Death or not, we followed Patchouli’s directions. We had no reason to trust her, but no other guidance. We had to either go where she told us or wander around the mansion aimlessly.
Reddish brown carpet covered the floors. The walls were tall, hung with the occasional landscape picture, lined with marble pillars every dozen yards. Suspended from the ceiling were spark lamps, like the ones lighting the library. The ambience said that Scarlet was powerful and important.
Marisa was running for some reason, dragging me past all of it. We made it to the stairwell and started to climb.
“Marisa!” I said, trying to slow her. “All those mean things you said about me. You were just trying to trick Patchouli, right?”
She looked back at me. “Nopes. You really are fat and dumb and stupids.”
“I’m what?” I said, feeling hurt.
Marisa laughed. She turned and battered me with a full bodied hug, her arms clamping tight around my neck. Her weight nearly knocked me backwards down the stairs.
“So adorable, Reimus!” she said. “So insecures, like a kittens needs her momma’s loves. Come ons. Gotta meet Lady Scarlets.”
She kept pulling me up the stairs. We made it to the top floor and ran into the hallway. As we went, I noticed fairy maids coming out from behind doors and around corners. They followed us, but from a safe distance. They muttered to themselves as we passed.
“Oooh. They’re going to meet the dog.”
“She’ll chew them up and spit them out.”
“This should be a good show.”
“Finally we can see her beat up someone else for a change.”
I tried to ignore them all. I failed.
We came to the double doors. They were big and ornate, suggesting a big room on the other side. What looked like moonlight seeped out from under them, casing a white shade over the hallway carpet. Marisa and I looked at each other.
“Readies?” she said.
“No,” I said. “But let’s do it anyway.”
She nodded. I took hold of the left doorknob, she the right.
“On threes,” she said. “Ones.”
We pulled the doors open, creamy moonlight flooding over us. I felt a small breeze by my ear, heard a thunk sound behind me. I looked back and saw a knife stabbed into the wall, its rounded bottom still wiggling back and forth from the momentum of being thrown.
I froze. The knife was etched with the letters S I.
The observatory was a huge, circular room with a glass dome for a ceiling. Either the mansion was sitting below a hole in the sky mist, or some magic allowed the observatory to pierce it. The full moon shone with unreal brilliance, taking up a third of the sky. I could see its surface in up-close detail, craters and valleys and plains painted into its white surface. It lit the room like the daytime sun. No stars could be seen hanging in the sky, only solid night blackness as a backdrop to the moon.
The walls were papered with illustrations of stars, chartings of constellations, mappings of the rotation of the planets, astronomical mathematics and equations. Scattered around the room were bits of furniture, lounge chairs, velvet-cushioned couches, tables stacked with papers and books. It looked like a place to relax and gaze at the sky, as well as a place to study it.
But every feature of the room paled to the one person standing in it. Here was the assassin. Lady Scarlet’s dog. The mansion’s chief maid.
I had to stare at her before I could believe what I was seeing. Here stood a girl, barely older than me. She was tall and beautiful, but not inhumanly so. This was no youkai. She wore a maid’s outfit, complete with apron and skirt, showing off her legs and high heeled shoes. Her hair was silvery white, or made so by the moonlight, hanging in two small braids on either side of her face. Her arms were folded, holding a throwing knife in each hand. Her shadow stretched out from her feet, like a monster familiar ready to reach out and strangle her enemies.
Worst of all, her eyes. Cold blue. Killer’s eyes.
“It’s you,” said Marisa.
The girl bowed her head to us, keeping her knives ready.
“Welcome to the observatory of the Scarlet Mansion,” she said. “I’m the chief maid and Lady Scarlet’s personal attendant. My name is Sakuya Izayoi. I’ll be your executioner this evening.”
I wasn’t going to let this faze me. So far, Scarlet’s servants had been more talk than action. Meiling had muscles, but not enough to make up for her lack of brains. Patchouli had magic, but worried about saving face more than protecting her mistress. As for Izayoi here, she had style. She was pulling off a great murderess-of-the-moon image, making serial killer and devil’s servant seem like sexy career choices. And sure, she could throw knives around.
