It was hot, like the inside of an oven. The air took the moisture from my breath, getting into my mouth and nose and trying to cook me from the inside out. Greasy sweat was building on my face, neck and back. I had to stand up, no matter how dizzy I was. The floor was too warm to sit on. This heat came from Flandre’s accumulated magic energy. The air buzzed and stunk with it, like the stench after a lightning strike.
The spell Flandre used to throw Remilia out of the vault, and then pull Marisa and me into it, was a small expenditure of the power she had gathered down here. She used a bit more to shut the vault door tight, and block sounds from the outside. Remilia’s shouts and poundings stopped. But the air didn’t cool. If we had come down here much later, it would have been hot enough to dehydrate us in minutes.
There had to be a source of fresh air down here. A vent that led to the surface. I wanted to find it, put my face on it. But I had a more immediate concern.
“Marisa,” I hissed into the darkness. “Light!”
“No can do, Reimus,” she said in a normal voice. “Bleeding pretty bads over heres. Kinda hard to spell up like thats. ‘Sides, get the feeling our hostesses doesn’t like lights too muches. Don’t wanna be rudes and hurt her eyes.”
“Hold still, witch,” said Flandre. “I’ll clean the blood off for you.”
I heard Marisa moaning, but nothing else. I soon saw that I didn’t need a lamp, magic or otherwise. Light was coming from Flandre herself. It was dim, but enough to see once my eyes adjusted. Enough to show me a vampire even more bizarre than Remilia.
Flandre was shorter than her sister, but not by much. She wore a similar outfit, red dress and vest over a pink shirt, and she had a hat like Remilia’s. All her clothes were dirty, tattered and threadbare. She had unkempt blonde hair, a shade darker than Marisa’s. She had her sister’s eyes, bright and bloody red. But I saw all of this as an afterthought.
Her wings. If they could be called wings. A pair of long bars sprouted out from her back. They were dark like iron rods, but flexed and curved like flesh. Bound to each were seven pointed crystal shards, starting with violet at her back and ending in red at the wingtips. Each shard was shaped like a big spearhead, the sharp tip pointing off the wing and the broad base attached by twisted little vines of iron skin. Those wings wouldn’t help her fly, but she could cut a person to shreds with them.
She stood with Marisa, licking up the blood coursing down her arm. Marisa cringed at her touch, but held still. She wouldn’t risk upsetting Flandre. I stood there and watched, only because I didn’t dare move. Marisa was bleeding so much. The knife that cut her was nowhere to be seen, but the wound it left was grotesque. It looked like Marisa had been stabbed and pulled the blade out herself.
“Thanks for wiping me offs,” said Marisa, her voice trembling. “Wouldn’t be happy just with that, rights?”
Flandre pulled back, licking the blood from her lips. She swirled her fingers around Marisa’s wound gently, then touched her fingers to her tongue. Just like tasting the sauce on a side of meat.
“You’re so sweet.” She said it like an endearment, which made it even creepier.
“Flandre,” I said. “Do you know why we’re here?”
She ignored me, kept going at Marisa’s blood.
“We can’t let you keep building up this spell,” I said. “You’ll kill everyone in the Scarlet Mansion. Including yourself. Including your sister. Do you realize that?”
Again, no response. Marisa shook her head at me, telling me to leave things alone. But I wouldn’t. Not this time. Maybe she had an idea. She had managed to talk us out of tough spots before. But I couldn’t let things end that way. Flandre had to be shown the error of her ways.
Even the vampire Remilia Scarlet had the barest of moral conscious. I bet her sister had one too, even though it would be tough to get at.
“Flandre!” I said, stepping forward. “Listen to me!”
“You leave me alone, human!” she yelled. She swung her wing at me. Its blunt side lashed me in the midriff like a chain whip. Something snapped in my chest. It hurt like getting stabbed with a rusty pitchfork. I screamed pain out through clenched teeth, collapsed to the hot floor.
“Now stay there and be quiet,” said Flandre. “Don’t make me knock your around anymore. I don’t like my food tenderized.”
