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Far below the surface…

 

No sensible sun shone here. There was a light burning bright beside her, but even she had to now admit the one inside her had been wisped out when she hadn’t been looking.

 

Her eyes felt heavy.

 

There was too much pressure down here.

 

She couldn’t just sit here. She was running out of time. She had to do something.

 

She stood, and asked her cat where her favorite places above were.

 

-----

 

Gensokyo…

 

The Land of Illusion. Eastern Wonderland. Yakumo’s Wildlife Preserve. Located in Japan, near the Yatsugatake Mountain Range, between the Nagano and Yamanashi Prefectures.

 

Where it existed, however, is somewhere between fantasy and reality. As far away as the most distant star in the sky, but as close as the other side of the looking glass. Someone must know for certain, but wouldn’t you agree that the mystery is much more interesting?

 

On paper, the purpose of Gensokyo was to preserve the legends of the old world. This, as a regrettable majority of plans ultimately rely, required humans. Specifically, humans to believe in the legends in the face of mounting evidence pointing to their falsity. This is something in which humans excel. Humans need the fantasies just as much as the fantasies need the humans. A thin layer of myth to separate the mind from reality, lest it go insane from a flood of sanity. Tiny, little phantasms, such as: tomorrow will be better, or: this paper in my pocket has worth, or: this skirt doesn’t actually make me look fat.

 

One could, in theory, choose not believing in fantasy, and this is a perfectly viable way to live one’s life outside of Gensokyo. You may not let the fantasy in, but when an Apparition Stalking the Night had her teeth around your subclavian artery, it didn’t change the fact that they were very much in you.

 

Still, Reimu Hakurei was not a woman easily swayed by the reality of the situation.

 

“Really now, Reimu, I’m being very polite about this!” came the voice outside the door to the Shrine’s living quarters. It had been going on for near fifteen minutes now. Reimu, seated at her miniscule table, endeavored to pull her ribbon further over her ears, if such a thing was possible at this point.

 

And the reality of the situation was that Suika had come to visit last night from her summer home up in heaven, and today, Reimu was struggling to handle that special type of headache that followed a visit from the small oni.

 

“I know you’re in there! I can smell your heart beat!”

 

She hadn’t even wanted to get up today, but it was the burden of the Hakurei Shrine Maiden to be ever vigilant to all threats against Gensokyo’s balance. Luckily, the standard of vigilance went unstated.

 

“Come on! You know I can’t enter someone’s house without permission! It’s so rude!”

 

And right when day seemed quiet, this appeared. Reimu was not in the mood. At the best of times, she had not the energy, patience, nor desire to deal with Remilia Scarlet.

 

All Reimu had to do was wait. Remilia was nothing if not easily bored, especially when she wasn’t garnering attention. She’d fly away eventually, and Reimu could go back to her eventful day of doing nothing.

 

“Well, fine!” the nettled vampire shouted. “I brought donations, but I guess you’re not interested!”

 

Tengu would have shed envious tears at Reimu’s display of speed. The shrine door was thrown open, and Reimu’s stomach felt like it wanted to do some throwing of its own, but this was easily repressed, considering that it was empty.

 

“Lady Scarlet,” exclaimed Reimu, beaming invitingly. “Whatever can this humble shrine maiden do for you this fine day?”

 

Remilia raised a dainty eyebrow. ‘Dainty’ was among the first words used when describing the Scarlet Devil; followed closely by ‘pale,’ ‘tiny,’ and ‘bloodsucking abomination.’ Reimu couldn’t remember a time she’d seen Remilia wear an outfit with less than three layers. She looked as if she’d shatter if dropped from a high enough shelf. She didn’t look as if she could snap a man’s neck off between her thumb and forefinger. Appearances could be deceiving in the Land of Illusion.

 

In one hand, she gripped a large, pink parasol, its silken canopy serving as a stolid bulwark against the sun’s attempts of ultraviolet assaults.

 

Looped around her other elbow was a canvas bag nearly half her size, which Reimu zeroed into instantaneously.

 

“I protest, madam! Where is the blood moon? The humans running in fear of oblivion? And it is altogether too humid!” Her pale lips pulled back into a smile. “You dare to call this a fine day, infinitesimal mortal?”

 

“If it means I don’t have an Incident to resolve, then I’ll take what I can get.” Reimu glanced around the shrine grounds while Remilia laughed. A notable presence was absent. “Sakuya let you come here by yourself?”

 

There was a snarl from Remilia, the auditory equivalent of a whetstone scraping metal. “Would you care to repeat yourself?” The shadows caught her face a certain way. “Sakuya does not ‘let’ me go anywhere, human. I am her master. I ‘let’ her keep life, provided it continues its indefatigable servitude. I am the Scarlet Devil, and I go where I please, when I please, with whomever I please.” She lifted the parasol, removing the shadow trick. “But if you must know, she is, as ever, on the clock, and I did not wish to disturb her.”

 

“Uh huh,” said Reimu. Remilia all but kept her maid on a leash when she went out. Unless it was the other way around. But Reimu couldn’t recall caring about gossip. “Sakuya does know you’re not in the Mansion, right?”

 

“This is not the time for questions, Reimu Hakurei.” Remilia spread her hands. “It is the time for answers!”

 

“So maybe you can answer me when I ask if I’ll have a furious maid with a blade on my neck when she discovers you snuck out.”

 

Remilia clutched a hand to her unbeating heart. “The pain, the pain, of the implication. When did you stop trusting me, my dear Hakurei?”

 

“I never started.”

 

“This much is woundingly apparent. May I sit?”

 

Reimu shrugged. It wasn’t as if Sakuya would kill her. Among everything else, it would reflect poorly of the Scarlet Devil Mansion. “Wherever you want.”

 

Receiving the assurance she was not trespassing, which was strictly against the vampire code of conduct, Remilia folded her bloodsucking abomination self onto the shrine’s veranda, out of the sun. The bag at her arm made a pleasing chickik sound as she set it down.

 

“You are no doubt wondering why I am not at home asleep at this ungodly hour,” said Remilia.

 

Reimu got as far as, “Not rea-”

 

“I am stuck in a rut, Miss Hakurei!” Remilia burst out. “I am stuck in a rut and I cannot sleep. The Mansion is a fine piece of architecture, don’t get me wrong, but even it can only offer so much in the way of diversion when one’s hours of activity is when the rest of the waking world slumbers. It’s been the same day for years: wake up, eat breakfast, bother Patche, have lunch, throw an extravagant party, dine on some humans, and return to my pall. Occasionally Flandre would sneak out of the basement and wreak untold havoc on the Mansion, which is always nice. I do so enjoy her company, if only she would seek mine more. How long has it been since our last great adventure, Reimu? It’s these…popularity duels which are so in vogue these days that have really been the straw to break my back. You know I come to the Shrine to watch them. Hearing tales of all these new warriors emerging and making a name for themselves only makes me desire to sink my teeth in, as it were. And yet the sun, the cruel sun, forbids my contact from the rest of world. Ah, but such is the tragic beauty of vampirism.”