But was that enough? Maybe, maybe not. My adventures up to now had taught me one thing. To fear is worse than death. I would rather die with pride than live a coward.
So I stepped into the observatory, my gohei in hand. Marisa came in behind me.
“I’m Reimu Hakurei,” I said. “I’m here—”
“I know why you’re here,” said Sakuya. “Not that it matters. This is for Meiling.”
Suddenly, something was very wrong. I couldn’t tell what. My body bucked against itself, like it was trying to evict my internal organs. My breath caught in my throat. My knees weakened.
Marisa turned to face me, as if to ask what was wrong with me. She looked down at my legs, and her face covered with horror. She slapped a hand over her mouth, covering a scream.
“Wha…?” I said. I looked down at myself.
One of Sakuya’s knives was embedded in my left thigh. It pinned my dress to my leg. A bloody red stain was spreading in cloth around it. I took a second to realize that a blade was sticking out of me. Then the pain hit.
A wailing, agonized cry came from inside me. It was as much surprise as pain. I couldn’t believe such a noise came from my own throat. I panicked at the thought of a cold, foreign metal object penetrating my flesh. I reached down and grabbed the knife by its rounded base, meaning to pull it out. But just touching it ignited hurt worse I knew human beings could experience. I screamed again, falling onto my backside.
“Reimu!” Marisa yelled, kneeling down beside me and holding me by the shoulders. Her hat flew back off her head, as if blown by a gust of wind. Yellow strands of her hair lifted up before settling back down, stirred by the sudden absence of her hat. It flew straight back and stuck against the wall, pinned there. Marisa only noticed when she heard the thud of another thrown knife hitting something. She put her hand on her head, feeling her hat was no longer there.
Sakuya was walking towards us, her high heels sinking into the carpet gently.
“Surrender,” she said. “Now.”
Marisa got on her knees, putting both hands on her apron and bowing her head.
“We surrenders!” she said.
“Good.” Sakuya stood over us, her arms still folded. I never saw her hands move when throwing. Never saw the blades spin through the air. Maybe she was youkai after all. No human could move that fast. Worse, she was still holding two knives. The same as when we had walked in. Not less the two she’d thrown. There weren’t many places she could be hiding replacements in that maid’s dress.
All of this was afterthought to the raging apocalypse happening in my leg. I could feel each beat of my heart pumping more of my life’s blood out the wound. I was crying and breathing hard, in shock from being stabbed. My whole body was shaking. Marisa leaned against me, trying to absorb my tremors.
“Let’s get that leg tied up,” said Sakuya. “You’re ruining the carpet.”
She bent over, as if to examine the knife in my leg. Marisa held a hand up from her apron, bringing her last spellcard up with it.
“Love sign!” She yelled. “Master—”
With that last word, her throat moved against a blade in Sakuya’s hand. The maid was behind her, pointing another knife into her back. But the sharp points poking into her skin didn’t surprise her as much as Sakuya herself did. One instant, she was in front of Marisa. The next, she was behind and had her in a hostage hold. There was no movement between the two.
“Don’t try it, mage!” she yelled. The spellcard was then two pieces of paper, the bottom half floating down settling on Marisa’s apron. They crumpled into ashen powder from what little energy she had gathered for the spell.
Marisa looked at her hand, stunned. Where the spellcard had been one second ago, now a thin groove filling with blood was across her palm. She stared at the cut with the disbelief of a person who sees her wounds but feels no pain. Sakuya’s knives were so fast and sharp that human skin simply parted to them.
“Do you get it?” said Sakuya. She stood, leaving a small bloody spot on Marisa’s neck. “Your lives are mine. Soon they will belong to the mistress.” She turned to the door and yelled, “Fairies! Get in here!”
“You didn’t…” I said. It was hard to push the words out. “You didn’t mean to kill us.”
“You’re right,” said Sakuya, stowing the throwing knives in her skirt. “I lied. I’m not your executioner. Not yet. Not before the mistress decides what to do with you.”
