I awoke from the sun shining on my face. I put my hand over my eyes, trying to keep the light out. I was lying on something soft and warm and comfortable, and I wanted to keep sleeping here.
Then I realized. The sun was shining. Not just some of its light, made murky by filtering through unnatural mist in the sky. My eyes snapped open. I saw the cheerfully blue summer sky. What a wonderful sight.
I was lying on one of the velvet couches in the Scarlet Mansion’s observatory. The place seemed less ominous in daylight. The battle with Remilia Scarlet might have been a bad dream, except for the huge, black blood stains in the carpet a few feet away.
I sat up to stretch, and felt two other bits of evidence that last night had been real. The bandage around my leg was still there. Except the splotch of blood was smaller. It was a fresh wrap. There was another bandage, wrapped above my right shoulder and below my left armpit. This one covered the bite wound in my neck.
I looked around. Remilia was nowhere to be seen. Her servants had carried her away, or she had walked out on her own. Either way, I was still alive. And that someone had tended my wounds while I slept meant I wasn’t in danger. That, and the blonde-headed girl snoring on the armchair next to me.
Marisa was curled into a ball on the chair far too large for her. I stood over her, listening to her make that unnecessarily adorable zehzehzehhh noise in her sleep. I decided to wake her. I can only take so much cuteness at a time.
“Hey,” I said, shaking her shoulder. “Rise and shine, sleeping beauty. It’s almost noon.”
She snorted, and her eyes opened. She looked up at me. Relief came over her face.
“Reimus!” she said, throwing herself at me. She clamped her arms tight around my waist. I hugged her back.
“Good to see you too,” I said. “Mind telling me what happened?”
“Hoping you could tell mees,” she said, pulling back and settling in the chair’s cushions. “Pull up a seats.”
I sat in another huge chair across from her, letting my left leg hang. “How did you get out of the dungeon?”
“Master escape artists,” she said. “Dislocated joints to get out of the chains, then climbed out the cell windows. Tough squeezing between the bars, but just sucked in my bellies really hards and—”
“All right, all right,” I laughed. “Ask a stupid question. So they freed you.”
She nodded. “Chief maid girls, Sakuya, came down and let me outs. Or more like, threatened mees to get outs. Come help clean up the mess Reimus made, or get your eyes replaced with knives. So batty youkai girls was Scarlets?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Remilia is her name. Is she still alive?”
“Think sos. Came up heres with Sakuya, saw bunches of fairies carrying Scarlets out. Soaked with bloods, konked out, but breathings. Sakuya went off with her, but left some fairies to get you patched ups. Wondered if she’d come backs, kill us or spit on us or call us fat to hurt our feelings. But haven’t seen hers. More worried about Remi than us.”
“The fairies did this?” I said, touching the bandage on my neck. It felt like the one on my leg, meaning this mansion’s youkai servants tended my first injury too. But even stranger was that Sakuya had ordered them to. I couldn’t imagine such a killer caring for the health of her enemies. Maybe she only wanted to keep me from bleeding on the furniture, making a mess for her to clean.
“Yups,” said Marisa. “Fine medics, toos. After cleaned ups, kind of wandered offs. Nobody told me to go homes, so here I ams.”
“This place is hardly clean,” said Sakuya. “You can’t get that much blood out of carpet. It’ll have to be torn up and replaced.”
Both Marisa and I started at the maid’s sudden appearance. There had been no footsteps sounding her approach. The observatory doors were hanging open, but we hadn’t heard their knobs turn. Hadn’t seen Sakuya walk halfway across the room to us. She was just there.
“How do you do that?” I said, catching my breath.
“I’m the head maid.” She put her hands on her apron and bowed. “May I ask if you are both feeling well?”
“Only if you don’t mind our surprise,” I said. “We could have been dead at your hands fourteen hours ago.”
“You could be dead at my hands any time.” Sakuya fixed her blue eyes on me. “Except that it’s not my mistress’s wish. You’re no longer considered intruders. You’re now the mistress’s guests.”
I stood, meeting Sakuya’s eyes. “Is Remilia okay?”
“Alive and well, and thank you for your concern.” She bowed again. “She asks that you forgive her not yet granting you both guest rooms. She knew you must have been tired after last night’s… happenings, so she wished you to rest in the observatory.”