 

“Sounds like it sucks,” said Reimu. “So, what, you want to have a popularity battle with me?”

 

“Of course not! I aim to be ahead of curve, not ride it. These popularity battles are nothing more than a passing fancy. When it comes to getting noticed in Gensokyo, there’s only one thing for it: Incidents.”

 

“You’re asking me to help you cause an Incident? Because that sounds like Behavior Liable To Upset The Balance Of Gensokyo to me.”

 

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” said Remilia briskly. “Collusion removes all sense of drama.”

 

That was why Reimu Hakurei was so much fun. Doing-the-Macarena-inside-a-typhoon type of fun. If it got her interacting with carbon or fantasy based lifeforms and didn’t generate donations, it was Behavior Liable To Upset The Balance Of Gensokyo until proven otherwise, and grounds for extermination. She shot, and swore, and scraped with the worst of them her whole life, and rarely had she ever been pushed to exterminate any. Many became friends with her, even if she wasn’t friends with them. And the vital thing the remember about the Hakurei Shrine Maiden was that she was willing to be merciful right up until you took it for granted. The only thing stopping Reimu from being a one-woman reign of terror was the fact that it would take effort.

 

“I came,” Remilia continued, digging through her bag, “to get the details of the most recent incidents. Bunbunmaru runs exemplary articles, but the little details tend to get lost. We can hardly expect to give people a good show if we give them something they’ve already seen. And maybe bounce a few ideas off you. I’ve been thinking about repurposing our old rocket blueprints. Instead of a god, it’ll be powered by a demon! And…do something. It’s a…work in progress, I’ll confess.”

 

Fortunately, Remilia had five hundred years of practice being a pain in the neck just enough.

 

“Ah! Here we are. I said I brought donations, and I meant it.”

 

From the bag, Remilia produced two elegant glasses and one massive bottle of red wine.

 

“You know, most often, donations are monetary,” said Reimu meaningfully, and suddenly very thirsty.

 

Now, as it is widely known, words are extremely powerful; they possess the ability to warp reality, bend it to the speaker’s will. A tengu publishes some overblown stories and a few risqué pictures of herself, and the human populace is up in arms because no one got the joke. Reimu Hakurei was notoriously a shrine maiden of few words. She preferred to shoot first so she didn’t have to ask questions later. Amidst all words forged, Reimu only needed one adjective to describe her: ‘poorly.’ As in, ‘poorly tempered,’ or, ‘poorly mannered,’ or, most often, simply abridged to: ‘poor.’ It was no secret that she would gladly take any and all donations she could muster.

 

“On principle, I always gift things of real value. Not money, which only has worth because we believe it has.” Remilia set the glasses down. “Why, our fairy maids are paid in meals, alcohol, and no less than three pinecones. Real value.”

 

“Don’t suppose you want to ring the bell and ask the gods for anything?” said Reimu, as Remilia gnashed a fang into the bottle’s cork and yanked it out with a pop.

 

“No thank you. The gods help those who help themselves, and I help myself to this whole planet.” Remilia spat a bit of cork several meters into the woods. “Probably burn my hand, anyway.”

 

“Well, the Hakurei Shrine thanks you for your contribution,” sighed Reimu, as the vampire dove into the bag once more. “You can set that in the main room. Your donation will be treated with care.”

 

There was a kachink, and Reimu began sweating. Remilia was holding an additional two bottles.

 

“Oh…that’s disappointing,” she said, grinning sharply. “Here I was hoping we could indulge as we compared notes.”

 

“It’s not even noon,” said Reimu, but without much virtue.

 

“I fail to see your point.”

 

“You make a compelling argument, Remilia Scarlet.”

 

-----

 

She stepped out into the glorious sunlight, all three eyes blinking.

 

The oni hadn’t come near her as she walked the streets of former Hell.

 

The hashihime hadn’t looked her in the eye as she strode pass the bridge.

 

The tsuchigumo hadn’t bugged her as she scaled the cave mouth.

 

No one ever bothered her.

 

Which was as exactly as it should be.

 

Readjusting her grip on her backpack, she took to the great blue yonder.

 

Now then…if nothing had changed from the last time she was up here, then the Hakurei Shrine was…this way.

 

-----

 

“So how does this work?” Remilia topped off Reimu’s glass before her own. “Does the offering turn to ash in your mouth as it ascends to divinity?”

 

“Oh, no. See, I’m a conduit for the divine. A proxy. By me partaking in the offering, it is as if god of the Hakurei Shrine is partaking as well. Consuming the earthly shell, the spirit and prayer ascends to the gods.”

 

“Is that right?”

 

“I mean, probably.”

 

Reimu downed the entire glass, and held it out again. “And fill it to the top this time. You have all this glass you’re not using.”

 

Remilia internally hurled. She wouldn’t have brought the good wine if this was how it was going to be treated.

 

“Are you certain you don’t wish to savor the-”

 

They both cocked an ear. Approaching through the stratus was that tell-tale whistle of a flight path in descent, and a woman landed on the cobbles. A youkai, if the fleshy eye attached to her body by thick vascular tubing was any indication.

 

As Reimu gagged on her wine, the newcomer said: “You remembered my name. I’m flattered.”

 

Satori Komeiji?” Reimu wheezed.

 

Indeed, before her stood Satori Komeji. Reader of minds and souls. Mistress of the Palace of the Earth Spirits. Grand Overseer of the Hell of Blazing Fires. She who was feared by the wrathful. She who was hated by demons. Anonymous writer of books.

 

She was also, for the first time in Reimu’s memory, wearing something on her feet aside from fluffy pink slippers.

 

“I didn’t see one,” said Satori.

 

“Is there a sign on the shrine that says, ‘Welcome: Youkai That Never Interact With Humans?’” said Reimu, then blinked, then pinched the bridge of her nose.

 

Satori’s third eye dilated on Reimu as her mouth slid into a frown.

 

“There’s hardly any call for thoughts like that, Lady Hakurei. I am here before you to declare my presence above ground and lack of any and all ill will. A courtesy I assumed you would appreciate. As you say, albeit in more colorful argot, no, I do not make it a habit of interacting with living souls, nor do I intend to start one. I have no intention of rabblerousing, causing havoc, or, indeed, inciting tohubohu of any variety. My only purpose above ground is to take in new environs, with the hope that it will remedy this dreadful writer’s block I have come down with. That is all. I wish to have as minimal contact with humans as possible.” She paused. “I said that I wish to have as minimal contact with humans as possible.”