She lifted her skirt up, showing a perfectly shaped thigh and hip. But her body interested me less than the weapon strapped to her leg. Another small knife, but unlike the ones she had been throwing. This one was in a sheath and had an actual handle. She pulled it out, showing a blade of black metal, and touched its tip to Marisa’s neck. I saw her move this time, but she was still so fast that Marisa couldn’t raise an arm in defense.
“If the mistress wanted you dead, you’d both be that way,” said Sakuya.
Marisa looked like she wanted to say something, but her mouth lolled open. Her eyes fluttered closed. She fell onto her back, unconscious.
“Poison,” I breathed.
“Of a sort,” said Sakuya. She pricked my neck with the knife. I couldn’t have stopped her. I jumped at the quick needle of pain, but then felt nothing at all. Even the wound in my leg was a hundred miles away. I slid onto my back, but couldn’t feel the floor under me. My eyes were going out. Even staring straight up into the painfully bright moon, my head filled with darkness.
“Goodnight,” said Sakuya.
I couldn’t understand her, and I didn’t matter. Fairies were gathering around me. I didn’t find out what for. The world was gone from me. Everything was peaceful and black.
I slept for a time, but not long. Soon my body pulled me back to the waking world. I wasn’t happy with this. The real world was a bad place. Full of my pain and mistakes and stupidity. But I was too weak to stay away from myself. Slowly, I woke.
I lay on something cold and hard. More stone flooring. The air coming into my lungs was bitter and dusty. I tried raising a hand to rub the life back into my eyes, but wrist caught on something. I heard a loud jangle of metal.
I opened my eyes, but didn’t see much. Wherever room this was, there was little light. Only some weak moonlight coming in through a barred window. My eyes had already adjusted to the dark. I looked down at myself, seeing metal shackles on my wrists and ankles. They were bound to metal rings the floor by heavy chains, clinking every time I moved. My dress was soaked through with dried blood, but the knife was no longer in my leg. It still ached with each beat of my heart, but no new blood was coming out. The skin around the wound was tight. My leg had been bandaged.
“You awake, Reimus?”
I looked towards the voice. Marisa was on the other side of the room, bound to the floor like I was. She was sitting against the wall, her legs halfway crossed under her dress. She had lost the bow on her braid at some point, and her hair hung around her face and over her breasts. She looked sad, miserable.
“Yeah,” I said. I tried to sit up myself, but the pain in my leg flared. I decided to stay lying down. “Are you okay?”
“Better than you ares,” she said. “Looks like I gots some crow-eatings. You were rights. Never should’ve come out heres.”
“No,” I said. “Even if it didn’t end well, coming out here was the right thing to do.”
I looked at her. Little Miss Sure-of-Herself was questioning her own ideals. But I couldn’t blame her. Here we were, broken, defeated and captured. Waiting for some faceless scarlet woman to pass judgment on us. Anyone would be scared.
“You said it yourself,” I said. “It’s better to die trying to fix the problem than die when it overcomes you.”
“Guess sos,” she said, looking down at the floor. “But doesn’t feel like its. Feels like I screwed ups. Put us in dangers for no reasons.”
“Don’t feel that way.” I said. “I’ve been much worse on this trip than you. Remember, after we got away from Patchouli. I stopped you and asked if meant the things you said. You know why I did that? Because you were right.”
“You’re not fat or uglies—”
“That’s not what I mean. The part about me being baggage. That was true.”
Marisa was shaking her head. “No, no. Reimus, don’t—”
“Listen to me, Marisa. I need to say this.” I took a deep breath. “Miko believe there are three basic sins a person can commit. Pride. Anger. Fear. All the bad things people do come from those, or some combination of them. But the king of all sins is fear. Even the other two come from that. Pride is the fear of not being better than other people. Anger is fear turned inside out, wanting to hurt others rather than be hurt.”
“So? Scaredy cats go to hells? Not very a fair religions.”
“Being scared doesn’t mean you’re morally bad,” I said. “It means you’re unhappy. People who are frightened or proud or angry can’t be happy, because they’re too busy trying to survive those negative emotions. People suppress those sins sometimes, and they mistake that temporary relief for happiness. But it’s not. Happiness only comes from living in the opposite of the three sins.”