“So now what?” I said. “Will Remilia let us go?”
“You’re free to leave,” said Sakuya. “But the mistress requests you spend the day here. She wishes to speak with you. She’s instructed me to guide you to your rooms, have the fairies give you a bath and fresh clothes. Once you’re ready, you’re invited to have lunch with the mistress and her senior staff in the main dining room.”
I glanced at Marisa. She nodded.
“We’ll accept Remilia’s hospitality, if you answer a question,” I said. “Why should we trust you?”
“No reason at all,” said Sakuya. “But I will say this. Last night, you staked my mistress through the heart. She’s still alive this morning, and that’s nothing less than a miracle. After that, if my mistress had the slightest of hint of harsh feelings, you would both be fairy food before sunrise. That you’re still alive is a huge act of good faith on my mistress’s part, and I suggest you don’t take it lightly.”
She and I regarded each other. I didn’t like to think it, but I was still this woman’s enemy. She hated me for hurting Remilia. Only her mistress’s word kept her from slicing me to ribbons.
“Good answer,” I said. “Lead on.”
She nodded to us, turned and walked out of the observatory. Marisa stood and helped me limp along, following the maid.
Going down the stairs was painful, but it was easier than going up. I made it with Marisa’s help. Sakuya lead us to a pair of bedrooms on the third floor. Each room had more floor space than Marisa’s entire house. A huge, four-post bed with pillows bigger than me. A big bay window with a view of the lake. A fully stocked walk-in closet. A bathroom, complete with wash sink and a massive porcelain tub.
Sakuya led Marisa to the neighboring room, leaving me with a dance of fairy maids. Three brought my bath fixings, a bar of soap, scrub brush, sponge, fresh bandages and lots of towels. A fourth fairy was drawing steaming hot water into the tub.
“I appreciate this,” I said. “But I want to bathe by myself.”
The fairies all looked at me, wearing hurt expressions.
“Did we do something to offend, dear guest?” said one.
“We give the best baths in all of Gensokyo,” said another.
“The mistress told us to treat you with the utmost care.”
“Please don’t send us away.”
Oh man. The fairies actually wanted to pamper me. It was their trade. If I refused these fairies, they might feel how I would if people stopped coming to my shrine for spiritual guidance. It would be saying, what you do best isn’t good enough for me, so stay out of my face.
I couldn’t do that. Not even to youkai.
“All right,” I said. “Use kid gloves, okay?”
As if I even needed to say that. The fairies were gentler than I thought youkai knew how to be. They lifted my shirt off me and undid my dress. They slowly, carefully cut off my bandages and sarashi. My skin tingled everywhere their warm hands touched me. It was a good thing I accepted their help. After they had undressed me, I realized my wounds were too sore for me to do the job myself. I couldn’t bend my left leg all the way, nor lift my right arm above my head. Remilia must have bitten one of my shoulder muscles.
The fairies led me to a stool beside the bathtub. I sat, watched them roll up their sleeves and go to work. They slowly poured bucket after bucket of hot water over me. Once I was thoroughly wet, they brought out the soap and brush. They lathered me up and scrubbed me down. I washed my face and front myself, while they used the soft sponge to clean the wounds on my leg and neck.
My skin was red once yesterday’s sweat and grime were gone. The fairies dumped more buckets of water on me, rinsing me clear of soap. That done, they helped me into the bathtub. I sunk into it, relishing the embrace of hot water. The fairies let me soak for a while. I lay back, letting my hair hang over the lip of the tub. One of the fairies took this as a cue. She patted the water out of my hair with a towel. Then she brought over a tiny, fairy-sized hairbrush and stroked one lock at a time.
This was heaven.
“Dear guest,” said one of the other fairies. “About your clothes. Would you like them washed and returned to you?”
I turned my head, saw the fairy beating her wings to hover five feet off the floor. She held up my miko blouse. It was stained with so much dirt and blood and wine. It hurt to look at it.
“No,” I said. “Burn them. They’re not fit wear.”
She seemed happy with that decision. She gathered up my clothes, the remains of my bandages and sarashi, flew out of room.
“Then we shall help you pick your new outfit,” said one of the two other fairies. They started bringing clothes out from the closet, holding them up for me to see. First, they showed me an extravagant red and white ballroom dress.