 

“But then why come to the Hakurei Shrine?” inquired Reimu, then realized why Satori repeated herself.

 

“But you are sitting, Lady Hakurei.”

 

“Alright, that one I walked right int-”

 

Reimu buried her face and her hands and muffled a scream.

 

“Not as much as you’d think,” said Satori calmly.

 

“-cking mind readers,” snarled Reimu. “Fine. Whatever. Do anything suspicious, and you’re going home in a jar. Got it?”

 

Without further word, Satori curtsied, shouldered her backpack, and walked off into the woods behind the shrine.

 

After a while, Remilia nudged Reimu with a bottle of wine. Gratefully, Reimu extended her glass.

 

“You know who that was?” said Remilia.

 

“Not really,” sighed Reimu. “Know of her, more like. Satori Komeiji. You know that kasha with the dance and the bird brain those snakes at Moriya have running their reactor? They’re her pets. We’ve never really talked. Even when I broke into her home to deal with the hot spring Incident, barely a word. Spends all her time talking to vengeful spirits and animals. She’s really weird.”

 

“Tell me about it. What’s a pretty thing like that doing with no ring on her finger?”

 

“I…what?” Reimu turned, and saw the empty wine glass and the redness in the vampire’s porcelain cheeks; while Remilia may have had power and prestige to rival the gods, her posture scarcely rivaled four feet.

 

In one movement, Remilia set the glass down, scooped up her parasol, and batted her wings, landing practically gracefully in the sunlight.

 

“You may finish the remainder of the claret. I seem to have stumbled across something more interesting than Incidents.”

 

“Really? Satori? What’s so interesting about having your sentences finished for you, and your darkest thoughts on full display for someone else to read?”

 

“I believe you answered your own question. I know what I see, Reimu Hakurei, and…I grew up in the Courts, you see. You may not understand. I can’t leave a damsel in distress.”

 

“What sort of distress is Satori Komeiji possibly in? Oni are terrified of her.”

 

Smirking, Remilia waggled a finger, then tapped the side of her nose.

 

“Her…sense of smell?” Reimu hazarded.

 

“As I said,” said Remilia. “You don’t have to understand. Call it a species thing. We vampires have a weakness for damsels in distress. That said, don’t get me started on Satori’s huge-” Remilia squeaked out a burp into a fist “-outer body blood vessels.”

 

Reimu, head in her palm, said: “Don’t feel the need on my account. Look, you’re drunk.”

 

“Possibly, possibly,” conceded Remilia. “I find it helps me ignore times when stakes are high. Now, I must be off while I can track Miss Komeiji scent. Good day, Miss Hakurei.”

 

“Don’t tear her throat out when she finds something she wasn’t supposed to!” Reimu called as Remilia turned away. “Yukari says relations are strained with the underground enough.”

 

The vampire waved back non-committedly. Her fingers, outside the silken shade shelter, smoked for a half-second before they were retracted.

 

Through a rolling wine fog of her own, Reimu wondered if she should do more. This sounded like an alliance in the making. Maybe Remilia only wanted a conversation, but Reimu’d been in this job long enough to know youkai meeting behind closed doors was infinitely more catastrophic than a million artifact-fueled revolutions. Carefully worded exchanges and handshakes were veritable weapons of mass destruction compared to a hell raven off her rocker, and, since it was all technically legal, much, much harder to do anything about.

 

But Remilia liked people, in more ways than on her plate. She wouldn’t do anything overtly dangerous to Gensokyo. Despite her best efforts, she lacked the image of pernicious eccentrics usually ascribed to her kind, stemming from an intrinsic destitution of malice; she could be considered, at best, ostentatiously batty. And not only Satori was not one for discourse of any kind, but her pool of magical dynamism was rather small, for a medium. Plus, all this alms wine wasn’t going to absolve itself.

 

Reimu knew, she knew, that saying these things like this invariably ended in calamity, but, honestly, what was the worst that could happen?

 

And this would have been damning enough had she not gone on the further comment: You know, the Faeries of Light have been rather quiet recently

 

-----

 

Even without superior vampire senses, and even if her metabolism hadn’t filtered out her intoxication near-instantaneously, Remilia doubted she would have had an issue following Satori’s trail. A dark, lowly smell that had no desire to be smelled by anyone. The woman left a smell of earth, nuclear runoff, birdseed, death, isolation, and kitty litter so potent the kappa could undoubtedly harness it as a fuel source.

 

It lead to a tableau of harmony.

 

Satori sat, serene smile on her face, idly scratching a squirrel behind the ears, in the shade of a large tree, ringed by more animals than Remilia had seen in one place for a long time. It was similarly the first time in a long time Remilia had smelled this many animals. A few of them were extinct, and by the stench, certainly smelled like it.

 

There were mice, tigers, and boars. A husky grew steadily huskier, eating out the same bowl as a lying lion. Rams sat at the edge of the clearing, looking sheepish, but, notably, not rampaging. A truly gigantic seed and nut pile that, based on the number of birds clustered around it, wasn’t long for the daylight much longer. Nothing was even attempting to eat anything living.

 

A dodo, which Remilia did not know was native to Japan, glared at her with mad, evil eyes. The Scarlet Devil, The Eternally Young Scarlet Moon, The Vampire of the Heavy Fog, careful not to make any sudden movements, sidled past it.

 

Another being watched, waiting warmly, as Remilia approached her.

 

“The bat youkai from the shrine,” said Satori. “I was hoping you would find your way to me.”

 

Smooth as a grave shroud, Remilia dipped into a curtsy. “Lady Satori Komeiji. I have not had the honor of being introduced. My name is-”

 

“Now, now. There will be plenty of time for that once you get some food in you.” Satori pulled the backpack closer. “I am certain I brought enough fruit to share. Especially for one as cute as you.”

 

This sentence caused some odd feelings in Remilia’s chest. She double checked her parasol was indeed blocking the sun before continuing.

 

“While I thank you for the offer, Miss Komeiji, that is not my typical…bite to eat.” Remilia sniggered hopefully. “Get it? Because I’m a-”

 

“Oh, of course,” Satori exclaimed, smacking her temple. “You’re obviously a microbat! I knew I brought my mosquito jar for a reason…”

 

“-a vampire, Miss – Wait, what do mean, ‘obviously?’”

 

“Hematophagous? Oh crumbs. The one time I forget the cow’s blood.”

 

“Not a vampire bat, Miss Komeiji! A – ugh, what is it in Japanese? – a kyuketsuki.”

 

Satori stopped rummaging through the pack.

 

“Not a beast youkai, then?” she said carefully.

 

“Assuredly not!”

 

“Oh. My most sincere apologies” And where there had once been an open door, it had slammed shut, and padlocked, then sealed off with eight inches of steel, which proceeded to freeze over.