She turned her back to me and continued lapping up Marisa’s blood. Marisa stood still, petrified with shock. She heard whatever had broken inside me. I couldn’t count on any help from her. She was as helpless as me. She could have easily used the ambient energy for a spell. But without a spellcard or other foci, she would bring the mansion down on top of us. And if Marisa even tried, Flandre could beat her down her before she finished casting.
So we were going to die. But not before I had my say.
“Why, Flandre?” I said. I barely got the words out before a fit of deep, hacking coughs took me. Each one ripped new pain into my side, like someone was tearing my torso apart with a clawed hammer. A lot of bloody phlegm came up.
She was ignoring me again, so I kept going.
“Why do this?” I said, making sure to breathe shallow. “Did Remilia hurt you somehow? Did Sakuya? I wouldn’t be surprised. Sakuya’s a murder, and Remilia’s—”
“You shut up!” She turned, kicked me in the side. It hurt, but not like my other side. It was a childish gesture of anger, not an attack.
“Words hurt!” I said. My body wanted to cough again, but I choked it down. “If you like them so much, why are you trying to kill them?”
“I said be quiet, you big beast!” she kicked me again, harder. She hit only soft flesh, but I was bleeding inside. Maybe worse than Marisa’s arm. I wanted to keep talking, but I couldn’t draw the air.
“I’m doing what my sister wants.” Flandre stood over me. “She told me all about you humans. The thing that makes you act nice.”
She went back to Marisa, leaving me to suffer on the floor. Why did I have to be Flandre’s punching bag? Marisa had a good reason for holding still, maybe to get on Flandre’s blind side. But it didn’t make me hurt any less. And what was Flandre talking about? The thing that makes us act nice?
Then it hit me.
I knew why.
I remembered before all of this started. Standing in the courtyard of my shrine a two days ago, I looked up at the mist and wondered. The question of who made the mist was a big one. But far bigger was the question of why. I couldn’t understand how anyone could have enough hatred to kill all of Gensokyo.
But now I knew. It wasn’t about hate. It was about love. What was that Marisa once said?
Heads is tails if you flip the coin over.
“Flandre,” I said, struggling for breath. “Remilia talked to you about God, didn’t she?”
Her head snapped around. She opened her mouth and showed me her teeth. Blood dripped from her vampire’s incisors.
“What?” she said.
“It’s only natural.” I swallowed something trying to come up my throat. “When a girl is worried about something, who does she tell? Where’s the first place she goes for a sympathetic ear? Her sister.”
Flandre was standing over me again. She was silent, but her face told me everything I needed to know. Marisa was forgotten for now. I was the next item on the menu.
“She scared you,” I said. “I’m sure she didn’t mean to. But I mean, who wouldn’t be scared? There’s this all-powerful man in the sky. He wants you to act a certain way, or He’ll damn you. It’s terrifying.”
Flandre knelt beside me, the crystals of her wings clanking together. She got on all fours and smelled my neck, paying special attention to the bandage. If Flandre bit me, I wouldn’t have any blood left. She didn’t strike me as a light eater.
“So what can you do?” I said. “If God exists everywhere, how do you get away from Him? You have to die. God can’t control your life if you’re not alive, right?”
Flandre’s fingernails were long and sharp. She used them to cut the bandage off my neck, like she was unwrapping a pastry.
“But there’s a problem,” I said. “Maybe part of God that Remilia didn’t tell you. God has control of you of after you die, too. If you’re good in this life, then you go to Heaven and live happily ever after. But if you’re bad, you go to Hell and suffer forever. And the path to Heaven isn’t paved with corpses!”
Her tongue gently flicked over my skin, numbing everywhere it touched. She opened her mouth wide, ready to bite. I closed my eyes and waited for my life to end.
A sudden gush of hot goop flooded over my neck. At first I thought it was my own blood, and Flandre was a messy eater. But even my neck couldn’t spray blood that fast, or I would already be dead. I opened my eyes and saw Marisa standing over Flandre. Her wounded arm hung limp at her side. Her other hand held the rounded base of a throwing knife, stuck into Flandre’s back.