“Kudos on noticing my colors,” I said. “But something a little plainer, please. I’m not going to a dance with some prince.”
Next they brought out an expensive double-breasted jacket on top of a button-up shirt and slacks.
“Nor am I male,” I said.
A silken evening dress, made for much curvier women than me.
“Nor am I trying to get lucky,” I said. “Look, girls. I’m a miko. The high-priced look doesn’t work for me.”
A pair of revealing lace panties, and nothing else.
“I’m not low-priced either!”
The two fairies flew from the room, laughing themselves breathless. They were playing with me. Finally, they brought out a pair of trousers and a plain, long sleeved shirt. It would protect from the sun, but was open to air. Perfect for summer travel. I bet they’d picked out these clothes from the beginning.
I wanted to stay in the tub longer, but Remilia was probably waiting for me. I forced my self out of the water. I stood while the fairies each used a towel to dry me off. Once I was dry, they wrapped a new sarashi around my chest. I didn’t need it, since I wouldn’t be wearing a miko’s blouse. But the fairies seemed to think it would make me comfortable. I didn’t stop them.
They also wrapped new bandages around my wounds. I wasn’t bleeding anymore, but punctures are best covered until healed. Once I got back to my shrine, I would have to disinfect them with something. I wasn’t looking forward to that.
I was soon clean, dry and dressed. I nodded to the fairies.
“Thank you,” I said. “Please go tell Sakuya that I’m ready to meet the mistress.”
The fairies bowed to me, then flew from the room. They left the door open behind them. Marisa came running in a minute after they were gone.
“Reimus!” she said. “Why are you dressed in thats? Could’ve bummed some good clothes off Remis.”
I laughed. She was wearing the jacket and slacks. She looked like a girl trying very hard to look like a boy, or just a girlish boy. I was surprised the fairies had found those clothes in her size. Her hair was washed and combed like mine, but still a yellow mess.
“Do me a favor,” I said. “Never wear that outfit when coming to visit. It’ll feel too much like you’re taking me out on a date.”
“Should be so luckies,” she said. “Anyways. Gonna eat or somethings? Pretty hungries.”
“I hope your table manners are better than your grammar,” said Sakuya, having appeared in the doorway.
Marisa yelped and jumped, clinging to me.
“Hello Sakuya,” I said. “Can’t complain about your promptness. Have we kept Remilia waiting?”
“Not at all,” said the maid. “The mistress just sat down to lunch. The meal took a while to prepare.” She bowed to us, turned and headed down the hallway. “Come with me, please.”
We followed, Marisa again helping me limp along. I couldn’t keep a straight face with her dressed like this. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine she was a little man using my injury as an excuse to feel me up.
“I still can’t believe you’re wearing that,” I said.
“Makes me look goods,” she said.
“Well, there are worse things. The fairies tried to get me into some slinky lingerie.”
“Oh yeahs. Lacey panties. Wearing those toos.”
The main dining room was done in the same motif as the rest of the mansion. Big, large and huge. Several tables surrounded with chairs were dotted around the room. Chandeliers hung from the high ceiling. Windows on one wall looked out over the lake. They were all open, breathing a pleasant summer breeze. The curtains were drawn so that little direct sunlight came in.
Sakuya led us through the maze of tables and chairs. They were all empty, except for one at the far corner of the room. This one was covered in plates, pitchers, wine glasses and silverware. Remilia was sitting the head of this table. In the chair on her left sat Patchouli. Beside her sat Hong Meiling.
I would have tripped over myself if Marisa hadn’t been holding me up.
Sakuya looked back at us. “Is something wrong?”
“Meiling!” I said. “How is she here? I… I—”
“Beat her senseless and dumped her body in the lake?” said Sakuya. “So you did. Fine job, too.”
“I killed her!” I said.
“Never stops her from being on time for a meal,” said Sakuya.
“China-girl’s a youkai,” said Marisa. “Living natural magics and everythings. Easy to beat, hard to kills. Usually come back after a whiles.”
“You’re kidding,” I said. “You knew this all along?”
Marisa looked up at me. “Didn’t yous?”
“Don’t worry about Meiling,” said Sakuya. “I kill her at least three times a week. She’s got a problem with authority.”