 

Yet Remilia began to feel the wind beneath her wings. So that was the Satori she locked away from everyone; just as radiant as Remilia knew it would be. That cold shoulder was nothing more than a front, after all. The game was afoot; all Remilia needed was an invitation to play. Of course, this was the difficult part, but what was a game without challenge?

 

“If you are a western vampire, then you would be Remilia Scarlet,” Satori accused.

 

Remilia’s grin shone like an assassin’s blade as she curtsied again. “The one and only; at your service, madam.”

 

“The gods of Moriya have told me about you,” said Satori, turning to tickle a bird on the neck, though her third eye continued its unblinking audit of Remilia. “You are a conniving, melodramatic, unholy lusus naturae of an attention hog who throws awfully gaudy parties.”

 

“I never! My parities are not gaudy! They really said that?”

 

“Yes. And coming from them, I believe the conniving bit to be of professional opinion. I was to inform my Okuu to never go near your mansion.”

 

“Why? It’s not as if I abduct children for use as cattle or servants.” Remilia coughed. “Anymore.”

 

“The gods of Moriya were of the opinion that if you learned the secrets of nuclear fusion you would do something…entertaining with them.”

 

That was the tone of voice people used when they spoke of things like ripping an entire village apart in one night, or blotting the sun from the sky, or constructing an arcane rocket powered by a god with designs to conquer the moon. You know, fun things for the whole family.

 

“Hardly anything wrong with a game of Duck, Duck, Bat every now and again,” said Remilia breezily.

 

“Indeed? Alas, I have no barometer for this sort of thing. I have no patience for games and their casual misrepresentation of reality.”

 

“No…games?” Remilia said the words clumsily, as if speaking a foreign language. “Then what do you do for fun?”

 

“I don’t. I am pleased to say I haven’t had fun for near a century.”

 

The bird Satori was stroking flew off. She gave the vampire her full attention.

 

“When I couldn’t get a solid grip on your mind at the shrine, I assumed you were a lesser beast youkai. A satori can read the minds of any living being, animals and youkai included, although animals take a higher order of focus. Their thoughts are more raw, unfiltered by sapience. But it would make more sense why I couldn’t see into your mind if you are undead.”

 

Technically undead,” said Remilia pointedly. “I’ve always preferred the term ‘nonbinarily alive.’”

 

“Satori can likewise read the minds, for want of a better term, of the thinking dead. Vengeful spirits, zombies, vampires, apparently. However, doing so is taxing to the extreme. It’s the lack of proper neurons, I’ve always assumed. You were going to ask why I’m not finishing your sentences.”

 

“I was?”

 

Satori sighed. “It’s mostly habit at this point. Every zombie I’ve interacted with always asks that question around this time. Granted, they were zombie fairies. Physicality willing, it is preferable to converse the old-fashioned way. Therefore,” Satori’s third eye drifted slightly closer to Remilia. “Is there something I can do for you?”

 

In turn, Remilia patted the third eye affectionally. It felt remarkably cardiac.

 

“I merely wished to welcome you to Gensokyo. Reimu, bless her heart, isn’t the politest of welcome wagons.”

 

“Consider me welcomed,” said Satori. You didn’t need to be a mind reader to hear the, ‘and consider yourself farewelled,’ behind it. Remilia, for her part, didn’t miss it. She dealt with it as she dealt with most obstacles: by ignoring it; otherwise, how would anyone expect to get anything done?

 

She whipped her sweatless forehead in a theatrical show of exhaustion.

 

“I don’t suppose you would be willing to share some of your shade with me,” she panted. “Carrying around this silk parasol has sapped, enervated, attenuated me of all my energy. Pray, permit me entrance. Only a handful of minutes, and I will be on my way.”

 

The third eye twitched.

 

“As I am given to understand,” said Satori icily, “Gensokyo is a free land where no one will stop a youkai from sitting where they desire.”

 

Remilia slid into the shade, where she stood on an exposed root and stuck the tip of her parasol in the ground.

 

“Ah,” she said. “I feel better already.”

 

Remilia smiled. All vampires had infectious smiles. Though Satori seemed intent on quarantining herself.

 

“I am still in shock Kanako and Suwako said those things about me. I’ve always had a fondness for gods. There’s something…uncomplicated about doing works of wonder solely for praise. You know, I’ve always fancied myself a bit of a god.”

 

“You, a god? But you’re so humble.”

 

“It’s one of my more defining characteristics, isn’t it?” Despite being the preeminent flavor of human blood, Remilia had no idea what irony tasted like.

 

“So,” said Remilia. “I notice you’re quite popular with the animalia.”

 

“I see the rumor of heightened vampire senses is no rumor.” Satori’s first and second eyes looked out across the clearing filled with, among others, husky huskies, sheepish sheep, and chimerical chimeras.

 

“It is more accurate to say they gravitate to me. In a world dominated by humans and youkai, those blessed with not even consciousness, let alone a voice, struggle out a life for themselves and their families as best as they can. Often their best is not enough. So they find me, one way or another. Someone who can understand them. The patois of animal minds can be fuzzy, but as a reader of minds, I must say each and every one will have a meaning behind it somewhere.”

 

“Isn’t it want everyone wants? To be understood? That’s one of my favorite things about Gensokyo: people understand here that a few people going missing is what happens. Why, in the Old Country, if even one serf turned up with no blood in their body, I’d have a crowd of the torch and pitchfork persuasion knocking down the front door. As the head of the household, it’s my duty to deal with it. Never an ideal way to start your night, though I wouldn’t have ever minded so much if they at least put up an entertaining fight. It’s always the same: you decapitate one, and the rest of the horde loses their collective head. Then after all that you have to worry about replacing the door, and iif the local carpenter is the one your maids are scraping off the walls. What a saddening state of affairs, wasting food like that. Ah, but who hasn’t had nights like those?”

 

There was a snort from Satori.

 

“Beginning with a universally relatable dictum, go into a dark amphigory of an anecdote, and end with a lighthearted, sarcastic quip, contrasting the previous sentiments. So you have a basic grasp on the rudiments of elocution.”

 

Remilia’s smile grew. Despite the shade, it sparkled.

 

“I know how to get under people’s skin, if that’s what you’re referring to,” she said. “Quite the detailed dissection. Reimu told me you were a writer. No shock a mind reader would know every way to smith words. Is there a chance I would have read any books you’ve written?”

 

“Doubtful. They’re a little-” Satori paused for a half second, testing several possibilities before settling on: “high word court.”

 

“I might have,” persisted Remilia.

 

Three eyes rolled in unison. Somehow, without being about to read the vampire’s mind, she knew she would be the victor of this game.

 

Lost Place?” inquired Satori.

 

“Sorry, no.”

 

Lullaby of Deserted Hell?”