“Then prides should be humbleness,” she said. “And angers, kindess. And fear…?”
“Love,” I said.
We were quiet for a moment. The sky mist outside tainted what little moonlight made it in the room, casting dark shapes on the stone floor. They melded and changed, clouds morphing at high speed. I tried not to look at it, kept my eyes on Marisa instead.
“Loves,” she said.
“Yeah,” I said. “That’s where my problem comes in. I’m guilty of all three sins so many times over. Those evil shapes in the sky scared me. The dark youkai Rumia took advantage of that, and nearly had me for dinner. I got sick of being scared, so I went to the other extreme and got angry. I took it out on Meiling and Patchouli.” My eyes were welling up, leaking warm tears down my face. My voice was getting thick. “I’m a miko, Marisa. I’m not supposed to hurt people. I don’t stab girls in the leg. I don’t beat them with my gohei. I let my anger own me. I used it to knock my enemies down. And when it worked, I thought that was enough to solve my problems. I let it make me proud, right up to meeting that girl Sakuya. But pride goes before a fall. And here we are, fallen.” I sniffed, squeezed my eyes shut. “It’s my fault.”
“No it’s not, Reimus!” Marisa’s voice was wet. She was crying too. “Mikos think it’s better to dies than defend herselves? All the stuff you dids, you had toos.”
“It’s not what I did,” I said, sniffing again. “It’s why. It’s the feelings inside that mattered. It’s okay to defend yourself, but it’s not okay to hate someone. That’s the difference between me and you. When you attacked Rumia, you did it to save me. Not because you hated her, but because….”
“But because,” she said. “‘Cause I love you.”
The tears were running free now, making a puddle on the floor under my face. I hated embarrassing moments like this. But it was truth, and it needed to be said.
“I love you too, Marisa.” I said. “I owe you my life more than once. You’ve been my friend even when I didn’t deserve one. Thank you so much.”
She said nothing. Just smiled at me, the moonlight glinting in the tears on her cheeks. I wanted to hug her right then. I would have, if not for these stupid chains.
“Tell me something,” I said. “Why did you start drinking the wine in that cellar?”
“Don’t buy my brilliant plans?” she said. “You got mees. Just always wanted to drinks with you, Reimus. It’s what friends do, rights? Stay up all nights, get smashed so hards they can’t stand ups. Laugh at stupid things. Wakeup next mornings, wish they’re deads from hangovers.”
“You know,” I said. “I have some sake back at my shrine. It’s not bunyip berry, but it’ll get you plenty drunk. If we get out of this alive…”
Her smile widened. “That’s a date, girlfriends.”
And then, for no good reason, we both started laughing. There was nothing funny about our situation, but we laughed anyway. It felt good. Freeing.
Our laughter stopped dead when we heard a light knock knock sound.
“Hey,” a voice whispered into the cell. “Can you two hear me?”
Marisa and I looked at each other, worried. This was either our death knell or the sound of freedom. But our captors wouldn’t whisper through the door. They would barge in, knock us around some, maybe kill us on the spot. So I answered.
“Yes,” I said. “Who are you?”
“A friend,” the voice whispered back. A rectangular hole opened in the door, about three feet off the floor, letting light pour into the cell. A pair of bright, bloody red eyes peered through the peephole. They looked at me first, then Marisa, then settled back on me.
“I have the keys,” the owner of the red eyes said. “Keep quiet, okay?”
No argument came from us. I heard the door’s lock working, but slowly. Our savior was trying to minimize noise. I was surprised this person could even reach the lock. With eyes low enough to look through that peephole, it couldn’t have been anyone tall. That there even was a peephole that so low was more surprising. I didn’t think cell doors are designed with small captors in mind.
The lock clicked free and the slowly swung inwards. The cell lit as the door opened. The light came from a spark lamp, held by a small youkai girl.
“There we go,” she said.
Both Marisa and I stared at her. We had seen plenty of youkai on our trip here, but this one was stranger than most. She was even shorter than Patchouli, making her seem very young. She wore a pink, puffy dress and matching hat. Her hair was short and cyan blue, sharply contrasting the red of her eyes. A pair of wings came off her back, but not translucent fairy wings. These were dark and leathery.