I didn’t know if she was joking, and I didn’t want to find out. We approached the table where Remilia sat with her servants. All three were wearing different clothes from yesterday, but in the same styles. Meiling wore a gi that showed off her body without showing much skin. Patchouli had on a heavy nightgown, as if she would take her midday nap after lunch. Remilia wore a clean white dress. To look at her, you wouldn’t know she had been stabbed through the chest only hours before.
“Welcome,” said the mistress of the house. “Please, have a seat. Lunch is coming out soon.”
Marisa and I took our chairs, sitting beside each other. Sakuya helped me scoot my chair in. I expected to get angry looks from Patchouli or Meiling, but neither of them even glanced at me.
“Shall I serve the appetizers, Mistress?” said Sakuya.
“No,” said Remilia. “Sit beside me. I want you here for the conversation.”
Silence. Patchouli and Meiling exchanged looks.
“Mistress?” said the maid. “Are you su—”
“Sit, Sakuya. The fairies will serve our meal.”
She hesitated, then sat at her mistress’s right hand. On the other side of the room, a pair of double doors flapped open. I assumed that was the kitchen, judging by the pair of fairies flying a large tray out to us. They set the tray down on the table, then began dishing out the appetizer. I expected truffles or crepes or stuffed mushrooms or some other expensive food I didn’t know how to eat. But the fairies were giving us sliced fruit and bread rolls with pats of butter. That much I could do. A third fairy filled our glasses with drink. The mansion residents all had wine. Marisa and I asked for water.
“Dig in,” said Remilia. “Don’t worry about manners. Eat if you’re hungry.”
So we ate. After a few minutes, Marisa and I were asking for seconds. We hadn’t eaten since yesterday afternoon, right before crossing the lake. Remilia gave us time to take the edge off our appetites before she started talking.
“I hope you liked your accommodations,” she said.
“More than generous,” I said, wiping my mouth with a cloth napkin. “Your fairies are excellent at what they do.”
Remilia smiled. “Aren’t they? I’m glad you two decided to have lunch with me. There’s a lot I need to tell you. And I’m sure you have questions for me, too. In fact, why don’t you ask your questions first? That way we might be done talking before desert.”
“I only have one question,” I said.
Now Remilia and her three strongest servants were looking at me. They all knew what I was going to say.
“Yes,” said Remilia. “The mist. That’s what brought you here, isn’t it? That’s what led you on a mad crusade through my house. But here we all are, enjoying a nice meal on a summer afternoon. The sun is shining outside. It’s almost as if the mist never appeared in the fist place. We couldn’t just forget about it, could we? Couldn’t simply move on? Choose to leave this harsh chapter of our lives behind?”
“No, we couldn’t,” I said. “Because if I don’t know where the mist came from, I don’t know that it won’t happen again. Or something worse.”
“You’re completely right. So I’ll tell you about the mist. But I need to start by telling you about myself.” Remilia took a sip from her wine glass. “Last night I used the name Vlad Tepes as a roundabout way of telling you that I’m a vampire. And I am. But honestly, I don’t know if I’m related to Dracula or not. I don’t even know if there was a Dracula. I don’t know if he was purely fictional, or if the story was inspired by a particularly tenacious youkai vampire who lived in that part of the world at that time. I know precious little about my family or origin. And I use the word precious literally. What small bits I have, I hold dear. Do you understand?”
Both Marisa and I nodded.
“I knew you would,” said Remilia. “That’s one of those universal human traits. You understand the value of family, the love and closeness of blood relations. The bonds are strong and deep. So much that they can drive family members to do foolish things. Then other family members will defend the foolish one, because they love they feel for her defies reason. The original fool will take that to mean her deeds are acceptable, and continue them. And so on in a downward spiral until the family falls apart, or someone puts and end to the stupidity.” She smiled. “In rare cases, the cycle is broken by outside intervention.”
The appetizers were done. Two fairies were clearing away the first round of dishes, while another was refilling drinks. Two more were dishing out the main course. A seasoned side of roast beef with vegetables, and two more baskets of rolls on the side. I noticed none of this. My attention was on Remilia.
“I have a sister,” she said.
“Vampires have sisters?” said Marisa.