 

“Possibly. Is that the one with the fork?”

 

“It isn’t. Awakening of the Earth Spirits?”

 

“No. Sounds interesting, though.”

 

“I never liked it very much. Heartfelt Fancy?”

 

“I don’t believe so. But I also haven’t read a book in two hundred years.”

 

Satori pinched the bridge of her nose.

 

“I’d ask why you bothered asking, but I am exceedingly uninterested in the machinations of your psyche.”

 

“Ha! If I had a farthing for every time I heard that-”

 

“You’d have one farthing.”

 

“Three, as a matter of fact,” said Remilia, haughtily.

 

“You know, I feel your strength would come back to you faster if you sat down, Lady Scarlet.”

 

Remilia looked affronted.

 

“And get dirt on my dress? I am a lady of Class and Distinction! The only thing permissible to stain my clothing is the Blood of The Fallen.”

 

The third eye dilated. Satori smiled in beatific smugness.

 

“And bean paste, it would seem.”

 

The way Remilia’s wings bridled in defense of her pride made all Satori’s mental digging worth it.

 

“First of all,” she snapped, “allow me to establish some necessary facts. First, it was Setsubun, and it was only my friends and family celebrating in the privacy of our mansion, attended upon by our fleet of maids. Secondly, we were having makizushi with no roasted beans. Thirdly, there is a member of our household who has…difficulty controlling herself-” Satori’s attention at this juncture was stolen by a Pyrenean ibex. She handed him a handful of lettuce from her pack, and gave his ears a scratch. He ambulated off just in time for Satori to catch: “-not like there’s anything innately embarrassing about bean paste stains in the general gluteus maximus area, and, further, I cannot comprehend why you’re making such a big deal out of it! It could happen to literally anyone!”

 

“I said not easily,” corrected Satori.

 

“And I thought you said you couldn’t read my-” Remilia stopped. “Oh. That’s what that feels like.”

 

“I’m led to believe it’s not pleasant. In answer to your question: think of thoughts with burning emotions behind them as beacons into the soul. Even for something which is not alive, it is difficult to not see them. Temporarily. No thought lasts forever, you see.”

 

Remilia rubbed her chin. “Like mental shouting?”

 

“Exactly,” said Satori, who didn’t have much desire to explain how wrong this was.

 

“And for the record, I find them to be quite fascinating.”

 

Satori turned her head infinitesimally, her second eye joining the third glaring at Remilia.

 

Pardon?” she said.

 

“Your powers. It’s a shame you keep them locked up. They’re terrific! They beg the question: How does one outthink a mind reader?”

 

You can’t.

 

“So you say,” said Remilia, grinning. “They also said you can’t out maneuver a chronomancer.” Remilia’s tone suggested she might have something contrasting to say on the matter. “Have you ever thought about getting a thaumaturgical?”

 

“I am…not familiar with the term,” said Satori. “So my kneejerk assumption would be no.”

 

“A thaumaturgical. A physical, but for magic. My best friend would probably love to analyze your powers. She’s a professional sorcerer, you know; has the familiars and health problems to prove it. Very knowledgeable, very practiced. Admittedly, doesn’t have much in the way of patients.”

 

“Really? I am finding myself running low, as well.”

 

“And you two have so much more in common beyond that! Spends all day around books, writes plenty, too, lingering odor of chemicals and animal parts. You’d love a conversation, Satori. May I call you Satori?”

 

“I doubt I could stop you.”

 

The nod from Remilia was imperceptible. “It’s a nice name, though. I appreciate the straightforwardness of it.”

 

“A name is what one is called. I had no parents to raise me, and by the time I was old enough to realize no one shouted ‘satori!’ and ran from me because it was my name, it had already stuck.”

 

“I’m sorry to hear that, Lady Komeiji.”

 

Satori’s first eye twitched in either gratitude or dismissal.

 

Remilia put her weight on her parasol. “And you may call me Grand Devil of Slaughter Scarlet, Eternally Young Scarlet Moon, Dread World of Bloody Crimson, any that strike your fancy, really.”

 

The third eye dilated. Satori smirked.

 

“As you say, Remi.”

 

It was childish, Satori knew, as she stared with increasing guilt at Remilia’s shocked expression. It was puerile, and petty, and childish, and she shouldn’t have done it. Much later, she would realize this moment to be her downfall. Open the door to shout at a vampire, and they would stick their pink bobby socked feet in the door of your heart and never leave.

 

But in the now, this vampire was getting on her last nerve, and Satori wanted her gone. Satori couldn’t have friends. It wasn’t something that happened to them. Satori had accepted that. A satori wanting friends…she’d seen where that ended. In her nightmares, she could sometimes see the blade’s dull scarlet sheen, the dimming of the eyes, everything she could have done to prevent it.

 

“You are aware,” said Remilia, finally finding her voice, “the only people permitted to refer to me by that are my closest friends?”

 

Satori worried that maybe starting this here, with all the animals present, may not have been the epitome of foresight, being frustrated was no excuse. Well, she couldn’t back down now.

 

“I am.”

 

Remilia took one step forward.

 

“Good,” she said in a voice running over with satisfaction.

 

She became a blur.

 

Satori braced herself, but instead of the preferred outcome of Remilia unleashing an arcane deluge of arcane ruination, Satori found thrilled arms tightening around her chest and a voice in her ear saying: “I accept your invitation into your circle of friends!”

 

Satori only just stopped herself from strangling Remilia right there. She reminded herself of two things right on time: her third eye’s arteries are a notoriously poor garrote, and this anger was not her. She needed to regain control. Bloodsucking or not, a kyuketsuki was just an oni, and unruly oni, she knew how to dispose of.

 

Satori squeezed Remilia tight. The third eye hovered to meet scarlet eyes.

 

“Lady Scarlet.” Remilia felt Satori’s breath on her inner ear. “I fear I was not given a veracious answer previously, so I will ask you once more: what is it you want?”

 

Remilia attempted to disentangle herself, but decided to enjoy this closeness. “What I want? Lady Komeiji, if all the seas of the world were ink, and the lands parchment, there would not be enough to list all that I want. Prioritization is important, and top of the list is presently lunch, if you would care to join me?”

 

“Haha,” said Satori soothingly. “You’ll be asking for the moon next.”

 

Remilia stared dead into the third eye. “Maybe once,” she said.  “But not after meeting its populace. A stagnant society predicated upon stagnant perfection. Never had been so proud to call Gensokyo my home. Yes, we’ve got a barrier, but we never turn anyone away, and never assume there’s nothing left to learn.”

 

“I see. I see. Hm…a pool inside a library? What a novel concept.”

 

“To imitate the lunar seas. I thought it was a very current-” Remilia cut herself off by yawning hugely. “Excuse me, Lady Komeiji. It’s nearly afternoon. I normally retire slightly after sunup.”