“What?” she said, putting a fist on her hip. “You guys look like you never saw a bat youkai before.”
I was certain that indeed, neither Marisa nor I had seen a bat youkai. Especially not one who looked like a pretty schoolgirl otherwise.
“Sorry,” I said. “We’re both hurt and tired. Are you here to free us?”
“Oh yeah!” said the youkai, as if remembering something important. “Look what I got.”
In the hand that wasn’t holding the lamp, she held up a metal ring with two keys.
“I found this in the observatory,” she said. “Seems that maid Sakuya dropped it when she was yelling at some fairies to drag you guys down here. So I did some sneaking around, and ta-da!” She came over, and knelt down beside me. She used one of the keys to unlock the shackles on my wrists and ankles. One at a time, they popped free.
I stood up, very slowly. My leg hurt like a screaming demon, but I had to bear it.
“Thank you,” I said. “But who are you? Why are you helping us?”
“Call me Remi,” said the youkai girl. “We’ll talk on the way out. Gotta hurry.” She went over to Marisa, tried to undo her shackles. She put the key in and jiggled it, but it wouldn’t turn. She tried the door key, but it didn’t work either. She tried the first key again, twisting it as hard as she could. It even bent slightly, or seemed to. But I must have been seeing things. A little girl, even a youkai, wouldn’t be that strong.
“Darn it,” she said. “I didn’t think they’d be keyed different. Must be one of Sakuya’s other key rings.”
“Then lock me back up,” I said. “I’m not leaving without Marisa.”
“Stupid miko-girls!” Marisa spat up at me. “If one can get outs, then get outs! Halfway better than both being heres!”
“No!” I said. “If you were free, would you leave me behind?”
“Bet your miko butts! Just close the doors and I’ll be quiets. No one’ll notice you’re gones. Then you come backs and save mees.”
She was doing that whole being right thing again. One of us free was better than both of us locked up. I had a chance to come back and free Marisa, a small one. But that chance would be zero if I didn’t take what I could get.
I knelt down and hugged Marisa, holding her head against my chest.
“I’ll come back for you,” I said. “If I have to raise an army to come raid this place, I’ll do it. I promise.”
“We don’t have time for this!” said Remi. “Sakuya or her maids might come by any minute.”
“Good enough, Reimus,” said Marisa. “Now get out of heres!”
I nodded. I stood again, biting back another scream at the pain in my thigh, and hobbled after Remi. She led me into the hallway, closed and locked the cell door behind us. She slid the peephole shut, putting Marisa back into darkness. I knew it was necessary, but I hated it.
Remi had brought my gohei, leaned it up against the wall before coming into the cell. She handed it to me.
“There you go,” she said. “Now you look like a miko. A dirty one, but oh well.” She turned and headed down the hall, beckoning me to follow. “Come on!”
Like most of the youkai I had seen, Remi could move faster than me. Even though her legs were half as long, she could outrun me on my best day. Having a wounded leg didn’t make things better. I had to limp along, using my gohei as a cane.
“Not so fast!” I whisper-yelled up to her. “Where are we going?”
She looked back at me, slowing down so I could catch up. Her wings flapped gently as she walked. She was leading me down a stone hallway through the Scarlet Mansion’s dungeon. We had passed several more cells, all empty, their doors hanging open.
“We’re going upstairs,” said Remi. “The observatory has a secret exit that leads outside the manor grounds. I figure while we’re up there, we can check to see if Sakuya dropped any other keys. I’m not hopeful, but maybe.”
I nodded, dreading the word stairs. Walking on even floor was painful enough.
“So answer me now,” I said. “Why are you helping me?”
“Not all of Lady Scarlet’s servants particularly like her,” she said. “Especially since that yucky gunk in the sky showed up. Some of us have even run away. I was thinking about leaving too, but today I heard about you and your friend. And I thought, what better way to give Scarlet a bloody nose than to free her prisoners?”
“So you’re only helping me to hurt your mistress?”
“Well, not only that. It’s good being nice to people, right?”