“This one does,” said Remilia. “At least, I call her my sister. She’s been with me for as long as I can remember. She looks similar to me, height and build. Her hair is a different color, but her face is like mine. And her eyes. She too has vampire eyes.”
“What’s her name?” I said.
Remilia didn’t answer. She looked down at her plate, focusing on sawing apart a piece of meat and chewing it down. Her servants were acting the same way, looking at nothing as they ate. I guess the scarlet sister wasn’t topic for casual conversation in this house.
“Whatever you’re trying to tell me about this sister of yours,” I said. “We can’t talk about her very easily without speaking her name.”
“You’re right,” said Remilia. “I can’t speak about her easily at all. But the six of us didn’t come together at this table by being squeamish, did we? I’ll tell you her name.”
Yet she didn’t. She kept going at her slice of roast.
“Remilia,” I said.
She looked up at me, pained.
“Her name is Flandre.”
“What’s in a name?” I said. “You act like it’s a swear word.”
“It’s not the name,” said Remilia. “The name is a label for something terrible.”
“Not nice to say about a sisters,” said Marisa.
“It’s the kindest description I can use,” said Remilia. “She may look like me, but there are some very important differences between us. Patchouli, would you explain?”
“Yes, Mistress,” said the youkai witch. “I have done research on the origin and characteristics of vampires, and come to a few conclusions and assumptions. Vampire youkai are likely either the descendants of, or a specialized breed of, the youkai version of the vampire bat. However, humanoid vampires have higher degrees of intelligence than other animal youkai. They have reasoning and cognitive abilities equal too or greater than a human’s. That, combined with their youkai lifespan and consumption of human blood, has the caused myths, legends and horror stories about vampires.”
“Fiction has basis in fact, so they say,” said Remilia.
“Most interesting from these stories is their account of vampire weaknesses,” said Patchouli. “Sunlight. Holy symbols. Running water. Garlic. That the only way to kill a vampire is a stake through the heart.”
Remilia waved a hand to the windows. “I stay out of the sun, but only because I have pale skin. I’ve never burst into flames because someone holds a cross at me. If water were a problem, I wouldn’t live in the middle of a lake. And I don’t especially like garlic, but it doesn’t hurt me.”
“I used a little on the roast,” said Sakuya.
“As for getting staked through the heart.” Remilia smiled, showing her teeth. “Well. I’m still here, aren’t I?”
Shivers went down my back.
“The different depictions of vampires throughout historical and fictional texts are hugely variable in describing a vampire’s characteristics,” said Patchouli. “No one seems to agree on what makes a vampire a vampire, except that they drink blood. The reason for this, I assume, is that real vampires actually do vary in what defines them as a vampire. Similar to how human traits change within different subsets of humans. Colors and physical builds, for instance.”
“So vampires have hereditary differences,” I said.
“Not hereditary,” said Patchouli. “Arbitrary. The mistress’s younger sister is drastically different from Remilia herself in a few of those vampirical traits. Flandre cannot be exposed to sunlight, direct or otherwise. Even if she were hiding under one of the tables in this room now, her skin would break out in severe rashes and bleed profusely.”
“One time,” said Sakuya, “I brought her a dish with a very small amount of garlic in it, less than in the meat here. I couldn’t even get close to her with it. The smell of it made her sick. She refused to eat anything for two days after that.”
“I guess that explains why she’s not eating with us,” I said. “Where is she now?”
“In an underground cellar,” said Remilia. “The vault. For her protection, as well as ours.”
“Yours?” I said.
“Certainly,” said Patchouli. “My mistress is a powerful sorceress. She gave you a small demonstration in the observatory, with the telescopic spell. Yet Flandre’s power….” Her voice trailed off.
“Is greater than mine,” said Remilia. “By far. She can wipe out entire villages. And she might, if she got too excited. She has little control.”
“We’re getting off track,” I said. “What does your sister have to do with the mist?”
“Everything,” said Remilia. “She’s the source of it.”
Fairies took the dishes away, giving us each a small bowl and spoon. A particularly hefty fairy flew a larger bowl out to the table. She gave us each a scoop of homemade ice cream, then topped it with a squirt of sweet syrup. It looked delicious, but I didn’t have any. The talk of Flandre Scarlet had taken what little remained of my appetite.