 

“Surely, all good little vampires should be asleep now?” Satori’s voice was like honey. Remilia could listen to it forever.

 

“It is hardly the first time I’ve stayed up. I felt fine just a second ago. This…wave of exhaustion came out of nowhere. And I take umbrage at being referred to as ‘good.’”

 

Remilia yawned again, resting her head over Satori’s heart. The third eye looked different somehow. Before, it struck Remilia as a probing searchlight, but now it was focused, as if boring through to her very soul. The word ‘laser’ came to mind. She remembered it because Patche had used it once, and it just sounded so cool.

 

“Of course you would remember a word because of that,” said Satori.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Shhh.” Satori placed a finger over Remilia’s lips.

 

“You must rest. You must have gotten too excited.”

 

“Yes…must have gotten too excited…” It made so much sense.

 

“Why don’t you rest your head on my lap, and let your mind be relaxed?”

 

Once Remilia slid down, Satori removed her cap and began stroking her hair. The third eye stared down at her. For some reason, she couldn’t tear herself away. It was so…so…

 

“Hypnotic?” suggested Satori.

 

“Succ’lent,” murmured Remilia. “Been so long since I’ve ate a heart out.”

 

“Yet how expertly are you pulling on my heartstrings.” Satori moved on to rubbing the base of Remilia wings. It took all Remilia’s willpower and laws of physicality to not melt into a puddle of bliss on the spot. “Now sleep…sleep in such a fitful nightmare that you may never see the light of reverie again.”

 

Wait a second, thought Remilia, I know what she’s trying to do. She’s using magic to lower my mental defenses to read my mind!

 

“No, I’m not,” said Satori.

 

Oh. Of course, she’s not! It is nothing short of utter lunacy to think any creature could hold any amount of sway of the psyche of the great Scarlet Devil!

 

“Utter lunacy, yes. Now, I will ask you one last time: Why have you made it a point to involve yourself with me?”

 

I need a reason to make friends?

 

“You do for this one. A satori can’t have friends. You are playing a cruel game with me, Lady Scarlet, and I want to know what you have to gain!

 

The third eye was now a fraction of an inch away from the vampire’s face.

 

“…friendship again? No, that’s false…no, I don’t believe you…boredom, I can buy, but not to this extent. ‘A challenge, therefore engaging. Something new, therefore interesting.’ Sounds more like it, but there must something else…something deeper…the maid, the librarian, the hobgoblins…there is a trend, I refuse to be your latest acquisition…ow!”

 

Remilia batted away the third eye, then grabbed Satori’s shoulder and hauled herself, unsteadily, to her feet.

 

“Still conscious?” said Satori, as Remilia took a few wobbly steps away. She tried focusing on the vampire’s mind again, only to find herself once again shut out. “Well, you certainly have some impressive barriers…”

 

“Why, thank you, Lady Komeiji. I frequently get told I have a thick skull. What did I say? Utter...lunacy, wasn’t it?” Her breath was coming in short, flighty bursts. “It appears we have achieved what we refer to in diplomatic circles as a breakdown of communications. But don’t worry. No, no worrying has been permitted. I know exactly how to reestablish and improve our connection. But first there is a matter of principle to rectify before we continue.” She turned. She was twitching. All of her: mouth, eye, and fingers, as if deciding whether to laugh at the novelty, conflagrate into sorrow, or tear Satori’s throat out. “Even in attempt, the Scarlet Devil is not one to be slighted and walked away from.”

 

Crimson energy crackled into a growing orb in the vampire’s palm.

 

“Why not come back, dear Remi? Are you not tired? Do you not wish to rest?”

 

Remilia clenched her fist around the ball. It elongated into a metallic-looking pole with an elaborate, evil spearhead.

 

As if a black lighting bolt had struck, the animals tore out of the grove in the shared, synchronized dance of primal self-preservation. There were no bleats or wails or any noise beyond the smattering of various appendages. A human mind would have screamed in the face of its death, but the simple minds of animals knew better than to waste the energy.

 

“You desire my mind? You shall have it once I am finished dispensing justice. Please have patience. I think I have just the trick.”

 

She pulled the spear back. Satori looked into eyes not entirely focused on her in a way that suggested a few cards had fallen out of the deck Remilia was currently playing with. The only images coming into Satori’s mind from Remilia presently looked an awful lot like Satori’s life flashing before her eyes.

 

“Wait, Lady Scarlet! I apologize! This violence is not necessary!”

 

“I disagree. Pray, don’t move. This is precise enough, as is.”

 

She hurled the spear.

 

Satori’s hands flew in front of her face.

 

She watched, through the high-speed camera of terror, as the spear hummed past her ear, impaled the fairy behind her through the chest, and continue tearing a path of havoc and screams through the remainder of the forest.

 

The bucket of whitewash the fairy had been preparing to dump over both youkai clattered to the ground.

 

“Fairies!” roared Remilia, the fluffy pink clouds of hypnosis driven away. “Only fairies could come up with a prank so irredeemably puerile!”

 

She stomped forward, raised her head to the sun, and sniffed...

 

Satori didn’t even see Remilia move. She was now on the edge of the grove. At arm’s length and eye level, she held two struggling fairies. A scalding glare considered them.

 

“Sunny Milk and Luna Child, isn’t it?” said Remilia. “That would make one Star Sapphire, I believe, regenerating six miles away. I won’t ask where you got whitewash in Gensokyo of all places. I feel it’s a long story I don’t have time for at the present.”

 

“How!?” said Sunny, both hands futilely pushing at the vampire’s wrists. “Between me an’ Luna, ye couldn’t have seen or heard Star! Or us!”

 

Remilia sighed sadly.

 

“Of all creatures, I’d expected you to understand that there is more than one way to perceive the world. One need not see something to know it is truly there. On the other hand, of all creatures, I’d expect you would be the ones to underestimate the nose of a vampire.

 

“Now, and not to put too fine a point on it. but the burning question in my mind is what to do with the perpetrators of this ridiculous charade of a prank. I mean, really? Whitewash? Would you happen to have a suggestion, pray?”

 

“Who’re you callin’ prey?!”

 

“Yeah, Luna’s right! We ain’t got blood. You ain’t wanting us. You ain’t chasing anyone whose blood you can’t drink.”

 

With no ceremony, they were dropped on their general gluteus maximus areas.

 

Another spear materialized.

 

Sunny and Luna glanced at each other. Their limbs had frozen, even though their bladders seemed prepared to run out the gate out of sheer terror. The pain of death held no sway over fairies, but the pain of pain was another matter entirely.

 

They looked up in unison at a nightmare made material. The face was only a silhouette, outlined against a dark solar corona, but a row of teeth, sharp as a scream in the night, grinned down, topped with blazing, red-rimmed eyes met them.