Flandre coughed up all of Marisa’s blood, right onto my neck. I pushed her head back and scooted away, fast as my broken body would let me. My insides screamed and moaned and wailed, but I had to get out of the line of fire.
Flandre fell to her side. The tip of the throwing knife poked out the front of her vest. Marisa had stabbed clean through. She stood over the downed vampire, looked up at me.
“So sorry, Reimus,” she said. “Couldn’t get a clear shots—”
“Get away!” I yelled, and started coughing to make up for it.
Marisa only looked at me, as if to say what for? It wasted the one second she needed.
Flandre’s body tensed, her limbs clenching and her back arching. Her wing crystals flared with bright light, numbing my eyes. One of Flandre’s wings clipped Marisa’s feet out from under her. She fell down beside the vampire. The other wing came around and stabbed two of its crystal shards into her lower back. Marisa screamed. I screamed along with her.
Flandre yanked her wing out of Marisa’s back, getting another wail of pain. She got to her feet. She reached back, took hold of the knife and yanked it from her back. A long arc of blood followed the blade, splashing to the floor like an upturned bucket of paint. The strobe lighting from her wings turned the blood charcoal black. She took one look at the knife and threw it away.
“You killed me, witch!” Flandre yelled at Marisa. She reached down, grabbed Marisa by the jacket and picked her halfway up. “Come to Hell with me!” She swung Marisa around, used her own weight to throw her into the wall. Marisa folded to the floor, lay there like a dead thing.
Flandre turned to me. She looked ready to give me the same treatment, but her strength left her. The light in her wings died out, leaving the room dark again. She wobbled on her feet, couldn’t keep her balance. She fell to her knees, then to her face.
I lay in darkness. My eyes burned from the light now gone. The only sounds were the windstorm of my own labored breath, the manic thumping of my heart in my ears. I shivered and shook, even though I was fever hot.
“Marisa?” I said. “Are you okay?”
Silence. I couldn’t even hear her breathing.
“Marisa!” I said. “Answer me!”
Nothing. I feared the worse. Loosing so much blood, getting two deep stab wounds in the back, and maybe snapping a few bones on a hard stone wall. Marisa’s little body couldn’t take all that. My eyes welled with hot tears.
“Marisa!” I screamed. I would have gone over and tried to shake the life back into her, if I had the strength.
New light flooded into the vault, along with a blast of cold air. But no, not cold. Just far cooler than the air in already in here. Flandre’s spells were gone. The vault door had swung open. Remilia came in, one wing hanging limp off her back. Sakuya was at her side. Her hair was matted under with blood. Patchouli came in behind them, holding the blue crystal lamp that lit the chamber. She seemed shook up, but otherwise unhurt. Back in the slaughter room, Meiling lay on a pile of metal that used to be a woodstove.
“Good God!” said Remilia, looking the scene over. “Sakuya, help me with Flandre. Patchouli, see to the humans.”
“Yes, Mistress.” The youkai witch came over and knelt beside me. I tried to point at Marisa.
“Her first!” I gasped. “She might be… She might—”
Patchouli put two fingers on my lips. She spoke quickly. “I can already see you are going to be difficult if awake. I do not know how badly you are injured, and I care not to learn by autopsy, so you must be docile. I hope you will forgive me for this.”
Her words strung into no meaning. I was panicking. I would have yelled at her to tend Marisa before me, but I didn’t get a chance. Patchouli put her hand on my forehead, covering my eyes. She muttered something under her breath. A jolt went through me.
I was far away from myself. My body stayed, to suffer its hurts and injuries without me. I went to another country. Another land. Another world.
But as I left it behind, something came with me. Marisa might be dead.
My own death didn’t frighten me. I had been through too much. But the death of someone close to me. It couldn’t happen. I would never recover from it. If God wanted a life, let Him take me. But not Marisa. Please not Marisa.
I love you. Don’t leave me.
Forward to Epilogue
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