Marisa, on the other hand, cleaned her bowl. Then she had mine.
“About a week ago,” said Remilia. “I was in my atelier, doing some experiment or another. The whole mansion suddenly shook!” She grabbed the table and jerked it once, almost toppling the wine glasses. “There was a massive magical shockwave coming from the vault. Bigger than any single spell I had ever seen. Bigger, I thought, than even Flandre was capable of. I went down there to make sure she was safe, but she wouldn’t let me in.”
“The vault door has a lock that is opened from the outside,” said Sakuya. “But the door swings inwards, and Flandre is stronger than any of us. She can keep us out if she wants.”
“I couldn’t make any sense of it,” said Remilia. “I tried talking to her through the vault door, but she just told me not to worry. It would all be over soon, and then she would come out.”
Marisa stopped shoveling ice cream into her mouth, mid scoop. Even she didn’t like the idea of Flandre getting out of her cage.
“We didn’t know what she was doing or why,” said Remilia. “But we did know that if we didn’t stop her, the mansion would soon be in a crater half the size of Gensokyo. We had to get the magical energy away from here somehow. And the only safe place to send it was up.” She pointed to the ceiling.
“Together, the mistress and I crafted a spell,” said Patchouli. “To redirect the magic disturbance. We simply aimed it at the sky. Our initial hope was that Flandre would see she was making no progress towards whatever end she was trying to gain, and desist. But the opposite was the case. Her output increased. The mist outside began as a light haze, and quickly became the blood-red color you saw yesterday.”
“And at night,” I said. “There were things up in the clouds.”
“Come on,” I said. “I know I’m not the only one who saw them.”
“You’re not,” said Remilia. “It’s just… We’re not happy with what it means.”
“Means?” I said.
“I have studied child psychology briefly,” said Patchouli. “The images visible in the mist are typical pictorial expressions from a young female heavily stressed or abused. Violence, pain, threats.”
“Well duh!” I said. “How would you feel if you’d been locked up for…? How long have you guys been here anyway?”
“The years blend together after you’ve been for so many of them,” said Remilia. “But looking at the calendars recently, I think I’ve lived half a millennia. Flandre recently passed her four hundred and ninety-somethingth year in containment.”
“That’s insane!” I said.
“She is,” said Remilia. “Anyone would be. But I hope you can sympathize, Reimu. I had no choice. Neither did Flandre. If it were up to me, I would go downstairs this very second and free her. Except then, every field, every village, every shrine in Gensokyo would be razed. I would be sentencing your homeland to death.”
“You have anyway!” I stood, ignoring the pain in my leg. “Sealing your sister in a can just prolonged the problem. Made it worse, in the long run. If Marisa and I hadn’t come here, we would still be under the mist!”
“Don’t you dare judge!” said Sakuya, standing. “It wasn’t your decision to make! The mistress—”
“Sit down and be quiet, Sakuya.”
She looked at her mistress. “But she—”
The maid bit her tongue. She sat, but didn’t seem at all happy about it. Remilia looked at her for a moment, as if making sure she wouldn’t have another outburst. Then she turned to me.
“You’re absolutely right, Reimu. If you two hadn’t come here, the mist would be even thicker than yesterday. In another day or so, it would’ve blocked out the sun completely. But this just means that I’m not the only one who prolonged a problem, thus making it worse in the long run.”
“What are you saying?” I said.
“Why do you think the mist went away? Why would stabbing me with a stick clear the weather? Didn’t you ask yourself what the connection was?”
I said nothing.
“You changed me,” she said. “I don’t know how, but I’m not the vampire I used to be. I might not even be Flandre’s sister anymore. I’ve lost whatever connection I had with her. The redirector spell is gone. Patchouli and I tried to reestablish it this morning, but we failed.”
“Flandre no longer has an outlet for the energy she is gathering,” said Patchouli. “We do not know when, but that energy will eventually reach critical mass.”
My skin went cold, despite the warm summer air coming through the windows.
“Yes,” said Remilia. “We’re sitting on a very large time bomb. It might be tonight. It might be a month from now. But when it does happen, this mansion will vaporize, and take half the valley along with it.”
Forward to Chapter Ten
Back to Chapter Eight
Return to Chapter Index