 

“I can have the Fairies of Light decorating my trophy room? Gensokyo would be de-lighted.”

 

The fairies’ wings scrabbled for aerial purchase. Luna managed to take off after tripping on her dress only twice.

 

The spear soared.

 

Scraps of fairy wing fluttered to the forest below.

 

Remilia couldn’t hold it back anymore, and doubled over laughing. “See, now that’s what I call a prank,” she said, turning back to Satori. “Did you see their faces?! They’ll be looking over their shoulders for weeks!”

 

“Er…Lady Scarlet…?” said Satori.

 

“I suppose I should feel guilty, but they had it coming, always going on about staking their lives on pranks. I won’t stand for staking of any sort in my presence.”

 

“Er. Lady Scarlet? I don’t mean to come across as a firebrand, but you do, in fact, appear to be on fire.”

 

Remilia gave a patently astonished look, as much as she could without eyebrows or most of the flesh on her cheeks, at any rate. Constellatory cracks of fire danced across her once pearl-white skin, now dark and flaking. A small pool of ashes already formed underneath her.

 

“Really? No! You don’t say! Here was I worried I might be forced to draw your attention to the fact. It is atrociously unladylike to smoke in polite company.”

 

Satori watched with concern. Remilia was being outrageously calm, but outward tranquility often came from an inner wrath.

 

“You must forgive me, Lady Komeiji, for underestimating you. I heard you were a writer and assumed you were a woman of words. While you know how to express yourself, this is not the case. Nor are you a woman of action, for we both are not so naïve to assume action is the same as reality. You are a woman of the soul.”

 

She swept forward. Satori had held council with gods and demon lords. They could have taken notes on how to sweep. No grand thespian, no preacher on high, no child in a tantrum had ever performed a sweep as great and terrible as this one. The delicately swirling ashes, the magnificent flaming wings, the lascivious dance of the flames, they all came together in one mesmerizing bravura.

 

“What are you talking about? Is there a point to you setting yourself on fire?”

 

“It’s not as bad as you’d think. The nerves are the first thing to go, so it’s fundamentally painless.”

 

“And what, exactly, do you hope to accomplish by burning yourself alive?” demanded Satori. “And don’t make a ‘losing your nerve’ joke; I can see it forming already.”

 

“It’s working, then!” said Remilia, as if it were the simplest thing in the world. “Didn’t I say I had just the trick? You said emotions open my mind to you more. Correct me if I’m wrong – ohhhh, please do – but I can think of no greater emotional surge than the one which comes from teetering on the edge of oblivion. The only logical course was to immolate myself. Consider this an open invitation, Satori Komeiji, behold, if you dare, the untempered soul of Remilia Scarlet, the pure spirit of Scarlet Devil – AH!”

 

The cracks in Remilia’s legs novaed, deliquescing her knees. She threw a splintering arm out, which evaporated as it met the earth, and collapsed in a splash of ash.

 

But still a scarlet pupil burned in the third retina.

 

Stare into the sanguine abyss that returns every gaze!

 

Satori grabbed the parasol, and cleared her throat.

 

We vampires have something of a predilection for damsels in distress. There are some who think there is no higher honor than housing one. A lesser, if vocal, minority enjoy being the source of distress. A few more perverse souls think of them as romantic pets, in need of whisking away. I have a more…personal interest. A more personal genus of distress. There is someone very dear to me whose only dream is to have friends. A dream that I failed time and time again to make a reality. I started to think seeing her smile was nothing but a fantasy.

 

Satori pulled on the parasol’s runner. The third eye wasn’t the only one focused on the worryingly decumbent vampire.

 

It started because I hate seeing that look on anyone. I took an interest in taking an interest in the affairs of others, and what I could do for them. Give a down-and-out dragon some food and a garden to call her own. Show a derelict witch to your library, and poke your head in to make sure she hasn’t killed herself. And I don’t think I’ll ever forget the girl who came to us on that Sixteenth Night o so long ago.

 

Remilia flopped onto her back and looked up into a glorious haven of shade and silk and satoris. The thoughts were coming in easier.

 

And wouldn’t you know it? Some amazing happened: my fantasy began looking a little less imaginary by the day. She is not yet prepared for a world so fragile, but she will never face it unloved. There is power in reciprocity, milady. In inviting someone into your heart, and having them do the same. Even if it’s no more than one. No one gets to the moon by themselves,” Satori finished voicing Remilia’s thoughts.

 

The images entering Satori’s head ceased; the stream of consciousness stymied, and Satori was left outside Remilia’s mind once again. Looking down at her now, Satori felt…bizarrely destitute. As if she had just woken up from the most resplendent dream of her life, and, no matter how hard she attempted to recall, no memories of it returned.

 

Satori let out a breath. “Hell goddess’s infernal wardrobe,” she swore. “Are you always this dramatic?”

 

“I’m not sure what you are referring to,” gasped The Scarlet Devil.

 

“Well, I won’t deny you didn’t get your point across.” Satori rubbed her temple. “Nothing’s going to make me start liking people, you know,” she said. Her expression shifted, only by a fraction, but soft light radiated out. “But at the same time, maybe I have been avoiding other people’s heads too much.”

 

Remilia smiled like sunlight.

 

For a while, the only sound was that of skin reknitting itself.

 

Satori said: “Did you really unleash a sun blocking mist just to find your maid new friends?”

 

Remilia only winked, or would have, had she a functioning eyelid.

 

More time passed.

 

Springboarding off her hands, Remilia hopped up. She brushed the blackened skin away, revealing the fresh alabaster tones under, shook the ash out of the new strands of pale blue hair, stretched a newly-grown pair of wings, and, in a shocking unladylike display, bent down to touch her toes. Satori heard her back crack.

 

“Oh come on,” said Remilia, obviously frustrated very deeply by recent turn of events. “I can’t be going stiff yet! I only turned five hundred a few decades ago! Only zombies go stiff at five hundred.”

 

She swept a hand across her skirts. Ash flew off.

 

“Figures. I go through all that trouble standing, like some kind of mortal, and I still get dirt on my dress.”

 

“I’m appreciative you took the stand, for one.”

 

Remilia’s darkened expression, too, crumbled and fell away, replaced with one which glowed.

 

“As am I for yours. I would have been quite hot under the collar if you hadn’t stepped in.”

 

“Your burning passion must have moved me.”

 

“Pun intended?”

 

Satori buried her face in her free hand.

 

“I made a pun,” she groaned. “How can I look at my editor in good conscious now? My writer’s credibility is ruined!”

 

There was a melodic snort from Remilia.

 

“You know,” she said. “You’re hotter when you’re blushing,” and bent double laughing.