I smiled. “Yes, it is. No matter why you’re doing it, I’m grateful. I’ve seen a lot of youkai in my life, but none like you. Some of them are mean, and most of them are just dumb. But even the smarts ones never went out of their way to help me.”
She smiled up at me. “Not all of us are devils, you know.”
We made it to the main stairwell, and our progress slowed to a standstill. I had to take one agonizing step at a time. The pain in my leg flared each time I lifted it. By the time we got to the first landing, I was panting and sweating. I leaned against the wall, catching my breath. Remi didn’t have the patience.
“This won’t work,” she said. “It’ll be morning before we get to the fourth floor. I’ll carry you.”
“You’ll do what?” I said. “I’m twice your size.”
“And half as strong. Sit down.”
I didn’t know what good it would do, but I obeyed. I didn’t have the strength to keep standing anyway. Remi handed me the lamp. I held it in one hand and my gohei in the other. She came around behind me and knelt down. She reached her arms around my sides and gently hooked her hands under my knees. I inhaled sharply, but the pain was bearable.
“Gonna lift now,” she said. “Alley-oop.”
She stood, and lifted me along with her. I was off the floor, in her arms. But now my shoulders were in her face. She couldn’t see where she was going.
“How’re we getting up stairs like this?” I said.
She said nothing. She turned and started walking up the stairs backwards, carrying me up like an oversized box.
“Careful,” I said, my head bobbing back and forth with each step up. “Don’t slip and hurt yourself.”
“If I slip,” said Remi, “you’ll be hurt much worse than me.”
Remi carried me all the way to the top floor. She kept an even pace the whole way, never running out of breath. You might think it fun to be carried up a staircase, like a child held by its mother. But for me, it just felt weird. I was glad to get on my own feet again, even if it hurt.
Remi took the lamp from me and led me into the hallway. I followed, checking around corners to make sure no fairies or other servants might see us. There was no one. Besides us and Remi’s lamp, the hallways were dark and empty.
“Here we are,” said Remi as we came up to the observatory’s double doors. She pulled the left one open. I expected white moonlight, like when Marisa and I had come here before. The moon still shone down through the glass dome, ridiculously huge and bright, but the moon was not white.
Just like a lunar eclipse, the moon was red.
“What the…” I said, following Remi into the observatory. “What is this? The moon was normal when I met Sakuya here. Well, not normal, but—”
Remi looked back at me and grinned. “How do you like it? The glass in the dome has been magically treated so it can bend light. It lets us see things far away, like the moon and other planets. Think of it as the world’s hugest magnifying glass.”
“But the moon,” I said. “It wasn’t red before.”
“That’s another fun feature. The magic in here can store images for later viewing.” She waved a hand towards the dome ceiling. “This was during a lunar eclipse, where the earth blocked the sun’s light from reaching the moon.”
“And how long ago was that?” I said.
“About sixty years.”
Remi snapped her fingers, and the moon changed. It was clear white again.
“And this is how the moon looked three hundred and forty-something years ago,” she said. “This is actually the first picture I took with these enchantments. I take it for granted today, but it was a major feat for me back then. Getting the spells just right wasn’t easy.”
I began to realize what I had walked into.
Remi looked back at me, smiling again. This time she showed her teeth. Her incisors were long and sharp.
“And this,” she said, snapping her fingers again. The glass dome went solid black, casting us into darkness except for Remi’s lamp. “This will be your existence once I suck you dry.”
She threw her lamp on the floor, shattering it. There was a flash of light, and then blackness. I felt a rush of air go by, heard the door slam shut and lock behind me.
“You,” I said, my voice trembling. “You’re Lady Scarlet.”
“And she figures it out!” she said, now somewhere to my left. “But please, call me Remilia.”
“I don’t care about your name!” I yelled into the darkness. “Tell me why you’re making that mist outside. Tell me why you want to kill all of Gensokyo. Tell me what you really are!”
“That last one is easiest,” she said, now behind me and to my right. “A very rare species of youkai. The most famous of my bloodline was Vlad Tepes. Or as you probably know him, Count Dracula.”
Forward to Chapter Eight
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