear it again. Manic rage and pathetic sadness, piercing my ears, threatening to split my head open. Her grip on my shoulders was so tight that my arms felt ready to pop out.
“No!” she yelled. “No! No! He is not my God! I have no God! I am my own God!”
She looked down at me, her eyes burning like hot embers.
“I am the Scarlet Devil! You will be my messenger to the human God! Take to Him my declaration of war!”
Her eyes dipped down beside my ear. The moist warmth of her mouth was at the crook of my neck. The muscles tensed as she bit me, but there was no pain. Her salvia was a natural anesthetic.
Even though it didn’t hurt, I could feel the blood leaving me. She was drinking.
No! Don’t hurt me! Someone save me!
Or so a coward would have said.
But I was not afraid.
She’ll pay for this! I’ll kill her! I’ll give her a slow, hideous death!
Or so an enraged person would have said.
But I was not angry.
How dare she! Suck my blood! ME, Reimu Hakurei of the Hakurei Shrine!
Or so a prideful person would have said.
But I was not proud.
Only a couple of days ago, I knew youkai as nothing more than animals. Household pests. Reasons not to stay out after dark. But after leaving my shrine with Marisa, I met several of them with human intelligence. Not always mature, but human. I had started thinking of them as people.
So this vampire on top of me, sucking my life out of my neck, was a person too. She was powerful and sharply intelligent. But her smarts were as much burden as blessing. They had led her to some terrifying conclusions, certain ideas she couldn’t cope with.
I sympathized. It’s hard when you need answers, but the answers are the exact opposite of what you want to hear. I felt bad for her.
Remilia moaned. She lifted her mouth from my neck and made a hacking noise, as if she had been drinking the sweetest wine that suddenly turned to vinegar. She looked down at me, uncertain.
“What are you doing?” she said, wiping my blood from her lips. “You’re supposed to….”
This was my chance. She was stronger than me, but I still weighed more than she did. I bucked my body under her, tossing her off me. She fell aside, rolling onto the carpet. I could only see her by the glow of her eyes, but it was enough. I gripped my gohei in one hand, swung it towards her as hard as I could.
She held her hand up to block, and my gohei broke on it. She yelped, more in surprise than pain. The wooden staff exploded into two pieces, peppering wooden splinters onto her dress. The bottom half spun off somewhere into the room, but I kept the top half in my hand. The paper streamers danced in the red light of her eyes.
Then I remembered the way vampires died in those stories. My gohei was a religious symbol, a miko’s equivalent of a Christian cross.
“Don’t take this personally!” I said. I jumped onto Remilia, straddling her between my knees. She could have broken me in half from this position, but I didn’t give her the time. Using both hands and all my upper body strength, I jammed the broken end of my staff into her chest. The jagged wood pierced her dress and her skin. I felt it tear through the tough tissue between her ribs and stab through her heart. The wooden stake poked out her back.
Remilia’s back arched. She coughed hard, spitting up blood. Whether it was my blood or hers, or some mixture, I didn’t want to know. She convulsed for a few seconds, struggling to stay alive. Then her body went still. The light in her eyes went out. I was in pitch darkness again.
I got off Remilia, stood up and backed away. My knees and hands were shaking hard. I tried to catch my breath.
“Did I… Did I kill her?”
As if in answer, a sudden flash of light burned into my eyes. Remilia’s body was glowing like a hundred angry lamps, lighting the whole observatory red and white and every shade between.
Her eyes snapped open, burning like miniature bonfires. She sat up and looked down at the piece of wood stabbed through her torso. She grabbed it with one hand, yanked it, pulled it free with a splashing burst of blood. She tossed the stick aside.
She looked up at me. She bore her teeth, her face wet and red.
“You killed me.”
I was frozen. Even if I had my wits together, I couldn’t have gotten away. Remilia was on her feet. Then I was on my back, with her on top of me again. She wasn’t holding me down. She didn’t need to. I had no strength to resist. The light coming off her was enough to hold me still. And her eyes, her eyes....
Remilia wiped the blood from her face, drying her self on her sleeve. Then she brought her face down close to mine. Our noses were touching.
“I regret,” she said.
She kissed me.
I only felt her lips on mine for an instant. Her saliva numbed my mouth. My lips felt nothing and my tongue tasted nothing, and I was glad for it. I didn’t want to taste my own blood mixed with hers.
As quickly as it started, the kiss was over. She tired to pull back and sit up straight, but her body failed her. Her skin glow died out, and her eyes went back to ordinary red. She collapsed on me, her head resting on my chest.
I looked down at her for a moment, wondering what had just happened. Then I realized I was looking at her. I could see her, even though her magic glow had worn off. The observatory was no longer pitch black.
I looked up through the glass dome ceiling, and saw the sky. The full moon, no larger or redder than usual, was off in one part of the sky. A million stars twinkled. Just like they’re supposed to on any beautiful night in Gensokyo.
I smiled. My eyes welled with tears.
“I did it. I cleared the mist.”
And because the night sky was so lovely, I lay a long time staring at it. And there, with a possibly dead vampire using me as a mattress, my exhaustion overcame me.
I passed out.
Forward to Chapter Nine
Back to Chapter Seven
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