 

Seven minutes and twenty-six seconds later, when Remilia recovered from her genius play on words, she wiped the tears from her eyes and said: “So, what exactly did you see in my mind?”

 

“Enough to know there’s a little vampire girl whose only, seemingly unobtainable wish is to have friends,” said Satori. “I…I think we have more in common than I initially assumed.”

 

Remilia needed only to glance at Satori’s downcast eyes to know that wasn’t a conversation for today. That door may have been cracked, but Remilia didn’t press it. Just because someone invited you into their home, you had no right to go poking around in closets. “Nice to see your stay in my mind hasn’t left you scarred,” said Remilia. “I was worried anyone who saw the true me would be driven to insanity.”

 

Satori shrugged. “Leisurely strolling to insanity, if anything. Despite the lingering need to brush my teeth, I feel completely fine.”

 

“Not even a slight inclination towards madness?” Remilia sounded disappointed.

 

“I’m afraid not.”

 

“No quiet, but steady, gnawing in the back of your mind to fulfill unspeakable desires of darkness?”

 

“Maybe a bit of headache,” offered Satori diffidently.

 

“Aha!” Remilia brightened. “Surely the images you’ve seen of me sucking humans bone-dry of their blood will haunt you for all eternity?”

 

“Er. I doubt it. Your mind was mostly filled with other people, and an abundance of rainbow wings.” Satori hesitated. “You spend a lot of time thinking of ways to help your sister, don’t you?”

 

“It’s true.” Remilia let out a wistful sigh. “How often am I sucking off a human and wish she could be joining me?”

 

Satori coughed loudly into her sleeve.

 

“Why, together we could double penetrate-”

 

So!” said Satori, who was suddenly very relieved she didn’t have too much in common with Remilia. “While I was in your mind I might have also saw something about a Tupai?”

 

Stars shone in the vampire’s eyes.

 

“Oh yes!” she gushed. “A rare beast I’d only heard rumors of, but it was delivered to the Mansion quite recently. He is simply the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen.”

 

“I’d very much like to see him.” Satori smiled at the sheer energy radiating off Remilia. “If you wouldn’t mind showing me.”

 

“Of course I wouldn’t!”

 

Remilia grabbed Satori’s non-parasol hand and urged her forward. They walked at an excited pace out of the forest. Remilia was so thrilled, she didn’t notice that Satori never once let go of her hand.

 

“You’ll love him, Satori! He can move faster than the eye. And his claws can tear apart anything. And, the rascal, he loves sake. And-”

 

-----

 

“And she looked so excited, I didn’t have the heart to tell her it turned out to be a chupacabra.”

 

It was later. Satori was seated in once of the Palace of Earth Spirits’ innumerable drawing rooms. A certain someone had wanted to know all about her recent escapade to the surface. Satori wasn’t the greatest at oral storytelling, but she made the attempt and flexed those muscles, regardless. The tenets were mostly the same; preeminently ‘show, don’t tell.’ And no one was better than Satori at not telling.

 

“On the way back through the Shrine, we came across Reimu Hakurei, collapsed in drunken nonconsciousness, being buried alive by Marisa Kirisame, under the assumed pretense that her best friend had died. The juxtaposition of their status as best friends and the actions being performed caused an ironic situation I found quite humorous. I remember laughing multiple laughs out loud.”

 

She took the tea pot and refilled the cup for the chair opposite.

 

The empty chair thanked her.

 

It then asked her a question.

 

Satori’s own cup paused on the way to her lips. “Yes, I do think I warmed up to her significantly when I found out she loved animals.” And she’s someone who understands, Satori continued in her mind. While it’s perfectly fine to lock away the world, a mind starts to rot when left only on its own fantasies. “Anyone who so clearly loved animals couldn’t be a bad person.” To say nothing of her understanding of disconsolate sisterhood

 

The Nothingness in the chair made a comment. Satori’s eyebrow went up.

 

“Really? ‘Smitten?’ And what makes you say that?”

 

The Nothingness made a lurid observation.

 

“I am not,” snapped Satori, but while smiling. “My skirt is past my knees, my midriff is quite hidden, and my armpits are thoroughly unflaunted.”

 

The Nothingness’s next remark caused Satori’s cheeks to glow.

 

“I’m not exposing that much neck,” said Satori defensively. “Besides, you’re no better yourself. Have you seen how much your skirt flares?”

 

They both laughed.

 

But Satori had to admit that it was odd. Remilia had made horrid allusions to death and decay, invaded Satori’s personal space and refused to leave under pain of immolation, and had lectured her on proper social conduct, and Satori hadn’t minded, quite the contrary: she was left entirely starry-eyed.

 

There was more to Remilia than met the eye, although this did not seem terribly difficult to achieve. She carried herself with an atrocious arrogance that would have induced spite in even the most forgiving of souls, talked down to everyone, casually made threats on Gensokyo’s livelihood. It was...genius. She looked everyone in the eye and told them she was the worst person they’d ever seen, and therefore received a reputation for harmlessness. Satori knew of the phenomenon: The more you told people you were untrustworthy, the more they trusted you.

 

And there was still more behind her. Satori had been in her mind, and she still couldn’t put her finger on it.  She...had a talent for enthusing. In sweeping people up in whatever storm she was brewing this week, and having them wanting to go. Was it Fate? No, no such thing. Charisma? Possibly. But is there really a difference? What was charisma beyond complete certainty everything was going to happen exactly how you wanted it?

 

All Remilia wanted in this world was to enjoy herself. She brought in others to her life and constantly sought out new things not out of any intellectual virtue, but because she really believed the more, the merrier.

 

And, well...Remilia was also new and interesting, and that counted for a lot of Satori liking her.

 

Suddenly all those tales of maidens cloyed with the modern world being swept up by vampires held significantly more weight.

 

Sure, she liked Remilia, but she wouldn’t go as far as ‘smitten.’

 

Satori realized she had spent the last four minutes staring dreamily into her tea thinking about all the things she liked about a girl. An emotion she hadn’t felt in a long, long time stirred in her chest. That most valuable of treasures, that Lost Emotion.

 

“Koishi?” she called out to the Nothingness, for this was a treasure made richer by sharing it. “I don’t know if you’re still here, or if you’ll remember this conversation in an hour, but do your big sister a favor? If you ever find yourself holding on to some hope, don’t let go of it, okay? No matter who or what comes to try and pry it from you. Do you think you can keep hope for your big sister?”

 

This was met with a contemplative silence, followed by an air of affirmation. Then a question.

 

Satori set down her teacup. “I did get over my writer’s block, as a matter of fact. There’s nothing like meeting new people to get new ideas. I can show you the transcripts if you like. Personally, I’m a bit torn on it. On one hand, I can’t imagine it will be met with wide appeal, on the other, it’s not as if anyone’s tapped into the ‘vampire romance’ genre.”